Monday, 29 October 2012

Mystery Walker

A few weeks ago The Ramblers were asking for 'mystery walkers' to undertake a 2 mile walk in an allocated area close to where they live in order to help them build a countrywide picture of the state of the nation's footpaths. I put my name down and have just received an email giving me a grid square and a list of questions to be answered. I don't tend to walk in my own area, as I usually head out to the Peak District, so it will be quite interesting to discover some of the footpaths that I live beside. I need to plan my own route within the grid square and so I'll have to dig out the relevant map first. I don't know when I'll get time to actually do the walk, especially as the nights are drawing in now and so I won't be able to do it after work. But hopefully within a month I'll have it done and dusted.  

Sunday, 14 October 2012

September 2012 Twelve Review

Only three months of the year to go and I'm nowhere near finishing my list. I'm not going to stress too much over it as I'm happy with what I have achieved. I'll still keep trying though.
  1. Floating in a floatation tank (I'm hoping to do this in London during the February half term)
  2. Reading at least 10 books from the BBC Big Read list (if I read 10 a year, I'll have the whole 200 knocked off in the next 12-13 years!) - started reading Swallows and Amazons.
  3. Taking at least one photo every day of the year (this will improve my photography skills, be a photo-diary of 'year in my life', and help me to learn to use my new camera) - Never think about it unless I'm out and about somewhere and have a reason to take photos.
  4. Coming up with a fitness plan and sticking to it (the start of my training for Kilimanjaro, though I may not actually climb it for several years yet) - One walk and that's been it.
  5. Leading at least 4 of my own walks (good practice for my walking group leader's qualification) - One walk walked, none led.
  6. Buying another house (need to get my finances in order first) - started planning a business instead.  
  7. Learning to use at least 3 new pieces of technology or computer programmes (not counting my new camera) - I've been using my tablet and Kindle a lot and I'm really starting to get the hang of them now and I'm discovering what they can do.
  8. Doing a writing course (depends on the length of the course whether I'd complete it in the year or not) - No more achieved on this.
  9. Getting at least one piece of writing published (paid or unpaid, as long as someone else makes the decision to publish it and it's not self-published)
  10. Making a start on sorting out my photos (putting the prints that are currently still stuffed in packets into albums and getting all my photos scanned into the computer - no way will this be completed in a year, but I'll feel good even if I get started on it) - I seem to have replaced this with my book database.
  11. Buying a car/van that I can sleep in (and doing any necessary conversions/adaptations) - On hold whilst I sort a woodburner for my living room out.
  12. Getting into cycling (even if it's just short cycle rides along decent paths) - Nothing done on this one.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Swallows and Amazons

by Arthur Ransome

This book is number 57 on the BBC's Big Read list and is a children's book.

The Swallows are four children, John, Susan, Titty and Roger, who are spending the summer in the Lake District with their mother, baby sister and baby sister's nurse. Their father is away at sea but has given permission by telegram for them to take a boat and a couple of home-made tents and sail off to an island in the lake to camp by themselves.

The children spend most of their time in a make-believe world where the lake is a sea with the North Pole at one end and the Antarctic at the other. They have renamed all the places around the lake and so the river leading into it has become the Amazon, the village has become Rio and a pool part way along the river has become the Octopus Lagoon. They use sailor/pirate/explorer words for everyday things and people. The local people are referred to as natives and the charcoal burners as savages; a snake is a serpent; lemonade is grog; they don't go fishing, instead they go whaling.

The children quickly settle into a peaceful routine on the island, but then find themselves under attack by a couple of Amazon pirates. The arrow-firing Amazons are two sisters, Nancy and Peggy Blackett, who are also staying by the lake with their mother. The Amazons have their own boat and had previously claimed the island as their own. They do not take kindly to the intruding Swallows and the two sides declare war. However, they are soon united in battle against the mean Captain Flint (aka the Amazons' Uncle Jim) who lives on a nearby houseboat.

Adventures follow and the Swallows and Amazons find 'treasure' which had been stolen from Captain Flint. This endears him to the children and he gives them his parrot and agrees to lead them on a bigger adventure the following summer.

The book was first published in 1930 and the story is set in the 1920s. It always shocks me a bit when I'm reminded of how big the gap between the classes was in those days and how the working classes would be treated as so inferior. This is the case with this book. The children, with their naval father and baby sister's nurse, are obviously middle-class. The local farmers and villagers refer to them as Master Roger, Miss Susan and so on. When a policeman comes to the island to follow up a complaint from Captain Flint the Amazon sisters, who know him, are downright rude to him and talk down to him as though he is a naughty boy - 'as long as you're good we won't tell your mother'. The policeman is frightened and chastised and hastily leaves.

All in all, I enjoyed the book though I'm glad I don't have to teach the children - I think they'd be damned annoying and precocious in real life and I doubt I'd last a day with them before I'd be sacked for insubordination!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Goose Fair

For the past 16 years, ever since my friends moved to Nottingham, I've been saying I must go to Goose Fair. Last weekend I finally got round to going.

Goose Fair is thought to have started in the 1200s and was originally a fair for traders, particularly those trading geese - thousands would be walked to Nottingham from Lincolnshire to be sold. These days it's just a funfair with rides and food but because of its origins and because it is reputed to be the biggest fair in Europe it is both well-known and well-attended. Truancy rates in the local schools always soared on the Friday of the fair and so now the day is set aside as an inset day.

I went to the fair on Saturday evening after spending the afternoon sitting inside and outside various old Nottingham pubs. With the sun shining it was so nice to be able to sit outside and relax enjoying a good beer, a nice lunch and good conversation.

Outside Ye Old Trip to Jerussalem
Inside Ye Old Trip to Jerusalem

We started with lunch at a bar opposite the castle and then wandered down to 'Ye Old Trip to Jerusalem' for 3 beers. Well, why have one when you can have three? The pub sells real ales and offers a 'pick and mix' of them - three half pints of beers of your choice served on a wooden platter. Of course it had to be done. The pub itself is interesting as it's built into the caves. Nottingham is riddled with sandstone caves that until relatively recently people still lived and worked in. It's possible to do a tour of the pub's cellars but these have been withdrawn at the moment. I would be interested in going along on one when they start them up again as caves always interest me and caves that are utilised as modern day buildings interest me even more.

Next we went along to 'The Royal Children' which apparently got its name when the children of King James II's daughter, Princess Anne, were entertained there back in the 1600s. Inside is a whalebone which used to hang above the door and was painted with the name of the pub. This dates to the time when whale oil became popular in oil lamps and the whale oil companies would use the bones as a means of advertising.

Finally we stopped off at 'The Salutation', another old and well-known pub. This seemed to be a bikers' pub and had loud music and lots of men with leather and tattoos. It also sold real ale and I got quite a nice beer. It's built over caves which are open to the public, though we didn't go down them. (Got to leave myself a reason to go back!)

After this we made our way to Goose Fair and spent a few hours wandering around, trying out rides and food. I went on the big wheel to get a good view of the whole fair and was able to appreciate the size of it. I had hoped to see more of Nottingham but it was too dark by this time and the bright lights of the fair blotted out of the rest of the view.

I ate mushy peas with mint sauce and bought cocks on sticks as presents. Mushy peas are something I usually eat with chips, but here they were sold as a snack in their own right and the stalls had large bowls of mint sauce on their counters for customers to add and stir into their tubs of mushy peas.

The cocks on sticks are a tradition and have been made out of sweet rock for over 100 years by the same family. It took a while to find the stall as it's only small but eventually we did. Originally they were sold as geese on sticks but at some point the name was changed to the snigger-inducing cocks on sticks by the classy ladies of Nottingham.

Finally we headed home. Goose Fair done, old pubs done, caves under pubs still to do.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Sketches of Hong Kong

Saudi Aramco World is a free bimonthly magazine distributed by the oil company 'to increase cross-cultural understanding [and] to broaden knowledge of the cultures, history and geography of the Arab and Muslim worlds and their connections with the West.'

I've been on the mailing list for this publication for some time now and I always enjoy the variety of articles it includes. The recent copy really surprised me however, with the cover awash with a water-coloured sketch of Hong Kong. The corresponding article spreads over ten pages and consists of more of these sketches each annotated with relevant text in a hand-written style font.

The focus, of course, is of Muslim life in Hong Kong, but includes anecdotes of a more general nature. One in particular that struck me highlights how the passage of time, particularly where politics is concerned, is thought of differently by the British and the Chinese. A cartoon about the ceding of the whole area of Hong Kong to the Chinese in 1997, rather than just the New Territories as stated in the original 99 year agreement, shows both Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping thinking they are victorious because they have 'persuaded' the other to agree to a fifty year period of compromise: the thought bubble above Thatcher reads 50 years is LONG time - 2,000 quarterly statements! - will he notice?; whilst Xiaoping's thought bubble reads 50 years is just around the corner. Does she realize this?

The article is titled Hong Kong Day and Night and is written and illustrated by Norman MacDonald. I hadn't heard of him before, but assumed he must be a long-time resident as he has been able to get his teeth into the underbelly of Hong Kong rather than merely regurgitating the superficial top layer of skin, which is all most 'stop-over' tourists ever get to experience. I googled him and found from his website that he's actually resident in Amsterdam, which, along with Hong Kong, is another city I like and have spent lots of time in. I can feel an affinity developing here - maybe this is why I was so drawn to his work. I don't think he holds exhibitions but he has had work published in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines so I'll have to keep my eye out for more of his work.