Travels in Crete 7: the Greek Epiphany

I KNOW I SAID last week that it would be Kit Carson this week, but just back from Crete where I witnessed the Epiphany celebration in the village of Mochlos on Wednesday January 6th. The Epiphany is the twelth night after Christmas and marks the end of that festivity. This is why one of the old wives’ tales has it that it is bad luck to have Christmas decorations up after the twelfth night. Also Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night was written to be performed as a Twelfth Night entertainment. The earliest known performance took place at Middle Temple Hall, one of the Inns of Court, on Candlemas night (festival celebrating Jesus being represented at the Temple), 2nd February 1602 (just thought I’d mention that in case you  have read my post on Middle Temple – December 27, 2014).

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Setting up the table on the small quay by the water (centre right) in Mochlos

The Twelfth Night/Epiphany also marks a visit to the baby Jesus by three Kings, or Wise Men, (Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar – representing Europe, Arabia and Africa respectively). The word ‘Epiphany’ comes from Greek and means to show, referring to Jesus being revealed to the world.

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Getting ready to roll …..

The Baptism of Christ symbolizes the rebirth of man which is why, until the fourth century, Christians celebrated the New Year in with the Baptism of Christ on January 6.  In Greece (and other Western Christian Churches) that day is the feast of the Epiphany, called the Theophany, and customs revolve around the Great Blessing of the Waters. It marks the end of the traditional ban on sailing as the heavy winter seas are cleansed of ‘mischief’.  At this ceremony, a cross is thrown into the water, and (sometimes) the men dive into the sea to retrieve it for good luck.

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The Priest blessing the Cross before throwing it into the water – no one dived in after it (well, he had tied a ribbon to it and so it was not going very far!!)

This year the day was sunny and hot (as can be seen from the photos) and a delightful experience. We were all given free raki and cake by the youngsters of the village after the blessing.

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Blessing ends – time for free raki!

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Just to show I was really there – and enjoying the sun after the blessing

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Okay, next week Kit Carson

 

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The Romans and the Space Shuttle

WHAT HAVE THE ROMANS DONE FOR … the Space Shuttle?  Well, does the statement, “We’ve always done it that way” ring any bells?

Back in the Victorian days in England, engineers built train tracks a standard 4 feet, 8.5 inches (143.5 centimetres) apart – called the gauge.  They were simply following the pattern of the previous tramway tracks, which, in turn, were following the old wagon width spacing between wheels. Why? Because they were all using the same old tooling that had existed back in the days of wagon transportation.

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Old British tram (on 4 ft 8.5 ins track)

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English railway track – 4 feet, 8.5 inches (143.5 centimetres) apart

So why were these wagon measurement so odd? Well, wagons used that particular wheel spacing because it fitted already existing ruts in the roads and any other size could cause damage to the wagons and discomfort to any passengers .

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Wagon chassis (4 ft 8.5 ins wheel track)

So where did those existing ruts come from,  I hear you ask?  Ancient Rome, I answer. The Romans built very good roads to assist the movement of their legions which used chariots and wagons. These roads were not limited to Rome but spread throughout the Empire, including Great Britain. Some of these road were still being used in Victorian England along with their Roman wheel ruts. And what was that wheel spacing of these ancient ruts?   4 feet, 8.5 inches, of course.

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Roman chariot road tracks (4 ft 8.5 ins apart) 

Now in the United States of America it was the English who designed the railways and they use their own ‘tried and tested’ system involving the 4 feet, 8.5 inch gauge of track. So the United States standard railroad track is also based on the original specifications for an Ancient Roman chariot.

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And bureaucracies live forever. So the next time you are handed a specification and wonder what horse’s ass came up with it, you may be exactly right, because the  Roman chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the backsides of two horses – which happens to be 4 feet, 8.5 inches.

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One half of the factor

What has this got to do with the Space Shuttle, you are wondering?

A Space Shuttle has two big solid rocket boosters (SRBs) attached to the sides of the main fuel tank.  These SRBs are made in Utah, USA, and had to be transported by rail to the launch site in Florida. The railroad line runs through several tunnels in the mountains over this route and, of course, the SRBs had to fit through those tunnels.  As the tunnels are only slightly wider than the railroad track, the SRBs have to be the size of the track, which is ….. as wide as two horses’ backsides.

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SRBs ether side of the Space Shuttle main fuel tank

So, there you have it – part of one of the most advanced means of transport in the world today has a design factor based on Ancient Roman travel several hundred years ago and featuring a consideration of two horses’ backsides.

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Next week: Kit Carson in the Wild West

 

A walk from Blackfriars Bridge to London Bridge

The other weekend Sarah and I visited Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on the south side of the River Thames in London – between the Millennium Bridge and Southwark Bridge – both of which are between Blackfriars Bridge and London Bridge.  Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was originally built in 1599, destroyed by fire in 1613, rebuilt in 1614, and then demolished in 1644. The modern reconstruction is based on available evidence of the 1599 and 1614 buildings. It was founded by the American actor and director, Sam Wannamaker (Zoës dad), almost on the site of the original theatre, and opened in 1997.

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The Globe

Interestingly we went to see a variation on Aeschylus’ Oresteia, the ancient Greek play – nothing to do with Shakespeare!  However, as you do, we wandered around the area and what we found, within no more than a 5 minute walk, was quite fascinating.

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Inside the Globe  – the set of The Oresteia

If you hear the phrase “he’s in the clink” you think of someone in prison.  But where does the phrase come from?  If you walk eastward from the Globe along Bankside you come into Clink Street – and the answer to the question. Here you will find the Clink Prison Museum. The Clink Prison is the name given to all prisons that have stood on a number of sites around this particular vicinity over the years. The first prison dates back to 1127 and was a cellar in the Palace of the Bishop of Winchester (see below). The last was in Deadman’s Place – now Park Street (immediately southwest of Clink St) – which, at various times, held Protestant and Catholic religious martyrs. It was burned down in 1780 by anti-Catholic Gordon rioters (see Charles Dickens’ 1841 novel, Barnaby Rudge).

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The Clink Prison Museum – enter at your own peril….!

Just along from the prison (still going east) is the remains of Winchester Palace. This was the palace of the powerful Bishops of Winchester which was one of the largest and most important buildings in medieval London. It was founded in the 12th century (around 1136) by Bishop Henry de Blois, brother of King Steven. Its purpose was to house the bishops in comfort whilst they were staying in London on royal or administrative business.  And why not.

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Remains of Winchester Palace

The visible remains (above) were part of the Great Hall which formerly stood alongside the south bank of the Thames. You can see the magnificent rose window at the top. Below it are three glass ‘windows’ which were, in fact, entrances leading to the buttery, pantry and kitchen.  Below the hall was a vaulted cellar where goods such as wine could be stored, with a passage to the river wharf. The palace remained in use until the 17th century when it was divided into tenements and warehouses. It was destroyed by fire in 1814 and then rediscovered in the 1980s during redevelopment of the area.

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The foundations of the cellar (in between the pot plants) – the ground floor of the hall would have been immediately below the four glass entrances at the top

Along from the palace is the replica of Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hinde. The original ship dates back to the 16th century when it circumnavigated the globe between 1577 and 1580 during the reign of Elizabeth I. The Golden Hinde II took two years to build and, as  there were no plans of the original ship, Loring Christian Norgaard, a Californian naval architect, spent three years researching manuscripts about Drake’s voyage, Tudor shipbuilding techniques, and the journals compiled by crew members.  The replica was launched in April 1973 from the  J. Hinks & Son shipyard in Devon.

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Golden Hinde II

From Winter 1974 to Spring 1975 the ship sailed from Plymouth to San Francisco to commemorate the upcoming 400th anniversary of Francis Drake’s discovery of Nova Albion in North America in 1579. She returned to England in 1980.  After a tour of Britain and Ireland, Golden Hinde II sailed to Canada to appear in Expo ’86, and a year later began a four-year expedition along the East and West Coasts of North America, returning to the UK in 1991.  Following another successful tour, she finally settled down in her current home at St Mary Overie Dock in 1996.

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Golden Hinde II

I don’t wish to be a spoil-sport but if you are in any doubt as to whether she really is a replica check out the propeller!

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16th century propeller?   …… perhaps not

Finally, just around the corner from the Golden Hinde II is Southwark Cathedral. This began its life in AD 606 as a convent. Around the 9th century, the Bishop of Winchester may have replaced the nuns with a college of priests. In 1106 the church was ‘re-founded’ by two Norman knights as a priory, living according to the rule of St Augustine of Hippo, dedicated to St Mary.   After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 it was appointed a parish church and renamed St Saviour’s.  It became Southwark Cathedral in 1905.

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Southwark Cathedral

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Southwark Cathedral – the nave designed  Sir Arthur Blomfield in 1895

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Inside the Cathedral – quite impressive

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Map of the vicinity – Winchester Palace is located between The Clink Prison Museum and the Golden Hinde II  (Blackfriars Bridge is about 300m off the map to the left and London Bridge is on the map, far right)

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 Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I have discovered another volume of Artemus’ notebooks (followers will recall Dr Artemus Smith was an archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction). Here is another extract:

My large friend, Paramount Hargrove, told me he had discovered that he had the body of a Greek god.

I had some difficulty trying to explain to him that Buddha is not Greek.

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Travels in Crete 6: keep out the water

WE DON’T SEE many sharks in the waters off Crete but up until March this year you would not have wanted to swim in the reservoir/lake south of Rethymnon – for there lurked Sifis – a 6ft crocodile!

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Sifis

No, crocodiles are not native to Crete, or Greece, or anywhere in Europe! However, Sifis first appeared in the lake some 8 months beforehand but managed to avoid capture. He was happy living off the wild-life within the lake. He was named Sifis, a ‘typical’ Cretan name [1], by his admirers who set up a Facebook dedicated to him. Tourists travelled from as far as Japan to get a sight of him (who needs Minoan archaeology!).

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In September, the Frenchman, Olivier Behra, reputed to be the world’s greatest living crocodile hunter proved he wasn’t.  He managed to grab Sifis but he escaped  (Sifis not Behra …).

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The lake – it’s not safe to go in!

Sadly, during the winter months, the cold winter defeated Sifis and he was found dead on the banks of the lake. The director of Crete’s waterworks division, Vangelis Mamagakis, said, “It’s sad, very sad. We never wanted this to happen, we wanted to move him out of the reservoir to a more suitable place but he just kept eluding us.”

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Sifis basking in the Cretan sunshine

How on earth did Sifis get there?! It has been speculated that he may have been deposited into the lake by his owner when he just got too big. Don’t people know that little crocs become big crocs when they get older?!

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Footnote:

[1] Hmmmm … not sure how typical – I know quite a few Cretans named Yannis, Manolis, Yiorgos, Nikos – but I’ve only ever met one Sifis (and he wasn’t a crocodile).


POSTSCRIPT

Whilst on the subject of crocs, I did find this sign which made me smile:

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Then of course there is this classic sign at the entrance to a crocodile park (or is it alligator – can you tell the difference? Does it really matter ……?)

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But did you know that the common sign ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted’ is a falsehood. You cannot prosecute trespassers as it is not a criminal offence to trespass.

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Oh no they won’t

Trespass to land is a civil action. But you knew that because you have read my book ‘Do you know your law from your elbow’. This was (still is) availble on e-kindle to download but now you can buy it in book form – click here

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Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I have discovered another volume of Artemus’ notebooks (followers will recall Dr Artemus Smith was an archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction). Here is another extract:

I was in a bank the other day which was being robbed! The bank robber pulled out a gun and pointed it at the bank clerk and said, “Give me all the money or you’re geography!”

The puzzled bank clerk replied, “Did you mean to say ‘or you’re history?'”

The robber said, “Don’t change the subject!”

Travels in Crete 5: Toplou revisited

IF YOU REFER BACK to my post ‘Travels in Crete 3’ (July 11) you will recall I visited the the Toplou (Akrotiriani) Monastery.  I made mention of this trip to  my good Cretan friend of 7 years from Mochlos.  He told me that the Abbot from the monastery, Gennadios Silignaki, helped aid the Cretan National Resistance during the Second World War (along with many other monasteries who helped the Cretan and British resistance fighters). My friend further informed me that, sadly, the Abbot Siliginaki had been shot for his involvement in the resistance.  He thought others had lost their lives as well.

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Toplou Monastery

After further investigation, I discovered that the monastery was housing a wireless radio and the Germans found out about it.  Abbot Silignaki and certainly two monks, Kallinikos Papathanasakis and  Evemenios Stamatakis, were taken prisoner at Toplou in June 1944, along with an 18 yr old female wireless operator, Terpsichori Chryssoulaki-Vlachou.   They were transported to a prison at Agia in Chania and interrogated.  Stamatakis died in prison having been tortured, and both Papathanasakis and the girl, Chryssoulaki-Vlachou, were shot along with the Abbot Silignaki.

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Terpsichori Chryssoulaki-Vlachou

Returning to my conversation with my Cretan friend, he said that Abbot Siliginaki was from Sfaka along the road from Mochlos. Then he reminded me that he too originated from Sfaka and,  downing the remains of his raki, he added that his family name is also Siliginaki.

 

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‘Modern’ Monument at Toplou by Manolis Tzompanakis dedicated to the many monks killed during both the 1821 and 1940-44 resistances

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And this post is dedicated to Abbot Gennadios Silignaki, Kallinikos Papathanasakis, Evemenios Stamatakis and Terpsichori Chryssoulaki-Vlachou


 

The British Skiing and the Ski Club of Great Britain

SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE, of Sherlock Holmes fame of course, spent time in Davos in Switzerland in order to try and improve the health of his wife who was sick with tuberculosis (a more accommodating climate). He had obtained skis from Norway – they were ‘two strips of elm wood, 8ft long, 4ins broad with a square heel, turned up at the toes, and straps in the centre to secure your feet’ – and skied a 15 mile journey from the Furka Pass to Arosa in 1895. He claimed to have developed ski-running in Davos, but a Colonel Napier had experienced it some 6 years previously. Doyle commented, “[it was] getting as near flying as any earth-bound man can.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)

Then Doyle suggested in an interview with The Strand Magazine, “Skiing opens up a field of sport which is, I think unique. This is not appreciated yet, but I am convinced the time will come when hundreds of Englishmen will come to Switzerland for the skiing season between March and April.”  Astute fellow.

Doyle was followed by Edward Richardson.   E.C. or ‘Teddy’, as he was known (for fairly obvious reasons), was born in 1871 in Dumbarton and studied Law at Trinity College, Cambridge, then qualified as a barrister (followers of my blog will note that members of this learned profession seem to get everywhere!).  He and his brother spent the 1901/02 winter season at Davos for cross-country skiing. The following year they set up the Davos English Ski Club.

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EC died at 87 after a game of tennis – golf he dismissed as a game for old men!   He wrote one of the first books on how to ski, Ski-Running 1904.

  

E.C. Richardson’s book Ski Running with instructions on how to stop!

1903 also saw the beginning of the Ski Club of Great Britain (SCGB). It had its inaugural meeting at a dinner at the fashionable Café Royal, Regent Street, London, on 6 May 1903. There were around 12 gentlemen present, including E.C. Richardson (who was the host), and the idea of the club was to encourage other people to ski and take an interest in the sport.   Click here for a report on the meeting.

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Menu from the Cafe Royal, 1903, signed by all the founders of the new SCGB  

The SCGB produced its first publication, the British Ski Year Book, in 1905 and this was, effectively, the club’s magazine. In 1908 it held its first competition at Kitzbühel which, by 1918, was the principal winter resort for Brits (and all) in the eastern Alps. Initially this was just cross-country skiing but by the 1920s alpine skiing (going down mountains fast) began to evolve. By this time other clubs had emerged, particularly the Ladies Ski Club.

In 1905, Sir Henry Lunn formed the Public Schools Alpine Sports Club which secured the use of major hotels for the sport. Then in 1908 he set up Alpine Sports Limited to open up many winter sports resorts by organising tours. In the same year he founded the Alpine Ski Club, a gentlemen’s club for ski mountaineers.

Sir Henry Lunn (1859-1939)

According to Sir Henry’s grandson, Peter Lunn, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle came to stay with Sir Henry in Switzerland and told him that he had decided to devote his life to psychic research but couldn’t think what to do with Sherlock Holmes. Apparently Sir Henry said, “Push him over the Reichenbach Falls.” Conan Doyle hadn’t heard of them – they are a series of waterfalls on the Reichenbach stream in the Swiss Bernese Oberland region – so Sir Henry showed them to him. The rest, they say, is history (see ‘The Final Problem’, first published in The Strand Magazine in December 1893).

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Sherlock Holmes and Prof. Moriarty fall to their deaths at the Reichenbach falls in Switzerland

Sir Henry’s son, Arnold, was equally prolific in skiing having been introduced to it by his father.  Ge was an Oxford graduate (Balliol) and was a President of the SCGB, 1928-30, having already organised the first British National Ski Championships (including a downhill alpine race) on behalf of the SCGB in Wengen, Switzerland, in 1921. The following year Arnold set up the first slalom race in Mürren. In 1924 he was a founder member of the Khandahar Ski Club (in honour of Lord Roberts of Khandahar). By 1938 Arnold had persuaded the Olympic Committee to include downhill and slalom into the Winter Olympic Games.

Sir Arnold Lunn (1888-1974)

Back to the mid 1920s and the SCGB started providing a service for its members by producing snow and weather reports for various resorts. By 1928 it had Ski Club Representatives out in resorts in the Alps to look after its members by guiding and advising on the particular resort and entertaining them in the evenings. Also in this year the SCGB managed to persuade the International Ski Federation (FIS) to provisionally approve the British rules for downhill and slalom racing (they were officially approved two years later). By the 1930s the SCGB began organising touring parties to resorts. These tours and Ski Club Reps still exist today. In fact, I became one in 1994 and spent 3 weeks of 3 seasons in Soldeu in Andorra.

SkiClubGroupFellow SCGB rep, Dave, and I (kneeling in blue/yellow jackets – I’m on the left) with my ‘party’ of SCGB members in 1995

Jim Ring, in his 2000 book, How the English made the Alps, commented, “The Alpine Club and the Ski Club of Great Britain still survive, [but] they are vestiges of an era long gone.”   Well, yes and no ……..

For more of the SCGB, click here

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 Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I have discovered another volume of Artemus’ notebooks (followers will recall Dr Artemus Smith was an archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction). Here is another extract:

Out of curiosity I sat in on a political corruption trial the other day and the prosecuting lawyer attacked a witness (who was an acquaintance of mine). “Isn’t it true,” he bellowed, “that you accepted five thousand pounds to compromise this case?”

The witness stared out the window as though he hadn’t heard the question.

“Isn’t it true that you accepted five thousand pounds to compromise this case?” the lawyer repeated. The witness still did not respond.

Finally, the judge leaned over to the witness and said, “Sir, please answer the question.”

“Oh,” the startled witness said, “I thought he was talking to you.”

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Diving the Red Sea

HAVE YOU EVER tried Sub aqua diving? If you have the time and patience I can recommend it. If only as a leisure activity (as there are some serious clubs around) it should be experienced. The only problem is ‘doing it’ in the UK – the waters are rather murky and visibility somewhat limited. I learned to dive in Cardigan in Wales some years ago and that is no exception. Being a beginner in very limited visibility waters has its drawbacks and can be a little disconcerting. I remember the very first time I dived I was terrified that water would seep into my mask and I would have to go through that procedure of removing the mask underwater to clear it out. So I jammed the mask on very tight so that would not happen. As I descended the pressure built up and the mask tightened even more to my face causing me great pain. I had to remove it to loosen it and then, of course, replace it!  When I surfaced and removed the mask again I had an embarrassing blood pressure mark around my face!

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The second time I dived I had difficulty descending as I did not have enough weight on my belt. I pushed down to the sea bed and collected some stones and put them in my stabilizer jacket for more weight. Fine. Then one of my flippers (sorry, fins) on my foot came loose. As I bent over to tighten it, the stones fell out my pocket and up I went!

The third time and thereafter I had no more ‘teething’ problems but visibility did not improve very much.

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Then there is all the gear! – me on Tresaith Beach near Cardigan (a few years ago now – and no, I’m not wearing a dinner jacket under the wet-suit) making sure of my weight belt – luckily I had my jeep to transport everyone’s equipment down to the waterside (I had my uses)

I was then fortunate enough to be able to go on a 10 day trip to the Red Sea with an ex-mariner colleague of mine, Simon. Now that is a place to dive. The journey began in Eilat in Israel, where we dived with dolphins, a manta ray and a turtle. This was quite amazing.

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Me and ….. dolphin – not a shark!                                                                  ….. and manta ray

We then picked up our boat, the Poolster, which was to be our transport down the Red Sea. Not the most luxurious of boats but adequate and it was a cheap trip after all. Anyway, the skipper was a good chap, as were the rest of the divers – a very friendly and humourous bunch.

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The Poolster

We sailed down the Sinai coast of Egypt, stopping off at various dive sites. Throughout all these dives living coral of all shapes, sizes and colours were in abundance including the magnificent gorgonian, fan and stinging fire corals.

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Simon investigating a fan coral

A white-tip reef shark was spotted during one of the dives off the East African Suez coast but it kept well away from us. In saying that, in 2010, there were 5 shark attacks (one of which was a fatality) off Sharm el-Sheik where we were diving, and another at the same place in March this year (again a fatality) – had my trip not been before these attacks I may not have gone!

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Night dive: my torch shows up the colour of the coral attached to the mast of a wreck

Two moray eels of great magnitude were encountered, but not being naturally aggressive (the eels not us), they simply retreated into their coral hideaways when our inquisitive approach became too close. I was taken by surprise by a rather large Napoleon Wrasse but it was quite friendly. In fact most of the fish are no problem – except the brightly coloured and striped Lion Fish whose spiky fins are poisonous. One has to be a little careful of these fellows as they do not just swim away when you approach so you have to keep a sharp eye on them – or you get a sharp something else.

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“Behind you!!”     Napoleon Wrasse coming up behind me 

The wrecks we dived were somewhat eerie as they lay dormant in their watery graves. Nevertheless it was an interesting experience to investigate the life that had set up home on their immense superstructures.  But no way was I going inside these rusting relics of the deep – well, going in is one thing, coming out is another!

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Eerie wreck …..

Finally the famous Ras Mohammed was visited. At this site a coral wall drops from 20m to some 700m into the deep. An awesome site, but not good if you suffer from vertigo. Buoyancy and common sense overcomes the temptation and curiosity to follow the ‘wall’ down any further than 30m.

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Me refraining from going much deeper on the ‘wall’ at Ras Mohammed

There is one great downside to diving the Red Sea and I was warned about it by a fellow diver in Cardigan. He told me that once I dived the Red Sea I would not want to dive British waters again. He was right.  Saying that, I did manage to complete my British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) Dive Leader qualification on my return to the UK but that was some time ago and I haven’t dived since!

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Simon’s great photo of Masked Butterflyfish

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Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I have discovered another volume of Artemus’ notebooks (followers will recall Dr Artemus Smith was an archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction). Here is another extract:

My dear friend, Sir Barclay Hartwhistle, told me that he was out on his front porch in Africa one day and saw a gorilla in the tree on his front lawn. He called animal control and about an hour later a man showed up with a ladder, a pit bull dog, and a shotgun.

The animal controller said to Sir Barclay, “I’m here to get the gorilla out of your tree. I’m going to use this ladder to climb up the tree and shake the branch on which the gorilla is on to knock it to the ground.  The pit bull dog is trained to go after anything that falls from the tree and bite its testicles which distracts it so I can put it in the truck.”

Sir Barclay said, “Okay, I see what the ladder and the dog are for, but what is the shotgun for?”

The animal controller said, “Oh, that’s for you. In case I fall out of the tree instead of the gorilla, shoot the dog.”