My latest attempt at a blog

 

 

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We interrupt this story

As promised in a Facebook post long ago, we interrupt this tale of  adventures in the Wintry North Atlantic to post the writings produced by the author at a writers’ workshop in September, long after the cruise, for a group of writers from Listowel, a town of writers, set in Kerry, a county of writers, in Eire, a nation of writers.

These are the pieces I produced at a writers’ workshop on my latest visit to Ireland  – I was invited to go along and participate by one of the regulars, Hazel White, a writer, songwriter, poet, singer and musician  at whose house I stay on my many visits. The idea is that a small group of writers meet in the house of the leader, who gives them a phrase or sentence, and 45 minutes in which  to write whatever it brings to mind.

Then they each read out their piece and the leader gives a brief critique and invites all the participants to add their comments and encouragement – it’s all very civilized and friendly!

Our morning’s  ‘Title’ was “Send in the Clowns” I wrote a bit of rubbish for 5 minutes, thought a bit about clowns, then the  song title, then I cleared my mind, took a new sheet of paper and let this flow:

The prisoner had still not cracked! Battered but unbowed he proudly faced the inquisitors: He had been beaten, burned and waterboarded, they had used the glaring lights, the loud noises and the sensory=deprivation chamber – no results, his secrets were still secret and nothing had been confessed. As a desperate penultimate they had brought in the rats from room 101 that even scared the Grand Inquisitor, but not the prisoner.

 

He had a brief respite while the inquisitors went into a huddled conference with the chief torturer, all too soon the huddle broke up and the prisoner could see the fear, even on those grim and brutal faces. One by one they quietly left the chamber, until only he and the Grand Inquisitor remained. “You have left us no alternative.” said the Grand Inquisitor, “You have just one last chance to save yourself from a fate horrible beyond imagination!”

The prisoner shook his head. “Very well”, said the Grand Inquisitor, as he stepped quickly through the door. Just before slamming it shut, he shouted “Send in the clowns!”

That was when I cracked

 

After a rather splendid lunch we convened again, the afternoon’s theme was “Eve and the apple”. This gave me pause for thought, but my thoughts were interrupted by a distant voice, insistent, urgent maybe plaintive “Tell my story!” it said. I tried to ignore it and go back to my thoughts, but “They have to know my story!” it said again. So wrote down what I heard, this it:-

 

Why do you always say it’s my fault? You weren’t there! You didn’t see him, looking so suave and elegant in his Armani suit and Gucci shoes, so tall, dark and handsome! You didn’t hear his clever, witty and Oh, So complimentary words. He made me feel so beautiful, so important, far too  good to be just a sort of personal assistant to a gardener!

All right, NOW I know him for the smooth-talking old deceiver he is, but I was only just a the beginning of the story then, and you are looking back from far ahead in it!

You weren’t there, you didn’t see how big and bright that mother of all apples appeared when he talked of it. You think you know the beautiful smell of a ripe apple? This smelt a billion times better!

And the thoughts, the dreams, that I could be as wise and wonderful as the Maker himself! I know now that it was all a lie, but if you’d been there, if you’d been the naïve, innocent young girl created in what appeared to be a man’s world, you’d have fallen for it too.

As for Adam, what use was he? He who was supposed to be the father of a glorious race of noble beings, all he did was set the precedent for husbands all down the centuries to blame their wives for everything that goes wrong.

You weren’t there! You can’t blame me, and you’d better believe what I say. After all, I’m your mother!

 

Normal service will resumed on my next “Writing Tuesday” when I’ll tell you of an icy day in Iceland and an even icier night!

Day 5: At sea, all day, going North

Day 5: At sea, all day, going North

Thursday March 8th

The weather was bright and breezy also freezy, so I stayed below most of the time,  Just look at the snow on deck in the picture above!

And the sea was a bit rough:

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In the morning I went to an informal gathering for all Christian passengers, an experience similar to the Easter Morning Service at the annual Easter Science-Fiction convention where I look around and think “good heavens, I never though (s}he was one of us!” and then realise that people look at me and think exactly the same thing.

Anyway the fellowship was good, and they were all lovely people.

I spent a lot of time struggling with the ship’s snail-pace WIFI trying to get through to FaceBook to tell my friends where I was, to no avail. My one idea to improve these cruises would be a satellite link to the Internet.

Lunchtime came round, and a special Solo Travellers Lunch. I found myself at a table full of ladies of uncertain ages (“No gentleman should speculate on a lady’s age!”) and hosted by a young Mauritian man, one of the entertainment crew’s singer/dancers. What a treat for the ladies! Handsome, witty, entertaining, and the young Mauritian man was good, too! (You KNEW I was going to say that!) A very pleasant lunchtime, anyway!

In the afternoon, Sir James Hodge gave the most fascinating of his talks on the Vikings, about their beliefs and mythology, with some fantastic pictures that made me think of Wagner’s “Ring” operas and the better illustrations found in Tolkien’s works. In fact Sir James did draw our attention to how much Norse Mythology influenced Tolkien in his writing.

Towards the end of the afternoon, Iceland appeared over the horizon, and very icy it looked!WP_20180308_16_53_59_Pro.jpg

Another jolly evening around the bars and the shows, and then the best show of all, around midnight as the buzz went around “the Lights! They’re here!” and we raced up the companion ways (navy-talk for stairs, I can’t stop talking like a character from ‘Hornblower’ while at sea) to the icy deck, never mind the freezing East wind there are The Lights, a faintly-glowing net curtain hanging in the sky, and defying all my attempts at photography.

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There was then much merriment and late-night drinking to celebrate this early success to our quest.
There are a few more pictures, including one of the Waldorf Restaurant where I had my posh dinners  — here

Day 4: The Faroes

Day 4: The Faroes

Oi! Faroes! Not Pharaohs!

I awoke on the morning of March 7th to the sound of the ship’s diesel engines running slowly in maneuvering mode. by the time I was up, showered and dressed, we were safely moored to a pier in the Thorshavn docks reserved for cruise shipsDSCN0717.JPG

Here’s the view of the harbour and fishing fleet from my cabin window. The place was very busy already, as fishing is the mainstay of the islands’ economy. Below is our ship at her berth, seen from the mountains that make up most of the larger islands’ landmass. I seem to remember a rather lazy morning, something to do with last night’s revelry, I suspect. My shore expedition was not due until after lunch, anyway! DSCN0807.JPG

But 1230 came around soon enough, and I dressed in my extra warm Winter Gear, picked up camera, binoculars and spiked walking-pole and joined the queue for the gangway, eventually emerging into an icy East wind on the pier. I was very glad to get aboard the warm luxury coach and meet our guide, an islander who spoke excellent English with a slight Norse accent. Like all the islanders , he was descended from Norwegian and scots-irish Vikings who thought they were the first to find the islands (but of course, Irish monks had got there before everyone!)

Torshavn, the smallest capital city in the world was a pleasant mixture of old and new architecture and beyond it were wonderful snow-covered mountains and valleys with wonderful modern roads, and tunnels, through the mountains and under the sea, linking the valleys and the islands.  Our guide was justly proud of his tiny but progressive nation.

We were bound for the Island of Vagar The Westernmost of the inhabited islands, nowadays it is reached by a fast modern road that winds about among the mountains until it dives under the narrow strait that divides it from Streymoy, the main Island

the first village we came to was our guide’s home. Here us his local church, with its model ship hung from the beautiful barrelled ceiling,  telling us that all the churches have such a model, reminding the congregation of how much they depend on the sea for their living, and also to remember those members who died at sea.

DSCN0719.JPGThen he opened a hymnbook, and sang a slow, chanting kind of hymn in Faroese, so that we heard the old Norse language such as our ancestors in East Anglia spoke. These remote islanders never changed their way of speech over the centuries. They can still read the great sagas without translation. Only a few years ago, the Danish Lutheran Church finally permitted services, including marriages to be conducted in Faroese rather than DanishDSCN0720.JPGThis is a rather poor picture of a stone, inscribed in the ancient Runic script of the Norsemen, discovered by the Guides father, and here are some more views of the church

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They say that Luther was a bit antisemitic but you can see, on the communion table, two very Jewish Menorah, the 7-branched candlestick!

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From a distance note the ice and snow

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Close up again!

Then we moved on to the next village over mountain roads, and yet another tunnel to a remote settlement, the furthest West of the Faroes, nothing but the waves between us and Newfoundland and lots of photo-opportunities.

 

 

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Small town at the head of a “Vik”

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Snowy Mountains

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Next stop, Nova Scotia

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Here is a typical Faroese House, quite modern, except for the traditional Turf Roof – great insulation, locally sourced, and inexpensive!

 

Back over the mountain roads to Torshavn, with a wonderful elevated view of the city from high up, amazing!

 

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DSCN0811.JPG Torshavn from up here

14,000 people live here, out of a population of 40,000, but there are stadiums, shopping malls, museums and concert halls, a complete modern civilization built on the trade in fish and wool. Some of the fish are farmed in the Viks (the many inlets from the sea in the rugged islands) and many are caught by the far-ranging fishing fleets

 

 

 

 

 

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Those mountain roads, taken through the coach window – far too cold to get outside to take photos!

This night, I missed the posh dinner, as I wanted to eat in the top-deck buffet as our ship sailed out among these incredible islands in the sunset heading Northwards to Iceland.

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The lights ashore! But my camera was held in unsteady, cold hands!

 

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I noted the dress code for the restaurant meal I didn’t have: ” ‘Casual’ Please note that no shorts or sleeveless t shirts will be aloud in the restaurants”  Today’s weather forecast was “Cloudy, max temperature -5 degrees C” No-one was going violate THAT dress code!

Tonight’s Theatre show was a stand-up comic/conjurer, I’m afraid I fell asleep 3 times and then did a tour of the bars! I much preferred the shows with the pretty girls dancing!

I’ll just add a couple more pictures of the islands and close with a link to the pictures library on “Dropbox”

 

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The wonderful Faroe Islands: Click here to see more

 

 

Northern Lights – Day 3 Somewhere on the North Sea

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All this day was spent in the wild wet wilderness of the North Sea. It was rough, but not so rough as it would get later on, when we reached the North Atlantic. There was plenty to do, exploring the ship, with her many bars and shops. There were presentations about the coming shore excursions, a lecture on photography by the ship’s professional photographer, and, my favourite activity, a lecture by retired diplomat Sir James Hodge, on “The age of the Vikings: Expansion and Conquest” Sir James turned out to be a witty and extremely knowledgeable Scot, who really brought his subject to life, especially with his pronunciation of the names of the characters in Old Norse.

 

 

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This was the first of the two “formal Nights” when men were supposed to turn up at dinner in evening dress or smart lounge suits, and ladies in pretty dresses. the Dinner was preceded by the “captain’s Cocktail Party”

This was as near as I came to to that, the colouring is a bit off, not showing the smart “Rifle-Green” suit in its best light.

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It was a weird evening, at the Captain’s cocktail party all that happened was that the captain came in, leading his officers, apologised that his negotiations with King Neptune had not resulted in better weather, introduced the officers, and led us all in ‘bon voyage’ toast, then they left! Furthermore I saw no cocktails, jut glasses of wine!

That was all, other than rich young woman moving into the seat next to mine and started comparing this cruise unfavourably with others she had been on. She was a bit surprised at how little I had paid, and conceded that I, at least, had got ‘value for mThe dinner was followed by a show in the ship’s theatre: “The Best of Broadway”

 

Later I met and drank with various acquaintances including the madly in love American newlyweds, Danced with a total stranger, drank with more philosophers, and ended up reminiscing with a gigantic African Londoner who also remembered Oliver close, the street of ‘Prefabs’ in Leyton, East London, where I lived my pre-school years

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They did all the slow smoochy dances

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They were SO romantic!

Northern Lights Day 2: Holland

Monday March 5th Amsterdam
More from the Log

I awoke to see the dockside buildings of Amsterdam slowly passing me window, so I arose and dressed in great haste to join my guided walk and meet our tour guide, a young woman who spoke excellent English who led us along the dockside

towards the magnificent modern central railway station/tram depot/shopping mall. Through this and back in time, to the ancient capital of the Netherlands, magnificent churches, monuments plazas and palaces. Many stops to learn more of the history and geography of this famous cosmopolitan city. After the coffee stop we were taken through a Beguinage, a sort of gated community for widows and single women of the Catholic faith – although the city is Protestant, tolerance is very important although other religions tend to hide in backstreets and enclosed squares, like the Beguines.

Pictures of the Beguinage below

Tolerance to race is important, too. 176 races are represented in this city. The sacred animal of Amsterdam is the bicycle. There are thousands of them everywhere, far outnumbering the cars, and those not in use are stacked, in enormous racks. The other most common sights are the bridges and canals, packed with boats as the streets are packed with bicycles.

The oldest part of the city, dating back to the 17th Century golden age, is built on concentric semicircle of canals between the narrow streets of grand houses built for the rich merchants.

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A canal

 

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Another canal

If you want to see even more canals, go the Dropbox link at the end of this section, which will give you access to ALL the pictures I took in Holland

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These ships appear on all the spires in the city, commemorating the great Dutch seafaring tradition (and the source of Amsterdam’s wealth)

NO! We did NOT see the “Red Light” district. Talking of tolerance though, here’s the difference between cafes and coffee shops in Amsterdam, the former smell of fresh ground coffee, the latter smell of marijuana smoke. Their philosophy is that if it’s legalised, it’s controlled and taxed, if not, the trade is run by the Mafia.

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Here’s the Royal Palace

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This house-sign meant “A literate person lives here, and will (for a price) read and write letters for you”

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Talking of religious tolerance, here we see a Menorah and a Madonna in the same window!

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The other symbol of Amsterdam: the X’s stand for the 3 enemies of the city: Rats, Fire and rising Water

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Arms and armour of the City Watch – this display made me think of Commander Vimes and the Ankh-Morpork Watch!

That afternoon we all enjoyed a canal cruise, as the ship moved down the huge canal that runs through first the industrial part of Amsterdam, then the flat Dutch countryside and finally through the great ship-locks out into the North Sea

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When the Dutch run out of land, they build on water!

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like this!

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Now THIS is a SERIOUS canal!

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Here a motorway tunnels under the canal

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The lock that lets us into the North Sea

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Just about room for the ‘Magellan to fit into it

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“Look lively there ye swabs!”

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The lower gate opens

 

 

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and out we go into the North Sea

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Further out

There’s lots of live entertainment tonight, so this writing will be short. Now, am I supposed to dress for dinner?

 

Here comes the Pilot Boat, to take our pilot home after seeing us through the canal. What happened next was bizarre, just before she came alongside, two of the crew carried what appeared to be a body, dressed in yellow oilskins, on to the deck. As she drew alongside on man helped the pilot across the gap between her and the ‘Magellan’ while the other one threw the ‘body’ over the side and shouted “Man overboard, MAN OVERBOARD”.

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The Pilot Boat did a high speed U-turn and raced aster of us, and was last seen alongside the ‘body’ with crew pulling it out of the sea

Picking up the 'body'

A “drill”, of course, with a dummy. Great seamen, these Hollanders, staging their “Man Overboard” drill way out in the North Sea during a real operation. But this would make a great plot for a murder mystery, er, it WAS a dummy, wasn’t it?

And so ended my second day’s cruising, apart from a really good dinner in the Waldorf, another brilliant show, and drinks in the bar with two poets and their wives.WP_20180305_17_03_27_Pro

The rest of my Holland pictures are here:  Day 2 Picture link

 

Tourist’s log – supplemental

I forget the pictures of last night.

Here is the bar known as the ‘Captain’s Club’, we never saw Captain Zhukov in there, but there were some superb cabarets, games, quizzes, and, at the end of the evening, discos.

Not very good pictures, they were taken on my phone. It does show our own pretty Northern Lights, however. The eagle-eyed reader may spot a couple appearing in every picture: these are the ‘Californian Newlyweds’, a delightful couple who are so in love that they spread a kind of ‘romantic aura’ around them,

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Late evening in the disco: ‘smoochy music’ time

And so to bed, here’s my cabin again, as seen from the said bed. No bunks or hammocks on THIS ship, really comfortable beds for us!. The bed you can see is not mine and was NOT occupied during the cruise. I was seeking astronomical delights, whales, islands,  and archaeological wonders, not shipboard hanky-panky! WP_20180304_17_28_48_Pro

One off the ‘bucket list’ or ‘Seeking  the Northern Lights’

One off the ‘bucket list’ or ‘Seeking the Northern Lights’

The North Sea, my final frontier: These are the voyages of the Cruise Ship “Magellan”, her 12-day mission to seek out strange islands and exotic civilisations, to enable this writer to boldly go where he has never boldly gone before.
“Oh It was a fine and a pleasant day, out of Tilbury we were bearing”… no it wasn’t it was a grim, wet miserable day, and view over the Essex marshes reminded me of a vision of hell I once had in a dream

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We had just passed through the “Abandon hope all ye who enter here” hall of the Tilbury Cruise Terminal, a vast inhospitable building filled with queues of people handing over passports, tickets and health declarations as we were herded from desk to desk, and finally outside to where the massive ship was waiting

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Too big to show here, wait till we get to the Faroe islands! Here are more views of the dismal drizzly day on the Thames

And my first taste of the ship’s hospitality

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We crowded the buffet, bars and restaurants, waiting for the luggage to be brought to our cabins. No sunning ourselves on the open decks today:
And then the call came, to find the cabin whose number was inscribed on the “Cruise Cards” we had been issued – a sort of maritime ‘Oyster Card.

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The “Sun Deck”, but not today!

Here is an extract from my journal:
“It is a dismal, dull, damp rainswept Sunday afternoon in March, but I am warm and dry in this pleasant cabin watching the South Essex coastline drifting past my window. I have just spent an hour on deck in the steady drizzle, pulling out my camera from under my coat every now and then to ‘snap’ the view of marshes, warehouses, wharfs and cranes, that reminds me so much of a vision of Hell that I saw in a dream. Now I stay below in the warm for the rest of the day. We have been warmly welcomed by countless crew members and put through a serious but cheerful lifeboat drill, learning where our ‘muster stations are, and how to put on our life-jackets. They missed out the walk to the lifeboats, on account of the rain, as many of the passengers did not take notice of the announcement of the drill where it told us to fetch our lifejackets and WARM CLOTHING from our cabins. I was dressed in all my cold weather gear and sweating profusely in the crowded bar while all this went on.”
After this drill, I went back to the cabin, unpacked, read lots of information about my shore excursions and restaurant & table allocation and set out to explore the ship. She is huge! I found 2 posh-looking restaurants and a well-stocked informal buffet, many bars, including an English-style ‘pub’ with real ale on tap, a small shopping mall (far too expensive for my tastes) and a theatre!
This is the cabin

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To your left, the toilet-and-shower “wet room” , to your right, a substantial wardrobe, containing hanging-space, shelves, a safe and two lifejackets. That’s my bed, under the window, about fifteen feet above the waterline.
Towards evening we were far out in the Thames estuary, and I was taking my place
at table 87 in the “Waldorf” restaurant for the early sitting at dinner, among obsequious waiters and a vary mixed group of fellow-passengers, none of whom turned out to the rich bores I had dreaded at all. In fact we all got on very well together.

Dinner being over, I saw the last site of old England, an old wartime anti-aircraft sea-fort, now manned only by birds, hundreds of them.

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And so to…..the theatre, a good band, 4 very good singers and about 12 dancers (they moved too fast and changed costume too often to be counted accurately) put on a variety show which would done credit to the West End!
And then to bed? Not likely! I had bought a special drinks deal (some money up front and all the ‘non-premium’ drinks free) from the cruise line and my mission was to regain what I had spent, by availing myself of the ‘free’ drinks available in the many bars where I met many interesting people.
All the pictures I took that day are available here:

Day 1 pictures
https://www.dropbox.com/sh/oma1vc10p6eg13u/AABDqFPag44b21XDvrzCUZELa?dl=0

Click on the link, or copy this line of gobbledegook and paste it into the “search” box in a browser window and press ‘enter’.