Tag Archives: Cultures

Science and Reason

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Two words put together to convince us that the universe and all it contains relies on observable data. Through analysis of this information, we are supposed to come to a reasoned understanding of how things work and what they mean. Sounds reasonable and logical. Take raw data and arrive at unbiased conclusions based purely on what we see.

Problem is, at this juncture in human history, we have become so steeped in our cultures’ myths and legends that it is nearly impossible to come to a consensus that is reasonable. Add to that the general mental health of any population, various psychoses and just plain ignorance and you have the making of a hodge-podge lodge. We all live in a stew of our own making, a stew made up of every ingredient we find around the place from potatoes and carrots to licorice and peanut butter.

I say this because I am concerned. In an age when we have advanced scientifically and technologically, building on gathered information over the ages, we still act like superstitious ancients trying to appease whatever force may be out there that might harm us, while forcing others to join our cults of superstition and therefore, ignorance.

Fear breeds all kinds of phobias. I have battled mine my whole life long. When I left my corner of what we have come to know as organised religion, the powers-that-be sent me away to be psychologically analysed. I was diagnosed as having a rapid cycling bipolar condition after a week of 7 different experts evaluating me separately then together.

My superiors took the results and decided that my condition was not psychological but due to sin. My aim here is not to explain myself or gain sympathy and outrage. I have lived with the condition all my life as far as I know. It was good to put a name to what was happening to me. When I share this aspect of my life with people….not everyone, but you’re in….I get 2 reactions. The 1st is from those who don’t believe there is any such disease. The 2nd believe everyone has some form of depression or other mental illness and so I am just one of the broken mob.

If we all suffer, that means everyone from world leaders, politicians, doctors, preachers, CEOs and teachers to Sam the rubbish man is broken in some way or another and this brokenness runs the world, as far as human involvement is concerned. Scary eh?

Along with all the conspiracy theories, flat earth believers, corporations, moon landing deniers, religious fanatics and assorted psychopaths we are left with the rest of us. I try to remain optimistic about the rest of us, the few. But I may have to leave it to you because I can’t trust me not to absent myself from those who would dare to make things right in a world of unscientific pronouncements and unreasonable propositions.

Flat earth theorists are as adamant about being right as someone who says the universe is some 13 billion years old. We can believe what we want you see. Some just to be different. Some for 15 minutes of fame. Some not to give in to reasonable thinking. And some because they believe their deity has decreed it. A common bumper sticker in North America reads, ‘God said it, I believe it, That settles it.’ There is no arguing with that. Remember the poster in America during the War in Vietnam (yes, I’m showing my age)? ‘My country right or wrong.’

Once loyalties have been struck, not even evidence that refutes such bold statements means anything to the holders of beliefs of their own making. The world is what we make it, not what it is. We all do it because in the end, nobody has a clue what is really going on. We just make stuff up to suit our conditions, even the ones who consider themselves to be reasonable, scientifically minded people.

For millennia we have implanted our own morals and ethics into each other until most of what we come up with is conjecture at best, silly at worst. Quantum physics has given us a look into a universe we hardly recognise….if Quantum theories can be believed. What holds everything together? Is there a purpose to the universe? Is there any true meaning to it? Some keep looking for a Superstring theory that will knit it all together. Some give up or don’t bother with all that because they know the answer. ‘God said it, I believe it, that settles it.’

To question that would unravel the God theory piece by piece as it has over the last centuries. The defenders of faith are no different to the defenders of the flag, except at least you can see a flag. No one has ever seen this being that is supposed to rule the universe. But such belief in the human context is much stronger than doubt. And since we really can’t prove anything definitively, God lives on in the hearts and minds of avid believers just as there was once an idea called Rome.

I tend to live, as much as possible, like this is my last day on earth. As I write this, 3 lovely Springer Spaniels are sitting around me. They rely on us to look after them. They aren’t mine, they belong to good friends. Buster, the eldest of the Springers, was abused as a young dog. My friends rescued him and have given him a good home. Buster doesn’t trust males as a rule because one treated him so badly. But we have built a rapport over time. He trusts me. He is curled up beside me now. He is content. Doesn’t believe anything. Just wants to be treated with kindness. The other 2 are rescue dogs too. As long as they are fed, walked and have a safe place to rest, they are content. Good word that. Content. Happy is overused. Content is where it’s at.

Don’t get me wrong. Let’s keep searching to unlock the secrets of the universe, just not in an arrogant way where we have to be right and someone else wrong. Try to be content with what we have as long as there is food, shelter, places to walk safely and good companionship. Sound reasonable? I’m sure the universe can accommodate that. If it can’t, what’s the point? I know….kindness. I’m certain of it.

 

 

 

Lock Lore

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A lock near us.

One thing I know for sure about living on a narrowboat in England. A lot of work is involved in maintaining it and cruising on it. If we could simply cruise along the canals, unimpeded by obstacles that get in the way, things would be jolly. Some of those obstacles are natural, while others come in the form of locks and swing bridges.

If all this sounds like boat-speak, you’re right. When I first got into this lifestyle, I knew nothing. And I’m still learning. What is a windlass, you ask? What are gate paddles? What is a pound (not money)? What is a cill? All questions I know you’ve been asking yourself. Expat Larry is here to answer all your queries about narrowboating. If only he had all the answers.

Be that as it may, he knows about locks. Last summer, a few of us spent our days moving other people’s boats from here to there to get work done. Every so many years, the bottoms of our boats need to be blacked. This is a process that uses some form of bitumen that is applied with brushes and rollers to the hull that first has to be blasted clean of the old black. The blacking protects the bottom of the narrowboat’s hull. Most people pay to have it done. Our boat is due this year and we’ve decided to do it ourselves.

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One of the boats we moved in a lock.

You can’t just do it any old place. Some marinas have facilities for maintenance. Ours doesn’t, so it’s off to places north or south to do the work. In our case, last summer, a few people needed work done and some of us provided the crew to get them there and back. We became the lock crew. And we were good. 2 of us got the lock ready for the boat to go in, then walked to the next lock to get it ready. The other 2 crew waited until the boat left the lock and closed it up for the next boat that would eventually come along. We had our system.

But, if you can share the lock with another boat, all the better. Locks on the Grand Union Canal (where we live) are double locks….2 narrowboats or 1 widebeam. If you can travel in 2s, you save water, a vanishing commodity in the canals these days. You’d never think that living in a country known for its abundance of rainy days. Apparently, it’s the wrong type of ground in this country to retain all that rain water. Don’t worry about it or try to figure it out. I never do.

Approaching the low side of a lock. Two of the intrepeid crew wait to open the gates to let us in.

Approaching the low end of a lock. Two of the intrepid crew ready to open the gates to let the boat in.

So, here we are, a couple of locks down the way on one of the trips, when we meet up with a couple on one of those what we call plastic boats, the kind you find on lakes. Anyway, the folks navigating this craft were, well, not quite entirely with us if you know what I mean. They were away with the fairies, on some kind of mind expanding substance, not a care in the world. “Where you heading to my friend?” I asked after about the 3rd lock. “Huh? Heading to? Uh….not sure. What direction is this?” “South” I said. “South? What direction to Birmingham?” he asked. “North” I said. “Oh yeah? I guess we’re going the wrong way. ” “I guess. What’re you going to do?”

He just shrugged his shoulders. He insisted on pulling his boat into the lock rather than cruising in. It took a lot longer. He said he was afraid the boat we were moving would crush his if he drove in. No logic there, especially since he had fenders the size of a pilates ball. But he kept up this odd behaviour, heading in the wrong direction with no plan. He decided to moor up after the next lock anyway. Thank da Lawd.

By the end of the summer, we became the best lock crew anyone could hope to acquire. We decided not to get back on the boat between locks as we can walk faster than the boats are allowed to go on the canals. In total, we walked about 50 miles that summer, rain or shine. Many locks and many good laughs. And quite a feat considering every one of the lock crew have bad knees and bad backs. Brave bunch….but no medals.

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Lock gates open, ready for the boat to enter.

We got to know each lock very well along this stretch of the canal. Some of the paddles are buggers to open and the gates are heavier than hell to open and close. Some leak badly while others are just plain old and falling apart. This is why we have the CRC, the Canal and River Trust. They are the organisation that looks after the canals, most of them anyway. And the locks.

The locks are getting older too. Some of the gates are from the later part of the 19th century and early 20th. They have been serviced here and there, but there are a lot of them and budgets don’t allow for a complete overhaul of the system. Well, budgets and money wasted on ridiculous salaries for the top dogs and some frivolous projects. It seems the only time locks get serviced is when they completely fail, through age, overuse and vandalism….mostly age.

It was a relief when news came that a lock near us, that has been leaking badly, was going to be fixed. The notices went up and then the materials needed began appearing. Barges with water pumps and cranes then appeared and finally the steel fencing to keep us out and the workers in went up. The work began. The top gates were replaced and the bottom gates repaired. What fascinated me was the junk on the bottom of the lock once the water had been drained away. Treasures galore, mostly of metal that had fallen off boats over the years and tossed in by locals….like car hub caps and road signs of one type or other.

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Stuff at the bottom of our local lock.

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Preparing the lock for work.

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The new gates at the top of the lock.

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Finishing things off in the repaired lock.

This work went on for a few days. On one of those days, I was walking along the towpath to shop at the local Sainsbury’s (Supermarket) and noticed a narrowboat inching up to the barrier put up to shut off the lock. An older gentleman, who had the demeanor of an original boater, complete with old, unattended boat, stood at the tiller, grumbling to himself.

I stopped and stated the bleeding obvious. “The lock is closed for repair” I said. “I can see that” said he of the Cut. “Did you check the online lock closure reports?” I asked. “Don’t have a computer” he said. “Did you see any of the signs as you were coming along?” I inquired. “There’s always signs for this and that” he said, “But I didn’t see any of them.” I asked the next obvious question, “Did anyone along the way warn you this lock was closed?” “Yeah” he said, “A few people did, but I didn’t believe them.”

He did now.

 

 

Caribbean Cruise: Part 5, The Finale

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Caribbean Cruise: Part 5, The Finale

And about time too. This Blog has been going on for months and needs to conclude. Problem? There are 3 more islands to visit. But as one island is much the same as the next (Aruba notwithstanding), the final 3 shall be handled here with much the sameness. The only difference is St. Vincent, though it is much like St. Lucia except that its claim to fame is providing the Jamaican scenery from Pirates of the Caribbean. So, I guess apart from that, St. Vincent is St. Lucia.

Some might disagree. It’s all a matter of perspective. It’s also a matter of all those hills, or mountains of a sort and bendy, twisty roads and palm trees and banana groves and volcanoes and hot weather. Oh, and very nice, but ubiquitous beaches. The other exception to this is St. Kitts which has mountains but we didn’t drive through them, just around them. St. Kitts also is where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean in this part of the world and you can see the two collide.

And since all of the Caribbean islands were formed from volcanoes spilling land from their tops and sides, it is no wonder that the islands in this part of the world have so many similarities. The third of the last 3 we visited, Antigua, was another beach day. We didn’t see much of the island. The sea was rough and someone said there was a shark sighting. More shell gathering. Not so memorable.

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Fryes beach, Antigua.

St. Kitts was another story. Our tour guide made the day. I called him Fancy Danman. He had a very dry sense of humour and loved to tell us at every turn that the British pretty well wiped out the indigenous people of St. Kitts. Never mind that everyone on the bus was British.  No one took the bait. We all acted like the polite British people we used to be. I say we because my family background goes back to William the Conqueror and Border Scots even though most of my life was lived in Canada. Mostly I am polite. I wanted to tell old Fancy Danman to blame the privileged classes of Britain for past misdemeanours, but my best friend gave me one of those looks and I kept quiet. That too is very British unless one is a Football/Soccer Hooligan.

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Fancy Danman (aka Rastaman) our guide on St. Kitts.

Most of St. Kitts seems to be for Medical and Veterinary students from everywhere. Then there is the old sugar plantation with a Batik shop that is the real reason we were here. Lovely stuff….not cheap. We didn’t feel guilty because St. Kitts had been spared the worst of Hurricane Irma. We stopped where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea complete with a lady in a shack painting pictures for tourists. I went in and bought one of an island couple in traditional dress.

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One of the medical colleges on St. Kitts.

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Woman working on Batik.

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Batik drying at old sugar plantation on St. Kitts.

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Where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea.

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The artist’s studio on St. Kitts.

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The artist in her ramshackle studio on St. Kitts.

Back on the bus and off to a cliff that overlooked a lava rock beach. Quite a sight. But the best feature of this tourist spot was at the back of our bus. Our driver, not Fancy Danman, had lowered a ledge behind the bus and was supplying us with another very potent rum punch. I kept going back for refills, and though we were supposed to have only one, the driver obliged with a knowing wink. Tourism is thirsty work.

I felt no pain for the rest of the trip. When we got back to Bassetierre, we walked into town to find a bank to replenish our dwindling funds. In the middle of one garden square is the statue of a half-naked island girl. It was commissioned by the British government to stand atop the tall plinth in Trafalgar Square. But it was deemed too risqué for the sensibilities of Victorian England and so Admiral Horatio Nelson won the honoured spot. That’s how Fancy Danman told it anyway. I have been unsuccessful in finding any corroborating evidence to Danman’s story, but he would be the first to say it is a conspiracy of silence.

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The clock tower in Bassetierre’s town centre.

So much for politics. On to St. Vincent. Our day began on a catamaran, the reverse of our day on St. Lucia. The sea was rough this day and we bobbed about like a cork. Some people were sick and the rest of us just hung on. We passed all the places used in the filming of Pirates of the Caribbean, including the bay that substituted for Nassau Town (Jamaica) where actor Johnny Depp was said to have been drunk for the entire 3 months of filming here. Apparently, it became impossible for Depp to stay at the resort nearby because of the damage he did to the place and so he was moved to a boat anchored in the bay with his own onboard chef and rowed to the day’s film shoot.

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Rainbow from the bow of the catamaran.

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Scene used in first Pirates of the Caribbean film.

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Lava Beach where I snorkeled.

We anchored at a beach consisting of black lava sand. One of the film’s scenes was filmed here (the one with the big wheel for all those who know the movies) and we were told we could swim or snorkel. Problem is, the trip planners had not said we had a swimming break. I went in any way with mask and snorkel….and not much else (island fever had taken over). Lots of colourful fishies. But the current was strong and at one point I had to crawl up on to the lava beach to catch my breath. Ended up cleaning lava sand from every part of me for the rest of the day.

When I got back on the catamaran, the crew was handing out ….you guessed it….more of that potent rum punch. But before that, those of us who had braved the waves were asked if we would like to sample a special rum. I am a gamer. What I didn’t know was that this rum was 90% proof and I swallowed it all at once. Like lighted gasoline in the throat and belly. Forgot my pain. And washed it out of my system with a few rum punches.

We headed shoreside to the place where lunch was arranged, along with one free drink. But to get there, we ploughed through some of the roughest water yet. By this time, I was feeling no fear or pain and ended up on the bow of the catamaran, holding on to a guy wire, woohooing all the way to shore. No wonder sailors drank rum. Gets you through anything.

Once safely ashore, we had lunch at a restaurant by the water. I ate my chicken something or other and drank my locally brewed Hairoun beer as I watched little sand crabs moving about, disappearing down holes at the slightest sign of danger. They move very quickly. After a stop at another Botanical garden and waterfall, we drove the long, twisting, up and down road to our ship in Kingstown. Then it was off to Barbados and the flight back to cold, wet England.

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Enjoying a Hairoun brewski on St. Vincent.

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Waterfall at the Botanical Garden on St.Vincent.

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Crossing the rickety bridge in the Botanical Garden on St. Vincent.

Ciao Caribbean Cruise. Like a distant memory as I write this. Will I ever go back? Most of me says ‘Been there, done that’ but you never know. If I ever do, it won’t be to Grenada. I’ll probably stick to Majorca….closer and cheaper….so far.

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And it’s goodbye from the Caribbean.

Caribbean Cruise: Part 3A, Grenada

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Caribbean Cruise: Part 3A, Grenada

I’ve talked to a lot of people about the Caribbean Islands. Everyone has a favourite. And it follows there are islands they don’t particularly care for. We had a great time on St. Lucia, one of the next 2 islands we visited. Someone I met said they hated the place. Someone else loved Grenada. Not me. Here are my reasons for loving one and not so much the other. A tale of two islands. Grenada first.

Grenada, the Spice Island. Well, it’s supposed to be. But Hurricane Irma of  last September decimated the crop and because the storm hit the United States, everyone forgot about Grenada. Not a good year for the island. And not a great tour of the island for we tourists. Not because of the problems of the poor islanders, but because of our tour guide. The worst in history. My history at least. He was, without doubt, out of his depth and quite useless. I’ll tell you why, shall I?

The day was a very hot and humid one to begin with. This must be understood or nothing I am about to tell you is going to sound as harrowing as the day ended up being. And before I get too Dickensian about it all, let me say I could write a book about our day on Grenada. I still remember in 1983 when America, plus some others, invaded the island to rid it of a perceived communist threat. Anyway, without researching, that’s how I remember it. Weird politics and machete wielding islanders makes you wonder. Still, fascinating all the same.

So, our driver picks us up in the worst minibus of those waiting at the port at St. George’s to take others from our ship hither and yon over the island. We were supposed to be on a 3 hour trip. Turned out we were the last to get back to the ship. First, let me tell you about driving through St. George’s. The streets are narrow and clogged with traffic, both vehicular and human. People stare at us as we go by….slowly by….as if we have no business being there, but please leave us your money. I guess you can’t blame them in one sense. Most of us only barely tolerate tourists in our back yards.

Finally we leave the confines of the city and begin the endless ascent into the very high hills, along winding roads, hairpin bends, houses on stilts and amazing views of the bays below. Our driver hadn’t said a word to us yet, after 30 minutes on the tour. We had to wonder what we were looking at. And the young driver delighted in shifting gears so that the minibus lurched forward with each change of gear. Then we stalled, started up again, stalled again. This happened a few times before we finally came to a halt for good, on a hill between two sharp bends. It was hot, humid and we were nowhere.

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houses in the hills on stilts.

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Going nowhere in the heat.

The driver mumbled something and got off the minibus, looking the thing over as if it might tell him what was wrong. He managed to communicate with one of our passengers that he would call for help and we should stay on the bus. Forget that in this heat. All 18 of us filed off the bus, taking our chances in the hot, humid morning air. The driver protested our leaving….health and safety and all that….but we were having none of it, being stuck in a hot tin can.

Some of us questioned the driver as to the possible reasons for the breakdown. He just shrugged his shoulders and got on his mobile (cell) phone to call for help. The rest of us tried to find shade where we could find it. Fortunately, we had parked right in front of a house with a large veranda that seemed to be empty. The front of the house was on pretty solid ground. The back was on stilts. Most of the passengers sat on the steps of the veranda, battling the ants that kept trying to greet them. Some of us wandered about exploring the area. We became a great source of amusement to all who drove by, especially the locals.

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Keeping cool on the veranda in Grenada.

Good news, the driver announced to a couple of us who stood near him, waiting for information. Help was on its way and would be here in 15 minutes, a replacement vehicle he said. An hour and a half later, a taxi with a couple of tourists inside pulled up behind the bus. A man got out carrying a jerry can full of petrol. We hadn’t broken down after all. The twit had run out of gas. He claims his petrol gauge was broken. He also told one of our fellow travellers that the reason he could not give us any information about what we were looking at was his microphone was broken. Strike 2

The chap who had the jerry can forgot to bring a spout to get the petrol into the bus. He hunted around until he found an empty plastic water bottle and proceeded to ask us if any of us had a knife. Oh yes, of course we do. They issue them to us as we leave the ship to fend off marauding communists. No, we don’t. You’d never get them by the ship’s scanner anyway. Another search for something sharp. He finds a coconut shell, smashes it in two and uses a sharp edge to cut the plastic bottle into a makeshift funnel. Enterprising but an annoying waste of time.

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Pouring the petrol everywhere.

As the petrol spilled over on to the side of the road as much as was poured into the bus, we all began gathering back around our vehicle in anticipation of finally getting on our way. As the gas cap was closed, we noticed movement from our bus. The driver was not back inside and we were all standing outside. The bus was moving backwards on its own and about to ram the taxi behind. We all yelled and our driver was quick enough to get to the brake in time. Just. He said the parking brake failed. Actually, he hadn’t put it on. Strike 3 and we still had the whole day ahead.

So we got on our way, in silence, trying to guess what sites we were viewing as we twisted our way up one hill and down the same, then around a sharp bend and up again and down until we found ourselves in one of those villages that time has forgotten. Locals walked around as if in a trance. We were here in a village with no name….our driver didn’t tell us and when asked mumbled something incoherent….to visit a nutmeg factory. It was an open barn with lizardy things crawling around the floor. The place had not had a makeover since being constructed many years before. Nothing was going on and the guide from the factory was incomprehensible. So, we learned nothing.

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The Nutmeg Factory

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A shop in Nutmeg Town.

I left the group and wandered about looking at cobwebs and sacks of what I presumed contained nutmeg at some stage of  usefulness. Put me off the spice once and for all. Nothing worse than knowing where your food comes from. Everyone was herded through the strangest gift shop before getting back on the bus. A few items on rickety shelves and postcards that had been on display since who knows when, dog-eared and wrinkled. No one was in the mood to purchase anything. The shopkeeper, a sour-faced woman, didn’t seem to care. She sat reading a magazine, never looking up. Island malaise.

And back on the road, this time to a volcanic lake. That was it. A small lake surrounded by trees. Nothing to see here really and, of course, no info coming from our driver, with or without a microphone. We drove up to a place that overlooked the lake….ought to have come here in the first place….where souvenirs were sold and gardens could be viewed. But we were behind schedule and had no time for that. Three old toothless men played island tunes badly on instruments they really had no idea how to play. But you have to make money some way I guess.

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The Volcanic lake

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The Volcanic lake from the tourist spot.

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The Touirist Spot

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What we had no time to explore.

By now the sun was sinking but the driver was determined to get us to every scheduled site. The last stop was at a lovely waterfall with beautiful gardens and the chance to swim in the lagoon beneath. Trouble is, by now it was nearly dark. At first the chap looking after the entrance booth didn’t want to let us in because it was too late. But somehow our driver convinced the him to let us enter. By the time we reached the waterfall, it was dark and the pathway wet and slippery. No time for a swim. A quick photo, with flash, and off we went, back to the bus, slipping and sliding all the way, iPhones lighting the way.

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The Volcanic Waterfall in the dark.

Friday night in St. George’s. Traffic worse than when we left that morning. People everywhere. A ballet of chaos and colour. Our bus edged along. We could see our ship now, but couldn’t get to it. When we arrived at the port….finally…. everything was shut. No one was around to let us onto the quay. We yelled. We banged things and finally a man came and let us through. The ship couldn’t leave without us, but all they knew, once we arrived at the gangway, was that we were missing. No one had told them on board where we were. Lost on Grenada.

We went as a group to the desk on the 5th deck that handled trips and we complained through a group rep. They don’t like complainers, but a mob they cannot ignore. We got a refund for the trip. Don’t misunderstand me, please. The island is lush and verdant, teeming with life and lots of mountainous terrain. Invading it would not be easy. Exploring it is not easy. Never going back is a breeze.

 

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.

 

 

JAMES for PM

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I have met some real characters in my life. My best friend would tell you I’m one of them. Most of them I’ve got to know after spending time with them. My boat neighbours Eddie and Mimz are real characters, formed by the trials, tribulations, adventures and sensitivities their lives have led them to. My best friend is a character. That’s all I’m going to say about that. Except that she’s a character in a good way as are our boat neighbours.

We’ve all run across bad characters, sociopaths and even psychopaths. I have known a number of the former and a couple of the latter. Dangerous characters in so many ways, many of which are undetectable by normal characters. A normal character is a person who is crazy but has learned to curb the crazies and has great empathy for all the other crazies around them. We support each other rather than use each other….mostly.

I knew a man, a character par excellence, the mayor of a town I used to live in, who proposed that prozac ought to be put in the water system of our town to chill everyone out. Not a bad idea I thought at the time. He was a good politician because he told me of his plan in confidence, never making it a public statement. And, after all, most of the world relies on one drug or another to get them through the day. All I need is a small pork pie, a hunk of cheese, an apple and a glass of wine. And music.

I like rebels. Not destructive ones mind you. I like the kind that stand against the system when it has become lax, lazy, fat and even corrupt or just too big for its own hat. The rebels that I like in particular are the comic sort, the ones who tell it like it is but who also make us laugh while doing it. There are some clever clogs out there. Astute, funny, fearless types that make us think as well as laugh.

So, I was sitting with my best friend and neighbours Eddie and Mimz (she of marinagate and Cagney and Lacey fame) by their boat in Cassiobury Park a while ago enjoying a glass of wine in the sunshine, when two men walked by. As they passed, one of them turned sharply and called back to us, “Did you vote?” Stunned silence on our part. “Pardon?” Eddie asked. “Simple enough question mate. Did you vote?” My best friend and I indicated that we had. “Did you vote for Corbyn?” he asked. Silence on our part. Didn’t stop him from carrying on….”Well, if you didn’t, you should’ve.” he said.

“They’re all rubbish.” says Eddie, “All politicians. Liars, the lot of them. Don’t matter who’s in, they all promise the moon and give you nothing in the end.” Well, that set old James off. Back he trots with his friend in tow and begins a 4 hour tirade on the evils of the powers-that-be, the NHS (National Health Service), the invasion of foreign workers (with a tip to their industriousness over British workers), the lazy and disrespectful youth of Britain, foreign policy, the price of things, greed, sloth in general, the righteousness of Corbyn (the Labour Party leader who gave Theresa May and the Tories the fright of their life in the recent general election), the lack of justice….well, you get the idea.

He did it all in a machine gun verbal delivery that left us breathless and by hour 3 quite ready to do him in. But we didn’t. We listened politely and laughed at his take on things, which were, as I said earlier, quite humorous. At the end of each topical diatribe, he would end with, “And you know what they can all do with that? They can all f..k right off!” It became a theme. I’m no prude. I would have written the word fuck, but I felt it might be a smidge indelicate given the wide group of readers you’ve become.

And, I must say, most of what James had to say rang true with the 4 of us. His powers of observation dazzled us. He had that old kind of cockney wit that said it like it is and makes no apologies for it. Well stated, quite pithy in parts, great delivery and passion behind it all. I told him his talents were wasted. He ought to go down to Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. He’d be a hit there. James said he would have to decline on the grounds that only old geezers with a grudge and religious nuts ended up there. “Besides,” he said, ” you’re not allowed to curse or swear. That’d do me in right there. And you mustn’t say anything against her Maj. Well, she can f…k right off with the rest of them.”

With all due respect to the Queen, James had a point. Really, what has she to do with his life on a daily basis? James relies entirely on the people around him to give him support, be trustworthy, keep him safe and feed him. James, you see, lives in a place that looks after those who have broken down mentally….at least as society sees it. Rather than deal with the growing number of people in Britain with mental issues, the government feigns doing something by coming out with pamphlets warning us to be aware of this or that mental condition and to seek help. They don’t say where or how long you have to wait to be seen. And, bless her, her Maj can’t do anything about it….or can she? Does she? If she does, James doesn’t know about it.

So, they can all just ‘F’ right off. Maybe James should be the Prime Minister and the Royal head of state all in one. Couldn’t do any worse and we’d all have a lot of laughs. Anyway, after 4 hours of James’s platform, he said his goodbyes. His mate, an Iraqi who came here a number of years ago to escape the madness in his own country and ended up going mad here, had gone 2 hours previously. He’s obviously had heard it all before from his mate. I wish them both well. I’d vote for James. And if you think I’m crazy too, you can just….well, you know.

Henge Madness

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I was in Swindon not long ago. Not my favourite town. The people we visited are though. Nice couple. My best friend and the lady of the duo used to work together in London in the Civil Service. The male is a Doctor Who fanatic and has a collection of memorabilia that does the doctor proud. He also has other Super Hero stuff and a bunch of comic books. Shades of The Big Bang Theory (TV program for those less erudite among you).

No one goes to Swindon for a holiday or for cultural reasons. Even their football team was relegated to a lower division this year. And the Chinese restaurant we went to in town was closing that night after 14 years of trying to get Swindonians to eat more exotic dishes than Sunday roasts. Not a happening town. Unless you live there I guess. The last time we visited, the couple in question had moved from one new house to another, better built home, across the road from a farm and fields that were a protected property. Protected from greedy developers that is.

The protection comes from another source than it being a farm. You see, out there in that field lies what is commonly known as a Stone Circle, an ancient grouping of rocks that quite probably had astronomical and spiritual significance to people thousands of years ago. Their real purpose is lost in time, but some good guesses have been made over the centuries since. Mostly, many of these sites were abandoned for whatever reason eons ago and locals pilfered the stone for building and such and no one appears to have written anything we know about or have found that indicates their actual use.

But that doesn’t stop the theories or groups of wannabe druids, witches, pagans and the like adopting the various stone circles as the birthplace of their particular religious practices. Groups gather at significant astronomical times of the year….winter solstice, spring equinox, summer solstice and the autumn (fall) equinox….to sing, dance naked, wear other ancient garb or offer various sacrifices to whomever or whatever as a way of maintaining harmony and balance in the universe. Works for some.

Stonehenge, on the Salisbury Plain, has long been the ‘go to’ site for all and sundry, from pagans to Chinese tourists. Nearby is Avebury, not as spectacular but definitely worth the visit, a collection of  various sized stones and a big ditch around it. At other places all over Wiltshire, these stone circles abound. Some have completely disappeared. Henges are a little different because they involve earth works around them and sometimes they are wooden circles, but all these  circles and henges are understood to be linked together somehow. It is estimated that around 1300 stone circles exist in Britain. Many of them are dotted in and around Yorkshire. Some chappy estimates there are some 31 in the county of Wiltshire.

They missed one. Ours. Well, not ours, but I’m claiming it. It has a name and apparently it is now protected. Only 5 stones remain and they are fairly flat to the ground. It’s now known as The Coate Stone Circle. I didn’t name it (Googled it later). I just found it again when it had become lost. Out of sight, hidden from the masses and all but forgotten. Sit down and let me tell you a tale.

So, here we were, visiting our friends in Swindon…or just outside. They live in a very new housing development. As I said, bare fields lay across the street. We visited there once before, heard tell of said stone circle and carried on with the visit with the promise we would go to see it sometime. But this time, I said, ‘let’s go see this stone circle. I’m feeling quite nostalgic and stuff’. So, we put on our shoes and off we went.

It’s all so new that we had to gingerly walk across a patch of freshly laid and evened out soil over the road that led to the fields. They hadn’t even put down the sod yet. Our footprints were left all over the neatly groomed surface. Couldn’t be avoided. Our quest had to be fulfilled at any cost….or nearly any cost. We didn’t even know what to look for or where to find it. I guess that’s why it’s a quest.

We made it to the fields, the intrepid 4. A path lay before us. You needed a path because the grass and other weeds had grown as high as my waist in some places. And we were supposed to find a stone circle in this. Not a marker anywhere to be seen. No sign board with historical data….nothing. Very disappointing. But we were determined to find the stone circle if it took all day (it was 4pm and we had a dinner reservation for 5:30, so not that determined).

We waded through deep grass, sweeping aside huge swaths of the stuff to find some sign that the stone circle did, in fact, exist. Over this way, back that, crisscrossing the large field until, BINGO! there it was. A large rock, gnarled and worn. One of us stood on it while the others went searching for other stones. We found 2 more, smaller stones, buried deep in the grass. Progress. I stood on this one while our intrepid friend went wading off looking for more. So far, all we had was an arch of 3 stones.

Eureka! He found 2 in a row pointing west to where the summer solstice sun sets. That was our conclusion. 5 stones, which I was later to discover is the exact amount found by those experts who rate these places as the real stone circle deal or just another bunch of rocks in a farmer’s field. Were there other stones here? Probably. We may never know. What went on here? Like with the other stone circles and henges we may never know.  We have some good guesses (like ours), but no certainty. A mystery.

There shall probably never be a crowd of tourists in this field as at Stonehenge or Avebury or the like. But we intrepid 4 marked the place and wondered back through the ages as we stood on Coate Stone Circle what kind of folk stood here and what they were doing. And, I hear tell, a group gathers here at summer solstice to dance naked around the stones. They’ll have to cut the grass first….then I’m in.