The Ambitious Drifter

Words, Images and The Occasional Noise

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I drifted into Exeter, UK, to bag yet another cathedral. It seems a bit stumpy outside but that’s because the towers are a leftover from the Norman original (1133) .  It’s quite spectacular inside, famed for its vaulted ceiling.

The organ looks like a steampunk spaceship (as do many cathedrals). There’s an amazing misericord (lean on seat for the long long services) with an elephant…. from around 1240.   Earliest depiction in the UK of such a mythical beast.

There’s a brilliant ancient door in the cathedral close. Haven’t blogged a door in ages.


I dream about steam

Some flash fiction for the writing challenge

                                        From the memoirs of Latimer Naseby.
                                                      ICE, WATER & STEAM.
Father Brennan’s sermons were a little too modern for some of his flock. Ice, water and steam as states of your soul didn’t quite resonate like the fire and brimstone they’d been used to. I didn’t mind at all.
Like most of the crew at the Relaying Station, I took the steam bus up to Lisdoonvarna every Sunday morning. I can’t pretend that our troop of young engineers was particulatly devout, but it was a change from the wild coast and the ancient fishermen. Plus, one could meet some of the younger locals, bright boys and girls in their Sunday best. Afterwards there was always the lunch at the Inn, so much tastier than our canteen food!
Ice, water and steam, it was a sermon written for engineers. I still remember the sense of it, since it encapsulated my past, present and future.  The ice was still to come. One day I must tell you how I helped rescue the crew of the airship ‘America’ up beyond the Arctic Circle. I have an imagegraph somewhere of me with ‘Kiddo’ the famous dirigble cat.
Water and steam were, and are, my stock in trade. I majored in pneumatics, but I love all the magic of it. Is steam the soul of water? Certainly it is the life breath of my engines. I loved to watch the giant flywheel in the Atmospheric Transfer Station. Such rhythm, driven by the inhale/exhale of the machine. Next door it spun the relay mirrors with the delicacy and precision of a Swiss made watch.
I wouldn’t have been the first person to drift off during a sermon. I was lost in a cloud of steam. If I had pipe dreams they came from steam pipes. I thought of slide-valves, not saints that morning. Father Brennan was a young man, I’m sure he would have understood. The future was in that steam cloud. After almost a century, the real Age of Steam was about to begin.


The mysterious uses of steam, Kangaroo Island, South Australia


Steaming Off To The Afterlife

Friday’s  Challenge 

In today’s challenge, show us what “gone, but not forgotten” means to you. 

Take 2, something completely different, a steampunk tomb in Montmartre cemetery, Paris. It’s a French TARDIS, I’m sure.



Yet again, the French remain stylish in death. I need to research who was buried here.

UPDATED. M. Lemaitre owned metal working factories in Paris. Francois Cavé was one of the early builders of steam engines in France.  (en français)

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A Perfect Crime

From a series of interviews with Mr A G Bell at the Queen Adelaide Sanatorium, New York State.

He speaks about the irony of his confession.

 Compiled and edited by Mr Latimer Naseby 

I have since been told that it was the perfect crime. Can you believe such a thing? The path of science is strewn with fatal mishaps. Indeed Icarus the victim is better known than Daedalus the inventor. How could I have caused this disaster? I was obviously working in my own small laboratory in the garden. The irony Sir, I was congratulated upon my luck at surviving! The evil of it still oppresses me. I know I must account for myself in the afterlife, madman or not. I must face those poor people at last.

I made my confession even as the blaze was being extinguished. Needless to say, this was met with great astonishment by the officers I spoke to. It was assumed that I had been driven temporarily insane by the tragedy. Some kindly souls understood that I felt responsible, as it was my experiment that had caused the fire. Even my very confession was seen as evidence of my madness. Could a killer do such a thing as this and then be so calm? I was placed in a hospital, but I was not under arrest. I did receive the first of many doses of tincture of laudanum. This, I believe did help me bear the burden of my crime. It was some years before the mass of it fully crushed my heart. I will never escape that weight now.

I am told I was eventually charged with multiple murder. I had kept a journal, my intentions, all my plans were laid out clearly. I am a meticulous man, as you may gather. I had even kept the receipts for the explosive chemicals I had ordered. I did not attend the court, I was in no fit state to do so. I have not seen the transcripts either, but the proceedings have been described to me. Scientists, some known to me, were called to testify that I had indeed planned the destruction of the college. Many of the chemicals I had used are not naturally explosive. The exact details of the electrical triggering mechanism were suppressed. There is one quote I remember, but it brings me no pride. ‘If this was not such an evil plan, it would have been a work of genius.’

As you see Sir, I gained fame and recognition of my work. It was not how I intended to be remembered. That I have lived so long is not a comfort to me. I believe it to be part of my punishment. I have grown so old as to be able to read about myself in history books. They are far too kind to me, much too innocent. My telephone would have been a success, I’m sure of that. I’m also sure it would have caused misery and disaster in the summer of 1863. I have read that many telegraph operators died or were injured in that terrible summer. How many more would have perished in their own homes, talking on my telephone? To think, Mr Naseby, I had planned for my wires to be brought right into churches and concert halls!

And yet, Sir, I remained a scentist. I know that my calculations are utilised on the Optical Telegraph. I thought about it, you know, when I was planning to kill my poor colleagues. At that time, every sight, every event had special meaning for me. I would walk  in the college gardens in the early dawn. I saw the beads of dew on the leaves and noticed how the new sunlight was refracted through them. I was being shown the path of light, even as I plunged further into the darkness.


Daguerreotype, aftermath of the Boston explosion 1859.

Reproduced by the kind permission of the Royal Institute of Photography, Kandahar.

This is another excerpt of an ongoing fiction work ‘Mr Faraday’s Cage & Other Tales of Obscure Science’. I will be publishing new parts twice weekly.

Mostly Frank

 Copyright notice.

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A Journal Found

From the journal of Hepzibah Jamieson, electrician and scientist. Compiled and edited by Mr Latimer Naseby 

Tuesday 29th April 1851.

I spoke to a journalist today, it was the first time I’ve ever been interviewed for a public newspaper. I will confess, I began the meeting in somewhat of an ill-natured mood. I had taken against the woman as soon I had received her letter. It was only with IKB’s encouragement that I decided to meet her at all. I had formed the notion that she would want some item about fashion, or some other ‘ladies’ matter. I dreaded being asked the question ‘What is a fit and becoming hat for one to wear to view the Exhibition?’. My fears were soon allayed.
I make a note to myself, examine predjudices at all times, make no hasty decisions. Mrs Singh turned out to be an intelligent woman and I enjoyed our conversation. I am flattered to be included in her ‘Women of The Exhibition’ series. The talk was of neither gowns nor hats, nor even the gentler sciences such as medicine or horticulture. I was able to speak freely as an engineer and an electrician. But engineers are not all automata or speaking clocks. For her readers do enjoy what she called ‘the human interest angle’. Her question ‘What do you look forward to seeing most when the Exhibition opens?’ allowed me to show my own sense of excitement.
Of course, I’m looking forward to it all, who isn’t? I walked the halls as the exhibits were being mounted and saw the most fascinating things. I have no idea in some cases what they are. To be honest, I’m looking forward to seeing everything ‘new’, the future as it is being built. This did seem a bit of a wooly story for an engineer to be telling, so I mentioned a few specifics. I’d read of Dr Merryweather and his Tempest Prognosticator, I do not think it such an absurd idea. He purports to be able to foresee the advent of storms by observing the behaviour of leeches. My Dear Father used to tell me that his bees appeared to realise when it was about to rain. As to my own experiments, well it is time to leave off writing today. I am reminded that I should see to my hives at once!

Wednesday 30th April 1851.

A busy day, very tired in the evening. If we have sunny days, the panel will generate enough current to easily power the telegraph. IKB stopped by and was, as usual, very encouraging. What a fountain of ideas is that man! He suggested we could put a panel atop of every pole that carried the telegraph cable along the railway line. On a bright day we would have no need to connect the Leyden jars. He thought we should be looking closely at the storage of energy, because on a good day, we’d have power to spare. I resolved to put further effort into refining my capacitance device.

The great hall was the scene of much frantic energy, the air full of hammering, shouting and metallic screeches from new built machinery. The place smelled strongly of wet paint and hot mineral oil. I know that some people will be at work all night. I tried to find some peace and quiet in the plant displays, but the place was full of men hoisting palm trees into place. I wonder if anything will be ready at all!  I came back to my lodgings with a headache, the smell of turpentine still in my nostrils.


 Detail, Rogerson’s Patent Atmospheric Solenoid Switch. 

This is another excerpt of an ongoing fiction work ‘Mr Faraday’s Cage & Other Tales of Obscure Science’. I will be publishing new parts twice weekly.

Mostly Frank

 Copyright notice.

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Mr Wheatstone’s Notebook

Mr Latimer Naseby has been editing some of the writings of Charles Wheatstone, never before published.

Nancarrow Hall, December 1862.

It being winter now, there is little sunlight to catch in my mirrors. There is not much point continuing those particular experiments until we obtain decent light. Most of my senior colleagues have returned to Oxford and their warmth, wives and loved ones. Indeed, the speed at which they left was nothing short of astounding. I am told that a well tuned steam carriage can make up to thirty miles in an hour. Who could have imagined such a thing? It is if a railway had laid its tracks right to your front door. Some of my younger assistants even dared conduct the thing themselves! I suppose we must all hail the new charioteers, although I fear my shares in the railway company might soon be in decline!

Such are the idle concerns of a man becalmed. I suppose I could have busied myself designing improvements for these rushing conveyances. I can see there is much to be done with the suspension and most importantly, the lighting arrangements. I know one who likes to drive at night, I fear it will be the coming thing. For my local villages though, the approaching sound appears to be the coming of Satan and his hordes!

 Instead of adding my knowledge to this steam mania, I amused myself by reading and playing a few airs, mostly of my own composition, on my Anglo-concertina. I have been asked. ‘If it be English, then why must it be Concertina?’. I answer plainly ‘Because I made it thus. The Italianate title is a little more platable than calling it The Squeezing Box!’.

The naming of inanimate objects, even animated machinery, is a human foible. My young associate has bought himself a steam-carriage that goes by the name of ‘The Skylark’. ‘How does it sing?’ I asked, but he was puzzled by my question. Neither, praise the Lord, does it fly as yet. It is only a matter of time, I fear, before these machines take to the sky.

I have decided to write up some description of my recent experiments and detail some of my plans for the coming summer. There are plenty of scientific notes on the subject, graphs, calculations, diagrams and schematics. However, to the layman, these are simply lines drawn on ruled paper. I have determined to write down in plain terms what I have discovered and what I expect to find. This is as much for the sake of my own clarity as anybody else’s.  I have recently learnt much which is most sensational.  In this chilly weather I will write a cooler appraisal of my astounding research.

Nancarrow Hall

Robert Howlett’s famous photo ‘The Electrical Room – Nancarrow Hall’  The only remaining record of Wheatstone’s laboratory.

This is another excerpt of an ongoing fiction work ‘Mr Faraday’s Cage & Other Tales of Obscure Science’. I will be publishing new parts twice weekly.

Mostly Frank

 Copyright notice.


The Wreck of The Plassy.

 Weekly Writing Challenge Draft a short story or flash fiction piece from the point of view of a unreliable narrator. What is the source of their unreliability?

 I believe my friend  Mr Latimer Naseby to be a truthful narrator. As an engineer and government official he is not much given to exaggeration. That he was aboard MV Plassy the night she struck is easily verified. The story he tells is a plain one, but much more colourful versions can be had in the back snug in Doolin.  I’m not sure about the white cat of Craig na gCat on Inishmor , but I’ve seen it myself and have not yet drowned.

This is another excerpt of an ongoing fiction work ‘Mr Faraday’s Cage & Other Tales of Obscure Science’. I will be publishing new parts twice weekly.

No castaways can have arrived more comfortably than those aboard our ship. I had good whiskey and hot coffee for breakfast that day. The dawn had not been far off. The sight that greeted us has often been painted now. Tourists come to gasp and gawp. Since I am no sailor, I will claim at least to have been the first tourist. To this very day ‘Plassy’ sits high and dry on the rocky foreshore, a good fifty yards from the sea.

So I have my seafarer’s story. You might expect me to tell you that we came ashore a week later, maybe some months after the storm. No, we did not lose or gain any time that night. Nor was my memory snatched from me. Unlike Mr Seaborn, I was not born anew from the storm. As he had predicted though, I did not drown. The white cat that haunts Craig na gCat ensured my safety. I’m not in any way superstitious, but for this I’ll make an exception.

Thus, I was in a famous shipwreck, the ship is still there for all to see. I have heard some of the crew tell their tale. It is different from mine, but then again that was in the Maritime Court in Galway. My truth is not their truth, but I was but a passenger. Captain Hennessy was not the first, nor probably, the last to lose his ship on Finnis Rock. He may have been the first to have saved all of his passengers. He was exonerated, of course. The storm had not been expected, but he had prepared for it as well as he could. His command to remain aboard after we first struck doubtless saved our lives.

Since that day, I’ve told the story many times myself. It is mine to tell, after all. I’ve also heard it told on a good few occasions. In the hands of a skilled storyteller, the waves grow bigger, the skies glow more luridly and I’m almost surprised that mermaids are not sighted beforehand. Certainly, the monstrous beast that severed our anchor chain must have been of a magical nature, for I did not see it at all.  I have sat in the back snug in Doolin and thoroughly enjoyed a story, not realising till the end that it was my own ship that had foundered. I’ve heard several dry land mariners tell of their great deeds of heroism or their genius at navigation. I had never clapped eyes on them previously, certainly not aboard ‘our’ ship. I have since met the officers and men at several celebrations. The story telling is not that compelling, but the dining and drinking can be said to be heroic.

It is an odd feeling to have been at an event and then hearing someone else describe it. But we are all unreliable narrators sometimes.

Three views of the MV Plassy, Inisheer, Ireland. Yep, it’s the one on ‘Father Ted’.

Mostly Frank

 Copyright notice.


A Stranger In The Village

Think about the town where you currently live: its local customs, traditions, and hangouts, its slang. What would be the strangest thing about this place for a first-time visitor? 

This theme fits well with this week’s extract. We find  Mr Latimer Naseby in Doolin, where he is to work on the new Relaying Station.

Like any person born beyond the parishes of Lisdoonvarna or Ballyvaughan, I was, in that place, a foreigner. It was a custom of the town, possibly an entertainment, for all such people to be introduced to Mr Seaborn. This was not a difficult thing to effect, as he held court almost nightly at Doolin’s finest public house. You might imagine that he was a great drinker, but this was not so. He could however, always procure himself a pint due to the beauty of his voice.

He had met travellers from all over the world, some in fact had sought him out on account of his mysterious early life. There was much curiosity about this stranger from the sea.  They had addressed him in many languages. so many, in fact, that he could now greet an Austrian hiker with ‘Gruss Gott!’ and make the correct bow to a Japanese engineer. He had not, at the outset, recognised any foreign languages, but he did show an amazing faculty for learning then. It was if the clean sheet of his mind was always ready to receive new text.

I can report that Benny Seaborn was a fit man of middle age who spoke with the accent of the locality. Like many in the village he was a witty man and loved a story, either to tell or to hear. After all, if one wishes to hear stories, they must have tales of their own in return. He was also a fine singer. As far as I could tell, he had no tattoos or other such marks that are common to sailors. His natural bearing led me to believe that maybe he had been of the officer class.

He told me that there still those among the older folk who thought he had come from the devil. He had only been Saved, they said, by the good Father O’Brien. ‘Why would they think this?’ I asked, he seemed a mild and courtly man and not much given to evil. The clouds, apparently, had bled that night. He was only spotted on the beach due to the uncommon lightness of the night sky. Had it been a dark night in that cold November, he would have certainly perished.


This is another excerpt of an ongoing fiction work ‘Mr Faraday’s Cage & Other Tales of Obscure Science’. I will be publishing new parts twice weekly.

Mostly Frank

 Copyright notice.