Sunday, 25 September 2016

They want my loyalty

Although I dislike carrying dross around in my purse, I still tote around a selection of loyalty and membership cards. Let's list them.

Cards that must be considered 'essential', even though rarely or never used
LV/Britannia Rescue car-breakdown card (includes the caravan)
Volvo Assistance car-breakdown card (excludes the caravan)
CSMA Boundless card (ties in with LV for car insurance, and Britannia Rescue)
EHIC medical card

You do need to carry cards like these at all times. They are 'insurance policy' cards for that unpredictable, emergency occasion.

Cards that are often used, and clearly worth keeping handy
National Trust Life Membership card
Caravan Club Membership card

My NT card is my free entry not only to properties and gardens to visit, but to safe, serene places where I can get a light lunch, or afternoon tea, or just reliably pleasant loos. My Caravan Club card is the key to endless easy-to-book holiday breaks all over the country.

Cards where the benefit is questionable
Nectar card
Boots Advantage Card
My Waitrose card
The Waterstones Card
Wroes loyalty card
Darcey loyalty card

Hmmm. Six bits of plastic that would slim down my purse noticeably if I took them out and carried them no more! None of them offer substantial benefits that I would be loath to give up. The main incentives for carrying them are:
# to get a small price reduction on items that I have pre-chosen (Waitrose)
# to accumulate points that can be converted into a small cash credit against the full amount of the bill (Nectar)
# to accumulate points that will wholly cover a particular small purchase (Boots)
The other three cards (Waterstones, Wroes, Darcey) are hardly used. I tend to forget that I possess a Waterstones card, and the other two can only be used in their particular localities (Cornwall, East Sussex). Really it would make no difference whatever to my daily life if I snipped them up and closed the accounts.

The Nectar, Boots and Waitrose cards need a little more thought.

Nectar is a national card points scheme not exclusive to one retailer, although the main place where I get points is Sainsbury's - a supermarket I consider one of the best, but one I don't often use when home because the nearest store is just too far away for convenience. So I accumulate points only very slowly. A couple of days ago, at Sainsbury's in Barnstaple, I used 500 points on my Nectar card (almost the while lot, the accumulation of about a year) to get a £2.50 credit against my food bill at the till. I'm not sneering at £2.50 off. But this little once-a-year saving doesn't justify the nuisance of carrying a Nectar card all the time. I'm reaching for my scissors.

What about the Boots Advantage card? Well, I do go to Boots pretty often, and the points accumulate pretty rapidly. And I find myself in a position to redeem them against small items two or three times a year. I'm not talking about much: over twelve months I might get £15 worth of goods with those points. Still, it does happen, and so I will spare the scissors!

The My Waitrose card is exclusive to Waitrose, and they aim to give the customer something rather different. So you don't accumulate points. Instead you get free coffee (if you have bought something in the store), reduced-price newspapers, and the chance to attend cookery courses and similar offers. None of those things appeal strongly to me. You can also however self-select a range of items to purchase at a discount. Now that sounds worthwhile - but there are four snags: you can only make your selection every few months; you do in fact have to renew your choices every few months; you choose from a changing list that Waitrose put to you - it's not a genuinely unrestricted choice; and you have to do it all online - which is in practice rather a faff, because their webpages are slow to navigate. Given the high level of personal input needed, I find myself disinclined to refresh my choices, and so I'm gradually losing out as one by one my selected discounts disappear. I don't always get even a pound off nowadays. To be honest, it hardly matters to me.

Waitrose of course get a complete profile of what I buy from them. Actually, I don't mind that. I want them to know what my favourite purchases are, so that they will, hopefully, continue to stock them.

So far as I'm concerned, Waitrose have three big things going for them. One: at home, their nearest store is only ten minutes drive away, and I justly call them my 'handy corner shop'. Two: they stock many deli-type things I never see in the other stores. Three: of all the stores I could go to, Waitrose consistently has (for me) the most appealing look, layout and atmosphere, and their staff seem the friendliest and most helpful. That said, from the cash-savings point of view presenting my My Waitrose card at the till, every time, two or three times a week, seems an empty and pointless ritual.

But, as I say, I really do want them to know what I like to buy. And in a sense (note carefully that I am making a mild joke here) that card is a Middle-Class Badge. So that if ever arrested by the police, and called upon to empty my bag and purse at the station, the discovery of a My Waitrose card should assure me of polite and deferential treatment, and an airy cell with canapés, freshly-poured prosecco and flowers in it. I don't think your Tesco Clubcard will get you that.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Hit by a cold

I'm just emerging from a cold that arrived a week ago with a sore throat, and which gave me a hard time for some days, but has now clearly given up. I've bucked up nicely in the last twenty-four hours. Usually a cold leaves me with a residue of catarrh and three weeks of constant coughing, but it seems not this time.

Good riddance! Tomorrow I am towing my caravan to North Devon, which is 232 miles by my usual best route, and I need to be fully up to it. Allowing for stops, it always takes me seven hours. I shall probably do it in four sixty-mile sections, so that I don't get tired. For I am still regarding myself as convalescent until the end of the week.

The cold has made me feel weak, and has drained me of energy. So much so, that the daily walk had to be abandoned, and the minimal gardening I had promised myself had to be set aside as beyond my powers. All this feebleness is disconcerting. Ordinary colds didn't knock me flat like this ten years ago. I suppose increasing age inevitably makes one less resilient. You may look pretty good, but the metal isn't there inside. It's hard to accept, but there it is.

Well, the stimulus of setting forth on the road, the change of scene, the change of air, seeing all those beautiful West Country places again, and meeting-up with people who are looking forward to seeing me (we've been texting) - all of these will speed my recovery. Indeed, I'm still intending to drive down to Padstow for lunch on the 22nd September, which is just two days away, and visit some local bays while down there. A full revival will be required for that, but I have high hopes!

While the cold was going on, the creative juices dried up. I just couldn't put a blog post together. Normally I am eager to fire up Verity (my still-new laptop) and bung a piece out. But the brain was sluggish, and it was no good.

At least loading up the caravan has gone according to plan. I'm constantly refining my Preparation List, including the best order in which to load things up, and the best timing for what needs to be done. This is a longish trip of very nearly three weeks, so good organisation is essential. And without a proper plan, it wouldn't have been at all easy to accomplish some preliminary jobs two or three days back, when it was hard to think.

The Autumn Equinox is almost here. Summer is almost over. I went outside to check car and caravan before locking up tonight, and both were well-covered with moisture. The front and back lawns will be a sea of dew tomorrow morning. That's one reason why you absolutely must take wellies when pitched on grass, and keep them handy in the caravan: the copious morning dew will drench ordinary shoes beyond redemption. And you will need to venture outside before mid-morning - there is always something to fetch. But how invigorating that early-morning fresh air is! Just what I need.

Friday, 16 September 2016

No more scans

When do you stop trying to preserve the past?

I've been scanning my old photos for years now. The historian in me says, 'Scan these shots, as many as you reasonably can, and preserve them in digital form for the future. One day somebody (as yet unborn) will thank you from the bottom of their heart for doing this work.'

But there is so much to scan! And these are the best shots, with the dross already discarded. Even so, the quantity is overwhelming. All of them are trapped on old-fashioned film media, either transparencies (1965 to 1989) or prints (1989 to 2000). (After May 2000 everything was taken with a digital camera)

Ideally I would like to scan every shot that isn't already in digital form. But the scanning work involved would be huge. I took about 5,000 transparencies over the years, and still have some 2,500 left, of which only 200 or so have been scanned and converted into digital photos. I took about 23,400 pictures on print film, and still have 15,000 or so left, of which perhaps 3,000 - no more - have been scanned.

If we lump all the remaining unscanned shots together, whether slides or prints, we can say that there are - broadly speaking - 14,000 left to scan. Each one needs five minutes to process, including enhancement and captioning. That's 70,000 minutes for the entire job, or 1,167 hours. Meaning that if I throw ten hours a week at it, the job would still take me 116 weeks.

That's far too much time to spend on this kind of thing! I've lots of other stuff I need to get on with.

I could (and would) be ruthless, only scanning the cream of the crop. Here for instance was a box of prints - people shots - all ready to go this very morning. I hadn't selected many to scan, but even so this in itself represented a day's work:


And once done, there would still be all these other boxes to do:


Suddenly I felt that all this scanning just wasn't a good use of my time. Or anyone's time.

I put it all back up in the attic. Where of course it may now remain, unscanned, never to become part of my vast Digital Photo Archive.

Does this matter?

It's good to have an easily-found record of what people and events really looked like, because one's natural memory is untrustworthy. But if nothing in these old photos is affecting the present time, then it's arguable that no harm will be done by tossing the whole lot in the bin.

I can't bring myself to do that, not yet anyway, but I do recognise that at some point I may be compelled to jettison all my boxes of prints and transparencies, whether scanned or not. What will happen, for instance, when I need to clear my attic in order to install modern insulation?

In a strange way, the idea of throwing all those pictures away has its attractions. I would be free of an immense obligation to do something with them. I wouldn't need to find storage space for them. And I do in fact already have digital copies of all the key personal and family photographs. These are quite enough in themselves to conjure up the decades before I was born, and what has happened since. So do I really need the rest?

I'm sure there are literally hundreds of shots, not yet scanned, that are very interesting and worth preserving. But 'very interesting' is not the same thing as 'absolutely essential'.

Well, I won't do anything drastic, not yet, but I think the time has now come to stop resurrecting the past and to concentrate effort and full attention on what is happening now.

'Now' and 'the future' always trump the past.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Gloves fit for a baroness

At the moment my rear garden looks like this:


To tell the truth, that shot was taken on 16th August, but there has been little further growth since then because of the hot weather and very little rain. I want to get it all in a good state by the end of autumn, meaning that a lot of shrub-clipping and general clearance needs to take place. I want to extend the lawned area anyway.

The priority is the left side in the view, because Kevin next door wants to get at his fencing, and lift a panel out so that he can paint the back of a posh shed he erected for Jackie in the early summer. He perfectly understands that physically I can't do it on my own, so he has offered to give me three days' labour in mid-October, as soon as I am back from my forthcoming holiday. I shall of course be helping, although I imagine my role will chiefly be to carry away whatever he cuts down or lops off.

I have hired a skip. We will need it, because there's an awful lot of dense shrubbery and ground cover here, including some brambles. I don't know about you, but I hate tangling with brambles, roses, nettles, or anything that can sting or stab. Brambles, with their trailing stalks, are a nightmare to deal with without getting hurt. I decided that it was time to get myself some thick leather gardening gloves of really good quality. So I went out and bought these at one of the nearby garden centres:


As you can see, not just gloves, but a pair of gauntlets too. They cost £31 altogether, which I'm sure many will consider an outrageous price to pay. But hey, I want proper protection when gingerly handling those spiky stems! The gloves will keep the dainty Melford hands safe, and the gauntlets will ensure that the beautiful and shapely Melford forearms won't get lacerated by cruel, revengeful barbs.


And they do look good, don't they? Gloves fit for a baroness. They'll go perfectly with my long-sleeved gardening gown, satin shoes, train, jewelled girdle and tiara.

Of course, my new gloves and gauntlets won't stay looking brand new, but I intend to look after them, and hopefully these rather posh and expensive accessories won't go the way of many generations of el cheapo gardening gloves I've bought in the past.

To convey stuff from my rear garden to the skip on my drive, I already have a new wheelbarrow, seen here:


So I'm all set. I hope Kevin will be impressed at my commitment to the task ahead.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Going to Lundy

I did it this morning - I phoned the Landmark Trust and booked a day trip to Lundy and back, specifically the 10.00am sailing from Ilfracombe on Tuesday 27th September. The voyage takes two hours each way. You get four hours on the island.

This is last year's brochure:


The arrangements for 2016 are the same.

I have been to Lundy before, but it was twenty years ago on 10th July 1996. It won't be an exactly similar experience because:
(a) It was then mid-summer, but it'll be early autumn this time;
(b) In 1996 I went with M---, but this time I'm going on my own;
(c) There is now a proper jetty for the Oldenburg at Lundy.

Having nobody with me means that I can do as I please. Last time, after a swift picnic, we made a trek to the north end of the island our absolute priority. So we didn't explore the village, examine the church, nor see what the island's pub, the Marisco Tavern, had to offer. Nor did we pay any attention to the south and west coasts of the island, despite reports of seals galore. To be fair, a dense fog enveloped the west side of the island soon after our arrival, and the seals would have been invisible.

On this occasion I will give these unseen things all my time, and I don't expect to go north of the Quarter Wall, which cuts the southernmost quarter of the island off from the remainder to the north.

The new jetty (actually built in 2000) means that no longer will the Oldenburg have to anchor offshore and get the passengers to the Landing Beach in small batches. They used a gig-sized motor boat for that job. On a calm day it was fine, unless you were in any way unsteady on your feet. On rough days the Captain might decide that only cargo could disembark straight away, and all passengers would have to wait for calmer weather to arrive. It might happen that no landing would be possible at all. Here are my 1996 pictures of that motor boat for passengers:


You came back on board the same way. Scrambling in and out of the motorboat was one of the excitements of the trip, but the new jetty has made it unnecessary. Something must have been lost from the overall sense of 'adventure' - the ship/motorboat transfer could be pretty scary - but disembarking will now be a simple walk along a gangway, and a lot more convenient. Indeed, actually setting foot on the island will now be guaranteed. Which is just as well: even with a senior concession, I paid a right royal £33 this morning for my day trip - not peanuts - and I want to enjoy this particular drink to the dregs.

It'll be a long day, with certain preparations to make the evening before. No handbags here! It must be a rucksack, with sufficient clothing to ward off getting wet and chilled. And although the island shop and tavern can provide food and refreshments, it would be wise to carry a yummy and sustaining packed lunch.

I will need to leave the farm at Great Torrington at 8.00am to ensure that I'm parked in an all-day spot at Ilfracombe, and can be ready to board the ship, MS Oldenburg, by 9.15am. I'll be on Lundy from noon until 4.00pm. I won't get back to Ilfracombe until 6.00pm, and not back to the caravan until 7.00pm, by which time it will be almost sunset. This may be the day that I get a takeaway fish and chips! I expect to be rather tired by early evening. But if the weather is kind, it should be an unforgettable day out. Well, it will be literally unforgettable in any case, of course, because I shall be taking pictures throughout.

The Oldenburg will probably be loading cargo as I get on board. There is a hold forward, and a member of the crew will be operating a small crane, to stash boxes down inside, as here in 1996...


...and when I took this shot when passing by in 2013, nothing had changed:


In 1996, it was possible to have a jolly good nose around with one's camera, prior to weighing anchor, getting shots of the bridge interior for instance:


And no fuss was made when I asked to shoot the Captain and his officer:


This time, it might not be so easy to get the same shots. Tighter security regulations might have made such free-and-east access a thing of the past! I will however try. They can only say no.

Although the passenger facilities on the ship have had a makeover since 1996, I don't expect any luxury during the voyage. They won't have been able to increase the number of seats, nor radically change the toilet arrangements. Most people travel on deck, which is OK if it's sunny, not so good if clammy fog descends, or drizzle sets in!


If the weather is inclement, and we all want to huddle in the warm saloon, safe from the wind and rain, I just hope that the 'women and children first' rule will still prevail, enforced if need be by ship's officers armed with pistols. Let the men take their chance on deck, I say. After all, they are supposed to be stout fellows - brave, lion-hearted and manly - and above all, gentlemen. Surely they will do the right thing, even if they perish? We shall see.

Wallowing in great comfort during the passage isn't really the point, though. It's getting to a real island, far out in the Bristol Channel. It's an amazing to do. Back in 1996, we had extra entertainment in the form of an RAF Rescue Helicopter, which hovered for several minutes just off the port side. It must have been a training exercise.


There was a school party on board, and the kids were thrilled!

But for adults the thrill is seeing Lundy close up. On a clear day, Lundy is always in view, but at first it's a long, low shadow on the western horizon, and small. And then suddenly it's a lot closer, and watching it transform from a distant shadow to a real place, all rocky, with detail to see, is magical. Everyone pushes forward to see.


There are actually two landing beaches - one deals with passengers, and the other with goods, brought down on trailers drawn by tractors. There's no 'transport' except a Land Rover, and passengers usually make their way on foot up to the village, along a gravel road carved into the cliff in places. That was in 1996: I doubt if it'll be any different in 2016. I can't wait to see!

MFV James Wickham

This about what happened to a former Irish-built motor fishing vessel, a trawler, that came into service in 1950, earned her living for some years around the Irish Sea, then passed through the hands of a number of private owners.

Why do I know about this boat? Well, I happened to take a series of pictures of the James Wickham as she left Ilfracombe harbour in July 1996. She was then a very smart-looking vessel. Whenever I subsequently looked at my pictures, I wondered what had become of her. I was also mildly interested in her 1996 owners, and thought I may have encountered them again, when in Padstow in March 2015 (See my post Padstow 1 - Rick's Café on 23rd March 2015, towards the end of the post)

The Internet is a wonderful source of information. I've managed to piece together the bare bones of this boat's history. I've also discovered who the present owner is. He's a man named Ron Owttrim, who has recently retired and whose grandfather was the original owner. I hope he won't mind my mentioning him without first asking, but I can't find his contact details, and I am not joining LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter just to acquire them.

He bought the James Wickham at a Ramsgate auction in April 2015, and began a blog about her restoration, which you can find at http://thejameswickham.owttrim.com/. The blog home page supplies some information about her:

THE JAMES WICKHAM
Motor Fishing Vessel

LOA 65ft
LWL 48ft 6in
Beam 15ft 6in
Draught 6ft 1in

A British registered vessel of 43 tonnes, built by John Tyrell & Sons of Arklow Ireland in 1949/50.

The James Wickham is built of larch on oak frames and is rigged with three jibs, gaff main, topsail, staysail, and mizzen sails.

The vessel is powered by a Kelvin K4 diesel engine giving 8 knots, 1000 mile range. There are two hydaulically operated steering positions, one inside the wheelhouse, the other situated outisde on the rear bridge deck and used when the vessel is under sail.

The vessel was originally owned by the Wickham family of Rosslare, Southern Ireland, who fished the boat throughout the Irish Sea and of the west coast of Scotland, for trips of up to 15 days duration throughout the year.

The blog has no further entries. I hope that doesn't indicate insurmountable problems, and an abandonment of the restoration project.

The James Wickham was first registered at Rosslare in 1950 to Raymond Wickham. The registration number was D98 (D means Dublin).

It happened that British Movietone News made a short film of the James Wickham being blessed by a priest, with the crew all present, prior to her very first fishing voyage from Rosslare Harbour in 1950. Here is the link to the YouTube version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNNldB3t3Xw. The film details are here: http://www.tcd.ie/irishfilm/showfilm.php?fid=46088.

The film reveals rather dangerous-looking, lose-a finger-if-you're-not-careful, open-deck working conditions that must nevertheless have been completely normal at the time. Quite a hard life for the crew, I'm thinking, even though she must have been an up-to-date design for the time. However, her working life was short. Fishing profitably would have become ever more difficult, and by 1961 she was registered in Wales, at Aberystwyth, and must have been sold.

Her second owner was a man named Gerald Lewis of New Quay, who had the boat converted for private leisure use. It was in his ownership that I saw the James Wickham at llfracombe on 7th July 1996. Here she is, in the four pictures I took.  I was standing at the quayside, and as I watched she weighed anchor and moved under engine power out of the harbour.


The dark red-brown colour scheme, embellished with that golden arrow, obviously wouldn't have reflected her original appearance when a working trawler, but nevertheless she looked arresting, and a small crowd was observing her departure. I remember thinking how lucky that lady on the boat was, to be the wife or girlfriend of one of those men, and have the chance to sail in this style!

And yet, this might have been the boat's last summer in Gerald Lewis's hands. By 1998 she was owned by a man named Bob Langford. Then there is a blank in her history. In 2007 she was up for sale again at Brighton. Here she is, at sea...


...and then languishing in the Marina. She was still much as she was in her Welsh-owned days:


The firm handling the marketing, Ancasta, provided some photos of her interior:


As you can see, old-fashioned, rather fussy woodwork everywhere, but for all that a well-equipped boat, although not up to the comfort standard expected by 2007. And I fancy the James Wickham did not sell for the £69,995 then being asked, nor for anything near that amount. She may have fallen cheaply into the hands of further owners who did not have the means nor the will to maintain her properly. By August 2008 she was moored at Ramsgate, looking somewhat forlorn, with her foremast gone and rotten parts protected from the weather by tarpaulins:


There she remained, gradually becoming more faded and decrepit:


There was one final attempt to sell her normally in 2013. The marketing particulars can be viewed at
http://www.boatshed.com/motor_fishing_vessel-boat-33316.html. It must have failed. Meanwhile Thanet District Council seized her, or accepted her, presumably for harbour dues not paid. They put her up for auction with Hobbs Parker Marine on 25th April 2015, and this is how Ron Owttrim became her owner.


Hmm. Look at that dodgy planking on the lower port side aft. And, generally, the faded paintwork and sad air of neglect. The auctioneers gave £225 to the RNLI Ramsgate Lifeboat Fund after the sale.


It will be a true labour of love to restore the James Wickham to her former state. It will take a lot of time, and it will be very costly. I do hope Mr Owttrim has the stamina for it, and one must wish him well, but boats consume money and I hope his family-inspired gesture does not prove to be a ruinous mistake. But it would be nice to discover this boat, fully-restored, in some harbour in a future year!