Monday 31 December 2018

2018 New Years blog post, thingy

Well here we are again, the end of another year and that time again when we reflect back on it. There have been many paintings, several sculptures, the studio’s doors were officially opened to TV and radio, I recruited a robot sidekick and made £25 on the Lottery thanks to a mechanical mystic robot!  On a personal level it’s been a rotten year what with one thing or another and losing both my grandparents 3 months apart threw me off somewhat but I think completing the 24hour Sharkathon back in July (where I watched 17 shark movies in one 24 hour sitting raising £467 for the Alzheimer’s Society) helped a little- my sincere thanks everyone that sponsored me via the website or sponsor forms. Some of you might remember that I set myself another challenge in January, lose weight! I vowed to do so following the Linnea Quigley's HorrorWorkout each morning. I started it weighing 15.5 stone and I will be starting 2019 weighing 14.4 stone... I did follow the program, it wasn’t easy but I feel that cutting out the snacks and substituting meals with Slim Fast helped!  Work wise it’s been all go, I have been working on numerous projects, many of which will be released in the New Year. Beth’s second self published novel, The Oakley Woods Murders was released back in May (I provided the inside illustrations and cover art) and it received a very favorable review from Starburst Magazine, suffice to say I am very proud of her. Incidentally, if you received Amazon vouchers for Christmas her books are still available on there... I’ll wait...
2018 took many inspirational people from us, some of which I was able to address and remember at the time including comic book artist Norm Breyfogle and of course the great Stan Lee but we also lost Peter Wyngarde, Mort Walker, John Mahoney, Emma Chambers, Peter Miles, Steven Hawking, Jim Bowen, Bill Maynard, Tim O’Connor, R. Lee Ermey, Dale Winton, Verne Troyer, Margot Kidder, Alan Bean, Joseph Campanella, Leslie Grantham, Aretha Franklin, Peter Stringfellow, Jacqueline Pearce, Eric Bristow, Bill Daily, Liz Fraser, Burt Reynolds, Steve Dash, Peter Donat, Fenella Fielding, Dudley Sutton, Douglas Rain, Mike Noble, Sister Wendy Beckett,  Paddy Ashdown, George H. W. Bush, Donald Moffat, Barry Chuckle, June, Whitfield and of course the great Ken Dodd. I always think of Doddy around this time of year, having said for years that I wanted to catch his live show I was yet to make the mere 48 mile trip to see it and when he became ill during Christmas 2007 I thought I had missed my chance. Thankfully he was fine and performing again 2 months later, but this was the wake up call I needed, it underlined how none of us are getting any younger and how we shouldn’t put off seeing/meeting our heroes. I went to see his show the following May and he did not disappoint I was so pleased that I had the chance to see him, his passing reminded me of a particularly poignant moment towards the end of the show when he addressed the audience and told us that now we no longer had the likes of Morecambe and Wise, Les Dawson or Tommy Cooper he was the last of his kind, effectively the last Dodo on stage, so when he did pass away peacefully at his home aged 90 it really did mark the end of an era in Britain.
Back in June I covered a wonderful encounter with nature that we had when our five year old camera nesting box was (finally!) used by a pair of Blue Tits whom produced 7 chicks.  Throughout the month of May Mrs Jones and I watched these delightful birds feeding the meal worms we provided to their young until they eventually fledged. Sadly we missed the fledgling but we got to see them again a week later in one of our trees keeping their parents just as busy, making full use of our bird tables, and at the time of writing this I can report that the Blue Tits have been making numerous visits to the studio window feeder, are these the same pair? Or one of the chicks all grown up? I couldn’t say but either way we will be keeping a close eye on the nest cam in 2019!  
Encounters with nature didn’t end there, after the chicks had fledged I made a bug hotel out of various off cuts of wood that I had and a hedgehog house (following instructions provided by The BritishHedgehog Preservation Society) and having added the all essential food and water we had a visitor, a rather large hedgehog in there within a week! Actually, hedgehogs are not so uncommon in our garden and a welcome sight when stargazing but this particular one was rather large and as suspected she was pregnant and sure enough a week later we found her again hiding in one of our sheds, with her babies! Absolute utmost care was taken to assure that the little family was not disturbed, but to no avail- sadly we discovered that she had abandoned them. We franticly gathered up the young hoglets and took them to a qualified member of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society who sadly, despite all best efforts was unable to save them. A real blow for all concerned, she attributed it to the ongoing heat wave we were experiencing; it seems that the mothers will abandon their young if they become dehydrated during dry spells.
So please make a note of this, leave water out for wildlife these little guys are declining at an alarming rate and I don’t know about you but I find it worrying that for the past two decades, hedgehogs in Britain have been declining at the same rate as tigers worldwide. Since this encounter we have been supporting the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, they are responsible for some of the UK’s largest hedgehog conservation projects, they fund research into why our rural hedgehogs are declining and they record hedgehog habitats via their BIG Hedgehog Map not to mention promote Hedgehog awareness- inspiring the public to make their gardens more ‘hog friendly. So if you are yet to make a donation to a charity this Christmas, why not support them and help turn this worrying trend around and help hedgehogs thrive in Britain once more?

We joined the 21st century this year by using streaming services, despite still watching very little ‘modern’ telly favouring classic TV DVD’s we did take part in the Earth tradition of “binge watching” a series, when we (finally) watched  Stranger Things and loved it, looking forward to seeing series 3! Online streaming also gave us horror movie/ horror host connoisseurs a wonderful moment, the return of Joe Bob Briggs in a show that served as a loving salute to his classic MonsterVision show of the 1990’s (that I never had the pleasure of experiencing first time round, but have long enjoyed in clip form on YouTube). Subscription /video on demand service Shudder brought him back in what was billed as a “one off” show in June, The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs.
This show was a 24 hour movie marathon that was presented by the man himself and proved so popular it (effectively) broke the internet! Unfortunately, folks from outside the US didn’t get to join in all the fun however, as the marathon was US members only... UK customers finally received VODs (Video on demand) of the show after they had gone and an extra kick to the gut was when we discovered that only the movies Shudder had been licensed for in the UK were included! So, we only received seven of the thirteen movies shown, and at the time of writing this we are still to see, Tourist Trap (1979), Sleepaway Camp (1983), Rabid (1977), Daughters of Darkness (1971) Pieces (1982) and The Prowler (1981) added to the VOD list. I e-mailed the channel several times and they assured me it would eventually happen.  The show proved so popular with fans that Shudder brought Joe Bob back again for 'Dinners of Death’ on Thanksgiving, but alas the same problem arose once again- of the four movies shown in that marathon we only got two of them (we are still to see The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and Dead Or Alive (1999) uploaded) I wrote to Shudder again expressing my disappointment, highlighting how unfair it was that we (as paying customers)were not only being excluded from this party but also expected to make do with the left over scraps!
Shudder, apologised stating they were trying to sort this matter out, they did just that and this Christmas, at 2am this British Joe Bob fan finally got to see Joe Bob Briggs go out LIVE when the UK was included in the live stream!     Apparently, Shudder now intends to make Joe Bob a regular face on their channel in 2019, I am delighted to hear this and sincerely hope we in the UK will continue to be included in this and urge all fellow British Mutants, to contact Shudder and tell them how much you love Joe Bob! Contact them via their contact page or through Facebook and Twitter and remember the Drive-In will never die! Personally, I regard this to be the most important horror show we have. It upholds the horror host tradition, with a host that was there, a part of the genre. It encourages viewers to watch movies that might have escaped their attention in a fun, informative way with great guests and invites you to be part of a community while watching the show via social media- bringing thousands of horror/cult movie fans together.

Had a few adventures this year, many of which have been covered on the blog such as visiting the Arcade Club in Haslingden and the Heath Robinson Museum in Pinner and of course not forgetting that 2018 was also the year I finally got to not only meet Bruce Campbell but also Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, Kevin Murphy, Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff of Mystery Science Theatre 3000! But this year I also had the pleasure of meeting another that had long been on my list, for whatever reason I was yet to meet the great Brian Blessed OBE! Back on the 12th of January, Mrs Jones (as a Birthday treat) took me to see his amazing sold out ‘An Evening with’ show at the Rotherham Civic Theatre! It’s difficult to not admire Brian Blessed the fact that he has had an amazing career spanning nearly fifty years aside the man has climbed Mount Everest three times, he is the oldest man to go to the North Magnetic Pole on foot and he has explored the jungles of Venezuela the man is a national treasure! Known worldwide for his roles in I, Claudius, Z Cars, Doctor Who, Blackadder, and of course Flash Gordon I have always wanted to meet him, but I’d never had the opportunity until now at this organised by PHASE Worldwide, a charity first established in Rotherham that works in Nepal to empower isolated communities through health, education, and livelihood projects of which Brian is a patron.
Having traveled to the Himalayas several times he has witnessed the difficulties faced by the Nepalese and the work done by the charity. We met for the pre-theatre drinks reception featuring ‘Yorkshire Tapas’ round the corner at The Wharncliffe and had a lovely chat with him, a warm friendly man it was a pleasure finally meeting him. The show, much like the man, did not disappoint I could have listened to him speak for hours, and had he had his own way we would have! PHASE staff tried several times to get him off the stage! The man is an inspiration. I highly recommend his memoir, Absolute Pandemonium, perhaps the only time I wanted to listen to an autobiography or better yet if you have the opportunity to catch his one man shows, as the man himself would say “GO FOR IT!
Interestingly Flash Gordon played a part in our first adventure of the year and also featured in the last as we visited Edinburgh for the Love of 80’s convention where Flash Gordon himself, Sam J. Jones was in attendance! Along with the Hulk, Lou Ferrigno and Buck Rogers Gil Gerard to name three more! This amazing event that celebrated everything 80’s presented me with the opportunity to tick a few more names off my list David "The Hoff" Hasselhoff, Zach Galligan of Gremlins and Templeton "Faceman" Peck- Dirk Benedict! The 80’s were special time for me, I wasn’t what you might call and outdoors kid, I spent countless hours effectively ‘hiding’ from the world in front of the TV and shows such as Knightrider and the A Team hold a special place in my heart, so to finally have the opportunity to meet people that played a vital part was amazing.
Another thing to know about me, I am not much of a car person, but seeing the Delorean from Back to the Future parked next to the A Team van and Kitt had me 'geeking out'! Add a replica Johnny 5 from Short Circuit photo op and you have the makings of a great event! I congratulate its organisers and look forward to next year’s! Then we have Edinburgh itself, a city which interestingly I had never visited for much the same reason I hadn’t met the stars in attendance, the opportunity hadn’t presented itself to me! But am I glad it did, Mrs Jones and I fell in love with it and fully intend on returning! As you may know I like to include some interesting things that I have seen in these posts, Edinburgh provided most of them!

Greyfriars Bobby’s (1855-1872) CollarMuseum of Edinburgh, Edinburgh
Since first hearing this tale about the Skye Terrier who guarded the grave of his owner for 14 years until he died himself (through Roland Rat’s Rat On The Road in 1983) I have long been fascinated with this story and wanted to see the famous statue. I got to do that and it was sheer delight, taking a photo of the statue without a tourists jumping into shot to rub his nose (for good luck) not so much, as it was near impossible! (Edinburgh city council asks that tourists touch the nose "gently" after having to spend £400 on its restoration!) But anyway! Bobby was the pet of Edinburgh Constable John Grey, who died of tuberculosis in 1858 the dog famously lay by his master’s grave side in Greyfriars Kirkyard each day until his own death in 1872. The tale touched everyone’s hearts and lived on when it was immortalised in a novel by Eleanor Atkinson in 1912 and then a Disney movie in 1961, some historians however question its actual factual basis... but I will leave that matter for you dear reader. All I will say is that if you visit the Museum of Edinburgh (please do, it’s well worth a visit) you will find many artefacts relating to Bobby’s history including his dinner dish and this, his collar. The collar along with an inscription which reads, “Greyfriars Bobby, from the Lord Provost, 1867 licensed” was given to him by Edinburgh’s then Lord Provost, William Chambers as a safeguard when a new ‘dog tax’ was introduced to combat the city’s stray dog problem.

The King of Bardsey’s Crown, the Gwynedd Museum and Art Gallery, Bangor
For over a century, Bardsey (or “Enlli” as we call it around these parts) has been an island of special scientific interest and popular tourist destination located at the tip of the Llŷn Peninsula, and it was once a ‘kingdom’. No-one seems to know the exact origin of the tradition but it’s believed that the first king of Bardsey who ‘ruled’ over the island’s population of farmers and fishermen was crowned in 1820; however his name is not known to us, But we do know that he died in 1826, as a letter had been sent to the landowner, Lord Newborough requesting that he return to the island to crown the successor John Williams and that’s just what he did in August that year. Williams was crowned with this actual tin crown while standing on a chair on the narrowest part of the island and reined until 1841 when he drowned while attempting to cross to the mainland alone. His son, John Williams II who had been born just the day before was naturally too young to succeed his father and so Bardsey went without a king until the end of the century when John Williams II eventually became king; his reign was short however he immigrated to the mainland in 1918 and drink took its toll on him, it is claimed that he lost his fortune and died in a workhouse in Pwllheli. For many years the crown was ‘controversially’ kept in storage at the Liverpool Maritime Museum, having been acquired along with Lord Newborough’s effects.  Sadly the crown could not be returned to Bardsey as the museum stipulated that it could only be given to an accredited museum for safe keeping and as Bardsey (currently with the population of 4 people) doesn’t have a museum it was instead entrusted to the Gwynedd Museum and Art Gallery in Bangor in 2009 for the 30th anniversary of Bardsey Island Trust. But, John Williams II was not the last king of Bardsey however, there was one other...

The Last King of Bardsey’s Grave, St Hywyn's Church, Aberdaron
According to one of my all time favourite archaeologist, Sir Mortimer Wheeler, despite their being no lineage a fisherman called Love Pritchard proclaimed himself king of the island in 1911 due to John Williams II’s condition. It has been documented that the king offered his services in the First World War but was rejected due to his age, apparently taking umbrage (many joked that the island remained neutral during the war and even alleging that they supported Kaiser Wilhelm II!) Love Pritchard left the island in 1925, visiting the National Eisteddfod in Pwllheli where he was welcomed a Welshman visiting from another land but sadly died the following year and was buried St Hywyn's Church, Aberdaron. Childless there was no successor to the throne, but when it was suggested in 1999 that opera star Bryn Terfel should be crowned the new king of Bardsey, the Bardsey Island Trust was overwhelmed by people claiming direct lineage to Pritchard.

Dolly the Sheep (1996 –2003) National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh
"The world's most famous sheep", Dolly (named after Dolly Parton due to her impressive glands) was the first mammal to ever be cloned from an adult somatic cell, using the process of nuclear transfer (the cell nucleus from an adult cell is transferred into an unfertilized developing egg cell with the cell nucleus removed. The hybrid cell is then stimulated to divide by an electric shock, before being implanted into a surrogate mother). Led by Keith Campbell, Ian Wilmut and colleagues at the Roslin Institute, part of the University of Edinburgh and the biotechnology company PPL Therapeutics, Dolly's existence was announced to the world on 22 February 1997 playing an integral part in the 1990’s obsession with cloning. She had three mothers: one that provided the egg another that provided the DNA and a third which carried her embryo to term. In an attempt to allow Dolly to have as normal a life as possible, it was decided to allow her to breed; she was bred with a Welsh Mountain ram, producing six lambs in total. Dolly died on the 14 February 2003 five months before her seventh birthday from a progressive lung disease (the disease was not considered related to her being cloned) having lived her entire life at the Roslin Institute in Midlothian, she was preserved and gifted to NationalMuseum of Scotland by the institute in 2003.

Cockcroft-Walton generator, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh
The Cockcroft–Walton (CW) generator was developed at the University of Cambridge in the early 1930s  and named after physicists John Douglas Cockcroft and Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton who used the circuit design in 1932 to power their particle accelerator and perform the first artificial nuclear disintegration in history (both were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for "Transmutation of atomic nuclei by artificially accelerated atomic particles" in 1951) originally used at the University of Edinburgh for nuclear physics in the 1950s this one was erected in the Grand Gallery at the museum after its components were discovered in a store room at the National Museum’s Collection Centre. Standing 19 feet 8 inches this is only one section of it though, there wasn’t enough space to occupy the whole generator at the museum!

The Maiden, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh
The Maiden (also known as the Scottish Maiden) was used for executions in Edinburgh during the 16th and 18th centuries after the sword traditionally used to carry out executions had become worn.  Predating the ones used during the French Revolution the Maiden was manufactured in Edinburgh, built of oak, with a lead weight and iron blade she was first introduced in 1564 during the reign of Mary Queen of Scots and remained in use right up to 1716.   The device took all the hassle out of executions as it could be easily be dismantled for storage and moved to numerous locations as and when needed. It was long believed that James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton was responsible for first devising it (basing its concept on the Halifax Gibbet) this would have been tragically ironic however when you consider how the Earl was executed on this very device in 1581 during the minority of King James VI! (although very little evidence backs up the claim that Douglas was responsible for its design). What we do know for certain however is that it was made by carpenters Adam and Patrick Shang, as accounts still exists informing us that Shang (responsible for Queen Mary's half-brother, the Earl of Moray’s oak bed) was paid the amount of two pounds for “whole labours and devising of the timber work” involved in the construction of the device that removed 150 heads.

Cemetery for Soldiers Dogs, Edinburgh Castle
When peering over the wall of Edinburgh Castle you will find another touching tribute to Edinburgh’s devotion to faithful Canine companions in the form of the castle’s dog cemetery. Believed to have originally been the site of a medieval tower, it became the final resting place for regimental mascots and honored dogs belonging to high-ranking soldiers in 1840. Twenty dogs are remembered in this garden (off limits to the public) including Yum Yum, Tim (who traveled with Seaforth Highlanders) and Dobbler (who travelled with Argyll and Sutherland Highlands to China, Ceylon and South Africa) with Winkle, a “dear and faithful friend of Lady Gow and the Governor” being the last to be added in 1980. The cemetery was even referenced in verse by Robert Burns: “Berkin dugs here lie at rest The yappin worst, obedient best Sodgers pets and mascots tae Still the guard the castle to this day
Well there you have it, another blog post recounting the year. What else we can expect in 2019? Aside from myself turning 40 and this very blog celebrating its tenth anniversary, several new projects that’s for sure, hopefully a few new adventures (one more recent adventure has been omitted from this post due to my being sworn to secrecy about but more on that February/March...) My sincere thanks to all that have supported me and my work, this site this past year. Be it commission based, sharing links or a friendly word of encouragement you have all helped me along and I thank you. Happy New Year to you all.

© Arfon Jones 2018. All images are copyrighted throughout the world.



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