There are many reasons to visit the North York Moors. For me, it was a chance, once again, to tramp across open land with the feel of heather beneath my feet; an activity I used to indulge in frequently when I lived in the area. Indeed, I can recall the completion of the forty mile Lyke Wake Walk across the moors as bringing both a sense of achievement, and complete exhaustion. While in the area, The Son recommended we make our way to Glaisdale and visit the Museum of Victorian Science. So we did.
You don’t just turn up at the museum, you have to book. We arrived about ten minutes before the appointed time and headed up a narrow lane to the entrance; and out popped this gentleman:
“How did you know we were coming early?” I asked.
“I was watching out of the window for you.”
They don’t do that at the British Museum.
The immaculately attired gentleman was Tony Swift and he led us into his museum. If you were exaggerating you would say it was housed in a small room, if you were being accurate you could describe it as being in an ample broom cupboard. It’s no wonder visitors are limited to four at a time and by appointment, there is little space to stand because the tiny room is stuffed with equipment.
After a brief safety message which could be summarised as: “don’t move and don’t touch anything, or you might die”, Tony launched into an hour of physics history, illustrated by experiments provided by his many wonderful machines. She who must be obeyed had no idea what he was on about and I wished I had paid more attention in class back in the last century. If I had had a teacher like Tony, I would have paid more attention, He didn’t just tell us about science, he showed it in action with beguiling demonstrations which fizzed, popped and glowed. He even gave himself a massive electric shock at one point, although that was not intended.
After an hour, we took a break and went into the main part of the house where his wife, Pat, served us with tea and biscuits. What was probably intended as ten minutes turned into an hour as we chatted, and my wife tried to convince Tony he could be a massive YouTube star (he could). Then it was back in the room for some more demonstrations, with the grand finale being Tony’s personal interpretation of the Frankenstein story, with his home made Tesla machine being the star of the show. You don’t get that at the British Museum.
Tony has acquired some of his machinery over the years at sales, some he has made himself, and some have been heavily modified. I could easily spend a day inspecting it all and photographing it. Understandably, given the (literally) heavily charged atmosphere during the show, photo taking is not possible; but at the end of our visit I took a few shots.
As we walked away, I told my wife that Tony is the perfect example of the type of Englishman I would aspire to be: polite, slight eccentric, and passionate in his interests. I then told her of my new plan to convert the bathroom into the “museum of old cameras”; but she had stopped listening. She is in for a surprise.