Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dave Chambers and Afroblue

Stapleton Hall Tavern
The Stapleton Hall Tavern (now renamed the Larrik), Finsbury Park, London*

Back in the early 1980s when I was a young postdoc, I lived in Finsbury Park, North London, where I owned a small flat. Those were fun, optimistic days and one of my favourite hangouts was the Stapleton Hall Tavern at the foot of Crouch Hill. The pub was slightly rough and I was witness to several brawls: reputedly it was frequented by the North London Mob (I wouldn't be surprised) and apparently Bob Hoskins was a customer in his pre-Hollywood days. What was for sure was the place had great live music. Better still it was free. I saw all kinds of jazz and rock bands including an early iteration of Iron Maiden. My favourite group by far was a jazz combo: Dave Chambers and The OK Band. Frontman, Dave, on saxophones and flute played a kind of electric version of classic jazz that I found very exciting. The pub's clientele seemed to agree as they were invariably bopping up and down by the end of the evening and calling for encore after encore. At one point I sidled up to Mr. Chambers and asked if he gave lessons (my bucket list includes playing flute in my own jazz band). He said he did and for ages I carried his address and phone number in my wallet. But I never did take Dave up on his offer. I moved to San Francisco and became deeply immersed in career, fatherhood and other such distractions. Memories of Finsbury Park faded.

Fast forward 25+ years. I was fiddling around on the internet and came across a photo of the Stapleton Hall Tavern. I poked around a bit further and discovered that Dave Chambers is very much alive and kicking and has a new band, Afroblue. He also has an excellent CD which he sent personally following an email. Cheers, Dave, you're a gentleman. And you're still making great music after all these years (please don't just take my word for it -go here and check out Bahula's Benfit for wonderfully joyous song)!

Dave Chambers (second from left) and Afroblue

* Photo courtesy Ewan Munro.

Monday, October 27, 2008

OK By Me!

Last week I had occasion to be Tucson, Arizona. Now for those of you not resident in the US, I should point out that this area used to be frontier territory and in many ways still is. Devotees of this site will have noted my fascination with the Wild West and I was fortunate to have sufficient time (thanks, Ram) to visit the legendary town of Tombstone, site of the OK Corral and its infamous gunfight as well as Boot Hill cemetery. Tombstone today is something of a western theme park with many of the locals still dressing the part and going around tooled up like John Wayne. All in all the visit was fairly harmless fun: here's a few pictures for your perusal:

The site of the gunfight, 127 years ago

The outcome was brutal with only Wyatt Earp escaping unscathed

Pistol Pete
This gentleman was making a point!

MD needs boots, hat and a gunbelt to avoid looking like a tourist

Bullet hole
This really is the wild west: this truck has a real, large calibre, bullet hole in its door and you will note that the bullet has been fired from inside. Heaven only knows what constitutes entertainment out here...

Cactus at sunset
The saguaro cactus is Arizona's signature desert plant and has a very striking profile, particularly at sunset

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Leaving this Town

Scott's Sufferance Wharf (right side), St. Saviour's Dock, London, SE1

Hard to believe that it's seven years to the day since I left my cozy flat in London's docklands (above) and a nice secure academic job to return to the USA. My motivation for a second stint (the first was 1982-1992) in America was a complex mix of personal and professional reasons. Chapter Two in the US has been very different from the first and I may elaborate at some point. Some of the issues I intended to address back in 2001 have now been resolved but for others it's still a matter of "work in progress". In any case the past seven years have been an interesting ride and demonstrated to me that we are always on life's learning curve. My entire career seems to have progressed in units of either five or ten years and I'm tempted to speculate what will happen when I've reached the end of this current decade in c2011/2012. But then maybe that's premature...?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Crotchet, ??-22nd October 2008: RIP

Mad Dogs
Oenological cat

Crotchet by fireside
Fireside cat

Crotchet on sofa
Musical cat

Crotchet under Christmas Tree
Christmas cat with best friend, Minim

Comfy Cat
Comfy cat

Friday, October 17, 2008

Travels in Zanzibar, Part IV: Diving

A particular highspot on my jaunt to Zanzibar was learning to SCUBA dive and I'm very proud of the fact that I'm now a PADI-certified Open Water Diver. Diving has been a fascination since my early childhood when I used to beg to stay up late to watch Lloyd Bridges in Seahunt. But for any number of reasons I'd never got around to trying it in my youth. Cold water was always a deterrent and also a fear of Kraken and other such monsters of the deep. But in the 28°C crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean it was impossible to find an excuse. The photos here are from my final dive: investigating the wreck of a British cable laying ship, the Great Northern, that went down off Stonetown on New Year's eve, 1902. The remains of the ship have formed a magnificent artificial reef and it's a popular site for diving expeditions. Thanks to divemaster, Yannis, for some of the pics.

MD geared up: the equipment is heavy and in addition I carried 8Kg of lead weights to achieve negative buoyancy

Going down...

Continuing the descent -note left hand on the buoyancy control button

The hull of the Great Northern appears

The shipwreck has formed an artificial reef

Unknown creature
"Name the creature" competition. I've no idea what it is but it's very well camouflaged. Any ideas, Chuck...?

Iron ship parts and debris was everywhere

Follow the leader
Our dive party plays follow the leader through the wreckage

Pipe fish
Pipe fish

Party fish
Party fish

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Travels in Zanzibar, Part III: Dolphins

This clip is self-explanatory and was one of several sightings of these fascinating creatures. At first I thought the dorsal fin was a shark but the playful and friendly behaviour announced "dolphins". Sometimes the animals engaged in spectacular and downright showoff antics such as barrel rolls off the bow of the boat (unfortunately I was too amazed to get these tricks on camera). Apologies for the shaky quality of the clip but there is only so much you can do with a little point and shoot camera designed for still photography.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Travels in Zanzibar, Part II: Nungwi

After a few days in the heat of Stonetown I travelled to the northernmost tip of the island and stayted in Nungwi, a small fishing village. Here are some images:

Dhow on shore
Fishing dhow of the coast at Nungwi

Dhow fleet
The Dhow fleet sails out in the late afternoon:I counted more than 60 sails on the horizon

Blue water, white sand
Off Mnemba atoll: have you ever seen whiter sand or bluer water?

Back on shore vegetation is lush


I did get some time for reading but Ulysses still defeats me!

Sunset at Nungwi

Actually there's nothing like sunsets in Zanzibar so here's another shot

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Travels in Zanzibar, Part I: Stonetown

A picture may be worth a thousand words and photoblogging is considerably easier than writing so here's the first episode of my Zanzibar adventure. Stonetown is the capital of Zanzibar and has a special charm. Its muddled warren of narrow streets have been designated a World Heritage site and Freddie Mercury was born here. Take a look around:

Stonetown port II
Stonetown Port

Sultans palace
The Sultan's Palace: the cannon weren't much use against a British naval bombardment in 1896 which has become known as the "40 minute war"

Stonetown roofscape: the towers in the background are a Catholic cathedral -several major religions are represented here
Roofscape: the towers in the background are a Catholic cathedral: several major religions are represented here.

Roofscape 2
African, Indian and Arabic influences are evident throughout the city.

Colonial doorway: to this day Zanzibaris are amazing carvers, carpenters and woodcraftsmen

Livingstone plaque
Dr Livingstone, I presume?

Stonetown prison

Barack Obama enjoys tremendous popularity here; I didn't see any stickers for Sarah Palin, though.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Crowning Glory

Yesterday, for my sins, I had a dental crown fitted. I feel quite grateful that despite being brought up in the era of no water fluoridation and crap NHS dentistry (i.e. the UK in the 60s and 70s) I've attained a relatively advanced age without the need for these things. While I've always sought out progressive dentists I was still surprised to be offered a choice of movies (from a menu of 400+) while I prepared for my two hours of drilling and filling (but discovered subsequently that I was at the practice of "Seattle's Best Dentist"). My first request to the young but highly competent assistant was for Marathon Man (see above clip). Unfortunately it wasn't in their library and furthermore the young thing had no clue what I was talking about. My first reaction was that she didn't understand my twisted sense of humour but to be fair she was certainly born well after Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier and Roy Scheider were chewing the scenery off the walls in this flick. In the end I settled for The Maltese Falcon. At the time I didn't realise what a great choice this was: I'd completely forgotten about lines from Bogie such as "...talk like that can get a guy's teeth knocked out...". Classic stuff but let me assure you that when you have a head full of anaesthetic, a rubber dam in your mouth and the ultrasonic drill is screaming away, script of this nature can easily give you an attack of the giggles. My dentist didn't get it until much later when I had the bloody dam out of my mouth and could explain. Anyway in the course of my fun filled two hours I started to think of other films that would be appropriate for viewing while in the dentist's chair. Here's my list:
  1. Marathon Man
  2. Thomas Crown Affair
  3. Jaws
  4. Drillbit Taylor
  5. Mona Lisa Smile
  6. Jewel in the Crown
  7. Raw Nerve
  8. Any James Bond(ed) -geddit?
  9. Novocaine (yes, there really is a flick with this title)
  10. Decay (as for #9)
I'm sure there must be more as I compiled this list while in the chair and not exactly compus mentus. Please let me know you're suggestions...

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Rapacious Bastards

Bock sums up the current global financial crisis and the contribution to it by weery greedy bankers perfectly. $300 million in compensation over a mere 8 years for doing nothing more than screwing up and decimating the savings and pensions of countless individuals?  And then wanting a bonus out of the government bailout?  Anybody in the financial sector heard of Performance Related pay? Enough is enough  -time to bring back the stocks.

A Nobel Cause


Prof. Luc Montagnier, Nobel Laureate, 2008
(photo taken from Wikipedia and used under a creative commons licence -original photo from Proline)

The announcement that Luc Montagnier and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi (for the discovery of HIV) along with Harald zur Hausen (for linking HPV with cervical cancer) have won the 2008 Nobel Prize in Medicine is long overdue. At the risk of name dropping, Prof. Montagnier is one of half a dozen Nobel Laureates I have actually met although I suspect if we bumped into each other today he would say either "Qui sont vous, mate?" or "Vous êtes le bloke qui nearly ruined my lecture at UCSF in 1986 when you knocked over the projector: quel plonker!". Perhaps what is more significant about this year's award is who didn't get the prize. I've already seen predictable carping to this effect. All I can say is that bullying and misconduct should never be rewarded. Those in the biosciences will know who I mean; to lay readers please forgive me but I'm withholding names to protect me from the lawyers of the guilty!