Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Yellow Rose of Friendship

Yesterday I spoke of the Friendship Sloop. A prettier vessel is hard to find. In her basic form she is a working boat for Maine fisherman or lobsterman. She is functional and attractive to her owner, who may liken her to a faithful friend. Within any friendship there is a mutual interest, a united common bond. In the case of the Maine fisherman, he looks after his Friendship sloop, and in return she gives him faithful and long-term service.

At the basic level of friendship there’s usually a mutual interest, as each friend supports the other, not just in good times, but through thick and thin. A bond between the two, inclusive of loyalty and trust, is a true distinction of a real and meaningful friendship. Such friendships can be found in work environments where buddies have common interests and common aims. The clubhouse is another great place for finding friends, a place where likeminded hobbyists can share their passions for a multiplicity of activities such as golf, cricket, rugby, photography, amateur dramatics, choral singing, fishing, sailing, etc.. Within a clubhouse or a meeting place, friendships may flourish. Likewise, new, and perhaps lasting friendships can be established in schools, colleges, universities, churches, and mosques. Servicemen and women in the armed forces can make very special bonds of friendships because of having to share operations in highly dangerous situations. Only recently, a soldier in Afghanistan was prepared to give his life for his comrades by throwing himself on a grenade that was about to explode. Fortunately for him he survived the blast and his friends were unscathed.

Friends are very precious. Most people have less genuine friends than they have fingers on one of their hands, and they are blessed if they have more than four friends. Friendships need to be cultivated, worked at and maintained. Rolling stones who are for ever moving have the greatest difficulty in keeping friends, unless they are friends who accompany them. Travellers, fairground workers, circus workers and itinerant workers doing temporary jobs come in this category. Some friends come and go, while others go on for ever. After sixty years I still have two friends who were at school with me and two others whom I met in 1978. With them I share the common interest of sailing, and together we have experienced testing situations at sea. Hence, our friendships are cemented for ever, despite the fact that in these times through infirmity and distance apart, we meet and correspond only occasionally. There are, of course, special family friends who are unlike those beyond the family, because of a deep reciprocal fondness and admiration for each other, as well as unselfish and generous support. These are familial friends who never say no and who unfailingly give of their love.

For the Christian, the greatest of all friends is Jesus. (John 15:14-17)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Friendship Sloop

A prettier sailing boat you will not see. She was not designed by a specific designer, but evolved in the late 1800s to fit the needs of the fishermen and lobstermen of Muscongus Bay on the Maine coast. Friendship Sloops were not identical and they varied in length between 21’ and 50’. Characteristically they had elliptical sterns and clipper bows. Generally, their beam equalled one third of their overall length, excluding the bowsprit, and the height of the mast was the length of the boat plus one half of the draft. Later, some were converted into yachts with increased freeboard and external ballast. The living accommodation was simple, in keeping with the workboat ethos and a few of these beauties are still sailing today.

Monday, September 28, 2009


A clean boat

My mother used to have a saying, ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’. Somehow it seems to have stuck. I don’t like being unnecessarily dirty, and make it my business to have a strip wash every day, and at least two baths a week. Without being excessive with the use of water, that seems to eliminate body odour and do away with tide marks around the neck, wrists and ankles. Two shampoos a week keeps the hair smelling fresh.

Cleanliness is not just a bodily necessity; cleanliness of the mind, thoughts and actions make for total cleanliness,* but without ones surroundings being clean, body and clothing would soon be tarnished. Likewise bad company (those with dirty thoughts), corrupt the mind and soul. My mother was right to have taught me habitual cleanliness for good hygiene. I have followed her teaching throughout my life, preferring to live in clean surroundings: the house, the car, and the boat. Clean laundered clothing and bedding complete the picture. A block of soap costs little, but I must admit that washing powder costs a great deal more.

Working in a clean kitchen with spotless surfaces, a shiny hob and oven, and a sparkling sink makes cooking that much more enjoyable. It’s a civilized joy to sit at a table while entertaining guests when the food is wholesomely presented on clean crockery, on smart place mats, set upon a freshly ironed tablecloth. There are no cobwebs on the ceiling; there’s no dust on the lampshade, neither are the windowpanes smeared or the window sills caked with dust and the odd dead fly.

*John 13:3-15

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Evolution of Sailing Craft


I’ve been doing a personal study looking into the evolution of sailing craft. The research has been fascinating. If you’ve read the Creation story as portrayed in the Bible and onwards to the time of the Universal Flood, you’ll note there is no mention of any boat until you come to Noah’s ark. Now, the ark was not a sailing vessel, although with her high sides she would have drifted in the wind. Many people doubt the Flood ever took place, and those who do are divided on when it happened. Some say as far ago as 5000 BC, but the authors of Creation Magazine believe it was around 2304 BC.

What fascinates me is the way in which changing technologies have made possible what was impossible for the early offspring of Adam and the offspring of Noah. Because the Bible doesn’t mention boats before the time of Noah, there is no reason to suppose that man didn’t build and use them. The earliest of vessels could have been made with very few tools. In fact, a reed boat large enough for a man to float on could have been bundled and lashed together without tools. Ancient Egyptian paintings and decorated pottery portray sailing reed craft, such as a replica built by Thor Heyerdahl in 1970 in which he sailed across the Atlantic to prove his theory that ancient civilizations could have colonized the Americas from Northern Africa.

The progression of technology through the use of natural materials and synthetic ones is indeed fascinating. We know that a wooden ship of 95 tons was discovered in the tomb of Pharaoh Khufu. This magnificent double-ended craft for use on the River Nile had cedar planking joined by the use of mortise-and-tenon joints which were covered with half-round battens inside and out, all held in together with continuous stitching. In fact this boat could have been dismantled and reassembled elsewhere; such was the sophistication of the design. Procopius tells of Dhows in the 6th century that had planking held together with cross-stitching. They were so well built that they did not require any form of outer covering to keep them watertight.

Later, in approximately 1000 AD, Leif Ericson with his crew, rowed and sailed across the North Atlantic form Norway to Newfoundland in a clinker Viking boat. Such vessels were built with overlapping planks held together with wooden dowels or iron nails and roves. The Iron Age had arrived in Northern Europe. Big advances were made when iron tools such as adzes and saws became available. Hardwoods such as oak and ash were used when building large sailing vessels such as Christopher Columbus’s ‘Santa-Maria’ and Ferdinand Magellan’s ‘Victoria’, which was the first boat to do a complete circumnavigation. By the time of Izambard Kingdom Brunel, large ships were being built from iron plating held together with rivets. In 1837 his ‘The Great Britain’, equipped with sails, but fitted with steam engines, was the first propeller driven vessel to cross the Atlantic. The ‘Cutty Sark’ was uniquely built with wrought iron frames supporting a wooden hull. In more recent times, cold and hot-moulded (plywood) vessels were used during the 2nd World War. Aluminium, fibreglass and Ferro-cement became widely used materials. Foam sandwich, carbon fibre, Kevlar and very strong, but light, high-tech materials profoundly changed the shape of the modern sailing boat. Ellen MacArthur’s ‘B&Q/Castorama’, a large trimaran in which she smashed the world record for a solo circumnavigation, is one such vessel. Without the use of these Aerospace materials it would not have been possible for the hydrofoil trimaran ‘L’Hydroptere’ to gain the world speed record over a distance of one mile. She averaged an astonishing speed of 48.7 knots. ‘Banque Populare’, a 131 ft trimaran, in 2008 sailed 2,880 miles across the Atlantic in 3 days 15 hours at an average speed of 32.94 knots. Sailing vessels of the future will incorporate these new materials and be built with the necessary processes, machinery and equipment. In view of the need for reducing carbon emissions, large cargo ships of the future may well resort to wind energy, but instead of deck mounted sails they will fly enormous kites to harness the power of the wind.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hastings Beach Boat

Of late there’s been a miniature Hastings beach boat at Hullbridge. She looks sound, but rather tatty. Her upright stem, broad beam, firm bilges and ducktail stern are typical features of this sort of boat that has to be drawn up on a pebbly beach. There’s no harbour at Hastings and the only protection from the water is the high beach. From the photos you’ll notice she has a drop-in rudder that is housed through a slot in the aft deck. Her propeller is forward of the rudder, high enough to be clear of the beach. Sails are not used on the full-size boats today, but this one has a loose-footed standing lugsail bent to a very long yard. This sail would be useful when running and perhaps while reaching, but because of her shallow draught and absence of a keel or centreboard she would not go to windward. I’ve seen the boat underway and I can vouch she has a powerful Yanmar diesel engine that can push her at around 5 knots. Basically she’s more of motorboat than a sailing boat. I think she could be good fun, especially for a person who would like to do a bit of sea fishing.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Pub Signs

The Campaign to Protect Rural England conducted a recent poll to discover the ‘Icon of England’ and surprisingly the number one icon was ‘The pictorial Pub sign’. There must be thousands of them throughout the land, but with pub closures increasing every year, they could become rare. The history of the origin of the pup sign is well known, but for those who are not familiar with it here’s how they came into being. In ancient Italy at the time of the invading Romans (A.D. 43 onwards), wherever wine was sold, vine leaves where hung outside as a sign to let people know. In England the local brew was ale, and on account of there being few vines, because of the unfavourable climate, ‘Tabernae’ would hang small evergreen bushes outside their taverns on long poles or stakes to advertise their ale. Many years later in the 12th century the naming of pubs and inns became common, and as the general populace was illiterate, signs were hung outside premises as a means of identification and to advertise their presence. By 1393 there were official Ale Tasters, and King Richard 11 passed an Act making it compulsory for pubs to display signs for the tasters. Names and signs changed with the times, but they often were associated with local features, for example the Hare and Hounds, the Plough and Sail, the Royal Oak, etc..

One pub sign I know which is truly iconic is, ‘The Bull’. Whenever I see it I am reminded of the golden calf worshipped by the Israelites when they thought Moses had died or abandoned them on the mountain. (Exodus 32:1-5) Icon worship exists today, because unwittingly we set people on pedestals, or place prized possessions foremost in our priorities.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

National Service

Yes, I'm there somewhere.

Army Book 111 Page 1
Surname and Initials A Name
Army No. 25171823
Group No. 53.12
Discharge from Whole-Time and Entry upon Part-Time Military Service of a National Service Soldier
Designation of HQ or TA Unit to which the soldier will report
459 LAA Regt. RA/TA
Drill Hall, Tilehurst Rd., Reading, Berkshire.
Date due to report 29th August 57.
So reads page 1 of the discharge document of a National Service conscript in 1957. Mine was very similar. I served nearly 2 years at a Royal Artillery training camp near Rhyl in North Wales. At the beginning of my service I was posted to Oswestry to a training camp where the first fortnight was absolute hell. The whole exercise was a systematic programme of indoctrination calculated to make new conscripts obedient, so that they would jump to a command without question. Absolute obedience to authority was to become a knee-jerk reaction. Looking back on the experience I can understand why this had to be, but for a conscript who didn’t want to be there, it hurt.

On the front line there was no time for debate or hesitation, neither was there a place for individuality. Hence, everyone was made to obey commands and wear uniforms. Hair was cut short, and no one was allowed to have a beard or a moustache. Marching drill was part of the process of inculcating group obedience, and it was also a means of encouraging corporate identity, coupled with pride of performance.

Individual obedience was achieved by making new conscripts do certain tasks, irrespective of sensible reasons for not doing them; for example, we all had to make the pimpled surface on the toecaps of our boots so smooth and shiny that we could see our faces in them. To do this, we had to use a hot iron to smooth the leather before rubbing boot polish on it. Next, we had to spit on the polish and apply more polish repeatedly, until a thick layer was built up. Finally, it had to be rubbed lightly with a clean duster until the required mirror-like surface was obtained. Uniforms had to be ironed until the creases were as sharp as knife blades. To make trouser creases straight and sharp, small lead weights on lengths of string were placed in the bottoms of the trousers where they hung over the gaiters. Gaiters and belts had to have Blanco rubbed into them to keep them clean and smart. Brass buckles, buttons and badges had to be polished with Brasso. Berets were worn on the head when the soldier was out-of-doors, and they had to be worn straight across the forehead, but the right side of beret had to be pulled over the ear.

Under this regime, depersonalization and unquestioning obedience was achieved within two weeks, after which one was allowed to go home for a weekend, before reporting for duty at a specialized training unit. In my case, I was trained for 3 months to be a wireless operator for the Royal Artillery.

On the whole, I disliked being in the army as a conscript who was essentially a pacifist, but the experience was not totally negative. I learned to stand on my own two feet, and through it I gained independence from my family. I also learned to be responsible for myself and to accept responsibility for those who were placed under my care.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Thank You

Thank you to my followers!

My Blog pseudonym is ‘Mind Drifter’, and those 50 or so regular visitors to these pages know that’s a fair description of what’s on offer. Whatever ‘pops up’ in my mind is what you get! More often than not, a theme for the day is shaped by what I see, hear, do, or experience. Thoughts about what affects me most, either in my mind or in my body, are crystallized, summarized and expressed here for my readers to digest. By using this medium of the Blog I rid myself of trappings that may clog me up and stop me going forward with anticipation and excitement for new experiences, understandings and challenges. By articulating my thoughts, concerns, hopes, fears, longings and beliefs, I feel that I may find sympathetic listeners, even lurkers who may take onboard and perhaps develop my themes. With humility I apologise if some of you believe I’m opinionated and that I do not research my subjects sufficiently before coming to conclusions. I am always open to opposing or differing views backed up with rational, objective explanations, and in certain instances I am happy to go along with subjective viewpoints, because all things are not always measurable, and emotions count.

Expressing my views by means of a Blog is sufficient for me, with or without a readership, but having regular followers enjoying the menu makes it that much more satisfying and worthwhile If there are listeners out there in Cyberspace, then I am not just shouting or whispering to a void or an uncomprehending galaxy of stars, planets and gases. Intelligent friends or aliens make all the difference. So whether you are a friend, an alien or an enemy, thank you for coming back time and again. I love you. (Matthew 5:44)

P.S. Why not chip in with your thoughts too by making an occasional comment?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Drowning Tragedies

This photo of the Quayside by the Ferry Road slipway at Hullbridge gives no indication that within a week, two men have drowned here. The first was 21 year old Michael Cheek while trying to swim across the River and the second was 70 year old George Sargent when his car plunged into the water after travelling down the slipway. Needless to say these deaths have reminded me of the need for vigilance whenever I’m near or on the water. Over the years yachtsmen have drowned in the locality, always when using their dinghies between the shore and their yachts. A little further down the River Crouch at South Fambridge I was once knocked out my dinghy by the wake of a passing motor yacht, and it was with great difficulty that I managed to get back into the dinghy. The ‘driver’ of the motor yacht could not have been aware of my plight, as he continued ‘driving’ at great speed without a glance behind and without a care in the world. To add insult to injury, my outboard engine was lost to the depths, never to be seen again.

These drowning tragedies will remain with me for ever, and if any of the relatives or friends of the deceased read this, I want to express my sympathy to them for their loss.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Painted Lady Butterfly

The Painted Lady butterfly is a beautiful migrant that could possibly be found anywhere in the British Isles during the summer months, and this July of 2009, thousands of them arrived on our shores from Morocco. At the front of my house there’s a large bowl of miniature yellow Chrysanthemums that attract all manner of flying insects, but for me, the most fascinating and mesmerizing of them is a particular Painted Lady butterfly that lacks a mate. She or he appears to have taken up permanent residence on the flowers, and for the last three days this placid, delicate creature has been sipping nectar while patiently waiting for an attractive mate. Hopefully a suitor will appear in time before a hungry predator arrives on the scene, or the wonderfully ornate nymphalid dies of a broken heart.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Unquestioning Obedience

Obedience is almost a taboo word today, and yet without countless acts of obedience there would be catastrophic consequences. The simple act of disobeying the rule of the road to drive on the left or the right according to the laws of the land where you live would bring carnage. Imagine the consequences of not obeying the rules of seamanship that separate shipping on the high seas, especially in busy, but confined waterways such as the English Channel. These rules of safe passage are obeyed voluntarily by those in charge of vehicles on the road, and by shipmasters in charge of vessels on the high seas. Commonsense prevails over stubborn wills when it comes to self-preservation or respect for the life of others; not only is it commonsense to obey such rules, but obedience under these circumstances is deemed right and the only acceptable practice.

From the moment we are born we come under those in authority, i.e., our parents who are responsible for our welfare. They subject us to rules for our benefit and for themselves, and this is the pattern from family to the society in which we live and within the world as a whole. In Europe all citizens are subject to local laws and the laws of the country in which they reside. Europe in turn subscribes to the United Nations whose purpose is to promote peaceful cooperation between countries and support law and order throughout the world-wide community; yet, within this pattern of law and order there are always mavericks and disobedient people who will not obey those in authority.

The concept of authority and submission to it does not go down well with self-willed man, particularly in these times of supposed equality and equal worth as defined by the Human Rights Act of 1998. At the heart of the problem of disobedience is self-will, and that can be traced back to Eve in the Garden of Eden when she disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit.* Since then, all of her offspring who survived the world-wide flood through the family of Noah have inherited her trait of self-will, despite the obedience of Noah to God.+

*Genesis 3:6 +Genesis 7:5

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Teddy Bear’s Picnic

My Teddy Bears at their Picnic

You’ll never believe it, but I went to a Teddy Bear’s Picnic today. Yes, I know it’s not July 10th when every teddy bear turns itself into a replica, and by magic the real ones go to the woods to meet every other member of the Teddy family. You see, if they weren’t magic they couldn’t fool their owners who love them to bits, pull their ears off, suck their noses, twist their legs and arms and poke their eyes out. By playing this magic on baby Johnny or Sue, their tiny friends Bill and Ben and every little boy or girl who loves them, they can escape to the secret place in the woods where little Teddies are really happy.

All cuddly bears, whether they are stuffed Steiffs with earrings in their ears, or Republican Michtoms from Brooklyn, or posh Stuffington bears - even Winnie the Pooh - All, without exception, know and can sing the Teddy Bear’s Picnic song. Furthermore, none of them are naughty, because only good toy bears: pink, white, black, brown, yellow, green, purple or blue, can join the magic party in the woods. It doesn’t matter if they are rich or poor, posh or lowly, big or small; made of alpaca, felt, mohair, wool or polyester; all good Teddies join the fun and play hide and seek in the woods. Under the trees and out of sight they gather together to chat and eat the most marvellous foods. There are cheesecakes, gingerbreads, chocolate drops; jellies, cream cakes, sugar drop cookies; ice cold fruit drinks, orange juice and squash; banana splits and all manner of gooey foods. After the feast they dance and shout and play wonderful games like leapfrog, roly-poly, statues, musical toadstools, guess who, pig in the middle and tag.

Before they know it they have fallen asleep on the woodland flowers and there is silence as the dark shadows envelope them, but soon they awake to find they are back home again and the magic is complete. Henry Hall – Teddy Bear’s Picnic Song

• If you go down in the woods today
You're sure of a big surprise.
If you go down in the woods today
You'd better go in disguise.

For ev'ry bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain, because
Today's the day the teddy bears have their picnic.

Ev'ry teddy bear who's been good
Is sure of a treat today.
There's lots of marvelous things to eat
And wonderful games to play.

Beneath the trees where nobody sees
They'll hide and seek as long as they please
That's the way the teddy bears have their picnic.

Picnic time for teddy bears
The little teddy bears are having a lovely time today
Watch them, catch them unawares
And see them picnic on their holiday.

See them gaily gad about
They love to play and shout;
They never have any cares;

At six o'clock their mummies and daddies,
Will take them home to bed,
Because they're tired little teddy bears.

If you go down in the woods today
You'd better not go alone.
It's lovely down in the woods today
But safer to stay at home.

For ev'ry bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain, because
Today's the day the teddy bears have their picnic.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tree Trimming


Pruning, trimming and lopping of trees are similar necessities, but they differ in degree. Lopping is the drastic business of cutting off branches; whereas trimming involves the removal of their extremities, and pruning is more selective, perhaps for shaping a tree, stimulating growth, or providing space and light. Today I took the opportunity of fine weather to trim the tree that grows on my front lawn. September is a good time to do it, because leaves naturally fall from deciduous trees as growth slows down and sap ceases flowing in preparation for the winter months.

I am not an arboriculturist, nor am I a tree surgeon, nor do I have a City and Guilds certificate proving I am a qualified NPTC operative capable of carrying out tree work to British Standard 3998, but I have kept trees under control on my property for more years than I care to remember. As I was engaged in the process of trimming my tree, one of my neighbours asked if I was wearing a harness, and although it was patently obvious I was not, she also asked if I was wearing a safety helmet. I politely replied that I was not wearing either, and concluded she was making casual conversation for the sake of neighbourly friendship, or she was blind, but concerned for my welfare.

For further distraction, when I was at the top of the ladder straining with the secateurs in one hand and a walking stick in the other, which I was using to bring a branch nearer for a surgical nip, my wife leaned out of an upper window and asked if I was enjoying myself. I told her that when I was a kid I used to climb big trees to the highest point I would dare, simply for the buzz and the view. I assured her that standing at the top of the ladder, while the wind swayed the tree, me and the ladder, was almost as much fun now as when I was a risk-taking 12 year old.

Unscathed after two hours of trimming, and flushed with adrenaline, I sat back and admired my handiwork. The exercise of climbing the ladder, raking up and bagging the trimmings and taking the lot to the local recycling dump had brought a glow to my face and gladdened my heart. My wallet was just as full as when I started, and for another year I had avoided paying my local tree surgeon £60.00 to do the job.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ferro-cement Boat

I noticed this ‘concrete’ boat tucked away in the salting at Hullbridge, and I couldn’t resist taking photos of her. It’s obvious she’s not been sailed for a while. She must date back to the 70s when many Ferro-cement boats were built, mostly by amateurs. The huge radar housing on the doghouse is typical of the time; likewise the outdated, rather large GPS antenna is reminiscent of that era. She has a tabernacle for lowering her mast, but the permanent framework for the cockpit tent would prevent it from being lowered to the horizontal position. The doghouse provides excellent cover for the crew from the sun, wind and rain. I like the useful hand rails along the cabin top, and the side decks make it easy for the crew to reach the foredeck. I think the permanent back runners should be modified to have a quick release mechanisms so that the mainsail can be squared off when the boat is running. Both foresails have to be hanked to their stays - roller reefing would be far more satisfactory. I like the trough at the base of the mast for stowing the halyards. The fore hatch would be useful for ventilating the boat when she’s at anchor, but it is rather too small for the crew to enter or leave the boat. Her owner has slapped grey paint over everything, presumably for protecting the vessel from the elements, but it doesn’t make her look attractive. The general state of the boat leads me to believe she may be for sale. My imagination runs riot when considering what could be done with her, and if I wanted a large project, I would make enquiries at Brandy Hole Yacht Club to find out who owns her.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


We all think we know what time is because we refer to it on a daily basis. Without a clock we could not synchronize our comings and goings. For sure, we use watches or clocks to help us start work on time, or we use them for prearranged meetings, and without synchronized timepieces we could not be certain of success. I’m a frequent clock-watcher, forever looking at my wristwatch. I never like to be late for an appointment, and I even regulate the time when get out of bed and when I return by checking my watch. Without a means of accurately knowing local time I would have to refer to ‘nature’s clock’, i.e., the sun, and as the sun rises and sets at different times throughout the year, I could not accurately rely upon it.

In antiquity sundials* were used to tell the time. Even as far back as 5,100 years ago astronomers may have constructed Stonehenge as a precise timepiece recording the time of sunrise on the morning of the summer solstice. The regular periodic motion of the earth and moon in relation to the sun and other planets give a sense of time in terms of seasons, movements of the tides etc. A complete circuit of the sun by the earth takes on average just over 365 days, while each day consists of 24 hours. The number of days the earth takes to revolve around the sun is determined by the laws of the Universe, whereas the unit of time known as an hour is an abstract division of a period of time devised by man; so is the division of the hour into 60 minutes and minutes into 60 seconds. Without the invention of a mechanical timepiece there would be no accurate way of recording periods of time; hence the invention of the hourglass.

The very first mechanical clock was devised by Taqi al-Din at the Istanbul observatory of al-Dan in about 1580 and it was capable of measuring intervals of hours, minutes and seconds, but it wasn’t until the 17th century in Europe that a clock capable of recording intervals of seconds was built in Switzerland. The use of pendulums was the breakthrough needed for accurately measuring seconds. In more recent times the invention of very accurate atomic clocks has facilitated the establishment of an internationally agreed time. The atomic clock can maintain a continuous stable time scale, known as International Atomic Time (TAI), but for civil use, Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) is the preferred system which incorporates ‘leap seconds’ based on actual rotations of the earth in relation to the ‘mean sun’.

Despite knowing how to record intervals of time, we cannot agree how to define time, because much depends on our understanding of it from our viewpoint. Do we interpret time mathematically, philosophically, in terms of astronomical age of the stars and planets or light years etc.? Is time continuous without end, embracing the past, present and future? Do we visualize it as string-like in nature, separate or joined units, spiral or wavelike? Do we comprehend it as a dimension or a spatial volume or a mass? Do we believe it’s a warped variable incapable of being measured?

Well, my internal time clock tells me it’s time to go to bed; my eyelids are drooping and I’m falling asleep. Goodnight!

*2 Kings 20:11 (The sundial of Ahaz, about 680 BC)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

From Little Acorns

From small to large is a general growth pattern of living organisms. As with the mustard seed*, so it is with the acorn. Both the mustard tree and the oak tree start their lives as germinated seeds which develop into saplings before becoming mature trees capable of reproducing themselves. In truth, the mustard tree is more like a shrub that grows to a height of about 2 metres, but both arboreal follow the same principle of growth, i.e., with age, they increase in size. Like other trees, they support and provide shelter for many species, but the gigantic oak surpasses most in this respect.

An oak tree can live up to 200 years, and exceptionally for 1,000 years, by which time its trunk may be 45 feet thick near the base. Being monoecious it produces male catkins that each contains several million pollen grains for dispersal by the wind for fertilizing thousands of inconspicuous female flowers via their receptive stigma. These fertilized flowers are transformed into acorns which ripen in the autumn ready for a new cycle of life to begin. A visiting Jay or Magpie could carry one such acorn a mile or more before burying it where the conditions may be right for germination.

The longevity and size of an oak tree provides a secure habitat for hundreds of organism and insects and therefore it has an important role within the immediate ecosystem. Many species rely on oak trees for their survival; one such creature is a wasp (Biorhiza pallida) that interacts with the tree to produce a gall in the form of an oak apple. Spangle galls are also induced on catkins and the undersides of leaves by asexual wasps, while communities of parasitic and predatory insects thrive on the tree. Moth larvae and caterpillars feed on the leaves and the Oak Bark Beetle burrows in the wood. Nut Weevils lay their eggs in the acorns and the larvae pupate when the acorns fall to the ground. Spiders take advantage of the supporting framework of leaves and twigs by spinning their webs between them, while other camouflaged arachnids wait hidden in bark crevices. In turn, birds such as the Chaffinch, Tree Creeper and the Wood Warbler feed on the insects.

Unfortunately, oak trees are not protected unless they are subject to a preservation order by a local Planning Department, but if an order is infringed the offender may be required to pay a penalty of up to £50,000 per tree or even time in jail. By right oak trees belong to the landowner who may do what they like with them.

Anon: “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.”

*Matthew 13:31

Monday, September 14, 2009

Paradise Found

Jane Austin: “To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment.”

Amos Bronson Alcott: “Who loves a garden still his Eden keeps, Perennial pleasures plants, and wholesome harvest reaps.”

Germaine Greer: “A garden is the best alternative therapy.”

Benjamin Disraeli: “How fair is a garden amid toils and passions of existence.”

Dorothy Frances Gurney: “The kiss of the sun for pardon, The song of the birds for mirth, One is nearer God’s heart in a garden Than anywhere else on earth.”

Thomas Jefferson: “Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God.”

Hanna Rion: “The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses.”

Abram L. Urban: “In my garden there is a large place for sentiment. My garden of flowers is also my garden of thoughts and dreams. The thoughts grow as freely as the flowers, and the dreams are as beautiful.”

F. Frankfort Moore: “I think that if ever a mortal heard the voice of God it would be in a garden at the cool of the day.”

John Ruskin: “There is material enough in a single flower for the ornament of a score of cathedrals.”

Francis Bacon: “Gardening is the purest of human pleasures.”

George Bernard Shaw: “The best place to seek God is in a garden. You can dig for Him there.”

Anon: “Gardening adds years to your life and life to your years.”

Anon: “Cares melt when you kneel in your garden.”

Holy Spirit: “And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden: and there He put the man whom He had formed.” (Genesis 2:8)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

‘Just Right’ for Sailing

For the greatest enjoyment, things have to be ‘just right’ and yesterday all the factors fell into place to bring about a pleasurable experience. Good weather, good company, teamwork, a common purpose and unique circumstances combined to make a fulfilling few hours afloat for me and my crew.

High water at Burnham-on-Crouch was for 1823, which meant low water would be at 1213; accordingly we planned to arrive at our Rice and Cole mooring by 0940 for sailing at 1000. The idea was to take the last of the ebb towards Maplin Sand while tacking to seaward for as long as we could before the wind and tide would swish us back to Burnham. Unusually for this year, an area of high pressure was slap over the British Isles causing the wind to blow from the North Sea straight into the entrance of the River Crouch, and with the tide ebbing against the wind there was a fair old chop.

All went to plan. To begin with, as we left the mooring under power, there was a good Force 3 from just North of East. As soon as we were clear of the moorings we made sail and turned off the Honda outboard. In anything above force 2, ‘Ladybird’ always sails better with both sails reefed; therefore I put in several turns on the main and rolled the Genoa to resemble a working jib. Despite the rough water, we made excellent progress to windward. We hadn’t seen so many yachts out and about as there were on Saturday morning. All of them were bigger and more powerful than our tiny Seawych cruiser, and needless to say, we were overhauled by a few of them. When in close proximity to other yachts we waved to their crews, and apart from one rather large yacht, we were greeted by enthusiastic reciprocal gestures. Everyone was having a great time in the sunshine and invigorating wind.

By eleven fifteen it was time for Mars Bars and coffee and with three of us aboard we took turns at helming. For me it was doubly pleasurable, because I could see that what my crew had learnt over the summer was being put into practice. I could leave the boat to them and feel quite confident we would not run aground or crash into another boat. They could trim the sails, luff or release the mainsheet in stronger gusts, tack and gybe; they could even heave the boat to. I could be confident they would be able to pick up our mooring or set the anchor.

Between 1230 and 1300 we took turns at the helm while others ate lunch and guzzled soft drinks. As I expected, the wind increased to almost a Force 5 and slightly backed. This was due to the sun warming the landmass to the West causing the convection of air from above the cooler sea to the East, but because the tide was flooding the water did not get any rougher. A further reduction of sail was necessary, and despite our efforts at gaining ground to windward, we were gradually moving stern first towards Burnham. Our options were to stick at it, anchor, or explore the entrance of the River Roach. We chose the latter, and in a short time we found ourselves hurtling past the Branklet Spit buoy into the River Roach, but prudence made me test sail the boat in the opposite direction to ascertain if we could make over the flooding tide and as I suspected ‘Ladybird’ was on the wind, just edging forwards.

Back in the Crouch, wind and tide overcame us, leaving us with the option of anchoring or returning to our mooring for a cup of tea. Needless to say we chose tea. The brand new Honda 2.3 started at the first pull, so that we could head into the wind and take in sail. My crew faultlessly picked up the mooring, and while the youngest brewed tea the others made the boat ready for being left at her mooring. Wanting to enjoy the moment, we took our time before rowing the dinghy to the Rice and Cole pontoon.

All in all, things had turned out ‘just right’ because circumstances had come together for all of us to have a time of pleasurable companionship afloat.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Greg Kolodziejzyk

When you consider what Greg Kolodziejzyk has achieved during his lifetime, you will conclude that he is quite exceptional. Retired from being a successful business entrepreneur in his mid-30s he turned to competitive athletics to improve his health. Altogether he completed 12 Ironman triathlons, gaining 4th place in his division of the 2006 Arizona Ironman triathlon, which qualified him to compete in the World Championships at Kona, Hawaii. In the summer of the same year he pedalled his streamlined bicycle, Critical Power, 247 miles in 24 hours to earn his first world record. He then set his sights on the 24 hour distance record for a human-powered vessel on water, and in 2008 he pedalled a super-lightweight trimaran a distance of 152.33 miles to break Carter Johnson’s record when he paddled a kayak 150.34 miles.

Greg now wants to establish a world speed record for pedalling a propeller powered vessel from Vancouver to Hawaii. Meanwhile he is keeping himself fit by running ultra-marathons, and with the help of the designer of his boat he has almost finished building her. ‘WITHIN’ is a large pedal-powered canoe with a small keel and a cabin. He wants to start the 4,500 kilometres voyage in June, 2010, and he hopes to complete it in less than 80 days, and if possible, half that time.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Roz Savage

What can I say about this extraordinary woman that has not already been said? I doubt there are few people who watch TV, listen to the radio, or surf the Net who have not heard of her ocean rowing exploits. She first hit the headlines for completing the Atlantic Rowing Race on March, 14th, 2006, being the only female entrant in the solo class. Despite unusually bad weather and the failure of all four of her oars, she completed the race in 103 days. Remarkably she maintained a web log, almost to the end, when her satellite phone failed. In total, after leaving La Gomera in the Canary Islands, she rowed 3000 miles in her 24-foot boat before arriving at Antigua in the West Indies.

Seeking further adventure she embarked on a mission to become the first woman to row the Pacific, and on the 25th May, 2008 she set out from San Francisco bound for Hawaii where she arrived at Waikiki on 1st September, 2008, taking just over 99 days. The total distance covered during this first stage of her voyage was 2,598 nautical miles. Almost to the day, a year later after embarking on the first stage, she set off from Waikiki on 24th May, 2009. Her intention was to row to Tuvalu, but adverse winds and currents forced her to settle for South Tarawa, the Capital of the Republic of Kiribati. This is a tiny island just 60 or so miles north of the Equator and 173 degrees east of the Greenwich meridian.

Arriving there on 5th September, 2009, she received an ecstatic reception from the people of Tarawa who highly values her campaign to reduce global carbon emissions, especially in view of the fact that many of the low-lying islands of Kiribati will be lost, as Polar ice melts because of global warming. Indeed, this highlighting of the need for action now to minimize global warming is a prime reason for her rowing adventures. As a high-profile motivational speaker, communicator and a writer, she is in a better position than most to encourage us to do something before it is too late. Her motto is, ‘One stroke at a time’, and in effect, many small ‘strokes’ achieve a great deal; therefore each one of us can do little things to reduce our carbon footprint, perhaps by cycling to work instead of using the car, or walking to our local shop, recycling our recyclables, and turning down the central heating by a degree or two.

The final stage of Roz’s epic voyage may be the hardest, because of the need to combat unfavourable equatorial currents, winds and the difficulty of navigating through the Great Barrier Reef to the mainland of Australia. Many of us, who vicariously follow her thought-provoking web logs, can’t wait to watch her progress and pray for her safety as she battles with the mighty Pacific Ocean.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Jessica Watson

Vibrant, intelligent, confident, highly motivated, and a female Australian; this is Jessica Watson, aged 16. She’s not your average adolescent, but a girl advanced beyond her years; a young lady who in terms of maturity could be mistaken for being older. Well-known in Australia for her ambition to be the youngest person to circumnavigate the world, she set sail aboard, ‘Ella’s Pink Lady’, from Mooloolaba, on the morning of September 8th 2009. Her intention was to have a shakedown cruise to Sydney, but within 24 hours she reported that her yacht had collided with a bulk carrier.

After safely returning to port she was undaunted and unfazed. She thought the incident was an experience from which she could learn, and she was pleased with the way in which she had handled the situation. At a press conference, she praised the Water Police and Maritime Service for their assistance. On being questioned if she would continue her round the world marathon, she said she was even more determined to do it. Her calm attitude and measured self-analysis speaks well of her character and resilience. Damage to the starboard side of her yacht and a broken mast, will ensure her departure will be delayed for several days, if not weeks.

In these times of instant fame because of the rapid dissemination of news, via the electronic media, Jessica has become a household name, particularly among the world-wide sailing fraternity. This unfortunate incident, at the start of her voyage, has brought much publicity and pledges of assistance from her sponsors and friends who show every confidence in her ability to succeed. Famous circumnavigators Dee Caffari and Robin Knox-Johnston have neither criticised nor encouraged Jessica, but they have asked the questions, “Where does this record-seeking stop?” and, “Will the next aspirant be as young as 12, or even 10?” In the pipeline there are two potential contestants: Zac Sunderland’s Californian sister, Abby, aged 15, and a Dutch girl, Laura Dekker, who is not yet 14.

Young Circumnavigator Record Holders so far:
Jesse Martin is an 18-year-old Australian who in 1999 became the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe solo, non-stop and unassisted. His record still stands.
Zac Sunderland is a Californian, who at the age of 17 years and 198 days became the youngest person to sail solo around the globe. He was the first to do it under the age of 18. He completed his circumnavigation on 16 July 2009, and his record stood for six weeks.
Mike Perham, from Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, aged 17 years and 164 days, captured Sunderland’s solo record when he crossed the finishing line off the Lizard Point, Cornwall on 27th August, 2009.

Jessica Watson’s Web Sites:

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Post Boxes

In England, if we live in a village, town or city, we take it for granted that there will be a Royal Mail post box within walking distance. We can also expect there will be a minimum of one daily collection, except on Sundays, Bank holidays and Christmas Day . We grumble and grind our teeth when the cost of posting a letter goes up, and we vow to use emails wherever possible. In these times of change and financial restraint, Royal Mail Holdings plc is undergoing a severe testing and the employees are relieved that the Bill in Parliament last June to partially privatise the limited company was postponed due to the recession. Last year (2008-9), the combined holdings of Royal Mail made a profit of £321m*, but that’s nothing to clap hands about; they will need to do much better.

Situations are for ever changing, and despite the fact that the ‘Royal’ postal service can trace its beginning back to the time of Henry VIII, there’s no guarantee that Royal Mail will dominate the delivery industry, or even survive, as aggressive competitors undercut and increase their stranglehold. In protest against modernization and changing practices, postal workers have been on strike in parts of London, causing huge stockpiles of mail, and there are warnings of more strikes to come. The crippling effects of such actions will inevitably have repercussions, such as loss of revenue and loss of customers who will find other mail delivery providers. Therefore take a look at the post boxes in your area, because they could disappear, just as the old red phone boxes have gone for ever. Where I live, I can choose from any of 4 Royal Mail post boxes, all within easy walking distance, one being less than 100 yards from my front door, but for how long will this be?

*( )

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Mute Swans

Hullbridge Swans

Mute Swans can be found almost anywhere in the British Isles, with the exception of the more rugged parts of Scotland, central Wales and the moors of South West England. They are usually tolerant of humans, except when breeding, being especially protective of their young. When nesting they are highly territorial, and I remember witnessing a ferocious attack by one swan when another entered its territory. The attacker remorselessly bit the neck of the intruder until the retreating bird climbed the canal bank into a bramble bush.

Soon after I built my first boat, an 11 foot canvas canoe, I was paddling her on the River Tone when a swan flew directly towards me, and my only defence was to fend off with my paddle, but just short of hitting me with its beak, the bird applied the brakes. Maintaining an aggressive stance with wings arched, it made hissing noises and followed me for several minutes until I got away. I later heard that a canoeist at the same spot had capsized and drowned while being attacked by a swan. Since that time I have always been wary of Mute Swans, but apart from the occasional hissing, I’ve never been attacked again while boating.

At Hullbridge there’s a large colony of Mute Swans, and one pair has five cygnets, which are always well guarded by the adults who keep them on the fringes of the flock. Parents and Grandparents bring children to see and feed the birds with bread. If they knew better, they would not do it, because swans naturally eat water plants, insects and snails. The Hullbridge swans congregate at the slipways either side of the River where they are most likely to be fed by visitors.

The Hullbridge colony is large, but the largest of approximately 850 Mute Swans is at Abbotsbury, in Dorset. I believe this is the only managed swannery in the UK. The Fleet Lagoon where the swans congregate is uniquely sheltered by Chesil Beach and it has been a haven for swans for at least 600 years. Benedictine Monks of St Peter’s Monastery ate the swans as a ready source of meat. At the dissolution of the Monastery by King Henry VIII, the Strangways family took over the management of the Swannery and successive generations have maintained it. King Henry also made a law that the owners of swans were to mark their cygnets by making nicks on their beaks, and any unmarked birds would become Crown property. To this day, Mute Swans are ‘Royal’ birds, and as such, they are protected by law; offenders may be fined up to £5,000, and even be imprisoned!

Monday, September 07, 2009

Mulberry Houseboat

Since moving to Essex in 1972, I have enjoyed walking along the paths either side of the River Crouch. The stretch on the south side of the River, eastwards from Essex Marina, has always been a favourite, and I can remember seeing there an abandoned concrete barge left to die on the mudflats. I wondered if it had been prepared for the D-Day landings on the Normandy beaches in 1944, but had never been used. A good many years later, I noticed this hulk had miraculously turned up at the quayside near Prior’s Boatyard. Within a few months it sprouted a superstructure, which made it resemble a mini Noah’s Ark without the animals*. Eventually the barge was moved to a mooring at West Quay to join other houseboats, where it has remained in quite an enviable position with views over the River to the wetlands of Wallasea Island.

I have often wondered what it would belike to live aboard a houseboat, and recently a friend of mine bought an old fishing boat that had been converted into one. This increased my curiosity. Depending on the location and quality of the boat, prices can vary considerably, perhaps from £30,000 to £500,000. Moving from bricks and mortar into an ancient wooden boat, such as my friend’s, would require a new mindset. Maintaining such a boat could be very expensive and time-consuming. Now and again she will require work on her bottom, just to remain afloat. If she’s on a tidal mooring where she takes the ground at low water, the occupants will feel the motion at each rise and fall of tide. Then there’s the question of security, whereby mooring lines, chains and anchors will need maintaining. There’s no escape from Council Tax, mooring fees and perhaps payments for leases and harbour dues. Location can be important for ease of access to services such as electricity, oil or gas for heating and cooking, sewage etc..

So what are the advantages of living aboard a houseboat? Proximity to the water must be the feature most liked by those who do it. How wonderful it must it be to look over water every day and be entertained by what happens; for every moment is different. In a location such as Burnham, yachts pass by, dinghies race, wading birds feed at the water’s edge, sun reflections sparkle from the water, changing clouds blown by the wind move endlessly across the sky, and at the gangway there’s a footpath to nearby shops, open parkland, a railway station and car parking by arrangement with the local yacht club. Yes, it’s not all idyllic, because during the dark winter months, gales may lash waves against the hull, the wind may howl, and opening a window or door will invite a tornado into the living room.

*Please note that the Burnham Mulberry Ark now has pigs in residence on the stern deck! (See photo)

Sunday, September 06, 2009

I’m always on the lookout for ‘different’ boats, particularly sailing boats. While enjoying a sunny walk at Burnham-on-Crouch, I happened to arrive at the Marina, where I saw a very strange boat. Standing beside this odd vessel there were two fellows chatting about racing yachts. I half listened to their enthusiastic chatter, while automatically photographing details of the boat. Despite the fact that my mobile phone camera wouldn’t do it justice, I continued clicking away while berating myself for not remembering my Sony digital camera.

The more I examined the boat, the more I realised I was looking at something very special. She was not a sailing boat, but an unusual, purpose-built rowing boat. She was not a sleek rowing machine, as a streamlined single sculling boat; instead she had a very large fore cabin resembling the body of a gigantic ladybird. Adjoined to the cabin was a cockpit with little freeboard, where the crew could sit on a sliding seat when rowing. Lastly there was a streamlined, aft cabin, presumably for stores. Obviously, she was an ocean-going craft, and appropriately, she was painted in bright red and white for high visibility. I noticed the boat’s name, ‘TransAtlanticSolo’.

Immediately, I knew what this was about. She would be used in the Woodvale Challenge Race across the Atlantic from La Gomera to Antigua, starting this December. A few words with the owner, Charlie Pritchard, confirmed my belief. I remarked that the huge fore cabin would act as a sail when running with the trade winds. Unlike other ocean rowing boats, her small cabin was at the stern. I believe Charlie will sleep in the fore cabin. All this makes sense, even when riding to a parachute anchor during a storm, because of the additional buoyancy at the bow and protection provided to the rower, if he should need to be in the cockpit. There would be an advantage when running obliquely downwind, because there would be less of tendency to gripe. I am not clear how ‘TransAtlanticSolo’ will be steered, because she doesn’t appear to have a rudder. Steering by oars alone could place an extra burden on the rower, because of having to compensate by pulling harder on the leeward side.

Charlie is no ordinary person, because he has a huge appetite for competitive adventure and a proven track record in sailing and running. Besides competing in the Marathon des Sables, a 150 mile desert running race, he has been highly involved with the America's Cup, Admiral's Cup, Whitbread and Olympic yachting campaigns. He is under no illusion about the enormity of the task of rowing 3,000 miles in approximately 70 days - almost 43 miles a day. Entirely alone, he will have to cope with all the ocean throws at him, and in between, row, row, row, sleep and eat when he can. His motivation is not fame. Instead, he rows the Atlantic to pay a tribute to a very special friend by the name of Sean, who after a brave and arduous fight, succumbed to renal failure. For that reason, Charlie hopes to raise £100,000 towards a new renal unit at Addenbrookes Children’s Hospital.

Here are a few links for you to learn more about Charlie and to give him your support.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Union Jack

With a somewhat tattered halyard, the union jack flies to an ungainly pole resembling a plumber’s pipe above my parish town hall. As soldiers fall in Afghanistan, others are brought home in coffins draped with the union flag. Ceremonially they are taken through Wootten Bassett where other heroes have passed before. Widows, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and friends grieve as yet more lives are lost. There is no end to this conflict and no lasting peace. What price must be paid before the killing ends? Gordon Brown today (Friday, 4th September, 2009) tried to justify the cost of human life by claiming it was necessary to finish the job started back in 2001, to ensure the safety of our land. He believes the Taliban can be defeated, and locally trained personnel, both military and civil, will be able to keep the peace, maintaining freedom and democracy.

When Gordon Brown took office he said he would do his best to serve the people of this country and give them a vision for the future. No doubt he is doing his best, but where is the vision for the future? He is not the most charismatic leader, but charisma is not the issue; leadership and vision are essential ingredients if our nation is to go forward with a common purpose of unification, rather than dissolution and disintegration. Is it too late to reverse the devolutionary process? Today Alex Salmon of the Scottish National Party gave details of a White Paper to be launched on St Andrew’s day in November with a proposition for a referendum on independent government for the Scots. Meanwhile, certain members of the Welsh Assembly are considering more devolution by seeking an independent criminal justice system. Mr Paul Flynn of Newport West considers devolution to be unstoppable, irrespective of Westminster government.

From 1921, when the greater part of Ireland left the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was renamed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the union jack has continued to be a symbol of national unity. Originally the flags of England, Scotland and Ireland were combined to form a national flag on 1st January 1801. It was known as the Union Flag. Under Henry VIII, in 1536, the act of union joined England and Wales, which some consider is a principality, rather than a country. No doubt many Welsh would disagree, as the Welsh are identified collectively by culture, language and by a border; furthermore, they have never completely been defeated by any invading army. Their flag is composed of a Red Dragon against a green and white background. It is thought that the invading Romans brought the dragon emblem to Wales.

With complete devolution there would no longer be a need for a Union flag; neither would there be an accepted symbol of national unity, or a united nation proud of its heritage, a nation with a mission to go forward, honourably standing up for proven values, freedom and democracy. By the way, please, local councils, while the Queen is queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, fly the Union Jack on your public buildings, only when it should be flown, such as on St George’s day, St Andrew’s day, St Patrick’s day, Commonwealth Day, the Queen’s official birthday etc., and make sure the flagpole shines and glistens as if it is worthy of the honour.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Laura Dekker

At the end of a solo circumnavigation Mike Perham, aboard an Open 50 ocean racing yacht crossed the finish line off Lizard Point on Thursday, 27th August 2009. Later, at his official homecoming in Portsmouth, he received a Guinness World Record Certificate in recognition of his achievement of being the youngest person to have completed a single-handed circumnavigation. Born on 16th March, 1992 he was just 17 years, 5 months and 11 days old (or young).

Laura Dekker,* a Dutch 13 year old, has aspirations to beat Perham’s record of being the youngest circumnavigator. Her parents support her in this venture which she believes will take 3 years aboard her very ordinary 28 foot cruising yacht, ‘Guppy’. There have been critics and doubters who believe she is far too young to take on the oceans, and being so young she may be vulnerable to those who may take advantage of her. Despite a ruling of the Dutch High Court preventing her from starting her voyage while under the joint care of the Child Protection Board and her parents, she is determined to overcome all obstacles. If, after a 2 month period, the Child Protection Board believes she is capable of achieving her goal, by being both physically and mentally competent to undertake the arduous challenge, it appears she will be free to go. Meanwhile, she will undergo psychological testing to ascertain if she will be able to cope under stressful conditions and to determine if her developmental growth as a teenager may adversely be affected.

It is my belief that today’s parents and those responsible for the wellbeing of our children have become far too protective. When I was a kid at Laura’s age, my parents may have been apprehensive when I was sailing my homebuilt canvas canoe around Plymouth Sound, but they encouraged me in my adventures. There was a high element of danger, and perhaps ignorance on my part and my parent’s, but I was free to expose myself to risk-taking and learn from the experiences. With this mindset, I am in favour of allowing Laura Dekker to start her character-building voyage of discovery, so that she may test herself, and if like me at the age of 50, after setting out to sail around the world in my homebuilt yacht, I had to turn back because I was not up to the psychological demands, at least she would have tried. If she were to die in the attempt, there would be recriminations against her parents and the authorities, but ultimately I believe she is mature enough to accept responsibility for her actions.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Duck Shooting

I can go along with hunting, if it is necessary for survival, but as a sport, purely for the kill, I find that hard to stomach. While on a recent walk beside the River Crouch I noticed a sign which warned that shooting could take place between September and February. As I continued my walk I gave little thought to what I had read, but when I reached my destination where there’s a pond, I suddenly realized I was not alone. Under a tree beside the pond there was a man dressed in a camouflaged outfit. He was deploying decoy ducks by throwing them into the pond after having attached retrieval lines. These were not any old decoys, because they were of different shapes and sizes. I recognised replica Mallards, but there could have been Shelducks, Teal or Shovelers. This man was setting lures to attract ducks so that he could kill them. His retriever dog was well-behaved and quiet. He had set up a camouflage net in the bushes to conceal his presence from unsuspecting birds.

I believe he sensed I was not happy with what he was doing. I stood and watched from the river bank, but not wishing to confront him, because what he was doing was perfectly legal, and I was an intruder into his domain, I took my leave. I reasoned he had every right to engage in his ‘sport’, as I do mine (sailing). He probably spends as much or maybe more than I do on having fun, and he may be more passionate about his hobby than I am mine.

To learn more about ‘wildfowling’, or ‘waterfowling’, I did a bit of surfing on the Net. At one web site I read, ‘Of all shooting sports, wildfowling is the most arduous, the most romantic and the loneliest. It is also the branch of shooting in which the newcomer has most to learn - in terms of safety, quarry identification, marsh craft and ethics.’ Maybe it could be arduous if travelling to a remote location, but ‘romantic’, that does no seem likely; loneliness, possibly. ‘Ethics’ – yes, he could learn a lot about the rights and wrongs of shooting wild animals. From others I discovered there are hundreds of people cashing-in on duck shooting. The duck fowler has to have a suitable shotgun that can cost anything from £90.00 to £5,000, depending on the make and the type, new or second-hand. To keep warm and dry he will need a camouflage outfit, including boots, headgear, gloves and possibly gaiters. For the storing his cartridges he may have a special belt. Don’t forget his retriever dog and the animal’s training. He may even want to set up a special tent (hide) beforehand, so that the birds can become familiar with it.

I was somewhat surprised to discover there are very few anti-duck shooting lobbyists. The most visible is the Coalition against Duck Shooting, in Australia. ( I was upset when I watched a YouTube video showing two young men shooting ducks and swans with apparent glee. They were proud of their expertise at handling what appeared to be semi-automatic shotguns, and they didn’t want to put an injured duck out of its misery after being wounded. This is the sort of behaviour that gives wildfowling a bad name. On the other hand, there are very expert and professional providers of organized duck shooting parties; they even arrange accommodation and employ chefs to prepare and cook birds shot by the wildfowlers.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Pillboxes, Killing and Warfare

Killing and warfare have plagued the Earth since Cain murdered Abel (Genesis 4:1-15), and there will be no end of slaughter until the creation of a new Earth. (Revelation 21:1-4) I was reminded of man’s warring nature as I walked the footpath at South Fambridge, where there’s a Second World War pillbox. Horrific flashbacks of cinematographic news footage from the early 40s, showing flamethrowers being used against the occupants of pillboxes, suddenly ignited in the consciousness of my mind. Aghast with the impact of these images, I was drawn to examine this hexagonal concrete building. The mini fortification has the form of a gigantic pill box, and I suppose that’s why such structures are called pillboxes. In 1940, about 28,000 of them were hurriedly constructed by soldiers and local labourers using suitable available materials. An Invasion by Hitler’s forces was thought to be imminent; therefore a plan of defence was devised for Home Guard Units to man these defences. Soldiers based at the South Fambridge pillbox would have been equipped with rifles and light machineguns.

As I examined the lichen-covered building, I felt as though I was in the company of those Home Guard soldiers who kept watch day and night, waiting for a time when they might be required to give their all. Dressed in uncomfortable utility uniforms they would have sweated in the summer sunshine and been frozen during a winter’s night. Routinely they would have checked and cleaned their equipment, kept guard, cooked meals, and slept when they could. Personal hygiene and the maintenance of latrines would have been important for morale. Providentially, those soldiers were never put to the ultimate test of endeavouring to halt Hitler’s invasion forces.

I noted that the doorway into the pillbox was sealed, but the embrasures (openings for the deployment of rifles and light machineguns) had been cleared of their seals so that children and nimble adults can wriggle through. I stuck my head into one, and when my eyes became accustomed to the gloom of the claustrophobic interior, I observed that every wall was covered with chalk graffiti. From markings on the ceiling it was obvious that the roof had been made of concrete that had been poured into a wooden mould. I think a small room inside the pillbox would have been used for storing weapons and ammunition. When originally built, soldiers would have had excellent views of the River Crouch, but a few years ago, the river banks were raised to improve the flood defences.

To all appearances, apart from the pillbox, this stretch of land on the South side of the River Crouch looks as if it has always been a peaceful place, but nearby, between Rochford and Canewdon, the bloody battle of *Assandune was fought in 1016. Canute, King of Denmark, with his invaders on Canewdon Hill, faced Edmund Ironside with his army on Rochford Hill. Edmund split his forces into two, putting half under the command of Ederick who sided with the Danes. This traitorous act resulted in a calamitous defeat for Edmund and his army. He later confronted the Danes and made a treaty to divide the country between them. After Edmund’s death, Canute became King of England.

History tells of the past, but is made from the present, and as you read these lines, soldiers and airmen are fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Bloody history is in the making.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


When I was a youngster my father told me of hard times during the early 1930s. I was born then in the middle of The Great Depression, when thousands of people were jobless, and there was much destitution. The Workhouse era was drawing to a close, but many impoverished people, sick and elderly were forced to accept unpleasant living conditions within surviving institutions. My father spoke of children going to school barefooted and without adequate clothing to keep them warm. By contrast, I am reminded of Imelda Marcos, wife of the President of the Philippines, when she owned 1060 pairs of shoes - that was in 1986, at the time she and her husband fled to Hawaii. Now Imelda was besotted with foot attire, but even the average UK female has 19 pairs of shoes, and in the USA the figure is 27.

I’m not sure how many shoes my wife owns, but on Bank Holiday Monday I took her to buy a pair of shoes she had been thinking about for a while. They were still for sale, at a price rather more than she wanted to pay, but they were of high quality and they looked stylish. When she was young she used to wear shoes with high heels, even when dancing! Having suffered over the years, because of wearing such shoes, she now looks for comfort, rather than style. I must say that I approved her choice, and I think she was pleased that I did. By comparison, my ownership of shoes is minimal, almost scant, but I’m not into footwear. If I didn’t have to wear shoes for protecting my feet I would never do so. I love having my feet free of restrictions, so that I can twiddle my toes, feel surfaces through the soles of my feet and experience the joy of free walking. Walking on soft damp sand with sea spray falling on my feet, wind-blown hair, and the warmth of the sun on my body, they combine to bring the ultimate pleasure.