Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Thames's Christmas Lifeboat

Christmas morning and the city awoke. It is the season to be merry and many started that day with happy cries surrounded by loved ones.

But not all.

For at least one Londoner it was a cold, bleak midwinter day, with nothing to celebrate, a day where legs took them down to Wandsworth Bridge and that final leap.

However they were not forsaken. Even early on Christmas day, when others were having their morning coffee, one of the Thames lifeboats was on standby together with a police boat, hovering in the water below the jumper, ready to save their life.

And so it was all day long. The picture above was taken on the evening of Christmas Day, and there, still, the lifeboat was on out patrol.

The good shepherd of the Thames, watching out for Londoners, every day of the year.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Bombay Bicycle Club's In The Bleak Midwinter

I really enjoyed seeing the Bombay Bicycle Club at Earls Court a few weeks ago and here they are in action in their version of the suitably seasonal In The Bleak Midwinter.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Great Thames Disaster

I was going round the Museum of Docklands when I discovered about the sinking of the Princess Alice with the loss of 650 lives.

I couldn't work out at the time how to blog the story but luckily someone called Stephen McKenna has put together this super video describing it.

After the previous post's Elgar here we have another great bit of classical music, namely Benjamin Britten's Sea Interludes.

Suitably spooking for the Thames Estuary marshlands....

Monday, December 22, 2014

Volvo Video and Sea Fever

As a pre-Christmas treat the Volvo Ocean Race has put together this lovely sailing video about offshore racing with Elgar's Enigma Variations sound track. Makes me think of this:

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking,

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Trafalgar Square's Big Blue Cockerel

As spotted by the Bursledon Blogger, there is currently a great big giant blue cockerel in Trafalgar Square.

It really is very blue, which you can't see in the silhouette above so here it is on the sunny side, both pictures from May this year:

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Thames at Night

The Bursledon Blogger has been up in London to see the lights and the giant blue chicken in Trafalgar Square (not sure if I've posted any pics of it, but it is very big and very blue). He found Regent Street a bit of a struggle and I sympathise.

My top tip to see the lights of London during the Winter is to take a boat trip down to Tower Bridge and back. The Thames Clippers have a regular service and whoosh all the way to Woolwich, which is quite a way but Embankment to the Tower has most of the sights and is a lot shorter.

I went in a group on one of the little ships, namely the MV Kingwood, and had a fantastic evening.

Worth getting a bit cold if the view is good as this.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

HMS Warrior and Old Portsmouth

 Last few pics from Portsmouth trip showing the HMS Warrior with the Spinnaker Tower (above) and and Old Portsmouth in toy mode again (below):
I will have to go back to see HMS Warrior at another time when I expect it will be without these rather underwhelming lights:

Monday, December 15, 2014

Goodbye Earls Court

Earls Court has played its last gig ever.

The exhibition centre, home to the Boat Show year after year, is to be demolished to make way for yet more apartments and shops.

But it got a worthy send off, with a stunningly good gig by the Bombay Bicycle Club and guests including none other than Pink Floyd's David Gilmour (above). He made a memorable event unforgettable by joining the BBC on stage to sing "Wish You Were Here".

David Gilmour apparently gave the BBC's guitarist Jamie MacColl his first guitar and had played at Earls Court an incredible 27 times. The audience were almost entirely young enough to be my nephews and nieces so many of these times were footnotes in their history books, but I was still at school when The Wall came out.

Many, many memories that evening.

Lights out, words gone.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Picture Puzzle

Another picture puzzle for you.

What's the boating connection with this rather historic gig and why was it a landmark?

The canoe in this band's videos isn't the answer and not really a clue. Bonus marks for naming some of the guests and why one in particular was a very good choice for this location.

Apologies again for the poor quality of the Nexus 5's photo.

Updated: answer here.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Video Caption Competition

Any suggestions? Mine (obviously) is:

Ferry captain regrets letting Buff Staysail "have a go"

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Mary Rose, the Battle of the Solent and Machiavelli

After going round the HMS Victory my next stop in Portsmouth Historic Docks was the Mary Rose.

At the entrance there was a video about the conservation work. The basic message was: "it will be FANTASTIC in a few years after we can remove the black pipes" (above) which left me and others in the queue mentally going "oh".

It was still pretty impressive, in particular the vast quantity of stuff recovered from the wreck, including navigation tools and pairs of dice.

What I found most interesting was the story of what was going on when the Mary Rose sank, namely the Battle of the Solent. I really had no idea it was lost during a battle against a French invasion that included landings of 30,000 troops on the Isle of Wight & the mainland plus 200 ships, more than the Spanish Armada.

Basic summary: we won (or this blog would be en fran├žais) and it was all related to the Italian Wars which led to a certain Machiavelli writing up some of his more, er, Machiavellian, ideas in The Prince such as:

"He who neglects what is done for what ought to be done, sooner effects his ruin than his preservation"

I suppose that applies to conservation of boats too: we need those black pipes to avoid the Mary Rose ending up as a ruin.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

WEATHER BOMB visible on web wind site

I was most impressed by the animated wind map found by the Improper Course, in which he describes the Volvo Ocean Race fleet entering "a stronger northeasterly".

So I turned the globe towards Blighty and the nearby Atlantic and... golly... that's a bit more than a strong north-easterly (above). For a start its a westerly but also the lines are red not green ... that can't be good.

Indeed the news streams are already pushing headlines like "weather bomb raises risk of severe gales" with another WEATHER BOMB story here.

Though I guess those in the NE of America would say that unless there's a metre of snow you can't really call it anything serious.

So what is a WEATHER BOMB? Well, according to the BBC here it is a fall of 24 mb or more in 24 hours, and they are predicting 18m waves, which does sound pretty impressive.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

JP gets ship's biscuit size envy

I'm really not that bover'd, 'onest. So theirs are bigger, like I care!

OK, to explain. On my trip to Portsmouth, while on-board the HMS Victory I saw this display of the sailors workspace (above) complete with wood or pewter mugs and plates, on which there were these authentic looking ships biscuits.

Now I've baked some ship's biscuits as part of a maritime GBBO experiment, but, golly, how to admit it.... mine were smaller.

Doh! Or should that be dough?

Anyhow, top tip for ship's biscuit bakers - size does apparently matter, particularly if you have 821 sailors to feed and they're starving, needing 5,000 calories per day, what with fighting the French and all.

Go XXL in your baking!

So I guess now I need to book an appointment with The Sailing Shrink.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Princess Anne, Drunken Sailors and a Big Rock

Three stories for Friday:

  1. Gripping video from on-board Team Vesta (above) as they hit a big rock. OMG - I do not want to ever go through that.
  2. Did you know Princess Anne is a keen sailor who explores the wonderful and interesting waters of the Scottish Islands? I didn't until Tillerman pointed it out and learnt a lot more in a great article from Elaine Bunting over at the Yachting World web site 
  3. Sailing and drink have gone together for centuries, but recently have created a new problem - sailors drunkenly buying boats on auction sites which are then abandoned in the harsh light of day when the long list of bills arrives. More at The Guardian here.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The danger of electronic charts

Electronic charts are great - I like them so much I must have bought Iceland about 3 times - for iPhone, iPad and iNavX.

But they have a gotcha that can get even the best navigators, as the Volvo Ocean Race's Team Vesta found out to their cost - see this post on SA via Noodle.

Take the patch of water above, which is just north of Iceland, viewed today using the Navionics Web App. Looks pretty clear doesn't it?  Contours at 200 m and 500 m, just great, clear sailing. One island called Grimsey near the coast but when sailing there in 2012 we were far away.

Only it isn't clear at all. Take that harmless sounding reference to Kobeinsey (which I've added a red circle around). It looks like a description of that patch of water but look what you see if you zoom in:

This is from the Navionics charts on the iPhone for the same region, zoomed into so you can see that Kolbeinsey is actually a small island, or maybe a large rock.

Ok, it might be just 7.5 metres or so across but that would have been enough for us to prang Goldeneye something nasty when we sailed there in 2012. Confession time: it wasn't me that spotted this but Tristan: good thing one of us was awake.

But it shouldn't be like this: charting software should always show land, even when zoomed out.

Until then, let's be careful out there.

Updated: very interesting article about the wrecking of Team Vesta by Yachting World's Elaine Bunting here.

Monday, December 01, 2014

The Victory is like the Forth Bridge

It was clear that something was missing. Staring up at the Victory's masts ... well, you didn't have to look that far.

No top mast, no spars, just a lot of sky.

"When will they put them back?" I asked, expecting an answer like next summer or maybe the one after.

But no, it might be decades before we see the work finished. The original estimate was five years, back in 2011, then this summer was up to 15 years and the guide on deck was talking about 20 years.

"It's a bit like painting the Forth Bridge" he went on to say. "It's never really finished."

HMS Victory is, after all, arguably the world's most famous warship, forever associated with Trafalgar and Nelson. But after all that work would it really be the same ship? I asked, curious as to the philosophical position.

"The keel is the same as the original construction" I was told. "This is still the same HMS Victory."

I hope they do a better job than the Cutty Sark, heart broken by holes cut in the side and decks, where wood was replaced with plastic.

Most importantly, unlike that clipper, the HMS Victory still could slip lines and head out to sea and float, and that should be a goal of the renovations.

Everything is being re-examined, even the famous yellow of the gun-ports:
Budgets have gone up to an estimated £ 45 million.

This is going to take some time, but I'm very glad they're doing it.

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

Friday, October 31, 2014

Now we are eight

Golly doesn't time fly, it's Halloween again and that means this blog is yet another year older.

I took the opportunity to update my blog list using some of the suggestions Tillerman gave, a task that reminded me of those bloggers we haven't heard from recently.

Where are you O'Docker, the Knitting Sailor, Messing about Adam or the rower that now bikes a lot?

Time and tide wait for no one as they say, and the shadows are getting ever longer on 2014. Who knows what is in store for us in the last few months of this year, let alone 2015?

Hope you have an enjoyably spooky evening....

Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Review: Sea Legs by Guy Grieve

This is one of those "we  took our family including children away from the life ashore, living in a yacht and sailing around the Caribbean" books. The plan was for the couple and their two children to explore those islands, then sail across the Atlantic back to Scotland, but they didn't, and the failures are what makes this story interesting.

Armed with little more than a day skipper certificate they let their house and flew off to the island of Bonaire in the Netherlands Antilles to their new home, a 41 foot Hans Christian yacht. It was to be a tough beginning.

For a start it was a difficult port, close to the dangerous waters of Venezuela, the air full of mosquitoes and community unwelcome. Forget these stories of eternal friendships made in the cruising community; here there are sad faces and histories, people trapped in unseaworthy boats without money or hope.

Then to head in the direction they wanted it was basically upwind and everyone but the author's father-in-law got terribly seasick the moment the bow poked its head outside the harbour.

The learning curve was as they say steep. In fact the requirements on the skipper came faster than he'd like, resulting in a prang at one harbour, bashing into another yacht causing it damage. From there led to disputes with its vengeful owner and remote insurance companies.

The tourist images of unspoilt waters and friendly locals were unrealised, with aggressive local sales people, rip off merchants, wasted taxi drivers, unwelcome night time visitors and an encounter with all too likely real pirates.

As you'd expect the boat required all sorts of repairs, draining their savings, so that by the end the credit card was fully loaded and the father-in-law had to be tapped to pay the diesel.

By the time they'd sailed up to the good old USA they'd come to a realistic conclusion: the cross-Atlantic passage wasn't the place for their family including two young boys. They and the mother flew while Guy was joined by a friend he'd made on their travels to sail home double handed.

It wasn't an easy crossing, with ghastly storms, huge waves and a knock-down.

I wasn't that surprised that at the end of the book they family had sold the yacht and returned to their house on the island of Mull.

Too many of those sell-up and sail-away books paint a rosy picture that won't be realistic for all. If anyone is thinking of doing just that I'd really recommend you read this book to get a balancing picture.

Family life in a small boat, far from the stability of home, isn't all cool drinks at sunset in a bay of crystal clear waters.

I'd rather risk icebergs than real pirates any day.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Late Turner at the Tate

Another Turner exhibition as rolled into London, the third in five years after the NMM's Turner and the Sea and the Tate's Turner and the Masters. Is there really more that can be learnt about this artist?

The Late Turner: Painting set free exhibition covers J. M. W. Turner's work when he was 60 or over, and he continued to create art at a prolific rate during what his time would have considered his declining years.

Seascapes and landscapes mostly, with some of his greatest pictures, such as "Rain, Steam, and Speed - The Great Western Railway" (above), a work that connects one of Britain's greatest artists with one of its greatest engineers - Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who was the mind behind the railway and in particular this bridge at Maidenhead over the Thames.

It's a great example of the swirling clouds and an impressionist abstraction that became a trademark of his later years. Some even suggest it pre-dated 20th century symbolic artists such as Cy Twombly.

But where did this style come from? Could it have been more than artistic genius - could it have been a symptom of Turner's physical decline?

On display were his glasses, for his eye sight was poor, and these could be a clue as it has been suggested that "Turner, suffering from early, slight colour-blindness and later cataracts, was painting exactly what he saw".

But there were later works, such as watercolours of the mountains around Lake Lucerne, that did show sharp lines and clearly distinguishable features.

Some of the most abstract works had another simpler explanation - they were not finished. There is described as a sea monster, but the title was given to that work by the National Gallery and it was never completed by Turner. In his Whaler works his ships were simple lines together with off-white paint, so that their sails merged into the background clouds. It wouldn't have required much work to change that sea monster into a fishing boat - if he had time.

For example have a look at this oil, "Hurrah! for the Whaler Erebus! Another Fish!":

The lack of time could be another explanation, for Turner seemed driven to create as much as possible while he still could. Where other artists would relax in what we'd call his retirement, admiring the scene as they drifted down the Grand Canal in Venice, Turner was forever sketching, filling his notebooks (several on display) with scene after scene.

Maybe with the sands of time shortening and his energies weakening he felt he could spend less time on each canvas, and so the technique become more economical, avoiding time consuming detail.

Yet despite his failing health, eye-sight issues and limited time his weakest work would blow any of the contenders in 2014's disappointing Turner Prize straight out of the water.

There was clearly so much creativity and ideas in Turner's work that the answer to the initial question is a resounding yes: there is more to discover in this astonishingly prolific artist.

Definitely worth a visit if you are in London.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Longitude & Steampunked at Greenwich

Greenwich is officially ground zero for longitude, and so tourists from all over the world come to queue for the chance to stand on that line (above).

But how does one calculate longitude where there aren't helpful metal lines screwed into the ground? That was a question that puzzled some of the top minds for years, and after far too many ships were wrecked parliament passed the Longitude Act in 1714.

To commemorate its 300th anniversary there is currently an exhibition on the subject of Ships, Clocks & Stars: The Quest for Longitude at the National Maritime Museum (NMM).

Some of the suggestions put forward were simply bonkers - and in one case cruel to the dogs that were thought could have been used as a communications medium. More sensibly, John Harrison developed with his famous H4 watch that could be compared against local time to calculate longitude to sufficient accuracy.

All of Harrison's watches are part of this display - a remarkable collection.

Up on the hill above the NMM sits the Royal Observatory where official time was marked by dropping the red Time Ball every day at 13:00 precisely:
Here there is another view on the story of longitude taking an alternative, steampunk, approach:
It is hugely entertaining.

For example take these great quadrants that were used in calculating angles, such as this one used by Halley (which is actually just outside the exhibition but I didn't take a picture of the one inside):

The caption inside the exhibition was as follows:
The Commodore, by the way, was the fictional character around which the Longitude Punk'd exhibition was built, in particular The Rime of the Ancient Commodore, which starts:

There was an ancient Commodore,
My Granddad told to me,
Who'd lived three hundred years before
And sailed a wond'rous sea,
With flocks (or herds) of Kiwi birds,
A wander was he

I found myself laughing out loud at this one, which was attached to a sad picture of a ship o' the line aground:
Both are worth visiting, one for being informative and the other entertaining.