Thursday, 24 April 2014

I didn't help in the slightest... Well, not much anyway.

If you were reading the Blog this time last year, you may have read a post about a project that the MicroDandy had to do for school, all about Britain in the Second World War.

The post was pretty much a list of all the stories that my Dad told us that weren't completely 'appropriate' for a seven year old's school project.  I thought at least a couple of you would be interested in reading what actually did make it into the project.

Or not...

Either way...

Here it is.


My Grandad in the RAF

In 1947 my Grandad Fred, who was 18 years old and training to be an electrician was conscripted into the Royal Air Force.

This meant that he had to leave his job and travel to RAF Innsworth in Gloucestershire to receive Basic Training in being a member of the armed forces.

After eight weeks of training where he learned, amongst other things, how to fire different types of gun and throw hand grenades.  He was one of four men in his group chosen to go to Northern Europe.

He sailed from Harwich to The Hook of Holland on the HMT SS Vienna (Picture below).

He then travelled, by train, up through Holland and Germany, to Hamburg and then to Flensburg, the most northern town in Germany and its Capital at the end of the Second World War, to complete his aircrew training, which meant that he was qualified to be a member of the crew of an aeroplane.

After completing his training he was made a Sergeant (Signals) and assigned to a part of the RAF called Headquarters 46 Group - Transport Command.

Signaller Brevet (Badge)

Sergeant's Stripes (or 'Tapes')

During the next four years he crewed transport aircraft all over the world, visiting places such as Cyprus, Hong Kong, Iraq, Libya, Malaysia and Malta.

One of the largest operations that he took part in was the Berlin Airlift.  Between 1948 and 1949 the Russian army blockaded the city of Berlin in Germany.  This meant that food and fuel could not get in to the people there. So the RAF and the United States Air Force used hundreds of aeroplanes to deliver thousands of tons of supplies every day.

At the busiest times, around 1,500 aeroplanes were landing every day in Berlin, that’s one every minute! The pilots of these aeroplanes had a very difficult job, flying at 150 Miles per Hour, sometimes only 150 meters apart.  Sometimes an aeroplane would crash onto the runway, if this happened it had to be pushed out of the way very quickly by a bulldozer so that the next one could land.

My Grandad remembers that there were times he had to work for 36 hours in a row flying in Avro Yorks and Douglas Dakotas loaded with Coal, Oil, Food and Mail to make sure that the supplies got delivered in time.  Sometimes, on the return trip, his aeroplane was loaded with some of the 11,000 children who were being evacuated out of Berlin to live with families in the West.

Whilst stationed at RAF Jurby on the Isle of Man he was one of the crew that flew training aircraft that were used to train new Navigators, these are the people who tell the Pilot where the aeroplane is and how to get to where he needs to go.

And one of his jobs when stationed at RAF Wunstorf  in Germany was to help fly Mosquito Fighter/Bombers back to RAF Broughton in Wales.  These Mosquitoes had been sold to the Post Office (now Royal Mail) and had been converted to carry mail.

I am really proud of my Grandad and the things he did in the RAF.


On the next few pages are some facts about the aeroplanes that my Grandad flew in and what he thought about them.

Handley Page HP67 Hastings

The HP67 Hastings was a transport aircraft used by the RAF between 1948 and 1977.

At the time it was introduced, it was the largest transport aircraft designed specifically for the RAF.

Its first and most famous job was to transport coal and other cargo into Berlin in Germany during the Berlin Airlift.

My Grandad Says:

‘The lights that told you whether the wheels were down properly when you were landing often didn’t come on… Usually because the bulb had popped, we used to keep a bag of spare bulbs, just in case’


Avro Type 685 York C1

The Avro York was a transport aircraft used by the RAF between 1944 and 1964.

The York was often kitted out as the personal aircraft of VIPs

Famous York included:

‘Ascalon’ The personal aircraft and flying conference room of Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain.

‘Endeavour’ belonging to HRH The Duke of Gloucester.

‘MW102’ Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma and Viceroy of India had his York specially painted light, duck egg green to try and keep it cool in the Indian sun.

My Grandad Says:

‘Once, when we were landing a York at an airfield in Germany, one of the tyres burst… It was pretty scary!’


Douglas C47 Skytrain (Dakota)

The C47 was called the Dakota by the RAF.  It got its name from the acronym "DACoTA" for Douglas Aircraft Company Transport Aircraft.

It was used by over 100 Air Forces all around the world including the RAF and the German Luftwaffe at the same time!

The Dakota first flew in 1941, but the RAF still uses the Dakota now, 70 years later, as a training aircraft for the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

My Grandad Says:

‘The Dakota was really noisy and uncomfortable, there was a big pipe around the doorway of the cockpit that carried air to the engines, and it made some very strange noises!’


Airspeed AS10 Oxford

The Oxford was mainly used for training aircrew (Bombardiers, Gunners, Navigators and Wireless and Camera Operators).  It was also used as an Air Ambulance.

They were first produced in 1937 and more than 8,500 were made.

On the 5th January 1941, the famous aviatrix Amy Johnson disappeared in an Oxford, never to be seen again!

My Grandad Says:

‘We used the Oxfords as flying taxis.  If someone was stuck at an airbase and needed to be somewhere else quickly, they’d usually go in an Oxford’


Avro Anson

The Anson was mostly used as a training aircraft by the RAF between 1936 and 1968.

In June 1940, a flight of three Coastal Command Anson were attacked by nine Messerschmitt Bf 109s of the German Luftwaffe.  The Anson shot down two and damaged a third before the dogfight ended with no British losses.

In September 1940, two training Anson of the Royal Australian Air Force collided in mid-air and got stuck together.  The two aircraft landed safely, still stuck together!

My Grandad Says:

‘If I could own any of the aeroplanes that I used to fly in, it would be an Anson’


de Havilland DH98 Mosquito

The Mosquito was a Fast Fighter/Bomber made almost completely of wood!

The engines used in the Mosquito were designed in Derby by Rolls-Royce.

It could fly at over 400 Miles per Hour!

My Grandad Says:

‘When we were flying Mosquitos back to Britain over the English Channel we would sometimes fly really low over the waves and try to scare the captains of fishing boats, but don’t tell anybody!’


All the MicroDandy's own work... Gawd's honest truth.  I'm not one of those parents that does their kids' homework for them so as they look more impressive.

Cross my heart, hope to... to... Erm, suddenly I don't feel so good...

*Expires theatrically, stage left*

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

And then I killed Bobby Davro

Well, I hope you all had a happy Easter. And I hope it was happy for the right reasons, not just because you were whizzing your mammary glands off due to having eaten the GNP of Matabeleland in chocolate.

I had a pretty quiet long weekend; I ate merely a reasonable amount of chocolate, drank some wine and played an awful lot of Mass Effect. (an awful, awful, lot of Mass Effect if the snorts of loneliness coming from the memsahib were anything to go by.)

But that's not what we're here to talk about is it? You want to know why I'm wildly claiming to have killed a popular 80's comedian and impressionist who happens to have been born Robert Christopher Nankeville and is both the son of an Olympian and is an all 'round good guy (or so I've heard, I mean, I've never met him or anything - But he looks the sort, always smiling, not afraid to cross-dress for comedy purposes - You know what I mean.)

And there's something that you need to know before I continue - I don't much care for fairground rides - It's not that I'm easily scared by loud noises or quick changes of direction or anything... Honestly, it's because... Ah... It's just... Well... You see... Some of those noises really are rather loud though aren't they?


Just before the holidays, Mrs Dandy suggested that we do something nice for the children whilst I was away from work.  I reminded her that I had just spent literally tens of fine, English pounds on less than two pounds worth of chocolate for them (And that was EACH, I'll have you know, not in total!) But I was informed that this was insufficient and that we would be 'Going somewhere' to have 'Fun' Then I was grabbed, unceremoniously by the collar, lifted bodily from the floor and reminded, more forcefully that I thought wholly necessary, that I would be having 'Fun' even if it killed me.  I looked down at the cherubic face of the Mini-Dandy as she bent her younger sibling's fingers back almost to his wrists until he sobbingly cried 'Peanuts!' and agreed, 'Yes Dear, let us do something nice for our delightful children.'

So, Good Friday came and we stuffed our young into the Yew-panelled steerage compartment of the MkII Dandymobile, Stoked the gargantuan engine into life, and set sail for the heart of the Sun (or Drayton Manor Park and Zoo as I understand the hoi-palloi call it.)  Our plan was to arrive at our destination as it opened, and therefore 'beat the rush'.  Luckily, only twenty or so thousand people had had exactly the same idea.  We left our vehicle in a grassy field that was masquerading as a car-park, and instructed Heckmondswycke, our faithful native bearer, to guard her with his life. 

We then joined the queue for entry and wondered at the many wonderful ways that one could pay to enter the Pleasureopolis itself. I was shocked to find that, if we had merely 'turned up' at our destination, it would have cost us £141 ($232) to get in. The irony of this being more than I had recently sold the MKI Dandymobile for was not entirely lost on me.  Luckily, along with almost everyone in the queue it seemed, I was in possession of a 'BOGOF' voucher which cleanly cut the price in half.

As we entered the garden of Earthly delights, we were informed that 'The rides didn't actually open until 10:30.'  And as we had 45 minutes to kill, we decided to split up, the girls went to go and queue for an hour for a 30 second ride on a frankly flimsy looking, ramshackle collection of ironwork.  Whilst we boys decided to repair to the amusement arcade to, as my father once described it, 'Throw good money after bad.' However, on the way to the Perfidious Pachinko Palace we were accosted by a pretty young lady holding a basketball, 

"Psst!" She Pssted, and beckoned us over, "You look like someone who'd be good at this. One basket wins any prize." Then she looked at the Micro-Dandy, "You'd like your Dad to win you one of these wouldn't you?"  
My son stepped back to look at my athletic physique, struggling to be contained by my XXL Darth Vader T-Shirt and rolled his eyes. "Yes, I'd love my Dad to be able to do that.' He replied, then he shrugged, as if to say 'But whaddya gonna do?'
"Well, I tell you what, it's normally £3 for one shot or £5 for three. But we've got a special on today where, if you give me a fiver you can play until you win." She winked conspiratorially as if to say 'No, it's not just so that other punters see you carrying a prize around and think that it's possible for a normal, overweight, human being to win one and then have a go themselves.'

Needless to say, I passed over the required fee and stood there for a good fifteen minutes, abortively bouncing my balls off her rim until, against all of the assembled laws of physics, my spherical plaything entered her waiting aperture with a rubbery 'Thunnnggg'. 

"OK," she breathed in relief, wiping the sheen of sweat from her brow, "What prize would you like?"
My son pointed at one prize, which she inspected. "Ah, it looks like the stitching's going on that one."
He pointed at another. "I can't actually reach that one, sorry." She stretched up to show that she was a good foot too short. 'How about this one?' She hefted a large, red, fluffy bean-bag at him.  Which he happily accepted as tribute and then gave to me... And then I had the honour of carrying it around the park, for the next six hours, along with the two ducks (One with, and one without a humorous pink mohawk) and a camel with a pink hump and a shock of pale-blue hair.  

The rest of the day passed in a similar fashion, whereby the girls would spend a vast proportion of their time queueing to feel sick, queueing to get wet or queueing to close their eyes as noisy things happened around them whilst we boys had a ride on a train and visited the arcade, or giftshop, or hook-a-duck emporium over and over again.  There was a break for lunch at 'The Grill', which was very nice. And in the afternoon the jollity continued, up until the point where the MiniDandy convinced her brother to go on the Pirate Ship.

I have had emails from my friends in America to say that they could hear him screaming, at one point he reached the frequency required to loosen the bolts that held the ride together, flecks of paint and surface rust fell to the ground like the fallout from an exploding scrapyard - Obviously we were asked to leave, which we did.

All in all, it was a good day, apart from the life-time ban from all UK-based theme parks that is.  My son even won enough tickets in the amusement arcade to purchase a radio-controlled car for himself, which is absolutely splendid for tormenting the dog with.

Oh Bugger!

I missed out the Bobby Davro bit didn't I?

The MiniDandy and myself were sat outside some water-based Pirate ride (which was billed as an 'Experience' and therefore interested me not one little bit.) waiting for the other members of our party when suddenly, from out of nowhere, a flying caterpillar hoved into view.  Well, I say flying, it was actually dropping from the tree above us on a silk line.  It was duly caught and forced to race across various parts of my anatomy by my dear daughter which was about as entertaining as it sounds.  My repeated attempts to put it back into the undergrowth all failed until I felt a tickle on the back of my neck. I reached around, expecting to find another, similar creature, but instead found a tiny spider. 

"I wonder if they'll fight?" asked my somewhat bloodthirsty daughter, moving the mini-beasts closer to each other.
"No! He might eat Bobby Davro!"
She looked at me as if I had just suffered a major psychotic episode and said, "What?"
"Bobby Davro?' I held up the small caterpillar, "I panicked, it was the first name that I thought of."
She shook her head and put the spider in my other hand.  I lowered both of my hands, until first the spider and then the caterpillar disappeared into the nearby shrubbery.
"The spider will hunt down Bobby Davro and eat him you know, he's got his scent now.' She grinned.
"Stop it..."
"And it's all your fault..." At this point she raised her voice so that the surrounding families and their children could hear and called, "Dad! You killed Bobby Davro!"

One wonders if everyone's family days out are like this?

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Baroness' Birthday

For those of you who don't know, The Baroness, Grand Matriarch of the Lohlephel clan, the main protagonists of my next trilogy of Science-Fiction books is loosely based on my long-suffering wife. This is a story that I wrote for her Birthday - She has kindly agreed to let me share it with you.

See if you can figure out who her husband, The Baron, is based on (I'm not going to give you any clues, but I'm trying to get Gary Oldman to play me... Erm, I mean him... in the upcoming film.)


The Baroness was cornered like a hedgehog.  In all of her years as captain of the airship, The Granthar’s Hammer, she had prided herself on always having a fool-proof escape plan. Not this time though, trapped in the claustrophobic corridor between a supply closet and the hangar bay, she eyed the scarlet steel behemoth in front of her warily. Its thick shoulder armour scraping gouges out of the plasterwork as it shuffled left and right to match her attempts to slip around it. “Get out of my way you idiot!”

Its ironclad head slowly rotated from side to side.

She sighed, “So help me, I will take a can opener to you if you do not get the hell out of my way right now.”

A deep, modulated laugh came from its external speakers and one of its gargantuan hands unfolded menacingly towards her, its flexing index finger indicating that it wanted her to follow it. She took a step back and shrugged out of its way. “I have a patrol to fly. We had a report of Spider activity in the Northern Province and you know how upset Hadleigh gets when I keep him waiting.”

It waved its finger at her admonishingly and gestured to her to follow it again.

Her head dropped to her chest as she exhaled, “Alright, if we have to go through this pitiful charade every time.” She grabbed hold of its finger and climbed up its thick leg armour, “The least you can do is give me a lift.”

It bowed deeply as she clung onto the knot of thick cables that surrounded its torso. It turned and set off at a run through the corridors. By the time it reached the wide open space of the hangar it was travelling at high speed. Its tree-trunk legs pounding into the marble floor like pistons and the Baroness was just managing to keep a grip on it with her thighs, hands and teeth. They passed by the bulk of the Hammer like a blood-red blur. She just had time to shrug at Hadleigh, the pilot, as they sped around the corner and back out of the cavernous room, the steel treads of the giant’s feet struggling to maintain grip on the polished surface. 

“Slow down you bloody imbecile, you’re going to-“ her warning was punctuated by a crash as an unfortunate maintenance construct wandered around the corner, only to be dashed to pieces by a quarter of a ton of kneecap travelling at fifty miles per hour, “- Hit somebody.” She mumbled. They continued along the corridor until they reached the atrium that signified the entrance to the Roost’s living quarters and without warning, the giant leaped thirty feet into the air, its gorilla like hands grabbing the edge of the second floor parapet and effortlessly lifting the pair of them over and onto the sumptuously decorated floor that held the Baroness’ private quarters. Its huge frame crouched as it made to once more accelerate along the corridor.

“Stop!” cried the Baroness, “Let me down, I can walk from here thank you very much.” She slid from her perch at the monster’s waist and massaged the feeling back into her legs. Looking at the crushed handprints in the stonework of the balcony, she shook her head at the featureless face towering above her. “Lead on.”

It stomped, gently but resolutely towards her chambers and stopped at the security door, it’s face on a level with that of the Stalys terminal, the artificial intelligence that controlled the Roost’s systems. There was a decidedly canine growl from the giant’s speakers and the door slid open. It then stood aside as the Baroness entered the room.

“Don’t let your daughter see you do that, she’s got enough of an attitude problem as it is without her developing an abusive relationship with the constructs.” She took off her uniform jacket and threw it on the bed, “So, what did you want? As if it wasn’t obvious.”

The huge figure clutched its hands to its chest as if it had been shot through the heart, “You wound me My Lady.” It laughed as its hands moved to each side of its head and twisted. With a click and a hiss of escaping pressure the helmet was lifted to reveal the smiling, bearded face of Baron Massimo Lohlephel. “Happy Birthday, my sweet, my ghostly tune of the first jackdaw of autumn, my babbling laughter of a woodland stream, I would like to present you with…” The spade-like gauntlets of his armoured suit slapped against his thighs. “With… I have it here somewhere…” He furiously looked around the room, “I’m sure I… Ah!” One of his suit arms went limp as he removed his real arm from it to search the inside of the suit. “Exit!” He commanded and the suit split open from neck to groin. He stepped out of it and climbed down onto the ground, holding out a flat box in front of him, which he presented reverently to the Baroness.

“Oh it’s lovely Massimo,” She gasped, holding up the Egyptian inspired necklace up to the light which skittered along its thick, gold rope. “If I may ask one question though, you old goat?”

“Anything my love, you have but to ask.”

“Do you not usually wear clothes under your power-armour?”

“Not today my sweet, no…”

Monday, 7 April 2014

Whilst not 'Entirely' dishonourable... Still a kind of disharge.

I think I'll start April with a story about my dear old Dad.

Those of you who actually knew him will realise that when it comes down to it, he was a bit of a rogue (Not rouge, as I originally wrote there - Although in fairness, I cannot actually guarantee that he didn't repeatedly rub himself on an innocent young lady's cheek in some far-flung foreign land in the middle of the last century.)

As you may remember, he was a a Flight-Sergeant in the Royal Air Force in his younger days and did, like so many others, avail himself of certain 'opportunities' to supplement his meagre government income.  That would have been frowned upon by his superiors if they had ever found out.

For instance, He used to quite regularly fly between North Africa and South-east Asia (or 'Bloody Chindit Central' as he lovingly referred to it on occasion... Usually after watching Bridge on the River Kwai on a Sunday afternoon) and he set up a string of laundry services along the route.  He would collect dress shirts and suchlike from the men at whatever RAF Station he happened to land at, then take them with him to the next station where he'd set up a franchise and hand them over to one of the locals.

The honest native type would then drag the bundle to the nearest cow-dung infested river, beat them to within an inch of their lives on a nearby rock (The clothes that is, not the cows), do a bit of the old invisible mending and give them a brisk going over with a charcoal-filled flat iron before returning them to Dad on his way back.  He would then deliver them to their rightful owners, and make half a crown profit on every bundle.


Why didn't he just employ the local population at the same place at where he picked up the laundry you may ask?  Well, he did try that once, but one of his customers found out and decided to 'Cut out the middle man' and go direct as it were - Very bad for business.

However, his business boomed, and it wasn't long before he started getting requests like, 'Here Our Kid, You going to [Insert exotic sounding place in Burma or Singapore]? Can you get me some [Insert difficult to get hold of item] whilst you're there?' Then there'd be some complicated 'nudge-nudge, wink-wink' style communication and the deal was done.

For the first three-quarters of his burgeoning business empire, his most popular (and therefore profitable) line was, believe it or not, ballpoint pens. This was closely followed by strange-smelling oriental tobacco (No... Actual tobacco) and sweets.  In fact, this new endeavour proved so popular that he gave up his interest in the laundry business and concentrated on the Del-Boy style buying and selling... One hesitates to use the word smuggling, although I don't suppose that there were a huge number of customs officials involved in any of the transactions.

Then the order came that was to take his assault on Mr Selfridge to the next level - And also see it come crashing down again.

The UK based customer had heard tell of a certain mythical beast that strode through the deserts of Egypt with gay abandon, fading into the background at the merest hint of danger and grabbing it's prey without warning, like a Northern Lass who's finally got to the front of the queue in the kebab shop.  He asked if it would be possible to hunt down one of these creatures and return it to Blighty to be displayed as a curio - What we would now call an 'Exotic Pet'

The next time that he and his crew visited the land of the Sphynx and the Pyramid, he loaded himself up with water and tinned corned beef, rolled up his trousers to the knees, tied his combat knife to a broom-handle and set off into the high desert.  It was days before he sighted his prey, basking majestically on a huge boulder, outlined by the first primordial rays of the rising sun.  As he approached, he dislodged a small rock which clattered to the ground.  The beast reared up at him and clacked its razor sharp jaws in defiance.  He raised his pole-arm and...

Actually, I can't keep this up, what actually happened was that he wandered off the base, found the first dodgy-looking Egyptian fellow he could, (Which, according to him, didn't take as long as you'd think) gave him a hessian sack and said something along the lines of 'Abdul, take-o this sack-o, fill-o with-o Chameleon-os, quick-smart, jaldi-jaldi.' (I like to think that he said it in a Captain Jack sparrow voice, but he probably didn't)

So, some time later, a bag of incredibly angry chameleons was winging its way by military cargo plane, to the UK.  One was delivered to the original customer, others were distributed to the customer's friends and close family and the last one, the sickly looking green one, cowering at the bottom of the sack was adopted by my Father. (In fact, it's possible, if you are currently the proud owned of a captive-bred chameleon in the UK, that it is a decendent of one of these very animals) It both kept him amused during boring flights doing that 'Leg in the air, rocking backwards and forwards thing' that chameleons are so good at, and acted as an advert for his new pet supply business.

All went well, for many months until one fateful day, as my Father's plane was starting to taxi towards the runway, he stood up, patted his pocket and shouted 'Basil!' (Actually I don't know what he called his chameleon, but I imagine it was probably something like Basil, or Peverill, or Cholmondely.)  There was vexation amongst the rest of the crew, but with the judicious application of a few dead-arms and a particularly vicious Chinese-Burn, he got the pilot to park up and he ran back to the billet to fetch him.

But it was too late, by the time he got there, the next set of flight crew had already moved in, some sweaty radio operator had his stuff all over the bunk and didn't take kindly to my Dad going through it trying to find the errant colour-changer, so in a fit of spite, he lay down trying to cover as much of his own gear as he could.

And that's when he heard the crunch and felt the small, warm, damp patch creeping through his shirt.

Poor Basil... (or Peverill, or Cholmondely.)