‘No pay, no prospects, not much pleasure’*

H.W.Tilman’s accounts of his mountaineering and sailing escapades have long swirled around the edges of my consciousness.

Now I’ve no excuse, with a gorgeous new collected edition of Tilman’s work being published over the next couple of years. I mean, just look at them…

Slider-Mischief-in-Patagonia Slider-Snow-on-the-Equator

* So stated a crew recruitment advertisement allegedly placed in The Times by Tilman circa 1960

Dinghy desire paths

GPS tracks of sailing the river blackwater

GPS tracks after 3 years sailing the River Blackwater.

I bought Wanderer 446 (a 14 foot sailing dinghy) nearly three years ago.

She’s given me much joy as we’ve explored the River Blackwater in Essex.

We do day trips, each destination determined by state of tide, wind and mind. The picture above shows desire paths of moon, mood and meteo.

“You get to this nowhere land where your brain is utterly disconnected, and I think…I think that [is at] the root of all this… obsession. It’s trying to get into that little slot of your brain where things don’t exist and yet they’re working perfectly. It’s a sort of heaven. A nirvana.” – Alexander Waugh

Sailing home to Bradwell...

Sailing home to Bradwell…

“Let’s prod the beast, and see if it’ll move”

In last week’s Spectator there’s an article by Peter Lilley. It is subtitled thus:  “Today’s MPs are no longer scared of the whips. Instead, they are scared of their constituents. That’s a good thing.”

The piece heralds the role TheyWorkForYou has played in helping constituents hold their MP to account.


It’s ten years since we* started building TheyWorkForYou – a decade’s lag between cause and effect.

Back in 2003 our aim was to force MPs to remember who they worked for. As in, us. Not their party. Not the whips. Not the executive. But us, their constituents.

For Stef and I, the motivation came from having prodded the parliamentary beast while using the web to educate MPs on the importance of sane digital legislation.

As the TheyWorkForYou ‘About Us’ page  puts it:

For all its faults and foibles, our democracy is a profound gift from previous generations. Yet most people don’t know the name of their MP, nor their constituency, let alone what their MP does or says in their name.

We aim to help bridge this growing democratic disconnect, in the belief that there is little wrong with Parliament that a healthy mixture of transparency and public engagement won’t fix.

Hence this website.

It took a while, but job done, I reckon.  The beast moved.

Early sketch of TheyWorkForYou, then using working title of EasyParliament

Early sketch of TheyWorkForYou (working title was EasyParliament)

* “We” were a bunch of about a dozen volunteers. Most of the legwork was done by the likes of Francis, Phil & Matthew. The charity mySociety kindly took over the site in about 2005 and has since expanded the concept internationally.


Google Earth as a tool for planning dinghy cruises

I enjoy cruising my sailing dinghy around the rivers and coastline of Essex and Suffolk, and have recently discovered a feature in Google Earth which makes planning trips that little bit easier.

Google Earth now has a ‘historial images’ tool, which on my mac is in the form of a clockface-meets-arrow icon, and brings up a tool looking like this:

The 'historical imagery' tool on Google Earth

Moving the slider lets you change the date of satellite images.

Somewhat wonderfully for sailors on the River Blackwater, and seemingly also for most of Essex and Suffolk, a couple of the recent series of images seem to have been taken at spring tides, both high and low.

For shallow draught dinghy cruisers, happy to dice with a mudbank or two, this lets you now plan new routes thanks to the offer of accuracy with which a nautical chart can’t compete.

For example, to the south west of Bradwell Waterside, on the River Blackwater in Essex, there is a large mudflat, through which flows a narrow and winding channel known as St Lawrence Creek.

At anything other than high or low tide, this route is a bit iffy, since it’s hard to know when you’re in the channel when the whole mudflat covers with water, albeit not to a depth to let you sail safely.

This is a shame, as it’s a nice shortcut home to my base at Bradwell Waterside, where I keep my 14 foot Wanderer sailing dinghy.

Here’s the Navionics chart of the St Lawrence creek:

Navionics chart of St Lawrence Creek

(Check out the new, free Navionics chart web app – it’s great, as are the Navionics smartphone apps)

Now, here’s the same area at spring low tide from Google Earth, complete with a series of waypoints which I then use on my GPS to let me follow the channel whatever the state of the tide.

Following this route carefully means I don’t have to worry about my rudder hitting the bottom were I to stray onto barely-covered mudbanks at mid-tide.

St Lawrence Creek at low tide

To be fair, there’s no need to follow this route at or near high tide, shown below, as there’s enough water everywhere. But at mid tide, it’s a reassurance that you won’t hit the bottom.

St Lawrence Creek at high tide

I’ve tested the route a couple of times mid-tide, and am happy to share waypoints if anyone’s interested (YMMV, mud shifts etc).

Ansel Adams on digital photography, from 1983

Ansel Adams exhibition banner

An exhibition of Ansel Adams photographs is on at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich until April 28.

We duly took our eldest, who likes to take the odd photo.

Sadly, the exhibition was heaving. There was neither space nor time to dwell.

So we escaped into the side room showing a 1983 BBC television interview with Adams.

I struggle to think of another artist able to explain their creative process with such easy grace. Grayson Perry, maybe?

Whatever, we were entranced, notably by this clip, in which Adams gets excited about the new creative opportunities about to be opened up by what he terms ‘electronic’ photography.

This was from 1983, remember. Adams was 81 years old.

He had spent his working life slaving in darkrooms and under the hood of quarter plate cameras, perfecting his craft. Yet his mastery of an analogue craft counts for little compared with his excitement about the new frontiers of his artform soon to be opened up by digital technology.

There’s a lesson in there somewhere.