January 2016

Happy New Year 02As we venture into the new year ahead of us, many of us will already be making plans for holidays escapes, family events and so on. It is also the time of the year when I try to look ahead at how forthcoming situations are likely to develop.

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Politics.

Well the last year certainly saw a major sea change in the face of British politics following the General Election. As I predicted, the Lib/Dem Party suffered badly at the hands of the electorate, even in some of their previous stronghold seats. Labour fared better but were completely routed in Scotland following the expected surge in support for the Scottish National Party (SNP). This now only leaves the three traditional parties with one seat each in Scotland. Despite showing strong backing in the ballot box, UKIP, failed to translate this into sufficient votes to gain seats except one they held due to the local popularity of the sitting MP. All of this, particularly the collapse of Labour seats in Scotland, enabled  the Tories to hold onto power but with only a slender majority. Due to the changed face of the House of Commons, it is likely the year ahead will contain much wrangling about Scotland which already has it’s own separate Parliament, also being able to vote on matters concerning England alone via its Scottish MP’s, while English MP’s are unable to vote on Scottish matters.

The thorny question of the much promised European Referendum will also take increasingly prominence as the year wears on. Proposed reform of the EU will be under discussion during the year particularly the question of benefit payments to migrants. This is likely to require a treaty change by all 28 member states of the EU, but already some of the more poorer member states have indicated they are unlikely to agree to this.Getting the required unanimous consent for such a change may well prove impossible. All of this means the Prime Minister will quickly run out of time for manoeuvring room on the referendum and if he does not call the referendum this year, then he will be forced to do so in 2017 when more favourable conditions for a Yes vote from his point of view may have substantially changed.

Immigration.

The past year has seen a groundswell of migrants both refugees and economic flooding into Europe. As refugees are supposed to be settled in the first non-war torn country they reach, it is debatable whether all refugees into Northern Europe are economic migrants or not. Whatever the nuances of classification may be, the impact of mass migration is a reality. Some countries have flung their doors wide open to migrants but after an estimated one million of more migrants have already entered Germany alone. there are signs of increasing polarization in some communities where internal tensions and friction have arisen. There are also signs that European politicians are now trying to limit even more migrant arrivals in the forthcoming year by persuading mainly more Eastern European countries to take a greater share of them, but is likely there will be resistance on this issue. If European countries do not succeed on the reallocation of migrants, it is possible even more internal tensions are unfortunately likely to arise.Whatever a individuals thoughts are on this matter, the reality is the floodgates to this human tide have now been well and truly opened and it may prove impossible to close them again.

Fishing for Bass is now illegal.

According to some newspaper reports, the 1st January was the day  when it became illegal for fishermen to fish for Bass, even when using one rod and line from the beach. These restrictions will last up until June after which time the rules will be relaxed to allow fishermen to catch one bass only.  Apparently this directive already branded by some as absurd, came unannounced from the EU and few in the UK Government seem to know anything about it. The questionability of this new non-Parliamentary law is further highlighted by those that claim there no shortage of bass and off-shore trawlers predominantly French and Spanish will still be allowed to catch up to 1.3 tonnes of bass per month. The logic behind what amounts to a diktat is as yet still unclear.Although this directive is but a small example of the EU law making process, assuming process is the right word,  it does highlight the dangers of the UK having relinquished it’s sovereign powers to a non-elected body that may not always appear to have the UK’s interests at heart. Roll on the referendum. My guess is I would be surprised if any beach angler were prosecuted over this issue.

Flooding.

The run up to Christmas and beyond saw the northwest of England continually pounded by exceedingly above average rainfall. Subsequent heavy storms have also been experienced in areas of the northeast like the historic city of York, and southwest Scotland causing severe flooding in all these areas .Although York does have good flood defences apparently the defences that protect the flood gates that oversees this flood catchment area are not as robust. Consequently it is claimed that Environmental Agency officials opened the flood gates to protect the flood gate mechanism but in so doing, allowed the city to flood. If true, many might find this sort of logic a bit hard to swallow.

I live close to the Somerset Levels which experienced similar problems two years ago and know what may look like statistics on a piece of paper, actually translates into many months of misery and hardship for both residents and businesses alike. Homes need to be vacated for remedial  repair work. while the residents live in temporary and often inconvenient accommodation.

I suspect when the dust settles, or perhaps a better euphemism would be when the floods recede, there will be some sort of enquiry into the whole issue of flooding. Perhaps a token head may roll here and there with promises made for the future. but until something is actually done, which usually costs money, chance flooding is likely to continue.

Armistice Day

Poppy WreathOn each 11th November at 11 am, every city, town, borough and village across the UK, falls silent for 2 minutes in remembrance of all those who fell in the two Great World Wars and later conflicts. The time and date are very significant as it was at 11am on of the  11th day of the 11th month in 1918 that the guns fell silent to bring and end to World War 1,

The village of Yeovilton in Somerset where I live was no different. For a small village of only 50 properties, Yeovilton attracts more than its fair share of royalty and dignitaries. This even included the the Head of the Anglican Church,Archbishop of Canterbury to conduct one Remembrance Day service.

The prime reason is the Church of St Bartholomew located in the village and which was unused when I first moved here. Adjoining the village is the Royal Naval Air Station, RNAS Yeovilton which established at the start of WW2 and which also has a military naval cemetery at the rear of the church.

The Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) purchased and restored the church for it to become the church for Naval Air Seamen.

At  this years Remembrance Parade at St Bartholomew’s, the worlds last surviving Swordfish plane based at  RNAS Yeovilton took part in a flypast dropping 25,000 remembrance poppies as it flew over.

The current building of St Bartholomew’s dates back to about the 1540’s but still contains elements of a Norman church which predated it and which in turn was built on an even earlier Saxon church.

The pictures below show a number of the poppies that drifted into my garden and the Swordfish flying over RNAS Yeovilton and Yeovilton Village.

Also the Photosphere at the bottom shows the military cemetery at Yeovilton with St Bartholomew’s in the background.

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November 2015

SDC10327Today the countryside lost what remained of its lush coat of green summer foliage as strong winds and  rain blew in from the Atlantic. Yesterday the golden brown hues of autumn lingered on, but alas in the space of a few hours trees were striped bare to be left forlorn looking until next spring. Although still very mild at the moment,, this sudden tree stripping act does seem to me, to be natures way of heralding the tail end of autumn and giving advance notice of the rapidly approaching winter.

Pavements and roads have been carpeted with a layer of brown wet leafy mush, and it is not surprising it is a time of years that accident rates from slips and falls sharply increase, especially for the elderly. One thing I do appreciate about Mother Nature is that the local fields and hills in the distance remain green except for times when there is snow around.

I suppose it is to also be expected at this time of year when weather gurus start to predict how harsh or not the winter ahead will be. I am however not that strong believer in local weather folklore and simply accept what will be will be.

A few weeks ago we had the natural phenomena of what is know as a “Super Moon” in conjunction with a eclipse of the Moon by the Earth. Although tis must have occurred millions of times before on the celestial time scale, on the human time scale it is a somewhat unique event with the next one not due to take place for another 18 years in 2033. I did manage to take a number of photographs of the event throughout the evening, some of which I have placed below.

 

Yeoman WardersToday being November 5th, is the UK’s historical anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament by Guy Fawkes and his villainous associates,  always reminds me of a travelling companion of mine. He was a Yeoman of the Guard which is the smallest regiment in the British Army. The Yeoman are a small group of ex-servicemen with long years of service. They carry out their mainly civilian occupations but assemble as Yeomen when ceremonial occasions require them.

One such occasion is the 5th November when the cellars of the House of Parliament are searched by the Yeomen which is how Guy Fawkes was originally discovered and caught. Effigies of Guy Fawkes are also burned on large bonfires in the evening at fireworks parties. Children also used to sing a song around the bonfire which started:

Remember, Remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, Treason and Plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Well the UK has never forgotten the Gunpowder Plot which occurred in 1605 and we have been celebration Guy Fawkes going up in smoke ever since.

 

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Super Moon

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Super Moon

 

 

 

 

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Prior to Eclipse

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Earth’s shadow across the Moon

On the Run

Horse drawn FB-SteamerApart from the first three years after I left school, my entire working and very enjoyable career was spent in the fire service. It is only natural with such length of service that one will glean a lot of fire service knowledge, both modern and historical. Much historical knowledge came from the older hands at the job when I first joined. Quite a number of them had joined after the end of WW2 when they were still relatively young and who in turn had knowledge passed onto them by the wizened firefighters of their day. Fire stations still exist today that were originally built in the 19th century at a time when fire appliances, (fire engines), as we know them today did not exist, but consisted of horse drawn steamer pumps with firefighters clinging to the sides.

In the fire service when any piece of equipment  becomes defective, be it as large as a fire appliance or as small as a hand-held radio, it is described as being “Off the Run”. Conversely any equipment that is fit for use is deemed to be “On the Run”. Often defective equipment has a label tied onto it with the abbreviation OTR.

Other industries also use these terms too.

The origins of this short phrase however are from the fire service of yesteryear when appliances were those horse drawn steamers. Like today, even in the 1800’s, everything the fire service is designed for a speedy turnout from the station as the longer the delay, the greater the chance of loss of life. Horses were always kept in the stables located immediately to the rear of the large appliance rooms where the steamer pumps were located in immediate readiness to go to a fire with a constantly lit boiler. The stables doors were normally spring loaded and could be opened either automatically or by pulling on a rope. As soon as the station call-out alarm sounded, the stable doors would open and well trained horses that knew what to do, simply trotted unaided from their stable into the appliance room, to stand alongside the shafts of the steamer pump. Suspended above their heads and fixed in a opened-out position in a cradle was the harness which could be easily and quickly lowered onto the horses. The rear end of the harness was already attached to the steamer and a rope and pulley system allowed the harnesses to be quickly lowered onto the horses which could then be rapidly fitted by the means of quick attachment buckles. Counterweights and springs would then lift the cradle high into the air and out of the way of proceedings.

To further assist the steamer and its crew to rapidly get out of the station, the floor where the steamer was parked was sloped to help overcoming the initial inertia in getting the steamer moving. As soon as the brake was released the steamer would start to roll forward and this assisted the horses to leave the station at the gallop. The sloped floor was known as “The Run” and if the steamer was fired up and ready to use it was said to be “On the Run”. It was said that from the time of receiving a fire call, the horses could be out of the stables, harnessed and out of the station in two minutes or less. Some claimed this could even be as quick as 30 seconds.

The attached film clip shows the turn-out of a horse-drawn steamer from a US fire house but the methods depicted are virtually identical to the old UK fire stations.

 

The pumps on these steamers were piston powered and operated in a similar way to the pistons on a steam train. The disadvantages was this also caused the water to squirt out of the jets in a pulsating movement and the pistons could not pump against the branches (jets) if they were closed. A large sealed metal dome was fitted to these pumps to absorb extra water from the pistons and help smooth out pulsations in the jet. Todays pumps are what is known as centrifugal pumps that have no pistons but are fitted with a internal spinning disc known as an impeller. This allows water to flow at a even pressure at all times even if the branch is open or closed.

September 2015

IMGP3111We are currently about midway between Summer and Autumn as gradually the warmth from the sun becomes a little less each day, and increasingly chillier nights start to make their presence known. Living in an area where there are no gas supplies and with no prospect of ever having such luxuries, most county dwellers have to be like good boy scouts in terms of being prepared for winter. This entails having oil boilers serviced and oil tanks replenished. Unlike most urban areas where gas is readily available, many country folk are heavily reliant on oil for heating. It is not possible with oil to just turn the tap on demand in the event of a cold snap as oil has to be purchased, delivered and stored in advance. It also means that unlike gas where the price for the winter ahead is usually known in advance, the cost of oil can be unpredictable.

Domestic oil prices are subject to wild day to day fluctuations dependent on the world oil markets. Fortunately a combination of economic depression in China and the USA once again having oil surpluses due to increased shale oil production, the price of oil has been dropping like the proverbial stone.Oil users do have at least one silver lining over gas users in that there is never a worry about foreign countries having the power to turn of the UK’s supplies in the event of a international spat, as the UK’s gas now originates or passes through pipelines that we have no control over. I always though the UK’s policy of abandoning our own gas industry in favour of foreign supplies very unwise for this very reason.

IMGP3115During the Summer I had one of my Australian nephews and his partner staying with me for a few days. The were on a around-the-world holiday visiting the US, UK and Europe. One thing they had asked to see during their stay with us was the City of Bath some 35 miles from where I live. They had read so much about it in advance and for them it had become a must. They were particularly keen to see the Roman Baths something I had not seen before myself. On my previous visits to Bath, the Roman Baths had been closed due to on-going excavation and construction work. The closest we had been was in the delightful restaurant known as the Pump Room which has windows that overlook the Roman Pool. Whenever I had seen news items on the baths be it television of newspapers, they had always been set against the almost obligatory background of the pool itself.

I was pleasantly surprised during our visit to discover that not is there only the famous pool but also a large underground complex covering a Roman Temple and the spring that feeds the baths much of it still well preserved. The route through the complex is reminiscent to a slowly descending helter-skelter as the path slowly meanders around the top of the baths down through various rooms to the temple complex before eventually emerging by the pool itself. I could thoroughly recommend anyone who has not had the opportunity to make a visit to add it to their wish list.

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Folklore is often stronger than Fact.

Boleyn Castle 01

Green Street House (Boleyn Castle)

Most of us are aware of folklore, enticing tales that pervade through the centuries be they global like the fabled lost cities of El Dorado or Atlantis. National folklore like King Arthur and Camelot, down to local folklore often based on local gossip and false rumour.

 

All such folklore tends to have the common characteristics of whetting peoples appetites of the unknown. At face value they all seem tangible even if  lack of known or credible facts, if any, exist at all. The absence of known facts usually tend to belie the truth of such stories. But so intriguing are some of these myths that individuals have felt compelled to spend their lives attempting to prove them and all without success as far as I am aware.

One such piece of local folklore I have been aware of for many years concerns the former Green Street House in Newham in London, which was subsequently dubbed the Boleyn Castle by locals due to a castellated decorative tower which formed part of the building. Locals believe Anne Boleyn once lived there  despite there being no evidence to show that she ever did. The myth goes on to say the building was festooned with secret tunnels emanating from the site that were used by Henry VIII for the purposes of secret romantic trysts with Anne Boleyn at a time when he was still married to Catherine of Aragon.

It is not quite known when Green Street House was built but there is however a detailed description of the building that was written in the mid-16th century. The building was demolished in 1955 and West Ham Football Club stands on part of its former land hence the name ‘Boleyn’ ground which refers to the club’s football stand.

 

Map 1777 Chapman & Andre - 03Depending on which version of local folklore is being related, the supposed secret tunnels run from Green Street House marked ‘A’ on the 1777 Chapman & Andre map, to either the Black Lion public house in Plaistow marked ‘B’, the Spotted Dog Inn in Upton Lane marked ‘C’ or, Saint Mary Magdalene Church  marked ‘D’.

While it is known the Black Lion Public House does indeed have a bricked up tunnel in its basement, the use of secret ‘Priest Holes’, (hiding places built for Roman Catholic priests during Henry VIII’s reign), cannot be discounted. In each case, digging a tunnel to any of these locations would have been a major feet of engineering and could hardly have been classified as secret. It would also not be unreasonable to question if Henry VIII as King of England would need to make his way from Hampton Court Palace presumably with the large entourage that normally accompanied him, and then clandestinely forage through lengthy dirty tunnels to engage in a secret romantic relationship with Anne Boleyn. I personally think this is most unlikely.

As for the tunnels themselves, Newham rapidly grew from a cluster of rural hamlets after the late 19th century into a heavily populated and industrialised area including London’s largest shipping docks. The earth was repeatedly dug up during building operations and not once is there any recorded evidence of a tunnel being uncovered.

No one who relates the tales of the tunnels has actually seen them, at best it is always some other unknown person that claims to have seen them, or it is a story handed down in the family through the generations. Even if during conversation the lack of any credible evidence is cited, likely local responses are, “You never know, something might still be down there” or, there must be some truth in the rumour otherwise so many people would not know about it.

Either way it tends to show that people are often more inclined to believe in folklore rather than fact.

Maiden Castle

Maiden CastleOn one of our recent trips to Dorchester Market, my wife and I planned to follow our shopping spree on a trip to nearby Maiden Castle. My wife and I first fortified ourselves with a delicious real Cornish Pasty from the Celtic Kitchen in Antelope Walk. The pasties from this shop are made in Helston, Cornwall and shipped fresh to Dorchester on a daily basis. They are amongst the best and tastiest pasties I have come across. A visit to the Celtic Kitchen is one treat my wife look forward to with great relish.

Maiden Castle now owned by English Heritage is free to visit. It is one the largest Iron Age hillforts in Europe and the largest in the U.K.. Evidence of human activity on the site has been found dating back to about 1,800 BC during the Bronze Age with defensive landscaping beginning about 600 BC in the Iron Age, Work continued on and off landscaping the embankments during the following centuries.

In keeping with many hillforts which were built in good defensive position, the Romans during their occupation evicted the inhabitants and used them to aid their own governance of the country. The Romans also founded nearby Durnovaria which later evolved into modern Dorchester, the County Town of Dorset.

The enclosed area at the top is some 19 hectares in size which is more than enough space to house a large army and accompanying settlement. Dorchester is steeped with the history of Thomas Hardy and readers may recall the 1967 film adaption of his novel “Far from the Madding Crowd” in which Maiden Castle was used as a film location. The film starred Julie Christie, Alan Bates and Terence Stamp in the leading roles.

I can well recommend a visit to Maiden Castle even if to soak up the atmosphere of the place and with Summer holidays fast approaching, it is well worth any holiday maker in the area placing this on their itinerary.

I have added some view of Maiden Castle and its fortified embankments below.

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