Tuesday, 31 July 2012
Charles Neville, the 'founder' of Peacehaven saw, as he did in most things, a PR opportunity of being able to walk from one hemisphere to the other in his 'Garden City by the Sea', and duly erected a wooden structure looking much like an oil drilling well-head. This was replaced by the slightly more tasteful monument shown here. Neville himself unveiled this and due to cliff erosion it has been moved twice since then. Quite what the health-giving or social benefits are to be gained from cross-hemispherical perambulations has yet to be discovered by medical science, but, as was so often the case, Neville was ahead of his time. All I know is that it's possible to play darts between the East and West in a certain establishment there. Who knows, maybe there is, right in the microscopic centre, a piece of international no-mans-land where all the world's disputes could be settled. Or not.
Thursday, 5 July 2012
The Beetle was a source of fascination to him, and as he had to know how everything worked, he pulled the engine out one day on some pretext or another - satisfied, he put it all back together on the next. Eventually of course he tired of this faithful servant and bought a nice, but thoroughly corroded Borgward Isabella ts - another German car but nowhere near to being in the same league as far as build quality was concerned, yet satisfying his latent sporting motorist pretensions. By then his predilection for falling asleep at the wheel (he was a flight engineer and obviously suffered from what we now know as 'jet lag' but was then 'propellor lag') on his long drive home from trips abroad, saw the Borgward vanish down and along a construction trench in the road, never to exit. He wasn't injured and neither were the surprised pipe-layers who gentlemanly helped him from the steaming wreck after he'd almost killed them.
Oval window Beetles, like their earlier cousins the split window models, are much sought after these days and command huge money. I can't remember what we paid for ours but it wasn't more than a few hundred pounds, although that seemed like a small fortune at the time. I learned (illegally) to drive in it aged ten, and having been seen doing so was reported to the police - fortunately having recently broken my arm, the old man managed to talk the sergeant who'd come to see us, out of the threat of prosecution, pointing to my left arm in plaster.
Here's to the VW Beetle, designed under Hitler but turned, thank goodness, to more peaceful use by the British occupying forces who took over the Volkswagen factory. They got the production lines going again after the war, thus paving the way for VW to become one of the world's most successful car companies. Ironic, eh?
Tuesday, 26 June 2012
Housed in the old priory of Saint-Martin-des-Champs in the 3rd arrondissement of Paris, the Musée des Arts et Métiers contains a wonderful collection what can only be described as 'stuff'. Scientific instruments rub shoulders with Nicolas Cugnot's steam propelled 3 wheel gun carriage - believed to be the first road going locomotive. Ancient aircraft are hung as if they were Airfix models in a young boys bedroom, from the vaulted and domed ceilings, whilst murals adorn the walls. Primitive motorcycles and early motor cars abound, there's even Focault's Pendulum. It's the Science Museum but without quite the emphasis on entertainment. The building naturally has a sepulchral quality completely in keeping with its exhibits which have an 'oily rag' quality and are reassuringly unrestored. Objects here are viewed with reverence and one feels should never (in the ghastly preference of modern historians be spoken of in the present tense - why do they do that? - example..."Napoleon is virtually within the gates of Moscow"...can't stand it, I suppose they think it makes all sound hip and relevant...which it is without resorting to time-shifting). For a museum that has been open since the 18th century it has moved with the times but not so much that that its style triumphs over substance - a good balance I feel. It's well worth taking in if you're 'en Paris' for a couple of days.
Thursday, 31 May 2012
Although the fight game was by now illegal nothing could prevent this huge contest at Farnborough, Hants on 17th April 1860. Sayers was nearly three stones lighter, five inches shorter, and eight years older than Heenan. Early on in the bout Sayers' arm was disabled but he managed to close Heenan's eye...they fought like tigers for forty rounds taking over two hours, only ceasing combat when the police moved in and closed the contest. It was declared a draw. Ulitmately both men were awarded the championship belt.
Sayers retired and a public subscription raised over £3000 for him. He made some unwise choices of female companions and a daliance with the circus failed too. After a fairly dissolute period of heavy drinking he died in 1865 and his funeral was attended by 100,000 people. Buried in Highgate Cemetery his memorial is a sculpture of his dog 'Lion'.
A true son of Sussex and bold as you like.
Thursday, 9 February 2012
Whilst visiting the Rétromobile exhibition of Vintage and classic cars in Paris last week I had the enormous pleasure of meeting the extraordinary Francois Chevalier. This beguiling gentleman is a self taught artist, caricaturist and sculptor of great talent. Having run the famous Paul Ricard motor racing circuit for many years he has turned a hobby of making drawings into his main profession. He always has a small booth tucked out of the way at the show but those in the know make a beeline for it. Here you will be entertained, for he is almost as good a raconteur as he is an artist and there is always a drawing of his that is affordable and appropriate. If you're lucky there's a glass of wine on offer too. His loose style of drawing belies an innate understanding of exactly how things work, and therein lies his great skill. Sometimes he jokes with us through his monstrous inventions and adaptations of famous and historic cars....his six-wheel Bugatti Royale transporter being a great example. At other times his drawing is reportage and you are convinced that HE WAS THERE, when the event in question was aeons ago,
Monday, 9 January 2012
A recent stroll along the cliff top at Saltdean brought a view of this 1920's futuristic house. It's a real survivor although it's singular pedestrian entrance way is no longer used. The door circled on the photograph leads to a flight of steps which passes up through the cliff to the garden in front of the building. This is ably demonstrated by watching the wonderful Pathé News clip from 1928. My late dad-in-law went to school with the son of the builder of this house and confirmed the several fascinating features. It sits above the main South Coast Road, the A259 in an area euphemistically named 'Rottingdean Heights' by hopeful estate agents.