Friday, November 30, 2012

Withdrawal of British Forces from Afghanistan

A lot has happened since I wrote an article on 5th September 2009 entitled, ‘Union Jack’*. I was bemoaning the fact that corpses of members of our armed forces were being brought home from Afghanistan and that Gordon Brown had justified the cost to finish the job that had been started in 2001.

That conflict with the Taliban continues today, but there is some hope however that an orderly withdrawal of military personnel will commence from September of next year. David Cameron has been meeting members of the National Security Council and there are hopes that he will agree a timetable for withdrawal so that the majority of our military forces will be brought home by the end of 2014. The current strength of personnel in Afghanistan is 9,000, and from September, 2013, a gradual withdrawal would commence until around 1,000 remain for logistical support and for protecting supply lanes.

The cost of this conflict can best be measured in terms of loss of life, grief and devastation, as 438 British soldiers and civilians have lost their lives, not forgetting the enormous losses suffered by US and NATO forces. Not least, the Afghan people have suffered greatly, but the price that has been paid has brought about significant changes for the better, for now young girls can look to a future, with a chance of being educated, even able to vote when of age.
Malala Yousufzai, the 15-year-old girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban has been instrumental in empowering females within that male dominated country. She wrote a diary blog for BBC Urdu reflecting her life under the Taliban and for her courageous honesty she became a target for assassination. They did not succeed.


*Union Jack

David Cameron set to decide on Afghanistan withdrawal timetable

Mother Teresa award for Afghan activist and Pakistani girl shot by Taliban

Malala Yousufzai's classmates return to school

Malala Yousafzai

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Christmas Again

One more day and it will be December, the month that is associated with Christmas, a time of celebration for so many people. Seven years ago I wrote my first blog on the subject. It was about a poem that was ‘floating around in Cyber Space’. Since then I’ve added ten more articles homing in on Christmas. Links to them can be found below. The contents of these articles reveal that there has been no progression of thought, and that I have not improved my abysmal inability to express myself verbally. There, you see what I mean!

However, I can’t let the season of goodwill go by without making a comment or two. I love, and I hate Christmas. I am ambivalent to it.

I love the fact that for me Christmas is significant because of my Christian belief. I believe Jesus was a real man who was born of a virgin, and yet at the same time He was God. In the Person of His Son He came to the earth and humbled Himself. He came to serve the very ones He created. He came to reveal His love and to give hope to those who would believe in Him. For me, that’s what Christmas is about.

What bugs me is that it has become highly commercialised; that part of it I hate. Hate is a strong word that truly expresses my abhorrence.

Kids love Christmas, and millions of parents too. I enjoy their delight. Christmas is truly a wonderful time, but how I wish the commercial aspect did not exist.

Luke 2:11-14

“For there is born to you this day in the City of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest,

And on earth peace, goodwill

 toward men!”



Commercialism of Christmas

Christmas 1944

LED Christmas Tree

Festive Decorations

Christmas Decorations

Christmas Day of Joy

Lakeside Santa

Carols from Kings


Yachtsman’s Christmas Tree

Christmas Eve


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sven Yrvind Again

I am intrigued with Sven’s latest project – to design, make and sail a 10’ boat alone around the world. As far as I understand it, he truly does want to complete a full and proper non-stop circumnavigation, starting from Southern Ireland. He plans to sail south through the North and South Atlantic before continuing eastwards south of the Cape of Good Hope and onwards passing south of Australia and Tasmania, then south of Cape Horn. From there he intends to sail northwards crossing the equator for a second time, eventually meeting his outward track in the North Atlantic. At that point he will have completed his circumnavigation, but he will continue northwards with the aim of sailing north of the British Isles from where he will head for Sweden. There his epic marathon will come to an end.

If he is successful, he will have achieved something quite remarkable. He will have set a new world record, that of sailing around the world in the shortest boat. I think he will also be the oldest to have sailed non-stop around the world. Minoru Saito* at the age of 77 is the oldest to circumnavigate the world, but he did not do it non-stop. It took him 1,080 days, finally putting into Yokohama, Japan.

Sven is not interested in breaking records, but he has taken up the challenge set by the Around in Ten group** - that’s to sail a 10 foot boat around the world. Most of all he enjoys solving problems, theoretical and practical; he gets a kick out of building boats he has designed;  he loves being on the ocean alone, especially aboard a small sailing boat. He feels alive when he is not distracted by the trappings our noisy, materialistic world. He seeks a spiritual dimension that he believes can only be found in the vast emptiness of the oceans. There he is close to nature and a part of it. Sven also likes keeping fit, eating healthily, maintaining an active mind by playing with ideas, both abstract and concrete. He derives great satisfaction from reading.

Encapsulated in his nutshell boat he will be happy. He will have thoroughly prepared for the voyage, even taking with him a crash helmet for protecting his head when his boat will be tumbled around in the wild seas of the Roaring Forties.  When conditions permit, he will swim at least once a day. He will further exercise by peddling a homemade generator for topping up the ship’s batteries. His food on the whole will be bland, and it will not require cooking.


Sven Yrvind – Present Project

*World's oldest sailor arrives home in Japan after solo journey around globe

**Around in Ten

Sven Yrvind

Sven Yrvind, Ocean Sailor and Yacht Designer

Micro 10’ Sailboat for Global Circumnavigation

Martinique – Fort-de-France - Sven Yrvind

Out of Sight, but not out of Mind –Sven Yrvind

Progress of Sven Yrvind

Sven Yrvind Sails Again

‘Yrvindaren 4.1’

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Microtransat Challenge

If you are into model sailboats, the Microtransat Challenge website is well worth visiting. The ultimate challenge proposed is to design, build and set sail an autonomous, small, unmanned yacht (not exceeding 4 metres) with the aim of getting her across the Atlantic propelled solely by wind.

Boats must start on the European side of the Atlantic and finish on the American side. The finish line is between 10 and 25 degrees north, along the 60th degree of western longitude. The start line stretches between 48 and 51 degrees north on the longitude of 7 degrees 30 minutes west. Because there must be a distance of at least 40 miles between where the boat is launched and the start line, she could depart from one of several places. Vessels must sail autonomously from the departure point to the start line, cross it from east to west and continue under their own sail power until crossing the finish line.

There are a number of technical challenges to overcome. Boats must transmit their position every 24 hours. If this fails over a 10 day period a vessel will be disqualified. There must be no radio transmissions to the boats, but they can be pre-programmed to sail to specific waypoints. Any mechanical operations required for tiller steering or sail adjustments must be powered from onboard resources; for example, solar panels, batteries or wind operated gizmos. The only means of propulsion shall be the wind. Vessels must display an all-round light capable of being seen from 2 nautical miles during periods of darkness.

The closing date for starting the Race is 31st December. A French team, ENSTA Bretagne  launched their boat earlier this year, but transmissions from her have failed. Something catastrophic may have happened; not that she was capable of causing serious damage to other vessels, but she may have collided with a larger one, or she may have been overwhelmed by the seas. Perhaps she continues on her way and will eventually cross the finish line without anyone knowing.

A British entry, ‘Snoopy Sloop’, built by Mr Robin Lovelock, a retired NATO scientist, will be launched this week in an attempt complete the crossing.

One thing that intrigues me is what antifouling would be best. Any weed growth would jeopardise the mission. The smaller the vessel, the more she will be impeded by marine growth. Thin copper sheathing could be ideal for preventing marine growth and at the same time act as ballast. Perhaps antifouling should be applied to the decks, since they will often be under water or sprayed with water. A bird or two may want a free ride! That could foul her up a bit. Ugh.


The Microtransat Challenge

The Microtransat Challenge Rules

Snoopy Sloop: the unmanned toy boat attempting Atlantic crossing

Micro Magic Class

ANO-MOD5' crossed the Microtransat 2012 start line!


Monday, November 26, 2012


I’ve been meaning to draw attention to the fact that I’ve only seen one bee and no wasps this the year. Since it is now winter, I think chances of spotting any before the year is out are very unlikely. The situation is dire. The importance of bees cannot be emphasised enough. At least a third of the food we consume comes from plants that depend on bees for pollination.

My plum tree yielded only one fruit, and it was inedible because of disease.

There’s a remote possibly that the bee I photographed in my garden on 26th August was the one that pollinated a blossom on my plum tree to bring about the rotten plum.

I was relieved that there was a total lack of wasps this year because they are a nuisance when having outdoor barbecues. Wasps are evidently drawn to beef burgers and sausages, no doubt by their characteristic smells. However, like bees, wasps pollinate many plants.

Ezekiel 20:6 ‘On that day I raised My hand in an oath to them, to bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them, flowing with milk and honey, the glory of all lands.’




Honey Bees are Important Pollinators

Bees as Pollinators

Bee Pollination

Pollination by Honey Bees

The Pollination of Flowers by Bees and Wasps

Garden Flowers

What do Wasps Pollinate?


What is Killing Bees?

What’s Killing the Honeybees?

Sunday, November 25, 2012


No one is immune from being involved in accidents. That’s a fact, because we’ve all had them - some more serious than others. Accidents are caused by human error, human foolishness, or unforeseen natural events or by a combination of these.

Today a woman was killed and two men were injured when a tree fell on their tent. In Exeter where the accident happened there had been heavy rain and strong winds. It would appear that they had pitched their tent on a roadside verge next to a wall and under a tree. Presumably they chose the location for the shelter, but anyone who knows about camping would never choose to put a tent under a tree. The danger of falling branches, prolonged dripping after rain has long gone, and the chance of the tree being a lightning conductor, are all good reasons for not pitching a tent there.

I was taking a stroll this afternoon and I heard the sirens of police cars which caused me to wonder what was going on. Nearing the end of my walk I came across a policeman directing traffic towards the road where I live. There was nothing moving on the main road, but more policemen were gathered at a junction by a stationery van. People were standing by the van that had obviously crashed into something. The front was crunched in and the number plate was missing. Not wanting to upset these people who appeared to have been involved in the incident I passed by without asking what had happened.

As I continued my walk I thought about the consequences of accidents.
There is always a price to pay. Many accidents could be avoided with forethought; for example when drivers pass the entrances to schools they should slow down and be vigilant. Research by Sainsbury’s Car Insurance reveals that 8% of school run vehicles - 1.6 million* of them! - have been involved in accidents, perhaps mostly because of driver error.

The majority of accidents occur in the home; it’s there that people are relaxed and off guard; things like scalding, getting burnt, tripping on poor floor surfaces, slipping in the bath, missing a step on the stairs - even accidentally electrocuting themselves when replacing a fuse or changing a light bulb! A number of people die needlessly from fire because of faulty alarms or because of carbon monoxide poising, which is a deadly, invisible gas brought about by incomplete combustion, often caused by boilers that have not been regularly serviced.
I say again, there’s always a price to pay or a loss to bear when an accident occurs. Why are some of us so prone to accidents? 

Psalm 91:11 ‘For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.’


*School run drivers risk car accident death and injury during daily trips

Call for 20mph zones rejected

Woman Killed by Tree

Preventing Accidents in the Home - Advice & Tips

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning



Saturday, November 24, 2012

Time Stops

Years ago my wristwatch packed up, so I went to the local jewellers and bought a very cheap replacement. It was a gentleman’s Lorus Sports V 501-X212 with a black dial and luminous hands. I particularly liked it because of being water resistant to 50 metres and it had a second hand for precise timing. Since owning the watch I have had the battery replaced, but now I must fit another.

Two mornings ago I woke up to discover that my watch had stopped at 11.34 pm. I felt the world had stopped and that I was in a state of suspended animation.

I am lost without a watch because I frequently refer to it during the day. My mother instilled into me the need for good timekeeping. She said I should always arrive at least 5 minutes before any appointment. I was to allow time for reaching the venue where the appointment was to take place and allow more time for unforeseen delays.

Today watches are two-a-penny, and it could almost be as cheap to buy a new one as it is to buy a new battery. Well, instead of going to the jeweller’s for fitting a battery, I thought I would have a go at doing it myself. That’s where the miniature screwdriver I had in last year’s Christmas cracker came in handy. It exactly fitted the tiny Phillips type screws that secured the backing plate. Having removed the plate I discovered I would have to get hold of a button cell battery marked with the code LR 626. A quick Google of the Internet revealed there was one at Amazon. A single click of the mouse confirmed that I had paid for the battery and shortly it would be in the post.

No longer in suspended animation I can get on with my life, being comforted by the fact that within a few days I’ll have my old friend Lorus to help me get by. Meanwhile, I have on my wrist a much more expensive watch, a gold plated Rotary given to me as a present by my wife. Somehow, I feel more comfortable wearing the cheaper watch, perhaps because I’m not concerned if I damage it. The gift watch is more suitable for formal and special occasions.

Ephesians 5:15, 16 ‘See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.’

Temporary Links

LORUS Sports Stainless Steel, Material Strap Watch 50m (Ebay)

10 AG4 G4 LR66 LR626 SR626w 376 377 1.5v Button Battery New  (Amazon) 

More permanent Link

Henry F. Phillips

Friday, November 23, 2012

'Rhino? What Rhino?'

On Sunday, 14th October I did an article about Claire Freedman’s fun book for tiny tots, ‘Monstersaurus’.* Max made a comment and drew my attention to another children’s book, ‘Rhino? What Rhino?' He liked the lyrical quality and said his 3 year old enjoyed having it read to her over and over. I did a bit of Googling and decided to get hold of the book for my youngest grandchildren. They will be 6 in February of next year.  They loved the story, and like Max’s daughter, they wanted it read it over and over again. I loved reading it too!

The title, ‘Rhino? What Rhino?’ is poignant and topical when seen in the context of rhino poaching in South Africa. Today the BBC TV News tells of the slaughter of hundreds of Rhinoceroses for their horns which are valued as traditional medicine in China and Vietnam.  The black market price for rhino horn is said to be in the region of £40,000 (65,000 US dollars) per kilo! That’s more than the price of gold. There is a mistaken belief that rhino horn has healing qualities, but it is almost identical in nature to our fingernails, and there is no verifiable medical research substantiating the claims of those who dupe people into buying powdered rhino horn.

If poaching continues, rhinos will become extinct, or only survive in highly protected compounds for breading purposes and for preserving the species. Some progress is being made on cracking down on poachers. There have been several arrests and imprisonment of perpetrators. GPS technology is being used to monitor rhinos. Tiny GPS chips have been inserted into the dead parts of their horns, so that the animals can be tracked. If unusual behaviour occurs, the chips wirelessly activate alarms at the game warden’s base station.

Genesis 1:26, 27  ‘Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”’

Dominion’ in this context means to rule over, to be responsible for. Unlike the animals, Man’s role was to husband the creatures God created, not make them extinct!



‘Rhino? What Rhino?’ at Amazon

Rhino horn GPS used to deter poachers

South Africa rhino poaching: More killed than ever

Army steps in to end rhino massacre

South Africa: Go After Rhino Poaching Kingpins, North West Premier Urges Hawks

South Africa gives rhino poacher 40-year jail term

The Rhino Poaching Crisis Is So Bad, the South African Army Has Stepped In


Thursday, November 22, 2012

‘Vestas Sailrocket 2’ Breaks Speed Sailing Records!

Speed Record for 500 metres

'Vestas Sailrocket' skippered by Paul Larsen has broken the world speed sailing record over a distance of 500 metres! Larsen and his team aimed to sail their boat faster than the previous average speed of 55.65 knots. This was achieved by Rob Douglas sailing a kite board on 28th October, 2010 at Luderitz, Namibia. Sailrocket’s average speed at Walvis Bay, Namibia, on Sunday, 18th November 2012 was 59.39 knots! Officials recorded her peak speed at 64.87 knots!!

You can find a firsthand account of what happened by visiting Larsen’s blog for 22nd November, 2012 – It can be found at the 'Vestas Sailrocket' website.* Search for his 12.43 posting.
Speed record for 1 nautical mile

Today (22nd November, 2120) 'Vestas Sailrocket' also became the fastest sailboat over a nautical mile.** Her average speed was 55.3 knots!

Congratulations on achieving both the 500 metres and the 1 nautical mile speed sailing records.


*Vestas Sailrocket Official Website

**VESTAS Sailrocket 2 Outright world speed sailing record holder. (subject to WSSRC ratification)

VESTAS Sailrocket 2. "The magic mile" world record*...

Australian Paul Larsen sets sailing speed record in Namibia

Speed-sailing boat incorporates elements from glider aircraft

Boom. Vestas Sailrocket 2 becomes a 60-knot sailboat!

VESTAS Sailrocket 2 Outright world speed sailing record holder. (subject to WSSRC ratification)

Sailing Speed Records


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Power Cut

Late this afternoon the sky was darker than usual. Rain-streaked patterns morphed across the windowpanes; lights flickered, and then they dimmed before going out altogether. The house was in total darkness. It was not the best moment for this to happen, because I was peeing into the toilet! With care I prevented a second disaster; then I felt my way to the bedroom where I found a small LED light, the sort that is attached to a stretchy headband. Normally it would have been on my boat, but she is laid up for the winter and most of her gear is in the loft. Meanwhile my wife was busily lighting candles for the lounge and kitchen.

There was no TV. All clocks had stopped, except for a small battery-driven one beside my bed. The central heating turned itself off, and the digital phones ceased to function. I could not use my computer for accessing the internet because the router stopped working. I was not worried about the freezer, as it would easily keep food frozen for a couple of hours, by which time I hoped the electricity would be restored. More torches were found and a camping lantern too. By then the house was looking quite cosy, almost Christmassy.

Foreseeing the possibility of trouble, on account of our lights flickering before they stopped working, I phoned UK Power Net, informing them of the problem. That was at 15.35. Five minutes later when the lights went out I was in the bathroom doing you know what. Power wasn’t restored until 18.50, but what a blessing.

It isn’t until you lose power that you realise how dependent you are upon it. You take it for granted. Our immediate neighbour was about to cook her evening meal in her electric oven; instead, she packed her family into the car and went to her mother’s place to do it there. Other neighbours were checking one another to see if they were OK.  All of this is minor stuff when compared to what is happening in Israel and Gaza, where there is almost outright war, but it makes you think and appreciate how fortunate you are.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


I was utterly amazed when I browsed a pamphlet displayed at my local NHS clinic. The title was, ‘Supporting Young People and Families’. I was made aware of a whole range of psychological and physical problems youngster may have to endure, caused by wrong thinking, wrong beliefs about self, dietary deficiencies, and lack of exercise, poor social skills or bad parenting. And yet when I look back to my own youth in the early 1940s I cannot remember any counselling services for dealing with such things. Indeed, if there were problems, it was commonplace for parents to help their offspring resolve them. Children could freely talk to their parents about anything bar sex, for that was a taboo subject. Even teachers dared not include it in their syllabuses, apart from a few simple bird and bee illustrations in picture books. Mum and Dad might leave such a book in a place where it may be found.

There were bullies at school, including teachers, but one had to overcome them by showing them they could not win. There were a few young people who tried cannabis, but there was no widespread drug abuse, and regarding eating disorders I was not aware of Bulimia Nervosa or Anorexia Nervosa. No one needed play therapy, as we played whenever we wanted. Our parents were capable of supplying all our needs, and certainly they did not lack parenting skills. There was very little sexual activity between youngsters; hence there was no need for specialist advice about concomitant diseases. Alcohol was not readily available, except in public houses; therefore addiction to it by teenagers was never a problem. We tried smoking cigarettes, but became sick as a result! Few of us had an image identity problem, as few were obese, nor were we constantly bombarded with advertisements convincing us we should resemble someone more beautiful or more handsome. Some of us may have been hyperactive, but we could soon get that off our chest, by running through the countryside, digging the garden, cutting hedges, cleaning windows or delivering newspapers. There was no need for anger management, but if we were angry we could take it out on a punchbag, play rugby or football.

In a close-knit village community we were never short of friends, and by interplay we developed our social skills for communicating and building relationships. Going through the gangly and hair-raising, pimply stage of puberty was a shared experience that helped us through that awkward time. Sadly today, an increasing number of young couples lack social skills, and they do not have an understanding of what is required for building happy, loving relationships. Instead of getting married, they experiment by living together to see if things will work out, which often is not the case, affecting tiny offspring who suffer the consequences.

Yes, there is much sickness in our land because of the breakdown of traditional family life. In this day and age, both male and female partners have to work to make ends meet, thereby denying time for their children - time for lavishing them with love and for teaching skills required for adulthood. It is no wonder we have private clinics offering multiple therapeutic services, primarily with the aim of making money by applying sticky plasters to injured bodies and minds. One big ingredient for the health of our youth is missing, and that is tuition for the soul. Young people receive little to no spiritual input, so that they have sparse understanding of morality - what is right, what is wrong - what is good and what is bad.

Parents, the ball is in your court if you have the skills, knowledge and desire for making a difference. 


Adolescent Support Clinic

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Obsessive–compulsive disorder

Dudley Family & Adolescent Support Team

Medway Child and adolescent support