Friday, April 24, 2015

Centenary of a terrible Turkish crime

The French media are full of in-depth articles about a horrendous crime perpetrated by the precursors of present-day Turkey exactly a century ago, starting on 24 April 1915. But it had nothing to do with the Anzac fiasco at Gallipoli on the following day. The tragedy that concerns European historians, politicians and intellectuals of all kinds was the revolting Armenian Genocide, which resulted in the massacre of between 800,000 and 1.5 million victims.

An Armenian woman kneeling beside a dead child in a field near Aleppo.

The modern state of Turkey refuses stubbornly and stupidly to condone the use of the term “genocide” to designate what happened. To see the list of nations that respect the notion of an Armenian genocide (such as France), alongside those that don’t (such as Australia), click here.

Meanwhile, in my native Clarence River region, they’ve been “celebrating” gaily and naively the Anzac fiasco of 1915 (totally ignored by French media) by means of joyous horseback cavalcades, meant to symbolize the participation of Australia’s Light Horse Brigade. In reality, of course, there were never any Aussie horses at Gallipoli…

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Anzac Day madness

Within the forthcoming 48 hours, my native land will be moving massively into a lugubrious funereal mode of existence, incorrectly labeled as a national celebration of soldiery and martyrdom.

Mourning the death of a warrior is meaningful in the special case of relatives who were once in personal contact with the fallen individual. Celebrating the bravery of a military hero is a different affair, which can be meaningful for observers whose knowledge of the heroic individual comes from written records and hearsay. Today, through the simple arithmetic of dates and ages, there are no longer any living Australians who might mourn an ancestral World War I martyr. Consequently, we are faced with the unique possibility of praising the bravery of the precious few who did indeed perform proven acts of bravery.

One such soldier was my father’s uncle Francis Pickering [1897-1945], who was awarded a Military Medal for his “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during the attack on the village of Joncourt on the 1st October 1918”.

The exploits of "King" Pickering (whose nickname became my father's official given name) are outlined in my book They Sought the Last of Lands – My Father’s Forebears [Gamone Press, 2014].

I’ve always been nauseated by Australia’s constant attempts to glorify the utter madness of the terrible events that took place in Turkey on 25 April 1915. When I was a youth in Grafton, a pair of ridiculous dates—Anzac Day and, a month later, Empire Day—sickened me constantly by their obvious absurdity. Why should the youth of Australia be expected to celebrate the nasty deeds and archaic illusions of the blood-thirsty old lion on the other side of the planet?

And who was this fragile but pretentious and depressive Victorian dandy named Winston Churchill, a future alcoholic rejected by his father, whose crazy appreciations of military conquest resulted in an entire generation of young Australians being sent to a certain death? Shame on his name!

These days, I’m saddened whenever I see young Aussies falling into the crazy trap of a would-be “celebration” of Anzac Day madness, fueled emotionally but superficially by the senseless romantic lament of a lone bugle and bagpipes at dawn. What utter nonsense! Such Australian visitors would do better to spend their time in Istanbul (ancient Constantinople), admiring the splendors of our Byzantine heritage. And those who are adamant upon visiting the horror sites of the Western Front would do far better, in my humble opinion, to make an effort to establish authentic in-depth contacts with modern France and Europe…

I’m now including the addresses of three interesting but quite different videos that illustrate the negative aspects of Australia’s Anzac Day madness. They’re lengthy (well over an hour) and dense. But I advise you strongly to take time off and settle down comfortably to view them.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Woodpecker drops in for sunflower seeds

I’ve often seen this fellow drumming on a wooden pole alongside the tiled box in which I put sunflower seeds for the flock of great tits [mésanges in French] that spend the winter months at Gamone.

He’s a great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopus major) [pic épeiche in French]. A red patch on the nape of his neck identifies this specimen as a male. Today, I discovered for the first time that he’s interested in the sunflower seeds inside the box.

Clearly, he had realized that the box contained good stuff for birds. He inspected the situation closely for a while, to make sure that it would be perfectly feasible to move inside for a feed. At one stage, he even made an aggressive gesture towards a great tit that had dared to fly into the box from an opening on the other side. Needless to say, the tit was no doubt surprised to encounter the large head of a woodpecker gazing into the seed box, and it promptly darted off to safety in a nearby shrub.

Finally, the woodpecker decided to venture into the box, where it stayed (out of sight) for a minute or so. It returned to its familiar wooden pole to break open the shell of a sunflower seed, but I suspect that it had rapidly opened and consumed seeds during its short stay inside the box. All afternoon, the bird returned regularly to the pole and the seed box to take advantage of its newly-discovered source of food.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Archaic flute

Click to enlarge

Its size suggests a didgeridoo. But the line of holes indicates that we’re faced with a wooden specimen of the flute family. Could this archaic object be a remnant of a flute abandoned by the hairy musician Pan when he was gallivanting around Gamone, many eons ago, in search of maidens who might wish to learn to play his fabulous pipes?

No. It’s simply a branch of one of my giant linden trees, mortally wounded by a woodpecker.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Yvonne Skyvington [1919-2015]

My paternal aunt Yvonne Elizabeth Skyvington was born at the Hillcrest Hospital in Rockhampton (Queensland, Australia) on May 1, 1919. She died at Taree (NSW) on Sunday evening, April 12, 2015.

After an in-depth career in nursing, Yvonne married Reginald Tarrant, and they had three children: Lynne (married name Greenlees), Roger (deceased) and Glenn (married name McMurrich).

The death of my dear aunt (with whom I was in constant contact during the writing of They Sought the Last of Lands, Gamone Press, 2014) means that I am henceforth the senior member of the 19th-century branch of the Skivington family, from the Dorset village of Shroton (also known as Iwerne Courtney), who spelt their name as “Skyvington”.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Slight misunderstanding

People who’ve dabbled ever so little in the domain of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics—to the extent, say, of reading the fantastic story of the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone by Jean-François Champollion—are likely to have met up with the French term cartouche, designating a group of symbols enclosed in a round-cornered rectangle, and representing the name of an important personage. The following example of a typical cartouche is the name of the pharaoh Ramesses the Great [circa 1290-1224 BCE]:

Now, cartouche is in fact the everyday French word for “cartridge”. In French, as in English, there are two kinds of cartouches:

 • Cartridges of the kind you fire in guns.

• Cartridges of the kind you insert into printers.

There should be no confusion between these two quite different kinds of cartridges. That’s to say, your printer wouldn’t work if you inserted shotgun cartridges into the place that’s designed to house its ink supply. And there’s no way in the world that you could fire ink cartridges out of a shotgun.

In the recycling zone of my local supermarket, there are plastic containers designed to receive such stuff as used batteries and empty ink cartridges. As a regular consumer of cartridges for the Canon printer attached to my Macintosh, I often drop empty plastic cartridges into this box. I was intrigued to find that the supermarket management has been obliged to put a warning sign on the latter container:

The words in red state that it is prohibited to put shotgun cartridges into the container. Apparently there are local hunters who don’t understand that the container is intended for empty ink cartridges. And the supermarket management was disturbed to find that their personnel might be obliged to handle ammunition, be it live or spent. On the other hand, to the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever dropped any ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics into this container.

Awesome art… and I weigh my words

Click YouTube for a bigger version of the video

I couldn't help thinking that, when the girls got up out of the uncomfortable positions adopted for this remarkable session of body painting, they must have had creaking joints.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Dick pics

I’m old-fashioned… which isn’t surprising in the case of a fellow born in 1940. I belong to a generation of old-timers who were never tempted to use advanced technology to transmit images of their sexual organs to various corners of the planet, and maybe even (by inadvertance) into outer space and distant galaxies, where lots of little green guys and gals will be able to appreciate our earthly junk. These days, apparently, more and more people are engaged in this activity… just for fun, naturally. I’m led to believe that transmissions of this nature are generally intended for a restricted circle of receivers, most often a single individual. But problems do occur, and some of these images escape, as it were, and end up getting into the wrong hands (no pun intended). And there can be misunderstandings, too:

This question is examined in detail in the following fascinating video of an interview between John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight on the US TV channel Home Box Office, and the US whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

‪Yesterday, in the early hours of the morning, a bust of Edward Snowden was erected in a New York park.

On this morning’s news, I heard that authorities in New York have just removed this statue.

Click here to read the full story of this affair. Let me add that few people are aware of what’s actually happening. To punish Snowden for disclosing lots of secret documents and then pissing off to Russia, Pentagon authorities are in fact going to put him to shame by enhancing the existing statue by appending a big ugly reinforced-concrete copy of the whistle-blower’s penis (based, so they claim, upon authentic visual data), and then putting the modified statue back on public display. This mission, carried out by NSA agents, is code-named Whistle Blow Job. But don't tell anybody I told you...

Bluegrass music in Belgian movie

The Texan singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt [1944-1997] gave the world a fabulous song, If I needed you, which used to be sung by Joan Baez.

It is presented here by the Flemish singer/actress Veerle Baetans accompanied by the writer/actor Johan Heldenbergh.

If I needed you
Would you come to me,
Would you come to me,
And ease my pain? 
If you needed me
I would come to you
I'd swim the seas
For to ease your pain

In the night forlorn
The morning's born
And the morning shines
With the lights of love
You will miss sunrise
If you close your eyes
That would break
My heart in two

The lady's with me now
Since I showed her how
To lay her lily
Hand in mine
Loop and lil agree
She's a sight to see
And a treasure for
The poor to find

Bluegrass music played a central role in the splendid movie whose English title is The Broken Circle Breakdown (in French, Alabama Monroe], directed by the Flemish producer/screenwriter Felix Van Groeningen.

I've often expressed my admiration of the great Belgian singer Jacques Brel [1929-1978], whom I've always looked upon as one of the major vocal artists of all time. In the case of the Flemish-speaking individuals behind the Alabama Monroe phenomenon, I'm astounded by the extent to which they've successfully assimilated and then beautifully enhanced a musical culture that would appear to be so different to that of their "flat country".

Sunday, March 29, 2015

New crazes in taking pictures

A few years ago, when I needed a special self-portrait for a blog post (a photo that would show me wearing a newly-purchased Russian black-fur chapka), I tried desperately to use my Nikon to take a picture of me reflected in the bathroom mirror, but I never succeeded in obtaining exactly what I wanted. Above all, if I remember correctly, it didn’t look right to be attired in Siberian headwear with a plastic shower curtain in the background. So I gave up.

That was before the planet Earth encountered the phenomenon of selfies. Funnily enough, although I’ve owned several iPhones, I’ve never once been tempted to take a selfie… which goes to prove how atrociously old-fashioned I’ve become. Even today, I don’t recall ever having used my iPhone to send a text message to anybody, but that’s simply because I lead a quite solitary existence, beyond any circle of friends with whom I might wish to communicate in that fashion. To put it bluntly, mobile phones, text messages and selfies are simply not my kettle of fish… and surely never will be.

I was nevertheless intrigued to hear that, following an unfortunate incident at the Louvre, selfie sticks have now been banned in most French museums.

Click to obtain an enlarged view of the black eye

In any case, selfies are starting to become old hat. Among smart people, phonies are being replaced by dronies, in which you replace your has-been selfie stick by a drone equipped with a tiny GoPro video camera.

Groups of foreign tourists visiting France only have to bring along a drone with them to be sure of obtaining all kinds of fabulous aerial photos of themselves, to upload to their FaceBook pages. (Facebook is yet another thing I’ve never used. Truly, I’m antedeluvian.) But visitors still won’t be allowed to bring such hardware into the Louvre.

Talking about drones, I’ve just seen a fabulous video presentation of the most amazing drone that has ever been imagined. It’s alone in its category, and it makes all the other drones look like spluttering aircraft of the era of the Wright brothers.

Click the YouTube button, then watch this amazing video on your full screen.

If your mind is not blown by that video, then we're clearly not on the same span of eagle's wings.

To do justice to past inventors, I should point out that an imaginative engineer in Baltimore (USA) provided the world, in 1865, with an impressive graphic depiction of bird-powered aviation.

As far as I can ascertain, no prototype of this amazing aircraft was ever actually built and tested... which simply proves that it's often hard to get a good idea off the ground.

Meanwhile, in our modern world, which never wants to stand still, yet another spectacular innovation in picture-taking is starting to emerge. I’m talking of vertical video, the subject of this most informative video:

Click the YouTube button, then watch this funny video on your full screen.

Personally, I welcome this kind of new thinking. If the vertical video phenomenon were to become popular and widespread, it would be a fantastic economic boost for the entire media business, not to mention the electronics industry (faced with the challenge of supplying households with vertical TV and computer screens). I nevertheless fear the negative impact that vertical video would have upon certain TV sports. Popular spectator sports of a predominantly horizontal nature—such as football, rugby, sailing, rowing, swimming, F1 racing, ice hockey and even curling—would lose much of their attractiveness when presented in a strictly vertical-video context. The Tour de France would be reduced to the ascension of the famous 22 hair-pin bends of the Alpe d’Huez. Admittedly, acrobatic flying and base jumping would become the sporting events to watch on vertical-video TV… but a little bit of that stuff can't be pushed too far without boring your viewers.

Rather than comparing new vertical video with the old-fashioned horizontal variety, I’m awaiting patiently the introduction of total-3D-immersion TV, which would totally invade all the space of my living room. The antiquated phenomenon of screens would cease to exist. We viewers would simply be part of the show, day and night. Every time I was watching a football match, for example, and wanted to get up for a glass of wine or a pee, I would have to be careful to avoid getting hit in the face by a ball. That would certainly add spice to my passive existence as an avid TV-viewer of sporting events (which, incidentally, to be perfectly honest, I’m not).

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Killed by helicopters... not by reality TV

Like millions of my fellow-citizens, I was shocked to learn (through an early-morning tweet) that the collision of a pair of helicopters in Argentina had killed eight French individuals who were participating in the filming of a TV show for the TF1 channel, called Dropped. Two Argentine helicopter pilots also died in this accident, seen here:

I consider that it's important to insist upon the fact that none of the commonly-criticized features of reality TV seem to have played any part in this terrible accident. It was neither more nor less than yet another dramatic aviation accident [presently inexplicable].

French people were stunned to learn of the brutal deaths of three celebrated sporting heroes, seen here:

Camille Muffat (swimmer), Alexis Vastine (boxer)
and Florence Arthaud (veteran yachtswoman).

The list of victims included five accomplished members of the TV production team, seen here:

• Brice Guibert was the camera operator.

• Volodia Guinard [professional role undefined for the moment].

Lucie Mei-Dalby was the journalist in charge of interviews.

• Laurent Sbasnik was a well-known director of TV documentaries (including several programs in the series Détour(s) de mob featuring my son François Skyvington).

• Edouard Gilles was handling the audio recording.

The names of the two deceased pilots [to be verified] were Juan Carlos Castillo and Roberto Carlos Abate.

To borrow the title of the TV series in which they were participating, these individuals were literally dropped out of the sky, to their deaths.

May these splendid and talented adventure-seekers—struck down while at work in the noble avant-garde domain of entertainment media—rest in peace.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

You can’t win

The blog post you’ve started to read is extraordinarily trivial. Besides, there’s no way in the world that you might be able to deduce anything from that stupid title: You can’t win. What the hell could that mean? I believe that this blog post will go down in Antipodes history as the dullest thing I’ve ever written here. So, you might think of it as a historic piece of shit… particularly if you happen to have masochistic tendencies. At times, in Antipodes, I’ve dealt with earth-shaking themes, such as war, terrorism and the Theory of Everything. Today’s blog post, on the other hand, wouldn’t even shake a dog’s turd, let alone the earth. But I find it funny, and mildly philosophical, evoking human drama and destiny. And I happen to be the sole boss around here. So, if you’re not happy to carry on reading this extraordinarily trivial blog post, please leave immediately.

OK, that’s got rid of all those boring folk. Now, what was I saying? Ah, yes, it’s a particularly dull blog post, and unimaginably trivial. But don’t say I didn’t warn you. The story starts with my precious pair of boots.

Now, they might (or might not) appear to be quite ordinary garden-variety boots, nothing to get excited about. But, as I tried to point out, if you’re looking for excitement, you’ve come to the wrong place. Well, the greatest merit of this pair of boots is that I can slip them on effortlessly, as soon as I get out of bed, without even bothering about putting on socks. Maybe you don’t realize that this is truly a gigantic advantage for somebody like me, who’s awakened every morning at dawn by a crazy but loveable dog who has only one idea in mind: to get out of the house as rapidly as possible, and to race around on the slopes of Gamone looking for wild boars, roe deers, pheasants, donkeys, foxes, etc… Thanks to these boots, I can safely accompany my dog—through puddles, mud, sleet, ice or snow—for the first dozen or so metres of his matinal romp… before leaving him in the hands of God, who generally gives my dog back to me, unharmed, half an hour later. And, once I’m back inside my warm house, I can discard my dirty boots and put on more sensible winter footwear such as Aussie thongs.

My dull story starts here. Insofar as my boots are wide open (even when my big feet are wedged inside), there’s ample room for tiny pebbles, which seem to enter the boots magically, through mysterious channels known only to the Holy Spirit. And I’m sure you’re all aware that there’s nothing worse than suddenly realizing that there’s some kind of a tiny pebble lodged inside one of your boots. To be precise, it was my left foot. So I made an effort to perch in the mud like a one-legged stork (maybe that’s not the right bird) and to carefully take off my left boot. With my hand, I soon located the offending pebble, and I promptly shook it out. No less promptly, the pebble fell, not to the ground, but rather into my other boot, where it was immediately lodged firmly beneath my big right foot.

As I said, you can’t win. Maybe this blog post might have been slightly improved (let's say, less boring) if I had decided upon a more eloquent title such as Out of the frying pan and into the fire, or Not knowing what foot to dance on. Meanwhile, for any kind readers who might still be hanging around out there, I promise to make an effort to write more interesting stuff…

Old school photos

On chilly winter evenings, my dog Fitzroy loves to sit down in front of the computer (not surprisingly, he’s a Macintosh addict) and browse through old school photos of his master.

Click to enlarge

In case you didn’t recognize us, that’s Fitzroy’s head in the lower left-hand corner of the screen, and me in the upper right-hand corner of the school photo.