Monday 30 June 2014

"Thermicly" Shifty

And by that I mean the wind, of course, not Ben.

Crewed for him yesterday. He turned a horrific start-line where the wind had backed almost 90 degrees to create beam-reaching, multiple boat carnage, into a mechanism of genius. We left one of the other two Enterprises on the line doing penalty turns in our wake, although it did take a call of "Protest" to persuade them the turns were owed, and made it third around the windward mark.

Conditions were light, horrifically shifty, very testing.

Things got a bit shaky mid way, but he held it all together overall and pulled away from the fleet again to finish well.

The second race had less of a dramatic start, and not so well set-up, but an early tack onto port got us clear of the pack and into clean air, again putting us into the top three or four around windward and setting us up for another good result.

I've really enjoyed crewing for him the last couple of days. Going to be the last for a couple of weeks. This coming weekend Ben's away, I'm instructing all day Saturday, gigging Saturday night, then have my grading on Sunday. The following Sunday I'm away to Fairford to watch aeroplanes, so won't be racing again until the 20th, at which point Hels should be back having finished her house move, so we're going to have to beg or borrow another boat from somewhere.

The weekend after that, I'm away to Fowey with Dad and Ondine.

That's pretty much the next month planned, sealed and delivered. Slightly alarmed at the apparent dearth of racing lined up, though my diary is utterly self-inflicted so I've none to blame but myself.

Wonder if Nik would notice if Ben and I started sneaking down the Club on the way home from work for the Wednesday evening racing?

[a thought occurred, just looking at the photos included above: dinghies, unlike keelboats, generally sail fastest flat. Ben is usually very good at sailing the boat flat, and any heel in the above shots should be firmly blamed on the inconsideration of the crew positioning himself to take an inopportune photo, rather than the helm being unable to manage his boat]

Saturday 28 June 2014

Going to be a short set

23:20hrs, and they're still doing a raffle, having had speeches and and auction of promises and some sort of betting game.

Expect most will have their taxi booked for midnight.

On the other hand, the band have been well fed and watered and paid for our trouble. There are harder ways to earn your pocket money.

Racing tomorrow. Hope there's a little more wind than there was today.

The acoustics are going to prove interesting....

Almost set for tonight's gig

Thursday 26 June 2014


Just opened a fresh bag of beans to feed the machine. The smell is gorgeous, intoxicating.



Steep Holm

An island I'm planning to sail to some time. Not sure when, and not really sure why. Along with Lundy, it's just on my list of things I want to do that revolve around exploring the Severn and Bristol Channel out of Lydney.

I don't think I need a reason.

It seems a small ambition these days against the aims and achievements of certain friends. But for me, at this point in my life, it would be exploring a current boundary.

And whilst my reasons may remain personal and largely undefined, it has to be acknowledged that the ambitions and achievements of those friends certainly serve as an inspiration.

If they can do that, I can certainly do this.

Some info on Steep Holm -



Tuesday 24 June 2014

Quote of the Day

"Critics argue that a living wage could stifle growth"

Heard on the news on the radio as I was pulling into the office carpark this morning.


Been looking at options for a long weekend away with Dad and Ondine. Can't come soon enough, really could use the break. The weekend that commences with Friday 25th July is the earliest I can realistically get out of work, so that's the date set.

Went through various options regarding where to go, Falmouth and Plymouth being two of the main contenders, the main criteria being we want somewhere easy; familiar, friendly, and with plenty of options whatever the weather does. Settled eventually on Fowey. Four days and three nights.

We've parked the idea of sleeping on the boat this time around and booked accommodation at the Old Ferry Inn, only a short, pretty walk across the fields on the east bank of the river to reach Penmarlam Quay, out of where where we'll base Ondine for the weekend.

The above photo was taken over the side of Ondine a couple of years ago, on a particularly sunny spring break. The mouth of Fowey Harbour and St Austell's Bay lie ahead of her.

Really can't wait.

Monday 23 June 2014

Allan Little: The faceless men

Just read an evocative article by Allan Little, a war correspondent for
the BBC.

The closest I've ever come to any personal experience of war was
narrowly missing the Invasion of Kuwait in 1990 by mere virtue of
fortunate timing. We lost our home, or at least the home I'd associated
with my childhood. But we'd kept another back here in the UK to fall
back to, so the loss was mitigated. Aside from the loss of many personal
possessions and the family dog, who hadn't come back to the UK on leave
with us, it was mostly an emotional wound.

Others lost much, much more.

It's funny though. I recognise the disconnect Little quotes another war
correspondent, Dexter Filkins, as describing, "'Oh definitely,' I told
them, and then, usually, I stopped. In the beginning I'd go on a little
longer, tell them a story or two, and I could see their eyes go after a
couple of sentences.'"

That's not specific to war. That's the disconnect of alien context,
where the other listener can't relate to or empathise with something
they have no direct experience of themselves. On first returning to the
UK, folks would at first be fascinated to learn I'd grown up in the
desert, and then after a sentence or two, their eyes would glaze over.

On describing his own first experience of war, coincidentally, that same
war I narrowly missed, Little described why he chose to go:

"Because it's why I came this far. And because if I don't I will never
forgive myself. I will have chosen a safe and cosseted life and I will
spend the rest of it regretting that when I was tested I didn't go."

It occurs to me that this is man's common vanity.

It is why we allow politicians, circumstance and indeed our own biases,
emotions, ambitions and fears, to manipulate us into fighting wars.

Perhaps, possibly, it's why a friend is part way through
circumnavigating the UK in a Wayfarer. Why another friend is part way
through his sixth circumnavigation of the globe in a boat not much
bigger, although it does offer a little more shelter from the elements
than a Wayfarer. Although from what I read, it is only a little.

Why Dye and Brockbank crossed the North Sea, Hillary and Norgay climbed
Everest, what led Shackleton to Antartica. The list goes on and goes
back throughout history.

Beneath all the complexity, behind all the smoke and mirrors, we are
fundamentally simple creatures.

Sunday 22 June 2014


On what to read next, which is a bit of sail small crisis, as I just finished my last book this morning. Love kindle and Amazon for many things, but miss simply ambling around a book shop, browsing. Really can't think of what to read next.

[edit: corrected a predictive text replacement, amusing that Android should think the combination of letters coming from me were most likely to be intended to read "sail" rather than "small"]

[update: solved the crisis. Re-reading James Clavell's Shogun. Read it first, and last, in my mid-teens, so have forgotten most of the story. And forgotten what a fantastic read it is]

So ends another gorgeous day on the water

Pity it was such a drift, but lovely basking in the sunshine. Ben was at the helm so he had all the hard work and frustration.

Friday 20 June 2014

Cape Wrath

Credit for the photos go to Chris, a friend of Jeremy Warren's.

Hafren's yellowbrick track can be found here.


Eighteen days out of Weymouth now. They rounded Cape Wrath around lunchtime today, and were rewarded with a 40 mile surf all the way downwind to their next shelter in Scrabster. Well on target for beating the record for circumnavigating the UK in an open boat.

Hat off to the guy that took this footage. A friend of one of the crew, got an Easyjet flight up north, hire car, then chartered a fishing boat to intercept them for the shot.

Thursday 19 June 2014

"I have only slipped away to the next room"

Ann Carol Sheppard was born on the 15th of October 1948 to Les and Kath in Spandau, Berlin, slap bang in the middle of the Berlin Blockade, so demonstrating a perchance for drama and "interesting" timing that would remain with her throughout life.

She loved animals of all kinds, great and small, but especially her cats and dogs. She loved her garden, and had a gift for nurturing things and helping them grow. She had a sharp intelligence, a talent for painting, a flair for writing, and an enthusiasm for live music and performance.

She was an organiser and administrator and ever quick to share these talents for the benefit of others. She had a generous heart and a beautiful, unfailing smile that won her good friends wherever life took her, and she treasured those friendships.

She had a real gift for listening and an endless, enduring patience when it came to listening to her children, sharing their worries and frustrations, their ambitions and dreams, keeping their confidences and secrets.

She was the fulcrum of our family life.

Les, my granddad, was a Regimental Sergeant Major in the Military Police. So Mum's early years were spent as an army brat, following her parents through postings to Malaya and Cyprus before coming back to Germany, where her brother Danny was then born. She was in her early teens before Granddad retired from the Army and they settled back in Gloucester.

They moved in at first with her Aunty Marge and Uncle George. Mum ran riot with her cousins Terry and Pete King and their older brother Dave. Aunty Marge's house was at the bottom of the same road as my Dad's parents, and Dad's younger brother Alan and Terry were best friends.

Dad's first memories of Mum were of the pretty little dark-haired girl that ran around with his brother and his mates.

Granddad was very keen that Dad got his driving licence as soon as he could, I suspect so that he had a ready and available lift to the pub.

One day, whilst Dad was busy ferrying Gran and Granddad about, Uncle Alan filed out a key from a piece of metal to fit Dad's motorbike and he and Cousin Terry took it out for a spin.

Un-licenced, untrained and never having ridden a motorbike before, they came tearing down Coney Hill pitch and through a hedge and into some old railings, trashing the forks of the bike.

The following day, Dad rode his pushbike into town to order a replacement pair of forks, and passing a young Ann Shepherd on the way back, decided to follow her home. When she asked him why he was following her, he said it was because he wanted a date. These days, that would probably get you arrested for stalking.

Dad played hard on the sympathy vote and the trouble he'd been caused by the miscreant younger brother that Mum knew so well, and it worked. That weekend he borrowed his dad's car and picked her up for their first date.

By now, Mum was 16 years old and living with her parents in Matson. Much of their courtship centred on trips out to Painswick Beacon or Cranham Woods with her dog Sheppy, or the occasional trip to Wainlodes.

One day at Wainlodes, Dad convinced Mum to swim across the river with him to escape the crowds and find somewhere quieter in the fields on the other bank. They swam across without any difficulty, but as soon as Mum's feet touched the sludge of the bottom on the other side, she refused to go any further with the muck squelching between her toes, and Dad was forced to swim straight back with her.

In March of 1968, aged 19, she married Dad at St Catherine's Church in Matson. I'm not sure Gran altogether approved of her daughter as a teenage bride; she accused her of only wanting to get married because she was pregnant.

By now they were both working over in Cheltenham, so it wasn't long before they were able to afford to rent their first home, a basement flat in Landsdown. Within three years, they'd brought their first house in Churchdown and in 1971, I was born.

Although she doted on me, Gran's first reaction on becoming a grandmother was to turn round and say to Mum, "See, I said you were pregnant!"

We moved to Longlevens, and in 1973 my little brother was born. There was some debate over what to call him. Dad wanted my brother to have his name. Mum wanted a little baby Jamie.

They compromised, and hyphenated his name to Roger-James. And Mum carried on calling him Jamie anyway. She always had a real talent for letting Dad have her own way.

Although there was always a dog around the house, the dogs in those early years were really Dad's. Mum kept and bred Persian cats.

Of the finer points of cat breeding and traipsing around the County to enter them in shows; well, it really wasn't Dad's cup of tea. But he supported her anyway.

As they always supported each other in everything, that's one of the things they did best.

It was at Hillborough Road in Tuffley that I first remember Mum having a guitar in the house.

I still have that guitar. It was an interest she shared with two of Dad's brothers, Uncle Steve and Uncle Alan. This was about the time the song Cavatina hit the Top 20; a song she tried but never quite managed to play, although Dad's two brothers did. It was a pretty song, and always reminds me of her.

In 1978, Dad was offered a job abroad with the Kuwait Oil Company. Before he was allowed to bring the rest of us out with him, he had to work three months on bachelor status.

It was an age long before the Internet, when overseas calls were expensive and unreliable. In between writing to him, Mum recorded numerous cassette tapes that she sent out by Airmail. On one of those, she recorded me and Jay singing the kiddies song "Good Morning Mr Hedgehog". Thankfully this was well before the days of YouTube, so I'm pretty certain no evidence now remains.

Although she missed him terribly, Mum delayed flying out to join Dad for a week, so that she could travel with the family that were going to become our new neighbours in Kuwait; the lady had two small children of similar age to me and Jay, and was terrified of flying. Mum, being Mum, agreed to wait the extra week so to make it possible for us to support them and fly out together.

Boarding the 707 at Heathrow was a wild adventure. All went well as the airliner flew east into the night, and then we hit turbulence. The seatbelt light pinged on, the aircraft was tossed and tumbled around in the night, and there was a sudden bright flash of lightning right outside the window in the dark.

"Oh my god what was that!" Mum's new neighbour cried, and before she could help herself, Mum's impish sense of humour got the better of her:

"The wing's just fallen off!" she replied.

Our first home in Kuwait was a first floor flat in a dusty, four story tower block in the middle of the Kuwaiti desert, ambitiously called Fintas Towers. Plagued by power-cuts, the evenings were often spent bathed in candlelight.

Weekends were spent at the Company Yacht Club at Mina Abdulla, lazing on the beach or partying with friends in the clubhouse. The Company endowed the Club with an enviable fleet of boats, Kestrels and XOD's, but I don't remember much sailing getting done.

Mum's enthusiasm for the guitar and Dad's willingness to sing got them involved in the Folk Club and then the Music Society, where Mum sang as an alto in the choir.

Despite her love of music, she had difficulty holding a note; in her words she could sing, but it just happened to be in the key of "H minor". However, she would happily stand herself between a couple of other, stronger voices and let the choir carry her.

From Fintas we moved to Fahaheel Towers, a bigger flat in a newly built compound of four blocks built around a swimming pool. They were set above the souk, with a view of the sea front and harbour. And the local graveyard.

Mum got us involved with the local amateur dramatics society, the Kuwait Little Theatre. Our social life began to revolve heavily around that, with Mum variously managing their Front of House, making and designing costumes, painting sets or taking the occasional turn on stage, most memorably as a green-haired witch in a production of Macbeth.

Pantos became a family affair in which she inescapably involved us all. She moved onto directing them, along with a number of musicals; Pirates of Penzance, Oklahoma and Brigadoon to name but a few.

In the early 80's, Mum and Dad sold the house in Hillborough Road, but were "gazumped" and lost out on the place they wanted to buy next.

Without anywhere to stay for their summer leave, Dad managed to persuade Mum it would be a good idea to buy a boat. So that summer we lived aboard a 27' cruiser called Paddler, exploring the Severn and the Avon, or moored up in Tewkesbury Marina.

Mum enjoyed the open-air, bohemian lifestyle of living aboard almost as much as us, but perhaps felt the inconveniences of close-quartered living, especially when it rained, and the lack of a bath or shower aboard much more so than we did.

The following year, they found a house in Alney Terrace near Westgate Bridge. It was downsized from Hillborough Road so Dad could keep the boat, and backed onto the River Severn so we could moor her in the back garden throughout the summer.

Our summer holidays for the next few years to come were happily split between riverside parties in the back garden of Alney Terrace and time aboard Paddler, roaming up river or down canal, hopping from riverside pub to pub.

I reached an age ready to start secondary school and the schooling options in Kuwait at the time ran out. The only option was to send me back to boarding school in the UK. They decided Jamie would go with me for support, to keep the two of us together.

Mum and Dad spent the summer looking at the options local to our family in Gloucester. Inevitably, it was Mum that made the decision, and she opted for the wildcard, a Steiner School on the outskirts of Gloucester called Wynstones.

Of course, she made the decision not on philosophy or prospectus but because the kids she met there, the "hostellers" as they were known, whilst undeniably a little wild and grubby behind the ears, looked, in her words, happy and well loved.

Mum missed her boys. I adapted, but Jamie didn't thrive and within the year had moved home to continue his schooling in Kuwait.

Mum took a job at Jamie's new school as an administrator. She had a flair for computers; she'd started with a ZX-81 and then got a BBC Micro. I played Elite on it during the school holidays, Mum played with programming, spreadsheets and word processors.

When the first PC's became available, we didn't just have one, but two. I played Flight Simulator and Castle Quest, Mum built databases and reprogrammed a digitiser to draw arcs for Dad.

They moved from the flat in Fahaheel to a small, pretty, oil company house in Ahmadi with a courtyard and a garden and geckos on the trellised veranda, and then finally on to a much bigger bungalow on the other side of town.

Dad sold Paddler, and the house in Alney Terrace was traded up for a semi-detached in Quedgeley; it had a bigger garden and fewer of the problems associated with the River Severn trying to join you in the living room every once in a while.

In 1987 the boarding facility at Wynstones closed. Mum made it very clear that there was a simple choice: either I came back out to Kuwait with them, or they'd come back to the UK with me.

So I went back out. Mum had her boys back with her, and we had a few more years of sun, sand and sea.

In the summer of 1990, whilst we were on leave here in the UK, Saddam invaded Kuwait and it all came to an end.

Mum found work with a Gloucester company, tutoring job seekers in IT, and Dad found work briefly back in the tool-room before moving on to lecture at Stroud College.

She got her boys involved with the local amateur dramatics society, the GODS in Barton Street, but found her new job absorbing all of her time and energy so left us to play on the stage and focused on work and her garden at home.

A couple of kittens called Whiskey and Lucy joined the family home, followed by a puppy, Mitch. If the cats had always been for Mum and the dogs for Dad, this time it was different; Mitch was very much his mum's dog.

She'd walk him over the fields next to the house, down to the canal, and Whiskey and Lucy would pad along for company, the four of them raising eyebrows as quite the unusual walking party.

Jamie and I started a band together. Mum, quite unable to stop herself from getting involved, took on the role of managing us.

For the next fifteen years, Mum became the absolute hub of the band.

She found us gigs, negotiated the money, charmed landlords and made sure we got paid. She booked studios when we needed to record new demos, and managed the creation and distribution of three albums. She built our website, kept our books in order, and tamed the taxman when he came calling.

She even found musicians to replace the few we lost along the way.

In short, she took our band and our friends under her wing and welcomed them, loved them and treated them as if they were kids of her own, a kind of benevolent Fagin of the live music scene.

She loved the music. She'd keep whatever the latest album or demo was in her car, and listen to it on the drive to and from work.

One of her favourite tracks was a song called Dragonfly. She always joked that she wanted us to play it at her funeral; she quite liked the idea of coming back as a dragonfly.

As for that; to say Mum didn't have a religion would be an unfair oversimplification. She had a spiritual curiosity, backed up by a deep and abiding faith; but it wasn't constrained or defined by dogma or institution, even if she had a great sympathy and understanding for how that might work for others.

Mum loved people. She loved her friends and her family, she loved her animals. She loved to listen and she loved to be involved. If God is love, then Mum knew God, and God surely loved her.

Over the next ten years, Jamie and me grew up, at least as much as we were ever going to, and in between the blur of band practices, gigs and recording sessions, met girls, married, moved out and set up homes of our own.

Mum became a mother-in-law, which took her a little adjusting, and a grandmother, which she took to immediately and instinctively.

With the new millennium, another puppy came home. A little bundle of fluff from Weston-Super-Mare, Mum named him Blue, because that was the colour of his collar when she picked him out of the litter.

A gorgeous, long-coated, German shepherd, Blue was a big-hearted lump of a dog. He became her soul mate, plain and simple; when she wasn't at work, they went everywhere together.

During the week, as she'd head out to work, she'd give him a couple of biscuits and say "Bye-bye, Blue". He'd take the biscuits upstairs and lie down on her bed with them. Then he'd wait, snoozing on the bed with one ear half-cocked, listening.

Only when he heard the car (her car, mind, not Dad's) pull back into the drive would he bring the biscuits back downstairs. After greeting her with that beautiful enthusiasm that's quite peculiar to dogs, he'd finally settle down to munch them at her feet.

In 2006, Dad and I rediscovered our latent enthusiasm for boats, and joined a sailing club in Frampton-on-Severn. We spent many warm evenings that summer at the Club after work. Mum would sit on the shore outside the clubhouse with Nikki, Blue and a glass of red wine, whilst Dad and I pottered about the lake with her grandchildren.

She rarely stepped in a boat, but she loved the social side of the Club. She and Blue were a regular fixture, sat in the sunshine on the bench outside the club house enjoying the company of whoever was around.

She always maintained that boys never grew up beyond age seven, and applied that theory equally to Dad, Jamie and me. But she encouraged and supported us in everything, often with a fond, but bemused tolerance; often when, perhaps, we might have been better served had she simply told us to grow up and stop behaving like prats.

Just after the Christmas before last, we lost Blue. At nearly thirteen years old, he was a grand old man and had enjoyed a rich life, but he was sorely missed by Mum. When Bruno joined the family some few weeks later, although she loved him to bits, he proved himself man's dog, and became all but attached to Dad's hip.

After the loss of Blue, she stopped coming out quite so much, took more to reading her books, spending quiet evenings settled in her favourite chair on the patio beneath the veranda. The same one that she always sat in, at the end of most every day, in all weathers, glasses perched on her nose, a small glass of wine in one hand, the inevitable cigarette in the other, the dog often at her feet, both listening to the bird song and the rustle of the wind in the trees, enjoying the tranquillity of her garden.

That's very much how I'll most remember her.

They say death isn't a subject fit for funerals; we've come together today to celebrate Mum's life. Suffice then to say, that Tuesday night came as a blow to us all; unexpected, out of the blue, this isn't how it was meant to be, and reflecting back on the years that have passed so swiftly, we can't understand where it has all gone.

But she knew her boys, Dad, Jamie and I, were there with her, at the end. We knew she loved us, and she knew she was loved by us in return.

Ann Carol Gribble was the eldest child of Les and Kath Sheppard. She was the sister of Danny, the mother of Jamie and me, grandmother to Tasha, Ben and Sam.

And she was the childhood sweetheart and wife of Roger.

She had many, many friends, and she will be loved and missed by us all.

The above were the words I spoke in the chapel at Gloucester Crematorum, to a full house a week ago last Wednesday. Standing room only at the back, she always did love a sellout show. It was my privilage to tell her story.

Mum, 15th October 1948 to 20th May 2014

Call me by my old familiar name
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone

"There is a party happening right now, at Rainbow Bridge"