Full academicals … for added lustre.



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(and on).

During the long, long longueur waiting for the Very Important Person to appear, there was time to contemplate

a) how being in a cathedral seemed to impel the organisers to include a bidding prayer, a biblical reading and a hymn, while allowing no provision for the cultural and religious plurality of the graduands and their others

b) how there seemed to be no evidence of faith or religion intrinsic to the ceremony proper, which remained wholly secular, placing both the Christian and secular elements in false positions

c)  how unimaginative and poor the music was – no excuse allowed

d)  hair styles

e)  whether joining in the applause for a lot of persons I’ve never seen before and will never see again was an important act of social solidarity and respect, or the outcome of acceding to gratuitous and hypocritical social blackmail

f)  the transitory magic of sunlight in the clerestory

g)  how to take a screen shot on an iPhone


(ah, here we are at last – the Very Important Person, obviously both brighter and better looking than anyone else)

and h) how easy it is to be heard the full length of the nave (or possibly as far as the West Midlands) if someone is sufficiently uninhibited


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And no; that wasn’t me.

Start as you mean to go on


Today’s rule was:  to take only one photograph, choosing it carefully.  How to choose?  On the bright and windy beach I could have captured:

Blue, plain blue
Or crossed cirrus feathers
A white wave frontage breaking for a mile
Scything crosses of gulls, tumbling black of crows, small flippetings of wagtails
The smooth wide sand reflections
The sun dodging in a street of bobbled cumulus
A golden cliff
A white cliff
A cliff painted in turquoise rills by outseepings through the clay
A surfer learning his wave
Zebra stripes of sea foam blown sidling and shivering past
Black sand, cream sand, and the debatable land between
Water pulled by the sun
—–and pushed by the wind
The round stone or the red stone or the white stone of memory or the fossiliferous stone or the lucky flint with a hole in it
A dead end maze of pools and sandbanks, choosing to walk
—–so that I would have to leap an exit or go back
The cold damp boulder on which I sat
A walker standing on the cliff’s edge, too close above an undercut,
—–as I could see and he could not
The beach art found abandoned near the landslip
Or the triad which I made
Tiny round pony hoofmarks made by tiny round ponies (bay and white)
Outcrops of clay with grain as fine as milk

Not being very keen on regulations, I soon decided to break the one-photograph rule, and took no images at all, leaving them scattered on the beach.



Then I lay in the recliner by the window, watching the clouds, while sillhouetted birds skidded down the wind.  The sky turned leaden, grey, unearthly pale, rich apricot in the squall, pink and gold and blue, lavender and dusty yellow, dim blue, and black.

Things to do when you can’t sleep: lxv


lxv  :  Pine for a ballcock

The sinister whisper of water secretly running in a pipe at midnight.

Visit the taps; put ear to the inside of the washing machine; listen at the boiler plumbing; stand in the cupboard below the bathroom to inspect the ceiling; pull down the loft ladder and creep full of arachno-dread around the header tanks; check for wet patches; listen; take a torch to the illegible water meter and watch the wheels still creeping, creeping, creeping round.

The downstairs toilet.  An almost invisible and silent rill of water running into the bowl hours after the last flush.  And it has one of those clever modern bolted together multi-flush siphoning thing cisterns which take actual skill to adjust, so I will have to Get Someone In.  Thus I lay crossly in the dark, pining for a simple old ballcock.

Too many eggs in the pudding


lotrThe absence of female characters does at least mean that the male ones have to do their own screaming.  But generally, I had issues.  Some are attributable to Tolkien’s over-egged prose and naïve moral schema.  Others were pure bad luck:  Robert Stephens’ distinctive voice should be an asset in radio drama, but unfortunately I know his work best in a later role, and had an inescapable impression throughout that Ancient Pistol had somehow got into Aragorn’s trousers.  Eeeuw.  I’m guessing that the interaction of Smeagol and Gollum must be a gift to a keen actor (far more than the high flown elocutions of the other characters) and Peter Woodthorpe certainly took them on, which is fortunate, as Gollum/Smeagol and Sam together constitute Everyman in this story.

Otherwise … no.  I tried from start to finish, but I couldn’t get in. Middle Earth is closed to me now, not by cruel Caradhras or the many-armed Watcher, but by the Great Turgid Swamp which lies before the gates.  I’m too old, and, sadly, I can’t be doing with it.

Reading the signs


Still in the Pacific:

1-bpfHobbs produced a solid read based on years of collecting material and photographs.  His fundamental conclusion seems to be that the BPF just barely worked because the hoses available for refuelling were rubbish.  The point becomes clear when you imagine transferring fuel oil in a heavy sea with a hose which bursts if you look at it, when you only have a day to resupply the fleet and get back on station for the next bombing strike and not get egg on your face in front of a lot of American admirals. I simplify; there were plenty of other dicky issues.  Hobbs will provide the numbers if you consult him.  Some of them are horrifying.

He also shares some enjoyable details.  For example, when air strips were required at short notice in Australia, they might be constructed by driving large numbers of sheep up and down until the ground was level and compacted (obviously far more sheep in Aus than there was heavy machinery).  I hadn’t thought about the water problem for a large fleet operating in mid-ocean – turns out there were specialist ships in the supply fleet to distill fresh water from sea water.  This being the Royal Navy, one of them was called Bacchus.  And it seems the Americans didn’t like Admiral Vian either.

2-sakishimaSakishima is also the result of a personal project, but far more limited in scope and less professionally edited.  There may be a slight question mark over the accuracy too, if some testy marginalia are to be believed.  But it does give some idea of what a single in-for-the-duration experience might be like. (Oh and guess what – Eadon couldn’t resist a quick swipe at Vian …)

3-marinesFinally I thought I would even things up with something emphasizing the ground battles rather than the naval war, since this audio book was in the local library.  The experiences of five US servicemen are taken as the lens through which to see the Pacific campaign. As you would expect, parts of it made sad and painful listening.  Admiral Vian, however, didn’t turn up, which was a relief in a way, as he seemed to be turning into King Charles’ head.  I listened to it all, but perhaps it takes a marine to love a marine.

While all this was going on, the cuttings in the jamjar were gradually looking more and more poxed and repellent.

4-signsThe gross appearance is of course a sign of life:  new roots.



Pacific campaigns:  one of the big ones.  Since this was written the internet has happened along, giving access to photographs, maps, Pathé snippets, reminiscences, obituaries, and modern documentary films with truly dreadful moronic American chauvinist narrators who make the Pathé commentators look restrained and unsentimental (yes I am thinking of one in particular).  These are all useful supplements, but the value of a systematic and dispassionate account becomes even more obvious as you google.

okinawaThe tone is mostly dry and academic, preoccupied with numbers (which are in themselves shocking) and dates.  The occasional concession to human interest is made, for example restrained thumbnail sketches of the senior commanders:

“Nimitz had had a varied career … bold and skilful … accessibility, regard for his subordinates and his quiet strength of character … ”

“Spruance was an intellectual, retiring man not given to seeking publicity …”

“Fraser, a gunnery specialist … a relaxed and easy-going style … ”

One description breaks the pattern:

“Described as ‘an awkward bastard’, Vian believed people could take him as they found him.”  I did have a little chuckle; having heard Admiral Sir Philip Vian’s character assassinated in highly coloured navyspeak, I’m guessing this thumbnail still counts as academic understatement.

But I’m afraid one detail took my attention above all.  Shangri-La?  An aircraft carrier called Shangri-La??  Sorry, people over the water, a joke is all very well, but how on earth could you do it to her, poor thing?