Sunday, 27 July 2014

2014 Reading Part 5

Yay! Another eight sets of pages perused and entertainment gained. The usual mix of old and new (to me) and a left-fielder that I saw by chance.

I started out with this one, the third in the Cousins War series by Philippa Gregory about the Wars of the Roses. After the White and Red Queens, this tells the story of the White Queen's mother, Jacquetta, descendant of a water nymph-cum-goddess. Whilst the other two books have told the same story from different viewpoints, this goes back in time a bit, ending pretty much just into the beginning of The White Queen storyline.

It tells the tale of a young girl's attempts to hide her small magic whilst all around her seem to want to exploit it. A great tale of the reign of Henry VI and the machinations of his French queen which threaten the safety of Jacquetta, her family and country.

And now to the serious stuff... The Five go off on holiday (it was ever so...) and stay with (shock! horror!) a real boy - not a girl who wants to be, but a real boy!!! I presume Enid Blyton must have overstocked on Aspirin or something, but anyway the young lad lives on the edge of a secret airfield and his older brother works as a test pilot. Thanks heavens, at last a FF book rooted in a more realistic everyday world... But what's this? The likeable brother has stolen a top secret plane!!! Time to put your goggles on Timmy! My money is on the butterfly collector! No, seriously... Dick, I've told you before about doing that, there's no place for that in this kind of book...

By gum it's all go! At the end of the last Sven Hassel memoir-based book Sven, Tiny and the French Foreign Legion chappie had been wounded and at the start of this they are flung into a cattle truck heading for hospital. Whilst at death's door they are still talking of tearing someone's buttocks off. I'm not a teenager any more so I might kick this series into touch... I'll stick with the Famous Five, at least they are likeable even if unbelievable...

Another second-hand market stall book from Robert Heinlein. I don't remember this from my Dad's collection but it tells the tale of two brothers who have typically teenage delusions of grandeur and a half-baked scheme to buy a space ship and trade stuff to make their fortunes without any knowledge of customs duties or customs as in culture on the planets they have chosen to trade to. A lot of his books tell the reader quite a bit about the type of world Robert Heinlein himself would have liked to live in. He would have hated today's namby-pamby, non-chastisement, selfish, risk-averse, blame-and-sue-others-for your-own-mistakes, care for criminals not for victims culture. And come to think of it...

The serious book for this time was one of Bill Bryson's forays into the history of the English language. This is serious with a load of fun built into it. Effortlessly entertaining, though with an obvious amount of effort that had to be put into it. I do admire Mr Bryson!

This had been languishing in my attic for thirty years and is one of Dennis Wheatley's one-off novels. Perhaps because of the old-fashioned name of the hero - Swithin Destime (changed to Larry for the 1930s film of the book when he was played by a young James Mason). The tale has military type Swithin cashiered for sloshing the dastardly Turkish Prince Ali who has tried to kiss a young girl - the cad! Luckily the young girl's father is a rich magnate and takes on Swithin, by now in love with afore-mentioned daughter, to spy for him in (oh what a coincidence!) Turkey.

Revolution is in the air and our lad Swith comes up against beautiful Russian spies and a eunuch from the old harem (there's no such thing as an ex-eunuch...) Will he prevail, will he unmask the conspirators? Will he win the girl? Well of course, but you'll have to read it to find out how! My Dad used to have the film on 16mm film stock and it was an absolute cracker. Originally called The Eunuch of Stamboul it was retitled The Spy in White for a 1940 re-release. I'd love to see it again but somehow doubt an imminent showing on Sky Movies...

I saw this on a cheap book stall and was intrigued enough to shell out for a copy. Apparently in the 1950s Ian Fleming went off on a funded trip around some of the world's most glamorous cities, writing articles about them for a newspaper. Here they are, with all the bits that the newspapers censored. Fleming was not the man to write about beaches and Premier Inns. He seeks out the gangsters, the gambling joints and tells you where to find (and how much to pay for) glamorous escorts - to dance with or whatever. The best bits are at the beginning as he flies east to Hong Kong and Macao. He finds Hawaii and New York a bit boring after those. Bear in mind that hotel (and escort) prices are the 1950s versions... Worth a read though as they describe a style of living beyond most of us and he meets some very interesting characters!

Ah yes, I couldn't resist, I love this series about the physician fellow at Cambridge University in the 1350s. Wow, it all kicks off in this one as Michaelhouse College elect a new Master who immediately turns despot and sacks almost everyone, spends vast amounts of money that he may not have on new build projects (sounds familiar?) and all at the same time as a series of murders set the academic and Cambridge town worlds at loggerheads. With the added inconvenience of a sister, determined to find him a wife, Matthew Bartholomew must help Brother Michael, the university Senior Proctor, solve the murders and survive a bee sting... Another dozen or so of these yet to read and I can't wait!

Monday, 21 July 2014

Fleetwood Tram Sunday 2014

Yesterday I stumbled out of bed ever so slightly late, remembering I'd said we would go down to Fleetwood as it was Tram Sunday. This is the day Fleetwood used to fill with old vehicles, buses, coaches, cars and lots of music from live bands, barrel organs and marching bands in a parade.

Today it is pretty similar except that widening of pavements to stop cars parking and the new tram platforms have taken away something like two thirds of the space for old vehicles and narrowed the road too much for a marching parade.

This was pretty much the sum total of tram activity too - a static display down near the Pharos lighthouse. I took the photo from this slightly strange angle because the Powers-that-Be had arranged the ugliest possible arrangement of barriers around the trams and the Victorian tram shelter to stop people from approaching or getting on the trams. I really do wonder at the mentality sometimes... At the top end of Lord Street was one of the new trams. But who wants to look at one of those...?

So let's focus on some of the best bits! Starting with an old 1966 Morris LD box van in the livery of Lakeland Laundries.

Parked neatly up a side street was this 1965 Volkswagen van with roof-mounted flashing light and siren and the legend Freiwillige Feuerwehr Dinkelsbuḧl (Free Willy Fireworks and Dunking Biscuits)

A Triumph Herald from the early 1960s when cars were instantly recognisable from their unique shape. No other car looked like this. No other car, as far as I remember, had a bonnet that opened like this... A catch on each side near ground level behind the front wheel just visible on this photo, released the entire section of bonnet and both wings which tipped forwards to stand vertically from the front of the car where a gust of wind would send it crashing back just as you leaned over the engine to find out why it had stopped...

1950s Austin A35 with sun visor over the windscreen and shielding the headlights in case heavy rain washed them out of their sockets. Note the dinky little front sidelights on top of the wings near the wing mirrors.

1950s Standard Ensign with both exterior and interior shots. The interior is pretty average for the time with painted metal dashboard containing most of the controls, lights, ignition key etc. The indicator switch is on top of the steering column which also has the horn button on the boss and what looks like a cover over an unused opening on the steering column. This is more likely to be for an optional column gear shift than a control stalk, but in this version the gear lever is on the floor and is long - the lever probably feeding straight into the gearbox with no linkages to go wrong! The headlight dip switch will be a toggle button on the floor also as was common through the 50s and 60s. I'm still convinced that's the right place for it - you could dip instantly to avoid dazzling oncoming drivers even if in the middle of turning the steering wheel.

They've been around for 40-50 years, but this probably is nowhere near as old as that. A quick search found that these kiddies' pedal planes are still being made and cost around £360. Dakka-dakka-dakka-dakka...

Sunbeam Talbot. Large, fast and a popular model for police cars in its time. Just imagine jumping out, truncheon at the ready and saying tersely, "Oy you blaggers! The game's up!"

Loved this! A 1950s Ford Prefect with a nice Esso theme - the "Esso blob" characters on the rear window pre-dated the Put a Tiger in your Tank slogan and the tiger tail appearing to come out of the petrol filler was once a common sight!

Then just when you think you've seen it all... A brilliant "hippo bike" complete with costumed rider and swivelling head. A friend on Facebook commented she had seen it in Hull a bit ago - wouldn't fancy riding it across the Pennines myself... I had a mooch around some of the many stalls selling toy cars and buses and came away with a model Burlingham Seagull coach in Yelloways livery.

I used to go to school on one of these from the age of 12 and still remember the joy of having your school cap torn from your head and flung from a window... Despite the model seeming to have no opening windows, the real article had sliding panes at the top of the large window that allowed a bit of fresh air to come in, or articles to fly out. These coaches had a polished metal grab bar on the back of each seat for the benefit of passengers on the seat behind which, for a 12-year-old in an emergency stop situation, was conveniently at tooth height... Ah... those were the days...

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

78 rpm His Masters Voice Disc Labels

A while ago I published a series of articles on 78 rpm record sleeves from the EMI family. Now it's time to look at a few of the label designs and some of the codes used. This first article deals with the labels of His Masters Voice. I'll kick off with a record from 1927.

This has a full colour reproduction of Francis Barraud's painting of his late brother's dog, Nipper, listening to the recorded voice of his old master. (Nipper was so called because he had a bit of a "thing" for ankles...)

The name of the company was actually The Gramophone Company and the trademark was originally a little angel or cherub reclining on a disc, but the Nipper image was such a powerful one that it and the name became the label. It gave Barraud his career - he painted another 24 copies of the painting to hang in HMV shops all over the UK.

Black Bottom was a particularly notorious charleston dance of the "Roaring Twenties" and this particular example has been played a lot... It still plays without jumping - for anyone under the age of 30, jumping was when the stylus or needle hit an obstruction in the record's groove and jumped out of the groove to land probably in the groove to either side. Further on and the record continued to play. One revolution back however and the record became "stuck", repeating the bit of music from a single revolution of the disc and then hopping back to repeat it continually. And despite the use of "next groove" or "groove to either side", there was really only one groove and it covered the disc in a spiral.

This is a record from the B series which started in September 1912 and carried on to the likes of Alma Cogan and Perry Como towards the end of the 78 rpm era.

From the same year, 1927, came Paul Robeson's version of Sonny Boy - a favourite of Al Jolson impersonators everywhere - "Climb up on my knee, sonny boy..." Robeson was an incredible personality. He was drawn to Communism and became active in the Council on African Affairs (CAA), an organisation that was blacklisted under McCarthy. Refusing to deny his support of Soviet policies, he had his passport refused by the American authorities which had a huge effect on his financial situation.

A stamp has been affixed to the record at the time of purchase to show that the required amount of tax - 2¼d (two and a quarter pence or in the terms of the day, tuppence-farthing, about 1p of today's money) has been paid.

Despite the record catalogue number of B 2948, this doesn't necessarily mean that there were over 2000 records released in 1927 between this and the previous record (B 5173). Record companies regularly reserved blocks of catalogue numbers for different types of music - classical, dance band, opera, light etc... Thus catalogue numbers are not necessarily a good way of attempting to date records.

Later on in the B series, this record of Benny Goodman is also part of a series called Swing Music 1937 Series and is No.163 (with the B side being No.164) in that series. Different labels brought out different series but swing, jazz, dance, and rhythm series can all be found on various labels. In this case it happily dates the record for us as a bonus!

Note that the full colour image has gone by the time of this record and the more familiar sepia image is in its place. There's an extra bit of text on the label that tells us it is a recording of a "Dance Orchestra" - or a quartet at any rate...

We have reached 1955 now and the B series is still going strong with over 10,000 records released. Alma Cogan was a big star of the 1950s with a habit of giving a half laugh during her singing which led to her becoming known as the girl with the giggle in her voice. Sadly she died of cancer at the incredibly young age of 34. In 2006 her sister disclosed that Alma, who remained unmarried and subject to rumours that she was gay (in the current not 1950s meaning) had had an affair with John Lennon. Paul McCartney had written the tune that was to become Yesterday on her piano.

The C series was for records of 12 inches diameter rather than the 10 inch diameter of the B series. This allowed recordings of close to five minutes as opposed to the three minutes that was all that could fit on a standard 10" record (incidentally the reason all early pop songs are three minutes or less...). Twelve inch records were usually classical music. Even at five minutes, many pieces of music had to be split over two or more sides. I have Handel's Messiah on 78 rpm discs from 1946 which covers 38 sides - 19 discs!

This record, C.3914 is a recording of the Choir of Westminster Cathedral, recorded in the cathedral by a mobile unit. Note the dot in the catalogue number. Sometimes there is one, sometimes there's a space, sometimes there's both and sometimes neither. The colour of this label is identical to the B series seen earlier.

At the bottom of the label is the original trade mark mentioned previously of an angel reclining on a disc.

The DA (or D.A.) series started in the early 1920s and was used for mainly classical or operatic music. The DA series was on 10" discs and the DB series on 12". Clair de Lune was too long for a single side even on a 12" disc but, with a split in the middle, neatly fits on the two sides of a single 10" disc. The record dates from 1937. The DA and DB series had a bright Post Office red label.

The BD (or B.D.) series departed from the norm in that the image of Nipper was depicted as a line drawing of gold over a maroon or plum colour, which must have been considerably cheaper to produce than the multi-coloured labels we have seen above. Numbering started at 100 in February 1935 and went up to No.1340 in 1955. A reserved range of numbers: 5001 - 6204 were for dance music.

Some artists appeared on both the BD and B series, so it's not always clear what the distinction between the two series was. The BD series though was cheaper than the B series, which cost 2/6 (two shillings and sixpence - 12.5p) at a time when other labels were charging 1/6 (one shilling and sixpence, or 7.5p) per disc. Whilst most of the recordings were original, some later re-released titles came out on the BD series, such as the big Glenn Miller hits etc.

From 1955 onwards the POP series took over the BD series. A very few discs appeared in the POP series with BD-style label design and colours, but most were issued with the new blue label. Early rock and roll, coming from America can be found on this label. Classics such as At The Hop by Danny and The Juniors, Born Too Late by the Pony-Tails and Elvis Presley discs before his move to RCA can be found on this label.

I've remained patriotic though, so my example is the theme to the classic British TV rock and roll show, Six-Five Special by Don Lang and His "Frantic Five".

Just a last mention of a feature of all the labels is to explain the code on the label - in this example: OEA-18953. This is the reference to the recording session. Each take would be allocated a code. In general the lower number is the A side, but it's not a hard rule. A large gap between the codes of the A and B sides can simply mean that a good song had to wait until another song worthy of releasing could be found to go with it - or it might mean a re-release or a pairing of two different previously released A sides on a single disc. Sometimes - as is the case with the first record shown - a song or tune by a totally different artist could be teamed together. On the reverse side of Johnny Hamp's Kentucky Serenaders' Black Bottom (recording 6-569) is Sugar Foot Stomp, another charleston dance tune by Fred Hamm and His Orchestra (recording 5-976).

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Weymouth And A Giant Encounter

Wednesday 25 June 2014. We left Wareham intending to slowly meander back towards Seaton. So well did we meander that we found ourselves in Weymouth...

The last couple of times (the only times) we have been to Weymouth we ended up at the spot where the River Wey gives the town its name. I remember a huge warehouse called Brewer's Quay. Anyway this time we parked and a few minutes of walking brought us to a much more traditional seaside with a lovely sandy beach and even a Punch and Judy stall, though this was closed.

A beach cafe with a curved roof was having the roof washed clean by mops wielded carefully by three chaps in their twenties, at least one of whom did not look too comfortable with standing on the roof...

Apart from this one cafe, we struggled to find a cafe selling food and it did make me reflect a little on how times have changed from the seaside trips of my youth. Seaside towns were filled with cafes in those days of the 1950s through to the 1970s which stayed open to serve evening meals. Now, like any high street you might care to name in England, the cafes close at 4:30 or 5:00pm and if you are not served a meal in your hotel then there is little choice but for a full-blown restaurant (which are rare on high streets anyway) or a pub meal.

I really miss those small cafes with their Pyrex cups and saucers and the steam injectors for making what we used to call "frothy coffee". They filled the gap between fish and chips dining rooms and roast beef/lamb/chicken restaurants. You could have fish or pies from the one or roasts from the other but you could also have any combination of sausage, egg, beans, fish fingers, chips, mash etc. None of that appeared on a special children's menu. Adults were allowed to eat it if they wanted. If you wanted a small portion for a child you asked for it and it was no problem.

And best of all, they had jukeboxes where you could play your favourite record for 3d, three songs for 6d or a giddy five records for a shilling (1¼p, 2½p and 5p respectively)

Thursday 26 June 2014. Hometime, by gad! We have breakfast and say farewell to Seaton, the Bay Tree House B&B and David and Sue, our hosts. I had it in mind to wend our way up through the Cotswolds after a first stop at somewhere I'd wanted to visit for some time.

I'd put on the SatNav to get us to Cerne Abbas. What a roller coaster of a ride that was! Almost as exciting as the bus journey from Beer the other day! At one point I drove through a river by a ford! No... not a Focus, but an actual ford - the road giving way to a few cobbles that made up that part of the river bed whilst the water splashed against the wheels and exhaust. I remembered that old public information film where the Hillman Minx ended up in a ditch after driving through a ford and I dried my brakes as recommended, causing Fran to say anxiously "Is something wrong?" as we slammed to a halt...

Anyway! The Cerne Abbas Giant! First references to it appear to be from the 1690s. As with many of our chalk cut figures, it can't be seen properly unless you fly above it. Makes you wonder a bit when you know it was built when men could only dream of flying above it with hundreds of years to pass before any of them would. Makes you wonder even more with things like the Uffington white horse which can hardly be seen at all from the ground and that is 3,000 years old!

Well, we didn't have an aeroplane handy so ten minutes was time enough. I set the SatNav for Cirencester and of course it took us straight back across to Taunton and the M5... I suggested we head up the A38 instead which should let us get to the Midlands before having to go on the motorway. Unfortunately just before Bristol the A38 was closed by a police car sitting across it, by which I inferred there was a serious accident blocking it somewhere close and after a very long detour we ended up on a very crowded motorway for the rest of the trip home.

Suffice it to say that progress was so slow that we drove onto Charnock Richard services for our tea. Usually those services are only 45 minutes from home. But it had reached 8:00pm and we are both diabetic and were needing to eat. And that is it. Another Burke trip brought to an end. I hope you've enjoyed these few articles - the weather this week was very kind to us and I think the photographs mainly reflect that too. Lovely deep blue skies, brought out by my use of a polarising filter on the camera.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Wareham and the River Frome

Wednesday 25 June. From Lyme Regis we motored quite a way. Past the huge ramparts of Maiden Castle. Out towards the great natural harbour of Poole. But we stopped a little short of Poole at Wareham.

This ancient village sits on the River Frome which flows down to Poole Harbour. It was probably one of King Alfred's burghs and is one of just a very few walled towns in England where the walls are earthwork rather than stone. King Alfred (he of "the Great" and of the burnt cakes) was desperately trying to keep Saxon England er... Saxon England...

This is a view of Wareham as it would be seen by those trying to stop King Alfred from keeping it Saxon England. The Vikings. Vikings is a bit of a misunderstood term these days. A lot of people think that was the name of the people from Norway, Denmark and all points cold. It wasn't. They were Norsemen. And presumably Norsewomen... Vikings were raiders. It's what they did rather than who they were. But then those who went sailing off for a spot of raping and pillaging and looting without (here's the defining crunch) settling became known as Vikings. It probably started out as a misunderstood answer to the question:

"Hello, nice boat... what do you want?"
"We're viking!"

Anyway, Vikings began to refer to the people. They were eventually followed by Norsemen who wanted to settle. You know... no ice, lots of grass and good farmland, internationally famous benefits system...

The Norsemen also settled in Germany and what would become France where their name Norsemen became shortened to Norman and then they invaded all over again. What goes around comes around...

We were on the river on this little whaler. There actually are not all that many whales splashing up and down the River Frome, so instead of watching them we sat looking at the reeds that line the river. They were harvested for thatched roofing until there was a great fire one year. The decision was made that all rebuilding should be done with tiled roofs so to reduce the risk of fire spreading so quickly again. That had two effects.

The only thatched roofs to be seen now are outside the area devastated in the fire. And two: the reeds started to choke the river which silted up and is now unnavigable to large boats except for a short length. Stops any Vikings in their tracks now...

An old Viking longboat sitting abandoned in the river...

This is the spot from which we got on the boat. It is a lovely spot on a warm sunny day with a couple of pubs and benches. We sat and watched the boat load up again for its last trip of the day. We decided we would have a bit of a wander to look at the church and old part of the town.

We obviously wandered outside the area of the fire! This gorgeous little cottage sits facing the churchyard, with upper storey windows right up in the thatch.

It was immensely hot. We glanced, rather than looked at, the church. We admired the old blocked doorway, designed to ensure you bowed your head humbly before entering the House of God and decided we would head back to the river and find a drink.

Which we did! Cheers!

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Lyme Regis

Wednesday 25 June. We decided that today we would move the car and set out to leave Devon by the back door and ventured into Dorset, the next county along, coming into the town of Lyme Regis.

I remember fondly in the past, you parked your car in a car park and then when ready to leave you paid an attendant who calculated what you had to pay by how long you had been parked. These days no one is willing to employ people to do this when machines can do the job. But unfortunately they don't seem able to do exactly the same job so you have to decide before leaving the car how long you want to stay and pay up front. Most people err on the safe side and car parks get extortionate amounts from people who then find they have exhausted a place of all they want to see and leave before their due time.

We parked in an NCP car park which ended up costing eight pounds for two and a quarter hours. The fee covered a parking duration of between two and four hours so we did not pay for time that we didn't eat into a bit but even so... I'm sure you could park in central London cheaper than that!

Lyme was a Saxon town, mentioned in the Domesday book by the Normans and given its charter by King Edward I in 1284 at which point the word Regis was tagged onto the town's name.

We found this enticing display opposite a typical south coast pebble beach and I wondered about the shop owners' sanity until we found that further along on a corner of beach before the harbour there was a wonderful sandy swathe of beach. Maybe it was imported, maybe it's always been there, I'm not sure.

Buckets and spades were always metal when I was a lad. Spades hurt when you dug one into your toe by mistake...

The Cobb is Lyme's harbour. Famous for being the main lookout for The French Lieutenant's Woman and also mentioned in Jane Austen's novel Persuasion, it is Lyme's most literary spot.

The film with Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons was partly filmed in Lyme. That is indeed the Cobb harbour wall that features on the poster.

Looking from our spot closer to the harbour back towards the east we can see the blue cliffs of this bit of the Jurassic Coast in the distance. They are the Blue Lias cliffs, richly deposited with fossils of early dinosaurs and sea creatures with both ammonites, the large spiral shelled icky-looking creature and bits of the pleasingly ferocious-looking ichthyosaur, a sort of reptilian shark being found in seemingly abundance.

The ammonites in particular are so well represented that even numpties like me can find them lying on the beach, though you have to be a bit luckier to find one that hasn't been weathered to mere coloured lines on a stone! The town's lampposts incorporate the ammonite shell structure.

We sat on the corner of the sandy beach on a picnic bench provided outside Jane's Cafe and had a morning coffee. The cruet set made me wonder just how many portions of fish and chips must be eaten by the seaside every day? Answer: none - they are all eaten by people... Sorry - a momentary lapse...

Whilst we sat peacefully listening to the dog on the next table which clearly wanted to rip out the throat of the well-behaved dog at the table opposite, a class of school children walked in a long line to the sandy beach and deposited backpacks on the sand by the low wall. Then at a word from the teacher a mighty cheer split the air and they charged out onto the sand in small groups of friends in a brief frenzy of uncoordinated activity before the drawing boards and pencils came out for a more formal (if just as much fun) lesson.

We blanched a little at the mountain of salt and pepper that was emptied onto a plate of beans on toast at the next table. Yeuch!!! Half the pots emptied! But it wasn't quite to the taste of the perpetrator, for after a single mouthful, she reached for the pots again and emptied the other half... Happy heart attack... Surely the only thing you need to apply to baked beans is heat? Each to their own!

After our coffee and a walk around the Cobb area, we walked back along the seafront to the town. We had a look in the Lyme Fossil Shop. They had some wonderful examples of fossils and crystals with a full ichthyosaur fossil in a display case in a little grotto of a room reached by a short staircase.

This is Lyme Regis's Guildhall. Dating back to Stuart times it is built on the site of the town's lockup. Close to the seafront it can be hired for weddings, holding up to 50 guests according to the Lyme Regis website, 75 guests according to the Dorset For You website. Perhaps the extra 25 have to be capable of sitting on knees?

The theatre sadly had no performances whilst we were there. What do plate spinners, jugglers and ventriloquists do with their time these days, I wonder?

There's a little seating area with a couple of bench seats and an old cannon pointing out to sea on a high viewpoint at the foot of the hill. I had a sit down to watch the comings and goings whilst Fran went into a couple of clothes shops and craft type shops nearby. I'd have only got in the way or knocked something over... Safer to sit and watch the world go by.

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