Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Goodbye, John Noakes

Another part of my childhood gone. John Noakes was 83 - here he is with Shep in the Blue Peter studio.
I watched Blue Peter twice a week for years - for most of that time the presenters were John Noakes, Peter Purves and Valerie Singleton - and the dogs Petra and Patch. I remember him climbing Nelson's Column, and going on a flying trapeze, and (less dangerously) attempting traditional Northumbrian wrestling. Of course, I remember the incident with the baby elephant. Blue Peter was a comforting presence - we got the annuals at Christmas as well.
After that, I watched Go With Noakes, which he did with the help (or hindrance) of Shep.
He was a great children's TV presenter.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Trowelblazers - Halet Çambel

Halet Çambel was a Turkish archaeologist - and an Olympic fencer! She was the first Muslim woman to compete in the Olympic Games, in 1936, in Germany. She was invited to meet Adolf Hitler, but refused on political grounds. She had already been dubious about competing in the "Nazi Games" and felt that this was a compromise too far, according to her obituary in the Telegraph.

Here she is, third from the left.

She was born in Berlin in 1916, the daughter of a Turkish cultural attaché there. The family was very close to Kemal Ataturk, and they could not return to Turkey until the mid 1920s, when Turkey became a republic. She was a frail child so, inspired by German children's books about knights, she decided to learn fencing. Later she was educated in Turkey, and went on to study archaeology at the Sorbonne in Paris between 1933 and 1939. Returning to Turkey, she became a scientific assistant at Istanbul University in 1940. In 1944 she received a Doctorate and in 1947 she began lecturing there.
She also spent two years as visiting scholar at the University of Saarbrucken in Germany and did a lot to strengthen ties between the German and Turkish archaeological communities.
Later, she became a professor, and founded the Institute of Prehistory at Istanbul University. She married Nail Çakırhan, an architect and communist poet, who divorced his Russian first wife in 1937, and they remained together for seventy years.
She dug at Karatepe, in the Taurus Mountains of southern Turkey, after the Second World War, with the German archaeologist Helmut Theodor Bossert, who was the professor of archaeology at Istanbul University. This was a site associated with the 12th Century BC Hittite king Azatiwada, and she played a key role in deciphering the Hittite hieroglyphics found at the site, with the help of the Phoenician alphabet. This site became her life's work - for over fifty years she spent about six months of every year there. She also spent time in the early days teaching the local children, as there were no schools in the remote area.
She was also active in preserving her country's cultural heritage, creating an outdoor museum at Karatepe in 1960, for which her husband designed some buildings. She also opposed the damming of the Ceyhan River, which would have drowned many archaeological sites. She was able to negotiate a compromise on the water level which saved the sites.
In 2004, she received the Prince Claus Award from the Netherlands for her services to Turkish archaeology.
She died in 2014, aged 97.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Farewell, Roger Moore

He may have been 007 to most people (he starred in 7 James Bond movies, after all), but to me, he was the Saint.

Watching him in the 1960s series led me on to a love of the Leslie Charteris stories - I was even a member of the fan club for a while, just so I could carry the membership card around with me. This proclaims, on the back, in a message to the police:
"The bearer of this card is probably a person of hideous antecedents and low moral character, and upon apprehension for any cause should be immediately released in order to save other prisoners from contamination."

And then, later, he was Brett Sinclair in the Persuaders, co-starring with Tony Curtis:

But the thing he himself was proudest of was his work as Unicef ambassador, for which he was knighted.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Black Women in Science - Annie Easley

Annie Easley was a computer scientist, mathematician and rocket scientist. She worked for NASA at the Lewis Research Centre, where she was one of the first African-American computer scientists, and was part of the team which developed software for the Centaur rocket stage.
She went to Xavier University New Orleans, where she majored in pharmacy. At that time, in Alabama, in order for a black person to vote, they had to pass a difficult literacy test and pay a poll tax (this was 1954). According to Wikipedia, the person giving the tests saw that she had gone to Xavier University, and waived the test in her case, just charging her two dollars. Later, she helped other people prepare for the literacy test, which was only abolished in 1965.
Unable to continue her pharmacy studies when she married and moved to Cleveland, Ohio (the university there had recently stopped its pharmacy program), she heard that the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, NACA - the predecessor to NASA - was looking for "computers" and applied for a job. In 1955, a computer was a person who did the maths manually. She was one of only four African-Americans in a staff of 2,500. She spent 34 years working for them, on many different projects. Later at NASA, she also worked as an Equal Employment Opportunity counselor, where she educated supervisors about workplace discrimination on not just race and gender, but age as well.
She retired in 1989. She was also a founder member, and eventually president, of the NASA Lewis Ski Club. She learned to ski when she was 46.
She died in 2011.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Black Victorians - Walter Tull, footballer and First World War officer

Walter Tull was born in Folkestone in 1888, but grew up in a Methodist Children's Home in Bethnal Green, along with his brother Edward, as his parents died when he was nine. His father Daniel Tull was a carpenter from Barbados, and his mother was Alice Elizabeth Palmer, from Kent. Edward went on to be adopted by the Warnock family in Glasgow, and became the first mixed race dentist in Britain.
In 1909, he joined Tottenham Hotspurs, playing inside forward. He was the third black player in the football league, the first being Arthur Wharton, who I wrote about a couple of years ago, and the second being Billy Clarke of Aston Villa.
He went on tour with the team to Argentina and Uruguay, becoming the first mixed race professional footballer from the UK to play in Latin America. However, in October 1909, while playing at Bristol City, he was subjected to serious racial abuse. The Football Star reporter at the match was so angered by this that his report on the match was entitled "Football and the Colour Prejudice", in which he praised Walter for his professional approach, and said that he had been the best forward in the game. This was probably the first time racial prejudice had been highlighted in the newspapers in British football. However, he was dropped from the A team, and in 1911 he transferred to Northampton Town.
During the First World War, Walter served with the Footballers' Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, where he was promoted to Second Lieutenant in 1917. He was recommended for promotion despite a rule against non-European soldiers becoming officers. He also fought in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, as a sergeant. In 1917, he was sent to Italy, where he was praised for his coolness under fire. He returned to France in 1918, and was killed during the Spring Offensive. His body was never found.
A memorial to him was unveiled at Northampton Town FC in 1999, and there is a Walter Tull Memorial Cup, which was won by Rangers in 2004, when they beat Tottenham Hotspurs 2- 0.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

The Librarians, Series 3 - Jenkins is Awesome!

I sent off for the DVD set of series 3 of The Librarians as soon as I heard it was available, and have been trying not to binge watch it. Some things need to be savoured, and there are only 10 episodes.
It's a brilliant season, though - the Big Bad, introduced in the first episode, is Apep, Egyptian God of Chaos, who wants to release Pure Evil into the world. Another complication for the Librarians is DOSA, the Department of Statistical Anomalies - the US government have become aware of magic in the world, and have created a department to deal with it. Unfortunately, they have noticed that when magical events take place, the Librarians are often there, and have leapt to the conclusion that the Librarians are causing the problems rather than trying to solve them - so they are also after the Librarians, treating them as domestic terrorists.
As if that wasn't enough, there's a theme running through the season about the use of magic and when it might be justified (Cassandra has always been a fan of using magic as a first, rather than a last, resort to solve problems).
Another theme running through the season is that of various characters coming to terms with their own death, particularly Cassandra, who has to deal with her brain tumour, and Flynn, who learns that the magical artefact which may stop Apep requires a human sacrifice for it to work.
And they meet vampires, return to Shangri La, meet the Monkey King, and Frost Giants, go to a carnival, infiltrate a cult, and discover a Lewis Carroll themed world. They discover that Charlene, last seen with Judson, shutting down the Library so it couldn't be accessed at the beginning of season one, is still alive.
And Jenkins is awesome! He saves the day several times, and gets to do some more sword fighting.
The best guest star of the season, for me, was Sean Astin, as the conjuror in charge of a magical carnival.

I understand that season 4 is being made - I'm looking forward to seeing where they go from here.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Trowelblazers - Hetty Goldman

Hetty Goldman has a very scanty biography on Wikipedia, but there's enough there to show that she was quite a remarkable woman. She was a member of the Goldman-Sachs banking family, born in 1881, and she took her BA in English at Bryn Mawr college in 1903, then decided that she would not follow a writing career because she felt she had nothing to say! She had already become interested in archaeology, and went on to gain her MA in archaeology and classical languages from Columbia University in 1910, when she had her first article published, The Orestia of Aeschylus as Illustrated by Greek Vase-Painting. This article was the major reason for her being the first woman to be awarded the Charles Eliot Norton Fellowship to attend the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Greece. She worked and studied here from 1910 to 1912.
Her archaeological career was then disrupted by the Balkan Wars and First World War. She returned to New York City to work for the American Red Cross. She was asked by the American Joint Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to return to Greece for a report on the Jewish communities. However, she found time to gain her PhD in 1916, from Radcliffe College.
By 1922, she was working for the Fogg Museum, digging in Ionia and Central Greece. One of the sites she worked on was Colophon, then controlled by Turkey - and this dig was disrupted by the Greco-Turkish War! When the archaeologists returned to the site, they found that all the artefacts had been stolen. However, they had also discovered some of the earliest known Greek houses, and a drainage system of terracotta pipes.
She was the first woman to be appointed to run a dig by the Archaeological Institute of America. She dug widely across Turkey and the Mediterranean, and published many papers, including The Acropolis at Halae in 1940, showing the continuity between Semitic and Mediterranean cultures.
In 1936, she became one of the first professors of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. She became professor emerita in 1947, which was also the last year of her excavations at Tarsus. The site at Tarsus had been chosen specifically because it was likely to be a place where different cultures of the region had come together, an aim which was confirmed by the finding of Hittite royal seals and Mycenaean pottery in the same contexts.
In 1966 the Archaeological Institute of America awarded her a gold medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement.
She died at Princeton in 1972, aged 90.

Apart from archaeology, she was active in sponsoring Jewish refugees escaping from Nazi Germany. Her family origins were German-Jewish, of course.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Concerning the Crew of the Franklin

It's a well known folk song, among other things - the sad tale of the doomed expedition to the Arctic, all hands being lost to cold and starvation. The two ships commanded by Sir John Franklin, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, got stuck in the sea ice off Canada in 1846. Their final message, sent in April 1848, indicated that they were abandoning their ships to head south overland. The wreck of the Erebus was only found in 2014, and HMS Terror was found nearby in 2016.
Recently, remains of the crew have been found, both bones and mummified remains in the ice, scattered along the trail they took to try to reach safety. Researchers have been gathering DNA samples from the remains, identifying 24 individuals so far - and have found that at least 4 of the 129 crew members were women.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Innominate - EasterCon Monday

We started the morning doing our bit to help take down the art displays. Fangorn was there packing his paintings away - he did covers for the Redwall series, and had the one with the badger and hawk on display over the weekend.

The final day of panels at the Con began with the intersection of two very different interests - SF and pub signs. There was quite a bit of trouble on the technical front to start with - horrendous howls from the electronics, and difficulties with the slide show - but eventually we could see the pub signs that Arthur Chappell was talking about, starting with one from a pub called the Vulcan, showing the god Vulcan, a Vulcan bomber and Mr Spock (positioned so it looked as if the god Vulcan was hitting him with his blacksmith's hammer). The talk also covered famous pubs connected with SF writers, like the Eagle and Child which was CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein's local watering hole, and fictional pub signs like the Slaughtered Lamb from American Werewolf in London and some of the pub signs from the Simon Pegg World's End pub crawl.
We went on from there to the Travelling in SFF panel - space ships, portals, quests, and so on.
And finally it was the Closing Ceremony, where the guests of honour said what a wonderful time they'd had, and Pat Cadigan thanked the Con goers for a wonderful and uplifting weekend.
And the Committee handed over the reins to the FollyCon committee. Next year in Harrowgate!

We didn't have to hurry away, as we decided to stay for an extra night. Our plan was to beat the post-Con blues by doing something completely different for the last afternoon and evening, so we took the train into Birmingham New Street. Back in the 1980s, I went to Star Trek Cons at the Metropole and the Grand. The Grand is no longer a hotel, though I think it may be re-opening soon, but part of the space is now taken up with a new wine bar called The Alchemist. I'd looked it up online, and it seemed to be Steampunk themed, so we started out by going to have a look. The directions I got from Google map took us out of the wrong side of the station, so we had to climb the hill to the main square, so we basically ignored them after that and headed for the cathedral, which I knew was close by. The Alchemist was busy, and the cocktails looked interesting - but there was no Steampunk theming that we could see, so we moved on to a pub called The Wellington which the Young Man had discovered while doing training in Birmingham.
This was more like it - a Victorian style pub with about a dozen hand pumps on the bar, each of them serving an interesting, and often local, beer. The Thoughtless stout was very strong, but very tasty.
Then we headed back down the hill to the BrewDog pub, where we had dinner, with more excellent beer. It was the perfect way to wind down, and we were enjoying the music there, too.
So we missed the Dead Dog Party in the hotel in favour of an early night.

We had a fantastic weekend, and the scrambled eggs at breakfast every morning were delicious, and the girl who cleaned our room was lovely - she'd never seen anything quite like the Convention before - and we met lots of interesting and lovely people, and just had a great time!

Monday, 1 May 2017

Innominate - EasterCon Sunday

I've been ill, and thus not blogging for a while, but I'm back out of my sick bed now....

A bit blurry (but thank you to the chap behind the registration desk for taking the picture) - we spent the day as Holmes and Watson, and got an embarrassingly large number of Hall Costume tokens, since these costumes were assembled from fairly ordinary clothes which we happened to have in our wardrobes rather than anything specially made.

Sunday at EasterCon for us was Science Day! It was quite impressive just how many real scientists were at the Con, and at the Bio-hacking panel we had a group of speakers who were all experts in their fields, including one chap who works at Cambridge and was dressed in a smart blazer from The Prisoner - we saw him going round with a lady dressed in the striped cape from the series later. The discussion covered body modifications of all sorts, including having chlorophyll in your skin so you could take nourishment from the sun rather than eat food, and some of the possible consequences of various modifications.

After that, astronomy, with Seven New Planets! Squeeee!. On the panel for this discussion there was a space physicist and an astrophysicist - one looks at space within the solar system, and the other looks further away. The discussion wasn't just about the new planets discovered around Trappist-1 - it also covered human colonisation and sending robots into space.
There was a discussion about BREXIT and Science later in the evening, which we didn't go to, but which was reportedly well attended, if somewhat depressing. One of the things that came up was the possibility that the UK could be seen as a rogue nuclear state until things get sorted out, as at the moment, the UK comes under the EU committee on nuclear regulation, which will cease when the UK leaves the EU - and keeping the nuclear industry well-regulated is kind of important....

The Con had a pretty strong Disability in SF thread running through it, and so the next thing we went to was the Wheelchair Martial Arts Demonstration. I'd seen Al Davison in the dealers' room - as well as being an accomplished martial artist, he's an artist who works on comic books. I bought a pencil sketch of Jon Pertwee from him, and the Young Man was very pleased to find a graphic novel on his stall he'd been looking for, with an introduction by Neil Gaiman. He also has a film background, and for a recent film that he worked on, he developed a choreographed fight scene between an able bodied man and a man in a wheelchair (himself). With the help of two able bodied martial artists, he demonstrated - how film fight scenes go for the larger, more visually interesting moves, whereas if a person is attacked in the street (and he said he used to get regularly beaten up by people who thought it would be funny to tip someone out of their wheelchair - until they actually tried it) they need to go for the fastest and most efficient way to end the fight, because disabled people often don't have the stamina for a long fight.
He talked about his background in martial arts - meeting a Chinese man and his sister when he was young, who had come to Britain when their village had been destroyed. They had survived only because of the man's habit of meditating by a waterfall at 4am, so were not in the village when everyone else was killed. After a long time when young Al went to watch the man do his practice every day, the man agreed to take Al on as a student.
He also talked about disabled people in film - if you see an amputation of a limb on film, it's almost always a disabled actor who has lost that limb on screen - but it's a lot more difficult for disabled actors to graduate to speaking roles. Years ago, he was one of a group of disabled actors who went for the casting of the starring role in My Left Foot - they were all taken out of the queue and sent home, and only able-bodied actors were considered. Conversely, the makers of Kingsman, more recently, actively looked for a double amputee to play the assassin with blades, and none of the double amputee actors available wanted to do it, so they eventually went for an able bodied actress and CGI. Although it seemed like a very cool idea, the amputee actors were concerned that the character was using their disability to maim others - and maybe it would have been better for the film makers to have re-thought that character.
It was a fascinating and thought-provoking session.

And in the afternoon, Pat Cadigan Explained it All For Us. I'd been vaguely aware of her name as an SF writer, but never really taken much notice of her work. And then when she was introduced as one of the Guests of Honour of the Con she greeted the audience with "I'm Pat Cadigan, bitches!" in a broad American accent and - well, what a fascinating woman she turned out to be! Her talk was mainly about her life, starting with some life-changing incidents involving anaphylactic shock, near death experiences, vaginal sponges which were not in a good place.... and her next sentence began "My son...."
She held the audience in the palm of her hand, talked honestly about her terminal cancer (she came to the Con with a carer), and is determined to enjoy life as much as she possibly can while she can.
I went straight down to the dealers' room after the talk and bought the only book I could see with her name on it - Synners.

We walked round the lake for dinner, back at the World Bar, where the girl behind the bar asked us if we were enjoying our weekend. She said she'd seen a few people with Con badges coming over, some in costume, so she was aware something was going on at the other side of the lake.

The last part of the evening was a world premiere! The performers were Pauline Haas on concert harp, and Thomas Bloch on three of the strangest instruments I've ever seen. They were the ondes Martenot (invented in 1919 by a wireless operator who wanted an instrument which could reproduce the sort of sounds a radio makes when you're trying to tune into something), the glass harmonica, which is 37 glass bowls, carefully graded to give different notes, on a revolving spindle - the principle is like rubbing your finger round the rim of a wine glass. This one is the oldest instrument, invented by Benjamin Franklin, and some classical music has been composed for it. And then there's the cristal Baschet, invented in 1952 to make electronic type noises acoustically - there are glass rods and an odd shaped gong. Basically, it makes the sort of sounds that were popular for 1950s SF B movie soundtracks.
It was a fascinating recital, with classical pieces, and film and TV scores - including the world premiere of the music for Blade Runner 2049 (though the film is not yet out, so the music may change between now and then). TV music included Twin Peaks, Being Human and Monk. Films were Chant d'Atalyante, The Elephant Man, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Fellini's Casanova and The Fifth Element, and Pauline Haas also played one of her own compositions, La Lyre d'Ys.
I bought Thomas Bloch's CD afterwards, and they were also signing pieces of sheet music for donations to the Con charity, Afghan Mothers.