Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The complete Ro-Busters

One day when i was a (small) boy my parents bought me a comic, it was a newish title called Star Lord and it probably changed my life. Why, well it included an amazing comic strip about a group of misfit robots involved in disaster rescue and recovery called Ro-Busters. I immediately became a massive fan and to this day love the adventures of Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein which also had a big influence on my own comics i started making not long afterwards...

This amazing volume collects together all of their adventures from Star Lord and later on 2000AD (which i started reading because Ro-Busters moved there when Star Lord folded). In many ways Ro-Busters was inspired by the TV series Thunderbirds though with sarcastic robots instead of puppets obviously. The earlier adventures are fairly simple adventure stories but later on the stories began to mature and politics and social comment make their appearance, especially after the move to 2000AD. Despite being a comic strip primarily involving robots the stories managed to include amazing levels of emotion and soul...

Ro-Jaws, Hammerstein and the rather dodgy cyborg boss Mr Quartz are the stars of the strip though as time went on a whole host of secondary characters also began to build up including the deranged Mek-Quake. The collection takes us through to the conclusion of the script in an epic final story where the Ro-Busters are broken up and Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein try and escape the Earth. Later on they were reunited in Nemesis and the ABC Warriors of course...

Originally published on my comics blog

Monday, January 30, 2012

Saltisford Canal Arm

The Saltisford Canal Arm branches off the Grand Union Canal in the Saltisford area of Warwick though only runs for about 400m nowadays because of building over the old canal bed. Originally this stretch of canal, which opened in the 1790s, was the start of the Warwick-Birmingham Canal and allowed goods to be bought to the centre of Warwick (as originally it went much closer to the centre of the town). The coming of the canal helped stimulate economic development in the area including the Warwick Gas Works built in 1812 near the terminating basin, coal being bought by canal to feed it1. There were also a number of timber yards, malt houses and a brewery situated around the basin.

As the canals decayed commercially in the 20th century the arm fell out of use with part of it filled in reducing it to its current length. The viability of what remained was left in doubt as it became derelict in the 1970s. However in 1982 the Saltisford Canal Trust was formed to restore the remaining part of the arm and now it houses a number of permanently occupied house boats and can be very busy in the Summer.
Saltisford Canal Arm, Warwick
The arm originally fed into a basin which was located behind the Antelope pub (see below). A Sainsburys now occupies the site!
Antelope P8270146
1) W.B. Stephens (Editor). "The borough of Warwick: Introduction: the suburbs from c. 1600." A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 8: The City of Coventry and Borough of Warwick (1969): 434-447. British History Online. Web. 30 January 2012.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Tamworth Castle & Town

Tamworth isn't that far away, the bus that goes from Birmingham to Tamworth even goes (more or less) past my house so its about time i got that bus and went there! So i did yesterday, mostly to see the castle which featured in a BBC programme about the Staffordshire hoard earlier in the week. The castle is very good indeed, well worth the visit. This is probably the first castle i've visited since my school days. During my History GCSE we went away on a week long field trip to visit a number of castles such as Ludlow and Goodrich. I did go to Warwick once with the intention of visiting the castle but just saw the prices and checked out faster than if someone chucked some boiling oil at me from the battlements!

You can see my photos here, i also took some inside the main parish church in Tamworth St Editha's.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Church of St Peter and St Paul, Coleshill

Coleshill is a small town in North Western Warwickshire that can trace signs of occupation back to the Iron Age but its current location dates from the "Dark Ages" when a church was built on top of a hill south of the Roman period settlements. In the Domesday book Coleshill was listed as a royal manor rated 3 hides. The current town of Coleshill grew up from a village built around this church, the Church of St Peter and St Paul, and was an important stop in the days of stage coaches.

The tower was said to have been built by William de Montfort in the 1380s1 (though some details indicate it may have been a bit later) with some parts of the church dating from the 1340s. The tower's spire was struck by lightning in 1550 and had to be rebuilt, it is now 15ft lower than it originally was. It also has a Norman font dating from the 12th century. Much of the current form dates from a restoration undertaken 1868-9. The external masonry and internal stonework were renewed and scraped, unfortunately robbing the church of manyh of its historical traces.
Church of St Peter and St Paul, Coleshill
1) L. F. Salzman (editor). "Parishes: Coleshill." A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 4: Hemlingford Hundred (1947): 47-57. British History Online. Web. 27 January 2012.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Banana Warehouse

The canals of Britain used to be the transport arteries of the country and helped facilitate the early industrial revolution. The building of the railways from the 19th century onwards and later on the modern road network helped consign business traffic on the canals to history by the 1970s (though it had largely gone well before that).

Alongside today's rejuvenated and leisure focussed canal network we can still see the relics of the industrial and business transport past. The Banana Warehouse is an example of a former canal side business. The building in Birmingham was built around 1840 and was formerly owned by fruit merchants Geest, it is alongside the Grand Union Canal and has an canopy over the loading area. The building is Grade II listed and there are plans to renovate the building as part of the Warwick Bar Conservation Area plans.

The Warwick Bar itself is the name of the lock that is alongside the warehouse (and can be seen in the photograph below). As the Grand Union and the Digbeth Branch Canals which join here were owned by different companies a stop lock was installed to stop water from being "stolen" from one company to the other.
Banana Warehouse

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Destination New York (Stratoship H.22 Part 2)

Tintin went to the Moon, Herge's other characters Jo, Zette and Jocko have to settle with the slightly less distant New York but its an epic journey none the same. At the end of part one the two children and their pet chimp were flying off in the experimental high-speed aircraft Stratoship H.22 - built to win a flying competition - to evade competitors bent on stopping them no matter the cost. In this concluding part of the story they end up first on a desert island and then in the Arctic.

Like the earlier volume the adventure runs at break neck speed with a heavy dose of luck and coincidence. The limitation of Jo and Zette of course was they were children not an enterprising adult like Tintin thus a lot of the time their fate is not in their hands but in adults who handily are around to save them at every turn. This does not detract too much from the story however. The plot is engaging and involves some intrigue, i think this is probably the best of the three Jo, Zette and Jocko volumes i have read to date.

It is beautifully drawn like part one, some of the best examples of ligne claire artwork i've seen and beautifully reproduced.

Review also available on my Take A Clean Sheet Of Paper comics blog

Monday, January 23, 2012

Oxford Pitt Rivers Museum

The Pitt Rivers Museum, which houses Oxford University's archaeology and anthropology collections, is a must-visit if you ever go to Oxford, indeed when i told my friend i was going to the city (last October) i was told i simply had to go there and see the "shrunken heads"!
Oxford Pitt Rivers Museum
In 1884 General Pitt Rivers, an influential figure in archaeology and developmental anthropology, donated his collection of around 20,000 objects to the university to help found the museum. Other early anthropologists also donated items and the collection has been augmented by donations, bequests and field work ever since. Now over half a million items are in the collection ranging from totem poles and canoes, to clothing and shrunken heads.

The museum retains its original Victorian era charm and the organisation of the collection is by item type and function, not geographical location as is more usual.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Glowing in the dark

Yesterday i procured a pack of glow sticks. You snap and shake them and get 12 hours of light out of them (actually the one pictured below has been going for at least 14 hours - update now been going 28 hours!)

Great for raves (I guess) though I bought mine to provide light in emergencies, getting the idea from this blog post on the recent cruise ship disaster. The light produced isn't that great but obviously its better than none, and if it helps you find your torch / candles or allows you to restart your nuclear power station then job done.

A pack of ten was pretty cheap so i might stock up a bit. A couple by the bed, a couple in the car, now i'm ready for the apocalypse.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sopwith Camel

The Sopwith Camel is probably one of the most famous fighters from the First World War, at least on the Allied side. If you asked people to list aircraft from the biplane era you would probably get the (Fokker) "Triplane" and the Camel more than anything else.

Biggles flew a Camel (he flew other planes too but people remember this one the most) and it was a Camel flown by Captain Roy Brown that was involved in the shooting down of the Red Baron (it may have been ground fire that dealt the fatal shot).

This example here is preserved at the Imperial War Museum in London, of which more below.
Imperial War Museum P7160032
The Camel's service life was fairly short, though this was the norm in the early days of military aviation with technology advancing at a furious rate. First flying in late 1916 it entered service a few months later in mid-1917. The Camel helped the Allies achieve air superiority over the Western Front and is credited with 1,294 "kills". The Camel was not an easy plane to fly, highly agile and responsive in the hands of a skilled pilot but also unforgiving (often with fatal consequences) to an inexperienced or careless pilot.

By early 1918 it was already outclassed by newer machines in aerial combat but remained in service in the close support role until the end of the war when it was retired from British service though it remained with foreign air arms for a while.

The IWM's Camel N6812 is a Camel 2F1 which was a navalised version used by the Royal Naval Air Service. N6812, while being flown by Flight Sub Lieutenant Stuart Culley, shot down the German zeppelin L53 in August 1918.

Asterix and the cauldron

Or it could be titled... "How to make money in the Ancient Roman world". In this volume Asterix is cast out from the village for bringing shame upon the village for losing the money of another tribe which had been held there to keep it out of the Romans' hands. Asterix and Obelix set off with the empty cauldron the money was held in to refill it with sestertii and restore honour to both himself and the village...

Earning an honest sestertus is easier said than done though, everything is tried including being a market trader, an actor, even a gladiator but no matter what they try the cauldron seems to remain as empty as always. Even Getafix's magic potion can't solve the problem this time or can it?

This is a hilarious volume in the series with plenty of satirical comment on the world of work and the market. Not one of the very best Asterix books but still a very enjoyable romp.

Review originally published on my Take A Clean Sheet Of Paper comics blog

Monday, January 16, 2012

Brandwood Tunnel

The Stratford-upon-Avon Canal only has the one tunnel, the Brandwood Tunnel which is near the Birmingham end of the canal. The Brandwood Tunnel is 322m and does not have a towpath running inside it. Boats that were horse hauled had to be "legged" through the tunnel though later on a steam tug was used to pull trains of boats through. The canal was built in 1781 by Josiah Clewes (who was the engineer behind a number of canal tunnel projects) and is named after the Brandwood Estate . The portals of the tunnel are Grade II listed and the Western one includes a portrait of William Shakespeare above the tunnel mouth and niches on the portal wall on the Eastern end.
Brandwood Tunnel, Stratford-upon-Avon Canal

Bulldog and away

The recent milder weather has encouraged me to start the 2012 modeling season a bit earlier than last year (though its gone colder again now). First project of 2012 is this Bristol Bulldog, an older kit not currently in production by Airfix that i bought on Ebay. The kit had lain unused and uncompleted for years, now i am finally going to let it fulfill its potential... or something.
Bristol Bulldog

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Canals of Bournville and Kings Norton

Today i joined the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at Bournville (to be exact at the railway station which is alongside the canal, in fact you can walk straight off the platform onto the towpath!) I went down this canal down to Kings Norton Junction which is where it joins the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal. This is where the Stratford canal either starts or ends depending on your point of view. I prefer to say start as Bridge 1 is at this end and Bridge 66 at the Stratford end. The Worcester & Birmingham Canal photos can be seen here, and the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal photos here!
Stratford-upon-Avon Canal

Friday, January 13, 2012

The tomb of King John

The wonderful cathedral in Worcester contains the tomb of King John of England who ruled from 1166 to 1216. John is best known i guess for being the king the barons revolted against which led to the signing of the Magna Carta. John's reign is also notable for the loss of the duchy of Normandy, he was also excommunicated by the Pope for a time. Over the years the King and his performance have received a great deal of criticism (though his conflict with the Pope was looked upon favourably during the Reformation).

Nowadays he is regarded by historians as having being a hard-working administrator though had some notable personality defects such as pettiness and cruelty.
Tomb of King John, Worcester P9020069

TOTP (06/01/1977)

We haven’t had a Top Of The Pops review for some time, so lets jump into 1977 with Kid Jensen. If BBC4 keep showing these shows from 1977 then i think we see some punk before very long but first...

Sheer Elegance - dance the night away 
Well some things haven’t changed yet, men in garish matching outfits and tight trousers gyrate over a decent (but not much more than that) soul number. It has handclaps in the backing which always looks very odd when no one is actually clapping.

10cc - things we do for love 
We go straight to a music video and some big 70s rock pop. We see tambourines and lots of lights. Its alright.

Tina Charles - doctor love 
The blessed Tina is here to groove in an oddly hideous light purple dress. Still she is in her usual form, this song seems oddly un-disco for something described as a disco hit, more a normal pop song with some disco-like instrumentation. Despite that its still great... ish.

Smokie - living next door to Alice 
Just so you know this is Smokie performing there is a huge sign on the wall with their name on. A lovely song of course, enough pop to get over the mountain of sentimentality.

Gladys Knight and the Pips - nobody but you 
A classy song from a classy lady, very fetching in a huge green scarf. A definite gospel vibe to this one, we have handclaps too and this time we actually see people making them.

Jethro Tuul - ring out Solstice bells 
Flute and bell rich hippy nonsense. As it is a seasonal song i feel bad saying its rubbish, but it is.

David Soul’s “don’t give up on us baby” is performed by Legs & Co in matching blue dresses. Only one dances while the others stay lying down, union rules? Oh wait they have all got up now.

The Drifters - you’re more than a number in my little red book 
More matching suits and retro-soul. This is the sort of song my parents used to listen to a lot back then, so its their fault.

Clodagh Rogers - save me
A plunging neckline can hide a multitude of sins, such as a boring song. She kept the attention of the young lads in the audience anyway.

Boney M - daddy cool 
Some German disco action, well you don’t get the chance to say that very often. A very disjointed performance indeed, at times they look like they are trying to knock each other over and the vocalist doesn’t seem to remember the words. Its so bad it could almost be an X-Factor performance. Nice mad dancing though.

Kid Jensen is here with Donna Summer who is here to introduce this week’s number one which is... 

Johnny Mathis - when a child is born 
Christmas is over already.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mary Arden's House... or not

The house which Mary Arden (the mother of William Shakespeare) was born and grew up in is preserved in the lovely village of Wilmcote and is now a museum for Mary Arden and is a working Tudor farm.
Unfortunately this lovely Tudor farm house isn't Mary Arden's home! It was discovered in 2000 that instead it was the home of the friend and neighbour Adam Palmer (and has now been renamed Palmer's Farm). Luckily the Shakepeare Trust had bought and preserved the real home of Mary Arden (which is close by) without realising what it was at the time.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Stratford and Moreton Tramway

The Stratford and Moreton Tramway stretched from the Bancroft basin (where the Stratford-upon-Avon canal meets the river Avon at Stratford) to Moreton-in-Marsh in Gloucestershire some 16 miles away. There was also a branch down to Shipston-on-Stour.

The horse-drawn tramway was built in the 1820s to allow coal from the Black Country that had come down the canal to continue onwards into southern Warwickshire. The Moreton to Shipston section was converted to a steam railway in 1859 and continued in use until 1960. The main section experimented with steam traction but continued with horse drawn wagons until the 1880s. It was finally abandoned in the 1920s. The course of the tramway can still be seen in some places.

A preserved wagon now stands in Stratford at the end of the old line.
Tramway wagon, Stratford-upon-Avon
The old tramway bridge over the Avon is still in use for pedestrians.

Some blog changes... adding history

I have decided to not continue with my history blog so that has now been archived (it remains on the internet but will no longer be updated - unless i change my mind at some stage, i often do). 

Blogging on history will appear here instead, some stuff has already been cross posted of course but you can expect more of that. One thing i am going to do more of is blog about historic places or artifacts that i photograph in the course of my other great interest : photography!

The first post of this type will be one on the Stratford and Moreton Tramway which you should be able to find on this blog.

Orbital (2) - Ruptures

This continues the story of the future galaxy diplomatic corp duo (who seem to combine quiet diplomacy with kick-ass action quite seamlessly) who at the end of volume 1 in the Orbital series were on a rain swept planet about to be overrun by multi-legged beasties. This volume concludes the story of Caleb and Mezoke trying to avert a war on a rather miserable little planet.

This well-drawn story is actually quite complicated and at times you do lose track a bit about what is going on, various competing factions in the foreground and background of the story do make it a bit confusing sometimes though you do manage to (more or less) work out what is going on by the end! I wonder if it would have been better to spread this story across 3 volumes and have a little more back-story and explanation about whats going on?

Its a well-drawn graphic novel and the artist has created a compelling and realistic future. The story is also complex and immersive, many things that still confuse will hopefully be explained later in the series...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Little Venice

Little Venice is a canal boat mooring area in North London, so similar to Gas Street in Birmingham. I visited there on the last day of last year (so Saturday then!) Its a nice area that you can get to easily via Warwick Avenue tube station. Here are the photographs i took, i must return later in the year when the weather is better (and the light better) my old Olympus struggles a bit in poor light (didn't take my DSLR with me).

Some of the big house boats must be permanently moored i suspect as some of them look a bit tall for the average canal bridge...
Little Venice, Regent's Canal

Century 21 : Classic Comic Strips From The Worlds Of Gerry Anderson (1) : Adventure In The 21st Century

Pure childhood nostalgia : the amazing TV series of Gerry Anderson like Thunderbirds and Stingray. TV21 was a comic off-shoot of the amazing universe his team created and this is the first collection of comic strips from that comic of the late 60s and early 70s which i personally never read before though i do have an old Thunderbirds annual somewhere...

The stories are fast paced and exciting though lack depth somewhat. The bad guys always seem to manage to pull out a secret underground base out of nowhere. The likeness of the characters also varies which makes it a bit confusing sometimes to tell who is who, though of course the characters were puppets. When an artist went too far to make their drawings match the puppet it looked a little odd. So basically you can't win. These are just minor niggles though, the stories are an amazing thrill ride. Just read them as you would when you were 12.

Freed of the restraints of puppets the comics show a lot more physical action by the characters than on TV of course. Characters get into fist fights, fall down mountains or even get tied to ballistic missiles as in the case of Lady Penelope (sure i dreamed of that once - when a boy i hasten to add). The futuristic toys are still there too of course and this is where the true nostalgia hits me. Nostalgia for an age when the future was impossibly exciting and positive. These are comics written before the Oil Shock of course.

The Century 21 future doesn't have economic and environmental collapse, religious fundamentalism or resource depletion. Instead it has hypersonic nuclear powered airliners, cities in the stars and Lady Penelope in her pink Rolls-Royce.

Originally published on my Take A Clean Sheet Of Paper comics blog.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Bringing in 2012

I bought New Year in (what exactly does that mean exactly? "Bought in"?) in London with my in-laws which was fun and different. I also had the chance to do some book shopping obviously and, for the first time in the capital, some canal walking at Little Venice in Paddington along the Grand Union and Regent's Canals.

Later on while wandering through St. John's Wood i came upon the Abbey Road zebra crossing, thus i was able to cross a road while a crowd of Japanese tourists looked on.
Abbey Road zebra crossing