Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Andy Capp

As children we would sometimes be packed off to our cousins in Derby for part of the summer holiday. I think this was as much a holiday for our parents as it was for us. Coming from a village in the Chilterns the Big City held many wonders for us - department stores, cinemas and  trolley buses. All were within walking distance.  This walk into town was always a marvel to me involving, as it did, the negotiation of the multiple loading bays of the Burrows and Sturgess bottling plant . (I think this may once have been part of the Stretton Brewery Company) Perhaps my later involvement in logistics was initiated here because I would stand and watch lorries of all sizes coming and going.  

Scammmel Scarab always fascinated me.

Other wonders included toast - apparently made by burning bread under the grill and scraping off the black bits; creamy sterilised (homogenised) milk in bottles with Crown caps; and home-made ice cream from the little shop along the road.There were also the newspapers: whilst my father had progressed from the Daily Express to the Financial Times via the Daily Mail, here we discovered The Daily Mirror and evening papers! And so we, too, progressed from cartoons of Rupert the Bear to Andy Capp.
This example of the comic strip is typical: it features Andy and his neighbour, Chalkie White, presumably on their way home from the pub........and mentions canals!!

Reg Smythe, who created Andy Capp, came from Hartlepool and after his death in 1998 a statue was erected in that town to commemorate  Andy

Andy Capp was very much a working-class character.
During a recent visit to the East end of London, which used to be a working-class are but is now being gentrified, we discovered this picture  on a pub wall which could be titled Andy Caps

Friday, 26 December 2014

Eye to Eye

One of my first jobs in commerce was as book-keeper  for a small coach-builder and body shop.
VPR was Nevilles's first Minisprint
The glamorous side of the business was building custom Mini-Sprints for Neville Trickett  whom I met at the time.  These amazing cars were about 3" lower than the original mini and with Neville's engine and transmission modifications were spectacular to drive.   I recall one vehicle we built for a customer in Paris on which we achieved a 7" reduction in roof line. In addition to cutting down the bodywork we lowered the suspension and spaced the wheels adding spats to the wheel arches.  As a passenger on a test drive from Berkhamstead to Hemel Hempstead we hit 130mph  on the old A41. The owner was particularly concerned about driving such a low car in Paris that we had to arrange for the headlights to flash in unison with the direction indicators.
This work, whilst profitable , was irregular and crash repair work provided the bread and butter income.  The company developed a niche in replacing windscreens.  In the 1960s toughened glass was used for the majority of windscreens which shattered into small hexagonal fragments on impact.  In the days before seat belts this  was preferable to laminated glass which, if your head penetrated it, would close up onto the neck. This work was also irregular, peaking during the road-surfacing season. I suggested that we could even out these demand fluctuations by siting an air rifle locally. This suggestion was not adopted.

On my last visit to Moorfields Eye Hospital I noticed that they had adopted a similar approach wit this art installation deigned to poke your eye out as you approach the corner.

At this time of year this kind of work creation is not necessary. When I spent Xmas in Moorfileds some years ago A&E was kept very busy over the holiday period with one particular problem - Champagne corks hitting the eye.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Wrong Way

Prince Charles recently added his voice to the call for fewer road signs.

The sentiment is obviously not share by Vancouver where they feel the international No Entry sign is not sufficient  and requires further explanation

This sign we discovered in Te Anau in the south island of New Zealand a few years ago, on the other hand, is quite justifiable

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Top Gear

We saw this car at the Fosse Manor Hotel near Stow on the Wold
Eat your heart out Clarkson!

Thursday, 18 December 2014

1647 days

This is not the number of days to Christmas: this is the number of unplanned days of closure on the canals in the last year. This is in addition to the planned closures and much of it is the result of lack of maintenance.. What will the number be next year when the Dutton breach has been repaired again?
Why is planned maintenance such a dirty concept nowadays?

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Here we go again

In September 2012 we were heading up the Trent & Mersey Canal on our way to Reedley Marina for the winter when there was a massive breach at Dutton. Had we been one day earlier we would have passed the site before the breach occurred. In the event we had to turn round and make a detour via the Macclesfield and Peak forest canals before rejoining our route at Manchester.  an extra 21 miles and 82 locks!
Dutton breach 2012
The repairs took 8 months and cost £2.5m.  C&RT, enjoying its new charitable status exhorted the public to donate money for this repair. The appeal yielded less than 1% of the require sum.
Since the repair there have been reports from local residents that water was still leaking from where the repair met the original canal bed indicating a poor completion of the job
Now the repair has breached again and the canal will be closed until the spring.
When will business organisations learn that outsourcing is only as good as the supervision of it. Short term savings are easily to achieve but can come back to bite you if control of the contractors is inadequate.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Lucy's Cats

December is a month full of festivals, many pagan in origin but long ago absorbed by religions.
One which has fascinated me and which I have never experienced is celebrated in Scandinavia, particularly Sweden, in  Dalmatia and in Syracuse where St. Lucia was born. Although she is venerated in most countries there are few places where her day - December 13 - is celebrated so enthusiastically as in Sweden. The celebration comes from stories that were told by monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden.
St Lucia was a young Christian girl who was martyred, by the Romans for her faith, in 304AD. The most common story told about St Lucia is that she would secretly bring food to the persecuted Christians in Rome, who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city. She would wear candles on her head so she had both her hands free to carry things.  Lucy  comes from the Latin Lux meaning light so this is a very appropriate name. December 13th was also the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, in the old Julian calendar and a pagan festival of lights in Sweden was turned into St. Lucia's Day.

St. Lucia's Day is now celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress with a red sash round her waist and a crown of candles on her head.
The crown is made of Lingonberry branches or holly which are evergreen and symbolise new life in winter. The red sash arond the waist  symbolises martyrdom. Schools normally have their own St. Lucia's and some town and villages also choose a girl to play St. Lucia in a procession where carols are sung. A national Lucia is also chosen. Lucias also visit hospitals and old people's homes singing a song about St Lucia and handing out Pepparkakor, ginger snap biscuits.

A popular food eaten at St. Lucia's day are Lussekatts (Lucy's Cat) , St Lucia's day buns flavoured with saffron and dotted with raisins which are eaten for breakfast

There are a number of video clips available to view on the subject of St. Lucia and I would commend the follwoing to you
This is a charming film explaining St Lucia Festival

This is an amateur but entertaining film  - wait for the rendedring of Rudolf

A Recipe for Lussekatts, the cat,-shaped saffron buns

Ingredients (for 8cats)
1oz fresh yeast or 1 tbs of dried yeast           

4 tbs warm water
6 fl oz milk
1 tsp  saffron threads
4oz butter, softened
4oz sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1lb plain flour
4oz sultanas

another egg beaten
and 4 raisins per cat for decoration

To a small bowl, add the yeast to the warm water and leave to stand for 5mins  (fresh) or 15mins (dried)
Add saffron to milk in pan and bring slowly to the boil, stirring until the milk is golden brown.
Strain the milk into a large bowl , stir in the butter and sugar
Cool to lukewarm then stir in the yeast mixture and  beaten eggs
Add the flour (with a little salt) to this mixture and work into smooth dough
Add the sultanas and knead
Cover with a cloth and leave in warm area for 90mins until it had doubled in size
Pre-heat oven to 375F  / 109C / gas 5
Knead dough on floured board and divide in 16 pieces
Roll each piece into a sausage about 10in long
Form 8 pieces into an  shape with one loop smaller than the other
Form 8 pieces into reverse  S  shape in the same way
Cross one piece diagonally over one of the other pieses and poress gently together
Press raisins into place for eyes and nose then leave for 20 mons to prove
Brush beaten egg over cats and bake for 20 mins when they should sound hollow when tapped