Wednesday 31 December 2014

Spending The Christmas Spending Money [1]

Learning about London?
"The Moving Metropolis" was first published in 2001 at £30. In a sudden change from his usual parsimony, fbb bought it! It appears to be out of print but available second-hand via Amazon and elsewhere.
It purports to be a "History of London Transport since 1800" which it is - but it isn't. It most certainly is NOT an academic study of its vast subject. It is split into 9 chapters, each one deserving of a volume in itself.
That's the first 100 years! The final four cover the next 100 (ish).
A London expert would find the coverage pretty shallow; but it's not that kind of book. Like the London Transport Museum which collaborated in its production, it is a resource to be dipped into, to be mulled over, to start the reader on further lines of study. It is a powerful stimulus to deeper research and reading.

And every page is stuffed full of pictures. Hyde Park Corner in horse bus days.
It's probably easier to get across today!
Some really wacky ideas that preceded the Underground; here an "atmospheric" set of trains running on galleries above shopping streets.
Leaving aside the dismal failure of Brunel's West Country air-power service, just imagine the noise. A UK version of New York's "El"!
Or you could try another noble failure, the patent steam bus ...
... which was roundly condemened for destroying the roads!
Derby residents face 'living nightmare'
of buses using their narrow road

Plus ça change.

There are some beautiful posters which show how much perceptions of the Capital's transport have changed. By Central line to Epping ...
... for the Forest! Quite a long "walk link" but people were just happy to get to the countryside, then.
And how about a day trip to Watford?
Why not? The footbridge (rebuilt) over the River Gade in Cassiobury Park is still there ...
... and it's not very far from the Metropolitan Line terminus. The crowds may still flock, but fbb doubts many will come via the Underground.

fbb's favourite piccy concerns (as one might expect) food. Referring to London Transport's excellent canteen facilities (post WW2) it shows this:-
Staff making sausages! Those really were the days; with no sign of Brake Brothers.
Pork 8s by the truckload; and, sorry, Brake Brothers got taken over and lost their brotherhood.
It is impossible to do justice to all of Brakes products to "The Moving Metropolis" in a short blog. It is a book to dip into, a book which reveals hitherto unknown wonders; above all a tasty treat for anyone wanting to begin or develop their knowledge of London's Transport.
This book, despite your best intention
You simply cannot put it down.
Forgive my irritating pretention
Says wartime pedant, Billy Brown!
 awful gifts 

"Just what I've always wanted", so goes the annual lie; as we wonder what to do with the gifts we really didn't want.
At least a young child is unlikely to complain. But even a two year old might express some discontent at receiving a lump of very heavy metal, a can of Air Wick and a bottle of embalming fluid.
But that is just what the not-very-wise wise men brought for Jesus. No lego, no cuddly toy, no mobile phone; nothing of any use or value to the child whatsoever.
And if they looked like that, the kid would have nightmares! The astrologers from Iraq brought three items which expressed the results of their research. These meaningless (but expensive) trinkets reveal the true purpose of the Nativity.

was symbolic of Kingship : the child would grow up to be Lord and Ruler of eternity.

was a symbol of the Priesthood. In the Jewish Temple, the priest took the place of the people when he made offerings for the forgiveness of their sins. Jesus would become the new living way to God for all the earth.

was to embalm dead bodies. In other words Jesus came to die.

No wonder Mary "pondered all these things in her heart." There was plenty to ponder then; the same ponder is needed today.

As John Betjeman didn't quite write:-

The bells of Seaton's churches ring,
The Christmas lights are lit again
LEDs shine through the night
And catch the streaks of winter rain
As many a twinkling window show
Santa and unlikely snow!

Flick'ring batt'ry tea lights glow,
Bells on Seaton's tramcars clang,
In lighted shop displays they show,
Where tinsel decorations hang,
And banners on the Civic Hall
Say 'Merry Christmas to you all'.

And Seaton's shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and stars
As hurrying staff the office leave
To drink too much in crowded bars,
And well-stressed mums quietly say
I hate the toil of Christmas Day.

But halt and think; now is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?

And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those ill-wrapped fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was man in Palestine
And lives in hearts like yours and mine

That's Christmas

 Next bus blog : Thursday 1st January 2015 

Tuesday 30 December 2014

The Trouble with Tunnels

fbb's model railway progress.
Using the garden table as a baseboard, you will remember that the chubby one wanted an extension shelf to give his 4mm scale people at least a bit of track to travel along. No 1 son's visit moved the project on. From a plank resting precariously on a garden chair ...
... the DIY expert in the family (?) constructed something more "elegant"; a lovely set of legs (not necessarily No 1 son's - but on the railway).
Now all model railways need a tunnel. The main reason is to disguise the fact that the track is going nowhere. The technical term is a "scenic break".

Toy train tunnels were, historically, highly ridiculous, just a tube of timber (later plastic) painted green.
The idea that the civil engineers should make a bee-line for the only mini-Wrekin mound on an otherwise flat plain never satisfied the enquiring mind of the pre-teen pre-fbb. You can still buy silly tunnels; they are just a bit more knobbly and better decorated.
By setting his minimalistic layout in the fictional Peterville Quarry, fbb had a good excuse for a line into a tunnel. Indeed your elderly blogger does remember, years and years ago, a journey by car in the Corby area where prototype almost mirrored the toy.
fbb could not find a picture of the actual site, but iron ore had been scooped out on both sides of a tunnel leaving the trains disappearing into a tunnel that was above ground. Well nearly.

So for a model quarry face, defying any geological truth to save space, you do something clever with chicken wire and polyfilla. But the fbb construction has to stand the rigours of outdoor life, both meteorological and investigative on the part of the neighbours' cats. [Stubbs, the fbb moggy, is too decrepit to do anything athletic like springing onto a model railway tunnel in pursuit of an avian snack.]

The chicken wire deal failed.
The concept was OK but the execution was a disaster darling and so depressing that the constructor thereof was just too embarrassed to take a picture. Instead the rock face was assembled from old scraps of timber (free from the builders yard next door), one of Mrs fbb's old bath towels and then the sand and cement.
[NB bit of bath towel protruding from tunnel mouth] With a bit of careful "fettling-up" and a lick of paint, an acceptable quarry-face is emerging from the chaos and incompetence.
Health and Safety requirements for fencing top and bottom are next on the list plus some arboreal additions. There will (possibly by year 2025!) be a painted background as well.

The idea is to build a church on top of the quarry. Our readers will now be sniggering with ridicule. fbb may claim just a smidgen of realism with a tunnel adjacent to a quarry face, but a church teetering on the precipitous edge is surely putting the concept of Divine protection to the test!

No so! Travel to Breedon-un-the-Hill in Leicestershire.
Breedon-on-the-Hill is, amazimgly, built on a hill. Much of the hill has been quarried away leaving the Priory Church of St Mary and St Hardulph perched on the edge.
Not only that, but close by was once a railway station.
Tonge and Breedon (sometime Tong and Breedon) was on the Midland Railway Derby to Ashby-de-la-Zouch line built in 1874.

The line was used by the British Army and Allied engineers during the Second World War from 1939 until late 1944 to prepare them for the invasion of mainland Europe. Engineers practised the demolition and rebuilding of railways and the running and maintenance of a railway line and its rolling stock. There was also a bridge building school at Kings Newton.

The trackbed through the former station is now part of National Cycle Route 6.
The house is an extension to the former station building.
Readers may remember hat the "back story" of the layout as the creation of a museum of railway carriages in an old quarry. So perhaps not such a far-fetched idea.
Cornwall Busways Collapse
This company, less than a year old, has announced that it will close on 31st December. The company's Facebook page says that the closure is "due to a dispute with the Traffic Commissioners." First Bus will cover part of its service 30 (between Carclaze and St Austell) from 5th January.

Old 30 - hourly Monday to Saturday

New 30 - Monday to Friday only

The rest of the 30 is covered by First's 27, extended from StAustell to Bodmin on the same date Other bits of Cornwall Busways' "network" were already competing with existing services. fbb has reported (briefly!) on the operation in a previous blog (here)
  but when?  
Whilst every nativity scene and most Christmas cards show shepherds (with their angels), animals and wise men (with their star) cluttering up the animal shed occupied by Mary, Joseph and their first born ...
... the truth is less crowded. Luke concentrates on the personal changes brought about by the seasonal miracle whereas Matthew, writing for fellow Jews, is far more anxious to show his readers that the baby Jesus IS God's Messiah. No doubt, in the days and months following the birth, loadsa relatives, friends and curious hangers-on would have visited. The story would have "got round".

But, by the time the "wise men" got there, up to two years may well have passed. Why this proposal, striking familiarity from the traditional scene? This is what Matthew wrote, reporting on Herod's reaction to a competitor for his throne.

So Herod called the visitors from the East to a secret meeting and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.
not often included in a Nativity play!

When Herod realized that the visitors from the East had tricked him, he was furious. He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its neighborhood who were two years old and younger; this was done in accordance with what he had learned from the visitors about the time when the star had appeared.

It makes a lot of sense. Working from astrological star charts (the one below is Chinese) they would have had a long tiring journey ...
... as described by poet T S Eliot in "The Journey of the Magi".
But, again, it was not the wiseness of the men; not the rigours of the journey; nor the detailed astronomical observations that motivated Matthew to include this obscure little narrative in his gospel.

It was the truth that the astrologers revealed that mattered. That truth was the essence of Christmas.
 Next bus/rail blog : Wednesday 31st December 

Monday 29 December 2014

Ladykillers Redux [2]

See also Ladykillers Redux [1] (read again)
Mrs Wilberforce's ramshackle house was specially built for the film at the end of Frederick Street atop the souther portal of Copenhagen Tunnel just north of London's Kings Cross. The trackwork has been "rationalised" and Frederick Street has been redeveloped leaving a short stub, apparently renamed Frederica Street (?) at the Caledonian Road end (top right of aerial view below).
Google Earth ...
... shows the site of the fake house indicated by the yellow industrial detritus upper right. The modern road is a stub of Conistone Way with these properties located roughly chez Mrs Wilberfrorce.
Careful observation of the top picture ...
... shows a bit of railway line in the back garden; seen below as Cecil Parker seeks to make his getaway with the loot.
This curved round to serve Caledonian Road goods depot which lies behind the houses on the south of Frederick Street.
fbb could not find a picture of the depot itself from street level, but this aerial shot shows the yard in use ...
... with Frederick Street on the left. Whilst pictures seem illusive, some chaps have made an N gauge model (compressed in scope) of the area.
The properties on the south side of Frederick Street are cut short, but the end wall where rises Mrs Wilberforce's pad is illustrated perfectly. The goods yard is redeveloped as Bunning Way.
But film locations are never what they seem. Whilst looking TOWARDS the house is a view on Frederick Street, looking FROM the house is quite different.
Cecil Parker is hurrying away with a violin case filled with crisp white fivers, but hurrying towards the unmistakable battlements of St Pancras Station, actually the clock tower thereof. That, most definitely, is not at the eastern end of Frederick Street; where sits the busy Caldeonian Road.
No. The view FROM the thieves' leased lair is looking north on Argyle Street across the busy Euston Road ...
... a view almost unchanged today. Herewith, appropriate aerial view.
Unfortunately most of the other locations have disappeared under the development of St Pancras for Eurostar and the massive changes to the former good yards in and around Kings Cross.
The robbery scenes were filmed on Cheney Road, Battle Bridge Road and Goods Way, near the famous St Pancras gas holders, of which nothing remains. Compare the map then ...
... with the new Kings Boulevard today.
Life moves on ...
  that star  

We no-idea-how-many kings, actually astrologers, of Orient are
Bearing gifts (three) we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain but more likely desert
Following yonder star; or comet or conjunction of planets

O Star (or supernova) of wonder, star of night but visible by day?
Star with royal beauty bright (planet Venus?)
Westward leading (a moving star?), still proceeding
Guide us to thy Perfect Light no longer in the "stable".

You can understand why so many people today choose to reject the story as fantasy; it has been turned from Matthew's "matter of fact" into a sanitised and largely incorrect visual nicety. For Matthew, the "wise men" came "following a star" as essential background to the main event and as pointers to the Messiahship of the newborn child.

[They enquired of Herod] "Where is the baby born to be the king of the Jews? We saw his star when it came up in the east, and we have come to worship him."

And so they left [Herod], and on their way they saw the same star they had seen in the East. When they saw it, how happy they were, what joy was theirs! It went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.
... but they didn't go to the "stable"

But why must we try to identify a specific astronomical phenomenon? Why could not the star be an super-natural sign from an omnipotent God unlimited by the laws of Physics? If there is no God, the whole narrative is tosh anyway; if God is real then popping a mega star into the sky or into the minds of the visitors is as easy as falling off a cloud.

Trust Matthew or reject Christmas. The choice is clear-cut.
 Next tunnel blog : Tuesday 30th December