Letting Go…

IMG_4190I don’t often write about this sort of stuff, but there are no hard and fast rules for this blog so this is about relationships. A lot of my thinking lately has been about the whole process of letting go. Letting go is not about abandonment, nor is it about detachment, it’s simply about connectedness without attachment to outcomes.

My old friend Servan wrote a great blog piece a few months back about what he calls ‘the breath’ of relationships. Servan is one of the most thoughtful people I know and straddles both technological and philosophical spheres in a way that few people do. I don’t think he’s always right but that’s fine. No one ever is. The point is to think.

For some people the point of thinking is to reach a conclusion. (I was recently encouraged to look properly at the Myers Briggs tests for the first time and was intrigued by the split between Perceiving and Judging – between those who like to arrive at a more definite conclusion (judging) and those (like me) who feel that there is no end point. For me things are constantly under review. I proceed on the best available information and accommodate the possibility that my conclusion may need to be revised. I reckon the point is never to stop thinking, nor assessing, though that’s not intended as an excuse not to make a decision

But I digress. Servan’s thoughts are good and I suggest you read what he’s written for yourselves because my interpretation of what he says may not be exactly what he intends.

However if I were to summarise them I reckon his thoughts run along the following lines:

Hard to believe but Servan also creates amazing software...

Hard to believe but Servan also creates amazing software…

What he calls the breath of a relationship is akin to a cycle of birth, growth, plateau, decline and death, but rather than focusing on the big cycle – the beginning, middle and end of relationships in the macro sense – he sees birth, consolidation and death sub-cycles within the life of the relationship.  Unless these are allowed to play themselves out it can kill off the relationship proper.

What he calls the birth phase I think of as essentially a phase involving growth through exploration. It’s the first phase of most new relationships. During this period we experience;

“the fresh and exciting ‘shared’ discovery of new territory through reflection. (By reflection I mean seeing new/deeper aspects of oneself through experience with another who communicates it in some way, often non verbally).”

So yes we are discovering new things about another person but we are also discovering new things about ourselves.  This is one of the most exciting aspects of a new relationship; the possibilities it offers for personal development.

For instance it often prompts us to re-examine our own beliefs, tastes and ways of being and behaving. We might well adopt some of our lover’s beliefs, tastes and ways. It could be as small a thing as liking a turn of phrase they use, or perhaps we discover new writers, music, movie directors and TV shows, take up a new hobby, visit new places.  We can get a fresh perspective on the familiar leading us to appreciate some things more and jettison others as outmoded and redundant.

Quite often we learn from our lover’s habits and behaviour in areas where we feel a lack; so a disorganised person might try to pattern their behaviour on their mate’s organisational skills or someone who feels awkward socially might enjoy evenings in the thick of things with a mate who is socially outgoing and confident and who breaks the ice for them.

We don’t necessarily go for opposites. Indeed we often like the company of people with similar world views or primary modes of interaction. But thereafter we may well seek out people who complement or even, for those who feel a strong lack, ‘complete’ us (though getting too hung up on the notion that we are incomplete of ourselves is very problematic of itself).

This initial phase can be quite intense. It’s very exciting. Sometimes we can get so absorbed in this voyage of discovery that we don’t want it to end so we postpone moving to the consolidation phase, soometimes indefinitely. We perhaps fear that consolidation will turn an exciting, stimulating, freeform relationship into something mundane and humdrum.  And if one cannot embrace the cycle of birth, consolidation, death and rebirth it can indeed become stale.

Then again some people don’t wholly give themselves over to this growth and exploration phase. One never knows where it might lead. There’s the risk that in the process of discovering one might turn up something one doesn’t want to find; something that acts as a dealbreaker, something that casts the hitherto shiny and near perfect relationship in a new light that is not only imperfect but unsustainable.

So there can be a temptation (often born out of fear or the suppressed realisation that there is indeed a problem) not to look to hard nor to explore too much but to rush forward into the consolidation phase where we settle down and find our groove. And if something unwanted pops up its ugly little head it’s just swept away, out of sight.  It’s at this point that people can make premature commitments and promises, start to plan, dream and become attached to outcomes out of a desire to stabilise a situation, at best, whose very joy comes from its unpredictability or, at worst, is inherently unsustainable.

However at some point it’s natural to move forward to consolidation (the emphasis being on finding the point that is natural) – there’s a lull in the discovery, you know one another, you’re ready to explore a new mode of being together, one involving togetherness and mutual support. This period often involves planning. It’s as though ‘we know who we are now so we can start thinking long term’. This is where we set up routines or even set up home together.

However we should be mindful of the fact that commitments and promises are often influenced by social norms. People ask themselves what it is they’re supposed to offer to demonstrate their commitment; it could be a home or financial support. It’s very often fidelity. Indeed fidelity is often demanded as a sign of commitment. For some people they look for even tighter ways to bind themselves to another; marriage or babies. The former is dissolvable, the latter forever ties two people together and even complete absence never breaks that bond. And, yes, there’s often a lot of planning involved. All of this feeds hopes, dreams and expectations.

Now there’s nothing wrong with any of these however fear of losing the relationship often leads people to commit to things they don’t truly want and that in turn leads to dishonesty. In deceiving the other person it allows them to develop hopes, dreams and expectations and that gives them something to lose. Sometimes people won’t admit to their hopes and dreams and expectations. Perhaps they fear their lover won’t share them. Perhaps they sense that the relationship won’t see those fulfilled. So they commit to something else because commitment to something seems better that commitment to nothing. Again a lack of honesty simply prevents the reality of the situation being addressed.

Moreover two people, neither of whom want all of the things they’ve offered and have started to plan around, can often find themselves putting them on the table as a token of commitment and they’re often accepted by the other out of a fear of not appearing committed enough. Thus two people who would be happy without all these promises, plans and commitments, and through fear and lack of honesty, are unwilling to come clean. They manage to entangle themselves in ways neither wants. And now, having something to lose, the focus can shift from the enjoyment of what is to the fear of what might cease to be.

Then we get to the death phase. We’re often very hung up on the death phase because we can’t see past it. Yet it’s because we can’t see past it that it should be embraced because there is often something better on the other side. I’m going to quote Serv here because I like what he says;

“How many drama addictions in relationships are really just about this avoidance [of the possibility of a relationship’s ending], creating an energy dynamic to try and feel more alive, while death is creeping in all the time? If one or both of you are brave enough to consolidate consciously and not avoid the natural time for an ending, then death will come, and it can come strong and unpredictably. This death can be the most transformative and rejuvenating time for a relationship if you make it through, but to make it through you both need to be able to be present with the possibility of a real ending of the whole thing.”

This is what Servan calls ‘the letgo’. For me letting go means the acceptance of the fact that all those hopes, dreams, plans and expectations, and all the modes of being that you and a.n.other have developed for convenience and mutual sustenance could be swept away.

Your plans for a holiday next year; your house you’ve bought together; the fact you take it in turns to cook, clean, shop; your dreams of (or reality of) a child and their need for parenting – all these stand to be transformed or obliterated because the relationship dies. And yet fear of facing up to this possibility prevents us from looking at our relationship(s) properly and that in turn prevents us from addressing its needs.

So people get stuck in the consolidation phase where planning and stability and routine take precedence over growth and development. And yet people continue to grow and develop. But if the framework in which they exist doesn’t change to accommodate that growth and development then, at some point, they find it no longer fits. Thus by clinging too tightly to plans and dreams and promises, and through fear of facing the possibility of an ending to that relationship, we effectively kill it off through avoiding reality and the changes that new reality demands.

For me letting go is partly making peace with the possibility that the fixed points in one’s life and relationships may all dissolve. It’s also acceptance of the fact that hopes, dreams and expectations are all means by which we are seduced into living in the future rather than in the present. The future is illusory until it becomes the present. The present is real.

So by refusing to cling too tight, by accepting that life makes us no promises, we can get enough distance from our circumstances to let our relationships die. That can bring us to an ending.

If the relationship really had run its course then allowing it to die creates the space for new relationships to form and for new personal growth.

If the relationship is fundamentally good (or at least the positives heavily outweigh the negatives) it brings us back, full circle, to the point where we were at the beginning where we encounter that hugely significant someone afresh and so we can be reborn as a couple (or more). Then when the new cycle progresses to consolidation that consolidation is around two people as they are now, not as they were back then, and so when the death phase comes again it can hopefully be navigated once more to bring us once again to rebirth.

Thus rather than there being a single beginning, middle and end to the story of a relationship it can have an extended or even continuous cycle of birth, consolidation, death and rebirth each time accommodating the ‘new’ people within that relationship.

Of course when you’re bound together by economic circumstance and the need to survive this can become very difficult. But putting off change doesn’t make it any less inevitable, only more destructive.

I should add I don’t pretend to have mastered this but I can see how important it is. It forces us to confront reality – reality as it is rather than as we want it to be. And dealing with real life means we’re able to make real rather than false choices – and that can’t be bad.  Letting go of extraneous hopes, dreams and fantasies can allow us to enjoy more fully what actually is – and right now what actually is is pretty damned amazing.

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Comfort food 1: Goat’s Cheese Spaghetti

IMG_4403I have made mistakes in my life. Food mistakes. I’m not proud of them but I guess that’s how we grow as human beings; by ordering the wrong stuff in restaurants and bearing the scars of the trauma as trophies of our survival.

I still remember most of mine.  There was the wood-fired pizza place in Harborne in Birmingham circa 1993 which offered balti pizza as a special.  It was special. In a very bad way. The memory has haunted me for twenty odd years. It was something out of the culinary repertoire of a student who wakes up starving after a 2 day bender to find only a block of cheddar, a frozen pizza base and last night’s curry that his housemates left in the fridge.  The lightbulb goes on over his fuzzy little head and 30 minutes later food hell arrives on a plate, as indeed it did for me. I sent it back.

Then there was the time, about three or four months after I arrived in Malaysia when, still adjusting to my new surroundings, I found myself sledgehammer dazed in the food court of a shopping mall in suburban KL. I simply couldn’t think what to order, there was so much amazing food. So I ordered a baked potato. It was a moment of shame. I really don’t know what came over me.  It was probably a desire for something familiar; familiar and (indubitably) crap.

Then the other week I stopped off in a Thai place in Tooley Street behind London Bridge called Suchard.  The food was about as Thai as the name.  We’d actually been looking for a place round the corner from where my friend worked but couldn’t find it so after 30 or 40 minutes of searching we were just plain hungry.

IMG_4401We should have known just by looking at the menu – it was just too long – bad sign.  But seriously green papaya salad served with rice and with seafood added, the kind of seafood that cheap caterers buy frozen in sacks? I wouldn’t have served it up at home. It wasn’t even cheap.

Sometimes one just wants something easy, comforting and nice.  I guess that’s the definition of comfort food.  Can comfort food be fussy? Perhaps, if you’re a startlet in a Californian teen soap and comfort means whatever you can order by phone in Beverly Hills.

In the hills of the Weald it ain’t like that.  You want it, you cook it. At least I do.

So I thought I’d share a comfort food recipe.  Most of the time that means pasta for me. Carbs are comforting.

This recipe is very simple. It comes courtesy my friend Sophia who first cooked it for me on her boat not many years after my balti pizza hell.  It’s essentially spaghetti and goats cheese. Quantities are per person

90g spaghetti

60g chevre or similar goat’s cheese

2 cloves garlic

15-20g pine nuts (pignoli)

Black pepper

IMG_4405Cook the spaghetti until al dente. Meanwhile peel the garlic, take of the end off and remove any shoot in the middle. Halve and quarter it and put it in a deep frying pan or wok in olive oil. When the garlic has started to brown drop the temperature and add the goat’s cheese.  Try not to let it burn. You want it to melt gently. When it has then add the spaghetti and stir it around the pan so it’s coated with the cheese. Chuck in the chopped pine nuts and fresh ground black pepper and bingo.

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Lawson on Today, an open letter

[To Jamie Angus, Editor, Today]

Dear Jamie

I’m writing with both a political hat on and as a former reporter for the BBC (and indeed we spoke numerous times when I contributed to your programme when I was based in SE Asia).

I have serious issues with Lord Lawson’s appearance on Today yesterday.

I know a ding-dong discussion makes for good radio but I look to Today to be authoritative first and entertaining second.

I’m not alone in feeling it’s highly questionable to put a scientist up against a lobbyist, for that’s, in effect, what Lord Lawson is. Many climate sceptic organisations are funded by vested interests. Research by The Guardian exposed a secret funding network linked to ultra-conservative figures in the US, notably the Koch brothers who have considerable oil industry interests, and Exxon

Lord Lawson’s group refuses to reveal its funding sources, as normally required of charities.

I do not believe that we should treat any science as settled. Indeed all science, including the overwhelming consensus on climate change amongst climate scientists, should be constantly challenged. However one must challenge science with science and Nigel Lawson is not doing that.

I’m not averse to hearing Lord Lawson (even though he plays merry hell with my blood pressure) but put him up against another lobbyist or a politician like Caroline Lucas. Then we know that what we are hearing is two sets of opinions based on a second hand understanding of science (or not). But to put Lawson up against a respected scientist gives his views an inappropriate and indefensible equivalence

Generally I think Today’s editorial line is excellent. (Personally, over Christmas, I would have balanced Polly Harvey’s lovely and challenging programme with something similarly polemical from a different part of the spectrum.)

However in this instance I wonder what the heck happened. I’ve sat in on enough BBC editorial meetings to know that this doesn’t really chime with the corporation’s values.

I can only assume that this was an attempt to provide a sort of balance but it didn’t. If you can’t find a climate-change-sceptic climate scientist then play out a clip of a non-sceptic climate scientist, say you can’t find a countervailing scientific opinion and then set up a disco with two politicos. That’s honest and though I am sure it was not your intention to mislead I don’t think that yesterday’s discussion was honest.

Climate change is way too important to treat in this way as I’m sure pretty much anyone whose home has been flooded lately will agree.

Best regards and with the greatest respect



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The Hydrogen Sonata. Review.

Iain Banks Photo: Tim Duncan

Iain Banks
Photo: Tim Duncan

OK, a book review. Why not.

In my teens I devoured sci-fi; good, bad and indifferent.  I consumed wholesale everything by Isaac Asimov, Harry Harrison, Robert Heinlein, Stanislav Lem, E.C.Tubb (who?) and god only knows how many more, but as I grew older I also grew less tolerant of bad writing and too much sci-fi was simply unchallenging, the characterisation mono-dimensional, the prose turgid.

But for Iain Banks I had all the time in the world.

His death last year at the age of 59 profoundly saddened me.  It cheated me out of the pleasure of seeing a new culture novel on the shelves and thinking ‘joy, another week or two in his company.’

I wasn’t particularly assiduous about keeping my eyes open for new Banks novels. They’d sneak up on me. I’d simply be in a bookshop, look up, and Lo!

And so it was with The Hydrogen Sonata.  Finding it was all the more poignant because I only realised that here was a new Culture novel late last year, months after his death in June.  It was like a Christmas present from the hereafter.

The only other series that I’ve come across that compares with the scope and scale of Banks’s Culture novels is Asimov’s Foundation series and as I read that in my teens I hesitate to elaborate.

The overwhelming presence in the novels is The Culture itself.  It’s a liberal’s dream of the future – a post scarcity civilisation that crosses species boundaries, permissive and tolerant often, it appears, to a fault.  The Culture is in effect the main character, its primary avatars the great (and amusingly named) ships minds, vast and powerful artificial intelligences with quirky personalities of their own. Most are steeped in the values of The Culture, though a few are ‘eccentric’ and deviate from the path.

HydrogenSonataMany of the novels detail encounters between The Culture and non-Culture civilisations, often vicious and petty in comparison with the former’s almost God-like and benevolent power.  But Banks’s greatest challenge is to make the individual biological life forms that he follows stand out against this backdrop. They almost always come close to being overshadowed and out-acted by the setting and the AIs.

This is a particular problem in The Hydrogen Sonata.

The Hydrogen Sonata of the title is an almost unplayable, and equally unlistenable, piece of music that the main biological protagonist, Lieutenant Commander Vyr Cossont, has decided to master before she and her entire species, the humanoid Gzilt, sublime – in other words shed their physical forms and join the great pan-sentient consciousness in another dimension. Cossont is perverse to a fault. She has had another pair of arms added so she can play her instrument, an ‘elevenstring’, which seems to follow her around the cosmos like some sort of musical albatross.

And Cossont does travel. Following an unfortunate incident where the Gzilt inexplicably destroy a visiting ship from another species come to wave them goodbye as they sublime, a number of Culture ship minds decide to find out why and to do that they need Cossont’s help.

The main antagonist is the rather more intriguing Banstegeyn, the Machiavellian prime mover in Gzilt politics is determined that they shouldn’t.

The trouble here, as with many of Banks’s Culture novels, is that the biological characters don’t develop a great deal, nor do they reflect much back at us that tells us anything about ourselves.  It’s hard to get attached to them.

Where Banks excels is in his handling of ideas. This is pure space opera where we track the arc of civilisations from inception to, in this case, sublimination. He has great fun with the Ship Minds – they seem to give him licence to play with near omniscience and omnipotence with a degree of eccentricity and dark humour. The names of his ships tell you a lot, not just about them but about the way Banks handles them.  My favourites from across the series include: No More Mr Nice Guy [Consider Phlebas], Just Read The Instructions [The Player of Games], Size Isn’t Everything [Use of Weapons], Only Slightly Bent, Helpless In The Face Of Your Beauty and Just Another Victim Of The Ambient Morality [all The State of the Art], Zero Gravitas, I Blame My Mother and I Blame Your Mother [all Excession], Charming But Irrational, You May Not Be The Coolest Person Here and Ravished By The Sheer Implausibility Of That Last Statement, [all Look to Windward] and Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints [Surface Detail].

The Hydrogen Sonata has a few more; Refreshingly Unconcerned With the Vulgar Exigencies of Veracity, Just the Washing Instruction Chip in Life’s Rich Tapestry and Passing By And Thought I’d Drop In. However my favourite is the Mistake Not…, always referred to thus in short form until the very end of the book when it explains to a hostile warship that its full name is the Mistake Not My Current State Of Joshing Gentle Peevishness For The Awesome And Terrible Majesty Of The Towering Seas Of Ire That Are Themselves The Milquetoast Shallows Fringing My Vast Oceans Of Wrath.

Personally I reckon space opera works best when we can follow a couple of biological specks dwarfed by the sheer scope and majesty of the backdrop and yet care about them, because we are ourselves biological specks against the endless backdrop of the universe and are of little or no consequence, so much carbon soon to be forgotten. But despite that we care for and love one another and that vast wilderness of existence telescopes into irrelevance as we gaze into the eyes of those we adore (our own in the case of Zaphod Beeblebrox in the Total Perspective Vortex).

Characterisation aside Banks is the master. There’s a real poignancy that his last book is about shedding one’s physical form and one’s spirit moving on. It’s almost like a farewell. So farewell Iain Banks. We had fun. You were one of the good guys. I’d have liked to have told you how much I love your writing and how much I miss you. Hopefully, wherever you are, you have access to the internet.


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The Third Best Fish and Chips in Britain

IMG_4337What is it with fish and chips?

It’s quite telling what our national dish says about us. It’s not peasant cooking like the best Italian food, or courtly like French haut cuisine, it’s a staple of the urban working class, a remnant of industrialisation.

We’ve forgotten what happened to the landless two, two and a half centuries ago, separated from the land by the enclosures, the legalised theft of the common land by the rich and those with friends in parliament.

“They drove them from the skirts of commons, downs and forests,” wrote William Cobbett at the tail end of the great age of enclosure. “They took away their cows, pigs, geese, fowls, bees and gardens.  They crowded them into miserable outskirts of towns and villages, for their children to become ricketty and diseased, confined amongst filth and vermin.  They took from them their best inheritance: sweet air, health and the little liberty they had left.”

It’s generally claimed that the enclosures boosted agricultural production but the figures are only ever for produce that made it to market. The common land had a purpose – it fed those who grazed and farmed it. It was a vital subsidy to the subsistence of the rural poor. And that’s why urbanisation and industrialisation brought with it a terrible fall in life expectancy. People who’d had eggs, meat and vegetables now were put to work in factories and fed tea and bread with a skim of jam.

IMG_4334Fish and chips made their debut together in London in the 1860s courtesy Joseph Malin.  The cooking process was in large measure about convenience; the fish steams inside the batter – it’s a quick way to cook it without ruining it. There are some suggestions that the batter may have originally been tossed away, though as a valuable source of fat and carbohydrates I suspect the less well off the customer the more likely the batter would have been eaten with everything else. It’s remained something of a bellweather for how well people are eating ever since.

And, as with any national dish, passions run high about what makes a particular purveyor stand out.

For all it’s been suggested that fish and chips as been usurped by pizza or burgers or the chicken tikka masala  as our national dish no other single item on our menus is so closely compared.  It’s a little like anything simple and well known; you can judge the quality of a pub or restaurant or takeaway by its fish and chips just as you can judge a guitarist by how they play the blues.

I have a personal favourite; Maggie’s in Hastings and I’ve written about it. However when I saw the results of the latest national fish and chip shop contest and realised that one of the top three is not half an hour’s drive away I couldn’t resist not least because this year’s winner is in Whitby and the second placed restaurant is on Shetland.

IMG_4395Papa’s Barn is on the A20 at Ditton, just West of Maidstone. It has a roadhouse feel to it; bright, clean, a little like a cafeteria, but on a Saturday lunchtime it’s popular and full.

Luca and I didn’t really bother to look across the menu. It’s quite varied but it’s won an award for fish and chips and that’s what we’d gone to check out. Luca had the ‘light option’ – a half portion of chips and a small cod fillet, while I went for the haddock.

I really couldn’t fault it. The chips were perfectly fluffy on the inside and crisp on the outside without being oily. The fish seemed as fresh as any I’ve ever had and the batter wasn’t so heavy that it dominated.

IMG_4348I think I could say with some confidence that I’ve never had better.   At the same time I’m sure that the fish and chips I get at Maggie’s are just as good, and at £6.95 are a good deal cheaper than Papa’s Barn’s at £13.50. And Maggie’s has atmosphere; it’s on the beach in an old fishermen’s shed with Britain’s last beach landed trawler fleet a literal pebble’s throw away on the shingle.  Maggie redecorated a bit but she’s still managed to keep a bit of that faded seaside melancholy about the place, and people there drink mugs of tea and not glasses of wine. Papa’s Barn is a bit clinical, a bit soulless – the staff are welcoming and professional, but at Maggie’s they’re properly matey, in a nice rather than a forced sort of way.

I know one can bang on endlessly about authenticity but the dining experience is rarely just about the food.

Life seems to be the process of compiling memories, treasures of experience, that one can draw on so long as they can be kept alive. It’s why going out for a great meal, somewhere special and in great company, has a value far beyond the experience ‘in the moment’. The food may often memorable of itself, but the memories linger as a totality, a feeling, a warm embrace with the past, a wonderful mix of sensations physical and emotional and not simply of a taste in the mouth. It’s why the setting and the circumstances are as important as the food. The place you’re eating in can’t do much about the company you keep but it does have a role in creating a welcome and ambience.

Maggie’s has its own peculiar romance. OK, it’s more Brief Encounter than À Bout de Souffle, but it does. Papa’s Barn does not.  You’ll eat fish and chips done as well as it’s possible to do, but I came away with a full stomach rather than beautiful memories.

They say, it’s probably tosh, that we chink glasses to engage the fifth sense as well, as taste, touch, sight and smell are already at play.  By the same token when we eat out it’s about the food but it’s about so much more. Maggie’s keeps my trophy whatever the judges of the National Fish and Chip Awards may think.

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The Saxon Shore

IMG_4145It’s been raining like crazy for weeks now.  We’re getting close to forty days and forty nights.  I’m expecting the Ark to swing into view any time now with Mrs. Noah peeking out the window to check whether its time to hang the washing out.

IMG_4147The Rother Valley has been quite severely flooded at times, as has the Medway.  One of my friends has had to move out of their house after the water came in.  That was Christmas Eve. Not great timing. But at least they seem to have been bailed out by the insurers and have landed in a better pad than they’d hoped for while their own dries out.

IMG_4050But the flooding reminded me of something I find fascinating, the changing Sussex coast.  We tend to think that the coast as fairly static but seven hundred years ago the sea came miles inland of where it is now.

Why this was we’re not sure.  Sea levels are probably higher now than in mediaeval and Roman times, but it’s possible that as the glaciers receded that the British Isles rocked – with Scotland rising as the glaciers disappeared and the South falling.  If that sounds incredible it’s worth bearing in mind that geologists trying to model tectonic plate collisions have had good results pushing solids into a layered ‘cake’ of putty and honey.  Under the great weights of the continents the subterranean transition zone acts almost as a semi liquid.  So imagine a brick rocking in a sea of golden syrup.

SE flood 4mAnyway, I digress slightly.  What we do know is that the sea reached up almost as far as Bodiam and that Smallhythe, just outside Tenterden, and now around 10 miles from the sea, was a port.  In Roman times barges used to head upstream to Etchingham to take on loads of iron from the Weald.

The coast was changed irrevocably in the great storm of February 1287, a storm that diverted the course of the Rother from New Romney to Rye, destroyed Old Winchelsea and collapsed the cliff at Hastings, and with it half of Hastings Castle and blocking the entrance to the harbour.  Later that year another great storm, St Lucia’s storm flooded the Netherlands and Northern Germany killing some 60-80,000 people.

Sussex coast flood 4mIn the years that followed Romney Marshes were ‘inned’, reclaimed from the sea.

So to see the Rother Valley under water once more was a little akin to travelling back in time (albeit without being able to place a bet on England to win the 1966 world cup and thus be rich on one’s return).

Rother valley flood 4mOne quirk of the realisation that much of today’s coast was underwater is that it brings into question some of the theories surrounding the Battle of Hastings.  You see, despite their being an abbey built on ‘the site’ there’s no archaeological evidence of a battle having taken place at all on the official location, Senlac Hill.

William is supposed to have landed at Pevensey, but if the higher sea levels were replicated across the Sussex coast, that landing site, Normans Bay, would have been flooded.

pevensey bayMoreover it would call into question the idea that the Normans took the route suggested in the recent Time Team special – up from Hastings and that the battle was fought on the ridge where the current Battle to Hastings road runs.

If Pevensey was the nearest place of note to the landing spot it suggests that the Normans may have landed on the East side of a then flooded Pevensey Bay.  We may have been looking for a battle in all the wrong places for years.

It would seem quite possible, if indeed the nearest landmark to where the Normans landed was the refurbished Roman fortification at Anderitum or Pevensey and managed to get to the area around Battle that they would have approached from the West, perhaps via Ninfield.

OK, lots of people like to speculate about this sort of thing, but our changing coast might provide a few clues.

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The Dark Side of Public Relations


“Yes Hello.  Am I speaking to Mr Jonathan Kent?”

“You are.”
“Mr.Kent, my name is Skylar Dutt and I’m the head of public affairs at the Order of the Sith Lords.  I’m ringing about a piece you wrote a couple of weeks ago.  You happened to mention one of our better known members…”

“Uh huh.”

“A Mr. Darth Vader.  You may recall the piece.”

“Can’t say we’ve actually met, but I have written about him, yes.”
“Indeed. Well I need to tell you that we have some issues with the comments about Mr Vader and we’re going to be seeking a retraction.”

“OK.  I think we’d better start by establishing exactly which comments you feel warrant a retraction.”

“Well you use the phrase in the piece ‘he has all the moral authority of a Darth Vader’.”

“I did.”

“Well Mr Vader, if I may speak frankly, feels somewhat slighted.  Mr Vader is a prominent member of the Sith Order and a respected figure on the Imperial stage. He’s someone with considerable moral authority.”

“Surely that’s a matter of opinion.”

“Well perhaps you could give me an instance where you think that Mr Vader’s moral standing has been compromised.”

“Well, I can’t say I’ve charted every twist and turn of Mr Vader’s career but it has been rather chequered has it not?”

“On the contrary, I’d say he has shown unswerving devotion to the dark side.  Chequered implies he has twisted and turned.  It implies, does it not, a measure of hypocrisy of which Mr Vader is adamant he’s never been guilty.”

“Well forgive my mistake. I was trying to be generous.  So rather than beat around the bush perhaps I should simply mention the torture of Princess Leia and the destruction of her homeword Alderaan.”

“I’m sorry but I fail to see what those incidents have to do with anything.”

“You fail to see what torture and the murder of two billion innocent people have to do with anything?”

“I don’t.  Firstly Princess Leia was in possession of information that would have allowed us to identify the location of a terrorist base in time of war and as such the Empire had every right to use all means at its disposal to obtain that information.  As for Alderaan Mr. Vader was not involved in the decision making process that lead to its destruction.”

“No, he simply stood by and let it happen.”


“And you call that moral?”

“I do.  It’s entirely consistent with Mr Vader’s being a senior figure in the Empire’s high command and a member of the Sith Order.”

“But hardly moral.”

“Yes it is.  You’re imposing your own moral framework on Mr Vader. That implies a fundamental lack of respect for his values and beliefs and consequently we demand a retraction.”

“I have to say that the moral perspective I bring to my judgements are ones that the vast majority of my readers would subscribe to.”

“You act as though all moralities are not equal.”

“They aren’t.”

“And who are you to say that?”

“The guy who wrote the article.”

“I’m sorry but that article caused great offence.”

“Some articles do.”

“So as the guy who wrote the article we’re demanding you print a retraction or an apology.”

“No. Sorry.”

“I must insist.”

“Absolutely not.  Mr. Vader is a murderous psychopath.”

“True, but he is not only a murderous psychopath who is redeemed in the last reel but he is a prominent individual for whom murderous psychopathy is an integral part of his belief system and who has a right to have those beliefs respected.”


“And that’s your final word?”


“There will be consequences….”

“Fine. So sue me.”

“Sue you?” (Evil laugh)  “Mr Kent, very few people with a fleet of death stars at their disposal have much use for lawyers.  Good Day.”



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