Category Archives: World Heritage

Age of Innocence – 1961, The Berlin Wall and Emma Peel

Through 1961 the Cold War continued to worsen with the USSR exploding some very large and nasty bombs during testing and then commencing the building of the Berlin Wall to separate East from West Berlin.

The Wall was over a hundred and fifty five kilometers long and in June 1962 work started on a second parallel fence up to ninety meters further into East German territory, with houses in between the fences torn down and people displaced and forcibly relocated.  A no man’s land was created between the two barriers, which became widely known as the ‘death strip’.

It was paved with raked gravel, making it easy to spot footprints, offered no cover and was booby-trapped with tripwires and, most importantly, it offered a clear field of fire to the watching guards.  Between 1961 and 1989 over five thousand people escaped from East Germany over or under the wall and according to official sources one hundred and twenty five were killed trying to do so although the actual figure may be much higher but we will never know.

A number of walls were built over the years, each becoming more escape proof and sophisticated than the last.  The fourth and final wall was completed in 1980 and was constructed from forty-five thousand separate sections of reinforced concrete, each three and a half meters high and over a metre wide. The top of the wall was lined with a smooth pipe, intended to make it more difficult to scale.  It was reinforced by mesh fencing, signal fencing, anti-vehicle trenches, barbed wire, over one hundred and sixteen watchtowers, and twenty bunkers.  These are the lengths some people will go to simply to subjugate others.

By the late 1980s however the Iron Curtain across Europe was being thrown open and border restrictions between east and west were rapidly disappearing.  Thousands of East Germans were escaping to the west through Hungary and Czechoslovakia anyway and the wall became obsolete.  Finally in 1989 East Germany gave permission for people to leave into West Berlin and the wall was quickly demolished by ecstatic Berliners and normality restored to a great European city.

In 1961 it never crossed my mind that I would ever visit Berlin and see the Wall but in 2019 I visited with my brother Richard…

IMG_0216

… You can read that story HERE.

Also in 1961, to make matters worse, the new American President, Kennedy, financed an anti-Castro Cuban invasion at the Bay of Pigs which was an unmitigated fiasco ending in a humiliating climb-down and withdrawal by the Americans to avert the threat of another major world conflict.

1961 was not a good year for the Americans at all because also this year the Soviet Union beat the United States in the race to get the first man into space when in April Yuri Gagarin was fired beyond the atmosphere and orbited the Earth for a hundred and eight minutes travelling at more than twenty seven thousand kilometres an hour before landing safely back on earth.

It was a blow to the Americans who had hoped to be the first to launch a man into space and they could only follow a month later in May when astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American to do so.  Later in the same year the disgruntled United States announced the beginning of the Apollo Space Programme with the objective of a manned lunar landing.  Some say that this was achieved in 1969 when two men landed on the moon but there is speculation by many that this was an elaborate con filmed entirely in an empty aircraft hanger in Nevada simply to achieve the Kennedy boast that man would land on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

My favourite story about the space race is that because a standard ballpoint pen would not work in zero gravity, NASA spent millions of dollars developing the zero-g Space Pen, while the pragmatic Russians came up with the alternative of using a simple pencil.  It’s a good story but sadly there is no truth in it at all.  The pen was actually developed by a man called Paul Fisher and he did not receive any government funding at all for its development.  Fisher invested millions of his own money and invented it independently, and then asked NASA to try it.  They liked it and bought four hundred at $2.95 each!  After the introduction of the Space Pen, both the American and Soviet space agencies adopted it.   An amusing footnote to the story is that apparently it turns out that a standard biro will work in space after all.

There were two changes to British currency in 1961 when the old black and white £5 note was discontinued because it was too easy to forge and the farthing ceased to become legal tender.  The farthing was one quarter of the old pre-decimal penny and due to inflation had simply outlived its usefulness and minting ceased as early as 1956 even though the farthing’s buying power then would be almost two pence in today’s values.  It is also interesting that but for an infinitesimal difference, the current penny coin, which was introduced when decimalisation of British coinage took effect in 1971, is the same size as the last minted farthings.  The farthing ceased to be legal tender after 31st December 1960 and the fact that the farthing had recently ceased to be legal tender is referred to in the first episode of Z Cars, which was broadcast in January 1962.

The most important television event of the year in the UK just has to be the very first episode of Coronation Street.  The show had been tried out on regional television in 1960 to see what the reaction would be and in 1961 the show went nationwide for the first time.  It went out twice a week, with Friday’s episode being shown live and the following Monday’s edition shot straight afterwards.  Despite some scepticism by the Television bigwigs the nation took Ena Sharples, Ken Barlow and Elsie Tanner to their hearts, and tuned in their thousands.  By the end of the year it was the highest rated show in the country and is now the longest running soap opera in the world.

In the US Dr. Kildare was a medical drama television series starring Richard Chamberlain which ran from 1961 to 1966, with a total of one hundred and ninety episodes.   This sounds like a lot but is easily eclipsed by the British hospital drama Casualty which has been running since 1986 and has had over eight hundred episodes.

These might have been important TV shows but the most significant event for me was that 1961 saw the beginning of The Avengers when Patrick McNee strode onto the small screen as John Steed complete with bowler hat and umbrella and every inch the English pre-Bond secret agent gentleman.  In the early days Cathy Gale who was played by Honor Blackman in a sexy black leather cat suit assisted him but she left the show and went on to be Pussy Galore in Goldfinger and that introduced the delectable Emma Peel played by Diana Rigg.

Emma Peel was my first fantasy pin-up and I used to scour the television magazines and newspapers for pictures of her that I cut out assembled into a scrap book of cuttings that I carried with me at all times.  Once (about 1966, I guess) some school pals happened to mention this to the English teacher, Mr Howe, who demanded sight of the book and immediately confiscated it for a couple of days.  I thought that this was some sort of punishment but I have subsequently reached the conclusion that he must surely have shared my fantasy and probably spent a couple of enjoyable evenings with the book.

In sport there was bad news for dad, when Leicester City reached the FA cup final for the second time and were beaten 2-0 by Tottenham Hotspurs who did the league and cup double that year.  Leicester reached the cup final again in 1963 and lost to Manchester United and again in 1969 and lost to Manchester City.  They had been there before in 1949 and lost to Wolverhampton Wanderers and this means that they have the unenviable record of being the only team to reach four FA cup finals and lose them all.

Age of Innocence, 1956 – The Lancaster Bomber and Airfix Model Planes

spitfire airfix model

Following Britain’s world humiliation over the Suez crisis it was significant that also in 1956 the Royal Air Force decommissioned the Second-World-War bomber, the iconic Avro Lancaster.

Along with the spitfire this was the most successful British wartime plane and I have my own fond memories of them both because I can remember struggling to assemble an Airfix plastic model of the famous old aircraft.

Although the Spitfire is probably the most famous and the most recognisable of all the British planes used by the Royal Air Force during the Second World War the Hurricane was in fact the principal fighter in the Battle of Britain and not the Spitfire as most people might think.

In 1940 there were thirty-two squadrons of Hurricanes and only nineteen squadrons of Spitfires.  They looked similar but there were differences between them and they complimented each other and worked closely together to shoot down enemy aircraft and rule the skies.   The swifter Spitfires were best for engaging the Luftwaffe’s fighter planes, like the Messerschmitt, whilst the Hurricanes took on the fleets of bombers like the Junkers and Heinkels.

I can tell the difference between them quite easily because when I was a boy I used to like making model aircraft from Airfix self-assembly kits.  The Spitfire was much better looking with sleek elliptical wings, a slim body and a long raking nose.  The Hurricane was chunkier with a higher cockpit and stumpy little wings.  My first Airfix kit was the Hawker Hurricane and I have to say that for no other reason than this after that it was always my favourite of the two.

I used to buy my Airfix kits from a shop in Rugby called Moore’s Handicrafts which was a DIY and hardware shop but I wasn’t especially interested in the tools and the key cutting service because I liked the train sets and the Scalextric and the Airfix Models but also the little packs of balsa wood that I would buy for 6d or 1/s with real genuine constructional optimism and then take it home and inevitably make a modelling disaster!

Moores Handicrafts Shop

In the beginning Airfix was sold in F.W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd. for two shillings (that’s 10p today) and the first in the range, in 1952, was a very small scale model of Francis Drake’s ship the Golden Hind.  It was so successful that Woolworths than began to ask for additions to the range and soon Airfix began to produce more polybagged model kits.   The famous duck-egg blue Spitfire model appeared in April 1953.

An Airfix kit was notoriously difficult to assemble and the only absolute certainty was that once it was finished it definitely wouldn’t look anything like the picture on the box.

Getting the fuselage and the wings snapped together was usually a fairly straightforward procedure but things quickly became increasingly complicated after that, with fiddly little bits and pieces that required huge dexterity, great precision and unnatural amounts of patience to position into exactly the right place.

I was often a bit over eager at this stage and would prematurely glue the obvious parts together without reading the instructions properly and then realise that some of the fiddly bits needed to be planned for and carried out before the larger parts were put together.  Two good examples of this were the propeller on the Spitfire and the tail gunner’s position on the back of the Lancaster bomber which would only turn or swivel as intended if placed in position before permanently attaching the fuselage section together.

What made things especially difficult was the Humbrol plastic cement glue with its curious smell and a nasty habit of exuding the tube nozzle in far greater quantities of stringy ooze than you could ever possibly need for such a delicate operation would end up in sticky white flakes on the end of your fingers or big dollops on the dining room table that would strip the varnish off and end up in a good telling off.

I always found the gluing together part of the operation especially tricky when finally putting the cock-pit window into position at the end and my model was always left with smears on the plexi-glass that if this was a real plane would have made it virtually impossible for the pilot to see where he was flying or to shoot down any enemy aircraft.  And thinking about the pilot, one of the most irritating things was to discover that I had got the cockpit in place and the whole thing finished before I had placed the pilot into his seat and there he was rattling around in the bottom of the box along with all of the bits of discarded plastic and the double sided page of incomprehensible assembly instructions.

After the gluing together stage came the painting and this was an equally messy affair with paint dribbling down the fuselage, bits of wool and hair getting stuck on the model and fingerprints in various places where I had tried in vain to rectify the damage.  Most of this was a consequence of the fact that I was naturally impatient.  Paint came in little tins and it was sensible to let one colour dry before applying the second but I rarely had enough time for that which mostly led to disastrous results.

Finally there was the delicate process of applying the decals which had to be separated from the backing paper by soaking in water and then requiring a most delicate touch to slide them carefully into position on the fuselage and the wings.  Sometimes if I was lucky they could be used to cover up the dodgy paintwork but mostly they would end up on first contact in the wrong place and crease and tear as I tried to correct the error.

I finished the Hurricane and the Lancaster to some sort of messy sub-standard but I can recall making such a catastrophe of a bright red Westland Lysander that as soon as it was completed I was so ashamed of it that I immediately consigned it to the waste bin.

Airfix was also popular in the United States, France and Germany, but here the swastika transfers on Heinkels and Messerschmitts were banned.

Airfix model aircraft were an important part of my childhood in the days before computer games and a really significant thing about Airfix was that it taught important life skills like reading assembly instructions that were as deeply impenetrable as the Amazon rainforest and which were useful later in life for dealing with flat-pack furniture assembly.

Scrap Book Project – The Eurovision Song Contest

In the 1950s, as Europe recovered after the Second-World-War, the European Broadcasting Union based in Switzerland set up a committee to examine ways of bringing together the countries of the EBU around a ‘light entertainment programme’.

At a committee meeting held in Monaco in January 1955, director general of Swiss television and committee chairman Marcel Bezençon conceived the idea of an international song contest where countries would participate in one television programme to be transmitted simultaneously to all countries of the union. The competition was based upon the existing Sanremo Music Festival held in Italy, and was also seen as a technological experiment in live television as in those days it was a very ambitious project to join many countries together in a wide-area international network.

The concept, then known as “Eurovision Grand Prix”, was approved by the EBU General Assembly in at a meeting held in Rome on 19th October 1955 and it was decided that the first contest would take place in spring 1956 in Lugano, Switzerland.

It was held on 24th May 1956. Seven countries participated, each submitting two songs, for a total of fourteen. This was the only Contest in which more than one song per country was performed as since 1957 all Contests have allowed one entry per country. The 1956 Contest was won by the host nation with a song called ‘Refrain’ sung by Lys Assia.

The United Kingdom first participated at the Eurovision Song Contest in the following year. The BBC had wanted to take part in the first contest but had submitted their entry to the after the deadline had passed. The UK has entered every year since apart from 1958, and has won the Contest a total of five times. Its first victory came in 1967 with “Puppet on a String” by Sandie Shaw.

There have been fifty-five contests, with one winner each year except the tied 1969 contest, which had four.  Twenty-five different countries have won the contest.    The country with the highest number of wins is Ireland, with seven.  Portugal is the country with the longest history in the Contest without a win – it made its forty-fourth appearance at the 2010 Contest.  The only person to have won more than once as performer is Ireland’s Johnny Logan, who performed “What’s Another Year” in 1980 and “Hold Me Now” in 1987.

Norway is the country which holds the unfortunate distinction of having scored the most ‘nul points’ in Eurovision Song Contest history – four times in all, and that is what I call humiliating. They have also been placed last ten times, which is also a record!

For many years the annual Eurovision Song Contest was a big event in out house usually with a party where everyone would pick their favourite and would dress appropriately to support their chosen nation.  In later years no one ever picked the United Kingdom because the only thing that is certain about the competition is that being the unpopular man of Europe we are unlikely to ever win again and every year there is a ritual humiliation with a preditable low scoring result.

Austria

Scrap Book Project – Spalding Flower Parade

In the late 1970s my first job in Local Government was in the Finance Department at Rugby Borough Council and I worked in a small office of six people one of whom was a man called Ron Lindley (in the picture on the left).  Ron was in his late fifties and had previously served in the army and had worked for a long time at British Leyland in Coventry and, I’m afraid this has to be said –  he was a bit boring!  He had a lifetime full of stories about serving in India and production line techniques and if Ron caught you for a chat you’d really want to make sure you were the one nearest the door.

Anyway, one Monday morning in about 1978 Ron came to work after a week off and I made the mistake of asking him what he had been doing.  He told me he had been to Spalding to the Flower Parade and would I like to see some pictures.  I didn’t even know where Spalding was but it was rude to say no so I said that I would love to.  To my horror Ron produced five ‘Photo express’ packs of thirty-six photographs each and proceeded to go through each one with an explanation and a commentary.

This took some time I can tell you, and by the end I was close to using the office stapler on my leg to keep me conscious but eventually it came to an end and I mention all of this because when it was all over I clearly remember saying to myself, “Andrew, whatever you do in life, make sure you never go the Spalding Flower Parade!”

The history of the Spalding Flower Parade stretches back to the 1920s when the sheer number and variety of tulip bulbs grown throughout the area surrounding the market town became an annual feast of colour.  The crowds that came in created many problems for the town and coaches and cars caused chaos on the narrow lanes around the fields and this continued to happen until in 1948, the Growers’ Association became involved in organising a Tulip Week.  With the help of the Royal Automobile Club, a twenty-five mile tour through villages and country lanes was planned to show the best fields.

So successful was the attraction that by 1950, Tulip Week had become Tulip Time.  A Tulip Queen competition was organised and the crowning of the Queen was performed just before the start of Tulip Time.  The Queen and her two attendants had to be employed in the flower bulb industry and were selected at competitions held at village dances.

An influx of visitors created an opportunity and an idea to put on an attraction to publicise the bulb industry.  A few experiments with decorated cars showed that the tulip heads could be made into garlands and pinned onto backing materials in colourful designs and would still hold their colour for a few days at that time of year.

To ensure that there would always be tulips on display, even if they might not be in the fields, from the many millions of tulip flower heads removed it was decided that keep some available for decorative purposes, firstly for static displays and some selected carts and vehicles, and these eventually started to drive around the town until, in 1959, the first Spalding Tulip Parade took place.

Building of the floats began with an intricate outline of steel tracery welded on a base carefully measured to fit a tractor underneath it. The initial form and steel skeleton of each float was skillfully constructed into the outline shape of the subject and then the steelwork was covered with a special straw matting to form a base to which the tulip heads could be attached.

Teams of up to two hundred people then worked throughout the two days before the Parade using up to one million tulip heads and pinning each one onto the floats in the colours and patterns required until all the floats were covered with tulips.  A single float, which can be as much as fifteen metres in length was decorated by as many as a hundred thousand tulip heads.

The first Parade was described as ‘a floral pageantry a mile long’.  There were just eight floats but it became an event not to be missed – twenty special trains came from all over England to the sidings at Spalding station.  Temporary caravan villages sprang up and two hundred thousand (sad) people would watch the spectacle. The success of the Tulip Parade, the only display of floral floats in the world using just tulips, brought Spalding and its horticultural industry to the notice of the country. Within only three years, the Parade had become so famous that a quarter of a million people were coming to Spalding on Parade Day to line the four mile route around the town.

Fast Forward…

In August 2000 I had a change of job and went to work for South Holland District Council and over the next few months I became aware of preparations for the 2001 Flower Parade and it seemed that as part of the duties of the job I had a part in all of this.  Even then I had forgotten about Ron’s boring story and just made my contribution.

On Saturday May 6th I got up for a day at work and travelled to Spalding and spent the morning making sure everything was in place for the event and still my memory wasn’t nudged in any way until the Parade came into view and started to pass by.  It seemed to take forever and suddenly it came to me, my words from 1977, “Andrew, whatever you do in life, make sure you never go the Spalding Flower Parade!”

This goes to prove that we really need to be careful what we say because our words can come back to haunt us.  I have now been to ten Spalding Flower Parade’s, each one has long and tedious as the first, each one just as mind numbingly boring as Ron’s never ending packs of photographs.

I left Rugby in 1980 and never saw Ron again, he died a few years later but I will never forget his Flower parade photographs.

Scrap Book Project – A Story for Easter

This is the story of Mary Jones from my Bible Studies exercise book when I was about six years old.

Mary Jones was from a poor family who lived at the foot of the Cader Idris mountains in the village of Llanfihangel-y-pennant near Dolgellau in wales.  She was born  into a family of devout Methodists and she herself professed the Christian faith at eight years of age.

Having learned to read in the circulating schools organised by a man called Thomas Charles it became her ambition to possess a Bible but there was no copy on sale nearer than Bala – twenty-five miles away. Having saved for six years until she had enough money to pay for a copy the story goes that she started out one morning in 1800 and walked barefoot all the way to obtain a copy from the Reverend Charles who was the only man with Bibles for sale in the entire area.

According to one version of the story Thomas Charles told her that all of the copies which he had received were sold or already spoken for and Mary was so distraught that Charles spared her one of the copies already promised to another.  In another version, she had to wait two days for a supply of Bibles to arrive, and was able to purchase a copy for herself and two other copies for members of her family.

According to tradition, it was the impression that this visit by Mary Jones left upon him that impelled Charles to propose to the Council of the Religious Tract Society the formation of a Society to supply Wales with Bibles.

Her Bible is now kept at the British and Foreign Bible Society’s Archives in Cambridge University Library. It is a copy of the 1799 edition of the Welsh Bible, ten thousand copies of which were printed at Oxford for the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge.

How much of the story is true will probably never be known.  However, Thomas Charles undoubtedly used the story to persuade the Religious Tract Society to establish a new organisation, the British and Foreign Bible Society.  This came into existence in 1804 and over the next two hundred years years distributed thousands of Bibles to people across the world.

The society – often known simply as The Bible Society – still distributes Bibles to places like India and Africa and is an ecumenical and non-sectarian organisation and the story of Mary Jones and her determination to own a Bible was central to its creation, its continuing ethos and to its work.

mary Jones Bible

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Related Articles:

Hillmorton Chapel and St John The Baptist Church, Hillmorton

Childhood and Religion

Picture Stories From The Bible

The Miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000

Scrap Book Project – Hillmorton County Junior and Infants School

The Hillmorton County Junior School was an old Victorian building with high ceilings that soared into the sky and partitioned classrooms with rows of old fashioned wooden desks with years of scratched graffiti  and attached lift up seats on squeaking hinges.

The picture above is from about fifty years before I went there but it looked very similar in 1960.

The classrooms smelt of furniture polish, dark blue ink and chalk dust and in the long corridors there was an ever present odour of carbolic soap seeping out from under the wash room doors.  There were two entrances, one said boys and the other girls but these were from a previous time when the sexes were carefully kept apart.  This was no longer the case by 1960 and with segregation a thing of the past we were free to choose whichever was the most convenient.

These pictures are of my grandchildren visiting a similar school at Beamish Village Museum…

School Days Beamish Museum

I rather liked going to school!  The day started as early as possible with a bit of a play on the way there and then there was fifteen minutes of activity in the playground behind the building, two playgrounds one for the infants and one for the juniors.  At the back of the playground were the outside toilets with no roof and completely exposed to the elements.  I think it is possible that the girls had inside facilities, I can’t remember, but for the boys it was the most primitive of arrangements.

School washroom facilities

After the whistle blew we lined up and took it in turns to march inside to hang our coats and bags in the cloakroom.  In winter there were several rows of identical duffel coats with gloves on strings dangling through the empty sleeves and underneath in neat rows, wellington boots with puddles of water seeping from the compacted ice in the soles that was melting and spreading over the red, cracked quarry tiled floor.

The Headmaster was Mr (George Edward) Hicks and he generally led an assembly with a hymn and a prayer and a short address.  He was a decent sort of chap but he never seemed to take to me and in days when favouritism was acceptable I found him to be quite unsupportive.  I just enjoyed being at school, especially the play times, and wasn’t terribly bothered about the learning bits in between so I think he wrote me off at an early stage as being a bit of a no-hoper and advised my parents to buy me a pair of clogs and prepare me for a long dull working life in a factory, as he was certain that I was destined to be one of life’s academic failures.

I met him years later when he came knocking on the door collecting for the RNLI and I think he was genuinely shocked when I told him that I had been to University and had a nice office job with good prospects at the Council.

Map of Europe School 1960s

For slow learners there was no such thing as special educational needs, classroom assistants or additional support mechanisms of course and the class was set out in a strict hierarchy with the fast learning favourites at the front getting all of the attention and the dimwits at the back making table mats out of raffia.  I suppose I would have found myself about two thirds back from the blackboard.  I was a late developer!

I can remember two other teachers, first there was Mrs Bull who taught year three and had a ferocious look that made our knees knock with fear and then Miss Roberts who taught year four and was a bit of a pin-up who made our legs turn to blancmange when she looked our way.  Oh and Mr Etherington, who always had a cold sore and a drip on the end of his nose, I think he took the top class in juniors but I can’t be sure.

Beamish Museum School

After morning lessons there was break time with more play and a bottle of milk for every pupil courtesy of the County Council.  The 1946 School Milk Act had required the issue of a third of a pint of milk to all school children under eighteen and this was a nice thought if not always a pleasant experience.  In the summer it stood outside in the sun and it was warm and thick because this was full cream milk, not the semi-skimmed coloured water that we have today, and in the winter it had a tendency to freeze and pop through the foil cap in an arctic lump that had to be sucked away before you reached the semi-liquid slime underneath.

School Milk

No one knew about lactose intolerance in those days and it was compulsory for everyone and there were always teachers on hand to make sure that everyone finished their drink of milk whether it made them ill or not.

More late morning lessons then lunch break with a quick dash home for lunch and return as quickly as possible for more recreation in the playground.  Afternoon lessons and then it was soon all over and we were released onto the streets to make our way home.

Outside the school at the end of the day there were no rows of cars clogging up the streets because everyone walked to school in those days.  And we weren’t kept inside, in a state of paranoia until we were collected either.  There was no need to worry, you see, children knew instinctively to keep away from the strange people in the village and there were not nearly so many cars on the road at that time to knock us over.

The friendly little Hillmorton County Junior and Infant School was demolished sometime in the 1970’s and a featureless replacement was built at the top of Watt’s Lane.  They built some houses on the site and my sister Lindsay lived in one for a while which surprised us all on account of her previous history of serious allergic reaction to anything to do with being anywhere near a school building.

Scrap Book Project – The State Funeral of Sir Winston Churchill

the 25th January is the anniversary of the 1965 State Funeral of Sir Winston Churchill

I have mentioned before that, in his memory box, dad kept the front pages of three newspapers: 7th February 1958, the Munich air disaster, 23rd November 1963, the Kennedy assassination and finally the Daily Mail of 25th January 1965 which reported the death of Sir Winston Churchill.

I think that few would argue that Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was probably the greatest Briton of all time.  I know that I can say this with some confidence because in 2002 the BBC conducted a nationwide poll to identify who the public thought this was.  The result was a foregone conclusion and Churchill topped the poll with 28% of the votes.

The BBC project first identified the top one hundred candidates and the final vote was between the top ten.  Second in the poll was the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel who received nearly 25% of the votes.  These two I fully agreed with but in third place, and goodness knows what the public must have been thinking, was Princess Diana!

In fact Winston Churchill was so great that he was awarded a State Funeral and that doesn’t happen very often because this requires a motion or vote in Parliament and the personal approval of the Monarch.  A State Funeral consists of a military procession using a gun carriage from a private resting chapel to Westminster Hall, where the body usually lies in state for three days.  The honour of a State Funeral is usually reserved for the Sovereign as Head of State and the current or past Queen Consort.

Churchill Funeral Message from the Queen

Churchill Funeral TV Coverage

Churchill State Funeral The Route of The Procession

Very few other people have had them:  Sir Philip Sydney in 1586, Horatio Nelson in 1806, the 1st Duke of Wellington, 1852, Viscount Palmerston in 1865, William Gladstone, 1898, the 1st Earl Roberts of Kandahar, 1914, Baron Carson in 1935 and Sir Winston Churchill.   So this is a very small list indeed although it might have included one more but Benjamin Disraeli, the Queen’s favourite Prime Minister, who was offered the honour of a State Funeral refused it in his will.  We might have to wait a very long time for the next one.

Scrap Book Project – Motorways and Minis

M1 Motorway

In 1959 there were two important news items that celebrated significant events in British motoring.  First of all the southern section of the M1 motorway which started in St Albans in Hertfordshire and finished just a few miles away from Rugby at the village of Crick (where coincidentally my Mother now lives) was opened on 2nd November.

The motorway age had arrived and suddenly it was possible to drive to London on a three-lane highway in a fraction of the previous time, helped enormously by the fact that there were no speed limits on the new road.

In fact there wasn’t very much about the original M1 that we would probably recognise at all, there was no central reservation, no crash barriers and no lighting.  The new motorway was designed to take a mere thirteen thousand vehicles a day which is in contrast to today’s figure of nearly one hundred thousand vehicles a day.

When it first opened this was practically the equivalent of a country road and it certainly wasn’t unheard of for families to pull up at the side for a picnic.  This first section was seventy-two miles long and was built in just nineteen months by a labour force of five thousand men and that was about one mile every eight days.  Compare that to the sort of productivity road builders achieve today – a twenty mile stretch of road between Spalding and Peterborough, the A1073, for example took nearly four years and then had to be closed immediately for repairs!

In 1959 cars were still rather old fashioned and basic design hadn’t changed very much since the 1940s but the new motorway age needed a new breed of car and in August 1959 the world saw the introduction of the Austin Seven, Morris Mini-Minor and Morris Mini-Minor DL two door saloons, all with transversely mounted 848cc engine and four speed gearbox and known collectively as the MINI!

The car was designed by Sir Alec Issigonis who had previously designed the Morris Minor and was intended as a small economic family car.  The first Mini was immediately popular and sold nearly two million units and by the time production ceased in 2000 a total of 5,387,862 cars had been manufactured.  Nearly everyone has owned a Mini at some time, I did, it was a blue 1969 model, registration BUE 635J.

photo (1)

Not that all of this mattered a great deal to us however because like lots of families in 1959 we didn’t have a car and dad didn’t even learn to drive until the early 1960s and mum not until ten years after that.  His first car was an old fashioned white Austin Cambridge A55, registration SWD 774, which was a car with few refinements and even lacking modern day basics such as seat belts, a radio, door mirrors or satellite navigation.  There were no carpets and the seats were made of cheap plastic that were freezing cold in winter and if you weren’t especially careful burnt your bum in the summer.

After that he had a white Ford Anglia, 1870 NX, which I always thought was a bit chic and stylish with that raking back window and big grinning chrome front grill and after that he had a couple of blue Ford Cortinas before he moved on to red Escorts before finally downsizing to Fiestas, and back to blue again.

My first car was a flame red Hillman Avenger, registration WRW 366J, in which I did hundreds of pounds worth of damage to other peoples vehicles because it had an inconveniently high back window which made reversing a bit of a challenge for a short person.

I remember car registration numbers because this was something we used to do as children.  Car number plate spotting was a curiously boring pastime and on some days it would be possible to sit for a whole morning at the side of the road outside of the house and still only fill one page of an exercise book.  These days you would need a laptop and a million gigabytes of memory.

Scrap Book Project – Brooke Bond Tea Cards

In the 1950s and 1960s, packets of Brooke Bond tea included illustrated cards, usually fifty in a series, which I avidly collected.

One of the most famous illustrators of these cards was Charles Tunnicliffe, the internationally acclaimed bird painter.  Most of the initial series were wildlife-based, including ‘British Wild Animals’, ‘British Wild Flowers’, ‘African Wild Life’, ‘Asian Wild Life’, and ‘Tropical Birds’.

    

The first series was introduced on 23rd October 1954 and featured British birds but the first set that I have and can remember was from 1958 – ‘British Wild Life’.

I was only four years old and it was my dad who collected them really and I can remember sitting at the kitchen table while he used a bottle of gloy glue to stick them into place.  Gloy glue was a curious sticking paste that worked quite well at first but after a while dried out and the things that were previously stuck together just separated.

Later I used to collect them for myself and paste them into the books (which used to cost 6d) but I never made such a good job of it as him.

Collecting the cards was exciting, I can recall the moment when mum would buy a new packet of tea and I would open it to get to the card, down the side of the packet and covered in tea dust (these were tea leaves and not tea bags).  At the beginning of a new series the collection would build quickly but after twenty of thirty cards it was always disappointing to get a duplicate and this meant having to go through the negotiation process at school to do swaps.

There always seemed to be a couple of cards that were difficult to get and sometimes this meant sending off to Brooke Bond to buy them which sort of defeated the object of collecting them and felt a bit like cheating.

I still have my Brooke Bond albums and a couple of years ago I was certain that they must be worth a fortune but a quick visit to ebay knocked the wind out of those particular sails.  Never mind, they are priceless to me because it leaves me with fond memories of childhood and my dad who had a passion for collecting all sorts of useless things!

My Favourite:

Scrap Book Project – The Edinburgh Military Tattoo

In the summer of 1972 the family went on holiday to the Croyde Bay Holiday Camp in Devon.  I was eighteen and had finished my ‘A’ Levels and was probably waiting for the results.  Whilst we were there I met a girl called Jackie Grieg from Edinburgh and we became quite friendly.

After the end of the holiday we kept in touch by writing to each other and she invited me to visit her for a few days in August and it seemed there might be a romance on the cards.  One tea time my parents drove me to Coventry bus station where I had a ticket for a three hundred mile overnight coach journey to the Scottish capital and soon I was on my way north.  I don’t remember the price of the ticket but a single National Express ticket today costs nearly £6o but looking at the advert below from 1972 I suspect it was quite a lot cheaper then, probably no more than a couple of pounds.

Edinburgh Postcard

In the early hours of the morning the coach pulled into Glasgow to drop off some passengers just as the city was waking up and then continued east to Edinburgh where we arrived at around breakfast time and where Jackie and her dad were waiting to meet me and take me home for a full Scottish start to the day.

After a few days in Edinburgh it became obvious that it was very unlikely that there was going to a romance, I had been rather impetuous and this was not a match made in heaven and we would have to put up with each other until my return journey a few days later. Luckily her brother came to the rescue and we struck up a short friendship.  He worked at Scottish and Newcastle Breweries and had unlimited supplies of McEwan’s beer which I was happy to help him dispose of.  It was obvious that Jackie wasn’t madly in love with me and he took over the hosting responsibilities.

One evening we went to see the Scottish folk group The Corries in concert and I liked them so much that when I got home I bought an LP record and I still have it somewhere in my redundant vinyl collection.

Like a lot of other artists the Corries were in town because my visit coincided with the annual Edinburgh Festival and at the end of the week we had tickets to go and see the Edinburgh Military Tattoo on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle and on that chilly evening we took our seats in the open air arena and watched the show that included the pipes and drums of the Scottish Regiments and the Massed Bands, a drill display from the Norwegian King’s Guard, a Lion Dance and a Frog Dance performed by the Singapore Armed Forces. I remember that I really enjoyed it!

Tattoo 1972 2

When the week was over I caught the bus at Edinburgh coach station, said goodbye to Jackie and waved through the window as the bus pulled out and then slumped back into the seat relieved that it was all over.  I suspect she was as glad to see the back of me as I was to be returning home and we never spoke or wrote to each other ever again.

1972 Military Tattoo 1972 1Edinburgh Military Tattoo 1972 2