A Californian in Manchester (or a Mancunian in California)

Manchester “Californian” type tram 765: August 1981

Manchester “Californian” type tram 765: August 1981

I took the photo above in August 1981, showing a “Californian” in Manchester, England. It’s not really Californian—of course—it’s just a “California style” tram that used to be operated by Manchester Corporation Tramways. Manchester abandoned its electric tramway system even earlier than most British cities, and this preserved car is the only surviving Manchester electric tram.

At the time of my photograph, the restoration of Car 765 had recently been completed, and it was giving rides to the public on a special track in Heaton Park. When riding that ancient tram, during a long-ago summer Sunday, I never even guessed that, within 10 years, I’d be riding modern trams (albeit called trollies) in the real California!

I described in a previous post how I accepted an offer of an apprenticeship in Electronic Engineering from Ferranti, in Manchester, and so moved there to start working for them in July 1981.

For all its (deserved) reputation as a grim Northern industrial city, Manchester nonetheless has a fascinating history, having been the cradle of an Industrial Revolution that massively changed the world. The city not only features many world-famous industrial landmarks, but was also the source of early reactions to the industrialization of society. For example, the German philosopher Friedrich Engels wrote his master work, The Condition of the Working Class in England, in the city in 1842-44. Engels met Karl Marx a few years later, and together they went on to promote Communism, which of course has had a substantial effect on the subsequent course of world history.

One among many “world’s firsts” located in Manchester is the oldest surviving purpose-built railway station; Liverpool Road Station, built in 1830 for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, and shown below in my 1983 photo.

Liverpool Road Station, Manchester

Liverpool Road Station, Manchester

Things to Come

In those days, Manchester was still in the process of shedding its industrial past (as fabulized later in the TV series Life on Mars). Despite the fascination of its history, Manchester for me couldn’t compare with the opportunity to live in London (to where I moved when I began my studies at Imperial College that Autumn). I lived and worked in Manchester for three summers, and I look back on those days now as a boldly-taken but rather shaky stepping-stone on the way to everything that has happened to me since.

I admit that the title of this post is stretching the truth a little, because I’m not really “Mancunian” (someone from Manchester), but I did live there for a while, during an interesting part of my life!

Manchester “Californian” type tram 765: August 1981

Manchester “Californian” type tram 765: August 1981

Ruins of Yorkshire

 

Byland Abbey, West Front, 2010

Byland Abbey, West Front, 2010

The photo above, which I took during a visit in 2010, shows the still-impressive ruin of the West Front of Byland Abbey, in Yorkshire. Prior to its destruction, the most impressive feature of this facade would have been a huge rose window, the lower outline of which is still visible here. Apparently, that was the inspiration for a similar rose window in York Minster, which remains intact (although it narrowly escaped destruction in the 1984 fire, and required substantial renovation, as described here).

For my Yorkshire Day post this year, I wanted to draw attention once again to the remarkable assemblage of monastic ruins that exist in that county. There are, of course, also many military ruins, such as Scarborough Castle, but the religious buildings are perhaps less well-known.

Just to avoid any confusion regarding my intentions, I should make it clear again that I have no interest at all in religion. My interest in these buildings is and always has been architectural and historical.

I’ve mentioned my early experiences with these ruins in previous posts, and I must admit that I tended to take them for granted when growing up. I just assumed that there must be huge ruined churches lying around everywhere, and it was only later that I realized that this was a rare environment.

Illustrating the degree of integration of these ruins into the landscape, the photo below shows the modern remains of Byland Abbey’s gatehouse, the surviving arch of which stands over a public road.

Byland Abbey Gatehouse Ruin

Byland Abbey Gatehouse Ruin

A Long-Forgotten Social Disaster

The process by which all these huge religious institutions came to be abandoned and ruined is fairly well known, as the Dissolution of the Monasteries, which took place between 1536-40. The event occurred because King Henry VIII picked a fight with the Pope, over his desire to divorce one of his wives. The key to success, as he saw it, was to crush the power of the Catholic church in England. All the monasteries owed allegiance to the established church, so it seemed to him that abolishing them would not only be a way to reduce the church’s power, but also to grab the land and valuables owned by those institutions, and the income streams created by them.

As the extent of the remaining ruins suggest, the monasteries in Yorkshire formed a major part of the local economy and social organization, so their abolition and deliberate destruction must have been catastrophic. Although the King was able to seize the land and the monasteries’ treasures, his hoped-for income streams never materialized, because he had destroyed the organizations that were generating them! Henry sold off most of the seized land to his favored nobles, and then squandered the proceeds on his wars.

Rievaulx Abbey, also in Yorkshire, built one of the world’s first blast furnaces for iron, and it has been suggested that, if it had not been for the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Industrial Revolution would have begun in Britain a century before it actually did.

In State Care

Following the Dissolution, the institutions’ land and buildings passed into private hands, and stayed that way for centuries.

Many abandoned religious buildings that were close to settlements gradually disappeared, as they were stripped for building stone. It was probably the relative isolation of the Yorkshire abbeys that permitted the survival of significant portions of the structures.

At the start of the Twentieth Century, the British Government began to take an interest in preserving what was left of the ruins, and eventually took most of them into state ownership, by purchasing them from the private owners.

Fountains Abbey: a Spectacular Setting

While the ruins of Byland and Rievaulx Abbeys are impressive, perhaps the Yorkshire ruin with the most ideal landscape setting is Fountains Abbey.

The photo below shows the ruin of the church at Fountains, in its breathtaking setting in Studley Royal Park. This was taken during a visit in 1977, and the individuals in the foreground are my mother and her friend.

Fountains Abbey, 1977

Fountains Abbey, 1977

In those days, the visitors’ car park was at the Studley Tea Rooms, which necessitated quite a long (but pleasant) walk alongside the River Skell to the actual ruins. The modern car park is closer to the ruin.

Fountains was somewhat unusual in that it was not purchased by the Ministry of Works at the same time as most of the other sites. It remained in private hands until 1966, when it was bought by the County Council. In 1982, the estate was transferred to the National Trust, and is now maintained by English Heritage.

If you’re visiting Yorkshire, and if the weather is reasonable, then all these ruins are well worth a visit!

Radio Ga Ga

My brother and I with the Radiogram, c.1965

My brother and me, with the Radiogram, c.1965

The photo above was taken by my father. It shows me at about the age of 5 (on the left), with my younger brother, apparently enthusiastically listening to a record being played on my grandfather’s radiogram.

If you’re not familiar with the term “radiogram”, that’s not surprising. It’s an obsolete British term for an item of furniture combining a record player and a radio receiver. These massive, wooden-crated units were popular until transistor electronics began to replace valve (tube) technology, after which they were replaced by smaller “hi-fi music centres”.

My grandfather’s pride-and-joy was his Bush SRG 100 model (British-made, of course). Other than the fact that it was a Bush, I’d forgotten many details of it until I found an example being offered online, in this post. The photos in the post provide a good indication of the sheer size of that device!

When the photo above was taken, I had no inkling of the role that that particular radiogram was to play in my future life. My grandfather died in 1967, and I ultimately inherited his Bush radiogram. During the 1970s, the enormous object resided in my bedroom at our house in West Street, Scarborough. I rarely played records on it, but I did spend innumerable hours listening to a wide variety of radio broadcasts.

Given that most people these days think of radio as being merely a source of music, mostly-mindless opinions, and perhaps traffic news, the quality and breadth of broadcasts in those days seems remarkable. The apparent decline in the quality of radio is appropriately lamented in Queen’s 1984 song, Radio Ga Ga.

For example, British radio comedy was a very creative field, partly because new programming ideas could be tested much more cheaply on radio than on TV. The radio comedies of the 1950s and 60s, from the Goon Show, through Round the Horne and eventually I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, eventually led to the TV “breakthrough” of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Radio Monopoly

The landscape of British radio broadcasting during the 1960s was so different that it seems in retrospect as though I must have been living in some alien nation.

Essentially the BBC had a monopoly on legal radio broadcasting. Until 1967, there were only 3 BBC radio stations: the Home Service, the Light Programme, and the imaginatively-named Third Programme. Although it’s not visible in the photo above, the VHF tuning display of the Bush radiogram showed only those 3 selections! Except for the military, “ham” operators and emergency services, nobody else was allowed to establish a broadcast radio station in the UK!

Strange as it may seem from the perspective of history, most people didn’t seem to object to the BBC’s monopoly on broadcasting. However, a problem developed during the 1960s, because the BBC refused to play rock-and-roll music on the Light Programme.

Due to tremendous demand from young people to hear pop music, various “pirate” radio stations came into being. These evaded UK law by broadcasting from foreign countries, or even from ships at sea. In a typically absurd way, although the broadcasts were legal, listening to the “pirate” broadcasts in the UK was illegal!

Our School Governor is a Pirate!

Probably the most famous of the music stations broadcasting to Britain (although not technically a “pirate” station) was Radio Luxembourg. In 1966, the owner of our local supermarket in Newby, Wilf Proudfoot, became the proprietor of a pirate station, Radio 270, which broadcast from a ship in international waters in the North Sea.

Scarborough Harbour, September 1963

Scarborough Harbour, September 1963

Proudfoot was also a governor of our school—Newby County Primary. It was hardly inspiring when our headmaster introduced him at “Assembly” time as a local businessman, who was publicly breaking the law! Of course, compared to the criminal behavior and corruption that has been unearthed in Scarborough since then, Proudfoot’s actions now seem quite benign.

In 1967, the structure of BBC radio broadcasting changed, with the introduction of Radio 1 as the official pop music station. The Light Programme, Third Programme and Home Service were rebranded as Radio 2, Radio 3 and Radio 4 respectively. At the same time, the law was changed to close various loopholes, which put Proudfoot’s Radio 270 and similar stations out of business.

Waiting for the Sky Wave

It always seemed odd to me that, during my lifetime at least, my parents never listened to the radio. They certainly watched plenty of TV, though. It was as though they’d decided that television had made radio obsolete, so that was the end of that.

As a teenager, therefore, radio became the doorway to my private world, in which my parents simply took no interest. Nowadays I suppose I’d be spending my time on the internet, but that wasn’t even imagined back then.

Typically, I’d switch on Radio 2 at 6am, to catch the start of Terry Wogan’s show, and then be listening to one or other of the BBC channels for most of the day. After twilight, things began to get more interesting, when skywave reflections allowed me to pick up (temporarily) stations from further afield. Those gave me new perspectives on the world that simply weren’t available in my small-town environment. I was also learning French and German at school, so listening to European stations gave me a study incentive.

It was a gateway to a wider world that I was eager to get out and explore, and, eventually, that was exactly what I did.

Happy Bastille Day 2018

Chemins de fer du Midi, Bordeaux

Chemins de fer du Midi, Bordeaux

Happy Bastille Day! This year, trying to avoid predictable views of Paris, I decided to post the photo above, which shows a fascinating map that still exists in the Great Hall of the main railway station in Bordeaux (Saint Jean). This huge wall plan was created by the Compagnie des Chemins de fer du Midi, presumably at the time of the station’s construction.

I took the photograph when Mary and I were passing through Bordeaux station in 2014, on our way from Paris to Saint Cyprien. We had just arrived from Paris via TGV, and we were changing trains for the TER service to our final destination.

The photo above doesn’t reveal that that afternoon was extremely hot, and only small parts of Bordeaux Station are air-conditioned (ironically, the area near the McDonalds restaurant)! Mary and I thus spent most of our time there trying to find places to keep cool, but even in those circumstances we didn’t consider the idea of eating at McDonalds.

Back to Paris

The photo below shows me in Paris Montparnasse Station, in front of the TGV that had just brought us back from Bordeaux on the return leg of our journey.

TGV and Me, Paris Montparnasse, 2014

TGV and Me, Paris Montparnasse, 2014

In fact, the train route between Paris and Bordeaux has changed since we made our journey, because the LGV Sud Europe Atlantique high-speed line has been opened all the way through (as shown here). When we made our trip in 2014, we could only use the high-speed line from Paris to Tours, and then the train used the existing route to Bordeaux.

Historic Rail Maps Survive

The rail map in Bordeaux station immediately reminded me of the tile maps that England’s North Eastern Railway placed at most major stations on its network, the surviving examples of which were a regular sight when I was traveling in Yorkshire as a child.

The photo below shows the map at York Station, and was taken while I was changing trains there a few years ago.

North Eastern Railway tile map, York

North Eastern Railway tile map, York

There’s an additional modern notice at the right-hand side of the map, warning potential passengers that they can’t necessarily take a train to all the locations shown on the map!

In fact, there are a few locations on the NER map that you could never get to by rail, because the lines shown were never built. On the whole, though, the maps provide an impressive record of just how extensive the European rail network was at the end of the nineteenth century.

Learning the Virtue of Patience

1:72 Model of Hawker Harrier T.2 Demonstrator G-VTOL

1:72 Model of Hawker Harrier T.2 Demonstrator G-VTOL

The photo above is all that survives of a 1:72 scale model of the Hawker Siddeley Harrier T.2 demonstrator aircraft, which I made in 1976, while still a teenager. In those days, making model kits (usually of aircraft) was regarded as something of a “rite of passage” for young boys. My initial efforts were extremely clumsy, but, by the time I made the model above, I had become quite comfortable with the techniques required. I was able to adapt off-the-shelf kits to my own requirements (as here where I’d converted a single-seat Matchbox Harrier kit to the two-seat version), and even make my own decals.

When I first bought those plastic kits, however, I was too young and unskilled to construct them myself, so my parents helped out by making them for me. In retrospect, their responses to those tasks seem quite odd. I mentioned in a previous post that, like so many other children, I inadvertently learned dysfunctional attitudes from my parents, and this seems to have been another of those cases.

A Fiendish Plot to Infuriate Parents?

In Britain at that time, the two major manufacturers of plastic kits were Airfix and FROG. The strange name of the latter company, which had been the first in the world to make such kits, was actually an acronym, as I’ll explain below.

The first plastic model kit that I remember buying, when I was about 7 years old, was of a Supermarine S6B floatplane, made by FROG. Rather naively, I was planning to build it myself, but it quickly became apparent that I did not have the dexterity

Strangely, my mother agreed that she would build it for me, although she certainly had no interest in aircraft, and I assume that she had never attempted anything like that before.

Things started out quite well, but the struts holding the floats to the plane’s fuselage really were quite tricky to position and fix correctly. Attempts to complete the task threw my mother into a rage, and apparently it was my fault. She shouted at me: “You said this was easy!” I don’t think that I had actually said that, but how would a seven-year-old know anyway?

Thankfully for everyone, that was the last time that my mother ever attempted to construct one of those kits! Thereafter, my father took on the task, until I was old enough to do it myself. Nonetheless, I discovered that he also suffered from a less acute form of the same paranoid attitude towards kit manufacturers, in that he would become annoyed when some aspect of the construction was difficult, and even accuse the manufacturers of having deliberately made it so.

For example, on one occasion he was assembling the Airfix model of the AEC Matador truck (which interested him because he had learned to drive on real RAF Matador trucks during the Second World War). The Airfix kit had the rear body divided into pieces so that it could be built open or closed, but my father was sure this was a deliberate plot to frustrate him! “There’s no need to have so many pieces,” he said in disgust.

Unfortunately, I think that the lesson I learned from my parents’ responses was that the appropriate response to a lack of skill in intricate tasks was frustration and rage! It has taken me a long time to “unlearn” that unhelpful response, and even now I sometimes find myself slipping back into it.

Learning Patience

I did eventually improve my model-making skills, bought better tools, and learned the patience to persevere when tasks were intricate or unclear. As a result, I actually spent a lot of time not only building the kits, but improving them, as with the Matchbox Harrier model shown above. Most of the models are now long lost, but I did happen to take a couple of photos that have survived.

The first kit sold by Matchbox, when that company expanded away from its famous line of metal model cars in 1972, was of the RAF Hawker Fury biplane. That was another kit that I built and improved, as shown in the surviving photo below. I made my own decals for Number 1 Squadron, replaced some of the kit’s more overscale parts, and added rigging.

hawkerFury_Model1Cright

1:72 Model of Hawker Fury, based on Matchbox Kit

Unfortunately, when taking those photos, I didn’t give much thought to the selection of a suitable background, and simply posed the models on our dining room table!

FROG Models

As I mentioned above, the first manufacturer in the world to create plastic model aircraft kits, during the 1930s, had been FROG. The name was an acronym for “Flies Right Off the Ground”, and actually referred to the company’s flying model aircraft. The non-flying plastic models were originally known as “FROG Penguins” because of their flightless state! (The original plastic used was cellulose acetate, rather than polystyrene.)

The image below shows an advertisement for FROG’s models, from the January 1939 issue of Meccano Magazine. It’s interesting to realize that those “non-flying scale models” shown on the right below were not museum pieces, but were all contemporary aircraft, which were in military or civil service at that time.

FROGAdMeccanoMagJan39Small

1939 Advertisement for FROG Models

A Dying Art?

In these days of innumerable TV channels, on-demand internet entertainment, and interactive games, it seems that ever fewer young people have the patience to bother building those model kits. The manufacturers and sellers of the kits have certainly noticed the change, and have tried various ways to win back their traditional buyers.

Another factor contributing to the demise of the plastic kit industry must be the advances that have been made in the detailing of ready-made models. Manufacturers such as Oxford Diecast have come onto the scene, offering fully assembled and painted models of the same subjects. Why take all that time and trouble to create your own model, when you can probably buy something similar (or even better) ready-made?

I suspect that, just as with so many other cultural developments, the days when boys spent hours making plastic models are never likely to return. I wonder whether that will have a negative effect on personal levels of patience and skill, or whether instead those virtues will be redirected to other purposes.

A Liberator visits Santa Rosa

B-24 Liberator at Sonoma County Airport

B-24 Liberator at Sonoma County Airport

My photo above shows the last flying Consolidated B-24 “Liberator” bomber, which I’d hoped to be flying in earlier this week. Unfortunately, the flight had to be canceled, due to an engine problem, but nonetheless I had a rare opportunity to examine the aircraft in detail. Alongside several other vintage aircraft, the B-24 was visiting Sonoma County Airport, as part of the annual Wings of Freedom Tour, organized by the Collings Foundation.

My interest in this particular type of aircraft stems from the fact that my father flew in them, as a Wireless Operator (W/O) for the RAF, during World War II. I mentioned in a previous article that he volunteered for the RAF on the outbreak of the war, because somebody had given him a “hot tip” that, by not waiting to be conscripted, he’d be able to choose which service he joined, and where he would serve. Unfortunately, that advice turned out to be only half-right, because he definitely did not want to serve in Aden, which was where he actually spent most of the war.

The Worst Place in the World

As reported in the book Wings of Empire, RAF personnel who served in Aden during the 1920s and 1930s described it as the “most repulsive place in the world”. It was from RAF Khormaksar air base that my father flew offensive missions against Italian forces, and also operated many ferry flights of aircraft being transferred from Britain to the Far East. Most of the ferry missions involved his flying between Aden and Malta.

As the war progressed, Britain took delivery of increasing numbers of American aircraft, under the Lend-Lease program. Thus, having started out flying British types such as the Blenheim and Vincent, he later found himself operating such American types as the Liberator and Hudson. (Incidentally, all the type names of the American aircraft were conferred by the RAF; in the US all the types were officially known only by numbers.)

Inside the B-24

My photo below shows the W/O’s position, behind the flight deck, as seen from the front of the bomb bay. This is where my father would have been sitting on those long flights.

B-24 Wireless Operator Station

B-24 Wireless Operator Station

The photo below, from a slightly different angle, shows the view through to the flight deck from the W/O station.

Looking towards the B-24 Flight Deck from the Bomb Bay

Looking towards the B-24 Flight Deck from the Bomb Bay

Warbirds Together

The B-24 wasn’t the only vintage aircraft visiting Santa Rosa. As shown below, a North American TF-51 trainer (2-seat version of the P-51 Mustang fighter) was just taxying in while I was inside the B-24.

TF-51 Taxying at Sonoma County Airport

TF-51 Taxying at Sonoma County Airport

Lined up alongside the B-24 was a North American B-25 Mitchell bomber, shown below in front of Sonoma Jet Center, who were hosting the visit.

B-25 Mitchell at Sonoma Jet Center

B-25 Mitchell at Sonoma Jet Center

Perhaps the most well-known of the visiting types was the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, shown below.

B-17 Flying Fortress at Sonoma Jet Center

B-17 Flying Fortress at Sonoma Jet Center

Gun Crazy

The US has become notorious for having too many guns, too freely available, but fortunately the realistic-looking machine gun shown below is just a dummy! It’s the waist gunner’s position inside the B-24.

Guns at the Airport!

Guns at the Airport!

As I was leaving, work continued to repair the B-24’s engine, as shown below. The aircraft were scheduled to leave the following day, so they had to get the airplane flying again.

Working on the B-24's Engine

Working on the B-24’s Engine

He Never Went Back

As a postscript to the description of my father’s wartime experience, I should mention that he never went back to Aden again (nor anywhere near it) after his military service, and I don’t think he was sorry about that!

I’ve described in earlier posts how the lives of both my parents were blighted by war, and how fortunate I feel that mine has not (so far). I think it’s important to remind ourselves every so often of the ordeals that our ancestors endured in order to maintain our freedoms.

The Miracle of Literacy

Stories of Mr Wolf, 1966

Stories of Mr Wolf, 1966

The image above is an excerpt from one of my earliest attempts at writing (and illustrating). It’s a page from a book called “Stories of Mr. Wolf” that I wrote at home, at the age of six. I still have the book, which I’ve recently scanned because the paper is gradually disintegrating. I can’t claim that those stories would win any literary prizes, nor even hold the interest of anyone else, but I had to start somewhere!

I was always eager to learn to read and write, and was quite happy to practice at home when I felt so inspired. Perhaps unlike many children, I didn’t have to wait for my schoolteachers to insist that I must do it.

The Magical Skill

I can just remember back to the days before I learned to read and write, and I recall my amazement at the adults around me who seemed able to do it with ease. My grandfather, who was retired and lived with my parents, took a daily newspaper and several magazines (including the Dalesman, which is still in print today).

As it appeared to me, he would open the newspaper or magazine, stare at it for a few minutes, then tell me that he had read it! He didn’t seem to need to sound out the words, or follow the text with his finger, and yet, at the end of the process, he had clearly absorbed and understood the printed words that he’d been staring at. I just couldn’t imagine how anyone could ever learn to do that!

Four Generations of our Family

Four Generations of our Family

The photo above was taken when I was about 2 years old, and shows 4 generations of my mother’s family. The group on the right consists of me, my mother, her mother, and my grandmother’s mother. The man at lower left is my grandfather.

My drawing below is from another book that I wrote and illustrated in 1966, but this was one that we were required to write in class at school, and it features one of my earliest “self-portraits”. Unlike most of my other school work, this book has also survived.

Self-Portrait, 1966

Self-Portrait, 1966

Based on the remaining evidence, a notable difference between the books I wrote at home and those I wrote at school is that the subjects I wrote about at home were generally more imaginative and adventurous! It seems that, at school, our teachers must have restricted us to writing about very mundane topics (perhaps because we all had to write about the same things).

The Basis of Civilization

It seems to me that literacy is the one critical skill that allows human society to advance, and in fact is the sole reason why we’re not all still living in trees or caves.

Anthropologists tell us how other species rely more instinct than humans, so newborns of those species already have many critical survival skills. Humans, as they tell us, have to go through a very protracted growth process, and must be taught almost everything by their parents.

The specifically-human ability to read and write, however, allows individuals to record and transmit knowledge from one generation to the next, and that ability has been critical to our progress as a species. If each generation of humans had to restart “from square one”, learning everything from scratch, we would never advance. Instead, each generation is able to learn from the one before, and “stand on the shoulders” of its ancestors to make further progress. Most of this knowledge transmission has always occurred, and still occurs, via reading and writing.

It’s true that recent technological developments have provided us with other mechanisms for recording and transmitting information (such as video). While such systems offer a much richer and perhaps more engaging experience, our basic writing systems still offer vastly greater efficiency for disseminating information than any other recording system. I came to a forceful realization of this when writing my first multimedia title, Dave Hodgson’s PC Secrets (mentioned in this article on my professional blog). I was faced with the choice of delivering information via onscreen text, or via audio, or even via video. In very rough terms, audio playback required about 1000 times the bandwidth of text display, and video playback required about 1000 times the bandwidth of audio playback.

A New Literary Revolution

At the present time, another literary revolution is actually occurring. All genuinely creative writers and artists should be excited about this revolution, but I wonder how many actually realize what is happening!

The invention of printing allowed written information to be disseminated to mass audiences. Previously, all written works had had to be hand-copied, which was such a laborious process that only a few copies of each book were ever produced.

Nonetheless, printed books still had to be produced and distributed physically, and this led to a situation where publishers became the dominant “gatekeepers”, controlling what could actually reach the mass market.

The image below shows the title page of the oldest printed book in my possession, which obviously I acquired secondhand! The book was published by the University of Cambridge in 1828, and is a collection of the surviving works of the Greek playwright Æschylus.

The Works of Aeschylus, Printed in 1830

The Works of Aeschylus, Printed in 1828

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I taught myself some Ancient Greek while studying in Manchester, but my fluency never became sufficient to read Æschylus’ work in the original! Nonetheless, my efforts led me to the purchase of this and a few other works in Greek.

Books Without Paper

During the past few years, eBooks have started to become popular. Instead of being printed on paper, eBooks are distributed electronically and are read on digital devices. In fact, in many cases purchasers cannot print their eBooks on paper.

Although eBooks have several pros and cons relative to printed books, a remarkable situation has developed whereby major booksellers such as Amazon are actively encouraging authors to self-publish their own eBooks, instead of being forced to follow the traditional routes via established publishers.

In view of this development, I think we’re living at a very exciting time, when the potential for writers (and artists) is greater than it has ever been. There’s really now nothing to prevent those with real talent from being able to publish their works to the world.

And yes, just as with the Desktop Publishing Revolution of the 1980s, the democratization of book publishing will inevitably mean that vast amounts of dross will get published along with the masterpieces! Nonetheless, I think that the wheat will eventually be separated from the chaff, and the world will soon see a whole new publishing landscape. For a skill that has been so critical to the development of our species, that has to be a good thing!