In other’s foot steps.

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

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


Ernest Shackleton and his doomed ship the Endurance.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Lieutenant Colonel Alastair Edward Worsley

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

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

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


A Worsley selfie alone on the Ice

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

A sad end to a remarkable life.  He was later burried close to Shakleton’s grave on South Georgia.



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

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


Syrian Refugees walking a thousand miles.

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

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

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

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

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

It may be some time.


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


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We’ll always have Paris


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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there no end to the worry for a parent?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The staff of AFP News agency, Paris


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


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


Warning: Dangerous weapon.

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Our Complications

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

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

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

It told the time.

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

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

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

It reminds me of us. People.

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

A Moment of Respect.

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

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

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

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

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Stepping Forward From Jaipur

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

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

The Story:

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

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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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