Sunday, November 30, 2014

HMS Victory and the frigging faire

I decided to escape Black Friday by visiting the Portsmouth Historic Docks to see HMS Victory and the Mary Rose.

Alas I forgot to do the all important pre-trip google and was rather aghast to find that for the long weekend it was occupied by one of those frigging xmas faires.

Why? What is it about xmas that means otherwise sensible people spend hours looking and buying mass produced tat from stalls while listening to endless renditions of snotty the frostman? Discover the magic, they claim. It must be something pretty strong, for there were literally coach loads of OAPs being bussed into the site.

So instead of a easy tour of near empty exhibits there was a bit of a scrum and at some point I accidentally switched my camera into "minature: auto" mode. After a lot of fumbling I managed to switch it back to normal but actually some of the pics it took were rather fetching:
Might use that one again sometime.

Anyhow those historic boats...

Friday, November 28, 2014

The squeezed working river

The working Thames, as described in the previously reviewed book The Men of the Tideway, is still visible, but is getting increasingly squeezed.

Take the barge above, unloading sand by Wandsworth Bridge. It's surrounded by new developments and the local favourite, The Ship. This pub was founded as a Thameside Waterman’s Inn in 1786, but I doubt there are many watermen to be found inside.

I wonder how long these small scale sites can survive the demand for land for new apartments.

Just upriver there are stacks of barges and tugs coming and going all day long.
The more fancy new developments they build, the more they will create rubbish.

So this site, which sorts and packs waste into containers to be shipped downriver, will no doubt be busy for many years to come.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Book Review: Men of the Tideway by Dick Fagan & Eric Burgess

One of the fascinations about the Thames is that there are so many levels and stories, from today and the past.

As well as a place for rowing and sailing, for the Thames Clippers to zoom between Putney and Woolwich, it has been a water supply, sewage system and of course major trade-way. Indeed one of the attractions in the foundation of Londinium by the Romans was as a port on the Thames.

For two thousand years the watermen played their trade upon its muddy waters until the London Docks became the greatest in the world. But those days have long gone and the culture of the lightermen is fading.

So we must value all the more records such as this one. Dick Fagan, one of the authors of Men of the Tideway, was freeman of the river for over 40 years, and this book tells of his memories and stories of the river and its working men.

It is full of wonderful detail and realities, of hard tasks and cold nights, with a skill-set and camaraderie all its own. It captures what it must have been like to take a lighter up river in the dark under the power of oars alone, dodging the many bridges, feeling the current and the wind.

It's a rich tapestry of characters, villains and heroes, dockers and customs men, tug skippers and new recruits, barges and wharfs, thieves and policemen, cargoes and ghosts.

A great read, full of life, even if the world it describes is now fading. But the Thames remains a working river and even up by Putney there are tugs and lighters, still, to this day.

There's another legacy: the annual Doggett's Coat and Badge rowing race. Dating back to 1715, next year will be its 300th anniversary.

One for the diary.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The sailing shrink will see you now

So? Youv had a dream, yah? Ve're vorried?

No problem, ve can help vou with vis, yah, and analyze yous dreams.

I had a client, let us say his name vos JP, yas? He had vis dream, he vas vanting to buy a boat, a yacht, vor tha sailing, yas? It had to be strong, tough yuz understand, vor the ice. He vanted to go north.

But therez a problem. Yah, interesting the problem iz. Money. Viz boat would cost money, lotz of it and JP he'z be vorried.

So in hiz dream he think he waitz 'til be vins da lottery. Vot does this mean, he asked?

I tell him big problemz, need many, many sessions. So JP he not listen and go away. So I need new problemz, yah, to vork with.

You helpz maybe? What be your problems, eh?

You've dreamed sailing, yas?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Third at 75

When I grow old up I want to be like Sir Robin Knox-Johnston.

Congratulations to Sir Robin for coming third, bagging the last podium position in his class, in the 2014 Route du Rhum at the age of 75.

More pictures of his Open 60 Grey Power crossing the line and him having a very well earned bottle of something bubbly here.

Updated: Clip of Sir Robin's "gallon of rum" interview on BBC News here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Who are the British sailors?

Who are the people who are interested in sailing in the UK?

Thanks to a recently released dataset from market research group YouGov we can get an idea. It has a profiles tool that allows you to query who has identified that they are interested in sailing.

From a sample size of 2633 respondents who said they were sailing fans: we learn that they:

  • Are old. Yup, largest demographic was the over 60. That's pretty depressing, but on the plus side the least uninterested of the rest were the youngsters 18-24
  • Typically male. That might explain while Buff is still single, though there are those (me, his mum etc) who think the reasons are deeper
  • Are mostly right wing southerners who are work in professions like mining, agriculture or architecture. That all puzzles me a bit to be honest. Maybe they're including gin-palaces in this category? Note London is pretty low down the list, under Northern Scotland
  • Enjoy ballet and dance...... ok... suggestions please?
  • Favourite sports are skiing and swimming. I'm assuming that's after sailing
  • Are adaptable, inventive leaders who are also demanding, strong-willed and confrontational (which explains a lot of the argy-bargy around the marks)
  • Like the music of Cliff Richard ..... WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE????
  • Top Facebook page is RNLI. Phew, something I actually understand!
  • Likes to read society rag The Tatler..... er....
So all in all a baffling response.

But you can also do this the other way round. If, for example, you have a look at who watches Channel 4 News (and you all should, its brilliant), the favourite sport of viewers is sailing.

So come on C4 News, give us a regular sailing news slot!

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Ammassalik wooden maps

These beautiful carvings are the British Library's copies of the Ammassalik wooden maps, created by local Inuit navigators and represent in 3D the coastline of East Greenland.

The top one is represents islands and the bottom the coastline, and were collected by Danish explorer Gustav Holm in the 1880s. They are designed to be felt in the hand, rotated round, possibly in the dark, with each notch and curve representing not just coastlines but its appearance and rock formations. They also have the advantage that they float.

The coastline block represents the tract between Kangerdluarsikajik, east of Sermiligak, and Sieralik, north of Kangerdlugsuatsiak.

His report notes that the "mainland continues from one side of the wooden block to the other, while the islands are located on the accompanying block without regard to the distance between them in reference to the mainland. All places where there are old ruins of houses, and therefore good storage places, are marked on the wood map, which also shows the points where a kayak can be carried over the ground between two fjords when the sea ice blocks the headline outside."

One of the fjords it covers is Kangerdlugssuaq, where we had engine failure, but I must admit I didn't recognise it, except in its description as "a fjord of such length that a kayak can not even in a whole day row from the mouth to the head of the fjord and back again".

I'm hoping to one day go back to Greenland and have made a mental note to try to get my hands on one of these and ask for a more detailed description of these fascinating works of art that are also navigational tools.

Picture Puzzle

Spotted in the British Library yesterday - but what are they?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Grey beard from Putney sailing rather well

Hurrah for Robin Knox-Johnston!

The 75 year old from Putney (above, from a few years ago) is not just competing in the Route du Rhum he is currently in third position with 650 nm to go.

Woo hoo!

Maybe I should take up long distance single handed sailing when I retire?

I'm clearly not old enough, yet.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Do harpoons work on comets?

Golly, what an exciting afternoon! Double screen time with both twitter and live feed open.

Congrats to the Rosetta and Philae team for the (possibly bouncy) landing!

Loved the comic strip updates from the web comic xkcd as shown above - which have already been converted into an animated gif. And we still don't know whether harpoons work on comets.

Can't wait to see what pictures get released tomorrow.

Fingers still crossed, just in case.

Updated: Philae on the way down:

Where Philae should be and where it looks like it ended up after two bounces, one of around 1 km (from here).

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Sometimes it appears the world needs reminding of the terrible costs of war.

The 1914 - 1918 war led to 888,246 British men and women losing their lives, and the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation (above) is an incredibly moving way to commemorate them, a hundred years later.

Waves of red appear to wash against the old walls of the Tower of London, filing the moat with ceramic poppies.


Saturday, November 08, 2014

Buff gets NAKED

G'day all! Buff Staysail here, Buff by name and Buff by nature!

Have you ever woken up and had NO IDEA where you were or why?

Well that happened to ol' Buff on a sailing hol to the Caribbean recently that seems to have stirred up some fellow boaters.

I remember waking up and discovering I had a splitting headache, numb thumb and no clothes on - in a strange yacht!!

I went on deck to see where I was and what was going on, eyes sticking together and mouth dry. Jeez it was bright on deck. For quite a long time I just stood there, hands on hips, waiting for the cogs to click into place.

Jeez I felt crap. There was something I really had to do, like urgently.

Something white went drifting past. No, two things. Maybe yachts?

Jeez, never again.

Then things began to come into focus. Previously it had been Dave-boy's birthday and we'd been out painting the island red. Not a lot of what we got up to is family friendly, so just say we ended up with empty wallets having smoked or drunk anything on offer. Actually come to think of it my wallet completely vanished and there were some very odd purchases on my cards. Can't of been ol' Buff surely?

Anyhow when got back late the previous night to where we left the dinghy it had disappeared!! I thought I saw the yacht we'd chartered anchored out in the bay so got down to my birthday suit and swam for it, as did Wes. But where had Wes got to?

Then I saw him, starkers as I was, on our actual yacht - the one I was on belonged to some strangers!!! And stuck hard on my numb thumb was the ring & key to our yacht - so he'd been locked out all night!

Jeez what a mess.

So I used the dinghy the rightful owners had kindly left (must have got a water taxi ashore) and paddled cautiously over to Wes, who looked as bad as I felt.

Red eyes and red skin are not a good look.

So we had a few tinnies to ease away the pain and to be honest crashed out again.

Never again.

Don't know what happened to the two yachts we saw, they'd gone the next day. Oh, and it appeared our dinghy was still there, we'd just forgotten to look in the right place.

Doh! I suddenly remember what was urgent! I had to ring me ma to wish her happy birthday! Luckily Dave-boy had left his phone on our boat so I used it to have a good long chat with her back in Oz.

Didn't mention the reason the call was late - and don't you go telling her either!

This is Buff Staysail, fully clothed now, with Wes and Dave-boy, heading back out on the piss, over and not out - so watch out islanders!

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Film Review: Mr Turner

With the arrival of the third Turner exhibition in London in five years it is timely that Mike Leigh's latest film, which has just been released, is on the subject of Mr Turner. It stars Timothy Spall in the title roll, complete with top hat and grumpy expression as in the photo above (from here).

It is always dangerous to confuse historical films with documentaries, but Mike Leigh's style of directing focusses on character and uses improvisation techniques, so it is probably captures more of the truth of the people involved than many non-fictional accounts.

Timothy Spall is magic to watch, complete with a sound-track of different grunts. Think of a wild boar that has caught the smell of truffles and you'll get an idea. "Hmm", "errmm", "huram", "hurgggh", "grruhmmm" are just a few of the words in this extensive dictionary.

Spall's Turner is a man of few real words, relaxing only when talking to his dad or fellow artists at the Royal Academy about art. Unlike the contemporary John Martin (of which I've blogged before) he held no famous dinner parties but rather stumped off on his own to Margate, where he stayed under an assumed name and struck up a relationship with the widowed landlady, Mrs Booth.

It was a rarity, as Turner gave the impression he'd rather be alone with his thoughts, sketch book in hand, than chatting about (say) gooseberries with John Rushkin (as happens in one scene).

It feels right and true, but there weren't enough boats. Ok, that is a pretty limited criticism but the problem is the difficulty (read cost) of outside scenes of the Thames in 1850 in Chelsea when it currently looks like this:
This is the view of the river from 119 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea where Turner lived with Mrs Booth, painted, and eventually died. Between the river and the house is a busy road, so I can see why they actually shot the scene elsewhere.

Turner is known for his large skies and wild seas, but all too often they were hidden from view, apart from one lovely shot of white cliffs and rolling seas.

The one exception was the recreation of the famous scene of the Fighting Temeraire using extensive CGI like this:

This is the view as it was captured by Turner in his masterpiece - but which is known to be inaccurate (e.g. the masts would have been taken down).

But it makes a lovely scene in the film with Turner in a real rowing gig out on the water as the sun sets. I wish there could have been more of them.

I also felt there should have been some mention of the problems Turner had with his vision.

But the aggregate effect of numerous character focussed scenes, no doubt well researched by the team including actors, builds to picture of a complex man who focussed on art rather than people, who knew the difference between solitude and loneliness, for he was never alone while he had his sketch books to hand.

Both the deaths of his father and Turner himself are ultimately moving, and the last words of the latter, "the sun is god", haunting.

For anyone interested in Turner, plus many others beside, I'd say its a must-see film.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The Cruel Sea

Recently Film4 was showing again the war time drama The Cruel Sea and I couldn't help watching it again.

It hasn't always got good reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes one critic called it dated propaganda, while the New York Times wrote it down as a documentary rather than drama. I think both miss the point, though it could be a question of taste, as I found The Cruel Sea both moving and gripping.

Too often mainstream movies value scenes with bangs rather than creating a film of depth. Take U-571, which has implausible battle scenes and a much protested re-writing of history, yet critical consensus by Rotten Tomatoes as "a tense thriller". But in practice it is so false as to be truly describable as propaganda (and I suspect it will date badly), whereas The Cruel Sea feels as if it captures the reality of the Battle of the Atlantic.

The Cruel Sea works through gradualism: whereas each scene might have lower impact it builds to a greater impression. It's opening line is a great one:

This is a story of the Battle of the Atlantic, the story of the ocean, two ships, and a handful of men. The men are the heroes; the heroines the ships. The only villain is the sea, the cruel sea that man has made more cruel

The skipper and his crew start out raw, learn through the early encounters before the full engagement, with successes and disasters, to ultimately victory, after many years of struggle.

It captures the energy draining relentlessness of years of war, hard days and black nights at sea, the reality of war as a marathon not a sprint.


Saturday, November 01, 2014

Clean Bandit vs. Chvrches at the Brixton Academy

Hi Guys,

O! M! G! Sassi has FINALLY been having some fun!! The nights might be dark but echoes of those summer festivals can still be heard on the tough streets of Brixton - even the smells are the same!!!

First up at the legendary Brixton Academy was the Cambridge quartet with friends on vocals Clean Bandit (above) who were boogie level fun with sing-along anthems for everyone!! I know where I'd Rather Be!!! One evening that brought Sassi a splash of sunshine!!

The following night it was the tvrn (geddit!!???) of Glasgow techno trio Chvrches (below) who had lasers - and everything is better with lasers!!

Intense!! Lights like the Night Sky!

So which was better??? Well they were both BRILLIANT but Sassi has got one conclusion for you.

The camera on the Nexus 5 is USELESS!!

Rock on!

Sassi xxx