Yes, another trip to India.

We are off to India soon. This will be the third (and maybe the last) time we visit this wonderful country. This time we are going to McLeod Ganj in Himachel Pradesh Via Delhi of course. and thence on to Southern and Eastern India. We haven’t decided where yet, or even where we are flying out of to come home. 

We travelled for 2 months in 2014 only making scant bookings before we left and we propose to do the same again; this time for just a month but only in India instead of the host of countries we visited last year. It will give us a bit more focus we think and although we intend to take some flights we wont be spending quite so much time in the air as we did during twenty or so flights we took last year.

India is breathtaking in so many ways; crowds, traffic, colour, beggars, amazing architecture, history, wonderful forts and palaces and of course the utter charm of its people.

The photograph below says it all for me. It was taken in a fort in Jaipur, Rajasthan. I have this as a screen saver. It’s not meant to be any sort of artistic picture it just captures the place, time and feel of India. The elephants. The colours of the dresses. The haphazardness of the country – a motorbike riding through the courtyard –  and if you take a look at the background… that’s the perimeter wall of the fort, stretching for miles up and down crazy inclines. And all the stone was hewn, dressed, carried and laid by hand. There are many, many such forts and palaces. Imagine the effort, the labour and wonder why India never ruled the world.  And to give you some idea of scale the top of the walls are large enough for a chariot pulled by 4 horses to pass along. As I say breathtaking.

Fort and palace. Jaipur, India.

Fort and palace. Jaipur, India. (Click image to enlarge)

If you haven’t been to India then go… it should be top of anybody’s  bucket list. It will change your perspective on life. It did mine. And of course the food is great.

Goodbye to Birmingham’s Brutalist Library.

I’m a Brummie. My Birmingham roots go back to the agricultural labourers and immigrants who came to build Birmingham, and thus the Empire, back in Victorian times.

When I left school in the early 60’s I did my bit too on building the city, working as I did on many structures in and around the city first as a novice Quantity Surveyor then as a site engineer. My claim to fame, if it can be said as such, is I was the engineer who set out the first metric houses in Great Britain on area 13 of Chelmsley Wood. There’s an irony. Those were the very woods I played in as a child. Ripped down for houses.

I left there many years ago. Nevertheless when I return, as I do on occasion, it still feels like home. The accent, and indeed the dialect, which grates on many people is the accent of my youth, my mother and father and all that went before them. It’s as familiar and beloved to me as it’s possible to be.

The city has undergone massive change. Some of it not for the good. And now it’s changing again with the alterations and improvements to New St Station, the relatively recent alterations to the Bull Ring  ( I remember the old Market Hall being there), the developments along Broad St., to name but a few and now the demolition of the Central Reference Library. I saw a good deal of the city razed to the ground during the 60’s. Such is the pace of change, and even re-change here that  one building I worked on during the great freeze of 1963, a depot for public works department, has since been ripped down itself as part of the development for the new science museum etc. One more irony ; whilst doing some family history research  I  discovered  my great grtandfather lived in one of the roads cleared for the new construction I worked on in Curzon St. Small world.

I shall miss the library, this piece of brutalist architecture which I have always referred to as the upside down ziggurat. I loved it. And I was often in there. My ex father in law, long since dead, was a Belgian, ex Foreign Legion soldier who became a security guard there. Some of his stories…

And now it’s going so this is my “Good Bye” to this old friend. Sometimes hated. Sometimes loved but always striking.



There’s no choice. They’re all the same.

The General Election’s coming. 7th May 2015.

Talking of your ability to choose I can hear you say “There’s no choice as they’re all the bloody same!”

Well in some ways yes. It’s a given. Politicians in general are shits. Local and national the story is the same. I think it was Connelly who said something along the lines of:-

“never trust anybody who puts themselves up for election. The very act of doing so should rule them out”.

If Connelly didn’t  say it then he should have.

So where do we place our mark in the coming elections as every party has screwed up or will screw up?  Every party will do something we don’t like. It just stands to reason.

Perhaps we have to look at the underlying ethos. Just who is it the party is working for? Not who they “say” they are working for but who is it that really benefits when they are in power?

When we identify the direction, the thrust, of their policies and establish  who it is that benefits from those polices we can make a balanced decision. Balanced in that; yes they may have a public school multi millionaire as a leader, yes that leader my be a muppet, yes that leader may look like a Wallace and Grommit puppet, yes some policies may seem extreme and not in line with what you, the individual, desire – but balanced, in that despite these out of kilter elements the general thrust of the party of your choice is they are going somewhere you want to go?

I consider myself to be the man on the Clapham Omnibus, Mr Average in my thinking. So where would I put my cross on the ballot sheet.

First, like many people, I’m sick of them all.

I’m sick of the rabid left.

I’m sick of any tiny minority inflicting it’s views on the overwhelming majority and I don’t want chickens to get the vote or something equally bizarre.

I’m sick of self seeking Tories and their W***er Banker chums. 

I’m sick of being one of the little people who buys these buggers out of the terrible mess they jointly landed us in. 

I’m sick of the privilege enjoyed by some politicians whilst inflicting painful cuts to deserving people, the old and infirm in particular. I’ve seen for myself that privilege operating whilst working with and watching the shenanigans of some local Cllrs at County level. And it’s time it stopped. b.t.w. it wasn’t just the Tory Cllrs. Other Cllrs of other political persuasions had similar attitudes.

I’m sick of the spin and generation of propaganda  by, and on behalf of, those in power. Take the Blair government at national level as example. And lets not forget our Current Prime Minister was employed as a spin doctor himself. The electorate are bamboozled into whatever direction the spinners wish us to move. In Blairs case into a war which benefitted only the warmongers. And he hasn’t done so badly out of it either.

The influence these spinners and propagandists have at national and local level  works entirely contrary to the benefit of the electorate.

These PR or Comms departments are there solely (despite what they may argue ) to protect those  who employ them. The politicians, usually the leader. These eminence grise, these familiars and greymalkins are employed by their masters, at our expense, to ensure we do not discover the reality. In effect WE pay them to keep us in the dark. And during all these savage cuts which departments are unaffected? Those which control what we are told. The PR and Comms departments.

So it’s all a sordid and bloody mess. But vote we must. We have to plump for some party or another or else, as Plato warns :-

“The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”

But have a care. Sometimes you vote in those evil men.

I have disagreed with just about every party manifesto and election babble I have ever seen or heard but this time I’m vote according to the thrust, the direction of travel, the underlying ethos of the founding fathers of the parties. But, more importantly, I’m voting in accordance with a peculiar and entirely personal method of appraisal.  If I were to go into segregated rooms full of members from  a single  party which room would I think of as being predominantly consisting of ‘up themselves’ w***ers? And it’s them I  wouldn’t vote for. I know it’s a coarse method of assessment but It’ll work for me.

You may like to read this…   I know it’s flawed and maybe even biased but it does make you think. Does it indicate an underlying ethos for each group? And do the cock ups along the way negate what’s been done? I don’t know but I intend to be better informed for this election than ones in the past. And this helps.

Temple of Relief

A ‘temple of relief’ pictured in Birmingham the 70’s. And a similar, though a more  grand affair, under the railway arches near to the Bull Ring. I think this has been bricked up now


I must put this down…

"M's" mother - Annie's  -Grave. Buried with her husband and some of his family.

“M’s” mother – Annie’s -Grave. Buried with her husband and some of his family.

I’ve been immersed of late in another search into the past. Sue’s aunt by marriage, “aunt M”, now 83, was adopted as a baby. All we knew was her mothers name and the fact that she had returned from Canada when aunt M was just 3 months old.

The ultimate, long stretch objective was to discover who aunt M’s father was. People in the family, particularly aunt M’s grandson, wanted to know where they came from.We started the search with just a name, Annie Martin, and a simple fact: ‘aunt M and her mother came back from Canada in 1930′ From that simple beginning we discovered a tale uncovering:-

  • a family of miners and domestics from North Wales some of whom moved to Durham,
  • relatives going back to the mid 1700’s,
  • a millionaire umbrella manufacturer from Manchester,
  • a 70+ man taking advantaged of his domestic servant and fathering 3 children with her, one of whom was aunt M’s mother,
  • disappearing money  and property equivalent to over a Million pounds today,
  • a peep behind the curtains of life in a Victorian seaside town,
  • family emigration to Canada,
  • the effects the great depression of the 30’s made on the family,
  • a widow who did well for herself and her family in Toronto, Canada,
  • the internal migration of a Cornish family to booming Manchester of the 1800’s,
  • love and loss in Lancashire,
  • aunt M’s mother marrying and having 2 children – aunt M’s half sisters,
  • lifelong spinster and bachelor-hood in Lancashire,
  • a brace or more of illegitimate children,
  • adoption out of the family and inwards too,
  • and finally, at the end of the line, bureaucratic difficulties surrounding aunt M’s mother’s grave .

We finally found aunt M’s mother, deceased of course but we also found aunt M had 2 half sisters both sadly dead. The last one, “J” , only passed away in November 2013. At the time she was looking into her family history too. It’s a tragedy we didn’t start this earlier.

Aunt M also had 2 uncles she knew nothing about. We revealed their lives in Canada and discovered one returning back in the UK and making a life in the Greater London area.

But best of all we discovered the best friend and end of life carer of aunt M’s half sister J. We travelled to the coast in Lancashire to meet her . We returned with a suitcase full of letters and pictures including some of aunt M’s mother. We also found aunt M’s mother’s grave.

Sadly we never found any sign of aunt M’s father; not even gossip. Perhaps we never will but the secret is out there in Canada somewhere. Maybe he will come to light.

We have a couple of research “hooks” dragging in the Canadian ancestry waters  hoping for a bite and we have a lead on a possible ‘living’ relative of one of aunt M’s newly discovered  uncles. So the search is not totally closed. It’s now more wait and see.

Update 9th Feb 2014.
We have now discovered a living cousin of aunt M. He lives alone in London. He has shone a light into the past showing stories of his dad, a jockey, riding horses and winning races in Canada, America and France. Stories of how a solicitor committed fraud against the family cheating them out of their inheritance and being jailed for it. And he has sent lots of pictures, some from Canada.

This research has been an adventure. One which has captivated, consumed even,  for over a month and one which must now be put down.

Incomparable? I don’t think so.

careI saw on the news this morning (BBC Breakfast 4.11.2013) Councils pay care organisations less than £15.00* per hour to look after our old and vulnerable – one reportedly as low as £9.00. This sort of care is now outsourced to private companies as most Local Councils do not carry out this function. Neither does the NHS. The figure is meant to cover the cost of the care-worker, mileage and overheads etc. The rate is so low some care agencies are refusing to take contracts from certain local authorities.

In other instances I have seen reported recently these same agencies are passing on their pain to the care-workers ( in order to try to make a profit no doubt) by giving them 15 minute slots at clients house – that’s 4 an hour. Sometimes these slots are reportedly 20 minute driving distance apart.So it’s just impossible.

You have to ask yourself just how much “care” can be delivered by such a care-worker during those visits of 15 minutes or shorter.

Hmmm. By comparison: how much are lawyers paid per hour for delivering legal aid would you think? Perhaps someone could tell us.

Ask yourself if money spent on people who have, or may have, committed a crime and are therefore antisocial by definition should be more than that which is spent on people who have given so much to society in the way of taxes, work effort and even fought for the country’s freedom. (forgive the sweeping generalisation here but you get the point).

And please don’t argue the legal system is expensive. Whose fault would that be if it isn’t the legal system itself with all it’s archaic practices and self aggrandisement?

Just in case you are interested: there is a 108 page document here on how Lawyers should charge their legal aid work.

If only the government considered the care of our old and infirm with such a prescriptive, careful and comprehensive document instead of passing it off to Local Government who are… well that’s another story.

On the 11th of this month we remember those who gave their lives for this country during wars. We should care for those who survived too.

* £15.00 or thereabouts was considered the actual cost by one of the people interviewed in the piece. Seemingly most are well below that.

Britain’s first metric houses… well sort of.

Back in the early 70’s Britain went metric. Feet,inches and yards based on a root of 12 were thrown out in favour of the metric system of millimetres and metres rooted in units of 10, 100 and 1000.

Metrication swept aside Gunter’s Chain – yes the measure called a “chain” was actually a physical chain measuring 66ft (there were 80 such in a mile) and yes we did have to measure land area with this when I first started land surveying (if you didn’t know this is the measurement between the stumps at either end of a cricket pitch but I digress). Gunter’s chain was developed in 1620 remaining in use until metrication.

In his book “Measuring a meridian” first published in 1874 – Jules Verne describes the exploits of a group of men who were measuring a meridian in South Africa. A meridian is an imaginary line, a great circle, running through both poles around the earth. Famously the 0deg (longitude) meridian runs through Greenwich in London from which all time is measured.
In this book Verne writes of men struggling with keeping the chain horizontal and constantly measuring the temperature to take into account the expansion of the chain – it was afterall metal and would expand and vary, thereby making the measurements in error as compound measurements were taken.

This archaic and yes, quirky and vaguely romantic form of measurement was swept aside with metrication. In those heady days of the 70’s Gunter’s chain was replaced with steel or even fibreglass reinforced plastic 30 metre tapes, or they would have been had we have had any.

In the early 70’s, I can’t remember the exact year but I think 72, 73, I worked for C.Bryant and sons (Bryants) building and civil engineering contractors of Birmingham. Bryants had been awarded the contract for part of the huge “Chelmsley Wood” housing area to the South East of Birmingham near to Marston Green.

In my youth Chelmsley Woods were exactly that, woods, with blue bells amongst the trees in the spring and wonderful rhododendrons.The area also included large swathes of farm land heading over towards Water Orton, Castle Bromwich and Coleshill.

The ensuing mega-estate was divided up into a number of areas and each of those into sub areas. And I was working on Area 13a abutting the M6, which was being built at the time.There were about 1000 houses in this section alone. One block of which was destined to be constructed using a metric system. And the task befell me, as one of the handful of engineers on the site, to set out this particular block.

I asked for a metric tape but there were none thus the dimensions of the metric block were converted to ‘Imperial Feet and Inches’ and set out using an imperial tape. The block was positioned in virgin farmland measuring in imperial dimensions in order to do so. The levels of the block were all calculated and put in using a level and an Imperial staff.

We were told this was the first metric block of houses in Great Britain. I have no doubt the final precast concrete structure, called “System 4 Metric”, was constructed in metric using metric tapes and rules but the foundations were solidly imperial, or at least converted to be so.

A great fuss was made over the launch of this block of houses. The City Architect, Alan Maudsley (later to be arrested and charged with corruption for his dealing with other architects and contractors) arrived on site with a bus load of folks from the City Architects department. Alderman Beaumont-Dark, later Sir Anthony Beaumont-Dark* (died 2006), a stock broker, MP and former Birmingham City Councillor was also present. He ceremonially buried an imperial measuring staff (used by me) into the foundations of this block before the superstructure started. Chris Bryant, the managing director of C.Bryant and Sons was also there. (Chris Bryant went on trial at the Old Bailey denying two counts of plotting to bribe Maudsley.)

In the foreground George Tilbrook (in the lighter suit) is being spoken to by the City Architect. Alan Maudsley.

In the foreground George Tilbrook (in the lighter suit) is being spoken to by the City Architect. Alan Maudsley.

Cllr Beaumont-Dark laying the imperial measuring staff into the foundations of the first metric houses in Great Britain.

Cllr Beaumont-Dark laying the imperial measuring staff into the foundations of the first metric houses in Great Britain.

Cllr Beaumont-Dark putting the finishing touches to the slab after burying the imperial staff.

Cllr Beaumont-Dark putting the finishing touches to the slab after burying the imperial staff.

2nd left George Tilbrook site manager/agent. 3rd left Allan Senior Engineer from Scunthorpe. 4th Chris Higgins engineer from Evesham. 5th left Ernie Harris engineer from Walsall way. The remainder are groundwork crew including shuttering carpenters. The Man with the staff is Joe from Norther Ireland. He was my chain man. I was the engineer on the block and the photographer

2nd left George Tilbrook site manager/agent.
3rd left Allan Senior Engineer from Scunthorpe.
4th Chris Higgins engineer from Evesham.
5th left Ernie Harris engineer from Walsall way.
The remainder are groundwork crew including shuttering carpenters.
The Man with the staff is Joe from Norther Ireland. He was my chain man.
I was the engineer on the block and the photographer

It was a sordid time for the construction industry in Birmingham, but through it all houses were built and the industry appeared to be booming in and around the city.

You can see the layout of the houses drawn onto the ground floor slab and the re-finished part of the slab where the staff was buried.

A lot of the names have gone from my memory after these years. But George Tillbrook was the site manager. At the time he live in Nuneaton. Allan was the senior Engineers who came from Scunthorpe. Chris Higgins was part of the engineering team ( He was from near Evesham).Ernie Harris was also an engineer on site. My Chain-man – the engineers assistant – was called Joe and he came from Northern Ireland.

Sadly I’m not on any of these pictures as I was the photographer. My car is though. It’s the white VW Beetle in the first picture.

In passing. We, the technicians and tradesmen who turned all of this into reality were invisible to this motley crew. I remember not one comment made to me or my colleagues from anybody on that day.And certainly no recognition for suffering the interminable mud and bitter cold and rain in which we worked. Such is the lot of the working man I suppose.

There is a certain Schadenfreude in knowing what we now know. We may have been cold and wet at times but it was more than compensated by the glorious summer mornings, even the crisp winter days and we were free of the corruption surrounding the construction industry in those days.

The row of metric houses taken recently

The row of metric houses taken recently

The block of houses pictured recently. There is no sign of anything indicating the importance of this humble row of houses. Hopefully that may change.

*Further ignominy…This year -2013 – Sir Anthony’s son, Nicholas Beaumont-Dark, was given a 12 month sentence for downloading child porn.