Sunday, 29 April 2012

The Sunday Posts 2012

The man, in life where-ever plac'd,
Hath happiness in store,
Who walks not in the wicked's way,
Nor learns their guilty lore!

Nor from the seat of scornful Pride
Casts forth his eyes abroad,
But with humility and awe
Still walks before his God.

That man shall flourish like the trees
Which by the streamlets grow;
The fruitful top is spread on high,
And firm the root below.

But he whose blossom buds in guilt
Shall to the ground be cast,
And like the rootless stubble tost,
Before the sweeping blast.

For why? That God the good adore
Hath giv'n them peace and rest,
But hath decreed that wicked men
Shall ne'er be truly blest.

The First Psalm by Robert Burns.

Photo of  box pews by Alistair.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Twenty-one Today!

Inchcolme Abbey

For My Lovely G - on our anniversary.

Sure Thing.

I can no more describe you
than I can put a thing for the first time
where it already is.

If I could make a ladder of light
or comb the hair of a dream girl with a real comb
or pour a table into a jug.

I'm not good at impossible things
And that is why I'm sure
I will love you for my ever.

By Norman MacCaig.

Thank you for twenty one amazing years.

Please Miss.... Can I have some more?

Love ya! XXX

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Dear TSB

I thought you might like to know that the book "Understanding Women" is now out in paperback.

{Of course this is just a photo of volume 1.......}

Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Sunday Posts 2012

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

By John O'Donohue

Photo by Alistair

Saturday, 21 April 2012

A Wedding

Finding your true love is one of the greatest things that might ever happen to you in life. I can say that because I feel I've been lucky enough to have done just that. The Lovely G and I were married 21 years ago on the twenty seventh of April 1991 in Inchcolme Abbey, a medieval abbey in the care of Historic Scotland. Apart from the caretakers daughter, we were the first people to be married there in several hundred years.

It was a good day. The weather, that had been poor the day before and would be again the day after, gave us a lovely sunny day and calm waters - needed to get onto the island where the Abbey lies in the middle of the Firth of Forth and we were surrounded by loved ones, both family and friends. One of the things I remember clearly about the day, apart from how stunning my new bride was and how painful it is to smile through a whole day, was the tiny flower girl - our 5 year old niece - who went around insistently pulling her dress down off her shoulders so she could look more like the bridesmaids with their off the shoulder dresses.

Just Married

Last Saturday we went to her wedding.

Linda is now a music teacher, lives in Lancaster in England and married Matthew, a naval officer whom she'd met while they were both students at Edinburgh University. Like us they married in an ancient church - Cartmel Priory in The Lake District - and like us they had the benefit of a day of good weather and, apart from one wee moment, no April showers .

Great Aunt H goes digital

Like the girl I married, Linda looked stunning - but of course, as her Godfather I'm biased. Having been together for several years they seem to be a perfect match and I have no doubt they will be good to each other.
No explanation needed.

It was a great opportunity for me to have a play around with my new lens {a Canon 55-200mm zoom which has a nice wide angle for landscapes} and I'd a lot of fun on the day with it. Some of the lighting especially in the church was poor but the camera copes well - as long as I remember to adjust the ISO and WB properly - which I don't all the time!.

She never could handle a drink

I like the flexibility of the zoom and I like the less formal shots so am often found lurking round the edges of happenings people watching and taking portaits in that way.

The girls together.

Bridesmaids dress detail

My brother and his wife had a great day as their eldest became the first of a new generation to marry. The last family wedding had been mine.

The brides mother makes a photo

Entertainment by some of Lindas pupils

Brides Dad and Grooms Mum

The father of the bride's speech

Relaxing and enjoying the speeches

The first dance.

{And even though Matthew is an Englishman he was also a true Scot}

See you later

Listening to:

Sunday, 15 April 2012

The Sunday Posts 2012

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieve it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

'Do not go gentle into that good night'
Dylan Thomas.

Photo - Tyne Cot Cemetary,The Somme. By Alistair.


Sunday, 8 April 2012

The Sunday Posts 2012

I loved you in the morning, our kisses deep and warm,
Your hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm,
Yes, many loved before us, I know that we're not new,
In city and in forest they smiled like me and you,
But now it's come to distances and both of us must try,
Your eyes are soft with sorrow,
Hey, that's no way to say goodbye.

I'm not looking for another as I wander in my time,
Walk me to the corner, our steps will always rhyme
You know my love goes with you as your love stays with me,
It's just the way it changes, like the shoreline and the sea,
But let's not talk of love or chains and things we can't untie,
Your eyes are soft with sorrow,
Hey, that's no way to say goodbye.

I loved you in the morning, our kisses deep and warm,
Your hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm,
Yes many loved before us, I know that we are not new,
In city and in forest they smiled like me and you,
But let's not talk of love or chains and things we can't
Your eyes are soft with sorrow,
Hey, that's no way to say goodbye.

'Hey, that's no way to say goodbye'
By Leonard Cohen

Photo of a Lothian Sunset by Alistair.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

The Italian Holiday

You can recognise the occasional local that we meet walking along the side of Lake Garda between Riva Del Garda and the next village, which is called Torbole, by the slightly condescending looks they give us pasty skinned Scots dressed in light trousers and T-shirts. While we're enjoying temperatures equivalent to our summer, they clearly believe it's still winter. Invariably, they're wearing multiple layers of much heavier clothing, often a hat and almost always in dark colours. Of course there are a few tourists who are also from much warmer climes and feeling temperatures in the mid-20° C to be just a tad chilly for exposing any skin. Granted it can be "fresh" early in the morning or in the evening but now, at midday, it's blooming hot and I'm beginning to think that perhaps an excursion to the nearest shady watering hole might be a good idea. While continuing to think liquid thoughts I take some comfort that the looks given to us in passing are nowhere near as disparaging as those given to anyone sunbathing on the shoreline and as for those actually swimming……….

Unfortunately for my burning forehead and pretty weak justification for alcohol, the purpose-built walkway and bicycle path follows close to the water's edge and there doesn't seem to be any watering holes in sight, shady or otherwise - perhaps a sign that Italians take their walking and cycling more seriously than I do or, that their planners take a more enlightened view towards the environment than most tourist destinations where water and heightened temperatures are the norm. I stop to take some photographs and consider my options. After a few frames and a moments musing I turn to The Lovely G and suggest, with a slightly concerned tone that perhaps she may need to protect her delicate skin. Another sentence with the word ‘ice-cream’ casually inserted and a few moments later I am unashamedly being led back in the direction of our favourite watering hole, silently holding an internal debate between the inherent attributes of soave or pinot-grigio as potential rehydrants.

An hour later having successfully protected The Lovely G's skin and been rewarded with lunch and a glass (or two) of nicely chilled Soave wine for being so considerate, we decide to take a boat trip from the other side of the harbour out on the lake. We don't have a firm destination in mind, just the idea of a pleasant boat trip in the afternoon sun. There are regular boats heading out of the town criss-crossing the lake to towns and villages up the next 20 or so miles on each side of this absolutely enormous body of water and the tickets are cheap so for the next few hours we enjoy the gentle breeze generated by the boats movement and the luxury of being transported from one scenic town to the next and the next and the next until we eventually disembark at a small town called Limone which looks interesting from the boat. We find a cafe, drink delicious coffee and relax and explore before picking up the return boat a couple of hours or so later having made plans to take a boat trip another day to another of the picturesque small towns we feel demands further exploration.

Back in Riva we potter around the medieval piazza among the shops and cafes at the foot of the watch tower before making our way back to our hotel tucked away in one of the medieval streets a few hundred yards up the hill from the harbour.

 There's just time for a drink before dinner and the girl behind the bar shows a remarkable lack of talent when trying to pour an accurate measure. A G+T should hit the mark.

 Just the half litre I think........

{More to come TSB}

See you later.

Listening to:

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Dear Sir,

On coming back from holiday I began catching up on e-mail that had been delivered while I was away. My e-mail account isn't particularly busy so it didn't take long to go through my inbox and deal with anything needing a response and deleting e-mails from businesses and sites that I didn't need. As usual at the end of that I went to the spam box and saw some 47 items listed. I was just about to hit the clear button when one of them for some unknown reason, caught my eye. It said it was from a Dr Josef Levy and the subject was simply ‘Dear Sir’. The unknown name and dubious subject would normally immediately qualify such e-mail for the bin and I have no idea why this e-mail was different, but something made me not only hesitate but actually open it:

Dear Sir,
I am writing you to ask you for cooperation. I am from town Hranice in Czech Republic. The bomber AVRO LANCASTER B.MK.I, serial number PB 872, code indication P4-X 153. bomb squadron. crashed there on 6th March, 1945. I would like put up information panel with memory of this crash and memory of pilots on place where bomber crashed. Now there is only a small memorial.
There is a few documents and no photos related to this crash in Czech republic. I would therefore request you for some information. Can you send me some photos of crewmen or information about flight and falling? I welcome every information.
I thank you for your help.
Best regards,
Dr. Josef Levý.

Because of my father's involvement I've written extensively across the blog about his Lancaster Squadron. In 2010 I posted their 1945 daily campaign diary in real-time covering the last few months of the war. As a result the blog regularly receives visits from people looking for information about 153 Squadron or Bomber Command Squadrons and I've been contacted by the families of many men who served or were lost so long ago. To be able to answer questions that have in some cases haunted people for almost 70 years or to be able to put people in touch with someone who actually served with their relative has been a rewarding and humbling experience, one that I never dreamt of when I began to write their story. This query would bring a different and more personal twist.

I clicked across onto the blog and looked at the entry relating to the sixth of March 1945, reminding myself of the details I had written and mentally recalling the sources used for the information I'd posted. I often had more information than was in the post as I didn't want to overload the blog with detail and put visitors off reading because it was heavy and inaccessable, so I began to hunt through the library for notes and other bits and pieces. I transferred the e-mail out of spam and composed a reply saying that I would provide any information I could and would send an e-mail back as soon as I had anything. Over the next couple of days I found information relating to the aircraft manufacture and delivery to the Squadron, the aircraft crew and their previous missions and detail about the final operation. I found the aircraft had been listed as ‘missing, nothing heard since take-off’. Somewhere in my mind this started an insistent recollection.

"Nothing heard since take-off" is a phrase chillingly familiar to the men who served in bomber command in World War II, or those who worked behind at base. It was written onto operation boards when an aircraft failed to return home by the due time at the end of the mission. Usually it was the first indication that yet another aircraft and its seven man crew had been lost, either killed or hopefully - but rarely - to become prisoners of war. Another seven names added to the list of 73,700 aircrew casualties from the 125,000 who served.  "Nothing heard since take-off"  was also the name of a small book, privately published by a family member of the crew of a missing Lancaster bomber. I had found the book during my researchers for the 153 Squadron story because it related to one of their Lancasters. It was a poignant tale because not only of the tragic loss of the crew but that one of the air gunners, Bill Meechan, lived in a village near our home and was a friend of my father who had been a member of 137 (Ayr) Squadron ATC (Air Training Corps) with him before joining up.

With the help of The Lovely G, who helped me look, I found the book and was astonished to find that it was the story of exactly the same aircraft that Dr Levy was interested in researching.

Lancaster PB 872 P4-X was a Lancaster mark B1 built by A V Roe's Woodford factory in November 1944. It was fitted with four Rolls-Royce Merlin 22 engines and delivered to 153 Squadron at Scampton on 5 December 1944. The night it crashed it was exactly 3 months old and had completed 15 operations. The average life expectancy of a Lancaster in World War II was just six missions which gives an idea of just how dangerous and damaging these operations were. An operational tour for the crew was 30 missions completed.

 The crew that night were relatively inexperienced and had been with the squadron just over four weeks. Their final mission was their 6th:

William Bailey – pilot {20}
Reg Adlam – navigator {21}
Edward Morris – air bomber {22}
James Howard – flight engineer {27}
Jack Dixon – wireless operator {22}
Bill Meechan – mid  upper gunner {19}
Walter Simpson – rear gunner {18}

By March 1945, although the Germans were in retreat and under attack on the ground on German soil, bomber command was still losing many crews to the well-organised German night fighter force and anti-aircraft defence systems. On 5 March 1945, 153 Squadron’s battle order number 92 directed 13 aircraft to be sent to attack Chemnitz, including Bill Bailey’s crew who had by this time completed their five operations since late January.

L - R:  F/O. William Bailey, Sgt. James Howard, F/O. Reginald Adlam and F/O. Edward Morris

Take-off was logged from Scampton at precisely 16:40 hours. Over the next few hours ground crews passed the time waiting for the return of their particular Lancaster. In flying control rooms others were listening to radio frequencies, crash crews and medical staff were on standby in case they would be needed, transport staff stood by to collect men from returned aircraft and ferry them to the debriefing rooms for post-op intelligence gathering. Eventually about 2am there was the sound of engines as one by one Lancaster's joined a circuit around the airfield and landed, exhausted crews climbing wearily out onto solid ground, perhaps lighting a first cigarette or just breathing fresh night air. The operations board and flying control soon showed 12 aircraft had landed safely, but an unmarked space was left beside PB 872 P4-X as staff waited for confirmation of its return. Time passed slowly as anxious staff waited until the maximum possible flying time had elapsed before entering ‘missing’ in that space. Checks were quickly made to see if X – Ray had landed safely somewhere away from base on its return but all enquiries were negative.  Squadron records for the operation were duly typed up and in the column marked "details of sortie or flight" for  Lancaster PB 872 were typed the words "Failed to return. Nothing heard since take-off" 

The following day, once verification was received that X – Ray had been lost, the personal effects of each crew member and any equipment belonging to them was collected and taken to stores. Personal effects would be forwarded to a central point where they would eventually be returned to each person's next of kin. Telegrams were now sent out to the next of kin, informing them their member of the family was missing from operations on the fifth/sixth of March. A letter would follow from the commanding officer expressing great sadness but pointing out at this stage the person was missing only and that should any news be received it would be communicated to them immediately.

Sgt. Jack Dixon, Sgt. William Meechan and Sgt. Walter Simpson

The families would not find out the fate of their relatives until 1947.

Lancaster PB 872 P4-X crashed at 2130 British time on the night of 5 March 1945 just outside the town of Rossbach, now called Hranice, then in  Nazi occupied Czech territory. In all probability it had become separated from the main bomber stream in the dark, probably without even knowing it, perhaps due to the higher than forecast winds affecting navigational calculations by this relatively inexperienced crew. Once alone and isolated it would have become an obvious and easy target for night fighter attention, easily directed and guided in by their radar stations. At approximately 22:30 local time in Rossbach that night the air raid sirens were activated and soon afterwards the aircraft appeared. Witnesses remember the sound of tortured engines screaming and the aircraft in a slow descending curve, trailing flame from one wing and just missing the town before there was an explosion in the burning wing - probably the fuel tank - and the aircraft crashed in a meadow outside of town. The Fire Brigade and many local people hurried through the woods but nothing could be done and there were no survivors. The following day the crew were officially identified and buried in the town cemetery next to the church in a corner of the grounds next to some Russian prisoners of war. The details of the crash were recorded in the town police reports. One member of the crew had attempted to bail out but the altitude was too low for the parachute to open. The other crew members were still in the aircraft when it crashed, the tail-gunner still strapped in his turret, two others had managed to put on their parachutes but had not managed to exit.

We’ll almost certainly never know the whole story of  Lancaster PB 872 P4-X and what happened in their last hours and moments. Were many of the crew dead or seriously injured while still airborne? Perhaps the intercom been damaged and the crew not heard the pilots instruction to bail out?  Maybe instuments been damaged, the ground invisible in the dark until the order came too late leaving them with no time to act? Of course after all this time it's academic - but still tragic.

The book and all the information I have is now on its way to the Czech Republic. Crew photos will shortly follow supplied by 153 Squadron Association. I hope the information is useful to Dr Levy and that ultimately he is successful in increasing the information about the aircraft and crew and in completing his project to highlight the sacrifice of these young men, like so many others in Bomber Command. I'm glad too to have played a part. I think my old man would have approved. I'm glad that there are still people and places out there keen to remember and recognise what happened so long ago and willing to do something about it.

{Crew photos from aircrew remembrance society}

See you later.

Listening to:

Monday, 2 April 2012

Niece to Meet You - To Meet You, Niece!

Emily Ursula Pauline Hudspeth

Life changes everything and never more so when that life is a new one. Hello Emily, a much longed for first daughter to my brother-in-law and his partner and who was born on Wednesday . I think it's safe to say that for Karen and Leonard life will never be the same again. It will always be better. Welcome to the family little one. Welcome to the world. May you know only love. See you soon. I have so many wondrous stories to tell you.

Listening to

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Riva! Riva! Riva!

Rush hour in Riva

I can't help smiling as I sit here contentedly looking down the lake. The late afternoon sun shines on my face, its warmth comfortable and soothing and on the table beside me I have the choice of a stunning cup of coffee or a glass of crisp white wine from the perfectly chilled half bottle sitting on the white linen tablecloth. 

Beside me The Lovely G also sits quietly. We are on opposite sides of a small, circular table here beside the small harbour of Riva Del Garda, which as the name suggests is on Lake Garda in northern Italy. Behind us and the two rows of tables with their attentive staff is the Hotel Sole which has quickly become our place of choice of an afternoon or almost any part of the day on this short holiday. The 20 or so feet between my stretched out legs and the edge of the harbour allows people to pass quietly by, walking or sometimes on bicycle. It's a promenade, a place to see and be seen for the locals and tourists here. Around the corner of the hotel the tables continue, facing the harbour with its small but well fed population of ducks and three or four swans and the town square with its mediaeval plaza and tall watchtower. That too is a favourite spot but more so earlier in the day as by now it's in shade and the temperature in this last week of March cools quickly when the sun has gone. 

A waiter passes, nodding a quiet smile of recognition in our direction, weaving through the tables with a tray of coffee and drinks expertly balanced in one hand. The staff here are immaculately turned out in black trousers, white shirts, black dickie-bows and black waistcoats as they bustle efficiently to and fro even though the season hasn't yet started and they lend an extra air of dignity to the slightly faded elegance of the old Hotel. From the tables around us conversations spill out towards the water. English, Italian, German and Russian are the easiest to spot but there are more and I watch a family of oriental origin walk past in front of me. I like this.

It feels great.

My attention is momentarily caught by a squabble between two male ducks down on the water as one fends off a rival for the attentions of his mate and I watch the loser depart at frantic speed as he tries to stop his rival give him the indignity of a hard peck on the behind for his troubles. The water disturbed by their thrashing glints silver and black against the bulk of the water in the lowering sun and flares through my sunglasses causing me to look away and I take the opportunity to savour a sip from my coffee. I glance across at The Lovely G as she sits looking down the lake. Despite the sunglasses masking her eyes I can see a look of utter contentment and I smile and settle myself comfortably deeper into the wicker chair. It may be a long afternoon.

It's a tough job but somebody has to do it.

See you later.

Listening to:

The Sunday Posts 2012

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water,
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each others work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives -
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

(in memoriam M.K.H, 1911-1984)
By Seamus Heaney

The Sunday Posts 2017/Mince and Tatties.

Mince and Tatties I dinna like hail tatties Pit on my plate o mince For when I tak my denner I eat them baith at yince. Sae mash ...