Thursday, December 27, 2007

In memory of John Nickolls

John Richard Nickolls, ex RAF

On December 23rd 2007, beloved husband of Michele Nickolls, son of recently deceased Tom and Elizabeth Nickolls, brother and uncle of Leslie and Angela and family. Son in law of Colin and Marie Sharman, brother in law and uncle to Suzanne and Graham, Paul and Liz, and Mark, and their families.

Be at peace now John, you were brave to the end.

A service for John, will be held at the Manukau Memorial Gardens Chapel, Puhinui Rd, Papatoeote, on Friday December 28th at 1400 hours.

Signed: Mark Sharman (brother to Michele)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Amazing Encounter with the Amazing Race

A couple of days ago I found myself in the middle of a TV spectacular, by accident.

There's a TV programme called *The Amazing Race*usually filmed out of the US, where teams of two race each other around the world, following clues, and performing tasks. First home win US$1000000!!

We watch it here because of the interesting places that the teams visit, and the sights they see, and a couple of times they have been through New Zealand very briefly.

On Monday the wife and I with our two homestay students were taking a winter break and driving towards the town of Rotorua, when we took a tea stop in a town called Tirau. This town is famous for its information centre, which is a huge corrugated iron sheepdog, with an equally large sheep next door.

We stopped to fill with petrol next to the dog, and were amazed to see camera crews racing around, filming pairs of people who were also filling up identical Ford Territory cars.

Suddenly the penny dropped!! - there were the famous yellow and black clue envelopes being ripped open, and we were in the middle of the Race.

I paid for my fuel, and as I walked away one of the girls asked me some directions, so I finished up signing a waiver, and may well make a walk-on appearance in the programme - what a buzz!!

A little later we found ourselves at the Blue Lake in Rotorua, where there was a setup for one of their tasks - it'll be interesting to see what it looks like.

Special Asian edition we think - may screen around Christmas

Friday, July 06, 2007

MV3 - the machine

I just spent a week with MV3.

Lying in the dark watching the operating head wheel in the gloom like a telescope, lying on my table with padded legs and headrest, like some astronomer on his couch.

Watching laser beams align, assistants call out calibrations, setting up.

But this is no glimpse of the Cosmos - this is almost time travel.

MV3 is (I think) a cavity magnetron.

It will push electrons and neutrons (if it needs) through my tissues as if they aren't there, easing bone pain, untrapping nerve endings, reducing lesions.

Giving me some relief - some hope - a little extra time.

Bless you MV3.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

In Memory of Ivy, 2001 - 2007

After a tragic accident on Friday night, 11th May, my dear cat Ivy died, despite the best efforts of the vet.

She was about 5½ years old.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Cry "God for Harry, England, and Saint George!"

The title is from Shakespeare's Henry V, and is King Henry's battle cry at Agincourt. And I'm writing this today because today is 23rd April - Saint George's Day.

George is the patron saint of England, and you might expect that this would be our national day, but no........ We English seem to have missed the boat on national days such as Ireland and Scotland.

Anyway, here's something about George, fact and fiction, truth and legend - read on

Facts first...

As mentioned, George is patron saint of England, and his emblem, a red cross on white is the flag of England.

Curiously he is also patron of Moscow City, and Georgia (former SSR that is). Iberia has claimed him too, and he is also patron saint of Aragon and Catalonia (Barcelona especially).

He was patron saint of Portugal until the 18th Century, and is still, it seems, "Commander" of the Portuguese Army.

Actually, the list is much, much longer, and includes patronage of Palestinian children, and the city of Beirut, as well as Canada and Montenegro....

Curiously too, he is regarded as a muslim saint, Mar Girgis


There seem to have been many tales about George, brought back to Europe by troubadours after the Crusades. Many tales seem to have been inspired by the Eastern Orthodox Church, who saw George as a great soldier and saint (and martyr). In English legend he is said to have been the only mounted knight at the time of King Arthur, and so was also the patron of cavalry, and hence, of chivalry.

The true story...

There really was a George, although I can't be sure that was his real name. He was born into a well-to-do family in the 3rd Century, and lived in Cappodicia, which we know today as Turkey. He moved with his mother (no idea what happened to Dad - he had also been a soldier, so may have died in battle) and lived near Diospolis, which is present day Lydda, or Lod, and eventually joined the Roman Army. (Remember that in those days the Roman Empire took in almost all the Mediterranean shores). He must have done well, because ultimately he gained the rank of Tribune, which is equivalent to Colonel today, by his twenties.

The Roman Empire was then ruled by Diocletian, who began a series of persecutions against Christians from about 302 AD. George was expected to take part, but objected personally to the Emperor, which went down very badly. He was imprisoned, and tortured - broken on a wheel, according to one account - and finally beheaded.

Legend has it that Alexandrina, the Emperor's wife, was so impressed with George's courage, that she converted to Christianity, and not surprisingly was executed shortly thereafter.

The Dragon story...

George is always associated with a dragon, although there are many similar dragon tales around the world, and the tale which is generally told is this:

A dragon lived near a pagan town in Libya - perhaps Selena. The dragon terrorised the people, who fed it with sheep, at first. However, the dragon was insatiable, and so the diet was changed to people, especially maidens. Clearly they must have been running out of maidens, as one day the King's daughter found herself chained to a rock in her wedding dress, for the dragon's delight.

Fortunately George was riding by, and attacked the dragon.he disabled it with his spear, and asking the princess for her girdle, subdued the dragon completely. he marched the dragon back to town, whereupon it was slaughtered by the townsfolk.

The princess gave George a red rose (the red rose is the flower of England), although that seems to be as far as he got. And the people all became Christian.

The meaning of the legend...

The simplest meaning of the legend is that it's a fight against good and evil, the dragon representing the devil (or evil in general), and the maiden representing the Church.

But... The story is very similar to the legend of Perseus and Andromeda, which had been around for very much longer.

Modern day George...

England has seen six King Georges, and it is likely that if Prince Charles should ever ascend to the throne of England, he would take the name George too (it is one of his names).

The George Cross is a British decoration for civilian gallantry, roughly equivalent to the military Victoria Cross. One of the most famous awards of the George Cross was to the entire population of Malta, following World War 2, and the cross is depicted on the Maltese flag.

The girdle of legend seems to have inspired the Order of the Garter, also patronised by George.

And finally, George is commemorated, but not celebrated, by the Anglican church, which flies his flag (the English flag) on his feast day.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Miss Colombia, and the Baptismal Font

Colombia - August 2003.

Michele and I had travelled from England to Colombia to meet the family of Wendy, our dear exchange student, who stayed with us in 1999. In fact we had just spent 10 days in England with Wendy, who had come over from Germany (where she was studying) to travel with us.

She saw us off at Heathrow airport, and hours later we were welcomed at El Dorado Airport by her sizable family, and a wonderful South American adventure began.

One of the most notable events was our visit to Zipaquira, and the famous Salt Cathedral. For the trip our party included Wendy's Mum (Mami), her sister Karen, cousin Jaime, and Uncle Edgar. We were travelling in fact to the town of Ubate, for a family gathering. On the way we encountered the *Tourist train*, which we understand is the only train in Colombia.

Then to Zipaquira, once called the Manchester of Colombia, because of the smoky chimneys of the local salt evaporators.


Zipaquira sits adjacent a very large and ancient salt mine, and in the mine is a cathedral, carved from salt. It's hard to imagine, but it's true, and here are a couple of sites which give some more detail.

My own pictures turned out poorly - it's not easy to take pictures in a salt mine with a simple camera.

We paid to enter the mine, and walked in through what we'd call an adit - basically a tunnel which goes straight in. We met a young woman who would be guide for our group, which included several other english-speaking tourists, which was not at all common in Colombia. The guide was a little nervous, and explained that although she had guided many times using her native Spanish language, this was the first time she had guided in English.

Karen and Michele with our guide

In fact she was excellent, and began to take us down to the level of the cathedral proper, through tunnels and ramps along which were the Stations of the Cross, all carved in salt, and very well lit. The various Stations are imaginatively done, although they baffled me, as a non-Catholic. Soon we were down at Cathedral level, and began to explore the several chambers which made up the whole structure. The Nave of the church, which was first seen from a gallery higher up, was splendid, and the acoustics were said to be excellent for choral singing.

At one point the guide and I found ourselves a little ahead of the rest of the group, and I complimented her on her English. She was very pleased, but confessed that she still didn't know all the words needed for the job. *For example* she said, as we approached another key feature, *what do you call this in English?*, and she struggled for the word - *Bautismo*.

I recognised the Spanish word, and the structure we were approaching. *We would probably say it's a baptismal font* I said. *Ah thank you* she said, and turned to face the rest of the group, who had just come up behind us. *Ladies and Gentlemen - this is a baptismal font*. Perfecto!!!!

Jaime, Mami, Karen, Uncle Edgar, Michele, and the Baptismal Font

Finally it was time to emerge, blinking, into the daylight, and there another surprise awaited us. Just coming into the mine was Miss Colombia 2003, and her entourage.There was a flurry of smiles and Spanish, and Michele and I (and our Colombian family too) found ourselves being introduced to her. I managed some appropriate Spanish, and that delighted all concerned.

Her manager was extremely pleased because we were foreigners, and it was good exposure, and she was very happy for us to pose for a cheesy holiday snap - a happy chance encounter in a strange and faraway place.

Karen, Michele, Miss Colombia, Self, Mami, Jaime

We later made it to Ubate, where a splendid time was had by all, but that, as they say, is another story.....

Ubate, Colombia
(Click for large panorama)

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Comet McNaught

Comets are rare visitors, at least, those easily visible to the naked eye, and so the arrival of Comet McNaught in this part of the sky is extremely welcome.

McNaught, aka C-2006 P1 McNaught, is a non-periodic comet that was only discovered in August of last year, by an Australian astronomer (McNaught). Much more on the comet in Wikipedia - click here...

It´s called a *Sun-grazer* because its orbit takes it so close to the sun, which is why it appears so bright, but this means that it moves relatively quickly, and will fade rapidly as it moves away from the sun.

Tonight (18th January) was the first night that the weather permitted viewing here since the comet became visible. The first glimpses, from my doorstep were exciting, but I hadn't realised how much better it would get as the sky darkened. The pictures here are taken with a Nikon Coolpix 3500 from about 9 pm local time this evening, and are very pleasing to me.

The tail is beautifully curved, and there is some structure visible, but my equipment isn't sophisticated enough to show great detail. The comet is moving up and to the left relative to the background stars, so over the next few days will set later and later, which may make viewing easier, but it will tend to fade at the same time... Now was probably as good a night as any to see it.

There's a chance that the comet could break up in the next few days, which will add interest, and also make the thing seem much brighter - if so I'll attempt to photograph it, and post updates...

Content (except where noted) Copyright © John R Nickolls 2006