September 21, 2016

Blog All Dog-eared Pages: The Last Grain Race by Eric Newby

When I was in Oslo last month for the If I Were the Ocean there was, as you'd expect, much talk of ships and sailing.

One of the conversations I had reminded me of a book I read a few years back, lent to me by my uncle. The Last Grain Race is a wonderfully written account by Eric Newby on what it was like to sign up as an apprentice on one of the last big sailing ships to make a round-the-world cargo trip.

Deciding, two years into his career in advertising at the age of eighteen, that there was more excitement to be had at sea, Newby signed on board with no sea experience, not able to speak Swedish - the language of the ship - and with his first voyage the eight months to Australia and back.

I bought another copy to send on to one of my fellow exhibitors in Oslo, but re-read it again first. There aren't many dog-eared sections, but hopefully they'll give a flavour of the prose in the rest of the book, which I heartily recommend.

Page 70

'Two bells, vessel to port; three bells, vessel ahead; one bell, vessel to starboard,' intoned Tria, very like a great bell himself.

Page 80

All through the night the south-west wind hurled us out into the Atlantic. From aloft came the great roaring sound that I heard for the first time, and will perhaps never hear again, of strong winds in the rigging of a good ship.

[On receiving news]

I decided from the beginning that if there was a wireless then it was only picking up German stations which in 1938 were making the ether hideous on all wavelengths. We were not anxious for news. As time passed, the ship possessed us completely. Our lives were given over to it. A hundred times a day each one of us looked aloft at the towering pyramids of canvas, the beautiful deep curves of the leeches of the sails and the straining sheets of the great courses, listened to the deep hum of the wind up the height of the rigging, the thud and judder of the steering gear as the ship surged along, heard the helmsman striking the bells, signalling a change of watch or a mealtime, establishing a reoutine so strong that the outside world seemed unreal.

Page 119

That night I learned what it meant to take in the outer jib near the end of a sixty-foot steel bowsprit, with no safety netting under it, alternately pointing to the sky and dipping to the tremendous boiling sea. The foot-rope on the weather side was fearfully slippery, the sail a lunatic wet thing. The wire leech of the sail was battering my head and shoulders and the sheet block was lashing about like a great conker on a string and threatening to brain us.

Page 176, preparing the ship for the journey "round the Horn"

The hatches too needed reinforcing. As soon as the last bags had been stowed below at Port Victoria, hatchway beams of seasoned oak were fitted in the grooves in the coamings and heavy 3-inch hatch covers put on top of them. The spaces between the covers were tightly caulked with oakum. Over each hatch two new tarred canvas covers were stretched, cut and sewn by the Sailmaker to fit one on top of the other. These had been secured to the coamings by flexible steel bands, tightly wedged, the wedges being nailed together.

Now the real labour began. On top of the canvas covers great baulks of timber 20 feet long and 4 inches think were laid length-ways; and at right angles to them, across the ship, three heavier pieces 14 feet long and 4 inches thick. The whole lot was lashed down with wire ropes to ringbolts in the hatch coamings and hauled taut with the capstan. Frequently the wire strops broke under the strain, and the work began all over again.

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August 29, 2016

Interesting Things on the Internet: August 29th 2016

  • The Continuing Journey Of A Media Lab: I Went To A Media/Art Lab And All I Got Was This Lousy Tote Bag. "This is the dark matter of a successful lab; its not making it look like a lab, it’s having a diverse mix of people, supporters, technicians, mentors and cooks; it’s having a sensibility of people doing interesting work who can get on with others or disrupt things." Great analysis from Ross. I'm now thinking "the background radiation of the culture" could be my new favourite term. What Ross talks about is something I got from the recent exhibition I did with him in Oslo, and also some of what Laptops and Looms provides.
  • Recovery From Privilege. Useful ways to think about privilege.
  • The War on Cash. Paying by cards is easy, but I don't think we should abandon the anonymity and utility of cash.
  • Now you can feel as awesome at coding as I am ;-)
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August 22, 2016

Interesting Things on the Internet: August 22nd 2016

  • Django Ditto and archiving your stuff. Interesting work (as ever!) from Phil Gyford. I think my bus is travelling in the same direction as his.
  • I Have A Little List. Russell's list of how big, integrated, seamless systems are generally just good ways to waste money and provide a big seamless way to achieve very little. Do less of this, governments, councils and big corps, and more of the sort of approach Phil Gyford is taking in the first case.
  • Why Teach Business to Artists? Not just useful for artists, I really like Whitaker's hierarchy of business concept in there. It feels like DoES Liverpool is running roughly at level 2.0, and looking at ways to poke into level 3. I can see me referring to this in future :-)
  • Hot Wheels road trip. Another superb example of how technology isn't just about efficiency and return-on-investment. Definitely worth watching all of it.
  • The Rozz-Tox Manifesto. "Item 12: Waiting for art talent scouts? There are no art talent scouts. Face it, no one will seek you out. No one gives a shit."
  • Yes, There Is Such a Thing as an ‘Introvert’ Hangover. I don't get the physical symptoms listed here, but can definitely recognise the phenomenon.
  • The sound of Blairite silence. I've not been paying much attention of late to Labour's thrashing, but Paul Mason's analysis is interesting to read.
  • Indy Johar - Democratizing cities. Really good talk from Indy about systems thinking and the challenges facing society.
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August 08, 2016

Interesting Things on the Internet: August 8th 2016

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July 25, 2016

Interesting Things on the Internet: July 25th 2016

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July 18, 2016

Interesting Things on the Internet: July 18th 2016

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July 11, 2016

Interesting Things on the Internet: July 11th 2016

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July 04, 2016

Interesting Things on the Internet: July 4th 2016

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June 17, 2016


This evening I spent a fantastic time at the latest Folken event. It was a great mix of all ages, races, genders having a robust yet civil barney about money, grass-roots organisations, independent businesses and value. It was a panel discussion - of which I was a member - but it was free-flowing between us and the audience, and there was a full-on section in the middle where we didn't get a word in as an impassioned and eloquent debate went on between a few members of the audience.

None of it is at a scale where it will change the world right now, but I came away with a growing sense of a sense of possibility, of a gathering momentum in the city. Groups like DoES Liverpool, Homebaked Anfield, Granby 4 Streets, Friends of the Flyover... with Folken helping to amplify it and providing some of the making connections that I talked about earlier in the year.

Then I got back home and looked at twitter. It wasn't immediately clear what was going on - my feed was a strange mix of travel chaos and talk about an MP. As I worked out what had been going on in the rest of the country, this tweet from my friend Jenny summed things up perfectly:

I've been trying to ignore the referendum debate - I'll be voting, but both sides campaigning seem to be engaged only in scaremongering and negative tactics. Neither side has any view on how voting for them would make things better, just that voting for the opposing side would make things worse. Richard Cable does a good job of explaining what they should have done, but sadly our political class are too busy trying to focus-group their way to clinging to power.

That said, the vote leave campaign is playing a particularly nasty, racist tune. Charlie Stross lays it out better than I can.

That's not the sort of country that I want. I had hoped that we'd muddle through in that seemingly very British way where we don't seem to veer too extremely in any direction, but I'm scared that that won't be the case.

I know that it's hard to remain open and welcoming to others when you're fearful for your job, for getting by; yet I also believe that we need to do just that, in spite of our fears, for the best route to a better society.

I'm not going to cede my country to the nationalist extremists, just as I don't think we should be quitting Europe just because improving it looks like it might be a bit hard.

The world is in a mess, and we need to sort it out. Yet it's not the immigrants, nor those on benefits, who are the cause of the problems. It's the bankers and the elites shuffling things round their tax havens. It's all mis-direction to stop from holding them to account, and now it's resulted in the murder of an innocent woman.

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June 06, 2016

Interesting Things on the Internet: June 6th 2016

  • On Failure. "failure is not good. But failure is okay. And to that point, we need to make failure okay."
  • The CIO Problem, Part 1 (and then Part 2). Lots of wisdom on bringing local council, etc. services into the modern age. One highlight: "[you need to understand that] That’s not innovation. That’s just how tech works today."
  • About the GDS Women’s group. "The Women’s group is for everyone, irrespective of gender, who cares about having an equal and diverse workplace – but that’s not a snappy and concise name for a group. So we're calling it the Women's group." Good to see initiatives like this share what they've tried, and how that's helped.
  • On the Left. Like Tim Bray, I'm not a political expert, but I agree with pretty much all he lays out in that blog post. "I think the “conventional wisdom” which sustains the current finance-centric rentier economy is thought wise by fewer and fewer. I think the path from here to something saner will have messy and ugly parts. But I’m increasingly sure that our current path, as a society and species, is unsustainable."
  • "Lighthouses... just stand there shining." Astounding, touching, harrowing to read letter from a rape victim that she read to her rapist. I long for a culture where this didn't need to exist.
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