Saturday, 27 February 2010


Daily, the fishermen go out to see what they can catch. Almost daily.

Daily, mail is collected from letter boxes around the country. Some have been collecting our mail daily for many years: the one on the right from before 1936, the one on the left from before 1901. Almost daily.

Daily the ferries leave Dover to take passengers back and forth across the English Channel.  Several times a day.

Finally something that happens daily, and once daily, without fail.

The rising of the sun....

And its setting.

I'll be crossing the Channel myself this weekend, though not by ferry.  I will visit you all as soon as I can.

If you'd like to join in the PhotoHunt, and find other other players, pay a visit to TNchick's site where you can find out more.

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Thursday, 25 February 2010

Floods in Paris

Rowing down the road

One hundred years and one month ago saw record floods in Paris.  Between 20 and 28 January 1910, the levels of water measured at the Austerlitz Bridge were at record levels, reaching almost 8 metres (over 26 feet) above normal.  Previously there had been floods in 1658 and 1740, both measured at the Tournelle Bridge which was damaged in 1910.

It was caused by a combination of factors:
  • an exceptionally wet final quarter of 1909 (two minor floods had already been recorded),
  • saturated land, then frozen
  • simultaneous flooding of the Seine tributaries.

It wasn't merely a case of 20,000 houses and buildings being flooded, but normal activities were paralysed, electricity and gas supplies were cut, transport severely disrupted, rubbish had to be dumped into the river.

Shovelling up the rubbish
They estimate the damage would be 1.6 billion Euros in modern terms.  It wasn't until 16 March that the river receded to its normal levels.

This could very easily happen again because the whole region around Paris is at the heart of the heart of three major river confluences - Seine/Yonne, Seine/Marne and Seine/Oise.  Since the 6th century there have been 60 major floods.  Although there have been none in the last 50 years, apart from 1982, there were 10 between 1910 and 1960.  By the law of averages, one is due.

The postcard images are from the Postaletrice Flickr account where there are many more.
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Saturday, 20 February 2010


I struggled a little with this one.  The cat was too obvious, not to mention uncooperative, so my thoughts turned in other directions.

These cherubs holding up the basin of a fountain in the Allée d'Eau at Versailles look cuddly enough in shape, but not in feel.

Again in Versailles, this statue of a man (or is he a god) with a baby ought to be cuddly, but he doesn't look as though he's used to cuddling a baby.  He looks decidedly ill at ease.

But then I remembered Fontainebleau (or Versailles-without-the-crowds) where I saw this amazing collection of cuddly toys.

They weren't just a heap of cuddly toys, but a seat, one of a display of modern and mass-produced furniture that could also be considered art.

My first reaction was, "How wonderful", but then I started to think about what it was for.  The toys are hardly the conventional cuddly types apart from the teddy bear which appears to be half-buried by the rest, so was it really intended as a child's seat?  With sharks and crocodiles and what may be a python? 

I haven't examined the photos carefully yet.  How many animals are there?

If you'd like to join in the PhotoHunt, and find other other players, pay a visit to TNchick's site where you can find out more.
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From Flickr
My friend and I, we weave conversations with our words.  The result is irregular fabric to be sure, irregular but beguiling in its disorderliness, its lack of conventional shape.

The threads we use are varied.  Some are gossamer soft, insubstantial but fine and subtly pleasing.  Others are more robust, giving substance, holding patterns, holding the whole together.

Here and there we find yarns that are vibrant and colourful, even zany, others that are soft and warm.
From Flickr

An occasional glitter, a glint of something metallic that could chafe or irritate if not softened by the surrounding fabric.

We weave conversations with our words, my friend and I.  We weave our lives together for a time.

Yarns, a long, continuous, length of interwoven fibres.  Conversations, long continuous lengths of interwoven words.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Senegal: Total End of Female Genital Cutting Now in Sight

If any of you have read Papillon's story, you will know she is of Senegalese descent and that this post means that in the furture there is every chance that no other will have to go through what she had to endure.

Last night I received the following email from Tostan, which I reproduce in full.

 Government of Senegal launches major national action plan to seize on momentum created by local communities and the NGO Tostan to end the practice by 2015

DAKAR, Senegal, 18 February 2010—Building on a massive grassroots movement for the abandonment of female genital cutting (FGC) which has seen thousands of communities in Senegal join its ranks in recent years, the Government of Senegal will announce tomorrow the launch of a comprehensive strategy for achieving its goal of nationwide abandonment of FGC by 2015.

The strategy, to be announced at an event attended by Senegalese Prime Minister Souleymane Ndéné Ndiaye, is largely based on the human rights approach developed by Tostan, an NGO working in Senegal since 1991. Through Tostan's respectful, cross-cutting model of engaging communities, over 4,200 communities in Senegal have publicly declared their abandonment of the practice since 1997. A recent UNICEF study confirmed the long-term abandonment of FGC in communities that participated in the Tostan program.

The National Action Plan for FGC Abandonment 2010-2015 will focus on three key components of the Tostan strategy: implementing empowering education programs in national languages, engaging extended social networks through an "organized diffusion" model of communication, and supporting public declarations for the abandonment of FGC.

The Action Plan also stresses the importance of working with populations in the regions where FGC is most commonly practiced, Saint Louis, Matam, Kaolack, Tambacounda, Ziguinchor, and Kolda─regions which are among the poorest of Senegal.  

The launch event will recognize the local community leaders who have led this movement from infancy to its current tipping point. Special recognition will be given to the first community to publicly declare abandonment of FGC in 1997, Malicounda Bambara. The Tostan organization and staff will also be recognized for their dedicated work on this and other development issues over the past 19 years. Khaldiou Sy, Director of Tostan Senegal, will speak at the event. 

The launch event comes just days before a massive public declaration of all 256 communities of the Kedougou Region of Senegal, where, on Sunday, February 21, participating communities will declare an end to the practices of FGC and child/forced marriage on a regional level, marking one of the largest such events to-date. The event will be attended by the Minister of Women and the Country Representative of UNICEF in Senegal.

 # # #

About Tostan: Tostan, a US 501c3 organization that was founded in 1991, currently has over 1,000 full-time staff and community facilitators, and is working in over 800 communities in eight countries in Africa. Over 99% of Tostan’s staff is African. The organization’s US office is based in Washington, D.C.  Tostan has been the recipient of several awards including the 2007 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, the UNESCO King Sejong Prize for Literacy, and Sweden’s 2005 Anna Lindh Award for Human Rights. For more information, please visit
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Sunday, 14 February 2010

No roses with my valentines, thank you.

 Why so many flowers on Valentine cards?  Has nobody else ever thought it odd that in the middle of February, an interminably cold month, cards are covered in spring flowers at best, and often summer flowers.

Don't tell me that February produces spring or summer flowers elsewhere in the world because the first mention of Valentine's Day was in 1415 by the Duke of Orléans, while imprisoned in the Tower of London.
"Je suis desja d'amour tanné
Ma tres doulce Valentinée…"
This is often quoted as the first Valentine but in reality he wrote poetry with several references to Saint Valentine, generally contrasting the sunshine and the mating of birds with his own sorry state in prison.  Now, in the 15th century Europe, you can be sure they weren't importing flowers from warmer countries.  You can also be sure that there was little warm sunshine over the Tower of London, nor mating birds in mid-February.

Going back a little further I find that Chaucer wrote

"For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make."
This was an entirely fictional account of a make-believe tradition, and was written to mark the anniversary of the engagement of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia.  Chaucer wrote a love poem every May.  May!  We may be getting somewhere!  There is a Saint Valentine, a Bishop of Genoa from about 295 whose memorial day is 2 May.   Confusion reigns, and it was assumed in hindsight that Chaucer was referring to 14 February because there were two different martyrs called Valentine and whose commemorative feasts were 14 February.

The more modern tradition of sending greetings on 14 February became popular in 1797 with the publication of "The Young Man's Valentine Writer" but it wasn't until postal services became widely available to all that it really took off.  

So there we have it, flowers and birds became associated with Valentine's Day under false pretences.  You can be sure that florists have never done anything to dispel the notion, and of course card manufacturers and producers of chocolates have since joined the bandwagon, until for many people Valentines and Valentine's Day gifts are general greetings rather than declarations of love.
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Saturday, 13 February 2010

Morning has broken

All these pictures were taken from the same window during January 2009.

7 January at 8:56 am.

15 January at 9:20 am.

16 January at 8:16 am.

Finally 26 January at 8:56 am.

If you'd like to join in the PhotoHunt, and find other other players, pay a visit to TNchick's site where you can find out more.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

The Goodwin Sands

Deal Pier today (Goodwin Sands beyond and to the right)

The Goodwin Sands lie about six miles off the shoreline of Kent and stretch for roughly 10 miles along the English Channel from Kingsdown to Pegwell Bay.  It's all a little approximate because the size and position vary to some extent with the sea's action.  This is the narrowest part of one of the busiest shipping channels in the world so it's not surprising that there are three lightships marking the area, to the north, south and east.

Map of shipwrecks, Deal Pier

The Sands are almost always described as treacherous.  If you look that up you'll be told it means "marked by hidden dangers, hazards or perils" as well as "unstable and insecure".  These words describe the area so well.  Unstable and insecure because the sands constantly move and shift.  The hidden dangers and hazards are all too evident if you look at the map above showing the shipwrecks - there are thousands, so many that it's almost impossible to read the map.  And the wrecks constitute something of a danger themselves.  Until recently two have been visible even at high tide.  Both were American cargo ships, both lost in 1946.

The Luray Victory ran aground at full speed in January during a gale.  The abrupt stop immobilised the engine, and even at high tide next day, it was impossible to refloat her.  After she broke up, the hull lodged on the chalk bed beneath the sands and can be seen to this day.  The North Eastern Victory ran into the Goodwins in fog on Christmas Eve.  All the crew were rescued by the Walmer Lifeboat, but the wreck remained as a warning until the masts one by one succumbed to the weather, finally disappearing completely sometime in January 1995. 

When the tide is low the sands appear above water level, such that you can actually walk on them.  There has been a tradition of playing an annual cricket match there until relatively recently, but it was only too easy to be caught by rising tides as a BBC team found out when attempting a reconstruction.

Book cover "Heroes of the Goodwin Sands"

But in spite of the treachery of the Sands, Deal has benefited from having some protection from the power of the sea.  At one time it was a very busy port because of the shelter provided to the west of the Sands.  The local boatsmen, as many as 1000 men, used to help ships in distress, or pilot any leaving or entering the Downs.  There was, it's said, a certain amount of smuggling too, and Deal was of the centres of Free-trade.  That example of free enterprise resulted in the burning of the boats used, on the orders of William Pitt the Younger.

The Goodwins, I think they call the place; a very dangerous flat, and fatal, where the carcasses of many a tall ship lie buried, as they say, if my gossip Report be an honest woman of her word. 
Shakespeare ~ The Merchant of Venice.
The latest wreck on the Goodwin Sands.
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Monday, 8 February 2010


I take my turn manning the till in the charity shop where I work.  Standing behind the counter gives plenty of time for reflection and for observing.  I've noticed the different ways people come into the shop.  Some will say a cheery "hello" or "good morning", others will smile and look away, while some never glance in my direction at all.  The difference of approach interests me.

Contrast that with France where a customer would almost without fail greet the shop assistant, and very likely all the other customers in the shop too.  A murmured "Bonjour messieurs-dames" as they come in the door is normally all it amounts to, especially if there are several people around.  Even in a restaurant, customers will greet the assembled company, but probably not in Paris.

I think it could be a matter of public versus private space.  If you're walking down a high street, you don't think to greet everyone unless they happen to be someone you know.  If you're walking your dog in a woods, though, and come across another person, I can't imagine you wouldn't greet them.  But then there is the intermediate zone.  Walking along the sea front yesterday, some greeted, some didn't.

I find the whole thing intriguing, part cultural, part psychological.   Who greets, where and and when?

Oh, and PS, in case it isn't  immediately obvious, I'm talking from the UK.  England, south-east corner, to be precise.

Saturday, 6 February 2010


This sign appears all over Monaco, on average every 500 metres.  It seems the average age in the principality must be higher than the average elsewhere.  I'm wondering if too many people took up the challenge when they say the average person can walk across Monaco in less than an hour.

On an average day, I see several groups of gulls lined up on the beach.   This particular group was determined to keep the average number of gulls steady at eight.  As one took off, another arrived.

If you'd like to join in and find other other players, pay a visit to TNchick's site where you can find out more.


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