The Last Sailors

The Last Sailors: The Final Days of Working Sail (Book) The Last Sailors [DVD]

Rating: ★★★★★

Neil Hollander and Harald Mertes searched around the sea ports of the world for nearly two years, from 1981 to 1983, for a vanishing breed of sailors and their craft. Despite the predominance of steel hull and diesel engine, traditional wooden hulled sailing craft remain. The men who sail them represent more than the physical accomplishments of fishing, trading and transporting goods and passengers in some remote and inhospitable locations.

These men, who harness the wind and the sea to make their living, are ever dwindling in number, and yet, in some far corners of the globe, vestiges of this traditional way of life remain. The project captured on film and page, as a record and reminder of a bygone era. Eight surviving craft, representative of a distinct culture or location were included; the Windward Islands schooner, the Brazilian jangada, Chilean lancha chilota, Egyptian aiyassa, Sri Lankan oruwa, Bangladeshi shampan, Chinese junk, and Indonesian pinisi..

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Moby Duck

Moby-Duck (2011) by Donovan Hohn

They were toys destined only to bob up and down in nothing larger than a child’s bath – but so far they have floated halfway around the world.

The ducks began life in a Chinese factory and were being shipped to the US from Hong Kong when three 40ft containers fell into the Pacific during a storm on January 29th 1992. Two thirds of them floated south through the tropics, landing months later on the shores of Indonesia, Australia and South America. But 10,000 headed north and by the end of the year were off Alaska and heading back westwards. It took three years for the ducks to circle east to Japan, past the original drop site and then back to Alaska on a current known as the North Pacific Gyre, before continuing north towards the Arctic.

Since then they have travelled 17,000 miles, floating over the site where the Titanic sank, landing in Hawaii and even spending years frozen in an Arctic ice pack.

Heading for Britain, they were soon to be spotted on beaches in South-West England.

The toys have helped researchers to chart the great ocean currents because when they are spotted on the shore they are much more likely to be reported to the authorities than the floats which scientists normally use. There is still much to be learnt about ocean currents.

Because the toys are made of durable plastic and are sealed watertight, they have been able to survive years adrift at the mercy of wind and current..

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Les Misérables

Tickets to the London west-end show available from Amazon local: click here

Les Misérables (1862) by Victor Hugo

Les Misérables is a novel of towering stature, a dazzling illustration of early nineteenth century France, firmly in the ‘must read before I die’ category of world literature.

Les Miserables (Penguin Classics)by Victor Hugo

It has a depth of vision, underlying truth, moments of moving compassion, almost to the point of melodrama, but with a morality and a social conscience ahead of its time. If there is a problem, it is one of scale. How do you find the time to read, and absorb, over 1200 pages? In addition, Victor Hugo was anxious to put into the novel everything he researched about the entire period, and can digress at will. There is little doubt that it was his intention the book was more than a historical novel, and a knowledge of French history helps the reader follow the motives and intentions of Hugo’s fictional characters…

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The Atlantic Celts

The Atlantic Celts: Ancient People or Modern Invention? (1999) by Simon James

Rating: ★★★★★

The theory presented by Simon James in The Atlantic Celts: Ancient People or Modern Invention? is that the pre-Roman inhabitants of the British Isles were not a single people united by language and culture, that had invaded, destroyed or assimilated earlier unrelated peoples, nor indeed were they ethnically related to the Celts in mainland Europe. Discoveries in Britain of ‘La Tene’ style artifacts prove only the existence of trading links or raids to and from Europe.

The term ‘Celt’ was used by the Greeks and Romans as a designation for some of their barbarian neighbours to the north. ‘Celt’ as applied to the Scots, Welsh and Irish was not used before the eighteenth century, and appears to be an explanation entirely dependent on similarities in language. The term was quickly developed by other scholars to describe cultural or national identities.

In his 1707 work  Archaeologia Britannica , Oxford scholar Edward Lhuyd proposed that similarities in the Welsh, Breton, Cornish, Irish, and Scots Gaelic languages were attributable to a common European origin. In that same year, the Treaty of Union between England and Scotland created a new political identity: ‘British’. The same political pressures sought the assimilation of Ireland through the Act of 1800. The confusion, however, may have originated with Julius Caesar. He identified three major tribes within Gaul (France) prior to the attempted invasion of Britain, “Gaul comprises three areas, inhabited respectively by the Belgae, the Aquitaini, and a people who call themselves Celts, though we call them Gauls. All of these have different languages, customs and laws.” The idea that people living out on the islands of the Atlantic fringe might call themselves ‘Celts’ came much later – and in effect involved the adoption of an imaginary ancestry and heritage. The Britons, who according to the Welsh triads, called themselves Khymry, were not Gauls, never called themselves ‘Celts’ but may have been closer related to the Belgae or Aquitani..

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The Lost Gold of Rome

The Lost Gold of Rome: The Hunt for Alaric’s Treasure ( 2007) by Daniel Costa

Rating: ★★★★☆

In AD 410, Rome suffered a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions when a foreign army led by the Visigoth king Alaric sacked the city and carried off its most valuable treasures.The Lost Gold of Rome: The Hunt for Alaric's Treasure

This was the first time in 800 years, during which time Rome itself had accumulated the wealth of Empire. Alaric played a significant role in the dismemberment of the Roman Empire in the west, but he died before he could leave the Italian peninsula. His followers buried him in a secret tomb allegedly laden with the plunder of Rome that may have included the Jerusalem Temple treasures of the Jews, deposited in the so-called ‘Temple of Peace’. Daniel Costa’s account traces the life and death of Alaric and explores the modern quests to discover his grave, including the efforts of the Nazi Heinrich Himmler. Despite the likelihood that the grave has now finally been found, no definitive excavation has taken place..

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The Lost Houses of Wales

The Lost Houses Of Wales A Survey Of Country Houses In Wales Demolished Since c.1900 by Thomas Lloyd. SAVE Britain’s Heritage, London, 1986, revised 1989.

Rating: ★★★★★

This important book is more than simply a valuable reference work, it contains a message that shocks, and almost every one of the 356 buildings depicted either no longer exists, or is in a severely ruinous state. According to a brief survey, the situation has only improved for approximately twenty of the smaller properties since. In addition, there are more buildings of equal value in Wales not included in Thomas Lloyd’s survey. Compare this, for example, with France or Germany, and other countries, or even England, where such buildings are given much greater consideration for their historical or aesthetic value, and of course tourist potential. There is no denying even buildings have to earn their way..

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Charles Berlitz and the Bermuda Triangle

The Bermuda Triangle (1974) Charles Berlitz

Rating: ★★★★☆

Charles Berlitz, 90, the eminent linguist who wrote the bestsellers ‘The Bermuda Triangle’, ‘The Lost continent of Atlantis‘ and ‘The Philadelphia Experiment’, died Dec. 18th 2003 at Tamarac, Florida.

Mr. Berlitz was the grandson of Maximilian Berlitz, who founded the language schools that bear the family name. Charles was born in New York in 1913 and grew up in a household where he was encouraged to learn a new language every year. By age 3, he spoke four languages and had created his own.

I didn’t realize my family were speaking different languages,” he told The Washington Post in a 1982 profile. “I thought every person had their own particular way of speaking. Since I’d hear my mother switch to German when she spoke to my grandfather, I thought everyone had to learn everyone else’s way of speaking to communicate. I wanted my own language, too.”

Berlitz spent 26 years of his life in the US Army, half of that on active duty, serving as an intelligence officer. He served in World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam. Over the years, he also did counter-intelligence and investigative work for the military.

The Washington Post reported that he married Valerie Seary Berlitz  in 1950, and he was also survived by a daughter, Lin Berlitz-Hilton; and two grandchildren. His daughter summed up the manner in which her father lived his quite extraordinary life, “He was the last of the real gentlemen. He taught me that every person you meet has the ability to teach you something interesting.”

He met his future wife when she was studying at a Berlitz school in Australia and asked for a refund. He said the encounter resulted in a marriage proposal but no money, explaining: “Hard company to get a refund from.”

During his life, he learned 30 languages from Arabic to Zulu. He wrote dozens of books about language, a subject he described as more than simply communication. Words also indicate how people of different cultures think, he said, citing as an example how the colour red in China symbolizes joy, celebration and marriage, while white is associated with death and mourning.

His book “Native Tongues” (1982) was a compendium of anecdotes about the development of language. He noted that the Italian greeting “ciao” came from the word for “slave,” schiavo, or “I am your slave..”

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The Mildenhall Treasure

Roald Dahl (1997)The Mildenhall Treasure

Rating: ★★★★★


During the last years of the Roman presence in Britain, in the late third and early fourth centuries, evidence in the form of buried treasures gives a picture of troubled times. A wealthy family living near Mildenhall in Suffolk, presumably at a time of panic, and intending to retrieve it later, buried a hoard of silver treasure for safety. It could have course already been stolen, and buried with similar intent.

Sixteen centuries later, during the Second World War, a ploughman, Gordon Butcher, set his plough four inches deeper than usual. He was on the lookout for coins, for this land had often produced them. He struck some encrusted metal objects which he gave to his employer, Arthur Ford. They returned to the field, retrieving more items.

In 1946, an inquest declared the find to be treasure trove, and their true significance came to light. The Mildenhall treasure is probably the most important collection of Roman works of art ever to be found in Britain. It consists of 34 pieces of highly ornamented silverware, priceless in value, with a total weight of about 25 ½ kilos. When cleaned, the pieces were found to be in an almost perfect state of preservation, made of the finest quality of silver, dating from the fourth century AD to perhaps as early as the first century, which assuming it was part of one collection at the time of burial, represents a collection accumulated over a considerable length of time.

The centrepiece, discovered 25 metres  from the remains of a fourth century Roman building, is a magnificent dish, two foot in diameter, andweighing 8 ¼ kilos. A relief shows the head of Oceanus, god of the sea, in the centre, with sea monsters surrounding him. Much of the decoration relates to Bacchus, Pan and female companions, common motifs on silverware of the Roman period. Other pieces of the treasure include a circular niello dish, two convex platters, goblets, a fine bowl with a lid, and eight spoons, five of which are of the kind that may have been used as christening gifts, with the Chi-rho symbol inscribed on the handles, and two with the names Pascentia and Papittedo. Altogether, the hoard forms a curious mixture of pagan and Christian elements. It is thought most of the treasures were either made in Rome or Gaul, but some items, such as the fluted bowl, may have been worked in Britain..

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The Gentle Tasaday

The Gentle Tasaday: A Stone Age people in the Philippine rain forest (1975) by John Nance

Rating: ★★★★☆

In the mid-1970’s, worldwide attention focused on a twenty-five-member tribe living in the dense jungle of Mindanao in the southern Philippines, said to have been living indefinitely in isolation. Their discovery led to the forming of several expeditions composed of Filipino and American anthropologists, news correspondents, television crews of the National Geographic Society, a cabinet minister of the Philippine government, and an American conservationist, the late Charles A. Lindbergh.

Discovery of the Tasaday was unremarkable. Sometime in 1962, a hunter from a town at the forest’s edge stumbled upon them while laying his wild-pig traps deep in the mountains of South Cotabato. As related, following a trail of strange footprints, he came upon three small men wearing only loin coverings made of leaves. With sharp sticks they were digging up a large root.

Although the tongue spoken by the hunter was related to that of the Tasaday, he resorted to sign language because of difficulty in communicating. The hunter’s tribe practically lives back-to-back with the Tasaday, but the difference in their languages was compared to that between early German and today’s English. Scientists deduced that this suggests an isolation of about a thousand years. Why, the very name ‘Tasaday’ (pronounced Taw-sawdai) was said to combine the Malay word sadai (“abandoned”) and the Malayo-Polynesian word tawo (“man”)! Tasaday is also the name of the forested peak rising above their hidden valley. So complete has been their isolation that, when first contacted, they knew nothing about a nation called the Philippines.

The existence of this tribe became known to outsiders through the efforts of PANAMIN, an agency working for the interests of cultural minorities in the Philippines. As in the Amazon and elsewhere, there is a desperate need for the right help. During early meetings between the hunter and the tribesmen at the forest’s edge, it was not known that they lived in caves, and there were no immediate attempts to go deep into the rain forest. The latter decision to visit the caves was made to protect the Tasaday from loggers, farmers, ranchers and miners who were nibbling away at their shrinking realm. They were to prove a very real threat. The Gentle Tasaday (1975) gives a comprehensive picture of the threat to the tribespeoples..

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The Long Walk

The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom (1956) by Slavomir Rawicz


Rating: ★★★★★

The Long Walk, first published in 1956, is a gripping account of a Polish officer’s imprisonment in the Soviet gulag in 1940, his escape and then a trek of 4,000 miles (6,437km) from Siberia to India, surviving unimaginable hardships along the way, testing the seven men and their companion, a seventeen year old girl they came across on the way, to the limits. Its dramatic passages tell of extremes of exhaustion, starvation and thirst as they survived snowdrifts and storms and even the pitiless Gobi Desert.

In the shadow of death we grew closer together than ever before. No man would admit to despair. No man spoke of fear. The only thought spoken out again and again was that there must be water soon. All our hope was in this.”

Australian director Peter Weir, celebrated for contemporary classics such as ‘Dead Poets Society’ and ‘The Truman Show’, decided the account deserved filming. “As a feat of endurance and courage and the tenacity of human beings to survive, I thought it was superb. I asked, ‘Does it stay with you enough to want to pursue it as a film?’ And this was the case.” The film, inspired by the book, but not a straight re-telling, was released December 2010 as ‘The Way Back’.

The subtitle of the book is ‘The true story of a trek to freedom’ but there is a controversy over this. There was evidence that suggested that Rawicz had not told the truth about his past, and that although he had been a prisoner in the gulag, he never escaped, but was released under an amnesty in 1942, and the documents, discovered by an American researcher, Linda Willis, in Polish and Russian archives, also show that rather than being imprisoned on a charge of espionage as he claimed, Rawicz was actually sent to the gulag for killing an officer with the NKVD, the forerunner of the Soviet secret police, the KGB. This could of course, be a fabrication.

Peter Weir researched the controversy. “It was enough for me to say that three men had come out of the Himalayas, and that’s how I dedicate my film, to these unknown survivors. And then I proceed with essentially a fictional film.”

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