Sunday, 9 April 2017

The Last Post - the Brighton Marathon

I began this blog in March 2013, four years ago. The reason I began it was to 'trial' occasional articles that I was writing and submitting to the local Catholic diocesan newspaper, the A&B News. Over time the blog widened into a travelogue and reflections on various subjects.

It was fun and easy to update in the beginning but soon the demands of other (volunteer) jobs began to eat away at my free time and it became a little bit of a chore and, when I had not posted for a week or more, my conscience began to I either lived with it - or began searching for items to write about, rather than report on those naturally-happening ones (and my conscience did not like that either!).

So, this, my 212th post, will probably be my last...and, by the way - I'm now the editor of the A&B News!


Today, 9th April 2017, was the seventh Brighton Marathon, one of the UK's top 12 running events. The 26.2 mile course runs along Brighton seafront for much of the way and it was a perfect day with blue skies, a warm 20+ degrees C temperature and a cooling sea breeze. The local paper reported that there were 12,000 runners taking part.

The men's winner was, for the first time, a Briton, 39 year old Stuart Hawkes, in a time of 02:27:36, while the course record belongs to William Chebor who achieved 02:09:25 in the 2004 event. The women's winner was 37 year old Helen Davies in 02:42:40. 
The event began with a parade of mini cars, several flying balloons and stuffed with child passengers, weaving from side to side as they motored down the course. They were followed by motor cyclists, all leathers and shiny chrome. I was taking photographs on Church Road in Hove and here's a few of them.


Then, after a wait of 15-20 minutes came the runners...


This is absolutely brilliant, a blind runner being accompanied and guided by a sighted runner, a cord's length apart.

By now the runners were coming thick and fast.

This lady was possibly disabled as she was walking (very very quickly), aided by two poles.

The eventual winner, Stuart Hawkes. Given the cameraman on the motor bike in front of him, I guess they knew by that stage that he was the likely winner. 

For many of the runners, their faces told of the effort this was causing them. 

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Old Rocks and Young Campers

It was just after nine in the morning when we arrived at the pier, about one hundred of us, Hong Kong's finest teachers and their families (plus me and G) to spend a day looking at old rocks. Our transport for the day, a blue-hulled two-deck ferry, was waiting for us at Ma Liu Shui Ferry Pier, near the Sai Kung Country Park in Hong Kong's New Territories countryside.

It was a grey morning as we motored out; grey skies with more than a hint of rain, grey seas with barely a ripple, sky and sea merging together, a heavy mist rolling down from the hills.

The silence was broken by the engine's throb and the tour guide on the loudspeaker explaining the lifebelt drill. We passed what looked like dozens of high-rise housing blocks before the engines really opened up, the speed increased and we motored out into the Tolo Channel.

To left and right of us were a series of low-lying humped mountains, ridge after ridge of hills fading into the distance. By now the weather was improving and several parches of blue could be seen among the lowering clouds and it was getting gradually brighter.

Our first stop was at the UNESCO Global Geopark landing at Lai Chi Chong on the north shore of the Sai Kung Peninsula where various igneous and sedimentary rocks were formed about 140 million years ago.

Not knowing what to expect, we stepped off the ferry feeling a bit like explorers...

Our first sight was a local hunter...actually a young lad fishing off the pier who hooked another squid just as we passed. In no time he was surrounded by teachers with smartphone cameras at the ready.

and the squid...

I've caught squid myself and I was happy to see that the lures used in Hong Kong are the exact same kind that we use in Brighton Marina's annual Squid Competition Day.

Then we set off, two-by-two, walking behind the guide along a concrete pathway about five feet wide. In no time we had left the pier and were passing through a mangrove area, where small shrubs and trees grow in the mud and sand in an environment that is up to 100 times saltier than normal - and survive. Here, the mangrove was at the estuary of a fresh water creek where the tides come in twice a day. 

The plants of the mangrove have developed a mechanism to survive, including torpedo-like seed pods that can burrow into the mud flats and establish themselves before the next tide comes in.

Following the path led us through dense tropical vegetation, past streams with crystal-clear water as we continued our quest, on the lookout for old, old rocks (and maybe even dinosaurs?)

but then we passed a campsite....yes, Hong Kong can mix the sublime and the not-so-sublime like no one else...

And then we arrived at the village. At least it looked old (in parts)!

And it also had the smallest Ancestral Hall I've ever seen. (An ancestral hall is a temple dedicated to deified ancestors of a particular clan).

Anyway, I'm happy to report that, before boarding our ferry again we managed to see some really old rocks, about 140 million years old, from the Jurassic Period (and dinosaurs walked the earth during the Late Jurassic Period - but we never saw any during our visit.) 

Back onto the boat, heading north-east up Tolo Channel, we came across a strange scene. The channel, maybe a mile or two wide, had buoys and nets moored from shore to shore with only a small gap in the centre. This was a police trap to deter smugglers from speeding past near the coasts with goods bought in Hong Kong for sale on the mainland (or vice-versa), evading taxes. 


And at the mid-channel end of one of the 'arms' was a floating police station, with police boats moored alongside. Suspected smugglers passing through the narrow channel would be 'invited to help the police with their inquiries.'

Our next stop was further up Tolo Channel, where we stopped close to  the north shore of the Sai Kung Peninsula and trans-shipped into a small white-hulled glass-bottomed boat to view the coral and marine life.

By now stomachs were rumbling and, passing the curiously-but-appropriately named 'coffin' rock...

...we landed at Tap Mun (Grass Island), a picturesque island with a population of about one hundred, not a site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI) like Lai Chi Chong - but very important as the site of our scheduled Restaurant For Lunch (RFL). 

It has a wonderful basic, unpretentious, old-fashioned feel to the place, and is clearly dependent upon fishing, marinculture and tourism for its livelihood (just like my own birthplace, the Island of Skye).

After a decent lunch, eight (or so) dishes, including steamed fish and prawns, we set off to explore the island. 

First stop was the 400-year-old Tin Hau temple. There are over 100 Tin Hau temples in Hong Kong, wholly or partly dedicated to the Chinese Goddess of the Seas, but few are as old as the one on Grass Island, which is a 400-year-old Grade 1 scheduled building.

The temple interior is impressive but it was the roof and interior ceramics and carvings that really caught my attention:

 Our walk round the island continued and we passed through tropical vegetation, spotting a 'false custard apple'...

past an abandoned school, a police station, then upwards until we emerged into a green pastureland at the top of the island that explained the 'Grass Island' name. The view was spectacular and, of course, there was a campsite...

In fact, as we continued our walk around the island, the views were stunning, like something from the south of France or the Californian coast.

And because this is lovely, organised, risk-averse Hong Kong...there were perfect concrete walkways everywhere, well organised campsites, litter bins, shelters and so on.

We passed the so-called Balanced Rock, about twenty feet high, a famous view.

And then it was time for our boat trip home. What a wonderful island this was! No very old rocks or dinosaurs, just spectacular views and some feral cattle that were happy to mingle with the people.

No, the crowds of tourists and campers don't bother us in the least.

On the way back, as the mists descended, we saw in the far distance a white statue of Kuan Yin (Buddhist Goddess of Mercy) that seemed to be floating in the air, something magical to sum up the wonder of the day...