I will always reply to comments and always re-reply to re-replies.

Monday, December 17, 2007


A view over the fields to our 13th century village church (click to enlarge)

The Oxen

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave

In these years!(1) Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel

"In the lonely barton
(2) by yonder coomb(3)
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

(1) This poem was written in 1915
(2) A farmstead
(3) A valley

I have recently read Claire Tomalin's excellent biography of Hardy, which has prompted me to read all his wonderful poems again. This one cleverly parallels the Christmas story (The oxen, the stable, the shepherds sitting around the fire) without actually mentioning it. It also, for me at least, encapsulates Hardy's Wessex - the folk tale told around the fire by the old men of the village whilst watching their sheep. The last line goes to the heart of Hardy's agnosticism and emphasises his hope and essential spirituality.

This Friday, 21st December our family and friends gather here to enjoy our annual "Scrooge Night". Mulled wine, brandy, mince pies and cream - whilst watching that best of all Christmas films "Scrooge", with the inimitable Alistair Sim. ( There is a "Daddy, my Daddy" moment, when he asks the forgiveness of his nephew's wife in the last scenes!)

And so, "God bless us, everyone" as Tiny Tim exclaimed


Sunday, December 02, 2007


This post is for Vita really since she is convalescing!

The time has come for me to re-arrange the motor cycle fleet.
(click to enlarge)
The 1982 BMW (on right) has been with me for 22 years now and it would be like losing a leg to get rid of that - that will be around until I can no longer get my leg over (so to speak).

Of the two "trailies" I sold the XL125 Honda (centre) after buying the Honda XL185 (left) from an old friend who had had it since new.
Two things decided me to sell the one on the left too:

1. Recent legislation in this overcrowded island is killing off the use of "off road" vehicles over our ancient track ways . I count myself lucky to have had their enjoyment for over 40 years.
2. Approaching the age of 69 I ask myself if I should still be bucking, jumping and slip-sliding alone along these ways. (Know thyself).

So one aspect of my motorcycling life ends, but one has to compensate. Thus a new baby joins the BMW in the garage.

This is a 1978 Honda 400 four cylinder with only 18,000 miles under its wheels, for me to enjoy as a light, nippy and manoeuvrable machine for country lane bend swinging. I had one of these machines back in 1977 and have always hankered for another. They took Britain by storm, but were never popular in the States for some reason, so Honda killed them off after 4 years in 1979. (They are reputed to have lost money on every one they sold!). The way the four exhaust pipes swing down together still stands as some of the finest chrome-work ever seen on a motorcycle, many feeling that the design would not look out of place as furniture or pure art.
However inflation has meant that for the one I bought in 1977 for £700, I have now had to pay £2,000 for the "new" one. (I kid myself that the sale of the two trail bikes almost equals the cost of this one!)
Motorcyclists reading all this will understand that I am not particularly enamoured of today's modern "plastic rockets", posing as motorcycles!

Monday, November 12, 2007


It is the (often cynical) humour of the British "Tommy" that sees him through. I found this in a book I am currently reading ( "Gone for a Soldier, A History of Life in the British Ranks") and thought it might lighten the mood after my last post.

And nothing changes!

As it was (60 AD)

And is now (2007AD)

Saturday, November 10, 2007


November 11th.
Dulce Et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen
Owen was known as "The Soldiers' Poet" - he told it like it was, without the "Tunes of Glory" and knew the disgust, fright and filth of war.
(A commentary on this poem and on the poet can be read by clicking on his name above.)

Monday, October 08, 2007


(click any photo to enlarge)

And so the day came to take the newly refurbished Raleigh Record Ace for its first outing to a meeting of the Veteran-Cycle Club. A lovelyAutumn day, with a "Misty, Moisty, Morning" and spiders' webs glittering on the hedgerows.

I rode to the meeting place, a little country airfield about 12 miles distant along quiet Kentish lanes hedged with ripe blackberries. The field is a well-known meeting place and there was the added treat of seeing a get-to-gether of the Motor Assisted Cycle Club and the start of a run of the Vintage Sports Car Club (superb vehicles from the 1920/30s.
A variety of cycles of all ages arrived - most brought along in cars to the start:

This is an 1897 American Victor. The guy (Victor, would you believe) had bought it at an auction the day before (he refused to tell us how much he paid for it!) and this was its first run out. The wheel rims are made from maple wood and must not be subjected to extremes of temperature or they buckle.

Here is another - a mid 1930's BSA "Trichrome Special". A vast machine ridden by a bloke about 6 foot 5 inches (Veterans don't do metric!). He stuck up like a lighthouse as he rode amongst the group.
So eventually a group of some 28 riders on machines of various ages assembled

Having admired each other's mounts we set off through the narrow, traffic-free lanes of the Kentish Weald, a leisurely ride, moving up and down the column to chat to different people and now and again stopping to allow the slower, older bicycles to catch up.

For the "non-English" amongst my friends the curious buildings in the background are "Oast Houses", originally used for drying hops, used in beer making and now turned into desirable country houses.
Eventually, after a delightful meander of some 12 miles we arrived at the country pub where lunch had been booked. The super weather meant that meals could be taken outside in the garden and this was another chance to chat to others and admire the bikes

I gravitated towards one old chap (extreme left of the second lunch pic.) who had an earlier model of my machine. He said he did not ride as much as he used to, but always made the point of riding a little every day, whatever the weather - it "kept him in trim" - He was 87!!
After a magnificent Ploughman's Lunch and some good Kentish Ale we gradually assembled by common consent and set off by another route back to the airfield. Only one puncture on one of the trikes (3 wheeler racing cycles, the riders of which are known as "barrow boys") stayed our passage. We sat on the grass and chatted, offering sage advice whilst it was mended.
Arriving back we congregated at the little airfield's cafe, sitting in the sun with cakes and tea, listening to the drone of the prop planes taking off and watching the parachutists enjoying themselves (each to their own, I suppose, but you would not get me stepping into space from 5,000 feet).
Goodbyes said, I cycled the 12 miles home through the autumn-tinted lanes, the sun on my back. A leisurely day of some 48 miles overall in good company, in lovely scenery. A "green" day - no petrol used (by me, at least), no carbon footprint left behind. So simple, so completely satisfying.
Oh...and my Raleigh Record Ace? Admired and coveted by most. But in such groups there is always one "rivet counter". Ours took pains to tell me that the bolt holding the handlebar stem should have a slotted head, not Allen key type! (It made him happy).

Friday, September 14, 2007


(Click any image to enlarge)

Many years ago I came across this photograph of a prehistoric Egyptian flint knife. It fascinated me. Yes, the carved ivory handle was exquisite, but it was the finely knapped blade which really held my attention. It is like the ripples of the sand on a sea shore - each groove carefully knapped by "pressure flaking". This I have since learnt - I originally thought that you just struck the flint with another to get the shape. We tend to think of "Stone Age" man as primitive, but within the limits of what they had to work with they were more artistic than most modern humans.

Anyway, because of this picture, flint tools have always engaged me - I once spent 3 hours at a historical re-enactment event sitting in full Roman armour watching a craftsman turn a lump of flint into a beautiful arrowhead. An interesting website on the subject can be seen here (view with sound on to hear a prehistoric instrument played).
My daughter knows my love of stone artifacts and told her friend Helen about it - this very relevant as you will see if you visit Helen's blog. Helen and partner Glenn spend their working lives prospecting, mining and working Australian gemstones, minerals and fossils and exhibit at craft fairs in Oz and the USA each year.

This year Helen saw an exhibition of stone knives, thought of me and asked if I would like her to buy one for me.

The result is this beautiful knife, 24 cm long and crafted from Mookaite a silicified siltstone from Mooka Creek, about 100 miles inland from Carnarvon, Western Australia. It arrived back here in England via my son after his travels to Oz. Stone from Australia, made into a knife which was bought in America, taken back to Oz and then flown to England - much travelled!
So - after seeing that picture of the Egyptian knife all those years ago, I now have this wonderfully tactile artifact of my very own. The veins in the stone are lovely and the edge would easily draw blood. Thank you for thinking of me, Helen (and if you read this - what is the wood stem that the handle is made from, please?)

Sunday, August 26, 2007


(click on any image to enlarge)

Well it took a while and some cash outlay, but the finished article is well worth it. My 60 year old (owned by me for 50) Raleigh Record Ace has now been fully restored, as you see here. It originally looked like this and then this as I began the work.
I painted it myself, but the transfers for the frame had to be specially made (and cost me £50!).
The bag is a replica of a 1950's item.

The chain-set is a 1950's Williams which I picked up in the "jumble-box" at a cycle museum in Cornwall, whilst on holiday (a bargain - £5)

The rear wheel contains an original pattern Sturmey Archer 4 speed gear, reconditioned and then built into a wheel by a retired cycle shop owner (another £120 I'm afraid!)

I took it for its first ride across Romney Marsh today and it behaved like the perfect gentleman it is. It was interesting to get used to the hub gear after so many years of riding with a multi-gear derailleur, but all worked smoothly and I only walked one hill. (I even saw a pair of swans with their 8 cygnets).

It will get its first airing at a Veteran-Cycle Club meet at the end of September, when the "experts" will survey it with critical eyes to ensure that all is "in period" (no worries there).

Who's a happy bunny, then?


Friends of Nea - she is up and running again. (at least in blog form). New site is called "The Front Porch"

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Saw in a newpaper article recently that they had taken the old 1944 film of Shakespeare's "Henry V" and painstakingly restored and recoloured it to its original quality. It is now going the rounds of British Cinemas, either "art house" or special "classic evenings". The latter occasion arrived at our local cinema yesterday so we (wife and I) went along.
Vast queues outside and in the multiplex had us confused - surely Shakespeare was not THAT popular in our provincial town? This was resolved once inside - the "Bourne Conspiracy" was also showing!
As it was, our "screen" only contained about 30 people - we sat at the back and looked over the grey and bald heads (we felt at home). However a group of 6 girls, about 17, came in and sat in front of us. They were in rapt attention, gazing adoringly at Larry Olivier and laughing in all the right places at the Shakespearian "jokes". It was lovely to see and I imagine it must be their subject in this year's sixth form. So it will not die with our generation and that's encouraging!
Although I have heard and read it so often, I still sat with a catch in my throat, with tears streaming down my cheeks as Olivier proclaimed the "St. Crispin's Day" speech.
A great evening. The re-mastering has produced a vibrancy of colour that has been missing for 50-odd years. Worth seeing again if it comes your way. A pity that Olivier's dedication is now missing - it was so appropriate to the time of the film (1944) - but times move on, I suppose.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

For the Texans amongst you.

A man in Topeka, Kansas, decided to write a book about churches around the country. He started by flying to San Francisco, and started working east from there. Going to a very large church, he began taking photographs and making notes. He spotted a golden telephone on the vestibule wall, and was intrigued with a sign that read, "$10,000 per minute."

Seeking out the pastor, he asked about the phone and the sign. The pastor answered that the golden phone is, in fact, a direct line to Heaven, and if he pays the price, he can talk directly to God.

The man thanked the pastor and continued on his way. As he continued to visit churches in Seattle, Salt Lake City, Denver, Chicago, Milwaukee, and around the United States, he found more such phones, with the same sign, and the same explanation from each pastor.

Finally, the man arrived in the great state of Texas. Upon entering a church, behold: he saw the usual golden telephone. But THIS time, the sign read: "Calls: 25 cents"!? Fascinated, the man asked to speak with the pastor.

"Reverend, I have been in cities all across the country and in each church I have found this golden telephone, and have been told it is a direct line to Heaven, and that I could use it to talk to God.... But in 20 other churches, the cost was $10,000 per minute. Your sign says 25 cents per call.....Why is that?

The pastor, smiling benignly, replied: "Son, you're in Texas now! and it's a local call."

NEA (The Southern View)

Nea - if you see this - your blog site has been taken over by hordes of "spam"!

Thursday, August 02, 2007


A couple of weeks ago a chance mention in Lucy's blog about a flower called a "Nenuphar" opened up memories of only once before reading this word, in a poem that had a deep effect on me some 50 years ago. "Black Marigolds" - a free interpretation of the Chaurapanchasika, by E. Powys Mathers. It can be read in full here.

I first read the poem in a school library book when I was 17. I copied it out at that time and then, a couple of years later, whilst feeling bored in the army during office duties, I typed it all (and still have that ancient copy clunked out on an old Imperial typewriter on foolscap paper).

As a result of Lucy's blog I looked it up on the internet and found it was currently in print - so at last I have a copy of this most exquisite love lament in a "proper" book.

To end, I quote from Tony Harrison's introduction to the book:
"And the Black Marigolds of Edward Powys Mathers is a masterpiece that still affects me in the same way, even now, after almost 50 years. Perhaps even more with the "gala day" ever nearer. Even now!" (the italics will become evident on reading the work).

So thank you, Lucy, for re-awakening a long forgotten memory with such a satisfactory result.

Monday, July 30, 2007


With second son and family away in Oz with his sister we are left holding one of the babies. These photos are of Toby, the Bassett Hound who has come to live with us for the duration. He seems completely unconcerned about his change of abode, (sorry, folks - he just ain't missing you one bit) jumping on my German Shepherd, Sabre in play (and being rebuffed when "top dog" has had enough). I have never seen a dog get down a plate of food so fast! He has already decided which chair is "his" (and we have covered it with a blanket - looking at his dew-laps you can see why!)

Friday, July 20, 2007


Well, that was a nice break. Thank you for all your good wishes. We did everything mentioned in the last post and managed to dodge the rainy days (or visit interesting houses, or read and drink booze in the caravan!).

No, HHnB, we did not walk along to Trebarwith, but did the Rocky Valley walk and nearly lost the dog. He decided to go into the stream at the bridge (see link), but was then swept down into the narrow, steep cleft by the torrent (had a lot of rain). He ended up in a whirlpool area and could not get back because of the current and rock cliffs either side too steep for him to get out. He is getting on and his back hips are going (bit like the bloke he lives with) so he did not have a lot of purchase. Anyway, I was about to strip off and go in after him when he finally managed it. Tired, frightened, chastened and very bedraggled!

After that we decided we deserved a large cream tea!

Sunday, July 01, 2007


Well - the last holiday was a bit of a disaster - so let's hope our up and coming one next week proves better!

Off with the caravan again. This time down to Wales where we will meet up with my Roman Group for a couple of days at the town of Caerleon. This is probably my favourite venue (after Hadrian's Wall of course). We shall be displaying in the original Roman Amphitheatre and it is quite a buzz, marching into that space, with perhaps 3,000 people sitting around the walls watching us, just as they did nearly 2,000 years ago. There is a feeling of history, time gone and a time warp which can send shivers down the spine.

It is also The Ermine Street Guard's 35th Anniversary so the Museum authorities are hosting a celebratory bash for us on the Saturday evening. All good stuff.

While all this is going on my wife intends to pop off and visit her Welsh relatives nearby. Time will not stand still for her, I guess, knowing how Welsh women can talk when they get together!

Job over, we move on to Cornwall/Devon for the rest of the holiday (lovely counties). Where we will stop at a small, farm site central for all our favourite places. (Tintagel, Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor and Exmoor) (Remember them, HHnB?) Eating cream teas (Devon teas to you Aussies, but with real, thick yellow clotted cream) in Boscastle and "Tiddy Oggies" overlooking the sea at Tintagel is definitely on the list.

This should have been our third 'van holiday away this year, but owing to previous circumstances one was cancelled and one aborted quarter-way. This time it had better be good!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


(click on any image to enlarge)

Well, I am (very) pleased to find that the medication works and I am feeling myself again (as they say - apparently it is quite legal as long as you don't frighten the horses). Sunday morning's weather was delightful and a gentle 12 mile cycle ride around the locality beckoned.

The Raleigh Record Ace is still undergoing restoration, but is coming along nicely, thank you. So it was the modern Dawes Horizon that was led from the stables. Rather in the mode of a Japanese car, this is efficient, easy to ride, well equipped and.... completely characterless! I bought it on early retirement and it is the first complete new bike I have ever had, previously buying a frame of choice and kitting it out to preference. (You will note the convenient holder for the coffee flask - an essential addition) .
So it was off down the path leading from the estate, at present framed by clouds of blackberry blossom and English wild roses

It is a pleasant start to a ride, going across the fields with views to the local church

Then off through the lanes until we reached the escarpment above Romney Marsh, which laybeneath me, blue and inviting in the sunshine

Through the little village of Bilsington, known for its obelisk, dedicated to a local 18th century landowner who died in a coaching accident

Then a glorious swoop down the hill leading to the levels of The Marsh
However "et in Arcadia ego" Badgers hit by cars seemingly increase. They are surprisingly big animals (larger than a fox) and can grow to a metre in length.

Although tempted, I did not want to overdo things just yet. So a gentle ride through the lanes brought me towards the little Marsh church of St. Rumwold - who must be one of the strangest and unbelievable saints in that pantheon of odd characters (see link).

It is a very pleasant spot for a coffee break, with a memorial seat set against its south facing wall. One can relax in the sun, overlooking the Marsh and the Royal Military Canal (the history of which is interesting reading on the link)

And so home up the escarpment, (no, I did not get off and walk!) resisting the temptations on the notice board outside "The Good Intent" on the way!.

Sunday, June 03, 2007


(click image to enlarge and read text )

This is a note to register the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sir Edward Elgar one of England's greatest composers. He was also a keen cyclist, riding the renowned "Sunbeam" bicycles, although his preferred clothing must have been most uncomfortable on a hot day! He called all his cycles "Mr Phoebus".

T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia - aka, T.E. Shaw)) was a connoisseur of Elgar's music, as a letter from him to the composer amply illustrates. Many must be aware of his "Enigma Variations", but his "Cello Concerto" should be more widely known. It is a lament for the lost world of pre 1914, destroyed by the First World War.

(I am indebted to Bob Cordon-Champ's book "Sunbeam Bicycles and Motorcycles" for the image.)

Thursday, May 31, 2007


(click image to enlarge)
Since I at present need to be within easy reach of a loo (see previous post) I thought it a good time to refurbish my beloved 60 year old RALEIGH RECORD ACE.

It left the factory in 1947, I gave it a full recondition 30 years later in 1977, so now, yet another 30 years on is a good time for another go.

The picture shows the frame stripped down, paint rubbed down, odd rust spots rust proofed and primed with aluminium primer.

Over this weekend I intend to repaint it (black - of course, with gold lining). I have managed to obtain a set of authentic frame transfers. I also have on hand for it a replica 1950's saddle bag.

Although modern bikes (of which I have two) seem to all come with derailleur gears this one would have been originally equipped with the famed Sturmey Archer 4 speed hub gear. This is an opportunity to make it more authentic and I have found a vintage bike specialist who is making me up a wheel with such a hub gear.

I shall post a pic on completion of the project.

(Well - it's one way of getting a positive result from an enforced illness!)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Einstein said "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans".

That would certainly apply to the holiday! I had a few symptoms before we left, but once away these became more virulent. Did manage to do some motoring around North Yorkshire for a few days, but then had to come home, missing out on the Roman job (the weather for which was apparently abominable, so thankful for small mercies).

After gruesome examinations I have been told I have contracted "Proctitis" - (No - I had never heard of it either, but if you want the gory details they are here.) It was probably a reaction to an injection I had a while ago to combat prostate cancer.

Anyway, the medication seems to be working and I am on the mend, but am told it will take about two months to fully resolve.

Motorcycling and cycling are out at present, but you certainly get to catch up on reading!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Away for a couple of weeks for a holiday, so this site will have a rest.

Taking the caravan up to the North York Moors (Valonia's home country) on Thursday for a week or so then on to Northumberland and Hadrian's Wall area for a few days.

Here we will meet up with my Roman group at the Roman fort site of Birdoswald (Camboglanna - "crooked glen" to the Romans) where we are contracted to do two days of public displays.

Hope the weather improves by then or rusty armour is a definite hazard!

Have fun, people. Catch up with you-all later.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Valonia's back folks - still on the "narrer boat" but blog title is now "The Green Man".
Go to:

Was getting worried that she had submerged!

Friday, April 27, 2007


(click on image to enlarge)

Have just finished making two Roman Cavalry Shields (copied from a design on Trajan's Column). These are about 1.2 metres high to give you an idea of scale. This is a special commission that The Ermine Street Guard was asked to do for English Heritage's Special Events Unit.

I started them at Easter and played around with them in my spare time. The shields are cut from heavy plywood and the designs painted on in matt colours (to replicate ancient paints). The edges are finished with leather. This is cut into strips and glued around. The edge is then drilled all round and the leather is stitched via these holes. The centre bosses have been spun from sheet brass (Romans used bronze). I made the four studs which hold each boss from English 2 pence pieces (which were made of copper until 1992 - so I tend to save the old ones!) I dish the coin, solder a spindle on the back so I can hold it in a lathe and then polish off one side as seen.

This is the best they will ever look as they will be used for battle re-enactments with Roman mounted cavalry and will soon be knocked around.

You can see our Roman cavalrymen, with such shields here (just click on the images you see to enlarge them.)

Sunday, April 22, 2007


The Journal of the Veteran-Cycle Club is called "The Boneshaker". Its front cover for the Spring number sports a photograph suitable for such an austere publication:

However, this delightful picture appears inside the front cover - just to show we also ride (fairly) recent bikes as well:

(Perhaps this one should really be on Lee's "Curate after Dark"!)
I am pleased to see that she is a fellow Raleigh fan!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Philip Larkin
was often perceived as being a bit of a miserable old curmudgeon. But this poem gives the lie to that, I think. It breathes Spring, regeneration and hope. I particularly like that last line (read it aloud, lingering on that last "sh" in each "afresh" ). It came to mind the other day when my grand-daughter and I were cycling through some local woods. Looking it up for this blog (I just had to write it out, rather than just giving a link address) has made me sit down to enjoy his complete works once again. They have been gathering dust on the bookshelf for some time.