Unfinished Business

It may be me. Perhaps I am getting older and the policemen younger, but wars seem to be lasting a lot longer these days.
A century ago this month, the armies of many nations across Europe marched off to war all expecting to be home by Christmas. Four years later, what was left of them, crawled, limped and stumbled back home.

Of course, it had been the war “to end all wars” but unbeknown to most people the treaties and settlements made at the end battle-of-the-sommeof that conflict laid the seeds for the next World War and most of the ailments of the Middle East that we see today.

So now the jets are in the air again over Iraq, this time to hold back the advance of a bunch of maroarding savages that are rampaging across a country, itself an invention of the First World War; rushing into a political vacuum created by one of the longest and most idiotic conflicts this century. A conflict started by buffoonery and arrogance, based on lies, misinformation and vested interests much like the first Great War.

When George W Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” on a war ship in the Persian gulf, he was merely announcing ag-cvr-080501-mission-10a.grid-6x2 tea-break, because the Iraq war will be rumbling on for some years yet.

There have been about 48 significant wars fought in the last century that have dragged on too long; there was the Vietnam war at 9 years, the Israeli – Palestinian conflict 63 years, the Afghan Civil war at 13 years and lest not forget the Cold War that lasted 45 long desolate years. We won’t even mention the war on drugs or Terrorism.

If you have to have wars, and many people believe that you do, then can’t we make them quick ones? It is possible. It’s been done before. I don’t mean the Six Day war between Israel and Egypt, Syria & Jordan.

No!    It was the Anglo- Zanzibar War, a fight between the British and the Sultanate of Zanzibar that broke out on the morning of the 27th August 1896. Zanzibar is a small island nation off the East coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean and strategically of importance to the British Empire..

The immediate cause of the war was the death of the pro-British Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini on 25 August 1896 and the subsequent succession of Sultan Khalid bin Barghash. The British authorities preferred Hamud bin Muhammed, who was

Sultan Hamud bin Muhammed

Sultan Hamud bin Muhammed

more favorable to British interests, as sultan. In accordance with a treaty singed 10 years earlier, (I hope you are keeping up with this) a condition for accession to the sultanate was that the contender obtain the permission of the British consul, something that Khalid had failed to do.

The British delivered an ultimatum to the Sultan’s Palace – stand aside in favour of Hamud bin Muhammed or face the consequences. The ultimatum expired at 09.00 that morning, and it was clear that a state of war existed; Khalid bin Barghash had hunkered down in his Palace with his Palace Guard and several hundred servants and slaves armed with a couple of machine guns and a canon, two Dow boats and a Royal Yacht.

The Sultan's Palace after 40 minutes of war

The Sultan’s Palace after 40 minutes of war

At 09.04 the British began their assault on the Palace, they fired from two navy vessels in the harbour and immediately disabled the Sultan’s guns, and sunk the Royal Yacht, then the British land forces did the rest. At 09.40 the shortest war in history was over, the Sultan Barghash was granted safe passage to German East Africa, and by lunchtime the Sultan Hamud bin Muhammed was installed in the ruins of the Palace.

As far as I can research, our two countries have been friends ever since. That is my preferred kind of war. There was no “unfinished business” afterwards, no historical fault lines left in the sand that would, in the late 20th century, come back to haunt us.    Goodness knows, we are dealing with enough of those fault lines recently and probably will be for years to come. So it is comforting that know that one bit of that unfinished business was finally taken care of this week.

There’s nothing more British than the sound of “Leather on Willow” as cricket is being played in the month of August on the village green.

It is Sunday August 3rd 1914. The Lee Cricket Club are playing the local Manor House Team from nearby Missendon. But just as it looked like the game was to reach it’s conclusion, typically for an English summers’ day, the clouds appeared from nowhere and rain stopped play. Manor House Captain Ivor Stewart-Liberty, son of Sir Arthur Liberty, founder of Liberty’s of London and opposing Captain, fast bowler Albert Phillips, swore that they would finish the match at the next opportunity.

The following day Britain declared war on Germany and all concerns about unfinished cricket matches were quickly extinguished.Cricket_Ground,_Harborne
Neither man returned from the war. Along with 30 other people from that small English village they perished in the trenches..

Then as now, cricket had its superstars and the David Beckham of the early 20th century was W.C.Grace, considered the greatest cricketer of all time. He availed himself to the War Office to help in the urgent recruitment drive for volunteers to replace the fallen in the trenches.

He appealed to the cricketers of the nation and they joined up in droves, many never to return. He wrote in the Sportsman newspaper “The time has arrived when the county cricket season should be closed,” he wrote. “It is not fitting at a time like this that able-bodied men should be playing day after day, and pleasure seekers look on.    There are so many who are young and able, and still hanging back.

G W Grace

G W Grace

I should like to see all first-class cricketers of suitable age set a good example, and come to the aid of their country without delay in its hour of need.”

The unfinished business was concluded last week when the two crickets teams, Manor House and Lee Cricket Club played out the unfinished game from 100 years ago. I wont bother you with the score, as it is completely unfathomable to me what the numbers mean.

Again under the threat of rain stopping play in the impending wake of the remnants of Hurricane Bertha that hit our shores, a truncated game was played. Liz Stewart-Liberty, who married Ivor’s son Arthur and is the Club’s life president, read a couple of poems at lunch. Teenage club members read out the names of those lost to the village and a one minute’s silence was held followed by the last post.

If only all the unfinished business from a century ago could be so easily dispatched what a better world this would be.

Posted in History, Politics, Uncategorized, War & Peace | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

From O’Connell Street to Instagram

No one is really sure on the numbers, but it was recently estimated that of all the pictures ever taken around the world over the last 200 years, fifty percent of them were shot last year. This is not so surprising when you consider that there are 1.5 billion smart phones in use today each with a digital camera built in. Over 200,000 pictures are uploaded to face book every minute of every day.

Standing on my desk is a silver frame that houses a small black and white grainy photograph that I took of my long departed mother on the beach in Tramore, Ireland nearly 40 years ago. Every day that I look at it the more distant, Scan0029the more faded it looks. I took the picture and presumably 11 others on a cheap box brownie camera, although what they were of and where those others are is lost to history.

I have less than half a dozen pictures of my older family, whereas I have countless hundreds of my new family whom I see every day. We used to keep our pictures in albums – like stamp collections. Today, we keep our pictures on memory sticks. Perhaps they should be called History sticks. A vast proportion of photographs taken today are hardly looked at.

This is of course a result of the digital camera where it costs nothing to press the button and take yet one more image. This trend actually started before digital when people were still using rolls of film. I would have taken that roll of 120 film with the picture of my mother on it, into the local chemist shop and I would collect the results a week later, often accompanied by some thwarted expectations as to the results. The domestic camera, ever evolving, ended its days as the “disposable camera” After firing off 36 pictures one would take the whole camera to any shop on any street that might have a minilab out the back and collect the prints in the time it takes a Starbucks Barista to make a latte.

I have been to weddings where at each place setting was a disposable camera so that everyone could do their owncamera versions of the wedding pictures to be gathered up by the family to go into the wedding album. In Japan I saw the pinnacle of the throw away image. You cannot go out eating and drinking in that country without the whole occasion being documented with countless group photographs in which everyone is making the two fingered peace signs at the camera. At one such gathering someone put a disposable camera in the middle of the table. When anyone proposed a toast with a lofty glass of beer or Saki, everyone else would shout Kampai!! (Cheers in Japanese) and the camera would swivel on a little turntable towards the loudest noise and take a picture. On rowdy nights the film didn’t last very long. This devise was known as the Kampai Kamera.


click me

When historians look back on this digital generation they will remark on the phenomenon called the “Selfie”.    David Bailey thought that he probably took the first “Selfie” of him and Andy Warhol lying in a bed in the 1970’s. But the “Selfie” really predates that picture. Here we can see some old gentlemen on the roof of the Marconi Building in New York in 1921 using a full plate camera that would have demanded a half second expose doing a “selfie”

The modern “selfie” is meant to be seen, mainly by those in it and then by whomever they tweet it to or Facebook it. In this year two “Selfies” became see by most of the world’s population within minutes of them being taken. The first was Obama with David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt, which drew criticism partly for it being done at Mandela’s memorial service but mostly because they were politicians and everybody hates them at the moment.

This global viewing was soon dwarfed at the Oscars when Ellen DeGeneares wrangled a bunch of “A” list stars and did1394132851_ellen-degeneres-oscars-selfie-467 the famous “Selfie” that had circled the globe before breakfast, being re-tweeted over 3 million within a day.

When I was on holiday in Ireland all those years ago I had to wait a lifetime to see my pictures. It was like that for generations, although the waiting period was reducing all the time; so that by the demise of roll film, you could get your prints in under an hour. During my life time there was brief period when instant photography became available in the form of the Polaroid instant camera. Press the shutter and immediately a sheet of film would roll out of the camera and we could watch the blank page slowly reveal the image.  Often you would just hand the subject the picture to keep.

Today we have Instagram – an electronic polaroid camera on your phone.  Instead of handing a print to your subject, by means of the elelctronics, you can hand that picture to the world.

If,  between the early 1930s and the late 1980s,  you happened to be on O’Connell Bridge in Dublin you might have had your picture taken by Arthur Fields a seasoned Street Photographer who would snap anyone within earshot. When they wandered back curious, he would then take their real picture. He would hand them a ticket, and if they wanted arthur-fields-007to, they could collect a print from the office where his wife would process the films. After she died he got a Polaroid camera, the Instagram of its day. Walking across the bridge one afternoon with a friend Arthur Field took our picture. We stood with him as he watched the agonisingly slow image appear. As the colours filled out he beamed a huge toothy smile and shouted “Ah – will ya look at that – it’s a Topper!

Probably no man in history has stood so long on that bridge as did Arthur Fields, and during that five decades when he was there 365 days a year he took over 182,000 photographs of strangers who he would never meet again. Perhaps for a brief time the pictures were souvenirs of a well loved holiday or a snatched day out, and then became lost in a draw somewhere, having faded in the memory until one day a grandchild might uncover them in a box and staring into those bright happy faces wondering where they were  snapped. They might remark that Grandma looks so young not realising that’s because it’s an old photograph.

Passing by Arthur Fields on the bridge the next day, he was holding a freshly taken Polaroid print with two young female back packers. Each side of him they stood excited and delighted at their images slowly cooking up before their eyes. “Ah will ya look at that!” Arthur said as though for the first time, “It’s a topper!

Posted in art, History, mandela, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 15 Comments

Day One, Slate One, Take One.

Something strange might happen at the Oscars this Sunday night. At some point during the evening, as the Hollywood glitterati are giddy on the excitement of the awards a sober moment will come. That is when the Academy will remind everyone of those who are no longer part of the cast, the famous actors who have died in the past year.

The Screen Academy have tried for years to stop the audience from applauding after each actors face appears oscarsbecause some get louder appreciation than others and it was turning into a kind of popularity contest. So now they have a big name singer who performs as the visual litany takes its course up on the big screen – with a huge round of applause at the end. The sober moment is short lived, there’s a lot to gallop through during the evening.

There is always some speculation about who will be included,  given the short space of time. They have Philip Seymour Hoffman, James Gandolfini, Peter O’Toole, Shirley Temple, Deanna Durbin, Joan Fontaine, Roger Ebert, Ray Dolby, Ray Harryhausen, Paul Walker and Elmore Leonard among others to choose from.

The cherry on the icing will be whoever the Academy decides will be the last face in the slide show. This is not as easy as it may seem. Hollywood is so petrified of making a mistake, that this decision will have been examined in minute detail. Shirley Temple is probably the front runner in most people’s minds; but you just never know.

The problem with the glitterati is that a word wrong, a seating arrangement miscalculated and egos can be damaged sending publicists and agents into apoplectic panic. The Academy probably made their minds up a week or two back and all the technical arrangements will be in place.

But now they have a PR problem.

Last Thursday a film crew were on the first shot on the first day of filming a movie called “Midnight Rider” a biopic of the Allman Brothers rock band, staring William Hurt when something utterly terrible happened.

The scene was a dream sequence involving a bed on a Railway Trestle bridge near Savannah, Georgia. The crew, it seems, had permission to be near the tracks, but not on them. After two trains the crew were expecting rolled through they set up the bed and their cameras in the middle of the rail track on the enclosed bridge and began filming.

At some point a third train whistle announced its approach and in less than a minute, several hundred tonnes of freight train came rumbling onto the bridge at 60 mph. The engineer saw people and objects on the track, he hit the brakes and brought his shuddering monster to an agonising slow halt half a mile further up the track.

When the crew saw the train bearing down on them, they frantically tried to haul all their stuff off the line and try and get off the bridge. As the train smashed through bed and equipment on the rails, debris hit members of the crew, injuring some of them and knocking one young woman into the path of the train. 27 year old Sarah Elizabeth Jones, the 2nd camera assistant was killed, and the makeup girl was seriously injured just escaping with her life.

Sarah’s last words were “I can’t carry all this stuff


The crime scene; the rear end of the freight train where it stopped on the bridge.

The County Sherriff and medics arrived and took control – the bridge is now a crime scene. Over the days it is emerging that the production company had asked for permission from the railway company to do the scene but it was denied to them. So someone high up in the crew decided they would do it anyway.

Normally if you shoot on a railway track, there would be whole raft of safety measures in place and technical personnel from the train company in charge. Every detail would be discussed and agreed in advance. There would be an on-set medic and an ambulance. None of that happened. When the producer was asked by the sheriff if he had permission to film on the tracks, he replied “that’s complicated

This was not some independent fresh out of college production, it had LA money with Stars to match. The truth will out in due course and it’s as clear as the words of the Eagle’s song: Somebody’s going to emergency. Somebody’s going to jail.

Sarah Elizabeth Jones

Sarah Elizabeth Jones

Sarah’s death has galvanised film crews across the world and the entire industry to air their grievances about safety and working conditions. The industry press and social media are buzzing. It is quite usual for us to be working 12 to 14 hour days, six days in a row for weeks on end. There are now calls for new safety rules across the film industry, which may even include shorter days, and people want it to be called Sarah’s Law. A film crew are people who are thrown together to bring to the screen stories that enrich or enrage our lives. We put up with all manner of undesirable conditions to finish the job – because we love what we do. But nobody should die for it.

Many Industry people are requesting that Sarah be in the Roll call of the departed at the Oscars, just like the big names. Of course, it would be a hell of a thing were it to happen but it probably won’t. It would upset the horses. There are two things you never want to see made;  sausages and movies.

slate1`Sarah Jones was the 2nd Assistant camera operator. Her job is to run the camera for the Director of Photography who will be busy looking down the view finder. The frame rate, the aperture settings, the smooth running of the camera is her responsibility.  When the DOP needs to change focus quickly, as characters move around a scene, Sarah would be helping with  that. Before each take she holds up an electronic slate in front of the lens which contains the Scene number, Shot number and Take number. This information is vital to logging the growing material that the editor must assemble later on. They used to be called a Clapper Board, but things have moved on.
Friends of Sarah Jones started a Facebook page four days ago called “Slates for Sarah” where film folks are invited to put her name on a slate, photograph it and upload it with a message. dustin

Well ! The response is ballistic. At the time of writing, over 60,000 people around the world have contributed. The crews of major TV shows and feature films in production have put Sarah’s name on their slate. The outpouring of sadness and solidarity is overwhelming.
When, at the end of a film the warm glow of the house lights fade up, you walk away as the, seemingly endless credits of people doing jobs that no one has ever heard of by people you will never meet roll up the screen, remember this – they are all just like Sarah and the 60,000 people who have joined her posthumous Facebook page.

The film industry has some strange habits and rituals. At the end of the day, the last shot is known as the Martini shot, because the next shot will be out of a glass.   The last shot before lunch is the Orson Welles, and the penultimate shot of the day is the Abby Singer.


Abby Singer (left) “This shot and one more”

Abby was a very efficient Assistant Director in the 1950’s who would be able to anticipate when the Director would be finished on a scene; he would already have mobilised most of the crew so that the move would be half done before the director even knew it. When asked by the crew how many more shots today Abby? he would invariably reply, ‘This shot and one more‘      He was always right.   Hence the 2nd to last shot.

The ill-fated dream sequence on a rail track in Georgia, when feckless producers allowed the crew onto that “live” Railway track last week was the first slate, the first shot and the first take of Sarah’s last day. Many in the business want the first shot of the day to be known as the “Jonesy

Nobody knows now what the ramifications of Sarah’s death , but there will be some and for the better. Crew members who used to trust that the execs had everything covered will be more cautious in future and maybe be more confident in challenging orders that put them and their friends in danger.

On the Slates for Sarah page one cameraman quoted her last words “I can’t carry all this stuff” and followed it with “we will take it from here”     –   Let’s hope so.

Posted in Cinema, film industry, movies, oscars, railways, safety on a film set, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Hirst, Banksy and the Martian Invasion.

It must have happened in the middle of the night. One day it was there and next day it was not. A Banksy wall mural had been removed from the side of a commercial building in Wood Green in London and only the brick work remained.

Banksy, an anonymous guerrilla street artist has been adorning random walls of London (and now New York) with his stencil-like black and white images that make people question things. One day last February a mural depicting a _60269167_banksy1small boy hunched over a sewing machine making Union Jack Flags, that had become a land mark in the area, was removed by the owner of the building and put up for auction in Miami.

There was a huge hullaballoo with the local residents and soon the wider art world. Who owned Banky’s work ? The building owner argued that it was painted on his property and therefore became his. But having established itself as local art, and increasingly important example of modern urban art; a wider ownership was claimed.

Pretty soon afterwards, because of the outcry the auction house in Miami got cold feet and withdrew it from the auction. It later sold in London, once the legal niceties had been sorted out.

The company that handled the sale of the mural, the Sincura Group issued a statement on their website which in part read:

It should be noted that both Scotland Yard and the FBI have issued statements that there is no evidence of criminality involved in the removal of this illegally painted mural and therefore no case to answer.

Of course it was illegally painted, that was the whole point of his work. He is anonymous – he strikes (paints) when no one is looking.   Suddenly a subversive message appears before our eyes one morning and puts that little nagging

No Ball games

No Ball games

doubt into our minds for the rest of the day.

Now they are offering up another Banksy for auction. Like its predecessor it was removed from the side of a building, this time in the nearby area of Tottenham. The Sincura Group chairman said “it had not been appreciated in situ.”    He obviously had never met any of the locals who have been bemoaning the loss of the Banksy works these last few weeks. I think what he actually meant by that was the people in the area were bit too poor and therefore couldn’t really appreciate such art work.

Sincura said it was being restored “beautifully” but returned – no, instead it was to be auctioned off and moved to a place where it could be really appreciated and afforded.    Eventually it will be “owned” by a collector, possibly in New York. Although the company claimed they are trying to keep it in the country, conjuring up an image of grappling with an alligator in a swamp. They won’t lose any sleep losing that particular battle.

Banksy started his wall Murals about 15 years ago in Shoreditch an area of run down warehouses, cobbled streets and social housing. To the south it is overshadowed by the ever increasing Steel and Glass Towers of the banking district not half a mile away. The warehouses, long since empty of their wares, became home to artists, alternative living and the vibrant hopefuls of the new media. Attracted by low rents and a bohemian environment they were the vanguard of the transformation of Shoreditch

It is now the center of internet start-ups, design studios and fashion houses. What were once corner shops selling Asian foods and general provisions have become art galleries and Tapas bars. A Jewish tailor’s workroom has become a chic fashion store where if you have to ask the price you can’t afford it.

Before all that, when Banksy was starting his “illegal” craft, there opened a gallery who’s owner quickly discovered the meaning of art ownership on it’s opening night.

To call this room a gallery was a like calling a passport photo booth a studio. It was a tiny wooden building squashed between two other properties. Twenty feet across along the front, six foot deep at the narrow end of the triangle and 15 foot at its deepest. The owner, Adam Dant, lived on the top floor that enjoyed the same dimensions.  Adam was one of those new artists attracted to the area.  He was a cartoonist very much in the Hogarth tradition.  He produced a daily pamphlet called “Donald Parsnips Daily Journal” a photocopied comic that he gave away to strangers on his

Adam Dant near to his Gallerette in Shoreditch

Adam Dant near to his Gallerette in Shoreditch

way into work at a Gallery in Bond street – very posh.   He did this, every working day for four years or more.   I dare not stray in the daily ramblings of Donald Parsnip, this would require a blog of its own, but enough to say that his wit and wisdom can be summed up in his notion that “There’s no time to lose like the present!”

Adam decided that he would open the downstairs cupboard as the “Gallerette” to have art exhibits without the art. So in April of 1996 he set about looking for his first non exhibit.

One night when walking with a friend Simon Tyrell, a  local furniture designer,  down a local street  they passed a big skip at the side of the road. (A skip in the UK is a big steel bucket into which building waste is deposited and then taken away).  Sticking out of the rubble and broken wood was a rolled up canvas. Unrolling it they found a painting that looked remarkably like one of those Damien Hirst famous Spiral paintings. Of course! Adam realised.  They were standing outside the old workshop of Damien Hirst.  He had recently moved to a larger property.

This was it.   This was the opening exhibit of the Shoreditch “Gallerette”   So – plans were made and the word went out that an opening night was approaching, but not on the serious art word grapevine, but on the more tongue in cheek fun arts network.

The show was to be called “ I found a Damien Hirst in a skip” with the accompanying statement that “You can find a Damien Hirst in a skip, but you won’t find him in the National Gallery!”

Adam stretched the canvas on a wooden frame that took up most of the gallery and leaned it against the wall. I doubt that we could have squeezed more than twenty people – elevator tight – into that small room. This was not going to be the art event of the century.

Or was it?

A couple of days before the opening night Adam Dant got a phone call from Damien Hirst’s “people” They wanted to know everything about the painting. Where he had got it, and for how much, was there a signature? what was its provenance and so on. They demanded to see a copy of his press release. He hadn’t made one. But he agreed he would send one over.

He wrote an account of how he found the painting in a rubbish skip and that modern art was being ignored by the establishment – or some such guff and just to make it easy for the Hirst “people” he went to the local Asian grocer shop and got it translated in Bengali; which he then faxed over to them (remember faxes?). By the time they had translated it back, they had become most alarmed.

Adam then got a call from Hirst’s “people’s” lawyers. Under no circumstances could this exhibition happen! they proclaimed. He was not to go ahead – on pain of death or in their parlance; court injunctions raining down upon his head from the heavens etc etc. .”This was not a Damien Hirst painting and could not be exhibited as such. That’s it! The wiry, talented Adam Dant on whose wit you could cut a tanker’s  mooring rope saw a way out.

It was game on.

Two nights later about 25 of us managed to squeeze into that tiny room, our wine glasses held tight under our chins as we stood and appreciated a very large brown paper parcel leaning against the wall. It was a great evening, we all drank the free chilled white wine till it was gone and we went home with a nice smile on our faces having attended the opening night of “This is not a Damien Hirst Painting

That might have been the end of the saga were it not for the press getting wind of the story. At first there were a fewspiral2

small “tut tut” pieces, but on the following Saturday morning, it being a slow news day, The Guardian devoted one third of its front page to the story, complete with a large colour picture of the offending painting. The news that Hirst’s “people” wanted to keep this under wraps had been exposed as surely as Wiki-leaks.

Interestingly enough, after the story appeared another local artist; Andy Shaw called Adam and said that the picture was infact done by him in his studio in Shoreditch and that he wanted to come along and sign it. Which he did, and after the exhibition, he was allowed to take the spiral painting away. This painting has recently gone into auction with a reserve price of £4000. In the brochure Shaw wonders why Hirst should have started doing spiral paintings after he had been doing them for some time. There are others who have made such comments – but we won’t go there. I am not in the mood for somebody’s “people” ringing me up.

During the opening night, a video of Orson Welles’s “F is for Fake” was playing – a documentary portrait of Elmyr de Hory the great self-confessed art forger was playing in the room.

Elmyr de Hory was an Hungarian born painter who had great difficulty in selling his own work.  But what he found really easy was to imitate other contemporary artists. It could take him months to sell a painting of his own but only



a few days to paint an authentic Picasso. This he did to great profit, for years, roaming Europe and America. He claims to have sold his pictures to some of the world’s major Galleries who have exhibited the works as originals. He then progressed to Matisse, Modigliani and even Renoir. He claims rich private collectors have many of his fakes in their vaults.

Orson Welles travelled to Elmyr’s house on the Spanish Island of Ibiza to film the documentary. During the filming one house guest became woven into the story; who was none other than author Clifford Irving who wrote the fake autobiography of the reclusive newspaper magnate Howard Hughes. Irving also wrote the genuine biography of de Hory called “Fake”

Irving served a jail sentence for the Howard Hughes fraud whereas Elmyr de Hory evaded all prosecution right up to the last days of his life when, finally the Spanish agreed to extradite him to France. The aging ailing painter, who by now had given up forgeries and was at last seeing modest sales of his own works, took an overdose to avoid capture,. Later Irving said that he thought his death was probably faked.

Orson Welles of course directed “Citizen Kane” a film about a fictitious recluse newspaper magnate; and he could be i.1.orson-welles-peter-biskind-bruce-handysaid to be the original media fakers with his broadcast of “War of the Worlds” on New York radio in the 1930’s that convinced listeners that a real Martian invasion was happening which produced city-wide panic. He remarked that it was strange that he, a faker should be interviewing Irving another faker who had written the real biography of Elmyr de Hory the master faker of all time.

In the film Elmyr whipped off a quick Modigliani and said to Wells “this painting is worth nothing unless everyone believes it to be a real Modigliani and if they believe it to be real, then it is worth millions!” He then signs the painting. “For this” he says directly to camera “I could go to prison”. He throws the canvas onto the open fire place and what is worth millions goes up in flames.

After his death, Elmyr’s own paintings started to rise in value, sought after no doubt by Art collectors with a sense of irony. There are stories now that even some of his own work has been forged – by another faker.

You can probably find an Elmyr de Hory Modigliani in a National Gallery somewhere in the world, but pretty soon, you won’t find a Banksy on a wall – anywhere.

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All is calm, all is bright.

Lazy Christmas week – I didn’t finish my new posts so I thought for the new readers who have joined since last year I would repost this.

To those who already have read it, put your feet up and have a glass of mulled wine on me. Happy Christmas.


Tonight, miraculously I had got my three children into a church for the first time in I don’t know when.  Normally it would be easier to get them into a cold shower.  Their mother was singing in a choir at a Christmas Carol concert in St Andrew’s central church in Plymouth; foregoing the Xbox and the Facebook they came out to support her.

The church stands on a spot in the city, where there has been a house of worship in one form or another since the 8th century.

In March 1941, the Church was bombed and badly damaged. Amid the smoking ruins a Imagelocal headmistress nailed over the door a wooden sign saying simply Resurgam (Latin for I shall rise again), indicating the wartime spirit, a gesture repeated at other devastated European churches. That entrance to St Andrew’s is still referred to as the “Resurgam” door and…

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Harvey is back on the Moon!

So we are back on the moon again.

I say we as in the Human Race, but in fact it’s the Chinese who have landed the first craft to touch down on the lunar surface for 40 years.

This mission, Chang 3, touched down this afternoon and immediately went to work. For three hours after the probe landed, its descent slowed and controlled by a powerful miniature rocket engine, the craft began to unpack itself, chang3revealing a small 6 wheeled rover emerging from the craft. Already the rover has driven forward a few meters, its on board sensors and radar scrutinising the lunar surface. Data is being sent back to Earth already.

This little fellar that is roving around the moon is called Yutu – which means Jade Rabbit. In ancient Chinese stories Yutu was the pet rabbit of Chang – the moon Goddess after whom the whole mission is named.

I don’t suppose The Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) has ever heard of Robert Anton Wilson and his writings. If they had, they might have thought twice about naming the rover Yutu.

Robert Anton Wilson was the co author of the Illuminate Trilogy. A Science fiction tongue in cheek romp through conspiracy theories, Illuminate, the masons and ancient Egyptians UFOs, Alien visitations, crop circles and the whole rag bag of the alternative zeitgeist of the late 1970s. In the book, which was advertised as “a fairy tale for paranoids” the main character – Joe Malik – gets abducted by aliens and is processed and brainwashed and given agiant-rabbit1 new name “ U Wacky Wabbit” and sent back to Earth.

Later in the book Wilson postulates that Rabbits and UFOs are inextricably joined in their purpose. He gave this notion a name: Lepufology and today there are several social networks who devote themselves to explore the link between rabbits and Aliens. They even have a Facebook page (although there’s not much activity)

You know how Bugs Bunny is always getting abducted by Marvin the Martian right? Bug’s in his rabbit hole and a UFO lands on top, and he climbs up into its shaft – then he runs around on Mars. You probably have never given it much thought. I wouldn’t even bother now – except – it’s the rabbits, you see.

Marvin the Martian

Marvin the Martian

Throughout the late 50’s and 60’s when in the new age of rockets and strange new test aircraft there were many UFO sightings and in a lot of those accounts farmers would report that rabbits were in abundance, or found dead in large numbers or were running away from the spot where the alleged spacecraft landed. Then there was the 1950’s film “Harvey” with James Stewart whose character “Elwood” had an imaginary friend “Harvey” and he was a giant Rabbit who he regarded as his guardian angel. He alone could see Harvey. The Giant 6 foot 3 inch high Rabbit had the ability to stop time just by looking at a clock.

Did you ever watch E.T.? Look at it again, the opening scene, rabbits run around in front of the camera. In “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” there are rabbits all over the area where the alien craft lands. Rabbits, Lepufologists claim, are the advance party for the visiting aliens to Earth.

All this and more was the basis for Robert Anton Wilsons assertians that UFOs and Rabbits go hand in paw.  It should be also noted that Wilson, before becoming a science fiction writer was an editor at Playboy magazine, who’s logo is the loveable bunny.

There’s more. President Jimmy Carter, the only American President to claim to have seen a UFO, was attacked by a ferocious giant rabbit as he sat in a small river fishing boat in Plains, Georgia in 1979. That was enough for the Lepufologists – there was at last incontrovertible proof of a link.

Thirty years later Jimmy Carter explained that the story was mostly untrue. He fought off a terrified giant rabbit that was swimming away from dogs that were chasing it on the opposite bank. It jumped into the creek where he was

Debris from the Chang3 rocket launch.

Debris from the Chang3 rocket launch.

fishing from the boat and swam right towards him. He shooed it away with his oar. By the time the story had done the rounds of the local bars that night amongst the secret service and the locals, myth had become legend.

So Yutu the Jade Rabbit is busy advancing man’s knowledge of the moon in preparation for a manned mission in 3 or 4 years time.

Meanwhile, back on Earth in the Hunan province of China, some residents are not so happy about the missions. Every time a large space mission is launched debris from the separating rocket stages fall back to earth and land in their area. The Chang 3 mission is no exception as you can see in this picture.

Lastly, here are some tourists at a festival in Hunan Province, home of Chinese space debris, having their picture taken in front of a giant Rabbit.


You couldn’t make it up boys and girls, you just couldn’t.

Posted in conspiracy, History, illuminate, Lepufology, Space Travel, transport, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , ,

End of an Era


Of course, it was on the cards.  He was a very, very old man who had spent the best years of his life in political prison.   I remember that bright and hopeful day in February, 1990 when Mandela walked out of prison and into the world again.  He brought with him a dignity and poise, the like of which we hardly ever see in this world.   He brought no bitterness through those gates.  Together with F W de Klerk he broke the stranglehold of Apartheid in South Africa for ever.

One day I was walking past the entrance to the Guildhall in London.  I stopped as a big black limousine drove out and paused before entering the traffic.  I looked and then did a double take.  Nelson Mandela was sitting in the back, his face close to the window.  He saw my surprise; he grinned and waved.  Then he was gone.  I didn’t meet him, but he did smile at me.

Tonight in London was the Premier of the film Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom.

He said “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

Posted in anc, History, mandela, Politics, south africa, Uncategorized, War & Peace | 9 Comments

The King’s time to Mumbai

They call it Brunel’s Billiard table.

They do so, because across the entire 110 miles of the Great Western Railway line running between London and Bristol, there is a drop in gradient of only one foot – making it so easy to glide westwards effortlessly across this green and pleasant, as smooth as a baby’s; chasing the eternal sunset as it slips beyond the horizon to America..

The magnificent GWR was built by the pioneering engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.  He learned his trade from his father, a canal and tunnel engineer. His company was awarded the job of building the main East-West railway across southern

Isambard Kingdon Brunel stands before the launching chains of the SS Great Eastern at the time, was the largest vessel afloat that could travel the globe without refuelling.  This ships was launched the same month that the Royal Albert Bridge was opened.

Isambard Kingdon Brunel stands before the launching chains of the SS Great Eastern which at the time, was the largest Iron vessel afloat that could travel the globe without refuelling. This ship was launched the same month that the Royal Albert Bridge was opened.

England connecting the capital with the great trading Port of Bristol in West.   In less than a month he had ridden on horseback across the virgin countryside and surveyed the entire route for the new railway.  He supervised a team of engineers and draughtsmen and between them they designed the locomotives and rolling stock, the bridges and tunnels, the embankments and cuttings; the GWR Hotels and of course the great stations.

Not only was Brunel an incredible engineer, but he was shrewd businessman.  He could let the railway rise and fall with the undulating landscape, but he preferred instead to spend the money in the construction of bridges and cuttings, tunnels and banking to keep the line level.  Better to spend the money on the construction now to keep the line level rather than spend it later on coal to power the locomotives as they climbed unnecessary hills.

After London and Bristol were joined, Brunel was commissioned to extend the GWR deeper into the West Country.  It travelled west into Wales, running past the steel and coal workshops from Newport to Cardiff and Swansea, finishing at Fishguard Harbour, from where one could catch the mail boat to Ireland.

The GWR also ran south from Bristol down to the long western leg of the country.    Across the bountiful county of Somerset and sleepy Dorset with its market towns and Jurassic coastline the line travelled across the summer county of Devon.  The first stop in Devon is the ancient wool city of Exeter; (which was the most westerly Roman settlement in the known world).  The last station in Devon is the great Naval port of Plymouth from whose harbour steps the dour Pilgrims set sail on the Mayflower for the Americas.

Once past Exeter, the terrain gave Brunel some real challenges.  Inland, he faced a steep climb through hills that rise 200 feet

Sliding across this green and pleasant. pic: Alice Hayes

Sliding across this green and pleasant.
pic: Alice Hayes

high and then beyond them the vast and remote expanse of High Dartmoor. To the south, he had a steep coastline to negotiate.  He chose to run his tracks nestled tightly at the foot of the red sand cliffs.  In bad weather the sea pounds the passing trains with crashing waves.  This route skirts along the edge of Dartmoor and gently down into Plymouth.

The last leg would take the GWR across the Tamar River which separates Devon and Cornwall as it flows out past the naval dockyard into Plymouth Sound.  There was however, a big problem building a bridge across the water.  The nearest point between the two banks where it would be sensible to build a bridge was where they rose to 100 feet high on both sides.   Brunel couldn’t bring his railway to a lower part of the river bank because the Royal Navy insisted that any bridge across the River have a 100 foot clearance allowing their vessels to pass under.

Undaunted, Brunel stood at the spot on the high bank, and looked across the 1000 feet of estuary that separated Devon and Cornwall at its narrowest point and imagined  his bridge rising 100 feet above the Tamar River.  It would have to sit in 85 feet of fast moving water.

There were two principal difficulties. First, the creation of the pier in the middle of the river, which Brunel solved by designing a Great Cylinder to be floated into position and to act as a coffer dam .  Sealed at the top, the cylinder was pressurised and the water was pumped out so that the navvies could work inside setting the footings for the supports.

The second difficulty was the raising of the main spans a hundred feet up above the water.  These were built on the Devon

Each day, the span was lifted a few inches.

Each day, the span was lifted a few inches.

foreshore and floated into position. The Cornwall pier was erected first and jacked up three feet at a time to enable the brickwork on the landward piers and ironwork on the central pier to be erected beneath.   It took three weeks to float each of the two lenticular sections into place and several more weeks to slowly inch the section upwards to the desired height.

What makes this bridge even more remarkable is that the two approach sections are curved.  Normally a bridge construction can rely on the strength of straddling in a straight line from bank to bank.

In 1859 the bridge was opened by Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert after whom it was named.   Brunel, who was too ill to attend the opening died a couple of weeks later.  One hundred and fifty years on, his legacy and Bridge are still standing.

Brunel was recently voted 2nd most important Brittan of all time, he was celebrated in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, where he was portrayed by Kenneth Branagh extolling the achievements of the Industrial revolution.

As the trains were eating up the miles across this sceptred Isle something surprising happened and which had never occurred to anyone before as being important.   Despite Britain being a relatively small island, there was a time difference between London and Bristol of about 20 minutes.  Ordinarily, this wouldn’t have mattered very much, but with arrival of the railways something new was born – the dreaded timetable.

Speed limit on the bridge is now 15mph.

Speed limit on the bridge is now 15mph.

Horse powered travel was a hit and miss affair, but the railways energised punctuality and made each journey an example never to be deviated from.  A “coach and four” racing across the countryside on unkempt roads, through all weathers, would arrive when, well – when they arrived.  Not so the train.  If the train took two hours today, well by Jove, it should take exactly two hours again tomorrow – or there would be a loss in profits.   For this to work, time would have to be standardised across the land.  All trains run on London time.

Each night for over 70 years a leather pouch was carried on the boat train that would leave Euston station in London bound for the night Ferry to Dublin.  This pouch contained a large pocket watch- like time piece that would be judiciously wound up and set by the Station Master just prior to the Boat Train’s departure.  The next Morning this time piece was used to synchronise the big clock in the Dublin General Post office.  This was known as “taking the King’s Time to Dublin” – that most westerly outpost of the British Empire was slavishly shackled to London time.  This nightly tradition continued well past the Irish revolution but stopped in 1939 with outbreak of WW2.

There is nothing we can do about it now; we are all absorbed into the great time table that our society is governed by.     One

The line runs alongside the sea at Dawlish.  That sleeping sea when awake thrashes the passing trains.

The line runs alongside the sea at Dawlish. That sleeping sea when awakeden thrashes the passing trains.

afternoon I stood on the platform of the station at Saltash, the hamlet on the Cornwall side of the Royal Albert Bridge. The station is like so many others across the network, unmanned, automated, deserted, yet trains still stop there.   Sadly, the  old derelict station house is falling into disrepair.  Looking along the platform at  the tracks curving out of the station and immediately onto the bridge,  I thought it would be quite nice to pick up the next train travelling east to Plymouth and treat myself to a ride across Brunel’s masterpiece.

I had no idea when the next train was due.   At the entranced to the platform was a lamp post and on it- a white box with a big button marked “information” I pressed it, and a disembodied woman’s voice answered “Good afternoon, Can I help you?”  When is the next train going east from Saltash I enquired?  She repeated my question for clarity and in so doing, revealed an accent I couldn’t quite place.  Across this little nation there are regional accents that are as

The view of the Bridge from the Saltash foreshore. click to view larger.

The view of the Bridge from the Saltash foreshore.
click to view larger.

different and as unique as the landscape.  “Are you in Swindon?”  I asked, thinking that I was getting my information from main office of the GWR.  No she was not.  Maybe somewhere further down the line perhaps, in a distant part of Cornwall I hadn’t been to yet?   Some folks speak right funny down there.

No.  I was standing there on a warm afternoon talking into a tin box on a Lamp post with a representative of the Railway Company five thousand miles away in Mumbai, India – another long lost outpost of the Empire.   She had said “Good afternoon” but it must have been nearly midnight there.  She consulted the time table and there wouldn’t be a train stopping there for some time.

We used to take the King’s time to Dublin and now the King’s time table is delivered to us by a sleepy late night call centre worker in India through hundreds of miles of optic fibres and via satellites high above the earth.


The Bridge leaves Saltash and stetches through the mist across to Devon.
click to enlarge

My trip across Brunel’s bridge would have to be for another day.  There’s no hurry – that magnificent bridge has stood and been used daily for the past 150 years.  As engineering projects around the world go, it’s no super star.  Any true engineer looking at the Royal Albert Bridge will agree; that given the resources and materials available to Brunel, it is one of the great wonders of the industrial revolution.

….and it’s just down the road from where I live.

Posted in engineering, History, railways, transport, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Mewstone and Starfish

mewstone1This small rocky island about 800 feet off the South Devon coast at Wembury is known as the Mewstone.

 Although uninhabited, people used to live on this small rock.   Way back in 1744 a local man, found guilty of some petty offence, was sentenced by a magistrate to be ‘transported’ to the island for seven years. Not only did he remain there quietly with his family for the entire time without once setting foot on the mainland but, when the time came for the family to leave, his daughter chose to remain behind. ‘Black Joan’, as she was called, eventually married and had three children on the Mewstone before her husband drowned after falling off a rock.

Several inhabitants followed Black Joan, the last being Samuel Wakeham and his family. He enlarged an existing house there for his wife Ann (whom he married in 1833 in Wembury Church), thus creating a highly unusual turreted building.

mewstone cottage

The abandoned cottage that was home for many years.

Sam also created a garden by clearing stones and manuring the land with seaweed and sand carried up from the beach. Poultry and a couple of pigs were kept, and the island was the warren for the Langdon Estate.   Living rent free, Sam protected the rabbits from Poachers by; it is said, putting a bullet through their coat tails to warn them off – before any bones were broken.  During the proper season, Sam and his family were allowed to shoot and eat as many rabbits as they wished.

Sam’s life on the Mewstone was less isolated than that of some earlier residents. The glitterati of 19th century Plymouth would hire boatmen to take them out to the Mewstone for afternoon picnics on the rocks and look back at the fabulous Devon coastline.  Sam soon capitalised on this and made it known around that if visitors would stand on the beach, and wave a white handkerchief, he would, for two pennies, row out to ferry them across.  He even carved steps in the rocks for the ladies to walk up in safety.

Sam Wakeham managed to lose his kingdom because in addition to his role as gamekeeper, small farmer and boatman he indulged in an activity the authorities will not tolerate, then or now, smuggling.  After being ambushed by the local excise officer, Sam and his family were evicted from the island.  He ended his days as a Plymouth boatman, taking tourists around Plymouth Sound.

The Mewstone changed hands a couple of times and then for 50 years from 1956, the adjacent coastline and the island was under the restrictive control of the Military and became a firing range for Naval recruits.    In 2006 the land was returned to the nation under the custodianship of the National Trust, that great organisation that owns, administers and protects important Heritage sites around the country.  30,000 people donated money so that the National Trust could buy the Island and adjacent coastline.  The Mewstone is now a nature reserve and generally out of bounds to visitors.

The only current inhabitants are the sea birds who nest, breed and feed undisturbed in a rare protected avian haven.

Once a year, however their tranquillity is disturbed by the annual Mewstone Paddle, when hoards of people on boards, logs and rafts paddlerace out to the rock from Wembury Beach half a mile along the coast.  In so doing, they raise large sums of money for local Hospices and the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLB).

There are those small band of people who like to swim across open water far out of reach of the shore and rest on the rocky skirt of the Mewstone.  You can see their adventures here:


At low tide on  the Wembury mainland, the exposed rock is full of pools and gullies.  A perfect place for the children to explore and look down into miniature universes full of  colour and teaming with life.



maggie and milly and molly and may

went down to the beach(to play one day)


and maggie discovered a shell that sang

so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and


milly befriended a stranded star

whose rays five languid fingers were;


and molly was chased by a horrible thing

which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and


may came home with a smooth round stone

as small as a world and as large as alone.


For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)

it’s always ourselves we find in the sea –


e e cummings

. . . . . . . . . .and then the weather closed in, and it was time for us to go home.

In a matter of minutes low, fast moving mist shrouded the Mewstone

In a matter of minutes low, fast moving mist shrouded the Mewstone telling us it was time to leave.

Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments

As We Set Sail

NASA has anounced today that the space probe Voyager 1 has actualy left the solar system and is now in interstella space.

Therefore, I have re-blogged this story.

I have new readers who have not seen it, to those who have; it’s time to go

and put the kettle on.


The NBC news tweet alerted the world to the death of an historical icon. “Astronaut Neil Young, the first man to walk on the moon has died”.     The gaff was re-tweeted around the world at the speed of light.    Within minutes an embarrassed NBC news editor changed the headline to “Astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon ,has died”.

Over millions of years the moon pulled and pushed the tides of the oceans from which, eventually, life forms climbed ashore and in a cosmic heart beat, stood up and achieved consciousness.     In the blink of an eye, a human flew up to the Moon and trod its virgin dust.

The early years of the 1960s were over shadowed by the ubiquitous threat of nuclear annihilation. We sat through those days of the Cuban missile crisis quaking in our boots.   The crisis came and went. Phew!

JFK announces to the world “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”       This was more like it!

At the time that Kennedy made this speech, Man had spent only 120 minutes in space; first the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and then American John Glenn, but the space race was on.      Kennedy committed the country to the most expensive project in the history of the world.      He promised that it would lead to huge advances in materials, computing, avionics, telecommunications and other technologies.   He certainly made good on that promise.  Kenedy concluded his great speech:  “Therefore as we set sail, we ask God’s blessing, on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked

Then they assassinated him.

As a teenager I watched the first Moon landing. It was a moment of such positive potential – a time when the new generation was full of hope and energy. Everyone knows where they were at that moment.     We were all there with him as Armstrong took that one small step; this was where we were going.     This was where our future was, out there – amongst the stars, with the cosmic wind blowing on our cheeks; all my comics told me so.

Buzz Aldrin, 2nd man on the Moon, get his picture taken by Armstrong

A dozen men would walk on the moon before the Apollo programme came to an end. Neil Armstrong left behind on the Moon an American flag and a plaque with the inscription “For All Mankind” That couldn’t happen today.    The meek might inherit the Earth; but Halliburton will get the mineral rights.

Eventually the moment faded away into History.   With that fading and cut backs in NASA’s budget there  was a decline in American superiority. But others will follow.

And what of the man?

When Armstrong returned to Earth he was the most famous person in History.     He could have cashed in; he could have named his price, but he didn’t.    Early on he was warned by Charles Limburg – who only thirty years previously had been the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean – of the dangerous storm of public and commercial interest that was blowing his way.   In Lindbergh’s case it had resulted in the kidnapping and murder of his child son. Armstrong heeded the warning.

After leaving NASA, Neil Armstrong became a teacher at Cincinnati University and kept out of the limelight for the rest of his life. Whenever he found himself in the public eye he deflected all adoration; always reminding people that he was part of a much larger team; he just happened to be the one who “flew the bird”

Neil Armstrong

On his death we were able to pause a moment to remember this humble man and the massive thing he did. Long after our civilisation has crumbled; his first footprints will remain on the Sea of Tranquillity, undisturbed in the lunar dust, until the end of the Solar System.

In its fifty year history NASA has launched men into orbit (Mercury and Gemini), gone to the Moon, created the Space Shuttle programme, helped build and supply the Space Station, launched the Hubble Telescope; that incredible sharp eye on the Universe, placed hundreds of satellites into orbit and launched many interplanetary probes, like “Curiosity” the current Mars Lander mission. One of those programmes was pair of probes called Voyager 1&2.

Launched in 1977, these machines were sent out on a Grand Tour of the great Gas Giants of the Solar System. There was a rare favourable planetary alignment that allowed Voyager to fly out past Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus, sending back an invaluable amount of data and some magnificent images of the planets and their moons. Using each of the Planet’s gravitational pull Voyager was propelled towards and then past each solar body onto the next, until passing close to Neptune the mission was to be flung onwards out of the Solar system and into deep space.

This week Voyager 1 has broken through the outer edge of Heliosphere – the bubble of charged particles created by the solar wind that denotes the edge of the Solar system and interstellar space.  We know that Voyager is now leaving our solar system because of the change in the signals being sent back from the craft.  The radio signature of cosmic rays of deep space is now greater than that of the Solar wind.  The radio, which has signal 10 times lower than cell phone will broadcast back home until about 2025 before the plutonium emits its last particle.

A fabulous view of the moon Io as it passes across the Planet Jupiter

Apart from the small nuclear reactor, the science packages and the radio equipment Voyager carries a Gold-plated audio-visual disc which is a kind of calling card should any extraterrestrial life forms encounter the craft at some point in the far distant future.

The Gold-plated audio Visual disc

Etched on the surface of the disc is a diagram explaining how to retrieve the recording. There is even a stylus and an electrical pickup on board with which to play the record. The disc contains images of life on Earth, it’s place in the solar system and audio recordings of greetings in 50 languages, the sounds made by surf, wind, thunder and animals, bird and whale song and a selection of music; including Mozart, Beethoven, Guan Pinghu, Stravinsky, Chuck Berry and some blues music.

In 1945 when the world was emerging from WW2 and entering the Atomic age; an Ohio rookie flyer, 15 year old Neil Armstrong – was awarded his pilots’ license – a year before he was allowed to drive. Rock legend Neil Young was born and a little known blues singer, Blind Willie Johnson was found dead in the burnt out ruins of his house, which he couldn’t afford to rebuild, covered in wet newspapers.

Blind Willie Johnson:
“Dark was the night, cold was the day”

Born in 1897 in Texas, Willie Johnson told his father when he was five years old that he wanted to be a preacher.   This was the year Charles Lindbergh was born.   He made a guitar from a cigar box and began his musical journey.   Willie’s mother had died when he was a baby and eventually his father re-married.     One day he witnessed a ferocious argument between his Step- Mother and Father which resulted in boiling water being thrown into his face.     He lost his sight for ever.       He spent his life preaching the Gospel and singing the Blues in towns across the Southern states.

The blues music included on Voyager’s Golden disc was a track by Blind Willie Johnson called “Dark was the night, cold was the day”      Blind, alone and penniless when he died; this man’s music has just left the solar system entering interstellar space, and at the time of writing, is 10 billion kilometres out and counting.

Along with Beethoven and Mozart , Blind Willie’s song is 35 years into an infinite journey to the stars.

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