Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Busy week - 2

On day two of No2 Son's visit, we were a little more organised and we went off reasonably early to visit Bourton-on-the-water, armed with comfortable shoes, bottled water and a rucksack. Bourton-on-the-water is a small town that has a river running through the middle and is a big tourist draw. It is part of the picturesque Cotswolds and built with the traditional limestone found in the area.

Burton-on-the-Water with the river Windrush flowing through it

TBH by a model of one of the churches in the town

One feature of Bourton-on-the-water that No2 Son recalled is that it has a model village that you can visit which is a model of the real place. Because the real town has a model village in it, inside the model village is a model of the model village.

The model Windrush

Of course we had to go and visit this and he was delighted to find it as he remembered, but he was even more delighted to find that inside the model of the model village there was a smaller model village and if you look closely at the smaller model village, there is an even smaller one in that model too.
The tiny model village was only a representation, but gives you an impression of an infinite series of ever smaller model villages inside the models.

The model of the model village inside the model...

The next level down, a model of the model village inside the model of the model village inside the model...

The circled model inside the model of the model......
Well you get the picture

No2 Son in the model village. To the left you can just see the model of the model....

At lunchtime, we found an interesting cafe, which is named with the Jewish greeting ‘Shalom’. This seemed to contradict the obviously Christian theme of the place, but it looked good and we went inside. There we found a menu that I noted vaguely had no prices. On the back was an explanation of the name and its interpretation that showed it is indeed a Christian organisation that supports charities and makes links all over the world.
We ordered a light lunch and all enjoyed what we had ordered but when it came time to pay, we were told that there was no charge but we could make a voluntary contribution but only if we wanted to, and the amount we gave was entirely up to us. We put in the box what we would have paid for a similar meal in any other cafe and wandered into their shop where they had a large map of the world showing all their links to other people. It was very interesting and had the names of the contributors in their native languages and scripts and No2 Son and myself spent a little while trying to read the languages we thought we might understand.
We then went on to do the tourist bit around the town and enjoyed a lazy stroll for the rest of the afternoon along the river and around all the tourist shops that seem to have sprung up since I last went there when No2 Son was small.

The No2 Son was going home on the Thursday and we had nothing planned, so TBH and I took the opportunity to recover from our days out until it was time to take him to the station in the afternoon. For some of the time we watched a movie that he had not seen since childhood. The movie is noted as one of the worst films of all time and he was curious if it still seemed as bad as it did when he was ten. TBH did not join in but No2 Son and myself sat and rocked with laughter at the wooden acting, terrible sets and the innapropriate synthesizer music used on the soundtrack. The movie is Hawk the Slayer and despite its cast, including many good actors, including Jack Palance, the lead role is so bad that it is funny. Coupled with the lack of sets, the corny character names used and the bad plot the whole thing is ludicrous. We marvelled that someone had actually believed this movie would net them a profit.

Once No2 Son had gone home, Friday was cleaning day but it was not the end of our week by any means we had to preparing for the next event that was to take place starting that evening.

Busy week - 1

The No2 Son has been staying for a short visit this week. He is between jobs, having completed his most recent work in Manchester and will be starting a new one in October, so he has some free time on his hands for a few weeks. He lives in a strange esoteric worlds inhabited by theoretical mathematicians and writes papers that are printed in a publication that may have a circulation of less than two hundred. Needless to say, no one in the family are able to understand anything he writes about, having long passed the point where even a short description of his work makes any sense to us mortals.
His new post is in Rome and will be for two years unless he decides to stay. His better half, The No 2 Daughter In law T2DIL is still working but soon finishes her present job and will be accompanying him to Rome where she hopes to obtain work. Since she teaches English and is a whiz at learning other languages and is already fluent in at least three and already having a little Italian, she is hoping she will find a suitable post in Rome.

Whilst No 2 son was here he expressed a desire to see some of our old haunts that he remembers from his childhood, we could not decide which to visit, which is usual when the family starts to act as a committee. We went through several suggestions until it was getting to the point that if we did not decide soon, we would have no time for anything.
So rather suddenly we came to a decision to drive to Oxford and look at the Pitt Rivers Museum. Oxford is about forty or so miles away from home and so does not take too long to get there, but parking in the city is not good, so we headed for the out-of-town Park and Ride bus service.

One of the dreaming spires of Oxford and a bus

The front of the building housing the two museums

The Pitt Rivers collection is largely anthropological being made up of artefacts from all over the world and all sorts of ages. It is a constant source of amazement that it holds so much in such a small place and you will find something new on every visit. It is a fascinating and extensive collection of over 300,000 objects that are housed in a relatively small building that shares a site with the Sheldonian Museum of Natural History. You have to go through this museum to get into The Pitt Rivers museum.

Arriving on the outskirts of Oxford, we took the park and ride bus into the centre and then set off towards the Museum. After a while, deep in conversation with No 2 son, TBH made a comment about a signpost. We had discussed at one point weather we should take the route via the back of the museum or the front and so believing she knew where we were going I carried on in the same direction but now on a path that would take us along the wrong road. What I did not realise was that TBH had also made a similar assumption that I knew what I was doing and was heading for the museum by a special route and so allowed me to take us miles out of our way. After nearly thirty minutes it was very clear that we were nowhere near the museum and so we discovered that neither of us were as familiar with the route as we both believed and started the long trudge back.
By the time we did arrive at the museum, TBH had a blister on one foot and could not manage much of a tour, so she nobly sat down on a handy seat and insisted No 2 son and myself carry on around. After a while I too found walking a bit troublesome and so joined TBH on the seat. The weather was very warm and after walking so far, it was pleasant just to sit in the shade and allow a faint breeze to cool us. When we were both feeling rested, I phoned No 2 son and arranged to meet him in the centre of Oxford when he felt he had seen enough and we limped off to a small cafe and sat down gratefully to drink coffee and tea, that is, a tea for me and a coffee for TBH.

The rather crowded but fascinating interior of the Pitt Rivers Museum

After we finished our drinks, we decided we could probably make it to the nearby Boots the chemists, where almost certainly we would be able to buy some sticking plaster for TBH’s foot. Having dressed her foot with some sticking plaster, we were a little more mobile and whilst we had been occupied doing all this No 2 Son had decided to come and find us. Once back together we then wandered slowly around Oxford visiting one or two shops and then on seeing the time, and knowing that the roads would soon be clogged by rush-hour traffic, headed for the park and ride bus and returned home.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Christmas Present

Last year whilst looking at a photo I had taken long ago, I happened to mention casually that the particular aircraft in the picture was one of my favourite machines. I was absolutely delighted, when last Christmas, I received from The Better Half (TBH) an ‘Experience’ token for my Xmas present, which was a flight over London in that type of aircraft, a DeHaviland Dragon Rapide.

The flight is from Duxford air museum in Cambridgeshire, which is not a long way away from home, but a bit too far for people no longer used to getting up before seven AM and negotiating rush hour traffic.
We were getting all set to go and worked out how we would travel across county, stay in a guesthouse and then arrive in time for the ten AM flight, when The Son-in-law (TSIL) needed to go into hospital for a minor op which whilst day surgery, could leave him groggy for a day or two and anyway, required someone to deliver and fetch The Granddaughter (TG) to and from school at least on the day and probably longer. Since we did not know how long TSIL would be incapacitated and that week was the original booking for the flight, it was postponed to another date, something the flight people were happy to do.
As it happened, TSIL recovered rapidly and we could have got to the flight but since it was postponed, we had to wait for the new date.

Because we were going to be close to the part of the country that some of my father’s side of the family lived in several generations ago, we decided to go early and spend a day looking at tombstones in the local church yards to see if we could find any with my father’s family name on them.
Whilst this was interesting, it did not produce any of the names I was looking for but ironically I found some family names that I was not looking for. This was my mother’s name but it is unlikely to be her immediate family because they all came from a different part of the country.
Whilst we were in a place called Eye, we stopped off for a drink at the Blue Boar, a pub that was once owned or leased by a great great ancestor. The front has not been changed much, but behind it has been altered considerably since my ancestor's time, being enlarged and recently modified and seems very nice.

Yours truly stood outside the Blue Boar

This sign above the local dentist in Eye amused me

That evening, we took the picturesque route down to a small town called Melbourn where we had a booking for one night at the Riverside Guesthouse. The river was one of those English oddities you come across now and then where what I would describe as a ditch, or maybe a stream, is named a river by local custom. My definition of a river is something you cannot step over. It was well populated by ducks and despite my quibble over the tendency for some places to call a stream or a ditch a river, altogether it was quite a picturesque place. The name Melbourn contains an old English word for stream or river, ‘bourn’. This word crops up all over the south of England in place names. Many places are called Something Winterbourn, or Winterbourn Something, which means that the river there only flows during the winter, so Mel – bourn does pertain to some kind of water feature.

The Riverside Guesthouse with river

The view from our room, showing the sign for the next village of Meldreth. I don't know what dreth refers to but like Mel- bourn Mel-dreth is constructed from another old English word

The Riverside Guesthouse was not too far from Duxford so at a leisurely pace, we ate, checked out and drove on to the airfield.
Duxford was once an important airfield during the Battle of Britain, where such famous names as Douglas Bader flew from, but many years ago was turned into an air and military museum, as well as the venue for pleasure flights.

We arrived about fifteen minutes too early, before the place had opened, so with several other early birds, sat in our cars and waited. Soon a couple of coaches full of school kids arriving prompted us to get to the head of the queue since we only had fifteen minutes after they opened the doors to get to the Flights office and get breifed on what I had to do. This office was a longish walk from the entrance. TBH was not coming with me on the flight, since she has a slight problem with flying even in a stable high-powered jet airliner. The thought of rattling along in ana ircraft that was actually older than her does not appeal.

The Rapide was originally designed and flown by 1934, so is a little crude by modern standards but is a lovely looking aircraft being a bi-plane with streamlining. It was half way between the stick and string era and all metal bullet shaped aircraft and so has a bit of both.
This one was built in 1943 so was quite modern, and not actually older than me by a very small margin.

There was a short wait whilst all the passengers arrived and were checked in and during this time we were entertained by a wonderful display from a restored Spitfire doing stunts and flypasts, with the fantastic sound they make as the old Merlin engine driving it thrums in that smooth and powerful way they do.

All the passengers who had booked this flight, were prepared and briefed and then made to sit in certain of the eight seats in the passenger cabin. You were distributed by weight, having weighed each passenger as they arrived to check in. The heaviest of us had to sit towards the rear because, we were informed, too much weight near the front would make it nose heavy and it would tip over onto its nose on take off or landing, so they made sure the weight was distributed correctly. This gave me a wing seat, so I had to move around considerably to get pictures that were not half wing or strut.
Leaving TBH with a camcorder that she had never used before, I waved goodbye and we took off.

The twin engines give a very different sound to the Spitfire, more like a giant lawnmower but soon we were bouncing along the runway and suddenly the ride becomes smooth and you know you are in the air.

This smoothness did not last long as we gained altitude we came into the stronger breeze and the ride started to become quite interesting. TBH would definitely not have enjoyed the lurching, bouncing, tilting progress we made through the air. I am not subject to motion sickness so I was quite happy watching the world lurch by from around five hundred feet. Fortunately no one else aboard were troubled in this way although one lady seemed a little subdued.

We were heading for London, to do a bit of sightseeing from the air. The man sitting opposite me was from London, and had seen the Rapide flying over on several occasions and had found out what it was and booked himself a ride.

We could just about make ourselves heard above the engine noise which was better than some small aircraft I have ridden in before. We pointed out landmarks to each other as we flew by them. The first landmark was the M25 motorway and then we were over London and the first intended landmark was the site of the 2012 Olympic village being built ready for the Olympic Games coming to London.

Several times around this we then went on to central London and were able to spot several different famous buildings, including Tower Bridge, the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye.

The Houses of Parliament with Big Ben to the right

The London Eye with Waterloo station across the river

Tower Bridge in the distance with Saint Paul's Cathederal in the foreground

In this view you can see Nelson's Column in Trafalga Square right at the bottom and the British Museum, with Admiralty Arch leading into the Mall, which then runs all the way up to Buckingham Palace. The green area to the left is St James Park with Horseguard’s Parade, the open sandy coloured square at the bottom. I once worked in a building close to there and when we had a fire drill we all stood about in Horseguard’s parade until told to return.

We could not fly too far East, because the wind direction caused the flight path for City Airport to be using that route, so I did not see another of my old workplaces near Tilbury. But we circled around and I snapped picture after picture.

After about half an hour of circling around, we headed back to Duxford and landed. TBH was waiting for me and we then went and had a coffee and a bun each and I told her all about the flight.
It was really brilliant and I think it was the best ever Christmas present I have ever had. The only shame is that TBH could not come and enjoy it with me, but had to sit around for an hour whilst I was off having fun.
After coffee, we then did a tour of the museum until sore feet and exhaustion set in. It is vast, and has so many aircraft one day is not enough to do it justice, there is so much to see you have to be selective.
We did get to see Concorde. It was one of TBH's unfulfilled ambitions to fly in one of those, so it is a sort of substitute and we now have a picture of TBH inside Concorde, but it was a poor substitute for the real thing.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Little Ships

Recently it was the 70th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation where in the early stages of WWII when we were losing that phase of the war, dozens of small private boats and pleasure cruisers took part in operation Dynamo which had them sailing across the English Cannel to rescue the retreating British army that had become trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk in France. This event was remembered by a flotilla of the surviving ‘little ships’ sailing across the channel to Dunkirk for a celebration of the success of what, without these small boats, would otherwise have been a disastrous loss to Britain.
This was an amazing event that is unprecedented in any war scenario before or since and it allowed the rescue of some one hundred thousand members of the armed forces and so enabled Britain to keep on fighting against the Axis forces.

This anniversary triggered another memory of my childhood, when one of my aunts owned a small cabin cruiser that allegedly, had been created from one of these boats. It had originally been an open working boat that after the end of the war had been fitted out with a cabin and upper decking to turn it into a four-berth cabin cruiser and was named Lady Drake.
I was curious if the link with Dunkirk was correct, so in trawling the Internet, I came across a web site that lists all the vessels known to have taken part in the Dunkirk evacuation but alas Lady Drake is not listed amongst them. I suppose the name was changed with the refit and I don’t know what its original name was at the time of the evacuation. It certainly would have looked very different to its appearance when my Aunt Mary owned it.

Lady Drake c 1954

Before she bought that one, she had previously owned another boat called Far Ben, which was altogether more up market. I am not sure why she changed, perhaps a little scaling down in costs was required.
Having found the list of little ships used in Dunkirk, I then wondered what I would find if I Googled for Far Ben and much to my surprise, I found this following movie on You Tube.

This is definitely the same boat in which I spent several holidays with my parents cruising up and down the river Thames in the fifties , often accompanied by the Corke family.

Far Ben with my aunt's freinds, c1952