When you work for yourself, and your other half is retired, it’s very easy to forget to take holidays. Well, I find it easy to forget. To overcome this problem, we’ve decided to try to take short breaks that happen to coincide with model railway meetings of one kind or another. The precedent has been set by our annual jaunt to Telford for the Gauge O Guild exhibition.
This past weekend we wandered up to the West Midlands. We stayed in Oldbury, in one of those identikit hotels, on a short visit that encompassed the ScaleSeven Group’s AGM at the nearby Warley Model Railway Club’s premises. We travelled up from darn sarf on Friday, had the AGM on Saturday (feeling relaxed and refreshed by not having made the journey on the day), and pottered back home on the Sunday.
With time in hand, we made a slight detour to a local attraction before heading home.
The house and gardens are run by the Birmingham Museums. Originally a farmhouse set in its own land, the hall is now surrounded by 1930s housing estates. Nevertheless, once you enter the property, it is a tiny oasis of calm in the bustle of a suburban environment.
There is a modern entry block, with the gift shop, toilets and a tea room. On the day we visited, there was a display of various birds of prey. Volunteers were on hand to guide round the house, explaining about the building and its contents, and the histories of its various owners.
If you find yourself in the Birmingham area and have a couple of hours to spare, visit Blakesley Hall. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit, and you might too.
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!
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.
The British Landscape Club was dreamed up to promote the exotic origins and fabulous history of the British countryside. Anyone can join, there are no membership fees and all we need is an email address so we can send you occasional updates about the site and tidbits of information.
There’s also a book – a bit of a club manual – about Britain’s landscape: The Lie of the Land – an under-the-field guide to the British landscape.
This site needs an occasional plug. I have a copy of the book, and I pop over to the web site for the occasional update and new item. If you are in any way interested in the landscapes, history and story of the British Isles, bookmark the BLC now.
By nature, I am a hoarder. I don’t like to throw stuff away—it might come in handy one day. At least, that’s what I tell myself. Just occasionally, though, I force myself to go through the somewhat painful process of clearing the hoarded stuff of years.
We’re doing it now, as it happens. I’m blogging while taking a break from rearranging our shared studio space (a back bedroom in our house). We’ve cleared out about a decade’s worth of accrued junk, most of which is finding its way to our local recycling centre. I had stashed a bunch of software boxes under a desk, and because we wanted to shift some cupboards about to make some space, they had to go.
Well, some of it had to go. Versions of the Mac OS and various bits of software that won’t install, let alone run, on my collection of Apple hardware. It’s useless to all intents and purpose, but I just can’t quite find it in my geeky heart to get rid of all of it.
To run UniQorn, I need a Mac running System 7 and QuickDraw GX. The oldest Mac I own in working order is currently capable of running OS 8, but that’s too modern—and I don’t even have a copy of that OS any more! So, I keep the UniQorn box, complete with the umpteen 3.5in installation floppies because when I bought the software I didn’t even have a CD-ROM drive on my machine, just for the sheer geeky archaeology of it.
It’s the same with QuarkXPress 4. I can actually run that on one of my Macs, but there’s no point. I think I keep it around simply because of how much it cost me to purchase back in the day. I don’t recall exactly how much it was, but it definitely had four figures before the decimal place…
There’s a part of me that would love to get hold of an old Quadra or PowerPC Mac with System 7 on it so I could install UniQorn again. But then, the realist in me jumps to the fore and reminds me that once I’d played with it, and rebooted a few times due to the inevitable crashes, I’d soon get bored with it. Best to leave it in the box, with all the memories.
“It may not look very exciting, but the photograph above has an important place in history. Known as Photo 51, it’s an X-ray diffraction image of DNA and has at least a claim to be the most important image ever taken.”
I may have linked to this before, but as part of their public service broadcasting remit the BBC have been trying to get a lot of archived material online. It’s a great way to waste some time, if nothing else. For me, it is proving to be a hefty dose of nostalgia.
Kodak’s film has been used by every photographer worth his salt, or should that be silver, for more than 100 years. Those little yellow film boxes with the familiar red writing said you cared about your work, and in the case of Kodachrome were prepared to wait days while Kodak sent it to Paris to be processed.
Photographers, a wily bunch, have seen this demise coming for a while and many have fridges full of “out of date” film that they ration.
Funnily enough, I am finding an increasing interest in film photography again, possibly because of a ground swell of interest in the wider photography world where people are rediscovering the joys of analogue photos. I still have my Olympus 35mm SLR, and blogged recently about adventures with larger formats.
Oddly, aside from the occasional roll of slide film, I was never a Kodak baby. I adopted Fuji as my main colour film, and Ilford as my black and white film. And then digital arrived in my life. If I do decide to get back into analogue photography, I suspect I will work in black and white almost exclusively—if only because it gives me an option to process my own film easily.
Today we take photos for granted. They are our memories of holidays and parties, of people and places. An explosion of cameras and places to share them (Facebook, twitter, instagram) means that our lives today are documented, not by an occasional oxidizing of silver halide but constantly recorded with GPS coordinates and time stamps. However it hasn’t always been like this – the oldest photograph is less than 200 years old
An interesting article, well worth the read. The bit that hits home for me is the shoebox thing. I’ve got three filing cabinet drawers of analogue photos. I am aware that even the most recent of those film negatives is getting on for 15 years old now. They will degrade, although they’re kept in the dark.
My task, currently, is to digitise my collection—though I find I am curating as I work, not bothering with images I am not interested in. Perhaps I should rethink this attitude. I offer this as a service to anyone who has important or valuable analogue images. Once a photo has been digitised, the original can be stored away safely, and the digital copy can be shared more readily.
If you have a collection of old photos you would like to digitise, but which you don’t have the time, skill or patience to do yourself, drop me a line.
Hat tip to Alex Small (@onemanrace) for pointing me to the link.