Wednesday, 29 February 2012

February

February Review

(John Braithwaite picture used in Herald, owned by Jared Earle, reproduced with permission of Duncan Lunan)



John Braithwaite

“Life is far too bloody fragile. And random. One day we might understand the universe, but until then we can only wonder and rage. We don’t get long enough to figure it out, no matter if we live to be one hundred and fifty. John Braithwaite [came across] as sharp, observant and outstandingly generous.”
Jon Arnold, 6th February 2012 


John Braithwaite died. That feels so inconceivable a sentence to write about a man who seemed so alive. Yet, alas, the passing of time shows mercy to none, and so it was that on the 5th February 2012 we lost a great man, at the mere age of sixty-seven. 


But who was John Braithwaite? Incomparable inventor, insatiable intellectual, avid astronomer, respectable raconteur, sophisticated SNPer, faithful friend: John was all of these, but that doesn’t tell even a quarter of the story of the man who was Scotland’s only professional telescope maker at the time of his death. But, as Duncan Lunan said, “there was a great deal more to him than that. He was also an adviser to David Hockney, a former parliamentary candidate, a musician, an expert on Galileo, a pirate radion DJ and the builder of the first astronomically aligned stone circle in Britain for 3000 years.” (Herald, 16/2/12)



Jared Earle’s wonderful opening at the funeral listed several men, all of them the same man, and each listener could connect specific parts to specific memories.



In his interview with Winterwind magazine last year, and again in his tribute to John in the Glaswegian, Duncan recalled meeting the man he would remain close to for nearly fifty years:

"We next met at my birthday party, where he said,I noticed that you have a collection of Victorian astronomy books, but you don’t have Herschel’sOutlines. I thought you might like this mint 7th edition with your University’s crest on it” – a pretty good way of getting my attention! As with Chris Boyce, we became big friends and after I graduated, I spent the winter of 1968-69 in Somerset with John and others, one of the most intense creative periods of my life. That was when I formulated the Politics of Survival, which has been the core of most of my work since."


I remember our first meeting, at Duncan’s birthday (though I forget which one!) one night in the Bon Accord. It was a while ago, as I was still drinking, and in the midst of a writers storyline daydream, I was brought back to reality by someone yelling my name. Jamie McLean, organiser of The Jon Evans Project, in fact. He was discussing 1950s Hollywood with John, and had forgotten the name of someone who, I regret to say, has been since lost to the mists of time. Jamie is a Film Enclyopedia, able to bring up any actors CV and his favourite quotes of said actor in a moments instance, so I am more inclined to believe he was just trying to bring me into the conversation. He’s a good people person. 


So John asks me my opinion on what they were discussing. And as luck would have it, it’s something I have very little knowledge on. Akira Kurosawa. 


There’s an old Lincoln saying – better to remain silent and be thought a fool than speak and remove all doubt, but it is rather impolite in public. 


“There’s a lot of rain in his films” I said. I know, I’m groaning too in retrospect. 



John laughed. “Kurosawa could never have enough rain” he said. And he gave what I can only call a knowing smile. 


He switched the conversation to Kubrick, on whom I was on more solid ground, and we wound up entering a discussion about directorial habits and Hitchcock, which is far more my element. 


It has been said of John that he would be “the smartest man in a room full of geniuses”. I can certainly believe that. It showed from that first conversation. He had listened to each response and judged the precise response to lead it on to steady ground from its earlier nervous start. There was a vast intelligence burning away there, which could easily have snubbed out this young fool, but instead encouraged. I think that speaks volumes of the man. 


Several times since the news of his death, his voice saying those words – “Kurosawa could never have enough rain” – have repeated in my head. It’s a quote which loses in translation on the page, it’s the knowing, calculating tone which makes it. 


Though as I was to learn, he wouldn’t get that upset about someone being in the dark about a topic, because that would give him the chance to tell you about it! It didn’t matter the subject matter, you would learn a new angle or fact just from listening to John Braithwaite discuss it. He was a genius who would try to make other people feel better and smarter. 


Wherever John went, writes Duncan, he attracted attention and did things with style. (Glaswegian)


We would meet several times over the year, but not fully of design: we shared a good friend in Duncan Lunan, so would wind up seeing each other at Duncan’s events. It was only in 2010 that I learnt that the man I had infrequently chatted to, and Duncans best friend John Braithwaite, were in fact one and the same person. He would treat new people and the odd acquaintance (like me) with the same respect he would have for friends he’d know fifty years. When me and Mandy last saw him, in September at Duncans contract signing, he seemed full of the same verve and spirit he always had. 


The same cancer that took Granda George saw him off. At his wake, friends spoke of how normal he had seemed at Christmas time. He only went into hospital in mid January, was diagnosed with liver cancer soon after and given three months. He barely got a fortnight. When Jim Campbell phoned him on the 31st, he was bedridden. A man whom Jim aptly put “would get out of bed with the Plague if you needed him”. The sudden decline, and death, took people so by surprise, that many dear friends only found out about his health after he had died. I only got a chance to tell Mum – who was a long time friend of his – about John’s cancer on the Saturday night, and on the Monday I had to let her know he’d actually died. 


Tributes poured in from all corners: internet forums, Facebook, newspapers. It was a mark of the man on how many lives he had touched, and will continue to touch. I’ve seen people who only knew him personally as the man who helped fix their TV twenty years ago, distraught. 


Gems of his show up everywhere. In the Chronology of ASTRA online, we get:

We also had to produce printed copies of the Memorandum & Articles. John Braithwaite stepped in and saved us a lot of money by printing them on the Gestetner he used for political activity. Noticing that the Memorandum empowers us to strike medals, he still wants us to award him one – "Nothing too ostentatious, about the size of a dustbin lid and encrusted with rhinestones..." (Lunan)

The funeral was as near standing room only as I’ve seen. Only Bob’s came close. What seemed to be two hundred people were in a crematorium room with seating for fifty. Old friends gave us their memories of John. One which made the entire room laugh, and summed many endearing qualities of the man, was the story of his first meeting with one of the mourners, which ended with John climbing out of his cottage window to shake the mans hand, as John had misplaced his front door keys! A full Jazz band saw him off.

“His inventions made the world a better place. Anyone who knew John was truly blessed. A real genius.”
Christina McKelvie

His work in the realm of 3D televisions is astounding and remarkable, and I feel the Hamilton Advertiser understated it slightly when it called it “potentially revolutionary”. He had also come up with a plan for “solar-powered systems with applications from protecting the Earth from incoming asteroids and comets”. [Lunan, Herald] Speaking from my long background in social causes, the idea which impressed me the most was his plans for water distillation in Africa. The great thing about all of these ideas was that they were brilliant, they would work (and will continue to work), and were sitting right there, unnoticed until someone like John spotted it.

John Braithwaite was many things, many great things, and the world will mourn his passing. We need people like him in our world. His dear friends – Duncan, Jim, Jamie, et all – will miss him intensely. I shall miss him. He had a presence which permeated beyond the mere times he was in the room within our social circles. The gap left behind is immeasurable.

If you wish to read more on the incomparable John Braithwaite you can do so at the following:

http://www.heraldscotland.com/mobile/comment/obituaries/john-braithwaite.16702184?_=737d9293c54057e2949a5aa1055216495d2db433 A truncated version of Duncan Lunans obituary for John which appeared in the Herald dated 16/2/2012.

http://www.childrenfromthesky.com/johnbraithwaite.asp Duncan’s personal tribute.

http://www.brompton.co.uk/education/page.asp?p=6792 The Optically Unchallenged John Braithwaite

http://www.hamiltonadvertiser.co.uk/news/local-news/hamilton-news/2012/02/09/hamilton-inventor-dies-51525-30292494/ Hamilton Advertiser obituary

http://www.astraglasgow.com/Chronology.html Chronology of ASTRA

http://www.snpclydesdaleca.info/memory.html George Sutherlands tribute on behalf of Clydesdale SNP

http://education.down2earth.eu/news/67 An appearance in the news by John, on meteors.

http://www.hamiltonadvertiser.co.uk/news/local-news/hamilton-news/2010/08/19/inventor-john-braithwaite-harnesses-power-of-uvf-rays-to-help-third-world-51525-27088828/ Harnessing UVF rays to distill water.

http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001534221896&sk=wall John’s Facebook wall, with many tributes. I direct your eyes to Jared Earle’s eulogy amongst many other heartfelt comments.

Read all of that, and you will be closing to understand 1% of the man. The word genius is thrown about too often these days, yet I have no hesitation in repeating it to describe John Braithwaite. He was the type of man, for whom the word was invented to describe. His influence, comradeship, and genius will outlive the rest of us.

**

In 1993, a plan carrying the Zambian national football team crashed, killing everybody on board. A fragmented Zambian side reached the final of the next Nations Cup, but a team well placed for their debut World Cup wound up not qualifying by a point. Until February 2012, this was the single defining moment in Zambian football.

In 2012, they still haven’t made that World Cup debut, but they have now won the Nations Cup, nearly twenty years on from that terrible tragedy. “Fate” said Dave Beattie, “if you look at where the 1993 tragedy occurred.”

Zambia have always been a hotbed of potential let down by inexperience and nerves. Now they have won the big one, time will tell if they can build from this splendid success.

“They should be seeded [for the WCQs] after their win” bemoaned Gavin Mills, but alas, the draw was made last year.

**

Asked by Time to Change this month: How to respond if someone asks “How are you?” I feel the best way to answer such questions is with honesty. You don’t need to get the violins out, a mere expression of “not being ok” when you are not is fine. Loved ones will know anyway, but appreciate the honesty, and friends will accept, for all of us have times where we aren’t.

**

A YouGov poll from last month ranked our post-war PMs. Thatcher, Churchill and Blair taking the podium places are no surprise at this point in time. Harold Wilson rising to 4th place, however, is, and a further sign of the 1964-70 governments rehabilitation.

**

Twitter moments:

“You cannot freeze pay for anyone at a time when inflation is at 5%. It'll increase homelessness, decrease spending and hurt every sector.”
Seumas Skinner



“The people making the decisions wouldnt be effected by it, which reminds me of 1928 actually.”
Michael S. Collins, 29/11/11

**



Fabio Capello left the England job. Jon Arnold responded on his treatment by the English media with the following brilliant outburst:

He's been portrayed as a know nothing foreigner whereas one look at his record should point out that he's forgotten more about football than any of the journalists criticising him will ever know. England's one of the richest, most exciting leagues in the world but as a football culture it's insular and values mindless physicality over intelligence. And yet it still rejects one of the most decorated coaches of recent football history because those in power and the press think they know better than him, because the English ideal of football is the best.

**

In tribute to Frank Carson, the wonderful Irish comic who died this month, I repeat my favourite Carson gag:

“There was two Irishman building a space rocket, and the man from NASA came to investigate it. The NASA man said: “It’s very good but it’s too big for the moon.” “Aha” said the First Irishman, “We’re not going to the moon, we’re travelling to the Sun!”

“The Sun?” said your man from NASA, “Are you mad? You’ll be burnt to cinders.”
“Aha!” said the Second Man, “We thought of that already, we’re going at night.”



And mum’s favourite? “I figured that my wife might not like me when I had a heart attack and she wrote for an ambulance.”



I stole many a bad joke from Frank, but never had his timing. It truly was the way he told them.

**

Guilty pleasures? There are no such thing.

“I like it. It doesn’t need any ‘ironic’ defences.” Jon Arnold.

“I have no guilty pleasures, I have pleasures. I wouldn’t listen to music if I didn’t like it.” Me.

“Indeed. David Bowie's The Laughing Gnome is one of life's greatest pleasures known to man.” Tom Jordan

“It's worth it for the knowingly crap and brilliantly delivered London School of Eco-Gnomics pun alone.” Jon Arnold 

And on they went into the night.

**


Dying Generation of Hollywood (Rainer, De Havilland)

With the death of silent movie star Pola Illery last week aged 103, and that of screenwriters Federica Sagor Maas in January, people have been mourning the permanent passing of Hollywood’s golden age. It’s true that so many are sadly gone for good – not counting their cinematic immortality – but the many have become the few. Investigating, I’ve had a look into who from the early era of Hollywood are still with us.

Luise Rainer, the first Two Time Oscar winner, is still with us, aged 102. She was also well enough to give an interview last week and critiqued the Oscars last year. She won the Best Actress for The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and The Good Earth (1937), and was also married for a time to Clifford Odets, but nobody is perfect.

Mary Carlisle, 100, was a favourite of Cecil B. DeMille and played the beau of Jackie Cooper, as well as co-starred in three Bing Crosby films.

Alicia Rhett, 97, who played India Wilkes in Gone With The Wind.

Herman Wouk, 97, writer of the Caine Mutiny.

Eli Wallach, who frankly needs no introduction, and who celebrated his 96th birthday last December. One of the finest character actors in America.

A man by the name of Kirk Douglas. You may have heard of him.

Though in failing health for several years, Zsa Zsa Gabor is still with us at 95, and showing more fight for survival than some half her age. Also in poor health is the wonderful Celeste Holm (94) of All About Eve fame, yet she still managed to act in College Debts last year.

And the great sisters, Olivia De Havilland and Joan Fontaine, are still with us, though they sadly haven’t spoken to each other in several decades. Olivia was in Gone With The Wind, Joan in Rebecca. Two fine actresses whose personal issue has a tragic tone to it. Olivia is still giving interviews, Joan is a reclusive. Both remain legends.

Other actors of that age bracket are still with us but started out after the Second World War. That’s not a comprehensive list – no list ever is – but it does show, I’d hope, that is foolhardy to mourn the passing of an era completely when we can still cherish those still alive as much as we cherish those who have left us.

**

Describe a story you have recently written in one sentence?

"Chocolate bars, a town that shared a secret, and a murder that no one could have committed."
It’s the chocolate that sells it, clearly.

**

Definition: contrarian, someone who always takes opposite view: see Advocate, Devils; trolling

**

Lord Lucan

With the recent interest in Lord Lucan coming to the forefront once more, I feel we might see a sense of closure coming on that case in the very near future. My gut feeling is that the man is dead, though recently, after living the rest of his life in Africa, and with his accomplices all gone, those left who know the story are edging people in the right direction for the sake of peace. I’ve seen this idea mentioned a few places elsewhere, and it does seem to fit. But as with all things, time will tell. Certainly even if we know what happened to him, I am unsure if we will ever know what happened that fateful night Sandra Rivett was murdered.

**

Random Witterings People Liked this month (and part of January)

"For Tory values see Chapters 1-4 of A Christmas Carol. For sensible values, see final chapters where Scrooge sees light." (23/1/12)

“I have been referred to as an "atrocious source" on Wikipedia. I feel so proud.” (28/1/12, see the talk section on Duncan Lunans wiki)

“It would be Linda Smiths birthday. The sadness of that is tinged with the anger that she'd only be 54 today.” (29/1/12)

“Hey, to me, reading is cool!” (3/2/12)



**

In Memoriam section

Wislawa Szymborska, 88, Nobel Literature Prize winner 1996

Angelo Dundee, 90, Muhammad Ali’s trainer

John Christopher, 89, Childrens author, TheTripods, and large part of many childhoods

Ben Gazzara, 81, actor

Florence Green, 110, last WW1 vet

Nigel Doughty, 54, chairman of Nottingham Forest.

Bill Hinzman, 75, actor

Sam Coppola, 79, actor

John Fairfax, 74, ocean rower

Adam Adamowicz, 42, Skyrim designer

Ronald Fraser, 81, historian

Whitney Houston, 48, singer

David Kelly, 82, actor (Whoops Apocalypse, Waking Ned)

Eamon Deacy, 53, Aston Villa footballer

Dory Previn, singer-songwriter, wife of Andre Previn

Dick Anthony Williams, 77, actor (Edward Scissorhands, The X-Files)

Gary Carter, 57, Baseball HOFer

Robert Carr, 95, British Home Secretary 1972-4

Ken Goodwin, 78, British comedian

M.R.D. Foot, 92, WW2 S.O.O. and historian

Steve Kordek, 100, pinball machines

Peter Halliday, 87, actor (Doctor Who)

Robin Corbett, 78, former MP

Renato Dulbecco, 97, won the Medicine Nobel prize in 1975 for aiding discovery of how viruses and tumours transform cells, giving us a better understanding of how to fight cancer.

Marie Colvin, 56, journalist

Jan Berenstain, 88, childrens author

Lynn Compton, 90, Band of Brothers member

Sailen Manna, 87, captain of the Indian football team regarded as one of the Ten Best Captains in the World in the 50s by English media. 

Richard Carpenter, 78, screen writer, The Borrowers, Robin of Sherwood, etc.

**

We did get to see my Aunt Marion and my Gran this month. Gran is 75 this year, and still the scary formidable lovely person she’s always been. Aunt Marion will be 84 years young, and has more energy than people a quarter her age. Both are the pillars of their respective halves of my family: readers of the Mourning article may recall my dad’s mum died before I was born, so Aunt Marion has been the surrogate gran on that side for everyone.

**



Those who want a health update, here comes one. Those who don’t, look away now.

It’s been shit.

The black dog is firmly on my shoulder, despite many attempts to shake it. I am unbearable to be with, and can only hope it passes soon.

It always does, you just need patience, I guess.

Not much of an update, but then it’s harder to write about the bad times, though I feel one ought to.

**

We phase out this month with a quip from Mr Jordan:




“I'm not sure if I've said it before, but your Dad was a genius with regards to your name.”



And that was the month that was.