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January 31, 2007

Spanish Town and Port Royal

I will say a great deal more about both these places when I can put up some pictures of them. For the moment let me say that they are both fascinating. Spanish Town is the home of the Cathedral, St Jago's, built in the 1700's and heavily restored in 1901, by which time it was evidently much in need of it. The town itself was the centre of government and at the heart of the town is a square of colonial government buildings and a vast collonade commenorating Admiral Rodney. Unfortunately two of these have been gutted by fire and there is evidently now desire to save or restore them. The remaining buildings are still in use, one as a local government office with the most interesting fire escape I have ever seen.

Spanish Town is now the home of one of the countries toughest jails, built hard against the Cathedral church yard. It is also home to some of the roughest gangs in the country.

Port Royal was once the Capital and was, until Independence the Royal Nav base in this part of the Caribbean. The old naval buildings are sadly run down and slowly collapsing, although a portion of the base, centered on Fort Charles (Built 1640-ish), is still in use as the HQ of the Jamaica Navy and Coastguard. It does seem strange to see the White Ensign with the Jamaican flag in its upper quadrant instead of the familiar Union Flag! They have recently acquired three smart new fast patrol boats and a tour of one of them, JS Cornwall, was certainly interesting!

Port Royal was partially destroyed in an earthquake in 1690, an event which brought to an end the reign of terror in this part of the world of some of the most notorious buccaners of that age. The Royal Navy entered these waters originally to suppress them and their activities, and the restored Port Royal became home to the West Indies Fleet as a result. One sad reminder of the sacrifice of those men was the Old Naval Graveyard, now neglected and sadly overgrown - disgracefully neglected I feel - on the road back to Kingston. I shall have more to say on that score another day.

For now, I have more preparation to do! More tales from Jamaica and pictures later!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:08 PM | TrackBack

January 30, 2007

The Joys of going Broadband

A couple of weeks ago Mausi was approached by her telephone company offering her to join the broadband community at reasonable conditions. Mausi thought 'Why not?' and tried to phone the service hotline of her company to confirm the offer. On the first two attempts the computer who answered her call gave her a choice of four subjects to choose between, then asked for her telephone number and said it would connect her with a living person from the service desk. Only, the computer must have pushed the wrong button for twice Mausi ended up in silent cyberspace. On her next attempt Mausi took a more devious approach. When the computer asked her again to make her choice between the four subjects Mausi mumbled. After telling her twice that it didn't understand her the computer gave up and directly connected Mausi to a very helpful young lady at the service center.

Bingo! Mausi placed her order and eagerly awaited the postman next day. He brought her a 'splitter' to be installed into the telephone line to pick up the broadband signal. Child's play, Mausi thought, connected the first telephone socket to the splitter and the splitter to the router. And then waited for the system to sort itself out. Nothing happened - the router didn't pick up the broadband signal. Okay. Mausi thought she'd better ask around her colleagues first next morning. Quite a few had joined the broadband community lately.

The next day Mausi learnt she had to connect the splitter as close to the point where the telephone cable entered the house as possible, pick up the broadband signal there and then try to coax it from there to a more convenient spot in the house. It turned out to be a most entertaining evening with two people lying flat on their bellies in front of the main telephone cable trying to wedge that d*** splitter into the proper place and an attentive cat that went outside when she couldn't hide her grin anymore. At one point even the telephone wouldn't work anymore, let alone the broadband signal. Several hours later the router was still silent but at least the telephone worked again.

Always good advice to take one step at a time. Next day Mausi took the router to a neighbour who was already a member of the broadband community and satisfied herself that at least the router worked as it should. So there was nothing for it but to admit temporary defeat and call the support hotline of the telephone company to find out where the broadband signal went. The technician arrived the next morning and proved to be quite helpful. The splitter had to be connected to the red and the blue instead of the red and black cable. As a result the broadband signal was at least picked up by the router. Magic!

But he also had a bit of bad news for Mausi. The telephone cables installed inside the house are of inferior quality. They are alright for the telephone signal but the broadband signal cannot travel through them. As they have been built fixedly into the walls they cannot be changed now. Bother! So the router has to stay downstairs and Mausi has to set up a Wireless Lan to make the computers work. Yesterday evening Mausi made the WLan work with Windows and now faces the task of doing the same under Linux. The fun will last a few more days, no doubt.

Posted by Mausi at 09:25 PM | TrackBack

January 29, 2007

Touring Jamaica

Well, I finally managed to find a way to access the Blog! Unfortunately I can't upload any pics from here, so they will have to wait until I get home and can do it properly.

Delivering a course on one's own is hard going at the best of times, to do it with minimal support in a foreign country and have a full days work followed by the preparations for the next is certainly taking its toll. Still, I have managed to get a bit of sightseeing done, courtesy of my hosts. It has so far been confined to an afternoon and two evenings out, but it has certainly given me a taster of the realities of life in this island. The exchange rate is a bit of a shocker - J$177 to the Pound!

Well, that said, Friday saw me doing something I haven't done in years - and I soon enough remembered why! Take out for a meal, we ate at a Jamaican restuarant and I enjoyed my first taste of "Jerk" Pork. It was good and I nejoyed it washed down with a couple of bottles of the local Brewer's best - Red Stripe. Then it was upstairs to the Night Club. Right. You could hear the music from the street. Through the doors, through the walls. In fact it was difficult to hear anything else - and that was outside! Inside was something else.

Aural shutdown occured within seconds. It is not often one experiences the same sensation from the bass woofer on one's body that you would normally get when exposed to the blast wave from an explosion. At least you would not expect to do so several times a milli-second. The inside of the club was wall to wall people, flashing lights and the weird effect of the UV strip lights made all the white clothes on the patrons glow. A couple more Red Stripes magically appeared and by now grinning manicly the Monk downed them. Quite an experience, but it was with relief that I staggered out into the street and got back to the hotel.

The beat finally left my head about 03.00 in the morning a good four hours after I left the club!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:56 PM | TrackBack

January 28, 2007

A little piece of Imperial Russia in Darmstadt

Mausi has previously posted a picture of this little gem of a chapel, once the summer place of worship of the Russian Czar and Czarina. Icons of the murdered Nicholas II and his Czarina adorn one corner of the chapel internally which is now under restoration internally. Years of neglect and candle soot have dulled the internal decoration quite badly, but a start has been made and the bits that have been treated are looking a lot better than the parts yet to be done.

The external restoration is now complete, but much remains to be done.

The restoration is obviously being done as and when funds are available, it also seems to be very much a labour of love by a very small congregation, none of whom would seem to be that flush in the pocket. It would be nice to hear that they have had a bit of help on some of the internal work they need to complete, it is certainly going to be worth seeing when it is complete. At present the fine Iconostasis is showing its neglect, and several of the more valuable icons have obviously been lost over the years because they have been replaced by photographs, but in its heyday it would have been stunning, and may well be so again!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:36 PM | TrackBack

January 27, 2007

News from The Monk

The Monk has apparently survived his first week in the Caribbean. Work goes as well as could be expected and today there's even time to do a bit of sightseeing. Hope he'll share some photos with us soon.

Posted by Mausi at 05:23 PM | TrackBack

Some short stories due ....

Watch out on Amazon.com for the publication of two short stories related to my book Out of Time. They should be published as "e-stories" very shortly and will come up under Amazon Shorts. A search for "Patrick G Cox" should bring them and my book up and these will sell for $0.49c a time!

Patently I don't expect to get rich on the Royalties ..... but the object of the exercise is to get the book noticed and to feed into it. Both stories are prequels to the book itself and develop the personalties of the two principal characters in Out of Time. I hope that some, at least of you, will venture out and buy into them.

Have fun reading!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:09 PM | TrackBack

January 26, 2007


Mausi had almost given up hope on winter this season. Although she had tried to make any snow flake feel welcome on the hill where she lives temperatures have stubbornly stayed around 15 degrees Celsius during December and January.


But this week the weather has definitely changed for the better. Temperatures went down to proper -6 during the nights and even the days were quite chilly. Mausi had almost forgotten how cold sub-zero temperatures can feel. Yesterday Herbert's (the gargoyle who is hibernating in the cellar at the moment) bath tub was covered by a thick layer of ice which had to be broken up with a pick axe.


The day started with a beautiful sunrise, the air was clear and cold and definitely smelled of snow.


During the last two days it had already been snowing heavily in the South of Germany causing havoc on the motorways and even Mausi's hill got its first 0.5 millimeters in the morning. Don't laugh! There's more snow promised for tonight. Mausi didn't grow a thick winter fur coat for nothing!

Posted by Mausi at 05:50 PM | TrackBack

January 25, 2007

Roman self loading ballista

The Mainz museum of Antique Ships also has this superb recreation of a self loading cross-bow or ballista. Until the Gatling gun came along this must have been about the most devastating semi-automatic weapon in anyone's arsenal. I have no idea what its rate of fire would have been, but I don't think I'd have enjoyed facing one!

The self loading ballista mounted on the Roman Patrol Boat.

A working model that young visitors are encouraged to operate - without the bolts!

As the winch mechanism is turned the bow string is drawn back, and as this passes a predetermined point on its travel, a bolt drops from the 'magazine' above into the guide channel. At the fully wound point, the winch is tripped and the bowstring released, shooting the missile at the target. Looking at it this thing could probably fire six or seven times a minute in trained hands. Probably lethal too against packed groups or ranked enemies. Especially if you've never encountered one before!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:16 PM | TrackBack

January 24, 2007

Cathedral approach ...

Leaving the Römer Square in Frankfurt one enters a short cobbled street which ends in another smaller square bounded by the Art Gallery on one side and shops on the other. Ahead is the cathedral, approached by stairs or a ramp from here. From the square one can look down and see the exposed remains of the first church here, a simple square building, with attached structures which may well have provided living accommodation.

The Cathedral seen from the Römer in Frankfurt.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 06:06 PM | TrackBack

January 23, 2007

News from The Monk

On his first working day The Monk experienced the usual problems one encounters when delivering a lecture or giving a presentation abroad: there are always notes that refuse to be printed and DVDs that won't run for no apparent reason at all.

Posted by Mausi at 05:22 AM | TrackBack

Restored Römer

The cobble stone paved square in Frankfurt has seen a lot of history and was probably first created by the Romans, hence its name - the Römer. Restored after WW2, it is the city hall and the place in which the new Kaiser dined with his magnates, having first dined himself, waited on by the Electors.

The impressive frontage of the restored Römer in Frankfurt am Main.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:01 AM | TrackBack

January 22, 2007

News update on The Monk

The Monk has finally made it to his Kingstown, his destination in Jamaica. The accomodation is not what he expected but - after only changing his room twice - he awoke reasonably well rested yesterday morning. His room still hasn't got a 'view' but is less claustrophobic than the last ones and the pool is quite close by. Work will start today and there are sure to be more surprises in store for him. Frankly, Mausi doesn't know what he is grumbling about - fancy being actually paid to go to far away outlandish places and see the world! Whereas Mausi will be chained to her computer in her stuffy little office again today - sigh....

Posted by Mausi at 09:46 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Travelling ...

Mausi had to go to Hannover on business on Thursday and Friday. Hannover is about 350 km to the northeast of Wiesbaden and much bigger. Quite a nice town with lots of green around and quite a bit of water. It is well known for the big industrial fairs that take place there each year and it has also been hosting the EXPO some years ago.

The nicest thing about going to Hannover, however, is that Mausi is able to look up her sister and spend some time with her and her family. Which proved to be quite a bit of luck this time. Thursday was the day the storm "Kyrill" went over Germany and left a trail of devastation behind. Mausi was to go by train in the morning and as the storm had been building up all night and was already quite strong in Wiesbaden by then Mausi firmly believed the train wouldn't make it to Hannover that day. But - the ICE train (Inter City Express train) proved to be faster than the wind and Mausi arrived in Hannover on schedule. It had been quite a nice trip really because Mausi was allowed to trave 1st class and her compartment for five had only been occupied by three. Lots of space to make oneself comfy and enjoy a good read. The only drawback was that the rest room was adjoining to Mausi's compartment - perhaps the engineers should rethink the layout of the exhaust ducts ...

By the time Mausi had finished her presentation in the afternoon the storm had gathered full force and as the rain was driven horizontally past the windows Mausi gratefully accepted a colleague's offer to drive her around to her sister's. Mausi's sister is a teacher who'd spend an interesting couple of hours at noon having to send all children home because of the storm and frantically trying to get hold of parents and friends to alert them to the childrens' coming home early that day. By then no trains were running anywhere in Germany and most of the autobahns were shut down as well. Mausi was glad she had planned to stay in Hannover until Sunday anyway.

Next morning Mausi got an idea of the damage done by the storm when another colleague picked her up to take her to a meeting about 20 km south of Hannover. The autobahn south was still closed and a large number of trees hadn't been able to withstand the storm. Trains were not running to schedule all Friday and 5000 people had been stranded at Hannover Central Station the night before. Hannover had opened its underground bunker to accomodate them. Must have been quite an adventure.

Saturday was spend having a late breakfast, a leisurely stroll through the City and in particular some bookshops with Mausi's sister, and a joint effort of all family members to cook dinner - a real success! All too sudden it was Sunday morning and Mausi had to go back again.

Mausi had to change trains on her way to Wiesbaden in Kassel-Wilhelmshöhe, a station which is also known as 'Palace of the Winds' (if you've ever been blown about on the platform there you know why) and is quite famous because when it was completed sometime at the end of the 90's they discovered that the restrooms had been forgotten in the original design ... After a cold 15 minutes in Kassel Mausi finally entered her train to Frankfurt/Main. Next stop was to be Fulda, a former German/German border town. Well, the train stopped a few minutes before Fulda due to a technical problem. Stops like that are never a good sign. In this case, however, the train was able to resume operation after only 10 minutes but at reduced maximum speed. It can go at almost 300 km/h, now it was reduced to 160 km/h. On the whole Mausi prefers train rides to going by car. Mausi can read in trains, relax and prepare herself for the business ahead. What Mausi hates is going by train and having to catch connections. She still had to from Frankfurt/Main to Wiesbaden and guess where her connections had gone after she arrived 30 minutes late in Frankfurt. Only by jogging along the platform and dashing down the escalator was she able to catch a local train without having to spend another hour in Frankfurt. Bit of luck - the 1st class compartment was almost deserted and clean for a change, while people were piling up like sardines in a tin in the rest of the carriage.

Looking at the clear blue sky with only a few puffy white clouds and the brilliant sunshine when leaving the station made more than up for all the inconviences during the journey.

Posted by Mausi at 09:30 PM | TrackBack

January 21, 2007


Every country has its character, and Europe as a whole has a variety. Germany changes from State to State and it's quite fascinating looking at the differences. Large parts of Wiesbaden look like any modern city, but then, from the top of a building you suddenly find yourself looking at a skyline that says "Germany".

The skyline on the older part of Wiesbaden, the towers, and the roof styles all speak of Europe, in particular the area of the Rhine Hesse and Rhine Pfalz.

I wonder if in future our descendents will be able to say the same?

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:54 PM | TrackBack

January 20, 2007

Travelling again ...

The Monk left yesterday for Jamaica where he has three weeks work to do. If possible he will drop a few lines from there and maybe even a picture or three, everything depends on being able to access the appropriate services foir the internet.

Mausi will do her best to mind the blog, but is under quite a lot of pressure at work and may find herself having to skip the odd day. Please bear with us both as we try to keep things going, we promise to be good and to try and keep you entertained one way or another. Certainly, this year is turning up some interesting challenges right at the start, not least for the Monk as he tries to sort out future working patterns for himself.

In an ideal world he would be able to concentrate on doing what he enjoys most, writing books. This isn't an ideal world, so the books play second fiddle to earning his crust.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 19, 2007

Historical fun .....

I have ruined German history for Mausi. I think I may have mentioned this before in this blog, but as a school boy, I was one of the class (I wonder how many other kids suffered from the same misunderstanding?) that sat enthralled listening to our teacher talking about the "Diet of Worms" and other wonders of the Reformation. When I explained what we had thought she was talking about to Mausi, it took a while for Mausi to stop laughing and now she cannot pass the City of Worms without seeing a lot of fur clad, medieval clergymen stuffing their faces with worms.

So Mausi's revenge. Take me to Worms. To the very cathedral in which the Diet met. I'm afraid we spent some of the time there giggling at the images of the schoolroom, but it is another beautiful place, one with a vast history. We got there rather late and in failing evening light. But I was able to get the picture below from the town fountain, the centre piece of which is a statue of Siegfried. Why? Well, for those familiar with the Ring Cycle, they will know that the city of Worms is the place where Siegfried threw the ring into the river ....

The ancient cathedral of Worms seen from its West end. Note the great circular turret towers.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:35 PM | TrackBack

January 18, 2007

Schoolboy howlers

Sometimes someone sends you something that is uproariously funny and which you just have to share around, but this latest one suggests that there is a lot wrong in the education of our kids, particularly when it comes to real history, rather than the Homer Simpson variety!

I read through the list my daughter sent me with quite a smile and I share a couple of the best here. For the rest, may I respectfully suggest that you look at the embedded link above! It is worth the effort. Now, some of the best:

The sun never set on the British Empire because the British Empire is in the East and the sun sets in the West. Queen Victoria was the longest queen. She sat on a thorn for 63 years. Her reclining years and finally the end of her life were exemplary of a great personality. Her death was the final event which ended her reign.

Well, I always wondered about that! But the musicians will love this one ....

Bach was the most famous composer in the world, and so was Handel. Handel was half German, half Italian, and half English. He was very large. Bach died from 1750 to the present. Beethoven wrote music even though he was deaf. He was so deaf he wrote loud music. He took long walks in the forest even when everyone was calling for him. Beethoven expired in 1827 and later died for this.

Poor Beethoven - imagine dying of expiring ..... I wonder what had expired? His Klavier License? And this mangled view of English history contains the suggestion of a little bit more ....

The government of England was a limited mockery. Henry VIII found walking difficult because he had an abbess on his knee. Queen Elizabeth was the "Virgin Queen." As a queen she was a success. When Elizabeth exposed herself before her troops, they all shouted, "hurrah." Then her navy went out and defeated the Spanish Armadillo.

Nothing much has changed in government then .... but, I wonder if the RSPCA should be alerted to what Drake, Effingham and others did to the Armadillo, after all if they prosecute people for letting their dogs get too fat ....

While I can understand American kids having trouble with European history, I found their view of a key part of their own hilarious ....

Abraham Lincoln became America's greatest president. Lincoln's mother died in infancy, and he was born in a log cabin which he built with his own hands. When Lincoln was President, he wore only a tall silk hat. He said, "In onion there is strength." Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg address while traveling from Washington to Gettysburg on the back of an envelope. He also freed the slaves by signing the Emasculation Proclamation, and the Fourteenth Amendment gave the ex-Negroes citizenship. But the Clue Clux Clan would torcher and lynch the ex-Negroes and other innocent victims. It claimed it represented law and odor. On the night of April 14, 1865, Lincoln went to the theater and got shot in his seat by one of the actors in a moving picture show. The believed assinator was John Wilkes Booth, a supposingly insane actor. This ruined Booth's career.

The Emasculation Proclamation brings tears to the eyes, never mind the strength in the Onion .....

Posted by The Gray Monk at 05:19 PM | TrackBack

January 17, 2007

Frankfurt sights

Visiting Frankfurt proved very interesting, not least for the discovery that the cathedral is built on the site of a second or third century Roman structure. During the restoration of the building in the 1950's, the opportunity was taken to excavate the Western end of the site, which had been built over several times. Some two metres down the remains of the first cathedral came to light and with it, several earlier structures.

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The ornate cover from the tomb of a noble family - possibly relatives of the von Thurn und Taxis family.

In this area one cannot help but feel the long lines of continuity of occupation. Generally the Romans built on sites already in use, and I suspect that this one is no different. Wandering around these streets you cannot but be struck by how familiar and yet unfamiliar everything is. Shops look the same, but the architecture has a strong character all its own and the use of colour on the facades is something unfamiliar to those of us who are used to the English practice of keeping colour subdued.

Bread is another example. In England, unless you are prepared to frequent a speciality bakert - or bake yourself - you simply do not have the same variety of breads and bread like products. There is something special about buying warm Bretzels and eating these with a cup of coffee in an ancient square - with your breath steaming in the cool. (For my American readers - Bretzel = Pretzel, but fresh baked and sold warm and soft!), or wandering along cobbled streets with brightly lit shops on either side and hearing all the variety of languages around you that is modern Europe.

It reminded me too, of the reasons why we should work to find ways to make our latest attempt at working with our cousins in Europe, work.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:47 PM | TrackBack

January 16, 2007

Royal Mailman

Most people who read the international and business news will have come across the name of an exotic sounding lady, Princess von Thurn und Taxis, but how many will know that she is a member of one of the oldest families in Europe, certainly in Germany. This family were responsible for the Emperor's mail services throughout the Holy Roman Empire, set up by Otto the Great. If my history is correct they go back at least to Charlemagne (Charles the Great in English, Karl der Grosse in German). Their family estates centred on Frankfurt which is also the seat of the Electoral College for the Emperors.

Some of us could be excused for thinking that the title of Kaiser is a fairly modern one, associated with the Hohenzollern family from Prussia, but it stretches back to Charlemagne and is the German term for Emperor. More correctly it is associated with the family we think of as the Austrian dynasty, the Hapsburgs. The Kaisers were 'elected' by the Kurfürsts (Electors), seven originally, and later extended to nine. They included the Great Elector, the Elector of Brandenburg, Hannover, the Palatinate, Aachen and one from France. The election of the Kaisers took place in the Chapel of the Electors which is built into the North side of Frankfurt am Main cathedral. The Kaiser was then proclaimed, seated on the Altar in the entrance to the Quire, and the famous "Golden Bull" sets out the process for the election, the manner of the proclamation and the procedure for the crowning.

Decorated tomb Covers Family von Thurn und Taxis.JPG
The elaborate 13th Century tomb stone from the grave of a member of the von Thurn und Taxis family now mounted in the wall of Frankfurt cathedral.

Frankfurt am Main is often seen as a place with not much of interest - thanks largely to the nightly visitations of Lancasters and the daily visits from B-17's - but you would be wrong. The historic core has been beautifully restored, with the ancient Römer Hall, where the newly crowned Kaiser dined attended by the Electors, and the Market Square are all worth the effort. So too are the museums - not least the display of the Golden Bull, probably the worlds first constitutional document. It certainly predates the English equivalent, Magna Carta.

But I digress, the Thurn und Taxis family are certainly a prime example of how those with great wealth and power seem able to hang onto it one way or another. They diversified long before accountants and economists dreamed up the term. Their wealth went into a huge variety of interests, from land, through trade and eventually into industry and commerce. Not bad for a family whose first enterprise was as the Postmaster to the Kaiser. In accepting responsibility for the delivery of the Kaiser's edicts, judgements and business correspondence between his various officials, vassal rulers and Ratshaus officials, they laid the foundations for one of the most enduring fortunes in Europe. It certainly made me think on the subject of "old money" versus "new money" as I looked at the monuments around the cathedral. As I have grown older I have come to recognise two important things about the upper echelons of industry and commerce, the judiciary, the civil service and the elected members of our various parliaments. There is definitely an element of "them and us" and I don't think it is altogether unhealthy - unless it gets to badly skewed one way or another.

Look around at the top people in all the examples I have just given and you find a certain commonality to it. Public school, blue brick university, entree to the step ladder to the board room all seem to be built in - and they are to an extent. If your parents have the money to ensure you have a place at Eton, Harrow, Winchester or Charterhouse to name but a few, you have already got several steps up the ladder. You are intouch with a network that runs on money, rather than position or background - although that certainly helps, a 'cor blimey' accent isn't going to get past the front door. Your parents too, by definition move in circles that give you a head start into the professions and the right pathways to the board room, entrances and pathways not exactly denied to those from the local comprehensive, but certainly a lot harder to crack from that perspective. Part of the problem for the rest of us is that these folk move among equals and the rest of us don't mix in the same category.

The right connections and the doors swing open, old money always survives mainly because they have had years of practice at surviving and making sure their assets are so diversified that you could never get a single hit to destroy them all. Examine the shareholdings of all the Blue Chip companies and you will see what I mean. These are not people who play penny-pinching on the Stock Markets, they own substantial blocks of shares in a wide variety of corporations - and they have solid assets as well to back those up. They don't bank with a bank, they own them, and not just one either, but several.

Standing in front of this tomb cover I could not help reflecting that the great Royal Houses are still with us, the Hohenzollerns, the Hapsburgs, they may live quietly and out of the public eye, but they are still a force to be reckoned with. Now they control the assets in multi-nationals, in industry and commerce. Those centuries of breeding taught them how to survive in politics - and international commerce is not that different.

Who says the leopard cannot change his spots? I suspect that if we really look at the "Old Money" families we will find a lineage that stretches back to Ancient Babylon, people who know when to move, to take their tents and their herds and move, before the invading barbarians overrun the place. That is how families like this survive, they adapt and change. Perhaps the rest of us should be a little less envious and a little more willing to adapt ourselves. Who knows, in a thousand or so years someone will look at a tomb stone and say, how have they survived this long and this wealthy, of one of us.

We live and dream I guess!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:35 PM | TrackBack

January 15, 2007

Rising water ....

The water continues to rise around Tewkesbury, although it is still not as high as the levels about five years ago. Behind the Abbey the Vineyards recreation area is flooded as are the car parks and a part of the campsite. Along the Avon, the water is lapping over the road surface in several places and the Ham, the triangular area of commonage between the Avon and the Severn is completely submerged.

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The Vineyards, south of the Abbey and through which runs the little Swilgate, seen here as the lake it has become.

Yesterday the sun shone for the first time in quite a while, the perfect opportunity to get some pictures!

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The flood water covers the Ham seen here from Mill Lane, where the converted Abbey Mill (right) stands with its lower floors flooded.

The Swilgate is also backed up and covers the cricket club grounds, the Vineyards car park and the lower edges of the Caravan Club site.

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The swollen Swilgate covers the Cricket Club's pitch.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:08 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 14, 2007

Defend the Union? A bit late isn't it Mr Brown?

In a major historic move England and Scotland became a United Kingdom exactly three hundred years ago this year. Scotland had been bankrupted by various "adventures" in colonialism led by ambitious Scottish merchants and politicians attempting to compete with the English merchants instead of working with them. National pride, led to national catastrophe with the Darien Adventure bringing about the final collapse. England drove a hard bargain for the Union, demanding the cessation of the rivalries and the closure of the Scottish Parliament in return for paying out the debts accrued in these failed ventures. Scotland, for its part retained its unique legal system and gained a powerful voice in Westminster - a voice I might add, that has over the years become ever more powerful as more and more "Scottish" MP's have risen to the Cabinet and to the office of Prime Minister.

Yes, there have been negative issues, not least the land clearances, initiated by Scottish landowners and not, as is often taught in Scotland and among expatriate communities, by the perfidious English. Overall, Scotland has done rather well out of the Union, not least because a very disproportionate amount of the tax revenue has always found its way north of the broder, but because the number of Scottish MP's has always been dispropoirtionately larger than the population there merits. By and large, the system has worked to the benefit of both nations, as it has benefited the Welsh and some would argue the Irish, although that depended to a large extent on how you view it and whether or not you do so from within the Pale or the Province! Now Labour, having fostered the politics of envy, is in danger of destroying the Union completely because it has contributed to the feeling that Scotland has in some way been "deprived" by the Union of their wealth and status. So, enter the Scottish Nationalist Party, determined to end the Union and create a Republic of Scotland, independent of England, but a member of the EU so they can still keep milking the English tax pot for funds.

Gordon Brown is now alarmed and has written an article defending the UNion in his Scottish newspapers. Well, the prospect of an independent Scotland is bound to alarm him - after all he would lose his seat in Westminster (He represents a Scottish constituency) and all hope of being PM. He would also lose (or Labour would) some seventy seats from their majority. It is no secret that it is the Welsh and the Sottish MP's (both now with their own Parliaments or Assemblies) that keep Labour in power and ensure that the English are forced to accept the will of the Scottish and Weslh Labour majorities.

While I accept that this should alarm those, who like me, were born and raised to believe the Union was what made us as a people "Great" in the way we shared and supported each other, I have to say, that with the current tax spend North of the Border being some six times per head what it is South of the Border - and the vast majority of that is raised in England, I am of a mind to say, let them go it alone. Let them have the bloated bureaucracy they have built in England and elsewhere as well. We English may well be a nation of shopkeepers, and we may well have been those who benefited from Scottish ingenuity and so on, but we have funded it as well. Perhaps it is time to let Scotland and her peoples have another Darien Adventure. It will bear no better fruit than last time.

As for Gordon Brown's defence of the Union, well the stench of hypocrisy from him and his party is nothing new. They have sown the seeds, it is now a bit late to discover that they have sown a crop of dragon's teeth. Its a bit rich of him to now blame the Right when it has been the mantra of his own Party for almost a Century to play the envy card in Scotland and in Wales in order to whip up anti-English feeling. The BBC article on Gordon Brown is in the extended post below.

The Union of England and Scotland is under threat 300 years after it was formed, Gordon Brown has warned. The Chancellor has set out his fears of a "dangerous drift" to separatism in an article to mark the tercentenary of the two parliaments merging in 1707. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Brown defends the idea of Britishness amid signs that the Scottish National Party will perform well in forthcoming elections north of the border.

He praises the former Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for her consistent support for the concept.

He also rejects calls for English laws to be decided by English MPs alone, now that devolution has been brought in.

The Chancellor's intervention will be seen as further evidence of his concern over being seen as "too Scottish" if, as expected, he succeeds Tony Blair later this year.

"It is now time for supporters of the Union to speak up," Mr Brown writes.

"The failure to defend and promote the United Kingdom is now becoming more a feature of the thinking of the Right."

Mr Brown insists: "Of course it is healthy to recognise the distinctiveness of each nation.

"But we will lose all if politicians play fast and loose with the Union and abandon national purpose to a focus on what divides."

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:40 AM | TrackBack

January 13, 2007

Some Rules of Life every school child should get straight!

A friend sent me this - but I think it should be seen as widely as possible! Please feel free to link it, copy and post it and generally make sure it gets seen by the Nanny and PC mobsters! If Bill Gates can see these ovious truths then so should everyone else. Rule 1 applies!

Love him or hate him, he sure hits the nail on the head with this! To anyone with kids of any age, here's some advice.

Bill Gates recently gave a speech at a High School about 11 things they did not and will not learn in school. He talks about how feel-good, politically correct teachings created a generation of kids with no concept of reality and how this concept set them up for failure in the real world.

Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!

Rule 2: The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3: You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

If you can read this - Thank a teacher!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 04:26 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 12, 2007

More cuts for the Navy?

A bit of a storm in the press - and not the one currently battering this soggy isle! - caught my eye earlier this week. It seems that someone in the MoD is once more planning to decimate the Royal Navy. Not since the days of King Charles II's parliament and their mothballing of the entire Fleet while the country was still at war, has this nation seen anything as stupid! What will it take to get this shower of morons ejected from their ivory towers in the refurbished MoD HQ and the Treasury? Where is Admiral van Tromp when you need him?

Judging from the letters column in the Torygraph there is as much stupidity among some of the readers and letter writers as there is in the Treasury and the MoD. Perhaps some of those letter writers are civil servants or retired civil servants? [Probably not, they are all Guardian (or Gruaniad!) readers, must be because that is the only paper the civil service advertises in. - Ed] Certainly some of these letter writers believe that one ship is equal to a hundred simply because it has X amount of fire power. Have these complete morons learned nothing? Oops, sorry, by definition a moron cannot learn anything. So why do we tolerate having these vital services run by morons?

It seems that, to "save money", the MoD is considering shutting down Portsmouth Naval Base. And yes, the rattling sound you can hear all over the country is the whirling of generations of Naval dead in their coffins. The noise in St Paul's crypt is almost deafening! The argument is constantly advanced that "we are building two new carriers and six new destroyers". Yes, but to replace THREE carriers and TWELVE destroyers! Oh, and a complete class of Minehunters, some sixteen ships has been reduced to just six. And the Roayl Navy has lost its Air Arm - or at least it has lost all its fixed wing capability. It must now ship RAF aircraft (not designed for shipboard use) and pilots who must now spend months learning to fly off a moving airfield. This was tried in the 1920's and 30's and is the main reason the navy went to war with outdated biplanes and no fighters on its aircraft carriers! The Royal Yacht has been given to Scotland as a show ship, the submarine fleet is being eroded, and even the nuclear deterrent is under threat - all at a time when the world has never been more under threat and more unstable.

Earlier this week I visited a military site. It used to run efficiently and economically and did what it did well. It is now run by Serco at vast expense and the MoD has to rent it back from Serco. The place is stuffed with Civil Servants who have taken over the Officer's Mess and the Officers have decamped to eat in the local pubs. Why, because they find the stench of hypocrisy too much for their stomachs - especially as nothing works properly any longer, everything takes five times as long to get - if it can be got without a "business case" - and invariably it can only be got if some filing clerk now labelled a manager, is prepared to accord the uniformed services a higher priority than the nice little paper shuffler who needs their office redecorated.

A friend in the NHS has exactly the same general complaint. The "Manager" constantly says no to medical needs while saying yes to new office equipment, additional paper shufflers and nice furniture for the "Executive" suite - stuff the patients and their needs, and particularly stuff the medical staff. And this in a trust that is £40 million in the red and considering closing hospitals and overloading understaffed services in the remainder. Oh yes, the Wonders of the Treasury thought that forcing hospital trusts to take out these loans in the first place "saved money". Just as the Treasury thinks that privatising the running of military bases, military transport and the servicing and maintenance of military hardware "saves money". The fact that it now costs twice as much because it means that the military lose the expertise and must not only pay the trooper, matelot or airman that used to do it - but must now pay some contractor as well to steal their expertise!

The advantage of having things run by soldiers, sailors and airmen for soldiers, sailors and airmen is that when the s**t hits the fan, all of them can be marched out to fight. Now, we run out of men immediately the s**t hits the big whirly thing because the men we have already committed to the front line are all we have. No reserves and don't expect the civil servants to go and do it - "not in my job description" breaks out en masse!

Another advantage of having soldiers, sailors and airmen running things is that they know that, when ammunition is unsuitable for a weapon - you don't send it along anayway just to make up the numbers! Couldn't happen? Think again, our Parachute Regiment is in Afghanistan with a full thrid of their ammunition for the .50 machine gun they have on their patrol vehicles unusable, something that was identified several years ago and corrected - or so they thought. The complete a******e in Whitehall (and I sincerely hope that he has been taken out and publically flogged before being charged with treason!) responsible for the supply of munitions, is now on record saying, "It was deemed better to ensure that they had a full supply of ammunition, than to send them with a reduced supply!" Really? It is better to have ammunition that you can't use rather than fewer rounds that you can - and kick someones rear off his comfy (and very expensive) luxury armchair in the MoD to get the full compliment of proper ammunition there yesterday?

How do our modern Admirals, Generals and Air Marshals put up with this? Where are the men of principle who, fifty years ago would have threatened to resign en masse and go public? Why are the morons in the Treasury and the MoD allowed to remain in post?

Let us be clear on this. You cannot expect to do with five ships what you can do with fifty. You cannot use ammunition which does not work in the weapon you are holding. You cannot keep demanding more and more from fewer and fewer people, and you cannot replace the ships and men you have lost through this folly overnight! It take eighteen months to reactivate a ship that has been mothballed and several years to train up the people to staff them. Aircraft are only marginally quicker on the turn round. And as all this must now be done using "Prince 2" procedures and contractors the Navy, Army and Airforce have no control over or input into - guess what, the Civil Service will screw it up completely and it will take twice as long and nothing will work. Good game - if you can become the contractor, no blame, no pain and an open cash vault for you.

There is, of course, another question on this, one the Civil Service and Blair and Co don't want asked. What deal have they done with the EU that has agreed a reduction in our forces to Squadron, Division and Air Group status? I suspect they are about to declare that we no longer need our own forces because the EU will take over responsibility for Defence. The French have been working on that for years, and I think our Whitehall liars and thieves have signed up to it - and are afraid to tell us the truth, that is why they are closing bases, reducing materiele and personnel. They are about to hand the country over to Brussels. Napoleon's dreams realised and without firing a shot!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:00 AM | TrackBack

January 11, 2007


Mausi treated herself to a late Christmas present yesterday - an LCD screen for her computer. The difference to the old CRT one is spectacular. It sent Mausi thinking how much technology has leapt forward during the last twenty years when Mausi encountered her first Personal Computer at University.

When studying for her doctorate Mausi's supervising professor didn't believe in the necessity of personal computers for his graduate students. He blandly refused to buy them one. So Mausi and five of her colleagues pooled their money and bought one themselves - an Apple IIe! Great machine - you could almost watch it doing calculations but it served its purpose very well. Compared to today the small screen was a nightmare of course - alien green letters on black. Mausi and her colleagues even had a word processor programme for it which was very user unfriendly compared to modern ones but much more convenient than a typewriter when it came to writing publications because you could easily alter passages of text. Embedding photos or graphics into the text was of course an unheard of technology back then.

At about the same time the nature of and first applications for liquid crystals were researched and examined in another group at the same institute. From what Mausi saw of liquid crystals at that time she would never have dreamt that she would live to see them turned into something as useful as such a state-of-the-art LCD computer screen. Mausi still remembers her father using one of the first laptops with an LCD screen - blue letters on a sand coloured/whitish background. About 10 lines would find room on the entire screen and you could easily type faster than the letters would appear.

Nothing compared to this one - where even computer games involving the most elaborate 3-D graphic displays work like magic. Mind you, it's not that Mausi and her colleagues didn't have fun with their old Apple during their lunch break or after finishing their experiments when they were too exhausted to think straight but had to wait for the pumps of their experimental set-ups to cool down before going home. Among their favourite games were Taxman (much like Pacman) and Loadrunner. Simple graphics but great fun. Then they had one where the hero would go on a treasure hunt in a pyramid, open chests and things like that and had to fight various monsters at the same time. With computer mice still awaiting invention the controls on the keyboard were rather difficult to work and all but two of Mausi's colleagues would get their fingers hopelessly entangled in the effort.

Ahh - those were the days! At least you had no difficulties in telling the difference between a computer game and reality.

Posted by Mausi at 09:16 PM | TrackBack

January 10, 2007

A tale of our time?

The Gorse Fox has posted a story - a tale of our time - which cuts right to the heart of what is so desperately wrong in our Cool Britannia paradise for the layabout.

Let us hope that this story of the industrious squirrel and the lazy grasshopper is read, digested and pondered by a very large number of people and then remembered when next our political masters try one on us, or the press and the bleeding hearts at the BBC present their usual guilt/angst laden tales of psychological blackmail.

Read the story, I can not find anything to add!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 09:59 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 09, 2007

More Roman Ship models

I know, I know, I'm an anorak when it comes to ships! My excuse for the photo below is that it is a pair of beautifully made modesls of two different types of Roman bireme. These ships were the most powerful of their day and surprisingly enough most were not rowed by slaves, but by hired seamen. The discharge papers these guys were handed on leaving military service have survived in a number of forms and several seamen have been accorded the honour of grave markers of quite elaborate design.

Two types of Roman military bireme, the smaller vessel probably designed to get in close and do damage to larger and less manoeuvrable vessels to enable them to be boarded and taken by their larger consorts.

The bireme with its double bank of oars must have been quite an interesting ship to handle one way or another. Certainly the rowing of them would have required a degree of co-ordination and skill, especially in any sort of seaway. An oarsman "catching a crab" in a modern boat is quite bad enough, it can tangle other oars, damage the boat and even, in extreme cases cause a boat to capsize. To do the same in a ship of this size with oars of this size would have caused mayhem! Note that the lower oars have leather sleeves fitted, suggesting that this tier of oars was close enough to the waterline for them to ship water through these openings while on passage.

Apparently the preferred seat for those with experience in these ships was the upper tier. With no toilet facilities I'll leave the why to your imagination!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 03:22 PM | TrackBack

January 08, 2007

Contrasting life scenes

The Neapolitan crib scene we saw recently in the Markt Kirche in Wiesbaden was a fascinating vignette of Neapolitan life in probably the early 17th Century. The scene is divided into six sections, with a predetermined order in which they are supposed to be arranged. As I pointed out in an earlier post, the central piece of the lower part is the stable scene, but to the viewers left is the scene in the photograph below - the innkeeper and his guests making merry.

The innkeeper and his guests in the inn adjoining the stable/

Above and again on the left of the stable is a scene which can still be recognised today in old Naples - an old man sits on a small verandah prepared to be shaved by the visiting barber, while in the street a group including a man with bagpipes head for a celebration. Quite a contrast between these two scenes of everyday life hard up against the event taking place in the stable next door. But then, that is what it is supposed to point out.

Note the worried look on the man waiting to be shaved!

John 1: 5 - "The light shines in the darkness; but the darkness comprehended it not."

Posted by The Gray Monk at 02:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 07, 2007

Witnesses from the Past

The Monk went home yesterday evening. It's been great fun having him here and visiting places with him where we have not been ourselves for quite some time. Like the Landesmuseum in Darmstadt which among others holds a collection of skeletons found in the famous Messel pit.

The pit is a quarry between Frankfurt/Main and Darmstadt where oil shale was mined from 1869 until 1970. The first fossil, an alligator, was already found in 1875. The greatest problem turned out to be retrieving fossils from the oil shale. As soon as it becomes dry it crumbles easily and destroys the fossils within. In the 1960's, however, a method was developed to transfer the fossils from the oil shale into a bed of synthetic resin thereby preserving them permanently.

The oil shale in the Messel pit was formed by sedimentation in the eocene period about 47 milion years ago inside the explosion funnel of a 300 m deep volcanic lake. The great depth ensured that little turbulence and disturbance occurred at the bottom and this explains the subperb state the skeletons are in. Most fossil sites are happy to find partial skeletons but Messel is famous for its large number and variety of intact skeletons. Particularly so for the early knee-high form of our horses, Hyracotherium,of which more than 70 specimen were found. The other fossils inlcude reptiles, birds, fishes, mammals and even insects. The stag beetle is quite something to look at.

The exhibits in the museum have been arranged in a different and far better way than the one I remembered from my last visit more than 10 years ago. Then it was all in glass cases. Now pains have been taken to show some of the original environment as well and there is even a small excavation site where kids can go hunting for skeletons themselves.

Believe it or not - in the 1970's the Federal State of Hessen wanted to turn the pit into a waste disposal site. Planning went ahead until 1990. By then a broad resistance had formed among the population and the amount of waste had decreased drastically. In the end the waste disposal site plans were abandoned and the pit was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site on December 9 in 1995. This should ensure the future of it so that digging can go ahead and hopefully much more of the past life on this planet - long before we arrived - will come to the surface.

Posted by Mausi at 01:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 06, 2007


Well, it's Epiphany today. The day the Wise Men visited the Christ child in Bethlehem, the day they "returned home another way" and the day we mark the fact that their visit marked the fact that Christ came to all men, not just a small subject people in Judea. I was reminded of this yesterday as we drove into Wiesbaden, passing a group of small boys processing behind another youngster holding aloft a large silver star on a pole, his followers included three crowned 'kings', a number of colourfully robed others all with the broadest smiles I have seen on kids faces in quite a while. The Epiphany is, at least in this part of Germany, obviously something the kids mark at their schools and churches, and so I think we should.

Tonight I fly home and tomorrow will be back at my beloved Abbey for the annual Epiphany Carol Service, as usual made splendid by a huge display of lights and candles in all the chapels and the Presbytery. I note with interest that it is seeing a revival in many other Parish Churches as well, again as it should be, since it is, after all, the moment of revelation to the gentiles, of whom we are very definitely a part. The Eastern Church has long seen the Epiphany as being of equal importance to the Nativity, and celebrated it as such. Perhaps it is time that we in the Western Churches rediscovered our Eastern roots and sought a better understanding of the importance of these and other contextual issues which we have lost, or misunderstood.

May you all enjoy a safe and prosperous year ahead, and may we, with the Magi, celebrate properly the wonderful revelation of God's love to the world.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:34 AM | TrackBack

January 05, 2007

Late entries!

Oh dear, oh dear. So early into the year and already I'm not keeping up with the posts! My apologies readers, if my absence has inconvenienced anyone, but Mausi and I have been busy trying to get some work sorted out as well as doing some exploring of the many interesting places and things around the Rhein-Pfalz and Hessen.

I promise to try harder from now on!

Posted by The Gray Monk at 10:47 AM | TrackBack

January 04, 2007

Superb models

The Museum für Antika Schiffahrt employs a team of model builders whose skills are amazing. This example of a magnificent Roman Naval Bireme (double tier of oars) is a case in point. They draw up the plans, make the patterns and then patiently build up each miniature ship exactly to scale and plan. The details in each are astonishing.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 11:02 AM | TrackBack

January 03, 2007

Roman Navy on the Rhine

In the 1980's a most interesting find was made while a site near the modern bank of the Rhine was being excavated for a new building project in Mainz. Six wooden ships were uncovered buried under centuries of mud. These were in a remarkable state of preservation and archeologists were very excited by their discovery because they were among the best examples of Roman ships yet discovered. Even better was the fact that two turned out to be military vessels, providing a wonderful insight into a type, until then, known only from friezes and funeral ornamentation. These have been reconstructed in full size and now form the centre piece of a museum built near the site on which they were originally discovered. One is a small, lean and very businesslike galley, the other apparently a patrol ship, is slightly broader in the beam, decked and carries the Roman equivalent of a machine gun on her foredeck.

The reconstructed Roman war galley at the museum of Antique Ship Travel in Mainz. Note the slim lines and businesslike bow ram - the Roman equivalent I suspect of a modern Fast Attack Craft!

Among the other vessels that were uncovered, several were obviously for trade and commerce, but the construction is the most interesting feature. These ships are all of them 'carvel' built over stong ribs. That is to say, they are built of planks laid edge to edge and not overlapping as the later Nordic ship's were built. The planks are broad and fastened to the frames with 'clenched' iron nails, making the whole structure very strong. The seams were paid with rope yarn (something which was still being done right up to the time Brunel started the system of building in iron or steel in the 1840's!) and then the hull painted over with a bituminous mix to seal them. The hulls all have a flattened bottom in the waist (the broadest part of the hull) with the bow and stern shaped to provide a clean 'entry' and 'exit' from the water. The two military examples both carry a 'ram' bow, clearly capable of doing considerable damage. Even more interesting is the manner in which they dealt with the very difficult design problem of creating the "turn of the bilge", since a seam along the junction between the ship's bottom and the first strake or plank on the side would invariable 'work' and leak badly. The Roman designers solved it by cutting a plank with a 90 degree bend built in from a single tree trunk. To do this they needed to saw it from the heart of an oak tree trunk that would have been at least 150 yeras old. Tool marks show that they used saws, chisels and adzes to cut the timbers and shape them and some of the joints between planks, particularly where there is a need for strength, are 'chamferred' so that the joint is a long diagonal rather than a vertical seam. Analysis of the galley's hull shape and tests carried out with it, have shown that it could reach speeds of around 28 km/h - a speed quite capable of impaling it into any enemy craft attempting to cross the river!

Broader and heavier than her counter-part, this ship is thought to have been a 'patrol vessel'. The outrigger arrangment for the oars clear the central part of the hull, allowing it to be decked over and giving the crew a sheltered space when not rowing or standing guard watches.

The Roman Naval organisation was impressive, even for a 'Fleet' based entirely on the river. It followed the same pattern as any of the seagoing fleets maintained by the Roman Empire and the command cascade included structures and command ranks we would have no trouble recognising today. An 'Admiralty' sat at the top of the tree, probably in Rome itself, and command then devolved to Fleet Commanders, Squadron Commanders and the commanders of individual ships. Fleets were based in the Black Sea, the Adriatic, the Levantine shore, Alexandria, Tripoli and Southern Gaul. There was one based on the Cinque Ports in the British Isles and the Rhine, with its Commander based at Köln. Each ship had two commander's, the one responsible for the management of the ship itself, the other for the fighting men aboard it and the actual fighting. A Division of Command that again had echoes right into the Middle Ages, being reflected even in Nelson's Navy by the fact that ship's carried a Captain and a "Sailing Master" - the man responsible for the navigation and sail handling originally, but, by Nelson's time, a Warrant Officer whose position was as an assistant to the officers with responsibility for the maintenance of the ship's charts and other navigational equipment as well as to ensure that the navigation was carried out correctly.

It seems these ships survived because they were abandoned, probably deliberately damaged, after the 'Catastrophe on the Rhine' in 406AD when Germanic tribes swept across the frozen Rhine and stormed several Colonia, over running them. At that time the Rhine was the border to the Empire, and once it had been penetrated it rapidly crumbled, the Roman's withdrawing progressively south from there on in. The soon forgotten ships sinking into their mud berths to be preserved and rediscovered some 1,600 years later. I suppose that, in some ways, the 'Catastrophe' has provided us with some truly remarkable examples of Roman ships, beautifully adapted and built for the protection of the river and an even more remarkable insight into how they were built.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:14 AM | TrackBack

January 02, 2007

Ship's, windows and printing

Off to Mainz today for a visit to a museum of Antique Ships, the Chagall windows in a restored church and the Gutenberg museum. A cheaters post then this one - but I promise to be good and post some thoughts on the visit over the next few days!

Hope you are all over the celebrations - the fireworks in the valley below Mausi's home were impressive for their sheer volume! Now I know what the trenches in WW1 must have sounded like.

Posted by The Gray Monk at 07:35 AM | TrackBack

January 01, 2007

Welcome 2007

For us 2007 started with watching the fire works in the town on the other side of the valley. Living on top of a hill has advantages at this time of the year. The Monk said it rather sounded like WW III but it wasn't as bad as that. Just a very colourful display of rocket explosions of all kinds and sizes.

Today we've made an attempt at working off last evening's repast by a stroll through the park in the nearby town of Bad Schwalbach. We were hit by gusty winds and heavy rain showers so that trying to prevent the umbrella from getting broken and to avoid getting hit on the head by twigs and branches coming down the tall trees became quite a task. Eventually however, the sky cleared up and we were able to enjoy the fresh air.

HAPPY NEW YEAR to all of you!

Posted by Mausi at 05:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack