Teen Working In Lunatic Asylum – Sadness. Part 1

One of the many holiday jobs I had while I was a young student was as a Ward Orderly in a mental hospital, which was without a doubt the most depressing and enlightening jobs I ever had.

I saw an ad asking for students who wanted holiday work to apply to a nearby lunatic asylum, and as the wages were reasonable and they didn’t want any particular skills or experience, I thought it was worth a try.

So I duly went to the hospital, found the relevant official and signed on for the duration of my holidays.   All seemed well, but I should perhaps have become a wee bit suspicious on being asked to sign something called The Official Secrets Act, in which I promised – on pain of death apparently – never to discuss or write about anything I saw or heard whilst working in this hospital.

As you will now see, I have decided that I am no longer frightened by what the British Government might do to me if I discuss that job – not that I am aware of doing anything much that could be counted as an “official Secret”.

So, there I was, on the start of my first shift, waiting nervously to be taken to the ward I would be working in for my time at the hospital.   The office I had to report to was at the front of the asylum, and all was clean, cheerful colours and paintings on the walls.. nurses wore clean uniforms and all seemed very organised and peaceful.   Little did I know!!

I was duly taken in hand by one of the staff, signed that secrets act, given a couple of gigantic cast iron keys and led off to the back section of the asylum.    The further back we went, the worse things became.   The cheerful colours of the front gave way to a dirty and shiny green colour on all the walls, no more paintings on the walls, and the nurses were much less appealing.. being mostly large and rather fierce looking men in somewhat stained and rumpled uniforms.

Also we went through what I later discovered was the section of the hospital reserved for women patients, numbers of whom were wandering around in the corridors, or curled up in odd positions against the walls.   Frankly they terrified me, as they really did look insane.    Wild eyes, wild hair and filthy clothes.

Continue reading “Teen Working In Lunatic Asylum – Sadness. Part 1”

Donald Trump – Back To 1933 It Seems

Having spent the last months watching in some amazement how the USA seems to be effectively giving Donald Trump all the support he needs in order to become President, and also having watched the slow but orchestrated development of a more and more Nazi approach to his way of doing things I am becoming deeply concerned.

For many years I was fascinated by the history of the rise and fall of the Nazi Party in Germany, and was particularly revolted by the rise of the SA who were effectively the Nazi Party’s bouncers.  And I have noted the rise of a similar body of men around Donald Trump as well.


When he started to have his huge rallies, it was perfectly safe to go there as an obvious opponent of his “ideas”, and no one seemed to be in fear of being beaten up or killed for openly disagreeing with him.   This has now passed, and it is increasingly dangerous to be anywhere near any gathering of Trump supporters if you obviously disagree with his ideas, or belong to one of the groups he has decided are enemies of his vision of the USA.

Continue reading “Donald Trump – Back To 1933 It Seems”

How Countries Raise Their Flag – Odd

In my travels around the world I have noticed that every country has it own way of raising their national flag, and I thought it might be fun to have a brief look at some of them here.  Not to make any special points about the sense or nonsense of the idea of national flags or any such thing, merely because some of the ways it is done are downright funny to watch, and other boring, and a few, a very few, deeply impressive.

In order to show you these variations, I have plundered the vaults of Youtube (Oh I so love Youtube!!!) and found some superb examples of the differing approaches to this simply, but apparently very important ceremony.

So here goes.

First we have the extremely low key approach apparently adopted in the USA.  March up to the flag pole, unfold the flag, tie it on, pull it up and go home for a cup of coffee….

Next we have a video showing how the Mexicans go about raising their national flag.   This is a very impressive affair.   To start with they seem to have probably the largest flag in the world, it is gigantic, and is brought on-stage rolled up so it looks like an enormous anaconda, carried by a number of military cops.

We are also treated to a range of demonstrations of how silly the world’s military is when it comes to ways of walking about.  Makes the Monty Python Ministry of Silly walks seem tame and dull by comparison.  Here we have “normal” marching, a sort of economy sized goose step and also a sort of jerky and happily syncopated slightly stiff legged marching.   And all of this to the accompaniment of a death march beat on the snare drums.

Continue reading “How Countries Raise Their Flag – Odd”

Xin Jiang – Riding Camels In The Taklamakan Desert

After we had safely regained Kashgar after our wanderings up to and back from the glacier (see earlier post on this topic – link below).   We decided to go wandering on our own (my wife Lotty, and I) for the rest of our summer break from our work in Beijing.   So to this end, we thought it might be pleasant to start off by taking a camel trip into the Taklamakan Desert which was right next to Kashgar.

Like most people outside China, we had never heard of this desert, even though it is one of the largest sand deserts in the world, at some 130 000 square miles in size (337 000 square kilometers), so we were interested to have a look at it while we were there.

So we hunted up a company who organised camel trips into the desert, made all the necessary arrangements, and took off by car to the starting point of our epic journey into this huge desert.

By the way, they had only just built a road across it a couple of years earlier, and no one much had crossed it yet.   Also the Chinese used it for their atomic bomb testing apparently…  Ho hum.

And of course, the famous Silk Road went around it too, one arm going to the north of it, the other going around the western edge.   We, to be different, intended to go straight into it, and see what happened..

We arrived at the setting off point, which turned out to be a sort of bus station on the edge of the desert. A simple building with a glass roof, long rows of plastic chairs and a short length of road outside it.  And beyond that, a vista of enormous sand dunes, so we couldn’t see very far into the desert.   Just enough to whet our appetites.  Oh and of course a lot of disdainful looking Bactrian camels (the sort with two humps).



Continue reading “Xin Jiang – Riding Camels In The Taklamakan Desert”

A Couple Of Teacher’s Resource Offerings

Occasionally I get overwhelmed by a desire to help teachers – probably owing to the fact that my mother was a teacher, and my wife is a teacher.  When this hits me,  I simply go with it and see if I can find anything that might be a help.

So today’s offering will take the form of several static images that I feel might spark off a stream of creative writing, a curious and powerful video that might equally give rise to some ideas worth putting on paper, and as the cream on the cake, a piece of music that will assuredly get under your skin and make it unavoidable that your students will be moved into a totally different plane of experience when they hear it… and thus cause them to produce such flights of fantasy that you will be astounded.  Or at least that is my fervent hope.

So let us begin with the static images.   I have selected three types in the hope that one at least will give your students the start they need to create a story that will take off and be fun to read and consider…..


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Camels – Pamir Mountains – Joys of Xin Jiang

One holiday while we were working in Beijing it was decided that we would go and have a look at Xin Jiang Province – the most northern and westerly of China’s provinces.   In case you have never heard of Xin Jiang (nor had we!) it lies in the top corner of China, nestling against Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and a load of other Stans.   And was the part of China where the Silk first entered China.  It is also an area inhabited by a race of people called Uigars, who are not Chinese, but of Turkish descent, and who speak a language that is nearer to Turkish than Chinese.

It is also an area that is Muslim, and at that time (2008) not in any real way involved with Islamic fundamentalism, but owing to the idiotic actions of the Chinese government, it was rapidly become so – sadly.

Anyhow, we were not bothered with such matters, simply wishing to have a look at the place and walk around in it.

To which end we went to Kashgar, a city that at that time was an enchanting mix of mud houses in winding little streets, amazing markets and generally appealing aspect.   Full of friendly Uigars selling tea and snacks in delightful street cafes and such like.  Amazing food too of course.  An intriguing mix of Arab and Chinese cuisine and to finish it off properly, the one remaining statue of Mao in China, an enormous one too, about 18 meters tall and for some inexplicable reason seems to be giving a Hitler salute.


So, once we had arrived there, and spent a couple of days wandering around and enjoying this really  fine small city, it was time to head off to the Pamir mountains where we had arranged to go for a long walk up to a glacier at about 5500 meters above sea level.

This was my first sight of Central Asia, and I was at once knocked out by the sweeping shape of the landscape that had been formed by the advancing and retreating glaciers during the various Ice Ages.  That wondrous collection of gentle curves that are so typical of such landscapes, much the same as in the Scottish Highlands and similar places, pleased me no end.


We drove for hours along the river valley in the bottom of one such smooth channel with the very shallow, but wide and winding river beside the road as we went along, slowly getting higher and higher, which given that the altitude of Kashgar is already pretty high at about 1300 meters,  I began to wonder if I might have perhaps been a bit silly in going directly from Beijing, which is about 50 meters above sea level to such a hight.    However all seemed well, and no signs of altitude sickness made themselves apparent.

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Tanks – Fascinating Beasts

When I was much younger, I was obsessed by tanks – the military sort, not water tanks.   I mentioned this in another post (link) as the reason I found myself working as a modelmaker in Amsterdam for many years.

To begin with my interest was sparked by the animal like quality of these machines, rather than the destructive potential they represented all too well,   If you watch a tank moving around in the forest or mud, with all its crew safely locked up inside it, they have a seriously animal like quality about them.  Obviously the animals they most resemble are dinosaurs, the larger ones who presumably also ignored such minor things as trees, smaller dinosaurs and so forth as they went about their daily business.

Like dinosaurs, tanks seem to be totally indifferent to the sort of country they are moving around in, be it mud, dust, forest, fields or whatever, all the same to them, as it must have been to the larger types of dinosaur I imagine.

This short video of a bunch of tanks training gives you perhaps an idea of what it is I mean.

If you can watch this video without thinking about the men inside those large machines, but simply watch how they move, lurching around, pushing through bushes and so on then I think you will see what I mean.

Here to give you a better idea of what I mean, are a bunch of dinosaurs doing their thing…  the similarity must be obvious to you.

While I was still trying to be a sculptor, roughly between the ages of 19 to 25, I sent a lot of time attempting to get this huge animal quality of tanks into my sculptures, creating truck loads of closed steel boxes that moved around in a blind but assured fashion, but none of them satisfied me, as inevitably they were relatively small, and both tanks and dinosaurs typically weigh in at around 20 to 60 tones – rather larger than I could manage with my limited financial and physical means. Continue reading “Tanks – Fascinating Beasts”

A Modelmaker In Amsterdam

In which we settle down in Amsterdam – I start to make models. Water Rat Models is born.

For many years I had a hobby, which was making model tanks.   I have long had a fascination with tanks, not as killing machines, but more as a sort of mechanised dinosaur.  There is something curiously animal like about tanks, the way they can go anywhere they want, the way they move, are immensely powerful and when moving in battle order, all buttoned up, there is no indication that they are actually under the control of a human being.. They have a life of their own.

Anyhow, I had made hundreds of models of these beasts, and a friend of mine, Tim knew of this hobby of mine, so when a Dutch architect he worked for ran into problems with his normal model maker, Tim suggested that I might like to have a go at finishing the model house that the model-maker had started but not finished.

As we needed money, I felt that it would at least be worth giving it a go, and so it happened.  I was given the half finished model, and set about finishing it.

The model that started it all……..

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Face Swap – Deeply Disturbing Images

I don’t know if you have noticed a rather disturbing new activity on-line, especially in places such as Facebook, and that is the “art” of Face Swapping.   Basically this takes the form of taking a photo of two or more people or animals and using a program such as Photoshop, swapping the faces over, so you end up with, for example, a photo of a man and his baby, in which the adult body has the face of the baby, and the baby’s body has the face of the adult, as in this example here…..


You see what I mean about it being rather disturbing?

I first saw this idea when a series of beautifully executed images of Rowan Atkinson appeared on-line, in which his face had been placed in a number of famous art works, such as this example below.


Normally there have to be two bodies in the image, so that one can see that it is in fact a swap, but obviously in the case of Rowan Atkinson, his face is so well known that the second body is not needed,

One might assume the same rule applies when dealing with well known public figures, such as Donald Trump in this one, but the maker of this image obviously felt safer with the cat in the image as well……………..


Neither of them have pleasant faces… a grumpy looking Trump and a downright nasty looking cat…  Oh well.

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Joep Bertrams – Dutch Political Cartoonist

There are various types of cartoonists who work for newspapers depicting the political events of the day.  Those who draw gentle, unconfronting cartoons and those who go for the jugular and force us to look closely at the nastier aspects of our political lives.

Joep Bertrams, a Dutch cartoonist is definitely in the second type of political cartoonist, his drawings are savage, to the point and brilliant (in both senses of the word).  The cartoon that won him the Inktspotprijs 2014-2015 prize ( a prize that is given in Holland for the best political cartoon of the year) is fairly typical of his style of working.   As you will see, it was his reaction to the murderous attacks on the Charlie Hebdo office last year, and as I said, is straight to the point.

So here is that carton to give you a taste of how he works.


The title by the way of this cartoon is “Onsterfelijk” which is Dutch for “immortal”, and seems to me to be pretty clear in its intentions.

His style is both clean and colourful, carefully drawn and utterly clear in its meaning.  He has a great ability to cut through the rubbish around any given issue and produce a clear and to the point cartoon that somehow encapsulates his thoughts on a topic extremely clearly.

To illustrate these points, here are a couple more of his cartoons, and I suspect you will have no difficulty in guessing what they are all about.

Continue reading “Joep Bertrams – Dutch Political Cartoonist”