The Wider Cost Of A War

Companies supplying fuel are jumping on the news of war in Ukraine and the current oil price increase to justify eye-watering price increases passed on to consumers. Despite BP profits in excess of £80 BILLION pounds last year, petrol at the pumps is forecast to hit £8.50 a gallon soon. ($11.20)

Although British Gas profits and share prices have never been higher, they are imposing increases in excess of 50% immediately, with the prospect of another 20% to follow at the end of April. Electricity companies have followed suit, with some predicting rises of 100% on current monthly payments.

We use heating oil in Beetley to run our central heating and hot water system. In December, 500 litres cost around £310. Today’s quote is £621, rising daily.

Salaries and pensions are not increasing much at all. In most cases, there are no increases whatsoever.

The Futures Market is making people obscenely rich overnight, as they rush to cash in on what everyone accepts is a real crisis in Ukraine. But are we just being bamboozled by the huge corporations and multinationals? I for one think we are. Both Britain and the USA are significant producers of oil. Both countries invested heavily in oil production, and both have claimed in the past to be self-sufficient in oil. Some time ago, Britain claimed to have invested so much in Green alternative energy, that it now supplied 43% of our requirements.

And that figure was published in 2014.

So how is it that the tragic war in Ukraine in 2022 can be used to justify such a hike in costs to ordinary people?

Profit and greed, pure and simple. In parliament today, Boris Johnson was laughing when asked about the increases.

Laughing at ordinary people wondering how they will heat their homes.

(It is still worth remembering that even when we are struggling to pay our bills, stay warm, and put fuel in our cars so we can drive to work or to the supermarket, we are better off than a refugee family from Ukraine living in a UNHCR tent in a foreign country. )

The Shame Of Britain

I am reblogging this from my second blog, as it really needs to be seen by a wider audience.

REDFLAGFLYING

News today of an incident at Calais that rightfully shames the current despicable government running this country.

150 Ukrainian refugees escaped from their war-torn country. They spent days heading West, crossing through Poland and Germany into France. Their aim was to seek refuge with members of their families who were already legally resident in Britain.

But the UK Border Force post at Calais refused them entry. They were told to travel to Paris, 300 miles away, and apply for a temporary visa at the British Embassy there.

Heartless, bureaucratic, shameful in the extreme.

Poland has welcomed over 500,000 refugees.
Hungary has welcomed over 140,000 refugees.
Moldova has welcomed 98,000 refugees.
Slovakia has welcomed 73,000 refugees.
Romania has welcomed 52,000 refugees.

Even Russia has allowed in 48,000 refugees to flee the war it started.

And noble Great Britain, that renowned Monarchy and self-professed seat of Democracy will not allow in 150…

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In The Eyes Of A Child

With our grandson staying here overnight, I naturally avoided the news on TV. However, he asked to watch a cartoon this morning, and while scrolling numerous channels to try to find what he wanted, I momentarily clicked on the channel BBC NEWS 24.

Of course, it was about the situation in Ukraine, and a live report from Kiev.

I flicked off more or less immediately, but he had already noticed it.

Turning to me, he said this.

“The world is going to be broken. I don’t want to live here when the world is broken, so I am going to live in Space with mummy and daddy. I like the idea of living in space, as I can float around”.

He is 7 years old.

Late Sunday Musings from Beetley

I am late with my musings today, as I cannot really post them without mentioning the situation in Ukraine, which is on everyone’s mind I’m sure. But I will leave that until the end, so if you don’t want to read any more about that, feel free to skip that part.

After two years, the NHS is finally beginning to catch up on the backlog of regular clinic appointments that were all cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic. I have an appointment at the eye clinic in Norwich next Thursday, for a review of my Glaucoma, and an inspection of my cataracts. As they like to poke things into my eyes when they do that, I refer to it as ‘The medieval torture clinic’. But after more than two years, I am happy to go.

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After three weeks, the DVLA has still not sent my new driving licence, and they have also not confirmed whether or not they will be renewing it. That Department is a bureaucratic behemoth, and someone I know spent over three hours on hold to them on the telephone this month, before being cut off without speaking to anyone. Small wonder so many people in the UK just choose to drive illegally.

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Julie still has her persistent cough, but she was able to go back to work last week. It has calmed down during the day, but still waking her up at night.

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As for Ollie, it seems his fur has grown back as much as it is ever going to. We will have to learn to live with his bald spots, I reckon.

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The very latest news on Ukraine is that Putin is now activating his nuclear weapons stockpile, supposedly in fear of NATO striking Russia first. All nonsense of course, but nonsense can start real wars. Beetley is near a lot of military installations. A large Army barracks is located just 2 miles away, at Swanton Morley. RAF Marham is 20 miles west, RAF Mildenhall is 39 miles south-west, and the huge USAF base at Lakenheath is 32 miles south of us. Given that at least three of those are designated Russian ‘targets’, if I stop blogging suddenly, you will know what has happened.

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Refugees are pouring out of Ukraine, and being treated kindly by all the surrounding countries. But Britain has refused to issue visas to any of them to come and live in the UK.
So much for Boris, Liz Truss, and Pritti Patel, with their hollow speeches about soildarity with the people of Ukraine. They can still buy our guns and missiles though, let’s not allow a war to get in the way of big business.

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Julie is no longer watching the news as I type this. She has changed channels to a programme about antiques.
Probably just as well.

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Musings From A Post-Storm Sunday In Beetley

It has been a week of two halves, and no mistake.

The week started out quiet, and very sunny. There was no frost, blue skies, and because the local kids were on half-term holiday, traffic was light. There was a blip on Monday afternoon, when a sudden rainstorm caught me unawares as I left the supermarket, but it is February, after all.

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Julie has been feeling unwell for some time, and she has been taking Lateral Flow tests in case she had Covid-19. Fortunately, they were all negative. Unfortunately, she didn’t get better and a hacking cough and severe headache meant she had to take a sick day from work on Friday.

Then last night, her cough got worse, and I also became ill, with severe pains inside that kept me awake. As a result, both of us didn’t sleep until after 4:30 am, and only woke up at 10:30 this morning. It is going to be a very quiet Sunday for us, as we both feel like death warmed up.

My serial episode may not appear until much later today, if at all.

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I have still not heard back about the renewal of my driving licence, and it has been two weeks. If they fail to issue me a new licence by my birthday in March, I will effectively be banned from driving. That has really been irritating me, even more so as their communication to me was from a ‘No reply’ email address at the DVLA.

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At least Ollie has been on good form, enjoying his toys and walks, and eating his dinner. His fur looks a lot better too, if not completely re-grown.

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The second half of the week brought two severe storms. We missed the worst of the first one, then Storm Eunice hit with extremely high winds. Friday night, we went to bed listening to the wind, and fearing the worst. But the following morning, we were happy to discover we had been spared. Some small trees have fallen across paths at Beetley Meadows, meaning short diversions. Otherwise, my walks with Ollie survived the storm. On Saturday afternoon, icy rain arrived, and the dog-walk left me soaked through and chilled to the bone. More of the same is forecast for later today, and during the rest of the week to come.

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It still remains to be seen if things are going to get worse in Ukraine. We have gone from ‘invasion imminent’, to ‘talks in progress’, followed by ‘invasion at any moment’. If nothing else, it will allow the profit-bloated oil companies and big corporations to claim ‘WAR!’ as a justification for their ongoing dramatic price increases.

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Hopefully, we will all have a relatively happy Sunday. Maybe don’t bother to watch the news though.

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The Media Beating The Drums Of War

My wife was upset this morning. As we watched the news over breakfast, she turned and asked me, “Does this mean the big bang? A nuclear war? The end of everything?”

I appreciated why she was concerned. For so long now, the BBC News (and every other media that I do not watch or read) has been spouting the doom-laden reports of an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine. They get these reports from our govenment in Britain, and the US government spokespeople too.

To my mind, this fear-mongering reporting is irresponsible in the extreme, as they do not present the other side of the issue.

It would be disastrous economically for Russia to start a war with Ukraine. Sanctions would cripple their huge gas and oil industries, as most of their customers are in the EU.
Ukraine has the largest army in Europe, second only to the much larger Russian army. 250,000 regular soldiers, plus militia groups and armed civilians. A war with them would prove costly to Russia. Both in lives, and financially. And it could well drag on for a long time too.

Using nuclear weapons, suggested in one ridiculous report, does not take into account the geographical proximity of The Russian Federation to Ukraine. Using any nuclear option would be disastrous to those Russians living on the borders, as well as the whole country of Belarus, a Russian ally.

This morning, we heard dire warnings that UK and US nationals should leave Ukraine immediately, as there will be no ‘rescue mission’ should Russia invade. Irresponsible politicians, ramping up the rhetoric, tension, and threats. Panicking ordinary people for no good reason. Then irresponsible media, parroting their words with no balanced reporting.

And why do we consider Ukraine to be an ally? Because it wants to join NATO? This is a right-wing government that has ties with neo-nazis and nazi-sympathising militia groups. Should that country even be allowed to join NATO? I think not. Could it have more to do with trade deals, and Joe Biden and his son having close ties to that country?

I think it could.

Meanwhile, I would like to see less warmongering from all sides, and especially from the BBC.

Too much News: Pistorius and the BBC

To readers outside the UK, I apologize in advance. This may be of little or no interest to you.

I am an avid watcher of TV News. Ever since dedicated news channels arrived in the UK, I have been a fan. I like to be aware of what is going on, and to keep up with world events, and home news. This is even more important since I retired, as I do not have the benefit of chatting with work colleagues, and the usual discussions and opinions that are the result of general conversation. I can think of many occasions when constant news updates are important, and even some where it is acceptable for the coverage to be uninterrupted, as happened with the events of 9/11 in New York.

At the moment, there are many things going on around the world, and here in the UK, that are of interest or concern to me. The ongoing war in Syria, which could destabilise the whole region. The situation in Ukraine, that could lead to a limited war in Europe. At home, we have the forthcoming EU Parliament elections, the economic problems, and issues over benefits, and the NHS. So, what do the BBC News broadcasts offer us? Unlimited coverage of the trial of a South African man, accused of killing his girlfriend. This trial, and the murder that preceded it, may have been of more than usual interest, as the accused is a well-known athelete, who has appeared in the Paralympic Games. Perhaps a short overview, followed by news of the eventual verdict, would have been in order. However, the court ruled that parts of the trial could be televised, and the BBC jumped on the bandwagon, becoming part of the media circus that wanted to show us these proceedings.

For those of you that know nothing of the Pistorius trial, here is a brief outline of the events. On Valentine’s Day, 2013, Pistorius and his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, were together in his house in Pretoria, the capital of South Africa. He shot her dead, as she hid in the shower, firing many times through the glass door. From the beginning, he admitted the shooting, but claimed that he believed that she was an intruder. Despite the fact that he realised she was not in bed, that an argument preceding the shooting was heard by witnesses, and that she could be heard screaming behind the shower, it never occurred to him to ask if it was her. He just shot through the glass. Surely one of the worst defences ever presented in a murder charge? It is so obvious that he killed her following some sort of jealous argument. Given that he had to put on prosthetic legs, get his pistol from the bedroom (all in the dark) and then shoot through the door of the shower cubicle, who could possibly believe that this was an accidental shooting, in fear of an intruder? If he was not a well-known athelete, and backed by substantial funds, this laughable case would have never been presented.

Trials in the UK are not allowed to be shown on television. Even photographs are not allowed, so we have long tolerated sketches of accused persons, and notable Judges, in our media here. From TV and Cinema, we are all well-aware how these trials proceed, and the technicalities that surround them. We are conversant with the system of defence following prosecution, how witnesses give evidence, and how juries make their deliberations. We do not need to see it played out in its entirety on TV news. It is just pointless. What makes the Pistorius trial even more ludicrous to show on news programmes, is the fact that he is not allowed to be shown. There is a delay in transmission as well, presumably to allow for ‘editing’. What we are left with, are views of the judge, the barristers, and an occasional witness who does not object to being televised. We hear the answers from the accused, as well as his crying and whining, but do not see him in the court. We are deprived of seeing for ourselves, being able to judge his sincerity, or otherwise.

Instead, we have a succession of journalists paraded before the camera, offering their interpretation of his behaviour, and their version of those parts of the trial we are unable to see. Pundits are wheeled on, to offer speculation, background detail, and such minutiae as how long a tea break will be, or what the accused had for lunch. I can see no justification for the tedious and blanket coverage  of this trial, other than the ‘excitement’ of being able to show events ‘live’ from a court. The BBC is a public service, funded by a licence fee which we all have to pay if we own a TV set, whether we want to or not. It should be more responsible with how it spends that money, and not waste it with this interminable coverage of a foreign trial, in a country thousands of miles away. For balance, I should add that Sky News also broadcasts exactly the same output, at the same time. But this is a satellite channel, and we do not have to pay for it.

Many of us, myself included, have written in to the BBC to complain. They defend their actions by stating that there is huge public interest in the case, borne out by visits to their website, and audience figures for the trial reports. What they conveniently forget to mention, is that if you turn on the news, or visit the website, this is the lead story at all times, so we have no other option but to unwittingly become part of those audience statistics.

The BBC was once an institution to be proud of. Compared to some other countries television, it still is, in some respects. Sadly, in seeking to be more populist, less intellectual, and to gather audience figures, it is now just playing the game of telling us what we need to see, instead of allowing us to make up our own minds. It needs to get back to reporting the news that is happening, instead of becoming part of the institution that creates news that they want us to watch.

I suspect that the film and TV rights have already been sold, and the book launch will quickly follow the verdict.

 

Holidays and Travel: Soviet Union 1977

As a young man, I had read all the classic books of Russian literature, as well as newer works, by Mikhail Sholokhov, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I had watched the films of Eisenstein over and over, and seen countless war documentaries. Russia was a mythical place to me; enemy in the ‘Cold War’, ally when it mattered most. The Russian Revolution was fifty years old in 1967, and the western allies still regarded this country as the greatest threat to world peace. I had always considered myself politically on the Left, and I really wanted to visit The Soviet Union, and to see all the wonders for myself. I had to wait though, as it was not that easy to travel there in the 1960’s.

By the start of 1977, I had a fiancee willing to travel with me, and enough money to finance a short trip. More importantly, some minor tour companies were beginning to offer reasonably priced packages, all escorted, and excursions included. I could hardly contain my excitement, when we booked a holiday to include Leningrad, Moscow, and Kiev. We would fly direct to Leningrad, spend two more days there, on to Moscow for two more days, and then down to the Ukraine, before returning for another stay in Leningrad, then home. As it was going to be in late February, we had to prepare for weather we had never experienced. I borrowed an enormous sheepskin coat, and bought thermal underwear, and new ski mittens. We had been advised to take large amounts of chewing gum, women’s tights, and ballpoint pens. Apparently, they were hard to get there, and would be valued as tips, or gifts. We received visas in the post, and were informed that they would be stamped on arrival, and retained on departure, so we would never have the desired CCCP stamp on our passports. We would also have to exchange our money for Rubles over there, as it was not a traded currency.

We had to travel by the state airline, Aeroflot. This was not a prospect we relished, as their terrible safety record was well-known. It soon became apparent that customer service was also unknown, with the grumpiest flight attendants I have ever seen, as well as no announcements in English. The aircraft had basic seating, no-frills catering, and nothing by way of in-flight entertainment. We were later informed, that at this time, all the pilots doubled as military pilots, and the aircraft could be stripped out for use by the armed forces, at short notice. This went some way to explaining the unusual flying style, reminiscent of bombing raids, and totally disregarding passenger comfort (and panic). Despite feeling ill during the flight (and on all subsequent Aeroflot flights), it was all forgiven on arrival in Leningrad. Although the daytime temperature of -20 that greeted us almost froze my ears off, I could not have been more excited. We were ushered to one side in the airport terminal, and dealt with quickly, helped by our guide. It was obvious from the looks and stares, that they were not used to western tourists, and we stood out dramatically, in clothes that were totally different. I just wanted to get to see The Winter Palace, and to retrace the films of my youth, so gave this attention little regard.

Once in the coach on the way into the city, I was a little disappointed to see endless rows of large blocks of flats, flanking each side of the road, and stretching into the horizon. However, I soon recalled that the view from Heathrow Airport into Central London is not a great deal better. Many of the blocks also had huge painted symbols on the sides, my first ever view of the iconography of the Soviet Union; something that I was to get to know, and to admire greatly. Arriving at the hotel, on the banks of the River Neva, looking across to the Gulf of Finland, I was amazed at how luxurious it was. Our room overlooked the water, and we had an oblique view of the famous Cruiser Aurora, the museum ship that fired the signal shot to begin the October Revolution (as legend has it). I was keen to get out and about, but it was already beginning to get dark, and the biting cold made it impossible to be out for much more than thirty minutes at a time; even the river was frozen.

Since its early construction as a Russian city in the 18th Century, the architecture and open planning of the old city has rightly been regarded as an example of some of the best ever seen in Europe. The grand squares, and the canal system, even gave rise to its common description as ‘The Venice of The North’. With the coastal location, and marvellous buildings such as The Hermitage Museum, the Peter and Paul Fortress, and the Kazan Cathedral, it really is a touristic gem. We walked along the wide avenue called Nevsky Prospekt, home to the elegant shops, restaurants, and nightlife. This thoroughfare has been mentioned in the works of Dostoevsky, and Gogol, and here I was, strolling along it. We went to look at the famous gates of The Winter Palace, seemingly unchanged since they were stormed by the Bolsheviks, in 1917. Inside The Hermitage, too large to ever see in one lifetime, we managed to marvel at Faberge Eggs, lavish costumes worn by Catherine The Great, and rows of magnificent coaches, once used by the Tzars. There was so much to see, and so little time to see it. In bitter cold, yet bright sunny weather the next day, we went to The Peter and Paul Fortress. Originally built to defend against Swedish attacks, this large area has served as a garrison and prison, as well as being home to a Cathedral, with its distinctive bell tower and gilded cupola. It is also the burial place of all Russian royalty, and even houses the remains of Nicholas II and his family, killed by revolutionaries, in 1918. I was enamoured with this city, and even now, would urge anyone to visit it.

The next day, we flew to Moscow; capital and largest city of the USSR, and famous for so many reasons. Who has not seen Red Square on the news, with its Mayday parades, the multi-coloured onion domes of St Basil’s Cathedral at one corner? The Kremlin, The famous Metro system, the monolithic Art Deco constructions of the University, and some grand hotels. I wanted to take it all in. I did my best. Despite continuing cold (but not as as cold as Leningrad) we toured as much as possible, in the short time we were there. The Sparrow Hills, giving a wonderful view of the city, full of newlyweds, traditionally having their photos taken. The huge stadium, later home to the 1980 Olympics, and the breathtaking sight of the banks of the Moskva River, illuminated at night. We went to the incredible galleried department store, GUM, and experienced the strange style of shopping there. You chose an item, went to another desk to pay for it, then took the receipt back to the original counter to collect it. It was time-consuming, yet fascinating, in its own way, and seemed to apply in every shop, whatever you bought. Once burned by Napoleon, and later bombed and shelled by the Germans, the city has endured through history, and is a great place to visit. We enjoyed a trip to see The Bolshoi Ballet, at that time housed in the enormous Palace of Congresses, inside the Kremlin. I am no huge fan of Ballet, but really enjoyed it. We also went to see the famous Moscow State Circus, a dazzling display, inside a purpose built arena. The Metro stations are worth the trip alone; with their amazing architecture and chandeliers, statues in alcoves, and tiled graphic images, they really are a wonder. We watched the changing of the guard at Lenin’s Tomb, queuing for an eternity to file past the embalmed body later. Despite the sights of Moscow, I was harbouring a soft spot for Leningrad, and looking forward to returning there.

The next stage of the trip took us west to the Ukraine, and the city of Kiev, on the River Dnieper. This is one of the oldest cities in Europe, and was once part of the Khazar Empire. It was traditionally independent, and despite incorporation in the Soviet Union, retained its own Ukrainian language, and a degree of self-government. We were taken on a tour of the sights, including the St Sophia Cathedral, the Golden Gate, and the Monastery of The Caves. This was a somewhat hurried part of the trip, and after just two days, we were soon on our way again, back to the airport, to return to Leningrad. We had just one more day there, before returning to the UK, and I pledged to return another time. And I did just that.

So, what of the real Russia, the people, everyday life, and the experience of the tourist? There was little time for this, to be truthful, but we did what we could. The first thing we noticed, after changing our money into Rubles, was that it didn’t buy much. This was due to the entirely artificial exchange rate of one Ruble to one Pound. In the ‘real world’ it would have been more like twenty rubles, but we had no alternatives, and could not shop around for better rates. As a result, we were ‘ruble-poor’ and everything seemed ridiculously expensive. We knew that this could not be the case, as ordinary Russians only got around £25 a month salary, so they would never afford to live. No, it was simply the exchange rate. We were approached in the streets, mostly by youngsters, who wanted chewing gum, coca-cola, and any western logo items. Denim jeans were very popular, and they would happily wait while you took them off in a secluded spot, (presuming you had brought something to change into) offering high-value items in return. Cameras and watches were offered, and for the smaller items, we were given badges, belt-buckles, and small Russian souvenirs, like Matryoshka dolls, or carved boxes. Almost nobody spoke English, or at least not to us directly, and this bartering was all done using sign language. Normal shops seemed to sell only one thing. Some shops would be completely full of milk, others of bread, yet another sold only cakes. Supermarkets were not apparent, and the larger stores were like department stores, with different goods on each level of the shop.

We did see some people queuing, a very long queue indeed, all around a city block. We later saw what it was they were waiting for, when a truck loaded with oranges arrived, and they all went in to buy them. Getting around was not that easy, mainly due to language difficulties. I only knew the Russian for ‘Please’, ‘Thanks’ and ‘Comrade’, so not much use. There is also the fact that they use the Cyrillic alphabet, which makes looking at signs and directions almost impossible. I did manage to buy a fur hat, in a department store in Kiev.  This was the three-stage process, all done with sign language, and pointing. They seemed to be implying that the hat I had chosen was too expensive, and were amazed when I casually handed over the equivalent of £17 for it, which would have been a bargain in London. There were lots of people in uniform everywhere. There were City police, State police, Militia police, KGB, (in uniform) as well as the numerous soldiers and sailors, on and off duty. Young people were sometimes dressed in uniform too, as members of the Komsomol, the Young Communist League. They often acted as honour guards, around famous monuments and buildings. They were approachable, and one gave me his belt, with brass Hammer and Sickle buckle, for six packs of Wrigley’s chewing gum. I still have it, to this day.

For tourists who wanted to buy things, we were directed to the Beryozka shops. These shops contained most Russian consumer goods that were not widely available outside. Large items, like cameras and lenses, telescopes, and binoculars, as well as general souvenirs, and the exotic lacquered boxes famously made in Russia. In these shops, only foreign currency was permitted, and no Rubles could be spent. Outside one of them, we were approached by a well-dressed man, who explained, in good English, that he would like us to buy an umbrella for him, as he couldn’t get one anywhere else. In a country with so much snow, it seemed crazy, but he offered us fifty Rubles, for a £10 umbrella. I felt sorry for him, but had to decline, as exchanging money unofficially, in any form, was strictly forbidden, and we didn’t want to fall foul of the authorities. So, our interaction with ordinary people was limited, but you have to recall the mood of the time. I did make up for this, later, getting to see something of real life. But that is for another post.

My first visit to the Soviet Union was all that I had expected, and more, and whetted my appetite for a longer trip, which I will describe another time.