JOHN MEANEY

28.2.21

AGATHA HARKNESS

I quite like the WandaVision TV series, maybe in part because I'm old enough to remember the Dick van Dyke Show: if you haven't watched the series, you might not be aware that it begins in a "reality" modelled on 1950s TV shows. (And this would be a good point to exit this blog post if you want to avoid spoilers.... although Stephen King once said that spoiler alerts are for wimps.)

The name Agatha Harkness rang a bell for me, even though it was January 1970 when she first appeared in Fantastic Four issue 94. My copy shows the price as 15 cents, so it was a US import instead of a UK reprint. My copy of issue 93 shows the price as 1/- (in other words, one shilling), so the changeover to decimal currency from pounds-shillings-and-pence might have had something to do with it.

Back when we had real money. 12 pence to a shilling, 20 shillings to a pound. Thrupenny pieces (worth 3d, i.e. 3 pence), sixpenny pieces (aka tanners), and shillings (bob). A two-shilling coin was also called a florin. Two-and-six was half-a-crown (half crown coins existed, like ten bob notes). Pennies and ha'pennies (half-penny coins). Farthings (quarter pennies) had been removed from circulation years before, but you still occasionally saw the physical coin, even though it wasn't legal tender.

For further musings on my clearly advanced age, see the previous post... In this post here, I was intending to mention Agatha Harkness, who looked like this:



And for a total spoiler, the issue ended like this (with the Frightful Four defeated by the old lady herself, while the Fantastic Four were incapacitated):



I'm not a proper comics geek: I only hung onto a few comics from the Old Days. But still, nostalgia...

And speaking of Vision, which we nearly were... In the first Captain America movie, in the 1940s expo where Howard Stark is presenting, you can see a frozen red man-shaped (and man-sized) figure in a glass display cylinder. That looks like the original Human Torch, a character who was around before Johnnie Storm took that superhero name, and who was actually an android.

In the comics, it was that android's body that became, or was used to grow (I can't remember which) Vision's body. I don't think Ultron had anything to do with it, although I might be wrong.

I do remember Ultron in the mags, though. At the end, when you see Ultron's lifeless head lying in a sandy waste, you also get the famous Ozymandias poem in full. I learned it by heart (and still know it word for word) from that comic book, not from a poetry book. (That's not an issue I still have, though.)

Maybe not a true fan, but no anti-comics snobbery from me, folks.

Stay safe!



PUSHING 64...

 ...years of age, that is. Also still pushing weights, not daisies, so I've much to be thankful for even when the universe throws little reminders my way regarding entropy and duration and all that.


My favourite modern book on physical training is probably this one, written by two former US Olympic judo coaches. I particularly like the incorporation of Karl Gotch's wrestling calisthenics (as popularised by the not-always-popular Matt Furey, but used by top American and Japanese grapplers for decades now) along with weight training. John Saylor, on his blog, expresses puzzlement about self-defence-oriented martial artists lacking the athleticism of those who compete. I couldn't agree more, even though my cardio is nowhere near the level it ought to be right now.


One of the many judoka appearing in the book's photos is Dr AnnMaria De Mars, whose blogs are well worth a read. She's a tech entrepreneur, she's taught maths at every level from young kids to post-docs, been a working engineer and a software developer (she still codes), and possesses four academic degrees despite starting life on the wrong side of the tracks. She was also the first American to win the judo world championship (regardless of gender), in 1984. And one of her daughters is the judo/MMA legend, Ronda Rousey.

For pure personal nostalgia in the physical training world, however, I can't get any better than this book, written by the guy who designed the weights room at Birmingham University, where in 1975 I first started serious (by my standards) weight training. You'll note that the benches lack upholstery, and cardio machines are non-existent in the weights room.




Howard Payne was a faculty member. He was also an Olympian and multiple Commonwealth Games competitor, won Commonwealth gold in the hammer throwing, and was multiple times West Midlands regional powerlifting champion. 

(You'll hear people say that in the 1970s athletes were discouraged from lifting weights because of the "it will slow you down" fallacy. The all-styles karate UK team captain, Ticky Donovan, said exactly that right in front of me in 1978 or '79, and to be fair, he was astoundingly fast: he must have hit me about two hundred times during the three minutes that he fought me. I was the person he chose to fight (use as a mobile punchbag) in front of all the other trainees, at the end of a weekend training course at Aston University. He was a terrific karateka, but in this he was wrong, and the Birmingham University athletes knew this. (I'd also trained once with Terry O'Neill at Cyril Cummins' dojo, and Terry was like a transporter-accident-melding of Arnie Schwarzenegger and Bruce Lee. He produced picture-perfect technique when dropping people for real, when working as a bouncer in the violent old days in Liverpool, as well as in international competition.))

I recognise and remember most of the athletes pictured in Howard Payne's book, though I only knew one or two by name. (One of them was a wado-ryu black belt.) The photos would all have been taken while I was training there. The book appeared in 1979.

Some postscripts:

1) I should add that Ticky Donovan didn't actually hurt me, but instead hit me so often that my brain short-circuited: the same effect that escrima fighters attempt to produce with rapid sequences of stick-fighting strikes rather than single heavy blows. Ticky's control was as amazing as his timing, distancing and technical brilliance.

 2) There's a fandom link for anyone who attended a Liverpool Eastercon at the notorious Adelphi Hotel. Yvonne and I checked in there once at 2 a.m. and it was a war zone outside. A drunk, aggressive young lady smashed the glass of the locked revolving doors, and eventually got inside the hotel that the staff had tried to keep her out of. In another incident around the same time, and that I initially misinterpreted, a young woman knocked on the door screaming for help, while a bloodied, bare-chested man came running up behind her. I thought he was her attacker, but in fact they were both fleeing a total psycho who was in pursuit. (The psycho had torn the shirt off this innocent guy's back!) The source of the trouble, I believe, was the Banyan Club that was located below the hotel; and that was where Terry O'Neill worked the doors. Sooner him than me.

Both the dealers' room (I seem to recall) and at least one fan's hotel room were burgled during that con...

3) Remember the maxim: the older I get, the tougher I used to be. Although there's an opposite saying about old age and sneakiness...   ;-)

4) One of the guys pictured in Howard Payne's book was a local Brummie (inhabitant of Birmingham) who was actually still at school, or so I was told, rather than a university student. Years later, when I watched the Commonwealth Games on TV, he'd come out of retirement to compete in the shot putt aged forty or so (as far as I recall) but his day job was strength and conditioning coach at Stanford University in the States. Not bad!

5) In Paradox, which first appeared 21 years ago – my second published novel – Tom Corcorigan learns the "Five Sigmas" of fighting from Maestro da Silva. I eventually added a sixth to the list, as you can see in the first photo overhead. 

(This was long before I ever heard business consultants talking about 6 Sigma and, for pity's sake, 6 Sigma black belts, which used to sound like an insult to me... until I decided I didn't care. Likewise coding dojos. Coding kata, however, is not an insult, because "kata" in Japanese has a much broader scope than martial arts. And in fact, the notion of dan grades can also apply to things like playing Go or formal flower arrangement... just not with coloured belts.)


... Stay strong, stay safe, everyone!











21.1.21

2021: a space oddity

All is well, or mostly so. My website is missing, although this blog clearly persists (although the navigation buttons above won't work for a while)... 

The disappearance is all my fault, due to ignoring important hosting-service admin for an entire month. The whole thing should reappear soon.

There's a fully functional copy here. Feel free to visit!

I'd point the usual domain name at that site, but changes take time to propagate and I'm expecting the normal version to come back in any case.

Meanwhile, look what appeared in our yard:


Here in the UK, depending on your leading-zero editing option, today's date may be palindromic. Maybe that's why the monolith has started to hum...


30.10.20

NEW BOOK FOR HALLOWEEN: TRISTOPOLIS HOWLING


From award-winning author John Meaney comes a thrilling tale of Tristopolis, a Gotham-like city beneath perpetually dark skies, where the bones of the dead fuel the reactor piles, indentured wraiths power the elevators, and daylight never shines.

There’s no such thing as ghosts, not even in Tristopolis, and zombie detective Donal Riordan knows it. So when his dead lover appears in his boxing gym, he knows that something dangerous has arisen. But the threat facing him and his new partner Mel, and perhaps the entire world, is of eldritch origin and far more powerful – and stranger – than anything he’s faced before.

Without his former colleagues to help him, can he even survive the day? Or is Tristopolis doomed?

...And for Tristopolis Requiem, a bit of re-branding to match:


Do you dare to read them after dark?
 

6.10.20

Call yourself a physicist?

Back when I was a physics undergraduate, I missed an evening lecture that formed part of a series given by various visiting academics. (I was probably in the weights room or the dojo.) I'm pretty sure the lecturer was Professor John Taylor of London University, the year was 1975 or '76, maybe '77, and the subject was black holes.

(I used to own a copy of Professor Taylor's 1973 book on the subject. It might be around here somewhere.)

So I wasn't there, but I heard the next morning what happened. In the Q&A at the end, one of the final-year undergraduates stood up and asked the question: "Call yourself a physicist?"

Because, of course, the idea that black holes might actually exist was... bonkers.

And today, Professor Roger Penrose, whose theoretical work nailed the entire concept, has won the Nobel Prize for Physics, along with the two researchers who, in the 1990s, found that a humongous massive black hole sits at the centre of our galaxy.

I've read some of his stuff, certainly made use of Penrose tiles in a scene in Paradox, as I recall, which I wrote two decades ago. Gulp. Time, entropy, all that.

Congratulations to Professor Roger Penrose, Professor Andrea Ghez and Professor Reinard Genzel.