9 September, 2009
Obligatory cat post
For some reason, certain websites have declared 09/09/09 to be a 'cat-free' day on the web.
8 April, 2009
Unlike me, Randall Munroe noticed that it's the tenth anniversary of the release (er, Australian; it was 11 June here in the UK) of 'The Matrix'. Wow. Ten years.
Somehow, I missed any hype around the film and went into the cinema 'cold' (so what tempted me to go?). I was so blown-away that I returned the very next evening – the first and, to date, only time I've ever done that.
"Too bad they never made any sequels." Well, apart from 'The Animatrix', of course.
[Nah; the sequels were okay, in a mindless way; just poor in comparison to the original.]
16 February, 2009
Arbitrary date - missed
Argh! Months ago, I noted a certain fact and prepared this entry for (manual) publication at the appropriate time – then forgot.
Anyway, slightly late, I can inform the world that 23:31:30 (GMT, of course) last Friday, 13 February, corresponded to Unix timestamp '1234567890'.
I suppose I'm insufficiently techie (haven't used Unix directly since 1994) and insufficiently interested in arbitrary points in time.
6 September, 2008
La Machine: Day Two
Like yesterday, La Princesse's itinerary was spread throughout the entire day, with long intervals between events, so, again, we reluctantly decided to miss the first. The giant spider was scheduled to wake outside the Cunard Building at 11:30 and be 'serenaded' for an hour, before sleeping again until 15:00 when she'd walk through the city centre, reaching Lime Street station by 21:00. In hindsight, our decision was rewarded, as there had been a 'miscommunication' between the French artists & the British promoters, and the 11:30 crowd received a musical performance with no visual spectacle – La Princesse didn't move.
Yesterday, the crowd had been a little smaller than I'd anticipated: 'only' about 5,000 people had made the effort to come out on a wet Friday evening after a full school/working week. That had allowed us the freedom to change our vantage points quite frequently yet still find places towards the front of the crowd. However, today was very different: a dry (if rather grey) Saturday had tempted out a lot more people, not to mention those who'd happened to be shopping in the city centre anyway. The crowd was at least five times larger, at ~25,000, and that's just in the immediate area: the local press reported "hundreds of thousands" overall. One report claimed that more people filled Castle Street to see La Princesse pass the Town Hall than had welcomed triumphant sports teams or even The Beatles at the height of their success in the 1960s.
The crowd seemed to be larger than the organisers had anticipated, too: again in Castle Street, a bride heading for her wedding at the Town Hall was unable to push through the crowd until a police escort was provided and, worryingly, I saw an ambulance totally trapped within the mass of people. Later in the day, we were turned away from Lord Street/Church Street, Liverpool's primary shopping avenue, by police officers who claimed it was absolutely full – that's difficult to even visualise.
Hence, we had to pick our viewpoints more carefully and occupy them further in advance of the spider's arrival: in total, we saw her pass three fixed locations where we'd calculated that she'd pause for key activities.
The first was Derby Square, at the junction of Castle Street (with the Town Hall at the far end) and Lord Street. In accordance with the itinerary, but almost exactly an hour late (luckily, as we'd arrived late too, due to trains being very full), La Princesse appeared up Water Street then headed towards us though clouds of smoke and a seemingly solid mass of people. My anticipation had been great, but didn't exceed the thrill of reality: I'll never forget the sight of her rearing up over the crowd, spraying water from her mouth & spinnerets and lifting a couple of her attendant 'scientists' high into the air on her forelimbs.
Apart from the view up Castle Street we'd chosen Derby Square because La Princesse was scheduled to participate in a 'water ballet' there. A 'leaked' press release had warned journalists to wear waterproofs irrespective of the weather; good advice since, despite the implication that a 'water ballet' would be something rather delicate, it actually consisted of the spider being bombarded by water cannon until 'persuaded' to walk away down Lord Street. Great fun, which rapidly taught me to interpret the cannon's preparatory hisses in time to pull out my camera and photograph the ascending jet of water then get the camera back inside my coat before the descending jet of water arrived.
Via a circuitous 'parallel' route, we tried to get ahead of La Princesse before she could reach the bottom of Lord Street at Paradise Corner, but as I mentioned, we were turned away by the police and hence missed the spider being sedated again by a snow machine, to sleep for a couple more hours. At least that gave us plenty of time to wander around and find the next optimum viewpoint. I tried to get right up to the sleeping spider whilst the scientists were away, but the police were regulating pedestrian traffic: I could see other people examining La Princesse from touching-distance, ~10 paces away from me, but I'd have had to walk about 500 m through dense crowds if I'd wanted to circumvent the police lines.
We eventually settled on a location at the other end of Church Street, at its junction with Parker Street. An 'apparatus' had been set up there, which I initially interpreted as being a battery of flame cannon, but which proved to be an array of musical instruments powered by burning gas. Our vantage point was a bank of concrete benches surrounding a tree – others had scaled lamp posts or phone boxes. It was great to be above the crowd, entertained through the long wait by watching the technicians work, and when La Princesse finally began to move, again almost exactly an hour late, we could see her all the way up Church Street.
Curiously, a small excavator had laboriously arrived in front of us shortly before La Princesse. Identified in the press release as a 'Manzimouk' (or maybe that was its given name), it consisted of a cab, digger arm, two wheels at one end and two supporting legs at the other, so had arrived on a trailer then shuffled into position using its wheels and arm. I could see the desired visual effect: the stubby legs were vaguely arachnoid, and the main hydraulic arm operated in the same way as La Princesse's limbs. As expected, she seemed to interpret 'Manzimouk' as another spider, perhaps a rival, and reared up in aggression. Accompanied by the booming pyro-instruments and more conventional musicians, the display was extremely dramatic, with attendants being lifted high into the air.
All too soon the set-piece ended, and La Princesse moved on towards Ranelagh Place (passing directly above us, which was a little unsettling), so again we tried to get ahead of the procession by a different route. Time was limited, and the crowd outside Lime Street station was already established, so it wasn't easy to find a good spot. My mother ended up on an embankment, which I think had a good view, but I stayed in the flow of pedestrian traffic (annoying) alongside a road sign, as I planned to stabilise my camera against it; by now it was fully dark, and unsupported night photography, on tiptoe to see above the crowd, would have been near-impossible.
After a few minutes of being jostled, mainly by people dressed for an evening out rather than to watch a giant spider – they must have been annoyed by the crowds, but could have been more patient – I experienced the renewed thrill of seeing La Princesse turn into Lime Street and charge towards me, spitting and spraying water. She seemed intent on continuing towards William Brown Street and the Queensway Tunnel, but the scientists had set up a wall of flame cannon to block her way. Instead, she was attached to a giant crane and was lifted back onto the side of Concourse House, where she'd first appeared on Wednesday. This time, the scientists remained 'onboard', continuing operation of the airborne spider then bracing the legs against the building as she was sent to sleep by the snow machine. I'd obviously been impressed by the operators' animation skills, but hadn't guessed that they were acrobats too, until seeing them abseil off the spider, from ~¾ of the way up the 49m-tall tower.
And that was the end of Saturday's wonderful show. I wanted to wait and take a few more photos after the crowd had dispersed, but it had been a long afternoon & evening, so we ducked straight into a nearby entrance to Lime Street underground station, and caught a (crowded but prompt, unlike last night) train back to Hooton, then went back to Wales to download the photos.
5 September, 2008
La Machine: Day One
When my mother first implored me to visit Liverpool with her to see 'La Machine', I had no idea what she was talking about, but as soon as I discovered it was a new street theatre project led by François Delarozière, I could barely contain my excitement.
Delarozière was the engineer/director behind 'The Sultan's Elephant', a wonderful event in which a 42-tonne, huge mechanical elephant and little giantess explored central London in 2006 and which I'd watched via the web with considerable envy. Now he and the French company La Machine were bringing another mechanical creature to Liverpool to help celebrate the city's year as European Capital of Culture.
So far as I'm aware, the London event had been totally unannounced, and details of Liverpool's were restricted. Despite scouring the web daily for at least a week beforehand, I only found a summarised itinerary in a 'leaked' press release. Ideally, I'd have liked to have been surprised, but didn't want to miss a moment, so needed to know where to be surprised – a slight dilemma. The nature of the creature was a secret too, building anticipation – would it be a Liver bird? That'd be an improbably unstable shape for a puppet (unless a marionette, I suppose). Maybe a dragon: my own guess, based on the proximity to Wales and mention of fire effects in that press release.
All was revealed at ~05:00 on Wednesday when the first commuters of the day discovered a giant spider clinging high on the wall of Concourse House, a derelict 15-storey building next to Lime Street Station. A later press release claimed that demolition work had disturbed the spider, who had then emerged from the foundations.
I initially thought that the choice of a spider, far less lovable than an elephant or giant child, was slightly disappointing, not to mention surprising – many potential audience members were alienated immediately by the very idea of a spider stalking Liverpool's streets. I also wondered whether this really was it: earlier in the week I'd stumbled across a photo of the spider outside its preparation/rehearsal area in Cammell-Laird shipyard and had thought it looked small enough to be just an ancillary element of the event.
Yet once the 37-tonne arachnid, 'La Princesse', had woken and stretched out to her full height of ~15 m she had a distinct majesty and even charm – she certainly wasn't 'cute', but I'm not ashamed to say I fell for her, and was genuinely sad to see her depart at the end of the weekend. And yes, I rapidly began to think of La Princesse as 'her', not 'it'.
Having travelled to Wales last night, I'd hoped to attend all of the weekend's scheduled events, but there were two problems, compounded by my mother's fragile health. Firstly, the itinerary included huge gaps. For example, La Princesse was due to be woken for the first time at 11:30 this morning, then to sleep again from 13:00 until the scheduled 18:30-21:00 event. It wouldn't be practical to return to Wales in the interlude, so we'd be in Liverpool with little to do for several hours. Not normally a problem – Liverpool has wonderful architecture to photograph, plus excellent museums & art galleries – but the second problem was that the weather was awful: blustery with unusually sustained, extremely heavy rain. If my mother had been soaked at midday, she couldn't have stayed in cold, wet clothes until ~22:00.
Hence, I reluctantly agreed to miss the first part, so spent much of the day watching a Welsh garden maintain full saturation and wondering how clouds can carry so much water.
Even as late as the drive to Hooton station at ~17:00, the whole trip seemed foolhardy, with the intermittently-flooded roads barely visible through a wall of rain – in normal circumstances I wouldn't have left the house. Yet once we were in the city, Liverpool didn't seem quite so wet, and we were only caught in a couple more showers all evening.
La Princesse was in an open area outside the new ACC Liverpool arena near Albert Dock, overlooked by tiers of shallow steps, so though there was a fairly large crowd (for a rainy Friday late afternoon), we didn't struggle to find a good viewpoint. A minor irritation was that a natural channel through the crowd developed right beside me, so people were constantly pushing past whilst we waited. Why does that always happen?
As became usual over the weekend (I suspect the itinerary was deliberately wrong), activities began almost exactly an hour late. First the ~20 musicians arrived and mounted an array of cherrypicker hoists and oversized fork-lift trucks, then the spider's French puppeteers walked through the crowd, imperiously pushing past me. Various people have criticised 'les mecaniques savants' for not treating the weekend as some sort of carnival ("not cracking a smile"). Yet it seemed perfectly obvious to me that they were playing a role, of a team of serious scientists investigating the spider, which only added to the immersive magic of the overall spectacle. The whole experience relied on imagining the steel-and-poplar puppet to be a sentient creature – that wouldn't have worked if the operators were grinning and waving to the crowd.
When La Princesse woke and stood up, it became apparent that like most spiders, her body accounted for a relatively small proportion of her overall apparent size – with her legs unfolded, she was huge. Careful study showed that her legs weren't weight-bearing and she actually moved on a discreet three-wheeled crane, but that wasn't apparent to a casual glance or from a distance, when the low-profile crane was below the height of the crowd. With eight legs (and two pedipalps) in constant motion, operated by nine scientists sitting half-hidden beneath La Princesse (plus three on top, controlling the head, abdomen & water jets), it was easy to accept the illusion that she was genuinely walking and probing her surroundings, reaching over people to touch lampposts and even people's umbrellas.
On waking, La Princesse headed towards the river, around Duke's Dock then back towards The Strand, along the inland side of Salthouse Dock, then to Salthouse Quay (Albert Dock's main entrance) where a huge crane waited to lift her into the water for a bath. I'd been concerned about being able to get good views, as no single viewpoint would have adequately covered the whole route yet shuffling along within a moving crowd would have merely provided a constant middle-distance view of the back of the procession. Either would have been disappointing.
The best compromise was to follow part of La Princesse's route around Duke's Dock then once she'd reached Strand Street, cut across the other side of Salthouse Dock to reach the bathing point before her. That worked well, and I'm pleased with the photographs I took of her striding down Salthouse Quay (and far more pleased with the memories), but I couldn't see much of the bathing itself.
La Princesse had been detached from her wheeled crane in order to be lifted into the Dock (with the operators still in place to manipulate her limbs); the delay whilst she was reattached gave us time to get ahead again and watch her walk along The Strand to the Cunard Building, where she was 'sedated' for the night by a crane-mounted snow machine. An hour late, the first day of activity was over.
Though we'd escaped the weather whilst in Liverpool, it had its revenge on the way back to Hooton and the car: flooding of the Wirral railway line meant that the train terminated at Rock Ferry and we had to await (and wait, and wait...) a replacement bus service – at a very exposed bus stop in driving rain. I wouldn't be wearing the same clothes for the second day of La Princesse's visit to Liverpool, tomorrow.
12 June, 2008
Don't keep taking the pills
Something of a personal milestone: whilst collecting my anti-Plague medication from the local chemist this morning, I dropped-off my remaining stock of (long-expired) anti-depressants, for disposal.
I hadn't felt a need for them for years (the prescription was dispensed on 1 June, 2000), but I suppose I'd kept them for the security of an emergency crutch.
The time to get rid of them is clearly right, as it doesn't feel remotely momentous – I can't conceive of needing them now; that was a different person.
15 May, 2008
Feeling uneasy... very quickly
I installed my new broadband modem and service before work this morning, and it worked perfectly. That can't be right; computers just don't do that.
Yes, I've finally switched from dialup. With unlimited access to better-than-broadband (the UK academic network) at work and a web-orientated job, I've found little need or inclination to make extensive use of the internet from home, so a basic dialup connection has always been adequate. However, 'necessary' downloads are getting bigger, to the point where I can't practically update my firewall, antivirus protection, iTunes or even Windows itself; it's not always even possible to download updates at work then take them home on a USB drive.
Another reason for delay has been that without actively seeking discomfort or asceticism, I'm naturally inclined to disdain empty luxury or mere convenience: I haven't needed broadband, so I haven't wanted it. Yet it'd be foolish to deny that I'm paid fairly well, with fewer expenses than most (I'm a non-smoking non-drinker with no car) and I value time far more than money, so I think I can justify spending an extra £8 per month....
23 April, 2008
H. was kind enough to send me a book token to celebrate La Diada de Sant Jordi today. Unfortunately, I think (it's in Polish) it's only redeemable in one bookshop, in Ul. Wołoska, Warszawa. I wonder where H. wants us to spend my next holiday....
It may seem odd that people who don't celebrate christmas (together, anyway) or Valentine's Day, and who would find the suggestion of celebrating an English national day laughable, do participate in the Catalan dia del llibre. I don't see a contradiction – it's the social ubiquity that's so objectionable about the other festivals (and I don't give a **** about England), and I think it's fine for people to acknowledge an arbitrary event of their own choosing, with personal rather than cultural associations.
[False(ish) alarm: the address is simply that of H's local bookshop, and the token is valid in other shops.
1 January, 2008
New Year's resolution
This feels like a 1280x720 year.
24 October, 2007
I don't remember whether that's early, late or normal. Having made this note, I'll know for next year.
17 August, 2007
Happy birthday, CD
It feels like an urban myth, but the BBC reports that the reason a standard audio CD has a running time of 74 minutes is that the technology was deliberately designed to accommodate a complete performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
Twenty-five years old today. That's based on the production of the first discs, then of extreme minority-interest, rather than being the anniversary of CDs being more widespread, but still, it doesn't feel as if they've existed for anything like as long. Then again, I clearly remember a time before Walkmans and VHS recorders, too.
I don't recall buying my first CD, but it would have been well into the Nineties; I think it'd have been somewhere around 1994, as I know I have cassette tapes released in 1993.
27 June, 2007
Rejoice from the rooftops
"Hand on heart, I did what I believed was right"
Not. Good. Enough.
I really can't be bothered to rant. The important thing is that Blair has gone.
24 April, 2007
Land of hope and... **** that.
I'll simply link to Jack's carefully measured comments on the subject of English patriotism and reverence for a deceased Turkish soldier, and let you read them for yourself.
7 March, 2007
If that's conceptually possible....
2 March, 2007
Blood on t'moon
Here's a reminder, or for those who didn't already know about it, advance warning, that there'll be a full lunar eclipse tomorrow.
In the UK the penumbral stage will begin at 20:00, entering the the umbral stage at 21:00. Totality will begin at 22:45, lasting until 23:58. It'll all be over by 02:30. Let's hope it's colourful – the last one I made an effort to see was impressive in itself but a dingy brown.
NASA reports that colonials will be able to see it too, though it'll already be in progress when the moon rises over N.America and Australians will see the eclipsed moon set.
12 February, 2007
Happy Darwin Day, Mrs. McKeith
Today, the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of 'On The Origin of Species' (Oops; not yet! My mistake.), is an apt occasion for 'international recognition of science and humanity'.
That's science, not pseudo-science like intelligent design or media nutrition; in related news, Dr. Ben Goldacre explains (at length) why Not-Dr. Gillian McKeith has been obliged to stop using the non-accredited title.
4 January, 2007
Forty years ago today, presumably to within a couple of hours, Bluebird K7 flipped over at 320mph on Coniston Water, killing Donald Campbell on what seemed likely to have been a successful attempt at the world water speed record.
An appropriate moment to play Marillion's 'Out Of This World' again, I think.
Bluebird K7 was recovered from the lake bed almost six years ago, but endless debates about whether to restore the craft to a pristine condition or preserve the wreck as-is have only recently been resolved. The Heritage Lottery Fund twice refused to fund the former alternative, but as the BBC reports*, the restoration project is proceeding well at last, funded privately and without HLF involvement.
See Fish-lookalike Bill Smith's wonderfully opinionated diary of the whole process for details of the engineering project and his side of the 'restore or preserve' argument.
I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it myself.
My instinctive preference would be to stabilise the remains of Bluebird K7 in her damaged state, with the crushed cockpit and outriggers. A pristine replica would be a valid project, but a different one. I still stand by the comments I made in 2005, though I have to acknowledge I may have been reacting to Gina Campbell's reportedly petulant attitude.
However, I can understand the desire to restore the original, and I have little doubt that Smith's team are conducting the project with the greatest respect for conservation of the wreck as a historical artefact. The craft is being painstakingly dismantled and an astonishing number of seemingly ruined parts are being reused rather than replaced. Even the failed faces of the original welds are being preserved, just in case future analytical techniques enable researchers to determine something of interest from them.
*: Somewhat misleadingly. The BBC's opening paragraph implies Smith just happened to find the wreck accidentally, but he had actually been searching for it!
3 January, 2007
Belatedly, may you have a happy New Year.
Welcome to 2006 2.0. Isn't it shiny?
[Okay; I 'borrowed' that deeply witty and incisive satire from User Friendly.]
6 November, 2006
I haven't listened to BBC Radio 4 for years, but J. tells me that tonight's is the 15,000th episode of 'The Archers'. Wow. That's quite an achievement. Over 55 years of a radio soap ostensibly about farming.
I can summarise the reason for my dislike of Radio 4 in one word: smug.
It's all so middle-class and complacent; awful things happen to other people, but that's external to Radio 4's cosy Little England, where all's well. If 'The Sun' sublimates the concerns of the proletariat into trivia ('bingo and tits', as Billy Bragg said), it's Radio 4 which distracts the bourgeoisie from questioning the real issues.
1 November, 2006
Samhain is today, 1 November, okay? It's not merely a different name for Hallowe'en (31 October), the christian attempt to demonise the pre-existing festival.
Happy New Celtic Year, anyway.
9 July, 2006
An arbitrary moment (3)
If I'd remembered in time, I could have posted this yesterday morning at precisely ten minutes and nine seconds after eleven o'clock in the morning on the eighth of July, 2006, or 11:10:09 08/07/06.
Other moments of no genuine significance: 1, 2.
6 June, 2006
An arbitrary moment (2)
Just pointing out that, as close to the moment as the server permits, I'm publishing this at six minutes and six seconds after six o'clock in the morning on the sixth of June, 2006, or 06:06:06 06/06/06.
Yes, I was awake anyway – I didn't make a special effort!
Here's another moment of no genuine significance.
[Update 15:30: As requested, another sentence to extend the contrived coincidence.]
4 May, 2006
An arbitrary moment (1)
If anyone's interested: as close to the moment as the server permits, I'm publishing this at two minutes and three seconds after one o'clock in the morning on the fourth of May, 2006, or 01:02:03, 04/05/06.
6 February, 2006
You shouldn't have. No, really.
This year, I remembered to write this entry well in advance, so that those so inclined can follow the link and send anti-valentine e-cards.
Beyond that, I don't think I need to elaborate on my earlier comments.
Nothing says "I love you" quite like saturated fat and slutty lingerie.
5 September, 2005
Save me! ME! Or else...
Sal has published a characteristically good post about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans: in short, the disaster wasn't the hurricane itself, or even the flooding, but the way some people have responded, not least their selfishness.
As Hannah said:
was destroyed by floods, the residents weren't looting the Post Office and shooting at the rescue workers
, were they?
30 July, 2005
Hands off those students
An Alternative Freshers' Fair is to be held in Manchester this year as a response to the commercialism which has overwhelmed 'official' Freshers' Fairs in recent years.
I remember mine, in 1990, as the traditional type: a large room occupied by students' societies attempting to recruit members. Nowadays, the societies are still there, but to a lesser extent, and the focus of such events is on banks, insurance companies, mobile phone providers, national newspapers and other commercial organisations attempting to secure new students' as-yet unallocated money and tie them into the lifestyles they peddle. It's downright depressing, and I tend to recommend that my tutees don't even bother attending.
Manchester's alternative, as described by Indymedia, sounds sickeningly 'right-on' and community-orientated (ugh), but in principle it's an excellent idea. A better one would be for the original events to be reclaimed, with Universities and Student Unions specifically excluding commercial organisations, or at least splitting them off into a separate building/event.
23 April, 2005
Happy Sant Jordi's Day to everyone in Catalunya.
[What d'you mean, "what about the English?" What about them?]
6 March, 2005
A mother isn't just for christmas
I suppose everyone's done his or her bit to support starving greetings card manufacturers, florists and confectioners today. Needless to say, I haven't.
A piece of plasticised cardboard conveying someone else's contrived sentiment isn't my idea of meaningful, and I don't regard it as sufficient to merely send a card, thereby ticking the 'acknowledge mother' box for another year.
If you haven't already done so, ring your mother and speak to her - invest a little time and genuine emotion in a proper conversation, rather than relying on Hallmark to do an inadequate job of it.
13 January, 2005
Goth festival rumour
I don't know what Morecambe hoteliers have heard that no-one else has, but it seems hotels are contacting people to see if they'd be interested in rooms for the Morecambe Goth Festival on the weekend of 4-6 March.
I've heard nothing else whatsoever about this, even whether there will be a festival, but some might like to keep that weekend free, just in case.
14 December, 2004
We tended to regard one another with mutual wariness, as Moscow was a huge, ex-Animal Rescue cat with a bad attitude arising from rough early treatment and later pampering, and I'm not prepared to put a cat's whims ahead of mine, nor to uncomplainingly accept swipes from an impatient claw. At 16+, he wasn't the most active or lovable cat; his long black & white fur was usually a bit grubby.
Still, I knew him for 4-5 years, and was his usual feeder when J & Fi were away, so we were more than casual acquaintances.
Recently, he developed an astonishingly loud purr and a snore, which were diagnosed as the results of an inoperable growth in his throat. It was delayed for a couple of weeks by steroids, but at the exact time of writing, he's visiting the vet for the last time.
26 October, 2004
RIP John Peel
The news broke about an hour ago: John Peel has died at the age of 65, while on holiday in Peru.
One of the very few 'celebs' who ever really mattered to me, he'll be greatly missed. It's like a highly-respected family member has gone. I don't think I've ever been so personally affected by the death of someone I didn't know myself.
This is also a loss to the nation. I've just done a quick search, and this is the lead story on the websites of all UK national newspapers (even the Financial Times) at present.
In championing new music since the Sixties, he personally introduced punk, reggae and hip-hop, amongst other styles, to the UK, well before they entered the mainstream. Now what do we do?
19 June, 2004
Happy Badger Day
Today is National Badger Day.
It's interesting that if it hadn't been for this meme, I doubt I or other blog authors would have thought to mention the event.
17 May, 2004
Gratulerer med dagen, Norge
Happy Grunlovsdagen, Norway!
I wish I was there today; I really enjoyed Stavanger's syttende mai in 2002.
23 March, 2004
Rare event for armchair astronomers
Between 22 and 31 March, five planets will be visible to the naked eye just after dusk; an opportunity which won't be so easily repeated until 2036.
Viewing from the northern hemisphere:
Mercury will be visible above the setting sun until 45 mins after sunset when it will drop below the horizon.
Venus will be higher in the sky and the brightest object in view.
Mars, though dimmer than last summer, will be high in the southwestern sky.
Saturn will be nearly overhead at dusk, slightly to the south. Because of this position in the sky, there is less atmospheric distortion than usual, so views with a telescope will be particularly good, showing the rings and major moons.
Jupiter will also be particularly bright, rising in the east at sunset.
For a sixth planet: look down.
Further detail from the BBC (unlikely to be permanently archived).
16 March, 2004
Today is National Ideas Day.
I can't think of anything else to say.
6 February, 2004
Tides kill 19
Maybe somewhere like New York it's common to hear a helicopter pass over one's house then hear that same helicopter a minute later on a live national news report, but here in Lancaster it hadn't happened to me before today.
Lancaster is within walking distance of the coast, more precisely the vast sand flats of Morecambe Bay. When the tide is out, it's out as far as the horizon, but returns at terrifying speed. The flats are also an extremely complex environment, with a shifting network of gullies and quicksand.
Furthermore, they are home to some £6 million ($11 million, currently) worth of cockles and a traditional industry harvesting them. In recent years, the area has been opened as a public fishery, and once permits are obtained, anyone can go onto the sands to harvest. This has caused predictable ill-feeling amongst the locals, but putting protectionism to one side, there are genuine safety implications of inexperienced people entering such a treacherous environment.
It's bad enough when harvesters from other areas of the UK visit (as is their right; I'm certainly not saying they shouldn't), thinking they know the conditions because they've previously worked in North Wales or the Bristol Channel; somewhat different situations, and Morecambe Bay can still surprise those fishermen. However, once permits are obtained, there's no way to prevent multiple people sharing them, and to prevent sub-contracting or the employing of totally unskilled labour. There have been numerous cases of illegal immigrants and 'unemployed' benefits-claimants being caught working on the sands. Harvesters can earn £500 per day, but the illegal labourers are unlikely to see much of that.
It's unproductive to say "I told you so", but anyone who has read a local paper within the last couple of months has been repeatedly told about a tragedy waiting to happen. Now it has.
Yesterday afternoon, a group of over 30 went out, and were caught by the tide. The alarm was raised at 21:20. Fourteen people escaped or were rescued, and at the time of writing, eighteen bodies (16 male) have been recovered. Those rescued seem to be Chinese nationals, with little command of English, so it's not really known how many were in their party.
[Update, 22:15: the final death toll seems to be nineteen.]
[Update, 16/2/04: another body has been found, taking the total to 20. One source claims there may be four more as yet undiscovered.]
30 November, 2003
Many congratulations to Jakob R. Nielsen (multiple Golden Demon Sword winner & unfailingly nice guy) and family, on the birth of his daughter.
27 November, 2003
Ee, a grand Lancashire Day t'you
Apparently today was 'Lancashire Day', celebrating over 700 years of my adopted county being represented in Parliament. On 27 November, 1295, the first elected representatives from Lancashire were called to Westminster by Edward I, to attend what later became known as 'The Model Parliament'.
Having just done a Google search to find that exact date, I read a mildly interesting (alleged) fact at the website of the Friends of Real Lancashire. It seems that when, in 1974, government reorganisation created new administrative counties, the prior geographical counties weren't abolished and replaced, and officially they still exist. This means that 'real Lancashire' i.e the County Palatine of Lancashire, still extends from a significant part of what is now known as Cumbria all the way south to encompass both Liverpool and Manchester, an area drastically larger than now known as Lancashire.
[Definition from dictionary.com; I couldn't hotlink directly to the point I wanted to:
County Palatine: a county distinguished by particular privileges; so called a palatio (from the palace), because the owner had originally royal powers, or the same powers, in the administration of justice, as the king had in his palace; but these powers are now abridged. The counties palatine, in England, are Lancaster, Chester, and Durham.]
1 November, 2003
Happy New Celtic Year!
I hope everyone enjoyed Samhain - not Hallowe'en, that's the christian attempt to hide and suppress the earlier celebration with the contrived All Hallows Day. In fact, the BBC reports that even mainstream christian groups now go out of their way to force bogus christian meaning into the traditional, secular version of Hallowe'en - pumpkins carved with bible messages, 'Saints and Sausages' or 'Saints and Superheroes' (something of a mixed message there, too) parties.
To quote from the article:
"There is a tendency to paranoia among some Christians," explains Professor Christopher Partridge of University College, Chester. "They have a dualistic world view - if something is not of God then it's of Satan. And Hallowe'en is invested with a lot of negative imagery for Christians - witches and demons etcetera. It just looks evil."
The fact that Halloween has been embraced by modern pagans particularly gives them the creeps.
"The veil between this world and the spirit world is supposed to be very thin at Halloween," says Mr Partridge, "which is a very positive thing in paganism. It's a time for reflection. But to some sections of the church this can look as if they're communicating with dead spirits."
Even if that wasn't paranoia, so what? Why can't Wiccans celebrate their festival in their way, and christians celebrate their contrived version in their way? It's not as if Wiccans evangelise or try to invade situations where they're not wanted - that's the christians.
As I said in another forum yesterday, it's not a belief system I share myself, but for many people, Samhain is a religious celebration; it's just plain rude to cheapen it with plastic bats, and deeply offensive to try to suppress it.
Clarification: Samhain begins at 00:00 on 1 November. It's not 31 October, and 'Hallowe'en' is not synonymous with Samhain.
10 October, 2003
Poet wins top award
Congratulations to A.B. Jackson, recipient on Wednesday of the award for best first collection at the Forward Prize, the UK's biggest annual poetry award.
Here's hoping it prompts better distribution of the collection, 'Fire Stations'.
Well done, Andy!
NP: Opeth, 'Damnation'