30 August 2009


Ferdinand Magellan named it Mare Pacificum - The Peaceful Sea. Perhaps he would have given this vast ocean a different name if he had witnessed its more violent moods. Let's note its mind-boggling vital statistics. It covers 30% of The Earth's total surface area and is therefore larger than the total land surface of our planet. Area calculations vary slightly but there are at least 155,000 square kilometres of salty waves. Its average depth is 4,000 metres but at one point, in the western Pacific's Mariana Trench, it is almost 11,000 metres deep. The Pacific has 135,663 kilometres of coastline and contains at least 25,000 islands. You'll like the last fact - I had to search around for this number for quite a while: What is the volume of water in The Pacific Ocean? Answer - An estimated 640,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 cubic centimetres! That's an awful lot of water.

I have often thought about how the Pacific was populated by the Melanesians, Micronesians and the greatest travellers of all - The Polynesians. With only stars and their instincts to guide them, voyaging in hollowed out canoes, they crossed vast swathes of this ocean, making new settlements in islands as far apart as Hawaii, Easter Island and New Zealand. That history of migration is quite breathtaking even though little of it is recorded in an easily recognisable manner. Arguably, the early Polynesians were the bravest seafarers of all. What drove them onwards across the blue ocean we shall probably never know. Were they looking for something or were they escaping?

What do western people know of The Pacific, this vast body of water that covers almost a third of our planet? Mostly we know nothing. Many of us know more about The Moon than we do about that "peaceful sea".

Mare Pacificum

These waves are surely endless

Their rhythm like the very pulse of our world

This sky is entire and by night

It reveals the same stars that guided our forefathers

Pull harder Amanaki whose name means hope

Beyond this horizon we shall see distant clouds

A wisp of pale grey smoke faraway

Marking the island where Tangaroa dwelt

In faraway times before waking and sleeping

Before he made the flying fishes and the rain

And it is there that we shall make our home.

27 August 2009


On Monday afternoon, a big truck arrived from Wickes - the DIY/Builders' Store. I jumped in the cab with the friendly driver - let's call him Humphrey - and directed him round the back of our house where there's a little private lane. Unfortunately, because of overhanging bushes and trees and the sheer size of the truck, Humphrey was unable to back his vehicle far up the lane so expertly, using his heavy duty crane, he swung my items round the back of the truck and drove off. I was left with a massive bag of pea gravel and a palette of thirty paving slabs.

Using a builder's wheelbarrow I had borrowed, I made over thirty trips back and forth to make sure that the gravel and the the paving stones were safely in our garden before nightfall. I was sweating like a Finn in a sauna.

Last weekend I had laboriously dug out a channel for our new garden path - transporting barrowload after barrowload of earth to the dumping ground. On Tuesday, the path laying commenced but it was rained off on Wednesday. It was mainly about levelling. I also had to use an angle grinder to slice a couple of the slabs. Can you picture me - safety goggles and green ear protectors and a tea towel tied round my face to prevent inhalation of concrete dust.
At one point, above the channel I had previously excavated, I seem to have unearthed some of the corrugated remains of a World War II Anderson Shelter. Digging this out was no joke.

Anyway, come Thursday evening I had laid twenty eight slabs - all butted up together and pretty much level, laid on a bed of pea gravel that I had compressed with my new "rammer" (see right) - what a beautifully simple DIY tool! I wonder who invented it. Probably a caveman in the year dot.

The path is not quite finished but I am getting there and you know - I have enjoyed every minute of this job - the planning and estimation, the heavy lifting, the sweat, feeling physically tired and seeing my twenty metre path growing slab by slab. This has felt like real work - so different from burning the midnight oil to correct English exercise books or waxing lyrical about Seamus Heaney. As I make it, I wonder how long my path will last. Some time in the future - perhaps fifty years from now - will there be a guy up our garden digging up my slabs and marvelling at my workmanship - "They don't make paths like they used to!"

23 August 2009


Well I can't be entirely free with my words in this post as I know that our daughter, Frances, sometimes visits her father's blog and on this occasion I am mainly writing about her.

At seven thirty this morning, we were in the car heading west from Sheffield along the Snake Pass that snakes its way over the Pennines to Glossop and Manchester beyond. It was a lovely summer's morning with a blue sky reflected in the unrippled surface of Ladybower Reservoir and heather blooming purple on the hills.

Frances's flight was scheduled to depart at 10.50 from Terminal 2 and I wanted to make sure she was there on time. Destination - Birmingham, Alabama for a year of study, living and partying at Birmingham Southern College. It's part of her degree course in American and Canadian Studies at The University of Birmingham in England's West Midlands. She will share a small apartment on campus with two American girls and hopefully the placement will provide a great foundation for her final year dissertation.

The last week has been a week of goodbyes, meals out, gatherings for drinks and a full scale farewell party at Vodka Revolution in our city centre. There have been photographs on Facebook, leaving cards, texts, phone calls and gifts. Frances is a very popular young lady because she is a loyal friend, someone who won't let you down, somebody who will listen and yet a real party animal too. She likes to have a good time and she is no sheep.

Bizarrely, before she left she had to complete a three hour on-line alcohol education examination which is an entry requirement for all new students at Birmingham Southern College. Fortunately, she passed with a score of 83% during a week when, rather ironically, she was testing numerous alcoholic products.

Shirley and I love Frances to bits. She is the best daughter you could ever imagine and we are so proud of her - not just because of her academic achievements thus far but because of the person she is - kind, caring, funny, determined, reliable and independent. We are both going to miss her like hell even though she will be back at Christmas for two weeks.

After she had checked in, I stood with her as her mother shot off on one of her inconvenient visits to a public convenience. I reminded her that there will be times of self-doubt and loneliness in the USA, times when she will miss her friends and family like mad, times when she'll wonder what she is doing there in a foreign culture. I urged her to ride those times, to be patient, to look forward, to make the most of the experience, to have fun. However, she'd probably already weighed up those considerations anyway - I have great confidence that this will be one of the best year's of her life.

She rode up the escalator towards the departure gates. Shirley was tearful so I put my arm around her and there at the top of the moving staircase we saw our Frances turn, smile and wave. We waved back and then she was gone.... And if you're reading this darling daughter, have a fantastic experience, make new friends, laugh, dance, absorb, be yourself. My love for you is unconditional and forever but I am so pleased you're there.

21 August 2009


Mostly I am looking for what's good. Optimism is a far more healthy driving force than pessimism. It is easy to knock, to sneer, to wallow in cynicism. How much nicer to celebrate, to enjoy, to recognise positives. Nevertheless... however... nonetheless... and in spite of myself, I cannot help but be irritated by certain happenings or things I see around me. Today I wish to share a particular pet hate with you. It's the ubiquitous automatic hand dryer that nowadays we find in lavatories everywhere - at least in the western world.It's hard to put my finger on what it is I detest about this invention but I will try. Firstly, I hate the fact that they never dry your hands properly. You end up finishing off on your jeans because no matter how hard you rub your hands under the hot air, the dampness remains and usually there's another lavatory visitor waiting behind you with dripping mitts.

Secondly, I hate the fact that they often don't work - some as yet unfixed malfunction. You look around the "rest room" and find there's no alternative means of drying your digits so you shake them or maybe seek out some lavatory paper from one of the cubicles. Even when they are working, some hand dryers create such a pathetic stream of tepid air that you'd think a dog was breathing on you.

Thirdly, I have strong environmental concerns about hand dryers. They use up precious electricity. They have to be serviced by little men who arrive in vans with spanners and electrical gadgets. How far do these little men drive and how much petroleum do they use up? The offending items themselves have to be manufactured and then transported - sometimes between continents. Surely that can't be right.

Lastly, I think that drying one's hands should be a simple and straightforward process. Grab a towel, rub and then go. I can't help feeling that the millions of hand dryers that now exist in the world have all appeared because of marketing strategies - creating need where there was none. Life should be simple wherever simplicity is possible. The hand dryer reflects a view of life which is different from mine. For me it represents corporate gluttony rather than hygiene and it speaks of an attitude of mind in which society blindly and unquestioningly embraces the fruits of technology and manufacturing without stepping back and saying - actually we don't need them!

18 August 2009


The toll of British dead in Afghanistan has risen to 204. See the latest victims above - James, Simon and Louis - gone forever but for what? Why did they have to die? Politicians never fight wars. They just make them. Regarding Afghanistan, justification has been built on shifting ground. One reason gives way to another. Essentially, in the first place, we hung on to the shirt tails of the American revenge mission - to seek out Osama bin Laden and rid the world of the irritatingly elusive "enemy" that engineered the horror of 9/11. Now we have got Gordon Brown telling us that terrorist threats to Britain's welfare chiefly originate in this Taliban/Al Queida cradle and that's why we're there. I'm no military historian but common sense tells me that Britain's activity in Afghanistan will probably attract more vengeance from the forces of evil and not less. I admire Wootton Bassett's dignified and repeated recognition of our soldiers' untimely deaths but there have been enough hearses, enough lowering of flags, enough bugle calls. Enough is enough...Once again, shouldn't we all be demanding - Bring our brothers home!

15 August 2009


Sitting at this computer, blogging and visiting other blogs isn't all I do. Ever since it magically appeared, I have been a fan of Google Earth. Not only can you use this amazing facility to zoom around the world and focus in on particular places, you can also leave your own photographs that may or may not be specially selected for inclusion in Google Earth by the web photo hosting agency - Panoramio. I think it's fantastic that ordinary photographers like me can leave their own photo-illustrations of the world we live in, creating a kind of visual quilt that is gradually being stitched around our planet - becoming more complete with each passing day.
I have more than fifty photographs within Google Earth and Panoramio keep a tally of "hits" or visits. My most popular photo had its thousandth visitor this week. I don't think it's because it's a particularly good photograph - it's more the picture's location.
It seems that forty years ago, the guitar legend Jimi Hendrix visited Morocco with some friends. They flew from Paris to Casablanca and then made their way by road to the coastal resort of Essaouira. About two miles south of the town, there is a neglected stone-built royal pavillion. It is half swallowed by the sand dunes and the Moroccan government have let it fall into ruin - after all, feeding and servicing a large peasant population on the edge of the Sahara desert is understandably a higher priority. Anyway, legend has it that Hendrix visited the pavillion. With his troupe he sat on the sands of 1969 playing guitar and smoking joints till the sun went down before returning to The Hotel des Iles where Shirley and I stayed at Eastertime 2007.
There is so much mythology about Hendrix's Morocco trip - where he stayed, who he slept with, how long he was there. I don't think we will ever know the truth but I am sure that a good number of visitors to my picture from the royal pavillion northwards to Essaouira have been drawn there because of the "Castles in the Sand" legend and the belief that Hendrix once passed an afternoon amidst those dunes singing goodbye to the sixties. Just one year later he'd be dead. Here's the picture:-

12 August 2009


Please excuse my self-indulgence. Regarding Sussex holiday photos, here are "the best of the rest". At least it's not like days gone by when friends or relatives would treat you to a private viewing of their holiday snaps with a running commentary...."And this is Paul eating an ice cream on the harbour wall... This is your Auntie Mary paddling in the sea... This is a closer view of Auntie Mary paddling...and oh...I forgot to take the lens cap off this one..." zzzzzzzzzzz! It was the best known cure for insomnia.
Deckchairs on Brighton Beach.
View of the Ypres Castle Inn, Rye.

Pigeon in the church wall, Rye.

Low tide at Winchelsea

Reminders of suicides at Beachy Head
Please note that all the above photographs are the exclusive property of Yorkshire Pudding Enterprises Ltd (2009) and are not to be reproduced for commercial use without first providing the company with a big fat cheque*. Any third parties failing to comply with this ruling will be kept in a damp cellar and force fed with American "pop overs" which are a laughable imitation of the true Yorkshire pudding. Have a nice day!
*Size of cheque will be negotiable.

10 August 2009


As northern barbarians, we had never previously visited Canterbury, the cradle of The Church of England. Disdaining the car, we strolled to Rye Station and bought day return tickets. From Rye the railway track is as straight as a die carrying you across Romney Marsh towards Ashford.

Of course Romney Marsh and its neighbour - Walland Marsh haven't actually been marshes for eight hundred years. It is rich agricultural land and when farms were labour intensive, the area had a much larger population than it has today. I had read about the churches of Romney Marsh - how some of them remain standing even though the communities they once served have dwindled away. As the train beat out its rhythm towards Ashford and Canterbury beyond, I noticed an amazing church sitting all alone in wide sheep pastures. Returning from Canterbury we saw it again.

On the last full day of our holiday, after visiting the beautiful High Weald town of Tenterdon, I was determined to find that isolated church and photograph it. We drove around the little back roads of The Marsh until we came to the Railway Inn at Appledore Station where a visiting electrician with a pencil stub behind his ear supplied us with directions to "Fairfield".
Although the outer brick skin of the church is relatively modern (1913), it hides a medieval secret timber lath construction (13th Century). I hope my photos show you how special this building is. There's no roadway to it, not even a properly defined path. Sheep graze around it. Amazingly, Sunday services are still held in St Thomas a Beckett once a month.

A lifelong atheist, I have nevertheless always been fascinated by England's country churches. They speak to me of simpler times, when deluded folk believed that no matter what hardships one might face in this world, there was a better life beyond. Old churches are fascinating architecturally and they were of course theatres for generations of family events - funerals, weddings, christenings. Imbued in the very stones one can detect wordless historical records of ancient rural communities - time marching on. If the church is unlocked and there's a visitors' book, I always leave a positive comment and put a few coins in the box.

Like the English pub, our green countryside, our Literature and music, the English country church is a part of our heritage which should make us proud to live on this amazing island of dreams.

9 August 2009


We're back from the "deep south". Rye is a lovely little town. Once a virtual island above the salt marshes of east Sussex, it retains much of its old character with cobbled streets, independent businesses, a little castle, a commanding old church and a mish-mesh of quaint little houses and alleyways. As one of England's ancient "cinque ports", its history stretches wayback. On the edge of "the salts", our small apartment overlooked the River Brede. We watched tides coming in and out and the comings and goings of seabirds, waders, ducks and ravens. Beyond were the flat plains of Walland and Romney marshes. You could see for miles.One day we visited Dungeness for the first time. This is a vast area of shifting shingle and pebbles. It has had several lighthouses for in past times many ships were wrecked on this unforgiving coastline. Mention Dungeness and many people would immediately think of the huge nuclear power station that was erected there in the sixties but for me my lasting memory will be of incongruous fishermen's huts, wrecks and debris amidst the pebbles, the dunegrass and the sea cabbages. Fortunately we visited on an afternoon when the light was a clear as crystal...

Above: Derek Jarman's Prospect Cottage