Sunday, 21 February 2010

Skyscapes, irons and instructions

To go with my recent posting on Essex landscapes and seascapes, I complete the set by sharing a skyscape with you, taken at the Monkey Beach, West Mersea on Friday. (Sorry the horizon isn't level, but I was standing on a sloping beach.) Plenty of sky around here, though it's mainly grey at the moment, and the five day forecast is five days of rain. Ho hum.

There may be massive amounts of water vapour in the sky, but our house has been dry for a few days. Without any warning our iron called it a day, so the ironing pile crept higher and higher until it tumbled over, and "something had to be done". Of course, nothing is worth repairing these days, as new stuff is so cheap, but I've booked the old one for a workshop workover when it gets warmer outside.

Meanwhile it's time to get another iron, as the sartorially elegant Big Swifty can only stretch so far his employer's acceptance that staff should be approachable and user-friendly. No, they don't want us to look like a stuffed pressed shirt, but the pile-of-crumpled-ironing look is too far the other way. So we're off to town to buy a new iron, and we apply our favourite shopping method; they're all the same so just pick one using random criteria. Popping in at Argos, we flick through the catalogue of irons, and find 80 items, costing from £3.84 (yes, really) to £89.99 for something that superficially looks the same. Our specification was something hot and flat, that pumps out a bit of steam. We couldn't be bothered to waste our time comparing eighty very simliar irons, so I randomly picked one out that had a purple colour, as it reminded me of Jimi Hendrix's purple haze. The time saved, we later wasted having coffee at Cafe Nero, which was a better choice than hanging round household goods stores.

Fortunately the new purple iron came with instructions:
  • use the iron only for it's (sic) intended use
  • do not use the steam feature on clothes that are being worn
  • warning. burns can occur from touching hot metal parts
  • warning. to protect against electric shock, do not put the appliance in water

And there was me, expecting to iron my trousers whilst wearing them in a bath full of water. So Big Swifty, busy under a cloud of steam, lives to see another day. See you next blog.....

Friday, 19 February 2010

Essex historical land and seascapes

Kat has challenged bloggers to post a photo of a place they like, depicting spring or summer. My first thought was to check through my files and post a spectacular and atmospheric scene, maybe from Scotland, Germany or Arizona. A photo with a wow factor. Then I thought I'd do something different and show some very local Essex land and seascapes; a couple of plain scenes that make superficially dull photograhs, but with great tales from history to bring them to life. Let's be honest, it's not the spectacle of the Grand Canyon sunrise round here, or the Champs Elysees in the spring. It's Colchester, and some of it's very flat; but there's plenty to inspire, and lift the heart.

The top picture was taken at the Gosbecks archaeology park, so it's not your average flat Essex field. Look carefully and you can see some diagonal marks in the grass. These show the outline of the vomitory of a Roman-celtic theatre that stood on this spot. (Note: this is an alternative meaning to the word vomitory, not to be confused with the vocabulary associated with contemporary late night excessive drinking events.) All that's left to see of this 270 feet diameter Roman theatre is a D-shaped mound. All the stone and timber has disappeared.

Imagine this scene nearly 2000 years ago. Hundreds of Romans and Britons milling around, waiting for the show. We walk a few paces forwards and we enter between the pillars of the gate, and pass under the upper tiers of the several thousand seats. The feint horizontal lines show where the rows of seats were. Ahead of us is the plain stage, (in the middle distance of the photograph), probably walled at the back. Around the theatre, a range of buildings, including a massive temple. Nearby maybe a horsefair and marketplace. Just to our right, the palace of King Cunobelin, now unmarked above ground.

And here is the River Blackwater estuary taken from the Monkey Beach at West Mersea. The low land on the horizon is the Dengie peninsular; even now, remote and sparsely populated. In the centre of our horizon are a few trees, and the site of Othona. This was a Roman fort of the Saxon Shore, only a short low section of wall now being visible, and most of the site eroded away by the sea over the last 1800 years. In AD 653 St Cedd arived by boat from the north east of England, and founded Britain's oldest surviving church, now known as St Peter's on the Wall, Bradwell on Sea. He built his Christian church on the foundations of a ruined Roman fort gateway. I challenge even the staunchest atheist not to be moved on entering this ancient building, in a silent corner of the Essex marshes.

Essex may be flat in parts, but it certainly isn't boring. A pair of walking shoes, and an imagination, and it becomes a time machine. Hope you enjoyed our journey.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Frank's art gallery

No message today, just some lovely pictures by Frank

Monday, 15 February 2010

Friendship day at Big Swifty Towers

It wasn't just Valentines' Day chez Swifty; we decided to share the love, and invited Mark and Lisa to join the four of us at home.

Jules had made a wonderful effort to make our day special, starting with the heart toast. Sending me out to stretch my legs, Sev and Jules cooked the vegetables ( I won't spoil the veggie groove by quoting Gene Hunt's "if God hadn't meant us to eat animals, he wouldn't have made them out of meat"). Meanwhile Frank, the three year-old chef, made the desserts; yoghurt layered with raspberries.

Along came Lisa and Mark (names unchanged to expose the innocent), who were great company, even though I don't know what Mark's on about much of the time. Frank hugely enjoys Mark's company, they seem to have an understanding despite neither of them coming from planet earth. Later we had a fire with some more of our garden wood; I just love the smell of burning free fuel in the evening.

Then I rang Rod in Scotland to make some plans for our backpacking in May. Friendship day indeed, thanks everyone for being my pal.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Duck house seeking MP

Did a quick six miles walking, in under two hours this morning, along the ancient romano-british dykes and across the Roman River valley, getting some exercise, and getting away from it all. But wherever I go, I get reminded by the topic that currently makes me angry. In this old moat at Oliver's stands a dilapidated duck house, hoping it will be adopted by an MP, and refurbished at public expense.

Yet again, Lord Hanningfield is in the papers. Now I didn't mind hearing him when he was Leader of Essex County Council; I may not have agreed with what he said, but it's right that the ECC Leader gets the column inches. But now Hanningfield has resigned, awaiting an appearance in court on 11 March in connection with his expenses. So how come we have to hear him bleating his innocence? Tell it to the judge.

The newspaper is not publishing anybody else's comments about Hanningfield, possibly so that it doesn't prejudice his trial. So why is it OK for the paper to devote so much space to Hanningfield, and for him to explain he's done nothing wrong, yet, as usual, the common person has no voice?

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Big Swifty meets top politician, and other aspects of the free market economy

It's not often I meet people from the top of the league. Last night, in my capacity as a small, nay micro, businessman (see I attended a Question Time session where a panel mainly of local politicians and prospective MPs answered questions from the floor. After the session North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin came over to me, shook my hand, and said "hello again Andrew, how are you?". In my earlier working life as a local Transport Policy person I had met the Honourable Mr Jenkin a couple of times, a good few years ago; he was Shadow Secretary of State for Transport at the time. I was surprised he recognised and remembered me, but I suspect it was because earlier that evening he read my lapel badge or saw me on the guest list, and was exercising a good schmoozing technique.

And why is he the top of the league politician? In October 2009, as a result of the initial recommendations of Sir Thomas Legg's audit following the disclosure of expenses, Legg recommended that Jenkin pay back over £63,000 - the highest amount to have been requested from any Member of Parliament. Mr Jenkin has made representations to Sir Thomas Legg's inquiry and his repayment has recently been halved, knocking him off the top of the expenses repayment league.

I'm very angry about this whole issue, and I apologise to any of my followers in that I didn't take the opportunity to give him, our (the public's) views on his personal use of public money. As always, Jenkin was totally charming, and urged me to cycle home carefully as the roads were icy.

Meanwhile, I was enjoying the spectacle of the business community requesting reduced business rates and less regulations, whilst requesting restrictive practices and special concessions to give local businesses council contracts even if it costs us taxpayers more, which is a funny kind of "get-the-government-off-our-backs free-market economy".

I felt like I'd slipped back thirty years some of the time, with the floor's clamour for colleges to produce less hairdressers, comments about foreigners, the poor quality of the young people wanting jobs today, the benefits culture, and the FSB host addressing the audience collectively as "gentlemen", even though there were, gasp, about 15% women there.

With my liberal attitudes, I felt like the ugly duckling amidst these swans of industry.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Judgement of Lord Hanningfield, and the end of the Essex Way

It's not every year that I've personally met someone in the national news. I had many years in local government, and hugely enjoyed meeting a very wide range of people. I wouldn't usually come on here passing comments about them, but today's blog is about the former Leader of Essex County Council, born Paul White, but usually referred to as Lord Hanningfield.

As Leader he has to look at his role and responsibilities, weigh up different priorities, make some tough judgements, and implement courses of actions. A tricky balancing act, and over the years I have stoutly defended our elected representatives for what they are doing.

It has been a great pleasure serving our councillors and the public (from different parts of the political spectrum, and all tiers of society - if we are allowed to admit they exist), and I am proud that I have done my best to serve them fairly, without fear or favour. And one of my customers was Lord Hanningfield.

He's the man who has made judgements that affect my life, so I am going to step outside my usual bounds of decorum, and pass judgement on this individual. In all the years
I have worked with thousands of people, my opinion is that he is the most pompous and arrogant person I have ever dealt with.

He's in the news now, charged under the Theft Act in connection with his expenses, one of four parliamentarians up before the judge, following the long running MP's expenses row that has brought shame to our parliament. Now I appreciate he's innocent until proved guilty, regarding overnight hotel bills in London for evenings when he was driven back to his home in Essex by his chauffeur; but I can't help but think the Crown Prosecution Service has been very carefully looking at the evidence before deciding to pursue the case, knowing the high public profile of the individual accused, the national sensitivity of the whole issue, and, dare I say it, the power, influence, contacts and resources available to a person like Lord Hanningfield.

In paralell with Hanningfield's work as leader of Essex County Council, I've been busying myself walking the footpaths of the Essex Way. Starting from Harwich (picture above) I've been walking with Jules and Valerie, and we are now approaching the very outer reaches of London. We've a fair few miles to go before we finish the Essex Way. But at Essex County Council, Hanningfield has resigned as Leader, and has stood down from his frontbench duites at the House of Lords. The conservatives have suspended him from the parliamentary party. The end of his Essex Way, at least for the time being.

Disclaimer. All facts taken from BBC My opinion is my own.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Time, and the smallest part thereof

Scientists will tell you a nanosecond is a pretty short length of time, certainly compared with how long it takes to choose from a menu. Other commentators have suggested that the shortest unit of time is that between when you press the send button on an e-mail, and when you discover you didn't make the attachment.

Today I discovered an even smaller measure. The time between when one's wife says "pretty nifty parking, eh?" and the graunching noise when the vehicle hits the barrier that had magically positioned itself in the blind spot. The last vibrations of the "" had ceased an infinitely small slice of time before the c of "crunch" started.

Of course I'm not the sort of person who bears grudges or keeps scores, but I simply report the fact that we have had the van nearly four years, and there have been three incidents of damage when Jules is driving, and none when I am. Bur pride comes before a fall, so I won't put this petty domestic story on the internet.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Bread and shoes

Strolling into Colchester yesterday we were surprised to see a Flour Power bakers stall in Culver Street, ON A SUNDAY! After a few years of limited public support for Sunday trading, it seems to be taking off. Many years ago I was a supporter of the Keep Sunday Special campaign, but accept that times have changed. But what about this wonderful bread stall? We bought a large sourdough loaf costing £3.50, lugged it home and cut it in half, one for the freezer, the other for this morning. And today we enjoyed the crunchiest noisiest tastiest toast one can imagine.

We were speculating on what people think about paying £3.50 for a loaf of the finest bread. After all you can buy Mother's Blotting Paper, thin sliced, for 25p in AlNetLid. Alternatively you can get squares of cardboard free, and improve your nutrition. It's a bit of a class thing I suppose. I'm quite happy to pay £3.50 for something tasty, others pay £80-120 for the latest leisure shoes, and throw them away if they get a mark on them.

But I'm not complaining; it's my usual Big Swifty response that it's different strokes for different folks. And I benefit from the fashion industry's demand for a new shoe range every season. I get last year's £80 Nike Air Pegasus running trainer for about half price, and I save a fortune on walking boots. I bought a pair of Karrimor walking boots last week reduced from £72 to £16, and mighty fine they are too. They are modelled above, and the photo is also a "Bench Monday" picture, for those who follow such things.

As part of my work I am promoting walking as transport; any Facebookers out there are welcome to join my "Colchester walk to work" facebook group. It was a bit icy for cycling this morning so I walked into town, following a wonderful route across a string of public open spaces, local nature reserves, ancient monuments and rights of way. My favourite section was the Lexden Dyke, part of the Romano/British network of dykes that protect Colchester from the west. (This was in the old days, 2000 years ago, when people from Bishop's Stortford were unfriendly to the people of Colchester. We get on fine now our football teams are in entirely different leagues.) Even now, the bank and ditch are about five metres high in places. Can you see me waving at my shadow in the ditch, photographing from the top of the bank?

Look at me with my cheap boots and belly full of sourdough. (Currently listening to Frank Zappa's Sinister Footwear.)


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