What’s all this about?
Hello there and welcome to a post which is probably going to make me hate myself, I just hope it doesn’t have the same effect on you. By way of keeping the site tidy, I am going to put a read more link here so please do as I am going to try something completely new.
One of my many concerns about anti-social media, apart from the security of my personal information and the whole “Big Brother” aspect of it is that it drives people into apparent frenzies of narcissism and perceived self-importance if that is not tautologous. That is a great word and there will be a little piece about my favourite words later on. I love the English language and my verbosity will be well-known to regular readers.
Facebook and Twitter, or Fartbook and Twatter as I prefer to call them, just seem to bring out the worst in people and yet I am one of an apparently small minority who has not succumbed to their evil blandishments (another favourite word).
Intelligent, lovely people seem to develop withdrawal symptoms if their ‘phone battery runs out and they do not have immediate access to fb. What did they do before 2004 when Zuckerberg started his bid for world domination? He must be so mad that Bezos made more money out of his idea although he is hardly penniless.
From what I can gather people are so obsessed with Facebook that some publish to the entire world that their “status”, as I believe the correct term is, may be “going to the supermarket” at 1127 hours and then at 1215 it is “back from supermarket”, complete with a post that Sainsbury’s has a special offer on dog biscuits. Who bloody cares?
As for people now giving their occupation as “influencer”, that makes me extremely angry. The cult of celebrity is vile and the whole situation make me question our self-declared position as the most intelligent species on the planet.
As for Twitter, I shall quote a line from an excellent book I am currently reading called “The New Silk Roads” by Peter Frankopan, Professor of Global History at Oxford University. In the book he quotes German Foreign Secretary Heiko Maas who warned of the consequences of President Trump’s willingness to use “280-character tweets” to undermine “alliances that have developed over decades”. The whole world seems in thrall to this lunacy. I know I’m rambling again and it will probably get worse but I’ll try to get to the point eventually.
The header above asks “What’s all this about?” so I’ll try to clear that up first. This is the first of my “house arrest” diaries brought on by the current appalling CoVid pandemic which is rapidly bringing the world to it’s knees. Isn’t it odd how the often brutal attempts of the great empires of history to conquer the world all ultimately failed and yet something so miniscule as to be invisible to the naked eye has done just that in the space of less than six months? Alexander the Great, Caesar, Genghis Khan and Hitler would all have been so jealous.
I know that nobody uses the term “house arrest” as it is presumably deemed to be too totalitarian and associated with repressive regimes but that is effectively what Iam currently enduring. Aung San Suu Kyi, who I admired so much when I visited Burma / Myanmar some years ago, would understand. She had all her food delivered and was allowed to exercise in the garden, terms dictated by the then Government of her country. Rangoon 2006, London 2019, what’s the difference. We’ll come back to her later when I eventually get around to explaining this post.
During my current confinement I have been working up to 18 hours a day on this site which sounds obsessive but I do enjoy it and my sleep disorder means that I am now fully nocturnal again, usual sleeping between about 1900 and midnight, if at all. I thoroughly enjoy working on the site and have got a lot done. I have currently nearly finished a very lengthy series of posts about walking the 150 mile London LOOP long-distance footpath in 2013 / 2014 which is giving me a lot of satisfaction. OK, that is a shameless plug but it’s my site and I dictate advertising policy!
The only problem is that in order to keep the site on some sort of order I backpost entries to the day on which they happened so all this hard work effectively disappears except for my few faithful followers who get notification and I thank them once again for their support and lovely comments. This means that my stats page, which I checked today, “thinks” that I have done nothing for the last three months. Far from the truth but that is the logical way a computer works. I wish I was that logical.
You’ll be glad to know I am not going to commit to posting one of these “diaries” every day but just as and when I feel so inclined and they are going to be completely random collections of whatever I feel like putting up. I have a few ideas which will be unveiled in due course. One of these will probably be an “on this day” piece where I shall try to link in my own experiences if appropriate. I have so much old stuff saved from my days on Virtual Tourist and in other places that will never see the light of day otherwise. I do hope you like it and at least the daily activity on my stats will not look so barren.
As always, if any of you have any suggestions for these diaries, apart from “bugger off and close the site down”, I am more than happy to hear from you.
I might as well start this eclectic potpourri with Aung San Suu Kyi as I have just mentioned her.
I visited Burma / Myanmar in early 2006 and I can barely believe as I write this that it was 14 years ago. Tempus fugit, as they say and things were a whole lot different then. The internet was still technically illegal and if you could find an “underground” connection, it had been routed through China and was painfully slow. The country was still in the grip of the military junta, and effectively still is, although they have just polished up their act a little even if they have not actually cleaned it up. Their recent treatment of the Rohingya minority is ample proof of that and “the Lady”, as Aung San was reverently known when I was there, has apparently climbed into bed with the Bamar generals as she has done absolutely nothing about it. That is why I termed my respect for her in the past tense. Perhaps her new freedom and Nobel Peace Prize have made her complacent to suffering.
When I was in Rangoon I almost got to see the house where she was under house arrest but not quite. I was in a taxi with my friend Zin who you can see in the image and we passed the road where Aung San Suu Kyi’s rather palatial house was, it is a very nice area. I wanted to drive down and have a look as there was no apparent police or military presence nor anything to prevent you driving but Zin would not hear of it. In those days it was something you just didn’t do and there really was a palpable sense of fear in the whole country then.
In a “former life” I had a bit of surveillance training so I know for a fact that I was followed a couple of times whilst walking round Rangoon and they weren’t very good. Really, they stood out like a Doberman’s whatsits and I took great delight in leading them on a wild goose chase.
The image, incidentally, was taken in the rather grand Strand Hotel where we went for drink one day and here is what I wrote about it at the time. Remember the prices are 2006.
“The Strand Hotel is nothing short of a national landmark. It speaks of a time all but gone, and is the very height of colonial refinement. It is almost inevitably equated with the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, and it is very impressive inside and out following a multi-million pound refurbishment a few years ago.
I’m told it even has a steam driven lift (elevator) and apparently Mick Jagger stays here when he’s in town.
With rooms starting at over 400 USD I’m not suggesting that you actually stay here, unless you are on an expense account or extremely rich. However, as a small splurge it’s nice to visit the extremely pleasant bar which is open to non-residents. The surroundings are lovely, with a baby grand piano and a half-size snooker table serving as a pool table, and the service is superb, as you might imagine.
It is certainly a lot more expensive than other places in Yangon, but not outrageously so. the draught beer is 2 USD a glass (it is about 35 cents in a normal bar) but this still works out about the same price as London.”
You see, I can do posh when I have to and Zin loved it. After all her kindnesses to me it was the least I could do. Incidentally, for anyone who didn’t know me 15 or more years ago, yes, I did shave my head for many years, I really did look like that!
Whilst Zin’s understandable reluctance to do a drive-past on the rather comfortable prison was a small setback, I did manage to visit her childhood home which was fascinating. Here is what I wrote about that, with a few images.
“It’s difficult to overstate the importance of Bogyoke Aung San in the Burmese national psyche. Effectively the founder of the modern nation he is completely revered and his statue is to be found just about everywhere. Additionally, every settlement of any significance has a street named after him, indeed, one of the main roads in Yangon is named for him.
The museum, which is just about signposted, is actually not very impressive, but it is a pleasant glimpse of an old colonial home, complete with teak floors and comparatively spartan furniture. I was shown round and courteously given tea by the Curator, but this is very obviously a Government place. When shown pictures of the man’s children, Aung san Suu Kyi, his daughter and leader of the anti-government faction, was described, without a trace of humour or irony, as the “ugly one there.”
The man told me that Aung San liked to live frugally and that was why there were so few clothes and personal effects in the house. I subsequently found out that most of them were in the National Defence Services Museum! You can pass a pleasant hour here, but it’s not really worth going out of your way for.
The best thing is the beautiful old car (pictured) rusting away in the garage.
The $3US admission fee (despite what the website says) goes straight to the Government”.
I had written all this up on Travbuddy, one of the two travel websites that was pulled from under me in the space of 15 months and led me, against all logic given my technophobia, to get my own site here. It is pleasing to dig up some of this old stuff that I so painstakingly wrote up over so many years and this is a good excuse to dig out some old images.
I am sure I shall be returning to Burma in future diaries as it is one of my favourite countries but for now, in keeping with the peripatetic Nature of this site, let’s head to Halifax. Isn’t peripatetic another lovely word? Apparently if you write it with a capital P it refers to the Aristotelian school of philosophy as the great philosopher used to teach his subject whilst ambling about the Lyceum in Athens. That sounds like my kind of school, wandering about one of the great ancient cities of the world talking esoteric nonsense with a bunch of like-minded lunatics.
Have you ever thought about what a philosopher actually does? Sit about all day looking out of the window and thinking? It’s hardly heavy lifting, is it? I would do that but I live in an ugly street with a warehouse and offices opposite so I just think a lot without the window-gazing component. I wonder is it necessary for the cognitive process. I actually do a lot of my thinking whilst out walking alone so perhaps I am a little Aristotelian, never thought about it before.
I like staring out of windows in more scenic places and do it a lot. When I was on my unexpectedly extended trip to Broadstairs last year, which is fully documented in earlier posts, I used to sit in the rather lovely Royal Victoria Pavilion in Ramsgate and, when I wasn’t trying to keep this blog up to date, I would sit and stare out at the Channel and think lots. Does that make me a philosopher or a weirdo or both? I feel the two states are not mutually exclusive. I have included an image of the said view here just because I can.
I warned you these diaries were going to be a ridiculously random ramble (I do love alliteration), sort of like a Jack Kerouac stream of consciousness piece but without the talent or drugs. I actually saw his original manuscript for “On the Road” on display at the British Museum in 2012, it was an incredible artefact. If memory serves I wasn’t allowed to photograph the manuscript itself or else I was just too stupid to do so but the second image proves I was there.
Speaking of drugs and the fact that I shall probably post this in the middle of the night, if it does not take me until tomorrow afternoon to finish, I shall preclude the obvious question here. I AM NOT DRUNK! I haven’t had a drink for ages. Now that’s cleared up, where were we? Oh yes, Halifax.
For the sake of clarity I should state that I am talking about Halifax, West Yorkshire and not Halifax, Nova Scotia. I have been to both places and love them equally although they are very different. It is also a good way of shoehorning in another couple of old images that have been figuratively gathering dust in my computer. I’ll let you guess which one is which!
I was in Canadian Halifax a year before I ever set foot in the town it is named for which is odd given their relative distances from my home. I went there to meet up with three dear friends from the Virtual Tourist website. We were having a long weekend on a narrow-boat on the Calder and Hebble Navigation and in another plug, equally as shameless as the first one, you can read all about it here. My three hugely enjoyable Canadian trips with my friend Lynne are not yet recorded but may be my next project here.
The night before we picked up the boat I was in a cracking pub in Halifax called the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe which has all sorts of activities on various nights but not currently obviously. This particular evening the local Poetry Society were in residence and a very friendly lady asked if I’d care to join them. I promise you this tale is leading somewhere other than the madhouse!
I declined her kind offer as I had nothing to offer in return. Like many other teenagers I had dabbled in poetry years ago but without any notable aptitude for the discipline, it was just the usual angst-ridden hormonal drivel of one whose voice has recently broken. However, I love words as we have already seen here and I always seemed to have a talent, if it can be called that, for composing limericks on the spur of the moment. As I was sitting, half listening to the very serious people reciting their pieces, I was thinking again. I told you I do that a lot and the excellent cider in there certainly helped the process.
I decided that, were I ever to return there on poetry night, which is most unlikely, I would bring a pad of Post-it notes, some pens and my laptop. I could theoretically use a notebook but my handwriting is so abysmal that I can type a lot quicker than write legibly.
I was thinking that at the start of the evening I would hand out the Post-its and pens and ask everyone to write their name and two or three facts about themselves. Nothing too personal obviously, I’m not stalker – honestly! I was looking for things like what football team they supported or what their job was or a hobby or some other trivia about them. During the interval I’d knock up limericks for each one of them and declaim them later. Honestly, I am not being boastful, that is not my way, but I can cobble together five lines of hopefully slightly humourous verse in a couple of minutes. I did the two below in that time and it probably shows!
It is the same with lyrics in blues music which are basically nothing more than two or four lines depending on how you write them with the two lines or second and fourth rhyming. Look at Booker T. Jones’ all time classic “Born under a Bad Sign” as an example from millions which shows both the two and four line methods.
“Hard luck and trouble is my only friend
I been on my own ever since I was ten
Born under a bad sign
I been down since I begin to crawl
If it wasn’t for bad luck,
I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”
Years ago, I used to play in the “house band” in jam sessions in the peerless and now sadly long-closed Greenwich Inn in Southeast London. One of our party pieces was to jam a standard 12-bar blues and I would just invent lyrics on the hoof, based on the latest pub gossip, what people were wearing or whatever. It used to go down well and people often refused to believe I had not pre-written it, I just found it stupidly easy to do. I was never going to win an Ivor Novello award, that’s for sure, but it was fun.
Finally, we get to the point of this tale. When I was thinking yesterday about starting these pages, I thought that a topical limerick or two might be a decent little filler should I need one which is unlikely the way I witter on.
The limerick, as I am sure you know, is usually bawdy and hence the image below which I have included, tongue very firmly in cheek, in the interests of responsible publishing, Honestly, they are not that filthy. I doubt I have any younger readers as they wouldn’t want to read the musings of an old codger like me but if any of you are of a delicate disposition, you may wish to skip down a bit.
The first one, almost inevitably, is about CoVid lockdown and specifically the totally ludicrous practice of people stockpiling toilet paper, amongst other things, which led to completely empty supermarket shelves back in March. I hasten to add that I am not stockpiling them, I think it is a stupid thing to do and anyway I couldn’t find any to buy if I’d wanted to. The plot is just for hopefully amusing effect. Here it is.
“This lock-down’s becoming a chore,
In the loo I’ve got bogrolls galore,
But the problem is this,
When I feel like a piss,
I can hardly get through the damn door”.
After I’d got that one filed in the hindbrain I thought that if I ever did get round to these diaries I’d ask my few faithful readers for suggestions, the stranger the better and I’d see what I could do with them. I decided to put myself to the test and for no reason that I can explain I thought of a unicorn, very Freudian no doubt but he talked even more nonsense than me. I promise I am not making this up, I hought of unicorn and I warn you that this one is a little ruder.
“Consider the poor unicorn,
Always single and therefore forlorn,
With no mare for a mate,
He’s in such a sad state,
Which explains the perpetual horn.”
OK, I’m sorry but I did warn you!
ON THIS DAY, 20th MAY.
As I said above, I am not going to annoy you with everything that happened on this day in history or I would be here for a lot longer than the eight or so hours this entry has already taken me. I am not complaining and it has successfully passed another long night as well as being educational for me which is pleasing.
On this day in 1521, Ignatius of Loyola was seriously injured when a cannonball ricocheted and shattered his leg during the Battle of Pamplona in Spain. Ignatius was thirty at the time and a career soldier but that was finished by the injury. He “found God” and re-directed his energies to the Church, founded the Society of Jesus (SJ) who are more commonly known as the Jesuits and is now a Saint, one of the many associated with soldiers. That resonated with me when I came upon a church dedicated to him in Den Haag in the Netherlands on my European jaunt in 2017. In the third plug of this post you can read all about him and my visit to his Church on this page. I’ve even thrown in an image just to brighten the place up a bit.
On this day in 1772, Sir William Congreve was born. He was the son of a senior military figure who was in charge of the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, and I have happened upon him on not one but two of my other walks, both of which are scheduled for eventual inclusion in this site if I ever get time!
As well as being an Army officer himself,he was a prodigious inventor and registered patents for inventions as diverse as a hydropneumatic canal lock, a gun recoil system and banknote paper that could not be forged. Undoubtedly he is best remembered for his military rockets which he much improved from the original concept which he had taken from the Mysorean (Indian) troops of the Tipu Sultan who used rockets, particularly at the second Battle of Serangipatam in 1799 at which the future Duke of Wellington commanded.
Originally the range was only 600 yards but by 1806 Congreve had increased that to 2,000 yards and the rockets were used in the Napoleonic and First Anglo-Burmese War which ties in nicely with earlier in this piece which is surely getting out of hand now. The rockets were tested on Wimbledon Common much to the terror of the local inhabitants who had never seen anything like them and had not been pre-warned. I had passed the spot whilst walking the Capital Ring long-distance path.
When they went into production, they were manufactured at Waltham Abbey Gunpowder Mills, which I passed whilst walking the Lea Valley Path. another LDP.
You have undoubtedly heard Congreve rockets mentioned many, many times and possibly didn’t even know it because they appear in the national anthem of the USA of all places. There is a line in there which goes, “And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air” and the rockets in question are Congreve rockets as used in a skirmish as Fort McHenry in Baltimore in the War of 1812. I’m full of this useless nonsense and I really will get onto writing up both of these walks asap.
On this day in 1845, John Franklin and his men set sail from Greenhithe in Kent on their ill-fated attempt to find the Northwest Passage which ulitimately foundered in what is now Northern Canada with the loss of all 134 hands. Several search and rescue expeditions were mounted and on one of them a young French naval officer called Joseph René Bellot, who was serving in the British Navy, sadly lost his life. He is commemorated by a rather splendid monument by the Thames in Greenwich.
The monument is on the path of the Jubilee Greenway which I was in the process of walking only a few months ago and reporting here until the house arrest put paid to that and everything else. If you wish to know all about Lt. Bellot and the Greenway path then this is the page to go to.
On this day in 1867 Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone for the Royal Albert Hall in Kensington in London and I had passed that impressive structure a couple of days earlier on the Greenway walk. Click here if you want to find out about that.
I have a few other ideas up my sleeve if I decide to continue with this madness but I’m sure you have had more than enough by now. I know that after twelve hours straight of writing this and preparing it for publication I certainly have but it has been fun.
I’m still not tired so I’m heading back to the “day job” of writing about my travels so look out for that, stay tuned and spread the word.