Sunday, 29 April 2012

Blogospherical Encounter

I've visited the Pennine town of Hebden Bridge many times over the years. I found myself there again yesterday, kicking myself as usual for not contacting blogger Tony Zimnoch to see if he fancied meeting up (Tony also writes a Hebden Bridge blog). I decided enough was enough. Somehow or other, I'd find him. For a moment I felt a bit like Sherlock Holmes. Surely, it would be easy enough to do if I applied a bit of ingenuity. It actually didn't take that much. It just so happened that at that moment I found myself outside Hebden Bridge library. Of course, they'd have a local telephone directory. I went in, asked for it and flipped through it straight to the last page. There he was.

I found his house easily. He was in and we spent a very pleasant three-quarters of an hour chatting. We both had to get on after that: he had a curry to make and I had a dog to collect. We resolved to meet again for pint, if possible with the other local blogger known to us both, Alan Burnett, or to drop in should we be passing each other.

 Unfortunately, I didn't have a camera but Tony did, so he snapped me and posted the results on his blog. I was slow on the uptake - my ingenuity, such as it is, obviously hasn't caught up with the digital age. I could have borrowed his camera and asked him to email any pictures I took to me! Oh well.


This morning, I got up with a crazy urge to jump in the car, drive off and climb a mountain. Any mountain would do - probably in the Lake District, somewhere around Ullswater. However, according to the Met Office the weather had other ideas: a double dose of rain and gale-force wind before lunch and the same again after was not appealing. So here I am, sat at the laptop in front of the electric fire, writing a blogpost with half an eye on The Belles of St Trinians.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Lovely Greens

I was wondering what to write about this evening when it occurred to me that I still had one or two tales from our recent holiday on the Isle of Man to tell.

I always enjoy meeting other people who blog. One lunchtime we met up with Tanya, who writes the Lovely Greens blog - an account of her attempt to lead "a more natural and self-sufficientish life" on the Isle of Man. It's a must read for connoisseurs of Rhubarb wine and would-be beekeepers. She runs a regular stall on the farmers' market at the Tynwald Mills shopping centre in the village of St John's, selling home-made soap, among other things.


There are a lot of interesting ancient sites on Man. Meayll Circle is a few minutes walk from the road, close to the top of a hill outside the village of Cregneash, close to the Southern end of the island. At first glance it could be mistaken for a Stonehenge-style stone circle but, in fact, it consists -uniquely- of six pairs of burial chambers arranged in a ring. It was built around 3,500 BC. I had it to myself when I walked up to visit it and take this photograph, which certainly made me think as it's only a few hundred yards from the busy tourist attractions of Cregneash village, the Sound Café and the Calf of Man.  Part of me felt it was a shame for all the visitors who would have been enthralled by the place had they found it, another part glad to have it to myself. 

The buildings in the distance belong to the small town of Port Erin. The landmark you can see on the left is Milner's Tower on Bradda Head. When you look out to sea from this stretch of coast, the Mountains of Mourne can be seen on the horizon. The first time I saw them I was surprised how close  they seemed to be, rising up almost like a mirage.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

To the Lighthouse

The other day, having left my car at the garage to be serviced, we went up the coast to Souter Lighthouse.

Wikipedia Commons
Situated not far South of the Tyne, Souter was the first lighthouse to be lit by electricity. Generators on the ground floor powered an arc lamp on the top floor. However, the light was kept turnng not by electricity but by the traditional method: a rope loaded with weights gradually sank the from the top of the tower to the bottom, turning wheels up in the lantern as it went. Every couple of hours a lighthouse keeper had to go to the top and wind it up again. The great virtue of this system it seems, was that it kept the lighthouse keeper fit, while satisfying the niggardly imaginations of those who felt that lighthouse keepers shouldn't be left twiddling their thumbs for too long. On the ground floor, the light and lenses from another lighthouse were on display. Not having Wikipedia in my head, I was racking my brains (or is that wracking?) trying to think of the name given to the rather beautiful assembly of glass that surrounds a lighthouse light: back at the computer, I now know that it's called a Fresnel lens (see picture).

The lighthouse also incorporated six keepers' cottages, one of which is restored and open to the public. There certainly was a simplicity to life in the 19th century - if the restoration is accurate, leisure time revolved around ludo, snakes and ladders and the bible. Quite a contrast to life round here these days. It seemed quite an attractive lifestyle and I've been wondering if I could whittle down my stuff to the bare essentials. Well, for a start there's the car, central heating, antibiotics, the internet, induction hob, fridge, TV, hifi, piano, cello, double bass, guitar, books...

We didn't climb all the way to the top of the tower as it was foggy - we'll do that next time we go. We headed back down the East coast hoping to cross the transporter bridge across the Tees in Middlesborough. Unfortunately it was closed, probably on account of the weather. I have included a picture of it, though (which will be familiar to anyone who drops into my Facebook page). For anyone unfamiliar with it a gondola (for cars, etc) is hung from the criss-crossing cables that in turn hang from a bogie the runs along rails in the upper part of the structure from one side of the river to the other.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

The Man in the Moon

While we were on the Isle of Man (see previous post)we were looking round one of the second-hand bookshops in Peel when Karen spotted Zdenek Kopal's A New Photographic Atlas of the Moon. I bought it. I'm forever looking at the moon - and forever kicking myself for having to look up the names of its prominent features. The book immediately eclipsed all other holiday reading as I set about trying to set the record straight as best I could. It turned out to be a fantastic book. Published in 1971, it contains a brilliant selection of photographs taken on the Apollo missions and by the various landers and orbiters which had visited the moon by then.  The far side of the moon is well covered, as well as the more familiar side (it is amazing to think that the Russian probe Luna 3 photographed the far side as early as 1959, two years before Gagarin orbitted the earth).

As well as the photos, the book contains extensive chapters on the origins and geography of the moon. It's extremely readable - Kopal must have been a great university lecturer (he was head of the astronomy department at Manchester) if this is anything to go by.  Theories about the very initial formation of the moon seem to keep changing but otherwise I suspect a lot of what he says still applies. Kopal is very entertaining (well, I thought he was) when explaining how data which might seem obtuse to the layperson has been used by scientists to draw conclusions about the structure of the moon.

I took the photo above one sleepless night soon after, using a digital SLR with a telephoto lens. As for the settings, I just had it set on automatic. It insisted I needed to use the built-in flash, so I let it flash - only I put my hand over the lamp. Not very technical, I'm afraid.

Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 17 April 2012


Came across a great poem I didn't know by Yeats today. Perhaps I was impressed because of my weakness for coffee shops, alluded to in the comments on my previous post.

Part III from Vaccillation

My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table-top.

While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blesséd and could bless.

I then went on to discover the rest of Vaccillation. This passage in particular, caught my eye:

Test every work of intellect or faith,
And everything that your own hands have wrought
And call those works extravagance of breath
That are not suited for such men as come
proud, open-eyed and laughing to the tomb.

It resonated with several things I've come across in the last few days. There was Rachel Fenton (of the snow like thought blog), in an interesting interview about her graphic poetry, wondering aloud if one can be an optimistic nihilist. And also Werner Herzog, saying in a Guardian interview, of a brush with death:

 "It's of no significance... Everyone has come close, sometimes very close. It has no significance on how I conduct my life. I'm simply not afraid. It's not in my dictionary of behaviour."

(Tha whole interview is well worth a read, especially for the Herzogian anecdotal evidence which backs up  his statement).

Monday, 16 April 2012

Snaefell the Easy Way

We've just spent a couple of weeks on the Isle of Man. A friend who lives there very kindly offered to let us stay in his flat in Castletown as he had plans to spend Easter in China.

One of the main tourist attractions on Man is its network of steam railways and electric trams. Probably the best electric tram  to the summit of Snaefell, the highest point on the island, from which you can see Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. Obviously, it's best undertaken on a clear day. There is a café on top, from which it is a short, almost level walk to the trig point at the summit. I found myself moaning about the siting of a mobile phone mast close to the summit while sitting quite happily in the similarly-sited café, which just goes to show how illogical we can be.

We enjoyed ourselves so much we made the trip again, a few days later. However, the second time it was cold and windy. We alighted at the summit into a shower of sleet - fine if you're dressed for it, which we weren't. Fortunately, it's only a few sheltered feet from the tram steps to the café door. Three dogs were tethered to a park bench outside the café. As we made for the door they discovered that if they made a concerted effort in the same direction they could run off with the bench! It was, momentarily, like a scene from one of those slushy Hollywood films with acting animals (Babe in the City springs to mind). I had visions of them careering off down the hill to Laxey, bouncing the bench behind them.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Where am I?

NB: This quiz is not open to anyone I know who actually KNOWS where we've been!

I've been absent from the world of blog for the last couple of weeks as we've been on holiday. While on said holiday I stood on this spot, saw the graffiti and immediately thought of Rachel Fox's Where Am I? posts. Before we went away I'd been having great fun trying to work them out.

So, where am I?