Wednesday 10 July 2024

Bloodthirsty geese

I go down to Chichester Harbour, about an hour's drive westward, at least once a month. I have some favourite destinations on this big expanse of tidal water, with its creeks and channels backed by breezy farmland. Places like Dell Quay and nearby Apuldram; Bosham and Chidham; West Wittering and East Head. And there's West Itchenor.

West Sussex is a posher and more moneyed place than East Sussex, and West Itchenor is one of those West Sussex villages that attracts well-heeled residents more than most. If you want to spend a lot of cash on a big house, especially if you own a boat, then this is most definitely a spot to consider. Not all the houses are the size of a mansion. Some are more modest. The oldest terraced houses in the street that leads down to the quay are normal-sized. But none of them is affordable to people on ordinary incomes. 

I am not envious. I'm happy in my modest home in Mid Sussex. I don't have to keep up an immaculate front. I can cut my own grass. My Council Tax is affordable. I am close to (and can see) the South Downs. Besides, all I have to do, to enjoy places like West Itchenor, is fire up my car and whizz down there. 

I did so a few days back. I wanted to have a good walk, and my local friends had got me an extra little birthday present, a recently-published book of Sussex walks. One of them featured the shore and farmland footpaths around West Itchenor. So having had a nice lunch in Chichester, I drove there, parked Sophie, grabbed my stick, and set forth with this little book in my Barbour jacket pocket. 

The first instruction was to turn into the Yacht Club entrance. I'd not done so on my two previous visits to the village because it looked strictly members-only, and I didn't want to trespass. But it was all right. The way I had to go ran down the side of the clubhouse, and I was surprised how easy it would be to stroll onto the decking and moorings on the Harbour side of the building, as if I were indeed a member. I doubted whether I'd be challenged.

The path then followed the shoreline for a bit, passing the massive posts of a super-stout fence that a resident had recently installed. It must have cost an awful lot.   

For now it was blue sky, fluffy clouds, and bright sunshine; but I was dressed for sudden showers. The path turned a corner, and began to head away from the Harbour between two very substantial properties. Meanwhile, there were serene views of moored boats and private jetties, with trees behind: typical Chichester Harbour scenery.

This was the first of those very substantial properties, the one on my left. It was a very large house, with a very wide rear lawn, and its own jetty, complete with a boat. Very impressive! The only thing it didn't have was privacy. Every footpath-user must peer at this property, and perhaps - like me - take a picture. 

The house on the right of the path had an even more extensive rear lawn, rather longer, so that the house was set back more. The grass was cut to a bowling green standard. I was surprised though that they made do with such a ramshackle fence.

The public path now joined a private road, and trusting the walk book not to lead me astray, I turned left, passing the front of that house with the boat moored at the bottom of its rear garden. It had a crescent-shaped drive, and therefore two entrances. How convenient - just drive in and out, and no need to mess about with reversing.

What a nice house! If you had the money to buy it (or build it) and a family to fill those many rooms, and a boat to moor, what better? 

But should I have been taking these admiring photos? Well, there seemed to be no attempt to hide the house behind gates, or a kink in the drive, or tall shrubbery. Presumably the owners were happy for their neighbours and passers by to see all this, and wouldn't kick up a fuss if a discreet picture or two were taken. As a legal matter, I could of course shoot what I liked, so long as I was standing on a public road and wasn't being an intrusive nuisance. This road was private, but it doubled as part of the New Lipchis Way, one of those official long-distance footpaths, that started in Liphook in Hampshire (where Mum and Dad lived in the 1980s) and ended in West Wittering. That presumably gave me certain viewing rights, so long as I behaved myself.

You'll note the Mercedes and BMW cars on the driveway: standard accessories associated with the well-off. I mean no irony. Of course you'd want a nice car if you owned a property of this calibre. And really the choice of suitable upmarket makes is not that large. What comes to mind? Mercedes and BMW, as here; Range Rover, Land Rover, Audi, Porsche. Volvo wouldn't be out of place, but the conventional list was quite short, and confined to one of the top German makes, with Range Rover as a safe and posh alternative if wanting to be very British. As to colour, something sober but classy: grey, black or silver. Nothing flash or loud, unless the car were a track-ready sports car.

Opposite this big house, an equally imposing residence was being constructed.

I'm assuming this imposing new build was going to be a family home, to justify the size. Even for a couple, a house as big as this would make no sense. Or perhaps it did. After all, the married couple might hate each other, and stayed together only because of the lifestyle they could jointly afford. Money takes the strain out of living, but doesn't necessarily buy happiness.

I couldn't see the point of my owning a large home, just for myself. The cost of upkeep would frighten me. And living in a rich person's colony, with its standards and social codes, had no appeal. 

I followed the road for a bit. More large residences. Although I was definitely out of my league, I found this fascinating. I wondered what lives the residents really led. Well, they all had similar types of car. Here, a BMW and a Land Rover Discovery:

Here, a Porsche and a Land Rover Defender:

Here, a Range Rover, with a RIB tucked away on the drive:

Concentrating on just the houses, these caught my eye:

And here was a new build, another very large house:

Goodness knows how much something like this might cost. Somewhere between three and four million pounds perhaps.

The walking route now left the private road and headed out over fields. I'm usually pretty good following directions, but somehow I took the wrong path and ended up walking further than intended. My right knee began to complain. Eventually I came back to the tip end of West Itchenor. Walking close to the church, I came across this warning notice:

No doubt about it. The geese hereabouts had fangs, and meant to kill. Look at the blood. Of course, geese are renowned as property guardians. If they don't like an intruder - basically meaning anybody at all - they begin to honk and create a dreadful racket. If that doesn't frighten off the intruder, they will then advance on the unfortunate person with necks extended, hissing, a mad glare in their eyes. Failure to withdraw will mean a full-on attack and a gory outcome. No, I wasn't going to mess with a gaggle of geese bent on murder. 

Soon after this point, still disconcerted by the prospect of death by a thousand goose bites, I took another wrong turning. This mistake took me well out my way. I had to retrace my steps, and by then I'd had enough walking for one afternoon. I decided that a refreshing gin and tonic was called for at the village pub, The Ship.

That went down a treat. Revived, I hit the road again in Sophie. It took just over an hour to get home.

I will have to return. I missed half the walk.

Thursday 4 July 2024


The deed is done. I was down at the local Polling Station at 6.53am, and found six people there before me. By the time they let us in to vote, the queue had grown to at least twenty people. We're keen voters in Mid Sussex!

The process has become more elaborate in recent times, in that as an extra step you are asked to produce photographic ID to prove it's you. Since this is one of the most important things a citizen can ever do, I think this is entirely appropriate, regardless of any genuine risk of impersonation. The old arrangements were surprisingly lax. 

I didn't hesitate long in the voting booth. I put my cross where I thought it should go and popped the folding voting paper in the box, then left. 

As I came out, the party agents, or at least their helpers, were assembling. I deftly dodged them and walked back to my house. 

It was a lovely sunny morning - certainly an encouragement to get out and vote. My village is not one full of apathetic people who feel indifferent to the electoral process. I should think the local turnout will be high throughout the day. It is, after all, Bungalow City, and stiff with oldies - and senior people will generally insist on having their say. 

Well, tonight we can all settle down at 11.00pm or so for an interesting night. The broad outcome is surely not in doubt, but I am anticipating plenty of upsets and surprises, perhaps even minor excitements. It's like watching a long Grand National race, sans horses and hurdles, just the jockeys in their colours, and of course the rider first past the winning post gets the prize. As in this scene I've composed with Microsoft CoPilot: 

I don't have a proper TV - I'll be viewing the event on my laptop screen, tethered via my phone to Moble Internet. Perfectly good enough; I have more than enough data for it. I'll probably stay up to 2.00pm or even 3.00pm. It's a family tradition anyway, to make a night of it; and even though the 'family' has long been reduced to just me, that's no reason to break with a decades-old tradition. Until 2009, Dad would have been watching with me. I shall imagine him there in spirit. 

I shan't be disappointed when Labour win, because a New Broom is urgently necessary. But I don't expect much from them. They will, thankfully, put some easily-fixed things right. I'm sure they will. But they can't cure some deeper problems in just one term. And I do fear an attempted left-wing turnover if their majority is too large, with unwelcome consequences. 

The Conservatives can make the regretful speeches of the defeated, and then go on holiday to recover. When they reassemble, I hope they will take a long hard look at where they went wrong - who needs to go, and who ought now to be given a chance to rebuild the party into something worth voting for. They need new faces, better brains, and much more heart. They have some very wayward people, and their bad behaviour has pulled the party down. That lesson must be learned. They had become uncaring in a host of ways.  

I don't think the LibDems will get their comeback. They have tried very hard indeed, but I for one haven't been impressed. 

I will watch the fate of Reform UK with some fascination. Plenty of people say they will vote for them, but I think their blunt and attention-grabbing programme is too limited in scope, and I can't see them addressing the myriad of minor but important concerns that always vex the voting population.

The Greens? They might do quite well. Green issues are becoming steadily more pressing. The hurricane presently devastating the Caribbean is yet another reminder that the world's weather has been upset and can only get worse. Personally, I think climate issues (and what to do about them) will swamp everything else within twenty years, and can't be ignored. 

There was a local Monster Raving Looney Party candidate. It crossed my mind to put my X against their name, as a bit of fun, but I thought better of it. General Elections are serious things, with very serious consequences. 

Monday 1 July 2024

Relentless pestering by the LibDems

In yesterday's post I had a go at the LibDems' irritating electioneering methods in Mid Sussex. I mentioned being bombarded by fliers pushed through my front door. Such as these, almost daily:

I was out today. When I came home there was a handwritten envelope awaiting me. Oh, what could this be? I didn't recognise the writing. I wondered if it could have something to do with my birthday in five days' time, although the envelope clearly didn't contain a birthday card. I carefully slit it open.

Uuuuuuuh. Another LibDem plea for my vote on the 4th July:

It seems to be a letter that the LibDem candidate has (very neatly) written in her own fair hand, to make her election pitch nice and personal. Then it has been mass-reproduced for distribution. I like her being a female candidate, and I like the sentiment expressed in the letter. I do understand that it has to be a facsimile, reproduced perhaps thousands of times for a small army of party helpers to push through front doors, mine included. I am impressed that the envelope was legibly handwritten, though not of course by the candidate. 

Were this the only personal approach, I would rather warm to this lady. But as it is, coming after a positive welter of pamphlets and fliers, it feels like yet another unwelcome communication. This time, trying something different to secure my X in the right place on the ballot paper. 

I have a notion that I am one of those who are being targeted for their vote, and that quite possibly a LibDem activist - or even the candidate herself - may press my front door bell sometime in the next three days, no doubt at a thoroughly inconvenient moment. 

And if I delay voting on the 4th July, someone from the LibDems may chase me up, and offer me a lift to the polling station in case old-age infirmity is keeping me away. As the LibDem candidate believes it will be a close-run race in Mid Sussex, this is a real possibility. 

I will therefore be queueing up to vote super-early, when the polling station opens at 7.00am, and hopefully be in and out before the LibDem party agent turns up to ask me who I am, and how I have voted. (I'm not telling) 

How glad I am that I don't use any kind of social media! I have little doubt that mass-messaging and mass-polling have been going on there. But I haven't escaped being phoned. Yesterday I mentioned three phone calls from a central London number that I ignored then finally responded to, only to hear a recorded message, to wit, that they were made on behalf of the LibDems, and that I'd be phoned again shortly. Greatly annoyed, I blocked that number. Would you believe it, they have since tried five times to get through to me - unsuccessfully, of course:

My Samsung phone thinks these are spam calls. Absolutely right. I expect further attempts to contact me, up to and including 4th July. Is it a bot, or a real person, trying to speak to me? I hate to think that some poor person on minimum wages and a gig contract has to spend their time phoning a long, long list of numbers, with a spiel or questionnaire ready if the target victim answers. 

The other parties have not, to their credit, pestered me like this. The Labour candidate has simply sent me three leaflets:

He looks like a reasonable guy. However, the centre leaflet describes him as a 'blur drummer'. What's that? A drummer who drums so fast that his hands and sticks are a blur? Or did he drum for Blur, that Britpop band of the 1990s? Let me consult Wikipedia...aha! He was indeed, and still is, the Blur drummer. Not that this is a recommendation. I'm noise-sensitive.

The Reform Party have sent me only one leaflet:

I can't complain about just one leaflet. Reform seem to be doing well hereabouts. I hear that the men of the village are all going to vote for them - or at least the men of the village who discuss the matter over a few pints down at the pub. I can't take Reform seriously. It's a one-person party (i.e. Nigel Farage) with a few headline policies that appeal to the xenophobic and bigoted. Their 'Let's make Britain Great' slogan is horribly reminiscent of Donald Trump's crowd-rousing 'Let's make America great again!'. National greatness - national pride - is so nineteenth-century. It's 2024, the world is heating up, and combined, united, supranational action is urgent. If countries don't stop vying to be top dog there will soon be nothing 'great' to aspire to.  

Who hasn't sent me any leaflets at all? The Conservative Party. The one that will deservedly be thrashed at this election, though I say that with sadness. But at least they have been decently quiet. 

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Sunday 30 June 2024

The General Election

It's been a thin month for posts. It's the usual thing: so many photos taken on the mid-month holiday to Somerset and Dorset (it sounds like an old railway line!) that editing them - a task not yet finished - has entirely crowded out blogging. And my next trip to Yorkshire and Lincolnshire is only sixteen days away, after my 72nd birthday celebrations. 

As much as I love my photography, I've missed composing blog posts on things that draw my attention. So here's one that I'm squeezing in before June is done with. 

It's about the obvious subject - the General Election in a few days' time. 

Readers will scarcely be surprised that I remain supportive of the Conservatives, even though they most definitely do not deserve it. But it's the party whose approach chimes best with my own general way of thinking. I don't mean that all their policies are good ones. Some of them are plainly wrong. But I'm comfortable with much of what the Conservatives stand for. Of course I'm not happy about the seemingly endless errors, missed chances, delays in putting things right, and scandalous revelations. It so reminds me of the last months of the Conservative government in 1997: a time of sleaze, and a 'couldn't-care-less' attitude that justly earned them a drubbing at the ballot box. Besides, Tony Blair was unstoppable at the time, and New Labour looked like a very attractive (and much-needed) New Broom. I actually voted Labour in 1997, though never before or since. 

The present incumbents seem less guilty than their predecessors in 1997; but clearly the current government is tired, and has run out of vision and great ideas. The country is calling time. Another New Broom seems appropriate and overdue. 

All this said, I intend to cast my vote in the Conservative direction. Why? To save the Labour Party from itself. 

Suppose (as is quite possible) Labour achieve that 'landslide victory' and end up with, say, a 200 majority in the House of Commons. Labour's Far Left will feel their time has truly come. It's easy to anticipate that the moderate (i.e. quasi-conservative) right wing of the party will be quickly challenged and swept aside. In a twinkling, reasonable Sir Keir Starmer will be undermined and deposed, and his disciples with him. In will come a bunch of hard-line people, who will pursue old-fashioned doctrinaire policies with no effective opposition. Money and resources will be wasted on saving industries that have had their day, and vital planet-saving efforts will be dropped.

I want no hand in bringing that about. 

It would in any case weigh heavily on my conscience to be a renegade and vote Labour merely because the Conservatives had run out of steam. My father (a lifelong Conservative voter) would advise me against it, if I could ask him. I still respect his point of view on such things.

But it would also be a serious mistake, one that no responsible citizen should contemplate, to hand Labour an unassailable majority. That wouldn't be good for any party in power. They need an effective opposition. So I will give the Conservatives my vote.  

I hope that once it is out of office the Conservative party will face up to its many shortcomings and discard the people who have been stupid, selfish, heartless, wayward, dishonest, untalented and out of touch. After that purge, I want to see fresh faces, keen minds, and much better ideas. One day, after Labour have made their own mess of things, the Conservatives will be voted back again. They need to get ready for that return. A five-year break now, in 2024, may therefore be no bad thing. 

And the Reform Party? They may have some thrust at the moment, but I consider the Far Right attitudes of their activists to be poisonous. I would be fearful for my wellbeing if Reform got into power. Having dealt ruthlessly with those they wish to outlaw, they might next turn against unproductive pensioners, or anyone who is a drain on the super-expensive NHS. 

And the Liberal Democrats? I usually give them my vote in local District Council elections. But as regards a General Election, I haven't forgotten that they were against Brexit. (I voted for Brexit solely on the sovereignty issue: I did not want to see Britain absorbed into a homogenous United States of Europe. I wanted to see this country run its own affairs, as it did until the early 1970s, and remain distinct and special) It's hard to forgive the the LibDems for being anti-Brexit. 

Besides, they have greatly annoyed me recently. The local candidate has been bombarding me almost daily with pamphlets through my front door. It's so irritating. Then yesterday there were repeated phone calls from a central London number, which I ignored at first. But I did eventually phone back, to be told that these calls were made 'on behalf of the Liberal Democratic Party' and that yet another call would be made to me shortly. Oh no! What for? Was it some hired agency wanting to know which way I was going to vote? This persistent badgering made me seethe. I blocked the number. The LibDems definitely won't get my vote now.

The Greens? One day, maybe. But I think the immediate priority is to keep the likely Labour majority after 4th July within bounds, so they will be limited to passing legislation that most will regard as sensible, and not extreme. 

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Sunday 9 June 2024

Seeing Dr Michael Mosley

It was a shock to hear last week that Michael Mosley had gone missing while on holiday on a Greek island. You don't expect things like that to happen to household-name TV personalities. 

I didn't like the sound of it. Although very health-conscious, as you'd expect a trained doctor to be, he was nevertheless aged 67, and as likely as any man in late middle age to lose his footing in the rocky terrain that we saw on our screens. One isn't so steady afoot as when one was younger! I knew from my own experience on rocky beaches and headlands in this country how easy it can be to slip or trip, then lose one's balance, and take a tumble. I've slithered backwards onto hard rock (April 2016, when I was aged nearly 64), and I've also taken a header first onto stony ground and then into the middle of a gorse bush (September 2020 when aged 68). Both experiences hurt, but I didn't come to lasting harm. However, I might so easily have been a hospital case. It's made me very wary of clambering about on rocky outcrops. 

And Michael Mosley faced other risks. It was an exceptionally hot day. There was the possibility of heat exhaustion, or the sun's glare leading to a debilitating eye condition. Nor was he carrying his mobile phone, for GPS, or in case of an emergency. He was however wearing sunglasses and a cap, and had an umbrella for use as a parasol. So in his own judgement, he may have felt adequately equipped for a hot tramp, with a cool rest at the end of it. He must certainly have been fitter and healthier than most 67 year olds. And he had that adventurous itch to explore, and find out for himself.  

As I write, the coroner's report is still awaited, but we know his rocky walk ended tragically. I feel so sorry for his wife and family. And sad for a likeable man whose TV programmes and appearances I enjoyed and learned from. 

I saw him in 2020 at an event where I would normally have had the opportunity for a few words. Except that it was a coronavirus year, and I had instead to observe him being interviewed about his life and books from a distance. 

This was at an evening event during the Appledore Book Festival in North Devon, on 19th September 2020. It was the last year I attended the Festival. I'd been coming to it each year from 2012, excepting only 2013, and in later years I'd paid for 'Friend of the ABF' status, which not gave one access to Friend-only lunches and parties, but priority as regards booking event tickets. Usually I'd spend over £100 to see a dozen or so authors discussing their latest book. But in 2020, in compliance with social distancing rules, all events were held in a field that you drove your car into, and viewed the event from. You got a marked-out square to park on, just large enough to place a few chairs around the car, if you were a family or a group and wanted to sit out in the open air. 

The problem for me with this drive-in arrangement was the cost of attending events. Tickets were priced for the car: say £30. If there were four people in the car, the cost per person was reasonable. If (as in my case) there was only the driver, £30 was expensive. So I bought tickets for only three events: Iain Dale, the LBC presenter; Jeremy Vine of BBC Radio 2 fame; and Dr Michael Mosley

This shot below (taken in daytime) shows the view from my car Fiona. The author was interviewed on the small covered 'stage' (centre left), simultaneously videoed, and then a greatly-enlarged picture was shown in real time on that big screen, accompanied by excellent sound. I could hoick myself up on the door sill to get a slightly better view. (Bear in mind that I was using a wide-angle lens, and so the interview and the screen were in reality very much closer)

This was how it was on the evening I saw Michael Mosley. It was a little chilly, so I stayed inside Fiona:

Michael Mosley was being interviewed by Jeremy Vine (who was also a patron of the Book Festival). I zoomed in on the big screen and took some shots. I used spot metering on the screen, to get the exposure correct. The two men were relaxed with each other, and I remember that it was most entertaining, with Michael Mosley discussing his two new books on sleeping and coronavirus, giving plenty of easy-to-follow tips to the audience and telling plenty of anecdotes.

Pre-pandemic, there would afterwards have been a book-signing session. On those occasions there was the chance of being really close to the author, and of saying something to him or her. But not in 2020. One just drove away. So I didn't actually speak with the man. A pity.

And now, less than four years later, look what has happened. At least I have these photos as my personal souvenir of someone I liked and respected.

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Thursday 6 June 2024

A question of night vision sensitivity

I left my last post with the final design of my new fitness watch face not quite decided. It has an OLED display. I favoured green and red hands on a black background, and wondered whether there was a solid optical reason for this instinctive preference.

Indeed there was. I did a little research into the best lit-up colours to use at night, and it was most illuminating.

To recap a bit: I need to be able to see what the time is at a glance, at night, without glasses on. I want the watch face for this to be perfectly usable in daytime too. It's always possible to set up at least two watch faces on the watch, a light one for day and a dark one for night, as I did with my Fitbit Versa 3. But it's less faff if I stick to one face for all occasions. For use at night, an analogue watch face is best, as one can then judge the time simply from the angle the short hour hand makes with the long minute hand, and it doesn't matter if these hands are a little out of focus. It does help, however, if the hour and minute hands look bright in very dim light. This is where choosing the right colour comes in.

My researches took me to astronomical websites, and to discussions on which kind of illumination has the least detrimental effect on one's night vision. No star-gazer wants to be rendered blind to dim stars if a torch or other night-light is switched on. The discussions strayed into military and air force practice. 

It turns out that, for a very long time, low-intensity red light has been used for night-time illumination, as red has the least effect on the receptors in the human eye. In other words, the human eye isn't very sensitive to red light. But that insensitivity means that low-intensity red light is not ideal for seeing details with any clarity. Stepping up the intensity to make those details clear is not a good solution, as it makes the red too bright, and night vision is gone. You can get around this problem by using green light instead. Green isn't as good as red for preserving night vision, but it reveals detail even at low intensity.

The colour to be avoided is blue. Human eyes are very sensitive to blue, and blue illumination will destroy night vision. This is why doing late-evening things on blue-rich phone screens is discouraged, as it over-stimulates one's eyes, and therefore the brain. Also why cars with super-bright blue headlights seem so dazzling.

This is the watch face I've now adopted:

The green hour and minute hands really stand out in all lighting conditions, but especially in darkness. If I wake up at four o'clock with sleepy eyes and no glasses on, I can easily see what the time is, and still fall asleep again with no difficulty. 

As related above, there is some science behind my being drawn to using green and red on this watch face. But it's also striking how often red and green are dominant colours in the meals I make for myself. I must find red and green a vibrant and exciting combination of colours. For instance, in these meals:

It's as if my new watch were a dinner plate!

And in the wider world, red or green (or both) are often used where unmistakable visibility at a distance really matters. Traffic lights, railway signals, warning lights on tall structures, lane-marking studs on motorways, flashing lights on channel-marking buoys at sea, all come to mind.