Culzean Castle

Culzean is an iconic castle in Ayrshire. It is indeed so iconic that it has been featured on Scottish banknotes for the last thirty years. However, what possibly makes it more iconic is its association with the winner of World War II, President Eisenhower.

Along with the castle featuring in ‘Coast’, there is also a mystic aura I always heard when people mentioned the place down in England. Inexplicable really, but there was a sense of the Highlander aura, even though Culzean is so far from the Highlands…

If I had to try and explain it, I would say it has to do with both the majestic coastline as well as what one can see: Ailsa Craig — but one has to be careful and look at where one is. Seeing Ailsa needs careful positioning on the grounds, as from most places it is exactly beyond the coastline, just a bit too far to the south. However, from a few promontories, it is possible to spot the outlying granitic island (also featured in the same ‘Coast’ episode as the castle itself). The other momentous place that can be seen from the castle is the Isle of Arran, parts of which I have described beforehand. Arran is similarly poetic in its nature to Ailsa, but a lot more visible (and, hence, inspirational?).

Causeway to Culzean

One of my favourite sights on the grounds there was the faux-causeway. I don’t know whether it was the spectacular nature of the construction, meant to remind people of the ancient nature of the Kennedy’s seat, or the simple enjoyment of a Lord’s pleasure that had it built like that, but the result is entirely wonderful.

Admittedly, I found parts of the rest of the grounds very underwhelming, especially with late 20th century pavilions installed, but it is understandable with regards to the grounds acting as a community centre for sports and local people from what I took in while I was there. The walks by the cliffside and the sea were both nevertheless unspoilt and amazing to experience.

Lastly, a word on the American president Mr Eisenhower. A suite in the rooms of the castle is dedicated to the man, having been granted as a residence for him for his contributions to the Allied effort in World War Two. He did not visit often, but he did at times, and going through the tour there are suitable moments where the American President is honoured as he should have been. Admittedly, I think the Kennedy’s could have done better by focussing on the man on the front and promising to host a WWII serviceman if they were to visit, but it was a good gesture nevertheless.

Culzean Castle

Lastly, I’ll present the motto of the Kennedy’s, the Marquesses of Ailsa and Earls of Cassilis:

Avisez la fin. [Consider the end.]

What do I keep an eye out for these days?

I’ve often lately thought that the newsitems we see daily go very much into the same categories. This category could be summed up as “trouble”, but I would rather call it “life”. The problem with this “life” is that it is nearly always the same.

I’ll expand on this in a bit, but if we assume that a modern person should keep oneself aware of what is going on in the world there is only so much that one can do — for we have established a set of boundary criteria within which we exist. This means there’s a certain amount of news-sites to be visited, and a certain type of blogs to be visited — depending on the exact interests of a person.

The problem with all the information coming out of these news-sites and blogs for me is that it is more or less the same. Take, for example, BBC News: there’s probably some new article around every day which says that we are doing worse, and the Government is doing worse, and people are generally doing worse. How much of this am I supposed to take? Why is there nothing which broadcasts the new heights we can achieve?

Certainly the world is not in a happy spot at present, but I tend to be somewhat more positive about the general state of affairs than “everything is bad”. This needs a certain set of mind though.

This set of mind has brought me to expect a few good essays on people and philosophy and the general state of life (not to be confused with livelihood) every week. The places where I find these are varied, but there are a number of sources that help. For some reason or another, I’ve found that the Australian media is of particular quality here — the Sydney Morning Herald is my favourite publication therein. They have a rather interesting lifestyle section that I try to read every now and then, and I find SMH to be slightly better than the rest of media with regards to politics.

Because when we come down to the basest of levels, a certain awareness of politics must be preserved. I find, however, that the British are going round and round, achieving more or less nothing at present — I could try guessing the news daily, and I would probably get the items half right. There’s more that I am unaware of in Australia which also makes it slightly more interesting, but I get the feeling that there’s more happening there — more happening with a real sense of direction for the place as well. [Not to mention there’s a set of comedians as brilliant as John Clarke and Bryan Dawe who manage to make the politics into a very good performance.]

This is not true at all for Europe as I see it right now, and that probably has made me slightly despondent in looking for reasonable news from the Continent. But that in turn has made me appreciate certain things more: there’s a fair amount of good essays that do relate to people and education and technology, and there’s a certain look into the future with the question “What is coming up for us?”. And this is what I have been looking for — not the downtrodden tune of the news but something that would act as a whetstone for my mind.

I’m afraid though that I haven’t found any good collective place for this type of journalism, so whenever I do find anything it is more due to chance. And, yet, I know that they are out there — and that gives me hope. And that hope gives me the strength to look, and to share, when I can.

‘The Two-Thousand-Year-Old Computer’

I finally watched this short documentary today — even though a friend of mine told me to do so around six months ago. But, I saw it on iPlayer again and figured I’d give it a chance. And I am now well pleased that I did. I did not expect much and this means I did not expect to hear of a device I’d never heard before that is amazing in its construction and purpose.

The story goes: Off the island of Antikythera, divers found a shipwreck. This shipwreck contained a fair few items, including a mysterious object which could be anything. Termed the ‘Antikythera Mechanism’, this object has captivated a number of people since who have all tried to figure out its meaning and design — and this film follows the exploits of a group of experts as well as Michael Wright who had been interested in finding an answer on his own.

I will not explain the Mechanism further for it is not difficult to search it on Google if you so wish — and since the documentary looked brilliant when I did not know what was going to happen and what they were going to discover. So, in short — watch this film, it is certainly worth it.

I will, however, point out this article on Guardian (“The extraordinary 2,000-year-old computer that you’ve never heard of”) for I agree with the sentiment there: it is a pity that I had not heard of this before, and it is a pity that the general public is not more aware of what our achievements are based on.

I’ll be pointing a number of my friends to watch this documentary because I would think it important for people to be aware of what has been — and for us to not have the thought that no one before has been as civilized or advanced as we are.

 

David Attenborough’s ‘Africa’

The BBC recently finished broadcasting David Attenborough’s new nature series, ‘Africa’. I had the great chance to watch all of it near-immediately (and I got to the last episode far faster than I did with the ‘Frozen Planet’). Now, I get the chance to tell you all what I think.

Firstly, I think that the technological advancements we see in filming are amazing. The starlight camera we see in use with the rhinos is spectacular! I think one really needs to see the scenes to understand what I mean, but if this now proves that it is possible to film in starlight without a noticeable loss in quality… that is good news all round!

Secondly, my favourite episode must have been ‘The Cape’. To begin with, the Cape is a very interesting place in my mind and to see it come to life between the two oceans as it did here was quite breathtaking. I wanted to go there. I still do. The views of the Drakensberg Mountains were good, and I had nothing bad to say to the scenes of those marine birds feeding either. As lances from the sky…

Now, however, all is not brilliant. For some reason it seems to me that Mr Attenborough wishes to be more dazzling than he thinks he is — how else can we explain that he now decided to improve upon the facts in the last episode regarding climate change. Fortunately, the good army of climate scientists was on it and noted that Attenborough’s suggested numbers were not proven by science, but are in fact a bit lower.

Aside from this episode, I can feel sorry for the poor cameraman whose tree where he was perched got battered by that herd of forest elephants. Although he surely must think back to that now, and go: “I think it amazing!”

Maybe there is a sadness in me that the BBC team decided to bypass the Okavango Delta although we made it into the Sudd swamps which are the second major waterland area. It might be that the prehistoric bird there was the item that caused only one of these areas to be featured, but I would have hoped Okavango to be in there.

I was pleasantly surprised by the footage from the Atlas Mountains — I would genuinely not have believe that it could be that… Nordic… in Africa. Maybe it is a very small area, but even so, I can imagine a brown bear feeling very happy in those forests. And if that can be, well, what can’t?

Andrew Marr’s ‘History of the World’

As I said before, I was supposed to finish with my thoughts on the recent history programme by Andrew Marr. Now, as my last post shows, I was not quite favourable inclined towards it due to not being quite certain in the veracity of everything it said, but I guess I can also shed some more light on that now.

Because indeed, the final episode might have been a clearer indication of what Mr Marr was aiming for than anything before that. And while I am not a fan of simplifying the facts there is a certain limit to what can be said — though my question always remains that if something is not being represented properly, why represent it at all. Leave it out and dedicate a few more minutes to the other items. But, I digress…

Now, the last episode made me think that the author himself knows this to be a half-hearted attempt at history while a full attempt at psychology. We see people who are supposed to make us think : some of them can inspire confidence and courage while others… fear. It does not even matter who these people were in history or what they did, but say by portraying Mr Zimmermann by a power-crazed minister with the only goal of expanding the Great War, or by making Saigo Takamori into a confused reformist who regretted his actions, or again turning Hitler into a man who was evil and confused by nature, or by giving us Edward Jenner who had no other goals than a vaccination, by doing all of these things we are given a one-sided picture of a very complex story that is meant to intimidate us in some way.

And now, while I as a person with an appreciation of history would say that it is wrong to represent anything without a thorough look into it and by evaluating all of the relevant topics — something which would allow us to find mistakes in the conduct of Mr Jenner and good things in the conduct of Herr Zimmermann — then as a method of comment for potentially getting people off their arses and doing things, this could even work.

I say that because in my mind somewhere, some section, decided that the underlying goal for Andrew Marr was to find something that would be relevant for that person who went to his job after watching any one of those episodes, so that that man could say “I’ll rather be a Jenner than Zimmermann”. Even if we get no new smallpox-cure out of it, I am pleased to say his depiction of Mahatma Gandhi went into this category as well: peace and benevolence.

However, and while I have endorsed the psychological aspect of the series, I have to say that the historical accuracy which seems to have been ground into dust is a bit unsettling. And the balance… where is the balance? It sometimes made me think that before recording the scenes he thought of how people would expect some things to be shown to them.

Lastly, I would add that I found out new things while watching the series, and I enjoyed that : new information is good information. But, as with any new knowledge, I am a bit wary about what was told, and I will be reluctant to believe that what I gained was a thorough look. It was Mr Andrew Marr’s look, and we’ll have to be happy with that. We’ll have to be happy with that because in the end, Mr Marr’s look is better than no look at all for I would not be surprised if a lot of people found some of the things being said very interesting.

So, maybe, our collective knowledge increases… and maybe the next ‘History of the World’ will build on that. =)

‘Churchill’s Desert War: The Road to El Alamein’

I just watched this BBC programme, and I was most surprised by how much I liked it. In general, I consider WWII to be done to death (excuse the pun, not really intended) and I didn’t have my hopes up high when I started it. And then I realized that very few WWII shows/books I’ve read actually concern themselves with the British participation (singularly) in the war, and if they do it is mostly about the Battle of Britain. This, however, takes a decent look at the Desert Campaign.

Indeed, despite my main interest of that period lying by far in the naval war (and thereby my interest in the Japanese exploits) this managed to pique that same interest that generally would allow the tanks to be left alone.

What we get is an overview of the Egyptian High Command (erm, maybe it shouldn’t be capitalized unless I mean to say the Middle East High Command?) and the Eighth Army under the leaderships of Wavell, Auchinleck, Gott (well, since he got shot down, he was only mentioned in one sentence), and lastly Montgomery to the final victory at El Alamein (Second).

What maybe impressed me even more was that I didn’t realize previous to this that El Alamein was the first British victory in a very long time in that war, and that Churchill was not in the best position politically (again, I would say that this results from most of my exposure to the war having come from US based stories which I would guess is the frequent truth for a number of us).

Overall, I enjoyed this short movie, and I think it achieved the aims it set for itself. Jonathan Dimbleby was an intriguing storyteller, and I much enjoyed his way of adding quotes from Churchill, and the generals as well as the soldiers to enliven the proceedings.

Andrew Marr’s ‘History of the World’

The series has not finished yet, but I would just like to point out how I would summarize it thus far:

aside the omissions and inaccuracies, it’s all been quite good

Which is as truthful an overview as I can give. Clearly, he has decided to simplify a lot of the content he is providing, intending to introduce people to the history instead of explaining it. I am not sure if I am entirely in favour of such an approach, but it does have the merits of looking into more questions and topics.

I will write more once I’ve seen the final episode that will be around next Sunday.

BBC’s ‘Ancient Rome’

While I’ve usually been a fan of historical documentaries, a recent try at BBC’s Ancient Rome series proved to me that these creatures can be deadly to sanity.

So, as a person who is relatively well versed in history, I would rather advise to stay away from the genre, or at the very least from this specific series.

Maybe it would not have been *that* bad if nearly every person who was commented on didn’t just freak out and start yelling at everyone in the room. It quite left the impression that everyone in leading positions for the 550-odd years covered by the series might have had a tad problem with the concepts of patience and listening to advice. Which, maybe they did… but I seriously doubt that.

Leaving that “small” issue aside (after the second, of six, episodes, I was dreading any scenes in command tents just because some officer was bound to say something which made the commanding officer yell at everyone about “Rome/duty/his-own-awesome-ass-that-needs-no-advice”) it might be considered passable. Although the directors certainly did not choose the best episodes, or maybe, the best ways of depicting said episodes to create some sort of a link going through the entire series, the one saving quality might be that most of the actual history seemed intact.

I had the important quantifier “most” there, for there certainly were a few quips I had. Say, not mentioning the double-fortifications that Julius Caesar built at Alesia (I mean, why else even mention the damned battle), insisting that Carthage was salted (which I believed to be a refuted myth that sprung up sometime after the actual events but well refuted by modern historiography due to several reasons, the least of which not being the price of salt and the fact that the settlement intended to be the harbour for North Africa reverted back to Carthage sometime soon after that moment due to the unstable silting conditions in the new place), and other smaller issues. As on insisting calling everyone “Emperor”. Well… could possibly grant them that, but I am not feeling inclined for that.

For some reason it just seems to me that the directors considered all of this and then left it out because the “average person” (if one exists, let me know) not suitable enough to just give him/her accurate information instead of what they would think is true. But maybe, Rome was a different place than what my memory wants me to believe. In which case, well done filming crew, but I still won’t watch this again. It’s just not worth it.