Archive for April, 2016

Ugly Ducklings?

April 30, 2016

A few days ago we helped take a boat up the Devizes flight of locks and in my blog post I included a swan’s nest.

Now we have helped take the boat back down and the cygnets have hatched out – or a few of them have.


How could they ever be described as ugly ducklings!

They are really very cute little birds and they do what they can to imitate mum.


Mum sucks something by the edge of the canal and so we do as well.

They are just delightful.


The remaining nest was now deserted. Many of the eggs had not hatched.


So these eggs failed, but at least three hatched out.

Deal and Walmer

April 29, 2016

I reckon I know Kent quite well. My mum was born in the county and so we often visited her Dad and other relatives in the county. For six years I had children at Uni in Canterbury and that meant frequent visits at the start and end of terms. And then we found that ancestors from longer ago came from other parts of Kent and we visited them. We have friends in Kent and my daughter now lives in the London part of Kent.

But I reckon my only visits to Walmer and Deal would have been passing through them on a train during my train spotting years back in the early 1960s.

Walmer and Deal feature on this month’s railway poster calendar.


As I lived in the south of England I might well have seen this poster adorning station platforms, encouraging folks to visit places for holidays. The poster was produced by Frank Sherwin in 1952. 1952 was the first year from which I have real, definite memories. I don’t remember this poster which probably stayed in use for years. Mind you, until around 1960 places like Deal and Walmer were just way beyond my ken. They might as well have been in outer space for all I knew about them. There seemed no possibility that one would ever visit places as far flung as these. Deal was all of 70 straight line miles from where I lived but honestly, back then this was much the same as another planet. I suspect those 70 miles would have needed four train changes and probably would have taken quite a bit of a day.

Maybe not knowing these places is an omission I should put right one day.

A Treasure Measure

April 28, 2016

Tala measuring jug

In my childhood household my mum used scales to weigh out cooking ingredients. She had one of those spring balances with a big circular dial but then got a proper balance with two pans – one for the ingredient and one to put the weights on.

As a former scientist I cringe a bit as I write that. I really ought to call those weights masses but I decided to slip into the more common usage.

I was amazed when I first saw my future mother in law dealing with ingredients. She had no weighing scales and used a jug – a conical bit of aluminium in truth – to do her ‘weighing’.


Inside – and I thought and still do – jolly difficult to read – there are loads of different scales – each headed up with the names of ingredients.

This scale was for sugar, lentils, haricots, barley and rice. Clearly you were actually measuring out a volume. The scale told you that if you filled up to a particular line then that volume would have the mass indicated.

image004Sago, raisins and groats were clearly a little less dense so you needed a bit more volume to get the same mass.


Ground almonds weighed less again for the same volume.


Filled right up you’d only get 6 ounces.

The official name for this device was the Tala cooks treasure measure.

image008I suppose this dates to the 1940s or 50s.



Micky on the Isle of Wight

April 27, 2016

Back in the late 1940s and into the 1950s a small tank engine was built for use on the railways of Britain. They were effective and useful engines that worked all over the place. Maybe they were deemed common and that earned them the nickname of Micky.

I recall travelling behind a Micky (more than once) on the Horsham to Brighton line. Actually I was a bit horrified by it for it purported to be an LMS engine – not native to my beloved Southern region. But at the time it would have been about a dozen years old and was more reliable and powerful than the Victorian locos it replaced.

In the mid 60s there were plans to send Mickys to the Isle of Wight to replace the even old Victorian locos still in use over there. Sad to say Dr Beeching and his political masters had other ideas and closed down most of what was left of the island’s rail network. The stub of a line that was left was electrified and ancient trains from London’s tube system were taken on to the island to run that line.

But now a Micky is in service on the Isle of Wight steam railway and a fine sight it makes at the head of carriages a good thirty or more years older than it.


And there we have Micky 41298 arriving at Havenstreet. The bit of engine we see in the yard is number 24, Calbourne – the type of loco the Micky might have replaced.

41298 may have been built at Crewe but she only operated on the Southern Region of British Railways. I never saw her in service then. She was based in North Devon – way out of my area.

We met the loco later as she approached Havenstreet again.

image004These days I’m very happy with the loco. She looks the part and she should have gone to the island 50 years ago.

On being photographed – Caen Hill locks

April 26, 2016

Chased by the paparazzi

Well not really, of course, but at time it almost felt like it. But here’s the word of advice. If you want to feel like a superstar chased by photographers then take a boat up the Caen Hill flight of locks near Devizes. Make sure it’s a decent day for weather and a weekend as well. Then be ready to pose.

Caen Hill locks are, of course, an unofficial wonder of the world. There are 29 locks in all, but 16 of them form what looks like a giant’s staircase with one lock seemingly built on the previous one. In the true canal sense this isn’t a staircase for a true staircase has no intervening stretches of canal between them. The Caen Hill flight has short pounds, as they are called between the top gate of one lock and the bottom gate of the next. To help with water management each pound opened out at the side to a large area – about an acre in extent. They make a haven for wildlife.

So here we see a swan’s nest by one of the locks and adjacent to one of the side pounds.


And here we see the boat we were helping on.


The boat has just left one lock and has almost reached the next one. The entrance to the side pound can be seen.

And here’s the boat in a lock near the bottom of the flight,


Passing through a lock takes the time it takes. There is nothing you can do to increase the speed at which water enters or drains out of a lock. So like our gallant lock workers here, sit on the beam and relax.


There were getting to be more canal watchers about. Once upon a time people watching canal boats were called gongoozlers. Soon we had them in droves.


That’s my wife at the back of the boat. She was in charge of the boat at the time. On the front is one of her old school friends. It must have been the men doing the work at that time.


The gathering gongoozlers watch and snap photos of our Boat (we don’t own it, it was hired). The boat is out of sight, deep in the lock.


I snap a photo of people taking photos of our boat. It was now lunch time, clearly the time for the boat watchers.


A pair of Canada geese are uninterested in people – unless they feed them.


This is an old school friend of mine – married to my wife’s old school friend. He’s resting on a beam again whilst a lock fills

Permanent moorings.


We moored here for a while to enjoy a spot of lunch. Our mooring was not permanent and had a 24 hour limit.

My photos don’t really convey the almost continuous sight of cameras of all kinds pointing at us as we worked the locks or the boat. I dare say we’ll be on dozens, even hundreds of personal pages by now.





April 25, 2016

As a child I travelled on those wonderful electric powered trolleybuses from time to time. I couldn’t tell you precisely where – London for sure but I reckon I used them elsewhere as well. I may have used them in Brighton where they operated until 1961. I’m fairly sure I used them in the Bexhill/Hastings area where they lasted until 1959.

The sad fact is that I didn’t take much notice at the time and now, of course, I wish I had. My interest has been sparked by the discovery that I have a postcard of a very early tram which I think dates from 1911 in Bradford, Yorkshire.


The service to Dudley Hill, Bradford, was the first electric bus service in England in 1911. The term ‘trolleybus’ had clearly not been invented. Instead the vehicle is described as the new ‘trackless tram’.

It was a case of ‘first in – last out’ for this service which became the last trolleybus route in England to close back in 1972.

It seems a shame this type of transport lost out to the diesel bus although the diesel is more versatile, being a go anywhere vehicle. The trolley could only go where the wires could take it.


Culver Down

April 24, 2016

I know I’m different from many other folks on holiday. A lot of people want a beach and to be by the sea. I like to get up a hill, away from the crowds and have views, both near and far.

In a moment of escape from grandchildren on a beach, we managed to get up onto Culver Down. This is no problem for you can drive up, park, and escape other people with a short walk. This is on the Isle of Wight, of course.

Some of the area is owned by the National Trust.


There’s enough white rock there to tell us this is chalk downland – something I really love.

It was March but gorse seems to flower all year round.image004

Little violets were also to be found.

image006Culver Battery is a military gun emplacement. It dates from around 1906.

image008The site was closed down in 1956 but the whole area remained out of bounds until 1966. That’s what the notice my wife is reading actually says.


There are good views. Here we look over Bembridge Harbour – a natural area of protected water whuich once reached to Brading and was known as Brading Harbour. A white tower half way up and left of centre is all that remains of an old St Helens church. It is white painted as a navigation aid.

Beyond the fort we see the mainland at Portsmouth and Southsea.

We were not alone on Culver. There was cattle and this beast was trying to get its bearings on the toposcope.


image014More cows and the Yarborough memorial.

The Bembridge windmill could be picked out down below.



A few minutes of fresh air on a hilltop made me ready to face beach and grandchildren once more.



A paddle boat

April 23, 2016

I do not remember this occasion but then I was probably less than 2 at the time and I may not even have been a witness to this event. What we have is my sister operating a hand powered pedal boat.


I believe this was at Southsea, presumably at a boating lake. Brother looks to be enjoying it. Sister looks less sure. I think I might have been worried by that boat at rather a jaunty angle coming in on the starboard side,

A few years later I loved riding the paddle boats when staying with grandparents in Bexhill.

And I still find it hard to get used to the idea that I am the sole survivor of my childhood home.

A liquorice allsort pebble

April 22, 2016

Plain sandy beaches don’t quite cut the mustard with me. Yes, I loved them when I was a kid and could use whatever tools were to hand to do a spot of beach engineering. Although probably unsure as to what a canal was, that’s what I liked to build. I wanted an incoming tide so I could build a waterway network above the current tide line and then allow it to flood and fill with water – and rapidly get washed away, of course.

But now a plain sandy beach backed by sea defence walls and without much else seems the dullest kind of beach. I’d like to have some pebbles as well so that interesting ones can be found.


Now this stone looks a bit ordinary from the top.

It’s just a plain brown pebble with a flat surface (it would be great for skimming across the water) and nicely smoothed by the action of the sea.

You have to look at the edge to see its real loveliness.


Did you ever see anything more like one of the delicious brown sandwich liquorice allsorts?

But it isn’t that at all, it is a pebble and there must have been some change in circumstances whilst the sediment it was made from was laid down and compressed. If I was more of a geologist maybe I’d know what mineral created the brown layers and what happened to cause the black in the middle.

For now, this little pebble, about five centimetres across, is just for enjoyment. It came from St Helens Duver on the Isle of Wight.


April 21, 2016


Let’s start with the calendar picture for Kew Gardens in April that I am enjoying this month.


Bluebells – the true native variety are such wonderful blooms – particularly when they have spread to form a carpet. That has been captured by artist Irene Fawkes who created this image in 1930.

But of course, you don’t have to go to Kew to see bluebells in profusion.  There’s a wood less than two miles from my house as the crow flies which is well known for bluebells and they can be enjoyed for free.

And there we see my wife doing just that.


image006By the way, the intrusive Spanish bluebells are very second rate and insipid by comparison.