Wednesday, 20 April 2005
Topic: Music and Art
Joan Miro , the Spanish Surrealist painter, was born in Montroig, near Barcelona, (the capital of Catalonia
), on 20th April 1893. Incidentally, the letter 'J', called 'jota' in Spanish, (vocalised as hota), has a hard sound, so his name is pronounced hoan mro
, an alternative spelling of the more common Spanish name, Juan, (English equivalent: John), and not 'Joan', as in Joan of Arc or Joan Crawford!
In his early years, his work was more conventional - I particularly like his picture of the Chapel of Sant Joan d'Horta, an oil on canvas painted in 1917. In 1921, he settled in Paris and his work gradually became more surrealist. By 1930, he had perfected his own style using a limited range of bright colours, especially, blue, red, yellow, green and black, often in abstract blobs of colour with spots and lines - simple forms with a definite childlike quality. He also created etchings and lithographs, worked in watercolour, pastel and collage, and produced some notable ceramic sculptures, such as the two large murals, Wall of the Moon
and Wall of the Sun
, for the UNESCO building in Paris.
After the Spanish Civil War, he returned to Spain. In 1956, he moved to Palma de Majorca, where he died on 25th December 1983, at the age of 90. His villa is now transformed into the Miro Museum. If you visit Barcelona, there is a large ceramic Miro mural on the outside wall of Terminal B at the airport. Other examples of his art can be seen in the Miro Foundation
in Barcelona and all around the city, as well as in many other museums around the world.
Tuesday, 19 April 2005
Topic: In the News
So, the 265th Roman Catholic Pope has been elected and wasn't it quick! I thought we would have to wait a couple more days before the Cardinal electors reached the required majority. And, yes, the rumours that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger might win the vote proved to be correct!
Cardinal Ratzinger, who was 78 last Saturday, has chosen the papal name of Pope Benedict XVI. Will he be a good Pope? Of course, he will! He is highly educated and greatly respected and, above all, he is a good and holy man who understands humility. Catholics all over the world believe he is the one chosen by God to be the new Pope. And so did 114 Cardinals, who will have all accepted the vote of the majority without question and who will have all sworn their allegiance one by one to the new Pope before he emerged on that balcony for the first time.
As usual, lot of nonsense is being said in the newspapers about Pope Benedict?s youth in Germany. Why don't the press grow up and wish him luck for a change? After all, he has just accepted what must be the most difficult, daunting and challenging job in the whole world as the new head of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics. May God give him the courage, wisdom and strength to fulfil his role as the servant of the Church.
Monday, 18 April 2005
The Conclave to Elect a New Pontiff
Topic: In the News
By now, the 115 Cardinal electors in Rome will have locked themselves away in the Sistine Chapel for the start of the secret Conclave during which they will choose the 264th successor to St Peter. This afternoon, they will have taken an oath to observe the prescriptions of the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici gregis
, which sets out the regulations for the process of election. Then, they will have taken another oath: 'whichever of us by divine disposition is elected Roman Pontiff will commit himself faithfully to carrying out the munus Petrinum of Pastor of the Universal Church.
So much rubbish has been appearing in the press lately! Rumours are rife that Cardinal Ratzinger has secured 50 or more votes already in his quest to become Pope! Reporter, Richard Owen, in his article for The Times, "Progressive cardinals try to block Ratzinger
", states that 'Cardinals with progressive views were attempting to find a single candidate to challenge Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
'. How does he know? The Cardinals have not been talking to the press or indicating their feelings. This sort of reporting is ill-informed and contentious. Already Mr. Owen is backtracking in his later article
from Rome: 'He may not want to be the next P
The Guardian Unlimited reported
today that 'Analysts said cardinals electing a new pope faced the option of backing an older, skilled administrator who could serve as a "transitional" pope while the church absorbs John Paul II's legacy or a younger, more progressive figure, perhaps from Latin America or elsewhere in the developing world, where the church is growing.
' This is quite ludicrous. Pope John Paul I was 65 when elected and died 33 days later. Pope Adrian I was around 80 when elected on 1st February 772 and died after serving for 23 years and 10 months on 25th December 795.
Speculation is pointless.
The Pope Blog
has stated that in their opinion, 'the next pope will be chosen by (gasp!) the cardinals themselves, with the influence of the Holy Spirit*--not bookmakers or the media
The Guardian Unlimited article also mentioned that: Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, the archbishop of Florence, ... told believers at a Mass yesterday: "The new pope has already been chosen by the Lord. We just have to pray to understand who he is."
Sunday, 17 April 2005
Amazing Animals: Woodlice
Topic: Nature and Our World
This morning, I was coming out of the garage into our porch when I spotted a woodlouse on the brick wall by the front door. It was long dead of course, a desiccated shell, but it made me think of the first time I noticed something unusual about these little beasties. We hadn't been married much more than a year and we were moving into our first house in Worthing. There was a rotten tree stump in the garden, swarming with woodlice, and we were trying to clear it away. One large individual woodlouse fell on its back and froze, with its legs sticking up; it had a white patch on its underside. I bent down to look closer - it was a sort of greyish-white sack. I touched it with a tiny twiglet... A movement, a minute tear, and a horde of tiny baby woodlice started to appear one by one, hundreds, it seemed. The adult was completely motionless. Had I killed it, I wondered?
Woodlice are very ancient creatures which remind me of fossilised trilobites. There are many different species of these amazing little animals worldwide, but only 37 live in the UK. The ones most often seen in our British gardens are the common rough woodlouse (Porcellio scaber
), the common shiny woodlouse (Oniscus asellus
) and the common pillbug (Armadillidium vulgare
). All British woodlice are vegetarians and nocturnal in habit. They like living in damp places, under rotting wood, or vegetation. They actually help to recycle waste by eating decaying wood and plants and thereby improve your garden soil! They have a head, thorax and an abdomen; two large antenna (and two tiny vestigial ones); two compound eyes; seven pairs of jointed legs (one for each of the seven thoracic segments), and an exoskeleton. They breathe through gills on their legs and also have 'pseudo-lungs' which can be seen as white patches at the back of the underside. These allow gases to diffuse in and out through a pore which can't be closed. So Woody needs a damp environment or he will soon dry out.
Woodlice are actually Crustacea
and they belong to a group of Arthropods called Isopoda
, a class of animals usually found living in water. Crustaceans are hard-shelled creatures - which include lobsters, crabs, shrimps, prawns, water fleas and barnacles - strange relatives for a little creature found in all our gardens. (Incidentally, trilobites were also Arthropods.)
Woodlice are usually a dark grey colour but if you find one that is half-pale, then it has just moulted. First the back half is shed and then the front half. This process allows them to grow a little before the new shell hardens. They usually live for about two years.
The 'sack' I had first seen all those years ago is, in fact, a brood pouch called a "marsupium" in which the eggs are stored for several weeks until they hatch. The new babies only have six pairs of legs and are very vulnerable to desiccation so, at this stage, they stay in their mother's pouch for several days until they moult for the first time and get their seventh pair of legs. Most woodlice breed once a year and the larger the female, the more eggs she is likely to produce.[For further information on Woodlice, look here and here]
Saturday, 16 April 2005
Cheating in Exams
Topic: In the News
Apparently, there is an unprecedented rise in the number of people cheating in examinations. It seems that the opportunities for cheating have burgeoned with the increase in technology. The use of mobile phones
is one example. Others plagiarise essays or articles and then present them in their entirety as their own work. There are even Internet sites where you can actually buy custom-written dissertations for university courses.
This is really very shocking. I can understand a student reviewing various books, articles and essays and then extracting their own version - after all, this is what studying is all about. You should be able to benefit and learn from those who have travelled the same path before you. However, to cheat by buying other people's essays is completely dishonest and makes an utter mockery of the education system. Do cheaters think they can continue to get through life by using deceit, especially when they have to work for their livings? In all probability, these sad examples of humanity will find themselves struggling with a job for which their actual skills fail to qualify them to do. In this competitive world, how many companies can support those who do not live up to their stated capabilities?
Surely, in this cheating game, the greatest losers are the cheaters themselves. They lose out on those two most precious of commodities - self-respect and knowledge.
Friday, 15 April 2005
Never Let This Happen Again!
I heard on the Radio this morning that today, 15th April 2005
, is the 60th Anniversary
of the liberation by British troops of the infamous Nazi Concentration Camp of Bergen-Belsen
near Hanover, Germany. It is thought that some 70,000 human beings died in that camp, in the most despicable of circumstances.
Today is also the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic
, which struck an iceberg on 14th April 1912 and sank early the next morning with the loss of over 1,500 lives.
How many people, especially young people, know all about the tragedy of the sinking of the Titantic
? A great many, I am sure, especially as the story was used as the basis for a film
. How many people know what happened at Belsen or that it was a concentration camp? Far fewer, I suspect!
The story of Belsen is particularly horrifying because of the depths of man's depravity and extreme inhumanity to other human beings. Men, women and children, many already sick on arrival, who were incarcerated in an over-crowded 'hell' which, unless you are one of the few survivors, your worst nightmare could not begin to imagine. Human beings who were left to suffer and to die by means of starvation, disease, and extreme cruelty. Typhus
were endemic, huts intended for 60 housed 600, toilets were non-existent, there was no running water. The inmates' daily diet consisted of turnip and potato soup, plus a small piece of bread - if you were not strong enough to get up and queue for it, you went without.
They lived like animals, wearing tatters of lice-infested rags, sleeping in huts carpeted with human excreta. They died, mostly from starvation, at the rate of some 500 per day. Their bodies were left piled up, rotting, in full view of other inmates, including children. There was evidence that some inmates had resorted to cannibalism. Liberation came too late for nearly three-quarters of the camp inmates who were too sick to respond to treatment and failed to recover.
If you find all this shocking and revolting - you should! Recent events in the news
and a 'prison experiment
' have shown that ordinary people given power as guards can easily turn into bullies and torturers. What happened under Nazi Germany must never be forgotten - sadly, it is so easy for man's evil nature to surface. If there were to be a "next time", it could be your grandchildren who are the victims or, an even worse scenario, your grandchildren as the guards, the instigators. We must never
let this happen again!
N.B. The Belsen camp commandant, Josef Kramer, was found guilty at Luneberg of war crimes and hanged in December 1945.
Thursday, 14 April 2005
A Little Bit of Garden
Topic: Poetry and Poets
It's funny how you can discover things you didn't know you had! A couple of days ago, I was looking at the jumble of books on a book shelf, a double layer! I spied this little book hiding at the back and pulled it out. It was called The Fireside Book of David Hope
, and it had a lovely little illustration of a bird on the cover - a European Redstart, I think.
No wonder I didn't recognise it. On the flyleaf was an inscription to my parents "... with love from Kitty, Christmas 1971". So, it was a present given to my parents by an old family friend, Kitty Whiting. Her husband, George, used to work at Dormeuil Freres with my father before the war. Kitty was very Welsh and, when my son was born, she insisted that 'David' was a Welsh name - never mind the Hebrew King David or the story of 'David and Goliath' in the Old Testament, all of which predates Welsh history by some 2,000 years or more!
Back to the book - I must have brought it over when we were clearing out the house and then I had put it away without looking. I sat down to read though it. It is full of poems by a variety of poets, with an illustration for each poem. Some of the poets, John Betjeman
; Walter de la Mare
; Thomas Hardy
; A. Conan Doyle
(did you know he wrote poetry? I certainly didn't!); Alfred Lord Tennyson
and R.L. Stevenson
, were familiar names. The other poets, around twenty of them, I had not heard of before. What a super little gem!
A poem entitled "A Little Bit of Garden
" by Will H. Ogilvie
caught my eye, it certainly fits the time of year and my mood. Weather permitting, I will be very busy over the next few days because the Royal Mail delivered two small boxes - my Busy Lizzie plug plants - 300 of them! That will take a while to pot on into trays. Still, it is a very economical way to buy them and, I must admit, I am a lazy gardener. Busy Lizzies (Impatiens) need no maintenance - no deadheading - and give a beautiful show of colour in the garden and in tubs. Last year, mine continued well into November.
Here is the poem:
A Little Bit of Garden
We need no crown or sceptre,
For, now that it is Spring,
Just a little bit of garden?
And every man's a king !
A little breadth of border,
A little patch of grass,
Above it all the April sky
Where soft the south winds pass.
A spade and rake for comrades,
The smell of rain-wet mould?
And every time we turn a clod
We turn a mint of gold !
A little bit of garden,
With daffodils a-swing,
And tulip-flowers whose crimson flags
Are only flown for Spring.
Shy blossoming primroses.
Forget-me-nots of blue,
And here a blade and there a blade
Of green things peeping through.
Who seeks for crown or sceptre
When every man's a king
Whose patch of cottage garden
Has felt the feet of Spring ?
by Will H. Ogilvie(1869-1963)
From "The Fireside Book" - A picture and a poem for every mood chosen by David Hope.
Printed and Published 1971 by D.C. Thomson & Co. Ltd., Dundee and London.
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.
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