Tuesday, 5 December 2017

The Great Michael Made Scotland a Super Power.

Scotland's Super League Battleship - The Great Michael
For a short time in history, Scotland was a superpower with a state of the art battleship. It did not last long. The nation was allied with a powerful country that won the war against the Papal States and allies. Scotland was victorious, but she lost everything. The historic alliance was to be a tale of monumental bad luck. The nation had been on the winning side of its war but lost the one battle it fought. If ever there was an agony to victory, Scotland paid such a price during the War of the League of Cambrai. The part of the conflict that lasted from 1513 to 1516.
Why Are Some Great Ships Hidden in History?
The Great Michael. A wonderful battleship. The most formidable for its day. Why is it that hardly anyone knows of this galleon? This splendid wooden giant of the sea is obscure. It was state of the art technology back in 1507 when plans were first laid and construction began. This was ordered by Scotland’s successful King James IV. Through honour of a treaty with France, Scotland would go to war. This campaign would see all of the upcoming nation's achievements taken. So many rapid gains lost in a devastating miscalculation. The wonderful ship would be among such losses.
This period of time is often overlooked by many casual history buffs. However, stumbling upon such snippets of information is what makes the offhand reading of such shadowy history a delight. Especially where this great ship is concerned. The construction of the Great Michael was an achievement of envious recognition. Especially from England. In this nation, the twenty-year-old King Henry VIII had come to power a couple of years prior. The young English king wanted a ship of equal worth or better. For he knew the Great Michael was a super league ship of the time. The ship was revolutionary and caused an arms race. All European Monarchs were jealous of the ship. It was no superpower that had built such a vessel. It was Scotland.
All of a sudden, the Great King of Scotland, James IV was a rising star who had been a steadfast and strong leader of his nation. Finally, after previous decades and constant effectiveness of rule, James IV's nation was beginning to show promise. The National influence was the notable development. The improvement and successful economic growth were pursued with shipbuilding to compliment the King's prospering Scotland.
The Scottish king had set a precedent in naval supremacy. The up and coming Stewarts of Scotland had invested wisely in their future. Under King James IV’s rule, the Scots had climbed to the pinnacle. For a brief moment in history, they touched the stars. Scotland would become a naval powerhouse. Their jewel in the crown would be the Great Michael. A ship to behold when launched in 1511. This magnificent galleon had twice the displacement of England’s The Mary Rose. The young and grand English King Henry VIII’s pride and joy. Suddenly, the ship was not good enough. Henry VIII wanted a ship to equal The Great Michael.
For the young English monarch, this was a circumstance that would not do. He brought in all of his shipbuilders and put them to the task of building a battleship to match. This would take three years from the date when the Great Michael was launched. Much would happen between the times of building the Henry Grace √† Dieu nicknamed the Great Harry.

The Great Harry of England.

In this time England and Scotland were firm and old enemies. England’s inferior ship The Mary Rose was launched at the same time of 1511. In many ways, it might have been an arms race. The Great Harry was still a few years away from construction.
It is sad and strange how The Great Michael faded into obscurity in such a short space of time. She would be about longer than England's The Mary Rose. The English ship had over thirty-three years of service. The Mary Rose would fight in conflicts with France and Scotland. She may have faded into obscurity too, like The Great Michael.
However, a catastrophic accident made The Mary Rose iconic. The galleon capsized during the Battle of the Solent in 1545. Those last few dreadful moments of the ship’s life would immortalise her. By this point in time, the English king was old. King Henry VIII was watching from the shore when this event happened. It was a moment of dreadful disaster coupled with sensationalism. The King was watching with his entourage. The whole shocking event before their eyes. The disaster that would win huge merit in historical memory. Especially when it was salvaged from the seabed hundreds of years later and put into a museum. So much would be known of the Mary Rose and her life as a galleon in the Royal English Navy. This ship's life and service were magnified to history because of the disaster that befell her.
Perhaps such dreadful things are right to be remembered. However, I can’t help feeling that this great Scottish galleon The Great Michael does not get the recognition she rightly deserves. I think it is simply that her service and fate were not sensational enough. Only a few historians and ship enthusiasts know of her. Yet within the French Navy as The Great Nave of Scotland, this galleon must have seen service.
The Great Michael was sent by King James IV to ally with the French Navy in 1513. The War of the League of Cambrai was in full swing. France was at war with the Papal States and other European powers began to join sides to honour alliances and treaties. Scotland joined with France, Venice and the Duchy of Ferrara.
England joined with the Papal States, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, the Duchy of Milan and the Swiss Mercenaries. Young King Henry VIII of England went to France and fought with the Holy Roman Empire. Scotland, in support of France, led an ill-fated invasion of England. With the English King absent, the country was under the regency control of Queen Catherine of Aragon.
The Great Michael had been hired by French King Louis XII along with two other Scottish galleons. The Margaret and the James. The battleships were very expensive to run and the loan to an old ally was a sure way of the bankrolling ships from another nation’s purse. The huge ship would never return to Scotland because King James IV was killed at the Battle of Flodden in England. Also, the cream of Scotland’s nobility fell at the furious confrontation. Though Scotland was on the winning side of the war, she was left bankrupt with many of her nobles and king dead.
Scotland’s financial situation had become desperate overnight. The late James IV left his kingdom in the hands of his baby son and wife, Queen Mary Tudor (Elder sister of English King Henry VIII.) She had to be regent with help of the remaining Scottish nobility while the infant king grew up. The Great Michael was sold to the French Navy in the following year of 1514 for a pittance of what the galleon was worth.
The Great Michael was renamed The Great Nave of Scotland and some say she was left in ports and hardly ever put to sea. I doubt this is true and would assume the ship would see service over the decades that would pass. There were rumours that TheGreat Nave of Scotland took part in the Battle of the Solent. This was thirty-one years after being sold to France. This is feasible, but there is no concrete proof that the ship was with the French fleet. She would still have been a formidable vessel thirty years later. I can’t see why such a galleon would not have been used in the French fleet. No one knows what became of her in later years. There are no records to date about The Great Michael's or The Great Nave of Scotland's fate. Scotland’s great galleon of the seas faded from history.

Royal Scots Navy

How could such a thing be?

The War of the League of Cambrai was a bittersweet victory for Scotland.The disastrous battle of Flodden took everything from them. They were on the winning side but lost everything. The King and much of the nation's gentry were gone. A victory that left a winning nation bankrupt.

Scotland's Huge Battleship.

The Galleon that Faded from History

The Great Michael. A ship worthy of any superpower's navy. This colossal battleship of the day belonged to King James IV of Scotland. His navy could boast the finest ship in the world during the year was 1511.

Monday, 4 December 2017

The Knights Are No More - Formula One 1958

Mike Hawthorn.

The 1958 Formula One Season.

During the 1958 Formula one Championship there were three men who indulged in a tremendous rivalry for the competition’s winning prize money. All three raced for the car designer kingpin named Enzo Ferrari. As most people will know, the Ferrari reputation is legendary around the world for super performance cars. The name is a brand beyond comparison. By the 1950s, Enzo Ferrari had become an entrepreneur. He had founded the Scuderia Ferrari Grand Prix motor racing team. His cars would scream and echo their remarkable quality throughout the oncoming decades.
Enzo Ferrari always needed young men who lived on the edge of life. Glory Hunters and Dream Chasers. These were the calibre of young men who dared to race in the 1950’s decade. There was a wealth of such men to choose from. Risk-takers with a dash of recklessness. Brave show-offs who would race Ferrari’s constantly evolving racing cars. Many young men in the motor racing world would come and go. Some would perish in the fireball of flames and the burnt out wreckage of his super-fast cars.
To the spectator looking in at this world, it has a vivacity of manly glory. But then so does the era of gladiator fighting in ancient Rome. But how many of us would want to participate in such a thing? So too, does heavyweight boxing. I would never get into the ring with anyone. I could never drive such beasts of cars. Yet many of us enjoy watching those that would take a chance on such things.
The adulation of the masses must be intoxicating when the sportsperson wins. While in the background, are the impresarios. The silent kingmakers. Men that will no longer die in the fireball of reckless glory hunting. But men who will profit bit by bit from the enhancing reputation of their evolving dream machines. The little gods will come and go. There will always be a pool to choose from. Enzo Ferrari knew this. He encouraged the dash and rivalry among his racers. It was good for his brand.

Luigi Musso

Three Rivals Want Glory.

In the 1958 Formula one championship, Ferrari had recruited three glory hunting young men who coveted the grand prize of the championship. Two were Britons. Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins. The other was Luigi Musso – an Italian man from Rome.
In the 1950s, Formula one had many fatalities. The dead were mounting statistics. The sport was tremendously dangerous. Every year there were multiple fatalities. Big names perished. But some young men will always push themselves to the limit. Just to get a sniff of glory. Some attained the grandeur only to perish at a later date trying to re-fulfil the dream. These were the sort of men that Enzo Ferrari liked to recruit. Some argue that Ferrari’s dream machines were his cars first and foremost. Perhaps the young men that took up the challenge of Formula one motor racing were mere pawns? This risky sport was not for the faint-hearted. The entrepreneur has to have a ruthless streak to be successful. The driver must too. But the driver is below the pecking order against the business mogul.
Young men love the thrill and it is said, that when one reaches a certain limit, a driver enters the zone. A zone where everything becomes sublime for a few moments. A tussle with something ultimately daring. Every racer wants to achieve this. If one is at the head of the pack where the chancers or the glory hunters are; then one is in a zone of fleeting perfection. Cross the finish line in such a state of excellence. Stand upon the podium of performance. Then, for a glorious moment in eternity, that chancer is held in awe. Supreme and glorious veneration.
However, this is just one race win. One must collect the performance points over a serious of races throughout the racing season for the ultimate accolade. A good driver needs to keep this daring venture up for many races to become the Formula One Champion. With such an achievement comes money, glory and adulation beyond belief. The lure of the challenge is like an intoxicating drug for some racers. Many of the reckless men were burnt out living in the fast lane. Yet still, they continued.
Mike Hawthorn had been racing in the Formula One Championship since the early 1950s. He had won many podium places and had finished fourth in other Formula One competitions. He did win the 1955 Le Mans race, though it was amid much controversy when a racer named Pierre Levegh collided with a racing car that had swerved to avoid Mike Hawthorn’s Jaguar. The resulting crash also killed 84 spectators in one of the most horrific crashes of all time. The victory for Mike Hawthorn was bittersweet. He wanted the Formula One Championship and in 1958, he returned to the Ferrari team. He had raced for them before.
Peter Collins was also in the Ferrari team for this championship competition. He was a good friend of Mike Hawthorn and they had an agreement. If either of them won the Formula one competition, they would share the prize money. Peter Collins was a rising star and many expected him to be the first British Formula One champion. He had been in a team with the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio. He had given his car over to the Argentine during the 1956 season. This sacrifice dropped him to third place behind Stirling Moss. However, Fangio (Collins teammate) went on to win the competition because of Peter Collins grand gesture. He married an American actress and moved to a yacht in Monaco. Thus he was able to escape doing national service.
Luigi Musso was a seasoned racer of 33 years. He was the oldest of the three Ferrari racers in this 1958 season. He had gained some important podium places and was also looking good to take an overall Formula one championship. He had been racing for the Maserati team before joining the Ferrari team. Musso owed a great deal of money to creditors. He needed wins and to collect the prize money to pay off such loan men. He had confined such to Peter Collins. In turn, Collins relayed the news to Mike Hawthorn. Perhaps Collins was to attempting to allow Musso in on a third-way share of the prize money. Whatever the reason, Hawthorn refused to help Musso.
Hawthorn needed prize money for a love child. A young lady had borne him a son. He had met the woman in 1953 after winning the French Grand Prix. Maybe, he thought Musso was reckless to get into such financial debt in the first place. It is not known for sure.

Peter Collins British Grand Prix 1958

Outside the Ferrari Bubble Are Other Glory Hunters.

As the 1958 season progressed, the three Ferrari racers battled between one another. Also, the Vanwall team of Tony Brooks and Sterling Moss were picking up wins. It is hard to work out how the points system works for the 1958 season. This is because Stirling Moss won most first places in the races. Tony Brooks had more wins than Mike Hawthorn too. In fact, Mike Hawthorn only won one race at Reims, the French Grand Prix. If one looks at the wins during the 1958 season, Stirling Moss wins four races, Tony Brooks wins three races and Mike Hawthorn wins one. Yet Mike Hawthorn amassed 42 points against Stirling Moss’ 41 points and Tony Brooks’ 24 points.
At Reims, Luigi Musso tried recklessly to gain on Mike Hawthorn. The rivalry had developed over the competition. On the 10th lap of the 50 lap race, he tried to chase and catch his leading teammate. He took a particular curve at an angle that was too wide. His racing car struck a ditch. His car somersaulted and smashed to pieces. The injured Luigi Musso was pulled from the burning wreckage and airlifted to a hospital. He died of his injuries shortly after.
It was another race where the price of victory was bittersweet for Mike Hawthorn. The French Grand Prix was the largest monetary prize of all the races. Hawthorn would give his part to the lady who had borne him a son. As he and Peter Collins left the hospital in Reims, Mike Hawthorn was deeply affected by his team mate’s death. There was a beer can in the road and he kicked it nonchalantly as he left the hospital. Peter Collins kicked it back. This was seen by the late Luigi Musso’s girlfriend. Her name was Fiamma Breschi and she understandably saw this as a mark of contempt. It was not intended, but this was not a good thing to do in front of a dead friend’s lover. Perhaps they did not think they were being watched. Whatever the reason, the two British racing drivers were forever held in contempt by Fiamma Breschi.
The next race was the British Grand Prix. Here, Peter Collins would win and Mike Hawthorn would come second. Peter Collins victory would be his penultimate race. For he would perish under the same type of circumstances as Musso, at the next Grand Prix in Germany. He was 26 years of age. His teammate Mike Hawthorn retired from the race. He would finish second in the next three races. The steady gathering of points from these overall second positions were enough to clip the championship by one point.
Despite the championship win, Mike Hawthorn had had enough of the Formula One motor racing world. He had seen a lot of good friends die. Death was always a companion for these racing drivers of the age. It would continue to be for the coming decades. Le Mans had been a diabolical triumph for Mike Hawthorn. So had the 1958 Formula one championship. Collins and Musso had perished.
Hawthorn collected his prize and announced his retirement. He had lived through the testing times. Finally, with the coveted achievement, he could leave the sport. It was October 1958. He had endured and survived. Many had not. Enzo Ferrari would find other daring young men.
Tragically, Mike Hawthorn would live for three months after his retirement. He was killed in a car crash driving on a public road. The date was 22nd January 1959. He was believed to have been racing his Jaguar car against a Mercedes that was being driven by Rob Walker. Perhaps a little foolhardy camaraderie with the 'Johnny Walker Whisky' related man. It was a little ironic, to say the least. Luigi Musso’s girlfriend Fiamma Breschi might have thought poetic justice had been served. Who knows for sure?
The great entrepreneur Enzo Ferrari would move on. There would be other names to come. He would live to be 90 years of age. His brand name cars still go on to this day. The sport is less dangerous in this day and age.
But as Jan Struther, a lady famous for her children’s hymn, once wrote; ‘And the knights are no more and the dragons are dead.’

Mike Hawthorn

Mike Hawthorn Shortly Before His Tragic Demise.

One of Mike Hawthorn's Last Speeches.

Just prior to his tragic death, Mike Hawthorn made a small speech. There was a little humour, as one might expect. It gave thanks to all his fans and supporters during his racing career.

The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham (My Goodreads Review)

The Midwich Cuckoos

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my favourite of all the John Wyndham novels that I have read. When compared to the excellent other titles he wrote like, The Day of the Triffids and The Chrysalids; this is a BIG plus from my point of view. The strange thing about my experience of John Wyndham novels is that I read The Day of the Triffids first, and it blew my mind. I thought it was marvellous. Then I read The Chrysalids and thought that was even better. Surely he could not surpass two such grand reads? Happily, I was wrong! The Midwich Cuckoos was an absolute triumph of science fiction for me. It has a wonderful 1950s retro British feel about it, but in essence, it could be set in any small village anywhere in the world and in anytime today.

If you enjoy good science fiction and excellent writing, then John Wyndham is a must. Every title he wrote had me gripped from start to finish.

View all my reviews

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The Nephilim - Giant Supernatural Beings.

The Quest for Supernatural Truth.

Simple legends often stimulate my interest. With the religious lore of supernatural beings, people might often scoff at such ancient and fanciful text. I often have. I think it was to rebel against certain school teachings.
I was taught about times of chaos. Masses of people wanting salvation and guidance from an almighty and all-knowing entity greater than themselves. All sort of cults or religions has developed across the world of humanity. I don’t believe such things. I could argue with any religion. I am sovereign of one realm. That treasured province of my mind with all its flaws and ignorance.
Yet now such harmony of mind is established, I can’t help picturing such created worlds in my mind’s eye. It is probable that celestial persons were not involved in our world disarray. But do you ever dream they were? There are Holy Scriptures. Report of diabolical supernatural creatures. Giants called the Nephilim. Did heroic humans stand against them? Perhaps David and Goliath might spring to mind. We love such tales and want to make them real. Even if they are not.

Mixing Science Fiction with Religious Scriptures. 
I watched a simple science fiction movie and I began to think of these Nephilim celestial beings again. The science fiction film was called Prometheus. It was one of those, Ridley Scott, Alien movies. The beginning of the story made an impression. It presented the notion of a giant human being from another planet. This strange humanoid man had a wonderful mystic and powerful look. He was walking over some rocks on our planet Earth. It is before mankind came about. The giant man stops upon a final rock and looks out at a fast flowing river. In the sky is a giant spaceship rising to the clouds. The glorious sci-fi presentation looked spectacular and tantalisingly Biblical. The water cascades over a precipice. A huge waterfall of rushing disorder. In the story, these giants are space travellers and they are later mentioned as engineers. They spread a DNA bio code. From this springs animal life including human. The whole scene is rather inspiring. It sucked me in and I enjoyed the movie. These engineers were meant to be a scientific fantasy of the Nephilim. The giants that stalked the world as a super race of warriors. The enormous men of the Bible.
Despite not being religious, I am often drawn to unexplainable things. Intrigue knows no boundaries and will invade even the most rational mind. If there is something on TV or an article about strange or paranormal topics, I am sucked in. I confess to being a total glutton for such swindles. I don’t believe a word of the scam. Yet something compels me to watch or read any probable deception placed before me. Perhaps I hope to find one that I can’t pass off with a flippant huff.
I’m not an atheist either. I’m in the ‘don’t know’ camp. I ponder the problem of life after death a lot. This is an indulgence that we are all susceptible to. I think there might be something on the other side. I just don’t know what. One way or another, I’m destined to find out. We all are.

Giant Engineer of Prometheus Movie.

Why are we compelled by myths?
Our archaeologists have found dinosaurs that lived over hundreds of millions of years ago. There are giant skeletons of such colossal creatures in museums all over the world. Yet many devout and religious people believe the ideology of Biblical writings. I understand that people could be indoctrinated during the middle ages. But today, with all the access we have to various types of knowledge?
If such giant people did exist we would have found remains. There are lots of photos containing images of giant skeletons dug up by people posing as archaeologists. Colossal skulls and bones with tiny humans digging up the remains. They look great at first sight. However, we all know photos can be doctored. The museums would happily display such marvels if they were real. The mind-boggling discoveries would be world news. Sadly Nephilim celestial beings are not true.

Fake Photos Are Every Where.

Real People of our World
There are abnormally tall people who may qualify as such, but these people have genetic disorders. We have remarkably large races of people in Africa. The Zulus are very tall people. Also, exceptionally small people if we consider Pygmy tribesman. They are very slight in height and build. Sometimes I wonder whether African peoples who travelled to the Middle East may have told stories of these strange tribesmen. It got passed on among other cultures and corrupted in some way over generations. Then when peoples began to write, bards and other types of fable tellers dictated corrupted versions of the ancient tales.

Perhaps many of us want to find something of the vast unknown we are going to before we get there. Everyone wants to jump the gun or indulge the concept at odd moments through life. We hope for clues of celestial beings. Just a real and unchallengeable fact that might lend support to an existence of something greater than us human beings. I don’t believe in Christianity, but when I first watched the movie called The Exorcist, I was petrified. Then when I’m rational, I tell myself that I do not believe such things. Is there some deeply routed psych buried within us? Some instinct in all animal life? A code or program in all DNA?

I see many things that I’m sure are elaborate hoaxes. I'm positive the photo shot of the giant skeleton in this article is doctored. However, I’m always compelled by strange scriptures from religious documents. Again, I don’t believe such things. Even if I would like some of the fabrications to be true.
I remember reading about celestial beings that are called Nephilim. These giant human beings are spoken of in the Bible. (Genesis 6: 1-4.) A race of superhumans that were hybrids. They are reported to be the sons of fallen angels who took mortal human women as their wives. The relegated supernatural beings are described as sons of God. One would assume that there were Nephilim women offspring too. To my knowledge, the religious scriptures don’t mention female Nephilim. Surely these reduced divine beings and mortal women did not have exclusive male offspring. I often wonder how the writers of the scripture came by such parables in the first place. The mind that created such beings must have been inspired by a source from somewhere. Perhaps before writing developed. Maybe from word of mouth by lyricists around a tribal campfire. Lots of tribes all over the world would surely have versions of tales about giant warriors.
Fables are enjoyable. Yet sometimes I wish we could find something that was true yet mind-blowing on the supernatural scale. A positive fact to prove there is life beyond our world. Whether from another star system or from a celestial source. Many of our planet's diverse cultures have stories of a great flood. We all know of Noah and his arc. Caucasian explorers went to Africa and came across an isolated tribe called the Khoikhoi. Sometimes they are referred to as Hottentots. These people had a tale of a great flood across the world. They saw a giant boat with a huge house upon its deck. It is a small issue I admit, but I can’t help clutching at little things like this. So many obscure cultures have stories of a huge flood. So many cultures have stories of giant men. Men like the Nephilim.

 Some people dismiss logical things to believe indulgences they want to be true.

Monday, 13 November 2017

The Fenland - Through the Year.

The unwelcome winter austerity.
I view the approach of winter with sadness. The autumn is here and everything is dying. My wife and I always take a holiday in winter because we don’t feel the need of one during summer. The Fenland is always marvellous then and why leave the area at such a glorious time? But it is October now and our garden is fading. Once there was something here. But it fell into decline. The dazzling glory of the summer months is gone. The fall our floral empire. The garden will become a sad ruin. Still, a cruise to the Cannery Islands in December and trips to York and London during January will break down the cold season nicely. By the time this is done, the spring will come around again. New ideas and more time for the garden and the surrounding Fens.
We are fortunate not to have too many severe winters in the East Anglia area of Britain. We get the odd snowfall in the winter, but even these are unusual. There has not been one for about the last five or six years. Not one that people could speak of. In the Fenland, where I live, the whole area is mostly rural and sparsely populated compared to other parts of England. The entire region is given over to farming and food processing. In the winter, the fields become ploughed expanses of mud. As far as the eye can see. There is nothing but derelict furrowed fields awaiting spring. The scattered copses of trees are all bare against dull grey skies with groups of Crows, Ravens and Rooks flying about. We see all of this from our living room window. For a few brief weeks, all is void of greenery.
All looks still and desolate in the morning mist as I go to work. Within the bleakness is a feeling of isolation. The biggest town of Wisbech no longer has a railway station. It was closed down during the Beeching reports of the 1960s. Sometimes the Fenland feels a little cut off. But then this has its charm for many, in an inadvertent way. The feeling of being out of sight and out of mind. I suppose I’m trying to paint a picture of the worse aspect of rural living before I get to the kind parts. Well, even this dreary time has many wicked charms if one ventures out.

The unchanged parts of winter.
The birds of prey are very visible because they stand out more when perched in the trees looking out for rodents in the bare fields. My wife, Carole, and I often venture out to watch them. Not that Buzzards or Red Kites favour such hunting pursuits. They are generally lazy predators. There is an abundance of roadkill along the verges and I see these raptors circling along the country roads often. They are no different in the Fenland than anywhere else. Buzzards and Red Kite will have a free lunch if it is available on the verge of the roadside.

The smaller Kestrels will hunt with enthusiasm as they hover on the spot searching for prey in the fields. Their perfect vision singles out any unwary rodent. Then they suddenly dive when there is a chance of a kill. Also, there are the Sparrow Hawks. Wicked yet beautiful birds of prey that will swoop down upon any small bird. I’ve seen it happen. One moment the little sparrow is hopping about in search of bug or worm nutrition then the creature becomes a raptor’s sustenance. Vanquished in a dreadful blur. All these things are more visible in the barren landscape. It happens everywhere. But in the open Fenland, it is more noticeable.

Preparing for the spring.
Carole is always busy in the greenhouse. She has lots of pots and many seeds. I’m not the green finger of the relationship, but I get intrigued by what she does. When we are out shopping, I’m always looking at the various seeds. Especially cornflowers and the more wild looking types of flora. I like the garden to look crazy and unconventional as opposed to neat little rows of bedding plants. A mad cascade of colour with blues, reds, yellows and all else within the spectrum.
I often stand there watching and talking while she prepares for the oncoming spring. She’ll give me pots and I’ll put soil in and then seeds. I work to her instruction because she knows what to do with the garden far better than me. Many of the cornflowers will grow again from the previous year, but we always get a few extra seeds just in case. This emergency came about because of the wandering ducks and chickens we left out a few winters back. They ate everything and the spring plants suffered because of the unwelcome attention of our poultry. It was a mistake we did not make again.
Gradually things start to happen.
March is the month when things begin. The fields sprout. Little fine stems of green as the crops push up through the soil. The trees start to bud and there is a flurry of bird activity. Sparrows, Finches, Robins and blackbirds are full of song. Our garden feeders are stocked up too. Gradually the first flowers start to grow. Daffodils, Crocuses, Snow Drops and Bluebells as the spring gets into motion. The austerity of winter fades rapidly as the Fenland wakes from sombreness with a vengeance of colour. Our muddy little garden suddenly comes alive. The Magnolia tree blooms with fine pink flowers and the Ceanothus Bush has vibrant blue within the dark green leaves. Everything is uplifting and fine. New ideas are on our horizon. What can we do for the garden this year?

The first project comes about.
I found the plastic cast of a small garden pond fly-tipped. It was with a load of household rubbish. I was sent to remove the discarded waste while at work. I clear the Fenland as best I can with a team of street cleaners. We patrol our section of the district. All the little droves and country lanes. That is how I get to see so much of what goes on about me. The vast majority of inhabitants of the Fenland love the area, but we do get the odd few who fly tip in obscure locations. This can be a blot on the landscape. We try to clear and report as quickly as possible. The pond casting I found was brand new and unused. I had been looking for such a commodity and was about to buy one. It seemed a shame to take this item to the rubbish tip when I could make use of it. I took it home and put it in the back garden. Carole was delighted by it. She said it was a perfect size and selected a place right close to the decking. We had a collection of terracotta pot plants and a running water feature here. This was the little ambient section where we often sit when relaxing and reading in the garden. The chill place, as some might say. I had to be off back to work as I was on the way to the tip with the rubbish I had collected. I said I would dig a hole to lay the cast when I got home. Then we would discuss the other things needed. I should have known better with Carole. Sometime later, when I was back at a small hamlet called Chatteris, I got a call on my mobile from Carole. She had dug a hole and put the pond cast in. When I got home from work there was a decorative rockery around the pond too.
Within a few short hours, the garden pond was beginning to look like a splendid idea. With all the cornflowers and other plants about the new feature, we could see how this pond would make a kindly addition to the ‘chill place.’ The sacred decking where we sit.
To make sure the pond water would not stagnate, we had to acquire a filter and oxygenating plants. With the filter would come a small water pump. This is a major addition for oxygenation. This added help needed a small waterfall beneath the overflow pipe of the filter box. The small steps along the waterfall cast would allow water to trickle back down to the pond where the gentle cascade added to the soothing sound of our other water feature. This is very good for the pond water where fish are concerned. The water is continuously recycled via the filter that collects mud and other impurities from building up. It needs cleaning out once every three months. This is a simple process and the silt collected within the filter can be scrapped onto the garden beds. This is full of nitrates and helps the soil. The cleaning takes a few minutes.
We went to a small pond centre in a village close by. Here we got some splendid advice from the establishment. The whole area was geared up for garden pond features. Our pond was rather modest compared to some of the huge pond casts the man had on display. He showed us various types of water pumps. The device we chose could keep our pond water clean for water features four times bigger than the one we had. This pump and filter were the smallest. It was more than perfect for our needs. I selected a small plastic mould that had various steps for a cascading waterfall. One bowl filled and then trickled down to another bowl. Then another and finally back into the pond. The small pump could be laid on its side at the base of the pond where it sucked in the water through a filter and then up through a hose into the box at the side of the pond. Inside the box is another sponge filter. The water comes through this clear of impure sediments which are stopped beneath the sponge. Hence the need to clean every three months. Once the clean water starts to rise within the box, it reaches the overflow pipe. Here, the overflow pipe allows clear water to trickle back via the top of the plastic waterfall and so the whole process continues to go full circle. Time and time again. So long as the pump is left plugged in. There is a robust cable that leads to the house. We did have to drill a hole in the brickwork for this. The cable runs for a short distance along the side of the decking and is concealed from sight and the elements. It is reasonable to know how far your pond will be from a power source to work your water pump.
The pond centre also had the various types of plants that help to oxygenate the water. Some of them were in pots that can be placed below the water line. Others have no base and float about. Some multiply rapidly and need to be culled or the pond can become overrun. It is a small matter to keep the right consistency. I could name so many types, but because our pond is small, we had to pass on some of the more spectacular plants. We had Water Hyacinth. This floats on the surface and is one that multiplies rapidly. Scirpus, which is a type of water grass. Also Lilaeopsis another pond grass. These are very good oxygenators. We got a water Lilly and a water Iris. Some of the underwater oxygenator plants consume disbanded minerals. Especially dissipated salts. Algae would rapidly spread without these useful pond plants.
Around and the rockery – the pond’s perimeter, we planted Snow on the Mountain, Forget me Not and other various Alpine plants that cling and spread. Some will do better than others. Just let nature select. It will look pretty whatever flowers become dominant. All this flora in and around the pond does not take long to establish. One will notice within days. After weeks much of the layout will look sublime. One sits on the decking with the terrific sound of running water.
Of course, no pond centre would be without pond fish. We were advised to take about six fish for our garden feature. This seemed reasonable for our pond size. We choose three Golden Orfe and three Shubunkin fish. They looked like a type of goldfish. When one gets these pond fish, they come in water filled transparent bags. Do not tip them straight into the pond because the sudden change in water temperature can shock the fish. Leave the plastic bag with water and fish laying on the pond water for a short time. The water temperature will gradually adjust. Then loosen the bag and ease the water and fish into the pond.
As time goes by all sort of things develop with the pond. Some of the birds enjoy the waterfall. We have a Blackbird that comes for a morning and afternoon shower. He likes to wash in the little waterfall. Four frogs have moved in too. Perhaps we might get some Newts in time. It does not take long to get established. The fish are thriving but we have had to put a small wire mesh over the water. This is because we have a number of Herons flying about. They have spotted the pond and would clear it of fish and frogs very quickly without protection.

Flowers everywhere.
As the summer arrived, everything in the garden started to happen. In the front of the house, our Red Hot Pokers flowered. As did the Australian Bottle Bush. We had an array of orange Californian poppies. There was Lavender, clusters of Snow on the Mountain and other assortments of Alpine plants. My favourite is always the cornflowers. These are usually blue, but there are also other colours, which I think are hybrid. I say this because wild Cornflowers always seem to be blue. There is an unconventional and mad look about scattered cornflowers. I personally find this alluring and these flowers are low maintenance. They attract bees and various butterflies too. I suppose all flowers do, but it’s the Cornflowers that I always find myself watching.
Our surrounding fencing is gradually acquiring scattered trellises. These are great for the climber plants like Clematis, Jasmin and Hydrangea. We also have various shrubs too. There is a Plumb tree, a Cherry tree in the Duck coop and also an Apple tree just outside by the duck fencing. Not forgetting the bigger Magnolia tree in the centre of the garden.
The lawn is cut regular as the summer can make the grass grow very quickly. I’m sure anyone with a garden will know this. An electric rotary mower is good for a quick cut. It’s efficient and easy to keep on top of the lawn in a small garden. If you would like a closer and neater cut, I would recommend a cylinder mower. Even if it’s a basic push mower. Obviously do a rotary cut first and then go over with a cylinder. It gets the grass down neat and pristine. Almost like a quality haircut.
We also have Strawberry, Gooseberry and Blueberry plants. Each year we get a good little intake from these plants. So many people have horses in the Fens. There is always bags of horse manure on sale along the roads. We feel the strawberry patches with this once autumn comes. It gives it a fair time to break down and we also add compost on top. Come the season, the edible plants I’ve mentioned spring up in abundance.
From our garden, and besides the fruits I’ve mentioned, Carole gets Horse Radish, Cucumber, various Tomatoes, Peppers, Spring Onions, Lettuce and Chives. With the poultry, we also have a regular supply of eggs.
Gardening is definitely something that is growing on me. I used to have a garden in my other house, but I just kept and mowed a lawn. Since being with my wife Carole, I have learnt about so many other things. Since we moved to the rural Fenlands, it is almost impossible not to get used to the more open environment and the way the outdoor world is. Every time I think we have completed our garden look. Something else always seems to crop up. There are the bird boxes too. Little hidden abodes scattered amid the climbing plants in the hope of attracting nesting couples. We’ve had a few this year but not in the boxes. I’m told that sometimes they need to be about for a few years and then one or two might get taken.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

The Impudent Observer of a Famous Artist.

All artists have a unique style.
The beholder will decide what is good.

Conviction of my own vanity

I’m no authority on art by any stretch of the imagination. There are paintings and various types of artwork that captivate and compel me. But then I think there are artists who are revered and held in high regard for little reason. I'm saying that some artists do nothing to inspire me at all. Sometimes it vexes me. Why is adulation wasted on so many? It’s the same with music. There are famous musicians that I like. There are famous musicians that I can’t stand. I suppose it boils down to the eye of the beholder. So long as one can get an agent to find a platform, then potential beholders will follow. Even if, in my opinion, they are not that good.
I readily preach that some modern exhibits are beyond me. They are nothing short of despicable and fraudulent. It often frustrates me when some pretentious pretender gets a platform that is not rightly deserved. Little displays of controversy or dubious patterns. I’m sure every individual can say the same thing. Obviously for different works of art that I may not be revolted by.
I thought Vincent Van Gogh was nothing special and even decided his paintings were awful. But only for a limited period. Eventually, I found myself warming to his colours and brush strokes. It gave the artist his unique signature. I could tell when a painting was by him. Even if I had not seen the particular painting before. After a while, he grew on me and I changed my mind. Vincent Van Gogh is now an artist I enjoy. Therefore an artist can grow on anyone. Specific artwork can develop in one’s own opinion. Opinions that change with time.

Bernard Buffet has that wonderful French presentation.

My twisted view.

When I was younger, my impression of good artwork was completely different from the opinion I have today. Some of the Italian artists had a style of work from the Renaissance period that used to motivate me. The people within many of these paintings looked real. Almost like a photograph. This, I decided was good art. I obviously had a narrow perspective of things. I thought some of Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches were very detailed. Especially one of an old man’s face with all the wrinkles and furrows. Then there were the portrait artists that painted Kings and Queens across Europe. I put great credit on these artists. Again, because the paintings looked so lifelike.
As I went through secondary school my bad opinion developed. Our teachers presented us with a wider range of artists. These individuals who had very different signatures. This is where I first saw Van Gogh and thought his artwork was unrealistic and therefore not worthy of praise. Also L.S. Lowry with his matchstick men and matchstick cats and dogs. I had no appreciation for the artists’ developed style. This was during my adolescence. If one painted people they had to look real. Like in a photograph. Not swirling brushstrokes or surreal infantile presentations. I was flabbergasted that artists were getting grand recognition for doing immature paintings. My perspective was narrow and simplistic. Needless to say, I did not exceed in art. I thought American and British comic book art was realistic and therefore good. Cartoon power was the order of the day.
Even to this day, I don’t get the thing about Pablo Picasso. I know people love and revere the man. His paintings sell for multi-millions of pounds. I just don’t like his work. I think Salvador Dali could paint things that looked very real but then distorted and ruined his topic by putting nightmare additions to the well-proportioned subject matter. Like an elephant's body looking real, but with a giant trumpet head. I accept that these surreal images are, in a strange way, clever. But I just can’t warm to the artwork.

Bernard Buffet Pictures scream 'Bernard Buffet Picture.

The armchair critic

I have brazenly said all of these things as someone who is in no way, an artist of paintings. I’m only an impudent observer. However, I have recently come across a French artist whose signature I liked immediately. His paintings of people are unrealistic by the photographic type of presentation I liked during my younger days. But each of his paintings has that amazing French feel. In every way, he has that je ne sais quoi. I liked the clarity of his work. The colours are rather drab yet compelling. There is an ambience about each of his presentations. He even painted some pictures of London and Tower Bridge. Yet still one could see it was done by a Frenchman. I read that this French artist was part of an anti-abstract art group.
What on Earth an anti-abstract art group is, I cannot say. I don’t think I even care because it all sounds very political with labels and all. However, this Frenchman, in my opinion, is an absolute peach of an artist. I honestly enjoy all of his paintings. There is a slight infantile quality to the expression of his work. Yet there is also a pristine type of neatness. I can’t say what it is from an art critic’s point of view because I’m a rudely drawn man with my own ‘Devil may care’ opinion.
I had never heard of the man before, but most lovers of art would know him. I am presuming this because during his life he won great merit and his many works were displayed across the globe. I believe he is an icon of French artists but then France has so many iconic artists to boast of. The man lived from 1928 to 1999. At the age of 71, he is believed to have committed suicide because of the onset of Parkinson’s disease. He was unable to paint or draw.
The man’s name is Bernard Buffet. I had never heard of him. But then I'm ignorant of so many famous artists. In many ways, this was a joy. Especially when one stumbles upon Bernard Buffet by accident. It was like all one’s Christmases happening at once. Like stepping up a notch to the joys of life’s odd little charms. One that slaps you in the face and says, “Hey! Grab a load of this!”
Bernard Buffet and his alluring pictures are a breath of fresh air to me. He is wonderfully French and I enjoy his work immensely. I am sure so many other observers do too. Not just learned art critics who get to decide what is, or what is not; a work of art. In this case, it is me. And I say in my English way; when it comes to great art, this Frenchman certainly knew his onions. That is an English way of saying he had that je ne sais quoi.

The Great Bernard Buffet's signature is apparent in all his work.

Bernard Buffet 1962

Retro France of the 1950s and 1960s enjoyed a revival of many types of art. From music to acting. It was a boom time. There were also the developed artists like Bernard Buffet who captured these decades of progressive French arts. His splendid paintings are numerous.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The Secret Pilgrim by John le Carre (My Goodreads review)

The Secret Pilgrim (George Smiley series)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I absolutely enjoy anything about George Smiley and his time during the Cold War. I thought we would never come across him again after Smiley's People. Then this story came along. Often George Smiley only has cameo roles in some of his stories. This is one where George is a secondary character. The main man is Ned. He has been retired from the Circus spy network. It is about 1989 or 1990. The Cold War is over. He has a class of up and coming hopefuls for Britain's world of espionage. Ned writes a letter to his old mentor George Smiley. He is inviting him to a seminar for the young graduates. The reserved and long retired George Smiley accepts the invitation and turns up for the seminar much to Ned's delight and surprise. As George Smiley starts to give his lecture and answer questions to the young graduates, Ned finds himself reminiscing episodes from his past where George Smiley plays parts within the various stories. We see other characters too. Toby Esterhase, Peter Guillam and the infamous Bill Haydon. This is absolute peach, Le Carre. All the old favourites come out. I loved it all and enjoyed the old style Cold War feel. I can't wait to read The Gathering of Spies.

The Black and Tan Summer: Ireland's Turbulent Year of 1920

View all my reviews