Well, I know the sub-title of this, my five hundredth post (imagine how many figures I could have painted using that time instead of writing rubbish), sounds a bit like the title of a James Burke TV series, or is reminiscent of that Michel Legrand song:
Now, I have always been interested in space and space travel and was allowed to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing live (yes, I am that old). One Christmas I got all the Airfix space models: Saturn V, Lunar module and the rather unloved Sikorsky Sea King. Through all these early astronomical interests it was the hip computer salesman image of James Burke that was my hero rather than the prattling eccentric that was Patrick Moore (although I have to be careful as the latter was a close friend of my father-in-law) or the laconic drone of Raymond Baxter (another friend of my father in law, because of their work on the Dunkirk Little Ships charity). Emerging from Tomorrows World,
like the sun appearing from behind the moon after an eclipse, Burke's engagingly frenetic Apollo coverage led to his first big show The Burke Special
(I can still sing the hip and groovy theme tune). I went to a recording of this when I was at school (sometime between 1972 and 1976) thanks to my aunt's contacts at the BBC, despite my mother's amused derision at his last name.
Baxter v Burke: I know you were a Spitfire pilot but I'm about to go supernova on TV
Burke was about the only person in the seventies who used the word "technology" (which he did a lot) although he was not
the only person to wear a safari suit (which he also did a lot). Then came his next series Connections,
where he was taken out of the studio and hurled himself into one of those globe trotting documentary series that are now all too common but in those days were very unusual. I realised then that he was a very clever man indeed
. I watched The Real Thing
and The Day the Universe Changed
but then he disappeared from the BBC and was banished to American cable stations. Despite this he had an enormous influence on the way TV science programmes have been presented subsequently. He was, for example the first TV presenter who proved he could walk and talk at the same time.
The rights to his DVDs aren't owned by the BBC and while you can get them from the US they are fabulously expensive so you have to confine yourself to fuzzy YouTube versions. I saw him in the Underwriting Room at Lloyd's in the early nineties, filming a follow up to Connections,
complete with white suit. Excellent, I thought, he'll soon be back on TV...but he wasn't. Not in Britain, anyway. Too clever a man for UK audiences, seemed to be the BBC view as they plunged ever downwards towards the lowest common denominator. It was, therefore, very good to hear him back on BBC Radio 4 last September as a follow up to a piece he did for Radio Times
in 1973 where he was asked to predict the world in 1993.
He correctly predicted the fact that ordinary people would be able to access enormous amounts of information (or "data" as he always called it) via the rise of personal computers, IVF treatment and cheap airlines. This time, interestingly, he predicted that by 2040 people will start the process that will eventually lead, by 2103, to them being able to make everything
they need for their lives with nano-fabricators; a sort of molecular level 3D printer. You bung in earth, air and water and acetylene gas and through molecular manipulation produce anything you want: chorizo sausage, a Rolex Daytona, Alma-Tadema's In the Tepidarium
, Chateau Lafite 1966, an Airfix kit of the SS Canberra, Perry miniatures etc, virtually free. Of course, even if this does happen and it is possible
it may take much longer than that. Back in the sixties and seventies people in programmes like Tomorrow's World
and in magazines like Look & Learn
were always banging on about how we would soon be able to fly from London to Australia in ninety minutes by hypersonic plane. We still don't have any hypersonic airliners, possibly because no one has answered the question as to why we should spend billions of pounds developing a plane that can fly to Australia.
Burke today. Still very, very clever but better dressed
Burke's utopian future, where everyone is their own world creator, not dependent on companies to manufacture things, also ignores the obvious: that the people who make the money (which he says will be irrelevant in the future) out of nano-fabricators will be those who write the programmes to create the objects. In a way it will be like those firms that make those tragic paper model soldiers and scenery. You
make them yourself at home but they
create the software you need to do so and you pay them for that.
Anyway, we have been comparing extension notes with our neighbours who live next door but one (the other side of The Rolling Stones logo designer) as they have just had a big extension put on the back of their house. It's not a fiddling little one like ours but runs the whole width of the house at the back. As we discovered, when we visited it the other week, the main purpose of it was so our neighbour (who is from Gibraltar and works in advertising but is otherwise reasonably normal) could put an observatory on the back. Not a conservatory,
for potted palms, ugly Habitat rugs, cane furniture and glass coffee tables to hold your copies of The World of Interiors
but an observatory
for star gazing. It has a special floor which doesn't transmit vibrations. It has an electric retractable roof. It has three computer controlled telescopes bolted to the floor (and four free standing ones) where you just type in the co-ordinates of the star you want to look at and "bzzz" it goes straight there.
My moon globe was just like this one- except I didn't keep mine upside down!
I've only looked at the moon once before through a telescope and that was a reasonable one which my father in law uses from the balcony in Cowes. Excellent for observing sailing races and underdressed French women on yachts approaching the harbour for Cowes Week. This was something else however. Extraordinary detail was revealed of the surface of the moon. The neighbour seemed surprised that I knew the names of many of its features but then I had a moon globe when I was small because of my Apollo fixation.
I took this picture with my normal camera from the Isle of Wight last summer- imagine what it looks like through a £12,000 telescope
Then we looked at Mars and you could clearly see the polar ice cap and then Saturn and its rings. Most amazing of all was Jupiter with three moons all in a line and the big red spot. It's all there, seemingly just above you. I was in Surrey and I could see the Moons of Jupiter! It was all a bit Arthur C Clarke. We went around there intending to stay for twenty minutes and stayed three and a half hours.
Now the Legatus is not a deep thinker. I do not spend my time wondering about where I fit in the universe, what the meaning of life is or even what the future holds. I work on a much more basic level. Where am I going to have lunch? What wine shall I buy? (25% off in Waitrose last week and our 15% discount on top, so I stocked up on regional French wine for the Tour de France). What DVD shall I watch tonight? (Sirens
, I think) When am I next going to see one of my particular lady friends? (Nothing arranged. Grrr!) More importantly, what model soldiers am I going to buy next? More on that in my next post. So, given the basic nature of my drivers I was somewhat surprise to find that I have spent quite a lot of time thinking about the size of the universe this quarter, following my visit to the observatory down the road. Maybe I need to go up into the loft and find an Airfix rocket of some description to bring myself down to earth, mentally!
Newtown Harbour, Isle of Wight. It's quiet. And dark!
What I really need to do is replicate the spaced-out experience but with some nice wine and some appropriate music on the iPod. Hmm. Not easy in the light polluted south east of England but there is one place not far from here where the skies are extraordinarily clear: Newtown Harbour on the Isle of Wight where you can regularly see the Milky Way (the galaxy not the chocolate bar. Actually Galaxy
is a chocolate bar as well, of course. And not to mention the Mars Bar
. Much to the delight of the press a few years ago, Helen Sharman, the first Briton in space, used to work for Mars in their chocolate flavouring department). Incidentally, speaking of chocolate bars we have been buying Penguin
biscuits for the builders and they are tiny. And don't give me all that rot about my hands having got bigger. I would estimate that they are at least a third smaller than they used to be. As my daughter would say: "scummage!" The trouble is with Newtown Harbour is that you can only really get there by boat as the landward route involves walking along a precipitous wooden bridge which, while bigger than the old one it replaced a few years ago, you still wouldn't want to do it in the dark!
It's not just about space for me at present though, its about circles or, rather, discs. The main ones driving me mad at the moment are those which constitute my DVD collection. Having bought some cases for them a few weeks ago I thought I would have them all tucked away by now, but no. All enthused I filled the first case of 500 in one evening but I haven't touched them since. This is because putting 500 away has made virtually no difference whatsoever to what is left piled up in my study. It's all a bit depressing. If someone had asked how many DVDs I had got I might have guessed 750. Its looking like three or four times that now. Oh well! Must get back to it!
Metric on the left Imperial on the right
To conclude on an actual wargaming point, I am becoming obsessed with what circles I can use to base my skirmish figures. The quest for 13/16" washers in Britain has proven utterly futile and now I only have five left. I have been looking at pennies but apart from the fact that I don't want to deface the Queen's currency (although I don't think it is an offence anymore) they are still just that little bit too small. I also don't think they are magnetic. I have thought about giving up on the magnetic aspect and seeing if someone like Litko could laser cut me some or even contacting a washer manufacturer and seeing if they can make some for me. The set up costs would be horrible though. I could order them from the US but the postage will be huge. Of course, anyone else would just move to 20mm washers. Actually, the real idiocy is that I was spending 5 pence on a washer instead of using a 1 pence piece. One thing I am now contemplating is prizing off the washers on some of the hundreds of figures I have based but not painted so that my existing armies won't suffer from mixed base syndrome. Maybe I'll just have to give in! As my daughter said, "who but you will ever notice?" But that, perhaps, is the point.
So having got my 500th post out the way my next one will actually show that I have finished eight figures last weekend! I got a big work thing out the way this week so hope to be able to have a bit more time to paint this weekend.
Music wise I could only really be listening to Holst's The Planets.
This is one of the first pieces of classical music I owned, when I got a cassette player for Christmas in 1971. I never get tired of it, although Mars
, my least favourite movement, does get done to death a bit on Classic FM. The best movement for gazing at the moons of Jupiter, of course, is not actually Jupiter
as that is, naturally, for too jolly. It has to be the mysterious Neptune
which I remember listening to when reading Arthur C Clarke's The Lost Worlds of 2001
and finding it spookily appropriate.
Of course Holst wrote The Planets
before the discovery of Pluto in 1930, so it was not included in the suite. After the discovery of Pluto, Holst was asked to write an extra movement but refused, increasingly annoyed by the popularity of The Planets
at the expense of his other works. In 2000 the Halle Orchestra commissioned Colin Matthews to compose an eighth movement called Pluto The Renewer.
It's actually been recorded twice but isn't performed very often because it is a bit rubbish really and sounds like a minor Star Trek
film soundtrack cue.