Mount Fuji: The Right Place at the Right Moment

Sunset on Mount Fuji, Japan, November 2007

Sunset on Mount Fuji, Japan, November 2007

I took this photograph of the sun setting on Mount Fuji as we were flying towards Osaka, in November 2007.

Looking back on my life, there have been several occasions where something happened to me that was simply the result of being “in the right place at the right time”. These occurrences were not the result of any great skill or prescience on my part. This photograph was one such instance.

As a Flight Attendant, my wife Mary typically worked flights to Japan, and occasionally I was able to accompany her on those flights. For me, it was a short vacation to a fascinating place.

Mary elected to work a flight to Osaka over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2007, and I went with her. We spent an enjoyable few days there and avoided all the travel hassles in the USA.

As we were approaching Osaka to land, the sun was setting. I happened to look out of the airplane window, and saw the view in the photograph above. It was hazy, but the low rays of the sun were just breaking through and catching the top of the volcano. I’ve never seen Mount Fuji like that again!

Toji Temple, Kyoto, 2007

Toji Temple, Kyoto, 2007

During our stay in Osaka on that occasion, we made a special journey to the grounds of Toji Temple, Kyoto, to visit a flea market. Mary wanted to buy a bead from Japanese beadmaker Akiko Isono, who had a regular stall at the market, and that was exactly what she did.


The Ambivalence of Easter


Scarborough from Cumboots Brow, Easter 1977

Scarborough from Cumboots Brow, Easter 1977

Easter occurs this weekend, although the event has almost zero importance for me now that I live in California. On reflection, the decline in its significance seems remarkable, given that Easter was, and still is, a national holiday in Britain, and holds many ambivalent memories for me from the days when I lived there.

The photograph above shows my birth town, Scarborough, on a beautiful day during Easter, 1977. My color slide was taken from the curiously-named Cumboots Brow, and displays a vista over lush farmland to the suburban village of Scalby, then Scarborough Castle headland beyond that, and finally the North Sea on the horizon.

In terms of positive memories of Easter, as a kid, I naturally looked forward to the break from school offered by the Easter vacation, and also to the abundance of Easter eggs, hot cross buns, and similar treats.

On the negative side, the Christian Easter festival, which was supposedly what was being commemorated, brings back memories of its absurd and macabre claims, which teachers at our schools drilled into us. In my case, I had the misfortune to have to attend a Church of England School for a couple of years, where such superstitious nonsense was particularly rife, but in Britain even state schools promoted the religious agenda to a lesser extent.

Is Easter Christian or Pagan?

Is Easter a religious festival, or merely a celebration of Spring? Should it or shouldn’t it be an official holiday for everyone?

Most people in Britain seem to take it for granted (as I did before emigrating) that Easter should be a recognized holiday.

Conversely, when I talk to people in California about it, they often seem puzzled that it should be recognized as a secular holiday at all.

People sometimes seem surprised when I remind them that, unlike the USA, Britain has no “separation of church and state”. Indeed, England has an official state religion (Church of England Christianity), the bishops of which still sit unelected in the House of Lords. Few people in Britain seem to see any problem in having a Christian festival as a national holiday, even though the vast majority now practice no religion at all and are de facto atheists, whatever they choose to call themselves.

But what actually is being celebrated? After all, the term “Easter” has a pagan origin, in that it is derived from the name of a goddess named Ēostre. Is it not really just a celebration of the Springtime renewal of life? As I recall, that inconvenient reality seemed to reemerge frequently. For example, at the state school, we were instructed to create Easter cards, but thankfully it was specified that these should feature eggs and chicks, instead of a man nailed to a wooden cross.

At the church school, the priests insisted that, despite its morbid associations, their Easter festival was supposed to be a “victory” over death rather than a wallowing in the gory details. Even as a child, it struck me that their resurrection story made no sense. Those adults insisted that their leader had physically risen from the dead. When we questioned the current whereabouts of this Jesus who had supposedly “conquered death” and thus must obviously still be living somewhere, we were told that we couldn’t meet this immortal individual in the flesh because he had somehow “gone up to heaven”. But we already knew that “going up to heaven” was just a euphemism for dying, so is he supposed to be dead or alive?

Easter in Scarborough: the “Season” Begins

Easter had a more practical significance for me during my schooldays because, in Scarborough, in the 1970s (and perhaps even now), the weekend marked the start of “the Season”, when tourists began arriving for vacations in the town following the winter shutdown. Typically, the major influx of tourists occurred from Easter to September each year.

For a few years during the 1970s, my parents owned the “West Lodge Guest House”, which they opened to guests each Easter. That building is still open as a hotel today. I took the photo below during a visit to Scarborough in 2006.

West Lodge Guest House in 2006

West Lodge Guest House in 2006

Easter: Goodbye to All That

Until I wrote this article, it hadn’t occurred to me that emigrating to California freed me to enjoy the positive aspects of Easter, revolving around the Springtime rebirth of life, without all the baggage of the macabre and primitive religious connotations.

It’s just one more good thing to celebrate…

Location of the Heading Photograph

Due to tree growth since 1977, it seems that it may be difficult to reproduce the view at the head of this article now. Here is the latest Google Streetview image.


The Daily Mash has just weighed in with a report about Easter!

Happy Valentine’s Day

Arrival at the Hotel Château Gütsch

Arrival at the Hotel Château Gütsch

Happy Valentine’s Day, Mary! I’m looking forward to more great times with you, the best friend I’ve ever had! I love you.

The photo above was taken in 1998, when we’d just arrived the Hotel Château Gütsch, in Lucerne, Switzerland. Below is the view of the city from the hotel; truly a spectacular place!

Lucerne from the Hotel Château Gütsch

Lucerne from the Hotel Château Gütsch

Our Twenty-sixth Wedding Anniversary

Cutting the Cake, 1991

Cutting the Cake, 1991

Today was our Twenty-sixth Wedding Anniversary. I feel incredibly lucky to have found Mary, who really has stuck with me through “thick and thin”. Mary changed my life, for the better, in ways that I had never even hoped for. The two of us have many great memories to look back on, and hopefully many more enjoyable years to look forward to!

The photo shows us cutting our cake at Star’s, in San Francisco, on January 9th, 1991. We chose the date because we thought it would be easy to remember, and I don’t think that either of us has ever forgotten it!

Thank you for everything, Mary! I love you.

Happy New Year 2017

Birmingham Town Hall, January 1981

Birmingham Town Hall, January 1981

Happy New to everyone for 2017!

In January, 1981, I visited Birmingham, UK, for an interview at Aston University. The photo above shows Birmingham Town Hall on a frosty and slightly snowy morning. The Town Hall is obviously a neo-classical design, and is based on the temple of Castor & Pollux in Rome.

Aston had in fact already made me an unconditional offer of acceptance, but I asked to attend for an interview anyway, to see what the campus was like. As it turned out, of course, I went to Imperial College, London, rather than Aston. Nonetheless, Aston was the first university to give me a “vote of confidence” at a time when many were shaking their heads about my prospects.

A Seasonal “Throwback”

robin_sharp300_7x5v2cI chose a seasonal theme for today’s “Throwback Thursday” image. This was our Christmas card artwork for 2012.

I took the photograph when I was exploring the remains of the never-completed Brockley Hill Tube Station, in London, in October 2012. The bird was sitting in a bush in what’s now known as the “Arches Field”.

It had never occurred to me before then that robins are popular subjects for Christmas cards only in Britain. When I was a kid, my parents received many cards featuring robins every year, and I even have the remains of one such card (dating from the 1960s) today, because I later “repurposed” it for use in one of my own drawing books.

The American Robin is a different bird species, of course, but you’ll rarely see an American card featuring any kind of robin (cardinals are actually more popular as subjects, although we don’t have those in California).

The British penchant for associating robins with Christmas  had been noticed by the New Scientist magazine, which published an article about it 56 years ago today: Robins for Christmas.

Season’s Greetings to everyone!

A Long-Forgotten Detail Rediscovered

david_xmastreerailway_croppedcrightFor the holiday season, here’s a slightly different “throwback” article.

When I was two years old, my parents bought me my first (clockwork) train set. The photo above, from Christmas 1963, shows me with everything set up under the Christmas tree, in the living room of our house in Scarborough.

Much later, the original train set developed into a “model railway” layout, which was permanently set up in the conservatory of our house. Although I was perhaps lucky that we had space for such a layout at all, a conservatory certainly wasn’t the ideal environment for it, since it was cold and very damp in winter, and exposed to direct sunlight in summer. As a result, the layout deteriorated to the point of unusability after a few years.

One summer evening, probably in 1973, I discovered that my father was taking photographs of the layout. At the time, I wished that he had let me know his plans beforehand, so that I’d have had a chance to “tidy up” the details as best I could. As it turned out, the photographs also left something to be desired! Nonetheless, two of those photos have survived in monochrome print form, and are now the only remaining record of my efforts. The photo below shows a closeup of part of the layout.

A portion of my falling-apart model railway, in 1973

A portion of my disintegrating model railway, in 1973

Most of the buildings shown were plastic or cardboard kits produced by Tri-ang, Playcraft, Superquick and other manufacturers.

One prominent item in the photo is the rather wonky-looking water tower (towards the bottom right), which was one of my earliest attempts at “scratch-building”. I used thin cardboard and Superquick “brick paper”, but I had no plans and just created the building’s walls “on the fly”. The initial result wasn’t too bad, but the flimsy cardboard construction couldn’t survive the climatic extremes in our conservatory, so, by the time the photos were taken, the structure was warped and was falling apart.

The posters for Beefex and Kelloggs on the sides of the water tank were hand-drawn by me. Both were real products, of course, except that I misspelled Kelloggs with only one “g”! I’d also decided to depict one of the posters peeling off the wall, which was a detail I knew I’d seen in real life somewhere years before.

I couldn’t remember where I’d seen the peeling poster, and I certainly never expected to see that real-life example again.

I was astonished therefore when, decades later, I was thumbing through a recently-published book on the Hull & Scarborough railway, and there in the book was a photo of the old water tank at Bridlington Station, with a Martini poster on the side, one corner of which is peeling! The image below is a partial scan, showing the relevant detail.

Railway Water Tank at Bridlington Station, c.1965

Railway Water Tank at Bridlington Station, c.1965

The photo in the book isn’t dated, but the Martini slogan in the poster was in use around 1964, so I probably saw it a few years after that. The only other mistake I’d made was to have the corner of the poster defying gravity, by peeling up from the bottom corner, instead of down from the top!