Aircraft have been taking off all morning from the Unmitigated England Airship (nicknamed The Duchess by my ground crew) in order to take lucky fee-paying customers above the clouds to witness the moon impertinently blocking out the sun. On each return to the mother ship the brass goggle wearing passengers were treated to a full UE breakfast that included kedgeree warmed in a silver spirit burner kept at a safe distance from the gas bags.
Alas, alas. The real reason for this posting is that I'm obsessed by anything to do with airships. My interest was first kindled by seeing tiny snapshots in the family album taken by my father of either the R100 or R101 airships at Cardington. Subsequently the gargantuan hangars were pointed out to me from the train after Bedford, something I tediously do for my children now. Every time. So now a green tinplate airship hangs from my living room light shade and no minutiae is safe from my researches. So imagine my excitement when one of the Library Girls ran down the corridor yesterday, clutching the above that had been unearthed whilst they were looking for a Weetabix Vistascreen 3D Viewer. (I've told them about running in corridors, particularly with trays of gin and tonics.) The Meccano Magazine for February 1926 was published when the future was all airships, very gung-ho copy that talked of a failed experiment with an aeroplane attempting to hook up under the craft when "the releasing gear failing to act at the critical moment, the daring pilots were thrown out of their machine when some 3,000 ft. up, and were dashed to their death." As we now know, there was much more trauma to come, the dreams of big silent airships criss-crossing our skies coming to an end in a muddy field in Beauvais and in flames at Lakehurst New Jersey.
But all was not in vain. Next year sees the launch of a new airship, once again darkening the skies above Cardington. I'd post a picture of it, but fear it may cause concern amongst more sensitive readers. So here's a link to it. Meanwhile I've got to go and help the ground crew moor our airship to a convenient pylon a couple of fields away.
So, farewell then the car tax disc. Farewell to sitting outside the post office trying to make a neat job of tearing around the perforations. Farewell to know-alls tapping your windscreen and saying "Your tax runs out tomorrow" as if you hadn't realised. Funny thing, I shall miss these curious bits of paper, glancing at them every few months as I have done since I started having to buy them. Missing the feeling of relief at the post office counter when all my paperwork seems miraculously to be in order, missing the relief when a passing copper didn't realise there wasn't even one there.
Removing the plastic holder from the inside of my windscreen the other day I found the previous owner had kept every single disc from the car's first registration. A little piece of history of various post offices and various prices, and slight changes of design from year to year. I've made a double page spread out of them in my scrapbook. But oh how long will it be before I stop feeling guilty about the absence of this little piece of paper, no longer confirming me to be a proper person. Probably until I go and put a 1942 one for an Austin in the once official position, bottom left hand corner. In fact, I've gone on about this before, here.
I am a designer, 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), Preposterous Erections (Frances Lincoln 2012) and English Allsorts (Adelphi 2015)
"Open this book with reverence. It is a hymn to England". Clive Aslet
"Enchanting...delightful". The Bookseller "Cheekily named" We Love This Book
The Cigarette Papers
"Unexpectedly pleasing and engrossing...beautifully illustrated". The Bookseller
"Until the happy advent of Peter Ashley's Cross Country it has, ironically, been foreigners who have been best at celebrating Englishness". Christina Hardyment / The Independent
More from Unmitigated England
"Give this book to someone you know- if not everyone you know." Simon Heffer, Country Life. "When it comes to spotting the small but telling details of Englishness, Peter Ashley has no equal." Michael Prodger, Sunday Telegraph