Friday, November 30, 2007

Bondi är en äkta vagabond

In this morning's mail, a copy of Härliga Hund magazine from Sweden, with a one page story of our travels. The interview was done 6 months ago in Helsingborg by the lovely Camilla. I'll try to post a translation later.


Trial by Jury Supersized!

This evening I went to see Chris (and Dave Court) in the Grosvenor Light Opera Company's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Trial by Jury. It's actually billed as Trial by Jury Supersized! because the original 30 minute one-acter has been fleshed out to a 25-song two-acter with 8 songs from other musicals, plus an enlarged comic role "Constable Chris" drawing on the twin strands of Keystone Cops and Gea-tchy Movement Theory.

Counsel (Sarah Olney) presenting evidence that Constable Chris does smile sometime.

The additional songs did not always sit comfortably with the G&S patter, but I guess the aim was to make the short story meatier and expand the roles of the large cast (court officials, litigants and jury).

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Riding the rails

Bondi's on the tube with me nearly every day now, often a pleasant surprise to those newly arrived at Heathrow, catching the Piccadilly line into London centre. For late arrivals: dogs travel free on UK buses and trains.

He's still so much like the tiny puppy who I met 9 years ago.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Took myself off to see Acker Bilk and Russ Conway Rufus Norris' new production of Cabaret. I've never seen it on stage, and only dimly recall seeing it on telly about 30 years ago. Even so, Minnelli and Grey's amazing performances still outshine the corresponding Sally Bowles and Emcee that I saw tonight. Granted the Emcee was a stand-in* for tonight, a better dancer than singer, but neither had the charisma for the part. The older characters of Frau Schneider and Herr Schulz were much more convincingly portrayed. They and the wonderful dancers/chorus supplied whatever energy was missing elsewhere.

Julian Clary is billed as the Emcee, although I wonder how his non-singing would have folded into the role, apart from imagining him doing a "Willkommen, Bienvenue, I do appreciate a warm hand on my entrance."

Finished John Scalzi's The Ghost Brigades, follow-up to Old Man's War.

Scenes from the Caffeine Struggle in South Ealing

There are some small stretches of pavement that feel like home, or for those seeking one, an asylum.

Most of the afternoon spent in the attic room trying to coax some old scanners connected through SCSI cables to talk to an old Mac PowerPC. Not having dealt with SCSI in 20 years, and my Mac skills being marginal, it was a long and frustrating session. After cleaning a few connectors it wasn't hard to get the Mac to correctly identify all the external devices, but neither scanner could be detected by PhotoShop.

Panos, Bondi; Panos, Pan, Bondi (say it five times quickly)

Lost childhood: if found please hand it in

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Today marks 2 1/2 years since Bondi and I left Sydney on this expedition.

Two markets

Yesterday I took Bondi for a spin down Portobello Road markets. The cold weather has kept the crowds at manageable levels, but I still didn't feel terribly excited by the day. London's starting to feel a lonely place as the days close in. The brief highlight of the day was seeing this group of French students chugging boisterously on their brass instruments in a Klezmer style. I remember hearing a similar combo near the Sorbonne in Paris last year

Today it was the turn of Old Spitalfields Markets, a short walk from Liverpool Street station. The name comes from the spittle of the llamas that used to roam wild in this part of London. Today only stuffed llamas remain, seen atop the occasional market stall.

More family research, concentrating on some other side-branches of my Welsh ancestors. I found one second-cousin who died ten years ago at the age of 98, but no evidence of children. It looks like I'm going to have a mountain of GRO certificates arriving in a week.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Just when I thought I'd run out of Brains

Three certificates from the General Registry Office today, alternately casting light and shadow on the life of my late cousin Reeve Merion Brain.

Everything seemed to be as I thought except for the identify of his wife. Let's review.
  • Reeve Merion Brain, born 1907 in Brighton.
  • Marries Peggy Gladys Donovan, a spinster bookkeeper aged 21 in the Lambeth Registry Office in 1939. At this time, Reeve is inspector for a dairy company.
  • There does not appear to be any children from this marriage.
  • Reeve dies 1985 in Norwich, a retired Public Relations Officer. Informant is a stepson by the name of Charles Richardson. So Reeve remarried at some point, a consequence of divorce or death.
I begin tracking through the marriage indexes again, and suddenly trip over a 1950 record for his brother Ellis, who I thought had never married. I must have missed that in the holes in the Genes Reunited records. We'll come back to Ellis.

Much more tracking through the records, and I find Reeve has married an Edith C Brain in 1973. I'm not going to sort through the combinations of whether she was originally a Brain, and then became a Richardson, or was something else, and then a Richardson, and then a Brain twice-over. A little more research leads me to suspect that the stepson has also passed on, so I have struck a dead end with Reeve's line.

Now, Ellis Alfred Sullivan Brain turns out to have married Monica Joan Clark in 1950, and she predeceased him by a couple of years in 1998, aged 74. I've only found one Brain child in the birth records whose mother was a Clark. So I have another week to wait for another round of GRO certificates.

A flurry of books this week:

A pleasant early evening at the Ritzy Picturehouse in Brixton, where I saw Ridley Scott's final cut of Blade Runner.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Cargo culled

Almost too hard to believe, but I managed to fit all my luggage back into the car again when I dropped off the remainder of the shipment at Barking today. They did have to drive it into the container with one bag propped in the open sunroof, but that can sit in the driver's seat for the voyage.

That done, I'm free of responsibility up until the departure day in just under three weeks. That is apart from making a start on piecing my life together back in Sydney.

Little by little by little by little

Heading to a southern hemisphere near you

One hour to drive to Barking in east London to drop off 8-9 bags and boxes that will travel with the car back to Australia. Then, 3.5hrs to drive back in appalling traffic - there was one stretch of less than 1/2 a mile where I listened to Beethoven's first two symphonies in their entirety. I feel absolutely wrecked.

The good news is that the ship is due in Sydney around New Year's Day, which - if correct - means I should have the car and its contents by the time I start work in mid-January.

However I still have to drive back to Barking to deliver the car and the remainder of my luggage tomorrow or Friday.

The streets of London as they once were:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Packer of the lead

Two hours of fiddling around at the vet's this morning while Bondi had blood samples taken, and then his anti-tick and general vaccinations. This branch of the veterinary surgery seems to have had some little turn-over of staff lately, and even the new regular was off sick, and his replacement was scrambling to find sufficient vials to hold the sample.

Instead of checking enough were available before the sample was drawn, they ran out part way through. Since the other shots had to be given after the sample was taken, and had to be done today, this meant driving to the main surgery and having more blood taken. This of course meant more distress to Bondi, who though quite calm, isn't exactly fond of having his head held tightly in position for a neck vein to be accessed.

The afternoon has been turned over to packing clothes. I need warm clothes to see me through the next few weeks, and then use some of those layers for a Sydney summer until the car arrives with what's left over. I even have to pre-pack Bondi's stuff as anything travelling in his crate will be disposed of at the other end: there's only room for his lead and some medication in my airplane luggage.

Monday, November 19, 2007

It never brains but it pours

Short days with shitty weather, and I have the beginnings of a cold, so really very little outdoor activity, except for two very nice lunches with friends I haven't seen since at least July.

Back to my family research on my Brain cousins. I'm pretty sure that I've identified Maria's first child ( brother to Ellis ) as Reeve Merion Brain, born in Brighton in 1907. He died in Norwich in 1985.

I have a feeling there may be more siblings between Reeve (b1907) and Ellis (b1920), but the birth indexes didn't include the mother's maiden name until about midway through that period. Where the name isn't recorded for some reason, it seems to be just marked as the father's surname ie Brain. There are none marked Williams before Ellis' birth but several marked Brain which seem like possibilities.

Reeve married a Peggy G Donovan in Lambeth in 1939, but I have not located any strong birth candidates up to 1950 (ie no mother=Donovan records). Peggy is usually a nickname for Margaret (-> Meg -> Peg ->), but may be a real first name. I couldn't find a Peggy/Margaret Donovan birth record, but I did find:
1) Winifred G P Donovan, born in 1910 West Ham,
2) Vera Winifred G Brain, died in 1991 Norwich/Depwade (born 1910)
who looks to be quite a solid candidate, even if she couldn't make up her mind what to call herself.

For now I've ordered birth, marriage and death certificates for Reeve and should have those delivered for another round of research or cold-calling next weekend.

Something to look forward to on my return to Sydney: the new Wharf Revue.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Harvesting Brains

Ellis Brain's death certificate arrived yesterday. It tells me that he was a retired underwriter, the cause of death, and where he lived, but there's no indication of him having ever married or having children. Like my grandfather, his first cousin, he died a few weeks before his 80th birthday.

I did a telephone lookup on the net and cold-called the small number of Brains living in that part of Sussex to see if they may have had any connection. While I had a couple of engaging conversations about their Brain forebears, none knew of Ellis, and any family connection was unlikely to be more recent than 150yrs ago.

One of them was rather amused when I told him that I kept coming across death records of unnamed Brain infants, simply labelled in the record as "Female Brain" or "Male Brain". None from Venus or Mars.

The death certificate for Maria Sidnie Brain (nee Williams, Ellis' mother) just arrived. She died in Camberwell 16 May 1945, with the informant being another son - R.M. Brain, and there's an address in SE21. The hunt continues.

Genes Reunited dribbled out a few more search credits to compensate me for the problems I've been having with their shoddy BMD indices, but gave no indication of how to access pages in overlapping letter-ranges, or that they were stunned enough by my results to fix the underlying problems. By yesterday evening I had documented about 80 quarters of hopelessly mismatched data. I doubt they will get onto the problem quickly - it took them about 2 years to remove their list of 30-something Australian "states".

In future I will use another site like Find My Past to do searches of 20th century BMD records. They cost a little more, but each page is precisely identifiable from its first and last name. I usually look on the FreeBMD pages first, but while their indexing is the best of all their cover is incomplete both geographically and chronologically.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Occasional errors

I'm making a final blast through 20th century Birth, Death and Marriage records to see if I can identify close living relatives.

After identifying Ellis Brain's birth and death details, further slogging showed that his mother (my great-grand aunt) died in 1945, and her husband in 1940. I've ordered Maria's death certificate to see if further children or other next of kin are listed.

The next project has been to identify the death or marriage of my great-grand-uncle Ellis Richard Williams. I know he was alive up to about 1935 from his telephone book listings. He's aged about 58 at that time, so there is plenty of scope for a search. Neither his mother, nor his siblings Maria and Griffith made it to 70, but his father lived to 76.

On the Genes Reunited site, I've been working through from 1934 (in case his telephone listing survived him by a year) up to 1961 without a good match. The big problem is that the GR index on these records is completely abysmal.

A typical set of search results from Genes Reunited. In this case, the JUN pages are indexed incorrectly.

Each year you have to look at a page from each of the four reporting quarters. Like a phone-book, the page can begin almost anywhere, but if I search on Ellis Williams, then I would expect to find him somewhere on the page, or at least a pair of names like Elizabeth and Emily which bookend a place where Ellis might appear. In actual fact, quite a lot of the pages are one page off, and some are much more. Because I'm paying for each page view, these errors mount up in cost.

It took 3 attempts to report this to Genes Reunited. They kept coming back with suggestions about Birth and Census records (which have different issues) despite the fact I kept saying it was the Death records. Finally, they admitted this happened "occasionally" and gave me some more credits to do searches on nearby names that might elicit the page I desired. That's why you see "Drummond Williams" in the screen shot above: I was trying to get it to look for names a little earlier in alphabetical order than "Ellis Williams". You can't simply navigate back or forward one page in the records: you have to run a new search on a different name and hope that triggers the correct page.

At times a sequence of "Ellis Williams" (or any other name you might search on) will cross a page boundary, but the poor indexing and search results don't illuminate this issue.

1934-1940: my annotated list of actual page sequences, with markup to show those that were incorrectly returned from a search on Ellis Williams.

So, with the extra credits given, I went back to review the files I had downloaded. So far I've looked at all the quarters from 1934 to 1951. In only one year did all the pages match my search. In all others there was at least one wrong, and in several, three out of four. This means a 25-75% error rate - quite a bit more than "occasional".

I'm now waiting for Genes Reunited's response, given
  1. the obvious problems in the basic service
  2. the costs to the subscriber
  3. the additional time taken to re-run searches and download new pages (each of which comes in a PDF, so takes some time to load), not to mention a day's turn around to get a reponse from their support staff
  4. the fact that the known problems with the search are not being actively communicated to subscribers.
Other agencies with bibliographic data will usually provide a link that allows you to instantly report a page that is illegible or which doesn't correspond to the search you've done. GR does not provide this, despite being "officially the number 1 family website in the UK by visits"

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

A Banksy painting near Chalk Farm station

I got a late invite to take up a spare ticket from my friend Jack, to see the American garage band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at the Roundhouse between Chalk Farm and Camden stations. The building originally housed a steam-engine turntable shed until becoming an important band venue in the 1960s. It lay fallow from 1983 through to 2006, reopening with the Fuerzabruta show. Without knowing this in advance, I wore a T-shirt from that show's recent Edinburgh Fringe Festival run.

In the foyers and vomitoria, the concrete and steel extensions to the original structure reminded me of any number of libraries from the 1960s or 70s, but once inside the main auditorium, the Victorian ironwork and inverted radio-telescope ceiling give it a unique character.

The band were new to me, although they have a sizeable following, at least 4 albums, and lineage from the Brian Jonestown Massacre, a band I knew mainly from the documentary film Dig!. Mis-hearing Jack, I thought the band came from Taunton in Somerset, and made some terrible joke about expecting The Wurzels to do an opening set as Black Amish Motor Cider Co-op or such. I couldn't understand why the BMRC had no west country accents until much later when I realised that Jack had said Toronto, although as I read it now, they are actually West Coast USA with a drummer from Devon UK.

BRMC's influences are felt in every song, but to such an extent that they don't seem to have an identifiable sound, and each song sounds like it's been directly lifted from some other song. There was a curious unplugged interlude when one of the guitarists slipped into a faux acoustic Dylan set where the audience seemed to be totally uncaring. Looking around at the thousands of people standing in the arena, suddenly chatting, playing with their cell-phones or playing straight-boy nipple semaphore across the floor, it seemed like I was in a huge 21st century cocktail party where the music is just a little too annoying for everyone.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Please don't ride the mermaids

Mermaids liable to turn on you if you attempt to ride them

Bondi looking a little more sombre than at the time of his first visit to Trafalgar Square in 2005.

Werewolves and spiders and doggies, oh my!

Another day of footling incident on London's South Bank.

Southbank Book Market

"Call that a proper dog?" he sez.