Thursday, 21 January 2016

Flying Scotsman: Famous engine back on tracks



Flying Scotsman: Famous engine back on tracks

It's not very often that we're prepared to wait ten years for a train to arrive, but when that train is pulled by a world-famous record-breaking steam locomotive then it becomes another matter entirely!

Yes, this is the welcome news of the much-anticipated return of the LNER Class A3 4472 Flying Scotsman steam engine to mainline passenger-carrying service following a ten-year, £4.2 million restoration.

Such rebuilds (and new builds) are always gratifying but in the case of the Scotsman there is an extra level of excitement at its return, due no doubt to the way it has captured the nation's imagination ever since its unveiling in 1924 at the British Empire Exhibition in Wembley, London.  In the intervening 92 years it has cemented its reputation as one of the most well-known steam engines in the world and is rightly celebrated as an ultimate example of British engineering at its best.  Having been the first locomotive to travel non-stop from London to Edinburgh in 1928 (hauling the service from which it took its name) and the first to break the 100mph barrier in 1934 the Scotsman earned a place in our island story from almost the beginning of its career.

It was this fame and affection that saved it from the scrapheap in 1963 when it was bought by businessman and railway enthusiast Alan Pegler, restored at Doncaster and then sent on an international tour to the United States and Australia.  Subsequent owners William McAlpine and Tony Marchington did their bit to keep the Scotsman in steam and in the hearts and minds of people around the world until 2004 when it was finally acquired by the National Railway Museum in York.

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Complete restoration followed in 2006 with the aim of returning Scotsman to as near original condition as possible and at the same time renewing its boiler certification, but unforeseen problems pushed the initial 2010 completion date back to late 2015.  Complete with a new boiler - the only original A3 Class boiler in existence, in fact, replacing the later A4 Class type that Scotsman had used since an early 1980s refit - the famous engine finally moved under its own power for the first time in ten years for test runs on the East Lancashire Railway on the 8th January.

In Pictures: Flying Scotsman returns to tracks for tests

Barring a few small issues with the brakes these tests have been largely successful and the Flying Scotsman is due to make its triumphant return to the main line in early February on an inaugural run from  London to York, following a spiffing new British Rail green paint job.  Understandably tickets for these initial runs have all been snapped up within hours of going on sale but there will of course be the chance to see the Scotsman in all its glory at the NRM and hopefully any later London runs will not be booked up.  With any luck she may even embark on another national tour - either way it would certainly be something to travel on such an historic train.  Here's hoping, and in the meantime a hearty "welcome back!" to this much-loved engine.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Wishing You A Sweet '16


And "Your Good Health!" For 2016
to
All My Visitors, Readers & Followers

Thursday, 31 December 2015

A very belated "Hello", a slightly belated "Merry Christmas" and a not-quite-belated Happy New Year

Well hello, hello! and once again a thousand apologies for letting this blog lie dormant for over 2 months.  I wouldn't blame you if you thought I'd dropped off the edge the Earth; the truth, however, is more boring than that - I simply haven't been able to find the time, nor for that matter anything much of a vintage bent to blog about (although you can still read my writings in In Retrospect magazine - subscribe today!).  I have to say it's been a very busy time for me work-wise (although as I've said before that's really no excuse) and the daily news since October seems to have been bereft of vintage interest.

However, now it's Christmastime (still, just!) and 2016 looms large!  I hope to do better than the measly thirteen posts I've managed this whole year just gone and although you're probably all fed up with me saying this, I promise Eclectic Ephemera will continue.  So, without further ado -

Christmas presents!

Christmas this year was again a quiet one, spent with the folks and sadly not featuring either of my sisters since one of them came down with a tummy bug on the day itself (although she's over it now, I'm told).  Better luck next year, eh?!

The folks' and my presents gathered around the, erm, coffee table. 
No traditional tree for them this year for reasons I won't bore you with.

As an aside I'm delighted to tell you that this post is the first to feature photographs taken on my new digital camera!!  Yes, after over 10 years of somehow managing on a 3 megapixel, 3x zoom Nikon Coolpix that has been outclassed by most mobiles since at least 2007 I finally got around to upgrading to something better (just as everyone else has made the switch to camera phones and Instagram) - a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX90 for any of you camera buffs out there.  Still, I'm nothing if not old-fashioned and have been delighted with my choice; so from now on any photos on here that were taken by me will be in glorious high-definition whereby you will actually be able to see the subject matter without squinting.  As an example, here's a robin which with the old camera would have appeared as a small dot in the centre of the picture:

As you can probably tell, I'm still learning the intricacies of this new box-brownie!

As befits a small family Christmas the presents were high in quality rather than quantity.  As such I've augmented them in the following daguerreotypes with other things that were either treats to myself in the run up to the festivities or items purchased in the subsequent sales (hot off the shelves today, in fact!).


I am, and always have been, a terrible bibliophile.  I admit it, I love books.  This would be less of a problem if I had a place to store them all (something I hope to rectify in 2016) but it doesn't stop me from buying or requesting more!  This Christmas was no exception, with books including The Complete Saki (if you don't know of H.H. Munro, or Saki as his pen-name was, I advise you to search out his works for he wrote in much the same vein as Oscar Wilde and P.G. Wodehouse - and indeed bridged the gap between the two era-wise until his untimely death in the First World War), The Treasures of Noël Coward; also a delightful little book detailing the on-screen adventures of those two archetypal British chaps Charters and Caldicott and an hilarious spoof 19th century cricket compendium entitled W.G. Grace Ate My Pedalo.




The book is laugh-out-loud funny and can easily be enjoyed by even those with just a passing interest in the game; it's very much in the same vein as The Chap magazine and books.



Then of course there's the almost mandatory calendar - or in this case calendars.  Featuring steam trains, naturally!  One for home, the other for the office, and both come with matching diaries - now there's really no excuse for me to miss any appointments!


And finally, the box set of one of my favourite (and much-overlooked) period murder-mystery dramas - the early 2000s American series entitled A Nero Wolfe Mystery.  Starring Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin and the late Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe, this programme was - in my opinion - one of the best things to come out of American television since Frasier, but sadly it has been all but forgotten since, with only a few desultory repeats on B.B.C. Two in the late 2000s and a few episodes available on a Region 2 DVD Dutch release.  Fortunately I managed to track down this Region 0 Australian import featuring all the episodes.

I featured Timothy Hutton's portrayal of Archie Goodwin as one of my "Style Icons" back in 2012, and I may yet devote another post to this wonderful series in the future.


Oh, and some neckties.  Because a chap can never have enough ties, can he?(!)


Well, it only remains for me to wish you all a happy and health New Year!  I'll be celebrating quietly at home myself but I hope everyone has a fun time whatever they're up to.  Thanks again to all my readers, followers and visitors for sticking with me through a somewhat sparse 2015 (blogging-wise) and I hope to see you all, old and new, afresh in 2016.

Cheerio for now!

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Constance Leathart: The forgotten 'aviatrix' of WW2

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Constance Leathart: The forgotten 'aviatrix' of WW2

This month's post focuses on the the fascinating B.B.C. article (linked above) regarding one of Britain's most obscure and long-forgotten aviatrices - Constance Leathart.

The Beeb has gone into some detail about this remarkable lady in their article for the regional Inside Out programme, so I do not intend to repeat all of it again here.  Suffice to say it appears that Miss Leathart was every inch a most indomitable woman, at a time when women needed such spiritedness in order to break into the male-dominated world of early aviation.

Her appearance in the majority of the surviving photographs of her shows this plainly; usually sporting a short side-parted haircut and often wearing shirt, tie and tweeds she could easily pass for a man.  This allowed her to embark on many fantastic-sounding aviation adventures, from air races to long distance flights (not to mention repairing aeroplanes on the side!), culminating in being one of the first women to sign up for the Air Transport Auxiliary during World War Two.  Even then her adventurousness continued unabated - as it would if you were able to fly myriad military aircraft, particularly the Spitfire!

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Behind the exciting lifestyle and the overturning of gender stereotypes, though, seems to me to be a very sad portrait of a lonely outsider.  Leathart herself admits to dressing in the masculine style in order to try to please her father, who had wanted a boy child.  To see her self-deprecating notes on her own photographs is heartrending; her exclusion from most ATA publicity shots on the grounds of her not being of the "pin-up" style is equally saddening (and in the photo featured in the accompanying article of Miss Leathart standing with the rest of the ATA women one can even sense there a difference and an element of exclusion - whether on Leathart's part or not we may never know).

Her spirit of adventure still not sated, following her war service she became a UN Special Representative to the Greek island of Icaria - helping to provide food and medical supplies by air.  She eventually had to give up flying in 1958 and retired to a farmhouse in her native North-East, where she spent her time caring for rescued donkeys.  She never married and, when she passed away in 1993, in a final display of tragic seclusiveness requested to be buried in an unmarked grave (thankfully her friends disregarded this and marked her resting place with a stone from her outside swimming pool).

Although it's splendid to see Constance Leathart's life be recognised, I do feel she (and the other aviatrices of her time) are worthy of whole programmes to themselves.  Hopefully one day we shall see even greater recognition of these pioneering female pilots.

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Tracey Curtis-Taylor to recreate Amy Johnson's flight from Britain to Australia 

On a related note I'm thrilled and delighted to see that modern-day aviatrix Tracey Curtis-Taylor, who presented the B.B.C. report on Miss Leathart (and whose recreation of Lady Mary Heath's 1928 Cape Town-Goodwood flight I blogged about two years ago) is currently recreating Amy Johnson's epic 1930 flight from England to Australia.  By now somewhere over the Middle East and on her way to India, Ms Curtis-Taylor aims to land her vintage 1942 Boeing Stearman biplane in Sydney some time early in 2016, before shipping the aircraft to the west coast of the USA to continue across that continent and so make it a genuine round-the-world trip!

I heartily commend Ms Curtis-Taylor for striving to keep the memory of these early aviatrices alive through her own flying adventures and I admire her greatly for both this and the courage and drive it must take to undertake such expeditions.  Those of you in the U.K. (or with access to B.B.C. output) may remember that a documentary of Ms Curtis-Taylor's South African flight was broadcast shortly after its completion and I'm pleased to see that discussions are underway to produce a further series of programmes covering the Australian and American flights (and beyond!) for airing in the first half of 2016.  Until then I'm sure you will join me in wishing Ms Curtis-Taylor continuing good luck as she makes her way to Australia.  Soft landings and no dud engines!


Sunday, 13 September 2015

Bowls, bread & books

Well, here I am again with another month having flown by - a month that included my week's holiday to Eastbourne for my birthday.  Pictures of that will follow once I have prised the best photos from mother's mobile 'phone camera.  Suffice to say for now that I had a lovely time (despite a cold manifesting itself just before departure) and the south coast - and particularly the South Downs - are a lovely place for a short UK break.

Now to more recent events - yesterday's, to be precise, and a trip to Southend for a spot of lunch with mater and a rummage around the shops.  As well as tea and cake for elevenses at one of our usual haunts, The Remedy Tea Shop (as first mentioned in this post from last year), we went for lunch at a charming little café bistro that mum had discovered off the high street a few weeks ago with some friends - La Petite Petanque.  Originally the pavilion building of the local bowls club (hence the name) - and dating from at least the 1930s - it has now been transformed into a lovely little French-themed, vintage-style café.  The bowling green still exists so you can sit, secluded from the hustle and bustle of Southend proper, and enjoy watching the odd game of lawn bowls as you have lunch.  The interior is wonderfully French country chic (including the quaint facilities - labelled "mesdames" and "messieurs"!).  I honestly had no idea that this was in Southend (to be fair it is well tucked away, and you could well be forgiven for thinking it still a private club building)!

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Unsurprisingly it's a very popular place, as it was on the Saturday we went.  Unfortunately we happened to choose a day when two of the three chefs were off (one with a stomach bug - but not from there, I should add!) so the poor third chef and all the waitresses were rushed off their feet.  As a result my meal - steak sandwich in toasted ciabatta bread - was not all that it could have been as the bread had been left too long in the toaster and had gone as hard as a rock.  Still, it would not put me off returning, and I would certainly recommend it to anyone visiting Southend (just make sure you check how many chefs are on before you order!).

I seem to be developing a bit of form when it comes to visiting vintage-style cafés in Southend and then making a find in the charity shops.  Last time it was a book from 1936 called Thrills of the Skyways costing £2, this time it was a book from 1936 called Film Pictorial Annual, costing £2.  If this happens any more I shall wonder what's going on!


This time around I was in the local branch of British Heart Foundation, not really expecting to find anything because with the best will in the world I've found BHF prices to be at the higher end of the charity shop spectrum (something I believe I'm not alone in amongst vintage bloggers?).  They're also one of the few who have a dedicated "collectors" section for older books (anything pre-1970, in my experience) which, while saving me time scanning along shelves of books does seem to make them feel that they can ask a higher price.  So I was pleasantly surprised to find this 79-year-old annual for only two pounds.  The price reflects its condition, though, since the spine is very weak and the whole book only just hanging together, but all the pages were there and in good nick.  The cover belies its journey through a couple of secondhand shops and BHF didn't exactly help its cause by sticking their price label on the front as well (I mean for crying out loud, would it be asking too much to stick it, or - here's an idea - write it in pencil! - on the inside page ) but the fact that it had already seen better days didn't bother me overly much.

Home with me it came, then, and I have to say having looked through it properly that it's a splendid old book - with lots of articles both on and by our favourite actors and actresses of the time.  Without further ado, here are my highlights:


It was lovely to see how it had obviously staying in the same family for at least a generation - passed from one auntie to the next!

There are dozens of signed studio portraits, some more well-known then others.  Here are some of the more familiar names:

Clark Gable & Loretta Young
Marlene Dietrich & William Powell
Ginger Rogers & Katherine Hepburn
Gary Cooper admires Jean Parker (and rightly so!)
Ronald Colman & Joan Crawford
Carole Lombard & Claudette Colbert

Then there are the articles - girls you'll love these, I reckon (although there's a lot for the chaps too, including an interesting piece by The 39 Steps actor Robert Donat)!

A portrait of Madeleine Carroll and Fay Wray's Guide to Hollywood

Carole Lombard's Introduction to Charm
"Exercise and Be Beautiful" says Helen Mack

Girls, do you "measure up" to 1936 standards?

Five Stars to Follow to Smartness

Crawford Coiffures

Dramatize Your Beauty

The New Art of Make-up

See How They Grow

Hollywood IS Human

A very welcome addition to my ever-burgeoning library, then, and I hope you've enjoyed this flick through its pages.  Let me know if you like any of them in particular and - if I can find the time - maybe I'll put them on the blog in full.

I'm soon to start writing another article for In Retrospect magazine (issue 4 out now, get it while it's hot!), so it may be some time (probably another month...) before my next post - unless I can get those holiday snaps off mother - so until then:

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Reaching for Someone and Not Finding Anyone There

First of all, a thousand apologies for the two months of radio silence as I rather let things go here at Eclectic Ephemera.  Rest assured I am alive and well, but unfortunately finding many distractions that conspire to keep me away from blogging as often as I would like.  I've always felt it to be an awful cop-out to blame a full-time job for stopping me from writing a blog, since I know so many of my favourite fellow vintage bloggers also have regular paid employment and that doesn't stop them from posting once a week!  But alas I do find myself with less time to spare at the weekends now my weekdays are once again taken up by honest toil - having had every day to myself for so long (albeit enforced through ill-health) it's come as a bit of shock to have to condense all that I would do in a week into the two days of the weekend!  Still, I must have done it before so I'm sure it'll become normal to me again soon.

In the meantime my new plan is to do one post as-and-when (note the deliberate vagueness!), covering two or three vintage-related news articles and/or anything of similar interest that may have happened in my life recently (highly unlikely, that!). Now, let's see if I can remember how to do this...



I picked this tune for a few reasons, not least because it's so toe-tappingly good!  The title somewhat reflects this place for the last couple of months too (!), but it's mainly because I've recently been on something of an early Bing Crosby kick.  For, yes, it is perhaps somewhat little known (and sadly so too) that on a lot of the classic 1920s jazz numbers featuring the noted (and tragic) cornetist Bix Beiderbecke recorded with Paul Whiteman (among others) the vocal accompaniment is performed by none other than a young Bing Crosby.  Often appearing as part of a trio known as "The Rhythm Boys" the twenty-something Bing was soon spotted as an emerging talent and by the beginning of the 1930s was singing solo more often than not, as he started down the path towards greatness.

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Bing Crosby with Al Rinker and Harry Barris
as "The Rhythm Boys"

I now have three CDs chronicling these early years of Bing's career - Bix 'n' Bing with The Paul Whiteman Orchestra and The Earliest Bing Crosby Volumes 1 & 2 - and all of them absolute crackers (but not always easy to get hold of - Amazon Marketplace is your friend!).  It's fascinating to hear the genesis of Bing's inimitable voice, particularly in its early stages, in the somewhat unusual setting of 1920s jazz.  It's hard to pick a favourite song, but this is one of the stand-outs in my opinion.  If you're a fan of the 1990s Jeeves & Wooster TV series with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie (and let's be honest, if you're reading this you probably are) you'll recognise more than a couple of tunes.  To complete the Bing-fest I also ended up getting a box set of his films as well!
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Oh, and in other news I'm off to Eastbourne in Sussex the week after next (17th) for one week as a birthday treat - my first real holiday in ten years (which is why I'm playing it safe with the south coast)!  I understand the area in and around Eastbourne is something of a vintage hotspot, so I'm hoping for some retro fun, frivolity and maybe a vintage find or two!  Any tips on places to visit, hidden gems etc., please let me know (the De La Warr Pavillion is on the list, I need hardly say)!

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Well, I was going to go on to summarise two or three interesting vintage news stories from the last couple of months but looking back at this post I think I've said enough about me (oh, the vanity!) to be going on with for now, so as with all good things (oh, the vanity again!) I'll leave you wanting more (I hope!).

Speaking of good things, let me just end by asking how many of my UK-based readers have been watching and enjoying the B.B.C.'s new adaptation of Agatha Christie's Partner's In Crime stories, starring David Walliams and Jessica Raine as Tommy and Tuppence Beresford?  I was highly sceptical when the series was first announced, since I can't stand Walliams in anything else he's had a hand in and I wasn't too sure about the updated suburban 1950s setting.  I must admit now to having not yet read any of the original books (set at first in the 1920s but unusually for Christie actually progressing in real time, ending in the 1970s with the protagonists in their seventies) so had based my whole outlook on the early 1980s ITV series.  However I will admit I was pleasantly surprised - this is a rip-roaring little series; David Walliams can actually act, Jessica Raine is as lovely as ever and the plot and setting work well (not to mention the outfits - I bet you girls are having a field day!).  I'm looking forward to tomorrow's episode as I type.


Saturday, 23 May 2015

Photo of last wartime raid discovered

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Photo of last wartime raid discovered 

With the 70th anniversary of VE Day still fresh in our minds from a fortnight ago (did anyone see the celebrations on the B.B.C. and particularly the veterans' march past the Prince of Wales - what about that old boy at the end who insisted on getting out of his wheelchair to shake hands with the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall?!  What a chap!), it's easy to forget that the war was still raging in Europe almost right up until the moment of surrender on the 7th May.



Photograph discovered of 'last RAF bomb dropped on Germany'

This fact has been brought home again recently thanks in part to the discovery of a previously unseen photograph showing preparations for an RAF bombing raid on the German port of Kiel, with the date (written on the bomb, no less!) of the 2nd May 1945 - only 5 days before Germany's unconditional surrender.  Even more interestingly, this raid - by de Havilland Mosquitoes of 608 Squadron, based at Downham Market in Norfolk - has been confirmed as the last hostile operation undertaken by Bomber Command in the Second World War, so this photograph is most definitely an important historical document of the very last days of the conflict.



It was a fitting closure to aerial operations in the Second World War that Kiel was chosen as the target for this final raid (as it was feared that the remnants of the German Navy would make a last-minute dash for Norway, then still in Axis hands, from the town's large sea port) as it was also one of the very first targets to be bombed by the RAF back in September 1939 (as immortalised in the 1939 British propaganda film The Lion Has Wings, starring Merle Oberon and Ralph Richardson - from which the above clip is taken).

As is the way with newly-discovered photographs we marvel at the snapshot in time that they provide, which in this case is heightened by the knowledge that it was taken less than a week away from one of the defining events of the 20th century - the end of one of the world's bloodiest and all-encompassing wars.  An otherwise everyday wartime activity is thrown into stark relief by the fact that it turned out to be the last such action of the war and one wonders about the awareness of the men in the photo - what were their hopes and feelings on that last raid; did they know it would all be over in a matter of days?  We'll likely never know the answer to that question now since the original owner, pictured in the photo, passed away in 1979 (having, like so many of his generation, never talked about his experiences) but nevertheless it's welcome news that an historically-important image has been found and saved for the nation, fittingly in this the 70th anniversary year of the war's end.

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