Brest, An Unexpected Stopover

The unexpected makes life interesting.

Say It With A Camera

So there we were happily sailing across the Bay of Biscay doing about 19 knots. I’m sitting in the 800 seat theatre and I can feel a definite list on the ship. We are changing course, I can’t see it, but I can feel it.

There’s been a medical emergency and we have to turn back to Brest in France. A good few extra hours sailing.

As we approach Brest we pass the concrete German U-Boat pens which are left over from WW2, now used by the French Navy.

Submarine Pens

The ship we are on is one of those massive cruise liners. It’s like an 18 floor , floating apartment block and from the attention we are getting from small craft, ships that size are not often seen in Brest.

Getting Close

We won’t be getting off, just docking, whilst the passenger with the medical emergency is transferred to a French Hospital. The…

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New wine in what?!

A very intelligent lady – a professoresse no less – was interviewed on BBC Radio 4 earlier today. She said about fraud crimes now carried out on the internet “…old wine in new bottles, if you like” (52 minute into the clip in the link).

It was a clever metaphor, but her picture was, not only the wrong way around, but also slightly inaccurate, due, I guess, not to her lack of religious instruction, but because she was instructed in that glorious institution of the English language that is the Authorised King James translation. Now, many people think that is the only translation that counts. One quote that springs to mind is an old chap in a Southern Baptist Church in America who said, “If King James was good ’nuff for Paul, it’s good ’nuff for me”. That aside, the proverbial image conjured, albeit imperfectly, by this good lady is from the Bible (as so many of our idioms and expressions are) and back in those sandal wearing days they did not use bottles, but skins.

Here is the King James version that the professoresse based her outburst on:

Luke 5, 36:

“And he spake also a parable unto them ; No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old ; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles ; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles ; and both are preserved. No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new ; for he saith, The old is better.”

The professoresse, consciously or not, turned the quote on its head. It is not “old wine in new bottles” but new wines into old that creates problems for the butler ( the word comes from the old French “boteillier”, the cup-bearer, the officer in charge of the wine). What, you may ask, does the age of the bottle has to do with anything at all? A very reasonable question, my dear fellow. Let us therefore turn to the New Living Translation, which has the following rendition:

 “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the new wine would burst the wineskins, spilling the wine and ruining the skins.38 New wine must be stored in new wineskins39 But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the new wine. ‘The old is just fine,’ they say.

First of all, I don’t really care much about the skins. Secondly, notice that old wine is the point one really should take away from all this, but leave that to another day. The comparison, as seen in the fuller quote from King James above, between cloth and the receptacle of wine only really makes sense when it is a wine skin and not a bottle. Cloth tends to shrink when washed, so mending old clothes with new fabric may cause a tear. Similarly, the old wineskins have been stretched, and if you put new wine, still fermenting, into the old skins, they may burst and waste the wine (an unforgivable act of uncreative destruction).

The highly educated professoresse’s misquoting of the Bible, even if it was a misquote of the King James’ version, which we readily forgive, is symptomatic of a society that is growing increasingly secular. Even if I am an atheist (which I am) I am concerned that we are losing touch with one of the greatest carriers of cultural heritage that we have: the Bible. One cannot understand, or even begin to have a whiff of understanding, of Shakespeare, or so much of our literary heritage, without some understanding of the Bible, and some knowledge of it.

So, in conclusion, as one is suppose to say, I am glad that the professoresse did make a biblical allusion, and I hope this may have tickled your curiosity about that great text a little.








Finished one – on with with the next!

It’s been a while, but here’s an update:

The book I started on in June was finished before Christmas. That is, the story was completed, but of course, it is not completely finished. I have sent the manuscript to someone who has kindly agreed to read it it and give feedback.

In writing, and in anything, to be open to critique, especially negative, destructive, damaging, painful, crushing criticism is absolutely crucial. So-called “constructive criticism” is too often a cover for a lack of ability to accept one’s own faults and weaknesses.

On that happy note, I can say that without some painful criticism of my first novel, the semi-autobiographical In Good Faithimg_6272, I would never have had the idea to the story that I have now completed. The working title for that is Calling to Kill, although I am also considering How to Kill a Pastor. Do please let me know which you like best. Answers on a postcard (or just in the comments section). The criticism sparked a thought that turned into a pale flame that eventually became a roaring fire of inspiration and the new story became a reality.

Having completed this story, I decided to take it easy over Christmas, and read an Evelyn Waugh story (Put Out More Flags) and the spoof Famous Five story Brexit Island, which someone gave me for Christmas.

As Candlemas put an end to Christmas it was time to turn my attention to a book project that I started a few years ago. The idea had started as the story of four students going up to a university loosely modelled on Oxford/Cambridge, and the experiences that influences their process towards their more mature self. After just above 46000 words I had become stuck. Well, now I have come unstuck, so to speak. The story will have a death. It will be a killing of some sort, but is it murder? You will have to read the story to find out. It has an evil professor and a good don. It has some great characters, and some loathsome ones.  Some inspiration is drawn from the concept of the Stepford Student.

The original working title was The Students, but now it is Oliver or The Body in the River. How about that? The book will have sex and violence, so it is bound to be a best seller.

Publishers, here I am.

T5W: Worst Synopses

It is fiendishly difficult to come up with a good synopsis…just have a look at these…


Getting back into the swing of things with another Top 5 Wednesday, a weekly book meme set up by Gingerreadslainey and hosted by Sam@thoughtsontomes, you can find the Goodreads group here. This week we’re picking the back cover summaries that totally misrepresent a book’s contents.

Personally, I’ve always hated the phrase ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’, I mean, I know it’s a metaphor but there are people who spend a lot of time and effort designing them! The whole point of the cover is to allow you to quickly gauge the genre, topic or themes of a book. The synopsis should be an addendum to that, the second step, a brief, spoiler-free explanation of the story found inside.

Unfortunately of course it doesn’t always quite work out like that. That said, I actually had some trouble with this one! So here are my top 5…

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West Bergholt Old Church

On Bank Holiday Monday I took a bike ride on my beautiful Pashley through Essexian countryside, to the charming West Bergholt Old Church, or St Mary’s Old Church, to give it its proper name, just outside Colchester. There’s been a church on this site for over a thousand years, and the building clearly tells of different ages and different materials being used. The most striking is that the clock tower is wooden, whilst sitting on top of a more conventional flint stone building. The flint stone structure is itself interspersed with bricks of various kinds. Inside the church you find the beautiful royal arms of King James, with the Latin motto Exurgat Deus Dissipenter Inimici; let God arise, let His enemies be scattered, a reference to Psalm 68:1. The church is no longer in regular use as a place of worship, but remains consecrated and is in use for weddings, as well as other events including Carol services. It is maintained by the Friends of St Mary’s Old Church, under the overall responsibility of the Churches Conservation Trust. Below you can see some of the pictures I took. The main picture above was taken from the gallery.

Beheadings are nothing new

The story of the beheading of Holofernes by Judith, depicted in the apocryphal Book of Judith (see Wikipedia article here), inspired a scene in the new book I am working on (working title The Calling). I imagined a stained glass window with a depiction of the scene. Then thanks to the wonders of the internet I was able to discover that such stained glass windows do exist (some images under copyright protection, so please look up for yourselves). Many artists up through the ages have painted the scene. Caravaggio’s depiction is particularly blood curdling, because of the naturalism of the flesh. It all looks like a scene from the butcher’s shop. I rather liked the picture I have posted here, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1530. It looks very genteel, a lady showing off the result of a day’s hunting. Yet there is something determined in her face. This is one that would not suffer fools gladly.