When I was very young, my parents owned a reel-to-reel tape recorder. It had multiple speed playback and twin tracks. My sister and I played with this thing for hours, making funny noises, over-dubbing sounds, and generally having a high old time.
I was hooked. As they often say, “the colours are better on radio”. Theatre of the mind, where your imagination fills in the images from the sounds alone. I have a particular fondness for sound effects records, and ambient sounds of real places in particular. It’s just another of those myriad creative pastimes I’ve developed through my life.
Have a search around the interweb and you’ll find numerous projects which aim to capture for posterity sounds of the every day mundanities of life. Things like birdsong in an urban environment, the sound of a stream trickling through a culvert, the 8.15 to Harpenden… that kind of thing. A favourite is the London Sound Survey. Sound, for many, is something we don’t often think about, and with most of us plugged into headphones or earbuds, blocking out the world around us, it’s easy to lose that audible connection with our surroundings.
Anyway, last year, Best Beloved and I invested in a modern digital audio recorder. We’ve owned various analogue and digital recorders over the years, but most were strictly linear in form. You recorded the sound, you played the recording back, and if you wanted to get the sound into another format you had to transfer it real time. No accessing a digital file in those days. Now, with the new toy, we could make a recording, and get it into the computer for editing with a few clicks of a mouse.
Long story short, we are steadily building a library of some commonplace sounds of our modern world—and some of our not-so-modern world. To that end, I’ve set up a SoundCloud account where we can share the edited recordings with the world. The first playlist I’ve created is of recordings made on the Severn Valley Railway, Shropshire, last year. For best results, play back through good speakers, or a good set of headphones.
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 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 Boomers “had 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”.
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.
Telford was an excellent exhibition, a credit to the organisers and managing crew. I spent the weekend talking, buying, and ending up tired out! I handed finished models to clients, and collected some new commissioned work. I think it was a good show.
As is now our habit, we stayed in the Telford area for a couple of days after the exhibition. Our plans were flexible, with museums and the Severn Valley Railway high on the agenda. Monday saw us visit the Blists Hill Victorian Town. The link explains what the place is all about, and it proved a pleasant afternoon of wandering about. I spent much of the time cursing my DSLR, which is really cursing myself for being thick. I really need to get out with the beast more often and learn how to drive it properly again.
Our last day we went to Bridgnorth and visited the SVR. We took the digital sound recording gear, in the hopes of more excellent recordings such as we had last year. Sadly, I hadn’t slept at all well the previous night, so our visit was somewhat curtailed. I still haven’t had a chance to edit the recordings we made. In fact, I’ve not even listened back to them, which is quite telling on what I think about them.
So, that’s the Big Exhibition over for another year. Back at home, I spent the rest of the week nursing a toothache and setting out plans for the year ahead. I have, it seems, a lot of work to be getting on with!
It’s September, so that means it’s Guildex, the annual shindig of the Gauge O Guild at Telford. This year is a big one, because the Guild is celebrating their 60th birthday. For the past couple of years I have been a guest demonstrator as part of the Just Like The Real team. This year, I’m attending as a paying punter, for various reasons.
I do enjoy demonstrating at exhibitions. (By “demonstrating” I mean showing how I do things, rather than waving placards and shouting slogans!) Best Beloved and I were very regular exhibitors at model railway shows for many years, but we stepped back a little from the limelight when we did 14 exhibitions in a year. That’s a lot of weekends, when you think about it. We found we didn’t have time to prepare and repair the models before the next show was on us, so we called it a day.
Since I’ve been trying to build the modelmaking business, I’ve been keen to attend as many shows as I can. Most often I’m as a paying customer, but it is nice to be asked to be an exhibitor—if only because the parking gets a bit easier!
So, this year, I’m a visitor. As a Guild member, I’ve got a ticket for a measly fiver that lets me and Best Beloved visit the show on both days. As a wandering entity, I will be able to talk to more people, see more of the show, and generally cover more ground than when I’m tied to a demonstration table. Well, that’s the plan.
It also means I can meet clients and hand over completed models, like the ones above, as well as discuss new commissions and collect more boxes!
We don’t generally do holidays, but we treat this annual expedition to Shropshire as a short break. We will stay on for a couple of days, and do some sight-seeing. It’s a nice part of the world, and worth visiting without the attraction of a model railway exhibition. Of course, it means I’m currently in the panic stage, worrying about booking into the hotel, finding parking at the exhibition venue, whether we’ve forgotten something and so on. I’ve made a check list, but I bet there’s something obvious I shall forget, probably because I didn’t put it on the list!
There he is, reclining across my test track, near an open window. Billy-puss has now been living with us for just over two months, and he has definitely decided this is his forever home.
Billy-puss, the helping cat. Helping to distract me from paying work would be more accurate!
Billy-puss, the supervisor. He likes to stamp his approval, and here he is making sure I was weatherproofing the Big Shed properly.
Just a perfect Billy-puss size. Sadly, he soon discovered this gap on the workbench shelving was earmarked for non-furry things.
Billy-puss investigating the cause of a loud crash at the front door the other day. A bumper issue of the Gauge O Guild Gazette, filled with AGM and exhibition news, made a serious dent in the mat!
When you can’t find him, it’s more than likely Billy-puss is snuggled up in the alcove under our coffee table. He will happily spend most of the day in there. It’s out of the way and, more importantly at this time of year, reasonably cool.
Cuddles are definitely a thing. He does like to be groomed—and with long hair we’ve very nearly got enough fluff collected to make a pair of gloves.
Best Beloved and I are very happy that Billy has decided he likes living here. He has more than filled the gaping hole left by Sophie. Let’s hope Billy Whizz will be with us for many years to come.
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.
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.
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.
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!
There are times in your life when something momentous or calamitous occurs. Think declaring war with Germany in 1939, the assassination of JFK, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Mandela walking free—those kinds of things. We seem to be in one of those moments.
Perhaps, as a child playing rather too boisterously, you managed to damage or break something precious. There’s no way it could be mended, no matter how hard you screwed up your eyes and prayed that it might miraculously be put back together again. You have a certain feeling, deep in the pit of your stomach, that signifies there’s been a significant shift in circumstances, and not necessarily for the better. There’s no going back. That’s it, done and dusted.
That’s how I feel about the EU in or out referendum our benighted country held on 23 June 2016, a day that will go down in history as most definitely not one of Britain’s finest.
I voted to remain in the European Union. My reasons are not important right now, I just felt it was the least worst option. Taking a leap into the unknown, on the basis of blatant fabrications, falsehoods and downright lies, seemed a little, well, terminal. I believe it still to be better to try and fix things with a hand on the tiller, than be tied to the mast with no say in how the ship is run. If it doesn’t get better, then think about leaving some other time.
Inevitably, immigration came seething to the fore during the campaign, because the failure of western capitalism was all the fault of the foreigners, of course—even though it’s not and never has been. It dominated the discussion, even though it was plain there was no simple solution, and wouldn’t change much if we decided to leave anyway. Another fact that got swept away in the tide of xenophobia.
Although the result of the vote was close, it tipped to leaving. Just over half of those who bothered to vote decided we should take that leap into the unknown. As it turned out, the consequences have been exactly as predicted. Depending on who you believe, the economy is struggling, the pound is plummeting, the world’s stock markets have the jitters, Scotland wants out of the union, other EU member states are hoping they might be next to take the plunge and leave the gang, and we have no sensible government after the prime minister threw in the towel and the opposition decided to start a leadership battle. To cap it all, reports are that racist and xenophobic incidents have increased by over 50 per cent. It seems that some of those who wanted us “out” really wanted the “out” to mean everyone who wasn’t born here or was perceived as foreign purely by dint of their skin colour. Whether the Faragists expected this to happen, who knows? The fact is the dis-United Kingdom is now a grubbier, more violent and unhappy place than it was.
It’s not even been a week since the vote, and already it seems like the end of days! The worst is the feeling that there is no way out. There’s no escape. There’s nowhere to run and hide. We are stuck in this chaotic farce that needn’t have happened, and we’ve broken the country irrevocably. We can’t screw up our eyes and try to will it all back together again.
I find it unbelievable that it has come to this. Did the Powers That Be not foresee this might be the outcome? Were they so cock sure the remain side would win they didn’t consider what might happen if that didn’t come to pass? Indeed, did the leave side really not have any form of plan of what to do in case they won?
Alas, so it seems. No-one expected to lose or win or split almost evenly down the middle, so we’re left with chaos and anarchy and no idea of what to do from anywhere. There’s no reset button.
Forget Article 50 being kicked into the long grass, Scottish Parliament vetoes, rerunning referendums. It’s too late. The genie is out of the bottle. There’s no going back. We have crossed the Rubicon. We are in uncharted waters, with no-one steering the boat.
Everything that I took more or less for granted in my world is suddenly inverted. It’s broken, shattered. There is no stability any more. Everything is twisted, torn and shredded. We are so screwed. Hate, it seems, is winning. I find I am swinging wildly between grief, dread and profound and deepening anger. One moment I’m laughing at the absurdity of it all, the next I’m in tears of sheer desperation.
How dare we be plunged into this chaos for no apparent good reason. Yet, life goes on. The sun still rises in the east; birds sing; we have to eat, shop, pretend our world is not imploding in some calm British sort of way. I don’t think I can cope with pretending it’s all normal much longer. It wasn’t my fault, but I’m tangled up in it, and it’s not fair!
In November 2013 we said goodbye to Penny-puss. Penny and Sophie were homed as a pair of rescue cats from our local branch of Cats Protection. All of our cats have come from CP. When Penny left us, Sophie became Top Cat.
We had originally thought both moggies were of similar ages, but it turned out Sophie was a bit younger than her chum. We didn’t know how many years we would have left to share with Sophie.
Penny was always the quiet one, but it was fairly obvious she kept Sophie in her place. With the Strong Paw of The Law out of the way, Sophie could fulfil her potential. That was to occupy any and every lap that came into the house, often times without asking permission first!
Being a black cat, she always felt she should be the centre of attention, at all times, no matter how inconvenient. Cuddles came first, second and third, and more so once Penny had died. Sophie would be the one to get up to mischief, climbing onto wardrobes and disappearing behind settees. On one occasion, while we were having the central heating serviced, Sophie went to find out what was going on behind the hot water tank. She emerged, wreathed in cobwebs, looking like a feline Miss Havisham.
Being a black cat, she was also notoriously difficult to capture in photographs. The best photos I have are when she was gallivanting on our large shed roof, where I was low enough to capture playful moments with her.
She had started calling plaintively and loudly, soon after Penny’s death. At first we thought it was just calling for her friend, but it soon became evident she was letting the world know, at volume and at length, what she had just been up to.
“I’ve just used the litter tray … I’d give it a few minutes if I were you … I even impressed myself with that one … No, don’t thank me, it was my pleasure …”
“I’ve just been out in the garden … it was a bit parky out there … I’m back in for a warm … any grub going?”
… and so on.
Cuddles and laps were the order of the day. Sophie and I would often end up having a bit of a tussle on the settee should I be so bold as to insist my lap be reserved for other uses.
Old age catches up with us all eventually, and it was no different for Sophie-puss. When we homed her it was thought she might be eight years old. She’d been with us nine years, all but. That would make her not far off 18 years old, or around 70 in human years. A good age for a domestic moggie.
Sophie started having little collapses where her back legs gave out and she would soil herself. She would usually recover in a couple of minutes, and dash off to the food bowl as if nothing happened. The collapses started happening more regularly. Then she didn’t look well at all. Her breathing was shallow, and anything mildly strenuous would leave her out of breath for several minutes. We took her to the vet, fully expecting not to bring her home again. The diagnosis was heart failure—she’d always had a heart murmur—with the chest cavity full of fluid, and the collapses might be due to partial fainting, or possibly blood clots. The vet gave Sophie a vitamin injection, and prescribed some pills to help flush fluid out of her chest cavity and also help with the back legs.
That was about three months ago. The medication helped, when Sophie would eat the food containing it. In the past couple of weeks, her back legs had shown signs of some improvement. We had a new back door fitted in March, with a cat flap. After a little persuasion, Sophie decided she liked this innovation, and provided it was unlocked she would let herself in and out to her heart’s content. As the weather got warmer, she spent more and more time in the garden, following the sunny spots around during the day.
Accidents happened, usually involved missing the litter tray. We got used to cleaning up after Sophie. She was getting old, and we have to expect these things.
This week, though, things began to change. She was getting more confused. She managed to get herself on the garage roof, but couldn’t remember how to get back down. We had to effect a rescue with a ladder. Her eyesight wasn’t as good as it used to be, leaving her blundering into doors if she wasn’t careful. She didn’t want to sit on my lap at all—unheard of. Then she found a convenient low shelf near my workbench where she could curl up and sleep. That’s not usually a good sign. Cats are generally known to find somewhere they can hide when they think their time is nearly up. I made up a little nest of a blanket and some soft things for her.
Yesterday she barely moved. She did totter out to the kitchen for a drink, but tottered straight back to her little nest. She didn’t eat at all. She responded with a purr if she was stroked, but it was obvious she wasn’t really happy. We decided to leave her alone, monitor the situation and decide whether to make That Call to the vet in the morning.
We hoped nature might take its course overnight, but it didn’t. When she showed little signs of improvement, an appointment to have Sophie put to sleep was made for this afternoon. We went out to do our grocery shop, and when we got home, Sophie had died. We think she had either had a seizure or slipped and had a heart attack struggling to right herself. Either way, we hope she didn’t suffer unduly.
Sophie-puss has gone to join Penny-puss, and Snowy and Bootsie from next door. Perhaps even our old Tom and Misty will be there. Thanks for the cuddles and fun, Sophie. Yes, I shouted at you when you insisted on making a racket. Yes, you did like to land on my head if you felt it was time for breakfast. But we still loved you to bits, Charlie. You will be missed, especially on cold evenings when you warmed my lap while we watched telly together. Farewell, furry friend.
As has become traditional after the loss of a cat, we made our way straight to CP to see what new furry friends might want to make a home with us. We plan to go back on Sunday for a proper look, but we might have one likely candidate already. We’ll see.
I am no spring chicken. I am well aware of this fact. I am also becoming aware I really should have taken a bit more care of myself when I was younger.
I have an active brain. It’s always churning away on something. Some nights it keeps me awake because it won’t let go of something. I may be worrying over how to accomplish a task on a model build currently on the workbench, or I may be reliving some disaster in the previous day or so and how I could have either prevented it or retained more dignity than perhaps I may have managed at the time. I think it’s fair to say my brain is the most active part of me!
As I grow older, it is becoming more critical that I begin to take an active, albeit belated, interest in looking after myself. I need to lose weight, and I need to do some exercise.
I bought a bike a few years ago. For a while I was riding it every day or so, building up stamina, feeling better for moving various bits of me that don’t customarily move quite that much. Then we had some bad weather, and the bike stayed in the shed longer. Winters and springs came and went, and the bike remained locked away. A pang of guilt strikes every time I venture into the shed to retrieve something or other. There’s my bike, sitting there, patiently. I will often flick the bell on the handle bars, for old time’s sake. Perhaps this year, I think to myself. Perhaps I will get back on the bike.
I see people running, or pounding away on machines at leisure centres and gyms, and I wonder what they see in it. What is going on in their heads while their body burns the calories? Could their lives be so empty that they actually get pleasure from physical exercise? I know exercise releases chemicals into the brain that makes you feel better, so perhaps that’s it. After a while, it must become an addiction.
Last year I had a run in with the medical world, as we tried to find out why my heart was seemingly skipping a beat or three very frequently. Again, the rejoinder was to change lifestyle, get more exercise, lose weight. If only it was that simple. Now, it seems, my blood pressure has decided it needs to be higher than normal. My body may be ganging up on my brain after all!
The trouble is I’m a lazy sod. I know I need to exercise more. I realise it’s for my own good. But that active brain of mine keeps nagging at me that if I start walking every day, or—heaven forfend—break out the bike again, it’s time away from productive work. Walking anywhere without a purpose, or riding up and down the same bit of road, just for the sake of burning calories and building up muscles is not my idea of time well spent. The simple fact is I find exercise the most tedious waste of time. I don’t, I tell myself, have time to spend away from things that might be much more interesting, or even making some kind of living.
Then again, I can’t afford to be ill. I am just going to have to find the time to get a little fitter. It looks like the bike will see daylight once again. The time has come, it seems, to take my lifestyle by the throat and give it a good shaking. Wish me luck.