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Serenade to the Big Bird

10 Jul

By Bert Stiles, 1952

“It was summer and there was war all over the world. There was war in Normandy and Italy and plenty of war in Russia. The war was going on in the islands and in the sky over Japan. The only war I knew about personally was the air war from England.”

I had never heard of this book until it was mentioned in a discussion on Facebook about war books; the spur for the discussion was a mother, a friend of mine, despairing at her son’s wish to join the armed forces, and his fascination with war.

I have read many books about the air war in Europe (Clostermann ) – but I had never heard of Bert Stiles.

This book is a first-hand narrative and as such has similarities with many others. The intensity of battle, the loss of friends, the poetry of flying, the peacefulness of the English countryside on days off. The feeling of brotherhood with other airmen, also with those of the enemy. This book has very little, if any, machismo, and all the more sadness and wonderment at the utility and futility of it all. Women also have a prominent place – not as warriors, but as objects of love and lust, and the book has a very frank and clear-eyed chapter about wartime prostitution – “Piccadilly Commandoes”. Stiles also sketches his relationships with dames he has known, and devotes several short chapters to a “Doll  Named August”. One wonders if she ever read the memoir, which was published by his mother, by the way.

Bert Stiles is a very sensitive soul, and a writing soul. He brings his typewriter with him to England, that is clear from the inventory of the room he shares with his pilot Sam (“are you cold?” – “no, I’m Sam”). He never mentions the act of writing in his memoir , so we are left to work out for ourselves that he must have used his resting time to write, maybe after interrogations, after chow, before drinking and sleeping and “being woked” for the next show. From Wikipedia we can learn that before he became a co-pilot, he was already a writer. He writes very well, too!

Stiles devotes space to reflect on the people who will be killed by the bombs he drops, and it’s clear that his feelings are conflicted; his vision for the future is one in which all humans will come together in the one element that they have in common, their humanity.

“Maybe boundary lines have their uses, and tariffs and visas and all the other barriers built up by men on the ground, but the air flows smoothly over all of them and from 20,000 it is pretty hard to see them or any very good reasons for them”.


Jens Munk by Thorkild Hansen

28 Dec

So I finally finished my copy of Jens Munk by Thorkild Hansen. It´s been sitting in our cabin for many years and I have been reading it on and off. It´s been taking its time not because it´s a bad book, on the contrary: it´s a great book. And that’s one reason why I wanted to write this little blog post. The book came out in 1965 and it also published in English – at least I think so!


Thorkild Hansen has written a gripping biography of Jens Munk. He uses the device of introducing a narrator in the book, “the chronicler”, who represents the author himself. This allows him to write sentences like “at this point the chronicler imagines.. since sources are missing” and so on; a nice literary touch. Hansen creates a dramatic tension which runs through the entire book – the conflict between the noble families in Denmark and Munk himself, with the King Christian IV on the sideline. The King is the arbiter of power, but his room for manoeuvring is limited by the constraints of the nobility. Jens Munk has inherited his father´s conflict with the latter group, and this keeps blocking him from achieving the status in society which his actions should have gained for him. He plays a central role in many significant military and commercial events of his time, and travels from “Bahia de todos los Santos” in Brazil (Salvador) to the White Sea and to Hudson bay.

The book itself is book-ended by the voyage to Hudson bay, starting with the scene in June 1620, Pentecost, when Jens writes his testament, finishing with the words “Hermed All verden god Nat og min Sjæl i Guds Haand” (with this good night to all the world and my soul in the hand of God). Of his crew of 64, 2 are left alive next to himself. Scurvy has killed the rest at their winter camp at the mouth of the Churchill river, in the southern part of Hudson bay. The three manage to float the smallest of the vessels, “Lamprenen”, and sail it to Bergen on the west coast of Norway, at that time part of the kingdom of Denmark-Norway. A feat reminiscent of Shackleton´s crossing of the South Atlantic from Elephant Island to the South Georgia Island (another great book  – “Endurance”).

The Hudson bay voyage is Munk´s main legacy, but Thorkild Hansen manages to spin a vivid and colourful story all along Munk´s lifeline, in the process giving light and sound and smell to Denmark and the many other places Munk visited in this lifetime. Scathing irony is reserved for the King and the nobility; sympathy goes to the common man who lives, dreams, suffers and dies.

Looking back, it´s literally incredible what travel was possible in those days, though the cost in terms of human life was enormous. It´s also obvious that the limited equipment meant that sea travel almost exclusively took place in the summer half of the year.

Finally, the ship “Scoubynacht” figures in this book, and that gave birth to the name of this blog.

Why NPfIT failed

30 Oct

Good article

Woland's cat

(from Campion-Awwad, Hayton, Smith and Vuaran, 2014)

Below is my list of reasons why I think NPfIT failed. NPfIT was the NHS National Programme for IT in health, starting in 2002, with Richard Grainger appointed as NHS IT director. A timeline is published here. NPfIT is generally conceded to have spent £10.7bn by the government in 2013, when it was definitively shutdown. Claims have been made that slightly more than this was delivered in value. Realistic analyses such as the one linked to from the image at the top of this post show that the realised benefits are miniscule. Right now, the benefits for ‘Choose and Book’ can probably also be written off, as it is no longer generally used. I would guess the only benefits that those in the industry would agree were actually realised are N3, the secure NHS network and possibly NHS mail. The Spine supplies…

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Broen på Kolsås

7 Oct

I Heggelikroken på Kolsås, der turstien begynner, der gartneriet i sin tid stod, går en bro over bekken.


Vi ser den og undres over hva en slik vakker bro gjør akkurat her? Den leder fra en gruslagt plass inn på en velholdt plen i en privat hage, og er bygget med gamle jernbanesviller og et vakkert smijernsrekkverk. Broen er svært dekorativ, javel, men inviterer til en trafikk som det verken er grunnlag for eller ønske om! Den er en slags bro til ingensteds – har jeg tenkt.

I dag snakket jeg med broens opphavsmann. Da hans datter var liten, for mer enn 40 år siden, bygget han den første broen for at hun lettere skulle kunne være sammen med gartnerens hjertesyke datter. Den opprinnelige broen var noe enklere, men fylte sin rolle. Den hjertesyke jenta døde på operasjonsbordet da hun var omlag 12 år gammel.

En ny bro ble bygget noe senere; kanskje et flott smijernsrekkverk dukket opp hos en skraphandler og sådde frøet til nyskapningen.

For den som kjenner dens historie står den der som et minnesmerke over gammelt vennskap .

Trip to Stockholm with ABUK 2018

4 Oct

Potato holiday in Norway – off to Stockholm with ABUK, the “Asker and Bærum Youth Winds” – with the odd musician from Oslo, and even Italy. ABUK offers young adults aged 13-18 the possibility to play at a more advanced level than that afforded by the school bands that are their main affiliation. (cont below photos)


We travelled by train and stayed at the Zinkensdamm. This is a hostel of sorts located in a quiet part of Södermalm. No frills, no thrills, but well run and cheap. Perfect for us, and the nearest McFlurry was less than ten minutes away!

I really enjoyed Skansen and the ABBA museum, for similar reasons: nostalgia, and down to earth Swedishness. ABBA has been part of my life since I was about 8 or 9, when “Mamma Mia” came out. “Knowing me Knowing you” was the soundtrack to my visits to Tromsø and the Kroken downhill slope with its lift that was forever breaking down and its poorly maintained “pistes”. The interviews with Annifrid and Agneta stood out. One self-possessed and sure of herself, the other much less so. I went back and looked at the photos. You can see it all the way. “Arrival”, “The Album” – I bought them myself, and “Fernando” on 45rpm, played it to bits. Last night I hooked the Mac to my old hifi and turned up the volume on Knowing me – knowing you from Spotify. Listen to the bass line – and not just on this one.

Stockholm. Clean, tranquil, uncrowded, polite, cool, efficient, expensive. Imposing buildings, boulevards and squares. Not so cozy; not like Copenhagen, no, not at all. Here it made sense to hum “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty.

The kids. They´re musicians. They don´t have fancy handbags and fancy clothes. And they are probably not the coolest kids in school. But they act like most kids – except as a group they are incredibly easy to manage. And then they have an ace up their sleeve. They unpack their instruments, a particular, focused light comes on in their eyes, and they become an orchestra. Gets me every time.


Loppemarked 2018

24 Sep

Så var det loppis igjen. Sist jeg skrev om det var i 2013 (les!)

Man kan virkelig si MYE om et loppemarked. La meg begynne med et sitat fra en middelaldrende svartkledd kvinne: “Vi er veldig glad i loppemarked. Jeg kommer hit hver gang, og bruker 2-3 tusen. Jeg får ikke så mye for de pengene på Storsenteret, og jeg har seks barn”.

35,35,316,330.631348Det er interessant å se hvor godt en gjeng rutinerte – og hyggelige – korpsforeldre kan jobbe sammen med et minimum av instrukser fra sentralt hold. Det er som en maurtue. Hvert enkelt individ internaliserer sin vesle del av det store hele, og utfører de handlinger som skal til for å nå det felles målet. Subtile signaler fra dronningen styrer det hele på et ubevisst nivå. Og i helgen nådde vi et nytt maksimum av maurtue-het.

Har det hele forandret seg på 10 år? Nei, ikke egentlig. Det var en jevnere etnisk fordeling denne gangen, og litt mindre pruting jevnt over. Det er litt færre platinablondiner som henger på armen til muskuløse menn med kort hår, litt lenger mellom de som virkelig MÅ på loppemarked. Og de samme gjengangerne og de som har loppis som en del av livsstilen, og som kanskje ikke har det så enkelt på alle vis.

Prisnivået har steget svært lite på ti år, og fortjenesten er omtrent som den gangen. Vi har ikke blitt så rike at loppis er irrelevant, men senger og madrasser, som gikk før, de blir liggende.

Vi ses snart.

Ulgueira and view over the Atlantic

6 Jul

Summer holiday 2018 – fly to Lisboa and rent a house in Ulgueira. Here´s a brief report and some suggestions.



We´re about an hour west of Lisboa, in the countryside in the tiniest of villages. The village is very very quiet, and immaculate. Many of the houses are summer residences, and the village seems almost deserted now in early July. The whole area is very quiet, even the beaches, with the exception of the tourist attractions: Lisboa, Sintra, even Cabo de Roca, the westernmost point on the European continent. It´s walking distance from our house, so we walked there. In the photo above, it´s dusk and quite cold, but all the more scenic.

The house is fabulous. Spacious, well kitted out, and made of beautiful materials. Just look at the tiled floor.

We try out the different beaches. Praia das Macas has a large pool, seawater and all. We were about the only guests on this particular day!

Praia do Guincho is “the best” and also wildest, and must be very crowded at peak season. When we were there, it was very roomy indeed.

Sintra is very fascinating. It´s good to read up on it before going – we didn´t. It´s good to avoid walking up to the palaces, since there is a lot of traffic on the one-way lane. We walked up … a Tuk-Tuk might be a good choice. Also try the railway from Praia das Macas; it´s a museum piece, but it works.

It´s worth taking a trip to the Santuário do Peninha, a few kms away from Ulgueira. The view from up there is excellent.

Food. In Malveira there is a well-stocked Spar supermarket, it has all you need, and a pharmacy across the road. As for restaurants, we tried Tamariz in Estoril – very erratic service, but lovely spot, and very stylish. At the opposite end of the scale, Sisudo in Almocageme. Highly recommended. Same goes for Adega do Coelho. Very authentic.

Do walk towards the beach and clifftops. Just go straight ahead and you can´t really miss it. The scenery is magnificent, and the sheer drops vertigo-inducing. Small kids – best held by the hand. We saw a fisherman fishing directly from the cliff-top into the sea 100 metres below.

Lisboa – fascinating and still unspoilt, but mass tourism is changing it fast. Lots of traffic…

And finally, the Portuguese. Very very friendly and excellent English. Hats off.