Friday, 30 October 2009

Cheating on Aunty

Recently I have been reviewing a long-term relationship. Over the years it has been an on-off affair. It may be time to move on.

The companion of choice to whom I refer is, of course, Aunty Beeb. She’s usually around somewhere, often tuned to Radio 3, 7 or the World Service.

When the World Service lived on short wave, it was a radio treasure trove, with all manner of programmes - comedy, drama, documentaries, quiz shows. Now it’s become a 24 hour news channel. As news goes it’s pretty wide-ranging (and not Westminster-obsessed like the domestic news) but it is marred recently by some deeply patronising on-air adverts.

The worst of these is BBC Tourette Syndrome. This affliction causes the station to broadcast the phrase “BBC” as often as possible. The most extreme BBC-count I’ve managed is eleven times in five minutes. One jingle begins “BBC BBC World Service” and sounds like a high tech speech impediment.

Aunty is displaying a range irritating behaviour at the moment. The old dear seems to have forgotten what she’s for and who she is aimed at. Perhaps she’s getting smug in her old age or trying too hard to impress her younger nephews and nieces. Or maybe she’s become a dotty old bat who has forgotten who pays her license fee.

She needs to be more careful. I could be tempted to cheat on her. It is an awfully wide world and Aunty is not the only one with a home on the web. Google ‘FStream’ and you can download a free application to your computer or iPod which gives you access to thousands of radio stations from around the planet. There is every genre of music, every kind of station you can think of and some of it is extraordinarily good.

If you enjoyed Buena Vista Social Club, then wait ‘til you hear a genuine Cuban radio station. Annoyed by the Daily Mail? Then go apoplectic with Rush Limbaugh on U.S. Republican radio stations. All of life is out there.

Listening worldwide feels exotic, adventurous and opens up new horizons. It may not all be in a language you happen to understand but at least there’s less chance of being annoyed by the adverts.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Pictures for an Exhibition

Last week a new exhibition opened in Mill Yard Studios, a small art gallery and working studio close to where I live. Lines Coming and Going may not be the snappiest exhibition title around but it does describe what is on show. Line work from six artists, the focus of each being shape and form rather than colour and texture.

And in the case of one of them, jokes. That would be me. Included in the show is original artwork from my Westmorland Gazette cartoon, on show and on sale for the very first time.

It was gratifying to be asked to take part. Cartoonists are usually the poor relations in the art world, cruelly spurned and ignored. Which is why we now have a Cartoon Museum of our own. Some cartoonists can’t draw for toffee, of course, but even their stuff is interesting when placed in a frame an hung on a wall. Artwork designed for print is never the finished article, so you get to see the imperfections. You get to see the blue sketch lines (in my case), the little notes in the margin (Giles) and the ink splats all over the surrounding paper (Scarfe). Giles famously didn’t want anyone to see his originals and claimed he wanted them burned on his death. Fortunately he changed his mind, placed them in the hands of a Trust and they have all been donated to the Cartoon Archive at Kent University, where you can now see them online.

Back to the local exhibition. I was asked to submit eight pieces of artwork and as I have drawn over 1300 cartoons for the Gazette, some drastic filtering was required. I began by only considering cartoons published between 2007 and 2009. This may or may not have been influenced by the fact that I have three year’s worth of archives on my website and I could find them all.

A cartoon on the front of a regional newspaper is both topical and, sometimes, quite parochial. Taken out of context it may make no sense at all. (Left in context mine occasionally make little sense.) So the next stage was to employ a traditional cartooning technique and cheat: I sent an email to friends, colleagues and the usual suspects, asking them to identify the cartoons they liked best.

Favourites quickly began to emerge so now it was my turn to join in.

Time for a confession. The Gazette cartoon is drawn to a deadline. I don’t have the luxury of awaiting inspiration or the exact quality of light to dance across my studio. If I do that there will be a small blank box in the following day’s newspaper. So some of the originals are ok-ish as drawings but nothing special. However, once in an improbably-coloured moon, there’s a drawing which I really, really like. It hits the page without my intervention and looks like somebody good drew it.

So no one is having any of those.

Well, okay, one got in. There’s no point being entirely selfish, it’s a selling exhibition after all. Interestingly, it was also the one my fellow exhibitors immediately identified as their favourite.

In the end, out of the 150 plus drawings, whittling it down to eight was a remarkably painless process (helped by getting other people to do most of the work, of course). You can see the selection on my website. Better still, get down to Mill Yard Studios before the exhibition finishes on 1 November and buy one of the cartoons.

As long as it’s not my favourite.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Lunar Dust-up

Earlier today, NASA crashed the LCROSS (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) spacecraft into the Moon. This wasn't sloppy driving, it was an attempt to look for evidence of water in Cabeus, a deep Lunar crater which lies in perpetual darkness. Telescopes from Earth were monitoring the results hoping to see ice and other material ejected by the impact.

From a scientific point of view, this is a pretty impressive. It's a tiny, 98 metre wide target to hit from a quarter of a million miles away - roughly the equivalent of hitting a golf ball in Lancaster and getting a hole-in-one in Brighton.

One valuable item of data to emerge so far is that the legions of the scientifically-illiterate cluttering up the interweb far exceeds expectations.

During the lead up to the impact it was a trending topic on Twitter. The twitterances were split between those following the science and those outraged it was happening. How dare we throw bombs at the moon, do we know what we're doing? What happens if we destroy it? Will we bring about Armageddon? (Here's a clue: No.)

Elsewhere in cyber space (where no one can hear you talk sense) there was a petition to President Obama wanting to (and I quote because I'm not inventive enough to make this up) stop the "US military-industrial-entertainment complex" from undertaking "a hostile act of aggression and a violent intrusion upon our closest and dearest celestial neighbor that will also have far reaching effects here on earth".

The petition was raised by the Chicago Surrealist Movement so it could be a spoof. But it’s too late - the clarion call has been taken up by moon-huggers everywhere.

There is a long and honourable history of finding out what stuff is made of by prodding it. NASA has been doing it since Apollo. The ascent stages of Apollos 12, 14, 15 and 17 were all deliberately crashed into the lunar surface. Seismometers, placed by the Apollo astronauts, were used to record the impact to get an idea of the moon's internal structure. (Sadly for Wallace and Grommit fans, it wasn't cheese.)

In the 1970s hippies didn't have an internet to bleat across. They probably congregated in San Francisco and sang mournful songs instead. If they did, no record exists, although this is probably a Good Thing.

Ironically, the LCROSS mission occurs ten years after the setting for Gerry Anderson’s TV series, Space 1999. If you missed it, this featured an explosion driving the moon out of orbit so the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha could have exciting space adventures whilst wearing flared trousers and talking in whispers. The biggest threat they encountered was Barry Morse's acting.

I watched the live NASA feed of the LCROSS impact and admit I was a little disappointed. I hoped the question of water on the moon would finally be settled. I anticipated seeing Elvis on a li-lo with Lord Lucan paddling nearby, possibly in the shade of a WW2 Nazi bomber. No luck. The screen went blank some seconds before impact. So that's another conspiracy theory shot down in flames … but who by and sponsored by what shadowy organisation?

It’s still daylight now but I assume the moon is still there. I'll have to wait until tonight to find out. On the whole, I'll be relieved if it is. It would be a shame if werewolves become an endangered species.