Tag Archives: travel

Holiday wisdom

My friend Richard Morrison doesn’t write on his blog very often, so when he does two posts in one day, I realise that the holiday from which he’s just returned must have been a good one!

Still, one of them is this brilliantly simple observation about the total amount of relaxation one actually gets from a typical holiday:

Lovely.

The other is a recipe for a new cheese he’s invented: Le Condimentâle.

To produce authentic, Condimentâle cheese (appellation d’origine contrôlée) you need a nice warm vehicle and about two months…

I’ll let you read the rest for yourselves

Social distancing in Norfolk

Yesterday, we took the day off and went to the North Norfolk coast. Maintaining social distancing wasn’t too hard. And Tilly got lots of exercise.

That old pipeline that runs out along across one of our favourite beaches has clearly seen some action in the past:

Rose said this looks like two friends embracing across a fence:

And at times, sections of the pipe emerge like a sea monster from the deep:

Here you might be walking on fresh samphire…

or crunching on cockle shells.

It was great to return to a place we’ve visited often and always enjoy.

(I posted a rather different photo from here on a previous visit.)


Now, you may well be asking, how did you manage this, when almost everything is closed? This particular beach is about an hour and three-quarters’ drive from Cambridge, and that poses some challenges when it comes to… ahem… the need for a comfort break.

Well, the answer is that we’re fortunate enough to have a small campervan.

We can’t use it for any overnight stays at present, but it does make a jolly good vehicle for day trips. It has a fridge, a table, a stove, fresh water…

And it also has a loo. Sort of. Even in a van this size. Now, we don’t often use the loo, because we usually stay on sites that have such facilities, and, well, frankly, a loo that you have to pull out of a cupboard before use isn’t that much of a ‘convenience’. Sometimes we leave it behind, because the cupboard space is more useful, and when we have used it in the past, it generally goes in a little loo tent we pitch beside the van.

Having said, that, these facilities have come a long way since the more primitive equivalents I remember from my youth. Ours is one of these, in case you’re interested, and it’s remarkably civilised. All the necessary seals are good, modern chemicals do a good job, it incorporates a loo roll holder and even, would you believe, an electric flush! There are some places I never expected to install AA batteries… but it works well. We probably wouldn’t have chosen quite such a luxurious one, but it came with the van.

Anyway, the point is that this does, pretty much single-handedly, enable day trips during lockdown. “Would you like to take the dog for a short walk, dear? I’m just going to draw the curtains…”


Anyway, back to the beaches. The Norfolk beaches we visit are never crowded, but the car parks can be, so we made sure we arrived early. By the time we departed, a couple of hours later, somebody was grateful for our space.

We had lunch in a different car park, at Blakeney. There was still plenty of space here.

We managed to get a takeaway coffee and cake from a favourite spot in Holt which does an awfully good job of both, and then headed for a rather different beach at Weybourne in the afternoon.

Here, you’re walking on pebbles, which is not quite so easy, but they’re beautiful none the less.

We always bring some of the more colourful pebbles or shells back from our seaside trips, and they end up decorating the bird-bath in the garden.

Talking of birds, there were lots of happy ones bobbing about.

And there are suitably picturesque scenes to be snapped even from the car park.

The standard way to get one of these boats over a pebbly beach into the sea, by the way, is to attach a small accessory.

It’s basically a big chunk of ferric oxide with a diesel engine.

Anyway, all in all, a very pleasant day, and, being aware of the hardship many others are going through at present, I was enormously lucky to be able to enjoy it in such a versatile vehicle with my two favourite companions.

Some more Coronastatistics

In a response to my post yesterday, my friend Jonathan pointed me at this excellent article by Tomas Pueyo. It’s long, and I’m not, of course able to check many of his numbers, and there are some places where he has to make estimates and assumptions, and rely on official Chinese figures more than some would think appropriate. But you should read it none the less; the basic model is very useful. I mention some highlights below.

My question yesterday was about when the virus-based health risk of travelling to an event in the UK would actually become more serious than the risks involved in the road travel to get there. Italy has passed that point (and their road-death statistics are much worse than ours!) My own guess while writing was that it would probably be about two or three weeks here, and it hadn’t escaped me that confirmed cases are a week or two behind the dates when those people actually contracted the virus, so probably the real answer was that coronavirus would be more dangerous than driving in the UK in about a week’s time (using my very crude metric). Others have pointed out that the stats suggest that we’re not that far behind Italy, so coronavirus may already be more dangerous than driving.

What I hadn’t fully appreciated, and this is the thrust of the article, was just how effective a lock-down can be. A key graphic is this one:

(Click for a full-size version)

The orange bars show diagnosed cases. The grey bars show when infection must actually have happened; something you can only deduce with hindsight, because it takes a couple of weeks. At the time Wuhan went into lock-down, they had 444 reported cases. There were probably about 12,000 actual cases at the time waiting to appear. And if we believe the official figures, the growth stopped pretty instantly once they imposed a lock-down; the kind of lock-down that perhaps only an authoritarian regime can effectively implement.

At the time, of course, this wouldn’t have been clear; the number of reported cases would have gone on rising for another 10 days or so.

Pueyo then goes on to demonstrate the effect of delaying this kind of lock-down by one day — the very significant impact it can have on the number of cases that actually appear.

This in turn affects the ability of healthcare systems to cope, which then affects the mortality rate, and so once you pass a certain threshold, the impact of each day’s delay is amplified more than you might expect. He posts this graphic by Alexander Radtke – I’ve seen similar ones online recently:

You’ll note that this graph is purely an illustration of a concept without any real data, but it’s a useful one. What’s good about Pueyo’s analysis in general, though, is that he’s trying hard to use real numbers wherever he can. He may be right, he may be wrong, and in particular his analysis may be more or less relevant to the particular situation in the UK, but it’s worth taking seriously.

So, today’s update:

  • Coronavirus in the UK will very soon — probably in a few days — be more dangerous than driving. Maybe even more dangerous than Italian driving. But still not a cause for panic.

However,

  • We’ll know in a couple of weeks just how dangerous it is today.
  • By then it will be a lot more dangerous.
  • Waiting to find that out is the best possible way to ensure that it will be even worse!
  • We’re at the point where each day is very significant.

Therefore:

  • Actions like panic-buying of loo rolls are not a rational response to something that is currently much less dangerous than the drive to the supermarket.
  • Actions like locking down the entire country to restrict movement as much as possible may actually be a perfectly rational response to the same thing.

Fascinating stuff.

Now, here’s my next question:

You may remember the analysis a few years ago that showed that more people died after the 9/11 attacks than during them. This was because so many people were scared of flying in the following days and weeks that they drove long distances instead. Driving is so much more dangerous than air travel that the resulting death toll was higher than that on the day itself.

Now, one result of coronavirus lock-down, I hope and expect, will be that a lot more people will discover the practicality and benefits of working from home. (I’ve been doing it half-time for many years, using long Skype calls to keep in touch with my colleagues, some of whom are only a few miles away.)

If this continues on any scale after the virus threat has receded, how long will it be before the number of lives saved by the reduction in mileage and air pollution outweighs the lives lost in the epidemic?

Update: please read the comments below as well!

Whither the weather?

As a campervan owner, I’d like a kind of backwards weather-forecasting website.

Instead of saying, “I’m here, what’s the weather going to be like at the weekend?”, I’d like to say, “Where do I need to go to get the best weather this weekend?” (within a certain radius).

Does anybody offer such a service?

Malham

Malham, in Yorkshire, is a splendid place, which I’d never visited until we stayed there last night. It’s a pretty and charming little village, with a bubbling stream running through it, and one or two very nice pubs.

But, take a short walk through the green, rolling countryside in one direction, and you come to Malham Cove, a very impressive limestone cliff.

A path with some good stairs takes you to the top of the cliff, where the limestone has eroded into other unexpected features.

An occasional delicate flower nestles in the indentations, protected from the sometimes dramatic weather.

If, on the other hand, you head out of the village in the opposite direction, a path through some fields eventually enters a little wooded valley, which takes you first to Janet’s Foss:

And then, a little higher up, to Gordale Scar.

And between all these dramatic sites…?

Sheep grazing in bucolic peace beside gently winding streams.

Shark-wrestling

This morning, Rose, Tilly and I took a very pleasant if somewhat bracing walk along the beach near Weybourne in Norfolk.

Tilly was very brave…

A bit further along, we saw a dead fish, and our thoughts naturally turned to keeping Tilly away from it. 🙂 When we got closer, however, we realised that it actually might be a small shark… and was rather pretty. (As dead fish go.)

Then we noticed… it wasn’t dead… it was still breathing… Just.

It had been a bit mauled by something, but wasn’t in too bad a state… but it was a long way up the beach. So I picked it up, waded into the sea to boot-depth and threw it back into the waves, where I like to think it swam away. It certainly didn’t float away!

It was probably less than two feet long, but it was a wonderful feeling to hold it and feel it breathing, and let’s face it, it’s not every day I wrestle live sharks before coffee time…

My brother, on being sent the picture, identified it as a catshark. They don’t grow to much more than about three feet long, so I feel it’s unlikely to come back and terrorise the beaches of North Norfolk as a result of my actions.

Pigeonhole

At the Drop Redoubt fortifications on Dover Western Heights

Viticulture

I’m used to labels on bottles of wine telling me that I should expect a ‘hint of blackcurrant’ or ‘subtle aromas’.

But in Portugal recently I had a (very drinkable) wine from a vineyard whose marketing department had, perhaps, become a little over-excited.

It’s nice to know there are still jobs out there for people with Literature degrees, isn’t it?

Once more unto the beach

Holkham Beach in Norfolk is an amazing place. It’s just vast.

Yesterday, the car park was packed, and the path from it to the beach a queue of people and dogs, yet when we got there and walked for just a few minutes, it looked like this:

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A few more, and it looked like this:

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(Yes, that’s Tilly – you can click for a bigger version.)

Looking away from the sea, you get this:

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And I’m fond of that, admittedly less exciting, view, because it features in the memorable closing sequence of my favourite movie.

Tilly absolutely adored it, and seemed to keep running, flat out, for about an hour and a half.

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All in all, a most enjoyable stroll.

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Well, that was a surprise…

If you saw my photos from yesterday, you’ll understand why we were surprised to wake up this morning to this:

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and this:

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Very pretty, though:

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By the afternoon, the weather had returned to something closer to what we expected:

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Photos often don’t, however, tell you anything about the wind, which was, at times, somewhat dramatic!

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All peaceful now, though.

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Mysterious Trees III

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Good times ready to roll

The smell of fresh Nikwax

For me, there is nothing quite so evocative of happy adventures to come as the sight and smell of freshly-Nikwaxed walking boots.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser