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Saturday, 21 April 2018

REPOST: The Royal Parks of London (1) St James Park

I've been a bit busy lately so I'm re-posting this from five years ago. It's one of my favourite places in London.

The Royal Parks of London (1) St James Park

A magical view  across the lake in St James Park, London
St James Park is the second smallest of London's eight Royal parks at 57 acres. These parks were originally owned by the Crown and used for sport, mainly deer hunting. In 1532 Henry VIII purchased some marshland owned by Eton College in an area that had formerly consisted of a female leper colony and pig farms and he enclosed it to create a hunting park on his door-step. Successive monarchs improved the park until Charles II, upon the restoration of the monarchy after the English Civil War, had the park laid out in the way he had seen in France during his exile. Today the park is pretty much as improved by the architect and landscape designer John Nash in 1827. It's full of the most charming range of trees, shrubs, flowers and wildlife.
In 1664 the Russian Ambassador presented a pelican to the Court of St James (any Ambassador or High Commissioner to the United Kingdom is officially "Ambassador to the Court of  St James") this began a tradition of presenting pelicans as gifts and today there is an island of rocks in the lake, especially for them. There are also Egyptian geese, Greylags, Wood Ducks and many other beautiful birds. At one end of the park is Horse Guards Parade famous for the ceremony of Trooping the Colour and at the other end the best view of Buckingham Palace is to be seen.

Monday, 9 April 2018

My Heroes (43): Sir Roger Bannister

The passing away of Sir Roger Bannister last month has recalled a time when post-war Britain was very different than it is today. The breaking of the four-minute mile barrier was as much psychological as it was physical. The whole event, which took place at the Iffley Road track in Oxford where Sir Roger was a student doctor, was very low-key in a way that would seem amateurish today. Sir Roger had specifically targeted breaking the four-minute barrier. Seven athletes were scheduled to race but one of the runners forgot his shorts so could not take part in the race! 
The concept of breaking that barrier was challenged by some who said no human could do it. However, Roger Bannister thought "why not, why would the barrier be at exactly four minutes?"
He ran a mile in three minutes and 59.4 seconds and, as if to prove his point, the record was quickly broken again by Australia's John Landy and then many times over the next few months. It seems that once the psychological barrier was broken, it became relatively easier. He had been assisted in his efforts by his two pacemakers, Christopher Chataway and Chris Brasher who both became very successful middle-distance runners themselves.
I love this charming quote from Sir Roger on his retirement: "I'd rather be remembered for my work in neurology than my running. If you offered me the chance to make a great breakthrough in the study of the automatic nerve system, I'd take that over the four minute mile right away. I worked in medicine for sixty years. I ran for about eight."[
I'm listening to Dion singing one of my favourite rock songs, Ruby Baby. Listen here.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Painting of the Month (81) April 2018: Peter Blake

Peter Blake, born 1932, is a British artist who was a leading figure in the Pop Art movement in the 1960's. He is most well-known for co-creating the sleeve design for The Beatles album Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967 and this post is really about that.
 Blake's iconic sleeve design for Sgt Pepper
Probably the most well-known album design ever made.
Io Herodotus's explanation of the people featured on the sleeve. 
Here is a list of those people followed by a list of some who were left out. You may notice that there is not a perfect correspondence between the two pictures because changes were constantly being made:
Top row
(1) Sri Yukteswar Giri (Hindu guru)
(3) Mae West (actress)
(6) W. C. Fields (comedian/actor)
(8) Edgar Allan Poe (writer)
(9) Fred Astaire (actor/dancer)
(10) Richard Merkin (artist)
(11) The Vargas Girl (by artist Alberto Vargas)
(12) Leo Gorcey (image was removed from cover, but the space remains between "The Vargas Girl" and "Huntz Hall")
(13) Huntz Hall (actor)
(14) Simon Rodia (designer and builder of the Watts Towers)
(15) Bob Dylan (singer/songwriter)

Second row
(16) Aubrey Beardsley (illustrator)
(17) Sir Robert Peel (19th century British Prime Minister)
(18) Aldous Huxley (writer)
(19) Dylan Thomas (poet)
(20) Terry Southern (writer)
(21) Dion DiMucci (singer/songwriter)
(22) Tony Curtis (actor)
(23) Wallace Berman (artist)
(24) Tommy Handley (comedian)
(25) Marilyn Monroe (actress)
(26) William S. Burroughs (writer)
(27) Sri Mahavatar Babaji (Hindu guru)
(28) Stan Laurel (actor/comedian)
(29) Richard Lindner (artist)
(30) Oliver Hardy (actor/comedian)
(31) Karl Marx (political philosopher)
(32) H. G. Wells (writer)
(33) Sri Paramahansa Yogananda (Hindu guru)
(34A) James Joyce (Irish poet and novelist) – barely visible below Bob Dylan(34) Anonymous (hairdresser's wax dummy)
Third row
(35) Stuart Sutcliffe (artist/former Beatle)
(36) Anonymous (hairdresser's wax dummy)
(37) Max Miller (comedian)
(38) A "Petty Girl" (by artist George Petty)
(39) Marlon Brando (actor)
(40) Tom Mix (actor)
(41) Oscar Wilde (writer)
(42) Tyrone Power (actor)
(43) Larry Bell (artist)
(44) David Livingstone (missionary/explorer)
(45) Johnny Weissmuller (Olympic swimmer/Tarzan actor)
(46) Stephen Crane (writer) – barely visible between Issy Bonn's head and raised arm
(47) Issy Bonn (comedian)
(48) George Bernard Shaw (playwright)
(49) H. C. Westermann (sculptor)
 (50) Albert Stubbins (English footballer)
(51) Sri Lahiri Mahasaya (guru)
(52) Lewis Carroll (writer)

Front row
(54) Wax model of Sonny Liston (boxer)
(55) A "Petty Girl" (by George Petty)
(56) Wax model of George Harrison
(57) Wax model of John Lennon
(58) Shirley Temple (child actress) – barely visible behind the wax models of John and Ringo, first of three
ppearances on the cover
(59) Wax model of Ringo Starr
(60) Wax model of Paul McCartney
(61) Albert Einstein (physicist) – largely obscured
(62) John Lennon holding a french horn
(63) Ringo Starr holding a trumpet
(64) Paul McCartney holding a cor anglais
(65) George Harrison holding a piccolo
(65A) Bette Davis (actress) – hair barely visible on top of George's shoulder
(66) Bobby Breen (singer)
(67) Marlene Dietrich (actress/singer)
(68) Mahatma Gandhi was planned for this position, but was deleted prior to publication
(69) An American legionnaire[2]
(70) Wax model of Diana Dors (actress)
(71) Shirley Temple (child actress) – second appearance on the cover

People excluded from the cover
(12) Leo Gorcey – was modelled and originally included to the left of Huntz Hall, but was subsequently removed when a fee of $400 was requested for the use of the actor's likeness.[5][6]
(54A) Unidentified laughing figure - barely visible
(56A) Sophia Loren (actress) - behind the Beatles waxworks
(57A) Marcelo Mastroianni (actor) - behind the Beatles waxworks
(65A) Timothy Carey (actor) - was modelled and originally included but largely obscured by George Harrison in the final picture
(68) Mahatma Gandhi – was modelled and originally included to the right of Lewis Carroll, but was subsequently removed According to McCartney, "Gandhi also had to go because the head of EMI, Sir Joe Lockwood, said that in India they wouldn't allow the record to be printed".
Jesus Christ – was requested by Lennon, but not modelled because the LP would be released just over a year after Lennon’s Jesus remark.

(C) Adolf Hitler – was modelled and was visible in early photographs of the montage, positioned to the right of Larry Bell, but was eventually removed when his inclusion was considered offensive. 

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

All About Graphene

I have just got back from a very long weekend in France so I am a bit full of wine and croissants! Here's a post I wrote before I left.
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All ABOUT GRAPHENE
I have tried to eliminate or explain all the many technical terms there were in this post so that, hopefully, every reader can understand it. I have a technical background and some of it is even beyond me so, as a by-product, I am educating myself about this very import material.
 Image showing the hexagonal atomic structure of graphene. 

  So what exactly is graphene? Well it's a sheet of hexagonal carbon molecules which is only one atom thick. It is regarded as being two-dimensional and it has many applications. It is the world's strongest known product and is the best conductor of electricity and of heat.
  Graphene has often been described as the "material of the future" with some stunning ideas in development. It's thickness is around 0.345nm. A nanometer is one thousand-millionth of a metre. It is essentially made out of graphite, the same thing that the lead in pencils is made of.
Graphite it is an allotrope of the element carbon, meaning it possesses the same atoms but they’re arranged in a different way, giving the material different properties. For example, both diamond and graphite are forms of carbon, yet they have wildly different natures. Diamonds are incredibly hard, while graphite is brittle. 
Five uses for graphene that are being developed.
Antibiotics: Graphene oxide, which is a form of graphene with oxygen incorporated into it, wraps itself around bacteria, puncturing it's membrane. With a burst membrane bacteria cannot survive. Surgical tools could be coated with this carbon-based compound reducing the need for antibiotics, reducing the rate of post-operative infections and speeding recovery times. Scientists have found that graphene specifically attacks bacteria cells and spares human ones although currently it's not clearly understood why. Graphene can also be used to deliver drugs to very specific cells in the body.
Camera lens: A flat optical lens just a billionth of a metre thick will enable us to see living creatures as small as a single bacterium better than ever before. These lens would have potential in nano-satellites thus drastically reducing the cost of launches into space. Ultra-thin flexible mobile phones are in development. Another potential use could be in the advancement of delivery of super-fast broadband.
Solar cells: Because graphene is so thin it allows loads of light through it which is great for applications that need transparency such as touch screens but not so good for solar cells which need to absorb as many photons as possible. In an interesting development, a team of scientists have developed a technique based on the ways moth's eyes work  which enables them to have good vision in the dark by focusing light into the centre of their eyes. This has allowed them to increase the light absorbency of graphene sheets from 2.3% to 95%.
Lubricants: Much research has been undertaken to explore the conductance of graphene but a team in Switzerland is looking at it's lubricating prowess on a nanometer scale. In future they claim, that by coating parts of machinery they will create a frictionless surface resulting in almost zero energy loss between moving parts. This would improve energy efficiency and extend the life of equipment.
Batteries: Graphene can make batteries that are light, durable and suitable for high-capacity energy storage and with shorter charging times.
 Many sporting goods, making use of graphene to enhance materials, are already in production such as: tennis rackets, skis and trainers as well as wheels, frames and safety helmets for bicycles.
   But perhaps graphene's most extraordinary property is that after more than a decade of intensive investigation it continues to startle the world of science. Recently two seemingly contradictory properties were added to the list. One is that it appears to be almost twice as bulletproof as Kevlar. At the same time another piece of research showed that the impenetrable barrier was actually porous to hydrogen ions. This has implications for drawing hydrogen, a potential fuel, right out of the air! You are going to be hearing a lot more about this exciting product in the very near future.
And if all of this hasn't impressed you, well hear this
- it can be self repairing!
I'm listening to Joan Baez singing her beautiful, plaintive composition Diamonds and Rust which is about her relationship with Bob Dylan. Listen here.

Friday, 16 March 2018

A First Basket of Quotations

"It's cute how food labels think there are 
eight servings in a pie!"
I do like a pithy quotations and I collect them from all sorts of sources and store them in a word document which I keep on my desktop. I run a once-a-month charity walking group and send out emails to about 150 people and, on each mailing, I use a different quotation; a few of them are my own (but I usually describe them as 'anonymous' but the ones here not mine - I think....). There many categories of  types - wisdom, humour, thought-provoking etc. Often I relate the quote to something relevant to the particular post or time of the year and so on. Sometimes I add a cartoon but, as drawing them takes so long, I don't do that too much nowadays.
Here is a selection of some that I have used and some that I have waiting in the wings:
"I would challenge you to a battle of wits, but I see you are unarmed." - William Shakespeare, (As You Like It) (Apparently 'Good Reads' was wrong about this being by Shakespeare!) 
When Winston Churchill was asked to cut Arts funding in favour of the war effort he replied “Then what are we fighting for?”
“Of course I can keep secrets. It’s the people I tell them to that can’t keep them.” - Anthony Haden-Guest
I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, 'Where's the self-help section?' She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose - Anonymous
"If Jesus was a Jew, how come he has a Mexican first name?" - Billy Connolly
"God endowed a woman with keener judgement than man" - The Talmud
“Always be sincere, even when you don’t mean it.” - Irene Peter
Never laugh at your wife's choices..... you are one of them!
“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud”-Maya Angelou
“If your brains were made of gunpowder they wouldn’t blow your hat off!” – Anonymous
"My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She's eighty-six now and we don't know where the hell she is." Ellen Degeneres
“We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.” – Aesop
“I’ve written a book about DIY First Aid. It’s called ‘Suture Self’ - Anonymous
“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” - George Carlin
Last year I joined a group for procrastinators, We haven't met yet...- Anonymous
“If you light a lamp for someone it will also brighten your path.” - Buddhist saying.
“No one has ever become poor by giving.”-Anne Frank


I'm listening to the late JJ Cale 
singing his own song, City Girls
Very laid back and charming, listen here.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Painting of the Month (80) March 2018: W. Heath Robinson


William Heath Robinson, 1872-1944, was a British painter, illustrator and cartoonist who achieved a level of fame in the First World War with his humorous drawings of incredibly complicated machines which were designed to perform extremely simple tasks. In the USA you may be familiar with the term Rube Goldberg machine which gives you an idea of what he was all about. These days the expression "a Heath Robinson machine" refers to something that seems to be over complicated. You may be aware of the machinery in the Wallace and Gromit animated films. That.
The Rescue
Putting holes into Double Gloucester cheese using the Gruyere method
William Heath Robinson was an illustrator of books of poems by Edgar Allen Poe and Rudyard Kipling and of other children's books in an Art Nouveau style similar to that of Aubrey Beardsley. His talent as an artist is sadly overlooked due to the continuing popularity of his other work.
I couldn't argue if you said he was an illustrator rather than a fine artist but I still think he deserves to be considered for artistic skills.
For Poe's The Raven
"So full of shapes is fancy" from Twelfth Night
     Illustration for A Song of the English 1909                           The artist in his studio
I'm listening to Miley Cyrus who made a surprisingly good cover of Dylan's You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.
Listen here, it's hugely enjoyable!

Friday, 2 March 2018

Love is not all by Edna St Vincent Millay

Edna St Vincent Millay 1892-1950
The American poet, Edna St Vincent Millay, was born in Rockland, Maine in 1892, one of three sisters. She specialised in lyric poetry that spoke directly to the senses and brilliantly made use of the Shakespearean 14-line sonnet form. That usually means three quatrains of four lines concluding with a couplet of two lines coming after a pivotal point (known as the 'Volta'), where a stark conclusion is made. This differs in structure from the Petrachian form, that is two stanzas of eight then six lines. This particular poem is actually a bit of a mix of both forms.

Love Is Not All by Edna St Vincent Millay
Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain; 
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink 
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone; 
Yet many a man is making friends with death 
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone. 
It well may be that in a difficult hour, 
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release, 
Or nagged by want past resolution's power, 
I might be driven to sell your love for peace, 
Or trade the memory of this night for food. 
It well may be. I do not think I would. 

So what's going on here? What is the poet saying to us with her eloquent iambic pentameter? Clearly she is making the case that, given the basic needs of mankind - food, shelter and health, love is further down the list of wants. It can't provide that roof or clean the blood nor can it "set the fractured bone". The reference to the filled lungs and cleaning of blood is probably a reference to tuberculosis which was prevalent at the time of publication, which was in 1931 during the Great Depression. 
There are, however, elements of the Petrachian sonnet form here. In the eighth line the perspective changes sharply to the first person but then (back to Shakespearean) the final couplet expresses some doubt about what she has previously declared. She might, if necessary, swap this night of love for food but she doesn't think she would. After swaying to and fro she has ended on an ambiguous note.
You can listen to the actress Tyne Daly (of Cagney and Lacey fame) reciting the poem here. There is also a clip of Edna herself reading the poem but her over-dramatic reading is almost too funny for me!