Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Geographical Fugue .. heard of it?

A quick geographical tour of the world, some music, a visit to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, a fun idea to read with children, or read aloud to others, a text to share as you chant it out ... an education for us all ....



Joanne - for you - these are the corn/straw decorations I used on my mother’s tree – they’re very pretty, but quite delicate ... Joanne is the Queen of Whole Latte Life and loves porches, doorways and the coffee cup rating system ....!


Poetry enunciated travels the world ....
Trinidad .....a .....

Trinidad!
And the big Mississippi
and the town Honolulu
and the lake Titicaca
the *Popocatepetl is not in Canada.
rather in Mexico, Mexico, Mexico!
Canada, Malaga, Rimini, Brindisi
Canada, Malaga, Rimini, Brindisi
Yes, Tibet, Tibet, Tibet, Tibet,
Nagasaki! Yokohama!
Nagasaki! Yokohama!

(*Pronounced POPPO-CAT-A-PET-AL)
Lake Titicaca from the Bolivian side (above)

As I read the words I got drawn into the rhythm of the spoken chorus and thought what a wonderful piece to read to others, who perhaps love to be read to, for grandparents to share with grandchildren ... and then to open an atlas or a globe to point out the places ... to find out more about each one ...

Had you heard of the Fugue? ... I found out about it via Keith Davis, who has a passion for public speaking and had paid a visit to London to look round Shakespeare’s reconstructed Globe Theatre – his excellent post is here!

The second Globe, from Hollar's 1638 Long View of Southwark



While Cordelia Ditton, from a theatre background , loves training others to enunciate and articulate clearly, had commented on Keith’s post .... I remember as an early teen being sent off for diction lessons ... now I can understand - - - then well ....?!

It was Dilly’s rendition of the fugue above that sent me off to find out more – when the thought struck .. that it was the kind of thing that would stimulate my mother, and certainly my uncle would have been very interested as he was extremely musical.

Then I thought about the educational aspect – and how many of us know where most of these places are, or anything about them ... what do they produce, which country are they in, which sea, which are capitals, what are the capitals of the other places, which is the highest .... etc etc


The Tibetan yak is an integral part of life in Tibet

From there to the poetic aspects, the musical side of things, let alone the exercise for the vocal chords as we say the words – slowly to start with .. but the whole spoken chorus takes on a different cadence when it is performed: as the Womens’ Chorus of Dallas show us.

The composer, Ernst Toch (1997 – 1964) was prominent in Berlin, going into exile in the 1930s to Paris, London and on to New York, before settling in California, where he composed classical music and film scores.

The biography of this avant-garde composer from the pre-Nazi era, makes an interesting read ... born in Vienna to the family of a humble Jewish leather dealer, when that city in the 19thC was at its cultural zenith; he studied philosophy at the University in Vienna, medicine at Heidelberg, then music at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, majoring in the piano ... before leaving for happier shores.

Before I leave music .. Keith has also posted a TED talk called “Look for the Shining Eyes” – a moving title don’t you think? – Benjamin Zander is one amazingly inspiring musician .. with a fantastic story to tell ... Keith’s description ... “I guarantee that if you watch the first minute ... you’ll watch to the end, and this is one ending you won’t want to miss”.

Something different to do with the family... all of us with relatives – old or young, a puzzle or two, a jig-saw of information .. something to read, something to listen to, something to watch .. a little bit of history, of music, of acting, of education, of the globe ... so many points to discuss ... a Geographical Fugue woven into a web of thoughts!

Happy New Year and enjoy .... Here comes 2011 bounding along .. to this cascade of authors, poets, artists, musicians, educators, bloggers, all speakers, photographers and readers ... Happy Inspirational Year ahead to us all.
For Teresa, Linda, Soul Dipper – Amy, Susanne, gloW, Roland and every one ... a close-up of the “Old Boy” – Hardwick - an inherited special agent, brought to this planet to look after his appointed earthlings ... Mr Tasker (when he was in my mother’s Care Home), and now my mother ...

Dear Mr Postman – the freezing cold and snow have gone; the birds and the squirrels have been fed; the damp has returned .. our earliest snows in November and the coldest December for 100 years have nearly gone ... we celebrated quietly .. we pray for a very happy, successful, blessed New Year for you and yours.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Monday, 20 December 2010

Christmas Past and Christmas Present ...

Hardwick and his decorations - he has been around many years, then my mother 'inherited' him, and since she has been ill - they have been inseparable!

Happy Christmas one and all ... and have a very blessed, peaceful time.

It is a time for compassion, care, empathy, thoughtfulness, a smile or two or three, a few gifts of kindness to others who need our help .. and three extra special wishes for 2011, given to me by Jan Lundy of Awake is Good, I pass on to you all:

Peace of Mind


Love in your Heart


Time to pursue your Passions
The Nativity by Charles-Francois Poersen, 1667.

And from my mother, Hardwick and I all our wishes for a successful and progressively happy 2011 as the year unfolds.



Whatever wonderful food you have to eat over Christmas – there is one added food we bloggers are always grateful for .. an award .. and I am extremely grateful to receive the Meat and Potatoes Award from Stephen Tremp of Breakthrough Blogs – whose ‘Wormhole’ book I have had the pleasure of reading .. can’t get away from the Wormhole name for “Breakthrough”! Thank you Steve .. much appreciated; his blog offers a lot of information on the self-publishing route and is a very useful resource.

Happy Days everyone –

An Edwardian English advertisement for Champagne, listing honours and royal drinkers (Laurent Perrier 1905)
Dear Mr Postman – we have not had so much snow – but it is still icy underfoot .. so we thank you for delivering our cards and mail. My Mama sleeps – and has yet to really see the Christmas tree I made up this year, but the staff are appreciative of it and they love the fresh flowers that are always in her room. The decorations I found in the Samaritans shop - they are made out of dried straw covered in glitter – stars, angels, pine cones etc .. very simple, but very pretty – they probably don’t stand out enough against the pale background.
Should you wish to see last year's completely different take ... very different - perhaps that is why we have gone plain this year! Apart from the fact we've moved rooms a few times this year & my energies for decorating are gone! Mum and Hardwick - decking out the tinsel 2009.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Friday, 17 December 2010

A Georgian Silver Swan ...


A Silver Swan, glass rods looking like a stream, silver fish and leaves – what a Christmas dining room table centre piece this would be – then a haunting tune magically surrenders itself to the diners.

What bewitchment to see this magnificent music box, one of the first automatons dating from the 18th century. Mark Twain, being fascinated by all things scientific, saw this exhibited at the World’s Fair in Paris in 1867 and included it in his compilation of travel letters “The Innocents Abroad”.


Mechanical Silver Swan – c/o The Museum Network (Silver Workshop of James Cox circa 1773)


To be described in an Act of Parliament (1773) – the Swan must have made a notable impression – it is thought that there was a waterfall behind it, which was stolen while on tour, as it is described as being 3 feet in diameter and 18 feet high. A very sad loss.

John Bowes purchased the swan in 1872 for his museum in Durham ; to preserve it the music box is only wound once a day.

The gentle music plays, the glass rods rotate giving the illusion of flowing water; the swan turns its head from side to side and preens itself. After a few moments the swan notices the swimming fish, bends down to catch and eat one, before returning to its upright position – and the performance, which has lasted all of 40 seconds, is over. What magic though ... even today ... just the wonderment of the silvery musical automaton.


Clever entrepreneurial spirit here ... taking full advantage of the Georgian era in British history (1714 – 1830) ... as it was during this time that the English dictum ‘a man’s home is his refuge’ was coming into fashion, though only the wealthy (for the time being) had privacy ... everyone else was still packed in together on different floors ... poor relatives, to the maids, servants etc ...



... the Georgians were acquisitive for possessions to fill these new spaces – the dining room, the separate bedroom, the drawing room .. exquisite furniture, glorious art, luxurious furnishings along with the sparkling opulence of gold, silver and all things jewel like ... lit by the florescence of wax candles ... all other parts of the cities and towns would be embraced by the full darkness.


The richly-decorated Banqueting Room at the Royal Pavilion, from John Nash 's "Views of the Royal Pavilion"(1826).

This wonderful centrepiece would have sparkled in the glistening candle light, set on a polished mahogany table, crystal glass, silver cutlery, white linen ... a full feast to follow ... the start of the pleasures we relish today ... while we appreciate the inventors, artists, furniture makers, designers and architects of those days and the legacies and disciplines they have left us to continue exploring and building on.


John-Joseph Merlin 1735 – 1803) (Belgian inventor and horologist (clockwork mechanisms for the swan)) by Thomas Gainsborough (1727 – 1788)

(PS: However it is ornithologically incorrect as swans do not eat fish, but ... )

Dear Mr Postman .. I have just watched a mini blizzard descend, been out to feed the birds with some more food, decided my car was iced up .. and I was staying put! The buses have been redirected, as I can see them struggling up the main road .. along with queues of cars.

While I was up at the Nursing Home .. there was a Green Woodpecker voraciously digging around in the lawn .. I haven’t seen one down here .. just magpies, crows, pigeons, blackbirds, robins, little brown jobs! and some tits .. and a fox or two ..

This morning I put some fresh daffodils and red spray chrysanthemums in my mother’s room; and decorated some Christmas twigs, with delightful tree decorations made from straw dusted with glitter, very simple .. but they were in the Samaritans shop and I persuaded them to open early and let me buy them! So a complete change for my Mama ..
This was inspired by a friend of my mother's sending us a card of the Silver Swan from the Museum ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Friday, 10 December 2010

Teeth – Washington, Hippopotamus, Vered, Eastern Europe, Jannie


We forget at this time of feasting that we are so lucky to be living, in the Western world, ... we have teeth, they are looked after, we tend not to suffer with them, and if we need some falsies - that can be sorted too. Teeth – who would have thought that that one word would produce a connective thought process?

I had happened to hear a BBC World snippet about George Washington (1732 – 1799) – of well known fame, as much today as when he lived 250 years ago ... he had one tooth at the time he became President in1789, but for the sake of vanity endured a full set of “falsies” .. did you know that?


Farmer at the dentist, Johann Liss, c. 1616-17.


The portrait by Gilbert Stuart, used on the One Dollar Bill - I mentioned in a previous post about snuff– has Washington looking one way, while on the Bill he looks the other! But in that picture, I thought Washington’s mouth looked ‘a little strained’ ... which now I know was obviously correct: his sets of teeth causing great pain, for which he took laudanum.

Can you imagine having plates carved from hippopotamus and elephant ivory, into which real human teeth and bits of horses’ and donkeys’ teeth were inserted, then held together with gold springs? (None of them being made from wood as the lore seems to suggest).


George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, 1797

The French man Pierre Fauchard (1678 – 1761) has been recognised as the “father of modern dentistry”, so his early connections with the Navy and the rapid spread of knowledge through Europe and across into the American Colonies, may well have been instrumental in Washington being able to have a plate made with false teeth.


Dental needle-nose pliersdesigned by Fauchard in the late 17th century to use inprosthodontics.

Thinking about sets of false teeth, years ago when I worked for an organisation in London exporting capital plant and machinery to Eastern Europe – we had sold a few teeth lines into Russia! We just don’t think about these sorts of aspects of life – do we?

Then I was reading ‘The Week’ in the part titled .. “It Must Be True .. I read it in the tabloids” .. about a zoo in Shanghai investing in a four foot long toothbrush – guess what for? To clean its hippos’ teeth ... up to this major investment, they had been cleaned with a broom.

A keeper brushes a hippo's teeth at the Shanghai Zoo Photo: REUTERS
(The Telegraph Newspaper .. it is not a tabloid!)

In the wild the hippos live mostly off grass and do not worry about oral hygiene, while at the zoo they are fed on fruit and vegetables, which can get clogged in their teeth. Seems strange thinking about oral hygiene in animals ... but of course that’s exactly what the animals do in their natural habitat.

Just slightly off the subject ... stalactites and stalacmites ... also need to be cleaned off .. as the mud from cavers, if left there, will corrode the growths – so to keep them in pristine condition .. they are brushed off, this time with dish brushes .. then they shine like underground stars!

Vered (to the right), who has a very appropriate web non-de-plume of “MomGrind” ,wrote this wonderful article about her daughter’s visit to the dentist – which had got her musing .. “How Lucky We Are” about our teeth and the facilities we have today.

To top it off another blogger, Jannie of Funsterland, showed us a fun video of her daughter wearing her father’s suspenders?! Well to me – they’re braces ... do we suspender or do we brace? Do we teeth or do we hold up trousers ....?

So these amazing sets of co-incidences led me to post about teeth .. and as it’s that time of year ... when we use our gnashers for many delicious goodies ... spare a thought for others in less priveleged places and days gone by ... of ... I let your imagination take you along your chosen path ...

Dear Mr Postman .. I’m sure my mother will love this post – these are the sorts of things that would have amused her .. and I’d have been sent home to find out more about George Washington, his portrait and his teeth .. and she’d definitely have laughed at the hippo having its teeth cleaned! Today it is a mild day here .. further north Britain is still in the grips of winter, as are many in the Northern Hemisphere – the other London in Ontario has had a major dump or two .. we are due to another Arctic blast next week – ugh!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Monday, 6 December 2010

What makes a great villain?

Now what does make a great villain? Wormholes, a Breakthrough, Doomsday being nigh .. ah! - how about an explanation on my blog .. please welcome the author with the mostest: Mr Stephen Tremp ...


... who, in this the first of his trilogy, Breakthrough, entices us with movie hurtling scenes, racy locations, snow storms, physics .. and wormholes (my best!) .. please sit back and enjoy the words of Stephen Tremp as my first guest ever to post here:
Stephen Tremp's book: Breakthrough - The Adventures of Chase Manhattan



Some villains are obvious from the start. In old Westerns, the bad guy wore the black hat, the good guy the white hat. Darth Vader was dressed entirely in black. Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker wore white. However, villains today are not necessarily so cut and dry. They do not even need to be people. Aliens from other planets make great villains. So do animals such as Jaws.


Jaws: Theatrical release poster (Steven Spielberg film)

Villains can take the form of concepts and ideologies such as social injustices, racism, or human trafficking. Villains can be drugs. They can be greed and lust for power, or just plain ignorance of another’s differences and making them scapegoats as in Schindler’s List.



Don’t forget about the setting, which itself can be a really nasty evil villain. I bought the movie "1408" because this is such a story. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend renting it.


1408 Theatrical Release poster of the film – based on a Stephen King short story


Generally, I’ve been taught that the villain is the obstacle that stands in the way of the protagonist. The good guy is introduced first, then the villain enters a few chapters later and rains on the protagonist’s parade or threatens the world or a small sliver of it.


However, sometimes villains are unmasked to the reader from the start. I prefer to begin a story with the bad guy. Example: In the Columbo television series the villain is first introduced to the audience performing his murderous acts. There is no Whodunit as we already know who done it. It’s just a matter of the sleuth performing detective work and solving the crime.



Other times the author waits until the end of the story to reveal the killer. Example: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes or Scooby Doo (I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for you meddling kids).


Every episode of the original Scooby-Doo format contains a penultimate scene in which the kids unmask the ghost-of-the-week to reveal a real person in a costume. FromScooby-Doo, Where Are You! season two, episode one ("Nowhere To Hyde", September 12, 1970).


Villains needn’t be malicious or even hold anything against the protagonist. An antagonist must simply impede a story’s action towards the goal: Villain Writing Lessons from Lord Vader. Of course, if they meet and hate each other’s guts, that’s better. Find the balance. Get inside their head. Make them believable, but one who takes risks most would not ordinarily do.



Villains need a reason to act and react the way that they do. His or her actions can introduce the conflict that drives the story forward. It is then up to the antagonist to put an end to the madness and stop the villain, possibly even killing him.



More and more, audiences are demanding villains past are explained. They want to know why they are they way they are. Example: The new Freddy Krueger movie will go into far more detail of how Freddy came to be Freddy because the first movie did not go into much detail other than the mother explaining the story to her daughter.


Freddy Krueger – a ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ character

Humanizing is vital to developing a villain. Each of your characters should think like a human (even if they’re not), and react to events in very human ways, regardless how fantastical or outlandish events become. Character flaws go along with humanization. Both protagonist and antagonist need to have faults. Usually, the good guy overcomes and conquers as I explain in the post The Straight from Hel: Character Arc while the bad guy has damning faults that ultimately lead to his demise. Example: Greed or madness.


Important: Developing a great villain does not necessarily mean he only has to make life dangerous for the good guy. Make life dangerous for him, too. Who are the antagonist’s antagonists besides the good guy? You can really make things difficult for the villain as the story progresses then draws to a close. His world is closing in around him. Detectives, family and friends of victims, investigative reporters, other villains, society, his cronies and others may all want to extract justice in their own way.



“Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a villain will just come to you whole … I love when your subconscious does the work for you … you have a real, heinous person in mind, either a criminal you’ve read about who sparks such an outrage in your soul that you have to create him on paper just to destroy him the way he needs to be destroyed. Sometimes it’s a person you really know – in the novella I recently finished I took great pleasure in detailing all the banal viciousness of a producer I know and then bashing his brainless head in.” From Alexandra Sokoloff's post 'What Makes a Great Villain'.


Sir Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs

Stephen Tremp blogs at Breakthrough Blogs ..

shown here at a book signing

and is the author of NearFuture SciFi Thriller "Breakthrough"

Please check out Steve's Science for Youth tab, and his Library Blog tab

This blog, more likely its owner, is not sophisticated enough to have Tweets and Facebooks and buttons! .. but we'd love whatever you can do for Stephen!!


Thank you .. it's been great fun having you here .. and now I know a little about developing a villain for a story .. and I so look forward to your next home and away ..

Dear Mr Postman .. as you can see I really do have my first guest posting here .. and I feel so honoured to have this wonderful author .. my mother will look up at me with big eyes and say ... what? .. and how? and why? .. and all the other fun things and then she'll have one big smile for me .. ! But perhaps today .. I should say this is a villainous story?!
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Doomsday Villain - Domesday Villein

The master of Villainous Tours .. Mr Stephen Tremp of Breakthrough fame - is hosting me over on his blog - please pay us a visit!

Tomorrow ... Stephen will be here with his guest post ... this will be the first one on this blog!

Looking forward to seeing you here and there! Have a great week everyone ... Hilary

Dear Mr Postman - this is really exciting and I know my mother will be so amused that I have a friend from California here on my blog talking about Wormholes and Villains .. she just loves the interaction! Fortunately she's warm and cozy in our now freezing weather .. the snow melted quite quickly.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Talli Roland ... a favourite and author .. The Hating Game

IT’S HERE!! Today - Wednesday, December 1 - is the day author Talli Roland has selected to hold her “Amazon Web Splash.” Positive Letters is among more than 450 bloggers who are participating in this unique and amazing event.

Help Talli Roland's debut novel, THE HATING GAME, hit the Kindle bestseller list at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk by spreading the word today. Even a few sales in a short period of time on Amazon helps push the book up the rankings, making it more visible to other readers.


In England: Amazon.co.uk: Let's help Talli move up the lists with The Hating Game


With the Amazon.com link (depending on your location): Help debut author Talli Roland Take On Amazon today! The Hating Game


No Kindle? Download a free app at Amazon for Mac, iPhone, PC, Android and more.


THE HATING GAME is also coming out soon in paperback. Keep up with the latest at Talli's blog: Talli Roland

Here’s a brief synopsis of THE HATING GAME: When man-eater Mattie Johns agrees to star on a dating game show to save her ailing recruitment business, she's confident she'll sail through to the end without letting down the perma-guard she's perfected from years of her love 'em and leave 'em dating strategy.

After all, what can go wrong with dating a few losers and hanging out long enough to pick up a juicy £200,000 prize? Plenty ..... Mattie discovers, when it's revealed that the contestants are four of her very unhappy exes.

Can Mattie confront her past to get the prize money she so desperately needs, or will her exes finally wreak their long-awaited revenge? And what about the ambitious TV producer whose career depends on stopping her from making it to the end?

For those visitors that are on Facebook and Twitter, you can also help by pasting the following in your status update bar.

Thanks so much .. I almost forgot?! Not good - but made it just in time .. enjoy the Hating Game - and Talli's blog is worth a visit .. it's good to be part of the Websplash team ... 450 of us around the world .. not bad?!

Enjoy the book - Hilary Melton-Butcher

Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Feathered and Furry Thanksgivings ..

We, in the northern hemisphere, all seem to be having snow, poor weather, storms or just plain cold, grey skies and thus feel gloomy and miserable .. as have our fluffy friends. I’ve been watching them recently really going for it – seemingly like a race for the Olympics .. stocking up on all the berries, seeds and insects possible.

The pair of squirrels, the blackbirds, the robin, the tits, the wrens, the glossy (not so popular) magpie and a few other birds then there’s all the little insects scrabbling around amongst the fallen leaves – as well as the fox who has just started to visit.. and as they dash about under the trees, sway on the branches, dart in and out of the bushes .. I’ve been thinking – do they know something we don’t. Nature is usually one step ahead of us humans, and this year that definitely seems to be correct: the trees and bushes have been bountifully endowed.

Robin: 1880 Engraving

The weather has gone from the warmest November day to the coldest November night, with the deepest recorded snowfall – this is in Yorkshire, but applies to us all across Britain. Once the woodlands cool down, the birds migrate into our gardens – which is why retaining our gardens are a vitally important for our wildlife.

Rowan Berries

The rich pickings in our hedgerows, the undergrowth retains lots of extras at this time of year for the foraging wildlife – seeds, berries, nesting materials, shelter from other predators, or from the winds, the freezing weather, snow and rain that is bedevilling us now.

The insects, snails, centipedes, ants et al .. all need to find an insulated spot away from the extremes of the weather .. under log stacks, pots, cracks in garden walls, amongst the cuttings pushed and left in parts of the garden; the pond too has a life under the ice – the Dragonfly and Damselfly feed on the daphnia – the water acting as a temperature buffer.

Daphnia: tiny aquatic crustaceans, commonly called water fleas

Birds have been migrating to find new feeding grounds with longer hours of daylight – so they come from the Arctic or Scandinavian regions to Britain, and go from our shores onto the continent and some on to Africa. I saw a northern lapwing this week – I was surprised to see it – but from its picture you can see how I was able to identify it: bird with a crest!


Northern Lapwing

The robin continues to sing through winter – that surprised me. I’ve put out fat feeders, some peanuts and some wild bird seeds – and they are being gobbled up, especially as the snow has receded somewhat. I probably need to get some other feeders – but I am using those already in the garden, which needed to be restocked.

Animals adapt to their surrounds – the fox being particularly good at it. The adder, our only poisonous snake, hibernates the winter away; dormice can shut down for six months of the year; the harvest mouse is nocturnal once the winter sets in; the stoat gains his ermine – he turns white during the dark months; the hedgehog hibernates, it may come out if we have a warm spell to forage, but may have a problem getting back to its nest; while bats hibernate – but will almost certainly move to another roost feeding on the way.

Adders: normal and melanistic colour patterns

Our English dormouse is called the Hazel Dormouse after its predilection for hazel nuts – the native nuts found in our hedgerows ... the cobnuts, the commercial variety, have produced bumper crops – one farm where it normally takes four weeks to pick the nuts, this year needed six weeks. Birds too adapt to their surroundings .. and utilise the crushed nuts of beech (and pecan in the States) after the traffic has driven over them.


The Hazel Dormouse: our only native species

It’s really cold here – but berries still abound on the shrubs .. these yew seed cones are highly evolved – the fleshy outside is not poisonous and is eaten by the thrushes, waxwings and other birds, which disperse the hard poisonous seeds undamaged in their droppings. However the seeds can be split open by some birds and eaten harmlessly: the Hawfinches and Great Tits. Amazing this world of ours – the wonders of its evolving life.

European Yew shoot with mature and immature cones




Dear Mr Postman .. my mother has her days when she’s awake – we watched one of the Masters’ Tennis semi-finals on Saturday, which she thoroughly enjoyed. She was wide awake for Susie’s healing/massage visit yesterday – so that was excellent and seemed extremely cheerful – giving me a huge smile as I left.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Saturday, 27 November 2010

England’s Leonardo .. our hanging Hooke?

Skulduggery or Restoration – which one will out? This irascible, somewhat deformed man, whose incredible mind had led him as a child from the Isle of Wight to London, to the scientific community and through sheer hard work and brilliance had shone through and been accepted as assistant to a number of leading scientists, before becoming the Curator of Experiments to this coterie.

The age of global exploration had occurred, now – the 17th century - was the turn for learned minds to record new things and experiment with all things ... yet political and royal intrigue would influence the rise and fall of men.


Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519): self-portrait in red chalk c 1512 - 1515

Unrest was stirring, Royalty was loved or hated, the Parliamentarians were on the rise ... clans and families were divided in these uncertain times. Oliver Cromwell rose to the fore as Protector of England (1651 – 1658), Charles I was beheaded at the climax of the English Civil War 1649, before Charles II, after exile on the Continent, was restored to the throne in 1660.

These were the times into which Robert Hooke (1635 – 1703)was born. He was the weak youngest child, of the local Royalist curate and schoolteacher, who showed prodigious interest in observation, mechanical works, and drawing (making his own materials from coal, chalk and ruddle (iron ore)) ... writing journals, illustrating them and keeping records: showing an early scientific mind.

He was sent to London, aged 13, to take up an apprenticeship, purchased out of a legacy from his father on his death in 1648, with Peter Lely, a Dutch portrait painter to the English Crown, before being accorded recognition, as a child with an energetic mind, by the scholarly headmaster of Westminster School, Dr Busby, who accepted him into his group of students.

Young Hooke quickly mastered Latin and Green, made some study of Hebrew, and mastered Euclid’s Elements, while continuing his study of mechanics. The Elements is a mathematical and geometric treatise consisting of 13 books written by Euclid, a Greek mathematician, in Alexandria circa 300 BC. It has proven instrumental in the development of logic and modern science.

Busby had other illustrious pupils, including Christopher Wren, Robert South and John Dryden. In 1653, Hooke obtained a chorister’s place Christ Church, Oxford after taking twenty lessons on the organ! He was employed as a ‘chemical assistant’ to the natural philosopher Robert Boyle, who was constructing, operating and demonstrating his ‘new fangled’ air pump.

The Invisible College was the precursor to The Royal Society, consisting of natural philosophers (scientists) including Boyle, Hooke and Wren. (1646/7)

Hooke’s time at Oxford cemented his life-long passion for science, while his tutors and the friends he made were of paramount importance to him throughout his career. This was a time, the 1650s, when the Royalists were acutely conscious of the turmoil and uncertainty of the times: there was a sense of urgency in preserving the scientific work they perceived as being threatened by the Protectorate. This scientific group went on to form the nucleus of ‘The Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge’, or as we know it today The Royal Society.

When Charles II returned to the throne in 1660 – he became a patron of the arts and sciences, founded The Royal Observatory, and supported The Royal Society, whose early members included Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle, and Sir Isaac Newton.

Charles II was the personal patron of Sir Christopher Wren, the architect who is credited with the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666, and the Royal Hospital Chelsea (Chelsea Flower Show location), which Charles founded as a home for retired soldiers in 1682.


The silk on a spider's web forming multiple elastic catenaries: The application of the catenary to the construction of arches is due to Robert Hooke, who discovered it in the context of the rebuilding of St Paul's Cathedral.

Hooke, whose great friend Sir Christopher Wren always supported him, was appointed Curator of Experiments to the Royal Society in 1662 and his agile mind originated much, postulating scientific achievements, recording each and every experiment for the Royal Society.

He was a genius amongst men – he was an Architect, Surveyor, Engineer, Chemist, Horologist, Physicist, Astronomer, Painter ... if his darting mind had time to complete his thoughts, and if he was not recorder for the Royal Society, we would not be so enriched today – nor would we have his story to tell.


Remains of the Cathedral after the Great Fire of London (1666) drawn by Thomas Wyck, c. 1673

The play, the play ... I am reminded I need to tell you the story and reason for the script (see my previous post: Hanging Hooke) ... as extraordinary as the man himself. The play opens with the booming voice of the auctioneer – One Million Pounds ... going, going ..... "Ah! Ladies and Gentlemen, there has been a development, Lot 189 ...... "

Why? Lot 189 was Hooke’s long lost Folio, found in the back of an old cupboard that had been casually handed to the auctioneers’ appraiser as he was leaving a Hampshire country house! Three hundred years later the evidence as to Hooke’s potential as a scientific genius was to hand.

The excitement at the find of the dusty Folio has been palpable – the Royal Society keen to preserve the papers under their auspices and the thought of that knowledge being lost again to some private museum was too much to think about.


Godfrey Kneller’s 1689 portrait of Isaac Newton(age 46)("Newton the unscrupulous" - perhaps? - he loathed Hooke)

Going, going and not gone ... the auctioneer’s voice boomed out ... “Lot 189 has been withdrawn”. Expectant gasps within the hall heard that after negotiation Hooke’s folio was going to back to the Royal Society where it belonged and from where it could be studied - the three hundred year old puzzle would finally be pieced together.

His time had come – Robert Hooke could take his place in the annals of English history at The Royal Society as only we can do in 2010 making his papers available for us all to peruse – via the wonderful technical device of ‘turning pages’.

What exactly happened to Hooke’s papers, his drawings and any portraits that would have surely been painted at that time before his vilification we shall never know; however Sir Isaac Newton’s abhorrence of Hooke is well known and when The Royal Society looked for new premises in 1710 after Hooke’s death ... is it possible that all semblance of record s were destroyed then ... ?

The Royal Society in the 20th and 21st centuries however had other ideas and in their reconstruction of the Minutes of the Experiments and Meetings of that time – left stubs ... so that if the papers should ever come to light, they could be restored to their rightful place: forward thinking!


Sir Christopher Wren (aged 68) in Godfrey Kneller's 1711 portrait; (Wren was always a good friend to Hooke)

So Hooke hung for a while ... now he is being rewound and reconstructed... his papers have been found, his first burial place is known – but his remains and others were removed and reburied; two sites have been identified and if his remains can be found then the forensic anthropologists may be able to conduct facial and skeletal reconstruction – as they did for the Sir John at Stirling Castle.

So Hooke will once again be hung in pride of place amongst The Royal Society’s eminent Fellows, his papers restored to their rightful place, appropriate commemorative plaques have been installed in Westminster Abbey, at St Paul’s Cathedral and at the Monument will all remind us of our ‘English Leonardo’ – the man who for twenty years was one of our fathers' of modern science.

Finally rest in peace Robert Hooke – your time has come ... your story is being told (even if we have to decipher your coded papers!), which will be held within the annals of history forever.
As no contemporary portrait of Robert Hooke seems to have survived from the seventeenth century, this one is a reconstruction from the descriptions by his colleagues Aubrey and Waller. It shows him with a spring, pocket watch, fossil and map of the City of London after the Great Fire of 1666.

He helped to survey and plan the rebuilding. The sky on the left indicates his interest in astronomy. The original is an oil painting on board by Rita Greer, history painter, 2004. This was digitized by Rita and sent via email to the Department of Engineering Science, Oxford University, where it was subsequently uploaded to Wikimedia.
Picture extracted via Wikipedia - Robert Hooke


Further References:
The Royal Society - Hooke Folio
Bonham's (Auctioneers) Press Release - with picture of folio & Hooke's writing
Oxford University - Department of Science ... List of Hooke's achievements
Hanging Hooke: the play - Take the Space - Theatre Group

Dear Mr Postman – it’s been a quiet time .. my mother does come too and has enjoyed Susie’s company and Reiki practise; Sussex is now getting the white stuff! flurries of gentle flakes are falling ... Britain doesn’t like snow much! Snow in November is rare .. my mother said she was warm and cozy – I just want to jump in too!!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Hanging Hooke ....

What are they hanging, who are the hanging, why .. and when? Good questions you might ask! This is a three hundred and fifty year old mystery, where tantalising pieces of information have been found within the annals of history, and where suddenly another surprise comes to light ... if you like dusty folios of the unexpected?

This is a post of two halves .. the first a play, also in two halves, then the background to the whys, whens and wherefores ... it is a murder .. but of a person’s reputation .. not of a man; it is a research of today for that man’s rightful place in society, correcting the historical records.



Hanging Hooke - A new play by Siobhán Nicholas: “Christopher Wren loved him; Isaac Newton loathed him”.
A reworked detail from a painting of Lucas Cranach [ Adam and Eve]; Siobhan advises that she asked Ken, their graphics designer of Good Dog Design, to find them a tree from the Garden of Eden: the apple referring to knowledge, curiosity and the Newton story.


The play opens in 2006 with the countdown of the auctioneer’s gavel ... knock on wood ... on wood ... on wood ... the booming voice announcing “Sale of Lot 189 at the reserve price of £1,000,000”, an air of expectation, the auction room chatter ceasing, everyone looks around ... who are the likely bidders ... will this important Folio be lost to the nation?

We, the audience in 2010, also wait in eager anticipation to see a new play, written by Siobhan Nicholas, put on by an innovative theatre group “Take the Space”, inspired to find out more about Robert Hooke (1635 - 1703), this man they call “The English Leonardo”.



An auctioneer's gavel

The stage is set ... the central square displays Hooke’s writing – taken from his Folio – a few props .. easels with pictures, some stacked up, a microscope, a telescope, tables with ‘treasures’, a small travelling chest... depicting the sparse times of the 1600s.

A play of two halves – where the youthful Hooke’s guardian gives us the background on his childhood, his illness and the political upheaval of the times; young Hooke’s total engrossment in learning about all facets of life from an early age ... his schooling, while having the freedom to roam his island (the Isle of Wight)– the whole of nature .. the sky, the sea and shore, valleys, fields and meadows with all its flora and fauna.

We are introduced to his early ‘play’, experimentation and research – where he spent hours looking at rock pools .. both for their beauty, the invertebrates, crustaceans, pebbles and rock formations, the refraction of the water, the tidal movements ... and then he recorded and drew all he saw. He experimented with clock-making, woodwork, and all things mechanical too .. searching to find more about the heavens above and the earth below.



Tidal Pool

This young fertile mind was ready for more .. so on the death of his father, he used his inheritance, at age 13, to buy an apprenticeship in London – the centre of learning. Here the actor changes from the ‘guardian’ to the misshapen Hooke – reminding us of his ‘broken’ body ... reminding me of the hunch-back of Notre Dame ... not so hunchback, but hobbling and lopsided: disfigured.

Chris Barnes, as Hooke, puts on a convincing performance, as he goes about his days as curator of this eminent group of scientists. We now begin to see his irascibility appear – this genius, who could apply himself to so many disciplines and experiments, as well as record his research within the auspices of the fledgling Royal Society.



Chris Barnes: performer for Hanging Hooke

The brilliant scientists were often overwrought keeping up with Hooke, justifying their results against Hooke’s brilliant mind, which would come at the problem from a different perspective. These men included Sir Christopher Wren, Sir Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle .. to a man: polymaths, scientists various, philosophers diverse ... a challenging time for all.

Hooke wondered aloud who his friends were – were they true – in those times of switching allegiances, or the powerful and rich demanding sworn loyalty .. men having no choice but to conform.

We see Hooke’s friends waiver under these demands, but such were the signs of the times – disagree with the mighty and they would be thrown into society’s wilderness of sleaze and poverty, their access to funding, to equipment, to like minds would be removed at an instant.

The auctioneer’s gavel beating down at the start of the play ... the countdown to the auction of the Hooke Folio ... the announcement that Lot 189 was for sale for £1,000,000 ... reminds us that three hundred years after his death we know very little about Robert Hooke and his works, other than a few references and deductive thought that there must have been more to this man.

The Royal Society records show that Hooke played a full part as Curator of Experiments and early on as the Secretary, keeping the Minutes of all experiments held and recorded: not as we would do today in a separate Corporate Secretarial Meeting held round a Board table.



Hooke's Microscope

He was appointed ‘Curator by Office’ for life, where his role was to demonstrate experiments from his own methods or at the suggestion of members. Amongst his earliest demonstrations were discussions of the nature of air, the noting of the difference between venous and arterial blood; experiments on the subject of gravity, the measuring of barometric pressure and many more.

Instruments were devised to measure a second of arc in the movement of the sun or other stars, to measure the strength of gunpowder, and in particular an engine to cut teeth for watches, much finer than could be managed by hand, an invention which was, by Hooke’s death, in constant use.

In 1663 and 1664, Hooke produced his microscopical observations, subsequently collated in the published work Micrographia in 1665, which Samuel Pepys (yes, the Diarist), announced that Micrographia “is the most ingenious book that he had ever read in his life” – some endorsement.



Title page of Micrographia

We know of Hooke through Hooke’s Law - the law of elasticity; we know he worked at the Royal Society – but there was little else, some references, the beginnings of an autobiography – but who was this invisible man? What happened, why was he no longer represented historically, where are the portraits .... Going, going NOT GONE ... but where did the Folio come from and what happened to it? AND more importantly what will we find out about our Hanging Hooke? I leave you gently swaying for part two ......

Dear Mr Postman – do you think I’ve been too unkind to my readers? My mother will laugh when I explain what I’m doing .. she would appreciate the joke. She had a treat this week and she was awake fortunately .. her daughter (me!) dressed in Medieval costume, pretending to play the Mandolin?! – fortunately our replacement therapist, Susie, while Janice travels to Brazil, Australia and California .. lucky for some! – can play and gave Mum a short recital .. I hope we have more .. and I shall feature them on here.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Take That Space - home
Take That Space - Theatre Group - people
Take That Space - Theatre Group - plays
Robert Hooke - Wikipedia - please contribute to Wikipedia .. small amounts much appreciated!
Wikipedia for many other links and useful information.