Friday, 5 December 2014

What's a bridge between friends?

"there it is, you can see the boats! "

I pushed the button and held tight, training my little video camera on the unseen waterway beyond the glass. With a final clickety clack we left the outermost suburbs of one of France's easternmost cities and glided across two hundred meters of bridge linking the high speed rail network's radiating out from Paris with Germany and the continent beyond. Behind us lay two hundred miles of track, much of it covered at a speed greater than any other train in the world outside China, a technological, and staggeringly expensive, arm reaching out in friendship from the French capital to the people of Alsace, and fulfilling a commitment to provide seamless connectivity between France, Germany, Austria and Hungary. The ride was smooth, though the speed, around 200mph, was also surprisingly noticeable as the TGV Duplex tore across the French countryside. Strasbourg, the second home of the European Parliament and historically a pawn in past conflicts between France and Germany, was reached in around two hours, the train having slowed considerably after coming off the still to be completed fast line and crawled through undulating terrain to its first stop.

I must confess that borders, particularly those in Europe now rendered largely transparent by the Schengen agreement, fascinate me. At times they seem so strong, impermeable, constraining the cultures that abutt them on either side. Yet, are do they really apply societal segregation so strictly? When we boarded the train French voices were certainly in abundance, but German, English and other languages were well represented too. Writing this as we head towards Stuttgart, an hour or so after crossing the Rhine, the accents remain just as mixed. Perhaps a high speed train, pausing only every hundred miles or so, is not the best environment to ponder the meaning of boundaries and the genuine strength of the demarcation they purport to symbolize, but I can't help feeling these arbitry dotted lines, drawn by Generals and politicians mean a lot less in a modern Europe.

I wonder if it is my Britishness which still perpetuates my interest in the border. Gazing across the English Channel from Dover, Eastbourne or Brighton my thoughts have frequently turned to the watery frontier dividing our land of roast dinners, stiff upper lips, and orderly queues, from our nearest neighbours, with their foie gras, elegant sophistication and chaotic traffic. We may be neighbours but at times we seem so different, a sense exaggerated by the physicality of the sea between us.

Of course we aren't really as different as we think, and our national sniping is closer to that of bickering siblings than genuine animosity. Likewise, the wall between between us is breached easily with a boat or train.

So why was it so important for me to capture that moment where France met Germany mid stream? If the line between the two is a join rather than a divide, and if in any case the brothers and sisters of Europe are not so separate as we might think, surely it shouldn't matter on which side of it our steel wheels roll? I think it is about recognizing the history of this continent, the people who have worked for and fought over it, the cultures they have created, the stereotypes which have grown strong or been broken down, the perceptions of difference and the realities of similarity. Or, rather boringly, perhaps it was just to provide narrative in my holiday video, a noteworthy point in a significant journey.

Whatever the reason, as my Dad pointed out the river and I held the camera against the vibrating window, I hoped to capture a symbol of progression and transition in the water's of the Rhine far below.

Location:Am Hauptbahnhof,Stuttgart,Germany

Thursday, 4 December 2014

The next departure is to Munich

All journeys have to begin somewhere, and I suppose one's home station and a very familiar train trundling through southwest London into Waterloo is as good a way as any. Nevertheless, it feels slightly odd sitting here listening to a group of students gossiping in front, and somebody tapping away in a keyboard to one side, knowing that in twenty four hours time I should have just arrived at Munich's main station having not once boarded an aeroplane or left the ground. There they are, going about very ordinary activities, and here I am, taking the first step on a railway journey to somewhere which feels a very long way away.

I'm no stranger to these journeys. In fact I increasingly choose to travel by rail when visiting European destinations. Though the time required may be a little longer than when flying, the level of personal comfort onboard trains, the ability to feel the distance and sense the continent changing as one travels across it, totally outweighs such considerations in my view. I realise of course that this is not everyone's perspective, despite the seemingly exponential increase in the popularity of websites like which evangelise on the benefits of ditching uncomfortable and polluting airlines for the greener and friendlier alternative, most people would still rather brave the check in queues, invasive security and baggage delays for the perception of speed and efficiency that air travel brings. My long suffering friend Mark has already endured long days staring out the train window, possibly wishing he was 36000 feet above, in order to accompany me on several city breaks, and now my Dad has succumbed to pressure and agreed to a couple of days in Munich enjoying the gluehwein and bratwurst, bookended with a rail journey beginning properly in Ashford, Kent, and taking us via Paris and then through Alsace to Baden Wurtenburg and Bavaria in just eight hours of travelling time.

It's going to be great, I have no doubt, though I fear my ideal of a good railway journey may not entirely match my Dad's. Like its airborne cousin ground level transport isn't immune from delays and disruption, but as somebody who sees the journey as an integral part of any trip I am relatively happy so long as we get there in one piece, and preferably before we need to leave to get home. Dad, I suspect would like his trains to run on time, and I just hope that the delays which will inevitably be picked up at some point in the trip won't put him off this type of travel forever.

Last time I took the train to Munich things didn't go as smoothly as they might. After charging through the French countryside faster than any other train in Europe, we entered Germany and ground to a halt. It is at such times that one's language inadequacies come to the fore, and a pleasant couple of hours was spent trying to understand the difference between the exhaustive explanations in French and German, and the abridged version we received in our own tongue. We should of course have been grateful for English announcements full stop. Can you imagine the guard on the 0815 Waterloo fast service explaining in her best schoolgirl French that points failure at Vauxhall will probably lead to us waiting here a while? Nor can I.

We eventually rolled into Munich three hours late, having enjoyed two impromptu changes of train, one on a treacherously slippery snow covered platform in Rastatt, and the other involving a mad dash from one side of Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof so as to avoid missing the final connection of the night. It was really good fun, if a little tiring.

If I'm truthful delay is especially likely on this occasion, though what is concerning me mildly is not the risk of arriving at our destination around midnight, but not getting there at all. French ticket inspectors went out on strike this evening, in a dispute over the replacement of a one guard per train policy with roving bands of revenue protectors. I sympathize a little with their position, and that of the French commuter who potentially stands to lose a familiar aspect of their daily journey, though this will surely evaporate the moment our TGV from Paris is cancelled and the remainder of the trip thrown into some considerable doubt. I'm thinking positively at the moment, and all of the online information I can find justifies this position, but the potential for disruption is huge.

First things first however, I need to get guide dog Vance and myself safely down to my parents in East Sussex, from where the real adventure will begin in the morning.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Wasting time

Well, that was a waste of time, wasn't it?

Whole hours spent agonizing over words, scrutinizing analogies and, yes, learning how to use that frankly ridiculous Medium website, and what was the sum total of my efforts? Not a single comment or retweet for my article on photography and visual impairment.

But it does at least raise one important question, which I shall attempt to address here: who am I writing for?

Like most people who write I do so for a plethora of reasons. First and foremost I want to do it. There is little more cathartic after a long day at work, or a particularly frustrating experience, than putting thumbs to screen and penning a few lines which encapsulate my thoughts. I suppose it is a self administered therapy of sorts, a consultation with myself, or maybe with my imagined reader.

... Which brings me onto the second point: I write to be read. Yes, I know it's obvious, a little dull, a truism if ever you saw one, but it bears repeating. How sad would it be to talk and not be heard, to present yourself well but never be seen? Whilst much of the pleasure in writing can be found in wrestling with ideas which won't form words, or words which appear intent on standing out of line, breaking rank and not following orders, much too lies in imagining the reader's reaction, and knowing that thoughts once locked inside your head are being set free to blend with others, contributing to the rich discourse of life.

And there's a third reason, one which may not be new in and of itself, but which has surely been given greater momentum by the social media explosion over the past decade. For some, writing for oneself, being read occasionally is quite sufficient, but for the tweeters, flickrers and booers on the right side of the digital divide only world dominating viral notoriety will do. And whilst my ego is insufficiently bloated, or my talents adequately exaggerated to expect a worldwide following, like so many I cannot help but want a piece of the action. It isn't enough to know that my words are out there for others to read, passively waiting for somebody to pass by with the time and inclination to pause and absorb their meaning. In a world where everyone blogs, where noise frequently drowns out those who are truly worth listening to (amongst whom I certainly do not count myself, just for the record! ), an article or account will survive to be read only if it is publicly liked, shared, served up on a plate and pushed in people's faces. There must be countless people who, like me, have had a go with websites like Medium, but whose carefully crafted prose will never make the daily email or be featured on the front page, and is therefore destined for eternal obscurity in a lost corner of the web.

In truth, being noticed comes down to three factors, talent, hard work, and a healthy dose of luck. I can think of several bloggers I read on a regular basis who truly embody the first two of these, people who sit down every evening of every day and pen a fifteen hundred word essay, or who have the kind of writing style which flows naturally from head to screen to the reader's mind. I neither work hard at my writing, nor am especially good at it, and so realistically shouldn't expect the world when clicking "Publish". But then there is luck, that mysterious third factor, lurking unseen in the corner of the room, waiting to pounce on some unsuspecting writer, delivering a positive push up the rankings or highlighting a slip, mistake or ill thought out point and posting it high for everyone's attention. In other words, the chance of writing something which captures the attention sufficiently, or strikes a note apt for the moment, is tempered somewhat by the risk of having one's mistakes showcased in a similar way.

So, perhaps I should actually be grateful for the relative obscurity that my posts enjoy. I don't have the external pressure of living up to expectation, of writing so often that blogging begins to interfere with the other things I hold dear in life, and by keeping my head down I avoid the considerable risk of having it shot off. And I can still enjoy writing for myself in the knowledge that the small group of people likely to read it will appreciate the effort and think about the points made.

So, was it really such a waste of time taking time to think about my experience taking photographs from a different perspective to most people? Was it really so taxing to mould an account which conveyed my thoughts adequately? No, writing is a pleasure, having it read is a bonus, being understood is the real holy grail.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

The light at the end of the lens (Medium Article)

Apparently dissatisfied with the experience of blogging periodically on Blogger I thought I've give the text-centred writing platform Medium a shot. My For a service meant to put words up front and make the process as painless as possible it was a remarkably difficult interface to use. But enough of that, I still managed to publish a post to be proud of, which I embed below for your reading pleasure: The light at the end of the lens

Thursday, 18 September 2014

An ode to the Scots

It is Destiny Day for our friends the wee Scots,
The hour is here to place a cross in the box,
We'll love you no less if you choose to say bye,
But we may shed a tear when cutting the tie.

It has been quite a tale, the story to date,
And there's more to come if you've got time to wait,
But your moment is here, we're holding our breath,
Are you signing the warrant for our Union's death?

Was it really so difficult, that promise we made,
To love one another until in coffins we laid?
Weren't we there for each other in good times and bad?
Does the thought of maybe leaving not make you feel sad?

This island was our's for three hundred years,
Building industry, commerce, sharing high hopes and fears.
Repelling invaders, welcoming new friends,
What kind of message will our divorce send?

But we know you're proud people with your own history,
We're cramping your style and you want to be free.
With brave hearts and big dreams to the polls you will leap.
I hope the result is what you want, and cool heads we'll all keep.

You see, whatever your preference when picking your fate,
We'll still love you dearly, our best friend and mate.
And despite all the cruel words, despite all the muck,
For this difficult day we wish you good luck.

Friday, 22 August 2014

BiH 14: The joys of flying

It has just gone twelve midday and I'm sitting in a rather dingy corner of Cologne Bonn Airport waiting for the assistance people to return. We hadn't originally asked for help changing planes on our way to Sarajevo but the offer seemed too helpful to refuse, particularly given the stresses of our departure from Heathrow an hour or so previously.

German Wings is a funny sort of airline. Closely linked to Germany's flag carrier Lufthansa it has many of the hallmarks of a legacy airline, with light snacks and complimentary coffee still served to most passengers and staff who actually want to help their customers. Yet it also appears to have acquired a number of similarities with the likes of Ryanair and Easyjet, including low prices and a check in process to match. Having arrived safely from Richmond, save for a my knee taking a severe bashing against a metal girder apparently holding up part of the soon to be demolished Terminal One, we entered the departure hall to find a vast gathering of people around a clutch of check in desks. It seemed that, despite checking in online several days previously we were destined to spend a good part of our pre flight time waiting to be relieved of our luggage. To make matters worse, fifteen minutes before the final call for each departure's check in passengers yet to be served were invited to queue for a different set of desks, the outcome of which being that those arriving last were served first and a state of perpetual confusion existed in the main queue.

Formalities completed and bags dispatched we looked forward to a coffee, and perhaps a paracetamol for me, but alas, by the time we had passed through security, filling plastic trays with everything that might conceivably contain a sliver of metal only to spend five minutes putting everything back together again, we had just five minutes left before we would, presumably, have been unceremoniously unloaded from the flight we had queued so long to join.

Thankfully this was where we left behind the less favorable aspects of flying and were able to enjoy a speedy and efficient flight southeast from London, across the Channel and onto the continent. Onboard service was of a good standard, and the help we received upon arrival, from Thomas, a member of airport staff who spends his days ferrying disabled passengers disparate areas of the airfield, was some of the best I have experienced. A little early confusion over how exactly we should be transferred from one aircraft to the other, without officially entering the Schengen free travel area, was quickly resolved by stamping us (figuratively) into Germany, before checking us straight back out again before a wander through a pretty deserted departure lounge led us to where we sit now.

As a child I adored flying. Without the responsibilities of adulthood and more recently introduced security measures, the whole experience was one big adventure. Large airports with their intricate networks of corridors and moving walkways captured my imagination, offering as they did, a vast array of possible routes and destinations. Everything was exciting and shiny.

But now, with documents to keep track of, deadlines to meet and obstacle courses to navigate, it can sometimes feel a little overwhelming. To some degree this explains my preference for travelling by train wherever possible. The simple departure processes and freedom once on board, to my mind, make for a much more pleasant experience, allowing the travel to and from the ultimate destination to truly become an integral part of the trip. As a visually impaired person too, airports are so difficult to navigate without help, whilst stations and trains facilitate a much higher level of independence.

So, come my next holiday, wherever that will be, in addition to weighing up the usual factors when determining where to go, I will be considering seriously the travel options available and the degree to which they contribute to or detract from the whole trip. In the meantime however, we have another flight to catch, the uncertainties of baggage reclaim to look forward to, but also the arrival in a new and hopefully interesting city to look forward to.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

So you're going to Bosnia?

Since low cost flying really took off in the early "naughties" European city breaks have become the travel version of the power nap for time pressed tourists.

I've done a fair few in my time, whizzing off to locations as diverse as Paris, Vienna, Bordeaux, Aachen, Munich and Venice - only to whizz right back again just a couple of days later. To date most of the destinations, where not squarely on the usual tourist trail, were at least places that others had been to or were thinking of visiting. Bordeaux is, of course, world famous for the wine lands which surround it, so even if people hadn't thought of going there themselves it rarely seemed to strike them as too outlandish an idea to go.

But try telling people that your next mini holiday is to bosnia and Herzegovina.

Silence seems to be the first reaction of most, followed by a somewhat mystified enquiry into the purpose of such a trip, concluding inevitably with a sincere yet misplaced urge to be careful in such a "dangerous country".

Granted, BiH, as I shall refer to the country henceforth for the sake of brevity and to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to the inconsistencies in my spelling, is no stranger to conflict. However, the scenes of snipers in the hillsides and international boots on the ground are now over seventeen years old, and the biggest threat to the majority of tourists is petty crime, sun stroke and over indulgence in Bosnian hospitality.

So, what exactly are we expecting BiH, and especially Sarajevo and Mostar, to offer us in return for our hard earned time and money, and what can we do for BiH? First up, this is an incredibly scenic country, with steep mountains and shimmering streams providing the perfect backdrop to many a photograph. The country also has huge historical and political interest, having stood on the road between west and east, Christianity and Islam, new ideas and long held wisdom, for all of its existence. But most importantly of all, BiH is, as far as the literature I have read is concerned, a friendly and hospitable place, where travellers are welcomed and looked after, and where the most important task of the adventurer can be realized, namely the sharing of knowledge, the identification of similarity and the celebration of diversity.

And what can we do in return? In the very least we can tell the world of our travels, of the nature of the country, and help to chip away at the two decades old myth that this is a state to be avoided.

But, before any of that, we need to get ourselves packed and on the plane.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Unfinished articles: Abandoned stories

Rather ironically I wrote this post a little while back, bemoaning my inability to finish and upload my posts, and then failed to finish it.  I publish it now, worts and all, for your interest.

Oh dear, somehow I knew it would end up like this. That, no sooner had the metaphorical gangplank been raised, signalling the start of my adventure on the Clyde, and the knots and cleats of sailing reality replaced the hopes and dreams of imagination, then my enthusiasm for dedicating an hour or two to penning interesting prose would fade away irreversibly. And somehow, despite being aware of the danger, the risk that the anticipation I had built amongst my readers would be dashed against the rocks of disappointment, I allowed it to happen.

I lie here now, tapping away on my iPhone screen in the middle of a late Spring night, I could make myself feel a little better about the situation by telling you that it always was an inevitable outcome. Sailing is a demanding activity, physically, mentally, and occasionally emotionally, and there simply isn't sufficient capacity in the human mind - I mean my very human mind - to dedicate to the rather frivolous and peripheral task of charting the days events in writing. But, whilst it is certainly true that the time available to me for blogging was a limited commodity, usually eeked out from moments otherwise reserved for sleeping, eating or engaging socially with one's crewmates, the form of writing used, and the expectations made of myself, were a conscious decision for me. By this I mean that I choose to write long, hopefully expressive sentences, carefully conjure images in the mind of the reader, and generally sweat and squirm over every word and clause until I'm absolutely happy, or at least as happy as I ever will be, with the results. It is me who chooses to write in a manner which takes time and effort. Me who eschews brevity and embraces verbosity. I am my own worst enemy.

And so it was, that I found myself stirring in the early hours as the good ship Avacet rocked gently on her moorings, exploring my immediate environs with pensive finger and gentle touch in search of my elusive virtual notepad, and indulging in cerebral gymnastics, painting pictures of sight and sound with the humble English word.

It was by no means a shore. Indeed, writing has long been a release for my thoughts. However, that isn't to say that capturing a day's worth of senses recorded in my head, and translating them into script which conveys adequately the holistic experience, is a simple and uncomplicated task. As something of a persistent apprentice in the profession of perfectionism, I am inclined to interrupt the writing process every sentence or so to correct a misplaced word or rework a clunky passage. I'm doing it now in fact, stopping in my tracks to consider how the informal "clunky", set amongst more greater eloquence, might prove abrasive to the eye or ear, and stop the reader dead in their tracks. And, as I rummage for the right words or rhythm the story I am attempting to relay ebbs gently from my mind.

Lying there flat out in the coffin like space between the central bulkhead and the wall of assorted belongings constructed between my cabin companion and myself, I fought a constant battle between the forces of imaginative writing, accurate storytelling and a creeping fatigue which frequently threatened to immerse my body in creativity sapping lethargy. The previous day's events - the powerful gusts which began striking our sails with relentless regularity, the apparently permanent list of the saloon which made tea making a perilous activity, and the sheer joy of peering through a porthole to see conical silhouette of the Scottish Holy Island rising steeply from now calmed waters - loomed bright and bold in my head. The words too, which would bring them to life when applied to a webpage were not difficult to find. But their relentless refinement taxed my already depleted resources, resulting in stunted stamina and a growing impulse to succumb to sleep so as to be refreshed for the morning's tasks.

Pushing back against the urge to close my eyes and rest my mind, I ploughed on for another paragraph or two. But by now the pressure was becoming too great, and the very real need to put down my pen was becoming fixed in my brain. The sentences became shorter. Workmanlike reportage replaced evocative imagery, and the very foundation of my writing, the enjoyment of playing with words to enact scenes from memory or imagination, began to shift in the sand. And before long, that mind, once active with thoughts and ideas, would relinquish its burden and relax into slumber, leaving the stub of a story hanging lifelessly like a beautiful bridge to nowhere.

Oh to not care

Months and months ago I set out to turn over a new leaf in the documenting of my life.  Sounds grand, doesn't it?  Well, it might have been grand had the perfectionist inside of me not scuppered everything.

You will surely not have overlooked the fact that, since putting finger to (virtual) keyboard back in those heady days before the coming of Easter ... or the Tour de Yorkshire ... I have failed to publish a single blog entry.  This is pretty poor, even by my standards, but really isn't for want of trying.  I've now lost count of the number of articles I've written.  Articles on my sailing trip in the Clyde, articles on journeys in the past, and even pieces - just like this one - bemoaning my complete inability to finish and post a post.

I'n pretty sure that virtually every non-perfectionist thinks that to be one means to be perfect.  Nothing, at least in my own experience, could be further from the truth.  To be a perfectionist is to write every sentence ten times; to review and counter-review; to dot every "i", cross every "t" and ponder eternally over the merest hint of a split infinitive.  The perfectionist is cursed to spend their lives in search of the very best metaphor, whilst worrying that it might actually be an analogy; to search deep in the recesses of their poor cluttered brain for a certain word, as only that one will do; and to not stop writing, editing, or worrying until they are absolutely, completely, one-hundred-and-ten-percent positive that everything is absolutely perfect ... which, of course, it never is.

So, this is why, I have umpteen unfinished articles sitting in a little bit of cyberspace, just waiting for hell to freeze over and my resolve to slip, allowing them to be shown to the world in all their 99% perfect glory.

But that isn't the end of the story, as you will have guessed from the appearance of this not-quite-perfect-post.  I simply cannot go on like this.  I need to write!

So , here is my plan, not my first one I should say, but let's brush over that.  I'm going to do a little deal with you, my dearest and most valued reader.  I will write more posts, tell you a bit about what I'm up to now, and what I've done in the past, if you promise solemnly never to comment on the inadequacies of my spelling or grammar, the structure of my prose, the lack of imagination in my storytelling, the factual errors and blatant, omissions, the things I shouldn't have bothered with and those I should have but didn't, or the fact that I am about to break my original promise of writing only about over there and not the here and now at home.  This is a rebirth or sorts, a freeing of the self-imposed shackles with which I had previously constrained my own thoughts.  I will now write about anything and everything (within reason...), and enjoy it.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Unexpected dramas

I'm lying flat on my back in the starboard aft cabin, feeling the rumble of the boat's engine and listening to the flogging sheets being brought to heel. Outside the door Antonia is preparing cup-a-soups for the hungry crew upstairs. Avaret, steady and stable for the past ten minutes suddenly heels to the starboard followed by a sharp roll to port. The stove and kettle are pivoted and the scolding liquid stays where it is as its cook emits a note of alarm and grabs for the nearest fixed piece of furniture. Before long hot beverages are being passed through the cockpit once more as the passage continues.

It's the first leg of our trip around the lochs and islands of the Clyde and we are motoring up Loch Long a little way behind the lead boat, the wind having died after its earlier exertions. It isn't the way we wanted to arrive at Loch Goil Head, but it is better than bobbing about with nothing to power the sails. The route north from Largs was relatively simple in theory, and Chris, our Skipper, was confident that the sheltered nature of the Firth would protect us from the worst of the waves currently battering the area around the Mull of Kintyre. Gaps between islands and mainland promentaries combined with sudden gusts of wind conspired however to provide us with a somewhat bumpier ride than anticipated.

Keen to take some photographs to chart our journey, I had descended into the saloon with Antonia as the island of Great Cumbrae drifted away behind us. Perching on the sofa as she checked the kettle, which had seemingly been boiling since we pushed away from our berth at Largs. The healing, welcomed at first as an exciting addition to the day's journey, was increasing in severity and attempts to check the water temperature and hurry its progress proved futile. Noting a trickle of water from the heads she staggered to her left, grasping for the door handle whilst searching for something a little more solid. The water source undetected, focus returned to the promised coffee just as another gust struck, causing both of us to sprawl backwards across the lounge furniture, with me trying desperately to kick the toilet door shut as it swung wildly, threatening to break something.

We cane for adventure and we certainly seemed to be getting it. Up on deck Roger a former civil engineering diver and my cabin Nate? Was battling with the wheel. A tighter than intended mainsail was forcing the bow upwind, and it was taking much of his strength to hold us on a steady line. Though the course was relatively straight our path wove its way through the waves leaving behind a serpentine wake.

Also up top, George, Emma and Mark were enjoying the ride. As Roger called out each increase in speed-over-land a cry of exhilaration would ring out, encouraging us ever forward, ever faster.

Chris had deliberately entreated the visually impaired members of the crew to enjoy the journey for a bit whilst he got used to handling the boat, a new one for him despite his considerable experience. Liam, probably the most experienced on yachts aside from our sighted crewmates, was at least able to handle the jib sheets.

Four feet below I was starting to feel queasy. I've never experienced sea sickness before but the impending sense of doom which frequently accompanies a dancing stomach compelled me to hand back a mug of water, requested seconds before, and lie back on the sofa. As the yacht continued its somewhat erratic progress towards Loch Long I closed my eyes and slowed my breathing, wishing the sickness away.

Squeezed between my own large holdall and Roger's belongings, which face each other across the no man's land of our shared mattress, I'm beginning to feel a little better. I may not yet be able to stomach any proper food but a few tiny pieces of dried fruit, stowed in my coat pocket for emergency use, are giving me a much needed energy boost.

Having lain on the saloon sofa for a nautical mile or so, eyes shut and ears only just registering the sounds from outside, disparate tracks of wind, chatter, instructions and mechanics mixed into a single inelegant piece, I stumbled my way to the cabin, slamming the door slightly too hard, and throwing myself at the bed. This space, somehow reminiscent of the tiny bathroom in a modest house, stretches the notion of bedrooms somewhat. An area just within the door threshold serves as bag store and welcome mat, with a double mattress stretching aft beyond, partly covered to the right by the overhanging cockpit floor. Lying here now I listen to the water flowing past outside, and try to block out the engine. The horizontal position has eased my nautiousness though every time I raise my head, contemplating joining the others outside, the giddiness returns.

Then, without warning, Avacet is bowled over, granting the gift of flight to unstowed objects in every part and emptying a bowl of washing water straight into the fridge. We're turning fast and sharply, uninteligible shouts coming from above, and then an equally severe roll to port finishes the task of scattering utensils, food and nautical charts about the saloon. Another turn follows, shattering for good my internal compass which had hitherto done a not so bad job of keeping track of our progress.

Stability restored we continue our carbon guzzeling way towards the head of the loch.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Sleepless in Largs

I've never slept on a yacht before. I think I may have mentioned this previously, only it is three in the morning on my first night aboard Avacet, and I'm still yet to drop off. For once in my life I can guarantee that it isn't down to over sleeping. Indeed, having spent a little while in the sleeper train's lounge car drinking whisky on my way up here I was in my compartment's bed for fewer than five hours. I'm not sure it is down to excitement either, my anticipatory emotions having mellowed somewhat as some of the trip's uncertainties were resolved. Perhaps it is just that so much has happened in the past twenty four hours and there is so much still to come.

My morning in Glasgow was thoroughly enjoyable. I seemed to rediscover my adventurous streak,, a characteristic which, when at College over ten years ago, saw me regularly travelling to towns and cities across the West Midlands and Wales, broadening my mind and teaching me to stand on my own two feet. I think part of me forgets how challenging things can be and I am occasionally surprised and frustrated when I cannot find what I am looking for. But not so yesterday in Glasgow.

Wandering the city streets in persistent drizzle, conditions that Scots refer to as "drech", heading in the wrong direction more than once, and eventually walking double what I ought to have, felt like one big adventure. Once more I was reliant upon my own skills and experience, and it felt good. To top it all, when Cafe Gandolfo was finally reached I found myself in a place where customers are a prized comodity and well sourced food is king. In short, it was perfect.

But what to do with the remainder of my morning? @macolgan, who I mentioned in my previous post, had made a further suggestion, one which frankly couldn't be more firmly "up my avenue ".

In 2011 Glasgow's long established transport museum moved from its second home into purpose built facilities by the Clyde, acknowledging the city's indelible link with the sea. Almost immediately after the relocation it won European Museum of the Year.

Despite my success in finding breakfast without injuring myself or getting entirely lost, I thought it preferable to spend the remainder of my time in the museum, rather than potentially wasting it attempting to find the place. My taxi driver was kind and funny, attributes that seem to be a Glaswegian hallmark. He was also a brilliant source of intelligence on the city's perceptions of the Commonwealth Games and, almost certainly more prominent in Scottish minds, the forthcoming independence referendum. For the record, he was sure that the Yes campaign would be victorious, but that the subsequent process of withdrawing from the Union would take significantly longer than anticipated.

But, enough of the politics, we need to talk transport. The first thing that struck me on entering the Riverside Museum, as it is more properly known, is the immediacy of the exhibits. This isn't a venue where grand foyers and reception facilities form a psychological buffer between the man or woman on the Queen's Park omnibus and the stars of the attraction within. Rather, the trains and trams, taxis and trolleybuses seem to remain a part of the world they once served.

My other primary impression was of a place that is welcoming in its design and in the actions of its staff. Having been helped to find the cloakroom and toilet facilities I wandered the great space relying not only on deft cane technique, only seldomly tripping up a passing child, but also on the floor level lighting strips which highlighted each exhibit forming irregularly formed islands against a dark and extensive floor.

I won't pretend that I got everything out of my visit that I could have. A sighted guide would have been very helpful but I was at least able to explore independently, running my hands across the body work of steam locomotives, motorcycles and more, without challenge. What I lacked in background information I readily gained in artistic experience.

Arriving in Largs aboard a coach procured to transport fourteen or so visually impaired people who had arrived by train, it felt a world away from my morning's activities. Space was now to be shared and expertise pooled. Individual ambition would largely be replaced by teen effort and group learning.

Largs Sailing Club could hardly have been more welcoming as we bundled into their striking clubhouse with a multitude of bags and waterproofs. The main restaurant room, looking out westwards across the Firth of Clyde, later captured the setting sun perfectly as we ate dinner.

Later this morning we set sail northwards, heading for Loch Goil Head. The wind is due to be fairly strong and, as is traditional in these parts, there is rain in the air. It is going to be a testing week I know. But I am also sure that it will be fun. I only wish I could get some sleep in.

Location:Largs,United Kingdom

Breakfast fit for a Laird

I can't stop smiling.i

That's right, after a horribly stressful week I have suddenly been thrust into the kind of environment that immediately puts a Robert at ease, and not for the first time I have Audioboo to thank.

I was last in Glasgow some three years ago, and to be honest, on arriving bright and early at seven this morning, I couldn't recall any great places to head for breakfast. Thankfully the wonderful @macolgan, a real life Scot living not too far from Scotland's first city (Glasgow of course ) rode to the rescue with some really good suggestions of rain proof activities and areas with plenty of restaurants. So, rather than live with the usual suspects offered by the Central Station I decided to head out with cane and Blindsquare for guidance, in search of some genuine Scottish grub.

Around a mile and a half later, having accidentally toured myself around the city center, just about succeeding in avoiding being run over or drenched with rain, I was fortunate enough to stumble across a lovely lady who, explaining that most of the eateries in the Candlerigg covered market wouldn't open for another thirty minutes, directed me to Cafe Gandolfo across the road.

All I can say is that this stranger in a big city knew exactly what I needed!

With profound thanks to the savior of my sanity, at least for today, I found myself being served Earl Grey tea with an extra pot of water, an unfortunate rarity in this day and age, and feasting on the most satisfying porridge with fruit and syrup. Next up I'm Stornaway black pudding, scrambled egg and potato scone.. and unless my appetite gives in before I can finish I fully expect to be in heaven before very long.

To Londoners, or at least those who believe the north begins at Watford Gap, Glasgow is a dark and brooding city, full of hard men seeking a fight or packing in deep fried confectionery. From my experience this morning, and my previous visit, I know that nothing could be further from the truth. It is a cultured city of friendly, welcoming people who seem to want you to share their enthusiasm for life and this great city. It is somewhere that, despite living in the everyone for themselves capital of the UK and used to keeping my head down and mouth shut, I feel totally at home.

The wonderful Glaswegian sense of humour and generosity of spirit has certainly worked its magic on me.

Location:Albion Street,Glasgow,United Kingdom

Friday, 11 April 2014

In love with the sleeper train.

I wrote earlier of the romanticism of travelling by sleeper train, and how, despite its obvious drawbacks in terms of personal space, it maintains an allure which is difficult to ignore.

Now, as I sit in the Caledonian Sleeper's lounge car, sipping a whisky as we thunder through the Chilterns, I think I've fallen even deeper in love with this mode of transport. You see, something as simple as good old fashioned customer service, a can do attitude, something which seems to be sorely lacking in so many aspects of modern life, is alive and kicking on the sleeper train tou Glasgow.

Now, you might say I'm influenced to some degree here by the ever diminishing glass of Lefreuge, sitting before me as I write this piece, and you might at least be partly correct. Anybody who saw my tweets from Euston, bemoaning the lack of a staffed customer information point might justifiably compare my pre and post boarding experience. But I really think, alcoholic and other influences aside, that the staff aboard the sleeper could teach others a lesson or two.

Take, for instance, the host for my carriage. On arriving at the door, having been guided along the platform by a kindly member of the public, she immediately noted my visual impairment, which I hadn't advised them of in advance, and suggested a different cabin so as to be within easier reach of the toilet facilities. And then, on acquiring about the lounge car, I was promptly shown along to it before arrangements were made for someone to show me back. They're little things, but they make a big difference m

Now back in my compartment, snuggled under a comfy duvet I can confirm that the excellent service received earlier was not an isolated occurance. Train staff seem genuinely to enjoy their work, and to want to make each passenger's journey perfect. I am especially impressed by their use of initiative, adapting their service to suit individual needs without having to be asked.

But the staff isn't the only component which really makes this trip. The cozy compartments, strikingly smaller than their cousins on the continent, and the complimentary toiletry bag featuring a tiny pack away toothbrush and racer, together make this journey what it is. In short, what makes the Caledonian Sleeper special is the care that has been taken, and continues to be taken, to respond to customers ' needs.

Location:Chapel Lane,Lancaster,United Kingdom

Strangers in the dark

In a little under six hours time this evening's Caledonian Sleeper service to Edinburgh and Glasgow will slip from its platform at Euston Station and begin its long, slow climb out of London, through its northern suburbs. The stations drifting by outside its compartment windows will be familiar to many aboard, the likes of Willesdon, Wembley and Watford pinning together the disparate strands of the capital's daytime commuting infrastructure like the joints and screws of a great mechano set. But the dim lights of waiting rooms and ticket offices abandoned to wandering drunks and night time workers may as well be switched off, shrouding their identities in a nocturnal cloak, as nightcaps are sunk, shutters pulled down and ladders erected to permit access to bunks perched precariously high above the trembling floor.

In the single cabins reserved for first class passengers coats will be hung up and clothes neatly folded on a handy shelf. Though narrower than a kitchen pantry, the space will be treated as if it was ten times larger and located in a comfortable hotel room. Few concessions will be made to the unfamiliar environment, the clickety-click of carriage wheels on unwelded tracks and the occasional whoosh of air forced between train and tunnel wall, as nightwear is pulled on and duvets pulled up.

A carriage or so down things are slightly different. The pantry proportions feel that little bit tighter with upper beds detached from the hooks that hold them flush with the wall and a stranger inserting themselves and their luggage into a space that felt close for just one. Pleasantries will be exchanged as each compartment inhabitant stakes out their place before having it immediately invaded as a leg is swung aloft or a bag shifted to a more convenient position. An eerie, uncomfortable silence will pervade, with each person wanting to break the seal and begin a conversation whilst feeling constraint by natural British reserve and a niggling sense that the other is already asleep and liable to take poorly to being disturbed.

And so the journey will progress, with first class ticket holders immersing themselves in an imaginary world of everyday comforts, the compartment sharers perpetually self conscious, and the poor souls in reckoning seats wishing to goodness that they were anywhere else but there.

The sleeper train of old has to be one of the most romanticised images of travel, alongside the transatlantic liners and Zeppelin airships of the early twentieth century. Somehow the idea of traversing considerable distances in the relative comfort of a travelling bedroom, albeit a little cosier than one might be used to, has an allure quite unlike other modern forms of transport. It is certainly a feeling that I am very familiar with, having gone out of my way at times to take an overnight train where a high speed service or short haul flight would have sufficed. Indeed, this evening I will be that awkward second class passenger constantly conscious of every noise and movement I make, lest it startles my companion above.

I probably could have flown. Rising at some unearthly hour I would have dashed from the flat, fearful of arriving too late at the airport, and in so doing causing myself to spend needless hours there instead. The usual inconveniences of air travel would have all been present: the fast bag drop which has forgotten how to be quick, the security guards who'd rather I spend half a week unloading coppers from my trouser pockets than run an electronic wand across my clothes, the assistants allocated to aiding disabled staff who seem more used to handling baggage, and the long painful wait at the end to find out if your holdall is in Glasgow or Geneva. I could have flown, but I'd rather take my luck with a silent stranger in a dark compartment.

So, just as soon as I have packed off this blog entry to the cloud, zipped up my bag and donned my new deck shoes, I will be heading across London with my trusty long white cane to begin a week's adventure. I have no idea who will be sleeping in the upper bunk tonight and whether I'll feel brave enough to strike up a conversation, but at least I know that he will also be facing such uncertainties in the name of travelling the more civilized way.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Without him

The last time I went anywhere independently further than the local barber shop without my dear guide dog Vance was eight months ago, back at the end of August. It was one of those trips that I undertake each year with my friend Mark. We never make it especially easy for ourselves, travelling on multiple train services across Europe, battling the various obstacles that the environment throws in our way. But that's really part of the attraction, and we'd rarely seek an easier route. Though my long white cane and I have always had something of a love-hate relationship, packing the dog off to my parents and wielding a carbon fibre rod for a while is a fair price to pay for an occasional bit of adventure.

Tomorrow is one of those occasions. One of those days when I'm torn between nervous pre trip excitement and the genuine heartache of leaving behind my constant companion and best friend in the world. I know he will be fine. He'll be delighted to be with my parents once more, delighted to have a grassy lawn on which to run and roll and lie, and delighted to have a few days away from mundane hours in the office and crowded commutes by train. He'll be fine, but I will miss him terribly.

That was always going to be tomorrow, but today I sit in a bland hospital waiting room, having trekked across London without my guide.

Even without the questions from my doctor, asking how Vance is getting on, I am constantly reminded of his absence. From walking down the High Street in Richmond, crowds of pedestrians no longer parting to make way, to the bollards, poles, pipes and passengers that appear from nowhere and seemingly frustrate my every step. Actions I take for granted, like finding a train door, the top of an escalator or an underground ticket barrier suddenly become hurdles in their own right, requiring planning and care, a thick skin and a steady heart. My muscles tense involuntarily, anticipating the next bump and bruise. Maybe its just lack of practice, or perhaps it's a taste of the week to come.

And whilst I sit here on a hard plastic chair, waiting to have my name called, so bright lights can be shone in my eyes and comparisons made with last year, Vance lies sedated in a veterinary surgery, his right hind dew claw having been cut back to the quick. It is bad enough that I didn't spot the problem when I fed him this morning, and that the exaggerated limp and tender paw only became apparent as I slipped his harness on before heading out the door to work. He is such a brave dog, and a conscientious worker that he hadn't whined or refused to move until that point.

A taxi ride and cursory examination later and Vance was admitted for the day. He seemed relieved to be there and barely paused as he was led away, leaving me in reception with only my white cane to accompany me home.

Vance will be fine. He's a strong dog and gets through these things. He hurt his back two years ago, during that strange interval between the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. It happened out of the blue, a freak accident as he jumped into my mum's car, a jump which he had made on so many previous occasions, but which would forever more require him to take strong pain medication.

And then there was one of his other dew claws, torn whilst playing with a friend's dog in Germany, which became infected during the long train journey home and required weeks of rest and the imposition of the largest Elizabethan collar ever seen.

He was fine then and will be fine now. I just need to get on and stop worrying.


I wrote the above earlier this afternoon, and am pleased to say that now, at half seven in the evening, Vance is back with me, resting quietly in the hallway. The offending claw has gone and his paw patched up, and he now just needs to rest. Tomorrow he'll be collected by mum, and then it will be me and the dreaded cane for a whole week.


Both of the pictures accompanying this post were taken by me. The first depicts Vance gazing out onto the Thames in Richmond a couple of days ago. The second shows him as he is this evening, rather dozy after his earlier sedation.

Location:Peerless Street,London,United Kingdom

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Information on the trip

Yesterday morning I announced to the world, or at least to you, dear reader, that I would shortly be heading off on a wet and windy adventure in Scotland. For the land lubbers amongst you, for whom the idea of spending six days afloat is enough to send you reaching for the sickness tablets, you may have already heard enough. But, for everyone else I thought I would fill you in on some of the trip details, and on how I intend to chart it.

First up, where am I going and with whom?

The Visually impaired Sailing Association of Great Britain, or VISA GB for short, far from being a regional offshoot of a well known financial transaction processing organisation, exists to enable blind and partially sighted sailors to gain self confidence and worth by sailing in as independently and empoweringly as possible. Participants on its trips are not simply along for the ride, but are fully fledged members of the crew, as integral to making the boat move, preferably in the right direction, as anybody else aboard.

VISA GB almost certainly have a more succinct way of saying the above, and I would heartily recommend visiting their website at:

And, as for where we'll be sailing...

Those who can should take a look at the following map, which I painstakingly created in Google's MapEngine. I have marked the general vicinity of all the places we are meant to be visiting, starting and finishing in Largs in North Ayrshire.

For the geographically challenged amongst you, or those who are still waiting for Google to produce tactile versions of its cartographical applications, I am copying the relevant bits of the programme below, with a few of my own comments thrown in for good measure:

Saturday 12th April:
Skippers, Mates and crew arrive in sunny Largs, familiarize themselves with their allocated yachts and enjoy a meal at Largs Sailing Club.

Sunday 13th April:
Breakfast in the sailing club before setting course for the north, and reaching Loch Goil Head in the late afternoon. Pray for clement weather before spending night on swinging moorings.

Monday 14th April:
Set sail for Rothesay on the lovely island of Bute, with a stop for lunch at Inverkip. A pub has apparently been earmarked for dinner.

Tuesday 15th April:
Leave Rothesay and head for Portavadie, with another en-route lunch break, this time at Kames Bay.

Wednesday 16th April:
Sail from Portavadie to Loch Ranzer where we will anchor for lunch, before heading for Campbeltown, a leg of around five hours. Fish and chips will apparently be the order of the evening.

Thursday 17th April:
Another long leg, this time sailing over 30 nautical miles from Campbeltown to Troon in one go, taking about eight hours.

Friday 18th April:
Heading north once more to return to whence we came... Largs marina. Dinner will be in the sailing club, and much packing up and cleaning will presumably be done.

Saturday 19th April:
We head our separate ways. In my case a morning taxi ride to the airport for a lunchtime flight to Gatwick.

So there you have it, around the Clyde in nine passages. But what, I hear you cry, will we be sailing?

Well, it is worth pointing out up front that there will be quite a few of us - mostly visually impaired, with a smattering of sighted people thrown in (metaphorically ) for good measure. So, rather than cramming onto one super-yacht, climbing over one another to reach the pool, and overwhelming the bar (more's the pity ) we'll be chartering six 37' - or thereabouts - yachts, each sleeping around eight, to act as our loyal steeds for the duration of the week.

To save you wearing out your imagination picturing the swanky vessel I'll be cruising the Clyde I've done a bit of digging and found out that "Avacet" is a thirty seven foot "Bavaria" yacht (lederhosen optional ) whose vital statistics, along with some promising testimonials, can be found here:

Now you can put a name to the organisation I'll be sailing with, pinpoint the places I'll be visiting, and picture the yacht that will carry me between them, you have my upcoming trip in a proverbial nutshell. All I need to tell you now is how to follow my travels.

The best way, assuming I manage to keep it updated, will be the very blog you are reading now, on which I intend to post links to any other content I publish.

It would however be worth keeping a beady eye on my Audioboo ( ) and Twitter ( ) streams, as well as TripColour, an iOS travel blogging app that I have recently come across. My page there can be accessed at:

And that is about it. I hope to write again very soon.

A note on photographs.

The image at the top of this article is borrowed from the VISA GB website, a link to which can be found above. It shows a yacht standing stranded on its keel... and in no way represents the standard of seamanship of its crews today... I hope!

The other two photographs are both taken from the Wikimedia Commons and show some of the views we, or at least those with better sight amongst us, may see along the way. The first shows a view looking north from Largs and the second is of the seafront in Rothesay, Bute.

All photographs remain the property of their respective copyright owners.

Packed and ready to go: all set for a week sailing on the Clyde

Right, well here we go with the real purpose of beginning this blog, a "proper trip ".

It won't have escaped your attention that, subsequent to setting up this account and posting an introductory piece, I haven't been particularly good at furnishing you with reading material. It hasn't been due to lack of ambition, or even imagination, but rather a tendency to over complicate things, to aim for perfect prose on every occasion and then to run out of steam part way through.

But those early posts, including the ones you've never seen, were only meant to hold your interest until the opportunity for more sustained blogging sailed along.

Which brings me neatly up to date. I am writing this with only a couple of days left at work before embarking on a week long jaunt up to Scotland and around the Firth of Clyde. My bag is virtually packed, I have my tickets to get there and back, and I thankfully also have my brand new bespoke waterproofs, more about which I shall surely write in due course.

Now, I should stress that although this is a pleasure trip, insofar as it is a week away from work, in a beautiful landscape, doing something I enjoy. It will not come without a degree of challenge however, not to mention bucket loads of elbow grease. Of the thirty or so visually impaired and around fifteen sighted people taking part in the VISA GB Clyde Flotilla Week there are no passengers.

Split between six chartered yachts, each hopefully having a couple of sighted sailors (including the Skipper, you'll be relieved to learn ) to ensure we head in the right direction, we will be setting sail for a week of adventure, or at least windswept days and cozy nights, in the estuary of Scotland's great River Clyde.

Those who know me well will recall that I am no stranger to sailing. Having answered a plea for more blind and partially sighted sailors, broadcast on BBC Radio Four's In Touch programme back in 2008 I joined my sort-of-local Sailability club, located on the other side of London, beside Greenland Dock. There, I was fortunate to benefit from the knowledge and know how of a number of experienced and wonderfully enthusiastic sailors. Learning the basics of turning handfuls of rope and unpredictable gusts into forward motion occupied me for much of the summer and autumn before, rather ambitiously joining a selection exercise for the British Blind Sailing team, who were shortly to compete on the world stage in New Zealand. Much to my surprise I was picked as one of two reserves, and only narrowly missed out on flying halfway across the world to uphold my country's honour.

Whilst I never again did quite as much sailing as in those first six months or so, I did compete in four Blind National Championships, hosted by the East Anglian Sailing Trust on the River Orwell in Suffolk, succeeding in winning two of them. Following my most recent win circumstances led me to hang up my buoyancy aid and take a break from the water

So, it is not without some knowledge that I signed up to spend seven nights on a yacht with a handful of strangers. But, there is a world of difference between sailing dinghies and small keelboats in short, sharp races, and cruising a river estuary for extended periods of time, in the rather close company of seven other people. Therefore, with the time before we let slip our lines now swiftly ebbing away I must confess to feeling somewhat trepidacious about the days ahead.

But, enough of that for now, there are practicalities to deal with and expectations to manage.

Sitting here at home it is easy to promise long, immersive, blog entries, sparkling galleries of perfectly framed photographs, and atmospheric audioboo recordings capturing every moment in glorious stereo detail. Not wanting to disappoint however, let me say now that I will give you what I can, when I am able to, but not very much else. In other words, the nature of this trip is likely to mean that I will be occupied for much of my time away, and the opportunities for hiding myself away to pen pieces of prose are likely to be few and far between. Furthermore, there is highly likely to be a striking difference between getting my thoughts down in a clear and understandable manner, and ensuring that every "i" is dotted. My written entries will inevitably contain uncorrected typographical, and even factual, errors, and I will inevitably publish photographs showing my feet or the back of someone's head. Please understand that I would not willingly publish such content, but accepting that this will be the case could make the difference between giving you a flavour of the trip, and keeping it all to myself!

In a couple of day's time I will be hanging up my guide dog and picking up my cane, shouldering an unwieldy holdall, and heading across town to join that night's Caledonian Sleeper service bound for Glasgow. I hope that you will be there with me, at least in spirit, to share the highs and lows, battle the challenges and savour the memories. I very much look forward to having you along.

Location:Richmond,United Kingdom

Sunday, 23 February 2014

From where I'm sitting: Uckfield Line in winter

It's Sunday evening and the sun is setting on a lovely weekend with my parents on the Kent-East Sussex border. I'm sitting aboard a thundering diesel train charging its way through the countryside, throwing fiery reflections around the carriage interior.

The atmosphere aboard is subdued. A couple across the aisle play a board game and whispers can be heard from further back. Closer by a magazine page is turned, a crisp is crunched, and Pinot Grigio is splashed inexpertly into a swaying glass. It could be the end of a dinner party, the majority of guests having alighted earlier, leaving the hosts and a motley crew of hangers-on to finish off the nibbles and mop up the remainder of the wine. The stench of alcohol stained carpets and seats thickens the air as we pull up at Ashurst.

The line side trees are silhouetted against the dying sun, which by now is sneaking behind some distant upland. The sky is clear and bright however, lending an air of hope to the otherwise pervasive gloom at the end of another weekend. Where does the time go?

The lady to my left has given up on playing, and instead flicks unenthusiastically through a newspaper. The man asks about Mick Jagger's current love interest as we crawl into Cowden.

I cannot help, as we sit here waiting to move once more, but think of the rail accident that, for a time this little halt's name was synonymous with. Our lonely little train, thrusting courageously through a long dark tunnel, with its mostly empty complement of seats feels a world away from the twisted metal and broken bones of all those years ago.

It is however, a much happier name which now greets us. Once the home of Anne Bolyn, and still containing a bed in which her murderous husband King Henry VIII is purported to have slept, is a pretty popular tourist attraction when the weather's clement and the sun is out. The lack of boardings at its eponymously named station speaks volumes about the current climate.

And before I know it our motorized steed is completing the final couple of miles before the Uckfield line joins the electrified tracks towards London. Just one more station, a few further splashes of golden sunlight, a whiff of alcoholic residues, and our little collection of unconnected humanity will be cast out to find a northward connection.

Location:Red Lion Street,Richmond,United Kingdom

Friday, 24 January 2014

Luffing up

Life is like a sailing race. 

As the starting gun fires we jostle for position, steadfastly focused on our ambitions for the course ahead. The line is only so long and few will cross it ahead of the fleet. The first tack is everything, nothing can be left to chance. A flapping sail or limp sheet equals time and distance lost, places that may not be made up. As the breeze strengthen and the waves build the pressure continues to mount. Staying on the wind, keeping up the pace is imperative. 

A fine line must be sailed. Don't push hard enough and you may as well be out for an afternoon cruise. Aim too high too early and the wind, and the race itself may be lost. The timing of turns is vital. We all need a change in direction, a new groove to follow, but miss timing it, or heading the wrong way can spell disaster. 

And then its on with the race. The windward mark's not yet in view and there isn't a moment to lose. 

But maybe there's another way. 

Perhaps, just once in a while we can move our gaze from the horizon, let go of those lines, hear our world up close, and bear away for a different destination. 

The world wide web abounds with travel blogs, and I can't claim that mine will stand out from the rest. I've tried blogging before, but whilst I love to write I've often set my sights too high, and failed at the first hurdle. Maybe I lack self discipline or perhaps my life simply isn't sufficiently dissimilar from everyone else's.  Whatever the reason I've never kept it up for long, and resolutions have quickly fallen by the wayside. 

But like my sailing analogy above there may be a different way. Rather than setting out to post every day, to constantly think up new and interesting topics only to run out of steam and feel bad for failing again, I will accept my place as a sporadic sailor, casting off when the sun is shining and the swell is slight.

So, to set out my stall. 

Bearing Away is about me. It's about me, my friends, the places we've visited and those we're yet to see. It's about a break from the norm, a pause for reflection, a different perspective on life. It's about the things we take for granted and, the prejudices we hold, and the way in which both can be shattered by picking up our passports and heading for somewhere new. 

This isn't a blog about home, but nor will it report solely on abroad. The mundane and the ordinary may feature, but only in the context of the different. Today and tomorrow will be important, but yesterday, last months and preceding years will feature too. Charting the here and now will be its purpose, and so will reflecting on time already passed. 

If this sounds like the read for you then you're very welcome. Writing can be quite a selfish activity, spending time thrashing out one's feelings, committing thoughts to paper or screen to preserve memories or liberate regrets. But it is also about giving: relaying experiences, conveying information, and inspiring actions. Hopefully I will discover worth and fulfillment in writing on these pages. If you find something you like, or which encourages you to come back for more, then it will have been even more worthwhile. .