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Thursday, 23 September 2021

The Real-Life Tragedy of Peter Pan

Intriguingly, it could be said that Peter Pan and Captain Hook are buried close together at the church of St John-At-Hampstead.   Hampstead has long been a place for the rich and famous of London to live, away from the hustle and bustle. Its location is on a hill elevated above the city with natural spring waters. It is thought there has been a site of worship here since after 986AD when Hampstead was given to the monks of Westminster Abbey. The first record of a church here 1312 with a bishop by the name of John de Neuport.

In 1812, the churchyard became too full and an over-spill graveyard just the other side of the street was procured. It is in one corner of this quiet graveyard that you will find the family grave of the Llewelyn-Davies family.   Arthur (1863-1907) and Sylvia (1866-1910) Llewelyn Davies had 5 boys: George, Jack, Peter, Michael and Nicholas. George and Jack were out walking one day in 1897 with their Nanny in Kensington Gardens when they met J M Barrie, future author of Peter Pan. Barrie went on to befriend the whole family and became a big part of their lives. They went on holidays together and he supporting them financially and emotionally after Arthur’s death. After Sylvia’s death in 1910 he became the children’s guardian and was known to them as ‘Uncle Jim’.

The Llewelyn-Davies family became his inspiration for the Darling family in Peter Pan with the title character of Peter being named after Peter Llewelyn-Davies. The character of Peter, Barrie said, was an amalgamation of the five boy’s personalities.

Tragically the Llewelyn children had generally unhappy and short lives. George died at the age of 21 as a soldier in the First World War and Michael drowned at the age of 20 in 1921 (thought to be a suicide). Peter also took his own life in 1960 at the age of 63 by throwing himself under a train. He was taunted at Eton for the connection with Peter Pan and believed that Barrie had exploited him. He called Peter Pan ‘that terrible masterpiece’ and it is thought that the association led him to alcoholism and depression.

Captain HookThe story of Peter Pan was, to begin with, a play and was first performed in 1904 at the Duke of York’s theatre in the West End. The villain, Captain Hook, was played by Gerald Du Maurier. You can find him buried right by the Llewelyn-Davies family grave. But why are they buried so close? Gerald was the brother of Sylvia Llewellyn-Davies and uncle to the Llewelyn-Davies boys. Gerald’s daughter was the author, Daphne du Maurier.    Credit: LivingLondonHistory.Com

I'm listening to the fabulous Joni Mitchell singing one of her very lovely songs from the album BlueYou can listen to Carey here.

Wednesday, 25 August 2021

Five Incredible Facts About Genes


(Edited down from a BBC website)

1. There’s a gene that makes you more likely to become overweight.
Many of us put on weight during the pandemic, but can we blame our genes if we no longer fit into our jeans? The answer is, maybe. The fat mass and obesity related gene, FTO, is a regular gene which all of us have. However, one version of FTO makes you more likely to be obese, and one version makes you less likely to be obese. Obesity expert Dr Giles Yeo explains: “Around half of the world’s population have one copy of this version of FTO that makes you slightly likely to be heavier, and this makes you on average one and a half kilos heavier and 20 percent more likely to become obese over your lifetime.” A sixth of the world population, more than a billion people, will have two copies of this version of the gene and be 50 percent more likely to be obese. 

2. The “Warrior gene” has been used in court as a defence for brutal crimes.           MAO-A or Monoamine oxidase A to be precise, is a gene that breaks down serotonin, a chemical in our brain that we need to feel good. When MAO-A is less active, explains Dr Sally McSwiggan, the result is a higher concentration of serotonin in our grey matter. Some think this results in us becoming more impulsive, more emotional and more aggressive. Up to 60% of us are walking around with the low activity “warrior” version of MAO-A and most will never commit a crime.

A study compared 800 violent and non-violent prisoners to look for a link between this gene and violent behaviour. It found that inmates carrying a certain version of MAO-A were indeed more likely to commit violent crimes. But this doesn’t mean anyone who carries the gene is destined for a life of brutality. In fact, up to 60% of us are walking around with the low activity “warrior” version of MAO-A, and most will never commit a crime. This hasn’t stopped lawyers bringing their client’s DNA in to the courtroom, however, in the hope of getting them off the hook.

3. We share the “eyeball gene” with every living creature.
PAX6 is the gene that tells an embryo to build an eye. It is expressed very early on, as Professor Veronica van Heyningen explains, only a week or two after fertilisation in the human embryo. Before the brain is even really a brain – more a tube of nerve cells – the eyes begin to “bud out”. PAX6 is then expressed in all different layers of the eye from the retina to the cornea to the lens.
It isn’t easy for scientists to study PAX6, but one study has revealed an unlikely connection with another creature’s eye growing gene; the fruit fly. Dr Patrick Callaerts ran experiments where he activated the gene in flies’ legs. He found that they would start growing eyes right there on their limbs. His team then put the human PAX6 gene into the flies and, incredibly, the same thing happened: the flies grew normal fly eyes. In transpired that PAX6 is the master control gene, which tells an embryo to build an eye, whether it’s in a fly or a human.
And they learned something even more fundamental - wherever you find eyes, you find PAX6. From fish to flatworms, pandas to parakeets, wallabies to water fleas – it’s ubiquitous. The same gene that makes our peepers is behind the eyes of every other animal, from a tiny fruit fly to a gigantic blue whale.
4. Only one in ten of people genetically at risk of Huntington’s Disease choose to get tested.
Huntington’s disease is an inherited neurological disorder which stops parts of the brain working properly over time. Initial symptoms can include difficulty concentrating and involuntary movements of the limbs and body. There's currently no cure for Huntington's disease or any way to stop it getting worse.
The gene responsible is called Huntington. As with all genes for diseases, we all have two copies of Huntington, one from our mum and one from our dad. But in people who develop Huntington’s disease, at least one of those copies has an unusual glitch. The fault is in a repeating sequence in the gene called a CAG. Normally there are twenty of these repeats but in Huntington’s disease the CAG expands. “When you get to 40 of the CAG repeats you will definitely develop the disease if you live long enough,” explains Dr Sarah Tabrizi. 
Since the 1980s it’s been possible for people in affected families to get tested for the Huntington’s gene, which reveals their risk of developing the disease and the chance of passing it on to their children. But it’s not a simple decision. In fact, only about one in ten people at risk choose to get tested. Perhaps understandable given the fact there is currently no cure. A large-scale trial for a new drug raised hopes, but it did not halt symptoms in sufferers and the trial was stopped. However, Dr Tabrizi remains hopeful. “We will find treatments,” says the neuroscientist. 
5. One in a hundred of us are naturally immune to HIV
Stephen Krone lived in New York through the heyday of the gay scene in the 1970s and early 80s. He watched as one after another of his friends, including his boyfriend, were struck down by the mysterious disease that was ravaging their community. But Krone was never affected. 
Scientists learnt that a gene called CCR5 is the crucial portal by which HIV infects immune cells. And a specific version of the gene, called delta 32, seemed to protect against the virus. Dr Stephen O’Brien discovered that people who had two copies of CCR5-delta32 were never found among HIV infected individuals, which he describes as “remarkable statistically.” It seemed that if you carried this genotype, you could not be infected, ever. It was because these individuals simply had no doorway by which HIV could enter cells. “They were walking around as this rare but very, very noticeable group who were genetically resistant to the infection of HIV,” says Stephen. It was a ground-breaking discovery: “It was really the first time that anybody had identified a human mutation which was good for you in the sense that it protected you from a deadly infectious disease – AIDS.”
I'm listening to David Bowie's The Jean Genie 
(Ha ha!). You can listen here.

Thursday, 19 August 2021

The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London


One of the deciding reasons that London won the right to stage the Olympic Games in 2012 was their impressive Legacy Programme. Last Sunday (15th August) I led my charity walking group there for the third time. The Olympic Park is accessed via Westfield Stratford City, Europe's largest urban shopping and leisure destination. Launched in September 2011 creating 10,000 jobs, the £2 billion development is the prestigious gateway to the Olympic Park in London and attracted an unprecedented 48 million visitors in the Olympic year. It features the first large-scale use in the world of Pave-gen flooring, creating electricity from kinetic energy of the footsteps of visitors.


The first major sight in the Park is the stunning London Aquatics Centre designed by the late Zaha Hadid, still the world’s most technically advanced swimming centre where Olympic Diving Gold Medalist Tom Daley has chosen to base himself.

But these days the most impressive thing is the extensive new developments. The former Athletes Village has been turned into ‘affordable housing’ for key workers and a whole new district has grown around it with a community, an Academy School and hard-to-get yet high-priced housing. There will be more than 34,000 new homes built in five new neighbourhoods around the Queen Elizabeth Park by 2030.

The Victoria & Albert Museum will have a branch there in partnership with The Smithsonian, the BBC is building a state-of-the art music studio and its orchestra will have a home in the Park. The London School of Fashion will be there along with a huge new campus for University College London, East. Sadler's Wells are building a new theatre for dance. The former Broadcast Centre from the London Games has become a 1.2m square feet centre for scientific start-ups in co-ordination with the universities. Despite the extensive building and development there is still plenty of green space and gardens with real ecological purpose. The worlds largest and tallest sculpture, the ArcelorMittal Orbit stands in the park and now has a slide around it!

The newest addition is The London Blossom Garden, a memorial to London's victims of Covid-19 and all of the services who are helping.

I'm listening to Handel's Arrival of the Queen of Sheba. It's always uplifting so if you would like a drug-free boost, listen HERE.

Thursday, 29 July 2021

The First Car Radio


I have ‘doctored’ this story to make it less technical. Cars haven’t always had radios. One evening, in 1929, two young men named William Lear and Elmer Wavering drove their girlfriends to a lookout point high above the Mississippi River town of Quincy, Illinois, to watch the sunset.  It was a romantic night to be sure, but one of the women observed that it would be even nicer if they could listen to music in the car.

Lear and Wavering liked the idea. Both men had tinkered with radios (Lear was a radio operator in the Navy during World War I) and it wasn't long before they were taking apart a home radio and trying to get it to work in a car.   But it wasn't easy: automobiles have ignition switches, generators, spark plugs, and other electrical equipment that generate noisy interference, making it nearly impossible to listen to the radio with the engine running.

One by one, Lear and Wavering identified and eliminated each source of electrical interference. When they finally got their radio to work, they took it to a radio convention in Chicago. There they met Paul Galvin of the Galvin   Manufacturing Corporation. He made a product called a "battery eliminator", a device that allowed battery-powered radios to run on household AC current. Galvin needed a new product to manufacture. When he met Lear and Wavering at the radio convention, he had found it. He believed that mass-produced, affordable car radios had the potential to become a huge business.

Lear and Wavering set up shop in Galvin's factory and when they perfected their first radio, they installed it in his Studebaker. Then Galvin went to a local banker to apply for a loan. Thinking it might sweeten the deal, he had his men install a radio in the banker's Packard. Good idea, but it didn't work – thirty minutes after the installation, the car caught fire and they didn't get the loan. Galvin didn't give up. He drove his Studebaker nearly 800 miles to Atlantic City to show off the radio at the 1930 Radio Manufacturers Association convention. Unable to afford a booth, he parked his car outside the convention hall and cranked up the radio so that passing conventioneers could hear it.  That idea worked; he got enough orders to put the radio into production. 

WHAT'S IN A NAME? That first production model was called the 5T71. Galvin decided he needed to come up with something a little catchier. 

In those days many companies in the phonograph and radio businesses used the suffix "ola" for their names - Radiola, Columbiola, and Victrola were three of the biggest. Galvin decided to do the same thing, and since his radio was intended for use in a motor vehicle, he decided to call it the Motorola.   But even with the name change, the radio still had problems: When Motorola went on sale in 1930, it cost about $110 uninstalled, at a time when you could buy a brand-new car for $650, and the country was sliding into the Great Depression. By that measure, a radio for a new car would cost about $10,000 (£7,200) today. 

In 1930, it took two men several days to install a car radio; the dashboard had to be taken apart so that the receiver and a single speaker could be installed and the ceiling had to be cut open to install the aerial. These early radios ran on their own batteries, not on the car battery, so holes had to be cut into the floorboard to accommodate them. The installation manual had eight complete diagrams and 28 pages of instructions. Selling complicated car radios that cost 20 percent of the price of a brand-new car wouldn't have been easy in the best of times, let alone during the Great Depression. Galvin lost money in 1930 and struggled for a couple of years after that. But things picked up in 1933 when Ford began offering Motorola's pre-installed at the factory. In 1934 they got another boost when Galvin struck a deal with B.F.Goodrich tyre company to sell and install them in its chain of USA tyre stores. 

By then the price of the radio, with installation included, had dropped to $55. The Motorola car radio was off and running. The name of the company was changed from Galvin Manufacturing to "Motorola" in 1947. In the meantime, Galvin continued to develop new uses for car radios. In 1940 he developed the first Walkiw-Talkie for the U.S. Army.  A lot of the communications technologies that we take for granted today were born in Motorola labs in the years that followed World War II. In 1947 they came out with the first television for under $200. In 1956 the company introduced the world's first pager; in 1969 came the radio and television equipment that was used to broadcast Neil Armstrong's first steps on the Moon. In 1973 it invented the world's first handheld cellular phone.  Motorola became one of the largest cell phone manufacturers in the world. And it all started with the car radio. 

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO the two men who installed the first radio in Paul Galvin's car?  Elmer Wavering and William Lear, ended up taking very different paths in life. Wavering stayed with Motorola. In the 1950's he helped change the automobile experience again when he developed the first automotive alternator, replacing inefficient and unreliable generators. The invention led to such luxuries as power windows, power seats, and, eventually, air-conditioning. 

Lear also continued inventing. He held more than 150 patents. Remember the eight-track tape player? Lear invented that. But what he's really famous for are his contributions to the field of aviation. He invented radio direction finders for planes, aided in the invention of the autopilot, designed the first fully automatic aircraft landing system, and in 1963 introduced his most famous invention of all, the Lear Jet, the world's first mass-produced, affordable business jet. Not bad for someone who dropped out of school early! 

I'm listening to Janis Joplin's heartfelt version of Me and Bobby McGee. Listen here.

Sunday, 25 July 2021

Robert Wyatt and "O'Caroline"


Robert Wyatt, born 1945, is a retired English musician. He was a founding member of the influential bands Soft Machine and Matching Mole in the Canterbury music scene. He initially played drums and sang before becoming paraplegic after a drunken fall from a window in 1973. He abandoned band work and began a forty-year solo career exploring other instruments. Wyatt's work became increasingly interpretative, collaborative and politicised from the mid 1970s onwards.

His solo music has covered a particularly individual musical terrain ranging from covers of pop singles to shifting amorphous song collections drawing on elements of jazz, folk and nursery rhyme. Wyatt retired from his music career in 2014, stating "there is a pride in stopping, I don’t want the music to go off”

I think his music is very special, sometimes very moving. If you listen to nothing else here listen to “O’Caroline” by Matching Mole. I have said here before that I like sad songs and this always makes me stop and listen.

Shipbuilding” was composed with Robert Wyatt in mind by Clive Langer and lyrics by Elvis Costello for whom it was a hit single. Listen here.

His cover of “I’m a Believer” is very different to The Monkee’s version. Listen here

Heaps of Sheeps” is a hypnotic up tempo rock anthem. Listen here.

O’Caroline” by Matching Mole. Written and sung by Robert.  Achingly sad…Listen here.

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

The Wisdom of Margaret Mead

Years ago, the great anthropologist Margaret Mead, was asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture. The student expected Mead to talk about fishhooks or clay pots or grinding stones.
But no. Mead said that the first sign of civilization in an ancient culture was a femur (thighbone) that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, get to the river for a drink or hunt for food. You are meat for prowling beasts. No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal.
“A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts”, Mead said.
We are at our best when we serve others. Let's be civilized.

I have been listening to the late Etta James singing Stormy Weather. It's a great song and I find Etta's version as good as or even better than Ella Fitzgerald's. You can hear it here. Go on, treat yourself!

Thursday, 8 April 2021

The World’s Most Popular Brands

World’s most popular brands by country. It’s not a surprise that overall Google, Netflix, Amazon & eBay are the world’s most popular brands. I was surprised that Ikea was fifth! Here are some individual countries top brands:

Australia EBAY


China BAI DU (Their censored version of Google)

France & Spain AMAZON


Israel EBAY

Laos (and Niger) MICROSOFT

Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway & Iceland IKEA

Portugal IKEA

Republic of Ireland NETFLIX

Russia & most former Soviet States plus most of Africa GOOGLE

South Korea NETFLIX    (North Korea NO INFORMATION)

United States AMAZON

United Kingdom EBAY

Virtually all of Central & South America NETFLIX

I suspect that the following places didn’t have many respondents!

French Southern & Antarctic Lands COCO COLA

Heard Island & McDonald Islands HENNESSY


Pitcairn Islands PEPSI (Population c.50)

South Georgia & The South Sandwich Islands PAMPERS (what?!)

Tokelau FORD

Vatican AUDI

I'm listening to the evergreen song Man of Constant Sorrow by Jackson Browne & Sharron Shannon. Listen here!

Monday, 15 March 2021

Painting of the Month (97) March 2021: Early Cinema Posters

I have always been a keen admirer of Poster Art. It is often dismissed as illustration as opposed to Fine Art, which is true. Fine art exists for it's own sake ('Art for art's sake'; it has no utilitarian function), whereas illustration serves a specific purpose, usually commercial or educational.  However that does not exclude beauty or being able to derive pleasure from Poster Art. I have previously Blogged about London Transport poster art - another source of great enjoyment and also female poster artists. Here are some of the best early cinema posters with minimal comment. They are purely for enjoyment!

1913, In the style of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema I would say.

1914, With the great strap-line:
"Upton Sinclair's wonderful story of the beef packing industry"!

1917, Theda Bara got there before Elizabeth Taylor

1917, Reminiscent of Victorian moral painting

Mary Pickford was 29 in 1921 when this was made.
I think it might be considered somewhat dubious today!

1923, Who knew that Rin Tin Tin was
around nearly a century ago?
I'm listening to Victoria de Los Angeles singing the most famous of Canteloube's collection of Shepherd Songs of the Auvergne. You can listen to Bailero here!It's been a life-long pleasure for me.

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

The New World and Spin-Offs

I think the largo, (second movement), of Dvorak's New World Symphony is one of the most beautiful and memorable melodies in the classical repertoire. Apparently other's have felt this way too, as I demonstrate below. Dvorak completed the work in the United States in 1893. It's formal title is Symphony No. 9 in E minor, "From the New World", Op. 95, B. 178.

Firstly you can listen to an extract from second movement played by the Dublin Philharmonic here.

Then, my very favourite, the spiritual song "Going Home", which borrows the melody, sung here by the stunning Norwegian soprano Sissel.

Now a song from 1968 by the Scottish group A New Generation (who later became The Sullivan Brothers). Their song, which faithfully reproduces the opening chords from Dvorak is called "Smokey Blues Away". Click here to listen.

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Peter Gabriel's Solsbury Hill

Peter Gabriel was, along with Mike Rutherford and others, one of the founders of Genesis, the British progressive rock group. Later they were joined by Phil Collins, who took over vocals after Peter Gabriel left to go solo. I was never especially keen on their music but Peter's solo output was much more interesting to me. Solsbury Hill was, in my opinion, his very best creation. Here's the story. The song is about a spiritual experience that Peter had on Little Solsbury Hill in Somerset, England. Gabriel has said that the song is "about being prepared to lose what you have for what you might get, or what you are for what you might be. It's about letting go", not just the leaving of Genesis but of letting go in general. The opening lyric perfectly sets the scene for the story: 

Climbing up on Solsbury Hill

I could see the city light

Wind was blowing, time stood still 

Eagle flew out of the night

He was something to observe

Came in close, I heard a voice

Standing stretching every nerve

I had to listen, had no choice

But the song is also very interesting musically. It is in 7/4 time, which is very rare in popular music and a difficult tempo which helps to convey the idea of 'struggle' within the song. There is the sense that a beat is missing at the end of every bar. When the song has been covered by other artists, for instance Erasure, they have recorded it in the easier 4/4 time thus losing something essential from the song.

The pulse of the song is the constant drumbeat which is like a heartbeat. The sound is actually made by a single drumstick beating on a telephone book! The time-signature works because of the acoustic guitar riffs played by Lou Reed and Steve Hunter, the guitarist from Alice Cooper's band. The four notes played on flute just before the opening lyrics are played by Peter Gabriel himself.

There's not really a chorus in the song but the last line of each of the three refrains is the nearest thing to it. It's always a variation of "My heart going boom, boom, boom. Son, he said, grab your things I've come to take you home."

It's a song that demands to be listened to. Watch this YouTube video which is a joyful montage of different live recordings over the years showing his consistent high quality of work.

If you would like to listen to the original recording, it's HERE

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Painting of the Month (96) Jan 2021: Renoir


So many of Renoir's paintings have, for me, that rare quality that makes me want to be in them. They depict scenes of such rural, idyllic bliss where the characters appear to be lost in some kind of other hedonistic world. He was a leading Impressionist painter and this picture was very well received at the Impressionist exhibition of 1882. The location is at a restaurant in a hotel in Chatou on the Seine outside of Paris.
Look at the dreamy expressions on the faces of the ladies in this painting as though it was all the same face:

The painting combines elements of still life, portraiture and landscape with a strong diagonal divide provided by the railing, which is still evident in the present day view, below.
I'm listening to John Williams playing the lovely Tango in D by Albeniz. I'm a great admirer of Albeniz. You can listen to it here.