Longitude 180° E/W

It was my pleasure to be able to cross the 180° W to 180° E line last year (more or less this day), crossing the Pacific Ocean. The feeling of separation, of being thousands of miles from the closest bit of land, was spectacular on its own.

I am not entirely certain what more I can say. For me, this memory is so real I don’t need to use any more words. For anyone reading, these words are mere lines on a screen.

Thinking about it, I can describe a few more things.

One of these would be the sunshine Central Pacific experienced. I never thought it would be like that. I never thought it could be so warm, so calm, so tranquil. But, possibly the name of the ocean is not that wrong even though it can experience horrendous storms. Fernão de Magalhães may have been wrong in the entirety when he named the ocean, but he definitely grasped the occasion of the quiet sea.

The other thing to describe would be the sensation by which the aloneness feels. Sure, I wasn’t actually alone. There were probably about ten to fifteen other people on the vessel I was travelling, but, in general and in the modern world, that is secluded. The closest islands of Alaska and Hawaii were both more than two thousand kilometres away and even so, uninhabited. The closest inhabited place may have been a small town in Alaska.

Added to this distance across the globe I would add the distance above and below. The space above us is forever unlimited, and the space below is normally of no concern to us. Central Pacific in where we were was probably between three and four kilometres deep, and its inhabitants we can only imagine — the last frontier open to us on this globe is the depth of the oceans.

Only water, boundless water, in every direction. What an experience.

The Motivation for Writing

Why does anyone write?

What do they want to express? Who do they want to be? What is it worth writing about publicly?

I’ve had the wish to continue writing actively for a long time — ever since I stopped in 2014 (Goodreads’ reviews don’t count), but I never found the time as it’s so easy to make excuses. And, I think in the time I could have been writing, I was reading. So, perhaps I’ll write better now? Who knows…

But, earlier on this year someone (no disclosure, you know who you are) said that they enjoyed reading what I wrote and asked me whether I was still going at it. The answer, to be accurate, would have been a “no”, but I phrased it as a “maybe” — and it definitely kicked me into motion faster than otherwise. Still, it has taken me two months and 19 days to get this far, but I am here. Which is a start.

What has changed? My (probably) favourite answer to this comes from the film ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ where Salah ad-Din so graciously says “Nothing. Everything” to a different question.

The one thing I have enjoyed writing about in all the time I haven’t made actual blog posts has been books, and my reviews for things on Goodreads have at least kept that alive. I also think it’s quite interesting to see how various people review books, but that’s a topic for another time. I feel that what is worth writing about is the cultures we experience and what the thoughts they bring up in us are. Hence it might entirely be I’ll take a step back over the last three years and look back at some places which come up again and again in my mind.

But, to end where I began, I will answer the question I began this by: I write for myself, but there’s more of a reason to “write out loud” when someone else is also interested in those selfsame thoughts. At least that is how I feel right now. Times change. And yet, the more they change the more they stay the same.

Opinion: On the Prevalence of Nelson

Nelson. He always comes up as the first name, and I don’t think he should. Now, let me say that I am a great admirer of Nelson for the victories he won and for the mindset he carried on (of decisive close combat). ‘Nelson’s Patent Bridge for Boarding First Rates’ is a definitive example of a brilliant mind that adapted to situations in a quick and comprehensive manner. Victories at the Nile, Copenhagen, and Trafalgar are similarly choreographed — any naval lord would have been happy to win them. But it was not anyone who did — it was Horatio Nelson.

And yet that should not blind us to the fact that there were tens of men of similar capacity and capability in the Royal Navy. To name a few Edward Hawke, Richard Howe, John Jervis, George Rodney, James Saurmarez, and Edward Pellew deserve to be ranked in the highest echelons of the serving officers in the late 18th century (and early 19th). If two names were to be picked from the above, then Nelson should be placed in context alongside Richard Howe and John Jervis. Theirs were, after all, the previous victories for Great Britain. Nelson’s victories may have been ‘greater’, but it should also be kept in mind that the Glorious First of June was the greatest victory in nearly a century. Cape St Vincent outdid that in a matter of years. The Nile followed after, and Trafalgar only after that. It was a succession of victories.

It is indeed the type of men that Horatio Nelson served with that allowed his personality to grow into the fighter he became. Thereby, the laurels he won also reflect on the men he served with, and that — if nothing else — is the reason why we should keep those names in mind.

The other angle that the subject is worth looking at is knowing general history. It might be argued that it is best if we know some basics and that Nelson is part of these basics. Though in theory it would be worth agreeing with such an argument, I could also liken it to saying that it is enough to know the Sun exists alongside the Earth. A comparison too extreme? Perhaps. My point is that all knowledge is worthwhile, and to pretend in our daily discourse (which does ever so often touch upon the history of Britain where two names crop up — Nelson and Wellington: and I disagree with both, but the story of Wellington I shall leave for a different time) that they were there alone, giants of men, commanders of legions, is wrong.

Nelson and his achievements are a follow-on to the morale of the sailors from the increased rations & salaries agreed to by Lord Howe, and the victories won in the beginning of the war. Every step builds upon the previous, and we should strain ourselves to realise that it was only a man who died in 1805. He was an admiral and, indeed, a very fine admiral, but his work was carried on as successfully by his colleagues who continued to sail the oceans.

The next time one thinks of Nelson, let that thought be supported by the campaigns and blockades of France enforced by John Jervis, or the Indian Ocean campaigns won by Edward Pellew, or something else entirely. Let us think in systems, for our histories are the product of systems. Nelson is a thought, a single solitary thought. The Royal Navy fighting for twenty years against the French and Spanish is a system. Nelson is a branch in that system, one of many branches. The laurels might well rest on some of the other ones every now and then, for the other heads also deserve them.

Swimming

It is very rarely that I write of sports but that should not be confused with the fact that I don’t think of them. I do admit to being a lazy person all round; the best I can probably imagine from a week of being sportive would be cycling, walking, and swimming. The highlight there being the last word: swimming.

I had the chance yesterday to go and swim for a bit — not too long, for I haven’t swam in ages; and not too far, for I have probably lost out on the skills I once had; but just enough to get myself into the feeling again that swimming is what people are meant to do.

Can one imagine being at sea, with water around you to the horizon in every direction, and all of it unswimmable? And by unswimmable, I mean that, yes, in theory people can swim in it. But it would be rather cold, and against all rules and regulations (which is, I guess, the point for all these rules and regulations).

So, how does a soul satisfy a wish to swim if it cannot be done at sea? Unfortunately, this had to wait for my return to dry land, and my subsequent healing process from a variety of illnesses caused by my own self. That done, off to the pool. And about time!

Unfortunately, the pool wasn’t as deep as it could have been (a measly meter-and-a-half). It wasn’t as cold as it could have been for that feeling of ‘I’m-actually-doing-more-than-just-hovering-in-water’. But it was there. And I don’t think my body minded the warmer water after all that time. For there’s plenty of time in the future for a colder swim that is more sportive in every way. Yesterday, all that mattered was for my body to feel the water and how it moves around a limb in the water.

That sensation, the feeling of a stream of water in water, of a body slithering through water: that is what I’ve been after. And I’m very pleased to have found it again yesterday. I definitely know that the next time is not as far off as this one was from the previous…

Swimming

I haven’t been able or willing or un-lazy enough to post much of late, and I am somewhat sorry about that. I have had a fair few thoughts that probably deserved their time here, but I am sure they’ll visit me again. Until they do, I’d like to say a few words on swimming.

I really like it. I can’t even tell why any more, I always have as far as I can remember and I do hope I always will. It’s not that I am willing to swim anywhere, quite the opposite. But whenever I do decide it is time to go for a swim, there is purpose behind it.

I was remembering the good days back ages ago when I used to go swimming with a friend of mine. That didn’t last very long, probably because we took it up far too late, and there just wasn’t any time left but it was good while it lasted. And I’ve been back to that pool once after, which was before a rather important event and it allowed me to relax and rest.

Because I think that is what swimming does. In a way it allows me to rest. I might go so far as to say that the rest I get is of a better type than the rest I get from sleeping. But maybe I’m trying to delude myself there.

In any case, I want to swim. And I think that at the present, that means I will swim when I see the opportunity to do so. And I might post something again then. But hopefully, also before that time.

At Sea

I didn’t think beforehand how I would respond to being at sea. Now I know that I possibly could not have guessed — for I am not entirely sure even now, and if six weeks cannot tell me something, then how would I be able to guess it beforehand?

I remember asking whether different seas looked different… as in if the colours of the waters change, and if the feeling it gives is different. The answer I got was a ‘no’. I was unsure if to believe the person or not.

Now, weeks later, I can say that he was wrong or he lacked the perception needed. As I have seen them, there is a great difference to the sea depending on which sea one is steaming on. Character, power, emotion — all different. And that is an inherent brilliance.

Life on the Coast

Merede tuules on päikest ja liiva…

I was yesterday surprised when a person I know said that living by the sea had become disappointing/boring for him… and when I managed to think about it for a few seconds, I understood that that might be the only feeling that the average British coastline can give to a person on the average day.  The beaches I’ve been to have both been windy. Well, not both, I did climb down the wonderful hill in Slapton so I could theoretically say that I’ve been to four — Thurlestone/Buckland, Slapton Ley, Hunstanton, and Sea Palling/Happisburgh. Original count gave me three since I considered the Norfolk ones together — they did look rather similar. On all of these counts it was windy — given, Thurlestone was rather warm as well but that only seemed to exacerbate the wind… All of the rest can be summed up as windy and overcast (admittedly, the larger frequency of visits to the Slapton Ley one means that I was there during non-windy times as well).

However, that is nearly irrelevant — just wanted to demonstrate that I know little of the variety most definitely present around here. Nevertheless, I am well acquainted by now with the weather of the finest location in the United Kingdom — an average of two more hours of sunlight per week than the rest of this realm. And, if I picture any beach that I know of in such conditions as that claim suggests, I shudder. Living on one or near one would mean that seeing the sea at its worst is far easier than the opposite.

For some reason, the image of two long seawalls extending far into the sea side-by-side under an overcast — the one where you know that it will rain soon, and it would not surprise you in the least if thunder accompanied the rain — sky… not thoroughly overcast, if you turn around in the end of the seawall and look back at the land, you can see the sun far away. The knowledge remains, it will still rain. The best and worst of a city by the sea.

Added to that the sense of supervision, a look from above at the same place frozen in the darkness of the winter, the sun now in the height of its wintery ascent — the sea glistening under the light, a near-perfection if there can be something like that.

What remains to be described is the third option — a southern sea under a mild breeze that lets you know that the season of monsoons has not yet come or is past already. The sun slowly moving to hide beyond the horizon, with darkness crawling over the setting day. The branches of the palms and tropical trees swinging slowly in that evening wind.

There are other images present as well but I will leave them without a description. I have said what was the important part, and I do believe — the right mind-set will allow even a bleak day by the sea to be better than a fine day away from it. Agree to disagree,..