Sunday, 1 February 2015

When political dinosaurs ruled the earth.

As the General Election draws ever nearer, a number of Labour Party luminaries (specifically Tony Blair, Alan Milburn, Peter Mandelson and Ed Balls) have talked about the need for Labour to chase the 'centre ground'. All of them, in my opinion, wilfully ignoring the fact that, since the days of Thatcher, the Tories and their cronies have been working hard to change where the centre ground lies. Labour, following the lead of their natural opponents like a puppy, has allowed the project to succeed. The centre no longer lies mid-way between the old-fashioned binary choice of Left and Right: it is well to the right of where it once was. And is that where the Labour party should be? Is that really the pinnacle of its aspirations? Once upon a time the party had ideas that transformed society for the better but all that now remains of Clement Attlee's post-war revolution is the NHS and even that is under serious threat (No, Posh Dave, I don't believe the NHS is save in your hands).

I think Ed Miliband understands the need to make public ownership, redistributive taxation, greater social equality, employees' rights and fair welfare provision subjects for serious discussion once more. Unfortunately I don't see any signs that he can turn these issues into a coherent and convincing set of policies to present to the electorate. I know what the Tories are about as they've been at it for years. I want a real Labour party of the conventional left to oppose them. But where is it, Ed?

I've mentioned Clement Attlee once already and some say that Miliband is a sort of latter-day Attlee. A man who is deceptively modest and unassuming; who will amaze us once he gets into Number 10 and his many strengths emerge from behind the scenes. Possibly but this scenario forgets that Attlee had a formidable team to help him get his policies through. Who will give Ed the passion of Aneurin Bevan? The skills of Herbert Morrison and Ernest Bevin? The intellectual support of Harold Laski? These are the people Ed needs, not the likes of Blair and Balls babbling about the centre ground. A truly vacuous concept if ever there was one. 

Me? I'm a political dinosaur: unashamedly Old Labour with a fantasy that one day Real Labour will come back and represent the social values and heart that have long been stolen from mainstream politics by the Tories, Lib Dems and New Labour. I am a product of Attlee's reforms and, to a very large extent, I owe my present lifestyle and health to them. I wish that my children and grandchildren could have the same privileges but the chances of this are fast receding. Perhaps we need a Syriza or a Podemos to stir things up?

Thursday, 29 January 2015

With apologies to Jane Austen...

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a grand-daughter should be very wary of what her grandparents tell her. Certainly, she should never believe that the heated front seat of their car gets hot enough to cook bacon and eggs on.

Will we ever be forgiven for saying that it does? Or for providing proof? My word, how we laughed. Gotcha! Oh dear, are we entering our second childhoods?

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Wonwell Beach

Yesterday's walk was along the Inny, about 5 miles from its source. Today we went for a short walk at the other end of the river system - along the estuary beach at Wonwell in South Devon. Admittedly not the Inny estuary (there isn't one as it flows into the Tamar and thence to Plymouth Sound) but that of the River Erme. The Erme arises on Dartmoor and we'll be walking near its origin next week, so more of it then. Although we've been there many moons ago, or so we think, Wonwell came as a surprise. At the end of many miles of very narrow high-banked Devon lanes, we came to this expanse of sands. Was it really like that before? Of course, it must have been: perhaps we were thinking of somewhere else? 

Looking out to sea over the sands towards the English Channel. Here's a thing to remember: this estuary is a ria. What on earth's a ria? Simple: it's a drowned river valley that remains open to the sea. There are a lot of them in this part of the world, apparently.
Looking upstream towards the valleys through which the Erme flows. At some point up there, the river becomes a ria. But where?
This is obviously a kiln but in a strange detached position on the beach. Such a strange location that I questioned whether or not it was a kiln. A little research later and it was confirmed as a late 18th century lime kiln which originally abutted onto the nearby cliff. Much erosion over the years has resulted in its present position.
Continuing my catalogue of less-than-adequate photographs of birds: a lone oystercatcher poking around the sand for shellfish.
And another one: wigeon. Lots of these rooting around patches of vegetation. they don't go for shellfish but love a bit of grass or algae.
And off they flew.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

A walk along the Inny

A nice sunny Saturday and I took myself off for a walk along the Inny river downstream to where it joined the Tamar, at Innyfoot.  I thought I stood a chance of seeing a kingfisher or two or, perhaps, a dipper. And did I?
Blue indicates the out and back 3 mile route from Bealsmill to Innyfoot. It's about 2 miles from home (the flag).
And this is where I just missed getting a good photograph of a kingfisher..
And here a dipper flitted off just as I pressed the shutter.
In fact almost the only things that stayed still long enough for a photograph were these ferns
And, of course, the church on the way back.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Six hundred up.

Would you believe this is post number 600 of my blog? I began it in early January 2010 and since then it's been a hotchpotch of, mmmm, stuff. A hotchpotch of .........

And bees.....
And a very nice tree.
There have been books...
...and a barbeque.
I've talked about reading, writing, and TV (Oooh look - there's an Oxford comma). There've been walks, moorland and coastal. There've been musings, philosophical, political and grammatical. And any amount of random foolishness ...  
Be warned, I'm not done yet.

Monday, 19 January 2015

The sad case of Raif Badawi

The fate of Raif Badawi is getting wide coverage in the media and deservedly so. To remind you: he was arrested in June 2012 and sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes by a Saudi Arabian court. However, an appeals court later overturned the sentence, ordered a retrial and handed down a 10-year prison sentence and 1,000 lashes spread over 20 weeks, along with a fine of about $260,000. He has had the first 50 lashes and, luckily, the second set has been postponed pending the deliberations of another court. This is probably due to the international uproar over his case rather than any humanitarian considerations, although it will undoubtedly be described as such. Do not be fooled, people.

And what are the heinous crimes that have warranted such barbaric treatment?  Blogging about free speech, which attracted charges of 'insulting Islam and the government and apostasy'. Drawing any parallels between my blogging activities and his would be fatuous but it does bring home what we take for granted in this country. I can criticise and ridicule (and frequently do) as much as I like and the worse that happens is that I get the occasional adverse comment from a reader. Raif makes some relatively innocuous and nuanced comments (judging from what I've read of what he's written, I would not class him as a fervent radical) and the full weight of the state falls down upon him. Shame on Saudi Arabia: shame on our government for supporting such a cruel regime. Not in my name. Posh Dave, not in my name.

Friday, 16 January 2015

What can be seen on a shopping trip to Tavistock

Today we went into Tavistock for a few bits and pieces. On the face of it, a pretty ordinary thing to do and without the Tavistock Factor it may very well have been. But Tavistock is not an ordinary place and this is what I saw whilst I strolled the 300 or 400 yards from the car park into the town centre.
From the car park and onto the river side walk into town. The Tavy was running fairly high and the torrents over the fish weirs were impressive. The bridge in the background was built around 1750 as part of the development of the turnpike system. The mediaeval bridge it replaced, and which lead directly into the old abbey, was demolished to make way for the newer one. Note the green mechanical arm just to the left of the arches: if you don't already know what it does, think about it. I'll be returning to this later.
Somebody taking advantage of the conditions, rather inexpertly in my humble opinion. Aren't you supposed to go with the flow rather than against it? I jest: he was just adjusting his position to get a better angle on the next set of rapids.
And this fellow was a big surprise. A juvenile cormorant about 25 miles from the sea. He/she spent ages giving us all a display of expert wing-drying.
By all accounts, it's been around for a few weeks and has its favourite rock where it can be seen most often.
Much, much more common than the cormorant, a mallard pondering whether to take a dip or not.
And now back to the green mechanical arm. Putting aside the facts that it certainly doesn't blend in well with its surroundings and that it's not that effective at its job, what is it? To the left of the arm, under a green oblong 'box', you can see some grills. These mark the take-off point for the Tavistock Canal, which leads to Morwellham roughly ten miles away. Constructed in the late 1700s, the canal took mineral ores mined on Dartmoor down to the Morwellham Quay on the River Tamar, thence out to the sea at Plymouth. I could say lots about this subject but I won't - back to the arm. Over the years, silting up the grills has been a  big problem and a number of ways of keeping them clear have been tried. The mechanical arm is the latest of these - it's an automatic grill cleaner. Here's what happens.
Acting on a predetermined schedule, the arm moves from its resting position and travels along a track so that the rake at the end of the arm comes up to the pipe leading to the grills........
The rake is drawn over the pipe entrance and then lifted out of the water... move to the side and drop its contents downstream.
The arm then moves back to its starting position to await its next cycle. At the moment it seems to be in action at hourly intervals. I should add that it is described as 'salmon friendly' and 'resident bemusing'. (I added that last bit but it's true).
Is this the worst bird photograph ever? But it reminds me that I spent a very enjoyable 10 minutes watching these two blue tits 'being playful'. Spring is in the air.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

The saga of Lee the Llama

Let me introduce you to Lee the Llama. Lee is a resident at a nearby farm and is a firm favourite with all who visit on Farm Open Days or who walk past his field on the 'Apple Way' Trail. He's a very cute camelid but he had a brush with bureaucracy recently which almost lead to his demise. Let me tell you the tale.
 New official rules from Animal Health (APHA) on testing ‘camelids’ (llamas, alpacas, vicunas et al) for bovine TB came into force last autumn. A skin test on Lee just before last Christmas deemed him clear but a subsequent blood test on New Year's Eve resulted in a ‘positive’, which was bad news for Lee. Our farmer friend, the owner of Lee, was told, very bluntly, that Lee had to be shot within 24 hours. Our farmer friend and his family were distraught and contacted the APHA laboratory to request that Lee be humanely euthanized rather than shot. At this stage, APHA senior vets admitted to a mistake and said that a mandatory confirmatory second blood test had not been carried out. When it was done, it came up negative. Hooray for Lee  and he lives to see another day! His lady friend, Sophie the Welsh Black, was delighted. It could have turned out so differently if APHA's instructions had been followed straightaway.

Friday, 9 January 2015

January at Poldhu Cove: Part 8 (Final)

The last day of our sojourn down west and we decided to walk the stretch that we didn't do yesterday. We took the bus from Porthleven to Praa Sands and then walked back. Simple, apart from the wind, ups and downs, sea spray and rain. But it was another great 5 mile walk with the pounding sea and crashing waves on our right all the way. At the end of it, we allowed ourselves a little triumphalism as it meant that we have walked the stretch of coast all around Lands' End and The Lizard, from St Ives to Helford Passage. Hooray for us for clocking up 40 miles this week.
Our customary start to a walk - nosh - this time overlooking the outer harbour at Porthleven.  
Just past Rinsey Head, lurking in the mist, is Wheal Prosper. Producing mainly tin, with a little copper, it ceased production around 1860. A notice board informed us that it had been used for one of the locations in the original 'Poldark' series. It is said that, on moonless nights, the cries of Demelza can still be heard screaming to be given a better script.
A little further on and we come to the engine houses and stacks associated with
Wheal Penrose and Wheal Rose, both tin and copper mines. It is rumoured that Demelza was left at the bottom of one of their mineshafts until she agreed to shut up about the scripts and get on with what she was being paid for - hamming it up.

No, not Demelza being lowered down a mineshaft but a school party enjoying some rock climbing. I say enjoying but the young lady at the end of the rope did not sound very happy. Either that or she was doing a 'Demelza' and over-acting.
Pretty much the sort of view that accompanied us all the way.
No, not Demelza but my IWC heading towards the waves.
No, not something Demelza-related but a cross erected in memory of the many mariners drowned in the sea off this part of the coast. But that's not all... it also commemorates the passing of the Gryll's Act of 1808. Never heard of it? Neither had we until we came across it. A little more detail is warranted as it relates to something I've mentioned in a couple of recent blogs - the fate of HMS Anson:
 The Burial of Drowned Persons Act 1808, also known as Grylls' Act, is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom (citation 48 Geo III c.75). The act provides that unclaimed bodies of dead persons cast ashore from the sea should be removed by the churchwardens and overseers of the parish, and decently interred in consecrated ground. This act was amended by the Burial of Drowned Persons Act 1886 (citation 49 & 50 Vict c.20), to extend its applicability to bodies found in, or cast on shore from, all tidal or navigable waters.
The passage of the 1808 act was one of the consequences of the wreck of the Royal Navy frigate HMS Anson in Mount's Bay in 1807. Prior to the passage of this act it was customary to unceremoniously bury drowned seamen without shroud or coffin and in unconsecrated ground. However the burial in this manner of the many dead from the Anson, and the length of time that many of the bodies remained unburied, caused controversy and led to a local Porthleven solicitor, Thomas Grylls, drafting a new law to provide more decent treatment for drowned seamen. This law was introduced to parliament by John Hearle Tremayne, Member of Parliament for Cornwall, and was enacted in 1808.
It looks like a church but isn't, the Bickford-Smith Institute in Porthleven at the harbour entrance is currently  used as a snooker club and houses the town council offices. One other thing to mention about Porthleven harbour is the fact that it is highly unusual for Cornwall in that it faces south-west. Meaning that the prevailing winds blow straight into the harbour and, because of this, Porthleven’s development as a port has always been severely hampered.
We ended as we started with more nosh - and I did get my crab sandwich, accompanied by a very tasty gravadlax and pickled fennel salad. I did ask for a Demelza Special but the waitress told me that they had run out of ham.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

January at Poldhu Cove: Part 7

Abysmal overnight weather lead us to adopt Plan B for our walk today as we didn't think it would be a good idea to go too near any cliffs. Instead we drove to Marazion, caught a bus to Mousehole (pronounce Mowzel, not Mouse Hole or Muzzel) via Penzance and then walked back to our starting point. I'll admit that it was not a stretch of the Coastal Footpath that I was looking forward to completing as it is almost totally on tarmac and passes through the towns of Newlyn and Penzance. In the event, it was another delightful day - lots to see on the way and glorious weather. We clocked up just under 8 miles, which came as a pleasant surprise as we didn't think it would be quite that far. And, unlike our last walk, I managed to complete this one wearing my thermal tights the correct way around. Wearing them back-to-front was both uncomfortable and inconvenient!
And the walk started in a café on the harbourside at Mousehole. We needed to get our energy levels up before we got going.
This the RNLI flag flying above the old lifeboat station at Penlee. The Penlee lifeboat disaster occurred on 19th December 1981 when the Penlee Lifeboat Solomon Browne went to the aid of the coaster Union Star after its engines failed in heavy seas. After the lifeboat had rescued four people, both vessels were lost with all hands; in all, sixteen people died including eight volunteer lifeboat men.
Perhaps not as romantic as a 'typical' Cornish fishing village nestling in a picturesque cove, Newlyn Harbour is the modern face of the Cornish fishing industry. It's one of the biggest and busiest ports in the UK and operates 24/7 because of its deep water berthing.
In the corner of the 'new' harbour lies the 'old' harbour, dating from the 1400s. It is still in use for landing fish apparently.
Affixed to a wall of a house on the edge of the 'old' harbour is this plaque contesting Plymouth's claim to be the last port in the UK that the Mayflower sailed from. I met Bill Best Harris several times and I'm quite prepared to believe the veracity of his researches. A case for renaming Plymouth, Massachusetts to Newlyn, Massachusetts? And this is a good example of the unusual things you can see if you keep your eyes open on a walk of this type. Lift your head, look up and be amazed.
The Scillonian III, the only ferry between the mainland and the Isles of Scilly. It has been nicknamed 'the great white stomach pump' which gives you an idea of how smooth the crossing generally is.
Once we came around the headland just outside of Mousehole, the Mount came into view and remained there for the major part of our walk. These two surfers seemed to be of a 'certain age' and we thought 'good on them'.
I've mentioned the fate of HMS Warspite in a previous blog and it was pleasing to tie up the loose end of where exactly it was broken up.
Sod's Law dictated that all the birds I was interested in were just at the limit of my lens. However, for what they are worth, here's a selection: clockwise from the top left - redshank, grey wagtail (OK, I know it's yellow but that's the way it is), oyster catcher, pied wagtail and rock pipit. Nothing rare but a change from the ubiquitous vermin of the seashore - gulls.
Looking quite fit after 7 miles.