A Trip to the Talkies

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Families gently file into the auditorium. Some have small toddlers, uneasily making their way into the semi darkness, others stride confidently in armed with popcorn and juice boxes. Groups of friends meet in the adjoining cafe, eagerly awaiting delivery of a hot beverage before finding their seats. It’s just a normal Saturday matinee at Worcestershire’s best loved Art Deco cinema, The Regal in Evesham. But what’s this? A man scampers around in the dark waving a camera about. *Snap snap snap*. Is he photographing the ceiling?! *Snap snap snap*. Now the carpet!  *lens change…snap snap snap*And the door to the toilets?! Who is this mad man? Get him away from our children. SECURITY?!….

It seemed like a good idea at the time. I’ve been trying desperately to kill two birds with one Canon shaped stone. My photographic mission of capturing local 1930s buildings has been gathering steam of late, with an ever growing list of candidates and plenty of great weather, it’s just the time factor that poses a problem. As a result I concocted a genius plan: Combine family days out with photo shoots.

The first of these was an astounding success. Picking one of the hottest days of the year, we all headed up to Droitwich Spa Lido. Designed by Thomas H. Mawson and opened in 1935, this fine modernist building boats the U.K.s only outdoor brine pool. I had arranged pre-opening access to take some snaps before the heaving masses dived in, so capturing its beauty was a piece of cake. Pictures in the bag, we all enjoyed a good splash around before heading home.

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Buoyed by my success I planned the second group adventure. Finding Dory, the latest Pixar effort was showing at my favourite local grade II listed cinema, The Regal. A round of emails once again sorted out pre-show permission and a plan was set. Unfortunately we were running late, and other happy cinema goers were running early, leading to the situation described above.

…….Abandoning the heavily occupied auditorium I took to the foyer. It covers three levels and has a wonderful banister rail snaking its way up the memorabilia laden stairway. Two old projectors sit on upper and lower floors, while the circle bar with classic Deco signage occupies the middle. I would have got some wonderful shots if all the damn people didn’t keep getting in my way!

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Never mind, I’ll just pop outside and capture the exterior of the building in all its glory. The main street frontage is framed in stonework, dominated by a cornice rising and becoming fluted over a corner entrance and flanked by piers. Original paired double doors with flèche motif are…. covered in chipboard. It turns out a couple of rotters broke down one pair of the gorgeous original 1932 double doors earlier in the week to steal some collection boxes left out. They’re irreparable I’m told, but recreations will be commissioned once funds have been secured. I could rant for ages about this, but I’ll suppress it and simply say that arrests have been made, and I hope they throw away the key.

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On examining the pictures later in the day it became quickly apparent that results weren’t up the scratch. Blurred, underexposed and filled with ‘ghosts’. I guess I’ll have to go back and do it all again, what a chore!

Next weekend.. who fancies a trip to a paint brush factory kids?!!

The Regal is raising funds for a 4th floor extension. If you’d like to contribute please visit their crowd funding page.

Airfield Activities – Flywheel 2016

flywheel 043I’m a bit of a classic car fanatic and make no apologies for it. I’ve always found the sensuous curves and roaring fume-belching engines of mid-century sports cars totally intoxicating. Its a hereditary trait that I’ve picked up from my eccentric father, now well into his 70s, who spends practically every waking moment battling with old wrecks in his Olympic sized mancave. As the only male in our household, this love of bygone automotive achievements is usually kept strictly separate from family life, but occasionally I concoct a cunning plan to mix the two.

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1934 Fort-Type Watchtower

Having greedily soaked up several magazine articles on it, I was eager to find an excuse to visit Bicester Heritage, a former RAF bomber base in Oxfordshire. This huge pre-war airfield had been laying derelict until it was resurrected in 2013 as a centre for historic motoring and aviation. Now a hive of activity, it is host to over 30 independent businesses, all providing different services for the classic car and plane buff. From the photos I’d seen of the architecture (most of which is from the 20s & 30s) it looked absolutely breathtaking. The sympathetically restored red brick hangers and support buildings are a perfect fit for the ethos of the centre, and provide a romantic backdrop impossible to create in a modern industrial unit.

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Unit 93, now home to Pendine Cars

The excuse I needed to combine a family day out with a good nose around this fine destination came in the shape of the second annual Flywheel Festival. A celebration of automobiles, aeroplanes and vintage culture for young and old. Surely this was the perfect opportunity to fill up the picnic basket and spend a jolly good family day out in our old Daimler!

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With everything prepared and packed the night before, we bundled everyone into the car first thing Sunday morning and set off on the 90 minute journey. Travelling with young children tends to lead to anxiety of emergency toilet stops and frantic mopping up of travel sick, putting a potential dampener on any day out. But thankfully, today passed without any such issues. The car was also in fine fettle, its v8 engine burbling along the M40 flywheel 009.jpgeasily keeping up with modern traffic and shaming them with its superior beauty.

We arrived in good time and found a spot in the classic car enclosure. Our 3 year old daughter Dot immediately spotted a pink Cadillac and demanded a photo, before jumping in elation at the sight of the vintage fun fair. The festival is laid out on the airfield, with a makeshift figure of 8 track for motor demonstrations, off road area for tank rides and grass runway for the light aircraft. flywheel 010.jpgStatic WWII displays, vehicles & planes run the length of the field with a flea fair, period music tent, silent cinema and paddock separating the classic car park from the action.

From the paddock you can gain access to the main Bicester complex and stroll around freely. A long tree lined avenue runs from one end to the other with smaller lanes intersecting it. On this occasion we weren’t able to enter any of the buildings, but wandering around the place was more than enough to stoke the emotions. Individual vintage motors scattered around the virtually deserted site gave the strangest sensation of literally stepping back in time.

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1935 Douglas C-47 Skytrain

On returning back to the airfield we were just in time to witness a fabulous synchronized aerial display from a swarm of Tiger Moths. This was followed by flypasts from a Hawker Hurricane, Spitfire and a very impressive mock dogfight complete with anti-aircraft fire and smoke.

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Supermarine Spitfire mkIX doing final checks before takeoff
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Chap on his smart phone while driving a 1901 Toledo!

Full access to the paddock was also granted, giving the chance get up close and personal with the cars. A feast of automobiles ranging from very early veteran cars like a 1901 Toledo through to iconic 1950s racers were lined up ready for action. Action that came in the form of a makeshift track surrounded by hay bales. Each car screeched off the line one at a time, pounding around the figure of 8 to the cheers of onlookers. Commentators

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A 1937 Frazer-Nash BMW powers away from the line

housed in the original 1934 watchtower competed with untamed engine roar, trying to guide the uninitiated through each vehicles’ merits.

Before heading off Dot fancied a go in the miniature aeroplanes provided by the Joystick club. 50p secured her some bright yellow wings. She pedaled around in a circle for while making her best engines noises while we tried to ignore the swastikas on the side of the plane!

I came away eager to write up the event and spread the word, my only regret being that I didn’t take more photos. But I will return, you can count on that!

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The lost art of the family picnic

So the conversation might go a little something like this..

“Darling?”
“Yes dear”
“You’re not working this weekend are you darling?”
“No dear”
“Why don’t we go out for a picnic on Sunday? You know how much Dorothy loves to dine alfresco, and I’m worried about Beatrice, she spends far too much time playing in the nursery with that penguin”
“Do we have scotch eggs and ginger beer?”
“I think so darling”
“Sterling idea then dear. We could take the Daimler, head over to that old trust place near Leominster”.

And of course one expects the outing to look a little like this…
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Unfortunately the reality is usually a far more harrowing experience. Half empty pom bear packets flying off in the breeze, leaking bottles of fruit juice reducing the sandwiches to a heavy playdoh like consistency, dairylea triangles & half eaten cherry tomatoes as unwanted cushions, and melted wrapper clinging kit-kats all take the edge off the enjoyment. In fact here I am.. drinking supermarket own brand chocolate milk direct from the bottle, surround by a mountain of filth. Oh the shame! Even Dorothy looks embarrassed to be photographed in such depravity! 2016-03-17 13.10.55

This is clearly unacceptable and can’t go on, so this summer I’ve called time on 21st century nastiness ruining these otherwise enjoyable days out. All food must be removed from their wrappers at home and placed in suitably chintzy Tupperware containers, drinks should be served in a suitable breaker and poured ideally from an attractive glass bottle, napkins will be used rather than baby wipes, chairs and possibly even a folding table with decorated cloth will be required. Cutlery? I should jolly well hope so! To top this all off the most important addition will be a portable gramaphone. Preferably blasting out a pre-war recording of the teddy bears picnic or similar.
Only once these rules are abided by will I be able to sit back in my picnic chair, cucumber sandwich in one hand, cup of tea in the other and say..

“oh how lucky are we to be out here soaking up the treasures that only our green and pleasant land can provide. England how thee warms my soul…”
“daddy?”
“what is it sweetheart, are you have a wonderful time?”
“daddy, I need a poo!”
“greeeeaaat”

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Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Airports

hollywoodEver feel like you want to escape from the modern world with its never ending stream of deeply worrying problems? Fancy a bit of head in the sand action for an hour or so? Well should you ever find yourself in the settlement of Beaconsfield, as I did recently, you can do just that by purchasing a ticket to Bekonscot model village. Originally created in the 1920s by Roland Callingham in his back garden as a labour of love, this fictional land has become one of the country’s most popular model villages.site

The ‘village’ (which is actually made up of 6) is a beautifully landscaped 1.5 acre plot set out with rolling hills, mountains, rivers, lakes and beaches. Railway lines a-plenty wind
theirtrains way around the site with miniature trains howling out of tunnels and pounding across bridges just as they would have done in the golden age of steam. To quote their website, ‘There are more than 200 buildings, 3,000 inhabitants, 1,000 animals, hundreds of vehicles and many models move right before your eyes’.

The architecture, as you might expect, includes houses, churches, castles, farms, schools, hoovershops , a windmill and colleges. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.. we also have London
Zoo (with iconic penguin pool), a cement works, a circus, Royal Ascot, Brighton pier, a cattle market, a coal mine and an oil refinery all stuck in a 1930s timewarp. As if all this wasn’t enough, I was hopping around like an excited child by the unexpected appearances of some interwar modernist buildings:hanton2 Hanton airport (modelled on Shoreham maybe?), a little art deco bungalow, and as part of a brand new unfinished section, The Hoover factory in London.

In essence, I loved it! When can I go back?!

PS – it’s worth adding that it’s also got a fantastic play park.. should your children be less than excited by model Hoover buildings!

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