Children of the Stones

Children of the Stones is one of those rare children’s television series whose reputation has given it a cult attraction over the years, largely due to the disturbing impression it left on those who were lucky enough to see it when it was first broadcast.Children of the StonesI am not quite old enough to have seen it in 1977 (well I was, but it might have been a bit too scary for me then!).  It is one of a series of programmes from the late seventies and early eighties which hold a strange fascination for people who, like me, crave that rare strata of storytelling which incorporates intelligent ideas with weird elements.

I have just received the DVD in the post and although I have only seen the first few episodes, it is certainly living up to its reputation.  The themes and ominous mood of the series bring to mind a plethora of other films, directly and indirectly; from Val Lewton’s ‘The Cat People‘, through to ‘The Village of the Damned‘, ‘Quatermass and The Pit‘ and ‘The Wicker Man‘.

The soundtrack is quite unique and unnerving by itself and reminds me of the strange choral sounds which arise in ‘Invaders From Mars‘ when the holes appear in the sandpit, but it is far more guttural and Pagan sounding.

The story (created for the series by Jeremy Burnham and Trevor Ray) is certainly not dumbed down for its target audience – if only more children’s television series were brave enough to stretch the minds of its viewers.  Supported by an excellent script, great camera work and classic 70’s acting which all adds to its strangeness and to what made it so memorable at the time and what still makes it so appealing today.

The series was filmed in and around the Avebury stone circle (renamed as Millbury) as well as the HTV Bristol Studio.  From what I can gather so far, it draws on myths and legends, occultism, Ley lines, magnetism, Paganism and the eternal tension between science (rationalism) and folklore (superstition).AERIALS 2002 PIC DAVE EVANS 1.6.02It is only seven short episodes long (about 25 minutes each) yet it has not been repeated on British television since its second showing in 1978.  It is supposedly the one of the scariest children’s programme ever screened and today actually carries the unusually high 12 certificate on the DVD.  It was released as a book  in 1977, and more recently a follow-up book called Return to the Stones (also by Jeremy Burnham and Trevor Ray) was also published (in 2012).

'Children of the Stones' book version

In a way it deserves to be remade, but on the other hand I think it would be a wrong move – we seem to have become far too superficial in our tastes (and rational thought has oppressed our folk memory); at the same time we are usually fed simple stories as if we are unable to process complex plots.  Not only that but so many great films have been remade and ruined (basically they’ve been dumbed down!) – ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ is a perfect example!  ‘Quatermass and The Pit’ is another fantastic story which deserves a good remake, but I’m sure the multiple layers of ideas would be stripped out and it would end up as a simple horror (horror in the modern sense – gore over mood).

If you are at all interested in strange goings on and atmospheric storytelling then ‘Children of the Stones’ is well worth a look!

“Happy day!”

Cross Rail, London

Finally, it’s happened.  At last, an engineering triumph to be proud of – an epic feat of engineering which can be compared to the marvels of the original the Industrial Revolution, in the country which gave birth to modern world – Great Britain (can you guess I’m British?).

I have been lamenting the lack of vision and what you can only be described as ‘greatness’ of achievement in construction and engineering for a long time.  Our touch-screen, nano-technology world is astounding in many ways, and a lot of the things dreamed of by previous generations have become reality – quite literally the future is now.  Which is all well and good – but it doesn’t provide a sense of awe, it doesn’t make your mouth drop open and go ‘wow’.

Richard Trevithick (1771-1833), Frank Whittle (1907-1996), John Harrison (1693-1776) Alan Turing (1912-1954), Joseph Bazalgette (1819-1891), Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) – and the list goes on!  All great names who changed the world with their leaps of imagination and dogged determination.  The subject of this article may not have one particular name to highlight (a whole range of architectural firms are involved in the new and re-modeled stations, but I cannot find a name for the design of the tunnel and the overall project), but, like Bazalgette, we are heading beneath the streets of London.

Cross Rail is a truly epic undertaking, creating 42Km of new tunnels under the capital; and what is so encouraging about this new type of construction is that the whole process has been thought through from beginning to end – for example, the vast amounts of spoil which have been generated has not just been dumped somewhere, it has been used to create a new 1,500 acre RSPB nature reserve at Wallasea Island in Essex.  Engineering with the environment in mind is engineering at it’s best.

Interestingly, although the building of the route has finally happened in the 21st century, it was actually proposed in the 19th and again in the 20th century (see here for more info on that).

Here are some photos, and here you can see videos of the construction on the Cross Rail YouTube page:-

Crossrail Tunnel Boring MachineCrossrail Shaft CrossrailCrossrail breakthrough Crossrail Full WidthCrossrail Route Map Geographic OutlineTo give some idea of the scale of this project here are a few fact from the Cross Rail website (edited from, here):-

General Info

  • Crossrail is Europe’s largest construction project – work started in May 2009 and there have been over 10,000 people working across over 40 construction sites.
  • Over 62 million working hours have been completed on the Crossrail project so far.
  • Crossrail will transform rail transport in London, increasing capacity by 10%, supporting regeneration and cutting journey times across the city.
  • The Crossrail route will run over 100km from Reading and Heathrow in the west, through new tunnels under central London to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east.
  • There will be 40 Crossrail stations including 10 new stations at Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street, Whitechapel, Canary Wharf, Custom House, Woolwich and Abbey Wood.
  • Crossrail will bring an extra 1.5 million people to within 45 minutes of central London and will link London’s key employment, leisure and business districts – Heathrow, West End, the City, Docklands – enabling further economic development.
  • The first Crossrail services through central London will start in late 2018 – an estimated 200 million annual passengers will use Crossrail.

Tunneling

  • A total of eight tunnelling machines are being used to construct the new rail tunnels under London. Tunnelling is now complete.
  • The tunnelling machines in the west were called Phyllis and Ada and have completed their journeys, constructing 6.8km of tunnel each between Royal Oak to Farringdon.  In the east they were called Elizabeth and Victoria and were constructing new tunnels between Limmo Peninsular in Canning Town, and Farringdon.  In south-east London the machines’ names were Sophia and Mary and have completed their 2.9km drives from Plumstead to North Woolwich.  The tunnel boring machines Jessica and Ellie have completed their 2.7km tunnel drives from Pudding Mill Lane portal near Stratford to Stepney Green.  The tunnelling machines Jessica and Ellie have also completed their second tunnel drives – a 900 metre drive from Limmo Peninsual in Canning Town and Victoria Dock Portal.
  • Each tunnelling machine is a 1,000 tonne, 150 metres long underground factory with 20 person ‘tunnel gangs’ working in shifts.
  • At peak, the tunnelling machines aim for around 100 metres of tunnelling progress per week – as the tunnelling machines move forward, precast concrete segments are built in rings behind – 250,000 tunnel segments will be used to line the 42 kilometres of tunnels.
  • 4.5 million tonnes of excavated material from the tunnels will be shipped to Wallasea Island in Essex where it will be used to create a new 1,500 acre RSPB nature reserve.

Jobs

  • Over the course of the project, we expect there to be at least 75,000 opportunities for businesses, generating enough work to support the equivalent of 55,000 full time jobs.
  • The delivery of Crossrail will create thousands of business and job opportunities including 400 apprenticeships. Over 350 apprenticeships have already been created on the project to date.

Sustainability

  • Contractors across the project are exceeding recycling targets with more than 92 per cent of demolition and construction waste beneficially reused.
  • More than 98 per cent of excavated material recycled with the vast majority being used to create to a RSPB nature reserve at Wallasea Island in Essex.
  • Development of a new Building Research Establishment Environment Assessment method (BREEAM) for evaluating the environmental performance of new below ground Crossrail stations.
  • Crossrail rolling stock procurement includes requirements relating to regenerative braking, energy consumption and weight limits.

Surprisingly, the whole project is on time and on budget – such a rare thing!

All in all, it is a truly epic undertaking, and one that our Victorian predecessors would be proud of.

Listening

When writing posts for my blog I do not approach it with the intention of promoting products, yet if a product happens to be associated with what I’m thinking, feeling or reading about at the time, then it is inevitable that I will mention it.  So, although this posting will mention a product, it is not the idea behind it.  To start with the post really won’t make a great deal of sense, but it will sort itself out by the end (my goodness, that sounds just like a bit of disclaimer doesn’t it!).

We all know that we already own or (as manufacturers) have produced enough items to satisfy far more than our basic needs; and that a lot of what is newly made inevitably creates waste and more ‘stuff’ that is largely unnecessary.  Hence the rise of ‘retro and vintage’ (the classier, sassier sister of second-hand) and the multitude of ways of getting our hands on old things or unloading it on other people – etsy, ebay, preloved, gumtree, freegive, freecycle, musicmagpie, etc., etc..  In fact I do it myself through etsy (as I’ve mentioned in a previous post) although much of what I pass on I really like because of its inherent and aesthetic quality and wish that I could keep it all – but unfortunately I’ve only got one house!

In terms of products it is encouraging when you hear about companies that do give something back or make it possible to recycle their products when they have come to the end of their useful life (although the ultimate products are, of course, the ones that just keep on working – but they don’t make them like that anymore, do they).  My worry is that the ‘eco’ claims of many large companies is little more than a marketing ploy – I can think of a few who claim a lot (as I’m sure you can too!), but actually deliver very little. So far this blog posting has unintentionally been a bit of an eco-rant – it wasn’t supposed to be that way.

I’ve recently been reading about the metamorphosis of English folk into electric-folk, folk-rock, acid-folk and all its permutations.  The book is called ‘Electric Eden – Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music‘ by Rob Young and charts the evolution of folk throughout the twentieth century.  It moves from the Edwardian folk-song collectors to classical nationalists, but mainly concentrates on the huge revival and reinterpretation that occurred with the singer/songwriters and numerous bands of the late 1960’s and early 70’s.Electric EdenI’ve also been listening to Light In The Attic Record‘s amazing archival compilation album ‘Native North America, Vol.1: Aboriginal Folk, Rock and Country 1966-1985‘, which satisfies both my quest for unusual sounds (for instance, I’ve already reviewed Light In The Attic’s equally good ‘Country Funk‘ album – Country Funk!  The term still warps the mind!) and my desire to search out the root of things, the obscure and forgotten, the dead ends and oddities in all aspects of music, literature and art.Native North America, Vol. 1While I was engrossed in all of these absorbing (for me anyway) distractions, I read an article about in-ear headphones made of wood, called (appropriately enough) ‘Woodbuds‘.  It struck me that surely the perfect way to listen to folk music on the move was with wooden in-ear headphones.  It made a connection and felt as though the inherent woodiness of the music would resonate emotionally (if not acoustically) with the material with which the earphones are made and what essentially helps to transmit the sound to the brain.  Looking into this small friends-and-family run company I was pleased to read that they are associated with the Woodland Trust and for every 100 Woodbuds sold they will plant a tree.  I’m just hoping that this small company (which must be very trendy because it’s got a guy with a huge beard in it’s photos – have you noticed that all trendy ads have blokes with huge beards at the moment!) takes it’s eco-ness through to the production level and only makes them in small quantities to meet the level of demand.Woodbuds WhiteSo there we have it – I’m brought back to my initial rant about products, over-production and waste and hopefully now makes sense!  The counter idea being that small-scale production can produce only what is required and that such companies can do good by giving something back, and from which we can all benefit.  I just wish I could believe all companies when they shout about their eco-credentials.Woodbuds Colours

Carved-Out Caves in New Mexico

Imagine creating your own cave – I don’t mean simply finding a pre-existing cave and decorating it in your own style.  I mean actually digging the space out of a hillside; and as you are doing it carving intricate patterns onto the walls to form beautiful, naturally lit, subterranean halls and corridors.  Created entirely by hand, by one man with no formal training; this is a form of archeological self-expression – an intricate and vast sandstone grotto in the desert of New Mexico.

This is the art of Ra Paulette – there not a lot more for me to say about this, but to simply leave you with a few images and a link to his website, here; and to a trailer for what looks like an interesting film about the man and his process, here).

Cave 1

Cave 2

Cave 3

Cave 4

Cave 5

Cave 6

Cave 7

Cave 8

Cave 9

Cave 10

The Wooden Thread on Etsy

To celebrate the fact that I recently gained my 100th follower on WordPress (and if you can think of anyone else who might be interested please do send them a link!) I thought that I’d write something different from my usual ramblings and do a little bit of shameless self-promotion.

2014-10-19 15.36.03For about the same amount of time that I have been writing this blog I have also been maintaining a little shop on Etsy called ‘The Wooden Thread‘.

For those who have not come across Etsy, it was created as an online market place specifically for designer/makers to sell their wares and also for people to sell vintage items.  It very much taps into a trend which has grown up in the last decade or so – the return of ‘craft’.  Knitting, sewing, baking and woodwork, much of which has even invaded prime-time television of late.

Etsy is full of a diverse range of retro and original pieces – ideal for people who want something unique and hand-made or something a little different from the brand new.

My shop, ‘The Wooden Thread‘, is largely stocked with interesting retro things that I’ve found – I would love to have the time to include a few more of my own creations, but at the moment I simply don’t, unfortunately.

Hornsea, Meakin, Old Hall, Midwinter and 2014-10-19 16.03.16loads of other, nameless pieces, largely from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s – there is something warm about older items, they feel sturdy, better made and generally more substantial than modern items designed for the home that are currently available in high street shops.

If you would like to visit ‘Wooden Thread‘ (and I sincerely hope you will) or would simply like to browse Etsy itself, you can click here.  Or you could click on the banner I’ve added to the right of the first page of this blog, which says ‘I sell on Etsy’.

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Manhattanhenge

This is a new one on me – Manhattanhenge or Manhattan Solstice?

Apparently it is an event which happens twice a year when the setting sun aligns itself with the East/West streets of Manhattan.

It was named in 1996 by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and he uses it to promote interest in his subject.  It obviously comes from the similarity to the sun’s alignment with the stones at Stonhenge on Salisbury Plain (England), but occurs between the very modern skyscrapers of New York.

Apparently similar events occur in other cities with gridded road systems such as Toronto, Chicago, Baltimore and Montreal.  It would be interesting to see in a few thousand years time, when archeologists root around the remains of these cites, whether they claim that the societies that lived there worshiped the sun.  Of course a large proportion of them do – but it has nothing to do with the alignment of their cities and it is definitely not in a religious context.

There is something magical when we are suddenly stunned by the immensity and beauty of the universe; but when it is an everyday event which suddenly confronts us and makes us look again in awe, it seems to have a special power.

I could mention our historic connection with the phases of the Sun and the passing seasons, when nature governed all our daily lives.  But I won’t, and will leave you with a few of the pictures of Manhattanhenge in action – careful you don’t get blinded!

Manhattanhenge 1

Manhattanhenge 2 Manhattanhenge 3