Sunday, May 31, 2020

Aermacchi, by Wiggia

Aermacchi is not a name that instantly springs to mind in the UK but in the 1920s it was on many people's lips as the great competitor to Supermarine for the Schneider Trophy, that seaplane race with those incredible and beautiful machines that continually set speed records for aircraft of the period.

The Supermarine variant went on to win the Trophy outright and much of that knowledge built into that aircraft and the Rolls Royce engine subsequently found its way with the same designer R J Mitchell into the Supermarine Spitfire which needs to no introduction from me, but this is about the Aermacchi.

I also have a tenuous personal connection to the marque as my oldest friend raced, among other motorcycles in the early sixties, an Aermacchi 250cc racer, a mainstay in the class at that time.

Firstly I would like to lay out how all this came about. The Schneider Trophy was the brainchild of Jacques Schneider who wanted a competition to advance development of commercial seaplanes. He was an enthusiastic power-boater and hydroplane driver and the son of a wealthy industrialist.
He could not envisage that the Trophy would morph into a flag-waving competition between nations, until 1923 the competition remained as the author intended but after the first world war it was not long before the developments of WW1 shone through in the form of the American Curtiss biplane that was in competitions in the US. A separate US Navy team with a float plane version entered and won the 1923 competition and the race was transformed into an international race for racing seaplanes.

The M7 Bis, winner of the 1921 race.

They won the ‘24 race uncontested for various reasons on home ground but cancelled, fortuitously for the competition as three wins would have ended the race in ‘25. The US government then withdrew funding for the ‘military’ project and that was that.

This then started the era of Aermacchi and Supermarine, a rivalry that was to end in Supermarine winning the trophy outright after three wins, though the final win was uncontested.

The first win for Macchi was in the US in ‘26. The Curtiss bIplanes were at the end of their design period and without funding had become unreliable. The Macchi had not the time for a fresh design and they brought in heavily on the Curtiss and Supermarine layouts and engines. The first trials did not go well and the single seaplane was not expected to win but it went well in the race and did win: Mario de Bernardi brought the M39 (designed by the brilliant Mario Castoldi) home at 246 mph.

Macchi M39, 1926

The French government ordered a seaplane to be built in 1928 from the Nieuport – Delage and Bernard companies with new engines from Hispano – Luiz but the work  was too late for the ‘29 race and the 31 was a target they failed to make. Slow development and two crashes with one pilot killed saw the plug pulled on the effort and the French withdrew, leaving the final races between Britain with Supermarine and Italy with Macchi.

The ‘27 race in Venice saw a very fast but temperamental Macchi  M52. The Italians' hopes were dashed when a crash in testing at Lake Varese killed the pilot. The race was a one-two for Supermarine: the S5 won easily as the Macchi had engine troubles with all three of their planes. The Trophy was now a battle between two countries for supremacy, both teams being backed heavily with government money.

The Italians licked their wounds and went back to the drawing board for the ‘29 race. There was also competition from other Italian manufacturers for this race: Fiat, Piaggio, and the spectacular Savoia- Marchetti; none made the race as all had various serious problems so the field was clear again for Macchi. Macchi were not at all happy with the Fiat engines they had been using and turned to Isotta-Fraschini and their V12 supercharged engine. Still things went badly: exhaust fumes in the cockpit were a major problem and the loss of another pilot at Lake Garda meant they arrived in England for the race rather more than dispirited. The Supermarine had with the S6 turned from Napier to Rolls Royce for the engine; the R was reputed to put out 1900 hp and took only 9 months to develop.

Macchi M67, 1929

But once again problems for Macchi meant both seaplanes retired from the race and Supermarine won, leaving only one win needed for the outright retention of the Trophy.

Castoldi for Macchi designed what many thought was the ultimate racing seaplane, the MC 72, for which Fiat had produced a monster engine: basically two AS5 engines together creating a V24 in a unit 11 feet long. Both were upgraded versions, supercharged and gave out 3000hp to the RRs 2300 but the RR was reliable.

The MC 72

For Macchi the problems persisted. The engine was magnificent on the ground while testing but in the air backfired violently at speed. Testing was a disaster losing two planes and two pilots so with the Italian government not wanting to continue the project they had to withdraw.

This left Supermarine with a walkover. the two seaplanes without opposition were split into one that would complete the seven laps of the race and one that would go for the speed record over a timed three kilometre run. Both were successful, the speed record of 379 mph was a world record for any aircraft, Rolls went one better with a ‘sprint’ version of the engine and managed to get the Supermarine over four hundred mph two weeks later, the first aircraft to break the 400 barrier at 407.5 mph.

The Italians didn’t give up. With no Trophy to race for they brought over Englishman Rod Banks, a fuel and carburettor expert, who mixed a fuel the engine liked and in 1934 the MC72 broke the world speed record and pushed it to 440.681; it still stands as a world record for float planes.

It must also be remembered these aircraft had the aerodynamic disadvantage of having to carry the floats through the air. What difference that made to outright speed is difficult to analyse, but it would be substantial; it would have been interesting to have seen a ‘clean’ unencumbered version of these seaplanes going for the record.

Much in aviation progression came from these seaplanes. Aerodynamics changed dramatically, engines advanced with the Rolls Royce Merlin owing much to the R, from bi plane to mono plane the achievements were huge and the Spitfire owes much to the S6.

For Macchi, not so much: the Macchi fighters in WW11 were good but Castoldi forsook Fiat and went to Germany for the engines; but the era was over. Macchi supplied more planes to the competition and was considered the most innovative design wise and lost more pilots, seven, during the competition's years.

After the war Macchi turned to making motorcycles as a way of providing cheap transport and then started in aircraft manufacturing again with civil and military training aircraft but in 2003 was integrated into Finmecannica group and Macchi disappeared.

1961 Aermacchi Ala d'Oro 250cc

The motorcycle business was a separate arm and continued with Harley Davidson acquiring 50% of the business in the early sixties and 100% in ‘74. It continued until sold off to Cagiva in ‘78.

Their racing successes were to be 250cc World Championship in 1974, '75, and '76, and the 350cc World Championship in 1976. The rider for all was Walter Villa. These were twin cylinder two stroke machines as opposed to the earlier single cylinder horizontal engined four-strokes of the sixties.

Friday, May 29, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: The Sparks Brothers, by JD

The Sparks brothers: Ron and Russell Mael.

Probably best remembered as 'one hit wonders' for "This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us" in 1974. Most others who have one hit song promptly disappear and are rarely heard of again. But Sparks continued, albeit away from the limelight, and over the years have made over 20 albums and fortunately they are as eccentric/weird as ever in their musical exploration even writing an opera about Ingmar Bergman. And a song about lawnmowers.....?

Monday, May 25, 2020

NHS, heal thyself! by JD

"The NHS has many problems but money is not one of them."
Those were the words of my GP about 15 years ago.

Shortly after that I was looking at the news pages of the GP's practice (there is no longer a news page after an amalgamation of three practices in the area. Bigger is better seems to be the mantra.) On those pages there was an item about their budget coming under strain following an increase in the rent payable for the surgery building. The increase was substantial and surprised me because it was something in the order of 300%.( Unfortunately I did not keep a record of it, I thought I had but if I did I can't find it.)

Surely an increase like that must have been illegal under the terms of the rental agreement? I couldn't understand it and then I found that the owner of the property was NHS Property Services Ltd.

So the Government gives money to my local GP with one hand and takes it back with the other. Reading that page of NHS Property Services I recognised all the usual jargon common to Estate Agents everywhere. And then I looked at this page:

Count them: Ten people who are, and I quote, "... striving to help the NHS transform." Transform into.....what exactly? Nothing specific that I can find on their page so it is just more of the aforementioned jargon. The ten 'leaders' will no doubt have an office full of staff doing administrative things. Is this necessary and how much does it cost? Why does this remind me of Jim Hacker and the empty hospital in the BBC series "Yes Minister" - The Minister (Hacker) is concerned when he learns that a brand new hospital has been open for 15 months and has yet to admit a patient despite having over 500 administrative personnel on staff.

I can understand the need for a department to deal with such things as the maintenance of the many NHS properties but not to add the unnecessary layer of administration which deals with 'internal' rental charges. I wonder do the NHS trusts pay rent for the hospitals?

And now this story on 2nd April this year has me confused -
So the NHS had debts of £13.4 billion but these have now been written off? I do not agree with the conclusions of Tax Research UK who ask for renationalisation of the NHS. It would be far better to go back and start again with Henry Willink's 1944 proposal for the NHS.

My local GP used to be excellent. When I fell down one morning a couple of years ago I rang the GP and went straight there where she put two stitches in my eyebrow. Since then there has been a change, the senior GP having retired and the new man in charge seems to have turned the whole thing into a ‘production line’ with long waits for appointments etc.

I suspect this is Government inspired; the last time I saw the nurse for a blood pressure check it took about 30 minutes. Filling in forms about life style, diet, exercise etc and weighing me and measuring my height blah blah – preventive medicine blah blah —I am not a machine! There is no such thing as preventive medicine. Any change in any condition can only be predicted in general terms and is useless without treating the patient as a real living breathing organism, a human being in fact!

Super fit sportsmen die from heart attacks. Athletes who are continually monitored for fitness and performance. What happened to their ‘preventive medicine’?

I could fill the space here with the difficulties I have had recently with cancelled appointments (cancelled by the NHS not me) or my differences of opinion with the Practice Manager over my annual 'health check' (the preventive medicine thing) or with the new wonderful electronic precription service which often forgets to send prescriptions to the pharmacy or the speaking clock nature of their telephone 'service' which in my case has messages which are more or less inaudible; no point in listing them because I suspect most people will have similar tales to tell.

And now in our time of 'crisis' with the whole nation cowering under their beds and afraid to leave, in facr forbidden to leave their homes, we find that all GP practices are closed until further notice. If you need to see your GP or the nurse or use any of the other services on offer, you can't. Which raises the question - what are they doing all day in their closed offices? Administrative things perhaps: yes of course, that seems to be one of their most important functions these days. Even the pharmacy now has to do a 'mini' health check on me and during the last one he told me he has other administrators checking his work to ensure he has filled in all the forms correctly!

Conclusion: this is one 'sacred cow' which needs to be sacrificed as soon as possible in order that the country can start again and create something that really is 'the envy of the world' which is what we are told by people who do not rely on it.

Friday, May 22, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: Robert Plant, by JD

Robert Plant, singer with Led Zeppelin, heavy metal rock and roll; right?

Well, not quite because they began as a folk/rock group and were originally called The New Yardbirds. "Bron Yr Aur" or "Battle of Evermore" or "Going to California" are a long way from heavyweight rock and roll.

As a solo artist Plant has never lost contact with his folk roots or with other genres of music which he has explored over the years and what follows is a small selection and it is notable that his voice is still as good as it was all those years ago, it might even be better.

For me his best work came from his collaboration with Alison Krauss and the album called "Raising Sand" The last video here is a very tongue in cheek blugrass version of Black Dog. The quality is maybe not so good and why American audiences insist on squealing like stuck pigs is a mystery to me and probably everyone else. But if you can ignore that it really is worth while.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

British casualties of WWII vs the coronavirus pandemic

In 1939 the estimated population of the United Kingdom was 47,760,000

The Second World War killed 384,000 UK military and 70,000 British civilians - a total of 454,000 deaths

Here is a graph of live births for 1939 - 1948

From 1939 to 1944, a total of 3,813,055 children were born - that is, for every 10 people that were killed by enemy action, 84 new ones came into the world. 

In every single year of the war, far more Britons were born than were killed in the entire six years of the conflict. 

So as with the coronavirus pandemic, the death toll by itself does not explain what the fuss is about.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Climate Change - or is it? by Wiggia

There is no doubt that the weather in the UK has warmed up, not always when we want it to but it has. Tthis is not about the long running and flawed argument that we as humans have created a failing natural world, this is just an observation on matters gardening, those observations that you see when you step outside.
This winter has been a classic British mish-mash of , well, weather. From September on it did not stop raining until the lock down started, you know, just when people wantED to go outside after after a long wet and very drab winter - Sod’s Law.
But what wasn’t in doubt was the fact it had been a warmer winter despite some snow and with all that moisture in the soil when the sun came out everything sprang into life, many weeks early in some cases. Tulips were finished long before the end of May, as were Crown Imperials that started showing bud colour at the end of February, and my Delphiniums showing bud colour at the end of April - the first are out fully now.
This is not the first time this has happened of course but it is by degrees more frequent. The weather is changing as it has over millennia, hotter, colder that is the way it works and man has to adapt.
What has also happened - and I did write something on these lines awhile back - is that disease in the plant world is also on the move, both plant derived disease and animal/insect driven. Much has to do with world trade: however stringent measures are to protect a country's biodiversity, something somehow will always get through. The real worries are those diseases that affect agriculture and our natural landscape, but our gardens give a mini replica of what is going on.
The last few years have seen an unprecedented assault on many native species, in modern times Dutch Elm disease could be seen as the forerunner for many more and it has been non stop since, many have not reached their full doom laden predictions, fortunately, many have become isolated to areas rather than go national and some have petered out, not unlike viruses that effect man, no one has been able to predict final outcomes in the plant world any more than the human world with any accuracy, in fact Dutch Elm is one of the few to fulfil prediction as it did indeed wipe out the species, or almost.
This list of tree pests and diseases gives an idea of the attack on our woodlands; not all are as fatal as is spelt out…..
Ash die-back has so far failed to have the effect that was prophesied; doesn’t mean it wont, but it hasn't so far. The Oak die-back is a slower one so again it's difficult to say how far it will spread. Horse Chestnut was an early disaster, killing trees in a couple of years, but it was selective: stands of Chestnut almost within touching distance of diseased and dying ones are still healthy and many areas have no visible signs. A similar threat to London's plane trees came some years back when premature leaf drop looked as though it would finish the capital's avenues, but the sickness mysteriously died away over a few years, so we can never be sure as to the final outcome.
The pests are in some ways a bigger problem. Warmer weather has enabled some species to spread at an alarming rate, establishing themselves in short order and the natural predators that exist in their ‘native’ homelands do not spread with them. A good example and one that I have had dealings with (and they are winning) is the box tree moth/caterpillar: now spreading up from the south of the country it reduces box plants to nothing in short order; for topiary, where box is the favoured tree, it is the end as the affected areas never recover and the topiary is to all intents finished. Hedges are the same, I lost all my topiary last year to the moth almost overnight; you can spray but it has to be repeated many times and if you misjudge that is it - the natural predator in Japan, a hornet, is sadly still in Japan.
Box tree, and Very Hungry Caterpillars
I could do a list of pests and diseases that have hit on my garden in the last few years that would eclipse all that came before in my lifetime, such has been the increase; undoubtedly the warmer weather has been one of the factors in this. 
Even ants are on the increase. The size of their colonies is very much influenced by the warmer weather and their activity is dictated by the same, so we have more ants and more activity, but we should be grateful that we do not yet get Argentine ants that have infested the USA; and Asian super ants, 'super' because they create super-sized colonies not because they are huge, have so far only been located in a few sites in the UK - but they will prevail as they always do. We live on sandy soil and the ant activity already this year is way ahead of any previous and again little seems to have any lasting effect on them, they simply pop up elsewhere.
Pests are also getting an easy ride. The harsh winters that helped to kill off many pests and many diseases are fast disappearing and the resultant early swarms of pests can be seen everywhere; diseases that lie dormant underground and await warm weather to spring into action are not having to wait so long, many appear each year now rather than one in ten.
Many reading this will remember the Leylandii hedging dying all over the country, brown patches appearing and dying back. It killed thousands of plants. In some ways this was a good thing as the Leylandii Cypress is in most domestic situations an unsuitable hedge for a normal garden: fast growth yes, out of control also yes. It should never have been sold for domestic hedging. The disease is caused by an aphid; there are various aphids that attack conifers and although spray can be effective, it has to be at first sign of the aphids, not always obvious, and spraying lengths of hedges properly is expensive and difficult. To achieve trees is nearly impossible as when I lost a row of Italian Cypress some years ago, there were enormous masses of grey/black sooty mould that lives off the sugary residue left behind by the aphids.
One of the problems when dealing with these pests and diseases is the lack of chemicals that can prevent the infestation or stop the spread of disease. The EU for reasons only they know, removed many items that worked in protecting plant life and nothing has taken their  place; to be fair, some were toxic after many years of use and some had questionable long term effects on humans but many did not, so cheap generic chemicals are removed and in many cases very expensive replacements appear.
Yes there are some natural remedies that have worked for years, but many of those are contact only, require frequent application and still don’t do the job or only partly.
Nature has its own way of correcting things, but globalisation has made things much shorter term; nature can’t respond at that rate of change and nor can we. We only look at things from a short term perspective; huge changes have occurred to our landscape world wide over the earth's life - findings locally of fossilised tropical plants show how we in a temperate zone have gone from glacial freezing to tropical humidity; all has been accommodated over time.
Even the evil toxic stuff that man pumped into the atmosphere during the industrial revolution has had the odd plus side: roses, so popular in British gardens in those pre and post war years were suddenly changed into  disease carriers as black spot took hold of many of the popular varieties. Why? The Clean Air Act of ‘56, passed after the great smog of 1952, cleansed the air of sulphur, sulphur being the best chemical for the treatment of black spot and some other leaf diseases: by burning coal we had  unknowingly been spraying our roses with a fungicide for decades.
Arr, the black spot, Jim!

There will have to be a change in many varieties of plant life in any case if temperatures go up. Many standard species and hybrids are naturalised to the current climate, many will adapt, many will not. We will have to find and breed versions of popular plants and trees that will stand the new climate, they do this all the time anyway; it will now become a more intense program or we can simply swap what we grow now for more tropical varieties, that is already happening and has been going on for many years, in agriculture it is standard practice and new varieties of staples like wheat that grow in adverse conditions are being trialled and used on a non-stop program of roll-out.
Climate will always create challenges, it always has. The Earth itself has constantly overcome climate change and so will we. The view of the English countryside as immortalised in paintings by the likes of Constable are but a snapshot of a very short period of time, it was very different before and will be different again; it’s what climate creates.
John Constable's 'Wivenhoe Park, Essex' (1816) - held at National Gallery of Art, Washington, USA

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Coronavirus: The Big Wake-Up Call

Well, we’ve had our VE Day celebration, but was World War Two anything to get fussed about? Not if you share the mindset of Covideniers.
The second Great War killed 384,000 UK military and 70,000 British civilians, in all 454,000 casualties out of a 1939 population numbering 47,760,000 , or 0.95%. On average we lost around 6,200 per month from start to VJ Day.
By contrast, UK deaths attributed to coronavirus since the first on 28 February have run at the equivalent of over 16,000 per month. The latest ONS figures , bringing us up to May Day, show that something is certainly happening, and the shape of the virus line in the graph below matches the grey line pretty well, so if the bulge is not owing to Covid-19 then I should be interested to hear an alternative explanation. As to the meme that ‘they would have died from something else soon anyway’, the jury is still out; we leave the excess-deaths calculations to the official analysts, and it could take them years to decide.

Fortunately, the curve was heading downwards at last report. The much-criticised Professor Ferguson had forecast around 600,000 deaths if no action were taken (0.9% of our current population of 66.65 million – very similar to the WWII toll); I think it is far too early for the Internet’s neo-experts to use the present decline as evidence that the model was wrong and that nothing much need have been done.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t review strategy now, and not merely because the public and the world of business is keen for a return to what we used to regard as normal. We now have more hospital beds, more ventilators (assuming they are the answer) and more (though still not enough) supplies of PPE equipment and testing kits. That said, there is the possibility of another, perhaps bigger spike later this year, as per the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1919, so spare capacity may turn out to be barely sufficient after all, pace the empty-hospital Nightingale-nigglers. The vital need to maintain our economy, against significant loss of life: it’s a horribly difficult balance to strike.
Did that balance need striking? A crisis develops into catastrophe through a series of forced moves and hard choices. The point of contingency planning and preparation is to sidestep that sequence, but historically, the British way is to let a disaster happen, then scramble to survive and hope for a big helping of luck. If only we had listened to Churchill in his wilderness years… HMG, binge, brewery.
So, among the lessons that are definitely to be learned, one of them is that not all need have been learned the hard way. The UK had two golden opportunities to prepare: first, the studies and simulations here and in the USA going back years, that taught us some of the things we would need; secondly, a last chance to get ready as the virus burned its way through China but hadn’t yet come here.
It’s not entirely our fault. When the Chinese were so ruthlessly locking down Wuhan and other areas, why did they let international flight departures continue with little if any restriction, when this form of transport was known to be a main vector for spreading respiratory disease around the world? Nevertheless, even now, the UK Government is merely considering quarantine for incoming airline passengers. Melanie Phillips contrasts our approach and its consequences with those in Greece and Israel, here . The Greeks say, ‘Pathema, mathema’: ‘I suffered, I learned’; but it seems that our lessons aren’t learned. even after the pain.
Now that our eyes have opened, there is more we should be seeing. One is the long-standing disgrace of the care home sector – scramble, scramble, goes the Government. Another is standards of public hygiene generally – how many deaths from influenza were preventable, over the years?
There is a personal lesson to learn, too. We know that we are more liable to suffer and die from the virus not just if we are old but if we are obese, diabetic and so on. This disease is now out of Pandora’s box and it’s not going back in. Sooner or later, we are likely to come into contact with it and our best chance of survival is to be as fit as possible. We have to address our weight issues, dietary habits (that can cure Type 2 diabetes in many cases, it seems) and exercise routines (without getting sweaty in gyms). These are things that the Government and NHS cannot do for us; and they could also help us defer or escape other health challenges.
Don’t wait for a vaccine. In the first place, it’s not certain that a safe and effective vaccine can be developed. Bill Gates has what (if I am to be charitable, and discount the profit motive) is a naïve belief in vaccines, despite his less-than-encouraging experiments in mass vaccination schemes in India and Africa; but even he has referred to the need for legal indemnity (see from 16:00 in this video ) as he contemplates jabbing the whole world. He plucks a figure of one-in-a thousand adverse reactions out of the air – a mere seven million humans – but who knows what the actual casualty rate would be? Remember that much of the world is far less well-nourished than we – and even in our country, many people are technically malnourished, used to eating the wrong (cheap) things. Also, it’s possible that a vaccine may itself trigger outbreaks among the ‘immune-depressed’, as witness the massive measles epidemic among Yanomami jungle tribespeople in 1968 .
Now let us widen the focus. We have become far too dependent on a system of international trade that has made us very vulnerable. I have read that when the USA opened up its markets to the Chinese economy, in part it was a strategy to drive a wedge between the Middle Kingdom and Russia, both then Communist countries. However, this was exploited by the Western business class to undercut and immiserate their own workers and boost corporate profits, so weakening our economies and throwing enormous debt onto us all -
‘Global debt across all sectors rose by over $10 trillion in 2019, topping $255 trillion. At over 322% of GDP*, global debt is now 40 percentage points ($87 trillion) higher than at the onset of the 2008 financial crisis—a sobering realization as governments worldwide gear up to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘ [* Gross Domestic Product, i.e. total economic activity]  (£)
… but especially the ‘First World’ economies; and it’s not just government debt we should be talking about. Governments can keep rolling-over and increasing their debt issuance, whereas private individuals and corporations can be driven into cashflow crisis with loans that must be repaid within some limited timescale.
 looked at total national debts -  what the US calls ‘Total Credit Market Debt Outstanding’ (TCMDO) – and found that the burden on America was then 279% of GDP; by the end of 2019 this had grown to 347% . The same report showed that Japan and the UK were far worse off – over 500% debt-to-GDP. Unlike the USA, the UK does not routinely record this ratio and goodness knows where we stood before the coronavirus hit us.
We have been in systemic trouble for a very long time. As debt grows, it cuts into discretionary income. Financial commentators like this one sanguinely hope for a bounce back, but a wave of insolvencies will start a round of beggar-my-neighbour: who is ready to splurge when the all-clear sounds? So far, the UK and USA have kept things going by dropping interest rates to near-zero, but this is hammering the ability of pension funds to pay annuities, which are generally secured with government bonds. Add in a stock valuation swoon and the prospect of a comfortable retirement flees ahead of the investor.
In a way, the coronavirus was a trigger, or catalyst, for problems that have developed personally and communally for decades. Be prepared.

Friday, May 15, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: Pavarotti's granddaughters (not)

Much obliged to Wiggia for sending this first video which set me on a quest to unravel a mystery. The clip he sent me was entitled "Pavarotti's 11 year old grandaughter singing." It wasn't a YouTube clip and I wasn't sure how to transfer it. I went looking for it on YT and found it but with a different title (see below).

So why would it be labelled as Pavarotti's granddaughter? To attract more viewers seems to be the obvious answer but with the quality and the power of that voice she does appear to be 'channelling' the spirit of il Maetro!

Her name is Amira Willighagen and she is Dutch. And she does indeed have a wonderful voice (not helped here by the sickly mush of Andre Rieu and his 'orchestra')

Here is another young singer and, again, the claim is that she is the granddaughter of Pavarotti and that is written on screen throughout. She is called Mariam Urushadze and was eight years old at the time of this performance from the television show 'Nichieri' (Georgia's Got Talent) in November 2016. (The song is "Caruso" written by Italian singer-songwriter Lucio Dalla in 1986. It is dedicated to Enrico Caruso.)

This next video cleverly puts together Pavarotti and Amira singing live and 'together' in montage. One of the comments states that Amira was aged nine when singing live on stage!

Yet another one claiming to be 'the granddaughter of......' (although to be fair it says daughter in the title) This fifteen year old is called Sislena Caparossa from the Dominican Republic and performs Nessun Dorma in this Spanish TV show.

Sislena Caparossa once more, this time singing in the Parliament of the Dominican Republic. I can see from the comments that she was born on Tenerife and it is her father who is from Republica Dominicana and her mother is Spanish. Her voice here is a bit wobbly but with a good voice coach she will become a very polished performer.

Finally a nine year old Lucia Garcia sings for Montserrat Caballé. The longer version of this encounter has captions on screen saying that Lucia had been singing since the age of six and it had been her dream to meet and sing for Montserrat Caballé.

The final video makes no claim that there is any connection with Luciano Pavarotti. So which one is his granddaughter? Well none of them actually. Pavarotti had one granddaughter and so far as anyone knows she doesn't sing!

Friday, May 08, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: Hank Marvin, by JD

Last week on BBC4 there was a programme celebrating sixty years of The Shadows, the backing band for Cliff Richard who went on to enjoy huge success in their own right.

For an oldie such as myself who remembers the music from all those years ago it was an enjoyable journey down memory lane. I know everyone hates the BBC and would like to see it disappear but for all their faults they are consistently far better than any of the commercial channels. Without the Beeb I wouldn't bother having a TV.

Towards the end of the programme we were told that Hank Marvin was currently playing with a gypsy jazz band. That set me off searching through YouTube and..... look what I found!

Hank is still enjoying his music and is playing as well as ever. Old rockers never die......

A number of other pieces I wished to include have suddenly been taken off Youtube, perhaps because the BBC programme stimulated a run on them and provoked the copyright watchdogs to respond. So I found some alternatives including Petite Fleur which is not quite gypsy jazz but no matter, it is rather good.

I have looked at his 'Hank Marvin Topic' YouTube listings and this is on the page marked Playlists, under the heading Django's Castle there are 14 videos listed and they all play including those which have been supposedly deleted.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

A Telegram From Mr William Boot





With apologies to Evelyn Waugh

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Lockdown Music, by JD

I thought you might like these three musical 'house arrest' comments:

I have also noticed a new exercise fad - people, usually wearing makeshift masks, suddenly realise they are close to a human and will veer sideways or even jump sideways in horror to maintain their '(anti)social distancing.' It could be a new Olympic sport or even better, a new dance craze: "antisocial distancing dancing!"

I can also offer this link I found via a commenter at ConservativeWoman -

You will have seenby now that 'Professor' Neil Ferguson has resigned; he obviously thought his own lockdown rules only applied to the little people (most of whom are ignoring them anyway in my experience and observations.) Here is Martin Armstrong's blog on the subject-

There was a trendy phrase a few years ago - 'omnishambles.' That is now standard practice everywhere and everywhen.

To quote Spike Milligan again "the best way to respond to official stupidity is with...... stupidity!!" so laughter is indeed the best medicine :)

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Kashmiri separatism and Chinese imperialist expansionism

Birmingham MP Jess Phillips Facebooks her support for self-determination in Kashmir:

'I have long worked with the Kashmiri community to promote human rights and self determination for the people of Kashmir, and will be meeting with the leader of the Labour Party to discuss these issues next week.'

My response: 

There are risks in partitioning India.

Human rights, certainly. 

But have you considered that encouraging political separation may also encourage Chinese expansionism?

China already claims Aksai Chin as its own:

And what human rights will the people of Jammu and Kashmir have then? Think of the Uighurs:

Previous BOM posts on China's need and desire to expand southwards:

... Another MP pogo-sticking in a minefield.

Saturday, May 02, 2020

Joe Brown and vertigo, by Wiggia

I have always suffered to a degree from vertigo. My earliest recollection of that stomach churning fear was as a child on a family outing visiting Beachy Head. As with all kids we rushed to the edge to see what all the fuss was about and on reaching that edge and looking over a strange feeling came over me, aided by a slight breeze that in my mind threatened to tip me over; I retreated post haste. That stayed with me all through my life.

I have if you like, a selective form of vertigo: planes, helicopters, gliders have absolutely no effect. It is the sheer drop that does it: a ladder can only be climbed so far, and glass floors on tall buildings are a no-no - a trip to Florence years back and the climb to the top of the Duomo was fine until I emerged on that small rotunda at the top and saw the roof falling away in front of me. Those are the areas that instil that stomach-churning.

Over the years I have improved. Restoration projects with houses have helped: ladders can now be climbed with a new-found confidence, scaffolding holds no terrors at two stories; but the rest remains. What triggered such a mental state I have no idea, perhaps it was that visit to Beachy Head, I can think of nothing else at that time of my life that would have induced that fear.

All the above brings me to someone who if the vertigo had not existed I probably would not have taken much interest in. The announcement of the death of Joe Brown the climber this week at the age of 89 was one of those ‘I had no idea he was still alive ‘ moments, so far removed from my life was his, yet in many ways my interest in this pioneer of rock climbing and later mountaineering was brought about by my vertigo. Pictures of “The Human Fly” as he was known gave me a sense of wonder that anyone could actually do what he did, he was the first besides the conquerors of Everest and almost the last to gain wider public acknowledgement for what was to most an obscure pastime.

Everest was of course much boosted in the public eye by the conquest being announced on the coronation of Elizabeth 11 and will always be associated with that event.

In many ways Joe Brown was, to quote a more modern phrase, an original working class hero, a Manchester boy raised by his mother a cleaner in a Manchester slum area after his father at sea with the Merchant Navy was injured and died of a gangrenous wound. He shared the house with six siblings. An adventurous child by nature who didn’t like team sports or school either, he walked in the Peak District and that is where the climbing started, ascending a sheer 60 foot slope with the aid of his mother's clothes line.

His climbs in the ‘50s were what brought him to prominence in the public eye. Many were first-time climbs and the craze started with him at the forefront of the movement outdoors.

Mountaineering was the preserve of the more wealthy and his invitation to join the team to climb Kanchenjunga was, as he said later, like winning the lottery. Although he could climb and be safe in the mountains his alpine side was very restricted, yet on May the 25th 1955 he and George Band made it for the first time to the top - he did not stand on the very top out of respect for the local elders, who said the Gods would be angry if they stood at the very top.

I remember well the televised climb in ‘67 of the Old Man of Hoy, a stack in the Orkneys; 15 million watched him climb. He made several other documentaries of his climbs. Asked by many to join other Himalayan expeditions, in 1956 he did climb the hitherto unconquered Muztagh Tower in the Karakorum; this was considered to be a remarkable feat ranking with Kanchenjunga, but he preferred a more varied life with climbing and did not follow up.

Never one to hog the limelight, he started a climbing school and eventually settled down to a climbing shop in Snowdonia. He genuinely loved his climbing for the climbing alone, he did not like the publicity of his OBE and wished it had been slipped to him in a brown paper envelope, and his climbing was summed up by his quote “I climb for the pleasure of climbing, You don’t need to plant a flag”.

I know nothing of climbing other than my fascination as to how they could actually do what they do, but without my vertigo I would never have given it a second glance, so I do have something to thank it for.

Friday, May 01, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: The Moody Blues, by JD

In these troubled times of fear and pan[dem]ic it sometimes feels that the post war dream is over and "the only thing to look forward to is the past!" (That phrase borrowed from the theme song of the TV series 'Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads'

And in my nostalgic look back to the days when life made more sense, I have rediscovered the Moody Blues, a very influential band from Birmingham. The original line up included singer/guitarist Denny Laine who featured on their only No.1 hit record 'Go Now.'

When Laine left the group in 1966 the others changed their musical direction with the addition of Justin Hayward and began to record their own material; not difficult when they now had five songwriters in the line up.

The first three videos here feature Denny Laine and thereafter it is MB mark 2 and features some of the songs for which they are best known. (I have deliberately excluded 'Nights in White Satin' as it is a bit too mawkish for my liking. No doubt others might disagree.)

I should add that in the late sixties I saw them in concert and they were excellent live performers.
“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.“ - Plato