A winter day in the garden.

Autumn colours at 44.

Autumn colours at 44.

This picture is from a few weeks ago. All the coloured leaves are gone now but it was a lovely, mild, sunny day here in Islington. I’ve spent the day in the garden. The big job was to spread the contents of the year-before-last compost bin. That’s done, so the past year’s bin now matures until this time next year and we use the vacated one. The hard job done and a tray of tea and fabulous chocolate cake passed out by Haremi enjoyed, I continued to potter and snip until the sun went behind the house and it began to get cool. All the major, autumn jobs are now done and the snowdrops are showing green shoots. Despite the severe storms it’s been very mild so far.


Posted in The garden

Daimler Light 15.


I suppose that I learnt to drive on this car. Far too young to go on the public road, as a boy I’d drive it backwards and forwards on our short driveway at home.This is a modified version of a piece I wrote for the Daimler & Lanchester Owners’ Club newsletter “Driving Member” about 4 years ago.


It wasn’t my grandfather’s  first Daimler, nor indeed his first car. There had been a Crossley and then a closed Daimler, which only lasted a year as my grandparents found that they disliked being enclosed.  The Owl Car was his last car, so called because my grandparents, my father and his sister all had different native owls as their nicknames. My grandfather had a minor accident, which led to his insurance company discovering that he was 92 (in 1948) and declining to reinsure him. My father had bought his Morris 8 convertible for £100 before the war and this was increasingly inadequate for a family with three boys. It was sold, again for £100, and this sum was exchanged for my grandfather’s Daimler Light 15, BOL 938.

My father was always rather self-conscious about having such a grand car, but it did wonderful service as our family wagon. He did have some stories about the days before it became ours, when, for instance, he once found himself as a young man driving it at 90 mph through the New Forest. (My grandparents lived in Bournemouth.) We couldn’t really afford the maintenance of a complex and already ancient car and my memory is that Sundays were always spent taking it apart in our garage. We never did get it to go into reverse without much banging down of the pre-selector leaver. There was a mystery about the missing switch for something – the interior light, I think – that my father installed and the two tiny, round mirrors at the upper corners of the windscreen.  The only purpose that we could think of for these was to check that the semaphore indicators were working. We also installed a wireless with a domestic extension speaker on a bell wire for the rear passengers.

In 1953 we drove to London to see the decorations for the Coronation. I remember that there were 12 of us in the car including many children. I was sitting with one of my brothers on the folded down hood, our feet amongst those on the back seat. A policeman looked up at me as we drove slowly past and called, “Are you alright up there?”

The hood was originally grey my father said, and very swanky. By my time it was black and unfortunately a repair to the tiny, rear window had made it slightly more than a third of the rear panel, so the hood never really folded down neatly again.

In 1954 my father heard that he was to go to work in Washington D C and one evening I was told that although my brothers were to go as well and attend school there I was to be left in the UK, as otherwise I’d get back just in time but unprepared for my “O” levels. After some silent thought I surprised my parents  by asking, “What will happen to the car?” It couldn’t go to Washington with us of course. We had been considering replacing it and the only realistic option was a Morris Minor at £700. In the event it was replaced with an automatic, 3L., 6 cylinder, ‘55 Studebaker Champion Sedan, at $2,100 almost exactly the same price at $3 to one guinea as the Morris! The bonus for me was that I got three summer holidays travelling to the USA on Cunard liners

The Daimler was sold in 1954 to somebody else who worked at AERE Harwell. My father felt that it was unlikely that anybody would have the patience or, alternatively, the money to maintain it, but I just wonder……. Is the Owl Car still hooting somewhere?

Posted in Cars

Website Construction

I am not really clear about all the technical aspects of the website, but for those thinking of doing something similar, here are a few impressions of the process.

First of all, “The proof of the pudding….” We are amateurs with a techno wizard nephew for occasional backup. Given that, it took about a month and is, I hope you will think, possible.

Another point is that it has all been free, apart from the monthly fee to the server to which we transferred the completed project. It is quite extraordinary what is available free.

We constructed the site on WordPress and Facebook simultaneously. I was alarmed to see all our trials and mistakes appearing on my Facebook page and then relieved to discover that it was only visible to me until published yesterday! Some of the collections of pictures appearing unexplained would have been a puzzle to many people.

WordPress is used for the main structure and I use it for the Blog. Facebook is much more forgiving (picture size, for instance) for assembling the galleries of pictures. Between the two of them they lead to a larger audience, but critically, because of the link, anything posted on one is simultaneously available on the other.

Below all that of course are brightly coloured shoals of technical fish that I can just see below the surface and, deeper still, complete mysteries of codes and marvels lurking round thermal vents deep below any depth that I could survive without getting the bends.

Posted in Website construction

Website Launch Day

It’s been an exciting few weeks getting the website ready to launch. I realized that it was an essential tool if I am to attract interest in my bottles from the wider world. I could feel the blank space when people asked what my work is like. But it’s also a record for me of an extraordinary period of my life. I’ve often thought of recording remarkable episodes in my adventure but there’s always a new one current to delay going back to the past.

With that in mind, the incorporated blog is a way of dipping into my memory and posting little episodes of a totally different nature as well as, as in this case, some thoughts about the present. Having had a camera of some sort for most of my life I can usually find illustrations too, although some are a bit of a challenge to get into a digital form. Yesterday I was using a little slide viewer that arrived in the post to look at my many pictures of Nigeria in 1965. They are an absolute treasure trove and I’ll delay quoting more of my diary from those days until I can illustrate them with contemporary pictures. Even I have only read all the volumes once since writing it. I was sitting on the lawn at our family home outside Oxford and remember a robin perching on my foot while I did so.

I have entered into a further adventure – to share with you.


The family home, Redwood, under construction in 1957.
Some years later I was reading my diary just about where this picture was taken from.

Posted in Website construction

A flight to Nigeria. (1965)


Boarding the BOAC VC10 for Lagos.

On September 29th, 1965 I flew to Nigeria for three months. I was the most fortunate recipient of a Nuffield Foundation Travelling Scholarship in Tropical Medicine and was embarking on one of the most formative experiences of my life. I wrote a diary every day for three months and took hundreds of photographs. At the moment the pictures are rather inaccessible as half-frame Kodachromes, but I’ll get them digitalised and if I add to this theme I’ll post some of those too. Here is the first entry – relatively banal today as we all fly so much, but there is real adventure to follow.


We left London somewhat late and took off steeply into a clear sky. The BOAC VC 10 really is remarkably comfortable and much quieter than any other ‘plane I’ve been in. It was, I think, completely full and quite a number of babies were stored in neat cradles that hung from the hat rack…..

Before long Africa was below and we started a long haul across the Sahara. Usually pretty featureless, it had occasional tracks running straight across and occasional mountaintops sticking through the sand. At one time it was strangely mottled, like the surface of the moon, but above all the impression of this vast waste was the main thing. It seemed to take a lot longer to fly over the Sahara than over Europe and I have never seen anywhere look so barren….

Gradually the sand gave way to more useful land but I was not near enough to the window to see well. Anyway, the cloud built up…..    I was offered a window seat and the cloud did clear somewhat as we came down towards Lagos. Enough to see a Comet going very fast in the other direction a long way below us, and then as we rather steeply flew down, to see the tropical rain forest. I have never known anything so exactly as it should be than my first impression of Africa. Perhaps the New York skyline, but nothing else in practice turns out so exactly as one’s imagination has built it up. The forest, dark green with huge, sparsely foliated trees with grey trunks towering up out of the billowing green sea of lesser trees.

Posted in Nigeria, Travel

Another ‘Queen Mary’ anecdote. (1955)

QM Med

I was a curious and observant young man with a lot of spare time on my several Atlantic crossings. Of course I wanted to explore the whole ship, but class distinction was very strict indeed for, as I mentioned, if the prime minister or a member of the royal family were crossing, they would also be on the ship, in first class.

I discovered an unmarked door that led to steps for the crew and up them I found myself in cabin class. A good start and enough for a while. The real breakthrough came when I watched as a stewardess walked straight through a door at the end of a corridor that I had just discovered “locked”. What a puzzle! I waited a few minutes and went back to try again. Still the door didn’t open. Something odd; she hadn’t used a key or delayed for a moment. There must be a trick. I discovered that if I turned the handle the “wrong” way the door opened for me…. and I was in first class!

Thereafter the whole of the passenger accommodation of the ship was open to me and on later voyages I showed my younger brothers round. Of course, the crew knew we were out of place, but we were awed and very respectful and they just kept a discreet eye on us and never spoke to us.

Posted in Travel

Travelling on RMS “Queen Mary” (1955)

When I was a schoolboy I used to travel to the USA to visit the rest of my family for the summer holidays. The only way to go was by sea and however grand or lowly you were, we were all in the same boat. The quickest and cheapest was by either the “Queen Elizabeth” or “Queen Mary”. In tourist class on D deck, just above the waterline, it was £63 10s.

Despite being a schoolboy in tourist class I had some pretty remarkable experiences, but several were the result of being such an unusual phenomenon in the mid ’50s, an unaccompanied boy with an English accent. I got a lot of attention!

I have just been looking at my diaries for those trips and came across this picture of me, drawn by a fellow passenger. I’ve looked up his name, Peter Carlson in Google, but only find an artist who is 40 or 50 years too young. I wonder what happened to him? I think that the drawing is pretty good.

Peter on QM Y + menu v.small

Posted in Travel

Garden maintenance

Already December and until 36 hours ago there were still leaves on the deciduous trees, but I think that the latest storm has brought the last ones down and it’s time to have a final clear-up.

But today the priority was to plant a new climbing rose on the right hand boundary. “City of York”, vigorous, and should cope with poor soil even in the shade of a North facing wall – but it will soon be above that and in the trellis. It’s to replace a long established Akebia quinata that is getting too much for me to control.

Every few weeks it has grown yet again – six feet or more into the Cashmere Cyprus, which it is eager to overwhelm. This requires tottering on the top of a ladder to deal with and I have had to take drastic action, thinking of my age and ladders. It has a big impact on the neighborhood, so six months ago I warned the most immediately affected of its impending doom next year, immediately after Garden Open Day (NGS) on June 1st.

This is a desolate time of year, but already there are the first signs of activity below the ground as the first snowdrop bulb shoots appear.

Posted in The garden

Acer repotting after storm

Peter+ pot 1_2

In the recent storm of October 28th a large Acer blew over and the pot smashed. I thought that, for the first time in over 30 years, I’d need professional help in the garden, but two heroic friends came to my rescue.

The largest pot at the Camden Garden Centre (and there was only one of them) was the right size but required a large car and removing the garden door to get it home and through to the garden. Then a block & tackle attached to the Cashmere Cyprus above to lift the tree and rootball in.

On the whole I think that the garden is improved by the changes.

I hope we never have to do that again!

After the fall
After the fall.
New plant pot
The new pot in place, no longer sitting on the pond edge.


Posted in The garden

Tippecanoe the Studebaker

I imported the Studebaker in April 1996 from Springfield, Missouri, unseen by me until he arrived in a huge crate at Felixtowe Docks. What a thrill that was! I had passed my driving test in my father’s 1955 Studebaker Champion Sedan 4 months after becoming 17 and always wanted my own to make up for the loss when that became uneconomical in the UK.

I’ve had little to do to the bodywork but a great deal of mechanical work to make him safe and roadworthy at 70 mph (or 80 mph all day, on the péage crossing France).

Tippecanoe Place is the name of the Studebaker Mansion in South Bend, Indiana where the Studebaker brothers opened their blacksmith shop in 1852.

Best Studebaker at ROG
“Best Studebaker” at the Rally of the Giants, Knebworth, July 2006.


Tippecanoe goes to Glyndebourne (2013)

We usually set off in completely the wrong direction and through the Blackwall Tunnel to join the M25 somewhere in the far east and then come west again before going south. This time I decided that on balance, less petrol would be used by the far fewer miles going directly down the A23 despite the one and a half hours that it took without any major delays to get as far as the M25 junction. I wonder whether that was correct? I suspect that it was.

We set off early to have a relaxed day without worry about getting there in time to set up our picnic site before the curtain up. Not too bad through the City, but slow enough for hasty answers to questions or praise for the car from pedestrians, all scurrying a bit late to work. I always feel that the car is a great addition to the spectacle for tourists as we drive slowly cross Tower Bridge.

It’s tedious through south London; normally I consider getting out of London to the south by car virtually impossible. But it certainly shows off the car to a multitude! Once on the M23 of course we’re all sails set and creaming. Despite being a Speedster, there’s a lot of wind noise at 70mph (or 80, on the péage in France) – and a lot of petrol, so we travel sedately at 60mph, which the newly working rev. counter tells me is just 2,500rpm.

A splendid lunch at the Good Pub Guide recommended “Cock Inn” near Glyndebourne, watching little crowds gather to examine Tippecanoe sitting modestly in the shade of an oak tree while we eat our venison burgers. Then the last few miles to be one of the first in the car park at Glynbourne. One of the staff commented that he is the most handsome car that they’ve ever had there! It’s hard to drag ourselves free of the questioning to get the picnic site established on the lawn, in a position that we know will still be in the sun during the dinner interval, and then changed into our formal togs.

What a wonderful production of “Billy Budd”! Very moving and a work that has us discussing 24 hours later the dilemma for poor Captain Vere (“Starry Vere”, his crew call him) having “no option” but to hang Billy, who he knows is pure goodness for, in his frustration when his stammer prevents him denying a false accusation, he accidentally kills Claggart, the personification of evil. He knows that Billy will go to heaven, but what will his own fate be when he gets to the judgement seat?

People are kind, letting us break into the four or five streams of cars converging on the queue to leave the car park at the end. They are always kind to Tippecanoe. Just as well, as the headlights are dim, the windows have all misted up and It’s really difficult to see out! That is compounded, once on the tiny road leading away from the opera house; a car coming the other way blinds me and I am alarmed, knowing that the road is only just wide enough for the two of us. I come to a standstill.

Once on the main road things are better although still I decide that high beam helps vision less than the Toyota lights when dipped, so I leave that little red warning light on the dash to glow.

We travel a bit faster on the return, far away bed beaconing powerfully. And when we get home, those two very narrow, non aligned, awkward arches to back between to get into the garage. Haremi shouts warnings if disaster looms and we manage – and lock up.

A great day out for us and for Tippecanoe who is a real star, as always.


Posted in Cars, Tippecanoe