Archive for the month “March, 2017”

Doesn’t time fly…

… when you’re having fun.

We realised today that it is exactly a year since we got up at  2.00 am to go and stand on the bridge of the MV Bougainville, as it slipped sedately up the Solent towards the Port of Southampton.  I can remember, as if it were yesterday, the endless narration by one of the pilots who was guiding the ship in about the new shed that he had bought at enormous expense and the tribulations he had suffered in erecting it at the bottom of his garden.

I know it is not good to generalise from a small sample but I really do feel that ships’ pilots are, as a breed, a pretty dull bunch, who are not well versed in the art of conversation, but are very adept at endless monologues.  That was certainly the case with the pilots that brought us through the Suez Canal, the one who took us into Le Havre and the final one who brought us back to Blighty.  By the time we actually docked in Southampton,  I felt that I could have erected this man’s shed in the dark with a sack over my head, so much detail had I absorbed from his running commentary.

Having docked and taken the final few photos, we went back to bed for a few hours until, after a hearty breakfast, we were then collected from the bottom of the ship’s steps in a crew bus.

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We took our last look at the enormous container ship that had brought us home and, clutching our passports and the keys to our luggage, we prepared to complete the customs and immigration formalities.  Not a bit of it!

The crew bus took us to an anonymous gate in the fence that went around the mighty Port of Southampton, where we were met by a taxi which took us to the railway station.

Er… um… hallo?  Excuse me!  Is there anybody there?  Anybody want to see our documents?  Anybody want to check our luggage for weapons or illegal drugs?  Anybody want to check that we are not illegal immigrants from Albania or Islamic State militants?  No?  No-one?  OK.  Fair enough!  Taxi!

And off we went.  Home at last!



Brighton Little Theatre.

A few weeks ago I joined the Brighton Little Theatre.  The word ‘little’ is particularly well chosen as the theatre currently seats a total of 64 people!  However, there is nothing little about the theatre’s ambitions or its performance programme – it apparently puts on around ten productions a year, so there is always a play in rehearsal and as one show finishes, the next is ready to take to the stage.

Even more unusually – particularly for an amateur theatre club – the theatre owns its own building in the centre of Brighton and operates at an, albeit modest, profit.  It also has ambitious plans for redevelopment which, when complete, will increase the theatre’s seating capacity to an unimaginable 75!

I’ve always been a bit of an amateur thespian. — what other, more uncharitable people might describe as being a bit of a show off — but my main thought in joining the club was just to get to know some more people and to support local theatre.

It worries me that whenever there are cuts in school budgets, it’s always subjects like music and drama that get dropped from the curriculum. As schools chase league table ratings, and become organised into consortia like industrial companies, the sacred cows of English, Maths and Science become untouchable but more creative subjects are left to wither on the vine.

Don’t get me wrong, the country needs its mathematicians and its scientists. There is no debate about that, and clearly every country needs its own citizens to master its own language. But I am concerned that as we use austerity to narrow the curriculum to what we see as being the needs of the economy we lose sight of the fact that the kids that we are currently educating are being educated to do jobs that haven’t yet been invented, and. more significantly, many of them may be being educated for no jobs at all.

As robotics gets into its, as yet. awkward stride, the need for workers looks set to diminish. Even professionals like doctors and lawyers will find more and more of their work taken over by robots and even delivery drivers could be a thing of the past with the next few decades. My guess is that we will have to challenge our own assumptions that having a job means working five days a week and more if you want to impress the boss. We could find that the working week will become three or even two days and if that happens filling leisure time will become the challenge of the age. So is this the time to be squeezing those subjects out of the school curriculum that could give people creative ways of spending their increased leisure time. Or is daytime television the only way forward for the upcoming generations?

I’ll let you into a little secret. Much to my own surprise, I passed GCE Maths, including Trigonometry, when I was sixteen years old. That was 50 years ago. In the intervening 50 years, I have never had to solve a quadratic equation or calculate the angle of a ladder against a wall, never had to draw a rhombus and certainly never had to work out the value of ‘x’. So why on earth were so many hundreds of boy-hours spent sitting in a fog of misery and misunderstanding as a succession of dusty teachers tried to teach me Algebra and Geometry? (Note for younger readers: when I was a school, all teachers were dusty, because writing with chalk on a blackboard and getting us to copy everything into our exercise books was the chief method of teaching.) And why was Music such a joke subject in my school and a subject that I had to drop after Year 8 because there wasn’t room for it in the curriculum?

But I digress. I was telling you that I had joined the Brighton Little Theatre. Imagine my surprise when I got notification that one of the next plays being planned was Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer, a ‘comedy of manners’ written nearly 250 years ago.

Flash-back to 1973. I was doing VSO for the first time in The Sudan. Like most VSO volunteers at that time, I was teaching English, qualified only by the fact that I could speak the language quite well and, having a degree in German, I knew the difference between a noun and an adjective.

Even in those days, the Sudan was a politically fragile place and the Higher Teachers’ Training Institute, where I was supposed to be teaching, was on strike more often than it was working. This was bad news, because, as a VSO volunteer, your sole raison d’etre for being in a far-flung place, earning nothing, is the fact that you think you are making some kind of contribution to people’s development. With the Institute barricaded shut half the time, there was nothing to do. Not a happy situation.

Fortunately, amongst the English-speaking expatriates in Khartoum there was a drama club that occasionally put on plays, so I saw my chance! Having more spare time than I could handle, I offered to produce a play and guess what? The play I chose was She Stoops to Conquer for reasons that I honestly cannot now remember, but having cast the Head of the British Council and his deputy in two of the leading roles and drawing on talent from several other embassies we managed to put on a pretty decent show. It was certainly the best live theatre that anyone had seen in Khartoum that year. (Uncharitable persons might point out that it was in fact the only theatrical performance to be seen in Khartoum that year, but that would be unkind.)

Fast-forward 45 years and there I am in Brighton faced with an audition notice for the Brighton Little Theatre’s forthcoming production of She Stoops to Conquer. What could I do? The Fates were clearly conspiring. I auditioned for the part of Mr Hardcastle, a country squire living in straitened circumstances and, somewhat to my surprise, got it.

So now I have the small matter of pages and pages of lines to learn and in July, if I am spared, I shall be treading the boards of the Brighton Little Theatre in my powdered wig and best northern accent. Clearly a cultural event not to be missed!

Fighting back.

Today is the Spring equinox and in a couple of days time, the clocks will go forward and we will start to have lighter evenings, and all will be well with the world!

A year ago, Linda and I were still luxuriating in the warm embrace of the Good Container Ship Bougainville, steaming at a steady 20 knots, somewhere between the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Biscay.  Where did that year go?

Before we left Papua New Guinea we used to tell people about our plans for a slow progress home through New Zealand and Australia, and we always used to say that our aim was to arrive back in the UK when the evenings started to get lighter and the daffodils were out.

Well, they’re out now. And the battle to defeat the winter is joined.

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It took a while for them to break through the earth,, but one morning I walked out into the garden and…..

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…. there they were!  Living proof that we had finally got the winter on the run and that summer is a-coming in.  Little rays of sunshine on green stalks.


The trees are still bare, but they are all in bud, just waiting for a bit of spring sunshine and some April showers


What a brilliant time of year!

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Happy equinox to all our readers!

I know I’m a bad person…

… but cutting down trees and burning them is fun!


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I know I run the risk of receiving hate mail or being trolled on facebook, but it’s true.  I have had great fun recently cutting down perfectly healthy trees and burning them.


No. I haven’t finally taken leave of my senses, (or at least, I don’t think I have.)

I’ve joined a group of people who that meet every week to go out onto the South Downs or to some of the wilder parkland areas around Brighton and work with  a Local Authority park ranger doing environment management.


Destroying trees seems to go against everything we have been brought up to believe.  I mean, trees are, by definition, good things, aren’t they?  Like apple pie.  ‘Lungs of the earth,’ sanctuary for birds etc.  Well the reality is “Yes, but…..  you can have too much of a good thing.

Much of the Sussex Downs are supposed to be chalk grassland, which, if left to flourish, will create its own ecosystem of wildlife, wild flowers, butterflies and so on.

The trouble is that over the years as Local Authority funding has been cut and cut, there has been so little maintenance of the grasslands that trees, especially hawthorn trees, have been able to take over and spread, and when you get too many hawthorn trees together, nothing else grows around them.

So we have been hacking them down in the hope that other forms of vegetation and wildlife will return to the Downs.  Once the trees have been cleared, the Council plans to import sheep and/or horses into the area to graze the grasslands and keep re-growth under control.

The photo below shows an oak tree that had been completely choked by hawthorn trees growing up around it


The oak now has a chance to re-establish itself and grow properly. Also, by the summer the barren ground where the hawthorns once stood should have regenerated and should be starting to restore some of the bio-diversity that once existed in these parts.

Not a bad morning’s work, I’d say.

Is it just me?

Or is this just madness?


Well, it made me laugh.

Our house is located half way up a steep hill.

At the bottom of the hill there is a pub.

Outside the pub was this signboard.

The arrow points up the hill.


I thought it was worth sharing.


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