Monday, 14 August 2017

Benodet August 2017: Deuxieme Poste

The holiday continues with visits to a market and some Breton towns.
A yacht leaving the harbour at Concarneau. To the left is the wall which encircles the old town. We went there on a Sunday afternoon which, in retrospect, was not the best day to visit as it was so crowded. A place for a return out of season?
Flowers of the Pink Silk tree. Not something you'd routinely come across in a UK garden but it is quite hardy so it might be worthwhile giving it a go in ours.
A row of canoes waiting to be taken to sea.
Looking down the Odet towards the sea on a very calm morning.
A colourful stall in the weekly market at Benodet selling, guess what, spices. The colour was matched by the aromas. Most of them I was familiar with but there were a few that defeated me.
Charcuterie, in which I took a proprietary interest. As well as finding out how, and at what stage, they get the herbs to stick to the outside of the salami, I also came away with a cracking idea for a future mincing and stuffing exercise. A triumph for pigeon French, gesticulation and my low embarrassment threshold.
After a long time pondering and consulting my pocket dictionary, I finally came to the conclusion that this stall was selling tea. I did not test the hypothesis by sampling the goods.

My feet enjoying being at a Foam Party. And why not? They were on holiday after all.
The cathedral in Quimper is dedicated to Saint Corentin, its first bishop. Of course,we bilingualists know it better as La Cath├ędrale Saint-Corentin de Quimper. Construction started in 1239 but was not completed for several centuries as events in the outside world impacted on the building work. The photograph above was taken from as central a point as I could and, if you look carefully, you'll be able to make out a curvature, which, admittedly, is more obvious 'in situ'.The cathedral is notable in that, unlike any other cathedral, it slightly bends to match the contours of its location and to avoid an area that was swampy at the time of the construction. In a way it reminded me of St David's Cathedral where, building on a boggy area, caused subsidence and has resulted in the nave sinking. Do we conclude that Celtic cathedral builders were not very good at their jobs?
The single door at the north end of the nave is surmounted by a triangular pediment and the arch beneath is decorated with carvings of acanthus leaves. And here's a snippet for collectors of odd facts: above the door is an ornate finial above which is a "hermine passant" (a "stoat passing" in heraldic terms). If you care to magnify the image, you'll be able to make it out.
The interior of the cathedral is jam-packed with stain-glass windows, ranging in date from the mediaeval, as above, through many Victorian ............
....right up to more modern times. This one clearly has African influences. Collectively, the windows offer a display which is not matched by many other cathedrals and Quimper is worth visiting just to see these.
The old part of Quimper was a very pleasant surprise. I don't think we had expected three to be quite as many of the wooden framed houses as there were.
Looking down the main street towards the cathedral, trying hard to avoid getting any tourists in the frame.
A detail of the slate hanging on the building to the left in the preceding image. One can only hazard a guess at the weight these add to the building and the amount of timber necessary to support them.
The Breton Folk Museum in Quimper was well worth a visit. It is housed in the old Bishop's Palace and that in itself was interesting. Lots of folky exhibits and material from around Brittany, which included these column heads from an archaeological site. I amused myself by using an 'art decor' setting on the camera for this shot.
I liked this collection of alabaster statuettes, collectively entitled Prayer for the Shipwrecked. I show just a detail with the reflections adding a ghostly depiction of those the prayers are destined for (in my humble opinion).
As someone whose wood working skills never extend beyond the level of an enthusiastic bodger, I'm always in awe of what a skilled woodcarver can achieve. For example, take this oak spiral staircase from the Rohan Tower in the Bishop's Palace. It is one Palace’s most important decorative elements and dates back to the building’s completion in 1507. It's a type of joinery named 'palm-tree' and might have been painted originally (Can you imagine how pleased the carver would have been? All that work covered with a coat of paint). The circular ceiling is held up by 24 radiating joists and the whole is supported in its centre by a twisted column decorated with the Rohan heraldic symbol and the Breton ermine. As I said, awesome skill.
Common or Great Egret. Not at all common in the UK but becoming increasingly so. About twice the size of the Little Egret we see in Cornwall on a regular basis.

Les nuages Francaise et beaucoup de ciel. I told you I was bilingual, didn't I?

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Benodet August 2017: Premier Poste

To Brittany for a holiday with all, and I mean all, the family. Six adults and seven children on a camping site just outside of Benodet. One of the many joys of living where we do is that the Brittany ferry from Plymouth to Roscoff is just 30-odd minutes away so getting across the Channel is easy peasy. That, and a 90 minute drive the other side, means that not a lot of time needs to spent in the car hammering down French motor ways. A few photographs for the record.
A relatively early start gave us the chance to see Plymouth Hoe in the morning sun. It really is an impressive waterfront.
The seaward side of Drake's Island in the Sound showing the old Palmerston fortifications. The island has had a chequered recent history and is now destined to become a luxury/resort hotel. Seeing will be believing, I guess.
The ferry leaves the Sound to the west side of the Breakwater. Completed in 1844 after many years of construction (involving 4 million tons of rock), it provides shelter for the naval vessels entering and leaving Devonport. To the left can be seen the circular Palmerston fort which was added for additional fortification in the 1860s. Generally seen as a long, thin line from the shore, it's a lot bigger close up. I remember fishing off the Breakwater for conger eels a couple of times in the early '70s with some friends in a small boat. The congers find the nooks and crannies in amongst the granite boulders ideal places to inhabit.
The sad skeletons of old ships on the banks of the Odet just outside of Benodet. Linguists might be interested to know the derivation of Benodet: Ben - Breton for head, Odet - the river.
 A discarded propeller, which rather surprised me as the scrap metal value of it would have been an irresistible temptation to salvage merchants back in the UK.
Benodet: boats and a bridge.
A Grey Heron on the mudflats of the Odet. This one must have been approaching 6 foot in height.
This church, located at the port of Benodet, is dedicated to Saint Thomas Becket. Built in the XIII century, it originally consisted of just a nave and a small bell tower but was enlarged during the XVI century with reuse of the old elements.
I liked the light and shade of these devotional candles.
Ditto these.
I've never seen this one before - a Jersey Tiger Moth. The upper wings are completely covering the flamboyant reddy orange underwings. These were very visible as it was flying around but, as soon as it perched, they disappeared. A bit of a rarity back home but, apparently, its numbers are increasing.
I do like a nice sky and a good cloud formation. But these aren't any old clouds, these are French clouds or nuages, as we bilingual types call them.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

The beguiling ways of Trumpty Dumpty

Sometimes something I've written before seems to resonate with what's going on at the moment. Here's a piece (here) that appeared in April 2012 and was originally prompted by events at the time and the duplicitous nature of the principles involved. I've edited it just a little to remove some now obscure references but see how much of this applies to the present occupant of the White House.

I know it’s hard to believe but sometimes governments and politicians do stupid, even bad, things. When they do, their colleagues, government officials and sympathisers inevitably try to defend their conduct, even when those

actions are clearly wrong and/or obviously counterproductive. There’s a word for this and it’s called being an "apologist," although people who do this rarely apologise for much of anything. After all, a sincere apology means an admittance of guilt and few politicians would ever want us to think that they are less than infallible.

All of us need to be able to spot the rhetorical ploys that governments, politicians and their acolytes use to justify their own misconduct. To help you through the labyrinthine lexicology of ‘apologist-speak’ I have compiled ‘Humpty/Trumpty Dumpty’s Guide to Defending the Indefensible’. There are obvious connections to recent events in the UK but such practices are commonplace in many, many countries and, indeed, widely practiced by non-politicians as well. So, ladies and gentlemen, here is what to look out for when the whitewash and bull***t need to be applied. Select which approach is likely to most successful to the task in hand, be it local or international.

1. We didn't do it! (Denials usually don't work, but it's worth a try).
2. We know you think we did it but we aren't admitting anything.
3. Actually, maybe we did do something but not what we are accused of doing.
4. Ok, we did it but it wasn't that bad ("waterboarding isn't really torture, you know. It’s just a little uncomfortable").
5. Well, maybe it was pretty bad but it was justified or necessary. (“We only torture terrorists, or suspected terrorists, or people who might know a terrorist or people who look like terrorists")
6. What we did was really quite restrained, when you consider how powerful we really are. We could have done something even worse.
7. Besides, what we did was technically legal under some interpretations of international law (or at least as our lawyers interpret the law as it applies to us.)
8. Don't forget: the other side is much worse. In fact, they're evil. Really, really evil. As evil as evil can be.
9. Anyway, they started it.
10. And remember: we are the good guys. We are not morally equivalent to the bad guys no matter what we did. Only morally suspect, misguided critics could fail to see this fundamental distinction between Them and Us.
11. The results may have been imperfect, but our intentions were noble. (Invading Iraq and Afghanistan may have resulted in tens of thousands of dead and wounded and millions of refugees, but we meant well).
12. We have to do things like this to maintain our credibility. You don't want to encourage those other bad guys, do you?
13. Especially because the only language the other side understands is force.
14. In fact, it was imperative to teach them a lesson – again.
15. If we hadn't done this to them they would undoubtedly have done something even worse to us. Well, maybe not. But who could take that chance?
16. In fact, no responsible government could have acted otherwise in the face of such provocation.
17. Plus, we had no choice. What we did may have been awful but all other policy options had failed and/or nothing else would have worked.
18. It's a tough world out there and Serious People understand that sometimes you have to do these things. Only ignorant idealists, terrorist sympathisers, craven appeasers and/or treasonous socialists would question our actions.
19. In fact, whatever we did will be worth it eventually, and someday you’ll thank us for it.
20. We are the victims of a double-standard. Other people/countries do the same things (or worse) and nobody complains about them.

I don’t claim that the list is exhaustive but it’s a good start. Bear it in mind when next you watch the news and have fun spotting the tactic being deployed. There are some masterful Humpty Dumptyists at work the world over and personal integrity is no bar to the Apologist. They really do think we are stupid. In fact, an alternative title for this blog could be ‘DNP’s Guide to Having Your Intelligence Insulted’ but that’s a story for another day……!

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Thanks for that, Tories

I can accept that we are leaving the EU. I can accept that the negotiations are going to be complicated. What I can't accept is the way our ruling party is going about it.

You would imagine that by now, some fifteen months after the Brexit vote and about 600 days before the drawbridge goes up, that a resemblance of clarity would have emerged about what was going to happen after we've left. But no, this is Britain. This is the country of muddling through. Only this time the muddle isn’t getting through anything at all: it’s just a directionless disaster. If you thought Brexit was a confused mess last week, this week it’s got even worse. And it doesn’t look like it’s about to get any less confused any time soon. The entire project is as tragic as that driver who crashed and wrote off his £200,000 Ferrari just an hour after buying it. In fact that’s a pretty good description of Brexit. The Leave campaign told the public that it was going to get a bespoke and hand-made luxury Brexit, and then as soon as they’d bought it, they ended up with a car wreck. Thanks for that, Tories.

It turns out that there is, in fact, no such thing as a Brexit which is good for any part of the country. A study from the London School of Economics showed recently that there is no Brexit which is good for any part of the country. It showed that Brexit would seriously damage the economies of all the cities of the UK. Thanks for that, Tories. Thanks for that, Tories.

Brexit represents the greatest realignment in British economic and foreign policy since WW2, and none of the UK parties has the foggiest idea of what they want to achieve from it or how they’re going to implement it. Around every corner lurks some new intractable issue which threatens doom for the entire project. The Tory response to this is to insist that, because they’ve got a British made duvet over their heads, none of the bad things are really going to happen even if duvet is a French word that will be repatriated once new immigration rules come into effect. Labour, for its part, manages to be even more confused and contradictory than the Tories. This is a political achievement of quite some magnitude. The only contest that either Labour or the Tories are winning is the contest to see which has bigger clown shoes. If anyone does have a clear idea of what the Labour party stands for with Brexit, could someone please let the Labour Party know. Meanwhile the Lib Dems do at least have a coherent position on Brexit, insofar as they want another referendum because people aren’t getting what they were told they were going to get. Thanks for that, Tories.

We’re only a couple of months into the Brexit process, and the entire thing remains a confused and angry mess. All of this was brought about by the arrogance of British exceptionalism, by Little England nationalism masquerading as a great power, by racism and xenophobia stoked up by right wing politicians, and by the party political manoeuvrings of the Tory party. This is not the Britain the Tories told us we'd get. We were promised the broad shoulders of the UK, we were promised the safety and security of one of the world’s biggest economies. What we're getting is a befuddled muddle. Those in the winning side of the EU referendum of 2016 will go down in history as the biggest political liars in British history, and their lies will bring about the downfall of the UK. Thanks for that, Tories.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Back on Dartmoor after a long break

It seems ages since we've walked on Dartmoor so it was a particular delight to head to the south east area of the moor to 'bag' a few tors - four on this route. And weren't we lucky with the weather? A day later and we certainly would not have ventured out onto the open spaces for fear of being washed away.
The starting point for our walk was the Cold East Cross car park,  few miles north of Ashburton. From there we headed south to Buckland Beacon, west to Bowden Farm, then north-eastish to Blackslade Ford, north to Pil and Top Tors, east-ish to Rippon Tor and then south-westish back to the car park. Almost bang on 6 miles, with a few lumps and bumps - after all we were on one of the highest parts of the moor. A great route and great weather.

Wherever you walk on Dartmoor, you are never far from a carved stone. These can be milestones, boundary stones, estate markers or water company catchment areas. And more. This one was quite close to our starting point...
...and is marked, not that clearly, with the letters EPB. EPB? Work that out. No, not the initials of contiguous parishes but the initials of Edmund Pollexfen Bastard. The Bastard family purchased the manor of Buckland in 1614 and in 1837  a series of boundstones (boundary stones) were set up by Edmund to mark the limits of his estate.
A rather fine looking Dartmoor pony, enjoying being photographed. The ponies on this side of the moor seemed to be of purer stock than those we see on the west moor. But what do I now about horses?
And then it was further south a mile or so to Buckland Beacon. As the name implies, it was, and indeed still is, the site of a beacon. This was one of the beacons used to signal the arrival of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and it has been used for other celebrations ever since, including the Millennium and the Queen's Jubilee. The Ten Commandment Stones sit at the base of the beacon and have weathered a bit since they were carved in 1928, commissioned by the then lord of Buckland, Mr William Whitely of Wellstor. They were carved by W.A.Clement to celebrate Parliament's 1928 rejection of a new Book of Common Prayer. There has been some restoration work done on them recently by the Dartmoor National Park Authority and this has been featured on local TV and radio, which might explain why there were quite a few (well, six!) other people there at the same time as us.
Some serious stone-walling on either side of the green lane leading from Bowden Farm up onto the moor. For many generations this track has functioned as a drove road for farmers bringing their stock up to graze on the high pasture from further down the valley around Buckland-in-the-Moor.
The cluster of buildings which make up Bowden Farm. It's a long-house, with a cross passage separating the people (under the thatch) from the animals down the slope in the rest. There's clearly been some modifications made and additions built on but the core of the mediaeval farmstead can still be discerned. The owner told us the building dates from the 14th century but the site is mentioned in the Domesday Book.
An unusual copse of pine trees close to Blackslade Ford was an ideal place for our lunch stop. In the sun and out of the wind.
On the top of Pil Tor. Effectively two granite peaks separated by an expanse of grass. Unusual but not unique.
The view from Pil Tor to the north-west, with the spire of Widecombe-in-the-Moor church down below.
Kim, our butterfly expert, trying to spot what's flying around. The answer? Not a lot as it was too breezy.
Looking north-east with Haytor to the left and Saddle Tor to the left. We've 'done' both of these in the past and it's probably time for a revisit.
Looking south-east from Top Tor towards our next target, Rippon Tor. Down to Hemsworthy Gate and then a bit of a slog up to the tor.
The top of Rippon Tor is another great place for views. This is looking south towards the Teign Estuary, with Teignmouth just discernible in the far distance.
A final oddity on Rippon Tor before we descended to our starting point, detouring on the way on a fruitless search for the Nutcracker Stone - a Logan or wobbly stone used by the locals to crack nuts (Really! That's what the legend says)). We couldn't find it as it had been blown up a long time ago but it's still marked on the map. And the oddity? An unfinished grindstone shaped in situ but never completed.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Another stretch of the Cornish Coastal Footpath done

Slowly but steadily we are ticking off the miles of the Cornish Coastal Footpath. Here's another piece of the jigsaw completed. Our aim is to complete what we have left to do by the end of this year. I'm feeling optimistic.
Our route was along the coast from Seaton to Looe, just under 5 miles and, although not too onerous, was a good exercise.
Our starting point was just by the beach in Seaton (Seaton, Cornwall, that is, not Seaton, Devon). Not a sandy beach but it's a good place for families as there's a river running onto the beach and the parking is easy. It never seems to be over-crowded.
The first half mile or so was uphill, leading to this flight of steps into the woods. As always, all distances on finger posts are best regarded as being approximate.
Looking due west towards Looe Island in the mist and our destination, Looe, directly opposite on the mainland. Luckily the weather brightened up from this point and we were not troubled by overcast skies.
A field of barley shimmering in the breeze. A few more weeks of sun and the crop will be ready for harvesting. I wonder if the growing number of micro-breweries in Cornwall is leading to increased acreage under barley? 
A female Meadow Brown butterfly, looking rather faded. Lots of these around but few had the decency to stay still long enough for me to get a photograph.
And the same applies to this male Gatekeeper, who steadfastly refused to open its wings fully. But I could see the characteristic two white spots and the broad markings on the forewings that help with the identification. The Gatekeeper is one of the short-tongued feeders, so called because its proboscis is relatively short and they can only feed on flat flowers. Fascinating, eh?
A pedant would argue that the grammar of this sign is incorrect. The grammar of that sign is incorrect, say I. There was no chicken crossing when we were there. Perhaps one had crossed just before we arrived and maybe one would be crossing after we left. But definitely nothing crossing at the time and we did keep an eye out for it, just in case we squashed it with our heavy boots.
There was about a 1/2 mile diversion of the footpath inland and this sign explains why that was. Erosion and slippage are not uncommon and it must be a constant challenge for those who have to realign the route, particularly negotiating with landowners for access rights. It's a pity that this diversion was where it was as it meant that we could not walk on the cliff below the Monkey Sanctuary. Yes, there is one and it has been there for at least 40 years. I was hoping to be able to photograph a 'Beware of the Monkeys' notice but it was not to be.
A pirate waiting for a bus. Looks like there hasn't been one for a while. Actually, he was sitting guarding the 'wishing pot' on the left and collecting for charity.
Lots of Bear's Breeches around at this time of the year, and most of them by the wayside and not in gardens. It's an entomophilous plant and it is pollinated only by bees or bumble bees large enough to force their way between the upper sepal and the lower, so that they can reach the nectar at the bottom of the tube. I find that fascinating. 
Looe: the end of this particular walk. We like Looe, even though it's full of tourists and has more than its quota of tacky shops. Despite these, it's still a nice place to walk around and savour the delights of a fishing village/town.
Where do we walk next? The map on the wall near our back door shows how much of the coastal footpath we've already covered - the bit we've just done is shown by the red box in the bottom right. We are getting there and, with a little determination, we should be able to complete the missing links this year. Our last stretch will be the one in North Cornwall that takes us to the border with Devon. After that, we'll turn around and start again!