Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Coventry, Cars and Stars

We spent the weekend down in the Midlands this week. We decided to visit the NEC on Sunday for the Comic Con and Memorabilia Show at which we could catch up with a couple of friends and looking to make a weekend of it, we decided to stay in the Coventry area and visit the Transport Museum there.

I booked a room in a decent hotel between Coventry and the NEC where the event was being held over the weekend. We drove down from Blackpool and found a convenient car park near the motor museum. We had a spot of lunch in the museum's cafeteria and then went to look round the exhibits. The museum is free to enter and concentrates on vehicles that were made in the area. Vehicles of all sorts from bicycles to motorbikes to cars. During World War II local companies stopped car production to make armoured cars and tanks and other firms made vans, buses and emergency vehicles. All are represented in the museum's collection.

I always think it unfair to show too much of a museum's stock, so there are just a few of my favourites here. This is Queen Mary's 1935 Daimler. The National Motor Museum loaned it to the owners of the ocean liner Queen Mary, by then a floating hotel in Long Beach, California. It stood on the deck of the ship for ten years exposed to the weather and was bought by the Coventry Museum in 1984 since when it has been restored.

The 1938 Alvis Speed 25. This car was owned by the Alvis company's owner. What an impressive solid looking piece of machinery it is! Just right for roaring through the countryside on the quiet roads of the time!

Myself, I always look for the late 1950s and 1960s cars of my childhood. The ones family members drove and my own first few cars. My Dad always bought Fords during my childhood and they weren't built in Coventry but I did find my first "proper" car (I had a Reliant 3-wheeler at 16). My first four-wheeled car was a 1961 Hillman Minx, registration 485 TD.

The strange vehicle shown here is a 1948 Tippen Coventry Chair. A hand-propelled vehicle designed for invalid soldiers following World War II. They were a sad but frequent sight in the mid to late 1950s of my childhood.

The Thrust SSC World Land Speed Record car. This car broke the world land speed record on October 15, 1997 by reaching the speed of 763 miles per hour. For me the magic went out of the World Speed Record when the power plant stopped turning the wheels but just thrust the car forward on free-spinning wheels. "It's not really a car is it?" another visitor commented to his elderly father. That sums it up entirely. A rocket on a track is still a rocket not a train. These are not cars - they are aeroplane engines mounted on wheels!

It was mid-afternoon when we came out of the museum and we decided to have a look around the city centre and to visit the cathedral.

We came first to the Church of the Holy Trinity. It had this well-worn set of steps leading up to a door. The church dates back in records to 1113, though a fire in 1257 destroyed the original building. It was rebuilt following the fire and the walls were painted with scenes from the Bible. One of these, long covered over by material such as varnish which with age had gone opaque, was rediscovered and restored in 2004. It shows Jesus and His Disciples at the Last Judgement. Jesus is judging the souls of Men some of whom will enter the Kingdom of Heaven and the others, including bishops and kings and ale-wives (who were universally hated as they were believed to water the ale they sold) trembling before the Mouth of Hell. The painting is known as the Coventry Doom.

The Parish Church of St Michael was described in 1138 as standing "in the Bailey" - so within Coventry Castle. The original chapel was rebuilt in the 1300s-1500s. The present condition of the cathedral is down to nine terrible hours on the evening and night of 14 November 1940. Coventry had been bombed before, but the prolonged raid of that night destroyed much of the city centre and with it, the cathedral.

A few tiny portions of stained glass are all that remain of the shattered windows. The Undercroft still exists and is currently undergoing restoration work.

Above ground, only the tower and spire and external walls survived the night. It was decided to let these stand as witness to Coventry's most desperate night and a new cathedral was built next to it.

Close by the walls of the old cathedral stands this water pump. A reminder of the times when water had to be collected rather than obtained by the turning of a tap.

The Golden Cross pub is also lucky in having survived the incendiaries of the Luftwaffe. Dating from 1583 it has three stories each of which are wider than the floor below. It was extended considerably in 1968, the original covering an area roughly half as big as the present building.

We found the hotel easily enough and unpacked our few things for the following day and then went out to eat at another local hostelry. The following morning we were looking forward to catching up with a couple of friends who we knew were attending the Memorabilia show, the actresses Caroline Munro and fellow Bond Girl and Hammer Horror star, Martine Beswick. I had also seen from advertisements that Liv Tyler would be there, though the advertised price of her autographs looked a little high. Anyway as we took our seats for breakfast, the Lady Arwen of Rivendell was sitting just a few tables away...

The pairing of Memorabilia with a comic convention has done no favours to those people who used to attend and enjoy looking at and buying old toys, magazines, books and records. The comics stalls are still there but mostly the Marvel and DC comics are being replaced by the Manga style comics and the old British comics such as Beano, Dandy, Eagle, Look & Learn and so on have all but disappeared. The same has happened to the collecting cards displays. Gone are the 1970s chewing gum collections of American Civil War and Outer Limits cards. Now they all depict young (very young!) huge-eyed, green or purple-haired and cat-eared heroines dressed in the tiniest of skirts.

The paying customers too are dressed as their heroes and heroines. Young and not-so-young girls in skimpy costume - some almost indecently so - wander about clutching ferocious-looking cardboard weapons. Pictured is Sauron himself - done on the cheap. His cardboard morning star had dents but his figure was impressive as he was walking on stilts under his black robe. "I can't keep up, walk slower!" complained his attendant orc... I refrained from taking too many photos. The lion whose back is towards me had his head pushed up in an attempt to breathe. He was not too many years behind me in age I think. As I suspect was one rather tubby Spider-Man showing a rather comical visible panty line under his costume...

We found Caroline and Martine and chatted for a while and then wandered around the other celebrities - a Dr Who contingent and several recognisable chaps even without their armour from TV's Game of Thrones. Liv Tyler and Lee Majors, the Six Million Dollar Man along with a few others were sitting signing photos that you had to buy before being allowed to approach them. The queues were huge. In truth they would have not been able to sign all those photos if they had not been kept away from the casual observers. I'll make do with having seen that beautiful face at breakfast!

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