Keeping my head above water

“John kept referencing something called the ‘Downflooding Angle’. I looked up the term in the ‘Code of Federal Regulations’ – a multi-volume compilation of all US rules covering every conceivable industry from education, to energy, to agriculture, to shipping. The ‘Downflooding Angle’ refers to how far you’d have to tip a boat in calm conditions for water to penetrate the boat’s first nonweathertight opening… With a list like that, you couldn’t stop water from getting in. The vessel would never be able to right itself.”

Into the Raging Sea by Rachel Slade
Subtitled: Thirty-three mariners, one megastore and The Sinking of the El Faro

SS El FaroLet me introduce you to ‘Maria’, ‘Irma’, ‘Harvey’, ‘Matthew’, ‘Joaquin’ and ‘Igor’ – all category 4 and 5 tropical hurricanes of the last decade. ‘Florence’ is visiting the west coast of America as we speak.

I love extreme weather … that is, when I’m in my bed cosy and warm.

Last night an early Autumn gale came up and blew eerie groans among the trees outside our window. Reading the newly-published Into the Raging Sea about hurricane ‘Joaquin’ and the sinking of the US cargo ship SS El Faro on 1st October 2015, was about as much reality as I needed. Continue reading Keeping my head above water

Une étape à la fois

“If I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, it stands to reason that I’m going to get there. I’ve begun to think we sit far more than we’re supposed to.” He smiled. “Why else would we have feet?”

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

SleeplessnessTime travel – the stuff of fantasies.

Or nightmares?

If I could go back 300 years, I’d stroll onto a beach, lay out my towel and strip down to my orange bikini. Wide-eyed people would stare, aghast. “I’ve come from 2018,” I’d ‘reassure’ them. “This is modest beachwear in 2018. In fact, on the Costa del Sol they’re not wearing anything!” Continue reading Une étape à la fois

Monastic musings

“There was no doubt about it. Sister Evangelina’s action had been brilliant. A masterstroke. To say that a fart cleared the air may seem a contradiction in terms, but life is full of contradictions.”

Call the Midwife: A True Story of the East End in the 1950’s by Jennifer Worth

Monastic mosaicsHubby: Father Zachariah, I’m taking over my father’s business next year and I wonder if you have any advice for me?

Father Zachariah: There were once three monks. One monk rose early every morning and left the cottage to work in the fields. It was back-breaking work. He only returned home as darkness fell, but he provided all the food and income for the household. The second monk was very ill and spent all day in bed, praying. The third monk remained at the cottage to care for his brother. Which one has done a full day’s work, I ask you? Continue reading Monastic musings

Send in the Clowns

“It is useless to describe the astonishing performances of the acrobats and gymnasts. The turning on ladders, poles, balls, barrels, &c., was executed with wonderful precision. But the principal attraction was the exhibition of the Long Noses, a show to which Europe is as yet a stranger. These noses were made of bamboo, and were five, six, and even ten feet long, some straight, others curved, some ribboned, and some having imitation warts upon them. It was upon these appendages, fixed tightly on their real noses, that they performed their gymnastic exercises.”

Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne

Coated and scarfed, we trooped across the common, crunching leaves under foot. The almost-full moon brightened the autumn sky. Circusy-music drifted towards us on the breeze, promising high-wire tension and hilarity.

Some 35 years ago I’m sure I must have run,  towing one of my parents behind me, across the entire dusty field to the circus entrance, a similar pink ticket stub in my small hand. White horses with plumes, the smell of damp straw, animal cages, waistcoated monkeys and hotdogs – the Boswell Wilkie Circus! Continue reading Send in the Clowns

Building Castles in the Sky

Chutzpa, chutspa, chutzpadik – Pronounced KHOOTS-PAH; rattle that kh around with fervour; rhymes with ‘Foot spa’. Do not pronounce the ch as in ‘choo-choo’ or ‘Chippewa’, but as the German ch in Ach! or the Scottish in ‘loch’. Hebrew: ‘insolence’, ‘audacity’. Gall, brazen nerve, effrontery, incredible ‘guts’; presumption-plus-arrogance such as no other word, and no other language can do justice to.

The Joys of Yiddish By Leo Rosten

Seaside 'cottage' ideasOn Sunday morning I lead prayers at church. It had been an emotionally charged week in London. I dreaded standing in front of the congregation. Over 70 people had recently died in the Grenfell Tower fire not far from where I live, fires raged in Portugal and the news was still full of recent terror attacks.

I now dread my 7am wake-up with BBC Radio 4.

In May I’d readily volunteered to do prayers, but as my turn drew near, I wondered if I really had it in me. What would I say? How would I create the right balance between silence and words? Continue reading Building Castles in the Sky

Finding answers

“Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also the being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.”

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Questions and answersI have always been a questioner.

On family road trips when I was small (smaller), I wrestled with a physics question. Why did the fly which had flown into the open window continue to buzz around against the back windscreen? Why hadn’t it, with the speed of the vehicle, found itself SPLAT on the glass? Kilometres were spent agonising over this problem. Continue reading Finding answers

Plodding along

“Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps on this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time, and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.”

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

London winter sunsets

Oh, Shakespeare! You had me at tomorrow.

You’ve heard me say your first draft has permission to suck.  That’s still true even though our first draft of 2017 has been unexpectedly fractious and gruelling. Call it seasonal affective disorder, call it one problem after another, call it what you like. So far, 2017 is not the post-2016-solve-all that it promised to be (promised as in the promise communicated to me over a glass of Champagne on New Years Eve). Continue reading Plodding along