Friday, November 24, 2006

It's all a plot ... Part 2

Some extraordinary images from Gilles Barbier's artwork L'hospice (The Nursing Home) where he's very loudly making the point that no matter how 'super' we are, we all bow to the Grim Reaper.

That's a jolly thought isn't it?

Actually, this was just the logical follow on from my earlier post about feeling older. And I've wanted an excuse to post these pics up for a while now.

I'm actually feeling quite chipper!

It's all a plot to make me feel old ...

I once heard comedian Billy Connolly say that he knew he was getting old when he started making grunting noises while picking things up. For me it's been far more traumatic.

I turned 45 in August and, until then, had enjoyed relatively rude health. I have a back injury that causes me a bit of pain now and again but I rarely have a cold, or sore throats or tummy bugs or any of the common ailments that trouble us. But since August, things have changed dramatically. My blood pressure went up. My cholestrerol soared to 7.4. My left knee started to play me up. And I started getting headaches.

I've dealt with the blood pressure issue by losing some weight and my cholesterol is better. The headaches were because I now need reading glasses. And the knee? Some cartilege damage leftover from my youthful days as a hooker ... while playing Rugby, folks (you think I'd get work as a male prostitute with this face?). I'm pencilled in for an operation in the new year.

So, now that's all been dealt with, I don't feel so old ... or didn't until 10.50pm on the 22nd when my daughter Kerys presented me with my second grandchild. I'm a grandad again.

So welcome to the world Tyler Myghal Dawson Colgan, a little brother for Leah. Like most babies, he looks like a grumpy old man.

Just like me, in fact.

Ooh ... I'm sure my prostate's starting to rumble ...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Clucking furculas!

Researching my book about luck continues to dominate my life. In preparation for the silly season that is Christmas, I've been digging around for the origin of the lucky wishbone.

Yes, I've been fiddling with furculas.

The furcula is the fused collarbones found in birds. And not just birds. They've also been found in the fossil remains of theropod dinosaurs from as far back as 150 million years, which strengthens the pretty much accepted theory that birds are the dinosaurs that survived. Notch up one more point for the Evolutionists. Take that you pesky Creationists!

It was the Etruscans, that mysterious Italian culture that existed before the Romans, who started the whole business of wishbonery by using hens for divination. They would draw a circle on the ground, divide it into 20 segments (one for each letter in their alphabet) and then place some food in each. By following the bird's progress around this living Ouija board, a priest would note the letter order and interpret the messages. Later, when the bird died or was sacrificed, its entrails would be 'read' (Alectromancy) and the wishbone kept and dried. Rubbing it would then grant luck. Once they'd absorbed the Etruscans, the Romans started breaking the bones for luck. And it's gone on ever since.

But, of course, there's always only ever one wishbone per Christmas/ Thanksgiving/ birthday/ Sunday roast dinner. And what about the vegetarians? There's no good luck involved in pulling a carrot. But why should they lose out?

The problem was solved by Seattle entrepreneur Ken Ahroni who, in 1999, developed a plastic wishbone that would break with the same satisfactory snap as a real one. Since then, he's sold millions of them. They're really popular in the USA, especially around Thanksgiving. The vegetarians are happy. The kids are happy. Even the environmentalists are happy as they're biodegradable too. What an inspired idea. Ken's company even produces special edition wishbones to tie in with events like the Superbowl and Presidential elections. But can you find them in the UK? Not a chance. I've been searching everywhere. So, in the end, I contacted Ken and he sent me 100 of them. What a nice chap. His website is here.

I'm planning a mass public snapping.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Vision of Dog

Remember my post back in May about Jesus appearing in a slice of toast? Well, the gods of silly simulacra have been at it once more and The Holy Son has manifested himself yet again ... this time on the arse of a dog.

Of course, it could be a fake. But it does beg the question of why anyone, faker or otherwise, wanted to take a photo of a dog's arse?

Borne away to Stornoway

I've just spent a very pleasant brace of days teaching in the Outer Hebrides. On the Isle of Lewis to be precise; home of the famous Viking chessmen, gaelic speaking crofters and more sheep than you can shake a jar of mint sauce at.

I've always fancied visiting the islands because of the stones. The Outer Hebrides, or Western Isles, are home to some of the UK's most impressive neolithic sites. But, for one reason or another, I never quite got around to it. Which is no excuse really as the islands are so easy to get to. I took an hour's flight from Heathrow to Glasgow and then hopped on another hour-long flight from Glasgow to Stornoway. Even allowing for a changeover of an hour and a half at Glasgow, I made the journey in under four hours ... It can sometimes take me that long to get to the far side of London from here in High Wycombe.

I arrived on the evening of Sunday November 5th - Guy Fawkes' Night - and expected to have an unusual view of the celebrations below. How fascinating to see fireorks and bonfires from above! Except there weren't any. The islands are staunchly Scottish Presbyterian and they don't allow that sort of malarkey on the Lord's Day. In fact, I was lucky to have even flown there on a Sunday. I was told that when flights first started on Sundays, outraged ministers blocked the runway.
But I'd finally got there. Stopping to collect my bag from the smallest baggage retrieval system in the world (and while being glowered at by a chessman), I attempted to get a cab to my hotel. I was told that there would be at least a half an hour wait as only one taxi driver ('he's an Englishman') works on Sundays and he was having his tea. So I waited. I couldn't walk. Although the hotel was less than a mile away, there are no pavements, no street lights and it was pitch black outside.
I was to learn that the darkness is something you have to get used to this far North. As it's November, the islands are dark by 4pm. I soon realised that all I was likely to see of Lewis was the inside of my hotel room and the inside of a classroom. Sigh. Sio much for prehistoric standing stones. But then, one of my participants offered to give me a whistle-stop tour of the main sites that evening.
It was already gloomy when we began our tour. We took a circular route around the West coast, taking in the Carloway Broch, the black house villages and other sites. By the time we got to Callanish, it was really dark. Or it would have been if we hadn't had a full Moon. It was almost bright enough to drive by. It certainly added to the atmosphere. Callanish by moonlight is magnificent.
The stones were worth the trip alone. Amazing things. But just in case you can't make anything out in the picture above (which is, after all, illuminated by nothing except moonlight and the car's headlights in the background), here's what they're supposed to look like if you see them in daylight.

Friday, November 03, 2006

My Jewellery Designs

Back in 2001 when Dawn and I decided to tie the knot, I decided that it might be nice to design my own wedding ring. I know this very clever jeweller called Neil Fullard and he'd mentioned several times in the past that he'd like to have a go at making something designed by me. So the time seemed ripe.

My starting point was that I wanted to design a ring that looked as if it had flowed around my finger and set hard. I wanted sexy, curvaceous shapes. And I wanted it to look almost grown rather than manufactured. After about 20-25 drawings, I arrived at this (above). I could see waves in it, which made me think of my native Cornwall and the sea. There was something like a dolphin leaping in the shape. And there were boat keels and crab claws. It seemed to fulfil my criteria. But, as an extra design feature, I fancied trapping a gemstone in one of the gaps, just like seasnails or sea-smoothed pebbles catch in the gaps and cracks of rockpools. I gave the design to Neil and he made it up in platinum with a deep blue - almost black - sapphire. It was just what I was after. He's a clever boy.

Next, I designed a brooch. Again, I was keen to feature as many natural forms as I could. And after much doodling, I came up with this:
It is based around the shape of an egg - nature's perfect receptacle - and boasts features such as the split leaves of rubber plants, a shark's gills, the crest of a hadrosaur, a foetus, a hornbill's bill, a lion's tail and many more, all distilled down into a single complex shape. Neil made up a prototype and, again, it looks gorgeous. I must get around to designing the rest of the set some day.