Saturday, 14 December 2019

How to buy a valid Swiss passport.

Just search on eBay
This passport is still valid. It expires in 2028. 
Now what kind of person would pay £480 to acquire a valid Swiss 
passport do you think?

eBay say that all official documents for sale on their site must be at 
least twenty years expired but when I brought this to their attention with 
three days' notice they failed to remove it. 

But then, had they done so, they would not have earned £48 would they?

Friday, 22 November 2019

A very big Penny Black

No, I am not talking about a large lady called Penelope Black. Those of you who collected postage stamps in your youth will all know what a Penny Black is. It was the invention of Rowland Hill. 

He revised the complicated, inefficient and expensive postal system in Britain and introduced a standard letter charge of one penny throughout the land. The black one penny postage stamp was stuck on your letter to prove that you had paid the fee. It was the world's first adhesive postage stamp and was introduced in 1840.

The system was clever and innovative but the stamp itself had one very serious flaw. It was black. When the Post Office endorsed an inked stamp on it to cancel it after use, the cancellation was difficult to see and this tempted naughty people to try to use the stamps more than once. Thus, the following year the stamp's colour was changed to red and it became known as... the Penny Red.

I have just given a talk in Kidderminster Town Hall and standing outside the  venue is this statue to Rowland Hill, who was born in the town. What is interesting is that the subscriptions came from all over the world to recognise the revolutionary postal system that he had put in place. Even today, I marvel at the tremendous value of a postage stamp. I can write a letter, stick a stamp on it, and the Royal Mail will carry it hundreds of miles and deliver it to the address I have given them. To do that myself would cost me hundreds of pounds and I acquire this service for a fee measured in pennies.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

How can I stop my tomatoes from growing?

We are in November. 

Don't they realise? 

They are not in a greenhouse and they insist on climbing inexorably towards the roof of my house, flowering still and fruiting. 

Perhaps I can hope for a really good frost to kill them off.

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Google Review Jaybod, Neilson lied to you.

Jaybod, you wanted to stay at the Hotel Derby in Sauze d'Oulx, Italy but were unable to and so you posted an adverse review (score 1) on Google.

'Never got to stay with them as Neilson called us to say Hotel Derby have cancelled their contract with Neilson and are not honouring existing bookings.'

 Leaving aside the morality of commenting on a hotel in which you have not stayed, it is such a pity that you allowed yourself to be misled by the tour operator, Neilson.
Neilson lied to you.
After the collapse of Thomas Cook, Neilson found themselves short of airline seats and cancelled the contracts with about half their ski hotels. 

The Hotel Derby, which is utterly innocent in this affair, is still very much in business and if you wish to stay with them you can book now by clicking the link above which will take you to

Sunday, 20 October 2019

You can polish your furniture in any country.

You can polish your furniture in any country, can't you?
Why do the people of King's Lynn insist on doing it in the UK?

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Passport Portraits of Yesteryear no.40

Christmas with Mum and Dad
Continuing the series of passport portraits in my collection.
Peruse and wonder.
Ethel Erichsen is a 38 yr, old Danish lady living in Haderslev, Denmark. The Christian name, Ethel, does not sound very Scandinavian and this is because Ethel was born in England. 

It is now November 1945. The German occupation of Denmark is over and life is very slowly getting back to normal. Ethel obtains a Danish passport and a visa allowing her to leave Denmark for one month. She gets a British visa from the consulate in Copenhagen which is issued to her for a single visit on the basis of her 'British Parentage'. She leaves the port of Esbjerg on 15th December 1945 and her ship docks at Harwich on the 17th. 
Travelling on a Danish passport, despite her British parentage, makes her an alien and, upon arrival, she is obliged to register her presence at the local police station. She spends the first Christmas with her family since the outbreak of the war and does not leave the UK until 20th February 1946, having changed £6, 5/- into Danish currency at the National Westminster Bank before embarkation. She arrives at Esbjerg two days later, meaning that she has overreached her Danish exit permission by one month but no official sanctions appear to have been levied. I think that was understandable in the circumstances.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Find a car with your name on it.

If you are a woman called Mercedes, then this is easy. In the past, any man called Austin or Morris could have found a motor car to satisfy them. Rover is less assignable unless you are a dog. I have never seen a car called a 'Martin' but at last I have encountered a 'Lloyd'. 

The Lloyd car was built by a subsidiary of the Borgward Motor Company in Germany. I knew, as an enthusiastic schoolboy, that such a vehicle existed, along with that other German quirk, the Goggomobil but although I had seen the latter I had never espied a Lloyd. That lacuna has now been expunged thanks to the Museo Nazionale dell'Automobile in Turin.

Hotel Torre, FIAT and Sauze d'Oulx

Hotel Torre, Sauze d'Oulx, Italy.

Sauze d'Oulx is a village in the Piedmont district of Italy. It is now a popular ski resort, particularly with the British. Whenever we visit we always stay at the Hotel Derby which is a modest pension superbly situated in the village centre. From this position one can see the Hotel Torre, pictured here. This hotel and its two sisters in the neighbouring resort of Sestrière were built in Art Deco style in the 1930s by the Fiat motor company to provide holiday accommodation for its employees.

I would have liked to have cast a glance inside the hotel to admire the architecture but it is apparently being renovated and all I could see through the locked and grimy glass doors was a stack of mattresses and a classic Art Deco stair rail curling up into the heights.

Perhaps next year...

Monday, 16 September 2019

The Italian Job in Turin.

Imagine three Mini cars being chased by a Fiat up onto this roof.

Thanks to the faulty map illustrated on the previous blog we walked about two kilometres more than we needed in order to find the Museo Nazionale dell'Automobile. However, all was not a catastrophe because I recognised the venue that we were incorrectly directed to as the former Olympic skating rink on the roof of which the three Minis in the film The Italian Job had driven to escape from the Italian police.
And they raced on the rooftop track of the Fiat factory.

On leaving the museum we disregarded the map and made our own way back to the Lingotto metro station. There we discovered the former Fiat motor factory which has now been turned into a shopping centre. As the cars were assembled they made their way to the top of the factory and out onto the roof which was constructed as an oval test track. The three Minis in the film also raced around here. We could not reach the roof but at one end of the long shopping corridor we found the ramp up which the cars were driven.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Museo Nazionale dell'Automobile, Turin

 Useful information for those wishing to visit the National Motor Museum in Turin, Italy.

Take the metro to station Lingotto

Obtain a copy of this official map issued by the City of Turin, illustrated left.

Then ignore it.

See below.

Do not send this lorry to England

French lorry seen near Lons le Saunier.

Not really the quality of transport 
 that we want on British roads.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

A Bristol in Durham

A Bristol single decker of the 1950s sitting in Market Square, Durham.

We were hoping that it would take us somewhere but it was just sitting there to look pretty.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Meandering around Durham

I had never been to Durham. The only thing that I could recall about the city was that it had been built in a defensive position in a meander of the River Wear and that fact had been drummed into me by Mr Newton, the Geography master at school. It did not impress a thirteen year old boy much.

The nave, Durham Cathedral.

But Durham cathedral did.

I particularly liked the Millennium Window which depicted in stained glass amongst other aspects, the industrial heritage of Durham such as railways, iron founding and coal mining.

The Millennium Window, Durham Cathedral.
And then, in the crypt we found not only a restaurant serving excellent food but a Lego model of the cathedral itself which had been built as a fund raiser over a period of three years, by members of the public paying one pound to place a brick.
Durham Cathedral built in Lego bricks.
My photograph does not do it justice. For the full story, click here.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Passport Portraits of Yesteryear no. 39

Waiting for the frontier to re-open.
Continuing the series of passport portraits in my collection.
Peruse and wonder.
Madame Ouin is a 51 yr. old shopkeeper living in Rouen. She is French by marriage, having been born in Lerida, Spain, where a significant proportion of her relations still live. She is impatient to visit them but the Great War has been raging for four years now and neutral countries contiguous to France have closed their borders. 
Anticipating the end of hostilities, Mme Ouin obtains her French passport in August 1918. It is endorsed, 'valid from the opening of the frontiers.' By the 10th. October she is on the Franco-Spanish border at Cerbère 'awaiting the reopening of the border.' But the armistice will not be signed for another month yet so, on the 11th. October she renounces her attempt to reach Spain and takes the train back to the Gare St Lazare in Paris.
By the July of 1919, she is a widow and tries again to visit her family in Spain. She is accompanied by her three daughters, Constance, Valentine and Marguerite but the problem now is that the Spanish flu is coursing through Europe, killing thousands. She has to obtain a medical certificate for herself and her daughters to confirm that they are not carrying any contagious disease. They board their train at the Gare St Lazare and at last, on 1st August 1919, they cross into Spain.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Woodblock flooring in Derby streets.

Woodblock paving in Derby Market
Whilst walking around Derby recently in the company of my cousins we visited the market which is being renovated. They told me to look at the floor and identify the material used.

To their apparent surprise I immediately said, 'Woodblock paving'.

Woodblock paving in Derby Market

They were not to know that I possess several books on roadmaking dating from the 1900s onwards.

Such things interest me. 

What my books taught me was that the blocks were cut across the grain so that the wood fibres stood vertically. This ensured that the block carried the weight of traffic evenly. 
Advertisement for woodblock paving, 1922.

If the blocks had been cut along the grain then only the upper layer would be subjected to the abrasion and this would shorten the life of the paving.

The Derby floods of 1932

My mother lived in Derby as a child and I remember her telling me that in the terrible floods of 1932, the streets which had been laid with woodblock paving lifted and floated away.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Wash your silk stockings in Swarfega!

I was introduced to Swarfega industrial hand cleaner when, as a schoolboy, I worked in my holidays with steam powered traction engines. I discovered that handling carborundum paste, axle grease and gear oil provides ample opportunity to get one's hands dirty.

This was a real man's world and we teenagers espoused the dirt, the swearing and the drinking with varying degrees of success. The term 'street cred' had not been invented then but I suspect that this was what we were searching for.
'Just stick your hand in that tin of green jelly,' was the instruction and, hey presto, our hands would be cleaned.

I recently gave a talk in Belper, Derbyshire and was interested to discover that Swarfega was invented there. In 1941 a man called Williamson founded a company to manufacture a product for handwashing silk stockings. He called the company 'Deb Silkwear Protection Ltd.', the 'Deb' being an abbreviation of 'debutante'. His timing could have been better. In WW2 most silk production was turned over to manufacturing parachutes and then along came nylon stockings to displace the silk. Not to be discouraged he adapted the silk protection formula to produce an industrial hand cleaner for removing grease, oil and grit for use in the heavy engineering and motor industries. Swarfega was born.

Swarfega is still manufactured by Deb Ltd, in Derbyshire but just up the road in Denby, where the pottery comes from. I suppose that car mechanics can still wash their silk stockings in Swarfega should they so desire.

Monday, 22 July 2019

Passport Portraits of Yesteryear no. 38

STO – Working for the enemy.
Continuing the series of passport portraits in my collection.
Peruse and wonder.
Jean Pontet is a 29 yr. old Frenchman from Lyon. It is April 1943 and France has been occupied by the Germans for the last three years. By the armistice of June 1940, France was divided into an occupied zone in the north and an unoccupied zone in the south. When in 1943 the allies invaded North Africa the Germans responded by crossing the line southwards and occupying the remainder of France. A few weeks before this passport was issued, they cancelled the Demarcation Line.

The Germans wanted civilian manpower to run their factories. They had tried to recruit Frenchmen to this end, enticing them with the promise of greater food rations and high wages. They were not very successful in this endeavour and so introduced the Service du Travail Obligatoire – STO. It was a compulsory work force to be shipped off to work for the Germans. Jean Pontet was caught up in this. He was issued a gratis French passport by the new Etat Français endorsed  'this passport is issued for Germany.' It contained no written physical description of him, merely his photograph and a French visa allowing him to travel in and out until September 1945. He was sent to Linz in Austria where the Germans were assembling Tiger tanks. 
He does not look very enthusiastic on his photograph.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Dick Francis, the East India Company and Paignton

How do you put these three together? 
By staying at the Redcliffe Hotel in Paignton. 
On our second day, having a little time to explore this extraordinary hotel, I asked at the reception desk why the hotel had named a room 'The Dick Francis Suite'. I was astonished to learn that this famous novelist had stayed at the hotel for fifty seven consecutive years, usually in August. Even when he lived in the USA and later Grand Cayman, the Francis extended family would gather in Redcliffe Towers for their annual get together.

The Redcliffe Hotel, Paignton.
And then you look at the architecture and you begin to wonder – where did it come from? What were the inspirations? We are accustomed to the flamboyance of British Victorian seaside architecture... but this? A Maltese Cross or two, some seahorses, an Italianate style with Indian references. What a mixture. 
Redcliffe Towers

The hotel was originally built in 1856 as a private house, Redcliffe Towers, on a prominence overlooking Paignton in Devon. The designer and owner was a retired surveyor of the East India Company, Robert Smith, and the residence he erected reflected his employment and world travels. It was converted to a hotel nearly fifty years later.
For a full appreciation and explanation of this remarkable site I can do no better than refer you to the website East India Company at Home which will, I am sure, make you marvel. 

And for the full experience, go and stay in the hotel. The staff are attentive and friendly and the hotel has direct access to the sandy beach.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Fun at the Felixstowe Book Festival

A big thank you to the enthusiastic audience at my talk this morning. Meg and her team have organised another successful and alluring book festival and our room was full to overflowing. 

If you were unable to buy my books at the talk, you will not find them in the festival book shop but I am in the hotel until Monday morning and you may accost me at any time for a purchase, contact me on or even leave a message for me at the hotel reception desk.

Enjoy the rest of the festival!

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

A Grade One listed telescope?

Yes, the Lovell radio telescope at Jodrell Bank 
near Manchester, is classified as a Grade One 
Listed Building.
Of course, in operation it can become a 
grade one listing building.

None of this sophistry seems  to bother the cows too much.

Monday, 17 June 2019

What about two swallows?

'One swallow doesn't make a summer.' 
We have all heard that expression. Well what about two swallows? Sitting in a lay by on top of the Cat & Fiddle pass near Buxton, we watched two swallows flitting along the hedgetop, presumably catching insects on the wing. 
Back and forth they went. Do two swallows make a summer? 
There may have been more swallows around but through the driving rain and low cloud we could only see two.
Summer 2019.

Monday, 27 May 2019

Insulate your house on the outside

Yes, why not? 
Don't drill into the cavity wall and fill it with rock fibre. 

Don't line your inner walls with polystyrene tiles. 

Just crochet and knit yourself a house cosy.

It might not be quite as efficient but it is certainly more attractive to the eye.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Arboreal and sylvan


The canopy of an oak tree
 in Lancashire.

Sylvan. The Forest of Hesdin, Northern France.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Clitheroe has a new mayor

At least, I think they have. Whilst enjoying a quiet sandwich lunch on a bench by the foot of the castle I noticed this procession approaching.

I enquired later of a lady resident who, indeed, confirmed that the town now had a new mayor but she did not know who it was. And perusing this photograph has left me no wiser. Is the mayor the one at the front, carrying the roll of parchment? Is he the one with the mace on his shoulder?
Any suggestions?

Friday, 3 May 2019

Crocheted birds

Seen in a shop window in Tenterden High Street.
I never cease to marvel at what crochet afficionados can realise with some wool and a hook.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Spring on the Pilgrim's Way, Canterbury

A warm south easterly breeze tempted me out on my bicycle to see Spring break through on the Pilgrim's Way as it leads out of Canterbury towards the Continent and Rome.

Monday, 18 March 2019

That Marmalade Glow

The glow that you experience when your marmalade sets properly. 
The glow in your face from the heat rising over marmalade on a rolling boil. 
The glow on your tongue when you crunch your first slice of hot buttered 
toast and marmalade.

Monday, 4 March 2019

It must be Spring

The first day of Spring used to  be 20th March and then the weather systems all changed and the meteorologists decreed that Spring started on 1st March. Whichever camp you support I can now confirm for you that Spring has started because the crocuses and classic cars are out.
Spring has sprung! Crocus and classic Jaguar are blossoming.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Big steam and little steam in Tenterden

Big steam – "Norwegian" steam locomotive ready to depart tender first from Tenterden Town Station for Bodiam.

(below) Little steam – gauge 1 steam powered model of the Flying Scotsman hauling a train at the model railway exhibition in Tenterden.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Passport Portraits of Yesteryear no. 37

Into a country at war.
Continuing the series of passport portraits in my collection.
Peruse and wonder.
Jeanne Marie Antoinette Joseph Gurrey is 40 yrs. old. She was born in the Nord département of France and is now married to a British national. This is the photograph in the British passport issued to her by the Foreign Office in London on 12 March 1940.
Merely obtaining a passport at this time  is quite unusual. The UK is exercising strict controls over who can leave during wartime. But what makes her journey astonishing is that she is granted a UK Exit Permit, a French visa and sails from Folkestone to Calais on 21 March in the company of her British husband. They are sailing to a country at war and disembarking at a port through which the British Army would be retreating merely eight weeks later. What were they doing? One can only speculate. France signs an armistice with the Germans in June and by the 21st of that month, Jeanne and her husband are in Toulouse and Pau, obtaining Spanish and Portuguese visas.  They make their way to Portugal where they board a ship and disembark at Liverpool six days later.
Before Germany is vanquished, she is back to France – a country still at war. She leaves Newhaven for Dieppe on 29 March 1945.  Her visa is issued gratis, for a business visit and on the telephonic personal authority of the French Minister of Foreign Affairs. What was she doing?

Thursday, 14 February 2019

It's all happening at Rye Harbour.

As the sun was shining we went for a walk to the mouth of the River Rother at Rye Harbour Village.
The River Rother at low tide flowing into the English Channel south of Rye.

What a busy time we had!

We saw five dumper trucks.

And a tin hut with a red roof.