Monday, May 30, 2011

Book Review: Walking on Water

First a confession - I read this book some time ago but didn't get round to reviewing it. But today's a wet Bank Holiday (and how often do those words go together) so as good a time as any for a post.

I picked this up at the Boat Show when I met him just after he'd been awarded Yachtsman of the Year for being the first quadriplegic to sail across the Atlantic. He'd given a talk and come across as a fluent confident speaker and the writing is equally good, well structured and always flowing.

The book covers an earlier time, from childhood and first sailing experiences to the accident, long recovery up to the Round Britain, but no further, so the Atlantic isn't covered.

At first I couldn't make up my mind whether it was about someone coming to terms with their disability via sailing or a sailor who was in a wheelchair. I got the feeling that Geoff would rather it was the latter, that he'd be taken as a sailor first, that you could look beyond the machines that help him move.

However while sailing does indeed alter the direction of a life it can't have the same devastating impact that comes from breaking one's neck and resulting paralysis. The core of book was the story of someone who overcome the hurdles of his body's limitation to do what he loved - in this case sailing. I have a feeling Jamie Andrew's book would have a similar ethos, leaving a similar message and showing a similar character - though with climbing as the focus.

But there's no doubting his great achievement in sailing round Britain in a lively trimaran while barely able to hold a rope. On the way there were disasters including a near drowning in front of the world's media on the first attempt to start the circumnavigation.

A good read of how a determined man overcame almost overwhelming odds to achieve his personal Everest.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The sound of the sea

I think I'm going to fail the latest boating blogger writing challenge.

I blame the Beatles for breaking up before I was old enough to appreciate them, for my formative years were the years of bands like The Police singing of Walking on the Moon.

One idea I had was triggered by scanning though a list of Beatles song titles, where my eye was caught by one - If I Fell.

It's not a song I know but it reminded me of a moment in time, the night of the midnight shredder. I've posted the story before, how on the ARC the spinnaker wrapped itself around the forestay so badly it looked liked someone would have to go up the mast to clear up the mess.

The previous post was about mistakes, and how I blamed myself for the wrap as I was at the wheel and trying to tell a joke at the time. In looking back it was one of those learning experiences, where I hopefully now will give that big sail the attention it deserves.

But increasingly there's another emotion, regret at not having to go up the mast, for Tristan managed to unwrap it in time. That's crazy I know, for masts are high things and we were mid-Atlantic where there was no chance of a helicopter transfer to A&E if I fell.

It might sound strange to want to have ascended a swaying mast and then make my way down the forestay hand over hand, unknotting the spinnaker as I went. But I have often wondered of the view, of the moon-light dancing on the wide wide sea, of getting a feel for the tiny size of our yacht compared to an ocean. For what is life but to gain experiences and memories, to take risks and the rewards that come with adventures?

And the music that's in my head of those days? There were but two good CDs on-board, and the one that matches that scene is Norah Jones's, Come away with me.

No, it wasn't The Beatles, but it takes me back to those days as music can, the sound of the sea.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Book Review: Voyage East

Ex-Beatle Ringo Starr recently made the headlines by saying he missed nothing about his home city of Liverpool. It is indeed a city that is short of admirers, but there is one thing it was rightly famous for, and that was its shipping lines. And arguably the greatest of those was the Blue Funnel Line.

Ok, maybe I'm more than a little biased given it was founded by a great-to-the-something relative, but it seems that I'm not alone, and the Voyage East would be one of the exhibits in my defence.

This book describes the journey by a ship of the Blue Funnel Line in the last days of Britains once great mercantile fleet. There isn't a precise date as its an amalgamation of several journeys - I'm guessing around 1960 - into one, with names changed to protect the innocent.

Not that there were many innocents among the crew, for this book makes it clear the reputation of the merchant seaman was well earned, and the description of the temptations of shore are graphic, together with the risks and fears of STDs.

It makes a great companion to a book previously reviewed, namely the Surgeon's Log. There are strong echoes of this earlier book in Voyage East and I wouldn't be surprised if Richard Woodman, its author, was familiar with it. He seems well read, often quoting the likes of Conrad, just as the Surgeon's Log was frequently quoting my favourite buccaneer, William Dampier. 

In both cases the journey starts and ends in what was the great port of Liverpool, taking in the Suez Canal, Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Japan and back again via the Philippines and Borneo. The boat has a rich but realistic cast of "characters" from the old man, known as China Dick (and for a reason), the Mate (from the old school - efficient and married to the romance of the sea), to the engineers and deck hands. 

I really enjoyed it, and felt it captured the reality of that life, the hardship of endless watches and loss of roots that comes from continual travel, balanced by the wonders of strange lands and those experiences of the sea worth remembering: perfect sunsets and endless stars at night.

In the end the British merchant navy was to be destroyed not by war or angry seas but a metal box. For the soulless container ship operating under flag of convenience would make the general cargo ship an anachronism.

But there are many that morn its loss, and there are those Blueys still out there with memories of derricks and cargo storage, carrying anything from palm oil to the kitchen sink through storms and typhoons.

And I'm sure they will look back on those days with affection and read this book with a smile of recognition

Monday, May 23, 2011

Scallops and Beatles

I haven't forgotten the Tillerman Beatles challenge but further research is needed. I've never really got into them in a big way but no doubt that's what Wikipedia is for.

In the meantime here are some borrowed themes. From Baydog some fresh dived scallops - not as fancy preparation as his, but my philosophy is you should spend longer cleaning than cooking them, and here are quickly seared and then served simply with good quality bacon and green beans.

For the Bursledon Blog here is a picture of the South Bank, where coincidently both of were some time this afternoon:

Finally for all Americans, here is the view your President will see sometime tomorrow on his way to this rather good B&B in central London:

Top tip for house guests: if you do want to talk to Philip about Pippa, do wait until ER along with the other ladies have left the room!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sevylor Rio: first impressions

My 21st of May date with destiny was the first trial of my brand new Sevylor Rio, and a lot of fun it was too.

As you might have gathered went down from Putney to central London and back taking advantage of the tides in both directions. I hadn't planned to go so far but there was a certain amount of this-is-fun-I'll-keep-going to the trip.

Alas my planning hadn't included sun cream, so slightly red today - should have read up on Bonnie or Tillerman's lists.

It felt a very stable craft just about right sized for one person. It wasn't terribly fast and there was noticeably more windage than low lying kayaks and I did think that it would be a right struggle to paddle up against a strong current and wind.

It has the advantage that its easy to store and can be ready to go at a moments notice - pumping up takes only a minute or so. Having said that it isn't as light as you might think and hauling it up a ladder four or five metres did leave me thinking about tricks to reduce the load (pulleys came into it).

Apartment dwellers short of space wanting the flexibility to go out solo should certainly consider one: I'm already looking forward to the next trip.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

River Rapture Day

It is the day long foretold - yeh even in the Book of Outlook it was said that the 21st of May 2011 would come, and today is the day.

At JP HQ a sight strange could be seen - JP's jeans empty! Discarded as if the soul within had disappeared! And verily it was indeed the case that JP's soul had left the soil of Earth and was to be found floating upon the Sacred River.

Thanks be to our Saviour Sevylor Rio which carried JP down the great river, and much rapture was in his heart at that moment! No longer tied down by the temporal life of lawyers and other sinners but afloat upon the Thames!

But like the pilgrims of old there were challenges on the way to righteousness. The river was in ebb, taking JP not up but down river, passing Battersea Power Station where fires as hot as hell once burnt, ever on down towards the modern Sodom and Gomorrah, under Vauxhall Bridge and on-towards that nest of sinners, Westminster!

For trusting in man was shown to be false as the temporal authorities of the PLA had decreed that low water was at 11:09 GMT and at 12:30 BST the tide was still flowing out! But like a true Pilgrim JP turned his trusty kayak against the flow and headed back up river.

And he was rewarded by the elements which soon were calling JP's soul, ascending ever upriver. Passing the new Eden of Chelsea JP was greeted by a host of angels helicopters - verily three mighty Sea Knights! And they did honour him with a great roar of their engines as they circled, once, thrice, nay! verily a dozen times. And JP did sing his praises to them, calling out "Wheeeeeeeee!!!"

So it was that JP did ascend the sacred river in rapture, till he reached his reward - a bacon sandwich. And it did taste of Heaven.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Black Rabbit and the return of the Chelsea Bun

Chris from Rowing for Pleasure has posted a picture a bit like the one above and I can guess why, as I stopped there too when walking with the Natural Navigator.

You might not be too surprised to discover that the explanation involves a pub, namely The Black Rabbit that occupies this picturesque corner of the Arun river. It's a great location but I've heard a few bad stories of slow service and poor value for money.

Continuing the gastro theme, there is good news for any ex-Cambridge sailors out there (yes Tillerman I mean you) in that the famous Fitzbillies Chelsea Bun might be making a return.

Fingers crossed that next trip up there I'll be able to enjoy that sticky, gooey delicacy.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tudor Pull 2011

It's never fun to work the weekend (particular to fix rounding errors) so it was good of the Thames Traditional Rowing Association to put on a show. 

Ok, it might not just have been for me as it was the 2011 Tudor Pull in which traditional rowing craft crewed by members of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen (and others) from Hampton Court to The Tower of London.

Very colourful with ceremonial dress and canopies, it was a very welcome break from Excel spreadsheets, even if I do seem to have been papped by the Trinity House boat.

It was all organised by the PLA who were out in force:

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Blogger ate my post

I now have the perfect excuse for any gaps between blogs: "it's not my fault, blogger ate my post!"

Rather ironically the main reason haven't been blogging so much this year is have been (over) working on a web based application.

As Top Gear would no doubt ask: "how difficult can it be?"

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Natural Navigation Picture Puzzle

If you haven't already spotted it, Tristan has recently posted a good natural navigation picture puzzle for you to test your NN skills - full background to this picture to be found here.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Picture puzzle

After yesterday's chillingly bad Michael Jackson statue, another Thames and music post, this time a picture puzzle.

Who's the composer?

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Father Thames: meet Michael Jackson

The river Thames has to put up with a lot.

When it rains it becomes an overflow for London's sewage system and whether it rains or not some people seem to treat it like capital's rubbish bin to such an extent that the high tide mark can be identified by a line of plastic bags and bottles.

And now it has to put up with something else: a statue to Michael Jackson. For reasons best known to himself, the owner of the Fulham football club has decided to place a statue of the pop singer in the grounds overlooking the river.

So insistent is Mohammed Al Fayed that he told fans that if they do not appreciate it they can "go to hell".

I did take a photo of it so you could judge for yourself, but in the end I felt it would be unfair to punish you like that. It really is that bad.

Those with a strong constitution can watch the BBC's summary of the sorry story here.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The South Bank in Spring

On the way to and from the Tate Modern I walked along side the Thames and passed the South Bank complex to see what was happening there.

For starters there was one ginormous fox sitting on the QEH (above) and one big sea gull out front (below):
The weather was, as can be seen, extraordinarily fine for the 1st May, and to complete the mood there was even a beach (or plage as I overheard someone call it):
Behind the Festival Hall there was a food fair where I had a really nice diver collected Dorset Scallop with celeriac puree, bacon and seashore vegetables washed down with a taster of St. Germain Elderflower liquor cocktail.

It was so tasty that didn't even think of taking a picture until too late:
I wish I could take more time off

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Miro at the Tate Modern

On Sunday I took the day off work (shock!) and went into town to see the Miro exhibition at the Tate Modern.

Joan Miro was one of the mold breakers of the 20th Century, one of those artists that is known simply by his surname, always eye catching and dramatic. The exhibition covered his evolution from naive-realism, to surrealism, to abstraction and then finally conceptual art.

But it was strangely uninspiring to see room after room of his paintings. All too often they were too similar, variations on a small set of themes, and often too insular.

One phase for example was in reaction to the Spanish Civil War, and involved stick figures with red hats - the hat apparently a crucial political statement of solidarity with Catalan peasants. That's a message that might have meant something in 1930s Barcelona, but is less universal and hence powerful than (say) Picasso's Guernica.

So after a room full of stick men with red hats that felt like more than enough.

The more complex pictures were more interesting, like the Constellation series as in this example:
This surely is great art, but presenting nine of them together there was the opposite problem: each scene is completely filled with abstract symbols and the audio guide described with some of them. But to go into all of them for all of the pictures in the Constellation room would take all day: it was overload, and too often the rewards, the message, insufficient.

Later on Miro ended up experimenting with burning his own pictures and sculptures of found objects, and it was hard to appreciate either that much.

My favourite was the triptic Blue I, II, and III, one of which is shown above. Massive canvases, their immersive experience bring the skies and water's of the Mediterranean into the heart of London. Without the overload of Constellation series or narrow message of the Catalan peasant's hat it's simplicity paradoxically had a greater impact.

Maybe that says something about our overloaded times - or my desire at this point for a cappuccino.

In the end my impression was that Miro's pictures individually have an impact as they show his differentness to other artists, but that together they show the lack of variety between his paintings.

With Miro, it really is the case that less is more.

Updated: for an entertaining take on the exhibition, Brian Sewell's review is here

Sunday, May 01, 2011

JP paps Pippa!

Yes, the trending topic of the day, Miss Pippa, is again here in all her glory.

Top pap JP managed to take these EXCLUSIVE pictures of Miss All-White herself, charming none other than Prince Philip on a discrete balcony in London, SW.

HM was not amused and before you could say "corgi" he'd been giving his marching orders. But the lovely Miss Middleton was not left alone, for she was joined by dashing Prince Harry, and what a lovely couple they made:
As to whether there's anything going on there - well pip-Pippa's the word!

It's not all about hats

For some reason Tillerman's been obsessing with hats.

I can't understand why: as the photo above clearly shows the sensation of this royal wedding was entirely hat free.