Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Arise, Sir Pterry

I thought that last post would also be the last of 2008. However, I found I couldn't ignore the Knighthood for the person Wikipedia are now referring to as Sir Terence David John Pratchett, OBE.

Jolly good.

End of Year Review 2008

Well 2008 has been pretty rich for me, in many ways:-
  • I attended a school reunion (thanks, Jacqueline, for organising it).
  • I had a big birthday (and a big birthday party to go along with it, when we saw lots and lots of old friends and some new ones).
  • I spent my first year in a new job.
  • We had a smashing holiday in the Summer (see the entries for the Trees Around Nunhead on Tour for some of the details).
At the same time, of course, a few people died in 2008 and I’d like to record and remember one or two of them.

When I was in my early teens, in the early seventies, I went to a small local exhibition on science fiction, astronomy and astronautics. (This was the 'Space Age Exhibition' held at the Arts Centre in Wood Green). I remember David Hardy paintings and a diorama showing (I think) the Selene from A Fall of Moondust. The exhibition lead, fairly directly I think, to the founding of the Astronomical Society of Haringey. I don’t think I made the first couple or so meetings, but went fairly regularly after that and for around five years. I remember watching the Apollo 17 moonwalk during a meeting in Christmas, 1972. “I was walking on the moon one day/In the merry, merry month of May December” (Cernan and Schmitt).

What surprised me at first was that the chairman, Fred and secretary Mat managed to get so many good (well, famous) speakers to come along. However, Mat was Mat Irvine (designer and maker of models for Dr Who, Blake’s Seven and many other shows) - and Fred was Fred Clarke, Arthur C. Clarke’s brother. When the latter was in the UK, and times matched, he would attend meetings, chat and answer questions. He gave me my first inklings of understanding about special relativity, when he answered, patiently and with some humour, my schoolboy questions. I remember him explaining how acceleration would remove the symmetry of most of the classical SR thought experiments (clocks, rulers, etc) - which is why they specify uniform motion. When Isaac Asimov came briefly to the UK, the Society got tickets to his Mensa lecture in London (introduced by ACC). I went – and he autographed a battered copy of The End of Eternity. I still have the tape of the talk somewhere.

Hearing about Arthur C Clarke’s death this year brought a lot of those memories back. My first reaction was amazement I think, that I had had the good luck to be around in Wood Green and Tottenham, and hence had a chance to meet him. I almost doubted my own memories, but found the ASH Web site on line, which confirmed all the cronologies; it also, amazingly, named Fred Clarke still as President and Mat Irvine as magazine editor, vice-chair and PR. They clearly build things to last up there in Wood Green and Southgate. Thinking about those days, I was also reminded of the strange hope that the Apollo missions created (in me, and for a while, at least).

When I first left University, I worked for a couple of years in Liverpool. I remember seeing Talent (Victoria Wood and Julie Walters) at the Playhouse, I think, as well as Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers. But most of all I recall Ken Campbell’s The Warp at the Everyman. For those unfamiliar with the piece, it is a 24 hour play by Neil Oram that previewed at the Edinburgh Fringe. Campbell, as artistic director, produced this as ten two-and-a-half hour plays, running over ten weeks (a different play each week). I went every Wednesday with friends. As the plays moved us through the different stages of the protagonist, Phil’s life the music changed (there was a very versatile house band, that partied in the interval and at the end of each play) and so did some of the scenes. The Everyman was set up as theatre “in the round”, with the audience mostly in the middle, and various stages scattered around them.

These plays were no-holds-barred: I recall the first play quickly presented full nudity and simulated sex. Notoriously, the Echo reported that the mayor of Liverpool walked out in disgust after five or so minutes but his daughter (the lady mayoress?) stayed and said something like “Daddy was just being silly”.

Another highlight from the Campbell incumbency at the Everyman was a production of War With The Newts which included not only actors in newt costumes but a deeply flooded stage around which the audience sat. Hearing about Ken Campbell’s death reminded me of those times in the early eighties when the Everyman was doing wonderful things, testing what could be done with space and setting.

Another sad loss this year was Humphrey Lyttelton. In some ways, as Clue was still being broadcast regularly up until his death, this somehow felt more immediate, although I must have known his voice for over thirty-five years – given that I listened, on-and-off, to the show from near the beginning. At first, I know, I missed I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again and felt that the quiz was something of a poor relation. But that soon passed. Alongside Humph, we should also I guess remember Geoffrey Perkins, who also worked for a while on Clue – as well HHGTTG and Radio-Active, amongst much else.

After Humph’s death, I’ve bought his books on Jazz and also his autobiography. Good enough, and I’ve learnt a lot, but I will still miss his voice.

Another unique voice belonged to Oliver Postgate. When he died, the Guardian ran remembrances on an astonishing dozen or more pages. Or perhaps not so astonishing really – from Ivor the Engine onwards, Postgate and Firmin’s quirky children’s programmes must have been seen by so many, and remembered with love.

When I worked at the British Museum the excellent British Museum film society invited them to give a lecture (4/10/2003), on the almost but not quite wholly spurious basis that the artwork for Noggin the Nog was partly based on the Lewis chess pieces. I went along, with our eldest, and had a fascinating evening. There were clips from Noggin, Ivor and the Clangers, etc and lots of stories. One of my favourites was told by Oliver Postgate (that voice!) – and it has also appeared elsewhere, I know.

Apparently, their practise was to write out the scripts for the Clangers, before they then whistled the words on swanee whistles. Apparently someone at the BBC objected to a script which had father Clanger swearing at a stuck door, and demanded changes to the words.

“But we are going to whistle it,” said Postgate.

“Yes, but people will know,” came back the reply from on high, so changes had to be made.

Postgate, a conscientious objector during the War, felt bad about being censored like this, and about compromising his principles, so when, that Christmas, Woollies put out knitted Clanger dolls which whistled when their tummies were pushed, father Clanger tootled something like “Bugger. The bloody door’s stuck again.” Or so Oliver Postgate said.

We had a brief chat with them at the end, and they signed a very old Noggin the Nog book of my wife’s, from her childhood (and seemed politely amazed and gratified to see it). I think that was also where I bought Seeing Things – Postgate’s autobiography, highly recommended, and quietly innovative in its own way. It bundles onto an enclosed CD ROM clips from the shows, along with photos and chapters that he hadn’t been able to get into the main book, and a complete e-copy of the main book itself.

However, I have to admit, Bagpuss came along a little too late for me; it is the earlier shows that I remember best.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

High Elms Country Park: 7 Dec 2008

We had a brief (90 minute) visit to High Elms on Sunday 7th. It was a little bracing, with some frost on the ground, but with a lovely clear sky. Here are some photos. Almost inadvertently, I (we actually, several people took shots) seem to have taken a real range of images – close and far away, ground-based, up in the branches, and beyond...

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Nunhead on St Andrew's Day

Very wet.
So wet I'm not going out.
However I can still take photos through the window.
No problem.
Here's a tree:-

... and it gives me a chance to fiddle with how the autofocus works....

Which of these is best?

Saturday, 29 November 2008

The Trees around Nunhead on Tour 4: York Again

So, after the National Railway Museum, we decided to have a little put-put boat trip up and down the Ouse...