Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The US Navy at Dunkeswell

That's a US aeroplane - a B-24 Liberator - bombing a German U-boat late in the Second World War. It's a magazine illustration of a painting probably based on an actual photograph, such as this one:

And those are my fingers. I was looking through an 'official' scrapbook in Dunkeswell church, deep in the east Devon countryside, but situated in a high plateau well-suited to the building of wartime airfields. Here's a map:

As you can see, the original village of Dunkeswell (where the church is) is in a valley between the airfield (just to the west) and a housing development (a little to the south) which one might call 'Modern Dunkeswell'. Modern Dunkeswell consists mostly the type of housing you see around RAF bases. The heart of it must originally have been built for wartime service personnel, but it had clearly expanded in the decades since. It had an incongruous urban atmosphere, as if it were a suburb of Exeter, and not an island of recent housing miles from anywhere. I had a look at it, partly because of a brown tourist-type sign pointing the way to The Viceroy Restaurant. It seemed an unlikely spot for a posh-sounding eating-place worth its own road sign. It turned out to be an ordinary-looking Indian restaurant, occupying one of the units in a parade of modern shops at the very centre of the housing development. It was the kind of charmless local parade that you might find in any city suburb. I shuddered and didn't linger.

I next went to the airfield, still in commercial use, and nowadays the local centre for a cluster of specialist businesses. Its history is here: The Air Museum and the CafĂ© looked worth investigation, but I really wanted to see the old village and the church, and so just drove around a bit, then moved on.

Old Dunkeswell, down in its valley, was much more traditional. I parked near the church. I suspected that inside would be some memorials to wartime events. I wasn't wrong. And I had the place entirely to myself.

All very neat and well-kept, as if often visited by non-locals. Ah, there was an American flag.

Although originally an RAF airfield, Dunkeswell was handed over first to the US Army Air Force, and then to the US Navy, both of whom operated anti-submarine air patrols from here. There were many casualties, and the church would have become a place of pilgrimage for their wives, sons and daughters, and for the contemporary aircrew who knew them. Sure enough, there was a big brass plaque with a lot of names on it:

Extraordinarily sad, when you really think about it. Each name meant a dreaded official telegram, an awkward letter of condolence from the commanding officer, a world of grief and loss that could never be undone or put right or smoothed over, whether parent or wife or child. And in some cases, of course, a sudden descent into impoverishment.

There was an official metal-covered scrapbook, much handled:

It was full of stuff about the B-24 Liberators, and the men who flew them.

Some visitors, former aircrew I'm guessing, had added their own valedictionary notes:

Ignore the evidence of poor schooling. This was from the heart, from one who had made the pilgrimage.

There were photographs on the wall of the church, showing US Navy personnel at the church on a ceremonial occasion (sorry for the unavoidable reflections):

What was this? The Union Jack with the flag of Ontario, in Canada.

It was those Simcoes again! (See my recent post on Wolford Chapel)

And there were other things on the walls that caught my eye. A brass plaque in memory of Henry Ezard, who died in 1863, clearly a devout man who did not fear death:

There was also an embroidered Parish Map of Dunkeswell and the surrounding countryside, with every place of local interest on it, made in the year 1995:

I wonder why the good ladies who made this didn't hang on until Millennium Year, the year 2000?

But I came back again to the scrapbook and its sad lists, each a tale of wartime loss. I am not a pacifist. I believe in standing up to bullies - whether individuals or regimes - as soon as they flex their muscles, and not in placating them. So some wars do have to be fought. And that means death and devastation. And I think it's a moral cop-out to let aggression go unchecked on the basis that all human life is sacrosanct. I hope that, if ever the decision to wage a justified war rested with me, I wouldn't shirk the responsibility that I'd have to face. But, like many before me, I'd be giving the necessary orders with a grim face and a heavy heart.  

Monday, 24 April 2017

The deed is done (and I shall have fun)

Well, a few hours ago I went ahead and ordered a new smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy S8+. As of today, it's not yet generally launched in the UK. That will happen on Friday 28th April. I've got my order in ahead of time, so that delivery ought to be on launch day itself.

It's become urgent to replace my existing smartphone, Demelza, an S5 bought in 2014, because the poor thing's internal memory is nearly full up. I could with care eke it out for a few months more, but the position would become critical by the end of the year. So an upgrade is a Good Thing.

I'm not having the black version of the S8+: that looks way too sepulchral, making the phone look like a very anonymous dark shiny slab. I'm having it in the other colour, 'Orchid Gray', which is a nice grey, with a hint of lilac.

However, I hope this lighter colour isn't too pretty. It has anyway influenced my choice of name for this phone. I had been considering a range of serious girls' names, all names with a suggestion of gravitas. Martha had for days been the front runner. But now it's going to be Tigerlily. She is the Chinese girl friend of Rupert Bear, whose father is the Conjurer, and here she is in these cartoon frames from the 1958 Rupert Bear Annual:

I think you'll grant that lilac features strongly in her outfits. And that, like her father, she has a certain gravitas. Amazing that (according to the Rupert Bear Annual anyway) Chinese persons once dressed in robes like those, and made a point of bowing to each other at every opportunity. It would be nice if they did so again, wouldn't it? Just as it would be nice if Regency garb came back into fashion, and we all dressed, spoke and behaved like characters in a Jane Austen novel. Hey ho.

Back to the twenty-first century. Let's cut to the chase. What's the cost of my new device? I'll tell 'ee no lies. I don't presently have the cash for an outright purchase, so I'm getting Tigerlily on a two-year contract with Vodafone. It's certainly not the cheapest deal out there, but I wanted to stay with Vodafone and not spin off to a reseller. Well then, it's £60 a month. But for that enormous sum I do get, straight away:

# The best (and largest?) smartphone currently available - with a screen the size of a little TV.
# A bundle that includes 16GB per month of mobile data, perfect for Internet usage on my caravan holidays. (With of course unlimited calls and texts, and free roaming if I go abroad)
# 64GB of internal storage - vital for all my Ordnance Survey mapping.
# The ability to install up to 256GB of external storage (on a microSD card) - vital for all my photos and my mp3 music collection.

Specificationwise, the S8+ is exactly what I was waiting for. And with two months of summer and early-autumn caravanning still to come, I thought it better to get this phone now, and not wait until October, the earliest month in which I could easily find the cash needed for an outright purchase.

Trust me, the figures do work out surprisingly well. That £60 covers both the device and the data/calls/texts bundle. Vodafone's nearest-equivalent 16GB SIM-only deal is currently £19 per month. So I'm actually paying 'only' £41 a month for the phone itself. That's a total of £984 for it, spread over two years. The current price to buy it outright (at John Lewis, say) is £779. So you could say it's £984 to have it now, as opposed to £779 to have it later on - perhaps six months later on. To me, it's well worth the difference of £205 to enjoy the advantages of this phone in April, and get it set up for the entire summer ahead.

At the moment, I'm paying £17 a month to Vodafone on a SIM-only deal: so I now have to find an extra £43 each month for the next two years. After that, I'll revert to SIM-only again for a further two years. I can easily find the money - I just reduce my monthly savings by £43. I actually end up with more in my savings account at the end of 2017 than I'd planned, because although I'll be saving a little less per month, I won't have to withdraw £779 from the account for a new phone in October. And I can fill the coffers a little by selling Demelza for recycling - she's still in top working condition, and it seems I can get £50 to £55 for her. Worth looking into.

So, there you are. I spent big money on a new camera in 2015, a new laptop in 2016, and now there's a new phone in 2017. But I intend no more such purchases for the next four years. I can let funds accumulate, and hopefully afford some really super holidays in due course.

Did I mention setting Tigerlily up? That'll be quite a task! It'll be like setting up a new computer. Careful planning will be needed to transfer everything from the old phone to the new one. Some stuff (everything connected with my Google or Dropbox accounts, for instance) is up in the cloud, and will just magically appear on the new phone soon after firing up the relevant apps. There will be no problem with anything (such as music and photos) on the existing microSD card, which I simply insert. If necessary, some items can be transferred by cable, via my laptop.

But at the moment I'm not sure how I'm going to avoid having to re-create all my to-do lists. And believe me, there are a lot of them. Sigh.

Friday, 21 April 2017

A little bit of Canada in Devon

For a long time I was intrigued by a sign to Wolford Chapel when joining or leaving the A30 at Honiton, especially as next to the name on the sign was a small Canadian flag. 'Ah,' I'd think, 'this must be where Canadian aircrew worshipped in the Second World War, when based at one of the airfields in the hills to the north. It'll now be a place of pilgrimage for a dwindling number of old-timers, and the younger generations who might come.' Apparently nothing to do with me. But all kinds of things arouse my curiosity, and I made a mental note to go and see the chapel one day. Service life during the War has always had a strange hold on my imagination. Besides, all of us in Britain owe so much to the efforts (and sacrifices) of the men who came over to this country, and ensured that the Allies would win. I saw no issue in seeking out the Chapel, even if I wasn't a Canadian, and respectfully having a look.

That day came on 23rd March, four weeks ago. The weather was dull, but at least it was dry. A good day for exploring country lanes.

The Chapel was off the Honiton-Dunkeswell road, a bit short of Dunkeswell itself, as can be seen from this location map. The Chapel is the small cross in the loop road for the Wolford Lodge residences:

It's a very peaceful spot. There is space for two or three parked cars, and space to turn round. But you couldn't take a coach down the track that leads to the Chapel. So it never has to cope with a crowd. The site is well looked after, and there must be an active local custodian who sees to it that all is kept neat and tidy, and that the Canadian flag outside flutters freely and proudly.

The notice board referred to John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Canada, a name I instantly recalled, for less than one year previously I had seen and photographed a marble memorial to him in Exeter Cathedral:

So the Chapel was on the former Simcoe Estate. And all around the outside base of the building were headstones for various members of the Simcoe family. This is where they had all once worshipped. What lay within? The door was unlocked.

An intimate space, somewhat sombre on this overcast day, but not damp or musty-smelling. Clearly one was meant to look around and study the memorials and pictures on the walls. There was a strong Canadian flavour to it all.

Here was The Man, with hair distinctly more dishevelled than in the marble memorial in the cathedral:

Even so, I'd say the marble memorial was based on this portrait. There were several things to read about his life, and the Chapel itself.

There was a 1966 photo of the Canadian Prime Minister accepting the gift of the Chapel to Canada, so that its site in Devon would forever be a part of Ontario.

All of them, naturally, men in suits and ties - with handkerchiefs in each breast pocket! (Well, it was fifty-one years ago)

The Visitors' Book revealed that there was, even in March, a steady stream of people coming to see the Chapel. I added myself.

I couldn't help feeling that the place deserved great solemnity, and the selfie above shows that I gave it. This was, after all, Canadian national territory. I was representing Britain, practically on a solo diplomatic mission by just standing there. I didn't want the local custodian catching me doing frivolous things.

So much, however, for my earlier notion that this was the place where former aircrew came back to, to remember their wartime comrades in arms! But the next post will deal with just such a place, a mile up the road at Dunkeswell.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Tattoo You

Until very recently, tattoos were no part of my life. Well, in strictness, they still aren't - I haven't had one put on while on holiday recently! But I am now much more aware of what tattoos are all about, and of their artistic appeal. This is thanks to an exhibition at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall at Falmouth, which I went to on 30th March, soon after it opened. It will run until January 2018, so, if you are in Cornwall for any reason between now and then, do make a point of seeing it.

I will confess that I saw the exhibition entirely by accident. I was in Falmouth for a few hours, planning only to walk around the town. I'd parked near Falmouth Town station - where you can find a free space in the street quite easily -  and had walked the short distance to Falmouth Docks station before turning towards the town centre, which took me past the redeveloped part of the waterfront. I hadn't even been aware that the Museum was there, but I spotted it, and it was advertising two concurrent exhibitions:

The one dealing with Captain Bligh of  'Mutiny on the Bounty' infamy especially caught my eye, and it made me venture inside. It even made me stump up £12.95 for admission. That's a lot. And there was no age concession available. But it was explained to me that my ticket lasted for a year, and I could return as often as I pleased for the next twelve months. Hmph - fat chance of taking advantage of that! But I like maritime museums, and did want to learn more about Captain Bligh, and my holiday budget was in great shape: I could easily afford it. So I got my ticket and went in.

And indeed, I was glad I'd paid for admission, because the Captain Bligh story was eye-opening, and filled me with unexpected admiration for his clear view of duty, his leadership qualities, and his amazing seamanship. Forget the film portrayals. I don't say he came across as a man you'd personally like, and anyone who found him prim or frustrating or stubborn might have ample grounds for that judgement; but he was not a mere bully, nor a spiteful martinet. He had a later career full of achievement. Surprisingly, he died aged only sixty-three: I'd already outlived him by two years, and without much special effort. Perhaps the epic open-boat voyage he had to make with his loyal crew members following the mutiny had fatally undermined his long-term health. A replica of that boat was on display, and it was very small for a long slow voyage on starvation rations.

Enthralling though the Bligh exhibition was, I couldn't help noticing the adjoining entrance to the tattoo exhibition. Initially I'd decided to ignore it entirely, as I just wasn't interested. But it sort of drew me in. I wasn't sure what I'd see.


Well. A tattoo for every forearm. In fact, an almost overwhelming display of forearm tattoos. And a creepy one, too, because those silicone rubber arms and hands looked so lifelike, as if taken from casts of real flesh. Indeed, at a quick glance, it looked like a collection of severed limbs, with groping fingers. Brrrr.

The creepiness was most acute in the case of two entire arms that looked, even close up, exactly like two real arms neatly and freshly sliced off, and stuck up for display. (Why was no blood dripping?)

The quality of the art was however beyond dispute. These were surely at the very top end of what you might get if seeking a tattoo. And for the most part, the designs and their very skillful execution compelled admiration. My little camera grew hot from snapping this clearly major exhibition.

There was plenty of information and explanation about the origins of tattooing in various parts of the world, its cultural significance, and the innovative things that had been happening to tattooing in modern times.

By the time one had studied all of this, there was a definite notion implanted that wearing a tattoo, a modern-style one at any rate, might be a very cool thing. Anyone susceptible to suggestion would surely look for a tattoo shop afterwards without delay, and make serious enquiries. I didn't. But I'm sure that a dozen or more visitors every week must be inspired by what they see, and end up with a tattoo of their own, men and women both - for clearly this is now something for both sexes to consider. And it need not be on open display. The photo at the top of this post shows a take on a 'traditional' naval tattoo, and it's on the upper thigh of a young woman called Derryth Ridge, who helped to put the exhibition together. Here it is again: 

She says she loves it. But it's normally hidden under her jeans or skirt, and therefore remains discreet. 

It strikes me that if you had a birth mark, or a skin blemish, you could hide it with a tattoo. So the thing could be useful, as well as making a statement.

So why haven't I whizzed down to Brighton - a wonderful place to find a tattoo shop, incidentally - and arranged to have a personal tattoo? Well, there are several reasons. One: I don't come from a background in which tattoos are usual. I'm predisposed to thinking that tattoos are not for me. Two: if everyone is having them, then I want to be different and not have one. I don't follow the herd. Three: it would hurt. Four: a really nice one would cost a lot. Five: what in any case would I want tattooed on me, and where? An arrow, with THIS SIDE UP next to it? A heart, with I LOVE FIONA on it? A skull, with I'M AN OLD AGE PENSIONER over it? It's so very difficult to decide.

But don't let me stop you. If you want to have a tattoo, go to it.