Saturday 31 December 2011

Kentish sound mirrors

Much has been written about the Kentish Sound Mirrors, and many pictures can be seen.  There seems little need to add to these piles.

The mirrors are a compelling sight: they are big - some huge - and rather forlorn. While we know they were demonstrated to "work", they raise far more questions than they answer.

We went to see the survivor above Hythe, now in a bit of a sorry state.  It was best approached across a very muddy field, and it was a cold and windy winter day.  It seemed a good plan to have a toddler and a lady on crutches in the party.

It really was jolly interesting.

(Fred is visible at the left).

Tuesday 27 December 2011

50 years on

In the National Library of Wales is an untitled, silent film catalogued as “Aberystwyth Post Office”: as far as it’s possible to judge, it was made to describe or commemorate the opening of an extension to the sorting office. It lasts 2m40s. 

It opens with a shot of a woman walking down Darkgate to enter the Post Office, of which more another time. It cuts to her walking down Stryd Y Bont to its junction with Tan Y Cae where at that time there was a shop. She places a letter in a postbox as does another passer-by, which is then emptied by a postman. A poster for the film “Quantrill’s Raiders” is just visible – this film was made in 1958 but it’s anyone’s guess how long it took to get to Aberystwyth. Let’s say it’s 50 years ago. 

The shop has closed and the box has been changed.  Further comparative photos at

Friday 16 December 2011

Trenau Arriva Cymru

Approximately every 2 (two) hours, Arriva Trains Wales provide a train out of Aberystwyth. Well, they try. Each train consists of 2 (two) coaches.

A highlight of the Aber Christmas season is the last day of term, on which some 9000 students attempt to leave town, 8999 of them by train.

I went to watch the 3.30 departure. Unlike last year, nobody was left on the platform which was slightly disappointing, but the pictures illustrate the scene some time after the train was scheduled to leave. In the second, a lady with too many suitcases (2), and a man with too many bicycles (1) are evident.

The picture is unable to record the Train Manager yelling "JUST GET ON THE TRAIN, SIR" in an effort to leave West Wales.

Saturday 1 October 2011

The Exmouth Journal

The Exmouth Journal is a lot like the Cambrian News.

The only differences I can detect are that the former carries stories about Exmouth, and the latter about West Wales. I think there is a weekly Welsh language edition of the E-J, but it sells out very quickly.

Here is a sarky letter written to the E-J by a C-N reader.

Wednesday 28 September 2011


From time to time, you realise you are doing something unproductive. If you don’t enjoy it, then you stop, but if you do enjoy it then there follows a phase when you balance the enjoyment extracted against the time (or whatever) is being invested in it. Most good hobbies are in this balance somewhere I suppose.

However, recently I have given up Facebook. This was quite inadvertent – circumstances conspired to keep me away from it for 72h, at which point I remarked “Oi!” to myself, and decided it was possible to live without. Yes. I should note that firstly I retain my Facebook identity & do respond to messages received therein, and secondly the “Oi!” was internalised, so nobody will have heard it.

Now I realise that my Spider Solitaire prowess has reached the maximum – well, the WWW reports I’m doing as well as anyone else can, anyway. This has cost me quite some time in front of the screen. The bloody thing records how many games you play, and I just read this figure with some horror ... I think it’s time to give up.

For the record, I have checked many sites listing good tactics for S-S, and not one of them includes all of my own tricks and wheezes. I dare say their authors were holding back – it’s not really likely that I’ve got anything unique. But you can ask me if you like.

(It’s improbable that I shall cease being actively interested in pillar boxes, bees and the Riemann Hypothesis any time soon).

Friday 16 September 2011

Gwerin y Gwern

Attending a rather good music event at the Ceredigion Museum, the MC urged us to attend the next concert in the series.

But she noted that those who had read the flyer may be disappointed, as "The Doomed Bird of Providence can't make it".

Monday 12 September 2011

Health matters

Attend doctor (not life threatening; don't worry)
Receive prescription
Attend Co-op Pharmacy (random choice from many)
Proffer tenner: "How much will that be?" [courteous]
"Nothing. They're free in Wales."

Fantastic! This is the place to be if you need medicine!

Thursday 8 September 2011

A map of Aberystwyth

John very kindly lent me a book called Crook Frightfulness.

It's not easy to describe. The author is "A Victim"; the book is hardback and rather rare; it was published in 1936 and cost 7/6.

The author/narrator has a torrid time. He is surrounded by Crooks who torment him telepathically and with widespread use of ventriloquism. He finds it hard to persuade the police of what is going on and produces the book as a warning - at the bottom of the front cover he opens this campaign:

It culminates with the narrator's experiences in Aberystwyth: ventriloqual criminals pursue him through the streets (and churches, and library).

The places explicitly mentioned are (in order) listed here.

Trefor Road, Pen Dinas, Station, Queen's Road, North Road, Tennis Courts, Shelter, Bath Street, Clock Tower, Castle, Terrace Road/North Parade, Terrace Road/Marine Parade, Pier Street/Marine Parade, Harbour, South Marine Terrace, St Michael's Church, Bandstand, Library, Bath Street

More usefully, a map exists. It would be quite quick to tour these places, in the proper order.

Wednesday 31 August 2011

István Örkény

István Örkény (1912-1979) was a Hungarian writer. Reading his stuff today, it's a little surpring that he got away with it when in Mother Russia people like Kharms certainly didn't.

His One Minute Stories are introduced by a set of Handling instructions in which he explains that they are useful when awaiting an egg to boil, or the phone to answer, or on a crowded bus.

Here is a sample One Minute Story.

I have reached the end of my tether. I keep dialing the wrong number. When I talk to my superiors my voice trembles. I have (so to speak) lost my initiative. My teenage daughter does not respect me. Come next year I will turn 50.

In view of the above I, Dr Rudolph Stü the undersigned, hereby soilemnly declare that the signature on this document is a forgery and the signatory a fraud with whom I have nothing in common.

Dr Rudolph Stü

Wednesday 20 July 2011

Very damn long: down (in the gold mine?)

On the 1971 Doors album LA Woman, a bloating Jim sang a song “I’ve been down so very damn long”, which I always thought was one of the better ones.

It turns out this is also the title of a book written by the much forgotten Richard Fariña. He died in a bike accident in 1966 and is widely seen as a fundamental influence on his friends Dylan, Morrison and a host of others who became really rather famous. Had he lived, it is likely his reputation & achievement would have rivalled them all.

Unfortunately, the reviews of the book that I have read don’t make me want to read it. I guess it’s certain this is where the Doors got the title from but how can you be sure?

Fariña sang with his wife Mimi, who was Joan Baez’ sister; he died on her 21st birthday. She had cameo appearances in Tales of the City and Six Feet Under. She died in 2001.

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Daniil Kharms

Daniil Kharms (1905-1942) was an avant garde Russian author.  He died while a resident guest at one of Uncle Joe's less well appointed holiday hotels.  6 weeks after he died, his flat on Mayakovsky Street in Leningrad was bombed: his friends rescued his notebooks or almost all of his work would have been lost.

Very little of his work was [permitted to be] published during his lifetime. Most notable now is Incidences, a collection of short pieces in a style unfamiliar to western readers.

Just one example is:

The Artist and The Clock

Serov, an artist, went to the Obvodny Canal. Why did he go there? To buy some india rubber. What did he want india rubber for? To make himself a rubber band. And what did he want a rubber band for? In order to stretch it. That's what for. And what else? This is what else: the artist Serov had broken his clock. The clock had been going well, but he picked it up and broke it. What else? Nothing else. Nothing, this is it, in a nutshell! Keep your filthy snout out when it's not needed! And may the lord have mercy on us!
Once there lived an old woman. She lived and lived, until she got burnt up in her stove. Served her right, too! The artist Serov, at least, was of that opinion...
Huh! I would write some more, but the ink-pot has suddenly gone and disappeared.

Monday 4 July 2011

Grumpy Old Man (I)

So I catch a bus from Aberaeron to Llanrhystud. This alone is worthy of many pages of entertaining reporting, but skip that.

The bus arrives. An orderly queue has assembled: I am by some distance short of its average age and those without walking sticks have more sophisticated mobility assistance.

As I get near the front of the queue, a youth sweeps aside a clutch of old ladies and me, and becomes front of the queue. I adopt my well practiced "Aghast" countenance, but regrettably nobody is looking.

The youth (who speaks "adolescentte") is engaged in heated conversation with the driver, who explains that an "under 14" ticket is not available to people who are clearly not under 14. The youth utters many comments in his own tongue, & the driver ripostes "No you're not".

Seizing my chance, I call "And he pushed into the queue". A small Welsh woman in front of me nods vigorously.

"OK Sunshine; back of the queue and full fare" says the driver. The youth shouts "How are you supposed to know how fucking old I am?" [I understood this bit] and slouches off.

The driver and I exchange triumphant smiles. "Silly boys" he says, "Don't they realise it's the same drivers on this route every day?"

I shall enjoy being a Grumpy Old Man.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Safle Bws

Directly outside our house is a pair of bus stops. Buses are every 20 minutes and are the town circular: number 1 goes clockwise, number 2 anticlockwise.

On the front of both, the destination board reads Gwasanaeth y Dref, which doesn’t mean "This bus has escaped from the 1950s. No, we don’t have any change but the nice man in the queue behind you will pay and you can reimburse him when you meet him later."

From my window I have an excellent view of stops going in both directions and can take very good photos of the people waiting to go into town in either direction. It seems a bit much to publish them, but thus far I have

PeopleTotal age (est.)Direction
1M 2F112Anticlockwise
1M 4F124Anticlockwise
1M 0F48Clockwise
1M 3F180Anticlockwise
1M 1F100Clockwise

If you would like to see any of these, ask me directly and I will send a copy. Alternatively, I will take requests and match them as best I can.

Friday 17 June 2011

The Jellicoe Roof Garden

On the top floor of the House of Fraser in Guildford, that lies between High Street and North Street, is a grand roof garden. This was built and opened in 1957-58, when this was Harvey's of Guildford.

The garden was designed by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, a noted landscape and garden designer responsible for many public commissions (including the Kennedy memorial at Runnymede). It was requested in the wake of the Soviet 1957 Sputnik triumph; Jellicoe said it was ...primarily a sky garden,... the underlying idea has been to unite heaven and earth; the sensation is one of being poised between the two.

At the time it was a revolutionary installation and attracted a great deal of attention. It afforded magnificent views of Guildford and the North Downs. The garden eventually fell into neglect and disrepair, but was recently rediscovered and refurbished: it now includes a view of Guildford Cathedral, which had not been built at the time of its opening.

I lived in Guildford until 1959 when I was 4: I have very few memories of the town but the Jellicoe Garden is one of them – I visited it shortly after its opening in 1958. At the time my father was the Harvey’s haberdasher; he would regale us with stories about the commanding figure of Denis Pink, then Harvey’s MD. Encountering two young men taunting the fish in the garden’s extensive water features, he adroitly kicked one of them into the deep, saying, “Sir, I am so sorry for my clumsiness.” No complaint was brought.


Wednesday 18 May 2011

The Alphabotley Run

The Otley Run is so well known that I never chose to do it during 32 years in Leeds. It's not actually well-defined; various versions have differing numbers of pubs. This number fluctuates with taste and local knowledge.

But I shall be leaving Leeds, so in Mark's words, "It's gotta be done". Stuff the rules - I discarded the traditional ordering & certainly didn't do them all in one afternoon. Alphabetically seemed the best approach, but a proper drink [at least] seemed important.

It took from March 2nd until May 16th. But it was thorough: I recorded

  • Beverage and cost
  • Date/time
  • Apposite photographs
I also composed useful illustrative comments for others, and assigned descriptive keywords.

These data are readable for your enjoyment.

Thursday 5 May 2011

Deutscher Urlaub

So we travel to Köln by way of a weekend break.
“Have you come to flee the royal wedding?” asks the hotel receptionist. “You have it right”, I say, “All 6 of us”. [This exchange conducted in German.]
So we saw Köln cathedral, the Ludwig Gallery, the Rhine, u.s.w., but the highlights had to be:
  • The Düsseldorf Nord-Friedhof, featuring the grave of Rosemarie Nittribit (now complete with head). Splendidly understated WW1 and WW2 sections, and a memorial mason’s supermarket. And an apiary.
    Some pictures exist.
  • The Marine Olberman stores on Bayenstrasse: so good we had to visit it twice, on both occasions getting a frosty reception from the staff who spoke so much German it was clear that they knew we weren’t taking them seriously.
    Some pictures exist, and we bought things which I will display on request.
  • The Lego shop. Oh wow, if Lego were edible, would this place make you fat. Just had to be satisfied with Woodie and the Rabbit/Egg tableau.
    Some pictures exist.
The Kölner cable car, incidentally, travels directly over the spa baths where large middle aged Germans disport themselves nakedly. A picture exists, but I have chosen to share it with precisely one special friend.
Other pictures exist that reconstruct the experience rather well.

Saturday 23 April 2011

Like coals to Newcastle

Taking the bees to Aberystwyth wasn't really anything like taking coals to Newcastle at all.

Get 3 experienced beekeepers in a row & ask them a question; they will give you three contradictory answers. The one exception was asking about taking two hives from Leeds to west Wales: "You'll be fine", I was told by all. In fact, they were right, but I lost some sleep over it.

Preparation? Fly mesh is good - they sell it at Spence's at the bottom of Wellington Road. They look at you a bit oddly if you only ask for a couple of feet since they sell it by the mile, but that was all I needed. Then I liberated some drawing pins from work and had implemented a home made travelling screen.

Moving day: I wake at an absurd time to get some serious early worrying done. My noble friend Tracy couldn't be dissuaded from helping me load: I offered him protective gear but he preferred to dress as a Leeds 6 hoodie. He showed no fear as we loaded them into the back of the transit (Oh yes, too late had we spotted ventilation from the van into the cab: Heath Robinson appeared with a copy of the Leeds Weekly News and some gaffer tape). Katey Slater appeared mid-operation to give much needed moral support ("You're not putting them in there are you?").

Fate intervenes: at this precise moment, LCC send two operatives to flush a colony out of a neighbour's chimney (no no, not a swarm of mine or Katey's - honest Guv). Is this an omen?

We embark. My good friend Peter is riding shotgun on the understanding that he does not have to have anything to do with bees. He is solicitous of my mental health and tells endless funny stories to take my mind off the fact that fear is making me drive like the most cautious of pensioners (5 hats). Aberystwyth is a very long way at 35mph.

We reach Manchester Services. On advice, I have brought some sugar water spray. "Peter, just keep an eye out while I check them, will you?". We have parked remotely from civilisation and I am pleased to open the van and not be overwhelmed by bees. However, on top of hive #1 is a solitary bee: she looks at me and says "Shall I go and get the others?"

Head down, drive to Oswestry. Call over shoulder "We're in Wales, girls - nearly there now" (but they know I am lying). Pull over at the Thrill and Grill truck stop (they won't mind) to repeat the spray protocol. There are now two bees looking at me from the top of the mesh: what would you do? Cup of tea, doorstep ham sandwich, back in the van.

We actually pulled up in Rhoshendre 5 hours after starting. The Königin of the Aber BKA had most kindly provided two stands, and the Frau enthusiastically helped me unload - "Should I put my suit on?" she asks. "I'm going to", I reply.

It was deplorably easy, actually. Took away the entrance block and then was the air full of bees. "Eyup Gladys - where's he brought us?". Or "Eyup Blodwyn - ble mae'n dod â ni?", as the Welsh have it.

So that's it: beekeeping novice to seasoned international traveller in under two years. Big thanks to the LBKA for getting me started, being endlessly helpful, and always having a rich variety of answers to my questions, many of which worked.

They're getting on great. "Gwenyn yn hapus", as I said to the Frau.

Friday 8 April 2011


We went on a nice walk to Bishopthorpe, that afforded two really nice under-road bridge views.

There was a welcoming notice as well

Thursday 17 March 2011


Peter said "There's an awful lot of Manchester industrial nastiness I have yet to see." Well, a little less now.

Five train journeys, no ticket inspection on four of them: good augury. By foot, Manchester Picadilly to Stalybridge up the Ashton and Huddersfield.

Some highlights:
  1. Byelaw 41. We never encountered 1-40.
  2. Leisure facility - just a sample, there was more. They had drained the pound, which was a headache for the pensioner couple attempting to get a boat in ...
  3. Bicycle rack, working well.
  4. Notice of the day: Pedestrians diverted from A to B, cyclists diverted from A to C.
  5. Communist: Droylsden library is an art deco gem.
  6. Roger Hannah (yada yada).
  7. Chimney up; chimney down. Many chimneys. Many fewer than once.
  8. Be 28.
Foiled on my [second] attempt to visit Ashton Museum ... closed on Mondays. Chip shops used to close on Mondays.

More footage available, including pictures of heritage.

Wednesday 9 March 2011


On Monday March 7th 2011 at 9.15am, in Birminham New Street station, we found 23 rail tickets stamped void.

Here they are
These are the same tickets, arranged differently

Tuesday 25 January 2011


So we go on a trip, driven by the inestimable Charles (Charles is a driver by profession, but in a dream God showed him an orphan school, which he is now saving hard to build. We didn't quite know what to say - fits with current Tory policy I suppose). The trip involved a long and interesting drive to the Kakum National Park (rain forest, canopy walk), and then to Cape Coast castle old slaving centre.

The Park is fun, & the canopy walk suitably wobbly ("It is tested every morning. It can carry two elephants" - how do they know?). We fall alongside a party of Germans and Ghanaian government people who have been "doing trade" - good thing, as I missed my German class and I could amuse them with simple sentences about things being feucht. One of the bigger Ghanaians sports a shiny belt buckle emblazoned with the word "Versachi" - is that how you spell it?

The journey from the park to the Coast is hectic ... rutted road, busy, busy. Charles pushes on, until a police siren is heard behind us. A motorbike flashes by, followed by two cars flashing their hazard lights, and a third car full of Big Men with Guns (pedantically, Very Big Men with Very Guns). "Good", says Charles. He ignites his own hazard lights and falls in behind the motorcade which is travelling fast and ignoring all traffic regulations, lights, etc etc. Maggie and I are not sure about this.

After a scary couple of miles, the car into which the Men with Guns are squeezed drops back. Windows are wound down & there is aggresive shouting. Charles declares his harmlessness and friendship with the men, pointing out that his passengers are best mates with the illustrious occupants of the motorcade ... yes, the Germans. It appears we have netted an Ambassador. The men look hard at me in the front seat, and detect that I am distinguished. Smiles all round, & please join the procession. So we travel the rest of the way to the castle at top speed as honorary German diplomats.

When we exit the car at the castle, big hugs and hellos among the Ghanaians. The Germans are very polite to their new recruits.

The Cape Coast Castle was truly shocking, all the more so as we got the full-on tour laid out for the German dignitaries. This place and its cousins accounted for more death and misery than Auschwitz etc., by our reckoning.

More pictures

Monday 24 January 2011


So a South African man tells me that I can travel just a short way to see the Ghanaian speciality of novelty coffin carving. "Grand", I say, "Where?". "'Tishoo", says the man. "Gesundheit", say I (it must be similar in Afrikaans). "No", he said, "that's the name of the place. Or something like that".

Mr Google, on being asked "accra coffins tishoo", tells you that Teshie Nungua is the place. My map of Accra (a consistent liar) suggested it was about 6K east of the town centre. Easy.

Maggie and I summon a taxi and tell him we want to see the coffins in Teshie. "Jump in", he says. Approved protocol is to negotiate the price first: he suggested a fare about 9x the usual - I got it down to 6x, after which the lure of novelty coffins made me give in.

The man drove a really long way through amazing traffic & roadside scenes. Maggie and I scanned the scenery for novelty coffins without joy. Eventually, we see a roadsign announcing "Teshie Nungua" - hurrah, this is now easy.

Except T-N truned out to be vast. And the driver had quite misunderstood why we had made the trip. "Shall I take you to the beach?", he asks. "No no - we've come to see the carving". He lights up - Ghana is full of tat carvers. "Coffins", I say. "For dead people", says Maggie helpfully. We are beyond the limits of his English.

Some time later he gets the hang of what we are asking - he looks deeply sceptical but stops to ask a likely local. We now do this:
  1. Stop taxi, ask likely local
  2. Listen attentively
  3. Jump back in taxi & say "I have it" (or similar)
  4. Drive off fast (sometimes along the road we have just travelled)
  5. After N minutes, begin to look uncertain: return to step (1)
many many times.

Ultimately, & no exaggeration, we are about to exit the town along the same road we had entered it a long time ago. He stops confidently & points upwards - we see a display of novelty coffins. "I will arrange this with the man", he says, and scurries in.

The driver returns, and says that if we give the man GC10, we can inspect the workshop and products. "But he will accept GC5", he adds.

Well worth all that we went through. Photographers are getting buried in cameras, school-bus drivers buried in buses, farmers buried in chickens (with hinged wings), ... big business. The owner said there were two or three companies in the game.

Next dinner party here will include the game "What do you want to be buried in?

More pictures

Saturday 22 January 2011

Accra Street Academy

When we go away, we all have a small set of people for whom we bring back presents. There are four large females and one small male in mine.

So in Accra, I went with Maggie to the National Arts Centre, a grand name for an extensive collection of tat shops. A bit unfair as the tat was largely well crafted & unlike much you can buy in Leeds. Nevertheless, nothing too functional & H forbad me to buy jewellery.

After getting something suitable for Oliver, we had moved a long way from the entrance to the market & it became rather less well organised (that’s a kind of joke); then we saw two Victorian-era school desks in the sun and heard yound children chanting in response to their teachers. This was the Accra Street Academy where Jamestown street children were brought to a level that the junior schools would later accept: reading, writing, 'rithmetic.

What these people were doing with only charitable effort was breathtaking: locals, and a horde of German volunteer students. We were shown the boxing ring and the skills centres, and saw the children getting their square meal of the day.

Isaac is seen in the picture stood in front of the new skills centre - he is the 2-i-c, and a product of just such a school himself. At age 26, he has devoted his life to children who would otherwise have 0 (none).

We watched batik being fashioned as a useful skill for the children to learn, and I knew what this would cost on the tat market: when we asked the lady her price, she was torn between raising the price by a factor of 10 (what you do with a European tourist) and telling the truth (what you do with new friends). She told us the real cost so we bought quite a lot and rounded the price up. It was cheap - it's what I've brought back for my nearest 'n' dearest.

But I've got Isaac's address and other details. I'll send him my surplus Ghanaian Cedi, and try to find a way of supporting the school tangibly and regularly. They need pretty much everything. More to be seen here.