Category Archives: Personal

Why I am what I am (3)

 

I have always had a soft spot for the RAF because Fred was in the RAF and he talked about it a lot.

I have alway been fascinated by aircraft because Fred liked aircraft, ever since one of Sir Alan Cobham’s finest landed in Startin’s Field at the back of his house.

Fred always admired the Spitfire as the aircraft that saved England……

And he always said that the Wellington was “a reliable old crate”……

But he always reserved his most emotional words for the Avro Lancaster. “It would always get you back home, no matter what”, which wasn’t strictly 100% true, but it gave him sufficient faith to get into the aircraft in the first place……

 

I have always tried to do my duty and to carry out all of my obligations. This is probably connected with Fred’s belief that there were two types of men in the world. One kind was the fighter pilot who was mercurial and brilliant, but occasionally capable of great inconsistency.

In contrast, the bomber pilot was always dependable like some kind of stolid, courageous bus driver, who could always be relied on to deliver the goods, in considerable quantity, to the right place at the right time.

When I was young, I as always very upset when I was told  that I was the bomber pilot type. I always felt that Fred was saying that I lacked flair and imagination, that I was boring and that I was incapable of the type of success which is spectacular and excites people. Only in later years did I realise how from Fred’s point of view the bomber pilot was exactly what you needed. As one author has put it, the relationship between the bomber pilot and the wireless operator was that “his fate was my fate”. At least nineteen times, therefore, Fred entrusted his very life to a bomber pilot, and then had this faith rewarded by not becoming one of the 55,573 Bomber Command casualties…..

As a negative, I have always been partial to a drink, because Fred always used to have a drink when he wanted to. With his PTSD, though, he had a much better excuse than me.

Another negative related to this is my own great anxiety in the face of any future event or, especially, a journey to somewhere unfamiliar. Fred had exactly the same problems. In his case, I suspect that he still had that old fear of getting into his bomber and facing the possibility of an imminent and violent death.

I always felt great anxiety about being sacked from my job because Fred  always had the exact same fear. That was because he worked for a clay mining company before the war, and they did not hesitate to sack people. “One strike, and you’re out!” as you might say. Here’s Fred at Ensor’s, with the rest of the workforce. It’s around 1937…..

I have very little self-confidence because Fred was always very keen that I should never stand out from the common herd. He therefore prevented me from getting big headed by criticising whatever I did and at best giving it minimal praise. He would say “Never stand out. Never be different” because that was what the upper echelons of the RAF hierarchy wanted to happen. Unfortunately, to succeed, you need to stand out, and you will have to be different to do that.

Fred always used to watch out for me coming home if ever I was late. He would lean over the front gate as if by accident or coincidence. I absolutely hated it, and I could cheerfully have shot him. I hated the idea of being controlled. Now I have my own daughter, and although my methods have always been, I hope, a little bit more subtle, I have always done pretty much the same thing. Still, worrying about your child is better than just not bothering where they get to.

When I was a little boy, Fred took me to a local medieval church where I could see where Robin Hood used to sharpen the tips of his arrows on the stones of the back wall. I now live in Sherwood in Nottingham. Less than half a mile away is an ancient ford over a stream. This site has been seriously suggested in at least one book as the location of Robin Hood’s camp.

The local medieval church was St Michael with St Mary’s in Melbourne, Derbyshire. ……….

Some of the grooves for Robin Hood and his Merry Men’s arrowheads are visible in the bottom right of the picture. The church is Norman as is shown by the shape of the arch and the many concentric rings of decoration around the top of the door……..

The columns are stout and broad, just like Durham Cathedral, and the arches similarly rounded, not pointed. Notice the Australian flag which commemorates the links between Melbourne in England and Melbourne in Australia……

And finslly, as I slowly but surely morph into my own father, I have started telling the same old stories over and over again, just like Fred did.

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, my Dad, My House, Nottingham, Personal

Why I am what I am (2)

Last time I mentioned a number of things that linked me to my Dad insofar as interests, hobbies and sports were concerned. I soon discovered that that was really only the beginning of the story.

I rather think that I studied Russian because Fred used to speak so frequently of the Russians during the Second World War. In the bookcase at his parents’ house, he had a pamphlet borrowed from an RAF library. It was entitled “Our Soviet Friends”, and it had pictures of the dam at Dnepropetrovsk:

He told me how, in the RAF, anybody wth knowledge of Russian could name their own price for helping to liaise with our new surprise allies, once the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. Towards the end of the war, Lancasters, on rare occasions, used to bomb the Germans and then carry on to Russia to land. When they came back they brought more bombs and often, one or two souvenirs.  On one occasion, my Dad had had a drink from a flask of coffee made up for the aircraft’s crew in Leningrad. I had to satisfy myself with my early attempts to learn the language, with the woman of my dreams…..

I may like French because, in 1940, Fred had wanted Britain and France to merge into one country just like Churchill had said. Fred was a keen European and, like Churchill,  he wanted a “United States of Europe”. As members of Bomber Command he told me, though, that the French could often be difficult to work with. Here is a Bristol Blenheim of the Free French Air Force in North Africa…..

I have always had great regard for the Poles because Fred said they were great blokes, and that he had joined up so that Poland could be freed from the invading Germans. A few years ago, I was in hospital for a operation, and there was a Polish van driver there that nobody would talk to because he was Polish. Except me, and if Fred had been there, he would have spoken to him, too. Racism can be amazingly petty.

I try to like poetry, because I know that Fred had claimed so often that poetry was an integral part of his life. He liked to read peoms out loud to his classes at school, his favourite being “Flannan Isle”.

I did a series of five blog posts about the mystery of Flannan Isle, as portrayed in the poem, and the first one is here. The rest can be found by merely searching for  “Flannan”. And when you’ve done that, don’t forget to watch this film with its own, made-up, explanation of the three men’s disappearance….

I’m sure that I became a teacher because Fred was a teacher and I felt that a teacher was a good thing to be. In the mid-1970s, the money was excellent and I didn’t automatically have to live in London.

I always worked hard as a teacher because Fred told me that at the end of each day, you should always ask yourself the question, “Were you just given your wages, or have you earned them ?”

I worked all my life at the High School, 38 years, because when he took me there for a job interview in 1975, I could see that Fred was enormously impressed by the school. To him, and to me, it looked like something out of a film, such as, perhaps, the old version of “Tom Brown’s Schooldays”…….

In actual fact, after his death, I found that, when he was a boy in the 1930s, Fred’s Uncle George  had bought him a present, the book of the film “Tom Brown’s Schooldays”.  They didn’t shoot this film at The High School, but if they had wished to, it would have been entirely appropriate from the architectural point of view….

Fred read a lot about the Second World War, and one of his favourite books was a German doctor’s story of Operation Barbarossa, a book called “Moscow Tram Stop”. The High School has its own tram stop, called “High School”. That fact has always reassured me that I had made the right decision to work there for so long.

 

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Filed under Film & TV, History, Literature, military, my Dad, Nottingham, Personal, Russia, Wildlife and Nature

Why I am what I am (1)

One day I started thinking about all the little facets of myself as a person and where they all came from. I didn’t take me long to work out that the vast majority came from my Dad. I suppose that was because when I was a little boy I spent a lot of time with him. I was nevertheless really quite surprised how many apparently insignificant activities took on a major importance in my later life.

My Dad, Fred, made it quite obvious to me that he liked football/soccer. He took me to games with Derby County although it was their sixth game before they won. Norwich City (1-4), Newcastle United (1-2), Stoke City (1-1), Grimsby Town (2-4), Blackburn Rovers (1-1) and , finally, in a friendly, Spartak Prague (7-1). Here’s the programme to the first match I ever watched. I was seven years old.

I have always read avidly, and, every Saturday morning, Fred used to take me to the old library in Alexandra Road  in Swadlincote, a small town in South Derbyshire. It was on the right hand side as you went down a very steep hill, just before the local cinema.

I have read books avidly ever since, and often wish I could see again the big green book of Norse Myths and Legends that was in that Old Library all those years ago. The library itself was plagued by subsidence caused by coal mining and it was demolished in 1960.Here are some houses in the same street. Just look at the cracks in those bay windows…..

And here’s a short video of the problem. I included this clip in a previous blog post…..

As a boy, I collected stamps because Fred had collected stamps as a boy and he gave me his stamp collection. I always remember that it was in a “Commando” stamp album, resplendent with a commando firing a sten gun from the hip on the front cover. As an adult, I do wonder what connection, if any, that had to do with stamp collecting but in 1961 nobody seemed to notice….

I like birdwatching because Fred talked about eagles in Scotland when he was in the RAF. On one occasion, as he travelled by train across the Highlands south towards Edinburgh, he was in a compartment alone with an old Scotsman. It was a fine, bright sunny day, when suddenly the Highlander tapped him on the knee, and pointed out of the window towards the distant mountain tops. There, high in the clear blue sky, was the unmistakeable shape of a soaring Golden Eagle….

I can actually remember going on a walk with Fred one morning when I was seven or eight. and at one point I was a little tired, so I went to sit on a clump of grass with my back against an old fence post. As I sat there, Fred caught my attention, and he pointed up to a bird that was singing its heart out as it hovered high in the sky. I asked him what it was, and he replied “a skylark”. In the sixty or more years since then, I have never lost that desire to identify birds:

One day when I was in my Dad’s class at Woodville Junior School he gave us all a printed sheet with his own hand drawn pictures of four common birds. We all coloured them in so that one day we would recognise them when we saw them. The birds were blackbird, thrush, starling and robin (the European version, Erithacus rubecula)  Here they are……

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And here they are in a modern version of what we received in class, almost a whole lifetime ago. There were no multicoloured worksheets on computer screens in 1961…..

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Strathallan…………the lost air museum (2)

Last time we looked at just a few of the aircraft which my friend, Bill, and myself saw on our visit to Strathallan Air Museum, near Auchterader, in the mid-1970s. Strathallan, if you remember, was the aircraft museum which eventually went bankrupt and all of the aircraft were disposed of in one way or another. A look at the map shows why, in pre-motorway days, very few visitors came to see the aircraft:

One of the most easily identifiable aircraft at Strathallan  was their de Havilland Comet, the world’s first jet airliner, which made its maiden flight on July 27th 1949.

Here’s my photograph, taken with a plastic camera whose controls for light were “bright” and “dull” :

And here’s a de Havilland Comet, by a much better photographer, which I found on the internet. On second thoughts, though, perhaps that may be a model. If so, it’s a really good one :

Of course, it’s a model ! But what are the other articles on this 1950s table? Is that the pilot’s map?

The Strathallan Comet (XK655) was eventually broken up for scrap metal, and in 1995 its nose was sold to Gatwick Airport for display purposes on the Spectators Terrace. Not a fate I myself would care to share. Here it is:

On an internet forum I found “G-ORDY” who said that XK655 was built for BOAC as the first Comet Mark 2, G-AMXA. It was eventually converted into “a Comet 2R, an aircraft of electronic intelligence gathering (ELINT) configuration, by Marshalls of Cambridge, and flew with 51 Squadron from Wyton. The forward fuselage of XK655 is now in the Al Mahatta Museum, located at the old Sharjah airport, UAE, and is restored in BOAC colours.”

There was another de Havilland aircraft at Strathallan. This was a De Havilland DH-98 Mosquito TT35, “TT” standing for “target tug”. Here’s my photograph:

And here it is in a much better photograph which I found on the internet:

In the RAF, the Strathallan aircraft had a serial number of RS712 and had featured as one of the bombers in the film “633 Squadron” and the later film “Mosquito Squadron”. The aircraft is currently displayed at the EAA Museum in Oshkosh, in Wisconsin, as RS712 and EG-F, the aircraft flown by Group Captain P.C.Pickard during the attack on Amiens prison in 1944:

I have actually already written very briefly about the book featured above, in a post called “Books for Christmas 1”.  I said:

“A famous incident of the air war is investigated in this book by Jean-Pierre Ducellier. Its title is “The Amiens Raid: Secrets Revealed: The Truth Behind the Legend of Operation Jericho” and Ducellier has spent the majority of his adult life attempting to put the evidence together into a coherent whole. And his solution is not a lot like the official version.”

Here’s Strathallan’s Grumman Avenger, a TBM-3W2 of the Royal Netherlands Navy, the Koninklijke Marine. Here’s my photograph:

And here’s a much better photograph, of an Avenger in a much better state of repair:

When the museum closed, the Dutch aircraft went back to the USA and is now registered as N452HA at Hickory Air Museum, a private museum in North Carolina whose proud boast is that they never charge a penny for entrance.
The only other aircraft I can remember seeing at Strathallan was the RS3, built in 1945 at the Reid and Sigrist factory at Desford, some seven miles from Leicester:

It was designed as a small, twin engined trainer, although the RAF showed little interest. In 1948 it was adapted for prone-pilot experiments, with a lengthened, glazed nose, and a set of controls for another pilot who lay on his stomach. Here’s a better photograph from the internet:

The RS3 flew in this form in June 1951, and eventually went to the Institute of Aviation Medicine at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough.

When I went to Strathallan, there may have been some other aircraft there which today, just over fifty years later, I have simply forgotten. It all depends on which year I went to the museum and in which year certain aircraft were sold off. The aircraft which I can no longer recall were an Avro Anson, an Avro Lancaster, a Supermarine Spitfire and a Westland Lysander. To be honest, had they been there during my visit, I do think I would probably have taken some  photographs.

This picture from the Internet was the closest I got to the ex-Strathallan Lancaster, KB976 and GB-BCOH. It is currently held at Polk City, Florida:

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Strathallan…………the lost air museum (1)

In the mid-1970s, Bill Brown, a friend of mine, and I used to spend time camping around Scotland, the Land of Mountains, Mist and Midges. For the most part, we explored the wild west coast, but one year, probably 1975, on our return home, we stopped at a place called Strathallan, on the eastern side of Scotland, to visit the air museum there. No digital cameras then. At RAF Cosford in 2011 I took 854 photographs. At Strathallan, in around 1975, with 16 shots on each rather expensive roll of film, I took 11 photographs. Strathallan is quite a remote place. Look for the orange arrow, resplendent in his kilt:    

 I didn’t realise at the time that Strathallan was well on the way to having to close, because of financial pressures. As somebody said, it was too remote from any large city and hardly anybody could be bothered to visit it. And back then, the motorway north of Edinburgh, the M90, simply did not exist.

That said, I was happy enough with the museum and I took photographs of the majority of the aircraft. Whether there were any more aircraft that I did not think were worth the cost of a photograph, I do not know. I can’t remember any more. That fact, to me, is plain scary. What percentage of our lives have we totally forgotten? 50%? 70%? 90%?

My favourite exhibit was their very colourful Avro Shackleton T4. The Shackleton was the last of the Manchester-Lancaster-Lincoln-Shackleton line and was used for maritime reconnaissance. I have clear memories of them flying over our house in South Derbyshire in the early 1960s. Presumably, they were following a Severn-Trent shortcut.

Here’s my only photograph:

The stripes on some of the eight propellers are to stop you walking into them. Here’s a photograph taken by a proper photographer. I found it on the internet:

As far as the Avro Shackleton is concerned, the British and the South African Air Force were the only countries to use it.

Here it is in even stripier hue. This particular aircraft was operated by the South African Air Force.

My Dad once saw a man walk accidentally into the propeller of a Lancaster. It affected him for the rest of his life, I always thought. He only ever spoke of it to me once.

Strathallan’s Shackleton was broken up eventually, although its nose is now in the Midland Air Museum in Coventry. Not how I envisage my own eventual fate.

The museum had a Lockheed Hudson, an America  light bomber and coastal reconnaissance aircraft, primarily operated by the RAF. It was a military conversion of the Lockheed Super Electra airliner, and the first ever large contract for Lockheed. Here’s the Model 14 Super Electra:

 

And here’s the Lockheed Hudson at Strathallan:

I would meet this aircraft again at Hendon and take three photographs of it, rather than just the one:

The kangaroo is the obvious link between the two encounters:

Next time, we’ll continue this mini-tour around the lost aircraft of Strathallan.

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Keith Doncaster’s Poem

This is Mr Hardwick, who spent a large part of his time at the High School as the form master of 2A. In this photograph he is some twenty years older than when he plays a small part in this particular story:

In 1936, Keith Doncaster was with Mr Hardwick in Second Form A. Aged only twelve, he was honoured by having a short poem featured in the School Magazine, the Nottinghamian. It was entitled “Poetry” and this is how it went:

Poetry

I’m not a Poet

And I know it.

The next line will take some time.

Now I’ve started,

All thoughts have parted

From my head,

So now I think I’ll go to bed.”

Still a young boy and now thirteen years old, Keith had a second poem which was featured in the Nottinghamian. It was called “Gathering Shells” and he wrote it when he was in Third Form A with Mr Beeby in 1937. Here’s Mr Beeby, in the middle of the group:

This is, in actual fact, an enlargement of a staff photograph taken in 1946, just twelve months after the end of the war. Mr Beeby, late Scholar of Jesus College, Cambridge, was one of a small group of High School teachers who joined up to fight for his country. Like Keith Doncaster, he joined the RAF where he became a War Substantive Flying Officer, which meant that as long as the conflict lasted he held that rank. In the RAF he served in the Signals Unit of the Technical Branch This may possibly have been Radio Countermeasures and Jamming as well as Direction Finding. Flying Officer Beeby may even have been working in Electronic Warfare but he would have been instructed never to say a word about any of this top secret stuff to anybody. And he would have kept that faith for the rest of his life.

As soon as I read Keith’s second poem, I realised what poetry he might have written had he lived, and that, even if he did not realise it himself, he had inadvertently foretold his own premature death:

Gathering Shells

Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.

We think that gathering shells is fun.

Along the silvery beach we run.

And as we go beneath the sun,

We hear the distant bells.

Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.

The poem summarises, in nine lines, the lives all humans lead. We pursue happiness, we like our pleasures, each one of us, we run along our own silvery beach, gathering coloured shells, objects which are attractive and pretty but ultimately of little or no value on the cosmic scale. We are just the same now, eighty years later. Short lived creatures who enjoy the sand and the sun and the shells, which we consider to be highly important and worthy of our attention. But ultimately, they are of little or no value whatsoever.  The only things which are important are the distant bells, because they call us, one day, to our doom. But we choose to ignore them, and just to run along the silvery beach for a little while longer.

Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.

We think that gathering shells is fun.

Along the silvery beach we run.

And as we go beneath the sun,

We hear the distant bells.

Along the silvery beach we run,

Gathering coloured shells.

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Stories about my Dad (3)

In 1946, my Dad, Fred,  gave up his exciting job as a Brylcreem Boy of Bomber Command and signed up to be for what was called at the time “emergency training” as a teacher. It has always intrigued me as to how many veterans of Bomber Command became teachers. And I have my own ideas about that! Fred finished up getting a job quite near to his home, at a school in Hastings Road in Church Gresley. The school was built in 1898 for 420 children. Fred taught there until the mid-1950s.

Here’s a modern map of the area. The Orange Arrow points to where Hastings Road School used to stand before it had to be demolished in the late 1950s, lest the subsidence problems made it collapse completely with the teachers and children inside :

When my Dad, Fred, worked there, the vast majority of the children were the sons and daughters of miners, both of coal and of clay. They were all what you would call “rough diamonds”.

Most of them, therefore, were far from sophisticated, either in their knowledge or their behaviour or, indeed, their hygiene. Fred used to tell the story of having a boy in his class called “Stinky Roberts” . At the beginning of the school year, Fred was given the helpful advice by his colleagues never to let this particular boy sit next to a hot radiator under any circumstances. If he sits next to a radiator, then make him move!

Whether it was because Fred did not believe the other teachers, or whether it was because, in the absence of any particularly obvious hygiene problem, he quite simply forgot their advice, remains unclear.  But on one unfortunate day, when “Stinky” did get to sit by that scorching radiator, the wisdom of his colleagues became manifest, as the unbelievable stench of long unwashed filth and ancient, uncontrolled urine wafted inescapably around the room. In this way, Fred learnt one of the most important basics of teaching, namely that no boy is ever given a nickname without very good reason.

At one point, Fred had a bet with another teacher that he could leave his class working quietly while he went down to Lloyds Bank in Swadlincote to draw out some money. The pupils were told to behave themselves properly while he was away, and to continue with their work. This they duly did, and Fred won the bet.

In another variation of what was obviously the same story, Fred did not go down to the bank in Swadlincote, but instead, went to post a letter at the Church Gresley Post Office, a destination considerably nearer to Hastings Road School, and, from the point of view of unsupervised children, a much shorter, and therefore, perhaps, a more plausible time to be away.

One of Fred’s more pleasant jobs was the fact that he ran the school football team. He was partnered in this by his young friend, Vernon Langford. We do actually have a misty photograph of the staff at Hastings Road. Here it is :

The teachers are (back row), Mr Morris, Mr Roberts, Mr Baker, Mr Picker, Mr Goodall and Mr Knifton. The front row comprises Miss Rowe, Miss Smith, Mr Handford, Mrs Errington and Mrs P Middleton.

Fred’s teaching career at Hastings Road reached its pinnacle when he was conducting a lesson in Physics. At this time all secondary school teachers, even those who were trained to teach Geography, were expected to be able to turn their hand to more or less anything.

Fred’s brief was to demonstrate the effects of air pressure, so he took a pint glass, filled it with water, and then put a sheet of card over the top. He then explained that in a moment, when he turned the glass upside down, the contents would not spill out, because the air pressure on the card, which was equal to hundreds of pounds, was pressing down and keeping it in place. This news was received by the children, of course, with immense scepticism.

When Fred turned the glass over, however, perhaps as much to his surprise as anybody else’s, the rather unlikely result was that the card did actually stay in place, and the water did not spill out. The children’s reaction was astonishing. They were all totally amazed. One boy stood up, and shouted at the top of his voice, “A miracle ! A miracle ! Mester Knifton’s worked a miracle ! ” And then he ran out of the room and around the school, still shouting

“A miracle ! A miracle ! Mester Knifton’s worked a miracle ! ”

I believe that this incident was the closest that Fred ever came to being regarded as divine. Here’s a video of a mere mortal man trying out this trick:

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Football Programmes of the Soviet Union (5)

I don’t often begin with a dedication but perhaps, just this once……

“Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.”

And certainly, when I started out, I never thought I would one day be writing Blog Post Number Six hundred threescore and six. Anyway……

 

Last time we were looking at some of the old Soviet football/soccer programmed that I still have.

The first programme today has “Uralmash Sverdlovsk” / “Уралмаш Свердловск” as the away team, but this time with “Stroityel Ashkhabad” / “Строитель Ашхабад”, as their hosts. You may remember from Blog Post 4 that “Uralmash” was a little like an acronym, where “Ural” referred to the range of mountains and “Mash” was short for “Mashina” , the Russian word for “car”. The two together referred to a car factory in Sverdlovsk, the main city of the Urals. Sverdlovsk is now called Ekaterinberg, just to add to the confusion:

“Stroitel Ashkhabad” /“Строитель Ашхабад” means “Ashkhabad Construction Workers”, although this particular team have previously been “Locomotiv Ashkhabad” / “Локомотив (railway workers) Ашхабад”  and “Колхощи (collective farm workers) Ашхабад”. How original, and different, those names were, compared to the modern “FK Köpetdag Aşgabat”. “Köpetdag” by the way, means “Many mountains”, presumably in the local language.

Ashkhabad, by the way, is the capital of Turkmenistan, which is to the north east of Iran, and certainly part of Asia. Just to puzzle everybody further, on this map, the cartographers have decided to label Iran the “Middle East”. I have no idea why.

Here are the team line ups:

The top two words mean “make-ups” and “of the teams”. In brackets, the next few words mean “about- possible- changes- listen…….“по радио” ……..to-the radio -before-the beginning…….. “матча”  of the match.

Russian is a very ancient language, of the same age and vintage as Latin or Ancient Greek. There are a surprisingly large number of Russian words which do not come from Latin, but which are close relations of the Latin words. ““по” / “po” is the same word as the Latin “per”, as in “per ardua ad astra” the motto of the RAF, “Through difficulties to the stars”. “Before the match” was “перед  матча” and the word “p-e-r-e-d” is our “pre” as in “prehistoric” or “premature”.

Notice how on this programme, there is a late change to the team so that Papuga doesn’t play at No 7 but instead he is replaced by what might be “Yegorshin” although it’s not particularly clear. But just think of the circumstances of that team change, made with Oleg Soloviev’s fountain pen. He is sitting in a seat at the Central Stadium in Sverdlovsk, the city to which, in 1941,  Stalin organised the  large scale removal of the Soviet Union’s industry, so that it was beyond the range of German bombers. For Oleg, it is Monday, October 9th 1967, just a few moments after 6 o’clock, when the team changes are announced. He is more than 3,000 miles away from where I, aged just 14, am still working away in school.

In a few hours’ time,  ground control at NASA will crash the American space probe, “Lunar Orbiter 3”, deliberately onto the Moon’s surface after eight months in orbit. In La Higuera, a village in Bolivia, in his cell, the prisoner has just a few hours left to live before Army Sergeant Mario Terán takes his semi-automatic rifle and shoots him nine times. His prisoner is a young doctor and revolutionary Marxist named Ché Guevara. And on Saturday, October 21 1967, the first ever national demonstration against the Vietnam war will take place in Washington.

Our penultimate  programme is a match which took place in what was then called Kuybyshev (Куйбышев) and is now called Samara. It is a city of 1.14 million residents, situated on the River Volga:

This football team is still in the Russian Premier Division and is still called “Krylia Sovetov” just as as it was in  those “Golden Days of Communism”. In Russian “Krylia Sovetov” is “Крылья Советов” and it means “Wings of the Soviets”, surely one of the most dramatic names in world football.

The away team, on the left, is from Zaporizhzhia (Запорожье) which is nowadays a city in south-eastern Ukraine., once the site of a big car factory and nowadays the largest nuclear power station in Europe. Here is their badge of today…….

The name of the team is “Металлург” or “Metallurg”, a reference to Zaporizhzhia’s factories during the Soviet era in which they produced steel, aluminium and many other products of heavy industry.

The last programme of the lot is another home game for “Кубань Краснодар” aka “Kuban Krasnodar”. If you remember, “Krasnodar”, the name of the city, means “gift of the Reds” and the Kuban was the local river. The opponents are “Терек Грозный” aka “Terek Grozniy”. Nowadays the team is called “FC Akhmat Grozny”. Back in 1969, the game was a seven o’clock evening game on Tuesday, June 17th 1969. Top left is the complete date, namely “Вторник 17 июня 1969 г ”  The “г” is short for “года” (“goda”) which means “of the year”.

Grozny is not really a place for a romantic weekend break. It is the capital of Chechnya, home of the Chechens, who are primarily of the Muslim faith. You can read about the wars here, the first of three wikipedia articles.

The new team, “FC Akhmat Grozny”, is now named after Akhmat Kadyrov who was the Chief Mufti of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in the 1990s. He changed sides in 2000 and became the President of the Chechen Republic. On May 9th 2004, he was assassinated by Chechen Islamists in Grozny.

Grozny is a place name, but in Russian it also means something. “Грозный” is an adjective meaning “terrible, formidable, redoubtable, menacing, threatening, stern or ferocious”. It can be applied to a look, a glance, a storm, a danger, or a tsar. “Иван” is “Ivan”  and I’m sure that you can work out which of the many Ivans was the tsar called “Иван Грозный”.

But what is a “Terek”? Well, it’s a river in the northern Caucasus. Here it flows through Vladikavkaz,  the old Tsarist fortress and garrison town, and nowadays, the home of the beautiful Mukhtarov Mosque:

To me though, the word “Terek” will always be associated with a rare bird in England, the Terek Sandpiper, a wader which always runs to the water’s edge to wash its food before it eats it. It is also one of the very few birds whose beak points upwards. Not many people know that.

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Filed under Football, History, Literature, Personal, Politics, Russia

Stories about my Dad (2)

In 1946, my Dad, Fred,  left the Brylcreem Boys of the RAF and Bomber Command, and signed up to be trained as a teacher. He finished up getting a job quite near to his home in Hartshorne Road, Woodville. It was at the school in Hastings Road in Church Gresley. He taught there until the mid-1950s. In the 1990s, when I used to go and watch the local football/soccer team, Gresley Rovers, I met one or two of his erstwhile pupils who all remembered him, as a very strict teacher who brooked no nonsense. That might well have been because the teenage sons of coalminers at Hastings Road would have been a tough proposition to keep under control in classes of more than forty, especially for a first time teacher. I can quite well imagine that Fred would have had to employ what DH Lawrence, faced also with teaching the teenage sons of coalminers, called “three years’ savage teaching of collier lads”.

Here’s Hastings Road School. I have used one of the reprinted Victorian maps of England sold by Alan Godfrey . Hastings Road is in the middle of the eastern edge:

Notice how many “Old coal shafts” there are, even in this small area. Just after the war, there were up to 17 coal mines active in the area, as well as numerous vast open cast clay mines. Just try to imagine how small a human figure would be on this postcard, if those are full sized factory buildings in the background. Open cast clay mines were really gigantic…….

All of these activities, of course, left the entire area prey to subsidence. I found a very short article about this particular area on the internet. It said that

“…….the subsidence here was so severe the town’s plight became a national embarrassment. Schools, libraries and even entire streets were either propped up or knocked down as the town sank at an alarming rate.”

As a little boy in the late 1950s, we often used to drive up to Church Gresley to see the houses which had been damaged by the subsidence, which was produced by a 150-odd years of intensive coal mining. These houses were easily recognisable, being  propped up with huge beams of wood or extra long railway sleepers. Here are some of the less serious supports in a picture from a 1949 newspaper. I can remember enormously thick beams of wood when I saw them in the late 1950s. The houses must have been in an even worse state by then. Most of them had, in fact, been evacuated.:

The caption reads:

“SOME OF THE HOUSES IN CORONATION STREET” Built between the two great wars, and therefore comparatively new, as age is assessed in terms of bricks and mortar. There are nearly 50, supported by great baulks of timber, like those shown above and bound together with iron rods. Two are empty, being quite uninhabitable, and in others ceilings are falling, windows cracking and doors refusing to function.”

If the the houses were built in a coronation year, “between the two great wars” they can only date from 1936 and were thus only thirteen years old at  the time of the newpaper photograph. There is a very short video available.  The title refers to “Swadlincote” which is the name of the local area:

Thirty, forty years after my Dad had left Hastings Road School. I went to Hastings Road to take some photographs of the school. Alas, the buildings were no longer there, and had clearly fallen victim to the subsidence that I knew had claimed so many local houses. I began to investigate but I couldn’t find anybody who knew for certain the true detailed story of the demise of Hastings Road  School. Perhaps one day, the beams arrived, and the next day, before they could be put into position, the whole school fell down. That must have cheered up all those “collier lads”. Here’s the school today. Today’s pavement would have been directly in front of the school’s front wall:

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Filed under Bomber Command, History, my Dad, Personal, Science

My best friend, Widdle (3)

Widdle was extremely photogenic, and didn’t he know it! Mind you, he does have such beautiful soft eyes……..

In the days when he had a wife and cubs to support, Widdle did his very best to be the perfect husband and the perfect Dad, but that didn’t mean that he never felt tired. Indeed he had a number of different places that he would use for a rest, and if it was sunny and warm, then so much the better.

If we weren’t at home when he came to call, he would graciously sit quietly and wait for us. Sometimes, he would get nice and comfortable in a large empty planter. Our garden is on two levels, and directly behind the planter there was a fifteen foot drop. It didn’t bother him, though. Widdle never seemed to have any fear of heights…….

When we went to say hello and to ask him what kind of a day he was having, Widdle wasn’t ever frightened.  He liked that lofty perch,  even though he was sitting with his back to any potential attackers. What he saw as the biggest plus point of that planter was the fact that he could immediately spot us as we emerged from the house with his sausages……

On other occasions he would sit like a dog, making sure that there were no rival male foxes on the lawn some twenty feet below:

At other times he seemed very cautious and preferred to sit in the foliage:

Occasionally, he would have his attention drawn by a noise he didn’t recognise:

His proudest moment, however, came when he showed off his new winter coat:

His fur was always at its most luxuriant in the winter, whehn he needed the extra warmth, of course. In summer, he would moult his coat and go around looking a lot more grey than red, and overall, extremely tatty. Picture 4 above illustrates the Punk Fox look perfectly, as does the one below…..

In this photograph Widdle is a little more advanced in his moult, and the grey tones to his fur are really obvious. This picture dates from a different day to Photograph 4, when he spent a sunny warm afternoon in the planter, and woke up so stiff that he needed a good stretch before he could even think of eating.

Having said that, just a few minutes warming up, and he was soon ready for his favourite food…….

 

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Filed under Humour, Nottingham, Personal, Widdle, Wildlife and Nature