Sunday, 29 March 2015

Giving You HMS Hecate - Victorian Cyclops class ship

Cyclops class ship
There is something about this coastal defence ship that I like. It was not really up to much and did not need to prove itself during its time in service with Queen Victoria's Royal Navy. It was an odd shaped little vessel and was rather ugly - yet it still flicks a little switch for me. HMS Hecate was one of four Cyclops class ships that Parliament wanted to be built because of the Franco - Prussian war in 1870.

Parliament regarded these ships as necessary because they were small and cheap with a shallow draft and offered coastal water defence. The attack-minded, Admiralty thought that because of their shallow draft, they might make good attack vessels in shallow water ports of the enemy. However, the majority of people believed them unfit for the open sea and heavy weather. The low fore and aft decks were often awash with sea even in conditions not regarded as severe.


Cyclops class like miniature versions of HMS Devastation.
Admiral George Alexander Ballard thought the armament was fine but stability in open sea questionable. He was known to have referred to the Cyclops class ships as 'full-armoured knights on donkeys.' This was perhaps cruel, but probably right. However, as coastal or river boats, they were fine little ships.


Not ideal for the open sea
HMS Hecate did make a journey across the North Sea and for this reason, I have a soft spot for her and the rest of these odd little ships. She had a complement of 156 men was 225ft from bow to stern with a beam of 45ft. She had two engines and a fore and aft turret, each with two 10 inch rifled muzzle loaders. The little lady could pack a punch if an enemy vessel was to get in her way.

These four ships (Cyclops, Hecate, Hydra and Gorgon) were smaller versions of the HMS Devastation class battleship. They had one funnel instead of the two that HMS Devastation had and looked like a miniature version of this first turret Battleship with no sails.

(Incidentally, there is an Australian Ship called HMVS Cerberus that was in service three years before HMS Devastation and is still about - part submerged in a bay off the Australian coast. She is very much like the Cyclops class ships but was built earlier. There is a Save the Cerebus movement to protect and look after this unique ship. You can find out more on Friends of the Cerebus Inc. Please click the link below.)

http://www.cerberus.com.au/index.html


Below is a newspaper report of HMS Hecate from the Glasgow Herald on 26th December 1883:

Some important experiments were made on Saturday off Plymouth on board the Hecate, 4, double-screw iron armour-plated turret-ship. This vessel, together with Gorgon, Cyclops, and Hydra, her sister ships, was built on the same principle as the Devastation, but on a much smaller scale. It was discovered that they could in no way stand the rough weather, and the belief was that powerful as they were, they could only be used for coast defence. About twelve months ago it was proposed to erect a superstructure on one as a test, with a view to secure not only greater stability but better accommodation for officers and crew. The Hecate was selected to experiment upon, and in January last Messrs H. & R. Green, of Blackwall, who were entrusted by the Admiralty with the work took, the ship in hand.


The improvement made included the extension of the breastwork to the ship's side and the lengthening aft about 20 feet. The captain's apartments are now within the superstructure, instead of below the upper deck, and are well supplied with light and natural ventilation. The officers generally have the advantage of a commodious reading room. A sick bay has been fitted up, and provision made for carrying a quantity of patent fuel. Additional mess accommodation has been secured on the lower deck by the removal of the sick bay, and better cabins have been allocated to the warrant officers.

The sea-going qualities of the Hecate under her altered condition were fully tested on her way from the Nore to Devonport. Saturday's experiments were directed to firing the four guns in the turrets, to test the strength of the superstructure, which is composed of ½ inch steel. Another object **** was to discover the best places for fixing the four Nordenfelt guns with which the ship is to be supplied.

The vessel is armed with four 18 tonne guns, two in each turret, both of which revolve. The four guns were first discharged with scaling charges. Then the left gun in the fore turret was loaded with a full charge of 44lb of powder and a common shell weighing 400 lb and was discharged bearing on the port beam, at a horizontal elevation. The right gun in the same turret was next fired under similar conditions, but bearing on the starboard beam. Upon examining the superstructure it was found that two rivets had been started on the starboard side. The guns of the same turret were then fired with a battering charge of 70lb. of powder each and 400lb shell, but the concussion did no damage. They were then discharged simultaneously. The final experiment was the firing of an electric broadside of all four guns at once, bearing on the port beam. The concussion was considerable, but beyond the two rivets started, after the smallest charge, not the slightest damage was done — not even a pane of glass.


Chancers and the Compelling, Consuming, Monster of Speed - Isle of Man TT







Formula one motor racing is still exciting to watch though I would say that it has tamed down more since the advent of better safety procedures and protocols. All this is for the better, but somewhere something is lost to the sport's excitement.

I keep asking myself why I prefer to watch the Isle of Man TT as opposed to the Motor Bike Grand Prix of today? The answer is because the Isle of Man TT is more dangerous. Why do I enjoy reading about the past Formula one races in the 50s, 60s, 70s, etc as opposed to the races of today? Again, it was more dangerous back then. 

I'm compelled by the danger of the Isle of Man TT even though I would never possess the dare to indulge such a sport personally. Almost every year, a rider is killed in a high speed crash. 2014 saw two racers killed. I feel great sorrow for the men who pitted their wits and lost, but I can't help thinking there is something inside us all that makes everyone want to be a chancer now and then. It obviously varies in degrees and subject matter. A chancer that can some how narrow the odds by pitting ones self against the elements in a chosen field (of some kind.) A business or industry - perhaps sport, like a dynamic footballer where the prospects of failure can be soul destroying, yet not life threatening. Then there are lone crusaders like boxers and motor racers. (True warriors or gladiators) The level of challenges vary and for some chancers it becomes death defying feats - to run parallel with the threat of oblivion in the mortal world, where defeat is ultimate, or to come out of it victorious and buzzing. 

Usually we do it for some type of adulation or gain - a trophy beyond that of a mere silver shiny cup. Something else like a moment in eternity that one might live off for the rest of his/her life. What drives us to do such things and what compels people like me to get a buzz out of watching the courage and insanity of the riders who try to defy the odds in a contest of speed along roads that twist and turn, go up and down with solid obstacles, like brick walls, at so many turns if not negotiated right?

The TT contest is an absolute beast that devours many people who want to be consumed by the danger and spat out at the other end of the ordeal intact and alive, carrying the dramatic memory forever when they ran parallel with potential and fatal death, yet did not succumb. Some even evolve to try and do so better then any of the other contestants. For many, it is just to watch the chancers as they pit their wits against one another along the circuit of road going around the island.

The Isle of Man is a haven for such dare devils that attracts people from all over the planet. Many come to be consumed by the monster called the Isle of Man TT. Contestants and spectators alike. For a few days the rules are changed and the knights can come out to play their dangerous and sometimes fatal game, while we spectators can watch and enjoy the wake of the high speed buzz. Even become appalled and saddened by those who will fall prey to the consuming monster. We can't help it because we are all compelled by the intoxicating danger. It is a small Haven were the beast remains untamed and gloriously vicious and brutal.









Wednesday, 25 March 2015

China's Growing Military Expenditure

An Interesting Article From:
Home

China has done it again. In early March, it released its defence budget for 2015, and as in almost every year for over almost two decades, it increased its military expenditure by double-digit percentages. This year, the Chinese defence budget will rise by 10.1 percent, to roughly $145 billion. And it seems likely that the trend will continue, much to the concern of Washington and regional capitals.

Already, China is the second-biggest military spender in the world, having surpassed the United Kingdom in 2008. China’s new budget for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is more than three times those of other big spenders such as France, Japan, and the United Kingdom, and nearly four times that of its rising Asian rival, India. It is also the only country besides the United States to have a triple-digit defence budget (in billions of U.S. dollars).
This level of spending is all the more remarkable given where China started. In 1997, Chinese military expenditures totalled only about $10 billion, roughly on par with Taiwan and significantly less than that of Japan and South Korea. Beginning that year, however, China’s defence budget began to rise. There were two economic factors that made this growth possible. First, the country’s economy soared; in 1997, defence spending made up less than two percent of GDP, which remains roughly the same share today, at least according to Beijing. Second, low inflation rates over the past two decades have meant that real growth in defence spending has nearly matched nominal growth; even the most conservative estimate of actual growth rates (accounting for inflation) reveal a five-fold real increase in military expenditures since 1997.
What is particularly striking about the growth in defence spending over the last two decades is that it has almost always outpaced GDP growth. Between 1998 and 2007, China’s economy grew at an average annual rate of 12.5 percent, while its defence spending increased at an average of 15.9 percent per annum. Given that the economy is likely to grow by only seven percent in 2015, and its defence spending is growing at double digits, the disconnect between economic performance and defence spending is becoming more pronounced.

Comparing China's Military Spending and GDP Growth Rates (Foreign Affairs)
Further, it is commonly assumed by many in the West that the official defence budget does not provide a full picture of Chinese military spending and that the central government hides expenses for certain items—for example research and development, arms imports, and subsidies to defence industries—in other parts of its overall budget. Estimates of additional, off-the-books spending range from 35 percent to 50 percent of total defence expenditures, based on estimates by IHS Janes and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, respectively. A few years ago, the U.S. Defence Department asserted that China’s true defence budget could be as much as double the official figure; in fact, it has since stopped trying to figure out off-the-books spending.
Indeed, the exercise in guesstimating “actual” Chinese military expenditures has become increasingly irrelevant. With an official military budget approaching $150 billion, the PLA has all the on-the-books money it needs to underwrite a very aggressive military modernisation program, and if the military wants more, Beijing appears more than ready to provide it. There is, quite simply, no reason for Beijing to conceal actual military spending, at least the overall figure. 
China is still opaque, with some reason, about how it allocates its defence budget. The country has never released separate figures for its ground forces, navy, or air force. Chinese defence white papers (released every two years, starting in 1998) once broke down spending by personnel, operations and support, and “equipment” (which presumably includes weapons procurement and defence research and development). But that stopped in 2009.
Still, a few predictions can be made about the breakdown of this year’s defence spending. The white papers consistently revealed a near-even one-third split of funding between personnel, operations and support, and “equipment.” Since these ratios have remained more or less constant since the late 1990s, it is reasonable to say the same breakdown applies today. That means any increases in spending are still likely to be broken down equally among these three categories. 










Sunday, 22 March 2015

Fenland Dog Walking (Waiting for the Promise of Spring and Summer)


The Owls are appearing in daylight again.

The old iron bridge along the dog walk 

The Canal Boats are mooring.
The Owl boxes will soon have fledglings.

Trying to get a good photo shot of buzzards and hawks is always difficult.

As soon as the suspect my interest they are off.

They are easily spooked by the camera lense. Even at distance.

Head for the trees and better cover.

Sasha and Dotty patrol the back and side and bark at anyone coming to the gate.

The Herons are always about

a land of rainbows too.

Sasha enjoy the canal walk

Sasha wanting to go in the canal
 









Wallander - Swedish TV Crime Drama



There are some very good crime dramas in the UK and I'm a glutton for them. Especially Inspector Morse, plus the off shoots like Endeavour (set in the sixties when Morse was young) also Lewis set after the death of Morse. There are other dramas too, like Inspector Frost, Prime Suspect and George Gently. These are all great UK crime dramas.

Now we are beginning to see some great stories from other European countries too. One such crime drama is from Sweden and are TV dramatisations of the Henning Mankell's Wallander stories. They are very gripping. I did not like the English adaptation with Keneth Branagh playing Kurt Wallander. I just could not handle Swedish people walking about in Sweden speaking to each other in English.

However, the proper Swedish version with clear English sub-titles really did it for me. It stars Krister Henriksson as Kurt Wallander with the late Johanna Sallastrom as his daughter who is also a police officer in the Ystad police force. The stories are very gripping indeed. I bought the first seven stories on DVD making sure the sub-titles and all were there. I was glued to this real quality drama and ended up buying episodes 8 to 13 over the weekend.

If you like good crime drama then this Swedish production is very superior among such genres. It is definitely on a par with the good Brit dramas and I would strongly recommend this quality TV show.













Saturday, 21 March 2015

The Walking Dead (Dystopian American TV series)


 I usually shy away from gory films or TV shows. I like horror, but usually the mind messing type things like the Exorcist and other more mind testing stories. When the wave of zombie films and TV shows came along, I also found my interest still being tickled. It was strange because I'm not a blood and gore fan. However, with the type of world created by a zombie apocalypse, I see the sort of dystopian future that I often enjoyed where scattered groups of people crawl out of the terrible dilemma and pit their wits at survival. 

We've had books and TV shows things like; War of the Worlds, The Day of the Triffids, Survivors, Logan's Run etc. There are so many. Therefore, I think the Walking Dead flicks switches along the same thought provoking line too. Except there is a little extra thrown in some where. Then the gore and horror comes secondary. Eventually the 'walking dead people' (zombies) become a backdrop (like constant rain) to the many other problems our survivors have to confront. There are scattered communities that have adapted all sorts of weird and strange ideologies to survive. Anything remotely kind or normal is regarded with extreme suspicion by all. Any weakness among survivors is exploited by others to survive. Kill or be killed. The surviving groups become competitive against each other and resort to barbaric methods to win. There is no room for compassion. 

I've just been watching series number 5 and i have been compelled and transfixed by how good this dystopian TV show is. No one is safe. You warm to the many characters that come and go during the show and know that no one is indestructible. Anyone can die!

Some major characters do and others come into it too. Some started off week and become seasoned survivalists - their characters hardening as the show goes on. It is splendid and I'm looking forward to the last two episodes of season 5. If you have not seen this horror/dystopian saga; your missing out. It is very compelling.  



Giving You A Great Sci-Fi Story of HMS Thunder Child



Follow the crew of HMS Thunder Child into H.G.Wells' War of the World in this pastiche story of the ship and her crew, building up to the dreadful confrontation in this fun read adaptation from the original story.

Be there and join the crew.

The Kindle download is for USA only.





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Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Thunderchild (video comic)








HMS Thunderchild from War of the Worlds story. The pastiche of the ship's story is below.


Biker gets up Speed down hill in Valparaiso Chile.


Crazy downhill bike ride in Valparaiso Chile. Nothing like a good bike ride, but for me, this might be a tad on the excessive side. I'm very happy to watch through the camera on the biker's safety helmet. For those who like the adrenalin buzz; maybe Valparaiso is calling?

Check out the motor bike jump in the Facebook link below:

Facebook

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Weasel and the Woodpecker


My wife, Carole and I went to Hornchurch in Essex today and passed Hornchurch country park on the way to my Dad's house. He lives in Elm Park, Hornchurch. When we arrived, he had the news on the television. There was the usual news of politics and crime but then on a light hearted note, the news team showed a picture of a weasel attacking a Green Woodpecker. It was one of those charming little aside pictures that an amateur photographer caught perfectly.

Weasels are tiny little carnivorous creatures that are very fierce and territorial. However, they are very small, about the size of a small chocolate bar. This one attacked a Green Woodpecker that flew off in panic with vicious little weasel upon back.

We were surprised to hear it was at the very country park we had driven passed. Our little patch on national TV. The photographer took loads of shots according to the news and this one was caught wonderfully. 

The woodpecker went down again and as it hit the ground the weasel sped off after his unexpected flight. No doubt leaving Green Woodpeckers off of his menu in future.





Debate on the EU disaster movie.




The heat is turning up in the UK concerning EU membership. It does seem, to me, that the anti-EU are winning the argument concerning the lack of democratic accountability. Every time the media get the pro-EU on to argue with the anti-EU; the anti always seem to walk away with the points from my point of view. Maybe there are things I'm missing, but I think the UK may leave. I also believe there could be civil unrest in some of the southern European countries.