Category Archives: history

244. A day in November – Occupy London 2011

(… with apologies to Sebastian Faulks).

One day in November 2011. Two views of the City of London.

1) St Paul’s Cathedral, from the top floor of a major European bank;

st pauls cathedral london england november morning city bank view by roadsofstone

2) The Occupy London protest. Down to Earth, in St Paul’s Churchyard.

grow the real economy occupy london protest st pauls cathedral england roadsofstone

Truly, we live in interesting, fascinating times. When distance and detail each yields its own perspective.
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243. Across two continents: Istanbul, Turkey

sultan ahmed blue mosque istanbul turkey by roadsofstoneAs I stand below the Blue Mosque in the early morning, the Call to Prayer is deafening, drowning out all the other senses and sending forth the unmistakeable message — Istanbul is an Islamic city.

But this narrow street hides a wider view. Because just across the road stands one of the great ancient cathedrals of Christendom. The Agia Sofia spans the history of the Holy Roman Empire.

agia sofia from topkapi palace istanbul turkey by roadsofstoneThe first church here was founded in 360 AD whilst the present structure dates back to 532 AD — and for almost a thousand years formed the largest cathedral in the world.

Contrasts run through this city, at every level. We landed here in Asia, but we’re staying in Europe.

inside the grand bazaar istanbul turkey by roadsofstoneLast week, this place felt bafflingly exotic and full of oriental mystery. Yet returning now from central Turkey, Istanbul’s efficient trams and city bustle seem much more familiarly European, almost recalling Zürich rather than the Middle East.

city wall and turkish flag istanbul turkey by roadsofstoneI wend southwards through winding streets to reach the city wall. High above it run the last few kilometres of the mighty railway line which carried the Orient Express towards its European terminus at Sirkeci.

türkmen store kadiköy istanbul turkey by roadsofstoneFrom there, the ferry across the Bosphorus sails to Kadıköy, the town which gave the quartz mineral chaldedony its name, where another line begins at Haydarpaşa station for the onward journey to Baghdad.

The long odyssey from Western Europe into Asia is divided in two by just this narrow stretch of water which lies ahead of me now.
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242. The secret of Sandwich – British Open 2011

the maiden 6th hole royal st georges sandwich england by roadsofstone

A major tournament – contested on the best links I’ve played, and won by the gutsiest golfer I know. There could scarcely have been a better result to this year’s Open Championship.

Amongst the courses on the British Open rota, Royal St George’s is the toughest and biggest one out there. And those are qualifications which could apply perfectly to Darren Clarke, as well.
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237. Travels in Asia Minor – Cappadocia, Turkey

balloon flight above the mosque cappadocia turkey by roadsofstoneThe golden autumn grasslands looked benign enough in sunshine from our balloon flight at dawn today, but 600 kilometres into Asia Minor, and 1,600 years ago, life was hard here. So hard, in fact, that an entire civilisation went underground. Literally.

underground church cappadocia turkey by roadsofstoneCut up to 85 m deep in soft volcanic layers within Miocene to Holocene tuffs and ignimbrites, the underground cities of Cappadocia serve testament to how difficult life was for early Christians on these high and open plains.

Dangerous enough for whole communities of fifty thousand souls to seek refuge beneath the earth — at several places scattered around this part of northern central Turkey.

afternoon at the cafe in avanos cappadocia turkey by roadsofstoneLife here is easier now than it was back then, but maybe not that much.

Avanos is a one horse town if ever I’ve seen one, and it’s clear the horse left quite some time ago.
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236. The price of oil: 6 – Libya and the Last Oil Shock

jack-up oil rig derrick by roadsofstone‘Paradoxically, the very worst outcome [for oil prices] might not be a sudden shock, but a milder recession. If this were to create some temporary spare oil production capacity by depressing demand, … the urgency of the need to prepare for the impending peak could easily be forced off the policy agenda…

As the global peak approaches and the market tightens, any sudden interruption of oil production could [then] spark the last oil shock.’
David Strahan (2007) — The Last Oil Shock (p. 177)

* * * * *

In early 2009, I described the dramatic rise and fall of the oil price associated with the financial crisis of 2008, and looked at the future oil price trends which might follow recovery through into 2010.

transocean rather deepwater semisubmersible oil rig cromarty firth scotland by roadsofstoneTwo years on, economic uncertainty remains, and a return to growth is far from guaranteed. Yet across this time, the oil price has risen steadily. From a low of $40 in February 2009, Brent crude stands at well over $120 today.

The last time when the oil price was above $100, back in 2008, the economy was still booming. Three years later, during the long aftermath of the deepest global recession for eighty years, the oil price remains close to historic highs. How can this be possible?
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234. Fukushima, Japan and nuclear power in the UK

hinkley point nuclear power station somerset england by me'nthedogs flickrThe triple shock of a huge earthquake, a devastating tsunami and an unfolding nuclear accident rocked Japan in March, and my condolences go out to all the many thousands affected.

Luckily, none of this could never happen here in Britain. Or could it?

Despite public disquiet over the safety of the industry since Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, nuclear power has regained political favour in recent years.

Amidst desperately slow progress in investing in renewables to fill a looming energy gap in the UK, successive governments have presented nuclear as a clean, cheap and proven solution which also offers zero carbon emissions.

protest at sizewell b nuclear power station suffolk uk 2002 greenpeaceFaced with public concerns after Fukushima, ministers have maintained that the UK is unlike Japan because there are no appreciable seismic risks. We do have earthquakes, but mostly they are minor.

But low seismic risk falls far short of guaranteeing safety. The more important question is whether there are risks from geological or meteorological events which could threaten the safety of our existing and future nuclear power plants. And I’m afraid the answer is a resounding yes.
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233. Isle of Wight 1: On Tennyson Down

freshwater-bay-isle-of-wight-england-by-roadsofstone
No rock so hard but that a little wave
May beat admission in a thousand years

Alfred, Lord Tennyson — The Princess (1847)

* * * * *

freshwater-footpath-dusk-isle-of-wight-england-by-roadsofstoneThe fog is hanging low across the Chalk Downs as ahead of me the village of Freshwater huddles deep between the trees. The first streetlights of a November evening flicker weakly above the street.

As inspiring landscapes go, perhaps this drizzly valley wouldn’t rate that high. But five miles run before the autumn daylight fades is precious, shrunken time, expanded on the trail.

The village street is empty. A fine mist of rain would keep most folk inside, but in truth it’s almost perfect running weather.

the-abyss-cliffs-tennyson-down-isle-of-wight-england-foggy-dusk-roadsofstoneI loop around to find the path, cut into steps above the road through dense gorse and bramble. It climbs relentlessly between the trees, emerging breathlessly onto a chalky, flinty track under a darkening canopy of woods — branches of yew holding up grey clouds just a metre or so above.

At last the path emerges from the underworld and in just a second my feet burst out into a longer stride across wide and grey-lit grassland, rising evenly towards a lurking hill unseen beyond.

The evening silence is different here — wider, more expansive and with a distant, threatening edge. I skulk onwards more cautiously now — for all the firm, smooth ground beneath my feet, there’s a clifftop not all that far away.

Open, yawning space fills the sky, as the empty horizon closes out direction and up or down. It’s unsettling, nauseating — yet an elemental elation fills my throat.

This is fear.

tennyson-memorial-in-fog-isle-of-wight-england-by-roadsofstoneA minute further through the void, I’m a mile or more from anyone who would hear me scream when a dark grey mass rears itself tall and high from unlikely, empty fog.

Atop this wild, forsaken hill there stands a cross.
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