Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Rendezvous Lodge

My love affair with maps and atlases began sixty years ago, when six or seven. It was tentative at first. But the fascination developed. By the time I was eight or nine, I was asking Mum and Dad to buy me a world atlas for Christmas, and I poured over what I discovered inside the series of ever-better volumes that came my way. The extreme locations in Africa and Asia, and in the remoter parts of oceans, gripped me most. All sorts of strange names. I was also inspired by tales of historical exploration, and followed all the celebrated voyages and treks on my atlases, in my imagination hopelessly adrift in the Pacific, crossing Australia with parched lips, or shivering to death on the Polar or Antarctic ice caps.

I had romantic notions for one spot especially, a lake in central Asia north of Tibet (in what is now north-western China) called Lop Nor. The modern-day reality concerning this 'lake' can be read at But I knew none of that back in 1959 or 1960. I simply imagined a cold, windswept landscape full of yaks and nomadic tribes, and this big mysterious lake. I desperately wanted an atlas that would show me the place in greater detail.

By the time I was eleven, and attending grammar school, I had become aware of the giant Times Atlas of the World. Ah, what would Lop Nor look like on that? As more years passed, I saw the Times Atlas on sale in bookshops, but it was always in a sealed wrapper. And no wonder. It cost a small fortune to buy, and naturally the bookshop couldn't allow grubby fingers to browse one of these tomes unless definitely committing themselves to a purchase. It was far beyond the financial means of any teenager. Indeed, it was extraordinarily expensive for any working adult to consider. But I did finally get a copy of the Times Atlas of the World for my thirty-first birthday in July 1983, and I have it still.

It cost £40 at the time, which is the equivalent of about £135 nowadays. Some present! The superlative maps inside blew me away. They were beautiful - and showed me places around the world in unprecedented detail. Remember that in 1983 the youthful Internet had no public presence at all, and Google Earth and Google Maps were undreamed of. It was possible to go to a London or Edinburgh specialist map shop and buy whatever they might have for the place you were eager to see in detail, but short of doing that, a good atlas was all you could turn to. One of the first things I did, when reverently opening my copy of the Times Atlas back in 1983, was to look up Lop Nor.

Oh, it had shrunk! I hadn't fully realised that it was a salt lake, and had been drying up.

In 2007, when flying back from Hong Kong over north-western China, I saw a lake in the distance that I fancied might well be Lop Nor, as seen in this series of shots from the window next to my seat on the plane:

It was the right kind of landscape, but it probably wasn't Lop Nor. Because only twelve years later, in 2019, it has all but disappeared. Here's the Google Earth view.

Pretty barren now! Oh well. Hey ho. But there were plenty of other places around the world that had been feeding my imagination, especially remote islands.

Closer to home, there were all kinds of spots in this country that I longed to see for myself. One of these was Rendezvous Lodge, an isolated building up on the Dorset downs south of Blandford Forum. I'd first noticed it on one of my very first proper large-scale maps. In 1964, I'd got the Ordnance Survey's Bournemouth and Solent seventh-series One-inch sheets (179 and 180) for my twelfth birthday. I still have the Bournemouth sheet, though it's much battered and repaired, as you can see. (The markings in blue ink reflect teenage attempts to catalogue my growing map collection)

Rendezvous Lodge was on the western edge of the Bournemouth sheet.

I yearned to see this place. I imagined it to be a shooting lodge, full of people interested in country sports, down from London on weekends. Or else the abode of somebody learned, a professor perhaps, who wanted peace and quiet while he wrote his definitive treatise on bats or butterflies. Or perhaps it was the gamekeeper's residence, where he lived with his family. In any event, a comfortable house, covered in wisteria, with a smoking chimney. Well, one day, it would get a visitor.

But twelve year olds can't just hop in a car and drive there independently of their parents. And I didn't have access to a car until 1973. By then it was too late. Around 1970 it must have become derelict, and soon after demolished. The only thing left was a clearing where the lodge had stood.

But I didn't forget Rendezvous Lodge. And three months ago, in early October, when pitched not far away, I decided one sunny morning that I would walk to where the lodge had been, and see what signs of it I could find. I would at least see the lie of the land, and what had made it worthwhile to build the place, and make guesses about what might have been seen from its grounds.

I now had access to old maps on the Internet - such as these old large-scale Ordnance Survey maps, courtesy of the National Library of Scotland. This was the lodge in 1887:

As you can see, it was inside Rendezvous Plantation, but then called Coll Wood Lodge. Little Coll Wood and Great Coll Wood are woods not far away to the south west, and I should think that Rendezvous Plantation was a more recent planting. Quite possibly the lodge had a wide view over the tops of young saplings. 

By 1902 the lodge had been renamed:

Its last appearance was in 1969, on this map of my own:

There's still a building marked, but it isn't named. The stable block has gone, and the garden has shrunk. After this, the lodge vanished. Only a clearing remained, as in this phone screenshot of the 2017-edition map:

You might have said to me, on that sunny morning last October, why bother? It's a longish walk to see little or nothing. But I wanted the long walk. It was a beautiful day. And even if there were only rubble to see, at least the pilgrimage would have been made, and a childhood dream fulfilled.

It was only a twenty-minute drive, north-west to Bere Regis, east on the A31, and then a short turn-off to Mapperton, where I parked Fiona. I took care to place her so that passing tractors and their trailers wouldn't scrape her. I was facing a long gravel track. I was going to head north-west from Mapperton, up that track, and just keep going until I reached the lodge. Then I'd return southwards along the western edge of Great Coll Wood to Winterbourne Zelston, and finally cut eastwards to Mapperton again. These maps should make the route clear:

And here's the track at the start of my walk. You can see what a fine morning it was; just a hint of autumn chill in the air - hence the cardigan. But that would probably end up around my waist as the exercise warmed me up.

Naturally I was wearing my Alt-Berg boots, and carrying a stick. 

I also had a bottle of water with me, and there was fruit to eat when I eventually got back to Fiona.

As country tracks go, this wasn't bad. But it was strictly for farm vehicles, and the local farmer had put up a warning notice for those who slavishly followed the instructions of their SatNavs,

I had a two-mile uphill trek to the lodge, and the gently-rolling countryside wasn't all that interesting. The only noteworthy man-made things I saw were these rather odd, skinny electricity pylons. I can't recall seeing that design before.  

Gradually I got nearer to Rendezvous Plantation. That's it, centre-shot, up ahead.

I now met two ladies coming the other way. We said hello. It crossed my mind that this was in fact rather lonely countryside, and walking without a companion might not be the wisest thing for a single woman to do. Who knows what mad axemen (and the like) were lurking in these woods, waiting for victims? I thrust the thought away. On a sunny day like this? No, I was all right. And I had my stick.

The track now levelled off and began to run downhill. I took a shot to celebrate my arrival.

Then the Plantation appeared on my left. Hmm. Looked pretty dense. Coppiced at one time, but now left to grow as it would.

The track got a little steeper, then levelled off at the bottom. I was looking for a side-track that would have once run past the main lodge building. There was such a track, well maintained too. Ah, there was a notice to discourage the curious...

Biosecurity Precautions
Please obtain permission
to enter pig unit
Contact 07818 551291

Well, this invited a mischievous phone conversation, didn't it? 

'Oh hello, I'm a pig. Just passing by, and I was wondering if I could pop in, you know. I won't stay long. Only wanted to swap a grunt or two, then go. Would that be all right?'

I decided to resist the temptation to see what lay at the other end of the side-track. It would be embarrassing if stern men in protective suits, goggles and breathing apparatus saw me. 

Well, was there anything at all in the immediate vicinity? What signs were left of the old lodge? Where was that pile of rubble? I cast around but, disappointingly, there was precious little to see. I suppose that in the course of fifty-odd years since its demolition, the lodge site had become overgrown and everything had gone back to nature. 

Not quite. Roughly where the lodge might have been was a concrete or cement plinth, and on that was a very old and oily diesel engine. 

Was it a pump or a generator? It certainly looked very old, and might well have been in situ when the lodge was still a going concern, and the plinth was once the floor (or part of the floor) of an outbuilding or shed. If so, it was the last major relic of Rendezvous Lodge. No walls, no wisteria, just this mucky device. How sad. 

But what's this? A single old brick! The lodge itself! My pilgrimage was rewarded.

There was nothing more to see, and I didn't want to be discovered trespassing. So, thoughtfully, I went back to the main track and back up the slope, looking for a public footpath that would take me across to Great Coll Wood. This ran along the south edge of Rendezvous Plantation, then out into the open. Ah, a fine view of rolling countryside and biosecure pig sheds...

Where were the pigs? On holiday?

It was getting warm. Off came the cardigan, and out came the water bottle. It seems odd now, in cold January, to see myself so lightly clad!

Not quite the last strong sunshine of 2018, but nearly.

I reached the north-west corner of Great Coll Wood, and I was pleased. It would be (for me) a longish walk by the time I got back to Fiona, but this was the point furthest from my car and now I would be on the return stretch. Just as well. I'd hurt the ligament in my left knee nine days earlier, and it was giving me trouble if I over-exercised my left leg. The discomfort was unwelcome but manageable. But I think it shows in my face (in the next shot) that I expected to be limping anon.

The view from here was pretty decent, if you liked quiet, empty fields. 

At first the path kept out in the open, after a while it switched to a route just inside the wood, without a sunny view. I felt enclosed by the wood, and had a mile of this ahead. It definitely felt creepy. Once again, I questioned my wisdom in walking alone in such isolated places. What would I really do, if some man approached, especially if he looked in any way odd or shifty? Old chaps with serious backpacking gear, pukka ornithologists with binoculars, and official-looking farm or forestry workers in credible overalls or some sort of uniform were one thing; sly characters with ferret eyes quite another. My stick didn't feel all that reassuring. Then the bright sunlit world beyond the wood came into view. Great relief!

I was past that gate and out of that wood in an instant. 


Now it was gently downhill to Winterbourne Zelston. Next post.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

A finer line

I hate to be boring. But I think I've just bought an item that will add even more pleasure to my daily routine. It's that Parker 51 pen I ordered. It arrived yesterday afternoon.

I was so excited. I was so looking forward to rediscovering what was so good about an easy-to-use, nice-to-hold, iconic writing tool that used to serve me so well.

There was also the 'green' aspect: no more single-use disposable plastic pens. From now on, I was going to use just one pen, for everything, occasionally buying another bottle of ink in a glass bottle that could be recycled. No waste! Ah, what about using more paper? Was this a new threat to forests? No: I would chiefly be writing on notepads made from recycled paper. This pen would help me do my bit to save the planet.

The proprietor of Vintage Fountain Pens, Mark Catley, had done a proper job with packaging and posting. Getting the pen in my hands, I gave it good first inspection.

If you know your Parker 51s, you'll see the signs that confirm it's a Mk II Aerometric, the 'classic' version of the 51. Mark Catley thought it dated from around 1965, and I wouldn't disagree, although when I carry out deeper research I might find reason to place the manufacture of my pen earlier than 1965. But for now that date is 1965, which makes it some fifty-four years old - and five years older than Dad's, which is precisely datable to 1970, and is a Mk III.

There aren't many things that still look mostly unblemished after fifty-four years. It's a testament to the quality of manufacture, and the fact that these were - in their day - objects of desire, even status symbols, and were well looked after. I can just remember a time when, for a man, having the 'right' pen made a difference. It got him the same kind of respect that a well-cut suit did. If bold handwriting flowed from his pen, especially a bold signature, everyone would take note. Dad had an especially impressive hand, and his sweeping 'W R Dommett' signature was positively phallic! Very much The Man In Charge.

Parker launched the 51 in the early 1940s and produced it until the mid 1970s. It looks uncomplicated, but it was a sophisticated pen, and Parker spent millions developing it. Although always fairly expensive to buy - even a model with basic trim would still cost the same as a whole week's wages - it was one of the the best-selling fountain pen for adults ever made. And one of the most reliable.

There were four main versions, all similar to the casual eye, and three different filling methods were tried over the years. You could have the pen in all kinds of colours and finishes, gold included. But I didn't want a pen fit to sign an international treaty. I wanted one that looked a lot like Dad's, but in a different colour, and fitted with a different, thinner nib to suit my own handwriting better. Men tend to like broader nibs that write thickly and richly, and produce an impressive and assertive result on paper. I wanted to make a finer line.

Over dinner the other night, a friend asked me why I didn't just ask a dealer to change the nib, and generally restore Dad's pen to its full glory. I wouldn't have needed to buy one for myself, if I'd done that. But that's not what I wanted. I really did hanker after an original pen that hadn't been modified, nor mended with parts cannibalised from another pen. In any case, I wanted my own pen. For which I was prepared to pay.

I had already bought some Parker Quink ink. 'Quink' is a shortening of 'quick-drying ink', and the 51's ability to use such ink, and avoid smudges, was once a major selling point. So too was the hooded nib. Many people (including the friend who suggested using Dad's pen with a different nib fitted) prefer an exposed nib, and they do look good. The one on my Mont Blanc pen in the late 1980s and early 1990s had looked especially nice - here are two shots of that beast:

A hood, however, inhibits evaporation and stops the ink drying on the nib. So you don't have to keep putting the cap back on every time you stop writing for a moment, simply in order to keep the nib wet. Therefore, unless you leave the pen uncapped for half and hour, it will always write perfectly as soon as you touch the paper again. Which is more than what you can say of modern ballpoint and rollerball pens, which can dry out and may need a couple of test squiggles to get them going.

Well, I filled up. Filling this particular fountain pen involves unscrewing the barrel, dipping the nib end into the ink bottle, pressing the refill bar four times to draw in enough ink, wiping excess ink off the nib end with a tissue, and screwing the barrel back on. A rigmarole, or a delightful ritual, depending on how you view these things. I'm guessing this will turn out to be a once-a week job. But I'll be very pleased if I need to do it twice a week. I do so like a delightful ritual.

And my new pen wrote beautifully. It did take a bit of getting used to, because, unlike a ball pen, you hardly press at all. In fact I'm still adapting, having come from years of rollerballs. But I can show something already. Top, below: a page out of a small notebook, showing my bank and credit card transactions in early 2000, written with Dad's pen. It wrote rather thickly. Bottom: the same entries, copied onto another page of the same notebook, but written today with my new pen.

In 2000 I was still at work, with (as it turned out) only five more years to go before early retirement. But I didn't know that, and glumly expected to retire not earlier than 2012, when sixty. I suppose I was not in the very best frame of mind. My job was senior, interesting, but not especially exciting. It's no surprise to see my handwriting look compressed, as if mentally I'd hunkered down for a long, uncongenial haul until release. Whereas the 2019 handwriting is larger, much more open, and surely indicates someone with a brighter, happier outlook entirely. A person with no more responsibilities, obligations, or unwelcome calls on their attention.

By the way, I don't believe in graphology, that is, the analysis of handwriting to discover the writer's true character. But I do think you can draw sensible conclusions about where and when a person learned to write, whether they are tidy-minded, and whether they currently possess good muscular control. I would never assume that 'artistic' writing (generally in the italic style) always indicates something deep and good about a person. It may be no more than a sign of vanity. Besides, it's unfair to attempt a judgement when most people write so very little nowadays. Modern life has left us seriously out of practice!

The line for 'Micro Anvika' (and the £269.95 spent there) refer to a computer shop in Croydon's Whitgift Centre (long gone, of course). On 19th April 2000 I was buying a Palm Vx organizer - in essence a pocket computer with a screen - which I could use to take notes and store them. Here it is, showing some BBC news synced off the Internet:

Its novelty and sheer usefulness immediately won me over, and it meant the end of my various handwritten paper records. The Palm could handle the lot. I duly transcribed all my handwritten records onto the Palm, and then kept moving them from one successor device to the next. So, from the fateful day that I bought my first Palm, handwriting anything at all became a rarer act. Mobile Tech had come into my life. You really didn't need a pen any more.

Ultimately the handwritten notebook entries for April 2000 have come down to the present day as part of a large Word document for all of the year 2000, and appear like this on my phone and laptop:

Which is all nice and clear, but lacking in charm, don't you think? From 2001, details of my money transactions went onto Excel spreadsheets, with charm even less in evidence, although the ability to number-crunch the information in various ways was invaluable.

I won't be reviving those quaint notebooks, but it will be nice to pen casual notes and jottings - and there are surprisingly many occasions for that, more than I thought - with a handsome vintage writing device.

I don't think the shots above showed the teal colour of my pen very well. Here's some more shots, taken in my kitchen under warm-white LED lighting:

The black leather pen case dates from 1991. I bought it at a pen shop in Guildford (yes, a proper pen shop!) and I've used it with a variety of pens and pencils ever since.

I could use it with my Parker 51. But I think I will instead make a new case myself, to precisely fit my new pen, and that pen only, out of the leather offcuts I bought at Pittards in Yeovil last year. I came away with tan- and teal-coloured offcuts, to closely match the bag I'd just bought. 

At the time I had in mind making an inner pouch for the bag, but have never needed to. Well, now I can design and make a pen case - hand-sewn of course. A little craft project for the week ahead.