31 January 2011

Avant Garde After 40 Years

Roxy Music was formed in 1970 by Bryan Ferry, the group's principal songwriter and lead vocalist, Brian Eno, and Andy Mackay. Generally referred to as Art Rock, Roxy's music was always avant garde, influencing punk, New Wave, and the synth groups of the 1980s.

Synthesizer maestro Eno long ago went his own way, but the current line-up continues to feature Phil Manzanera (very sharp guitar), Mackay (sexy saxophone and liquorice oboe), and Paul Thompson (drums and percussion). 40 years on, the music is still very fresh and edgy.

Roxy Music's album covers were always very striking, and the visual backdrop to the current 'For Your Pleasure' tour manages to be both stylishly retro and bang up to date, quite psychedelic at points. Highly recommended.

28 January 2011

The Beast is Back

The Beast of West Bromwich is undergoing various works to ready it for its MOT. Done to date: ignition switch and hazard lights toggle switch replaced; radiator drained, repeatedly flushed, and refilled; bottom hose replaced; wheels removed and chassis, spring hangers, springs, bearings and rack all inspected okay; brake disks and calipers inspected okay; steering gaiters replaced. Road test served up no significant problems.

Still to be done ahead of test: replace full suite of brake pads; tension handbrake; bandage two exhaust leaks just below manifolds; square up steering wheel; fix nearside door catch; free offside seatbelt tensioner; replace a couple of grease nipples.

After (hopefully successful) MOT: adjust automatic choke and cold fast idle; replace battery with one of greater cranking amperage; reset bonnet release; overhaul fans. Beyond that work can commence on the interior: re-dye and feed leather; fix interior lamps; and so on ... a Sisyphean project.

13 January 2011

Lake Vyrnwy

The large dam at Lake Vyrnwy, built between 1881 and 1889, was the first in Britain to be stone-built, earlier constructions being earth embankments. The side facing the reservoir, at the time the largest of its kind in Europe, is vertical, not inclined, and the dam is consequently of great mass in order to resist the pressure. Over half a million tons of stone go to make up a monolith 1,172 feet long, 84 feet from lake bed to overflow sill, 161 feet from foundations to top, and 120 feet thick at its base.

The openings between the dam's 33 arches allow surplus water to flow over the top - Vyrnwy was also the first large dam not to have a spillway at one end. The compensation water for the River Vyrnwy is carried through tunnels 70 feet long and 15 feet in diameter, one beneath each of the two towers, in which are housed the valve controls.

Created to supply Liverpool with water, Lake Vyrnwy is about 4½ miles long. In its depths are the remains of the village of Llanwddyn. 37 houses, ten farmhouses, three pubs, two chapels, and a church were knocked down. The residents, both living and dead, were relocated to a new village further down the valley. A sculpure park adorns the outwash plain beneath the dam. Take a bottle of Bombay Sapphire with you - it's made with Vyrnwy water.

12 January 2011

Royal Spartanette Trailer Trailer

Many thanks to Rupert in Toronto for sending through information about this fantastic trailer, fully restored by a Michigan owner, and converted to provide both accommodation for himself and transportation of his classic cars. It's a 1951 Royal Spartanette 35-footer, built originally by the Spartan Aircraft Company. The ramps are articulated and enable vehicle access to a 21-foot mobile garage. It's up for sale - yours for $125,000, presumably excluding the 1955 Porsche Continental!

We Don't Get No Edjukayshun

With apologies to our American readers, it's not possible to let today's bleating of UK teaching unions pass without comment. Their response to publication of the fact that only 16% of 16-year-olds achieved the new 'English baccalaureate' has, all too predictably, been that the measure is unfair, in that it is retrospective. What they mean is that had they known in advance which subjects would go to make up the league tables, schools would have concentrated their efforts on those.

This is admitting what we have always known, that much teaching has nothing to do with education but a great deal to do with coaching to scrape examination passes. Were teaching of a universally decent quality it wouldn't matter which subjects were placed under the microscope. Moreover, we're not talking here about abstruse subjects, but English, mathematics, a second language, geography or history, and two sciences. Surely at least the first two should be regarded as important irrespective of the measurement system in operation?

That only one in six pupils obtain, in subjects critical to their life chances, the economy, and maintenance of culture, what used to be regarded as passes but are now referred to as 'good' grades (GCSE A to C), is a terrible indictment of the English education system. The teaching unions can whinge all they want. Schools exist for the benefit of their pupils, not for that of their teachers.

06 January 2011

Ruyton, VI.I.MMXI

Ruyton XI Towns is the only place in the world that features Roman numerals in its name. It was known as Ruyton of the XI Towns from the XIIth century, when a castle was built here. The XI townships were Coton, Eardiston, Felton, Haughton, Rednal, Ruyton itself, Shelvock, Shottaton, Sutton, Tedsmore, and Wykey. The castle was badly damaged in MCCIII and again, by Owain Glyndŵr, in MCCXII.

In MCCCVIII the Earl of Arundel attempted to refound the town as New Ruyton, and a charter that gave it the same status as the County of Bristol was granted. The castle was rebuilt in MCCCXIII, yet lasted only to the end of the century. Its few remains stand next to the church - likely built at the same time as the castle - about which are some fine yews. The town declined as it continued to be subject to the depredations attendant upon its Marches location; and it ceased to be a borough in MDCCCLXXXVI.

The erosion of Ruyton's status is mirrored in the sandstone in which are constructed many of the buildings of what is now referred to as a village. Cut into the live rock is a memorial to those killed in the two world wars. It seems a shame that, instead of being carved in Arabic numerals, the dates of these aren't given as MCMXIV-MCMXVIII and MCMXXXIX-MCMXLV.

03 January 2011

Goering's Balls Not Small After All

The description "important" is massively overused in connection with books, but James Wyllie's Goering and Goering certainly deserves the epithet. The subtitle - Hitler's Henchman and His Anti-Nazi Brother - signals what the book is about; but what comes through only from a full reading is the immense bravery of Albert, who saved hundreds, possibly thousands, from persecution.

Reprisals and the crude settling of scores often serve to obscure the good done by those prepared to stand up to the brutality, the stupidity, the ineptitude, of corrupt and immoral regimes and organisations. As Pastor Martin Niemöller noted, it is often the soi-disant intellectuals that allow these things to happen:

They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
Albert Goering's efforts and achievements deserve wider recognition.