This year’s been – to put it mildly – a mixed bag.
Here to put the cherry on top, or perhaps the final nail in the coffin depending on your outlook, is the return of my Christmas Podcast.
This year’s been – to put it mildly – a mixed bag.
Here to put the cherry on top, or perhaps the final nail in the coffin depending on your outlook, is the return of my Christmas Podcast.
“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”-Leonardo da Vinci
Saturday the third of May 2003 was a day marked little by humankind in general, other than by the good people who live near the site of “The Old Man of the Mountain” in New Hampshire, which collaped early that morning, but that’s another tale for another day. I mention this otherwise unremarkable day because it was the day I first had the opportunity to fly in one of the RAF’s Vigilant T Mk 1 Motor Gliders. It was only a short flight of twenty minutes and I was only allowed to use one set of controls, but it was my first time in command of an aircraft and as Leonardo da Vinci so eloquently put it, my eyes have been turned skyward ever since.
I was, over the course of my teenage years, very lucky when it came to my time as an Air Cadet and the multitude of opportunities that it presented. By the time I left school in 2007 and was discharged from the CCF (RAF) I had been able to undertake a Gliding Scholarship at 624 Volunteer Gliding Squadron in Devon, a Flying Scholarship at Tayside Aviation in Dundee, and become a Trainee Gliding Instructor at 624 VGS. Unfortunately only a year later my doctor diagnosed me with mild Asthma, which to this day remains a bar to flying with the RAF, and so my flying career ended rather suddenly during the summer holiday of my first year at University
A few years earlier when I was sixteen I had applied to join the RAF as a pilot, I remember the days after failing to get through RAF boarding to OASC. I spent nearly a week of my summer holidays laying on the family sofa feeling sorry for myself, knowing with the certainty of youth that I would never be able to afford to fly commercially, and that the RAF was my only chance, and I had blown it. Now, after being diagnosed as asthmatic, I cried for hours. Watching my dreams slip away with the prescription I then held in my hand. Writing the letter to my VGS commanding officer informing him of my resignation was the cruellest twist of the knife; while it was a fait accompli as soon as the doctor had made the diagnosis, it still fell to me to write that letter. It felt as though I was in a sense giving up.
Alas flying in the civilian world is expensive, and not being blessed with huge quantities of disposable income at university or sizeable bequests from long lost relatives, I put aside my dreams of flight for a while with the hope that one day I’d be able to scrape together enough money to get back into the game. Now some will say I could have applied for one of those “career development loans” that flying schools with “direct to first officer” programmes are so enamoured with, and indeed have friends that did that very thing; but I am very risk averse, and with a new asthma diagnosis which could at any time have become a bigger problem than it ended up being, it just didn’t seem like a good idea.
Skipping briefly over the intervening decade, I continued my studies in Geology at University rediscovering and deepening a love of that subject, and more specifically Palaeontology. I spent four years after my graduation in 2011 working at various museums in an appropriately Indiana Jones/Dr Alan Grant-ish capacity before moving on to a (Ahem.) “real job” in meteorology; in which I have been working ever since.
“Flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.”– Douglas Adams
“Living your best life” is a phrase often used by the influencer generation, and if I’m totally honest it’s not a phrase I particularly like. It is the sort of phrase that conjures up a particular image that I don’t think of as being very positive. it also implies that anything other than the hedonistic persuit of ones own happiness is time “wasted”, but perhaps that’s more revealing of my biases than anything else.
However, in this instance there is an element of truth to the phrase, I loved working in museums, and were it not for a national lack of heritage funding and limited PhD positions in palaeontology I would have stayed in that profession, and you never know I may yet persue it again in the future. Were it not for my savings running out working in the heritage sector I may never have moved into meteorology, a job which for all it’s shift work and complications I do not dislike. All that being said I am where I am and thanks to moving out of palaeontology I can, just about, afford to return to the air.
So this year, a full eleven years after my last landing at RMB Chivenor, after my asthma diagnosis forced my resignation from the volunteer gliding squadron, I have at long last returned to the air as something other than a passenger.
I’ve never known an industry that can get into people’s blood the way aviation does.— Robert Six, founder of Continental Airlines.
The most surprising thing so far has been how much I missed the thrill of flying, coming down from my third flying lesson I had the biggest smile of my face in years, grinning from ear to ear and practically punch drunk! I was happier than I have been in a decade. In hindsight perhaps it should have been obvious. By the age of seventeen I was flying a motor-glider happily around the skies of north Devon my own, then by nineteen I was earthbound once more and having to leave the sky behind. I don’t know if it was the stiff-upper lippedness of being British, the eleven years grounded, or simply that until last year I had accepted my fate, but until I stepped out of the aircraft after that third lesson, I simply had no idea how much my heart yearned to fly.
Now of course, there’s a long road ahead before I gain my Pilot’s Licence. While I can fly an aircraft well enough thanks to my teenage exploits, radio-telephony and aerial navigation are both new challenges, while human factors and the technical examinations beckon like Scylla and Charybdis, a menacing thunderhead of mathematics, medicine and psychology ready to rain upon my parade. These trials are worth the suffering and challenge to gulp the beauty of soaring above the earth.
The point, as much as anything I ever write has had, is that one should be very careful about giving up ones dreams. Perhaps if I had been more careful at a younger age it would not have taken me until I was passed thirty to begin again on the ladder to the stars, but time heals all wounds and most embarrassments, and the most worthwhile of goals are the ones which pose the greatest of challenges.
Or as the Royal Air Force’s motto says, Per Ardua, Ad Astra; Through adversity, to the stars.
Flying might not be all plain sailing, but the fun of it is worth the price.– Amelia Earhart
Good afternoon everyone,
Here’s wishing you all a very merry Christmas. I’m afraid there isn’t going to be a pre-recorded Christmas message from me this year, because I simply don’t trust myself not to go into a rant about the farce that is Westminster at the moment, and to do so would be prejudicial to my keeping my job.
So instead, I’ll wish you all a very merry Christmas, and leave you with the hope that 2019 will be better.
I also never got around to writing anything about this year’s great American road trip, but I did produce a vlog while I was out there, so here it is for anyone who didn’t see it!
In other news, now that Tom (Azüll of The PodQuest) is back from his sojourn in the United States, hopefully we can bring you something new this year… watch this space!
With season’s greetings,
I came back to twitter this week after avoiding it for a while, and I think it may have been a poorly timed return given events in the UK to do with that thing which shall not be named. But after observing a week of highly frayed public discourse I feel like this needs to be said:
In the interests of general discourse in the world, allow me to offer this small opinion. It may be a worthless one but seeing things going on as they are is intensely infuriating to me. Politics touches every part of our lives, so the least we can do is be civil about it.
If you think anyone who disagrees with your pet political position is a “traitor”, a “quisling” or an “enemy of the people”, you are part of the problem with political discourse, not the solution. Similarly if you minimise the legitimate concerns of others about your pet political position, you are also part of the problem, not the solution.
For example, as a monarchist, a strict, specific reading of the definition of “traitor” would allow me to apply that word freely to republicans here in Britain, but I do not, because I’m fairly sure thought is not a crime, and someone holding an opposing view doesn’t scare me, provided they don’t act on it violently. Similarly, there are legitimate concerns and objections to monarchy, even the constitutional kind for which I advocate, and as a monarchist it is my duty to listen to those concerns and take heed of them, both to allow me to educate and discuss counterpoints, and to help me better refine my own ideas.
The thing I’ve noticed this week (even from myself at times) is that there are highly intelligent people out there who fall into these twin traps constantly.
Not everyone who disagrees with you is a bad guy, not everyone who agrees with you is a good guy. Treating them as such doesn’t condemn the former and excuse the latter, but it does demean you, and it has cheapened our political discourse to the point we are at now.
This having been said, I am not saying there are not political positions that deserve to be dismissed out of hand – Godwins Law exists for a reason after all. Just maybe think, and talk to your interlocutor before flying off the proverbial handle. Ideas live and die by debate, but debate the idea, don’t berate the human.
OK, rant (plea?) over, have a nice day everybody.
Another year, another Christmas message… in which I say little of any interest or import beyond apologising for not getting my American Adventure posts uploaded yet.
“I’m going on an adventure!” said the young man to the drinks machine while it dispensed his necessary morning bottle of caffienated sugar syrup.
“Whirrr….Bzzzzzt…..Clatter… Clank” said the drinks machine, spitting out the beverage in question and wondering, in the non-plussed way machines do, why this human was bothering it at 0448 in the morning.
The young man collected the drink, and after saying a polite but cheery “thankyou” to the machine, wandered along the platform towards an uncomfortable looking bench.
Watching him walk away, the machine rolled its eyes – or it would if it had any – and after the regulated couple of minues turned off its lights and went back to sleep.
And so begins my three week adventure to the United States of America, Land of the free, Home of the brave, and still – bewilderingly – the only country in the industrialised world where your medical bills might kill you. However that’s a discussion for another time.
As I write, I find myself whisked through the inky black of a Devonshire autumn morning on a South Western Railways train in a carriage where my only company is a couple of early bird commuters making their way to London for another long working Friday. Although why anyone would commute from the other side of the country for the sake of a single day of work is a little baffling to me. Anywho, the trip upon which I embark this morning is a long one, in fact it’s the longest “holiday” I’ve had since I was 11, when my mother took my brother and me on an eight week epic journey around a sizeable portion of the anglosphere. It’s also going to be one of the busiest, as I am attempting – foolishly perhaps – to take in as much of the contiguous united states as I can given the time and funds I have available. In order to do this I will be enlisting the help of two stalwarts of Americana… AMTRAK (that’s the US’ cross-state rail system) and the Road Trip (kindly driven by my good friend and up-and-coming thespian, Tom, who we shall perhaps meet in later blog posts).
The plan, then, is for a week to be spent in New York, where I’ll be taking in the normal touristy things, and hopefully being introduced to some other non-touristy places by Tom. I’ll also be – perhaps predictably – visiting some museums; I’m particularly looking forward to the Hayden Planetarium although I doubt very much I’ll get to meet Neil DeGrasse Tyson, as much as it would make my holiday.
After this initial stay in the Big Apple, it’s on a flight out to San Francisco to board the California Zephyr which will take me through the Rockies, the Sierra Nevada, and the Great Plains back to Chicago (the city, not the Musical) where I’ll be changing trains onto the Lake Shore Limited back to New York. I figure this way I can cram as much of the US’ wonderful blend of scenery as I can into my stay. My only real regret is that I won’t get any time actually in San Francisco, other than the eight hours or so overnight between my flight landing and the train leaving, (just an excuse for another trip I suppose).
Then once I’m back on the East Coast, Tom’s once again taking up the baton and the road trip begins… this part of the trip is – as yet – unplanned, but as long as we get back for the first days of NY Comic Con, I’ll be happy.
I’m now passing through Axminster, giving me a last chance for a brief farewell to my childhood neighbourhood before the epic adventure begins! I’ll bring this first post to a close here though, but as I’ve brought enough Camera Equipment to supply a low budget documentary crew… I imagine you may see more of me in the coming days.
Makes a change from the dearth of posts over the last year or so though right!
Ben D Brooks
16 Sept 2017
It’s that time of year again…
Where I subject you all to my Christmas Podcast (as it seems to have become!)
I promise this one’s less depressing than last year, although I also didn’t have much to say, especially as I tried to avoid talking much about this annus horribilis!
But anywho, Merry Christmas one and all.
21 Dec 2016
I’ve finally got to the point where it’s become clear that my existing gaming group in East Devon are never going to be able to maintain an ongoing RPG campaign of any kind.
So I’m looking to find a group of four or so gamers in the Exeter (UK) area to join me in playing some games; so if you’ve ever played tabletop games or would be interested in giving them a go, I’d love to hear from you.
Unfortunately due to my shift working I’m not able to commit to a specific day every week, but I do get my roster 2 months in advance, so planning sessions shouldn’t be a problem.
I’m willing to set up and run a campaign in Runequest or Call of Cthulhu for others, or act as a player character in pretty much any other games system (Dungeons and Dragons, Vampire; the Masquerade etc).
So… if that’s of interest to anyone, I look forward to hearing from you
24 Feb 2016
I hope you’re all well. Today I recorded my christmas message for the year, I will also be sending cards this year so don’t worry if you haven’t received one yet!
I recorded something like ten versions of this before I was happy with it, it’s still not ideal and I still don’t know wholly what I wanted to say. But, here it is, I’m sorry it’s quite sobering for a christmas message, but it covers something that’s been on my mind of late, and felt like I needed to talk about it.
I do hope you’ll all forgive me for it’s dour tone!
[SPOILER ALERT – YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED]
When I was four years old a film was released that has since been a wonder for millions all over the globe, it had some of the most innovative special effects in film history, and did more to update the public perception of palaeontology than any museum or university field program could ever hope to achieve.
(if my memory serves me correctly) I first saw Jurassic Park in 1995, when I was six, when it first aired on the TV here in England. Besides knowing that I hid behind our family sofa from the T-Rex when it was gorging on lawyers and smashing up cars on that magically appearing concrete cliff, the one emotion that abides with me even now is one of childlike wonder and excitement at the creatures on the screen. They were so real, so present that I could not believe they were anything but extant, living beings. No longer extinct creatures confined to the rocks in Montana and the Isle of Wight.
I’d loved dinosaurs for as long as I could remember at that point, in no small part thanks to the VHS tapes that my parents bought for me (speaking of which, I must convert those to DVD soon). But as I grew older I learned about acting, CGI became so common in movies that you aren’t even sure the actors are real any more, and I watched as science enhanced our knowledge of the dinosauria beyond anything we could have dreamed of in 1993. We now have theropod dinosaurs – incuding some pretty big ones – with fillamentous integument (proto-feathers), we even know what colour archaeopteryx’ feathers would be. We’ve seen palaeoecology take off wildly, and study of the dinosaurs in relation to their environment as well as just their bones. And we’ve even managed to find out the colours of the insects that they shared their world with.
And over time, the magic dulled.
It’s never gone away of course, I can still feel it whenever I watch the original film, and even to an extent when I watch Jurassic Park; The Lost World (I won’t speak much of JP3). But as I’m sure you may imagine, when I heard about Jurassic World I had some very high hopes… the question is, would it deliver.
Let’s just stop and talk about some of the inaccuracies though, before we get onto whether or not my expectations were met. Darren Naish published a very good (and frankly spot on) criticism of Jurassic World last week on the CNN website which captures my biggest problem with the backpeddalling from feathered raptors in JP3.
“What John Hammond and InGen did at Jurassic Park is create genetically engineered theme park monsters“ – Dr. Alan Grant, JP3
Yes, Yes they did, they’re not “real” dinosaurs so we (presumably the palaeontological community) should shut up about it. This is the line that the film takes when it comes to the accuracy of Jurassic World’s creations, incidentally it’s also the line that TellTale’s Jurassic Park PC game took (don’t play it, the control scheme is awful) which is fair enough, the film-makers may be able to shut the scientists up but they can’t ignore them.
However, for a film series whose legacy to the world was bringing the public’s perceptions of dinosaur science out of the 18th century and into the 20th, it has, through a desire to make money/maintain continuity (or something like that) kept the public’s perception very much in the 1990’s as far as the look of the dinosaurs goes. I suppose we can all be thankful that the BBC’s excellent “Walking with” series’ picked up the baton and ran with it long before JP3 ever entered production, let alone Jurassic World.You might be able to say that they up-played the raptor’s intelligence, or that they got better at the herd behaviour. but that’s not what people will remember, they’ll remember trikes dragging their tails, pterosaurs flying off with people, and a mosasaur that is at least twice the size of any known mosasaur.
Add to all this the attempts the film makes to shoehorn in some “comedy gold” cliche – the cinema did erupt into laughter at it but it was terribly immersion breaking – and the at times strained nature of the militarisation of raptors story line, and it could have ruined the film completely.
So why didn’t it?
In a word; Magic.
I’m probably not going to be able to put this very well, but I spent the first half of the film trying to be cynical and watch the film objectively. But at some time around the half-way point Zach and Gray – this film’s Lex and Tim – are stumbling through the forest after escaping the Indominus rex and they come across an old, overgrown door; Instantly recognisable to anyone who saw the first film.
And suddenly it’s as if I am six years old again, I felt all the same emotions and feelings as I did watching Jurassic Park for the first time. The magic was back, If I hadn’t read somwhere that the original visitors centre from the first film was destroyed by a Hurricane after the first film’s release, I would swear the film crew had just walked in after the forests of Kauaʻi had reclaimed it. Anyway, the inaccuracies didn’t matter so much any more.
There were other redeeming features to this film as well, the eccentric CEO, Simon Masrani, brings many of the endearing characteristics of Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond to mind, while obviously having a similar vision for the park, and his own foibles… Who else would fly a helicopter into a combat situation without being able to autorotate? The fact that the man dies due to the actions of his creations was a lovely nod to the books and the people who actually read them as well (wherin Hammond is killed by the compsognathus’).
The character of Lowery also harkens back to characters from the previous movies, Ray Arnold and Ian Malcolm, and his workstation reminded me of the character Wash from Firefly… He’s probably my favourite of the film’s main characters, in no small part for the way he’s clearly a convert to Hammond’s initial vision.
So yes, the film has more than it’s fair share of errors in the science department, and it’s quite possible that my fanboy-ism and nostalgia are holding more sway than four years of a geology degree and three and a half as a “professional” palaeontologist. But you know what. I don’t care; nobody in palaeontology ever took me seriously anyway.
“What they did, it was real…” – Lowery, Jurassic World
If only it were.