Archive for July, 2014


July 22, 2014

Normally I prefer to have reasonably OK photos on this blog. Today’s photos are less than perfect, but they represent something I am so pleased to have seen.

When we visited Botallack recently I had no idea that choughs might be on the agenda. I knew they were on the opposite coast, around The Lizard and that these Cornish choughs were the only ones in England.

Now hang on a mo. I’ve jumped off the deep end without explaining my main characters. Choughs are birds. They are members of the crow family and like quite a lot of that family they are largely black. They have bright red beaks and legs and they like the wild coastlands of the west. I was careful to say the Cornwall choughs are the only ones in England for I believe there are colonies in Wales and other areas of the UK.

Anyway, on arrival at Botallack we were greeted by a notice which entreated us not to disturb the choughs.

Almost immediately afterwards we came across a group of people with scopes and binoculars. Clearly they were birders.

‘Are there choughs about today?’ I asked them.

‘Yes!’ came the reply. ‘There are the two adults with six youngsters. We saw them fly by just a few minutes ago’.

So of course, apart from looking at mine engines we kept our eyes peeled for these delightful birds.

And sure enough, before we reached the engine houses, one flew over. My photo is utterly poor but here it is.


Yes, it’s blurred but you can see the distinctive fingers at the ends of the wings and just make out the red bill.

Now for many, that wouldn’t be anything to get excited about, but it certainly pleased me.

We continued a walk in the area, and then got our picnic to enjoy in glorious surroundings and fantastic weather.

I got my scope out – not that it would have been any good for seeing the fast flying and aerobatic choughs, but I enjoyed watching the gannets which tend to follow much more predictable courses.

Our bit of luck came as we were packing away. All eight choughs appeared over the headland.


This could be something like a quarter of the England population. It’s a magical sight for me.



A Milking Stool

July 21, 2014

I don’t suppose many ordinary householders boast a milking stool amongst their possessions. In the early 1970s my dad returned from a holiday in France and presented me with one. As I can’t remember the year, I can’t be sure if it was at a time when I kept goats. I have a feeling the stool predated that period of my life. This is the stool as is now.


It’s well used – mostly as a mini coffee table. It’s an ideal surface to have beside an easy chair. It’s just perfect for putting a mug on. It has suffered the stains and heat rings of outrageous usage over the years.


I love the simplicity of it – a neat semi-circular top on three legs which are wedged into place, possibly with a tad of glue to help.

I think my dad rather liked the price of it – still just about readable on the underside.


That says 4.70. Back in the early 70s there were about 10 francs to the UK pound. This stool set my dad back the equivalent of about 50p.

And the great thing is that it has seen proper usage when we kept and milked goats. I did actually find it ideal for milking.

And now, with goat keeping long in the past I still find it an elegant little item of furniture. It could, of course, be tarted up. Some gentle sanding to remove the stains and then a coat of varnish to make it shine. But to my mind that would spoil the item. I think it should stay as a cheap and used little piece of furniture.

The mine at Botallack

July 20, 2014

Botallack is close to St Just in Penwith in Cornwall. It is an amazing place and could have a family connection. My wife’s great great grandfather, William Williams was a miner and he lived in the St Just area, possibly for about ten years. He may have worked at Botallack, but there were many other mines in the area.

Botallack has an amazingly dramatic location.


The engine houses have been built on a ledge and on a sheer cliff above the sea. The prospect of building these almost beggars belief. I wonder how much a beam for an engine actually weighs. Being steam engines they’d have needed copious supplies of coal. It was as calm a day as you could wish for when we were there but the wind can howl and the sea can rage. It can be a thoroughly unfriendly place. But what a dramatic one!

A notice in the upper house gives a bit of history.


Crowns Engine Houses Botallack Mine

Worked before 1724 and closed in 1814?? Lower pumping house was built in 1830s and upper winding house ?? in 1858

Preserved 1954 by Carn Brea Mining Society with the help of many individuals and authorities as a tribute to past generations of Cornish miners.

What a great tribute!


What a great place to visit as well.

Doctor Dionysius Lardner

July 19, 2014

Dionysius Lardner was born in Ireland in 1793, became Professor of natural philosophy and astronomy at University College, London in 1828.

He was a great populariser of science through lecture tours and books. I am pleased to have a Lardner book although I find much of it hard to read. These early Victorians were obviously made of sterner stuff.


The book is called ‘Steam and its Uses’ and the reader is taken through the use of steam in stationary engines, railway locomotives and ships.


There is no publication date in the book but Lardner is described as a former professor which dates the book to after 1840. A railway illustration might help date as well.


That looks a fairly early loco and train to me. The people have an 1840s style to them.

Lardner led a controversial life. His private life (which actually seemed to be fairly public) was racy and well laced with scandal. But he is well known for disagreements with Isambard Brunel. Amongst Lardner’s rather foolish claims were:

Regarding Box Tunnel: If a train’s brakes were to fail in the tunnel, it would accelerate to over 120 mph (190 km/h), at which speed the train would breakup and kill the passengers.

Brunel was able to point out that Lardner had forgotten friction and air resistance.

Regarding Brunel’s Great Western Steamship: As the project of making the voyage directly from New York to Liverpool, it was perfectly chimerical, and they might as well talk of making the voyage from New York to the moon… 2,080 mi (3,350 km) miles is the longest run that a steamer could encounter – at the end of that distance she would require a relay of coals.

Great Western made the Atlantic crossing with 200 tons of coal to spare.

Sadly, it seems that an oft repeated quote attributed to Lardner is apocryphal.

Rail travel at high speeds is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.

It seems this famous quote first saw the light of day in about 1980.

Grandad’s tankard

July 18, 2014

Grandad’s tankard

All four of our grandfathers were in the forces in World War One. All four survived  – if they hadn’t we wouldn’t be here.

Grandad Fisher – James Fisher – came from the delightful Cheshire village of Gawsworth. Gawsworth honoured its soldiers with a pewter tankard and we now hold James’ tankard.


It’s quite a handsome item but of course it is the inscription that makes it special.


We can see that James rose to officer rank – second lieutenant. He didn’t start that way. We can also note that he was awarded a Military Cross which is one of the highest awards for bravery.

There are tales to be told about James – maybe on a future blog.

Meanwhile, let’s thank Gawsworth for handing out such a good memento of war service.


Silver Studded Blue

July 17, 2014

Is liking butterflies a nerd thing? They are so delicate and beautiful – not like many a nerd interest. But I love butterflies and on a recent trip to Cornwall we were delighted to find a cliff top area alive with silver studded blue butterflies. These are small butterflies. The wing span is about an inch as compared with a peacock butterfly with a wing span of over 2.5 inches.

Silver studded blues sometimes sit with wings upright and closed and sometimes with wings open. Both ways they look fantastic although, amazingly, the closed wings can look just like foliage.

There we see wings closed so we are looking at the underside of the wing.


I was able to persuade one such butterfly to settle on my finger.


You can gauge the size here. My fingers, I reckon, are fairly ordinary.


Silver studded blues are like birds of a feather. They flock together.


When these butterflies settle and spread their wings, quite a different colour emerges.


Isn’t that just perfection?

And again, you find them clustered together.


By the way, these are all males. The female of the species is less striking than the male.


What a fantastic sight – within a couple of hundred yards of our camp site. It was worth a week in Cornwall just to see them.

St Erth to St Ives

July 16, 2014

We recently spent a week in Cornwall. Here is a nerdy moment from a week away.

We decided to go to St Ives which, for those who don’t know is a very pretty seaside town, much loved by artists over the years. It has fantastic beaches (some face east and one faces west), quaint streets of fishermen’s’ cottages and a little headland which is marginally wilder.

What it really doesn’t have is easy car access or parking. It just wasn’t built for the motor car. But it does have a rail line. The line branches off the main line from Penzance to London at the station called St Erth. I think this could be the most westerly rail junction in England. The line to St Ives is about 4 miles long and it hugs the shoreline. Wonderful!

This is St Erth Station.


And that’s a waiting St Ives train. Now to me that train is not interesting but it has the ability to do the round trip in less than half an hour so a good, frequent service is operated.


The next platform sees a London express waiting. Most of the people boarding have come off the St Ives train. A little snippet of information is that more people change trains at St Erth than at any other station in Cornwall.

The main line is still controlled by good old Great Western style lower quadrant semaphore signals.


That’s the London train with the front end on the St Ives junction.

There’s an appropriate old signal box here as well.


There it is, with the London line passing to the right and the St Ives line passing to the left. The signal is already cleared for the St Ives train but I have time to watch the London train head away.


The St Ives line goes past the Lelant saltings – a veritable haven for wading birds. Sadly, photos have to be taken through the slightly grubby double glazed windows on a wibbly wobbly moving train.


Now to St Ives where the line approaches the sea high above a beach.


There’s a train approaching and running in to St Ives station.



There is a little touch of humour about this train which trundles the four miles between St Erth and St Ives in 13 minutes.


It carries a little headboard announcing it as the Cornish Riviera Express.

And now one for the real rail nerd. Do you notice the track that train is on?


Yes, it is proper old fashioned bull head rail!

These photos represent little more than half an hour out of a day at St Ives. It isn’t all nerdery. Honest!

A Columbia Gramophone

July 15, 2014

In my ‘about’ page I mentioned I had at least 4 working gramophones. This means those of the wind-up or clockwork variety rather than anything requiring electricity. From time to time I use them in my voluntary work. Many kids find them unbelievable and for those of much older years they bring back nostalgic memories of their younger days.

I had the good fortune to collect these gramophones at the time when they were being chucked out. I paid next to nothing for any of them. Back in the 1960s they were old fashioned and inconvenient. In the brave new world back then, wind up gramophones had to go.

So here is my Columbia.


It’s a bit careworn – but then so are most people who are 84 years old.

The lid opens, of course.


It’s quite hard to find a maker’s label – under the lid.


It is a bit hidden by the case which holds ten records which can be fastened in the lid.


It’s made to match.

I like the little chrome coated pot for needles.


A domed lid comes over to shut this.

You can hear this gramophone playing an appropriate record by clicking here. The record is Harmonica Harry played by the Jack Payne band.


What’s the Story? Tobermory?

July 14, 2014

Let’s get the pun out of the way first. This will give you something to mull over. Yes, it’s a brief visit to the Isle of Mull and its pretty little seaside town of Tobermory. This little town was recreated as Balamory for a BBC children’s TV series.

We were camping near Oban, back in 2009, and took a day trip using the ferry to Craignure and a bus to Tobermory.

The brightly painted dwellings along the seafront became popular with children.


A great view across the bay.



Lifeboat s look a bit primitive on the island? Not so, of course. Tobermory was having a bit of a lifeboat festival to include raft racing. The lifeboats were open for the public.



Along the front.

The jetty.


But finally, a word of warning. Let sleeping cats lie.


They get angry if disturbed!


And once again, I jest, it was a very friendly beast.


Yes, a lovely little place.

My mother

July 13, 2014

I have been inspired by Opobs who wrote about his mother’s 90th birthday. My mother would have been 90 this year as well. But she didn’t make it. In fact she didn’t even get half way for she died when she was just 43. In terms of actual birthdays she was only ten and a bit for she was born on a February 29th.

I could say she never had the easiest of lives. Her own mother died when she was just eight. I suspect times had been financially quite hard. Certainly photos are few and far between and not very good quality.


This photo dates from 1928. Mum is on the right with big sister on the left and little brother in the middle. None of them are with us any more, but a fourth sibling was yet to be born and she is still alive.


Here we have mum with the same little brother.


The threesome again. Perhaps this was taken at Margate for they did visit an uncle there. That fourth sibling was adopted by an aunt – she was still a babe in arms when her mother died.


A school photo of my mother, in about 1935.


About 1942.

My parents married in 1944. I have no photographic record of this event.


Parents and my siblings at Southsea in 1951.


In colour, with dad in 1957


Christmas 1963. Mum was already ill by then.


A first grandchild in 1965 – the only one of the six she ever knew.


On holiday in Somerset in 1966

My dad remarried – a much younger woman. He and second wife celebrated a silver wedding. Two more children were born and my dad ended with ten grandchildren. At the present count he’d have almost 12 great grandchildren – but he died nearly twenty years ago.

Just in case it all sounds like a tale of woe, I think I’ve had a fantastic life so far.