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Fings ain’t wot they used to be

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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

Project Binky

Two blokes, in a workshop, an ancient Austin Mini, a not-quite-so ancient Toyota Celica, lots of machine tools, welding, and top-notch engineering.

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Bad Obsession is not a rubbish rock band, but a small company that specialises in making small cars go very fast. Project Binky is about as mad as it comes: shoehorn the motor, transmission and four wheel drive from a Celica GT4 into a stock Mini.

It sounds quite dull, but the video is well edited, the presenters show what they’re up to in a humorous but instructive way, and the engineering on show is remarkable.

Aside from the out takes and Q&A shows, there are four videos so far. I’ve subscribed so I can keep up with this fascinating project.

Sixty years, eh?

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

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

Amazing stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Model engineering

While I make models, I draw the line at making everything work. There are others, though, who thrive on making miniature working replicas of real things. I don’t mean working in that all the mechanical parts work although there is a battery or air line making things run. I mean actually working like the real thing, using petrol, for example.

That’s an accurate, engineered, 1/5th scale (one fifth of the size of the real thing) Rolls-Royce Merlin aero engine. Colour me impressed.

More upbeat, please

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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