Freddy on the telly: Green roofs

Last October, a film crew from my local TV station Latest TV came to film Dora from Organic Roofs doing the autumn maintenance to my green roof. I thought it'd ended up on the cutting room floor, but I now have a link to the YouTube version! I appear about 11 minutes in. Not sure about those aerial shots of my bald pate, but there you go.



Mid-Wales: part 2 Aberystwyth

Barmouth sands

On Tuesday 7 April I packed my case and walked down to Parade Street to catch the T3 bus to Barmouth. I had no idea how much it would cost - my bus pass doesn't work in Wales - but it was a reasonable £5.80. The weather was glorious and we went through Bala (home of the Bala Lake railway) and Dolgellau, where I could have caught a bus to Aber. Approaching Barmouth I glimpsed the impressive railway/foot bridge over the estuary. I bought a ticket to Aber (£8.45) and had an hour to kill so walked down to the beach (the tide was way out, like Southport) then inland for a coffee and slice of bara brith ay Murray's cafe. The train was full but I got a window seat with a sea view.

Barmouth from the train

We passed the Fairbourne miniature railway and I caught a glimpse of a red loco at the Talyllyn. Approching the junction, the guard told us to look out for osprey and I thnk I saw one. There was an hours's wait at Machynlleth with nothing to do except have a cup of tea, then another full train to Aber, where the station is one big Wetherspoons Yr Hen Orsaf.

Aberystwyth station

I checked in at Harry's Hotel, where I was in single room 10, a bit of a come down after Cottage 21 but perfectly adequate, even if I couldn't get the wifi to work. It was a stroll to the from, to see the ugliest pier in Britain, then aback to the station for a couple of pints of Crimson King (Butcombe) using my 50p off Camra tokens (=£1.55 a pint!) and some sweet chilli noodles.

Aberystwyth pier

On Wednesday 8 April, after my splendid vegetarian breakfast (two Linda McCartney sausages etc etc), I trudged to the far end of the bay to the Aberystwyth Cliff Railway where a senior return cost £3.50 to ride on Britain's longest funicular. There was not a lot to do at the top so after taking a few snaps I descended and walked back along the front to catch the 12.15 Vale of Rheidol train (£15.20 with senior and Great Little Trains of Wales discount card).

Aberystwyth Cliff Railway

I'd already seen No 8 the day before when I arrived at Aber - the 2ft gauge steam railway is parallel to the mainline, and here it was again. I sat as near the front as I could on the left hand side of an open carriage. In front of me were a family with a dog that barked at every cow and sheep we passed. Soon we were up on the hill side with a vertical drop down the left-hand side, and a view of reservoirs and misty mountains.
No 8

We passed No 9 Prince of Wales at Aberffrwd, and spotted a pair of red kites. At Devil's Bridge, we had an hour to kill and while the driver polished his engine, i wandered down to look at the waterfalls. I didn't have time to pay £1 for a view of the triple bridge, and all those steps! So wandered back to the station and perused their second-hand books. I bought a nice couple of London, Brighton and South Coast railway books for a fiver apiece.

View below Devil's Bridge

On the way back I sat inside, as it was a bit nippy up there, and back at Aber I patronised The Old Station and ate burritos on their free pint deal (IPA).

Vale of Rheidol Railway.

After a smaller veggie breakfast (just one sausage) i said goodbye to Harry's and after a look in the Oxfam bookshop, headed for the station for the 11.30 to Birmingham. We hitched up with the Barmouth train at Machynlleth (no wait this time) and carried on through fields of baby baa lambs. I spotted Jon Mills' bridge on the cycle network, but saw no trace of the Corris railway or the Welshpool & Llanfair railway. As we got into England, the scenery got grottier, despite some nice looking canals round Wolverhampton way. At Brum it was onto a big long Virgin express to Euston, then the tube and Victoria for home.

No 8

More photos on Flickr.


Mid-Wales: part 1 Llangollen

River Dee, Llangollen

This year's Clarion Cycling Club Easter Meet was in Llangollen, so a great opportunity to explore mid-Wales and the railways there. I got a lift up with Mick and Anne on Good Friday who were taking their bikes (read about Mick's exploits here), and the journey was uneventful with just one comfort stop to buy Waitrose sandwiches: M40, M6 Toll and through Oswestry, where I saw signs for the orthopaedic hospital in which I spent many months of my childhood.

Cottlage 21

In Llangollen we parked outside Cottage 21, owned by Gales of Llangollen, which was pretty near perfect with two double bedrooms, a well equipped kitchen, conservatory, a garden backing on to the River Dee, a Co-op across the road and wifi that worked! We missed seeing the Llangollen Railway steam train on the first day, but it was apparently Prairie Tank 5199, never to be seen again. Then to the Wild Pheasant (Wrexham Lager the only decent beer) to collect our ribbons and the meet and greet. The mayor didn't turn up, so after a slice of bara brith it was back to town for a curry with Bob Harber, David and Terry at the BYO Samira Tandoori and I popped over the road to the Co-op for some beer (and got stung 5p for a carrier bag - good old Wales, I'd forgotten).

Railcar at Carrog

On Saturday 4 April, after the Clarion CC AGM (in which Mick proposed an amendment), I caught the 2pm railcar to Corwen (£13.50 senior), passing the steam train pulled by GWR 2-8-0 3802 at Glyndyfrdwy. I got off at Carrog on the way back to have a pint of John Willie's (JW Lees) at the Grouse Inn and await the steam train, which had pushed the carriages back to Carrog from Corwen, where it could run around to the front.


In the evening it was back to the Wild Pheasant for a ceilidh (the band comprising keyboard and accordion) and buffet supper.

Bombay bomb

On Sunday 5 April it was time to confront my fears and travel over the scary Pontcysyllte Aquaduct. After my second Bombay bomb (£1.80 from Bailey's) in two days, and a pint of Dutch Courage (North Star Porter) at the Corn Mill, I bought a ticket at the wharf (£13.50 again) and was told to wait for a bus down by the river at 2pm. The narrow boat Thomas Telford took us over the aqueduct, which wasn't scary at all as we were sitting down and enclosed, and then on a leisurely cruise back to Llangollen, via Trevor basin, bumping into the odd day boat on the way.

Pontcysyllte aquaduct

After a cappuccino and a quick look round the bookshop in the former Dorothy cinema, it was back to the cottage and thence to the Clarion dinner and prize giving. Our section won nothing, but Mick won a mug in the raffle.

Plas Newydd, Llangollen

On Easter Monday 6 April, it was a climb up Butler's Hill to Plas Newydd, home of the infamous Ladies of Llangollen. My 10% off leaflet was two years out of date but I was offered a free audio guide (£1.50 on top of the £5 admission) which I stupidly declined. However after chatting to the woman on the door I was persuaded to hire one and stumped up. It was well worth the money. I'm no fan of dark gothic wood carvings, but the interior is just bonkers. I had some leek and potato soup in the cafe, where the poor man was rushed off his feet, then wandered back to town for another pint at the Corn Mill, just in time to see the steam train arriving over the water. Popped in to the church yard on the way back to see the memorial to the Ladies and it was a self-catering meal and telly in the evening.

Plas Newydd, Llangollen

 More photos on Flickr.


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).

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.


Memory and memories

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.


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


Deller, Margate and Broadstairs: part 2


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]