Saturday, 30 January 2016

Cards with friends

I've mentioned before that I like playing cards very much. But in fact my heyday for playing was the later 1960s and early 1970s. That said, I often played Cribbage and Piquet with Dad throughout subsequent decades until he died in 2009. After that, though, card-playing was a rare treat indeed, confined to a few games of Euchre once or twice a year with friends from Guernsey.

I did install on my tablet and phone the best games of Cribbage, PiquetÉcarté and Klondike Solitaire that I could find for purchase and download; but missing was the human element. There's no substitute for playing cards in good company. The warmth of social bonding is so important.

But yesterday afternoon, with the rain lashing down outside, four of us got round a tablet in my next-door neighbour Jackie's house to play Rummy, and then Black Maria. Lunch was over - it had been an après-pilates event with Jackie hosting, and Jo, Valerie, Sue and myself as her guests. I'd felt much on the mend after a cold, but hadn't had the energy to make it to the pilates class. I was however up for a cooked lunch (with wine) next door. I'd been unwell and had seen nobody for a week. I was eager to see my girl friends again.

Valerie and Sue had mid-afternoon commitments, and left after a couple of hours. But we needed some custard for the remaining half of the big mince pie, and Jo asked her husband Clive to bring some over. He stayed. Playing a game or two of cards was my suggestion. Everyone thought it a good idea.

So we launched into Rummy.

Now I have to confess at once that I hadn't played any form of Rummy for donkeys years. We had generally played only trick-playing games in our family, such as Whist (which Mum could play). Dad and Uncle Wilf had shown me how to play Solo Whist when I was young, and games like German Whist too. All these involved a standard pack of cards and the winning of tricks. Games in which one tried to make sets and sequences were confined to Piquet and Cribbage. The only game like Rummy I'd tried was two-handed Canasta with my brother Wayne, long ago when we were both teenagers.

Wayne and I were both then fascinated by cards, and we both loved to invent card games, the stranger the better.

Wayne invented (but did not perfect) a card game called Joker, in which every card could potentially be a wild card, any or all of them at the same time, and there was no limit to the number of cards one could play to a trick in order to win it. For some reason, the constant use of an authentic, sophisticated French casino accent was part of the game. So whenever a wild card was played, the person doing so had to say 'Le Jokeur' in his or her best French voice, or forfeit ten points. It was then incumbent on the other player to beat this with a better card, whatever might at that moment qualify as a higher wild card (Wayne's schoolboy rules on that were encyclopaedic), saying at the same time the obligatory 'Mais non, cette carte ci est le Jokeur!!' or else forfeit ten points. Which all sounds full of potential, but Wayne couldn't quite work out how to decide - quickly - which card would ever actually win the trick being played for. The card-ranking rules got so convoluted, so obtuse, so arcane, so very difficult to remember, that all fun was removed from the game, rendering it utterly tedious to play.

Nevertheless, one day I must try to revive and refine Joker into a game worth playing - in Wayne's honour and memory, you understand. Maybe I will try it out on my friends. You have been warned.

Back to our game of Rummy. It was the most straightforward version - dealing out seven cards each, turning up the top card of the stock pile, and each player in turn taking the turned-up card and discarding, or drawing a card unseen from the stock pile and discarding, or (once a set or sequence had already been placed down on the table in front of them) taking up as many cards from the discard pile as possible, placing at least one more set or sequence on the table, and then discarding. All done with the aim of combining all the cards in one's hand (apart from the one finally discarded) into sets and sequences, and scoring for them. Anyone caught with cards still in their hand when the deal was over would have their value counted against them, deducting that from the count for whatever they had managed to put down on the table. It was easily possible to end a deal with a reduced (or even minus) running score.

I got a grip on all this only slowly. But after a while I did rather well. Beginner's luck, of course! These were the cumulative scores after each deal:

Rummy at Jackie’s on 29th January 2016
Jackie Jo Lucy Clive
-10 60 35 70
5 85 65 150
65 90 120 185
90 75 170 170
45 110 205 210
10 260 265 240
55 270 325 330
45 210 360 320
55 260 395 255
105 265 350 425
115 290 430 430

I swore that I wasn't competitive, and careless as to whether I won or lost. But beginner's luck was strong on this occasion! Clive is a very good card player, by the way.

Then we turned to Black Maria. Just a few games of this before we ran out of time. I remembered Black Maria well from the 1970s. This is the game where you try to avoid taking a trick containing a 'penalty card', any of which score against you. The object is to come out with the lowest score after a series of deals. Each heart 'won' in a trick will set you back one point. But the ace of spades will set you back seven points, the king of spades ten points, and the queen of spades (Black Maria herself) a full thirteen points. Each player starts off with thirteen cards, but passes three to the player on their right before looking at what is passed to them. The object of this is to void a suit, or to land the receiver with an unwelcome little gift. Then play proceeds, with no trump suit, each player doing their best not to get hearts or any top spade dumped on them. Obviously there is plenty scope for discarding a penalty card onto another player, done with glee or sincere regret as the case may be.

We had time for three deals, and these were the cumulative scores at the end of each one:

Black Maria at Jackie’s on 29th January 2016
Jackie Jo Lucy Clive
17 14 3 9
34 17 6 29
34 60 6 29

As you can see, Jo got lumbered with all of the penalty cards on the third deal! Poor woman! That smug Lucy won, by coming out with the lowest score, and by some margin. She couldn't plead it was 'beginner's luck' this time. No doubt the others will inflict a hideous revenge on her at a later late! 

Great fun though. I do hope we can convene for cards again soon.

Google Chrome withdraws support for Windows Vista

Oh dear! The death knell is sounding louder for Windows Vista!

Its demise has of course been likely for some time. It's a wonder that it wasn't killed off long ago. But then, Microsoft has always made switching to a more modern version of Windows awkward, or expensive, or both. Awkward, in the sense that upgrading the OS on the same machine generally doesn't go smoothly. Expensive, in that the easiest upgrade solution involves purchasing new hardware with the new OS already installed - and very often new software that will work with it. This makes everyone reluctant to upgrade unless they are forced to. Myself included. I was an early adopter of Windows Vista, in May 2007, and although I fully acknowledge its shortcomings, which irritate me greatly, it has nevertheless served me quite well for nine years and I have never seriously thought of upgrading. Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 therefore passed me by. I looked at them, but thought it too much trouble, and too much expense, to get excited and upgrade. Even the latest version of Windows, Windows 10, doesn't offer me anything compelling, compared to Good Old Vista.

Meanwhile (finding Apple's attitude to consumers uncongenial) I have embraced Android for my mobile devices. I love many of the slick things you can do with touchscreen mobile phones and tablets. They are much better for pursuing a social and leisure life than a PC ever was. But then a PC is (and remains) a workhorse device for doing things in bulk. It's for work, whether that's literally in the business office, or in connection with a serious creative activity such as photography or writing. And the experience needs to be direct and gimmick-free. Speed and capacity matter most, with an interface best suited to sitting at a desk or table. Microsoft's past insistence on a single unified OS that could fit all kinds of device, desktop and handheld, was a mistake that complicated their OS - stopping people upgrading and losing them sales.

I think the truth is that Microsoft got the essential functionality of Windows right with Windows XP, and ever since then has been chasing around - unsuccessfully - for some elusive extra ingredient that will truly take its OS to a much higher level. But they haven't gone in the right direction for a desktop machine, and, so far as I can judge, still haven't regained the Holy Grail of a superbly capable interface combined with simplicity of use. I really don't look forward to stepping forward from Windows Vista.

But now it looks as if I shall have to do it during 2016.

For if Google is dropping Chrome support for Vista, surely Gmail will soon follow? And then all the other products in the Google stable? And F-Secure, my trusty anti-virus and malware program? I don't want to be without them.

Hmm. I think I will have to buy another desktop machine sooner than I thought! How unwelcome, because (a) I'm not at the moment well-placed to fund a high-spec hardware replacement; and (b) I'd doubtless have to replace Microsoft Office and several photo-editing programs - an expensive exercise, and possibly an unwelcome one in itself, as I don't want programs that might well be subscription-only in their 'pro' versions.

All this is just saying that I see the crunch coming, a bit sooner than I'd wish for, and - to conserve funds - I may have to radically change my approach to computer equipment. I'll have to give all this some deep thought.

New glasses

I last had an eye test and new specs in October 2013. It was time for another test, and I knew that this would mean a new prescription, and very probably new varifocal lenses.

I was right. Both eyes had become a bit more long-sighted. Thankfully, the trend for my left eye to 'catch up' with my right (the left eye had been markedly short-sighted thirty years ago) had continued. Well! A couple more years of this, and I'll be able to use binoculars again without provoking a headache.

But longsightedness means that without glasses, everything close by is very indistinct - meaning out of focus. Reading is impossible unless I have my glasses on. Which means that I wear them all the time except when sleeping. They are part of my face, part of my personality - and are not at all an optional accessory, to be worn or left off at a whim. I therefore go for functional, robust, almost utilitarian specs that look fine and appropriate in any situation. That basically means thin unfussy metal frames, and not heavily-styled designer frames that make a fashion statement.

This time I couldn't have my existing frames again (which were in the style that Specsavers called 'Krissy') because they were no longer available. If I wanted to stay with simple gold metal frames, I'd have to go for their nearest current equivalent (called 'Raquel'). These were only slightly different, and certainly the helpful and interested girls at Specsavers decided that the 'Raquel' frames suited me the best of the three possible choices that I considered. Good enough. I paid my £243, and I went back to collect them two days ago, once my coughs and sneezes had subsided (I'd been suffering with a New Year cold for several days).

The 'Raquel' frames, though still oval, were a little larger than the 'Krissy' frames. This meant that I'd enjoy better peripheral vision. They were also less inclined to slip down my nose. The combined effect was to reveal more of my eyes. See what you think. Here I am, looking a bit windswept, wearing the new 'Raquel' frames outside Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, within minutes of leaving Specsavers:


And here's myself wearing the old 'Krissy' frames a month ago in an Italian restaurant in Rochester:


I do prefer people seeing more of my eyes, not less. We communicate so much with our eyes, and it's not good to have them obscured. That's one reason I don't often wear sunglasses. I don't want to hide. I want to be open and on display. It's a form of honesty. All too often the top edge of the 'Krissy' frames used to slide down almost to the level of my pupils, compromising that open look, so that I was frequently having to push then up again. Now, with my new 'Raquel' frames, I can be confident that my eyes will be much easier to see.

One of the choices I considered this time was 'Alice'. They were in fact my initial choice back in October 2013, and here I am at home at that time, trying to decide whether I really liked them:


From the front, yes, they were all right; and they were comfortable; but they had fussy decoration on the nose bridge and side-arms that irritated me, and I wasn't sure whether the overall effect was quite what I wanted. Fortunately Specsavers let me change to the 'Krissy' frames, which were plainer but (I felt) suited my face better.

So far I haven't had any 'buyer regret' with the 'Raquel' frames, and I feel I will stick with them. They were only £45, which isn't much when you look at what opticians charge for 'designer' frames. I'm afraid those mostly suit young faces, or at least long thin faces! They don't look so nice on round, pudgy faces. I'm content. It saves me money, and sidelines worrying about what looks sharp and trendy.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Jeremy Clarkson mocks transgender people

A friend emailed me with a photo of Jeremy Clarkson's article in today's Sunday Times. This is it:


If you click on this, you can make out the text. It's Clarkson sounding off about various transgender items in the news. But he has gone too far. And this is something in print, not an offhand comment made in haste or when tired, that might be laughed off. It is crass.

Did he nevertheless think it would strike a common chord with The Broad Mass Of Sensible British People - Sunday Times readers to boot - to be read with a sage nod of the head, and treated as a fair review of what personally peeves him - and his readers - about the Transgender World? A review that might indeed be regarded by them as eye-rollingly humorous, if it were not all so very sad? Who can say. It's still a crass article.

I emailed my friend back in these terms.

That's outrageous, and I am surprised it was thought fit to publish. Clarkson's article must surely contravene every official standard to do with sensitive subjects that the press agreed to adhere to. So much for self-regulation.

Clarkson has been in 'provocative mode' for a long time. In so far as he scorns silliness in outmoded social attitudes, or the stupidities of officialdom, or is witty about (say) caravanners, I have smiled and let him have his say. I respect his thinking on what cars are worth driving, and indeed his driving skills. But his schoolboy banter and practical jokes are harder to digest, and I've often thought he pathologically wants to hurt and spoil, and is basically a man looking for a confrontation, with many of the characteristics of a bully. I thought at first the BBC had over-reacted when they fired him last year, but now I think they may have acted for the best. He had brought them into disrepute.

And this article is yet another sign that he has become a loose cannon. It's almost too bad to be true. He trots out nearly every cliché about trans people that papers have ever published. He doesn't actually call MTF persons rapists, but he implies that those in men's prisons have spotted a dodge worth exploiting. It doesn't 'balance' the piece to reveal he cynically pretended religious zeal in order to get more time with his girlfriend.

The cut at the parents of the eight year old is the unkindest. It's almost unbelievably cruel and heartless. I won't be forgiving him. That's it. He's said too much too clearly and too publicly. I'd hate to be associated with him now.

I dare say some neanderthal men will agree with him, but not all men will by any means, and certainly not men who care and can think for themselves. I'd like to think that some male champion of knowledge and fairness will slap him across the face and challenge him to a duel. A pity that would be against the law. I hope in any event that the women of the world will cry out against him and his very unfunny words, and force The Times and indeed Amazon to drop him like a hot potato.

To his face, if I bumped into him, I would tell Mr Clarkson that his article was stupid and offensive, and reveals that he is not up to speed on what 'being trans' is all about.

It's a shame that a trained journalist and media presenter with a brain, considerable influence, and a big following, can't get his head around the subject and start re-educating all those people who might listen to him.

Trees, Frankie's Fish & Chips and a walk to the northernmost tip


That's Shetland. Just to prove there are trees up there. It's not just Lerwick on a dull, wet day:


The trees straddle the B9075 in Weisdale, a valley in the middle of the Shetland Mainland. You can't see the sea (highly unusual that) and there is more than one small wood there (very rare in that open landscape). Here's some more of Weisdale.


Now that's worth finding on Google Street View. I know where to go if I yearn to see trees on my Shetland Holiday.

And when will that be? Ah...it was going to be 2017, but the need to repay a £5,000 bank loan has got in the way. If I'm sensible, it'll not be before 2019.

But of course, I make no great claims to be sensible! I don't think I can wait that long. And that's not being silly. I will be sixty-seven in 2019, and although no doubt fit enough and energetic enough to undertake towing the caravan to the northernmost part of the Brtitish Isles, all the way from Sunny Sussex in the far south, it will be a bit easier on my old bones if I do the journey there and back sooner. Things like having a whole new decor throughout the house, and a new kitchen especially, can wait. So can upgrading my phone and my computer equipment. I think it may be 2017 after all, or late spring in 2018 at the latest.

How long should one wait for a long-standing wish to come true? I have before me an Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 map with a green cover, from their long-superseded Pathfinder series. It's number 17, covering the Lerwick area. I bought it when living in London, from Stanford's in Long Acre near Covent Garden. As long ago as 24 March 1987. And I know that my dream of visiting Shetland wasn't new even then. So I've waited about at least thirty years already, to go up there and see it for myself.

For a long while I waited without hope. The people in my life expressed zero interest. They had a good argument. For similar money, one could go to the warm and sunny south of France, or to Italy. Or fly far away on a package holiday. Why go to windy and often-wet Shetland? But I clung to what I really wanted to do, biding my time. With the growing feeling that there is no satisfaction in compromises, whether it's about holidays or something much more important. Compromise may oil two rough surfaces, so that they can slide against each other well enough, but denying important wishes leads only to frustration and possibly resentment.

To speak up for myself, I never pouted for being denied Shetland - and not just Shetland, but other places too - but I couldn't help feeling somewhat thwarted.

Well, there's nobody to stand in my way now. My financial circumstances are the only real hindrance. Even so, all I need to do is consider my spending options carefully, and choose between them, knowing that one choice must postpone another. That's not so hard. Visiting Shetland has much more appeal than painting my house.

I have certainly tried to be patient. And I thought I'd put those northern isles nicely on the back-burner, when the BBC socked it to me with another series of Shetland on BBC1. It has revived the urgent need to go there, like a half-healed wound split open. I'd watched the 2013 pilot, then the 2014 series, and now I'm watching the 2016 series - six episodes, clearly one big story pursued in depth, two episodes down and four to go. I like the characters - here are the main ones, viewing a body in a quayside warehouse -


- and I like the background music (all that fiddling). But most of all I like the location shots. And that gives a strong clue about what I shall go there for. Its for the sky, the landscape, the seascape, and the untidy towns and communities. To get a handle on the Shetland way of life. And to come away with an awful lot of inspired photographs. I'm not especially interested in the birds and the ponies, engaging though they may be. I will certainly want to buy some jewellery. And, setting the photography aside, I would like to make some friends there. I want heartwarming, human reasons to return.

I'd kept a centre-page spread from Radio Times in March 2014:


On the right-hand edge of this, were listed 'five island delights'. The first was 'visit Scalloway', the second-largest town in Shetland, and its one-time capital, although really it's not much larger than a big village. It seems very pleasant. There's a reference to Frankie's, with the comment that it's 'one of the best fish and chip shops in Scotland'. It may be that, but I'd 'been' to Scalloway via Google Maps and Google Street View, and I couldn't recall seeing Frankie's there. I fancied it was at Brae, much further north on the Shetland Mainland. And I was right. Here it is at Brae on Google Street View:


This is no ordinary eatery. Look at their website: http://www.frankiesfishandchips.com/. Look at the TripAdvisor page: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g7255248-d2662905-Reviews-Frankie_s_Fish_and_Chip_Cafe_and_Takeaway-Brae_Mainland_Shetland_Islands_Scotlan.html. I can see myself going there more than once in my forays to the northern half of Shetland! Brae grew from a small settlement to the quite large community it is now because of the nearby presence of the Sullum Voe oil storage facility, at one time the largest in Europe (maybe it still is), serving fields in both the North Sea and the North Atlantic. There is also a gas turbine power station at Sullum Voe. All this means plenty of hungry men! But the development of facilities at Brae is also a boon to the ordinary Shetlander. Mind you, the place is nothing special to look at:


That's the much-mentioned leisure centre and swimming pool, paid for with oil money, which all the guide books like to mention. There's also a little marina tucked away, exactly like all the many others:


I noticed that some caravans were lined up at this marina. Construction workers or tourists? It was hard to tell from Google Street View. Well, I dare say that, if necessary, I could take my chances with having some tough, hard-drinking caravanning neighbours if I especially wanted to pitch here for a night. Because Brae is much closer to the ferries for Yell and Unst than the leisure centre at Lerwick is (otherwise my preferred place to pitch). And that would make my Muckle Flugga Adventure all the easier.

My goodness, that will be some day trip! The first leg is from wherever I'm pitched to the ferry terminal at Toft. Then the crossing to Yell, arriving at Ulsta. Then, a dash for the ferry terminal at Gutcher. There are two ways, the main one, the fast one, using the A road. The other, prettier, way is on a B road and it shows you the better side of Yell. For instance at Otterwick:


But, either way, one arrives at Gutcher and joins the other cars. Here's the place, in between ferries:


Hmm. Not somewhere I'd want to linger at, if the weather has turned cold and wet, and I've just missed a ferry and have to wait another hour! Let's hope the ferries keep to time, and are not too full. On Unst, the northernmost big island, one disembarks at Belmont and then heads north to whichever destination appeals. I won't be short on diesel, but if Fiona needs a drink I rather fancy that this fuel pump by the store at Baltasound will do the trick. For all I know it's the main 'filling station' on Unst!


By now I'll be up for some lunch. The obvious place to consider is the Saxa Vord Resort at Valgarth - see http://www.saxavord.com/ and http://www.saxavord.com/food-and-drink.php - which used to be the RAF camp for personnel working at the former Saxa Vord Radar station (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RAF_Saxa_Vord).


Apparently it can get VERY windy around here, the old radar station recording a wind speed of 197 mph before the measuring device was blown away. Hmmm! The RAF station was however built to withstand such breezes, and now functions as a holiday centre with comfortable facilities for visitors, a restaurant, a brewery and a chocolate factory among them.

Many tourists next head for Skaw, which is the furthest north you can go by car, although there isn't a proper car park there. You approach along a narrow road, to a farm that overlooks an attractive bay:


I dare say I'll cock an eye at it. But my personal main destination is Burra Firth, off to the west, where there is a proper car park above the old lighthouse shore station (now a Visitor Centre). That's where I'll park Fiona.


Here's the view south from the car park entrance...


...and now I'm panning into the car park...


At the top end of the car park is a gate, and past that a good track leading off towards Herma Ness:


With Alt-Berg walking boots on, and my rucksack on my back - full of spare clothing and various sustaining things to nibble and drink - I shall trek the two miles or so to the top of the hill that looks down on Herma Ness - and the offshore islands, chief of which is Muckle Flugga:


On top of Muckle Flugga is a lighthouse, the most northerly (and one of the most isolated) in the British Isles. It was built by the Stevenson brothers from 1854, becoming operational in 1858, and was automated in 1995 (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muckle_Flugga_Lighthouse). Anyway, I want to take some clear shots from Hermaness Hill before returning to Fiona and making my way 'home'. That'll constitute my 'Muckle Flugga Adventure'. It might all sound rather a lonely endeavour, but I anticipate that each day from April to September parties of people do the same trek for the same reason, and I'm unlikely to be on my own.

This is just one of a number of day trips I've got in mind - not to mention evening explorations in Lerwick, subject to the usual murders and mayhem that BBC1's Shetland series suggests is normal. Well, who cares if bodies litter the alleyways. Bring it all on, asap.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Shark repellent

I had to drive into Brighton today, and after a search to find a space, found one in William Street, by the Law Courts. But where were the meters? Uh-oh. They'd been taken away. It was exclusively 'parking by phone' now in this particular street. 

But that's OK, I thought. I'd already configured the PayByPhone app on my phone. This had needed the registration number of my car, and my credit card details. The app was set up, and ready to be used. I simply had to fire it up and follow the on-screen instructions! It would be the first time I'd paid for parking by phone.

And do you know, it worked. All I had to do was enter the five-digit location number for the row of parking spaces I was using, check that the location and registration number of my car (both automatically shown on screen) were both correct, enter the parking time needed (two hours, the maximum allowed), and then enter the security code for my credit card. An email showing what I'd bought followed almost instantly. It amounted to an on-screen electronic receipt that I could show to anyone interested. I also saw that for this 'convenient service' I'd been charged 10p by PayByPhone, so that my '£2.00' parking space actually cost me £2.10. But hey, what's 10p?

I was now free to walk away to the shops. But I wasn't quite easy. Because of course there was no paper ticket to display. Any Parking Officer that came along after I'd gone ought to be be thinking 'PaybyPhone only here - I'll check my handset to see whether the owner of this car is legally parked'. Well, some of these officers are joyous, pleasant people just doing an unpopular job as well as they possibly can. They'd be conscientious, and check thoroughly before assuming any parking offence. Exemplary citizens.

But others are vicious, predatory sharks with razor-sharp, blood-stained teeth, who see life through a red mist. Poor Fiona might attract the latter. Would they check? Or, triggered by the lack of any visible evidence of payment, just issue a Penalty Notice? Could they restrain their savage instincts? I felt they could not.

So I got out a pen, found a scrap of paper, and wrote 'I have paid by phone' on it, then left it on Fiona's dashboard. It didn't look very convincing, but it was something. A reasonable shark (who could read) might hesitate, might close his gaping maw, and do the right thing. I decided to chance it.

One hour and forty minutes later I returned, and with profound relief saw that no Penalty Notice had been affixed to either of my windscreen wipers. Phew. A literate and forbearing shark had come and gone without inflicting pain. Perhaps he'd made enough kills already that day, and was sated.

Back home, I considered this lack of a paper ticket further. It really did seem a good idea to create an eye-catching card that I could display prominently in Fiona's windscreen. So tonight I have made this:


It's in red, because that's the colour of gore, and a shark will naturally give it attention. It's for them. Ordinary, benign, sensible, calypso-loving Parking Officers will smile and regard it as superfluous.

Even this may not prevent an incorrectly-issued, knee-jerk, red-mist Penalty Notice that I will have to appeal against at some personal trouble. But what more can I do?

I hope the god that protects out-of-town parking persons is fully on the job.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

A winter sunset

Yesterday morning was bright and sunny, then it turned a bit dull, Even so, I decided to go out in Fiona, partly to give her a good run, partly with the intention of walking around a bit at whatever destination I fetched up at.

I made for Birling Gap, on the coast between Seaford and Eastbourne, but my route took me on a country road that passes near Alfriston, one of the South Downs valley villages of East Sussex. I immediately noticed all the flooding in the river valley - water covering huge expanses, and lit up beautifully by the setting sun. Alfriston has a prominent church, that sits on a mound on the river side of the village, and is popularly dubbed 'The Cathedral of the Downs', although it really is no such thing. It looked ethereal in the amber light:


Hmm. Completely waterlogged down there! I was wearing the black boots I'd bought at Fat Face last November, which hadn't seen a lot of wear hitherto, but were now coming into their own as proper winter weather at last descended on Sussex. Here they are, when new six weeks ago:


They still looked pretty much like that. Almost pristine, with no signs of wear. I was up on a high lane that looked down on the fields. I itched to get down into those fields to try different shots into the sun, and not just across the valley, but attempting to do that clearly wouldn't do these boots any good at all. They were much too nice to get mucky.

I did have my regular Alt-Berg walking boots with me, though they back where I'd left Fiona. And really these super-saturated fields needed proper wellies, like the Gumleaf ones I'd bought last August, which I had been successfully used for caravanning on wet grass but for nothing else so far:


Of course, I didn't have them with me!

Mind you, for all I knew the water was deeper than it looked, and therefore even with these knee-length wellies I'd be minded to hesitate. What would I do if I sunk in too much, had to struggle, slipped or overbalanced, and took a header into the morass? As well I might. Drive home naked, or at least clad only in my underwear? (I wasn't going to besmirch Fiona's seats with evil-smelling ooze from the field)

So I contented myself with the shots I could get from the lane. There wasn't much scope. I took pictures that might look 'interesting' when worked on back home. Alfriston as never seen before...


But these two, with recognisable trees in them, came out all right:


I drove on to Birling Gap on the coast. A half-decent sunset was rapidly developing. It was the obvious place to go next. Birling Gap is a little community badly threatened by sea erosion. It always has been, but in recent years the cliff face has been retreating inland at a rate of knots. Well, perhaps by a metre or two every year, anyway. Every time I visit, a few more inches seem to have disappeared. Yesterday it was like this:


That row of former coastguard cottages in the shot just above seems to shrink in length on a regular basis! As recently as 2013 the end of the row extended beyond the chimneys:


Now a bit more had had to be taken down for safety's sake, a room upstairs and a room downstairs both sacrificed as the foundations became dodgy:


There was once space at the seaward end of the row for stowing all kinds of fishing gear, as in this shot from 2008:


And the tenant had even been happy to store his boat against the face of the cliff, as in these shots from 2001 and 2002:


No longer! I understand that the 'end cottage' commands a low rent on a wasting lease. A few years ago the lady in occupation - she was an artist, I seem to recall - explained that it was worth living there even if she'd clearly have to abandon her home at some point, because the rent was so reasonable, and she had that wonderful sea view from her front bow window and her back garden. Well, yes, if you are able to sleep soundly through every winter storm! I don't think I'd be able to. The chalk cliffs here are very fractured and easily undermined by the waves. You can see the process at work on the high cliffs nearby:


They warn you to keep away from the cliff edge, because you may very well be standing on an unstable overhang that might go at any moment. The verticality and whiteness of these cliffs testifies to how many falls occur:


There are not just old cottages at Birling Gap. There's a National Trust Shop and Café (previously a hotel) which was once comfortably back from the cliff edge, as in this 2002 shot:


Oh dear, not in 2016...


The beach remains, and a staircase to reach it, that they have to dismantle and rebuild every few years. It's a great platform for viewing the many fine sunsets you get along the Sussex coast. More now of what I saw yesterday.


On the beach student girls frolicked and chatted while waiting to see the sun dip, and lovers snuggled up closely and hugged each other. I attempted contre-jour selfies.


I could see it wasn't worth waiting for the sun to sizzle and quench in the cold sea. A low bank of cloud was going to hide it. I left, retracing my route. I put my camera away. Then, on reaching Exceat, I saw this in the afterglow as I passed. Reflections in an oxbow of the Cuckmere River. Hurriedly parking, I ran back, drivers on the A259 kindly stopping, realising my haste, to let me cross the road and get my shot. They got my very best smile in return.


Now that's uncontrived natural beauty, no gimmicks, no false colour, caught inside a narrow and lucky window of opportunity. What I believe most photography is basically all about.