musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Category: Personal

These Two Days in History

Tonight history was made way back in 1912 as the RMS Titanic sailed into disaster and became a legend. The story has oft been told, and so much misinformation and downright untruths have permeated into legend that it is like watching the proliferation of fake news on Facebook.  

The fact remains though, many would loose their lives in the disaster, and so many lives would be altered, interrupted and irrevocably changed that they affected people from all around the world. Maritime safety legislation would be one of the many changes that would benefit from the sinking of the Titanic, although that would be way too late for those on board, but those regulations directly influence cruise ships over 100 years later.  The unimaginable happened in April 1912, but it can happen again in 2018, assuming we don’t all get exterminated in a nuclear holocaust this coming week. 

Titanic Engineers Memorial, Southampton

My own interest in the Titanic ended many years ago. There were too many instant experts that knew everything after seeing the James Cameron Titanic movie. And of course every Tom, Dick and Harry has taken to writing a book, and documentaries abound. There is nothing new to see, move along.

Postal workers memorial

Part of the closure I had came about as a result of seeing the artefact exhibition in the USA in 2000. It really helped to close the door on that chapter of my life, although it had a brief surge of interest when I finally got to Southampton in 2013. It had always been part of my dream to go there, and once I had seen what there was to see I was ready to call it quits. However, every year around about now I remember those events, and those people who never saw home, and those who waited for a loved one to return. It is part of history, you cannot change it, it did happen. Aliens did not sink the ship, an iceberg did the dirty deed. 

Charles M Hayes Memorial, London

So tonight, when I am bedding down after a long days vegging I will know that way back in time a ship was heading towards her end, nothing could change it, and her memory would carry on long after the last survivor passed away.  

Titanic Musicians plaque. St Mary’s, Southampton

She is not forgotten, and the souls who died on her will always be remembered.

Assuming that we don’t get destroyed in a nuclear holocaust first. 

DRW © 2018. Created 14 April 2018

Updated: 14/04/2018 — 17:48

Retrospective: Woolston and Weston

This is yet another of my retrospective posts about my time in Southampton. and it really encompasses the area I lump together as Woolston/Weston/Southampton Water and of course the River Itchen. I grew up in a landlocked city so never really had the opportunity watch the tide come in; Southampton has an unusual phenomenon known as “Double High Water” and frankly I am not qualified to explain how this works because there are so many factors that come into play. If you are really interested please go read up at the Associated British Ports website where it is explained in detail. The important thing to know is that it results in unusually prolonged periods of high water which makes things easier for large ships (of which there are quite a lot) calling in Southampton.

My exif data has 4 separate dates for the images I took in this area, so I am really going to lump them together as one.  To understand where the images occur you really need to see the River Itchen from the bridge. The area I am dealing with is on the left of the image just past the pier that juts out from the land.  Southampton is to the right of the image. 

The ship underway is the Arco Dee, and I did a whole series of images about her transiting the Itchen Bridge en route to Southampton Water.  Our story really starts at Woolston Station, which is below.

Actually I cheated by crossing the bridge and not using the train.

The line extends all the way to Fareham and onwards to Portsmouth.  I then took Victoria Street to get to my destination. Woolston is really a village and is rich in maritime and aviation history, but unfortunately the Vosper Thornycroft yards closed in  2004 and when I was in the area the site of the yards was being redeveloped. ​

 

The Woolston Millennium Garden  was completed in 2002. Its focal point is a 10-metre tall metal and recycled glass feather intended to signify Woolston’s history of flight and sail. The garden is divided into three areas, signifying the earth, the sky and the sea. Many of the crew of the Titanic came from Woolston and there are bricks in the pathway through the garden that are inscribed with their names. Unfortunately I did not realise that the bricks did have those names otherwise I would have photographed them too. Many of those who died on the Titanic are remembered on graves in Southampton Old Cemetery.

The church I associate with Woolston/Weston is the Holy Trinity Church. there is one Second World War casualty buried in it’s churchyard. There is also the grave of Ada Maria and Charles Valentine Clarke,  2nd Class Passengers on board the Titanic. Ada survived while Charles was lost.  
 

   
   
   

Eventually you will come to a sewerage plant. You will probably smell it first though. Carry on a bit further and  you will run out of land unless you start following the road to the left. It was here that I spent some time observing the tide and exploring the area. This is also the route I took to reach Royal Victoria Country Park in August 2013

The Domesday Book has the following to say about Woolston:

  • HundredMansbridge
  • CountyHampshire
  • Total population: 6 households (quite small).
  • Total tax assessed: 1 exemption units (very small).
  • Taxable units: Taxable value 1 exemption units. Taxed on 0.12.
  • Value: Value to lord in 1066 £0.5. Value to lord in 1086 £0.3.
  • Households: 3 villagers. 3 smallholders.
  • Ploughland: 1 men’s plough teams.
  • Lord in 1066Tovi.
  • Overlord in 1066King Edward.
  • Lord in 1086Reginald (Cnut).
  • Tenant-in-chief in 1086Reginald (Cnut).
  • Phillimore reference: 59,1

It was a hot day, the sun was strong and the sky blue, that water looked very inviting. Fortunately I am not one of those who dash into the water flinging clothing aside and then doing a swan dive into it. 

The ship at Ocean Terminal was Queen Mary 2, and this image I took on a different occasion. (1500×443)

That is the Itchen Bridge in the distance.  I found the water fascinating, and the yellow boat was on the slipway when I arrived and was afloat and heading out to sea when I left. I wonder where it eventually ended up?

The movement of the water really transforms the shingle beach, it creates a whole new submerged environment that is inhabited by numerous critters that depend on the tide and the ecosystem around it. Dogs however are not included in that equation, like me they are casual visitors.

And of course the comings and goings of cruise ships do not affect the dogs but they do sometimes cause people to shade their eyes and stare, wishing that they were on board and looking at the shore. This is Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth in Southampton Water (1500×707). 

If you continued to walk and follow the road through to Weston you would see the buildings that comprise a housing estate. These buildings sufferer some of the problems that are associated with this type of housing, but Hampton TowersHavre TowersOslo TowersCopenhagen TowersRotterdam Towers and Canberra Towers are a very distinctive landmarks when viewed from Southampton Water. Just imagine what the view must be like from there…. The recent fire in a tower block in London has thrown the spotlight on fire safety in buildings like this, and I suspect a lot of rethinks will be required to sort out any potential issues in these buildings.  

The final oddity I wanted to add in here is called “Fox’s Monument” and it may be found in Mayberry Park.

This memorial is a tall unadorned obelisk on a square base commemorating Whig politician Charles James Fox. It was erected in 1810 in the grounds of Mayfield House by his admirer and friend William Chamberlayne of Weston Grove. Charles Fox’s name does not appear on the memorial but there is an inscription that reads: “The Earth is the Lord’s, and the Fullness Thereof“. 

That concludes this disjointed diatribe, it did not quite turn out the way I would have liked, but I hope it does leave some sort of impression on what the opposite bank of the Itchen River looks like. I am hoping to do a similar sort of post about Northam, but not today. Bits and pieces will be added to as and when I get the urge. 

DRW © 2013-2018. (Domesday image and data available under the CC-BY-SA licence, with credit to Professor John Palmer and George Slater, (Opendomesday.org)

Updated: 13/04/2018 — 08:38

And then I was in Southampton

Continuing with my retrospect of events that happened 5 years ago.

By the end of March 2013 I was ready to leave London, although disaster was about to overtake me on the day before I left. The first disaster was forgetting the pin number of my new bank card, and the second was discovering that my cellphone package was not working as it expired at the point where I needed it most. The other disaster was a phone call that I received from the place where I was going to stay in the city, which left me having to scramble around for another place in a hurry. I literally grabbed the first I could see and hoped that it was not a dive. I was going to travel by bus to Southampton and duly reported to Victoria Coach station to catch my bus. Gads, the place was a mess!

I will never understand why long distance bus stations are such awful places, and why the Victoria  Coach Station doesn’t connect to the railway station in a logic manner!

Two things happened on that bus trip that would come back further down the line. On our way out of London we passed a set of really magnificent buildings that I eventually found out were the Victoria and Albert Museum, as well as the Natural History Museum. I took the image of the Natural History Museum with my phone and kicked myself for not checking out the museums in that area (I was too busy in cemeteries).  I would rectify the V&A and Science Museum in June 2016 but sadly the Natural History Museum was closed for renovations when I tried to see it in 2017.  

The second odd thing to happen was when we stopped in the city of Winchester to collect onward passengers.

Winchester seen through the coach window

I did not really connect the dots at that point as to where Southampton was in relation to London, Portsmouth and Hampshire as a county. That was still to come. As was my visit to Winchester where I went for a job interview a few months later.  Oddly enough I never saw that statue on my visit, which makes me wonder whether that was Winchester at all. However, so quick looking up reveals that the statue if of King Alfred the Great, and it stands close to the site of the city’s medieval East Gate.

The first thing that struck me when I hit Southampton were the ancient city walls that still exist in places in the city. 

I have never done a complete post about the city walls, because it is difficult to work out how they came together, a lot were destroyed in the bombing of the city and a lot were lost by the town planners who rebuilt it. Southampton was badly affected by the bombing and would never be the same city as it was prior to World War 2. 

I also met my new landlord “Bob” who is still one of the nicest guys I have ever met in the UK. If it wasn’t for him I would have really been in serious trouble as my finances started to dwindle when I could not find work. He was a pillar of strength and an understanding ear, he was also took me to places that I ordinarily would not get to see, and when I finally left Southampton I was very sad to say goodbye to him. Thank you Bob. I will never forget you.

The first impressions of my new “home” were not favourable, in fact I was tempted to run away when I first saw it. The entrance was in a parking lot and you were immediately faced with a steep flight of stairs that were always chilly.  A further flight took you to the room and the bathroom on that floor. Inside the place was not great, there was a window, bed, washing machine, toaster oven, fridge, table and a broken wardrobe. The view was of the rooftop of Debenhams and in the distance a park. Somebody had dumped a whole dustbin load of rubbish on the rooftop and I needed to get that cleaned before the seagulls had a party. First thing though was to get the bank card sorted out as I needed to pay rent. I had the money for the deposit but my months rent was still sitting in the bank. Bob was not impressed but understood the situation. The problem was that I had to wait for a new pin and only the bank could issue that via post! Fortunately I was able to withdraw money through the cashier and pay my rent.

Next on my agenda was the harbour! and Bob took me up to the harbour to see the Queen Elizabeth. Unfortunately you could not get closer to her than the pic shows. She was the first cruise liner that I have seen since 2010 and  was berthed up at what is loosely known as “Mayflower” (aka 106). This image is the first ship photograph that I took in Southampton, and by the time I stopped taking pics in it there were 45 individual cruise ships in my collection.

After that he dropped me off at the pier and I was left to shiver in the cold and try to catch my breath as I stared agape at the cruise ship (P&O’s Ventura) berthed at the Ocean Terminal and the Red Funnel ferries sailing past as I watched. I would get to spend a lot of time at Town Quay photographing ships, and each was a special occasion. 

I hung around till the two ships sailed before trying to find my way home. To be honest I was not even too sure where home was! Technically I was living in town as opposed to any of the suburbs (St Mary’s being the closest to where I was). On my way home I passed an employment agency and made a mental note to go register with them as there was a job advertised that was just up my street. 

Many things would happen in the time I was in Southampton (7/03/2013-10/2013), I  cleaned up my room and found my way around (did I mention ships?), but jobwise I could not find anything. The agency turned out to only be interested in numbers and like so many other agencies did not do me the courtesy of a call back even after I registered with them.  I was able to snag a part time job as a baggage handler for the ships, but it was not consistent work and it really just tided me through till I found permanent work.

Unfortunately that job was way too heavy for me and I really battled with pain in my left arm as a result of it. However, from a ship buff’s point of view it was strangely interesting. I had sailed on ships as a passenger but here I was seeing things on the other side of the shell door.  I worked onboard some of the vessels as well, and Oriana was really the hardest to work on because it was always chaos. But, sometimes we had lunch and breakfast on board and that was great. 

From a cemetery point of view Southampton has three major cemeteries: The Old Cemetery, Hollybrook and finally Netley Military Cemetery They were all fascinating places to visit, and I spent many hours in the Old Cemetery hunting down war graves and the graves of people connected to the Titanic. Southampton has a number of Titanic memorials and other Titanic related places to hunt down, but the Titanic mania has meant that a lot of the other maritime history connected to the city has been neglected, and this was reflected in the Sea City Museum. Fortunately I am no longer obsessed with the ship.

Southampton is geographically close to Portsmouth and all of its history, and of course the Isle of Wight is just a ferry ride away. Hythe is situated across from the city and it is quite a popular shipwatching spot, assuming you manage to get back in time for the last ferry. 

Hythe Pier

The pier even has it’s own railway line, and close to the pier is a monument to Sir Christopher Cockrell (1910-1999), considered to be the father of the hovercraft. Unfortunately I never really explored Hythe properly so I am sure there is a lot that I missed. I did do a retrospective post on it though to add to my memories.

(1500×576). The Itchen Bridge

The harbour is fed from the River Test and Itchen, and there is a wonderful road bridge over the itchen with Southampton on one side and Woolston on the other. That bridge was a long steep climb though but I saw so much from it.  

Southampton links in 3 directions to almost anywhere and was quite a convenient base to search for jobs, but realistically I should have lived in Reading to get more out of jobhunting. Jobwise Southampton was a dead end, and while I did go for interviews none were successful except for the last interview that I had in Salisbury. The irony is that in all my time in Southampton I went for more interviews and made more applications than I did between 2011 and 2012 in South Africa. 

South Western House

St Mary’s Southampton

Terminus House

Central Hall

The Bargate

Civic Centre

Former Royal Pier building

Netley Castle from Southampton Water

Queen Mary 2  at Ocean Terminal

Former docks post office building

I found permanent employment in Salisbury in September 2013, but only moved at the end of November so lived inbetween the two cities for over two months. I was sad to leave Southampton though and will always consider it to be my equivalent of “the place where I was born” (for want of a better description)

(1500×247) Hamtun Street Mural. Depicting landmark buildings and events from Southampton’s history, from the Romans and Saxons to the modern docks and liners. Created in 1978 by artists Henry and Joyce Collins, and restored in 2011

Unfortunately Bob lost his wife in mid 2013 and I saw much less of him after that, but he was always a friendly face in his trademark blue shirt. The empty shopping centre next to the flats was demolished, the original plan was to build a Morrisons there. By the time I left the city the plans were seemingly intact but I heard that it all fell through and chances are they would have erected student accommodation or yuppie pads in it’s place. The sad fact is that Southampton is really like a giant parking lot with many of the historic buildings made into yuppie pads or care homes. In fact that is also true in many of the cities in the UK. 

(1500×284) Town Quay

There were lots of places to visit that were not connected to the Titanic, and some of these may be found listed in the links (the links work from the top downwards chronologically).  

DRW © 2013-2018. 

Updated: 13/04/2018 — 08:38

Four Ships Week

Regular readers will know that I have slowly been adding in rerminders about important dates in South African naval history. The most prominent being in February when I commemorate Three Ships Month. Sadly though, it does not all end with those 3 disasters (although technically the Mendi was not a naval vessel as it sailed with a civilian crew while doing trooping duties). 

There are however four more ships that I am adding into these reminders, and they were all lost in April of 1942.  The men killed in these sinkings were seconded to four British war ships that were lost in what has become known as “The Easter Sunday Raid“. 

I am not in a position to elaborate about the disasters that befell these ships, as there are others who have done a much better job than I have. I am heavy reliant on Wikipedia for the informtation below.

HMS Cornwall, was  a County-class heavy cruiser of the Kent sub-class built for the Royal Navy in the mid-1920s. Cornwall was transferred to the South Atlantic in late 1939 where she escorted convoys before returning to the Indian Ocean in 1941. she was transferred to the Eastern Fleet in March 1942 and  was sunk on 5 April by dive bombers from three Japanese aircraft carriers during the Indian Ocean Raid. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Cornwall_(56)

HMS Dorsetshire, was a County class heavy cruiser  and a member of the Norfolk sub-class, of which she was one of two ships (HMS Norfolk was the other).  Launched in Portsmouth in January 1929, she was completed in September 1930.  After a long and varied career she was transferred to the Eastern Fleet to support British forces in the recently opened Pacific Theatre of the war.   On 5 April, Japanese aircraft spotted Dorsetshire and her sister Cornwall while en route to Colombo; a force of dive bombers then attacked the two ships and sank them. More than 1,100 men were rescued the next day, out of a combined crew of over 1,500. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Dorsetshire_(40))

HMS Hermes, was the world’s first ship to be designed as an aircraft carrier, her construction began during the First World War but she was not completed until after the end of the war.  She  was commissioned in 1924, and served briefly with the Atlantic Fleet before spending the bulk of her career assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet and the China Station.  When the Second World War began she was briefly assigned to the Home Fleet and conducted anti-submarine patrols in the Western Approaches  before being  sent to patrol the Indian Ocean. She was refitted in South Africa between November 1941 and February 1942 and then joined the Eastern Fleet at Ceylon.

While berthed in Trincomalee on 8 April a warning of an approaching Japanese fleet was received, and she sailed that day for the Maldives with no aircraft on board. On 9 April she was spotted by a Japanese scout plane, and she was subsequently attacked by several dozen dive bombers shortly afterwards.  Without air cover she  was quickly although most of the survivors were rescued by a nearby hospital ship, but 307 men were lost in the sinking. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Hermes_(95))

HMS Hollyhock, a Flower-class corvette, was laid down on 27 November 1939 and launched on 19 August 1940. She was commissioned into the Royal Navy on 19 November 1940. Hollyhock was bombed and sunk by Japanese naval aircraft on 9 April 1942 east of Ceylon in the Indian Ocean, along with the aircraft carrier Hermes, the Australian destroyer Vampire and two tankers.  53 men lost their lives in the sinking.  (http://www.naval-history.net/xGM-Chrono-20Cor-Flower-Hollyhock.htm)

64 South Africans lost their lives as members of the crew of these 4 ships.  Unfortunately these losses were conveniently shunted aside in the quest to sanitise history, but slowly we are recognising that there is much more that we need to discover and commemorate.  

Further Reading:

The major inspiration for this post is The Observation Post, a  blog that was set up to keep contemporary South African Military history alive and reveal the truth – because historical “truth” in South Africa is so often skewed to some or other political agenda.

Recounting South African Sacrifice on the HMS Dorsetshire

Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Cornwall

Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hermes

Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hollyhock

DRW © 2018. Created 02/04/2018.  The Observation Post is created by Peter Dickens 

 

Updated: 13/04/2018 — 08:38

This time last year

This time last year I was in the air somewhere over Africa (I think) heading South towards Johannesburg.

Approaching ORT, with Johannesburg in the distance (1500×964)

It was a trip that I had to organise at very short notice and was one I did not really want to do unless I really had to. The reason behind it was the ever declining health of my mother who lived on her own in the South of Johannesburg. When I finally saw her early the next day I was shocked, it was hard to believe it was the same person I had known for all my life (my father passed away in 1981).   

There were a few problems that needed dealing with, and we were fortunate that things happened when they did or we would have been in an extremely difficult position.  The decision was made that we needed to get her into frail care. She was not coping well and a recent fall had really robbed her of self confidence and raised the alarm bells. The complex where she lived had no facilities for frail care, or even a resident nurse or caretaker. Too many occupants died unnoticed in the past and it was a situation we wanted to avoid at all costs. 

I won’t waffle on much in this post, I just wanted to say that a year down the line she is doing better than she was this time in 2017. I wont say she is healthy as a 70 year old, but at least she is in a better place physically than she was in March 2017. 

She moved out of her flat in May 2017, and that must have been a horrible experience for her. Leaving your life behind to embark on what may be your final days is not something to be taken lightly, and I do understand her reticence about going into frail care. Naturally the question is: did we do the right thing? whether it was right or not is irrelevant,  what is important is that it was the only option we had and it was better for her in the long run. 

Only time has the answer to our situation. Fortunately I am in a better position visa wise, but there it is inevitable that at some point will have to make another trip down south. There is very little I can do about it and just next year this time I will be doing a two years down the line post, let’s wait and see.

DRW © 2018. Created 20/03/2018 

Updated: 13/04/2018 — 08:38

Sheepish in the snow

There is snow outside again. Wow, we will write about this winter for a looooong time, or at least still spring or summer (assuming we have one).  Anyway, I went walkies again because frankly I love seeing the snow.  I never grew up with the phenomena when I was young, in fact the first real snow I saw was in the USA in 2000.  Gathering my winter woolies I headed out on a different route and looked for somewhere new. The sad irony is that from Mitton I could see hills in the distance but could not find a place to photograph them as there was no open area with a clear view. Unless otherwise noted all images are 800×600 when opened.

(1500 x 567)

My meandering took me to a part of Mitton I had not been in before and I really wanted to see whether I could find Mitton Manner which served as a military hospital from June 1915, until it closed in January 1919. It treated 1,188 sick and wounded soldiers, the first patients being a group of Belgian soldiers. Over that period, only three patients died, and those from the 1918 influenza epidemic. It was manned by the Gloucestershire Red Cross volunteers, who were almost entirely local women, under the command of Mrs Devereux. (https://www.tewkesburymuseum.org/mitton-manor-plaque-unveiled/) . Not too long ago I spotted a set of images at the local doctors office about the house and it’s history as a hospital, but as usual I cannot find them.

This strange structure below is supposedly called “the long barn”.

The Domesday Book entry for Mitton reads: 

  • Head of manor: Bredon.
  • Taxable units: Taxable value 4 geld units.
  • Value: Value to lord in 1066 £4. Value to lord in 1086 £4.
  • Households: 12 villagers. 6 smallholders. 10 slaves. 3 female slaves.
  • Ploughland: 5 lord’s plough teams. 9 men’s plough teams.
  • Other resources: Meadow 40 acres. Woodland 2 furlongs.
  • Lord in 1066Worcester (St Mary), bishop of.
  • Lord in 1086Worcester (St Mary), bishop of.
  • Tenant-in-chief in 1086Worcester (St Mary), bishop of.
  • Places mentioned in this entryMittonTeddington.
  • Phillimore reference: 2,23

I hope to revisit this post once I find the odds and ends I had collected about the manor and Mrs Devereux. Another interesting snippet came via a work colleague who told me that at at one point the house was in the family of some baroness who was a famous model and who slept under her car when she arrived home only to find it had been vandalised in her absence (the house.. not the car). After our original conversation he found the following info:

“In the 1950s the estate was in the possession of an Austrian Baroness, Violet von Gagern, a former Cecil Beaton model. However, by 1960 the Baroness was rarely in residence, and the manor started to fall into decline. It was at this time that she sold much of the surrounding farmland to the housing company Jane s of Luton, which constructed the present housing estate, mainly between 1963-7. By 1969 the manor house had become so dilapidated that local residents started to voice concerns. But thankfully in 1971 a planning inquiry refused the Baroness permission to demolish the manor house to provide space for further new housing. Subsequently the house was bought and carefully restored by its present owners Jan and Margaret Lucas.”  (http://www.glosarch.org.uk/Glev%2037.pdf)

 

I also found out that the Carrant Brook that flows past where I live is actually the border between Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. 

My exit from Mitton took place more or less where the border signpost is, and I photographed that sign when I paid a visit to St Giles in Bredon in 2016. On the left hand side of this sign is a farm and of course the Avon flows past here too. It looked like this in 2016.

(1500×506)

The Avon was running quite low at that point, although the same cannot be said of today. What I was hoping to see were the sheep that live on that patch of green, and this post is dedicated to them. 

They were looking quite cosy in their woolie jumpers too. The area where they are is now a snow covered winter field, and the Avon is much higher than in 2016

(1500×791)

(1500×731)

(1500×747)

It is looking very beautiful out there, and at the time of writing the wind is blowing like mad. The weather forecast is for temps between 1 and -2 degrees with snow showers and breezy. It looks like it Winter will be with us just a wee bit longer this year. 

And that was the weather. We return you now to our regular Sunday broadcast of church music, radio drama and pictures of sheep. Baaaah. 

 

DRW © 2018. Created 18/03/2018.  Domesday Book Image by Professor J.J.N. Palmer and George Slater. The Open Domesday Project and the associated  images are kindly made available by Professor J.J.N. Palmer. Images may be reused under a Creative Commons BY-SA licence.  

Updated: 13/04/2018 — 08:38

Stephen Hawking. 1942-2018

The world has lost one of its great minds with the passing of Stephen Hawking. A giant among men and a visionary who inspired so many, and who had a unique vision of time and space that is beyond the understanding of most of us on this planet.

He was born on the 8th of  January 1942 in Oxford, England, and earned a place at Oxford University to read natural science in 1959, before studying for his PhD at Cambridge. He was diagnosed with motor neurone disease early in 1963 and given two years to live. Fortunately he proved that not every deadline has to be reached and he left his mark on civilisation that will be with us for a long time. 

“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet” – Professor Stephen Hawking

Our planet is a much poorer place as a result of his passing.

DRW 14/03/2018

Updated: 13/04/2018 — 08:38

Counting down the days

Having left South Africa we are almost at our destination… sort of.

En route to London

My post for 02/03/2013 has the following to say:

“It was time to put my new visa to the test, and surprisingly enough passing through immigration was easy. Now I had to find my way to Kennington in South London which was where I was staying until 8 Feb. There were 3 options: Heathrow Express, Tube, or Coach. I suspect I am sucker for a train so chose the Tube. I had to change trains at 3 different places but surprisingly that in itself was a breeze.  I do remember sitting on that tube from Heathrow with my luggage and heavy eyes from the lack of sleep; with people all around tied up in their own world of cell phones, headsets or books. They were on their way to work, I was on my way to a new life.” 

I have never forgotten that tube ride, it was my first time riding the tube too, but I think at that point I was feeling very uncertain of what I was doing. Fortunately finding your way on the tube is reasonably simple, assuming you know how to read a tube map  you can get almost anywhere in London. The only tube line that runs to Heathrow is the Piccadilly Line, and I rode it to Leicester Square where I changed to the Northern Line and bailed out at Kennington, and then did a short hop to Oval Station for some or other odd reason.

When I exited Oval Station I was very disorientated and I had been hoping to find a taxi to take me to my destination, but contrary to my expectations there were no taxis at Oval. I re-orientated myself, grabbed my suitcase by the hand and headed down the road. My suitcase was not one of the wheelie bags, it was a suitcase with a set of wheels on one corner and a handle on the other. It rolled easily enough assuming that the pavement was level. By the time I got to where I would be staying I was exhausted. But I had arrived. 

Camberwell New Road

The owner of the flat had cooked me breakfast although she was not at home at the time and a friend of hers showed me the ins and outs of where the loo was and how the shower worked and all that sort of stuff. I seem to recall I only met the owner the next morning. While I had not really crossed too many time zones I was still tired after being on the go from the afternoon of the 28th up till the afternoon of the 1st. I did not have a sim card for my phone yet and that was something I needed to do and I seem to recall that afternoon heading down to Camberwell after having a shower to buy myself a watch and a sim for my phone. The shenanigans of my watch having finally cheesed me off enough! Strangely enough I still wear that replacement Timex that I bought at Argos for $19.99.  

I spotted a cellphone shop somewhere and did some enquires about airtime packages. The person on the other side of the counter was a South African and she recommended I rather go try a place up the road because the people she worked for were overpriced. It was quite an odd encounter but I did appreciate her honesty so ended up going elsewhere and was connected probably an hour later. That cell phone package would come back and bite me in the rear end as we got to the end of the month, and my time in London. 

Brixton

Opening a bank account was easy as it had been pre-arranged, all I had to do was sign on the dotted line and bob was my uncle! However, the banking worked slightly differently to how we do things in South Africa and it took me a long time to get used to it. It too would bite me in the rear end when I left London in March. 

St Mark’s Church, Kennington

My immediate need for accommodation was solved when my landlady (another South African), let me stay for another month while I sorted myself out. She was very helpful and weaned me off the tube and showed me how to use buses! I had not travelled on one of those in years either and the bus service is London is amazingly efficient although it can be very crowded at peak times. Do not expect to see any smiles either because nobody seemed to smile on the buses. If only they had experienced the poor public transport back in SA they would have jumped for joy at what they had in this incredible city. 

I will admit I did a lot of the touristy things in that month, but it was very clear that there were a few snag in my job search. For starters I had to get my qualifications assessed and that would take at least 3 weeks. I was a tad too old to work in the customer service industry and I was really struggling with my hearing. There was a lot of competition for some of the jobs and I was at somewhat of a disadvantage. I was however prepared to relocate, although did not find any jobs outside of London at the time. The usual lack of feedback or responses by agencies also happened in the UK, and of course I also sat with that almost 2 year gap in my CV after my retrenchment. I did know one thing though, I had to get out of London and Southampton was really my city of choice. With hindsight it was a bad choice, if anything I should have headed to Reading or Basingstoke, but purposely avoided the latter  because it supposedly had a lot of South Africans in it. I wanted to avoid those if I could. It is not that I dislike my countrymen, its just that I tend to see things differently to how many of them see it.   

Kennington Park

My time in London spanned from 01 March till I left on 7 April. I saw a lot of things in that month and literally walked myself into exhaustion. The one issue that had plagued me in London was what I suspect may have been shin splints, although it may have been as a result of the extended cramped conditions on the 2 flights. Irrespective of what it was I was in pain for quite a lot of the time. Unfortunately I am allergic to ibuprofen and almost everything that I saw had Ibuprofen in it!  I also discovered that many of the pharmacists are really poor compared to what I was used to in SA. I battled for quite a long time to rid myself of the problem, but it was not fun at the time. 

I won’t even try to explain all I saw or all I did in London, there was just so much. My London folder has over 13000 images in it, and it is doubtful whether there are 2000 of them on this blog.  I started blogging halfheartedly in January 2011 and it really took off when I hit London. All of my travels are in here, and I often go back and reread what my thoughts were back then. I recall that I was at Lewisham one day and while I was there I found the old military hospital, and it was at that hospital where my grandfather was treated after being wounded at Delville Wood. It was a strange encounter, and I could not help but wonder what he thought of the place. I had a love/hate relationship with Lewisham for some unfathomable reason, and yet it turned out to be a very handy location for some of the places I visited. 

Lewisham

A lot of the places that I visited were “cities of the dead”;  when I left South Africa I thought that I would not be doing any war grave photography in the UK. I was very wrong and have photographed twice as many war graves here than I photographed in South Africa.  

At this point I will stop my waffling and draw your attention to the London galleries that I have added to the blog. They can be found under the old Photo-Essay pages.  My London Memorials page is at allatsea

It is also worth looking at the index for March 2013 and the many links inside it. Theoretically they all open in a new tab/page

Finally  I would like to thank my landlady in Kennington, we lost touch in 2014, and I hope that she is still well and has managed to sort herself out with a decent job. Thank you for everything you did for me. 

DRW © 2013-2018. Initially created around about 01/03/2013 but still adding bits as I go along. 

Updated: 18/03/2018 — 16:13

Snowed under

It is now the weekend and Tewkesbury is trying to recover from under the snow that we had on Thursday evening and Friday. It really feels like a major disaster happened although it was really just unseasonal snow (soon to be accompanied by rain). Chaos did reign though and I am sure the highways were bogged down with stuck cars and accidents. I havent been biking to work since Wednesday but hoofing it to work and back. Fortunately I do not live too far away from work.

My camera was working overtime though, and as usual I have been taking pics galore. I am sure everybody has seen the same old places in my pics, so I tried for different ones for a change. The wind was very strong on Thursday evening so some very interesting shapes were to be found in the snow drifts and wind driven snow.

 

And of course I was also fortunate enough to spot an “ice giant” lurking in the undergrowth….

He is just waiting to swallow us all!! Run away run away! 

What I did find interesting is that parts of the Carrant Brook are frozen, 

I suspect we are not finished with this lousy weather yet, rain is forecast for today and tomorrow, and that could cause the snow to freeze which will make things very dangerous. I am hoping that the cycle path will be more navigable during the week so that I can fetch my meds, of course assuming that the pharmacist pitches up for work.

And that was the weather. We now return you to our regular broadcast.

DRW © 2018. Created 03/03/2018

Updated: 04/03/2018 — 08:28

5 years ago

On this day 5 years ago I was facing my last day in South Africa. At this point last of my possessions had been moved to the storage unit and there were no more sleeps left as I had to catch my flight. I had accommodation organised for my first week in London, but anything after that was uncertain. On arrival my priorities were: find a place to stay,  open a bank account, obtain a National Insurance Number, have my qualifications assessed, and find work. I had played these scenarios out in my mind a number of times, but was pretty sure that the odds of finding work almost immediately were small. When I had originally planned this I had decided that I really wanted to settle in Southampton, although that depended on whether I found work elsewhere first. I had visited the UK in 2008 so was not completely in the dark about what it was like. At least I more or less knew where London was!

I had a lot of stuff to store, so much so that I hired a storage unit to keep it all in, and the last week I spent driving to and from the unit and offloading into it. The unit also had to be big enough for my car which I had not sold. It is scarey how much stuff I really had at that point, much of which would be superfluous with me being the UK, but I was loathe to dispose of my books and other collectables. 

At my age (52) packing up and leaving is not easy, I literally had to turn my back on everything I had accumulated since I moved out of the family home so many years ago. Make no mistake, I had no loyalty to South Africa, I could easily turn my back on the place without a second glance. I would not be missing “braaivleis, rugby, sunnyskies and Chevrolet”, although I would miss Mrs Ball’s Chutney.

My visa was for 5 years and the start date was 1 January 2013. My original plan had been to leave on the 15th of Jan, but as things turned out I finally left on 28 Feb. 

The last sunset I saw in South Africa for a year

My flight was not a direct one, but via Dubai, and it would be a long schlep with roughly 17 hours in the air and 4 hours in transit in Dubai, and unusually it was partly during the day but I was still dreading the flight the most.

There were many preparations that I had to make; that included changing money (I seem to think the exchange rate was around R14 to £1), getting enough medication to last me at least 3 months until I had organised a doctor and a new repeat prescription. I was not lugging too many clothes around although, and was technically “traveling light”. Because my arrival would be towards the end of Winter I did have to take warm clothing and that included my infamous 20 year navy parka. I also needed comfortable shoes, and bought a pair that seemed perfect but which turned out to be hell to wear. At the last minute I also bought a pair of Hi-techs that served me very well through many cemetery visits. I was also going to take my coal burning laptop because I would really need to search for work and frankly my small smartphone not be adequate for that task. 

I closed my bank account and killed off as much debt as I could, the one thing I did not need was having to run around trying to placate my creditors. A last minute snag with my broadband provider did cause me a lot of trouble and I ended up fighting with them while waiting for my flight at the airport. Fortunately when things went pear shaped at work my car was finished paid for so it was really a case of paying insurance while it languished in storage. 

It is very difficult to believe that 5 years have almost passed and I am now heading into year 6. I have seen many things in this period or my life, and have taken thousands of photographs to prove that “I was there”. The most difficult thing to believe is that I have literally started over. Although realistically starting from scratch really started in Southampton and not in London.

Was I scared? I would have been an idiot not to be, if things went pear shaped I was up the creek without a paddle, and because I had a one way ticket could not return to South Africa easily. I did not have any friends in the UK that I could call on and I really had to make a success of it as quickly as possible.  The fact remained that I was not able to find work in SA, I was prevented so by the constitution and legislation that enforced discrimination in the guise of “transformation”. It is important to know that my retrenchment was not a result of any racist agenda by the company I worked for, but rather a result of skulduggery by those in charge. Many of my African co-workers were similarly retrenched when I was.

In the 5 years I have been in the UK I have lived in London, Southampton, Salisbury, Basingstoke, Burntwood and Tewkesbury. The furtherest North I have been is Crich to visit the Tramway Museum. I have been to many museums in my travels, and walked myself to a standstill on a number of occasions.  I am much more physically active here than I was in South Africa. I have even started to ride a bicycle, but have not driven in the UK yet (although I do have a license to drive).

What do I find different?

For starters their postal system works! But the much vaunted NHS does not live up to the Doctors and medical professionals that I encountered back in SA, although I was a paying patient in SA (I had a medical aid). What amazes me in my day to day life is how many people I see. Dogs get walked, children accompany their parents to shops or the park, the trains and buses work, the weather is not only overcast and wet, houses are not fortresses, and life does not revolve around driving from home to the mall and back, or braai-ing meat over a weekend

There are negatives too: accommodation is expensive and hard to find, meat is pricey, food can be expensive depending on where you shop, London can get horribly crowded, employers do not tolerate slackers and works starts and finishes on time with overtime being paid unlike in SA. Safety in the workplace is often crazy but it is also there for a reason. 

I have met people from many countries, and I have worked with all manner of nationalities. Unfortunately my poor hearing and their accents does sometime create odd looks. Tatoo’s and “vaping” are very big, as are tanning salons, betting shops and nail bars. Many of the cities in the UK are in a decline as they are realistically built around old towns with a much simpler layout. I currently live in a small town and it and goes back many centuries and it too is suffering from the accommodation shortage and declining business within its borders. My council tax is roughly £75 per month and on top of that I still pay National Insurance and income tax. I was fortunate enough to find a bedsit and lead my own life surrounded by my ships and toys. I do miss my books, although have quite a collection already. I came to the UK with 1 suitcase and a wheelie bag, I now have 3 suitcases and 3 wheelie bags (and a wodge of other bits and pieces).

The experience has been a life changer for me though, at my “advanced age” (nudge nudge wink wink) I have had to adjust myself to a whole new country, timezone, hemisphere and culture. Fortunately I am somewhat of an anglophile so it was not too difficult. My biggest challenge has been in the workplace. Lets face it, my skills are out of date and my poor eyesight really negates me applying for jobs that require small work. I have however worked 3 temp job, the first as a baggage handler, the 2nd as a “recycling operative” and the third as an “assembly operative” in the manufacturing industry. Those entry level jobs do not exist in South Africa and if they do come available get flooded by thousands of applicants.

Like many places the UK has its problems. I was here when the Brexit referendum occurred and by the looks of it will be here when Brexit actually happens. Gang violence does occur in some cities, knife crime is commonplace and drugs and alcohol abuse are a problem. Hooliganism and petty vandalism are common too, but alcohol does play a major part in it. Overall people obey the rules of the road (which can be confusing), and parking is expensive. Relatively speaking cars are quite cheap to buy but not as cheap to operate. I do miss my car, especially where I live now which is somewhat of a public transportation dead zone. Rail fares are not cheap either, especially if bought on the day and in peak hours. Bus fares are expensive too (Day rider is £7.50 to Cheltenham and back). However, public transport does exist unlike in SA. The transport system in London is to be seen to be believed. 

The weather does play a major part in our lives, and flooding happens more often here than it does in SA. Gloucestershire suffered a disastrous flood in 2007, and I tend to be nervous when it rains.

Snow is welcome but not an every day occurrence (at the time of writing we are suffering from a week of low temperatures and possibly snow too). I have seen snow 4 times in the UK which is 4 times more than I saw it in SA. Generally though most of the places I have lived had warm but short summers and long cold winters, and 2017 was probably the closest I have come to how the weather is supposedly in the UK; cloudy days and low temperatures in summer.

When Spring starts to arrive the country becomes a riot of colour as the flowers bloom and everything wakes up from its long winter sleep.

I have picked up some strange new habits and have a whole new line of food to try. I have developed a taste for cod ‘n chips, I tolerate “brown sauce” and I really enjoy a glass of cider. Pizza is not that great here, so my consumption of it has declined. I was never much of a meat eater and now eat even less, although I do live on “ready meals”. I do not own a television and if I did the TV license would snag a chunk out of my salary, I do not intend buying one. I have really quick broadband and my cellphone has 4G of data.

I could probably rattle on all day about this stuff, but I think I have covered it pretty well in blogposts that stretch from 2013 right up till 28 February 2018. 

It has been quite a ride, but stick with me because I am here for another 5 years, and who knows what changes will happen in South Africa while I am gone, or what will happen when the UK finally divorces itself from the EU. It is going to be interesting though. Talk about Interesting times.

I will periodically return to milestones in my sojourn from a retrospective point of view. It is always good to look back and say “Wow…. I did that?”

DRW © 2018. Created 28/02/2018

Updated: 04/03/2018 — 08:28
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