Wednesday, 21 March 2018

On this day in 1918, Corporal George Henry Jenkin died

George Henry Jenkin was the third son of James and Mary Jenkin to be killed in combat and the eldest of the four sons named on the Stoke Climsland War Memorial. He is erroneously listed as C Jenkin rather than G.H.

George was born in Downgate and was baptised in Downgate Chapel on 21st November 1889. At the age of 16, he was working underground as a tin miner but, at 24, he was living in Kelly Bray with a brother and sister and was a farm labourer. Both of their parents had died a few years earlier.

Although we do not know when George enlisted in the army, we do know that it was at Bodmin and he was drafted into the 1/5th Battalion. The Battalion was moved into active service in 1916 and remained in France until 1918.

At the time of George’s death, his unit was in the Somme region and engaged in the Battle of St Quentin, which took place between 21st and 23rd March, and which was part of the German Spring Offensive of 1918. The 21st March began with an extremely heavy German artillery bombardment of high-explosive and gas shells. The 1/5th DCLI were ordered to ‘man battle stations at 5.30 am’, moved into position and came under considerable enemy fire all day. In this action many men were lost, including George Jenkin. He was listed as ‘missing in action’ and his body was never recovered.

As well as being remembered in Stoke Climsland, He is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial Panel 45B), near Albert in Northern France. The Memorial commemorates over 14,000 casualties of the United Kingdom and 300 of the South African Forces who have no known grave and who died on the Somme from 21st March to 7th August 1918.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Mad Max, crisps and Oyster cards: just another week in Brexitland

Jeremy Corbyn has recently announced that he wants the UK to stay in ‘a’ customs union with the EU, which in some undefined manner is different from ‘the’ customs union. The difference, according to Jezza, is that the UK will not passively accept all the EU’s rules and will continue to make its own trade deals: scenarios which the EU has already said are not viable options. To me, it does sound suspiciously like another version of cake having and eating, but at least it’s got the Tories choking on it. So that’s a result worth having in itself.  But, let's not kid ourselves, it’s not that the Leader of the Opposition has suddenly been converted to a soft Brexit; he remains as much of a hard Brexiteer as he ever was. It’s just that he now sees the prospect of defeating the Conservatives in a vote on the issue in the Commons, thanks to a number of Conservative rebels. Labour’s position on Brexit has shifted slightly in the direction of common sense, but it remains as confused and incoherent as that of the Tories.
To be honest, it’s not that difficult for anyone to be less confused and more coherent on Brexit than the British Government. The calibre of the British government’s thinking on the tricky issues thrown up by Brexit can be illustrated by Boris Johnson’s latest pronouncement on the thorny problem of the Irish border. There’s an entirely predictable conflict inherent in the UK leaving the Customs Union and the Single Market and the UK’s treaty requirement with Eire to ensure that there is an invisible and infrastructure free border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The UK Foreign Secretary seems to have got confused between that crucial issue and the 1940's film Passport to Pimlico (well worth watching, by the way). It’s an easy mistake to make, especially if you are a Class A pillock.
Boris was able to manage the London congestion charge when he was Mayor of London and ensure free movement of goods and people between the boroughs of Camden and Westminster, so clearly the Irish border issue is all about dealing with traffic congestion. I always thought that the London Troubles was a reference to the difficulties of people on low wages or the average salary finding affordable accommodation, and not to mounting tensions along the Walthamstow-Newham demilitarised zone.  I lived near London for many years, but never noticed a sign on the North Circular Road saying You Are Now Entering Free Hammersmith, and there was a distinct absence of paramilitary groups who were hell bent on blowing up the Number 26 to Neasden in order to keep out non-compliant goods from Shepherd’s Bush. So either this was just poor observational skills on my part, or Boris Johnson was talking bollocks again. My money is on the latter.

It’s almost as though Boris Johnson is blithely indifferent to anything that doesn’t nourish his bloated sense of sense-importance and rampant careerism. Well, I say ‘almost’. I mean ‘exactly’. It’s exactly that. You’d think that a basic understanding of the distinction between an international frontier between two sovereign states and an administrative border between two London boroughs would be a prerequisite for becoming Foreign Secretary, but apparently not. Someone should point out to the Foreign Secretary that number plate recognition technology is a) the kind of hard infrastructure on the border that the UK has pledged not to introduce in Ireland, and b) can’t tell you what’s in the car boot or on the back of the lorry.

It might also be helpful to point out to the Foreign Secretary that the implementation of the London congestion zone took many years of planning and the delivery, installation, and operation of complex IT infrastructure and payment systems. Despite that, many people inadvertently fall foul of the rules. There are only 13 months to go until Brexit and the UK hasn’t even started to plan for the new Irish border Oyster Card. The only thing that prevents Boris Johnson being the most ludicrous and risible politician in the Conservative party is that it also includes Jacob Rees Mogg. That pair plus David Cameron make a compelling argument that Ofsted ought to put Eton into special measures.
Meanwhile Liam Fox, or to give him his proper title The Disgraced Former Defence Minister Dr Liam Fox, has been having a go at a former senior civil servant in his own department, Sir Martin Donnelly, who claimed, not unreasonably, that the UK leaving the EU and the Customs Union and Single Market was like swapping a three course meal for a packet of crisps. Liam is insistent that Brexit is crunchier and more filling than a mere packet of crisps. He has something more like Hula Hoops in mind, or possibly Monster Munch, and he’s determined that the UK can do a free trade deal with Doritos, or even hold out for a meal deal at Greggs. However the problem for Liam is that we don’t get the packet of crisps immediately, all Brexit is offering is a vague promise on the side of a bus of a packet of crisps at some undetermined time in the future. There’s no guarantee that we will actually be getting any crisps, and if we do the chances are that they will be genetically modified chlorine bathed crisps that taste like crap and which no one wants. The only thing that we can be sure of about Brexit crisps is that they’re incredibly cheesy.

From the British government in the past week or so we’ve had Mad Max Brexit, Oyster Card Brexit and Better than a Packet of Crisps Brexit. And still the Labour party can’t make a serious dent on these idiots in the opinion polls. The Government isn’t fit for purpose, the Opposition isn’t fit for purpose, the UK isn’t fit for purpose. At least the snow looks pretty.

The beast from the east?

The snow finally came to Higher Downgate. So far, not as much as expected and of rather disappointing quality. Beast from the East? More like Least from the East around here. Undaunted, off I went for our normal 'walk around the block' and it was a pleasure. It was so quiet and the light so subdued. Very enjoyable. Here's a flavour of the scenes.

The top track. Recently we've been sloshing amongst the thick mud on this stretch but today it was frozen solid and easy to walk on.
And let's not forget the farmers who don't have the luxury of having a 'snow day' off. The sky in the east looks full of snow.
Stoke Climsland church in the distance.
A dusting of snow makes even the tyres on a silage clamp interesting.
The 'up track'.
Who has left a light on?
Underneath all this snow and ice are three fish. Will they survive?
Icicles from the waterfall.
Yesterday these daffodils were upright and giving a fine display. A bit floppy now. Will they recover?
Our view from the back garden. It looks great under any and every condition.
And we can even see the church when the leaves are off the trees

Monday, 19 February 2018

Hurtigruten norsk tur: Del ti

A day, our last full day of cruising, completely confined to the boat as we continued southwards, with calls at Trondheim, Kristiansund and Molde. Sunset is noticeably later than it was up north but it's still pretty nippy outside at 5pm(currently -5C). Another day of blue skies and calm seas. Boy, have we been lucky with the weather. In fact, we've been lucky with just about everything connected with this sojourn. Here are a few photographs from the deck as we sailed along
Low lying clouds obscuring the view.
Yet another boat against a mountainous background. On this part of the journey, the mountains were with us most of the time, with gradually decreasing amounts of snow cover as we move further south.
The design of these lighthouses is totally different to the 'sticks of rock' we see so often in the UK. I suppose that's not surprising as their functions are different. In Norway they are navigation markers along reasonably sheltered channels: in the UK they can be warnings of hazardous rocks as well as beacons for navigation in stormy seas.
Every now and again, but not that often, we come across a church in the distance.
A demonstration of fish filleting given by one of the ship's chefs. He makes it look so easily - and he has all of his own fingers. The salmon had been out of the sea for less than 24 hours and, dipped in a citrusy marinade, was delicious.
Kristiansund basking in the evening sunshine. A very attractive looking town. It was a pity that we didn't have enough time to wander around it.
Oil rig? Gas rig? I couldn't make out what it was. The photograph doesn't do justice to its fairy lights.
As the sun sets, there are some really attractive pastel skies. Blink and the tones change. Blink again and there's something different again.
And this is last sunset I'll take from the foredeck of the MV Finnmarken. Boo hoo. 

Hurtigruten norsk tur: Del ni

A day of almost continual cruising, with short stops at Bodo, Ornes, Nesna, Sandnessjoen, Bronnoysund and Rorvik, passing back out of the Arctic Circle just south of Ornes. A very relaxing day but there is a definite feeling that the holiday is coming to an end. Also we are noticing that the number of coughing passengers is increasing, the consequence of too many people in close proximity for a lengthy period.  At the end of the day we were treated to a 5-course anniversary dinner to celebrate the 125 year anniversary of the Hurtigruten. And very nice it was, too.
Situated on the Helgeland coastline between Sandnessjoen and Bronnoysund is the range of mountains known as the Seven Sisters. There are many legends relating to them but they all reduce to them being seven trolls who were turned to stone when they were exposed to the sun. Were they dancing at the time or running away from their tyrannical father? Take your pick.
Another interesting looking church that was closed when we visited. This is Bronnoy Kirke in Bronnoysund. There has been a church on this site since the 13th century and this present stone building was built in 1870. Fire had destroyed two earlier wooden building and that's why this one is built of stone.
The War Memorial in Bronnoysund naming those who died on WW2. Amongst these names are some who were executed by firing squad by the Germans and also Meyer Dvoretsky who died in Auschwitz in 1942/1943.
The Torghatten. The mountain with a hole, or natural tunnel, through it. According to legend, the hole was made by the arrow of a troll who was thwarted doing naughty things to the beautiful maiden, Lekamoya.
The Finnmarken basking in the evening sun at the quay in Bronnoysund.
The moon at sunset over a fjord.

Hurtigruten norsk tur: Del otte

Today the itinerary was Tromso, Finnsnes, Harstad, Risoyhamn, Sortland, Stokmarknes, Svolvaer and Stamsund (at 10 pm). We had opted to take the Vesteralen Panorama Bus tour which saw us disembarking at Harstad at 8 am (gulp) and rejoining the ship at Stokmarknes at 2.15 pm. In between these times, we had a tour of a few sites of interest, drove up and down a few fjords, took a ferry across Guillfjord and thence to Stokmarknes. In the evening there was a reasonably long stop at Svolvaer and we took advantage of this to walk around to get a feel for a Norwegian town on a Saturday night. A bit like Callington on a Saturday night - dead! But dead with snow, which makes all the difference.
Trondenes church, just outside of Harstad, is the northernmost mediaeval stone church in Norway and the world's most northern surviving mediaeval building. It was built around 1400. The present building is thought to be the third on the same site, the first one was wooden and the second partly built of stone. Some of the walls of this one were incorporated in the one we see today. It's in a spectacular position overlooking the fjord.
The church is well known for its rich decorations, the most impressive of which are these three gothic diptychs. There are remnants of some mediaeval frescoes to be seen as well and the pulpit is equipped with an hour glass to allow the minister to time his sermons. Trondenes holds both catholic and protestant services.
And in the church door (the original?) was this massive key (the original?). Just think of how many people have handled this over the centuries.
Next door to the church at Trondenes was the Trondenes Historical Centre, which gives insights into the region's history from the Stone Ages to today, with an emphasis on the Vikings and the Middle Ages. It was very well laid out and had a lot interesting artefacts on display, including these Viking weaving implements. Collectively the exhibits show how difficult it was to survive in such a harsh climate.
What, what? You mean you don't like my pickled herring and dried cod? Heresy. These are what drove the Viking invasion of Britain.
An authentic cod drying rack with some authentic dried cod, or stockfish as there are properly known. They are rock-hard and need a lot, and I mean a lot, of pre-preparation before they are become vaguely palatable. I'm not sure how the Vikings managed to do this whilst they were raping and pillaging.
The more recent history of Harstad/Trondenes is tragic. During WW2, there was a lot of German activity in the area, with many gun emplacements built along the coast. This was done by the slave labour of POWs, many of whom died under the brutal conditions. The Germans. meticulous as ever, logged every detail on the prisoners' record cards, including how they died. This wall in the museum shows many of the cards of the 1200 or so who died hereabouts.
Although I would have liked to, we didn't visit the cemetery in Harstad where there are 33 Commonwealth burials from WW2. But here's some information from the CWGC website about the graves. "During the Second World War, Norway was of strategic importance to the Germans. Their invasion on 9 April 1940 was sudden and widespread and despite Allied intervention, the entire country was under German occupation by early June. Thereafter, Allied activity in Norway was confined to raids and special operations, with the Commonwealth air forces providing support to Norwegian resistance groups until the German capitulation in May 1945. There are no Commonwealth war cemeteries in Norway, those who died there being buried in civil cemeteries and churchyards. Harstad was used as the military headquarters and main port of disembarkation for the expeditionary force sent to northern Norway in April 1940 and was repeatedly attacked by German aircraft throughout the entire operation. 701 Walrus Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm and 263 Gladiator (Fighter) Squadron operated from Harstad, the latter moving to Bardufoss Aerodrome in May. The graves of those who died in Bardufoss were later transferred to the Commonwealth plot at Harstad. Harstad Cemetery contains 33 Commonwealth burials, one of them unidentified. The cemetery also contains plots of other Allied war graves".
We drove through some really beautiful scenery - all that you could expect of a Norwegian fjordscape.
The original Finnmarken, with a capacity for a mere 44 persons. Hardly what I'd call a vessel for a luxury cruise. I guess our expectations were lower in those days.
Jump forward 50 years and this is the Finnmarken we were sailing on. Far more comfortable.
A little theatrical, perhaps, but our tour bus managed to be in the middle of a bridge as the Finnmarken passed below. Note the passengers waving on the bow. I bet they were all British as we like to wave at things simply because they are mving and we are not. This 'coincidence' took a lot of coordination between bus driver and ship via mobile phone and a couple of 'spontaneous' photo stops. But it give a great view of the boat - and nutters waving.
Gosh, that boat must have been travelling at a fair old lick when it hit this house. I wonder if the captain was made to walk the plank?
Another troll house. This one was actually under a bridge, conveniently situated to ambush passing sailors. I'm not sure he would have had much luck in stopping the Finnmarken in its tracks. Maybe he did try and we ran over him?
A Black Guillemot. The last time I saw one of these was on Mull last year but not quite so close up.
A Shag in flight. I like the aerodynamics of its flight: head and neck extended and the legs tucked up under the rear tail feathers.
Slowly going down the narrow Trollfjord gave spectacular scenery and an opportunity for many seascapes, of which these are just a few. I've got loads of them. If you want more, just let me know.
Whilst in Svolvaer we happened upon the Lofoten Krigsminnenmuseum, a charmingly jumbled collection of WW2 artefacts and memorabilia, mostly of the German occupation. Lots of information to absorb, particularly about the role the Norwegian navy played in the allied activities in the North Sea and beyond. I didn't realise that over 300 Norwegian vessels were involved at Dunkirk or the number taking part in guarding the North Atlantic convoys. An unsung contribution to the war effort.
A projection onto the walls of a hotel in Svolvaer. Quite striking in the snow.
Svolvaer Kirk - closed.
Svolvaer on a Saturday night. I did it a disservice by comparing it with Callington. It actually looked a very pleasant place, especially in the snow.