Tuesday, December 29, 2009

All steamed up in the cold.

On the 7th October 1927 a new steam railway engine was born at the Derby Works. Her working number was 4422, but after several years of hard work up and down various tracks, she was promoted to 44422. After many further years of faithful service, she was scrapped in 1965 and languished in rusting and unappreciated despair until being rescued by conservationists and lovingly restored.

On Sunday 27th December 2009, the weather was beautiful as I drove my son to a friend's house. After dropping him off, I thought it was a perfect day to go for a cycle ride with my wife, but after discussion and concerns of icy conditions and possibly getting killed in a hideous peddling accident, we settled for a walk in one of our favourite walking spots - Ferry Meadows in Peterborough.

As we drove nearer Peterborough, the sky suddenly had a sheet of angry battleship grey clouds - and some more - drawn across it. Then rain spots appeared on the windscreen and I began to fear our walk was doomed. However, persevering onwards and keeping a good British stiff upper lip, we arrived at Ferry Meadows with no rain descending. It was just bitterly cold and the ice on the car park was treacherously slippery. "Be careful how you tread or you'll slip arse over head" sagely advised a fellow walker as he returned with his wife to their car. As neither I or my wife take any pleasure in, or had any desire to slip arse over head, we decided to take his advice.

After a while my wife had wrapped her scarf so many times around her face and neck that it was like walking with a half wrapped mummy. She told me she wasn't cold. Of course she wasn't - she was frozen! I, however was not cold at all. I had wrapped up with extra layers and felt warm while the cold air on my face was nothing short of refreshing.

Deciding independently that we should keep it to a short walk rather than an ice-trek lest I end up having to carry an ice-corpse, I guided our steps in a large circuit designed to take us back, eventually, to the car park.

Suddenly, we heard a sound of something I never expected to hear, and that was the "chuffing" and whistle of a steam train as it made its way along the Nene Valley Railway which cuts through the park. Indeed, there are a series of footpaths which allow the walker to follow the route of the steam railway until it arrives at it's terminal station in Peterborough. The railway begins at Wansford Station which is easily accessed from the A1 which runs straight past. I gave up on any hope of getting a photo of the steaming loco as it was too far away and I could only watch in frustration the smoke rising in the distance marking out its progress along the track.

Presently, we came upon a lake with lots of gulls in a commotion over a feeding frenzy. Realizing there was a photo opportunity here, I quickly trudged gingerly and very carefully to the waters' edge and took a series of shots.

A short distance further on we came to the sailing club cafe and restaurant. Deciding to get a coffee we grabbed each other's hand and pigeon toed warily over the ice towards the door, lest we should slip arse over head and have a spoiled day. Now you might think that on such a dark, cold and miserable day there would be very few people walking in the park. Well, you'd be wrong. The cafe was packed and it was only the fact that a family vacated their table just as we got served, that we were able to "bag" it tout-suite. The coffee was hot and very welcome. The cafe was very noisy as everybody seemed to chatting very enthusiastically about goodness only knows what. We didn't stay for long but strode purposely on our way again in our quest to be re-united with the car. I had some photos which I never expected as well as being warmed and refreshed by the coffee, so what else could I expect or want?

As we walked along, we heard again the sound of an approaching steam engine on the Nene Valley track. This time, it was returning in the opposite direction and even better, I had time to get the the hump-back bridge ahead of us from which I could get a photo. However, there was only just time so I had to be quick and try not to slip arse over head on the skating rink slippery ice! I managed to get a good spot, a little to one side of where it was headed under the bridge. And there it was, No. 44422, proudly pulling a whole load of carriages carrying a whole load of steam enthusiasts on a special excursion. I snapped away taking several shots, as I only had the one chance, although I suppose I could have photographed it from the other side of the bridge steaming away from me, but it didn't appeal so I didn't bother. My wife, somewhat wisely had stayed off the bridge as it was extremely slippery with ice, to say the least. Before I knew what was happening, I demonstrated how slippery it was when both feet simultaneously lost their grip and I began an accelerating slide down the bridge shouting "aaahhhgggg" as I went while my wife nearly doubled up in hysterical laughter. Nonetheless, I finally managed to steady myself without crashing to the ground, my main concern being to protect the camera from harm rather than myself.

We made our way the final few hundred yards back to the car. I was really pleased that I had added another steam loco picture to my ever growing collection, but be assured, I'm not an anorak, no....really I'm not. It was good to get home and read up on some more steam railway history............, but not in an anorakish way of course!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

3D TV - a personal view

With all the recent hype about James Cameron’s recent film “Avatar”, together with the recent 3D Week on Channel 4, its easy to get excited about the prospect of 3D TV.

At the beginning of the year, I mentioned to some friends at work that I expected the introduction of 3D TV around the end of the year, in other words, about now. My wisdom at the time was informed by developments at Philips, who were advanced in the development of glasses - free 3D TV. However, it transpires that Philips has now adopted a less proactive approach responding to its perception of when the market will be ready for it’s glasses free technology.

I sat and watched some of the Channel 4 3D programs, squinting through the blue and amber glasses picked up at my local branch of Sainsbury’s. I sat transfixed for a while watching old films of our Queen’s Coronation celebrations which only served to remind me that the ability to watch films or stills in 3D is an old technology. The 3D effect was very striking, but it wasn’t long before the novelty wore off, as staring through the bi-coloured glasses made my head somewhat squiffy.

It seems to me that as long as we have to watch 3D through glasses then we haven’t moved along very far since the 1950s and before. Granted, the quality of what is seen and promised now is far better than before, the encumbrance of having to wear the glasses gets in the way of what should be a more naturalistic experience. I do not think this is such an issue in the cinema, as when you pay to watch a film, that is what you do - you sit and concentrate on the film with no other distractions competing for your attention save a gulp of Coke or another mouthful of popcorn. Also, the technology behind 3D at the cinema is somewhat different to the TV in your lounge. Because the image you see on your TV is self-radiant and not reflected as at the cinema, it holds out the possibility of alternative 3D imaging technology which does not require the use of glasses. In the Avatar film, there are many scenes depicting people working on glasses-free 3D computer monitors, and this, from my point of view really has to be the future for TV before I can get particularly excited about it. Why is this an issue? Well, if I said that as I am typing this in my favourite recliner I am also half-watching and half listening to the TV as well as the fact that my wife has just shown me some animal pictures which appealed to her in the Sunday newspaper. Now, if I had to wear 3D viewing glasses, this would kind of restrict my activities away from the multi-tasking I am engaged in at the moment, and hold me hostage to staring at the TV screen and nothing else, unless I am happy to keep sliding the glasses from my eyes to the forehead and back again at each activity intersection involving the TV!

Now, 3D TV is set to arrive in 2010 and Sky TV and other networks have the technology in place to wow our sensitivities and hopefully, for them, make millions/billions of dollars/pounds/euros of additional profit into the bargain. However, I am a little doubtful as to how successful this first foray into 3D broadcasting is likely to be remains an issue. For me, glasses dependent 3D TV is not the real deal and I am unwilling to spend any more of my hard earned dosh on another TV unless I can see the 3D image naturally, and without the aid of glasses. I would guess that the TV retailers are likely to find themselves with a lot of expensive obsolete stock on the shelves when glasses free real 3D finally arrives, as I am sure it will, and in rather short order behind the glasses dependant variety. The reason for my confidence in this is that Philips are not the only company working on glasses-free technology, but a number of other companies besides, Mitsubishi being one of them. The claims made for the quality of the images and the viewing experience are extremely encouraging. Of course, price will be an issue, but like all consumer electronic appliances, the price will plummet once the sales increase and the desire and acceptance takes off. I believe that once seen, the appeal will be irresistible to the viewing public.

As for me, I will not be buying a glasses dependant 3D TV. I would much rather wait a little longer for the real deal to arrive, as it surely will - its just a question of when.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Cameron the Genius

A couple of weeks ago I read a rather disparaging review of Avatar, James Cameron's latest epic film, this time in 3D. The guy seemed to think that Cameron might have wasted his time and money on making an over-hyped film which would be a disaster.

The other day, accompanied by my wife, I saw the film and can happily report that nothing can be further from the truth.

The film was incredible, marvelous, beautiful, visually stimulating, exciting and a whole load of other positive adjectives besides.

Whilst the film is brilliant in 3D, it would also be good in 2D, though I strongly recommend you see it in the former. Doubtless, all Cameron's future films will be in 3D, and as this film has laid down a benchmark for 3D productions, I have no doubt that 3D cinema will be the norm in a very short space of time.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sir Nigel Charges Through

This morning I went to get a new tyre put on my car. I took my camera (or rather, one of my cameras) along with me, not because I have a fetish for photographing car mechanics at work, but rather I had been reminded by my wife that a steam train was passing through at about the same time. So, leaving the car on the ramp, I wandered down the road and looking up the line I spotted a pool of smoke rapidly heading my way.

I quickly walked back to a better viewing position and then it appeared - Sir Nigel Gresley as "The Christmas Tynesider" steaming its way up to Newcastle. The time was 08.15, exactly the time I had been advised it was due.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Maldon and Blackwater

Here are a selection of photographs I took during our bowling weekend in October.

From time to time I will be publishing on this blog collections of my photographs.

Watch this space.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


So Hollywood are releasing the ultimate disaster movie - "2012". Unless you just like sitting watching a load of digital effects for their own sake, then I would suggest don't waste your time, or money and give this one a miss.

Why would I say a thing like this? - because it is a load of tripe informed by a naive belief in the validity of some supposed prophesies made by the Mayan Indians some 1400 years ago. To be precise, we are told their calendar runs out on December 21st 2012. On this date, we are to believe that some awful cataclysm will take place which brings about the end of human history.

Well, what do we know about the Mayans?

First off they were a very primitive and barbaric. They were advanced in terms of their ability to build huge stone structures and to invent a horrible religion which demanded the ritualistic slaughter of the team captain of the losing side for their version of "Match of the Day".

They were very good at recording changes and movements of celestial objects in the sky. So they were able to make certain seasonal predictions based upon relatively accurate naked eye sightings. Link this in with their religious beliefs and you get a cosmology which is enshrined within irrational myth, legend, superstition, - all of which can also be said of Astrology which many people continue to follow (sadly) today - along with religion.

Given these facts, it is completely obvious that their ability to predict anything beyond the rainy season and when it might be a good time to plant some crops has to be zero.

I do not expect anything to happen on December 21st 2012 which is out of kilter with the usual everyday horror story of normal human history. Don't get taken in by it. Don't believe it. Don't let Hollywood tempt you into parting with your money for it. Its all clap trap and it won't happen. Thats a prophesy.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Bowling back to Maldon

During the Summer my wife and I took part in a Ten Pin Bowling competition at Maldon in Essex. I was pleased about this, not just for the bowling, but also for the excuse to re-visit Maldon.

The last time I visited Maldon was in 1963. I cycled there on an old pushbike with no gears. I was with my best friend of the time who tragically died of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 21. We stayed in a youth hostel for the night. It was ride there one day - from our home town of Potters Bar and ride back the next. It was all a bit of a rush as I had to get back in time to do my paper round for Mr Meakin, the paper seller who operated from the entrance of Potters Bar Station. I made it back in time, but was so exhausted it took my last reserves of energy to do the round, but do it I did. But as I said, it was a rush and we never had time for a proper look around Maldon before heading back.

The bowling went well in that we never came bottom. "Its when you have to reach up to touch bottom you have to worry" as my old grandfather used to say, so on that basis we did extremely well. We were playing against people who are so good they expect a strike or a spare with every frame, but their problem when playing against average run of the mill players such as us is that they had better hope we are on a bad day. Why? - because we get a big handicap rating which means that if we just play that little bit better than usual, it gives us a distinctive edge. Even so, we were nowhere near good enough to take part in the finals after the first two rounds, so with time on our hands we took a ride down into Maldon for a better look than in 1963.

Maldon is very significant in English history, because it was here in 991 at the Battle of Maldon, the Saxon defenders were beaten off by attacking Vikings who sailed in their long ships up the River Blackwater. At the time, Maldon was one of the only two towns in Essex, the other being Colchester.

When we visited, on this occasion, it was much more peaceful. No Vikings, no battles, and no long ships, although there were a lot of old sailing barges now used for more touristy purposes.

We had a beer and a meal in a pub waterside restaurant, and then onto the waterfront where we were treated to a display of Morris dancing, pictured at the head of this posting.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Surfs up

Jason walked down onto the Florida beach with his girl pressing up hard by his side. They carried surfboards, beach towels and strong wine. It was three in the afternoon and the beach, all but for them, was deserted.

They found an open flat area of beach, just a few yards from a turtle’s nest. The eggs would never hatch. The turtle had dragged its way onto the beach in vain. The tides and phases of the moon were of no avail.

Jason and Mary, having laid out the blankets for their brief respite of comfort slowly removed each others clothes. Jason caressed Mary’s soft and warm breasts while she pulled down his pants, fondling him and sucking on the nape of his neck.

Fully naked, they intertwined their snaking bodies for one last orgy of lustful love-making. Their synchronised orgasms were explosive – like no other, they moaned and yelped in ultimate ecstasy.

They opened the wine.

“OK.” said Jason, gazing emotionally into her tearful eyes, “Here’s to life”!

They took turns in slowly gulping it into their bodies, savouring each drop. As their sensitivities slowly mellowed and their heads began to swirl, the wind started to increase. The sea began to withdraw, first slowly and then at a pace.

For one last time, they took their surf boards and ran to the ocean, readied themselves and waited. The wave reared higher and higher. Finally at around seven hundred feet high, they started the ultimate surf ride on the toe of the curve . The arching wave finally crashed over them, their bodies crushed and pulverised in mutual oblivion.

The comet, having stuck a thousand miles out into the ocean, was just beginning its work of transforming the planet for the next few hundred million years. The sky was turning dark………

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Glazed Over

Once upon a time in a previous life, I was a failed double glazing salesman. I tried to be a successful one but following the realization that I was rapidly going insane, living on my nerves and becoming an embarrassment to my wife, I returned my demonstration kit to the company shop on Huntingdon High Street and found myself a “proper” job. Following two days training, I lasted four days of knocking on doors cold-calling and not selling a single pane. I was the world's worst salesman. As you didn't get any money unless you sold anything, I was on the fast track to poverty – not an attractive prospect when you have a wife and three children to support. This company was onto a real good thing, because as there was no basic pay for it's salespeople, they had a free workforce. You were not an “employee”, but a franchisee. You could slog around the doors for all hours the non-existant god sent, but unless you sold anything, you got nothing except totally pissed off , very frustrated and very, very tired.

When I found myself in the classroom with four other guys learning the trade the Company way, it soon became evident to me that this was not a very honest business, at least not in the way it was being presented. I felt a little out of place as I knew nothing about windows, house construction, or anything else related to the windows trade, so I found myself asking rather a lot of questions and feeling more and more like an ignorant Muppet. One of the things I felt uncomfortable about was that there was a fairly hefty “admin” charge which was tacked onto every quote. We were told not to show the admin charge on the quote as the customers did not like to see this – it was a turn-off. The way around this was to add a percentage onto every window (or door) on the quote. After a quick calculation it dawned upon me that this would often result in a much higher admin fee than what it should have been, and having a conscience this did not sit comfortably with me. When I protested to the instructor I was basically told that its a tough world out there so knuckle under and play the game. I think the instructor sensed that maybe I wasn't thick skinned (or dishonest) enough to stay the course, and at one point predicted that one of us would drop out during the first week.

Another thing I didn't like was that it didn't matter what the customer wanted – it might have only been one door or window, we were nevertheless to measure up and quote for the whole house. I decided there and then that I would only do this if that is what the customer wanted. Of course, it was in your interest to get the biggest order you could, but we were being trained to be really pushy and obnoxious.

Now you probably realize this already, but as one who has had first hand experience, I can confirm that no matter how wonderful the deal might seem when you buy double glazing – the whole thing is a con. Everybody likes a deal -we were told. So while we had a “book” price to quote, this was an inflated price from which we could quote various “one night only” discounts. There was a bottom line on how far you could go – beyond which the company would deduct the difference from your commission, so you would try and keep the price high, while making it appear that the customer was being offered an amazing deal. So my advice to you is never accept the first price offered...or the second......or even the third. You will be surprised how low you can go. Think about it – the salesman has been in your house for about the last hour trying everything in the book to make the sale. If he's on commission only, he HAS to make a sale, or its a total waste of time and he and his family don't eat. The whole thing is a game, so play it to the full and you will get the price a lot lower than the first quote. Also, don't be fooled by him ringing up the office to ask if he can quote you a special price – this is all part of the con. Don't be taken in. Just hang in being as awkward as possible. Don't blink first.

I came home feeling depressed and apprehensive. It was the weekend, so at least I could relax until Monday.

Monday came and I linked up with the area manager who was a successful super salesman who had knocked on more doors than I had eaten hot dinners. He had a nice house so I guessed he must have been doing well.

We picked up another salesman and drove out to Warboys where I had my introduction to being a local irritant. I nervously knocked at my first door and waited.

The patter went something like this:

“Good morning Sir/Madam, as we are in your area for this week only I would like to show you our range of home improvements. We can provide a range of windows, doors, room dividers, and conservatories. I would like to make an appointment........etc etc.”

Notice the implication that you are only around for a short time, so its act now or miss out on a great deal. Off course, this was all rubbish as we were always around and could call at any time we pleased. However, we were told we HAD to make the sale on the one night of the demonstration, and could not come back as any offer we made was for that night only. This put the “prospect” under pressure to commit there and then - no second chances. I felt this was a terrible way to do business and really was an intrusion on the way I wanted to conduct what was essentially my own business.

Getting the patter right on the doorstep took a lot of practice, as well as saying it with any real sincerity and conviction, which was not easy when you were being deliberately misleading.

I tried it for four days. After all the rejections and a certain amount of abuse, I began to feel like a social leper. Also, I wasn't getting any appointments which was most depressing. I did finally get one appointment, but after going to the house and doing all the business it was no go. The next day I went out one more time, but after being blasted on a doorstep by some snobby ignorant cow, I decided there and then to jack it in. The next morning the sales kit and samples were handed in and I felt as if a great burden was lifted off my shoulders and I had my life back.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Inglorious Tarantino

A few nights ago I went to my local cinema to see Inglorious Basterds. This was despite reading some very negative reviews. I'm glad I ignored them because I thought the film was far better than it was given credit for.

Now one has to remember that this is a Quentin Tarantino film, and so it is not going to be like any other, because Quentin Tarantino is his own person, with his own unique style of film making. You either love it or you hate it, but you can never be indifferent to it. I dare say that if I had never watched Pulp Fiction – which was my introduction to Tarantino, I would never have bothered with this, but I was kind of hooked.

Without giving the plot away, the film is a sort of a Pulp Fiction set in World War II occupied France. The film is a complete fiction – almost a fantasy. Its not really based on any true events either, its more like a WWII movie set in a different universe. While the main Nazi characters like Hitler, Hess, Bormann etc. existed and France was occupied – that's about as factual as it gets.

According to one critical review, it has no real plot. Actually, that's complete tosh, it definitely does have a plot.

Another report said it was mainly gratuitous violence for its own sake. Again, its a load of tosh. Yes, there is some wince inducing blood and gore, but that is not what you see throughout the film.

There is actually a lot of conversation - a throw back to Pulp Fiction. There is action, but its nowhere near what you would call an all-action-packed movie, but more a movie containing action and a lot of conversation. In true Tarantino fashion, the story unfolds in a number of chapters, like a book.

Finally, did I enjoy it?

Yes, I did.

Will I buy the DVD?

Probably, but only after its been out for a while and the price has dropped to about five or six pounds – as drop they always do.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

A visit to the pictures

Many years ago when I lived in Cyprus and believed myself to be a “born again” Christian, I got an invitation from a friend to accompany him to the pictures to see a film (what else?).

At the time, I was based with the RAF at a small Unit at Ayios Nikolaos in Cyprus. The year was 1976. About three years earlier I had been converted to Christianity, and that meant that I was superior to everyone else because I knew what life was all about, from whence it came and where it was going, on top of which I also had a hot line to God himself – so I had to be superior - didn't I? Of course I know now that I wasn't superior at all – just deluded (thanks Richard).

When I arrived in Cyprus, I knew there was a small group of fundamentalist Christians on the unit, but I did not want to overtly announce my presence lest they should mistakenly think I was as keen (or barking) as they were. However, one of their number, a guy called Bob, spotted the Bible on my bedside locker. After that, I was ensnared by the group, and then it was all downhill!

What you need to bare in mind about people such as these is that they see everything around them as “worldly” and sinful. That is, anything which brings any pleasure or joy to life, like a pint in the bar, watching Coronation Street, or holding hands with your girlfriend. Not quite sure where full-on sex with your girlfriend rates, but lets just say its very low down the pile, somewhere beneath the fires of Hell.

I have to say that although I broadly subscribed to the views of the group, I was nonetheless a bit of a rebel. So, when the rest of them were attending lots of devotional meetings (and I mean lots) over the Easter weekend, I shot off up into the mountains where the air was much purer than the self righteous fug I would otherwise have been exposed to.

At the time, the film “The Exorcist” was doing the rounds. Now this film was so shocking by the standards of the time, that it was roundly condemned by most Christians. There were reports of people being so emotionally disturbed by this film, that there were instances of people committing suicide after seeing it. Now that's a pretty high price to pay for a night out at the cinema. Add to this, reports that there were mysterious deaths during the making of the film, and if that was not enough I also read that when some of the original footage was developed, the resulting images showed something hideous – and not what was remembered as being in front of the movie camera's lens at the time of shooting. While this is all completely apocryphal, there are also reports that William Friedkin, the film's director, felt the set appeared to be cursed due to a series of unfortunate events including the set being destroyed by fire, Linda Blair being injured when her harness broke as well as Ellen Burstyn - who played Chris MacNeil, hurting herself for good measure. Of course, all this fed well into the Christian propaganda mill as the book on which the film was based was supposedly inspired by a true demon possession & exorcism event which Blatty stumbled upon while attending college. However, this supposedly “true” story (the possession and exorcism of a young boy) has since had much doubt cast upon its authenticity, to the point that the true story itself is another myth. Even so, the film and all the indignant hullabaloo surrounding it, served to give credence to Christian beliefs in the Devil, Demons and............er.....oh yes, ….........God.

The Exorcist was a film I was already very familiar with, as I had not only read the book, but also seen it a couple of times in London. Much of the book is shocking, and William Peter Blatty, the book's author pulled no punches with the storyline. The film was very true to the book as well, so where Regan, the demon possessed girl informs Father Damien Karras that his dead mother “sucks cocks in Hell”, this line is faithfully reproduced in the film, along with her ability to turn her head through 360 degrees, vomiting projectile green sick on demand and masturbating with a crucifix. Lovely.

So there I was, in the games room where I was having a game of table tennis with one of my religious friends. I can't remember his name, so I'll call him “Mike”. Anyway, Mike ate, slept and drank the Bible. He was also a Charismatic. By this, I mean that he believed in the “gifts of the Spirit”, and the main one which everybody of this persuasion seemed to major in was “speaking in tongues”, or in reality, gobbledegook. Suddenly the atmosphere in the room seemed to change. Mike's composure suddenly became really serious. He said there was something he wanted to ask me. I knew this was heavy, and so I gave it my full serious attention. He then started on about the Exorcist which was showing at the “Astra” cinema, otherwise known as the “Camp Stack”. He then asked me to accompany him to the cinema to see this very evil and demon possessed, film. Shocked, I dropped my table tennis bat to the floor as I felt the blood rushing from my head and sensed the impending righteous judgement of God if I so much as hinted that I might be prepared to go with him. I could smell the very fumes of sulphur issuing from the bowels of Hell burning into my nostrils and the Hounds of Hades snapping at my heels as I considered my response.

I made my decision.

“Yeah, great – I'd love to come with you” said I without so much as a moment's hesitation.

Knowing how seriously I viewed the matter (not), Mike then proceeded to justify his request, which was, very roughly, posited upon the following:

· While we all knew that the film was Satanic and everyone associated with it was cursed even unto the tenth generation thereof, it was all very well criticising the film and condemning it, but if you hadn't actually seen it, then your utterings carried little credibility.

· Given that people were leaving the cinema emotionally disturbed and liable to top themselves, it would be good us being there so we could minister to the needs of these poor Satanically bothered sinners. Of course, we were highly experienced in this (not).

· Seeing the film would be something of an education into the activities of Satan and how he was garnering through such devious means more publicity for himself. Our new insights would enable us to be more effective in countering his demonic activities, as well as being able to speak with additional authority on the subject to our erstwhile compatriots.

Good, so that gave my friend the justification he needed, and no doubt he thought me too – though I wasn't in the least bit bothered by any of these considerations, as I thought the film was brilliant with all the gore, violence, obscenity and foul language. I just loved it and any excuse to go and see it again was all right by me. We agreed that our cunning plan was to be kept secret from the rest of the fellowship, lest our intentions becoming known might make waves amongst the brethren and cause others to fall into sin. A couple of nights later, under cover of darkness with suitable alibis as to why we weren't at the evening's Bible Study, we set out for our encounter with the Lord of the Underworld.

It was dark, very dark. It was a bit windy and wet, threatening further rain. We made our way to the cinema along with many others. I would say that there were forked tongues of lightning flashing around the roof of the cinema while giant vampire bats circled high overhead - but that would be silly! We took our place in the queue for tickets and presently sank into our seats in the packed auditorium where there was an atmosphere of edgy expectancy. Following lots of adverts and a few trailers the film started.

Meanwhile, our brothers and sisters in the fellowship were at a Bible Study and prayer meeting. Included in the prayers would have been supplications for the souls of the cinema goers. The prayers would not have been on our behalf however, as they knew not to where we goetheth.

The film ended. Amazingly, we did not witness anyone showing any signs of demonic possession. No one was slitting their wrists or running out screaming and throwing themselves under cars or jumping off the edge of cliffs. We hung around in the foyer for a while lest any poor affected soul should require our ministrations. It turned out as I expected to be money for old rope as everyone seemed perfectly OK. Of course, this was just a trick of the Devil - obviously concealing himself.

We parted going our separate ways. I decided to go to bed. How much excitement could I take in one night? Bob was still out at the Bible Study – they could go on rather late and during the prayer time some lovers of their own voices would get very carried away, spouting forth prayer after prayer, demonstrating beyond doubt their added holiness and sanctification to the others in the group.

I lay in bed in the pitch dark drifting off to sleep. Suddenly I heard footsteps and the door opened. I pretended to be asleep and lay still and silent. Bob lumbered past to his pit space and fell into bed having de-robed himself.

It was still. It was quiet. It was dark. The silence was broken – as expected.

“Are you awake?”

“Yes” (dozilly)

“I didn't see you at the Bible Study this evening.”




“I said I didn't see you at the Bible Study this evening.”


“No what?”

“No................I wasn't at the Bible study.”



“Why what?”

“Why weren't you at the Bible Study?”

“I went somewhere else for a change.”



“Just curious!”


“I went to the pictures.”

At this point it should be borne in mind that going to the pictures was considered a sin even if it was “May Poppins” you were watching. Of course, skipping Bible Study in favor of such a worldly sinful activity was definitely frowned upon, to say the least.

Long silence.

“What was the film?” (As if he didn't know).

“The Exorcist”.

Slight hint of a gasp followed by long silence.

“You shouldn't have done that.”

I didn't answer, but chose to ignore him and go to sleep.

Several months later, it was decided by the fellowship that an exception could be made on one particular occasion when it would be permissible to go to the pictures to see one particular film.

The film was “The Hiding Place”, a docu-drama about a couple of Christian sisters who were captured by the Nazis in World War II and sent to a concentration camp. One of the sisters was Corrie Ten Boom, who wrote several books about her life and experiences after the war. Most of the fellowship, including myself, went to see this film. It was inspirational, but I didn't enjoy it as much as “The Exorcist”.

So that was it. Going to the pictures was not a sin after all.

It just depended upon what was showing.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A walk in the Park in Paris

After refreshing ourselves we began walking. We began walking towards the tower of Montparnasse which was signposted. Because it was signposted, we didn't bother looking at the map. This made things that bit more interesting because if you don't know the territory or what lies between you and your destination, then there is the potential for magical and unexpected discoveries to be made.

We walked up along the side of the Odeon theatre, following the signs, across various roads, following the signs, along various streets, still following the signs and came across an elaborate high metal fence with grand ornate gates suggestive of royalty. Looking through the railings we saw what appeared to be a magic garden with elves and unicorns, witches, straw men, and cottages made out of sweets. Well, not really, but it was hot, we were like love-lorn sweethearts walking hand in hand on a magic carpet of expectation in the City of Light, so a little fantasising was understandable. We walked through the gates.

We found ourselves in a beautiful park, none other than the Jardin Du Luxembourg which is the largest park in the city. There before us was the magnificent Palais Du Luxembourg, an impressive palatial building which is today the seat of the Senate, the second chamber of the French parliament. The park and the Palais were created in 1612 for Marie de' Medici who was the widow of Henri IV.

The gardens making up the park are truly lovely with lots of paths to walk along – or jog along such was the wont of some, set amongst wooded and open grassed areas where people lounged picnicking or just frolicking in the Paris sunshine.

There is a large pond, or maybe a lake, depending upon your point of view, to the front of the Palais upon which there floated several model boats hired from a boat vendor by visiting children.

We came upon an enchanting fountain. This was a fantastic baroque work of art, designed in 1624 and known as the Fontaine de Medicis. It is surrounded by trees and located at the end of a small 50 meter long rectangular pond. There is seating provided so you can just sit and admire the fountain and its component sculptures. We spent time slowly walking around it and taking lots of photographs. Its one of those structures which cries out to be photographed as whichever way you look at it, its a picture.

Walking amongst the tree lined paths, I strayed off onto a grassed area to admire a view from a different angle and maybe take a photograph or two. Before I knew what was happening, I was being shooed off and back onto the path by a park patrol man dressed in close to traditional Gendarme (Allo Allo ) apparel. I was a little surprised as there were others walking all over the place as well, and then I noticed that most people were lounging together on areas of grass set aside for that purpose, which of course, my bit of grass was not! At least I wasn't being forcibly escorted out of the park as I witnessed being done to one such critter . I don't know what he'd done but he'd definitely upset somebody. Being a peaceable law abiding sort of guy myself (though I am known to take the odd liberty, so I'm not entirely boring), I found it reassuring that there was this security presence in the park, but at the same time I suppose it was rather sad that it was deemed to be necessary, but that's life.

In one corner of the park there was a small and attractive building – a sort of ornamental granny flat type of place. Homing in on it, I realized that there was an art exhibition inside, and the wonderful thing was it was free admission. This, of course, appealed to me a lot as I have a firm belief in not looking a gift horse in the mouth, and safe-guarding my bank balance. My wife followed in after me. All the paintings were by one artist, and I never noted who it was, so I can't tell you, so don't ask! However, the one abiding memory was of very attractive, almost florescently coloured paintings with a certain cartoon and fantasy quality about them. I love looking at paintings, and I often find myself wandering around art shops in shopping malls and other such places. I never buy, as I can never justify the cost to myself, and keep thinking that I ought to take up painting myself and produce my own masterpieces. But of course, I never do.

We returned to the park later after a trip to the roof of the Monparnasse Skyscraper. We were feeling extremely hungry, and tired, so it was nice just to sit and relax on a park bench in a shady spot in the late afternoon Paris sunshine. Indeed, just lazing around as we were seemed to be a pre-occupation with many of the locals as I saw many people sprawled out asleep (or dead??) in various contortions of unconscious bliss throughout the park. We had a “sub” each and a drink bought from the local “Subway”. OK, I know this was Paris and we should have been eating snails, but no – we needed something we could guarantee we could eat. And eat we did – and drink. After a further period of relaxation and contemplation I felt life returning to my otherwise exhausted body, like an empowering river extending to the outer reaches of my resting limbs. The energy had returned along with my will to explore. We headed out of the park towards an imposing domed building straight ahead of us. This was the Pantheon.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Parisian Birthday

Last Friday was my birthday, and my loving wife, who is the best wife in the whole wide world, gave me the city of Paris for a present. Now that, in anybody's estimate has to be a pretty big present. It was. It needed to be if it was to satisfy my wife's desire to make my birthday special, as I am now so old that every additional year survived is a special achievement in itself. This year, my birthday took me to another age with a zero on the end of it, and as everybody knows, it has to be treated with extra specialness. Of course, this is only because we use the decimal system of counting. If we used – for example - the octal system instead, then my birthday would probably not have seemed so special. But we don't use the octal system, and so it was seen as special, and that is why I found myself boarding a Eurostar train at St Pancras International Station on Birthday morning.

Having never set foot in France before, let alone Paris, I felt rather excited. The irony here is that I do tend to travel rather a lot and have travelled great distances to the far reaches of the planet, but the country right next door, just 20 miles or so across the English Channel is one place I had never been. I have even lived for 3 years in Germany, and travelled around the surrounding countries in the process, but never once crossed the French border.

The journey to Paris seemed very short, but then the train was flashing along the rails faster than I have ever experienced on a train before, and so before I knew it we were pulling into Gare Du Nord Station. Like an excited little child, I followed my wife down into the depths of the Paris Metro, and after holding up the queue at a ticket machine as its operation seemed alien to us, we stepped aboard a crowded train with standing room only.

Presently after several stations, we emerged at “Odeon” Station and into the daylight of a busy Paris street. We got lost trying to find the Hotel which we obviously did manage to find (we didn't sleep on the street, though we saw many people who did), and were greeted by a friendly French (what else?) lady receptionist at our homely, small but comfortable hotel in the Latin Quarter of the city, and just a stone's throw from the Odeon Theatre.

We spent the next two and a half days exploring the City, which was amazing. I will explain some of this amazement in future posts, so watch this space.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Eclipsing Dimness

The other morning on Breakfast TV, they had an item about the recent total solar eclipse which lasted for over 6 minutes at totality, and was visible from India and China.

Well, that was fine, that was interesting, that was OK. However, what I did not find to be OK was the patronising way they then introduced some woman astronomer to explain to the dim-witted uneducated masses just what an eclipse is and how it happens.

She produced a small torch and a coin, and then aligning the beam of the torch into the camera lens to simulate the sun, then held a small coin in front of it to simulate the moon. What I found really bemusing by all this was that this was during normal adult viewing hours, but the way the item was presented it might as well have been children's TV. I found it extremely patronising and irritating to think that the programme makers felt they needed to get a professional astronomer on to explain to the public such a simple (this is definitely NOT rocket science) thing! But then maybe they have a point. Maybe your average British person on the street really is so uneducated and lacking in any kind of appreciation of anything outside the realms of Coronation Street or “Now” magazine, that they really do need to be treated like imbeciles.

I didn't watch children's TV but suspect that the event might have been reported on in a more adult way as this is the sort of thing children should be taught about and probably, for the most part know about already. I first learned about eclipses when I was 7 years old. It was my teacher, Miss Clissold (I'll never forget her) who taught us all about it in a very interesting and simple manner without the need to bring in a professional astronomer or the need to resort to torches and coins to demonstrate such a simple phenomenon. We all understood it without a problem, and then moved on...............

Actually, thinking about it, the Breakfast TV presenters might have been better to have employed a 7 year old - he or she would probably have done a better job in a less patronising way!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Creationist Stupidity

The other night I was watching a particularly annoying programme late at night on one of the Christian religious channels. The program was about why life was created by God, and not evolved through the process of evolution by natural selection, which, incidentally, is so well proven, it is beyond doubt. Now, if you think I am being arrogant in making that statement, then that's okay, because its okay to be arrogant when you are right! What was annoying about this programme was that it claimed to be scientific, and it was anything but!! This should not be surprising because where fundamentalist religion is concerned, its adherents would not know what constituted science if it came up and hit them in the face.

The programme took the form of a gormless presenter interviewing a so-called expert in the cloud cuckoo-land realm of creationism. Our “expert” looked like he had just returned from planting some spuds in his garden, clad in green and talking in a tone of such serious gravitas that many a village idiot might actually have been fooled into thinking he knew what he was talking about!

When I switched over and discovered this wonderful programme, they were sat there discussing carrots, and how the carrot would not know how to develop in the ground without the information already being there in the carrot and how it is dependant upon the green bits above the soil to get the energy for it to do its stuff. Gosh – we don't know how that could come about by evolution – there MUST be a god!! Not only that, but how do plants know which sort of energy to utilise? Well, that couldn't happen by evolution – there MUST be a god who created all this!! And all the while, our gormless presenter didn't challenge once a single thing this so called expert spouted forth in all his unthinking non-logic of stupidity. Our presenter just agreed with everything he said, nodding his head in all the right places with an inane stupid grin plastered over his dim-witted face.

What was even more annoying, this green clad clown kept poking criticism at evolution by natural selection in the complete comfort of there being no one there to defend against his claims! If Professor Richard Dawkins had been there, he would have ripped this guy to shreds and exposed him for the unscientific, illogical, non-reasoning twit that he was! Its very easy to spout forth and pretend to be scientific when there is no one to challenge you – and there is the rub. Science advances by being challenged all along the way. Once we have a hypothesis and tested it to its limits with all the scepticism we can muster – and if it survives all that and still stands up, then we can say that on the balance of probabilities our hypothesis is most likely fact. The religionists don't bother testing anything. They just make sweeping statements gleaned from some “enlightened” understanding of some Iron-Age text, dress it up in the trappings of academia and call it scientific – poppycock and balderdash!

Finally, this guy's Pièce de résistance came with the claim that the reason we have beauty in nature – i.e. beautiful girls, butterflies, flowers etc., has nothing to do with survival and natural selection – I will not bore you with his arguments, they were pathetic – is because god, in his infinite wisdom loves beauty. Of course, what he conveniently forgot to explain is why this same god has seemingly been pleased to have created so many butt-ugly women, and other objects of ugliness in the natural realm. I'm so glad I'm not some “Ugly Betty” because I would, at least on the basis of this “expert's” wisdom, have to spend my life in the assured knowledge that someone up there had it in for me. Better not go out in a storm – bound to get struck by lightning!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Dropping in

Today was a special day at RAF Wyton. It was Families Day – the one day in the year when everyone (well, at least those that can get away from the office) can get out and have some fun with lots of attractions to stimulate the senses.

Today was very hit and miss with the weather. It was hot and sunny. It was black and thundery. It was bucketing down with rain. Then it was sunny again. It was a good job a lot of the attractions were in the hanger.

I took my camera along perchance to snap something half decent, mainly on the aviation front. The world’s only flying Vulcan was meant to be making an appearance, but the story goes that it flew yesterday and damaged its undercarriage on landing, hence no chance of picturing it today.

The one aerial event I did see was the RAF Falcons parachute display team dropping in on us. They got the jump in by the skin of their teeth. As they were coming down out the grey, the clouds around were like those in Cecil B De Mills’ film “The Ten Commandments” in the scene where the Red Sea is parted.

Almost as soon as they landed, the wind blew a gale, the heavens opened and everyone was rushing into the hanger. The photo here is one I got about one minute before they touched Terra Firma.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ten Thousand Years

My brother has challenged me to write a posting about what I think the future will be like in ten thousand years time. This is delving into the realm of futurology. Well, I have an O level in biology and an A level in sociology, but nothing except my imagination in futurology, which, I guess is about the most anyone has.

Of course, anybody with half a brain cell will know that trying to foretell anything so far off is actually totally impossible. Given the amount of change in human society and particularly technology over the past one hundred years, it is hard enough to try and guess what things will be like in another hundred years, let alone ten thousand. I read somewhere some time ago that society transforms itself every fifty years. Well, writing as one who can remember the year 1959, I reckon this is near the mark as life today is totally different to what it was then. Of course, we share a lot of the same basic technology as then, but it is so much more sophisticated and refined than fifty years ago, that much of it has changed and advanced almost beyond recognition. We had computers in 1959 – which filled a building and a fraction of the computing power of the laptop which I am using to type this posting. Moving forward into the future, I believe it will be advances in computing which will be the main driver of technological advance, as well as quantum physics, molecular biology, the development of nanotechnology and the development of non-carbon based energy sources. The question is, where will these advances lead us to in the distant future - after a further two hundred transformations?

In trying to answer the question, I could say just about anything, as it is as unlikely that I could predict that far into the future as it is as likely that a thoughtful cave dweller could have predicted the internet. And, of course, no one who reads this today will know if I am right or not as we will all be dead in a small fraction of the time from now to ten thousand years hence. Even so, in posting this on the internet as I am doing, it may be that these words will still be floating around the info sphere in some ten thousand years and some person or entity will uncover and absorb it into their consciousness.

Impossible though the challenge might be, I am going, nonetheless, to give it my best shot, so here goes!

There are so many variables which will affect our future survival. Will we be hit by another comet like the one which wiped out the dinosaurs? Will our environment be all but destroyed by out of control global warming? Will we turn away from rationality and sink into another dark age fuelled by ignorance, superstition and oppressive religion? Will we destroy ourselves through a nuclear holocaust or through the use of some other as yet unimagined weapon of mass destruction? In short, will we survive long enough to have a future?

I think most of us in the west think of the future mostly in terms of technological and scientific advance. This is but one side of the coin. The other side is human relationships. Mankind is essentially a social animal, and tragically war-like. If we are to survive, then relationships are the most critical factor because if we can't get on with each other as a species, then we will, without a doubt destroy ourselves. But we will for the purpose of this posting, suppose that we manage to subdue the worst aspects of our nature and continue to develop our science and technology into the far distant future.

It goes without saying that the conquest of space will be one of the biggest aspects of our future. However, I am going to assume that we will not be able to travel faster than light because it takes an infinite amount of energy to propel a single atom to that speed. However, as we learn more about the laws of physics, and learn to exploit new energy sources, the problem of faster than light travel might be side stepped by the ability to bend, expand and contract space itself for our own purposes. Given enough energy (though for faster than light travel no amount is enough), you could imagine a kind of “warp” travel whereby a spaceship creates a force field where the space to the front of it is shrunk and the space behind is expanded thus propelling it at seemingly faster than light speeds throughout the cosmos. This would not so much be a kind of movement through space but more a disappearance at one point in space and a reappearance at another. The popular physicist Michio Kaku envisages a future ability to bend space back upon itself, create a “wormhole” and travel through it to reappear perhaps thousands or even millions of light years from the start point – or even in another universe in a parallel dimension.

This is all fine and dandy, but from whence comes the truly astronomical quantities of energy to allow such possibilities? Well, one answer might be in harnessing the energy of space-time itself, and this energy is called “zero-point” energy. We now know that there really is no such thing as empty space. Einstein showed that both space and time are intertwined and are inseparable from each other. At the quantum level, space is made up of a kind of bubbling soup with strange particles popping into existence and then destructing in a constant boiling broth. This space-time matrix is an energy source so powerful that if we could harvest it then all our energy needs would be banished for ever giving us a virtually unlimited energy supply for whatever kind or size of project we care to embark upon. However, how to release this zero point energy is the holy grail. Ten thousand years is probably enough time to overcome these problems and develop the technologies if what we believe we know today turns out to hold water in the future. However, I do have a kind of feeling that if we do manage to access this esoteric energy, then the exploitation of black holes will probably have something to do with it.

Given that we are talking about such a vast distance into the future, then I believe that the most fundamental change will come about as we learn to engineer our own physiology. The impetus for this comes from two directions. One is the desire to live longer – preferably indefinitely. The other is to overcome disease and suffering, and have perfect bodies. I believe that we will gradually replace our bodies with artificial bodies which will give us virtual indestructibility and an indefinite life span. In many ways, we can see the beginnings of this process today. I have a hearing aid to overcome my high tone deafness. When I wear it, my hearing is better than it was before I had the problem. I have some reading glasses. I also have prescription sun glasses for when I am driving. Moving up a level or two, we have people with ear implants. We have people with retina implants. We have people with artificial hearts. We have people with artificial arms and legs. I have even seen a spot on some science programme about the development of artificial blood.

I think it is clear where I am going with this. Given that all these technologies will continue to advance, there must come a point, probably not that far into the future where these artificial organs will be better, more durable and efficient than the real thing. Imagine having artificial legs which enable you to run at 60 miles per hour. Imagine having an ear implant which gives you the ability to hear at much higher and lower frequencies than normal ears. Imagine having artificial eyes which enable you to see into the infra-red and the ultra-violet, as well as being able to zoom in and see the sort of details you would normally need a powerful telescope to see, not to mention the ability to see the microscopic world normally only visible through a microscope. I believe all these things are perfectly within the realms of possibility. Further, it will not just be disabled or injured people who will benefit from these technologies, but anyone who wants to, and can afford to. It will become a lifestyle choice.

However, this is only the beginning. Eventually whole body replacements will be available, where the only part of the biological you which will be present will be the brain. Once we reach this stage, and if we can find ways to regenerate dying and dead brain cells, then life spans of hundreds or even thousands of years may well be possible. Of course, there is no reason why our re-engineered bodies should take on the familiar morphology of our natural bodies. Don't forget, we will be a deep-space faring civilization, and so it makes sense that our bodies are adapted to the different environments of the worlds on which we find ourselves. We will develop bodies which can survive and thrive in all kinds of environments, from the vacuum of the Moon, the frozen methane wastelands of Titan, the tenuous and frozen landscapes, mountains and valleys of Mars – all without the need for a space suit. We talk today about teraforming other planets to make them habitable for ourselves, but turning that upon its head, I would suggest we will adapt ourselves to inhabit these worlds just as they are.

Eventually, the ultimate step of replacing the brain itself might be taken. Given that the most mysterious aspect of human life is consciousness, unless we can understand exactly from whence it comes, and how it springs into being, then the ability to replace the brain while at the same time retaining our human nature will not be possible. However, if we take into account the development of nanotechnology where many scientists confidently predict that we will be able to inject nano-robots into the blood stream to track down and destroy harmful bacteria, viruses, cancerous cells, etc., then it is only a short leap to imagine nano-machines which can build new artificial cells and graft them into the living matrix as the original cells age and die. In this way, the brain itself could be gradually transformed into an artificial organ while retaining the consciousness which makes us human.

Once we have reached this stage, and probably a long way before it, we will no longer be reliant upon traditional meat and vegetable based food as we are today. It has to be remembered, that while we might love all our culinary delights, the reason we eat food at all is primarily to replace dead and dying tissue, and to provide an energy source to power the muscles of the body. Of course, as we make the transition to non-biological life forms we will start to utilise a whole range of energy sources and new technologies to do the same job. The days of the farm and the abattoir are numbered.

So here we are, ten thousand years hence, and changed beyond recognition from what we are today. We are virtually indestructible, with super senses, memories and reasoning abilities. Our abode will be out there in the depths of space, exploring other worlds around distant suns. It may well be, that we shall be so sophisticated that life forms on other worlds will never know of our presence. We will be able to blend in and remain invisible to the frustrated alien astronomers with their own SETI projects reaching out in the vain hope of finding they are not alone.

Of course, we must remember that we are human, and our abilities, intelligence and longevity are only a small part of our nature. We are social creatures craving love, sensitivity and companionship, not to mention our love of art, music, and all those things which stimulate the senses and make life worth living. I believe the answer to these cravings will be internalised in that we will be able to experience pretty much whatever we like just by willing it. Within each of us will be a kind if inner holo-deck within which we can inhabit at will. This will come about with the additional abilities engendered into our brains as we develop, and redevelop them. The scenarios we imagine will seem so real that they will be indistinguishable from the real thing. We may find ourselves inhabiting a kind of “Matrix” type virtual world which we will switch in and out of at will. This does not mean that all our relationships will be purely imaginary. We will still fall in love and form close bondings with other individuals as well as share information and work in close harmony with others.

New people will be created artificially in artificial wombs in baby making factories, though the babies themselves will be brains which will be implanted directly into their android bodies where they will grow, mature, and be replaced with artificial neural networks cell by cell. There is also no reason why individuals should not be able to change their bodies. It might be more appropriate to be able to fly, so a bird like body might be just the job. It might, on the other hand be needful to be able to live under water, so fish like bodies might be the order of the day.

Clearly, if only a fraction of what I am suggesting comes to be, it is clear that our future is totally alien compared to anything we experience today.

In the far distant future, we may well come across other worlds and find other life forms not realising that they are divergent forms of ourselves, which in the dim past had branched off from ourselves and gone their own way. We will find the long sought after aliens in our own progeny.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Time after Time

Thirty eight years ago, following a tour of a lifetime with the RAF in Singapore and finding myself on leave – and bored - in my home town of Potters Bar, I was lost for something to do. The solution, I decided, was to arm myself with my trusty Pentax Spotmatic camera, get on my bike and carry out a photographic survey of the town and it's environs.

Now, photography is a magical tool because it gives us a means of making direct comparisons of places over the passing of time. Whenever a photograph is taken, a recording of an instant of time is laid down, not just an image. Thus, since the invention of photography in the early nineteenth century, we have the most valuable tool imaginable, short of a time machine, for going back and seeing what things were like in times past. I have often thought how different things would have been if photography had been invented a couple of thousand years ago – or more. How different our perceptions of the past would be! Instead of “artists impressions” and archaeologists’’ reconstructions we would be able to see the real thing in all its authentic detail. Many things which are a mystery now, would instead be as clear as day.

When I was riding about on my bike and taking those seemingly mundane photographs all those years ago, I never dreamed of how fascinating I would find those same shots in later life, not to mention the part of the jigsaw of the history of the town they would become. Things which I had long forgotten were suddenly thrust back into sharp relief. Green fields where cows once grazed near my childhood home are now a housing estate. The junior school, so much a part of my formative years has disappeared in the wake of yet another housing development. The shops I once frequented have changed ownership – or closed down altogether. My favourite pub is now replaced by luxury flats. Ford Cortinas have been replaced by Ford Focuses. Even so, many things are still there now as they were then. Give it another thirty eight years…..

Making a record of the familiar places of today, can be a very satisfying and constructive thing to do. As well as getting out and about in the fresh air, it forces one to take that little bit more interest in the world about you. Your view the world alters in that the all too familiar takes on a new perspective. You become more conscious of the changes going on in the environment over time. Once a building is knocked down, it is gone forever. If for this reason alone, it makes sense to photograph it for posterity and the enrichment of future generations.

The photos shown here depict Potters Bar station as it was in 1971, and how it is today. Spot the difference.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Natural Living

There is a frank and robust conversation going on in my extended family about whether or not medical research should be carried out and whether we should try and cure diseases. The logic goes something like this:

Given that we came about as a result of evolution - the survival of the fittest – natural selection – then it follows that diseases are part of this process. Take cancer, for instance. This disease has been around since the time of the dinosaurs (I don't know this, I'm just repeating what I heard), and it's function is to reduce the population. Trying to cure diseases goes against nature, and we should live our lives without worrying about such things, and allow nature to take it's course. We are naturally evolved creatures and should therefore live within nature. To do otherwise is unnatural.

I now want to carry out a thought experiment. The parameters within which we shall consider whether something is “natural” or not is that if something is manufactured then it is not part of nature. Under this criteria, we therefore began to depart from living naturally when we created the first primitive stone tools – assuming they were stone of course! From there on in, we applied innovation and imagination and our tools became more elaborate and elegant as time went by. The image I have in mind is the brilliant “jump-cut” in the film “2001: A Space Odyssey” where the man-ape “Moon Watcher” having realised he can use a hog's femur bone as a weapon to defeat his enemies, throws the bone in the air in a moment of triumph. The camera follows the bone up into the air and as it falls to earth the scene jumps to an orbiting weapon of mass destruction.

If we now think about what most people think of as the “natural” world we are looking at the world apart from Man. Thus, all the plants, animals etc. are all part of the natural landscape, part of it, live within it – all perfectly natural. However, there are some animals which have developed primitive tools, much the same as we did in our early pre-human existence. Given that these tools have been “manufactured” by the animal concerned, then the animal has departed from living “naturally” – it has entered the realm of technology, albeit at a very primitive level. Even so, as these tools have been developed by creatures other than man who inhabit the “natural world”, then all their activities and technological advances are inside the natural realm.

We now move a million years into the future and we find that one of these species of animals has gone on to develop auto mobiles, aircraft and weapons of mass destruction. They are also carrying out medical research, have a health service and extending their life expectancy as a result. However, as we still exist but are now so advanced that we are no longer recognisable as human beings, but have altered our physiology and become god-like, we look down on these now technologically advanced animals and regard all their advances as being perfectly natural. They must be so, because they are not human and therefore part of the natural order of things.

I think it is clear where I am going with this. There is, in my view at least, no distinction between the natural and the unnatural. We are all the products of nature, and evolution has dictated that it is in our nature to be technological. Therefore, all our cities, transport systems, health services etc.... are all part of nature precisely because it is within our nature to be like this. So, to reject medical intervention and medical research in the belief that it is against nature is a delusion. Also, let us not forget that we can only do anything within the laws of nature because everything we do is subject to those laws. Physics, chemistry, quantum physics are all part of the natural realm, and nothing we can do is permissible outside of their enabling. We might have a higher level of consciousness than the rest of the animal kingdom, but all our endeavours both now and into the distant future are part of our natural evolution – and that's only natural!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Blank Uncertainty on the Page of Life

Until I started typing – a few moments ago – I was staring at a blank OpenOffice page on my laptop. Now, it is no longer blank because I am typing on it.

Mao Tse Tung, one of the most evil people who has ever lived, once commented along the lines that the Chinese people were like a blank sheet of paper with endless possibilities. Of course, being an evil megalomaniac, it would be he who would decide what should be written on the blank sheet. What he wrote was misery, starvation and death for millions of his countrymen.

Enough of Mao. He is not the point. I'm not really sure what the point is. I think that what I might possibly be driving at is that whenever you wake up in the morning, you are in effect presented with a blank page in which an infinity of things are possible. You never actually know what lies ahead. You might think you do. You might know of a number of things which are scheduled to happen on that particular day, but you can never be sure how they are going to work out – because there is an infinite number of possibilities. In this respect, life is a game of chance.

There is therefore no reason to despair, and every reason to despair. Because of the random nature of the fall of events, there is a sense in which we can sit back and look at the passing of each day as a kind of observer. I am observing what I am writing at the moment. I do not know what I am going to write next. I didn't know I was going to write that which I have just written.

I might plan to do things. I might go to work in the morning with a number of things on my mind to be accomplished on that day. It rarely happens that I achieve everything I set out to do. This is not my fault. It is because of the random injection of serendipity which imposes itself upon the day. To really come close to drawing on the sheet of blank paper the things you really want, you have to be ruthlessly focussed, and try and bat away all the distractions. Sometimes you might appear to be a bit rude and abrupt, as you try and pull yourself out of conversations which, while they might be fully justified in themselves, are nevertheless blocking the way to you doing the very things you know you should be doing. And then the phone rings, and its all change again. You never saw that one coming.

This evening I went Ten Pin Bowling. I planned to score high and win my games. However, I only won one of the three games I played and was the worst player in our team tonight. Last week was the reverse. I got one of my highest scores ever. I suppose all I could say was that I knew I was going to bowl some games, but had no idea how the games would turn out.

That, in a nutshell is life.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Booking Creativity

There is a very good book shop where I often go shopping (what else). The reason it is very good is because it is very cheap. When I say it is very cheap, this is no reflection on the quality of the books – many of them are main-stream and can be bought in Waterstones or WH Smiths for a lot more than the mere £2 or so you pay in this shop. We are not talking about remnants here. Being a bit of a cheapskate, though there are exceptions, this appeals to me and I find it very hard to walk by with my wife and accompany her to the lingerie department in John Lewis' where I find it hard not to slit my wrists with boredom!

And so it was that I bought myself a motivational book. As I have only read the first few pages of it, I am not going to reveal the title as you cannot make a proper considered judgement until you have read the whole thing. What I will say is the cover price is £15.99 and I paid £2 for it! Spookily enough, I was browsing this self same book in Waterstones or some such up market book store where it was going for the full price. I was very tempted despite the price, so when I saw it offered at £2 it was a no-brainer.

So, beginning my delving into this heavy-weight tome, I was struck by a comment about one's attitude to work. It was along the lines of are you the sort of person who simply lives for the weekends? This is, I have to say meant to be an inspirational book, so it made me think. Could you hear the gear wheels grinding? Anyway, I am not really one of these people, but I have at times been veering that way. The point is, that if we are to get the most out of life, then we need to encompass the whole of it, and not just the weekends. In fact, if everything revolves around the weekends, and holidays, for that matter, then life is a bit sad to say the least and very unfulfilling. So, it would appear that if we want to find real fulfilment in life, then we have to try to carry all our creativity into every aspect of our lives. This would help to alleviate the Sunday evening blues and replace it with a twing of excited anticipation looking forward to work the next day. I mentioned the word “creativity”, because as human beings we are meant to be creative. So when we go to work, do we actively engage with it and challenge the way things are done and try and come up with new and imaginative ways of working? Does it matter what sort of job you have? Probably not – there are no limitations or monopolies where ideas are concerned.

In short, to make life worthwhile, then worth has to be injected into it, whether it be the bosses' time or our own time. We are meant to be creative, and so a greater sense of fulfilment can be achieved in the workplace by releasing that creativity which is lurking in all of us.

I am now going to stick two pencils up my nose, put a pair of underpants on my head and say “wibble”. I need a coffee.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Talkin' Barbecue Cyclin' Blues

Well, Summer is finally here and I am hot and sweaty. Not that there is anything wrong with being hot as I am a bit of a thermophile and like nothing better than sitting in a really hot sauna or steam room and having a really good sweat - particularly after a busy day at work. However, before affording myself this luxury, I normally – unless I am feeling totally knackered – go and have a workout in the gym.

Now where is all this going? The answer is that I haven't the foggiest idea, I just feel I should sit down and write SOMETHING – ANYTHING. Well, almost because you have to be careful what you write these days. Publishing the wrong thing could lose you your job, or your friends, or even your life, so it is a sherioush business this writing lark.

So, apart from the fact that its been a hot day and I have had a barbecue in the garden (where else??), the reason for my hotty sweatiness is that my dear wife suggested after we had stuffed ourselves to submission and the guests had gone, that we should finish the day's activities by going for a bike ride. I an talking about pedal cycling, of course, as although my wife and I have a deep love of big powerful motorbikes, neither of us own one or can actually ride one! I guess you would call us armchair bikers, if such a pursuit exists. I suppose we must be very safe bikers as we are not likely to have any accidents.

Anyway, we set out up the road on our bikes. Now I don't know why this is, but I have had many bikes in my life, and each one seems to have had some annoying irritation. The last one had a pedal which kept working its way loose. This meant that I could only cycle a couple of miles at a time before having to stop, dismount and tighten the pedal before proceeding. I tried all sorts to cure the problem, but to no avail. Finally, in December 2007 my wife and I decided to treat ourselves for Christmas and went to Halfords and bought ourselves a couple of “Shockwave” all singing, all dancing, front and back suspension, disc brakes and 21 gears (unlike the “Sturmey -Archer 3 gear jobber I had as a kid). The bikes look very impressive and weigh a ton. The upside of this is that when you are under way, you are aided by a lot of kinetic energy. Anyway, despite getting a new bike, it still has one annoying feature is it clicks on every turn of the pedal. Don't know why, and the operation of the bike is faultless in every other way, except for the annoying “click”. I keep telling myself to take it back to Halfords to get it sorted, but as it is not exactly high on my Richter Scale of priorities, it remains in the garage.

Now, I am a bit of a rebel when it comes to cycling. For one thing, I don't wear a helmet. My wife does and this is good. I just can't bring myself to wear one. It probably goes back to my childhood and teenage years when I seemed to spend every waking moment outside of school on my bike with my mates. We used to cycle everywhere, main road, minor roads, dirt tracks, uphill and down dale. I had lots of tumbles and falls from my bike. One day as we were tearing at high speed down a hill in Hadley Wood, some kid suddenly stepped out from the trees and walked directly into my path. I shoved the brakes on violently, swerving at the same time in an effort to avoid hitting him. I didn't hit him, but did find myself flying over the handle bars at great speed, catching my scrotum on the brake lever as I went over (ouch) and finishing up as a crumpled heap of pain at the side of the road. I never hit my head, but my goollies were somewhat sore for sometime afterwards. In those days, cycle helmets didn't exist. I do not know of anyone who has hit or hurt their head as a result of falling off a push-bike. No doubt, others who read this will think me stupid and irresponsible, but sorry, that's the way it is with me on this matter. Also, the design of cycle helmets are not exactly the height of fashion. The helmet I wore for free fall parachuting – now that was a proper helmet! Unfortunately it would have been overkill on a push-bike, but would not have looked out of place on a motorbike or on a circus performer about to be fired out of a circus cannon. I never actually saw anyone wearing a helmet until one of the female characters in an episode of the soap “Neighbours” donned one. This seemed a bit of an oddity at the time, as I had never seen one before. This was in the 1980's. The next thing I knew was, they were everywhere, although they had never, it would seem, have been necessary previously. Anyway, I don't wear one, so that's that – until some nanny-state government changes the law of course, and no doubt that day is not far off.

The second area of cycling where I am a bit of a rebel is that I prefer to ride on the road rather than on the cycleways which have been springing up all over town over the past few years. The reason for my rebellion is because the cycleways are crap, and if I am going to fall off the bike, it is more likely to be on one of these silly cycleways than on the road. They are too narrow, uneven, and hazardous beyond belief. If you want to see what a real cycleway system should be like, look around Stevenage, because they are the real deal. What we have in my home town is a half cocked, half hearted, badly thought out and cheap solution to a perceived problem. I have come closer to disaster riding one of these so called cycleways than I have ever done on the highways of the realm, so until the tight fisted authorities take the bull by the horns, bite the bullet, do the right thing, I shall continue to use Her Majesty's highways far more than these sorry excuses for cycleways.

Well, I enjoyed my cycle ride today, and so did my wife. I enjoyed it despite the annoying “click” on every turn of the pedals, and my wife's squeaking brakes (which I cured during the ride). I enjoyed it with the air blowing freely through my unhelmeted hair along the smooth highways and not the poxy cycleways. I am starting to feel hungry again. Time to raid the kitchen.