Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Thursday, 28 July 2011

No Need For Speed

This week’s Sepia Saturday picture prompt has a lovely lady sitting on the bumper of a car. I couldn’t find a lovely lady in my family albums, but I did find this lovely man; my then soon-to-be husband, photographed in Hawaii in 1974, where he was on exercise with the R.A.F.
The car is a brand new silver Excalibur SS Roadster, and no, he wasn’t the owner. The owner lived in Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, and had just taken delivery of this mighty machine. The Excalibur had a powerful 7.5 litre V8 engine and was capable of very high speeds; 0-60 mph in under 7 seconds, and a top speed of 149 mph, which all seemed rather a waste as there was a blanket speed limit of 55 mph in Hawaii at that time. It is a rather smart car though. On seeing this photo again my husband commented that he himself looked ‘very 1970s’- yes, well there’s a reason for that; perhaps it was the purple crimplene shirt and the moustache. The haircut wasn’t 70s though; shouldn’t it have been a mullet?  Of course, the R.A.F. insisted on short back and sides for their chaps.

I did find one picture of a lovely lady standing by a car; our wedding day picture, but I’ll spare you that. We recently viewed some rather grainy footage of that 1975 ceremony, taken by my brother-in-law with a Super 8 cine camera. He managed to capture some of my husband’s fellow officers and other jolly guests, rigging out the car in traditional ’Just Married’ style, complete with tin cans. Whatever the white stuff was that they used to write all over our nice newly-cleaned Vauxhall Viva, it managed to rub off on his new ‘going-away’ velvet jacket, resulting in a dry-cleaning bill. In the film you can see my new husband gesticulating (yes, I think that’s the right word) at the guests and muttering something through clenched teeth. Oh what fun we had; it’s a good job it was silent movie. We did notice that as we left the reception the camera panned away to a nearby service station sign with petrol at 69 pence a gallon! Ah nostalgia!

My husband was always interested in cars, probably more from an engineer’s point of view, and this may have begun when he was small and rode his very own Triang car in the family’s yard. Not a lot of room for manouevre, as it was still ‘under construction’, and you can see the crazy paving slabs stacked up in the background. So it was probably two pedals forward, one pedal back

He looks so angelic in his 1950s pedal car, home-knitted jumper and Clarks’ sandals. And, in true ‘like father, like son’ fashion, here is my son from Easter 1981 in our back yard in RAF Married Quarters at High Wycombe. It was postage-stamp size; a patio with a border, and the whirligig washing line in the centre. So, it was round and round we go and not much danger of him breaking any speed limit.
And here are his twins borrowing their cousin’s roadster at my Dad’s recent 90th birthday party, (where there was no speed limit).That’s not a black eye my grandson is sporting, he’d been face-painted as a pirate and was trying to get a few more miles to the galleon! In a few years’ time they’ll have passed their driving tests and, following the family tradition, will be asking for ‘an old banger’ to get them started. As long as it’s not a 1974 Excalibur. Better start saving up now!
As luck would have it I DID have a picture of a lovely lady and a car!

How do I steer this ship?

To see one man’s pedal car heaven, watch this BBC News clip.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Grand Designs

For his Thematic Photography No 155, Carmi set a challenge this week of ‘Big’, so plenty of scope there! I decided to go for grand designs; both man-made and natural. I make no apology for again featuring one of my favourite buildings, in the city where I lived until fairly recently.
Salisbury Cathedral has the tallest spire in Britain and for facts and figures about this magnificent structure, you can refer to my previous post: ‘Aspiring to Greatness’ where you will also see the cathedral silhouetted in the dawn.
Here are two new views taken on a recent return trip. A view across the Water Meadows, which would have been familiar to the painter John Constable.

For contrast here is a big plant which sprang up in our garden, here in Lanzarote, recently from the centre of this agave. Nicknamed ‘The Triffid’ it grew daily with astonishing rapidity.
 OK I am not a very tall lady but it was still impressive! Then it produced these giant seedheads.
So we were delighted when sparrows flocked to it every day at 'sparrow tea-time’ and ripped it to shreds. It’s certainly the biggest bird-feeder we’ve ever had in our garden.

If you want to see more pictures by others thinking big go to Carmi’s written.inc blog.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Right Stuff or The Wrong Trousers

A NASA theme runs through my post this week, and my picture is from our 1999 holiday in Washington. My husband is admiring the Gemini spacecraft in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. 

This week has been memorable for a number of reasons, and it has been all too easy to lose sight of a milestone, such as the last space shuttle flight, as it is consigned to a few column inches on the back page. Atlantis left the International Space Station for the last time on Wednesday and completed its final mission on July 21st, bringing to an end thirty years of service by the space shuttle. 

This week’s Sepia Saturday picture prompt is from Flickr Commons and shows a NASA spacesuit prototype of 1964.At this time it was early days in the ‘Space Race’. Russia had gained the first strike by putting Yuri Gagarin into orbit aound the Earth on 12th April 1961 in Vostok 1. A year later John Glenn circled the Earth three times in Friendship7. 

The brilliant 1983 film ‘The Right Stuff’, based on the Tom Wolfe's book of the same name, told the story of the Mercury Program, beginning with Chuck Yeager breaking the Sound Barrier in 1958 and ending with Gordon Cooper’s launch in May 1963; the last time in which an American flew alone into Space. The 'Right Stuff’ of the title is defined, by the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, as: 

“The essential abilities or qualities, such as self-confidence, dependability and knowledge, necessary for success in a given field or situation”

Those early space pioneers certainly had bags of it!

It would be another seven years before the first man stepped on the Moon, when Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins landed Eagle in The Sea of Tranquility. Ony three years later Gene Cernan, of Apollo 17 became the last man, so far, to do so. As he ascended the lunar ladder, he expressed the wish that it would not be too long before Man would again step on the Moon’s surface. I heard a soundbite on the radio yesterday, in which he apparently said that he hadn’t then expected to be the last man ever to walk on the Moon. However, further missions were deemed underfunded and unsustainable, and only last year Armstrong and Cernan testified to Congress in opposition to cancellation of further space projects. Following Glenn’s space shuttle flight in 1998 Cernan wrote in Aviation Week:

“ Too many years have passed for me to still be the last man to have left his footprints on the Moon. I believe with all my heart that somewhere out there is a young boy or girl with indomitable will and courage, who will lift that dubious distinction from my shoulders, and take us back where we belong. Let us give that dream a chance.

But if we can send a 77 year-old into space, why not a 17 year-old? The teenagers of today are the ones who will become our leaders of tomorrow. Let’s give their generation some ownership of space, and ultimately their own destiny. Theirs is the one that will determine how and when mankind will return to the Moon and one day set foot on Mars. All too often I hear that teenagers need heroes. Let’s give them heroes, heroes of their own generation. Give them a reason to dream and reach for their own star - to make the impossible happen.”

Well, it hasn’t happened yet. Perhaps more of ‘The Right Stuff’ is needed. Except in this century the right stuff all too often means money!

The prompt picture also reminded me of Nick Park’s wonderful creation in the animation, 'The Wrong Trousers’, where Wallace’s birthday gift to Gromit, of ex-NASA techno-trousers, is intended to alleviate the boredom of walks. After many adventures, involving a criminal penguin , the trousers end the film by walking off by themselves into the sunset.

Searching my own hoard of memorabilia and yellowing newspaper cuttings, I fell upon a complete ‘Daily Telegraph’ from the day following the Solar Eclipse on August 11th 1999. I was immediately transported back more than a decade and reminded of the mounting excitement in the build-up to the event. we were living in Wiltshire at that time and had a pretty reasonable view of it I seem to recall.The newspaper reported with the headline, ‘Two minutes to last a lifetime - millions marvel at heavenly sight most will never see again’. Of course, the next hour was lost as I found myself diverted from my original quest and getting caught up in the headlines and stories. Teachers were being accused of helping children to cheat, the NHS waiting lists were provoking comment and the paper stated that, ‘The prospects for the health service next summer look pretty bleak.” - so no change there then. A neo-Nazi gunman had given himself up to the FBI and Danii Minogue was playing Lady Macbeth (sort of) at the Edinburgh Festival - a newsday like any other! However, there was one link which fitted the theme perfectly; the headline read, “Allergy boys shed spacesuits and revel in the dark”. Two brothers who suffered from Polymorphic Light Reaction, an allergy to sunlight which caused their skin to crack and blister, had special spacesuits designed for them by NASA scientists. The eclipse allowed them a few precious moments play in the garden without their spacesuits. They wished there could be an eclipse every day. Of course they did.

On page 24, a wonderfully thought-provoking piece by the Science Editor, Roger Highfield concluded:

“The reality is that the mechanical view of the universe that originated with Sir Isaac Newton is the exception, not the rule. Eclipses and the clockwork beats of the heavens are not typical of nature. The apparent certainties of science can easily be humbled by real-world complexity. This, as much as yesterday’s black sun, should prompt us all to question our place in the cosmos.” 

To see the excellent cartoon by Steve Fricker which accompanied the piece click here, as copyright restrictions mean I am unable to reproduce it in this post.

And just to lighten the serious mood, here’s another ‘space' picture from nearly thirty years ago, when my son’s birthday cake was an excuse to surprise him with some Playmobil spacemen. I’ve no idea what prompted this; I don’t remember him wanting to be an astronaut. Anyway it went down well with his friends and seemed to be made of the right stuff!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Life Must Go On

This week Sepia Saturday had a posed picture of three men drinking and playing cards in an alcove. One of the players is practising deception and possibly planning to cheat by hiding a card. This prompted a search amongst my own old photos for something in a similar vein. I was able to find pictures of three men, most definitely posed, but not a card game in sight and no evidence of sleight of hand!

The above picture comes from the National Library of Scotland archive and dates from the First World War. The description tells us that the men are using a wooden crate as a table and are seated beside a sandbag dugout or hideout. There is a bottle on the ground, a jug on the table, and they each have a metal beaker, but there the similarity with the original picture ends. There seems to be no hint of cheating going on this picture. The men are having a well-earned break from battle duty and the description reads; “Taken on the British Western Front, Battle of Menin Road. In the few spare moments when not pounding the Boche, our gunners settle down to a game of cards.” The official war photographer was John Warwick Brooke, who was tasked with taking as many photos, and covering as wide a variety, as possible. The Government was keen to convey to the civilian population back home that ‘life went on’. As we now know, much of the true horror of the war was covered up under a blanket of propaganda.

The second picture, from the same source, is by Tom Aitken, a newspaper reporter from Glasgow and is titled: “The Fight of the Woods Near Rheims. Two British Tommies have an impromptu game of Nap among the ruins of a shattered town.” I wasn’t as convinced that this picture wasn’t staged. The strange juxtapostion of the two battle-weary men playing cards, whilst surrounded by broken furniture and shells of buildings, doesn’t ring quite as true as the subjects of the first picture, who seemed oblivious to the cameraman. We know that a life of sorts did go on and perhaps these men were relieving the tedium of war and trying to bring some sort of normality into a situation of unbelievable horror.

At approximately the same time as the above photographs were taken, my own grandfather, he of ‘Wedding Day Delay’, was also serving in the war, and no doubt engaging in the odd card game with his comrades when duties allowed. At the age of sixteen he had enlisted in the Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment) 2/7th Robin Hoods Battalion, which in 1917 took part in the 2nd Battle of Ypres, known as Passchendaele, and later was in Cambrai, in France. So my own ‘Three Men’ picture has my grandfather Sydney, his father William Joseph, and standing behind them, my great-uncle Albert. There will be more stories to tell about these three in later posts, but as far as I know they were honest and upright citizens; there is no hint that any of them ever cheated, at cards or anything else, and not a whiff of scandal. A bit disappointing really!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

But Soft, What Light.....?

"But soft what light through yonder window breaks?” 
Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet Act 2, Scene 2

This week’s Sepia Saturday has dramatic light pouring through windows at Chicago’s Union Station in 1943.  This nudged me into searching my old albums for a picture lit from a window. The above photo from the mid- 1950’s, is me, aged about four, with my big brother, and an un-named bald dolly. I’m guessing that this would be my Dad’s handiwork (the photograph, not the hair loss), as he has an artistic side which often meant the family posed in other than ‘face-to-camera’ shots. He must have seen the potential when the sun shone through the window into our living room and lured us into the frame!

To ring the changes he took a shot from outside, with me looking down at Daddy. It was probably a downstairs window and I was a sensible little girl, so I wasn’t going to take flight.

This reminds me of  story, told by my husband, about his brother, when he was a child. He was enjoying a game of hide-and-seek with his father before bedtime  and, being very young, didn’t know that the sill of an open upstairs window was a dangerous place to hide. My father-in-law must also have been oblivious to the consequences when, seeing a little bump in the curtains, he gave a triumphant shout of, “Gotcha!” and poked him, rather too  enthusiastically in the tummy, sending him plummeting to the ground below. As he was small he bounced more easily than an adult would, and suffered a fractured skull and other injuries, rather than passing into the next world. His poor father however, suffered agonies of remorse for many years after. These days his son would probably have been removed from the family home and put into care.

The oldest known photographic negative in existence is of a window. William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-18-77), early pioneer of photography took the iconic image of the oriel window at Lacock Abbey  in Wiltshire. Until recently I lived in Salisbury and we would visit Lacock, a beautiful National Trust property, as a family. If you click on the link and scroll through you’ll be able to see that window as it looks now in the photo gallery.

This rather grainy black and white photo from 1979 only came to light (pardon the pun) recently. Probably my Dad at work again, taking an arty shot of his new grandaughter at Christmas. That’s me, with my firstborn of eight weeks. It could have been my brother who took the picture though, but I suspect no-one will admit to it. I rather like it as it has a somewhat ethereal quality, but it is best viewed at this size, as it is not enhanced by enlarging the shot.

And just to complete the sequence, here is a more recent photograph of my firstborn, seated at the panoramic window of the aptly named Galeria Bar, Playa Blanca, here in Lanzarote. Now that’s how I like to see the sunlight pouring through the window!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Vertical Challenge

Spurred on by my fellow blogger Bob, who posts such interesting pictures on the Written.inc weekly theme, I decided to rise to the challenge myself. So I offer a couple of recent photos from here in the Canary Islands. The above, from Lanzarote’s National Park, is a piece of laval rock, which is definitely on the way to being vertical, and looks as though it has landed in the lava field like a javelin or spear thrown by the mighty Vulcan himself. I took a bit of artistic licence with that one and this one is more geometrically correct (although no plumb line was used to check), and sits on the cliffs above Famara.

Across the Bocayna Straits from Lanzarote rises the majestic El Cotillo Lighthouse in Fuerteventura. From here you can see its fellow lighthouse, or Faro, winking over in Playa Blanca on Lanzarote.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Dulce Et Decorum Est.................

George Brandon 1893-1916
The title is taken from Wilfred Owen’s PoemThe picture is of a good-looking young man, standing proudly in his Grenadier Guards dress uniform, which would have been a deep red; he must have looked very dashing. In reality it is a very tiny sepia picture, and the oval shape is due to the fact that it was placed on one side of a gold locket worn by my grandmother. He was the middle one of her three older brothers, George, and he was killed on the Somme in 1916, two days after his twenty-third birthday. Today is the 95th anniversary of the start of the great Somme offensive which was to claim so many lives.

At 7.20 a.m. on this day 1st July in 1916, the mine at Hawthorn Ridge was detonated and one of the costliest offensives of World War One began. Approximately 20% of the fighting force were lost by the end of that first day, and the succeeding months were to see many more lives lost and families torn apart by grief at the loss of a brother, husband or son.

I know very little about my great-uncle and have written previously about my regret at not questioning my grandmother further when I had the opportunity. In 1984 I was living in Germany where my husband was stationed with the RAF, and that Easter my mother joined us for a visit of the WW1 battlefields, and an attempt to locate the last resting place of her three uncles. I was living at home with two small children and had the time to do some research into military records. I didn’t have the luxury of the internet then and everything was achieved through a laborious series of letters to regimental headquarters, museums and so on. People were very helpful and we were able to locate the grave of one brother and the inscription of the other two, who had no known graves; one on the Menin Gate in Ypres, and one on the Thiepval Memorial, allowing us to pay our respects and remind ourselves of the great sacrifice paid by so many.

George’s name is inscribed on the magnificent Thiepval Memorial at Pozieres
There is something of a mystery over his initial but that is a story for another day

George served in the 2nd Battalion and this photograph is the only other one we have of him, standing on the top row, far left.
By the time we undertook our pilgrimage my own grandmother had also died and the remaining great-aunts had very hazy memories as they were themselves very young when their brothers died. George’s younger sister, Mary, wrote to me that he had been in the police force but was on reserve and was called up to join the Guards. We don’t know if he was a naughty schoolboy or a good scholar, whether or not he had a sweetheart, or how he liked to spend his leisure time. We do know he was a much loved son and brother, from the warmth and sadness with which my grandmother always spoke of him. Again, it is my privilege to honour his memory through this page.

He was to die later in the lengthy Somme offensive, on September 15th 1916. The archivist at the Regimental Headquarters in London, kindly copied the relevant pages from a three-volume history written by their Lieutenant Colonel. It gives a vivid blow-by-blow account of the days leading up to George’s death, when the regiment suffered particularly heavy losses. With the advent of the internet it is now so much easier to research family history and there are vast amounts of information available, but I treasure those yellowing photocopies of over a quarter a century ago. Re-reading the account chills the blood. Mistakes were made, moments of indecision cost countless lives, a foolhardy  and almost comical bravery was shown by some of the officers which is reminiscent of those poignant final scenes of Blackadder Goes Forth. I’m not going to go into the details of the individual assaults but I would like to share with you some of the pictures drawn by this account, which have helped sketch in some details of two days in the life of my great-uncle. He wasn’t an unknown soldier but to some extent he was a man of mystery. We know so little of him and he has no known grave, but at least we can place him approximately in those last few days, sharing the hardships and comradeship of his fellow soldiers. If you don’t like descriptions of war then read no further, but if you want to hear of tales of bravery and selflessness, this would be a good place to begin. I would urge you to visit the beautifully kept war cemeteries and battlefield memorials, and marvel at the sheer magnitude of the slaughter of young men on both sides of the conflict. The skylark does indeed sing over their graves. Poppies do indeed grow in the open fields. Read the words below and remember those who fell.

John Oxenham’s poem at the entrance to Beaumont Hamel, speaks for many.

September 14th: The men had already been three days in the trenches, with little sleep. It was a bitterly cold at night and the men, who had no greatcoats, suffered much. Detailed instructions for the attack next day were given. The assembly was to march in absolute silence, no smoking, no lights shown and between dawn and zero hour (6.00 a.m.) no movement. 'All men will carry two bandoliers S.A.A. and two Mills bombs.This must be made up before leaving the trenches. Every third man will carry a shovel, every fourth man a pick. Two days’ rations will be carried.

September 15th: At 5.00 a.m. the tanks were seen moving slowly on the left flank of the Brigade, but they apparently did not arouse suspicion or attract any fire. At zero hour the battalions started off and and the leaders of the assault were ‘mown down’.
Lieut.- Colonel J Campbell knowing that in the 'infernal roar of rifle and machine-gun fire  no commands could possibly be heard’ had used a hunting-horn, which pierced the din and allowed the men to follow. 

The casualties in the 2nd Battalion were considerably increased by the fact that the tank which should have passed over the place where the machine guns were posted, never reached its objective, and consequently a gap of 100 yards was left where it should have gone.

Lieut.- Colonel Crespigny was easily distinguished as he marched along, as he wore a forage cap in place of a helmet. On reaching Ginchy 'a heavy barrage came down on the men, huge shells bursting at the rate of one a second were shooting showers of mud in every direction and the noise was deafening’ There were again a considerable number of casualties.

A series of blunders followed, and in order to take a trench it was necessary to deploy into a line. In so doing they lost very heavily. ‘Our creeping barrage had, so to speak, run away, and there was now no artillery support of any kind’. 

Go to Sepia Saturday for some more Twentieth Century stories.