A night in Broadstairs

24 01 2016

So the downside of travelling all the way up North to visit my parents in Yorkshire was that I had a substantial drive all the way back down for a meeting in Kent. I set off late morning to the discovery that it had snowed overnight. The forecast was for a warming day though, and I wasn’t expecting too much trouble as I went down the eastern side of England. Best not to tempt providence though, so I set off well before lunch.

Snowy start to the day

Snowy start to the day

The hotel I’d been booked into was allegedly one of Charles Dickens’ homes and now goes by the name of The Albion Hotel, Broadstairs. Hacking down the old A1 (originally a Roman road and the main artery in the UK in the days before the M1 was built in the ’50s) I made it to Nottinghamshire in time for lunch and treated myself to the gourmet offerings of a roadside Micky D’s. Down to the M11, M25 and into Kent, I was at Broadstairs well in time for dinner.

It was a pain to find parking, but in the end there turned out to be a car-park just around the corner from the hotel and once I’d negotiated the ridiculously narrow street, all was well. I had to walk all the way back to the hotel dragging my suitcase, but it was a lovely little place. The staircases were narrow and of course I was put in the garret so had maximum trouble with my suitcase getting up the narrow back stairs where presumably the servants used to go. The bathroom was very nicely done out though and the view over the street was “twee” in a bottle.

A Dickensian bathroom

A Dickensian bathroom

A Curiosity Shop from my hotel room

A Curiosity Shop from my hotel room

It was only later that evening I realised that the shop opposite was a book shop, so I missed my chance to buy lots of their stock! Once I’d made contact with my host for the next day’s meeting, I had an hour or so to kill before dinner. After purging the dust of the road from myself with the aid of a very pleasant shower, I headed out to see what there was to see. For such a small town, it was delightful. To be fair, things didn’t start out so well, and my first encounter was a rather run down (i.e. vandalised) pizza shop. Ironic though that it claimed to be (F)rancos Canadian Pizza. Franco presumably was targeted by the apostrophe police for making the common omission. Upstairs seemed to be some sort of religious place, but the Chippie on the corner looked normal enough.

IMG_0106

Next, I headed down the slight incline to the sea. The first thing that took my eye was the brightly lit Pavilion. As dusk was just falling, there was still detail in the sky and the lights of the town in the distance just seemed to make an interesting composition. Viking Bay is curving off to the right. The names ooze “history” don’t they?

Lights on the Pavillion

Lights on the Pavilion

A tad further on, and I was at the harbour wall. The wind was picking up and it was bitterly cold. I had the place to myself. There was an interesting white clapper-board building at the entrance to the pier/harbour wall. It wouldn’t have seemed out of place here in BC.

Harbour, Broadstairs

Harbour, Broadstairs

The lighting was interesting. Dusk was falling fast, but there was still colour in the relatively clear sky. In addition there were some bright lights on the harbour wall so photography without flash was still an option. This pile of floats with the red boat lent a “red, white and blue” vibe to the scene.

Buoys and boat - Broadstairs

Buoys and boat – Broadstairs

Looking over the wall the other way – back towards the town – I saw a few small boats in the shallow harbour. I was reminded that this was the area that created the flotilla of “little ships” that evacuated the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in 1940 as part of Operation Dynamo. The little ships of Dunkirk were 700 private boats that sailed from the Ramsgate area to Dunkirk in France between 26 May and 4 June 1940, helping to rescue more than 338,000 British and French soldiers who were trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk during the Second World War. To this day “Dunkirk spirit” is used as a phrase meaning to stare defeat in the face and still go ahead with brave deeds.

Little ships

Little ships

Looking a little further back towards town, I liked the mixture of lighting and the little yacht lying on its side waiting to be borne up again on a rising tide.

Dusk over town

Dusk over town

The locals seemed to have plenty of rowing boats, and I guess it was safer to pull them out when not needed. They were all lined up neatly on the wall, ready for action at a moment’s notice. For such a basic and old craft – the rowing boat – it was amazing how many variations of design there were.

Row, row, row of boats...

Row, row, row of boats…

As I headed back to the street I noticed the phone box didn’t actually have a phone in it. It had another AED (automatic external defibrillator). I’d never before seen them in public, and this was now the second in two days – the previous one being in sleepy Malham in Yorkshire (see previous post). To the left of the phone box, you can see an old WWII sea mine. You can just see the plunger detonators on the side. A ship pressing these as it passed would cause something of a loud pop. Nowadays they are used as VERY LARGE collection boxes for the Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society. You can just see the brass plaque and coin slot to the left of the detonator. Broadstairs has had an agency for the society since 1842 it seems.

Another AED. This time in a phone box

Another AED. This time in a phone box

Here’s an image of a mine “as used” from the Western Morning News last year.

Western Morning News: sea mine from WWII


As I headed back up the street I noticed the very welcoming pub “The Tartar Frigate”. Not sure what the Russians/Ukrainians were doing in these waters with their frigate, but I hope they found the beer to their liking. I jest of course – it is actually named after HMS Tartar, build hereabouts in 1801.

The Tartar Frigate

The Tartar Frigate

As I headed back up the slope to the High Street, I passed a sad reminder that Britain’s seaside towns often cater to the lowest common denominator of visitors. This sad, if bright, “Amusement Arcade” was empty on this cold night. Its garish red paint was no attraction to me.

Amused? I was not!

Amused? I was not!

Back on the main street, I liked the way the artificial light spilled out onto the darkening road from one of the chip shops next to a café. This seemed somehow more in keeping with such an old seaside town.

Blues and Bessie's

Blues and Bessie’s

Almost back at the hotel, I saw that the town was making the most of its connection with Dickens. One of the streets (and I’m sure many others I didn’t see) carried his name. The wall-mounted post box was of note also, because it was from the era of George VI. Note the “GR” on the box for George Rex. The graffiti at the bottom in felt pen was presumably more recent…

Dickens Walk, and George's post

Dickens Walk, and George’s post

Not long after I got back to the hotel, my host for the next day arrived to kindly join me for dinner. The Tartar Frigate, it turns out, stops offering food quite early on a Sunday, and so we ended up at “The Charles Dickens”… oh, how original! The food though was very pleasant as was the local beer. I opted for “bangers and mash” and greatly enjoyed three very tasty sausages whilst watching my host being defeated by her large steak, chips and onion rings.

Bangers and mash

Bangers and mash

It was a great night’s sleep in a cosy room, and after a full day of meetings, it was time to head back to Heathrow and back to BC the next day, safe in the knowledge that “the old country” seemed to be doing quite well without me.

Length and bredth

Length and bredth





Be the best “you” that you can…

12 12 2015

Oscar Wilde is famously quoted (and may perhaps even have really said) “Be yourself – everyone else is already taken”. Whether or not he really said it, it’s an interesting statement. Sometimes being true to yourself is not as straightforward as it may at first appear. Even before our recent tailspin into Political Correctness and all the inanity (and even occasionally: insanity) that that produces, it hasn’t always been easy to say and act in accordance with one’s true thoughts and feelings.

The other night I was driving home late and was listening to CBC’s “Ideas”. The episode was called Shame on You(Tube). Now to be brutally honest I wasn’t listening VERY carefully to it all, but there were a few interesting ideas. Like how perhaps the concept of shame within a group helped us evolve as a species into the highly co-operative (usually) social animals that we plainly are. It is used to bring peer pressure to bear and encourage “acceptable behaviours” as defined by the larger group.

The age of the internet has made “the group” pretty much the entire species… at least those with access to WiFi or a cell signal. This has warped the concept because it is now so easy to use Twitter or FaceBook to yell “J’accuse!” when we see a perceived injustice – real or imaginary. The radio programme gave examples of a web site in China that encourages people to “out” folks with bad table manners or performing other indiscretions. They are publicly humiliated (personal details are published) in an apparent effort to bring them back in line to supposed social norms. Of course, the dark side of this is the mental effect it has on many of those “outed” and almost predictably there are several reported suicides – particularly of teenage girls – of people who see this shaming as worse than death itself.

As is so often the case in my blogging, these two ideas hung like unrelated iota in my consciousness until a third mote of an idea hove into view and created a triangle of related thought. In this particular case, it was some cheap tat of a website I happened across (“10 historic photos you’ve never seen” or “9.37 random images you couldn’t care less about”, something of that nature). This particular site had an image from 1936 of a crowd of Germans at the Blohm + Voss shipyard in Hamburg. It was taken at the launching of the naval training vessel Horst Wessel on 13 June 1936, and the group were obediently all making the Nazi salute. All, that is, with one defiant exception! The photo was published on 22 March 1991 in Die Zeit, and though there are one or two others not saluting, this individual is quite obviously not doing so with some amount of defiance.

Source: Wikipedia

It turns out that this gentleman is actually quite well known by historians. His name was August Landmesser, and he was not exactly a fan of the Nazi regime. His wife was Jewish (their marriage was not recognised at the time but was retro-actively recognised in 1951), but he’d joined the party in 1931 anyway in the hope that it would help him get a job more easily. As you might imagine in such times, he later ended up being put in a penal regiment and met his death in action in Croatia in 1944. His wife was placed in several concentration camps and died in 1942.

His story is familiar. It was lived in one way or another by literally millions of people under the Nazi regime for a decade or so. But this man impresses me. Despite the huge social pressure to conform (surely all those around him making the salute were not all dyed-in-the-wool Nazis), he stood by his principles and simply chose not to raise his arm. He felt scared, I’m quite sure… but not shamed into conforming. A simple, but incredibly brave act. If anything, I was saddened that today, 12th December 2015 was the first time I became aware of his story. Almost 80 years later.

I’m sure August Lanmesser was not a perfect person.

I’m sure he had as many faults and foibles as any other person we know. But he was not shamed into giving public support to a political system that relied as much on passive submission as it did on active support for its growth in power.

Sometimes being yourself has dire consequences. That doesn’t necessarily make it wrong.





New kids’ books for adults help with hipsters and hangovers

12 10 2015

Glory be!

Source: New kids’ books for adults help with hipsters and hangovers

I have very warm memories of Ladybird books. Now there’s to be 8 new tongue-in-cheek titles for the (sadly) grown-up fan.

Thanks Internet, for letting me know…

More can be found via The Guardian.





Walhachin Ways

5 07 2015

Just got back from a weekend away. We did what any sensible family does when the weather forecast is for 30ºC… go somewhere even hotter! [OK – to be clear, I hate the hot weather and tried really really hard to resist the over-whelming vote.]

We went camping to an old family favourite – Juniper Beach Provincial Park, just outside Cache Creek on the Kamloops road. It’s not to everyone’s taste. It is bordered by the Thompson River, complete with a protected swimming hole, and as well as several RV sites it has a beautifully flat, lawned tent area. The site is managed this year by a retired couple who were eager to help with change for the hot showers, advice on local hikes and attractions, etc. All in all – right up our street.

The downside? Oh… there’s just the little matter of the trains.

Tail end Charlie, offering a little extra push

Tail end Charlie, offering a little extra push

The site is on the north of the Thompson, and between it and the highway is the CN rail line. It’s a busy track carrying a lot of long freight trains every hour or so.

All night.

On the south side of the Thompson is the CPR line. It too carries a lot of freight. All night.

Add to that the tendency for heavy waggons to squeal when forced to negotiate tight bends and warm nights and you’ll perhaps see why the site was not as busy as one might otherwise expect.

We arrived at about 10:45pm having left White Rock reasonably sharpish after work on Friday. The night was still and there was a full moon – disturbingly red in colour due to the smoke in the air from all the forest fires at the moment. The tents went up quickly due to practice and my insistence that things are always put away “just so”.

Saturday was stupid hot. Mid thirties at least, and the narrow east-west valley formed by the river reflected the heat onto the campsite. After a hearty breakfast we headed off to Ashcroft which has a lovely little bakery that we like to frequent. Oh – and a liquor store, but that’s just by the by.

Despite the long hot summers, this is a fertile area, and a little relocation of the river water via pumps and pipes makes it a very productive farming area. That said, Ashcroft is struggling economically, and there were a few reminders that nature is always ready to reassert herself if the chance is given.

A small tester to see if anyone is noticing...

A small tester to see if anyone is noticing…

After stocking up on supplies we headed off for the main event… a visit to Walhachin. Walhachin is a fascinating place. Blink and you’d drive right past the turning on Highway 1 between Cache Creek and Kamloops. The road takes you down to the Thompson and over a girder bridge built in 1911 to help the village (300 strong back then) to trade its apples with the rest of the world.

Walhachin Bridge

Walhachin Bridge

Walhachin began in 1907 with the allocation of 5000 acres of land for growing fruit. In the end it turned out that less than 2000 acres were suitable for growing, but they were very suitable indeed! An American engineer – C.E. Barnes – saw the potential of irrigating the fertile, sun-drenched benches above the Thompson when he visited Penny’s orchard at the little CPR station. He managed to get support from the Marquis of Anglesey – a rich Brit – and they formed “the BC Horticultural Estate”. The 5000 acres of crown land was bought at a dollar an acre, and a dam was built on Deadman Lake – due north of Walhachin. Using his engineering skills and Chinese labour, a wooden flume was built to supply water from the dam to Walhachin, carefully contouring the hills along the way to ensure a steady flow of the precious water. This avoided the need to pump it up from the much closer, but lower, Thompson.

The town was ultra-modern and attracted lots of English “second sons” – wealthy gentlemen in search of adventure as an alternative to joining the clergy or – later ironically – the army. A new house included hot and cold running water, inside toilet and all “mod cons”.

Every convenience

Every convenience

It was a model town, complete with hotel, school, ice rink (hey – this is Canada!), swimming pool – the lot! The men worked hard, and the town prospered. The water brought the fertile land to life and 100 years on, some of the fruit trees are still producing.

Walhachin Apricots

Walhachin Apricots

Then, just as Walhachin celebrated a bumper crop in 1914… news arrived of a dire conflict in Europe. By 1916 there was not a single man of fighting age in Walhachin. The call for help was heeded and men – often with their entire families – headed back to Blighty to fulfil their duty. After some debate, Canada itself sent thousands of men to help the mother country too.

The women and children left in Walhachin were not able to continue the hard work that orchard farming demanded. After the war, the men who had survived the hardships in Europe or further afield were tired, and few returned to Walhachin to help salvage the now-struggling community. The Marquis decided to withdraw – having spent $1.5M – and offered the land to the provincial government as a soldier settlement scheme. The project had proved itself viable, but needed manpower. The government turned him down and instead began a similar scheme near Oliver (now a fruit and wine growing area).

Today, Walhachin is barely a shadow of its heyday. At its peak 300+ people lived there. Now, barely 30 call it home, and some of them are mere weekend visitors. A casual walk identified 2 properties for sale – I’m sure others were available.

It’s a pretty little place, but sad too. It’s not so hard to imagine it once bustling with life and promise, but the dream was barely established when the horrors of war so far away, and the attendant duty felt by its founders, brought it crashing down. The little museum does its best to keep the history alive and identified an area where the First Nations had left a shell midden – attesting to the plentiful supply of fresh water clams they harvested pre-contact.

BC is a special place, and these little pockets of history make it very real and tactile. It’s a vast place, but it has very human stories we can all identify with.





Did sexual equality fuel the evolution of human cooperation?

27 06 2015

So yesterday, my BBC History magazine arrived. I love reading this publication. Pop science magazines tempt you with the sheer breadth of subjects we are researching, with respect to ways to destroy the planet, or at the very least ourselves. Not on purpose, of course. No – we’re motivated by greed. The whole end of the world thing is just a potential by-product.

Pop history illustrates the ways we’ve already tried and what we learnt along the way. Some things are quite spectacular. Crusades; world war; slavery (black on white as well as the more recent and well known white on black)…

July’s edition bridges the gap and refers to a report in Science magazine that suggests that sexual equality may in fact be a prehistoric concept, and that like so many other things, we broke a perfectly good thing along the way. The article posits that later, with the rise of agriculture and its systems of property and inherited wealth, sexual inequality appeared.

Did sexual equality fuel the evolution of human cooperation? | Science/AAAS | News.

By coincidence, July’s edition also reminds the reader that July 1848 saw the world’s first ever Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Men were supposed to be excluded, but early #HeForShe advocates were eventually allowed in – as long as they sat quietly and didn’t take an active part in the meeting. No iPhones in those days either… must have been hard for them!





The Imitation Game

10 01 2015

Back in July I wrote about the up-coming film of Turing’s life, “The Imitation Game”. Tonight I was invited to go and watch said film. I have to admit that there wasn’t really anything new in the film as far as story. It skipped neatly across the now well-known key aspects of Turing’s life. Being gay, being an odd duck, being potentially “on the spectrum” (autistic), being a genius, being sorely abused by a nation that owed him much. There were hints at other parts of his story, but not explicitly told. For example, there were scenes with apples and cyanide, but no mention that the two together were the method of his suicide.

Towards the end of the story, as Turing starts to lose his faculties because of chemical castration (a “treatment” for his homosexuality), I confess to a small tear. A great mind sorely wounded by those he helped so much. “Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of that do the things no one can imagine”. This phrase is used a few times in the film to great emotional effect.

It did however pay a little homage to his place as one of the fathers of modern computing. The US actually had a parental warning for the film because it contained… advanced maths (which it only did by reference)! It did though have a completely unnecessary rendition of “bollocks” at one point. There was even a contrived nod to The Turing Test that he’d developed to help define Artificial Intelligence (remember this is before computers even existed – the man was a true visionary).

Mark Strong plays an excellent part as “the spy guy” from MI6, also bringing a few of the unexpected but well done lighter moments. There’s a nod to the sterling work done to fool the Germans about the source of the intelligence to further obfuscate Colossus and also a faint nod to the “XX” (double cross) system to knowingly let secret agents for foreign powers operate in Britain, so that the the material they sent back could be controlled. It also paid tribute to the heartache of having to let many people die in order to protect the secret that Enigma had been cracked. The secret was so secure that the UK let its firm ally Canada use Enigma for transmitting its secrets after the war, still believing it was unbreakable. Few even in the UK knew. It was “Ultra” secret.

Turing, as I’ve said elsewhere is one of my few heroes. Cumberbatch is an awesome actor and caught the essence of the man well. I must however retract an unkind stance I took back in July’s piece. Keira Knightley actually did a reasonable job in this film. Well done to her. It is definitely one of her better offerings to the world of cinema.

Photo from Guardian: The Imitation Game

Photo from Guardian: The Imitation Game

The UK’s Guardian have a review here if you’d like a more professional review.

By the way, it turns out Cumberbatch is actually related to Turing… very distantly. I thought that was fitting, if accidental. As time goes on it seems he is getting more of the recognition he deserves. Though of questionable motivation, he was posthumously pardoned by QEII (the woman, not the ship) in 2013. It’s questionable because to give a pardon means accepting that the offence was real and needs pardoning. He was gay. That is not a crime, and need not be pardoned.

Alan Turing

Wikipedia: Alan Turing





A thorny case for Sherlock Holmes – UK in USA

7 08 2014

August 1st is Yorkshire Day, but also marks the Battle of Minden in 1759. The 51st Foot (King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry), now part of The Rifles took part, and subsequently wore a white rose of Yorkshire in their cap to commemorate the day.

Now, some mysterious person sends 6 roses (to mark all the British regiments taking part) to the British Consulate General in Chicago every 1st August. Nobody knows who…

The game’s afoot!

A thorny case for Sherlock Holmes – UK in USA.

FCO - Minden Day roses received in 2010








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