Sunday 26 April 2020

Tom Hanks donates typewriter to bullied 8-year-old boy named Corona


Tom Hanks writes to boy called Corona who said he was bullied

Here's another good news story to come out of the current crisis and further proof that actor Tom Hanks is an all-round top chap.

A collector of typewriters since 1979, Mr Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson were among the early high-profile individuals to be affected while travelling in Australia last month.  Such is Mr Hanks' passion for typewriters that he took one of his portables with him - a rather aptly-named one as it turned out!

Tom Hanks pens heartfelt letter to bullied Australian boy named Corona 

Now that same typewriter is back in Australia after Mr Hanks received a charming letter from an eight-year-old boy whose shared name with the disease du jour was sadly causing him problems at school.  What turned into a delightful correspondence ended with Mr Hanks sending the young lad the typewriter in question with the request to learn how to use it "to write [to] me back".  I'll wager that's something little Corona never expected! 

The incident also serves to highlight the problems that can be encountered by people and organisations whose name falls foul of topical events.  "Corona", as Mr Hanks points out, means "crown" (or "wreath") in Latin and until this year was most likely used in reference to the rings of material around the sun which resemble a crown (and indeed its use in "coronavirus" is because under a microscope the Covid-19 virus also has wreath-like projections that give the appearance of a solar corona).  Unfortunately it is this latter use that is on everyone's lips at the moment, so for people like Corona DeVries it is understandably causing them some grief.  Hopefully this will be only a temporary issue, however, and once this is all over we - and especially young Corona - can reclaim the word and not have it forever tarnished by this ghastly virus.

This is no doubt just as true for the makers of the Corona typewriter, for the company that produced it is still trading as Smith Corona albeit now as a manufacturer of barcode labels.  It can trace its origins back to the Smith Premier Typewriting Company, which was established in New York in 1886 by the wonderfully-named brothers Lyman, Wilbert, Monroe and Hurlbut Smith.  Over the following 30 years the business went through several iterations as it bought out or merged with other typewriter manufacturers including the Union Typewriter Company and the Rose Typewriter Company (renamed by Smith Bros. as the Standard Typewriter Company).  In 1914 the company introduced its first portable Corona model and so successful did it become that Standard was again renamed to the Corona Typewriter Company, focussing solely on portable typewriters while L.C. Smith & Bros. continued to produce office models.  Smith-Corona continued to be a major player in the typewriter market - being among the first to introduce electric typewriters in the 1950s - right up until 2005 when it finally gave in to progress and stopped typewriter production.

This has all served to remind me of my most recent typewriter acquisition, which is - you've guessed it - a Corona!  I say "recent", it was actually over a year ago in March 2019 when, passing the window of my local charity shop I espied a topping-looking Corona Special portable in pride of place in a display case.  The condition was immaculate - clearly it had been professionally restored - but the price was barely a third of what I'd seen lesser examples go for on eBay.  It was rightly attracting much comment from other passing shoppers (one of the volunteers later said "I knew it wouldn't hang around for long") but unfortunately I was unable to get at it straight away as work kept coinciding with the shop's opening hours.  I was eventually able to duck in early one afternoon and convinced them to hold it for me for a week while I went to get the money and arranged to pick it up on the Saturday.  I am therefore now also the proud owner of a 1920s Corona [Special] (I haven't been able to identify the exact year as I can't find the serial number, which has possibly been obliterated by the restoration).

The case has seen better days but no less than one would expect from something nearly
100 years old - in fact to still have the case at all is quite remarkable! 

It doesn't look much like a typewriter in the above photos, does it?  "How does it work", I hear you ask?  Well, take it out of the case...

Still looks a bit odd, doesn't it?  Well, see how the carriage is held over the keyboard by the two arms?  Lift the carriage up and it pivots over and onto the typebars, whilst the keyboard rises up from underneath.  Hey presto!

A very clever piece of machinery and one I am immensely proud to own.  Sadly I haven't had a chance to use it in anger yet - life getting in the way as ever, plus it needs a new ribbon and the spools seem unwilling to move even when fully loosened.  Hopefully I'll be able to get it up and running soon and then, perhaps, a typecast will be in order!

To return finally to the original article, Robert Messenger over at the oz.Typewriter blog has also covered this story with some splendid pictures of the two Coronas together(!) that I have not seen elsewhere.  It is all in all a lovely story that shows those involved in the best light and has (hopefully) created a new typewriter aficionado in Corona DeVries.  In any event it will doubtless be something he will remember and treasure for a long time and with luck will help him forget his troubles with small-minded bullies.  Once again it is a case of typewriters (with the help of Tom Hanks) to the rescue!

Thursday 23 April 2020

Happy St George's Day


To all my followers, readers and visitors I wish you a

Happy Saint George's Day

Saturday 18 April 2020

Lockdown look back #2: May 2017 - Eynsford (Pt. II) & Farningham, Kent

So we find ourselves back in Eynsford on the 1st May 2017 for Lockdown Look Back Number 2, which begins with an erratum.  In the previous post I said that we stopped for lunch at Riverside Tearooms on our way to Farningham; in fact, as I recalled after posting, we had tea there on the way back from Farningham having clocked the place as we headed out.  (It was still very nice, though, either way.)


Rounding the corner from the tea room we headed over the bridge (not through the ford, although one or two young families were rolling up their trouser legs and doing just that!) and along Sparepenny Lane, the road that runs alongside the River Darent to Farningham.


Passing pub number three, The Plough Inn, we stopped to admire the series of weirs on this section of the river before carrying along the road and up to the Darent Valley. 

The weather had been unpredictable all day and as we neared the top of the valley the clouds were definitely gathering until before long they looked about ready to heave open, which indeed they promptly did.  Fortunately I had come prepared with my trusty whangee-handled brolly, which was quickly pressed into service when the rain came tipping down.  Arm-in-arm under its protective canopy we continued on our way to Farningham, stopping only briefly to take the following photo:

The next village back from Eynsford is Shoreham - not to be confused with the town of Shoreham-by-sea in West Sussex.  What they do share is an aviation link - Shoreham-by-sea boasts a spiffing Art Deco terminal building as part of Brighton City Airport (a.k.a Shoreham Airport, the oldest aerodrome in Britain), where the annual Shoreham Airshow takes place, while Shoreham in Kent is home to the much smaller but no less interesting Shoreham Aircraft Museum (of which more anon!).  Dedicated to the memory of the heroic pilots who fought over the skies of Kent (and further afield) during WW2, the volunteers have in recent years arranged for memorial stones to be placed at known sites where some of these brave fellows met their end and one such stone can be found on Sparepenny Lane.  Thoughts turned to these brave young chaps and, with photos taken, we pushed on into Farningham.


The weather had cleared up somewhat by this time (although not quite as sunny as in the above picture, which is looking back down Farningham high street towards the way we came in), as we arrived at Farningham to be presented with another wonderfully picturesque Kent village.

Heading up the high street we crossed over the 18th century bridge leading to the village.  You may be forgiven for thinking the structure in my photo (above) and the picture below was once part of an older crossing but in fact it was never a bridge at all.  It is in fact a cattle screen, built to stop cows and other farm animals from escaping via the river!


Just over the other side of the bridge is where we did stop for lunch, The Lion public house.  Set in a lovely red brick building (it claims to be 16th century but to my eyes looks more late 18th/ early 19th), it is now part of the Vintage Inn group but was very sympathetically decorated inside and with a good selection of food (I still can't remember what we had though, sorry!).


After an enjoyable lunch (during which I almost forgot my camera!) we headed on up the hill in to the village proper.  Smaller even than Eynsford, with consequently no tea rooms and only two pubs(!) there were nevertheless some charming cottages and other such delights to hold our attention.


As well as its proximity to Eynsford and equally beautiful village aspect, Farningham boasted another feature that had attracted us.  Making our way up the high street we soon came to it (in the above photo on the left, just around the corner) - a topping little antiquarian bookshop housed in a charming 17th century listed cottage.

Wadard Books is one of those wonderful old bookshops that we both love so much and are so grateful to still come across.  Of the sort run by an older couple (complete with cat) who can be found at a desk hidden behind shelves of books, one has to ring a bell to be allowed in to peruse their wares, which were substantial, wide-ranging and endlessly fascinating.  We would have happily taken it all home!  The little annexes outside housed the cheaper, more modern end of the spectrum but there were still some excellent bargains to be had both there and within.  Once we were inside we spent an age browsing and chatting to the old boy.  I made a beeline for the military history, aviation and motoring sections and it was in this last that I scored my best find (the others are again, I'm afraid, lost to memory).

Browsing through the motorsport shelves I was immediately drawn to this book, partly due to its age but mainly due to the name and title on the spine.  G.E.T. Eyston was none other than George Eyston, noted racing driver of the 1920s & '30s and three-time holder of the land speed record (of whom I have blogged about previously)  A quick inspection revealed no price so it was presented to the old chap at the desk with the question "how much?".  Taking it from me, he joked that I had managed to find the only book in the place without a price before coming to a decision - "shall we say £5?".  Reader, I nearly bit his arm off!  Although externally its condition is only acceptable for its age, internally the text and photographs are still bright, with some wonderful colour plates to boot!

Well satisfied with our little haul and vowing to return another day (which of course we did!) we headed back to Eynsford and tea at the Riverside Tearoom.  We both had a thoroughly enjoyable time and the day forms a very happy memory for all sorts of reasons.  Eynsford and Farningham are two beautiful villages in the best Kentish tradition, which I can heartily recommend visiting, and I look forward to returning to them again once all this is over.

Wednesday 15 April 2020

Lockdown look back #1: May 2017 - Eynsford, Kent (Part I)

Since posts about what we got up to when we were still allowed to go outside are proving rightly popular at the moment, I figured I would jump on the bandwagon with my own series detailing some of the places I've been to during my 3½ year hiatus from the blogosphere.


So to begin let me take you back to May Day 2017, which found me in the picturesque Kent village of Eynsford in the Darent Valley, for a third date. Situated next to the River Darent, while only 6 miles from Dartford we were still nevertheless in the heart of the Kent countryside.

We had arranged to meet at 12 o'clock at The Five Bells, one of four pubs to be found in the village (the decline of public houses seems to be mercifully low in Kent compared to Essex and other parts of the country, going by my experience) but unfortunately upon arriving first I discovered it was not open until 1pm.  Fortunately a second pub, The Castle Hotel, was only two doors down and happy to have me in - although I was the only person in the place (other than the owners and their dog)!  My date arrived shortly afterwards, having also gone through the same process of elimination on the pub front as I had done, and we settled down for a drink.  A few more people came in as lunchtime approached but we had agreed to eat elsewhere so headed off after about half an hour's chatting.

Our next destination and another reason for choosing Eynsford as a meeting place was the ruins of Eynsford Castle, a medieval fortification dating back to the 11th century (although an even earlier Anglo-Saxon settlement had also existed prior to then).  Quite a substantial ruin (again for someone used to far less extensive examples in their neck of the woods) it has a fascinating history and lovely views across to the Darent Valley.  Accessed via a small residential lane directly opposite The Castle Hotel and hidden away behind the village hall(!) it was a real undiscovered gem.

The following pictures are either sourced or my own:

The entrance bridge (constructed 1967) over the moat.

My view of the solar undercroft (living & sleeping quarters, probably for the bailiff).

The remains of the solar undercroft's fireplace. 

Another set of original steps accessing the solar undercroft...

... which I did not attempt to descend!

The original, "Great", kitchen with views of the Darent Valley beyond.

After a good look around and with photos taken we went off in search of lunch, which was to be found at the nearby Riverside Tearooms.  I can't recall now what we had but it was a nice little bijou place with good food and proved very popular.


When you round the corner from the entrance you get an idea of where it takes its name from:


A charming 17th century bridge links the high street to roads leading along the River Darent to the M20 or up the Darent Valley to the M25, with a ford running alongside for larger vehicles unable to use the bridge.  It was over this bridge and along the riverside walk that we went after lunch, on our way to our second destination - the next village of Farningham.

You'll be able to read all about our afternoon there in part two of this post, as I think this one has gone on long enough!  Stay tuned for the next instalment...

Sunday 12 April 2020

Easter Wishes

Happy Easter

to all my readers, followers and visitors.  I hope you all have as splendid a festive break as current conditions allow and enjoy the bank holiday weekend.

No sign of Easter Parade in the schedules again this year (fast becoming an annual treat in the Partington-Plans household) but fortunately I have a previous recording that will be pressed into service again tomorrow.  What is your favourite Easter film? 

Saturday 11 April 2020

Classic car unearthed in Yorkshireman's back garden

Classic car unearthed in Yorkshireman's back garden

Those who are fortunate enough to have their own gardens have rightly been taking advantage of this to get outside - especially in the lovely Spring weather we're experiencing this Easter - and do a bit of horticultural pottering, but I bet this chap in West Yorkshire wasn't expecting to discover a car when he went to dig his garden! 


That though was the surprising find as reported in this article - a 1950s Ford Popular that had somehow wound up completely buried in a suburban back garden.  Quite how or why it got there is anyone's guess, although the military vehicle theory is as good as any.  Ford Pops would have likely been used as basic runabouts by the postwar armed forces - perhaps this one went AWOL and was hidden away to be retrieved later.  Such incidents are surprisingly commonplace with pre-war cars whose owners - fearing their potential destruction in bombing raids during WW2 - buried them in their gardens to be retrieved after the hostilities were over only for them to be forgotten until unearthed decades later, but this is a rarer instance of a post-WW2 car being found in such a way.  This is assuming it is a Ford Popular, which I have no reason to doubt, although it would be something if it were to found to be an older vehicle.

Either way it is an amazing (and amusing) find and definitely brightened up my day when I first read about it, hence its inclusion here.  If nothing else it ought to encourage the green-fingered amongst you to get out in to your garden, if you have one, and start digging.  If it sounds too much like hard work you don't even have to rip up your lawn to uncover fascinating treasures, as this similar story from Stoke-on-Trent proves:

Medieval coin found in Stoke-on-Trent garden raspberry patch

It always astounds me to think how these historical artefacts can just resurface (quite literally) after centuries underground, as the movement and cultivation of the earth slowly brings them back to ground level again, to be rediscovered in the sometimes most bizarre of circumstances.  It gives one to wonder just what other treasures are still waiting to be uncovered - perhaps in your own back garden!

A 19th(?) century clay pipe that was dug up in the family back garden in the '90s by
our pet dog Toby(!).

What's the strangest thing you've unearthed in your garden?  Let me know in the comments and if you haven't found anything yet - get your spades on!

Tuesday 7 April 2020

Music to watch the world go by

Period sleuthing (and bow ties) are the order of the day!
TV schedulers have a somewhat macabre sense of humour, I've decided.  In the last week I couldn't help but notice on several different channels such unnecessarily topical films as The Andromeda Strain, The Host, War for the Planet of the Apes and Groundhog Day(!), sometimes making multiple appearances.  It honestly makes me grateful for my extensive DVD collection (currently rotating between my Harold Lloyd and Thunderbirds box sets and Agatha Christie's Partners In Crime, as the mood takes me) and personal library.  How people without access to such things are coping I don't know (but I sincerely hope everyone is keeping as happy and occupied as possible)!  Don't watch too much news seems to be the consensus - and I agree (I tend to get mine through the [online] papers, that way I can filter things out more easily).

Since we are all trying to find other things to keep us entertained at the moment, and with the television here in the UK not really stepping up to the crease inasmuch as offering much in the way of escapism (or even erudition), I thought now would be a good time to do a post on another form of media that has been keeping me sane for a while - podcasts.  Specifically, podcasts featuring popular music from our favourite era - the 1920s and 1930s!

Vintage music podcasts are something I've been supplementing my own record collection with for some time now and by and large I've found them to be a jolly little fillip to my enjoyment of '20s and '30s jazz.  As well as providing an introduction to hitherto unheard-of bands and their music (rather like the equivalent of hearing a new pop group's song on the radio) it's just nice sometimes to hear a friendly voice sharing their enthusiasm for an otherwise sadly overlooked genre and reminding you that you're not the only one out there who likes listening to it!  So without further ado I present you with my current list of podcasts and internet radio stations that showcase those toe-tapping tunes from the Jazz Age.  Some of them are fairly recent discoveries, others I've been listening to for years, but all are great things to have on in the background while you're busying about the house.   

78Man Presents

One of my more recent discoveries, 78Man Presents plays a varied selection of music taken - as the name suggests - from his own collection of 78rpm records dating from the 1900s right through to the 1950s.  Featuring mainly British dance bands, as is to be expected from a British production; although the focus is sometimes too much on novelty songs for my liking it still features a good selection of tunes from across the first fifty years of the 20th century.

Angel Radio

A slightly different format this one, Angel FM is a community radio station based in Havant, Hampshire, broadcasting to the local area on FM & DAB radio but also available worldwide via its website.  I featured it in a post back in 2011 when it was still only a "pop-up" station and it is wonderful to see how it has evolved since then, its aims eminently laudable and well worth supporting.  Although it claims to focus on providing music for the older generation, we know that this means music that we "old souls" can enjoy as well (nothing from after 1959 - sounds good!) and lo and behold there are a number of shows on throughout the week that play popular standards from the Forties back.

The British Dance Band Show

Not available as a podcast per se; you can only listen to or download individual mp3 files from the website from what I can gather.  John wright is another British dance band aficionado with an extensive 78rpm record collection that again forms the backbone of these broadcasts, which are nevertheless as enjoyable and informative as any other.

Phonotone Classic

Another internet radio station this one, devoted to dance band music from 1925 to 1945 according to its "About" page.  As befits a world wide web wireless it's not just British dance bands either but artists from the USA and even Germany among others.  It's also splendid to see the younger generation involved in this enterprise; Jonathan Holmes, presenter of the "British Dance Band Programme", is a particularly welcome ambassador for the genre among young people, coming across as relaxed, well-informed and enthusiastic about his subject.  He also has a decent YouTube channel, which I can heartily recommend as well (in fact a separate post for similar channels may well be forthcoming in the future!).

Radio Dismuke

This is yet another internet radio site that I believe you can only listen to online, but one that has been on my radar - and that of some of my followers I think - for some time now.  Being Texas-based it focuses largely on dance and swing bands from the United States, however bands from Britain and Germany are also well-represented.  While it is generally non-stop music there are also occasional live "Special Broadcasts" from the owner of a local record store, who presents his programme every month or so.

Shellac Stack

This is the vintage music podcast that started it all for me and the one I have been listening to and enjoying the longest.  Presented by Bryan S. Wright, who is an accomplished jazz pianist and music historian, and based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (my aunt's home town - hello Pittsburgh; go Steelers!) these hour-long broadcasts feature a nicely-judged mix of tunes from the 1910s-1950s .  While again naturally leaning towards American groups there's a good smattering of British and other bands and just the right number of novelty songs, all introduced by Bryan with friendly, easy-going style and obvious passion and knowledge.  It's great to hear the enthusiasm for these songs from a younger person again as well and I tip my hat to Mr Wright for helping to keep the torch alight.  Able to be listened to on site or downloaded as an mp3, Shellac Stack is also available on iTunes (although I note there hasn't been a new episode since September, so I hope all is well with him - still definitely worth a listen, anyway!).

That Gramophone Show

A further new find and one that is fast becoming a favourite (albeit again it hasn't been updated since November, so we can only hope that it is not short-lived!).  Presenter Neil Starr again delves into his personal collection of 78rpm records and, although being a British production, bands from both sides of the Atlantic are featured in good balance.  It's nice to hear some informative speech in between records as well and the mix is precisely right to make the hour pass enjoyably and just briskly enough.  This podcast is also available on iTunes (as well as other podcast programs).

That, then, is one type of [vintage] media that has been keeping me entertained these last few weeks (and beyond) and it is my hope that you find something among them all to divert you if only for a time.  Enjoy the music and let me know in the comments what you've been up to - and if there are any stations or podcasts I've missed from this list!

Saturday 4 April 2020

Bletchley Park activities revealed in unique footage

Silent film reel shows staff connected to Bletchley Park for first time

As the period of the Second World War slips further back into the mists of time, so remarkable discoveries like this never-before seen footage of intelligence workers at a Bletchley Park satellite station are both ever more historically important and perhaps (hopefully?) the start of more of the same appearing, as the period of the Official Secrets Act that covered the work done at Bletchley comes closer to its end.  It is perhaps telling that this fantastic material was donated anonymously, which to my mind suggests that it was the original owner (or someone closely connected to them), who magnanimously gave it to the Bletchley Park Trust - perhaps feeling that enough time had passed that it could be handed on with a clear conscience.

That it was made at all is extraordinary given the top-secret nature of the work carried out at the site, the blanket ban on cameras and the oath of secrecy that all the workers were sworn to and which, if you see or read interviews with surviving members, they still feel honour-bound to keep nearly 80 years on.

In spite of this it seems to me that whoever took this footage clearly wanted to document what little they could of life as a code-breaker during the war.  Although much of it is of a frivolous nature and nothing is really given away, the fact that it features several fellow workers including some in official uniform to me belies the suggestion that it would have been seriously frowned upon had it been discovered at the time.  In it I see a group of people, very much aware of the importance of what they are doing, wanting to preserve what they could of their daily lives at Whaddon Hall for posterity.  The fact that expensive and hard to come by colour film is used in parts, I feel, supports this theory. 

As I said at the beginning of this post, it is to be hoped that more finds like this will be unearthed in the future to provide an even more tangible link to a significant and pivotal time in our history and in this case add further to the amazing story of the "Ultra" code-breakers based at these sites.  I am certainly looking forward to see the augmented film with subtitles once it becomes available, as to see what was being said as well will only add to the immediacy of this astonishing footage.


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