This is another poem I wrote for a contest. The poem had to be in Pi form. This comes from the mathematical value Pi, which equals 3.141592653589793. The poem thus had to have the number of words in each line correspond with each number in the Pi sequence, with the number of lines equal to the number of digits in the sequence.
Whilst the poem was written for a contest, the subject I have written of was already in my mind, and I had been searching for a form in which to express my thoughts on it. I decided to use the Pi form, and enter the contest too. Along the way, I came up with a potted history of war in the twentieth century and beyond.
Again I write of Man’s intractability, his inhumanity. A sign of the times! The last line says it all.
– A Pi Poem
The Great War
Ending all wars forever?
Man’s intractability makes this impossible.
More wars erupt, in Russia, Spain, China, and elsewhere –
Then comes the Second World War:
Killing brought to the cities –
Bombing; death; destruction;
War no longer just soldiers.
Now, civilians, homes and livelihoods become valid targets.
Suffering, caused by a megalomaniac’s dream of world domination.
Cold War Bomb, Damocles’ sword, hangs suspended.
Korea, Vietnam, Middle East. Now Terror’s War rages worldwide.
Mankind never learns.
(c) Linda Visman
Tags: alchemists, chemicals in fireworks, Chinese invention, firecrackers, fireworks, fireworks in celebrations, Li Tian
Fireworks of a kind were used in China over 2,000 years ago, well before the discovery of gunpowder.
These early ‘fireworks’ consisted of green bamboo thrown onto a fire. As air pockets inside the bamboo heated, they exploded, creating a frightening noise. They were used to scare away bad spirits, and it became part of a ritual to scare away the evil spirit Nian at the start of each new year.
Gradually, the green bamboo bangs because part of other celebrations like births, weddings and coronations. They were used thus for the next thousand years.
Invention of Gunpowder
There are several references to a Chinese monk named Li Tian, who lived near the city of Liu Yang in Hunan Province, who is credited with the invention of firecrackers about 1,000 years ago. There are other stories of an accidental explosion when an alchemist was heating a mix of chemicals.
What is known however, is that somewhere between about 600 and 900AD, Chinese alchemists discovered a particular mixture of chemicals that ignited with a flash and a bang when heated over a fire. The records show that they were advised to shun this mixture of sulfur, saltpetre (potassium nitrate), honey and arsenic disulfide.
However, some alchemists continued to experiment with it.
They discovered that explosions resulted when the mixture was heated inside bamboo tubes, and that flames, smoke and sparks erupted when it was ignited in an open container. The more saltpetre added to the mix, the more violently it exploded.
What we now call gunpowder became a useful as a military weapon around the 10th century, though initially it was only used to frighten and confuse the enemy. Later, it was it used also to inflict injury.
Bamboo was gradually replaced by thick paper tubes and fuses, made from gunpowder wrapped in long thin pieces of paper, were developed.
As well as for military applications, firecrackers continued to be used in China at important celebrations.
The main components of gunpowder and their ratios, developed over 500 years ago, are still the same as are used today:
1) Saltpetre 75%
2) Charcoal 15%
3) Sulphur 10%
Firecrackers go to Europe and Beyond
In its early years, the important part of exploding black powder was the light and sound that would scare off the spirits. Even when fireworks came to Europe and spread across the world, it wasn’t the colour that mattered. It is believed that Marco Polo brought firecrackers back to Europe from China in 1292. The Italians loved them. Three hundred years later, with the arrival of the Renaissance and the era of exploration and experiment, they developed a greater range of fireworks; especially skyrockets, fountains and spinning wheels.
These were refined and expanded over the years, and their use spread throughout Europe, where monarchs and other rulers used them (especially rockets) to demonstrate their power and majesty.
As exploration of the world proceeded during the 16th to the 18th centuries, the use of fireworks spread to new lands. Soon they had become a common element of major celebrations throughout the world.
Fireworks Become More Colourful
For almost 1000 years, the only colours in fireworks were orange and white (from black powder or metallic powder respectively).
By the 1830s however, knowledge of chemicals and their properties was greatly expanded. During that decade, fire masters in southern Italy were able to add reds, greens, blues and yellows by the addition of metallic salts and chlorinated powders. The discovery and use of electrical energy and hydrolysis meant that the chemicals could burn faster, hotter and brighter, and displays, especially aerial ones, became even more dramatic.
Fireworks can be classified broadly by whether they are used for ground or aerial display. Not until the last 200 years did the magical display of coloured sparks become the real focus of a fireworks show. Modern fireworks are also called pyrotechnics, and the experts who develop and stage them are known as pyro-technicians.
As well as science, there is and always has always been an art and craft to development and use of fireworks. Modern fireworks have a myriad of different effects depending on their chemical composition, strength and containment.
China is by far the largest producer and exporter of fireworks in the world. During the 20th century, the mechanics of mass production gradually brought their cost down considerably. Eventually, fireworks became cheap enough to be available to ordinary families, and they could be more personally involved in national, religious and cultural fireworks displays.
General history: http://www.pyrouniverse.com/history.htm
Use of fireworks by European monarchs: http://io9.com/the-first-fireworks-displays-were-terrifyingly-huge-1600541130
Depictions of fireworks in Europe from the 16th century: http://publicdomainreview.org/2014/06/25/picturing-pyrotechnics/
(c) Linda Visman
Tags: crime novels, fantasy, genres, history, literature, memoir, murder mysteries, post-apocalypse, reading, science fiction, writing, young adult books
When I reached my sixties, I was reading lots of murder mysteries, forensic crime and dark thrillers, depending on my mood. I have read just about all of the books by Kathy Reichs and Patricia Cornwell, and some of Sue Grafton’s alphabet crime series, a couple of Richard North Patterson, and lots of others. Raymond Khoury’s thriller, The Sign, was particularly good.
I have gone back to the past a few times and to more literary novels. A couple were Australian authors. I enjoyed Eleanor Dark’s Slow Dawning (written in the 1930s), and Ruth Park’s Playing Beattie Bow (written in the 1960s), as well as Park’s two-part memoir. I also read Ken Follett’s World Without End, set in the Middle Ages.
I even tried to read D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but I gave up on it about half way through. I did, however, relish the style and language of Paul Morgan’s The Pelagius Book. Then there are the novels of Tim Winton, Alex Miller and Khaleid Hosseini – wonderful writers!
Now, well into my sixties, I read more post-apocalypse novels than I ever did, and even quite a bit of fantasy. I didn’t really get into those until the last few years, and I was wondering why recently. I decided that the state of society and the world these days – the violence, destruction, intolerance and hatred – have caused me to need an escape.
The end of the world as we know it now seems to be a just outcome for those who have caused such pain and misery to so many innocent people. Unfortunately, many more innocent people would dies. However, post apocalypse times are when the resilient and resourceful have their chance to survive, even if it is against terrible odds. Perhaps it is a hope I have that the better aspects of mankind will finally prevail against the worst.
The same goes for fantasy. In other worlds, heroes – male and/or female – battle the evil forces that would destroy them. In the end there is victory for the good – even if it does come at the end of a series of three or four books!
I loved JRR Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy and even watched the movies – which I thought extremely well done (and I am not a movie-goer). I have tried Stephen King again and got through Under the Dome and The Stand. I have the complete Harry Potter books in a boxed set (I haven’t seen the movies though), and have found several good fantasy authors on Amazon Kindle. There are lots of fantasy series out there which are quite well written, as well as being great stories.
Two series by Edward W. Robinson – The Breakers and The Cycle of Arawn are good. The Muirwood series by Jeff Wheeler really got me in, as did Aaron Pogue’s trilogy, The Dragonprince’s Legacy. I also really enjoyed Michael G. Manning’s Mageborn series. I recently read Jason Mott’s The Returned, which, I believe was made into a telemovie. All of these I obtained as e-books.
My Kindle has led me into a whole new range and variety of reading. E-books are cheaper than print, and because of that, I have been able to sample a whole new range of authors and genres. Either I would never have come across these in print, or the price would have put me off.
Yes, there is a lot of rubbish out there, but if you check the synopsis, reviews, and the success of the author, you can usually tell which will be of a reasonable standard. And if you can read a sample, you will get a good idea of the quality of the writing.
Some of the new authors I have come across through accessing e-books on my Kindle, apart from those I have already mentioned, include:
Fantasy & Post-apocalypse: Anna Elliott, Robert Clive Parnell, Peg Brantley, Erica Liodice, Julie Morrigan, Lori Brighton, R.T. Kaelin, M.R. Mathias, Jodi McIsaac, Erica Stevens, Katie W. Stewart, Kevin Bohacz.
Thrillers: Michael R. Hicks, Robert Ellis, Barry Friedman, Tom Lowe.
Whodunits & Murder Mysteries: Kathleen Backus, Jeffrey Siger, Camilla Chafer, L.L. Bartlett, Debra Mares, Andy Straker, Lee Goldberg, Terri Reid, James Hankins, T.R.Ragan, Edie Claire.
Real life novels: Melissa F. Miller, Othello Back, Helen Ginger.
Young Adult: Aida Brassington.
Writing: Chris Thrall.
Memoir: Joy deKok, Cynthia Harrison
Of course, I have come across a lot more than these, but I decided just to share the ones I liked best.
My Kindle goes with me whenever I travel. That is another of its great advantages. I can carry a hundred books in the space and weight it would take for only one slim printed volume. However, I will never give up on printed books. If you saw our bookshelves you would see that! There is something about them that is more evocative of worlds and more personal than an e-reader can ever be.
Have you made the transition from print to electronic books? Do you use both, or do you stick mainly with one medium?
© Linda Visman
Tags: elderly couple, marital conflict, posture
I thought it was a friendly chat at first – an elderly couple at a picnic table by the lake enjoying the winter sun and each other’s company.
Then their posture changed. He sat with his back against the table, she at the edge of the bench seat, facing away from him, elbows on knees, back and head bowed.
As I walked closer, I heard an angry voice – his. Gesturing hand, stiff posture. He sounded as though he was justifying himself. If she replied, I didn’t hear it. He raised a beer can to his lips. She held one between her drooping hands. I hadn’t noticed them before.
In no mood to listen to someone else’s anger and its futility, I turned and walked the other way.
When I glanced over again later, her posture was the same as it had been previously, but he had turned away from her completely, arms and legs crossed, body tense.
I wouldn’t like to have gone home with them when they left. I wonder what tie, what imagined bond, keeps them together.
Do you take note of other people’s attitudes, bearing, actions, etc when you are out? What great material for writing real people!
(c) Linda Visman
Tags: British Army, group identity, individuals subject to group, RAF, Royal Navy, school uniforms, small school, sports uniforms, uniforms, WWI, WWII
Definition of Uniform: 1. Having one form… 2. A distinctive dress of uniform style, materials and colour worn by and identifying all the members of a group or organisation, esp, a military body, school, etc. (The Macquarie Dictionary).
There are very few people in Australia who have not worn a uniform at some time in their life. Almost all schools here have dress codes that include wearing a uniform – even if many students hate it and try to create variations.
Uniforms are worn to create a feeling of belonging to the group. The idea is to become identified with it to the extent that you will be loyalty, and give your best to it. Sporting teams are a perfect example of this, where every member must work together to get the best result. Wearing the team uniform illustrates their commitment to that.
We didn’t get colour photos then, and there was no way we could adapt our school uniform either. The uniform colours were: maroon tunics and blazers; white shirts; grey trousers for the boys; ties were maroon and gold stripes.
My sons attended a one-teacher school – two of them for all of their primary school years. Each year, individual children were selected from the small schools in the region to play in one team to play soccer at the regional sports carnival. To create that sense of one-ness that’s needed in a team, the boys (of course it was boys then!) wore a common uniform.
Other groups also identify themselves with the uniform their members wear. Four of my sons belonged to the Boy Scouts. With their troop they participated in the annual Anzac Day march, as well as other observances.
Even in individual sports, a uniform can indicate that a person is committed to that sport.
Of course, the most obvious uniforms are worn by police or military forces. The uniforms serve two main purposes: one is to identify their role within a in society (to uphold the law or to defend the country); secondly, to give cohesiveness and a sense of mutual support to that group. There are other reasons too, of course.
How often have you chosen to, or had to, wear a uniform. Do you agree that uniforms have value; or do you see them as negating individuality?
© Linda Visman 24.04.2014 (446 words)
Tags: Battle of Jutland, Dead Man's Penny, Grand Fleet, HMS Norbrough, HMS Opal, HMS Valiant, HMS Warspite, James Atkinson, Royal Navy, Scapa Flow, World War I
HMS Warspite – pass
In August 1915, when my grandfather, James Atkinson (Mum’s father) was 21, he was called up for service in the Royal Navy “for the duration of hostilities”.
In October, he joined HMS Warspite as an Ordinary Seaman. He was a stoker, which meant he fed coal to the furnaces that operated the steam engines. It was a dirty job – and a dangerous one in wartime. If the ship were torpedoed or sank, the odds against surviving for those working below decks were very high.
The name HMS Warspite has long been a part of British naval tradition. The first sailed under the command of Sir Walter Raleigh in 1596. The eighth is a nuclear submarine.The seventh Warspite, a mighty battleship, a superdreadnought, fought her way through both World Wars, seeing action in some of the greatest naval engagements of the twentieth century.
On 31 May 1916, Warspite took part in the first and largest engagement in her career, the Battle of Jutland.
Warspite’s steering jammed after she had attempted to avoid collision with her sister-ship Valiant. Her captain decided to stay on course, in effect going round in circles, rather than stop and reverse, a decision that would have made Warspite a sitting duck.
Warspite received fifteen hits from main armament guns from the German capital ships, which resulted in considerable damage, so that she came close to foundering.
However, these manoeuvres had the effect of saving the HMS Warrior, for the Germans switched their attention from that badly damaged cruiser to the more tempting target of a battleship in difficulty. This gained her the eternal affection of the crew of Warrior, who believed Warspite‘s actions were intentional.
The crew finally regained control of Warspite after two full circles, though the actions undertaken to stop her circling had the negative aspect of potentially taking her straight to the German High Seas Fleet. So the order was given for Warspite to stop to allow repairs, after which she was underway once more.
During the battle, Warspite was holed 150 times and suffered fourteen killed and many wounded. She sailed for home, despite considerable damage, after being ordered to do so by the commander of the 5th Battle Squadron. On her journey home, she came under attack from a German U-boat which unsuccessfully fired two torpedoes at her. A second attack occurred soon after, with another torpedo launched but missing her.
Only a short while after that incident, Warspite confronted a U-boat directly in front of her; she attempted to ram the U-boat but failed. She safely reached Rosyth, Scotland, where her damage was repaired.
James was promoted to Able Seaman a couple of months after the Battle of Jutland. He served out the war, and was demobilised in February 1919 as a Leading Stoker, having received training as an electrician.
HMS Opal – fail
James Atkinson’s younger brother, Frederick, joined the Royal Navy on 13th February 1917 “for the duration of hostilities”. After training, he was appointed as an Ordinary Seaman to HMS Diligence, but was transferred to the “M” class destroyer HMS Opal.
HMS Opal, like HMS Warspite, was a part of the Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland. She also participated in other major fleet sorties during the next two years, as well as pursuing her regular duties of minesweeping, convoy protection and anti-submarine patrols in the North Sea.
On the 12th January 1918, HMS Opal and her sister ship HMS Norbrough ran aground and were wrecked in northern Scottish waters, on the east side of South Ronaldsay Island, Orkney Islands.
Both ships were serving with the Grand Fleet flotillas, and were returning to base at Scapa Flow from patrol off the east coast of the Orkneys on a pitch-black night and in a blizzard. They both ploughed into the rocks of Clett of Crura, halfway down the east coast of South Ronaldsay Island.
In the terrible conditions, just one man survived out of a total of 180 men; an able seaman found 36 hours later stranded on a cliff ledge.
A Court of Enquiry later found that the leading destroyer, Opal, had not made sufficient allowance for sea conditions during course changes.
Frederick Atkinson was among those killed – he had just turned 19. After Fred went down with HMS Opal, James and Fred’s sister, Ethel, wouldn’t look at opals; she always claimed they were unlucky. I don’t think if Fred’s body was ever recovered.
The site of the wrecks is classified as an official war grave.
Do you know much about the naval battles of WWI? Did you lose a relative as a result of the war?
(c) Linda Visman 15.04.2014 (788 words)