The Antikythera Mechanism (1902)

On this day (17 May) in 1902, a small piece of bronze caught the eye of archaeologist Valerios Stais.. He was examining artefacts from a wrecked Roman cargo ship off the island of Antikythera in Greece.

It looked like a small wheel or cog, in fact he had just discovered what has come to be known as the Antikythera Mechanism, the world’s first analogical computer.

This extraordinary two-thousand-year-old computer system was used by the ancient Greeks as an astronomical calculator, able to chart the planets and make predictions. The extraordinary device is believed to have been made on the island of Rhodes around 150 BC, and classical literature of the time does allude to mechanisms similar to this one, meaning this was unlikely to be the only one of its kind. Well over a hundred years after its discovery, the Antikythera mechanism is still being extensively researched, in an attempt to fully unlock an ancient piece of human ingenuity. Source

The Antikythera Mechanism is also a 2020 album by my friend Jack Hertz.

People’s Songs (Stuart Maconie)

This exceptional book, The People’s Songs: The Story of Modern Britain in 50 Records by Stuart Maconie, combines modern British history with an in-depth knowledge of popular music. Here is the story of Britain since World War 2 outlined through fifty significant songs, with others mentioned along the way.

It was an absolute joy to read; with its wealth of information and knowledge, it appealed to my love of history, politics, culture, and music. It’s a book I’m sure to read again.

I’ve compiled a Spotify playlist of the fifty songs in the book, you can find it here.

You can find me on Goodreads (click the link) and see all my 2021 books here.

The Fallas of Valencia

The Fallas of Valencia is a unique festival celebrated every year in the Mediterranean city of Valencia in Eastern Spain. The celebration lasts over two weeks with different festivities including parades and fireworks, but it culminates on March 19 when big and colourful fallas (monuments made from cardboard, wood, and paper) are displayed throughout the city. The monuments, often satirical in nature, can be very tall and consist of various parts.

Throughout the event, there are competitions to elect the top prize. The celebrations end around midnight on March 19, at which time the beautiful fallas are set ablaze in a spectacular display known as La Cremà (“the burning” in Valencian). The origin of the celebration goes back to the Middle Ages when carpenters would burn pieces of wood to mark the beginning of Spring.

Note: Information is from my ‘Living Language 2022’ Spanish Calendar and the photo is one I took at a similar event in Alicante in 2009.

The day they banned kissing

Coming out of the coronavirus pandemic we’re well aware of restrictions designed to prevent the spread of this deadly virus, and we’ve been fortunate to have modern medicine to help us. But in sixteenth-century Europe a second, deadly round of plague was spreading like wildfire and city officials across Europe desperately sought methods of prevention against the fearsome epidemic.

On this day (9 March) in 1562, the authorities in Naples believed that one way to battle against the spread of the disease was to ban kissing in public. They took the law so seriously that couples caught kissing could be punished by death.

It wasn’t the first time that a city had enforced such a strict law on public displays of affection. In 1439, Henry VI banned kissing in England in another attempt to prevent infection from spreading. People refused to accept the ban and it was subsequently lifted. Bans of this nature were also imposed during more modern times. In 1910, kissing was banned at railway stations in France, in the belief that lovers, family and friends saying their goodbyes caused delays to the train service. In 1982, kissing for ‘pleasure’ was outlawed in Iran, and similarly in 1992 students at Qingdao Binhai University in China were prevented from openly displaying any form of affection, including holding hands or sharing earphones. Most recently in 2003, to the horror of the general public, a law was passed in Moscow enforcing a ban on kissing in public, imposed on all members of society. This was intended to raise levels of public morality. People of Moscow defied the ban by kissing complete strangers and the proposed law was eventually abandoned. Source

Everything has changed

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine (Thursday 24 February 2022) the world has changed, just like it did after 9/11 in 2001. This event will be embedded in the history books; it will mark a new chapter. We can’t go back; a line has been crossed. We all need to adjust, both individuals and governments.

What can we do? We can be peacemakers where we are, in our personal and collective lives. We can be human and show humanity to everyone without discrimination. Love and peace, John.

“Heroes” (David Bowie)

Arguably, David Bowie‘s greatest song. Written by David Bowie and Brian Eno, and produced by Tony Visconti using creative studio techniques. Accompanied by Robert Fripp, Brian Eno, and Carlos Alomar. Acknowledged by the German government as a catalyst for the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“Heroes” was recorded in 1977 at the Hansa Studio by the Berlin Wall. It was released as the lead single from studio album of the same name, backed with the song V-2 Schneider. Produced during Bowie’s Berlin period, it wasn’t a huge hit at the time, but has since become one of his signature songs.

Inspired by the sight of Bowie’s producer-engineer Tony Visconti embracing his lover by the Berlin Wall, the song tells the story of two lovers, one from East and one from West Berlin. Bowie’s performance of “Heroes” on 6 June 1987, at the German Reichstag in West Berlin has been considered a catalyst to the later fall of the Berlin Wall. Following his death in January 2016, the German government thanked Bowie for helping to bring down the Wall, adding you are now among “Heroes”. Source

Toni Visconti progressively moved the microphone away from Bowie during the recording, so he had to shout his defiance at the Berlin Wall.

Bowie scholar David Buckley has written that “Heroes” ‘…is perhaps pop’s definitive statement of the potential triumph of the human spirit over adversity’. Source

Am I not a man and a brother?

The inscription ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’ became the catchphrase of British and American abolitionists. Medallions were even sent in 1788 to Benjamin Franklin who was then president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. The image was widely reproduced on domestic objects like crockery and also became popular on fashion accessories. Source

Let’s foster a better historical, cultural, and sensitive understanding of ‘taking the knee’. Think for yourself, don’t swallow the bigotry and propaganda. We all need to fight a culture war against bigotry and ignorance.

It’s Coming Home

The England football song Three Lions (1996) (sometimes known as It’s Coming Home) can come across as arrogant, and arrogance is something often attributed to England (and sometimes more widely to Great Britain). Sadly, with good reason considering our attitudes and history. Equally, this arrogance is also felt in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Unlike other football songs, the lyrics express the disappointment of being a football fan. It’s actually about dreaming, recognising that the result might go against us, but still believing and hoping.

I think it’s bad news for the English game
We’re not creative enough, and we’re not positive enough

It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming
Football’s coming home (We’ll go on getting bad results)
It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming
Football’s coming home
It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming
Football’s coming home
It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming
Football’s coming home

Everyone seems to know the score, they’ve seen it all before
They just know, they’re so sure
That England’s gonna throw it away, gonna blow it away
But I know they can play, ’cause I remember

Three lions on a shirt
Jules Rimet still gleaming
Thirty years of hurt
Never stopped me dreaming

So many jokes, so many sneers
But all those “Oh, so nears” wear you down through the years
But I still see that tackle by Moore and when Lineker scored
Bobby belting the ball, and Nobby dancing

Three lions on a shirt
Jules Rimet still gleaming
Thirty years of hurt
Never stopped me dreaming

England have done it, in the last minute of extra time!
What a save, Gordon Banks!
Good old England, England that couldn’t play football!
England have got it in the bag!
I know that was then, but it could be again

It’s coming home, it’s coming
Football’s coming home
It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming
Football’s coming home
(England have done it)
It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming
Football’s coming home
It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming
Football’s coming home

(It’s coming home) Three lions on a shirt
(It’s coming home, it’s coming) Jules Rimet still gleaming
(Football’s coming home
It’s coming home) Thirty years of hurt
(It’s coming home, it’s coming) Never stopped me dreaming
(Football’s coming home
It’s coming home) Three lions on a shirt
(It’s coming home, it’s coming) Jules Rimet still gleaming
(Football’s coming home
It’s coming home) Thirty years of hurt
(It’s coming home, it’s coming) Never stopped me dreaming
(Football’s coming home
It’s coming home) Three lions on a shirt
(It’s coming home, it’s coming) Jules Rimet still gleaming
(Football’s coming home
It’s coming home) Thirty years of hurt
(It’s coming home, it’s coming) Never stopped me dreaming
(Football’s coming home)

Interpreting the Bible

As a Christian, my understanding is that the timeless truths of the Bible are greater than the cultural and historical contexts in which the actual words were written. God expects every generation to discover and apply these truths in their unique time and place. This is not to dilute our faith or disregard tradition, but simply to let these truths live and shine afresh in every age.

Equally, we mustn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Just because something was true in a previous era and context, doesn’t mean it should be modified or abandoned now. Christian tradition has much to teach us, despite the fact that the church hasn’t always been the perfect guiding light to timeless truths. Humility must be shown, and (if necessary) repentance demonstrated.

This is the overall context for the often highly charged discussion of equal marriage and inclusion within Christian circles.

Norton Signal Box

Party political leaflets that drop through our letterbox usually have a short journey to the recycling bin, especially the Conservative ones – but the local ones are more likely to be read, even the Conservative ones!

One of these Conservative leaflets arrived a few days ago, and because it was about local issues I saved it. One item of interest concernes the fate of the Norton Signal Box on Station Road.

The above photo is one I took in July 2020 on a walk with Freddy to explore our new area, having recently moved into our new house.

The railway line that runs through Norton, a short distance from our home, was one of the oldest stretch of mechanical signalling in the UK. Because of modernisation, the signal box is now redundant and face potential demolition.

The local Conservatives have been working proactively with Network Rail to retain this important piece of local heritage by looking for groups and organisations who might put this signal box to good use. The mechanical signalling will be dismantled and gifted to a railway heritage organisation.

The signal box has space that could be used in a variety of ways, it also has kitchen and toilet facilities. Hopefully, it can be put to good use. If you live locally, do you have any ideas?