Monday, 31 October 2016

turf wars update

When I posted Turf Wars in 2011, I did so in the expectation that the story still had some distance to run. At the time, the only hints that something may have been about to happen were the large number of signs proclaiming that the area in question was private property, and the counter-signs protesting that the land should continue to be used for ‘farming’.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before most of the previously cultivated areas had been fenced off to prevent their continuing use to grow vegetables, while almost every stone and brick building in the area was razed to the ground to prevent their reuse (wooden and tin shacks were simply left to fall down of their own accord). I recorded the state of play in A Blot on the Landscape in February 2015.

Nothing changed between that update and April this year, when a protest camp was set up to challenge the property developer, Henderson Land, and the way it had evicted the people who had been cultivating some of the land. The general area where all this argy-bargy has been taking place over the past five years is indicated by the red ellipse on the following map, while the location of the protest camp is shown by the large blue dot.

The following photograph was taken on 5th May from the south side of Ma Sik Road and shows the protest camp. The banner on the left reads ‘NO LAND, NO FARMING. PROTECT OUR FARMLAND’, while the green banner alleges collusion between the developer and the Hong Kong government. Because some characters on the banner on the right are obscured, it is impossible to provide a complete translation, but there are references to a systematic land carve-up and an insistence that land in the northeast New Territories be protected from development. The banners in the middle appear to be in Arabic, although it is more likely that they are in a South Asian script.

A better view of the protest camp is shown in the next two photos, which were taken on 1st and 3rd May, respectively. The roughly painted Chinese slogan reads ‘against New Territories northeast development’, while the two white Chinese characters translate as ‘guarding fields’.

At this time, a large contingent of security personnel was drafted into the area, although they were obviously told simply to monitor the situation. This was the state of play when I left for the UK at the end of May. However, at some point during the summer, Paula informed me that ‘things were happening’, although she didn’t have the time to keep too close an eye on the events that were unfolding.

Naturally, one of the first things I did upon returning to Hong Kong a week ago was to see what had changed during my absence. The protest camp had gone, and the site was now surrounded by industrial steel panelling. Most of the banners had also gone, but the next photo shows one that has apparently escaped the developer’s clearance team. As you can see, the English reads ‘Henderson kills HK’, but the Chinese is a rather more pointed comment: ‘Uncle Four, put down your butcher’s knife’. Uncle Four is of course the geriatric chairman of Henderson Land, Lee Shau-kee, and as I pointed out originally in Turf Wars, such an avuncular sobriquet is often used by greedy local box wallahs to imply benevolence.

Incidentally, it is gratifying to note that the door of the cat man’s hut has been preserved, even if the hut itself was demolished a couple of years ago.

So what else changed while I was away? The next two photographs were taken from a footpath about 100 metres east of the site of the protest camp, the first looking west and the second looking east. The third photo is of the footpath, which happens to be a public right of way and therefore cannot be blocked (in theory).

I have no idea what this is all about. There are scores of the concrete blocks seen in the first two photos, and it must have been a considerable logistical exercise to get them to where they are now—I estimate that each weighs significantly in excess of 2 tons. But to what end? Yet another oddity is seen in the next photo, which is of a large mechanical digger. This machine has probably been here since the blocks were brought to the site, but why is it now standing idle? A machine like this needs to be in constant use to justify its existence from a financial perspective, so I must assume that Henderson Land doesn’t mind the financial loss that the digger’s continuing idleness represents.

It would be reasonable to assume that that is it, but there is a mystery to clear up. Although I referred to cultivated areas being fenced off above, there are cultivated areas that have not been fenced off and are still being cultivated. These are shown by the red dots on the map (above). The next photo shows the most easterly of these cultivated areas, looking east. The fenced-off area to the left of the path was being cultivated five years ago but is now choked with head-high weeds. The blue sign reads ‘24-Hour Security Patrolling In Service’, and many such signs appeared during the summer, but I have yet to see anyone who looks even remotely like a security guard in this area since I returned.

So why has this and other cultivated areas not been closed down? There must be a link to the following sign, which is headed ‘LAND EXCHANGE APPLICATION’. For obscure legal reasons, Henderson Land has been unable to evict some of the ‘farmers’ here, which appears to make it impossible to develop the land in the way it would want, so it is trying to offload this troubling asset from its property portfolio. Or something like that. If you can explain this strange legal conundrum, please leave a comment. I’m baffled.

Monday, 24 October 2016

tunnel of love

Now that I’m back in Hong Kong, I don’t expect to be writing anything about the UK for the next seven months, but I do have one loose end to tie up first. On the weekend prior to my departure, I travelled down to Manchester for the christening of my grandson. It wasn’t possible to travel early enough on the day—that’s the modern British rail network for you—so I was obliged to travel down the day before and check into a hotel in the south Manchester suburb of East Didsbury.

Once I’d done so, I had the rest of the afternoon and the evening to myself, and I spent much of that time walking around the area. Among the city’s public transport options is a modern tram network, some of which follows old railway lines that may have been disused for decades prior to their incorporation into the network, and I was walking along a path (shared with cyclists—there appears to be an extensive off-road network of cycle routes around these parts) that runs alongside one such line when I came across a brick-lined tunnel, the walls of which were covered in graffiti.

Regular readers will know that I don’t automatically regard graffiti as vandalism—they can have aesthetic merit—although in this case a degree of vandalism must be conceded. However, the vandalism here appears to be against older graffiti, which have often been overwritten. There are also a lot of meaningless scrawls, often on top of more elaborate pieces of work, so that often the result is, unfortunately, a mess. As you can see from the following sequence of photographs, the tunnel cannot be compared with Ghost Alley or Penrith’s Answer to Ghost Alley. Nevertheless, I felt that it was worth recording.

Having checked out these images, you’re probably wondering why I gave this post the title I did, given that I often use common phrases that don’t appear to be directly relevant as titles. In this case, I was listening to music on my MP3 player, and Tunnel of Love by Dire Straits came on just as I reached the tunnel. But for this serendipitous juxtaposition, I might never have bothered to write this post.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

linguistic legerdemain

I will be setting off early tomorrow morning on the long haul back to Hong Kong, and as usual I have a little puzzle for readers to ponder while I’m en route. Of the following six words, which is the odd one out, and why?
citizen ● partner ● recruit ● scholar ● sponsor ● steward
Obviously, a person can be a citizen, or a partner, or a recruit, or a scholar, or a sponsor, or a steward, but one of these six differs from the others in a fundamental way. Which one?

All correct answers will be acknowledged at the time of posting, but the comment(s) that include such correct answers will not be posted for a month from this date. If no correct answers are received during this period, this puzzle will remain unsolved indefinitely. I will not be providing the solution.

If you have found this one easy, then you should try An English Question, for which no correct solution has been submitted despite its having been posted almost three years ago.

spoiler alert
Correct solutions have been submitted below by an anonymous reader and by Siegfried, and by Claire via email. Only Siegfried has explained the reason for his answer.

Monday, 17 October 2016

penrith’s answer to ‘ghost alley’

If you’ve read Ghost Alley, you will know that I’m fascinated by what might loosely be called ‘street art’. However, I never expected to see anything of this kind in my home town.

Earlier in the summer, I noticed that the walls of the passageway connecting the bottom end of Bluebell Lane to Little Dockray had been painted in vibrant shades of yellow and orange but thought no more of it at the time. However, I was walking through this alley a couple of weeks ago when I noticed that a range of decorative motifs had been added to the walls. A friend told me that they had been painted by children under the tutelage of an established street artist, who showed his students how to achieve smooth edges to their designs and other skills. The first photograph is a general view of the passage from the Bluebell Lane end. This is followed by a view from the Little Dockray end.

The remaining pictures are of individual designs on the walls. The symmetry evident in these designs suggests to me that stencils and other templates have been used in their creation, although this is not to imply any kind of criticism. After all, Banksy uses stencils, and nobody criticizes him for doing so. I believe this to be a welcome modern addition to the town’s historic landscape. The next time you’re in Penrith, check it out.

Anyone who is familiar with Penrith will recognize motifs in the fourth and fifth photos that are based on the tower on top of the Beacon, which was erected in the mid-eighteenth century to commemorate hundreds of years of pillaging by Scots marauders, by then coming to an end, and in the second and fifth pictures, a stylized version of the Musgrave Monument, which was built by a prominent local family to mark the loss of their son in the Crimean War (1853–56) and which is usually considered to be the centre of town. I’m not sure what the cupola that appears in several images is supposed to represent, although there are no examples of this architectural feature in the town that are as prominent as the Beacon Tower or the Monument.

Friday, 14 October 2016

favourite photos: summer 2016

I haven’t taken any photographs this summer that are immediately striking, but I think that the images I’ve included in this collection are at least interesting.

Several of the following pictures were taken while I was out cycling, starting with this photo of Greystoke church. The yellow flowers in the field in front of the church are buttercups, while the small tree on the left with the white flowers is a hawthorn. The blossom on the hawthorns was especially abundant this spring, and the trees are now absolutely covered in red berries.

If you’ve read Quiet Riot, you will know that one of the delights of cycling along narrow country lanes in June and July is the mass of wild flowers in the grass verges. The next two photos are typical, although they do demonstrate an intrinsic weakness of digital photography: that pinks and mauves appear washed out. The actual colours of these flowers are far more intense than they appear to be here.

The next photo was taken during our trip to Chester in July. It is not a particularly good photograph, but I just love those chimneys.

A few days after our visit to Chester, Paula and I travelled to Ravenglass, on the Cumbrian coast, to ride on La’al Ratty, the local name for the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway. This narrow-gauge line runs up into the picturesque valley of Eskdale, and the next photo was taken during the journey up the valley.

Having reached the terminus of the line in the village of Dalegarth, we went for a walk, during which I photographed a well-developed cluster of toadstools on a decaying tree stump:

Eskdale is unique among Lakeland valleys in that its topography is determined by a huge granite intrusion (the rocks in other valleys are volcanic). This difference is most clearly seen in the dry-stone walls seen in all valleys. Volcanic rocks tend to split along lines of cleavage, meaning that individual pieces are likely to have flat surfaces. Clearly, this makes it easier to build a wall without using mortar, but the wall in the next photo was built using rounded granite cobbles, making this wall a minor masterpiece.

Hedgehogs have been in decline in the UK for decades, but I photographed this individual while out on one of my early-morning walks:

I haven’t posted anything related to ‘oil paintings’ this summer, but on one occasion I noticed a line of oil stains that extended the full length of the street where I live. This photo was taken directly in front of my house:

When I’ve been out cycling, I’ve occasionally seen a few goats around the hamlet of Ellonby. I photographed this billy goat as it walked up to sniff my outstretched hand:

Finally, I offer another landscape photo taken while out cycling. Although they appear to be a minor feature in the picture, the small herd of cows in the foreground is the reason I stopped to take the photo in the first place. Every cow was lying down, and they were all looking at me while I took the photo.

The day after posting this collection, I travelled down to Manchester for my grandson’s christening. I was out and about very early the following morning, and there was a most spectacular sunrise:

In fact, the entire sky glowed red, and it was therefore impossible to capture it all in a single image. And as every Cumbrian knows, ‘red sky at morning, shepherd’s warning’. It started raining heavily an hour later.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

hoghouse hill

If you’ve read Twenty Miles of Bad Road, you will know that when I’m in the UK, I like to do the same bike ride each time I go out. The main criterion for working out a route is that it is short enough that I can do it again the following day. However, the main failing of the original 20 miles of bad road was that there weren’t enough hills, which is why, soon after I posted the original account in 2014, I added three more hills, bringing the total to eight. The three additions involved turning left in Ellonby, which is not marked on the map but is located just southwest of the telephone symbol between Skelton and Lamonby. The last of the three added hills finishes near the red X on the map, and this is followed by a fast three-mile section that is either downhill or flat, through Johnby to Greystoke.

Although this added about three miles to the overall route, it was still possible to do it on consecutive days if I wanted. In fact, in September 2014, I decided that I would try to do the route every day if it didn’t rain. However, I reckoned without the driest September on record, and I ended up doing the route thirteen days in a row. The interesting thing is that I felt more tired after the second and third days’ rides than I did after the tenth.

I still wasn’t satisfied though. I’d forgotten about Hoghouse Hill, the location of which is shown by the red circle on the map, so when Paula came over from Hong Kong in July, I thought that this would provide a worthwhile addition to the route (and Paula does like a challenge).

The first photograph shows the approach to the hill. It seems quite innocuous:

However, as you round the bend shown in the previous photo, the scale of the challenge becomes apparent. The first photograph was taken from this bend, while the second was taken halfway up the hill:

Except that it wasn’t halfway up the hill. The apparent summit shown in the previous photo turns out not to be the top of the hill. It is followed by a short dip:

 …after which the climb continues:

Hoghouse Hill isn’t the steepest hill on the route. It isn’t even the longest, but coming at the beginning of the ride, it does feel quite hard. However, at the same time that we were adding Hoghouse Hill, I wanted to see whether it was possible to extend the route in the area beyond Ellonby. It was.

If you turn right in Ellonby (as per the original 20-mile route), then continue through Skelton to the B5305, you will soon notice that you are losing a lot of height, all of which has to be regained in the approach to Ellonby from the north. This turned out to be the longest and toughest hill on the route, although you wouldn’t think so from the following photograph:

All I can say is that it’s much steeper than it looks. And there is a lot more uphill work before you reach Ellonby. I’ve managed to do this new 25-mile ride three days in a row a couple of times, but the generally poor weather has meant that I don’t know if it would be possible to extend the sequence indefinitely. I’ll be returning to Hong Kong in less than two weeks, and it’s getting cold, so I shall have to wait until next year to find out.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

photographic abstraction #20

My latest collection of abstract photographs contains the usual mixture of old and new: new interpretations of old motifs and, in one case (Shattered Dreams), a completely new motif.

The first image reminds me of some kind of esoteric religious ceremony in progress. The quotation is from TS Eliot’s The Waste Land:

‘I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring’

The line previous to the above quotation reads ‘Fear death by water’, which brings me to the second image. This one looks to me like a kind of aerial photograph, and the title I’ve given it should leave you in no doubt as to what I think it’s a photograph of:

flying across the estuary on a fine day

Speaking of water, I’ve given the next image the title Waterfall, although it looks nothing like any waterfall I’ve ever seen:


The next image marks a change of style with a motif I’ve never used before. Accordingly, you may like to guess the real identity of this image:

shattered dreams

The contents of the ‘painting’ in this gallery have spread out across the walls, which is something that isn’t supposed to happen in an art gallery:

at the art gallery

Finally, I present a monochrome image that should need no explanation:

the network

recent posts in this series
Photographic Abstraction #17
Photographic Abstraction #18
Photographic Abstraction #19