Category Archives: Arts

Keeping alive the idea of extending lifespans

I’m just re-reading John Wyndham‘s classic Trouble with Lichen, so I was attracted to the idea of watching a local TV (That’s Cambridge) re-run of the 1962 film of his 1951 masterpiece The Day of the Triffids.

I must say that, watching such amateur incarnations of the deadly plant creatures so vividly and frighteningly portrayed in the book, any concerns I had about the current over-use of CGI in modern movies were quickly put to bed. I think a secondary school art class could have done a much better job!

But as is so often the case with great sci-fi novels, the film did bring to mind a number of very current issues: there, in key scenes, was Moorfields Eye Hospital, where NHS finances were no doubt in much better shape back in the early ‘sixties; the flashing lights from the falling meteorites gave an echo of the recent asteroid near miss; and seeing the great triffids advancing towards the seemingly helpless humans reminded me of the debate around GM crops.

In the film, our heroes managed to stay alive through the use of fire, turning the triffids and their lethal whiplash tongues into a glorified stir-fry as they tried unsuccessfully to break through the wire fence around the compound. (Personally I would probably have gone in with a glyphosate-based weedkiller – the gardening equivalent of an AK-47 – although to be fair to Wyndham, glyphosate wasn’t discovered until 1970 and Roundup didn’t hit the market until ’74).

Trouble with Lichen is equally, almost spookily, far-sighted. It too points to a number of themes of modern living that remained on the socio-cultural agenda throughout the latter half of the 20th century and continue to do so in the twenty-first.

(Lichen, small mosses and the like don’t get a very good press. In fact they don’t get much of a press at all, even though they can be quite decorative and add colour to an otherwise bland part of a garden or building).

The heroine of the novel, Diana Brackley, surreptitiously markets a newly-discovered (by her) anti-aging drug, Antigerone, developed from a rare form of lichen, only to influential women. Her objective is female empowerment. But Wyndham’s 1960 novel again opens up a number of associated topics that ring all too true even today; for instance, the media have a lot to say about who should get the new drug (the Evening Flag is right behind the idea of the Queen being the first to benefit. The Times and the FT underline the effects on the chemical and insurance industries). The sometimes controversial field of clinical trials is also hinted at.

Diana herself muses on the subject of relationships in a society where marriage becomes an almost interminably long institution:

“‘I’ve been wondering, as a matter of fact, how marriage is going to mesh with the new order. One feels that people who can go on loving one another for two or three hundred years are probably pretty scarce’.

“‘It doesn’t mesh, as you put it, any too well with the present order’, Francis remarked, ‘but it gets adapted. I don’t see why it should not be adapted further. Fixed term marriages, with options, as in leases, perhaps?’

“Diana shook her head”.

Wikipedia draws attention to “a notable parallel between Antigerone and rapamycin, a polyketide drug produced by soil bacteria discovered on Easter Island. Although originally developed as an antifungal medication and used clinically primarily as an immunosuppressive to prevent immune rejection of transplanted organs, rapamycin has recently been the subject of intense interest as a potential anti-aging drug”.

Earlier this year, an international team from Harvard and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) – announced a discovery that may well lead to a revolutionary drug capable of reversing aspects of the aging process. By offering a treatment for DNA damage from aging and radiation, the drug could be especially helpful for astronauts who set out on extended missions to Mars and beyond. My son Will Fox has an excellent article on this topic on his highly popular website, Future Timeline.

But when will we see this or other anti-aging research come to fruition? And will anyone living now be around to benefit from it?

Only time will tell!



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Filed under Gardening, Literature, Science, space and astronomy

The night The Kinks exploded

After The Yardbirds had finished their set, we all waited expectantly for The Kinks to appear on stage.

It was May 19th, 1965, and, along with around 2,500 other screaming teenagers, I was at the Capitol theatre in Cardiff with one of my school chums, Willy Stonehouse. (This was where, six months later, I was to see The Beatles give one of their last live shows in Britain).

It would turn out to be a highly memorable evening …


Credit: Mojo, March 2017

*            *            *            *            *
The lady from Bavaria, with her family, turned up on time. It was a sunny afternoon in summer and the terrace at the back of The Boathouse pub in Cambridge was a picture of social serenity, with people engaged in relaxed conversation or maybe watching the punts go by, boathousewith others on the grassy bank opposite, layin’ ‘cross the river.

I brought some drinks and snacks. It was good of them to break away from their long trip up to the Lake District; but after some initial pleasantries we started discussing the advertising launch of the new German yoghurt, plans for which we were in the process of finalising.

It was then that my eye was drawn to a couple carrying drinks down the steps leading to the terrace. They were particularly noticeable to me as I could see that the man was a Kinks fan. “Thinks he’s Ray Davies“, was my immediate thought, as he wore the classic velvet jacket, with similarly-styled long hair – and he even looked somewhat like the leader of The Kinks, someone I revered as a master songwriter.


“Actually, he looks just like him”, I thought.

“Hang on a minute …”

*            *            *            *            *
I do remember that the stage setting was all white. A white background and white drum kit.

The first song they played, fans going wild, was the original big hit that shot them to fame, “You Really Got Me“.

Then there was a kind of awkward pause, and some chit-chat, as though they weren’t sure what to do next. They looked around at each other. But then, Dave Davies, brother of Ray, standing on the right of the stage, took a kick at Mick Avory‘s drum kit. Looking back at it, my guess is that his intention was simply to give the big bass drum a playful prod, rather than the great thump that he actually delivered.

Avory’s bass drum suddenly began rolling across the stage – I mean, right across the stage, from right to left a distance of maybe fifteen feet. This was weird, but some might have thought it was part of the act. It soon became apparent that it wasn’t.

Mick Avory stood up, picked up his hi-hat and advanced towards Dave. He moved behind him, still on the far right of the stage. Holding the hi-hat half way down the metal post, with the two cymbals to the top and pedal beneath, he raised the whole thing above his head and brought the cymbals crashing down on the back of Davies’ neck. My recollection of this part of the proceedings is crystal clear.


Dave Davies’ knees buckled and he collapsed to the floor. What happened next is a bit hazy in my memory. I think Davies was pulled off the stage. The crowd became suddenly quieter as hysterical screams were replaced by gasps and more of a general hubbub.

“My God, he’s killed him!” I said to Willy, who nodded in agreement. The curtain was pulled across and the audience just stood in astonishment. People were dumbfounded. Some girls began crying. There was an announcement saying that the show would recommence shortly. There followed a twenty minute gap, before the announcer said “Ladies and gentlemen, The Yardbirds!” On came The Yardbirds again, lead singer Keith Relf half changed into his “civvies”, and the whole group looking very uncomfortable and playing badly …

Willy and I decided that it might be worth nipping round to the back of the theatre to see what was going on there. There was quite a big gathering of fans at the stage door … as well as an ambulance. We saw someone being carried out on a stretcher. After a while, the word went round that Mick Avory had fled the scene and the police were looking for him.

The whole thing was just so surreal.

*            *            *            *            *
I couldn’t concentrate on what the lady was saying. I’ve never been a shrinking violet and I thought “This is my chance”. I made my apologies and explained that Ray Davies was one of my heroes. I took the bull by the horns and strolled over to the table where (the) Ray Davies was sitting with a female companion.

“Excuse me, Ray”, I stuttered, suddenly starstruck to be addressing a pop music god. “I was there at the Capitol on the night of the fight”.

“Oh, okay, how did you see it?”, he asked. I was so nervous that at first I didn’t entirely understand what he meant. “Ah, what did I think happened?”, I thought.

keithrelf“It looked to me as though Mick was trying to kill him”, I said. Ray didn’t respond to that, but told me that he was writing a book about the group. He took my details and said that he might be in touch if he needed comments by a witness. He also reminded me that Keith Relf (right) met a very tragic end, electrocuted whilst playing a guitar which hadn’t been grounded correctly.

I’ve often wished I had plucked up the nerve to try to find out more from Ray. But, I confess, my awe in meeting such a songwriting legend overcame my ability to think straight. Maybe next time …

I returned to the table. Lady from Bavaria not impressed. Who are The Kinks? I’m afraid we must be making our way now. I’ll be in touch, etc., etc.

Oh dear.

*            *            *            *            *
To this day, controversy continues to bubble under about what exactly happened that night in Cardiff. An initial explanation was that the kick was deliberate and Avory was supposed to say “You nearly got me”. He’s also tried to make out that he hit Dave with the foot pedal of the hi-hat.

Nope, it was definitely the cymbals. Given the force with which the blow was delivered, I’m amazed that it didn’t decapitate Dave. I can only assume that his neck was partially protected by his jacket.

Avory ran from the theatre and went into hiding. The story hit the headlines and there were updates on the search for him – it was a major news item on ITV‘s News At Ten and was all over the national press. The police wanted to charge Avory with attempted murder. Eventually he re-surfaced, Dave having recovered after a spell in hospital, deciding not to press charges, despite having had to have fifteen stitches in his wound.

Ray was much more forthcoming about what actually happened in an interview with Wales Online not so long ago.

His recent knighthood was so well-deserved, a songwriting genius awarded for services to the arts. He was already a CBE.

*            *            *            *            *
The yoghurt launch was a flop, no doubt due to the appalling creative work produced by the ad agency that I was working with.

But I often think back to the time I met a personal hero, one memorable Sunny Afternoon in Cambridge.




Image credit: Ray Davies – By Jean-Luc (originally posted to Flickr as Kinks) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons


Filed under Music