I Was Wandering….

… lonely as this cloud that floated on high o’er Pegwell Bay,

and remembered that I’d omitted to take a picture of the ‘Turner Contemporary’ building in Margate. I’d completed my morning checks of the electronic equipment on the beach and decided to pop down the road to get the snap while the sun was out.

And (although the sun had gone in) look what I tripped over: The Hornby Visitor Centre – I didn’t know such a thing existed and, what’s more, Now We Are 6(1), we get in half price!

I know I go on about Mr Hornby and parts of Scandinavia but here’s the proof. I could have been looking over the bridge at Växjö Station in Sweden. There were several layouts in the Centre and my walk around the exhibits was accompanied by that particular metallic slithering noise that train sets make.

The Centre had a wide selection of brands, some competitors, some acquisitions; Hornby’s history is quite complex – and this is Airfix’s first kit, a promotional construction model produced for Ferguson tractors.

Scalextric was well represented. I’d always pronounced it ‘Scalectrix’, transposing the ‘x’ and the ‘c’. I’d never thought about it until I saw it on the model here and thought I’d better check up on the spelling. Do we all say ‘Scalectrix’? It seems easier to get your tongue round than ‘Scalextric’, so my pronunciation is probably just me being lazy.

I remember my brother having one of these sets with the 60’s F1 cars….

….though we were grown up 🙂 by the time this body style appeared.

The process of making all these models was fascinating. The ‘Corgi’ brand, I seem to remember, was considered a bit better than the ‘Dinky’ brand. The amount of research, hands-on model and mould making and all the associated tool making that went into each model was extraordinary. Nowadays, the greater part of the process is by CAD and almost fully automated but the human eye still has to approve the prototype. Sometimes, a model may be an absolutely perfect replica of the full-size article but, it can still look wrong. If I could have stayed another hour, I would have settled in to watch the film about Hornby which looked very informative.

This isn’t terribly clear because it was behind glass and the lighting wasn’t helpful but it’s the female half of the mould for what looks like an ME 163 Komet kit.

And then there was a room full of these magnificent models – this an Alfa 8C, the sort of Special that I wouldn’t mind building.

And on the way back to the beach, I wondered about these clouds; they looked a bit different.


When In Margate….

It was The Ambassador’s Daughter’s birthday so what better treat than an outing to Margate, taking in the ‘Turner Contemporary’ Art Gallery.

Unfortunately, only two of the exhibition rooms were open and, as the gallery has no works of its own to act as a permanent collection, the offerings were a bit thin.

However, in the spirit of contemporary art, I took the opportunity to create my own work in this hallowed space – ‘Jacket on Bench with View of the Sea’. Naturally, pop-up art is always going to be a bit thin on intellectual content – that’s the nature of spontaneity – but as I’ve always been fascinated by the endless oscillation of the tide and the creation of new realities, ‘Jacket’, brings us face to face with the darkness of our existence as a metaphor for vegetarian ethics Wittgenstein Kafka zeitgeist UFO fishcakes – you know the sort of thing.

Tracy Emin and Turner? I can’t quite see the connection; it’s like me associating myself with Henry Ford – faintly ridiculous.

In some ways, Margate is the poor cousin of Ramsgate. Much money has been spent on restoring the latter – I learn that the town has more listed buildings than any other in the country – whereas Margate, despite having a more interesting ‘Old Town’ (reminiscent of ‘The Lanes’ in Brighton) appears neglected and slightly shabby.

Leaving Margate, lunch at the Spitfire & Hurricane Memorial Café on Manston Airfield beckoned and we were not disappointed. Ham, egg and chips were especially warming on a wet and blustery day. There were two museums on the site – the café building houses excellent displays of material contemporary to the Spitfire and Hurricane – examples of which are also resident. My only complaint was the rather unnecessary attention drawn to the fact that some of the aircraft instrument’s paint was radio-active; bright yellow stickers in the cockpits and a large sign attached to the Spitfire’s hatch rather spoilt the displays.

In the RAF Manston Museum, a few yards from the café, there was all sorts of interesting stuff from the station’s history when it was first a Royal Naval Air Station until it was closed in 2014 having been a commercial airport since 1999.

Returning to Ramsgate there was another attraction which we managed to see a small part of before it closed for the day – the Ramsgate Tunnels. Ramsgate Station was originally about a mile from the sea-front – a fact not lost on holiday makers when it came to choosing between Ramsgate and Margate (whose station was closer to the beach and wasn’t at the top of a steep hill). To rectify this, a tunnel was constructed in 1863 that took the railway down to the beach, terminating in a new station adjacent to the harbour. Eventually, after several ups and downs in its fortunes, the line was privately converted into a narrow gauge electric line and continued to operate up until the 2nd World War when a network of tunnels was extended from the main tunnel and the whole used as an air-raid shelter. Ramsgate had been heavily bombed in the 1st World War so it was a welcome facility for the inhabitants of the town. The line re-opened following the cessation of hostilities and eventually closed in 1965. We were entertained with this information (and a lot more detail besides) by ‘Emma’ in the ticket office, whose passionate interest in this and the history of Ramsgate was a delight.

So, when in Ramsgate….

Further Adventures.

‘Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea…”

Thus Pip describes in ‘Great Expectations’, the salt marshes of North East Kent, where I found myself for several days, looking after some electronic equipment.

It’s not unusual on these contracts to have a day spare before things get going, so, as Ramsgate was on the doorstep and it was unlikely that I’d be coming this way again, this was an adventure not to be missed.

Apart from its proximity to Manston airfield which played a decisive role in operations conducted during the 1st and 2nd World Wars and the town’s part in the ‘little ships’ evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk, I knew nothing of Ramsgate’s rich history. First recorded as a settlement sometime in the 13thC, along with Margate and Broadstairs, the town is situated in an area known as (because it once was but is no longer an island) the Isle of Thanet. The island saw quite a lot of invaders to-ing and fro-ing in ancient times, causing trouble and being beastly to the locals; a replica Viking ship presented by the Danes to commemorate the 1500th anniversary of the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain, stands just down the road in Pegwell Bay.

A wonderful mix of Regency and Victorian architecture (at least those buildings immediately adjacent to the sea front – there are some less attractive parts) gives the town a respectable, but convivial air.

This splendid lift, complete with Art Nouveau tiles, let me down from Wellington Crescent – Ramsgate’s answer to Bath’s Royal Crescent – to the harbour where the sharp-eyed would immediately recognise this very rare Edward VIII post box.

I walked straight past it but then I’m not yet a post box fancier; that may come with time of course but, possibly not.

In front of the marina and under the Royal Parade, the arches housed a mix of trades, among them cafés, a small motorcycle museum (yet to be investigated) and services for boating types supplying anchors, dodgy slip-on shoes and whatnot.

Then a brisk walk along the harbour wall in the steps of Van Gogh – a resident of the town in 1876 and who made a note of this walk in a letter to his brother Theo: “There’s a harbour full of all kinds of ships, closed in by stone jetties running into the sea on which one can walk. And further out one sees the sea in its natural state, and that’s beautiful.”

But regardless of all the wonderful architecture and all the other delights that Ramsgate had to offer, somehow it was Pip and the salt marshes that persisted in my imagination and that, despite the fact that Dickens set his story further inland and closer to Rochester, nearly 50 miles away. As I carefully picked my way through the marsh, it wouldn’t have surprised me if Magwitch had risen up in front of me – then again, even though in the film you knew he was coming, he still made you jump!

What larks!

Rules & Reg’s.

Historically, pretty much everything in Norway (and the rest of Scandinavia) is, in comparison to most of Europe, outrageously expensive – alcohol especially – the government applies punitive taxes to alcohol in a bid to stem a national drink problem.

But there’s also a sort of finger-wagging undertone which manifests itself in various inconveniences, the first of which I encountered last Saturday when I popped into the supermarket to get a well-deserved beer at the end of my 12-hour shift – 8.00pm. ‘Sorry Sir, we can’t sell alcohol after 6 o’clock on Saturdays’. I went back to the hotel and had not much more than a half pint glass of cold frothy stuff – £7.80.

I thought I’d beat the system the following Saturday by buying a couple of bottles on the way to work. ‘Sorry Sir, no alcohol sales before 8 o’clock’ (and you’ll be out of luck tomorrow – Sunday – as well chum). On Sunday evening, the hotel bar was closed and I asked the hotel receptionist why. ‘Don’t worry’, she said and with that, she disappeared behind a curtain (?) and came back with a small glass of lager (an eye-watering £8.00).

I’m no great drinker as my friends will attest but, when you’re deprived of a simple pleasure, it suddenly becomes a mission to get what you think you deserve at (almost) any price – which could be the start of a problem?

I’d taken a couple of panoramas of the dock when it suddenly occurred to me to take a vertical panorama – I nearly fell over backwards but it would be a useful technique when trying to capture a fabulous ceiling in an Italian church – I must remember that when I’m next in Naples.

During a break, when the cable we were magnetising was being tested on board the Flintstone, I ambled over to the car park to give a hand getting this Ford going (informed sources have since corrected me; it’s a Dodge). I’d noticed that it had been a more or less a static fixture over the last couple of weeks and was wondering if it actually ran.

Anyway, chap had the bonnet up but didn’t have any tools to check if he had sparks and fuel. By the time I’d got back with a screwdriver and spanners, the ambulance was hitched to a Transit and was being towed around the yard. That did the trick.

1943 apparently and in very usable condition – it sounded fine and no smoke from the exhaust as it sped away from the dock.

In idle moments, there were other activities to watch – these Leviathans trundled up and down the dock throughout the day and I remember them from my first trip to Drammen when we loaded the Olympic Commander. And, other than the cranes, I don’t, from that first trip, remember much at all except being huddled in a container on deck for a week of very cold and wet night shifts.

And when you’ve read enough books, watched enough films and twiddled your thumbs to a stop, there’s always the rain to photograph – that’s art, that is.

At the end of our stint in Drammen, we got the train back to the airport. Scandinavian trains are on time – to the second – and this one, the Airport Express, very comfortable.

There was some thought-provoking public art at the airport; perhaps a warning to those who circumvent the rules and reg’s?




That’s A Good Idea….

I bought a jar of instant coffee from the supermarket across the road from the hotel and later, unscrewing the lid, saw that there was a small red tab to assist in the removal of the airtight inner seal. Progress! No more bits-of-silver-paper-in-your-coffee woes.

I thought it was too good to be true.

The water pump on the Hillman started to play up just before I left for Norway and, as I can remove it practically blindfold, I thought I’d whip it off and replace it with my previously re-engineered spare – which I did. A 147 mile round trip went off without any problems but, the next morning I was greeted with a large puddle of water on the workshop floor.

The first pump had quite a lot of play in the bronze bush so that had to be renewed and whilst I was at it, I replaced both lip seals, both sealed bearings and, added an extra lip seal in place of the worse-than-useless felt washer which sits on the pulley end of the shaft. I don’t know why I hadn’t done that before.

The other weak point in the design is the drain hole underneath the pump which I assume gives notice of water ingress into the void between the inner and outer bearings indicating a failing seal. I bung this up with Araldite – not best practice but, buys me a few more miles as the water is held by the outer sealed bearing and the extra lip seal. I’m always looking in the radiator and constantly monitoring the gauges so I’m unlikely to be caught out…. in theory.

I didn’t have time to fully investigate the second pump which, I vaguely recall, had caused a bit of trouble before and I’d packed it up with lithium grease as a get-you-home spare to take to Lelystad.

There were a few more paintings in the Oslo National Gallery that caught my eye but didn’t get round to mentioning….

Vilhelm Hammershoi’s, ‘The Coin Collector’; always a bonus to see a Hammershoi and, this charming scene, ‘Braiding Her Hair’, by Christian Krohg.

Picasso was well represented and it was interesting to see three of his works, spanning nearly 25 years, altogether and on one wall. The first, ‘Man and Woman in a Café’, 1903 (towards the end of his ‘Blue Period’)…..

… ‘Guitar and Glass’, 1911….

…and ‘Still Life’, 1927.

Although not a favourite of mine, Picasso was certainly a highly skilled colourist. When I worked in Florida, I occasionally had a game of poker with a chap who was valet to either Mrs Proctor or Mrs Gamble – I can’t remember which but, in his grace and favour flat in Palm Beach, just along from ‘The Banana Boat’ – a bar we’d patronise before Martin would relieve me of what little money I had – was an early Picasso charcoal sketch of a young girl. It was the first time I’d ever seen a work of art by a household name in a private residence. I’ve never forgotten it….

…unlike this entirely forgettable nonsense I tripped over in the gallery; must have seemed a good idea at the time.


Getting It Right.

In comparison to some of our usual work places, this tent is rather splendid – light and airy but not too draughty – and there’s plenty of space for everything. It takes a couple of days to get the systems streamlined – kettles, heaters, lights and general supplies, but once you’re settled in and everything’s to hand, if the weather’s half-way decent, there’s nothing to complain about.

What’s more, the kind folk at Prysmian, Drammen, had thoughtfully provided a Portaloo for the benefit of us Magnetisers and the chaps controlling the cable tensioner. One morning, with all my safety equipment on, I got in a muddle adjusting my dress and my glasses fell into the oggin – it was my only pair. Need I tell you …… no, so I won’t.

In an idle moment, I was standing on the dock side talking to one of the ship’s officers from the Flintstone, when his phone rang. He switched to his native language (he was from Cameroon) and launched into a very animated conversation with someone who was equally excited about whatever it was they were talking about. I later learnt that this chap’s mother had gone on holiday and left a man looking after the family cow. Well, the cowman had gone walkabout and so had his charge so my companion was having to find another cow before his mother came back to the village. He was, in this enterprise, relying on his I gather, rather less than reliable brother, though he was at least on the spot – so to speak. And we think we’ve got problems!

Amongst the visitors to the tent I’m working in, was this mouse. He was a persistent little chap, scuttling round my feet and trying to run up the table leg and he didn’t clear off until the end of the day – I haven’t seen him since. He reminded me of the time, many years ago now, when, at the end of harvest, I was sweeping out the buck of a lorry that we used to cart the grain from the fields to the drier. My landlord (the farmer) was with me and he spotted a tiny field mouse in the corner of the buck. He went over to investigate and the mouse shot straight up his trouser leg. That woke them both up!

In Oslo’s National Gallery, I spotted this painting which reminded me of one I’d done some years ago. Looking at the composition of this work, ‘Au Miroir’, by Ludvig Karsten, it was uncanny to see that both he and I had taken almost the same viewpoint and included details like the reflection of a painting on the opposite wall.

Of course, it takes a professional to get it right and there’s something in my effort which I got wrong. Answers on a post card to the usual address.



When Your Ship Doesn’t Come In….

….and you find yourself in Drammen, Norway, the prospect of several days inactivity is less than inspiring – or so I thought until I and my fellow magneteer walked across the bridge to investigate the commotion audible from our hotel.

It was festival weekend and the streets were awash with stalls selling everything you could comfortably live without and more, plus, there were power boats racing up and down the river – something that warranted a closer look.

There were a few vintage boats of which this was the prettiest. We wandered up and down the river bank whilst more modern racers, some with fully enclosed cockpits and daft amounts of horsepower, flew past at full chat.

The festival went on for the whole weekend but I elected to slip off to Oslo on the train on Sunday and visit a couple of galleries before our ship arrived and the magnetising work began on Monday morning.

I caught a glimpse of part of Oslo as we sped through on the train from the airport on our way to Drammen on Friday evening – it looked promising. Norway’s tiny population – 2.5 million less than London’s – has produced its fair share of world-class artists though many are not particularly well-known outside Scandinavia. Look out for Harriet Backer for instance.

There’s clearly much ado about Munch, Norway’s most famous artist, because this was part of the hour-long wait to get in to the National Gallery. A queue, though inconvenient, is usually a good sign.

Munch’s ‘The Scream’ was rather muffled in real life, but his other work was more vibrant.

‘Girls on a Bridge’, had the intensity that I had expected of ‘The Scream’ and for me was the better painting but, given the choice, Munch’s ….

…..’The Day After’, was the most fun. My ticket for the National Gallery allowed me entry to the Museum of Contemporary Art and, after a quick look-in on the Museum of Architecture – lots of very nice models and also part of the ticket offer – I made my way into a building that I imagined could once have been an asylum and, the contents on the ground floor did nothing to dispel this notion.

These exhibits were the offerings of various up and coming artists exploring relationships between this and that; creating tensions with both constructed and discovered dialogues; demonstrating essential insights into the unreality of meaning; dialectic temptations – blah blah fishcakes, Top Banana!

A documentary photography gallery on the first floor which welcomed you with work by Dorothea Lange immediately made more sense. The theme of the exhibition was ‘Street Photography’, essentially documenting life on the street in various counties and times. It seems morbidly fascinating to look at black and white photos of people we sometimes mistakenly consider to be less well-off or more ridiculous than ourselves but, there’s no mistaking the skill of the photographers.

And such is the efficiency of the Norwegian railway system, I didn’t have long to wait before my train came in.