Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Scotland: Keep the best of both worlds and stay

Another diversion, but with the referendum on Thursday its hard to keep quiet.

I'm half Scottish but do not have a vote. I'm not alone, as C4's Jon Snow pointed out we could see the break up of the UK caused by just 2.5% of the population voting against it.

The debate has been incredibly depressing for the amount of misinformation coming from the likes of Alex Salmond and the SNP.

It's hard to take Salmond's accusation of the dirty politics of Westminster seriously given his behaviour. To business he promises low taxes while to the left wing higher spending, then his currency pledges are fantasies and oil forecasts unbelievable. Against those that question him there are bullying tactics to silence including personalising the debate and the squashing of reports in Holyrood's parliamentary committees.

There are real issues to address like the currency and EU to which Salmond et al's only reply is Scotland will be able to do what ever it wants despite these two issues being reliant on externals. Currency union with the pound is incredibly unlikely, ruled out by all concerned with a single voice, which leaves Scotland with the choices of having its own currency or using an external one (pound or Euro most likely) without political control.

In either case there would have to be a period of many years building up reserves and higher interest rates, at a time when North Sea oil is flagging and jobs would be heading south of the new border. There is a strong likelihood of austerity to the level of Greece with high unemployment - the complete opposite of the social agenda we hear so much of.

The attitude to the English has become borderline racist - at times crossing the line. If there is to be a divorce it will not be a clean one, and Scotland shouldn't feel it could avoid paying its share of the national debt without strong push back. The description of the pound as an asset rather than a financial instrument is again a sign of misleading statements.

It really doesn't seem like the right time to be increasing tribalism and reducing the ability to have flexibility of identity. To be part of the UK means you can be Scottish, English, Welsh, British or many other variants, including Glaswegian or Londoner. That flexibility, the openness is a true asset, and the venom aimed at the English by many Yes campaigners is truly worrying.

And is Westminster so horrific that its worth paying any price to get away? Seriously? When I travel round the world I return with a new outlook. In Italy, Spain and Greece there is really high unemployment and stagnant economies, France has flatlined, the US has political grid-lock and dominance of lobbyists, while others are totalitarian or corrupt or controlled by the military.

In the UK within days of election of a hung parliament we had a stable coalition, economic policies making the UK the fastest growing country in the G7, lower unemployment than Europe, free at point of access national health service and one of the highest levels of support for international aid and development. Yes there are flaws, things I disagree with, sometimes strongly, but that is democracy: each decision will leave some voters unhappy. In three of the four last elections Scotland has got the party it wanted in control in Westminster - that's a higher ratio than for many, including me! 100% of control and approval is unrealistic.

I hear much talk of Scotland being transformed into Denmark, but again there are rose tinted glasses on. Ask the Greenlanders about what they think of Denmark (as I did) and the answer is its a colonial occupier. And Copenhagen has much less diversity and openness than London. Then there's Sweden with the rise of the far right and bankrupt Iceland.

The yes debate seems flawed on so many levels. If the SNP said that there would be 10 years of hardship, unemployment, austerity etc. during which Scotland has its own (devaluing) currency followed by the option to join the EU we could have a proper debate, but the current argument is more fantasy than fact.

And the alternative is so positive. Scotland shares values, history and people with the rest of the UK, and devolution allows the best of both worlds.

Scotland is already a nation with its own parliament, legal system, flag, culture, sports teams etc but doesn't have to duplicate institutions such as embassies and can share the currency with proper political oversight.

I like the fact that the UK gives the flexibility to be Scottish, English, British and a Londoner. I like the fact that the wonderful highlands and islands are part of my country.

It would be tragic and highly destructive (in particular to Scotland) to end a union that brings so many benefits and gives Scotland the best of both worlds.

Please vote no.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Bridge House Estates

I spotted the symbol above on a trip down the Thames to see the Tall Ships and it took a surprising amount of googling to discover its background.

The key clue was its location, which was on the sides of London Bridge, for this is the mark of the Bridge House Estates, which is the organisation responsible for all the bridges crossing the Thames into the City since 1282.

The City is the heart of London dating back to the Romans, and for most of this history there was just the one bridge, the famous London Bridge.

This not only generated lots of tax revenue from the houses and shops built upon it but also there were many bequests, for giving to "God and the Bridge" was considered an act of piety.

The bridge master could receive "tolls on carts passing over the Bridge, tolls from ships passing under the Bridge and fines for unlawful fishing from the Bridge".

These funds were used to maintain London Bridge, and then many, many years later (but still a hundred years ago) built or purchased the likes of Southwark Bridge, Blackfriars Bridge and Tower Bridge. A very recent acquisition is the Millennium Bridge.

It is thought the logo was designed by 17th Century surveyor, William Leybourn.

Nowadays the income so exceeds the expenditure that its legal framework was changed in 1995 to permit it to fund charitable activities, and a list of recent gifts can be found here.

So if one day you should find that:

London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady

Then at least you will know who to call!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

London's Cryptic Symbol

A great way to see the sights of London is by taking the Thames Clipper along the river. The eagle eyed will also spot this cryptic symbol along the way.

Where could you see it and what is it?

Hint: this does not in any way involve Leonardo da Vinci, Opus Dei, Tom Hanks or Andrey Tautou.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

More Tall Ship Photos

It was a shame I wasn't able to go to yesterday's parade of sail, missing much of the tall ships in London, but at least I got a few photos.

It would have been more dramatic had they been bunched together such as in the old days when London's docklands heaved with more ships than you could count.

Nowadays the city's skyline is a forest of yellow cranes rather than masts, so shot angles had to be selected carefully.

At least the sun was out.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

More Tall Ship Photos

Some more photos from the Tall Ship Festival.

As Chris pointed out the festival is pretty spread out over a series of sites between Greenwich and Woolwich, some boats on moorings and others in the old docks.

So it would take all day to visit all sites and go on-board as many ships as possible. There were all sorts of packages to go for sails, from VIP hospitality to joining them on the leg from Falmouth to London.

I took the easy option for one still not feeling his best, namely the Thames Clipper river bus. One ticket taking me all the way there in three hops: from Putney to Embankment, then Embankment to Greenwich to pick up the last leg through the Thames Barrier to Woolwich.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Friday, September 05, 2014


Yesterday's picture puzzle was indeed, as Tillerman spotted, of a hippo.

Created by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, HippopoThames it is a 21 metre long hippopotamus currently wallowing in the river just above Vauxhall Bridge.

Hofman is famous for creating the giant yellow inflatable ducks that have been spotted around the world in harbours from Baku to Hong Kong, sometimes deflating.

The hippo is a bit more substantial wooden construction so I think its safe from the odd pin-prick.

It is part of the Thames Festival this month and celebrates the discovery of hippo remains in central London.

Yes, that's right, 100,000 years ago hippos lurked in the Thames and fossilised bones were found in Trafalgar Square as described here.

The spot where it is moored was probably selected as being the most central place out of the way of busy city centre river traffic, but it has an interesting ancient historical connection.

Vauxhall is where one of the oldest archaeological structures has been found within London. On the river bank at very low tide it is possible to make out the remains of a causeway (or even bridge) constructed around 3,500 years ago. Recently remains of an even older structure - possibly a staggering 6,500 years old - have been found downstream in front of the MI6 building.

However to be honest what it makes me think of is something else that the Thames is famous for, namely mud, and in particular the classic song by Flanders and Swann. Feel free to join in....

Altogether now:

Mud, mud, glorious mud...

Updated: a list of other things strange things to have been floated down the Thames here.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Picture Puzzle

Couple of questions for you:

1. What animal is this? (*)
2. What animal is it not? (**)
3. Where is it?
4. Why?

(*) not the seagull, the eyes bit
(**) ok, not just any animal, one that is associated in some way with this object

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Shurely Shome Mishtake?

Pretty sure it's not meant to do that.

Ok it was a bit blustery but don't think its a good sign when the sail says goodbye to its boom.

Well recovered who ever you are.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Assent and Willy Ker

Really interesting multi-media YouTube clip of an interview with high latitude sailor Willy Ker, famous for his single handed expeditions on his yacht Assent, by Jessie Rogers, wife of Kit Rogers, builders of the Contessa range of yachts.

When doing the Arctic Circle sail our Contessa 32 was checked over by Kit Rogers and we used Willy Ker's pilot book to the Faroes, Iceland and Greenland on the way.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Day Skipper with America's Cup Jubilee

Some time after the yacht race fiasco I thought it might be useful to learn a bit more about this sailing lark.

The RYA provide a whole range of really good courses, from competent crew to yacht master, and I decided to do the Day Skipper over two long weekends.

It was great fun. We practised MOB, mooring up to buoys and pilings, navigate by day and night and the rules of the road.

By a lucky coincidence the second long weekend coincided with the 150th anniversary of the first America's Cup and the Solent was packed with amazing yachts, such as J-classes (above).

We moored up in Cowes surrounded by famous names. One of the day skipper tests was to check our rowing skills, so the examiner created a rather special course.

"Row to Australia II, then over to Black Magic, then return here."

I'll never do a row like that again.

Monday, August 18, 2014

JP's first yacht race - Part 3: The Vote

In my experience it is not helpful when during a yacht race your navigator is so seasick he goes below for a rest and then gets himself locked in a cabin.

He got our attention by lots of banging and luckily your average Sunsail fleet yacht is not so robust that its cabin doors can't be broken down by well intentioned force.

We weren't doing that well: on the long leg from St. Catherine's lighthouse down to the Needles we'd dropped down to second from last, but we'd eventually turned the corner and were sailing back into the Solent.

It was dark already and we hadn't even completed a single circuit of the island by reaching the start near the forts. The second lap would be in the dark and cold.

The VHF was hopping between C16 and whatever the race channel was and it squawked into life: it appeared that one yacht hadn't gone round the mark near Lymington.

This was all news to me: as lowly ballast I had no ideas about marks - surely if you're racing around the Isle of Wight that is enough instructions?

The navigator, however, looked even more sick than normal: uh-oh.

It appeared we had a choice:

  1. Turn back to Lymington, go round the mark, then sail for hours and hours through the cold dark night to an almost guaranteed last place
  2. Retire and just make last orders at a pub near Gunwharf Quays

There was a vote of all on board and it was unanimous.

So we had a pint then returned to Port Solent for a good night's rest and a hot shower.

Best of all, the next day I could have a proper breakfast.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

JP's first yacht race - Part 2: Learning

Sitting on the rail for my first yacht race was a bit of a learning experience.

Firstly I learnt about what happens when you miss the most important meal of the day - you get very hungry.

Then I learnt that sitting still looking at grey water on a grey September day can lead to you getting cold despite having what felt like lots of layers on.

Later I was also discover that even if it was a grey September day you can still get sunburn.

I hadn't been much involved in the rope pulling side of things. There had been a rush when the spinnaker had been hoisted (above) but this was clearly complicated and the newbie's input hadn't been welcomed.

So I learnt it would be a good idea to do some yacht sailing courses.

Bored of sitting still I chatted to one of the crew. It turned out he lived very close to my sister and I was hopeful that this would be an opening but alas he had an important task to perform.

He went all round the rigging of the yacht wrapping masking tape (or duct / gaffer tape, I wasn't sure which) around the shrouds and their connections to the deck.

I was very intrigued by this. As the newbie, hoping to learn from these experienced sailors, I wanted to learn what the benefit was in wrapping masking tape around the shrouds and deck mountings.

Even after many many years I am still trying to understand this.

Was it a distraction from sea sickness maybe?

He wasn't the only one. The navigator had been feeling a bit dodgy and had gone down for a lie-down and we hadn't seen him for a bit.

Then there were some bangings from below: it appeared the navigator had locked the door of one of the cabins and now couldn't get out.

I was pretty sure this wasn't a good sign.

Concludes here

Saturday, August 16, 2014

JP's first yacht race - Part 1: Breakfast

I'm still off sick and have recently passed the time by digitising old photos, including the one above of my first yacht race, over 20 years ago.

At the time I was working for software house Logica and saw an ad for the company's sailing club asking if anyone was interested in joining a race around the Isle of Wight as part of the "Industry Challenge".

I hadn't done any proper yacht racing (a regatta in Greece didn't really count) but it sounded like fun so signed up and was soon rung to be told I had the spare place. I could hear a mixture of doubt and surprise in the skipper's voice.

My role, I discovered on our test sail on a rather fancy ex-Admiral's Cup yacht, complete with coffee grinders, was to sit on the rail as ballast.

I could do that.

The actual yacht we were to race in were less fancy: identical 35' boats from a Sunsail fleet based at Port Solent.

The race was to be twice around the island and it was critical, if I was to be competent ballast, to have a proper breakfast.

I can still remember the picture I had in my head of the feast. There would be bacon, sausages, beans and potato cakes at the minimum with lots and lots of hot coffee.

However the rest of crew didn't seem that interested. There was always something else to be done and food was not the priority and all too soon we were heading through the lock out to sea, my stomach already complaining.

Later I found out that pretty much all the rest of the crew got seasick and so didn't want to eat anything prior to the race.

I'm pretty sure that explained some of what happened next.

It was to be a learning experience...

Continued here