Dinky Cars & Modern Architecture

Playing with Dinky and Corgi Cars, 1963

Playing with Dinky and Corgi Cars, 1963

The photo above shows me (on the left), at about the age of 3, playing with model cars in my grandparents’ living room. My mother’s parents lived with us in the same house, so this kind of scene was an everyday occurrence.

The others in the photo are my grandmother (my mother’s mother) and my younger brother.

If you look very closely in the photo, you can see some small grey and blue cars lined up, as shown in the rather fuzzy close-up below.

A lineup of Ancient Dinkys

A lineup of Ancient Dinkys

Those cars are in fact Dinky Toys (the Dinky 35a “Saloon Car”), although they’re much smaller than the models that most people think of as being typical Dinkys. That model, produced in the British “OO” railway scale, was produced from 1936-40, and then again from 1946-48. The models I’m playing with were produced post-war. Examples of this model, in good condition, typically sell on eBay now for $50 or more each!

The reason that I came to be playing with Dinky toys that were much older than me was because they actually belonged to my grandfather, who literally had a bag full of them.

Draughting Years

In a post on my professional blog, I mentioned that my grandfather, Allen E Martin, worked for most of his career as a draughtsman for the City of Leeds. The October 1960 photo below shows him (on the right) in our back garden, with my grandmother holding me.

My Grandparents with me, October 1960

My Grandparents with me, October 1960

As part of his work, he produced technical drawings for architectural projects, and the department sometimes created models of proposed new buildings. They used toy cars to decorate these models, and my grandfather apparently took his “bag of Dinkys” home with him when he retired in the 1950s.

Perhaps the most prominent architectural project in Leeds during the 1930s was the Quarry Hill development. This was so famous, and so well-regarded, that it featured on the cover of the 1938 Penguin book Design, as shown in a scan from my copy below.

Design, by Anthony Bertram, Penguin 1938

Design, by Anthony Bertram, Penguin 1938

My grandfather died in 1967, so I never got to ask him exactly what role he played in the Quarry Hill project, but it would certainly have been a major part of his department’s work at that time.

Unfortunately, despite the best intentions of its builders, and despite being a vast improvement on the slum dwellings that it replaced, Quarry Hill was not a success in the long term, and was eventually demolished in 1978. Some of its problems stemmed from the fact that the development was a very advanced design by the standards of the time. Had the complex survived for a few more decades, it may well have undergone a major refurbishment similar to that at St Pancras Station, and would still be with us as a major landmark.

The City of Leeds Arms

Incidentally, the arms of the City of Leeds feature rather unusual supporters, as shown below.

Leeds City Arms

Leeds City Arms

In a future post I’ll discuss the significance of those owls, and how, even though I never lived in Leeds, they seem to have become a recurring theme in my life.

Sunsets & Air Pollution

 

Sunset from Oliver's Mount, Scarborough, July 1977

Sunset from Oliver’s Mount, Scarborough, July 1977

I took the sunset photograph above from the summit of Oliver’s Mount, Scarborough, at 8.45pm on Saturday, 16th July 1977. I know those details because they happen to be in a notebook that I still have. The image now forms the header for my professional blog.

The photograph has an unusual “oil painting like” appearance, with muted and brownish tones. This has led some to suggest that perhaps I “photoshopped” the original image to achieve that effect. That’s not the case; this is a scan of the color transparency exactly as it came out of the camera. As I’ll explain below, I believe that some of the extraordinary weather effects that I photographed in those days were actually caused by air pollution.

Wine Country Sunsets

I was prompted to think once again about my old sunset photographs by last night’s sunset here in Santa Rosa. We had had a very hot day, but there was a breeze, and sufficient clouds around to provide some spectacular effects at sunset, as shown below.

Sunset Clouds, Santa Rosa, June 2017

Sunset Clouds, Santa Rosa, June 2017

While nobody would dispute the claim that California’s weather is generally pleasanter than Britain’s, one problem with that is the lack of visual weather effects in California. As someone once put it, “We don’t have weather in California”.

I suspect also that another problem is that the air in California now is much cleaner than it was in Britain in the 1970s, and dirty air makes for spectacular sunsets! The fact that I was able to photograph so many interesting sunsets from Oliver’s Mount was thanks to a combination of Britain’s weather and the mount’s location.

Pilgrimages to Oliver’s Mount

Oliver’s Mount is so called because of a legend that, during the English Civil War in the 1640s, Oliver Cromwell situated cannon on the mount to bombard Scarborough Castle, which was in Royalist hands. This seems highly unlikely, because the cannon of the time did not have sufficient range to fire over such distances, and were far too inaccurate to have hit the castle with any certainty. In any case, there’s no evidence that Cromwell ever visited Scarborough during the Civil War.

When we lived in West Street, Scarborough, during the 1970s, Oliver’s Mount was only about a mile from our house. Although there’s a road to the top of the mount, I discovered that I could reach the summit much more quickly by climbing up directly through the woodland on the hillside. As a result, I visited the war memorial on the summit quite regularly, particularly during the summer. Any air pollution outdoors was definitely healthier than the level indoors, created by my chain-smoking father!

The view to the North-East from the top of the mount looks over Scarborough’s South Bay and Castle headland, and my father and I both photographed that view several times over the years. The image below shows the lights having just come on at sunset, in August 1977.

Scarborough Sunset, August 1977

Scarborough Sunset from Oliver’s Mount, August 1977

The view westwards from the same spot looked inland, towards the Pennines, and the conurbations of West Yorkshire and Manchester. The air in those industrial areas was of poor quality at the time, with much coal burning still occurring, and many chemical works still belching out their waste. I suspect that the low sun shining through all that dirty air was what created some of the spectacular refraction effects that I saw during those sunsets some 40 years ago.

I’ll be exhibiting some of the other “Oliver’s Mount Sunset” photos in future blog posts.

New World Birds & Old World Birds

Old World Dove Meets New World Dove

Old World Dove Meets New World Dove

The image above is actually a combination of two separate photographs taken within a few seconds, because the birds involved wouldn’t oblige by moving closer to each other! What’s remarkable about the image is that it shows, in the same location, an Old World dove alongside its nearest New World equivalent. It’s an extremely unusual example of two such species being in the same place at the same time.

One of the inconveniencies of emigrating to a new continent, as I did about 30 years ago, was that I discovered that my knowledge of natural history had suddenly become inadequate, and at least partially irrelevant.

Start Learning All Over Again!

Growing up, I’d learned to recognize and name most British bird species, but now I found myself faced with an complete new set of bird species, almost none of which were the same as those that had become familiar to me in the “old country”.

I noticed quite quickly that there were many cases where a particular ecological niche that was occupied by one species in Britain was occupied by a different species in California (a type of Convergent Evolution). Sometimes, the two species are closely related and even look very similar, but there are other cases where the relationship is more distant and the species obviously differ in appearance.

In the photo above, on the left is an Old World Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto), while on the right is an American Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura). Although they are different species, their behavior and lifestyle are highly reminiscent of each other. Their calls even sound very similar.

In many cases, the reason for the presence of the Old World species in the New World is because of deliberate or accidental introduction of the Old World species by humans. This explains the presence of Eurasian Collared Doves in North America; about 50 of them escaped from captivity in the Bahamas in 1974, then jumped to Florida, and from there across the rest of the continent.

There are many other examples of species that are either closely related or which occupy the same ecological niche. For example, in California the Brewers Blackbird occupies the same niche as the Eurasian Starling (although, since I moved to California 30 years ago, Starlings have invaded and partially displaced the Brewers Blackbird–but I didn’t bring them with me, honestly!), the American Coot is very similar to the Eurasian Coot, and the American Great Blue Heron is similar to the Eurasian/African Grey Heron.

BlueHeronCright

Great Blue Heron in the Napa River

Early Confusion

In fact, I should already have been warned of this problem before I was five years old! My grandparents bought me an American picture book called Bunny Hopwell’s First Spring (which is not only still available, but also now in a Kindle version!). It was quite common for them to buy me American books because those were often on sale at “remaindered” prices at our local supermarket.

At one point in the Bunny Hopwell book, there was a picture that claimed to depict a conversation between a rabbit and a “robin”. Now, Robins were a common sight in our large back garden, so I immediately objected that the image “looked nothing like a robin”. My grandfather had to explain to me that this was a picture of an American Robin, which indeed did not look like our local robins. Apart from the fact that they’re both birds, the only other common feature of the two species is that they have red breasts (which is why the American species was so called).

American Robin

American Robin

I was most disgusted by the book’s apparent inaccuracy, and wondered why Americans couldn’t figure out what a robin looked like. (My pedantry does seem a little misplaced, though, since I was willing to accept the idea of animals and birds talking to each other without complaint!)

While visiting England in 2012, I was able to photograph a robin in a field near Brockley Hill, London. The photograph, shown below, eventually formed the basis for our Christmas card design that year.

robin1Cright

Eurasian Robin at Brockley Hill, London

Even more potentially confusing is that, while the American Robin is not closely related to the Eurasian Robin, it is very closely related to the Eurasian Blackbird. Growing up in England, the constant song of Blackbirds, interspersed with their chink-chink-chink alarm calls, was a familiar sound. The calls of American Robins are almost indistinguishably similar.

Sometimes They Are The Same

Having said all that, there are some cases where the same species does occur naturally in the Old World and the New World, or at least where any human introduction of the species into an environment is lost in the mists of prehistory.

A good example of this is the Barn Owl (Tyto alba). The same species occurs all over the world, although there are differing subspecies on different continents.

When I came to design the logo for my professional web site and my fledgling publishing business (“if you’ll pardon the pun”), I decided to include owls as part of the design, and not just any owls, but specifically barn owls. I hadn’t thought about it at the time, but the choice of a species with worldwide presence now seems appropriate!

teklibriowllogocright

Teklibri Owl Logo

London Terror Attack: Don’t Surrender our Freedoms

London Bridge Station & Southwark Cathedral, 1983

London Bridge Station & Southwark Cathedral, 1983

I was very saddened to hear the news yesterday of the latest pointless terror attack in London. Naturally, my best wishes and thoughts go out to all those affected by the incident.

This latest incident reminded me of the ever-present terrorist threat that existed when I lived in London during the 1980s. In those days, almost all the threats (real or hoax) came from the IRA, and there were several actual bombings in London while I was there.

As a result of living in London for a few years, I was forced to think about the delicate balance of opportunities and dangers presented by living in a free society.

Bag Searches

In response to the IRA bombings, every building in London that admitted the public adopted a policy of searching the bags of visitors entering the premises. This naturally included the museums near Imperial College on Exhibition Road, such as the Victoria & Albert Museum. Nonetheless, it seemed clear to me that there was really nothing that could be done to prevent all such threats, and that it was inevitable that some attacks would succeed.

I became quite accustomed to the bag searches when going into a building, but, on one occasion, the guard searching my bag admitted that these efforts wouldn’t really deter a serious threat. He said to me, “This is really just to reassure the public. You could put a bomb in a cigarette packet and walk in with it in your pocket, and we’d never spot it.” Sad but true.

While I was a student, I also worked as a Sales Assistant at Selfridges Store in Oxford Street, London. In that job, bomb threats were a daily nuisance, although, while I was there, all of them fortunately turned out to be hoaxes.

The point I want to make here is that, during all the years that I lived in London, I was never personally involved in an actual attack of any kind. The press coverage naturally given to such events makes it seem that they are more widespread than they really are. The attacks of the IRA were a real danger and a constant worry during those years, but they failed in their aims, and they never prevented Londoners from going about their lives.

Unfortunately, it suits the purposes of some politicians to exploit this kind of event to whip up fears and con the public into signing away their own freedoms. We’ve just seen a particularly transparent attempt to do that, with the irrelevant and unhelpful tweeting of Tweedle Don, trying to link the London atrocity in the UK to his unconstitutional travel ban in the US.

Don’t be Intimidated into Surrendering our Freedom!

Given the possibilities for committing terrorist attacks in large conurbations such as London, it’s actually a relief that so few actually succeed. I realize that this is no consolation for those whose lives are affected by these atrocities, but, for the remainder of the population, it’s important not to blow these events out of proportion.

The only way to guarantee that such attacks could not happen would be to implement a surveillance police state, which would entail giving up many of our existing freedoms. However, most of us value our freedom, and wouldn’t want to live in such a state. The price of living in a free society is the risk that a few such horrific events will occur.

Of course, that realization makes it no less shocking when these things do happen.

Days of Coal and Flowers

 

My Mother and Me, June 1960

My Mother with me, June 1960

Today is June 1st, so the photograph above seems like an appropriate flashback selection. This is probably one of the earliest surviving photographs of me, in the arms of my mother, in June 1960.

My mother is sitting on an ancient bench in the back garden of our house in Scalby Road, Scarborough. Behind her is part of our large and verdant garden, on which my father lavished tremendous amounts of time and effort. In the greenhouse that’s visible in the picture, he grew geraniums and tomatoes.

My memories of that garden led me to want something similar of my own when I grew up, and I pushed for that, until I actually got one, and realized just how much work it is! Nowadays, although I still appreciate gardens, I must admit that Mary does much more work in the garden than I do!

All Our Bunkers

Also visible at the far left of the picture above is our coke bunker. In those days, we had both coal fires and coke furnaces in the house, so we had regular deliveries of both. There were large coal bunkers in a yard at the side of the house, but my parents added this extra bunker for coke at the back.

The problem was that it was important not to mix up coal and coke, because one would not burn properly in fires designed for the other. Having the coke bunker in a completely separate location reduced the risk that the delivery person would make a mistake.

During the 1960s, Airfix made a scale model kit of a bungalow that included a coal bunker of this design, among other period features such as a VHF television antenna! The same model is still available now, from Dapol.

With the arrival of North Sea Gas later in the 1960s, my parents took the opportunity to replace all our coal fires with gas, which made life much simpler and cleaner for us. Nonetheless, we still had a coke-burning furnace in the kitchen, which also supplied all our hot water. I can remember my father cleaning out the ashes onto a newspaper every night, then bringing in a scuttle of coke, ready to relight the furnace the following morning.

The Calm before the Storm

The photo above depicts an idyllic moment, perhaps giving the false impression that all was perfect in our lives. In reality, storm clouds were already gathering for our family.

My father had his first stroke within two years of my birth, which meant that he was never again able to maintain the garden to his own high standards.

Concerns about the family’s future income led us to move out of that house in 1970, when my parents bought a guest house on the other side of town (the exterior of which is shown in this article).

The photo below, taken thirteen years later in June 1973, in the much more modest back garden of the guest house, shows (from left to right) my mother, our West Highland terrier Meg, my brother, and me.

Tea in the Garden, West Street, Scarborough, June 1973

Tea in the Garden, West Street, Scarborough, June 1973

Fishbourne Palace: Roman Mosaics & Matrices

Fishbourne Palace Floors, Sussex, UK

Fishbourne Palace Mosaic Floors, Sussex, UK

Since ceasing to live in the UK in 1987, I have returned many times for visits. On one occasion in 1997, I visited the amazing Roman remains at Fishbourne Palace, near Chichester. This is the largest known Roman residence north of the Alps.

There’s nothing left of this vast palace above ground, and in fact, until work began on a planned housing estate in 1960, nobody knew that it was there at all. Under the surface, however, excavations revealed large numbers of mosaic floors in various states of preservation. The photo above shows some of the mosaics and remaining foundations, which are now housed within a museum that was built over them. Outside the museum, part of the palace’s Roman garden has been recreated.

Cupid on a Dolphin Mosaic, Fishbourne Palace

Cupid on a Dolphin Mosaic, Fishbourne Palace

The photo above shows the famous “Cupid on a Dolphin” mosaic at Fishbourne Palace. By an incredible stroke of luck, the mosaic is perfectly preserved, except for some subsidence of the ground underneath, as is visible above.

Much later, in 2012, I visited another Roman site, Verulamium, near the modern city of St. Albans. This site also features impressive mosaics, and even some surviving decorated plaster walls.

For various reasons, Britain has relatively few surviving Roman structures above ground, but the Verulamium Museum, shown below, is an impressive modern building based on Roman designs.

Verulamium Museum

Verulamium Museum

Inside the Verulamium Museum are a wide variety of artefacts discovered during the excavation of the city, including several building tiles that contain paw prints from cats and other animals that walked across them around 2000 years ago.

Animal Paw Prints on Roman Tiles, Verulamium

Animal Paw Prints on Roman Tiles, Verulamium

A cat paw print was also found on a Roman roof tile in Gloucestershire a couple of years ago, as described here.

During my visit to Verulamium, I bought a small but interesting book called Geometric Patterns from Roman Mosaics.

I’ve referred to this little book from time to time since then, whenever I’ve needed some explanation of the construction of Roman mosaics. It only struck me recently, however, that (as described in the book) most Roman mosaics are laid out in a rectangular matrix.

Over on my professional blog, I’ve written several articles about Bitmap Graphics, which are themselves based on rectangular matrices.

It really is an astonishing connection between ancient art and modern technology!

Tragedy in Manchester

Piccadilly Square, Manchester, Summer 1981

Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester, Summer 1981

I heard the tragic news about the bombing in Manchester this evening. Unfortunately, it was far from being the first terror attack in Manchester.

I lived in Manchester during the Summers of 1981-83, during my apprenticeship at Ferranti. At the time, I had mixed feelings, both about the place and the apprenticeship, but now I look back on it as an interesting if challenging part of my life.

Fortunately, there were no terrorist attacks in Manchester while I lived there, but there were other forms of severe violence. For example, in July 1981, there were major riots in parts of the city, and I almost found myself dragged into a follow-up disturbance one Saturday in Piccadilly Gardens.

During 1996, long after I’d left Manchester and Britain, there was an IRA bomb attack at the Arndale Centre, which housed a bus station that I’d used regularly when traveling between my digs in Middleton and the City Centre.

My thoughts and best wishes go out to those affected by the bombing in Manchester today.

And There’s Always the Rain…

On a much lighter note, Britain is a damp country, but Manchester has a reputation (apparently undeserved) for the being the wettest place in Britain, and there are many tales about that. Here’s a 1938 cartoon by the talented line artist and cycling enthusiast, Frank Patterson.

Frank Patterson: Manchester Wheelers

Frank Patterson: Manchester Wheelers