Tuesday 31 July 2012

From Greenwich with love.

New Anzac, or Peacehaven as it's now known has the singular (and I use the word deliberately) distinction of having the Prime Meridian pass through it. On its long journey around the world this imaginary but important line passes through Peacehaven and on through France and Africa until it eventually comes knocking at the back door of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich again. 

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


It's 1959 and we were the proud owners of an oval window Volkswagen Beetle. A sort of metallic grey colour (although the term hadn't fallen into common usage at the time), it was a delightful little car. My dad's standing there in the prime of life and obviously delighted with this German motoring masterpiece. An aircraft engineer by profession and a car and motorcycle nut by choice, he'd had dozens of vehicles, most of which he'd fixed up himself, but this was the first he'd bought from a recognised motor dealer. Not new, it was but a very few years old and in great condition. Its maximum speed, around 70mph, was also the cruising speed and its flat four air-cooled engine made a delicious sound from the back. A particular curiosity was the (and a first for us) windscreen washers being powered by compressed air drawn from the valve in the spare wheel located under the bonnet. Too many rainy days and it was advisable not to have a puncture. The poor car was grossly overloaded in this photograph carrying the remnants of the contents of my grandma's home - we were about to set off on a sixty mile trip, and as far as I can remember nothing fell off.

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?