Trick or treat; what was that?

I just read that in the USA, where Halloween has become such an institution that it is second only to Christmas as a national holiday, it’s estimated that around $6 billion will be spent on costumes, parties and chocolate this year. Can you believe that? When I was a kid Halloween was just another autumn night; something that might have involved witches and ghosts, but nothing to do with the commercialised ‘trick or treat’ and dressing-up that proliferates in the High Streets and malls today. I didn’t believe in the existence of witches or ghosts; the only woman I knew with a hooked nose and a wart on her chin lived up the road from my parents but I never saw a pointed hat or a broomstick there. That didn’t stop me exploring empty churches or ancient graveyards on Halloween nights as a teenager and experiencing the occasional hair-raising imagining but, in reality, there weren’t any ghouls wandering between the gravestones. Well, not of the spiritual kind anyway.

As with most things today, the popularity of an occasion appears directly proportional to the degree of commercialisation that is imposed on it. Halloween is no exception but it has its origins in less enlightened times. All Hallows’ Eve was traditionally the eve of All Hallows’ Day or All Saints’ Day; a holy or ‘hallowed’ time – hence Halloween. It dates back to the 7th century in Rome and possibly encompasses the Celtic celebration of Samhain – summer’s end, which was a sort of pagan harvest festival. The transition from light days to dark nights heralded the superstition that the veils between worlds, this one and that of the spirits, were at their most porous so that spirits could pass through. Traditional plays, pantomimes on morality and preparation for the afterlife would have been rich with symbols of good and bad and perhaps that was the origin of dressing-up on Halloween. Another suggestion is that the practice of dressing as a witch or ghost might originate from pagan beliefs that spirits could be scared back to where they came from. The custom of knocking at people’s doors has more substance; an ancient English tradition of begging for ‘soul cakes’, where beggars would beg for cakes in return for offering a prayer for the dead, was common in the Middle Ages.

Today there’s a lot more belief in the chocolate than in what our ancestors feared so the most frightening aspect is that you might get ‘egged’ if you don’t have sufficient supplies to offer the little buggers that come calling. But is there something more to it? Belief was that the devil is afoot on Halloween, wandering the darkness with witches and cats, hand-maidens and symbols of the Prince of Darkness. I don’t know about that but strange things do happen and on one particular frosty Halloween I experienced the scary side of the superstition. This is a true story.

I was on an outward bound expedition in the Yorkshire Dales. Four of us had been set a task to hike across Great Whernside, a hill that rises to 704m at the summit and which is covered in bogs, heath and rocks. There were well-worn tracks to the summit that we would follow. The trek would be about 14Km on the map from our start point to the grid reference on the far side where we were to meet our controllers and set-up camp. In real terms, we’d have to walk nearly twice that distance. It didn’t start well. The weather was terrible, with heavy rain and wind as we left the road at Starbottom and headed upwards to the moors. We were quickly soaked through and although the rain stopped by about the middle of the day we were walking in low cloud and mist. The wind became stronger but the weather didn’t clear. We weren’t particularly worried but we were uncomfortable and making very slow progress. The ground was sodden and this caused a problem as streams were running full and we had to divert. The cloud made it impossible to take compass bearings and we’d strayed from our planned route. We needed to reach the summit or see a clear marker so that we could orientate a route down but we were lost and had no visible path to follow. As dusk was falling the temperature dropped and there were some clear patches in the weather so we took a sensible guess at where we were – a long way off our route and still several kilometres from our control point.

As it got later we realised that we wouldn’t make our rendezvous but, back then, there were no mobile phones or satnavs so we were very much alone and unable to tell anyone where we were or when we might be at our control point. We were high on wet moorland and it was getting dark. And it was Halloween. Quite suddenly the wind dropped and it grew intensely cold. It was eerily quiet as we discussed what to do. We decided that the fastest way to get down was to strike out directly for a point on the east side of the hill and walk hard in a straight line by sending one guy out at a time, setting him on a direct bearing as a marker and then repeating that with the next guy beyond him; a sort of leapfrog in a direct line. If we kept the line straight we’d eventually come to a stream that we could follow down. Getting to it would be the difficult part as we were on rough moorland and there were escarpments over to our right so it wasn’t without danger. It was rapidly getting dark so we had to use torches and that worked well until, with the cold, came fog. Hill mist closed in all around us and made it barely possible for us to walk as we stepped from rocks to bog to heather and all the time shortening the distance that we could see a torch from. We were having to feel our way.

By the time it got dark the mist meant that we could only see the torchlight showing the location of our marker from about 35m. So it was slow, very cold and very, very dark. Then one of the guys said that they could hear something, something coming through the heather towards us. We stood still, silent, listening and there it was – something heavy, purposefully crashing through the vegetation and coming closer. It never arrived; we all heard it come up to us, pass between us and move away, from the darkness and into the darkness, but no one saw a thing. With hair standing on end and goose-bumps on our skin we debated what in Heaven’s name it could have been but couldn’t come up with an answer. It had to have been huge. It walked like a man, two feet, we were all certain – it wasn’t a cow or a deer. And very close. Why didn’t we see something? We pressed on, as fast as we could, surrounded by thickening mist, lowering temperatures and a deathly silence. Several times we heard, way off in the distance, something that sounded like a low mumbling, almost a conversation that was just out of range but indistinct. And then, again, the sound of something moving heavily through the vegetation. This time it again came towards us and was very close but then it stopped, just a short way off and we thought – perhaps imagined – we could hear breathing. Then it moved off again and was gone, into the distance and into the night. Shortly after there was a long, low whining noise, guttural and clearly from something animate. Something large, that none of us had heard before. That was it, the silence returned and the mist settled.

After a couple of hours we came to the stream – called a beck locally – that we had aimed for and were able to follow this down towards the dale. The track that crossed it led across the moor and onto a path that would take us off the hill. Our efforts had been remarkably accurate and we were suddenly on the main path leading to the summit, so it was a matter of following it down.

After a further hour or so walking downwards in the dark we saw moving lights ahead of us and soon, heard voices. This turned out to be an army patrol. They explained to us that a party of army cadets had been making a similar crossing of Great Whernside to us but that they had not made their rendezvous that afternoon. They were officially posted as missing and we were speaking to the rescue party. All we could tell them was that we’d heard something on the moor, something we couldn’t explain but they told us there had been twelve cadets and they were experienced enough to have contacted us if it was them, so whatever it was we’d heard, it was something else. We wished them luck and continued down only to immediately meet our own control team, who had assumed that we would do exactly what we’d done, which was to head for a point that would bring us to this path off the hill. It was something of a relief for all of us; we were pleased that our emergency training procedures had kicked-in and they were slightly smug at having told the army team that they expected us to be late, but safe.

By the time we had left the hillside and reached the allotted camping site the sky had cleared, a full moon was rising and frost was beginning to lend a pale, ethereal glow to everything.  Our control left us – probably to get a couple of late pints at a local hostelry – and we set about getting the tents pitched and some hot food. That should have been about it, but Halloween had something more for us. After we’d eaten and sat chatting inside our tents one of the guys called out for us to come and look. What we saw was mortifying; the moon had moved across the sky and was now behind a bare and ragged tree that overhung the tents. It cast a shadow over the field we were camped in and the shadow looked, for all the world, like a clawed hand with one finger-pointing to the far side of the field. And there where it pointed, in the angle of two stone walls, were six oblong shapes on the ground. They were aligned in a row and looked like graves. None of us could say a thing and, for reasons I still can’t explain, we began to speak in whispers about whether we were camped on a graveyard, were the shapes anything to do with the thing on the moor and should we pack–up and leave right then. Two wanted to leave and two wanted to stay. The shapes on the ground became more prominent, standing out more starkly as the frost whitened the landscape. We eventually decided to stay but to take turns keeping an eye on the graves to see if anything happened but in the event we all slept and by first light they had gone. Of course, Halloween was over then.

Back at home we heard that the cadets had been found safe, but cold, wet and huddled high on the moor several miles from where we’d been. They had become lost sometime during that day and had decided bed down to wait for rescue. So it wasn’t them that we’d heard during Halloween. But we did find out that they had camped, by complete coincidence, in the very field that we had used. So those marks on the ground were not portals to the spirit world but areas of ground that were just warm enough to slow the formation of frost so that they showed darker.

As I said at the start of this, I didn’t believe in witches or ghosts but what was it up on the moor that Halloween? We still speak about it when we get together for a pint. Damned if any of us has an explanation. Was the Prince of Darkness afoot that night?

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I’m easy – fly me

I use low-cost airlines a lot. Aside from the obvious attraction of being able to zip across Europe for minimal cost there is a huge choice of destinations, they are convenient and, as long as you avoid the heinous Ryanair, using them is relatively civilised.

So travelling back to England is usually a doddle; easyJet from Copenhagen Kastrup is a simple matter of turning up and boarding before arriving at Stansted and being whisked away to our country retreat. We like to fly late as it avoids breaking up the day too much and, in the evening, Kastrup gets sleepy so it’s quiet and has a comfortable atmosphere. As airports go, it’s a nice place. This time, however, the minions at French air traffic control were showing solidarity with the oppressed workers who were busily reclaiming the streets – and burning a few cars in the process – so we expected delays and a longer than normal evening at the airport.

And so it turned out; the flight was notified as being an hour late and we pondered what to do over a glass of more-than-passable Aussie merlot while we watched everything begin to wind down around us. The guys from Joe and the Juice told us, should we want one of their excellent coffees, to order early as they were closing dead on nine so as to be able to make the dash to Larry’s Bar [O’leary’s to the uninitiated] and watch Barcelona entertain FC Copenhagen in the champions’ league. So the slack was taken up with a take-out cappuccino from Joe’s, a large Carl’s Special at Larry’s and a couple of Lionel Messi goals against the committed but well-out-of-their-depth local boys.

Stansted is always something of a nightmare experience; when it’s good it’s just about OK but when it’s bad it is simply horrendous so the anticipation of arriving there fills me with anguish. I dislike the crowds, I hate having to walk through the wind and rain from the aircraft and then climb steps to get to the top of the down escalator [how absolutely dumb is that?]; I hate the indifference of the staff who appear to have no understanding of the fact that we, the customers, are paying for their mobile phone subscriptions and I hate and the rudeness of the security personnel. It is the epicentre of low-cost airlines – a travel hub for the unwashed and unprepared – and low-cost airlines are unsurpassed in unsettling their customers. I’ve written previously about my aversion to Ryanair but easyJet, despite coming from the same economic stable, is not the same at all. In fact, our experience of these people going way back to when they were Go, an offshoot of British Airways, has been consistently pretty good. When Go commenced operations you could buy a mug of freshly-pressed cafetiere coffee from smiling, polite cabin staff. Well, life being what it is, the cafetieres have gone together with some of the happy countenances but, by and large, easyJet remains professional, polite and smiling.

It’s clear that there are pressures in making an airline profitable these days and that can make life miserable for customers [now there’s a word that has changed in its usage] and cabin crew alike. When I travel on a low-cost airline I feel as though I’m trapped in a macabre dance emanating from their need to get as much money out of me as they can and my desire to travel for as little cost as possible. So they impose efficiencies or additional fees and I resent their being cheap; a sort of love/hate affair that neither can leave but which both view with distaste. In such an awkward relationship it’s easy to get out of step and for one partner to stand on the other’s foot. It makes for an uneasy truce and it takes so little for the suppressed irritation on either side of the jet-way to surface. Our delayed flight gave an already-tired crew less time than usual but it gave the passengers more; more time to misplace boarding cards; more time to separate from colleagues and family members; more time to wander off and be late at the gate as we boarded. And of course there was some fallout – a young guy who was travelling with a single piece of hand baggage couldn’t find room in the overhead locker for it and was told that it would need to be carried in the hold. Fees, procedures and low-cost airline rules legislate towards customers carrying only hand-baggage. In fact, you pay extra if you do have a bag to go into the hold so, if you want to expedite your journey, minimise the cost and make the airline happy you do just what he did, you travel with hand baggage. Having his bag stowed in the hold would mean that he’d have to deal with the circus at Stansted so he made the unforgivable mistake of telling the cabin crew that the situation – and the airline – was stupid. I think he was probably correct in thinking that but a stewardess took offence, told the captain he was abusive and the guy was sent packing. To add nonsense to an already farcical situation they even called the police whilst he politely apologised and handed over his bag for stowing. His pleading didn’t work and he was returned under police escort to the somnolent Kastrup, his flight and the cost of it forfeited.

I wasn’t party to the words the stewardess and passenger exchanged but I don’t condone any form of abuse towards staff so one might say that he should have been more circumspect. She, however, didn’t actually say that he had been personally abusive to her, but she was tired and less than enthusiastic after dealing with lost boarding cards, wandering children and customers who had been delayed for over an hour so there was probably a requirement for drawn breaths and compromise on both sides. On balance it seemed unfair and unreasonable to dump him so I hope he appealed and has been compensated.

But this had me wondering about why travelling with low-cost airlines is such a pain. There always seems to be a level of dissatisfaction and, frequently, an incident or two. Yes, the fare is low but then again the service provided is minimal. It should be a fair trade but in reality the low-cost experience is, for the most part, uncomfortable and getting worse. Get there early and you still have to deal with the unseemly rush for a seat and might be separated from your family or children. If you are unlucky, you might find that you have nowhere to store the single bag you’re carrying. If it’s Ryanair, you can frequently add less-than-intelligible rudeness, too. The stewardess told us later that there wouldn’t be sufficient storage in the cabin if every passenger wanted to travel with hand baggage but low-cost airlines encourage us to do just that, so more customers travel with hand baggage that carries all their worldly goods. These carriers won’t allocate seats and suggest that this is because passengers would arrive at the gate more casually, thereby delaying flights. I haven’t been able to find any research – or anecdotal evidence – confirming this but crew forums suggest that the ‘passenger experience’ is made worse because of it. It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that a sad-faced bean-counter somewhere thinks non-allocation of seats will encourage the purchase of ‘speedy boarding’ and that, together with charging fees for bags, profitability will increase. Of course, how that all affects the ‘passenger experience’ is not his concern, is it?

It seems that the rules governing the low-cost airline experience are sculpted with the single aim of extracting as much income as possible from the individual by bridging the gap between the putative low fares charged and those of conventional carriers. The consequence is that the experience is plain awful. Is this an indication of a flawed business model or is easyJet less honest than Ryanair, who in my personal experience is openly contemptuous of its customers? Perhaps cheap is just rotten.

Of course I’ll continue to use easyJet whilst the low-cost sun shines but I look forward to the day when aviation fuel has a sales tax added to it, when reference to a carbon footprint actually means something and the real cost of flying is described in terms that don’t include ‘low’.

Jack Frost nipping at our noses

Autumn turned to winter this week in Skåne. Warm sunny days with bright, clear skies at the beginning of the month have given way to freezing temperatures, ice on the pond and falling leaves. The first official snowfall of the winter was visited on the north and we have woken to frost in the morning. We’ve taken a lot of long walks and spent far too much time sitting on the deck drinking coffee and talking through a turbulent year. Friends moving away, loved ones leaving this life, governments leaving their legacies to new generations here and in England. And on the horizon the prospect of moving to another continent.

We watched nature change season, too. Cranes leaving for warmer climes in Spain, geese arriving in thousands for the winter and, in between, spectacular sights of eagles, harriers, falcons and buzzards as they moved south.

Here are some memories of those walks and sunny days in the garden – Autumn trees in the valley at the bottom of the garden; spiders’ webs in the frost; Barnacle Geese heading for their wintering grounds in the Netherlands; Cranes that may not rest until they get to France; a Rough-legged Buzzard prospecting the garden for a roosting place; a not-very-nervous Red Squirrel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We come in peace; take me to your sub-committee

I worry a lot; probably more than I need to but stuff happening in the world just concerns me and I worry about it. I worry about global warming and how much energy we use. I worry about soft-drink companies sucking pure water out of the ground, putting it in non-biodegradable containers and coercing us to buy it back from them at a price higher than jet-fuel. I worry about the replacement of tracts of rainforest with Palm Oil plantations so that money can be made from women looking like male fantasies. I worry about excess in my daily life, like the flowers or fruit in my local Waitrose having been air-freighted from Africa or South America and I worry about poverty and corruption in countries that are less than a day’s flight away. These are big issues and I feel helpless when I consider the awful mess we’ve got ourselves into. And it all seems to be getting worse, not better. I think that’s why I worry and why I spend so much time thinking it.

It seems to me, though, that there are some root causes that are more or less common to all the pitfalls on the road to utopia; arrogance, selfishness, greed and, something that we have ubiquitously developed into an art-form; stupidity. I’m certain that if we eliminated these fundamental human failings there would be a basis for going a long way towards putting right all the wrongs. Of course, that would require a dose of humility larger than most people, in the west at least, could stomach. But it does happen. Every now and then you hear something about a pressure group changing something here or a small environmental success there, maybe a scientific discovery or even – God forbid – a political statement that generates a hint of optimism. Now if only that local victory or small success could be reflected in appropriate action, a significant gesture or concern on a national or even international level then we’d all have cause to be a lot more optimistic.

Step forward that great force for international consensus, the United Nations. With its unique mandate for being able to deliver good and make real changes to a world that is ominously circling the celestial plug-hole it has taken a giant leap for mankind. No, this doesn’t involve the burgeoning population, energy use or food shortages; last month it designated the individual who, on behalf of Unoosa – the United Nation’s Office for Outer Space Affairs – would be the first point of contact for extraterrestrial visitors. Can you believe it? The news caused a flurry of interest in the media – especially the Sunday Times – and the extreme edges of the blogosphere when it was widely reported that astrophysicist Mazlan Othman would manage ‘first contact’. She had previously spoken to fellow scientists and was quoted as saying, ‘The continued search for extraterrestrial communication, by several entities, sustains the hope that some day humankind will receive signals from extraterrestrials. When we do, we should have in place a coordinated response that takes into account all the sensitivities related to the subject. The UN is a ready-made mechanism for such coordination’. Just to put that into context and illustrate how the UN has its finger on the pulse of celestial developments it is worth noting that the first scientific paper on using radio waves to transmit information over interstellar distances – i.e. preparing the ground for first contact – was published in 1959. But back to the future; The Guardian, presumably because it missed the scoop, spoiled the story by reporting that Ms Othman had later denied the specific task of being the first contact ambassador but a quick look at Onoosa’s webpage suggests that we should be no means rule it out. In fact, in a series of statements of good intent that are linked to further recitations of unspecific nonsense emanating from The Committee for The Peaceful Uses of Outer Space the UN sets out its position very well. Without being specific as to what its position is, of course. What it does do is to cover all possible options without actually setting out a mandate for managing the glad-handing of little green men.

I was disappointed by Kofi Annan as UN Secretary-General; soft-spoken appeasement and being careful to avoid offence sounds good in BBC or CNN sound-bites but doesn’t instil fear in transgressors. And it wasn’t surprising when some embarrassing revelations came to light when he denied having met someone who had made substantial payments to his son after winning a huge contract under the UN’s oil-for-food programme. Under intense questioning, he remembered that he did meet him – twice – and that clearly scared some of the senior members of the UN. So, instead of appointing a replacement that was strong and beyond reproach we got Ban Ki-moon. Here’s a man who’s learned from Kofi’s experience; when he gets some difficult issues to deal with – like process problems in the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] at the 2007 Bali Climate Conference or concerns raised by 166 experts at the UN Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 – he simply ignores them. No chance, then, of ‘forgetting’ a meeting or two that might be embarrassing a few years later.

How is it then that these increasingly ineffective bureaucrats and purveyors on quasi-legislative nonsense are allowed to unilaterally expand their remit, add increasing layers of administrative navel-gazing and smugly advise the rest of us [in an ultimately deniable way, of course] that they will manage first contact? The answer is because the big players – still the USA and Russia but more likely to be China and even [pause for breath] India – are happy to let them do so. Until, that is, silver bullet-shaped objects glide over our cities or red, flaming fireballs begin to hatch three-legged war machines. When that happens I don’t see our leaders waiting for a UN sub-committee to gather in Vienna to debate and suitably word a galactic resolution that will set out a protocol for greeting and avoid offence or misunderstanding. No, I suspect they’ll look at national interests, major companies and financial implications, which is why it makes absolute sense for them to allow the UN to spout this meaningless nonsense.

Setting out these thoughts sort of implies that a need exists to manage first contact but I wonder about that. If we assume that the Earth will be visited then we also have to assume that the alien visitors will represent a civilisation that is far in advance of this one as it will have mastered space/time travel and, if it hasn’t come to assimilate us, will communicate at a fairly sophisticated level. The SETI institute [Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence], which was established in 1984 and has some history in the field of alien contact, understands this. It estimates that a rocket leaving Earth would take around 60,000 years to travel the 4.2 light-years to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star. That suggests that traffic is likely to be one-way as far as meeting aliens goes and, in support of that, SETI has set out a Declaration of Principles Concerning Activities Following the Detection of Extraterrestrial Intelligence. So no need to get the UN involved at all.

The question that occurred to me was if anybody was giving any sort of serious consideration to managing first contact then why not involve the people that already know how to go about it? Gene Roddenberry is regrettably no longer with us but what about Steven Spielberg or Patrick Stewart? I’d even settle for William Shatner in preference to Ban Ki-moon, so long as we were able to avoid any physical contretemps.

It seems to me that if the UN wants to be taken seriously and treated with the respect that an international cooperative for peace and good deserves then it needs to put its house in order and stop wasting time and money on nonsensical issues like this. I am left breathless at the idiocy of grown-up people of international repute believing that if galactic beings do arrive on the White House lawn – no one seems to think they’ll land on a municipal housing estate in northern England or Soweto – the reception committee representing you and me should be armed with a resolution drawn up by individuals from third-world nations that is delivered in halting English.

Better that we put the right stuff in front of them and show that we are not to be trifled with. Forget first contact ambassadors from Unoosa; line up a serious welcoming committee – they’ll get my backing.

Return of The Kev

 

The Kev

 

At last, few days off and an escape to southern Sweden; big skies, autumn colours, skeins of wild geese arriving and the pervasive scent of log fires in the air.

In my world being able to find a few days to get away sometimes proves an impossibility but this time it worked out and here we are. In another world – one that deals with international disasters, distribution of aid and the bringing solace and comfort to people and places where they’re needed – fate and coincidence combined to return The Kev to us for a few days. He moved back to New Zealand in March – I wrote about it here – and that seemed to be that as far as anecdotes around smoky fires and long evenings putting the world to rights were concerned. Seems I was wrong and all those air miles and a round trip from New Zealand that took in Haiti, London and Sweden mattered not one jot.

The Kev was back and, with only a few days here, a celebration was called for. More importantly, a fire was called for and he is the Master of Fire. The stone fireplace that he built in his garden has a lot of history and has long ago passed into the folklore of our little hamlet. Of course, fire is frequently associated with folklore; a story is told in the mythology of South America that the Jaguar was the Master of Fire and ate his meat cooked, the smell of grilling being so delicious that man, who had no secret of fire, couldn’t resist it. Jaguar was a generous deity so man ate hungrily of the cooked meat and learned to use Jaguar’s weapons, repaying him by killing his wife and stealing the secret of fire. Since that time the Jaguar has lived alone in the jungle, waiting for his chance of revenge, while man fears his wrath.

We’re not certain if there is direct lineage between The Kev and the mythical Master of Fire – I don’t discount a connection after having been seduced by the smell of the mountain of pork chops that was being cooked – but we do know that he holds the secret of making a superb fire. So, a quorum was assembled in order that important issues could be thoroughly debated; the necessity for iPods, cash payments to the victims of international disasters, the fecklessness of youth, the joys of Scotland, how the numbers of wild boar are increasing in our neighbourhood and the links between cause and effect of unlimited energy use in California. It pleased the Gods; Dionysus and Hephaestus saw fit to grant us a sunny afternoon that turned into a clear evening sky full of pin-sharp stars and we, in homage, consumed copious amounts of wine and stoked the fire.

Roasted potatoes accompanied the sausages and pork chops. It wasn’t quite a barbecue and it wasn’t quite a hāngi – the traditional Māori cook-out using heated stones required far more patience and more petite appetites than we had – but the results were delicious and delighted all the senses, being cast as background to more than seven hours of continuous, animated and increasingly raucous conversation.

What is it that makes for such a continuous, diverse and uninterrupted discussion? One theory put forward at some time was that no one had a partner of the same nationality; New Zealand/Swedish; Swedish/Hungarian; Dutch/German; Kurdish/Egyptian-Swedish; English/Swedish-Hungarian. There were as many opinions as there were nationalities so it’s little wonder that the UN gets, well, not very far in reaching consensus. We were more successful.

Coward that yours truly is, I scuttled away out of the fire’s glow and into the darkness after the baked apple and vanilla sauce but before the seal was broken on the bottle of Haitian rum. My ‘mornings-after’ of nursing crushing hangovers are strictly rationed these days. True to form and in what is now a time-honoured tradition, The Kev appeared next day bushy-tailed if not entirely bright-eyed, but modestly unaffected by the success of the previous evening. He’s now on his way back to New Zealand, the fireplace is raked and the ashes have barely cooled. Quite a visit.

 

Edit and Dara ponder a point...

 

Nevine and Åke see the funny side...

 

Edward and Gisine
Edward and Gesine; an erudite view

 

Edward, Gesine, Karin and Nevine keeping warm

 

Dara, Åke, Edward, Gesine, Karin, Anna and Nevine

 

Master of Fire

 

Ari shoots Yours Truly

 

and Willy watched it all from the roof