The book may be 200 years old, but do you know who Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy’s great-great-grandson is?

On the 13th December in 1795 a meteorite crashed to Earth just outside the village of Wold Newton, in Yorkshire. It landed at about three in the afternoon, startling a number of people who were nearby.

Although the meteorite is now harmless (it was acquired by the British Museum in 1835) it may not always have been. The author Phillip José Farmer has, by diligent research, shown that many of the descendents of the bystanders were people who displayed outstanding (sometimes almost superhuman) mental and physical abilities. He hypothesised that the meteorite emitted radiation as it fell which affected the genetic makeup of those exposed to it.

Two of those present were Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, whose lives were fictionalised by Jane Austen in her book Pride and Prejudice. Their son, Fitzwilliam B. Darcy married Agatha Jansenius, and their daughter was a teacher, Athena Darcy. Her life was fictionalised (under the pseudonym Agatha Wylie) in An Unsocial Socialist by George Bernard Shaw.

She married John Clayton, the 5th Duke of Greystoke, and her son was also known as John Greystoke. He married Alice Rutherford, herself the great-granddaughter of Alice Clarke Raffles and Percy Blakeney II (whose life was fictionalised as The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy). They were lost in Africa in the 1880s, and their fate unknown until Edgar Rice Burrows met their child and discovered the amazing story of his adoption by robust Australopithicines. He had no idea what they were, of course, so thinking they were apes, he called his story Tarzan of the Apes.

Don’t you think that upon seeing Mr Darcy swimming across the lake at Pemberley, you can imagine his great-great grandson, the 8th Earl of Greystoke, swinging through the trees?

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The right kind of people

Anyone hear Alison Wolf on “The Today Programme” this morning? In a report about a letter in The Times this morning Prof Wolf from King’s College (one of the signatories) argued that national pay settlements should be scrapped as you can pay people less in parts of Britain. On the other hand, you may want to pay more for senior posts in poor areas, to ensure you get the right people.

Wonderful eh?  You can only motivate those at the bottom by giving them less, and only motivate those at the top by giving them more.  Is there really anyone who thinks they can justify this attitude?

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Superman, Stravinski and Right-Wing Snobs

If you heard the Sunday morning Radio 4 news programme Broadcasting House this morning you will have heard a speaker from the right-wing think-tank The New Culture Forum come out with the following comment about the state of culture in Britain today:

“If you tell people over a period of time that Superman is just as good as Stravinsky, then eventually they’re going to stop bothering to try to get to know Stravinsky.”

Given that one is a fictional character, and one a composer I don’t see why you can’t like both. I got my copy of Superman: Peace on Earth off the shelf to see what a right-wing think-tank would think is so terrible. That one was handy, and it’s available from bookshops.

The story concerns Superman, who one Christmas tries to feed all the hungry people in the world. He makes this statement about why he helps people:

“I look upon my powers as a gift, not mine alone but for anyone who needs them.”

About Christmas:

“It’s a time when people are most inclined to act with compassion and kindness, and perhaps for a brief moment, see in each other a fellow soul sharing the same world.”

And about the failure of his mission (due to tyrants and corruption):

“I tried to relieve world hunger, but I encountered heartbreaking poverty, not only within the slums and wastelands of the world, but within selfish men’s souls.”

You can see why a libertarian wouldn’t like this. Someone with power wanting to help rather than push people about?

For some people it doesn’t seem to be enough to enjoy Stravinsky, you have to look down on someone else at the same time. Perhaps they should check out the Lex Luthor comics published a few years ago. More their style?

And a final point – music may be a valid art form for everyone, but to appreciate comics you have to be able to read.

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You’re smart people, why drive like idiots?

See this? It’s a depiction of a roundabout. You go round it in a clockwise direction. It’s dangerous driving to go the other way around.

I’m fed up watching out for cars going the wrong way around the roundabout in the middle of the Glyntaff campus.  It’s a pedestrian-unfriendly campus at the best of times, so please think of those of us on foot and follow the highway code.

You might think you’re being a top level rally driver, but your not, you’re an idiot.

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Spacemen & Dinosaurs found after 51 years!

I’m sure that it comes as no surprise to anyone, but I’m a long-time comic book fan. An agingfanboy, as it were. However, I can still remember the comic which started my lifelong interest. One day when I was seven I looked into the village newsagents shop window, and there in a spinner rack was a comic. On the cover were spacemen and dinosaurs. An obsession was born.

The shop was shut, and by the time I’d managed to get 8½d (the comic was 9d, and a passing teddy boy – honest, he was the son of friends of my parents and he had a leather jacket – gave me ½d which he saw on the floor) it had been sold. But it was too late, I’d been hooked, and there were so many other comics…

Over the years I’ve often thought about that comic. The spaceman was looking up at a tyrannosaurus and saying something about “A planet of prehistoric animals”. I’d worked out that he must have been a character called Space Ranger, which meant that the comic could well have been a science fiction comic called Tales of the Unexpected. But from that day on I’ve never seen a copy (not even on-line before someone asks).

At last month’s Bristol Comic Convention I found a copy! You can see from the scan that my memory was pretty good, although I’d missed the aliens riding the dinosaurs (!). It’s Tales of the Unexpected #54 October 1960. It’s been a 51 year wait, but I finally got to read the story about the spacemen and dinosaurs, and for ten minutes I was that little kid with his nose pressed against the glass in a country village shop. Comics, just love ‘em.

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In praise of sheer decency

I was up early on Saturday morning, and heard a lot of radio news, and then later I brought a copy of The Guardian. There are some stories which you just can’t make sense of. Why on earth would anyone wake up in the morning and make a conscious decision that they were going torture children in a premeditated way? I can understand people doing bad things if they were angry, or desperate, or ill, or even drunk, or drugged up to the eyeballs. But to actually, deliberately, stone-cold sober, open-eyed want to?

In a 1979 film, Murder by Decree, which not enough people have seen, Christopher Plummer played Sherlock Holmes. In it he discovered that the Prime Minister knew who Jack the Ripper was, but didn’t act to stop him. He told Lord Salisbury: “You create allegiance above your sworn allegiance to protect humanity. You shall not care for them, or acknowledge their pain.” You can’t help but be reminded of the cheers in parliament as it was announced that hundreds of thousands of people are going to lose their jobs – do those cheering care for the people or acknowledge their pain?

Anyway, Holmes went back to Baker Street and reported to Watson: “We’ve unmasked madmen, Watson, wielding sceptres. Reason run riot. Justice howling at the moon.” Watson pointed out that several people had died to protect innocents in the case – there was still decency.

There’s a singer/songwriter named Allan Taylor, who not enough people have heard. He wrote a song about the Viet-Nam draft and despaired: “I don’t know what’s left for decent people to believe in.” There was a writer named James White, who not enough people have read, who wrote about characters I admired, and wanted to be like. A reviewer said he wrote stories “replete with wit, originality, medical expertise and sheer decency.”

There IS still decency. Most people seem to like it. You can’t legislate for it, but you know it when you see it. Look after it. If one more person behaves decently the whole world is a bit more decent. You might even find that teenagers are committing acts of sheer decency when no-one is looking. Just don’t be cruel to other people for fun. It’s not decent.

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Where is Wales on Wikipedia?

I’m hoping to walk up Garth Hill – I like the film “The Englishman who went up a hill but came down a mountain” – and yes, I know it’s not true.  However, here’s a map from Wikipedia.  Can you spot the error?  Shome mistake, surely?

Map of Garth Hill

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The Pedantic Scientist asks if it’s the end of tennis?

I must admit to not being keen on tennis, although can admire the athleticism and dedication of the professionals. However, with the much-publicised match at Wimbledon poised at 59-59 this morning you have to ask – is this the beginning of the end? The engineers and sports scientists have got the equipment to such a stage that it’s becoming rarer for anyone to return a serve. It might be exciting the first time it happens, but will anyone pay to watch a tournament which consisted of two huge guys whacking aces past each other?

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The Pedantic Scientist

Another excellent episode of Dr Who, this time sorting out relations with the Silurians, who are described as Homo reptilicus. Interesting name. Species are described in what’s known as binomial nomenclature, with the genus name first, and species name second. Thus Homo sapiens is in the genus Homo [humans and closely related, but now all extinct, relatives], and the species sapiens [thinking]. So Homo sapiens is “thinking man”.

This binomial naming assumes evolutionary relationships, so Homo sapiens, and Homo habilis for instance, shared a common ancestor. The point, for the pedantic scientist, is that the Silurians evolved long before we did, and from reptilian stock. Their genus name would have to be the reptilian group from which they evolved, so it wouldn’t be Homo. Their species name would be their “defining characteristic”, which in this case must be that they think.

They are not reptilian humans, they are thinking reptiles. So it’s not Homo reptilicus, it’s Reptilicus sapiens.

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I set myself up for this every time, but go and vote. All the arguments have been endlessly rehashed: all MPs are corrupt (no they’re not), your vote doesn’t count (yes it does), all parties are the same (no they’re not). It’s part of a franchise that people in the past fought for. Don’t let them down.

PS If you think all politicians are the same, and can’t tell the difference between Nick Griffin and Nick Clegg (to choose two names at random) you might think that you’re so delightfully cynical, but you’re not, you’re a plank.

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