Travels in Southern England – The Colne Valley

May 11, 2022

The Colne Valley contains 43 square miles of parks, green spaces and reservoirs alongside the River Colne and Grand Union Canal, mainly in Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire.  I have spent many weeks exploring this beautiful area and watching its abundant wild life.  Now is the perfect time to visit the lakes near Rickmansworth Aquadrome as the wildfowl eggs are hatching.

Keith Jahans






Travels in Southern England – Southend-on-Sea, Essex

August 27, 2021

25 August 2021

This was my second visit to Southend.  My first was as a student in 1968.  I and three fellow students had just finished our applied Biology examinations.  We piled into one of our number’s car which he had borrowed from his parents.  It was my one and only time tasting jellied eels and I have never had the inclination to repeat it.

Southend boasts the longest pier in the world and I walked the length of it as a student, but this time I decided to give this walk a miss.  Instead I opted to walk along the seafront and treated myself to fish and chips in a restaurant overlooking the pier funfair.  This is a tradition I started on my travels to seaside towns around Britain.

Southend Pier

Fish and Chips by the Fun Fair

It was a relief to get back to my travels once more.  Like many of the world’s population I have been “locked down’ in doors this last two years.  It had an upside in that I was able to work uninterrupted on a new novel, “The Lost Girls” and followed this up with some short stories featuring the same central character in the novel.  Writing is a solitary occupation and despite the opportunity it provided to get work done I missed the travel and the opportunity to interact with other people.

The chief reason for going to Southend was to check out the Essex Writers festival, which had been running since June, but was now nearing its end.  I visited the Essex Writers’ House at Chalkwell Hall, Chalkwell Avenue.  This provided the opportunity to write alongside fellow writers and interact with them.  A lady who ran it told me that all the desks were fully booked but I could use a table on the terrace out side.  It was a sunny hot day as I set up at the table and the kind lady provided me with a cup of tea.

My writing table at Essex Writers House

I met another lady who told me she was writing a text book on carbon-free textiles.  She had taken a short break from one of the upstairs writing desks and had come down for a cup of coffee.  We chatted for a short while then went back to our writing and I managed to complete most of this blog on the terrace.

When I finished I went back to the Chichester Hotel, Wickford where I was staying.  The hotel was running a skeleton service because of the pandemic and the restaurant was closed.  I really felt for those who were struggling with the effects of the pandemic and the hospitality sector has been one of the hardest hit.  I thoroughly enjoyed my stay and found my visit to Southend very worthwhile and I was able to leave the next day extremely pleased with all I had achieved there.

Keith Jahans

The Chichester Hotel, Wickford


A few things motorists should know about tyres

September 30, 2018

There was a time when punctures were a common occurrence.  Roads were in a worse condition than they are now and there were many carts carrying small sharp objects such as nails, tacks, glass splinters and fragments of metal that could drop onto the tarmac.  Today there are so many wheels traversing the highways and tyre quality has improved so much that the odds on your tyre coming into contact with a sharp object that can cause harm is remote.  But punctures do happen and as it is now a rare occurrence it can catch any traveller unprepared.

The other day I felt my front driver’s side wheel scrape the curb and stepping out of the car to examine it thought the tyre looked flat.  I still had some miles to drive that day so as a precaution I strove to change the wheel but try as I might with the onboard wheel brace I could not shift the wheel nuts.  In the end I ruined the edges of the wheel locking nut which according to the RAC rescue service man I was forced to phone for help rendered it unusable.  He also told me that whoever it was changed the wheel when I last renewed the tyre had over tightened the wheel nuts so that I had no chance of moving them with my wheel brace. The only option was to inflate the tyre and hope it remained inflated until I got home.  This I duly did and to my astonishment the tyre remained inflated for several weeks afterwards.

These days it is quicker and easier for garages to use airguns to remove and replace wheels when renewing tyres.  As a result a badly trained mechanic can pay little attention to the torque that should be applied and over tighten the wheel nuts.  I now know that if I cannot loosen the nuts myself I must call an expert.  I have since replaced the locking nut with one I obtained from my car dealer.  I have also bought a can of tyre sealant foam to carry in the car as an emergency measure to get me home.  In my motorcycling days I carried such a canister in a side pannier as it was too complicated to carry out roadside puncture repairs and of course there was no spare wheel.  It is heartening to remember that precautions I took while touring the roads of the UK and abroad on two wheels around forty years ago still stand me in good stead now I journey on four.

Bike Travelling Man: a life with two motorcycles can be found at

Keith Jahans


The lost art of vehicle maintenance

January 15, 2018

A week before Christmas 2017 I found that I was unable to open the boot door of my Nissan Note.  I googled this problem and found out that a number of others had experienced the same difficulty and that this was a well known problem with Nissan’s.  The suggested solution was to lower the back seats, climb into the boot space, prise off the door panel and release the door mechanically.  It then seemed that there was probably something wrong with the wiring to the electronic lock which needed addressing.

Years ago I would have tried to fix it myself, but I feel those days are long gone as I am not as agile or as confident as I once was of working on cars in confined spaces.  So I phoned a local dealer and discovered that they were all booked up and was also told that I needed to pay them £50 to diagnose the problem.  It seemed to me I had already diagnosed the problem.  The door was jammed and it should not take a specialised dealer mechanic long to fix it.

However, modern cars are different animals to the vehicles I drove twenty or even fifteen years ago.  They are electronically controlled moving machines regulated by micro computerised systems.  Car doors used to be opened by simple lock and keys, but now they are mostly unlocked, as is the case of my Nissan, by pressing a button on a key fob which can be done several meters away.  These convenient innovations are useful as usually a noise sounds and the indicator lights flash, which make it easier to locate a vehicle in a busy car park that.  Useful, that is until something goes wrong.

In my motorcycling days in the 1970s and 1980s, I was able to fix most minor mechanical problems myself.  Spares were readily available and there were printed manuals that could guide your way (For those, interested check out my ebook Bike Travelling Man: a life with two motorcycles at  But modern vehicles are governed by computerised engine management systems and on-board communications gadgets link your mobile telephone and satellite navigation devices to controls on the dashboard.  It is small wonder that when something seemingly simple goes wrong the average motorist has not got a clue how to fix it.  Thus, it seems that the vehicle owner who is readily able to repair his own means of transport is now a creature of the past.

Keith Jahans

Fish and Chips

July 28, 2017

Fish and Chip shops can be found in the majority of British towns and was our country’s original fast takeaway food.  When I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s it was considered a treat to eat a fish and chip takeaway and that feeling still persists with me today.

During the last five years I have been travelling around Britain and in the course of my travels have sampled portions of this famous dish from different parts of the country.  I had the idea of determining which region or even which town offered the tastiest dish and even photographed each one so I could rate how well they were presented.  Unfortunately, such is my liking for this food I was unable to decide which was best.  But I do consider that there is nothing as good as buying takeaway fish and chips at a British seaside town and eating while relaxing on a bench at the sea front overlooking the waves.  There is an added excitement of having to defend one’s meal from the aerial attacks of the local seagulls intend on stealing as much of your food as they can get away with, which means that the meal cannot be left unattended for one second.  But for me this only adds to the fun.

Years ago fish and chips came wrapped in yesterday’s newspapers so not only could a person avail themselves of a tasty meal, but they had written material to be entertained by at the same time.  It all added to the delight of eating this most wondrous food.  This led to the saying that today’s news is simply tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapping.  I once ask a fish and chip shop owner why this practice was stopped only to be told it was due to health and safety.  I wondered what kind of diseases could be caught from old newspapers and still do so to this very day.

Keith Jahans

Fish and Chips by the sea at Scarborough, Yorkshire
(note the free wooden fork protruding from the top)



Revolution: Russian Art 1917 – 1932, Royal Academy of Arts

March 24, 2017

The Russian Revolution which led to the formation of the Soviet Union in 1922 began one hundred years ago.  The effects of the revolution reverberated around the world and still have a significant influence on global politics today.  This momentous period in modern history also began a period of ground breaking art and it is this which is explored in this thoughtfully compiled exhibition.

It focuses on the 15-year period between 1917 and 1932 when Russian art flourished across every medium and includes many forms of painting, photography, sculpture, filmmaking by pioneers such as Eisenstein, and evocative propaganda posters from what was a golden era for graphic design.  There is a full-scale recreation of an apartment designed for communal living, and with everyday objects ranging from ration coupons and textiles to Soviet porcelain.

The exhibition shows how the revolution stimulated the imagination of artists of the time but also shows the harsh realities of its aftermath.  The exhibits are both beautiful and stark and are well worth viewing as an example of how the influence of sudden change can stimulate the imagination and also lead to disillusionment.  It continues at Burlington House, Piccadilly, London until 17 April.

Keith Jahans

Fantasy (1925) by Kuzuma Petrov-Vodkin
Just one of the amazing images on exhibit


Travels in Middle England – 12 February 2016

May 17, 2016

Leicester is a wonderful place to visit.  The people there are extremely friendly and helpful.  The discovery of Richard III’s body has put the city on the international tourist map and now the city’s football team has won the English Premier League.  Some have put it down to the good fortune bestowed on the city following the King’s reburial.  I visited the city on 12th February this year when the football team, comprised of home grown players, football league rejects and lowly priced players, topped the Premiership but no one expected them to remain there.  I meant to write this blog then but somehow never got around it but perhaps my subconscious knew that it was not quite the right time.  Now I feel that my timing is almost perfect.

Finding a car park near Leicester’s city centre is difficult, this in a city which in 2014 became famous for one particular car park which contained the remains of King Richard.  I had already visited the site of the battle of Bosworth in 2014 where the King met his end and now that he had been recently buried decided to see for myself the place where his remains had been put to rest.  I booked into a hotel in Market Bosworth a few days earlier and set my car Sat. Nav. to find the Cathedral, where King Richard lies buried.  My car circumnavigated an island on which lay a nearby multi-storey car park three times before I eventually found an entrance and was able to park at what I was later to find out to be an exorbitant price (£8.00).

The cathedral lacks the grandeur of similar structures in other British cities, but it is a beautiful building nonetheless.  Richard’s stone tomb lies inside and has a section to itself.  It was free to enter and I was allowed to take photographs, but not to use flash.  I asked the lady steward at the door where the famous car park was.  I was told that it was a short distance away across the road and I should look for a plaque on the wall.  I was in the process of photographing the plaque by an entrance to a space in which cars were parked when a man passing by remarked, “If you are looking for the place where Richard III’s body was found that’s not it.  The actual car park is further along the road and around the corner.  I’ll show you where it is if you like.”  I thanked him and he led me a few hundred yards to a red bricked courtyard, the entrance to which was blocked by a barred iron gate.  “The bones were found there in the far corner,” he said pointing through the bars.  I duly pointed my camera lens through a gap in the metal in the direction he indicated and took my photograph.  “After they discovered them, they dug the whole area up and removed it to the visitor centre opposite the church.  There is a walled off centre in the courtyard which signifies the car park, but the actual car park is here.  If you want to see the removed area you must visit the visitor centre and pay the expensive entrance fee.”  I thanked him for his help and for taking the time to guide me to this spot.  His reply was that he was delighted to help someone who was interested in understanding the history of the city where he now lived.  I thanked him again and we parted company.

I did visit the visitor centre and paid the £7.00 entrance fee.  Inside, I was treated to a photographic display and videos showing the archaeological excavations that took place when the remains were discovered.  I also saw and was able to photograph the removed part of the car park which was now under glass.  Afterwards, I visited the timber framed Guildhall, built in the 14th century, which was next to the Cathedral and free to enter.

The city and its football team deserve their good fortune despite the high price charged by its car parks.  Yesterday a crowd of over one hundred thousand turned out to cheer the team as it paraded through the streets in open top buses.  Leicester’s citizens and footballers have inspired those of other cities worldwide.  Long may this continue.

Keith Jahans
17th May 2016

King Richard's Car ParkKing Richard III’s Car Park

King Richard's Statue in front of CathedralStatue of King Richard outside Leicester Cathedral

King Richard's TombKing Richard’s Tomb

For information about Leicester City Football Club
go to

Travels in Southern England – The Folkestone Book Festival – Sunday 29 November

November 29, 2015

An Exceptional Nation?
Former newspaper commentator and historian, Jonathan Fenby, posed this question about France at the Quaterhouse this afternoon. He took us through the events that have shaped the country from the Revolution to the present day. Some of the facts I already knew but there were many details about the leaders of those times of which I was unaware. This has been a month in which the shootings in Paris have left the modern world numb. The French President has called it an attack on the very values and fabric of his country. This was my last visit to a Folkestone Book Festival event and gives me a chance to reflect on how fanatical violence can affect the freedoms fought for and gained by today’s modern civilizations. Fenby’s book looks to contain valuable information about the turmoils that effect the evolution of a European country and looks to be worth buying.

History of Modern France
The History of Modern France is published by Simon & Schuster
and is available in hardcover and as an ebook

Keith Jahans

Travels in Southern England – The Folkestone Book Festival – Saturday 28 November

November 29, 2015

Robin Ince’s Reality Tunnel
I took a break from the Festival on Friday but decided to give this presentation by Robin Ince last night a view. I had not heard of Ince before and was unprepared for what turned out to be a very clever stand-up routine with a smattering of scientific facts thrown in. His set was full of throwaway one liners and often diverged away from a particular point he was trying to make before the punch line. I particularly liked the way he said he had upset some art critics when he said that instead of visiting a Turner exhibition he preferred to walk along a bank of the Thames without his glasses on. Good comedy will always offend someone and Ince takes great delight in doing this. At times I found his comedy a little too glib but the audience seemed enchanted by it. Hidden between the jibs are some salient points and I think that any night out hosted by Robin Ince will be well worth the visit.

Keith Jahans

Travels in Southern England – The Folkestone Book Festival – Thursday 26 November

November 27, 2015

Trollope Revisited
This year is the 200th centenary of Anthony Trollop’s birth. The Festival marked the occasion by making his novel, The Way We Live Now, the festival read and a mammoth showing of all parts of the BBC adaptation preceded this presentation by Peter Merchant, principal lecturer at Canterbury Christ Church University. I elected to miss the marathon screening but I was glad that I attended the presentation. I confess that I have not read any Trollop novel or watch any of their film or TV adaptations. However, it was fascinating to hear Merchant compare his writing style with his more famous contemporary, Charles Dickens. He used text analysis tools to compare extracts from some of their novels and showed that Dickens used more imagery and words than the more measured and methodical method of Trollop. Each proved effective in recounting the themes that they endeavoured to portray and this has convinced me to add at least one of Trollope’s works to my reading list.

The Way We Live NowThe Way We Live Now is available in a variety of formats,
Ebooks can be downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg

Melvyn Bragg: Now is the Time
I was fortunate to get a late ticket to see this famous TV and radio presenter talk about his historical novel of the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. Bragg impressively set the events, which took place around the time of the Black Death, in context. At one point he diverged from his discourse to say that he considered that humans emergence from their apelike ancestors was not due to their ability for language (even birds are able to communicate by calling to each other) but due to their development of imagination. Great Scientists such as Newton and Einstein thought about their ideas first then imagined how they worked before putting them to the test. I found this view of human evolution intriguing which leads me to think that this novel will be well worth the read.

Now Is The TimeNow Is The Time is published by Sceptre
And is available in hardcover, paperback and as an ebook and audiobook

Keith Jahans

%d bloggers like this: