Erosion & Corrosion (Venezia 118)

About 18 months ago the city authorities imposed Venice’s first ban on motorboats.  It was only for a few hours, but during that time only electric, hybrid, or human-powered vessels were permitted; most of the 7000 or so registered craft were not.

Why the ban?  To highlight the effect of exhaust fumes in damaging the fabric of the city’s architectural riches.   Venice has to contend with so many threats; the slow sinking into the marshes, the flooding of Acqua Altathe acid effects of air pollution, and of course the water erosion caused by the wake of the higher powered vessels.

Of course, with so many residents owning a small boat to get about in, any curb is bound to be controversial, but we car drivers are gradually adapting our vehicles so perhaps there’s hope yet.



Miasma Generator

In 1979 a remarkable piece of work arising from the collaboration of an artist and a musician entitled The Pentateuch of the Cosmogony (though it has probably suffered from the identity crisis of not knowing whether it was a story, an album or a coffee table book of art) which told the story of the rise and fall of an alien civilisation who had destroyed their home planet and been forced to flee across space in search of a new one.  Sadly I no longer have a copy, but I recall that one of the factors in their ecological disaster was a device called The Miasma Generator.  After years adrift in my memory, a couple of things have brought it back to mind this week.

You may have noticed in many of my London pictures this week a degree of haziness that rendered the backgrounds dull and indistinct (thank goodness for Photoshop to rescue the image below); an effect that whilst welcome when shooting portraits is far less so when trying to capture cityscapes. At the time I attributed it to meteorology, the warm spring days creating water vapour, but in the days that followed I learned that this wasn’t strictly true.untitled-6

Sunday morning meant washing my car before I went to celebrate my birthday, and I have to say it was gleaming. Arising the following morning to head for the office I was dismayed to find the entire vehicle enrobed in a mottled patchwork of sand. I would have accepted that when I lived on the coast but in Durham it seemed less likely.

The truth was more surprising. The UK has been subject to poor air quality this week arising from a combination of local and European industrial pollution and sands which have been carried from the Sahara.  Those with pulmonary problems have been badly affected.  So dramatic was the difference that on my travels across the Pennines this week it has felt as if you were passing in and out of a wall of fog.  At least my Cutty Sark pics benefitted!

Another news item this week has been about a proposal to ban the sale of cigarettes in branded packaging.  The smoking ban in public places has changed workplaces, pubs and restaurants enormously, and the rate of smoking in the country is happily falling.  I grew up in a house with two heavy smokers and still wonder what time bomb lurks from all that passive tobacco intake.  I was astonished then at how many smokers I encountered in London.  Perhaps it was the greater proportion of overseas visitors or that I was in environments where the smokers were all forced outside and into the range of my lens but in the people pics I took you’ll see a large proportion of cigarettes being brandished.

They do bring a certain kind of cool to some people, but that will never be a good enough reason to tempt me.  All that smoke is more miasma.

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Please forgive the use of “spot colour” technique, but I’m sure you’ll understand why I did it!



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Oh, this is futile*

*Monty PythonThe Argument Sketch.

A good proportion of the UK is under water at present as successive weather fronts deposit rain and snow at an alarming rate on towns and villages already sodden from weeks of wet weather.

Those in the west have had the additional tribulation of hurricane force winds driving high tides onto battered shorelines.  Dramatic images for those who like me love the photographic opportunities that our coastlines supply though in many locations people have been warned to stay away.  One unfortunate young photographer has been swept to his death in recent weeks.

These freakish conditions inevitably give rise to speculation as to whether man-made climate change is to blame and this morning, stuck in a 30 minute tailback of exhaust fumes and with the forest of industrial chimneys that is Teesside to my left, I heard on Radio 4’s Today programme a discussion of this very question.  Sir Brian Hoskins, one of the world’s greatest authorities on climate was faced with the extreme scepticism of former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Lawson.tees sunrise worked

The exchange, which I found quite exasperating reminding me of the Python sketch referred to above, in which Michael Palin pays to have an argument; “a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition” and is met with a wall of nothing more than contradiction “No it isn’t!”  Lord Lawson’s response to any evidence  proposed by Hoskins was one of pure denial, and culminated in this patronising statement:

I don’t blame the climate scientists for not knowing. Climate and weather is quite extraordinarily complex and this is a new form of science. All I blame them for is pretending they know when they don’t.

No wonder politicians in this country see their credibility at an all time low in the eyes of the voting population.

Anyway, the argument proved serendipitous for it gives me an opportunity to post these sublime images which I captured earlier in the week.  Draw your own conclusions.



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Flotsam & Jetsam… and Jelly.

I’m on the road today, taxiing my eldest daughter back to the North East from Royal Holloway University in Surrey, so forgive me for writing this yesterday.

The high winds have brought high seas, which means that there is a lot being deposited at the high water mark.

Those helpful people at the RNLI lookout cabin have posted a notice for passers-by to read that warns of two threats to your enjoyment of the beach;  one is that jellyfish are particularly prevalent at the moment, and the other is that there are “weaver fish” (sic) in the area.  Now this is the same beach that I grew up with, paddled in, and occasionally swam in (really, it’s not that warm), and whilst there have always been occasions when the beach has been littered with stranded jellies, I have never encountered a weever fish.

These little beauties bury themselves in the sand and complete their defence with a row of poisonous spines.  The name weever (not weaver) is probably derived from the French word for serpent “wivre” and the sting, which is extremely painful, has been mistaken for a snake bite.

Now when I was small we walked the beach barefoot, so I can only assume that finding weevers here is a recent development.  We did have plastic beach sandals (called jellies because of their construction material, not their purpose) but these were largely reserved for going rock pooling.

The jellyfish too are more plentiful now than they used to be, not just locally, but in all of the waters around the UK.  There are three reasons for this, and directly or indirectly we are to blame for all of them.  The first is the seepage of excess fertilizer from our farms into our watercourses and ultimately into the sea, where the growth of plankton is boosted, providing jellyfish with a plentiful supply of food.

The second reason is down to our overfishing of the same seas.  We have removed the predators that would once have eaten the jellyfish and kept their populations in check.  Finally the climate change resulting from global warming is putting pressure on many species, but the jellyfish seem are thriving because they are more adaptable.

So our beach problems are largely self-inflicted and they don’t end there.  Torness nuclear power plant was forced to shut down when the water intake became blocked with a bloom of jellyfish.  The cleaning operation required them to remove several tonnes of jelly.

This is one of the most remarkable things about the creatures; their composition.  Just as our brains are a mysterious piece of tissue that have no mechanical function to observe with the naked eye, so this entire creature mysteriously lacks the systems we expect to find in animals; respiratory, digestive, central nervous system and so on.  It doesn’t seem to have hampered them as they pulse along, paralysing and then absorbing the nutrients from their prey.

Since I had an old pair of trainers on, I went in search of these creatures at the water’s edge where the only creature deposited was a dead shag. 

Luckily I did find Wilf who became my portrait today.

Postscript – clearly the journey has befuddled my brain; forgetting that I had written this I spotted Dave, his features sculpted by an overhead light at Woodall Services on the way back home.  Be a shame not to include him too!