Friday, 2 December 2016

A circular walk from Golberdon.

If I were writing copy for a touristy piece, I'd be describing where our group walked today as "a forgotten and undiscovered part of Cornwall". And so it may be. But I'd describe it as "a walk on our doorstep" as we started and ended in the village of Golberdon, just 2 miles from Chez Parsons. You don't have to travel far for a good walk.
We started and ended our walk at the Village Hall in Golberdon. Around 5.5 miles, it was off the beaten track and gave us a tranquil meander along quiet lanes, across meadows and alongside the River Lynher.
A cold grey morning with views enhanced by river valley mists and low clouds
Every now and again there'd be shafts of light streaming down through the greyness
Looking towards Caradon Hill on the edge of Bodmin Moor. It's difficult to imagine that 150 years ago the landscape would have been blighted with the smoking chimneys of the mining industry
Pretty much the same view as above but from a different perspective and taken in the early afternoon when the sun was starting to burn off the mists
Mid-morning view of the River Lynher from the bridge near Golberdon
Not the sort of sheep you expect to come across in these parts. This is a rare breed Hebridean Sheep. Funnily enough, in all of our travels on the various islands in the Outer Hebrides, we've never knowingly seen this. Apparently their fleeces are in demand for the quality of the wool and the meat tastes pretty good as well.
Icicles in a small quarry which probably was the source of the building materials for the nearby farm buildings
Lunchtime and the lane was so quiet that sitting in the road was not a problem
A late flowering Periwinkle (Vinca minor)
And an early flowering Camelia
One of the more unusual cottage names we came across. No idea what it means but I'm pretty certain it has nothing to do with Harry Potter as the building has been there for at least a couple of centuries
I never get tired of the challenge of getting decent images of birds in flight. This Grey Heron obliged by flying around in plain sight as I adjusted the settings on my DSLR. This is one of 60 shots I fired off in rapid succession.
One Landrover with horsetrailer stuck in mud. Two men scratching their heads wondering what to do. Enter Mandy from our group who takes charge and tells them what to do. It would have been easier if they had listened to her right away but they got there eventually
Some melted frost on a hawthorn twig. And what's that caught as a reflection?
It was me!

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Some pleasant interludes

BBC television in the 1950's (it was the only channel available for years) was so steamy that they had to calm viewers down by showing short restful 'interludes' between programmes. A potter's wheel, a windmill, a spinning wheel and, rather more frenetic, the London to Brighton train journey in four minutes. We knew how to live then. Confession time: the first time I did the London to Brighton trip to see Nan Parsons, I was very disappointed when it took a lot longer than the four minutes I was expecting. Where has my innocence gone? You know, I think the idea of an interlude could be usefully adopted nowadays. Lots of people would get more pleasure from watching a windmill than The X-Factor or a potter's wheel rather than Poldark. Or is that rather too phallic an association?

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

The choices we face

Fame and fortune come my way? Not really but I have been asked to submit, to an obscure local political pamphlet, an opinion piece on the elections of 2016. No guidelines other than 'keep it clean and avoid libel'. Here's an edited version as I suspect that readers of this blog might have a lower tolerance towards a ranty polemic than the target audience who seem to like both. But that's lefties for you!
Another vote, and another crushing disappointment for those opposed to bigotry, racism, and homophobia. Another vote, and another victory for the nastiness and the urge to blame the victims of globalisation for globalisation. Another vote, and another twist on the descent into a crueller and less compassionate world. Another vote, and another reason why it’s increasingly vital for social democrats to not lose heart but get organised and mount an effective opposition.

The majority of voters (and I'm not talking about the popular vote) in America have chosen to succumb to the same knee-jerk right wing populism that infects most of the UK (hooray for the triumph for common sense in Scotland). Just like Brexit, Trump’s victory will give succour to the bigots and the xenophobes, the racists, the homophobes, and the misogynists. It legitimises their hatred and gives a veneer of respectability to their prejudices. The right is emboldened and resurgent and the world is a scarier and more dangerous place. Just think about it. An unstable authoritarian narcissistic buffoon, a man who seems incapable of measured judgement, now has his finger on the nuclear button. And one of the biggest stockpiles of nukes in the world sits just outside Scotland’s largest city. That's scary. Gulp! But, no need to worry as the TV news is filled with a succession of straight white middle class Trump supporters and Brexiteers who assure us that Trump and Brexit Britain love and support ethnic minorities, gay people, and women and it was all campaign rhetoric anyway. That’s reassuring, isn't it? After all, straight white middle class men are the experts on absolutely everything.
America has been Trumped. The people who voted for him did so because they were angry with a political establishment that had ignored their concerns and taken them for granted. The same kinds of people in the UK voted for Brexit for similar reasons. And now they’re going to discover that they’ll still be the victims. Their protest was hijacked by the far right, by tax-cutting anti-state business people and ideologues. The silent majority think they have found their voice but they are going to be disappointed when the voice cries “We’re going to blame those who are victimised even more than the elite that doesn’t care for you. We are going to welcome those who cause your suffering into the corridors of power”.

If we want to preserve those parts of the British state that are valuable and good, the only chance we have to do so is for like minds to unite and oppose the common enemy. Tolerance, an outward looking internationalism, a respect for difference, the NHS, our belief in public services, free education: all are at risk if we remain subject to the cold icy blasts of an Anglo-America that has no place for society and that only recognises money and power. We can have a social-democracy that we fight and build for ourselves, or we become powerless and impotent stooges in a right wing populist state. That’s the choice that faces us today.

2016 has been a terrible year. It’s been a year when public distrust in a political establishment that ignores them has turned toxic. Bonnie Scotland has only been saved from the same descent into an ugly and vicious right wing populism because of the Scottish independence movement which puts forward a progressive and social democratic vision of a better country. If it wasn’t for the independence movement, Scotland would have succumbed to the same hatred and paranoia that has come to define the rest of the UK and now the USA. That makes it all the more vital that Scotland continues to pursue its dream of a better country, a country that speaks for all its citizens, a country that welcomes and fosters diversity, a country that defines itself by how it treats its minorities, a country that strives for social equality and justice. Because then they can demonstrate to the rest of us (and the world) that there is a better way. That there is an alternative to the vile and nasty populism of Trump and Farage.

The choice is ours. We can continue to sit, powerless and afraid, being played by the Trump card and the jokers of Brexit, or we can play some cards of our own. That’s the decision facing those who oppose what they stand for. We need to make the right choices. We need to show that there is no place for hatred, that climate change is real, that a nation can meet the needs of all its citizens in an atmosphere of tolerance and respect. 2016 belongs to the xenophobes, the bigots, the sexists and the racists, but the future belongs to us, if we seize every opportunity to speak up and fight for what we believe.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

On this day in 1916, Chief Petty Office Alfred Bassett died

Chief Petty Officer
HMS Savage/HMS Blenheim
Died age 39
22nd November 1916

Alfred Bassett was born in Stoke Climsland on 5th November 1877 to Harry and Eliza Bassett. Harry was the publican of the Half Moon Inn in the centre of the village. Alfred was baptised in Stoke Climsland church on 29th April 1878 and it is probable that he went to Stoke Climsland School, just across the road from the pub.
An old photograph of the Half Moon Inn, allegedly bought and closed in the early 1900s by the local Methodists as a way of controlling wayward drinking in the Parish. The man in the doorway is thought to be Harry Bassett. Are the two in the road his children?

On 28th June 1906 Alfred married Isabel Dingle (daughter of John and Marian Dingle who lived at Mugford, on the outskirts of nearby Luckett, for many years whilst John was a mine agent) at the Congregational Chapel, Emma Place, Stonehouse, Plymouth. There were no children. At the time of the 1911 census (2nd April 1911), he and Isabel were living at 57, Abingdon Road, Southsea, Alfred being stationed at the shore establishment, HMS Vernon.

Alfred joined the Royal Navy on 24th April 1894 as a Boy Second Class at the age of 16. His naval record says that he was 5’ 3 ¾" tall, with brown hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion. He had a sailor tattooed on his right forearm and his occupation at the time of his enlistment was given as a porter. At this time he entered the shore establishment, HMS St Vincent at Gosport, which was a training establishment for boys and juniors. When he was 18 (5th November 1895) he enlisted to serve for a period of 12 years. He subsequently re-enlisted on 5th November 1907 ‘to completion’. His first posting was to the battleship HMS Edinburgh. He served in many other ships and travelled extensively (for example, on the night of the 1901 census – 31st March 1901 – he was on board the cruiser HMS Marathon anchored off Trincomalee in Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon). He progressed through the ranks (ordinary, able-bodied, leading seaman, PO 2nd Class, PO 1st Class, Acting CPO). His final posting was to HMS Blenheim, a depot ship to the destroyer HMS Savage, both were part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force involved in the Dardanelle Campaign in the Eastern Mediterranean.
HMS Savage
HMS Blenheim
He must have fallen ill and been transferred to the Hospital Ship Karapara as it was there that he died of a perforated gastric ulcer. He was buried in the East Mudros Military Cemetery and is commemorated there as well as on the memorials in Stoke Climsland.
Hospital Ship Karapara
Alfred Bassett's gravestone in East Mudros
View of the East Mudros cemetery
East Mudros Military Cemetery is on the Greek island of Limnos (Lemnos) in the north-east Aegean Sea. East Mudros Military Cemetery was begun in April 1915 and used until September 1919.  It contains 885 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, 86 of them unidentified, and one Second World War burial. Because of its position, the island of Lemnos played an important part in the campaigns against Turkey during the First World War. It was occupied by a force of marines on 23 February 1915 in preparation for the military attack on Gallipoli, and Mudros became a considerable Allied camp. The 1st and 3rd Canadian Stationary Hospitals, the 3rd Australian General Hospital and other medical units were stationed on both sides of Mudros bay and a considerable Egyptian Labour Corps detachment was employed. After the evacuation of Gallipoli, a garrison remained on the island and the 1st Royal Naval Brigade was on Lemnos, Imbros and Tenedos for the first few months of 1916.
When he died, Alfred left £123 10s to his widow (which has a present day purchasing power of approximately £7000).

Monday, 21 November 2016

Just three words but they mean a lot.

If you wanted to sum up everything that’s wrong with the United Kingdom but had to do it in a three word phrase, you’d be spoiled for choice: 'Foreign Minister Johnson', 'Prime Minister May', 'Ian Duncan Smith', 'Celebrity Come Dancing' or 'Call the Midwife' just for starters. But there’s one phrase that perfectly sums up the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of Britain like no other, a phrase that encapsulates how some people are on different planets from the rest of us (or is just me?) and that phrase is 'Lord Nigel Farage'. It’s a phrase which on first being heard is immediately followed by another three word phrase and that other phrase is, forgive my potty mouth, “what the f***?”. Said repeatedly whilst banging your head against the nearest convenient vertical surface.

The British government and Mother Theresa have refused to rule out the possibility that Nasty Nige might be granted a peerage for his services to British public life. Mmm, what services would that be then, Nige? That would be destroying our relationship with the European Union, hastening the end of the United Kingdom, causing the Conservative party to morph into UKIP and helping to spark off an outbreak of racist and homophobic attacks because the loonies and nutters of the extreme right now feel empowered to do so. Nigel has taken a state that was already drifting into right wing nastiness, and pushed it over the cliff of intolerance. And all that qualifies as public service?

It really is wonderful. Nige is the wealthy public school stockbroker with the pint and the fag who says he’s standing up for the little guy. But it's clear from his record that the reverse is true: he’s standing up against the establishment by strengthening the powerful and empowering the strong, he’s protecting the weak by taking an axe to their support networks and shredding their safety nets and he’s blaming the problems of Britain on those who suffer most from them. His is just a new way of voicing old prejudices. Ancient hatreds presented in a digital format like Facebook and Twitter. And because the medium is high tech, Nige (and Trump) can claim that their message is edgy and subversive while, in reality, they seek to bolster the old establishments. Mark my words, they won’t challenge the establishment and they won’t tear down the elite. They are creatures of that very establishment and that very elite. Their supporters have been conned.

The continuing existence of the House of Lords is bad enough. It’s an insult to democracy, an excuse for legitimised patronage in a political system that likes to claim it’s above the sort of favouritism that marks the politics of lesser countries. But in Britain there’s no need for the secretive and undercover patronage that blights other countries. In Britain it’s institutionalised and dressed up in fancy costumes. Admittedly there’s no hard evidence to suggest that Farage might be in line for a peerage, other than Theresa May’s refusal to answer a direct question on the topic, but the point is that we live in a state where a peerage for the likes of Farage is a distinct possibility. And if offered it, the anti-elitist warrior will be happy to pose in ermine and lord it over us, and even happier to draw expenses on the public account.

Britain was already a dysfunctional state with a dysfunctional political system before they came along but Nigel and UKIP have made it worse. They took the good aspects of British society, its willingness to tolerate difference, its acceptance of diversity, and they said that the only things that saved Britain were actually sinking it. If Farage gets a peerage he’ll be Baron Farage of Trump, Lord Shit Stirrer Extraordinaire. They say you can tell the calibre of a man by the company he keeps. This picture says it all.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Dartmoor in the rain around Venford.

A day for walking enthusiasts only. The weather forecast was foreboding (rain, wind, thunderstorms) which would put off all but the determined (or daft). And I guess our merry band was a combination of both in equal measure: determined and daft. In the event the conditions weren't as bad as anticipated and the scenery more than made up for the inconveniences the elements threw at us. All that and a very nice tea with cakes at the Holne Community Café at the end. The second consecutive walk when I wouldn't risk my DSLR so a few photographs from my mobile phone (in a plastic sandwich bag) will have to do.
The starting point for our walk (around 6.2 miles) was the Venford Reservoir just north of Holne. The route was straightforward: over the common and into the Dart Valley, then due west contouring above the river and then due east contouring along a leat back to our starting point. The outward leg was in the protection of the valley and, for the inward leg, we had the wind and rain at our backs.
Venford reservoir with its waters as low as I'd ever seen them. I suspect that it's not going to take that long before it's full again.
I think I'll call this one 'wind shaped tree seen through a smudgy lens'. 
Our group trudging off into the rainy mist. It was windy at this point, just before we dropped down into the Dart valley.
Looking over the Dart valley.
Still looking over the Dart valley, with a few more trees. We had hoped that our visit would coincide with lots of autumn colours but, sadly, we were probably a couple of weeks too late to see them at their best.
However making up for the lack of foliage colour were the greens and browns of the moss, ferns and fallen leaves. Attractive in a more understated way than the blousy reds and yellows that we might otherwise have seen.
There's nothing quite like a lunch break in the rain. Soggy sandwich, anyone? And everyone was in much better spirits than this photograph might imply.
Negotiating a clapper bridge across one of the streams feeding into the Dart. Our route at this point followed an ancient trackway from one farmstead to another.
Sums up the day really. Water, mud, rocks and cow pats. Wonderful stuff.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

On this day in 1916, Private William Jane was killed

Private 23871
10th Battalion
Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry
Died age 28
16th November 1916

William (Bill) John Jane was born in Luckett village in 1888, the eldest son of John and Selina Jane. His father was a copper miner and it was into this occupation that William followed his father. At the time of the 1901 census (31st March 1901), when the family were living at Treovis Mill, William, then aged 13, is listed as working as a ‘copper miner, labourer above ground’, as was his father. By the time of the 1911 census (2nd April 1911), there had been significant changes in the circumstances of the family as they were now living in Deerpark Cottage, with both William and his father working as farm labourers.

We are lucky in that we have several photographs of William Jane and we thank Yvonne King for this one of the Luckett Cricket Team taken on July 2nd 1910 which has William in the centre. A detail of William is also shown, as is a photograph of a Jane family wedding at Lidwell (circa 1910). William is in the back row to the right.
On 22nd November 1915 William enlisted into the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry in Callington. Possibly because of his mining and labouring background, he was assigned to the 10th Battalion and was based in Hayle. The 10th Battalion was one of the ‘Pioneer’ battalions whose duty it was to provide logistical support to those on the frontline. Their duties included trench digging, installation of barbed wire entanglements and moving of supplies and munitions They underwent basic military training including firearms, but were also supplied with the necessary additional tools required for the work they were assigned to do in the field as Pioneers.

William’s battalion landed at Le Havre on 20th June 1916 and attached as Pioneers to the 2nd Army Division. They were immediately involved in the Battle of the Somme and from August to late November were active in the Hebuterne/Colincamps sector. During this time, their work involved the establishment and maintenance of the very important network of communication and access trenches near the frontline. This was dangerous work as much of it had to be done under enemy fire. It was during one such exercise on November 16th that William was killed. His body was never recovered and, as well as our local memorials, he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

From Leonard Cohen to cowbells

Extremely sad to hear of the demise of Leonard Cohen. Listening to some of his obituaries took me right back to when I first heard him. 1967 when I was a sallow, but long-haired and extravagantly bewhiskered, student at Aberystwyth. Suzanne was a favourite track of mine and, although I was never angst-ridden, his voice and lyrics resonated with me, as they did with many others.

And thinking about Leonard Cohen and 1967 lead me to think of another song from this year: The Chambers Brothers' 'Time has come today'. I haven't heard it for ages but I think it stands the test of time. I've always liked the cowbell/tick-tock opening.

And thinking about the cowbells at the beginning of 'Time has come today' lead me to think of other songs I knew that featured cowbells.
Two sprung to mind immediately: Honky Tonk Women by the Rolling Stones and Low Rider by War.

Surprise, surprise. It turns out that there are a number of websites that will give you lists of songs that feature cowbells, should you wish to take it further. I don't. But I will dig out my Cohen music and mumble along with the master.

Third time lucky for this walk.

My IWC and I first did this walk at the beginning of October as a recce for walks we were soon to lead for our two walking groups. Having done it three times now, I'm putting it very near the top of my 'to be repeated' walks list. It really does have everything I like - Dartmoor scenery, history, isolation and nature. And everyone else we've walked this route with seems to have the same favourable opinion. 
For Walk #2 we followed the route described for Walk #1. The route above shows #3 where I took a shortcut towards the end to avoid a couple of nasty stiles that some group members might have had problems negotiating. This took the distance down to 7.5 miles.
A great view at our start for #2. No such luck on #3 when the rain and mist brought visibility down to a few yards. So much so that, for the first time for ages, I didn't risk my camera on the walk. As it turned out, the weather improved within 30 minutes!
Danger mineshafts! It always sensible to pay heed to instructions like these as this part of the walk is pitted with shafts from the old East Vitifer mine. Not all were recorded and it's not unknown for the rudimentary capping to collapse into a large hole. I should add that when we did Walk #1 we went slightly adrift at this point and rambled through the area designated 'danger mineshafts'.
Keen eyes would spot a circular hump and a lump of metal sticking out of the wall of the barn. Those who know these things would say "ah, the remains of a horse gin or whim". What's that?  Horses were attached to a pole that they pulled around a central drum which, when rotated, drove a series of connected shafts that drove machinery inside a barn. Some horse whims/gins required one horse, others two. How old would this one be? Can't really say but I'd hazard a guess that it would have been in operation into the early 20th century. But I could be wrong.
Just up the road from the external horse whim, we come across this building. Although the photograph doesn't really show it, the walls are circular.
The circular walls are more obvious from the inside and we can safely conclude that, at one time, this housed a horse whim. It pays to walk around with your eyes open (and accompanied by someone who is an expert in old buildings. Thank you, RR).
Yet another of Dartmoor's pleasant sights inspecting at a berry-laden hawthorn tree. 1034 were counted.
The difference a couple of weeks make. Same tree as above and these were the only bunches left. The rest would have been stripped by the birds. Lots of starlings around to get stuck in.
Simply larch but fascinating textures.
More simply larch.
Simply teazles along the way. Did you know that these were used to produce the nap on felt? And were the forerunners of tenterhooks? Somewhere we've been told us that some places still use teazles for this purpose but the heads now come from Spain. Damn foreign teazles! They come over here, napping our felt.... Brexit just can't come soon enough to sort 'em out.
Just a leafy wood with a stream running through it. Given the shaped sides of this stretch of water and the way it deliberately narrows, I wonder if this was, at one time, the start of something connected with a mill. There must have been some reason for this effort in such an out-of-the-way place.
Someone has put this gatepost in upside down, presumably because it has been recycled. It was originally from a pole gate so the wooden poles would have slid in and then gone down into the slot to be held in place. Sliding them up in this configuration won't do anything!
A nice bit of stone walling using the local stone.
And here's a clip from the BBC TV series - An Edwardian Farm - in which the presenters give a less-than-comprehensive trip around a Dartmoor Farm, but they do mention a horse gin, without saying what it does. All a bit superficial, isn't it? And not really doing the subject matter justice.