Thursday, 31 December 2015

Pancakes in Portugalete

At least, that is what I think they were making. I had just visited, for the second time in a week, the Museo Rialia, which is a very interesting museum of industry situated on the riverside in Portugalete, Bilbao, Spain. Its attraction for me was the collection of paintings depicting the iron and steel industry of Bilbao.

Having gorged myself on Bessemer Converters and the Martin Siemens process, furnace tapping, block casting and other such occupations I egressed the museum to discover at the bottom of the steps outside, this knot of children being taught what I deduce was the skill of pancake making. 

As I watched the demonstrators pounding and moulding it occurred to me that their actions were not dissimilar to those depicted in the paintings of steel workers in the museum.

I wonder what the pancakes tasted like?

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

My Bono is not Bueno

Over the last four years I have visited Bilbao on several occasions and always stayed at the Hotel Puente Colgante which is situated in Portugalete on the riverside next to the eponymous bridge. On my second visit I noticed that one of the locals was having his fidelity card stamped at breakfast so I asked for, and obtained such a card for myself, much to the amusement of the locals. 

Over the next three years I assiduously collected the necessary stamps to entitle me to free breakfast and successfully filled the card last year.
So, this year, with a great flourish I presented my bono at breakfast and claimed my two free breakfasts.

'Sorry, that promotion finished eight months ago.'

My bono was not bueno.

Friday, 25 December 2015

Selfie in Bilbao

How can this be a self portrait? 

It's just a modern building in the street behind the Abando railway station in Bilbao.

Ah, but if you look closer...

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Posters in Bilbao

Visiting the Museum of Fine Arts in Bilbao yesterday morning we came across this marvellous exhibition of 200 posters, 1886-1975, displayed from the large collection of the museum.

A significant number of posters were from the Basque region, quite appropriately, given the position of Bilbao.

As well as the fine and varied display of the skill of the lithographic printer, as represented by the posters themselves, also present was a hand-operated litho-printing machine, and a very instructive and well composed film showing a printer making a print from the first stage of cleaning the stone to the final lifting of the print from the bed on that very machine.

If you are in Bilbao, pop along to the Museo de Bellas Artes any time until 18th January 2016 and feast your eyes. And if you are lucky like us, you will visit on a Wednesday and discover that the entry is free on that day.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Ill informed in Illminster

Just popped in to Illminster for lunch and for curiosity's sake. Desiring to purchase a postcard I followed the sign to the Tourist Information until I met another sign pointing back at the first. In between the two...? No tourist information.

The building adjacent to the brasserie at which we had chosen to dine proudly displayed a plaque on its wall.

But Queen Victoria did not become queen until 1837, surely? In fact, she was only just born in 1819 – she was a princess of seven months of age.

Never mind, let's go and have lunch.

So, what have we got on today's menu? Ah, pan-fried bream, that sounds delicious. Two pan-fried breams please miss.
Sorry, we are out of bream.
Oh, well we will have the steak then.
We don't have that either.
So, at 12 o'clock on the menu for today which advertises a choice of four main courses, you have already sold out of two of them and this, in an empty restaurant?

I have a feeling that language must work differently in Illminster.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Salisbury: ice sculpture & Australian signwriting.

On my way to Tiverton to present a lecture I stopped in Salisbury. 

There I saw a man in the street carving ice into statues.

And a shop fascia board presumably installed by Aussie signwriters.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Passport Portraits of Yesteryear No. 11

Continuing the series of passport photographs from my collection.
Peruse and wonder.

This is Miss Janet Baker. She is a 36 year old British maid from London.

She obtained her British passport in 1923 and used it for several short trips to Calais and Boulogne.

Then in 1926 it was renewed and made valid for: 'Holland, Spain, Portugal, Algeria, Tangier, Tunis, Morocco, Greece, Crete and Turkey.' and she obtained Greek, Turkish and  Moroccan visas.

What an adventure in 1926 for a British maid.  Was she having to accompany her employer?

I wonder what she thought of it all.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Spruce up your woman.

Is your woman looking dowdy?

Does she need freshening up?

Could she benefit from a rub down?

Is her undercoat showing through?


(Advertisement in classified ads. section of Canterbury Index Magazine)

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Almost worth getting married for.

Rolls Royce Landaulette at Wingham church.

It's almost worth getting married for... a ride in a Rolls Royce (Phantom I?) landaulette.

Awaiting the bride and groom outside the church in Wingham, Kent.

Immigration Service Cyclists do not wear corduroys.

Sign seen at the door of the Griffin's Head, Chillenden, Kent, it being the pub from which the Immigration Service Cyclists set bravely forth every month.

Luckily none of us wears corduroy whether from Matalan or Primark.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Much earlier, in Sheffield.

Royal Victoria Hotel, Sheffield. 2015.

The hotel that we stayed in was the Royal Victoria Hotel which had been built in the mid nineteenth century as the Station Hotel for Sheffield Victoria Station. 

Steam train in Sheffield Victoria Station.
The back of the Royal Victoria
Hotel can just be seen.

I can remember that passenger train services from this station were withdrawn whilst I was studying in Sheffield, much to the disgust of one of the students in our digs who could reach his home in Manchester on a direct train from there.

I was surprised, forty five years later to discover that the station had disappeared almost entirely. 

The only evidence of its existence that I could find was the stone wall running alongside the old Station Approach and this short stretch of tiling on a wall. Several reproductions of old railway artefacts have been set into the wall – a letter from Oscar Wilde written on hotel headed notepaper, a wartime restaurant menu and this passenger notice also from the 1940s.

The interior of the hotel is resplendent in the massive and palatial Victorian style – high ceilings, chandeliers, ornate ironwork and elegant plaster mouldings on the ceilings.

Stairwell at Royal Victoria Hotel.
Inspiration for Escher?

 The stair well reminded me of one of Escher's famous optical illusion drawings. As I climbed to the upper floor I expected to find myself back on the ground floor or to be met by one of those waterfalls which ended up where it had just begun.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Much later, in Sheffield.

Yesterday I delivered a lecture in the University of Sheffield – a city in which I was a mediocre student forty five years ago. Gosh, has the city changed! The 'Polo' traffic roundabout with the hole in the middle has been filled in and a new tramway now runs over it; the brewery by Ladygate whose aromatic vapour would waft me on my walking route to college is now just a shell under redevelopment and the cream buses of Sheffield Corporation have been replaced by omnibuses of every hue.
'Steelworker' by Paul Waplington.

I studied in Sheffield when the steel industry was on its very last legs. Factories were closing, the city was strewn with redundant buildings and waste sites. But the legacy of steel has not been forgotten.

This is a brick mural designed by the artist Paul Waplington and completed by the Sheffield City Council Works Department in August 1986.

It is entitled, 'Steelworker' and comprises the entire end wall of a four storey building.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Passport Portraits of Yesteryear No. 10

Continuing the series of passport photographs from my collection.
Peruse and wonder.

Robert Rondel, a 23 year old Frenchman working in Germany in 1943.

This is his photograph on the Alien's Passport that the German authorities issued to him to enable him to travel within Germany and abroad.

But surely, in 1943 France and Germany were at war? Yes, they were but Germany needed manpower and so recruited workers from the countries it had occupied.

Some went voluntarily, some were forced.

I wonder which category Robert Rondel fell into?

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Steam engines not allowed.

If you read my post of 11th October you will have seen the steam engines that we discovered. (Read the post here). I recently gave a talk in Newbury in Berkshire and walking around the town before the talk I saw this sign on the wall.

So those engines would not have been allowed into Mansion Street. It's reassuring to know that Newbury is keeping its signage up to date.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

'Smart' is the new stupid.

George Orwell, in his predictive novel Nineteen Eighty Four, published in 1949, introduced the reader to a world in which the government, amongst other activities, changed the meaning of the language to suit its ends. 

If you have not yet read it, do so now and then ponder how much the dystopian world he described as fiction has become fact today and marvel at how far-seeing he was.

The book came to mind the other day as I sat in a traffic jam on the M25. When the motorway system was started, both carriageways had a hard shoulder upon which you were forbidden to drive unless in distress. It prevented broken-down vehicles from obstructing the motorway and permitted the emergency services to access any incident as quickly as possible. Now what could be more sensible than that?

Well, apparently, doing away altogether with this safety lane permits the capacity of the road to be increased by 33%. 

Q: What happens if a vehicle breaks down? 
A: It can coast to one of the emergency lay-bys which have been constructed at half mile intervals. 

Q: Where are these vehicles which can coast half a mile with a seized engine? Surely they will be hit by other vehicles?
A: No they won't because we have installed an electronic signalling system which will direct the traffic away from the obstruction.

This is what actually happens. 

The drivers who are exceeding the speed limit of 70mph are obviously in a hurry and so accelerate down the closed lane which the careful drivers have vacated for them. 

When they reach the obstruction they then push in to the lane on their left and we all stop.

Five years after the opening of the M1, the average speed in the left lane, next to the emergency hard shoulder, was 40mph with 98% of all vehicles travelling at less than 70mph. The speed in the left lane is now 70mph. Motorways which are being converted to this monstrously idiotic arrangement have been officially named:
Think of George Orwell's novel.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Does the Queen ride the Tube?

I went up to London yesterday to 'take part' in a live television programme on BBC 2 called,  Daily Politics. The taking part consisted of me being wheeled on at the end of the programme to be asked stupid questions which they had told me they would not ask on a subject of which fell outside my sphere of expertise. But who cares? Nobody watches the programme. Even the floor manager, viewing the monitor with me before I went on was muttering, 'boring, boring, stop talking, shut them up'. I am so glad I do not own a television.

However, that apart, my day in London meant that I came into contact with the rapid transit system of the city. The first incident which amused me was that the computer controlled driverless train system, known as the Docklands Light Railway, was not operating because of 'industrial action'. Has the right to strike been written into the computers' software?

And the other was the recorded announcements in the tube trains which helpfully announce where to alight, such as, 'alight here for the British Museum'. When we arrived at Green Park, the recorded voice said, 'alight here for Buckingham Palace'. I had visions of Her Majesty nudging Prince Philip in the ribs and saying, 'Come on Phil, this is our stop.'

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Foggy November – cycling off the edge of the world.

Mare and foal at Patrixbourne.

I did not believe the weather forecast for one minute when it predicted that the mist would lift at 11 am and all would be sunshine. I have come to realise that the weather in East Kent is always at least half a day behind the forecast.

The autumn leaves were falling from black, dank trees which dripped heavy drops of condensed mist onto me as I cycled below.

Cycling off the edge of the world.

I was out for five hours and never saw further than about a hundred yards in front of me.  

But then, that is what the weather can be like in November. I am not complaining – I am a cyclist.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Play me I'm yours in Canterbury

St George's Church Tower hides a secret.

As part of the Canterbury Festival, ten pianos have been distributed around the city of Canterbury for anybody to play between the hours of 09.00-22.00 (to concur with local licensing laws).

It is part of a worldwide initiative on behalf of Street Pianos click here for further details and a map giving the locations of all ten instruments.

The piano under the tower.

But they will only be there until the end of October so make haste to make music.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Passport Portraits of Yesteryear No. 9

Continuing the series of passport photographs from my collection.
Peruse and wonder.

Helge Torsten Nilsdorf, a 17 yr. old boy from Finland.

It is 1922 and he is going to the United States. 

The English translation in his passport states that he is, 'travelling to abroad (except Russia) to sea.'

His religion is Lutheran and his 'Social State' is that of, 'teacher's in work in wood son.'

The photograph is sewn into the passport with one stitch of twine.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

The public path through my bedroom.

On our way up to Scotland we stayed two nights at the Golden Fleece Hotel at Thirsk. This is one of our favourite hotels. It is an old coaching inn, famous for hosting the Northern HighFlyer which was the express stagecoach service from Newcastle to London. The stable yard is now the car park and the stables have been converted for human accommodation. The inn itself has all the characteristics of ancient inns – crooked doors, creaking corridors, blocked up doorways and short flights of stairs everywhere. It is great! see here for details.

However, one little quirk made me sleep a little uneasily. Our bedroom was part of the fire escape route and, as the notice aside indicates, when the fire alarm sounds, our bedroom door would open automatically for the guests to troop through to safety.

It was a good job I remembered to pack my pyjamas.

The view over the Market Place as seen from our bedroom window.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Immigration Service Cyclists see Steam Engines in Preston.

We had nearly a full complement of cyclists on our last trip. Exploring the back lanes of the village of Preston (Preston in Kent, not the town in Lancashire) we came across these examples of industrial archeology.

These British-built traction engines were destined
for the 'Colonial' market, as is suggested by the
wide distance between the wheels – too wide for
British roads at the time.
Every year in June, the Steam Museum at Preston hosts the Preston Steam Rally and East Kent Show which is a two day gathering of steam powered traction engines and classic vehicles in a beautiful rustic setting near the village church. Looking across the fields in the early evening to see the steam gallopers swirling around with their haze of smoke and steam illuminated by the hundreds of electric light bulbs is a beautifully evocative sight.

Cylinders and valve gear of one of the four
Argentine-built steam railway locomotives
on the site.

But this year there is to be no show. I understand the organisers are searching for another venue.

So we cyclists had a show of our own, goggling at the traction engines, railway locomotives, portable engines, pumps and even a stern wheel paddle steamer which were patiently waiting to be repaired and restored.

We hope they can find a suitable venue for next year. It really is a show like no other.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Beaconsfield and the Daily Telegraph.

This is the church of St.Mary and All Saints in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. I recently delivered a lecture in the Fitzwilliam Centre alongside it.

In the churchyard are the tombs of two members of the Levy-Lawson family, father and son, who owned and ran the Daily Telegraph in the latter part of the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century.

Tomb of the first Baron Burnham,  Edward Levy-Lawson who ran the Daily Telegraph.
Note the Gothic Typeface imitating the masthead of the newspaper.

The tomb of his son, Henry Lawson Webster Lawson, who died in 1933 bears the inscription:

'In his direction of the Daily Telegraph he accepted the high responsibility which the power of publicity entailed and ever maintained the high standards of the British Press.'
So now you know.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Passport Portraits of Yesteryear No. 8

Continuing the series of passport photographs from my collection.
Peruse and wonder.

Florence Helen Varty,  a 19yr. old English girl from Borough Place, Tenterden, Kent, who went to France during the Great War in January 1915 and resided in the Madeleine district of Paris until the December of that year.

The country was in the middle of a bloody war yet life in Paris went on as normal.

Note that her picture on her British passport has been cut from a larger photograph – you can just see a portion of a man's shoulder on the left of the image.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Banksy – watch this space.

Do you remember my blog of 4 November 2014?  Click here for a reminder. 

The graffiti which was removed and transported to the USA for sale became the subject of an ownership dispute. It would appear that Dreamland Leisure, the company which occupied the host building and which effected the removal of the  painting, were only leaseholders. The High Court in London decided recently that they had no right to cut out the Banksy as they did not own the walls. Creative Foundation, an organisation dedicated to the artistic promotion of Folkestone, stepped in quickly and purchased the rights to the wall and secured the judgment in London last month.
The Banksy – watch this space.

So... will Banksy be coming back to Folkestone?

I can only suggest you watch this space.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The Squirrel is after my nuts!

My Kentish Cobnut tree.
This is my Kentish Cobnut tree, fully loaded with nuts. Every year I prune it and train it and tend to it and some years it yields nuts and other years it seems to take a rest.

This year I have a bumper crop. Some of the clusters have eleven nuts on them. This munificence, welcome though it is, comes not without its problem in the shape of the squirrel. This animal can strip the tree in a couple of days.
The clusters of nuts.

As soon as I see a nut on the lawn which has been cracked open, I know that the squirrel is around and it is time to call in the grandchildren whose task it usually is to pick the nuts. Three days ago I came home to find about a dozen nutshells scattered around under the tree. Panic. No time to call up the team; I rescheduled the rest of my day and stripped the tree of its harvest.

This year's harvest – about three thousand nuts.
For scale: the shoes are size 12 (UK).

This year I beat the squirrel!

I brought the nuts indoors and spread them on the floor of my hallway to allow them to ripen.

One day in the future when there is a good long programme being broadcast on the radio, I will sit down and crack them and then roast them.

In the meantime, the squirrel is methodically collecting the nuts that I have missed and is burying them around my garden.
A poor quality video still of the squirrel burying one of my nuts in the lawn.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Illiterate Waterstones in Tenterden.

This is the Waterstone's bookshop in Tenterden, Kent.

And this is the notice in their window.

Need I say more?

The Gates of Bedlam

The word, 'bedlam' in English is used to describe a scene of absolute uproar, chaos and confusion, usually linked with madness. It comes from a corruption of  the word, 'Bethlehem', for the Bethlehem Hospital in London was known as far back as the fifteenth century as an asylum for incarceration of the insane. Its successor today is the Bethlehem Psychiatric Hospital in Bromley and claims to be Europe's first and oldest hospital for the treatment of the insane. Thankfully, over the centuries this 'treatment' has become the caring management of the NHS rather than the manacles and restraints which characterised its early days.

Cycling along one of the back lanes in my area of Kent I came across his modern house of striking design.

And the owner has called the house, 'Bedlam.'

The Gates of Bedlam – a private house in Kent.

It was the gates of Bedlam which first caught my attention. 

They are sculpted in metal but imitate an organic growth of trees and branches.

However, despite the name of the property, I could not imagine a more tranquil spot.