Last week, in an effort to get over the jetlag I went to Leicester Square to see a movie. Since I had some time to kill before the movie started, and because Leicester Square itself is pretty ordinary, I went for a wander. I still have only a basic grasp of London geography, so I was most surprised (and somewhat awestruck) to end up at Trafalgar Square! So here's Nelson's Column (which novelists of the next air war were always careful to knock over for the symbolism):
And Nelson himself, catching the last glimmers of sunlight:
Actually, that should be "The lodgings of the compiler of the damned", but it's more dramatic this way.
39 Marchmont St, Bloomsbury, WC1, just a few blocks from my own lodgings. The word "unprepossessing" could have been coined in honour of this building,1 and there are certainly many far more pleasing buildings too look at around here, so why does it warrant a post of its own? The not-actually-blue plaque attached to it explains further:
Here are a few of the best pictures from my first trip to the British Museum, almost a week ago already. How time flies when you're stuck in the archives!
Marble statue of youth, possibly Caligula, early 1st century AD. If it is Caligula, then the horse is presumably Sir Thomas Inskip.
Via the WWII mailing list comes the welcome news that Flight International is putting its entire run of back issues online, as one searchable PDF per magazine page. So far, the following years have been scanned: 1909-1932, 1935-1940, 1948, 1955-1961, 1964, 1966-1968, 1997-2004. The archive can either be browsed (note that you have to click the "Next page" link to move to the next group of four page listings, which wasn't immediately obvious to me) or searched by keyword.
The significance of this is that Flight was one of the two major British aviation magazines throughout most of my period, and the longest-running (though not, I think actually the first: Pemberton Billing's short-lived Aerocraft has that honour). I've actually already looked at Flight, which is available at the SLV, so if I would rather have had the harder-to-find Aeroplane put online instead; but Australian holdings of the early issues of Flight are fragmentary so this is good too.
There are no charges for access, at least for now, which is surprising (and welcome). No indications that this will change in future, but it would probably be wise to make the most of this while it's free!
Military History Carnival Edition Four has clearly been timed to catch me in transition from the southern to the northern hemisphere, so I'm a couple of days late in posting about it. For me, the most interesting post was Philobiblon's on the suggestion that the so-called Glorious Revolution was successful because the Dutch ships were more technologically advanced than the English ones -- in particular, they were faster and so were able to sweep in and unload their troops before the Royal Navy had time to react. This reminds me of Palmerston's remark in 1845 to the effect that steam power made the same scenario possible at that time. I wonder if 1688 influenced his thinking on this matter?
Hello everybody, I seem to have got here at last, it's been a long long time but here I am and jolly glad I am to be here at last (to quote Amy Johnson). I've been in Blighty for almost 24 hours at this point; here are some random thoughts and observations. Of course these are based only on what I've seen today, and should not be taken as representative of London or Britain as a whole!
- the flight(s) went very smoothly (almost literally, only a few minor patches of turbulence), no major delays. I missed out on the window seat from Sydney but as it was dark for most of the flight that's no great loss.
- going through Customs/Immigration is not as bad as I expected (particularly given the recent bomb plot).
- public transport prices are ridiculously high.
- Tube trains seem a bit, well, poky -- very narrow. Presumably that's a consequence of it being cheaper to make the tunnels narrower.
- my first thought on the trip in from Heathrow was that the suburbs reminded me a bit of parts of inner Sydney. Except here it went on forever, in Australian cities good old suburban sprawl soon sets in.
- Bloomsbury is rather nice. Lots of nice old buildings and leafy parks. Quiet. And so clean!
- after I got settled in at Goodenough College, I went for a random wander. Found Oxford Street and made my way back to the British Museum, which is like 5 minutes' walk from the college. How cool is that?
- I evidently put the mozza1 on Leo Amery a couple of years ago by remarking how often he turns up in my research. I've hardly ever come across him since then! But here he is again at last, not exactly in my research but as one of the founders of Goodenough in 1930.
- four-way traffic lights seem weird to me.
- I was surprised at how fast the traffic moves along Oxford Street -- without parked cars to act as a buffer, seems like it would be easy for a pedestrian on the footpath trip over and get your head split open by a double-decker bus. Of course, it was a Sunday, so maybe the traffic is jammed the rest of the week.
- I keep thinking I see familiar faces among the crowd when walking down the street. Since just about everybody I know is on the other side of the planet, this seems unnecessarily perverse.
- I can see I'm going to end up with pockets of loose change -- I'm bad enough at home! But now that I look at it, the coins are mostly similar enough in shape and colour to Australian numerical equivalents that I'll get by. 5p/5c, 10p/10c, 50p/50c are very close. £1 coins look like $2 coins. 20p coins just look weird. We don't have 1c and 2c coins anymore in Australia, I'll have to get used to counting in units of less than 5 again. And paper banknotes! That's a blast from the past.
- so many internet kiosks out in the street, like phone booths. Is that a sign of progress or the lack thereof? In Melbourne, the few there are don't seem to get used much.
- it IS possible to go the British Museum and not see either the Rosetta Stone or the Elgin Marbles. Like I said, it's only 5 minutes away ... I'll be back!
- I wasn't tempted by the overpriced food inside the museum, the hotdogs being sold out the front were very tasty and much cheaper.
- speaking of which, what's with all the hotdog vendors? It's not something I'd associated with English cuisine. Catering to American tourists, perhaps?
- speaking of which, it's true what they say about American tourists.
- I would just like to thank the many generations of British plunderers of the cultural heritage of conquered and otherwise downtrodden peoples for helping to make such a brilliant museum. You guys rock!
- so did the Aztecs.
- when both your mum and Douglas Adams tell you not to forget your towel, you should listen. You wouldn't believe how hard it is to find somewhere to buy a towel in this town.
- on the other hand, every second shop around here seems to sell luggage, among other things. OK, there's lots of tourists about, but don't most of them already have luggage?
- the concept of "service" doesn't seem to have made it into the philosophy of customer relations here yet.
- but the nanny state ethos seems ingrained: trains telling me to mind the gap between the train and the platform, markings on the road telling me which way to look when I cross, no taps in the shower to let me do something as radical as adjusting the temperature of the water to my liking (though to be honest that probably has more to do with the nature of student accommodation than anything else).
- biggest culture shock of the day: not being able to find anywhere that sells 500ml bottles/cartons of chocolate-flavoured milk (my currently-preferred way to get a chocolate fix). Neither Waitrose nor Tesco Express had any such thing, maybe this is more popular down under. On the other hand: mmmm, Milka. Hard to get back home.
- I got massively ripped off on a 5m ethernet cable on Oxford Street. On the other hand, I did successfully haggle for perhaps the first time in my life, so I consider it a moral victory.
- Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, LOL. Is there a Royal London Placebo Hospital as well, or would that be redundant?
- you call that a night?! It's 5am and already bright as, well, day.
- despite all my efforts and disruptions to my normal schedule, my body clock is evidently still on GMT+10.
Despite some of the grumbles above, it's fantastic to be here. As I said to a friend the other day, there'd be no point in coming if it was exactly like home!
Airminded will likely become something of a travel blog for the next couple of months, which will no doubt bore my UK readers (for which I apologise). But there'll also be more of the usual aeroplaney stuff too, particularly once I get stuck into the British Library ...
Edit: the photo was added two months later!
For the first time in nearly two years, the number of books I have out from the uni library has dropped to zero. Which can mean only one thing: I'm about to fly out to the UK! There will be a blogging hiatus but it's not likely to be more than a few days, if that.
Image source: some page in Japanese.
Clive Harris. Walking the London Blitz. Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 2006. I haven't been buying lots of travel-type books, but I could hardly pass this one up!
Nevil Shute. On the Beach. Geneva: Edito-Service S.A., 1968 . Finally found it.
The big trip to the UK looms. It's my first and I'm greatly looking forward to it -- all the more so because I have long been fascinated by the place and its history. Although I can't say it was always my plan to do a PhD in British military aviation history, looking back, there were some clues:
Go ahead and laugh! This is a drawing I did when I was 9 or 10. It shows a Hawker Hurricane,1 specifically PZ865, "The Last of the Many", the final production unit. I proudly showed it to our neighbour across the road, who (as I recall) had been in the air force in the war (which back then, meant the Second World War). All I can remember of his reaction was that he said the nose was too long for a Hurricane, and well, he was right :)
A couple of weeks ago, I showed how the blitzkrieg became the Blitz. Now I'll show how the knock-out blow became the blitzkrieg.
Despite the abandon with which the term blitzkrieg is thrown around these days to describe the "lightning" German campaigns of the early years of the Second World War, it turns out that it was not a word much used at the time by the German army or German strategists (though neither was it entirely unknown). It's even been denied that there was even such a strategic concept as blitzkrieg, whether known by that name or not -- certainly not until after the German conquest of France, usually held to be the classic example of blitzkrieg. Karl-Heinz Frieser, in his revisionist (but well-received) book The Blitzkrieg Legend opens by saying that
In sober military language, there is hardly any other word that is so strikingly full of significance and at the same time so misleading and subject to misinterpretation as the term blitzkrieg.1
On Frieser's account, the attack against France and the Low Countries owed less to some innovative pre-war doctrine and more to individual initiative and astute tactics, resulting in a surprising (and strange) victory.2 He argues that rather than thinking of blitzkrieg as strategic in nature -- a way to win a war -- it might be better conceptualised as an operational idea -- a way to win an operation or a campaign (Blitzoperationen, perhaps). This is important, because (according to Frieser), after the fall of France Hitler and his generals made the mistake of thinking they could blitz their way to quick victories, without paying attention to the longer-term economic foundations of a war economy. They fell into the 'semantic trap' of blitzkrieg. Hence Barbarossa.