documentary

Colour me blue, or green, or anything you like.

Prof. Brian Cox’s recent documentary series, The Planets, on our solar system neighbours was brilliant though short and sweet. It’s on the iPlayer for the best part of a year so watch it if you can. It’s mind boggling and it makes me think how could there possibly be life anywhere else. As for humanoid aliens, especially ones which speak fluent English with American accents, no chance!

As I watched it n the BBC app, it threw up some other suggestions I might like and one of those is a documentary about colour. I watched two episodes and it’s okay, maybe a bit superficial scientifically but entertaining and well produced (link below).

The funny thing about colour is it probably doesn’t exist. Or, I should say, it didn’t exist until life developed eyes. And not all eyes: the earliest eye probably only distinguished between light and dark; then there are eyes which only see in monochrome shades. Even the human eye is limited, only able to detect light within the band known anthropologically as visible light. Only some critters, it is thought, see beyond that.

And even within the so-called visible light, different people see different colours. This idea came home to me this week when I was looking over a drawing with a colleague. It showed a floor plan of a building where each of the rooms was coloured corresponding to its use. A key to the side of the drawing explained what each colour meant bit there were so many room uses that some of the colours were indistinguishable at a glance.

My colleague pointed to a room and said it wasn’t clear what kind of room it was; it could, he said, be either one or other shades of green. This struck me as odd. I couldn’t determine which type of room it was either but to my eyes the colour was definitely one of the two shades of blue.

Admittedly it wasn’t lapis lazuli, more the colour of a clear morning sky with a little pollution. But it wasn’t green, no way. Or was it?

I had an odd notion that I could reproduce near enough the exact colour by mixing primaries, blue, red and yellow – pigments, not light, of course. But then the colleague would agree it was mixed perfectly, but he would still see it as green.

So, remember, when we’re visited by those little green men from outer space, they might actually be blue. Or, quite possibly to their eyes, deep x-ray-ultraviolet.


image (top): No. 61 (rust and blue) by Mark Rothko

Colour: The Spectrum of Science (BBC TV)

Venus is Hell

I dropped in on the BBC iPlayer app the other day. It’s been a while as I’ve not been enthusiastic about BBC TV for a long time; it’s played too safe and formulaic.

However, Professor Brian Cox’s latest presenting vehicle, The Planets, caught my attention. The CGI graphics in the previews reminded me of the artist’s impressions of the imagined landscapes of real planets, which featured in the weekly encyclopaedia I was given as a kid. They might have been illustrated by Angus McBride who did the mythical beasts I blogged about before, but I don’t actually know. The landscapes were quite fanciful and earth-like, with graceful though strangely coloured clouds, and often featured multiple moons or planetary rings in the sky.

The Planet‘s planets are a whole different ball game. Based on real information sent back by probes, it shows a stark and horrifically hostile environment on each of our terrestrial neighbours. Venus, for example, is described as “Hell” compared to Earth’s heaven, while Mars, hoped to be the most plausible for human colonisation, appears like a sad, dead wasteland.

I’ve long held the impression that life is a fluke, an extreme, long odds, outside chance and that it ought not to have happened at all. It required a very special set of conditions: a place in the solar system goldilocks zone; the right sized planet; the right amount of essential elements, in the right proportions; water, existing in three states; a magnetic field; and probably a whole host of things I haven’t considered. The fact that life has existed here for billions of years, long enough to enable selective evolution to develop complicated lifeforms, and somehow avoiding a natural catastrophic annihilation may be regarded as a miracle. Though I enjoy science fiction, I’ve often found the facts far more impressive.


On science fiction, I’ve had this idea about the perfect afterlife when a soul is free to wander wherever in pleases. Mine would love to fly to other planets just to see how they matched up with those artist’s impressions.

But then the other day I had a crisis of doubt. How do souls, or ghosts, work? Without a body, they have no sensory perceptions and won’t see, hear or feel anything externally. They are all imagination, aren’t they? Oh well, back to the drawing board…


image: imagined, the brief life of a Venera probe on the surface of Venus, a reality Hell (from The Planets, BBC)

Roll ‘em: Robert Johnson & how to properly pack a bag

Down to the crossroads.

My Youtube suggestions unearthed an old documentary on the legendary delta blues musician, Robert Johnson, yesterday. It had up till now escaped my notice but if you’re at all interested in the blues genre, it’s well worthwhile. (Link below.)

The label “legendary” or “legend” might be bandied around too casually these days as if it equates to just being famous but in Robert Johnson’s case, it is arguably apt.

So, in a nutshell for those who may be unaware, I shall attempt a precis of the salient points. Johnson, then known by his step-father’s family name of Spencer, aspired to be a musician, and not a farmer or farm labourer as was the usual work of his peers. His early attempt at music was to hammer nails into the outside of his mother’s house and string three wires between them and wedge a bottle under to provide tension; then he would pluck those wires to make music.

He would visit the bars and juke joints to hear the travelling musicians. He begged, amongst others, Son House, a loan of a guitar to practice on. But, according to House, the neighbours complained of the noise and so the guitar had to be taken away form him and subsequent begging turned down.

And here’s the legend part: Johnson took off, it’s not sure where, for six or seven months. When he came home, he begged to show how he could play. Of course, they feared the worst but it turned out he could not only play but play better than anyone around. It was said of him that he must have traded his soul to the devil to be able to play so well in such a short time.

He became an itinerant performer and a successful one. He was invited to Texas to record his music – 29 songs recorded off one mic in a hotel room, straight onto a disc. He was, by all accounts, a nice person but he had a thing for the ladies and it is suspected that he was poisoned by a jealous husband of one of his lovers. Or perhaps a jealous woman. The poison was hidden in a glass of whiskey handed to him during a performance. He died in pain the following day.


I followed her to the station, with a suitcase in my hand.

I had heard the stories before but there was a little gem within that made me smile. It was recounted by his travelling companion and fellow guitarist, Johnny Shines. He said Johnson had a routine of rolling up his suit, together with a white shirt inside, and carrying them around in a paper bag. When he put on his suit – presumably for a gig or a date – his clothes looked as if they were freshly pressed.

Why does this interest me? Well, for a while now, I’ve been rolling my clean shirts to put away rather than folding them, and when I pack to go away, I roll most of my clothes up. It seems to work, saves space, and avoids the creased look.

I got this tip from the Gentleman’s Gazette guy, Sven Raphael Schneider, the urbane, dapper dresser also featured on Youtube. Then, a while ago, I saw this packing diagram on Pinterest. It’s the new thing! Or the old thing, if we think about Robert Johnson.

For sure, it’s the small things in life which can bring the most pleasure. 😁


Can’t You Hear The Wind Howl? | The Life and Music of Robert Johnson (youtube)

Aunty on Animation

It would seem that the BBC of late hides its lights under the bushel of its online only output – the iPlayer.

Following on from the very worthwhile bio documentary on British DJ David Rodigan and Reggae, another documentary caught my attention, another perennial interest of mine: stop-frame animation.

With CGI, stop-frame animation is likely seen as a niche and probably quaint pursuit. When it can take years to produce a five minute film, the first question on unsympathetic lips must be, why bother? It’s like the audience I was in, listening to an Oxford busker perform a longish piece on a didgeridoo. He was, as the didge goes, very accomplished but I overheard a boy whisper to his friend, “Uh, I can do that on my Casio”. I guess you get it or you don’t.

And so it is that stop-frame animators, to the informed at least, have the status of artisan and artists, not mass produced manufacturers of cartoons by computers.

As the programme explains, there is something quintessentially British about British animation historically. I think it’s possibly because there are no rules but also, as explained, there is no money. Anyway, I love it.

Here’s a couple of my favourites featured for those unable to view BBC iPlayer. If you can get it, the link is below.

This is from Osbert Parker’s Clothes (1988).

In this animation, he used a collection of vintage clothes and props laid out across his apartment floor in a sequence planned from a storyboard.

As with any stop-frame technique, the clothes are slightly rearranged before each subsequent shot – you get the picture.


Joanna Quinn is an amazing draughtsman. Such exquisite drawings and detailed expressions on her characters’ faces.

This is Girls’ Night Out (1987) about a group of Welsh factory workers visiting a male stripper event.

Click on either image to see the clip.


Secrets of British Animation – BBC iPlayer

Radio Days

I’ve been watching a BBC iPlayer programme about Reggae and David Rodigan. Rodigan is the white, Oxfordshire born guy who “looks like a dentist” and has dedicated his long career to promoting Reggae music in the UK and, it appears, all over the world. He is much respected in Jamaica too.

I remember Rodigan on the radio during the 80s. He would be on the car radio, broadcasting out of Capital FM, a new commercial station for London. It brings back good memories of driving through the city in my first car, streets tinged with the orange glow of low pressure sodium lights, and maybe some reflecting drizzle, and the radio, with Rodigan, emitting this swell of warm, exotic, heavy rhythms and beats interspersed with reverberating, and sometimes intriguingly incomprehensible, soundbites and jingles. And Dub and “Version-Excursion”.

I had heard Jamaican music before this. My uncle’s fabulous collection of records included The Wailers’ Catch A Fire at about its time of release. There was, very occasionally, ska and reggae records in the pop charts earlier too. One memory I have is from Junior School, sitting near the front of a coach for an educational trip and being kept waiting for some reason. The coach driver turned on the radio and the first song we heard was Desmond Dekker and The Aces, Israelites, and my friend and I tried to sing along. Yes, it was a bit get up in the morning wantin’ my breakfast; me ears are alight; and you’re too beefhead, but I remember it well.

But Rodigan made me want to buy the records: Johnny Osbourne, Pablo Gadd, Barrington Levy, Burning Spear, and Black Uhuru are a few names who come to mind and, of course, Gregory Isaacs and Dennis Brown.

It pains me sometimes that I don’t listen to enough music now. In my youth, I’d immerse myself in music and into my 40s, I’d still be listening almost daily, and my very first blog venture was musically themed. Reggae is just one of the genres I loved to hear. I’m going to try listening to more music again. New year’s resolutions!


Reggae Fever: David Rodigan (BBC)