Monday, July 15, 2019


Annamaria on 14th Street

Sunset on Manhattanhenge

To calibrate the relationship of the earth to the sun, the English have this:

We New Yorkers have this:

When the Commissioners' Plan of 1811 laid out midtown Manhattan, they set the grid 29 degrees clockwise from true east-west.

Still twice a year the streets line up with the sunrise and twice a year with the sunset, which can be pretty spectacular if the weather cooperates.

New York's favorite astrophysicist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson named the phenomenon Manhattanhenge, and each year it attracts more and more NYC denizens and tourists to enjoy the sunset view.  This year on July 12th, the evening was clear, and we gawkers stopped the traffic on 14th Street:

Meanwhile, in another part of the solar system, the moon was nestling on the steeple of nearby Grace Church:

Closeup of the above

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Row, Row, Row Yer Boat…

I’m all for a challenge and I genuinely enjoy acquiring new skills. It’s probably for this reason that I am au fait with the basics of building a dry stone wall, what to do when passengering a Formula 2 sidecar outfit, how to use an electric arc welder, or the etiquette of engaging in a sword fight. You never know when such knowledge will come in handy.

Yup, that's me on the back, lapping Mallory Park!

I confess, though, it wasn’t entirely with research in mind that I ventured out onto the waters of the River Derwent this week to try my hand at rowing. This past winter, I’ve been plagued by increasingly painful back problems and have been advised by my physio that I need to do some physical exercise beyond giving my brain a workout at a computer keyboard, or undertaking general DIY.

Neither of which count, apparently.

So, considering the Captain of the Derwent Rowing Club, Lewis Hancock, is not only a friend but also the very fine narrator of two of my audiobooks, what better place to start?

Lewis Hancock, at the audiobook recording of DANCING ON THE GRAVE
“Be sure to bring a change of clothes,” was his somewhat ominous warning beforehand. I did so. Including shoes. And a towel.

My only experience of rowing has either been a) on a machine in a gym, or b) in an inflatable dinghy getting from yacht to shore when nobody can be bothered to attach the outboard motor.

Neither of which, I discovered, adequately prepares you for rowing on a river in a specialised craft designed for that purpose and no other.

For a start, the rowlocks are not called rowlocks. Neither are they attached directly to the sides of the boat. Instead, they are spaced away from each side on an outrigger with a swivel, a pin and a gate at the end of it. Into the gate goes your oar, with a squared-off sleeve in the appropriate place so when you present the blade of the oar to the water, it’s likely to be at the same angle, time after time.

Unlike the aforementioned inflatable dinghy—but in common with the rowing machine—these craft have a sliding seat so, as you lift the oars clear of the water and feather them, you slide forwards and bend your knees, providing maximum leverage for the next stroke.

Of course, getting the hang of keeping your left hand over the top of your right at all times, sticking to your own side of the river without getting tangled up in the overhanging trees of the bank, and avoiding other watercraft—or shouting in enough time that they avoid you—is akin to patting the top of your head and at the same time rubbing your stomach, reciting poetry, and tap-dancing.

Whilst balanced on a girder.

And in case you were wondering why there are no selfies taken of me actually out on the river in the aptly named Yellow Peril, that’s because there was absolutely no way I was going to carry something so susceptible to water damage on my first time out.

the Yellow Peril. (yellow being a warning colour in nature...)
I’m happy to report, however, that I did not hit anybody else on the water. Neither did they hit me. Nor did I collide with overhanging trees, or anything other than the landing stage of the Derwent RC boathouse. And then it was merely a gentle return to safe harbour.

So there.

But did I enjoy it? Well, yes. It was strangely peaceful, energetic and hypnotic in the rhythm of the thing. Frustrating when my co-ordination failed me, and immensely satisfying when I managed to put together a run of maybe half a dozen decent strokes. At which point the stout little Yellow Peril put on a surprising turn of speed.

And will I be going back?

You betcha.

This week’s Word of the Week is mustang, which as well as being a wild horse, and a model of Ford, is also naval slang for an officer who has come up through the ranks from ordinary seaman to any rank above warrant officer. He—or she—is therefore supposedly wise to the tricks pulled by those in the lower ranks.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Out With the Old, In With the New. Sort of


Last Sunday, Greece elected a new Parliament, and though the results were generally as predicted—NEW DEMOCRACY in, SYRIZA out—predictors are now hard at work anticipating all that could go wrong.

I guess it’s more newsworthy to look at the half-empty glass.  To me the question has always been what’s in the glass—and is it flammable—but that’s another story.

Still, there were some surprises.  

Most telling, perhaps, is the defeat of the neo-Nazi Chrysi Avyi (aka Golden Dawn) party, which is (for now) out of Parliament by reason of failing to gain the necessary three percent of the vote.  Many suggest their supporters deserted them for the far right pro-Russian, nationalist Greek Solution party now in Parliament, led by a TV host who sells what he says are original handwritten letters by Jesus. 

Yes, you read that correctly.

So, what’s the overall picture for the future? Don’t ask me, I’m too busy writing my next Kaldis novel at a feverish 1500 finished words per day pace to keep up with all of that for now. So, I’m cribbing—wholesale—the opinion of Alexis Papachelas, Executive Editor of Greece’s Kathimerini newspaper.  Some say he favors the center-right party that won (NEW DEMOCRACY) and is antagonistic to the far left party that lost (SYRIZA), but I respect him as a journalist…even if I may not agree with everything he writes.

So with that introduction, here’s Alexis Papachelas and his July 10, 2019 column, titled “Which way will SYRIZA go?”

It will take a couple of months before we see what kind of style SYRIZA plans to adopt in its reprised role as the country’s main opposition party. For the time being at least, it appears willing to cut some slack to the new government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. 

Party chief Alexis Tsipras has already stated that he won’t “do New Democracy the favor of acting as he did before 2015,” before the leftist party was elected to power. He obviously understands that such a tactic could have a boomerang effect and push a crucial chunk of the middle class into New Democracy’s arms over the next few years.
He is also, of course, seeking to safeguard some of the good relationships and political capital he built up in certain European decision-making centers and elsewhere during his tenure as prime minister.

Nevertheless, Tsipras is not likely to sit quietly by.

Mitsotakis has paid an enormous amount of attention to putting together a new government with a technocratic grasp of the issues at hand.

But regardless of how successful his administration proves in practical terms, it will ultimately take a huge public relations effort so that it is not cast by the opposition as pandering to the International Monetary Fund, as defending the interests of Greece’s international creditors and its business community, or put across as an Orban-type government [Hungary’s Prime Minister].

It will be a vicious and relentless battle.

The damage to the country will be significant, though, if SYRIZA does not change its mentality, if it does not undergo a cultural shift. A well-structured opposition is something we should all wish for; what we don’t want is a return to dangerous social division.

Greece needs to see a future and to move forward in what is an incredibly difficult and competitive environment. It is easy to turn central Athens into a hell of protests and marches, to bring services to a halt, while also destroying whatever progress has been made with the markets.

Certain wily SYRIZA officials have already suggested as much, saying: “just wait six months and you’ll miss our version of normalcy.” They argue that a leftist government can pull off measures that a right-wing administration can only dream of, and can do so without causing so much as a ripple.

The problem lies in the fact that Tsipras is obviously drawn to the center-left, from an intellectual standpoint, but old habits and pressure from the party’s hard core are pushing him to a no-holds-barred style of opposition.


Friday, July 12, 2019

A Flanneur Around Christ's College Cambridge

I was heading down to Cambridge to do an event 'What's Your Poison' at that great bookshop Heffers.
That didn't go exactly to plan but more about that in another blog.

It was a beautiful two days the sun split the sky and although the universities were having their open day, they were closed to visitors... if you see what I mean. I have always preferred Cambridge to Oxford. It's more open, has more greenery, the air seems fresher and it has retained a sense of its history. or so it seems as the outsider walks through the city.

The wallpaper in the bedroom was interesting. I did have a go at multiplying out the bracket but then had a cup of tea.

The inside lawn at Christ's College. We walked very close behind somebody else's teenager and got in!

The ancient library.

A map of GB/UK before anybody really knew what it looked like. There's a monster lying off the Irish coast.

a model of Darwin's boat.

New study areas underneath old, old buildings.

Imagine strolling through this to go to a tutorial.

Or sitting here and discussing an essay with your tutor.

Having a swim in one of the oldest outside swimming pools in Europe.

In the library. This is a research table that enables you to look at four or eight books at the same time, simply by swivelling  the pyramid.

and everywhere bikes, and more bikes...

Charles Darwin attended this university as well as Edinburgh.

And here he is, with a pile of books waiting to be read.
Mine is on top.

The beautiful gardens.

This was being set out in readiness for a reception of some kind.

So we went to the institution that is Harriets.

And read the ode to the Afternoon tea.
Afternoon Tea is a terribly, terribly English thing.

And they do some very nice cakes that we had to sample, in the course of research!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The end of Africa

Michael - Thursday

Many tourists believe that Cape Point—south of Cape Town—is the southern tip of Africa. They climb to the view site and imagine that they can see where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic. It's a mistake many people make. It can be costly.

East Indiaman
On the fourth of April 1815, the Arniston sailed in a convoy of nine ships—seven East Indiamen and two escorts to keep pirates at bay. They were headed around the Cape of Good Hope to St Helena and home to England. The Arniston did not have a chronometer, which was critical to calculate latitude, and became separated from the convoy in bad weather as they rounded Cape Agulhas, which is the true southern tip of Africa. When land was sighted, the captain assumed that it was the Cape of Good Hope. He headed west for the rest of the day and then turned north, thinking that now he was headed for St Helena. The ship ran aground and all of the 400 people on board lost their lives except for six who managed to reach the shore. They tried to reach Cape Town, but realised their mistake. Luckily for them, a farmer discovered them. The ship is commemorated in the picturesque fishing village of Arniston.

Southern Cape

Where oceans meet

Cape Agulhas itself hosts a small town and from there a road leads to a parking lot and a short walk to a plaque marking the southern point. A lighthouse overlooks it, built 33 years after the Arniston met its fate. Over the years it has helped many ships round the southern point of Africa, amidst the winds of the roaring forties and the conflicting currents that meet there.
One the lighthouse couldn't save

Iconic map of Africa
Although there is a special feeling to standing at the end of a continent and in viewing the rocky coastline from the top of the lighthouse, a recent highlight is something man-made. Opened in March of this year, it consists of an eighteen metre relief map of Africa in bronze. With its tip pointing to the plaque, it allows you to walk around Africa, spotting the major mountain ranges and tracing the major rivers. It's fun but also a special marker and reminder of the connection of this point to the rest of our continent.

The end of Africa

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Scratch the surface of Paris and find Skeletons.... under Monoprix

 These skeletons were discovered under the grocery section of Monoprix - a department store chain like a Target only more upscale and French - in central Paris in 2015.
 INRAP, the national institute of conservation and preservation of archeological research, discovered 200 skeletons of men, woman and children buried in the Middle Ages.
Was this a medieval cemetery?
Were these they victims of contagious diseases or starvation?

As you can see the skeletons were stored next to each other and buried carefully. These skeletons were excavated from a deep level during renovations and historians concluded that they had been 'forgotten' when the site, Trintiy hospital until the 18th century became later a Potin, a 19th century department store.

You never know what you'll find digging under Paris
Cara - Tuesday