A very few of my experiments are for sale on my website very cheaply if you're interested, as I hate to throw things away. However, selling is not what this blog is about - I'd have starved to death years ago if it was - it would make me happy if you just enjoy the processes.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Alfred the Gorilla

As a child, my father would love to tell us about Alfred The Gorilla, one of Bristol Zoo's star attractions.

My father was in the Home Guard as a young man and had the job of standing guard over Alfred during bombing raids etc. He always told us that it was his job to shoot Alfred if a bomb damaged the cage and he was released into the city. I have no idea if that was true, but it sounds feasible.

OK, I feel slightly icky looking back at these old photographs of Alfred in his cage, as it is such a cruel way to keep any animal, but it was accepted as normal at the time. Bristol Zoo was very popular and space was limited in the middle of a city.

The photo on the left was taken in 1946 when he was aged 18 and was 33 stone.

He became famous around the world, and this fame was increased during the war by GI's sending postcards of him to their homes in America. Over 20,000 images a year were bought and sent at the height of his popularity.

According to my father, Alfred was grumpy. He apparently disliked double decker buses, aeroplanes and men with beards. The zoo celebrated his birthday every year My father also said he was taken on walks around the zoo on a collar and chain and was often dressed up in clothes. He also liked to make snowballs and throw them at visitors.

Alfred the Gorilla was bought to the zoo in the 1930's from a Rotterdam Zoo, and he died in 1948.  He was also, apparently, suckled by a woman in the Congo before going to Rotterdam! He had a thyroid deficiency which was treated, but also had tuberculosis, and he collapsed and died after being frightened by a plane, and running into his sleeping quarters.

When he died, he was the oldest gorilla in captivity and was loved by many people who had never seen a gorilla before. He was stuffed by Rowland Ward, a famous taxidermist, and put on show in the museum.

As a child, and as a mother, we used to visit him regularly at the museum.....my last visit being in September this year. See, a lifelong love!!

 Here's an amusing video of how Albert came to be stuffed.


In 1956 he was stolen from the museum and disappeared without trace. Here's a bit from the local paper, the Evening Post to explain what happened and how he turned up again.

It is a mystery that has puzzled Bristol families for generations but today the Evening Post can exclusively reveal who stole Alfred the Gorilla 54 years ago.

The much-loved gorilla, who died in 1948, stands in a glass case in Bristol City Museum, but for a short time in 1956, at the start of University Rag Week, he vanished without trace.

Now after the death of estate agent Ron Morgan, 79, a family secret has been revealed involving him and two university friends in a definite case of monkey business.

The truth was kept under wraps for so long because Mr Morgan, his friend Fred Hooper, 77, and his other accomplice, known only as DB, feared they would be prosecuted by the museum or the council.
Ron Morgan, right, took Alfred the Gorilla with pal Fred Hooper, centre, and a third man known as DB
The ape-napping caused public outcry during March 1956 after the stuffed gorilla, a celebrity figure in Bristol who was worth about £600 at the time, mysteriously disappeared.

Police scoured university processions searching for Alfred, who was thought to be taken as a prank, and even threatened to prosecute the organisers of rag week, but to no avail.

Several days later Donald Boulton, a caretaker at Bristol University's student health service, had the shock of his life when he entered the patient's waiting room and was faced with the stuffed gorilla, which had been left in the centre of the room.

Until now only three people and their families knew what had happened to Alfred during those 60 hours with the gorilla himself remaining tight-lipped. But as a tribute to Mr Morgan, who lived in Clevedon and ran Morgan and Sons estate agents in Eastville, his family and friends have revealed the secret they have had to keep for over 50 years along with a collection of photographs kept as a record.

Mr Hooper, who now lives in Cheltenham, said: "It was initially my idea."I was about 23 at the time and I thought it would be a great rag week jape."We took Alfred because he was such a big Bristol personality and he was close by. It took a bit of planning, we told the museum we were making a film and that's how we got in. We knew the porter and so we were able to get a key cut to the secondary door that linked the museum to the university."Then we hid in the belfry until about 1am when every- thing was closed. It wasn't such a good idea in hindsight as the bells were still ringing and incredibly loud.

"We got into the museum and then we used the side door to get him out onto Park Row. It was very early in the morning and we stuffed him into the boot of an old Vauxhall car, that cost me £35, folded back the seats and sped off to my bedsit, in West Park, off Whiteladies Road.

"That's where he stayed for the duration and we took pictures of him in different guises. There were all sorts of stories going around, people thought Cardiff students had kidnapped him and there was a rumour he was in a cave somewhere but we never told anyone we had him.

"It was always our intention to return him and so the easiest thing was to take him to a doctor's waiting room which was just across the road. It was midday on a Saturday and we just carried him over and left him there."
Mr Morgan's son Gerard, 45, said: "We know that initially the three tried to lift Alfred and couldn't understand why he was so heavy but it was actually because he was screwed to a plinth and they were trying to lift their own weight."

He said a family scrapbook, containing original stories from the Evening Post about the theft, had become something of a family heirloom.He said: "My father used to develop his own photographs which is why he was able to take these pictures without anyone else finding out."This scrapbook has been locked in a secret drawer in our home and travelled around the world with him." 

The City Museum has now sent a letter to Gerard assuring the family that no one will be prosecuted over the kidnap.Dr Jo Gipps, director, Bristol Zoo Gardens, said: "At his death in 1948, Alfred was the longest-living gorilla in captivity anywhere in the world. In spite of the events of 1956, he is now one of the star attractions on display at the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery." Tim Corum, Deputy Head of Bristol's Museums, Galleries & Archives service, said: "We are intrigued and pleased to hear about the revelations concerning Alfred the Gorilla's 'escape' from the City Museum & Art Gallery in 1956.

"Museum staff have long known about this Rag Week stunt but not heard the inside story of those involved before. Although we would never condone any such illegal activity as reportedly happened, the council will not be taking any action against the reputed perpetrators either.

"Instead we will be adding the latest reports to the bulging file relating to one of Bristol's best loved figures."

Friday, 17 December 2010

How Ladies Learn to Cycle - 1894

I went to visit my mum this week and came home with a "box of bits" which she didn't have the energy to sort through. They're mostly old photos and family things, and in amongst them were a couple of old notebooks that my Great Grandmother started to write.

There are many amusing snippets including this one dated 1894.

How Ladies Learn To Cycle.

Teaching a lady to cycle is about the nicest thing I know, says one who has tried it. He recommends everyone who numbers nice girls in his circle of acquaintances to try it. About every five yards she will think she is going to fall over and throw her arms round your neck, your arms naturally closing round her waist. Sometimes, the machine will stop up; sometimes it won't; when it doesn't you lose bits of your shins, but what does that matter?

One time, as he stood with arms round her, holding up girl and machine, and her arms round him, he said, apologetically "I'm afraid you'll get tired of these lessons if you don't progress much quicker" "Oh, no," she murmured, "I love learning. Oh, hold me tighter; I'm falling!"

Of course he held her tighter. Who wouldn't? But it's all over now. When he got home he found the lady in the spectacles next door had seen the lesson progressing, and had at once called in to casually mention the matter. It is better, if possible, therefore, to avoid the vicinity of ladies in spectacles when the lessons are in progress.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Hoare Frosts.

For those from warmer climes, you could be forgiven for thinking this is just another series of photographs of snow; the UK is suffering from an abundance of the stuff at the moment.....but it isn’t.

We don't have any snow in my town, yet the world is white.

It’s something called hoare frost. (sometimes spelt without an e on the end) It is truly spectacular.

When it’s cold and frosty at night in winter, and the skies are clear, crystals form on vegetation or anything that has been chilled below freezing point. It was -12 last night and was still -6 at lunchtime so the world for us is not covered with snow but with hoare frost.

The interlocking ice crystals become attached to the branches of trees, leaves, hedgerows, grass etc, and if you look closely you can see fine feathers or needles of ice crystals. They fall off just like snow, if caught in the breeze.

Heres a bit of technical stuff downloaded from a weather website.

The relative humidity in supersaturated air is greater then 100% and the formation of hoar frost is similar to the formation of dew with the difference that the temperature of the object on which the hoar frost forms is well below 0°C, whereas this is not the case with dew. Hoar frost crystals often form intitially on the tips of plants or other objects.

Hoar frost might form as liquid dew that has subsequently frozen with a drop in temperature, which is then known as silver frost or white frost. Usually the dew drops do not freeze immediately, even if the air temperature is slightly below zero. Rather they become supercooled dew droplets at first. 

Supercooled dew will eventually freeze if the temperature falls below about -3°C to -5°C. Hoar frost deposits might also derive by sublimation, when water vapour is forming ice directly on the surfaces concerned. In most cases hoar frost will have formed by a combination of the processes above. 

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The slightly odd story of Jane Austen's aunt

As you know from previous postings, I'm a Jane Austen O'Phile. I have two new wonderful books; one book is of her letters, and the other book is a family history. Both written by Deirdre Le Faye, and they are packed with information.

I thought I'd share this rather strange story about her Aunt. It highlights the absurdity of the law at the time, and how the crime against property was given more weight than the crime against persons. Probably not for all readers of this blog, but I know some of you share my interest and might like this.

Why you needed to take care buying lace

Jane Austen had an Aunt and Uncle called Leigh-Perret (mother's side)

Mr and Mrs Leigh-Perrot were very happily matched and married. In August 1799 they went to Bath so that Mr Leigh-Perrot (Jane's uncle) could take the waters for gout. Whilst he was having his treatment his wife visited the local haberdashers to buy some black lace.

The shop was owned by a chap called Smith who had left his wife, run away, and left debts which meant the shop was in severe in financial straits. Smith's sister in law began to take over the shop with 2 other nefarious characters she knew. They decided to blackmail Mrs Leigh-Perrot (she'd been in the shop before) by secreting another piece of lace in her parcel, stopping her when she left the shop, and claiming that she had stolen it. They hoped that to avoid prison, she would pay large sums of money as blackmail which would get them out of trouble.

BUT, Mrs Leigh Perrot wouldn't pay and 4 days later she had a charge laid against her at the Bath magistrates for stealing lace to the value of 20 shillings. She was committed to the Somerset County Gaol at Ilchester to await trial the following March. Because the lace was valued at more than 1shilling, she was accused of grand larceny, which was punishable by death or by transportation to Botany Bay for 14 years. Mr L-P went with his wife, and they waited for 7 months in squalid conditions until March 1800.

Here's an extract from a letter she wrote at the time.

One of my greatest Miseries here is the seeing what my dearest Husband is daily going through - Vulgarity, Dirt, Noise from Morning till Night. The People, not conscious that this can be Objectionable to anybody, fancy we are very happy, and to do them justice they mean to make us quite so...this Room joins to a Room where the Children all lie, and not Bedlam itself can be half so noisy, besides which, as not one particle of Smoke goes up the Chimney, except you leave the door or window open, I leave you to judge of the Comfort I can enjoy in such a Room...No! my Good Cousin, I cannot subject even a Servant to the suffering we daily experience...My dearest Perrot with his sweet composure adds to my Philosopy; to be sure he bids fair to have his patience tried in every way he can. Cleanliness has ever been his greatest delight and yet he sees the greasy toast laid by the dirty Children on his Knees, and feels the small Beer trickle down his sleeves on its way across the table unmoved...Mrs Scadding's Knife well licked to clean it from fried onions helps me now and then - you may believe how the Mess I am helped to is disposed of - here are two dogs and three Cats always full as hungry as myself.

Jane Austen's family tried to help by keeping up sustaining correspondence. The Leigh Perrots had plenty of friends in Bath and were well thought of.

The trial took place at Taunton on Saturday 29th March 1800. Mrs L-P found it hard to prove her innocence as she could not give evidence on oath on her own behalf, nor was her husband allowed to do so, and her counsel were not allowed to address the jury on her behalf, and were only allowed to examine and cross-examine witnesses.

The "baddies" had well rehearsed the shop assistants and others into what they had to say to prove theft. However, Mrs L-P's lawyers were able to cast doubts on the character and honesty of the shop owners. There were plenty of people in the town to give her a good character reference as well, and after a trial of seven hours, and a huge 1 hour summing up by the judge, the jury returned a verdict of Not Guilty 15 minutes later.

This is what Mrs L-P wrote on being released:

.......before 10 on Monday Morning our anxious Friends began coming in ...my whole time has been taken up in kissing and crying....To be sure I stand some chance of being killed by Popularity - tho I have escaped from Villainy. That these wretches had marked me for somebody timid enough to be Scared and Rich enough to pay handsomely rather than go through the terrible Proceedings of a public Trial nobody doubts; and by timing it when I had only my Husband with me, they were sure that I could have no Evidence against them. Surely our boasted Laws are strangely defective - owing to this Circumstance I find no Punishment from me can attach to these Villains - and had he gone off the very day before the Trial, we should have lain under the Stigma of having bought him off without a possibility of Clearing ourselves...my dear and Affectionalte Sister Austen is impatient for our going into Hampshire, but I cannot go just yet. I shall not feel quite easy till our heavy charges are known  and paid.

As well as enduring 7 months in gaol, the Leigh-Perrots's had to pay £2,000 for the expenses involved in defending themselves.

The astonishing thing is that if you use Average Earnings as a guide, this comes out to be £1.6 million at 2008 values.

Assuming you had the means, would you have paid the blackmail, or would you have gone to prison?

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Rome: Piazza del Popolo and top tips for Rome.

A nice little jaunt for a morning's relaxation. Take the metro to Flaminio (or Flamingo as I unerringly and irritatingly called it.) and as you leave the station, go up the steps and into the Piazza del Popolo where there are 2 churches worth seeing. One of them has 2 of the most stunning Caravaggio's I've seen.

Climb the steps behind the fountain and cross the road; continue climbing through the woody area until you get to the top.

You are now in a park - the Borghese - and you can see the view over Rome from the top (video above). After that you can sit in the sunshine, or hire a bicycle/go cart, and puddle around in the shade for as long as you like. It was good to see there was somewhere for children to let off steam and for just sitting in the sun!

Again: top tips for Rome: 

Wear really comfortable shoes...you will walk lots and lots. We're into history and art, so can't comment on shopping etc. Everything shopping-wise looked like the average city anywhere in Europe.

Take plenty of money as it can be a bit expensive especially if you're visiting the  touristy areas. Allow about £150 a day for 2 of you.

The main European airport is not in the centre. Catch the Leonardo Express to and from the centre. It's £14 for a single journey each, and then use the metro to get around the city. The taxi for the same journey was £55. The trains are clean and on time.

Eating outside is expensive. Sitting down for your coffee is expensive and gets more so the nearer to outside you get. Most Italians drink at the bar standing up, and the price is then reasonable. They don't do mugs of anything except beer.

Buy bottled water from vending machines...the metro is good. Buy metro tickets from the machines too. (there is an "English" button for transalations) and a trip costs 1 Euro. The ticket lasts for 75 minutes before you need another one. It is easier to negotiate than the Underground as there is only 1 line, and is straightforward.

The Italians are lovely, and were helpful given our appalling Italian. Most knew instinctively that we were English and tried to use our own language if they could.

There's masses of free stuff to do. The Vatican Museum is expensive but well worth it. Get there early in the morning...by afternoon the queues were horrendous. There are extensive security checks which slows things down but plenty of room and you are free to wander once inside. The loos are particularly glorious.

Public WC's were fine. Most didn't want a tip or anything and most had attendants. Just say Grazie and get on with it.

Buy the best map you can.

Buy pizza from shops that cut off the amount you want, weigh it, and then wrap it for you to eat whilst walking.

Mostly there is no need to tip; it's quite acceptable not to. Service can be excellent so we did once or twice, but fairly modestly. I'd stick to 10% if unsure.

Oh, and take care on the pedestrian crossings. In England, cars stop for you to cross...almost without fail. In Rome they don't! You have to be brave and if there are no traffic lights, forge ahead to the other side. Scooters buzz around you whilst you do this so make sure you have a tight hold of children's hands.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

2 videos of the Raphael rooms, inside the Vatican.

Possibly the best sculpture in the world? DH gets emotional, and my feet just about give way.

More free stuff.

This little church took some finding, and we nearly gave up several times.  My poor feet were so tired, but DH was very keen to see this sculpture which he'd read so much about, so we searched for a considerable time.

The church was kept in almost complete darkness, and a small light illuminated the sculpture which  is of the Ecstasy of St Teresa, at the church of Maria della Vittoria.

It's by Bernini. The face on the dead woman is superb

The Altar. Also impressive in the dark.

Walking about Rome, making your feet swell. The Colosseum,

Rome is a very beautiful place; we liked it enormously. If you get the choice between going to Rome or Birmingham, choose Rome. Clean, delightful things to see and do, and lovely people. Coffee good, tea not so good. (first time I've ever had tea in an espresso cup...I usually like a trough)

 I want to know, how on earth it is, that nearly everyone we came across immediately started speaking English to us. We had no ID, no cultural accessories (union jack knickers etc), and were mostly silent. There is obviously that about us which identifies us to others...but what?

The tour touts and beggars around this little lovely were a bit too much. Grow a thick skin, and ignore them.


We were a bit mean and didn't want to pay to go inside, especially as there was so much free stuff to see around it.

 This is archeology. Not a building site.

Fountain of the Four Rivers, Piazza Navona.

Sculpture by Bernini.

River Tevere, which runs through the centre of Rome.The Underground pops up at this point and travels over the bridge before disappearing again.

Public transport is excellent; quick, clean and on time. A ticket costs 1 Euro and lasts for 75 minutes.

Not sure what this is. We thought it was the local Magistrates Court.

Castel Sant Angelo

The outside of the Vatican. A nice place to sit in the sunshine and watch the people go by.
It was evening, but still very warm.

The Vatican

 On our second day, we decided we had enough funds to start paying for stuff, and visited the Vatican museum.

We wanted to see the Sistine Chapel. You could easily spend a whole day here at the museum. It cost 15 Euros each to get in, and another 7 Euros for an English audio guide (well worth the money as we would have missed so much)

This Ibis is from the Egyptian collection and just took my eye as an inspiring shape. May do something with this! Obviously the Egyptian part of the museum is large because of the Romano/Egyptian history. Lots of stuff was bought to Rome...statues were used as garden ornaments etc.  (For comparison, it's not quite as large a collection as at the British Museum, but has some wonderful mummies etc which children especially would enjoy)

The ceiling of the map room. It's actually a very long corridor which houses 13 huge maps of early Italy.....
...such as this one...
We beetled along at a fair old rate as we needed to be somewhere else by lunchtime.

Raphael's ceilings etc. They speak for themselves.

Look, a garden with grass. It was the most beautiful garden and went on for acres. Lucky old Pope.

I found it slightly upsetting; galling. All this wealth, all this grandeur, all this fine living, and at night, in the square outside the Vatican, homeless people sleep in the doorways. They're moved off the steps, but they're there. 

Rome. Inside the Pantheon and Raphael's grave.

Video of Pantheon interior.

Still doing free stuff, and still on the first day of exploration.

Outside the Pantheon. It has an hole in the centre of the roof and being open to the elements it feels a little odd. The floor slopes towards the centre to allow for drainage.

Started by Augustus in 25BC. Present structure completed by Hadrian in 125AD.

Astonishing. Awe inspiring.

The tomb of Raphael 1520

The altar.

A still of the inside for those who don't want to watch the video.

Columns, Unified Italy and balconies.

 Marcus Aurelius' Column.

 Monument Nazionala Vittorio Emanuel 2.

1st King of Italy and responsible for unifying it.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Absolultely not eating, drinking or sitting on the steps. They come and blow a whistle at you to ensure total respect. Quite right too.

View from the top

Lack of gardens in Rome. Everything is crammed in and the weather doesn't allow for manicured lawns. You have to admire the efforts when this balcony first became someone's garden, but it's sadly gone to pot.

See? The sign says "keep off the grass" Made me laugh.

Trevi Fountain

Another free thing to do. We don't start paying for anything until we get to the Vatican.                                

Rome. Posting 2. Video of The church of St Ambrogio e Carlo in via del Corso

(The Basilican of Saints Ambrose and Charles on the Corso) Video of roof. Re-defines Baroque.


Amazing roof. Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, Altar, Pulpit (s)