Set in the grounds of the beautifully regal Ragley Hall, the Midlands Air Festival was something I had been looking forward to for weeks! Never one to let tradition slip, I ruined the afternoon by succumbing to a wretched migraine, forcing is to leave the show early. We did manage to see the test firing of some of the hot air balloons, Stampe display team in their gorgeous bi-planes, radio controlled stunt planes, Vietnam era helicopters and the Red Arrows.
Later on in the evening, I staggered out of bed to watch some of the hot air balloons land in the fields not too far from us. The following evening brought the beautiful WW2 Catalina fly overhead, but no balloons as a thunder storm had reared its head and was too dangerous to take off in.
So here are a handful of pictures and videos from the event! Enjoy!
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*
We had a fantastic visit to Blists Hill in Telford the other week! YOu pay for an annual ticket and it gets you in to the victorian town (open air museum) and a load of other museums that we have yet to explore! Ironbridge is so gorgeous and Blists Hill was a real hidden treasure. On the same lines as the Black Country Museum, it was nice to find similar in a different area.
We decided to dress in our Steampunk outfits for the day and invited a few friends to enjoy the day with us!
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.
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.
Who would’ve thought that in these uncertain days of isolation that we could get so many people together (safely distanced) in joyful celebration and remembrance.
Flags were flying, bunting hung and the atmosphere was buzzing with excitement as the whole street prepared for the 75th anniversary of VE Day. This special day celebrates Winston Churchill’s famous speech that WW2 was finally over.
This anniversary has come at a time where community spirit is again so important in keeping spirits lifted in a difficult time.
On thursday evening Richard and I did a Zoom video interview for Studio 10, an Australian news programme on Channel 10. It aired at 11.40am Sydney time, although due to the time difference, we had to do the video call at 10.15pm!
On Friday morning at 9am I had a visit from the BBC Coventry and Warwickshire van and was interviewed live about the day’s upcoming events.
At 11.30am I started my live singing set, which was also featured on Facebook for those in carehomes, hospitals, workplaces and homes worldwide. Viewers in America, France, Germany, Australia and Britain all joined me as I sang a selection of 1940’s classics to my neighbours and the photographer from Stratford Herld. I had a slight hiccup in Watch the Birdie, when my ‘mummy head’ clicked in as betsy hurt her finger. All words went out of my head as I watched and mentally checked that she was ok, whilst mumbling incoherent nonsense through the microphone. Ok, good Richard is getting her a plaster. BHAM! Back to singing head. Where am I in the song? Shoot this is going out live! Ok, just smile and look like you know what you’re doing… “Watch the Birdie, let’s take a candied camera shot, Watch the Birdie come on let’s give it all you’ve got, Watch the Birdie just pick a flop-n-derp-n-bop and hold it!” ha ha ha!
I decided to raise funds for Combat Stress, my favourite charity, who help veterans young and old (as well as their families) dealing with depression, PTSD and anxiety. There are already too many vets dealing with homelessness, addiction and psychological problems associated with their time fighting for their country. Combat Stress is here to assist those struggling. For those who would like to donate, you can do so HERE and 100% of the donations will go to the charity. The link will be active for 2 weeks after VE Day, do if it is no longer working, you can contact me directly!
It was so wonderful seeing everyone enjoying themselves and coming together as a proud nation. It just shows that even in these depressing and worrying times, we can create strength and joy to see us through.
There was music playing, people having picnics and BBQ’s and even an ice cream wagon giving out free ice creams and waffles! Thank you to all who made the day so incredible special and memorable, and remember…just pick a flop-n-derp-n-bop and hold it!
I hope you have all been staying safe and healthy in these unsettling times! It can be incredibly intense and claustrophobic being isolated, but you are doing great.
To update you with what I’ve been up to…every single week day, my 4 year old daughter and I dress up in a different theme and take our 1 hour of exercise time. My plan was to create some crazily cool memories for Betsy, focus on something fun by dressing up and bring some morale to the street. I suffer with depression quite badly and love the escapism of fancy dress or costuming. The fact I can use this outlet as a ray of sunshine for other people and keep my mental health more-or-less stable in these uncertain times is brilliant.
I began by writing a list of characters we could do and even bought a mic that has a little inbuilt speaker so that I could sing to the residents too. At first we only saw a couple of people looking, but now most of the street waves or twitches their curtains at 11.30am each morning!
When I moved here 4 years ago I became familiar with about 4 people in my street. Who would’ve known that a desperately worrying time would lead to so many more friendships being formed from 2 metres away?
So far we’ve done Disney Princesses, Unicorns, rainbows, fairies, Maleficent and a dragon, Steampunk dolls, Mary Poppins, Dorothy Gale (Wizard of Oz) and Glinda the Good Witch, 1940’s, 1950’s and my favourite… Santa and his elf!
It was BAKING this Tuesday and I was dressed in full Father Christmas outfit, complete with beard, wig and hat. I had ordered a pack of 50 toilet rolls that I stacked inside my cart, which was decorated with tinsel, a reindeer and more! I put some vintage festive songs on my Bluetooth speaker and we made our way down the road. Everyone who waved got a toilet roll and I ran out! I left one on a parked ambulance, along with some sweets. “Ho ho ho! Meeeeerrrrry Covidmas!”
What else have I done? Oh! I wrote a parody of ‘It’s in His Kiss’ (made famous by Cher in Mermaids). It’s called ‘Is it Covid’ and you can see it HERE.
I’ll keep you updated on happenings. I’m just trying real hard not to lose my marbles. X
Today we made a trip to the stunning Fawsley Hall Hotel and Spa for a Harry Potter inspired Afternoon Tea! Dressed for the theme, we entered the jaw-dropping hall, which was the perfect setting for our spellbinding lunch.
After a glass of Butterbeer, we were treated to fresh loose-leaf tea and 3 tiers of sandwiches, scones and cakes. The sandwiches were cheese and pickle, ham and mustard, cucumber and cream cheese, egg and little brioche buns with salmon mousse. On to the scones and I was very relieved to see that they were freshly made and not frozen ones! The pots contained strawberry jam and a very generous helping of clotted cream (the first time I haven’t had to ask for extra!).
As you can see by my photos, the cakes and tarts were certainly Honeydukes worthy and brought a smile to all of our faces. I enjoyed the chocolate cauldron, filled with mousse, but there was an awful lot of chocolate on the plate so I had to be careful (migraines). It would’ve been nice to have a fresh fruit tart to bring a little tartness to all the sweet flavours and balance the palette, but it was still I wonderful spectacle and experience.
Half way through, one of the waitresses brought out a few broomsticks and Betsy enjoyed zooming up and down the room with hers. She has yet to get into Harry Potter, but I dressed her as Hermione Granger in the hopes that some spark would stick!
It was lovely to see Mr Mew dressed up and he may as well have been wearing an invisibility cloak when sat on the sofas! Almost identical patterning on his outfit as the upholstery! Ha ha ha!
My lovely friend Charlotte came with us. With a spidery headdress and flashes of red from her crinoline, it gave her a Merry Widow air! I decided on loosely basing my outfit on a young Professor McGonagall, with tartan skirt and matching ribbon in my shoes.
All in all a magical afternoon was had by all and we look forward to hearing of other themed teas and dinners to get involved in!