Monday, 31 December 2018

Me and the Media

I cannot let this year depart without just mentioning something. In the last two months I have turned down invitations to appear on BBC TV, The One Show and to contribute to BBC Radio 4, Making History. I am not averse to appearing on the television or to broadcasting on the radio – I have been doing so since my stupendous performance on Does the Team Think? in 1966 – but since my best selling book, The Passport, The History of Man's Most Travelled Document was published in 2003 I have been waiting for the Media to substantiate their declared enthusiasm for making the documentary about the history of the passport with me yet all they will ever do is to nibble at the subject.

I have the knowledge; I have the artefacts; I have the presentational skills. What is the problem? They know the subject is interesting because they keep asking me to talk about it and with Brexit possibly looming it will remain a popular fascination.

In the interim I prepare meticulously for their broadcasts; it takes a deal of my time. For a multinational media company to offer me £50 in recompense is insulting. Fifteen years ago the Womens Institutes were paying me more than that for an evening's entertainment. 

Let's see what 2019 will bring....

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Passport Portraits of Yesteryear no. 36

Continuing the series of passport portraits in my collection.
Peruse and wonder.

The next time you are sitting in a photo booth in order to have your passport photograph taken; having naturally combed your hair and removed your hat and spectacles, and having succeeded in constraining yourself from any facial display of enjoyment of the rigmarole which might be interpreted by the digital camera as a smile (heaven forfend) I suggest you think of Madame Hélène Guimard Massé who, when entreated to supply a photograph of herself to put in her Italian passport in 1927, went into her garden and sat under a tree with a good book.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Checking passports again.

On 8th October I was requested by the Worshipful Company of World Traders to assist them in their attempt to break the Guinness World Record of the greatest number of different nationalities all singing the same song at the same time.
Had they heard of my beautiful singing voice? Was it my mellifluous syllables that had enchanted them? No, they needed me to check the passports of the participants in order to compile the list of nationalities.

It was a fun evening at Goodenough College in London and although I was obliged to refuse recognition of several participants' claimed nationalities I did not feel that it was in the spirit of the evening to have them deported.

Did they break the record? Click here to find out.

Monday, 29 October 2018

The cat by Betty's Tea Shop

Whilst enjoying tea and scones at Betty's Tea Shop in York the other day, I happened to look out of the window at the facade of the building opposite and noticed this cat. I wondered if its intended function had been to deter the pigeons. Judging by the amount of droppings on its back, I would say that it failed.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Shop signs in Ross on Wye

When I delivered a talk recently in Ross on Wye I noticed that there remained many independent shops in business and apparently flourishing. 
Some are more extrovert than others.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Why is there no plughole in my washbasin?

Staying at the Hotel La Marbrerie recently in Caunes Minervois, southern France, I was nonplussed in the bathroom to discover that the washbasin had no apparent or obvious means of discharging its load of water.

 Taps there were, to provide ingress for the water, but means of egress I could not discover.

Then I noticed that there was a hand hold fashioned in the porcelain bowl.

Taking my courage in one hand and the bowl in the other, I lifted.

And Hey Presto!

The washbowl swung on metal pivots to reveal a second basin and drain hole beneath.

One lives and learns.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Sleeping in two countries at once.

On my recent trip to the Continent, collecting material for a forthcoming book on frontiers, I spent a night in the Hotel Arbez at La Cure. The hotel was hurriedly built across the proposed new Franco-Swiss border in the delay between the signing of the treaty between Switzerland and France in 1862 and its ratification. With one door in Switzerland and the other in France, it fulfilled its owner's intended purpose of providing him with a route for his smuggling.

The customs agreements today have removed that advantage but not moved the frontier. This is the bed that I slept in. One side is in France, the other in Switzerland. On a restless night one could make several border crossings without awakening.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

A wall covered by Ladybirds in Canterbury.

Have you ever seen a wall covered with Ladybird books? 
Pop along to Canterbury Museum at the Beaney Institute and visit their exhibition highlighting the artists who made the Ladybird Books so distinctive. 
Click here for the link.
You have until 29 September.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Passport Portraits of Yesteryear no. 35 – Civilian in a restricted zone.

During the Great War (1914-18) British citizens were obliged to carry an identity card for the first time. It was called a National Registration Card and did NOT ordinarily bear a photograph. Persons living within a restricted zone, such as in a port or near a military installation were issued with a special Permit Book under the Defence of the Realm Act, the latter known familiarly as 'DORA.'

It is 3rd. November 1916 and this is Mrs. Sophie Kernan, She is 59 years old, just over five feet tall, of slim build with grey eyes and hair described as 'dark brown turning grey.' She was born Sophie Kimber in Poplar, East London and is of 'English' nationality.

This is her portrait in her DORA Permit Book. She has permission to reside and work at 75 Folkestone Road, Dover, Kent; Dover being a restricted military zone because of its proximity to France and the war activity in the port. She probably works in or owns a lodging house. 

No 75 is today an eight bedroom guest house and currently on the market for £475,000.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Belgian Bentleys in Tenterden.

What a lovely sight! A vintage 3-litre Bentley of the type that formerly roared around the Le Mans 24 Hour circuit. I found two of them parked in Tenterden High Street on Saturday morning and they did rather look at home in their surroundings.

The Belgian owners were having a cup of tea outside a nearby tea shop whilst keeping a watchful eye on their vehicles – each one would be worth several hundred thousands of pounds. Both had been well restored and discreetly updated to render them driveable on today's roads. Inspecting the instrument panel I was interested to note that the red section on the rev. counter stretched from 3 to 4 thousand revs – apparently a long-legged motor, not a high revver. The speedometer was calibrated up to 180 mph. I tried to imagine the driver handling the vehicle at that speed with no power assisted steering.

Enzo Ferrari once disparaged this breed of Bentley with the observation that they were, 'the fastest lorry in the world.'

Friday, 29 June 2018

What is missing in this library?

My love of reading and, eventually, writing was fuelled by my weekly visits to the public lending library. I chose my three books on Saturday morning and by Saturday afternoon I would have read the first book. Each child was allowed three library tickets but I discovered a subterfuge by which I acquired nine and the librarians did not see the reason to question my allocation. Perhaps they were being complaisant for the sake of education.

Public libraries are a goldmine which should be explored by all: children and adults alike. To be able to pick a book from a shelf, sit down and read it at leisure should be one of this frantic world's most treasured activities. To have one's imagination triggered by the words of another is mentally stimulating and intellectually satisfying – you don't have to peer at a flickering screen or push buttons or stick things in your ears. You just sit there quietly and live in the world of your imagination. And it is BOOKS that provide the material.

I recently gave a talk at Wheathampstead in the Memorial Hall next to the library. A placard on the wall declared, 'come and join us, it's free'.

By the door, this notice enticed you with what the library was offering you.

Do you notice something missing from the list?


Friday, 22 June 2018

An old road sign in Hutton Buscel

A blurred photograph (left) which I snatched by fortune from the top deck of our bus on its way to Scarborough as it passed through the village of Hutton Buscel two days ago.

For those of you too young to remember, this was the standard warning sign used in Britain until the recommendations of the Worboys Report were adopted.

It indicates that you are approaching a steep descent on a gradient of 1 in 5. (20% in the new language). 

My 1954 copy of The Highway Code, price one penny from Her Majesty's Stationery Office, illustrates quite a range of signs which were in use at the time. The hollow red triangle which surmounts the post was introduced by the Motor Car Act 1903 and was originally used on its own to indicate a hazard or a precipitous descent. The addition of the pictorial boards was a later development.

But the point is, under the 1964 Statutory Instrument (left) the newer 'Continental' style signs were supposed to have been introduced on 1st January 1965 and the old signs replaced.

Fifty three years later, the sign is still there. Does time run differently in Yorkshire?

Saturday, 16 June 2018

The OLD Dover Hoverport.

I went across to Calais for lunch with some friends a few days ago. Passing through Eastern Docks at Dover twenty years after I had finished working there was a mind rattling experience. For all the time that I was there the port had been a building site. If a building was not being erected it was being demolished. Now, the place is almost empty. Where once you would have arrived at the front of the port under an enormous illuminated DOVER HARBOUR BOARD sign, checked your ticket at one of the ticket booths, if you were a hovercraft passenger your vehicle would have been directed to the first floor parking area, if not you continued under the canopy to the enormous Customs and Immigration shed; or you might, before continuing through, have parked up to visit the passenger services building attached to No1 Control Building, in order to return your rental car, exchange money at the NatWest Bank or amend your ticket at the ferry company's desk; now there was... nothing. It was just an expanse of concrete and tarmac with different coloured lines painted on it. It seems that the entire port has now been demolished.

The original Dover Hoverport buildings now converted to office accommodation.
Well not quite. Some buildings have been replaced by newer versions but many have just disappeared so I was surprised on disembarking in the evening to realise that the original Dover Hoverport buildings were still standing. The hovercraft moved across to Dover West in 1978 because they needed more room than was available at the East and their terminal building and maintenance area was converted for use by Kent Police. Originally, the glazed section in the middle of the building was a glass roofed area where the hovercraft would be run in for repairs.

Ironically, the newer Hoverport in Western Docks has already been demolished. 

Friday, 1 June 2018

Holiday Inn Express-ion

I am uncertain what the Holiday Inn Express in Peterborough was referring to with this notice in my hotel room and even more nonplussed as to what they thought the employees on reception could do to relieve this unwelcome nocturnal excitement should I contact them.
The mind boggles.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Sandling Park 2018

Sandling Park was open on Sunday for the one day in the year. Once again, the azaleas and rhododendrons were magnificent.

So was the cake.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Passport Portraits of Yesteryear no. 34 – Escaping from Hitler

Continuing the series of passport portraits in my collection.
Peruse and wonder.
Ruth is a fourteen year old schoolgirl living in Berlin. She has grey-blue eyes and brown hair but the distinguishing feature which is dwelt upon by her passport is that she is Jewish. The front page of her German passport bears the letter 'J' stamped in red ink. 

What sacrifices her family had to make one can only imagine, for Ruth was issued her passport on 18 November 1939 complete with a German exit visa permitting her to leave via the Brenner pass to Italy, and a visa to enter Chile.
She crossed into Italy on the following day and embarked from Genoa on the m.s. Augustus, one of Italy's transatlantic liners working the South American route. On 28 December she was examined on board by Jorge Baumann and given permanent residence in Chile. 

On its return to Italy, the m.s. Augustus was withdrawn from service and converted into an aircraft carrier for the Italian Navy. In 1944 it was scuttled in Genoa harbour by the Germans.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Fifteen rabbits and a rainbow.

Having just delivered three lectures in Oxfordshire I gazed out of my hotel bedroom window and this is what I saw.

Fifteen rabbits and a rainbow.

Monday, 23 April 2018

How do you pronounce 'Leominster'?

I recently visited Leominster for the first time and wondered if the pronunciation of its name would provide the genus of controversy that Shrewsbury does. (Is it 'Shrowsburry' or 'Shroosbery'?)

Of course we are happily familiar with Leicester (Lester) Loughborough (Luffboro) and Towcester (Toaster) all of which still trip up the unknowing so working on that knowledge I calculated that Leominster would probably be pronounced 'Lemster'.

Well, blow me down, I had not expected an exhibit outside the town museum to answer my query so substantially. My next question is, if the town was called 'Lemster' then why and when did they decide to spell it 'Leominster'?

I should have asked the question in the tourist information centre but arriving at the counter I was distracted by the prominent display of a handbill advertising my imminent talk. And at the corner of the street was another.

What a lovely place Lemster is, however they spell it!

Friday, 20 April 2018

Cumberland pencils.

When I was at primary school I was given a set of coloured crayons made by the Cumberland Pencil Company. I think that there must have been about fifteen colours in the set. I had shades such as, spring green, grass green, ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, yellow ochre and crimson.

The crayons and pencils were made in Keswick in the Lake District. This was because of the discovery, centuries earlier, of very pure graphite in the hills around the town. I visited the Lake District for the first time in my life a few days ago. I was pleased to be there outside of the tourist season – it must be hell in Summer – and I went to see the Derwent Pencil Museum in Keswick.

My entry ticket to the museum.
The museum is set in the grounds of the former factory. The latter is now awaiting redevelopment and production has been moved to another location in the same area.
The disused Cumberland Pencil factory in Keswick.

If you are in the area, visit the museum and you will learn how pencils are made and a lot more besides. You might have to elbow your way through hordes of schoolchildren doing 'projects' but it is worth the effort.

And for a good light lunch, served quickly, go to the upstairs restaurant of the bakers in the high street.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Kendal is not just mintcake

If you say 'Kendal' to many people it will conjure up the flavour of Kendal Mint Cake which is a confection of mainly sugar and peppermint but the town of Kendal in the Lake District has other curiosities.

The Carnegie Library in Kendal, Cumbria.
The Carnegie Library in Kendal is one. Andrew Carnegie was a Scottish American who started work as a telegraph boy in Pittsburgh at the age of 14 and progressed to become a millionaire in iron, steel and oil. He spent much of his wealth on endowments to universities and in other educational projects.
This library in Kendal was financed by Carnegie, designed by a Kendal architect and opened in 1909.

Iron house fronts in Branthwaite Brow.

The fronts of these buildings in Branthwaite Brow are iron faced. Installed in 1863 as part of a street widening scheme, the plates were cast by a local iron founder, John Winder.

And exploring the many alleyways that creep between the buildings one can sometimes come across evidence of a former activity. 

Sunday, 25 March 2018

I didn't know Daleks were bronze coloured.

When I arrived at BBC Broadcasting House for my recent interview, apart from the security search, baggage scan and the issue of a pass, I was met by a Dalek. This was the first one that I had seen in the flesh and I discovered that they are bronze coloured. Well I never knew that. I had always thought that they were a silvery colour.

When Dr. Who came on television in the early 1960s the picture was in black and white and by the time colour TV had arrived, I had moved on (grown up) as it were.

You live and learn don't you?

Friday, 23 March 2018

De la Rue? Gemalto? Blue passport? Who cares?

Yesterday evening I was called in precipitously to BBC Broadcasting House to be interviewed live on BBC TV News 24 Hours about the De La Rue/Gemalto controversy.

Martin Lloyd being interviewed by Ben Brown on BBC TV News 24 Hours.
The problem was that De la Rue had submitted a bid for the tender to print the next British (and blue) passport and had been outbid by a Franco-Dutch company called Gemalto. The latter had succeeded by the simple procedure of offering to do it for less money than the other bidders. De la Rue are incensed that the British passport should be manufactured abroad and I was called in to opine about it. Which I did.

I timidly suggest that this is how the business of tendering actually works. The bidder who can satisfy the requirements of the customer at the lowest price will win the contract; as would appear to be the case here. It is a little hypocritical of De la Rue to complain, given that when they won the contract to print the British blue passport in 1921, they did it by undercutting the current supplier, Harrisons & Co. Ironically, once they had the job they found that they could not fulfil it unless they ordered a Chambon roll (an expensive piece of printing equipment) from? Guess which country? Yes, France.

And this morning, BBC Tees. local radio, had me on just after their MP had been complaining that the British passport should be made here, in the De la Rue factory in his Gateshead constituency. A British passport should be made in Britain. I pointed out that De la Rue made passports for over forty foreign countries. Did he now want those countries to withdraw their custom from Gateshead and make their own passports?

Saturday, 10 March 2018

The Rising Sun in Watford.

Premier Inn, Watford.
We recently stayed at the Premier Inn in Croxley near Watford. It is called the 'Rising Sun'.  I remember riding with my mother on the top deck of the London Transport bus to Watford as a pre-school child. Where the road crossed the canal there existed two or three quite distinct hump backed bridges which I referred to as the 'water hills', presumably not having 'bridge' in my vocabulary at that age.

Sun clocktower awaiting restoration.
Opposite the hotel I noticed this clock tower and I remembered the Sun Printing Company which must have occupied a site near here. At one time the Sun Engraving Co. was the largest engraving and rotogravure plant in the world. When the Sunday Times launched their 'colour supplement' it was the Sun who printed it.

I went for a stroll around the block and found a couple of signs suggesting that the hotel and associated shops had been built on the site of the Sun Printing Works.

The Sun clocktower in the middle of this aerial photograph. It is surrounded by allotments.
Above it, the Sun Printing Factory, now the Rising Sun Premier Inn Hotel.
A fascinating history of the Sun Engraving and related companies can be found by clicking here.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Ice on the Winding Pond

Ice on at the Winding Pond, Clowes Wood, Canterbury
As the weather forecast was for a wind chill of minus 8 degrees C,  John and I decided on a short ride along the Crab and Winkle Line to Whitstable.

Readers of this blog with good memories will know that this pond was excavated to provide water for the stationary steam engine which hauled the trains up the incline from Whitstable in 1830. As a relic of the steam railway age, you will not find many older. To read about the Crab and Winkle line, click here.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Passport Portraits of Yesteryear no. 33

Continuing the series of passport portraits in my collection.
Peruse and wonder.
Paul Godart is 34 yrs. old and is the works manager for the shipyard of Germe et Jouy, a company in Boulogne building trawlers, patrol boats and dredgers. He lives at the factory.

This is his photograph on his safe-conduct issued to him on 22nd June 1918 by the controller of the armies in the north of France to allow him to travel in and around Boulogne within limits of about five miles.

The means of transport allowed him?

A bicycle.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Margaret Thatcher in Grantham

 The museum in Grantham is excellent – well laid out, uncluttered, interesting and legible.

This is the portrait of Baroness Thatcher painted by Lorna May Wadsworth. 

Lady Thatcher said to the artist, "It's very fierce." 

Wadsworth responded with, "Sometimes, Lady Thatcher, we women have to be fierce to get our own way."

"Very true," Thatcher said.

As a student Margaret Thatcher graduated in chemistry and applied for a job with the giant chemical company, ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries). The appointment board's assessment in rejecting her application was, 
"...this woman is headstrong, obstinate and dangerously self-opinionated..."

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Train vandalism in miniature

Some railway modellers are imaginative in their search for realism in miniature. This train, seen recently at the Canterbury Model Railway Exhibition, had suffered graffiti spraying down its side.

Elsewhere on the same layout, this car was being impounded. Perhaps the driver should have used one of the hire bikes you can see in the racks.

This representation of a diesel motive power depot was throbbing with realism as all the locomotives were generating the correct engine noises. The miniaturisation of electronics has been welcomed amongst the modelling community, allowing lighting and sound effects hitherto unrealisable.