Category Archives: History

Well, what’s new?

Hello there. It’s been far too long since I posted anything worthwhile here. I’ve been over the reasons in previous posts, so I won’t go over them again. So, what’s new?

I have spent an afternoon patiently going through my entire blog deleting all the rants and random news stuff. Enough negativity from me! I have edited posts referencing my now long-defunct Facebook page. Change is afoot.

My plan is to continue posting updates on life, the universe and everything. I want to continue sharing my photography—when I get back to it!—as well as linking to the photography of others. Long-time readers will note a few model aircraft have appeared over the years, and I intend to expand on that. Let me explain.

2020 is the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, the epic aerial battle that took place in the skies over southern England during the summer of 1940. The Battle, and how events from the 1920s transpired to reach that tipping point, is something I’ve been fascinated by for over 40 years. Starting out with an ambition to build models of the main aircraft flown by Britain and Germany during the Battle, things have since got slightly out of hand—I now plan to build examples of every plane that was operating during the whole of 1940, from all the countries involved at the time!

What I hope to do is post something about an aircraft, or a series of aircraft, with some explanatory text and images of the models. I have reached the conclusion that 1940 was a pivotal year in the Second World War, a year where many things were still in a state of flux, and the stage was being set for the rest of the conflict. The scope of my interests covers the Battle of Norway in the early spring, through the so-called Phoney War in France, through the invasions of Holland, Belgium and France, the Battle of France through to the armistice, the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, and into the day and night Blitz over the British mainland.

Not being content with that, I hope to then cover the Mediterranean and North Africa theatre. So, I have my work cut out, and all the while I am still supposed to be building railway models for clients!

There remains unresolved the technical issues I have experienced with this site. I am unsure as to how to fix them, but I will soldier on with things for now. I will generally not be allowing comments on posts, so apologies for that if you like to express opinions. You can find me in other places to do that!

Thank you for you patience, and I hope to be back to blogging about life at Snaptophobic Towers soon.

The London Sound Survey

I’ve always loved sound, from a very early age. I loved to record ambient sound—still do, in fact—and I acquired an extensive collection of sound effects records over the years. I find sound can evoke something in me that pictures with sound doesn’t. I can’t explain why that might be.

Anyway, following a link posted on Facebook by Say No To Estuary Airport, I discovered the London Sound Survey.

The home page intro says:

Welcome to the London Sound Survey, a growing collection of Creative Commons-licensed sound recordings of places, events and wildlife in the capital. Historical references too are gathered to find out how London’s sounds have changed.

If you have good speakers on your computer, turn the volume up and explore the sounds of London. If I wasn’t busy at the workbench, I fear I would be able to waste the entire day just soaking up the audio landscape of our capital city and surroundings.

Sixty years, eh?

Today, 7 September 2013, is apparently Cassette Store Day. Six decades ago, Philips revealed the Compact Cassette to the world at the Berlin Radio Show. Folk who really ought to know better (and some weren’t even born when I was playing with compact cassettes in the 1970s and 1980s!) think we should be celebrating this fact, and have persuaded numerous musicians and bands to release their music on this supposedly defunct medium.

It took a while for the format to become mainstream. Early cassette tapes were of mediocre quality, but as the technology improved so did the sound quality. As a youngster, I fell in love with recording tape—my parents owned an ancient reel-to-reel recorder that I played with for hours, even learning to edit tape with sharp things and sticky tape. My sister and I would make rude noises, create silly sound effects and play about with the speed controls. It was a hoot, and I still fondly remember such antics. As I began to earn a disposable income, I began to buy records, and eventually I acquired a reasonable quality cassette recorder so I could still listen to them in my car.

Amazing stuff.

I always wanted to be a radio DJ when I was younger. I’d still jump at the chance if it came my way today, if I’m honest. While I waited, as a callow and spotty teen, for my big break into wireless, I created my own radio show which I lent out to friends. I bought a second-hand Akai 4000DS MkII reel-to-reel recorder (YouTube link to a young fan demonstrating his 40-year-old machine), and a second stereo cassette recorder. I learned to  multitrack using the “bounce” technique, where you played back one tape and recorded it on a second machine with a second soundtrack. It was all very basic and limited, but I had a ton of fun. Eventually it spawned the Ticky Radio Show.

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The Ticky Radio Show was a three-hour über mix tape, consisting of home-made jingles, favourite tracks from my collection, interspersed with snatches of comedy recordings. It was very much a shallow copy of my hero, the sadly missed Kenny Everett. The show was lovingly crafted, with musical selections to educate and entertain—many tracks were “flip sides” of hit singles, if I recall—and presented in two 90-minute cassettes with custom inserts designed by yours truly. Also included was a comprehensive track listing, carefully outlining the artistes, record label, recording number and so on.

Originally, the TRS was in mono only, a legacy of the technology available to me. Then came a breakthrough: I could produce everything and record the show throughout in stereo! Sadly, this high-tech marvel was the last show I ever made, dating from 1985. I do still have those final recorded tapes (and one of the much-chopped-about seven-inch reels somewhere) of the last two shows I made. Having recovered them from their dusty storage to take their photo for Cassette Store Day, they will be rewound to the start of side A, returned carefully tape side down to the plastic case, and put back in the drawer once more. I do not wish to listen to them, as my rose-tinted memories of the hours spent in my home-made studio making the things will be much better than the real thing.

Oddly, I didn’t buy much music on cassette. I preferred the LP until quite late in the 1980s. Eventually I bought a CD player, and began to buy new copies of my existing record collection, as well as add new material. I still made copies on cassette, simply because my car had a cassette player. I was one of those people who invested in the MiniDisc, too, and it was quite a while before I was persuaded that an MP3 player was a worthy replacement. Making mix-discs from CD to MD was a fun exercise, especially with a proper stereo mixer and a pair of CD players, but I digress.

I still buy the occasional CD, but most purchases nowadays are a click away on the internet. The pleasure of selecting music, carefully timing everything to fit into the 46 minutes available, and then painstakingly writing out the playlist on the insert, is something I will fondly remember for many years. The utterly linear process would be completely alien to many today. Having to sit through a track as it’s recorded, and repeating that process to fill a whole tape, must seem such a strange thing to do. Everything is so instant these days, the concept of having to wait while something is recorded in real time seems so very old-fashioned.

I wouldn’t want to go back there, though. I’ve been there, still got my record collection, and some mix tapes to prove it. I just wish I could have had the technology I have today back when I was a teenager lovingly making those “radio shows” in my bedroom.

My love of audio recording is still there. I am currently considering acquiring a digital audio recorder to match with the DSLR for location sound. While I could use my MiniDisc recorder for such a purpose, I have grown to dislike having to replay the sound back in real time to get it into another digital form. If my 17-year-old self could hear me now!

BBC News – WWII Dornier bomber raised from English Channel

A German World War II bomber has been raised from the bottom of the English Channel.

The Dornier Do-17 aircraft was shot down off the Kent coast more than 70 years ago during the Battle of Britain.

via BBC News – WWII Dornier bomber raised from English Channel.

Now the long haul up to Cosford, and the long haul of preservation begins.

For other blog posts here about this story, search for “Dornier”.

Incidentally, it’s been mildly annoying hearing all the female news presenters pronounce Dornier like their favourite cosmetics company.

A Trip on the River

The end of October into the start of November 2012 sees a celebration of Kent’s coastal heritage. Sponsored by Kent County Council, numerous events are happening, ranging from exploring nature reserves to gaining access to things often not open to the public.

One of the events was a trip on a preserved tugboat, the MT Kent. The South Eastern Tug Society owns, maintains and operates the Kent to promote festivals around the south east and near continental ports.

MT Kent was built in 1948 by Richards Ironworks in Lowestoft for JP Knight Ltd of Rochester. She worked on the Medway, and was deployed as far afield as Scotland and Ireland under contract. She retired in 1988, and was eventually acquired by the SETS, who then spent four years restoring the vessel to working order.

Since she is not a passenger ship, trips aboard the Kent are quite rare. There is no accommodation, apart from a small galley and the wheelhouse, so if the weather is inclement any “pleasure” trip may be called off. Luckily, though slight rain was forecast, today we set sail from the Chatham Marina on St Mary’s Island, and headed out for Rochester. We turned at Bridge Reach, in sight of Rochester Castle and Cathedral. We headed back towards Hoo Marina, before turning once more and heading back to Chatham Marina.

I mainly shot video of the trip, though I did find time to fire off a few shots with my compact camera. The edited video will take a while to prepare, but be assured it will be mentioned in due course.

We were cold, windswept, smothered in diesel fumes, but we all enjoyed every minute of the trip. The volunteers and crew of the MT Kent made us all very welcome, and were very happy to explain any aspect of the vessel’s history. I have lived around the Medway Towns since the late 1980s, and while I have spent a good deal of my spare time by the River Medway taking photographs, this is the first time I have travelled on the river itself. I hope it won’t be the last.

Click here to visit the MT Kent web site.

Avebury – a set on Flickr

A set of photos from my first ever visit to Avebury. I must go back one day. It’s a place that really needs to be lived in or near for a while so you can learn its moods. A couple of hours dodging other tourists is not the best way to understand something so large and so ancient, in my opinion.

What’s Avebury? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avebury

Link to Flickr for those not blighted by Flash.

More upbeat, please

The real world seems to be heading ever further through the looking glass, and the temptation to blog about and comment on all the lunacy going on is a hard one to overcome. I had intended this year to be one where I wrote more about happier things, so let’s see if I can redress the balance a little.

As you may be aware, I enjoy most forms of transport. I love the history, the stories, the tales of human endeavour to go ever bigger, faster and higher. Having had a run of railway models I have been working on for clients and friends, I decided my modelling bench needed something a little more high tech. While my aerial interests tend to be firmly planted around 1940 for the most part, I do have the occasional flirt with things a little more recent—if you can call the mid-1960s “recent”, that is! It is easy to forget now, but in the 1950s and 1960s, Britain’s aircraft industry was world-beating.

Currently on my workbench, and not in a particularly photogenic state right now, is a 1/72nd scale BAC TSR-2. I am trying to go to town with this model. Thanks to various after-market manufacturers, the model has authentic cockpit interiors, the correct ejector seats, lifted canopies, wheels that are suitably bulged to give the impression of weight, more accurate engine details and crew access ladders. I have added extra detailing to the wheel wells, given an impression of the hydraulic pipework around the undercarriage, and generally pimped the whole thing. It is currently in bits going through several coats of paint before the decals are applied. 

I am never quite content to simply build a model in isolation. What I plan on doing with this bit of British aerospace history is to place it some kind of context. If you watch the following video (part of a four-part upload to YouTube), and head for around the six-and-a-half minute mark, you’ll see the only example of the TSR-2 to ever fly, serial XR219, surrounded by all kinds of ancillary equipment and vehicles on the apron at Boscombe Down. I plan to create a diorama to show the aircraft in just this situation—or near to it.

(Incidentally, if you can spare an hour and this kind of thing interests you, it is worth viewing the whole set of videos. It puts the story of the TSR-2 project in its historical context. The elderly chap in the glasses is Roland Beamont, who was the test pilot on the project and also a Battle of Britain fighter pilot.)

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Amazingly, most of the vehicles and bits are available in kit form from BW Models. At one point, I reckoned I could spend over £100 from that source alone! I have reined back a little, and while I save my pennies and wait for paint to dry I am working out the best way to create the concrete apron.

I am not trying to recreate the exact scene in the grab above. I am sort of aiming for something that may have occurred a few minutes before the film was shot. The aircraft will have been towed into position, and I plan to have the tow bar and tractor having just unhitched. The protective covers over the engine intakes and exhausts will be in the process of being removed. The oxygen and power generator trolleys are being positioned. The refueller and the CO2 truck will be there, too, and probably a Land Rover or similar.

Now, quite what I am going to do with this diorama—which will probably be almost a metre square—remains to be seen. Once I’ve photographed everything, the vehicles and aircraft will end up in the display cabinet, but the rest will end up in storage. Perhaps one of the museums might like it for display…

Another might-have-been of the British aircraft industry was the Fairey Rotodyne. I have a kit for one of those stashed away somewhere. Current ideas revolve around the “what if” had the RAF adopted the aircraft as originally envisaged in the late 1950s.

The WebSE Mac System 7 emulation

While we’re in geek nostalgia mode, try this one for size.

I began my love affair with Apple and the Macintosh computer on little beige boxes with tiny black and white screens built in. This web site offers a Flash-based emulation of such a machine running Macintosh System 7. I used to design and lay out entire magazines in QuarkXPress one-dot-something-or-other on a screen that size.

http://myoldmac.net/webse-e.htm