Friday, July 10, 2015

Old Austins (Or Transport Through the Ages III)

Roderick Robinson has recently commented on my previous post that I am "nostalgic about Austin Cambridges". I don't remember ever  having admitted to that particular nostalgia, but he brought back the memory that, in 1967, I was extremely proud to own a rather magnificent  16 year old Austin A70 Hereford. (Built before the British Motor Corporation absorbed Austin  into their deathly company)

It was a lovely, well preserved car with only one vice. At anything over 60 the front wheels would wobble so violently that steering was very much compromised. (I learnt to anticipate it's commencement and back off the speed). With later acquired mechanical "nous" I would have realized that those huge and heavy front wheels simply needed balancing.

This picture was taken during a holiday in Cornwall (Bodmin Moor, Roughtor) with my young family of 3 children - eldest would have been 8. The capacious bench seats front and rear (no seatbelts then) with the steering column gear change ensured ample room for all (wife and dog included).

I would say "happy days", but I also remember during that holiday that it experienced a tyre blowout. A new tyre was needed and these were the days before credit cards. It took a great deal of my carefully saved holiday cash - so much so that we were on short commons for the remainder of the week.

Still the kids still enjoyed the free sand and sea - which was the purpose of the holiday. Tintagel, Cornwall was always a favourite for many years with it's cliff walks and superb scenery.

Thanks for the memories, R.R.!

Wednesday, June 03, 2015


Nice to be back on the bicycle once more after my "Christmas present" stroke. Albeit, the electric pedal assistance is coming in very handy at present. I bought it to use for head winds and hills but must admit to keeping it on all the time at present, even so I could toddle along at about 12 mph for roughly 70 miles (if my bottom and wrists could take it). As my muscles get stronger, so I hope to use the motor less.

It was a pleasant, sunny afternoon so I took a flask of coffee, with a soupcon of whiskey and trundled out for about 15 miles. This was taken from Bilsington churchyard, overlooking Romney Marsh

It's good for the blood pressure!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

T.E. Lawrence Anniversary of Death

It is now the 80th anniversary of the death of T.E.Lawrence (he hated the "of Arabia" suffix) and it caused me to dig into my old notes about my pilgrimage to respect the 50th anniversary in 1985. The 400 mile round trip to Dorset, in the pouring rain, on my motorcycle is not something I could manage (even by car) these days. I thought those notes, which would have been the subject of a blog had such things then existed, might be of interest. So.........

On 13th May 1935 he rode his Brough Superior motorcycle from his cottage, Clouds Hill, to Bovington post office, some 3 miles distant, to send a telegram to Henry Williamson - an invitation to lunch. The telegram was timed at 11.25am. Riding back to his cottage he breasted a rise and was confronted by two boys on bicycles. He swerved, but clipped the back of one bike and came off  receiving eventually fatal head injuries (no crash helmets in those days). He died the following Sunday, 19th May.

There was to be a 50th memorial service at the nearby Moreton Church on the date of his actual death, but he abhored crowds and was an agnostic. So I eschewed attendance at the service and instead rode down to lay a wreath at the actual crash site on the day/time of the accident, 50 years on. (11.30am 13th May 1985).
I recreated his last ride exactly, leaving Bovington old post office at 11.25 am to ride to Clouds Hill and lay the wreath on the dot. Uncanny!A shivering goose flesh came over me as I started away. As the time approached a small bird flew down on front of me. I took no more notice, but after laying the wreath I found it dead, wedged under the engine of my bike. It died, by motorcycle, to the minute. Did not Pythagoras say that the souls of the dead inhabit birds?

Upon the laurel wreath I left a dedication - some lines of Rupert Brooke's seemed very appropriate:

Friday, March 27, 2015


Well, as a follow-up to my rather bitter last posting I would like to share something from his interment service - which was, I thought, well done (but should have been in York Minster).

Benedict Cumberbatch, the actor, who is distantly related to Richard read a specially composed poem by the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. Here it is:

and the words:
My bones, scripted in light, upon cold soil,
a human braille. My skull, scarred by a crown,
emptied of history. Describe my soul
an incense, votive, vanishing, your own
the same. Grant me the carving of my name.

These relics, bless. Imagine you re-tie
a broken string and on it thread a cross,
the symbol severed from me when I died.
The end if time - an unknown, unfelt loss - 
unless the Resurrection of the Dead..........

or once I dreamed of this, your future breath
in prayer for me, lost long, forever found;
or sensed you from the backstage of my death,
as kings glimpse shadows on a battleground.

Profoundly well done, I thought.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Although (or because) I have a deep interest in Richard III the latest shindigs in Leicester were not at all to my liking. This circus makes me almost wish we had never found his body.

The obvious place for his final resting place would have been York Minster and the internment should have been a dignified and quiet one. Having been paraded around the streets of Leicester his coffin is now to be interred in Leicester "Cathedral" - once a parish church smaller than many town churches I know.

However, no doubt the town (hardly a city) worthies are already counting the income generated  (they are hoping for £150 million a year) 

An article in the "Telegraph" just about sums it up:

"To judge by the brouhaha, the reinterment of Richard III is the most exciting thing to have happened in Leicester since the king’s death at the nearby Battle of Bosworth over 500 years ago.

The Plantagenet monarch, whose remains were discovered under a Leicester city car park in 2013, will be reburied in Leicester cathedral on Thursday.

The reinterment is a big deal for Leicester, which – to put it politely – has never been much of a honeypot for tourists. Tickets for the service have sold out, but it will be shown live on Channel 4 and on two large screens in the city centre. Visitors can also get a glimpse of Richard’s coffin in the cathedral from Monday to Wednesday.

As if to shore itself up for the next 500 years, Leicester and its surrounding villages have gone all out to make the most of Richard’s last hurrah, with a week-long programme of city, castle and battlefield tours, talks, church services and an art show. A local escort agency, Midland Belles, has even cashed in by offering people the chance to visit the reinterment with one of its “educated and beautiful” team.

All of which has caused howls of disapproval from those who feel that the royal remains deserve more respect and should have been left in peace under the car park. Not to mention the Yorkists who want Richard to be buried in their city, or the lobby calling for a state funeral and burial in Westminster Abbey.
Despite this, there will be no halting the pomp and circumstance in Leicester next week.

Monday, March 02, 2015


My Australian son-in-law recently emailed me on the subject of pipe smoking. He is not a frequent smoker, liking a good cigar about once a month for relaxation. Perhaps he relates to Kipling's view of the subject, "A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke". He thought he would try a pipe and knowing that I once smoked them he asked advice about keeping the things alight. (The difference between a cold filling and a furnace which burnt the tongue).

I never smoked them to excess (and never smoked cigarettes), but enjoyed the relaxation and meditation of an occasional smoke. Gold Block tobacco was my preferred filling and the smoke's fragrance still brings back memories. (not often smelt these days though). About 35 years ago, one Christmas, I found I had run out of tobacco and never bought any more. Thus I gave up with no withdrawal symptoms, but preserved my pipes and paraphernalia as a memory (see image above - my favourite pipe being the one at the "south west" position). It was one reason for using the "Gandalf" self - image at my blog head.

I have no regrets. An old work colleague of mine smoked a pipe incessantly, it was seldom out of his mouth. He used to say that it was a marvellous ploy, when confronted with a difficult question, to gain thinking time by filling/ lighting/smoking the pipe, looking ruminative and sagacious. He died at 70, painfully, with cancer of the tongue after suffering operations to cut away most of his cancerous stomach - all caused by the lethal "dottle" which he imbibed over a lifetime.

Churchill smoked 8-10 large Cuban cigars a day throughout his life, but seldom smoked them more than half way (a good habit since the stubs through which the smoke has filtered contained concentrated carcinogens), giving the stubs to his gardener.  He lived to over 90 - his gardener died of lung cancer, but Churchill's constitution was not as other men's.

My advice is "never take it up".

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

WINSTON CHURCHILL. 50th Anniversary of his death.

I was born in 1938, my father went off to war in 1939. For the first two years of that war England stood alone against the Nazi hordes which had swept through, conquering all Europe. The one reason we stood? Churchill. Without his bulldog spirit, standing up against many of our lesser politicians who wanted an accommodation with Hitler, we might well have become like the Channel Islands, a Nazi province, shipping unwanted minorities off to Germany, the concentration camps  and the gas chambers. (whose liberation, we are also remembering at this time)

So he is a man I deeply respect. He had his foibles and made mistakes, but he was the man for the hour. He remarked at the time, “I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial...”.

 When he died he lay in state for 3 days at Westminster Hall, London. Thousands queued to pay their respects and thanks, my wife and I included. It was a unique moment of history which we shall always remember for our participation. I borrowed a car from a work friend (a mini - quite new at the time), we drove some 30 miles up to London, parked on the outskirts and got the underground into the centre. The queue wound back from Westminster Hall, where he lay in state, over the bridge for about 3 miles. The weather was bitter. But there was almost a "blitz spirit" amongst everyone. All wanted to be there, all venerated the greatest English prime minister. As we entered the Hall where his coffin stood it became deathly quiet, men took off their hats (a lot more wore them in those days) and many people were crying as they walked by.

It was as if the nation had lost a dearly beloved and respected grandfather.

A profound memory.

I owe this Youtube clip to my daughter in Australia. The commentary is by his former bodyguard H.Thompson. Who knows, my wife and I might be in that view of people filing past his coffin.