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One of the most surprising things about Christmas and New Year in Scotland is that Christmas was not celebrated as a festival and was virtually banned in Scotland for 400 years, from the end of the 17th Century to the 1950s. The reason for this dates back to the years of Protestant Reformation, when the straight-laced Kirk proclaimed Christmas as a Popish or Catholic feast and as such needed banning. In fact Christmas Day was not declared a public holiday until 1954 and Boxing Day became a public holiday in 1974, so at the time of the story there would not have been a Christmas holiday closing of the Mill but just a holiday for New Year’s Day.

It is believed that the Vikings originally brought many of the traditional Hogmanay celebrations to Scotland in the early 8th and 9th Centuries. These Norsemen, or men from an even more northerly latitude than Scotland, paid particular attention to the arrival of the Winter Solstice or the shortest day, and they fully intended to celebrate its passing with some serious partying. In Shetland, where the Viking influence remains the strongest, New Year is still called Yules, deriving from the Scandinavian word for the midwinter festival of Yule.

The origin of the name Hogmanay is not clear. It may have been introduced to Naval Lord Middle via French. The most commonly cited explanation is a derivation from the northern French dialectal word hoguinané, or variants such as hoginanehoginono and hoguinettes, those being derived from 16th century Middle French aguillanneuf meaning either a gift given at New Year, a children’s cry for such a gift, or New Year’s Eve itself.

Other people think the origins may have been from Gaelic (Goidelic) and yet others reject both the French and Goidelic theories, and instead suggest that the ultimate source both for the Norman French, Scots, and Goidelic variants of this word have a common Norse root. It is suggested that the full forms invoke the hill-men (Icelandic haugmenn cf Anglo-Saxon hogmen or elves and banishes the trolls into the sea (Norse a lae “into the sea”.)

There are a number of traditions and superstitions that have to be taken care of before midnight on the 31st December. These include cleaning the house and taking out the ashes from the fire, there is also the requirement to clear all your debts before “the bells” sound midnight, otherwise you will be in debt all year.

Immediately after midnight, it is traditional to sing Robert Burns “Auld lang Syne”. Burns published his version of this popular little ditty in 1788, although the tune was in print over 80 years before this.


“Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? 
Should auld acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne,
For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup o kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”



One of the chief parts of the Hogmanay party, which is still continued with equal enthusiasm today, is to welcome friends and strangers with warm hospitality and of course lots of enforced kissing for all.

‘First footing’ (or the first foot in the house after midnight) is still a common tradition across Scotland today. To ensure good luck for the house the first foot should be a dark male and he should bring with him symbolic pieces of coal, shortbread, salt, black bun and a wee dram of whisky. The dark male part is believed to be a throwback to the Viking days, when a big blonde stranger arriving on you doorstep with a large axe meant trouble and would not have been auspicious for a happy New Year.


Christmas in the Netherlands

Hello everybody,

I haven’t written any blogs for two years because my father died in January 2014 and then I moved house. I have now written another book called “The Anstruther Lass” a historical romance set in Dundee in 1865 and so I decide to start writing blogs again to promote the book.

As it is nearly Christmas and the hero in the book is a Dutchman, I did some research about Christmas in the Netherlands and I thought you might all like to hear about it. So here goes:

For a start, the most important day during December is 5th December when Sinterklaas (St Nicholas) brings the Dutch children presents. The name Santa Claus comes from the name Sinterklaas. St Nicholas’s day is actually on the 6th December but the major celebrations are held on 5th December. The children leave a shoe by the fireplace or windowsill and they hope that Sinterklaas will come during the night with some presents.

The other difference is that St Nicholas does not live at the North Pole but in Madrid, Spain. That is probably because from the sixteenth century till early in the eighteenth century the Netherlands was under the Spanish Crown as part of the States of the Holy Roman Empire in the Low Countries.

Celebrations start on the second Saturday of November when Sinteklaus travels to a city or town in the Netherlands, and every year he chooses a different harbour so as many children as possible get a chance to see him.  Legend has it that St Nicholas originally came from Turkey and is venerated as the patron saint of sailors, which is the reason he arrives by boat.

He travels with his servants called “Zwarte Pieten” (Black Peters). When they come ashore from the steamboat all the local church bells ring in celebration. Sinterklaas, dressed in his red robes, leads a procession through the town, riding a horse.  He is welcomed by children cheering and singing traditional Sinterklaas songs, the Zwarte Piets throw candy and traditional biscuits into the crowd.( I don’t know what the liberals and PC experts in this country would make of this but probably they would try to ban it saying that the Black Piets human rights were being abused! )

Another thing that is different, children are told that the Zwarte Piet’s keep a record of all the things they have done in the past year in a big book. Good children will get presents from Sinterklaas but bad children will be put in a sack and a Zwarte Pieten will take them to Spain for a year to teach them how to behave. (Sounds like the stuff of nightmares!)

The children leave some hay and carrots for Sinterklaas horse as they are told that during the night Sinterklaas rides on the roofs on his horse and that a Zwarte Piet will climb down the chimney (or through a window) and put the presents and/ or candy in their shoe.

In many families, the children are told that Sinterklaas and Zwarte Pieten make a weekly visit from November, so the children leave their shoes every Saturday until the main Sinterklaas party on 5th Dec.

Sinterklaas parties are held on St Nicholas’ Eve, ‘Sinterklassavond’ or ‘Pakjesavond’ and special biscuits and sweets are eaten at the party One type of biscuit is called ‘letter blanket’ or blank letter, (meaning letter cake which is made from marzipan or pastry. The biscuits are made in the shapes of the first letter of the people’s names that are at the party. Another sweet biscuit served up is, ‘peppernoot’ made with cinnamon and spices in the pastry biscuit mix, and kerstrans, a Dutch Christmas ring cake.

The children will receive their presents during the evening, there might be a knock at the door, and they might find a sack full of presents!

On the 6th of December, Sinterklaas leaves the Netherlands by steamboat via the entrance of the port of Rotterdam, called the Hook of Holland and he travels back to Spain.

Christmas day is much quieter and the Dutch celebrate with a Church Service and family meal. Although the children have already received their presents throughout December, some lucky Dutch children also get a visit from Santa Claus (who is also called Christmas man/ Kerstman to avoid confusion with Sinterklaas).  He comes from Lapland in Finland to deliver more presents!


Speech for Old and Bold Ladies night December 2012


Hello everyone, Well it’s that time of year again and you’ve got me again.  Christmastime Some people love it and some hate it.  One of the problems is buying presents for people. Now us girls always think it’s difficult to find something for our men but I think men have an even more difficult time thinking of something that their partner would appreciate. I know it’s ladies night but it’s in our nature to be kind and feel empathy for our partners so here’s a little story especially for the men.

 A man on his Harley was riding along a California beach when suddenly the sky clouded above his head and, in a booming voice, God said, ‘Because you have tried to be faithful to me in all ways, I will grant you one wish.’

The biker pulled over and said, ‘Build a bridge to Hawaii so I can ride over anytime I want.’

God replied, ‘Your request is materialistic; think of the enormous challenges for that kind of undertaking; the supports required reaching the bottom of the Pacific and the concrete and steel it would take! I can do it, but it is hard for me to justify your desire for worldly things. Take a little more time and think of something that could possibly help mankind.’

The biker thought about it for a long time. Finally, he said, ‘God, I wish that I, and all men, could understand women; I want to know how she feels inside, what she’s thinking when she gives me the silent treatment, why she cries, what she means when she says nothing’s wrong, why she snaps and complains when I try to help, and how I can make a woman truly happy.’

God replied: ‘You want two lanes or four on that bridge?’

 So it would appear that even God can’t understand women, But however confused you men feel your lady or wife or partner, whatever you call her, please believe me She is your best friend. Although there is another contender for the role of best friend.  It is said the A dog is mans best friend.  How many of you here have a dog?  Does anyone here own a Schnauzer? If yes “You’re going to love this” If no response. Well my friend Anita has a Schnauzer

 Anita found out that her dog could hardly hear, so she took it to the vet. The vet found that the problem was hair in the dog’s ears. He cleaned both ears, and the dog could then hear fine. The vet then told my friend that, if she wanted to keep this from recurring, she should go to the chemist and get some “Nair” hair remover and use it in the dog’s ears once a month.

Anita went to the chemist and bought some “Nair” hair remover. The pharmacist told her, “If you’re going to use this under your arms, don’t use deodorant for a few days.”

Anita said, “I’m not using it under my arms.”

The pharmacist said, “Well. If you’re using it on your legs, don’t put any moisturiser on them for a couple of days.”

The lady replied, “I’m not using it on my legs either.  I’m using it on my Schnauzer.”

The pharmacist says, “Well in that case don’t ride a bicycle for a couple of days.

 Thinking about pets it reminds me of a story I heard the other day.

A Jewish lady whose husband had died used to go to the beach in Florida where she lived.  One day she saw an extremely distinguished and handsome man arrive on the beach.  He sat down near her and started to read a book and she thought I’ll strike up a conversation with him.  So she days “I haven’t seen you on the beach before” He replies “Oh my wife died a year ago so I thought I would come down here and relax” and he goes back to reading his book. The lady thinks how can I engage him in conversation and get to know him and she thinks I know I’ll talk about pets, so she says “Do you like pussycats” He gets up, rips off her bathing costume and makes mad passionate love to her.  When it’s all over she says, “Oh, how did you know I needed that?” and he replies, “How did you know my name was Katz.”

 Well enough about sunshine and Florida and back to Christmas, and another aspect of Christmas is that it is party time; there are work parties, leisure pursuit parties. And then there are girls night out parties. I actually feel some sympathy with the lady in this story, as my husband is a stickler for being on time, which is unfortunate for me as one of my faults is that, I am sometimes late. In fact he says I have two late wives, the first one died in 1999 and my present wife is always late.

Well. The other night this lady was invited out for a night with “the girls.”

She told her husband that she would be home by midnight, “I promise!” Well, the hours passed and the drink was flowing and she was having fun dancing and suddenly she realised that it was nearly 3 a.m., so a bit loaded, she headed for home, thinking “Oh no He’s going to kill me”.

Just as she got in the door, the cuckoo clock in the hall started up and cuckooed 3 times.

Quickly, realizing that her husband would probably wake up, she cuckooed another 9 times. She was really proud of herself for coming up with such a quick-witted solution (even when totally smashed), in order to escape a possible conflict with him.

The next morning her husband asked her what time she got in, and she told him “Midnight”. He didn’t seem pissed off at all.

Whew! She thought Got away with that one!

Then he said, “I think we need a new cuckoo clock.” When she asked him why, he said, “Well, last night our clock cuckooed three times, then said, “Oh shit.”, cuckooed 4 more times, cleared it’s throat, cuckooed another 3 times, giggled, cuckooed twice more, and then tripped over the cat and farted.”

Christmas wouldn’t be the same with all the Christmas ads  on TV..  I like the Morrisons one with the rather depressed Mum battling through her Christmas preparations, it’s the most realistic and packs a powerful festive punch, I also like the Aldi  one with the three little angels contemplating their chocolate reindeers. The Famous Grouse adverts arc always excellent and this years is particularly good where you think the Grouse is being shot at  and then the smart little bird takes a bow surrounded by  party poppers  But the one I love the most is the John Lewis Ad, you think the snowman has abandoned his  snow girl, but no, he shows his  love and goes the extra mile to buy the perfect gift.     Its quite heart warming and I like to think that all you men here tonight would go that extra mile because with all our faults and although we ladies sometimes drive you mad, I know that you all love us.  I think Charles Aznavour’s romantic song describing his beloved will strike a chord in your heart for your feelings for own wife or partner. It goes like this: She

May be the reason I survive
The why and where for I’m alive
The one I’ll care for through the rough and rainy years
Me I’ll take her laughter and her tears
And make them all my souvenirs
For where she goes I got to be
The meaning of my life is


So Please Ladies raise your glasses to all the men here tonight and to HMS Sussex Shipmates Association. MERRY Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.



Speech for Old and Bold Ladies night December 2011

Thank the guest of honour

(For gods sake Vivien find out what the bloody hell his name is before you sit down for dinner!!)Say how interesting his speech was etc etc

Do you believe in Father Christmas?

(Someone is bound to say yes so adlib say your weren’t supposed to say that, there’s always one isn’t there? Well you believe if you want to it’s a

nice thing to believe in. Just like when George Osbourne says…. Go back to speech)

No of course you don’t, but it would be a nice thing to believe in. Do you believe George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he says that his measures of austerity will solve the country’s financial debt problems? Well, we would all like to believe that. Do you believe that we can slow down Global warming? We would all like to believe that too. But the fact is that we just don’t know. We live in an unsure world.  When you think about it, we live on a tiny planet 93 million miles from the Sun.  Nobody even knows how large the universe is; let alone how it was created.  But one thing is sure; humankind has always needed some kind of celebration.  The pagans celebrated, “The birthday of the sun” around the 25th December and when the Romans arrived in Britain they brought their festival Saturnalia that lasted from then 17th to 23rd December. The Christian church was astute enough to know that rather than fight beloved pagan customs it was better to accept them and subtly transform them.  And so Christmas became the Winter Festival.

Just like our ancestors, we need a celebration to provide us with fun, joy and to take our minds off the problems of everyday life. And we do have fun with parties, balloons, Christmas Trees, Christmas crackers, sparkling lights, plenty of food and drink, and gifts.  It’s also a time when with all the organising life can sometimes be confusing.  Have you seen the Nutcrackers? I can’t remember where I put them. Did you remember to send a card to Great Aunt Agatha? But I hope none of you were as confused as Sarah Palin, the Governor of Alaska, the other day. She telephoned the Senate, and said, “Can I speak to Senator Feinstein”, the person on the other end of the telephone said, “Its Yom Kippur” and she replied, “Well Yom, can you take a message for me?”

Christmas can also be a worrying time.  “Is the Capon or Turkey going to be big enough?” “ Will he like the present I bought Him?”  But these worries are nothing compared to the story of the poor blonde flying in a two-seater airplane with just the pilot. He has a heart attack and dies. She frantically calls a May Day. “May Day! May Day! Help me! Help me! My pilot has just had a heart attack and is dead. And I don’t know how to fly help me! Please help me!  All of a sudden she hears a voice over the radio saying, “This is the tower, I have just received your message and I will talk you through it.  I’ve had a lot of experience with this kind of problem.  Now, just relax. Everything will be fine. Now give me your height and position.” She says “I’m 5ft 4 and I’m in the front seat.”

“O.K.” says the voice from the tower. Repeat after me:”Our Father, who art in heaven…”

Another aspect of Christmas is that it is party time, just like the celebration here tonight. But one thing about this venue is that there are toilets.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed but Brighton and Hove have closed down practically all the public conveniences in the town.  They are now flower shops, like “At your convenience” or snack bars and you just can’t find a toilet when you need one. Like the two girls, Sue and Lucy who had gone out to a Christmas gathering and were walking home. Sue said to Lucy “I’m bustin’” “So am I” her friend replied “Oh no, what are we going to do there are no toilets around here?  “Its Ok, look there’s a churchyard over there.  We can just nip in and have a wee behind one of the gravestones.  No-one will see us”. So the two friends crept into the dark graveyard and relieved themselves.  “Have you got any tissues?” Sue whispered. Lucy whispered back, “No, I’m just going to use my knickers and throw them away.  “I can’t do that I’m wearing my best silk cami-knickers, oh wait there’s a wreath here I’ll just use that. Sue and Lucy, happy that they had seen to their immediate needs set off for home.

A few days later their husbands met in the local Pub for a drink. “Here I don’t know what the girls were up to the other night, my wife came home with no knickers on.”  The other replies, “Well, you should worry, I found a card in my wife’s silk cami-knickers which said, “We’ll never forget you from all the lads at the Fire Station.”

Finally, especially at Christmas we should all be careful of how much we drink as it can affect how we are perceived.  Like the two old boys at the bar where one slurs into the others ear, “See that picture of those two old soaks? That could be us in 10 years.” “You silly old fool” says the other “that’s a mirror.”

Well. In spite of all the hustle and bustle of Christmas it takes our mind off the problems of the world and we focus on our families and loved ones. It is a time for giving, laughter, for celebrating and having fun with all the people we hold most dear. I wish you all a happy Christmas and I hope that all of you enjoy the holiday and have a wonderful time.  Merry Christmas to all of you!   Please raise you glasses to our guest speaker (Hope to hell Vivien that you haven’t forgotten his name after giving the stress of giving the speech!) and his wife and to HMS Sussex,


A picture of Stella

A picture of Stella

Stella Serck-Roche was a beautiful woman, even at 99 yrs old.  I remember that I took her to buy a watch at a jewellers in Blachington Road Hove. It’s run by an old chap and is an Aladdin’s cave.  Anyway Stella had a lovely time chatting to the jeweller and chose a watch. At the time she had her leg bandaged as she had a thin skin   condition and as the wife of the jeweller also had the same condition and had a bandage of her leg she came round from the back of the shop to say hello to Stella.  She took one look at her and said ”Ooh Isn’t she pretty” I told Stella but she said “Well I was beautiful when I was young but not now.”  She was wrong she was still lovely at 99 yrs.old.

But there was more to Stella than just a pretty face. She had a great amount of charm and charisma.  She spent Christmas Day with my family and myself and she charmed my two sons, my husband, my father and another male friend. She had a wonderful time, she sparkled and everybody adored her.  It was like that wherever she went.  She liked to always look nice, wore beautiful clothes and like to have her nails done at a salon.  When we arrived the whole salon would go quiet and everyone would stop talking and watch Stella.  People would mouth to me “How old is she?” “Isn’t she fantastic.” When I took her to the hairdressers, the hairdresser was just finishing her hair at 4 pm and said to the Junior “You can go home if you like” but she said “No I want to listen to Stella”.

I think Stella was a comedienne, from an early age.  I know that she used to perform for the troops, mimicking certain singers and she was a very poplar act.  I remember her telling me that when she was at her Swiss Finishing School, they had a system that if you had done something wrong you were given a red baton.  You could pass this on to any other girl surreptitiously and who ever ended up with the baton received the punishment.  Well, Stella didn’t like to pass on these batons and a friend said to her “If you carry on making those faces that you do at dinnertime, I’ll get rid of your batons for you.”  So they made a deal and you can just imagine two 16 year olds giggling at Stella’s funny faces.

Stella was well read and loved to read biography’s of famous people although her eyesight was fading so it became increasingly difficult for her to read.  But she always read the Daily Mail, from cover to cover,  every day with the help of a magnifying glass, from cover to cover.  If she couldn’t manage to read it all, she would save up the articles she wanted to read.  She would drive me mad as there were newspapers strewn all over the flat which looked very untidy but then  she would have a blitz and stay up till 5 a.m to read them all, so I could finally throw them all away.  She loved to talk about anything that was currently in the news and although she was profoundly deaf we still managed to have lively discussions with me shouting in her ear.

Stella was unique  and I feel privileged to have known her.  I will miss her greatly, as I am sure you all will but perhaps we can all keep her alive in our memories of her.  I think when Stella appears Heaven is going to be a much more amusing place.




European Sewer Tours

From: Edward Keogh <>
Subject: Sewer Tours

Date: Friday, 5 October, 2012, 16:05

Other Sewer Tours, European and British:After posting my blog a friend sent me this information about European sewer tours.  Here is the link and the info he sent      Want to to take a European Sewer Tour? It’s simple, fun, inexpensive, and smelly! Here’s how…


Visit des Egouts de Paris Entrance: Ticket kiosk at the south end of the Pont de l’Alma, opposite 93 Quai d’ OrsayHours: Saturday to Wednesday from 11AM to 5PM in the Summer, 4 PM in the winter (closed for 3 weeks in January for annual sewer cleaning)Cost: €3.50 (less for kids ‘n old people)Public Transport: Metro- Alma-Marceau station Bus: Pont de l’ Alma (lines: 42, 63, 80, 92) RER: Pont de l’ Alma station (line C)Phone: 01 53 68 27 81Minitel (the old French phone monopoly’s proto-internet): 3615 code PARIS then “ENV” and “EGOUTS” Call in advance to arrange for a tour in English by one of Paris’ sewer workers. A more comprehensive English tour is available monthly from independent tour company, this engaging tour costs around €13 (including admission) and lasts for an hour and a half. Check their website for tour details, but usually occurs the last Sunday of the month. The Paris Sewer Museum is the most comprehensive sewer experience for tourists anywhere. Walking over channels of real French poop, the visitor is bombarded with detailed information about this 2000 km system while experiencing it firsthand. Crowds line up before 11, but settle down later. But beware- the Sewer Museum Gift Shop- a must for any connosewer- closes promptly a half-hour before closing. If you are lingering, consider skipping ahead and pick up a T-shirt (€15), some postcards (€. 50), and even a commemorative medallion (€2) celebrating the Egouts.   BRUSSELSMusée Des Égouts Located: in the Toll House at Porte d Anderlecht 1000 BrusselsTours: Wednesdays (except holidays) at 9AM, 11AM, 1PM, and 3PM. Group visits (10-20 people) can be arranged on other days.Cost: €3 for most people, €2 for younguns, and free if you live in Brussels and have an ID card.Phone: 02/513 85 87Public Transport: tram 18, bus 47 – but a nice walk from the Gran Platz and central train station.


Less slick than its counterpart in Paris, the Brussels sewers you see are less prettied-up and are more realistic. Also on view is an underground river that used to be an open sewer running through through the city. Now it’s hidden and just dumps the shit in the North Sea. Tours are given in French and Flemish (aka Dutch) If, like me, your French is only good for saying, “un,” waving some euros around and pointing at a pastry, you’re in luck. All the exhibits are labelled in English as well. Our guide also spoke a fair amount of English for our benefit once he saw we were interested. Just don’t start yelling, “merde” a lot.


The Third Man” Vienna is blessed to have two sewer tours that both revolve around a really fat man (Orson Welles) running around a stink hole. To fully enjoy the sewers of Vienna, you should be familiar with the 1948 film, The Third Man, directed by Carol Reed and starring Orson Wells. Not only does the film capture the bizarre nature of living in an occupied, half destroyed city at the onset of the Cold War, but proudly features the sewers of Vienna as a major player in the thriving black market at the time. If you are in Vienna and want to see the film, it plays late nights in the English language movie theatre near the Opera. 


Location: Meet tour guide wearing a red and white Austria Guide badge outside the Stadtpark U4 subway station’s main exit on the street Johannegasse.Times: Monday and Friday at 4PMCost: €16Public Transport: U4 underground to Stadtpark. The English language tour is given by a native film historian who guides you through a myriad of locations featured in The Third Man. The whole thing lasts 2 to 2.5 hours – 1.5 hours of which are in the sewers and along the banks of the underground Vienna River. Wear comfortable footwear that won’t slip easily on a wet floor, and bring a flashlight – or better yet, grab one of the cool candle torches they pass out on the tour. THE RETURN OF THE THIRD MANThe “official” City of Vienna TourLocation: Buy tickets at the trailer in the middle of Esperantopark in Karlsplatz at the corner of Operngasse and Friedrichstraße.Tours: Daily in the summer, Sun.-Tues. from November to March. 9:30AM to 4:30PM, tours every half-hour.Cost: €6.50 for adults, €2.10 for studentsPhone: 01/585 64 55Public transport: U2 underground to KarlsplatzNOTE: As of November 2002, the sewers have to be closed for urgent and extensive repair work but that the tours will recommence when this is completed (information: + 43 1 7951493119) Tours last 25 minutes and are usually in German. English tours are available once or twice a day. Check in at the ticket booth or call for times. This tour only covers a much smaller part of the sewer network, but is hosted by actual sewer workers. Not only do they talk about what it is like to work below the streets, but also they conduct a multi-media extravaganza loosely tied to the movie. There’s special lighting effects, video projection and someone dressed like Orson Welles who shoots a gun at you. Really.


1 Tour, 1 Museum FOREIGN VISITORS SEWER GALLERY ENTRANCE(Cizineck Vstup Do Kanalizace Pod Orlojem)Location: Old Town Hall in the main plaza (look at map for name of plaza and public transport information)Hours: 9AM-4PM most daysCost: 10 Kr. (about 30 cents) Go into the Old Town Hall to the left of the Astronomical Clock. Head to the back of the room and ask for someone to open up the sewers for you. If they look confused, show them the Czech name. The older ladies who work there are sometimes reluctant to take you down there and ask you to come back when one of the old men is working. There is no sign announcing this tour, so just be persistent. They will pull a skeleton key out of a drawer and take you outside, around the clock to an anonymous door and lead you down into the gallery.  This gallery was built in 1906 when the “most modern sewer system in the Austro-Hungarian Empire” was completed to show off to foreign dignitaries. Now you can get that same special treatment for a sawbuck. EKOTECHNICKE MUSEUMLocation: 6 Papirenska, PragueTours: Weekends from 10AM to 4:30PMCost: 70 Kr (about $2.50)website: www.ecotechnickemuseum.czPhone: +420 2 33 32 26 98How to Get There: This museum is a bit off the beaten path, since it is located in an old sewer processing facility at the edge of the old city. There is a way to get there without the 1/2 mile walk, but this way is easier to describe. Take tram 25 out of the city to the last stop (Jugosavskych Parzyland – or as I say, “Yugoslavian Partyland”) and walk directly north towards the river. Make a right on Papirenska and walk past the odd little riverside garden homes until you enter an old industrial park. The museum is on the left in the old building with two smoke stacks. The Ecotechnicke Museum is housed in the first sewage treatment plant of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, built in 1907 and used until 1967. On this site, at the end of the city’s sewer system, giant machines would mechanically separate the sewage before dumping it in the local river. The museum shows you how this pioneering work was done. Only some of the staff speaks English, so it may be wise to telephone in advance to see when they will be there.


Cloaca Maxima – Ancient Roman SewersLocation: Foro Romano (Roman Forum)Cost: FreePublic Transport: subway Line B exit at Colloseum and walk west down Via Imperiali. The good news is that you can see the world’s oldest functioning sewer (about 2500 years old) for free. The bad news is that you can’t go in it. (Ooze did. It was only the most amazing sewer of all time.) There are three good places to see it. It’s worth it to get an idea of how the system worked, and how it continues to with hardly any mantainence. Those Romans were pretty crafty. From the Via Imperiali, you can look down into the more recent excavations and see the top of the Cloaca, and the broken remains of other sewers that run through the forum. If you enter the forum itself from the Romulus and Remus entrance around the corner, and walk down to where the Temple of Mercury once stood, you will find a door leading into an ancient wall marked, “Cloaca Maxima.” The mouth though is where you can see it best– Cloaca Maxima MouthLocation: on the banks of the Tiber river at Ponte PalatinoCost: Free A short hop from the Mouth of Truth (below) will take you to the bridge Ponte Palantino over the Tiber River. Looking out down river, you can see the opening of the sewer. You can trot down the stairs and walk along the riverbank to get closer. You may not want to go down there alone since there might be transients (aka evil Gypsies from myth and legend) living under the bridge. Some even camp on top of the sewer pipe. They didn’t bother Ooze. Not even to wave cardboard in our faces and take our wallets. Go figure. Mouth of Truth by CampidoglioLocation: It’s one of the most popular tourist stops in Rome. It’s outside a church. You’ll see plenty of Americans. Figure it out.Cost: FreePublic Transport: Line B to Circus Maximus. Walk towards the far end of the park and the river. Locals believe that if you stick your hand in the mouth of this ancient face, and you are lying, it will bite your hand off. Most people don’t realize they are sticking their hands in an ancient sewer grate. Suckers.  LONDONBirthplace of the Modern Sewer There are no tours of London’s Victorian sewers, but you can visit a small part of them at the Abbey Mills Pumping Station, Newham, which began pumping sewage as part of the Joseph Bazalgette-engineered sewer system in the mid-1800s.  Abbey Mills, known as “the cathedral to sewage” would lift sewage from North London 40ft so that it could flow out of town several miles before being emptied back into the Thames. The tour happens annually in May and numbers are strictly limited.  To take part, you’ll need to send Thames Water a message and they’ll pass on your details to the organiser. See

 Bust of Sir Joseph Bazalgette Location: Victoria Embankment – far west endCost: FreeSir Joseph Bazalgette built 82 miles of ‘interception sewers’ along the banks of the Thames taming London’s Byzantine disease ridden sewers. Known as the Victoria Embankment on the north side and Albert Embankment on the south, the muddy flood-prone banks became parks on the top and sewers and subways underneath. Bagazelle’s bust looks proudly over his cholera-stopping handiwork. Of course, it seems like if you crossed the street AND looked both ways in 1888, the Victorians would have probably erected a satue of you.  London DungeonLocation: 28/34 Tooley Street Website: (complete directions, etc.)Cost: £12.95 (~$20) If you really want to spend twenty bucks on a tourist trap, please do. I didn’t have the cash, (no freebies for ooze) but there’s a simulated Victorian sewer ride where you witness an animatronic Jack the Ripper kill a lady. Probably the only regular sewer tour of sorts in the city. Fleet StreetLocation: Fleet Street in the central business district The Fleet River meandered through the heart of London dumping into the Thames. As London’s population grew, it became a notoriously filthy craphole known as the Fleet Ditch. By the mid-18th century the city created a sewer by covering over the river and creating Fleet Street. Today you can walk along the street and imagine it as a big open sewer. The Crossness Pumping StationLocation: Belvedere Road, Abbey Wood, London SE2 Website: £3Note: Only open by appointment only, on 24 days of the year. Call 020 8311 3711 on Tuesday or Sunday between 9.00am and 4.00pm. See website for more details. The Crossness Pumping Station was built by Sir Joseph Bazalgette of Victoria embankment fame. The building features some nifty ornamental ironwork and still contains the four original pumping engines used to keep the system flowing. The group responsible for the restoration of this landmark hopes to establish a Museum of Sanitation Engineering. [Photo from their website. Ooze has not yet visited site.] MANCHESTER, ENGLANDFilthy Town!England’s second largest city rose to prominence as an industrial powerhouse in the 19th century. Growth and unfettered capitalism combined to create a deadly stew of filth. The city is currently experiencing a post-industrial renaissance turning its old infrastructure —canals, trains, and factories— into picturesque views from expensive new lofts. Manchester Museum of Science and IndustryLocation: Liverpool Road, Castlefield Manchester M3 4FP.Telephone: 0161-832 1830 (24hr information line)Hours: Open every day except Sundays and Bank Holidays from 10.00am-5.00pm.Website: £4.50 Not many museum exhibits start with a life-size diorama of a cholera funeral, but the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry spares the B.S. Sewers save lives. The museum devoted the basement of the world’s oldest passenger train station to the study of sewerage in Manchester from Roman times to the modern age. No other museum or tour explains the whole sewerage process –toilet facilities, water supply, piping and purification– as clearly or completely. Unfortunately you do not get a peek at a real working Victorian sewer, you have to settle for a walk through a simulated sewer (crafted from the bricks of an old one) with fake poo glazed on the walls, piped in sounds of scurrying rats, and a pumped-in odour more reminiscent of cat urine than sewer. Good for sewerphobics, (which seems to include most of the British public) bad for sewer enthusiasts. Temple of Convenience Location: In the middle of Great Bridgewater Street at Oxford Rd.Hours: 12 -11pmCost: Free The Temple of Convenience started life as an anonymous underground public toilet with stars in its eyes. Today it’s a tiny underground pub. A bar, a few seats, some Belgian beer and a jukebox crowd the tiled floor. Ironically, it’s own toilets are reported to be quite filthy, but I wouldn’t know. Pubs close early in England, and I got there too late. I urinated into the canal for good measure.  nt available at the Sussex History website. Ooze has yet to visit. 


Museu de ClavegueramLocation: Pg. de St. Joan, 98. The museum enterance is right off the street in a little modernist building that looks like a busstop. Metro Stop: Verdaguer Phone: 93 457 65 50 Hours: Tue-Su 9am-2pmCost: €1.20Website: -They recently rebuilt their site in java, so this link might not call up the official web page directly. You can always go to the main website, click on English and look under, “Directories » Museums” to find the Museum del Clavegueram entry. Catalonia was under the thumb of the central powers in Madrid for hundreds of years. When the fascist dictator Franco finally died in the mid 70’s, natives were finally able to reclaim their dying tongue–and they did so with the kind of passion a Quebecois would be envious of. Unfortunately, it was only after I was on my way that three words, tancat per reformes, appeared under the heading, “comments” in the English section of their website. After a series of phone calls (to a wonderful Catalonian speaking machine) and fruitless visits to the museum itself did I discover the phrase means, “closed for repairs” –which the museum still is.  Lovely city though. When the facility is reformed, you’ll be able to see exhibits on the city’s sewer history, ramble through a big chunk of them dug up during construction for the 1992 Olympic games, and make an appointment to see the real thing. UPDATE: For a good view of the Barcelona sewer, see a scarecrow-like Christian Bale wade through Catalonian poo in The Machinist. Interestingly, the movie was shot to look like Los Angeles, but is in fact Barcelona. LA doesn’t have sewers nearly as cool. Museu d’Història de la CiutatCity History MueumLocation: in Plaza del Rei in the Barri Gotic. Hours: June-Sept. Tue-Sa 10am-8pm, Su 10am-2pm; Oct.-May Tue-Sa 10am-2pm and 4-8pm, Su 10am-2pm. Cost: €3.50 Note: Most displays are in Spanish and Catalan, but pamphlets are available in English. Missed the working sewers of Barcelona? Underneath the central part of the old city is an even more ancient roman town. Recently excavated and on display underneath the King’s Plaza, the museum displays a few ancient sewers that haven’t seen human waste in a millennium or so. When you fly 7000 miles to see a closed sewer, you take what you can get.


Abwasser- und Sielmuseum(Sewer Museum)Location: 20359, Bei den St. Pauli-Landungsbrücken 49Telephone: 34 98 50 55Metro Stop: S1 Jetties U3Websites: (in German) Hamburg Magazine’City Planet’ Thanks to the magic of machine translation, Ooze was able to track down information on touring the Hamburg sewers. The Sielmuseum, from what I can gather, is a small collection of objects fished out of the sewers. Old buttons, bicycles, and even someone’s birth certificate. The other tour includes a tour in a sewer boat much like the ones you see in Paris. Do you know German? I don’t. These tours are only available by reservation in advance. German bureaucrats must hate e-mail since it took over a month to get rejected from both tours. They also have a JavaScript sign-up sheet that returns error after error. Ooze suggests you call first! Be an asshole and find someone there who speaks English to explain the whole thing to you. And let us know.


Emperor’s BathsLocation: Kaiserthermen – southeast corner of city wallsHours: Apr.-Sept. 9am-6pm; Oct.-Mar. 9am-5pm.Cost: €2.15 “The oldest town in Germany, Trier was founded by the Romans during the reign of Augustus and had its heyday in the 4th century as the capital of the Western Roman Empire. Near the southeast corner of the city walls, the 4th-century Kaiserthermen (Emperor’s baths) are most memorable for their gloomy underground passages remaining from the ancient sewer network—avoid contact with the walls.” – Let’s Go Germany  I’m not sure what disease you catch from 1500 year-old crap, but I’m sure the helpful German guides will be happy to tell you. Ooze has not yet visited this site.



Sewer Rats in “Natural Habitat”Noorder Dierenpark (a zoo in north Netherlands)Location: Hoofdstraat 18- Post bus 1010 – 7801 ba Emmen – a 2.5 hr. train ride from AmsterdamTel: +31(0)591 61 88 00Website:  Sewer rats are frequently seen in their natural habitat on many sewer tours. While interesting to watch, sewer men face the ever present danger of a rat attacks. The expression “dangerous like a cornered rat” didn’t start life as a cocky metaphor. If you want to get up close and personal with these sewer denizens, visit the Emmen Zoo. Behind Plexiglas in a drippy simulated sewer, you can watch these creatures frolic, bathe and live in a naturalistic way. Except for the faeces eating part. Even the permissive Dutch draw the line there. For more information, read the Rat & Mouse Gazette review. note: Apparently in the summer, you can ride a “Sewer rat” roller coaster in Adventurpark Hellendoorn, a Dutch amusement park also in northern Netherlands.



Brighton Sewers

Brighton Sewers

I first went on the Brighton Sewer tour when I was 18 yrs old.  Varndean Grammar School arranged it after we had completed our A levels. We were all in high spirits and we found it very exciting and exhilarating especially when we exited through the manhole in Steine Gardens.  I went on another tour in 2003 and enjoyed it just as much and it gave me the idea for the start of my book, “The Grail of the Unicorn Planet.

Brighton’s Victorian sewers were built in 1860 and they were so well designed that they are still in use today. The Victorian bricklayers look hundreds of tonnes of sand from the beaches to make pug to cement hundreds of bricks. You can still see shells encrusted into the mortar. Indeed, this is one of the fabled reasons that Brighton’s beaches are pebbly and not sandy. Using only manual labour and no hydraulic diggers or power tools it was a remarkable feat. The men were paid between 10 and 15 shillings (50p to 75p) per 12 ft length of the sewer tunnel, depending on the thickness of the brickwork. The best men could earn £4 and 10 shillings a week.

There is clean spring water bubbling from the freshwater river that still runs under the City.  It used to flow into the sea in Pool Valley and the fishermen of the original village of Brighthelmstone used to moor their boats in the small pool or mini-harbour. Pool Valley now accommodates the Bus Station.  At first the sewage was discharged directly into the sea and barnacles can still be seen on the walls where the tide used to come in. Brighton council were pressured by Brighton residents to build an intercepting sewer stop the sewage from reaching the sea. Works commenced in 1871 and was completed at a cost of over £100,00 in 1874.Various improvements and repairs continued on the system until the construction of a relief sewer in 1929.

During the late 1990’s a massive storm water collection drain was constructed along he beach using tunneling machines similar to those used to cut the Channel Tunnel. These machines were lowered to the tunnel depth via several deep shafts sunk at intervals along the beach, which were eventually capped and covered, Pebbles were replaced on top of the shafts to return the beach to its former appearance and public use. This prevents raw sewage from being discharged from emergency storm-waste outfalls, one of which can still be seen in the stone groyne adjacent to the Palace Pier.

Nowadays, instead of discharging into the sea during storms the relief tunnels now terminates at the most terrifying sewer feature in England. Eddies vortex is a smooth edged, 10ft wide plughole sucking the sewage, and anyone who gets to close 100ft straight down to the concrete storage tunnel beneath. With no ropes or rails, a slip could be fatal and needless to say this is not part of the Sewer tour for the public.

Nor is the new sewer tunnel from Brighton Marina to Friars Bay.  The project also includes a new waste water treatment works at Peacehaven, two new pumping stations and a new long sea outfall.  The new sewer tunnel will carry waste water from the west to the new waste water treatment and then take the treated waste water to the long sea outfall where it will be released 2.5 km off shore.

Brighton is the only city in the whole country that conducts sewer tours so if you would like to book a tour on line here is the link

Emma Kennedy takes a deep breath and descends into Brighton’s Victorian sewer system – and meets two of the bravest men on earth




Plenty of legroom

Plenty of legroom

I read a letter in the Times yesterday Tuesday 25th September, about Igor Sikorsky, the subject of my last blog.  So I thought I would post it.

Sir – the suggestion that Vladimir Putin’s presidential airliner should include a “patio” (Celebrity Watch, Times3, Sept 20 has historical precedence.

The outsize aircraft built by the Russian aviation pioneer Igor Sikorsky in 1913-14 variously featured an “observation balcony” and a “promenade deck” in which members of the Tsar’s suite were famously photographed enjoying an in-flight stroll.


Christy Campbell

London SW17


Plane Facts!

In my first book, “The Skimming Stone”, Archie and Ally time travel back to the Second World War, meet Jazz, a Spitfire pilot and witness a dogfight and a victory roll.

This spiked my curiosity about aviation and how it all began so I turned to the Internet and this is what I found.

Do you know when the first airplane made a flight?

I may surprise you to know that it was back in 1903, on the 17th of December to be precise, Orville Wright made the first flight of 120 feet at about 10 feet from the ground and reaching a speed of only 6.8 miles per hour.  His brother Wilbur Wright made the next test flight and managed to fly 175 feet followed by Orville who then flew 200 feet. After these first attempts, the brothers got the hang of flying and on the fourth and last flight that day Wilbur flew to a height of 852 feet in 59 seconds.  The frame supporting the front rudder was badly broken but the main part of the machine was not damaged and they estimated that it would be ready for the next flight in a day or two. Man had achieved one of his greatest wishes – powered flight.

After this do you know when the first commercial plane was designed and produced? Was it in the 30’s, 40’s or 50’s.  You will probably be as surprised as I was, to learn that it was in 1912.  It was called, “The Grand” and featured such things as an enclosed cabin separate from the pilots cabin, a lavatory, upholstered chairs and exterior catwalk atop the fuselage where passengers could take a turn about in the air. You will note that this feature has not been incorporated in later designs! Enough said. You may think that the nationality of the engineer behind this new airplane was British, German, American or French but you would be wrong.

His name was Igor Sikorsky and he was Russian. Born in Kiev on May 25th 1889, he developed an early interest in aviation due to the influence of his mother who was a doctor and his father, a psychology professor. The career he was to follow was settled when he met Count Zeppelin on a tour with his father in Germany. He graduated from the Petrograd Naval College and went to Paris to study engineering and returned to Kiev and entered the Mechanical Engineering College of the Polytechnic Institute in 1907.

After graduating, he decided to return to Paris which was then the aeronautical centre of Europe, to learn what he could of the embryo science having learnt all he could he returned to Kiev and tried to build a helicopter.  This failed so he then turned his attention to fixed wing aircraft.  He conceived the idea of an aircraft having more than one engine that was a most radical idea for the times and he gave the world its first multi-engine airplane the four-engined, “The Grand.”

He then went on to design and build an even bigger aircraft, called the, “Ilia Mouromets,” after a legendary 10th Century Russian hero The plane was of a revolutionary design and luxurious, incorporating an insulated passenger saloon comfortable wicker chairs, a bedroom, a lounge and the first airborne toilet. If it hadn’t been for the First World War it would have probably have started passenger flights in 1914.  As it was Sikorsky simply redesigned the aircraft to become the worlds first purpose built bomber.

Ilya Mouromets bombers carried 800 kg of bombs and positions for up to nine machine guns were added for self-defence, including the extreme tail and a crew of up to twelve. In fact, it was so well armed that some fighter squadrons of the Imperial German Air force feared to engage it in combat. It was, effectively, the original, “Flying Fortress.” In August 1914, the Ilya Mouromets was introduced into the Imperial Russian Air Force and on 10 December 1914, the Russians formed their first 10-bomber squadron slowly, increasing the number to 20 by the summer of 1916. In all, 73 aircraft were built between 1913 and 1918, flying over 400 sorties.

Following the Russian Revolution Sikorsky, sacrificed a considerable fortune leaving Russia and emigrated to France and then travelled to America in 1919. After a fruitless search for some position in aviation, Sikorsky resorted to teaching.  He lectured in New York until in 1923, a group of students and friends pooled their meagre resources and launched him on his first American aviation venture, The Sikorsky Aero Engineering Corp. The Company went from success to success and Igor went back to his original dream to design a helicopter and in 1943 the manufacture of the R-4 made it the world’s first prction helicopter.

Igor was an inventor and engineer but he was also a philosopher, with an intense interest in man, the world and the universe. So he was especially proud that his helicopters saved lives when the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service used them. He once said that pilots of helicopters have contributed to, “one of the most glorious pages in the history of human flight”

We tend to think that technology increased exponentially after the 1960’s, but as you can see it was going at quite a pace from as early as the 1900’s.  Igor Sikorsky was called, “a humble genius” and he died in October 1972 at the age of 83 years. He liked to say,  “the work of the individual still remains the spark which moves mankind ahead”. I wonder what he would think of the latest developments in space travel and that we have managed to land a space buggy on Mars in spite of doing this blind because of the distance and time delay involved. I like to think he would be excited by all the work going on to improve the speed of space travel, (see my blog Star gazing, Exoplanets and Space travel published 03/04/12 ) and that he would hope that this would lead to man achieving his other great ambition – to be able to fly to the stars.