Michael Fish

I’m having a bit of fun looking back over the last eighteen months of blogging, and adding where appropriate some older photographs to the posts.  Today I went back thirty years in my archives add added three to ‘Reminiscing With Don’ of last August.

Albeit extremely blustery, it was a beautiful autumn day as we set out on a journey the Met Office had warned everyone against.  Leaves scampered across the sky like swifts riding thermals.  Indeed, as we drove to Mat and Tess’s we saw a number of birds seemingly doing just that.  When reading BBC News Jackie came across advice to ‘keep away from trees’.  She thought that given where we live that might be rather difficult.  Michael Fish was interviewed yesterday predicting that the current gales would not be as devastating as those of 1987.  Someone in charge was having a laugh. Mr. Fish, you see, is probably the best, indeed, for most people the only, known weather announcer of all time.  He famously broadcast a reassurance, in 1987, that the rumoured storm would not happen.  It did.  So if anything was likely to confirm fears of tonight’s tempest it would be putting Michael Fish on air to refute it.

Trees were already bending beside the A27, their foliage tapping on our windscreen seeking shelter within.  As the leaves rushed towards us they reminded me of the one scene in the 3D version of James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ that made me flinch.  Boulders came flying out of the screen straight at the audience’s heads.

We were not to be deterred from our trip which was a belated birthday celebration for our daughter in law.  Jackie took a delicious apple and apricot crumble to follow Tess’s superb roast pork; roast potatoes, carrots, and parsnips; Dauphinoise potatoes; leek and cabbage compote; apple sauce; and dark red wine gravy.  Red wines by Tess and me and various beers by Jackie and Matthew were consumed.  Tess liked the presents we had bought yesterday.

Tess in The Village Shop

After the meal we had coffee in The Village Shop so that we could see the new counter layout. The Village Shop Counter Every time we go the establishment seems even more inviting and attractive than the last.

The clocks were turned back an hour at two o’clock this morning, the end of British Summer Time.  This meant that it was already dark at 6 pm. when we set off back home.  Wet windscreenDark, wet, and windy.  At times the windscreen wipers could barely cope with the water that was thrown at it. Rain hammered down directly into it, splashed up on impact with the roads, and formed a fine spray spinning from the wheels of other cars.Wet windscreen 3 Wet windscreen 2 I don’t know how Jackie managed in the driving seat, but I found the wipers mesmerising as I seemed to be peering through a Jackson Pollock painting on glass.  The halo effect around traffic lights and car headlamps and taillights, coupled with the sparkling bits of twig cracking on the car gave the impression that November 5th was already upon us.

In fairness to Michael Fish, the gales, as I write have not reached the force of that October night 26 years ago.

Three Score Years And Ten

Well, I’ve made this milestone.  I believe the psalms, from which this title is taken, suggest it’s all downhill from now.  I shall regard every day as a bonus.

Thanks to Chris and Frances for this optimistic card.  Quentin Blake, the illustrator, has provided the artwork for at least one Folio Society (post of 5th. July) publication.

Steady rain was the order of the day.  Gardening, early on, was out.  We stayed in. Eventually the rain stopped and I decided to go for a walk, giving the wind time to blow away the clouds.  I thought I’d best take my umbrella from the hall stand.  It was not there.  Ah well, I thought, I’ll risk going without it.  I don’t keep a raincoat at the Firs, which is where we were.  Walking along Beacon Road I reflected on the coincidence that Lindum House in Newark, which was our home for nineteen years, is in Beacon Hill Road.  The eponymous beacons are a reminder of times gone by.  They were set as a warning against invasion.  They were lined up on high ground so that each one was visible to the next.  One would be lit at the first sign of enemy ships;  the rest would follow in turn, and within a short space of time there would be a chain of flaming fire stretching right across the land.  I believe they were used to alert the nation to the arrival of the ill-fated Spanish Armada in 1588.

This, however, is the summer of 2012, so I imagine that no beacon would have stayed alight very long.  I hadn’t any particular direction in mind, but whilst still in Beacon Road I received guidance from above. The rain.  Diving down Southern Road, into Western, and through to Telegraph, I decided I’d go into West End and buy an umbrella. Realising, by the time I got to the bottom of Telegraph Road, that I’d overshot West End, and I’d probably not find an umbrella there, I decided to go for broke and walk to the Hedge End Superstores along Botley Road.  By the time I arrived at M & S I was so wet there was really hardly any point.  Nevertheless, I did buy a raincoat.  I ask you, a midsummer birthday and I go in search of something to keep me dry.  Never mind, there is always a silver lining; on the way the battery on the camera had gone flat and I had not brought a charger with me.  I therefore visited the nearby Curry’s and bought one to keep at the Firs.

Passing the Ageas Bowl, Hampshire’s County Cricket ground, until quite recently named the Rose Bowl, I felt fairly certain there would be no play today.  Marshall Drive is named after two great West Indians.

On my return to The Firs I was informed that my umbrella was in the boot of Elizabeth’s car.  Elizabeth had prepared another birthday morning for me, with lots of carefully chosen, delightful presents.  One was a cheese knife wrapped in a paper napkin.  We considered this might be useful on any future trip to The Raj (see 26th. June).

Having decided to give up gardening for the day, this afternoon we drove to a couple of garden centres the other side of Wickham.  The rain by now was quite spectacular.  The skies were darkened so that most cars had their headlights on.  The windscreen wipers were going like the clappers, and could not cope with the showers of spray rising from the rear wheels of the cars in front.  From the sides of the cars great waves were flying up from the lakes forming at the sides of the road.  On our return, in some parts only the central white lines were not covered with rainwater.  Some drains were gushing the water back up, forming unsavoury looking brown fountains.  In the first of the garden centres, appropriately named Mud Island, the woman on the till told us she could count on two hands the number of customers she had had that day.  And we were three of them.  Rain clattered on the roof and poured down from the straining gutters.  The sky had become a grey pink which would have looked good on the petals of some of the unusual fuchsias we were seeking.  On our way through Wickham we had seen a damper thrown on a ruined wedding.  Large umbrellas were taking refuge.  The photographers had no chance.

We dropped off at another garden centre on the way back, seeking agricultural sand which had not been available at the others.  About ten or a dozen staff were seated at the garden tables and loungers in the showroom.  They were only too pleased to serve their only customers.  We hoped that tomorrow the weather would be kind enough to allow us to plant what we’d bought.

This evening the three of us, along with Mum, Danni, Joseph and Angela drove to The Lone Barn at Hungerford Bottom for a pub meal.  Joseph and Angela had been unable to attend last week.  They brought me a magnificent hand-made Chinese silk embroidered tie and scarf set in exactly my style and colours.   Danni gave me an excellent bottle of wine and book of Hampshire place-names from her and Andy.  Coincidentally the publishers were Amberley Press, who published ‘The Magnificent Seven’ a book of the seven Victorian landscapes cemeteries, for which I had produced the photographs.

An even more amazing coincidence was one of the carts hanging from the ceiling of this great old barn.  These were all wooden vehicles.  One, ‘for daily deliveries’, bore the address 181 Haydons Rd., Wimbledon, SW19.  Mum, 90 in October, told us how, when Chris and I were babies, during the war, she had lived in the very same Haydon’s Road.  And here we were, in deepest Hampshire.  One day a bomb had struck the house across the road and Mum had instinctively dived across my body leaving Chris sitting beside us.  Fortunately all was well.  Mum said that her biggest problem during that time had been to decide  which was the worst prospect; risking the bombs, or facing the mice in the cupboard under the stairs.  I find it amazing that we, in 2012, can listen to a lucid woman, who happens to be my mother, who lived through those times.

We then went on to talk about the 7/7 London bombing of 2005.  Whilst that was going on I had walked from Little Venice in N.W. London to North Road just north of Kings Cross Station.  Completely oblivious of the event, two minutes after the Edgware Road bomb had exploded in the underground, I had walked past that station.  I continued my walk, wondering why everyone was being disgorged from the underground stations, and why diversions were preventing me from taking my normal route.  Marylebone Road was full of bewildered passengers on mobile phones which could not access networks.  None of the tube staff had any idea why people were being sent out of the stations.  The redevelopment of Kings Cross was going on at that time,  and the sight of vast numbers of men in hard yellow hats, having been evacuated from the site, filling the streets was astounding.  I was receiving text messages from anxious friends and relatives to whom I could not reply.  Why, I wondered, was everyone asking whether I was all right.  It was not until I reached the foster home that I was visiting and saw the news on television that I realised what had happened.  The foster carer had been one of those anxiously trying to make contact.  I had not received her message.

Bayko Building Sets

Driving up the A3 towards Chessington the car was buffeted; leaves, twigs, paper, and other debris were blown everywhere; potted garden plants were lying on their sides or rolling about; and some shrubs were down.  The strong winds had not abated.  Watching trees bending in the blast I wondered just how fierce had been the gales of a fortnight ago, when I was in France, to have felled enough trees to block roads and railway tracks in and around London.  As will be evident from my post of 2nd. June entitled ‘The Great Storm’ I always, one way or another, seem to miss the big ones.

Our destination was the Chessington Garden Centre where Jackie bought some plants and equipment for Elizabeth’s garden.  Having done so, she stayed behind for a coffee whilst I set off on foot along Fairoak Lane in the direction of Oxshot.  As I left the building I noticed a number of people around a frail-looking elderly woman who had been helped into a wheelchair.  The back of her head was covered in blood of which there was a pool on the car park tarmac.  An ambulance was being awaited.  The attendant directing traffic away from the scene said that the injured person had unaccountably collapsed.  I found myself speculating that she had been blown over,  and as I leant into the gusts along the wooded Fairoak Lane I thought that that had not been such a wild idea.

The wooded roadside was littered with broken branches and uprooted plants.  In the fenced off wooded area surrounding Chessington Substation of the National Grid there were a number of fallen trees.  I imagine these must have been casualties of the recent gale-force winds which had swept the area.  Having passed the entrance to the electricity station I reached a made up road going through the wood uphill to the right. This freshly tarmacked path led to a much less well made road, the dust from which at times had the appearance of a sandstorm.  My eyes and mouth were filled with grit, and when I stopped for a pee I made very sure I stayed downwind.

The shrieking of children told me that I was at the back of Chessington World of Adventure.  I had, indeed, stumbled on what must have been an overflow car park.  That oriented me to the road on which the Garden Centre was situated, and I returned there.

The vehicle in front of us as we left to go back to Links Avenue was an open-topped car whose only occupant was clinging with one hand on the end of her outstretched arm to a large pot containing a tall shrub which occupied the passenger seat.  We couldn’t see her other hand but rather hoped it was on the steering wheel.  As the plant teetered back and forth we kept our distance until she turned off.

En route to the A3 in the area off Grand Drive there are a number of what I call Bayko Building Set houses.  These are usually bay fronted and follow the design of the Bayko houses of my childhood.  I fondly imagine it is that way round rather than that the building sets replicated already extant houses.  Jackie has the same memories and we both got as much pleasure from these as today’s children do from Lego.  There must have been an overlap during the fifties between the two kits but Lego was clearly the winner.  Maybe it was a health and safety issue.  Bayko had a bakelite base drilled with holes into which thin metal rods were fitted vertically forming supports for the bricks which formed the houses.  I doubt that Hamleys today could sell toys containing such parts.  I seem to remember three colours; green for the base, doors and windows; red for roofs; and red and white for bricks.  I think the older ones had brown bases.  There were channels in the edges of the bricks into which the rods were aligned.  You could make dream houses – especially those with the bay windows.  This equipment was certainly around before the war and freely available post-war and throughout the 1950s.  I could, I know have Googled this to check my facts, but it is important to me that my memory is exercised.  Can anyone add to or correct what I have written?

We made an early evening visit to Becky in hospital, where she was looking really well, her usual lucid and amusing self.  She was able to get in and out of bed, although at one point was stricken with considerable pain as she moved about.  This required some liquid morphine which Becky said tasted like Bailey’s.  She has no memory of her cardboard hat and will no doubt need Flo’s photograph to convince her.  Everything she had been told leading up to and after surgery she was able to tell us.  Apparently the surgeon described three options that were available and said he couldn’t be sure which would apply until he’d ‘gone in’.  He wanted to know her preferences.  She said ‘surprise me’.

Jackie’s beef casserole with a couple of glasses of Marques de Alarcon 2011 tempranillo/syrah completed the day

P.S. I am grateful to Jenny Pellet of Charactersfromthekitchen, a blog well worth visiting, for the link to this article from the Grimsby Telegraph:

DURING the 1930s plastic technology was in its infancy, writes Jeff Beedham.

Mr Charles Bird Plimpton (1893-1948) was a plastics engineer and inventor living in Liverpool.

In 1933 he had invented and patented Bayko “An improved constructional toy” made from a type of Bakelite.

By 1934 Bayko building sets were on sale in Britain’s shops, produced by Plimpton Engineering Ltd, Liverpool and Bakelite Ltd, Birmingham.

The concept was simple. A brown Bakelite base with a grid of holes at 3/8th of an inch, centres that accepted 1/16″ diameter steel rods of various lengths.

Bakelite brick tiles embossed with a brick bond pattern with grooves each side were then slotted between the upright rods, creating realistic walls.

Doors and windows of various widths could also be slotted in.

The original sets were in dark green Bakelite but by 1939 more realistic colours of red and white bricks, with green doors and windows in the latest Art Deco style, topped by red tiled roofs were adapted.

After the Second World War production resumed but in 1948 Charles Plimpton died, leaving his wife Audrey to run the business.

The Bayko building sets No’s 0 to No 6 and accessory sets were aimed at both girls and boys and marketed worldwide.

In 1959 Audrey Plimpton retired, selling the business to Meccano Ltd of Liverpool who since the 1930s had regularly advertised Bayko sets in the Meccano Magazine and sold them at approved Meccano dealers throughout the world.

Meccano modified and marketed Bayko until 1967.

I remember having a No 1 Bayko building set during the 1950s, but the thin steel rods and smaller brick tiles (a health and safety nightmare today) were prone to being sucked up by the Hoover.

In the early 1980s, when Gregory’s cycle and toy shop in Hainton Avenue closed down, I purchased several Bayko accessory outfits that had languished in the stockroom since the 1960s.

In recent years there has been a renewed interest in this constructional toy with a Bayko Collectors Club being formed.

There is currently a comprehensive exhibition of Bayko models in Liverpool Museum to celebrate the 80th anniversary of this forgotten toy that gave so much pleasure to generations of boys and girls.