Oct 30th

Old Moore' Almanac

By Dolly

A short time ago, I posted that I wondered where my mind went when I was asleep, as when I woke up, the first thing that came to mind, was Old Moore's Almanac, which I hadn't seen for years, but remembered it as being odd, weird, and a bit off the wall. I consulted the Great God Google, (who knows all), and discovered it was still going strong! Three days later, with the aid of pay-pal, it popped through my door. Its basically an astrological magazine, with predictions for the year. Its also full of all sorts of weirdly, absurd, daft, and sometimes downright silly things in-between.

For instance, up until now I always thought that the financial crash of 2008, and the subsequent mess that followed, was caused by the reckless behaviour of bankers and other members of the world's financial institutions. Not so. What the poor sods of the money world didn't know, was that while they were driving the world economy towards collapse, they were being influenced and manipulated by the planet Pluto! That's right, the planet Pluto! The bankers and company were mere pawns and playthings in Pluto's nefarious scheme! But fear not, help is on the way as Saturn is entering Capricorn. Oh! Happy day! Now, if you consider that Pluto is smaller than the moon, 4.67 billion miles away, and it took the space craft New Horizons 9.5 years to get there, that's some trick, and you might think it's a good job its not any nearer! On the other hand, it's more than likely you think it's a load of old tut!

There are predictions for each month of the year, which are generally on-going situations in the world and at home, with astrological attachments. There is also monthly predictions for each star sign, so I thought I'd have a quick peek at what I might be doing next May, as I like May. Lovely month May. According to Old Moore I will be brimming with self-confidence in the workplace. I'm retired, so I don't work anymore, but if I did, I would be able to use my persuasive powers over others to achieve my objectives, whatever that means. Gobbledegook!

22 January to the 7th of March would be a good time for me to play bingo. Likewise July to September, and November to December, and there are lucky numbers for all forms of the lottery.

There are useful things though. There are best sowing and planting times for the garden, and the best times to go fishing. Neither of these have any astrological information attached.

I've saved the best 'till last Cloudies the ads! There's NIRVANALIGHT.COM, who have gifted psychics at hand. (£15 + 1.50 a minute thereafter.) Then there's Lost Magick Rites of the Ancients long out of print books that cover everything from winning court cases, finding a job, making money, removing a curse, or use as an aphrodisiac. The list goes on and on. The word allegedly is used a lot. All yours for £9.99. from the same address, also for £9.99, you can obtain Salt Magic Rites. Are you aware that sprinkling salt outside your door, could keep unwanted persons away?

There are others with 'mystic powers' that can remove curses etc, then there are clairvoyants who do readings and distant healing, and the money cat that attracts riches and stops bad luck from entering your home. Yours for £3.99. also from the same address.


My favourites though are get your own Angel. White magicians of old knew that the key to stirring angels into action, depended on certain words and calls. Once called, they automatically do one's bidding! There's nothing they can't do, and you don't have to stop at one either, you can have a few knocking about the place. Gain wealth, love, success and happiness, by invoking celestial forces! You probably wouldn't have to work again! The booklet will cost you £9.99 from, yes, you've guessed it, the same address! 

Oct 29th

A blind alley avoided.

By mike

    This is just a reply  to a few previous blogs of mine.  I enquired if degenerative 

blindness affected memory and I am inclined to Squidge’s point of view as she has practical experience of the matter . Did deafness affect the way in which Beethoven wrote music?   Apparently not on a major scale! All one can say is that it was rather tragic for someone  - whose vocation required that he must read and visualize the world -  to lose his sight.   It is even more  tragic for Beethoven to be unable to hear his own compositions.  BBC television recently broadcast some programmes about Jacqueline du Pre.  Her story is  an even more tragic case of an illness that separated  her from her cello.  But my grandfather did not go blind and his memories - when aged - seem far more those of a blind man than someone who can see. He retreated completely into his past and his imagination. Memories become mixed up. We might call this brainstorming  or magical realism, whatever,or put his memories in the context of French literary theories that are beyond the comprehension of mere mortals.

         But this does not affect the plot of blindness. I will, however, have to think of another way to tell the story.   He does recall the Arab tradition of oral story telling to a great extent. An Arab story teller would be perfect, but I have not the skill for this, and I am not an Arab!   (The ghost in this story is Edward Said.)

      The problem of blindness is still with us.  Early last week  I attended the performance of a play which was staged at a brand new theatre.  This theatre is on the south bank of the Thames and fronts the river.  On the north bank is the Tower of London and the theatre is virtually next to the new town hall.,  In front of the town hall is a huge display promoting the charity ‘Sight Savers.’  The display highlighted the severe problem of blindness in the third world.  Most of the  problems  can be cured by an operation, but Opthalmia is not mentioned.

         I have just read Mary Beard’s history of Ancient Rome.  The issues of women and slaves in the Nile Delta of 1832 seem somewhat similar to those of women and slaves in Ancient Rome  especially as Arabia  formed part of the Ottoman Empire.  But this might be going too far.  I think Mary Beard and this great, great grandfather might be on the same wavelength?

          The blind journalist, and historian  - began his London career in 1820 and was active in Plymouth before then.  Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837.  I think  he is more of a Georgian than a Victorian.

      Before his travels in the Middle-East, he had written a history of India; a history of  travel writers;  he also originated a periodical/newspaper which might have been a precursor to the ‘London Review of Books’ and  he wrote a history of  Ancient Greece in which he tries to tell the lives of ordinary people.  As he was a Georgian, Gibbon might have been the historical mentor. 

    I wonder if Mary Beard is a Georgian in spirit?   The Festival Hall on the South Bank has  been celebrating the music of the Russian Revolution in a series.,  I  attended a few of these concerts and bravely questioned one of the young ushers.  She confessed that Karl Marx had not been on her school syllabus

    The play at the new theatre is great fun,  It is a farce about the young Karl Marx when he lived in Dean Street, and features a punch up at the British Museum in which Charles Darwin becomes involved. I wonder what Marx would have thought of a theatre that is embedded in a block of  expensive,luxurious flats that now  front the Thames?

    The concert  - that  heard from the upper gallery in a packed concert hall - featured Shostakovich’s ‘Leningrad Symphony‘  This was last Friday.  It was being recorded by the BBC so it might be heard on the third programme.  An academic gave a talk about the symphony before the concert.  But I think the story behind this work is well known.





Oct 24th

Dr Hairy and the QCQ, Part 8

By Edward Picot

Fainting potatoes image

The eighth in a new series of puppet-animations about the life and misadventures of an ordinary (but rather hirsute) GP.
News of Dr Hairy's outburst about the QCQ comes to the ears of the vengeful Dr Stead, who decides to pay Dr Hairy a visit to sort him out. In the meantime, we find out the truth about the yellow man Dr Hairy's mother has been seeing in her house, and the mysterious writing he's been putting on her walls.
YouTube - https://youtu.be/fACVxRH6SgU
Vimeo - https://vimeo.com/239346872

Oct 22nd

A Georgian 'sensibility'

By mike

   A Georgian of ‘Sensibility’

      This is an attempt to construct something about the Middle-East that is not political - though this is rather difficult, as the past is visible in the present.  It would be more of  celebration of Arab culture. 

      Can anybody do a bit of lit crit - or address my argument?  in a previous blog, I  indicated my credentials in the matter of literary biography - and an ability to plot. This may seem daft.   But, underneath is a letter from a father do a daughter.  Ignore, for the moment, that it is an introduction to a book.  Think of  a document given to A level students.  What can be read  between the lines?  It was written in 1853.   Would a consensus of opinion be be achieved?   I have out outlined a plot which could be used as the basis for a drama,  The drama would be a father/ daughter relationship.  But if somebody is blind he can see ghosts - these ghosts could be the Arabs he meets on early travels. I do go to the theatre a lot and ideas come into my mind as stage plots. I have no idea why?  Musicals are current at the moment.  Secretpsi is right.  An Arab prostitute was not necessarily an insignificant person and you get music and belly dancing etc   All period of course!  All matters of gender/race  diversity and L.G.B.T issues are covered.  The plot would begin and end on a quarantine ship in the bay of Malta.  It would begin with the relationship between a travel writer and a seven year old Arab girl who entertains him while the ship is marooned.

     TO  HELEN
My dear Daughter,
You have seen the following work, the record of one of my many wanderings,and the depository of my best feelings and most carefully-formed opinions, grow up under my hands. You have sat with me through the winter's darkness and the summer's light, while I have been endeavouring to give permanence to my ideas of the Inner Life of Egypt; you have watched the growth of those fictions—designed each to inculcate some opinion, or to illustrate some moral—which I have interwoven with my reminiscences; and to you, therefore, more fitly than to any one else, may I present these Volumes as a memorial of my affectionate gratitude. Whatever it may prove to others, to  you and to me it will always be the memento of happy hours. To us at least Isis has been a beneficent spirit; and in the hope that many daughters and many fathers will share our admiration for the land over which she once reigned as goddess and queen, I turn from her and from you, to consider with your brothers the Revolutions that disturb or menace the society in which
we live.  (He must mean the revolutions of 1848.  One of the books he mentions became a life of Napoleon 111 published in 1857)
I am,
My dear Helen,
Your affectionate Father,

       It seems, to me, that Helen acted as an amanuensis for her father and had been practically involved in the production of the manuscript.   Perhaps she had acted as a scribe?  It is not mentioned in the letter, but the author suffered from Ophthalmia and  blindness might have affected the book.   I don’t know?  

      The book  is subtitled ‘Isis - a pilgrimage’  The search for the mother Goddess of Egypt  is the theme.  it is not quite based on memory, rather a philosophical enquiry,  so memory of events might not  be paramount.  The early Victorians were  extremely interested in Egyptology. The book seems to have been well reviewed at the time it was published,   It  went into a second edition!

      The father seems to have a Georgian sensibility.  In his travels, he writes of his affection for children and informs us that the feelings were reciprocated.   He was of the progressive left and would have read Rousseau and Goethe.  I think this is reflected in the letter - in the affection he expresses for his daughter,.

       But what did Helen think of the book? 

      She had been the first wife of a great-grandfather and there had been no  recollection of her in my branch of the family  -  even though she left her husband with two children to care for.  She married in 1856 and the marriage only lasted a few years, She died young.

     Some of you might have undertaken family research.  I, and two cousins, managed to create quite detailed portraits of our great grandparents but did not have much success with the earlier generations,    But what record, date, places etc, which have been traced, can give some sort of portrait.  But this is a bit like Clare Tomalin’s ‘The Invisible Woman’ 

    Helen had been a teenager at the time of her father’s book.  But one of her brothers began a journalistic career at the age of fourteen.   She had a bohemian childhood and might well have had the same education as her brothers, four of whom were already celebs of the period, and much involved in the emerging periodicals market - ‘Penny dreadfuls.’  She might also have met some of the proto-feminists of the time.   But these were not feminists as we think of them, and the word ‘Bluestocking’ belongs to a later generation.   During her courtship,  her future husband had been engaged in researching the first biography of Shelley which was published when he was 25,  It was well reviewed,  Her death was a family tragedy.    But during the composition of her father’s book she must have been among the liberated women of the time.   Her father had been a well known writer and a ‘noted’ historian , at a time when historians were not noted.

      Her reaction to the writing of her father’s book - as it was being written -  could provide a plot.  But  her character would be an invention.  Her father’s travel books are written in the first person and a character formed from his books.   I think she might be a little like the women Helen Bonham Carter portrayed - but these were feminists of the Edwardian age.  A great-aunt recalled one of her brothers.  She noted:“A handsome scoundrel’.   My great-grandfather’s sister had also married one of the journalist’s sons.   I am descended from two of them.  I found enough material to form a portrait of one of these,

    But a drama would mix fact and fiction but I think this is done all the time. 

Oct 19th

Uncle Harold's Last Flight

By RichardB

One night during World War II my father abruptly started awake for no apparent reason, and remained sleepless for the rest of the night. This was most unusual for him, as he hardly ever woke in the night, and if he did he always went straight back to sleep again. Not long afterwards came the news that his brother, who'd joined the RAF soon after leaving school in the 1930s, had been killed in a plane crash. Reckoning back, my father realised that his mysterious awakening must have come at the instant of his brother's death.


I only heard this story from my mother after he'd died. He'd  never breathed a word of it to me or my brother, and no wonder. He was an out-and-out pragmatist. If it was something that he couldn't see, touch, satisfy himself it was real, he had no time for it. Anything with a whiff of the airy-fairy or paranormal would be dismissed with a contemptuous snort. He'd have had a hard job explaining that one away to two curious sons.


That wasn't all about my uncle's death he kept quiet about. Habitually reticent about family matters, he never talked about it much, and I learned more from his mother, who lived with us when I was a child. She told me that Uncle Harold was the pilot of a Lockheed Hudson that had crashed into a mountain while its crew were struggling to nurse it home with battle damage, but exactly where and when she didn't say.


For many years my uncle's death remained a vaguely mysterious snippet of family history that I never thought about much. Then, in early 2003, I got an e-mail from my brother, who married an American girl and lives in Milwaukee. He'd been googling our excessively rare surname, and had found a page posted by Richard Allenby, one of those folks whose particular brand of nerdiness is poking about at aircraft crash sites and investigating their history. I was unaware that such people existed, but the page was compelling. It was about a site near Captain Cook's Monument on the North York Moors, where a Hudson from 220 Squadron, Coastal Command, based at Thornaby, Teesside, had crashed in the early hours of 11 February 1940. Among the crew was listed Sergeant Harold Bleksley. At last, some concrete information about my uncle's death.


Further down the page it mentioned that one Dr Ian Pearce, a member of the archaeological society in the nearby village of Great Ayton, was writing a book about the crash, and that the group were planning the erection of a memorial plaque at the site, so I wrote to him offering to supply what information I could give him about my uncle. The arrival of my letter, I was told, caused a furore at the Pearce breakfast table, as the proofs had just gone off to the printers with very little in them about Harold Bleksley. Google had quickly led Dr Pearce to my best-known relative, Peter Bleksley (retired undercover cop, non-fiction crime writer, authenticity consultant on TV crime dramas, and later star of the reality TV show Hunted), who positively hogs any results page for our name, but neither he nor his father knew anything, so it was a case of 'Hold the front page!' Ian Pearce's reply to my offer might be summarised as 'Yes! Yes!! Please!'


There followed an intense bout of correspondence. Though my father was long dead, and my mother hadn't met him until after my uncle's death, Dr Pearce was delighted with what she could tell me to pass on to him, and quickly revised his book to include it, together with a couple of photos I sent him. In return he told me about the crash in more detail than Richard Allenby's webpage.


Shortly after four o'clock on that freezing cold morning of February 1940 three Lockheed Hudsons of 220 Squadron took off from RAF Thornaby to carry out a reconnaissance over the North Sea and to attack any German shipping they might find in the Heligoland Bight. The lead plane, piloted by Flying Officer Tommy Parker and crewed by Sergeant Harold Bleksley (second pilot / navigator), Corporal Norman Drury (wireless operator) and Leading Aircraftsman Atholl Barker (air-gunner), was in difficulties straight away, unable to gain enough height even to turn safely back to the airfield. It flew at not much more than rooftop height over Great Ayton, waking several villagers, and then Parker fought to lift his plane over the height of Easeby Moor, a hill on the edge of the North York Moors overlooking the village. He didn't quite make it.


The plane struck just below the summit, demolishing a stretch of dry-stone wall, and slid along the ground to come to rest in a belt of young larch trees on the top of the hill, about three hundred yards north-west of Captain Cook's Monument. Barker, who was riding in the back of the plane and hadn't yet climbed into his gun turret, was thrown out, injured but alive, when the impact ripped out the belly of the plane. The other three were killed instantly.


Sadly, LAC Barker's miraculous escape was only a reprieve. Rising later to the rank of Flying Officer, he transferred to Bomber Command in 1943, not a good move at that time if you wanted a long life. In November of that year he was killed with the entire crew when their Lancaster was shot down during a raid on Berlin.


The crash at Easeby Moor was eventually attributed to icing on the wings destroying lift. This is a bit historic, as apparently it may have been the first time this was identified as the cause of a crash.


This was all very interesting, but it didn't square with what my grandmother had told me. Easeby Moor is not a mountain. Harold Bleksley was not flying the plane but navigating it. Far from struggling home with a shot-up plane, they had only taken off minutes before. 


But, as I found out after her death, she had a habit of being economical with the truth: she used to say that my grandfather, a printer-compositor, had lost jobs due to ill-health, whereas the truth was that he was a stroppy bugger who got himself into trouble by standing up against injustice in the work place. Go figure why she'd want to fudge that: if I were his widow I'd have been proud of it, though I suppose losing a job in the Great Depression can't have been much fun.


No wonder she was vague about the details. She didn't know them, because her story was a fabrication. While the crash was in no way the crew's fault, it wasn't quite so heroic as struggling bravely to nurse the plane home with battle damage.


Why my father, who must have known this, didn't see fit to enlighten me, I can only guess. Though his relationship with his mother wasn't of the best (Harold had been the apple of her eye), he probably felt it would be wrong to show her up to his children as a liar. And most of the story came as news even to my mother. 


Be that as it may, in due course I was invited to attend the dedication ceremony at the memorial later in the year. It was a moving and enlightening occasion for me. I didn't go down on hands and knees and poke about in the grass for fragments of alloy and perspex like Richard Allenby, but I saw for myself the marks of the crash still visible on the landscape: the gap the plane made in the belt of trees, two depressions in the ground where the heavy engines came to rest, and the crater nearby where the RAF exploded the bombs the plane had been carrying.


I also got to meet my famous relative, though his television stardom was still in the future then. Since I always assume that anybody bearing my surname is related to me, however distantly, I'd been wondering who he was ever since I'd done a double-take on seeing the name Bleksley on a book in Waterstone's a few years earlier. It turned out that he was the grandson of one of my grandfather's younger brothers, so Peter's father was my father's cousin and Peter is my second cousin.


On the same day, I blew my own chance of television stardom. There was a crew at the ceremony from Tyne Tees shooting for the local news, but when they shoved a microphone in my face I got all tongue-tied and made a total hash of the interview. I don't even know if the item was even screened, as I was driving home at the time it would have been transmitted, but if it was they would surely have cut my bit, which was a shambles.


I acquired three copies of Ian Pearce's book for myself, my mother and my brother, and was delighted to find in it confirmation of a story my father had once told me about his brother – as a moral tale, the moral being that you never know what you can do until you really try.


It seems that Harold was pretty hopeless at maths when he was at school, but once in the RAF and having set his heart on becoming a navigator he buckled down to mastering the complex maths involved, and became not only a competent navigator but, according to my father, a very good one. As was proved when the squadron was given the task of searching for a British submarine in the North Sea. Disabled in enemy waters, it had to keep radio silence, and so locating it presented the complex problem of computing its probable drift from its last known position, taking into account tides and currents in the area. The school maths dunce's navigation led his plane to the submarine.


And now here it was in the back of Ian Pearce's book, in an appendix of Norman Drury's letters home. 'Since Monday we have been congratulated twice by high Admiralty officials for protecting a crippled submarine.' Although I had no reason to doubt my father, it was very satisfying to have the story confirmed by a voice from the past.


Another letter mentions a set-to with a Messerschmitt Me110 in which my uncle ('our navigator') got his pencil shot out of his hand, though he and the rest of the crew were all unscathed. They even shot the German plane down. It's a pity their luck didn't hold a fortnight or so later.


It's another pity that it took nearly half-a-century since I first heard about my uncle for all this to come to light, but better late than never.


Richard Allenby's crash site page is here, though naturally it's been updated (some of that down to me) since I first saw it.

And an informative précis of Ian Pearce's book is online here.

Oct 16th

A Load Of Old Tut!

By Dolly

Used in speech. Also: waffle, dross, tosh, flannel, shite, drivel, tarradiddle, folderol, twaddle, load of old book, bullshit, nonsense, etc.


Every ten days or so, myself, Tony, a lead guitarist friend of mine, and also a songwriter, visit Shug, another friend, who plays acoustic bass, and has a kitchen that's ideal for acoustic music. We spend the evening playing covers and originals, and sometimes record the sessions.

Besides the music we drink tea, eat cake, waffle, and generally talk a load of old tut! Over the years we've become really good at it. In fact, Tony, courtesy of the Open University and his local college, has B A in it, is thinking of trying for his Masters next year, and might be even good enough at it to become a politician!

Shug is also pretty good at spouting drivel, though not in Tony's class. As for myself, I am now fully recovered from a setback I had some time ago, when I found myself talking sense! A first I didn't notice, then became aware that I was saying odd sentences that made sense! On top of this I noticed that I wasn't swearing as much, and as time went on I wasn't swearing at all! It came as a shock. I was devastated. It was a worrying time, and I began to fear that I might become a social outcast. Curtains would twitch as I walked down the street, and people would nudge each other and say:

'That's him',


'Him, over there. He's the one who's talks sense all the time!'

'Oh, dear, do you think we should cross over? It might be catching, you know, contagious or something.'

'Yeah. Best be on the safe side, eh?'

Then I remembered, some years ago, a friend of mine suffered the same way. I sought his advice, and ended up standing on the steps of a large town house. In front of me was a red pained door with a cast iron knocker. To the right, was a polished brass plaque, which bore the inscription: Archibald Arnold. Consultant for Odd, Strange and Obscure Afflictions. Also Good With Spots And Boils.

After a thorough examination, he diagnosed that I was run down, this, coupled with the physiology of my body, resulted in me talking sense.

He prescribed a course of fresh fruit and vegetables, one meat and potato pie a week (gravy optional), one butter pie a week, (again, gravy optional,) two cakes, a course of vitamin B, three Uncle Joe's mint balls a day, and a bucket of water outside the bedroom, for a period of five weeks.

I queried the bucket of water. He said he didn't why it worked, it just did, a bit like turning your computer off and on again. He was also specific in telling me to empty and re-fill it every morning, and to not take anymore that three Uncle Joe's Mint Balls a day, as overdosing on mint balls could set me back a week.

On top of this, I was told to listen to as many radio DJ'S as possible, and as many politicians as I could. This would aid my recovery into talking shite again, as radio DJ'S and politicians are held in high esteem when it comes to talking bollocks!

Fortunately, I was aided in this by the recent election and party political conferences of all three parties, which was brimming over with plenty of tosh.

I slowly began to improve. My use of expletives was returning. Full recovery was confirmed when I heard Boris Johnson's speech at the Conservative Party Conference. Oh what a load of old tut that was! Perfect!


I was cured! I could now take my place in society again, and waffle a load of shite as good as anyone, and to fit any social occasion, perhaps not on the par of the gold standard set by my friend Tony, who could reach the realm of complete and utter balderdash, but good enough!

Oct 16th

Am I entering a blind alley?

By mike


       I posted a blog which is a sort of CV.    I wanted to indicate my credentials as a writer of literary biographies,   I have evidence which suggests I am  a competent writer too - but not of books that get published! 

 I think I have come across an issue that is central to someone’s writing and some of you might have had experiences of this..

     I have a query about blindness and memory but it is more specific.  it is about memory and degenerative blindness.   Has anybody experience of this with an aged relative or even written about it?  The false memory syndrome might come into play too but dementia would not be issue in this case.  Memory and dementia is often discussed now.  I am looking into an Orientalist and the possibility that he came to live more in his past than the present,   But It is how he remembered the past that is the issue,

      The writer suffered from opthalmia.  The trigger for this material is Napoleon and his invasion of Egypt. Soldiers returned to Europe suffering from Opthalmia and it was thought, at the time. to be due to the action of the sun on sand and dust.  One form of Opthalmia was called the Egyptian disease.         

      The  journalist became increasingly blind.  Today we use the term partially sighted,  but by the time he ran the political department of the  “Daily Telegraph’ it seems his blindness was total.  Dementia is not an issue as he wrote well into his old age. Two memories in Victorian autobiographies confirm this and, also, conform his love and interest in Egypt and its people.   Three of his sons, also journalists, most likely helped with his writing.

     How does blindness affect memory?   There are some articles on this on the internet, and the suggestion is that memory increases as blindness approaches.  I listen to Radio 3 as a background and, over the past week, there have been programmes on the musical pieces people recall  from their youth,  It is a bit Proost.

      The journalist’s memories  of Egypt are recorded in three books.  The first book is a journal,  This is a  primary source document written in 1832.  The second book was published in 1844. The same journals are expanded and, I think, secondary sources are added.  It is now a history book and evidence suggests it came close to consideration as a classic of travel writing.  The nature of the memories changes too,

     But there is a later book of memories published in 1853 and one can assume that, by then, blindness might have  become severe.   This is where I come in.  This book is dedicated to his only daughter, Helen.   She had been the wife  of a great-grandfather.  She died a few years after their marriage in 1856.  She  left two boys,  I am descended from his second marriage - to his housekeeper.  But I am genetically descended from the journalist -  though my English grandmother who was one of his grand-daughters.

        It is conceivable that the author recalled Egypt to his daughter who wrote the memories down.   The journalist can now be a dramatic character with an audience - his  daughter! 

      Have I gone down a blind alley?   This interpretation does rather open the material up,

      I am afraid word cloud has been responsible for this,  I was looking for descriptions of camel rides and came across a ride on a donkey.  This memory had not been included in the journal and reads more as a scene from a picaresque novel by Dickens.  It is in the history book..  

     I am not sure what has come into play here?  Dickens came to dominate the era,  Was it essential to write comedy?  Has the false memory syndrome kicked in?  

         Has anybody come across the relationship between memory and blindness?    The journalist does rather suggest that memory increases, which supports the essays on the internet.  But  memories  of youth might increase with age too.   I have already covered part of this subject though researching  a grandfather’s life where memories change with age and become jumbled up - the ‘lost atlantis of the mind.’  But this is a different theme.

    Egypt is seen the prism of the enlightenment and also the romantic movement.    This is the PC issue,  There is another ghost here - W.Said,. But the the journalist  came close to writing a classic of travel because he wrote about ordinary Egyptians,  The  journals are boring because ancient monuments are recorded is some detail, but this was the interest at the time. 


Oct 15th

Self-publishing Services - the best and the worst

By Tony

The Alliance of Independant Authors (ALLi) have produced a potentially very useful listing of dozens of companies that offer help to self-publishing authors. They rate them in four categories, two good and two 'watch out for the rip-offs.'

If you're thinking of using a particular company you could do worse than check them out on Alli's list first. You'll find it here:


(Just in case anyone doesn't know, if you select the above URL and right-click you can then left-click on the 'Go to...' option in the pop-up box.)

Oct 15th

Chapel-en-le-Frith: Devotion to Duty

By RichardB

The Regulation of Railways Act 1889, passed in the wake of the appalling accident at Armagh earlier that year, laid down that every passenger train must have fail-safe brakes under the driver's control throughout the train, but it made no mention of goods trains. For nearly a hundred years afterwards, right up to the end of the steam age and for some years beyond, the freight traffic on Britain's railways was operated in a manner so antiquated as to evoke wonder and disbelief elsewhere, with trains of short, unbraked four-wheeled wagons trundling across the landscape at speeds seldom exceeding 20mph.


There were some wagons fitted with passenger train style power brakes, and trains made up wholly or partly of such wagons were known as 'fitted freights', though even they were limited to about 40mph by the instability of the wagons, with their short wheelbases. But they were a small minority. Most British freight wagons could only be braked by dropping a long lever on the side of the wagon, which engaged with a ratchet to hold it down. To keep the pressure on and to make sure that the lever didn't vibrate out of the ratchet it had to be secured by a pin pushed through a hole in the frame. This operation was called 'pinning down the brakes', and it could only be done from the lineside, wagon by wagon, while the train was at a standstill.


Although goods trains may not have had the glamour of the express passenger trains, running a train of unbraked wagons over an undulating road was, if anything, an even more highly skilled operation. The engine would be alternately straining to lift the train uphill and holding it back on the downhills. There was plenty of slack in the primitive chain couplings (hence the name 'loose-coupled' for such trains), and on the downgrades all the couplings would slacken as the wagons pushed against each other. If you put on the power too quickly at the bottom of the hill, the sudden tightening of the chains could break a coupling and divide the train. Before commencing a steep descent the train would have to stop for some of the wagon brakes (how many was down to the driver's judgement) to be pinned down, otherwise the weight of the train might overcome the engine's steam brakes and a runaway would result.


That there were very few serious accidents arising from the running of loose-coupled goods trains is a tribute to the skill and diligence of Britain's railwaymen. But in one incident near the end of the steam age the actions of one engineman rose above and beyond skill and diligence into true heroism.


On the morning of 9 February 1957 a heavy freight locomotive in the charge of Driver Axon and Fireman Follows arrives at the engine shed at Buxton, near the edge of Derbyshire's Peak District, after working a goods train from Stockport. A wisp of steam, first noticed when Axon put on the brakes to slow the train on the downhill stretch into Buxton, is blowing from the joint between the steam pipe and the driver's brake valve mounted on the back of the firebox, so Axon makes out a repair card. Soon a fitter arrives and tightens the nut securing the joint a quarter turn, and the leak stops.


At 11.05 Axon and Follows depart from the goods yard at Buxton with a train of 33 loaded wagons behind their engine. The first two miles out of Buxton are steeply uphill, so another engine is shoving ('banking', as it is called) the train from behind. When the train reaches the summit at Bibbington's Sidings it will stop to pin the brakes down, for the descent on the other side is even steeper.


In the past hour or so that Axon and Follows have spent making up their train in the yard the steam brake has given no trouble, but they have not been out on the main line more than a few minutes before steam begins to blow again from that pipe joint. They wrap a couple of rags round the joint and tie them tight, but the leak quickly gets worse. There is a passing loop, starting at Bibbington's Sidings and running alongside the main line for about half a mile to the next signal box at Dove Holes, and Axon decides to stop in the loop and ask for assistance.


But as they are passing the distant signal for the loop line points there is an almighty bang and a cloud of steam fills the cab. The joint has given way and the pipe has blown completely away from the brake valve, shooting out a lethal jet of scalding steam at boiler pressure. But that's only the start of it. The real emergency facing the crew is that the locomotive now has no brakes, leaving the train with only the handbrakes on the tender and guard's van. And over the summit, less than half a mile away, a steep downgrade awaits them.


Axon and Follows screw down the tender handbrake. They try to close the regulator valve to shut off steam, but the handle is close to the broken pipe and they can't reach it without being scalded. They try protecting themselves with their overcoats and make attempt after attempt to push that handle, but it's no use. It doesn't help that the regulator on this engine is unusually stiff. Eventually they get it nearly closed by poking at it with a fire-iron, but all their efforts have little effect on their speed, because the banking engine is still shoving them from behind. Driver Robinson at the back of the train has no way of knowing of the emergency at the other end, for that jet of steam is also preventing Axon and Follows from reaching the whistle. As is usual with banking engines, his engine is not coupled to the train, so even if he did know he couldn't help with his own engine's brakes.


By now the lead engine has nearly reached the summit, and Axon tells Follows to jump off and try to pin down some wagon brakes. He manages to drop six or seven brake levers, but the train is going at about 15mph and that is too fast for him to be able to pin them down. The brakes have no effect. Follows runs to the back of the train and shouts at Guard Ball to screw his handbrake down as hard as he can. By now the banking engine has dropped off the back of the train and stopped, but Axon's engine has passed the summit and the train is beginning to gather speed.


Driver Axon has stayed on the engine. He could have jumped off along with Follows while the train was still moving slowly up the hill, but it goes against the grain to abandon his train, leaving it to cause goodness knows what havoc further down the line. If he stays with it, and if he's lucky, there's just a chance he may eventually be able to regain control of it.


The points are set for the loop, because the plan is to hold Axon's train there while a passenger train goes past. Signalman Bowyers at Bibbington's Sidings sees it pass his signal box and enter the loop at about 25mph. Although it is going a bit faster than usual and the cab is full of steam, he isn't unduly alarmed, because goods trains often don't stop to pin down their brakes until they are in the loop. He doesn't realise that he has a runaway on his hands.


By the time Signalman Fox in the signal box at Dove Holes Station, at the other end of the loop, sees the train heading straight towards him there's no doubt of what's happening. It's moving much too fast to stop before it reaches the end of the loop and the short trap siding beyond, and the driver is leaning out of the cab frantically waving at him to throw the points and let the train back out onto the main line.


Fox knows he shouldn't do this. Only a few minutes ago he let another goods train out of the loop, and he hasn't yet received 'Train out of section' for it from the next signal box at Chapel-en-le-Frith Station. But if he throws the points there's a chance, a slender chance but a chance nonetheless, that Driver Axon can slow his train before it catches up with the other one, whereas if he doesn't it's a dead certainty that the train will pile catastrophically into the wall at the end of the station platform, right below his signal box. He has only seconds to make up his mind.


Inevitable disaster versus a slim chance of avoiding it. Fox throws the points.


As the train lurches out of the loop and onto the main line to hurtle on down towards Chapel-en-le-Frith, Fox phones Signalman Howe there to warn him what has happened. When Howe receives the call the other goods train is passing through the station at a modest 15mph, and there is a two-coach diesel railcar unit standing at the platform on the opposite line. At once he alerts the station staff, who set about evacuating the passenger train. Its guard and driver, who have by now seen Axon's train speeding down the bank towards them in a cloud of steam, gesticulate and shout at the driver of the goods train, urging him to get a move on. He hasn't time to respond before the runaway hits the back of his train, right opposite Howe's signal box, at about 55mph.


The crash demolished the signal box, throwing Signalman Howe out onto the sidings below, and created a mound of wreckage that took three days to clear; but thanks to the prompt action of the station staff there were only two fatalities. They were the guard of the overtaken goods train, and Driver John Axon. Guard Ball, who also stuck to his post in his van holding the brake on, was shaken but escaped serious injury.


Exceptionally, the enquiry found no fault with the actions of any of the railwaymen involved, not even with the fitter who tightened the nut. It was routine for nuts on locomotives to work loose due to vibration, and normal practice to stop leaks in steam pipe joints by tightening them. He couldn't have known that there were defects in the joint, dating right back to its original manufacture, that were actually exacerbated by tightening the nut and led to the fracture, because those defects were inside, hidden by the nut, and could only have been discovered by stripping the joint down. The fitter said that he would have stripped it down had he known that a similar leak had been reported and the nut tightened only the day before, but Driver Axon was unaware of this and so couldn't have told him. It was sheer bad luck.


For his courage and devotion to duty by staying with his train, John Axon was posthumously awarded the George Cross. In 1981 a locomotive was named after him: the name Driver John Axon, GC has been passed down and is currently carried by a Class 156 diesel multiple unit. But John Axon's renown doesn't stop there. His name became famous among many people who had no interest in railways, in an unexpected way.


Someone at the BBC thought that Axon's heroism would make a good subject for a radio programme, and folk singer Ewan MacColl (father of Kirsty) and his partner Peggy Seeger (sister of Pete) were commissioned to make it. With producer Charles Parker they came up with a programme, The Ballad of John Axon, that 60 years on is still held in awe in radio circles for its innovative use of the medium. It combined studio narration and song with real-life recordings of Axon's widow and colleagues (this was the revolutionary bit) to produce an original mix of music, drama and documentary that celebrated not only John Axon's heroism but the day-to-day life of Britain's railwaymen. It is still available on CD, and it spawned a series, known as the Radio Ballads, similarly depicting other aspects of British working life, such as fishing, coal mining and road building.


Eight were made altogether, but they were costly to produce and the BBC pulled the plug in 1964. Other programmes in the same format have been made since, but the originals are still the most famous, and some of MacColl's songs from them have become folk classics.

Oct 9th

No motivation!

By Squidge

 I have a BIG problem in my editing at the moment... 

No, I'm not talking about MY motivation for actually writing.

It's my MC. She has no motivation. Eeeek! So it feels like I've got to find out what the heck it is before I can really finish this blasted novel by writing something in.

I've blogged about it on The Scribbles, but I'd be interested to know if any cloudies have had the same problem before - and how did you crack putting motivation in, in retrospect?

Ta, Squidge 



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