PC 148 The Common Cold

Having had the ‘Flu Jab’ (ie influenza injection!) before Christmas I have missed contacting any real nasties, but a few weeks ago I had my first cold for 14 months. It starts innocently enough, doesn’t it? A slight tickle in the nasal passage that requires an itch with one’s finger. Later you feel a little dribble in one nostril and you pull out your handkerchief to wipe it away. It’s the repetition that’s boring, the familiar feeling you have felt so often before …. and despite what you may wish, you know what’s coming. A sense of something at the back of the throat? A slight blocking of the sinuses ….. been here, done that!

The common cold is a feature of our existence; you see it afflicting the young, the old and all those of us in between. I never quite understand how the body can manufacture all this revolting gunk in such a very short time, and continues to do so! You blow your nose, think you have emptied all the little nooks and crannies, put your damp handkerchief back in your pocket and within a minute you are full again, the pressure builds and you sneeze. They call being violently sick ‘projectile vomiting’ well I think ‘projectile sneezing’ should be part of our vocabulary. I am amazed just how many people don’t bother to use anything to block the outward spray. They sneeze into their hands, then wipe those same hands on their jeans/sweater; disgusting!

In the UK there have been some very graphic advertisements to try and educate us as to what happened when we sneeze – to the stuff, that gunk and liquid that exit both nostrils. It seems to get everywhere.

'Is that shredded carrots on the front of your jacket?'

The Government used to run cold trials where paid volunteers were infected with some form of the common cold virus and then various treatments applied. I don’t know if they happen anymore, if not it probably reflects are inability to understand these viruses. I’m often told that the infection ‘will run its course’ irrespective of what I do, so I simply try to relieve the debilitating effects of having a cold.

I look at my pile of used tissues and put them in the bin. Time to go and see the pharmacist; these days these purveyors of medicines are the recommended first port of call – rather than trying to see a doctor. The one we go to is run by a lovely chap called Andrew. Andrew is a real doomsayer, so every conversation I have ever had with him is a negative; the world’s going to end tomorrow, if not today, a real Eeyore, but he’s amusing if nothing else. He is also cross-eyed; this always presents a dilemma, just which eye do you look at? Or do you sort-of focus somewhere in the middle? Added to which Andrew is taller than most so is stooped, the result of talking to customers over the years shorter than himself, so his own gaze is downwards! “Lemsip’s best, Richard ….  time being the healer.”

You walk your aching body home and resist the Paracetamol or other headache relieving pills. Once upon a time, if I had a really bad cold, I used to heat up some milk, mix 50/50 with whisky, get into bed and drink a large tumbler-full. I thought it worked quite well.

Here in England the majority of us poo poo the use of herbal and Chinese medicine for curing physical conditions – part of me is curious but not curious enough to lie for instance in a warm bath infused with kelp, or ginseng, in the hope, for instance, the swelling on my arm will reduce. I was reminded of this, the way western medicine has become so science-based despite the fact that most of us probably benefit from taking supplements or a fad, for example Turmeric, when I watched a television programme.

Julia Bradbury, a UK TV presenter and lover of the outdoors, is currently doing a tour of Australia. Given that continent’s vastness her little 30 minute episodes are mere sound bites – but her’s on Western Australia caught my attention. Not for the brief overview of Perth, the world’s remotest Capital city, or for the footage of horse races at Broome, over 2200 kms north, but for the ten minutes with Neville Polemo an Aboriginal chap and his two children. Their weekend place was out in the sticks, on a river and surrounded, as he said, ‘by our medical needs.’ For instance, he showed Bradbury a particular vine on a tree. ‘Find one that’s young and juicy, scrape the bark off with your fingernail so that the juice starts to ooze out, and wrap the vine around your forehead. It’ll cure a migraine in 90 seconds” Later he suggested that if you weren’t sure whether a fruit in the outback or jungle was edible, put it under your armpit. If there is a reaction on the skin, don’t eat it! It makes for good television and you wonder whether there is really any truth in it. So much stuff I don’t know about, the treasures this earth contains; what we’ve lost and what we haven’t found.

You may recall a joke from many decades ago, about a hospital full of wounded soldiers. A general visits to raise morale and talks to one or two of the patients. Jake sits up as the general approaches.

“So what’s wrong with you?”

“Well I have an open wound around my groin.”

“And what’s the treatment?”

“Well, they have a pot of gentian violet solution which is applied by a brush, Sir!”

“And what’s your goal, lad?”

“To get out of here as soon as possible and get back to the fighting Sir.”

This scene is repeated beside another couple of beds further down the ward. Eventually the general stops at the bed of James.

“And what’s wrong with you, young man?”

“I got hit in the tonsils but it’s healing well.”

“And how do the nurses treat this?”

“It gets a brushing with gentian violet daily.”

“And so what’s your goal son, get back to the fighting huh?”

“No Sir. To get that brush before the chap who needs it on his groin.”

Richard 29th March 2019

Note: Gentian Violet has antibacterial, antifungal and anthelmintic properties and was formerly important as a tropical antiseptic.

PC 147 Ferries (Continued)


Having used the cross-channel services on numerous occasions, it was funny to find myself, years later, working with the executive team of Hoverspeed, who operated a large Mk3 SRN4 hovercraft and a SeaCat Rapide out of Dover, to Calais and Boulogne. Their owner, Sea Containers, also owned Wightlink who provide travel links across The Solent to the Isle of Wight with a small hovercraft and two ships. Some of my sessions with the individuals of the management teams were afloat. Sure as hell beat an office environment!

Then last year we took the Brittany Ferry from Portsmouth to Santander in northern Spain, and returned 5 weeks later. On our return the incoming ferry, the Pont Aven, was delayed by bad weather.

409 Pont Aven

The Pont Aven alongside in Santander (The name comes from a commune in the Finistère department of Brittany)

I started scribbling my observations and thoughts as we waited. The harbour area of Santander is typical of many port cities; business-like warehouses and customs sheds abound with their attendant lorries delivering and collecting, the lazy eyes of the port officials keep a wary lookout for anything suspicious, the sun harsh, its heat reflected off the acres of concrete. In town the shops shut at 2 o’clock for over two hours; northern Europeans, used to being able to shop from breakfast to suppertime, on every day of the week, think this a throwback to a different age, one less time driven, less focused, more relaxed; the Catholic versus the Protestant?

The dockside’s a sight: the old-and-bold with a rather gone-to-seed look but whose car is their pride and joy; the convertibles with their ‘look at me’ drivers mingle amongst the normal utilitarian ones that form the majority. There are caravans, some being towed by a car and others under their own steam (well petrol or diesel not steam). And there was obviously a rally somewhere for off-road quad bikes as a number, all muddy and tired, bit like their owners, sit on trailers behind …. the caravan. There is a large group of motorcyclists, probably all unknown to each other but joined by their love of their bikes. There are bikes of all sorts, bikers of all sorts- most look grubby, all leather and boots in the heat, the tattoos de rigeur and the hair making a statement too; worn long, worn short, a muppet look, wigs black and blonde and the atypical ponytail; and all podgey! We all sit aligned in our lanes on the tarmac in the hot sun. The cars get hot; blankets shield pets and humans as we wait ….. and wait. Some sit in their cars with the air conditioning on …… for an hour or so …. global warming??? We load eventually, hard on the heels of the poor cleaners who are trying to turn around the cabins for the new passengers. After the long hot wait on the quay everyone is anxious to occupy theirs, unpack and join the queue to pre-book a table for supper. This queue reflects both eating habits and the social importance of eating! The ferry shudders as the propellers work to turn the ship away from the dockside and into the narrow navigation channel. Slipping out, we leave the green starboard-hand buoys to port; the convention being port-hand markers are on the left coming in from the sea.


The bar is already busy – it seems part and parcel of the sea-going experience – beer in hand, queuing. Mind you these days as many stand with Kindle in hand, free thumb ready to ‘turn the page’. The average age seems 50 plus, with few children, as the schools only broke up a week ago. I realise this is rather like an airport terminal – busy every day, in this case three times a week, hundreds of people are in one place, at once, from all points of compass, from all walks of life.

The tannoy announces a demonstration of how to put a life jacket on – “andibetavmkgdu will be on B D…k at 1700″ – no one moves in its direction, imagining that disasters happen to other people. Mind you the loudspeaker volume is such that you only discern every second or third word and it could have been a demonstration of life drawing or some such. During the night we pass close to Ushant at the north western tip of France; it’s a calm and uneventful crossing. At breakfast I spy an oldish chap in a light blue polo shirt – it obviously has been sitting in his suitcase and is woefully creased, except where his large stomach presses against the material, producing a smooth area. Life huh!

You will know I love coincidences. You may not know that as part of my homework for my creative writing sessions I had to dream up a script for a Soap Opera, one that had individual stories and continuing themes and characters. I wrote mine after our outward trip on the Pont Aven in June. I had imagined the restaurant staff was run by Sabine: “The other main character is Sabine, tall, willowy and very French, whose responsibility is the waiting staff, of which there are 40. Some have been there for ever, some are taken on for the High Season, and some are apprentices seconded from the L’école de Cuisine de Belle France in Lyon.” And here was Sabine, exactly as I had imagined her, in real life. Tall, rather haughty, very short hair – and running her staff with enthusiasm and efficiency. So weird; so lovely!


We dock in Portsmouth, locate the correct staircase and lift to ensure we enter the right car deck, on the right side. We sit and wait; eventually, we disembark, drive through passport control and join the M27/A27 for the slow run home.

Memories huh!

Richard 16th March 2019



PC 146 Ferries

Living on an island, a ‘small island’ according to author Bill Bryson (see note 1), before the advent of flying one was reliant on boats and ships if you wanted to leave! My great great great grandfather Stephen Nation would have taken a ship to India in 1798 to join the East India Company, his grandson George’s wife-to-be sailed to New Zealand on the Queen Bee in 1877, and George himself crossed the Atlantic on ocean-going liners, twice using the US Mail Ship St Paul, on his journeys to Alaska at the very beginning of the C20th century.

Since then air travel has fortunately become commonplace but occasionally it is necessary to take a boat of some sort, for instance if you want to have your own car at the other end. I guess we’ve all experienced ferry travel at some point, whether across harbours, up rivers, down estuaries, or in larger ships across seas and oceans. Our June 2018 use of Brittany Ferries to travel from England to Spain, and back in July got me thinking of other times in my life when I’ve taken a ferry.

My first trip was to the Isle of Man for the Christmas of 1953; my father, divorced, took my brother and me to stay with a rich friend. I remember being sick, having had Tomato soup for lunch as we sailed across the Irish Sea, and little else of the week, except that I saw a hamper with fresh oranges and other strange fruits – extremely rare in mainland Britain still recovering from the cost of WWII! A year later our grandparents took us to visit their son and family in Mönchengladbach, in what was then West Germany. I don’t remember the ferry itself and sadly have mislaid a black & white photograph, taken at the dockside, of their car being craned onto the ferry’s deck at Harwich, but have this other one of passengers disembarking from the same ferry.

Harwich Docks

The abiding memory of that visit was persuading my grandmother to buy us some biscuits to eat under the bedclothes, as we were perpetually hungry!! Funny how these things matter to an eight year old!

By the mid-1970s roll-on/roll-off ferries were the norm, but on the ferry that sailed between Civitavecchia, on mainland Italy just west of Rome, to Olbia in Sardinia, they obligingly craned my car, a Lancia Fulvia, onto the open deck for the overnight crossing. It was 1975 and I was going to Sardinia for a couple of weeks to crew a yacht. It had been a long drive from northern West Germany and the first thing I did, once on board, was find the bar and  order a gin & tonic. The second thing? Order another gin & tonic! I can still smell and taste it; perfect! I slept the night in the car on the deck.

Aust Ferry 1958

Before Wales and England were connected by a modern bridge across the River Severn, there was a little car and passenger ferry that crossed the river at Aust, so saving a long detour north to the first bridge at the city of Gloucester. I remember taking this ferry as a teenager, in 1958, although the reason for the journey is in that brown mush of un-recallable memories!

I have crossed the harbour in the Dorset town of Weymouth in a little dingy rowed by ‘arry, “That’ll be a pound please.”, crossed the Medina River on the chain ferry from West to East Cowes on the Isle of Wight, experienced the Star Ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island and have on many occasions been a passenger on the Sydney Harbour ferries; the last time was from Central Quay to Manley in January 2017. Another short ferry crossing that comes to mind is the one across the River Dart, between Dartmouth to Kingswear in Devon. My brother had started his Royal Navy career at the Naval College and this cross-river trip must have been associated with his commissioning parade in 1966 – the year England won the Football World Cup.

Dartmouth Ferry

Note the dingy sailing on the river away to starboard.

 During my Army service I had some troops stationed in Belize, in Central America, on a six month rotational tour. Naturally I had to visit them; this is me on some ferry in the middle of nowhere in Belize.


Then there are those that ply San Francisco Bay and the inter-island ferries of Seattle in Washington State. Larger boats have carried me between the Canadian city of Vancouver and Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, and between Picton, on New Zealand’s South Island, and Wellington on its North Island. For a greater adventure in February one year, looking for the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), I travelled on the MV Polarlys of the Hurtigruten Company from Tromsø near the northern tip of Norway down the coast to Bergen.

Hurtegreuten 5

Docked alongside at one of the numerous stops

Hurtegreuten 3

This before a storm; note the snow on the deck!

 The Norwegians treat this coastal service rather like a marine bus; there were numerous stops and people got off and people got on.


MV Columbia in Juneau

  If you read PCs 44 & 45 you will know that we took the MV Columbia north up the Alaskan Marine Highway from Seattle to Skagway in 2015, a journey of some 1600 miles. It took 36 hours to get to Ketchikan, the most southern of the Alaskan cities; the next port of call was the Alaskan capital Juneau, only accessible by air and sea, although there are 16 miles of roads for the petrolheads to enjoy!! Four days out of Seattle we arrived in Skagway. Later on that trip we took a ferry across the Yukon on our way from Dawson City to Eagle.


The Yukon Ferry

This was a classic river ferry that used the strong current to its advantage; rudders kept the boat at 45º to the stream to produce a cross-river force. Ahead of us we had a 240 mile dirt road drive, the last 65 along the Taylor Highway during which we didn’t see another human being!

During my time in Germany 1972 -1976 we got very familiar with the cross channel ferries from Calais, Ostend, Dunkirk, or Zeebrugge to Dover – and if I am honest I always opted for a French-operated service as the coffee was better. Of course Zeebrugge, a Belgian port, became forever associated with the capsizing of the car ferry MS Herald of Free Enterprise, operated by Townsend Thoresen, in 1987.


The vessel, a roll-on/roll-off ship, turned over just after leaving the harbour one cold March evening; the bow doors had not been properly closed, allowing the sea to surge in. One hundred and ninety three people died.

Richard 2nd March 2019 (to be continued)

Note. Bill Bryson – ‘Notes from a Small Island’ – a brilliant highly amusing book!!