Category Archives: Arts and Crafts

Entrance Tickets – Mary Arden’s House, Wilmcote near Stratford upon Avon

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“Step back in time for all the sights, smells and sounds of a real Tudor farm and explore the house where Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden, grew up.”  Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Website

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In 1930 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust purchased a property in the village of Wilmcote near Stratford-upon-Avon, made some improvements to it, added some authentic Tudor furniture and other contemporary everyday items and declared it to be the birthplace and home of William Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden.

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As it turned out (in 2000 to be precise) this turned out not to be Mary Arden’s house at all and the Shakespeare Birthday Trust had a bit of explaining to do.

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Entrance Ticket – P&O Cabin Key, Hull to Rotterdam

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Once on board we wandered around the maze of narrow corridors on deck ten searching among five hundred and forty-six identical looking cabins until we finally found our inner berth shoebox and after we had negotiated sleeping arrangements in a fair and democratic way I bagged the bottom bunk and let Jonathan practice using the flimsy aluminium ladder to get on top.

One of the rules of the crossing is that passengers cannot take alcohol on board the boat – not because P&O have anything against alcohol it is just that they would rather prefer it if you buy it on board at one of their bars rather than from a supermarket in Hull so without any smuggled on beer or wine there wasn’t a great deal to hang around for in the cabin so we made our way to the Sky lounge and the Sunset bar at the very top of the ship to see the sunset that was dipping down over the River Humber to the west.

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Crete – The Palace of Knossos and the Minotaur

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The ruins at Knossos were first discovered in 1878 by a local man, Minos Kalokairinos, and the earliest excavations were made. After that several Cretans attempted to continue the dig but it was not until 1900 that the English archeologist Arthur Evans purchased the entire site and carried out massive excavations and reconstructions.

These days archaeology is carefully regulated and supervised by academics who apply scientific rigour (except for Tony Robinson and the Time Team of course) to make sure that history isn’t compromised but it was very different a hundred years ago when wealthy amateurs could pretty much do as they pleased and went around digging up anything that they could find of interest and aggressively reinterpreting it.

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Arthur Evans

 

Early Days, 1956 Part Two – RAF, Airfix, Flat Pack Furniture and DIY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

airfix spitfire

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

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

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

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

This was a popular DIY magazine from 1956…

DIY Magazine

Twenty-five years later I had my own house and my first tool kit and carried away with optimistic enthusiasm I bought a weekly DIY magazine in ninety-eight weekly parts called ‘The Knack’ costing 55p each issue which was over ten times as much as the ‘Practical Householder’, I should really have remembered how bad I was in woodwork lessons at school and not wasted my money.  I think I threw them away eventually.

The Knack DIY

Simple Pleasures – I-SPY Books

I-SPY Badge

I-Spy books were small paperback volumes that were popular in the 1950s and 1960s.  Each book covered a subject such as I-SPY Cars, I-SPY on the Pavement, I-SPY on a Train Journey, and so on and so on.

The object was to be vigilant and spot objects such as animals, trees, policemen, fire engines, sea shells etc. etc.  and they were recorded in the relevant book, and this gained points.  More points were available for the more difficult spots.  Once you had spotted everything and the book was complete, it could be sent to Big Chief I-SPY for a feather and order of merit.

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Favourite Places in Spain, Bárcena Mayor and Carmona in Cantabria

Carmona Cantabria Spain

I am sharing with you some of my favourite places in Spain; I started with Santillana del Mar in Cantabria and close by are the mountain villages of Bárcena Mayor and Carmona.

After an hour or so we left the main road and took a minor route into the mountains where the fields became smaller, the grass became greener and the sky seemed a great deal closer as we drove past verges of wild flowers sheltering under the dry stone walls, soaring buzzards and occasional herds of the horses of Cantabria as we climbed high into the clouds, way above the snow line with strips of ice clinging defiantly to the crevices where the sun didn’t reach.

Bárcena Mayor is said to be the oldest town in Cantabria and was declared a historic-artistic site in 1979.  Because of this designation it is now one of the most visited places in Cantabria as tour buses fill the road and the edge of town car park but it was quiet enough today and we walked through the pretty medieval stone streets and houses with wooden balconies and washing lines in a hanging mist which added to the character and the charm of the place.

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Tea Towel Souvenirs, Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire

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I don’t understand why people go to a place like Cleethorpes for a holiday. The weather is unreliable, the sea is permanently cold and everything is expensive. Really expensive. Half an hour in the amusement arcade can take a heavy toll on the wallet, the funfair isn’t cheap, there are the pointless rides to contend with and then the donkeys. £2.50 for a five minute one hundred yard trudge up the beach hardly represents good value for money in my book.

It is surely so much better to get a cheap flight to Spain, send the children to the kids’ club and sit in the sun and drink cheap San Miguel and almost certainly spend less money.

I often feel an urge to walk across to point this out to people as they sit shivering behind a wind-break or sheltering under an umbrella being turned inside out by the wind, but of course I never do.

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More posts about Cleethorpes…

Three Trains – Cleethorpes, Amusement Arcades and the English Pier
Three Trains – I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside!