Monthly Archives: May 2013

Almanac – May 31

1837 – Joseph Grimaldi died.  English actor, comedian and dancer, who became the most popular English entertainer of the Regency era.

In the early 1800s, he expanded the role of Clown in the harlequinade that formed part of British pantomimes, notably at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and the Sadler’s Wells and Covent Garden theatres, and  became so dominant on the London comic stage that harlequinade Clowns became known as “Joey”, and both the nickname and Grimaldi’s whiteface make-up design were, and still are, used by other types of clowns. He also originated catchphrases such as “Here we are again!”, which continues to feature in modern pantomimes.
In his last years, Grimaldi lived in relative obscurity and became a depressed, impoverished alcoholic, dying at home in Islington in 1837, aged 59.

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1872 – W. Heath Robinson born.  English cartoonist and illustrator, best known for drawings of eccentric machines.

In the UK, the term “Heath Robinson” has entered the language as a description of any unnecessarily complex and implausible contraption, although it  is perhaps more often used in relation to temporary fixes using ingenuity and whatever is to hand, often string and tape, or unlikely cannibalisations.

Its popularity is undoubtedly linked to Second World War Britain’s shortages and the need to “make do and mend“.

 

 

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1996 – Timothy Leary died. American psychologist and writer, known for his advocacy of psychedelic drugs.

During a time when drugs such as LSD and psilocybin were legal, Leary conducted experiments at Harvard University under the Harvard Psilocybin Project, resulting in the Concord Prison Experiment and the Marsh Chapel Experiment.

Both studies produced useful data, but Leary and his associate Richard Alpert were fired from the university nonetheless because of the public controversy surrounding their research.

Leary believed LSD showed therapeutic potential for use in psychiatry. He popularized catchphrases that promoted his philosophy such as “turn on, tune in, drop out” (a phrase given to Leary by Marshall McLuhan); “set and setting“; and “think for yourself and question authority“.

He also wrote and spoke frequently about transhumanist concepts involving space migration, intelligence increase and life extension (SMI²LE), and developed the eight-circuit model of consciousness in his book Exo-Psychology (1977).

During the 1960s and 1970s, he was arrested often enough to see the inside of 29 different prisons worldwide. President Richard Nixon once described Leary as “the most dangerous man in America“.
His death was videotaped for posterity at his request, capturing his final words. During his final moments, he said, “Why not?” to his son Zachary. He uttered the phrase repeatedly, in different intonations, and died soon after. His last word, according to Zach, was “beautiful.”
Seven grams of Leary’s ashes were arranged  to be buried in space aboard a rocket carrying the remains of 24 others including Gene Roddenberry (creator of Star Trek), Gerard O’Neill (space physicist), and Krafft Ehricke (rocket scientist). A Pegasus rocket containing their remains was launched on April 21, 1997, and remained in orbit for six years until it burned up in the atmosphere.

 

 

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Almanac – May 30

1593 – Christopher Marlowe died.  English dramatist, poet and translator of the Elizabethan era.

Marlowe was the foremost Elizabethan tragedian of his day, and  greatly influenced William Shakespeare, who was born in the same year as Marlowe and who rose to become the pre-eminent Elizabethan playwright after Marlowe’s mysterious early death. Marlowe’s plays are known for the use of blank verse, and their overreaching protagonists.

He was stabbed to death by Ingram Frizer. During an argument Marlowe snatched Frizer’s dagger and wounded him on the head. In the ensuing struggle, according to the coroner’s report, Marlowe was stabbed above the right eye, killing him instantly. The jury concluded that Frizer acted in self-defence, and within a month he was pardoned.

Marlowe was buried in an unmarked grave in the churchyard of St. Nicholas, Deptford immediately after the inquest, on 1 June 1593.

 

 

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1778 – Voltaire died. French Enlightenment writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit, his attacks on the established Catholic Church, and his advocacy of freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and separation of church and state.

 Voltaire was a versatile writer, producing works in almost every literary form, including plays, poems, novels, essays, and historical and scientific works. He wrote more than 20,000 letters and more than 2,000 books and pamphlets. He was an outspoken advocate, despite strict censorship laws with harsh penalties for those who broke them. As a satirical polemicist, he frequently made use of his works to criticize intolerance, religious dogma, and the French institutions of his day.

 

 

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1993 – Sun Ra died. Prolific jazz composer, bandleader, piano and synthesizer player, poet and philosopher known for his “cosmic philosophy,” musical compositions and performances.

“Of all the jazz musicians, Sun Ra was probably the most controversial,” critic Scott Yanow said, because of Sun Ra’s eclectic music and unorthodox lifestyle.

Claiming that he was of the “Angel Race” and not from Earth, but from Saturn, Sun Ra developed a complex persona using “cosmic” philosophies and lyrical poetry that made him a pioneer of afrofuturism. He preached awareness and peace above all.

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Water troughs, East Rainton

 

A couple of water troughs alongside the Durham Road, between Rainton Bridge and East Rainton,  near Houghton-le-Spring, Tyne & Wear.

More photos and information at the Holy Wells & Water Lore forum –

http://holywells.boardhost.com/viewtopic.php?id=200

 

 

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Almanac – May 29

1913 – Igor Stravinsky‘s ballet score The Rite of Spring received its premiere performance at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées , Paris.

The avant-garde nature of the music and choreography caused a sensation and a near-riot in the audience. Stravinsky’s score contains many features that were novel for its time, including experiments in tonality, metre, rhythm, stress and dissonance.

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1979 – Mary Pickford died.  Canadian motion picture actress, co-founder of the film studio United Artists and one of the original 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences,  she was one of the Canadian pioneers in early Hollywood and a significant figure in the development of film acting.

Because her international fame was triggered by moving images, she is a watershed figure in the history of modern celebrity and, as one of silent film’s most important performers and producers, her contract demands were central to shaping the Hollywood industry.

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Almanac – May 28

1938 – Prince Buster born. Jamaican singer-songwriter, producer and sound system operator.

He is regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of ska and rocksteady music. The records he released in the 1960s influenced and shaped the course of Jamaican contemporary music and created a legacy of work that later reggae and ska artists would draw upon.

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1944 – Gladys Knight born. American singer-songwriter, actress, businesswoman, humanitarian, and author, best known for the hits she recorded during the 1960s and 1970s, for both the Motown and Buddah Records labels, with her group Gladys Knight & the Pips.

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Almanac – May 27

1894 – Dashiell Hammett born. American author of hard-boiled detective novels and short stories, a screenplay writer, and political activist.

Among the enduring characters he created are Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon), Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man), and the Continental Op (Red Harvest and The Dain Curse).

In addition to the significant influence his novels and stories had on film, Hammett is now widely regarded as one of the finest mystery writers of all time  and was called, in his obituary in The New York Times, “the dean of the… ‘hard-boiled’ school of detective fiction.”

Time magazine included Hammett’s 1929 novel Red Harvest on a list of the 100 best English-language novels published between 1923 and 2005.

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1907 – Rachel Carson born. American marine biologist and conservationist whose book Silent Spring and other writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement.

 Although Silent Spring was met with fierce opposition by chemical companies, it spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy, which led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides, and it inspired a grassroots environmental movement that led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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2011 – Gil Scott-Heron died. American soul and jazz poet, musician, and author, known primarily for his work as a spoken word performer in the 1970s and ’80s.

His collaborative efforts with musician Brian Jackson featured a musical fusion of jazz, blues, and soul, as well as lyrical content concerning social and political issues of the time, delivered in both rapping and melismatic vocal styles by Scott-Heron.

 His own term for himself was “bluesologist“, which he defined as “a scientist who is concerned with the origin of the blues.”

His music, most notably on Pieces of a Man and Winter in America in the early 1970s, influenced and helped engender later African-American music genres such as hip hop and neo soul.

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Almanac – May 26

1647 – Alse Young, hanged in Hartford, Connecticut, became the first known  person to be  executed as a witch in the British American colonies.

Very little is recorded of Alse Young; her existence is only known through her reputation as a witch. She is believed to have been the wife of John Young, who bought a small parcel of land in Windsor in 1641, sold it in 1649, and then disappeared from the town records.

There is no further record of Young’s trial or the specifics of the charge, only that Alse Young was a woman. Early historical record hints at the possibility that there may have been some sort of epidemic in the town of Windsor in early 1647.

She had a daughter, Alice Young Beamon, who would be accused of witchcraft in nearby Springfield, Massachusetts, some 30 years later.

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1828 – Celebrated feral child Kaspar Hauser was discovered wandering the streets of Nuremberg.

At first it was assumed that he was raised half-wild in forests, but during conversations with officials, Hauser told a different version of his past life, which he later also wrote down in more detail. According to this story, for as long as he could remember he spent his life totally alone in a darkened cell about two metres long, one metre wide and one and a half high with only a straw bed to sleep on and a horse carved out of wood for a toy.

He claimed that he found bread and water next to his bed each morning. Periodically the water would taste bitter and drinking it would cause him to sleep more heavily than usual. On such occasions, when he awakened, his straw was changed and his hair and nails were cut.

Hauser claimed that the first human being with whom he ever had contact was a mysterious man who visited him not long before his release, always taking great care not to reveal his face to him.

This man, Hauser said, taught him to write his name by leading his hand. After learning to stand and walk, he was brought to Nuremberg. Furthermore, the stranger allegedly taught him to say the phrase “I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was” (in Bavarian dialect), but Hauser claimed that he did not understand what these words meant.

This tale aroused great curiosity and made Hauser an object of international attention. Rumours arose that he was of princely parentage, possibly of Baden origin, but there were also claims that he was an impostor.

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1897 – Dracula,  by  Bram Stoker, was published.

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1916 – Moondog born. Blind American composer, musician, poet and inventor of several musical instruments.
 
Moving to New York as a young man, Moondog made a deliberate decision to make his home on the streets there, where he spent approximately twenty of the thirty years he lived in the city.

Most days he could be found in his chosen part of town wearing clothes he had created based on his own interpretation of the Norse god Odin.[citation needed] Thanks to his unconventional outfits and lifestyle, he was known for much of his life as “The Viking of 6th Avenue”.

Native American music, along with contemporary jazz and classical, mixed with the ambient sounds from his environment (city traffic, ocean waves, babies crying, etc.)  created the foundation of Moondog’s music.

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1926 – Miles Davis born. American jazz musician, trumpeter, bandleader, and composer.

 Widely considered one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century,  Miles Davis was, with his musical groups, at the forefront of several major developments in jazz music, including bebop, cool jazz, hard bop, modal jazz, and jazz fusion.

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Almanac – May 25

1895 – Playwright, poet, and novelist Oscar Wilde was convicted of “committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons” and sentenced to serve two years in prison.

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1956 – Sugar Minott born. Jamaican reggae singer, producer and sound-system operator.

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1965 – Sonny Boy Williamson II died.  American blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter.

He is acknowledged as one of the most charismatic and influential blues musicians, with considerable prowess on the harmonica and highly creative songwriting skills.

He recorded successfully in the 1950s and 1960s, and had a direct influence on later blues and rock performers.

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1967 – Poppy Z. Brite born. American author,  best known for writing gothic and horror novels and short stories.

Brite’s trademarks have included using gay men as main characters, graphic sexual descriptions in the works, and an often wry treatment of gruesome events.

Some of Brite’s better known novels include Lost Souls (1992), Drawing Blood  (1993), and Exquisite Corpse (1996).

Brite is, in real life, Billy Martin, a transgender man – he self-identifies as a gay man; “Ever since I was old enough to know what gay men were, I’ve considered myself a gay man that happens to have been born in a female body, and that’s the perspective I’m coming from” –  and prefers that male pronouns and terms be used when referring to him.

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2006 – Desmond Dekker died. Jamaican ska, rocksteady and reggae singer-songwriter and musician.

In 1968 Dekker’s “Israelites” was released, eventually topping the UK Singles Chart in April 1969 and peaking in the Top Ten of the US Billboard Hot 100 in June 1969 – Dekker was the first Jamaican artist to have a hit record in the US with a form and style that was purely Jamaican.

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Almanac – May 24

1725 – Jonathan Wild died.  He was perhaps the most infamous criminal of London — and possibly Great Britain — during the 18th century, both because of his own actions and the uses novelists, playwrights, and political satirists made of them.

 He invented a scheme which allowed him to run one of the most successful gangs of thieves of the era, all the while appearing to be the nation’s leading policeman. He manipulated the press and the nation’s fears to become the most loved public figure of the 1720s; this love turned to hatred when his villainy was exposed. After his death, he became a symbol of corruption and hypocrisy.

When Wild was taken for execution to the gallows at Tyburn , Daniel Defoe said that the crowd was far larger than any they had seen before and that, instead of any celebration or commiseration with the condemned,

    “wherever he came, there was nothing but hollowing and huzzas,
    as if it had been upon a triumph.”

Wild’s hanging was a great event, and tickets were sold in advance for the best vantage points. Even in a year with a great many macabre spectacles, Wild drew an especially large and boisterous crowd. The hangman, Richard Arnet, had been a guest at Wild’s wedding.

In the dead of night, Wild’s body was buried in secret at the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church next to Elizabeth Mann, his third wife.  His burial was only temporary.

In the 18th century, autopsies and dissections were performed on the most notorious criminals, and consequently Wild’s body was exhumed and sold to the Royal College of Surgeons for dissection. His skeleton remains on public display in the Royal College’s Hunterian Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

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Hetton Lyons to Ryhope (Avoiding Traffic)

Hetton Lyons Country Park, on the outskirts of the town of Hetton-le-Hole, rose like a green pheonix from the ashes of the mining industry – where once people worked and died (there’s a monument to those who perished in a mining disaster) there are now three lakes, woodland, wetland and acres of open space. 

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I had business at the park in the morning, but free by 1 p.m. I thought rather than catch the bus back the 8 or 9 miles into the city I’d walk back, trying to avoid traffic wherever possible (I find the sound of moving traffic increasingly annoying).

I left the country park by another relic of mining days – an old mineral line, now a footpath, which once carried coal wagons.

On the hillsides, Gorse bushes are in flower. Those yellow flowers can be used to make a very nice wine, but you need a lot of them, and Gorse thorns exact payment in blood.

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The footpath climbs steadily in an easterly direction.

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Eventually the footpath intersects with a minor road, and I turn onto this heading north. This  single-track road is called Salter’s Lane, which suggests it may have once been part of an ancient saltway – an old trading route.

The road passes through a farmyard, and then  I’m in a landscape of wind-turbines that’d have freaked out Don Quixote.

4In some areas there is a lot of anti-wind turbine feeling, but I like them, I think they enhance, rather than spoil the landscape. If the hillside was dotted with old-style windmills, that’d be thought scenic. But what’s the difference really ? Both use the power of the wind to create power.

5A little way beyond the farm I leave the saltway and head eastwards again, along a track that leads through fields and woodland before eventually depositing me on another old railway line turned footpath just outside the village of Murton – somewhere along that track I crossed the boundry from the City of Sunderland  into County Durham.

6Murton was a pit village – small town, really –  that for centuries was a small farming community, which grew due to the Industrial Revolution and the need for coal.

Heading northwards again, a little further on I get a first glimpse of the North Sea on the eastern horizon.

7One problem with old railway lines as paths is that they’re often boringly straight. So is this one, but at least most of the way its raised up above the surrounding countryside on an embankment, giving good views to either side.

After a cold Spring, this warm May day has brought out flowers along the way, both wild and feral escapees from gardens. Here’s some Cowslips…

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My only real brush with traffic along the way is when the path crosses the A19 (a motorway in all but name), and I ponder that its predecessor, the railway, is now given over to pedestrian and cycle use (as are the railway’s predecessors, the canals) – will there come a day when motorways too become footpaths ?

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A sign-post along the way. It’s numbered 1, but I passed no others along the way.

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Ah – now this bench is a piece of personal history.  Several years, and jobs, ago I painted this, and its sibling benches along this stretch of the path. I particularly remember this otherwise mundane job because it was a raw Winter’s day in January or February, and a cruel wind was blowing in from the North Sea, giving every impression that the last landmass it had crossed had been northern Scandinavia, and bringing with it gifts of intermittant rain and hailstones.

You might think – and I certainly did – that it wasn’t a good idea to be painting benches in the rain. The paint might not take properly, and, more to the point, people do not do a good job when being subjected to the icy blast of the elements and can no longer feel their fingers, feet and other parts.

But the boss was not a flexible man. Once he decided a job had to be done on a certain day, that was it. I guess we were just lucky it wasn’t under 3 feet of snow – he’d have had us digging them out, then painting them.

Looks like its due for a re-paint. But not by me !

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And now I was approaching the end of this footpath, Ryhope – once a village, now the outer limits of Sunderland.  This last picture is looking back, southwards, along the path…

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After a warm, sunny afternoon, dark clouds were piling up and the first raindrops falling as I walked the short distance to the nearest bus stop… a short distance within which two buses going my way passed me !

Luckily its a route well-served by public transport and so I only had to wait about 10 minutes before another two buses came along, one behind the other ! I caught the first one back into the city centre.

This journey was probably somewhere in the region of 8 to 10 miles. Hard to be sure, because I detour to look at things.

 

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