28 September 2012

The British Library - Volume II

The British Library is a building that repays a number of visits. Its design is rooted in the principles of the English Free School, developed in the mid-nineteenth century and noted for asymmetry. Transferred across the Atlantic, the style was progressed by Frank Lloyd Wright and others, who resisted the brutalism of Le Corbusier's architecture without ever being anything other than modernist.

Colin St John Wilson's building is in that mould, an overall simplicity rounded out by gorgeous details - portholes that look out from galleries onto the concourse below, stair handrails and door handles in brass and bound leather, a mixture of clean lines and organic forms.

Behind the Pale Blue Door

Located down a back alley in Dalston is a pale blue door which, knocked upon on fixed dates subsequent to a prior booking, opens into the Pale Blue Door, a pop-up restaurant in the house of artist and set-designer Tony Hornecker.

A mad and fantastic place, tiny tables are crammed in everywhere. The seats are of all descriptions, the lighting theatrical, gently illuminating a riot of what can only be described as stuff, none of which has been bought, suspended from the ceilings and the walls.

The crazy decor is best appreciated from the tables towards the door, as is the between-course transvestite entertainment. The tables on the mezzanine and in the bedroom are recommended only for those of maximum mobility, as access is by way of ladders.

21 September 2012

Ruthin Castle

As was common, Ruthin Castle started life in wooden form. It was rebuilt in red sandstone between 1277 and 1282 as part of Edward I's iron ring of fortresses, which included the castles of Caernarfon, Harlech and Conwy. Dafydd, the brother of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, held Ruthin on Edward's behalf, but proved a traitor.

Reginald de Grey recovered the castle from Dafydd, and the de Greys owned it through to 1402, when Owain Glynd┼Ár captured and ransomed Reginald de Grey. Ruthin was sold to the Crown in 1508, and remained crown property until sold by Charles I in 1632. In 1646 the castle was subjected to an eleven week siege and subsequently slighted by the Parliamentarians.

The modern 'castle' was built in 1826 within the mediaeval ruins. During the period that it was owned by the Cornwallis-Wests, Ruthin was enjoyed by the Prince of Wales (Bertie) and his mistresses various, including Lillie Langtry. From 1923 to 1950 the castle was home to a private hospital that specialised in obscure diseases. In the early 1960s it was converted into an hotel. The 19th-century portion houses comfortable public rooms and a good number of pleasantly grand bedrooms, the whole faded enough not to overwhelm.

The mediaeval remains provide for plenty of exploration - a spiral staircase (embrasure above) runs within the curtain wall between what would have been the inner and outer baileys. Walks around the grounds are likely to be in the company of the resident peacocks, of which there are a dozen or so.

Ruthin Gaol

Ruthin's first House of Correction was built in 1654, and would have incarcerated felons and the unemployed alike. The gaol was rebuilt in 1775 following the prison investigations of John Howard (as in the Howard League for Penal Reform), and by 1837 could hold 37 inmates. Following the Prisons Act 1865, a new wing on the Pentonville model was built to form, in 1878, HM Prison Ruthin.

The four-storey wing housed 100 prisoners. The gaol closed in 1916, when the prisoners were moved to HM Prison Shrewsbury, a scaled-up version of Ruthin, and still in use. Both look and feel much like HM Prison Slade, of television's Porridge. Our desire to seek to drive behaviour through punishment, despite all that we know about how only reward operates effectively to do so, seemingly remains as strong as in the seventeenth century.

Ruthin Town House

Nantclwyd House is understood to be the oldest timber-framed town house in Wales, dendrochronology having dated its earliest parts to circa 1435. It was enlarged in the Jacobean, Stuart and Georgian periods, passing through the hands of a number of affluent families, including the Wynnes. The house became a Victorian girls' school and an Edwardian rectory and judges' lodgings. Restored by Denbighshire County Council, there is a room in the style of each of the ages of the house. Simply beautiful.

10 September 2012

Pye in the Sky

Is it possible to watch live the Six O'Clock News on a 63-year-old Pye LV20 elevison? Acquire an Aurora standards converter, supply this with power of nine volts DC at 250 milliamps, and connect it to the video and audio outputs of a digibox or other transmission source. Make up a length of 75 ohm coaxial cable with an F-type radio frequency (RF) connection at the Aurora end, and connect the other end to a balun via a standard coax plug.

Solder two short lengths of insulated copper wire into a pair of wander plugs, crimp onto the other end of each wire a ring terminal, and screw these into the terminals of the balun. Push the wander plugs into the twin line antenna socket of the Pye, and power up this, the standards converter, and the source. Select the correct RF channel on the converter - in this case 61.75 MHz for the picture and 58.25 MHz for the sound. Answer: Yes. But beware the possibility of a live chassis.

04 September 2012

Odeon Front Radio

The AC-only Ekco RS3, introduced in August 1931, was the first wireless set to have station names marked on its dial. It benefited also from automatic waveband switching as the cursor is moved between the top and bottom halves of the tuning scale. The Bakelite cabinet, available in walnut or mahogany (pictured) was designed by J.K.White - this architectural style is known as 'cathedral' or 'Odeon front.'

Its sloped and stepped top, stepped-back sides (into which are recessed carry pockets - the radio weighs about 18 lbs), and pollarded willow tree design grille in anodised copper, are classic Art Deco, with a hint of Art Nouveau. The AC/DC SH25 of the following year used the same cabinet, as a factory fire had destroyed the new season's designs. It can be distinguished by the use of concentric knobs, necessary given that the RS3 cabinet didn't have enough holes for the controls.