+++*

Symbolic Forest

A homage to loading screens.

Blog : Post Category : Dear Diary : Page 1

Too tired for meteors

On not seeing the Quadrantids

If you’re into astronomy—or if you were reading this blog this time last year—you might remember that the first week in January is home to one of the big annual meteor showers, the Quadrantids. I still keep meaning to write a blog post about Quadrans Muralis and other forgotten constellations, and I’m sure I will do at some point. Anyway, as I was saying, last night was the Quadrantids’ peak night.

I went outside at 7 or so for an evening walk, and the sky was beautifully clear, with what felt like it would be excellent seeing. Unfortunately, it was also bloody freezing, with a strong wind blowing, and I was exhausted from my first day back at my desk after the long Christmas break. So, an early night, and no Quadrantids for me.

About half two I woke from bad dreams, and considered getting dressed, dragging a garden chair out and going outside. I could hear the wind blowing gustily, though, and howling around the gutters. Moreover, I’d already worked out that the radiant, here, would be in the direction of the worst street-lights in any case. “Maybe not tonight,” I thought, and turned over and tried to get back to sleep.

There will still potentially be meteors to see tonight, of course, and if the seeing is good again I’ll at least consider taking myself outside. I might have to dig out my warmest clothes and put them to one side first, though.

New year, new dawn

The sun still rises

“Are you going to go and watch the sunrise on New Years Day?” said more than one person over the past week or two. Initially, I agreed, it seemed like a rather nice idea. The sunrise is too late at the moment for me to really go and see it on a work day such as the Winter Solstice, so New Years Day seemed like a suitably symbolic alternative. However, I had second thoughts. A long-distance running race was scheduled for that morning. Not only would it bring crowds, but it also would block off my usual access to the beach from around sunrise until well after lunch. I thought better of trying, so had a lie in instead. On the 2nd I had other plans, which I’ll tell you about later in the week; so finally, today, I headed down to the beach for my first sunrise this year.

It was, still, unusually busy. But by that I mean the car park was half-full, and there were several other groups of people spread out across the beach, not that I was having to elbow my way through the crowds. One family had brought chairs to sit and watch the sunrise. A man with a long, long camera lens grumbled at his dog for running off.

Dawn on the beach

The tide was highish but falling, so I strolled along the tideline. The sea was calm, no swell at all, but a bitterly chill wind swept across the sands and raised ripples in the water. I watched the first signs of fire lighting the edges of the clouds

Dawn on the beach

This is an east-facing coast, so normally, as you would expect, the sun rises over the sea every day. At this time of year, though, the sunrise moves so far around to the south that it rises over the land instead. And naturally, on a day with a clear blue sky, the one and only patch of clouds on the horizon was exactly in line with the sunrise. I watched as, slowly, the sun edged around the clouds, crows wheeling in the air around me.

Dawn on the beach

In a few months time, when the sunrise is early enough that I can get home after it, shower and breakfast before work, hopefully I’ll start coming here every day again, or at least doing something else similar to give me fresh outdoor air each morning. For now, though, this was enough. The sunrise in winter, starting the year afresh. I shivered in the bitter wind, and turned for home.

Dawn on the beach

Just one dawn, but it means a whole new start.

A blast from the past

Or, digging out some old words

As it’s New Years Day, time for a new start and all that, I’ve … er … done what I said I was going to do back in November, and started to pull out posts from my previous blog, of twenty years ago, edit them and post them on here.

In my mind, this blog and that blog are effectively equivalent, so it’s strange to realise that I only kept that site going for two or three years or so. Compared to the not-quite-one-thousand posts on here, the old blog was hardly anything. Nevertheless, I still think it’s worth copying over some of the highlights, not that any of the handful of posts moved so far count as highlights. So far I’ve done March 2002, starting from the start, but starting a project is half the battle if you ask me.*

In the meantime, while I do more editing, there haven’t been many photos posted on here lately. So here’s one I uncovered on the old hard drive, from the Edinburgh period of my life. Going by the filename, this was taken in the Holyrood Tavern, which dates it to around 2003, before it changed hands and most of the regular clientele moved over to the Auld Hoose instead. I hope none of the people in the photo mind; but they’re probably a bit too blurry for a stranger to recognise them anyway.

Inside the Holyrood Tavern

Happy New Year!

* The Plain People Of The Internet: Is that why you never finish any?

The calendar rolls around again

Or, the end of the year

It’s Hogmanay, or nos Calan,* or New Year’s Eve if you’re English.

In some previous years I’ve done a big summary round-up of exciting things and powerful memories from the past year. In at least one, I even did a week or so of posts counting down my top five memories of the year. 2021? Nope, I’m not doing that. Not because nothing has happened, not at all, but almost because too much has happened. I moved house twice. I met one of my best friends face-to-face for the first time. I changed jobs. I went for walks on the beach a lot. Most important of all, though, I gained confidence. I gained enough confidence in myself to look at who I really am, what has held me back in the past, and start to sort out some of those things.

So this post, then, is not about looking back, because I’ve spent a lot of time doing that over the past year and I know that I don’t have a time machine. I know I can’t go back to 2003, or 2006, or any other arbitrary point in my life. This post is about looking forward, because in 2022 there are going to be even more changes in my life. Changes that I’m going to take the lead on, be in control of, and that will put me in a position where I can live a happier life.

At some point in the next year I will ramble on about this a lot more, I’m sure, and explain more about where I’ve come from and where I’m going to. For now, to you the reader, this is all unsubstantial mist, I know. It won’t always be. For now, happy new year, blwydden newydd dda, and here’s to a better 2022. I know mine will be better, and I hope yours is too.

* It’s only just occurred to me that the Welsh word “calan”, meaning the first of the month or year, is a direct remnant of the old Roman word kalendae, from which the English word “calendar” is derived.

The turn of the year

The end of one, and the start of the next

It’s that time for the seasons to turn again. Today is the shortest day, and the solstice itself is this afternoon, here. It’s just a little bit after sunset here this year, which is nothing more than coincidence but seems rather apt.

This has been a big year, and a strange year. It’s been a year of many changes, changes I didn’t see coming but which have been embedded inside me all along. Mentally, I feel in some ways as if I’ve been working back through my own personal history, picking and teasing at it and unlocking all the mysteries which have been kept trapped inside myself for so long. Although it’s been a year of many changes, I feel as though there may be even more to come.

If it’s a clear sky tonight, I will sit outside and look for meteors, because the last few from the Geminid shower might still be visible. It probably won’t be clear, I have to say, because it’s been rather foggy here recently. Still, I can hope.

I’m posting this early in the morning whilst it’s still dark, drinking my morning cup of tea, and then I’ll be at my desk working all day fixing the various bugs I caused yesterday, because Christmas isn’t until the end of the week. But for me, this is the start of the holiday season, the turning point, the time to settle down in the darkness, to eat and drink and celebrate, and start to turn the world around.

Finally, spring

In which The Mother is persuaded a fresh start might come in handy

For years, The Mother has been telling me the house needs cleaning out. “It’ll be too late when I’m gone,” she has said. “You should get started on it now.” And I should get started on it, of course, because for years she has had the false assumption that all of the mess and clutter in the house is mine, or is my fault somehow. This is patently untrue. Things, for example, in my bedroom right now include:

  • a vacuum cleaner
  • a steam cleaner
  • a late 90s CRT monitor (large)
  • a box of parish church paperwork
  • a set of suitcases
  • a set of cigarette cards (framed)
  • several large bags full of used jiffy bags, just in case they came in useful one day

None of these things, you have probably guessed, are actually mine.

Until recently, my bedroom also contained a pull-along shopping trolley, a considerable quantity of winter coats, and a mid-80s portable CD player, the first one my family owned. That, at least, I can claim some responsibility for, as it was my main means of listening to music in my teens. Still, no need for it to be there now. It’s time to bite the bullet, I decided. Time to actually persuade The Mother to get rid of something.

I loaded the coats into a bag, put the CD player in the back of the car, and took the trolley down to the kitchen to start loading it up with unnecessary stuff. Now, the kitchen is full of unnecessary stuff. The Mother has never seen a flat surface without wanting to hoard things on it, so virtually all of the kitchen countertops are covered in piles and piles of things: food that she hasn’t put into the cupboard, crockery that she hasn’t put away, stacks of empty takeaway containers that have been kept just in case they “come in useful”. I start loading the empty plastic into a recycling box.

“You can’t throw those out!” says The Mother, who has crept up behind me. “I’m saving those for your uncle!”

“When is he coming to collect them?” I ask. “They’ve not moved for a few months.”

“Well he comes now and again,” she replies, “and he said he uses plastic tubs to keep them in.”

“He can buy takeaways too, though,” says I, and they go. Behind them I discover gadgetry I’ve never even seen: a slow cooker, and a Nutribullet.

“I didn’t know you had a Nutribullet,” I say.

“What’s a Nutribullet?”

“It’s grey,” I say, because I’m not feeling in a particularly familial, caring mood, “and it says ‘Nutribullet’ on the side. You use it to make smoothies.”

“Oh we tried it,” she replies, “and I used it to make soup. But it was too much of a faff. It’s a right pain to clean.”

“Which is what 99% of people who buy a Nutribullet say,” I told her. “It’s going to the shop too.”

So, out of the house went: the Nutribullet, a coffee machine, the coats, the ancient CD player, a stack of CDs of Dad’s that nobody else in the family wanted, and about a third of The Mother’s excessively large supply of plain, cheap, white coffee mugs. She bought a bulk order, a few years back, so that when my dad’s old colleagues came to see him and have a natter, she could give them some cheap crockery she didn’t care about. I removed a third, on the theory that The Mother doesn’t actually know how many there are and never sees them all in one place; and so far, it seems to be working. The charity shop people were extremely excited about the CD player, it being a vintage piece, but as yet its highest bid is still under a fiver.

Naturally, the house looks barely changed. One car-load, after all, isn’t going to make a dent in many decades worth of hoarding—there is stuff hoarded by my grandparents that has been passed down the line, a line which I am going to be the one to break. Still, psychologically, it’s definitely a start.

Corvids, redux

No, I still can't tell the difference

As I have written more than once in the past, I can’t tell the difference between a crow and a raven. I still can’t.

Making a cup of tea today, I spotted a huge black thing in the garden out of the corner of my eye. Enormous, it was, or seemed to be at least, having a vicious fight with a seagull over some item of food. The seagull gave up, and the big black bird stalked the grass on its own for a little while. I snapped a picture. That’s got to be a raven, I thought, if it’s that size.

Sky beast

But looking at the picture, comparing it against identification guides, it’s obviously a crow. A big one, maybe, but not really that big in the photo. Still a crow. I still haven’t managed to genuinely identify a raven close-up, although not for want of looking. But then, when I do, maybe I’ll just assume it’s an extra big crow that time? Who knows? Certainly not me, at this rate.

A prelude

Or, some prehistory

A couple of times recently, I’ve mentioned that I’ve been pulling data off the hard drive of my old desktop computer, nested inside which was the home folders from the previous desktop computer, and nested inside those, those from the one before that. So, lots of rather old files to go through, and there will be more photos to post I promise. One thing I’ve uncovered that I didn’t think I had, though, was a text-only archive of the posts from my old blog.

Back in August I noted that this blog had turned sixteen. This was, in a way, a slight piece of misdirection. I had another blog before that, hosted by an online friend, which had run for a few years prior. Next spring, it will be twenty years since I started writing that site; it lasted just over three before, due to one reason and another, I dropped it and began this one.

Looking back at some of the posts, for the first time in a very long time, I’m slightly surprised by the tone of some of the writing. I had essentially no filter, and openly talked about exactly what I’d been doing, where I would be, visits to the doctor, what clubs and gigs I would be at, things I would never think of mentioning now. I refer to myself by name, which I never do now.

This blog, since its restart, has tended towards fairly long, rambling, in-depth posts in which I can go into a single topic in detail; and partly that’s down to its publish process, which makes it straightforward and simple* to host and manage, at a cost of being slightly clunky to add a new article. Every new post, essentially, requires the whole site to be re-uploaded so that the menus on every page are still correct, and that takes time to do. So, I don’t tend to write small posts. The old blog, managed using Movable Type, was full of one-liner diary entries about what I’d had for my tea, or what clothes I’d just bought.

Not all of the posts are like that, though; aside from some of the very personal things, there is for example a very fun and cheery account of my first proper trip abroad. I think I might actually get around to doing something I’ve been threatening to do ever since this blog first started. The first post on this site is itself a piece of misdirection, claiming to be a clean fresh start whilst at the same time saying that earlier writing might at some point make an appearance. If I can edit them into a format that fits this blog—changing people’s names to make them all consistent, bringing in The Plain People Of The Internet to handle the “fake outside reader” voice which was already occasionally present—without actually losing their style and flavour, I might some time soon get around to doing it.

* Not to mention cheap.

On Cleethorpes Beach (part two)

A postapocalyptic folk-art wonder

A month or so ago, I wrote about going walking on Cleethorpes Beach in the early morning, and I said at the time that as the tide goes out and comes back in, I would come back here with more to say about it. Well, I’m not the only one. Yesterday The Guardian published a travel article about just how nice a place Cleethorpes is to visit, including the beach of course, and including the thing I was always planning to write about in Part Two. So, before you click on that link there, read this first.

If you walk along the cycle path that divides dry land (and miniature railway) from marshland, and look out to see, you might from some spots see a flag fluttering out in the dunes beyond the marshes. If you wander along the tideline, let the marsh fall between you and the dry land, and wade across the beck, then you will start to see a strange, organic growth on the horizon, between the dunes and the smooth tide-washed sand, with flags flying above it. The flags are usually tattered and torn, because they don’t last long in such a windy spot.

A growth on the horizon

As you get closer it becomes a strange agglomoration, as if something has grown out of a strange affair between the sea and the marshland. Every surface is covered with something, with writing, with ornament, with rope, with decoration.

The bench

This is the Buck Beck Beach Bench, named after the beck which we waded across on our way here. If you look closely, you can see there are places to sit, although they are hugely overshadowed by all the other decorative parts of the structure.

The bench

It all started, apparently, a few years ago. A couple of the local dog walkers, who visit the spot regularly, fancied having somewhere to sit and take a break midway through their walk. They pulled together a few big pieces of driftwood, and made a rough bench, which they could sit on when passing. And from there: it just grew. More people added new parts, and started to nail and screw it together to make it a bit more robust. People started to bring decoration, to specially make signs with their name on and add it to the bench. Slowly, without any single guiding hand, it turned into the structure that’s there today.

The bench

You might be able to see changes between one of the photos in this post and the rest, because one was taken several months before the others: the tattiness of the flags is a clue. Some people must bring things a long distance, must bring hammers and nails to make their mark on it. Every winter parts get blown down or washed away, and each time people come and try to mend things, try to bring the bench back the same but different. A community has built up around it now to take care of it, to try to ensure that it is built up from wood and that plastic parts are if possible removed, and to generally make sure it stays safe and well-maintained.

The bench

If you are at the bench, it looks as if there is a tempting direct path straight back in a line to dry land. It’s not. What looks like a path actually leads straight through a bed of thick, sticky, black mud, as my friend Ms T. found when she tried it. The safe route is much longer and contorted, with a large double-back to it, and still is rather dangerous at times due to the creeks winding through the marsh, several feet deep at high tide. As I said I prefer to wade across the beck at low tide, when it spreads out across the sands into a delta a mere few inches deep. The most dangerous route of all is to cut directly across to Cleethorpes seafront, through a maze of flooded channels and sticky mud. There is a firm bar of sand out near the bench itself, but walking from that bar across to the Prom is much more hazardous than any other option.

Nothing lasts forever, of course, everything grows and then fades once more. Maybe the bench will become a victim of its own success, now it’s appeared in the national press. Maybe it will keep growing and evolving and changing until it is unrecognisable; until it will become almost a castle of gnarls and tangles, or picks up its feet and begins to walk. Right now, though, it is a lovely spot to visit, a lovely spot to clear your mind, a spot to sit and watch the waves go by. May it stay so, at least for now.

Sailing away

A visit to an iconic place

A trip away last weekend, to what is arguably one of the most iconic sites in British, or at least Anglo-Saxon, archaeology. It’s been famous since the 1930s, there have been TV series made about it, and it has shaped the way we see Anglo-Saxon Britain ever since. The site I’m talking about is: Sutton Hoo.

Sutton Hoo

Given that Sutton Hoo is only a few miles outside Ipswich, I met up with regular correspondant Sarah from Ipswich and her husband and dog. Sarah is almost as fascinated by archaeology as I am, which is probably a good thing because at first sight there isn’t much to see at Sutton Hoo itself. The “royal burial ground”, the field where all the famous archaeology was found, is a particularly lumpy and humpy fallow field, covered in long grass with a scattering of gorse and broom bushes, and with a stark, narrow viewing tower watching over it. The famous ship burial, Mound 1, is marked by steel rods where the prow and stern of the ship originally were.

Mound 1 at Sutton Hoo

If you’re interested in history, there’s always an awful lot to be gained from visiting a site in person, not just reading about it. Archaeological literature, particularly the older sort, tends to focus very much on the confines of sites themselves without considering their wider perspective in the landscape. I hadn’t realised, for example, just how high up the burial site is above the river. When you think of a ship burial, you tend to assume it would be close to a riverbank. Sutton Hoo does overlook a river, but it’s quite a long way from it: about half a mile away and, more importantly, about a hundred feet up. In modern times a wood has grown up, but when it was built the burial mounds would have been a commanding sight from a ship on the river. One of the mounds has been reconstructed to roughly its original height, to give visitors some idea of how it might have looked within a decade or two of construction.

View of Woodbridge and the River Deben from Sutton Hoo

Mound 2 sits in the long grass

In the nearby National Trust museum, they are unequivocal that the king buried in the ship burial was Raedwald of East Anglia. This is something we will never know for certain, whatever techniques of analysis we manage to develop in the future. The chances are it was likely Raedwald, or his son Eorpwald, or with an outside chance his other son Sigebehrt. We’ll never really know, but we do know that, whoever it was, he was left-handed.

Watching from the viewing tower

The new viewing tower, built from galvanised steel, gives an excellent bird’s eye view of the site. I couldn’t resist spending a few minutes taking photos of the scene so I could stitch it together into a panorama-collage, to give you some idea of what the whole place looks like. The view a seagull would have got, maybe, the day that Raedwald-or-whoever was interred in his warship under a great mound of bare earth.

The cemetery

No person would have seen it that way at the time, of course; very few until this year, in fact. And now we can.

Do we get a better idea of Sutton Hoo by visiting these mounds, instead of going to London and seeing the artefacts in the British Museum? I think we do. This was an important place, one which has to some degree survived when many other similar important places have been lost to us forever. It might have changed significantly in the last 1,500 years, but nevertheless, you can’t understand the site, you can’t feel its relationship with the sea, with the river, with the surrounding landscape, unless you have actually been there and seen it. It might be a field of grassy lumps, but it is definitely worth the trip.