Friday 30 January 2009

Grapefruit Moon, Tom Waits

Over at Red Dirt Mule there's a bit of a Moon theme going on.... She missed this one.
Well, I dare say she missed a plethora of other moons too, but this one I always liked, by Tom Waits, -others have performed it, Southside Johnny, Nanci Griffith, but Tom's gravel voice is the one that works for me.

Grapefruit moon, one star shining, shining down on me.
Heard that tune, and now I'm pining, honey, can't you see?
'Cause every time I hear that melody, well, something breaks inside,
And the grapefruit moon, one star shining, can't turn back the tide.

Never had no destination, could not get across.
You became my inspiration, oh but what a cost.
'Cause every time I hear that melody, well, something breaks inside,
And the grapefruit moon, one star shining, is more than I can hide.

Now I'm smoking cigarettes and I strive for purity,
And I slip just like the stars into obscurity.
'Cause every time I hear that melody, well, puts me up a tree,
And the grapefruit moon, one star shining, is all that I can see.

Spammer Alert.

I hate spammers. Some low creature posted a comment on my blog recently, under the heading of "Antique Doorknob", I replied thus;-
"Antique Doorknob,
I revile spammers like you in the highest, you piss-poor excuse for a human. Spammers are the cockroaches of the internet, they are the filthy bottom-feeders, the stinking corruption, the slime.....
Ahhh, someone else said it better fully four hundred years ago:

"You common cry of curs! whose breath I hate
As reek o' the rotten fens, whose loves I prize
As the dead carcasses of unburied men
That do corrupt my air, I banish you;
And here remain with your uncertainty!
Let every feeble rumour shake your hearts!
Your enemies, with nodding of their plumes,
Fan you into despair! Have the power still
To banish your defenders; till at length
Your ignorance, which finds not till it feels,
Making not reservation of yourselves,
Still your own foes, deliver you as most
Abated captives to some nation
That won you without blows! Despising,
For you, the spammers, thus I turn my back:
There is a world elsewhere."

And your spam is deleted. Begone, stinkpit."

This coprophilic slitherer posted a "comment" that was just a heap of links. No, I did not follow or examine any of them. I just deleted them, as I will with all others of the spamfilth ilk.

I don't know who follows these links, I assume the pillocks who perpetrate this abomination make money somehow out of it, but not with my help.
Delete, delete, delete.

Okay. I've had a quick rant, I feel better now.

Wednesday 28 January 2009

A Tough Day in the Lighthouse

Life's a bit stormy right now. Calm will come, eventually.

These Lighthouses are at Raz de Seine, Finisterre, Brittany, France.
Strong tides and thirty miles of rocky reefs cause this area to be a sailor's nightmare in bad weather.

The top of the lantern is 33.9metres (110 feet) above mean sea level.

La Vielle was completed in 1887: it was originally manned by two keepers, but has been automated, since the 14th November, (my birthday!) 1995.

"To the south the water is shallow. To the east and west, mooring is not possible due to marine currents ranging from six to fifteen knots. La Vieille can thus only be approached from the north side, and even then only during the three days either side of the quarter moon, if the sea is perfectly calm. If the sea is rough, swirling backwaters of 40 to 50 metres can be present."

P.S. Such is the odd nature of the internet, and the propagation of ideas and images that I'm no longer surprised when multiple sites post similar things at similar times.

Robert, at A Welsh View
posted the same video on the same day, and I'm pretty sure he did not copy from me, nor I from him, I'd been trawling You-tube for video of storms, and it was a toss-up between this and a trawler in heavy weather off Iceland.
So I like serendipity, and I like the quirky things A Welsh View posts, and I'm 50% Welsh myself, so iechydd da, Robert!, I recommend my readers check out your site. Keep your toes above the waves, boyo!

Tuesday 27 January 2009

The Day the Saucers Came -Neil Gaiman

That day, the saucers landed.
Hundreds of them, golden,

Silent, coming down from the sky like great snowflakes,

And the people of Earth stood and stared as they descended,

Waiting, dry-mouthed to find what waited inside for us

And none of us knowing if we would be here tomorrow

But you didn't notice it because

That day, the day the saucers came, by some coincidence,

Was the day that the graves gave up their dead

And the zombies pushed up through soft earth

or erupted, shambling and dull-eyed, unstoppable,

Came towards us, the living, and we screamed and ran,

But you did not notice this because

On the saucer day, which was the zombie day, it was

Ragnarok also, and the television screens showed us

A ship built of dead-man's nails, a serpent, a wolf,

All bigger than the mind could hold, and the cameraman could

Not get far enough away, and then the Gods came out

But you did not see them coming because

On the saucer-zombie-battling gods day the floodgates broke

And each of us was engulfed by genies and sprites

Offering us wishes and wonders and eternities

And charm and cleverness and true brave hearts and pots of gold

While giants feefofummed across the land, and killer bees,

But you had no idea of any of this because

That day, the saucer day the zombie day

The Ragnarok and fairies day, the day the great winds came

And snows, and the cities turned to crystal, the day

All plants died, plastics dissolved, the day the

Computers turned, the screens telling us we would obey, the day

Angels, drunk and muddled, stumbled from the bars,

And all the bells of London were sounded, the day

Animals spoke to us in Assyrian, the Yeti day,

The fluttering capes and arrival of the Time Machine day,

You didn't notice any of this because

you were sitting in your room, not doing anything

not even reading, not really, just

looking at your telephone,

wondering if I was going to call.

Friday 23 January 2009

Corkscrewing, Style, Panache, Revisited.

More toys for boys, more snow transport machinery.
-Some time ago, I posted a video showing a helical screw-propelled vehicle developed by Zil in Russia, which provided transport on snow, ice, marsh and scrubland, and appeared to be pretty invincible, yet did not seem to have been developed further. Some years ago, a british team attempted to cross the Bering Straits with a similar vehicle, and competitors on Britain's Channel 4's "Scrapheap Challenge" built one as a tugboat.

Scrapheap Challenge Machine

Here, without apology, is the Zil 29061 again.

However, I just recently came across an earlier incidence of a similar machine, built by Armistead in Michigan, filmed in 1924, here, it's a longish clip but worth watching especially for the car conversion toward the end:

Armstead Snow Motors from Seeking Michigan on Vimeo.

I saw this elsewhere being touted as a russian invention of the nineteen thirties, there are some pictures of a similar device in deep snow. Also, elsewhere, you might find a nineteen thirties claim that an Austrian invented it. However, perusal of the Austrian video shows something remarkably like an Armstead, It's quite possible, of course that great minds think alike. Yet these things seem to have hit an evolutionary dead end. Given the evidence in the video, they seem to work pretty convincingly. Why then did they not thrive? what hidden flaw or achilles heel did they have?
Anybody who knows, please enlighten me.

Sunday 11 January 2009

"Shooting an Elephant" George Orwell (1936)

In Moulmein, in lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people—the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me. I was sub-divisional police officer of the town, and in an aimless, petty kind of way anti-European feeling was very bitter. No one had the guts to raise a riot, but if a European woman went through the bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress. As a police officer I was an obvious target and was baited whenever it seemed safe to do so. When a nimble Burman tripped me up on the football field and the referee (another Burman) looked the other way, the crowd yelled with hideous laughter. This happened more than once. In the end the sneering yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere, the insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my nerves. The young Buddhist priests were the worst of all. There were several thousands of them in the town and none of them seemed to have anything to do except stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans.

All this was perplexing and upsetting. For at that time I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it the better. Theoretically—and secretly, of course—I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British. As for the job I was doing, I hated it more bitterly than I can perhaps make clear. In a job like that you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters. The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been Bogged with bamboos—all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt. But I could get nothing into perspective. I was young and ill-educated and I had had to think out my problems in the utter silence that is imposed on every Englishman in the East. I did not even know that the British Empire is dying, still less did I know that it is a great deal better than the younger empires that are going to supplant it. All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible. With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, IN SAECULA SAECULORUM, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest’s guts. Feelings like these are the normal by-products of imperialism; ask any Anglo-Indian official, if you can catch him off duty.

One day something happened which in a roundabout way was enlightening. It was a tiny incident in itself, but it gave me a better glimpse than I had had before of the real nature of imperialism—the real motives for which despotic governments act. Early one morning the sub-inspector at a police station the other end of the town rang me up on the phone and said that an elephant was ravaging the bazaar. Would I please come and do something about it? I did not know what I could do, but I wanted to see what was happening and I got on to a pony and started out. I took my rifle, an old .44 Winchester and much too small to kill an elephant, but I thought the noise might be useful IN TERROREM. Various Burmans stopped me on the way and told me about the elephant’s doings. It was not, of course, a wild elephant, but a tame one which had gone “must.” It had been chained up, as tame elephants always are when their attack of “must” is due, but on the previous night it had broken its chain and escaped. Its mahout, the only person who could manage it when it was in that state, had set out in pursuit, but had taken the wrong direction and was now twelve hours’ journey away, and in the morning the elephant had suddenly reappeared in the town. The Burmese population had no weapons and were quite helpless against it. It had already destroyed somebody’s bamboo hut, killed a cow and raided some fruit-stalls and devoured the stock; also it had met the municipal rubbish van and, when the driver jumped out and took to his heels, had turned the van over and inflicted violences upon it.

The Burmese sub-inspector and some Indian constables were waiting for me in the quarter where the elephant had been seen. It was a very poor quarter, a labyrinth of squalid bamboo huts, thatched with palmleaf, winding all over a steep hillside. I remember that it was a cloudy, stuffy morning at the beginning of the rains. We began questioning the people as to where the elephant had gone and, as usual, failed to get any definite information. That is invariably the case in the East; a story always sounds clear enough at a distance, but the nearer you get to the scene of events the vaguer it becomes. Some of the people said that the elephant had gone in one direction, some said that he had gone in another, some professed not even to have heard of any elephant. I had almost made up my mind that the whole story was a pack of lies, when we heard yells a little distance away. There was a loud, scandalized cry of “Go away, child! Go away this instant!” and an old woman with a switch in her hand came round the corner of a hut, violently shooing away a crowd of naked children. Some more women followed, clicking their tongues and exclaiming; evidently there was something that the children ought not to have seen. I rounded the hut and saw a man’s dead body sprawling in the mud. He was an Indian, a black Dravidian coolie, almost naked, and he could not have been dead many minutes. The people said that the elephant had come suddenly upon him round the corner of the hut, caught him with its trunk, put its foot on his back and ground him into the earth. This was the rainy season and the ground was soft, and his face had scored a trench a foot deep and a couple of yards long. He was lying on his belly with arms crucified and head sharply twisted to one side. His face was coated with mud, the eyes wide open, the teeth bared and grinning with an expression of unendurable agony. (Never tell me, by the way, that the dead look peaceful. Most of the corpses I have seen looked devilish.) The friction of the great beast’s foot had stripped the skin from his back as neatly as one skins a rabbit. As soon as I saw the dead man I sent an orderly to a friend’s house nearby to borrow an elephant rifle. I had already sent back the pony, not wanting it to go mad with fright and throw me if it smelt the elephant.

The orderly came back in a few minutes with a rifle and five cartridges, and meanwhile some Burmans had arrived and told us that the elephant was in the paddy fields below, only a few hundred yards away. As I started forward practically the whole population of the quarter flocked out of the houses and followed me. They had seen the rifle and were all shouting excitedly that I was going to shoot the elephant. They had not shown much interest in the elephant when he was merely ravaging their homes, but it was different now that he was going to be shot. It was a bit of fun to them, as it would be to an English crowd; besides they wanted the meat. It made me vaguely uneasy. I had no intention of shooting the elephant—I had merely sent for the rifle to defend myself if necessary—and it is always unnerving to have a crowd following you. I marched down the hill, looking and feeling a fool, with the rifle over my shoulder and an ever-growing army of people jostling at my heels. At the bottom, when you got away from the huts, there was a metalled road and beyond that a miry waste of paddy fields a thousand yards across, not yet ploughed but soggy from the first rains and dotted with coarse grass. The elephant was standing eight yards from the road, his left side towards us. He took not the slightest notice of the crowd’s approach. He was tearing up bunches of grass, beating them against his knees to clean them and stuffing them into his mouth.

I had halted on the road. As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him. It is a serious matter to shoot a working elephant—it is comparable to destroying a huge and costly piece of machinery—and obviously one ought not to do it if it can possibly be avoided. And at that distance, peacefully eating, the elephant looked no more dangerous than a cow. I thought then and I think now that his attack of “must” was already passing off; in which case he would merely wander harmlessly about until the mahout came back and caught him. Moreover, I did not in the least want to shoot him. I decided that I would watch him for a little while to make sure that he did not turn savage again, and then go home.

But at that moment I glanced round at the crowd that had followed me. It was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute. It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd—seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the “natives,” and so in every crisis he has got to do what the “natives” expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing—no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.

But I did not want to shoot the elephant. I watched him beating his bunch of grass against his knees, with that preoccupied grandmotherly air that elephants have. It seemed to me that it would be murder to shoot him. At that age I was not squeamish about killing animals, but I had never shot an elephant and never wanted to. (Somehow it always seems worse to kill a LARGE animal.) Besides, there was the beast’s owner to be considered. Alive, the elephant was worth at least a hundred pounds; dead, he would only be worth the value of his tusks, five pounds, possibly. But I had got to act quickly. I turned to some experienced-looking Burmans who had been there when we arrived, and asked them how the elephant had been behaving. They all said the same thing: he took no notice of you if you left him alone, but he might charge if you went too close to him.

It was perfectly clear to me what I ought to do. I ought to walk up to within, say, twenty-five yards of the elephant and test his behavior. If he charged, I could shoot; if he took no notice of me, it would be safe to leave him until the mahout came back. But also I knew that I was going to do no such thing. I was a poor shot with a rifle and the ground was soft mud into which one would sink at every step. If the elephant charged and I missed him, I should have about as much chance as a toad under a steam-roller. But even then I was not thinking particularly of my own skin, only of the watchful yellow faces behind. For at that moment, with the crowd watching me, I was not afraid in the ordinary sense, as I would have been if I had been alone. A white man mustn’t be frightened in front of “natives”; and so, in general, he isn’t frightened. The sole thought in my mind was that if anything went wrong those two thousand Burmans would see me pursued, caught, trampled on and reduced to a grinning corpse like that Indian up the hill. And if that happened it was quite probable that some of them would laugh. That would never do.

There was only one alternative. I shoved the cartridges into the magazine and lay down on the road to get a better aim. The crowd grew very still, and a deep, low, happy sigh, as of people who see the theatre curtain go up at last, breathed from innumerable throats. They were going to have their bit of fun after all. The rifle was a beautiful German thing with cross-hair sights. I did not then know that in shooting an elephant one would shoot to cut an imaginary bar running from ear-hole to ear-hole. I ought, therefore, as the elephant was sideways on, to have aimed straight at his ear-hole, actually I aimed several inches in front of this, thinking the brain would be further forward.

When I pulled the trigger I did not hear the bang or feel the kick—one never does when a shot goes home—but I heard the devilish roar of glee that went up from the crowd. In that instant, in too short a time, one would have thought, even for the bullet to get there, a mysterious, terrible change had come over the elephant. He neither stirred nor fell, but every line of his body had altered. He looked suddenly stricken, shrunken, immensely old, as though the frighfful impact of the bullet had paralysed him without knocking him down. At last, after what seemed a long time—it might have been five seconds, I dare say—he sagged flabbily to his knees. His mouth slobbered. An enormous senility seemed to have settled upon him. One could have imagined him thousands of years old. I fired again into the same spot. At the second shot he did not collapse but climbed with desperate slowness to his feet and stood weakly upright, with legs sagging and head drooping. I fired a third time. That was the shot that did for him. You could see the agony of it jolt his whole body and knock the last remnant of strength from his legs. But in falling he seemed for a moment to rise, for as his hind legs collapsed beneath him he seemed to tower upward like a huge rock toppling, his trunk reaching skyward like a tree. He trumpeted, for the first and only time. And then down he came, his belly towards me, with a crash that seemed to shake the ground even where I lay.

I got up. The Burmans were already racing past me across the mud. It was obvious that the elephant would never rise again, but he was not dead. He was breathing very rhythmically with long rattling gasps, his great mound of a side painfully rising and falling. His mouth was wide open—I could see far down into caverns of pale pink throat. I waited a long time for him to die, but his breathing did not weaken. Finally I fired my two remaining shots into the spot where I thought his heart must be. The thick blood welled out of him like red velvet, but still he did not die. His body did not even jerk when the shots hit him, the tortured breathing continued without a pause. He was dying, very slowly and in great agony, but in some world remote from me where not even a bullet could damage him further. I felt that I had got to put an end to that dreadful noise. It seemed dreadful to see the great beast Lying there, powerless to move and yet powerless to die, and not even to be able to finish him. I sent back for my small rifle and poured shot after shot into his heart and down his throat. They seemed to make no impression. The tortured gasps continued as steadily as the ticking of a clock.

In the end I could not stand it any longer and went away. I heard later that it took him half an hour to die. Burmans were bringing dahs and baskets even before I left, and I was told they had stripped his body almost to the bones by the afternoon.

Afterwards, of course, there were endless discussions about the shooting of the elephant. The owner was furious, but he was only an Indian and could do nothing. Besides, legally I had done the right thing, for a mad elephant has to be killed, like a mad dog, if its owner fails to control it. Among the Europeans opinion was divided. The older men said I was right, the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie. And afterwards I was very glad that the coolie had been killed; it put me legally in the right and it gave me a sufficient pretext for shooting the elephant. I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool.

Sunday 4 January 2009

More Boys Toys...

As a young boy I was an avid reader, revelling in stories of daring and adventure, and in the boy's magazines and comics of the 1960s, I first saw pictures of the Tucker Sno-Cat. (Made by the Tucker Co. of Medford, Oregon).
These were used in Sir Vivian Fuchs' Trans Antarctic Expedition of 1956/7. Four of these vehicles were used by Fuchs' team, nicknamed "Rock'n'Roll", "Haywire" and "Able". The fourth, "County of Kent" was lost forever in a crevasse, along with its driver, Lieutenant Thomas Couzens.
These vehicles, dragging heavy sledges, made the first crossing of the continent, coast to coast. Crevasses were the greatest danger, yet somehow, they all except Lt Couzen's vehicle, were recovered from the brink. It looks a severely troubling (original words deleted!) activity to me.

The MV Magga Dan was a specially built polar supply ship, as a child, I saw her and her sister ships loading at Grangemouth on the Firth of Forth in Scotland. I was fascinated to see these brightly painted ships, and to hear of their journeys into the white south.
I'm not sure how it happened that I never signed on as crew. There was a time, following my marriage's break-up when I was seeking a life that might mix danger and solitude. The furthest I got then was Greenland, and if I could have figured out a way to stay there I would have. As it was, I took off on my own, up onto the Kvanefjeld plateau, set up my tent on the ice, near the mouth of an abandoned uranium mine, watched icebergs break apart and roll in slow motion below me on the cold november waters of the fjord, I had my few days of solitude, but also I had an airticket out toward denmark.............
To get to the "airport" oh yes, Narssassuaq International Airport. Hahahahahaaaaaa!
The terminal is a wooden shed. At one end of the runway is a nice big mountain. At the other is an icy fjord with sheer rock walls on the other side.
"If you haven't landed at BW-1," (Narsassuaq) writes army pilot George James of his ferry flight in a twin-engined B-26, "you have missed one of life's biggest thrills. We were briefed for hours with talks, movies taken from the nose of an airplane, and a topographical model. The reason for what might seem like overkill is that BW-1 is 52 miles up a fjord with walls several thousand feet high, numerous dead-end offshoots, no room to turn around, and usually an overcast below the tops of the walls. You had to get it right the first time."
To get there from Narssaq, the place I had gone to, (for no particular reason), required a day's journey on the MV Disko, I opted for a bunk in a shared cabin, deep below the bows, near the waterline, and directly above the bow thrusters. Cruise passengers are advised to avoid such a placement. On an ordinary journey it might just be a little tedious. Through an ice infested fjord in fog, breaking through pack ice and shouldering aside "bergy-bits" it is a recipe for no sleep at all. My eskimo cabin-mates were very cheery, offering me tasty bits of seal blubber, carved off with a crusty knife. Eventually I abandoned all hope of rest, and went topside to look down at the ice. Eventually I found a warm vent near the funnel and huddled there until I fell asleep. In the morning dark, I woke as we crashed into the dock.
Rambling again, mr soubriquet.

Sir Edmund Hillary led another team, setting up supply caches for the main group, his team were equipped with little more than slightly modified ferguson farm tractors, yet Hillary reached the south pole first.

Hillary, of course, is the man who a couple of years before, along with Sherpa Norgay Tensing, became the first man to stand on the summit of Mount Everest.

Snow cats are still used in Antarctica, though they've evolved a lot.

Friday 2 January 2009

Dave Mows Grass... Belatedly birthdayed.

Over the holiday period, I hear Blogger Dave has had a birthday, and Red Dirt Mule is troubled that she forgot it.
Well, I'm a bloke, which gives me full immunity from needing to remember birthdays, but here, for you, Dave, is a little view of the future of grasscutting. -Grit in the gears, never less than awesome.. Um -except when less than awesome.
Happy new year anyway!

Thursday 1 January 2009

Simon And Garfunkel: For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her

"What a dream I had:
Pressed in organdy;
Clothed in crinoline of smoky burgundy;
Softer than the rain.
I wandered empty streets
Down past the shop displays.
I heard cathedral bells
Tripping down the alley ways,
As I walked on.

And when you ran to me
Your cheeks flushed with the night.
We walked on frosted fields of juniper and lamplight,
I held your hand.
And when I awoke and felt you warm and near,
I kissed your honey hair with my grateful tears.
Oh I love you, girl.
Oh, I love you."

Simon And Garfunkel: For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her