Looking Ahead to London…

I can hardly believe it, but in just over two weeks I will be off to London, the greatest city in the world, once again! As always, I am extremely excited. My mum and I have all sorts of wonderful activities planned, but no matter what you do in London you’re guaranteed to have a good time! Sadly, this will in all likelihood be my last trip to the homeland in awhile (it’s quite heartbreaking to think about that…), so I am determined to make the most of this vacation. Today I’m going to share some of my favourite photos from London; and in a few weeks I’ll have hundreds more to share!

Admiralty Arch

The glorious Admiralty Arch

Mayfair

London streets are always busy!

Thames

The river Thames, so integral to London’s identity!

Bligh House

History is everywhere in London

Mandela Way

One of my favourite hidden gems, Bermondsey’s resident T-34

Pub Portrait

I plan to be in at least one pub per day on this upcoming trip…

Frigate

You never know what you’ll see in London!

London Garden

Such a green and pleasant land

Gherkin

So much of London’s architecture, past and present, is iconic

London Rain

Beautiful even in the rain

Trafalgar Pub

That flag is one of my greatest sources of pride. Great Britain, here I come!

The Flowers that Bloom in the Spring

Now that it’s springtime (in name if not in weather), I can finally start creating some charming spring outfits! The following Polyvore set is more frilly and soft than the deep colours and military tailoring that I usually prefer, but it’s still very vintage and it captures the delightful nature of spring. The Flowers that Bloom in the Spring
I kept the overall colour scheme light, with only a few dark accents, to reflect the brightening days and light colours traditionally associated with springtime. And I imagined this as a teatime look; a job for which the delicate 1930s teadress is ideal! A pale leather handbag and vintage-style shoes add to the look but don’t compete with the dress; and the gold jewellery adds a bolder touch to keep the ensemble from being too saccharine. Red lipstick and tortoiseshell glasses add the perfect vintage finishing touches to an outfit made for the warmer days and cheerful spirit of spring!

2012 Borden Airshow: The Flying Displays

CFB Borden’s most recent airshow was in 2012, and while I am impatiently awaiting the next one, I often reminisce about 2012’s amazing show. It was a perfect weekend for an airshow; with clear and sunny skies, and a gentle wind. And the show’s lineup was just as promising as the weather, with warbirds and modern planes alike set to perform!

We (my brother, father and I are all aviation enthusiasts) arrived at the show early, as a surprising number of other visitors did as well! As we queued for our tickets, some Canadian Forces parachutists made a jump overhead. I can’t remember what type of plane dropped them- it might have been a C-130 Hercules- but it was a very impressive and patriotic display, and the parachutists carried a giant Canadian flag with them on their jump.

Parachute Borden

The Canadian flag flying proudly

The show began with performances from two wonderful planes of the past in quick succession. First came an F-86 Sabre, the compact post-war jet fighter which was used by both Canada and the US during the Cold War period. It’s a good-looking plane, with swept wings and a rather pugnacious snubbed nose which accommodates the intake for its turbojet engine.

Borden F-86

The Canadair Sabre was used only until 1962 by the RCAF, but it was used by other countries such as Pakistan up until 1980

Next came a Hawker Hurricane, which was used by the World War II-era RAF alongside its better-known counterpart, the Supermarine Spitfire. The Hurricane and Spitfire are very similar in age and appearance; but the Hurricane is about six months older and its fuselage looks slightly swollen and hunched compared to the Spitfire. Although I do prefer the Spitfire, it was neat to see another noteworthy RAF aircraft in the air.

Hurricane Borden

Although not quite so graceful as the Spitfire, this Hurricane is an attractive aircraft

Hurricane Borden

The Hurricane was also fearsome in its own right, claiming 60% of RAF air victories during the Battle of Britain

After the Hurricane had vacated the sky, a familiar sight around CFB Borden took its place. I live close to Borden, and I periodically see a CH-146 Griffon helicopter flying around the area. The Griffon’s performance at Borden was much more lively than its everyday flights- I was actually surprised by all the manoeuvres it was making!

Huey, Tutors Borden

The Griffon did lots of extremely low-level flight over the nearby runway, which was exciting!

Huey Borden

I love helicopters, and even though I’ve never had a ride in one I hope to learn to fly one someday! After the Mi-24 Hind, the Griffon would be my chopper of choice!

The next performer really caught us off guard, along with most other people at the show! We were in a tent, waiting to look at some standard-issue Canadian Forces small arms, and then there was a dull, distant rumble audible in the sky. We wasted no time in rushing outside, and made it out just in time to see a very low CF-18 scream over the tent! It was an artful and awe-inspiring entrance; and as I started to laugh with delight, all the surrounding toddlers burst into tears from the noise. That’s quite an amusing memory for me!

F-18 Borden

A gear-down, upside-down pass is customary to the CF-18’s airshow routine. It really looks unnatural!

The CF-18 Hornet then went on to put on a fantastic display, with several other high-speed passes and many spiralling manoeuvres that showed its prowess in the air. Nothing compared to its entrance, however- it was deliberately unexpected and it was one of the best experiences ever!

F-18 Borden

The CF-18 is fast, manoeuvrable, and well-armed. It’s equipped with a 20 mm M61 Vulcan, which is a 6-barrel Gatling gun

I was sad to see the Hornet finally leave, but it was followed by the Harvards which remain one of my favourite airshow acts of all time. And I had a great view of them- the Borden airshow’s static displays are right alongside an old runway, over which the aircraft perform.

Harvards Borden

The Harvards are such nice, dependable planes with great aerobatic capabilities!

All of the performers at Borden in 2012 were amazing, and it was a fabulous day. I didn’t even mind that I got a sunburn which lasted for a month and a half!! I do hope that Borden will put on another airshow before long, because it always ends up being a special show.

Of the Emerald Isle

Today is the day that the world professes to be Irish. It’s the only day on which it’s acceptable to consume something as vile as artificially-coloured green beer, and to dress in as many clashing shades of green as one can find in one’s closet. However, on St. Patrick’s Day I value discretion; and so I am presenting a stylish, classic, and restrained Éire-inspired outfit on this oft-overdone holiday. Of the Emerald Isle
A lacey white top paired with a deep green skirt reminds me of the contrast of colours between the traditional Irish cottage and the vibrant green of Irish landscapes. This outfit is imbued with a bit of the vintage flavour that I love thanks to the lace-up shoes and elegant camel coat; and Celtic inspiration is evident in the bold and beautiful gold jewellery. The handbag is by Orla Kiely, a successful Irish fashion designer, and shimmering green nail polish adds a final touch of character perfect for the theme. I personally have some Irish heritage (every day, not only on March 17…), and to celebrate that I’ll be wearing an outfit similar to this one today!

A Screaming Sky: The Katyusha Launcher

Not long after the Wehrmacht invaded the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, it encountered a brand-new and truly fearsome weapon which rained terror and death down on the unsuspecting invaders. Deadly, mobile, and frightening, this invaluable Soviet weapon was the Katyusha rocket launcher.

The Katyusha BM-13 rocket launcher was an efficient truck-mounted system, in which high-explosive rockets were fired from a set of rails on the back of a pickup truck. This system may seem familiar today, but at the time it was rather revolutionary, and it gave the Soviet Union some much-needed mobile firepower.

Katyusha_launcher_rear

The idea of the Katyusha was simple… and effective. Attribution: ChrisO at the English language Wikipedia, CC-BY-SA 3.0

From the beginning of its development, this was a top-secret project, meaning that the weapon’s title, BM-13, was classified even after it had been fielded for the first time. In their first combat, the launchers were operated by a specially-designated unit of NKVD troops (the NKVD being the law enforcement agency which enforced Soviet rule during the time of Josef Stalin), and for some time afterwards the NKVD continued to oversee the units equipped with Katyushas.

Loading Katyusha

Troops load a rocket onto the rails of a Katyusha. Reloading was slow, but this was made up for by the devastating effect of the weapon. Image a scan from Tadeusz Burakowski, Aleksandr Sala Wyrzutnia rakietowa Katiusza. TBiU 7 WMON, Warszawa 1971. Public domain.

Soviet command’s reluctance to broadcast the existence and details of the Katyusha seems to have been well-founded- because this weapon was a real menace. A battery of four launchers could impact an area of 400,000 metres², and then swiftly relocate before the enemy could counter-fire. The Katyusha’s psychological effect was perhaps even more alarming, however. As the rockets launched, they made a sinister howling noise which terrorized the Germans and gave this weapon a distinctive nickname among Wehrmacht soldiers: the Stalinorgel, or Stalin’s organ. You can hear the sound of a Katyusha battery for yourself here.

Katyusha

A battery of Katyushas at Stalingrad in 1942. Attribution: RIA Novosti archive, image #303890/Zelma/CC-BY-SA 3.0

The name Katyusha is actually a nickname as well, albeit one given by Soviet soldiers instead of German ones. This affectionate moniker was taken from the folk song Katyusha, which was immensely popular and inspirational to soldiers and civilians alike during the Great Patriotic War.

From the time it was first used to great effect near Smolensk on July 14, 1941, the Katyusha was an integral part of the Soviet war effort. It was deployed from various platforms after its initial success (such as trains, trailers, armoured tractors, and naval vessels) and it gave rise to many similar systems postwar. However, the most iconic incarnation is undoubtedly the truck-mounted version; and this version served the Soviet Union over all four years of the war, from Smolensk to Stalingrad and on to Berlin.

Berlin, Frankfurter Allee, Stalinorgel

A decidedly sombre image of German civilians passing a Katyusha launcher, just a week from the Eastern Front’s end. Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R77872/CC-BY-SA

800px-Katjuscha_memorial,_Tula

A memorial in Tula, Russia. Image from Wikimedia Commons, attributed to High Contrast. CC-BY-SA 2.0

I’ve long been fascinated by the Katyusha; because of its simplicity, effectiveness, and importance not only on the Eastern Front, but also to the development of more modern weapons systems. As well, I find the distinctive noise of the rockets both terrifying and compelling- it might be that noise alone that makes the Katyusha such an iconic and special piece of equipment. For me, there are a few weapons which really define the Eastern Front, like the T-34 tank and the Mosin rifle; well, one of those is also the Katyusha BM-13.

 

Launch: A Short Story

There’s something so intriguing about the idea of rocket travel- I often wish I could travel back to the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s when rockets were in their first days and humans were just beginning to experiment with them. Yuri Gagarin (the first human in space) is one of my idols and I envy all that he experienced in his ground-breaking achievements. I wrote the following story in late 2011 with Gagarin and his experiences at the back of my mind, and I hope that it captures the uncertainty and simultaneous exhilaration of a maiden rocket flight.

——————————————————————————————-

The morning was a cold one; I stepped out the door of the barracks to see a glistening layer of frost over the entire base. It covered the hangars, the command centre, the giant radar array, and even the rocket that I was slated to pilot at dawn. I have never been much of a morning person, so throughout the flight preparations I tried in vain to move launch time to maybe 1200, or 1300 hours. But for some reason, my flight engineers remained convinced- and adamantly so- that it had to be done early, before sunrise. So there I was, up at 0300 hours, steeling my nerves for the upcoming experimental flight.

As I moved swiftly across the deserted base, my footsteps crunching in the snow, I imagined how it might feel to blast off. That is, if we even achieved ignition. My gaze fell on the tall, thin, graceful rocket; and I noticed that my fellow airmen were readying it for launch. Sighing, I made my way to my comrades, and by 0350 hours I had been fully briefed and was strapped in and ready to go. Well, not quite ready- I could feel my adrenaline beginning to rise but despite my excitement, I dearly wished I had signed on for the cosmonautical physics program instead of the rocket one! I squinted at the multitude of switches and dials around me, with only a vague recollection of the function of each, when my attention was abruptly caught by the sound of a cough beside me. My commanding officer was peering through the escape hatch at me with a rather forced look of optimism. I must admit, it was not encouraging.

“You know what to do, then?” He said flatly. “In just half an hour and a few hundred miles you can bring her down into the Bering Sea. We’ll have rescue boats and a salvage ship waiting for you there.” With that, he gave me a rough pat on the shoulder and slammed the hatch shut. I heard the compression seals adjusting and knew that I was face-to-face with my fate. I could not pull out now. Gritting my teeth and shifting my weight so as to be as comfortable as possible in the event of death, I radioed in the appropriate message to Command.

“Comrade Flight Lieutenant Volkov of experimental rocket Slava, standing by and ready for launch. All systems green and boosters at 30%. Awaiting your mark.” I tried to keep my voice calm and controlled, but inside I was shaking. I knew that a manned rocket had never been successfully launched before, and I could feel the rumbling of the massive, flaming rocket boosters beneath me, just waiting to send me hurtling over Siberia at 8,000 miles per hour along with a few tons of volatile rocket fuel. The feeling I had as I sat there was horrible; the engines shaking me mercilessly and the deep rumbling of their power filling my ears.

I would have driven myself to hysteria, worrying and questioning, had Command not radioed back promptly: “Comrade Flight Lieutenant Volkov, you are cleared for launch. Set boosters to 100% and await countdown. Good luck, noble comrade!”

At that point I was not really thinking about anything at all- my brain was so frightened that it refused to work, but I was apparently aware enough to reach the booster power dial, because suddenly the rocket was seized by a rumbling of even greater power. Everything shook; I could feel the vibrations in my bones and my vision was blurry from the lack of stable objects upon which to focus.

“Ten,”- the first digit in the countdown surprised me. I had been very preoccupied with the new vibrations in the capsule. The countdown from Command continued:

“Nine…eight…seven…six…five….”

At five I felt a bead of sweat drip down onto my cheek, and realized how warm it was becoming.

“Four….”

I glanced at the tiny window in the escape hatch, which, in the chill of the February morning, had been covered in frost. But this frost was no longer, and through its beads of condensation I saw that the horizon was just lightening up.

“Three…two…”

Here I braced myself and tried not to fear the worst. I figured I might as well check the inlet valve pressure to distract myself, but the gauge was jiggling too violently for me to read it. All the dials, switches, and fixtures in the capsule were shaking with a painful rattling noise, and the noise from the rocket boosters coupled with the rising heat made me feel as if I were sitting in the depths of a volcano about to erupt. Then the final countdown:

“…One. We have lift-off!”

And we did. The engine power I had felt before was nothing compared to what came next. A strange surge ran through the frame of the rocket, and then with a steady and deafening roar, it lifted off the ground. I had imagined previously that lift-off would be quite violent, but it wasn’t. It was the most glorious and liberating experience I have ever had. The rocket glided into the air with a smooth, controlled fury that was remarkable to witness, and as it gained speed and altitude I quickly lost my fear. It was exhilarating to be screaming through the sky, achieving a victory that none had ever achieved before. I sat still in wonder for several minutes, until the rocket cleared the highest layer of clouds. At once I was blinded by the flaming rays of the morning sun, which, due to my vast altitude, were now totally visible. I was awoken by their invigorating light, and so I checked my radar and navigation instruments as I had been instructed. The rocket was tracking well, and heading swiftly for the Bering Sea. The fuel load was, unsurprisingly, running low, but this did not concern me, as my journey was almost done.

For a moment I stared out at the fiercely shining sun over the clouds, and pictured where I was- roaring like a hypersonic bullet above the clouds, all alone but more blessed than anyone on the earth below; because they would never get to experience what I did. I laughed to myself, relishing the great privilege that I had. Then, noting my approximate position and the decreasing fuel of the rocket, I set booster power to 40% and double-checked all systems. Taking one last look out at the magnificent sunlit sky, I began my descent…back to earth, to success, and to the pages of history.

Sitting in an English Garden: Powis 2011

Except for a rather confused phase of stark modernism in my preteen years, my style has always been one that appreciates symmetry, classicism, and anything traditional. That must be why I so deeply appreciated the breathtaking Baroque gardens and grounds of Powis Castle, which I was fortunate enough to visit in the summer of 2011. Located in Wales, Powis Castle is a truly Welsh castle- built by a Welsh dynasty instead of by the conquering English. I guess that, in this case, my series title isn’t too accurate!

Powis

The courtyard of Powis Castle

Powis’s gardens are also unique, as they are a rare example of true Baroque design in the United Kingdom. The drive to Powis (through lovely rolling hills and fields on a bright June day) was amazing, and the view once I arrived was even more incredible. The gardens at Powis make the most of its steep terrain by utilizing terraces borrowed from Italian garden design, and they make for a striking setting and a beautiful view.

Powis

Parts of the lawn were steep indeed!

Powis

This classically-inspired wall almost looks Mediterranean rather than Welsh

I absolutely loved the setting, and touring the various terraces and formal gardens was a real treat. Better still, the weather was unparalleled- it might have been the nicest day I saw on my entire three-week trip to the UK!

Powis

The terraces of Powis Castle

Powis

I loved this hedged garden- it was so organized and restrained!

Powis

Another sight that looks as if it could be straight out of Italy

My mum and I enjoyed strolling through the gardens and marvelling at the flora, while my brother was more interested in charging up and down the hills around the castle. Either pursuit was pleasing to me, however! Powis was such a lovely place that I wanted to enjoy it in as many ways as I could.

Powis

I’ve never seen such ravishing poppies!

Powis

A gigantic allium

Powis

There were lots of vines and climbing plants at Powis, like this honeysuckle

In the shadow of the castle and its terraces there were several other buildings, all surrounded by charming gardens themselves. It seemed bizarre that Powis is so close to the so-called “Desert of Wales”, because everything here was verdant and in full bloom!

Powis

Add climbing, flowering plants and a building instantly becomes twice as pretty!

Powis

The grounds of the castle are home to various wildlife- like deer and peacocks

Powis

The view up to the castle, in all its splendour

I would truly love to go back to Powis Castle! Of course, due to its amazing gardens and grounds it must be most impressive in the summertime, but the setting itself and the interior of the castle are gorgeous as well. This was one of the most memorable and dramatic gardens I’ve ever seen, and once I have a garden of my own I’m sure I’ll be taking some tips from Powis!