Sunday, 23 August 2009

Their today's for our tomorrows

Hello and welcome to my blog. If you're a regular, I hope you had a marvellous week. If you're a newcomer, come in and make yourself at home.

It's been another glorious weekend here in the Independant Republic of Shoreham Beach. The sea was exhilarating, and the cloudless sky was the perfect backdrop to the weekend's aerobatics. If you've never been to Shoreham Airshow, go next year. It's a wonderful day out. This year was it's 20th anniversary so the Red Arrows did a quick flypast. Blink and you'd have missed it.

We went on the first day and were thrilled by the pilots' skill, winced at the sound of the fast jets, and were gently reminded of the human cost of aerial warfare. Of the many facts relayed to us, two stood out. World War 1 pilots only had 10 hours training on type before they were sent into battle, (Pilots today need about 50 hours on type just to get a Private Pilots Licence), and the Battle of Britain flypast is treated with great deference. All the aircraft have to be on the ground before it starts; the helicopters turn off their rotors, and the spectators are asked if they would like to stand. No other display has the same type of build-up; not the Blades, the Typhoon or the parachute team.

As we shlepted back to the car park, I was reminded of why we should treat that particular display with such solemnity. A gleaming 4 x 4 was clearing the road behind us. We stood to the side in anticipation of a courtesy car carrying celebrities. A mini-van from The Royal Star and Garter Homes glided past carrying elderly disabled ex-servicemen and women. As I watched them pass I thought, these aren't mere celebrities, these are ordinary people who rose to do extraordinary things. In that brief moment, they reminded me that the airshow is more than a wonderful day out; it's a tribute to those who gave their today's for our tomorrows.

Now, in case you're wondering if I managed to beat Rameses Revenge last week, well I did. It was a hands down victory - not a plea, not even a whisper to go on it. I wish I could claim that my cunning plan had worked, but no, it was down to the crowd of spectators watching the ride and playing, who's going to vomit first/have a fit/get off half way through? All I had to do was join in with my little darlings and let them watch. Words were unnecessary.

Unfortunately, what Rameses Revenge and all his might could not do, the same little darlings could, effortlessly. That gang of tireless, excitable, and determined 4,6 and 9 year olds have done me in. After a week spent visiting Chessington, Legoland and Hampton Court, I have been beaten. No victory wave this week, just a wobbly stagger to the nearest bed and a plea for mercy.

So I'm afraid this spot will be blogless next Sunday as I convalesce, but I promise to return reinvigorated in a fortnight with another post.

Have a great two weeks and see you on the 6th September.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Me v Rameses Revenge

Welcome to my blog. If you're a regular, how you doing? If you're a newcomer, lovely to see you.

Well here in the Independent Republic of.., it's been another lovely week. A couple of dips in the sea and rock-pooling with Friends of Shoreham Beach yesterday. The dead eel and poisonous jelly fish were tremendously popular with the boys. Ugh!

This week we're off to Chessington World of Adventure and, determined not to have a repeat of the Cobra incident,* I decided to do some research.

Bless their hearts, Chessington's website gives a ride guide; mini, junior, family and experienced. Knowing my little darling all too well, I decided to look at the section on completely inappropriate rides for anyone except a lunatic.  It didn't take long to find it. Rameses Revenge. "This monster of a machine turns you upside down and spins you round and round - only to end up in a deadlock upside down, lowering you head first over water fountains... definitely not for the faint hearted." Come again? Which genius at Scary Rides Inc. thought that one up? Bet it wasn't the accountant.

If I was a kid, I'd be heading straight for that ride so I've decided that Rameses Revenge is my enemy, a determined monster that will stop at nothing to attract riders. It'll fail with Tom. He'll need a responsible adult to take him on and I'm ruling myself out, but what of his 6 and 9 year old cousins? These guys have Merlin passes and they can read. Fobbing them off with, "no look it says ten years old" won't wash.

Returning to the Chessington website, I searched under "convincing excuses," and "closed for maintenance." Alas, the cupboard was bare. I broadened my search to Legoland's website, on the basis that they just sounded more sensible. They didn't let me down. Under a description of the Laser Raiders Ride, the lawyers had clearly pinched the pen and run a muck: "not recommended for guests with back and neck problems, heart conditions, high blood pressure, broken limbs, pregnant." But why stop there I thought? Why not help us emotionally blackmailed parents and extend it to cover invisible paper cuts, bruises, inexplicable sneezes, phantom tummy aches, and itchy backs? Surely, that's what they really meant to say about Rameses Revenge, not just "not for the faint hearted?"

I have decided that this is an understandable oversight, and one which I will selflessly correct. When we arrive at Chessington, I will take an inventory of all the illnesses, injuries, old and new, imaginary or real of the 4, 6 and 9 year old. These will be carefully noted and mentally added to the imaginary list of "not recommended if..". When Rameses Revenge beckons and three excited little ones ask breathily "can I? oh please oh please oh please," I will refer to my list, sigh mournfully, and explain that they cannot go on the ride because they had hiccups, an itchy back or a bruised shin, etc. As I steer them towards the nearest ice-cream shop, I shall slowly turn back and give Rameses Revenge a victory wave. Not this time matey!

I'll let you know if it works. See you next Sunday.

*see very first blog. Footnotes to a blog !

Sunday, 9 August 2009

The Minstrel's guitar

Hello and welcome. If you are a regular, I hope you enjoyed last week's "infoview". If you're a newcomer, c'mon in, we'll make space.

Well here in the Independent Republic of.., it's been a glorious weekend. Lots of people lounging on the beach and messing around. A few were put off by the seaweed. Admittedly it was like wading through porridge, but once you were through, the water was great. Come and chill on the shingle.

Having learnt from Paultons Park, we avoided the fast and furious this time, and opted for historic houses. Lots of them in fact, at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum.

"And that will never be," a play by Suzi Hopkins, was being performed the day we went. It was about two women, centuries apart, who put duty before love. The story unfolded as the actors wove their way through the museum. The cast was limited to the dutiful woman; her lover; two village yobs; two children and Minstrel with a guitar.

We adults wanted to see the play, but it was a high risk strategy with our four year-old, after all;

1. Dr Who wasn't in it,
2. nor was a bear, a gruffalo, Sportecus, Boogie Pete etc
3. loos were miles away,
4. 90 minutes running time
5. no interval,
6. we'd run out of sweets.

Throwing caution to the wind, we got tickets and only missed the first couple of scenes trying to persuade our pre-schooler to get down from a tree.

We joined the back of the audience just as a Puritan preacher was trying to persuade his sweetheart to marry him and move to America. Our beloved was gripped. At the end of the scene we moved on at a sedate pace whilst he barged ahead and skipped happily beside the Minstrel. Fantastic, we thought, our gamble had paid off. (Incidentally, she said no).

An hour into the play and it was building to a climax. Imagine; an American arrives in town. He offers to help the schoolmistress carry a pail of water. There's a spark. It's seen by the yobs. They decide to teach him a lesson. They pounce, goading the American until he snaps. There's a fight, two against one. The schoolmistress pleads for calm. The yobs back off, noisily. Then peace. The victims exchange a look. The spark's been ignited. They leave.

The audience is transfixed. Suddenly a clear, high pitched voice pierces the silence,

" I like your guitar," says our pride and joy to the Minstrel.

"Thank you" he replies.

As we cringe, our lad trots merrily after the Minstrel, refusing to leave his side until the final bow.

It was a great day out.

Back to Shoreham Beach, the roadworks are due to start this week. Time to pump up the bike tyres I reckon.

Have a good week and see you next Sunday.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Eyes along the coast

Welcome to my blog. If you're a newcomer, nice to see you. If you're a regular, lovely to have you back.

I've decided to change the format this week and focus completely on one building, the Shoreham watchstation. For those not familiar with the beach, it's at the far end, by the Old Fort.

The building was originally a World War Two searchlight base manned by the Home Guard. In 1958 it unceremoniously 'swapped sides', and became a German look-out post in "Battle of the V1". The film starred a young Christopher Lee immediately prior to his run-away success in horror movies. After that, the building was bricked up. Then in 2008, the National Coastwatch Institution (NCI) started renovation work. Six months later, on 24th October, it opened as a watchstation.

The National Coastwatch Institution grew out of an incident at Bass Point on the Lizard. Two fishermen drowned below a Coastguard visual watchstation which had been closed as part of a rationalisation process. Touched by the loss, local volunteers and fund-raisers restored the watchstation and the National Coastwatch Institution was born. It's a charity with a simple aim; the protection and preservation of life at sea and around the coastline, or "eyes along the coast".

That was back in 1994. Since then, the NCI have opened 44 watchstations. The most recent was at Daddyhole Plain in Torbay in July. Last year they were involved in 703 incidents and will soon have 2,000 volunteers. They work closely with the Coastguard and have assumed an important link in the rescue chain.

We have two NCI watchstations in Sussex, one at Newhaven and one on Shoreham Beach. Our station was involved in the rescue of the Kittiwake as reported in the Shoreham Herald. In brief, the 49ft yacht reported difficulties when attempting passage from Newhaven to Cowes last November. Solent Coastguard tasked the station to keep a watch on the vessel as it waited for the lifeboat. Despite heavy seas and winds gusting at gale force 8, it successfully guided the lifeboat to the stricken vessel, helping to save three lives and the £140,000 yacht.

The watchstation welcomes visitors, so last Friday, I popped in and was greeted by two of it's volunteers, Max Ollerton, Watchman and Joint Deputy Manager, and Keith Ansell, Watchman.

It was a nice day. Swimmers, sailors, and jet-skiers were out and about. Max and Keith took me through their procedures and explained some of the particular problems they had at Shoreham.

In breach of a local by-law, a group of lads were jumping off the Eastern arm of the harbour. Earlier in the day they had been trying to swim from one arm to the other and back again, unperturbed by the commercial shipping lane. Max and Keith contacted Shoreham Port Authority to warn them. Their warning was overheard and as a vessel left the port, it gave a warning blast and the swimmers moved to safety. However, they don't have any means of communication with jet-skis. Whilst I was there, one raced out and back into the harbour whilst the lads swam near the eastern arm. Max explained that jet-skis are a constant threat to swimmers. They zoom into the harbour at five times the speed limit and can suddenly change direction. Most dangerously, they are blinded by their spray. Swimmers can see them, but have no chance of avoiding them.

There are 22 volunteer watchkeepers at Shoreham and between them they keep the station open from 09.00 - 17.00 hrs from Fridays to Mondays. They come from all walks of life and the age ranges from 24-86 years old. The NCI want to open full-time, but to do this they need an additional 20 volunteers. Anyone can volunteer as no experience is necessary. Successful volunteers are fully trained, and sessions are individually tailored to fit around their availability and knowledge.

Shoreham NCI also need donations. Speaking to local groups, attending coffee mornings, legacies and collections raises funds, but they need more and the wish-list is modest:

Flooring for the training room £100
Marine quality blinds to reduce glare £400
Automatic Identification System £400
Radar £1500
Outside walkway

If you'd like to volunteer or donate, please go on the Shoreham NCI website at Otherwise, visit the station. It's open to all, and all are welcome.

My thanks to Max and Keith of the NCI for your time, tea and biscuits.

See you next Sunday.