Monday, 23 March 2015

BBC Radio Jersey Interview

Tony at BBC Radio Jersey with 2 meteorites.

On Sunday, I had a great chat with Christina Ghidoni on BBC Radio Jersey, mainly about astronomy and the Jersey Astronomy Club, but also about the Parish Magazine, my blog, and my poetry. I even read my poem about eclipses!

I took along two small meteorites, as people don’t usually get to see them, or even handle them. To hold something which has come from outer space is rather a different experience, and Christina had never done so before.

For those interested, the Jersey Astronomy links are:

We meet once a month, on the second Monday at the Club house, Les Creux. Why not come along to see? You can come along to one meeting before deciding whether you would like to be a member and pay the very modest dues.

Music and songs:

Now the Carnival is Over by the Seekers (1967)

This one me back to childhood memories. The “Battle of Flowers”, of course, is the “carnival”, I remember mostly, and we used to go to the “Golden Egg Restaurant” in Wharf Street, St Helier. I tuink it was part of a chain, and they had egg shaped menus, egg shaped plates, and of course a lot of egg courses on the menu. As a lover of egg and chips, it was heaven!

Surprisingly, we had few Beatles albums at home, but lots of Seekers ones. Judith Durham’s voice is wonderful, and her backing by Athol Guy - ‎Keith Potger and ‎Bruce Woodley was also good. Although they sang pop songs, they did so almost in a folk style.

Pipes of Peace by Paul McCartney (1983)

Help them to learn (help them to learn)
Songs of joy instead of burn, baby, burn, (burn, baby burn)
Let us show them how to play the pipes of peace
Play the pipes of peace

People now don’t realise how much of a threat atomic warfare was. We grew up in the shadow of the bomb. Carl Sagan’s Cosmos actually devoted almost half of one episode to the dangers of nuclear winter and the threat of war.

Paul McCartney gets to comment on the 1980s zeitgeist times by rather cleverly looking back to the First World War. Anyone who has seen "Threads" knows just how much we all feared "burn, baby, burn". CDN, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was strong. Cleverly McCartney enfolds those fears in a Great War setting, and as we look back at that war 100 years after, it began it’s just as appropriate.

Star Trekin by The Firm (1987)

Star Trekkin' across the universe,
On the Starship Enterprise under Captain Kirk.
Star Trekkin' across the universe,
Boldly going forward 'cause we can't find reverse.

I’ve always enjoyed Dr Who and Star Trek, science fiction which really sparked my interest in science, and of course astronomy. This is the best piece of musical comedy about the original TV show. And of course, sadly, Leonard Nimoy, Mr Spock, has just died. This song can be dedicated to his memory. And on 22 March, when I was on air, William Shatner was also celebrating his 84th birthday.

Science fiction has a way of looking forward to today’s world, sometimes getting it wrong – smoking on a moonbase in UFO – sometimes right. Who would have thought we’d all have pocket size communicators like Captain Kirk and the Enterprise crew? Sadly, we can’t yet be “beamed up” by a transporter! And on the subject of preduction, Dr Who's first episode in 1963 predicted a decimal system of coinage, something which didn't happen until 1971!

Stars From Les Miserables (1989)

In your multitudes
Scarce to be counted
Filling the darkness
With order and light
You are the sentinels
Silent and sure
Keeping watch in the night
Keeping watch in the night

I’ve always loved Victor Hugo’s giant novel, although it is the smaller conflict between Javert and Jean Val Jean which is really inspirational. A good man who is hounded by the law for one wrong. There are lots of fantastic songs in it, but this is perhaps not so widely played. It’s all about stars and destiny, and it gets into the mind of Javert, and we see the world as he sees it.

In any story of conflict, we tend to root for the heroic figure, like Jean Valjean, but in the musical, and in the book, Victor Hugo gives us an inside view into Javert’s motivations. Javert is an empty man, he has really no faith, although he considers himself to be a righteous man following “the way of the Lord.” It is part of the tragedy of the human condition that people exist like Inspector Javert, upholders of the law, with a very distinctive and self-righteous religious faith who nonetheless are devoid of compassion and empathy.

Lady of the silver wheel by Damh the Bard (2003)

High in the Castle of Glass,
A Silver Wheel turns in the night,
Slender hands guide a thread,
Keeping it true, keeping it tight,
As it spins, fate it begins,
To opens it's eyes,
Lady of the Moon, of the Stars,
In the Spiral Castle I hear you sing

Arianrod, the Lady of the Silver Wheel, is a Celtic Moon goddess. Astronomy occurs in unlikely places, such as this wonderful Pagan folk song by Damh the Bard. This song is all about the influence of the moon on our fate. Statistically it may appear that there is in fact no connection, but within our poetic souls we feel the influence of the moon. And the sight of the moon, waxing and waning, must have bedded down deep in our ancestral psyche.

And there may be more than that. We are have evolved on a planet with a cycle of day and night, but also a cycle in which the moon is bright and dark, a full moon, clear enough to see by, and a new moon, a dark landscape, hard to see. Our evolutionary roots may be as in tune with this cycle as the diurnal one, and a 2013 study showed that “The lunar cycle seems to influence human sleep, even when one does not 'see' the Moon and is not aware of the actual moon phase."

Note, by the way, there is a full eclipse of the moon (not the sun) in September. It goes blood red as the normal light of a full moon is blotted out as the earth moves between the sun and moon.

I Vow to Thee My Country, 1921. A poem set to music by Holst.

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

Wonderful words, about sacrifice and service to one’s country and the other country whose ways are ways of peace. Although written in the aftermath of the Great War, it should not be assumed it is just about patriotism in a military sense.

In the Jersey Occupation, for example, there were those who made what Paul Sanders called “the ultimate sacrifice”, attempting to save Jews or slave labourers who had escaped, or engaged in acts of resistance against the enemy. Not all involved with these actions were caught, but anyone who was involved in that ran that risk, especially those who sheltered Jews and slave workers. They were people who gave “the love that never falters, the love that pays the price”.

And even today , we have the Jersey pathologist who has gone to Africa to help in the Ebola crisis – surely “the service of my love”, again undaunted and prepared to server and not to ask questions, but only answer need..

The music is adapted from Holts’ Jupiter from the Planets Suit. The Planets is one of my favourite pieces of music. It takes one back to the Middle Ages, and the idea that Planets had their own tutelary spirits or souls. C.S. Lewis, in his Space Trilogy, brilliantly gave the idea of planetary spirits a science fictional plausibility. There is certainly a degree of truth in that idea, for no two planets in our solar system are really alike, which is actually pretty amazing when you think of it.

The other country is that of peace, and that too is something we need to strive for.

And there's another country,
I've heard of long ago,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, 
and all her paths are peace.

Astronomy too, shows us our earth, fragile blue planet floating in the cold of space. As Carl Sagan said:

"It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.”

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