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At number 12 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”. This is one of my favourite Beatles songs, not just of 1965 but of any period. I simply adore this song. It is, in  my opinion, pure perfection. Instrumentally, if features the first use of a sitar on a Beatles’ song (and probably on any western pop music song). Lyrically, it is both profound and light; leaving the listener wondering at the end of the song – what happens next?

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At number 12 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”

As the screen capture above to the Rolling Stone blurb says, “Norwegian Wood” was John Lennon writing about an affair, but in a way to try and hide it from his wife. The song is only ten lines long, but it is ten lines of perfection. It is a mainly Lennon composition, with Paul McCartney claiming that he contributed the two lines “She told me…..”, and the title. But, in an interview just before his death, Lennon claimed it was his song entirely, with no contribution from McCartney.

I suspect McCartney’s version of events is more true; even when a song was nearly entirely a creation of one of them, the other would often suggest ideas or word changes in the studio, as they were recording the song. This went on even right up until the end, when they were barely speaking to each other outside of the studio. So, with this song, I suspect that McCartney did indeed suggest a line or two and a word here and there.

I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me…
She showed me her room, isn’t it good, norwegian wood?

She asked me to stay and she told me to sit anywhere,
So I looked around and I noticed there wasn’t a chair.

I sat on a rug, biding my time, drinking her wine
We talked until two and then she said, “It’s time for bed”

She told me she worked in the morning and started to laugh.
I told her I didn’t and crawled off to sleep in the bath

And when I awoke, I was alone, this bird had flown
So I lit a fire, isn’t it good, norwegian wood.

Here is a video of this mesmerising song. Enjoy!

I recently went to Douala, the Cameroon. On my way here my flight took me via Casablanca, and with the timings of my arrival in Casablanca and the departure for Douala I had about 20 hours. So, I booked myself into a hotel for (part of) the night, and in a very tired state the following morning tried to explore a bit of this magical city.

I had been to Morocco before, to Marrakesh. I have to say though, I found Marrakesh a bit of a disappointment, I don’t really know why but I did. What little I saw of Casablanca during the 4-5 hours I had led me to conclude that it is a more interesting city than Marrakesh, and being close to the sea is always a bonus in my opinion.

The first thing I decided to walk to see was the Hassan II mosque, and I was not disappointed. This spectacular mosque is in a spectacular location, it sits on a promontory overlooking the Atlantic ocean. Here is a map of (the central part of) Casablanca showing where it is.

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The Hassan II mosque is on the Atlantic shore of Casablanca.

This next photograph shows essentially the first view that I got of the mosque as I approached it from the East. It was about 10:30am but already over 30C, so lots of children were jumping into the se off the rocks around the mosque.

The mosque was only completed in 1993, so is pretty modern. It is the largest mosque in Morocco, and has the tallest minaret, at 210 metres, of any mosque in the world. The designs on the facades of the building are exquisite, it really is a beautiful building, and its location near the sea only adds to its beauty in my opinion. I only wish my schedule had been there to take photographs near sunset, it would look spectacular as the late afternoon sun lit up its marble walls.

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The Hassan II mosque is on the seashore of Casablanca. It was completed in 1993 and is the largest mosque in Morocco.

If you are ever in Casablanca I would definitely include this near the top of your sight-seeing list. It is well worth it. Just try to go on a cooler day than I did!

 

This story caught my attention in the last few weeks. It is from the Universe Today website, and here is the link to the story. The two exoplanets in the story, TRAPPIST-1b and TRAPPIST-1c, are only 40 light-years away, which by cosmic standards is very close. They have been studied in near-infrared light using the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), which was put onto Hubble during a last servicing mission in May 2009.

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This story appeared recently on the Universe Today website.

By studying the planets in near-infrared light we can look at how sunlight is absorbed by different gases in a planet’s atmosphere. This method was pioneered by Gerard Kuiper working in the 1940s. This article mentions that the atmospheres of these two exoplanets have been shown to be “compact” like the Earth and Venus, rather than “puffy” like the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn.

How can we determine this from near-infrared studies done here? Rather than looking at reflected light from the parent star, instead these studies used the passing of the two planets in front of a background star (not the host star). By looking at the absorption lines produced by the two planets’ atmospheres, not only can the gases in them be determined, but by looking at the details of the absorption lines one can determine the temperature and pressure of the gas. This is an example of how powerful a technique spectroscopy is in determining the physical nature of gases.

To find two planets so nearby which could potentially harbour life is quite exciting. I am surprised this has not been a bigger story in the press.

 

 

 

 

Today I thought I would share this pretty famous song by The Mamas & the Papas – “California Dreaming'”. This is a hippy dippy song, released in December 1965. Actually, before I looked up when it was released, I would have guessed it was 1967, as it seems to fit perfectly with that year/summer of love. But not, it was the end of 1965, so ahead of its time in many ways.

The Mamas & the Papas were made up of John Phillips and Michelle Phillips (husband and wife), and Denny Doherty and Cass Elliot. “California Dreaming'” was written in 1963 by the husband and wife songwriting team when they were living in New York. “California Dreamin'” was only a moderate hit when it was released;  reaching number 4 in the USA but only number 27 in the UK. However, it has since gone on to become one of the best known songs of the mid-1960s.

All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day
I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A.
California dreaming on such a winter’s day

Stepped into a church I passed along the way
Well, I got down on my knees and I pretend to pray
You know the preacher, like the cold, he knows I’m gonna stay
California dreaming on such a winter’s day

All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day
If I didn’t tell her I could leave today
California dreaming on such a winter’s day
On such a winter’s day, on such a winter’s day

The song is number 89 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 500 greatest songs. Here is a video of this great song. Enjoy!

At number 13 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Revolution”. This is a great John Lennon rock ‘n’ roll song, but one with a message. In fact, for those of you who are not that familiar with The Beatles, there are two versions of “Revolution”. There is the rock ‘n’ roll version which was released as the B-side to the single “Hey Jude”, but there is also a slow, bluesy version on The Beatles’ White Album. In fact, the slow version was recorded before the fast version. They sound very different, so if you have not heard both I suggest you try to find the album version.

“Revolution” was inspired by current events. 1968 is often thought of as one of the years which has seen the most uprising and unrest of any year in the second half of the 20th Century. With the Vietnam War spiralling out of control, riots on the streets of Paris, unrest in Prague, the murder of Martin Luther King in April, and other world events, Lennon decided to write about them in “Revolution”. He had been political for a number of years, but was always prevented from saying what was on his mind by their manager Brian Epstein. With Epstein’s death in August 1967, Lennon felt the liberty to vent his views.

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At number 13 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest Beatles songs is “Revolution”

Here are the lyrics to this fantastic song.

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world

But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know that you can count me out

Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright
Alright, alright

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We’re all doing what we can

But if you want money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell you is brother you have to wait

Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright
Alright, alright, al…

You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You’d better free your mind instead

But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao
You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow

Don’t you know know it’s gonna be alright
Alright, alright

Alright, alright
Alright, alright
Alright, alright
Alright, alright

This is a live studio performance of the fast version, from The Beatles’ VEVO channel, so hopefully it will not disappear. Enjoy!

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In mid-July (2016) I went to the famous seaside resort of Blackpool. It was my first ever visit to this town; growing up in Pembrokeshire I’ve never felt a need to visit any seaside resorts as Pembrokeshire is more beautiful than most seaside areas. But, I got a cheap deal for 3 nights in a hotel in Blackpool, so I thought “why not?”. It is a bit of a drive to Blackpool from Cardiff, in theory it should take about 4-5 hours; but as it involves the M5 and the M6 it often takes longer. As I was heading up during the summer, on the first weekend of the school holidays for many, it took a lot longer. About 7 hours!

There were lots of roadworks, and the ensuring traffic jams. Not a nice drive. It was even worse coming back; it was one of the hottest days of the summer so far, and with the high temperatures there were lots of vehicle breakdowns. Both the M6 and M5 resembled city centres at times, with the cars barely moving for tens of minutes. I ended up coming off at several service stations to try to let the traffic calm down before I continued. The journey back took me 12 hours!

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Blackpool tower taken from the South, on the promenade, near the Central Pier.

The hotel where I was staying had definitely seen better days. I guess that is why they were offering a cheap deal in the summer. Unfortunately they had no parking, so after unloading my bags I went off in search of some. I found a car park just up the road, about 200 metres from the hotel. However, this parking was right next to the Winter Gardens, and this apparently presented a problem. There ensued one of the most bizarre exchanges I think I’ve ever had.

The car park attendant : Are you here for the darts?

Me : Um, I had no idea that there were any darts going on.

Him (with a look of either disdain or incredulity) : Well, you’ll have to pay extra then.

Me : Oh, ok. And, if I were here for the darts?

Him : Same deal mate!

At which point I decided it wasn’t worth asking why he wanted to know whether I was there for the darts or not……. It turned out that the town had been taken over by darts fans because the Winter Gardens was hosting the World Matchplay Championships. The entrance to this event was 150 metres from the hotel; I didn’t venture in once.

Anyway, back to the main point of this post, which is Blackpool and its tower. Blackpool was, for many decades, the main holiday destination for large numbers of people living in the north-west of England; places like Manchester and the surrounding town. I don’t know how popular it was with people from Liverpool, presumably they tended to go to the North Wales coast; and people from Leeds and Sheffield would presumably have tended to go to Scarborough. Does anyone know?

With the advent of cheap package holidays to Spain, Blackpool has seen a huge slump in its popularity, hence why hotels are offering cheap deals in July. I am not sure if I will ever return; although I liked it, it does not have the beauty of places like Pembrokeshire or the Gower peninsula, which are closer to Cardiff. I was, however, keen to see the famous Blackpool Tower. Having seen and been up the more famous Tour Eiffel, I was interested to see how they compared. Here are some photographs, so judge for yourself.

Blackpool tower was opened in 1894. The wikipedia page about it says it was “inspired” by the Eiffel Tower. Inspired? I’d say that it’s a copy of the Eiffel Tower, albeit not as tall or majestic. I think if I were M. Eiffel I would have sued for copying my design! The Eiffel Tower was opened in 1889, and stands 324 metres tall, and when built it became the tallest man-made structure in the World. The Blackpool Tower, on the other hand, is 158 metres tall, less than half the height of the Eiffel Tower; and is far less impressive in my opinion. Still, it has become the most recognised attraction in Blackpool, and I glad to have seen it. I did not bother to go up it; maybe that gives me a reason to return to Blackpool again in the future. But, I suspect that I will return to Paris first😉

Today I thought I would share this great anti-war song – “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. It was released in September 1969, and is specifically about the lucky men who were born into families which, somehow, meant that they were not called up for the draft to fight in the Vietnam war.

These were the senators’ sons, the millionaires’ sons, the fortunate sons. Sons like George W. Bush, who miraculously found himself in the National Guard, far away from any danger, rather than in Vietnam fighting. I wonder why? Oh, maybe because his father, George H. Bush, had the political clout and importance to make sure his precious son didn’t go and fight in the jungles of Vietnam, unlike the poor white and black men who were drafted there.

As the draft went on, it became more and more apparent how many fortunate sons were avoiding going to war, thanks to their family’s influence in bending the rules. And how many poor blacks and whites had no choice, they were forced to go and would be jailed should they refuse. The Vietnam war was wrong on so many levels, but the inequity of the draft was certainly one of its wrongs.

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“Fortunate Son” was released in September 1969, and talks of the privileged few who, somehow, avoided the Vietnam war draft.

“Fortunate Son” is rated at 99 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. It really is a great song, I am surprised that I haven’t blogged about it before.

Some folks are born, made to wave the flag
Ooo, they’re red, white and blue
And when the band plays “Hail to the Chief”
Ooo, they point the cannon at you, Lord

It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no senator’s son, son
It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate one, no

Some folks are born, silver spoon in hand
Lord, don’t they help themselves, y’all
But when the taxman comes to the door
Lord, the house looks like a rummage sale, yeah

It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no millionaire’s son, no, no
It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate one, no

Yeah, yeah
Some folks inherit star spangled eyes
Ooh, they send you down to war, Lord
And when you ask ’em, “How much should we give?”
Ooh, they only answer “More! More! More!”, y’all

It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no military son, son
It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate one, one
It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate one, one

Here is a video of the song. Enjoy!

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