Friday, February 22, 2019

A dark, grey day in the dear green city

 There are things you should always do but never get round to. As the song says,

What happened to the wonderful adventures?
The places we had planned for us to go.
Some of them we did, but most we didn't
And why I do not know.

So, for my mum's 82 second birthday, we took her on a tour of the city she was born in.

The weather was very Glasgow. It was cold and sunny, then cold and  overcast, then cold and so windy I couldn't hear the commentary through the earphones.

I thought I'd go black and white.

Central station.

It's looking very depressing. In a previous blog there is also a picture taken right here.
It's sunny, tables are out, beer being supped, people happy.
Not today. 

We can get this on a T shirt.
It means he's a bampot.

           This is where we were sitting, outside at the back, trying to kill my mother with hypothermia.

Switched to colour as monochrome was too depressing
The city chambers in George Sq

These architects should be put against that wall and shot, slowly

The old Glasgow Royal Hospital


The mural depicts story from St Mungo, bringing a robin back to life.

The Tollboth, where we executed people

Glasgow Green, every time I have been here, it's been after a very long run.

The People's Palace with  some botanic gardens on the back. 

A sandstone memorial as a roundabout.
The building at the back is a carpet factory, the factory that  made the carpets on the Titanic.
The owner wanted the factory here but it was so visible the  council said he could build it as long as it didn't look like a factory!

A pub near the first church to get an organ.

Above the italian centre

Above the modern art gallery

Victorian facade

The old citizen newspaper building and the silver anchor building

The picture off the other bus

The Cad'ora building - Iron and glass.

The trains above, the area underneath is known as the highlandman's umbrella


This architect should be pushed down a hill 

Under the M8 motorway, this is the busiest few miles of motorway in Scotland.
It was never meant to take so many cars,  at a standstill.
It has been bolted together... many times.

                  New riverside apartments, and the much loved squinty bridge across the clyde.

The Rotunda, where they used to turn the horses at the end of the underground tunnel.
Now a rather nice restaurant.

The Hydro concert hall seats 12 000- the biggest in Scotland

The armadillo Concert hall
( more comfy seats than above)

The Goliath crane, now used for charity abseiling.

                                                 ????, it's a car park!

                                                      A malt whisky distillery, plenty of freebies                 
                                                    Lots of folk got  off the bus here!

The riverside museum, award winning architecture
All Glasgow museums are free- like in Washington DC!

The tall ship tucked behind the transport museum

                                            And the beloved Waverly paddle steamer, the last ocean going paddle steamer in the world. She was bought by the people of Glasgow for a pound. Unsteerable!

                                            A nice pic of the art gallery over the trees.

By this time, I had lost all feeling in my fingers and had to turn the camera off.
Very dangerous being a blogger.

Caro Ramsay  22 02 19

Thursday, February 21, 2019

A very special, if confused, day

Stanley - Thursday

Today is Armed Forces Day in South Africa - chosen because it is the date of one of the country's worst military disasters - the sinking of the SS Mendi in 1917. 

What is confusing is how the tragedy has been regarded over the years. It's enough to give one a headache. And heartache. And it almost totally due to the oral history tradition of the blacks in South Africa that we remember it at all.

The story

Fighting a war is a very complex enterprise requiring not only soldiers, but also non-combatant personnel to support them. In 1916, the British government asked South Africa to send 10,000 men from the South African Native Labour Contingent to Europe to help the war effort. South Africa complied, and large numbers of black South Africans (about 21,000) headed for Europe, expressly barred from doing any fighting because of fears that they may return and confront the white government. Most who went were volunteers who hoped that they would be rewarded for their service on their return.

The South African Native Labour Contingent's last parade before heading to Europe

Just before embarking
On the evening of February 20, 1917, the SS Mendi set sail from Plymouth headed for La Havre, France, with 805 black privates, 5 white officers, 17 non-commissioned officers, and 33 crew. On the morning of the next day, another ship, the SS Darro, sailing at high speed in unfavourable conditions, rammed into the SS Mendi, causing it to sink in less than half an hour.

The SS Mendi
Due to the rapid listing of the SS Mendi, some lifeboats were unusable, others were not launched because the men were unable to untie the knots on the ropes holding them. Apparently, the men had not been told that the ropes were designed to be cut, not untied. And those that were launched soon filled up, a few overturning due to overloading. 

The SS Darro did nothing to help rescue the men of the SS Mendi. However, lifeboats from the SS Mendi's escort, the destroyer HMS Brisk, did all it could to rescue survivors. In the end, 649 men perished. In an enquiry into the tragedy, the captain of the SS Darro, a Captain Stump, was found negligent and had his license suspended for a year.

The wreck 
In a rare, possibly unique, gesture, all members of the white South African House of Assembly stood in respect for the dead.

The legend

The courage shown by those on the SS Mendi has become a legend in South Africa. Certainly, there are verified accounts of amazing discipline and bravery, with men helping each other without respect to colour. As you would expect, there are also stories that have been elaborated and exaggerated, the best known of which is of a black paster, Isaac Dyobha, who called out to the men too afraid to jump overboard:
Be quiet and calm, my countrymen, for what is taking place now is exactly what you came to do. You are going to die, but that is what you came to do. Brothers, we are drilling the drill of death. I, a Xhosa, say you are all my brothers. Zulus, Swazis, Pondos, Basutos, we die like brothers. We are the sons of Africa. Raise your war cries, brothers, for though they made us leave our assegais at our kraals, our voices are left with our bodies.
Assegai - spear
Kraal - village

It is also said that the men danced on the deck in their bare feet, stamping in unison. However, this is highly unlikely, given the listing of the ship.

The aftermath

Many of the dead are buried in the countries where their bodies were washed ashore. There are memorials in a number of places in Europe and South Africa, but official recognition was only given in 2017, a hundred years after the tragedy, with the installation of a plaque at the South African National Memorial at Delville Wood.

The plaque at Delville Wood
The survivors of the disaster were treated very badly on their return to South Africa. Their contribution was barely acknowledged and promises that had been made before heading to Europe were not kept. No members of the South African Native Labour Contingent received a ribbon or medal for their service, nor did they receive promised pensions or grants of land or cattle or a reprieve from the hated hut tax. 

However, some did have something to take home with them - the thanks of the king. As one veteran later wrote 
We met King George and Queen Mary. The King addressed us personally and thanked us for the services we rendered. He told us that we were going home within a few days, and when we reached home we must tell our Chiefs and fathers how he had thanked us.

King George thanking members of the South African Native Labour Contingent
Another veteran, A K Xabanisa, later wrote:
I am just like a stone which after killing a bird, nobody bothers about, nobody cares to see where it falls.
The UK at last gives something back - the bell from the SS Mendi
During the years of white rule in South Africa, particularly under the apartheid government, the story of the SS Mendi was downplayed. I was well into my adult years when I first heard about it.

On the other hand, for the most part, the incident has been a rallying cry for blacks - something to be proud of. But even among blacks, it has waxed and waned in importance. I read just last week, that a government agency refused to provide some financial support for a memorial service scheduled to take place today because the men on the SS Mendi were supporting a colonial cause.

It makes my head spin.

South Africa's highest award for courage is now called the Order of the Mendi Decoration for Courage. And the South African navy honours those who died by having a Warrior class fast-attack craft named the SAS Isaac Dyobha, and a Valour class frigate named the SAS Mendi.

As I am writing this, I can hear South African Airforce jets flying low over Table Bay and heavy guns firing from Bloubergstrand across from Robben Island in remembrance of all of the country's war dead, no matter their colour.

May they rest in peace.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Vapers: A Twenty-First Century Menace

Leye - Every other Wednesday

Photo by mush m.

Vaping. Tut-tut.

It’s morning rush hour. You’re walking along the pavement, you and a hundred other mildly depressed workers - constantly readjusting your pace to thwart the devilish intentions of the slow-walkers, the hand-holders, the start and stoppers, and the walk-while-reading-on-phone-ers. You’ve just managed to side step that most privileged of all sidewalk users, the parent with kids spread out from both arms, then all of a sudden, puff, your entire head is engulfed in a dense cloud of sickeningly sweet nicotine laced vapour, instantly ruining strawberry for you for the rest of your life. You have been vaped. Against your will and without your consent. Why is this not a crime?

I used to be a smoker, real cigarettes, so I get it. They are addicted. They are victims. It is medication. But what I don’t get is the total lack of awareness or regard or both that vapers exhibit in public. They should not have the right to breathe out the humongous clouds of chemicals they inflict upon innocent members of the public. It is an assault. It is an act of violence. And if I have managed to stay nicotine free for so long (4 years, 11 months, and 11 days – I checked. I have an app), what right have you to force feed me yours? Especially when it has been circulated through your lungs and the bits of you that live in there. This should be illegal, but I guess we’ll have to wait till the first lawsuits for that to happen. “The court finds Mr Varpour guilty of causing Miss Iwaz Klin’s nicotine addiction through reckless vaping while in public.”

If you are resident in Hong Kong you need not wait till successful litigation to enjoy vape free walks in your public places. Hong Kong has just announced plans to ban all e-cigarettes and jail all vaping offenders. Can I get an amen? That’s six months in jail or a fine of $6,370 for anyone who imports, makes, sells or promotes new smoking products.  Anti-social vaping? Whack! six months hard labour!  I just love the people of Hong Kong. (This morning I realised I do not know what Hong Kongians are called. Hong Kongers? Hong Kongese? Just Cantonese?)

But, wont that lead to an increase in smoking? If I use one of my three wishes to get the UK government to follow the example of Hong Kong and ban vaping, wont former vapers just turn to that much more hardcore means of nicotine delivery, regular cigarettes? 

Well, this is where I stand on this: I think turkey sausages are evil. I think diet coke is all shades of wrong. I think non-alcoholic wine is the work of Satan. I think vegan burgers, and vegan bacon, and vegan any other not-normally-vegan food are just manifestations of pure evil. 

So, for me, if you must have sugar, have sugar, not some chemically synthesised tastes-like-sugar. If you want bacon, eat bacon from a pig, not something called sietan. And if you must smoke tobacco, smoke proper cigarettes. Light a match. Enjoy the orange glow of the tobacco each time you take a drag. Inhale that smoke of 7,000 chemicals. Feel that instant hit, that sensation that all smokers know too well (and all ex-smokers miss tous les jours ). And should you ever blow your smoke in my face, at least I will get a hit of nicotine the way I was accustomed to, and not from the vapour cloud of some inconsiderate vaper who lacks the real-cigarette-smoker’s etiquette of at least attempting to blow their smoke away from other people’s faces.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Short People of the World Unite: Fairness in Flying

Annamaria on Monday

I have a HUGE beef to air!

First of all "huge" is not a word that has ever applied to me.  I am not the skinny sylph I used to be, but I am short!  When we gather to take a group photo, my blogmates hum choruses of "We'd like to welcome you to Munchkinland."

Here is the sort of plane that took me and my friend Nicoletta around Kenya and Tanzania over the past month.  

The night before we took off in this little number, when all the bags were packed and I was already in my jammies, my travel agent sent me the vouchers for our flight the next day from Nairobi to the Masai Mara.  I gave them a cursory glance and went nighty-night.  The next morning in the car on our way to the airport, I discovered that the fine print on the ticket included a baggage weight limit of 15 kilos.  My two small bags I later learned weighed just over 24.

I figure the weight limit has something to do with the amount of fuel the plane needs to cart around a big bunch of avoirdupois.     

The guy at the checkin counter suggested that I leave one of my bags behind, at the airline company's storage.  But.  The flight was leaving in twenty minutes and my underwear was in one and my shoes in the other.  And for reasons I am sure you can understand, I did not want to sort through my undies in the airport waiting room.

I asked what the charge would be for the extra weight.  Sixty-four dollars was the answer.


Flabbergasted as I was, the basic unfairness of this rule inspired my argument.  "How much do you weigh?" I asked the hefty guy behind the counter.  His answer: 102 kilos.  "If you bought a ticket on this flight," I asked, "would yours cost the same as mine?"

This is not the man at the airport, but my dear friend,
wonderful writer and publisher--Shel Arensen.  I include
the photo to show the difference between me and another
potential passenger who would also be allowed
15 K of luggage.

"Yes, certainly, I wold pay the same," the big guy said.

So I argued that fully-clothed, shoes and all, I weigh just under 70 K.  Therefore, my "overweight" baggage and I - put together - weighed less than he, all by himself.  Therefore,  I should be able to take my bags without an extra charge.

It didn't work.  Not really.  In the end they gave me a reduction in the cost, but I still had to fork over fifty bucks for the privilege of taking my belongings with me.

Nicoletta kindly took this picture after the return flight.
The man to my left paid less to fly than I did for me and
my luggage.  AARRGGHHH!!!

Now I ask you, is this right?  Is this fair?


PS: I also think that people 5"2' should get the front seats in the theatre.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Mountain "Training" in Japan

-- Susan, every other Sunday

One major benefit of trying to climb 100 Japanese mountains in a single year is the chance to ride so many of Japan's amazing trains.

The Fuji Express. An extremely happy train.

In historical terms, railroads came to Japan relatively recently--the first train line in the country (which connected Yokohama with Tokyo--now a 25 minute trip by commuter rail) opened in 1872.

Japan embraced railroads as part of the Meiji Restoration-era efforts to modernize (and Westernize) the country. The government imported Western railroad engineering experts, not only to help with  construction and design of the initial lines, but to train Japanese engineers--with the plan of achieving an entirely Japanese railroad engineering program, and designing railway lines domestically, as quickly as possible.

Local train, Kyushu

I'd say they succeeded beyond even the Meiji Emperor's wildest dreams.

Today, Japan is a world leader when it comes to trains and railways. Some of the technology is still imported from abroad, but utilized with a decidedly Japanese spin. (Hello Kitty Shinkansen, anyone?)

For long-distance travel, the high-speed shinkansen (often referred to in the West as the "bullet train") is comfortable and stylish:

Instantly recognizable, second to none. Master of the rails.
Inside the Shinkansen.

if more expensive than the local trains.

The Hayabusa shinkansen - the fastest train in Japan.

That said, high-speed options and express trains exist for shorter distances too--like the Narita Express (abbreviated N'Ex), which travels from the mountains outside Tokyo to and from Narita Airport.

The futuristic N'Ex pulling into Shinjuku Station

Ratchet down another level, and you're talking about "local" train lines, many of which run hundreds of kilometers in length.

The workhorses of Shikoku, in southern Japan's Tokushima Station
On these tracks, you can find several different kinds of trains, ranging from the ultra-fast Commuter Express and Limited Express (which stop at only a few major stations), to the slightly-slower semi-express and special express (which stop at a few more stations), and finally the "slow-boat" local trains that stop at every station.

Themed trains--including, but certainly not limited to that Hello Kitty Shinkensen I linked above--are popular too, especially in parts of the country known for certain sights.

I've ridden a ninja-themed train in Mie Prefecture (once Iga Province, home of the Iga ninja clans)

All aboard! (There's a blue one, too - which I was riding when I took this photo.)

The "Fuji Express" in the Fuji Five Lakes Region:

Who knew Fuji had such big . . . trains . . .

(and yes, you can see Mt. Fuji from the train if the day is clear).

And Thomas the Tank Engine trains--again near Fuji Five Lakes.

My son would have loved this when he was small.

(The themed train promotes a new attraction at a nearby amusement park, which now features "Thomas the Tank Engine Land.")
The decorations are inside, as well as outside. 
Incidentally: watching Japanese businessmen in expensive three-piece suits riding to work on the Thomas the Tank Engine Express was almost as entertaining as riding the train itself.

Some of the trains, while highly familiar to Japanese people, are less familiar to foreigners--like the "Anpanman" train in Shikoku, which celebrates a Japanese superhero (and eponymous anime series) who has an anpan (bean paste stuffed bread) for a head.

Anpanman - a local hero, now with his own themed train.

When the anpanman express goes by, small children often stop and wave. (And yes, I waved back.) Even adults often stopped to look and smile.

It's easy to think of trains as falling somewhere between romantic, outdated modes of travel and the daily commuter workhorses that service millions around the globe. In proper circumstances, both are true. However, this year has taught me that trains are infinitely more than transportation--modern or otherwise. At least in Japan, they're also clean, convenient, and an opportunity for some serious fun.