5.3.15

My 'day trip' to New York on Concorde

From 1982 to 1985 I was Editor of an EMAP trade magazine called CadCam International, based in Clerkenwell. As an important editor I received many invitations to jollies, the best one being a trip to New York on Concorde. (The worst was a day trip to Geneva which involved getting up very early and we never left Geneva airport!) My diary for the time was quite detailed and I've kept many souvenirs, however I was convinced until rereading it that it was actually a day trip: there and back in a day.

Before take off - that's little me in the middle
In fact we stayed overnight, in a hotel called the Vista, next to the World Trade Centre. It was destroyed when the Twin Towers came down in 2001. I was in room 1301 on the 13th floor. The trip was organised by a computer company called Data General, to launch a PC. 100 journalists flew out on G-BOAA (currently in Edinburgh) on 21 July 1983 and it took 3.5 hours to get there, setting off at 1pm our time. I was in seat 2D up front right-hand side next to a Swedish journalist. It was very luxurious and we had plenty to eat and drink. There followed a coach ride through Manhattan to a press do on the 106th floor of the World Trade Centre (which tower, I don't know). Afterwards I went for a walk to look at the gothic Woolworth building, and Battery Park. We had a cocktail party and dinner, I watched a film on the cable tv and went to bed, while others went to Greenwich Village all night. We had to be up 5.30am their time for the flight back, which was on G-BOAF (now at Filton).

Autographs
We'd just passed Nova Scotia, building up to mach 2 when there was a terrible lurch and champagne glasses and caviar flew everywhere. The mach meter stared spinning and the flight engineer said there'd been a surge on engine 2 and computer failure. They shut down the engine and returned to New York subsonically and it took us twice as long to get back. It was also at a more turbulent height too which added to the panic. In my diary I put: "I lost my appetite, missed the quail, but had a Cointreau though." We were just getting settled when we landed at Kennedy to see fire engines and ambulances running alongside. 100 ashen-faced journos made their way to the Concorde lounge for more free drinks. Some joked about going back on the QE2. It was 5.30pm, we should have been home by now. Reporters from the Times and Guardian filed stories by telex, but it only got the briefest mention next day.

Boarding passes and swizzle sticks
They found G-BOAA, the one we came on, for us, fired it up and we flew back without incident. I had missed the last coach to Woking from Heathrow, but my girlfriend at the time kindly came to pick me up.

What happened to Data General, by the way? Gone the way of all the minicomputer manufacturers. According to Wikipedia, "The old Data General domain (dg.com) ... was sold to the Dollar General discount department store chain in October 2009." We all know what happened to the Twin Towers, and Concorde was grounded after a disastrous crash in Paris in 2000. CadCam International? That's gone too, no trace of it on the internet!

My second scariest plane ride was a few years before this, during my first trip to the USA. I was flying from LaGuardia airport to Minneapolis - St Paul when the pilot announced that they had lost radio contact and had to fly low and slow, presumably so he could follow the roads. On the way back to New Jersey I got a ride in a single-prop, four-seater light aircraft, owned by a contributor to the IPC magazine I was working for at the time, CAD. He worked at Bell Labs and showed me round. His wife was an aerobics teacher, a word I hadn't heard before. Don even took me for a flight around Manhattan, along the rivers and lower than the tops of the skyscrapers. A few years later he, his wife and two kids were all killed when they flew into a storm on their way to their condo in Florida.

4.3.15

Memory and memories

"Midnight
Not a sound from the pavement
Has the moon lost her memory?
She is smiling alone…"


The song from Cats is a favourite of my Monday singing group at Patching Lodge. I can't help launching into it whenever I think of memories and how strange they are. Why do we remember some things and not others, and how do false memories get in there? Two cases recently demonstrated that (logical?) assumptions can trump real memories, but 'evidence' in the shape of ephemera and maybe diary entries can surprise one.


I was convinced I joined the NUJ when I started at IPC Science and Technology Press, Guildford in 1977, but a delve into my ephemera dredged up my 1974 membership card! This is important as I can now apply to be a life member! I was freelance at the time and my diary couldn't shed any light on it apart from the fact that my membership card had arrived one day. I only assume that the events going on at the IMechE or the fact that I got told off by the print unions at the Surrey Advertiser for designing the ads for Robin Bradbeer's shop Guildford Tapes and Calculators prompted me to join. So, I was already a paid-up member at Hutton + Rostron in Gomshall (where I was eventually made redundant) and on that first day at IPC when I received a visit for the FoC.

The other memory lapse was my 'day trip' to New York on Concorde. This will be the subject of another blog posting, but suffice to say I've been dining out on my 'day trip' on three Concordes (yes, the one on the way back broke down), except I'd forgotten we'd stayed over for a night in a hotel! My diary confirmed it was a two-day trip!


If we all kept detailed diaries, then there would be no problem recalling events. Or would there? My diaries are far from that - they seem to be full of irrelevant detail and huge gaps! I'm intrigued by holidays. I have vague memories of what I did there but little recollection of how we actually got there. In May 1961, when I was 14, I went to Innsbruck, Austria with the school, except it was probably my friend Big John's school. How do I know that? I have what is probably my oldest piece of personal ephemera - a ticket for a football match between FC Wacker and Manchester City. I have no idea how we got there. It must have been by train and ferry and taken a very long time. I have a vague memory of being told off by the guard for climbing into the string luggage rack - no, we weren't in sleepers! On that trip, I was introduced to the duvet, walked on a glacier, bought a flick knife and maybe leant to ride a bike, or was that the previous year's trip?.

The previous year we'd been to Kessingland, an old army camp near Lowestoft (also by train? did we have to change?) where we made bombs in bottles with Jetex fuses and set them off in the sand dunes, learnt to smoke (10 Consulate please) and generally got up to mischief.



Nostalgia groups on Facebook are also a good way to stimulate memories. In Bury Olden Days, I came across a photo of the street on which I spent my first few years: Wyndham Street, in the central Bury area known as the Mosses, which was demolished soon after we moved to Sunny Bank. Facebook groups are problematic, in that posters regularly 'orphan' images, stripping them of credits and information, but a quick Google found the source as Bury Image Bank. It's Image Number: b04005 and dated 1955. My memories of that house are few: I remember playing cowboys in my street wearing Dad's trilby and using the gas meter cabinet as a den. When we moved, my Grandma Nation took me in a pushchair 'over the Baltic' to our semi in the suburbs.


Here's another bit of evidence - dated ephemera is the best. I was a cone winder in a cotton mill, Wellington Mill, Bury, in the summer of 1966. This is my pay packet, which was about £8 a week, plus a few coins! The following year I worked at Vantona bleach and dye works in Breightmet with Bob Stoney, and in my final year at university I worked in the basement of the Royal Institution, Albemarle Street, London slicing up cadmium crystals, in Michael Faraday's lab, and in a shed on the roof of Battersea College of Advanced Technology.

6.2.15

Lovely Ladybirds at Bexhill

I must admit a passion for Ladybird books. I can't remember when I first started collecting them, but it was probably during the Golden Age of Jumble Sales prior to my moving to Brighton. I do remember Sam having Baby's First Book and I love the clear austere hyperreal illustrations. Later I started collecting them as reference for my own cartoon illustration work and now have quite a few. A year or two ago, because of limited shelf space,  I decided to concentrate on the non-fiction titles and let the animal and fairy tales go.



I'd been to see a small exhibition at the old Towner in Eastbourne back in 2004 and when I heard the De La Warr at Bexhill was holding one, with artwork from the Reading University archive, I couldn't wait. Well, I went yesterday and wasn't disappointed, although you get the feeling they have only scratched the surface of the material they must have tucked away. Entitled Ladybird by Design, it is co-curated by Lawrence Zeegen, who wrote the accompanying book (it'd just arrived there and I was apparently the third person in the world to buy one). The artwork is framed so you can see beyond the crop marks to the very edge of the board they were painted on, with all the annotations and dabs of paint (gouache?) visible. You can't imagine what a joy it is to see original artwork close up.

Some interesting product placement in this one
The exhibition starts with some artefacts from the early days - a mock up of A book of birds & eggs and some photos of the Wills and Hepworth printing works in Loughborough, then it's straight into the pictures, starting with the complete artwork for Shopping with mother (1958) illustrated by J Harry Wingfield. There's nothing arty-farty about Ladybird books, the illustrations are near photographic, but with a clarity a photograph couldn't achieve. The current popularity of them on cards etc may be ironic, seeing those quaint gender stereotypes in an idealised UKIP world, but it's also a world of optimism, in the bright technological future.

From The Miner by John Berry (1965)
A few books get the complete treatment: In a big store by John Berry (1973) and Tricks and magic by Robert Ayton (1969) but most books are represented by just one or two images. My favourite series is People at work, all illustrated single-handedly by John Berry - wonderful industrial landscapes in shades of grey! If I have any reservations, I would have preferred to see the show ordered chronologically, rather than thematically, and that goes for the book too. And I'm disappointed that the book does not contain a series checklist for collectors.

Why the duplicates?
There's a whole wall of Ladybird books (with quite a few duplicates!) facing the sea, and outside you can sit, handle and read some. The bookshop has lots of Ladybird related stuff to buy, including some repro books as dear as the originals will now cost you! The exhibition is on until 10 May 2015. I'll be going again, that's for sure. To find out more about Ladybird collecting, check out Helen Day's website.

Repro Ladybirds you can buy

9.1.15

Deller, Margate and Broadstairs: part 2

Breakfast

I really didn't want to leave that huge comfy bed in The Reading Rooms, with its silky white sheets and big fluffy pillows, but the trouble with B&Bs is that they involve breakfast. After a quick walk-in shower, there was a knock on the door and mine arrived on a butler tray set down by the window overlooking the square. I'd opted for scrambled eggs on toast with smoked salmon plus lots of other things, including a juicered juice with the zing of ginger in there somewhere. As I waited for Dan to show me Margate's best coffee shops, had a quick chat with Louise and Liam (who's from Bury!), the owners. Louise has a blog about Margate architecture, well worth a look, especially the article about the Pre-Raphaelite studio in Birchington.

Louise and Liam

After a proper cappuccino at the Proper Coffee House (check out the decor in the Gents) and a visit to the sub-station where the Mr Solo gig took place, I bid my farewell to guide Dan and boarded the Loop bus to Broadstairs. Now when I was last here in 2010 I caught a bus to Ramsgate, that went through Broadstairs but didn't actually go down the front, so I was determined to have a look this time. As the bus turned off the High Street, I could see it was one of those roads that go down, down, down. Which meant just one thing: on the way back it would be up, up, up.

Broadstairs harbour

Broadstairs is what Mapp and Lucia would call 'quaint', with olde world shoppes and pubs. At the front, I could see that the beach and harbour were a long way further down, and the lift was chained up (until Summer?).

Lift at Broadstairs

Ah well, I had a little stroll past Morelli's ice cream parlour, but being full up with breakfast and proper coffee didn't pop in, and on to the bandstand, then headed inland. Broadstairs, tick.

Crampton Tower, Broadstairs

I cheekily caught a Loop bus up to the station and had a look at the Crampton Tower museum (closed until March). Then I had a wait for the Ramsgate train, caught the Charring Cross train to Ashford, then had another wait for the late Brighton train. This unexpectedly decided to terminate at Eastbourne, so I decanted at Hampden Park, crossed the footbridge and caught a slow train to Brighton, which was fine by me as I could get off at London Road. There are still things I haven't seen in Margate: the shell grotto, the lift and Lido tower in Cliftonville, so I will be back!

[More photos on Flickr]

8.1.15

Deller, Margate and Broadstairs: part 1

Dan at the Turner

You can't beat a bit of local knowledge and you can't do better than Dan Thompson (late of Worthing, now resident of up-and-coming Margate) as your personal guide. The Jeremy Deller exhibition was ending on Sunday so I booked me a Tuesday night at the highly recommended boutique B&B The Reading Rooms and set off in the direction of Ashford International. I wasn't looking forward to an hour's wait for the Margate Flyer, but when I got there slightly early I was able to jump on the Javelin an hour earlier than planned. The Fat Controller's computer obviously thought it would take me more than 4 minutes to change platforms.

Margate station detail

Dan was waiting for me at the very grand station and we took a moment to appreciate the exterior, especially the plaques, as we paused once more down the road at Dreamland.

Dreamland, Margate

I caught a glimpse of Dreamland and its vintage roller coasters from the train as I arrived and am looking forward to its restoration. We could see the Turner Contemporary across the bay and headed for it along the beach.

 First view of the Turner Contemporary, Margate.

The signage identifying it is very minimal, but it was pretty obvious this was a modern art gallery. I'd been to Margate once before, to see a Mr Solo gig, and I'm assuming it wasn't yet built then (in 2010). The inside of the Turner is very light and spacious, with lockers, a bookshop and cafe on the ground floor - and they don't mind you taking photos. The Deller show English Magic was upstairs and was mainly (I think, I haven't read the info yet) a rerun of his Venice Biennale show. In the first room were some real Turners, and a big mural of William Morris flinging Roman Abramovich's gin palace Luna into the briny, entitled We sit starving amidst our gold, painted by Stuart Sam Hughes. Deller is perhaps the most accessible conceptual artist and it's notable that he makes nothing himself, acting more as a sort of curator, and everything has a left-leaning socialist subtext.

Dan takes a snap

The next room had a film of owls, a Stonehenge bouncy castle and the crushing of land rovers, with a catchy steel band soundtrack, and I'll bet not many folks realised the bench they were sitting on was one of those squashed cars. The final gallery (we pass through rooms with drawings by prisoners and soldiers, and photos taken the year of David Bowie's Ziggy tour 1972-3) has another big mural A good day for cyclists (Sarah Tynan) depicting a hen harrier carrying off another Range Rover and a display of prehistoric axes and arrowheads.

Shy curator

There was a 'touching station' were we were allowed to handle some flint axes and look at a William Morris printing block. I watched the patient curator try to explain the concept of relief printing to a gentleman who just didn't get it. Had he waited until 3pm the other station would have opened, where rubber stamps of the two murals explained the process simply and effectively. These were just two of the giveaways at the exhibition - Deller is very generous with his prints, etc. It closes on Sunday so get your skates on.

Close up

After a wander about the Old Town, Dan delivered me to Hawley Square and the B&B so posh it doesn't have a sign outside. I was in the first floor Room 1 and it was gorgeous, far too grand for the likes of me, with every conceivable luxury, including heated floorboards, two sinks! and a walk in shower.

For an early supper, Dan collected me and we went down to the front to GB Pizzas - I had a Jerusalem artichoke, hazelnut and rocket one, plus a bottle of Whitstable ale. Then after we braved the harbour cobb to find a micropub hidden away there - The Harbour Arms - for a pint of Norfolk Brewhouse Moon Gazer Black IPA (yes, I thought IPA was pale too). Then it was back to the B&B to watch Silent Witness and Count Arthur Strong before losing myself in the giant comfy bed!

Read what Roundhill Rob had to say on Thanet.

22.12.14

That London

I don't usually blog trips up to That London, but seeing as I do it so infrequently these days I suppose it counts as a day out. It was the annual pilgrimage to the Lexington to see my favourite band David Devant and his Spirit Wife, but I thought I'd go up early to catch an exhibition or two.

Leighton House

On my way to Leighton House to see the Perez Simon Collection, I had to change buses from a 52 from Victoria to a 9 or 10. I did so at the Royal Albert Hall, so popped into the RCA to see the 50 years of graphic design exhibition. It wasn't very thrilling, mainly posters hanging from bulldog clips. At Leighton House, it was 6 quid to get in, senior concession, and I took advantage of the free audio guide. Photography was not allowed. Not all the pictures had audio descriptions, so a bit of lingering was needed between numbers. First was a pastel of Rossetti's Venus Verticordia, the only one by him. There was one Millais, no Holman Hunts, and lots of the second and third division Pre-Raphs: Burne- Jones, Alma-Tadema, Waterhouse, Albert Moore, Arthur Hughes, John Strudwick and of course, Lord Leighton himself. There weren't as many nudes as I'd expected, the main one was Andromeda by Edward John Poynter, said to be the first Victorian painting to depict pubic hair! The climax of the show was the large Alma-Tadema The Roses of Heliogabalus, along with a study for it and lots of drawings of the props used (Alma-Tadema's couch was also in the show, underneath a painting where it was used).

Wellcome Collection

There was no cafe, so I headed back to Kensington Hight Street for a coffee at Cafe Tarte, by the bus stop, then hopped on to a Heatherwick number 10 bus, where I spotted a Cafe de Fred, just round the corner! At Euston, I remembered that there was a sex exhibition on at the Wellcome Foundation, opposite Euston station, so I hopped off the bus to investigate. This show was free but there was no photography here either. It was most amusing, with the original pencil drawings to The joy of sex, an orgone box and a Tijuana bible, alongside artefacts from ancient civilisations, India and Japan. The visitors seemed to be mostly young couples holding hands. It was my first visit to the Wellcome Collection - it has a nice cafe and bookshop so it's well worth another visit.

Aunty Mabel

The 73 bus to Kings Cross took ages, it was gridlock outside Euston station. We'd arranged to meet at the Queens Head, but when I got there it was rammed with Friday night, after-the-office drinkers. I managed to get a pint of porter and drank it outside. Richard Grimsdale-Yates hailed a cab to the Lexington and we met up with Brian, Alison and Rob H. Then with a pint of Flying Scotsman it was upstairs for Dream Themes, and eventually The Dave Devant Band. After the encore it was a dash across the road to the bus stop and a 73 to Victoria with Bongo Pete, taking in the lights of Oxford Street and Regents Street. We caught the 1am train and I finally got home around a quarter to three!


24.10.14

East Lancs Railway Autumn Steam Gala 18/19 October 2014

The Crab
The Crab at Ramsbottom (double headed with the A Clas)
The ELR trains weren't running on the Friday, but I had a quick peep past the Trackside and saw the Crab, resplendent in its maroon LMS livery in Bury bolton Street station. It was also the weekend of the Homegrown folk festival and that evening went to the Met to see Lucy Ward and the Keston Cobblers' Club. It was a standing gig, which meant I didn't see a lot of it - why don't they make the tall gits stand at the back! Had a nice couple of pints of Ruby, however.

Sir Nigel Gresley
60007 Sir Nigel Gresley at Bury
On Saturday 18 October I used my ELR membership card as a platform ticket and spotted the magnificent Sir Nigel Gresley in LNER/BR blue. There were two streaks to be seen and the full line up was:

Jinty
LMS Jinty 16407
  • 60007 Sir Nigel Gresley
  • 60009 Union of South Africa
  • 61994 The Great Marquess
  • 13065 LMS 2-6-0 Crab
  • 12322 LMS 0-6-0 A Class
  • 16407 LMS 0-6-0 Jinty
  • 80080 Standard tank
  • 0-6-0ST W^D 3163/1943 Sapper and
  • 0-4-0ST May (in Yates Duxbury livery)
I had a bowl of chunky veg soup and a half of Darkness in the Trackside, then it was over to the Drill Hall for the wonderful Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band with Lucy Ward doing three numbers with them, support was squeezebox maestro John Spiers.

May
May
Union of South Africa
60009 Union of South Africa at Rawtenstall
 On Sunday it was back to the ELR this time with a round trip ticket. I just misses Sir Nigel going out so jumped onto  train heading for Heywood pulled by South Africa. Two trains were in the sidings just outside Ramsbottom: Sapper, 80080 and The Great Marquess, all in steam. At Rawtenstall it started raining. I jumped off at Ramsbottom, with the aim of catching Sir Nigel in an hours' time. On the other platform was a double header of the A Class and the Crab. I'd been told of the new craft brewery behind Morrisons, so in a very crowded Irwell Works Brewery I had a half of dark mild and a half of milk stout.
The A Class
Double header of the A Class and Crab at Ramsbottom
 Back at the station, Sir Nigel was in, en route to Rawtenstall, so I crossed the footbridge and joined the train pulled by the A Class, with the Crab as backwards banker.

The Crab and Sir Nigel Gresley
The Crab (as banker travelling backwards) and Sir Nigel at Ramsbottom

Back at Bury I just spotted South Africa pulling out en route to Ramsbottom and Rawtenstall. On Monday I took the tram to Manchester, but had to get off at Market Street and walk to Piccadilly Gardens. Train to Euston via Crewe, 73 bus across London, half of Oyster Stout in Victoria Wetherspoon's and train home.


The Great Marquess
The Great Marquess at Bury

Other visits to the ELR: