27 November 2014

Turing

Alan Turing 1912-1954
I must say that I really enjoyed "The Imitation Game" starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing. But who was Alan Turing?

Born into a wealthy Anglo-Indian family in 1912, he was very probably highly autistic and as such had an abnormal passion for mathematics and cryptanalytic problem solving. When World War II came along he found himself drafted into Britain's codebreaking centre at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire.

There his mission was to solve the Enigma Code that had been developed by Nazi Germany to transmit encrypted messages of a secret, military nature. And do you know what, he solved it! This achievement shortened the war and saved the lives of millions of innocent people.

There are many kinds of hero. Most likely we think of individual soldiers from different historical eras bravely battling forward with sword, blunderbuss or machine gun to slay the cruel enemy and thereby save his comrades in arms. We are less likely to think of a socially inadequate homosexual geek from the Home Counties messing about with a very early computer and bumbling through life. For that was Alan Turing.

Previously, I never thought much of Benedict Cumberbatch but in this film he shows a convincing allegiance with the difficult character he was portraying. Awkward and bumbling, eccentric and painfully clever - to Mr Cumberbatch I say bravo and to Mr Turing I say - thank you, thank you for your genius. You are a true British hero.

Alan Turing committed suicide in Wilmslow, Cheshire on June 7th 1954. He was forty one years old.
Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing

26 November 2014

Also

...and before the sun set over the Derbyshire hills, I watched two hobbies in progress. In the heather of Callow Bank, two men were operating their remote control model aeroplanes.which swooped and whizzed, curving the air. Further along the escarpment of Stanage Edge a paraglider was practising his aeronautical skills, hanging from his orange canopy on nylon strings. I watched as he sailed silently over Overstones Farm before sinking gently into the rough moorland beyond. The photographic evidence:-
And the intrepid paraglider drifts over the millstone grit of Stanage Edge before landing beyond Overstones Farm...
...as always - click on pictures to enlarge.

25 November 2014

Sunset

Yesterday afternoon looking westwards from Stanage Edge.

I don't know the science behind sunsets. I don't really want to know. Isn't it better to think of  each sunset as a kind of magic emblazoned across the sky or sometimes subtly painted from a pastel palette? As the sun sinks inexorably into the western horizon, you never really know what kind of sunset you re going to get but what you do know is that as long as there have been human beings on this planet they have stood in awe of sunset scenes like this one. Leonardo? David Hockney? Vincent Van Gogh? No artist could ever paint a sunset the way that Mother Nature can.

24 November 2014

Expats

What things (apart from loved ones) do you miss from your country of birth?
We miss the rain, gloom, and cloud – but that’s great because that’s why we came here! Other than that, not very much really.
______________________________________________

I knew Kevin years ago. He was and probably still is a lovely man. A Geography teacher who wrote poems and made maps. He visited Peru and the Hindu Kush of Pakistan. He was into mountaineering and ice camping and he lovingly restored his big stone house in Crookesmoor, Sheffield. Back then he had a girlfriend called Barbie who looked like Buffy St Marie in her prime but they broke up and he found a different life partner called Troy. He never had any kids.

After taking early retirement from Geography teaching in Sheffield, around 2005,  Kevin and Troy went to live in the Almeria region of southern Spain where they bought a country property and restored it. There they grow vines and vegetables and enjoy a sunny, expatriate life, a long way from home. Kevin, by the way, was raised in grim Grimsby on the northeast Lincolnshire coast.

Out in Almeria, Kevin spent a couple of years researching the geography, history and culture of his new home area and drawing from that research wrote a book about it. It has been moderately successful and that is why Kevin was interviewed for a website called "Spain Buddy" which appeals to Spain's large British expatriate community. The blue opening to this post was copied from that interview.
Tongue in cheek he says that they miss the rain, gloom and cloud..."other than that, not very much really". This is the crux of today's blogpost. It's not the first time I have encountered expats claiming that they don't miss anything about their homelands. To me it is as if they are partly justifying their new lives - renouncing what they once knew. I find this attitude as hollow as it is disloyal.

Perhaps Kevin could have said..."I miss the ambience of English pubs where I spent many happy hours with friends quaffing good English beer. I miss the smell of roasted chestnuts on cold winter nights and the sounds of fireworks on Bonfire Night. I miss the traditional folk music sessions I was in the habit of attending with my Irish bodhran. I miss the distinctive seasons and walks in The Lake District ticking off The Wainwright hills,  kayaking in the Western Isles and rambling in The Peak District. I miss English humour and the ability to communicate fluently in my own language where ever I go.. Meat pies and Yorkshire puddings, Indian curries and saltmarsh lamb, apples and raspberries and ice cream cones. Above all I miss the byways of my childhood and of my youth - imbued with memories of yesteryear, mum and dad, my siblings, neighbours and friends and Grimsby Town F.C.. Yes - those are the things I miss."

And I would also take issue with the reference to rain, gloom and cloud. That does not sum up English weather at all in my experience. We have many sunny days and warm spells and even as I write this blogpost it is bright and alluring outside. The randomness or unpredictability of English weather could be seen as one of our assets, You never know what you are going to get. Getting scorched on an Almerian hilltop might be seen as somehow less appealing.

Starting a new life elsewhere surely does not mean that you must disparage your motherland. Treachery has many forms.

23 November 2014

Rossington

Rossington Hall south of Doncaster. We were there most of yesterday for a wedding - one of Shirley's many cousins giving marriage a third bash. 

This Victorian pile has had a varied history. For example, from 1953 to 2008 it was a special school serving boys with a range of challenging conditions - from autism to cerebral palsy. Then for three years it was watched over by security guards employed by Doncaster Council until private speculators acquired it and proceeded to turn it into a luxury hotel and wedding venue.

They are still in the expensive process of realising their dream. I noticed that some of the gilt-framed pictures on the walls were merely mass-produced prints. Even so it was a privilege to explore the place and with Shirley's Uncle Edwin I even visited the luxurious bridal suite with its ceramic bath sitting on a marble plinth as the November sunset peered through surrounding woodland.

Here's Lady Pudding from "Downton Abbey" by the wedding carriage:-
And here she is by a continental coach manufactured in 1950::-
It brought several wedding guests from a nearby and less magnificent hotel. Now ladies, please cover your eyes, for this is the gentlemen's luxurious urinal:-
And here's the drawing room complete with unoriginal prints:-
The wedding feast in the ballroom was marvellous. Doused in Tetley bitter flavoured gravy and accompanied by caramelised onions, the starter was of course the ever dependable and socially unifying  Yorkshire Pudding!

22 November 2014

Wolds

Carved stone face at Somerby - St Margaret's Church
There's a big arc of chalk to the east of England. It rises gracefully above the surrounding flat lands as it curls from the white cliffs of Flamborough Head, embracing the Plain of Holderness, plunging under the River Humber and then curving southwards through the heart of Lincolnshire towards The Wash. We call these gentle chalk downs The Wolds. North of the Humber they are The Yorkshire Wolds and south of it they are - can you guess - yes - The Lincolnshire Wolds.

Can you imagine what the landscape of England was like before we were invaded by Romans and Vikings and then Normans? The population would have been much lower than today - less than one million. The flat lands of eastern England would have been undrained and marshy with reed beds and forests and rivers that simply spread out because there were no artificial  banks. One of the best locations for settlements would have been chalky downs like The Wolds. They drained naturally and allowed views of the surrounding flatlands. It would have been a good place to graze animals and raise crops, a good place to live and feel safe.

There were many small settlements up on the Lincolnshire Wolds but new approaches to farming in the Middle Ages began to change the landscape. The flatlands were being drained and their silty soils now offered greater fertility and better opportunities for successful sustenance. People began to move down from the Wolds. Sheep moved in. Today many of those original woldland settlements can only be seen in aerial photographs but on the margins various small villages remain and they can trace their origins way back in time.

On Thursday, I caught a train to Barnetby-le-Wold and undertook a long walk in the north western sector of the Lincolnshire Wolds. Five solid hours of plodding. Sadly, the sunshine that had been promised by the weatherman on Tuesday never materialised but at least it was dry and perhaps typically Novemberish - slightly chilly with thin white cloud and a mist that never fully disappeared.
Abandoned chalk quarry near Bigby
I walked from Barnetby to its abandoned Saxon church on the edge of the village before striking out to Bigby, then Somerby and Searby. The -by ending of place names is Viking in origin and this ending is predominantly restricted to Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire. There are 171 settlements in Lincolnshire ending in -by.

Up to Searby Top where the fields are still speckled with bits of chalk and flint, then along to Mealand Hill and down to New Barnetby. I was back in Barnetby-le-Wold just before my train arrived at 15.53. It had been a wonderful walk even though the light was not conducive to stunning photography. It is hard to fully comprehend that those chalky wolds were once the floor of a prehistoric ocean that existed for an estimated 80 million years during The Cretaceous Period which drew to a close some seventy million years ago. Such mind-boggling periods of time.
Barnetby's old church - disused since 1972
Old chalkstone barn at Searby Top
My best photo of The Lincolnshire Wolds - taken two years ago near Caistor

21 November 2014

Image

In my view, Twitter is for twits. It has caused so many ructions that I wonder why people bother with the nonsense. Apart from anything else, I can't abide the notion that thoughts or observations might be distilled into a mere 140 characters. This economy makes a mockery of written communication through the ages. And another thing, why would anybody want "followers"? Jesus Christ had followers and so did Adolf Hitler but personally I wouldn't want to be somebody who is "followed". They might mug me down a dark alley.

See the image above that was tweeted two days ago by the Labour Party's Emily Thornberry. She was the shadow attorney general but now - because of that tweet - she has lost her position in the shadow cabinet. Personally, I am glad she has gone. This privileged barrister, whose father Cedric was Assistant United Nations Secretary General, sent her own children to a posh school outside her London neighbourhood. She is a hypocrite. A smug metropolitan wordsmith who saw the Labour Party as a great career move. Such a contrast with the men and women who forged the Labour Party to represent the needs and aspirations of ordinary working people.

Let me explain that picture. It seems to encapsulate a widespread and rather snobbish view of the ordinary working class family in Britain today. They live in a small house and they have a white van on the block paving. There are two St George flags hanging from the windows. Their patriotism might be interpreted as a form of nationalistic bigotry - God Save the Queen but get rid of the immigrants. I have no doubt that Emily Thornberry was poking fun at the very people she is meant to represent - British workers and their families - the very people who made The Labour Party a hundred years ago. 

She may also have failed to appreciate that those flags were hanging from the house the morning after England had trounced Scotland in Glasgow in a "friendly" football international. It is very likely that the residents are simply proud England fans who put the flags out to express their sporting allegiance.

Thornberry goes to dinner parties and likes fine wines. She visits the theatre and lives the Islington high life. She reads "The Times" and still follows the intricacies of ongoing legal cases. She does not count the pennies in her purse or struggle to get the ironing done. She does not sit glued to the telly watching mind-numbing pap or hear the people next door rowing or wonder if she can afford a holiday on the Costa Blanca next summer or seek cheap house insurance on the internet or receive school reports on her children which say "disruptive" and "could do better". No, Emily Thornberry has resided in a privileged bubble. 

Though it has no accompanying words, the image she tweeted says a great deal about her and sadly it consolidates what a lot of working people have been thinking about the Labour elite. They are inauthentic and out of touch with the party's roots. I wonder if she'll tweet a picture of her crestfallen face or an apology for the damage her arrogance has done.