Thursday, October 31, 2013

8 years later....

It's blog-anniversary day again! Yup, 8 years ago today this blog began when the dolphin photo above was posted, so its time for a little whoosh through the archives as Buff, Sassi and me share "remember whens?".

Year 1

Things started off bright-eyed and nicely on-topic, with posts on sailing from Lisbon to Gibraltar via Cadiz, the Volvo in-port race in Portsmouth and sailing a Volvo 60 with Emma Richards.

Year 2

"G'day all" said a certain someone as Buff joined the team and things were never quite the same again. Oh, and there was sailing an America's Cup yacht in Sydney and a non-laser sailor sailed a laser (I remember those bruises).

Year 3

JP goes racing: another day out racing on a Volvo 60 at Cowes week followed by the 100th anniversary of the Square Metre rule in Sweden. In America there was an election in which sailing played its part.

Year 4

It's TV time as we launch Top Yacht and JP goes on Dragon's Den. Plus we reveal the Ultimate Walk by the Thames and go on a Sunsail Charter holiday in Greece. Then there was a bit of travel to the Orinoco Delta (possibly with a bit of boating involved) and the mystery of the lost blog post.

Year 5

It's America's Cup year and of course Buff's got the scoop. He also comes with the Buff phonetic alphabet which is Facebook Apple Britney! JP unfortunately turns to the DARK SIDE and is punished for it by a bang to the head by a boom. He also discovers how lambs are navigational hazards and goes up a mountain to meet a monk from south London.

Year 6

It's a great year for Buff: he has his own America's Cup TV show and reveals that JP is a foredeck slacker, but the less said about Buff's phone hacking scandal the better. JP leads the interweb in post-planking stocking, paps Pippa and was not bad at the Fowey Classics Regatta.

Year 7

OMG! It's only Sassi! Yes, we have a new member of the team and what a year it was! There was the Diamond Jubilee, the sail to the Arctic Circle, the Olympics, the Paralympics.... gosh, we're all welling up with emotion at the memories. Plus Buff went swimming and gave us the 50 rules of boating, JP went skiing, visited Helsinki, baked some ship's biscuits and blogged from spaaaaace! OMG!!!

Year 8

So here we are, year 8. And JP's been to Greenland where he had to tow a yacht out of icy fjord after engine failure - which was nothing to Buff's America's Cup adventure. Buff also gave the world his America's Cup drinking game while Sassi got excited when a woman had a baby. JP also got some top tips of sailing photography from Rick Tomlinson, went on an Australian paddle steamer and discovered the answer to the ultimate question was 41.5.

Doesn't that just take the year old ship's biscuit?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

41 Top Tips for Geneva

Lists are so in. Buzzfeed has built an audience of millions, partly thanks to its love of list - especially ones that involve cat gifs (LOL!!)

So I've made a list of top tips about the Swiss city of Geneva, where I worked for far too much of October:

1. Top sight is the water jet (above) otherwise known as the Jet d'Eau. It used to be on always apart from when it was icy or windy but recently it seems to have been switched off quite a lot

2. The city is built at the far end of Lake Geneva, known to the French as Lake Leman

3. You can go on boat tours of the lake or down the river from the Quai du Monte-Blanc

4. Another must-see is the old town clustered around the St-Pierre Cathedral (below). You can climb to the top of the Cathedral tower for great views

5. Nearby is the picturesque town hall or Hôtel de Ville

6. There's a nice walk from the Cathedral passing the Hotel de Ville down to the river along the Rue de la Cite:

7. Another nice walk is to the end of the Jetee des Paquis jutting out into the lake where you can see a great panorama of the Cathedral and the water jet

8. The cold clear waters of the river Rhone flows fast splitting Geneva in two, with the old town on the left bank (looking in the direction the river flows) and the station plus international organisations on the right

9. You can go to classical music concerts at the lovely Victoria Hall

10. Many of the big names in rock and pop pass through on their tours, usually playing at the Geneva Arena by the airport. Back in the 90s I saw Oasis there

11. You can go to smaller gigs at a number of places including the Pickwick pub on Rue de Lausanne

12. But be careful, I know of someone who had their pockets nicked in the Pickwick

13. However Geneva is generally safe

14. The best moules are to be had at a restaurant called Francis on Boulevard James-Fazy

15. You can get a good steak and chips from either the Cafe de Paris (by the station) or L'Entrecote (across the river) - and that's all those two restaurants serve

16. I've been told that the best croissants are to be had at Le Pain Quotidien but having tried them I feel that further research is required as Geneva has many many very good bread and cake shops

17. If you detect waffs of smelly socks fear not, it's probably just means you are walking past one of the many fondu restaurants

18. One of the local specialities is fillet du perche which used to come from the lake but nowadays are imported

19. The local yacht club the Société Nautique de Genève (had to get a sailing link in somehow) won the America's Cup in 2003 and then defended it in 2007

20. If you're into shopping then you can get most things in Geneva, particularly on the street between the old town and the lake appropriately called Rue du Marche

21. The usual gifts from Geneva are watches, chocolate and Swiss army knives

22. Most shops are closed on Sunday

23. On a wet day you can go round the National Art and History museum just off the old square

24. A little bit beyond the museum is the Russian Orthodox Church with its classic onion domes

25. Geneva is full of parks which are very pretty at this time of year:

26. The best way to travel the short way from the airport to the city is on the train

27. From Geneva main railway station you can catch trains to nearby towns including the lovely Lausanne and Montreaux

28. From the bus station or Gare Routiere you can get buses up to the ski resorts and the ticket includes the ski pass

29. It's easy to get around town on the buses and trams: when you check into a hotel you will get a free ticket that lasts the duration of your stay

30. However Geneva is very walkable so I don't usually bother

31. Its a bit of a hike to the Place des Nations but worth it to see the old League of Nations building and the giant Broken Chair aka the memorial to victims of land mines

32. A great day trip from Geneva is to visit CERN but I've never managed to get there as you MUST book ahead

33. The best hotels in Geneva are down by the lake side - for example the Beau Rivage, Richemond, Four Seasons etc. For obvious reasons I have never stayed in any of them

34. In the Tintin book "The Calculus Affair" the professor stayed at the Hotel Cornavin which is a real hotel by the station and has a small Tintin display in its reception:

35. Hotels charge an arm and a leg for washing so instead why not try the Salon Lavoir behind the station for your clothes washes, pressing and dry cleaning - all with friendly service

36. When all the rich meals get too much, you can go for a great jog along the lakeside by starting at the Mont Blanc bridge and keep going along the Quay Mont Blanc

37. They drive on the wrong side of the road so look both ways when crossing a street just to be sure

38. While they speak French in Geneva, their English is usually pretty good

39. France is very very close, with Geneva Airport straddling the border

40. The currency is the Swiss Franc and it has become very strong so everything seems expensive. However Geneva is a sensible city so you don't have to worry about that stupid tipping nonsense

41. You can visit Geneva many times and still be discovering things - even if, like me, you've been there 41 times already.

Monday, October 28, 2013

After St. Jude

Unlike the storm of 1987, last night's St. Jude (as it was named) was forecast with what looked like high accuracy several days in advance.

Hundreds of trees were blown down (like the one above in Putney) causing all sorts of transport woes.

On the plus side we Brits love talking about the weather so you won't be surprised to hear that #ukstorm2013 is trending on Twitter.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Cindella's ball boat

I've been overloaded with work all last week but am now back in the UK, just in time for the storm that we've all be told is due tonight.

To get back into the swing of blogging here's a picture of the pumpkin boat that was recently used to cross the Solent (as you do).

The pumpkin is of course very appropriate for this time of year as Halloween being just around the corner, but it was also the vegetable that was used to create Cinderella's golden carriage.

So now I'm wondering what would the maritime equivalent be? No doubt a swish of wand would also convert a couple of ship's rats into its crew.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Ned Collier Wakefield on Concise 8

Another of the boats that caught my eye at the Southampton Boat Show was the new Class 40 Concise 8.

Very slick looking its to be sailed by the double handed team of Ned Collier Wakefield (above) and Sam Goodchild.

They had success last year coming first in the Normandy Channel Race and hope to repeat that when they enter the Transat Jacques Vabre starting in just two weeks time.

Longer term they admit in this video of the naming ceremony for Concise 8 of their desire to race in the Vendee Globe.

I must admit I prefer the idea of double handed racing over single handed racing which can be either unsafe (due to poor watch keeping) or cruel (due to lack of sleep).

So its a shame they can't sail together in the Vendee Globe rather than be competitors.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pogo at Southampton

One of the boats that caught my eye at the Southampton Boat Show was this rather nice fast cruiser / racer, one of the Pogo range. I think its a Pogo 30 and what I've seen of them sailing (mostly videos) was pretty impressive.

They've also been selling well - 30 off plan according to Elaine Bunting at Yachting World. I'm looking forward to reading their boat test.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Phoencia in Southampton

A couple of days ago I reviewed the book "Sailing close to the wind" which described the voyage of the replica Phoencia around Africa.

And here she is at the Southampton Boat Show back in September.

She was fully decked (if that's the word, meaning covered from stern to prow), which didn't seem right for a cargo ship, but maybe the Phoenicians would have changed the layout for such a long voyage.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Charity calender's safety tip

Ok, time to get serious, pay attention at the back (yes I mean you, Tillerman, I saw that yawn).

Safety - lets talk water safety!

We must remember, when we head out to go rowing, sailing or kayaking, to make sure we always wear a personal flotation device or PFD.

Take this young woman as an example. Even though it was clearly such a hot day she had no need for clothing she remembered to put on a PFD.

It's part of a collection of photos for the University of Warwick women rower's 2014 calender in to raise funds for the Macmillan Cancer Support (bravo).

Towards the end of the collection we also have good example of how the Pharaoh Sneferu discovered how to make rowing interesting but alas that photo was not a good example of boating safety.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Book Review: Sailing Close to the Wind

No, this isn't the Ben Ainslie autobio or Pete Goss's recount of his Vendee Globe, alas, both of which are called Close to the Wind. Actually in this book they didn't even go that close to the wind, they couldn't, not when sailing a replica of an ancient Phoenician vessel.

Sailing Close to the Wind is the story of the creation and voyage of the Phoencia, built in Syria in 2008 before the civil war started, which headed down the Red Sea, south around Cape of Good Hope into the Atlantic and the long treck north to the straits of Gibraltar before finally returning to the start in 2010.

It should have been gripping, as I like both history and sailing, and have always been a bit intrigued by what little I know of the Phoenicians.

But this book didn't have a spark. There was too much we did this, then that, until something happened, but it wasn't that bad, so we kept going in long, long paragraphs.

There was potential there, for at the start they had all sort of difficulties sprouting from bad planning and skipper inexperience. They set off without having had a sea trial to build experience in the boat and how to sail it, which led to almost inevitable problems, including faulty design in the steering oar and the omission of an engine. The latter problem meant they had to install (and soon afterwards repair) a second or third hand engine picked up at Port Sudan at vast expense.

The skipper Philip Beale (and co-author with Sarah Taylor) was actually rather sick, with an infected gall bladder, and that could have one of the contributions to a number of communication problems.

My biggest issue with this voyage (or "epic voyage" to quote the book's blurb) was that it didn't repeat what the Phoenicians would actually have done, which is sail close to shore most of the time. Yes they could navigate by the stars offshore but this was unknown waters and you can only head deep into the Indian Ocean to make landfall in Mozambique if you know its there.

The Phoenica skipped Africa's Atlantic Coast entirely, with no landfall between Cape Town and Gibraltar.

I imagine the Phoenicians taking a series of shorter hops, similar in distance to  passages in the Mediterranean between (say) Italy and Greece, much time spent getting to know the locals, their language and trading, while waiting for a good wind. There would, unlike for the Phoenica, have had no marinas to moor up against, and so a real re-enactment would have relied upon beaching the craft or getting to shore in smaller craft.

However the Phoenicians almost certainly did do the voyage around 600 BC as reported by Herodotus, and the boat was probably similar, based upon a wreck discovered on the sea bed off Marseilles.

In the book A Viking Voyage (blogged yesterday) part of the fun was the graphic and open description of life on-board, the tensions and the frank acceptance of his own failings by the author and expedition leader. There was little of that here.

Take an incident in Cape Town when some of the Muslim crew objected because "there were two couples on-board and some bunk sharing had started to creep in".

Whoa - back up a bit: what was that? But the incident is skimmed over and indeed too often the crew's characters were not fleshed out and left unsatisfactorily vague.

There is also not enough history and instead references to known frauds, such as a stone inscription said to show the Phoenicians went to Brazil, which has been widely debunked.

Their next plan is to sail the Phoenicia across the Atlantic to show the Phoenicians could have discovered America before Columbus, the Vikings etc etc etc which sounds like something with more of an eye on US infotainment channels and gullible funders than sound historical research.

All in all a bit disappointing given how interesting the subject potentially is.

We can but imagine what the experience would have been like, to sail away from the known, one of the other cities of classical history like Tyre, on a boat made from Aleppo pine, Mediterranean pine, oak and walnut, towards the lands over the horizon populated with gods and monsters.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Book Review: Hodding Carter's A Viking Voyage

I took A Viking Voyage to Greenland and that turned out to be a very good choice.

Not only did it involve sailing in similar waters (actually west rather than east coast of Greenland) but also it was a fantastic read.

But to top it all their adventures seemed at times to be echoing ours:

  • Bad weather forces them to shelter in a fjord - check
  • Ice bergs scrape off hull - check
  • Have to get a tow - check
  • Spot a polar bear - check
  • Have stewed whale - check

The book recounts how W. Hodding Carter, fascinated by the Vikings and intrigued by the story of how they "discovered" America decided to re-enact Leif Eriksson's voyage from Greenland to Newfoundland, in a replica boat.

The best thing is that he doesn't hold back and tells it warts and all, and the book is certainly the better for it. The trials and tribulations of building the boat are nothing to the problems they have when their rudder fails in the middle of the Davis Strait, causing an ignominious rescue by the Canadian Coast Guard.

It was certainly a tough voyage, not just weeks but months spent in an open boat (!) above the Arctic Circle where rains and winds are not gentle. It was an all male crew and there were times of beer and fart jokes, but maybe that make the reconstruction all the more accurate. The descriptions of the crew are well rounded, making them feel like real people.

All in all a rollicking good sailing yarn that sounds true in all senses of the word. I found myself rationing chapters and wishing it was longer.

So that's a hearty roar of approval with two Viking axes held up high.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The ship's biscuit - one year on

A year ago, inspired by the Great British Bake Off (GBBO), I used one of the classic recipes to bake some ship's biscuits.

I wasn't that impressed, describing them as "the texture of teak decking tasting burnt". Unsurprisingly there were many left over and I saved my friends and relatives the pain of having to taste them.

But not all were thrown away, some were stored in my cupboard and I've been trying one every now and then to see how they endure.

And today, just over a year from their baking, I tried another one. And how was it? No worse, but then again, no better either.

Still as tough as decking, dry and tasting burnt, but still edible, just.

If after a year's sailing your tall ship was somewhere in the middle of the Pacific you might not enjoy your ration of biscuits, but you wouldn't stave.

So I guess that counts as a successful recipe.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Book Review: Tristan Jones's Ice

Imagine you go into a pub in the wrong end of the wrong sort of town.

It's a rough crowd that go silent at the sight of soft city folk like you. You persevere, going to the bar to order, but to break the tension you offer the man standing there a drink.

He's lean, not ancient like the famous mariner, but tough, scarred with gnarled hands: he has been around the block, seen sights you wouldn't want nightmares about, with tough eyes that, though they have judged you as being weak and unworthy, have a twinkle in them too.

He starts to talk, telling amazing stories of a three legged dog called Nelson, a 34' ex-lifeboat of a yacht and the adventures they had in the high latitude lands and seas of ice. The voice, which has a Welsh lilt, rises and falls like oceanic swell, telling every more extraordinary yarns, so extreme that you would doubt them but dare not say so, fearful.

That's what it felt like reading Tristan Jones's classic "Ice": it was incredible, almost unbelievable, and that was the problem. For Jones has a reputation of mixing fact with fiction, but where could the dividing line be?

Of course there could be advantages to this mix when he writes about lifting gear needed for his boat from Admiralty yards and smuggling whisky into France, so that he has grounds to tell the authorities "I made it up, guv". But there is a counter thought: if this is what he's prepared to admit to, what else did he do?

It is certainly entertaining, as he stocks up with many years of food and heads north via West Ireland and Scotland to Iceland, Greenland and points north. He climbs the mast and falls down, circumnavigates Iceland, gets stuck in the ice, encounters polar bears and much more: to tell would give too much away.

There are rants against the English, strong Welsh pride, and a scattering of history that seemed jumbled up. For example the navigation laws of Oleron (12th Century) are described together with the voyage of Pytheas (330 BC), heading up to Thule, which Jones is convinced is Iceland.

I did wonder how he could at times appear to be unaware that icebergs roll over as they do that frequently, and ignoring that risk led to several crises.

So a good read but it left me with questions. What can not be doubted is that Tristan Jones did go to the far north in a small boat and he wrote a remarkably readable book on his return.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Book Review: Bonington & Knox-Johnston's Sea, Ice and Rock

There is pleasure to be had reading about places you've visited, mixing the familiar with new viewpoints and perspectives.

I had both of these while reading "Sea, Ice and Rock" by Chris Bonington and Robin Knox-Johnston. In this classic from 1992 the climber and sailor join forces on an expedition to conquer a mountain on Greenland's east coast called the Cathedral.

This spectacular unclimbed peak rises up to 2660 metres 20 - 30 km inland as part of the Lemon Mountains (named after an earlier expedition rather than the fruit).

One of the key ideas of the expedition was to put both of them out of their comfort zone. So climber Bonington had to help sail Sulaili, literally learning the ropes while on land it was Knox-Johnston that was the newbie, again literally learning the ropes.

There was a nice contrast between the two, both bearded fifty something men, with some good friendly jousting about how the other's knots were all wrong.

They left from Whitehaven in Cumbria, headed north up to Iceland, stocking up in Reykjavik (where we ended last year's Arctic Circle sail) before heading across the Denmark (or Greenland) Strait to Kangerdulgssuaq Fjord.

This is where we spent four nights at anchor, getting a range of Greenland experiences including navigating through ice, studying the Admiralty Pilot, hiking barren terrain, kayaking, meeting hunters, hunkering down in bad weather and being awe struck by the surroundings - much like Chris and Robin.

As Knox-Johnson put it: "It is almost impossible to describe the absolute beauty unfolding around us as we entered Kangerdulgssuaq Fjord where enormous chunks of ice, many times the size of a Harrods or Selfridges, lay still in the peaceful water".

Here, with the help of Professor Kent Brookes from Cumbria, they found safe anchorage in what is now called Sulaili Bugt (Bay), which they also surveyed, their chart being a resources used by following yachts, including our own Aurora.

The actual ascent was from the north side of Watkins Fjord, which we inspected from Kraemer Island and found pretty packed with ice (see below), as they did, though Knox-Johnston found a way through.

Here the shore party set off towards the peak, using the Frederiksborg Glacier as the highway, until the serious climbing began: the push for the summit.

Robin Knox-Johnston did well to keep up with the climbers but eventually the party had to split with the sailors heading back down, Robin to his beloved Suhaili.

If you've read "A World of my Own" you might not be surprised to hear of a ritual on-board that related to alcohol, namely the "Headland" which basically was an excuse for a tipple. For example, during the crossing a giant half mile long 60m high berg was visited by inflatable and sampled for its ice, to be added to a row of glasses containing vodka.

This short book is full of gems like that and I can't recommend it highly enough to both sailors and climbers.

I'll end with a quote from Chris Bonington as they approach from the sea:

We're about fifteen to twenty miles out, now so the mountains are beginning to assume a real statue. You can pick out the mouth of Kangerdlugssuaq and, looking down the coast, you can see the glaciers, which come down to the sea itself and the dark loom of the mountains. Not a single one of those peaks that are on the coastline has, as far as I know, been climbed.

I have no idea how much has changed since then, but would be surprised if it is more than a handful of successful ascents.

The empty and wild east coast of Greenland retains its mystery and magic well.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Greenland memories: Reflections

Yes, its photo pun time.

What do I think and feel looking back on Greenland? 

It was amazing - a truly wonderful and beautiful land. I'd love to go back!

Monday, October 07, 2013

Greenland memories: Many ways to travel - updated

After the Greenland trip I could tick off a few more forms of transport to add to those from the journey down under to Australia returning via China.


Lots of time spent in jet planes (plus one propeller plane) to get me all the way to Australia. Added to that were four planes and a helicopter (below) for the Greenland trip:

Road transport

A couple of taxis, but also a hire car (below), a friend's car and a couple of buses in Australia. Alas I never got to go on the trams of Melbourne which was a shame.

A couple of good train journeys including the uber fast MagLev in Shanghai capable of 501 kmph. It's highest operational speed is 430 kmph but in the evening when I took it it slows to "just" 301 kmph:
The journey between Shanghai and Beijing was by by the high speed train that covers 1,318 km in 4 hours and 48 minutes, again topping out at 301 kmph:
To be honest the view wasn't that spectacular. It was spookily similar to going across France on the TGV with for most of the way an endless plain of fields in either direction.

In Beijing the traffic was absolutely awful so I tried out the subway and jolly good it was too. Signs and ticket machines were in Chinese and English and trains were frequent and no more packed than London.

Finally there were some trains on the trip down the gold mine in Ballarat.


There weren't many on the Oz / China trip. Not sure if can claim the Polly Woodside given it was firmly moored in Melbourne, so that just leaves the paddle steamers and the tourist boat in Shanghai

However in Greenland there was a Clipper 60 yacht (below), its Zodiac and a sea kayak.

A lot of that, and it probably was just as well I lugged my hiking boots around the world. Glacier in Greenland and the Great Wall of China - well done hiking boots!


Still no sign of that trip on a space ship, alas.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Greenland memories: Tasiilaq to Kulusuk by helicopter

The return to London started with a helicopter ride across the bay to the nearby community of Kulusuk which had enough flattish land for a runway.

We almost didn't make it as we woke to thick fog covering both Tasiilaq and Kulusuk, and for a time things looked grim. The check-in assistant at the heliport in Tasiilaq talked about people being stuck for days and days and the plane from Iceland to Kulusuk had to turn back.

There was plenty of time for lunch and we had planned on a take away pizza but it was closed so instead we raided the mini-super market for a picnic.

Early in the afternoon the fog began to clear:
It was enough for the heartening throb-throb of a helicopter engine to be heard and then first of many arrived.

There was a scramble for seats in which I lost out and got the middle one:
To be honest I was so pleased to be on my way and not having to sleep in an airport I didn't mind too much.
At Kulusuk there was another wait and we ended up arriving at Iceland about 7 hours late, which seemed like a bit of a result given how bad things had been in the morning.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Greenland memories: Tasiilaq

Time to rummage through the piles directories of photos from the trip to Greenland in the summer.

As blogged here, we dropped anchor in Tasiilaq at around 3 in the morning when all was still (above) but not quiet as the dogs were awake, barking and howling.
The next day we had a chance to explore this lovely little town of around 2,000 people, the largest community on the east coast of Greenland.

It is very picturesque with brightly coloured houses perched with great views over the fjord and mountains, with unimaginable luxuries like a hotel with showers and wifi, church, shop and take away pizza place.

There was also a small museum outside of which was this large traditional canoe made from seal skin:
It felt a bit of a culture shock to see all these people after having spent two weeks in wilderness with nothing but the odd polar bear.

I remember overhearing a conversation from a tourist complaining that she wanted her latte to come in a glass not a mug and comparing that with our experiences of eating raw whale meat, soaking in a hot spring and towing a yacht out of a ice filled fjord.

It was probably just as well I didn't fly straight back to London as that could have felt overwhelmingly large and noisy.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Art Review: Lowry at the Tate Britain

It is fair to say that Brian Sewell does not think much of L. S. Lowry.

"Lowry was a man without wisdom or urbanity" he wrote in the Evening Standard's review about the exhibition currently on at the Tate Britain. He continues by damning him as being "too intellectually and aesthetically limited to attempt simple reporting, he was the victim of his style". Sewell is not the only one, as Telegraph reviewer admitted that he hated every single moment spent in the galleries.

I went with an open mind but fearing another Miro, exposed as wanting in an exhibition at the Tate Modern by a stupefyingly boring room full of cloned images of a red hat. Keep walking, nothing to see there.

However I rather liked the Lowrys. Yes, the style was simplistic, with a repetitive creation of depth by layers of pastel colour, faded colour, grey and finally whiteout, while the multiple vanishing points conflicted and confused. And yes the technique was at best limited, struggling (and failing) with the complexities involved in capturing faces and expressions. Technically the pupil could never compare to his master, the French impressionist Valette.

But that didn't matter, as his subject was humans in urban environments, the emergent behaviour (to use the scientific term) of crowds, not the intricacies of a spotlighted individual. The variety came from the scenes, for each was different, full of life and movement, made from interactions between those stick like figures and their aggregation on the streets of some anonymous northern town.

It reminded me of those early science fiction movies such as Things to Come or Brave New World where ant like monochrome hords scurry along wide walkways, and it is likely that to some the locations in these pictures would seem not just unnatural but alien. This association felt even more appropriate for the so-called landscapes, moors devastated by industrialisation and early harbingers of post-industrialisation, with strength of image worthy of a graphic novel. But there would be no Batman flying in to rescue these wastelands, just a handful of those black line figures.

Wildlife was noticeable by its absence. No seagulls fly above those canals nor are there pigeons eating scraps of discarded food. Forget frogs and fish, for those waters appeared dead.

Where did this vision come from? His mother made it clear she had wanted a girl, his father Lowry called a cold fish, and his job was as a rent collector would bring him close to family miseries. It is no wonder that he put up the barriers that were to give him detachment from his emotions and the rushing masses of humanity.

But despite becoming an icon of left wing politics he himself was a conservative supporter. Maybe that was part of his problem, one of the reasons that officials of both traditional or avant-guard tastes found fault in him, for he didn't fit in either left or right.

All in all a very interesting and enjoyable exhibition. My only quibble was with the text about a river scene describing where "brave souls have launched a raft": yet again the Tate seems to show a fear of water (as they did with the labels of the Strindberg exhibition) as what could be more fun than a bit of messing about on a river.

Lowry might not have been able to produce the technically competent art that Sewell and co values, but my take away thought was he showed that art is wider than such a narrow definition.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Sassi asks #benainslie #gotgirlfriend???

Hi Guys,

OMG!! The America's Cup was sooooo HOT!!

No, I'm not talking that buck rogers spaceship stuff blah blah blah (hint hint JP and Buff: I DO NOT CARE ABOUT FOILS!!!)

What caught Sassi's eye was Ben Ainslie who can be my tactician any day!!

Hunk or what!!

Gotta go, Sassi's on a mission!

Luv ya! (Ben that is)

Sassi xxx

Ed: Er... Sassi, sorry to be the one to tell you this but he's been spotted with Georgie Thompson (above) so that looks rather official. Previously Ben was seen going double handed with Dutch sailor Marit Bouwmeester after the Olympics