"Earth’s distant orb appeared the smallest light that twinkles in the heaven; whilst round the chariot’s way innumerable systems rolled and countless spheres diffused an ever-varying glory. It was a sight of wonder: some were hornèd like the crescent moon; some shed a mild and silver beam like Hesperus o'er the western sea; some dashed athwart with trains of flame, like worlds to death and ruin driven; some shone like suns, and as the chariot passed, eclipsed all other light." From "Queen Mab" by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1813)
Tuesday, 30 March 2010
I’ve taken a little bit of a blow on the painting front today as I’ve just been turned down for another exhibition. Oh well. That’s only two I’ve ever applied for but I really thought I would get into this one. There’s another one coming up I’m going to try for. Also, Jonesey has been on at me about setting my own small show up at a little gallery on Gloucester Road. I’ve resisted up to now as I didn’t have enough work to show but I’ve got quite a bit ready now so I think I might give that a go. I’ll let all you fans of the Folk Art of Cactus County (anyone?) know how that works out.
Sunday, 28 March 2010
Check out Jonesey's blog to find out more about Tog. We went to Frome largely because there was a vintage fair taking place and Jonesey wanted to check it out in case it was worth her doing it next time. I think it just might be. Here’s a splendid fellow in the entrance to the fair.
We both ended up buying a few rather marvellous items (not the fine fellow above unfortunately) and added to these when we scoured the town’s charity shops afterwards. A damn fine days thrift shopping! Here are some of the things I purchased.
Did you spot it? I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw it and it was only £2 as well. I’m pretty sure it’s an original 1969 commemorative mug but even if it’s not it’s still brilliant.
“We came in peace for all mankind”
You have no idea just how excited I was when I saw this, I could not believe my luck. It’s so rare to find any space items at vintage fairs. Result!
It wasn't just space stuff though, I also lived up to the name Jonesey calls me on her blog, Mr Kitsch when I came across these two fabulous items.
Happiness is a plastic pineapple and an old Mexican themed tin. I’ll be using these as part of the display when I finally get round to showing my artwork.
I also picked up a number of old black and white photos. I plan on sticking them in a book and making up stories to go with them. “Tales of Cactus County” maybe, we’ll see.
So a jolly good day out in Frome, wonderful things acquired and I dressed in vintage gear to get into the fair free. Some people will do anything to save a couple of quid. Tog Love Frome. Gary Love Frome. Everyone Love Frome. What’s not to like?
Suggested listening: “Project Infinity” by Man Or Astroman?
Friday, 26 March 2010
After doing my belated Ada Lovelace Day blog about Valentina Tereshkova yesterday, last night I got to the chapter in Slayton’s autobiography where he talks about her spaceflight. The coincidence continues. One of the results of her flight was some small pressure for NASA to have a woman astronaut. Thirteen women had taken and passed the same medical tests that the male astronauts had undertaken and where did they do this? At the Lovelace Foundation for Medical Education and Research. However, this foundation was not named after our beloved Ada, this was the clinic of Dr. William Randolph "Randy" Lovelace II, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Dr. Lovelace was head of NASA’s Special Committee on Bioastronautics.
In 1960, he and Brigadier General Donald Flickinger put award-winning civilian aviator Geraldyn "Jerrie" Cobb through the same physical and psychological testing regimen that Lovelace’s Foundation had developed to help select NASA’s first astronauts. This was done privately and was not part of NASA’s astronaut programme.
After Cobb passed the tests a number of other women went through the same evaluation programme. Together with Cobb, these women got the unofficial title of the Mercury Thirteen, after their male Mercury Seven counterparts. The trouble was that NASA had very strict criteria for selecting astronauts, at first just picking test pilots and as women weren’t allowed to be test pilots in the US at that time, quelle surprise, they just weren’t in the running. You can read more about this at http://history.nasa.gov/flats.html and there are a number of books on the subject. I haven’t read them yet myself, they’re now on my ever growing space race book list, but here are just two of them you might want to consider reading.
“The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight” by Martha Ackmann
“Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream” by Tanya Lee Stone
Thursday, 25 March 2010
Valentina Tereshkova was launched into space aboard the Soviet Vostok 6 spacecraft and returned to earth after almost 3 days having completed 48 orbits of the planet. To put this into the context of the space race at the time, with this flight Tereshkova logged more space flight time and earth orbits than all the American Mercury astronauts combined and at 26, she was also ten years younger than the youngest Mercury Seven astronaut, Gordon Cooper. Her call sign during the flight was Chaika, which means seagull and this was later commemorated as the name of an asteroid, “1671 Chaika”. Vostok means East or Orient.
While all the American Mercury astronauts were military test pilots, Tereshkova worked in a textile factory and before that a tire factory. However, she wasn’t just picked at random to prove the superiority of all Soviets over their capitalist counterparts. Tereshkova was a keen parachutist before volunteering for the cosmonaut programme, making her first jump in 1959 aged 22. Being a parachutist was just one of the criteria for being selected for being a cosmonaut (as at this time cosmonauts jumped from their spacecraft before they hit the earth, not recommended without a parachute) and Tereshkova was one of five finalists selected from more than four hundred original applicants. Tereshkova was the only one of the five to get an opportunity to fly in space, however, all five undertook a lot of rigorous training before they were considered for spaceflight.
Once in orbit Tereshkova performed a number of tests on herself, collecting data on the female body's reaction to spaceflight. She experienced nausea and physical discomfort for much of the time but wasn’t alone in this, a number of cosmonauts and astronauts suffered with this problem, she was probably just more open about it. Tereshkova maintained a flight log and took photographs of the earth’s horizon, which were later used to identify aerosol layers within the atmosphere.
The Vostok 6 was launched just two days after Valery Bykovsky’s Vostok 5 spacecraft. Although the two spacecraft came as close as 5km and were able to communicate by radio, they did not rendezvous in space. A space rendezvous is a tricky manoeuvre and wasn’t accomplished until 1965 by the American’s with Gemini 6A and Gemini 7. This isn’t to take anything away from the Soviet achievement; the American’s were still way behind in the space race at this point. Bykovsky in the Vostok 5 maintained his orbit for 5 days, to this day the endurance record for a solo spaceflight. He landed three hours after Tereshkova’s return to earth. The Vostok 6 was the final Vostok flight being replaced by Voskhod (meaning ascent or dawn), although this was actually a modified Vostok.
Valentina Tereshkova became of Hero of the Soviet Union and an inspiration to women everywhere. Not bad for someone who first went to school aged 8 or 10, leaving at 16 to work in a factory like her mother. Tereshkova’s father, Vladimir Tereshkov, was a tractor driver who became a war hero when, as a tank leader sergeant, he was killed in the Finnish Winter War during World War II. When she was asked what reward she would like for making her historic spaceflight, Tereshkova asked that her father’s remains in Finland be found, which they were and they also placed a memorial to him there.
Although Tereshkova’s time in school had been short, she continued her education by correspondence course. After her spaceflight she studied at the Zhukovsky Air Force Academy, graduating with distinction as a cosmonaut engineer and earning a doctorate in engineering in 1977. She was also a prominent member of the Communist Party and held a number of important political positions. In 1997, in post Soviet Russia, she was retired from the Air Force and the Cosmonaut Corps by presidential order. While at President Vladimir Putin's residence in Novo-Ogaryovo for the celebration of her 70th birthday, Tereshkova said she would like to fly to Mars, even if it was a one way trip.
Tereshkova has done much to promote feminist issues and women’s rights as well as being a space heroine. You can find out more about her by reading the book “Into That Silent Sea” by Colin Burgess and Francis French. I haven’t read this book myself yet, but I’m told it examines the lives of a number of the very first cosmonauts and astronauts including Tereshkova’s life and spaceflight in some detail along with interviews with Tereshkova herself.
Wednesday, 24 March 2010
However, there was an added thrill from watching boxing for us as my dad had been a boxer before my brother and I were born; I think he had his last fight the year he married mum, which was 1963. So when we watched the boxing, not only did we have an on hand expert to explain the finer points of the match but an extra tinge of family pride by association. I remember being allowed to stay up late to watch one of Muhammad Ali's fights. Actually, now I think about it, it wasn’t that we were allowed so much as it was expected that we would stay up and watch the fight. It was important, like attending a family wedding or sitting at the table for dinner, doing anything else was simply unthinkable.
My dad always liked Harry Carpenter’s commentaries on the BBC. There was another regular fight commentator over on ITV but my dad didn’t like the way he did it, so we were fans of Harry. And he was good, he knew what he was talking about, described exactly what was going on and did it all in this wonderfully enthusiastic, avuncular style and not just boxing but loads of other sporting events too. So as soon as I heard on the news on 6 Music I rang my dad. It was one of those pieces of information that you feel a need to share with someone and the only one I could share this news with was dad.
He’d already heard. Yes it was sad but he was 84, that’s a pretty good age to get to. Yes, he had commentated at some of my dad’s fights, one time saying something like my dad was “the apple of his trainer’s eye”. It turns out my dad had met Harry Carpenter on a number of occasions including once when he came into a souvenir shop in Sweden while my dad was there with another fighter by the name of Dick Richardson who was in the same “stable” as my dad, that is they shared trainers, managers, facilities etc.
I don’t really know where I stand on boxing these days. On the one hand I consider it dangerous and barbaric but on the other I am immensely proud of my dad and his achievements in the sport. He was in the top five featherweights in the UK at one time and by the huge number of cups and trophies we used to have at home (loads more than in the photo above) he was really good at it. I consider Muhammad Ali to be a genuine hero, someone who had style and charm as well as being exactly what he said he was, the greatest. My dad was also the greatest (there can be more than one “greatest” because of the different weights). I know my dad must be disappointed that neither I nor my brother took up sports but then I’m disappointed he left all his trophies behind during a house move. What you gonna do?
So I was sorry to hear that Harry Carpenter had died. He seemed to be around a lot when I was a kid, back in the day, when we used to sit together as a family and enjoy watching boxing on the telly, feeling family pride that my dad was accomplished in the noble art, “know what I mean, 'Arry”.
Monday, 22 March 2010
It’s only 13cm x 18cm but I plan on doing a larger version, this was just to see if the idea worked. It’s not meant to be technically accurate but I hope it captures the spirit of the thing. I rather like it. Cactus County is heavily involved with NASA and space flight via Carson’s Robotics but it’s all very hush hush and I’ve no idea what they actually do. They’re very unhappy with President Obama’s decision to cancel the Constellation Programme but are much happier with his health care plans. There are not many Republicans in Cactus County. Right, more pictures.
This is the same size as the moon painting but returns to the skulls theme again. This is “Cempasúchitl #1” the traditional Day of the Dead flower, or marigolds to you and me.
Here’s an even smaller picture, just 10cm x 10cm called “Cactus And Snake”. The idea with the very small pictures being that most people won’t want to fork out for a larger (and more expensive) one but might be prepared to pay a little amount for a small one. We’ll see how that works out.
Now, I’m quite pleased with these things, I call them “atheisticks, which is kind of self explanatory - sticks for atheists. Atheisticks are used by the people of Cactus County to celebrate their atheism. They hang them with ribbon off doors, lamps, in cars, everywhere really. Here’s one on a cupboard.
They can be decorated in any way, most often with symbols of rationalism, things like portraits of famous free thinkers, atheists, scientists, natural history and space themes etc. The atheisticks pictured here celebrate a secular Day of the Dead which is very popular in Cactus County.
I think it’s a great idea for people to celebrate their atheism and this seems like as good a way as any. I’d be chuffed if they took off as an idea to help spread atheism around the world. I’m thinking big as you can tell but before I get too carried away, these are the only ones at the moment. Well, you have to start somewhere.
Suggested listening: “The Fake Sound Of Mikabomb” by Mikabomb
Thursday, 18 March 2010
I’m much happier with that. I think it’s finished now? I’d better not mess about with it anymore, so I’ll say it’s finally done. I’ve also started work on a small space picture which is a sketch for a bigger version I’m planning. I’m hoping to have that done by the weekend. Watch this space...
Suggested listening: “Saint Low” a beautiful album by Saint Low aka Mary Lorson, ex-Madder Rose.
While surfing the space sites a few weeks back I came across Astronaut Central who sell signed and flown astronaut related items. It’s all a bit out of my league but they will send you a free catalogue if you give them your details. Nice one!
It arrived this morning and I’m a bit excited about it. Lots of really good pics of signed photos of “mostly moonwalkers” plus some reproductions of Alan Bean’s paintings. For those who don’t know Alan Bean was the Apollo 12 Lunar Module Pilot, which makes him the 4th man to walk on the moon; he also flew in Skylab; and now he spends his time painting space scenes, capturing what it was like to be an astronaut and incorporating bits of his space suit and actual moon dust into the art work. That’s one of his pictures on the cover.
The catalogue was accompanied by another of space art from Nova Space. Lots of work depicting landscapes from other planets, galaxies, that kind of thing. It’s pretty good but I’m much more excited by the other one. If you want to get a free catalogue for yourself check out these sites www.astronautcentral.com and www.novaspace.com however, I suspect I’m in a rather select group of people who get excited by the idea of a catalogue of photos of astronauts.
Suggested reading: “The Man Who Ran The Moon” the excellent biography of NASA chief, businessman and Washington bureaucrat James Webb by Piers Bizony. Top stuff.
Wednesday, 17 March 2010
That’s what the neurophysiologist said on Monday after he’d given me some mild electric shocks to test the nerves in my foot. He also had to put two rather large needles into my foot. The one in the top of my foot hardly hurt at all. The second one went into the more sensitive arch of my foot had hurt quite a bit when electricity was passed through it. Fortunately that was the last of those tests, a good job too as that was when I almost passed out. “You’re not the first to do that” said the doctor. I’m not surprised to hear it. I may have had more painful visits to the dentist than this but I’ve also had much less painful visits to the dentist than this. However, I was expecting it to be worse than it was, but it was bad enough for a whimp like me.
The weird thing about the large needles was that they were wired up to a computer and you could hear the sound of the nerves in my foot reacting to the electricity. It was a bit like a Geiger counter but much faster. I asked if he could e-mail me the sounds but he couldn’t. I would have used them in an installation, never mind.
Well, I wanted proper up to date, proven medical tests rather than sheep’s bladders and seaweed and that’s exactly what I got.
Anyway, his opinion was that I’d be in much more pain if I had Morton’s. He asked me if I had back trouble. I don’t. So what the hell have I got? Does anyone have Hugh Laurie’s number? Jonesey is being lovely and reassuring reminding me that it’s most likely a benign neuroma and not anything “serious”. The neurophysiologist said the neurologist would be able to make a diagnosis after the MRI scan, which I had later that same afternoon.
The MRI scan was much more fun. Jonesey and I waited in this sterile, bare, white waiting room and we both thought it was a bit like something out of the film 2001. It got more like that when I went in for the actual scan. I had to lie down and the radiologist gave me a pair of headphones to cut out some of the noise (MRI scans are very noisy) and then she placed a sort of visor thing over my head. It was a bit like wearing a space helmet. Then I’m slid into the machine for about ten minutes while they scan my head. It was brilliant, I enjoyed every minute of it. It was quite like that bit in 2001 when he’s in his space helmet and you can only hear his breathing, except you could only hear my breathing when the scanner stopped making a noise.
Then I’m slid out, the visor is taken off and in I go again for a twenty minute scan of my spine. I’d brought ear plugs as I knew the scan would be loud. Before I was slid in for a second time I put in the ear plugs then replaced the headphones. This took the edge of the noise and as all I could do for the next twenty minutes was lie still, I just relaxed and almost fell asleep. The time whizzed by and before I knew it, it was all over. What a fantastic experience, easily the best thing about this whole business so far.
Then this morning I went for a blood test at the local surgery. I should have the results from that by next Monday. I’m not sure when I’ll get the results from the MRI. So it’s just a matter of waiting, nothing more to be done at this stage.
My brother is a diamond geezer and has offered to lend me the money to fly to New York for a few days to get away from it all. How brilliant is that? I shan’t take him up on this incredibly generous offer but I owe him one just for the suggestion. Anyway, although I am concerned and can’t help but think about worse case scenarios, I’m not going to sit at home brooding about it. Until I know for sure what is going on its life as normal.
On the plus side, Jonesey and I went to a friend’s birthday dinner at the weekend and had a really lovely time. Ben (the birthday boy) and Caroline are great. They’re brilliant musicians (check out these links you’ll be glad you did: www.myspace.com/darkerdogs - www.myspace.com/carolinemartinsmalldog - www.myspace.com/thecedar - www.myspace.com/rogertarry) and they asked me if I would DJ at their wedding later in the year. I was so chuffed to be asked, I can’t tell you what an honour it is. I don’t normally DJ at formal events as I tend to clear dance floors with my, how shall I describe it? Let’s say individual music selection, however, there is no way I’d pass this up. I am totally made up about this. I’ll be sharing DJing duties with Nick who drums in their band and they will be supplying a playlist, so hopefully, I shouldn’t go far wrong.
Suggested listening: Darker Dogs EP
Monday, 15 March 2010
As Clearlake so nicely put it “We’ll go jumble sailing when the weather is fine” and that’s just what we did. And I did get a couple of things both for 50p. The first bargain was this ace sci-fi book from the 1960’s.
I don’t read a lot of sci-fi but I couldn’t resist this cover, not at 50p. Then in a box of odds and ends all at 50p each I found this little gem.
Again, as Clearlake said “Who knows all the odd little things that will sail into view?” and this odd little thing is simply charming. It’s about 5cm long by about 3cm high. Is it a cake decoration? I don’t know but it’s a winner. Our house is full of crap like this. Brilliant, we love it. Jonesey got loads of stuff too but you’ll have to check her blog in a couple of days to see what she got.
Suggested viewing/listening: “Jumble Sailing” by Clearlake (from the excellent album “Lido”) on You Tube www.youtube.com/watch?v=flhEOL-MO8E
Sunday, 14 March 2010
When I explained my symptoms’ to the doctor, and following a brief inspection/test of the problem area, I fully expect to hear him talk about diabetes. Well, he did mention it but only to say that it’s only likely to be diabetes if you have the numbness in both feet. I don’t have that so it could be a tumour, something up here (he indicates his head) or maybe something in the spine. Do I have any back problems? No I don’t. Erm, hang on, back up there doc, did you say tumour? In fact he used the word tumour about half a dozen times during my consultation. That was bad enough but the look on his face, well, it wasn’t the comforting look of reassurance I was expecting. It was more of a “dead man walking on the green mile!” kind of look. He mentioned something about nerves and tumours again, there was a sharp intake of breath and he said “I could send you to a neurologist but I don’t know how they’d test for that really. [pause] Do you want to leave it for a bit and see what happens?”
Do I want to leave it, what after you’ve been bandying the word tumour around? “Er, no. I think I’d like to start tests as soon as possible.” So he arranges for an appointment with a neurologist and I make my way home. Tumour. Well, I didn’t see that coming. Somewhat shocked I explained what happened to my partner and we have a cup of tea. Well, I’m British, it’s what we do. Whatever the crisis, however terrible the situation, a cup of tea can only help. Yeah but it’s not a cure for a brain tumour though, is it! Still, it’s more comforting than the doctor was.
After a couple of weeks I have my visit to the neurologist. He didn’t smile much either but at least he didn’t have a look on his face like I wasn’t going to make it to the end of the consultation. He confirmed the numbness and arranged for some more tests involving needles and electricity and an MRI scan. I’ve got all that to look forward to this week then I get the results in a few weeks time. And guess who’s going to give me the test results? That’s right, laughing boy back at my local surgery.
Did I mention that it’s an NHS surgery specialising in homeopathy? That’s not why I go there, it is my local surgery, it’s the one I have to go to but alongside regular, tested medicines they also dish out homeopathic remedies, I can’t bring myself to call them medicines. I think all the doctors there are from Germany or Holland, anyway it’s somewhere where they still use crystals and seaweed and they check your horoscope before they check your blood pressure. Just my luck, I’m scared into thinking I might have a brain tumour by a doctor who worships the wicker man. I thought I would be living on the moon by 2010 not being treated for a terminal illness by being hit on the head with a sheep’s bladder. Beam me up Scotty and have Bones waiting in the transporter room with his tricorder!
Anyway, I don’t want my family worrying unnecessarily so I didn’t tell them anything until this weekend. I’ve been terrified enough for all of us, no point scaring anyone else till I know more myself. The reason I’ve told them now though is that I discovered for myself what it is I have, and it’s certainly not a bloody brain tumour, thank you very much Doctor Placebo.
This is what happened. I woke up at 5am one morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. As you do in the dark of the night I got to imagining the worse and scared myself even more. Later I confide in my lovely other half about being awake half the night and she tells me I’m being silly as it’s almost certainly a neuroma in my foot rather than a tumour in my head and not to worry. I look neuroma up on the internet and find a thing called Morton’s Neuroma which pretty much describes what I have to a tee.
Up to now I’ve been thinking that a best case scenario is that I have diabetes but more likely given the look on the face of Doctor Death and his liberal use of the word tumour I should stick to reading short stories from now on and not bother listening to any long playing records. But Morton’s Neuroma isn’t anywhere near as bad as even my best case scenario and while I’m checking it out online I keep seeing the word “benign”. What a lovely word that now seems. So the end isn’t neigh just yet, although this will only be confirmed when I go through all the tests and scans. However, I’m pretty confident in my self diagnosis, enough to stop being so terrified.
So what is Morton’s Neuroma and how did I get it? Here’s a picture I lifted off the net.
Anyway, well done the internet, you’ve diagnosed my disorder and dispelled my worries about tumours, hopefully. Then tonight while I was looking for a suitable picture to illustrate my problem I found some more websites and blogs all about it, including some I wish I hadn’t read about the tests I’m about to undergo this week with one blogger describing it as "torture" and really "hurting a lot". So I’m really looking forward to Tuesdays adventures in medical testing. I’ll keep you posted.
Suggested listening: "You Need Feet" By Bernard Bresslaw.