A moment of cinema history – Updated from 2013

Today the death was announced of the prolific Greek Composer Mikis Theodorakis, at the age of 96.     The Greek flag above the Acropolis was flown at half mast, whilst the Parliament observed a minute’s silence and three days of national mourning was declared by the Prime Minister.   The Greek President, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, hailed him as a “Pan-Hellenic personality” who was also “a universal artist, an invaluable asset of our musical culture”.   He wrote over a thousand major classical works, including Operas, Ballets and symphonies, but it was his film music that put him on the popular world stage.

I had never heard of him untill one night in 1974 when I had a remarkable cinema experience.

There is always something magical about going to a cinema in a foreign land.  Never did I feel that more than on a hot and balmy August night in the mid 1970’s when I first saw the film “Zorba the Greek”     Now, I am not in the habit of seeing a movie when on holiday but I couldn’t resist the little open air cinema in the Greek town of Heraklion on the Island of Crete.

How can one ever turn down the opportunity of seeing a movie under the stars.

Little did I realise that night that I had stumbled into a minute bit of cinema and political history in the making.    “Zorba the Greek” – released in 1964, was adapted from the book of the same name written by the Greek national literary hero Nikos Kazantzakis.   Born in this small seaside hamlet, he now lies beneath a modest monument on a hill high above the town.

The grave of Greek literary icon, Niko Kazantzakis, rests above the Town of Heraklion.

“Zorba” is one of those late sixties black and white films that looked ancient the day it was released, complete with dancing dots and scratches on the image and something not quite right about the sound throughout the screening.

But no matter – I was here to see the story of a young English bookish character (played by Alan Bates) arriving in Greece to revive the fortunes of an inherited dormant Lignite mine and his belief in himself.  On arriving in the Athens port of Piraeus he meets Zorba, (played by Antony Quinn) a local character who spies an opportunity of work from this strange Englishman. They form a shaky alliance.  Throughout a tortuous adventure of getting the Lignite Mine up and running they form a deepening bond as Zorba teaches him about life, love and most importantly, how to Dance!

The screening of this film, on this night, in this cinema would have been unremarkable were it not for the fact that Greece had just emerged from nine years of military rule by a Junta who seized power in a coup in 1967.

They were a nasty lot – as they always are. Devoid of humour or humanity, they tolerated no opposition.  One such opponent, the left wing Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, dared to speak out against the Junta. As always, this pissed them off greatly – so,  like an Hellenic Taliban, they passed a law stating that his music could not be played in Greece – ever again. Theodorakis wrote the score for “Zorba the Greek”; consequently the film could not be shown in Greece.

  This night, was the first screening of the “Zorba” in nearly a decade.

The atmosphere was electric.  I had never heard such noises in an auditorium before.      People were shouting, clambering over seats, greeting each other with hugs and kisses.  Cold beer and Ouzo was handed forward over two rows of seats, friendly insults were exchanged over ten.  I had several bottles thrust into my hands during the evening.

Smoking, miraculously, was still allowed; the blue haze drifted into the branches of the trees that hung motionless above us, festooned with strings of coloured light bulbs.  The fragrance of Jasmine was strong in the warm night air.  A slow hand-clap began; signifying the audience’s demand that the film begin.  There was no time table in this sort of establishment.

The unseen projectionist began his magic.

The lights in the branches dimmed, but instead of the noise dying down, it increased; with whistles and cheers and shouts as the first black and white frames with the titles, flickered on the screen.

Then, like an unexpected drop in the wind, there was a few moments of silence suddenly replaced by the first chords of Bouzouki music that echoed on the open air walls.

Well! – The entire cinema audience erupted in a cacophony of screams and whoops and applause for the music they had been denied all those years.

I doubt I heard more than a dozen words of the film that night. When there was just dialogue, the audience talked and gossiped but when there was a single musical note, the audience’s enthusiasm knew no limits. Old women dressed entirely in black sat with cheeses, olives and breads in their skirt laps, ferociously eating, toothlessly laughing at the film; men stood in the space between the seats and screen, arms on each others’ shoulders, dancing in the traditional Greek style mimicking the actors in the film. Young girls and boys, under the cover of the festive excitement, stood in little groups by the trees, secretly seducing each other.  All manner of winged insects populated the beam between projector and screen.

 But it was the music that everyone had come for.   As Zorba and the Englishman danced away their woes on the beach after the disastrous end to their venture, so too did the good people of Heraklion, in that little open air cinema, dance away the last vestiges of a Junta’s ridiculous ban of a composer’s music.

Before anyone could believe it; the film was over.

As the lights came up, half the audience was already out the door carrying their party atmosphere out into the sleepy town..  Some stood around talking enthusiastically.   I found myself part of a group who insisted I joined them for food and drink. I eventually crawled out of a taverna as dawn inched up over Kazantzakis’s tomb wondering two things: where was my hotel and why couldn’t every night at the cinema be like this?

Posted in Cinema, crete, Greece, History, Mikis Theodorakis, Politics, Uncategorized, Zorba the Greek | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Newton In The Driving Seat

Ask anyone why the Dinosaurs died out, and they will tell you it was because of an Asteroid hitting the Earth.

About 65 million years ago a 10 mile-wide Asteroid cashed into the Yucatan, Mexico with the force of 100 million megatons of TNT, sending an expanding cloud of debris into the upper atmosphere, which encircled the Earth, blocking out the Sunlight for centuries.  The Dinosaurs after ruling the world for 165 million years were wiped out along with two thirds of life on Earth.

In his book “The Future of Humanity” world renowned physicist Michio Kaku reveals why the Dinosaurs became extinct.  They were wiped out not by the Asteroid, but because they didn’t have a space programme.

There it is.

A sobering reminder that we live under the constant threat that one day an Extinction Event will be visited upon us.  It is only a matter of time.

Last month Asteroid 1998 OR2, a two-mile-wide rock, crossed the Earth’s orbit within a mere 3.9 million miles of our home planet.  Our solar system is roughly 187 billion miles across, so this Asteroid just flew past our garden gate.  It will not be back for another 200 years, although next time it could be a closer shave.

This rock is one of many wayward solar objects to have escaped its home in the Asteroid


Asteroid 1998 OR2

Belt, a vast ring of rock and ice debris orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. Thought to be the debris of a failed planet from the early days of the solar system, these objects range in size from a few meters to 30 miles across. Over the millennia the Asteroid belt settled down into a nice smooth disc.

However, Newton’s laws of Gravity and Motion never sleep.  As these orbiting objects come close to one another, they exert a gravitational influence, however small, on each other.   Newton states that all actions have an equal and opposite reaction.  This sometimes results in an object being imperceptibly nudged into a new trajectory.  It might only be a degree or two, but a hundred million years later a rock the big enough to extinguish all life on the Earth might hit us on a quiet Thursday morning; our fate having been sealed long before Early Humans had even stood upright.  And there would be nothing we can do it about it.

Each Action has an equal and opposite Reaction.

saturn-2When NASA lit up the five massive Merlin Engines of the 300 foot high Saturn V Rocket, the most powerful machine ever built, they burned through 20 tons of fuel in just 120 seconds producing 7.5 million lbs of thrust as it lifted the Apollo missions on the start of their journey to the Moon.  Although it looks like the Saturn V is pushing against the immovable Earth, it was also actually nudging our planet by about 1cm over 1000 years from its orbit.  There were 13 Saturn V launches from Pad 39 at Cape Canaveral sending the Apollo missions to the Moon and Skylab into orbit – so a millennium hence, Earth will be 13 centimetres away from where it should be.

Astronomers at NASA and scientific institutes around the world are tracking and cataloguing all the known runaway space objects.  They are hoping that if they discover a significant object threatening to the Earth, they can try and launch a space vehicle to nudge it on a different course, avoiding an Earth collision.  Interestingly, last month’s Asteroid fly-past came as a complete surprise to them.  They didn’t see coming. It is certainly in their catalogue now.

This week the first astronauts to leave Cape Canaveral in a decade, flew up to the Intl Space Station.


Dagon 2: Pilots execute delicate manouver locking onto Intl Space Station at 17,000 mph

Standing on the same Launch Pad as Apollo, was a new generation of Rocket, the Heavy Falcon 9 built and operated by a private company – SpaceX.  Sitting on top was a manned vehicle “Dragon 2”, flown by two ex-Shuttle pilots,  Bob and Doug..

In the days of Apollo, 270 feet of the Saturn V costing millions of dollars was discarded after use, allowing it to fall back into the Ocean.  Modern rocketry has moved on; as the Falcon 9 falls back to Earth it fires small rocket engines enabling them to Land upright.  This reduces the cost of launches considerably.  From now on, all journeys to the ISS will be on a Falcon 9 paid for by NASA like a taxis.


Falcon 9 rocket lands upright.

SpaceX’s owner Billionaire Elon Musk of PayPal & Tesla fame plans a Moon landing by 2024, this time to stay and to establish the beginnings of a Moon base.  The big plan is to mine essential materials on the Moon to build larger space vehicles. The greatest challenge in rocketry is the huge expenditure of energy needed to escape the Earth’s gravity; but once in space that problem disappears.  He dreams of  workshops in Lunar orbit, in which rockets that could reach Mars would be built.  Once there, SpaceX and others would establish another base and start “Terraforming” the Planet, adapting the environment so that Man can survive there.

Another Billionaire, Amazon founder Mike Bezos is also in the space game. He too


Amazon City in Space

intends to land on the Moon, but his ultimate dream is to have orbiting cities.  Mini planets designed to house thousands of people.  Self-sufficient in energy and food. Vast circular tubes, slowly rotating to simulate gravitational conditions.

Nasa is turning the tables on the Asteroid Belt. In August, a robotic spacecraft will make NASA’s first-ever attempt to descend to the surface of an asteroid, – Asteroid Bennu – collect a sample, and ultimately bring it safely back to Earth in 2023 for analysis.

There are plans for a space vehicle to grab a small mineral rich Asteroid and steer into an orbit round the Moon, where it will be mined for rare precious metals.  Many of them essential to meet the growing demand by the electronics Industry.  Extracting the same metals here on Earth cause environmental damage and they are diminishing.  In the far distant future, we could be helping ourselves to the abundant minerals and metals spread across the Solar System that will be the raw materials needed to colonise other planets and Moons.

The Earth is our cradle, but the time has come to do something about leaving the nest.

That might seem an awfully long way off, until you consider that Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon only 37 years after his good friend Charles Lindbergh was the first to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic.

Space is a dangerous place as the crew of Apollo 13 found after an explosion on their vehicle on the way to the Moon.  As the life of the crippled space craft was ebbing away, both Apollo and NASA crews rapidly reinvented the mission. It was decided to use the

Apollo 13 Anniversary

Apollo 13 Ground Crew doing the maths

gravitational pull of the Moon to sling shot Apollo around the back side of the Moon then back towards the Earth.  To achieve that they needed to fire an engine to increase their speed as they rounded the Moon so they would catapult on towards the Earth. The burn had to be done precisely to the second.  The same calculations used to know where the planets are when we send probes to them and to predict the paths of rogue Asteroids got Apollo 13 on the path back home.

As Commander Jim Lovell said once the Earth came into view “We just put Sir Isaac Newton in the driving seat

In about 4 billion years the Sun will start expanding.  Mercury and Venus will simply vanish; the heat on the Earth will become intolerable, eventually with our atmosphere boiling off into space.   The Sun will gobble up more planets, possibly as far as Jupiter before running out of energy and collapsing as gravity takes over again.  This will be the end of our Solar system.  Long before that happens humans must embark on Interstellar travel if we have any ambition to preserve our species.

Whilst the big objects play out their celestial ballet, choreographed by the laws of the Universe discovered by Sir Isaac Newton, we are under threat closer to home by microscopic menaces.

We are in the middle of a pandemic caused by a virus one hundredth the width of a human hair, yet it has stopped the world in its tracks.  As viruses go, this is not that vicious.  The terrible scourge of Smallpox was finally defeated by scientists in 1975 after wreaking havoc for well over 2,000 years.  The Black Death in the 14th century wiped out


Smallpox virus

60% of the European Population. Virologists have identified 12000 viruses in Bats and Monkeys some of which may jump across to Humans, as Covid19 has done.  One of those little suckers could prove to be just too much for our immune system bringing an unexpected and swift end to the party.

We now have enormous challenges with an approaching tipping point in climate change. I don’t even want to think about the 3,750 active nuclear weapons in a increasingly tense world.

It is a staggering thought that around 99.9 % of all the known species that have ever lived on this vulnerable planet have perished.  Unless we push onwards and upwards, the odds are against our surviving.

Perhaps these near-miss Asteroid events is just Newton’s way of asking:

Hey!  – How’s that Space Programme coming along?


Bob & Doug on the way to the ISS

Posted in scifi, Space Travel, techology, transport | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Turning a Blind Eye to History

The Battle of Trafalgar, fought in 1805, when the British Navy defeated the French Fleet in the service of the Emperor Napoleon, may not quite be over.

The victory was delivered by Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson who commanded the British Fleet.  The great wooden warships on both sides engaged in terrible close quarter battle, 22 French ships were destroyed whilst the British Navy lost none.  This decisive blow destroyed any hopes Napoleon had for a sea invasion of Britain.

Young_NelsonNelson enlisted in the British Navy as a 14-year-old deck hand.  As he was being rowed down river to Portsmouth Naval base, he had sight of the first war ship he’d ever seen.  It was HMS Victory, moored up and moth balled.  Little did he suspect that within just over a decade, it would be under his command.

Nelson was a sea faring natural gaining promotion easily.  He was loved by his crews; regardless of their origins or status he treated them as well as any Skipper in the Navy.   He served across most of the expanding British Empire, protecting its sugar and cotton interests in the Caribbean against the Dutch, French and Portuguese, keeping British trade routes across the world open; often engaging in fierce skirmishes.

Ironically, as he grew in naval stature, Nelson was becoming less of a man himself.  At a battle against the French near Tenerife he lost an arm, at the battle of The Nile, he lost an eye.  In his final battle, off the Spanish Cape of Trafalgar he lost his life.  Admiral Nelson was fatally shot by a French sharpshooter as he stood on the deck of HMS Victory, directing the fighting.

In one early sea engagement Nelson was informed by a subordinate that his Admiral had signalled for him to fall-back.  This was at a crucial moment in the fighting.  Taking the telescope and lifting it to the patch over his missing eye, Nelson remarked “I see no such order”. He pressed onwards and won the engagement.

So, the next time you turn a Blind Eye to something, you are disobeying the Admiral.

At Trafalgar, he sailed HMS Victory into the heart of the French fleet and with 104 guns battlespread over 4 decks, Nelson unleashed a broadside canon attack  with one and a quarter tons of lead balls, which travelling at 70mph, smashed through the 4 inch thick wooden walls of the French ships; releasing a thousand shards of deadly splintered wood into the heart of the enemy crew.  After the captain, the ships’ surgeon was the most important person on these vessels.

But the ship’s surgeon couldn’t save Nelson from his gunshot wound.  He died on the deck of the Victory in the arms of his crew.  Never to witness his triumph over Napoleon’s Navy.

Londres_Trafalgar-Square-min-minNelson was given a state funeral and celebrated with the largest monument in British History at London’s Trafalgar Square.   Not only did he thwart Napoleon’s Naval ambitions, he also set Britain on a century and a half of Naval supremacy – enabling the unstoppable expansion of the British Empire.

Now – here’s why the Battle of Trafalgar might not yet be done with.

A Guardian newspaper journalist, Afua Hirsch, European born of black heritage, wrote a piece suggesting that maybe it was time to remove this statue to Nelson.

As a growing National hero Nelson had a great deal of political influence.  One of his contemporaries was parliamentarian William Wilberforce, who relentlessly pursued the abolition of Britain’s role in the worldwide Slave Trade.  Nelson fought hard to thwart Wilberforce’s ambitions.

In a letter to Parliament Nelson referred to the “damnable and cursed doctrine of Wilberforce and his hypocritical allies”  He had an unflinching faith in the British Empire170px-Admiral_Horatio_Nelson,_Nelson's_Column,_Trafalgar_Square,_London as a Christian civilising force and regarded Slavery as an economic necessity ; Cotton and Sugar being an integral part of the Empire’s wealth, relying on Slavery for the production of these commodities.  The Abolitionists, in his view, posed a threat to the stability of the Empire that he would die to defend – which he eventually did.

Afua Hirsch asks if Nelson should continue to be revered when he had promoted views that were so cruel and inhuman and repugnant to us in this age whilst the echoes of slavery are with us today with racial discrimination.   She writes her piece as the “Black Lives Matter” movement was gaining momentum. There are growing voices across the West objecting to effigies of men, who in the past had decimated the lives of so many Africans in the pursuit of Profit and Imperialism.

One such man is Cecil Rhodes, a British a Colonial diamond magnate, a big player in the exploitation of South Africa’s resources and its indigenous population.   He was Prime Minister of the Cape and founded Rhodesia (Zimbabwe today), an Imperialist with a grand Christian vision for the Empire, which generated great wealth for the homeland, and himself.   Unfortunately, he cared nothing for the peoples of Africa.  They weren’t really part of the plan.  They were just another resource, like the diamonds, gold and copper. He was the architect of Apartheid.

Yet whilst he pillaged the resources and people of Africa, he was also an energetic philanthropist pouring much of his considerable wealth into education back home in Europe.   He established the Rhodes Scholarships at Oxford University, which today, is still turning out Rhodes Scholars across a range of disciplines.    It is regarded as one of the pinnacles of Western Education.  Yet even this lofty enterprise was, until recently, marred by the barring of Black Students and Women.

As an idealist, he felt that if Britain, America and Germany could educate the philosophers of the future – World Peace would surely follow.  But that’s not what rhodesstudents – white or of colour, see when they pass under his statue at Oxford.  There have been unsuccessful sporadic protests demanding his removal.  In an ideal world Rhode’s statue would barely elicit a glance, but it symbolises the continued and ignored inequalities people of colour suffer at Oxford.

In America similar campaigns have spread across the states of the old confederacy where statues to Civil War Southern Generals have been the target of recent protests.   These monuments celebrate famous Confederate figures most notably General Robert E Lee, commander of the Southern Army in the American civil war, that was fought over the establishment of the Union and against the rights of Slave ownership.

The civil war was hugely damaging to the American soul with contemporary politics still reflecting that deep divide.  Quite naturally, the Heroes of that conflict were revered inlee Statues, on both sides.  Much like Nelson, Lincoln was honoured with the largest memorial in the Country.  Every southern town square was adorned with statues of Robert E Lee or Stonewall Jackson.

Slavery was abolished, but the south retained segregation of the blacks.

In the 1960s money was raised to erect more statues of Robert E Lee (who once stated that the “Negro would never be on the same level as a white man”) in towns across the South.    These statues were not a nostalgic gesture but a backlash against the final push by the civil rights movement to desegregate the South.  They were built to intimidate the Southern Blacks and stood as a statement of white supremacy.

blacklivesForty years later, these largely forgotten edifices became significant in the time of “Black Lives Matter”  Yet again White supremacists would hold rallies beneath them that were met by Civil Rights and black groups protesting the killing of black men by Police forces across America.  At one rally a woman was killed and others injured after a supremacist drove through the opposing crowd.  President Trump refused to condemn the murder remarking that “There was bad on both sides

However, last year a Virginia State Judge ruled that some statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson must remain standing in Charlottesville. He was referring to monuments erected shortly after the end of the Civil War; not those later incantations, many of which have, after a steady campaign, now been removed.

Judge Richard Moore ruled that Virginia state law prohibits removing war memorials and that moving the statues would break that law.  Moore issued a permanent injunction preventing the statues from being removed.

Lawyers for those campaigning for the statues’ removal declared it was wrong to celebrate Generals who had fought to preserve slavery. But Judge Moore argued that the statues themselves did not have such a meaning.

“People give the statues messages,” Moore said to the attorneys. “They speak of history; one we might not like.”    The history we may not like is that “Slavery is America’s Original Sin

This year a monument to Lady Nancy Astor was unveiled on the seafront in the British Naval port of Plymouth.  She was the first woman to take her seat as an MP in the British Parliament in 1919; representing Plymouth & Sutton.

Nancy Astor’s 26 years in Parliament was remarkable not so much for her few achievements (although she brought the legal age of drinking from 14 to 18) but for her ability to alienate her fellow MPs and increasingly the British Public by her controversial views about Nazism, Catholics and Jews.

Her obnoxious views on Jewish people were widely shared in the early 1930s by much of the unthinking British population. She once said that “surely there is something wrong skynews-nancy-astor-parliament_4850268with the Jews that they bring so much scorn upon themselves”.  Sharing the view that there was a “Jewish Problem” in Europe..  One Labour MP referred to her as the “Honourable Member for Berlin”.   By 1945 her parliamentary career was over.

It was Nancy Astor’s breaking of the glass ceiling she is being remembered for in current times.  We’ve turned a blind eye to the darker side of her life.  Much like Mahatma Gandhi, revered across the world as a man of peaceful resistance against the Empire.  Yet as a young lawyer in South Africa, he fought not for racial equality against the white regime but complaining that the Indians there were being treated the same of Africans.  Indian rights, not Human rights.

If she were here today, I doubt Nancy Astor would be an anti-Semite, any more than Nelson would hanker after the days of Slavery?  Gandhi would probably be resisting all oppression.  We excuse these people by saying: They were just a product of their time.  But were they?  Wilberforce and the abolitionists were a product of their time too,

The trouble with the product of their time mantra is that it will excuse today’s oppressors in future history books, when the whole world, at this time, knows better.  It behoves us not to turn a blind eye in this, our time.

When I think of Trafalgar Square it is not of Nelson but as a national “soap box” at the very heart of the old British Empire, where so many campaigns have been fought, leading to some of the freedoms we enjoy today.  It was to this square that the Jarrow Marchers came, the workers in the 1930 General Strike, the miners in the 1980’s and of course the suffragettes.  It was here the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) would assemble and where Rock Against Racism was launched.   Anti-Fascist, pro-choice and Gender recognition rallies are now joined by UNESCO’s International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition.

There stands Nancy Astor on Plymouth Hoe, looking out across Plymouth Sound, from where Drake watched the Spanish Armada approach, and where the Great Citadel Fort still stands; built as a last stone bastion against a Napoleonic invasion had Nelson’s naval campaign failed.

Posted in History, Politics, statues, Uncategorized, War & Peace | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Do the Dead Know What Time it is?


The Ghost in the Machine ?

I always used to find the idea of re-incarnation attractive.   We slip away into the unknown but are relatively quickly re-housed in a new born.  Without our memories of course.  Although there are supposed to be methods of accessing those memories; regressive hypnosis for example.

After dallying with this notion; comforting as it is – I realised there is a big problem with it.  There will come a time, if we haven’t already passed it, when there will be more people alive than have died.  I don’t have the figures.  I can prove nothing.  But it seems to me that if babies are born and there’s no “dearly departed spirit” to inhabit their body, what then?  What would animate and motivate these spiritually devoid people?  (I am sure I have met a few in the kitchen at parties).   Perhaps they would turn out to be zombies, and we all know from the movies what trouble that leads to.

It won’t be long now, another 50 years or so, when there will be more web sites, Facebook Profiles, blogs and Instagram pages of dead people rather than the digital presence of living, breathing, posting beings.

A few days ago, I received a nudge from Facebook to wish a friend a happy birthday.  Problem was, this friend had passed away 2 years ago.   I visited his FB page and looked back at his postings, mostly funny and sometimes pithy.  I scrolled through his page from the opening cat picture all the way down to the moment when he entered his last post.  That final post will continue receding into the past as long as FB keeps their servers powered up.

I wished him a happy birthday anyway.

It will happen to us all.  Last week it was my birthday and I received about forty nice messages on Facebook.  It was very touching, but I knew these good people had responded to a nudge from the App.     We all do it.

The Pharos are well remembered for building the Pyramids; but in all likely hood they never lifted a finger having it done by a slave workforce.  Whereas we know volumes about the Pharos and their dynasty, we know virtually nothing of the common man’s story.

Now we have a new lease of remembrance, thanks to the internet, we  have a digital afterlife.  We can leave our history scattered on the shore line.

Our on-line pages house the everyday, minutiae and detritus of our lives and that of our friends.  Historians will no longer need to sit in silent libraries decoding the hints and fragments of past lives.  There will be an ocean of information about our lives scattered across the internet; who we are friends with, our politics, our poetry and where we work, who we work with (who they work with and are friends with) and their cat videos.

Internet companies are now starting to address this.  Some have considered monetising it by offering their services for us to have memorial pages – a perpetual obituary.  There are not so many takers yet; as we don’t like to think about our mortality.

Yet slowly, we are facing up to this phenomenon; in modern Last wills & Testaments digital executors are being appointed to administer our internet presence left behind.  Facebook are also in process of formalising this and allowing relatives of the deceased towalk-through-graveyard request a page to be either deleted or memorialised; where people can continue to visit and leave memories and comments about the person no longer with us.  A kind of digital condolence book.  Undoubtedly accompanied by tasteful graphics.

This may bring comfort to so many people, being able to leave some digital flowers as one might light a candle in church for a departed loved one.

Eventually, those digital visits will stop. The relatives and friends will themselves be absorbed into the digital Hall of Fame. The only visitors will be the Historians mapping out the social landscape of this generation or that.  There may also be curious who have meandered from one profile link to the next.  They may pass by, pausing a moment to read some comments here, look at a few pictures there.  Curious about these unknown people’s lives.

Like a dog walker in an afternoon graveyard, squinting at the fading inscriptions.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Wolfie Cohen – Death of the Deli


Wolfie’s Deli at 21st St & Collins – Barry Lewis

As I see it, there are two kinds of people in this world; People who love delis, and people you shouldn’t associate with.”   – Damon Runyon

You cannot talk about Miami Beach without mentioning, perhaps the most famous Miami Jew to have settled on the beaches; Wolfie Cohen.  He breezed in from Illinois in ‘47 and set about opening his first Deli; Wolfie Cohen’s , a one storey corner restaurant on 21st & Collins with a menu no Jew or Gentile could argue with for a thousand miles around.

On the opening day, Wolfie gave away the food for free, thousands of pastrami and


Counter waitress at the Miami Beach Rascal House.  “You gotta’ understand “, Wolfie Cohen would tell her, “this station is your place of work, it’s your place of business” – Barry Lewis

corned beef sandwiches were woofed up till it was gone.  Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd; and Woolfie’s name took off.

Over the years Wolfies appeared across Miami and Miami Beach.  Most of them closed in the early 80’s,  but the one he opened further up the highway in North Miami Beach “Wolfie Cohen’s Racsal House” – survived.  This was an all together bigger, brasher venture catering to largest Jewish community outside of New York City.  Parking for 250 cars, seating for 420 people and the queue would stretch half way round the outside of the building.  Nobody minded, the food and atmosphere were worth the wait.   Some said that Wolfies was “built with a queue”

Slide into one of the red leather booths or red-topped chrome counter stools and you would be met with a bowl of sweet bread rolls and jars of pickle which you were free to eat whilst perusing a menu that offered every imaginable Jewish delicacy; comparable to anything New York had to offer.   They didn’t make sandwiches, they would serve you a pound of corned beef or chicken and accidently slap some bread around it.  The Turkey legs came with a pile of Mash that was a mile high.  Breads and cheesecakes were made


Wolfie’s Rascal House on North Miami Beach

fresh daily in the back of the Deli as fast as they were being eaten out front, 24 hours a day.


Frank Sinatra and his buddies used to dine there after performing down in Miami Beach, as did Jackie Gleeson, Cassius Clay – the stars mingling with the locals and the tourists, attracted by one of the best roadside marquees in America. Standing 45 feet high and visible from 8 blocks away, The Rascal House motive had become a classic with a changing weekly slogan like “If you can’t find your mama, she’s in our kitchen doing the cooking”  and testifying to the informality of Wolfie’s; “The only thing that needs to come dressed is our chickens!”

After fifty five years the original 21st Street Wolfie’s finally closed its doors.  The shock of 9/11 reduced the flood of tourists to a trickle, and there just wasn’t enough from the


Ruth Reuben is having breakfast in Wolfie’s on South Beach sitting in “Celebrity Corner” beneath a picture of Judy Garland that has hung there for over 20 years.  “If you’re going to take my picture, let me get my hat right.  No – No, I want to keep it on.  If a job’s worth doing, then let’s do it”  –  Barry Lewis

local, shrinking elderly clientele to keep the 24 hour operation going.  The new, young visitors to the beach didn’t appreciate the six egg omelettes filled with a half pound of cheese; slaw and pickles.  They couldn’t get out of bed in time for the early bird breakfast special, a dollar 99, with streaky bacon, eggs over-easy, potatoes, sour cream, bread rolls and endless coffee.  The early bird special dinner was the saviour of so many old,  living or just surviving on a dwindling budget.

The last stragglers of an era were dying off.  The Spencer Tracey, Jackie Gleeson, Judy Garland and Katherine Hepburn photos from the “Celebrity Corner” were auctioned off to regulars and the menus appeared on eBay.  So – without much fanfare the restaurant was gone.

Whereas the first Deli on South Beach was very much a local place, The Rascal House up in North Miami Beach was a national, almost international in its accumulated fame.  In the new century it was still going strong but ailing somewhat.  Wolfie had long since died.  The current owners had grown tired and sold out to new-comers to South Beach who had opened a very successful local Gourmet food shop, and a deli restaurant called Jerry’s.

At first, not much changed, but then people started to complain; the standards were slipping, the portions getting smaller and the bills larger.  It emerged that these new-comers from California – where old age had been outlawed – had plans for the Rascal House that didn’t involve preserving the restaurant and it’s half a century of history, but instead, closing it, opening another Gourmet Food store and building a money comb of apartments.

In 2005 Hurricane Wilma swept through damaging the restaurant and tearing down the road-side marquee.  It was replaced by a cowardly six foot slab of nothing very much, which failed to preserve this loved example of a bygone era of American highway culture.


There were protests and nostalgic press articles; promises from the new owners that the spirit of Wolfie’s would remain, but eventually the wrecker’s ball swept that all away.    They are not bad people who did this.  Certainly history is not safe in their hands, but as Runyon said, it’s probably best not to associate with them.

ooo OOO ooo



Portraits are from the newly published photobook by the Hoxton Minipress, London.

Main picture by Barry Lewis.  Click Here to see more of the book.


Posted in Carl Fischer, Carl fisher, Dixie Highway, History, Hoxton Minipress, Miami Beach, Miami South Beach, rascal house, Uncategorized, wolfie cohen, Wolfie's | 2 Comments

Wandering is a part of the American Spirit

caroline papas

Caroline Papas – Barry Lewis

As you go about your day on Miami South Beach, you could be forgiven for thinking that everyone comes to Miami, but nobody is actually from Miami.

Of course, that is how the City and the Beaches began.  South Florida, a little over a century ago, was a crocodile and snake infested mangrove swamp.  There were a few intrepid pioneers who began clearing the ground to grow coconuts and oranges, with mixed success,  but the process was accelerated when the railway arrived.

The land down the East coast of Florida was being opened up by Henry Flagler, the “Father of Miami” Flagler was an industrialist, who together with J D Rockefeller, began Standard Oil one of the biggest companies in the world at the time.  He was also a Railway Magnate and he was driving his East Coast Railway south from the Florida panhandle.  The line ended at Palm Beach, just short of the mangrove swamps; where Flagler built the largest Hotel in thefirst train world, 540 luxury rooms and 6 stories high. Palm Beach Resort was born and soon expanded into a town and then a city.

Then Henry Flagler was tempted by Julia Tuttle, another pioneering developer, to bring his tracks down to the fledgling Miami in exchange for free land.   Workers who were willing to work on the building of Miami and the Beaches were offered free rail travel and housing.  Soon resort hotels and family homes were spreading across the defeated swamp land.  Flagler just kept getting richer. He was generous with his wealth and he paid for schools and churches to be built.

His railway was soon followed by Carl Fischer, who having made a fortune in automobile headlamps and batteries, attracted Government backing to build the first


South Dixie Highway before it had eight Lanes.

trans-continental brick Highway; US1.  He built the South Dixie Highway from Georgia down the coast to Miami.   Today US 1 runs from the Canadian border down the 2,489 miles to Key West, Fla.

With an unlimited oil supply and Henry Ford beginning to mass produce the automobile, dirt roads were inhibiting America’s journey into the 20th century.

Although the movies were not invented in America, the Road Movie was.  From the early pilgrims to the present today; from the wagon trains to the interstate Highways people have always drifted across the continent in search of a new life; chasing a dream or escaping a nightmare – in search of an opportunity.    Wandering is a part of the American spirit.

One of the multitudes of visitors that drifted down to Miami on Carl Fisher’s South Dixie Highway was Caroline Papas.  She is just in from Louisiana on the Greyhound.    At the age of 51, Caroline has decided to stop a while on South Beach.

I’ve been living in many places

Somewhere along the way she had stopped long enough to start a family.

I had a husband once, from Puerto Rico, but he’s gone now.  He gave me eight kids!

So why was she not with them?

I don’t know where they all are now.  Two of them, a boy and a girl, are with me here someplace – I can’t do anything with them”

 Caroline glances up and down the street as if they could be in earshot and confides, “They are working the beach. I tell them it’s dangerous.  They could get diseases – but they don’t listen to me

Remembering the camera, she does a slow whirl on the spot – arms outstretched and enquires in a southern drawl, “How do I look?    Do you think I could be a model?  People say I should”.

Why not?

It’s always worth asking, always worth a shot – you just never know in this land of opportunity.

ooo OOO ooo


Portraits are from the newly published photobook by the Hoxton Minipress, London.

Main picture by Barry Lewis.  Click Here to see more of the book.

Posted in Barry Lewis photography, Carl Fischer, Carl fisher, Dixie Highway, Henry Flagler, History, Hoxton Minipress, Julia Tuttle, Miami Beach, Miami South Beach, Palm Beach, railways, snowbirds, transport, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

End of the voyage

marvin-south point

Marvin Joseph – 1991

Standing at South Point Park, the southernmost point of Miami South Beach, at the mouth of the Miami River, Polish Jewish immigrate Marvin Joseph is taking his daily walk.  He was one of the lucky ones who escaped Europe for the Americas in 1936.  “I come down here to be peaceful.  I like to watch the Cruise ships as they leave Miami.  The size of them, you wouldn’t believe

The Miami area is home to the largest population of Jewish escapee’s from or survivors of the Holocaust outside of New York, thought to be around 30,000 people.  Many arrived in the state when rooming-houses still displayed signs in the window “No Dogs and No Jews”.  One pre-war vacation Hotel boasted “Sea views without Jews

Marvin is a retired Garment worker from the Bronx in New York; where he spent all his working life. “So many of my community in Poland perished in the camps”.  Despite putting an ocean between himself and the European nightmare; one reminder followed him to his retirement spot here in Miami.

The German sailing team had done so badly in the 1936 Olympics, Hitler ordered some new sailing vessels to be built in 1939.  The flagship of this small flotilla was a sailing


The Ostwind

skiff called the “Ostwind” and Hitler took a shine to the boat and made it his own.  He had little time to sail in her; but there are pictures of him and Eva Braun on board.  Ever since it was known as “Hitler’s Yacht”.

In 1945 it was requisitioned by the US Navy and brought over the Atlantic.  It was eventually sold to a private boat dealer and over the 20 years the “Ostwind” changed hands several times, usually bringing financial misfortune to the owners.  For several years it languished in a boat yard in Jacksonville, Fla, where it deteriorated.  A US Nazi group wanted to buy and restore the boat as an homage to Hitler.  To prevent this, the boatyard owner gave it to a Miami Jewish group who had other plans for it.

On the 6th June 1989 the Ostwind was towed 3 miles off the coast of Miami Beach and beneath an aircraft hauling a banner “NEVER AGAIN” the “Ostwind” was sunk.

The scuppering marked the 50th anniversary of the disgraceful incident  known as the “Voyage of the Damned.” In 1939, over 900 Jewish refugees set sail aboard the liner St. Louis sailing from Germany to Cuba, only to find that Cuban officials would not admit them.  As the St. Louis then passed off Miami Beach, its passengers pleaded to be allowedst louise admission to the United States. The Government refused, and the ship had to return to Europe, where more than half its passengers eventually fell victim to the Holocaust.

On a nearby vessel Miami Jews clapped and cried as  they watched the Ostwind slip beneath the surface.’  ‘Please don’t call this revenge,” said Rabbi Barry Konovitch of Miami Beach. ”We prefer to dwell on the positive. The boat will form a reef, a home to marine life”.  He told the NY Times ”I think for some this symbolizes the ultimate destruction of the Third Reich. We’re here still floating on top; now the other is sunk to the bottom.”

As the mighty cruise ships slip out of the Miami River to the Caribbean Marvin Joseph watches; alone with his memories of the evil that brought him to South Point.

ooo OOO ooo


From the newly published book “Miami Beach 1988 -1995 by Hoxton Minipress.


More details HERE

Posted in History, Miami Beach, Minai South Beach, ostwind, snowbirds, St Louise, Uncategorized, Voyage of the damned | 1 Comment

Miami Beach: where neon goes to die


It’s full up, no rooms. Nothing” the old Jewish woman sitting out on the porch said as I pushed at the stiff front door of the decaying Art deco hotel on Ocean Drive.  Stepping out of the Sun’s glaring heat into the air-conditioned artic air –  I could see the high white walls of the dirty marble lobby and a bare deserted reception desk; devoid of the usual hotel paraphernalia.  No computer, no leaflets or maps, indeed no receptionist.  Just a rotary phone with a padlock on the dial.

A sign on the wall warned “No Loitering”

I stepped back out into the searing afternoon heat.  The woman looked up said “No Vacancies, probably won’t be till one of us passes on”.  She sat easily in her plastic chair, shaded by the canopy of the Art Deco awning; a delicate faded cotton dress rested lightly on her fragile skin.

If you want a room, you’ll have to go down a-ways to where they are fixing up all the old places for the new folks coming in

I had just met Lilian, my first Snowbird.

It is 1988 and I was lucky enough to be on Miami South Beach with photographer Barry Lewis at exactly the moment when the next page in the resorts’ unlikely history was being turned.

Lilian was one of the thousands of Jewish retirees – or “Snowbirds” – from NYC, Chicago & Philadelphia who had cashed in their chips and moved South to the cheap run-down beach hotels and rooming houses, looking for better health from the constant Miami sunshine.     After a prolonged drug fuelled violent crime wave, and restrictions on property development the Beach had lost its lustre and was shunned and so accommodation was easily affordable.

Sitting out on the hotel porches, quietly enjoying the ocean view, swapping memories queuing for the “Early Bird Special” at the local Jewish Diner these Snowbirds were eeking out their dwindling funds and diminishing years in what has been called “God’s waiting room

Then in what seemed just a heartbeat, the curious mix of Retirees, Latinos, Blacks andMB-1-Opening-2 misfits who managed to co-exist on this narrow strip of land – which only three generations before was crocodile infested Mangrove swamps – had simply vanished.  Many Snowbirds died, others were pushed out by landlords and developers, who were waking up and smelling the coffee; and the aroma was good and was going to make them a lot of money.

Working with London photographer Barry Lewis we tried to document this moment; all in black & White as a counter point to the Art Déco pastels and the Neon nights.  In the 1970s, comedian Lenny Bruce said that Miami Beach was where neon goes to die.

This has resulted in a book of photographs shot durring those days when we walked all the streets of Miami Beach; meeting crazy and extraordinary and quite ordinary people, over 20 years ago.   It has been published by the very fabulous husband and wife owned Hoxton Mini Press in London, who have been releasing affordable photo art books for a few years; with dedication to the image and great affection to the subjects of the pictures.


Click here to see more of the book & Hoxton Mini Press

Posted in History, Miami Beach, Minai South Beach, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

All Ignorance

The Chinese invented Gun Power, printing, the umbrella, the wheel barrow and fireworks; the precursor to the rocket.  They did all this in the 2nd Century BC.   It took millennia for all this to manifest itself as Space Travel.

In the first three days of this year both the Chinese and the USA simultaneously achieved amazing feats in space exploration.  China landed a rover on the far side of the Moon – never before visited.   Apart from conducting scientific experiments China will probably want to examine what resources may be found and exploited on the Moon.   If man is to employ the material fruits that space objects may offer to aid our journey into space, the Moon, our nearest neighbour, is where we should start looking.

Who would think that one of the most abundant substances on Earth – Sand – is running


Chang-4 rolls onto the moon’s surface from its lander.

low? Not just any old sand but the kind needed to feed the insatiable appetite for concrete, glass and electronics grade silica.   In the last decade China mixed more concrete (and sand) than the United States did in the whole of the twentieth century.

The news of China’s Lunar Probe became somewhat eclipsed by a most remarkable simultaneous achievement by NASA.   The “New Horizon” probe, the fastest travelling object ever sent into space, at the time it was launched in 1966 towards Pluto has just performed a stunning encore.  The original mission was to examine this remote outer planet of the solar system after flying past Jupiter and then onto the Keiper belt (a ring of dust and rocks left over from the formation of the Solar System) .

For most of its journey, “Horizon’s” electronics were in “hibernation” – but on nearing Jupiter, it was woken up and a wealth of Jovian data was sent back as the probe flew past.  Employing Jupiter’s’ gravity “Horizon” propelled itself onto Pluto, its final target.  The electronics then went back to sleep.

As the slumbering probe was speeding through the void, scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope – that incredible sharp eye on the Universe – discovered a remote object orbiting out past Pluto which they named Ultima Thule – meaning “the furthest point along a journey

This newly discovered space object is little more than 22 miles across, about four thousand times smaller and ten thousand times dimmer than Pluto and is located over a billion miles from Cape Canaveral.  Yet NASA re-engineered the next phase of Horizon’s mission of exploring the Kuiper Belt and set a new course to take a close look at this new member of the solar family.


Ultima Thule

The total running power of the “Horizon” probe is about 180 watts, or 3 domestic lightbulbs.  The transmitters that beam data back to Earth are 15watts each, about the same power as your mobile phone.   NASA woke up the electronics and flew that machine past the rock at 32,000 mph; cameras and sensors whirring; garnering as much data as possible.

Signals from “Horizon” began streaming in; after a few hours the computers assembled the faint signals into the first image of Ultima Thule – which looked like a deteriorating lonely snowman way out in the darkness.

What is so interesting about this object?

Thule” is probably an original rock from the gaseous material that coalesced into planets at the birth of the Solar system.  It lost out on the cosmic musical chairs and has been orbiting the Sun at this mind-boggling distance ever since, unblemished by the Solar winds and planetary forces, still in its virgin state since before the Earth was born.  This cosmic snowman could hold valuable secrets about how the planets were formed.

Recently, a Japanese orbital Moon probe using radar has found tunnel-like caves running for many miles across the lunar surface, in which future maned bases could be established; sheltered from the 3000-degree centigrade contrast between a Lunar day and night, a stable environment could be established greatly aiding a colony on the Moon.   The Chinese probe could be the first step to Man setting up a base on the Moon with obvious long-term exploitative & scientific potential.

The “New Horizon” mission scanning the remote and lonely “Ultima Thule” is just pure science; a quest for knowledge; and who knows where that might lead?  In 1891 when the electron was discovered it had no foreseeable practical applications, yet today we live in a world completely dominated by electronics.

When in the late 60’s we would bop to the beach with our portable transistor radios playing the sounds, we just took it for granted.  These little devices usually had “6 Transistors” emblazoned on the front.  A great boast at the time; six little electronic 6 transistorsswitches made of tiny slivers of germanium crystal and silica – not much bigger than a match head, replaced up to a kilogram of glass valves and copper coils in older radios.   Today, in our 15-watt mobile phones there are over a billion of these transistors.

Despite all the technological trappings of our modern age; our prolonged life expectancy, our reaching out into the depths of space in search of new horizons  there are people on Earth who will sit up all night at a billion transistor computer and flood the internet with their view that most of the knowledge we take for granted is wrong.  That there are huge conspiracies designed to keep us subjugated in a world orchestrated by the Rothchild family (or the Jews in plain language).  The moon landings were a hoax, so too 911, the Holocaust and of course – Global Warming.  We are being poisoned by those white chemtrails from airliners and fluoride in the water supply.  They have cured Cancer, but big pharma is supressing the knowledge inorder to sell us more medicines.  The Hallmark of their 21st century is “the video they don’t want you to see

Once again science and knowledge are, just like with Galileo, under threat.

The Millennium Bug was a great example.  When computer experts suggested there could be a problem at midnight of the millennium they were ridiculed, usually by people who had no computer training at all.  But they knew better.  It’s all a hoax! was the cry.

Back in the day, when some talented geeks got together and designed the first personal computers, they made a simple mistake. To save on disk space they denoted the year in the clock with 2 digits instead of 4.  All computer activities are governed by an onboard clock which all must agree to synchronise their workings.    So, forty odd years later when 1999 came around the clocks in the machines would eventually flip over from 99 to 00 possibly crashing the system.  No one really knew.

bugA huge amount of money and man hours were invested in fixing the problem – which they did.   But there are many who remain unconvinced.  “see!…I told you…nothing happened. It was hoax!”  This example is now used to stifle any warnings of dangers ahead.

In Italy, land of Galileo Galilei, Michael Angelo and Leonardo Da Vinci there is a populist right-wing government who have declared that Italian children no longer need to be vaccinated against those age-old childhood diseases that have been almost eradicated in modern times.  These vaccines are fake and offer no protection – is the narrative.  Cases of measles in Italy have grown dramatically across the country, rising in 2 years from 850 cases a year to over 5000; with some children dying.  Whooping cough and Polio may not be far behind.

Despite the author of the MMR vaccine scare being completely ostracised by the scientific and medical community people are still repeating the myth that it causes Autism in our children.  Consequently, Measles and Rubella are on the rise again.

An end of year opinion poll in the US has suggested that 40 per cent of Americans are convinced that the world is going to end in their lifetime.  These same people – who are largely President Trump’s core base – see global warming as a left-wing hoax.  This notion is energised by less scrupulous business interests whose activities are under threat.   Besides, what profit is there in protecting the environment because the Rapture is coming, and God will cleanse and destroy the planet.  In so doing he will lift these keyboard evangelists up into paradise whilst the rest of us writhe in molten Silica as we sink into hell.

Ah! but that’s America for you” might be the reaction, but the anti-science & anti-knowledge brigade are afoot in the land once again. A British government minister – Michael Gove – declared during the Brexit campaign that “we have no need of experts, they are usually wrong”    Despite economists, industrialists, NGAs and business leaders warning the country about the folly of the Brexit Dream, Leave Europe campaigners branded all informed criticism as “Project Fear” shutting down any meaningful debate on the matter.  Fake News.

Originating in America and now spreading across the Western world, Darwin’s theories of evolution are being shunned in favour of Intelligent Design based on a notion the world is only 4000 years old; placing the dinosaurs on the earth just as the Chinese were developing their early writing on pieces of bone.  In the UK now there those who are PenceCreationismdemanding that Intelligent Design be taught as part of the science curriculum along side Darwin’s theories.  Abstinence should replace sex education leaving the young open to crippling STIs.   The pseudo-science battle of Eugenics has long since been won – it ended with the Nazis.

In almost one lifetime we have travelled from the Wright Brothers to Standing on the moon.  We have split the Atom and spliced the gene. We have eradicated fatal diseases giving mankind a longer lease of life.  But for some, living on their 4000-year-old flat earth, this is all deniable.

As New Horizon was nearing its final destination a billion miles from home, a 27-year-old American Christian Missionary John Allen Chau died under a hail of poison arrows that rained down on him as he waded ashore on the island of North Sentinel in the Anderman atoll 700 miles from the Indian coast.

This rather unfriendly welcome volley was unleashed by one of the only tribes left on Earth still living a hunter gatherer existence, devoid of contact with the rest of us.  Other tribes living on neighbouring Islands were all but wiped out by contact with our civilisations.  They had no defence against our simple ailments which we have long since conquered.

There may only be 100 or more Sentinels living on that North Island; and so, India and the UN declared it illegal (and immoral) to go near these people.  Mr Chau knew this, becausesentinel island he went to great lengths to circumvent the rules; hiring local fishermen to drop him on the shore.  He paid with his life

The isolated Sentinels; a living, breathing, loving, hunting and fighting example of the origins of humans, link our lives to the dawn of our species much like Ultima Thule reaches back across the millennia to the birth of our solar system.

Evangelist, John Allen Chau wanted to bring these people the word of God – even if it killed them. I’m pretty sure that having lived their present existence since long before the Chinese invented fireworks, they will have heard it by now.



Posted in #China space programme, #FBPE, #inteligent design, #john allen chau, #MMR, #New Horizon, #north sentinel, #pluto, #STOPBREXIT, conspiracy, illuminate, Space Travel, techology, ultima thule, Uncategorized, War & Peace | Leave a comment

“Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red”

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.

Posted in #FBPE, #STOPBREXIT, #WATON, Uncategorized, War & Peace | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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


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.



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


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.





Posted in engineering, Entertainment, History, techology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments