Archive for the ‘Sunday Telegraph’ Category
Jake Wallis Simons joins a Mountain Rescue team, the perfect new year’s resolution for the caring adventurer
With the excesses of Christmas still heavy upon me, I drag myself out of bed and catch the 06:31 train to the Peak District. It is a horrible day: the rain is falling in thin sheets and the wind is cold and malign. These are the perfect conditions for training with Mountain Rescue.
“We receive the highest number of calls on weekends and holidays when the weather is bad,” says Neil Roden, 53, a civil servant and senior member of the team, who picks me up at Chesterfield, south of Sheffield. “We were called out on Christmas Day a few years back. An elderly man had lost his way on the peaks. Forty of us mounted a search and rescue operation. We found him in the middle of the night, exhausted, cold, hungry and thirsty. We stretchered him down, warmed him up, and took him home.”
That so many volunteers were willing to turn out on Christmas, and work through the night to save a man’s life, Neil says, reflects the spirit of the organisation.
Often referred to as the fourth emergency service – teams are called out by dialling 999 – Mountain Rescue is the largest volunteer-run charity in Britain. There are more than 50 teams around the country, which together have about 2,500 “hillgoing” members. Many more take behind-the-scenes roles. The work is rewarding, but demanding; on average, the 45-strong Edale team, with whom I am going to spend a day training, is called out more than twice a week.
“We are opften called out to rescue walkers, climbers, mountain bikers and people doing extreme sports,” says Neil. “We regularly deal with significant traumas such as spine, pelvic and head injuries, long bone fractures and hypothermia. But we also search for missing people. When April Jones was kidnapped, teams from all over Britain went to join the search.” Continue reading on the Telegraph website
In a recent Spectator column, Charles Moore referred to the BBC licence fee as “the most regressive and most ruthlessly collected of all government imposts”, and called the annual sum of £145.50 “seriously painful”. Personally, I have no problem with it. You see, I’ve never paid it.
For all of my adult life, I’ve never owned a television. In the past, this meant that one was limited to watching videos, which was extremely limiting. These days, however, with the advent of DVDs and the internet, there is not a huge difference between having a television and not having one.
True, I can’t just switch on the box and veg out; I need to choose what I watch before I veg out. True also, I don’t have easy access to every single programme known to man. But neither of these things trouble me. I can watch BBC programmes for nothing on iPlayer, so long as I steer clear of live viewing, for which a licence is required. I can watch Channel 4 on Demand, or catch films via DVD, or downloaded on iTunes, Curzon Soho online and any number of other websites. Read on the Telegraph website
The scratch and whisper of nib on paper. The silky loops of ink. The luxury of signing one’s name with a flourish. All of these are part of the seductive charms of handwriting. Not to mention the delight of receiving a letter, seeing the hand of someone you love – and finding it once again, 20 years later, between the pages of a book.
Since the advent of the computer and mobile phone, however, digital messages have been usurping our affections. In June, a survey commissioned by the stationers Docmail found that the average person hasn’t written by hand for 41 days, and a third of the population hasn’t done so for six months. Another poll has found that a third of teenage girls – and half of teenage boys – have never written a letter.
But it is not all doom and gloom. A plethora of new books extolling the virtues of handwriting has hit the shelves this year, including For the Love of Letters: the Joy of Slow Communication, by John O’Connell;Paper: an Elegy, by Ian Sansom; and The Missing Ink, by Philip Hensher. All of these are starting to save handwriting from extinction.
And it is working. Last year, John Lewis announced that sales of stationery were up by 177 per cent. This year, sales of many pen brands have increased by a further 20 per cent, and the Rachel Ellen notecard range is up by 33 per cent. Smythson, stationer to the Queen, is enjoying record profits. And with Royal Mail expecting to handle 700 million Christmas cards, it seems handwriting is undergoing a revival.
“Years ago, when handwriting was an everyday thing, the sense of specialness wasn’t so marked,” says Hensher. “But now there is a sense of something truly special. Handwriting is how we reveal our personalities to the people we love. People are realising that they can give pleasure so easily, just by 10 words on the back of a postcard.” Continue reading on the Telegraph website
Flyboarding, the biggest new craze in watersports, was invented a year ago by a jet-ski champion called Franky Zapata. He posted a video of it on YouTube, and it was viewed 2.5 million times. The first flyboarding championships have just taken place in Qatar.
And now you can do it here. In June, Marc started a company calledFlyboarding.co.uk, which has been a roaring success. Both men and women have been trying it out all over Britain, and it has been hired for birthdays, stag dos and corporate events. It may not offer any fitness benefit, but flyboarding is the next big thing. Which is how I ended up connected to a jet ski in the rain.
It’s going to be very simple. Marc and his colleague, Jason Fox – an ex-Army professional fireman – will ride the jet ski. When Marc opens the throttle, water will be sent through a hose into the board on my feet and spurt out at high pressure, giving me a powerful propulsion. Jason, sitting on the back, will prod me away from obstacles with a large foam spear. My job is to harness that power, balance on a cushion of water pressure – and fly.
I take a breath and plunge in. Immediately I find myself being thrust at high speed through the waves, a sock in a washing machine, gulping for air. Marc turns the jetski off and sighs. “Just relax,” he calls, “and keep your body straight.”
After a few long minutes I have established a degree of control, and find myself circling the jet ski like a shark. “Now,” shouts Marc, “take off.”
I try to stand and, to my amazement, London rises around me. I reach an altitude of about six feet, then lose my balance and belly flop. After several more tumbles, something finally clicks. I am surfing the air like a comic-book villain. This, I think, is almost worthy of James Bond. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
The weather is glorious when I step off the two-carriage train at Caersws in the heart of rural Wales. It has been along journey, and I am in need of a drink. John Martin, a 45-yearold procurement consultant, has driven to the station to collect me. He is wearing a Tshirt with a “Waen Brewery” logo, but the brewery is not his business. It belongs to his wife, Sue Hayward.
The Waen Brewery is an astonishing story of success. Sue, a hobbyist beer maker, founded it in 2009, and within three years it had tripled in size in terms of output, turnover and physical space. The brewery occupies 2,000 sq ft and produces 540 gallons of beer per week. As we bounce along country lanes, John explains that this output is still nowhere near enough to meet demand. Sue has just invested £30,000 in new brewing equipment, which will increase the beer production capacity threefold.
In the brewery’s large warehouse space there is a bar at one end, and wooden vats bubbling everywhere. Sue is standing behind the bar when we arrive; she catches my eye, and I see that she has already started pulling my pint. Around her are several other women sitting on bar stools, all of whom run breweries up and down the country. I have been allowed to attend a secret meeting of an underground group of female beer brewers – or “brewsters”, as they like to be called – which meets every few weeks to share recipes and techniques. The group, organised on social networking sites, is known as Project Venus. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
‘It’s very hard to snuggle up to a white radiator,” says 57-year-old Vincent Thurkettle, author of The Wood Fire Handbook, his eyes glinting with joie de vivre. “But it’s the easiest thing in the world to snuggle up to this.”
He gestures to the roaring wood fire, in front of which is positioned an old, sagging sofa. In the winter, he tells me, when he comes in after a long day working outdoors, he often curls up on the sofa for a nap.
This week, we had the first frost of winter. Across the country, central heating systems are being turned on, and people are starting to look for cosy corners in which to bundle up. According to Philip Harvey from the buying agents Property Vision, the property market reflects this.
“As the weather starts to turn and the nights draw in, buyers’ minds change from looking for a property to take advantage of a hot summer’s day to properties to snuggle up in on a cold winter’s night,” he says. “Some want a property with a large working fireplace in the drawing room, or an environmentally friendly log burner. Others prefer inglenook fireplaces, or those that have a snug built in to ensure that the fireplace is large enough to heat the entire room.” Clearly, Vincent Thurkettle is not alone in his passion for wood fires.
But he has taken it further than most. Seven years ago, when he was 50, Thurkettle was at the peak of his career as the deputy director of the East of England Forestry Commission. His career had been defined by his love of trees and the outdoors, but he found that his seniority meant that he was permanently stuck behind a desk. Men like him may dream of changing their lives, but few have the courage to do it.
Not so for Thurkettle. He left his job and found new “life-enhancing” ways of making a living. “There’s not one minute of any day that I wish I was back in the office,” he says. “I work twice as hard for half the money, but I’m happy.” Most of his time is spent outdoors, and his life follows the seasons.
In March, he tends to his field of Christmas trees that he sells later in the year. In April, once the trees are all flourishing, he goes diving for sunken treasure at an 18th-century wreck off the coast of Britain, and prospects for Welsh gold. He doesn’t make much from these hobbies, he says, but he makes enough. In September he returns to Norfolk to sell his trees until Christmas. Then he “clears off somewhere warm”, like Australia, Spain or Morocco, and spends three months writing. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
Crowdfunding: how the kindness of strangers is changing business (from the Sunday Telegraph Seven Magazine)
Bullying; out-of-control Facebook parties; unimaginable filth a mere click away. The internet has given us many reasons to shake our heads, worry about our children, and mutter about its dangers. But the online world is as wondrous as it is dangerous. For every vile troll there is an example of an extraordinarily creative vision brought to life by the power of the web. And there’s perhaps no better example of this than crowdfunding.
Put simply, crowdfunding is when enterprising artists and business people appeal to the world to make micro-donations, which, taken together, are enough to fund a project. The idea began to take hold in 1997, when fans of British rock band Marillion launched an internet fund-raising campaign to bankroll an American tour. Over £35,000 was raised, and the tour went with a bang. Today, crowdfunding is used by film-makers, charities, technology companies, even football clubs. For projects that would otherwise struggle to get off the ground, it’s a godsend.
Recently, the writer Alexander Masters announced in The Daily Telegraph that he was setting up a crowdfunding project to pay for research into treatments for the “Steve Jobs” cancer. For Masters, this is personal: one of his close friends suffers from the disease. A possible treatment has been found, he says, and the only thing missing is £2 million to develop it.
In Britain, it is becoming commonplace for organisations unable to secure state funding to take on this approach. The website Spacehive, which describes itself as “the world’s first funding platform for public space projects”, is a case in point. Through the site, one can “fund a new park or renovate your high street as easily as buying a book online”. Projects include a “forest garden” in south London, free Wi-Fi provision in Mansfield, and turning a primary school into a community centre in West Yorkshire.
Some American states have responded to the recession with radical experiments in citizenfunding. In 2010, voters in Colorado Springs chose to avoid tax rises in exchange for dramatic public spending cuts. One in three street lights was turned off; bus services were reduced; park maintenance was put on hold. But residents could choose to fund these things themselves with small ad hoc payments. If the $125 needed to turn a street light back on was raised, on it went. Park bins could be provided for $3,000. It was not without controversy, but voters soon got used to deciding for themselves which services they wanted to maintain.
In Britain, it is unlikely that the Government or local authorities would ever consider such radical measures. But with crowdfunding spreading into areas from which the Government has withdrawn, within a few years we may think nothing of philanthropically supporting what previously were basic services.
By far the biggest crowdfunding success stories today come via the New York-based Kickstarter, which recently began accepting UK projects after launching in 2009. Although most of the thousands of ventures on the site only just reach their funding targets, several have ended up attracting far more money than they asked for. When a company called Palo Alto, for example, requested $100,000 to manufacture a smart watch that displays messages or emails from mobile phones, they were rewarded with an overwhelming $10.2 million.
When it works, crowdfunding is a thing of beauty. Like a less brutal and humiliating Dragons’ Den, the artist or inventor makes their pitch. If the public likes what they see, they contribute as much or as little as they like, and in return they get, say, their name on credits, an early look at the product, or simply the warm feeling of having helped.
But when such vast sums of money are suddenly generated from the goodwill of strangers, things can become acrimonious — especially when a crowdfunded company fails to deliver on their promises. Last December, the Oregon-based start-up ElevationLab used the site to ask for funding for a minimalist iPhone dock. They received almost $1.5 million, which far outstripped their target, and each donor was promised a dock. But the company, taken by surprise by the scale of demand, experienced production delays. To make matters worse, the launch of the iPhone 5, with its new connector, effectively rendered ElevationLab’s dock obsolete. But they were under no obligation to return the money, and to date have not done so.
In April, Amanda Palmer, singer with the Gothic Boston duo the Dresden Dolls, put a request for $100,000 on Kickstarter to fund her new album and tour. Within a month, she had received $1.2 million. Then she put out a plea for local musicians to play on her tour without any recompense save unlimited beer and a promise to “hug/high-five you up and down”. After objections were raised, she agreed to pay all the musicians who accompanied her.
Despite the risks, with the alluring possibility of instant funding for even the craziest ideas (Detroit’s life-sized Robocop statue comes to mind), it’s clear that crowdfunding is here to stay. Here are five projects proving that this is no bad thing: Continue reading on the Telegraph website
I put the finishing touches to my tie and waistcoat and face the mirror. The transformation is startling, especially with the dark wood panelling and heavy curtains behind me. “What do you think?” I ask.
“You look OK,” says George Telford, the 58-year-old veteran butler, after a pause. “You look like an apprentice.”
Technically, he explains, that’s not quite the right word. The butler’s immediate understudy is the footman, who appears in a full scarlet uniform. I am not in this role. Today I am the under footman, which I am told is a suitable place to start for someone with no experience.
The uniform of the under footman: grey waistcoat; white shirt and gloves; dark trousers and shoes; tie in the morning, bow tie in the afternoon. In comparison to Telford the butler, who is resplendent in full white tie and tails, I look – and feel – rather lowly.
I am at Cameron House, a baronial mansion overlooking Loch Lomond. Now it is a luxury hotel, with rooms costing up to £1,025 per night, patronised by the likes of Princess Anne and King Albert II of Belgium. For one day only, I will be living the life of an under footman, under the guidance of Telford, a butler for more than 30 years. In half an hour we are due to serve midmorning canapés and champagne to guests on a speedboat on the loch. Time is limited – and I have much to learn. Continue reading on the Telegraph website
Strictly come tap dancing, with “Strictly” winner Tom Chambers (Sunday Telegraph, 16th September 2012)
I’m putting’ on my top hat, tyin’ up my white tie, brushin’ off my tails…”
There. I’ve typed it, but it hasn’t helped. For weeks now, the Fred Astaire classic has been going around in my head. And now that Strictly Come Dancing has started again – starring Olympians Victoria Pendleton and Louis Smith – I’m gearing up for more dance mania.
My children started it. I have a four-year-old daughter and three-year-old twins, and ever since they watched Shall We Dance with my grandparents they have been obsessed with tap dancing.
This week it was revealed that the West End musical Top Hat is having its run extended until September 2013. It was also announced that the 1975 musical A Chorus Line, which features one of the most extravagant tap displays ever staged, One Singular Sensation, is returning to the West End. And then there is the enduring popularity of Singin’ in the Rain. My kids are on to something.
“The impact of television talent shows such as So You Think You Can Dance and Got to Dance has been huge,” says Caroline Miller, director of the national advocate for dance, Dance UK. “And a new generation of charismatic tap dancers like Savion Glover, who provided the dance for the film Happy Feet, and Matt Flint, who won So You Think You Can Dance, are making tap dance cool again.”
Annette Walker, a dancer and tap teacher, agrees. “People have always loved tap,” she says. “When it is more visible, they get excited and want to take part.”
Annette is one of a new breed of dancers (known as “hoofers”) of “rhythm tap”, a vibrant, looser form that originated with American slaves and focuses more on improvisation and self expression than polished moves. This is also enjoying an underground revival in theatres and jazz clubs.
So my wife, Isobel, and I took the children to a matinée performance ofTop Hat at the Aldwych Theatre in London. Thereafter, Tom Chambers – the Holby City star who won Strictly Come Dancing in 2008 and now who plays Fred Astaire’s role in Top Hat – gave us an introduction to tapen famille. Read on the Telegraph website
Morelli’s ice cream parlour is frozen in time. The interior – all faded pink Formica and Art Deco chic – has remained unchanged for decades. Their product, too, has stayed the same: at Morelli’s, the old-fashioned sundae still reigns. My favourite, the signature Knickerbocker Glory, comes complete with a kitsch furry monkey dangling from the straw, as has been the way since time immemorial.
“The business was started in 1907 by my great grandfather, Guiseppe Morelli,” says Bibi Morelli, a fourth generation ice cream maker who now runs the operation in Broadstairs, east Kent. “We want to keep everything exactly the same, to preserve the traditional, British seaside atmosphere.”
The formula seems to be working. Such is the popularity of the Morelli brand that in 2003 they opened a branch in Harrod’s, which has been “a roaring success”. Other branches followed; there are eight around the world, from Kuwait to Monaco, with a further five on the way. Continue reading on the Telegraph website