Saturday, October 18, 2008


I am engaged in a series of paintings of aircraft shadows and am presently working on the penultimate one of a Warwick aeroplane dropping a lifeboat suspended beneath parachutes.

I am taking the shape of ingredients from memory during the time when I flew during the war in these – not very good – and sometimes dangerous machines.

I had reached to ten preliminary A4 paintings (pastels) when I realised that the undersides of these particular aeroplanes must have been white, not camouflaged green and brown.

So I was about to visit a library in the splendid RAF museum, Hendon, to do some research into parachute numbers for the under slung lifeboats that we were prepared to drop, camouflaged patterns, general colours and shapes, etc., when Margreet said she’d look it all up for me on the internet. I bet her 10 P that google hadn’t even heard of a Warwick. I lost. There was a mass of information.

The person who runs a museum on the airfield from which I flew in Cornwall became an internet “contact”. So I thought I’d be of help to his archive and supplied him with the following email:

Dear Rod,

In the course of my training to become a pilot I was posted to RAF Davidstow Moor from 15.03.1944 to 15.05.1944.

As part of my flying experience, I was taken up in Warwicks as an observer next to the pilot.

I did 20 hours in the aircraft, once doing a nine hours sortie over the Bay of Biscay with a lifeboat beneath.

The only excitement that I can recall was that, with others looking downwards, my job was to look skywards.

I was fortunate to see a German Focke-Wulf Condor before any on that aircraft saw us.

I got on to the intercom to tell all aboard (the noise in those aircrafts was enormous) but the communication broke almost as soon as I spoke.

Pointing out the German aircraft to the pilot, we dropped down to sea level (being vulnerable from an attack from below) and headed back (at full throttle I image) to Davidstow.

Another point I remember and tell to incredulous ears is that back in the mess (canteen) we were guaranteed an egg.

Another incident, this time on the ground at Davidstow, is that I inadvertently entered a ladies’ lavatory and was delighted with its cleanliness, when I heard a lady cough nearby. To be found in a ladies’ convenience would have been (probably) a court marshal offence.

I left like a rocket and (most thankfully) no one saw me leave.

This is not much, but small vignettes like this help to build up a picture of the time.

With best wishes,

Jim Page-Roberts

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Soap Reclamation

I do it every few months, and think nothing of it - except that the whole process is a rather satisfying one.

Soap (cakes of it, that is) is much wasted. Hotels provide small tablets of usually inferior soap, which may be used once or twice and then thrown away. At home, when we have come at last to pieces so small that they are useless, we, too, throw them away. I don’t, and have not done so for years.

In my bathroom is a drawstring, net bag, at one time used, possibly, for something like Chinese garlic bulbs. Into it go the odds and ends of used soap – all to be enjoyed again later in a much larger, blended form.

Here is what you do.

Save meshed, plastic bags – the kind used for shallots, garlic, plums and much else.

It is wise to coat the surface on which the following operation takes place with a few layers of newspaper.

Take your used pieces of soap from the (bathroom) storage bag, and put them, higgledy-piggledy, in a meshed bag, cutting large pieces, if any (they might be cakes of soap that you did not like particularly and have become dried and cracked), into smaller pieces. Tie a knot in the bag, or close it with a freezer bag wire tie, to keep the pieces as close together as possible.

You will need a press of some sort. I use a squeezer for half oranges – which is ideal. You could use the like, or a deep bowl, or perhaps a section of tubing – like plastic drainpipe. In the case of something like a bowl or pipe it will be necessary to have a disk that you will press down on to the soap when it has been softened by steam. A potato masher would do.

You will also need a plastic bag, like a freezer storage bag. This will stop any very soft soap from escaping the press.

Now put an inch or two of water in an appropriately sized saucepan (i.e. a deep one to prevent soapy water from bubbling out over the saucepan and on to the stove). On the saucepan place a metal colander. Put the tied bag of soap bits in the colander and heat the water beneath to a low, tick-over boil.

To concentrate the resulting steam, rising from the water and passing up through the colander holes to the bag of soap pieces, place a saucepan lid over the bag to fit the inside of the colander.

Prod the soap pieces every so often (with the point of a knife or skewer) until they become soft (some will be softer than others, with some transparent varieties sadly melting into the water below).

When you think that all the bits of soap will cling together (some may still be fairly firm), lift out the bag of softened soap and drop it into the freezer bag (rolling down the sides of the bag beforehand to facilitate the operation). Be extra careful in doing this as the soap will now be very hot and can cling and scald.

Do not tie up the freezer bag, as air must be allowed to escape from it.

Now press or squeeze the meshed bag within the freezer bag until the bits of soap unite and take the form of your press and future cake of blended soap.

Allow the bagged soap to cool for a few minutes. Then extract the meshed soap from the freezer bag.

Using scissors, cut away the mesh bag from the pressed soap, and put the hot cake of soap on to a plate.

There will be rough joins and crevices in the new cake of blended soap. Bits of soft soap will cling to the bag mesh.

Prise away the soft soap bits remaining in the bag’s mesh and use it to fill the cracks and holes in the large cake. Again, be careful of the hot soap. Do not worry about any final odd protrusions or unevenness. These will disappear with use.

Allow the soap to cool. Keep it for several days, or longer, before using it.

The chances are that you will now have a large lump of lovely soap that you will use and enjoy - luxuriantly.

Washing up afterwards is easy. Everything used is soapy.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

FUSKER THE CAT (continued)

I use an old, updated (to ’97) computer that is unconnected with the ether. It is quick, simple, has few knobs to press, is unconcerned with viruses, and has a good memory. I do not have to tear out my hair over it, or have a day ruined by glitches.

So when I write a blog, it goes from my computer on to a 3 ½” floppy disk, and then into an attachment on Margreet’s latest machine to be blogged, if that is more or less the correct expression.

In her computer is a very clever system whereby she can tell when there are “hits” on the blog, about which blog, the key word, and from where the hits originate. These hits come from all over the world.

One of the popular requests is for people to read the piece I wrote on my fight (and victory) with Fusker the cat.

Bloggers have wanted to know the current position of our relationship. Even Fusker, himself, wrote to apologise, being grateful that I did not choose to have recourse to the law over the matter (I do not reply to animals).

For those who would like to know, Fusker has accepted that I am “Boss Cat”. He skulks away when our paths cross, and hides, usually, beneath a car.

However, although he knows full well that he is in uninvited territory, my garden is a haven for birds, and Fusker sees birds as his natural and rightful prey.

So when I saw a black shape disappear from the end of my garden (it is only 4 x 14 paces in size) and the flagstones of its surface coated in wood pigeon feathers, I guessed who might have been responsible (no corpse was to be seen).

So I blocked off his approach and escape route with my secret solution, and expected there to be no more cat-intrusions. My small family of wild birds should then have been safe.

So it was a great surprise to both of us when, about to leave the house and lock the glazed back door to the garden, I saw Fusker just outside, clawing at a cornered wood pigeon.

On seeing me he scampered off.

I was left with a feathered garden and a wood pigeon that had had enough of its wing feathers extracted to make flight impossible.

A decision had to be made. Obviously I could not leave the wounded bird to be subjected to further torture. So I had to return to my old country ways and dispatch it.

But I suppose that Fusker had done me a good turn. Wood pigeons are a nuisance in my garden. They foul the flagstones with their not inconsiderable droppings, needing the mess to be swept clean, or, if missed and trodden on, being brought into the house on the soles of shoes. Now, at least, there are two fewer wood pigeons. For that, thank you, Fusker.