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Monday, December 11, 2017

Doctor Who on English Bathing Huts

Beach Huts in Torquay, Agatha Christie's hometown

I first noticed these colorful beach huts while exploring the counties of Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall on our 2015 trip to England. People rent these wood or brick buildings by the week, or even by the year. It gives them a place to store their beach items, and a little home-away-from-home while relaxing by the water each day. This allows parents to watch their kids play from the comfort of a chair on the wooden deck in front of the hut, or sit inside, share a meal or a game of cards, and even take a nap out of the sun. Nearby shops sell food and drink, rent other seaside amenities, and public toilets are also usually nearby.

On our visit to Cromer this year, a seaside town in Norfolk county, we saw more of these huts lining the beach. Cromer was a picturesque rocky beach, but the sea could get rough, and the wind can be strong. Some of these huts had windows with curtains, small refrigerators and sinks. Such conveniences allow one to enjoy the view, sheltered from the wind or rain, and enjoy more of the comforts of home.

Beach Huts in Cromer

In the Doctor Who novel The English Way of Death by Gareth Roberts, British biscuit (cookie) magnate Hepworth Stackhouse notices a small, lonely building while vacationing on the coast of England circa 1930.

It was a small brick building, five feet square, without external signs or markings. On the side facing the cove's wall was a wooden door, fitted with a brass knob. It was every inch a representative of its kind, with nothing of note in its appearance. Its singular oddness lay in its location. Why, wondered Stackhouse, would anybody choose to build a bathing-hut here, three quarters of a mile from the beach, on an area strewn with large rocks and pebbles?

Unfortunately, Stackhouse decides to investigate this mystery. When he tries to open the door, a gaseous intelligence overtakes him. Possessed by this malevolent alien, he kidnaps a prominent scientist, kills homeless people for sustenance, and raises a zombie army. It's up to the fourth Doctor, his time-lord companion Romana, his robot dog K-9, and a merry group of time travelers from the future, to prevent the intelligence controlling Stackhouse from destroying the Earth.

After learning the dangers a lonely English bathing hut might pose to humanity, I figured I had better learn more. An online search for "bathing hut" yielded two options: a bathing machine, and a beach hut. During England's Victorian era, bathing machines resembled today's colorful wooden beach huts. Only they were set on wheels. 

A woman entered a Victorian bathing hut fully clothed on dry land. The machine was then pulled by horses or people over the sand and rocks beach. When the woman finished changing into her bathing suit, she walked out of the hut, and stepped down the water. 

By 1930, when the events in The English Way of Death occurred, these wheeled huts seem to have been replaced by stationary changing rooms. Perhaps some, those built out of nick or stone, even sported modern conveniences like toilets and sinks. Or perhaps what Stackhouse saw was not a changing facility, but a beach hut for rent.

So did British biscuit (cookie) magnate Hepworth Stackhouse see a changing station, or a beach hut for rent? Sadly, Gareth Roberts' record of events is unclear. But given my uncertainty, I'll be more wary of these colorful additions to English beaches on future trips. And the question remains: what should I do if I see one of these brightly painted little buildings set off by itself, and located farther away from the beach than seems practical? Should I call the police? Or should I just go to the nearest shop, and buy myself a delicious English biscuit (cookie)?

Dragon Dave

Monday, December 4, 2017

E. F. Benson on the Value of a Cambridge Education: Part 2

During our boat trip on the River Cam, our tour guide praised the architecture of King's College, and spoke glowingly about the beauty of its famed chapel. Strangely, he then asserted that the interiors, and particularly the dormitories, had not kept up with the times, and were little better than prison cells. 

If this is the case now, I can only assume they were nicer a hundred years ago, when author E. F. Benson studied there. 

In his novel The Babe, B.A., E. F. Benson introduces us to a group of fun-loving young students at Cambridge. Most are studying at King's College, and the foremost of them is the Babe. He may be the son of an aristocrat serving in the House of Lords, but he's the silliest, and yet most learned of them all. 

The Babe, as everyone calls him, is the picture of fun, and his hijinks, and lack of scholastic excellence, constantly land him in trouble with the authorities. Everyone loves him for his athletic feats on the Rugby grounds, and the parties he holds or attends. Yet in the midst of revelry, or lighthearted talk, he will suddenly astound everyone by throwing out a completely unexpected reference to a famous poet like Wordsworth, an erudite writer like Charles Kingsley, or controversial literary magazine like The Yellow Book. 

Toward the end of his second year at King's College, his extracurricular activities land him in real trouble. Instead of studying for exams, the Babe goes out with his friends on the Cam for a picnic and a swim at Byron's Pool near Grantchester. When he returns after hours to his dormitory, he tries to sneak into his room. But he is caught, and the college authorities dismiss him for the rest of the term. So he goes to live with his father in London. 

During the summer break, his friends from Cambridge visit him in London. They join with his father's aristocratic friends in suggesting that the Babe isn't cut out for scholarly pursuits, and he should devote his life to something else. The realization that he's virtually wasted the tremendous opportunity of higher education galvanizes him. When the Babe returns to King's College for his final year, he allows himself the occasional game of Rugby. But for the most part, he throws himself into his studies, gives up parties and frivolity, and surprises everyone when he graduates with distinction

The British people have recently demanded that their government do more to rein in the costs of a university education. Strangely, the government in the United States seems to be moving in the opposite direction. A move to reform and "simplify" taxes would include provisions to tax certain private universities, end tax credits for university workers and their families, restrict higher education tax credits, and eliminate deductions for graduates repaying their student loans. 

No one likes being taxed on the money they earn. Still, life isn't about money: it's about doing what you find meaningful and fulfilling. If government reforms make it harder for people to afford an already-expensive college education, and prepare the young for their desired career, then perhaps the elected officials should reexamine their plans, and question whether they are in the country's best interests.

That's what British citizens want their government to do. Certainly our tour guide would agree with that sentiment. After all, he studied at a university in Brighton, and graduated with a Pre-Med degree. But instead of continuing his studies, he had to spend a few years guiding a boat along the River Cam, regaling tourists from around the world with anecdotes from Cambridge's past, while he repaid his student loans. While being a tour guide a worthy profession, I think we'd all agree that the world needs the qualified doctors and nurses more. 

But then, he was a great tour guide, and gave us a fun, relaxing boat trip on the River Cam. Perhaps that's what the Babe or his friends might have done, if they needed money too.

Dragon Dave

Monday, November 27, 2017

E. F. Benson on the Value of a Cambridge Education: Part 1

A highlight of our Cambridge experience was drifting along the River Cam past King's College. Not only do we see the Doctor and Romana punting past the college in "Shada" and "The Five Doctors," but one of my favorite English authors, E. F. Benson, attended King's College. He set Limitations, one of his early novels, at his old alma mater. 

In Limitations, two students at King's College ponder their future. Ted Markham is the son of a priest, only there because of a rich man's generosity. His friend Tom Carlingford is the son of the rich man, the lord of the manor, who has sent both his son and the son of his family priest to such a costly and prestigious school. But while Ted values the tremendous gift he's been given, and spends all his time studying, Tom whiles away his time at college, and dreams of becoming a sculptor. 

Like Tom and Ted, people today still argue over the value of a university education. Those who identify with Tom Carlingford, the idle rich man's son, argue that all that matters is that you leave with a degree, which will provide you with the qualifications for higher paying jobs. And if you're young, and not interested in your studies, then the time and money spent there seems like a waste. 

Tom saves his harshest criticism for students like his friend Ted, who plan on becoming university teachers and scholars. He warns Ted that many educators actually turn themselves into vegetables. Instead of using their greater knowledge to become dynamic, creative people, they become authorities on subjects that no one else cares about, such as gerunds, obscure Greek writers, binomial theorems, or acid radicals. 

Despite his friend's arguments, Ted, the poor man's son, stays at King's College, graduates with distinction, and goes on to become an educator there. He enjoys his life filled with books and learning, and sharing all he discovers with colleagues and students. His life, for him, is idyllic, and one he could not have achieved without the generosity of his patron, Tom's father.

Tom Carlingford, the rich man's son, leaves King's College before graduation. He uses his father's generous allowance to travel, and study the creations of great artists. In Greece, he is inspired by the Greek's classical style. He works hard to develop his talents, and hone his craft, in order to create statues as beautiful as those that fire his imagination. In this way, he educates himself, and singlehandedly forges his own future.

All is well until his father dies. Then Tom learns that his father's investments had been failing for years, and he is now penniless. So while Ted enjoys his new life as an educator in Cambridge, surrounded by people who respect him and appreciate his talents, Tom struggles to make ends meet in London, and picks up any scraps of work he can to put food on the table. Eventually he achieves success in his chosen vocation, but not before he undergoes a great deal of suffering.

While we toured this historic center of higher education, England was contemplating a change in leadership. Shortly after we left Cambridge, the country held an election. Prime Minister Theresa May had hoped to gain more Conservative Party seats in the House of Commons. Instead, people in the UK voted for the Labour Party. While I'm sure there were many reasons the Conservative Party lost, most of the young people interviewed on TV News programs said that they voted Labour because they wanted a university education, but under the current leadership they couldn't afford it. 

Hopefully, the British government will listen to this mandate, and do something to make university educations more affordable for its citizens. Whether you identify more with Ted Markham or Tom Carlingford, not all of us have rich parents or benefactors, and it's always nice to have a choice as to which path you follow in life.

Dragon Dave

Monday, November 20, 2017

Braving the Evils of Cambridge with Doctor Who: Part 2

Outside Emmanuel college, some students ambushed us with their soppy hard luck stories about how taking a ride in the River Cam could help them pay for their education. I couldn't help if but wonder at the veracity of their claims. I mean, tuition at one of England's top two university towns can't be all that expensive, right? 

There's a debate going on regarding education these days. Some authorities maintain that all students are evil. The rest maintain that most, while not villains, are nonetheless capable of blending facts and lies to their advantage. However one may categorize the students at Cambridge, they convinced us to take their tour with their "cheap" prices. Then they led us astray, or at least down to Garret Hostel Bridge. There we joined a group of other gullible tourists from exotic locales like Spain and India. 

While we waited to board our vessel, a gentleman from a nearby pub hawked his "authorized" (and more expensive) tours. He also informed us that, by consorting with "unregistered" students, we were technically breaking the law. Leave it to a pub owner to dispense the truth about the evil students'  activities with such kindness. Still, aside from assaulting us with his honesty, he left us to our wicked ways. Soon we boarded our simple wooden vessel, and the students launched us out onto the Cam.

Bridges spanning the River Cam range from functional to stunning. Many boast a fascinating history. One of our tour guide's anecdotes, regarding Clare Bridge, proved especially memorable.

The student, who supposedly finished his undergraduate degree at Brighton University, told us that builders had left one of the ornamental stone balls along the rails chipped. This subterfuge left the bridge unfinished in the eyes of the law, which helped the then bridge owners pay less than their fair share of taxes to the crown. That's the problem with consorting with students. Pretty soon, you're falling prey to their evil, cheating ways.

Doctor Who fans will find another anecdote about Clare Bridge equally interesting. As the Doctor and his companion Romana punted along the Cam in the story "Shada", they were unexpectedly whisked off to Gallifrey (and the story interrupted by another story, "The Five Doctors") by the evil Lord President. Once the Doctor (in all five incarnations) defeated the Lord President of Gallifrey, the Timelords returned him and Romana to their wooden boat on the Cam. They did this so expertly that we see no visual sign of their re-emergence in time in "Shada." Having said all that, we do see the Doctor, a centuries old Timelord who has amassed unimaginable knowledge on every conceivable subject, and mastered countless skills, suddenly lose his grip on his pole, and nearly fall into the water as he passes beneath Clare Bridge. So even the Doctor can get unsettled by unexpected trips through time, especially when directed by evil Timelords.

Of course, I've heard the rumor that actor Tom Baker refused to take punting lessons the day before filming his boating scenes for "Shada", figuring he could operate a punt without training. Personally, I have no time for rumors these days, especially ones that defame any actor who played in Doctor Who. Rumormongering is evil, and the virtuous man has nothing to do with them.

Dragon Dave

Monday, November 13, 2017

Braving the Evils of Cambridge with Doctor Who: Part 1

From Grantchester, the home town of investigative vicar Sidney Chambers, we wandered through Grantchester Meadows. There people swam and boated in the river, walked their dogs, or just relaxed in the fields. Amid such pastoral splendor, we wondered where the villain Skagra parked his spaceship in the Doctor Who story "Shada." We even wondered if the spaceship was still there, as it was invisible in the story.

It's been forty years since the events in "Shada" recorded by fearless British author Douglas Adams, took place. Still, had K-9 been with us, I'm sure he could have identified the landing site. After all, what good is a robot dog, if it can't even remember where the villain parked his invisible spaceship?

Near the Old Vicarage, the home of politician and bestselling English author Jeffrey Archer, we stopped to observe a pair of swans and their newly hatched children. There we chatted with a gentleman who had studied their nesting spot for the past few weeks. It would seem that, if Skagra was still lurking nearby, or hiding in his invisible spaceship, the villain didn't seem to be bothering the swans.  

A (not so) short walk took us to Emmanuel College. There the Doctor and his companion Romana visited Professor Chronotis in his office. The good professor was a retired Timelord who had summoned the Doctor to return a powerful book to Gallifrey, the Doctor's home planet. Unfortunately, the villain Skagra stole the book, and used it to try and take over the universe. But then, that's what villains do, isn't it? They recognize essential facts, like the fact that books hold a certain power, and wield that power to their evil ends. 

But then, all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to play with their smartphones all day.

Dragon Dave

Monday, November 6, 2017

Walking To Cambridge With Sidney Chambers

As any viewer of the TV show "Grantchester" will realize, investigative priest Sidney Chambers spends little of his time in the Grantchester vicarage. In the first series (or season, as they say in the United States), he looks forward to strolling along the River Cam, and picnicking with his friend Amanda on Grantchester Common.

He and his Detective friend Geordie Keating have spent their fair share of time walking along the river, and even pursued the occasional criminal through the Grantchester Commons. 

Whether he walks or rides his bike, Sidney Chambers will probably use a bridge when he visits his friend Geordie at the Cambridge police station. In one episode, I believe the two even investigated a murder on Clare Bridge.

In this 800 year old university town, the streets are lined with tall buildings. Sidney and Geordie spend their fair share trekking through these narrow byways, whether they are pursuing suspects or traveling to a murder scene. In series two, Amanda even skulks through these, when she grows bored with marriage to her rich husband, and pilfers items from shops.

But most of all in Cambridge, it's King's Parade that we associate Sidney with. In the first episode, we see him cycling among this popular street, past shops, restaurants, and the city's architectural gem, King's College.

Have Sidney and Geordie investigated a murder in King's College yet? If not, I suspect it's only a matter of time. After all, they've questioned suspects in dorms and offices in other colleges. So if you decide to visit Cambridge, keep a watchful eye out. You might spot Geordie or Sidney hurrying past to investigate a crime, or ponder a fascinating mystery.

Dragon Dave

Monday, October 30, 2017

Visiting Sidney Chambers' Church in Grantchester

Even from the outskirts of Grantchester, the Anglican Church of St. Anthony and Mary appeals. It resides within this sleepy English village, and keeps watch over it, just as its famous vicar Sidney Chambers shepherds its inhabitants. 

Upon arriving, it's easy to imagine Mrs. Maguire hanging out the laundry, or cleaning the vicarage. While the black labrador Dickens plays by her feet, curate Leonard Finch studies his books of religious scholarship. As the one in charge of Grantchester Church, vicar Sidney Chambers should be composing Sunday's sermon, with a glass of whisky at hand, while jazz plays on the gramophone. But most likely, he's out with his friend Detective Inspector Geordie Keating, solving a murder in Grantchester or nearby Cambridge.

In the churchyard, a curious memorial rises above nearby headstones. It's a testament to one family's longing to reside in that glorious mansion that awaits us when this life is over. 

Inside, an alcove beside the choir entrances with its architecture and history. It reminds us of this church's centuries of serving the community, and how it still comforts and guides its congregants today.

But most of all, it's special to just sit in a pew, and gaze up at the podium, beside which Sidney Chambers so often addresses his congregation. His messages of God's unfailing love, acceptance, and forgiveness remind me of Christianity's best aspects. Just as in the TV series based on James Runcie's stories, I feel welcome, included, and inspired. 

Dragon Dave

Monday, October 16, 2017

The High Cost of Development

Growing up in Los Angeles, I was used to living in the city. The city was all around me. I might cross an imaginary line here or there, and suddenly I was in a city with a different name. But no matter what they called it, every city was really L.A. It was all L.A. And I loved it.

Then I moved to San Diego, and I saw how much easier it was to get around. I saw how beautiful it was, with hills and land that had not yet been developed. Great swaths of land separated areas, and many of the towns in San Diego had discernible borders, separated by more of that green space again. 

Ah yes, green space. Undeveloped land. Land in which plants and trees can grow unimpeded. The separation necessary to give communities an individual look and feel. Yeah, I remember that. I suppose there's a little of it around, here and there, but so much of that is gone these days. Especially where I live. Houses have been converted into apartment blocks. Schools have been razed and the land devoted to condominium communities. A historic military base has been converted into a brand new master-planned neighborhood, with a shopping, restaurants, businesses, museums, and a megachurch/private school to meet the residents needs. Traffic clogs the streets, and at certain times a day, it's impossible to get on or off the freeway, and travel a handful of miles in less than a 30 to 45 minutes. 

I always knew that San Diego was a nice place to live. Apparently, a lot of other people agree with me. When I chose to live here, one million people resided in the city, and two-and-a-half million in the county. Now it's the eighth largest city in the United States, with 1.4 million residents, and over three million in the county. Officials estimate that population numbers will climb to 1.5 million in 2020, with 3.5 million in the county. And it won't slow down from there. By 2040, 1.8 million people will live in the city, and over 4 million in the county. By 2050, nearly 2 million people will reside in the city, with 4.3 million filling the county.

Even with all the development, San Diego is still a nice place to live. And as I gaze into my personal future, I know I will be able to minimize the time spent in traffic by traveling at different times of the day. But all those new residents will demand more housing, hospitals, car dealerships, shopping centers, industrial parks, and all the other development that accompanies an increase in population. The more they develop, the more they make San Diego an attraction, the more people will travel here to see the sights, and some of them will opt to remain. 

Amid all the development that population growth will bring, some areas of the city that are difficult to navigate now, such as the downtown district, will grow even more difficult. Some of the communities in the county will lose their quaintness as they are redeveloped into high-rise housing, shopping centers, restaurants, coffee houses, bars, and nightclubs. Inevitably, all that green space I fell in love with will disappear, and all the boundaries between communities will blur, until San Diego becomes one large, homogenous city, just like Los Angeles.

I may have traded the second-largest city in the United States for the eighth largest, but it's beginning to feel like I didn't. And I'm beginning to wonder if that's what I want for my future, and if not, what my options are. That's the problem with numbers. They point out that the present isn't the past, and the future definitely won't be.

Change means growth. Some aspects of any development will benefit you, others less so. Choosing what kind of change you want to embrace--either to accept the inevitable, or trade it in for something entirely new--can be difficult. Still, planning, and looking at projections, gives you the opportunity to make decisions about your future, instead of allowing others to make those decisions for you. 

That's always a good thing.

Dragon Dave

Monday, October 9, 2017

Hello Norman Clegg, Farewell Star Trek Security Guards

Waiting for Norman Clegg to have tea with me

A year-and-a-half is a long time, but that's how long it's been since I've updated by Top Ten Blog Posts. "Catching a Glimpse of Norman Clegg," always a popular post, has since captured the number one position, and continues to attract new readers to The Dragon's Cache. Two others have not only clawed their way onto the list, but done so in style. "Jean and Lionel's House in As Time Goes By" has risen to number three, while "James Herriott Trivia II" has clawed its way to number five. Meanwhile, one-time favorites like "Looking For Alec and Zoe" and "Those Nameless Star Trek Security Guards" have fallen off the list. 

You can review the new standings by clicking the link to my page on the right hand side. 

It's interesting to note that, while I started this blog chiefly to discuss the books I read, three of my top five posts are about British TV shows. Even more interesting is that two of those three are comedies, which usually don't have the fan base of a drama or a science fiction series. Even a fan-favorite topic, such as discussing the woeful role of the security guard in the original "Star Trek", couldn't keep pace with two posts about comics, an interest that revived five years ago, and more than a year after I started The Dragon's Cache. Amazingly, two of my posts are just about me, my thoughts and experiences, unconnected with a TV series, or a novel or comic. I'm not sure what's made them so special to readers, but I'm glad they're still on the list.

Like I said, a year-and-a-half is a long time. Sometimes it's fun to revisit the past, and see where you used to be. I look forward to doing so in the future (perhaps not so long as eighteen months from now), and seeing how my popular posts reflects reader interest and real-life developments. 

Dragon Dave

Monday, October 2, 2017

Norman Clegg Was Here

Holmfirth, a village in England, will always be a special place. For it was here that writer Roy Clarke's TV series "Last of the Summer Wine" was filmed. And it was here that Norman Clegg, a character portrayed by actor Peter Sallis, lived. Norman wasn't the most colorful personality in "Last of the Summer Wine." He didn't capture our hearts with outrageous antics or memorable catchphrases. Instead, he was just a kindly old gentlemen. An everyman.

Norman Clegg has his foibles and human frailties. He had a hard time saying no to people, whether it was to the latest schemes of his friend Foggy Dewhurst, or to shopkeeper Auntie Wainwright, who never let him leave her store without selling him something. He was afraid of women with a temper, such as Ivy and Nora Batty, as well as women who might have designs on his future, such as Marina, that bloom of eternal youth. As such, I suspect Norman Clegg became the character most of us could empathize with in "Last of the Summer Wine." 

Out of all the posts I wrote on "Last of the Summer Wine," ones that had Norman Clegg in the title got the most page views. One piece in particular, "Catching a Glimpse of Norman Clegg's House," has become my all-time popular post. Why do you think that is, when the piece represents my frustration over being trapped in a bus tour on a rainy day in Holmfirth, and not having a good view of Norman Clegg's house? Is it because, of all the characters on the show, we most want to visit his house, and see how he lived?

As Norman Clegg was an everyman, we can empathize with him. We can imagine ourselves as him, walking along the river in Holmfirth with Compo, or through the memorial park while listening to Foggy's latest scheme. Perhaps we imagine standing beside Norman and gazing down at Holmfirth Church. Does he remind us of someone we've known and lost? Does he remind us a little of ourselves? 

We may not idolize his fear of loud, angry women, but we can certainly understand it. And who among us does not have trouble saying No to persistent salespeople and folks promoting worthy causes? Norman Clegg was kind, gentle, and easy to be with. Who wouldn't want to be with him, or for that matter, be more like him?

Can you imagine Norman Clegg sitting beside you while you read this post? Who does he remind you of? A relative? A special friend? The family member or role model you never had? The person you'd like to be? Or...

Dragon Dave