Sunday, 31 October 2010

Cherhill and Avebury

Sunday 26 May 1998. We were heading for Avebury's massive prehistoric earthworks.

The road I chose took us past the white horse at Cherhill. There are several of these horses in the area. They date from prehistory to this century and are "drawn" by scraping the turf from the underlying chalk and repeated weedings known as scourings.

In the photo if you follow the horizon above the horse to the right you will see two small bumps. They are the earthworks of an Iron Age hillfort.

Avebury never ceases to fascinate me. I think after Glastonbury it is the most magical place in England. Forget Stonehenge, if it's atmosphere you want then come to Avebury. The huge earthworks and the remains of the stone circle entirely surround the village.

The whole of this is then surrounded with a ditch and outer rampart. And what a ditch! Bear in mind that it will have filled up with a fair bit of dust and debris over the last couple of thousand years...

Inside the immense henge of Avebury are the remains of smaller stone circles. Some of these stones were destroyed a few hundred years ago when the villagers sought to use the stone for building.

Large fires were started around stones which were then cooled rapidly by dousing them with water. The expansion due to the heat followed by rapid contraction caused the stones to split apart. Reportedly the practice stopped after a man was blinded by a flying chip of stone causing superstitious minds to race into overdrive!

In this photo in the background you can see small concrete obelisks set where stones have been destroyed.

Also note how few people walk inside this stone circle and how the ones that do stay close to the perimeter. On our first visit our daughter Gillian who was about 6 at the time, refused point blank to walk inside the circle saying that it "felt funny".

This is a circle within a circle and there are many ley lines crossing here.

A shame about the dull weather. We have a couple more stops during the day and then the sun will come out later so we will return to see Avebury at its most spectacular best.

Large versions of the photos: if you really can't wait then large versions of all the photos from this holiday can be seen at Flickr.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

The White Palace

There are lots of catalysts for nostalgia and one that I have previously neglected, nay, ignored totally is the Gents conveniences.

When I was a lad public toilets were all over the place; you almost tripped over them in every town centre and at major crossroads. Admittedly there were very few motorway services in those days, mainly because there were no motorways. Roadside cafes with a jukebox and a knife and fork chained to the side of your table and a plate of lovely fatty chips cooked in beef dripping... I still feel the same way I did when I first saw an advert for Spry Crisp and Dry cooking oil... why on earth would anyone want dry chips?!? To judge by many public eateries these days the successful chip should be little more than a crispy shell with a hint of mashed potato inside - WRONG!!!

But, forgive me for wandering off subject - let's move to the opposite end of the digestive tract for our topic...

I seem to remember quite some years ago that a photographer had gone on a mission of taking photos of Gents toilets because the majority of them were being knocked down and replaced with office blocks - "'Ere Cheryl, what's that funny smell near the coat stand?"

In fact I remember that the photographer in question was a woman, though I'm unable to recall her name or the name of the resultant book which I'm sure would have been of the nostalgic wallowing opportunity - if the subject topic and wallowing are allowed to reside in the same entry...

What made Gents toilets so architecturally and aesthetically pleasing was the well-designed urinal. There were loads of Armitage Shanks white mediocre ones - as I have to class this otherwise fine example of the White Palace - yes, you see where the title of the piece comes from?

But many were of coloured stone, green, grey-blue, marbled, different stones used to great effect and with loving artistic finials, separators and splash-backs, oops, sorry...

Anyway, this example comes from a railway hotel - the Royal in York actually, where I happened to be for work the other week. Ah... I can hear the friends now... "Why do you go about photographing toilets?!?"

Yes, but just look at that flooring! Does it not fill you with delight that someone should have gone to so much trouble to lay down mosaic designs on something destined to fulfil such a basic function? With so many public toilets having disappeared because the authorities consider that Sainsburys and the like will furnish their stores with public conveniences, I should devote myself to a survey, flashgun in hand. Ah! Sorry! er... no... I... [THUMP!]

Castle Combe

Sunday 26 May 1998. We left Malmesbury behind and soon reached our next destination - the picturesque village of Castle Combe.

They call it "the prettiest village in England" and there is some justification for the claim.

It is certainly popular with film-makers. Until recently it's biggest claim to fame was the filming of Dr Doolittle in 1966 but the view above will be instantly recogniseable to anyone who has seen the 2007 Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert DeNiro film Stardust.

But of course, in 1998...we hadn't! This village features on so many chocolate boxes, jigsaws and advertisements though, that we wanted to see it for ourselves and take the same photos we had seen so many times!

The market cross dates from somewhere around the 13th/14th centuries and has this strange little structure in front of it. This is known as the Buttercross but is nothing to do with the making or sale of the yellow stuff. It was for tethering and mounting horses. You will see many old villages with a couple of steps leading nowhere and they are to get you high enough to get on a horse without having to be able to leap up to the saddle. We can't all be John Wayne!

The market cross itself provides a bit of cover for the market. The locals were weavers and wool cloth would have been the source of income to the villagers.

On the hill above is the castle that gives the village its name. It was one of the old earthwork hillforts from the Iron Age. The Romans used it to watch over the Fosse Way and the Normans built strong walls and a modern castle. All that remains again now are the earthworks.

This is the famous view that you see on chocolate boxes and biscuit tins, calendars and postcards. Normally with a bit more sunshine that I was afforded...

Not letting that put me off, I had my trusty pencil and sketch pad and spent half an hour doodling whilst Fran wandered around the few shops. This is the Town Bridge. There is another smaller bridge at the other end of the town sometimes called the Roman Bridge as the ghost of a centurion has been seen there, mainly at nioght after coming out of the pub...

The view up (or down!) river from the bridge is especially tranquil. A brown trout of quite a size was lurking amongst the weeds and rising to snap at anything that floated down the water. After a while of watching him, I realised that all I had to do was watch for something floating down and then he would pose for a photo!

Friday, 29 October 2010

Magnificent Malmesbury 1998

26 May 1998. We are staying at Wychurch Farm, Malmesbury for a few days. As noted in the previous instalment we had taken an unaccustomed early morning pre-breakfast walk down to the trout stream and worked up an appetite trying to spot kingfishers.

At the farm, the farm hands had already been working hard for a few hours when we got back hoping for some breakfast. This was taken around a large table, giving an opportunity to chat to and get to know the other guests.

Two women and a married couple were exhibiting at a weekend craft fair that sounded like a large event. One of the women's husbands was an artist and they were selling his paintings whilst he was away at yet another fair. The married couple ran a pottery and were selling tea pots and planters.

We felt deliciously lazy, having nothing to do other than to go out to enjoy ourselves and decided we would start with a look at Malmesbury itself.

The chief item of interest is the abbey. Founded in the 7th century, the present remains are of the Norman building and there is a long history of their decay and collapse following the Reformation of Henry VIII following which the abbey church was purchased for use as the parish church.

The magnificent Norman south doorway has carvings of scenes from the Bible and it is amazing that it has managed to remain in such good condition

Details of the carvings are seen in this photograph.

The village street curved off down the hill with many buildings looking likely contenders for Fran's collection of model houses. Apart from the TV aerials, modern lamppost and bollards, the yellow lines and road junction markings and the road surface itself this street must have looked this way for a long time... er yes well, there's a car parked there, but at least the buildings look old...

The pub was called the Smoking Dog and had a distinctive sign showing a painting of a pipe-smoking dog which I'm sure I've seen elsewhere. I thought perhaps it was a well-known painting but a search of the Internet turned up absolutely nothing apart from pages about the pub itself.

We walk back towards the car and are about to head for a village scene that is entirely familiar from boxes of chocolates, tea trays, postcards and jigsaw puzzles - Castle Combe.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Down on the Farm

We've only ever once had the experience of staying on a farm as part of a holiday. It was a bit of a weird holiday in that we zig-zagged all around the southern half of England, but we started out in Malmesbury, staying at the afore-mentioned farmhouse.

But if we are going to suddenly veer off during the rest of the week, we may as well start now and have a look at the remains of the Roman arena in Cirencester.

Gladiators used to fight in the arena here. On 25 May 1998 it appears to be the local teenagers doing the tumbling... Death is slower, but what a way to go... Those 17 year olds will be almost 30 now - I hope you are ashamed!!!

This is our base for a few days, Wychurch Farm in Malmesbury. Why we've never stayed in a farmhouse since is beyond me - I really enjoyed the experience.

Wychurch was kitted out with antique furniture and little displays of all sorts - hats, canes and a pile of parts from a clockwork Hornby railway set that made me want to sneak out of the bedroom at 3:00am and build a layout... Though the chamber pots on the bedroom window sill were in serious danger of being used as the rooms of course were not en-suite!

And just look at me, 1998 version! 32-inch waist and fit as a butcher's dog! Darn that sluggish thyroid! I still have that 6-pack. It's just that you can't see it anymore...

The good lady of the house had told us of a nearby river walk where kingfishers had been seen. We went out for a pre-breakfast walk - this is only about 7:15am. What???? Gasp...

I can't say we actually saw a kingfisher, but we did glimpse a vivid blue flash passing the field of vision from right to left. Sheesh, they are hard to spot on the move!

Ok, we've arrived. A few of the places we will visit during this week have already been covered on this blog but the photos are different and I'll attempt to say different things even if I have to make them up! They will be so compelling and realistic you won't be able to spot them amongst the truth. Apart from maybe the bit about the aliens...

Dailey and Wayne Revisited

There's a couple of entries about the comedy act Dailey and Wayne on the blog and occasionally they strike a chord with someone.

Recently it was Karen who wrote all the way from Melbourne in Australia to say:

"Dear John

I stumbled upon your page today, after trying to find something about Dailey & Wayne.

I inherited a pile of old programmes and amongst them was one from 1971's Royal Variety Performance. Inside were several signatures by the appearing acts (including Tommy Cooper!) There was an autographed page, which I have included with this email, of the aforementioned comedians.

I know nothing about them, but thought you may be interested in seeing it.


Well thanks very much Karen for taking the trouble to write and send the photo. Any more links and memories out there, folks?

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Haircut, TV, Really Interesting Weekend...

Where's the weekend gone?!? We spent some of it in front of the telly and some of it out and about in Blackpool. But I'm sure it shouldn't be over yet! Yet here we are, Sunday night!

Well no, this wasn't on tonight but I just got round to sizing and saving this photo. David took it off his TV back in August when we played at the first match at Morecambe FC's new ground. Not only did we make BBC1 but this is Sky Sports 4, who had the good taste to zoom right in on me...

I went to the barber to get a haircut. I was sure I must have mentioned them lots of times, but no, it's only once apparently, way back in June 2007. I must be missing out, because every time I go the conversation is usually bizarre and hilarious.

As soon as I walked through the door this time Paul shouted out, "Hey! I've been on your blog!!!" Then turning to Roy and Lorraine, he said "He's a celebrity!!!"

I don't think I've ever claimed that somehow. Maybe around K-List - the band are (after all) known outside our own region and our appearance once in a restaurant just to eat made one woman so excited she almost dropped her spoon in her soup, so eager was she to nudge her companion to tell him in a loud hissed stage whisper that we were musicians. Her reaction was so OTT I checked my flies... You can't be too careful!

Anyway, I don't somehow think they would generate any more business by claiming me as a customer... Given the state of covering on my head, quite the reverse!

Fran was working yesterday morning and then in the afternoon we took my Mum round the shops but no one seemed to want to buy her...

Today we went down to meet David and Jeannie for breakfast at Quilly's in Blackpool and that passed a pleasant and filling hour. We came home and pulled up the drawbridge.

A nice roast chicken dinner was on the cards. Fran unwrapped it and waved it under my nose saying "Does it smell ok to you?" but I couldn't smell anything wrong - until it was cooked and once the oven door was opened it stank! So we ended up with sausages and mash...

Then we watched in disbelief as Wagner stayed in the X-Factor - is all the booby-rubbing drawing the perv vote out?!? Perhaps he'll go next week. Fran has confiscated my phone... It is entertaining though, trying to work out the song from the lyrics as the tunes he sings don't always give it away!

And we just watched Piers Morgan grilling Cheryl Cole that we recorded last night. Is it really necessary to ask anyone whose husband has cheated on them so publicly "How did you feel?"...

Well, that's my day done. Off to get my beauty sleep!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Memories of Sixth Form Days

It was 1970. The old Heywood Grammar School had been closed down and transferred along with most of the staff and with Colonel John Farish, Tommy and Daisy still as Headmaster and Deputies, to a new complex at Siddal as the Heywood Senior High School.

This occurred as we entered our 4th year and we took our 2-year courses for GCE O Level exams, of which I passed 5, mostly at Grade C. The photo is of me aged 16.

"Who's that jammy bugger?!?" exclaimed Pilky, the physics teacher, jabbing a finger at the results. "4 Cs and a D? I told you, you should have done some work...!"

The overall behaviour standards had "slipped" somewhat as the school went Comprehensive. We became used to fire alarms being set off - and worse...
"I've never seen anything as depraved and vile as this!" Farish raged at one morning assembly, "Not even in the back streets of Cairo!"
"I wonder what he got up to in the back streets of Cairo?" Alex mused when we were back in the Lower 6th Form Common Room.

A levels were a two-year course so there was the Lower 6th Form and the Higher 6th Form. Each had their own Common Rooms, because part of the curriculum was supposed to be self-study so we had plenty of free periods. We spent these laughing, joking, smoking, snogging occasionally, but mostly just talking and wasting time. Every now and then books would come out - homework got done in the Common Rooms, but quite often it was too noisy anyway. We were allowed a record player in there and the room normally echoed to Led Zeppelin II, Full House by Fairport Convention, or Deep Purple in Rock.

We formed a close group of almost inseperable friends. The core of it was myself and Alex Dyson (pictured), Janet Dover, Bev Hughes and Jackie Wood. On the outer core were Brigid Irwin-Carruthers, Bill Lloyd, Sheila Ratton, Colin (Ernie) Wise, and Colin (Spike) Wycherly.

At school we were almost always together as a group. Out of school the core group met up often and we would meet the others to go to the cinema or to fairs and such. Jan's house was the most common meeting place. We would all congregate in the front room and listen to Simon & Garfunkel, or a folk group called Magna Carta. Gallons of cider were quaffed during those days... And apart from Jan, Brigid, Bill and the two Colins, we all smoked.

Players No.6 were the favourite, though one or two were swayed when the gold-packeted Benson & Hedges came out. They always tasted chocolatey to me! As far as I know though, none of the group ever tried drugs. Jackie got a taste for menthol cigarettes for a while. As far as I was concerned they neither cleared your nose, nor satisfied any craving!

Alex came up with another memory of 6th form days which I remembered immediately on reading it: "I remember one afternoon when everyone had run out of fags, two or three of us collected all the dog ends and tried to make a new ciggy using a page out of somebody's French dictionary. Bloody Hell, it tasted VILE!" That's an understatement - it was stronger than a Park Drive untipped!

Bill and I started playing folk music together. I still had the old acoustic that had been rescued from someone's coal bunker in 1965 - it had a two pence piece under the bridge to level it up... Without it the bridge had a habit of slipping and putting the guitar out of tune, or falling out altogether which definitely didn't do much for the sound! Bill had a nylon-strung guitar and the two together gave us the chance to play little twiddley bits of lead with two different sounds.

We were known as The Heywood Senior High School Folk Group - a snappy title! Gerald Fish had taken over from David Miller as music teacher and he encouraged us no end. The school choir came to an end - that wasn't Gerald's interest. But the school started to acquire musical instruments. He had some of the girls from the year below us sing a few songs with us.

I'm seen above with two of them - a man totally into his music to the extent of ignoring some splendidly short mini skirts! The wet-look t-shirt was a favourite, though every time I went into someone's house their mum would always ask if it was raining...

Here I'm with Bill, playing at the Ronald Gorton Centre in Rochdale. We used to do some traditional folk, some Dylan, and a few songs of Magna Carta, a contemporary folk group who I thought were brilliant.

A lad called Barry Lord joined us also and we were round at Gerald Fish's house one day trying to come up with a name for the group. Gerald found a reference to an ancient Greek philosopher called Anacreon who had choked to death on a fruit stone - that was good enough for us! We became Anacreon, and we played a number of gigs at the school and around the district.

I suppose one of the best gigs must have been a variety show of acts from lots of different schools which was held at a high school in Milnrow. We came on with the girls and accompanied them as they sang I Don't Know How To Love Him from Jesus Christ, Superstar. Then we went through our usual set as a trio. We brought the house down and the local paper that week carried a report that specifically mentioned us and with the quote "There was some superb guitar work from this group." Wow! Fame!

Girls from the 4th year collared me walking through the assembly hall one Christmas, with a bunch of mistletoe and took it in turns to appeal to my better nature... Jackie had been walking through the hall with me. She waited patiently whilst they all finished and said "Hmmm - do you mind if I borrow that mistletoe?"

Whilst never boyfriend and girlfriend we still seemed to spent a lot of time together and had the sort of easy affectionate uncomplicated relationship that is still there 40 (gasp!) years later. Jackie remembers:

"I remember one summer's day - it was like in one of those slushy American Walton type films. We were just lying on a grass bank looking up at the sunshine, the blue skies, white clouds and the leaves in the trees above, and it was a really neat poetic kind of day. To me that day symbolises youth and summer and optimism and innocence, so no poetic license or editorial add-ons there, matey!"

Sheesh - me??? Whatever happened to that trust thing I've just been going on about???

Actually there were only one or two serious pairings in the group yet we all enjoyed a close relationship with each other that would extend to a guilt-free kiss. It was the time of free love after all. Alex and I wondered where all that free loving was going at times but hey - it was a great time!

After the rather troublesome 3-wheelers I bought a Hillman Minx for 40 quid and we all charged off here there and everywhere at weekends. We had one brilliant day in the Lake District that I remember particularly. Six of us were in the car; Alex, Bill and I and Jan, Jackie and Sheila. We stopped at beautiful trails, with gurgling streams and waterfalls and Bill and I had taken the guitars up. We just enjoyed each other's company, sun and gentle music.

Sheila, Brigid and Janet

There were the usual teenage parties - one of the outer circle fancied a girl called Jayne and invited her to a party at Jan's house. She told me she only agreed because she wanted to go to a party... But one memory is of him sitting on the top of the stairs shouting plaintfullly, "Ja-a-a-ayne!" until he made his mind up she wasn't for him and settled for vodka in a pint pot instead... I met her again a couple of years ago and I think I'm safe in saying you could still class her easily as beautiful!

By then the Hillman had gone and I had a MkIII Zephyr 4 - a beautiful car - if rather heavy on petrol! I stayed sober that party and was to ferry everyone home as many of the partygoers lived in Heywood. When we got outside though, there was thick fog. It took hours of driving very slowly but I got everyone home! Or nearly everyone - Alex: "I remember after Jan's 18th. after ferrying a paralytic Spike Wycherley home to Darnhill, Colin who only lived round the corner, came back with us and kipped at my house. God only knows why, perhaps he was pissed and thought he might get a bollocking if he went home!"

Jan introduced me to her cousin, Helen, who was visiting from her home near Northampton. We went to Blackpool for the day, Jan, Alex, Helen and I. She became my first serious girlfriend and we had a 3-year relationship, which was made a little difficult because of the distance, but was always fun.

Barry Lord became a close friend too for quite a while. He was one of those who could fit into any of the cliques in the 6th form common room. He was hugely likeable, witty and funny and was very easy going. We spent many a night playing darts at his local, The Harrows, where the landlord would call time by shouting "Come on, you rhinos!"

We used to drink Bass Charrington's Best Mild. Almost as dark as Guinness, it was smooth, creamy and wonderful. It disappeared totally not long afterwards after which the staple became Watney's Red. A startlingly red-coloured beer, it too had a flavour all of its own. It too disappeared totally by the end of the 1970s.

I went on holiday one year to Blackpool with Alex and Colin Wise. We scored all too easily with a trio of girls from Glasgow... "Do you like feeling tummies?" the one that paired off with me said out of the blue - not long after the initial "Hello". "I do..." A hand crept up my t-shirt and another guided mine up hers... We decided they were a bit too easy in the end and in best Sunday newspaper journalist fashion, made our excuses! I seem to remember that, after the holiday, when we got back to the rest of the group, the girls found this episode hilarious...

The following year there was a problem... Alex Dyson: "The week in Blackpool was in the summer of '71, in the Hillman, and then when the '72 hols came round, I was going to go, but ended up with some stomach problem and cried off, so Barry went instead, perhaps in the Skoda?"

We scoured the best spots of Margate but failed to pull any girls... Barry and I both got sunstroke and staggered round the following day feeling like death warmed up.

A Level exams came. We swotted a bit and messed about a lot and I found I had managed to fail every one of them... It was a disappointment but not exactly a crushing blow at the time. The Careers Service though I found totally useless. "Shopwork or Industry" were the choices they gave but without any explanation of what sorts of openings might be appropriate or available. It was just one or the other.

Because I wasn't able to make a decision within the 5 minute slot I was allocated their recommendation was that I go to teacher training college and become a teacher. Quite a few took that route. Jan did and Bill and Barry did. Alex went off to do accountancy. Jacquie, Bev and Brigid went off to Liverpool University. Sheila went to Manchester I think. It was the beginning of the end for the close group of friends.

Alex Dyson: "At the time, all my friends were as dear to me as family, and I thought that it would never end. Two years later, we were scattered to the four winds and I never saw any of you again for thirty years - how did that happen?"

In 1976 I married and Fran and I moved to Blackpool and the final time any of us got together was for Jan's wedding to Graham, someone she had met at college. Besides myself, only Bev was there from the 6th Form. I ran into Bev in the early 1990s at an educational conference and one by one I started to get emails from people, once my web page started in 1996. Alex came to my 50th birthday party and we've remained in email contact since.

In 2005 we met up with fellow 6th former, Maggie Pratt - now Maggie Yuill, who was visiting from her home in Australia.

Then we had a mini reunion in March 2006 at a Creeping Bentgrass gig. The photo shows Alex, Jackie, myself and Jan. Jackie has a business called Memory Catchers helping people to write their life stories. And so the idea for this set of pages turned from being a vague idea into something that got going as Jackie and I bounced a few ideas off each other and she gave me enough of a prodding to get started! If anyone is looking for ways to get going writing their own memories down I can recommend Jackie's resources. You don't have to create web pages or even write them down for anyone but yourself. But I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of dredging up all these memories.

So it's fitting that the last memory should belong to Jackie. She, Alex and I have met up every year in August for several years and it is always a hilarious day. On this occasion though we met in Liverpool where my band were playing and she came complete with old school tie, beret, ... and a french dictionary with a missing page...

Return to Family Memories Index

Friday, 22 October 2010

Bathroom Makeover

We've been saving up for years to get the bathroom sorted out. Recently we thought it was the time to get cracking!

This is what we started out with. I'd put the tiles on myself with Dad's help a couple of years after we moved in, but a replacement shower had left a bare patch on the wall at some point.

The sink was in front of the window which meant we couldn't have a mirror over it. So we trotted down to have a look at various places and ended up deciding that we would rip out the bath and have a walk-in shower unit fitted.

Norbreck Bathroom Design Centre was the place we chose to spend money. Then we sat back and wondered how we would cope. I'm all over the place for work, Fran works shifts and we have two house cats who get very nervous when there are strangers or noise in the house.

First day the old suite came out, then floor tiles came up and the green tiles came off the wall. The skip outside the house started to fill up.

Then there were a few days whilst pipes were put under floorboards, conferences about how to deal with the waste - as the sink was being moved away from the window and the shower floor would be lower than the bath drain, we needed a way of having sufficient fall on the pipe to ensure the waste water flowed down.

The shower space was defined and pipes hidden behind a new plasterboard wall that would ensure the shower cabinet didn't leave a tiny gap for a cat to get stuck behind!

Then the new ceiling cover went in and modern lighting installed. We had a massive spotlight thing dangling down previously which heated as well as lit the bathroom. I've never really liked it - it was impossible to put any kind of shade around it so it remained an ugly intrusion down from the ceiling. The new lights look smart and are bright. The shower space started to look impressive once the tiling was done. The new black tiles went down on the floor.

Then a bit of a disaster. Dan, who had been beavering cheerfully away, broke his leg playing football. Martin stepped in to the rescue and picked up from where Dan had left off.

First the shower unit and glass front went in. This meant that whilst we were waiting for the sink and the rest of the room to be tiled we could at least have a shower!

Then the tiling was finished and the sink unit was installed as we went back to the showroom to pick some accessories such as mirrors and towel rails.

This is the finished result. Pretty spiffing! The shower provides constant water at just the right temperature and I no longer need to howl when Fran turns the tap on downstairs!

The shaving mirror is great for me but Fran seems to think it should be covered over with a towel when she's doing her face... The shelves on the large mirror are full of bottles of paint, polyfilla, swamp muck and all the other paraphernalia she uses (plus 3 small rubber ducks) whilst my razor and deoderant are confined in the cupboard below.

They are nice people at Norbreck Bathroom Design Centre and I'd recommend them without hesitation. In fact... I just have!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Family Transport 5 - 1993-2010

The final (for now) instalment about my cars. I drive far more miles in hire cars for work these days than I do in my own car, so I tend not to get as attached to them as I once did!

Bought on 4 August 1993, this is our Ford Fiesta, "Wee John Henry". I was a bit worried about moving back from the Sierra to such a small car, but in the event it was a nice car to drive and we had little trouble with it, despite taking it from 26,500 miles to over 97,000 miles!

It certainly wasn't as comfy on a long journey as a larger car but it was fun to drive, easy to park in small spaces and just kept going when we wanted it to.

The Great Green Glittering Machine. The Mark I Ford Mondeo was an automatic and a Ghia. It was luxurious, it was fast, it was just gorgeous. Next to the Cortina Mk3, this would have to be my favourite car of all time.

I bought it in 1997 with 72,000 miles on the clock and I have photos of the odometer at 100,000 miles in September 1998 and at 123,456 miles on 8 May 2000. It had gone up to 197,000 miles by the time I part exchanged it for its replacement.

The Mondeo Mark III is seen here on the test drive in October 2004, hence the trade plates in the window. This was a manual change basic model and after all the extras of the Mark I Ghia, it was a bit of a disappointment. A bit under-powered and not as comfortable. And despite me starting to use hire cars for work, meaning that I struggled to drive 10,000 miles a year in it, it still gave me several problems. However, it did take the band's gear easily enough and we went all over the place in it to play music!

By this July though, I was hankering after something else and must have been a nightmare for the salesperson at the garage.

"Do you want a new or second-hand car?"
"Not bothered really..."
"Do you want a Ford or a Mazda?"
"Not sure..."

My only criteria really was that I must be able to fit the band's gear inside the luggage space. I looked at a Mondeo Mark IV, but the boot space, though still the same width as the Mark III, now has wheel arches sticking up from the floor. I looked at estate cars, but they didn't excite me.

Then I saw the one. OMG! It wasn't a Ford!!!

A Mazda5 TS2 is my current runabout and first impressions have been very very good! Extremely low geared - it copes with 6th gear at 30mph - means it is the fastest car of its type (MPV) 0-60.

Not that speed is a great incentive to me these days. Too many cameras and too much traffic. Though Blackpool's blanket limit of 30mph which includes a few dual carriageways is unneccessary to my mind. Judging by the amount of people who todge along at 25mph, the risk-averse culture fostered by the government is taking hold of a lot of folk too. Though the number of people who drive at 40 on a 60mph road and who don't change speed when passing into a 30mph limited area is very annoying too.

What the future is I'm not sure. Councils are trying to force people out of cars but without being able to ensure there are regular and fast bus services. In fact there can't be. To lose our cars is to go back to a situation where we travel less. To a situation where we work closer to home. It can't happen. We can't all work at computers from home, administering what each other does. We can't go back to cottage industries on a large scale. We can't expect workers to spend two hours at each end of the day on buses, commuting to work that's only 20 miles away when a car will do it in between 30-60 minutes. Ask the ones who have hours long commutes now into major cities and see whether they really enjoy it. You can't promote that and promote happy family life at the same time. If you work 7 or 8 hours and travel 4 daily then you see very little of your kids during the week.

Councils are busy building technology sites and office blocks for hundreds of workers with only 20 very small parking spaces allowed. Because they tend to be in the middle of nowhere, bus companies won't put services on until they know there's enough workers to make the route profitable. Result? The offices stay empty. Why can councils not understand this? Do they think the quick win of development money from Europe means these simple facts don't matter?

And until you can charge an electric car fully in half an hour or less, no matter where you are, to a point where they can travel over 100 miles, they won't be the answer either. Besides... You still have to make the electricity!

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Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Family Transport 4 - Mostly Cortinas

The fourth entry in this series of car memories and first we'll deal with the only one in this entry that not only isn't a Ford, but isn't a Ford Cortina!

This is a Triumph 1300 and was bought in 1979. It was old (1968) and extremely battered. There was a dent in the roof as though it had been rolled at some time and the paintwork was marked and impossible to wash clean.

It was something of a gentleman's car though, with a walnut wooden dashboard and a refusal to change gear in a hurry. When it was giving signs of imminant death I sold it on through the local car auctions only for the police to come round a couple of weeks later... During the Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool, the new owner had abandoned it in the entrance of the Imperial Hotel - which was where Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her Cabinet Ministers were staying...

The new owner hadn't registered it and the police were playing catch-up from the last known owner which was me. At the time of IRA activity, the car was in considerable danger of being blown up by the army! The police officers did grin, but refused to give me a lift to the hotel so I could watch... In the end it wasn't blown up anyway

I had since bought this - a Ford Cortina Mk IV which was only 3 years old and the newest car I'd bought wholly with my own money. The Mark 4 was a relatively rare beast after a very short time. Distinguishable from the Mark 5 mainly because of the front and rear light clusters, they all seemed to disappear off the roads not long after the Mark 5 came out.

It was a bit of a disaster, this car. It had been used as a taxi and although it looked wonderful, we suspected it had gone "round the clock". Odometers at the time only had 5 digits and thus once they reached 100,000 miles they showed zero and started again. It was only recently that cars had been capable of travelling far enough to turn the clock over as the apparent resetting to zero was known. The engine started to smoke quite heavily, with no regard for it's own or any occupants' health! At the same time I was made redundant from work at a time when unemployment was a national issue (when is it not, I know...)

I remained without a car and a job for months that stretched into years. Although it didn't seem so at the time, this was the best thing that could have happened, as I used the time to learn computer programming on a Commodore64 home computer. I used that knowledge to write business software for the first college I worked for in 1985 and that shaped my career since that time and ongoing.

Whilst at that college, the Nautical College in Fleetwood, I bought this - an old Cortina Mark III which was absolutely wonderful. It had been tarted up with a two-tone respray using new Ford colours and was totally unique. It was 13 years old when I bought it and I had it for almost 4 years, being quite upset to lose it when it had an argument with the rear end of a lorry who slammed his anchors on hard for no reason other than to read a map, as I was overtaking the van behind him. Oncoming traffic meant I had to get in front of the van and I hadn't time to stop. The wings of the car were crumpled back over the wheels and I was lucky to walk away unscratched.

The car was a write-off. My friends, who had been in the habit of leaving notes under the windscreen wiper when they saw it parked anywhere, were as devastated as I was. It had been in immaculate condition. Even MOT testers drooled over it each year when I took it in. Whilst new parts were sometimes hard to come by due to its age, they were relatively easy (and cheap) to get from scrap yards! And it was fun doing that. I even bought an indicator stalk from a scrap yard in Norfolk after the steering column set on fire one day whilst on holiday in Great Yarmouth. Now why would that not be fun?!?

It follows that the next purchase was rather urgent and it was this: a Mark V Cortina, bought from a car dealer who turned out to be the father of a colleague. She was really worried we'd be disappointed but, given that I'd opened the boot on the test drive and found an empty can of paint thinners, I knew it had been tarted up and resprayed and in all fairness although it wasn't as exciting as the Mark III, it served us a couple of years which was as much as we could have expected.

In 1990 I had started a collection of pinball machines - as you do... The Ford Sierra Estate joined us, being 3 years old and again, strangely perhaps, this was a brilliant car to drive and own. We trundled pinball machines and jukeboxes about in it and it was our first car with the modern style of hubcap that hid all view of the wheel itself. Up until this time hubcaps just covered the central part of the wheel and the wheel nuts. So you see - there were two cars that weren't Cortinas...

Part 5 of this series will bring us up-to-date.

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