Monday, 29 November 2010

I despise Donald Trump

A couple of weeks ago, BBC2 screened Donald Trump's Golf War, an excellent documentary about Donald Trump's multi-million pound campaign to buy up an area of sand dunes just north of Aberdeen to build a golf course.

Despite honourable attempts by locals to prevent this pointless and aggressive development, and with the strong suggestion that bribery and corruption have played a part in the process, the development is now going ahead. But not content with turning an area of untouched dunes into a golf complex, complete with hotel and extensive housing development, Trump is now trying to force the compulsory purchase of the homes of four remaining families who live on land he covets.

And he has already started bulldozing the dunes.

It is a depressing documentary, invoking the spirit of Local Hero but a far from happy ending. If it's on again, it's well worth watching, though very depressing. Corporate arrogance defeats environmental and social concerns. Yet again.

The campaign group Tripping Up Trump have spent the last few years campaigning against the development, and are continuing to support the families under threat of compulsory purchase. Their website is at I strongly urge you to visit the website (or the building site!) and lend your support.

I visited the dunes a year ago. The sea was too flat to surf, but the dunes and the beach were lovely. Not for much longer, though.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Guardian Travel Writing Competition

I was rather more disappointed than I probably should have been to discover that I was one of the runners up in The Guardian's recent travel writing competition. I sent in three pieces, one of which was about surfing at Cape Wrath, one about Orkney (carefully avoiding any mention of surfing) and one about idling around a beach in Goa (ditto). It was the Goa one that made the runners-up list - though inevitably it was the one I wrote last, in least time, and almost didn't bother submitting. Some kind of lesson there, perhaps.

A heavily-edited version of my piece is on the Guardian website HERE.

It's the piece at the bottom, with the heading (not mine): Goa before it's packed away.

My original version, twice as long, follows below. Maybe I'll post the other two pieces I wrote at some point.


Go to most resorts out of season, and you find empty restaurants, silent hotels and an air of bored anticipation. Go to certain villages in Goa, and all you find are palm trees. By law, everything else has to be dismantled and packed away before the monsoon.

Luckily we arrived two weeks before the season ended. There were plenty of beach cafés, but they were disappearing at the rate of at least one a day. Each morning we were confronted by a fresh gap in the row of shacks, as the beachfront began to resemble a child’s smile.

Pulling down a resort every year is an effective way of preventing runaway development, though this doesn’t stop the nearby resort of Palolem from throwing up a thriving town every autumn, with dozens of shops and discos, yoga centres and massage huts attracting the gap year crowd. Patnam is quieter, more restrained, with no more than a dozen beachside cafés, each serving a similar mix of East and supposedly West: chai and something resembling cappuccino; curry and something similar to pizza.

Behind each café, a few steps from the beach, sit a handful of simple but clean wooden huts to rent among the palms, with plumbed-in bathrooms and bamboo walls. They’re basic but clean, and for around 600 rupees a night for a double, a bargain.

At low tide you can wander round the rocks at the end of the beach to see how the other half live. A Bollywood comedy was shooting at the Intercontinental, so the beach there was full of actors, film crew and European crusties drafted in for background colour. When filming stopped, teenage security guards were left in charge, armed with sticks and disarming smiles, eager to chat to while away the boredom.

As the days passed, the number of tourists dwindled. The waiters weren’t too bothered – every afternoon they played raucous cricket on the beach; every evening, they kept one eye on the Indian Premier League. If there weren’t enough customers, they would close for the evening. At my favourite café, they once did this after they had taken our order and let us sit expectantly for 20 minutes. After that, we always checked that the chef would be sticking around long enough to cook our dinner. But it was well worth the gamble – his succulent, spicy fish, cooked in a banana leaf, was by far the best on the beach, and his shack exerted a magnetic pull whenever we tried to go elsewhere. When we did, we were invariably disappointed, and always swore never to abandon him again – hoping he wouldn’t abandon us either.

At sunset, we walked along the beach, keeping pace with a lone dolphin that swam lazily across the bay, until the sun had turned from gold to blood, and dipped behind the sharply silhouetted palms like a clichéd photo of the paradise it was. If they hadn’t packed up the resort around us, we might have stayed forever

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Brighton Beach

Forgive me, Reader, it's been four weeks since my last immersion.

But yesterday I had by Brighton baptism, all the more welcome for being entirely unexpected. The morning was vile, with strong winds and heavy rains. By early afternoon, though, the wind had dropped and the sun had even made a brief appearance. I jogged down to the beach to go for a run, and was amazed to find reasonable surf - and only one surfer in.

So I jogged back, changed into my wetsuit, and grabbed a board. To my dismay, I discovered that my board of choice for Brighton, a 6'10'', turned out to have a small ding in the tail. Exactly why you always need at least two boards to hand. So instead I grabbed my 6'5'' - not ideal, as the weak waves need a board with more volume. But better than a wooden spoon (which would just sink under the weight).

I jogged back again, avoiding shoppers, prams and school-kids, and dived in.

It's only been four weeks (and an operation on my hand) since my last session, but it felt like months, and paddling was a real struggle - not helped by a very strong longshore rip. And it was a beautiful evening - still and clear, with the sun picking out the piers and silhouetting the flocks of birds that swirled around them like swarms of bees.

The waves weren't great - they were big, peaking just overhead, but losing all their height and energy almost immediately, so the rides were short and soft. But a ride's a ride! And a few of them were walling up quite nicely, so the basics were there.

For a while there were four of us out, my shortboard, a longboard, a stand-up paddleboard and a kayak. Basically a specimen from every form of surf life (in descending order of evolutionary status and cool).

My views on SUPs and Kayaks are robust and unrepeatable here. In summary, what's the point?! Fortunately, with a wide beach and unpredictable peaks, there was no reason to get too close.

After about an hour, the sun disappeared, the wind picked up and a few more surfers arrived. After coming off a wave quite close to shore, I decided to call it a day - and found myself swept halfway to Hove by the strong current. Just a few metres from the beach, it was like trying to cross a swift flowing river, drifting at about a metre a second.

I picked my painful way over the cold pebbles and dripped my way back through town, tired but exhilarated.

And this morning, my muscles are glowing with the happy ache of post-surf bliss.