Search This Blog

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Jane Austen vs. Top Gear

On tonight’s Top Gear on BBC2, Jeremy Clarkson compared driving a certain car to sitting in a bucket of wallpaper paste while reading a Jane Austen novel. The implication being that Jane Austen is boring. Well, I’m sorry to have to break it to you, Mr Clarkson, but Jane Austen’s novels will be read and enjoyed long after your puerile effusions have been pulped.
Then I got to thinking, what would happen if we transported the Top Gear team into the fictional setting of Jane Austen’s novels? Which characters would they be?
For my money, Jeremy Clarkson would be John Thorpe, the loudmouth buck in Northanger Abbey who drives too recklessly and is only interested in fast horses, carriages and women. Richard Hammond might be Mr Parker from Sanditon , the lovable enthusiast for all things new, who dashes about the countryside.
James May is more tricky. ‘Captain Slow’ has more wit and charm than Mr Clarkson. Perhaps a younger version of him could be Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey…

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Down the Pit

This lunchtime, BBC2 screened a repeat of Fred Dibnah's 'Made in Britain'. I was very interested to see it again as Fred paid a visit to Astley Green Colliery Museum , home to Lancashire's last surviving pit head colliery. I visited the museum for background research for my book 'Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives.' My grandfather and great-grandfather both worked in pits in Little Hulton and Agecroft; it was fascinating to see the terrible conditions the miners faced every day.
Astley Green Colliery pit head winding gear. The first shaft was sunk in 1908.
No.1 winding engine, Astley Green colliery. One of the largest ever used in Britain; it was built by Yates & Thom of Blackburn and installed 1910 -1912.
Photos © Nigel and Sue Wilkes.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Whizz for Atoms

I was sorry to hear the Large Hadron Collider looks likely to be out of action for some time. This exciting project is basically a kind of Alton Towers ride for sub-atomic particles; scientists are keenly interested in the by-products spewed out when two high velocity beams of protons are smashed together. The experiments will hopefully help to answer key questions about events shortly after the Big Bang occurred these events helped determine 'life, the universe and everything.' (To quote from the super computer Deep Thought's task in 'Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy.' ) Physicists are hoping to find a theoretical particle called the Higgs boson, which will revolutionise our understanding of matter. Let's hope the Collider repairs proceed more quickly than expected.
Image of the Andromeda Galaxy from Sir R.S. Ball's 'Story of the Heavens,' 1893.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Lest we forget

Today is Armistice Day , on which we honour those who have fallen in war. We should never forget, too, the contribution made by those who helped the war effort at home. During WWII, many young women worked in the ordnance factories, such as the one at Risley, Warrington, making ammunition and bombs. The explosive powder they used turned the girls’ hair and skin yellow; they were sometimes nicknamed the ‘Canary Girls.’ The women wore special safety gloves; their faces were protected by a reinforced glass screen. It was tiring work wearing the heavy gloves; if the girls removed them, the heat from their hands could set off the explosive, and many lost fingers as a result.
You can still see the remains of Risley Royal Ordnance Factory at Birchwood Forest Park, now a nature reserve, with birds, dragonflies and wildflowers. It’s hard to believe this site was once home to frantic activity as the unsung heroines of Risley ‘did their bit’ to help the boys at the front.