REVISITING ENGLAND AND WALES
11th July – 11th September 2015
RETURN to LONDON..after Spain, Morocco and France.
This is post number 170 and it concentrates heavily on touchstone events in our lives.
To date, Encountering the Past Parts 1, 2, and 3 have involved the laying down of approximately half a million words and it is only now at the outset of writing this post I question where Fred and Bev’s Encountering the Past Odyssey blog is heading, how it is evolving and why do I continue to write.
After some deliberation I have concluded that there are a number of reasons why I continue. These include being able to indulge in a few of my many passions, including drawing and photography and furthering my desire to understand the religious, philosophical, scientific and political issues of the world, the origins and meanings of words and how colloquial phrases and Australian slang evolved,
Another reason I enjoy blogging is because it enables Bev and I to share our experiences with family, armchair travelling friends and fellow travelling bloggers. In addition, writing exercises my mind, a benefit for a septuagenarian such as myself.
Finally, travel and subsequent writing about our adventures brings Bev and I closer, an important factor as we move into senior years. This year is a milestone for us in our relationship: we have been travelling together for forty-five years and as a result we spend a lot of time communicating about past experiences, places we have been and people we have met. Mark Twain admirably summed up what the benefits of travel are. ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime’.
Our first Encountering the Past post was in June 2012 and at that time it was intended to be a simple record of our travels but as time passed it became evident that the Fred and Bev’s Encountering the Past Odyssey was going to develop into not only a travelogue but a memoir as well. It is understandable that the memoir element has crept into my writings as encountering the past is, in effect, thinking about the past.
Reflecting and writing about the past is not indulging in sentimental claptrap as one person suggested to me. By true definition a memoir tells stories from a life and deals mainly with the turning points or touchstone events of an author’s life. This applies to my writings, particularly now I commence to write about our travels in England and Wales and the period when we lived in England.
A few paragraphs back I mentioned my passion for words and their origins. Not a day goes by when I don’t seek out the origin of a word. Take for example the word ‘claptrap’. In the 18th century a claptrap was a mechanical device which simulated an audience clapping. Its purpose was to encourage the audience to clap and thus ‘trapping a clap’. The word is now used to mean nonsense, baloney, bunkum, drivel or rubbish.
BACK TO OUR RETURN TO LONDON VISIT
The first priority when we returned to London was to buy a camera to replace the one stolen in Barcelona. After searching the web and reading about modern digital camera features I drew up a list of features I required. Following is the list: 1) Image quality. 2) Ease of use. 3) An articulated (swivel) LCD screen. 4) Fast auto focus. 5) Camera body capable of accepting a 40-200mm zoom lens 6) Within the budget. Criteria three limited my choice as few DSLR cameras have this feature.
I wanted an articulated LCD display because, from my experience, shaping up a frame through a built-in view finder is not always convenient, for example taking a photograph over a high fence or in a low position such as at water level.
Another positive of a swivel screen means one can take candid photographs when sitting at café tables.
Before photographing people in public places without their permission it is best to check the relevant law, some countries have very restrictive laws in this regard.
To keep within my budget I decided to buy a second-hand camera and there is no better place to buy one than in London. There are 8.6 million people living in the greater London area and many of these have a camera. For various reasons cameras are therefore being traded in or sold. An internet review recommended a camera store specialising in used cameras near the famous James Smith and Sons umbrella shop in New Oxford Street. We duly went to the umbrella shop and asked for directions.
The umbrella shop was like a time warp. The interior had not changed since Victorian times. In the shop hangs a portrait of Jonas Hanway (1712-1786) who was the first Londoner to own an umbrella. When Hanway ventured onto the street with his umbrella he was mocked, hooted and hustled by coachmen who were angry at the potential loss of custom due to the protection the new contrivance provided. Over time umbrellas gained acceptance and now an umbrella is an intrinsic accessory for all Londoners.
The Schirm Oertel company has a very informative web page which relates to the history of the umbrella and is well worth reading. http://www.european-umbrellas.com
I quote Dickens once again. He said (dixit) ‘London is a city of encounters, but also rain and therefore known as the city of umbrellas. It is not surprising then that the first man to use an umbrella was English’.
If the reader is in London and you get the urge to buy a camera or simply have a snoop and you do not want to go via the umbrella shop Camera City is located at 16 Little Russell Street WC1A2HL. cameracity.co.uk
Pani informed me that the camera had taken less than one hundred photographs. A family had bought the camera for a parent who found it not exactly what he wanted and traded it in for a small point and shoot.
One of the great fascinations of London, in fact all of England, is that around every corner there is history such as was the case with my first photograph. I have to admit I didn’t know anything about Bertrand Russell but I do now after reading his biography (www.nobelprize.org). Following is a photograph and an extract from the biography.
‘Bertrand Arthur William Russell was born at Trelleck on 18th May, 1872. His parents were Viscount Amberley and Katherine, daughter of 2nd Baron Stanley of Alderley. At the age of three he was left an orphan. His father had wished him to be brought up as an agnostic. Instead of being sent to school he was taught by governesses and tutors, and thus acquired a perfect knowledge of French and German. In 1890 he went into residence at Trinity College, Cambridge, and after being a very high Wrangler and obtaining a First Class with distinction in philosophy he was elected a fellow of his college in 1895. But he had already left Cambridge in the summer of 1894 and for some months was attaché at the British embassy at Paris’.
The reference to a ‘very high Wrangler’ needs an explanation. At the University of Cambridge a very high Wrangler is a student who gains first class honours in the third year of the undergraduate degree in mathematics. A very low wrangler is one who gains the lowest score. Wrangler to me has always meant one who trains horses but another meaning, which applies in this case, is ‘a person who argues in a contentious way’.
Following are a few photographs taken with the Canon EOS 600D camera. At the moment Bev and I are using three cameras. I use the newly acquired Canon 600D. For less important photographs I use a Canon IXUS and Bev a Canon G12. For the remainder of this post photographs taken with the Canon EOS 600D will be duly marked.
Please note the previous two photographs are not accredited to me but to friend Ted Rayment who has an identical camera to the one I purchased in London. Ted is an avid reader of this blog and I am somewhat chuffed that a professional cinematographer such as he is follows our Encountering the Past activities and sometimes passes favourable comment re our photographic prowess. Following is a brief summary of Ted’s professional career. I include this summary hoping that it will encourage him to get his life story down for all of us to share.
‘Ted Rayment started his career as a Film Trainee with the Australian Broadcasting Commission in Sydney in 1962.
During his time with the ABC he was involved in all aspects of film and television production from news and current affairs to drama, although his main area of interest was in documentaries.
The making of documentaries has taken him to the Antarctic (1977/78) aboard the 57 foot yacht Solo and he was the cinematographer on the Journey into the Himalayas series. Ted has travelled to some of the most remote and inhospitable locations on earth, including Mt. Everest, the Antarctic, Simpson Desert and the Dead Sea. At one point in his career he worked with the Special Broadcasting Service and visited many of the world’s trouble spots such as the Middle East, Africa and Cambodia.’
Following are some photographs showing Ted’s workplace escapades and I’m sure you will agree after viewing them he certainly would have something to write about.
Solo was an Australian built yacht which circumnavigated the world three times and Australia twice, was chartered for two Antarctic expeditions and won over eighty races including the Sydney to Hobart twice. All of these achievements earned her the name ‘The lady of the sea’.
During one of the Antarctic expeditions Ted was charged with filming the expedition and one harrowing moment was when Solo hit an iceberg breaching the hull just below the waterline. The crew began throwing things overboard to try and keep the vessel afloat and whilst this was going on the only female crew member stuck a pillow case over the breach whilst another crew member smeared a mixture of concrete and epoxy over the pillow case to create a seal. With a patched hull and some trepidation and caution the expedition continued to the Antarctic.
There is no doubt Ted has had an adventurous life and recently I asked him if he kept journals relating to his adventures and work in the hope he would one day write a memoir. Sadly he hasn’t.
Ted and I met in the early 1980s when he was cameraman for a film the ABC made about my ceramic activities.
BACK to the PRESENT in LONDON.
One could spend a lifetime in London and not see all the peculiarities of the city, many are on high and off the well-trodden tourist trails.
Of course not all delights in London are up in the heavens, many are down at water level and one we stumbled across was the warship HMS President (1918). The ship attracted me immediately, not only because of its artistic merits but warships and boats generally have long been an interest to me.
The above rendition of dazzle camouflage was painted by Tobias Rehberger in 2014 to commemorate the use of dazzle camouflage in WW1. The original design on HMS President (1918) would not have been as elaborate. The following photograph shows what WW1 dazzle camouflage would have looked like. The bracketed 1918 above is used to differentiate between it and HMS President, a UK naval shore base.
The French during WW1 were the first to experiment with and adopt camouflage as a way of concealing troops and weapons of war. A special corps, of which many were cubic artists, was formed and the artists were known as camoufleurs.
The British were the first nation to apply camouflage to warships and it came about because of the range and accuracy of enemy naval guns had improved and thus ships needed to be less visible. In 1917 German U-boats were sinking so many British ships that if steps were not taken to make their ships less visible the war would be lost to the Germans.
British artist Norman Wilkinson (1878-1971) was employed to create camouflage designs for ships and ultimately he came up with what is now called dazzle camouflage. Dazzle camouflage was not meant to reduce a ship’s visibility but to break up the ship’s form making it difficult to visually pinpoint its position. The following photograph of a painting by Wilkinson needs to be closely studied.
My interest in warships goes back to my childhood when the heroic exploits of Australian naval personnel during WW2 were on people’s lips and being young and impressionable my interest in ships of war was therefore understandable. The following photograph shows a fleet of warships I made when about ten years old. I sold many of the ships I made to kids at school. The reason for the many creases in the following photograph is because I used to carry it around in my pocket in readiness to show potential buyers of my creations.
Interestingly, I can remember making these boats. The decks of the aircraft carriers were made from plywood scrounged from a nearby door factory and the deck and gun-turret features were made from scraps of pine gathered from house building sites.
The verandah floorboards of our house are made from oregon timber. Each plank, 400mm wide by 60mm thick, were fifteen metres long and after cutting them to length I made boats such as the one above from the offcuts. The planks were scrounged from a demolition site in 1980 and cost $11 each. Timbers of these dimensions if procurable these days would cost at least $800 each.
Under my direction school age indigenous children on Thursday Island made and decorated these ceramic boats. The making of the boats was part of a water safety program. The aim was to instil in the children the importance of safety gear that should be carried when boating, including lifejacket, spare fuel, water, anchor, paddle etc. All the safety items were in the ceramic boats.
There is one iconic building in London that embraces both heavenly delights and earthly pleasures and that is St Pauls Cathedral. The cathedral (Restrained Baroque style) was designed and built by Christopher Wren (1632-1723) and is an amazing piece of engineering when one considers the weight and forces involved with the erection of the cross, golden ball, lantern and dome on top of the cathedral.
Below is a drawing showing my interpretation as to how the dome portion of the cathedral is built.
FIG 1. A dome (yellow) of this shape would probably support a seven tonne cross but not a seven hundred and seventy tonne lantern.
FIG 2. Shows the ball, cross and lantern in place. At the base of the lantern is a cupola (hole in dome). A cupola allows light to pass through the dome.
FIG 3. Shows the dome falling to earth, which in effect is what would have happened if the truncated cone (crimson) shown in Fig 4 had not been installed.
FIG 4. Shows the truncated cone in place. The cone is made from bricks and is about 600mm thick.
FIG 5. Shows the false dome (red with cross hatching). I suspect Wren would not have been happy having visitors to the cathedral looking up into the cone so he added a false dome onto which frescos depicting the life of St Paul were painted.
FIG 6. The columns, eight in all (crimson), support the load and transfers it to the foundations. The columns are not visible inside the cathedral, they are covered with false arches and other decorative stone work. The existence of the columns only came to light during the recent laser scan.
During the Renaissance and Baroque periods of architecture a lantern came to mean a small cupola-like structure with decorative arcades mounted on top of a dome. The main function of the lantern was to admit light into the interior of the dome, however it was also an essential element in visual aesthetics.
Christine Mathews climbed up into the golden ball in the 1960s and following is her description of the experience:
‘In the late 1960s I went into St Pauls and at the time you could just keep on going up…it was possible to climb a vertical ladder so that you were up in the golden ball on the top. You could look out through the slits. I don’t think you can do that now’.
A cross and ball is also known as the orb and cross (latin, globus cruciger) and it represents Christ’s domination over the world. When Christ holds the globe it indicates he is the Saviour of the World.
The following photograph shows a member of the Royal Observer Corps, on watch during the Battle of Britain (1940).
The observer appears to be wearing leather soled shoes, which could be a bit dangerous when clambering about roofs.
Although struck by a number of bombs during the blitz St Pauls survived without excessive damage. One bomb, which exploded in the upper interior of the north transept shifted the entire dome. Another bomb, a time-delay version, failed to detonate and was successfully defused and removed by a bomb disposal detachment. If it had detonated it would have destroyed the whole cathedral.
AND NOW to THE RIVER THAMES, PURVEYOR of LIQUID HISTORY.There are a number of theories as to the origin of the name Thames. Its waters were often dark or cloudy and the name may come from the Sanskrit Tamas meaning dark or it may also take its name from the Roman tamesas, tam meaning wide and isis meaning water. With a total length of 346kms it is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom after the River Severn (354 km).
The closest town to the head of the Thames is Kemble, which is in the Cotswolds District of Gloucestershire.
At Seven Springs there is a stone with a Latin inscription that translates as ‘Here O Father Thames is your seven fold source’. The father mentioned in the inscription was a supernatural custodian of the river. No one knows when the figure of Father Thames was first invoked but judging by the number of references to Father Thames in historical writings he was for many, including the ancient peoples who lived along the Thames, very real. Human habitation along the Thames goes back to Neolithic times, about 10 200 to 2500 BC.
The Thames, like most rivers passing through major cities of the world, has at times been extremely polluted and the worst period, aptly name the ‘Great Stink’, was during the 1850s. So nostrilic was the river that the Houses of Parliament had to be closed down. Inhabitants of London definitely did not go for a stroll along its banks like we did today.
When writing my book, Further Down the Back: a Celebration of the Great Australian Outhouse, I read accounts relating to Thames River ‘gong fermers’. Gong fermers were the men who dug out London cesspits and disposed of the ‘products of easement’ into the river. Easements were the name given to public toilets in London. Gong is derived from the Old English ‘gang’, which means ‘to go’. The gong fermers were only allowed to work at night hence the name ‘nightman’ referring to the sanno man (sanitary man).
The removal of human wastes in London in days past was a profitable exercise for some. For example, a case in question was the collection of urine. At strategic points around London chamber (pissoir) pots were placed and passers by were encouraged to urinate into them. The urine was converted into chamber lye and was used for stain removal in clothes, as a pre-wash soaking liquid, for the removal of natural oils from wool, in the production of dyes and, believe it or not, added to various medicines.
During times of extreme pollution Old Father Thames was ridiculed. Cartoonists had a field day. Following is one such cartoon showing a wretched Old Father Thames wallowing in his filthy abode.
In 1855 Faraday, eminent scientist and chemist, published a letter relating to the pollution of the Thames. The caption relating to the cartoon said: ‘We hope the dirty fellow will consult the learned professor’.
Wallowing in the mud of the Thames is still profitable for some today and armed with a metal detector they scan the mud flats searching for objects that may have been lost or cast into the Thames centuries ago. Surprisingly, the modern scroungers are still referred to as ‘mudlarks’ even though armed with high technology detectors. The term ‘mudlark’ referring to those who made a living from scrounging dates back to the 1700s.
NOTE: There are a number of images and stories on the web depicting modern day mudlarks but due to understandable copyright restrictions I am unable to post them. If the reader is interested in perusing the mudlark topic I suggest they search: Steve ‘mud god’ Brooker, a story in the Independent dated Sunday 26th November 2011 by Susannah Ireland or go to http://www.history.co.uk/shows/mud-men
Seventeenth century mudlarks should not to be confused with muck or sewer rakers who worked closer to points of easement searching for items lost down the loo. From an etymological point of view there are just under one hundred words to describe the loo. For example, jon, outhouse, Aunt Mary, bog, la la, music room, down the back, little house, thunderbox and throne room are just some of them.
Today the Thames is much cleaner, however the medieval term ‘giver of life’ cannot yet quite apply as in times of heavy rain the river acts as a sewage overflow. Recently a herd of seals was seen swimming in the river near the outskirts of London so it is obvious that river quality is improving.
Before I close the Thames story there is one marvellous aspect of the river today. It is possible to walk its length from its source, without the cloying odour of days gone by, from the Cotswolds to the Thames Barrier in the city of London. The path, appropriately named the Thames Path, runs for two hundred and ninety six kilometres through flat water meadows, historic villages and cities. The path is said to be the longest national walking path in Europe. Several sections of the path are open to cyclists and after reading about the path and its features it could very easily be added to our bucket list.
Travelling the Thames Path would require some forward planning, even though it is said the walk can be done during all seasons, and I say this because the joy of travelling is enhanced when the weather is right. For us it would not be a winter activity. I would think Autumn (September to November) would be a more desirable time, definitely not Winter as the chill factor when riding a bike would mean gloves, scarf and thermals.
The Thames rarely freezes these days. In past times it was not uncommon for the river to freeze for up to two months at time. Between 1600 and 1814 the River Thames froze over on a number of occasions. There were two main reasons for this. The first was because Britain and the entire Northern Hemisphere was locked in what is now known as the ‘Little Ice Age’. Another catalyst was the piers of the medieval London Bridge were so closely spaced that pieces of ice would get lodged between the piers and effectively dam up the river, slowing it down and allowing time for the river to freeze over. The last great freeze of the higher Thames was in 1962–63.
Celebrating our return to London and the purchase of a new camera we decided to open the bottle of French wine given to us in France. For those readers who have not read the post as to how we acquired the valuable bottle of wine I have included an extract from a previous post. For the story in its entirety search January 2016 archives of Encountering the Past Part 3.
EXTRACT: ‘To close the wine story, as we left Sebastian’s home he gave us a bottle of 1990 vintage wine. At first Bev suggested we couldn’t carry it as our bike panniers were packed to overflowing. After a little consideration we thought it would be bad manners not to accept. I asked Sebastian its value and he said if you went to a restaurant and ordered this wine you could pay several thousand Euros for it! From now on I will be travelling with a fortune in one of my panniers and I hope we can at least get it to England where we might share it with friends’.
The baked dinner was fantastic and the wine although pleasant was nothing to write home about. Personally I think many wines proclaimed to be of superior quality have a fame factor built into them, for example, the region from whence they came, such as Bordeaux and Burgundy in France. But as I have admitted on a number of occasions in my writings I’m no wine expert so I am unqualified to comment.
That’s the end of another post. The next will relate to the hire of a small commercial van, setting it up for camping and our first day on the road Encountering the Past in England and Wales.
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Travel erases your preconceptions and assumptions and replaces them with a rich collection of memories.