Here is one sure-fire way to escape all the rain we’re getting in the UK. Just a question of learning how to read a few dials, buying a special suit and hitching a ride on a passing rocket? Oh, were it that easy…
Some beautiful time-lapse videos of the Earth from above available from NASA, just here.
Like many people from my generation I battle with the constant desire to travel. The problem with travelling is that it leaves you broke and disjointed from the real world and your career stagnates (or so my parents tell me).
The truth is that there are some people that can make it work, like my friend Alicia who has been travelling around South and Centra America for nearly two years now, selling her beautiful photographs and the stories from her travels.
I envy people like Alica who have the guts to shut up shop and to roam the globe with their possessions in a little backpack.
Alica managed to email me over these photos from the Amazon (cool huh!). She is currently raising funds for a photo project on the disappearing tribes of the Amazon.
You should check out her website and blog to get an insight of what she has been up to.
A few years ago I was made redundant. I was living in London at the time in a shoebox in Battersea and decided that this was my cue to get out of there. I packed up shop and decided to spend my redundancy package on something totally unsensible.
I had heard great things about Ghana from a friend of mine called Brett Davies and was interested in the thought of uncrowded surf and adventure. After some deliberation, several jabs and with £100 worth of Malarone, we set off.
Ghana was everything I expected and more: it was stinking hot, rife with malaria and full of curious faces.
On the coast, mud huts line pristine white beaches fringed with palm trees. Inland the scorched earth was a mixture of farmland, scrub and tropical vegetation. The capital Accra was smelly, dirty and lined with street hawkers selling their wares. There were still architechtural reminders of Ghana’s colonial past littered across the country.
The people were incredibly friendly, full of spirit and apparently as equally captivated by us. Whole villages would come out to great us and children would desperately try and carry my surfboard.
The surf was varied but always uncrowded. There were urchin infested points and punchy beach breaks. On a few days the swell was too big and my Kiwi companion was desperate for someone to surf with. Luckily a random Californian NGO turned up. It certainly felt like we were somewhere new, somewhere untouched.
As Africa goes Ghana is stable and relatively prosperous, yet the sanitation was still terrible and on occasion the litter and poverty overwhelming. I think surfing is doing good things for Ghana, they now have a national team and more and more children seem to be taking part in the sport along with associated beach cleans and music festivals. You can find out more here: http://ghanasurfingassociation.com.
I think what I am trying to say is that even in this crowded world of ours there are still roads less travelled. Just like this film points out.
One of the distinct pleasures I get from being the “curator” of this website is that not only do I get to meet a lot of good people, I also get sent a lot of excellent stuff to watch, read and listen to.
Which, for a serial procrastinator, is mana from Heaven.
I got a nice email today from our first ever guest here on Hickory Nines, Mr Chaz Curry. It was in response to our Mr Happy Man post, kindly put our way by @MrsVeeDub.
Chaz mentioned about his aim to continue being a positive person too. He also mentioned something a wise man once said…
‘What you focus on will increase’ (aren’t wise men super-prolific? When I finally meet one, I’m going to attach myself to him with cable ties and mastic, because these old crows are NOT WRONG EVER and it’d be great to have one at hand when things get weird…)
So, and with thanks to Chaz for putting this in the email too, some more positive, surf-inspired vibing above to add to the really sweet stuff we’ve been lucky to spot and have spotted for us lately.
We’ve now been live on this site for about 8 months, and it’s getting clearer every day just where Hickory Nines is going to sit in the WWW world.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a born-again optimist. Sounds a little throw-away, but I mean it. I used to grumble and groan – I think I’ve always tried to be a nice person, but I was more vocally negative. Then I had some stuff happen and it made me realise how important it is to see and speak the shiny side of things. Now, I smile. I look for the gold in the muck and the sun behind the clouds. I make sure I wake up in a good mood, whatever it takes. And I’ve come to realise the power of good stuff… helping people out, compliments, a random ‘Good Morning’ to a stranger. Works for them and, quite importantly, works for me too.
Here’s Bermuda resident, Johnny Barnes. Now, whether you believe in God or not is irrelevant: this man gets up to go make people happy. In so doing, he exudes the incomplexities that only an entirely contented soul can. And that’s where I want to be.
See you on the A39.
Thanks again to the lovely @MrsVeeDub for the heads up.
For surfers and the like, the sea is a source of immense pleasure but for the workers in the ship breaking yards of Bangladesh and elsewhere it offers a grim but necessary bounty, a desperate means to keep them and their families alive.
In 2009 the Korean film director, Bong-Nam Park released the documentary Iron Crows, a vividly disturbing film that reveals the lives of the heroic workers at the port city of Chittagong, southern Bangladesh. Driven by extreme poverty, men and boys are subjected to un-forgivingly harsh conditions as they labour to break down old ships. There are frequent fatal accidents and the yards are laced with hazards, with exposure to toxic gases and asbestos.
Around 90% of world trade is carried by ship. In the 21st century it is difficult to comprehend (and is morally indefensible) that such a powerful industry and the International Maritime Organization have not acted to finally resolve the conditions of these forsaken people.
For several years now, I’ve been bewitched by the story of Chavez Ravine.
For me, it all started with the Ry Cooder concept album of the same name. As to how I came upon that I’m unsure (it was a while ago) but I’d assume it was off the back of a love for Cooder’s previous outings, notably the Buena Vista Social Club record and the soundtrack for Crossroads. (cont. below)
I remember reading the inlay soon after I bought it and, perhaps as an unabashed fan of the city of Los Angeles and all her gritty secrets, was instantly hooked by the story, the characters involved and the setting of this ‘poor man’s Shangri-La’, now long since destroyed. Suddenly, I felt like I had to know everything about it, like I couldn’t know enough. Weird.. that certainly hasn’t happened since.
My first step into understanding more was to follow up on Cooder’s own research. This led me to the photo-biog by Don Normarkand how, almost by chance, he’d stumbled upon this lost, ramshackle neighbourhood, like a land-locked Atlantis, just a few short miles to the north-east of downtown LA itself. I read the book in almost one sitting (it isn’t hard – though loaded with interviews with former residents, it’s mostly full of evocative, beautiful black and white photography) and I remember feeling pretty emotional afterwards. It’s a sad story, with some beautiful, hard-bitten players there-in. I actually wrote a letter to Mr Normark and, although I didn’t get a reply from him, I did get a reply from his publishers, who said Mr Normark had appreciated my letter.
It seems wrong to try and neatly summarise such a passionate and shameful episode in the history of a city for which I have a very deep love but, essentially, this is it:
Chavez Ravine consisted of three Mexican-American neighbourhoods: Bishop, La Loma and Palo Verde.
Chavez Ravine was tucked out of view, hidden amongst the steep, sage-scrub covered hillsides of Elysian Park. Goats wandered the slopes and the kids, as is natural for kids to do, ran amok. There was little concrete; houses were built from wood and tin and the roads were dust and dirt, only marked out by the rickety picket fencing, boulders and rose bushes that lined the limits of peoples loosely clutched properties. And yet, just over the tops of the surrounding, sun-scorched hills, a boom city was growing, encircling and preparing to over-run this happy-go-lucky community, all under the misappropriated term of ‘progress’ in post-war America.
The reasons for the earmarking and subsequent demolition of this community are quite complex, rooted in McCarthyism and urbanisation. The land took the eye of hungry city developers and the LA city council prepared to turn it over to the wolves, continuing its rampant plan to expand public housing. Forced eviction letters turned up in the post. Many took heed and left. Many didn’t.
Chavez Ravine managed to struggle through a few years of uncertainty after projects got cancelled and bureaucracy prevailed. Dozens of families had since moved on, and the neighbourhood was already unrecognisable as the vibrant locale that it had so recently been. LA firefighters set freshly-vacated homes ablaze to train their rooky recruits, as neighbours (often friends or family) watched, helplessly.
The final chapter played out in 1959: the land was sold to the owner of the Dodgers baseball team. For those that remained, the end came swiftly. Many gave up and left as they saw the indelible writing on the wall. Others fought, dragged or carried from their houses by eviction teams. The last moments are best commented on by Normark himself within his book: ‘On May 8, the Arechiga family was the last to go. Television coverage showed deputies kicking in the front door of a home, then carrying struggling women down the exterior stairs. When the house was empty, a ready bulldozer put its blade against the home and shoved it into kindling. The family had lived there for thirty-six years.’
Soon after, the developers moved in. Bulldozers carved out an entirely new landscape amongst the hills and thousands of tons of concrete now make up the myriad parking lots of a stadium complex. These cover a large proportion of the turf on which the three neighbourhoods once existed.
The story has stayed with me. In 2009, back out in LA, I made a point of heading to Elysian Park to try and connect in some way with those events 50+ years previous. It didn’t take long: after studying the photos so late into so many nights back in the UK, I immediately recognised landmarks, the reservoir and even some of the few remaining streets that lie next to the Dodgers Stadium. I walked along familiar hilltops and through the large trees that must have seen all this play out below. Of course, the elephant in the valley was the stadium itself, lit by enormous arc-lights in the dimming evening… Progress, in all its crowning glory. (cont. below)
For me, it leaves the question as to what exactly we define as ‘progress’. Years have passed since this event. I’m a born-again optimist: I’d like to think the world has since become a more enlightened place. But I also remain a rampant cynic… so I doubt it.
But I don’t want to finish this sad tale negatively. It’s heartening to know that several of the former residents (of those still alive) still meet up once a year. Los Desterrados (the uprooted) have a big picnic in a park nearby, and talk of the happy days on the hill-sides. And I like to think that stuff gets learnt, along the way.
Below is a trailer from a documentary on the battle for Chavez Ravine that I’ve yet to see.
Someone now needs to make the film.
First they invented phones that you could take anywhere. Then they stumbled upon texting and a new language was born. Then they added cameras to the phones so you could take pictures and video of anything you wanted, any time, anywhere and send them to your friends. Then along came sharing and social media. So now we can take a photo and, in a few minutes, if it captures the global imagination, it can go viral. Millions of people can see what you post in the blink of an eye. That is quite something.
Around the same time as this was starting to happen a little drinks company called Innocent started behaving in a way that few brands would dream of. They acted like your friend. They spoke your language (even if it looks a little twee today) and seemed to understand the way you felt. They made it look like they would listen to you. Lots of others followed suit because they saw it as being a good thing. Soon the world was becoming approachable and open and wanted to develop conversations with us instead of telling us what to do.
And so we got to brand engagement, which is nothing more than a conversation. A two way street. Discourse. Interaction.
I think it’s marvellous. Thanks to phones and the internet and all that goes with it we can finally have conversations with giants.
So isn’t it time we turned the tables? Isn’t it our turn to engineer the conversation?
They have to listen. Because if they don’t there’s every chance that we could gang up on them and tell them what to do. If I was a giant I wouldn’t want that. Certainly not if I was a giant with a filthy past. If I was genuinely innocent though, I doubt it’d be a problem.
I’ll get to the point. I found some Nivea bottles on my local beach recently, so I tweeted Nivea in the US of A asking what it was all about. They tweeted me back with an email address for the people in the UK. So I sent them an email and sent them the bottles.
Ever since then I’ve been taking photos of the bottles I have been finding all over the place (in fact at every beach I have been to without exception since December) with my camera phone and then sending them to Nivea because I want them to know that their stuff is washing up all over the place and that I think it’s unacceptable. I post them on twitter and on my blog and hope that others will do the same. It works. I got sent a photo of a Nivea bottle on the beach in Jersey recently. That’s it above. I sent that to Nivea too, as it proves the problem is widespread. Of course it would have been possible to do this before, but it would have been much, much easier for them to ignore me. Now they can’t.
Nivea, to their credit, have been good about it and have been emailing me back. They told me they lost a container at sea about a year ago and that they don’t know how many bottles were lost (really? crikey!). They claim they are monitoring the situation. I found out they got in touch with the National Trust rangers for my beach to ask them to pick up their stuff if they find it, so they are doing something. It’s a start. But I’d still like to see them doing more, like rolling up their sleeves, along with the rest of us, to try to turn back the tide of pollution that is invading our beaches.
I’m not blaming Nivea for the plastic that washes up every day. I know that there are an awful lot of giants out there who are also losing containers at sea, over packaging their products or carelessly allowing plastics to enter the marine environment.
All I’m saying is that I think it’s time we had a word. Because we can.
I have enjoyed my week as guest editor and I hope my posts have been enjoyable or at least of interest. Aloha and mahalo to the Hickory Nines crew.
Men in grey suits
In May 1996 my wife Sarah and I set out on a six month round the world surfing trip with South Africa the first country on the itinerary. I quickly bought a surfboard and made my first paddle out into the Indian Ocean off a beach in Durban. As I sat out back my dangling legs and feet unseen in the murky waters I became increasingly conscious that though very rare there have been shark attacks off the Kwazulu-Natal coast. A visit to the Sharks Board helped to separate the myths and the facts though some of the exhibits were not too good for my over active imagination.
I was reminded of this recently through an article about the film ‘Surfing & Sharks’ which premiered at last December’s Wavescape Film Festival in Cape Town.
From IMDB “Surfing & sharks is a documentary about the constant threat South African surfers face every time they paddle out into the ocean, home to one of the largest concentrations of sharks in the world. Against the beautiful backdrop of South Africa’s East Coast the viewer is introduced to three local surfers as they share their personal experiences with these animals while surfing their favourite spots. Throughout the film researchers, ecologists and shark attack victims offer an objective and unique insight in one of South Africa’s most feared predators. The film touches on subjects as to why sharks attack, attack prevention, the myths, the media and the future that sharks are facing today, if any at all…”