Manchester Baby (Happy Father’s Day)

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

The Manchester Baby, A.K.A., the small-scale experimental machine (SSEM) was not a device of torture or something living. It was a huge innovation and giver to the future. Here’s a little more about the Manchester Baby and how it came about on the 21st June 1948, just 71 years ago.

F.C. Williams sounds like a football team. There is a Manchester connection. It doesn’t involve a centre-half called Tom Kilburn. Kilburn, from Dewsbury in Yorkshire, resident of Blackpool, was actually a regular at Old Trafford. His being a Manchester Utd fan should exclude him from my writing but Tom Kilburn CBE FRS alongside Stockport-born Sir Frederic Calland Williams, CBE FRS changed the world. Much of our modern world owes itself to this dynamic duo. Geoff Tootill, from Chadderton, where my Gran worked at Avro once, also worked in the Electrical Engineering Department of the University of Manchester.

Freddie Williams was a dreamer and a doer. This pioneer in radar technology carried on a wave of momentum following World War II and applied his science to research for numerous years. Look up his thesis, ‘Problems of spontaneous oscillation in electrical circuits for some light reading. Much of what was written then is widespread knowledge now. He’d be known for Manchester Baby and the Williams tube (or Williams–Kilburn tube) – a device of computer memory. Geoff C. Tootill passed away on 26th October 2017. His contributions are long and illustrious. There’s a replica of Manchester Baby in the Museum of Science and Industry (Manchester), created in 1998, by the Computer Conservation Society. Tootill’s extensive notes and recollections made this possible.

Without this trio of grafters and trend-setters, the computer era could have been years, if not decades away. The Manchester Baby and Ferranti Mark 1 are iconic technological advancements. They represent the first electronic stored-program digital computers. Famous mathematician, computer scientist, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, and theoretical biologist Alan Turing ran a programme on Manchester Baby, having had it initially debugged by Geoff C. Tootill. Turing and the National Physical Laboratory had also been trying to make their own programmable computer. The former codebreaker and his team also spent much time in Manchester and greatly contributed to the future.


Happy Father’s Day Dad!

My father, David Acton, or Dad as I call him, because that’s what he is and always will be has given me many great memories. Caravan trips to Cleveleys, Morecambe and countless other days out have been had. There could have been more time spent together, but for divorce, Dad’s work schedule and other factors. It is water under the bridge now. Not every day growing up was wonderful, much was spent in anticipation and uncertainty. Other kids have had far worse feelings, but my dread was all I knew. On the days when Dad and Pup, or my elder brother Asa were around, then it was delightful. Having dinner at my Nana’s house, seeing my Granddad and listening to his many war and travel stories were treats.

I don’t look back with sadness on having my parents divorce so young. Around me many of my friends were in the same boat. That’s life. It is what it is. I was lucky. Some friends had lost their father at a young age, and some never even knew who their father was. Growing up in Manchester, you weren’t far away from a fatherless child. Then, I also knew kids who grew up with fathers who were abusive or neglectful. So, which is best? There are templates and ideals, but for many these were distant dreams not granted to us. Dad did his best, and always has done his best, and understanding my Dad is key. He’s laidback, relaxed and I love him unreservedly.

Dad often took me to Manchester Victoria station, where I’d meet his colleagues in a bland room above the main railway concourse. Broken biscuits, piping hot pint mugs of tea and natter would be had. Or, we’d nip over the road, down some steps to a subterranean Railway Men’s Club with the best corned beef and onion barmcakes (a bread roll) with proper mustard. When Dad wasn’t working, we’d be at the allotment on Joyce Street, Moston. Our dog Pup would be alongside us, and I’d be let out of the back gate alongside my best friend Pup. We’d run riot on Broadhurst Park, climbing trees, jumping the valleys and over the red brick stream within the park. We’d often sit together on a perch overlooking the allotment and Dad’s plot, watching as Dad bodged a greenhouse together or planted row after row of potatoes. Just by the Ronald Johnson Playing Field, Pup and I used to chase footballs. That’s now the site of F.C. United of Manchester. I like to think that Pup and I had a pooh there. I’m certain that a bush doubled-up as an open toilet for me, at least.

From time to time the Ronald Johnson Playing Field would host cycling events. It was the first place that I witnessed competitive cycling in Manchester. How lucky the city of Manchester has been since. Wandering within the confines of Broadhurst Park, Pup and I would never cross the line at Nuthurst Road, and we’d rarely walk down Lightbowne Road towards the junction at Kenyon Lane. My Gran and Ernie lived near there (off Judd Street), plus my Aunty Susan was on Joyce Street, just down Kenyon Lane. The risk of being seen was too high. We were sometimes allowed out of the allotment front gate and crossed over the road by Dad. Here in the armpit of St Mary’s Road and Joyce Street, up against the railway was a new scrub of parkland that ran behind Newton Heath Train Maintenance Depot.

Newton Heath Train Maintenance Depot, mostly known to us as ‘Newton Heath Loco’. It may or not have had a connection to a certain Manchester Utd., but for me it was a mysterious place full of oil and metallic smells. The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company had long maintained a presence at this depot. My grandfather George Acton had worked here, as did my Dad at several points. Sometimes, Dad would drive into there to grab some tools or paints for his job. With Dad and Granddad, I was lucky enough to see under a train once or twice and wander around guided in ways health and safety executives now would grimace at.

The railway was central to my youth and time spent with Dad. Train rides to see aunts, uncles and relatives was normal. From time to time, car rides out to parks, the seaside and to see Nana and Granddad at the caravan were treats. I can recall numerous pilgrimages to see the legendary Blackpool Lights, with return trips sat on old Intercity diesel trains in the luggage and goods compartments. Lugging bags of seaweed for the allotment and garden was standard practice, in Dad’s eyes. Asa said how he, as a teenager, held a greenhouse on the roof of the possibly old Princess car, as it hurtled down the steep hill of St Mary’s Road towards Moston Brook. The residents of St. Mary’s Nursing Home may have seen a flying greenhouse as Asa lost his grip.

Dad’s cars have been antiquarian at best. Workhorses over shiny pride. I can recollect a Lada Riva in beige and faded cream. Further to that there was a black Ford Mondeo with air conditioning. The air-conditioning being electronic windows that seldom worked. Sometimes they’d roll down, but never roll up. There were occasional diesel railway vans and pick-ups. Dad had been for a long-time part of British Railways and then Network Rail as a painter and decorator. His job description was pretty much paint anything and everything – but not the trains. Work was scattered nationally but mostly confined the Lancashire and Greater Manchester area. Between work Dad, would have us nip up to what is now Julie’s Homebrew by Jessie Street and Copenhagen Street off Oldham Road. The Sharp factory would be nearby, so as sponsors of Man Utd, I was allowed to boo.

Taking Nana to Newton Heath market was always exciting as it usually meant a custard slice or Chewits. The dentist’s nightmares were through fault of Nana spoiling me. If I said that I liked a Cadbury’s Boost, Nana, a diabetic would fuel my requests. We’d even jib over the canal, Nana on the concrete walkway parallel to the Old Church Street road bridge, and me springing over the dangerous wooden canal lock gates. What is now Lidl, was once Kwik Save, and our Asa would sometimes be seen working out the back or on the graveyard evening shifts at the weekend.

Our ‘Ace’ was a hero to me, as a kid, and even though we never spent much time together, I always wanted to be him. I had brown curly unruly hair. Asa had well-kept curly black hair. Asa has and had chiseled looks. I resembled a pallet of spilt paint. My freckles and pale skin was quite far from our ‘Ace’. The good thing about ‘Ace’ was that he liked computers and would rarely touch my books. Books were everywhere and I’d pick up anything with words. Asa preferred computers, coding and all that. Picking up books from barrow stalls at Manchester Victoria was something Dad and Mum both gifted me. With my many questions, Dad would often have an answer and if he didn’t, he’d point me at a book or tell me who to ask.

Anyway Dad, have a Happy Father’s Day – see you for a drink and some City as soon as possible.

All my love, John

goater

“OK, mum’s the word!”

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

“Let’s sing it and rhyme; Let’s give it one more time; Let’s show the kids how to do it fine, fine, fine, fine” – All The Best, R.E.M.

Happy birthday to my dearest Mum. Much can be said for my Mum. I want to write it though. Maybe the video says a little, but I think some words are best and need jotting down. Call it reinforcement. Call it a child of a mother without means to display emotion through a hug. Afterall geography and COVID-19 keep us apart. Mothering Sunday and Mother’s Day celebrate mums and mothers (or moms) around the world. A birthday is much more personal than that but by no means less important. Every day I live and breathe on this here Earth is because of my Mum. Dad too. But, deep down we all know mums are more important.

Mums are your first true friend. They’re the best friend we should all have from day one of our lives. They are a forever friend. Mums stick by you no matter what, or they should. There are always exceptions. If a mum disowns you for liking Man Utd, then that’s your own fault. Thankfully, my mum, Mum, as I call her, because she is my mum and Mum to two others: my dreaded siblings Astrid and Paul; yes, thankfully my Mum is brilliant. She’s always listened to great music like Pulp, R.E.M., James, Finley Quaye, and Led Zeppelin. Mum has encouraged me from an early age to read. I was deep into the worlds of Tolkien long before they were fashionable. Armed with knowledge of The Lord of The Rings. Mum made sure I was presented with a stage show version long before a live action version hit the silver screen. The Tameside Hippodrome remains a fond memory with orcs and lasers casting haunting imagery from the central stage. To receive books was always wonderful. Mum and Dad provided great volumes from an early age. Collecting Weetabix tokens sometimes led to great books. Some I still have today and share amongst my classroom. These were the books that set me on my way.

Mum has grafted and strived to make each of us better. Likewise, Mum has set a prime of example of improving herself. Mum has studied at the Open University in Sociology. Mum has always tried to reason her socialist values and community spirit. She has imparted her knowledge on me and always allowed me to make my own judgements and find my own way. As Mum has shared so many great things, I always want to show her my world. I have loved being able to see Mum at Manchester City, or go to a music gig like The Levellers with me. Mum may have heard of and witnessed the Waterboys when they first came around, but my musical world is constantly expanding. As I was experiencing James singing Sit Down at an Air Cadet Christmas party, Mum was being attending their live gigs. Over the years I have grew to love James, and their song Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) is an emotional track. It reminds me of me as a nuisance and a liability towards my mum, as I stuttered and faulted my way through secondary school. Mum has been great for me. My rock. My believer.

Mum treated me once to a birthday trip, with Neil Fanning, to Blackpool and it rained heavily. We were drenched. Mum took me to the Roxy Cinema to see Ghostbusters II and it was flooded. Mum showed me the V.E. celebrations at Manchester Town hall and we had fireworks rain down on us. At Woodford Airshow, Mum calmed me down after seeing a Spitfire crash. As the Supermarine Spitfire Mk XIV struck the ground at the bottom of a low level loop during an air display, Mum must have felt as sick as everyone around them. Pilot David Moore didn’t survive. Bizarrely the aircraft did and was moved to Rolls Royce in Derby for restoration to flying condition. Mum explained everything to me, a young boy, a bit upset by the huge explosion on 27/6/92 at 15:08. I’ve just seen the video again, and it made my eyes water with tears. That’s what mums do, they put their kids ahead of them. They’re the strongest people on Earth. They sacrifice their own time, space and energy to look after and protect us. That’s why Mum spotted me crying when Bambi’s mother died. I can’t explain the tears shed at E.T. or Thomas the Tank Engine. Perhaps those days were dusty.

Eating fresh bread at the observation area (not medical) of Manchester Airport and watching planes land made a few different days. Trips to museums in and around Greater Manchester gave me an appreciation of British heritage early on. Big steam wheels at Wigan Pier and seeing Gran and Ernie at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. You can’t fault Mum’s ability to keep our young brains active. Ernie gave me an Engine Driver hat that day.

I wanted to get Mum an experience day, or a stay at a hotel somewhere nice, but the climate around COVID-19/coronavirus isn’t so ideal. Besides, it is safer to remain indoors, stay at home and stay alert. You have to look after your mother because you can only have one. Unless you were adopted. Some of those foster mothers are brave lots, aren’t they?! Anyway, with the world being as it is, vouchers aren’t ideal. I remember Mum gave me a Borders bookstore voucher for Christmas but the company went into administration and closed, so I never used it. Well, I kind of did, but I can’t explain how or where. Those Stephen King horror-thrillers have since move on. I have an idea what to gift Mum, but I need to wait for this COVID-19/coronavirus to all blow over…

My passion for camping came from budget holidays as a kid, usually in the north of England or Wales. The fiscally challenged as those who suffer from political correctness would recognise that times were hard. Money was scarce but we had good food, holidays, and a roof over our head always. There were treats and Fridays used to be the day that maybe a Mars bar or another chocolate treat was waiting. Mum allowed me treats like staying up late on a Sunday to watch London’s Burning or other days to watch comedy shows like Have I Got News For You. On the whole early nights were encouraged and bed would be around 9 o’clock and often with a book under the duvet. Walking was encouraged and as Mum didn’t have a car, walking became normal. The Levenshulme to Reddish Vale and back, via Houldsworth Mill was a favourite trot. Zipping around Disley and Lyme Park was a bigger treat.

Whenever there has been a challenge and times have been tough, Mum has been there to support me and has very much been the 12th player that many football clubs claim to have. That knowledge that my Mum has been around the corner or a quick phone call away, has always made me feel stronger. Usually it takes very little conversation to wipe away any doubt or reduce a huge worry to little more than a niggling ache. I always think Marlon Brando’s farewell to his son speech in Superman: The Movie could easily fit my Mum, obviously with some gender realignments and name changes.

“You will travel far, my little Kal-El. But we will never leave you… even in the face of our death. The richness of our lives shall be yours. All that I have, all that I’ve learned, everything I feel… all this, and more, I… I bequeath you, my son. You will carry me inside you, all the days of your life. You will make my strength your own, and see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father, and the father the son. This is all I… all I can send you, Kal-El.” – Marlon Brando as Jor-El, Superman: The Movie

Mum’s the word

(a popular English idiom)

Used by William Shakespeare, in Henry VI, Part 2.

“Seal up your lips and give no words but mum.” – Henry VI, Part 2, Act 1, Scene 2

“Mum” is slang for momme. Momme means: be silent (or do not reveal). Old English: “mīma“. Latin: mimus (meaning silent actor/imitator).

It was used between 1350-1400 in Middle English.

“Thou mightest beter meten the myst on Malverne hulles; Then geten a mom of heore mouth til moneye weore schewed!” – Piers Plowman, William Langland

So, on this 20th of June, it is Mum’s birthday, the day before Bermuda’s Shaun Goater Day. Both should be in your calendar. And if not, why not? My Mum is ace. Shaun Goater was an ace player. Perhaps I can get Shaun Goater to say happy birthday to my Mum. That’d be fitting seeing as my Mum asked ‘The Goat’ to write me a Christmas card once. Mums are ace, right!?

goater


P.S. Mum, let’s go to Blackpool Tower and recreate this photograph in 2021. Good idea?

mumjohntowerblackpool

I’d also like to invite you to write some Blog posts for me too. Thanks in advance Mum!

Your loving son, John, aged 37.5-ish.

Bring Us Sunshine

To the National Health Service and all those careworkers, and keyworker, oh how you bring us sunshine!

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

Ernie Wise: Its not easy for us authors to find new words.
Eric Morecambe: Have you got a thesaurus?
Ernie Wise: No,I don’t like motorbikes.

So far, it has all been writing, links and a few photos. Today the mould is broken. Welcome to embedded videos. This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, no, this is the first justified joyful collection of clips (to date) – available in all the countries around the world that allow YouTube (or via VPN in China). Other media players are available but to be frank, I can’t understand the language.

Thinking back to comedy, and there have been times when I have lay prone or been down in the dumps, feeling low or blue, and the voices of comedy have come calling. I love stand-up comedy and to be honest, I will watch anyone, at least once, sometimes twice. If I enjoy them, I will carry on enjoying them and look out for them at every possible turn. Then there is slapstick and comedy writing. There are so many layers of comedy from silent movies to dark comedy showings to modern day images blended to satire or adapted to show the absurd.

Comedy is a kind of medicine in a time of worry and suffering. The movie Patch Adams starring the wonderful comedian-actor Robin Williams was one fine example of humour as a remedy. The film is based on the real life doctor-clown-social activist and founder of The Gesundheit! Institute, Hunter Doherty “Patch” Adams MD. This is a man devoted to finding an alternative healthcare model not founded by insurance or by the haves over the have nots. In many ways he is a doer and a revolutionist. Besides which his kids are called Atomic Zagnut Adams and Lars Zig Edquist Adams. One interesting thing his inspirational portrayal by Robin Williams, led to Bollywood filming Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. which may have in turn led to Pakistan and India director Rajkumar Hirani having ideas for his movie, or not. Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. was remade in the Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Sinhala languages. It has won many awards, as have its remakes. The ₹1.039 billion viewing audience plus the $202.3 million audience of Patch Adams may have reached far and wide financially, but it does make you wonder if the sense and spirit of both have reached and influenced many in the medical profession. I would imagine the essence of humour and a warm heart has always been with those in the natural work setting of caring for others. It is their job. The presence of these heart-warming and movies cannot hurt none.

The best writers are the ones who really show their passion in their works. Some even cast themselves from years of heard graft and find a vehicle for their talents. Jeremy Dyson, Steve Pemberton, Mark Gatiss and Reece Shearsmith aren’t always the fashionable names of modern stardom, but as The League of Gentleman they have shocked and terrorised using dark comedy to bring a belly laugh or a grizzly ‘Can-I-laugh-at-that?’ moment. Their productions such as Psychoville and Inside No. 9 have carried the enhanced tones of their earlier work inviting newer audiences by bringing an ensemble of well-known stars to their twisted scripts. The quadruple basis of the League of Gentleman cast carry fairly diverse and long appearances. They’re grafters who have done bit parts and played key roles. Reece Shearsmith even appeared in London’s Burning as was his rite along a passage to present day; whilst his colleague Steve Pemberton, of Blackburn, has featured in Manchester’s finest comedy-drama series Shameless – as well as the brutal series Blackpool, London-based Whitechapel and Benidorm. A seemingly wide set of locations. Jeremy Dyson has had a crack at Roald Dahl’s Twisted Tales amongst many hit West End and big-screen projects.

Having looked up Mark Gatiss and the other League of Gentleman cast members, following an online episode of Stay At Home with Stewart Lee and Josie Long, I’ve found out that my favourite historical piece Operation Mincemeat, by Ben Macintyre is being turned into a movie! The director John Madden has previously worked on Mrs Brown, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Shakespeare in Love. Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald and Matthew Macfadyen will also star in the Mac-See-Saw Films production. A spot of sunshine for the future.

You’ll Never Walk Alone…

Eddie Braben came from Dingle in Liverpool. It’s an area that gave rise to Ringo Starr (The Beatles), Robbie Fowler (Manchester City and Liverpool striker), Arthur Askey (comedian), Gerry Marsden (singer: Ferry Cross the Mersey; He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother; and contributor of The Crowd), and singer Billy Fury.

Eddie Braben had written countless wonderful lines for the duo of Morecambe and Wise. Through fall-guy Ernie Wise, Eric Morecambe would mock the “plays what he had wrote – sometimes 26 in one day”. Other great celebrities would enter the stage and screen, appearing on Christmas specials and transmitting to households all over the nation. Many argued these were the most-viewed shows outside of the Queen’s Christmas Day speeches. More than 20 million people watched on. Future James Bond star Judi Dench and all round great dame proved the draw to star on The Morecambe and Wise Show was like no other. Household names, movie stars, big names of the theatre, news presenters and more all lined up to join the cast.

“What he did for Eric and Ernie was incredible. He was the third man of the comedy.” – Sir Bruce Forsyth on Eddie Braben

Writer Eddie Braben replaced Dick Hills and Sid Green. Braben wasn’t too confident about filling such big boots and writing for what were then a very popular and successful comedy act. His specimen material started with one solo appearance with Eric Morecambe opening his jacket and telling his heart, “Keep going you fool!” And from then on, Braben added gold to the Morecambe & Wise cabinet of materials. He’d previously written for Charlie Chester and Ken Dodd, from the comforts of Liverpool, but now he had London T.V.’s finest to pen for. Hiding away from the stage itself, Braben wouldn’t elope to London. Instead he’d be home again via the train soon after filming. His methods worked and he was awarded gongs from the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain for three consecutive years over several years. In 1972 he even picked up a BAFTA. He worked tirelessly and had a nervous breakdown, recovering to pen for Little and Large, Jimmy Cricket, Les Dawson and Ronnie Corbett, amongst others. His autobiography, The Book What I Wrote, is a modest and heart-warming account of comedy and television. For a man who hated the limelight he certainly influenced the stage and screen. His 24 writing credits to just 3 tiny appearances speak volumes.

“All men are fools, and what makes them so is having beauty like what I have got.” – Glenda Jackson, in the Antony & Cleopatra sketch, Morecambe & Wise Chrismas Special

Asked, in a Roman sketch, if he had “the scrolls”, Eric Morecambe replied: “No, I always walk this way.” Eddie Braben’s writing was so very good, and the production team that were around Morecambe and Wise appeared to be ad-libbing like no tomorrow. Prince Philip once commented, “I thought they just made it up.” That was the magic of the well-written sketches, the production design and the chemistry between the two star leads. In surreal ways, Braben had Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise haring a bed together. You can’t see the join. There was little vulgarity to it. It was far from innuendo. Just like the perceived rudeness of Eric Morecambe towards guest-stars who would appear and Eric would get their names wrong.

“Sorry I’m late, but I was digging the Suez Canal when some fool filled it full of water” – Eric Morecambe as Disraeli.

Eddie Braben’s notes and poems can be found in various books. One sweet piece is as follows:

Two cows chewing grass, on a warm sunny hillock. I thought, ‘This time tomorrow, that grass will be millock.’

Such simplicity and beauty within a few short sentences. No over-padding. No need for profanity. No need for stressing and over-writing. Such wonderful word imagery.

Lay on a bed together: ERIC MORECAMBE (as the Duke of Wellington): Would you like something to warm you up?
VANESSA REDGRAVE (as Empress Josephine): (Seductively) I would very much.
ERIC: Good, I think I’ve got some extra-strong mints in my greatcoat.

There’s only one way to end this post.

Bring us sunshine!