Severn Valley Railway 1940’s Event is BACK! Reenactors, demonstrations, vintage shopping and entertainment for 2 weekends running! Things will be a little different, due to Covid restrictions and keeping everyone as safe as possible, but I cannot wait to sing at The Engine Shed at Highley each day! The museum is wonderful, plus there is a cafe AND fabulous stalls selling 1940’s clothing, hats and accessories. Times are TBA, so keep your eye out for updates. What a perfect way to celebrate my Birthday weekend, WOOHOO!
I love steam railway events and have been going to Severn Valley Railway (amongst others) for years. This will be the first time I have performed at this special WW2 event and cannot wait to be part of the vintage entertainment.
There are times when you decided to visit a place on whim and are thoroughly disappointed…and there are those fabulous moments when you visit a surprising treasure. Luckily The Bakelite Museum was one of those!
Nestled in the middle of the Somerset countryside and housed in an old water mill, this is not so much a museum as a beloved collection. I think of museums as rather formal; everything labelled, catalogued, behind glass and somehow lacking personality. The Bakelite Museum is completely the opposite! If Pitts Rivers had an obsession with plastic, this is how he would have collected it (yet another fantastically ecclectic museum!).
Everything imaginable made from Bakelite or vintage plastics can be found here, from egg timers to amazing radios…and even a coffin! You forget how diverse this material must have seemed. The colours are absolutely wonderful, and there is little order or explanation, but that just makes you feel like a kid stumbling across the best attic in the world!
Sure there could be some large explanation boards on what Bakelite is and when it was used, there could be a few more description cards, but that just means that you have the opportunity to ask Patrick Cooke, the collector, about the pieces. This fabulously eccentric fellow and his wonderful wife (not forgetting their cat Lucite!) live at the old mill. They have 2 wonderful vintage caravans that you can have a look at too AND a wonderful tearoom where they serve cream teas!
I have to say that my favourite things were the WW2 Bakelite identification planes and an incredible Art Deco globe radio. It actually felt like a real privilege looking around the place as the collection is vast and fascinating. It helps that Patrick and Imogen are such lovely people too!
Hello and thank you so much for letting me look around your wonderful museum. Could you please state your name for our readers?
My name is Patrick Cook but have been referred to as Mr Bakelite or even Plastic Cook.
So tell us, how did the museum come about and what was the first piece of Bakelite you bought/ received?
The first piece I discovered was when I was on a paper round in Bristol, in the late 60’s. It was an Ekco wireless type SH23 with a tree motif within an Art Deco Bakelite cabinet….very architectural! I bought it for a (then) princely sum of 5 pounds which I think paid off over several months of wages.
Was this piece what sparked your passionate collecting is was it by accident?
I became intrigued by the fact that the radio dealer tried to put me off buying Bakelite in favour of the more craftsman built walnut veneered cabinets that were so popular in the 1930’s. Bakelite as a material was at it its all time low, deemed dull, smelly and so evocative of wartime Britain and the depression. so this became my challenge. To collect and reconsider the ‘material of a thousand uses’ as quoted by Leo Baekeland, became my quest.
What is your favourite piece?
Like children, I do not have a favourite piece of Bakelite it so depends on context….good design, colouring, nostalgic associations and so on…however I do think the Thermos flask is a rather elegant and understated design with all the associated memories of family picnics, motor outings or having a tea break at work….the World Globe radio is also rather splendid in shape and design.
You used to organise Bakelite Picnics on the Beach, tell us more!!! In the 1970’s I organised an annual Bakelite Picnic, starting originally on Blackheath in London and finally growing to a large scale event on Hastings Pier to be filmed by the BBC for Collecting Now series. Bakelite Museum Society members would dress terribly vintage….even in those days, and we would have all our Bandalasta picnic hampers crammed with spam or fish paste sandwiches, battenberg cake, blancmange and a noxious flask of tea. We plan to have a revival picnic here at the Bakelite Museum this summer.
What does your lovely wife think about your collection and is she also into Bakelite and vintage plastics?
Imogen is an inveterate collector of all things old (including me). She has a most wonderful kitchen crammed with old tins, pottery, toasters and vintage gadgets galore…. I think she has a quiet regard for the Bakelite Museum….slightly.
We are totally in love with your 2 caravans! What age are they? Make?
In the orchard we have a 1932 Bertram Hutchings (hardboard and canvas) two berth caravan; very tudorbethan. The Willerby Vogue is the other extreme, being all plastic (fibreglass) and streamlined and eggshaped. I towed it with a Citroen DS and they look the perfect partners.
Why do you think there is still a love for Bakelite, Lucite and other vintage plastics?
The love for Bakelite has grown as the fashion for all things vintage has become so popular and Bakelite is at the forefront for a material that covers such a large variety of objects. From the cradle to the grave (including the Bakelite coffin).
We have a rather stunning photo of you holding (what looks like) the top of a bomb…what on earth is that?!
I am holding what was described to myself as a second world war bomb, but is fact a Radar Pod that was affixed to the Lancaster Bomber….it had been used as a Geranium pot in Billericay for many years before it found a home here at the museum.
If you would like to visit the museum, it is situated at Orchard Mill, Williton, Somerset, TA4 4NS and the TomTom found it fine. The museum is open pretty much every day of the week between March and October, but why not email Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org you are unsure. They welcome people at all times of year, including groups. And who knows, maybe we can revive those Bakelite picnics too!Prices are £5 for adults, £4 concessions, £2.50 for children (under 6’s go free)
*This visit was in 2014 and featured in Military World Magazine. The information in this blog post is correct at time of original printed article*
Well firstly… HAPPY NEW YEAR! Let’s hope this year holds better news for all of us!
Obviously in light of Covid, all my booked events and care home gigs were cancelled last year. It was a miserable feeling and unsettling time (notice how I’m using past tense as I’m determined that 2021 will be slightly better?), but I did receive a couple of Zoom gig requests, which made me feel slightly less useless to the world.
It is always funny, watching videos of other people’s dysfunctional Zoom meetings on YouTube. Children interrupting news reporter parents, cats deciding that world domination should start by destroying one laptop at a time, people forgetting to properly leave meetings; subjecting their workmates to nakedness, preparation of online porn watching and more besides.
Luckily I haven’t recorded my own personal experiences, but they will certainly be embedded in my memories for a long time!
My first online gig was for a wonderful felting group. They could meet for their annual summer meet-up, so hosted an online version with tutorials and chat. I was the half time entertainment for this fabulous fibre-pricking faction and set myself up in the garden with backdrop, props, PA system and laptop. I asked Mr. Mew to entertain little one whilst I was singing, but this seemed to loosely translate into ‘please let her go into the garden, play loudly, then fall over.’ I tried to carry on regardless, but had to excuse myself and pick up screaming child myself. The show went on and I added a couple of extra songs as way of apology to the filters. They were wonderful, fun, great company… and I haven’t heard from them since…
Cut to yesterday when I was booked last minute to perform a 49 minute singing set on zoo for a care home! Huzzah! With a little help, I was set up in a quiet room with a PA system, spotlight and laptop. No children, no cats, no problems! All was going brilliantly until about 3/4 of the way through. I was mid song when I heard a ‘POP!’. It threw me for a second and I had to fight to remember the lyrics, whilst pretending to absentmindedly look behind me. I thought I had accidentally knocked a glass bauble off the Christmas tree behind me, but there was no evidence on the floor, so I turned back to camera. As I carried on, my eyes got distracted by a wispy movement above the laptop. Suddenly I focused on…SMOKE. It started to plume rather generously from the spotlight unit and I realised that this wasn’t just a little ‘pop’, the unit was on fire. I excused myself for a second, whilst we got the light outside. The room was full of smoke, but I apologised and continued the concert as windows were opened around me and frosty air filled the room. I tried to control my composure as all I wanted to do was burst out laughing! An extra song was added and I had a brilliant time entertaining them all from my cold, smokey setting. Thank goodness things didn’t get more serious!
Have you had anything crazy happen in online meetings or chats? I would love to hear yours!
It was our very first visit to this Cotswold attraction and from the get-go, Fairytale Farm’s covid rules were very well thought out. One way systems, hand gel and having to order food from a window to avoid people hovering in the ticket office/ cafe.
Now, this place is a little bit Marmite. It is quaint and little kids love it, but there is a definite air of needing a bit of TLC.
Upon leaving this area, you then enter a sort-of courtyard area with a wishing well, the dwarves cottage and various sheds housing dioramas. Children immediately unhook themselves from parents and prams and rush around with glee; whilst the adults stumble about trying to get accustomed to sheds, flies buzzing around Snow White’s hot head and arthritic geese swaying to tinkling music amid hay bales and Easter Bunnies. The larger characters (mermaids, sea creatures, Snow and her alarming possie of small gentlemen etc) are all fibreglass statues, spray painted like the kiddies rides you see at funfairs. You know, Disney-esque with a touch of despair and self loathing. This aside, they are big, bright, great for photos and the main attraction for our intrepid adventurers.
I was rather looking forward to seeing the Mouse Village! Housed in an adjoining shed to the geese, you will find a large acrylic case with miniature houses and shops! It is such a great idea and a voice from the clouds asks you if you can spot fun things, such as a freshly dug grave and village stocks. There are apparently 15 mice living in this gorgeous township, although we went back 3 times and saw not a whisker. I had to tell a disappointed Betsy that they had gone to a secret club behind the church. Luckily she fell for it as she is 5 and still believes that Kinder Eggs grow out of her ears. The mice had evidently been in their village as evidence was all around. Like a Midsomer Murders episode, I scoured the place for clues… an overturned penny farthing bicycle…a broken lamp post with chewed wire…gnawed public bench…droppings throughout the bakery…it was like the apocalypse. So determined were we to see a rodent that we crouched down and waited in the darkness, in case the mice had migraine (micegrains?) from all the lights and music. Nowt.
I settled down on a picnic bench to enjoy a cream tea, whilst Betsy spent time in the sand pit. It is small, but she actually enjoyed this above everything else! Unfortunately the view in this area is great as directly behind is a security fence, housing an abandoned shed, bracken and rubbish. This could very easily have been hidden with large, colourful vinyl banners to improve the area, but maybe this was in fact a scene from an obscure fairy tale? Rubblestiltskin perhaps?
After this we headed on over to Fairytale Farm’s latest attraction. Yes kids, you too can milk Jack’s cow, just like in the book! With a backdrop of a large fibreglass beanstalk, kids can actually sit on a milking stool and pull on the red raw rubber udders of Daisy the cow. Fear not lactose weary parents! This bovine only produces water into the pale, which can them be poured into a milk/ water urn before letting someone else be the milk maid.
After tearing yourself away from Holstein teat yanking, you then have a corridor of more sheds. This time, you get to gaze through each window like the village weirdo. Press a button to light up each static scene abs hear an excerpt from the fairy tale! From Red Riding Hood’s wolf with glowing red eyes to the pert derrière of Hansel and Gretel’s witch, as she peers into her oven. My personal favourite was sleeping beauty. A beautifully hand painted room sets the scene as you gaze in wonder at Princess Aurora surrounded by her royal mosquito net. The set up was simple. A shop mannequin under a pink bedsheet, but the ‘closed eyelids’ made me giggle uncontrollably. It made me reminisce over my sister’s Bedtime Bernie. Anyone remember those? You would wet her eyes and they would suddenly go a very pale pink to simulate her sleeping. Although no one had licked Sleeping Beauty’s eyes, they had been cunningly painted a flesh tone to mimic eyelids. This may have worked, had they added false eyelashes at the bottom or clever shading, but the overall effect had me wondering whether she would suddenly sit up and start craving the taste of brains. This may have been part of the reason I loved it so much.
After this avenue of awesomeness came a winding pathway through beautiful plants attracting bees and more fibreglass fun. Looming either side of the path were giant seahorses, dolphins and octopus (octopuses? Octopi?). By pushing a large button underneath the seahorse, you could hear the therapeutic lapping of waves! Want to know what dolphins sound like? Why, just give that big button a push to hear it’s clicks and squeaks! And what about an octopus? What fascinating sounds are we going to be able to hear that Blue Planet failed to record??? “Hello! I’m Ollie the Octopus!”
Onwards dear friends! A sensory wonderland of music, water and characters and through to a fantastic playground, with plenty of benches for resting relatives as the kids go nuts on slides, climbing frames and more. Betsy didn’t want to leave this bit and it felt safe and secure.
Our real treat was the Walk a Llama experience, which you can prebook with your entrance ticket at an additional cost. Boy, I was looking forward to this! In my head I envisaged a wild meadow, with happy llamas being lead gayley through buttercups and daisies. I wasn’t really expecting a tiny enclosure next to the carpark, but I do daydream big. We ended up waiting an hour as we were last in our group’s queue. By this time Horace, the largest llama, had started to get pee’d off with the exercise and was pretty skittish and grumpy as hell. Even the handler was having a few issues. The other two seemed fine. The mid sized one looked vaguely like Tina Turner and was rocking an Afro mullet, whilst the smallest was ADORABLE-BUBBLE with white fluff and protruding bottom teeth. Another reason why I wanted to take him home? His name was Hagrid. Finally it was our turn and Betsy took the rains of the cutie pie aforementioned. We had a friend with us, who was given Tina Turner. Guess who ended up with Llama Drama aka Horace aka Satan’s Poodle.
We all set off around the field, guided by the prison officer-esque lady in charge; barking orders like a scout leader going through a messy divorce as we desperately tried to control our increasingly frustrated llamas. Something (a butterfly, non-existent breeze, car horn on Isle of Wight) started Horace, who then leapt in front of me and literally DARED me to look him in the eyes. I wasn’t falling for it. I knew his twisted game. I was shaken, but determined to control the situation. Scout Leader Llama Lady was suuuuuper helpful shouting “LEAD ON! LEAD ON!”, whilst I cranked my head to the side and desperately stared at bushes, whilst nudging the devil sheep and praying it wouldn’t spit or stomp on me. Although probably stealing part of my soul, it eventually faced the correct way and we continued to the exit.
So all in all? This was one of the most bizarre places I have ever visited, but young kids will really enjoy it. Good weather is a must to make the most of everything on offer, as it is all outdoors. The paths are great for pushchairs and wheel chairs, but having to accept your boiling hot coffee through the top window of the cafe is a bit like taking your life in your own hands! Great little gift shop and hopefully the derelict shed area will eventually become a soft play area.
This Sunday we ventured to the beautiful ruins of Kenilworth Castle. They are currently doing timed ticket entry, which is fantastic as you don’t get hoards of people! It was incredible weather and our lovely friends came with us. I haven’t been for around 20 years, other than for a quick photo shoot in my 20’s, so I was interested to see if anything had been updated!
I worked at Warwick Castle many years back, where I saw an alarming transition from important historic monument to money making corporate theme park happening. Luckily Kenilworth isn’t doing Barbie style princess towers and extra charges to get into different areas, although I would’ve loved to have been there for the falconry or jousting!
We took a little picnic to enjoy in the grounds and the cafe was open for takeaway beverages and snacks too. Hand sanitiser was stationed at a few points around the grounds and the toilets were open! The only issue that we found was that the ramparts were closed in both sections, but luckily one of them was opened before we left, so Betsy and I got to take in the fantastic view of Kenilworth, the castle gardens and ruins. The gardens are beautiful at the moment and there is also an aviary, with a pheasant and finches inside. The marble fountain was not on, but it is still a very grand centrepiece!
Something I always find fascinating is the graffiti found on walls and doorways throughout the castle. From 1700’s to modern day, it shows carved names and dates spanning over 300 years, with more on fireplaces high up on walls that are not accessible.
I hope you enjoy these photos! Please remember that all photos are copyright, so please contact for usage. Thank you!
On VE Weekend this year, I was once again supposed to be singing at the VE Festival in Evesham. This wonderful event had moved to Ashdown Camp in Evesham and we were all excited for the new beginnings of a very successful and popular show! The VE Show was going to be sponsored by Vivien of Holloway in 2020 and I was lucky enough to be sent one of their Lana dresses to wear whilst performing.
Unfortunately Covid-19 dashed our plans and all events have obviously been cancelled for this year. I was still able to do a photoshoot of this beautiful 1940’s style dress with the talented Paul W Russell Photography. Our backdrop was the breathtaking Kenilworth Castle, of which I will have the pleasure of visiting later this month.
So, back to the dress! The fit is quite roomy compared to Vivien of Holloway’s more structured dresses (e.g. the Sarong). I ended up going for a VoH size 16 in this. Do NOT confuse their sizing with standard UK ones! Frustratingly, their sizes are based on vintage ones, so the 16 is infact a 12 UK. As I mentioned before, this dress definitely has more give, so that is why I went for the 16 instead of an 18. Im usually between a 12 and 14 UK and very curvy (40″-31″-40″), so always struggle with bust to waist ratio on dresses. This fit very well and the style is flattering and comfortable.
Vivien of Holloway now have a huge range of colours of the Lana dress and I would definitely find it difficult to choose which shade to get! And guess what? IT HAS FLIPPING POCKETS! YAAAAAAAS!!!
As lockdown is slowly eased across the country, people are taking their first tentative steps back out into the world.
Much has changed. Some shops have closed for good, others have lines snaking through car parks just because people need decking or a plant pot. I have now ventured past my neighbour hood and I was hit with emotions mixed between excitement, dread and anxiety. Shops that are open are doing their utmost to create a safe space and an altered reality for customers. Don’t be fooled, this could go on for a year or more depending on whether a vaccine is found and whether we open our borders too soon.
The government understand the need for morale in these difficult times and even opened garden centres so that we could channel worry and stress into a therapeutic pastime outdoors. We can now have picnics and meet up with friends outdoors as long as we still stay 2 metres away which is a real blessing!
On 4th July pubs will start opening across the country, serving outside as far as I’m aware. Whilst I am pleased for the landlords as so many village inns have closed in the past 20 years (especially since the smoking ban), I have my concerns about how they are going to assist drunk patrons in social distancing, plus all that drink needs to go somewhere and how many wash their hands after using the facilities?
Some pubs have been fantastic during Covid-19 lockdown; doing takeaway menus like the Snitterfield Arms. Fish and Chip Fridays, Burger Tuesdays, Sunday Roast abs even Indian have been a fantastic treat for locals AND kept the pub in business with new customers as well as old. I think this way of thinking should be extended for a couple more months before we see a second wave of Covid.
I personally don’t drink. Don’t need it. But I I would really like to hear opinions from drinkers themselves. Is a picnic with bottled beers and friends not enough? What are your thoughts?
I thought I would share some more photos of Betsy and I dressed up on our costume walks! For over 10 weeks we have been keeping up morale (our own, our neighbours and friends online) by cosplaying our favourite characters.
My favourites have been our Harry Potter inspired walk (above), Frida Kahlo and her paint palette (scroll down for images) and Snow White with the Evil Queen!
I’ve enjoyed singing to the street and it’s great when people come out of their homes and watch from their gardens and paths from a safe distance.
On 7th May 2020, Richard and I were interviewed for Australian television! Studio 10 set up a Zoom video call at 10.15pm to be broadcast at 11.20am Sydney time. I was still trying to get over a migraine, so was ready to crawl into bed, but luckily adrenaline kicked in and I managed to stay up!
It went very well and we were asked about our lifestyle, fashion, diet, wedding and the similarities between the Covid-19 isolation and WW2. To this latter question I replied that there were no similarities what so ever apart from community spirit and the need to stay calm and safe. The war was horrendous and shouldn’t be compared to this situation. Unfortunately that question was edited out of the recording!
The only other bit edited out was when I was asked about my 1940’s ration diet. I told them that that information was purely British tabloids trying to create a weird story and we certainly weren’t on 1940’s rations. The rest is in there though, so enjoy!