I started at primary school in 1969. All the weights and measures taught to me were metric. Yet I had to grow up in a world where some things were being measured using a logical system, and others by some system originally set out by the Anglo-Saxons. Britain had decided to metricate in 1966 yet why, nearly half a century on, are we still messing with our children’s brains by mixing measurement systems?
The EU referendum was apparently about “taking back control”. From what or whom was never really explained. We buy our beer and milk in pints (take a look at a milk container, and notice the bizarre measure in metric). Jam jars are still half a pound, but labelled as 454g. Two pounds of sugar is really a kilogram, but it’s close enough the unreconstructed imperialists don’t moan about it—probably because they are getting a quarter pound extra!
Has the EU forced us to drive in the right? Have we been forced to change all our road signs to show metric? I wish they had, but that’s another story. (NEWSFLASH! Our roads, railways, airports, docks and even homes have been constructed using metric weights and measures since at least the 1960s. Those countdown markers to motorway exit slips? They’re set at 100 metre intervals. SOS phones were always 1000 metres apart. We live in a world measured by the metric system whether we like it or not.)
Go to a DIY emporium and buy some timber. It’s measured in metric, but still effectively imperial. Chipboard comes in sheets 1220mm by 607mm, because that’s all but 4 ft by 2ft in old money. A 1.8m length of two-by-one is a 6ft length of 50x25mm… there I go again!
We were eventually persuaded to let diesel and petrol be dispensed by the litre. But let’s not forget those who insist that loose vegetables should be sold by the pound.
The thing is, even after all these years, I get confused by imperial measures. Ask me how many ounces to the pound, or pounds to the stone and I’m lost. Is it 12 or 14 pounds to the stone? Twenty ounces to the pound? Ack! I get inches, feet and yards, but how many feet or yards in a mile? How big is an acre? Don’t get me started on thousandths of an inch, gallons or fluid ounces either. You may as well ask me to weigh something using a sperm whale. By contrast, metric is logical. It uses base 10, and things divide up easily. The smallest practical measure of length is the millimetre; a thousand make a metre, and a thousand metres make a kilometre. The same with weights and volumes: 1000 grammes is a kilogramme, a thousand kilogrammes is tonne; a thousand millilitres make a litre.
The only other country that insists on sticking with imperial measures is the United States. Like us, they too appear to have voted to head back to the 1950s. In reality, we’ve been metric for decades—indeed, the metric system is an international standard used by every scientist out there, even in the good ol’ U S of A—but we continue to cling to imperial measures for some unfathomable reason. A thin veneer of something hiding a reality with which some people seem unable to come to terms. Brexit in a nutshell.
(This is an edited version of a rant I did on Facebook earlier.)
Look, no-one is trying to derail Brexit. Get it into you thick brexiteer skulls that letting our sovereign parliament of elected representatives debate what the terms of our exit from Europe should be is a Good Thing. Isn’t that one of the things you all claim you voted for in that wretched referendum?
I didn’t want to leave Europe, but I am resigned to the fact it will happen. So, forgive me if I don’t want to let the morons grab the steering wheel while we all try to make the exit as beneficial to EVERYONE in the UK as we can.
We have to work TOGETHER. If we don’t, we are all utterly screwed. Understand that, and help make leaving the EU as painless as we can.
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!