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Monday, 28 May 2012

My Heroes (35) James Lovelock
The British scientist James Lovelock is still going strong with a mind as bright as a button at the age of 92. His is a wonderful life story, of which I will relate some interesting aspects. 
He was born in Letchworth Garden City in the English county of Hertfordshire in 1919 into a working class family. His father had been illiterate until an adult and had been jailed for poaching as a young man. Realising the disadvantage he was at, he took the bold step of having elocution lessons in order to advance his career.
He has been a life-long inventor and it was while working on the freezing and thawing of cell-tissues that his distress at seeing frozen rabbits thawed by a hot spoon (which burnt their fur) that he set out to thaw them with radio waves from the inside and thus invented the microwave cooker, although he was not attempting to cook the animals!
His most famous invention is probably the electron capture detector, which measures atoms and molecules in gases. This led to the first detections of CFCs in the atmosphere.
It was the news of this invention that prompted NASA to take him to the United States in 1961 when that organisation was very young. He helped design detectors that would determine the existence or not of life on the Moon and on Mars.
However, he is best known as the proponent of the Gaia Theory which claims that the Earth is a self-regulating environment wherein all of the organic and non-organic material combine to work in harmony and sustain life on our planet. This topic, which continues to divide scientific opinion, is highly controversial and Lovelock has published many books on the subject.
I don't know if it's true or not but I would like it to be! It's rare enough to find any kind of spirituality in science.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Quiz Questions (21): A Mixed Bag

Sir Humphry Davy
Q1:What did the English inventor and physician, Sir Humphry Davy, produce in 1801 about 80 years before Edison?
Q2: Which post was first held by Trygve Halvdan Lie?
Q3: Which geological feature was first described to Europeans by Father Louis Hennepin?
Q4: What, precisely, do the following books have in common?:
All My Yesterdays by Cecil Lewis
Brief Candles by Aldous Huxley
By the Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie
The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
The Way to Dusty Death by Alistair MacLean
I am off to Belgium for a few days. I will post the answers when I return at the weekend and sober up.
Have a daft guess if you don't know the answers!

Monday, 14 May 2012

London Monopoly (9): Northumberland Ave

This is the final property in the 'Pink' set on my tour of the London Monopoly board.
Northumberland Avenue runs from Trafalgar Square, down to the Thames embankment. It's a grand but fairly unremarkable street but does have some interesting history.
In 1605 Henry Howard, the 1st Earl of Northampton, cleared a site and built a huge mansion-house based on the medieval style with a great hall and separate apartments for various family members and attendants. His property had a garden that backed onto the river and adjoined Scotland Yard in the west; an unthinkably large land-holding by today's standards. The property was eventually sold to the Percy family, the Dukes of Northumberland, who owned it until it was acquired by the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1874 to make way for Northumberland Avenue to be built.
Edison House, Thomas Edison's British headquarters, were in Northumberland Avenue and historic phonograph recordings (which still exist) were made there including the voices of William Gladstone and PT Barnum. 
The Metropole Building,
One notable building is the former Metropole Hotel a grand triangular structure, built in the 1880s and often frequented by Royalty but used as government offices since 1936 .

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

My Heroes (34): Eric Bogle
Eric Bogle is a Scottish-born Australian folk-singer and songwriter of extraordinary talents. His greatest works are the  songs about the First World war And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda and No Man's Land (also known as The Green Fields of France). He is really only known in folk-song circles which is a shame because his talents deserve much wider recognition although many fine singers have recorded his songs including Joan Baez. After more than twenty-five years I still can't hear these songs and remain dry-eyed but I am a big softie! Be warned that if you listen all the way through there will be a big emotional tug but I believe that's good for you. 
My two personal favourites of his songs are Glasgow Lullaby, a song about the sad world of the wife of "a drinkin' man" and the remarkable song Now I'm Easy about the life of an Australian farmer:
Now I'm Easy by Eric Bogle
Cockie: Australian small-scale family farmer
'Gin ("Jen"): an Australian aboriginal woman. (The term is nowadays considered to be derogatory)

For nearly sixty years, I've been a Cockie
Of droughts and fires and floods I've lived through plenty
This country's dust and mud have seen my tears and blood
But it's nearly over now, and now I'm easyyrics from: I married a fine girl when I was twenty
But she died in giving birth when she was thirty
No flying doctor then, just a gentle old black 'gin
But it's nearly over now, and now I'm easy

She left me with two sons and a daughter
On a bone-dry farm whose soil cried out for water
So my care was rough and ready, but they grew up fine and steady
But it's nearly over now, and now I'm easy

My daughter married young, and went her own way
My sons lie buried by the Burma Railway
So on this land I've made me home, I've carried on alone
But it's nearly over now, and now I'm easy

City folks these days despise the Cockie
Say with subsidies and dole, we've had it easy
But there's no drought or starving stock on a sewered suburban block
But it's nearly over now, and now I'm easy

For nearly sixty years, I've been a Cockie
Of droughts and fires and floods, I've lived through plenty
This country's dust and mud, have seen my tears and blood
But it's nearly over now, and now I'm easy
And now I'm easy

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Painting of the Month (29) May 2012: Nicholas Hilliard

'Young Man Among Roses' painted sometime between 1585 and 1595
Nicholas Hilliard founded the Elizabethan school of miniature portrait painting. Although, at first glance, this painting may appear unremarkable it is, in fact, extremely interesting, not least as an historical artefact. This was painted in the era of William Shakespeare's sonnet writing and the male subject is the epitome of Elizabethan romanticism; tall and handsome with dark, curly hair and an incipient moustache.
Miniature paintings were made with watercolour painted onto vellum and stretched over a piece of card about the size of a playing-card. Actually, they often were fitted onto playing-cards! The paints were often mixed in small shells and a dogs tooth fixed on the end of a small stick used to paint fine detail.
Hilliard was greatly influenced by the painting style of Hans Holbein who had died (of the plague) in 1547, and who had been court painter to Henry VIII. The style is fairly flat with strong contours and without the use of chiaroscuro, which is heavy use of light and shade. The artist reported that when he was asked to paint Elizabeth I she posed herself like this young man.
The style of the picture also tells us that the Tudor court in the 1580s was influenced by French style and was greatly francofile. 
He was originally a goldsmith like his father before him and his father sent him to Geneva as a youth to protect him from persecution as they were part of the Protestant revolution that was sweeping the country at that time. In Geneva he was exposed to the French language and culture and that influence remained with him. Despite his success he always had financial problems and he was imprisoned for debt in 1617, two years before his death.
There is an extensive collection of his work in London's fabulous Victoria & Albert museum.
Hilliard self-portrait aged about 30