Category Archives: History

Marina In The Mist

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Marina In The Mist

Once upon a time the great city of London, England was shrouded in a fog so thick, you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. My parents told me about those days. Not great for the health and certainly dangerous getting about in such a large city. They happened quite frequently back in the 1950s. During the Great Fog of 1952, I was just a year old living in East Sheen, near Richmond, the west of London. It was the worst fog/smog in Europe’s history and killed between 8-12,000 people.

Parliament was slow to act, having been used to fogs. The city’s homes had coal fires as did all businesses and industry as well as automobile fumes and diesel fumes from the buses. In 1956, the government finally passed a clean air Bill and people gradually converted to other sources of heating other than coal. But it took time and another big fog hit in 1962 causing around 750 deaths.

Today, London  smog fogs are fairly infrequent. They happen on days when there is no wind and the pollution count is high. Hot weather  and cool mornings can cause havoc too. On clear, cold days when the night sky has been cloudless fogs occur, but not all the time. We’ve had some dillies, but not so much of the really thick smog. Still, London air is never as clean and clear as, let’s say, the Green Party would like it. There is a peoples’ movement called Clean Air in London that monitors the city’s air quality. And there is the clean air zone to persuade drivers, especially of commercial vehicles, to reduce carbon emissions in the centre of London. It’s all a slow process and after all the years since 1952, the battle continues to get clean air for London.

But clean air these days is subjective. Nowhere on earth is there a haven of pure air, not even at the Poles or on top of Everest. And fog can roll in from anywhere. Just add cold air at ground level to warmer air from above and there you have it. Mist and fog. As you can tell, I’m not getting too technical about this. It is, after all, a common occurrence all over the world….a natural phenomenon. It’s only when you add polluted air that the Smog hits. Just ask the good folk in Los Angeles. They know Smog. so do the good folk living in Chinese cities.

So, I get up one lovely English morning to find that much of the outside of our boat is shrouded in the mists of time, space and atmospheric conditions. One of those days. Glad I’m not driving anywhere, either in the car or on the boat. Dangerous out on the cut in these conditions. Chilling. Best stay put, in the marina, get back into the boat and make a hot cup of java. But before I do that, I think to myself, ‘would the readers like a couple more photos of the marina in the mist?’ Of course they would.

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In the marina looking toward the canal outside.

And there you have it. I can barely make out my fellow boaters’ boats. I think they are still all there. It’s all very unclear. The mystery of standing at the end of our jetty, staring out into the gloom, overwhelms me. But not as much as realising I have just stepped into a pile of fox poo. Didn’t see it. Forgot to look down. I was too preoccupied with the mist. Time to go rinse my shoes under the tap at the other end of the jetty. No sign of a fox. Wonder if he got confused and fell in. Wouldn’t be the first time.

I’m leaving the cold air of England and heading for the Caribbean on a cruise. Never been on one of those or to the Caribbean. But I’m told I’m of an age when you do these things….if you can afford them, which I can’t. But I’m going anyway. At least there ought to be plenty of Blog material out there on the high seas, a vast difference to the canals of Britain. And….there may be fog. That would be weird, at sea in a fog. I’ll let you know when I get back. Anchors away.

 

 

Buttnutt Willy and The Fish Head Snots

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I have been, among other things, a musician of sorts. Since I was a lad, I have played at least the guitar and dabbled with many other instruments. It all began when I was in Grade 9 in Canada. The lads in the senior grades were forming a band for the High School variety night. It was 1966. They needed another guitarist. As we lowly Niners sat on the other side of McCrone’s Diner, listening to the revered senior classmen talk about forming a band, I spoke up and said, “Me. I play guitar.”

I didn’t of course, but my dad had one at home and I thought this was as good a time to learn the damned thing as ever. Besides, the audacity of even speaking to seniors was nothing short of social suicide back then and I was risking everything to start being cool. The seniors looked at me, sized me up and the coolest guy in school, John Campbell said, “OK Turner, be at my place Monday at 7:30 for practice.” It was Friday.

Off home I went and got my dad’s Stella guitar out and his Mel Bay chord book and practiced all weekend till my fingers bled (slight exaggeration). John was the other guitarist and it turns out, I was better than he was….after just a weekend. We practiced 3 Beatles songs. One of the local lads loaned me his electric guitar. It has never been better than the moment I got it home, plugged it in and played it. Much easier to play than the old Stella too. Only problem? We had no name.

My dad was not a fan of the new music, not even Elvis Presley. He was still old school Big Band Swing and such. He ridiculed the Beatles as being slobs and their music as repetitive and simplistic beyond anything worthy of being called music. And, he thought the Band names were silly. “Why don’t you call yourselves The Fish Head Snots” he offered with a sneer. No takers, although the guys were amused. We became ‘We Four Plus Two’. The two were our Go-Go dancers, Wendy and Nadine, two local farm girls with big….um….well, you know. We were the High School hit and I got to dance afterwards with Barb Crane and Betty-Ann Kennedy, the hottest young ladies and both in Grade 10 at school.

Over the years, I’ve brought up the name with various bands I’ve been part of to see if they would bite. I had added the frontman name of Buttnutt Willy….Buttnutt Willy and The Fish Head Snots. Has a ring to it. Probably more Punk than Blues or Rock, but no mind. It has a place. Just not with any of the people with whom I’ve played music. Pity.

Let me tell you, finding a solid Band name is not easy. The Beatles bandied band names about before coming up with the version we have now. No one really liked it back then, but now it’s an iconic part of history. Reading the histories of some of the Band names from the glory days of the 60s and 70s and how they came up with their band names has been a hobby of mine since moving to the land of The Beatles 12 years ago. Fascinating stuff. The easiest solution is to have a frontman with a solid name and the rest of the band can have some generic title, like Freddie and the Dreamers or Little Caesar and The Consuls for example. I saw one once, Bob and The Slobs. Simple and silly. Can’t recall their music though.

The people I have had the good fortune to play music with since my debut have had some fun names….The 2Plus, Amethyst, Fat Seagull, Blondin (photo below….yours truly 3rd from left), Hangtime and The Coffee House Band (boring that one). There were others but I’ve forgotten a few. None of those comes remotely close to Buttnutt Willy and The Fish Head Snots. None of them. At one point, I had changed Buttnutt to Butthole, but was told it was too tacky and tasteless. I relented.Image may contain: 4 people, people standing

 

After all, what’s in a name? as Shakespeare wrote (or didn’t depending on who you believe). If the music is good, the band doesn’t even need a name. I’ve played in a few of those, ad hoc bands in composition and venue. Sometimes the best, raw music comes from those gigs. I mean, how imaginative do you have to be to call yourself ‘The Band’ and become famous? Most of the guys in that band were Canadians and relatively unknown as a collective until their first album. Their music was unique for the time, original, and found a niche in an otherwise psychedelic and heavy Rock world.

The Punk music world comes out with band names more in line with my dad’s throwaway title….’Snot’ from California, ‘Butthole Surfers’ from Texas,  ‘Mindless Self Indulgence’, ‘Slightly Stoopid’, ‘Lard’, ‘Exploding White Mice’, ‘Crumbsuckers’, ‘The Yuppie Pricks’, ‘Whole Wheat Bread’ and my favourite from Kent in England, ‘Splodgenessabounds’ (obviously fans of the old British radio show from the 1950s, The Goon Show). ‘Pissed Jeans’ would have been a bit too rude for dad. But if you needed Punk bands with a frontman, you’d get, ‘Me First and The Gimme Gimmes’, ‘Lars Frederiksen and The Bastards’, ‘Peter and The Test Tube Babies’, ‘Wayne County and The Electric Chairs’ or ‘Ed Banger and The Nosebleeds’.

Last, but never least, is the one that takes the proverbial cake. Bet they’d eat it too….’No Use For A Name’. But they used it anyway. There are many other weird band names. Too many to mention and how they came about. Just for fun, look up how Nickleback came up with their name. Almost as silly as their music…..although, I must confess, I liked a couple of their songs until they all began sounding the same.

The winner of band names comes from a dearly departed friend. Years ago I was a Presbyterian Preacher in a small town in Ontario. I was coming to the end of my Christian era and was tired of church music. So, I formed a band to play secular covers, everything from The Beatles to the Eagles and lots of Folk and Blues. We formed ‘The Coffee House Band’, all proceeds going to local charities or, in my congregation’s case, new carpeting for the sanctuary.

Anyway, our bass player for a while was none other than Peter Quaife, former bassist for the British Rock Band, ‘The Kinks’, one of the good band names. He was Peter Kinnes to us. He had changed his surname back to the birth name to dodge taxes. Hey, he’s a musician. I met him while doing a wedding for someone in a park. Long story. So, Pete is rehearsing with us one night and we were tossing out better names for our little Combo. I told Pete my dad’s name with the frontman addition and he went quiet for a moment.  “Got it,” he said at last. “Your dad’s name is brilliant. But what about ‘Froggy Farts and The Toadstool Tiddlers’.

If any of you out there are in a band looking for a name, feel free to use dad’s or Pete’s (RIP from 2010 to both gents) gratis. They won’t mind I’m sure. I won’t either. Promise.

 

Chilli Day

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Chilli Day

Let’s talk all things spicy. Perhaps not all things, just those related to food. Specifically, let’s talk chillies. All kinds of chillies from everywhere. Whether you are a person who loves your food hot and spicy or as plain as boiled rice, sometime in your life one chilli or another has shown up in your food. If you’ve ever eaten chilli con carne, you’ll have had chillies in spades….unless you’re like my best friend who likes her chilli (not her favourite meal) mild as can be. Chilliless.

So, on the heels of the Sausage Sizzle, here we are in Eddie’s BMW, top down on a hot August afternoon, heading for Benington, a small village 4 miles east of Stevenage in Hertfordshire. We were going with Eddie, Mimz and two other friends, Sandy and Graham. Graham took his Porsche with its top down too. Regal travel and all. The destination was The 2017 Chilli Festival held at Benington Lordship Gardens, featuring 7 acres of gardens, a carp pond, an old Georgian Manor House and the ruins of a Norman motte and bailey castle. So very English wot?

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The Norman Gate.

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Castle wall ruins and gardens

I remember years ago in Canada, some Italian guy I worked with on the Eaton’s (like John Lewis in Britain) delivery trucks gave me a pepper from his lunch and dared me to eat it whole. Poor naive me did just that and paid the price. I can’t remember what variety it was but when it took hold, it nearly killed me. I have been wary ever since. But my interest was piqued during the finale of the Chilli festival when the annual chilli eating contest was held.

9 brave or reckless souls sat at a table with a beer and a bucket in front of each of them before the contest commenced. The MC had been running the show for years and educated us as the event wore on as to the name and effect each pepper would have on the contestants. Chillies are rated by their SHUs (Scoville Heat units). The New Mexico green Chilli, for example, can be anywhere from 0-70,000 SHUs. That seems quite a range, but most of us, except for my best friend, can handle them.

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Beware of the Chilli. Booth at the Chilli Festival.

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Chilli Festival and rolling hills of the Benington Lordship Gardens.

From there, we go up the scale until we get to a chilli known as Dragon’s Breath from Wales of all places. It has a SHU of 2.48 million. The chemical produced by the pod of chillies is capsaicin. If you swallowed a vial of that, you’d be ingesting 16 million SHU and you’d be dead. But then even eating a whole Dragon’s Breath can kill you. It was developed not to be eaten but to be put as an anaesthesia on the skin for people who can not have normal anaesthetic.

The competitors started with chillies at around 100,000 SHU and it went up from there. By the time they got to the Scotch Bonnets at around 500,000 SHUs, only half of the group remained. Then it was on to around 800,000 SHU and more dropped away, using the buckets provided to….well, you know. Red Cross folk were on hand to provide aid to contestants who were overcome by their chillies. They had milk and sugar cubes to counter the effects. Interesting.

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Some of the Gardens and the gardener’s house.

 

One young man who began foaming at the mouth and dribbling profusely hung in there despite his anguish. The audience began to chant ‘Dribbler, Dribbler….’ but Dribbler had enough and off he went. Two remained. They had to eat a whole pepper at 1.6 million SHU and did so. It looked for a moment like the contest would end in a draw, but one of the two decided he couldn’t go on and took a sip of the beer….which meant he capitulated. The winner got a case of Budweiser beer as his prize. No thanks.

Meanwhile, a Chilli Festival was going on….60 pitches (booths) with everything from chilli cheeses to chilli chocolate, fudge, chutney, sauces, pickles, seeds, plants and, naturally, booze. These were the top echelon of independent chilli traders. Very nice and all but a bit samey after a while. There was a carp pond and lovely gardens as well as views of rolling countryside. A very satisfying way to spend a holiday Monday. My life is full. But not of chilli. The only thing we ended up buying was a non-chilli  butterscotch, spicy liqueur. Hot enough on its own.

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Chilli stalls and Manor House.

We wandered about in the heat after arriving and getting something to eat first. The food vendors were from many cultures. There was Greek, Texan, Italian, British, of course, South American and South African. I had a South African steak sandwich with chakalaka….some spicy tomato, onion and pepper mix. Yummy. Then it was on to the Chilli festival and all that I described. What a treat. I must say I tried to sample at least the sweet stuff. Loved it. And I do like some chilli in my chocolate.

Started in 2006, the Festival has grown in size and popularity. It runs for 3 days over the Bank Holiday weekend. They even have entertainment for the whole family. This year it was the famous Bruce Airhead (never heard of him) and his big green balloon. But the hit of the show was the young lad Mr. Airhead picked from the audience who, much to the surprise of even the Airhead, actually entertained us with an array of gymnastic routines while the famous Bruce prepared his balloon. I think the lad was supposed to be a flop, but fooled us all. Even Bruce admitted that perhaps he ought to step aside and let the kid do the show.

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Bruce Airhead and his young assistant.

Just before the chilli eating contest, my best friend and I found a shaded spot beside the marquee where the contest was to be held. A man, dressed in those khaki shorts with millions of pockets, an unironed T-shirt and a pair of well-worn brown trainers (sneakers) sat in a chair just in front of us. A woman came from the audience and introduced herself to this chap as the wife of someone he knew. They spoke of food preparation or something. Turned out to be Richard Bott, owner of the place. Unassuming, charming and so very English, right down to the shoes.

Part way through the proceedings, I just happened to look up into the wide, blue yonder and there, flying right over head was the beautiful sight of a Second World War Spitfire. Made my day as the next contestant headed off behind the marquee to empty his insides into a bucket.

 

 

Sad Goodbyes

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Sad Goodbyes

You get used to people being around. If they’re nice people, you even enjoy running into them here and there. In this day of neighbours who never speak or not even knowing your neighbour, it’s refreshing to live in a community that cares for every person in and around that community.  That doesn’t mean everyone gets involved in caring. Some don’t mind being cared for, they just don’t get involved. But, if you have enough people who care, even one, then community has a chance.

In our old neighbourhood in Kent, we hardly knew anyone on the street. Even when we did meet some to say hello, that would be the extent of our contact. Not many people there had anything in common with his or her neighbour and, sometimes, there were those who made life miserable on our street. We had a recluse I called Elvis because of his apparent love of the king. Another had kids that screamed all day. Across the street, lived the family from hell and down the way was an old perv whose language would make a sailor blush, as my mum used to say. Mostly, we left each other alone and got on with our lives.

Not so in the boating community. I mean, we have our share of old curmudgeons on the cut who just want to be left alone, but boaters are a special bunch and even the toughest old bird will help another boater in trouble. Out on the cut (boaters name for the canal), people are constantly on the move, but over time end up running into people they’ve passed on any number of occasions, people they have moored near for a time or those they’ve helped over time. Even the times we’ve been out of the marina, we have passed boats we’ve seen before and give the friendly wave and greetings.

Marina life is another animal altogether. You live in close proximity with other boaters for an extended period of time. Some come and go more regularly, but the majority stay and you see them almost every day. Some work, some are retired and others only come to their boat occasionally to do work or go out on the cut for a while. In our marina, we have 12 boats out of 60 that are residential. We 12 live on our boats full-time. Sounds downright Apocalyptic, don’t it? Well, it isn’t, just happens they designate 12 spaces for residential which means we get a post box and a longer, wider jetty than the others and a couple of other perks.

The  other  48 boats are supposed to be leisure, but people still live on them….quietly.  The rules are a bit vague about liveaboards (as they are known), so no one ever really knows who can actually live on their boats and all that jazz. Anyway, beyond our boat (the last in the line of residents) people do live aboard. And we are glad they do because there are some quality folk you love to have around you. Two of these people are Lynn and Keith, longtime residents of this area both off and on a boat.

Lynn used to work for the Dickinson family when this whole area was paper mills and the admin offices attached to them. Keith did the same but was also in the Royal Navy for 9 years, a real sailor and looks like one these days too. Lynn was in the army when they met. Their children were born, grew up and have moved on over the years, some as far away as Australia. Both have long since retired and have enjoyed narrowboating for these past 8 years. Their boat, ‘Eight Bells’ was in the marina when we arrived just over 2 years ago.

The only way I can describe Keith is by his humour. He always has a quip about this and that. When he takes his cassette shitter to be emptied at the Elsan Point, he tells us he’s just going to the Post (Office). And he loves to comment on the weather. That is very English. But one day a woman came to the marina looking for Keith, as it turned out, but didn’t know his name. All she could say to describe him was she was looking for the man who loves to talk about the weather.  Only one person it could be….Keith.

While on duty in the navy, he was chosen to serve the Queen at a military event and practice d endlessly with a silver tray and champagne flute before the big day. When it came, Keith approached her Maj with the tray and the champagne and bowed as he said, “Ma’am”. But the Queen said, “Oh no, I never drink Champagne at lunch.” Keith says he almost said, “Oh shit!” as he turned away, but somehow restrained himself. Great story.

Lynn is a little more subdued, but after a glass of her favourite white wine, she opens right up. She is one of the most pleasant people I have ever encountered on this old earth. Keith is too, of course, but Lynn has a smiling quality about her that can make my day as much as Keith’s quips make me laugh. She is a very patient person in my estimation. We men can be a trial to live with at times….and that’s all I’m going to say about that. A great couple. Love them as we all do in the marina.

Keith’s health has not been the best this year so far. They both said it was time to call it quits and live on land. So, their boat will be taken to a broker next week to be sold and that, as they say, shall be the end of another era. They say they aren’t going far. They’ll return from time to time to see us, but you know what happens. People get busy. But I’ll miss the day-to-day  presence of both of them. Still, they say they are coming to our marina Caribbean night at the beginning of September. Keith quips that he hopes the weather reflects the atmosphere of the soirée.

Today, when I went over to their boat to take the photo you see at the head of this Blog, Keith pulled his blue shirt up over his belly and gave me a cheeky smile. Lynn made him pull it down and told him to behave. They are going to be missed around the marina.

 

Southbank Strolls

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Southbank Strolls

No point being in a rush. You miss all the salient points that go into making a place what it is. It’s the little things in amongst the larger bits that tell you where a place has been and what is going on now and in the near future. Some of the things are temporary and the next time you pass by this spot, they won’t be there. Such is the case along the south bank of the River Thames. It changes nearly daily. Some of the things are trendy. Others are fixtures, but only in the sense of a lifetime. So many changes over the centuries, that someone from the Elizabethan era, for example, would not recognise the place.

In my case, I have seen changes along this part of the Thames, some satisfying and others not so much. I have to laugh at some of the trendy changes, like the ubiquitous juice bars that are all along the Southbank. Someone said eat or drink lots of fruit and the hawksters spring up out of nowhere to sell you expensive fruit drinks that come from concentrated juice, not fresh fruit. If you get there early enough in the morning as they set up, you can see them making the stuff. Then they put pieces of fruit out to make it look like they’ve actually used fruit.

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The ubiquitous juice bar. Setting up in the morning.

Not to mention the wasps and flies all over the plastic cups. No thanks, and certainly not at those prices. But, as they say, a sucker is born every minute. Hawksters rely on it. Getting away from the hidden, there are all the other delights, many of which cost you nothing.  A leisurely stroll is all you need and observant eyes. My little stroll took me from London Bridge station, down to the Queen’s Jubilee Walk beside the Thames. Here we go. Can’t tell you about or show you everything in a thousand words and a few photos, but I’ll do me best.

Usually, the Southbank walk begins for me at Westminster Bridge, past the London Eye, the National Theatre, The ITV television studios, the OXO building, the new (old) Globe theatre, Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind ship, the Canon Street station, the Tate Modern in an old power station and the Wobbly Bridge (Millennium Bridge). Did I mention the Clink and the Anchor pub? Lots to see.

My walks begin at London Bridge and move along to Tower Bridge and slightly beyond to Butler’s Wharf (WareHouse At River Front).  The crowds are a little thinner along this stretch and yet there is so much going on. And not all on the surface. But on ground level, things are moving ahead at a frenetic pace. London Bridge station has gone through a complete overhaul for the last few years, in part due to the addition of the Shard, a large glass tower with a top that resembles a broken bottle.

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City Hall and the Shard in the background.

Roads are closed around the station and the noise from the work on the roads and in the station is deafening. Sneak through an alley between buildings and a whole new world of quiet along the Thames greets you. The first thing I encountered on the day I’m Blogging about was a painter. His easel was set for standing and the scene before him was a combination of old London and new London.

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An artist at work early in the morning before the crowds arrive.

The new seems to be taking over, but the painter was highlighting old London. Good man. Even the famous pickle shaped building, known as the Gerkin, was the landmark when I came here 12 years ago.  Now it has all but disappeared among the Walkie-Talkie and Cheese-Grater buildings. Other newer, taller buildings are going up too. Londoners love to give their office monstrosities pet names. Makes the new look ridiculous. Good on ’em.

Meanwhile on the Southbank, the buildings tend to be more residential than business with lots of new boutiques selling artisan quality products opening up in every space available. Clothing, unique shoes, graphic designers, pottery artists, art galleries and gadgets of all kinds just away from the Thames in the Hay’s Galleria. All very interesting and all very expensive. The amount of foreign investment especially in London and the number of those coming in from elsewhere have boosted an otherwise lethargic economy. Brits are funny that way. Love the money, not so sure about all the foreigners moving in who have the money to spend.

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Look Mum No Hands….stretching it just a bit for a BBQ pit.

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Entrance to the Thames Clipper at London Bridge. A fast commuter boat.

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Signs announcing the Summer Festival at the amphitheater near City Hall.

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Sculpture of family on a Thames beach. Weird.

Ignoring all what goes on behind the scenes, the old is still evident in the pubs along the Thames that still operate, attracting young people of every nation to imbibe. The HMS Belfast (two Blogs ago) still floats to the delight of some 300,000 visitors a year. Then you come to City Hall that looks like something from a Star Wars movie. Always something going on around here, an amphitheater that features plays and monologues, a bar and food stand that looks like something from the Caribbean Islands, last week a temporary beach and on this occasion, a Latin American food and goods market on the same piece of ground.

A large fountain that shoots sprays of water at various altitudes, seemingly randomly, attracting kids to run through, lined by restaurants offering various cuisines.  Then you walk through a short tunnel under the south end of Tower Bridge to Butler’s and other old Wharfs converted into million pound flats with restaurants selling such meals as Spaghetti Bolognese for £20 a plate. Pretty around there. Funny to think of all the spices and such that landed here years ago with men gathering ever day hoping to get a day’s work to feed the family.

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Caribbean Bar by City hall and the amphitheater.

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The Amphitheater.

 

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Early morning exercise before the mob jog.

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Egg sculpture. Groovy.

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Latin American Street Food Market. There was a beach there a week before.

I have walked this stretch a number of times over the years and have failed to notice some of the most meaningful sites. One in particular is by the old pub beside Hay’s Galleria. Ships used to sail right into the midst of the buildings to unload their cargo. It’s all filled in now. The Horniman Pub has been on this location since 1873. I’ve eaten there a few times. Good grub, reasonably priced for the location. Outside on the wall as you leave Hay’s Galleria is a brass plaque, a tribute to all those who worked around the wharf but lost their lives during the two Great Wars of the 20th Century. Glad I finally saw it.

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The Navigators sculpture in the Hay’s Galleria from 1987.

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Brass Plaque outside Horniman’s Pub at Hay’s Wharf.

Lots happening at every part of the Southbank. I noticed that at low tide, more and more people are going down along the sandy beaches to sit and sunbathe or build sand castles while treasure hunters comb the rocks for the next artifact that is going to make them millionaires. A sign over one of the drainage holes on the path has a sign politely asking people not to pollute. Some cheeky sod put his/her rubbish on the spot in a fit of rebellion. So, this is the Queen’s Walk, otherwise known as The Jubilee Walk. Bet the Queen has no idea what goes on down here. She might like it. At least she’d have no trouble paying for a plate of spaghetti.

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Looking north on Tower Bridge.

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The City on the north side of the river from Tower Bridge.

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From Butler’s Wharf looking back to Tower Bridge and the City….oh look, the Gerkin.

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Ground plaque near Tower Bridge announcing the Jubilee Walk.

 

 

 

 

Ship Ahoy Redux

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Ship Ahoy Redux

I was born in London, England in 1951 near Hampton Court beside the River Thames. In 1955, my parents moved us to Canada and I didn’t return to London until I was 22 years old in 1973. I wanted to see everything. But the site that captured my attention the most was the large ship moored just before Tower Bridge. She (that’s the designation for ships….don’t get all PC on me now) was the HMS Belfast, the Town-class light Cruiser that saw action in the Second World War and beyond.

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Looking back at the Belfast from the stern (rear)

I swore to myself then and during every subsequent trip to London that one day I’d go aboard and hang the expense. 44 years later it happened. And, I did not regret one penny of the expense. I get senior rates now, so it only cost me £12.80 to go aboard. I’ll bet it was a bit cheaper in 1973. I tried to find those prices, but came up with nothing on Google. My best friend found a number to call, but I’m not that interested. Still…cheaper I’ll be bound.

We came off our own boat for a while and were looking after someone’s flat near London Bridge while they were off somewhere exotic. My best friend went to visit her grandkids and I had a day free. What to do? I know. How about finally going aboard the HMS Belfast, not my best friend’s idea of a good time, but mine definitely. My dad was with the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) in the war, so there was always an affinity with the navy.
RAF Swinderby aerial photograph April 1941 IWM HU 93063.jpg

The above picture was taken in 1941 of RAF Swinderby where dad was seconded by the FAA because so many RAF personnel were lost during Dunkirk. I thought I’d give context to a rather bleak yet astonishing part of Britain’s history.

Meanwhile at sea, the HMS Belfast ran into a mine as it blockaded German ships in the Baltic in 1939 and was 2 years in dry dock for repairs, returning to action in time to help sink the German battleship, Scharnhorst, in the Battle of North Cape on Boxing day 1943. the Belfast was there during D-Day, covering the landings on Gold and Juno beaches of Normandy. After this, the Belfast went to the Far East and served later during the Korean War.

Over the years, HMS Belfast had several re-fittings, modernizing radar, various electronics, even the haul and so on. By 1963, the Belfast had served its purpose and was being prepared for scrapping. Fortunately, a group of Members of Parliament who had been navy men, one of whom had served on the Belfast, saved the ship and after several more changes of hand, the Belfast ended up the property of the Imperial war Museum.
It was good that I waited so long to go aboard. Apparently, until 2011, only certain parts of the ship were accessible to tourists. Since then, the whole ship has been opened and I was able to explore most of the ship and enjoy its history through TVs at various points telling stories of the Belfast.

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Forward munitions room. Shells were placed in the center tubes and sent up to the forward gun turrets.

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Forward 6 inch gun turrets.

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One of the original torpedoes, the kind that finally sunk the Schornhurst. Nasty piece of work indeed.

As an added feature, the rear 6 inch guns give the visitor a taste of what it was like to be in the turret when the guns fired. The noise was incredible (while being told the recreated sound of the guns was nowhere near the actual sound), the turret shakes when the gun goes off and I nearly fell over, followed by cordite fumes coming up from the guns vent, filling the turret with the smoke.

The beautiful thing was, I had the whole ship to myself for quite a while. I was first on at 10am the day I visited. Off I went, all over the ship, into the boiler and engine rooms, walking by one of the torpedoes used by these ships to sink the Schornhurst, along to the bakery and kitchens, down to the boiler and engine rooms, back up to other work areas (like the rum room), forward to the sailors’ mess and sleeping quarters, sick bay, down to the munitions bay where the shells and powder charges were sent up to the gun turrets, back up and up to the admiral’s perch, down to the captains lookout and back to navigation, up to the radar room and a look around at tall the anti-aircraft guns, then forward to the main front gun turrets and finally to the bow.

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Boiler room.

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Boiler Room

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Engine Room

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Engine Room

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Rum Room

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Forward Sailors’ Quarters

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Bakery

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Sick Bay

There’s more, but it would take ten Blogs to give all the details. Suffice it to say, there was a lot of stuff to see. And….well, I stood at the bow peak and, yes, did the obligatory, ‘I’m the King of the World’ thing. Had to be done. You’d have done it too. Not the Titanic, I know, but a very big ship all the same. Fortunately, no one was around when I did it.

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‘I’m King of the World!’ Tacky wot?

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From the bow, looking back at the 6 inch gun turrets.

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Tourist and commuter boats pass us by.

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Inside one of the forward gun turrets. Not a lot of room to move around.

I worked my way back to the stern, looking up at the huge smoke stack and other equipment on the main deck. I used the toilet, had one more look back and left the ship along the gangplank that links ship to shore. It’s a rather long gangplank and I stopped half way to look along the old Cruiser. 44 years. Glad I made it.

I was on my own as I said. Had my best friend been there, she probably would have talked sense into me when I arrived at the gift shop. I am a sucker for tat (touristy junk). On this occasion, it was a tossup between a brass rum cup (for my even tattier shot glass collection from all over the world) or a Bosun’s whistle (also brass….with wood). The cup had no writing on it. Could have come from anywhere, but the whistle….well, it said it was authentic. Who am I to argue?

I bought the whistle. Never mind how much it cost me. After all, I live on a boat and I have been known to pipe people aboard using my mouth as the whistle….entirely unsatisfying.  So, when I got back to our own boat, I drove everyone crazy practicing with my new Bosun’s whistle. To my credit, I did go online to see how to blow it correctly.  I was working on it until the other day when I went to get it to practice and couldn’t find my Bosun’s whistle anywhere. Where could it be? I’ll have to ask my best friend if she has seen it.

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Anti-aircraft gun and the Shard in the background.

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London City from the Admiral’s Perch.

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London City Hall from the upper deck.

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The Captain’s Perch

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An officer’s cabin

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Looking back and up at one of the smoke stacks.

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Looking back at Tower Bridge from the Belfast’s stern.