Friday, October 27

Index Librorum Prohibitorum

The University of Cambridge’s national library has been accused of blacklisting books in a “sinister, Orwellian and alarming” new decolonisation drive, after officials asked lecturers to flag “problematic” books that might be “offensive/harmful”.

Examples of “problematic” books are being sought from across the university’s colleges, with officials planning to draw up guidance for librarians and readers on how to cope with them.

In a memo sent to college librarians, the University Library said: “We would like to hear from colleagues across Cambridge about any books you have had flagged to you as problematic (for any reason, not just in connection with decolonisation issues), so that we can compile a list of examples on the Cambridge Librarians intranet and think the problem through in more detail on the basis of that list.”

[Free Speech Union article from Freddie Attenborough, Communications Officer, 27/10/23]

This is quite wrong. I am beginning to despair of academics and middle managers in this country, not to mention the total lack of courage of what sems to be the vast majority of those in charge to stand up to them.

Tuesday, October 17

Latvia: a few days in October


One of the first things you notice about Latvia is that you can see a long way, there are lots of trees, usually in the distance and everything is very clean and tidy.

They also like green, and odd shades of green. This is a library and an apartment block in Juanjelgava.

Here in the main street of the small town old timber houses still stand. The pavement and roads are all clean and fresh with many Latvian flags flying but the old buildings seem to lack that element of pride in external appearance found across the old Soviet countries.

At one moment the sky is blue and then, not much later . . .

October rain clouds appear.

On our visit, rain was forecast for all day, every day, from 4 - 12 October. However, as the photos will show as we go through our travels, there was actually very little rain in the day. Most fell at night or late afternoon / evening and we seldom had to shelter or use windscreen wipers! We might have just been lucky but the Latvia we experienced was cool and crystal clear.

It's not easy to stop on Latvia's main roads. They have wide grass verges but slightly lower and I could never be confident of getting back on the tarmac again if I did decide to stop. Instead I found it simplest to wait for a convenient bus stop to check a route or look around. It was the same if you took a wrong turning; the road may be dead quiet but not quite wide enough to make a three- or, more likely for the bigger car we had hired, seven-point turn safely. There were turns but all at right angles into small vehicle-wide unmade tracks which, again, prevented a chance to turn back. Often we finished up in some woodland where we finally found a place on the track to make a turn!

There are many parks and all seem well-organised and attractive to tourists. Above is a park near Gauja where there are many well-marked pathways (and the only car park where we had to pay to park). The toilets at every place we stopped were excellent, even those plastic portable box types seem to be regularly cleaned and kept nicely. Those in fuel stations were amazing, compared to the dreadful facilities we're used to here in Britain.

The Gauja river looks muddy but I am not entirely sure why. It looked pretty clear to me at the time.

This particular park also had a cable car running from the nearby town across the huge forest.

Autumn had just stared to produce some colours other than green.

Latvia has lots of castles.

Every view seems dominated by trees.

A path in a forest near Koknese. More trees, of course.

The Daugava river is impressive and runs from Riga right across the country. Almost the whole of its length provides beautiful scenery.

There is plenty of room for people in these places. Nowhere did we find annoying bodies spoiling the view, nor litter of any description at all.

Old castles in varying degrees of dilapidation or rebuilding are open to clamber around, with plenty of those classic 'frames' for photos!

The blue skies continued to defy the predictions of rain.

In many parks or park-like spaces artists have erected timber structures.

Riga old town. All the streets are cobbled. Clean buildings here of classic design.

Jurmula is the seaside resort close to Riga. A very long and attractive beach.

On our visit the wind was more like a gale and it was all we could do to stand vertical. Huge waves like this are rare.

We had come down this stairway from a nice apartment block but getting back up was not quite as simple.

We had planned to visit Rundale Palace Museum but caught a glimpse of this place near Bauska on the way.

This was a marvellous castle that had been very recently opened, with much very clever and sympathetic reconstruction.

Inside there were rooms galore at every turn, some with displays which would not have been out of place in a museum in England, some that were just empty but with splendid windows and views.

Outside there were yet more cellars and rooms to search round.

Remarkably, it was possible to reach the very top of the tallest tower.

This is the Lielupe River, another wonderfully attractive river flowing straight through forests galore.

The journey back was interesting to say the least. My TomTom navigation device suggested the yellow route, some 120+ km. Google said take the pink road, nice and direct and only 50km. Whilst I understood that the shorter route might not be as fast and probably a lot more twisty, I preferred this to what might just have been a tedious normal road back.

Very shortly after leaving Bauska we encountered a sign to say that the surface might be uneven for 2.9km. It was a bit bumpy but just an unsurfaced road with a few potholes so nothing that seemed too bad. Once the 2.9km was done, however, another sign announced another 3.3km of the same. And so it continued! Not only was the surface getting worse but heavy rain earlier in the area had led to the potholes filling with water so you couldn't be sure how deep they were. Some holes stretched across most of the road and you did just have to hope that the water wasn't too deep.

The car I'd hired was a new Toyota Corolla with a pretty but very vulnerable front spoiler and it certainly was not the ideal car for this kind of trek. So we had to approach the unknown holes very gingerly to ensure that there was some chance of the tyres remaining inflated and wheels vaguely round in shape and suspension and steering bushes staying intact. At one point a huge lorry with a trailer, both laden high with timber, passed me which will give you some idea of my pace.

Most of the journey was spent on the wrong side of the road or wending left and right in search of some vaguely manageable surface but we only met a couple of cars going in the opposite direction so no trouble there. At Valle we crossed the P73 which was tarmac and much more pleasant-looking. However, the sign saying an uneven surface for the next 3km might just have been telling the truth so we carried on, firmly believing that there was no way the whole of the next 20km would be as bad. They were but we made it and the delight on finding some lovely smooth grey tarmac near Juanjelgava was great. We would have celebrated with a few drinks had we had any to hand.

Next time I shall hire a Jeep-like vehicle. Whilst the main roads are really excellent, there are many, many interlinking tracks which look like they're main roads on the map but actually are just tracks.

A smooth track - but not all are like this.

The other side of the river Daugava from Juanjelgava has some beautiful scenes.

In the summer, boats are available for rent or travel from either side of the river.

An arboretum on this northern side of the river is a peaceful and pretty place to visit.

Another castle was here once too.

You'll see plenty of these churches - a noticeable design and colour scheme which makes them appear quite modern when they may date back hundreds of years.

Latvia, a truly photogenic country.