Friday, July 22, 2005

The Luck To Be Astonished In The Right Place

It’s not often that you see a painting that you desperately want to own, something that you could happily live with for the rest of your life and still get something from it.

But that was the case with this picture – 'A Heart Shaped Flint' – by Peter Messer, whose recent exhibition in Lewes took it’s name from the alleged quote of one of Van Dyk’s patrons, who said he felt ‘the luck to be astonish’d in the right place,’ as he stood in front of one of the artist’s paintings. I felt the same.

This picture says a lot to me about Sussex in general and Lewes in particular - and I love flints and shadows. Like most of the pictures in the exhibition, it is derived from things seen, imagined and remembered during the short daily walks that Peter takes between his house, studio and allotment. There is an intensity of subject and feeling, captured, identified and rendered in high fidelity but with a magic, sometimes surreal edge. Standing alone in the small stone brick gallery, looking around me, light seemed to pour out of the pictures.

Peter writes about his work: 'I sometimes have difficulty in distinguishing between what I see - or think I see - and what I dream, invent or read. Everything seems to find its way into the same mental cupboard where it is retrieved, or tumbles out of its own accord, at a later date. As my visual memory is quite retentive, paintings are seldom immediate but tend to proceed from an internal ruminative process ... Some pieces I devise like contraptions while others seem almost to seek me out.'

'The Flask' by Peter Messer

BIOFILE: Born in 1954 in Brighton, Peter Messer studied Fine Art at the University of Brighton. He works mainly in tempera on a traditional gesso ground and has exhibited in solo and group shows in the UK, US, Germany and France His work has been frequently exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and the New English Art Club and he has been a finalist in the Garrick Milne and Hunting Prizes and his work is in private collections in the UK, France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Sweden and the US.

In 1988 he won the Chichester Art Prize and in 2000, was commissioned to provide twelve paintings for the ‘Sussex Book of Revelations’, an Arts Council Millenium Project which toured Sussex libraries. In 2004 he completed a commission for the House of Lords. Since 1992 he has also been awarded several NHS Trust mural commissions and is currently preparing a mural scheme for the Royal Sussex County Hospital's Link Corridor. At a total length of some 80 metres, it is thought that this will be the biggest modern tempera painting in the UK.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Clean Hands and the Philosophy of Football

Bought a 'Big Issue' this morning and discovered an advert for PhilosophyFootball.Com and this t-shirt, which I have ordered. This is why they say they are issuing it:

'After the bombing in Madrid hundreds of thousands of Spaniards demonstrated with their hands in the air, palms open. This was to sympolise that their hands were clean, they were not dirtied by supporting either war or terrorism. We have responded to the London bombing inspired by this symbolism.'

In this design the 'Clean Hand' is surrounded by the names of places on the globe - New York-Kabul-Washington-Baghdad-Madrid-Guantanamo-Istanbul-Falluja-London-Abu Ghraib-Bali-Srebenica-Ramallah-Nairobi-Grozny-Mogadishu-Moscow-Nablus-Beslan-Tel Aviv - which are locked into a negative chain of action and reaction that must be broken. NO TO WAR & TO TERROR is printed on the sleeve.

My order is on its way but I have already received the following message from Mark at PFC.

'Thanks. We are endeavouring to get these shirts out as quick as possible. We are a T-shirt company, we're not making money out of this, we're not ghoulish bandwagon jumpers, we've always supported the stop the war and stop terror message. We felt this shirt and message the right response. We're glad you feel the same.
Can you help us spread the message? Can you email friends, relatives, contacts, work colleagues and tell them about the shirt? Can you download the image from the site. Print it out, post it on a noticeboard or best of all on a website and put in a link to the site? Can you get together a bulk order for family, workplace, peace group? Call us on 020 8802 3499 for special rates.'

Just passing the word.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Making Connections

One of the greatest things about blogging in particular and the net in general is connectivity - linking ideas, thoughts, sites, people.

So am delighted to link up with two fellow bloggers whose output is recommended:

Creative Generalist: 'An outpost for curious divergent thinkers who appreciate new ideas from a wide mix of sources. Completely random and updated regularly, inspiration drawn from - and relevant to - the larger creative world.' The blog is curated by Steve Hardy, a Creative Producer at Airborne Entertainment in Montreal, Canada. He began in April 2002 and, in one of his first postings, wrote:

' While specialization in all fields has become standard, I believe that a generalist's role is becoming even more important in figuring it all out. Nowhere is this more apparent than in creative endeavours, where the best ideas are products of a wide, often unusual mix of thoughts, disciplines, cultures and inspirations. A generalist is one who sees the big picture and make the connections that lead to new and interesting discussion.'

Us Generalists have got to stick together.

PunchBuggy is the on-road online journal of Rupert Lloyd Thomas, who is currently driving his diminutive Smart car across the US. Here's a taste:

'We head into Clovis, NM on the trail of Buddy Holly. You need an appointment to visit the Norman Petty Recording Studios at 1313 W. 7th Street but the 'just show up' philosophy works as we are greeted by Ken Broad, who will show us round after lunch. We go down the street to the Foxy Drive-In, "where Buddy used to hang out."It hasn't changed a bit and we snack on a chicken burger waiting to get indoors at the studio. We photograph the Nor-Va-Jak sign at the studios as Ken returns. The studio is in a timewarp with all the original gear on display - I'm freaking out as I listen to Buddy through the original sound system while sitting in the chair in the control room - all the hits were recorded here. Roy Orbison was here and the hit "Sugar Shack" by Jimmy Gilmer and Fireballs, an NM band, was also recorded in this studio. What a blast!'

Rupert is a global traveller and interested in a wide variety of interesting things including energy efficient technologies and Mad Jack Fuller. His journal makes good reading and interesting comparison with Bill Bryson's 'The Lost Continent', which I have recently finished.

Rupert hails from here in Lewes but now lives most of the year in Toronto. He and his brother are behind our local radio station Rocket FM, which broadcasts for a couple of weeks once a year around the time of our Bonfire Celebrations (the biggest in Britain) in November.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Every Portrait Tells A Story

Portrait of JM by Andrew Fitchett.

The best site for his portrait work is A number of new portraits are due to go live on this site soon. Alternatively, people can contact him directly and avoid the gallery commission.
Tel: [01273] 488573 or 477475. e-mail:

Having your portrait painted is a strange and wonderful experience and this was certainly a first for me. Andrew asked me if I'd mind posing for one as he planned an exhibition featuring a number of local faces. The innovative show 'Talking Heads' included audio clips by the sitters.

The actual process of being sketched was painless- two hour-long sessions in my front room. In fact I found myself going off into a deep meditation. I find the picture not disturbing but quite hard for me to look at because my mind at the time was very much on the loss of an old friend, whose funeral I had been to the day before the first session. The dominant black colour of the canvas and my clothing chimes in with that and Andrew was obviously and skilfully picking up on my mood of the moment.

Joss was a big influence on me when I was in my late teens, is celebrated in my poem 'A Beat Life' (see previous post). He was a challenging person, brimful of energy and creative conversation, intense and edgy, who challenged bullshit at every level.

The day of the funeral I began writing a poem which I read to friends and family at the gathering after the service, in The Black Horse in Findon, in a room that held an old-fashioned skittle alley. I wrote half of it on the train to Shoreham , where I was to meet friend Nick who was driving us to the service. Having half an hour to wait for him, I sat in the Famished coffee shop and pulled out the notebook to try and finish what I had started. At that moment, 'A Whiter Shade of Pale' by Procol Harum came on the radio and the proprietor turned it right up. The words immediately began to flow. I took pause for a moment only to hear the strains of 'Hey Jude.' By the time that was over, the poem was complete. It all seemed so appropriate.

The title of the poem comes from an old boy at the pub who, after the reading came over to me and said the title by way of congratulation.

A good scribbling

The crow told me first
Joss is dead
No he’s not, I said
He’s in my head
And very much alive
In fact
He’s telling me off right now
In his bare chest
Moustache and shades
Cut-off denim shorts
Socks (white with stripes at the top)
And DM’s, lovingly polished,
And often of a cherry-red variety.

Leaves and plastic bags whipped round me
And the wind whispered
Joss is dead
No, you are much mistaken, I said
He’s alive in my head
We’re talking about Richard Brautigan
And listening to Buffalo Springfield
And he’s talking twenty to the dozen
Buzzing with contagious energy
Challenging me to dare to be myself


The sea swirled round my feet
On a deserted beach
I picked up a shell
And put it to my ear
It echoed: Joss is dead
News of his demise would surprise me, I said
Because he’s alive in my head
Hooting with laughter
Twitching with electrical charges
Howling at the stars
Speeding through his karma
Burning up the highway of life

I switched on the tv for the news
And the official announcement came:
Joss is dead
I sent the BBC an e-mail
You’re badly informed, I said
He’s sending me messages in my head
Said to tell you
He’s got a funky ranch down Tangiers way
Living with Neil Cassady, Ken Kesey,
Jack K.. Allen G., William B.
And the rest of the Beat boys
They’re laughing their chinos off
As Joss holds court
Outlining his latest ideas
On interstellar space travel
Stroking his moustache
Taking a blow, taking a blast
Words tumbling out like sprites
Fingers drumming on the table
To the be-bop sounds of Miles, Monk and Coltrane


I’m alone in my zen room
Candle lit, radio on
It’s a request for Joss, from a friend
Jimi Hendrix playing Stone Free
He’s talking to me quieter now
Don’t give it up
Be strong
Have courage
Be a warrior
Change the world

A firework exploded in the sky
I gave a sigh
Smiled and cried then slept
And in my dream
We were back in the room with the buffalo horns
Listening to Crosby Stills and Nash
It’s Been A long Time Coming
Joss is smiling and for a minute at peace
Gazing into the long distance
The world turns silently
And time is suspended

Joss dead!
Leave it out mate
He’s still alive in my head
Exchanging stories with the angels and demons
Showing the genies new magic tricks
And dictating these lines.

8 jan 2004

Friday, July 15, 2005

Further Folk Adventures: Martin Carthy & Davy Graham

Something’s going on. Following previous posts documenting my meetings with Rambling Jack Elliott and Shirley Collins, last week I came face to face with Martin Carthy. Carthy, a legendary figure in the British folk scene (married to Norma Waterson and father of Eliza Carthy, both folk stars in their own right. See: Waterson/Carthy website), came to the Lewes Folk Club at the Royal Oak, run for the last 30 years by Vic and Tina.

Carthy has deep political roots, an encyclopaedic knowledge of folk music, plays in a unique style (open tuned, with little runs and licks that are difficult to decipher), and it was a great experience to hear him for the first time. [Complete discography & biography here]

As chance would have it, Carthy was being filmed by the BBC the following morning, also at the Royal Oak, for a documentary on Bob Dylan. (Major story on this and other Dylan developments to come). I was invited to sit in as Carthy talked for more than a hour about the time he first met Dylan in 1962 (they were both 21 at the time – Dylan is three days older than Carthy) and sketched out the folk scene of London at that period. Fascinating. It was Carthy who taught Dylan the song (‘Lord Franklin’) that provided the tune for ‘Masters of War’ and Paul Simon the traditional folk tune ‘Scarborough Fair’ which later famously featured on a Simon & Garfunkel album.

Carthy had not played this latter song for some 20 years. He spent about half an hour working on it, remembering the words and chords, trying out different rhythms and licks, before delivering a version that sent chills up your back. He also most movingly read an extract from Dylan’s ‘Chronicles.’ A real privilege.

Now here’s a further extraordinary development. The legendary Davy Graham is playing tonight in London with Steve Benbow, who first taught him Moroccan music, at Bush Hall. And I can't be there. Damn.

Graham influenced Carthy, Bert Jansch, Ralph Mctell, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin and tens of thousands of others. His unique guitaring styles blended trad folk with eastern music in a totally new style. He also invented the opening tuning DADGAD which is now used worldwide by guitarists of all persuasions. He also wrote 'Anji' - a guitar instrumental which millions of us tried to learn and play - with mixed results.

I tried desperately to book Davy Graham for a concert in Brighton a couple of years back but with no success. I’ve subsequently discovered Graham’s live appearances have always been rare and uncertain.

So much to say about this remarkable man. A good introduction can be found in Will Hodgkinson’s article ‘The Original Guitar God’, which features a rare colour pic of him looking a bit like Elvis Presley with a cool cap to boot. [Not featured on the web unfortunately]

Fledgling Records are about to re-release ‘Folk Routes New Routes’ (a title that sums up Graham’s importance), featuring him playing with Shirley Collins.

My personal favourite is his first solo album, ‘Folk, Blues and Beyond’ which I can play time and again and never get tired of – a bit like Miles Davis’ ‘Kind of Blue’. Timeless.

I also own a 10-inch vinyl of ‘After Hours’ recorded in a student bedroom at Hull University on 4th Feb 1967 in front of audience of about eight, which is considered one of the best records of his live playing.

Much more on, including a wonderful essay by John Pilgrim called ‘The Man Who Invented World Music.’ Also publishers of the fanzine 'Midnight Man'.

Brilliant piece by folk guitar maestro John Renbourn: 'Who Is Davy (Davey) Graham ?' Reveals, amongst many other fascinating things, that Stephen Stills solo in 'Bluebird' by Buffalo Springfield is a virtual note by note transcription of Davy's 'She Moved Through The Fair.'


Thursday, July 14, 2005

British Bees Threat

A leading business pressure group is backing a campaign to safeguard the British honeybee population whose future is threatened by Government cuts despite the huge contribution they make to the agriculture industry by spreading pollen.

The Forum of Private Business (FPB) which represents 25,000 small businesses including many in the agricultural sector, says that the Government has "got a bee in its bonnet" about cutting costs.

In three years time the Government is reducing the amount of money spent on the Honeybee Health Programme by a quarter of million pounds to an annual overall cost of £1m. This will mean the loss of half its 40 strong staff of bee inspectors.

However beekeepers say the inspectors are frontline experts who play a vital role in helping them fight diseases which could decimate the bee pollulation such as American Foul Brood, European Foul Brood and Varroasis. There is also the looming threat of the small hive beetle spreading from Europe or the USA.

Most of England's 20, 000 beekeepers do not make money from keeping bees and the sales of honey only totals £12½m a year. However a Government survey showed that honeybees contribute at least £120m to the agricultural economy by spreading pollen.

Nick Goulding, chief executive of the FPB, said that although small businesses had welcomed recent Government commitments to reduce regulation and red tape, "we have always argued that good regulation can have positive effects". Beekeepers were small businesses that needed help because of their vital contribution to our agricultural industry.

"Bees are highly productive workers. Many small businesses in the countryside, including our members, benefit hugely from the work done by people whose hobby is looking after bees", said Mr Goulding. "If the Government is serious about wanting to trim regulation and red tape we would be happy to provide ministers with a hit list that will help small businesses and at the same time maintain a large population of busy honey bees working for all of us".

The small hive beetle is not the only threat to British bees posed by Europe. An EU directive stipulates that remedies to fight bee diseases must be prescribed by vets, who will also have to make regular inspections of all hives, even though most of them know nothing about bees. The cost of these regulations on beekeepers would be considerable.

However the Government can argue that beekeeping is a special case and can "opt out" of this directive. Nick Goulding said that the European Commission should be told to "buzz off. It would indeed be ironic if the Government accepted damaging European regulation while chopping effective British regulation", he said.

"A quarter of a million pounds is nothing for a country that can spend billions on hosting the Olympics. The FPB urges its members to support the British Beekeepers Association's campaign. There is still time for the Government to think again".

Sign petition at: British Beekeeper's Association

Not For the Nervous


Pete Culshaw sent us this:

Then discovered this:

Have you read any of this in the British Press?

See also: Nuclear Power Stations on Alert Over TerroristAttacks

History in the Making

Twenty years ago, it wasn’t just Live Aid that rocked the world but also the bombing of the Greenpeace ship ‘Rainbow Warrior’ five days later (July 10, 1985). Those two seemingly coincidental events actually shaped much of the landscape of protest and action for the next five years.

So it was an extraordinary end to an extraordinary week (Live 8/G8 Riots/Olympic Win/ London Bombings/WWII 60th Anniversary celebrations) to read that new documents just discovered confirm that the RW bombing was authorised by Mitterand himself – now safely dead and immune from prosecution. A clear case of state terrorism in action.


See also: 'Felling of A Warrior' by Paul Brown

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Blogdex and Artificial Meat

Being new to the world of blogs, have started nosing around in this unfamiliar environment.

First discovery is Blogdex - a research project of the MIT Media Laboratory tracking the diffusion of information through the weblog community. They say: 'Ideas can have very similar properties to a disease, spreading through the population like wildfire. The goal of Blogdex is to explore what it is about information, people, and their relationships that allows for this contagious media.'

To this end you can log on and see the most contagious information currently spreading in the weblog community. Naturally, as of this moment, the list of topics is dominated by the London bombings.
See: We're Not

But the number one story of the moment is Edible Meat Can be Grown in a Lab on Industrial Scale
Do not miss it

'The Generalist' is now linked to their survey. We'll report back on developments (if any).

Lewes Guitar Festival

Discover why Lewes is becoming known as the 'Granada of Britain' by celebrating with us the 6th Lewes Guitar Festival. Our small town holds five working guitar makers ( I think the highest concentration in Britain) who will be holding teaching and guitar making events plus there will be a whole range of performances by top players from many parts of the guitar world. Details below. See you there.

6th Lewes Guitar Festival
1-7 August, various venues and prices, Lewes, East Sussex
Box Office: 01273 480218


Monday 1 August
10am -Classical Masterclass with Juan Falú. Subud Centre £20
8pm – Juan Falú concert. All Saints Centre. £10/£8

Tuesday 2 August
10am -The Big Jam – children’s classes. Subud Centre £5
10am – Guitar Exhibition opens
1pm – Passion Dance concert. Lewes Castle Free
5pm – Geoff Robb concert. Pelham House £5
8pm – Bill Nelson concert. All Saints Centre £12/£10

Wednesday 3 August
10am – Jazz Improvisation workshop. Subud Centre £5
1pm – Karl Broadie Band concert. Lewes Castle Free
5pm – Stuart Ryan concert. Pelham House £5
8pm – Adrian Legg concert. All Saints Centre £10/£8

Thursday 4 August
10am – Jazz Improvisation workshop. Subud Centre £20
1pm – Candela concert. Grange Gardens Free
5pm – Véronique Gillet concert. Pelham House £5
8pm – Debashish Bhattacharya concert. All Saints Centre £10/£8

Friday 5 August
10am – Flamenco workshop. Subud Centre £20
11am – 1st International Guitar Makers Forum. Star Gallery Free
1pm – Bellville concert. Grange Gardens Free
5pm – Steve Holmes concert. Pelham House £5
8.30pm – Daby Touré concert. All Saints Centre £10/£8

Saturday 6 August
11am – Guitar Workshop Tour. Star Gallery Free
2pm -10pm – Eric Bibb, Mas Y Mas, Andy White, Angie Palmer concert.
Open Air Stage, Grange Gardens £22.50

Sunday 7 August
1pm – Martin Harley Band concert. Grange Gardens Free
2.30pm - Trio Gitano concert. Grange Gardens Free
7pm – End of Festival swimming party. Pells Pool £5/£2

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

An Aborigine on Photoshop: Woman

This is one of a large number of images I produced, using the minimum of tools, in the first month after I got Photoshop.The intensity of the colour and the quickness of the execution delighted me - like being a kid again with your first box of paints.Posted by Picasa

Social Transformers: Bernadette Vallely & the ‘Save The World Club’

Trying to understand how to deal with graffiti and the kids responsible for it in Kingston-upon-Thames, has led Bernadette Valleley and the Save The World Club to produce, with the help of hundreds of local kids, beautiful community mosaics, that have transformed graffiti-stained walls and made Kingston proud of its new position as mosaic capital of the world.

Grand government strategies for social transformation look good in Powerpoint at Prime Ministerial briefings but are frustrated by the difficulties of implementing them effectively in the real world.

A more powerful model of social transformation, according to Charlotte Young, chair of the School for Social Entrepeneurs, is centred around: ‘the entrepreneurial individual, the community activist, the visionary who is prepared to act for the benefit of others. These individuals do not slot easily into the world of policy making a bureaucracy. They are not particularly compliant, nor do they find general rules helpful. They are instead driven by powerfully held values, often arising from their own grim experiences.’ [See: Think Thank Extra’ (Society Guardian. 15.6.05)]

Bernadette Vallely certainly is a shining example of this. Her work has already been recognised with UN Global 500 Laureate for establishing the Women’s Environmental Network. She has more than 22 years experience working with young people, is a best-selling author, and an important activist on social and environmental issues.

In recent years, she has been working with the Save the World Club, a local environmental charity in Kingston-upon-Thames as its Development Officer.

You might have recently met some of its members, as they organised the ‘Green Police’ at this year’s Glastonbury Festival. Their main aims: to stop people pissing in the water or the hedgerows and to encourage litter picking, recycling and better waste management

Founded by Des Kay (aka Professor Kayos), SWC has been working over the last 16 years with hundreds of children in the area. They began by using kinetic sculptures and found materials to explore environmental messages with the kids. Their work has now developed into huge community art programmes – to deal with the problems of graffiti and replace them with community mosaics.

Kingston, like most towns and cities, was plagued with graffiti. Through her work with the children, Bernadette has come to understand in a very deep way, exactly the age and kind of children who get involved first in tagging and then more elaborate graffiti and has worked closely with the local Youth Offending Team.

Her report ‘Denconstructing Graffiti’ should be widely read and understood. It begins: ‘If you want to change society, society itself must ask difficult questions. a tricky but pertinent social question being asked by community leaders, police, councillors and residents in every neighbourhood of Britain is: ‘Who is responsible for graffiti and why do they do it.’

It seems, from reading the report, that Bernadette has a better grasp on the answer than the government. Not all kids who graffiti are youths in hoods. Tagging starts with kids as young as 7 or 8, a clear signal to her that they are in deep social distress. At present it seems we are just criminalising young people with ASBOs and the like, rather than recognising that most of them are vulnerable children in great social need.

Bernadette believes we must understand the psyche of the graffiti offender if we are to have any hope of ‘halting the visual destruction, social disempowerment and decline of our urban areas’.

In the process of investigating graffiti, Bernadette began getting kids involved in making mosaics. She chose a badly graffitied wall in one of the poorest and most troublesome areas and started going round asking the mums and the kids to get involved in making a beautiful mosaic to cover it up. The kids drew the shapes and forms and all had great fun making the pieces of mosaic.

They have specifically targeted and supported those children responsible for civic destruction using a wide range of other activities including creating urban gardens, community murals, festivals, carnivals, workshops and more.

So successful has this community mosaic-making been that now Kingston is becoming the mosaic capital of the world. (One of the great advantages of mosaics is that graffiti can be cleaned from them much more easily).

They have already produced a 42sq metre one in the Kingston Station underpass which involved 800 people. An even bigger one at the Elm Road Recreation Ground (48 sq m) was created by 604 children.
Last October 2nd, they unveiled a new mosaic in Castle Street, Kingston celebrating the work of photographic pioneer Eadweard Muybridge who grew up in the town and returned later in life, to live out his final years there.

A new mosaic is being unveiled shortly in Canbury Passage. It is inspired by, and a homage to, the great Austrian artist Hundertwasser. It is the UK’s Longest Community Mosaic, made by 1,800 members of the local community.

The huge success of these projects is attracting interest from around the country – with good reason.

Grand Opening of 'A Study of Hundertwasser'.
Saturday 9th July 2005. 1-4pm.
Canbury Passage & Skerne Rd,

‘Deconstructing Graffiti’ can be obtained from the Save The World Club, The Beacon, 42B Richmond Road, Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey KT2 5EE

Tuesday, July 05, 2005


According to National Geographic: Fishermen in northern Thailand netted a huge catfish in the Mekong River on May 1. Nearly nine feet long (2.7 meters) and as big as a grizzly bear, the behemoth tipped the scales at 646 pounds (293 kilograms). Experts say the fish, which belongs to the species known as the Mekong giant catfish, may be the largest freshwater fish ever recorded. See the extraordinary pictures here:

See also:
Men catch 300kg monster catfish
June 30, 2005
Story claims that the fish has been confirmed as world's largest, 11 pounds heavier than the previous record holder - another Mekong catfish. The Mekong is a good habitat for such monsters because it is one of the deepest rivers in the world, reaching depths of more than 200 feet. The Mekong giant catfish is southeast Asia's largest and rarest fish

The Imperiled Giants of the Mekong
[American Scientist. May/June 2004]
Ecologists struggle to understand—and protect—Southeast Asia's large migratory catfish
Zeb S. Hogan, Peter B. Moyle, Bernie May, M. Jake Vander Zanden, Ian G. Baird
Southeast Asia’s Mekong river supports a vast freshwater fishery. One of the species caught by local fishers is the Mekong giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas), which according to 'The Guinness Book of World Records' is the planet’s largest freshwater fish. But fewer and fewer examples of this huge fish have turned up in nets recently, and last year the World Conservation Union added this catfish to its list of critically endangered species. Although the loss of this charismatic fish would be a tragedy in itself, the plight of the Mekong giant catfish also highlights the precarious position of other Pangasiid catfish species inhabiting the Mekong river. Hogan and his colleagues explain their efforts to understand the migratory behavior of these fish in hopes of improving the chances for their long-term conservation.

In answer to a reader's letter in the following issue, Dr Hogan wrote:

Surprisingly, it is not 100 percent clear which species of freshwater fish is the largest. This uncertainty arises in part from our lack of detailed knowledge of the diversity of freshwater fish. (Many poorly studied fish live in exceptionally large, deep or remotely located water bodies.)

We also need a clear definition of just what is a large freshwater fish. For our purposes, we defined "largest freshwater fish" as the largest fish in terms of biomass that spends its entire life cycle in fresh water and for which there are reliable records.

The largest fish found in fresh water are indeed the sturgeons, but they obtain a majority of their growth in marine and estuarine environments, migrating into fresh water mainly to spawn. Even the hold that the Mekong giant catfish has on the largest–freshwater–fish title is tenuous, because weights of large fish are prone to exaggeration and error.

Here are some other contenders for the title, with alleged top weights: the Mekong giant carp (300 kilograms), the Mekong giant stingray (500 kilograms), the arapaima and goliath catfishes of the Amazon (300 kilograms), the Gnooch of South Asia (300 kilograms) and the Wels catfish of Europe (once 5 meters and 300 kilograms, now smaller).

Almost all of these species are now rare, so it is difficult to determine their maximum size. I am currently trying to determine which species is in fact the biggest, and I suspect the giant catfish will still come out as one of the top three! Interestingly, in terms of biomass and length, the largest freshwater fish may be the giant stingray of the Mekong, which may attain a weight of over 500 kilograms and measure more than 5 meters from snout to tip of tail.

Mass of catfish info at

See IUCN: 'Giant Catfish on Brink of Extinction'

Teenagers are not Aliens

'Teenagers are not aliens: they're just uncomfortable reflections of the way we feel ourselves. We thought we were in charge: suddenly we realise we aren't. Teenagers are obsessed with self-image, agonising over every stray eyelash. Their parents are equally self-conscious. Having agreed an uneasy truce with their bodily imperfections, they are now lost in forlorn contemplation of the ravages of time. The sad thing is that both sides are so preoccupied by the yawning gulf between dreams and reality that neither can recognise the other's distress.'

See: 'Why teens are a mirror to their parents.' by Marianne Kavanagh
The Telegraph 11.6.05

Nuclear Power UK: The Real Cost

'Taxpayers ‘will pay billions’ for nuclear plants'
Dan Box and Dominic O’Connell
The Times Business 26 June 2005

A new generation of nuclear power stations could be built only if the government is prepared to put billions of pounds of public money into the project, according to a leading economic think tank. The report by Oxera, published tomorrow, concludes that the potential returns on investment in new nuclear power stations are too small to justify the risks for private companies. Unless the government provided them with huge capital grants or debt guarantees, the required eight new nuclear power plants would not be built by industry.

Britain has 12 nuclear power stations generating about 22% of the country’s electricity; all of them are due to be decommissioned in the next two decades.

UK Nuclear Accident uncovered by FOI request

Sunday, June 26, 2005

A report produced by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII), which was obtained under an FOI request by the Green Party MSP, Chris Ballance, has highlighted serious flaws in safety procedures at Torness nuclear power station. An accident at the power station in 2002 led to one of the reactors being shut down for over six months at a cost of £25 million to British Energy.

Ballance has accused the nuclear industry of trying to "whitewash" the seriousness of the incident: "This was a major accident caused by incompetence, attempts to cut costs and a disregard of health and safety training. We are very lucky that the damage did not spread to the nuclear reactor core." The accident was described at the time by British Energy as simply being "vibration problems". The NII report criticised managers at Torness for staff cutbacks, "ignorance", "communication problems" and failing to give a high priority to safety. Major safety flaws uncovered at Torness plant (Sunday Herald, 26 June 2005)

From the excellent: Freedom of Information (Scotland) Web Log
The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 came into force on 1st January 2005. To coincide with this historic event an online blog has been created to provide up to date news and commentary on Freedom of Information in Scotland and the rest of the world.

G8 Nuclear

'US pressures G8 to support nuclear power'
James Kirkup/Political Correspondent
The Scotsman 14.6.05

'The White House is pressing for next month's G8 summit in Gleneagles to make a clear statement of support for nuclear power, opening up a new rift with the UK over climate change. The US pressure over nuclear power is revealed in a confidential paper prepared by UK government officials as part of the preparatory talks before the Gleneagles meeting.

The leaked document, entitled 'Powering a Cleaner Future', discloses that the UK considers rejecting the US position to be a "red line" issue, on which no concessions can be made. However, the UK is willing to see the summit endorse a US project for a new worldwide generation of nuclear reactors.'

The G-8 countries produce and consume 72 percent of the world's nuclear energy.

Sunday, July 03, 2005


Shirley Collins new book ‘America Over The Water’ is a surprise and a delight.

Widely acknowledged and recently honoured and celebrated as one of key voices of English folk – Shirley reveals herself to be a wonderful writer in this very moving memoir of her family life in Hastings during the war and her meeting and love affair with the seminal folklorist Alan Lomax.

[The Alan Lomax recordings have featured on the soundtracks to ‘Oh Brother, Where Art Thou’, and Scorsese's ‘Gangs Of New York’, and have been sampled by Moby amongst many others. Currently an archive set up in Lomax's name carries on his work.

According to Brian Eno: ‘Alan Lomax is a completely central figure in 20th century culture. Without Lomax it's possible that there would have been no blues explosion, no R&B movement, no Beatles and no Stones and no Velvet Underground. He was the conduit, mainlining the uniqueness and richness and passion of African-American music into the fertile early beginnings of Western pop music.’]

This lead to her boarding the ‘S.S.America’ and sailing to America, where she joined Lomax on an astonishing journey around the South, travelling through Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Georgia, collecting and recording music in the field. One of the many highlights of the trip was their discovery of the music of Mississippi Fred McDowell.

Shirley was a young white girl ‘living in sin’ with a man twice her age, travelling through black districts in towns, areas where the KKK were rife, places where it was easy to get shot, beaten up, arrested or all three. The photo of Shirley on the front shows a young woman of character and courage – and it is these qualities which no doubt carried her through what she makes clear was, by turns, an ecstatic and frightening experience.

The two accounts and locations – wartime Hastings and Southern states - are intercut. This works extremely well, each narrative strand highlighting the other.

The vividness of the writing throughout, both in the material drawn from notebooks she kept at the time – beautifully handwritten they are too – and new material composed for the book, is constantly delightful. The book contains lots of family photos and memorabilia of her trip which gives the account even more intimacy and integrity.

Yet one is also left with a sense of mystery. The haunting scenes reverberate. The book leaves you wanting to know more and one can only hope that Shirley will continue to expand and develop her memoirs into a broader picture of folk music history, in which she has played such an important role.

I enjoyed this as much as ‘Chronicles’ and ‘Bound For Glory’. It gave me that same strange tingle in my brain and flutter in my stomach you get when you know you’re reading the real thing.

America over the Water

A great piece about the book by Maddy Prior appeared in The Times,,175-1675818,00.html

Shirley Collins

‘Within Sound’
A comprehensive overview of Shirley Collins' recording career.

There is a footnote to the story. We have already noted in the previous Ramblin’ Jack Elliott posting that life is often subject to chains of coincidence.

So it proved once more. I happen to notice in our local hostelry – the Lewes Arms – a notice that Shirley Collins was appearing that night in the folk club upstairs. I was too late to see the whole thing but was determined to pop upstairs and say hello for one good reason.

Way back then, when I was a young long-haired folkie haunting the trad clubs and running our own folk & poetry scene in a pub in Worthing as part of the activities of our local Arts Lab group – the Worthing Workshop – we booked Shirley Collins.

I met her at the station, guided her to the club, where she sang and played brilliantly. I remember I was into the Incredible String Band at the time, had recently got ‘Wee Tam and the Big Huge’ and had just learnt ‘Ducks on A Pond’ which I played in it’s entirety that night.

So when the show was over I went upstairs, introduced myself and said you probably won’t remember me, only to discover that Shirley is in fact one of my neighbours in Lewes. She said she had often been going to say hallo but that I always looked very preoccupied when I was walking down the street. It was quite a shock. Small world.

A week or so later, son Louis (of Ant Man Bee fame) and I go to the Royal Festival Hall to see the Patti Smith ‘Meltdown’ show (see previous posting: ‘Out and About’) and the first person on stage in both halves was Shirley Collins.

Then, a few days later, he and I bump into Shirley again and that’s how I came to have the book in my hands – a gift. You may think this affects my impartial judgment but then you probably haven’t read the book yet.