Saturday, 28 August 2021

the border city

I don’t often visit Carlisle, the largest conurbation in Cumbria and the county’s only city, unless I have an appointment of some kind. That was certainly the case a few days ago, when Paula had a routine medical appointment at the Cumberland Infirmary. We thought that it would be a chance to look around, because I knew that there were one or two places of interest. On our way back to the city centre, the first point of interest that we encountered was a church that appears to function no longer as a place of worship:
We then followed the outside of what remains of the mediƦval city walls:
There were a couple of stone plaques set into the wall, which suggests that these walls were rebuilt at some time in the nineteenth century:
We eventually found a flight of steps that leads to the city’s cathedral. There has been a cathedral on this site since the twelfth century, although I am unable to say how much of the structure that you can see today dates back to this period. The architectural style is Gothic, but when we went inside, I couldn’t help but notice several Romanesque arches at ground level in the area directly beneath the bell tower.

Here are two photos taken inside the cathedral:
The first, taken by Paula, shows the cathedral’s organ, while the second shows the east window. This is what the east window looks like from the outside:
…and these are two other views of the building:
While we were photographing the outside of the building, several people asked us whether we’d seen the policeman. It took us a while to find him, but you can see him in the following photo, a finial on the end of the architrave above the window:
Apparently, this finial commemorates the first policeman ever to lose his life in the line of duty.

All the external shots of the cathedral were taken by Paula.

Having seen everything there is to see in the vicinity of the cathedral, it was time to find somewhere to eat. Paula said that she’d seen some dining places next to ‘the castle’. We’d walked past Carlisle Castle on our way from the bus station to the hospital, and it wasn’t too far away. I didn’t recall seeing anywhere thereabouts to eat, but we headed in that direction anyway. I didn’t realize that when Paula had said ‘the castle’, she was actually referring to the city’s law courts, which are located next to the railway station. You can see the station in the background in the next photo, and you can also see why Paula thought that the law courts were actually a ‘castle’, with their crenellated walls and general quasi-mediƦval appearance:
Meanwhile, we walked through Bitt’s Park, the largest urban park in the city, where I spotted these two mosaic ‘armchairs’:
Finally, on our way back to the city centre, we passed a spectacular mural:
It appears to show a Roman gladiator battling an unspeakable demon, although I do wonder whether it is allegorical, and that what you can see is an ordinary Roman soldier fighting off one of the barbarians that lived to the north and repeatedly raided the area south of the nominal border at the time (Emperor Hadrian had a wall constructed from coast to coast to keep out the aforementioned barbarians).

While I was photographing the mural, a woman walking past said this:

“Brilliant, isn’t it? It was painted by a student at the local art college.”

I couldn’t find a signature on the mural, but I agree with the woman’s assessment. I’ve recorded quite a lot of street art in Hong Kong, but this mural is even more impressive than anything I’ve seen there (cf. Tunnel Vision; Down by the Riverside; Latest News from Ghost Alley #2; Fish out of Water).

And that was our brief tour of Carlisle. We found somewhere for a late lunch, then caught the next bus back to Penrith.

Saturday, 31 July 2021

a fire in the night

There are few words and phrases to which revulsion is an almost instinctive reflex, where the idea behind the word or phrase is so repugnant that the reaction of most people is to avert their eyes and nervously change the subject. Although most concepts are capable of bearing more than one interpretation, of being evaluated from more than one point of view, some ideas are so far beyond the limits of basic human decency that outrage is the only acceptable human response.

Terrorism is one such word. It’s not a word that people want to hear; it’s not an activity that they want to hear about. It’s someone else’s problem. But there is a price to pay for drawing the curtains and pretending that you can shut out the world, because if you don’t understand a problem, then you cannot begin to understand how to solve it.

American presidents, who are in the best position to attempt such a solution, clearly do not try to shut out the world. They don’t need to. They can do very much whatever they want to do. Whatever they want to do in terms of direct action, that is. In terms of action that is designed to achieve a given end, the record is less impressive. The American military juggernaut may have squashed the al-Qaeda training camps and toppled the hated Taliban from power in Afghanistan in 2001, but this has done nothing to weaken support for al-Qaeda by the poor and oppressed throughout the Middle East. How could it? To combat terrorism, you first have to understand why it happens, which American leaders have singularly failed to do. This is not to excuse the use of random violence, in any circumstances. There is no excuse.

That is to say, there is no excuse from the comfort of our middle-class armchairs. But place yourself in the mind of a young Palestinian: late teens; limited education; no job prospects; surrounded by fanatical clerics. The Israeli Army plays its part in moulding the finished product as it brutalizes the populations of the West Bank and Gaza, tearing down the houses of suspected militants, targeting known militants for summary execution, and arresting whomsoever it pleases. The clerics wouldn’t have to try too hard to convince such a young man who their enemy was and—the next logical step—how best to fight back.

Thus far, I’ve not attempted to actually define terrorism. Most people believe that they can recognize the phenomenon when they see it. Surprisingly, however, a definition that satisfies all parties to the debate is more elusive than you might think. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 11th September 2001 were clearly acts of terrorism, but this is an extreme case and so is easy to categorize. However, although terrorism may be easy to recognize in its most extreme manifestations, where the moral imperative behind the action is as abhorrent to the vast majority as the action itself, you will quickly become submerged in a morass of moral relativism and conflicting interpretations of the same event once you move away from the simple distinctions of those extremes.

At the opposite pole to the attacks by al-Qaeda on the United States, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914 by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb nationalist, precipitated the greatest war in the history of the human race to that time and could also be categorized as an act of terrorism, if we take terrorism to include the targeted murder of a public figure by members of a dissident group.

However, if we accept this partial definition, what are we to make of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich by Czech partisans in Prague in 1940? Few would fail to applaud such an action, even though in the event it cost the existence of the village of Lidice and its inhabitants. It is important to see the distinction between these two examples, because it illustrates the definitional quagmire that we are on the point of falling into. It is this: if we applaud the assassination of the Nazi gauleiter, then we are saying in effect that anything is permissible provided that the cause is just. But who defines the justice of a cause? The only moral position that one can take in such a situation is that nothing justifies murder, however acute the grievance, but then you would have to be prepared to die for such a belief. That takes a lot of doing, but as we are all learning to our cost, some are indeed prepared to do precisely that, even if it involves the death of hundreds of innocent bystanders.

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

photographic highlights: 2020–21 (part 2)

Continued from Part 1.

I was walking down the path that connects Tung Kok Wai, one of five walled villages in our neighbourhood, with Sha Tau Kok Road, the only road out of Fanling to the east, when I was startled by an egret that popped up in front of me from the stream about two metres below the path on the right. Egrets are the most common large bird in Hong Kong, and this is a lesser egret, identified by its black beak:
The next photo was taken somewhere in the vicinity of Hok Tau Country Trail #2 and shows a pond heron walking casually down the path:
Grass flowers are a rarity in England, where grass is either mown, scythed down or eaten long before it has a chance to flower. However, I often see entire fields of grass flowers here in Hong Kong, as in this photo, also taken in the vicinity of Hok Tau Country Trail #2:
I can tell when the next photo was taken by its subject. Small kumquat bushes in pots are very popular at Chinese New Year, as a symbol of prosperity, and this nursery on Hok Tau Road is getting ready to ship out its latest crop:
At the start of the path from Chi Wo Road to the village of Shui Mei, there is what would once have been a shipping container with eccentric artwork on two sides. I’ll leave you, the reader, to comment on these bizarre images:
I’ve written about cotton trees before (A Blaze of Glory), but this next photo illustrates perfectly two features that are unusual for broad-leaf trees: (1) like many conifers, cotton trees have several branches from the trunk at the same height; and (2) the flowers come out before the leaves:
When we cycle upstream along the west bank of the Kam Tin River, we pass an inflatable dam on a major tributary that seems to be a popular venue for black-winged stilts. You can see why they’ve been given this name in this photo by Paula, although we will continue to refer to them simply as ‘red legs’:
It’s now March, and Paula and I have just had our first covid jab. We decided against going cycling, because we’d heard that tiredness is a common side effect, so we walked up to Lau Shui Heung Reservoir the following day instead. This photo was taken on the banks of the reservoir, and I was tempted to overprint it with the word ‘Anon’:
Close to where the last photo was taken, I noticed these strange excrescences rising from the ground. The two larger objects in the background are actually trees, and it looks as though the smaller ones will become trees, eventually:
Also in the same area is this bridge, which carries a country trail over a stream that runs into the reservoir and according to the Chinese inscription is ‘Dragon Mountain Bridge’:
Guan Gung (‘Old Man Guan’), with his fierce expression, is a popular inhabitant of wayside shrines, but why three figurines of this legendary character have been dumped in a plastic basket I cannot explain:
Nam Sang Wai Road, which runs along the bank of the lower Kam Tin River, is widely touted as ‘a good place to cycle’. It isn’t (it’s boring), and Paula concurs, but I spotted this shipping container alongside the road when we checked out this road recently:
Unlike the images on a shipping container that I included above, this one reflects what people once did for a living in this area: fishing.

A few years ago, I described a mural that I’d come across in a quiet road east of Fanling in Zoological Garden. Apart from the rooster, the rest of this artwork is now obscured by vegetation, but recently I spotted a new, and unrelated, addition:
I’ve included a view from the side because the bougainvillea obscures part of the image from the front. Notice that the flowers at the base of the mural are part of the mural, although clearly they are meant to appear as though they’re growing out of the flower bed at the bottom. The tiny red flowers are real though.

The next image is another from the Kam Tin River with quite a few egrets. The floating vegetation on the far side of the river is the result of Drainage Services Department operatives clearing large quantities of water hyacinth, which tends to clog up the river, upstream. I’m not sure why they simply allowed it to float out to sea. Laziness?
The remaining photos in this collection were taken on a walk in the Ko Po North area, east of Fanling, a few days ago. We spotted a dead tree stump adorned with bracket fungus, and we both took a photo. The first one is Paula’s:
“They’re fake!” exclaimed Paula when we spotted the subject of the next photo. But they’re not, although I’ve never seen another example of this tree, with its vicious, spiky thorns on the trunk, anywhere else:
Believe it or not, these are flowers:
previous highlights collections
Photographic Highlights: 2015–16
Photographic Highlights: 2016–17
Photographic Highlights: 2017–18
Photographic Highlights: 2018–19
Photographic Highlights: 2019–20 (Part 1)
Photographic Highlights: 2019–20 (Part 2)

photographic highlights: 2020–21 (part 1)

I shall be heading off to the UK for the summer in a few days, and as I’ve been doing for several years, I’ve put together a collection of the best photos taken over the past eight months. And although there aren’t as many photos in this collection as there were in last year’s, I’ve decided, nevertheless, to split it into two parts.

Following my usual practice, I haven’t included any photos that I’ve used to illustrate other posts, and the photos appear here in the order in which they were taken. Clicking on a photo will bring up an enlarged version.

When we walk into Fanling from our village, we pass a tiny pond in which someone has been keeping goldfish. However, the pond has also been colonized by toads, and Paula took the first photo while I was still under home quarantine after returning from the UK:
If I were to suggest a caption for this photo, it would be ‘toad in the hole’.

I took the next photo shortly after ending quarantine. It is a view of the Kam Tin River, looking downstream, and as you can see, there are a lot of egrets:
The next photo was taken in North District Park, by far the largest urban garden in Fanling/Sheung Shui. There are several trees like this, which have been deliberately planted on small knolls to emphasize their roots. And these roots have definitely been emphasized!
Whenever we cycle ‘out west’, we invariably detour down Tunafish Road, even though it’s a dead end, just because it’s quiet and relaxing, with no traffic. Just before the road reaches the frontier, there is a footbridge over the unnamed river that runs alongside the road, and I took this photo simply because I like the perspective effect, which focuses on a mysterious dark square in the distance:
Incidentally, to the left of the footbridge it’s Hong Kong, while to the right it’s China, hence the fine-mesh fence that you can see in the photo, to keep out intruders, one assumes.

Although I was never able to match Paula’s photo, this is my best photo of toads in the pond:
You can’t keep a good tree down. This tree stump, in North District Park, has clearly survived being cut down, and if it is left alone for a few years, then it will regenerate:
When its ‘frontier closed area’ status was rescinded in 2013, the ‘frontier road’ became a regular part of any cycling excursion. However, we’ve tended to avoid this road this year, because construction of a new science park has meant frequent encounters with eight- and ten-wheeled tipper trucks, which have created a huge number of potholes on a road that was never built to carry such heavy vehicles. This is a view from the road, with Shenzhen on the horizon, taken on one of the few occasions when we’ve cycled this way:
It would be easy to suggest that I took the next photo somewhere in England, but for one thing: there are at least half a dozen cattle egrets in the photo:
I used to think that these cows were feral—there are feral cows in other parts of the New Territories—but in this case it would be more accurate to describe them as ‘free-range cows’, because I have seen them being herded from time to time.

Although our flat faces east, I’ve never been able to take any decent sunrise photos, so this is one taken by Paula:
Another reason for cycling along Tunafish Road is the opportunity to photograph wildlife. There is a large pond just before the road reaches the border, and although I’ve taken quite a lot of photos of grey herons here, I’ve chosen to feature this one taken by Paula because of its atmospheric qualities:
The next photo is a view of the river that runs alongside Tunafish Road, looking towards Shenzhen. You will probably have to look closely to spot the flock of ducks coming in to join the black-winged stilts in the water:
Back in November, I was sitting on our balcony when I heard the sound of a truck around the corner to the left. When it appeared, I noticed that it was towing a car, and I assumed that the car had broken down and was being towed to a garage for repair. Then two more tow-trucks appeared, and I rushed indoors to get my camera. I don’t think I’d have been able to take a decent photo if there hadn’t been a cyclist coming the other way (you can see him in the passing place), forcing the procession to wait:
And these cars aren’t being taken for repair. I come across scores of abandoned cars in almost every location I’ve ever visited. It appears to be the go-to option for someone who wants to get rid of their old car.

This photo of a relatively young banyan tree, which I took in a small park in Fanling, illustrates a key characteristic of the species: prop roots. Thin tendrils, which function as aerial roots, hang down from the branches, but once they reach the ground, they quickly thicken up:
I would be surprised if you can identify the subject of the next photo, which I took on a walk down our local river before everything was ripped down recently in the name of ‘development’, unless you’ve seen one before. It’s a tree ants’ nest, and it’s newly constructed. You can tell this because the white areas are secretions produced by the ants that darken quite quickly:
The next photo was taken in the village of Heung Yuen Wai, which we visit regularly as part of ‘the final frontier’ bike ride. It was in the frontier closed area until 2016 and is an interesting location primarily because of this tower, which I assume performed some kind of defensive function in more lawless (i.e. pre-British) times, although towers like this are extremely uncommon. The village shrine can be seen in the bottom right of the photo:
I was walking along a path in our neighbourhood when I saw what I thought was some kind of seed head, like the English dandelion. So I stopped to take a photo, but it was only when I looked at the photo that I saw the tendrils leading off the edges of the flower’s petals. Strange!
I’ve no idea where I took the next photo, which shows a tiny butterfly that is dwarfed by an elephant’s ear:
Although I wrote about ‘the gates of delirium’ in 2017, this gate, located on Ngau Tam Mei Road, is now the leading contender for this title:
Continued in Part 2.