Thursday, July 28, 2011


If you haven't seen this, as I hadn't before today, you can spend quite a few enjoyable minutes just planning some seriously surreal virtual journeys around London. Leonardo da Vinci to Leonard Rossiter is only three stops, while Richelieu to Bernard Manning, perhaps understandably, is almost all the way across the city.

I've no idea who thought it all up, but they've got a mind that's weirder than mine by at least an Order of Magnitude! 

Mornington Crescent, eat your heart out.

To retain the detail, it is a big file, but just click on it to enlarge it


Tuesday, July 26, 2011


A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece entitled “We don’t need no Education ….”. This was me reminiscing about my Schooldays 50 years ago, having been set thinking by a book I’d just read about a teacher's life in a modern Secondary School.


The name of the post was nicked from one of the grand Set Pieces of Rock Music -  Roger Water’s “The Wall”. This epic piece of music, a Rock Opera if you wish, was first performed around 1980, and for reasons I can’t now recall, I managed to miss seeing it first time round. My love affair with the music of Pink Floyd has continued unabated ever since that time, but for 30 years now the “Seen That, Done That” box for "The Wall" has remained unticked. Unfortunately, because of the massive scale of its conception, and also I suspect because Mr Waters did not want to get involved again, it had only been performed a total of 31 times, so there had been precious few opportunities to catch up on it.

So, a year ago, when I saw that Roger Waters had decided to take it out on tour again, I jumped at the chance of a ticket. The man is not far off 70 years old now, and I suspected that this would be the last time he would ever undertake such a venture.

The crowds heading towards the Birmingham NIA were enormous that evening, and there was a palpable air of excitement as a full house of 20,000 waited expectantly. The rumour was that they’d spent £37 million putting it all together, and with the Floyd’s unrivalled reputation for spectacular lightshows, massive Gerald Scarfe designed puppets and totally over the top production values, I wondered what lay in store for us.

The NIA is a very big arena, about 300 feet across, and a partially built wall stretched completely from one side to the other, so perhaps there was a clue there as to what was about to happen. I must admit that I don’t think that “The Wall” is the greatest thing Roger Waters ever wrote, mainly because it seemed to me to be a bit too self-indulgent and “Rich Rock Star sprays Angst everywhere” but that doesn’t stop me thinking it has some fantastic songs in it.

It was Roger Water’s baby almost entirely, and the whole thing was written when he was getting really wound up about his own personal alienation and feeling for a need to withdraw from the pressures that the fame he/the Band had created. The story goes back to his childhood, starting when his father was killed at Anzio in Italy in 1942. His sense of abandonment seems to be then blamed sequentially on his father’s death, his mother, his teachers, his wives, his fellow Pink Floyd members, and seemingly almost everyone except himself. Each of these becomes a “Brick in the Wall”. You could argue that the storyline is a bit thin, but then you should look at some of the libretti of the classical operas, and any argument about this one pales into insignificance.

Some of the songs, in truth, are a bit run of the mill, but there are a few absolute gems in it. The great songs in it (and they are great) – Run Like Hell, Hey You, Another Brick in the Wall, and the incomparable Comfortably Numb, stand out, in my view, as Rock Genius. It’s probably something which will niggle Mr Waters but three of those four songs have Dave Gilmour’s name alongside him in the writing credits. Given the subsequent multi-year spat between both of them which brought their collaboration to a permanent, shuddering halt, there’s a real message there for both of them.

Before it started, I wondered whether he would have changed the way it was presented, given that 30 years had passed since its first performance. Perhaps, as a 68 year old, his feeling of personal persecution which he obviously felt very keenly in the early 80s, may have changed.

It had. There was now a wider overlay of an anti-war attitude, where instead of a purely personal take on it all, it had now become a musical and visual tirade against all the conflicts and wars which had disfigured the world over the last few decades.



The Wall, as it was progressively built up across the huge arena, gradually became a massive video screen showing sound-bites and photographs of soldiers killed in action, tortured, as well as some who had returned home to the obvious pleasure of their loved ones. I found much of that very moving.


The overall impact of it from a performance viewpoint was overwhelming. The scale of it all was simply extraordinary. The way it had been put together from a technical viewpoint was incredible, with the full force of modern photo-wizardry and animation being given full rein. The images were presented in an amazingly effective way, and the way the wall was used as a continuously changing backdrop to the action was immensely well done. The sound was something like I’d expect to feel in Beirut in the middle of the war there. It was physical in its effect on you. Overall, the lights and the imagery, the aeroplanes flying over the audience, the huge 40 foot Pig, the equally large 40 feet high Scarfe puppets and the grotesque cartoon effects projected onto the wall were quite incredible. I can’t remember anything personally which compared to it, and I came out of the concert in a complete daze. A total sensory overload.



So there you are. One of the great “Set Pieces” of modern Rock Music. Yes, you could be a bit negative and whinge about bits of it, but quite frankly I thought it was a triumph. Just watching the people coming out, and catching snatches of their conversation as they walked along or stood on the railway station platform waiting for their train home, you got a real feeling that they’d all been quite overwhelmed by the whole evening, and that they’d go home telling their families that they’d all missed something unrepeatable.

I know that was how I felt.



Monday, July 18, 2011


Note - Double click on the individual pictures to enlarge
them in a new window

My journey into the world of British Industry started in 1964 when 12 of us started hammering and filing lumps of metal in the Apprentice Training School of the British Aircraft Corporation (now BAe) in Weybridge Surrey.

Today, 47 years on, we have a reunion once a year to chew over how we all are, what we’ve been doing, what we can’t do anymore and generally look happily backwards over a decent meal and a not inconsiderable number of drinks. We discuss our bodies and our minds to compare notes as to those parts we can’t see anymore, what’s not working as well as it used to, what has become atrophied and those bits which may have finally fallen off completely. All in all, given such a morbid agenda, it's probably a surprise that it’s actually an event we all look forward to.

This year’s bash was held in Bedford, with the intention of eating and drinking our way through Friday evening (and significantly into early Saturday morning for a couple of the hardier and less wussy members) and then spending Saturday at some vaguely Aeronautical event. This year, we went to the Shuttleworth Collection in a delightful village called Old Warden in rural Bedfordshire. This looked like a pretty decent Museum of old aeroplanes, and the plan there was that the day would finish with a flying display on the airfield next to the museum.

Waking up early on Saturday, the view out of my bedroom window was seriously unpromising. Wind and rain lashing down. The prospect of standing out in the middle of an open field in such weather was not one I even began to relish. But, optimism is all, and we finally set off in a rather shambolic convoy to Old Warden.

Our arrival was met with an encouraging improvement in the weather, and we spent a good few hours wandering around the eight or so hangars which housed the collection. I had been born in Bedford, even going to School with the son of the man who ran the collection in the Sixties, so I had been there before, but I was not expecting what I saw today. The collection had been significantly added to and was now huge, totalling around 100 aeroplanes, most of which were either in flying condition, or were being restored to a condition where they would be able to fly in the future.

They were really beautiful to look at, most of them from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. There was a decent section of really ancient and historic planes, and one of the prize exhibits was the oldest aeroplane in the world which was still flying – a 1909 Bleriot. A seriously important piece of history out here in the middle of nowhere.


Even the lunch there was a step up from what is normally on offer in such places, and I had a slice of Pear Charlotte which was absolutely scrummy. By mid afternoon, the weather had really started to clear up, and the clouds turned into those lovely white, fluffy jobs which enhance anyone’s outdoor picture taking. We all progressively took off the various layers of protective clothing we’d come in, and in the late afternoon sun, albeit with a bit too much wind, the flying display got under way.

For two hours or so, about 20 of the Collection’s planes took off, buzzed around, and did a few aerobatics and stunts like cutting ribbons held across the runway in front of us. It was absolutely delightful. The result of the wind was that a few of the older aeroplanes were unable to fly because they were in danger of turning over on the ground, but if there’s a better place to see the foundation of this country’s place in the development of the Aeroplane, then I don’t know where it is.


Because the planes were not as fast as those of today, they spent far more time in front of the crowd than a jet doing 500mph or so. One of them could only just fly faster than the wind, so in one direction, it almost hovered in front of you as it passed, and as it climbed it looked almost as if it was ascending like a balloon.

The light was perfect for such an event, with a deep blue sky, lovely cloud formations and occasionally a long raking sun picking out the planes very dramatically under a darker grey background. Wonderful conditions for photography. With little or no commercialism there, the overall atmosphere was like going back 30 or 40 years. Totally professional with everyone seeming to know exactly what they wee doing, and yet the feel was of a very slick and well run County Show. 

Very highly recommended.

They put on displays throughout the year, the next one being on 7th August. Their website is here -

Here are a few more of the pictures I took of the planes on display.











Saturday, July 09, 2011


It’s July, and my daughter has just read out my youngest Grandson’s first School Report.

Cue immensely proud Grandfather, Stage Left.

Coincidentally, yesterday I was rummaging around in my garage for some errant piece of paper, and I came across a small bundle of documents, contained within which were a couple of blue bound books emblazoned with the Bedford School Crest – my School Reports.

Ye Gods. Was I really ever 4 feet 10½ inches and 6 stones 8 lbs. Units and measures of a bygone age, which I even had to translate and explain to my children. Gone for ever it would seem are the days of the Rod, the Pole and the Perch.

But, just read the reports. The style is of another age. They were all written between around 1957 and 1964, and encapsulated the ways and the mores of that era. Now what follows may all end up sounding like a blend of “Outraged of Tunbridge Wells” and “They don’t know they’re born”, but the extracts are a clear example of how it was done by the Men in Gowns of Bedford School at that time.

The modern idiom of only praising the positives, and writing any withering criticism in a way that makes it look like a complement was something only invented much, much later. At that time, the schoolmaster wrote his report with a degree of individuality, saying exactly what he wanted to say, with an occasional wry piece of wit, and also the odd sardonic or even sarcastic jab at the poor recipient. You sensed that the School Report offered a rare opportunity to the teacher who often seemed to possess a barely suppressed desire to be a writer of some renown. Here, through the medium of the School Report, they could release a few of their choicer phrases onto the Great Unwashed. The current vogue for Political Correctness, and the construction of School Reports to parents from a Multi-Choice selection of bland, pre-determined and often meaningless sound-bites was most definitely a thing of the future.

The end result of all this was formally handed out at the end of each term in a sealed envelope to be taken home for review by one’s parents. Even 45 years after the event, the possibility that the Report may not have actually arrived home in the same envelope in which it was handed to me at school should probably remain shrouded in mystery. But as they say, Forewarned is Forearmed.

The school authorities however, on whom (to quote the late, great Henry Longhurst who attended the School for two terms in 1915) there were no flies at all, demanded that each term’s school report had to be signed and dated by the scholar’s guardian. This was presumably to confirm that they had read, learned and inwardly digested its contents, however indigestible they might have been. I’m not sure however if the idea that a parent’s signature could conceivably be forged had crossed the minds of the purer intellects which ran the school, a possibility which is now thankfully lost in the sands of time.

Just to show that, as one gets older, one develops a modicum of humility, as well as the ability to laugh at oneself, here are a couple of pages from my own reports. Schoolmasters then, like doctors seemed to revel in a writing style only just this side of incomprehensible, so there is a translation below.

You may possibly gather that English was not one of my “star” subject.

Aged 11 years 9 months

English - Good competent work. He can express himself clearly and shows interest, though I have yet to persuade him of the importance of the paragraph.

Rugger (note NOT Rugby!) – Not very outstanding, but quite useful. (Author’s Note. I was almost blind, and played without my specs. It was not much more than a 50/50 chance that I even played towards the correct goal-line. So I took this comment as a glowing tribute!)

Aged 12 years 8 months –

EnglishMuch more effort was forthcoming in the last two fortnights after a miserable start but he finds advanced work very hard. His paragraphs have improved, but comprehension and paraphrase show him to lack perception.

Aged 13 years 1 month –

English - There is no hint of anything profound coming from his pen yet, but he has tried extremely hard to master the art of writing with fair success. Comprehension continues to show his limitations.

Aged 13 years 5 months –

EnglishHe has not found it easy to write convincingly, although he has tried hard. He must try to expand his vocabulary, and be a little more realistic.

GeographySound knowledge. Appears interested. (Author’s Note - Appears?)


Without wanting to blow my own trumpet above a sotto voce, my position in the School Year was 4th out of 86 boys, so I can’t imagine what the poor soul who came 82nd must have been faced with when Pater opened the envelope at the end of term. It would be interesting to find out.

I assumed that the above extracts were the ways of a peculiarly “Bedford” approach to these things, but this would seem not to be the case. A while back, I came across a little book, cleverly entitled “Could do Better” (by Catherine Hurley) which captured some School Reports from the Great and the Good. To my slightly warped sense of Humour, they seemed very funny and left me with a feeling that I wasn’t the only one in the world to be have been slightly singed by the Schoolmaster’s delicately acid wit. Try these for size.

Richard Briers (The Good Life) - "It would seem that Briers thinks he is running the school and not me. If this attitude persists, one of us will have to leave,"

Dame Judi Dench (National Treasure) - "Judi would be a very good pupil if she lived in this world."

Peter Ustinov – (Wit, and general Good Egg) - "great originality which must be curbed at all costs"

Sir Michael Heseltine (Tarzan) “rebellious, objectionable, idle, imbecilic, inefficient, antagonising, untidy, lunatic, albino, conceited, inflated, impertinent, underhand, lazy and smug”. (Author’s note – Come on, get off the fence and tell us what you really think!)

Alan Coren (Journalist and Broadcaster)“Coren's grasp of elementary dynamics is truly astonishing. Had he lived in an earlier eon, I have little doubt but that the wheel would now be square and the principle of the lever just one more of man's impossible dreams.

Sir Norman Wisdom (Actor) – “The boy is every inch a fool but luckily for him he's not very tall.” 

Stephen Fry - "He has glaring faults and they have certainly glared at us this term."

So, make of that lot what you will. It’s probably just a sign of the times, but something tells me that it will not be quite so entertaining to read a collection of such extracts in 2050. Unless of course, the spirit of such teachers lives on in some schools today. Who knows?

I’ve shown you mine, so now you show me yours! 

Monday, July 04, 2011


Words from a long time ago, written by Thomas Edward Brown. 

A week ago, I'd made plans to buy a ticket and drive down to Goodwood in Sussex for this weekend's "Festival of Speed". As these things go, it's probably the best event of its type in the World. But, what with one thing and another, I didn't get round to it.

Over the last couple of days, we've had pretty good weather up here in Shropshire, and my thoughts have randomly wandered off on the "Wish I was there" track. For anyone keen on motor cars, Goodwood in the warm weather is a real magnet. But this morning I got up, took our dog Milly out for a walk, and then sat on the deck eating my breakfast in a very leisurely way. Orange Juice, Scrambled Eggs and Coffee. There was not a breath of wind, the sun was warm, with not a single cloud in the sky and I looked out onto the garden pictured below - 

I have to say that, by the end of the second cup of coffee, the idea of getting up at 4am, driving 200 miles down to Sussex and fighting my way around somewhere even as nice as Goodwood with about 200,000 other people had lost a fair amount of its allure. I ended up pottering around all morning, and then spent the afternoon at the Grandchildrens' local School fete with all of the family, wanging wellies, eating waffles and sitting on the grass in the sunshine doing very little, just soaking up a lovely couple of hours. 

Back home onto the deck, nothing much changed. I ended up sitting, no actually it was lounging, under the gazebo reading a book with a glass of wine. All of which was followed by an alfresco meal in the warm evening sunshine of Plaice, Seared Scallops, Roast Tomatoes, Cauliflower Cheese and some crisp Asparagus. Oh, and another glass of wine. The sun had by now moved around, lighting the garden up from a different direction. It was still warm, with no wind and the sky was a brilliant blue. 

I thought that if I'd shot off to Goodwood this morning, I'd now probably be sitting in a traffic jam on the M25, wishing I was at home doing exactly what I was actually doing. Perhaps it's a sign of getting old, but I can't think of a much better way to have spent a Sunday than the way I'd ended up spending it. Sometimes the simple things are the best. 

Goodwood will have to wait until next year.

Sunday, July 03, 2011


My wife is a very good water colour painter. She has been  developing her skills in this difficult art very steadily over the last four years or so, to the point where she is now very accomplished in what she does. 

A couple of months ago, a magazine contacted her and asked her if she wanted to submit a few pictures with a view to having one of them published on the front cover of the July issue. 

Here it is.

As you can see her style is very open, loose and free, and she uses the colours in a way which blend together in a way which I really love. The colours mix on the paper and not in the palette, which gives them a real vibrancy and life. The one below is of Yours Truly painted in the Autumn last year.