Maybe one of you can help me.

28th October 2018 |


The picture shows part of a table setting of china that got smashed on its way to Europe. The china was made by Spode, an old English company and the pattern is quite beautiful. It is also comparatively valuable, and was left to me by my mother. She never had much money but every now and then she would treat herself to something like this.

I was shipping it back to France in a large plywood crate, 4 X 4 X 3, which I built myself in Covelo, using screws everywhere. Everything in it was carefully packed in cartons with bubble wrap, and I drove the crate down to San Jose where the shippers, called LA-Dynamic, received it. That was in June.

The crate finally arrived at a car park near my house on October 3rd. The two drivers who brought it helped me unpack it. In fact, it was their job to do so. The crate had been taken off its pallet, and there was no way to get it off the truck without unpacking it first. Evidently it had been opened for inspection, because one side and the top had been taken off and nailed back on. I had put clear instructions to show which side of the crate should be removed first for inspection, but whoever did it ignored them.

When we took the top off the crate it was immediately obvious that something terrible had happened.The crate contained one very nice small piece of furniture, a glass cabinet, and the top of of the cabinet had been ripped off. The drivers took pictures and so did I. As we unloaded it, we could see that the back of the cabinet had also been ripped away, the legs were broken, and the whole thing was almost in pieces.


The cartons had been replaced in a disorderly fashion, and when I came to open them later at home, half the glass, china and pottery, was broken.

The shipper says the damage must have been done by the customs inspection which, they say, is not carried out by customs themselves, but by private sub-contractors. The contents were insured against total loss but the insurance company apparently refuses to consider it a total loss. After weeping crocodile tears the shipper evidently also refuses any responsibility, and all they have offered so far is an email address for US Customs and a promise to provide any documents I might need. Obviously what they hope is that I will just shut up and go away. What am I supposed to do with an email address?

So what I want to know is this: Is it actually possible that the shipper who took custody of my possessions and whom I paid to send them to France, can take no responsibility for what happens to them along the way? Is there a lawyer or a savvy businessman among you who can suggest a way for me to approach this? Isn’t there some basic principle which would over-ride any fine print I might have inadvertently signed?

I am in California for a few days but then I have to go to the OverlandExpo in Asheville and then to France. The total amount of damage is probably no more than three or four thousand dollars in market value, but the Spode is irreplaceable and of course it hurts to lose it.

Any ideas, anyone?

One of the people who once ate off my Spode and remarked how lovely he found it was a German professor of geography called Hans Bohle. We first met in India, in 1975, when I was riding my Triumph through Ootacamund.


He was a young scientist working with a volunteer organisation and trying, like so many young Germans, to wipe out the horrible recent history of his country. He said they were trying to show the Indians how to grow better vegetables and he was full of laughter at the contradictions that were always tripping them up. He said they had managed to increase the size of the cabbages they were growing by eight or nine times, but the whole crop of twenty pound cabbages were left to rot because the restaurant in Bombay that normally bought them refused to have anything to do with these giant brassicas.

Hans is dead now, but he visited me about ten years ago. He had the Chair of Geography at the University of Bonn, and of course climate played a vital part of his studies. He spent much of his time at conferences with other scientists around the globe. I asked him then how long it had been since his colleagues had known about climate change and he said for at least fifteen years it was broadly agreed that we were headed for the inferno if we didn’t do anything about it. So that’s twenty-five years ago from today.

There’s an election here in nine days time and it’s anybody’s guess which way it will go. Everybody knows how I feel about Trump and I am sure America will survive him, but only as long as the planet survives.

Thanks for listening.