It started with three pop-pop steam boats I bought at the Abbey Pumping Station event (see last post). The idea is that you fill them with water and then light candle stubs that you slide under their tiny boilers. On heating up they start to go pop-pop and if you're lucky they steam happily along for five minutes or so. That's the theory, but we had grandiose ideas of having a race with them across our local stream where it fords a bridleway. Youngest Boy quite rightly said we should test one first in the kitchen sink, so after I'd burnt myself with the cigarette lighter, cut myself on the tin and thrown the offending boat down the garden, we took our Sutcliffe Clockwork Liner out instead. What a performer. A few turns of the long key you put down one of the funnels and it's away. It head-butted not only a strong wind but also the unpredictable current of the stream, whirring away whilst we let water flow into the tops of our Wellingtons. Having gone through a couple of concrete pipes unscathed it finally grounded itself Fitzcarraldo-style in a reed bed. We went home for cocoa, (well, Bovril in my case), wet through, caked in mud and very, very happy. I told The Boys I had bought the tin ship from Mr.Sutcliffe in person, which was met with utter disbelief. Amazingly, it's true.
I am a writer and photographer who spends all his time looking at England, particularly buildings and the countryside. But I have a leaning towards the slightly odd and neglected, the unsung elements that make England such an interesting place to live in. I am the author and photographer of over 25 books, in particular Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2006), More from Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2007), Cross Country (Wiley 2011), The Cigarette Papers (Frances Lincoln 2012) and Preposterous Erections (Frances Lincoln 2012)