Category Archives: History

Fings ain’t wot they used to be

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-19-02-14

It’s a terrible affliction, and one which I find myself suffering more as I get older. That feeling when, perhaps, you’re listening to a favourite album and it suddenly smacks you between the eyes that you bought it for the first time 35 years ago. You’re suddenly transported back to those days, and you can’t help feeling things were better then than they are now…

See? How can things be worse now than three decades ago? Ridiculous! Look around you! Look at how marvellous our world is.

How marvellous our world was, perhaps. My species is rapidly outgrowing its home planet, with precious little thought to what happens when the resources run out. “Someone else will sort that out for us,” seems to be the consensus. “Someone clever will solve all our problems, so we don’t need to worry about it now.” We carry on being told to consume all we can, and so we do.


For more in this vein, perhaps you might cheer yourself up with some previous posts:
Have we peaked?
Everything seems a bit shit these days


For the first half of the 20th century, life for ordinary people was tough. If you were lucky, you had a job, your health, and enough money put by that you could perhaps consider a short holiday by the seaside once a year. You couldn’t hope to own your own house, or a car. If you were unlucky, you struggled to survive, reliant perhaps on charity to get by until something turned up.

Further afield, the world in general was not a happy place, with conflict and things to generally make life harsh and short for most people. If you were wealthy, however, the world was your oyster. Some had managed to make a large fortune for themselves and their offspring, mainly by exploiting the labour of the poorer members of society.

In some countries, men came to power that promised to make life better for all. They blamed all of society’s ills on ethnic minorities, or anyone who wasn’t “like us”. People believed in their special kind of message, and so the world turned. Eventually, things went too far, and the poor and disadvantaged were plunged once more into a conflict not of their making.

In 1945, after this particularly savage global conflict had finally ended, the returning soldiers, sailors and airmen decided they wanted a world that would be better for everyone and not just those that could afford it. What is now known as the post-war consensus was formed. Many industries were taken into government hands and run for the benefit of all. A universal healthcare and welfare system was set up to ensure no-one would suffer unduly from ill health, and there was something there to catch you and help you get back on your feet if things went wrong. New social housing was built, slums were cleared, education was improved, the world began to look bright and hopeful.

By the 1970s, things weren’t looking quite so bright. Industrial strife gave nationalised industries a bad name, and some politicians began to point to a brave new world where privatised and deregulated businesses could solve all the ills of our world. Slowly but surely, everything the returning servicemen and women from the Second World War had built was taken away again. It’s taken four decades, but even the sacred cow of the National Health Service is being slowly devoured, sliced and diced to the highest bidder.

It struck me today that the calibre of those who built our post-war society was much higher than those who think they should run things today. In the 1940s and 1950s, I suppose the founders of the new Britain hoped their children would learn to run things well, and so it proved for a while. Where things have taken a wrong turn is difficult to say, but perhaps the so-called Baby Boomershad it so good” and really did think it would last forever. They didn’t teach their offspring as well as they might, it seems, and the result is we’ve got a bunch of career politicians who don’t have a clue about much.

Disaffection with the political classes, the intense feeling that former industrial areas are wilfully ignored by the elites in Westminster, has led to a collapse in our political system. We see the rise of the far right—across Europe and beyond, it has to be said—and such political organisations tap into the general dissatisfaction. It’s all the fault of the “others”, those ethnic minorities, the “immigrants” and “migrants”.


An interesting read over at The Guardian about Brexit and the revolt against liberalism.
Nationalism: Nasty or Nice?
Oh, what have you done?


Supposedly sensible people—like me, for example—tend to want to make fun of the new species of demagogue that is arising in the world. The Nigel Farages and Donald Trumps of this world won’t ever amount to much, we tell ourselves. They’re fringe politicians, their followers are not the mainstream of political thought.

Then the Farages and Trumps begin to win.

“There’s no way Trump could win the Republican Party nomination.”

“We won’t vote to leave the European Union.”

“But there’s no way Trump can win the presidential election.”

I find myself thinking, after everything else that’s happened so far in 2016, that we had better prepare ourselves for a Donald Trump presidency. The world, it seems, has turned almost a full circle. Where it will end, I don’t know. I’d like to be optimistic about things, but I rather think it won’t end well. You don’t need to guess who will suffer the most, whatever the outcome.


Ticket To The Moon
ELO, Time, 1981

Words and music by Jeff Lynne

Remember the good old Nineteen Eighties,
When things were so uncomplicated,
I wish I could go back there again
And everything could be the same.

I’ve got a ticket to the moon
I’ll be leaving here any day soon
Yeah, I’ve got a ticket to the moon
But I’d rather see the sunrise, in your eyes.

Got a ticket to the moon
I’ll be rising high above the earth so soon
And the tears I cry might turn into the rain
That gently falls upon your window
You’ll never know.

Ticket to the moon
Fly, fly through a troubled sky
Up to a new world shining bright.

Flying high above,
Soaring madly through the mysteries that come,
Wondering sadly if the ways that led me here,
Could turn around and I would see you there,
Standing there

Ticket to the moon
Flight leaves here today from Satellite 2
As the minutes go by, what shall I do,
I paid the fare, what more can I say,
It’s just one way.

Ticket to the moon.

Read more:  Electric Light Orchestra – Ticket To The Moon Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Have we peaked?

This isn’t a terribly well organised or thought through post. I just wanted to get the idea out there, so please forgive the somewhat random nature of what follows.

I have come to the conclusion that our civilisation has peaked.

What do I mean by this? Since the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, the progress of Western civilisation has been steady. Yes, it took bloodshed to give us the rights we hold dear, but conflict has also driven progress, particularly in the technological sphere.

A couple of centuries ago, the Industrial Revolution brought mass production of goods, massive improvements in transport and cities that began to grow exponentially. We began to explore our world, to learn about its limits, and—sadly—to exploit much of it. Natural philosophers discovered gravity, how light works, and made the first stumbling steps into understanding the very building blocks of our universe. We looked up and out, beyond our own planet and dreamed of distant places.

In the 20th century, two global conflicts drove technology. We could fly in heavier-than-air-machines, we could dive below the surface of our oceans. We could destroy cities instantly. After 1945, things began to change socially. Here in the UK we created a welfare state, so no-one would need for a home or food if they should find themselves out of work. A national health service, free at the point of delivery and paid for through taxation, meant illnesses and diseases of poverty were virtually eliminated. Life was still hard, but it was getting easier.

We lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation, it is true. A stalemate between two opposing forces, which came almost to blows on many occasions, yet which didn’t prevent society making progress. Civil rights, gender equality, all started in the years following the end of the Second World War. We put men on the Moon!

Yet, as I sit here, tapping away at this keyboard into the ether of another of mankind’s inventions, I can’t help feeling we aren’t making progress any more. Despite the evidence of science, religion is still here. Superstition still has a hold over many millions of our species. Diseases once thought extinct are making a comeback. A world population that’s grown by over four thousand millions since I was born half a century ago is beginning to take its toll on ecology and diversity of our home planet. We were warned about the harm we were doing to our planet, and now it’s virtually too late to stop its effects.

That was a bit depressing. Sorry about that.

I now think, despite iPhones and Internet and jet aircraft and microwaves and organ transplants and space stations, our society has peaked. I think the pinnacle was reached in July 1969, when three men left their home planet, landed on and explored another world, and came safely home to Earth. That, my friends, was the apogee of Western civilisation and Western science. Ever since, for better or worse, we have been in steady decline.

I don’t have an answer, even if I thought there was one. Was there even a question? As I said, this thesis hasn’t really been thought through.

And there’s more!

While I had the lightbox out for the diesel photo shoot, I thought it might be fun to take some mini diorama shots of some model aircraft I’ve been building on and off as part of my ongoing Summer 1940 obsession.

Bristol Blenheim MkIVF WR-L, No 248 Squadron Coastal Command, is prepared for another patrol over the North Sea, some time in 1940. Airfix 1/72nd scale kits for the aircraft, oil bowser and Standard Tilly pickup; Flightpath Fordson tractor; Matador Models Albion AM463 refueller.

Bristol Blenheim MkIVF WR-L, No 248 Squadron Coastal Command, is prepared for another patrol over the North Sea, some time in 1940. Airfix 1/72nd scale kits for the aircraft, oil bowser and Standard Tilly pickup; Flightpath Fordson tractor; Matador Models Albion AM463 refueller.

Bristol Blenheim MkIVF WR-L, No 248 Squadron Coastal Command, is prepared for another patrol over the North Sea, some time in 1940. Airfix 1/72nd scale kits for the aircraft, oil bowser and Standard Tilly pickup; Flightpath Fordson tractor; Matador Models Albion AM463 refueller.

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley MkV, GE-B of No 58 Squadron Bomber Command, Linton-on-Ouse, North Yorkshire, gets some last minute attention before being bombed up for a night raid. Summer 1940. Airfix 1/72nd scale kits for the aircraft, oil bowser and Standard Tilly and Bedford ML pickups; Flightpath Fordson tractor.

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley MkV, GE-B of No 58 Squadron Bomber Command, Linton-on-Ouse, North Yorkshire, gets some last minute attention before being bombed up for a night raid. Summer 1940. Airfix 1/72nd scale kits for the aircraft, oil bowser and Standard Tilly and Bedford ML pickups; Flightpath Fordson tractor.

Armstrong Whitworth Whitley MkV, GE-B of No 58 Squadron Bomber Command, Linton-on-Ouse, North Yorkshire, gets some last minute attention before being bombed up for a night raid. Airfix 1/72nd scale kits for the aircraft, oil bowser and Standard Tilly and Bedford ML pickups; Flightpath Fordson tractor.

Traditionally, the Battle of Britain is seen as the mighty Luftwaffe, with four types of bomber and two types of fighter, ranged against the plucky RAF sporting two types of fighter and a few hangers on. My view, and of some historians of the subject, is once you take into account Bomber and Coastal Command numbers, the odds were much more even. So, as kits have become available, I have been adding the other commands to my Royal Air Force collection. In my stash I have a Handley Page Hampden, and I would love a decent Vickers Wellington and Airfix to reissue the Fairey Battle to make my Bomber Command fleet complete.

The only problem with all this model aircraft malarkey is where to store or display them! Outside of cabinets, they’re proper dust magnets!

2015, a personal review

A look askance, 2014

My review about this time last year makes for interesting reading.

As a sort of update, Best Beloved and I have failed utterly to see any local amateur drama or music this year. I also began and subsequently failed to complete a photo project. My photo gear has been sadly neglected for most of this year, something I really want to remedy for 2016. I hope my photo mojo is just slumbering peacefully, and once I find it again it’ll spark back into action with a proper enthusiasm like the old days.

As for the geopolitical stuff, well, what can I say? I think The Asylum will simply be inadequate and too late. There are jokes in there somewhere about flood defences, major transport infrastructure projects or agreements about dealing with a changing climate, but I’ll leave them for you to find. I awake every morning only to find things are even more bizarre and outlandish than the night before. How long it can go on before something really snaps, well, who can say. The elastic of sanity is certainly being stretched at the moment.

So, how did I do overall in 2015. Stepping quietly over the mouldering corpse of my photo project—one photo a week for a year: how hard could it be?—the model making shows no signs of slowing. I think I began 2014 with a mild anxiety about it drying up, but as I type I have work well into 2016, and potentially further. I think two clones and an apprentice are required just to keep up. I am working for two clients in Australia, as well as a lengthy waiting list of people in the UK. If you’re reading this and one of the latter, my apologies for my apparent tardiness. I do try to be honest about my workload, but sometimes I look at the pile of boxes awaiting my attention and I get an awful sinking feeling.

One reason for a slowing in productivity has been health. Earlier in the year I began to notice worrying symptoms affecting my heart. I went to have things checked out, which entailed umpteen blood pressure tests, a couple of ECGs, a comprehensive blood test, a 24-hour blood pressure monitor, and a five-day heart “event” monitor. The results came back, and they were inconclusive. BP was normal, ECG showed nothing, bloods all fine and dandy, the monitors showed nothing dangerous or unusual. This was a little worrying. After a further consultation, I have been given a diagnosis of ectopic beats, brought on it seems by a hiatus hernia. So, 2016 will be a year when I try really hard to lose some weight and to get some regular exercise regime going. I suppose it won’t hurt to get the bicycle serviced!

While the world around us seems to be collapsing, it does appear that I can end 2015 on a reasonably positive note. I shall try to do my best to ignore the craziness out there, and try to make my corner of the planet a nice place to be. Perhaps if we all did the same, there might be a spontaneous outbreak of peace and goodwill the world over.

Well, it’s a nice thought. Have a lovely Christmas and accept my wishes for a prosperous, healthy 2016!

Latest Completed Commission

GWR Broad Gauge Coaches

 

The latest commission to leave the workshop is this pair of six-wheelers. To date, these constitute the oldest rolling stock I have had the pleasure of modelling. While the kits are relatively modern—the passenger coach kit is dated to 1985!—the real vehicles would have been in service in the late 1880s, on secondary and branch line services of the Great Western Railway.

Also of interest, in that geeky model railway kind of way, is these are models of broad gauge rolling stock. Isambard Kingdom Brunel, renowned engineer of the Great Western Railway and many other engineering triumphs of the Victorian era, insisted that his railway would eschew the “cart gauge” used by the Northern engineers such as George Stephenson in favour of a track gauge of 7ft 0-1/4in, to give smoother running. So-called standard gauge, still used to this day in the UK and around the world, is 4ft 8-1/2in.

The broad gauge was in use on much of the GWR system, including absorbed lines. The so-called “Gauge War” was effectively lost to the standard gauge in the early 1860s, and the GWR began to lay standard gauge lines and build standard gauge locos and stock. The last broad gauge train ran in May 1892. All the broad gauge stock and locomotives were dumped in a field outside Swindon—the engineering hub of the railway—to be either broken up for scrap or possibly rebuilt to the narrower gauge.

GWR Broad Gauge Coaches

This luggage van was built in the 1870s. While it has a guard’s compartment and lookouts, it is not a true brake van as later vehicles were, with no means for the guard to apply the vacuum brake from his compartment. Like many coaches of the period, it retains features from the earlier days of railway travel. Oil lamps for lighting, and a “dog box” at the far end where passengers’ canine companions could travel without mucking up the passenger accommodation. Originally built with only a hand braking system, many coaches were updated with automatic vacuum brakes during their service lives. This model, and companion coach, is built to a scale of 7mm to the foot, and has been painted to represent the van as it would have been towards the end of its life.

GWR Broad Gauge Coaches

This third class passenger coach is one of the more unusual aspects of the later broad gauge railway. Realising that eventually the broad gauge would end, and indeed with much of the network already being built to the standard gauge, or at least dual gauge, the GWR embarked on building coaches with standard gauge bodies but on broad gauge underframes. When the end of the broad gauge arrived, the plan was to take the coaches into the works and swap the bodies to narrow underframes, thereby prolonging their service life. Again, oil lamps light the compartments, though many coaches were later converted to gas lighting, and the automatic vacuum braking was added at some point during their service.

All in all, this has been an interesting commission for me. I have an interest in many aspects of railways, and I like to learn about the earlier history of what is probably the greatest invention of the Victorian age, but I’ve never actually wanted to make models of the period. With someone willing to pay me to build, I was always up for the challenge. Part of the fun, if you like, is the limited resources available to confirm details. The modeller is often left to their own devices, making educated guesses based on various known facts. There has been much head-scratching, a modicum of swearing, and a good deal of assistance involved in this build. The end results have turned out nicely, but there are features I wish I had done better. I’ll know next time: the client has ordered another three coaches, so there is ample opportunity for me to try and get it right next time!

During the build I have had copious help, freely given, from various modellers and historians of the GWR broad gauge era. Knowing I have more to come, I have accepted that the only sensible thing to do was to join the Broad Gauge Society. At least I can then access more information directly, rather than beg, borrow and plead!

With the workbench clear of Victorian oddities for a while, I am concentrating on the builds that had to be postponed in order to deliver this pair. Back to the mid-20th century for me!

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.

IMG_6761

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!