The View from the Crowd, October 2018

As most folks who know me know, I’m generally not very keen on big crowds or on political marches.

The last political march I went on was something to do with Tiananmen Square in 1989, and the last really big crowd I was in was probably a Bruce Springsteen concert even longer ago than that.


There are occasions when I need to set aside my reservations and opt for a rather busier Saturday walk than might be my preference.

My preferred Saturday morning walk, Scat Ness, Shetland

The Peoples Vote March felt like a sufficiently important occasion to opt join in with the crowds.  Speculation ahead of the event was that there were going to be a lot of people, but I don’t think many of the estimates got up to the 700,000 that seems to now be the accepted number of people involved.

People Vote March, Hyde Park, London

So why did I feel that this deserved my attention.  

In reality I think I’ve been describing myself as European since the early 70s.  

In Northern Ireland (where I grew up) I always felt more comfortable calling myself European rather than as being associated with any of the other factions. On the rare occasions when I was called out to describe myself as “one of us or one of them” I’m pretty sure that calling myself “European” caused enough confusion to let me step away from the confrontation.

Like many people of my vintage I’ve been used to simply being able to travel around Europe without the threat of someone saying “No, you can’t do that”.  

I was able to join in with a charity hitch-hike from Bristol to Paris (in my student days) without asking permission.  I was able to look for jobs pretty much anywhere in Europe without needing to jump through bureaucratic hoops - in contrast to the paperwork and questioning associated with jobs in other parts of the world.  When I wanted a mountain fix, I was able to choose between the Cairngorms and the Alps without needing to ask in advance.  I still can. At the moment. 

When I’ve been living and working in the UK I’ve had the stimulation and variety of having friends from all over Europe.  They’ve not needed to jump through hoops either, they (like me) are Europeans, and they get to wander at will across (most) of the continent without bureaucratic  impediment.  I’ve worked in partnership with researchers across Europe, they were able to invite me to join in with collaborative projects without getting buried in paperwork.  They still can. At the moment.

I know people running and working in local businesses that rely on being able to move people and stuff across Europe in the way that works most effectively for their business.  They need to know that stuff isn’t going to get held up in customs or in a lorry park in Pas-de-Calais or Kent.  They still can. At the moment.  

I know people working and volunteering alongside me in the conservation sector, both locally and nationally.  Wildlife migrates across borders on a regular basis, climate change is affecting both these movements and other more systemic changes.  We need to be able to rely on a Europe-wide vision (and agreements) to help protect and promote the changes that are badly needed. We still can. At the moment. 

There are so many aspects of our lives that are made better by being part of a bigger structure. I felt it was important to be get out amongst the crowds while there is still a chance to reverse the ‘decision’ that was made a couple of years ago. We still can. At the moment. 

The march yesterday (more of a shuffle at times) was a wonderful optimistic experience - I wasn’t aware of any tensions at any point, and for the most part I got the impression that they’d given the police the day off.   

There were people, banners and placards from all over the country - I was walking behind or beside an “Oxford for Europe” banner for most of the day.  I’m sure that we were something of an irritant to some of the locals attempting to go about their daily business, but almost without exception we seemed to be welcomed and supported.

Beret Central 
Better Cabinets
More Flags
Heading to Parliament 
Euro Generation
I really hope that the strength of the message might get through to some of our exceptionally stubborn (that’s not a compliment) politicians and that they’ll realise that changing (or rechanging) their minds isn’t a character flaw but is how we should respond to changing circumstances.

I really hope that I don’t need to take to the streets again, but if I need to…sign me up.

Shetland Autumn V2 - September 2018

When I spent time on Shetland in August I wrote about the gentle transition from Summer into Autumn.  To all intents and purposes the weather felt distinctly summer-like, the only real giveaway that the year had moved on was the departure of the breeding birds (like the puffins and guillemots) from the cliffs.

Fast forward a few weeks, and we’re into Autumn proper.  Northlink are issuing weather advisories, and the Met Office have already used up two of the 21 storm names allocated for this winter (Storm #17 this winter will be Storm Ross).

The autumn migrants are starting to arrive, this means that every quarry and bit of sheltered shrubbery seems to have a group of heavily-optically-equipped blokes (almost always blokes) lurking in the hope of encountering a wind-swept migrant bird or two.

The autumn also means that the weather is very changeable - there can be storms (usually un-named) blowing through all the time, the waves get their first serious outing of the season, and even when there aren't big winds there are likely to be rainy squalls passing through too.  At this time of year the traditional Shetland description for a good day is one that is 'between the weathers' - if the weather is fine today, it'll almost certainly be wild again tomorrow.

Every trip to Shetland has it's highlights, this time, there were three.  

Spending time watching waves battering the west side of Scat Ness,  getting my final fixes (for the season) of scones and Linzertorte at my favourite pop-up cafe and, particularly, getting to spend time photographing gannets diving within a few metres of the shoreline in West Voe. 

Autumn Waves on the west-side of Scat Ness
Sunshine and passing showers bring rainbows, West Voe of Sumburgh
En route to Sumburgh Head - a fantastic walk in any weather
Sumburgh Head Cafe
West Voe rolling waves
Gannet scouting over West Voe
Incoming - gannet in West Voe

If you feel the need for more pictures - try my latest Flickr album.