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Archive for the month “November, 2012”

Blue moon

So this was the Moon at 7 am this morning when I started my first run of three for Friday. Boy was it crisp, Brrr!. Not blue – the moon that is [though could appear so given the right type of atmospheric conditions; volcanic eruptions/pollution] and just off of Full.

The expression ‘blue moon’ comes from the rare [once every 2 or 3 years] occurrence of two full moons in a calendar month. Due to the rarity of a blue moon, the term is used colloquially to mean a rare event, as in the phrase “once in a blue moon”.

7am west
Today I successfully completed my challenge to run the dates with 30 miles for Friday and 500 miles this month into the bargain. Now that’s a rare occurrence [much rarer than once every 2 or 3 years too].  Looking forward to a weekend rest.


Fork Handles

So, who invented the light bulb? Thomas Edison, right? Wrong! Mr Edison was a smart businessman who more often than not bought patents from other inventors, did some refining, and then marketed the products vigorously with his own brand. Woodward and Evans were the inventors, but were treated as crackpots, “Who needs a glowing piece of metal!!”

Amazing to think that for the vast majority of human civilization when the sun went down it was either pitch black or lit by oil or candle light [due to the availability of oil, candles were unknown in the West until the Middle Ages]. This thought always makes me think of Magritte’s Empire of Lights for some reason [or the fantastic Chiaroscuro candlelit works of Joseph Wright of Derby, especially the 1768 An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump].

I am fascinated by the fact that even before the advent of gas [let alone electricity] for municipal street lighting there were lamplighters [probably watchmen] whose job was to light all the street lamps by means of a wick on a long pole and to return at dawn to put them out again. And that early street lights were generally candles or oil with wicks.

He brought light in both his hands
Around the town each night
Lamplighter-Gvendur from long long ago

Luktar-Gvendur,  Björk & tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar, Gling-Gló, 1990

I really love this ‘optical illusion’ candlestick by British designer Maya Selway, which might easily be mistaken for a half-finished sketch. However, it is a real solid piece of art made entirely from oxidised copper. Clever.

Luna Sea

Hard to imagine that in a couple of weeks time it will be 40 years since Eugene Cernan became the last human to walk on the Moon. Considering the earliest memory I have of television is pressing myself against the fuzzy black and white screen as a toddler watching the first man to step on the Moon, it is almost [apart from technologies developed for/from the project – Teflon/dehydrated food/etc ] as if the Space Race never happened. Indeed there are probably those that still believe that all the moon landings were merely an expensive hoax; with elaborate stories about movie sets and faked photographs [or conversely that there is a thriving invisible to us/dark side of the moon community – think the recent movie Iron Sky].

Man has always been intrigued by the Moon, given that it is the brightest body in our night sky and appears to change colour/shape/size.

Of the most enduring myths concerning the Moon must be that it is linked to madness and that Werewolves come out with a full moon. The folklore story of the werewolf perhaps dates as far back as the ancient Greeks and still exists worldwide today. It supposes that a cursed human shape-shifts into a wolf at the dawning of a full moon.

I have been interested in Horror stories since a young teen, when I used to sneak downstairs late on a Friday night to watch the old Universal 1930’s and 40’s movies on BBC2. I must admit though that compared to the other classic ‘monsters’, Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Mummy, I always felt rather short changed by the werewolf. Lon Chaney, Jr was a decent actor and the transformation scene acceptable given leeway for the SFX of the time, but the fluffy teddy bear outcome always left me rather disappointed.

It wasn’t until An American Werewolf in London and The Howling that I feel the big studios got it right. Though of course the best werewolf movie is the one that is most often overlooked or forgotten as being about lycanthropes, the sophisticated The Company of Wolves based on Angela Carter’s short story collection The Bloody Chamber.

As we all know, Little Red Riding Hood wasn’t as innocent as most now believe. Enjoy the penultimate Full Moon of the year today.

Little Red Riding Hood, Gustave Dore, c 1867
Little Red Riding-Hood in Tales of Mother Goose

Pipe Dream?

Completed first of the longer long runs yesterday with 26.2 miles [yes I did the extra 0.2 miles just to make up to Marathon distance] so today will be the first Ultra [27 miles, 5+ hours] of hopefully four [27, 28, 29, 30], before this running challenge ends.

Following on from the last post, mechanical objects can easily become a whole life’s study on there own. Luckily I have no space or else I’d be knee deep in old machines.

Here’s a musical interlude from the excellent Animusic – Pipe Dream


I’ve always loved mechanical objects. The first I can clearly remember was a mechanical calculator given me by a grandfather around the time that handheld electronic calculators were becoming available. I remain fascinated by the workings of such devices. How the simple moving of parts [gears, cogs and levers] can yield complex results and how ultimately all mathematics boils  down to patterns and arrangements of things in space in relation to one another. Only small steps between the abacus and Pascal’s Calculator and on to modern computing power.

Amazing to think that the ancient Greeks had steam power and mechanical devices [the Antikythera mechanism discovered in 1901 as one example] worked out already but it took until the 14th Century for mechanical and astronomical clocks to be made in the West. Also astounding to think that whilst mechanical calculators had their zenith during WWII [bombsites and encryption/decoding machines] and were in widespread use until the 1970’s, they still had a place as late as 2002 aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft as part of Globus IMP instruments.

I believe that a main reason why Steampunk as a literary genre [also increasingly akin to Goths and Gothic, as a culture and lifestyle choice] is so appealing is our desire to re-engage with the sense of touch that has been lost to us since the birth of the digital age. And of course as humans we are programmed to love seeing things move.

John Lash –

naval manoeuvres

As a lover of all things esoteric [as well as being of a mathematical bent] I have always been interested in the intersection between the spiritual and the geographical. Particularly as this relates to actual artifacts placed in the world and the abstract representation of the physical world [the map].

Examples might be omphalos / trig markers / boundary stones / the locations where four [or more] states/countries meet / ley lines / etc

Though Earth Rod covers in pavements mark nothing more mysterious than the location of an earthing / grounding pole for electrical discharge, I admit the first time I saw one I was forced to imagine it as the site of a missing pole for keeping the  firmament up, akin to Piero Manzoni’s 1961 sculpture SOCLE DU MONDE, socle magic n. 3 de Piero Manzoni, homage a Galileo, which is supporting the Earth.

I then happened across other instances of Earth Rod markers from time to time and so came to see them as a more mundane, but still secret, network of tent pole base plates for the erection of huge marquees to completely enclose whole neighbourhoods given undisclosed emergency criteria.

Whatever my fanciful imaginings of supposed purposes, I remain convinced that a mapping of Earth Rod locations must surely reveal some wonderfully elaborate net of points mirroring the carved knotted nets on ancient omphaloi.

Any old iron

So the cause célèbre in East London this last few weeks is the placement/sale/ownership of public art. Always a tricky one when most confuse ‘worth’ and ‘value’. To my mind value is the monetary price placed on an artwork for insurance and collector’s bragging rights reasons, worth is a larger much more difficult to define arena. When great art houses say an artwork is ‘priceless’ they actually mean they can’t work out it’s worth [in terms of how it is regarded by the Nation / value to tourism etc] as all works will have been given a $£ tag for insurance purposes [all artworks being unique are of course irreplaceable].

Draped Seated Woman [aka ‘Old Flo’] , Henry Moore, 1957

Experts are warning of a wave of public art sales by local authorities after Tower Hamlets agreed to sell a Henry Moore statue, donated by the artist on the understanding it would be left permanently on open-air display for the enjoyment of people in a socially deprived area of London.

The Guardian, 7th November 2012

I feel for the local authority; seemingly in a no-win situation. On the one hand they have a £100 million deficit to somehow balance  [in an area of some of the worst deprivation], on the other they have an artwork which easily attracts vandalism/graffiti and even risks theft [and arguably until recently wasn’t even that well known]. The 1.5 tonne work was given to the people of the East End as a ‘gift’ for a knock-down price in 1962 by the artist to be erected on a working-class council housing estate, but was sent to Yorkshire Sculpture Park for ‘safe keeping’ when the estate was pulled down in 1997.

One of the main issues is who actually owns artworks bought by local councils, with locals’ money and for their benefit? Especially when sold at under market value by an artist wishing a populace to have access to their art. A much trickier situation though is when artworks are actually privately owned but being visible to the public for a long period of time become regarded as publicly owned.

The Artist as Hephaestus, Eduardo Paolozzi, 1987.

This privately owned, giant bronze statue by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi [which I have to confess I thought was merely an OTT advertisement for a trendy upmarket pizzeria the first time I happened across it] had been on public display in central London for 25 years on the pavement in front of a private office at 34-36 High Holborn [who’s facade was designed around it] but I noticed two days ago the the niche is now empty.

Of course in both of these examples [though by no means a perfect solution] a possible compromise would be to have high quality replicas made and installed? Afterall it is a common practice for artworks on display in National galleries.

A frightening fact is that there is no national audit of public art in England and no at-risk list. Many public sculptures are not listed at all [Councils often don’t even know what artworks are in their area]. Indeed according to English Heritage, less than 15% of the estimated 10,000 pieces of sculpture in public spaces are included on their register of listed buildings. A large number of works are ‘orphaned’;  no one knows who they’re by or who owns them.

The Artist as Hephaestus sold at Bonham’s this week for £140,000.

Draped Seated Woman is expected to be sold at Christie’s in February 2013.

Gone in 240 seconds

So I admit it! After more than fifty daily posts in a row, today time got away with me. I was going to therefore simply post an ‘interlude‘ placeholder from yesteryear; perhaps the potter’s wheel or the kitten playing with the ball of string. But then a flash of inspiration and serendipity again!

In the 1950’s in the UK much Television was live/unrecorded and therefore ‘technical’ difficulties were more than likely to occur from time to time [also due to the television valve technology]. Those clever TV boffins therefore came up with little entertaining time-fillers to keep the audience glued to their sets. As the interruptions were usually quite short the little ‘skits’ were also kept brief. I remember even as a child in the 1970’s that these short films would occasionally still be aired [hard to believe that as little as 30 years ago in the UK there were still only three TV channels and they only broadcast from lunchtime {programs for schools in the mornings} till midnight; whence the National Anthem and close down. Oh that little white dot of the TV signal going off …]

One interlude that always fascinated me was the London to Brighton in 4 minutes film.

Given the Brighton Rock post yesterday this seemed quite appropriate a ‘regular transmissions resume tomorrow’ offering. Though this has of course now turned into a regular post about interludes.

Some things to note from this 60 years ago film. There are still steam engines [1.29][3.18][4.45] in 1952 [post WWII]. Tickets are inspected by hand. Guards still signal by whistle and flag. Men still wear hats. Smoking is allowed in the station/on the platform/train. Battersea power station [1.12] is still operating. The plummy voice of the BBC announcer [no regional accents back then]. The fact that ‘trick photography’ is explained.

Brighton Rock Unseen

Serendipity. So here am I undertaking a little running challenge this month and, having spent 10 years setting up and running [excuse the pun] grassroots art galleries and organisations in the East End of London, curating, making, etc etc, I find myself still on dozens of different mailing lists.

Today this info popped into my mailbox:

As part of Cine-city,  Brighton Rock Unseen is a series of stills from a key scene in Brighton’s cinematic history: Fred Hale’s run to the Palace Pier in the 1947 film Brighton Rock. Shot by Harry Waxman using hidden cameras, the real and fictional collide as Brightonians are captured going about their business as Fred runs for his life through the city. These still images from the classic 1947 film noir, place the bystanders centre stage, revealing hidden details behind one of the country’s best loved crime thrillers, the film that put Brighton on the movie map.

I’ve always loved movie chase scenes [in all their different guises] from the sewer chase of The Third Man to the rooftop pursuit [actually a maguffin] of Vertigo to Bullitt‘s car chase to Live and Let Die‘s speedboat chase to the unrelenting pursuit of the eponymous Terminator to the snowmobile chase in Die Hard II to the Parkour Chase of Casino Royale. Often however one feels they are there just because the film-makers’ bible says “30 minutes in, time for a chase scene”.  Even more dire is the Hollywood ‘one-upmanship’ evident in many chases; you chase with cars, I’ll chase with trucks or helicopters or jumbo jets or … whereas the most thrilling chase scene is a simple, well executed, intelligent foot-chase [though I’ve always questioned the trope of chasees automatically running ‘up’ whilst trying to escape their chasers; up tall buildings, up mountains, up radio antenna].

Afterall a great foot chase scene has a low-fi kinetic energy that is universal; we’ve all had to run, so when watching Jason Bourne legging it through the narrow streets of Morocco our legs tingle with memory because the sense of running is deeply carved into our psych.

What I really love about the Brighton Rock ‘chase’ scene is that only the protagonist is ever seen running [arguably the only chaser is the soundtrack?]  and the very British [1940’s British that is] carrying of his coat over his arm, even though he is running for his life! An altogether very genteel kind of chase  given the ‘brutality’ of this noir masterpiece based on the Graham Greene novel.

21 Today 21 Today

So, when Persia was dust, all cried, “To Acropolis!
Run, Pheidippides, one race more! the meed is thy due!
Athens is saved, thank Pan, go shout!” He flung down his shield
Ran like fire once more: and the space ‘twixt the fennel-field
And Athens was stubble again, a field which a fire runs through,
Till in he broke: “Rejoice, we conquer!” Like wine through clay,
Joy in his blood bursting his heart, – the bliss!

Pheidippides, Robert Browning, 1879.

Today marks 3 weeks since I started my challenge to ‘run the dates’ i.e. to run the same number of miles [or more] each and every day as the date in the month; 21st of November therefore equals 21 miles to complete today. And it’s starting to get difficult at around 4 hours of running a day now [and increasing by 11 minutes a day, or more] given that whilst I trained for an Ultra event for 9 months this year I have never been above 100 miles in a week before and I am now up to 122 miles in the last seven days [will be 129 if today is completed successfully].

I thought I’d share a potted history of longer distance events and some noteworthy achievements that I find inspirational in my quest and demonstrate how truly amazing the human body is and the heights to which the mind can soar [and conversely how very much most of us therefore limit ourselves in modern life] given that arguably we are natural long distance runners.

Panathenaic amphora [333-332 BC] in the British Museum, depicting three long-distance runners.

490 BC: Although Ultra distance running is a relatively recent sport, beginning in the late 1860’s [in the Western world anyway: think the Native American Rarámuri people of northwestern Mexico who are renowned for their long-distance running ability], there are well known examples from the ancient world. Most know the story of Pheidippides, at least in part [though the story is most likely a ‘romantic invention’ based on several different exploits], as alluded to in the Browning poem. The 280-mile run between Athens and Sparta and back again over two/three days, then the 25 miles from the Marathon battlefield back to Athens whence the famous words “Joy, we win!” before expiring.

1888: Though there were races over long distances as wagers between the running footman of the aristocracy and gentry in the 18th Century it wasn’t until the late 19th Century that ‘Pedestrianism’ caught on as a sporting event when the six-day walk became a fiercely competitive, big money, big crowd indoor sport [with a “Long-Distance Championship of the World”] and records topping 600 miles by 1888 when interest in the six-day event was waning and events had become “go-as-you-please”, i.e competitors could run if they wished.

1921: In the early 1900’s pedestrianism had died out as bicycle and automobile racing took all the attention and sponsors’ money, but the first South African 90 km Comrades Marathon, held to commemorate soldiers who died during World War I, reawakened interest in ultra events and has since become the world’s largest race above the marathon distance [now capped at 13,000 participants].

1953: The 54 mile London to Brighton Ultramarathon [along a popular car touring route] was inaugurated [though a race was held over this course regularly since 1899].

1970’s: The ‘running boom’ of participation in marathons begins a resurgence of popular interest in longer distance running. In 1973 the 24-hour event is revived and races are held in Italy, South Africa and Great Britain.

1982: Five British RAF officers set out to prove that the journey of Greek messenger Pheidippides from Athens to Sparta is indeed feasible. The next year the Spartathlon is born; a now annual 245 km race along the historic route.

1984: Yiannis Kouros sets 16 world records at a New York 6-day race [some of which had stood since 1888] smashing the existing records at every time greater than 12 hours. Later that year he set a new 24 hour world record of 177 miles.

1986: The inauguration of the seven day Marathon des Sables, across the Moroccan Sahara. This is considered by many to be one of the toughest events in the world. Another noticeable example is the Badwater race in Nevada, which aims to go from the lowest to the highest point in the continental United States over a distance of 135 miles.

1997: The longest certified road race in the world, the 3,100 mile Self-Transcendence Race is inaugurated by the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team. The current course record is 41 days 08:16:29, set by Wolfgang Schwerk in 2006.

2005: Jesper Olsen completes his circumnavigation of the world, running 26,000 km across four continents over a period of only 22 months.

2005: Dean Karnazes completed one of the most awe inspiring runs of all time when he ran nonstop for over 80 hours and covered an incredible 350-miles around the San Francisco Bay area.

Today I completed a mere 22 miles … for 130 miles this week.

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