Vox Clamantis in Deserto
Chapter 13

  Links to chapters:

Harrier Royal Air Force Harrier

Meter reading medium
A Change of Life

Courtney's Journal - Man's Flight Through Life is Sustained by the Power of his Learning

On this page: RAF Board of Inquiry,   Benthic Orchid II,   Carol Kitson,   Project Ocean Vision,
                      My Dad,   Jeanne KitsonCaptain Blackheart,   Never Join Anything.

Board of Inquiry

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It was during the summer of 2006 that an old friend of mine called by my desk at Headquarters 1 Group and asked if I had seen the notice asking for volunteers for the final tranche of redundancies - part of the exercise to reduce the size of the Armed Forces that had been going on for a few years by that time. He pointed out that I was right in the middle of the age range they were after and the terms they were offering were quite remarkable. Of course, I knew that a wing commander with a fast-jet background was very unlikely to be selected for redundancy, but it did pique my interest. After a lot more thought it was obvious to me that this was too good an opportunity to miss. I would have to retire from the Royal Air Force in a few more years anyway and certainly wouldn't get the sort of pay-off they were offering here. I knew there would be no more flying to come for me and finding a new job at 49 would probably be easier than at 55. Also, they would start paying my pension straight away, albeit at a very slightly reduced rate.

So, after a good deal of consultation, I decided to put myself forward and wrote the best case I could on my application. Almost immediately after submitting my application I was selected to be the President of a Board of Inquiry based at RAF Cottesmore in Rutland. This meant that I was pretty much out of the office and away from home for the next several months.

Very briefly, the Board of Inquiry was to investigate a piece of video that had popped-up on YouTube showing what appeared to be an RAF engineer standing on Kandahar Airfield under a Harrier doing a low pass (or 'beat-up' as it is known). His opening words were 'I'm not gonna flinch' - you can probably find the video by Googling that or you can watch it below. So off I went to set about trying to find out what had happened. The AOC was keen to know who was flying the jet (as you can imagine), who filmed it, whether there was any collusion between the pilot and the groundcrew and, most important, whether the engineer in the video had been bullied or coerced into doing it.


So I decamped to RAF Cottesmore in Rutland and checked into a hotel for the duration. We found the bloke in the film, that was easy. But, beyond that, it was a tricky assignment because no one was going to tell us anything. Everyone simply denied any knowledge of it and clammed up. Slowly over many months we chiselled away at it. We examined the video over and over, even measuring the shadows to calculate the sun direction and elevation to work out when it was taken. We interviewed and cross examined. We visited experts and tracked down likely witnesses.

We reported our progress to the AOC, who shouted and ranted at us. I especially 'enjoyed' a 45 minute, one-way telephone conversation that I had with my AOC one afternoon. Not only was he kind enough to tell me what findings we were supposed to come up with he was so thoughtful that he did it all in a very loud voice that some may have mistaken for rage. Naively believing that boards of inquiry were supposed to be independent and make their findings based on evidence rather than irate air officers' whims, I decided, respectfully to discard his guidance.

Eventually, we narrowed the timeframe down to a few weeks, but were really no closer to finding out who was the pilot or who took the video. We had our suspicions, but we couldn't prove it. Yet.

Finally, I had an amazing breakthrough. I realized from the engineering records that there was only one Harrier at Kandahar that was in that configuration. Cross-referencing that with all our other evidence it suddenly came down to just one sortie and, from the records, just one pilot. From there, the case was cracked. As it happened, the pilot in question was heading off to the USA on an exchange tour and I thought this whole thing would probably ruin his chances of going. As the whole incident and the investigation were pretty ridiculous (in my very humble opinion, not shared by the AOC), I decided that this shouldn't really blight an otherwise hopeful career. So I stalled. I stalled until it was too late for the AOC to stop his exchange tour and then revealed our findings. Consequently, our pilot friend got a stiff bollocking and went on his exchange tour. I didn't make many friends that year!

Anyway, in the middle of all this I received a call from my boss back at High Wycombe to tell me that I had, against all odds, been selected for redundancy and would be leaving the RAF in March 2007, later delayed until that August. Goodness! I had thought about it all very carefully and imagined that I was well prepared, but suddenly I realized that my life was about to change. It was all quite exciting really.

Every serviceman is entitled to a period of resettlement prior to leaving the Armed Forces - just time to grab a few last-minute qualifications in preparation for the nasty, big, bad world outside. The resettlement system was well thought-through and well-funded. However, my involvement in the Board of Inquiry meant that I missed out on all but one, brief session. This was a great shame as I would only get one bash at getting some meaningful qualifications before becoming a civilian. Well, that didn't happen so I was going to have go with what I had.

So, the plan was to leave the RAF in the summer of 2007, buy a small house somewhere nice and as close as I could afford to my Mum & Dad, make time for all the things I'd always wanted to do, find a job that was worthwhile and that wasn't going to drive me up the wall and generally settle down. What wasn't in the plan was the death of my Dad, divorce and finally finding my true soul mate. I remember seeing a poster in a doctor's surgery once saying that the four most stressful things in life are changing job, moving house, bereavement and divorce. Here I was, suddenly, facing all of them at once! Interesting times.

Anyway, I found and purchased a great little house in Buckinghamshire. It sounds so easy when you put it like that. It fitted all the essential criteria in that it was affordable, well located for job opportunities and close enough to my Mum and Dad, who were living in Berkhamsted, within the sound of church bells on a Sunday morning, walking distance of town, nice pubs, open countryside, etc.


Link to the post-expedition
report from EXPEDITION


Expedition Benthic Orchid II

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Before I knew I was to leave the RAF, I had signed up to another marine research expedition, Benthic Orchid II, back to Thailand to carry on the previous year's work. Despite this being a pretty busy time of life I was inclined to press on with this plan and make it, pretty much, the last thing I did in the Air Force - not a bad way to leave, I thought.

The format was much the same as the 2006 exped, except a few of us decided to go out a bit early and spend a long weekend in Bangkok at the start of the trip. Once again we spent the majority of the exped living on the MV Harmony and we re-surveyed all the sites we had done the year before in order to measure the regeneration of the coral (this procedure was repeated again the following year). After a great expedition, the Team laid on a leaving dinner (leaving the RAF) for me and, even more impressive, on our return to the UK we were awarded the gold medal for our work by the Duke of Edinburgh - a visit to the Palace later in the year. Below are some pictures from Expedition Benthic Orchid II and from our visit to Buckingham Palace. The post-expedition report is also available here.

RAF Aircraft and Weapons
Click here to download a pdf document showing the aircraft and weapons in use by the RAF at this time. Good!


Expedition Benthic Orchid II - Divers

The Benthic Orchid II Team, Thailand 2007

Paul Courtnage (Courtney) and team on Expedition Benthic Orchid II, Marine conservation in Thailand Thumbnail

Expedition Benthic Orchid II - Bangkok

Part of the Team at the Baiyoke Tower, Bangkok

Paul Courtnage (Courtney) and team on Expedition Benthic Orchid II, Marine conservation in Thailand Thumbnail

Expedition Benthic Orchid II - The Similan Islands

Out in the Andaman Sea

Expedition Benthic Orchid II, marine conservation in Thailand Thumbnail

Expedition Benthic Orchid II - Science Officer

Dr Nick Evans from the Natural History Museum, London

Dr Nick Evans (Natural History Museum), Expedition Benthic Orchid II, marine conservation in Thailand Thumbnails

Expedition Benthic Orchid II - Tiny

My Dive Buddy, Daz 'Tiny' Arnold

Daz Arnold (Tiny), Expedition Benthic Orchid II, marine conservation in ThailandThumbnail

Expedition Benthic Orchid II - Manta Ray

A big manta in fairly murky water, 2007

Manta Ray taken by Courtney on Expedition Benthic Orchid II, marine conservation in Thailand Thumbnail

Expedition Benthic Orchid II - Eel

A species of moray eel, Similans 2007

Expedition Benthic Orchid II Thumbnail

Expedition Benthic Orchid II - Coral

Healthy coral that survived the 2004 tsunami

Coral taken by Courtney on Expedition Benthic Orchid II, marine conservation in Thailand Thumbnail

Expedition Benthic Orchid II - Wildlife

Sea life in the Similan Islands

Expedition Benthic Orchid II, marine conservation in Thailand Thumbnail

Expedition Benthic Orchid I - RAF Club

Back to Expedition Benthic Orchid I for comparison. At the RAF Club before the palace.

Expedition Benthic Orchid II Courtney and the Expedition Benthic Orchid II team at the RAF Club before going to Buckingham Palace to receive an award from HRH The Duke of Edinburgh for marine conservation work in Thailand

Expedition Benthic Orchid II - Buckingham Palace

Wg Cdr Paul Courtnage receiving the gold medal from HRH The Duke of Edinburgh for Expedition Benthic Orchid II...

Paul CourtnageThumbnail

Expedition Benthic Orchid II - Buckingham Palace

...and afterwards outside Buckingham Palace.

Courtney and the Expedition Benthic Orchid II team outside Buckingham Palace after receiving an award from HRH The Duke of Edinburgh for marine conservation work in Thailand Thumbnail

Slideshow of Expedition Benthic Orchid II

Benthic Orchid 2 Team
Sgt Daz Arnold                                                                                                    
    Sqn Ldr Kev O'Neill                             Flt Lt Sarah Heald       SAC Stu Sinclair         Sqn Ldr Pete Maskell
    Wg Cdr Paul Courtnage     Wg Cdr Angus Deas     Flt Lt Kirsty Livingston     Dr Nick Evans       Sqn Ldr Colin Benford

Carol Kitson Carol Kitson 2006
(click image to enlarge)


Carol Kitson

After returning from Thailand and, effectively leaving the RAF, I had a little time available to do some serious DIY to the house before moving into it in April 2007. I had no furniture, bedding, cutlery, plates, pots, pans, towels or anything, but that didn't seem to matter. My marriage was starting to fall apart - actually, seriously falling apart - and so I did the best I could under the circumstances and set about arranging my new life alone. The ensuing divorce went on and on, got pretty nasty and cost me dearly. But I got through it.

Then came one of those 'wow' moments that usually only happen in movies. I had known a wonderful girl, Carol Kitson, for some years and we were good friends. With a lot of massive changes going on in both our lives, we started to find great joy and comfort in each other's company and gained a lot of much-needed support from each other. We grew very close and I invited Carol to move in with me. Once again my whole life changed and, if you'll pardon my saying, so did Carol's. We both knew this was right.

Project Ocean Vision
& Elysium Strand


Project Ocean Vision &
Elysium Strand

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Meanwhile, I had found a job at The Open University in Milton Keynes - I was quite a fan of the OU having just been studying my Natural Sciences degree course with them. To carry on the conservation work I had begun through my recent expeditions with the RAF, Carol & I set up Project Ocean Vision with a view to making underwater conservation videos. We started planning the first of our filming expeditions, aiming to do a couple each year - it's a hard life making movies! We also established our band, Elysium Strand, mainly to make soundtrack music for our videos, but also because we both just wanted to make music. We set ourselves up a music studio and a video production suite and prepared to start making movies and music. In addition to making documentaries with a marine conservation flavour, we also produce short video diaries of each expedition, just to show what we do on our trips, you can listen to some of our music (MP3 Player below) and take a look at some of our video diaries; don't run both at the same time! I shan't go into all our expeditions here as they are amply covered in our Project Ocean Vision website.


Click PLAY on the player below for a sample of Elysium Strand's recent music.
Drag the slider to move on, refering to the timings on the track list below.
You will need to turn this off before you try to run any of the videos on this page!


1 00:00 Pandora (Pandora) 7 37:45 Time Runs Away (Expectations)
2 12:55   About Time (Pandora) 8 42:37   Discovery (Expectations)
3 16:50   Thistlegorm (Pandora) 9 46:12   Nemesis (Expectations)
4 22:13   Upland (Pandora) 10 50:01   Neo (Expectations)
5 27:35   Pandora Finale (Pandora) 11 53:29   Mystic (Expectations)
6 30:06   Expectations (Expectations) 12 59:36   Bourée (J S Bach) (Expectations)


Suffice to say that it is a long-term project and lifestyle choice. We don't want it to grow too quickly into a demanding, full-on business - anyway, it takes time to get all the footage and to get to the places around the world that we need for filming. Below are abridged versions of the the video diaries from our first two major filming expedition (Expeditions Ocean Vision I and II), which were to The Red Sea in the Summer of 2008 and to Thailand the following Spring. First some pictures of Elysium Strand in action.


Elysium Strand

Paul Courtnage and Carol Courtnage Paul Courtnage (Courtney) - Elysium Strand Carol Courtnage - Elysium Strand
Courtney and Carol Courtnage, Elysium Strand

Paul Courtnage - Elysium Strand Paul Courtnage - Elysium Strand
Paul Courtnage (Courtney) - Elysium Strand

Paul Courtnage (Courtney) and Carol Courtnage - Elysium Strand Paul Courtnage - Elysium Strand Carol Courtnage - Elysium Strand
Elysium Strand Live

Courtney - Elysium Strand Live Paul Courtnage - Elysium Strand
Elysium Strand Live


Expedition Ocean Vision 1

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Here is our Project Ocean Vision video diary from Expedition Ocean Vision 1,
our Red Sea expedition in 2008. Music bt Elysium Strand. Stop the MP3 Player first!


Expedition Ocean Vision 2

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And our Project Ocean Vision video diary from Expedition Ocean Vision 2,
our Thailand expedition in 2009. Music by Elysium Strand.

My Dad

My Dad: Gp Capt Kenneth Courtnage OBE AFC

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While all this was going on, Carol and I were married in October 2008 in Rutland - we don't like to let the grass grow under our feet! But we need to jump back in time a little before we can get into all that.

Towards the end of 2007, it became apparent that my Dad's health was declining and he was becoming very frail. A stoic to the end, he refused to trouble the doctors with any of his problems although my sister Sandy did manage to drag him to the surgery once or twice. All of this was not having a good effect on Mum either. It was a huge burden of responsibility on her to look after Dad, who probably wasn't the easiest patient in the world, if I'm honest.

Ken Courtnage and Paul Courtnage
Me with my Dad, Ken Courtnage - 2006

Anyway, to cut to the chase, Carol and I were with Mum and Dad one Sunday lunchtime when Dad became really ill; so ill that I had to get him rushed into hospital. Although they made him comfortable for a couple of days, he died that Wednesday, 9th January 2008. God, I felt like my whole World had just been blown apart! It is pointless to try to describe the sense of despair and grief here, so I shall move on to Dad's funeral. My brother-in-law, Phil wrote the following for the padre that conducted Dad's funeral:

Kenneth Courtnage
Courtney's Dad, Kenneth Courtnage


Group Captain Ken Courtnage OBE, AFC, RAF by Phil Burton.

Ken was born in Portsmouth on 7th February 1923 and died just short of his 85th birthday. In that life he rose from quite humble beginnings, working initially as a clerk alongside his future wife Phyllis, to become a much decorated RAF pilot and a man greatly admired, both professionally and personally.

He joined the RAF in 1942 and was trained in Canada before returning to Britain as a Sergeant Pilot to join a Norwegian Squadron flying Sunderland flying boats. He was one of the small numbers of wartime recruits to the RAF who were offered a Permanent Commission after the war, and so began his rise through the ranks.

In the aftermath of the war he flew operations from Palestine in Lancasters and it was on one of these trips that his aircraft suffered a massive fuel leak and double engine failure. He recovered the aircraft to Cyprus and was awarded the Air Force Cross, the highest award available in peacetime for skill and courage in the air.

His immaculate bearing and ability to lead men led to command of the Queen's Colour Squadron, the last Pilot to do so, and award of the OBE. Later he commanded 120 Squadron, a squadron on which he had served earlier as a pilot, and served on the Joint Headquarters staff in Singapore. On his return, he was promoted to Group Captain, and became the RAF Director of the Joint Anti-Submarine School based in Londonderry Senior RAF Officer for Scotland and Northern Ireland, at a time when, sadly, the troubles in Northern Ireland were at a peak.

After his career in the RAF, he spent much time advising officers and men of all three Armed Services as they entered civil life: it was a task for which he was well suited with his sympathetic approach and natural leadership.

Alongside his professional life, he was a loving husband to Phyllis, married to her for 64 years and her supporter when she embarked on her career as a JP and a Councillor in Dacorum. His children, Sandy, Julia and Paul, will testify to their feelings for him as a father, but he was hugely proud of his six grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

Loving husband, proud father, exceptional pilot, all apply to Ken. But, above all, everyone who came in contact with him remembers Ken as the epitome of an Officer and a Gentleman.


Ken Courtnage My Dad, Ken Courtnage, flying training in Canada, 1943

Kenneth Courtnage's AFC announcement
AFC announcement - Kenneth Courtnage

Jeanne Kitson Jeanne Kitson
Carol's Mum, Jeanne Kitson

Sophie Leonora Courtnage

Jeanne Kitson

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Sadly, in the months after our wedding, Carol's Mum, Jeanne, had also become very ill and, as we approached our Thailand expedition in March 2009, her health was deteriorating steadily. Sadly, Jeanne died at home the day before we were scheduled to set off. Our first thought was to cancel our exped, but family and friends rallied round wonderfully. Before she passed away, Jeanne was insistent that we continue with our plans and Carol's Dad and brother both insisted that we go ahead with our plans.

Very bravely, Carol agreed that we would go to Thailand. This was not an easy decision, but we would be back in time for Jeanne's memorial service. This was a terribly difficult time for Carol; like my dad's passing the year before. As he said to me a couple of days before he died, "Thank God you're with Carol now". I say, "Thank God we have each other".

To keep with the theme of this chapter of change, change and more change, I turn now to my daughter Sophie. Sophie had been working in Henley and had met a really nice Aussie bloke named Matt who had been living and working in the UK for a few years. They went out together for a couple of years and as it was time for him to return to Aus, he asked Sophie to go with him - what a marvellous opportunity! So, after a quick valedictory tour of Europe, they set off for the land down under. I was absolutely delighted for them both.

Chris, my son, had been at Uni in Liverpool and decided to live there after he graduated. He was getting himself established and seemed very happy with life there. He had also taken to spending his summer months in the US running a summer camp in New York state, which he found thoroughly rewarding. So both of them were getting settled.

Matt Geraghty and Sophie Courtnage
Matt Geraghty and Sophie Courtnage

Project Ocean Vision Project Ocean Vision

Elysium Strand - Courtney and Carol Courtnage Elysium Strand in concert, 2008


So where did all that leave me? Well, living a completely new life, really. After 30 years in the Royal Air Force I really didn't want to chase another career; I wanted, as they say, to slow things down a bit.

So I had settled nicely into university life, a job that I can switch off at 5:30 every evening so that I can concentrate on Carol, our conservation work, filming and music, potter in our garden or explore the Buckinghamshire countryside, take time to see our parents, visit Rutland Water to watch the ospreys. We have our Project and our band, Elysium Strand, regular diving trips all over the world, four great children between us, all of whom are wonderfully supportive of us, and two of our parents within reasonable striking distance.

Carol and I have made a new life together and said goodbye to the old ones. We have a new home and a chance to put down roots, loads of plans for our house and garden, loads of plans for our expeditions. A thoroughly new life waiting to be lived.

As well as our travels, we have seen some amazing things and learnt a lot. As a short distraction, here's a fantastic mechanical horse we found at the Henley Music Festival, filmed on a mobile phone:


Fantastic Mechanical Horse

Captain Blackheart

Coeur Noir
Olivier Lavasseur - La Buse

Lettre de Marque
Lettre de Marque

Coeur Noir Sabre of Honour
Coeur Noir' Sabre of Honour

Coeur Noir
Captaine Coeur Noir's Flag

Captain Coeur de Nois's Brigantine, Améthyste Étoiles
Captain Coeur de Nois's brigantine,
Étoile Améthyste


Captain Blackheart: Capitaine Coeur Noir

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The surname Courtnage variously attracts attention, mispronunciation, spelling mistakes and, occasionally, some interesting information. Carol and I were on a boat in the Red Sea for some diving one day when we were approached by a Dutch fellow named Ernst van der Meer who turned out to be something of a historian and etymologist. Having seen our name on the boat’s manifest he sought us out to talk about it. It appears that he had been researching a distant ancestor of his who went by the unlikely name of Capitaine Olivier Levasseur, also known as La Buse, French for The Buzzard.

La Buse, it transpires, was an 18th century French corsair. Our Dutch friend’s interest in La Buse was his mysterious legacy in the form of a necklace giving cryptic clues to the location of his considerable treasure trove. La Buse earned his nickname for the swiftness and heartlessness with which he struck at his victims’ ships.

A young officer in La Buse’s crew was an equally ruthless gent known to us by his nickname, Coeur Noir, French for Black Heart or Blackheart.  At the end of the Spanish War of Succession La Buse turned to piracy so Blackheart left his crew and went on to enjoy his own successful career as a corsair for the French. He was presented to King Louis XV by the commander of the St Malo Fleet, René Duguay-Trouin, and received his lettre de marque from the King in 1720. He became captain of the 200 foot brigantine, Étoile Améthyste that same year. A brigantine was a two-masted vessel; the fore mast being square-rigged, the aft mast rigged fore and aft. It mounted 10 cannon, carried a crew of 100 and weighed over 200 tons. This was a small ship compared to naval vessels of the day, but Capitaine Coeur Noir used his ship's superior speed and manoeuvrability to engage successfully the much larger escorts that outgunned him. When not at sea, Coeur Noir lived in St Malo (Cité Corsaire) in Brittany. By the way, Olivier Levasseur, La Buse, was hanged for piracy in 1730, the same year that Coeur Noir was presented a sabre of honour by Louis XV.

St Malo - home of Captain Coeur Noir
St Malo - home of Captain Coeur Noir and home port of the Étoile Améthyste

Capitaine Coeur Noir adopted many of La Buse's conventions: crew members were responsible for their own equipment and weapons; desertion, cowardice and 'meddling with a woman without her consent' were punished by death and gambling on board his ship was illegal. Crew wishing to drink at night were confined to do so above decks allowing their shipmates to sleep. All French corsairs were required to operate withn admiralty law, although privateering was, sadly, outlawed by the Declaration of Paris in 1856.

Coeur Noir understood the need for discipline, crew morale and a sea-worthy vessel. Crew members were permitted to leave the ship once they had amassed riches of a certain value or would be paid off (quite handsomely) if they were seriously injured in action. Conditions on Blackheart's ship were reasonable and the rewards of their profession were huge. With his crew, Captain Blackheart plundered the merchant ships and the naval escorts of France's enemies and brought home a small fortune, divided between him, his crew and the French Crown. Corsairs, you see, were not pirates, but licensed to operate against the state's enemy shipping. Because of their legal status, dashing public image and their wealth, the corsairs were very highly regarded and it appears that Coeur Noir became very popular at the French Court where he had a number of children by various ladies.

It appears that Coeur Noir retired from the sea and carefully distanced himself from the Nobility in his middle years as the slave trade was becoming more attractive to privateers of the day than capturing English ships for prize. There was also the small matter of a revolution, which required very careful posturing.

Anyway, the point is that our companion, Mr Van der Meer, was terribly excited to tell us that he recognized the name Courtnage as a corruption of Coeur Noir, something that Captain Blackheart apparently contrived to befit his status at court. So, all this would make me the descendent of an 18th century French Corsair - Capitaine Coeur Noir, Captain Blackheart - my great-great-great-great-grandfather. So, I shall now introduce myself as Courtney Coeur Noir. If I find out more about any of this, I shall be sure to keep it to myself; especially the location of The Buzzard’s massive hoard and anything that Capitaine Coeur Noir may have stashed away for himself.

By the way, there are some 300 or so magnificent stone carvings at a place on the coast of Brittany called Rotheneuf. These were carved over a period of 25 years in the 19th century by the Abbé Fouré and depict local corsairs, pirates and smugglers. Two of the sculpures here are La Buse and Coeur Noir.


Captain Blackheart
So, how funny I should find myself sailing under this flag one day on the Red Sea.
The flag of Coeur Noir, Captain Blackheart.


Four Hands Guitar

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OK. Time for another music video. These are two excellent Canadian musicians called Antoine Dufour and Tommy Gauthier. Antoine (sitting in the viseo) is a guitarist and Tommy (standing) a violinist. This is something they did for fun and to advertise their website. I just love it.



Herding instinct Herding Instinct


Give in Don't give in, just say "no"

Lady's Hill Golf Club Lady's Hill Golf Club

Never Join Anything

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Now, if all that pirate stuff gives you the urge to rush out and sign up with the nearest crew or, indeed, to join any group, crew, club, society or organization, here's an important concept that you should all grasp...

As a species, human beings are notoriously gregarious.  That's why we seem to have a propensity for grouping together in towns and cities - the world has over 400 cities with populations greater than one million.  It is this same characteristic that causes us to want to rush out and join things: clubs, societies, committees and fads.  Apart from the fact that it's an inherent desire, the precise nature of this need is quite diverse.  The one thing that can be said to be true in all cases is that you should never give in to these primal instincts.

Peoples' reasons for joining things are, as I suggested, astonishingly varied.  In some cases it's a throwback to some ancient herding instinct, in some a desire to 'belong' and, in others, a submission to pressure.  In each case, you would be quite wrong to submit to the coercion to join things.  The herding instinct is a defunct and (in evolutionary terms) degrading relic of our ancestry.  Lower orders do it to lessen the chances of a predator singling out an individual as lunch.  This is, in effect, a means of hiding in a crowd.  We should no more give in to such urges than we should accede to copulating in public, sniffing each other's bottoms or picking fleas off of our relatives.  We grew out of all that centuries ago (well, most of us).  So, just because seven and a half million other people choose to go and live in London, this is no good reason for you to move there too.

Similar in nature is the desire to belong.  The subtle difference between this and the herding instinct is that this is driven by a more recent human characteristic: not wishing to appear to be different.  People who are different attract fear, bigotry, ridicule and rejection from others (although to attract rejection could be considered to be something of an oxymoron). Teenagers are frighteningly consummate examples of this.  The crowd wears a particular brand of trainers; therefore your teenage son wants to do the same in order to demonstrate his belonging to that group.  Failing to conform to the group rules is to invite derision, social rebuke and (in extreme cases) reprimand by being hung upside-down in warm marmalade. 

More distinct is the last motivator: outside pressure.  This is the worst of all.  Although they will nearly always deny it, the reason some sad individuals end-up being the treasurer for their local residents' caravan beautification society is because someone else pressured them into it.  This pressure can take a number of forms: flattery, vanity, conscience, social ambition, social duty and threats of violence.  Here are examples of each:

Flattery. This is the oldest trick in the book (or it would be if there were such a book).  Members of local protest groups have been known to use this one to coerce neighbours into joining.  It works well in this instance because we are normally on our guard against the more obvious ploys, such as social duty and threats of violence, and this one catches us unaware.  The trick is to build-up the target's self-esteem to such an extent that to refuse to join would be to deny that the adulation is true.  Now see how easy it is: 'You're such a resourceful organiser, that you could produce our monthly newsletter standing on your head and it will be so much better with you at the helm than it used to be'.  The gullible fall for this one every time.

Vanity. Working on the same human weakness as flattery, this one is partially self-generated.  In this case, the individual already believes himself or herself to possess a particular talent or characteristic that is terribly in demand and it takes very little effort to perpetuate this self-esteem.  Often they are deluded enough to believe that they are the only person within a community to possess these, often imaginary, gifts.  The effect is the same in that one's sense of 'self' drives the poor unfortunate into joining, this time voluntarily, although the crafty recruiter will have nurtured the impulse.  Like this:  'You really need someone who has an eye for spring arrangements.  The Vicar is bound to be delighted with my flowers.'

Conscience. An abominable mortal flaw, conscience can easily be stimulated into action through the simplest and most transparent of lies.  The watchword here is 'guilt'.  When attempting to compel an individual into joining (for example) a committee, the coercer might convince the coercee that his or her failure to join up would result in the downfall of a particular project or worthy cause.  Alternatively, retrospective intimidation may be employed in which case it is something that the coercee has already done that has brought about a state of catastrophe that can only be remedied by his or her instantaneous enrolment.  Either is a despicable artifice to be resisted at all costs.  This is because if they need to resort to such extreme duress, the job they're trying to get you into must be really appalling.  Thus, Conscience:  'I don't know where else to turn.  If you can't find just eight or nine hours a week to help I'm afraid the old peoples' aeronautical studies group will simply have to fold.  They'll be so disappointed.'

Social Ambition. Ooh, we hate this one!  This is the classic reason for Range Rover driving, shopping at Waitrose and company executives joining the local golf club.  The more exclusive the club, the more desirable.  The more desirable, the more difficult to get in.  This, horrifyingly, leads our social climbers to go to almost any lengths to make a successful application.  Sycophancy, discrediting fellow applicants, bribery and conspiracy are the weapons of deceit adopted here.  Also, it's not enough for this group of 'joiner' to belong, this parvenu will want to make sure that everyone knows that he (usually) or she (sadly sometimes) has joined.  Joining as a status symbol leads to snobbery and pretentiousness.  To illustrate Social Ambition:  'Darling, we simply have to join Lady's Hill Golf Club.  The Smitherington-Smythes and the Farquar-Hendersons are members and I utterly couldn't bear it if we didn't get in.  Why not let it slip that the Morrison-Phorbes drive a Vauxhall and then we might get their slot?'

Social Duty. On the face of it, this looks like a really good reason for joining.  You could be excused for thinking that people who join out of a sense of duty – for the general good, as it were – were servants of the highest principles.  You would be deplorably mistaken.  The human psyche doesn't include a sense of social duty.  It is an illusion whose purpose it is to salve our innate sense of guilt or to make us feel good about ourselves.  To show just how distasteful this type of motivation really is, consider that it is this that drives seemingly ordinary people to join political parties and to become MPs!  I must apologize if this revelation shocks or in any way upsets you, but it is true.  These hapless, guileless boobies have deceived themselves into believing that their thirst for power and recognition is actually a self-sacrificing intent to serve their fellow man.  So, here's an example of Social Duty:  'I really do not seek the public attention and acclaim that such high office attracts, but I am, notwithstanding the considerable financial remuneration, a slave to my duty to serve my country.'

Threats of Violence. You could be forgiven for believing this to be the worst kind of intimidation.  It is, of course, nothing of the sort.  It is the purest, most direct and least ambiguous of all forms of motivation.  There is no under-hand, psychological duress at work here; it is simply an openly stated, freely offered choice between two alternatives.  Thus, Threats of Violence:  'Join the IRA or Seamus will be round at the weekend to drill your kneecaps.'

So there we have it.  These are the motivators for joining.  Of course, it is fair to say that, very occasionally, people do join things just because they want to.  Joining the local pub darts team because you like hanging out with other sweaty, oleaginous, nylon-clad, beer bellies could be argued to be a perfectly acceptable reason.  And you may be right, but this sort of thing happens so infrequently as to be virtually irrelevant to the subject.

So, if most people end up joining for reasons other than a desire to do whatever it is that which they're joining does, it must mean that most 'joiners' join things that they really wouldn't normally join.  In other words, you really don't want to be doing this. Once you've joined and the full horror of your aberration becomes clear to you, it's invariably too late to do anything about it.  Trying to get out again makes you, firstly, appear indecisive, secondly, feel guilty and, thirdly, vulnerable to the full raft of inducements already listed.  You are, in a word, trapped.


Finally, a few pictures of Carol and I from our wonderful life together:

Courtney and Carol Courtnage
  Carol Courtnage and Paul Courtnage Carol Kitson Paul Courtnage

Carol Courtnage and Courtney (Paul Courtnage) - Project Ocean Vision

Paul Courtnage and Carol Courtnage Carol Kitson Paul Courtnage

Paul Courtnage (Courtney) and Carol Courtnage at our wedding service

    Paul Courtnage (Courtney), Sophie Courtnage and Matt Geraghty Paul Courtnage Sophie Courtnage Matthew Geraghty

Paul Courtnage (Courtney), Sophie Courtnage and Matt Geraghty (photo by Carol)

Courtney and Carol Courtnage

Courtnage Family Gathering (Courtney and Carol Courtnage)

    Nigel Kitson, Courtney, Carol Kitson and Jeanne Kitson Nigel Kitson Paul Courtnage Carol Courtnage Jeanne Kitson

Nigel, Courtney, Carol and Jeanne Kitson

Chip Stapleton and Phil Burton Alex Burton Phil Burton Chip Stapleton Adrian Murdock

Brothers in Law, Chip Stapleton and Phil Burton

    George Grant, Paul Courtnage, Carol Courtnage, Laurence Grant Carol Courtnage Paul Courtnage George Grant Laurence Grant

George Grant, Courtney (Paul Courtnage),
Carol Courtnage & Laurence Grant

Carol Courtnage

Carol Courtnage

  Alex Burton, Phil Burton and Adrian Murdock

Alex Burton, Phil Burton and Adrian Murdock

Jo Stapleton, Sandy Burton, Phyllis Courtnage, Alex Burton

Jo Stapleton, Sandy Burton, Phyllis Courtnage, Alex Burton

    Phil Burton and Chip Stapleton

Phil Burton and Chip Stapleton

Adrian Murdock, Jo Stapleton, Alex Burton, Paul Courtnage, Carol Courtnage, Chip Stapleton, Chris Courtnage, Sophie Courtnage, Sandy Burton, Phyllis Courtnage, Julia Courtnage, Phil Burton Adrian Murdock Jo Stapleton Alex Burton Carol Courtnage Chip Stapleton Chris Courtnage Sophie Courtnage Sandy Burton Phyllis Courtnage Julia Courtnage Phil Burton Paul Courtnage

Family Courtnage.

BACK: Adrian Murdock, Jo Stapleton, Alex Burton, Paul Courtnage, Carol Courtnage, Chip Stapleton, Chris Courtnage, Sophie Courtnage
FRONT: Sandy Burton, Phyllis Courtnage, Julia Courtnage, Phil Burton.


Carol Courtnage

Carol Courtnage
Carol Courtnage on MV Scubacat in Thailand
Expedition Ocean Vision 2

Paul Courtnage

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