Friday, 30 September 2016


"If you're not paying, you are the product" has the feel of a pejorative statement, but I can't believe it's always necessarily a bad thing. Google and Facebook may well have now evolved into powerful, super-secretive, unaccountable, imperial super-states intent on taking over both our world and our realities, but I confess I'm an avid consumer and therefore willing product of both.

I also drink far too much, knowing it may one day do me ill, and used to smoke with the dedication and enthusiasm I apply to most of my passions. Although I comprehensively kicked that "20 a day habit" more than ten years ago, I did so for the short term, immediate gains, rather than any fear of what such an indulgence might be contributing to my long term fate.

I mention the latter two vices only because they might put my somewhat laissez faire stance on Google and Facebook into some sort of context.

One of the services I avail myself of on Google is Google Backup, by which means I grant the super secret empire pretty much unrestricted access to any and all photos I take so they can make copies that will be forever safe in their cloud. Every so often, Google will do something clever with them, like stitch them together in a panorama, or apply special effects to prettify an image, or string a sequence together in an animated GIF, like a flick-book animation of old.

Which reminds me that whilst Google may be super secret, the secrets I entrust to its keeping are not. Little Google robots spend inordinate amounts of time prying sneaking through the illustrative journal of my life that is the unedited output of my photography in return for their master's vague and unbinding promise to keep my snaps safe.

I take lots of sequential photos, disk-space being cheap, and that being a good way to ensure you get at least one moment in focus, framed well and with everything and everybody looking photogenic. I therefore get a lot of Google animations thrown at me for excited, "look what I've done, daddy!" type approval and wish I could turn the function off, as I find short, repetitively looping animated clips very, very irritating.

More recently, Google has taken to flashing up "Rediscover this day" notifications, an idea they've clearly robbed off of Facebook's Memories function, although I guess Facebook would have stolen the idea from some hapless app-writer in the first place, so it just reinforces the truism that it's a shark eat shark world out there.

Of course, whereas I tend to only upload properly curated, post-processed, cropped and tweaked snaps to my Facebook albums that I think might be of interest to others, I actually take photos of just about everything, and Google Backup has access to it all so has a much richer seam to mine.

Apparently, it was five years ago that we took our Drascombe Lugger "Ondine" out of Lydney and up through the Noose to Frampton Pill. I think it was the third time we'd made the trip, the first time we'd made the trip alone, and the first time we'd taken the Drascombe Lugger up; the two trips before being made with our previous dinghy, a Wanderer called "Hibernia" and in the company and with the support of friends from Frampton.

Whilst it wasn't the last time we visited the Pill, it was the last time we made it all the way to the top; subsequent trips we landed at or just within the mouth of the Pill, the tides (and perhaps will of those involved) not being high enough to carry us further up.

Looking back at the photos, I'm struck by what a lovely, late September day it was, and amused by how narrow and winding the Pill is. I remember it feeling a little like the nautical equivalent of caving as we pushed up through the narrow, high banks. The belief that there would be room to turn around at the top and get back out before the tide turned and left us both stranded and unfortunately neaped was an act of pure faith.

It has occurred to me a number of times recently how much I've come to define my geography by the Severn Estuary and how everything positions against it. Stood out on Haresfield Beacon last weekend, looking out over the Severn Vale, I was surprised by how much I could recognise in the distance, and realised I was referencing everything relative to the Severn's banks. Driving out to karate in Cinderford yesterday evening, my progress was mapped in my mind through glimpses of the River alongside which ran the road I was driving down.

This evening, Dad and I are heading down to Ondine's successor, Calstar, currently in Portishead. We have a lock out booked for 0530 tomorrow morning, when we plan to follow the tide up to Lydney. The forecast looks like heavy rain, and two thirds of the trip will be in the dark. I'm hoping for a beautiful sunrise as we cross beneath the Old Seven Bridge. It'll be a different kind of weather to that which we enjoyed aboard Ondine five years ago, and we certainly won't be pushing on beyond Lydney and up in to the Noose. Frampton Pill is, these days, a destination left only for littler boats than ours.

The reason, not that there needs to be one: there is a party at Lydney Yacht Club Saturday night, by which time the rain should've stopped, with lots of beer, music and lots of old friends involved. We then have a not so brutally early start Sunday morning when we lock back out of Lydney and follow the ebb back to Portishead.

Once the rains of Saturday are done, the forecast promises sunshine all the way home.

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