Thursday 17 December 2009

The 2009 end of year full circle revue

A review of the year is an excellent way to share some of the highlights of 2009 and allow me the opportunity to include some events that accrued before I started this blog in September.

I would start each New Year vowing to see the Mona Lisa before I was 30… Cutting it a little fine Beth and I visited Paris a week before my 30th birthday! I had visited France before but I never had the opportunity to visit the sights of Paris so, we spent a magical weekend there, wandering the corridors of the Louvre and the snow covered embankments of the river Seine.
The Louvre delivered all the riches of Renaissance that I expected. I wandered in awe amongst all the works housed within this magnificent building, the perfectly sculpted figures reflected in the marble floor pointed the way to the famous Venus de Milo. I have always admired the Renaissance particularly the paintings of Botticelli and Da Vinci which I had appreciated for many years, it was marvellous to able to study them so closely in such relaxed surroundings! We then spotted the Mona Lisa the same way one would spot a familiar face in a crowd. She remained a safe distance from the visitors but not so far that we couldn’t experience that famous smile for ourselves, she certainly was worth the trip!

Of course no visit to Paris would be complete without visiting the Eiffel Tower. Not being particularly hard to find, we made our way along the snow-covered streets of Paris, weaving amongst the beautifully historic buildings. A well-earned crepe and hot chocolate soon brought warmth back to our faces as we admired the iconic wonder of 19th century French architecture that is Tour Eiffel! As we made our way back along the Seine occasionally glancing back at the tower that slowly began to light up the Paris sky.

Having sampled various styles throughout the ages, Sunday morning seemed the best time to experience the gothic beauty of the Notre Dame Cathedral. So fantastic was this building that we felt compelled to walk round it several times to be sure we hadn’t missed a single detail. The snow crunched underfoot as we admired the famous gargoyles that have looked over Paris for centuries, wondering what the ones that had broken or weathered might have looked like. Until the bells chiming the 12th hour reminded us that we had to bid 'au revoir’ to Paris and make our way back to the airport and return to old Blighty!

A return visit to London and to one of my favourite locations, the Natural History Museum, for an evening of good food and live music offered in the museum’s central hall. We sat under the famous Diplodocus skeleton’s tail and raised our glasses to Charles Darwin whose statue had been moved to the central hall in honour of his 200th birthday (One can only imagine what Richard Owen would have said!). Having finished our meal we had a wander around the Mary Anning Room to marvel at the great specimens on display including the Ichthyosaur, the Plesiosaurus and the Rhomaleosaurus and another favourite of mine the Megatherium or Giant Sloth. One of the largest mammals to ever walk the earth sent over from South America by Charles Darwin and examined by Richard Owen.

I attended a lecture given by the great professor Heinz Wolff who was invited to speak as part of Shrewsbury’s celebration of Darwin’s 200th anniversary. Professor Heinz Wolff BSc. FIEE. FIBES FRCP (hon) FRSA is the world's first bio-engineer. He was director of the Division of Biological Engineering at the National Institute for Medical Research and Clinical Research Centre of the Medical Research Council. He also founded the Institute of Bio-engineering at Brunel University for over 30 years he has been involved with Television and Radio, mainly being remembered for 'The Great Egg Race', 'Young Scientists of the Year' and 'Great Experiments, Which Changed the World'.
As Professor Wolff remarked, he had been invited to speak about Evolution but pointed out that he couldn’t perform experiments in evolution, it would take many centuries and no one would be prepared to sit through it! But instead he gave a fascinating lecture about ‘The evolution of photography’ and William Henry Fox Talbot the pioneer that revolutionised the world of photography which paved the way for microchips and the making of the 20th century.
As expected from the Professor, he performed several experiments during the lecture. He demonstrated the photographic process using a replica studio camera made from a box, tubing and a lens having taken a photograph of a member of the audience he proceeded to develop the photo, mixing the chemicals needed as he gave the lecture. Then moving on to the development of the digital camera a process he demonstrated using a 48 pixel camera he made from Ping-Pong balls, photo sensitive circuitry and a box! A fascinating lecture, that made the information accessible to everyone in the audience.

We celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Moon landing.
To mark this occasion a limited edition postcard was produced ‘July 20 1969’ was painted to mark the anniversary of the first manned mission to the Moon and their safe return to Earth. The painting both depicts the Apollo 11 taking off from Earth with the Moon in the night sky and man’s first steps on the Moon with the Earth in the distance. The painting has a British ‘take’ on it as it also features Sir Patrick Moore toasting the mission representing not only the voice that commentated on the live pictures for the United Kingdom but also acknowledging his involvement in the mission by providing the maps used by NASA. Signed, numbered and a limited edition of 30 a few remain and are only available through ebay

I experienced the marvel of ‘Walking With Dinosaurs: The Arena Spectacular’ at the Liverpool's Echo Arena. Based on the award-winning BBC series, Walking with Dinosaurs was a stunning theatrical event. Narrated by Huxley the on set palaeontologist the show recreated the 200 million-year reign of the dinosaurs using both costumes and animatronics. Beginning in the Triassic period we moved through to the Jurassic and on to the Cretaceous. We watched the first flowers bloom and wither before our eyes as the animals fought for survival and supremacy until their demise!
We were introduced to several dinosaurs such as the Ankylosaurus, the Brachiosaurus and the Stegosaurus to name but a few. But undoubtedly the star of the show for me was the Tyrannosaurus-Rex! She pounded on to the stage to protect her young to the amazement of the audience! Driven on wheels and operated by three people controlling body movement she was an amazingly convincing site as the roared over our heads! An amazing show ‘Spectacular’ was an understatement!

© Arfon Jones 2009

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