Category Archives: Personal

Football Programmes of the Soviet Union (3)

Last time we were looking at Soviet football/soccer programmes for the top division, Division No 1. One or two more to look at. This  is “Спартак Москва” or Spartak Moscow, against “Зенит Ленинград” or “Zenit Leningrad”. Still a top team nowadays, “Spartak” was originally an international fitness and sports society and in Soviet times, was supported by the “Komsomol”. The latter was the “All-Union Leninist Young Communist League” or “Всесоюзный ленинский коммунистический союз молодёжи” abbreviated to” ВЛКСМ”. Despite all that, Spartak Moscow is today still considered to be “the people’s team:

This next programme has another famous team over the years in “Динамо Москва” or “Dynamo Moscow” who are playing “Спартак Орджоникидзе” or “Spartak Ordzhonikidze” on Saturday, April 25th 1970. The latter became “FC Spartak Vladikavkaz” in 1990 and then “Spartak-Alania Vladikavkaz” and then “Alania Vladikavkaz”. The club are still in Russia nowadays and they play in the North Ossetia–Alania region of the Caucasus:

They are based in Vladikavkaz, which in the days of the tsars was the frontier town of the Caucasus, a region which was very much the North West Frontier of the Russian Empire. All the dashing young officers would seek postings to Vladikavkaz, the one outpost of western ideas, surrounded by thousands of wild tribesmen:

Here are the team line ups and the team changes, written in by my friend, Oleg Soloviev, all those years ago, in a place as remote as you are likely to find. I presume he was there watching one of the teams before Zenit Leningrad had to play them, perhaps checking what their tactics were:

The Dynamo Moscow goalkeeper (No 1) was very famous. The Russian says “Лев Яшин” and the English is “Lev Yashin”. He always played dressed completely in black and was known as the “Black Octopus”. He was a legend in world football history and one evening, my Dad drove me to Leicester City to see them play Moscow Dynamo. Yashin didn’t play but they brought him out onto the pitch to wave at the crowd and he got a standing ovation. The Dynamo goalkeeper that night was the player below Yashin in the list. He was Vladimir Pilguy (Владимир Пильгуй).

My last top class Soviet programme is one that I actually bought myself on the day of the match in Leningrad. It was for Zenit Leningrad aka “Зенит Ленинград” against Nacional (Uruguay) aka “Насьональ (Уругвай)”, which was an international friendly match.  It was a beautiful sunny summer’s early evening, July 19th 1969, and Nacional won easily by 4-0. The Uruguayan national anthem was interminable, and when it finally finished, our school party thought both anthems had been played.

 

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My best friend, Widdle (1)

One summer’s day in 2007, I was sitting out on the patio when all of a sudden I looked down and there was an animal standing right next to me. It was a fox!! Latin name “Vulpes vulpes” for anybody who lives in a country where foxes are not known.

I said to him “What do you want?” “Are you hungry?” “Would you like some food?”

He looked back at me and I said, “Just stay there and I’ll go and fetch you something.”

And he stayed there and I went into kitchen, opened the door of the fridge and looked around.

Some milk. No, that’s cats.

Just a piece of apple and some cooked sausages.

That’s it. I’ll take him that. I picked up the apple and went out to feed him.

He was still there. I offered him the apple which he initially sniffed and then gave me a look of such disdain, as if to say,

“Hurry up and get back to your village. They’ll be missing their idiot.”

I went back to the fridge. I got a sausage and I took it out to him. He sniffed it and I put it on the floor. He picked it up in his mouth and off he went. Back into the beautiful green world of flowers, bushes and trees.

That sausage would be the first of literally thousands, with the occasional lump of beef, pork or chicken to stop him getting bored. I soon became an expert on sausages, their make-up, their price, their value for money. We used to buy them in some quantity. I remember once going through the checkout at Iceland (the frozen food supermarket chain, not the island nation). I was buying the usual six packets and the woman said “Do you like sausages then?”  and I replied “Not really, I feed them to a fox”.

And she looked at me with complete disdain as if to say….

“Hurry up and get back to your village. They’ll be missing their idiot.”

Little did she know, though, and little did I know, that very soon I would value our fox at ten times the value of almost all human beings. Being with him was like being with an extremely wise child who was always steps ahead of you. Somebody who could do amazing things that were as if he knew magic. Somebody who was always on his best behaviour. Who never hurt a fly. Who was a damn sight closer to God than I ever was. Here’s his four stage method to being given a sausage:

Stage 1            Look as if you’re hungry:

Stage 2           Reach for the Food of the Gods: sausage fried with extra fat :

Stage 3           Make that strange gesture with your lower jaw that is a basic part of “Talking Fox” but one which we never managed to  understand :

Stage 4    Show the kind humans your lovely brown eyes, and they’ll probably give you more sausages next time :

Sometimes, though, our new friend was nervous and he showed this by cocking his back leg against anything available, and squirting a tiny quantity of fox urine. He only did that when he was not 100% certain of our intentions, because we were human beings and potentially not as well behaved as he was. It gave him his name, though. We called him “Widdle”.

Over the next few weeks, we all grew to love him.

He was a gift from God. A wild creature who let us into his world for a few short years. We fed him morning and evening, day in, day out, and we saved his life several times. When he could not hunt because of injuries we saw to it that he was fed. Thanks to us, he had five lives.

We fed too, all of the minimum of 15 fox cubs that he raised. With a little bit of help from Mrs Widdle, of course.

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Football Programmes of the Soviet Union (2)

The first programme today is another top football/soccer game, this time between “ЦСКА” and “Динамо Минск”. Don’t forget that the home team is always printed second on the front of the programme. It’s a politeness, a little like allowing a guest to go through the door first.

Many football fans will recognise the abbreviation above. bottom right,  as “CSKA”, which stands for the “Central Sports Club of the Army”. It’s rather like English clubs were often founded by a particular church or factory.

The opposition in this game was “Dynamo Minsk” a team which used to be in the USSR although the city is nowadays in Byelorussia and its club no longer plays top class football. A club founded, no doubt, by electricians, who are often a bunch of really bright sparks.

The Byelorussian Premier League is today so small that it contains even “СФК Слуцк” or “SFC Slutsk” whose ground can accommodate a mere 1,896 spectators. That’s the least of Minskian worries, though. Minsk has been invaded quite a few times. Indeed, one of the few bits of good news in the history of Minsk was that it somehow escaped the Golden Horde of Genghis Khan’s Mongols in 1237–1239.

Otherwise it took a battering from the troops of Tsar Alexei of Russia (1655), the army of Charles XII of Sweden (1708), the army of Peter the Great (1708), Napoleon (1812), the Red Army (1918), the Poles (1919), more Poles (1920), even more Poles (1920-1921) and the Germans (1941-1944). The latter barbarians took the population of Minsk from 300,000 down to 50,000.

Just up by the “ф” of “футбол” is a tiny diagram with a rather unclear picture, captioned “централный стадион”. I’ll leave you to work that one out, now you’re all mostly fluent with Russian letters. As a clue, the diagram looks pretty much like a “Central Stadium” to me.

The one thing that has always struck me about the few Russian football programmes I still have left  in my collection, fifty years after my friend, Oleg Soloviev, sent them to me, is that they speak of places so far away, so remote and so difficult to get to as to be beyond the reasonable expectations of most people. Many of them are from cities literally thousands of miles from where he lived in Leningrad (St Petersburg). This programme is from Tbilisi in Georgia, a mere 1400 miles from where Oleg lived:

The local team was Dynamo Tbilisi. The name is in the bottom left of the programme and is written “Динамо Тбилиси” with “Зенит Ленинград” in the bottom left corner, and also above the blue diagram of the two teams. In places like Georgia, everybody spoke Russian but the local language, Georgian, also appears. The top left, yellow rectangle has some good examples. In the bottom right is the diagram of the Tbilisi team with three interesting players. Number 6 is Khurtsilava, “Хурцилава”, and Number 8 is Metreveli, “Метревели”. Both of these two played in the Soviet Union team which came to England in 1966 for the World Cup and finished fourth in the world. At right back, No 2 is a famous Georgian name, “Дзодзуашвили”  or Dzodzuashvili, a man of complete and utter genius who ruled the USSR for 29 years, died, but still played First Division football a quarter of a century after his death. Still can’t place him? Well, here’s a clue.

This is another, more artistic, programme with the Georgian word for football or “футбол”.

Compared to the rest of the Russian programmes you have seen so far, this one is a riotous multicoloured festival of brightly coloured inks. Most of the rest of them have only four or five colours maximum. Still, at least you know the Georgian for “football”. The big question is, though, where in the blog post is the Georgian for “October” ?

 

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Football Programmes of the Soviet Union (1)

I wrote this blog post, and the others in this series, beginning on November 30th 2021. It does not indicate my favouring Russia over the Ukraine in the war currently being waged on the latter’s territory.

In any case, I have written about sport in the old Soviet Union in the late 1960s, not the situation today. Indeed, I would argue that Russia today is an infinitely worse country to deal with than the old Soviet Union used to be. The only situation I could compare present day Russia to would be the Germany of Hitler and Goebbels, where the population were hypnotised into believing what they were told to believe. Anyway, here we go…….

Three, perhaps four lifetimes ago, I was at school, at a country grammar school in west Leicestershire. From 13-17, I studied Russian there, a subject that I always loved. I was also a huge football/soccer fan, and accordingly, I had a collection of hundreds of football programmes. These are the little booklets that are on sale before the match with all the details of the teams, the fixtures to come, the top goalscorers in the league and so on.

Those two hobbies came together when I wrote a letter to a Russian First Division team who were then called Zenit Leningrad, asking them if anybody there would like to become my penfriend, and exchange football programmes with me. Here’s the team badge:

 

A little while later, I received a letter from a Russian gentleman who, just like me, was a lover of football and a programme collector. His name was Oleg Soloviev and his surname meant “nightingale” in Russian. The team used to play at what was then called the Kirov Stadium, a vast bowl with 100,000 seats.

I sent Oleg English and Scottish programmes and he sent me Soviet ones. I say “Soviet” because in those days many of the teams had Soviet names, as we shall see. Oleg was the man in charge of Zenit’s Youth Team and he travelled widely around the USSR in connection with his job. I still have some of the programmes he sent me, although only a small fraction. When I left home to go to my first job, my mother threw out my entire programme collection because I didn’t live there anymore. This type of action, which, incidentally, discarded well over a thousand pounds worth of footballing treasures, was by no means rare at this time and there were other young people I knew who suffered from it. It was all part of the “Bring ‘em up tough but with deeply rooted complexes” method of child care, so beautifully captured by Philip Larkin in this oh-so-true poem

One small difference from English programmes was that in the Soviet Union, the home team was always printed second. This is shown in this particular programme which is of a design used by Zenit Leningrad for a number of years. At the top is the word “футбол” or “football” and the next word is “стадион” which means “stadium”. Perhaps you can spot the name of the man that the stadium was named after, namely “Kirov” or “Кирова”.

Other recognisable things are the kick-off time at the bottom, namely 1600 hours and the day “21 июля” or “21 July” in the middle of the ball.

The teams are going to play a friendly match, the lower team is “Зенит Ленинград” aka “Zenit Leningrad” and the two word opponents are “Сборная” which is “international (team” and “Японин” or “Japan”.

The next programme concerns two teams which still exist nowadays. “Шахтëр Донетск” or “Shakhtyor Donetsk” versus “Зенит Ленинград” aka “Zenit Leningrad” . The game actually took place in the 27th year of the USSR Championship, 1965 (bottom), on April 21st (top right), at 1800 hours (bottom) .

Here are the two teams, both set out in a daring 4-2-4 formation. “Зенит“ obviously means “Zenith” and “Шахтëр” means a “coalminer”. Донетск /Donetsk is now in the Ukraine, in the Donbass region, famous for its coal and iron ore.

That same team of Shakhtyor Donetsk/”Donbass Coalminers” is the away team in the next encounter, against “СКА Ростов” which is “SKA Rostov” “SKA” stands for “Sports Klub of the Army”. Rostov is a very large city and the stadium hosted five games in the 2018 World Cup. This link will take you to some pictures of Rostov’s beautiful buildings.

The game kicked off at 1700 hours (bottom) on July 1st 1971 (middle left). The large yellow letters say “кубок СССР по футболу” which means “Cup of the USSR in football”. It is the 30th tournament (top left, with “30-й турнир”).  Underneath the big yellow letters it is revealed that the game is the “матч ¼ финал” or “quarter final match”.  Rostov, though, have never been a very successful cup team. Just under the right hand yellow pentagon it says “35-й кубковый матч СКА”. So, if this is Rostov’s 35th cup match, and the cup competition is now thirty years old, then they must have only ever won five cup ties.

 

 

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My Dad, Fred, and his favourite poetry (5)

When I was a little boy, my Dad, Fred, used to be a teacher at Hastings Road School in Gresley. Unfortunately excessive mining operations underneath the school led to its premature collapse.  My Dad is at the right hand end of the back row:

My Dad had to move to the Woodville Church of England Junior School, the school I attended, where, after a number of years, I finished up in his class, which was possibly Class 4. This is the school now.

One afternoon,  I can recall being one of the many children who were all so very frightened when my Dad read out to the fifty of us the narrative poem, “Flannan Isle”, by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, written in 1912. Here’s the author:

The Flannan Isles incidentally are pretty much as remote as you can get in Britain. The orange arrow is 553 miles from London, in a straight line, slightly less than London-Berlin:

On an unknown date in December 1900, the lighthouse on Flannan Isle suddenly failed to shine. A few days later, when a group of lighthouse men came to investigate, they found that the whole island was completely deserted. The three lighthouse keepers had completely disappeared.

Fred used to recite this poem regularly to his classes, and I can still recall how intriguing many of us found this true story, and how animatedly and at what great length we discussed all the possible reasons for the disappearance of those three unfortunate lighthouse keepers only sixty years previously. We were all convinced that the men had been magically transformed into seabirds,  an absolutely horrific idea for nine year olds in that more innocent age of the early 1960s. Anyway, here’s the first section:

“THOUGH three men dwell on Flannan Isle
To keep the lamp alight,
As we steered under the lee, we caught
No glimmer through the night.” A passing ship at dawn had brought
The news; and quickly we set sail,
To find out what strange thing might ail
The keepers of the deep-sea light.
The Winter day broke blue and bright,
With glancing sun and glancing spray,
As o’er the swell our boat made way,
As gallant as a gull in flight. But, as we neared the lonely Isle;
And looked up at the naked height;
And saw the lighthouse towering white,
With blinded lantern, that all night
Had never shot a spark
Of comfort through the dark,
So ghostly in the cold sunlight
It seemed, that we were struck the while
With wonder all too dread for words.
That sets the scene, although, initially, when I came back to this poem after 60 odd years, I was a little disappointed with the quality of the poetry. Gibson seems so often to add an extra phrase or an extra couple of words, when the poem would actually read better without them.
Anyway, a possible solution is hinted at by the description below of the three strange seabirds:
And, as into the tiny creek
We stole beneath the hanging crag,
We saw three queer, black, ugly birds—
Too big, by far, in my belief,
For guillemot or shag—
Like seamen sitting bolt-upright
Upon a half-tide reef:
But, as we neared, they plunged from sight,
Without a sound, or spurt of white.

Those three birds, guillemots or shags, were the very things that would go on to terrify a bunch of 9-year olds.

And still to ‘mazed to speak,
We landed; and made fast the boat;
And climbed the track in single file,
Each wishing he was safe afloat,
On any sea, however far,
So it be far from Flannan Isle:
And still we seemed to climb, and climb,
As though we’d lost all count of time,
And so must climb for evermore.
Yet, all too soon, we reached the door—
The black, sun-blistered lighthouse-door,
That gaped for us ajar.

 

As, on the threshold, for a spell,
We paused, we seemed to breathe the smell
Of limewash and of tar,
Familiar as our daily breath,
As though ‘t were some strange scent of death:
And so, yet wondering, side by side,
We stood a moment, still tongue-tied:
And each with black foreboding eyed
The door, ere we should fling it wide,
To leave the sunlight for the gloom:
Till, plucking courage up, at last,
Hard on each other’s heels we passed,
Into the living-room.
Actually, at this point, I might well retract what I said before. The further I went into the poem, the more I realised, that it is clearly meant to be slowly and deliberately declaimed out loud. Have a go. You’ll see what I mean. And sincere apologies, Wilf !
Yet, as we crowded through the door,
We only saw a table, spread
For dinner, meat and cheese and bread;
But, all untouched; and no one there:
As though, when they sat down to eat,
Ere they could even taste,
Alarm had come; and they in haste
Had risen and left the bread and meat:
For at the table-head a chair
Lay tumbled on the floor. We listened; but we only heard
The feeble cheeping of a bird
That starved upon its perch:
And, listening still, without a word,
We set about our hopeless search.
We hunted high, we hunted low;
And soon ransacked the empty house;
Then o’er the Island, to and fro,
We ranged, to listen and to look
In every cranny, cleft or nook
That might have hid a bird or mouse:
But, though we searched from shore to shore,
We found no sign in any place:
And soon again stood face to face
Before the gaping door:
And stole into the room once more
As frightened children steal.
Aye: though we hunted high and low,
And hunted everywhere,
Of the three men’s fate we found no trace
Of any kind in any place,
But a door ajar, and an untouched meal,
And an overtoppled chair.
And, as we listened in the gloom
Of that forsaken living-room—
A chill clutch on our breath—
We thought how ill-chance came to all
Who kept the Flannan Light:
And how the rock had been the death
Of many a likely lad:
How six had come to a sudden end,
And three had gone stark mad:
And one whom we’d all known as friend
Had leapt from the lantern one still night,
And fallen dead by the lighthouse wall:
And long we thought
On the three we sought,
And of what might yet befall.
Like curs, a glance has brought to heel,
We listened, flinching there:
And looked, and looked, on the untouched meal,
And the overtoppled chair.
We seemed to stand for an endless while,
Though still no word was said,
Three men alive on Flannan Isle,
Who thought, on three men dead.
Hopefully, you made it this far. It is definitely a great poem to be declaimed out loud. But you’ve got to take it slowly and deliberately. If you stumble at the words, go back and give it another go.
And here’s the three birds that we children all thought the lighthouse keepers had been transformed into:

In the future, I hope to produce some blog posts looking at the possible reasons that the three men disappeared.

Portrait of Gibson borrowed from poeticous

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My Dad, Fred, and his favourite poetry (4)

Fred had two poems which he really enjoyed. Last time we took a look at the first one of the two, “Tarantella”, which was written by Hilaire Belloc. Today, I’d like to introduce you to Fred’s second poem, “The Listeners” which was written by Walter de la Mare. This poem is great for children of around nine or ten, because it leaves so many questions unanswered and they can be asked to contribute their own ideas to the discussion:

‘Is anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;

And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door a second time;
‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.

So….no answer when the grey-eyed traveller knocked on the moonlit door. The place is completely deserted. Or is it?

But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.

In other words, not just one ghost but a host of unidentified phantoms. Are they going to make their presence known?

And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
‘Neath the starred and leafy sky;

The ghosts just prefer to remain still. Saying nothing and totally unseen. The Traveller knocks loudly a second time.

For he suddenly smote the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head: –
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,’ he said.

But it has no effect. They can hear every word from the Traveller, but prefer to say nothing. And they can hear his departure. His foot into the stirrup and the horse’s shoes on the  stone cobbles.

Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

And off he goes. The silent ghosts reclaim their building as soon as the Traveller is gone. And the building returns to its usual deserted state:

But why did he say ‘Tell them I came, and no one answered, That I kept my word,’? Alas, there are no hints given on that score, although clearly, there is some connection between all three protagonists, namely, the Traveller, the lone house and the listeners.

I think that the poem is as simple as that. It’s rather like when a stranger knocks on the door of the house next door to yours.  They wait for an answer but “answer came there none“. (Thank you, Lewis. Now just be quiet).

And you never do find out why they were knocking.

 

 

 

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My Dad, Fred, and his favourite poetry (2)

Last time, I told you my Dad’s three favourite lines of poetry, which he would quote out loud at what he thought was the right moment.

Any mention of autumn, in any context, in real life, on TV, the fact that it was October, any of those would produce Keats’ line:

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”

Sometimes he would manage the second line after it:

“Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun”

Any bird high up in the sky, perhaps a skylark but definitely not an eagle, pigeon or airliner would produce Shelley’s line:

“Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!

Bird thou never wert,”

And then, Fred’s improvement on the lines by William Henry Davies:

“What is this life if so full of care, we have no time to stand and stare ? ”

Any mention of ships though, either in real life or on television, would set him off with some phrases, or even a couple of lines, from another of Fred’s favourite poets, namely John Masefield. All the family, therefore, soon became familiar with the various vessels of his poem “Cargoes”, and their home ports.  There was a “quinquireme of Nineveh ” and a “ stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus ” or, much more more likely in the North Sea off Skegness or Scarborough, perhaps, a “ dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack. ”

The first verse was a

“Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.”

The second verse was equally exotic:

“Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.”

And here’s that very galleon:

In contrast, though, the third, and last, verse is about a ship of a much humbler origin:

“Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.”

And here it is:

And now, some of the meanings:

Nineveh was the ancient capital of Assyria. You can see its ruins on the opposite bank of the River Tigris from Mosul, in northern Iraq.

Ophir was probably one of the many empires which flourished either on the banks of the Nile or in the Horn of Africa. King Solomon received a cargo from Ophir every three years. It was a consignment of gold, silver, sandalwood, pearl, ivory, apes, and peacocks. Presumably, the quinqireme in the poem was on its way to Israel.

Amethyst is a violet variety of quartz. The name comes from the Greek “αμέθυστος“.

Moidores were a Portuguese gold coin of the early 18th century and then worth about 27 shillings.

Topaz is a silicate mineral of aluminium and fluorine with the chemical formula Al2SiO4(F, OH)2. Topaz crystallizes in the orthorhombic system, and its crystals are mostly prismatic terminated by pyramidal and other faces. (There will be a test next Monday).

As a preliminary to the test, which one is which? Moidores? Topaz? Amethyst?

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My Dad, Fred, and his favourite poetry (1)

My Grandfather, Will, had apparently always loved poetry, and in this respect, his son, and my Dad, Fred, was to follow willingly in his father’s footsteps. This burgeoning love of rhyme was nurtured and encouraged by the fact that, like many children in the British Empire, Fred possessed a set of  “The Children’s Encyclopedia” by Arthur Mee, a famous, familiar and popular book of the 1930s:

Arthur Mee believed that the English, and in particular the English boy, were the “peak of creation”, although my mother, well familiar both with me and her husband, thought he was a madman. Each volume of Mee’s ten volume set of encyclopedias contained sixteen different themes or subjects and great prominence was always given to the Poetry sections, which were selected by Sir John Hammerton, a famous contemporary historian. Fred also liked the dinosaur pictures too:

Fred would often quote poetry, and his three favourite lines were……

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness ”

This is a line of Keats which was automatically triggered by any mention whatsoever of autumn. Or by a walk into a wood in autumn. Or a TV programme about autumn.

Keats’ best pal, Shelley, wrote the lines which are in second place:

“Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!

Bird thou never wert,”

These words would invariably emerge should any sighting of a skylark occur, perhaps during a walk alongside a field of corn. Quite often, it would be just any bird seen to be doing skylarky type things:

In third place came the rather wise, and arguably, slightly incorrect ……

“What is this life if so full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare ? ”

The correct version has no “so” and, surprisingly, no question mark:

“What is this life if,  full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare. ”

The poem was written by William H Davies, a Welsh poet, who spent many years as a tramp or hobo, in the United Kingdom and the United States. Presumably my Dad did not know that he was Welsh. Being Welsh was never a plus point with my Dad.

Fred always professed that his favourite poet was John Clare.  You can read about him in one of my early and probably over long posts, here.

And this is John Clare, perhaps “before” and “after” the boiled egg hairstyle became popular:

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In retrospect, I have always felt that Fred saw Clare as the simple, agricultural working class man, held firmly in his place in a world dominated by the upper classes, who were, for the most part as poets, fairly worthless and useless aesthetes, lacking Clare’s poetic talents, his intelligence and his capacity for accurate observation of the world around him. Perhaps too, as a native of the simple country village of Woodville, Fred could recognise the truth of the statement by Ronald Blythe, the President of the Clare Society, that the impoverished poet was “England’s most articulate village voice”.

It is not a giant leap, of course, to say that Fred probably saw his own life as directly paralleling that of Clare, denied as he was for purely financial reasons, the chance to go to a grammar school, and to have the same education as the more successful, and much less talented, upper class people that he would meet during the rest of his life, particularly in the RAF.

Given this love of John Clare, therefore, every time that he physically saw one running about, perhaps in a school playground when he was on yard duty, Fred would always identify this black and white bird as the “little trotty wagtail”, a phrase taken from one of Clare’s most frequently quoted poems:

Little trotty wagtail, he went in the rain,
And tittering, tottering sideways he near got straight again.
He stooped to get a worm, and look’d up to catch a fly,
And then he flew away ere his feathers they were dry.

Little trotty wagtail, he waddled in the mud,
And left his little footmarks, trample where he would.
He waddled in the water-pudge, and waggle went his tail,
And chirrupt up his wings to dry upon the garden rail.

Little trotty wagtail, you nimble all about,
And in the dimpling water-pudge you waddle in and out;
Your home is nigh at hand, and in the warm pigsty,
So little Master Wagtail, I’ll bid you a goodbye.

 

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Roy Cross, the world’s greatest artist

As a small boy of nine or ten, I was very keen on Airfix plastic kits. They came originally in see-through plastic bags with a folded piece of paper stapled over the open end of the bag. The instructions for making the kit were inside the folded paper.

The smallest Series 1 kits were one shilling and threepence, or perhaps one shilling and sixpence. Series Two were three shillings and Series Three were four shillings and sixpence. Series Four cost six shillings and Series Five seven shillings and sixpence. Series Six, of which for many years there was only one, the Short Sunderland, was twelve shillings and sixpence. At this time I used to get around two or three shillings pocket money per week. As life grew more sophisticated, Airfix decided to put most of their kits into boxes and to decorate them with illustrations of that particular aircraft in action. The absolute toppermost of the poppermost of the Airfix artists was a man called Roy Cross (born 1924). Let’s take a look at his talents as an artist.

After initially helping illustrate Eagle comic  Roy moved to Airfix in 1964 and started his career with the Dornier Do 217. Here is the box art:

Notice how he makes the Dornier’s opponents the Polish Air Force, something out of the ordinary. Below is the original drawing. Both illustrations featured on an auction website, where Roy’s first ever aircraft sketch was on sale for £790.

Let’s take a look at some more of Roy’s best work. Here’s a Series 1 Spitfire, with the plastic bag still in place and the model unmade.

Series 2 included the de Havilland Mosquito, the Fairey Battle and the Bristol Blenheim. This one is flown by the Free French Air Force. Roy’s work never seems to drop in standard:

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A Series 3 kit might have been the Junkers Ju-88 and Heinkel III. A bigger box allowed him to make his pictures more and more complex. Notice again how he makes the Heinkel’s opponents somebody out of the ordinary, in this case the Soviet Red Air Force:

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In Series 4 was the Vickers Wellington:

The mighty Avro Lancaster was in Series 5, as was the B-17 Flying Fortress. Notice how the very large box has enabled him to portray accurately the huge wingspan of both aircraft:

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Here’s the Short Sunderland:

The Boeing B-29 Superfortress was of such a size that it probably was in Series 29. This box is big enough to portray a defensive “box” of B-29s, and a Japanese fighter:

I was not very good at making the kits, as I would be the first to confess. With biplanes such as the Roland Walfisch of World War I or the Handley Page HP 42, the 1930s airliner, I was hopeless at gluing the top wing to the bottom one and soon there were gluey fingerprints all over the place:

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Quite a rare kit in my experience was the de Havilland DH.88 which won the race from England to Australia in 1934 with an official time of 70 hours 54 minutes 18 seconds. The raw plastic for it was bright red. I am not wholly sure if Roy Cross did this artwork. The kit may have appeared pre-1964:

There are some kits that I would like to have made but never did.  There was the Mitsubishi “Dinah” which was reckoned to be the most aerodynamically perfect aircraft of World War II. This is one of Roy’s very best pieces of work in my opinion:

The Spitfires defending Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia certainly couldn’t catch the Dinahs that flew high above them day after day.

The second kit I yearned for was the Angel Interceptor used in the TV series “Captain Scarlet”. That too, was a fairly rare kit during my modelling years:

I can’t bring this post to an end without showing you the last few masterpieces by Roy Cross. They are the B-25 Mitchell, with a choice of either a glazed or a solid nose:

Here’s the Aichi “Val”, looking for all the world like a Stuka that’s put on a lot of weight:

The Westland Whirlwind was a very advanced concept for 1938. It was one of the fastest combat aircraft in the world and with four Hispano-Suiza HS.404 20 mm autocannon in its nose, the most heavily armed. Prolonged problems with the Peregrine engines delayed everything and few Whirlwinds were built……only 116 in actual fact:

And let’s not forget the Blohm und Voss Bv 141 reconnaissance aircraft, one of the few aeroplanes ever to have had an asymmetrical structure. And yes, it flew very well, but was never produced in numbers because of the shortage of the engines of choice.

One last detail I found out about Roy Cross. He was apparently highly amused by the modern practice of taking his artwork, but photoshopping out any explosions and burning aircraft in case they upset anybody and reminded them what most of these aircraft were designed to do.

If you want to see more of Roy Cross’ art, then, please, use google images to sort out some pictures of other aircraft whose boxes he decorated. Roy may not be a famous artist, but his images of planes are irrevocably etched for ever in the memories of so many men of my age.

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Poems in “The Nottinghamian” 1922-1946 (4)

The author of the following poem which appeared in the Nottinghamian of December 1940 was Robert Norman Walters of VI Classics. Robert was the son of a “Master Fruiterer” and lived at 159 Cinder Hill Road in Bulwell. He was in the High School from 1930-1941. The winter of 1940-1941 was legendary for its severity and was excellent practice for anybody thinking of taking a winter break in Stalingrad a couple of years later.

SNOW

Snow shall fall and ice

Shall bind the lane in slithering shields

Of white and whitish blue.

Winds shall blow and howl and roar

And tiles shall fall.

Wood shall burst and split

Like statues known of old.

Rivers may cease to run

When snow shall whirl and swirl

And formless roofs gleam white.

Yet when this comes,

Let our strong, deep affections

Unfrozen, freeze not.

But with winter seen afar

Retain the burning heat

Of mid-June’s torrid air.

Robert left to go to Jesus College, Cambridge to study Classics. In the section of his poem :

“Winds shall blow and howl and roar

And tiles shall fall.

Wood shall burst and split

Like statues known of old.

Rivers may cease to run”

Robert has come remarkably near the words of Wace, who was possibly Robert Wace, a Norman poet, born in Jersey and brought up in mainland Normandy.

Wace was the first author to speak of the Round Table and the Court of King Arthur :

“Eventually

All things decline

Everything falters, dies and ends

Towers cave in, walls collapse

Roses wither, horses stumble

Cloth grows old, men expire

Iron rusts and timber rots away

Nothing made by hand will last.

I say and will say that I am

Wace from the Island of Jersey”

Wace lived, approximately, from 1100-1180.

James Theodore Lester was the son of a Leather Factor & Manufacturer who lived at 42 Bedale Road in Sherwood and then at Castleton House at 5 Castle Avenue in Arnold. The poem occasionally struggles for a rhyme, but the last verse is lovely.

“When I was six”

“When I was six I’d play at boats

And build a fort with many moats

Which I’d replenish with my pail

And put my little boats to sail.

 

 

Round and round and round they’d go

Till the water ceased to flow.

Then back home I would repair

And sit upon my rocking chair.

 

When it was time to go to bed,

Upon the pillow I’d put my head,

And think and dream of things I’d done,

And call the day a happy one.

 

We’ve already seen Frank Alan Underwood of 51 Charnock Avenue in Wollaton Park with his poem ““Evacuated”. This poem is a lot deeper and a lot more chilling. It was published in April 1943.

THE MIRROR

The dead man lay upon his bed

In the pause at dawn ere the Soul had fled,

And the Lamp burned dim as the East glowed red.

The Soul rose as the man had done

For twenty years at the beck of the sun:

But as yet it knew not that Death had won.

Then still as man and not aware

It looked in the mirror to brush its hair

–Looked in the mirror and found nothing there.

Ivan Keith Doncaster wrote a poem in The Nottinghamian in March 1937 which was pretty good:

 

THE FISHPOND

There’s a fishpond in our garden,

Not very big or wide ;

But fish just love to dart about,

Among the rocks inside.

And if you sit there on the bank,

You’ll see a sudden flash—

A big fat frog has just dived in,

And made a dreadful splash.

 

The frightened fish swim swiftly round

In search of safe retreat,

The frog looks at the golden line,

And croaks his sad defeat.

When ice seals up our gold-fish pond,

Neath winter’s frozen spell ;

We just catch golden gleams below,

To tell us all is well.

 

In summer when the fountain plays,

And sends forth silver rain,

The fish all frolic in great glee,

As cooling showers they gain.

 

We feed the fish with large ant eggs,

And when the days are warm

They jump to catch the flitting flies

Which o’er the pond do swarm.

 

Some happy moments there we spend,

Watching the fish at play ;

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter too,

They move in swift array.

 

Ivan Keith Doncaster only lived from 1923-1944 but he had already succeeded in the previous year in writing the most beautiful piece of poetry by any High School boy, bar none. It summarises how much we love our oh-so-beautiful lives, yet all the time are well aware of the price we will all one day pay as the distant bells toll our inevitable doom.

Keith paid his price in the mid-upper turret of a Lancaster over the German city of Kassel on October 22nd 1943, five days after his 20th birthday.

This poem appeared in April 1936 and had Keith lived, he would have been a great poet. He has a masterful touch and is capable of the most astonishing subtlety.

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.”

I have read that poem literally hundreds of times and I do not even begin to tire of it.

 

 

 

 

 

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