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Miscellany :-

These pages are for subjects that I find particularly interesting. Unfortunately, I've neither the time nor resources to research them more fully, but luckily, other people have made fascinating web-sites on these subjects. I hope you find the choice of material here as interesting as I do.

Six Degrees of Separation :-

I was led in bed early one morning in April 2005, half dozing, several things going through my head. One of those things was the idea of the "Six Degrees of Separation", and this page was born.

The idea of the "Six Degrees of Separation" is that through family, friends and acquaintances and their family, friends and acquaintances there are only six steps that separate a single person from any other person. I started off seeing what research has been done and, surprisingly, or perhaps not, there are people taking this extremely seriously.

Perhaps the best known researcher into this is Duncan J. Watts and the Small World Research Project. Here's how he describes the phenomenon...

"This is a question with rather a long history. As early as 1929, the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy speculated that anyone in the world could be connected to anyone else through a chain consisting of no more than five intermediaries. Because the last person in the chain, who we call the target, does not count as an intermediary, five intermediaries is equivalent to six degrees of separation. The first scientific exploration of what was to become known as the "small world problem" came almost three decades later in the work of Manfred Kochen (a mathematician) and Ithiel de Sola Pool (a political scientist), who proposed a mathematical explanation of the problem. Assuming that individuals choose 1,000 friends at random from a population as large as 100 million, Kochen and Pool showed that no more than two or three intermediaries (hence three or four degrees of separation) would be required to connect any two people. People, however, do not choose friends at random, which implies that the real answer should be higher. Kochen and Pool realized this, but were unable to solve the more difficult problem.

Stimulated by Pool and Kochenís work, the great social psychologist Stanley Milgram devised an ingenious experiment in the late 1960s to test the hypothesis. Milgram and his graduate student, Jeffrey Travers, gave 300 letters to subjects in Boston and Omaha, with instructions to deliver them to a single target person (a stockbroker from Sharon, Massachusetts) by mailing the letter to an acquaintance who the subject deemed closer to the target. The acquaintance then got the same set of instructions, thus setting up a chain of intermediaries. Milgram found that the average length of the chains that completed (64 of them) was about six - quite remarkable in light of Karinthyís prediction 40 years earlier. Since Milgram, the small-world problem has become a cultural phenomenon, especially after the playwright John Guare chose the catchy term "six degrees of separation" as the title of his 1990 play. But until recently, very little empirical work had been done aside from Milgramís initial experiment, and no one could explain why it worked.

Some recent theoretical work suggests that the answer may or may not be six, but it is certainly small - not 100 for example. A very large scale e-mail version of Milgramís experiment, currently being conducted at Columbia University (see link above) might settle the matter once and for all. But for now, it remains a mystery."

Most of the principles of this appear to be based on geometric progression. For example, rather than start with 1,000 family, friends or acquaintances lets assume a lower number of 10. You probably know 10 people, however slightly, they in turn will know 10 others each. Already, starting with 1 person, in 1 degree of  separation you are connected to 100. The actual progression goes like this...


Using just a base of 10 people, in 6 degrees of separation you are connected to a million!

Being interested in maths, here's my little contribution to the "Six Degrees of Separation" phenomena.



North America

United Kingdom Bristol Terre Haute
1600 562,000,000 / 29   4,000,000 / 13 10,549 / 5  
1650 511,000,000 / 29     15,000 / 5  
1700 634,000,000 / 30   5,000,000 / 14 20,000 / 6  
1750 791,000,000 / 31 2,000,000 / 12 5,600,000 / 14    
1800 978,000,000 / 32 7,000,000 / 14 8,000,000 / 15 61,000 / 7  
1850 1,262,000,000 / 33 26,000,000 / 18 20,000,000 / 16 137,328 / 8 4,051 / 4
1900 1,650,000,000 / 35 82,000,000 / 21 48,200,000 / 20 328,945 / 9 36,673 / 6
1950 2,521,000,000 / 37 172,000,000 / 24 50,200,000 / 20 442,954 / 9  
2000 6,100,000,000 / 43 307,000,000 / 26 58,900,000 / 20 380,615 / 9 59,614 / 7
2050 8,909,000,000 / 46 392,000,000 / 28 65,000,000 / 21    

All I've done is found some statistics for various populations, the world, North America, the United Kingdom, Bristol, England and Terre Haute, Indiana then found the number whose 6th power is over that number. Very simple and very unscientific, but it gives an idea of the number of family, friends and acquaintances you need to have "Six Degrees of Separation" for these populations.

As you can see, if you and your friends know just 46 people each, in 6 steps, you know the whole world!

Sources and References :-

Bristol Historic Population Statistics
Historical Estimates of World Population
History of Terre Haute
National Statistics
Population of Britain
Small World Research Project
State and Local History
The World at Six Billion
UK Population Growth 1750-2005

Afghanistan :-

I couldn't resist putting the following thoughts onto this page.

These are my own personal thoughts on the subject and as experts on terrorism, the military, bio and chemical warfare, economic and political strategy, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Asia and general commentators seem to be ten a penny these days and are crawling out of the woodwork all over the place, I want to have my say too. This was written in October 2001 to February 2002, some months after the attacks on 11th September. 

I know it's easy to criticize but that's one of the wonderful things about living in a democracy, we can do this, not like the people in other parts of the world. I'm not particularly politically active, but I've got strong feelings on the difference between right and wrong. I'm not a criminal (in order to join the British Army and later to move to the US I've had to get the paperwork to prove I've no criminal record) and I value my freedom to say more or less what I like and to travel more or less where I want without being arrested by the State.

I would also like to apologise in advance, this article is the only one on my site that contains some swearing, but that's because  I really do believe some people have said and done some incredibly stupid things over the last few months. I expect that the people who have the biggest influence over how my life is run (and some others) and to whom I'm going to have to pay around one quarter of everything I ever earn in the form of taxes to behave with some degree of intelligence, dignity, fairness, morality and ethics. For example, Hillary Clinton was on TV recently in her role of Senator of New York, and I couldn't hear a word she said for thinking "shouldn't she be at home seeing what her husband (Bill "Suck my dick - it's alright, it's not sex" Clinton) is up to?"

I happened to emigrate to the US the same month as the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York. Both Britain and America say they have proof that Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organisation was responsible for the terrorist attacks, but despite watching both the BBC and CNN broadcasts very closely no-one has yet shown this proof. This is not to say that I think he didn't do it or that he doesn't deserve everything that has happened since, but if people are going to shoot their mouths off saying "we have incontrovertible proof" then how about sharing it with the rest of us?

In the first days after the attacks in America President Bush said that America was going to war against International Terrorism and I began to wonder if he meant all terrorist groups, the IRA? which the American people help to fund, ETA, the Basque separatists in Spain? The Pakistanis and Indians raiding Kashmir?

Biological and chemical warfare is not new. In medieval Europe a besieging army would catapult plague ridden corpses (both human and animal) into a city, or try and poison the cities water supply. Chemical warfare, as we know it, started with the development of the nerve agents Sarin and later Soman and Tabun during WWI. Britain and America  have spent billions on the development and production of chemical and biological weapons since WWII and although antidotes are available there seems to be no way either country can protect their citizens from even a relatively small attack. In the event of a major attack against a city perhaps the best thing an infected person can do is go out and lie down in the road, it won't save us, but at least it'll make it easier for those in authority, once they've crawled out of their bunkers, to bulldoze the rest of us into a hole somewhere.

And now some notes to those people who rushed out and bought respirators (gas masks) and the chemical warfare (noddy) suits. Do you actually know what you are doing? The canisters in the gas masks have a limited shelf life before the filters (usually activated charcoal) need to be changed, they also need to be changed after certain intervals in use, when they get wet and when they've been subjected to certain chemicals. Do you know how to change those canisters when under attack if need be? How do you know when to wear the things you bought? Who is going to tell you when you need to put them on? Who is going to tell you when it's safe to remove them? Did you know most types are next to useless against biological attack? Do you know that some types of agent are designed either to attack the skin or to go straight through it and you need to wear those suits (including boots and gloves) all the time to be safe? Do you know how to eat and drink when in the kit for any length of time? After an attack, do you know how to get out of the kit without getting contaminated by whatever is clinging to the outside of it? Do you know what to wear under it? Most suits need some sort of clothing under it to be effective. If you don't know the answers to these and many more questions, then you may as well join me. I'll be the one lying in the road waiting for the bulldozers.

When the US government started to receive anthrax spores in the mail nearly everyone was tested for exposure to it, and people started on courses of Ciprofloxacin (Cipro) antibiotic. Last night CNN reported that some government buildings are going to be sealed up and flooded with a chlorine based gas. When people started to fall ill in the US mail service it was reported that only the machines that tested positive for spores were to be decontaminated, and that they were going to put the tape used by the police at crime scenes around them to keep people away. As a US postal representative said these germs aren't going to stop at the tape saying "oh no, orange tape, we'd better not cross that". I've never had a very high opinion of politicians and this just goes to reinforce that view. One set of rules for the high and mighty and another for the rest of us peasants. A quote from the Monty Python film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" :-

"The King!, the King!"
"How do you know it's the King?"
"Cos' he's not covered in shit like the rest of us."

The reason Cipro is the antibiotic of choice against anthrax is that even though the tetracyclines (including doxycycline) and penicillin, are much cheaper and according to the news just as effective, Cipro has been found effective for all strains of anthrax whilst the others have been found to meet with some resistance from some strains.

It's been several months now and despite being told that the original source of the Anthrax was being traced, it's gone all quiet on the subject. The experts are pointing the finger at the old enemy Iraq, but once again without showing any proof. Perhaps we're all reaping the benefits of the Cold War when lots of countries were selling all sorts of nasties to any other, either for profit at any cost or more idealistically, to keep the Enemy at bay. Another worrying thing is that they still haven't said with any certainty whether the use of anthrax is being made by al-Qaeda, some other terrorist group or by some home grown lunatic. The US police and other security services are apparently getting thousands of calls from people who are worried that such things as cement dust on building sites, spilled baby powder etc. is anthrax, as well as stupid malicious people sending crushed aspirin or whatever through the post, either as some kind of sick joke or to spread panic and fear. On 16th January 2002, I realised that I'd heard nothing about anthrax on the news for a while. In December 2001 there was a report that the strain of anthrax being used was one used in US research labs for the US military, the US army issued a statement that none of theirs was missing, after that ... nothing. The last report I was able to find about the investigation was a couple of lines in an interview with Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge by CNN on 13th January. "As far as the anthrax probe is concerned, Ridge said that the FBI is following significant leads, but thousand of hoaxes have hampered the investigation. He said evidence has been pointing toward a domestic source." It's nice to know that America finds it easier to bomb the crap out of any country it wants to than to find out who sent a dozen letters.

Where are the newspapers, radio and television getting these experts? and what the hell have these experts been doing the last couple of years? From listening to them I get the impression that apart from knowing a few more names and dates than the rest of us they don't really know what's going on either. Everyone has 20/20 vision in hindsight and, as John Cleese as Basil Fawlty once said in "Fawlty Towers" to Prunella Scales, his screen wife, Sybil, "you should be on Mastermind, specialist subject; the bleedin' obvious."

One thing that CNN and other interviewers did, and, thankfully, seems to have stopped doing, is that when President Bush started to restrict the amount of  intelligence information available to all and sundry one of the first questions asked of the experts when they were being interviewed was "are you party to the special briefings?" What sort of dumb question is that? If they were then it would probably be better for everyone if they didn't even mention the fact that they were in those meetings, and if they weren't then you may just as well walk up to your neighbour and ask them what they thought.

Another thing that CNN don't do quite so much of now is show that horrible green screen of a highly magnified night vision device. I'm sure it's all very technical and they meant well but apart from a few bright patches it didn't actually show anything, for all the information it conveyed I may as well have powered down the PC and sat and watched the screensaver.

Although no modern country can be isolationist it is sometimes forgotten that using another country to "get at" a bigger perceived threat sometimes goes very badly wrong, as can selling arms to either unstable governments or ones that are liable to turn round and bite back. At one time the French were selling Exocet missiles to the Argentines, which were used to attack British ships during the Falklands War in the spring of 1982. Russia was using countries like Czechoslovakia and Chechnya as "buffer" states against the West and look what's happened to them. Czechoslovakia fell into a bloody civil war and Russia is now fighting just as bloody a war in Chechnya.

While I was writing this I came across this quote about the 1991 Gulf War by Lieutenant General Tom Kelly "Iraq went from the fourth-largest army in the world to the second-largest army in Iraq in 100 hours". Another I remember hearing at the time was that "if Kuwait's main export were carrots and not oil who'd give a damn about the country?"

Osama bin Laden left Saudi Arabia to fight the Soviet army in Afghanistan after Moscowís invasion in 1979. By 1984, he was running an organization known as Maktab al-Khidamar - MAK - which funneled money, arms and fighters from the outside world into the Afghan war. MAK was nurtured by Pakistanís state security services, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, the CIAís primary conduit for conducting the covert war against Moscowís occupation. Today, 31st October, it was announced that Britain and the America had relaxed their embargoes on supplying arms to the Northern Alliance. To my mind this is storing up trouble for later. Until 11th September the Northern Alliance were just another coalition of terrorists, fighting to undermine the Taliban and take control of Afghanistan, today they are our friends fighting a common foe, who knows what they'll be tomorrow. America's stated intention is the destruction of al-Qaeda and the downfall of the Taliban, they've already said that NATO should be responsible for whatever happens to the Afghan people and their government afterwards. As usual, the only losers are going to be the people of Afghanistan. In Bristol, England on the railway bridge on the A4 road near Temple Meads is a piece of graffiti that has been there for years, it paraphrases a shampoo advert and sums up America's attitude, it says "International relations? I just want to nuke and go". If you're interested the original advert ran "Conditioner AND Shampoo? I just want to wash and go".

I was disgusted by the news footage of Palestinians dancing and cheering in the streets at America's misfortune. But, from their point of view America was getting a taste of its own medicine, America has been supplying arms and aid to Israel for years, and these have been used against the Palestinians. I haven't been able to trace the authenticity of this, but some of the footage used is rumoured to have been shot in 1996 during another anti-American demonstration and was used as western journalists were forbidden to venture out onto the streets. This is now proven to be a rumour, started by a Brazilian student. For details of this and other rumours about the attacks on 11th September go to TruthorFiction

This evening, 31st October, it was announced that the US has started carpet bombing Afghanistan. Why? If the smart weapons were as effective as they claimed to be why would they want to move bits of crappy mountain terrain a couple of yards by dropping tons of dumb bombs all over it?

The war in Afghanistan is making America lie with some very strange bedfellows and all sorts of deals must have been done "behind the scenes" to get permission for the US to use some countries facilities. The reason why America is at war in Afghanistan is because of terrorism, yet it courts Pakistan for its air space while turning a blind eye towards Pakistan's incursions into Kashmir, and it's also quietly forgotten the fact that relations with Pakistan weren't too good after Pakistan, not the stableist government in the world, became a member of the Nuclear Bomb Club. In December, the first shipment of grain in years reached Cuba from the US, then came the news that Afghanistan prisoners were going to be housed in an American run facility there. All in all, I think this war, which I believe is right and justified, is going to be very expensive for America, even after it's service people have returned home and people have begun to forget where in the world Afghanistan even is again.

One "nice" thing to come out of the attack is now everybody has a scapegoat for any effects of the recession the world was already beginning to slide into before 11th September. Within a week of the attack the world's airlines were laying off tens of thousands of workers each. This forced the companies servicing those airlines to also make massive redundancies. To the companies involved it's called downsizing, to those made jobless it's called tough shit. Still, it's not all bad news for everyone, from the number of adverts on the television, perhaps some of the newly unemployed can find jobs with the companies making crappy dayglo American flags that play crappy digitised versions of the American National Anthem when you press the button (batteries not included). I suspect the arms and munitions making companies are almost wetting themselves dreaming of the money they are going to make from another good war and I should imagine Bayer shareholders are very happy at the moment, especially as they've only just settled up with the federal government, paying $14 million dollars for 11 years of inflating its prices for Medicaid medications. Remember, what's good for business is good.

Today, 7th November, people have started to talk about torturing terrorist suspects to acquire information from them. There are several reasons why this won't work. How could Americans hold their heads up ever again and criticize any other country for their lack of human rights?  Who can say whether the information extracted under torture is ever going to be correct? How long before anybody can denounce anyone else and have them tortured? How long before the use of torture spreads to suspects of other crimes? To the people who advocate this, especially the woman on CNN this afternoon, I denounce you as un-American, un-Christian and possibly a terrorist hoping to destroy the Constitution - "lets take you away and find out exactly what you know about these terrorist acts, perhaps you know other people who want to tear up the Constitution too? Their names and addresses? . . ."

Perhaps the woman meant only certain people were to be tortured, but which people? Illegal immigrants first probably, then who? First generation immigrants? Perhaps she meant only people of certain races? Arabs?, Pakistanis? What about any ethnic minority? People of a religion other than Christian? How about people who have only been in the US for a generation or two? But, better not go too far down that road as pretty soon practically everyone in the US is eligible.

The question of torture raised it's head again on CNN on 23rd April. The reporter said that while the detainees can't be tortured they can be threatened with torture, or deported to a country that does torture people. It seems that some have already been moved to Turkey. It's nice to know that America takes it's stance on Human Rights so seriously. How does that line go again? "We hold these truths to be self-evident ..." If you've forgotten the text, you can view it at Thomas Jefferson on Politics & Government.

9th November, the discussion today was the law that is being discussed that will enable suspects interviews with their lawyers to be video taped for use by the prosecution. One of the participants in the discussion on CNN said that as these people are suspected of terrorism anyway then it's probably no bad thing. Why not just take them out and shoot them, and save everyone the bother of anyone defending them or even trying them at all?

How many other people's civil liberties are these people willing to take? Perhaps only until it starts to impinge on theirs? Why not become the Taliban under a new name, say, for example, the "New Government of the United States of America"? Where no citizen of America can do, say or even think non government approved thoughts or actions?

When Baseball restarted after 11th September I was watching the start of a match on television. After all the flag waving and shows of patriotism by the American people I was surprised to see that many of the players and team officials chewing, chatting, spitting and scratching their ass while the American National Anthem was played. Perhaps they should read the United States Code, Title 36 - Patriotic Societies and Observances, Chapter 10 - Patriotic Customs, Section 171, this can be found at the Legal Information Institute site.

Section 171. Conduct during playing of the National Anthem

During rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed, all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. Men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should render the military salute at the first note of the anthem and retain this position until the last note. When the flag is not displayed, those present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed there.

Friday, 9th December 2001, I was writing more of my website with CNN on the TV. President Bush was on, one thing he said which I thought was a bit weird. He mentioned about foreign leaders hiding in caves. Excuse me? Where has the Vice President been for the last couple of months? and how much has the American taxpayer spent on artificial caves, be it wall to wall carpeted ones, since the 1950's? A little later there was one of those viewer participation programmes on. Someone asked why should American women have to wear face veils when visiting Muslim countries? My immediate thought was "Hey, she's right, as a British citizen living in the US why aren't I allowed to drive on the left? and why aren't Afghanistanis and Saudi Arabians allowed in the US to burn the American flag and to blow up what the f**k they want?" My point is, if you want to live, work in or visit other countries and cultures you have to do so according to their laws and have some respect for their customs.

January 2002. It seems that the American people, or rather the news services, are getting bored with the war in Afghanistan. They can't find Bin Laden and John Walker, the American citizen who was caught fighting with al-Qaeda, is getting more news coverage than the rest of the war. It seems that every country that has problems with dissidents or border problems, ie India and Pakistan in Kashmir, are crying terrorism, probably hoping that America will step in and sort their problems out for them, or better still just kill off their dissidents. The big question on CNN seems to be "who shall we bomb next?". American troops have already been sent to the Philippines and according to a poll on the CNN website the next lucky recipients of American military attention seems to be a choice of Iraq, Somalia or Yemen. According to the BBC website other contestants are Indonesia, Malaysia, Sudan, Tajikistan or Uzbekistan.

25th January 2002. The treatment of the Afghanistani prisoners at Camp X-ray at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba was the subject of debate again on CNN this evening. The International Red Cross and some Civil Rights groups have made suggestions to the US government that some changes should be made to the running of the camp. To be fair, the Red Cross, did say that after visiting the camp some of their suggestions have been implemented, but it is also fair to say that many more prisoners are expected to have to live in the camp and that as the "interrogation" facilities have yet to be finished then who knows what conditions will be like in the camp over the coming weeks? In a CNN article on their site dated 23rd January, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is quoted as saying "a photograph released by the U.S. Navy, showing prisoners crouched, wearing goggles, some with ear covers and some with chains on their arms, did not represent how the prisoners were being treated." Really? Perhaps it was some sort of fancy dress parade or something then, but it sounds very much like sensory deprivation to me. This evening Jeff Sessions, one of the Senators from Alabama, was on CNN talking about his visit to Camp X-ray as part of a US delegation. One of the delegation apparently went around giving the prisoners the "Evil Eye" (according to the introductory blurb) whilst Sessions' talked about how nice the weather was in Cuba at the moment and how lucky the prisoners are to be there. That may be so, but a concrete floored 8 foot by 8 foot wire mesh cell is still a cage, no matter what the weather is like. Two politicians go on a fact finding mission, one gets a nice tan and the other practices witchcraft. I may have moved from the UK to the US but it seems the politicians are the same in both countries.

27th January 2002. CNN reported that one of the Florida congressmen, after his visit to Camp X-ray, said that the prisoners are "afforded better medical care than some of our veterans, and better food than many senior citizens even in my district". What's his point? That the prisoners should be left to rot while their status as POWs or terrorists is decided? Or, that he hasn't done anywhere near enough for the veterans or senior citizens in Florida? Perhaps this particular congressman would have been better off staying at home arguing for better social welfare for his constituents rather than joining the other sun bathing witches that seem to have gone on that trip to Cuba.

In the days, weeks and months following the attacks against the US, politicians around the the world, are going on sight seeing tours and flying around saying "look at me, it's safe, carry on as normal." All I've got to say to that is "Yeah, you and how many armed security people?" and I bet you don't let any old Tom, Dick or Mohammed on your flights.

One thing I do agree with them though is that, even if they are having the crap bombed out of them in Afghanistan, if you're too frightened to go out and, apart from taking a bit more care and being more observant, drastically change your everyday life, the terrorists have won.

I've already said that I don't like politicians much, and I certainly don't like the way when America's say "jump" then the one's in the UK ask "how high?" at the same time as telling our European neighbours to go and get stuffed. The events of the last couple of months has certainly heightened my regard for Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush, before the events of 11th September I regarded one as a sycophant and and the other a clown. In case you don't know what a sycophant is, the Oxford English Dictionary's definition is "A mean, servile, cringing, or abject flatterer; a parasite, toady, lickspittle". Perhaps I will again when the dust settles but at the moment both are showing strong and decisive leadership, which is exactly what is needed. The men I've most respect for though is the United States Secretary of State, General Colin Powell and the Mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani. Their calm, collected manner in difficult times and under stress are examples to us all.

There are many sites on the net about Bin Laden, Afghanistan and other items mentioned in these thoughts of mine. A search using any of the search engines will bring up dozens of them. To keep up with the state of unrest in the world then one of the best sites I've found is the Strategy Page

Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race

When I was at school, I was hopeless at games. I couldn't run, couldn't hit or kick a ball and generally hated being out in the cold and wet. When I was fifteen, in 1973, the school started to organise "outdoor pursuits" and I jumped at the chance to get away from cricket, football, rugby and the rest. Instead, I spent my Friday afternoons caving, climbing, canoeing and dry-slope skiing. I loved it, and found I wasn't too bad at some of these things.

In 1982, I was sat in "The Gunner's Arms" when Sergeant Dyer asked if anyone present would like to try their hand at the Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race. Not many people volunteered, but I did. When asked why, I said it was just to see if I could. We trained hard all through that winter and Easter 1983 saw myself as the "front man" and Lt. Peter Randall as my partner, on the Kennet and Avon Canal at Devizes ready to go. The training was hard but the race was harder. By the time we reached the first portage, 15 miles from the start, I could no longer feel my fingers, and my arms felt as if they were about to fall off. I began to wonder how we were going to cope with the rest of the race, all 110 miles and 75 locks of it. We were about to find out. Our support crew was great, they fed us, gave us encouragement, shouted at and bullied us. Exactly what a good support team should do.

Fifty four miles after we started we were at Reading and on the Thames. The support team were worried, we had to be at Teddington Lock and be on the tidal part of the Thames with the ebbing tide, that was another fifty four miles away and time was running out. More bullying. All we wanted to do was sleep. We reached Teddington, and I've got to admit we were knackered. We'd started out paddling hard, enjoying the scenery and nattering. By now we were hardly speaking, except to say "Paddle harder you stupid, lazy ****" to each other.

Most of the race is a blur but a couple of incidents stand out vividly about that first race. At one of the locks Peter fell heavily down the hard concrete steps. Luckily it was one of the ones where our support crew were able to get to us. I remember standing exhausted on the steps while a crowd of people gathered around Peter making sure he hadn't hurt himself. One of the support crew, a Captain, arrived and shouted at Peter to get back up and into the canoe. The looks on the people's faces were a sight to see. They couldn't believe that someone could be that heartless. As for me, I really was hoping that Peter had either badly injured himself or was dead, that way I wouldn't have had to get back into the canoe and it wouldn't be my fault if we couldn't continue.

At one of the longer portages we saw a crowd of people standing around on the towpath. As we got up to them we could see that they were gathered around someone who looked unconscious. Not stopping, we asked what was wrong with him, they said that it was probably exhaustion. We just said "Oh, that's unlucky" and carried on running with that dead weight of a canoe on our shoulders. A couple of times later in the race I think we were pretty close to being in the same state ourselves.

Once over Teddington Lock we knew we only had seventeen miles left to go. Those seventeen miles were all a daze to me. Peter and I went all out to reach Westminster Bridge, we wanted out of the canoe and to be on land. We charged down the Thames whooping, shouting and charging past anything and everything. Westminster Bridge loomed into view through the night and we used the last of our strength and paddled even faster. I still remember Peter saying that if I steered us past the proper area, near the steps, where people were waiting to help us he'd overturn the canoe and we'd have to swim to shore. After we crashed into the steps it was such a relief to get out of the canoe. A couple of people reached down to get the canoe out of the water and I warned them it was bit smelly. We had after all, been in the stupid thing for over a day and there was all sorts of liquids in it. They just looked up, said it was all right as they were used to it, and we stumbled up the steps to the competitors area.

Our support crew were already there to greet us. Someone produced a bottle of champagne, and even though I really was too tired to care I took a drink. Next came the unpleasant business of getting out of our wet clothes and into something dry and warm. I think it was probably then that I realised I could hardly move my arms and my fingers not at all. Looking around I saw that Peter was having the same trouble at undressing as I was. In the end we had to be undressed and redressed by our support crew, something that they probably didn't dream that they'd end up doing. We were bundled into sleeping bags in the back of an army four ton lorry and headed for home.

I can't remember when we were told our time for the race. Out of all the senior canoe teams that had started, a third had to pull out of the race and never finished. That's about average for the DW. Over the course we'd eaten several thousand calories, mostly in the form of glucose. It was a week before I could even feel my hands and nearly a month before I could feel my fingertips. I was beginning to get a bit worried about that, I thought I'd permanently damaged them. Our time for the race? A very respectful, exact 37 hours, which meant our average speed was a measly 3.38 miles an hour. Our support crew had timed us and for short spurts we were able to get up to a fast 8 miles an hour.

My first DW Race certificate

My first DW Race certificate

That first race was hard, and I've no idea why I competed in subsequent years. Competed is too strong a word, in the half dozen or so races I took part in, we stood no chance whatsoever of being front runners. The race has been described as the "hardest regularly held endurance canoe race in the world" and anyone who knows anything about it knows that even finishing is an achievement in itself. The races I did manage to finish I never did in less than 30 hours. Twice we had to pull out of the competition. Once when we hit something under the water and holed the canoe so badly it couldn't be repaired and and once when the steering mechanism fell apart and couldn't be fixed within the rules of the race. Although it's a long hard race, both times I ended up leaping around in frustration.

Most of our training took place through the winter. Here's what happened during one training session. We'd being paddling along for a couple of hours. Looking at my hands on the paddle I could see that where the water had run down the shaft my little and ring fingers of both hands were covered in ice. I'd long since lost any feeling in my hands, but that wasn't anything new to me anyway, It was something that seemed peculiar to me and something that I had gotten used to. A few miles further on I realised that the canoe was covered in white stuff and so was all my clothing. I remember thinking that it was alright and that it was only salt. It took several more miles of paddling before it struck me that we were on a canal and that canal's are full of fresh water, not brine. Several miles further on we reached a lock, as soon as I got out of the canoe I fell over and stayed there. My team mate dragged me to my feet and made me run around. Something that I really didn't want to do. Shortly after the support team turned up, wrapped me up in a space blanket, put me in a sleeping bag and took me away suffering with mild hypothermia.

Devizes - the start of a winter training session

Devizes - the start of a winter training session

Some lock and weir systems are pretty confusing and we carry diagrams of some of the trickier ones so we can get through them. One night we got out at one on the wrong bank. Stumbling around we realised we were on an island, so we dragged ourselves to the other side and got back in. If there's a lock keeper reading this who remembers his garden being wrecked one night in 1986 or 1987, I'm sorry to say that it was probably me and my mate.

Even with the help of the diagrams we managed to mess ourselves up a couple of times during the training sessions, especially in the dark. Like the time we got back in at the wrong place and ended up paddling around, miles from where we were supposed to be in a two foot deep stream. Or the time we got ourselves onto the wrong waterway. Paddling away I could see a low tunnel, we pass through a couple of them on the race and so weren't too worried. As the front of the canoe entered I could see something stretched across from wall to wall. Shouting out a warning I ducked, luckily so did my team mate, which was just as well as some lunatic had stretched barbed wire across the tunnel.

It was because of the DW that I learnt to swim. That first race I was in I neglected to tell anybody that I couldn't. The year after we were required to do a swimming test which I failed miserably. I got both my 100 and 800 metre certificates in time for the next race. But little did they know that the only reason I managed to pass both tests was because I swallowed so much water I walked most of the way.

One last thing, yes, we did fall in, lots and lots and lots of times.

Dauntsey's School Sports

International Canoe and Kayak Marathon

Official Homepage

Paddler's Perspective

Trent College Activity Canoeing

The Donner Party :-

Another television documentary bought this sad story to me. Looking for a new life in the West the Donner Party left Springfield, Illinois with 31 people and 9 wagons on 15th April 1846. On 31st July they left Fort Bridger hoping to take the "Hastings Cutoff". The party by now contained 87 people in 23 wagons. "Hastings Cutoff" proved a disaster for them. It wasn't until 21st August that they entered the Great Salt Lake Valley. By 30th October some of the party was at Truckee (now Donner) Lake and the others were 6 miles east at Alder Creek. The party was already in a bad way, most of their livestock had been lost or had died, they had been attacked by Indians, there had been at least one shooting and several accidents. Morale was low, but the pass across the Sierra Nevada mountains was only miles away. They couldn't make the crossing before the weather closed in on them. During November they killed the last of their cattle. On 16th December 17 people called the "Forlorn Hope" left the rest to try and cross the mountains. Two of these turned back the first day. A month later on 18th January 1847 the 7 survivors of the "Forlorn Hope" reached safety. They had to eat parts of their dead to survive - two of which they've killed for the purpose. It wasn't until 18th February that the first rescuers arrived at the two campsites, but it wasn't until 17th April that all the surviving members of the Donner Party were finally rescued. They had had to endure terrible hardships and had resorted to canibalism.

There is one image that stands out in my mind from the documentary, which must have been shown about 10 years ago now. It is of a man on horseback next to a tree stump. From the height of the man I would guess that the tree stump is around 8 - 10 feet tall. When someone from the Donner Party felled the tree, either for firewood or to build a shelter, that was the level of the snow at the time.

The net abounds with websites about the Donner Party, here's some you may like to visit :-

About the Donner Party
The Donner Partyby Daniel M. Rosen
Historic Truckee Donner
New Light on the Donner Party

The Eastland :-

In November 1999 I found myself in Chicago with time to spare before I visited Patty in Terre Haute. Walking along the waterfront we came across a plaque that described that on Saturday 24th July 1915, the excursion steamer Eastland was taking on passengers. At 7.28am with 2,572 people on board, the ship, still tied to the dock, capsized. 844 people died making it Chicago's worst ever disaster.

Chicago Public Library

Eastland Disaster Historical Society

The Eastland Distaster of 1915

The Edmund Fitzgerald :-

In 1976, Gordon Lightfoot produced a song called "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". It's a haunting song, telling the story of the sinking of a ship and the death of her crew. It was years before I was able to find the story behind the song.

In 1958, when she was launched, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald was the largest iron ore ship on the Great Lakes and had the moniker "The Pride of the American Flag". By 1964 she had carried over a million tons of ore across the lakes. On 9th November 1975 she left Superior, Winsconsin with 26,000 tons of cargo heading for Detroit, Michigan. At 7pm the National Weather Service issued a gale warning for Lake Superior.

Around 3pm on 10th November she radioed that she had "a fence rail down, two vents lost or damaged and a list". Later that afternoon she reported that she "had a bad list, had lost both radars, and was taking heavy seas over the deck in one of the worst seas he had ever been in." Her Master, Captain McSorely was a seasoned sailor of the Great Lakes with 44 years of experience.

Around 7pm she radioed that "We are holding our own". Shortly after she disappeared off of the radar screens.

On November 10, 1975 the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior. All 29 crew members died. At the time, it was the worst shipping disaster on the Great Lakes in 11 years.

The Edmund Fitzgerald

The Great Lakes and Seaway Shipping

Restoration of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald Bell

The Sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald

SS Edmund Fitzgerald Online

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

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This page created 1st October 2001, last modified 27th April 2005

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