Wednesday, 13 April 2005
Houston, We've had a problem here!
On the 11th April 1970, Apollo 13, the third mission planned to land on the moon, blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center at 14:13 Eastern Standard Time. About fifty-six hours later, the mission was in serious trouble. Do you think it is strange or portentous that it was on the 13th
day of April, 1970, when the mission was some four-fifths of the way to the moon, that Apollo 13
, should be suddenly crippled?
The malfunction was caused by an explosion and rupture of oxygen tank no. 2 in the service module. The explosion ruptured a line or damaged a valve in the no. 1 oxygen tank, causing it to lose oxygen rapidly. The service module bay no.4 cover was blown off. Within about three hours, the command module's oxygen stores were lost, along with loss of water, electrical power and light, and use of the propulsion system. They were about 200,000 miles from Earth. The lives of the Apollo 13 crew, astronauts James A. Lovell, John L. Swigert and Fred W. Haise, were in real danger.
It all happened in the evening thirty-five years ago, 21:08 EST. so it would have been very early the next morning when the news broke in Great Britain. I hadn't been up very long and I remember coming back into the bedroom to see my husband sitting on the edge of the bed listening to the news. "Apollo 13 is in real trouble
," he said chokingly, "they have had an explosion on board
". "Oh, no
!" The thought of three men stuck out there in space, knowing that they could run out of power, and air and water, before making it back to Earth, was to awful to contemplate.
The mission aborted, we heard that the three men had left the command module for the safety of the Lunar Module's lifeboat. Water was one of the main problems and not just for drinking, the system was water cooled. Also, the lifeboat was designed for two men, not three! The next few days were so full of tension - we were glued to the television bulletins. The three men suffered from cold, they lost weight conserving their rations, they could hardly sleep. We followed their every move. The relief was palpable when they finally splashed down alive and well in the Pacific Ocean on 17th April, 1970. It had been the tensest four days in our memories.
Well, do you think Apollo 13 was unlucky? It was certainly an unpleasant experience for all concerned but I think that the crew was incredibly lucky to survive. This was due to their own intense training and coolness under duress and also to the incredible work by the ground support personnel. So, although the mission was a failure, the rescue and safe return was a resounding and memorable success which contributed to the safety of subsequent missions.
Monday, 11 April 2005
"Around the World in 80 Treasures"
Topic: Films and TV
Have you been watching, "Around the World in 80 Treasures
", the documentary series by Dan Cruickshank on BBC2
? On the whole, it continues to be a very interesting series visiting some 40 countries on six continents. However, on the Indian continent, I seem to remember that someone called Michael Palin
did get to some of the 'treasure sites' first in his recent travel series, "Himalaya with Michael Palin". I certainly experienced 'deja vu' when Dan visited that enormous stone sun dial and its accompanying zodiac stones at the Jantar Mantar Observatory
Coincidentally, both Michael and Dan have an affinity with elephants, Michael was told he was probably an elephant in a previous life and Dan was 'blessed' by an elephant. Also, they both took time off their travels to play cricket with some young local lads! I suppose Mr Cruickshank's approach is slightly more learned and thought provoking than Mr. Palin's but not necessarily more exciting or educational.
Last week's programme on 4th April, (the seventh in the series), covered Jordan and Ethiopia. Now did you spot Dan Cruickshank's cultural faux pas? I watched the repeat last Saturday because I missed some of Monday's first showing so I saw his blunder twice. Do you remember his visit to an Arab tent to sample some of the 'delicacies'? Two Bedouin gentlemen were entertaining him, and his crew, and an enormous tray of food was placed in front of them. Did you see Dan tuck in with great relish tearing asunder some unmentionable animal part (yuk!) with his fingers? He used his left
hand to take the food - the hand considered by Arabs to be 'unclean' (you use it for personal hygiene). When eating
from a communal dish with the fingers, Arabs always
use their right hand. So, Dan's social gaffe would have contaminated the food. I bet the two Arab gentlemen suddenly lost their appetites - certainly, their faces appeared to say it all!
Well, that observation apart, tonight's episode should be very good indeed as we are whisked through Mali and Libya to Egypt, the Land of the Pharaohs. Here we will see what I consider to be one of the world's finest Treasures, the Death Mask of King Tutankhamun
(pronounced Tut-ankh-amun, please, not Tu-tank-hamun). I have had the privilege of seeing this mask
in the Cairo Museum and it is breathtakingly beautiful. Don't miss it!
Saturday, 9 April 2005
An Honest Woman at Last!
Topic: In the News
The Prince of Wales has finally married his Camilla. Watching the Royal Wedding
, I felt a personal sense of closure on the past and the beginnings of feelings of acceptance for the new Duchess of Cornwall. Don't get me wrong - the English people will never forget the late Diana, Princess of Wales
. We all loved her and suffered with her. She was a sacrificial victim but - and we must admit this - Charles was also a victim. He met Camilla some thirty-five
years' ago and fell in love. Had they married then, the British people would have loved Camilla, too. But, it was not to be. Maybe the 'system' found her 'unsuitable' at the time, who knows? Certainly, Charles, as the heir to the throne, was not entirely free to do as he pleased.
The young and beautiful Diana was caught in the middle and her marriage, to a man she loved deeply, was doomed to failure from the start. Her tragic death unleashed a depth of feeling from the British people which must have shocked and surprised the Royal Family. After all, and despite her humanity, her compassion and the extraordinary and wonderful things she achieved, her own behaviour was not exactly saintly. But, if her sons can understand, forgive and move on, so should we.
A new chapter commences and, after all the preceding traumas, today's Royal wedding and Blessing went without a hitch. Camilla looked nervous but radiant; Charles was protective and supportive. The Queen and other members of the Royal Family were all beaming. The new couple are obviously very much in love - we should wish them well.
Friday, 8 April 2005
What's new in Rome
For an inside story of what is currently happening in Rome, together with the latest news and photographs, vist the website of Seamus Griesbach
Seamus is an American seminarian at the Pontifical North American College and he is studying theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Roma, Italy. If you wonder what makes a young man study for the priesthood, read his essays on 'Celibacy'
and 'What the Priesthood Means to Me'
in his 'writing' section.
Thursday, 7 April 2005
Sex, Cryptic Crosswords and a Good Run!
Topic: Health Issues
What do you fear most as you get older? I can accept the usual minor aches and pains that come with age and having to wear glasses to read - although I'm not so happy with the extra weight which has settled round my tummy! However, one thing that I do worry about is Dementia. How terrible that affliction is! I saw it happen to my father and to my mother-in-law. My mother was as bright as a pin right to the last so perhaps there is hope for me. But everytime I forget something or do something daft, I shudder. Never mind that my son and my daughter also have mental lapses, it's mine
that I worry about.
I have always believed that one should keep one's mind active. I do crossword puzzles and, I often puzzle over the intricacies of HTML and cascading style sheets. I take vitamins and I pop one pill of Ginkgo Biloba
every day. It's supposed to increase the blood supply to the brain. I used to take more but I blamed it for causing boiling hot feet at night!
Now I see that, according to a report from the University of Queensland's Brain Institute, sex, cryptic crosswords and a good run could help fend off dementia
and other degenerative conditions by stimulating the creation of new brain cells! So, I was right about crosswords but I'm not very good at the cryptic ones! I'm too plump to run (anyway, I think cycling is better) and propriety prevents me from mentioning the other recommendation!
Of course, there are other ways to stimulate the brain such as music and good food. So called 'Junk Food
' can provide a boost of calories which can help children taking examinations. However, a good diet which includes foods rich in iron and exercise (that word again) can boost children's brainpower dramatically. Breakfast is essential and porridge is a good way to start the day but a good old-fashioned English breakfast of bacon and eggs has an even more positive effect.
So, we must feed our children properly - never send a child to school without breakfast. Make sure they exercise regularly - if necessary, switch off the television or the Play Station - walk with them to school instead of using the car, get them out cycling (there are plenty of safe routes). Healthy children grow up into healthy adults. Healthy, active adults who continue to eat sensibly and to exercise are less likely to end their lives suffering from dementia.
Wednesday, 6 April 2005
Topic: Music and Art
was born in Berlin on 6th April 1929. As a child he studied at the Berlin Royal Conservatory and the Paris Conservatory before his family emigated to the United States in 1939 - just in time to escape Hitler's persecution of the Jews. Andre Previn is one of the World's most versatile musicians, an award-winning composer of film scores, orchestral and chamber music, a conductor and a jazz pianist. He has tried his hand at everything. This has been, I think, his greatest fault.
He could have been a modern-day Mozart if he had concentrated on composing classical music. Like Mozart, he was a child prodigy. He studied composition in California and whilst still at school started working on musical scores for Hollywood films. In 1958, he did the scores for Gigi
followed by Porgy and Bess
, Irma La Douce
and My Fair Lady
He could have been one of the greatest jazz musicians ever - if he had stuck to playing jazz. He first became interested in jazz after hearing Art Tatum
, Bud Powell
and Charlie Parker
. His 1957 album of My Fair Lady
with Shelly Manne
became a best seller. Many people do not realise that nearly all the great jazz pianists were trained in the classics before graduating to jazz. Had Mozart been alive today, I am sure he would have been utterly fascinated by jazz music, which often involves 'impromptu composition' around the melody being played. In a jazz group, this 'impromtu composition' is often bounced back and forth amongst the players. The late bassist, Ray Brown
, with whom Previn recorded Jazz at the Musikverein
, was a grand master of this art.
However, Previn could not choose between his love of jazz and his love of the classics. He turned back to the classical world and worked with many world-famous orchestras including ten years with the London Symphoney Orchestra and eight years with the Pittsburg Symphony Orchestra.
In 1995, he returned briefly to jazz when he recorded his concert at The Musikverein, in Vienna. In 1998, his first opera, A Streetcar Named Desire
, premiered in San Francisco.
Without doubt, he is a genius, a giant in the world of music. But, from my point of view, I will always think of him as a great jazz pianist.
Tuesday, 5 April 2005
Keep Your Eye On The Ball
Topic: In the News
A major new iniative to raise awareness of male cancer has just been launched by the England Football Team
with well known players taking time out of their training to encourage fans to to check themselves regularly for unusual lumps. The "Keep Your Eye On The Ball" campaign, which is now in its fourth year, is being promoted by The Professional Footballers’ Association, The Football Association and the Everyman Campaign
. Its aims are to raise awareness of testicular and prostate cancer among players and fans.
Testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer among men aged 18 to 35, which is also the average span of a player's career. If caught early, the cancers can be cured in 96% of cases. Several football players, including Alan Stubbs and Neil Harris, have had testicular cancer but all are now fully recovered and continuing with their careers, demonstrating the importance of early diagnosis and treatment.
Prostate cancer has become the most common cancer in men. The majority of men with prostate cancer are aged over 60 years, with an average age at the time of diagnosis of 75 years. Although this cancer can also occur in younger individuals, it is very rare under the age of 50.
There are many ways to support this campaign - you could take part in a running event
or even make a parachute jump.
Monday, 4 April 2005
Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774)
Topic: Poetry and Poets
I have a lovely little book on The Poetical and Prose Works of Oliver Goldsmith with Life. Published by Gall and Inglis of 6 George Street, Edinburgh, it has 'Eight Engravings on Steel' and is leather bound with gold decoration. No date but probably circa 1860.
I had been puzzled by the conflict in the published dates for the birth of Oliver Goldmith but this book explains why. According to the flysheet of his father's family bible, "Oliver Goldsmith was born at Pallas, November ye 10th 17__." The last two figures having been lost with the margin of the leaf; but, from other sources, he is known to have been born in 1728
. Apparently, even the monument erected to him in Westminster Abbey, bearing a Latin inscription from Dr. Samuel Johnson, got it wrong.
Oliver Goldsmith's works include "The Vicar of Wakefield", "She Stoops to Conquer" and "The Good Natured Man". He wrote many poems and also penned numerous essays. His friends included Dr. Samuel Johnson, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Edmund Burke.
Here is an extract from his poem, "The Traveller", first published at the 'close of 1764'. It established his reputation as a poet.
Eternal blessings crown my earliest friend,
And round his dwelling guardian saints attend!
Blest be that spot, where cheerful guests retire
To pause from toil, and trim their evening fire;
Blest that abode, where want and pain repair,
And every stranger finds a ready chair;
Blest be those feasts with simple plenty crown'd,
Where all the ruddy family around
Laugh at the jests or pranks that never fail,
Or sigh with pity at some mournful tale;
Or press the bashful stranger to his food,
And learn the luxury of doing good.
[extract: second verse]
Oliver Goldsmith died in London from a fever in the 'forty-sixth year of his age' on 4th April 1774.
Royal Wedding Postponed!
Topic: In the News
Following confirmation from the Vatican that the Pope's funeral will take place on Friday and after initial reports saying that the Royal Wedding would go ahead as planned, Prince Charles has been forced to postpone the ceremony. The Times Online has now revised its earlier article to report that Clarence House has announced that the Royal Wedding will be delayed one day, "as a mark of respect".
Pull the other one - they didn't have any choice. All the important guests, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is giving the 'blessing', and the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, wanted to attend the Pope's funeral.
Karol Wojtyla (1920-2005)
Topic: In the News
The first non-Italian Pope since 1523, he is already being called John Paul the Great - a humble man who chose the same name as his predecessor. See this Blog entry by, Moniales
a Dominican Nun, and the translated poem by Juliusz Slowacki (1809-1849).
The Polish people have asked for his heart to be sent home
to Krakow, where Karol Wojtyla was appointed Archbishop in 1964 and Cardinal in 1967 before being elected Pope on 16th October 1978. Apparently, this was one of the Pope's last wishes. I know it has been a tradition of the Church to distribute relics of saints but somehow it seems wrong to me to 'desecrate' a pope's body so soon after death. Why not send some of his hair?
Will Karol Wojtyla become a Saint? Yes, I am absolutely sure he will.
It seems that the Pope's funeral
is likely to be held on Friday, 8th April 2005. Was something else scheduled for that day? Oh, yes - a wedding. Perhaps that is God's way of diverting attention away from someone else's sinful past! [Stop being cynical, Tessa, and remember the parable about throwing the first stone
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