Microlight – the trial

Friday 11th July

30 years ago I had a trial flight in a Microlight having seen one on the TV. It was brilliant. Total freedom in an aircraft that could take off and land on any reasonably flat piece of ground. Unfortunately my finances at the time meant that it wasn’t possible to take the adventure any further. The trial flight was the only flight.

That was until today.

Over the intervening years l have been lucky enough to fly several fixed wing light aircraft, I have even had a go at flying a helicopter, but nothing has come close to my memory of the complete sense of freedom that the Microlight afforded. You are open to the elements sitting in a simple trike with a hang glider wing and a lawn mower engine keeping you in the air. Ok so the technology is somewhat better than that, but in aircraft terms it is as simple as it comes.

The flying school I chose is on the outskirts of Lichfield. When I arrived I was met by the owner Mick Shea who spent some time talking me through microlighting and how the days session would pan out. Then we got kitted up and it was time to fly.

We were in the air for forty minutes during which time I got a chance to take the controls. This is when you realise flying, even in its simplest form, takes a lot of skill and practice. I intended taking a few photo’s while in the air; well maybe next time.

Generally the flight was as goods as I remembered even if I did get unnerved a few times by the lumps and bumps that the air currents dished out. Afterwards Mick and I spent some time discussing what it takes to get a license and what the flying school could offer and how it operated. Before I left I also had the chance to have a chat with Steve who was part way through his training; this was a great opportunity to get another view of the school; training and a few points that I was still a little unsure about.

My first proper lesson is booked for Sunday 20th July.

Interesting links:


Watchmen @ Hughenden Manor

2014-07-09 20.08.57During World War II many of the countries great houses played their part in the defence of the nation and the liberation of Europe.

Hughenden Manor, found in the chiltern hills just outside the Buckinghamshire town of High Wycombe, was just such a house. Known best as the home of Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, during the war it was given the code name “Hillside” and used by the Air Ministry to analyse aerial photographs and create maps for bombing missions including the “Dambusters” raid undertaken by the now famous 617 Squadron.

In order to commemorate 70 years since D-Day a series of sculptures have been carved out of wood taken from the manors parkland and placed back into its original surroundings. A notice placed near the car park explains the background to the Watchmen:

2014-07-09 20.15.59“These watchmen appear to be rooted, like they have always been here.Ghostly guards of a distant history observing the land. These sculptures have been carved from a variety of trees grown right here on the estate, but independently installed back into the landscape, paying homage to the once dominant High Wycombe furniture trade.”

These amazing figures have been created by Ed Elliott.

If you are in the area make the time to go see them in their perfect surroundings.

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Last Public Execution in Bucks

For reasons which are of no great interest to this blog, I recently found myself in my local library with an hour or so to spare.

As I am currently working on a post inspired by a book I read on local paranormal activity, which included some very interesting references to the history of my area, I spent my time at the library looking through the local history section to see if I could find some additional reference material.

Well it was a great idea but I got distracted by a book called “Buckinghamshire Tales of Mystery and Murder” by David Kidd-Hewitt (ISBN 1 85306 809 8). There were two stories which caught my attention; the other is going to be the subject of another post! And so, there is this one …..

Friday 5th August 1864 saw the last public execution in Buckinghamshire.

William John Stevens had been convicted of murder and was sentenced to hang outside the county goal in Bierton Road, Aylesbury.

Apart from the obvious historic importance of this event, it also had two other facets which made it stick in my mind having read the story.

CalcraftFirstly, The executioner was a man by the name of William Calcraft. He was the Official Execution for the City of London and Middlesex, but found himself in great demand all of the country. He was so famous, or should that be infamous, in his time that mothers point him out to misbehaving children saying “behave or Calcraft will get you!”. With his long white beard, Calcraft made for an imposing figure on the gallows.

He was not only known for the number of executions he presided over, but also the manner of the execution. He was known for preferring the short form, or short rope, which invariably involved the victim suffering a slow death by strangulation rather than the long form which generally resulted in a broken neck and therefore a quick release from this world.

The second event of the day was recorded by Superintendent Symington who was in charge of proceedings, Shortly after Stevens was cut down from the gallows a man from the nearby town of Winslow asked that he be allowed to place the dead mans hand on his sons face and neck. The boy suffered from a serious skin infections and the man believed that an ancient cure, “the touch of evil”, would transfer the infections from his son to the murderer. Symington was so horrified by the request and its potential association with the county, that he told the man to go home and not reveal to anyone that, as a Buckinghamshire man, he had made such a request.

Manchester – places I need to see

2014-06-19 20.21.58My stay in Manchester is beginning to feel slightly more permanent with the arrangements for my apartment being finalised. Exactly how long I will be here; I am still not certain, but it is now going to be at least two more months. With the appartement it means I will be able to stay over weekends and therefore get to see more of the city and surrounding areas.

Below are a few of the places I think it would be worth visiting:

In addition to the above, there are even more ideas in the Manchester Top 5′s.

Are there any great, must see, places I have missed?


The London Breed

BZThe following poem was written by Benjamin Zephaniah following a commission received from the Museum of London.

I read this during a recent visit to the Museum of London Docklands and thought it was brilliant; thus I am sharing it here …….

I love dis great polluted place

Where pop stars come to live their dreams
Here ravers come for drum and bass
And politicians plan their schemes,
The music of the world is here
Dis city can play any song
They come to here from everywhere
Tis they that made dis city strong.

A world of food displayed on streets
Where all the world can come and dine
On meals that end with bitter sweets
And cultures melt and intertwine,
Two hundred languages give voice
To fifteen thousand changing years
And all religions can rejoice
With exiled souls and pioneers.

I love dis overcrowded place
Where old buildings mark men and time
And new buildings all seem to race
Up to a cloudy dank skyline,
Too many cars mean dire air
Too many guns mean danger
Too many drugs means be aware
Of strange gifts from a stranger.

It’s so cool when the heat is on
And when it’s cool it’s so wicked
We just keep melting into one
Just like the tribes before us did,
I love dis concrete jungle still
With all its sirens and its speed
The people here united will
Create a kind of London breed.

London Places – Docklands Museum

I have long wanted to visit the Museum of London Docklands as the various docks around London have always held a fascination for me.

The history of London Docklands is the history of the city itself. London exists because of the River Thames and the docks that have been constructed along it. Without the docks London would never have been able to generate the wealth that it did and, arguably, Great Britain wouldn’t perhaps have been so great.

Originally the “docks” would have simply been moorings along the banks of the Thames where ships from around the world would have offloaded their cargos. As trade increased the docks themselves were constructed to make the offloading of goods easier, more efficient and therefore more profitable.

As the Empire grew so did the need for bigger docks in London. London was the largest port in the world and as such the docks were by far the biggest, most impressive and most modern in the world. Many were constructed using private money and were named according to the origin of their goods; West India Docks, East India Docks, Greenland Dock and so on.

Not only are the docks of huge interest in themselves, but the people who lived and worked in the area are also fascinating, from the dockers to the Krays. Plus you also have one of the greatest unsolved mysteries by virtue of “Jack the Ripper”.

The Museum of London Docklands does a brilliant job of walking you through the story from the cities Roman origins to the Blitz and the eventual economic collapse.

If you find yourself in London head out to Canary Wharf via the Docklands Light Railway; enjoy the museum and the surrounding area. It is also a short hop over the river to Greenwich.

I really enjoyed my visit today and will be heading back as I found that there simply wasn’t enough time to take in all the information, exhibits and stories which were on offer.

If you are interested in London and it’s docklands this is an absolute must.Thames_river_1882


The Ford Cortina was parked just past the street light so that although it was lit, it was near impossible to see the two men who sat in the front seats. The car wasn’t that old, no more than a couple of years, but it was covered in dents and scratches. The red paintwork was faded in places and there were the first signs of rust appearing around the bottom of the doors. It may well have been older than the registration plates would suggest.

“What the fuck are we waiting for?”

“Will you keep your fucking noise down!” His companion retorted “Do you want the whole fucking street to hear you?”

“I’m just sick of waiting. We’ve been here nearly an hour already.”

“And we will be another hour if necessary, so shut your fucking mouth.”

WarehouseThis part of London wasn’t the best in which to wait for any length of time. Nobody was about, even the rats appeared to have abandoned the proverbial sinking ship. A couple of rather dull street lamps tried their best to push back the shadows, but they werent really succeeding. Everywhere the gloom seemed to be encroaching; drawing what was left of the life from the street and buildings on either side. There were so many places that somebody could stand and watch, and wait, completely out of view. Just wait for the right second when they could pounce on their prey.

It had been a bustling port until recently but now the cargo ships stopped at the new container docks in Tilbury. Some still came along the Thames but they didn’t travel any further than the Royal Docks which were bigger and more accessible. The London docks were dying and that was all too evident here in Wapping.

Either side of where they sat were the towering warehouse buildings, which would have been full of goods from all over the world. The roadway between was narrow, making the buildings seem taller than they actually were; the sky a very long way above.

Men would have been moving the cargo from the ships to the first line of warehouses along side the river itself. From there they were shifted across the high level walkways to the opposite side of the road and then into the lorries, to be delivered all over London. Men would have been everywhere, the whole area busy, noisy, dirty and above all alive.

Now they were all gone.

The two pubs on this stretch just about scraped a living. The  Prospect of Whitby had been open for ever with a formidable history in the trial and execution business. It was said that Judge Jefferies himself had held court there, meeting out his customary form of justice.

They waited. Silent now, neither of them having much to say. Just watching to see when he would arrive.

They had been told what to look out for; a silver Rolls Royce driven by a local “businessman” known as Billy Streater. Collect the package, complete the job and then get the hell out of there, were their very clear instructions. Don’t be seen, they had been told, but that was rather difficult considering how long they had waited.

“He’s here.”

The big car pulled up just a few yards away from them. The passenger got out of the Cortina and walked over. As he approach the drivers window silently slid down and a hand passed out a small package covered in brown paper,  little bigger that a tobacco tin…

The body was found the following day.

Behind the Prospect of Whitby is a “decorative” gallows which was there to remind people of the pubs past. Today it was no longer simply a decoration. He had been strung up and left to die. Part of his body almost certainly in the river water at some point. Hands tied behind his back. Cause of death would be confirmed later, but it was clear to all those present that morning that it had been slow and extremely unpleasant.

After the docks closed, much of Wapping was simply left to rot. The warehouses were home to tramps, drug users and others with no where better to go. That was until the developers moved in realising the potential for these buildings was enormous. Huge open plan apartments were built with magnificent views of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. Panoramas up and down the mighty River Thames.

It had been the best part of 10 years since that unexplained murder. Nobody had been arrested or charged. There had been no real leads. It wasn’t even clear how he had come to be there. Billy Streater drove a Rolls Royce but it was nowhere to be found. Two suspects had been seen waiting in an old Ford Cortina, but although the car was discovered a few days later burnt out near the gas works at Beckton, the men themselves were never traced.

During one of the development projects part of the floor needed to be broken out for new foundations. An internal walls was to be constructed; it needed to carry the weight of some machinery above. The builders had been working nonstop for days slowly inching their way from one wall to the other. The floor slab was about 18 inches thick and full of steel reinforcing rods. Below this was just mud, but breaking out the floor was taking forever. The job being made worse by the constant grief the foreman was giving them becauseWapping they were taking so long. Then they hit a soft spot. There was no more steel and the concrete itself wasn’t of the same quality, much softer and easier to break through. The last six feet of concrete to the wall was out in no time. Just the mud and the job was done, all being well they would be finished tonight.

They saw the hands first ….


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