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Almanac – March 12

1507 – Cesare Borgia died. Italian nobleman, politician, and cardinal. He was the son of Pope Alexander VI and his long-term mistress Vannozza dei Cattanei, and  the brother of Lucrezia Borgia. He was killed  while fighting in the city of Viana, Spain.

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1626 – John Aubrey born.  English antiquary, natural philosopher and writer.  He was a pioneer archaeologist, who recorded (often for the first time) numerous megalithic and other field monuments in southern England, and who is particularly noted as the discoverer of the Avebury henge monument.  The Aubrey holes at Stonehenge are named after him, although there is considerable doubt as to whether the holes that he observed are those that currently bear the name.

 He was also a pioneer folklorist, collecting together a miscellany of material on customs, traditions and beliefs under the title “Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme”.

He set out to compile county histories of both Wiltshire and Surrey, although both projects remained unfinished. His “Interpretation of Villare Anglicanum” (also unfinished) was the first attempt to compile a full-length study of English place-names.

He had wider interests in applied mathematics and astronomy, and was friendly with many of the greatest scientists of the day.

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1922 – Jack Kerouac born. American novelist and poet. He is considered a literary iconoclast and, alongside William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, a pioneer of the Beat Generation.

Kerouac is recognized for his spontaneous method of writing, covering topics such as Catholic spirituality, jazz, promiscuity, Buddhism, drugs, poverty, and travel. He became an underground celebrity and, with other beats, a progenitor of the hippie movement, although he remained antagonistic toward some of its politically radical elements.

All of his books are in print today, among them: On the Road, Doctor Sax, The Dharma Bums, Mexico City Blues, The Subterraneans, Desolation Angels, Visions of Cody, The Sea is My Brother, and Big Sur.

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1955 – Charlie Parker died. American jazz saxophonist and composer. Miles Davis once said, “You can tell the history of jazz in four words: Louis Armstrong. Charlie Parker.”

Parker was a highly influential jazz soloist and a leading figure in the development of bebop, a form of jazz characterized by fast tempos, virtuosic technique, and improvisation. Parker introduced revolutionary harmonic ideas, including rapid passing chords, new variants of altered chords, and chord substitutions.

He acquired the nickname “Yardbird” early in his career and the shortened form, “Bird”, which continued to be used for the rest of his life, inspired the titles of a number of Parker compositions, such as “Yardbird Suite” and “Ornithology.

Parker died in the suite of his friend and patron Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter at the Stanhope Hotel in New York City while watching The Dorsey Brothers’ Stage Show on television.

The official causes of death were lobar pneumonia and a bleeding ulcer but Parker also had an advanced case of cirrhosis and had suffered a heart attack. The coroner who performed his autopsy mistakenly estimated Parker’s 34-year-old body to be between 50 and 60 years of age.

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Almanac – March 03

1756 – William Godwin born. English journalist, political philosopher and novelist. He is considered one of the first exponents of utilitarianism, and the first modern proponent of anarchism.

 Godwin is most famous for two books that he published within the space of a year: An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, an attack on political institutions, and Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams, which attacks aristocratic privilege, but also is the first mystery novel. Based on the success of both, Godwin featured prominently in the radical circles of London in the 1790s.

 In the ensuing conservative reaction to British radicalism, Godwin was attacked, in part because of his marriage to the pioneering feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft in 1797 and his candid biography of her after her death.

Their daughter, Mary Godwin (later Mary Shelley) would go on to write Frankenstein and marry the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

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1765 – William Stukeley died. English antiquarian who pioneered the archaeological investigation of the prehistoric monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury, work for which he has been remembered as “probably… the most important of the early forerunners of the discipline of archaeology”.

Becoming involved in the newly fashionable organisation of Freemasonry, he also began to describe himself as a “druid“, and incorrectly believed that the prehistoric megalithic monuments were a part of the druidic religion. However, despite this he has been noted as being a significant figure in the early development of the modern movement known as Neo-druidry.

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1863 – Arthur Machen born.  Welsh author and mystic of the 1890s and early 20th century. He is best known for his influential supernatural, fantasy, and horror fiction. His novella “The Great God Pan” (1890; 1894) has garnered a reputation as a classic of horror (Stephen King has called it “Maybe the best [horror story] in the English language”). He is also well known for his leading role in creating the legend of the Angels of Mons.

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1951 – Jackie Brenston, with Ike Turner and his band, recorded “Rocket 88″, often cited as the first rock and roll record, at Sam Phillips‘ recording studios in Memphis, Tennessee.

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2006 – Ivor Cutler died. Scottish poet, songwriter and humorist. He became known for his regular performances on BBC radio, and in particular his numerous sessions recorded for John Peel‘s influential radio programme, and later for Andy Kershaw‘s programme. He appeared in The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour film in 1967 and on Neil Innes‘ television programmes.

The hallmarks of Cutler’s work are surreal, bizarre juxtapositions and close attention to small details of existence, all described in seemingly naive language. In performance his delivery was frail, halting and minimally inflected. His writing sometimes edged into whimsy or the macabre. Many of his poems and songs are in the form of conversations delivered as a monologue

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Almanac – November 07

1492 – The Ensisheim Meteorite, the oldest meteorite with a known date of impact, struck the Earth around noon in a wheat field outside the village of Ensisheim, Alsace, France.

The meteorite was an LL6 ordinary chondrite, weighing 127 kilograms; it was described as triangular in shape, and it created a 1 meter deep hole upon impact.The fall of the meteorite through the Earth’s atmosphere was observed as a fireball for a distance of up to 150 kilometres from where it eventually landed.

Sebastian Brant (1458–1521), satirist and author of “Das Narrenschiff” described the meteorite and its fall in the poem, “Loose Leaves Concerning the Fall of the Meteorite”

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1687 – William Stukeley born.  English antiquarian who pioneered the archaeological investigation of the prehistoric monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury, work for which he has been remembered as “probably the most important of the early forerunners of the discipline of archaeology”

Becoming involved in the newly fashionable organisation of Freemasonry, he also began to describe himself as a “druid”, and incorrectly believed that the prehistoric megalithic monuments were a part of the druidic religion. However, despite this he has been noted as being a significant figure in the early development of the modern movement known as Neo-druidry.

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1872 – The ship Mary Celeste sailed from New York, eventually to be found deserted.

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1879 – Leon Trotsky born. Russian Marxist revolutionary and theorist, Soviet politician, and the founder and first leader of the Red Army.

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1908 – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were reportedly killed in San Vicente, Bolivia.
Two Americans certainly seem to have died in a shoot-out with the authorities, but their identities have never been confirmed, and there seems to be evidence that both outlaws returned to the USA and lived on at least into the 1930s.
Their real names, incidentally, were Robert LeRoy Parker and Harry Alonzo Longabaugh.

Hollywood, of course, re-wrote history in time honoured tradition…

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1913 – Albert Camus born.  French pied-noir author, journalist, and philosopher. His views contributed to the rise of the philosophy known as absurdism.

He wrote in his essay “The Rebel” that his whole life was devoted to opposing the philosophy of nihilism while still delving deeply into individual freedom. Although often cited as a proponent of existentialism, the philosophy with which Camus was associated during his own lifetime, he rejected this particular label. In an interview in 1945, Camus rejected any ideological associations: “No, I am not an existentialist. Sartre and I are always surprised to see our names linked…”

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1991 – Tom of Finland died.  Finnish artist notable for his stylized androerotic and fetish art and his influence on late twentieth century gay culture. He has been called the “most influential creator of gay pornographic images” by cultural historian Joseph W. Slade.

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Almanac – September 21

1792 – France. The National convention voted to abolish the monarchy and declare France a republic.

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1809 – UK foreign minister George Canning and war minister Viscount Castlereagh attempted to resolve a political disagreement by fighting a duel. Both survived, and resigned.

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1823 – Joseph Smith was alledgedly visited by the angel Moroni, who told him the location of gold plates, which Smith obtained four years later and partially translated into The Book of Mormon.

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1866 – H. G. Wells born. English author, now best known for his work in the science fiction genre. He was also a prolific writer in many other genres, including contemporary novels, history, politics and social commentary, even writing textbooks and rules for war games. Together with Jules Verne and Hugo Gernsback, Wells has been referred to as “The Father of Science Fiction”. His most notable science fiction works include The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The Invisible Man and The Island of Doctor Moreau.

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1915 – Stonehenge  sold at auction for 6600 pounds. Buyer was a C.H. Chubb.

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1937 – The Hobbit by  J.R.R. Tolkien published.

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1942 – U-Roy born. Jamaican musician. U-Roy’s musical career began in 1961 when he began deejaying at various sound systems,  including  a stint operating Sir Coxsone Dodd’s Number Two set.  Though  not the first microphone artist, he was the first to gain recognition through recording this style,  popularizing  and gaining  a wider audience for “toasting”; rapping over “versions” of popular songs.  Considered one of Jamaica’s first Deejay stars, he  raised the art  to new heights, not  just spitting  a few phrases here and there, he rode the riddim from the starting gate to the last furlong.  Working with Duke Reid, he created a version of the Paragons‘  “Wear You to the Ball” which became the first  toast  record to make an impact,  in 1969.

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Sycophancy Knows No Limits

Its been there since 1858, it’s officially called the Clock Tower, but most people probably know it by the name of the bell it houses – Big Ben.

But now, in the latest bit of jubilee sycophancy, it is to be renamed the Elizabeth Tower in honour of Mrs Windsor, the House of Commons has confirmed.

It follows a campaign, backed by most MPs and the three main party leaders, to rename the tower in recognition of the Queen’s 60 years of unelected privilidge. The House of Commons authorities have now agreed the change – like they were ever likely to say no.

Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood originally proposed the idea an early day motion which was backed by 40 MPs. The motion called on the House of Commons Commission to consider the change “in recognition of Her Majesty’s 60 years of unbroken public service on behalf of her country”. Mr Ellwood is no doubt contemplating  a just reward in a future honours list.

And this at a time when many of those same MPs are seriously considering cutting the benefits of those already at the bottom of the pile… something that I hope voters will bear in mind come the next election. 

Coming soon –

> Stonehenge to be renamed Queenhenge.

> Glastonbury Tor to be renamed Sixty Glorious Years Tor.

> London to be renamed Elizabethville.

Why not ?  The sycophancy seems to know no bounds now.

Mr. Frankenstein

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SUMMER SOLSTICE

Today is the Summer Solstice… well, not exactly – a solstice is a point in time rather than a day, and in 2012 that point in time was 23:09 UT  last night. And only in the northern hemisphere – if you’re reading this south of the equator, your Summer Solstice is of course 6 months distant, at 11.12 UT, December 21. Something to look forward to anyway…

So, the Summer Solstice – pay attention now, there may be questions asked later :

The summer solstice occurs exactly when the axial tilt of a planet’s semi-axis in a given hemisphere is most inclined towards the star that it orbits. Earth’s maximum axial tilt to our star, the Sun, during a solstice is 23° 26′. This happens twice each year, at which times the Sun reaches its highest position in the sky as seen from the North or South Pole respectively.

The summer solstice is the solstice that occurs in a hemisphere’s summer. In the Northern Hemisphere this is the Northern solstice, in the Southern Hemisphere this is the Southern solstice. Depending on the shift of the calendar, the summer solstice occurs some time between December 20 and December 23 each year in the Southern Hemisphere  and between June 20 and June 22 in the Northern Hemisphere  in reference to UTC.

Though the summer solstice is an instant in time, the term is also colloquially used like Midsummer to refer to the day on which it occurs. Except in the polar regions (where daylight is continuous for many months), the day on which the summer solstice occurs is the day of the year with the longest period of daylight.

Thank you Wikipedia.

As is usual for the British Summer Solstice, an estimated 14,500 people descended on Stonehenge to see the Sun rise – or not, as the usual British Midsummer weather was, well, the usual British Midsummer weather. Or as one report put it:   “The sunrise at 4.52am was welcomed by rain-sodden crowds with a loud cheer and applause despite the sun being blanketed by dark clouds.”  Just so.

I’ve never really understood why crowds wishing to celebrate the Solstices always seem to think it’s de rigueur to descend on Stonehenge and  similar places. I have to admit that I’ve never visted Stonehenge myself, but various acounts from sources that have – including members of my own family – suggest that it’s actually rather sterile spiritually.

Of course, there’s also the fact that I dont like crowds much either, so the thought of spending the darkest hour before the dawn in the rain-soaked company of 14,500 strangers doesn’t, if I’m honest, really appeal. I guess I lean more towards the hermit-mentality, spiritually speaking, and dont really see the need for an extra layer of bureacracy between me and whatever gods  I might choose to believe in…whether its  a Church of England vicar or a  neo-Druid Priest at Stonehenge.

And of course there’s the fact that many – most ? – of those at Stonehenge probably travelled long distances to be there. Fair enough, if that’s what they want to do, but don’t they have any sacred sites nearer to home ? 

And sacred doesn’t have to mean there’s an ancient stone circle there. Myself ?  Early this morning I was up and out to my allotment garden, walking 3 miles across town to get there. Just a rectangle of land, one-sixteenth of an acre surrounded by other one-sixteenth of an acre plots by a railway line on the edge of town

But I’ve worked it for two decades, and it’s become a very personal sacred space to me. Being here alone on the Summer Solstice is far more meaningful to me than mingling with the crowds far away in Wiltshire could ever be.  But each to their own, I guess.

Here’s the song I sing as I work –

 

For the record – it was overcast here too. By 08:00 BST the rain had started. By 09:30 I’d given up and gone home. Then a fog came in from the sea. Oh to be in Britain, now that Midsummer’s here…

 

Mr. Frankenstein

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