Friday, 27 February 2009

W B Yeats - He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven

I'm not too well-read on the poetry front, but a friend introduced me to this. It always moves me.

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with gold and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Scaling the North Face of the Paper Mountain

Here I am, sat at my desk planning my weekend paperwork with care and efficiency. My MA course workload has suddenly shot up - maybe I should try the same.

I remain jolly in the face of adversity, it's good to be British at a time like this, we are born to it. At least I don't have to go down to the tube every night for a sleep or a good old sing-song to keep the spirits up. But the next few weeks should prove interesting. I'm writing this quick note firstly as a displacement activity, and secondly to avoid the need for pastoral care by talking to you about my distress.

That said, I'm off to watch the rugby on Saturday ... the oasis in my current world of sweated labour.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

John Porte and the Flying-Boat

One of my interests is aviation history. At the moment I'm researching the life and work of a man named John Porte. Here he is, standing in front of the Curtiss 'America' flying-boat during the summer of 1914.

Maybe you could help. I'll give you a brief summary of where I've got to so far.

During the First World War, Lieutenant-Colonel John Cyril Porte - to give him his final rank - brought dogged determination and unrivalled experience which fundamentally contributed to Britain’s battle against Germany’s U-boats.

Porte was born in 1884 in Bandon, County Cork in Ireland. In 1898 he joined the British Royal Navy. He developed a keen interest in the emerging submarine service, for which he volunteered in 1908. A great follower of technology, while still in the Navy he began to explore a new enthusiasm which would stay with him for the rest of his life - the possibility of designing and building a flying machine.

Ill-health caused him to leave the Service, but he learned to fly and joined a succession of aircraft companies, the first in 1911. From these experiences, he gained a great deal of knowledge on aeronautical matters. Despite his lack of formal engineering training, Porte found he had a natural flair for both aviation design and development. Through contacts in the aviation community, he met the earliest flying-boat designers: he came to view the potential of this water-based type of aircraft with great enthusiasm.

At the onset of the First World War, despite his health problems Porte rejoined the Navy, which he encouraged to invest in flying-boats for maritime patrol and anti-submarine activities. Early flying-boats were primitive and unreliable, but Porte felt the expertise he had acquired could be used to improve them. He was given free rein by the Navy to conduct experiments with this object in mind; these were carried between 1914 and 1916, at Felixstowe in Suffolk. The work was empirical, often round the clock, and performed by a small, close-knit team under Porte. The result was a new design, the prototype of which was tested successfully, and found to be much improved compared with the flying-boats then operated by the Navy. A production programme was hurriedly established, and the Porte flying-boats began to enter service in early 1917.

Between 1916 and 1918, hundreds of Porte-designed flying-boats were built. They were known as the Felixstowe 'F' series, and were manufactured both in Britain and the United States. Many technical advances and revisions were incorporated as each new type emerged. Porte would test-fly the new models as well as designing them, a rare combination of abilities that helped him greatly in refining his aircraft as he went.

The flying-boats fought a determined campaign against Germany’s U-boats, airships and fighter floatplanes, and were deployed widely around the British coastline, covering particularly the Channel and the North Sea. Hunting the submarines was much the most urgent task, because the potential of the U-boat to influence the course of the war by depriving Britain of critical maritime trade was profound. Porte’s aircraft contributed fundamentally to the deterrent vital in keeping Britain’s sea lanes free, and preserving the flow of merchant shipping. The principles he established became enshrined in flying-boat design and development.

Post-war, Porte joined the civil aviation industry and pursued ever larger and more complex flying-boat designs including a four-engined biplane enormous for its day. However, over the summer of 1919 he became seriously ill, perhaps as a result of over-work: he died in October of that year.

If you have any information you feel able to share on John Porte or his flying-boats, I'd love to hear from you.

Technology Triumph

I spent this morning at Uni in a 'special' class of one, alongside my tutor. The object was to plug this blog in to the Feedcat feed boosting engine. And between us we did it. This means, I managed to remember my password to the Feedcat site, and Alex set me up - not in an Al Pacino way, more a 'this works now' type of thing.

Since then I have played with all my new buttons, and haven't broken any of them yet. I have fiddled with the new sites connected to the buttons, and look forward to the next step on the journey of a non-technologist in my enhanced blogosphere.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Asian Babes - Sponsored by Sony Ericsson

I'm not terribly up on e-technology. With determined patience, my tutor at UCF has tried to explain to me the methods of smothering my blog with RSS feeders, networking platforms and so on. But I've struggled. The younger students on my course simply lap it up, the ingratiating lot. They have displays and counters for this and that all over their blogs.

It's dispiriting because I know it has taken only a matter of seconds for the young to 'put up' their button things. Meanwhile, I pore over the tutor's instructions for hour after tearful hour. The fate of my laptop hangs in the balance as I contemplate flinging it over the nearest picturesque Cornish cliff. I mean that.

But experience and cunning will outwit youthful enthusiasm. Since half the world seems obsessed with porn and cellphones, I've decided to use two terms on Slice of Life that (I imagine) have been top of the pops with search engines since the dawn of time. There they are, in the title bar above. My plan can't fail to get me up those reader / follower ratings. Watch this blog take off!

By the way, sorry about the choice of image above. I viewed the alternative as unacceptable.

Friday, 6 February 2009


Last summer my band The Slaves played a gig at Chris Gray’s Troubador recording studio in Falmouth. This was part of the Falmouth Arts Week celebrations, and we looked forward to strutting our stuff at such an unusual venue. Chris carefully rearranged his workplace to provide a really great atmosphere. All ready to belt out our electric folk mayhem, then.

We played on the middle floor between an arts exhibition above, and the toilets on the ground. The arty toffs who visited the exhibition stayed to come to our gig, get pissed and dance around with surprising aplomb. A lady named Miff had organised the shindig. She was eventually persuaded to dance too, overcoming initial reluctance and my romantic overtures which involved leaping from the stage and lunging lustfully at her with my tongue dangling out (could've been worse I suppose). All part of the act folks.

It turned out that among the audience that night was no less than Spider Stacy of The Pogues. That band! What they did with Irish music has been eulogised over many, many times and has given us all such a buzz.

At the end of the gig, Spider joined us on stage and sang Dirty Old Town, a song we’d never played previously. It went well, particularly because he told us the key he wanted it in; Helen even took an instrumental break - full marks! Spider was a down-to-earth, unassuming person, and was a pleasure to do business with. Over the next couple of weeks we all bought Pogues CDs, and in turn awaited massive orders of our album Mental Notes from Spider and all his mates.

This was only our first foray into playing with celebrity guests. Since then we've performed with some huge names, including SOME TEXT MISSING

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Shop in The Name of Love

I love Valentine's Day, though I never get any cards. That's not important. It's the laughable junk touted in the name in VD, as I like to think of it, that I especially admire. On VD, if you don't shower the lodestar of your life with tat, you're in deep.

Megacorp will provide a wonderful choice of rubbish with which to demonstrate the advanced sincerity and depth of your ardour. You can buy a VD card with a picture of an indeterminate fluffy animal, gazing at you with huge, emetically sentimental eyes. Often, modern technology has been used to advantage and when you open the card a little song will play. 'I will always love yoooooooo ...' or in a more modern idiom, 'Eat It Bitch'. The messages inside the cards are arse-clenchingly embarrassing, promising uncritical worship forever at the very least. To send such a card would surely suggest mental instability combined with obsession that wouldn't disgrace Glenn Close.

Flowers are also very popular. Florists, who have cottoned on to this, sadistically quintuple their prices knowing the condemned suitors will be obliged to queue round the block, or be kicked in the bollocks by the fairer sex. Twelve red roses or a small car; it's an easy choice to make.

Love being associated with the colour pink, around VD all sorts of pink objects appear in the shops. Men buy these things by the skip-load. Strange and rather ugly little dolls wearing t-shirts with loving slogans. Huge heart-shaped balloons with more writing on. Badges, sweeties, VD jewellery. Cuddly animals: lurid pigs, or Mr Hippo, or a great big hephalump. So you can't fail to forget the day, the supermarkets, florists and card shops will thoughtfully festoon themselves with notices giving the date, and details of new lines with which to celebrate the occasion - again, all in pink. Of course, the donor is only really concerned with one pink object, and where it might end up.

Oh - while you're at the shop buying this stuff, don't forget the Easter eggs and Mother's Day junk - they're already floor to ceiling in aisle 96.