Thursday, 7 October 2021

Super Sizzling Syzygy.....

Certainly, I am rather backward but when I first stumbled over this word, it sounded like a newly-branded energy drink. Or the name of a Czechoslovakian perfume. Or a strange skin disorder. Or yet another cute cartoon character launching a range of themed merchandise. Or one of those obscure political slogans that you see emblazoned across t-shirts, which keep everyone guessing without reaching any conclusions.
Wrong again. But now that I know what it means, I just can’t stop composing….night and day…..sun and moon...little and large...joy and sorrow….light and dark….boy and girl…..Tom and Jerry…..by the way, does anyone know how to pronounce the word?

Sunday, 3 October 2021

The Bake-Off is Back

What with scientific Jurgen and engineering Giuseppe contending for the Bake Off prize, we have so much to look forward to. In the forthcoming weeks, I anticipate an Eiffel Tower of trifle, a research project of fruit tarts and plum puddings, and on savoury week, a probe into the bacteria that grows on varieties of cheese. In the meantime, we have so much to look forward to, landscapes of lemon meringue, castles of cake and chocolate, and seas of sponge topped with shortbread sail boats and waffle whales. All this amid the tears of joy and sorrow, cries of triumph and wails of despair at confections collapsing – or simply failing to impress the duo of judges. But what I love most are the antics of Noel and of the inimitable Matt – I just love that man - aah! My mouth is watering already.

Monday, 13 September 2021

OMG! I was on THAT...?

Several moons ago on this very site, I posted my account of the Vampire "jaw-dropping, heart-stopping, head-spinning, sense-dimming" experience at Chessington World of Adventures, one that rendered me a quivering wreck for years afterwards. Ever the glutton for punishment, I have just graduated from the child-oriented Chessington to the adolescent version, Thorpe Park. Well, I am quivering again. In a nutshell, Thorpe Park has more OMG! moments than an Indiana Jones movie. My experiences included the Tidal Wave “one of Europe’s tallest water rides” and The Swarm (see left) “reaches a top speed of 59 km an hour” and beginning to end is the “same length as 175 Great White sharks” - seriously, did anyone ever measure a Great White shark? I endured a roasting on the Nemesis Inferno which “has a section with a zero-g roll where riders become weightless” - no wonder I felt light-headed when back upon beloved terra firma. And they were not the scariest rides! I could have gotten on (but did not) The Colossus which “pulls 4.2 g’s of G-force on its riders”. Or The Saw which “has a vertical drop, plummeting you at an angle of 100 degrees down a 100ft drop”. And The Stealth is “the tallest ride at Thorpe Park, at a staggering 62.5 m tall”. Guh! Guh! Guh! Seriously though, why do we love being scared? Personally, I put it all down to Edmund Burke and his book A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, published 1757, in which the good philosopher tells us, in so many words, why we, er, love being scared. I quote: “Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the idea of pain and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible or is conversant about terrible object, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime; that is, it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is feeling.” In summary, you only feel truly alive when you come close to losing it all. And in the tame West, we need our theme parks and petrifying roller coasters. With the holidays coming to a close, I return willingly to the slower, gentler death of everyday life.
(Thorpe Parke, Chertsey Road, Surrey, is open daily. All quotations taken from its publicity material.)

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Let's twist again

Friend, I have never been a sportie. School games left me in a corner of a tarmac court, quivering least that terrifying phenomenon,
THE BALL, should fly in my direction. But right now, I am quivering with outrage at the conduct of the European Handball Federation over the dress code of a group of young Norwegian sports’ women. The EHF have fined the team, it seems, for wearing SHORTS on the beach handball arena, instead of bikini bottoms. I ask you: why have the members of the EHF gotten their underwear in a twist? Whatever the answer is: they get to wear their underwear as underwear, while the sports’ women are expected to wear their underwear as outer wear. Just imagine the furore if male footballers were expected to go on the pitch with their private members covered only in cod-pieces? Surely all that matters is that the handball team wear clothing that is uniform, comfortable and non-hampering, while playing? Right now, I stand in the sand with these feisty young women – so long as they don’t send THE BALL in my direction.

Friday, 6 August 2021

A Traveller in Time

During the 1970's, the BBC presented us with A Traveller In Time, a serialised drama to fit their afternoon children’s drama slot. With a name like that and the era it was broadcast in – that of Star Trek, Blake’s Seven, Dr Who – I expected to witness a hokum futuristic set peopled by humans in helmets and boiler suits, and other motifs of a now defunct space age, entertaining a lost denizen of the twentieth century. But, lo, what a surprise! A Traveller In Time, written by Alison Uttley, is the story of a teenage girl who lives in a relative’s country house while recovering from an illness. In and about the old farmhouse, she encounters people dressed in sixteenth-century clothing and soon realises she is drifting between a bygone time and the present day. The ‘historical’ people intrigue her and slowly, she pieces the puzzle together. She, the heroine, becomes the sometime companion of a group of people conspiring to free Mary Queen of Scots, imprisoned in a nearby castle. The story was beautifully filmed, the two eras enchantingly interwoven, the heroine sensitive to whichever century she happened to be in. She goes on helping the conspirators, being careful not to reveal what she knows about the eventual fate of the Queen of Scots. The drama became the highlight of my week, and I felt real loss when it was over. Alison Uttley was unusual in that she was born in 1884, and became the second woman to graduate from Manchester University, with a degree in physics. Uttley was intrigued by the idea of time travel, as many physicists still are. The novel was the result of this interest, combined with her fertile imagination and skill as a lyrical writer. Later in life, Uttley was to write stories for illustrated children’s books, creating characters like Little Grey Rabbit and Sam Pig. Happily she was with us until 1976, long enough to witness the triumph of the Apollo missions in space. What she would say to our slow progress in conquering the solar system, if she were here today, we can only imagine.

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

The Day of the Horse

With all of this Olympic hubris flying about, horsemanship et al, I have begun to recall an event many, many years ago when I found myself in company with a horse. By this, I do not mean standing on one side of a fence with Dobbin safely tethered on the other. No, I mean in the actual presence of a horse, standing right up close and personal to the beast while he restlessly whinnied and his hooves – the diameter of dinner plates – roved about on the ground. Even though there were other people well used to horses in control of him, I was petrified, electrified. Friend, the beast was magnificent, on a scale I had never before witnessed. The ‘dip’ in his back – don’t know the jargon, I’m afraid – was roughly on a level with my head. And at 5’8’’, I don’t stand small. Presently, I got used to this exposure to danger and forgot my fears and began to consider Chappie’s other dimensions; the unbelievable undulation of his flank, the proportionally huge haunches, the preternaturally long legs. I longed to stroke his silky mane but I was in terror of a nip from those teeth – on calculation, I would say the distances from the top of his head to the tip of his nose was at least three feet – more than half my height. Instead, I reached out and tentatively stroked his flank. Once again, I was electrified. Instead of being cold and hard, like the dark-brown, shiny coat suggested, Chappie’s flank was warm, alive, throbbing with the power that had led us, for decades, to define our engines in terms of horsepower. Now, I understood the magical, mystical connotations that, for centuries, attached themselves to horses, why we painted their forms on the walls of caves and carved them on the sides of chalk hills. It was an experience that I will never forget. It was, in a word, awesome. But in spite of his magnificence, the memory of Chappie is sad and sweet. What place does the horse have in this world of super fast trains, planes and sky rockets? In aeons to come, I hope humans remember the beast whose power gave rise to the automated age and continue to find a place for him in their mythology – if mythology hasn’t died out either, that is.

Saturday, 17 July 2021

Super Stourhead

The early 1700s' saw a frenzy of stately home building in the English countryside. Merchants and bankers grown wealthy from the proliferation of trade and commerce during the 1600s needed a showcase for their winnings. The Hoare banking family was among this roll-call of the nouveau riche. Their chosen plot was Stourhead in the heart of Wiltshire, England. In 1727, architect Sir Colen Campbell designed and built their Palladian villa. Tradition has it that Henry Hoare II - also known as Henry the Magnificient - designed and laid out the garden of Stourhead so that, from every point of view, it appeared like the idealised landscape of the classical painter.   Stourhead set a precedent for themed parks and gardens that has prevailed in the western world, ever since.
Eighteenth-century Europe was gripped by a frenzy for Neoclassicism, that is, a passion for the reinterpretation of existing classical styles. Because he was a scion of the eighteenth century, Henry Hoare II would most definitely have made the Grand Tour, that almost obligatory trip around France and Italy for every young gentleman of wealth and breeding. Such trips fostered friendships between fellow travellers, laying down social connections for life and engendering tastes in European foods and fashions, art and architecture, tastes that were imported 'back home'. 
Every visitor to Stourhead receives a map of the layout of the garden and all of its features, along with a suggested trail to follow. This is so you can derive the maximum enjoyment from the visit. The trail takes the visitor around the lake - the result of a dammed river - up hill and through forest, over bridge and into tunnel, and past several 'fabriques' or follies; the Temple of Flora, the Grotto, the Pantheon, and others. The garden is structured so that the visitor is always in view of at least one of these features. Tradition has it that these 'Italian' views evoke  the paintings of the artist Claude Gelee, better known as Claude Lorraine (1600-1682). 
In his styling of Stourhead as an idealized slice of Italy, Hoare was buying into another system, that of fashion. The recognisable fabriques of Claude's paintings transformed what could have been merely a pretty piece of wooded land into an entire cultural experience. Nowadays, we are so familiar with themed parks and experiences, that we don't turn a hair when a new one is opened. In the meantime, if you are visiting Stourhead, do not go when it is raining, but wait for the sunshine - and it's well worth it, I promise.