Nichelle Nichols

So. Another part of our imagined future has gone into the past.

Nichele Nichols is of course most famous for playing Lieutenant Nyota Uhura in the original Star Trek TV series (and subsequent films.) For a black woman to have a role as an important member of a military company was a breakthrough for the 1960s and she was lauded as a role model by no less than Martin Luther King.

It is widely believed that her kiss with William Shatner in one episode was the first inter-racial kiss on US TV (but it may not have been.)

Grace Dell (Nichelle) Nichols: 28/12/1932 – 30/7/2022. So it goes.

The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal

Solaris, 2020, 687 p; plus v p Acknowledgements, vii p About the History, and ii p Bibliography.

This is the third full-length novel in Kowal’s “Lady Astronaut” series, whose history differs from ours since a meteor plunged into the sea off the North American coast in the early 1950s. A runaway greenhouse effect caused by the water vapour the impact delivered into the atmosphere means Earth will become too hot for humans to survive and an accelerated space programme has been undertaken to colonise a new home in time to save at least some of humanity. The timeline of The Relentless Moon in the main parallels that of the second book in the series, The Fated Sky. I reviewed the first two instalments here and here. Unlike in those, here the focus (and our narrator) is not the Lady Astronaut Elma York, nor indeed her husband, Nathaniel. Instead, it is another of the first six female astronauts, Nicole Wargin, married to Governor Kenneth Wargin of Kansas, who as the book starts is about to announce his candidacy for President of the US. Nicole’s life is complicated by the fact she is married to a politician but that has meant she has developed coping strategies for social situations. However, she also suffers from anorexia, which dogs her throughout the book. Wargin is noticeably less coy about sexual matters than Elma York was but still indulges in some laboured allusions to them.

The space programme is opposed by a faction calling itself ‘Earth First’ whose adherents believe that the space programme money is being spent unwisely while there are people struggling or suffering on Earth in the here and now and many will never benefit from it. This opposition has become an active sabotage campaign in the hope that if the programme is seen to be failing it will be abandoned. What in turn this means is that some people involved in the project, on the Mars trip with the Lady Astronaut, but more germane here, in mission control, in the communications department and even on the base constructed on the Moon. The powers that be have dubbed this subversive activity Icarus and most of the novel is devoted to the various acts of minor sabotage Icarus carries out and the attempt to unmask the identity of the culprit(s.)

This involves plenty of incident and jeopardy plus various agonies of suspicion. A variant from our time is that, due to the meteor, vaccinations for polio have not been administered widely. The introduction of the disease to the Moon base (presumed to be by Icarus) gives ample scope for Kowal to remind us of its potentially devastating effects. She is also at pains to emphasise that the racism and sexism of the times would in no way have been ameliorated by a shared purpose or peril. In particular that the women astronauts have to show no weakness in order to be respected.

Grace notes are supplied with the dropping in of the names of astronauts from our timeline (Chaffee, Aldrin, Lovell,) astronauts who have only incidental roles in this story.

This is good, solid, undemanding Science Fiction of the old school, tinged with a modern sensibility. Whether it is good enough to merit the awards the series has gathered is another question. I enjoyed the ride though.

Pedant’s corner:- “a sixteen-year-old Abelour” [Scotch] (the whisky is called Aberlour. And Kowal had scotch in lower case,) cannister (canister,) “had learned English from a Brit so always said things like ‘Leftenant.’ It sounded like an affectation every time” (What, instead of sounding like a poor speaker of French? [It’s li-oo-, not loo-, and ‘tenong’ not tenant,]) “propellent to sublimate off the surface” (propellant to sublime off the surface,) “none of them were up here” (none of them was,) grill (grille,) “the chances …. was slim” (either, ‘the chance,’ or, ‘were slim’.) “None of them were trying to help me” (None of them was trying,) “the rachet handle” (ratchet, spelled correctly later,) “to let threm know the sound it was man-made” (the sound was man-made.) “‘Hey. I represent that remark’” (‘I resent that remark,’) “all the minutia” (‘all’ implies plural, hence ‘all the minutiae’.) “None of them were paying attention” (None of them was paying attention.)

England 1-1 Germany (2-1 aet)

Women’s European Football Championship 2022, Final, Wembley Stadium, 31/7/22.

So, England’s women footballers have done something the men have not. Won a Euros.

This was a tight, absorbing game, fiercely contested between two well organised, well drilled and skillful sides, who both had periods of dominance.

Not much by way of expansive football, though, the two midfields kind of cancelling each other out.

The first goal was a delight. Even though the keeper’s advancement in effect made up Ella Toone’s mind for her the chip still had to be executed perfectly. And it was.

Germany’s equaliser was beautifully worked and excellently taken by Lena Magull. At that point the momentum could have swung behind them, but England saw it out to extra time.

The winner was scrappy. But they all count.

Who knows the difference a fit Alexandra Popp might have made to Germany? England’s defence looked more uncomfortable in this game than in previous ones, even the quarter-final against Spain when they fell behind. But that is as it should be. This was a final. In any case those are the breaks.

England’s coach, Sarina Wiegman, has a reputation for being a tactical genius. She certainly knows how to deploy substitutes and apparently has her side primed for what to do in any eventuality. On the evidence of this tournament though (albeit only in the one game) her tactic for being one behind with ten minutes to go is to put the big lass up front and get it up to her or at least allow her to distract the defence. (Mind you, according to Gary Lineker, that was Johan Cryuff’s preferred option in similar circumstances.)

Finally, it is to be hoped that this will not be harped on forever in the way a certain event which occurred in 1966 has been.

Inside Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle

The main attraction at the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle is a silver swan automaton. The model in itself is a beautiful object:-

Swan Automaton, Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle

Bowes Museum Swan

Swan Articulated Model, Bowes Museum

Replacement parts:-

Parts of Automaton Swan, Bowes Museum

Unfortunately when we were there the swan wasn’t in operation. I think it needed maintenance work.

Hoewvere there was an explanatory video of its operation and movement. (The video is also available on YouTube. See below.) The articulation is amazing, the glass rods representinng water in motion are particularly effective. The swan “catches” and “eats” a fish at about 4.50 in the video. Real swans are of course vegetarian:-

I liked this piece of stained glass too:-

Stained Glass, Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle,

Stained Glass Info Board, Bowes Museum

Dumbarton 2-0 Stirling Albion

SPFL Tier 4, The Rock, 30/7/22.

A league win!

It’s something we didn’t achieve very often last season.

Still, not wise to get ahead of ourselves. We won last season’s league opener 3-0. Away.

It was a whirlwind start with new signing Declan Byrne scoring twice within the first five minutes.

Since I wasn’t there and there’s no streaming this season I can’t really comment further.

To Be Continued by James Robertson

Or, Conversations with a Toad Penguin, 2017, 332 p.

 To Be Continued cover

The Scottish novel is not noted for humour, nor even light-heartedness. Neither can that be attributed to the author of this one, whose previous forays into the realms of Scottish letters have dealt with serious issues – Covenanting times, meetings with the Devil, slavery, the independence question, and the Lockerbie bombing. Yet this can only be described as a comic novel. There’s really not another way to describe a book in which not just one but three characters have conversations with, and a couple of sections are narrated by, a member of the species Bufo bufo – the common toad (though it describes itself as uncommon.)

Douglas Findhorn Elder’s life is drifting. Having taken voluntary redundancy from his job at the Spear newspaper, his relationship with Sonya Strachan foundering, his mother dead, his father Thomas Ythan Elder in a care home, he has moved back into the parental home. On the way to the funeral of a former colleague on his fiftieth birthday on a bus that is stuck in traffic he reflects ruefully on his situation. That evening, stepping out onto a patio – what his father called the sitootery, or in inclement weather the raindaffery, or even the naechancery, but when it’s bitter cold, the skitery – he finds himself having a conversation with a toad; a toad whom they mutually agree to name Mungo Forth Mungo (since the Elder family always gives itself a middle name after a Scottish river,) a toad which gives him a different perspective on life.

The early chapters detail Douglas’s somewhat drab existence and include an awkward encounter with Sonya’s daughter Paula, a commentary by Ollie Buckthorn – still on the Spear’s payroll – on the exquisite embarrassments of the procedure to obtain a sample for the bowel cancer screening test plus the frustrations of a visit to the home where his dementia struck father is now living.

The main plot motors up when Douglas is asked by the Spear’s editor to undertake a series of (fee unspecified) freelance pieces on the Idea of Scotland, to gauge how the nation sits after the Independence referendum. During this encounter Douglas lets us know he hates the word ‘heft.’ “Book reviewers use it to describe tedious literary novels that they feel obliged, tedium notwithstanding, to admire.” The series is to start with an interview with forgotten near centenarian novelist Rosalind Munlochy, who lives in a house called Glentaragar somewhere in the wilds of Argyll.

Both Douglas’s conversations with Mungo (which are numbered) and the extracts from Rosalind Munlochy’s biography which he provides us with are concluded with the words [To be continued] thus giving the novel its title.

The journey to Glentaragar will not be easy. Sonya has refused Douglas’s request to use their car and he will have to travel by public transport. As it turns out he is deposited at a request stop at the apparently deserted Shira Inn and, since it’s quiet, is asked to man the bar by Malcolm the manager while he goes off on a quest of his own. A musician called Stuart Crathes MacCrimmon drops in and starts to drink the place dry, as do various groups of tourists. A woman named Xanthe who seems to know the place well calls in, starts to help and takes a shine to Douglas.

The next day both Xanthe and MacCrimmon have vanished and Douglas makes his way to the Glen Araich Lodge Hotel, near Glentaragar, to find the manager, Ruaraidh MacLagan, is identical to McCrimmon but will not admit it. It is here that a subplot involving the whiskies Glen Gloming and Salmon’s Leap enters the picture.

Yet more confusion awaits Douglas once he has hitch-hiked to Glentaragar and finds the house’s general factotum Corryvreckan is also a double (triple!) for MacCrimmon and MacLagan and moreover that Rosalind Munlochy’s granddaughter Poppy is actually the Xanthe he’d met the day before. In her case the reason is simple, she had wanted to check Douglas out before allowing him to interview her grandmother. The fact that she had checked him out thoroughly does not ameliorate his initial discomfort.

Rosalind, though, is engaging and an obliging interviewee, “‘People wade in it’ (knowledge) ‘now without any sense of direction or any notion of what it is they are wading in,’” but is at cross purposes as she believes Douglas has come to inquire into a family secret relating to Rosalind’s daughter (Poppy’s mother.)

The tanglings of the plot are cleverly worked. Corryvreckan turns out to be an Englishman who had sought a bolthole. Poppy says of him, “‘he went native. It’s not uncommon in the Highlands.’” The whisky sub-plot links in both to Corryvreckan’s present and past and to Douglas’s life in Edinburgh. Unlikely connections are established – in one case re-established. Ends that had not seemed loose are tied up. The novel finishes affirmatively.

Along the way Mungo Forth Mungo has some of the best lines, “If someone tells you that there are already enough stories in the world, they are missing the point. The point is the world is stories,” and has a justified rant on the dispositions of human thought, “‘We, or our ancestors, have been around a hundred times longer than you, a thousand times longer …… You think you know more than we do …. that you are greater than any other living thing. But the toad, the toadstool, the ant, the blackbird, the deer, the daffodil, the jellyfish – you are less than all of these … You know nothing and have nothing and are nothing.’” A demonstration that a novel doesn’t need to have heft to have something worthwhile to communicate.

Pedant’s corner:- sailboat (sailing boat,) staunch (stanch.)

Everybody’s Favourite Actor

Bernard Cribbins has died.

My first memory of him is of those novelty hit songs Right Said Fred and Hole in the Ground from 1962, where he carried off the part of the working man slightly bewildered at the idiocies of those supposedly in charge to perfection.

I later saw him in the spin-off Doctor Who film Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 AD. I do not consider this appearance as canonical since it doesn’t follow the TV chronology. However he did become so with appearances alongside David Tennant’s Doctor more than forty years later.

Then of course there was his railway station worker Albert Perks in The Railway Children film of 1970. But his list of film parts is long and his face and voice would have been a very familiar one, even without his voicing of the characters in The Wombles.

He always seemed to be a kindly presence. I note that unlike many well known faces of those times there has never been a hint of scandal about him.

Mnay people would choose Right Said Fred as their comedy Cribbins song but for me it will always be Hole in the Ground.

Bernard Cribbins: Hole in the Ground

The world is a smaller, poorer place for his passing.

Bernard Joseph Cribbins: 29/12/1928 – 27/7/2022. So it goes.

Reelin’ in the Years 206: Broken Down Angel

I saw in the Guardian last week that Nazareth guitarist Manny Charlton has died.

Nazareth were one of the first Scottish groups – at least since (The) Marmalade – to have a succession of records featuring in the UK charts.

This was their first such hit.

Nazareth: Broken Down Angel

Manuel (Manny) Charlton: 25/7/1941 – 5/7/2022. So it goes.

Barbara Hepworth Exhibition at Modern Two, Edinburgh

Earlier this month we took in the Barbara Hepworth Exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Modern Two, Edinburgh.

The Exhibition is entitled Barbara Hepworth, Art and Life and is open till 2/10/2022.

As well as sculpture, for which Hepworth is most famous, there are some of her paintings on display. In the first room this one reminded me of Mondrian:-

Mondrian-like Barbara Hepworth Painting

Photograph of Contrapuntal Forms, a Hepworth sculpture displayed at the Festival of Britain’s South Bank site in London. Part of the Skylon can be seen in the background:-

Barbara Hepworth Sculpture at Festival of Britain

Room 2 had more early paintings. Apologies for the picture quality. I didn’t use flash as I assumed it wouldn’t be allowed:-

Paintings by Barbara Hepworth

These watercolours are very good:-

Barbara Hepworth Watercolours

Also in room 2, some typical Hepworth sculptures:-

Barbara Hepworth Sculptures

The leftmost one above, Dyad, caught the good lady’s eye:-

Dyad by Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth, Dyad, Different Angle

During World War 2 Hepworth’s access to sculptural materials was limited. This is one of the sketches she made as preparation for a sculpture:-

Barbara Hepworth Sketch for Sculpture

She even designed textiles:-

Textile by Barbara Hepworth

An ovoid sculpture with her characteristic smooth curves and voids:-

Ovoid, Barbara Hepworth Sculpture

A more traditional sculpture but still with her distinctive curves:-

A Barbara Hepworth Sculpture

Orpheus. An example of her use of strings. (See also background of Dyad, above):-

Orpheus by Barbara Hepworth

Thsi one seems to be very similar to one I photographed outside the Pier Art Centre, Stromness, a few weeks before:-

Barbara Hepworth Sculpture like one at Stromness

In Stromness:-

Barbara Hepworth Sculpture, Stromness

Pier Art Centre, Stromness, Barbara Hepworth Sculpture

Photograph of Winged Figure, John Lewis, London:-

Barbara Hepworth Sculpture, Winged Figure, John Lewis, London

Photograph of Hepworth beside one of her sculptures:-

Photo of Barbara Hepworth, Beside a Sculpture of Hers

Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle

Bowes Museum is housed in an imposing building in Barnard Castle, County Durham:-

Bowes museum, Barnard Castle,

Bowes Museum and formal garden. Barnard Castle’s War Memorial is in the distance to the right here:-

Bowes Museum + Garden

Model of Bowes Museum inside museum:-

Model of Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle

Topiary in formal garden. Barnard Castle War Memorial in background:-

Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, Topiary in Formal Garden

Topiary from museum’s upper floor. Barnard Castle War Memorial to back left:-

Topiary, Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle

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