Progressive rock, classic rock, art rock… whatever you want to call it, this is one of my favourite pieces from the early song catalogue of British band Yes — captured live from 1969.
This line up shows Peter Banks on guitar and vocals and Tony Kaye on keyboards, a year before they were replaced by Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman, forming what some still regard as the ‘classic’ Yes lineup — there have been many changes since.
Eclectic rock might be the better word for this style of music. Yes went on to be one of the very best exponents of this genre, in my opinion.
Part of our trip around Northern Ireland’s gorgeous County Antrim coast involved a stop at the world famous Giant’s Causeway.
I have to say that it was indeed everything I was expecting, from the cool, wet weather to the very touristy atmosphere.
That said, the place is simply stunning. Nothing can prepare you for walking over those truncated basalt columns, watching your step, while eyeing in disbelief that such a place actually exists, spreading out ahead of you towards the sea.
Made a World Heritage Site in 1986, the Giant’s Causeway lies right at the northern end of Northern Ireland.
The official story is that it’s between 50 and 60 million years old. In a nutshell, it’s the result of strong volcanic activity causing lava flows which formed a plateau, cooling relatively quickly, resulting in the distinctive hexagonal columns.
A similar process or effect occurs when mud dries in extreme heat, though you don’t get the height of the columns of course.
So much for the ‘official’ story. Any self respecting local here would tell you that’s all hogwash.
A Battle of Giants
What really happened, perhaps not that many generations ago, is that Finn MacCool, an Irish giant, was confronted by a Scottish giant challenger, called Benandonner. Finn, who couldn’t wait to tackle this upstart, built the causeway to get across the North Channel to Scotland.
There are basically two versions of the story. In one, Finn beats Benandonner conclusively. In the other Finn runs away from Benandonner after realising that he’s even bigger than himself.
So, using some feminine guile, Finn’s wife, called Oonagh, makes out her husband to be a baby, even going to the extent of placing him in a cradle.
Benandonner is fooled by this, thinking that if the baby is this big, then how big is the father? In shock, Benandonner trudges back across the causeway, taking it down on the way so Finn cannot follow him.
Science versus ‘Myth’
Strangely enough, in the corresponding part of Scotland around Fingal’s Cave on the isle of Staffa, there are some very similar columns of basalt.
Now, the scientific community would have us believe that this is merely part of the same lava flow from many millions of years ago. Of course it is.
We recently visited Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, and one of the venues on our list was The Game of Thrones Exhibition.
It appears relatively new and situated outside the city centre, about a 15 minute bus ride. The Titanic exhibition centre is also close by.
Not the Biggest Fan
So what did we think? Well, I did watch the show, although I’m not the biggest fan. It would be pointless for me to enter a quiz about it, for example.
The GOT exhibition centre is about another ten minute walk from the Titanic exhibition. From the outside it has the appearance of a large warehouse in an industrial quarter.
Nearby are some of the scene constructions from the show, though these are partly hidden from view behind a fence which you can’t get through.
Not Very Busy
On the day we went, it wasn’t very busy. It was wet and the school holidays are still a little way off. We were greeted by friendly, enthusiastic young people, most of whom we were told, were either extras in the filming or had been involved in some other way.
In fact, it turns out that a significant percentage of the Belfast population have had some involvement in the making of the biggest TV show ever.
Boon for the Local Economy
Many millions of pounds have been generated for the local economy and one of the largest and continuing benefits is tourism.
Once we had got our tickets – £17 pounds each, I might add – we were shown a short film, like a precis for the whole 8 series. We were the only people watching it.
Large – and Dark
Then we were ushered through and entered the exhibition itself. Inside it’s large and dark, so dark that taking pictures (allowed) is not easy, as they don’t like flash photography.
What we saw were basically numerous sets of costumes of the individual characters of the show, from the white walkers to Daenerys.
There were also large dragon skulls, which made the best use of the darkness within the huge hall; there were reconstructions of scenes from the Stark crypt and also interactive areas where you could, for instance, have your picture taken on the Iron Throne – at extra cost, of course.
What I enjoyed best, however, was the map. I’ve always been fascinated by maps and spent a significant proportion of my youth making up fantasy islands or lands – maybe I should have had a pitch at writing a story about them!
We got around the whole exhibition in around half an hour, though a real enthusiast, which I’m not, might take 45 minutes. At the end there was the usual gift shop with the inflated prices which we quickly bypassed.
So, overall, what did I think? It was OK, but I think we both left feeling a little underwhelmed.
Don’t get me wrong, Belfast and Northern Ireland in general deserves all the benefits this show has brought, the employment, the massively increased tourism, but I had the feeling that the exhibition had been put together quickly and it showed.
That said, how elaborate should it be? It could be argued that the large dark space of the centre/warehouse was the perfect setting, complementing the dark mood of the show.
Ultimately though, having been around it now, I don’t think it’s worth what we paid. Ten pounds would have been more reasonable, I think.
If you are a real fan, however, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy it – whatever the cost.
A few days ago I received my long awaited DNA results from 23andme.com.
The process was relatively easy; they kept me up to date with how it was going with regular emails. In total it took around five weeks from ordering the kit to receiving the results.
So it was with a little excitement, and a some trepidation, when my finger finally clicked the email link which took me to the website login.
It has long been contended within my family that there might be some more, shall we say, far flung genes within our pool. What might they be?
All of the family I’ve known have been British, mostly, though not exclusively, English. My Geordie (Newcastle area born) Grandmother, for instance, had a Scottish maiden name, which nevertheless did not prevent her from occasionally casting one or two harsh words aimed at her genetic cousins just a short distance north of the border. Borders are always areas of contention.
My mother’s side of the family were largely dark haired, often with dark eyes too. I myself have dark brown hair with hazel-green eyes, which appear to come from my father.
On top of this there was some speculation that there might be Irish, or perhaps Romany blood. I don’t know where such speculation might have started though.
To put it another way though, I would not have been surprised to find some such significant traces in our family history.
Imagine my surprise then when I read down the composition of my ancestry according to the research based on my sample of saliva. Here it is in basic terms:
97.9% Northwest European.
59.8% British and Irish – the strongest hits being Greater London and Glasgow, with lesser ones in the north midlands, north west and north eastern England, perhaps Cornwall. In Ireland it was found that Limerick, Dublin, Roscommon and County Wexford also represent some significance.
The above is to be found mostly within the last 1-3 generations, down to my great grandparents.
12.1% French and German. No actual place name hits could be found here, though looking at some of those within 23andme.com (my ‘relatives’ or possible distant cousins) with small percentages of similar DNA, Germany seems to come up quite often, whereas France does not. This may be misleading, however.
This DNA would most likely be found in generations 4-7, from my great great grandparents backwards.
3.6% Scandinavian. No actual place name hits here either, though once more this is a large area, with the best chance of finding it within generations 4-7.
22.5% Broadly Northwestern European. This generality is explained by significant migrations over longer periods of time which might ‘smooth over’ more specific areas of placement.
Maybe these ancestors tended to live in or around seaports (where there’s more influx of people – my speculation), anywhere from Germany to Iceland, from Norway to France. This is a significant percentage, almost a quarter of my DNA, so it would be nice to narrow this down, if possible.
1.6% Southern European. Another generality.
0.5% Broadly European.
All the other tested populations came up with zero percentages.
I knew of the Scottish connection, though not of Glasgow, I assumed it was more to do with Edinburgh, the Lothians or the Borders. I had speculated about the Irish. It would be great to follow up both of these with more investigation.
The London connection is a great surprise, however. I know of only one family member, a great grandmother on my father’s side, who was born anywhere near London, South Weald in Essex. I don’t think this would be enough to score the highest hit. So there might be one or two things to investigate here – maybe the London connection is indeed stronger than I think.
And as for the French, German, Scandinavian, and southern European links I simply have no idea, so that’s exciting in itself. It’s at times like this I wish I’d asked my parents or grandparents more questions about family related matters.
However, one of the great things you can do with 23andme is link up with others of similar DNA strands and share information, if both parties are willing to do so. You can display as much or as little information as you wish. This can and does often lead to revelation, I am told.
Is It Worth It?
So is it worth around the ninety pounds I paid in all? If you are seriously interested in family history, then yes, definitely.
And don’t think these results are the end – this is only the beginning. They are continually updated; if you’re prepared to participate with other members, plus also to join up for further research, such as in health, then this process should keep you intrigued and consumed for many years to come.
In the future, I hope to visit some of the places my DNA has been linked to, to visit Scotland and Ireland again, to go to parts of France, Germany and Scandinavia I’ve never seen.
Was this planet really visited by space travellers from the star Sirius in the ancient past?
This is the question posed by author Robert K. G. Temple. His book, ‘The Sirius Mystery’ (Futura 1977) is another of my favourite books from yesteryear. I remember the day I bought it, in a train station, the arresting cover drawing me to it. I still thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in the possibility of ‘ancient aliens’ and human culture in general.
It’s a complicated book that you have to persist with, though it’s well worth it, and this paperback has very small type, which these days would not add to the reading enjoyment. Nevertheless, although several decades old now, it’s still in very good condition. I’m kind of good with books that way.
The starting point of the book is that it seems the Dogon tribe of Mali (former French Sudan) in west Africa, have sophisticated astronomical knowledge of the star Sirius, which is in fact a binary star, that is, two stars spinning around each other; it takes Sirius B (the dense smaller, actually invisible companion to Sirius A) around fifty years to orbit its larger, very bright sibling. Sirius itself is important to mythology in general, particularly in ancient Egypt, where its rising was used in the timing of the flooding of the Nile; it is often called ‘The Dog Star’.
The work of French early twentieth century anthropologists Griaule and Dieterlen forms the basis of the main evidence for the book. They spent much time with the Dogon, unravelling their art, culture and mythology which embody this knowledge. It’s from this that the startling information about the Dogon’s knowledge came.
But to boil it down here for simplicity’s sake, how is it possible for the Dogon, in fact any people on earth, to have what appears to be complex, accurate knowledge of far off star systems, without telescopes, or without going there themselves? After all, it was only in the twentieth century that knowledge of Sirius’ invisible companion star came about, using modern, sophisticated telescopic technology.
Ruling out co-incidence, or that the Dogon could somehow remotely see Sirius B orbiting Sirius A light years away, what possible conclusions can we come to, apart from someone else giving them that information?
It transpires from the work of the anthropologists that the Dogon do describe what we might today call aerial craft, possibly spacecraft, their various states of ascent and descent as seen from the ground. There are even suggestions that the being(s) on board these possible aerial ships, was called ‘Nommo’ and that he might be semi-aquatic, due to tribal drawings.
Interestingly, this description and knowledge does appear to link up with ancient Mesopotamian/Middle Eastern mythology, which describes similar ‘craft’ and ‘beings’, who imparted their knowledge to ‘primitive’ mankind.
So, as the saying goes, there’s a lot of smoke here, but where’s the fire? The evidence, such as it is, is highly persuasive. But do we need to re-examine it? Are we in danger of being guilty of imposing our own (modern Western) notions and sensibilities on to different cultures?
Keeping an open mind
The truth is, I don’t know. Twenty years ago, I was pretty much a full on believer in extraterrestrials and this was one of the best ‘go to’ books for ‘proof’ of them and their hand in humanity’s development.
Now, having re-read the book again in recent years, it’s still one of the best in this category you can find. Even so, as fascinating and well written as it is, I keep an open mind about it all.
I suppose it’s asking a little too much to demand aliens to disclose themselves, but if they’ve always been here, with us, then there’s nothing to disclose, is there?
My Faith Mercury – in all its parlour beauty. Note the lovely rosewood binding.
I’ve had my Faith Mercury parlour guitar for nearly four years now. I remember that it wasn’t a very easy purchase.
So OK, let me explain. I love electric guitars too; I’d had my American Stratocaster for number of years but it simply wasn’t getting played. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, far from it. I don’t gig so it’s far easier sitting around with an acoustic. I just wanted something smaller, lighter, easier in my lap – a ‘sofa guitar’ you might say.
Look, I’d got other acoustics (I’ll come back to them another time) but not a genuine 12 fret join-at-the-neck acoustic. They are usually called parlour guitars due to the fact that they were originally made in more genteel times for ladies to strum in their parlours. How quaint, I thought. I’ve seen plenty of women who can handle much bigger guitars than this, but again that’s another story.
You actually traded in the Strat?
So, once I’d come to terms with the knowledge that parlour guitars weren’t necessarily the exclusive property of women, I had to make a decision. Yes, I was going to trade in the Strat! What? It was hard to let it go: Heck, even the smell of it was great.
Yet, when I first took hold of that light Faith Mercury parlour it was the perfect fit for noodling, fingerstyle playing which is basically where I’m at these days. You might call it the quintessential songwriters’ guitar and I’ve been known to write a few.
The Faith Mercury is a perfect wee beastie: The simple Faith logo on the headstock, solid woods all round with a spruce top, trembesi back and sides and some beautiful rosewood binding to boot, which I really love. Mine has the glossy top, with matt finish back and sides. The solid trembesi, I am told, sits tonally somewhere between rosewood and mahogany. Sounds great.
Not boxy out of the box
However, perhaps the most surprising thing, considering it’s a parlour guitar, is that it’s not that boxy sounding; in fact there’s a fair amount of bass and thus a fuller, richer sound than I was expecting. It was in tune ‘right out of the box’ as the saying goes, and it’s so easy to play, the action just right for me. And by the way, it wasn’t actually a box but rather a very nice case emblazoned with the Faith logo.
My only ‘quibble’ is the fact that it doesn’t smell like a Martin (Martin owners will know what I mean) – but you can’t have everything, I suppose. Faith make some fantastic, great value guitars and I wouldn’t hesitate buying another. The only problem is making a choice. I’ve always fancied another Faith Mercury with the scoop and pick up. Equally I’d like a Venus, but which one?
Bog oak – is that a thing?
Then there’s the one made with that ancient bog oak, was it? Actually I think they’ve made several by now. One day I will make my mind up. I just hope I don’t have to trade in another to get one.
But get this. About a month ago my wife said, “can you teach me to play guitar?” After getting up off the floor and saying “yes, of course, Darling,” I wondered which of my several acoustics she would prefer to learn on. Absolute no brainer, the Faith Mercury won hands down. “It’s just the right shape for me,” she said, having struggled just a little with the others. Now she’s already trying to pick out the ‘Game of Thrones’ theme tune and I can’t get a look in!
It looks like parlour guitars are indeed very suitable for women and most especially the Faith Mercury. I’ll just have to remind her that it’s actually my guitar!