I’ve recently completed and submitted (for hopeful publication in a respected arts and culture magazine) a short piece of writing all about the wonders of the monorail, in my opinion, a timeless and much misunderstood mode of transport that deserves far greater support.
The essence of my argument is that the monorail’s almost Pavlovian depiction as THE earthbound transport of the future, has resulted in it being underused and mistrusted as a viable urban commuter option in the large majority of today’s’ Cities..
Evidence, I suggest, can be found in countless imagined future cities in countless films, books, comics and TV programmes of the last 100 years or so: Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926), Things to Come (1936) Francois Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (1966), in Mega City One (Judge Dredd’s home in 2000AD) and Logan’s Run, the writings of Arthur C Clark, Philip K Dick and Iain M Banks to name just a few.
Couple this often over exaggerated and/ or improbable Sci-Fi imagery with the monorail’s undeniable association with novelty rides, at things like World Fairs, Disney Land resorts and countless airports and zoo’s the world over, and the character assassination is complete…
Thankfully however, attitudes have been changing over the last couple of decades or so, and successful urban transport systems can be found in Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo and Moscow to name just a few of the forward thinking cities who have recognised the many benefits of electrically operated aerial monorails including reduced land take, reduced emissions and quiet operating volumes.
Due to copyright reasons, it’s difficult to include found and uncredited images with written articles published in proper magazines. On my blog of course no such restrictions apply, so I’ve collected below some of my favorite images, ones that I think best illustrate the idealism, excitement and overall futureness of the monorail…
The Manchester based webzine The Shrieking Violet has just reached an impressive 20th edition, so a huge congratulations to its founder, curator and editor, Natalie for such an achievement. Long may she continue to self publish…
Natalie has been kind enough once again to include a piece I wrote about a largely forgotten and overlooked artist Frank Dobson, a man who in the 1920′s was considered by many critics as amongst the first and best of British Modern sculptors, ranking alongside the likes of his fellow Englishman Eric Gill as well as the American Jacob Epstein and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska who was French.
Dobson’s is a sad story to some extent. Despite being at the very cutting edge of early Twentieth Century modern art, time and changing tastes were not kind to him, and through a refusal to move away from a romantic, figurative style generally (and the female nude specifically) his work was eclipsed by the likes of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, as their radical reinterpretation of abstract forms made him look old fashioned and out of touch, so that today his name is barely a footnote to most art histories…
A screen grab of my article is below, but I would urge you to visit The Shrieking Violet site on the link above and have a look through some of the previous editions.
Started a couple of years ago and based up in Manchester, the Modernist Magazine is now up to issue no. 6. which is no mean feat for a self published hard copy magazine. The editors, Jack, Maureen and Emily can be very proud of this achievement
Each edition has an over arching theme, with “Cuppa” chosen for this one, a teasingly simple title that encourages subjects as varied as Billy Butlin’s cafe in the Telecom Tower, Melamine, Lewis’s Department Store in Liverpool, David Mellor’s cutlery and the Czech Pavilion from Expo 58. Anything really as long as it fits within a Twentieth Century modern architecture & design umbrella.
My piece was about one this countries most overlooked architects Patrick Gwynne, and his timeless extension to the Theatre Royal in York from 1968.
Each issue of the magazine has a limited print run, so if you’re interested in getting a copy (for the very reasonable price of £4.50) you can visit the Manchester Modernist website here…
Alternatively you can browse back issues which have already sold out here…
And finally, a big thanks to Stephen Cole for allowing me to use his photo of the Theatre.
The current issue of The Shrieking Violet, a free issue, Manchester based arts fanzine, which has reached an impressive 19th issue over a three year span, is available to read online now…
The magazines creator and editor, Natalie Bradbury, was kind enough to include a piece of mine on The Plight of the Post War Mural. Currently a favourite topic of mine, this is a reworked blog post, in which I have changed the emphasis to illustrate how simply adding something of merit to the “Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest” (i.e Listing it) is no guarantee that the special thing will survive intact…
There are some screen grabs below (for my own records) but I would urge you to visit Natalie’s site and peruse the whole magazine (and some of the back catalogue as well if you have time). There’s some good stuff in there…
So big congratulations to Natalie on reaching her third birthday. Keep up the good work, and here’s to the next three years…
A perfect recent example is Natalie Bradbury, who shares an interest in all things artistic and cultural and like me is also a fan of that great unsung British artist William Mitchell.
Based up in Manchester, Natalie has just published a highly impressive 17th edition of her excellent, award-winning blog & online magazine The Shrieking Violet in which she has very kindly included an article written by me, on one of my favourite subjects…
Entitled Neighbourhood No. 9: The Live Architecture Exhibition at Poplar (on pages 3 to 6), it takes a brief look at one of the lesser known aspects of the 1951 Festival of Britain, namely how contemporary ideas in Architecture, Urban Design and Town Planning might best be used to create new communities in a Post War Britain, an issue that still has repurcussions to this day and one that I think should be much more widley known about than it is.
I must say I’m pretty excited about being in The Shrieking Violet, as it’s the first time I’ve had something I’ve researched and written published.
There are some low quality screen grabs below (mostly for my own record purposes) but if you’re interested then you really should visit Natalie’s amazing site and read the whole magazine for yourself…
Today I submitted my entry for the Guardian Short story competition. The theme was “Summer” and there was a 2000 word limit. I realise that as I have only written a couple stories before, the chance of winning are slim to non existent.. but I really enjoyed writing it and hopefully I’ll write more in the future.
It was dad’s idea to go. We were sitting at the dining table one evening with mum. The other two had left to do whatever small town Midlands kids did in the mid 1970′s, and I was putting off doing my homework as usual, going through my Observer’s Book of Planes trying to memorise as many facts as possible so that I could impress anyone who might be interested. I think even then though, I was aware that it was never likely to be a very long list and that the two names highest on it, were at that very moment sitting in the same room, at the same table….
“Dad, do you know how fast the Saab J37 Viggen can fly?
“Mum, do you know how far Concorde can fly on full tanks of fuel? and so on, learning, testing and remembering.
Dad had read in one of his newspapers recently that a very special visitor was expected at this year’s Farnborough International Air Show, a biennial event that we’d not been to before and that he thought would make for an enjoyable “family jamboree”. The air show was sometime at the beginning of September and would bring the summer holidays nicely to an end. Over the next few days however it became apparent that this particular jamboree was going to struggle to get off the ground. No one apart from dad really knew where Farnborough was, and when he told us it was a “only a couple of hours away” somehow we all instinctively knew that it was probably much further than that. My sister had already made plans for what was the last the last weekend before having to go back to school and didn’t see why she had to change them to spend ages going god knows where, in a hot car to see some silly planes.
My brother was really a bit too young to have an opinion that mattered, and my mum was surprisingly ambivalent about the suggestion, especially as she always loved our big days out, preparing picnics and organising coats and toys with a seemingly endless enthusiasm. Maybe it was just her way of subtly coming out in support of my sister wanting to stay at home, or maybe she realised how much a day out with just dad would mean to me.
So there it was. An outcome far better than I could ever have expected, a whole day out, just the two of us on a big adventure: an exciting car journey topped off by lots of planes and noisy engines. Now that really was something to write about on my first day back at school. Over the next couple of weeks, I planned for the trip. I asked dad to show me all the newspaper articles that he came across and cut them out for my scrap book. I spent ages pouring over my aircraft books, reading and re-reading everything I could about the planes I hoped I’d be seeing, so that when the day finally arrived, a bright, sunny Saturday, I was so excited I couldn’t sit still.
After an early breakfast, dad and I climbed into the car, waved goodbye to mum and drove off towards the main road. Dad had carefully worked out the best route and remembered to bring the atlas, and I had carefully worked out how many sweets we might need and remembered to bring them along with all my aircraft books which now sat expectantly on the back seat. As if any further confirmation were needed that today was going to be a good day, dad pushed a familiar and well used green cassette into the stereo and the dulcet tones of Karen Carpenter filled the car. And so it was that with both of us singing along to a song about “crawfish pie” and “mesherameeyos…” we pulled out onto the virtually empty main road and headed south toward the wonders that the day held in store.
The main wonder and the reason that this years air show had received more press than usual, was the “special visitor” that dad had read about in the paper. The USAF Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird, the mere name of which was enough to set my pulse racing, was on its way to the UK for the first time. I had pictures of this sleek, sinister and oddly shaped plane in my books, and knew by heart the things that set it apart: it was made of titanium, it was virtually invisible to radar and flying at over 2000 miles an hour at 24000 meters, it flew faster and higher than any other plane on the planet. It came into service the same year I was born, effectively making us the same age, and I was now on my way to actually go and see one. I could hardly wait. To finally get to hear those twin engines and hopefully have my photo taken standing next to it… the anticipation was almost too much. Still, there were many miles to go before then and we both settled into the car enjoying the music and the sunshine.
After a short silence, while I concentrated on unwrapping my next sweet, and dad tapped along to the music, I asked as casually as I could, if there were any hills between home and the air show. He smiled at me knowingly, having already guessed the reason for my question, but asked me why I wanted to know, humoring me. My thoughts went back to our holiday in Wales earlier that summer when on the way back to our caravan after a day out exploring in the surrounding hills, dad had turned the cars engine off and we had rolled silently up and down the undulating landscape, alternately gaining and losing momentum until, despite all of us loudly willing the car to make it up one last slope, the heavy vehicle succumbed to the inevitable rules of gravity and friction and had to have help from the engine to get us to the top. Having enjoyed it so much a month or so earlier, I just wanted to do it over and over again, repetition being a pretty key ingredient of what I considered fun. So it was with a sense of disappointment that I listened as my father explained that he didn’t think there were any suitable hills between our home and Farnborough and that as it was a Saturday morning, the roads would be too busy for such a potentially dangerous (not to mention illegal) stunt. Reluctantly I had to accept that he was right, but not before I made him promise that if the opportunity came to relive the feeling of travelling in a silent car, we would.
As it turned out dad’s estimate of about 2 hours was pretty good, and the journey passed by so quickly that I hardly had any time at all to impress dad with a few last key aviation based facts before we reached the town of Farnborough, just to the north of the airfield.
I don’t know when the awful realisation that something was wrong started to sink in to dad’s head, but I didn’t notice anything until we got right up to the airfield. Looking around we could both see that there were hardly any other cars, and there was none of the associated hustle and bustle that these large events always seem to generate, no hot dog stalls, no burger van smells and no police presence either.
We pulled up to the security post and as Dad got out and I watched him walk over to the guard, I felt sadly deflated. All that waiting and excitement for nothing. Dad spoke to the guard for only a minute or two and then came back, sat down in the drivers seat and looked across at me. I could tell by his face that all was not well and even as I hoped that he was going to say we were simply in the wrong place, I knew we were not.
The bad news was that he had got the dates wrong. He didn’t know how, as he was positive he had checked them in the paper and I could tell he was just as disappointed as me. I managed to just about hold back the tears as he went on to explain that the one consolation was that we had actually got there a week early and therefore hadn’t actually missed the show. As he sat there and promised me that we would, without fail, make the journey again the following weekend, I took a deep breath, bravely fought the need to cry and started to feel better. If Dad wasn’t going to cry, then neither was I.
So that was it. Sadly there was not going to be any Blackbird spotting today, and there was nothing else to do but turn the car around and head back the way we had just come. Aircraft facts didn’t seem quite so important on the way home, so we played a game of pub cricket by counting the number of legs of the occupants of pub signs, stopping at a four runs count for dad (The Red Dragon) in a small village about halfway home, sitting out in the garden and enjoying our lunch in the beautiful sunshine.
Homeward journeys never seem to take as long as outward ones, especially when you’re playing games, and it wasn’t long before we were on familiar roads and nearing home. As we pulled up into the drive we could both see the look of surprise on mum’s face at the kitchen window. As she came out to ask what had happened, dad told her our story, and she gave me a big hug, asking me if I was alright.
It was at that moment that the huge excitements and disappointments of the day finally kicked in and my young eyes started to well up. As I helplessly let mum take control and lead me into the house, I was vaguely aware that dad sounded a bit surprised, telling mum how brave I’d been all the way home. I know I should have tried to stop and continued being brave like my dad, but it’s very hard when your mum’s in total control, and anyway, I knew I could cry now because next week dad and I would be doing it all again, and this time we would definitely get to see the Blackbird.