Friday, 4 October 2013

A Rose For Ruth

I have just been placed fourth in the Hastings Writers Group Hidden Gems competition. It was judged by English Literature lecturer Dr. Elizabeth Allen. The photo wasn't part of the entry.

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‘Isn’t it exciting Mum, ‘shrilled Hannah as Ruth walked into the kitchen, her arms festooned with laundry and shopping bags.
‘Pizza’s just arrived,’ said Abigail. ‘I’ve put yours on a plate Mum; it’s in the microwave.’
‘Where’s your father?’
‘He’s in his office. I think he’s on the phone to Uncle Harry.’
‘That’s just great…  Abigail, will you take these upstairs please. Put them on the bed in the spare room then come back down. I have some other things for you to do. In the mean time, I’m going to have a word with your father.’
Ruth left the kitchen and walked down the hallway to David’s office. The previous evening, while she was out shopping he’d primed the children with the promise of an adventure. A romantic vision of Christmas in Lapland topped off with a sleigh ride through the snow to see Santa Claus; all that before she’d had a chance to explain why it wouldn’t be possible to change their plans for the holidays.
David said he’d wanted it to be a big surprise, and it certainly had been. She stopped by the hall stand, looked at her reflection in the mirror, gritted her teeth and reached into the handbag she’d left on the shelf on her way in. Her hands shook as she took out a cough medicine bottle, took a swig of its contents then reburied it in the bottom of the bag.
She stood in the office doorway, illuminated by the glare from David’s computer screen.
…With a fluorescent yellow ball, it shows up in the snow… Yes I know the one about yellow snow, very funny… Harry, Ruth’s just walked in. She looks… she wants to talk to me. I’ll give you a call when we get back… Yes, I’ll text you a picture. …bye.’
‘Text a picture of what?’ said Ruth, holding on to the door knob, her knuckles turning white.
‘A yellow golf ball, we play golf with them in the snow. I was just telling Harry that I picked up a couple of boxes on the way home; got them twenty percent off, real bargain. Left work early; had to drive all the way round the M25 to Essex and back, you should have seen the traffic. ’
‘I’m glad you think you’ll have time to golf,’ she said tartly.
‘Sure I will, while you and the girls are off playing in the snow I’ll head out to one of the frozen lakes and try out my new drivers.’
‘You’ve bought another set of golf clubs?’ She let go of the door knob and advanced into the room.
He stood and reached out to hold her. She ignored the gesture.
‘No,’ he said defensively, noticing the tell tale muscle twitch of anger on the side of her mouth, ‘just a couple of new drivers, that’s all. Want to break them in before the new season starts, I mean to win the Chinechester Trophy this year.’
She knew a way to break in the clubs for him – under the tyres of her car.
‘David, do you have any idea how much I still have to do to get us ready to leave in the morning, or what this wild adventure idea of yours has cost? I still have the ironing to finish, and the packing to complete; Abigail will help, but that isn’t the point. Hannah and Rachael are bouncing off the walls with excitement and probably won’t want to go to bed and thought of the two of them moaning all the way to the airport in the morning is enough to make me want to stay home.’
‘That’s why I suggested pizza for dinner, no cooking or cleaning up,’ he said, grinning sheepishly. Then realising the pizza hadn’t done the trick, said, ‘tell me, what am I not understanding?’
‘What you do not understand is that you hadn’t bothered to ask me before you booked this holiday. Have you any idea how long I’ve been preparing for this, our first Christmas in our new house? My parents are coming to spend some of the holidays with us and on top of that I’ve managed to get tickets for The Lion King, do you have any idea how difficult that was?’
‘I had no idea. You did such a wonderful job of keeping it all so secret,’ he said, turning up his hands in a conciliatory gesture. ‘I thought you would love to have a holiday away, especially since moving in had been so stressful.’
‘And what am I supposed to do with all the presents and games I’ve bought? The garage freezer is full with the biggest turkey I could find and the butcher has sent over a huge ham. The larder is full of vegetables and Mrs Parker is booked to come over Christmas Eve to help prepare Christmas dinner.’
‘I’m so sorry. I’ll call the airline and hotel and cancel the reservation.’
What and disappoint the girls? That would be cruel.’
David sat back down and stared at his feet. ’I am sorry.’
‘What’s done is done,’ said Ruth, stroking his hair. ‘I’ll call my mum and tell her they can help themselves to the food.’
‘Thanks,’ he said. ‘I am truly sorry.’
‘But tell me, my fine husband, why do we need to leave at four thirty in the morning? The flight isn’t till half past seven.’
If you’ve ever tried to drive up the M3 past Bracknell to the M25 during early morning rush, you’d know why. Those few miles can take over an hour when the motorway is busy. Just look at the early start as part of our adventure. Here, I’ve printed off our boarding passes… it will save time when we check in tomorrow morning.’ 
She looked at the tickets and passes and groaned. London Heathrow to Helsinki, departing LHR 07:30, arriving HEL 12:25; a shiver ran up her spine.

She turned and headed back to the kitchen deciding that during the holiday, no matter what, she would carve out some time for herself. She’d have her own adventure.

Friday, 20 September 2013


Serpentine: A swirling eddy of colour and emotions.
By Catherine Edmunds.
Published by Circaidy Gregory Press.
ISBN 9781906451639

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which is surprising since I am not a painter. Then the book is not just about painting, it is a love story where Victoria is divided by her love for being creative with paint, with her desire to be understood and her need for love and understanding from a man.

I read this book over two evenings and finished during a cold wet afternoon sitting in front of a blazing log fire, just the perfect environment for reading such an enjoyable book as Serpentine. But of course you can read Serpentine any time, it’s really that good.

The incident with the duck and Simon’s embarrassment on the train made me cringe; made me wonder what would I have done in his situation, probably would have discreetly changed carriage.

The author’s ability to take you into the mind of Victoria when Victoria drifts from wakefulness to dream state and back feels so natural. Victoria's constant need and her frustration to be able to express herself through her painting is all so real.

The author has such a vibrant way of describing what Victoria sees that you feel you’re right there with her, for instance, a third of the way through the book the author writes, “She looked out across the grey of the sea and the estuary that snaked away from her into the mist.”I was reaching for my cardigan after reading that, and later when Victoria is trying to put her feelings on to canvas the author writes, “Shadows. Yes. Deep dark shadows. Somewhere to hide her feelings where Simon would never find them. Somewhere to lurk and watch and wait.”

Towards the end of the book where Victoria meets Cynthia and the dog Leonardo in the cafe, in my mind I could see rivulets of condensed moisture running down the inside of the cafe windows, the feel of the wiry hair on Leonardo’s back as I scratched him. That’s how real and imaginative the writing is.

This book truly is a work of art and worthy of being on your reading list.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

The building of the "Nancy L" a 45 foot Ferro-Cement sailboat. Part 1

 It all seems so long ago but back in 1971 I decided I would build a boat. Not just any boat, but a 45 foot ferro-cement sailing motor yacht. I was single and my only responsibility was my dog Bear a gregarious German Shepherd. The plans were purchased from Marine Accessories Company in Mountain View California, operated by Jack Whitener who also was the editor and vice president of the North American Ferro-Cement Marine Association, I just called him Jack.
I looked at several plans by eminent marine architects, such as Sampson, Hartley, Benford and even Herreschoff designs  modified for ferro-cement construction. I settled for a Hartley design called The Hawaiian a 45 foot motor-sailer which could be configured as  center or aft cockpit design.
The sail plan was for either sloop or ketch. I had a chat with one of Jacks associates, Jim Catalano, who interestingly was a collection agent for the IRS. He redesigned the sail plan to include a bowsprit. The black and white pictures were taken by Jack for his proposed revised edition of his book Ferro-Cement Boat Construction, probably the best book on the technical side for marine ferro-construction.

The Hartley method calls for truss-rod frames to be set apart at, in the case of the 45 foot Tahitian, 3 foot intervals and hung from rafters of the building frame. On to this was tied a horizontal layer of 1/4" high tensile pencil rods about 2 1/2" apart then a diagonal layer of the same pencil rods.This rod came from 5 foot coils of Ex WW2 anti-submarine netting. These coils were delivered by the gregarious Larry Craig who also helped engage Art and John Rudy, a father and son plastering team when the time came for cementing the armature. Once the pencil rods had been tied securely to the frames 4 layers of 1/2" galvanized chicken wire was tied inside and out to the pencil rods.

This photo, taken some time in 1975 shows the harbour (Petes Harbor) as it was in its heyday. The boat in the forefront is the Nancy L. The red trailer was operated as a hair salon by Betty?? The large grey trailer on the right was used by Guy Carleson and Bob Hapgood as an office/workshop while they fitted out fiberglass hulls. The harbour masters Pete and Paula Uccelli's trailer/home is on the far right and still there today although since Pete's passing the harbour is now closed waiting development. When I was ready to assemble the frames I rented a building plot, 20 foot by 50 foot, including electricity from Pete at about $50.00 per month.
The frames were made from 1/4" mild steel rods welded together with trusses to make a very rigid frame. I originally started the frame construction in the garage of the house I was renting. One evening, when I returned from work at 01:00 in the morning I found out the landlord had had the police enter the house while I was at work. They weren't impressed by what they saw. Sitting on the table in the front room was my BSA 750cc triple engine in pieces waiting for rebuilding. Dirty dishes in the kitchen sink and in the garage an 8 foot by 12 foot plywood scrieve board (building table) with the outlines of the boats frames drawn on it and an oxy-acetylene welding set parked beside the boiler. Needless to say I was given an eviction order and subsequently moved the building operation to the harbour and myself and motorcycle back home.
 This photo is of one of the coils of high tensile wire used in the building of the armature. Being high tensile and in a coil meant that it had to be straightened before using. The method employed was quite standard, the rod was pulled between three pulleys which made the wire bend back on itself as it was pulled out. I would take the first two feet and bend it at right angles, this provided me with a handle, then I would set out across the parking lot pulling the rod till I had about 100 feet of straight rod. Unfortunately the kinetic energy stored in the rod had to expend itself somehow and this was achieved by letting the end go and jumping out of the way. I wasn't always successful in letting go and as a result I ripped some of the ligaments in my left thumb requiring the services of a plastic surgeon to repair. The car in the background was my Pontiac station wagon, the hull on the right is the doctor's catamaran Arkanoah.
The picture on the right shows the frames hanging in the scaffolding with the pencil rods attached to the frames, coils of pencil rod are laying against the scaffolding. Visible in the photo is the walkway round the hull. The uprights were made from 2 x 2x4's bolted together with 2x4 spacers. The rafters cosisted on 2x8 Douglas fir.Most of the timber was re-used during the framing of the interior, what wasn't used went back on to the community timber scrap heap and usually used for the Saturday night bar-b-que/party.

The above photos show the armature with the chicken wire tied and the boat now ready for cementing. The photo on  the right shows the reinforcing rods in place for the engine beds. If you look closely at the middle photo you will see the ends of the wire ties sticking through waiting to be twisted tight and trimmed. The right hand photo shows the ribs, minus chicken wire. This is added after the hull is netted and prior to cementing.

Photo above left is of John Rudy spraying (guniteing/shotcreteing) the mortar mix onto the armature at the rudder/propeller shaft aperture. When complete the spraying is done from the inside of the hull with the excess mortar being brushed down into the bilges before being removed, photo top right. The action of brushing forces the mortar further through the armature. When the inside has been sprayed the outside of the armature is scraped of flush with the mesh and then covered with a fresh layer of mortar. The photo above is of master plasterer Art Rudy troweling off the finished coat. More in my next blog about the building of the "Nancy L".

Sunday, 20 January 2013

A Darn Good Read

Final Voyage: The world's worst maritime disasters.
By Jonathan Eyers.
Published by Bloomsbury.
ISBN-13: 978-1408158944

I bought a copy of this book while visiting the London Boat Show, intending to read it during the weekend. On the train going home I opened the book to glance at its contents and was immediately hooked. Despite the subject matter, death and destruction at sea, I found it very easy to read and the information well presented.

I was intrigued by some of the minutia of information presented by the author, such as the miraculous survival of Anne Welsh, latterly known as Ashpan Annie, mentioned in the chapter on the Halifax explosion of 1917. Or the strange case of the commander of the submarine USS Queenfish who, after sinking the Japanese transport the Awa Maru in 1945, was stripped of his command and court marshaled.

 The book starts with the tragedy of the loss of HMS Association and accompanying ships under the command of Sir Cloudesley Shovell in 1707. The majority of the maritime disasters detailed in the book deal with wartime scenarios, ranging from the end of the American Civil war with the sinking of the Sultana in 1865, a short mention of the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, the German battleship Bismarck in 1945, through the horrendous loss of allied and civilian lives in the overcrowded transport ships of the Japanese military transports during the final days of the Japanese involvement in WWII. The book draws to a close with the recounting of the loss of over 10,000 lives in the sinking of the severely overcrowded German transport Wilhelm Gustloff when only 19 miles off of the coast of Poland in January 1945.

 The balance of the stories in the book relate to civilian shipping, mostly overloaded ferries. At a list price of £8.99 and at 191 pages the book is what I call "a darn good read" and I hope when this book is reprinted, as it surely will be, the author will expand on disasters with fewer fatalities especially on ferries and modern cruise ships.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

A Day in a Life part Deux.

This was the day that I finally retired, the 11th of October 2012. My replacement, Colin, is in place and I am off out the door. No more jokes about Arkwright, fork handles or four candles to put up with. And certainly no more disco dance music pounding through the wall from the factory and no more breathing horrible debilitating MDF dust.

These are some of the workshop lads I used to work with. I will miss them, especially Russel, the joker in the pack.
A few days later I headed, once more, for London and the elusive perfect chocolate cake and coffee. As is usual I ended up at London Bridge station, right next door to the Shard. The two dots on the upper surface of the building had me curious so I zoomed in and took another photo and to my surprise saw this,

Two men! hanging by a couple of ropes. I don't think they were cleaning the windows, more likely making sure the edges of the windows were properly sealed.

After wandering round Borough market for a while I headed for the Victoria and Albert Museum to look at pictures and get something to eat. On the way I passed the new office building at 20 Fenchurch Street and yes it does hang out all over the place. The lift/elevator tower on the side is perfectly perpendicular and the building does curve out this much. It must have taken a very clever mind to figure out the the maths involved in figuring out the loading of each floor at the central tower and the extremities of each floor. From looking on line I see that the architects have included a garden on the roof. The artist impression and details below have been copied from the web where you can get more information on floor space rental, hope there will be a restaurant on the upper floors, just as the Shard will have.

20 Fenchurch Sky Garden 1

Copied from the website;

Designed by top architect Rafael Vinoly, 20 Fenchurch Street is set to become a major London landmark. This 36-storey tower with a unique, gently undulating façade will provide over 59,000m2 of premier office space encompassing retail at ground level. A sky garden at the top will offer a stunning 360-degree panorama of the city. The building’s innovative façade, combining external shading and passive ventilation, will reduce its carbon footprint significantly.
Client: Land Securities
Architect: Rafael Vinoly Architects

I love visiting the Victoria and Albert museum, especially so when hoards of children, with their teachers, head for a school day out at the museum. They usually end up at the Science and Natural history museums across the road, leaving the V&A nice and relatively peaceful  By the time I had wandered round the V&A I was ready for a nice cup of tea and cake. To my delight, as I sat down to write and have my tea someone started playing a harp.The harpist's name is Peter Murphy, contact details are Fantastic tea, cake and of course the music.

From the V&A website.

The V&A Café offers hot dishes, salads, sandwiches, pastries and cakes, as well as hot and cold drinks, wine and beer.  All food is prepared and cooked on the premises using fresh food, bought daily.
The Café is located in the V&A's original refreshment rooms, the Morris, Gamble and Poynter Rooms. These three rooms formed the first museum restaurant in the world and were intended as a showpiece of modern design, craftsmanship and manufacturing.