Pusser’s teeth

To Portsmouth to the historic dockyard, for a trip down memory lane and a visit to the new Mary Rose exhibition. Very much worth a trip, not to see the timbers of the ship, which are black, boring, propped up by scaffolding and largely meaningless, but to see the exhibition of what they found preserved in the Solent mud when they dug it up. The Mary Rose sank 470 years ago but the mud has preserved skeletons and the … Continue reading

Dodgy conversions

Another lesson from the Mary Rose. She was built as a lightly-armed vessel to carry troops and served happily in all sorts of weather for thirty years. Then some clever dick thought to arm her with heavy guns. These were installed low down in the ship for stability reasons, requiring gun ports to be cut in the ship’s side. With these shut, the ship was safe to sail. With them open there was a high risk of flooding and free … Continue reading

Mind games

The mind is a funny thing. We may not learn the useful lessons of life, like making sure ships are converted safely, but some things we learn when we are young never leave us. Right next to the Historic Dockyard is Gunwharf Quays, a modern outlet shopping centre where stores for rich people sell clothes only slightly cheaper to poor people. It is built over the site of what used to be HMS Vernon, the Royal Navy’s Mine Countermeasures School. … Continue reading

Mountain misery

I normally write about the sea, and there is enough misery to be had there with migrant boats, piracy and innocent merchant ships being fired on off Libya and Yemen, without dragging misery down from the mountains to bother you. But I thought I would share a terrible example of bungling with you.

Nepal was hit by a powerful earthquake on April 25, killing over 8,200 people and leaving thousands homeless. One valley where I had trekked in the past … Continue reading

Walking ballast

The dead don’t say much but if you take a tour of a cemetery they can tell you a lot. Right by my house is the back entrance to Cathays cemetery in Cardiff, which was built during the Victorian times. That was when Cardiff was getting rich as the world’s leading coal export port. Over two hundred shipowners thrived here and Cardiff sucked in labour, mostly Irish fleeing the famine.

I’ve often walked through the cemetery and nodded my head … Continue reading

Thirsty work

There is a footnote to the Irish cemetery story which tells you something about the way the shipowners who ran Cardiff in those days thought. There are three gates to the cemetery. The main gate feeds to two imposing stone chapels, one for the Church of Wales faithful, the other for the non-conformist faithful, who were duly buried in separate areas, each closer to or further from the pathways according to how much they paid for their plot. But with … Continue reading

Thin blue line

There is a touching faith in the Navy in Britain. You could hear the sighs of relief last week when the government announced that the Navy was dispatching its flagship, HMS Bulwark, to the Mediterranean. There it will apparently solve the refugee crisis. All over the country people felt a surge of pride and relief. Those poor Africans drowning as they tried to reach Europe would now be saved by our boys in blue.

A good piece of political theatre, … Continue reading

Green and garbled

There is an election on in the UK and for perhaps the first time ever it is an election which offers voters a lot of choice. The big parties are not likely to win outright so smaller parties will have real influence. That’s probably a good thing. We can hope for a muddle-along government not too driven by ideology, which is the best kind of government for our developed and stable democracy.  Unfortunately there is one party missing and an … Continue reading

Should we feel sorry for insurers?

One doesn’t like to be rude about insurers. They perform a useful function and anyway, you might need them one day. But I think it is fair to say insurance is not widely regarded as an exciting profession which attracts the most dynamic thinkers. Generally, this can be thought of as a good thing. You pay them a premium, they go out to lunch and if you get into trouble they help you. It’s not rocket science.

Except that apparently … Continue reading

Unite and fight

I’ve always thought that trade unions are a bit like religion. In good times you can’t see the point of either. But when things turn nasty both come in handy. One to help, the other to hold on to.

The ITF offers a particularly noxious blend of unionism and preachy misplaced activism. But it gets some things right. One of those is funding Seafarers’ Rights International. Amongst other things SRI fights against the increasing and unjust criminalisation of seafarers.

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