Shades of opinion

I do have opinions, points of view. These opinions generally fall into two broad categories. Those that are obvious and coincide with most other people’s opinions e.g. Islamic State and climate change are bad things, and those opinions which may be contentious but where I can see and accept the POV of the other side.

Generally speaking, I tend not to impose my opinions, my beliefs on others. Sure, if a subject comes up in conversation I’ll say my piece but without announcing that what I say is the last word on the matter and that everyone who disagrees is wrong. And most certainly I never shout my mouth off on social media where one can be dragged into an inescapable vortex of people baying and shouting into the void where there is no pretence or hope of arriving at a consensus.

But I suddenly became a militant the other day. Sitting in my car, negotiating a long diversion to reach my destination, then crawling back through town at a snail’s pace (this was in the middle of a working day, who was doing the work?) I became a member of the anti-car militant front. One way or the other this has to stop. Jersey has more registered vehicles than people. In many families every adult owns a car. Virtually every piece of land not otherwise designated is full of parked vehicles.

I don’t have the answers, who does? The small measures that are being taken to encourage walking, cycling, public transport and to make town less of a polluted hellhole are the subject of outcry from those who presumably think the present situation is quite OK. It is not OK.

And from one cause to another. All my (long-ish) life I’ve eaten pretty much what takes my fancy including meat and fish and other animal products, the staple of most diets. Recently, and under guidance, I modified my diet and lost a fair chunk of weight. On looking at my new routine I observed that what I was now eating was, in the main, plant-based. Some lean meat certainly, some fish, but predominantly vegetables, grains, fruit, beans etc. I thought, well I’m pretty much a vegetarian now and it wouldn’t be much of a jump to make it so.

Then, out of curiosity, I looked up what a ‘vegan’ was. Turns out veganism can be as much a form of activism as it is food choices. Animal rights is a proper crusade with its proponents determined to make known the cruel and inhumane treatment of animals during their often sorry lifetimes and barbaric deaths. Tiptoeing into the subject on Twitter, trying to get a grip on what the facts were and suggesting there may be mitigations, I was howled down with something approaching hatred. My first reaction? I’m not going to be lectured, I’ll make my own mind up.

My decision? The activists are correct. There are no grey areas. I might slip up occasionally but I’m now essentially a vegan. But I’m not going to shout at everyone who isn’t, simply explain my reasons if asked.

Time on Your Hand?

That’s a trend I never saw coming. Apparently it’s been here a while as well. People don’t wear watches any more. Or at least many people don’t. I only noticed this for the first time yesterday (which says a lot about how much I stay relevant these days, I guess). I work a couple of days on the front desk at Hamptonne Country Life Museum here in Jersey. As part of the entry protocol, visitors need to sign in for Covid Track & Trace. Increasingly, many do so using a QR code – we’ve all become experts on QR codes over the last year or so. But there are also little paper slips which are easily filled in as well. Easily, only for the inevitable, “What’s the date?” followed seconds later by “What’s the time?”

Long ago, when I was growing up, everybody had a watch. To not have one on your wrist meant that either (1) you’d forgotten to put it on or (2) you were some sort of poor person.

I guess that people will say we all have phones, but isn’t it simpler just to glance at a watch? The average woman at least will take many seconds retrieving a phone (or anything) from the depths of her handbag. To digress, after 68 years I still have no clue what women find to stuff inside a handbag. It would take me for ever to find belongings to fill up an average handbag. (Not that I own a handbag you understand.)

Full disclosure – I’ve always worn a watch. These days it’s a Garmin which I use for running but it serves to give the time of day when not called upon to do anything more demanding. But I do remember the pre-digital days when you needed to wind it up, checking with someone else for the ‘right time’ if you’d let it run down completely. I also recall that you could, in extremis, use a public phone to dial TIM and a nice lady would tell you the time. (I read that the service was only withdrawn in 1986.)

Before the Industrial Revolution no one seemed to bother too much about the precise time. You got up when it got light, lit a candle when it got dark and went to bed when you were tired. Then someone invented the sundial which, as I understand, never became a popular attraction.

I understand that the high end of the watch market – the Rolex/Patek Philippe etc – is still holding up though more for investment value than show. Rich people can demonstrate their richness in many other ways these days, such as taking a ride into Space.

So – as I should have asked before I did all that writing, do you wear a watch?

Headway 10k 2021

I love race day. I love 10ks. Sunday morning dawned cool, damp and still. I generally like to race in either my Jersey Spartan singlet or that of my Irish club Crusaders, but this is most often worn over another t-shirt. Today it would be just the Crusaders singlet.

Headway is the local branch of the head injury charity and the race is sponsored by Jacksons the car dealer. The race director is Bryce Alford and he’s put together a well organised race. We start on the cycle track at Les Quennevais and this has the effect of stringing the field out a little before we head out onto the main road towards the airport. I’m feeling ok though my quads are still feeling the effects of Thursday’s sand dunes even though I had a good run the day after. Still, it’s only a dull ache and nothing to worry about.

So down towards the airport, turning right past Strive, the new health and fitness centre most recently used by the British and Irish Lions during their training camp, past the rugby club, diving left past St Peter’s football club and across the main Route de Beaumont into the lanes by St George’s Prep. I’m running pretty well, keeping up a decent pace, feeling strong. At half way now and I glance at my watch – just under 26 minutes so on course for 52 with which I’d be pretty happy.

The field is, of course, well spread out by this time and the fast men up front will be approaching the finish. Out of the lanes, back across the main road, behind St Peter’s Village and we connect with the path around the airport perimeter. Always I have the runners ahead of me as targets and I’m never satisfied unless I can nibble away at the gap and perhaps pass them out. But what’s this – John Cunningham onto my shoulder? We exchange a few words. John’s a legend of local running having completed the Comrades Marathon (in fact it’s 89 kilometres) in South Africa on a number of occasions. However he’s no spring chicken and has a heart problem so he’s taking it easy. Still, I’m honoured to be alongside him in a race. Now into the last 2k and trying to latch onto John’s heels keeps me from fading, still pushing for a decent time.

And, into the last kilometre, ahead of John is Sue Le Ruez, another legend and a good friend of mine. I’ve never even come close to Sue in a race and here’s my chance. But no. I can’t find another gear and Sue, then John pass over the line but I’m amazed to be so close to both of them. My watch says 50.42, quicker than I’ve run for many a long year.

So, not fast by the standards of the ‘proper’ runners – the race was won by George Rice in 32.01 with Katelyn Ridgway first woman in 37.04. Still, 89th out of 175 finishers ain’t so shabby.

Cork’s Pandemic – 1956

News of the 2020/21 Covid-19 pandemic has been, from the outset, through the power and reach of the internet, widely publicised and commented upon. CLOSE THE BOARDERS (sic) bayed many in Jersey in the early months.

65 years ago there was an outbreak of the dreaded poliomyelitis in Cork in southern Ireland. Though news travelled less swiftly in those far off days, travel it did. And the panic was disproportionate in relation to the damage which, was, in the event, very well dealt with.

Ireland loves its sport, and Cork more than most. That year both Cork’s Gaelic football and hurling teams had reached their respective All-Ireland finals, to be played in Dublin. The women’s camogie (similar to hurling) team had likewise reached the All-Ireland semi-final, to be played against Mayo in Castlebar, the county town of Mayo in the north west of the country.

There was outcry in Dublin and Castlebar. The residents of those places were panicked and demanded that the games be cancelled so that the expected hordes of plague-carrying Cork supporters would not come. The governing body, the GAA, duly postponed the matches but eventually they all went ahead. Cork’s men lost both of their matches, the loss to Wexford at hurling proving to be the 10th and last All-Ireland final appearance of the great Christy Ring, eight of those appearance being on the winning side.

Christy Ring

The Mayo ladies refused to play the rearranged semi-final so Cork progressed to the final to face Antrim in Dublin. By all accounts the better team, Cork were beaten by a heroic goalkeeping display by 14-year-old Teresa Kearns.

In the event, the 1956 polio epidemic claimed just five deaths in Cork and 20 across the country. The disease has now been virtually eradicated around the world.

In the absence of a pic from 1956 here is Cork’s All-Ireland-winning camogie team from 1934.

Sunset Trophy 2021

I thought I’d reinvigorate this occasional blog by recording bits about my running – training, races etc. I’ll start off with a race report from yesterday evening.

One of Spartans’ long-established events is the Sunset Trophy. Originally, this was two circuits of the sand dunes which climb from sea level at Le Braye up to the high ground of Les Quennevais – the playing fields, the golf course and the Les Ormes resort. The course has has since been modified so that the climb takes place only the once (small mercies) and the runners are then decanted off the dunes and onto the playing fields, along the Railway Walk, down La Pulente Hill and back along the road to complete the circuit. Only 3.2 miles but still a bit of a challenge.

23 of us lined up at the car park, amongst them Paul Holley who we don’t see much of these days but who immediately became the pre-race favourite. The first objective as we set off though was to avoid breaking an ankle in one of the many rabbit holes. Then there’s the matter of choosing the best course up the dunes. The choices are many and, having made brave but wrong decisions previously, this time I dutifully followed the majority.

There is a reason that athletes and other sports players train on the sand dunes – it is a trial of strength as you slip back one step in three and fight for grip to maintain upward momentum. Still, I made the gate off the dunes with a few runners behind me and settled in for the two remaining flat/downhill miles.

Bernie Arthur is a class runner but he’s now 73 to my 68, and also struggling a little with injury. He came up onto my shoulder and threatened to pull away. OK, I was in a race. I like that. It brings out a bit of my competitive instinct and raises my game. I concentrated on keeping the gap manageable and with the last flat mile to go I was on Bernie’s shoulder again. I felt I had a bit left and thought I might test out his injury, see if he could respond. (Sorry Bernie.) I pressed on the gas a little, no response. And so I opened the gap and finished in 13th place out of 23 in a time of 28.14. Paul Holley had duly won in 19.22.

Is this normal?

I suddenly stopped what I was doing and thought, “Is this normal? Does anyone else do this?” I was grafting the last sliver of a bar of soap onto a new bar so as not to waste any. Like so.

Exhibit A

I’ve been doing it all my life, just the way I was shown by my mum. Now, as a working class family in Birmingham we weren’t rich but Mum and Dad worked hard to feed and clothe us and pay the rent. They were used to being thrifty, looking for bargains, cheap cuts of meat, squeezing the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube. But soap grafts? I’ve never known anyone else do it. Do you?

Hold on though, there was something else.

Exhibit B

This is a cricket jumper. When you are little your jumpers get too small don’t they? And your mum buys you a bigger one. Oh no, not my mum. As I grew she’d buy a ball or two of white wool and knit an extension. Then another, then a third. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to me to have differing shades of white on the bottom of my jumper with the original stripe (yellow/black in the above example) up around my chest somewhere. The sleeves must have got the same attention. I wondered by the other boys used to giggle.

Did I have the worst mum in the world or are these things quite normal?

Canada’s day of reckoning is here: we have the Truth, let’s get serious about the Reconciliation

A gut-wrenching post from Jane Fritz on the destruction by European settlers of the indigenous Canadians’ life and culture and the enduring effects.

Robby Robin's Journey

NationalIndigenousMonthIn my Map Monday post last week I committed to writing on issues relevant to National Indigenous History Month – June – on each Monday in June, so here we go.  There’s so much that wants to tumble out that I’ve found it difficult to know where to start.  I don’t want to write only about the angst and horrific injustices; there is so much Indigenous knowledge and wisdom to learn from, especially in our time of environmental crisis, and so many cultural and spiritual traditions to celebrate.  But Indigenous history in what is now called Canada has been filled with so much tragedy since shortly after the arrival of European colonizers that I think I have to start with the harsh realities.

Just as a reminder, the Americas had been occupied by Indigenous peoples and empires with a diversity of languages and cultures across two continents for at least…

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The King of Rome

This is a pleasing little story from the north Midlands of England. Not earth-shattering, and it probably would have remained in obscurity only for a folk singer/songwriter.

Pigeon fancying, pigeon racing got popular in England during the years of the Industrial Revolution. In the north in particular it became a hobby for some men, a release from their grim working lives down the mines or in the factories.

This story concerns such a man, Charlie Hudson, who lived in Brook Street, Derby. He bred pigeons and one day in 1913 he entered his prize bird for a 1,000 mile race from Rome back to the birds’ home lofts. Charlie knew that it was unlikely he’d see his bird again but he wanted to experience what freedom was like, vicariously, through his pigeon.

‘Yeah, I know, but I had to try
A man can crawl around or he can learn to fly
And if you live ’round here
The ground seems awful near
Sometimes I need a lift from victory’

As predicted, few pigeons made it back home. Charlie’s bird did. And today the King of Rome stands proudly in a glass case in Derby Museum.

Folk singer Dave Sudbury wrote some words about the King and composed a song. June Tabor and others covered it, most recently a powerful brass band-backed version by the Unthanks.

Long live the King of Rome.

Tradition in Action

There isn’t much call for thatchers here in Jersey. We have plenty of lovely, traditional granite buildings but of thatched roofs there are no more than a handful.

So when five thatchers from Devon arrived in the island a couple of weeks ago, everybody sat up and took notice. Here at Hamptonne we have three historic farm buildings, two of which have thatched roofs. It is 20 years or so since they were last attended to. It was only as they got to work with their bright, golden straw that it could be seen how overdue the work was.

It was a surprise when they initially just tidied up the existing thatch and prepared to lay the new over it. The second surprise was the thickness of the new thatch.

Scaffolding is up

The guys are a taciturn bunch. They don’t say much, but just get on with it, dawn till dusk, seven days a week though they finish a bit earlier on Sundays. We’ve had TV and radio up here filming and interviewing, reluctantly in the case of the boss thatcher. They just want to get on, finish the job and head home with a cheque in their back pocket.

One week later

Today they’re just about finishing off Hamptonne House, the former home of Laurens Hamptonne who was the first to acclaim Charles II as King when his father had his head chopped off. Shortly they’ll start on Langlois House assuming we can deal with swallow nests, bats and other impediments to work.

Finished and pictured in late afternoon

The Sound of Leather on Willow

“Baseball has the great advantage over cricket of being sooner ended.” GB Shaw.

A sure sign of Spring, men dressed in white, including several sweaters each against the Baltic temperatures, skipping or strolling out onto the cricket grounds of England. It’s the first day of the season and – at least in England – the professionals are plying their trade in front of empty seats.

Here in Jersey, where Covid restrictions are being lifted apace, the amateur leagues will soon be getting underway. The general standard of the game has come on in recent years both through a very good coaching programme and the regular exposure of the Jersey team to international tournaments. Yet the number of players overall has fallen away somewhat. Fewer social/bog standard players are willing to devote the best part of a Saturday or Sunday to the game.

Foliot Fields, home of Sheldon Marlborough CC

I was once one of those willing but limited participants. Years before I moved to Jersey I joined my local club in the Birmingham suburbs, Marlborough CC (they have now merged and play as Sheldon Marlborough CC), where I spent an enjoyable couple of years cricketing around the Midlands with David Genge, Stan Redding, John Green and others presumably long gone now* – this would have been around 1970. On leaving school I joined a rather posher club, Aston Manor CC who played (indeed they still do) in north Birmingham. There I scored my one and only century, 104 not out as we recovered from 29-2 to 231-2 dec. A couple of weeks later I was out for 96 but I assumed that the years ahead would bring many more centuries. If only I’d known. A few names from those days* – Tony Thane, Roy Cutler, Billy McDonough, Bob Lawrence, Malcolm Hayward, Peter Tucker, Barry Holbutt, Dennis Cottrell**, Arthur Hodgetts, Keith Forman, Brian Mason, Peter Bilton, Gil Secker, my schoolmates Phil Bragg and Colin Prentice [and, via the comment below, Dave Lowe, Bob Rogers, Iain Woods, John Dymock.] A good bunch of lads with whom I enjoyed playing on many of the Midlands’ most picturesque grounds and always with plenty of beer to follow, win or lose.

Farmers’ Field, Jersey

Moving to Jersey in 1977 I hooked up with St Ouen CC and played with them until about 2004. Along the way I played evening cricket with the legendary Jersey United Banks RFC who provided not only intra-match beers for ourselves but also for that evening’s opposition. By now, limited overs cricket was becoming the norm with little chance of settling down to play a long, steady knock. Instead of improving I regressed until one day, in the middle of a match, the penny dropped. I was no longer enjoying the game and I packed it in at the end of that season to concentrate on my work with Jersey Spartan Athletics.

Now I can’t even be bothered to turn my head and watch a match as I pass by, something which would have been unthinkable 34 years previously.

*= names may be added as I remember them 🙂

**= One afternoon Dennis was opening the bowling and I and another young player were fielding in the slips. In a short space of time, two or three edges had eluded us to Dennis’s loud frustration. After consulting with the skipper, two more experienced players were moved into the slips and us two were ordered, in disgrace, to the outfield where we could do less damage to our team’s prospects.