Tuesday, 24 December 2013

MyMateJohn was right after all.

Those of you who have read Hunting the Golden Lion (read the first chapter here: http://queenannesfan.com/files/2213/7396/6771/Text_Golden_Lion.pdf ) will know that I have a long-suffering friend called MyMateJohn. When he is not managing the Oxfam bookshop in Folkestone he sometimes comes out on a bicycle ride with me. His preparations and route choice are usually made after checking the weather situation on the satellite pictures and then ascertaining the local wind speed and direction from the meteorological broadcast of nearby Manston Airport.
I was busy yesterday morning so we arranged to go out for a ride in the afternoon. When I got home at midday MyMateJohn had left several messages on my telephone warning me that the weather would be unsuitable and that he was not going out and neither should I.
It is difficult to take seriously the prophecies of someone who can never tell whether the wind is blowing him along or slowing him down but just for once, I decided to accord him full oracle status. I stayed indoors. The wind destroyed my garden fence, snapping off at ground level seven 4" x 4" timber posts.

I think MyMateJohn was right after all.

A wind that can snap off 4" x 4" timber posts is
probably too dangerous to cycle in.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

It's technology that slows down passport control.

According to a recent article in The Times, now that the new UK passport will carry the photograph of the bearer at the front it will remove, 'that quirk that used to allow us to stand out from the rest of the world,' and which, apparently, 'baffled immigration officials in America and many other countries.'

Avoiding the temptation to speculate on what would not baffle an American immigration official, I find it misleading and rather insulting to imply that passport officials waste time trying to find their way around passports. The passports of many countries in the Middle and Far East open 'at the back' and have done so for decades. Passport officials know this and work accordingly. What slows down passport control is not 'back to front passports' but the application of technology to the process.

A British family of five travelling on their joint passport could be checked by a British immigration officer in about five seconds. Now each family member must hold their own passport -- this earns more money for the government. The computer takes eighteen seconds to verify the microchip. That family of five now wait for ninety seconds and so does everybody in the queue behind them.

I've said it before and I shall no doubt have cause to say it again: we are teaching machines to do badly what a human can do so well.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Rue Amelie is now in Italy

When visiting Paris earlier this year with Pauline and Geoff I took them to Rue Amelie, the street in which my eponymous popular thriller is set, and Geoff took a photograph of me displaying a copy of the book which demonstrated how the cover art was an accurate representation of the actual street.

A few weeks ago they holidayed in Italy and what did they find in the hotel bookshelf? - a copy of Rue Amelie. So here is Pauline, reprising the earlier tableau.

And still it goes on. Look at my post of 12th April 2014 and you will see another happy reader in the Rue Amelie.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Australia wipes out Great Britain.

Before the Australian states federated, each state decided its own immigration policy and issued passports. Even after federation in 1901 this practice continued until the outbreak of the Great War at which point passport issue became the responsibility of the Governor General. 
Australian passports bore 
the legend, 'British Passport', on their covers and the holder's nationality was described as, British Subject'.

 As the country became more confident in itself, this became, 'Australian Citizen and a British Subject'. In 1967 Australia decided to remove the 'British' from their passports altogether. I can quite understand the wish of a country to affirm its own identity but have they now gone too far by expunging Great Britain entirely from their cognizance?

When I applied for my Australian visa recently, I trawled through the list of countries from which Australia declared that it would be delighted to receive visitors and was nonplussed not to be able to find mine. Every other country in the world was listed but not the United Kingdom. Nor was it described as, 'Great Britain'. I eventually discovered that my country is called, 'British Citizen'.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Amused at Southsea

Clarence Pier, Southsea in 2013
I recently gave a talk in Portsmouth to the local National Trust centre and I popped along the road to Southsea to see if Billy Manning's amusement arcade was still there. As children in the early 1960s we used to spend a day and all our pocket money there. I can remember a paddle steamer circumnavigation of the Isle of Wight and a speedboat trip in and out of the warships at anchor. We were very impressed by passing under the overhang of  the flight deck of an aircraft carrier and seeing the fledgling hovercraft service running up onto the beach.
Hovercraft arriving, Southsea c.1964
Hovercraft loading, Southsea c.1964

What I did not realise was that the amusements were built on a pier, the Clarence Pier. It was opened in 1861 to serve the paddle steamer service to the Isle of Wight but was destroyed by the Luftwaffe in 1941. Reconstruction was started in the 1950s and the pier re-opened in 1961. It is unusual in that rather than running out to sea, it seems to run along the coast -- it is much wider than its length.
Well, the pier and the amusements are still there. I don't think that it is a listed building but that architecture is so distinctive that I would not be surprised if something was done about it in the future.

Monday, 7 October 2013

French Farming in 1890? Really?

The harvest is over, the haymaking is finished, the next crop is already pushing up through the tilth. It is the right time of year to view this illustration. It appears in a picture book published in 1890 by the Religious Tract Society and purports to show French farmers haymaking by electric light. In the foreground is what is known as a 'portable engine', that is to say, a steam engine which has to be towed into position. It is running a generator which feeds electricity via the thick cable to a lamp mounted on a pylon attached to the engine. In the mid ground two stands of wheat are being harvested by horse drawn reapers, stooks are being laid on the ground, haystacks are being erected and in the background we can see another steam engine with electric light pylon which is running a threshing machine by means of a drive belt from its flywheel. We are looking at a remarkable capital investment in machinery for 1890.

I first visited France 75 years after this drawing was published and was struck by how poorly equipped were French farmers compared to their contemporaries in the UK. Had something happened in the interim? Or is this engraving a representation of how the Religious Tract Society wanted the world to be rather than of how the world was? What do you think?

And why is the smoke from the engines blowing in different directions?

Thursday, 3 October 2013


Once again the Foreign Office fail their French exam.
'Couleur de cheveux' should read, 'couleur des cheveux'.
The error lay undetected for thirteen years.
Not another mistake in the
British passport?  On 5th September 1934, Mr. W. C. Ryan of 106 Abel Smith Street, Wellington, New Zealand wrote to the Foreign Office in London:

"May I be allowed with great respect to advise you that I recently saw a Foreign Office passport dated in the year 1926 and there is a misprint on page 2. Should  not the words, 'couleur de cheveux' be amended to, 'couleur des cheveux'? If this has not since been corrected, I feel that it should be brought under notice."
Yours faithfully,
 W.C. Ryan.

This error had been introduced when the printers De La Rue had taken over the printing of the British passport from Harrisons in 1921 and it had been perpetrated in every subsequent version of the document until 1934. The Foreign Office did not express much concern and even less regret that the fault had lain undetected for thirteen years and then had been pointed out to them by a member of the public rather than from someone within their own department. In correcting the mistake an official observed in a handwritten note in the margin of the file, "it is curious that we have not spotted it before."

Click here to go to The British Passport Centenary

Click here to go to my Sunday Post interview on passport photographs.

The Passport - The History of Man's Most Travelled Document, by Martin Lloyd.

Read the first chapter here.

Neither Civil nor Servant - Twenty four years in the Immigration Service by Martin Lloyd.

Read the first chapter here.

Search the blog for my series of evocative posts entitled, Passport Portraits of Yesteryear.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

How to Save Electricity and Spare the Planet.

Save the planet.
Disconnect your Ecometer.

For the last twelve years my electricity supplier has tried to persuade me that  'for customer convenience' I should read their electricity meter and send the results to them by phone and I have, with unfailing courtesy, consistently pointed out that 'for the electricity supplier's convenience' they installed my meter on the outside wall of my house in a locked box to which only they have a key.
     All that changed recently when a charming man came along and installed an electricity Smart Meter and took away their, presumably, Stupid Meter. This new intelligent counter will tell its employer exactly what electricity I am using without any intervention by me and without their having to open the box. The man also gave me the gizmo pictured aside to help me save electricity. This is plugged into the mains so that its digital readout can tell me my current current consumption in Kwh and with three very pretty lights in red, orange and green will inform me of my level of power use. It can also calculate my carbon footprint and has a facility whereby they can send me text messages.
     As part of their responsible attitude to power use economy the man was also obliged to deliver me a little lecture of useful tips such as using the washing machine for small loads rather than large loads, switching off lights in unoccupied rooms and not leaving appliances in 'stand by' mode.
     "That is splendid advice," said I as I unplugged the gizmo, put it back in its box and shoved it in the cupboard. 
     "Why have you done that?" he said. 
     "Because," I explained, "it is the only appliance in my house which will run continuously for twenty four hours and do nothing. It is actually using electricity that I have to pay for to tell me that I am using electricity."
     He was looking very pensive when he left.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Officials admit mistake in British passport

Spelling mistake in British passport of 1924

The French text was removed from British passports in 1851 and did not reappear until the blue passport was introduced in 1921. Despite French being the language of diplomacy and the Foreign Office being responsible for issuing passports, it would seem that their command of the language had deteriorated in the intervening years. Illustrated is the title page of the first British passport booklet. In 1924, when they had been issuing these passports for three years at a monthly rate of at about 12,000, the Foreign Office realised that the French translation of United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland had been rendered incorrectly. It should have read, ET D'IRLANDE.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Choose your bra at the Holiday Inn Winchester

Travelling around the country, giving talks as I do, I occasionally have to spend a night away from home. Many hotel chains issue customers with loyalty cards and after you have spent about a thousand pounds with Holiday Inn your card becomes gold, which means that you are now entitled to a free copy of i newspaper, price 20p, delivered to your room whereas everybody else has to pick up their free copy at the reception desk on their way to breakfast. A few weeks ago, whilst staying at the Holiday Inn, Winchester which, incidentally is a splendid hotel with friendly staff and fine cuisine, I noticed that not only did they provide the standard Holiday Inn Pillow Menu but they also encouraged me to avail myself of the brassiere menu. Now, if a pillow menu is for choosing pillows then a brassiere menu must surely be for choosing bras.
Waitress, I'll have the breast of.....