“Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red”

 

 

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On November 11th I was travelling on the Great Western Railway to London.

Everywhere on Plymouth station there were notices advising that it being “Armistice Day”, there will be a national 2-minute silence to be observed for the fallen in past Wars.  Later, on the train, the guard announces there will be a 2 minute silence at 11.  It was 3 minutes to, and everyone went silent. Then phones began sounding, unanswered throughout the carriage.

Mine also. It didn’t matter.

I expect that had mobile phones been around 100 years ago there would have been so many  phones across Europe that would have gone unanswered.

The 2 minutes silence is a remembrance of that moment at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th Month when the Allies and Germany signed an armistice and the first world war came to an end.

Every November, on the nearest Sunday to the 11th (when the 2-minute silence is always observed) “Remembrance Day” ceremonial services are held at War Memorials across the country.   Wreaths are laid, prayers said and a Lone bugler plays the last post, war memorial (1)preceded by the war poem with these words: ”They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted, They fell with their faces to the foe. They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning. We will remember them”

WW1 was the first “civilian” war, in that it was not just fought by the standing army.  In 1916, the country was running out of soldiers and so “conscription” was established forcing all males between 18 and 40 to present themselves for the war Effort.  There were exemptions, members of the clergy, those with disabilities and widowers with children.   Males within those ages, thought not to be making the ultimate sacrifice for King and Country, were given white feathers – a symbol of cowardice – by women.

The movement was to shame men into enlisting, it was even supported by suffragettecoward-letter-boningtons_550 Emeline Pankhurst, but it soon got out of hand.  Some soldiers returning from the front would divest themselves of their uniform because they were rotten with lice.   One soldier on leave remarked to the woman who handed him a white feather that he would take it back to the boys in the trenches of Passchendaele.

When driving around this land, stop off in any village or town, and you’ll find a war memorial.  These started appearing after the First Great War as a reaction to the government’s failure to repatriate the dead.  With the total of British deaths; around 744,000, it was an impossible task.

Through public subscription and charitable fund raising these small or larger War memorials sprung up in every hamlet, and if funds allowed, the names and ranks of all the local dead were inscribed.  Without graves, they became the place where people could come together and grieve.    At the same this was happening, there was a growing movement in support of a national War memorial.   A kind of national headstone.   Edwin Lutyens, the last architect of Empire designed the Cenotaph (Empty grave), that sits in the middle of Whitehall in London.   On Rememberance Day the head of state, the government, chiefs of all the armed services and ex-service people and their families gather there and lay tributes to the dead of war, all wars.

The symbol that binds all this terrible history together is the Red Poppy.  It is so because when the warm Spring Sun bathed the churned-up mud of Northern France and Belgium the first thing to grow from the rude earth was the Red Poppy.

So, every November people buy red paper poppies and wear them in their lapels.

The proceeds go to the British Legion Charity to provide welfare for ex-servicemen and women.  They are woven into wreathes, they are on flags and some people have them tattooed on themselves.  They attach them to little wooden crosses to be laid at the base of the War memorials

In 2014, the centenary of the outbreak of the slaughterous First World War, over 880,000 red sculptured ceramic poppies were placed at the historical Tower of London, weeping towerfrom a window down into the moat of the castle.  The installation was called “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red”   a quote from a poem found on the body of an unknown British soldier.

In recent years it has become compulsory for anyone in public life to be seen the wearing the flower; no one ever appears on British television in November without one.   Unfortunately, those who through design or carelessness, do not adorn the Red Poppy are frowned upon.   lamp posts

But in all the years of travel on this railway I have never seen such poppycock as I had on this day.

For the first time ever, in towns and cities across the country, plastic poppies the size of landmines were strapped to every lamppost.   Where did that come from?

Funny how things go. We liberate Europe. We join Europe.   Now we leave Europe.   We do so after the longest period of peace on this continent for over 400 years.

Our politicians are already branding some European leaders as the enemy.  Polish people, who’s grandparents fought valiantly along side this country and what it stood for, are now seen as invaders.

Nationalism is afoot in the land.  There are those who have bestowed upon the poppy the burden of displaying our patriotism. We don’t need libraries or new school books but we do need a poppy on every lamppost and by this time next year no doubt, on every person as well.

If you squint with one eye and if you tilt your head thus and look at these poppies on the lampposts, they almost look like white feathers.

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The Future without a License.

It has been a long journey from the Stone Age till now;  through the  Iron age to Bronze and Steel and Steam and Electricity and we have most certainly arrived at the Information Age.

It’s who we are now.  It’s what we do.  Everywhere people carry their news, information and musical entertainment in pocket devices through which we also make telephone calls.  Electronics has made Gods of us all!   We are nowhere in time and everywhere in space.  One can be talking with someone and their phone will ring (static or mobile) and suddenly physical presence is demoted in favour a of spiritual presence.  We accept it without complaint.   It’s how things are now.

Before these devices that can carry a thousand music albums in a match box, and which we now  take completely for granted, we had tape recorders.  Anyone remember those?

The first recorder was a wire recorder, which first saw the light of day in 1898.  A reel of steel wire was run past an electro-magnetic head and the variances in the magnetised wire could be re-run past the same head to retrieve the information (sounds) stored on a reel of what looked like fishing wire. Telegraphone_wire_recorder_1922 After 40 years the wire recorder was replaced by the far more efficient Tape recorder.  These machines enabled the music industry to flourish and revolutionised broadcasting.    Like all these inventions, they found their way into the domestic market.  But they were cumbersome and large and didn’t really revolutionise people’s lives.   Then in the `1960s, with the recent birth of the transistor  – small and portability was what the population wanted.  Transistor radios were everywhere.  From the bathroom to the beach, people took their music stations with them.  Tape recorders soon followed.

The idea was to bring the big reels of recording tape into a small plastic box.   For about 5 years there was a kind of “Tape War”   After many designs it came down to the 8 track indextape1cartridge verses the Compact Cassette or Cassette Tape.  There were some other designs but they did not progress beyond proto-types.    Various large corporations wanted to get a standard box tape agreed on,  so that manufacture of the tape recorders/ players could begin, whilst at the same time wanting to be the company that gets to license their generic design, 8 track or Compact Cassette.  The original designer of the Compact Cassette was Dutch Company Phillips.  One day they made an astonishing decision – they gave to the world freedom to use their design, without paying any fees or royalties.  Suddenly, the log-jam cleared and within what seemed months; cassette

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When the transistor was sexy.

recorders were everywhere.   For the first time people could make their own record compilations, and take it with them.

Then Sony introduced the “Walkman” and the rest is History.

The same thing happened with the video recorder.  People wanted to record TV.  They wanted to film their own lives and watch it all again later.  Another system war was raging, with it all coming down to a choice between Betamax and the slightly inferior VHS.    It wasn’t until JVC (Japanese Victor Company) gave free license to manufacturers that VHS became, overnight, the established system of domestic video recording.

Had both Philips and JVC doggedly clung to their ownership of a technological advance, then who knows where we’d be now.

In 1991 another technological advance happened that has transformed how information is accessed.

Twenty-five years ago today, Tim Berners-Lee posted the first web page on line.  Rudimentary and uninteresting, insignificant to the untrained eye, this web page has changed human history.

 

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Tim Berners-Lee before he knew he needed Google.Maps.

An early version of the internet was already established.  I remember sitting at a computer terminal and dialing up and connecting to a University in the USA and was able to access some of their research documents.   I can’t remember why I did this, but I do recall it being a slow painful experience.  I would get lost in all the lists of directories and sub directories, looking for a document I wanted.

Tim Berners-Lee devised a software architecture that took all these directories and internet addresses and absorbed them into what became known as a Web Page.  The web page did all that work for you and presented the destinations on the internet in a completely transparent and standard way.  Every document had an electronic address.   It involved a very sophisticated protocol called “Hypertext” which I can’t possibly go into at this time of night.  Enough to say, it was very clever and in techincal terms put the horse and the cart together.

Tim Berners-Lee was working at CERN at the time as he was struggling to establish a usable front end environment  to interrogate the growing number of documents available on line.    He was allowed to develop his project by CERN bosses when others he had approached were not interested.      (Always remember Decca Records turned down the Beatles)

CERN (Centre Européan de Recherche Nucléaire) the Swiss-based European research organization, which today is home to the Large Hadron Collider, recognized the potential

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The first Web Page – realy boring but held the key to the future.

 

of Berners-Lee’s ideas and released the entire package free to anyone who wanted to develop it further.  The CERN organization was a not for profit body charged with the task of promoting scientific research and development.  Had he worked for IBM or British Aerospace, his ideas would have been proprietorial and therefore the property of his employer and subject to potential monetisation.

But Tim Berners-Lee worked for CERN and without charge to the users –  for ever, the World Wide Web was born.

Thank you Tim.  Thank you CERN.

 

 

 

 

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A Black life that Mattered

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I don’t care for boxing, never have.  But like most of the world, I do have a high regard for probably the greatest fighter of them all, the late Mohammad Ali.  He won 52 of 64 fights in his career.  He won The World Heavy Weight Champion title 3 times.  He once said of boxing that it was a sport where “a lot of White men watching two black men beat each other up”

Many mourn him today as great fighter, but most will do so because of his stand on Human Rights and Racial Equality.  When he won his first Championship title in 1964 racial segregation in the south was still at full tilt.  He could walk the world’s stage but not into a bar in the south.

Outside the ring his greatest fight was his refusal to be drafted into the US army that wanted to send him to Vietnam to fight what he called a “white man’s War”

He answered his call-up and attended the induction Centre, and when his name was arrestcalled he stood still and refused to step up to the table.   He was warned that he would be arrested if he continued to stand there.  His name was called again, he stood stock still.  Ali didn’t run to Canada, he just stood his ground. He was warned that he was committing a felony.  For a third time they called him to the table and he didn’t move.

He was arrested, charged and convicted.   He was sentenced to the maximum penalty of five years in jail and $10,000.00 fine.  He was stripped of his world champion title and banned for 3 years by the American Boxing board from fighting.

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Ali appealed the case all the way to the Supreme Court and won, unanimously, and was released from prison.

This what he had to say about that decision that set the tone for the rest of his life’s work.

“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?

No, I am not going ten thousand miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would put my prestige in jeopardy and could cause me to lose millions of dollars which should accrue to me as the champion.

But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is right here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality…

If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. But I either have to obey the laws of the land or the laws of Allah. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail. We’ve been in jail for four hundred years.”

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The Best Oscar Picture ever Taken

Social media, the press and the whole damn internet is awash with pictures on the subject of the Oscars.  They are mostly, always the same picture, only reinhabited by different players from last year, and the years before that.  There are the official ones: Recipients holding the Oscar statues like golf trophies, then there are the candid chating amongst themselves images that are like shooting fish in a barrel type photography.  Point a camera at a Hollywood party, you can’t miss.  But  every now and then there is a considered, imaginative, intimate portrait of an Oscar Winner.  There are not many taken like this in the few days of the Oscars,  probably it’s a matter of access.  Security is so tight that almost no one can speak to anyone without a special pass.

When I think about the Oscars, my mind oftens turns to a picture taken in 1971 of Faye Dunaway taking breakfast at the Bevelly Hills Hotel in the early the morning after she received the Oscar for her role in Network.  Her co-star Peter Finch was awarded a pothumous Oscar for the same film.

London Photographer Terry O’niell asked Faye if he could do her picture; he wanted to capture that one moment, never to come again, when someone has suddenly been elevated to the heights of her proffession.    He shot many frames, but he couldn’t quite find it through the lens, but then he suddenly  got it.   That look of exhausted happiness, the smell of the early dawn, the dizzy head, oh – what a night it must have been!   This is something so personal that we rarely get to see.

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About five years after this picture was taken O’Niell and Dunnaway married, but it only lasted three years and with one child, they divorced.  In recent interview with the Guardian Terry said this about the picture.  “She isn’t sure quite who she is any more. I waited for her to look away from the camera, and I got the shot. I look at this picture often, and I’m still so proud of it. It’s still the best Oscar picture ever taken. And modern photographers should take that as a challenge.”

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In other’s foot steps.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. – Lou Tsu.

One hundred years after Imperial Edwardian Arctic explorer Ernest Shackleton’s fatal expedition to walk across Antarctica, coast to coast, Henry Worsley – an ex- British Army officer died in his solo attempt to replicate and complete Shackleton’s adventure.

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Ernest Shackleton and his doomed ship the Endurance.

At the turn of the last century the British Empire had touched every corner of the world but Shackleton, Captain Scott and many other Edwardian explorers wanted to expand that reach across Antarctica. In 1911 Royal Navy Captain Robert Falcon Scott failed in his attempt to be the first man to reach the South Pole, beaten to the goal by Norwegian Roald Amundsen. It was a devastating blow for Scott,  seeing the Norwegian Flag standing proud and flapping at the Southern axis of the planet.

In disastrous weather conditions Scott and his team began the return journey only to

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Scott and his team stand proudly but disappointed beside the Norwegian Flag at the South Pole.

perish on the icey wastes of the uncharted continent. One of the team, Lawrence Oats, suffering from gangrene, left their tent, without his boots, and in just his socks walked to certain death in a blizzard of minus 40 degrees.

This he did not to be a burden on the rest of the team. Stepping through the tent flap he famously remarked “…..I am going out now, I may be some time” and was never seen again.

In British mythology, Shackleton was always outshone by “Scott of the Antarctic” and by Oats’s act of self-sacrifice, but he was an heroic man, who through sheer determination and bravery, managed to save many of his men trapped on the ice when they all became Job-Description-Ernest-Shackletonstranded with little food by pack ice just short of their attempt to traverse the continent from coast to coast.  Their ship had been crushed by floating pack ice, and they huddled in their poorly supplied tents hoping the weather would improve.     Shackleton took two men and rowed across the perilous South Atlantic in an open-top boat to the settlement of South Georgia on the Falklands Islands and brought help back to his team. He died shortly afterwards of a heart attack and was buried on South Georgia.

Henry Worsley wanted to complete the unfinished expedition of his Hero Ernest Shackleton by walking across the entire continent, via the South Pole. Like Scott and Shackleton, Henry was a military man; serving as Commanding Officer of the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Green Jackets. He became the “first man into Helmand” when in

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Lieutenant Colonel Alastair Edward Worsley

2006 he went without body armour to meet Imams and Elders before the arrival of the UK task force in Afghanistan. He had covered 913 miles over 71 days on his own, when just 30 miles short of his goal, he had to call for help after succumbing to exhaustion and severe dehydration. His secondary goal was to raise £100,000 for a charity caring for Army veterans. He is continuing to surparse that target.

Worsley enjoyed all the modern aides of navigation and communication, the latest in protective clothing.   Reaching out to his supporters through Facebook, Twitter and live streaming to the internet. He uploaded a daily audio diary of his extraordinary solo journey. In his last broadcast, sent from Antarctica, he told supporters: “When my hero, Ernest Shackleton, was 97 miles from the South Pole on the morning of January the 9th 1909, he said he’d shot his bolt.

Well, today I have to inform you with some sadness that I too have shot my bolt.” He described how he could no longer push one ski in front of the other. “My summit is just out of reach.”

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A Worsley selfie alone on the Ice

He radioed for help and was airlifted to a hospital in Chile where he died. Run down and exhausted he had contracted internal infections that overwhelmed his immune system.

A sad end to a remarkable life.

Whilst Shackleton was attempting his trans-continental trek, WW1 was in full swing. Likewise, during Worsley’s seventy-one days on the tundra another war was, and is, raging in Syria and as a consequence there were so many others who walked nearly a thousand miles.

Syrian and Iraqi refugees, have in their thousands, made that great walk, not out of choice

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Syrian Refugees walking a thousand miles.

or of adventure, but to escape the ravages of war, persecution, terrorism and barbarism.

True – the environment along the way was kinder to them, but still there were huge and challenging hazards on the journey. Handing their meagre savings over to people traffickers pimping over-filled and unsound boats then razor wire, transit camps, political tensions rapidly alternating between welcome and hostility; when all they wanted to do was to find refuge from the violent storm rampaging their beloved homelands.  Like so many berfore them, they have become part of that ebb and flow of displaced people walking in the foot steps of others before them.

refugees-623651One thousand miles they have travelled, enough to cross the Antarctic continent. But they have not reached their summit.   Stuck in a kind of limbo, their futures are at the mercy of the political environment they find themselves in. The milk of human kindness pouring out of Europe is now drying up.  Who together with the Near and Middle East is no stranger to mass displacement of people, but the European Union has, it seems, “shot it’s bolt” and is in danger of coming apart at the seams as many member states retreat from the problem behind their borders edged by razor wire.

These reluctant refugee explorers of the unknown may not know the outcome of their expeditions for a long, long time to come. Perhaps it will be the children who will eventually finish their family’s journey.

Will they ever be able to go home?      Who knows?     But in the meanwhile; we in Europe  must give them shelter from the storm.

It may be some time.

BYLINE ADDITION-TURKEY-GREECE-EUROPE-MIGRANTS

GRAPHIC CONTENT A Turkish police officer stands next to a migrant child’s dead body off the shores in Bodrum, southern Turkey, on September 2, 2015 after a boat carrying refugees sank while reaching the Greek island of Kos. Thousands of refugees and migrants arrived in Athens on September 2, as Greek ministers held talks on the crisis, with Europe struggling to cope with the huge influx fleeing war and repression in the Middle East and Africa. AFP PHOTO / Nilufer Demir / DOGAN NEWS AGENCY = TURKEY OUT =

 

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We’ll always have Paris

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It was just over a week ago, just about this time of the evening that I got a call from my daughter. I didn’t answer it – being in a cinema at the time. Back in the car, the lights, the engine, the fan and the radio all burst into life. What dominated was the radio conveying live coverage from Paris under siege. My daughter was in Paris on a university trip.
I picked up the phone and immediately I did what to the people of the last 4000 years would barely comprehend, I pushed a button, redial, to speak with her almost instantly.
Only I couldn’t. It went straight to voicemail.
Well now, the imagination was racing. I pictured a petrified daughter laying on the floor of a café or hiding in a music venue trying to ring home and getting no answer.

I tried again, and again – just voicemail. All the phone stories of 9/11 made from offices above and below the impact points in the Towers came gushing up. Those treasured voicemails. The calls that got through – pledging eternal devotions to one another. Heart breaking moments that will never fade for those involved. The engine of the imagination will go where it will.

Then another push of the button on the phone, and suddenly there she was. Everything was fine, she and her friends, although near the action, knew little of what was going on even though they were a mere few streets away. They were at their hotel. Their lecturer had insisted that no one go out – even for a smoke at the hotel entrance. Throughout the conversation, there were sirens in the background. Having no internet they knew little of what was really happening.

Over the next couple of hours, I kept her up to date with what we knew from TV, Radio and the Internet. I even told her to make sure they all knew where their passports were, their money and please make yourselves aware of the Hotel fire exits. This thing wasn’t over.

Next morning, the University had decided to cut short their visit, and bring them home immediately. The students had a mixture of relief and disappointment. There was nothing open. The city had become a ghost town on the Saturday anyway. Better to withdraw. Time to go.

The next call I got from daughter was that she was on the ferry in high seas off the coast of England and they couldn’t dock. I was tempted to say “make sure you know where the lifejackets are and the location of the lifeboats”. But I didn’t. Even though I knew she was on a car ferry with bow doors that can open out onto the wide sea. Two inches of water on the car deck, slopping from one side to the other can capsize a ship with the sheer weight of water. And they are in a huge swell that they cannot make harbour.

Is there no end to the worry for a parent?

On the Saturday the world’s media reported the mechanics of the siege and the shoot-outs and endless speculation about who, what, where and why. Knowing that my daughter and her friends were fine, and being a news junkie I lapped it all up with the usual detachment. Yet feeling the chill of the awful events that had unfolded.

Then Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday the news and speculation, exhausted with its own over saturation was replaced by the human stories. The private grief made public. These names and faces and stories emerged and broke our hearts. The husband who wrote a letter to the killers of his wife, denying them the satisfaction of hating them. The father on camera assuring his little son that the white flowers and candles would protect them from danger. There were countless reports of those who escaped or foiled the gunmen. So many stories.

But suppose I had continually hit that redial button on my phone and it was never, ever answered again? I can’t even to begin to imagine that pain.

In the way that all politics is local; all history is personal.

oooOOOooo

 Here is a video of Journalist Andrew Neil opening his weekly light hearted BBC magazine programme looking at the past week’s politics. I think he nailed it!

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It’s immortality Jim, but not as we know it!

He will probably go down in history as the first Alien Being to die on Earth. History will forget that he was just a fictional character masquerading as an actor.

When Star Trek hit the world’s TV screens it did so at just the right moment. The Western World was enthralled with the burgeoning exploration of space and the Starship Enterprise with Captain Kirk at the helm speeded up the experience as it took us on a short cut from Low Earth Orbit to Galaxy-wide Peace Keeping. We were hungry and couldn’t wait for NASA.

As Kirk forever starred past the viewer’s eye-line at another crisis unfolding on the big screen on the bridge of theSpock_(prime_reality)

Enterprise, his right hand man, (or Vulcan) would be there with logical advice that always confounded the Captain’s emotional reasoning. Despite Kirk’s lofty speeches embracing all races of the Galaxy, we all knew that the Enterprise patrolled an American Galaxy. This was the world that America found itself in – writ large. Spock was always there, a gentle hand on the tiller staying the illogical excesses of Kirk as he carries out his awesome task of bringing stability to the federation.

Spock once remarked “Interesting. You Earth people glorify organized violence for 40 centuries, but you imprison those who employ it privately.

Spock was cool. Like so many, we all drank the Kool-Aid.

But of course, it was just a television show, a make believe with characters played by actors. (“just a television show? What do you mean, just a television show…” shrieks a trekkie off camera)    By the time William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy finished shooting the Star Trek TV Shows in 1971 they had become trapped forever inside the skins of their characters. Be honest – whenever you see Shatner acting in a movie or on TV it’s impossible to not see James T Kirk.

In 1975 Nimoy wrote an autobiography called “I am not Spock” This was his bid to distance himself from his avatar. It didn’t matter how many times he said it, no one believed him. But Nimoy had a special place in the hearts of Fans. Over the years that appreciation became almost cult like in character. It is said that Star Trek is responsible to for prolonging virginity for many thousands of people.

1199513-kirkOver the next 20 years Nimoy concentrated on his poetry and photography and he trod the boards in the theatres of Boston and New York. But there was no escape and over the years he began to embrace Spock as his alter ego.

In 1995 he wrote a second edition of his autobiography “I am Spock” in which he celebrated the character and his values. Nimoy, like Spock was deeply philosophical and yearned for a more logical and reasoned approach to the world’s problems. Therein lies Leonard Nimoy’s reluctant stab at immortality, even if he is just a slim pencil mark on the chart of human development. In it he wrote: “I am not Spock. But given the choice, if I had to be someone else, I would be Spock

William Shatner on the other hand, has a slightly different view of his legacy. “I am not a Starfleet commander, or T.J. Hooker. I don’t live on Starship NCC-1701, or own a phaser. And I don`t know anybody named Bones, Sulu, or Spock. And no, I’ve never had green alien sex, though I’m sure it would be quite an evening. I speak English and French, not Klingon! I drink Labatt’s, not Romulan ale! And when someone says to me ‘Live long and prosper’, I seriously mean it when I say, ‘Get a life’. My doctor’s name is not McCoy, it’s Ginsberg. And when I speak, I never, ever talk like every. Word. Is. Its. Own. Sentence. I live in California, but I was raised in Montreal. And yes, I’ve gone where no man has gone before, but I was in Mexico and her father gave me permission!

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“SO ENDS THE BLOODY BUSINESS OF THE DAY” – Homer

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“A free press can, of course, be good or bad, but,

most certainly without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad.” Albert Camus

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The staff of AFP News agency, Paris

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These cartoons should be on the front page of every newspaper and magazine in the world tomorrow morning

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The barbarians could never garner such a crowd in support of what they have done today

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Warning: Dangerous weapon.

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Our Complications

The world’s most expensive pocket watch recently went on sale at auction in Genève. The 80 year old time piece commissioned by New York Financier Henry Graves, one of the greatest watch collectors of the 20th century. Graves Pocket Watch was listed at a starting price of $15.6m. At the time it was made in 1930 this watch cost its maker today’s equivalent of a quarter of million dollars.

The 18 karat Gold time piece was Swiss watch makers Patek Philippe’s Mona Lisa of Horology; not only did it convey the time, it did so in two different time zones; it could measure Sunrise and Sunset throughout the year, alongside a perpetual calendar, displaying the phases of the Moon it would chime out the hours, the quarter and half hours in the The-Henry-Graves-Supercomplicationsame melody as London’s Big Ben. Its crowning glory however, is the celestial chart that accurately plotted the night’s sky above Henry Graves’s apartment on 5th Avenue NYC.

It was described by the auctioneers Sotherbys as the “Holy Grail” of watches. But why? Although it fetched far more than the asking price, it was still just a watch. Well, for the first 50 years of its life it was the most complicated watch in the world, later surpassed by technicians aided by computers and modern technology. In fact, it is still the most complicated handmade watch ever. Tin Bourne, Sotherby’s head of watches said after the auction that fetched up $24m “This evenings’ Stella results confirms the “Rock Star” status of the Henry Graves Supercomplication, a masterpiece which transcends the boundaries of horology and has earned its place among the world’s greatest works of art”

It told the time.

Any watch maker will tell you that a time piece should just keep time and all these deviations of functions are a “complication”. The Henry Graves watch had 24 of them – a huge distraction for an Horologist. The more complications in watch2a watch, the more difficult it is to design, machine, assemble, and repair. A typical date-display chronograph may have up to 250 parts, while the Graves Watch has 920 components. Which explains why it took three years to design and assemble.

The Franck Muller Aeternitas Mega 4 is actually the world’s most complicated time piece, although not a pocket but a wristwatch. It has 36 complications, 25 of them visible, 1483 components and 1000-year calendar, but its design and manufacture was computer aided and relied on laser technology. When this watch is allowed to stop, the owner is unqualified to accurately to get it reset and started again with all the complications in concert.

In these days of Android and Apple watches that have instant and direct access to a huge amount of human knowledge, sidereal or otherwise, and that can inform us of our bodily conditions of heart rate, body mass, oxygen level, exercise spent or required the one function of the watch can be forgotten. Time passing.

It reminds me of us. People.

We too have complications. Our complications, just as with the time piece, detract from the main purpose. What that purpose is, I wouldn’t presume to say. But life is made much harder by the bothersome bits of baggage we carry round; be it jealousy or anger, racism or distrust of those who are different, a bloated sense of self-importance or a debilitating lack of esteem. There is an inexhaustible list of impediments that can complicate our passage through time. Those passing seconds, denoted by the soft click of the second hand as it glides round the face on the watch soon add up to a lifetime.
Here’s a poem by Edwin Brock

A Moment of Respect.

Two things I remember about my grandfather:
his threadbare trousers, and the way he adjusted
his half-hunter watch two minutes every day.

When I asked him why he needed to know the time so
exactly, he said a business man could lose a fortune
by being two minutes late for an appointment.

When he died he left two meerschaum pipes
and a golden sovereign on a chain. Somebody
threw the meerschaum pipes away, and
there was an argument about the sovereign.

On the day of his burial the church clock chimed
as he was lowered down into the clay, and all
the family advanced their watches by two minutes.

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Stepping Forward From Jaipur

I have taken a step sideways from usual (long winded) story telling and bring to my reader’s attention a project that is in urgent need of some support.

Ask any Hollywood Producer and he will confirm the age old dictum of “never put your own money into a film”  well, a film maker friend of mine, Christine Booth has done just that.  For the past five years she has been traveling from the UK to India at her own expense to film the work of a very special clinic in Jaipur.  She began a “kick starter” campaign to secure the final funds needed to do all the post production on her remarkable documentary, adding the music, recording a voice over, colour adjustments and grading etc.

The Story:

Forty five years ago in Rajasthan, a young Indian Government officer, Devendra Raj Mehta, suffered a near-fatal car crash. Among other injuries, his left leg had been broken in 43 places – and it was only the skill of his surgeons that saved it from boothbeing amputated. As he recovered, his gratitude made him think about the many people who aren’t as fortunate – and he vowed to someday help them. Just five years later, he founded the BMVSS, to give artificial limbs free of charge to anyone who needs one,  and to help restore dignity and self-esteem to people who would otherwise be forgotten by society. So far, it’s helped to transform the lives of over a million amputees all over the world.

Please visit her Kick starter page to see the full story.  If you can contribute or at least redistribute the page that would be a great help.

http://tinyurl.com/me4dhd7

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