“The past is another country” — The Go Between, LP Hartley (1953)
August days are with us now, the ripe Lincolnshire corn shimmering tall and golden in late summer afternoons.
The stuffy, restrictive heat and bustle of London feels a world away from here.
The landscape has changed little across the years — parched harvest fields and desiccated stately lawns still wait ready for a boy or girl delivering some fateful message to Julie Christie in The Go Between or Keira Knightley in Atonement.
Only the slow progress of the monster machines that gather in the harvest serve to tell the tale of a landscape now worked with many fewer people.
Across long, easy days we cycle over gentle Jurassic hills. Three miles to reach another village, four villages to find a pub. It’s a pleasant way to slow down and find the summer.
The pace of life seems slow, and it’s hard to equate this landscape with a world speed record set three quarters of a century ago and still standing firm today.
And so they’ve capped the well for now, although storms aren’t far away and the oil is still out there across the Gulf. I really hope your Florida beaches manage to avoid it.
Elsewhere around the coast it’s a mess, and although hurricanes might spread the oil, a silver lining from experience of the Braer oil spill off the Shetland Islands in the 1990s is that severe storms may finally help to dissipate the slick.
Deepwater drilling is challenging. High Pressure / High Temperature drilling is difficult.
Combining these operations into drilling HP/HT deepwater wells is new within the past decade, pushing the technological envelope while incorporating the difficulties of both.
Although vilified for his PR gaffes, finally Tony Hayward did get it exactly right in one of his pronouncements last month, when he said that the real problem is we just didn’t have the toolkit to deal with problems in this setting.
In that sense, the Deepwater Horizon, just like the Sea Gem or Piper Alpha, will be a disaster which changes the way we do things for ever more beyond.
It’s late on a summer’s evening and I’m cycling homeward along one of the most beautiful country roads in England.
This morning’s London to Brighton bike ride is well behind me now and I’m rolling towards the sunset on the longest day of the year.
Eighty miles are in my legs by the time I pass the pretty Saxon village of Slinfold, with twenty more ahead to Guildford.
Beyond the church, I slowly climb a steady rise and turn right onto the main A29. One of my favourite cycling stretches, this — perfect blacktop, arrow straight, and for now at least, heading gently downhill towards the river.
This is Stane Street — the Roman road from Chichester to London. Built in the 1st Century AD, it’s more than good enough for me now. I pause to eat and think at the bridge across the Arun. Here, inside the meander of the river, the Romans built a staging post or mansio.
As evening falls beneath the deepest black of a December northern sky, a thin veil of dark blue hangs streaked with vivid orange just above the pine trees.
The homeward rush hour in Inverness is a muted, half-hearted affair, and in minutes we’re sailing past the bright lights of the bridge towards the darkness of the Black Isle.
Half an hour ahead, the lights of Cromarty barely touch the depths of nightfall. The white houses of the Royal Burgh are hiding low against the shoreline.
There’s a menace to the silence now, faintly interrupted as it is by the bleak moanful sounds of grinding metal and hammering. Across the water, just half a mile offshore, the leviathans of the deep are waiting.
Here in the Cromarty Firth, oil rigs from around the world are waiting for the calmer seas of spring, wintering inshore through maintenance and upgrade programmes to equip them for ever deeper, more challenging drilling as our quest for oil expands.
I approved the proclamation which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will even go further:
… In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries. That is perfectly clear.
— US President John F. Kennedy: 24th October, 1963
Daybreak, 210 km from Havana.
It’s dawn. The rainforest stands still etched in grey, the air dank and humid with half-forgotten warmth.
The sky is dimly promising a future brightening through blue, already revealing white-topped clouds in the firmament above.
Behind me, the friendly valley calls. The massive limestone mogotes above Viñales rise to frame a monochrome outline of last night’s perfect Cuban sunset. I turn the other way and run towards the sunrise.
The track is damp from unseen rain fallen in the night. The air is heavy, silent, folded thick amongst the trees and scrub lurking close around the path.
The Cuban Revolution started somewhere like this, in the Sierra Maestra above Santiago. The 82 men who sailed from Mexico in December 1956 on the yacht Granma were swiftly cut down to twelve when they landed on Cuba’s swampy southeastern shores.
The survivors, among them a charismatic Argentinian doctor named Che Guevara, fled for the refuge of the mountains where they could regroup and recruit fresh rebels for their cause.
The March sun was warming the first Spring evening in London just a few hours ago, but it’s a winter’s tail that tells of Scandinavia now. Thirty centimetres of snow drape the train tracks in the station.
I fumble my way outside, and pull my coat around me. A mile of dark, uncertain streets leads past the midnight girls and drug dealers (who thought this city knew such things?) to my hastily-booked hotel.
No alarm call needed, as morning brings the sounds of a building site next door. The day is lightening outside my window, and pretty soon I’m running beneath a chill grey sky as deserted shopping streets lead me towards the Cathedral.
I take a short diversion to reconnoitre the address for my meeting, and then my mental map of Oslo runs out. Five circular minutes later I’m slithering across white snowy gardens around the Akershus Fortress, and then on to reach the waterfront.
The Oslofjord lies black and still before me, the quaysides completely empty. Five minutes of quiet is the time I need to clear my mind and think.
Monolithos was four fisherman huts along the water,
a miniature villa closed for years, and our farmhouse
a hundred feet behind. Hot fields of barley, grapes,
and tomatoes stretching away three flat miles
to where the rest of the island used to be.
— Not Part of Literature: from Monolithos, by Jack Gilbert (1982)
A cold January in London is always the perfect time to head inside. Sunday finds us at the British Museum, gazing enthralled at a small statue which transports us to a different world entirely.
Inside the case, an acrobat is jumping over the horns of a charging bull — a feat of agility captured in Bronze Age craftsmanship more than three and a half thousand years ago.
The Minoans who made the statue lived around the eastern Mediterranean for well over a thousand years.
Settling from 2600 BC around Knossos, near modern Heraklion on the Greek island of Crete, they built rich palaces which were destroyed and rebuilt several times after 1700 BC, before their sites were taken over by the Myceneans around 1420 BC.
* * * * *
It’s early morning and the sun is already hot across the blackness of the beach. To the south, the road snakes its way up the limestone cliff to Ancient Thera. It’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth, but the climb of Mesa Vouno will kill me long before I get there.
I head north along the shore, with the Aegean Sea on my right, and work my way slowly out of Kamari. The strip is quiet at this time of day, with just a few old folks up in search of breakfast. The rest of the resort is sleeping off last night.
The deserted boutique hotels and bars fall swiftly behind me, and soon I reach the end of town and the start of Greece.