Lost Consonants – A tribute to Graham Rawle

Lost Consonants – A tribute to Graham Rawle

Lost Consonants

… a tribute to the genius of Graham Rawle (still alive)…

Many years ago, I used to be an avid weekend reader of the Guardian newspaper. Every Saturday, I would trek down to the local newsagent (usually with a hangover from the night before) and pick up a copy of the bumper Saturday edition. Among the myriad of various pull-out supplements was the obligatory magazine, somewhat uninspiringly called Weekend. Despite this, the actual missive itself was packed full of highly entertaining content (much like my blog, in fact) and I would curl up on the sofa (back at home, not in the newsagent’s you understand) with a cup of tea and a packet of Fox’s Classic biscuits and lose myself for a good hour or so within its many pages.

Folder covered in Lost Consonants by Graham Rawle. Rob Gregory Author

Lovely Lost Consonants!

Among my favourites were the regular contributors. David Stafford wrote a column called Staffordshire Bull, which contained humorous anecdotes and far-fetched tales rooted in real-life and I was delighted to discover that you can still read a selection of these on the website that he shares with his wife, Caroline. I can’t imagine what it’s like to share a website with your wife, it must be rather cramped, a bit like living in a council bedsit, but from the photos at least, they seem to be making a fairly good job of it.

Detail of folder covered in Lost Consonants by Graham Rawle. Rob Gregory Author

Lost Consonants: Roy used his new paint prayer to change the colour of his car.

Another, more serious contributor, was John Diamond, who chronicled his battle with cancer, week by week, up until his untimely death in March 2001. His column was a forerunner to today’s modern blog and I found myself immersed in his writing, as he detailed the various ups and downs of his illness against the hum-drum background of his day-to-day life. Although I never knew him personally, I remember feeling genuinely saddened when his column abruptly ended and I realised that he had sadly lost his fight with the terrible disease.

Detail of folder covered in Lost Consonants by Graham Rawle. Rob Gregory Author

Lost Consonants: His doctor had recommended foods with a high fire content.

But it is Graham Rawle, creator of the wonderful Lost Consonants series, who I want to focus on today. Every week for fifteen years, a one-pane collage, complete with ‘cut out and keep’ scissor marks around it, would appear near the beginning of the magazine and have me in stitches with its sheer brilliance. The idea was simple, remove a single consonant from a phrase and give it a totally different meaning. Thus we had gems such as, ‘It had always been his ambition to pay for Aston Villa’, complete with a grinning John Fashanu in the background and ‘The Wilsons had gone out leaving their baby with a child miner.’

Detail of folder covered in Lost Consonants by Graham Rawle. Rob Gregory Author

Lost Consonants: It had always been his dream to pay for Aston Villa.

I don’t know why, maybe it was those subliminal scissor marks, but I began to religiously cut out and keep each week’s Lost Consonant, until the point where I’d built up a fairly sizeable collection of them. Not really being the scrapbooking type, I was at a bit of a loss as to what to do with my collection, until I found a fitting solution and covered a couple of old loose-leaf folders in them, preserving the images for posterity beneath transparent book sealing film, where they remain to this day. Now, thanks to the wonders of modern technology (actually just my mobile phone and a micro-USB cable) I’m able to share them with you here. So, strap yourself in tightly and prepare to enter an outrageous world of ‘cardboard ox’s’, ‘Paris priests’ and ‘a few kid words’!

Detail of folder covered in Lost Consonants by Graham Rawle. Rob Gregory Author

Lost Consonants: Butch looked vicious but he’d never do them any ham.

Happily, Graham Rawle is still alive and most definitely productive. His latest novel, Overland, is based on the true story of the extreme camouflaging of the Lockheed Aircraft factory in Burbank, California, during the second world war and he also lectures extensively around the world on design and illustration.

Detail of folder covered in Lost Consonants by Graham Rawle. Rob Gregory Author

Lost Consonants: Whenever he felt a draught, Frank would lose the window.

If my collection of Lost Consonants hasn’t satiated your appetite then thankfully, you can view more of them on Graham Rawle’s website, here.

Folder covered in Lost Consonants by Graham Rawle. Rob Gregory Author

More Lost Consonants: There must be a whole alphabet of them in here!


Detail of folder covered in Lost Consonants by Graham Rawle. Rob Gregory Author

Lost Consonants: It wasn’t the first time Colin had been caught heating.

Tales Of The Beast – Part 1

Tales Of The Beast – Part 1

Tales Of The Beast – Part 1

… or ‘Car-rie, I love you’…

Cars. Here in My Car. Silver Machine. The Road to Hell. I don’t know what it is about me, but I love cars. Big ones in particular. The bigger the better, in fact. Gas guzzling, earth destroying monsters. I’ve adored them ever since I was a child. I don’t know exactly why, but I do. It’s as simple as that. I know that it’s not a very politically correct thing to admit to in this day and age, but let’s face it, it’s a heck of a lot better than some people’s peccadillos, such as hanging around the woods with bags of sweets for the kiddies, breeding Japanese fighting dogs or stamp collecting. And I’m by no means in Jeremy Clarkson’s league of fuel injected petrol-headedness. I couldn’t afford it for one thing! Which brings me on to the beast.

I first mentioned the beast in passing, in one of my very first blogs and at the time promised to write more about it in the future. Well, the future has an annoying habit of catching up with you, so here it is, the first instalment (and quite possibly the last) in… Tales of the Beast.

The beast - Head on view. Rob Gregory Author

The beast from the front… now, that’s a lot of car, if I do say so myself!

I first met the beast (a 1991 Mazda MS-9) at a car auction in Wellington, New Zealand and it was love at first sight. Well, love at first sight motivated by the fact that I absolutely had to have a car for a forthcoming road trip, having written off my previous motor some weeks earlier and time was rapidly running out. That kind of love at first sight. Anyway, having been outbid on several other vehicles, the auction was rapidly drawing to a close and I was still car-less. Then it (she) appeared. Grimy, dishevelled and obviously deeply unloved, the beast was paraded in front of the disinterested crowd like an old cow that has given her best and is now looking the pet food butcher squarely in the eye. I don’t know what came over me. Maybe it was the smooth flowing lines of the vehicle, barely visible underneath all the dirt, maybe it was the three litre, V6 engine lurking under the bonnet, maybe it was the sheer size of the damned thing, but I suddenly found myself bidding on it, absolutely resolute that this was the car that I would be going home in that night. And I won! Admittedly there wasn’t that much competition for it and I picked the beast up for just under two thousand New Zealand dollars, including commission, which was a bargain, but at least it was mine.

The beast - Honda Accord grazes a Toyota Ute at 50kmh. Rob Gregory Author

Honda Accord vs. Toyota Pickup truck… I never liked driving it anyway!

And then, sitting in the driver’s seat for the very first time, I turned the ignition and saw the ‘engine warning’ light come on and stay on. I remember the feeling as all of my initial elation evaporated faster than the head off a pint of Thai lager, to be replaced by a feeling of sickening dread as I realised that I had bought a ‘lemon’ as New Zealander’s say: a faulty car that no one else wanted. On the way home, which was done at a crawl, in case the beast should suddenly expire without warning, I remember trying to look on the bright side. It hadn’t cost me much and only had to last a couple of weeks while I was taking my best friend on holiday around the South Island and then I could ditch the beast and look for a more reliable replacement.

That weekend, I took the beast to my local garage for a general service and to get the engine problem diagnosed. Having convinced myself that it was going to be something fatal, such as a cracked engine block or warped manwurzle joints, I was surprised and extremely relieved to discover that there wasn’t all that much wrong with the car. What the mechanics had thought was an oil leak in the engine gallery (which sounded pretty bad to me) turned out to be a melted oxygen sensor. It still cost me another thousand dollars to get it fixed because the engine had to be taken out twice to check that the new sensor was working properly, but once it was fixed, it was goodbye forever to the despised engine warning light.

The beast - rear view. Rob Gregory Author

The beast from the rear.

With the car now declared mechanically sound, with the exception of the air-conditioning and a faulty catalytic converter sensor, which we just disconnected, it was onto my speciality: spit and polish. Armed with more buckets, bottles, tins and cloths than an Ajax salesman, I set to the beast with a vengeance, determined to restore it to as close to its former glory as I could. I think I spent two weekends cleaning the thing, washing, buffing, polishing and in some cases scraping muck out of the cracks and crevices with toothpicks and cotton buds. I don’t know who the previous owners of the beast were, but from the look of it, they had used the interior of the car as a playpen for toddlers and the boot as a handy compost bin. However, with but a few days before my friend was due to arrive from the UK, the task was finished and in true Cinderella style, to my eyes at least, the beast had been transformed from a dumpy, unloved old baggage, into a sleek and powerful Siren of the road.

The beast - Restord to its former glory

Spit, polish, one restored car and one very happy owner!

I picked my friend up from Wellington airport in the beast and I’m not sure who was more surprised, him because of the enormous gleaming car that he was invited to step into or me because of the fact that I actually had a working motor with which to take him on holiday. As for what happened on our road trip, you’ll have to wait and see, but as for the beast, far from being a temporary mode of transport, I ended up keeping it for almost nine years.

The beast - Picton Harbour, SI, New Zealand c.2003. Rob Gregory Author

Picton harbour c.2003. First stop on the beast’s legendary trip around the South Island.

Stay tuned for more ‘Tales of the Beast’ in a future blog and while you’re waiting, why not have a look around the rest of the site? You might find something else that you like. You never know…


Note: The beast has also been known by several other names, including ‘the bruise’ and ‘the big purple love machine’, although thankfully that one never caught on!

Space, the final frontier – 1960’s style

Space, the final frontier – 1960’s style

Space, the final frontier – 1960’s style

A couple of weeks ago, I published a blog called ‘London Lost’, about how I’d found a box of old slides from the 1950’s and 60’s and spent a very pleasant hour or so flicking through them to see what secrets they held. While most of them were family photos, some were of London and others were part of a collection about space, including the Apollo 11 moon landing and one of the first ever spacewalks. At the time, I promised to share those with you in a future blog and so, not being one to dilly-dally, here they are.

Unlike the slides in ‘London Lost’, which had suffered the ravages of time, albeit in a way that I think greatly enhanced them, most of the space slides haven’t done quite as badly and retain more of their original and in my view, fabulous 1960’s colour palette… which you just don’t get with today’s ultra-clear, high definition images. Okay, so they are a little grainy, but then what do you expect for pictures taken almost fifty years ago?

So, once again, grab yourself a cup of something warm (or cool, depending on where you’re from), sit back somewhere comfortable and lose yourself in a pictorial journey through time and space.

Starting from the beginning, we’ve got a few general images of the Earth from space, just to help set the scene and let you know where you are… or where you should be if you’re currently somewhere else.

Space - Earth from Apollo 12. Rob Gregory Author

Unless you are ET, this is your home. Abuse it at your peril!


Space - Earth from 160,000 miles. Rob Gregory Author

Earth from 160,000 miles. I can see your house from here!

Then we have a few slides of the Gemini missions, namely Gemini 4 and 7, which preceded the Apollo missions that ultimately placed a man on the moon, back in 1969. The Gemini missions were important because they allowed key techniques and manoeuvres to be perfected before the Apollo missions were launched.

Space - Gemini 4 spacewalk. Rob Gregory Author

Gemini 4 spacewalk – Not quite walking on the moon, but not bad nontheless!


Space - Gemini spacewalk close up. Rob Gregory Author

Only the second ever spacewalk and already the tape player has packed up!


Space - Gemini 7. Rob Gregory Author

Gemini 7 from Gemini 6 – Please engage reverse… now!

Moving on, we’re now right up there with the big boys, starting with Apollo 9, which saw the first successful test of the complete Apollo spacecraft, including the famous Lunar Module, or ‘LEM’.

Space - Apollo 9. Rob Gregory Author

Apollo 9 in orbit above Earth, just in case you were wondering.


Space - Apollo 9 and LEM. Rob Gregory Author

The LEM… not to be confused with Lemmy from Motorhead. Do so at your peril!

Then, it’s the main event. The one that everyone (or almost everyone these days) knows about, Apollo 11. Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, the first two men on the moon and poor old Michael Collins, who piloted the command module alone while his colleagues were bouncing around on the lunar surface. Some people get all the luck!

Space - Apollo 11 Launch. Rob Gregory Author

Apollo 11 – Are we there yet?


Space - Aldrin descending the LEM. Rob Gregory Author

This is a bad time to be scared of heights, Buzz!


Space - Aldrin on the moon. Rob Gregory Author

Now, which camera do you want me to look at, Mister Kubrick?


Space - erecting Apollo 11's solar sheet. Rob Gregory Author

Neil, what was this bit for again? Erecting the solar wind sheet during the Apollo 11 mission.


Space - Looking at the LEM. Rob Gregory Author

Inspecting the LEM foot pad – Looks OK to me. In fact, it looks amazing!

In lieu of a brief interlude after all that excitement, here are a couple of calming images of our nearest celestial neighbour, the moon. Beautiful, alluring and sitting a mere 252,000 or so miles away, completely beyond the reach of most of us!

Space - the moon. Rob Gregory Author

The Moon – Your next holiday destination?


Space - The moom in close up. Rob Gregory Author

Some nice looking craters on the lunar farside, but watch out for Clangers!

Following that, we’re on to some of the less well-known Apollo missions, namely Apollo 12 and 14. Funnily enough, there aren’t any pictures of the Apollo 13 mission, which saw Captain James Lovell and his crew stuck in space for six days, following an accident, until they made a heroic and successful re-entry into the Pacific Ocean, on 17 April 1970. Arguably, because of the Apollo 13 film by Ron Howard, starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise and the now sadly departed, Bill Paxton, the Apollo 13 mission is probably NASA’s best-known space mission, even though it didn’t achieve its original objective.

Space - Apollo 12. Rob Gregory Author

Apollo 12 – One good launch deserves another!


Space - Apollo 12 astronauts. Rob Gregory Author

Apollo 12 astronauts – Just for information, you need to put these guys inside, before you launch the rocket!


Space - Apollo 12 descent. Rob Gregory Author

Apollo 12 descent. Hang on, if there’s no one there, how come the camera is still running?


Space - Apollo 12 splashdown. Rob Gregory Author

Apollo 12 spalshdown… or down to earth with a bump if you get it wrong!


Space - Apollo 14 rocket. Rob Gregory Author

Apollo 14 – Saturn 5 rocket. I built one when I was a kid; a model one that is.


Space - Apollo 14 firing room. Rob Gregory Author

Apollo 14 firing room – When I push this button…

Finally, to wrap things up, we gaze outward, as man has done ever since he first looked at the heavens to see some of the most iconic astronomical groupings in space, including the Orion Nebula and the ever-dazzling Pleiades, or Seven Sisters as they are also known.

Space - Orion nebula. Rob Gregory Author

The Orion nebula – A great big, but very pretty, cloud of gas.


Space - The Andromeda Galaxy. Rob Gregory Author

The Andromeda galaxy. Home to the ‘Andromeda Strain’, so don’t even think of visiting!


Space - The Pleiades in Taurus. Rob Gregory Author

The Pleiades in Taurus. If only all stars looked like this.

Note: Originally, all of these images would have come from NASA, but seeing as they were part of a commercially available collection that was intended for sale, I don’t think that they’ll mind me dusting them off and sharing them with you just this once. I hope that you enjoyed them!

If you liked this blog, then please check out ‘London Lost’, as well as my other blogs. And please do feel free to share more widely!

A question of drains

A question of drains

A question of drains

…tales from Reading Uni, part two…

During my time at Reading University in the early-1990’s, I had the pleasure to share a house with some truly wonderful people, most of whom remain good friends of mine to this day. Unfortunately, because of a problem with the landlords, who suddenly decided to come back from India after a fifteen-year absence right at the start of the new term, the beautiful, four-bedroom, detached house, in a fantastic suburb of Reading that we had arranged to rent many months in advance was brutally snatched away from us and we ended up in something far less glamorous.

The house in question, was your typical mid-terrace, semi-detached affair, with a living room and kitchen on the ground floor and two bedrooms, one front, one back, on the first floor. However, our particular house had some unusual and I suspect, not completely legal modifications, in order to maximise the amount of space available to house poor unsuspecting students. So, from the top down, we had:

  • A loft conversion, yielding two bedrooms (one biggish, one small) in the attic space.
  • Two bedrooms (both large) on the first floor. I had one of those, so was rather smug.
  • A living room on the ground floor (no surprises there).
  • A bedroom (mid-sized) on the ground floor where the kitchen should have been.
  • A small and damp cellar space for storage that was excellent for cultivating mould… one of which, a botanist friend identified as Aspergillus niger, a potentially toxic fungus.
  • An extension containing a small kitchen and thankfully, a separate bathroom and toilet.

A question of drains - The house of horror. Rob Gregory Author

Our house, in the middle of the street.

It is on this last area, the extension, that I will concentrate because this is where most of the action took place. For those not in the know, most, if not all houses, in the UK at the time were required to have walls two bricks thick, with a gap (cavity) between them to provide insulation and protection from the damp. In our case, the walls of the extension were only a single brick thick, with the result that not only were the kitchen and bathroom extremely damp, they were also bitterly cold during the winter months. This meant that while cooking was generally tolerable, as long as you stayed close to the burners, visits to the bathroom and toilet were excruciating experiences that would have been more at home on a Japanese game show, rather than in suburban England.

A question of drains - Leaning tower of Reading. Rob Gregory Author

There’s something not quite right with this extension.

As I mentioned above, there was some shared suspicion among my fellow housemates and I that the extension was not totally legal. The single-skin walls were one clue and the fact that the extension was not square with the rest of the house was another slight give away. However, it was not until later in the year, when our solitary toilet became blocked, that our suspicions were confirmed.

At first, the problem was minor and as all good students would, we simply ignored it. Okay, so it took a bit longer for the toilet to flush, but well, that was just part of being in student digs. However, over a period of weeks, the situation worsened to the point where action was required, so we called the landlord… who wasn’t interested, despite his legal obligations. Stuck on our own, we resorted to employing a plumber to unblock the drains… who failed spectacularly and then the local chap from ‘Dyno-Rod’, who even with his special, flexible drill-thingy, was unable to clear the blockage. Finally, in desperation and with photographic evidence of the scale of the problem, just in case we should get the brush off, we called the city council.

A question of drains - The problem. Blocked toilet. Rob Gregory Author

Spot the ball? Note, lovely well-cared for skirting board.

Wow! Talk about action. Just one mention of blocked drains and a possible public health issue, and the very next day, a whole team of sanitation workers arrived on the doorstep, complete with the biggest water tanker I have ever seen. As they marched into the house, one of them unfolded a map of the drains running under the house and began looking for the toilet. Initially, I think that they assumed that it was just a bunch of students getting up to no good, but after a few minutes of fruitless searching, one of the guys came up and asked where the toilet was. When he was finally shown the offending article, there was much scratching of heads amongst the council workers, as they compared the map with the reality before them. After a significant pause, the map holder turned to us and said: “Your drain and rodding eye have been concreted over. This thing shouldn’t be here,” referring to the bathroom and by extension, the extension itself (excuse the pun, sorry).

A questin of drains - Map of the drains. Rob Gregory Author

Unofficial map of the house and drainage system.

There then followed a brief but very serious sounding conference between the workers crammed into the tiny bathroom space, before one of them left and returned with a sledgehammer, which he used to smash the toilet off the soil pipe below. Having secured an access point for himself, a thick rubber hose was brought through the house and shoved unceremoniously down the drain. Other rubber mats were put down around it to prevent splash-back and the whole system was abruptly pressurised using water from the tanker. It took several goes, but I have to say, the council got the job done and in less than forty-five minutes they were packing away and for the first time in ages, we had unblocked drains again.

There was only one small problem and that was where we once had a toilet, there was now just a hole in the ground. While I have since found out that this is an entirely acceptable solution in some countries, in England in the early nineties it was not. Thankfully, one of the neighbours had called the landlord, obviously out of concern for the commotion that we were causing in the street outside and he came marching in, demanding to know what was going on. He honestly couldn’t have done it better if he were Basil Fawlty himself. After being informed about the situation and the need to buy a new toilet by the foreman of the group, he point-blank refused, at which point, the said foreman pinned him up against the living room wall and made it extremely clear, using words of one syllable, that if there wasn’t a new toilet put in the bathroom, free of charge to the tenants, by the end of the day, then the following day the entire extension would be pulled down by him and his workers. Needless to say, that settled the argument and we did indeed get a nice, shiny, new (albeit cut-price) toilet fitted in place before the sun went down that day.

A question of drains - Outdoor toilet anybody? Rob Gregory Author

Outdoor toilet anyone?

As for the old toilet, well, being students, we simply put it into the back garden, resting against one of the walls to make it look as if it was plumbed in. And you can imagine the hubbub it caused among the neighbours and visitors alike when we invited them to use our ‘outside loo’!

A question of drains - Outdoor toilet! Rob Gregory Author

The outdoor loo in close up.


Enjoyed this story? The why not check out ‘tales from Reading Uni, part one’.

London Lost

London Lost

London Lost

… images of a time gone by…

Back in late April, when I was flicking through some of my old photos, searching for shots of Reading University to support my blog ‘A peek down memory lane’, I came across upon a small box of 35mm slides, which was given to me by my Uncle many years ago, along with a portable, battery operated slide viewer. Amazingly, the slide viewer was still in working condition, courtesy of a new battery, and I spent the best part of an hour completely diverted from my original task, flicking through the slides instead.

London lost - Battery operated slide viewer. Rob Gregory Author

They don’t make them like that anymore!

Most of them were old family photos from the 1960’s, you know the kind of thing: camping holidays, day trips, photos of children (now grandparents) playing in the garden and of course, Christmas. Others were part of a series of a more astronomical bent that was apparently never finished, including pictures of Apollo 9, Apollo 11 and the Gemini missions (more on that in a future blog).

London lost - County Hall. Rob Gregory Author

County Hall

However, the subject of today’s story is a series of slides, also part of an unfinished ‘instalment’ collection, covering London in the 1950’s. Now, I’m not sure if the original slides were deliberately meant to look like this. In fact, I’m pretty certain that they weren’t, but for whatever reason, over time only the red, white and black hues have remained, which I think gives the images a wonderfully arty and almost eerie feel.

London lost - Tower Bridge. Rob Gregory Author

Tower Bridge

Most of the locations are, in some way or other, iconic. But while some have remained unchanged, others have undergone various facelifts in the intervening years and some, because of changes that have taken place around them are now almost unrecognisable.

London lost - Shell Mex House. Rob Gregory Author

Shell Mex House, The Embankment

Anyway, why not take a moment or two to flick through London as you’ve probably never seen it before and lose yourself in the warm, fuzzy glow of nostalgia for a simpler time, now long since past… Enjoy!

London lost - Royal Festival Hall. Rob Gregory Author

The Royal Festival Hall


London lost - Big Ben. Rob Gregory Author

Big Ben


London lost - Admiralty Arch. Rob Gregory Author

Admiralty Arch


London lost - The Tower of London. Rob Gregory Author

The Tower of London

One of my favourite images here is of ‘The Pool of London’ (below), because it was taken looking away from Tower Bridge, not facing it. You can find out more about it here.

London lost - The Pool of London. Rob Gregory Author

The Pool of London

For more rants, ramblings and reminiscences, please feel free to have a good old rummage through the rest of my blog and if you fancy something more substantial, then please do check out my books. Thank you.