Friday, November 30, 2012

Caveat Emptor - The Leica Sniff Test

Well shipmates - 'tis time to keelhaul your dandos, because the Old Grey Mare is a grungin' in the meadow . . 
Yes, it's time to clamber aboard the Happy Shippe FogBlog and set sail on the seas of improbability!
And what a week it's been . . .
Start of week:
Quiet. Too damn quiet. Somethin' was brewin'
Sheephouse clambered up onto the deck shouting,
"It's all about photography!" 
He was clutchin' some sheets of paper, and he'd spilled his lunch all down his shirt, so I thoughts to meself, Oh yes, it's got him bad.
Later in the week:
We's discovered that there was a stowaway on board. 
Firsts I thought it was another cat. 
Mog was acting funny and we chanced to see a slinky figure sulking around the galley. 
But luck was with us and we trapped it with a barrel o' good salt Herring.
'Twas a strange creature - it ate a great mouthful o' Herring, chewed and then spat the whole lot back out on deck, proclaiming,
"Nassty, salty fishes. Not sweet. No. Ruined, ruined!"
and ran off.
We couldn't find hide nor tail o'him, but on Friday we had him.
He must have been powerful hungry, for Matey Mate (the Ship's Mate, believe it or not - what a happy happenstance o' namin' that was for his parents) said we should use some of the remnants of the Ramen disaster from last week, to trap him.
We shoved a bucket of Prawn/Beef/Chicken/Kimchi flavoured noodle-bilge into a quiet corner and stayed on watch. 
It worked.
"Hmmm. Nices wormses. Wormses good. Sso tassty for nice Smeagol. Happy Smeagol. Nice food. Plenty too. Not nassty, like nassty, salty fishes."
He slurped away some more, and spoke some more.
"More than enough here Precious, Plenty for us. 
But we don't like that nassty catses, oh no! 
Not catses. Catses eat fishes. 
Smeagol loves fishes more. 
Nassty catses eat Smeagol's fishes. 
Maybe nassty catses has to go! 
Maybe when it's sleeping Precious. 
Maybe when it's dreaming of mices, we creeps up and throttles it. 
Hmmm, then no more nassty catses"
I'll tell ee mates, that was enough for me. I broke cover with the burlap sack I had, popped it over his head and lashed it tight. 
It was a struggle to get him onto deck, but I managed.
"Threaten my Mog would ye!" I shouted as I held him over the waves.
"No, no, Nice catses, nice catses. Maybe share nice fishes with nice catses!"
I didn't wait to hear any more but pulled off the sack and dropped him over the side, shouting,
"There's plenty o'fish for you in there matey!"
and we sailed on, for it was a strong wind and we was makin' good time. 
I used my spyglass and saw him lithely clamber aboard some flotsam and start sculling off in the opposite direction.
A curious creature and that's no mistake.
Anyway's me hearties, we arrived back in time for Mr.Sheephouse to dash into the printers and set the type and pull a few copies of his broadsheet.
Oh yes, an eventful week and no mistake!


This week's FB is all about photography, which is a relief because I thought I had lost it!
Anyway, I chanced upon a copy of the 1974 Leica Manual in my local Oxfam recently - it was a decent price so I bought it.
If you've never read a copy, I can recommend it! There are lots of different ones out there, but they do seem to be climbing the charts with regard to pricing . . . anyway, in trawling through its pages I encountered a picture of a Japanese gentleman doing something rather extraordinary . . .
Here he is.

"Hmmm - smell like it hasn't been aired in long time."

Curious isn't it.
Reading the text, I discovered that as well as the usual visual and aural inspections that one should normally make when purchasing a new secondhand camera, there was another . . the olfactory test!
Yep - I was a bit astounded, because I have never heard of such a thing. Sniffing a camera? That's a bit, how shall we say . . . deviant, isn't it?

I say I say I say sir. 
Wot 'ave we 'ere.
A little illicit camera sniffing?
Oy say Sir. 
That's illegal 'round these 'ere parts. 
Aven't you read By-law 136, Subsection B, Paragraph 2?
It cleary states:
"Anyone involved in, or indulging in, the nasal inhalation of camera air for such purposes that are outwith the normal olfactory motions of product purchase, will be prosecuted"
In uvver words Sir:
If you are are caught havin' a nifty snortle of your camera, you are deemed to be in breech of said by-law and as such will be asked to face the correct consequences of such actions.
In uvver words Sir:
You're nicked.

Something along those lines.
The only reference to sniffing cameras I can find is more akin to that new car smell thing where people go and luxuriate in acres of tanned leather, so for instance, you unbox your camera and sniff the new smell. Nowhere have a I seen it being an essential part of the used camera buyers armament.
Well folks, here it is, right now. Buying a secondhand camera?
Take the lens off and sniff the bloody thing!
Have a really good snort, savour what you smell and sniff again. **
Well, readers of FB will know that I recently purchased a very nice Leica IIIf RD DA (serial number 72****) - it was made in 1954 and you know what, in the short period of time I have owned it I have become rather attached to it . . wanting to buy it little treats like a case and a new strap and so on. I am glad I didn't though.
Its 3 month guarantee ran out this week, and I thought last weekend, I had better give it a quick going over just to make sure there was nothing untoward that was going to show up (typically) the day after the guarantee ran out. It has had a hazy finder since I bought it, and I accepted what the vendor said about it being a little hazy . . it didn't bother me that much and didn't seem to be too bad. To be fair, he had offered to get it cleaned at a discounted price, but I opted to pay what he was asking with a Russian lens chucked in to the bargain.

Lieca IIIf RD DA RF 'Haze'.
Don't just take such descriptions at face value my friends.

Anyway, in checking it out last weekend I did something I hadn't done originally. I used my small Photon torch to shine a light through from the rear of the camera, through the viewfinder and rangefinder windows, fully expecting them to just be hazy. I donned a pair of reading glasses, because to be honest, working with computer screens all week, my eyes are fast becoming shot. Anyway, what did I see? Hmmm. Curious. Hmmm. Bloody hell! FUNGUS!!
Was I annoyed and upset? YES. How can haze be fungus? Well, it can and was.
And to this I will say: Caveat Emptor.
Check and double check everything. In fact treble check everything.
My brain is funny sometimes. Illogical and then all of a sudden, everything drops into place.
A Japanese man doing something deviant jumped into my head. And so did my own actions when I purchased the camera. I had unmounted the Jupiter 8 lens it was supplied with and my nostrils were tickled with quite a 'musty' smell - you know the sort - it just smelled like it hadn't been aired in a long time. It wasn't too bad, but it was there, and I (in my naivity) just thought it was the smell of a camera that had been unused for a while and that it would dissipate fairly soon. Of course, eventually putting 3 and 3 together I realised that the reason it smelled 'musty', was because there was fungus growing inside the camera.
Re-reading the text of the Leica manual again, sure enough, it clearly stated the very same thing:

"Now a word to those of you who would stick your noses into a Leica. Do it! The telltale odor of mildew or fungus growth is hard to mistake. If you detect it in a used camera it means trouble."

There, writ large in black and white.
Sniff your camera!
Why on earth have I never read this anywhere else?
I have read screeds about buying cameras, and yet this very obvious and seemingly silly piece of advice is missing.
Well, I exhort you now:
Go forth and SNIFF.
I have gone over all my others with a fine tooth comb, however what I am more bothered about is that I have had a vastly infected camera nestling up tight with my (not exactly slight) collection. I have also recently purchased a nicely ancient uncoated 1934 50mm Elmar which has been mounted on the IIIf's body, so I will have to watch that too.
I am rather cheesed off to be honest - the whole thing has been a waste of time and postage and expectation, however the vendor has accepted it back no questions asked and I have scraped together some more money, and hopefully should receive a nice little 1960 Leica M2 soon.
But back to sniffing - it is as basic a check as anything - probably the most basic thing you can do when checking a camera - I exhort you to do it!
If you've read about fungus, you'll know that fungal growth in cameras doesn't just appear overnight - it often takes months and years to establish itself, so it was pretty obviously there when it was described as 'haze'.

The importance of a torch test

Shelob's Lair
Shelob's Lair

Can you spots me in there my Precious?
Nasty smelly caveses - we hates them.

Even innocuous bits inside a camera viewing system can mean trouble

Strangely when viewing normally through the VF and RF windows, this was all just apparent as 'haze', it really was - to my naked eye it looked a bit iffy but nothing drastic - it has taken the power of the mighty Photon II torch to bring it out in its full, nasty glory.
So there you go - Sniff Sniff Sniff.
In the words of me old mate Gollum:

Bests to check your nasty caveses my darlings.
Curse us and crush us - nasty stuffses inside.
Bad surprises for the unwary. Poor Precious, poor Smeagol!
Oh yes.
Goblinses and nassty black beasties and webses
But we're not going back. No. We're not. 
Some nice fishses and cool water away from the burning torchses.
What's it got in its camera Precious?
Not fair.
What's it got in its camera?

If this has interested you at all, I have done a wee squinty pdf of the original article by Norman Goldberg. It is a wise selection of advice, which, whilst Leica oriented, is actually of use to anyone buying a secondhand mechanical camera.
Feel free to download it here
Obviously the Leica Manual is copyrighted material. The publishers were Morgan & Morgan of New York, however in checking around they don't seem to exist any more, also Mr.Norman Goldberg who wrote the piece obviously owned the copyright, however he died in 2006. You can find an intersting article about one of his inventions here
So to conclude and wave goodbye to my IIIf, I thought I would include a photograph from the last film I put through it - Ilford HP5 at EI 320, developed in HC 110 Dilution G for 20 minutes.
I still have the 1934 Elmar lens though (which I purchased from a different vendor) - that I am keeping, and I am trying to negotiate a semi-swap/trade-in for another Leica.
Hopefully this one won't smell musty.

Beyonce And The Imagination Witch

So that is farewell to my 1954 Leica IIIf - a real shame as I don't think I have enjoyed using another camera quite as much. And before you ask, yes I could get the vendor to clean it all up and get it back, but can they really eradicate everything? The seeds of doubt would be sown and would grow into an expensive paranoia, so it has gone out of my life. I hope someone else finds it as nice to use as I did.
As usual, thanks for reading, and God bless.

** Camera Sniffers and Camera Sniffing are ® Sheephouse Inc. 2012

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Time Traveller's Wife

Well, well shipmates, today's empty lunch box of the sucked chicken bones of life is a strange one and that's no mistake.
Mr.Sheephouse has gone all weird on us again.
He took receipt of a shipment of 30,000 packets of dried Ramen (that be the proper term for 'noodles' to you and me matey). He'd bought 'em on the cheap, for about a penny a packet, which is not bad as they're usually about 50p down the Chinese's Supermarket. Though why anyone would ever spend £300 on noodles is beyond me.
Anyways, we accomodated him and had 'em stored in the hold. I didn't tell him of course that the hold had had a bad bilge-leak problem for a number o'weeks now. So to cut a long story short - noodles in damaged packaging, stored in close and damp quarters, with a few inches of rather nasty water swillin' around - doesn't bode well does it?
The first we knew was when the hatches blew off on Wednesday night and the deck was a seethin' with freeze-dried vegetable bits and yards of slippy noodles.
It was like one o' they great Greek tragedies, but real, and frightening.
If you've ever had to hold a ship to its course on a high sea with a deck covered with writhing cables of tasty noodles all a lashin' around and generally giving the impression of being some wrathful entity from the Deep, then you haven't lived!
Mog sorted them out though.
He thought they were eels and laid into them like there was no tomorrow, but he's been a payin' the price since.
Ever see a cat eat 11 miles of Ramen?
Thought not.
He's got a bit of a sore tum.


The other morning, in that time between the fourth blare of the alarm and the time I have to haul my weary bones out of bed, I discovered something.
It was something I have known about for years, so I suppose put like that it was really a rediscovery.I suspect most people have it too (if they are willing, or try hard enough to listen to themselves.)
It's a place of silence and peace.
Somewhere you can quite literally travel time.
Yep - your own Internal Time Machine!
Sounds mad? Well, read-on oh scoffer at interesting phenomena . . . .
My wife was quietly sleeping beside me.
She was wonderfully warm, and seeing as this is Scotland and Winter is coming, that is very important!
The big alarm had gone off and I'd reached out and switched it off, but the alarm on my watch was going too, so I was neither awake nor asleep.
Moving my hands out from under the quilt (woollen by the way  . . . much nicer than feather!) I put them behind my head in a sort of 'Oh all right, give me a chance . . . just five minutes more' attitude.
I opened my eyes and forced myself to stare into the blackness to try and gee my brain into waking up, but then gave up and closed them again and savoured the complete silence.
I was warm and drowsy and in that bit of my sleepy brain that was awakening I became entirely aware of me -  this great bag of flesh and bones and spirit and humour, and I knew that really, apart from the affects of gravity and the world, I was little changed from another me.
My teenage self.
All those years ago, lying in the same repose, except on my own in my single bed which was in my tiny bedroom, which was in our small cottage in the middle of nowhere.
It was dark outside and apart from the odd honk of geese across the river, the songbirds hadn't made their lazy cold-weather start yet. The A74 rumbled with lorries every now and then, but what did I care, my room was still warm from the heat in the airing cupboard at the foot of my bed and everything was relatively cosy.
My cat, Cookie, was sleeping on some blankets on the large shelf in the top of my built-in wardrobe.
I didn't need to imagine the purple nylon carpet or lime green walls (honest), or my Brentford Nylons hollow-fibre quilt and the proper Eiderdown (which I preferred) and the pale cream, pink edged, blankets or yellow cotton sheets.
I didn't need to imagine the small hallway, kitchen to the left, bathroom to the right, and just around the corner, Mum and Dad's room, where they were both still warm and alive and sleeping comfortably. And there, outside, the wide open silence surrounding our cottage, and the light snow that was starting to be the harbinger of that Winter of 1978.
There was no need to imagine them, because they were real and I was there.
It was a strange place to be, because I was me, now, and I knew obviously that people cannot time travel physically.
Yet there, lost in time, I was.
It was totally palpable; the feel of the nylon of the quilt; the feel of the satin of the Eiderdown; the soft roughness of blankets that had had a lifetime of washing and flapping on the line.
Everything was real. So real I didn't need to think about it.
I knew the position of my bed; of how to move around in the pitch black of a country night.
I knew the feel of the carpet, and the sound of my door where it stuck slightly at the top, and could sense Cookie's quiet cat-drowse and the slumbering embers in the multi-fuel boiler in the kitchen.
The quiet flow of icy waters in the river at the bottom of the bank.
I didn't need to worry about my mortgage because I didn't have one and didn't even realise that such things really existed.
Nor did I need to worry about where the food was coming from, because we went out and got it every week, though I did worry about how I could afford to buy the things I really wanted, like a new guitar, but then again, I'd never had any money, so what was new!
I didn't need to imagine all my hopes and aspirations and how school was a pain but also a laugh; things were changing rapidly and I wasn't keen on the fact that guitar playing skill was largely being ignored by the nouveau punks there.

(I'd been playing for nearly five years and Andy Summers was my new hero [after Mick Ralphs and Jeff Beck] but no one wanted to hear about someone who could play (remember this was nearly a full year before The Police started to become massive. Oh, and my first electric guitar? Well I am proud to say that I shared the most shite plank of plywood ever made (a Vox Clubman II) with a certain well-known player and superb guitarist - Mr.Gary Moore. I loved it, even though the action was more akin to trying to press the top row of fence wire down to the ground. The best thing about it was the pickups, which were wax-potted Vox single coils. I remember Gary once said that its total awfulness just made him want to be a better player - that struggle against adversity and all that.)

Anyway, my guitar was hanging on the wall behind me, along with my Epiphone acoustic and old and battered classical, and they were there!
I was looking forward to getting up and having some toast and a stiff Camp Coffee (no, not a "Oo-ee Ducky! Coffee?") Camp is a cooking coffee and all we could afford. Mum and Dad preferred tea, so I got Camp. I was a teenager. I drank coffee when I could. My Camp coffee days probably explain my two-spooners these days)

A Cup Of Camp Please.
Make it as per the instructions but with cold milk instead of water - delicious.

It was cold outside too. I could smell it. 
Other minutai of my life started to come into my head:
What was I going to get for Christmas?
When were we going to go to Dumfries again so that I could press my nose up against the (three!) music shop windows and oggle the amplifiers?
When was the next issue of 'Beat Instrumental' magazine coming out?
Was that really a pair of Sea Trout I had seen rising or where they Salmon?
Just everyday stuff to me then, but as real as the soft breathing of my wife.
I found myself thinking about my previous night's walk: straight off the school bus; "Hi" to Mum and Dad; downing a Camp made with just milk and a couple of digestives, and out into the twilight to walk, stumble-free, along my riverbank. Avoiding the heavily overgrown bit, I'd moved up onto the tops along the field for a bit, and I had been stunned by the quiet pattering of two hedgehogs as they beat down a circle following each other in the grass, obviously in preparation for mating.
I thought about the birds coming to roost in the floodbank field, and the fish tirelessly making their way upstream to death.
And almost above all else, I thought about how I was really quite lonely - just me and the twilight and the river and the music in my head. All the other teenagers who might well have been friends were tucked up in their cosy worlds spread across the farmhouses and cottages and villages that was my 1978 world.
If the me now, could have somehow got back to the me then, I would have said, 'Mate - be more gregarious - people actually don't give a stuff. They're probably more afraid of the world than you are.'
But I couldn't. 
And the river carried on flowing and the wind blew the trees, and the dark seed of the solitude of my walk in that early Winter's gloaming entered my soul.
And with that, my wife stirred and asked was I getting up, and my body fell back into the now:
Christmas coming (again).
Worrying about how the hell we are going to get the 50 feet high guttering fixed on our building.
Worrying and annoyed by the fact that my new (old) Leica appears to have a finder stuffed with fungus.
Worrying about the Councils attempts to tart up the Western cemetery when all it really needs is to be left quietly alone.
Deeply worried about how my son will do in his Highers, and especially how he seems to regard English as an aside when he lives in a house surrounded by language.
Worrying about the cost of living and how my old-person future is entirely unsupported by anything other than the State pension.
And you know what, somehow, just as I was about to finally crawl out of bed, my 17 year-old self came, and put his arms 'round my shoulders and I felt that seed of solitude still within me, but changed and grown into a yearning.
To go back - to return to the countryside again.
Some day. And soon.
And I knew that together, somehow, him and me, and us, will get there.
And then I got up, for the day was upon me.


Well, this wouldn't be FB without photography, and it has been sorely missing this past few weeks, so, with the magic of the image, I can do my own bit of Time Travel!
The first photograph was made on the family Instamatic in the Winter of 1978. Just the time I have been talking about. Hard to imagine being a teenager and growing in such a wild and lonely setting, but I did and I loved it.
It is the view from our garden by the way and I love the way that the Ektachrome and the light have made such a beautiful painterly job of the Wamphray hills. The large field you see beyond the foreground trees was a roosting place for migrating Geese. You could literally count on thousands landing during Autumn and early Winter - they made a hell of a noise.

Winter View 1978

And this is a photograph of now (2012). 
That's me, with the Leica reflected in a window. 
Unfortunately it is like a car-crash of obvious statements. 
There's me, being true to myself and photographing because I love doing it, and there is the urban scene, which if I am being honest with myself, I don't like. 
As I have said before, I am a country boy
Why am I in a city?

Self Now 2012

So that's it - as usual, God bless and thanks for reading.
Stay dry and watch out for damaged packets of Ramen.
Time Travel?
Try it . . you might just like it!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Smash The Radio, Smash The Watch

Mornin' Mateys.
Well, another week done and nearer to death . . that's what me old cook Stumpy Jones used to say before the accident.
And what a week again - Sheephouse has been reminiscing remminis remmemberi thinking about days of yore.
Days when the sun shone and his Dad took him to the library.
Days when he would escape to the furthest corner of his imagination.
He was lucky. A loving parent is a great thing.
Me and Mog totted up our formative years and realised there wasn't a lot of it about.
I never knew my Ma, but I was raised proper, and in the correct fashion: below decks, swabbing. A cuddle would have been nice sometimes though, but all we's had, us deck hands, were our blankets and maybe a lucky charm and the knowledge that there'd always be someone standing up for you.
Mog too, never knew no one.
He said the first he knew of it, was the sack filling with water and a mad scramble of claws and yowls and all of him and the other kits escaping and scattering.
Must have been tough times.
But he made it.
And I knows that I could never deny him a warm place in the sun and some freshly boiled chicken.
He's like a son to me is that cat.


Regular readers of FB (are there any apart from the ones I know about?) might not know that I have a secret passion.
Well it isn't really secret, but it is a passion, although these days one which needs much decision before indulging in.
There, I've made that sound intriguing haven't I.
It isn't really as strange as all that though, but I do indulge myself on a regular basis if only on a 'just in case' basis.
And what is this thing which has got you all intrigued?
Quite simple really. And innocent.
Secondhand BOOKS.
I really love them.
But I think, apart from the actual process of finding something I've been looking for for years at a reasonable price and carrying it home, what I enjoy most is the actual emporium.
The secondhand bookshop (or SHB from now on) is a treasure trove of all things. It carries the trite, the populist, the specialist, the arcane, the downright bizarre; treasures from lost childhoods, rare and loved editions, hardbacks, paperbacks, treatise, pamphlets, magazines, you name it and if it can be read, some little SHB somewhere will have it out on display, or even, if you ask them nicely, in a stock room.
Everywhere I have ever been there have been SHBs, and I can guarantee that I have nearly always visited at least one of them.
But, sad to say, the SHB is dying, rapidly and in large numbers.
How can they compete with Charity shops, and Amazon Associate sellers, who sell books for a penny?
Even in Wigtown (Scotland's book town) the signs are apparent, and that is a town dedicated to the secondhand book!
This makes me sad.
I can remember a time in the early 1990's when the town of St. Andrews actually had about 6 SHBs . . . and now? In a town dedicated to learning??
That is 1 SHB.
But there's a Waterstones too, and a dedicated Shelter Book Shop, but that doesn't count. Charity shops are definitely not the emporiums SHBs are and were.
If you have a proper SHB near you, go and buy something from them, in fact, keep going back and buying more. They really need your help.
Anyway, back on with the road tyres and let me take you back further to a very formative time for me. A time well before I even knew that such things as SHBs ever existed.
When I was small (very small) my Father felt very certain that I should be a bit like he was, and end up loving to read.
Dad was a prodigous reader (I once saw him devour James Michener's 'Hawaii' in a number of days during a working week!)
Man he could read quickly, but I think that he too was either unaware of SHBs or, more likely, intent on preserving our families meagre income for really important stuff like food and rent. So, his voracious appetite could only be fed in one way - regular visits to Northolt Library (our local public library).

Northolt Library

And there it is.
I just uploaded this picture from some website, and apparently it has been refurbished now, but this is sort of how it used to look. As far as I can tell, it is little changed from the 1960's, a decade when people actually relied on libraries to improve their brains.
I haven't been there in nearly 40 years, but oh boy I can describe it's layout to you in intimate detail, and could probably get around it in a blindfold test.
The bit you need to concentrate on is that far corner directly ahead of you, for it was there that I discovered two books which were to change my life.
The first is this:

Ged set out into the world on his boat Lookfar in 1968 and I happened to cross his path around 1970.
Rarer than the proverbial Rocking Horse Droppings, this rather nicely conditioned 2nd Edition (1973) Hardback
  was bought from a long closed and much missed SHB, namely Gordon Owen Books

And the second is this:

A Stone Cold Classic - pure unadulterated excitement for the young mind.
I first read it in 1973 and I could have included the covers of any of Mr.Moorcock's
Eternal Champion books, but this is my favourite.

These two books are the keystones in a love of reading which I still have. Because of them I devoured fiction.
And you know what? Certainly in the case of Earthsea, I re-read them every few years.
Mr.Moorcock's book I have re-read a few times as it is always enjoyable, but Ursula's book, though written ostensibly for a 'junior' market, is something far beyond that - it is a book rich with meaning and subtlety. It has repaid me in spades for the effort I put into reading it in the first place.
Decades before Harry Potter, we have, in 'A Wizard Of Earthsea' (1968), a school for wizards, but not only that, in Ged the Wizard we have a character far beyond the current bespectacled wunderkind. Ged is powerful and weak, quietly dominant and at times cowed. He made me realise that people are complex and taught me about death and life, and the fact that the world is a wondrous and complex place. Ged taught about danger, and hope, and companionship, and to question the world whenever possible.
He was everything I (at that tender age of 10 when I first read it) wanted to be. And, due to the little wonder that was Northolt Library, he was mine, for as long as I could renew the book and take it out again . . which I did . . regularly.
I wonder if Ursula's intention when she wrote the book was similar to the subtlety and deep meaning she was magically weaving into her adult Science Fiction like 'City Of Illusions' (1967) and 'The Left Hand Of Darkness' (1969)?
Knowing her writing I would say so.
If you have never delved into her marvellous writing I can wholeheartedly recommend it. *
Mix 'A Wizard Of Earthsea' with an intensely formative period for a young mind and you have influential dynamite!
And that was just one book!
Mr.Moorcock's Corum books had a similar effect. I came at them from having read some of his other Eternal Champion books (could well have been the Hawkmoon books thinking about it), but Corum struck a bell with me. They were startlingly easy to read - half a day was my record - and they fit the mood of the time perfectly.
I will add that before Earthsea I had graduated from Janes' War Manuals (!) to Sax Rhomer's Fu Manchu books (deeply unfashionable even then) and various collections of horror stories resulting in my discovery of Poe and Lovecraft, and all quietly contained within a modest public library that Dad and I visited every couple of weeks.
It was like having a lion on a leash, so, thanks Dad, and thanks also to all the authors I read, because if it hadn't been for them, I wouldn't be the sort of person I am, and also were it not for having had to push myself a little bit to get the most out of their books, I would never have revisited a book I had been given on the occasion of me losing my tonsils:

Much loved and well read - my own copy. I can't read it these days in case it falls apart.
The price on the cover is 8 shillings and 6 pence - 42.5 pence in 2012 money. I can't even buy a tin of beans for that.
The Inscription inside reads: "To Philip, from Ray & Mags. Who needs tonsils anyway"

My sister and her husband gave me my copy of 'The Hobbit' to make up for the loss of those strange bits of flesh, and I dipped into it whilst convalescing, but found it a bit, I don't know, strange. The language was peculiar and the story meandered with this very weird party starting it . . . to be truthful I didn't get on with it.
But hey-ho, a couple of years and some application makes all the difference and at the age of eleven I dipped in, read and then did a full-blown dive!
God, it was like nectar for the soul.
It intrigued and excited and amused and carved deep deep roots with its sheer breadth of history.
It had soul and craft and had a timeline laid deep in the earth of European myth and lore.
It was, in all ways, wonderful.
I read it and re-read it, andre-read it again.
And then I got my hands on Lord Of The Rings (as a Christmas present from my Uncle Joe and Aunty Enid, in 1973, asking for it when they asked was there anything I wanted and being embarassed and asking if it was alright, as the price was a gut-wrenching £2.10!) and things were never the same again.

Thanks to Uncle Joe and Aunty Enid, my 1973 copy of LOTR.
Nearly 40 years of reading for £2.10.
Now that is what I call a bargain

To a young soul, let me say one thing, Lord Of The Rings (if you are so inclined) is such a powerful read that it can really change the way you see things.
In much the same way that Earthsea had made me understand that the world was a far wider place than that cosy world of home life and parents and school, LOTR helped me understand the power of fantasy and good fantastic fiction.
I would comfortably take my place at the back of the 114 bus, from South Ruislip to Harrow and bury my head in wonder, pausing only every now and again to see who got on the bus, and then it was back on with immersion again.
I'd arrive in Harrow transported and dazed, wishing I could be experiencing some of its wonderful adventures myself.
LOTR is a funny book though - it is a Marmite book. There are no unclear grounds, for you either love it or hate it.
As you can see from the state of the above copy, I rather loved mine.
It only bit the dust when I lent it to two friends at college, the terrible Irish twosome, Henry and Robin (Catholic and Protestant respectively, Dublin and Derry respectively . . . inseperable) and even now I can hear Robin saying, 'Ar shut it, yer fecker' and Henry rolling his eyes.
Robin is the only person I have ever know who did not recognise the smell of his own vomit.
Brief aside: in our flat we had a communal kitchen; there were 8 of us lads away from home, and it was rather Young Ones-ish if you know what I mean.
Robin and Henry had headed out for an evening's recreation, rolled back at about 2AM on a Sunday morning and Henry had slumped off to bed, whilst Robin, gone beyond belief, vomited all over the kitchen table.
I, being my usual early riser, had come through, made a pot of tea and wondered what the hell the smell was, and obviously discovered the mess. I'd exited the room very quickly.
Des, had come in later and had a similar reaction, however he covered the vomit up with a newspaper.
The kitchen was like a dust bowl for the rest of the morning - no one went in there, until Robin got up in the early afternoon, strolled through, made himself some tea and sat at the table reading said newspaper.
In his own words:
'I just thought someone had spilled a feckin' pan.'
Oh yes the delights . .
Anyway, digression aside, back to LOTR **. I have read said book about 30 times in my life, and I have to admit to enjoying it every single time. This being said, The Hobbit has been read a similar number of times, and Earthsea I would say certainly in the 20's, and strangely now, speaking at my advanced age I can honestly say that although LOTR has enough forage for a young mind to enrich itself and lead it on to the wonders of reading (and they are wonders)  I actually view the Earthsea books as, I was going to say superior, but I don't mean that.
I think Ursula's books are of the ilk of Walk Softly And Carry A Big Stick, if that makes sense.
They are, like all her books, quietly powerful.
It is quite an achievement to make a Ten year-old boy's eyes wide with wonder, desperate to carry on reading, and make a grown man weep with the same book. But she has done it.
I could rave on about her knowledge of Chinese philosophy, but she'd probably just tell me to go and stroke Mog and have a cup of tea.
I could tell you about her vast abilities as a crafter of words, but she'd just tell me I have my sentence construction all wrong.
She is a hell of a writer though. As was John Ronald Ruel. As is Mr.Moorcock.


So where is all this raving about influential books leading me?
Well in typical FB fashion, I didn't really know until this morning.
Savvy music readers might well recognise the title of this FB as being from 'The Rhythm Of The Heat' by Peter Gabriel - a curious song, but it just sort of fit the mood I was feeling.
I would like to maybe change those words to Smash The Console, Smash The Phone.
Oh no, here he goes again . . . Another wee/big rant about how the world is turning out, but as I have said before, in the land of FB I am the Grand Vizier, and my word is the LAW.
So . . . . you know what?
No one, and I mean no one, has ever asked the manufacturers of games consoles and their games to be socially accountable for the destruction and damage made to the formative thought processes of a number of generations.
There I've said it. The elephant is in the room.
What am I saying?
Look at the world around you, and I mean really look. What do you see? When was the last time you saw a young person with their head buried in a book? When did you ever hear someone say 'I really like reading'?
It's gone, almost overnight.
Stimulation seems to be the buzzword, from the cradle. 
Children aren't eased into the world gently and with peace and an understanding of the importance of quiet reflection and silence. Almost as soon as they arrive they are assaulted by flashing, beeping, ringing, loud, blaring stimulative toys. And, like Pavlov's Dogs, this seems to my eyes to have produced a conditioning of the autonomic response system of children.
Chimps and children are really good at pushing buttons.
Buttons produce results.
Push button.
Get banana. Get stimulus.
A banana? A noise? A flashing light? For just pushing a button?
If I were a chimp or a child, I'd be having plenty of that.
Button pushing becomes the norm. And it doesn't require such a huge leap of the imagination to see why sitting staring at a screen for hours and days is seen not be anything other than 'OK'.
But where does this button pushing get us? A chimp cannot read a line of prose and get excitement (because the line is caught up in a complex tale of adventure); cannot get subterfuge (because the line is a part of a complex plot, that might or might not be what it seems); cannot be moved to understanding something of their own life (because the line is so beautifully crafted that it actually transcends the page and becomes something both deeply moving and insightful), and cannot expand their mind, by using reading to connect disparate parts of their psyche. Similarly if all a child knows is button pushing why would they be expected to pick up a book and try?
In other words, because gaming is probably the number one pastime in the whole world, there is chimpdom in legion; lost generations who think that you really do get something for nothing (or very little).
It's a short circuit to fullfillment.
Push buttons.
Get visual banana, and plot, and instant gratification.
Push another.
Flick through things with your index finger tip.
Get instant stimulation, like a lab rat hard-wired to the electrics.
A banana is a banana, whether it be a 'Call Of Duty' banana or an 'Angry Birds' banana, it's still a banana and mankind is not a chimp, and cannot live on bananas alone.
We need sustenance.
Gaming, especially in the young and forming mind, is a form of mono-sustenance.
It does something to stimulate the senses, but it stunts the imagination because everything is on a plate. There is very little in the way of what-ifs, because it has all been pre-decided down to the nano-level.
Humans are creatures of light and stone and desire and passion. We are the mud-men, cave-dwellers who looked at the stars and dreamt. Our minds are incredible, but we need food for the soul.
A book is soul food my friends.
Reading and learning to understand the human condition is soul food too.
Even the worst fiction might give you some sustenance, but with the greatest fiction your soul is flying.
In some of the poorest parts of the world this is understood, because up until recently there hasn't been the erosion of basic humanistic formative foundations.
Give a child a stick or a piece of wood, or a lump of clay and they can be happy, because that is our way and has been for six hundred thousand-odd years.
You explore the world through play, but that play should be with basic toys that don't produce a Pavlovian response.
In poorer parts of the world there is a hunger for learning and for enriching and improving oneself, simply because they haven't been short-circuited into responding to button pushing; it is understood that the way one improves oneself is with reading.
Reading is as intrinsically a human activity as daubing a wall with your finger dipped in ochre
It was a natural human development of human aspiration - the communication of ideas, of emotion, of love, and truth and lies, of ideas and worlds and inspiration.
Reading is as much us, as we are it, and it gives and gives and gives.
In the case of a book I have loved for forty years, it still gives, like a parent, an unconditional love.
And all it requires of you is a small amount of effort.
But it is effort.
It isn't button pushing.
It is brain work and commitment, and in the young, this can be difficult, because everyone wants an easy life and leans towards laziness, but the sustenance needed to be a rounded human cannot be achieved through the lazy stimulus of simple console game playing - you have to work at it.
Manufacturers and programmers will always say that games require thought and effort, but not really. That is propoganda by another name: 'educational marketing'.
A game cannot educate you properly.
It can hint at things, for instance Alec Turnips has an encyclopeadic knowledge of the layout of Venice thanks to 'Assassins Creed', but it only occupies a set space within his brain.
I would love to see how he would manage down on the ground.
To the sellers of these things though, there is 'educational value' (apparently), however if you've ever watched a child learn how to play a console game you'll know that there is quite a bit of trial and error involved, along with a huge amount of button pushing, and frustration, and brain-numbing repetitiveness.
It isn't learning other than the process of learning how to play the game, and even that is utterly different from learning the likes of say chess.


You know, all this writing here is pure Sheephousian hypothesis.
I would dearly love some academic to look at this and say "By George, I think he has something . . ", but it won't happen.
Anyway, I think I may well have bored you all enough.
I've often said that the world these days is like the difference between getting to your destination on a fast and boring motorway, or going via a circuitous but more interesting route.
I know which I prefer.
Take care, God bless and thanks for reading . . and if you do live near a SHB, go in and say Sheephouse sent you . . and buy something.

* You can buy the first four books in one compendium. The fourth book 'Tehanu' although written some 30 years after the initial printing of the first book, is, in my humble opinion, the greatest fantasy book ever written.

**Sorry Mr.Jackson, but whilst the films were sort of alright, I am not a fan and I am dreading what you are going to do to The Hobbit. With truly great fiction you are always going to come up against a curmudgeonly old git like me who says, that is NOTHING like I have in my head. I think fantastic fiction is the most victimised of all literature when it comes to film adaptations. How can you know what someone else has imagined, and then how can you homogenise that imagination into something that is acceptable for everyone? You can't do it. Or maybe you can, if you are super careful, but it is truly rare to find such a thing. I can think of a few examples, but you could count them on one hand.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Outside The Office Hangs The Man On The Gibbet

Greetings playmates. well, yet another strange week, but interesting.
We have an old sayin' 'round these parts, and it is part law too:
Never Dip Your Nib In The Office Ink
Meaning don't get your real life involved in your work, or in our case, don't help yourself to any of the cargo.
But we had to.
We couldn't lay into port and we were short rationed.
Mog offered us some of his fermenting Cod, but I've been there before and had to warn everyone. It's no use with an entire crew making the side of your boat look like a sea-cliff, so we had to see what we had below.
We ended up with some very nice Jaspers Cheese, from the Santaroga Valley **. it was curious stuff, but you know what, I think it brought us all closer together.
Mr.Sheephouse had his on some crackers with half a bottle of port.
He vanished for a day or so, and then emerged into the noon sun, waving some scraps of paper, his usually crisp white linen shirt stained with rummelled.
Yes, strange stuff, but it did a power of good.
Even Mog had some spread on a freshly caught Conger.


Let me take you back friends . . . waaaaay back.
Back to a time, some 40 years ago, when people were people.
Where cheese was guaranteed.
Where, looking back from this wonderful viewpoint of the 21st Century, we never had it so good!
Yes, it's the 1970's.
I never ever thought I would say this, but now I can see the '70's as some sort of cultural highpoint. It really is an astonishing thing to say that isn't it, who could have imagined that the Brown Decade could be considered to be anything other than ten years of nonsense.
Of course the nonsense was there, but I am going to be contentious here; rather like there are numerous people who say that "if you can remember the '60's you weren't really there", there are people at large who say the 70's was a time defined by Abigail's Party, Cheesy Pop Music, Flares and Moustaches. A time where every man looked like a catalogue advert, and where every woman drifted around in either a.) dreamy, flowing dresses or b.) platforms and midi-skirts. The men were either Bond or Bowie, Carradine or Travolta, or (ahem) The Fonz; the women either Greer, Twiggy, Farah Fawcett or a 'Dolly Bird'.
Lovely to be able to gather culture together so neatly eh!
Well folks, it was almost nothing like that.
I have a good memory for these things.
The 70's started out in a semi-impoverished state where the greyness of the late 40's and early 50's was still carried over, blended with new found-60's freedom and an unhealthy dose of Americana, and ended in a massive release of youth-inspired energy, which tore down the walls for ever.
It was a time of strikes, factions, civil outrage, injustice and very real violence - you could get your head kicked in pretty much anywhere .
Football violence, racial violence, plain stupidity.
The youth of the day also had a lot to be angry about and they showed it - no wonder - look at the clothes they had to wear!
Ah, clothing, the great leveller - what a joyous subject. Strangely, these days the '70's are a lot less lampooned than they used to be, or should be, but by Jingo . . why?
There were some truly shocking styles, running the gamut from Hippy-inspired Chic, through Droopy Collars and Hipsters, Velveteen, Corduroy, Tanktops, Tesco's PVC Bomber Jackets ('Tesco's Bomber' - always a term of insult on my estate) through to Levi 501's, Doctor Martens, Braces, Sta-Press, Ben Sherman, Brushed Denim, Rayon, Lee Cooper, Brentford Nylons and a healthy dose of design blindness.
Adults started the decade still looking sort of like their Mums and Dads, then had a quick run by Jason King's house for some nice gear and a droopy moustache, and by the end of the decade they were the newly burgeoning Yuppie generation.
Kids wore what they were told to, and it was always awful.
Strangely for me, I escaped a large amount of this 'stylishness' simply because my parents couldn't afford it, so it was Green Flash or Rucanor plimsouls, Levi jeans (cos they lasted longest), Fred Perry polo shirts (ditto) and a hand me down windcheater!

Two Pages From The Oracle.
Mid-1970's Kays Catalogue

Very Typical Indeed. Nice.
Just About Every Girl That Got On The 114 Bus Looked Like This

It was a world away from the now populist cod-70's view based upon the magazines of the time (oh the power of advertising - it was so good, it is now taken as historical accuracy!) and perpetuated and evolved from the 'Yeah Baby' Austen Powers view of the 60's.
Anyway, I have headed off across country again, so let's get back on the main road . . vroom vroom!
In the early '70's my friend Steve and I used to indulge in something which these days would be questionable.
If not downright dangerous.
And frowned upon.
Can you imagine, two twelve year old lads left to their own devices.
What are they going to do?
Yes, you've guessed it . . . head up to London on their own and spend the day wandering around museums!
We had two favourites - the Geology Museum (literally one of the finest and most interesting museums I have ever been in) and the absolute pinnacle, The Imperial War Museum.
(I had been fascinated with all things war from a very early age and it still surprises me that I never joined the Army, but then again all that male bonding stuff was never my scene. I can sort of imagine what it would have been like though, after working for a summer with the Forestry Commission: they were a hard bunch of guys, both drinkers and talkers, but I sort of found my footing and actually the cameraderie they showed towards me is something I have an incredible fondness for.)
Anyway, more digression. The Imperial War Museum (or just IWM from now on) is an incredible place. And it isn't all battles and bombs and tanks and subs either. It has a huge social aspect to it, and I suppose, now, thinking back, this was what I found fascinating.
My mother had been a nurse at Ashridge Hospital dealing with burns victims (one of them a poor RAF pilot with 80% burns); my father an engineer at CAV involved in the manufacture of fuel injection systems for Merlin engines and so on. The roots of my wartime fascination were here, as there were cupboards in our house where there were lots of old looking things: my father's kitbag from when he had initially joined the Royal Artillery (though he was called back as a reserved occupation, being an engineer and all that); an ARP helmet; an ARP medical tin (with instructions!); a Royal Artillery collar badge; a Notts Forest Yeomanry badge; an Australian army hat (with a side that popped up); lots of stuff like that basically.
I suppose rooted in my subconscious were questions like: 
What must it have been like facing down the might of the German Armies?
Dealing with rationing and hardship?
Bombing and bad news?
That next silence after a V1's engine cut out, might well have your name on it.
Anyway, Steve and I used to get the tube and head up to town on a regular basis.
London at the time was nothing like it is now. Yes, it was the hub of the nation. Yes, it was incredibly busy. Yes, it was somewhat daunting. But it was also fascinating and along with that fascination, the museums occupied days for us - they were and still are incredible places.
Forget shopping . . we were teenage boys!
How could we be bored in London when there was all that free entertainment!
We interspersed our museum visits with trips to HMS Belfast, and long walks along the South bank of the river between the Belfast and Tower Bridge.
These days it is unrecognisable. Not that I've been there since the late 1970's, but you see it on TV and in films - changed beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Back then, it was a labyrthine collection of warehouses and wrecked buildings, dirty, tired streets and pends. Evidence of war was still very obvious.
It was littered with small greasy spoons and pubs, bric-a-brac shops and stables, warehouses and manufacturers, occupied by remnants of London's mid-low underclasses: shabby old men and proto-bag ladies; hardened teenagers; neat gentlemen working hard at their trade; workmen in Transit vans going about shady looking business; draymen with horse-drawn drays and cheery road sweepers. Newsagents shops, billowing fag smoke out onto the street, occupied by older ladies and gents of the wartime generation who remembered what it was like to have incendiary bombs raining down on their heads.
The pubs were run down and brown from decades of smoke. Bodies slumped in gutters, not from drugs, but from whisky and rum and beer.
In a word, it had character.
But back to the main meat and potatoes . . . during my first visit to the IWM, I purchased something which I wish I still had . . but it fell apart years ago.
It was a poster, a fairly large one actually, but I loved it, because it said something.
I stuck it on my wall, and absorbed its message, which is a truism more appropriate today than it ever was.

This poster was designed by the cartoonist Kenneth Bird, otherwise known under his pseudonym ‘Fougasse’.
He was the Art Editor for Punch from 1937 – 1948.
Pure genius, and like most of Bird’s propaganda during the Second World War, given to the nation.

If  ever a hammer was used to crack a nut it was the Careless Talk campaign - simply brilliant, managing to get home the importance of wartime secrecy in the very foundations of society, in a funny but utterly memorable way.
They were the work of Kenneth Bird otherwise known as 'Fougasse', a cartoonist and editor for Punch magazine.
They are graphic design heaven, and  I can say that because I trained as one!
To my mind they sum up the war years perfectly. Their clean lines and concise use of words getting a profound message across in just a glance, sending you on your way with a laugh and a smile and a remembered point.
Here are some more for your enjoyment and elightenment:

As you can see, it was an extensive campaign.
Don't you just love how he has managed to incorporate Hitler and Goering into most of the images.
Having heard the phrase 'Walls Have Ears' used frequently during my life I can only concur that it found its way into the national consciousness, which was the intention in the first place.
Incredible the power of good copy isn't it!
So why am I showing you all this stuff from 60 years ago?
Simple really.
The message has never been more necessary!
Far from it for me to tell you what to do, you have to realise one thing, these days, walls really do have ears!
From the inappropriate Facebook comment, to Tweeting about shite that you're unhappy with; from blethering aloud on the bus about just when you are going on holiday, to emailing a friend about just why you hate your boss, it is all out there, and all accessible. From the overheard and misconstrued remark, to the quotation taken out of context, you have to be cautious.
And total, stupid un-cautiousness is an obvious and very real danger these days.
I have sat on buses and heard people saying when they were going away and for how long. I've stood in B&Q and listened whilst a hapless husband has told his wife that the lock they were looking for to replace the broken one wasn't in stock, so did she think they could just shut the door and leave it unlocked!
Were I of a certain frame of mind, I could follow these people and bingo, an easy target for a burglary!
You know all the stories of arrests made because of Facebook comments, of Tweets that have gone awry.
I think people view the digital world we have created as some happy clappy playground, where everything is joy and light, and like a playground, adults will be around to protect you from the dark exterior. This is not the case at all. There are vast numbers of predators out there, both benevolent and malicious.
And they all want one thing. You. Whether it be to protect you from yourself; whether it be to take away someone's (albeit often stupid) freedom of speech. Your money or identity? Your passwords or information?
The wolves are circling and there is little we can do about it.
This Blog will be being registered somewhere.
The thought police will even at this moment be wondering why I recommended the Olympus Trip 35 as the perfect covert camera (my post 'Granny Takes A Trip' is by far my most popular, and I am wondering whether that is due to the fact that it describes the Trip as covert).
In other words we are being monitored, 24/7 as they say in the colloquial. Big Brother is here and now and masquearding as a benevolent Big Brother, working hard to help you live a happy life so that you can keep paying your taxes and knuckling under.
And it is utterly bizarre to me to think how the simple world of my childhood (where two twelve year olds could walk relatively safely around the more down-at-heel parts of Central London) has been so vastly changed.
These days, lone children are viewed with suspicion, and you know what, being suspected and expected of being suspicious can only lead to one thing in a rebellious mind! Rebellion. 
Trust has been replaced with fear. Truth has been replaced with falsehood.
The real guardians are gone and the wolves rule the forests.
The digital plantation owners are the establishment, and you'd better believe that for all the lovely, generous bonhomie, there is a truly serious price to pay.
You are watched and tracked and monitored.
Your phone is as good as a voluntary tracking device.
Every word you type and send out into the world; every unguarded remark.
Your registration with Facebook and Twitter shackles you to machines that crunch everything about you - likes  and dislikes, thoughts, preferences, whereabouts. ***
For all our so-called 'freedom' we are hardly free.
The machine age is here, we are in thrall to it.
Can you imagine?
Mankind without freedom?
Why, that sounds a lot like slavery to me.
Be safe, and be guarded.
Thanks for listening, God bless for reading, and remember, this Sunday, on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, all those men, women and children who gave their lives for something that is fast becoming, in today's upside-down world, an abstract concept.

Walls Have Ears

Friday, November 02, 2012

Stay Glued To Your TV Set

Morning maties. Well today Mr.Sheephouse has depressed the hell out of me.
It's been a long time since we been there, but he says there's trouble afoot in the Doldrums and not even anything can be done about it. This makes me sad, because many's the time we scooted the Goode Shippe FB up into the becalmed waters to lay out a sea anchor and drift with the currents.
But no more.
Some stupid bastarding Cap'n has been emptying his bilge there and the water's gone bad.
Not only gone bad, but gone unusable. At least you can boil bad water. But this new stuff isn't just water - it's mixed with a new sort of bilge and there's no escaping it.
Why? Where's the sense in it?
Me old shipmate Berty McGurty had an adage that I still carries with me:
"Don't shit where you eat."
Common sense really, but there's precious little of it when it comes to the world.
It makes me powerful angry.
There's no thought from some folk.
Neptune rot 'em.


Sorry folks but this week's FB is not at all photographic again. Normal service will be resumed soon, but to be honest I just haven't felt like writing about photography, hence this weeks little diatribe. I suppose that is the nature of blogging really. You can write whatever you like and there is no set agenda, but please be aware that unless you are of sound heart and mind, this FB is going to fill you with despair.
Because what has been actioned can never now be returned to it's original state.
It is a problem so vast that everyone (and by everyone I mean the Governments of the World) tries to ignore it.
There are a lot of concerned individuals out there, but like a lone voice calling for calm at a Nazi rally, there is no one listening. (Even the WWF are simply not addressing it in the way they could - honest, as a supporter I have written to them about it but never received replies.)
But what I am going to tell you about (though surely you must have heard of it) is like a hungry bear outside a Honey Factory. It isn't going to go away. It isn't even going to bother hiding around the corner. Sooner or later when it gets hungry enough it is going to beat down the factory gates and enter and there will be nowhere to hide.
The story starts simply:
Once upon a time someone on a ship carelessly chucked a piece of rubbish overboard.
It can also start with:
Once upon a time someone, somewhere, on a lost highway, threw a piece of packaging out of a window, and the wind and a river took it on a great journey to the sea.
Nothing new in that, the ocean has been the depository for mankind's detritus for centuries, but this wasn't rope or wood or glass, this was plastic.
This little piece of plastic was joined by other debris from everywhere, carried by wind and water and keel and foot: bottles and tyres, floats and fishing nylon, cellophane and wrapping, carrier bags, more bottles, syringes, grommets, washers, bottle caps, bags, beads, toothbrushes, fishing nets, lighters, bags, junk food cartons, more bottles, gloves, toys, shoes, bracelets, razors, condoms, wrappers, bags, polystyrene food cartons, plastic nurdles *, more bottles and larger items too: synthetic rope and plastic barrels, panelling and lost life preservers. Lists of items so vast that even the namer of names in Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea books (Kurremkarmerruk, in case you were wondering) would be hard pressed to keep a count of a tenth of them.
And the sea gathered this mass and moved it and circuited it and worked its magic the way it has always done and the way it will always do: softening them with wave action. And the plastic, responding to this coarse and gentle wooing, did as anything will do; it started to break down, slowly and with time.
Strong UV enbrittled it, so it became less pliable and resilient.
Storms crashed through and with it.
Surges smashed and crushed and weathered and continued the breaking process.
The larger chunks becoming smaller and smaller and smaller still.
The smallest pieces were scooped up by hungry birds, by hungry fish; by whales and turtles and all creatures of the waves.
The pieces that escaped this hungry attack became smaller still so that now they were tiny, and then, through time, tinier still, eventually becoming like plankton.
The source of all life.
Except plankton is a biodegradable organic material.
It is food and fertilizer.
It gives life.
But this was plastic plankton. Man made. Nature-formed.
Plastic plankton that is even now, at this tiny size, becoming ground and pummelled and stressed.
Like stars.
Like sand.
Like atoms.
Until it can become no more.

The obvious face of sea-borne pollution.
Sadly it is mostly nothing like this

And when it can become no more, it settles in vast clouds, like a never-ending drift of silt.
But not real silt, the stuff of stone and sand and mud. This silt has the names of the great plastics manufacturers of the world embedded in its DNA. It is the stuff of bottles and garbage and packaging gathering in the great currents of the world, generated in such mass that you could fill an ocean with it.
And we will continue to make this wunderkind material until the last drop of oil is gone. But then what?
What happens to this layer of plastic silt?
Does it affect all life?
Is there, as I believe will happen, a great big plastic full stop placed on marine life because they cannot separate miniscule plastic from real food, and stomachs and beaks, gills and maws become blocked and unable to function, and the creatures die? And die not just in ones and twos, but in vast uncountable numbers.
And when life in the oceans dies what happens to those oceans?
They die too, because oceans and their creatures are symbiotic relationships.
A dead ocean is a terrible concept.
Everyone knows what stagnant water is like - water that has gone bad because it has lost the ability to be oxygenated.
Can you imagine the Pacific devoid of even the most basic non-bacterial life form?
Dead water. Ocean sized. Vast and stinking with the carcasses of ruin.
How will mankind eat?
What will happen to planetary weather when the driving force of the oceans (the creatures it gave life too) are gone and the ocean can no longer function as a living entity and dies too?
A dead ocean?
Non-regulating, wild and appalling?
Can you imagine?
And thinking further, does the plastic silt become sedimentary? Does mankind (if it somehow survies) in umpteen million years time find thick layers of plastic sediment become stilled and solid and become stone, or oil re-born?
Can you see what I am saying?
When you really start to think about it, this is an environmental disaster of such magnitude that it moves beyond the bounds of the mind, it moves beyond fiction - it is now stomping around the globe in the land of the inconceivable.
And what would happen if the plastic became so small that it was capable of bonding to water molecules and being evaporated from the sea inside them?
Can you imagine that?
Plastic rain on dwindling crops?
Or is it a thought too far?


When I was quite young I loved to pore through my Uncle's National Geographics.
They were a rich snapshot of the world and a fascinating insight into the wonders of life.
But one day I found something that concerned me.
At the time, I loved fish, and I also loved fishing, but what I saw I think put down roots in my mind that have never left me - they changed how I felt about my beloved hobby.
They caused me concern.
The issue I was reading was an old one, from about 1965, and one of the articles was about one of the great American rivers and concerns at the time about environmental pollution.
Anyway there were lots of pictures to accompany the article, but the one that hit home was of a pair of legs, two arms and the most massive ball of fishing line.
The line contained lures and hooks and so on and had been recovered from a pool downstream from a popular fishing beat.
Initially I thought - Gosh, imagine, all that free fishing tackle, but then I realised that the man holding it could barely carry it.
You couldn't see his torso, and you couldn't see his head.
His arms were spread wide to contain this mass.
It was huge.
This is a bad thing, I thought.
It was one of those moments.
And that was then. Early 1970's, and an old article, from when plastics were just coming into their own.
Can you imagine it now?
Nearly 50 years of popular fishing.
All the lead and shot, all the hooks and lures.
And I love, well loved, fishing, so I am not knocking it in the slightest (indeed most fishermen I have met are mostly highly concerned environmentalists) but if that is one small concern (albeit one of the world's most popular hobbies) and doesn't take into account the mass littering of this beautiful planet then what can it be like now?
The rape of the sea is another thing altogether.
Every second of every day, waste is ejected into it, like it was the flushing of a toilet. Chemicals and debris, waste and garbage. Is it any wonder we have one angry planet on our hands?
One broken and lost fishing net at sea is a matter for concern. it is firstly a huge financial loss, but worse still, it is it's own environmental disaster.
Some purse nets are larger than Westminster Cathedral.
Can you imagine one of those loose and lost, with everything that will get stuck in it, as it drifts slowly on a current like an enemy you cannot avoid.

Actually, hold it a second - forget about the animals - what do they matter.
They're a minor concern compared with what is building.
And anyway, they're all going to die.
Nope what is growing and growing has the power to change things forever. And it isn't going away.
Massive quantities of waste plastic are dumped overboard by the worlds navies and commercial shippers every day of the week and no one cares.
Littering goes on in unimaginable quantities and no one thinks.
My friend, Canadian Bob, loves Hawaii, for its whale watching and clear waters and being a good stop-off point for migratory birds, but I don't think he knows that on Kamilo Beach on the South East corner, where few tourists tread there is a layer of plastic (more plastic than sand) over a foot deep.
Gyred and washed up, conveniently, in an out of the way place.
Here's a picture of it:

On Pagan Island (between Hawaii and the Philippines) they have a beach called the shopping beach.

It's a great place. You can pick up pretty much anything you like, very reasonably. Well, free actually.
All detritus.
All dumped with no thought.
And that is just the Pacific.
Plastic debris has been carried and moved everywhere. It is an increasing and insurmountable problem in all the world's oceans.
A man on Radio 4 a couple of years back had written a book about trying to find wilderness in Britain. He said he had walked a large portion of the West Coast of Scotland and there on nearly the Northern-most tip, he found a beach, calf-deep in plastic, carried on the Gulf Stream. And that is Britain. That is one of the wild and unpopulated parts of old Alba
Look to all the nodal points of the world's great currents and you'll find mass.
Surfers and concerned marine types talk about it. But no one listens, simply from the fact that nothing can be done. It is quite simply, the biggest environmental problem the world faces, bigger by far than climate change, because this is not transitory.
I'll liken it to a Big Plastic Tattoo on the world that will never be erased.
But because you cannot see the mass of it, no one seems to  care. Out of sight out of mind.
Concern will only start to occur when it hurts mankind most.
Right in the Fish Supper **.
When the EU bans you from eating Haddock and Cod and Mackerel. When Shrimp and Langoustine are out of bounds. Anchovies on your pizza sir? Sorry. They're banned because they've been found to contain trace micro-plastic.
When seals are washed up with micro-plastic particles suffusing their guts.
When fishing fleets are locked up for good, because the catches are polluted.
Certainly fish stocks might increase, but what good is that when they are inedible.
Can you see how fcecked everything is?
And yet no one listens. And maybe that is because there is nothing that can be done.
Like that fast-approaching train, nothing can stop it and anyway you're bound too tightly to the tracks.
As Jim Morrison said 'my friend, this is the end'.
It might not be the end right now, but it will be.
We are born of the oceans, they drive the world, but hey-ho, they're dying; no blue flag award for a clean beach can do anything about this.
At the end of the day, there is only one thing that rules this world and that is money. The plastics manufacturers are fully geared up to continue manufacturing. It is  BIG business. But it isn't really their fault.
We want our food perfect and in pristine condition.
We want our bottles of pristine water. The manufacturers are just responding to demand.
I don't know about you, but I struggle with my plastics recycling. The City I live in has a great record as being one of the early adopters of pretty much full recycling, and yet plastic . . . it seems to accumulate in massive quantities.
I tried not to buy so much of it, but to be honest it became actually so impossible that I have given up.
It is endemic.
It is epidemic.
Everything has to be protected.
Not prepared to get your cakes in a little cardboard carton?
NO! I want my cakes to be perfect.
Any sliding about within the box is not allowed.
Give me my cakes in individually isolated plastic.
And so on they go.  Demand and supply.
More plastic nurdles shipped and spilled and used.
Day and night.
More packaging and stuff and more and more, until the last drop of oil (remember a finite resource) is gone.
Until the last sea bird dies.
Until the last turtle drowns.
The last fish rises to the surface.
The last whale sinks.
Until the vast expanse of the world's greatest rubbish tip is filled.
Then and only then will the unconcerned consumer and litterer stagger forth from their home or wherever with their starving, dying children in their arms and look around at the plastic world they made.
And it really will be the end.
I used to think that maybe the problem was surmountable. I used to believe that someone somewhere would come up with a solution, but you know what,  I now realise, some 8 or 9 years after reading about it, that it isn't going to go anywhere and thinking logically, there is simply nothing that can be done.
How could we be so stupid.
I know some of the concepts in this piece can seem a bit far-fetched and SF-like, but just because they're not visible and a long way away doesn't mean to say they're not happening.
You just have to apply some lateral thought.
God bless and thanks for reading.
I hope I haven't depressed anyone, but you really do need to know about stuff like this.
The carpet simply isn't big enough to sweep all of this plastic under.

* Nurdles. Basically these are pre-production plastic pellets. They're moved around the world in vast quantities and are to be found in all oceans.
** In Scotland we call Fish and Chips a Fish Supper, just in case you wondered.