From virtual to real, and back again

Janet Blyberg at Ham House. ©Emile de Bruijn

In this digitized world of ours it is easy to forget the benfits of real, face-to-face communication. So when fellow-blogger Janet Blyberg told me she would travelling from Washington to London on business it was a great opportunity to meet the person behind the blog.

Marble Hill House, between Richmond and Ham. ©Emile de Bruijn

I met her in Richmond, and we walked along the Thames to Ham House, exchanging news and gossip from our respective organisations  – Janet works in the museums and heritage sector too, as you will have noticed from her blog.

Petersham Meadows, on the outskirts of Richmond, with encouraging evidence of recent hedgelaying activity. ©Emile de Bruijn

We walked past Petersham Meadows, which was once part of the Ham estate and is now owned by Richmond Council. In October 2010 the National Trust took on the management of it, a kind of joint venture that we will probably see more of in the future.

Lead bust of a Roman emperor who looks as if he is about to nod off, adding to the sleeping-beauty atmosphere at Ham. ©Emile de Bruijn

Although both Janet and I had visited Ham before, we joined one of the short guided tours which allow visitors to see some parts of the House before the proper open season has started.

Portrait of Lady Henrietta Cavendish, Lady Huntingtower, in riding habit, by Kneller, 1715, at Ham. ©National Trust

In the garden I tried to capture the first forsythia blossoms in a Janet Blyberg-style close-up photograph, but of course I failed utterly – you will have to keep an eye on her blog to see if she is going to feature her own, true ‘Blyberg’ images of this jaunt.

Bovine motif in the Dairy at Ham which, Janet tells me, originally came from the frieze of the Temple of Jupiter Tonans in Rome, via Desgodetz's book Les édifices Antiques de Rome (1682). ©Emile de Bruijn

It was great to meet Janet, to match the blog persona with the real person.

One of the Baroque-style planters that were recently recreated for Ham. ©Emile de Bruijn

But thinking about the often flimsy boundary between what is real and what is virtual, it occurs to me that if I was a really clever Borges-style narrator with access to the latest imaging technology, I could in theory have completely made up this post.

Weathered armrest of one of the garden benches at Ham. ©Emile de Bruijn

Indeed, I might even have fabricated the existence of ‘Janet Blyberg’, ‘Petersham Meadows’ and ‘Ham House’. Perhaps this whole blog is just a reflection of my endlessly inventive imagination? You will have to visit Ham to find out for yourself.

10 Responses to “From virtual to real, and back again”

  1. style court Says:

    So glad that you are both, indeed, real. And very happy you were able to meet up. These images are wonderful, as are the shots Janet has posted on Flickr.

  2. Janet Says:

    Certainly after a hectic monday back at work, our weekend outing seems almost surreal! What fun to see your photographs (I think you have a new calling!). You caught the sunlight on Marble Hill House just perfectly. The forsythia follows as I slowly download the contents of various cameras. It was a true delight to meet you, and to see such a special house again. For real.

    BTW, I think this is my first appearance as a “cover girl” !!!

  3. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Janet, your London photographs ( are marvellous and actually capture the atmosphere of these places, so much better than mine.

    Courtney, you were one of those ‘absent friends’ we were talking about – as was Barbara (

  4. downeastdilettante Says:

    Well, Mr. de Bruijn-Borges, since the woman in the photo is unmistakably Janet, one can safely say that all is real and that it really happened—and what a treat your tour. Ham is a house that particularly captures the imagination.

    And, forgetting art, and the Palladian perfection of Marble Hill for a second, the green landscape in England is making this man from snowy New England weep with embarrassing, unbridled longing.. Run over to my Valentine’s day post for severe contrast.

    And speaking of Ham House, do you know about Castle Hill, a 1929 country house built in Ipswich, Massachusetts by a Chicago plumbing tycoon, designed by David Adler? I mention it because the exterior is an amalgamation inspired by Ham House and Belton. Mr. Crane purchased several rooms from a bogus Hogarth House (chronicled in John Cornforth’s ‘Moving Rooms’) and installed them in the house, along with the library from Cassiobury Park.

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Brad, that depends on whether you are real, or are similarly a product of my over-active imagination! But let’s assume (for argument’s sake) that you are indeed real 🙂

    What an extraordinary place Castle Hill is – thanks very much for the link. Janet and I were remarking on how odd and cobbled-together the facade at Ham seems (in a charming way of course), but at Castle Hill those features look entirely logical, and are made to seem of-a-piece with the central section borrowed from Belton House.

    And how fascinating that the library fittings at Castle Hill come from Cassiobury Park. The latter had an intriguing ‘Chinese’ garden in the 1820s (chinoiserie being a hobby-horse of mine), after designs by Humphrey Repton.

  6. home before dark Says:

    Now this was fun. After DED’s tracking down the unreal/surreal Frognall Dibdin, it is nice to see that really nice people do exist behind their blogger personas. As a gardener, I loved the scene of the “hedgelaying” not a term in use where I live in Kansas! With the world in a total mess, it is a moment of hope that people across the world come together via the internet and later in person because of a shared love of history and beauty.

  7. pigtown design Says:

    she is real indeed! but did you all make it to petersham nurseries? i KNOW she would have loved it!


    Lovely photos and nice to think of a face to face visit. The real people one meets in this digital world are one of its true delights.

  9. Barbara Says:

    What an honor to be spoken of in such fine company. I wish I could have been there, but I feel blessed to have such digital, virtual reality from both of you to view.

  10. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thank you for all of these kind comments.

    I found it remarkable how easily Janet and I fell into conversation, as if we had met many times before, which in a virtual sense we had, of course.

    I had to go back home in the afternoon, but the intrepid Janet stayed on and explored Richmond, including Petersham Nurseries – keep an eye on her Flickr page (link in my previous comment above) for images.

    My wife just suggested that, since Janet’s blog existed before mine did, perhaps I am a figment of her imagination! 🙂

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