The ISBN number - 9780956287021 - now gets 17 hits on Google...
The first print-run of Murder in the Red Barn will be delivered any day now, so I can confidently say that the month of publication will be July 2015. I have submitted a proposal to do a talk on my books as part of the Chelmsford Ideas Festival; this will be in late October.
The ISBN number - 9780956287021 - now gets 17 hits on Google...
I submitted this whimsical piece to The Oldie. The editor said: "It sounds idyllic, but it's not our thing..." Well, the Oldie's loss is this blog's gain.
There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats...
Ratty, of course, had it absolutely right, although he said these words just before he rowed full-tilt into the river bank and fell off his seat because he wasn’t looking where he was going. And therein lies the rub. Boating, particularly sailing, can be the most glorious activity. Whether tacking across a river in a lively wind, ghosting along in a gentle breeze, or lying at anchor in a sheltered bay, a glass in one’s hand, there are few things more satisfying. However there are also hazards, the obvious ones being sinking and drowning, and there is the ever-present danger of running into something above or below the water. Nevertheless, I agree wholeheartedly with Ratty, and retirement has encouraged me to do more sailing, enjoying the East-Anglian coast and the companionship of like-minded people.
I do have my own boat, but I frequently sail with Chris 1 and Chris 2 in Chris 1's boat; he supplies a well-appointed 33 foot sailing cruiser; Chris 2 and I crew, cook, or just generally laze around. I usually navigate and Chris 2 is more imaginative in the kitchen; we take turns at steering and pulling ropes, although Chris 1 takes the helm in conditions potentially hazardous to the boat (or crew). We sail around the Suffolk, Essex and Kent coasts, and once made it over the channel. We have had some splendid trips.
But it is a truth universally acknowledged, that misfortune and disaster are more memorable (and newsworthy) than when everything goes to plan. I once steered another friend’s boat on to a mud-bank in the river Roach at high tide. An account of the circumstances, and the twelve hours we spent there with the boat precariously angled towards the sky, was readily accepted for publication by a boating magazine. When I submitted the story of our next trip, a glorious three-day event across the Thames when everything went right, I never heard a word.
Of course, the two Chrisses and I have gone aground on many occasions. The Essex and Suffolk coasts are for the most part muddy, and grounding on mud is a relatively benign process: Chris 1’s boat does have a power-operated lifting keel. However, there have been some sticky moments. Once we accidentally bumped alongside another boat, the only vessel for miles, on a perfect day in the Thames estuary... The owner was at anchor enjoying some fishing. Our cruising chute had obscured forward visibility, and we had not been keeping an adequate lookout (we had not been drinking). The only lasting damage was the memory of the quite justified abuse hurled at us by the owner of the other boat. On another occasion, during heavy weather, we watched in horror as an uncontrolled gybe caused the boom to fly across, the main-sheet wrenching the steering-gear from the deck of the boat. Fortunately, no heads were in the way, and we were able to rig the steering sufficiently to limp home. That incident aborted our first attempt at crossing the channel.
Nothing daunted, the following year we tried again. The straights of Dover encompass the busiest shipping lanes in the world. The big ships are constrained to two five mile wide lanes, with ships travelling south on the Dover side, and north on the Calais side. Since these ships proceed at a speed of at least five times that of a sailing boat, crossing must be done with care; but with care, it is quite safe.
There was little wind and we were using the engine to minimise the time spent in the danger area. We had crossed the traffic lane on the English side, passed through the separation zone between the two, and were well inside the lane on the French side, anticipating a decent dinner that evening. Suddenly, there was a loud bang and the engine stopped; the propeller had fouled a 100 foot length of thick mooring line that someone had thoughtfully dropped in the water. Forward motion ceased, and we lay there wallowing. All eyes turned to the south looking for ships. There were none, but we knew that they could be on us within minutes, with no ability to stop in time. Visions of the Six o’clock News that evening swam before our eyes...
With great speed we hoisted the sails, turned back, and attempted to sail for the relatively safety of the separation zone. The light winds and our 100 feet of rope towing in the water meant progress was slow. I radioed the coastguard to inform them of what had happened and warn the other shipping. I could see the coastguard radio masts on the cliffs above Dover, but there was no response. Our radio wasn’t working. Fortunately, we were close enough to France to get a mobile signal, and Chris 1 was able to telephone the British coastguard. When he mentioned the boat’s name the man at the other end said, ‘didn’t we speak yesterday?’ (The incident with the anchored boat had happened the previous day and Chris had reported it.) The coastguard decided to despatch the Dover lifeboat which duly towed us into Dover harbour... God save the RNLI.
We survived, and made the crossing the following year without incident, spending time in Calais, Dunkirk and Niewpoort. Later on in the same trip, now back in England, Chris 1 and I travelled up the Thames, and spent two nights in St Katharine Docks in the shadow of Tower Bridge, surely one of the most iconic and exciting marinas in the country.
And as Ratty said on the general subject of boats,
In or out of ‘em, it doesn’t matter...that’s the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else...or never get anywhere at all...
That is the charm of it. So if you see a rather nice blue and white sailing boat in the coastal waters off Essex or Suffolk, crewed by three gentlemen in their third age, do not be alarmed but give them a cheery wave. Do, however, give them plenty of room...
Yesterday I felt constrained to post a comment on Victoria Coren Mitchell’s blog in regard of her programme How to be a Bohemian. I reproduce it here:
Very entertaining and informative Victoria, delivered with your usual sparkling and cheeky wit. You may be scandalized to learn that you introduced me to Eric Gill, whose art is as excellent as his private life was execrable. But I can’t agree with you about Wagner. He was a thoroughly self-obsessed, unpleasant man and serial adulterer, who was not just an intolerant bigot but intellectualized anti-Semitism. His music though is sublime and feted by many Jews. It seems to me that the art of Wagner, Gill and many others whose political views and personal habits may disgust us, must transcend the artist. After all, T S Eliot was a documented anti-Semite; are we not to read Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats or go and see the musical?
Some explanation is called for; Eric Gill was an artist of the Arts and Crafts movement who died in 1940. I had never heard of him but his woodcuts and sculptures are very compelling. His private life was ‘unconventional’; he too was a serial adulterer, and his sexual conquests included two of his daughters and the family dog… My comments on Wagner are self-explanatory.
Much of the study of ‘art’ in its broadest sense, involves study of the artist and their personal life and how that can have influenced their work. But consideration of some of Gill’s extraordinary output, and of course that of Richard Wagner, convinces me that it is possible – even necessary – to separate the artist from his or her art.
Reading the latest revelations on the Tony and Cherie story, I find myself wondering what they think about it all. It’s fairly clear that most of our Tone’s activities are overseas where he appears to enjoy hero status. But Cherie is a QC and part-time judge. How does she deal with the titters in court when people remember her revelations about her love life with TT? And those details about her contraceptive equipment… The comment from a lady in the Daily Mirror at the time was 'EUGH. Also yuck, gah and ewwwwwwwwww...' Quite so.
Yesterday I returned to my old stamping ground, the Empire of Ealing. It was my fourth visit to the Ealing U3A, and the first outing of the talk on Murder in the Red Barn. The talk went well, and as a minor reward to myself, it being such a wonderfully sunny day, I had lunch al fresco on the pavement at the Broadway watching the world go by.
I left Ealing, ‘Queen of the Suburbs’, in 1971 and although I have been back many times, somehow the excellent weather – and the good reception for the talk – put me into an amiable and reflective mood. Ealing has changed enormously since I left, although just like that scene in H G Wells’ Time Machine, where the time traveller moves rapidly forward in time and new buildings spring up all around him, key landmarks remain. Look above the glitzy shops and you see many of the original Edwardian buildings.
I passed the Ealing Centre, built over the old police station where I was run in at the age of 13 or so for trespassing on the building site of the new Ealing Catering College.
A stroll through Walpole Park brought back many memories. The park was purchased for the people in 1901 after Spencer Perceval's last daughter, the lady who had been in residence in the house there, had died. Perceval, an Ealing resident, was Prime Minister when in 1812 he was shot dead in the House of Commons by John Bellingham. Bellingham was hanged seven days later for his trouble, but a grateful nation voted Perceval’s family £50,000, an enormous sum at the time. The money enabled his daughters to live their lives out in comfort. The house, Pitzhanger Manor, became Ealing Public Library although now it is a museum.
I walked past the duck-pond where I fell in at the age of seven wearing my brand new overcoat… I went past the place where there used to be a cage containing an ancient macaw named Laura, long since gathered to her ancestors.
The graveyard at St Mary’s Church is now open; I must have passed it thousands of times in my life but it was always fenced in. I was able to walk around and look at the graves for the first time; sadly, most are now illegible due to acid rain.
I don’t regret leaving Ealing – among other things it’s a nightmare to park a car in – but I always relish coming back. With all of its parks and open spaces and its thoroughly pleasant aspect, it remains for me the Queen of the Suburbs.
I have been listening to repeats of I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again (ISIRTA) on Radio 4 Extra. It was the programme that kept me sane, or relatively sane, back in 1968. Having spent years mucking about playing in bands and doing menial jobs, I found myself at university studying Physics and Mathematics to what seemed to be an impossibly high standard.
I soon discovered that several of my student colleagues were also fans of the programme, a zany mix of pun-filled sketches, and other hilarious nonsense.
This is an excerpt from one of the sketches that I remember:
"King Henry VIII was a singular spectacle of a king; he was a monocle. He stood six feet in his socks and the other two feet in his shoes. He was every inch a king and a great ruler..."
We invited John Cleese, one of the performers, who had announced in one of the shows that owned a cat called Hitler, down to Southampton to talk to us. Naturally we were interested in his radio programme; Cleese was more interested to know how ‘radical’ we all were. ‘Do you believe in the abolition of money?’ he asked. We were terminally conventional and must have disappointed him greatly.
However one of our number kept in touch with Cleese in the hope of getting tickets for the next series of ISIRTA. There were to be no more, we were sorry to hear, but he told him that he could give us tickets for a new TV show he was working on. It sound very odd indeed and I nearly didn’t go. After all, what kind of title is Monty Python’s Flying Circus? I don’t like circuses. Well, we went, and I can tell you that I was in the audience during the recording of the Lumberjack song.
I have given the final go-ahead to send the text of Murder in the Red Barn to be printed. The notional publication date is August; at this rate we should easily make July.
I was very sad to learn of the death of David Fiander. David was a gifted engineer who worked at CERN on kicker magnets, the ‘points’ that operate between the various beam lines where very high energy fundamental atomic particles are pumped up to enormous energies. The culmination of these machines is the well-known Large Hadron Collider (LHC) that discovered the Higgs Boson two or three years ago.
I used to visit CERN regularly to administer a contract to supply the high power thyratron switches that energized these fast pulsed magnets. When I first met David in 1980, he was already a world authority on the design of kicker magnet systems.
It is quite difficult adequately to describe what an overwhelming stimulating experience visiting CERN was at the time. The establishment straddles the border between France and Switzerland, and it is necessary to cross the international border when visiting different groups. CERN drew its engineers primarily from the participating European states, and as I recall the dominant nationalities in the kicker magnet groups were British, German and Dutch with some French. English was the lingua franca among the engineering staff.
My principal task was commercial, although with a physics background and technical knowledge of the products I was able to advise CERN engineers what devices we had available to meet their needs. I should say that until the last few years I acted as bag-man to Hugh Menown, the divisional manager at EEV and the man responsible for developing the state-of-the-art thyratrons in use at CERN. Hugh and David would frequently strike sparks off each other, David convinced that Hugh was charging scandalous prices for his products, while Hugh insisted that the prices were fair. In fact what David did not realize, is that Hugh was able to develop new switches to meet his exacting requirements, ‘on the hoof’, precisely because he was charging prices that were able to underwrite the development costs.
These sessions became quite acrimonious at times, with David quoting costs from competing suppliers (whose products didn’t work otherwise he would have bought them), and Hugh threatening to leave and ‘let them get on with it’. That said, as soon as the meeting was over, we would assemble, CERN wives as well, for dinner at what was usually a French restaurant. All strife was forgotten, and we would be able to enjoy the delightful international company of the elite of the CERN engineering staff.
David was a special friend. He and Brenda put me up at their house and I always felt a genuine welcome. His ability in high-power electronic circuitry was unsurpassed and a chat with him always stretched the boundaries of my knowledge. They were wonderful times and I feel privileged to have been part of it all, even if it was in a very minor capacity. David will be sorely missed.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs