Archives » 2012 » August

Reelin’ In The Years 51: It Don’t Come Easy

Ringo Starr was, you might have thought, the least likely member of the Beatles to have a pop career after the Fab Four broke up. He did, though, have some singles success in the 1970s – including this, his first solo UK hit. He had some help from George Harrison with it, however, not least the distinctive guitar intro and outro.

Ringo Starr: It Don’t Come Easy

Modern Art Underground

I liked this set of connections between modern art movements laid out as an underground map in Saturday’s Guardian Review.

Modern art movements map

The article the map accompanied is here.

Starship Fall by Eric Brown

Newcon Press, 2009, 103p.

 Starship Fall cover

This is a novella, second in Brown’s “Starship” sequence, in homage to Michael G Coney, and begun with Starship Summer. In its telling, though, it is more reminiscent of Brown’s “Bengal Station” trilogy than Coney.

In Starship Fall the former holo star Carlotta Chakravorti-Luna has come to Delta Pavonis IV and disturbed the quiet life of narrator David Conway.

The novella’s title refers to something which is not directly involved with the story we experience in Starship Fall but, rather, kicked it off. A nice Brown touch, though, is naming the holoes Carlotta starred in after Coney novels.

Once again in a Brown story religion makes an appearance; the alien natives undergo a ritual wherein they might die (or not) but see their destiny. David’s friend Hawk’s girlfriend is a native whose partaking in the ritual triggers the crucial events.

Seasoned Brown (and Coney) readers know not to expect everything to turn out perfectly but here Brown still manages to confound at least one of the possible expectations.

On the whole well-written and agreeably character based Starship Fall bears out the theory that the novella is an ideal length for a rounded SF story. Brown does however overuse the formulation [“time interval” later] whether that time interval is hours, minutes or seconds.

Livingston 1-1 Dumbarton

Scottish League Cup, Round 2, Almondvale Stadium, 28/8/12

(3-2 after extra time)

Well, this game showed we can at least live with a Div 1 side.

In fact on chances created we did well enough to win it. We hit the post twice within a second in the second half.

To begin with, though, their nippy midfield was skipping through ours as if they weren’t there. They looked confident on the ball and their passes found their men. We struggled to contain them but came onto a game as the half wore on and started to make chances. Mark Gilhaney’s long range shot was spilled by the keeper and scrambled away, Jim Lister was through and squared it to Brian Prunty but it hit off the defender’s leg. Then an inch perfect chip from Scott Agnew allowed Jim Lister in on the keeper. 0-1.

Not two minutes later we conceded a needless penalty. Nicky Devlin should have had a shout to hoof the ball but former Son Iain Russell nipped in front of him and got shoved. He converted the spot kick. Had he not, we might have won 1-0.

The game opened up a bit in the second half but Stephen Grindlay dealt with anything that came through. With more composure in front of goal, Brian Prunty shot hurriedly at one point, we could have nicked it. And Nicky Devlin’s cut in and shot that hit the post for Jim Lister to fire against the same post off the rebound maybe showed luck wasn’t with us. Scott Agnew had a couple of long range efforts, making the keeper save one of them.

Extra time (which we didn’t need with an important league game on Saturday) and the full time nature of Livingston might have made the difference. Their second looked to have been avoided by a Stephen Grindlay save but the rebound was driven past him. Even so our man on the line ought to have cleared but shinned it.

Their second was well worked and we should have been out of it. But we plugged away and finally after a good move, and two saves from their keeper off it, Mark Gilhaney slotted it in. We might have equalised from a header off a Scott Agnew free kick but it flew past.

Positives, then. 1-1 at 90 mins. (I’d have preferred a league point.) Scott Agnew showed a return to form. Jim Lister was a thorn in their defence all night – a good shout for man of the match.

The lads ought to take some confidence from this.

Sea of Ghosts by Alan Campbell

Tor, 2011, 431p.

 Sea of Ghosts cover

On a world where a race known as the Unmer was vanquished decades ago their artefacts still haunt the human inhabitants. Much-valued Unmer “trove”€ is scattered randomly over the sea-bed and material called brine, poisonous to humans, is emanating from ichusae, or sea bottles, and making the sea level rise slowly but inexorably. Protective clothing must be worn if there is danger of contact with brine as humans develop “€œsharkskin”€ on any exposed surfaces, which leads to pain and death. Those fully immersed, however, still carry on a life as “€œthe Drowned,”€ swimming about freely under the brine, but are feared and persecuted by the authorities.

Telepaths known as Haurstaf helped defeat the Unmer and act as a kind of secret service (or, since they act for both sides in conflicts, more like an inquisition.)

This is a fantasy world with a difference. Yes there are dragons and slaves, but while the political structure is still monarchical (Emperor Hu) there are guns – and boats with engines. Refreshingly not the usual mediæval milieu, then.

In addition the Unmer trove has a technological basis. A rationale is given for the otherwise magical overflowing of brine from unstoppered ichusae and for the properties of Unmer artefacts. One of the characters knows about the wave-particle duality of light and muses on gravitation. These aspects of the novel make it Science Fiction rather than Fantasy. In feel, however, it leans more towards the fantastical.

In the prologue one of the so-called Gravediggers of the subtitle, Colonel Thomas Granger, offends Emperor Hu and they have to spirit themselves away to the city of Ethugra to escape his ire. The novel proper starts when an enslaved woman recognises Granger as the man she had a relationship with years before and pleads with him to save herself and her daughter, Ianthe, whom Granger surmises to be his child too, by buying them. Ianthe turns out to have powers to find trove, powers which will interest the Haurstaf and the local Mr Big, Ethan Maskelyne.

The novel sometimes has aspects of a quest story, at others of the military insert and retrieve mission. Pleasingly, very few of the characters are mere ciphers (though Emperor Hu is something of a caricature of the spoilt aristocratic brat.) Campbell knows how to draw a reader in to his story and to keep the attention.

Unfortunately, at the production level, the text is ill-served by having words – frequently “€œthe”€ or “a” – missing or repeated and other typographical errata of various sorts. Another example of the tendency of publishers to look on their publications simply as “€œproduct” and wheel them out without due care.

Novels are not product. At least, the good ones aren’€™t.

Rant over.

Sea of Ghosts is a superior fantasy, well worth a read. The paperback is now available.

Religion and the State

Another thing I woke up to yesterday was the news that Cardinal Keith O’Brien, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, had – along with other Scottish Catholic bishops – written a letter to be read out to all Catholic congregations in Scotland bemoaning the fact that the Scottish government is to legislate to equalise the status of marriage between different and same sex couples.

I’m not sure why it makes a difference to gay people; a civil partnership between a heterosexual couple is effectively a marriage, so why isn’t a same sex one?

I could see some force to the Cardinal’s point if priests were to be forced to officiate at such unions but they, along with Church of Scotland Ministers, Episcopalian Rectors, Rabbis, Muslim Imams etc, are expressly not being required to do that. These marriages will be civil, not ecclesiastical, affairs. (And let’s remember marriage between heterosexuals is not legal until it has been registered by the state. The word of priest, minister or whatever religious official is legally neither here nor there.)

Cardinal O’Brien’s statement that the Scottish government has “refused to listen” to his views is, I think, misplaced. The Government has listened, it just hasn’t done what he wanted. His complaint about their “refusal” amounts to a desire on his part to have a veto on Scottish social policy. Is this a position which any churchman should be taking up?

How many Catholics are likely to agree with the Cardinal on this point anyway? For countless years the churches have been on the wrong side of most arguments as regards social change – from slavery to women’s rights and now to the acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and other sexualities. They have come round to the views of the wider world in previous cases and found biblical justification for them. Who is to say this will not happen with gay issues?

Scotland is not a theocracy. (Yet. And some would say thank God for it!) And if it were….

Which other religion does Cardinal O’Brien think ought to have a veto on social policy? For what is sauce for his Catholic gander is sauce for other religions’ geese. Would he be comfortable living under Sharia Law, for example? If Scottish Government policy is to be dictated by one religion or denomination it has to be dictated by them all. The Roman Catholic Church has no special place in Scottish politics – except in so far as its denominational schools are subsidised and underwritten by the Scottish state. That is a source of division that has underscored the running sore of sectarianism that has beset Scottish life particularly in the west of Scotland, but also more widely, since the Reformation.

Scotland fought long and hard, and bloodily, for centuries, from the Reformation through the Civil Wars of the reign of Charles I up to and arguably beyond the Jacobite rebellions for the right for its citizens to think and believe for themselves and not to have others tell them what to think and do.

Is this really the pot which Cardinal O’Brien wishes to stir?

Scottish Catholics have been known to complain that they are somehow disadvantaged or excluded from Scottish life in its widest sense. (I personally, though not a Catholic, think this has for quite some time now verged on the ludicrous. There are any number of high profile Catholics in Scottish public life.) They cannot at the same time insist on this perceived subjugation and also that their view on a particular issue should prevail. Or can Cardinal O’Brien not see the contradiction?

A Guiding Light

I woke up this morning to the news that Neil Armstrong has died.

As the first human to set foot on the Moon his place in history is assured.

I hadn’t consciously thought about the fact he must be getting old (he was 82) but then again 1969 is several lifetimes ago now and he was 39 when he made his “giant leap” – the culmination of what must be the greatest huamn adventure so far.

I have no patience for those who aver that the Moon landings were faked. What crabbed meanness of spirit does that belief imply about its adherents? The evidence that they did happen is overwhelming – not least the fact that scientists are still receiving data from instruments the astronauts left behind there. And, in any case, it is simply impossible to believe that in a country as open as the US a conspiracy to counterfeit a series of Moon landings could ever have been kept secret – never mind for all involved to have remained silent about it for so long. (By now – long since -someone would have cracked, someone talked.) To disbelieve it belittles the work, the huge effort put into it and the danger of doing so. No wonder Buzz Aldrin punched some idiot who asked him to swear he hadn’t walked on the Moon.

Never forget; these projects were achieved in tiny craft, with skin so thin as to be almost not there (but nevertheless beautiful) and with a computing power smaller that that of a twenty-first century pocket calculator, all with the killing power of a vacuum only millimetres away and up to 240,000 miles distant from any prospect of safety.

The achievement was not, though, in getting there. We could send a person to the Moon with little preparation, even now. The problem, the achievement, is getting them back.

The Apollo missions succeeded in that every time, even in the one mission to the Moon that was in all other respects a failure, Apollo 13, the safe return of whose crew was NASA’s finest hour.

In addition to holding the honour of being the first human to walk on the surface of another celestial body Neil Armstrong seems to have been a modest man; he certainly did not try to purvey his celebrity into attempting to gain political office.

Humans have not been to the Moon again for 40 years! That fact alone says something about the select few of whom Armstrong was the first.

Neil Alden Armstrong 5/8/1930-25/8/2012. So it goes.

Bo’ness War Memorial

A very fine example this. In a great setting on a bluff overlooking the river Forth.

Bo'ness War Memorial

I like the way it has the various theatres of war the fighting took place on its sides. Inscribed on the stone facing us are the names France, Belgium, Russia, Italy, Gallipoli. The metal plaque below commemorates Second World War dead. The south side has the usual “To Our Glorious Dead.”

Here’s the opposite view.

Bo'ness War Memorial 2

On the stone facing us are the names Salonica, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Africa. (It was a World War for Empire troops.) Again the small metal plaque commemorates Second World War dead. The larger plaque facing north names the dead of the Great War.

Partick Thistle 3-0 Dumbarton

SFL Div 1, Firhill Stadium, 25/8/12.

I thought about going to this one, but now I’m glad I didn’t. Glasgow was just a bit far considering I feel knackered after two weeks back at the sharp end of the chalkface. And the forecast was for showers.

Still:- Played 3, Won 0, Drawn 0, Lost 3.

Is it time for a predictor?

But which one?

Goals against? (On this form, 120.)

Goal difference? (On this form, -108.)

Goals scored? (On this form, 12.)

Total Points? (On this form, 0.)

The only consolation I can draw is that the three games we’ve lost have been against teams currently in the top 5 (though I don’t expect two of them to stay there.)

I see the BBC has us down as having lost 4 times. (They seem to have input today’s results twice.)

That might be about right, though.

Scotland’s Art Deco Heritage 24 (ii): Bo’ness Again

Just further along South Street from the Woolworths I mentioned in my previous Bo’ness post we came on this stunning building. An Art Deco Cube.

Art Deco Former Bakery, Bo'ness

It was designed by Matthew Steele. It has been a bakery but is now disused I think. Great detailing on the columns and the glazing. The flagpoles are good too. This is the view from the North Street side.

Art Deco Former Bakery 2

Moving back along North Street I spotted the rear of what looked like a deco cinema. The roundedness, flat roof and whiteness all suggest it.

Rear Of Hippodrome Cinema Bo'ness

Round the corner again into Hope Street and this is the side view.

Side of Hippodrome Cinema, Bo'ness

That cupola made me unsure. It’s not a deco feature.

But this is the front of the Hippodrome.

Hippodrome Cinema, Bo'ness

The doors have been updated; but well. The glazing is right. The lettering and neon on the Hippodrome name sign are perfect. The Scottish cinemas website says it has been recently refurbished. It is a working cinema. Good on the owners.

It was designed by the same Matthew Steele as above (a native of Bo’ness) but built in 1912 – too early to be true deco – but it certainly prefigures the style.

This is how it looked in the past (picture from the Scottish cinemas website.)

Hippodrome cinema, Bo'ness, vintage photo

The left hand side has undergone some change since then!

Back to the car and I spotted this past the roundabout.

Former Star Cinema, Bo'ness, Side View

Another cinema, the Star. Formerly a church and converted into a cinema, when presumably the deco facade was added. Now a storehouse.

Former Star Cinema Bo'ness

Bo’ness. The (Art Deco) centre of Scotland!

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