The Snail Trail

Musings about wanderings

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Analogue Day 27JUL19

On Sunday I decided to have an Analogue Day. The concept of a Digital Sabbath, one day a week free from screens and the Internet has been floating around for a while and I’ve recently become more and more concerned with the amount of attention that the tech companies have been draining from me. Thinking about the millions of Dollars and vast numbers of engineers all working to create that perfect Skinner box vs me with one brain and a limited amount of will power, I have begun to think that this is something of an unequal battle.

And it is a battle that I feel I have been losing recently. The behavioral analysis engines of these sites have me to a T and know just what to do to get me to click on one more link. And one more. And one more. Ad infinitum till hours have passed and all good intentions have gone out the window.

If I’m honest, it doesn’t really bring me any happiness or any sense of contentment. Rather the feeling that I could have done something but “chose” to squander the time instead.

Further exacerbating this feeling is that fact that I’ve been reading the book “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” By Shoshana Zuboff. This is an increasingly terrifying book about the how we have reached this position and where it might go. The Internet giants trade on collection of our on-line behaviors and for now use it to serve ads. But the direction of travel is much more concerning. There is a desire on their part to modify behavior, to guarantee converting that passing interest in a product to a sale. This is something like the death of free will.

Then there is the manipulation of users. There have been a number of minor scandals where Facebook has performed experiments in the name of “science” (read commerce).

All this leads me to want to cut down, to spend that time more creatively. The challenge is doing so. And that requires willpower.

When thinking about willpower, there are two considerations. First is that it is like a muscle and can be built up with each decision See it like dead-lifting for the mind. Start with small weights and ramp up as strength increases.

The second is that raw willpower alone does not work. The tank drains and it is too easy to fall back to old habits. The secret is to replace what you want to change with something you desire more. See the trade-off and make the substitution and make small decisions.

And as each decision is made it becomes easier to make the next and the one after that. I wrote the first draft of this long hand with pen and paper while sipping on some of Wittards finest peppermint tea.

So for me, Analogue Day was born. This is a day where I can make small decisions to not use the Internet or social media and instead do something in the analogue world. The idea is that I switch off, log out and reduce screen time to a mimimum. I look up from the screen to a wider horizon and choose from a wider set of possible passtimes.

This could be going for a walk, writing a blog post (on paper), making music, choosing a CD to listen to and going through that ritual or just spending time existing in the real world and recharging the batteries. I create value for myself rather than just consuming and being someone elses raw material. I can then look back at the end of the day and feel that I have acomplished something.

So Analogue Day is a time to look outside of the digital world and spend time with real friends and a real path beneath my feet and a real sky overhead. And time to remember that I am a real person, not a just a collection of behaviors to be analyzed and sold to. 

Summer Holiday 2019

Summer time rolled around again and it was time to pack up the van and head south. Had quite a trip planned with many museum visits to do and a some dancing to be done as well.

Blackpool 29JUN

As luck would have it, 4 The Love Of Dance were running a salsa night at the Blackpool Tower Ballroom and it was on my way south so there was a night’s stop a the Blackpool South Caravan & Motorhome Club Site.

The sun was out as I hit the road and after a quick pit stop for supplies it was onto the A74(m) and M6 south. The camper van is really good when sitting on the motorway, in 6th gear at 70mph the engine is just ticking over and there is a smooth and comfortable ride just eating up the miles.

Three and a half hours later, I was at the campsite and pitched up. The weather was getting hotter and more humid and there were spots of rain. There had a been a purchase of shorts when I got the provisions and there was a quick change before I tried to get my head down for a couple of hours disco nap before the dancing. This didn’t really work due to the heat and the light so I got changed and got a taxi into town after dinner. I like to get a bit dressed up for these big nights out but I was thinking that my choice of suit was going to be something I regretted by the end of the night.

The dancing was a joy as usual. A couple of lessons to start with and then a few hours of social dancing with people from all over the country. There were a few folk that I recognised but by and large, this is a chance to meet and dance with people I don’t meet day to day. The Tower Ballroom is an iconic venue to go dancing in and everyone seems to be up for making it a good night. Something about the opulent surroundings makes the evening special.

Left about midnight at the point when my legs were falling off. As predicted, my choice of wearing a suit was not a good one in the heat.

Birmingham 30JUN – 2JUL

Despite all the dancing and getting to bed late ( for me anyway ), I was awake at stupid ‘o’ clock the next morning. With no prospect of getting any more sleep in the heat and with the sun getting ever higher in the sky, I was up, fed, showered and broke camp by 8am. My next port of call was Chapel Lane site in Birmingham but first there was a stop.

Just slightly out of my was was RAF Cosworth and the RAF museum there. This is one of the RAF’s two museums and I fancied a visit. I wasn’t disappointed, the museum has a fantastic collection. One hall is full of experimental aircraft including the only complete TSR-2 that I’ve ever seen alongside the prototype Eurofighter. The next hall was some WW2 aircraft but by far the biggest hall was their cold war exhibition. This contained all three of the V Bombers alongside other contemporary aircraft. There were displays containing information about the large events of the period including the Berlin Airlift with some of the transport on display. Very much worth a visit.

From there it was on to Birmingham. I arrived and got pitched up pretty quickly. I’m getting the hang of the new awning and can get it up in about 20 minutes though most of that is banging pegs into the hard standing.

The first full day at the site I got the bus into the city and found that I had lucked out. There was a 50 years of Black Sabbath on at the city museum. The story of Heavy Metal and Black Sabbath are intertwined with the city of Birmingham and this exhibition took you from the beginnings of the band through to when Ozzy left. Highlight was that they’d found quadraphonic mix of Paranoid and were playing it in a specially set up area. I have to see if I can find that on SACD or DVD-A. Plenty of other memorabilia on display including a large number of t-shirts.

Also in the city museum was the Staffordshire Hoard. This is a collection of Anglo-Saxon treasure that was found by a farmer in a field a few years ago and is one of the largest of its type. Again something that I thoroughly enjoyed. The curators had had local jewellers make replicas of the treasure found in the hoard and so it was possible to see how they would look.

Wool, Dorset 2JUL – 5JUL

It was on the move again the next day down the M5 ( after an argument with the Sat Nav ) to Wool in Dorset and the Whitemead caravan site. Lovely independent site though I ended up on a slightly sloping pitch.

The reason for going so far south was another museum visit. In this case the Tank Museum. And this did not disappoint. A huge collection of tanks split over two halls. The first tells the story from the very first though to modern day vehicles and explains how tactics evolved from their first use through the second world war and into the modern day. The second hall had a section set out as a WWI trench system with a Mark 1 tank “attacking”. Very atmospheric and contained a display called Warhorse to Horsepower showing the Cavalry’s move from horseback to tank.

The highlight of the second hall is the Tiger display. A whole section on the myth and reality of the Tigers alongside four of them with two vehicles they would have fought, a T-34 and a Sherman. The Sherman was the one from the movie Fury and was still dressed for the film looking very much like how a tank would have looked at the time.

The bulk of the second hall was WW2 vehicles including some unusual ones. There was a selection of Cold War tanks and a recreation of a forward operating base in Afghanistan. The visit ended with a seat inside the turret of a Chieftain.

Second full day in Dorset I was off the Bournemouth for a relaxing day. The sun was really out and the SPF50 was struggling in the heat and light. But I got a walk along the beach with the warm sand between my toes. And a visit to an art gallery resulted the purchase of a print that will look very nice on my wall.

Tewkesbury Abbey Caravan & Motorhome site 5JUL – 7JUL

On the road again on the Friday and it was turning north to wind my way home. But not before a visit to the Fleet Air Arm Museum. Small but again a well set out and interesting museum. Best section was the Carrier Experience. This was set out as the Ark Royal would have been in the 70s. A full display of a working flight deck using animatronics and video to show the launch and recovery of aircraft. Then a tour through the Island of a carrier to see how that would have worked. And to top it off a Concorde in another one of the halls.

From there it was up to Tewkesbury Abbey site and one of those sites that can flood so everything is on stilts. I got a grass pitch which I’m not so fond of but it makes putting in the pegs so much easier.

The Saturday was a full day in Tewkesbury so first visit was the Abbey and the a wander through the town. I was winding down from my holiday at this point so spent most of the day reading. There was also the first bad weather I’d encountered with some rain in the evening.

And home again 7JUL

Sunday it was up and away as soon as the gates were open. I’d taken down the awning the day before ( dry, yippee ) so there wasn’t much to do but drain the water tanks and hit the road. A clear run, with some road works, meant a relaxing and easy drive home.

A fantastic holiday with good weather and many museum visits. This is one I’ll remember for a while to come.

The Importance of Ritual 15JUN19

I’ve been considering getting a record player and joining the vinyl resurgence. Objectively I don’t need one, all my music is ripped to a NAS drive and I listen through out the house on a Sonos. I still buy CDs but usually the only time they end up in a player is to rip them. And although the loudness wars have taken their toll, digital music is more robust and more pristine.

So what is it about a turntable that I want? I’ve thought about this and I believe that what I’m wanting is the ritual of listening to music.

The digital and streaming revolution has made music so ubiquitous that it has become almost meaningless. I “hear” most of my music as background noise almost. I have it on while I’m working or pottering round the house or driving. Music is not the focus of what I’m doing so I’m not concentrating on it that much. Even now, as I write this in a Starbucks, there is music on but it is in the background.

I feel this is a disservice to the music and something that I have lost. Without concentration there is no connection to the music and it loses its power. When younger I remember listening to albums, entranced by them, straining to hear every note and every subtle texture. Taking great joy in little, almost inaudible phrases. Now a track comes on and I hardly hear it at all.

So the turntable comes in here. Selecting a record to play by flipping through a physical collection, removing it from its sleeve and placing it on the player is a statement of intent. It is a ritual to put one in the mindset of wanting to listen to and concentrate on a piece of music. The ritual is a transition from whatever I was doing to being fully present for what art is to come.

This led on to some wider thinking about the importance of ritual in life. It seems to serve two purposes. As mentioned above it is about transitioning to doing some activity that requires focus. Like going to the gym where the warm up serves to becoming ready for work ahead and the cool down is a full stop on the exercise and time to reflect on what has been achieved.

The other use is to remind ourselves of something, to seek transcendence. Meditation is like this as are most religious ceremonies. An act is performed in a mindful way and through this the underlying meaning of the act is revealed. Great insight can be achieved this way.

Of course there is danger in ritual too. It can ossify in to mindless going-through-the-motions. It is like the finger pointing at the moon. We should follow the direction of the finger to see the moon but instead we focus on the finger and it somehow gains meaning on its own. Soon out back is turned on the very reason for the ritual.

So, ritual has its place and an important one at that. But it is important to focus on the deeper meaning and not the superficial act. The rituals we perform throughout the day, whether formalized or not serve to give the day a rhythm and provide places to stop and reflect.

As for the turntable, I’m still considering it but thinking about this has given me an insight in to how better to listen to the music I love. 

Glencoe 24-26MAY19

I’d planned a trip to go walking in Glencoe for the late may bank holiday but the weather wasn’t looking promising. However a wet camping trip is a chance to practice resilience.

I wanted to be on the road as early as possible so prepared the van the night before and thus it was just before 7am I was pulling out of the street and into the rush hour carpark of the bypass.

Once onto the motorways and A roads to Glencoe I made good time. There was a quick stop for a photo on the way into the Glen.

View from entrance to glen

And then I was at the car park at the foot of the walk about 9:15am. The plan was to climb the two peaks that form Buachaille Etive Berg.

I got 1km into the walk before realising that I’d forgotten my walking poles. Given that this was a steep climb I wasn’t about to continue without them so it was back to the van and then a restart.

I was a long uphill slog to the first peak and since the weather wasn’t brilliant (not raining but then entire Glen was in the clag) I didn’t tarry and headed down to the middle of the saddle for some sandwiches.

View up south peak
Cairn between peaks

Then it was on up the north peak on a steep scree filled slope. Again not much to see at the top but as I was coming down it was clearing so I got some photographs.

View down glen from north peak

Back at the van it was time for a quick bite then onto the campsite for the weekend. The weather had really cleared by this point and I was able to pitch up in bright sunshine.

I settled down to make a dent in all the reading I’d brought with me.

Saturday dawned and the weather forecast was really not good. Heavy rain starting in the morning and then on for basically the rest of the week. In anticipation of this, I pulled on the waterproofs and headed out on a walk to the nearby village of Ballachulish. A craft shop, crafts and things was the first stop and a mug was picked up that will do me very nicely for work.

After the village it was back the way and then into the Glencoe visitor centre. I watched the film for a bit then picked up a fridge magnet to add to my collection and a Baby Nessie tea infuser that will go with the mug.

It was raining quite a bit now so back to the van and settled down for more reading and listening to music. One advantage of getting away to places like Glencoe is the limited mobile coverage means Internet surfing is curtailed and you can get peace and quiet to get on with other things. Of course I picked the weekend the Prime Minster quit..

It rained all night and Sunday morning it was still chucking it down so packing up was done in the rain and everything, awning, loo, clothes were damp by the time I set off. Then it was through the clag and mist of the glen and onto the main road home. It did brighten up as I drove south and in an absolute micky take by the weather gods, the sun was out and bright when I reached home. That did mean that I got everything dried quickly.

Bad weather is part and parcel of camping and while I don’t welcome it, it just is and there is no point getting angry or wishing it away. Instead welcome it and treat it as a way to display resilience.

Of course, I’m still hoping for sun on my summer holiday.

Cragside House and River Breamish 4MAY19

I had been wanting to visit Cragside House for some time. As the home of the inventor Armstrong it is claimed to be the place where modern living began. It was the first house to be lit by hydro-electricity.

I decided to make a weekend of it and booked an overnight stay at a nearby Caravan Club site, River Breamish. And with that, it was off early and after a quick pit stop for diesel, I was on the A68 south. The road was pretty much straight there once onto the A697 thought the last few miles were over some very steep (and 3rd gear) hill.

The sun was shining as I pulled up though it was still chilly. I got the hiking boots on and headed for the water wheel and power house. The Powerhouse is a truly impressive piece of Victorian engineering and was obviously built to last as much of it looked used but not old. The powerhouse also had some interesting interactive displays on how it all worked. So there was some entertainment to be had pumping water.

The water wheel wasn’t working so from there it was on through the grounds to the Iron Bridge, rock garden and a wonderful view of the house.

Stone Bridge in the Grounds
Iron Bridge
House from Iron Bridge
Rock Garden and House

The house was open at this point so it was into the interior and a look at how life was lived in the most modern house of its time. One point that grabbed me right off was that this was the most homely stately home I’ve ever been in. Most of them seem very austere and not somewhere you could imagine people living. This on the other hand looked like the people had vacated it and left as is. The reception room and gallery were really the only places with that for-show look. A special mention must be made of the fireplace in the reception room. This was carved into the rock that the house sits on/beside.


The house contains many pieces of fantastic engineering. Besides the electricity, with so much water pressure available, other parts of the house like the lift and kitchen accessories were run hydraulically.

The day was still bright as I left the house so I set off on a lovely 6 mile walk round the estate. There was hail and rain for about five minutes but it was a great way to round off the visit.

Back in the van it was 30mins up the road to River Breamish and my home for the night. The site was pretty full and I ended up on a grass pitch which I’m less fond of but I settled down and got some music going.

The night was cold but I had the heater set to come on in the morning and as the day dawned bright and early I was off home after a lovely trip away. 

Ready for Adventure 2019 13APR19

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been getting the van ready for the 2019 touring season. I’ve got all the pot, pans and dishes out of storage to clean, I’ve put the camping clothes through the wash and today I picked up the van from it’s MOT and service. 

A couple of hours were spent cleaning the inside, putting the mattresses back in the roof bed and generally getting things ready. All that remains is to put a few items in and we’re ready to go. 

One thing different that I had to do this year was pick up a new gas cylinder. Californias use Camping Gaz 907 bottles which are not as common in the UK as the Calor ones are ( the reverse is true on the continent ). So seeing as the van needed a bit of a run after the service, it was down to the Go Outdoors in Berwick Upon Tweed. They had the necessary cylinder to swap over and I managed to pick up a boot tidy as well for not much money which has helped organize the space at the back under the bed. 

The van is ready, the weather is improving and now is the time to start planning some adventures. 

Loch Leven 26MAR19

It was time to dust off the hiking boots and get some walking done. I’d been planning to walk round Loch Leven since the beginning of the year but Monday was the first confluence of good weather and time.

Even though I had the day off, I was up at stupid o’clock and on the road at 7am. Straight into slow moving traffic on the bypass. It was doing 30-40mph till the Calders junction but once onto the motor way it was up to speed and a pleasant journey to the parking spot. Total journey was under an hour. And I got parked next to a camped Cali.

The sun was out but it was chilly as I started round the loch and right off there was the ornamental sauce gate to see. A runner passed me by on his way round as well bu I had the place to myself. first part was through some woods and there was silence broken only by natures sounds. Striding out into the quiet had a stilling effect on the mind and I could gradually feel myself relaxing into the walk.

The first half of the walk was away from the loch, through woods and reed beds but soon I reached a beach at the north end and spent some time taking photos.

Loch Leven
Loch Leven
Loch Leven
Loch Leven

I got some amazing shots from this end of the loch and was very lucky with the weather and sunlight.

It was getting busier and warmer now so some layers where taken off and it was time for a detour to see Burleigh Castle. Not a large castle by any standard but free to see and worth the trip

Burleigh Castle
Burleigh Castle

A bit further round and it was into Kinross proper and the visitor centre for Loch Leven castle. This was shut as the boat to the island the castle is on runs only in the summer. I quite fancy seeing the castle but the boats they had tied up looked a bit on the small side.

Continuing on my way, the last stop was the RSPB bird sanctuary at the south end of the Loch. After a perusal of the shop I took some time to view the birds. I had no idea what I was looking at but the telescopes were cool.

And finally it was back to the van. 24KM and 5 hours later I was back. I felt good having done the walk. A bit sore but it was fantastic to get back out and on my feet. Lunch was eaten sitting on the van’s step then it was home. A great day out and hopefully a precursor to more walking.

Arbroath Abbey and Signal Tower Museum – 232MAR19

I’ve always wanted to visit Arbroath to see the famous Abbey and with a day off from work and reasonable weather promised it was time to take a day trip north. 

Setting off at a reasonable hour, it was a basically straight road with dual carriageway pretty much the whole way there. The only real hold ups came when navigating the many roundabouts in Dundee along the A90 and A92. 

But most of the time was spent cruising along at 70mph listening to some fabulous tunes. The choices this time were Lunatic Soul’s “Walking on a Flashlight Beam” and The Sons of Kemet’s “Your Queen is a Reptile”. Both thoroughly recommended. 

I got lucky with the parking, stopping the van on the harbour shore. From there it was a quick walk up the hill to the Abbey. I was there pretty much for it opening and had the place to myself. There is a visitor centre which tells the story of the construction of the Abbey and the part that it has played in Scottish history. From there it was into the ruin itself. There’s only a little left of the Abbey but enough to imagine the splendour of the place.

Arbroath Abbey
Arbroath Abbey

The sun was shining though there was a chilly wind blowing. With the blue-sky peeking through, this made for some interesting photo opportunities.

Arbroath Abbey

There was also some sonic exploration as the Sacristy is mostly complete and has an amazing 5 second echo. I spent some enjoyable time listening to that space. 

The abbot’s house is quite complete as well but only the under croft is accessible. This has more information on the construction of the Abbey as told through the life of an apprentice stone mason. 

The Abbey’s main claim to fame is as the creation place of the Declaration of Arbroath. A letter sent by the nobles of Scotland to the Pope at the end of the wars of independence. There is a room in the Abbey that tells the story of the writing of the declaration and tells of the impact that it had.

An impressive Historic Scotland property, the Abbey is well worth a visit. And on from there it was back down to the harbour and the Signal Tower Museum. 

The Signal Tower Museum

The Signal Tower Museum tells the story of the Bell Rock lighthouse. It details the problems that the Bell Rock gave, known so far back that one of the Abbots of the Abbey placed a bell on the rock to be rung by the wind and waves so as to warn ships giving the reef its name.

It took the loss of HMS York in 1804 to prompt the construction of a proper lighthouse on the Bell Rock. The museum includes the stories of the keepers of the lighthouse until it was automated in the late 1980s. They also have one of the sets of rotating optics used and this is on display working. 

After the signal museum, it had brightened up further and though cold in the wind, it was warm in the sun and the van was a very pleasant place to have lunch overlooking the harbour. After lunch, the parking clock ran out so it was time to hit the road and head south. 

A good day’s visiting and a couple of interesting things seen. The Abbey especially is worth a visit. 

Some more Pics

Forged by a challenge

“What would have become of Hercules do you think if there had been no lion, hydra, stag or boar – and no savage criminals to rid the world of? What would he have done in the absence of such challenges?

Obviously, he would have just rolled over in bed and gone back to sleep. So, by snoring his life away in luxury and comfort he never would have developed into the mighty Hercules.

And even if he had, what good would it have done him? What would have been the use of those arms, that physique, and that noble soul, without crises or conditions to stir into him action?”


We all face many challenges in our lives. And one of the responses to these challenges is to wish them away. To feel aggrieved that there has been an intrusion into our lives of something unexpected.

However, what if we were to welcome the challenge?

Epictetus’ quote above concerns the making of the great hero of legend, The Demi-God Hercules. He only became who he was truly meant to be by being faced with great challenges and overcoming them.

We too are presented with challenges every day. Some small and some not so small. Some are simple to overcome some are almost impossible. Some are trivial and some so large that they threaten the whole of our being.

Of course, one element of the challenges we face are that they are often much larger in our minds than they are in reality. There is no problem so bad that thinking about it won’t make it worse.

As much as we wish, we won’t have an easy life, problems and challenges present themselves all the time. So flip the thinking around. Relish the challenge. See it as an opportunity to prove yourself and a crucible in which a better you is forged.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Memento Mori

“You could leave this life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think”

Marcus Aurelius

I was at an exhibition in the Royal Scottish Academy last week while there, saw a very powerful work. It consisted of nine black glass panels, each of which had the picture of a smartphone engraved on it. On the screen of each smartphone was a skull. Below the panels was an old iPhone with a skull engraved on the screen and the title of the work “Memento Mori”. Remember that you will die.

Like all the best art, this got me thinking and has stuck with me in the week since I viewed the work. Imagine how we would act if, every hour on the hour, our phones stopped what they were doing and told us that we were mortal.

Time is the most precious thing that we own. Yet it is the one thing that we treat often with total indifference, spending it like it was an infinite resource. Hours are whiled away doing nothing. Plans put off. Meetings with friends postponed.

Yet there is nothing that I can do to stop the passage of time. My life on this Earth is finite and limited. Furthermore, I have no real control over when I might leave this life nor knowledge of when that might happen. I could walk out of the Starbucks that I’m sitting in and be hit by a car. Or I could live to 100 before succumbing.

Should I spend what limited and unknown time I have in pointless arguments that never really reach a conclusion or browsing the internet for no purpose other than demanding that someone entertain me? Should I put off contacting friends and family? Should I say yes to every call on my time, handing over control to others?

“How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself and in no instance bypass the discriminations of reason? You have been given the principles that you ought to endorse, and you have endorsed them. What kind of teacher, then, are you still waiting for in order to refer your self-improvement to him? You are no longer a boy, but a full-grown man. If you are careless and lazy now and keep putting things off and always deferring the day after which you will attend to yourself, you will not notice that you are making no progress, but you will live and die as someone quite ordinary.”


Memento Mori is a call to action. If I can hold that thought in my mind then I can follow Marcus Aurelius’ command to let it determine my every thought, word and deed.

I can spend my time following my passions, doing the things that I enjoy and spending my time with those I care about.

And as Epictetus says, I can this day start the process of self-improvement. In each moment I can make a conscious choice to spend my time in a way that improves me or the world around me. Perfection is not an end goal but a journey, a moment by moment process of choices that move towards a better me.

And then, by living this way, I can leave this life at the moment that fate appoints satisfied that I did my best.

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