Sunday, 22 July 2018

Insta Famous?


Noteable incident this week: Sandra Martin from Gogglebox following me on Twitter.

Also, I read Read This if you Want to be Instagram Famous, by Laurence King Publishing, featuring contributions by a range of successful Instagram accounts. Each individual behind the account is interviewed and they impart their story of how their account began and what made it so successful. The editors focus on what ignited the interest in so many hundreds of thousands of people.

Published just last year, the book is up to date enough to cover the stories feature (the temporary pictures and video that can be added for 24 hours to your feed with effects not available on the main feed). With regard to this and other areas of Insta photography, the book is packed with useful bite-size advice, laid out in an attractive, coffee-table format.

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Hale Juniper Launch





After the success of the Bloggers Taster Menu on Tuesday, Juniper's Hale branch opened its doors to the public. The The Head Chef, Saleh Ahmed, served up a buffet of tasty chicken, lamb chops, pasta, greens and tuna salad and topped it off with a selection of chocolate and fruit cakes.

In attendance: Coronation Street's Brooke Vincent (Sophie Webster).

Thanks go to Juniper and Go:PR for organising the event and inviting me.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Italian Bombers, Sand Devils and Drunk Train Hi-Jacking

The next instalment of my grand-uncle's memoirs.
 
Vickers Wellesley from 47 Squadron

June 1940

The year was progressing and then came the fateful day in June. We were all sitting in the NAAFI tent having a cuppa out of our modified beer bottles, listening to the Overseas BBC News at six o'clock, when the announcement was made that we were at war with Italy. Within five minutes SNCOs had arrived shouting, “All back to work.”

The NAAFI tent emptied immediately.

It was getting dark. Flight personnel went back to their sections, aircraft were prepared and pilots taxied their aircraft across the sand 'drome to the bomb dump. Everyone was operating with minimum light, I think fully expecting the Italians to bomb us. On approaching the bomb dump one had jumped off the rear main plane step 'the wrong way,' fell over, and as he was rising was hit in the back of the head by the tail plane and knocked unconscious.

In the dark he was not seen and lay there for some considerable time and in the morning it was found that the main wheel tracks had missed him by feet, one aircraft having passed completely over him. He recovered okay. In the early hours of the morning a lorry was placed across the other side of the sand 'drome- it could not be called an airfield- with its headlights full on and eight Wellesleys opened up, made for the headlights and took off for Asmara, Eritrea.

One of the crew told me on his return that they had dived down onto the airfield whilst the Italians were all lined up in front of their hangars, as if their roll calls were being carried out. Some even started waving.

He then said, “We dropped the lot on them and then went around the place machine gunning anything in sight. It looked as if Mussolini had forgotten to tell them they were at war.” We lost one Wellesley on that initial raid.

We were also told that any of our aircraft returning from raids would approach the drome between two particular hills. This would prevent any unnecessary panic to the air raid trenches at the sound of an aircraft.

Many weeks later a lone SM79 flew over the 'drome at about then thousand feet and bombed us with no damage. Dozens of us were trying to get in the one small slit trench outside the dining room tent.

A few weeks later two Glosters Gladiators arrived daily from Port Sudan.

They were to sit on the ground in the event of any more Italian raids and used to leave about half an hour before dusk to return to base. Often, on leaving, they would shoot up the NAAFI tent, sometimes doing a slow roll at about 100 feet. One day, something went tragically wrong. One of them, in the middle of his slow roll, nose-dived into the ground and burst into flames.

It was not long before we were losing aircraft. Also the other Wellesley Squadrons. The CR42 Italian fighter had considerable advantage in speed, manoeuvrability and firepower. They carried .5” machine guns. We were even told that the SAAF Hurricanes were advised not to 'dogfight' with them.

I had now left 'B' Flight and joined 'Maintenance Flight.' Our workshops were a collection of sand-filled petrol cans with a roof of thorn bushes. Inside: one bench and a six-inch vice.

One day we were passed an aircraft requiring a tank change, damaged by a bullet. Being a little short of ground equipment and in order to get the main plane to decent working height, this time we had to dig a sloping trench to run the main wheels down into. This enabled us to get about twenty bods around the mainplane to bodily lift it off. The tank was then slid out.

Later I was given the job of fitting dinghies in the port inner main planes. A Bowden cable was fed through the fuselage window for manual operation. Our aircraft were obviously flying sorties over the Red Sea.

Many of our MT drivers had re-mustered to Air Gunners and were immediately given the rank of Sergeant. Workshops were hard at work making large U brackets to fit into the node joint of the geodetic construction aft of the rear open cockpit, to enable two Vickers guns to be mounted in tandem. Gun positions were also fitted to the side fuselage windows which the navigator could also use. We heard also that raids would consist of at least three aircraft to ensure that we had a better chance with 6 Vickers firing aft and a possible extra three from the side fuselage window. Even the air gunners were filing up the brackets- self preservation, I guess, in mind.

When the war started we had to tramp right across the other side of the airfield. That was not too bad, but we had to carry rifle, fifty rounds in a canvas bandolier, gas cape, water bottle (filled) and gas mask. We were worn out well before we started work, especially after the return after breakfast when the temperature was well up, well over 100F (38C).

Sand devils were annoying running through the camp, not large ones, but big enough to suck up an empty petrol can and throw out the top, smothering everything in sand.

The odd time, when it rained in the evening, we all rushed outside and got a lovely shower. Half inch hailstones once.

Later on we were allowed to discontinue carrying all the equipment except for the water bottle which was certainly needed throughout the day's work.

Our working dress was a one piece khaki overall, short sleeve, short legs. With no laundry facilities, when we needed a change, we drained a few gallons of petrol out of an aircraft, stripped off, washed them and stood naked behind a bush then laid them out to dry. In less than a minute we shook the shower of lead dust out of them and put them on again. I think it was good for prickly heat.

Some of the lads had pet chameleons which they carried around on their pith helmets tied with a piece of string around their bare legs. Flies were a nuisance. There was no shortage of chameleons, plenty in the bushes.

And scorpions and huge desert spiders. The flights had their own champions and challenged each other regularly for supreme champion. Frequently, following a field telephone call, you could look across the drome and see a dozen bods in single file. The Flight Commander, Adj aircrew and ground staff on their way to do battle. They were often put together in a town end ring, the exhaust ring, where however fast they ran, they always met each other again and finally had to fight it out. The scorpion was invariably the winner with that poisoned tail. A gallon of beer was the prize.

We heard the story of an incident concerning the Sudanese Railway engine based at Summit Railway Station. This small engine was the pride and glory of an old Sudanese. The brass handrails, in fact everything on it, shone like gold. At certain times of the day he had to get steam up and proceed along the line to meet the main train for Port Sudan or Atbara, come in from a side line, and help push the heavy train over the steep part of the Red Sea Hills. This done he would relax until the next train. Summit was 3000 feet up at the peak. One day when he had already got steam up, he was deliberately enticed away from the engine by a couple of RAF Summit's airmen which enabled another couple, one a Corporal, to board the engine and make off down the line. They were obviously drunk.

They shot off down the line for about 20 miles, waving to all the amazed locals as they passed through their villages, until they ran out of steam, blowing their whistle the whole way.

The snag was that the engine should have gone the other way because the main train from Port Sudan was now waiting patiently at the bottom of the hills for the extra engine to help it up the steep gradient to Summit and beyond.

It was not known how long it had to wait for help to arrive or wherever it managed to to struggle over the hills itself. It was also not known what happened to the airmen. No doubt, disciplinary action followed.

Three miles east of the camp up the sand track was the Erkowit Rest Camp for government officials etc. It was situated on the edge of a precipice, a drop of thousands of feet which was called Kitty's Leap. It was said she jumped to save her honour. Silly girl!

What this has got to do with 47 Squadron history, I do not know!

Doing the guard one night with Jock Robinson, he was suddenly taken ill with appendicitis. The MO was called and a Wellesley later taxied up to take him to Port Sudan Hospital.

He lay on the stretcher and an attempt was made to get him into the aircraft. Fuselage windows were too small. It was also not possible to gain entry through the rear spring loaded perspex canopy cockpit, again too small for a laden stretcher.

In the end it was, “Jock, would you get off your stretcher, climb aboard and lay on the fuselage floor?”

This he did and off they went to Port Sudan.

The year progressed and part of the Squadron moved south to Gedarif to bomb further targets unobtainable from Erkowit. As Owen Clark the Historian (possibly this man) stated in the Crane Courier (no reference of this publication online) eight Wellesleys and two Vincents were destroyed by Italian CR42s.

Whereas we thought that we were going to surprise the Italians the tables were turned.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Juniper Taster Menu Launch

Juniper in Hale launches tomorrow night! The artisan brasserie opened its doors last night for an invite-only free taster session. I was one of the lucky bloggers to try out the new, locally-sourced menu.

Juniper is a gorgeous venue on Ashley Road, and the company- assisted by Go PR and Events- welcomed us in and sat us all on a long dining table. Sharing a table is a great way of getting a group of people, many of whom don’t know each other, to bond. That said, there were a few familiar faces too which I recognised from other Go events. We’re developing into a community!

The Head Chef, Saleh Ahmed, and Manager Amin Ammar, told us of their eclectic cooking experiences in London and many other places across the world, before handing over to a live singer guitarist, taking requests.

We’d placed our order with Go:PR earlier in the week, so service was quick and polite. As much as I enjoyed the food I found I could think of a few constructive criticisms. I ordered the Juniper Burger, which was nice but I’d have liked the meat a little juicier, the bun a little softer and the cheese a little more melted. The sides I devoured completely, though. In fact, there was more than enough for me. Fit.







The staff even left us with a complimentary £10 gift voucher. I’d definitely go back again, not including tomorrow night’s launch!

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Where is the Aftercare for Reality TV Stars?

Love Island's Sophie Gradon and her boyfriend Aaron Armstrong


Remember Susan Boyle? One of Britain's Got Talent 2008 semi-finalists? I only know her through social media, but I gather she did well. She was lauded as a 'never-been-kissed' cat lady who lived alone in her 50s by the mainstream press, something she was quick to deny

After half a decade, it emerged that she had Aspergers, a form of autism. When this was revealed, I was at first relieved for her but also infuriated for her too. Granted, when she was going through school most teachers wouldn't have heard of autism, and would have put her down as a difficult child failing to use their full potential. But for her to have been in the public eye in the 21st century, in front of millions of viewers, and that not one person in her circles thought to refer her to a psychologist, is a complete failure on behalf of the whole of Britain. Not one person working on BTG, nor anyone watching it, thought to suggest that she seeks help.

The positive is that she's getting that help now and, as of 2012, was worth £22 million. But it took a show with 13 million viewers and a number of breakdowns for that to happen. The guy on the street should be able to go to his GP an ask for a referral to neuropsychology to get the support she eventually got.

A different music star and a different psychological problem: Avicii. Tim Bergling. House music producer who, in his early days, made some of the best piano house tracks this century. Avicii took his own life in April. On 26 April, his family released an open letter stating that Bergling 'really struggled with thoughts about meaning, life, happiness. He could not go on any longer. He wanted to find peace.'

A different star again, this time focussing on reality TV: Love Island's Sophie Gradon. Gradon appeared in Season 2 of the ITV2 hit show, broadcast in 2016. She took her own life this June. A month later, her devastated boyfriend took his own life too.

Reality TV personalities rarely receive sympathy from the general public. The comments section of most articles, and releases over Twitter and Facebook, are usually awash with -you-made-your-bed type comments from unempathetic, boring nobodies. Keyboard warriors with no experience of mental health issues, or of the media industry. I'm going to buck that trend, though.

To a lot of teenagers and young adults, Love Island participants and musicians are role models, like it or not. They've been pushed out through the medium of TV into millions of homes on some of the most popular shows in the last 10 years. Author Neil Strauss, formerly of Rolling Stone magazine and author of hit advice book The Game, once described fame as like a big magnifying glass: it blows up all your qualities, but your insecurities and weaknesses are magnified along with it. His advice: 'fix your issues now, because the older you get, the worse they become.'

My advice for the TV industry, if for some reason you'd listen to a business support officer with memory difficulties and depression, is learn about mental health and how to support people who are struggling with it. Otherwise, the worst case is that your PR team has to deal with a contributor's suicide.

My advice for the everyday person with a mental health issue is to at least start working on those problems now. You can't turn down every opportunity forever. Something good could come knocking at any moment, so don't put things off until you're a better person. But work on your problems. Don't shelve them. And if TV comes knocking, deal with it a day at a time.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Cannibal Dogs, Horrific Sudanese Road Accident, Regimental Fist Fights

Red Sea Hills

The next instalment of My grand-uncle's war memoirs.

In March 1940, it was suddenly brought home to us that the peacetime footing that we were experiencing was about due to finish. Twenty of us were alerted to pack our kit and a couple of days later boarded the Sudan Railways train for a thirty-six hour journey, via Atbara, to Summit, in the Red Sea Hills

We were to prepare a camp for the Squadron to arrive in approximately two weeks time. Ten Miles away from the railway station of Summit we swung mallets day in, day out, putting up dozens of tents, making fuel dumps, hiding them with bushes. We had dozens of Sudanese working for us, including Fuzzy Wuzzies, but the latter, a very independent tribe, soon disappeared. Labouring was not their cup of tea. At first we were called Cathargo. But later we were renamed Erkowit. A civilian rest camp existed about three miles further into the hills.

About a week after arriving we were in our small tent relaxing. It was dark, about 7 in the evening. All we had was a small paraffin lamp with which to read.

Through the open flap we saw some bare native legs. On investigating we found that they belonged to a very excited Fuzzie Wuzzie and not understanding him took him to our Officer in charge, a medical Officer, who had a native foreman / translator in the next tent. We then found out the reasons for his excitement.

An open three-tonne lorry, carrying about twenty Sudanese, was returning to Summit after laying telephone lines and the Cpl driver had left the sand track at speed, buried its nose in a ditch and catapulted all of them into the air to land about ten to fifteen yards ahead of the crashed wagon. When we arrived in the dark we found that six were already dead, others had broken arms, legs, pelvises, all very badly injured joints like footballs, terribly swollen.

We did all we could to help, bandaging, splinting, making them as comfortable as we could. Our paraffin pressure lamps were attracting all manner of insect life: scorpions, snakes and a few wild dogs which were dispatched as quickly as possible.

Two extra wagons were obtained from 223 Squadron at Summit and our long journey was started through the Red Sea Hills, on a terrible track, mostly a corrugated surface, to the Port Sudan Hospital about forty miles away.

What a journey in the dark. We arrived about 6 o'clock in the morning, about 10 mph.

The wagon I was in carried the dead natives. Standing in the back, an open wagon, the blankets covering the bodies, because of the vibration and rough surface of the road, were always sliding off. I was sure that one of them, a huge Nibian who had died with his eyes wide open, was still alive. There was a full moon shining down and seemed to reflect in his eyes. Was I glad when that journey was over!

Arriving back at our tented camp about midday, having been up for about thirty hours, and after having a meal, we all fell asleep.

Next day off we went again, swinging mallets.

The day before the Wellesleys were due to arrive we were given five rounds each to try our hand at shooting a gazelle. But they were too alert for us. Cpl York though told us not to shoot an ostrich, came back with an ostrich feather beaming all over his face. He, and his two partners, were rapidly given shovels and told to go and find it and bury it quickly. They arrived back after dark. It was forbidden to shoot ostrich.

The Squadron arrived over the next few days and settled in. Familiarisation was the main task.

Our beds were two trestles, nine inches off the floor with three planks about ten inches wide each. Palliasses filled with straw. Water was rationed to two gallons a day. A shower at night consisted of one standing in half of a petrol can to catch the water being poured over one's body. You had to shave in the morning. The water bowser arrived every day from Summit Railway Station.

The billet boys from Khartoum also came with the Squadron to Erkowit. When they found that they were carrying gallons of water for thirty bods every day, hundreds of yards to the tents, they suddenly disappeared back to Khartoum.

Word was sent back to Khartoum to put them on the 'Black List' and not to employ them in the camp.

Sinkat was a railway station with a large Army camp about twelve miles away through the hills. Sections were allowed to use their flight lorries to go for a swim in an old disused railway turntable filled with water. After tea, a short film and then back home in the dark.

A Senior NCO, armed, was always in the passenger seat in the cab. Returning from one trip we were suddenly chased by a pack of about twenty wild dogs. Travelling slowly due to the rough track they were even trying to jump into the truck. The SNCO got out onto the running board and with his revolver fired into the dogs. One went down and was immediately set upon by the others and torn to bits. We left them behind but a mile or so later they appeared again and the same thing happened.

An ingenious way of supplying mugs of tea by the Sudanese NAAFI Manager was witnessed. He had a cut-down forty gallon drum, filled with old engine oil to a depth of 7 inches (18cm) or so. The oil was heated over an open fire. Beer bottles were lowered into the oil, where they immediately cracked straight across the oil level, clean as a whistle. A rub with a piece of emery cloth blunted the sharp edges. Cleaned, they were then the new mugs for serving tea, no handles though. Pint mugs were unobtainable.

Sinkat, the Army Camp, was in a valley surrounded by hills and had been an Army-established camp for decades. On the surrounding hills the regimental crests of all the regiments that had served over the years were imprinted in the sides, huge crests a hundred yards (91m) long.

We had heard a story, on one of our visits, that there had been a big fight between two of the regiments stationed there. It appeared that one of the regiments, who had a detachment in Palestine, had suffered a number of casualties there. When its Sgt Major woke with reveille in the morning, on getting out of bed and turning to face his colours through the open window to pay his respects he saw with horror that the tail of the lion,* which normally swung upwards over the back of the lion, was now down between its back legs and laying under its belly. During the night the other regiment had crept out and altered its position. Dozens of soldiers were carrying black eyes, etc.

No mean feat to move yards of different coloured rock halfway up a huge hill during the night.

*The lion was in fact a dragon with small wings and was the regimental crest of the Buff Regiment.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Straight from the Force's Mouth

This week I finished reading Straight from the Force's Mouth, the autobiography of Dave Prowse MBE. This guy.


I've been reading it for a few months, mostly sat on my porch in the sun for the last few weeks. It's a great, pleasant read that jumps around in time and, along with covering his rise to fame as Darth Vader, also details his most proud achievement: playing the Green Cross Code Man.

I met him and got the book signed back in 2011. What a dude.He's now retired from public life and I feel pretty honoured to have met him.