Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Yeovilton

Yeovilton Air Show

The Red Arrows

One might think that living next to a naval air station is noisy but quite the reverse is true. Although the base is busy, it is not a commercial airport and the most one hears from time to time is an occasional  whoosh as an aircraft takes off. The Air Show Day however is noisy but that is a prerequisite we accept in return for the wonderful free entertainment that we get.

Yeovilton is not a large village, its more of a hamlet with about 50 properties. It used to be the case however in the week preceding the air show for aircraft enthusiasts world-wide to flood into the village to watch rehearsals for the show taking place, some with camper vans intending to camp overnight in the village. Understandable as it is for enthusiasts to satisfy their chosen hobby, for a small village it was proving very disruptive. Now military personnel seal off both ends of the only road to run through the village prior to the air show and only residents who are issued with passes are allowed through. Regrettable but necessary.

The UK’s own Red Arrows are frequent participants at the show and each year their display in precision flying seems more spectacular the preceding year. The vertical take off Aircraft the Harrier has always been a favourite. Until a few years ago, the Harriers were based at Yeovilton after which they amalgamated with the RAF Harriers. Alas the Harrier is no more having been withdrawn from service due to budget cuts. I watched the last flight of Harriers land at Yeovilton after they left their aircraft carrier for the last time. One cannot forget the role the Harrier played during the Falklands conflict and although they were coming to the end of their serviceable life, I would seriously question the decision to retire the Harrier prematurely solely as a budget saving exercise without a replacement. This now leaves the UK with mothballed aircraft carriers without aircraft and the same position will exist for some time even when replacement aircraft carriers eventually are commissioned. The thought of placing reliance in other countries for our defence is one that hardly fills me with enthusiasm. Dear old Winston must be turning in his grave.

Although peace has now returned to the Falklands, possession of the islands by any country now becomes even more desirable with the discovery of oil in the offshore waters. As usual politicians will assure the public they know what they are doing but history shows that conflicts frequently swiftly arise in a short space of time, like a storm appearing from nowhere out of a clear blue sky. The last Falklands conflict is a prime example. History is equally littered with swiftly replaced politically defunct leaders that thought they knew what they were doing.

 There are however strong rumours going around locally that a flight of 8 or 9 Harriers may be stored at Yeovilton, “just in case”. I have no idea whether there is any truth in the rumours.  Some people claim to have faries at the end of their gardens, in my case it’s jet fighters.

Friends watching the Air Show

Yeovilton Air Show

 Yeovilton Air Show

Is mankind becoming too sophisticated to think?

I cannot but help but sometimes wonder if mankind is becoming too sophisticated in his knowledge to actually think through answers to the apparently unanswerable. Placing too greater a reliance on sophisticated knowledge that seems to dull minds into a lazy mode rather than going back to basic thinking to solve problems.

With the advance of technology ever pushing back the frontiers of science, discoveries often give rise to as yet unanswerable questions. Unanswerable questions that in turn give way to numerous theories that sometimes are no better than wild guesses. Some theories can gain greater prominence as more people satisfy their minds with that which sounds plausible irrelevant of whether there is any evidence to support the theory.

One such theory is that of Dark Matter. Physicists say they are able to measure the mass and energy of the observable universe and the mass of the visible universe does not equate with their calculations.  In simple terms it as if the visible universe could be placed in a set of balance weighing scales with the visible universe set in one of the scales and the theoretical weight of the universe placed in the opposite scale. The scales should balance but assuming the physicists are correct in their calculations, the observable universe and known energy only account for about 20% of the mass and the remaining 80% cannot be seen or as yet detected.

This undetectable mass has given rise to the theory of dark matter although invisible matter might be a better description. I have no idea whether the calculations for the mass of the universe are correct or not. While my own personal knowledge of mathematics is reasonable, I would not even begin to profess at understanding the esoteric levels of mathematics need to undertake such a calculation.

Simple but powerful logic however would dictate that either the calculations are incorrect and there is no missing universal mass or, the calculations are correct and the missing 80% of universal mass is as yet unexplained. I cannot help but think that the concept of dark matter is a form of convenient method for not allowing sufficient time for the mind to think through this apparent anomaly in universal mass to eventually find an answer. If this mysterious dark matter, (if it exists), is spread roughly evenly though the universe,  (no one knows as no one can see it), it would mean the room you are now sitting in contains four times as much mass as you can actually see or feel. Nor does this missing 80% of the universe appear to impede your movement as you walk about. Our body weight is determined by the pull of gravity of the celestial body we are standing on. The same person would weigh less standing on the surface of the moon than on the surface of the earth due to the difference size and mass of the two. If dark, (invisible), matter is all around us, should we not weigh four times as much as we do now unless to course, this dark matter is somehow gravity free too? It does seem to me that Dark Matter theory is a convenient way of providing a quick answer to the problem. It’s not surprising I am so sceptical about the dark matter concept. Einstein however when he encountered problems he could not immediately solve simply continued thinking, sometimes for years until he thought through the solution.

Physicists are aware the universe is expanding. However, the universe is not only growing bigger like an ever-expanding balloon but the rate expansion is also accelerating. Unknown Dark energy is attributed to this accelerating expansion rate of the universe working in an as yet unexplained way. I wonder why all these physicists assume the universe is being pushed outwards by unexplained internal universal forces? I wonder if they ever paused to think of the possibility of multiverses outside our own universe? Perhaps the universe is not being expanded, (pushed), by unexplained internal universal forces but rather being drawn, (pulled) outwards by external universal forces? I for one do not think such external forces, (possibly gravity), can be discounted as we simply cannot see outside our universe due to the distance and time it takes light to reach us. It was mankind’s own arrogance that initially assumed the world was the center of the universe with everything revolving around us. Perhaps it is that same inborn arrogance that is preventing mankind from thinking outside our own universe. Literally a case of thinking outside the box.

It is not just modern problems that seem to baffle modern mind in a modern world, ancient engineering and construction wonders like Stonehenge and the Pyramids have equally baffled modern man. Many theories abound on how these structures were built, but to the Egyptians of the day with only basic construction knowledge and tools, they would have used simple pragmatic philosophy. The Egyptians would have said to themselves, this is the task we have been given, this is the structure we have to build, what is the easiest way of building this structure within the limits of our knowledge? They would then have worked out simple, practicable solutions and then undertaken the task.

One hears of stories of great external ramps built to haul huge blocks of stone up the ever-growing pyramid but again this is another untested theory of which I am deeply sceptical. Unfortunately there is not much demand today for pyramid building using only ancient skills to test these theories, but I strongly suspect if modern man did attempt such an undertaking, the external ramp theory would rapidly prove unworkable. The major problem with the external ramp is to keep the gradient sufficiently shallow to  allow stone blocks between 2.5 – 15 tons to be physically hauled to the required height, the structure of an external ramp would require constant and considerable lengthening and raising as the pyramid grew in height to maintain the correct gradient. Such an external ramp would have formed a structure as imposing as the pyramid itself yet as far as I am aware, no trace of it remains today.

I have thought for a long time, (another theory proposed by a Frenchman Jean Pierre-Houdin
),  it would be easier to build a more gentle slope winding around the inside of the pyramid rather like a helter-skelter enclosed in a tunnel. Such an internal tunnel ramp would eliminate the need for a constantly enlarged external ramp nearly as big a structure as the pyramid itself and would grow in height in tandem with the pyramid as it would be part of the internal pyramid structure. There is suggestive evidence to support this from photographs of the pyramids taken as the sun is setting where the contrast of light reveal lighter bands in the stone spiralling around the pyramid and at an angle just where such internal ramp tunnels should be. However this visual evidence coupled with the application a common sense philosophy of the practicable problems, and equally practicable solutions that faced the ancient  pyramid building Egyptians, never appears to have been considered in the past. Because someone came up with the impracticable massive external ramp theory, it was more easy for the modern sophisticated mind to accept this theory as gospel truth rather than say, this appears to be wrong, let’s think this problem through a bit more. The evidence of such a tunnel ramp, if it existed, would still be sealed inside the internal walls of the pyramids. My own personal guess is than one day modern history books on pyramid building methods will need to be drastically rewritten.

It is known that the Bluestones that form part of Stonehenge come from the Preseli Hills in Wales, a distance of about 240 miles. Again many theories propose all sorts of weird, wonderful and sometimes impracticable methods on how they were transported. Rafts and rollers are just some of the proposed methods transportation. Debates raged for years on the pros and cons of each method until finally geologists from the Open University looked at the problem and took a more practicable and simplistic view. They believe that no one other than Mother Nature transported the stones. Glaciers that covered most of Britain during the last Ice Age were more than capable of moving stones this size suspended within the frozen glacier. It may have taken hundreds of years for the glacier to cover this distance. As the Ice Age came to an end, the glacier gradually melted leaving the stones deposited on Salisbury Plain.

I suppose in a way theories are often excuses to fill in gaps in human knowledge. While I do accept that theories are frequently necessary, It should always be remembered that theories no matter how grandiose or plausible they may seem, are still just theories, not fact. However there is a danger that theories which appear to comfortably bridge a gap in human knowledge, can with the passage of time become regarded as fact.

The next time you hear someone propose a theory, what this really means is they cannot prove the answer.

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” Albert Einstein

Cadbury Castle – Home to King Arthur and Camelot?

Site of King Arthur’s grave, Glastonbury Abbey

I am fortunate to have an unbroken 180 degree vista from my home. One location I can see quite clearly is Cadbury Castle located alongside the picturesque village of South Cadbury. Cadbury Castle is an ancient hill fort with built up earthen ramparts similar to many others in the West Country. Excavations have revealed occupation since Neolithic times until the Roman invasion of England. In  keeping with similar sites, due to ideal military and defensive locations, the Romans took over these sites to aid their governance of England. Following the withdrawal of the Roman occupation, little or no documentation for this site exists until it was mentioned in a letter by John Leland in 1542 while undertaking a survey of England. The letter states that local folklore by villagers mentions King Arthur and Camelot. The site is also on part of what has become known as the Leland Trail, a 28 mile footpath that follows John Leland’s steps between Ham Hill Country Park in Somerset, (another hill fort), and King Alfred’s Tower in Wiltshire which is close to the source of the River Stour and nearby Stourhead.

It is unknown whether a King Arthur existed or not although much legend and myth pervades English folklore. If he did exist, it would have been in the period known as the Dark Ages due to the lack of documentary evidence and knowledge of that period. One of the earliest references to King Arthur is in the nearby Glastonbury Abbey where the supposed body of King Arthur was discovered and re-interred in the knave in 1278 in the presence of King Edward I and Queen Eleanor.

As an aside, many geographical locations take their name from the death cortege of Queen Eleanor when she died in Nottinghamshire. King Edward I transported her body back to London and at every location the cortege stopped for the night, King Edward I later erected an ornate stone cross. These crosses known as the Eleanor Crosses gave rise to such locations as Banbury Cross, Waltham Cross and Charing Cross to name but a few. The Abbey close to Waltham Cross is where King Harold who was killed by Norman invaders at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 is now known to have been secretly buried.

Although King Arthur is supposedly buried at Glastonbury Abbey, it is also thought possible the entire reburial exercise was part of a ruse to attract additional revenue and tourists in the form of Pilgrims.

The excavations at Cadbury Castle certainly revealed the presence of a former Great Hall and local place names like the River Cam which flows close to its base along with nearby villages of Queen Camel and West Camel help to reinforce the local legend of Camel-ot.  Other locations in England most notable Tintagel in Cornwall also lay claim to King Arthur. Whatever the truth, if King Arthur never existed then he certainly would have been invented as a necessity of historical prestige. Most countries of the world have their own King Arthur figures whether actual or mythological. It is however quite nice to sometimes fantasize that King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table in their shining armour once rode past my front door. The only problem with that fantastical notion is my home at that time would have been a wattle and daub hut.

Map picture

Site of Cadbury Castle

I hit a blind man

I recently watched a television programme, a documentary on exploring the mind. This particular episode was investigating  if people are born with emotions or if they are something we learn through life’s experiences. At one point in the programme, the presenter underwent a test at a medical university which involved completing a questionnaire about himself prior to undergoing a MRI scan while exposed to various stimuli. The presenter paused on one particular question which he read aloud. The question asked if he would feel empathy with someone else who had injured themselves. It is a question I suspect most of us would answer yes to, in my mind that is what I answered. An instant later, I suddenly realised that to me the question was completely ambiguous and dependent on circumstances at the time, circumstances to which I could equally and truthfully both answer either yes or no to the question.

Although this may seem a strange contradiction, to me it is completely logical. As a firefighter I experienced many occasions when a stranger to me was injured and needed medical attention. Until such time as medical help arrives, part of the firefighters role is to treat individuals administering first aid where necessary. There is an actual priority list laid down in which order our duties should be carried out. The prime duty is to save life, followed by saving property and finally rendering such humanitarian services as possible.

When I found myself in either a life saving situation or one that required urgent medical attention I know I experienced no immediate empathy with the individual in trouble. Instead I always found my mind was crystal clear and focused on the task in hand with no room for any form of emotion. Be that right or wrong, it’s the way I have found I naturally work. If however a work colleague suffered an injury not at an incident but at the station, something like a sprained ankle or a cut finger then I would feel complete empathy with them.

It was while briefly dwelling on this point in my mind that I suddenly recalled an unusual incident I went to that I had completely forgotten about. Although I cannot remember exactly when this incident occurred, I suspect it was in the 1970’s. We received a call to a fire in a house on the Plaistow/Canning Town borders. The house was a terraced property with the kitchen located at the back of the house  and which was well  alight. Voluminous smoke generated by the fire billowed out the open front door.  As we arrived some occupants of the property standing in the street shrieked out there was a disabled elderly man in bed in the front upstairs bedroom. The occupants also cried out that he was both blind and deaf. I cannot recall if he was dumb too.  As an automatic response to our training, a colleague and I quickly donned breathing apparatus sets and made our way into the building. In this particular building, the front door led to a small hallway blocked at the end by the underside of a flight of stairs. To access the stairs it was necessary to enter the front room via a door off the hallway and then find the bottom of the stairs at the rear of the front room. The stairs were a peculiar design to save space in this small property. It was necessary to open a door that sealed off the entrance to the stairs. After about two steps, the stairs turned both a sharp and steep 90 degree bend to continue upwards. The width of the stairs was narrow giving a feeling of a steep upwards tunnel to the floor above.

As we groped through the smoke to find the door to the stairs we could see the flickering glow of the fire raging in the kitchen to our side. We could not see the fire due to the density of the smoke and as we were undertaking a rescue, the fire was not  the immediate concern of my colleague or I. Other members of the initial two crews that arrived would be dealing with that problem. We arrived on the upper hallway to find it smoke logged but  lighter than on the ground floor. Fortunately the door at the bottom of the stairs had kept much of the smoke from the upstairs of the house. As we entered the front bedroom I could see the elderly gentleman in pyjamas lying on his bed but writhing, obviously he could sense something was wrong. He certainly would have smelled the smoke. Although a lot of things were going on at the time, my mind always remains clear in such circumstances which I have always found useful for immediately evaluating and responding to rapidly changing circumstances. One thing I knew is that we were going to have great difficulty communicating to this elderly person who was both deaf and blind and undoubtedly confused by the unusual circumstances.

I grabbed his hand and placed it on my fire helmet hoping that would communicate some understanding that firefighters were in his bedroom. Unfortunately he became immediately agitated and clearly but not surprisingly his mind did not make the connection as to who we were. I called to my colleague to just grab him and stand him upright. In the urgency of the situation there was no time to continue  attempting further meaningful communication, one just has to do what one has to do and our priority was to get this elderly gentleman out of the building as quickly as possible. As we stood this gentleman upright he turned out to be surprisingly strong despite his frail looking condition. He instantly started to struggle and I suspect he would have thought we were burglars assaulting him. He could neither see or hear but he would have been fully aware that he was being manhandled by strangers. It was immediately clear we would not get him out the building with his ferocious struggling and without either of us saying a word to one another my colleague clamped his arms around the gentleman’s upper body pinning his arms to his side as I knocked him unconscious by a blow to his chin. In reflection the thought of what I did makes me shiver slightly but as I said, at the time one has to do what one has to do. It was clear that it would take a long time to get this struggling gentleman out of the building during which time he would be inhaling smoke and fumes. The same smoke and fumes did not allow an option of staying where we were. In his unconscious state it was quite easy to carry the gentlemen out of the house and straight to a waiting ambulance which had arrived while we were inside the building. I explained the reason for the gentleman’s unconscious state to the ambulance attendant which he fully understood. Fortunately the gentleman started to regain consciousness while we were still by the ambulance and a relative of his was also holding his hand. He clearly found the female relatives touch reassuring as he did not struggle again despite being in a strange environment. There must have been some way in which she touched him that must have communicated to him who she was.

The last I saw of this gentleman was the ambulance rapidly disappearing down the road on the way to hospital. I have little doubt that our actions while somewhat drastic due to circumstances,  probably saved the gentleman’s life. Smoke and fumes are rapid silent killers. The house however was not so fortunate. The kitchen was completely destroyed and once the fire was out and the rest of the house ventilated to clear the smoke all rooms in the house were deeply blackened due to smoke damage and as such uninhabitable. Google Street maps show that the entire area where this house once stood has been replaced by a swathe of social housing.

It’s strange how watching an unconnected television documentary can lead to triggering memories long since forgotten.

Leyton Memories

Due to family circumstances, in 1951 my mother moved to live with her parents in Leyton in East London with four of my five siblings. The house, a large three floor Georgian building with a cellar was rented like most housing at the time. Although I was only five years old at the time, I do recall feeling my original unease at this strange bustling environment which was in complete contrast to the quiet serenity of Dulwich Village which was the only place I had known for my short existence.

My grandparents were typical Victorians in both their manners and outlook. Born in the 1880’s, Queen Victoria and Empire clearly influenced their own childhood and carried through to their post World War 2 years. In common practice with many Victorians they had a large family of eight children to support them in their latter years. Apart from my mother, two of their daughters, both married with their husbands and children also lived with them. It was fortunate that the house was so large. To me the difference in the disposition of my grandparents was like chalk and cheese. Both were large people but where as my grandfather was one of the kindest people I have ever known and whose memory I still cherish, my grandmother was very strict and something of a martinet.

In a modern household, we all take for granted essential services and appliances such as washing machines, fridges, freezers and central heating rarely giving them a second thought, but in truth these are still relatively recent developments which for most households only started to appear from the 1960’s onwards. I also found electricity in my grandparents home something of a novelty. My previous home in Dulwich was gas lighting only with a coal-fired cooking range. Candles were used for lighting the way when going to bed and in winter, ice would be frozen on the inside of the windows.. Adjoining houses did have electricity but these suffered from frequent power cuts that followed the war. I still remember my father saying that like the first car without a running board, he did not think electricity would catch on as a workable idea. I recall this wondrous fascination with electric lighting led to me standing on a chair and repeatedly turning a light switch on and off during my first day in my grandparents home. The rapid reprimand via a clout around the ear from my grandmother swiftly and painfully alerted me even at that tender age, that she was also someone to steer clear of.

Day to day management of such a large household was clearly a major undertaking with daily and weekly routines executed with military precision to a set of unwritten, yet never-the-less, fully understood rules. Monday was always laundry day, a process that continued through subsequent days of the week until Thursday. This included washing, drying followed by ironing. There was a scullery at the rear of my grandparents house fitted with a copper boiler and two large butler sinks. Washing laundry was a three female process, two manned scrubbing boards in one sink while a third undertook rinsing in the second sink. All linen was initially soaked and scrubbed before being transferred to the copper boiler, other laundry avoided the boiler process. Soap powder was not in general use at this time but all households had soap flakes that required dissolving before use. A bag of “blue” was also added to linen in the boiler to help whiten it. As children our task was to operate the mangle outside the scullery door. For those unaccustomed to mangles, these were two large rollers of solid rubber mounted in a cast iron frame. A large crank wheel to the side was turned to operate the contraption and voluminous amounts of water was squeezed out of laundry as it passed through the rollers. As a child I could just reach the crank handle when it was at its zenith. It was only natural as children to make our mangling duties a fun game. Trying to turn the mangle as fast as possible to see how quickly we could pass a sheet through the rollers being part of the game. One day my sister while feeding laundry into the rollers let out an almighty scream as her fingers went through the rollers due to a momentary lapse of concentration. One of my aunts immediately appeared at the door to instantly and wrongly appraise the situation followed by the customary retribution of a clout around the ear. My sisters fingers were treated by being smeared in butter which was thought somehow to have miraculous healing properties.

It may seem strange in today’s protected society that anyone other than a child’s parents should physically chastise them, however in the early 1950’s aunts, uncles and grandparents frequently did this at a whim without fear of legal retribution. I received more clouts around the ear during my time living with my grandparents than any other time of my life including a boxing match.

The midday meal on a Monday that we now call lunch was always referred to as dinner in those days and consisted of a stew made from the remains of the Sunday dinner. Similar set meals followed on the same day of each week with a Friday always being reserved for fish. Cutlery for eating fish was not immediately washed following the meal as it was considered the soap flakes and scouring powder of the day did not remove the smell of fish and as yet, washing up liquid was not available. Cutlery was always pushed into the earth for 24 hours and looked like a small forest of cutlery sticking out of the ground as it was believed that this neutralised the odour of fish. One day Snowy the pet rabbit disappeared only to re-emerge on the dinner table as the main course. No one could bring themselves to eat a much-loved pet and if ever a death was in vain, Snowy was a prime example.

In keeping with many homes still influenced by the Victorian era, the front room of my grandparents home was a parlour. This room contained all the best furniture and was thoroughly cleaned and dusted every day but was never used except for special visitors and at Christmas. An obligatory upright piano that no one could play also adorned this room. As children we were forbidden to enter the parlour under any circumstances. The rules were simple to understand even for us, to so much as touch the door handle meant death.

One thing my grandparents did posses was a television. These were still quite rare and very expensive. In keeping with the trends of the time, such items were disguised to look like other pieces or furniture. This television resembled an oblong radiogram with a hinged lid on top. The lid was raised and propped up at a 45 degree angle. Beneath the lid was a mirror and set into the bowels of the cabinet was a tiny television screen pointing upwards to the ceiling. Viewing the television  required sitting in front of the cabinet and viewing the television reflected in the mirror. Why such a Heath-Robinson device was ever made I will probably never know. The television was always turned on for the children as we were never allowed to touch it. There was only one TV channel at the time which was the BBC. I remember my favourites were Hank the cowboy and his arch-enemy, Mexican Pete. Muffin the Mule  presented by Annette Mills I also liked. Muffin the Mule attached to strings would dance across the top of a grand piano while Annette Mills played the piano and sang a song. At the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, half of the street who did not posses a television were crammed into one room attempting to watch the ceremony on this small screen.

In those days even as young children it was quite normal for us to be allowed to play in the street, go to the park or walk to school unaccompanied. One place we always went to was Leyton Orient football ground when they were playing at home. After half-time admission to the ground was free. It was not a case of budding footballers idolising their heroes, it was more a case of being aware money was to be made. Many of the fans bought bottles of Coca-Cola during the interval. Being glass, a deposit of 1d, (one old penny),  was incorporated into the purchase price. Most people could not be bothered returning the bottles as their attention was fixed on the second half of the game. Adults always allowed us to take their bottles back to the canteen to collect 1d deposit for every bottle with which we could buy a slice of bread pudding for 3d as well as making a few bob on the side. For small children in the early 1950’s this was serious money. We did however always take our money back to our mother as financial times were hard and to which see was always grateful. Our mother would give us a small proportion of our earnings back to us to spend, the rest going into a lockable money-box that she kept for rainy days.

It was possible to take a number of variations on our route to school, one of these was via a footpath through a graveyard that was part of St Mary’s Parish Church, Leyton. Many old Victorian graves festooned the graveyard with a number of large family graves abutting railings that lined the footpath. One particular grave always frightened my sister and I. This was a large stone box like grave surmounted by a baby’s cradle type sarcophagus. In our simple minds we thought the bodies of adults were inside the stone box and the body of a baby was contained in the sarcophagus cradle. It was at this point in our journey that we always ran as fast as we could before returning to a walking pace once we emerged from the graveyard.

It was after 18 months of living in my grandparents home that sadly my grandfather died. I was awoken by the sounds of crying and wailing throughout the night, my mother telling us the painful news in the morning. I loved my grandfather not only for his kindly understanding ways but also as a protector from the worst painful disciplinary excesses from other adults but rarely from my mother. With my grandfather gone it was only a matter of time before disciplinary excesses for childish mischief grew exponentially. It was not unusual for one adult to administer physical chastisement for a supposed childish misdemeanour to be followed by similar treatment from a different adult who thought they should also administer discipline for the same misdemeanour. Such treatment was not at all unusual in many homes in the early 1950’s

One day after finishing school I found my mother waiting at the school gates to collect both myself and a younger brother to whisk us away to another home in Walthamstow that she had been secretly preparing. I was not aware when I left my grandmother’s house for school that day I was never to return, something that I have always been eternally grateful to my mother for. The saddest thing I recall at the time is not being able to say goodbye to all my school friends. I suspect my friends would have been equally sad the following day to discover they would never see me again. I have not written any of the previous paragraph to engender sympathy, it is more to illustrate how life actually was for many children at that time period coupled with an unwillingness by authority figures to get involved in family matters. On reflection although we had fun times as most children do, this undoubtedly was the unhappiest period of my life.


January 2011

Holy Thorn Tree - Glastonbury Abbey

 Glastonbury – The Holy Thorn

It’s strange how a news making event can have sudden unforeseen effects elsewhere. In this particular case it was an act of vandalism where one of the Holy Thorn Trees of Glastonbury was hacked down one night in December.

The Glastonbury Thorn is associated with the legend of Joseph of Arimathea and the arrival of Christianity in Britain. The legend suggests that Joseph of Arimathea who is mentioned in all four gospels, visited Glastonbury with the Holy Grail. The legend continues that he thrust his staff into the ground at Wearyall Hill which subsequently grew into a thorn tree. The tree was cut down as a superstitious relic during the English Civil War but not before several cuttings were secretly propagated and hidden around Glastonbury. One of the cuttings eventually replaced the destroyed tree on Wearyall Hill with two others being located within Glastonbury Abbey and the Church of St John. By long tradition a flowering sprig is sent to the British Monarch every Christmas to adorn the table used for their Christmas dinner.

One of my hobbies is to publicly share photographs I have taken on Google Earth. I do this by publishing them on a website known as which is now owned by Google and the photographs subsequently appear on Google Earth with some also appearing on Google Maps for the world to see. I should stress that none of my photographs lay claim to be great works of art, I simply recognise that people often like to see photographs of given locations of interest. If you use Google Earth, ensure the photos box in the Layers menu is checked to see the photographs.

By chance, one of my photographs is of the Holy Thorn in Glastonbury Abbey and is one of only two submitted to Google Earth at that location. Although a statistics counter on the Panoramio website shows a slow but steady trickle of views for this photograph, a sudden sharp spike of views shows for the two days following the vandalism of this tree. To me this tends to indicate how the internet is used globally by people seeking additional information on news making events.

I do not yet know the fate of the cut down Holy Thorn tree but I do hope it will re-grow. I do however find it sad that an act of vandalism by either a mindless thug or someone with a warped grudge can destroy centuries of history in an instant.



Dorchester Market, Dorset

Not in Somerset this time but in our adjoining county of Dorset where we have many friends. Occasionally we like to go to the weekly market in Dorchester the County Town of Dorset. Dorchester is a small pleasant town with plenty of Roman artefacts around the place and was the home of Thomas Hardy once he became established as a prominent author. The market is a bustling place held on the site of the old cattle market. Some of the cattle stalls are used as mini-shops on market days and the cattle auction ring is used as a farmers market. A large modern wooden building houses an equally large flea market which I find a fascinating place to potter about in looking at curiosities. One of the reasons my wife and I go there is to bulk buy various bird feeds for our garden.

Once we have finished in the market, we frequently take a drive to Weymouth a short distance to the south to buy fresh fish, crabs, oysters and scallops from a fresh  fish shop located on the quayside of Weymouth Harbour. Our drive took us along the line of the old Roman Road past Maiden Castle, a huge hill fort the Romans once occupied and over the hill range with a hairpin bend down towards Weymouth. Running parallel to the main road is a new relief road being built to help ease traffic congestion. Weymouth is the designated location for sailing sports in the forthcoming 2012 Olympics.

I anticipate that the Olympics with attract a huge amount of additional traffic to Weymouth and this has raised an as yet unanswered question in my mind for some time. Anyone who knows Weymouth and its busy shopping centre will understand how difficult parking is even in the middle of winter. In the summer months the parking problem is greatly exacerbated with holiday makers staying in this popular holiday town. I cannot but help wonder where all the additional parking for traffic generated by the Olympics is going to go. I have asked this question of a number of friends who live local to the area and all give the same reply, they simply do not know. I did a quick internet search on this subject before writing this article but found there was a dearth of information o the subject.

Weymouth Harbour, Dorset

There seems to be a lot of reliance on public transport but proposed Olympic viewing locations are a reasonable distance from the railway station. I suppose some provision for parking has been made somewhere but as yet I have not found it. I certainly will not be going to watch the sailing events not because I would not like to but concern over parking plus high ticket prices are powerful deterrents. It makes me wonder why as a UK resident whose taxes have already helped finance the building of Olympic locations, that I should have to pay to stand in the same locations I stood today for free.

Somerset Arrival


What a wonderful county Somerset is. I moved here with my family over 20 years ago after living all my life in the Big Smoke otherwise known as London for 45 years. The 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys once wrote “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”, however I am not so certain he would have come to the same conclusion if he lived there today. In Samuel Pepys day, London still comprised the two small cities of Westminster and London with fields in-between and with a population of only about 250,000. Today London and its suburbs measure about 40 miles across East to West with a population of  just over 7.5 million and matching horrendous traffic.

The outer London suburban street we lived in was originally highly sought after by house buyers. It was a street where most people knew each other with a friendly atmosphere pervading the local environment. I suppose like many places, with  the passing of the years, people either died or moved on, car parking and consequential ensuing traffic problems grew. These coupled together with an increasing population all led to the gradual deterioration and erosion of harmonious relations. It was almost possible to feel growing tensions as neighbours with more than one car per household vied for increasingly limited parking. Eventually neighbourly knowledge and friendship became limited to adjoining households or less. It was not long before the Local Authority stepped in with managed traffic schemes coupled with the usual promises of “free parking” outside your own house, only to be rapidly replaced by ever-increasing priced parking permits. The local authorities always overlook that parking outside ones home was always free anyway before their intervention.

I always recall of experiments I once read on social harmony. Scientists found rats living in a colony under controlled conditions are quite sociable creatures. However the scientists gradually increased the number of rats within the colony without increasing its physical size. The scientists found that as with many human conurbation’s, as population size grows within the same environmental area, social harmony rapidly breaks down. Sometimes I find it possible to get a clearer perspective of potential problems by standing outside of the problem and viewing it as an onlooker. It was not difficult to see that the already lost sociable harmonious environment I originally knew, could only continue to deteriorate with the passage of time.

It was clear to my wife and I that it was time to leave the London I had known since my birth. The West Country, renown for its myths and legends, is an area we know well and where we have many friends. Rural Somerset being an area that particularly appealed to us. One of the problems in moving home is not only selling your own house but also finding one that suits your own particular requirements. We did not want to live in an estate type property but rather an individualistic property in both character and style. It was hard to be specific what we were looking for, we just knew we would know the property when we saw it. Estate agents can only advise buyers of the properties they have on their books at the time. We also knew that if we chose a property we were not completely happy with it is much more difficult to move yet again. In the end my wife and I spent 18 months house hunting travelling between London and Somerset before we found our ideal home. It was a long task but well worth it.

Work wise, I had already worked out the feasibility of commuting to London on a daily basis and found it more than possible and practicable. Although work colleagues kept advising it could not be done, I knew it could and surprised them all by eventually doing so. One of the problems of living in London is that minds become rapidly attuned to traffic conditions and consequent travel difficulties. On occasions, it can take several hours to drive only a few miles and consequently the mind seems to incorrectly accept that travelling any sizeable distance will be at the same slow pace. Very often it is people’s own minds that stop them moving from London rather than any practicable obstacles. It may seem strange but I found many of my work colleagues spent longer behind the wheel driving to and fro every day than I did catching a train direct into Central London.

I still recall the day we first arrived at our new home. We had booked two weeks holiday to give us time to settle in and as we opened our front door for the first time, we were welcomed by a plethora of greetings cards on the mat from neighbours throughout the village and who as yet we did not know. The village itself is only slightly larger than a hamlet with about 50 properties and the local geography dictates it cannot grow larger. With a population of just over 0.5 million for the entire county of Somerset, overcrowding is never and issue.

My wife was also fortunate in finding new employment as she is a highly qualified operating theatre scrub nurse with many years of experience in all types of surgery. A few weeks before we moved she saw an advert in the Nursing Times for a theatre nurse in a local district hospital. A scrub nurse is the person who ensures that patients do not go home with the hospital cutlery still inside them as well as being the person responsible for handing the correct medical instruments to the surgeon. She applied for the position and was accepted for an interview which took place on the day after we arrived. There were many applicants for the position but fortunately my wife’s knowledge and experience must have shone out like a beacon. That afternoon we received our first call on our newly installed telephone. It was the hospital administrators advising her that she had won the position hands down and also enquiring how soon she could start. The hospital really was desperate for a qualified and experienced theatre nurse.

Traffic in Somerset is normally light and road connections good. The speed limit on most roads is 60 mph with a few 70 mph making for easy travel within Somerset and the surrounding counties. In practice this means that within a 10 minute drive, we can travel anywhere within a 20 mile radius or a 40 mile radius within 20 minutes. The Jurassic Coast, North Somerset coast, Exmoor and The Quantocks, Glastonbury all are within easy reach. Both Glastonbury Tor and Cadbury Castle can be viewed from our home. Cadbury Castle is one of the legendary locations for King Arthur and Camelot. Although no such location has ever been established in fact, with a River Cam flowing nearby and with nearby villages with exotic names like Queen Camel and West Camel, Camel-ot does not seem to be a too far-fetched possibility.

In practice it means we are able to travel to more supermarkets, cinemas, theatres, beauty spots, interesting locations or any other facility we require than we could in London and in a fraction of the time. There is no frustration either caused through bottlenecks or traffic jams.

If I were looking for an analogy to compare countryside living, I would suggest trying to recall one of those few perfect days we all have in our lives. The sort where one goes for a countryside picnic, the seaside or whatever. The only blight on the day is that we have to come home. To us, everyday is now like one of those perfect days with the exception that we do not have to journey home again.

On the social side, we now have many more good friends than we are likely to have made if we remained in London plus all the numerous countryside activities that go on throughout the year. The old saying that one of the loneliest locations in England is Piccadilly Circus certainly appears to ring true. I wonder what Samuel Pepys would say about London if he were alive today.

As I said at the beginning, What a wonderful county Somerset is.


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