Monday, March 30, 2009

Public Pianos Strike Right Note

This story was first published by OhmyNewsInternational. To read their version, with interesting illustrations and live links, please cut and paste this address:

Novel scheme delights young and old

Toque-me, Sou teu say signs stuck on free-to-use public pianos in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Play Me, I’m Yours, say similar signs in Birmingham, UK and Sydney, Australia.

Dozens of pianos placd in public areas in those cities tempt passers-by of all ages to sit down and play their favorite pieces, for the benefit of anyone who stops to listen. Delighted audiences soon gather, often dancing to the music, or chanting the songs.

Public pianos were the brilliant idea of Luke Jerram, a British inventor, installation artist and science communicator. He designs and builds science exhibits whilst creating multimedia installation artworks in his home country and overseas.

In March 2008, 15 pianos which had been professionally tuned were installed, unguarded, in Birmingham, Britain's second city.

"There is one in the Rag Market, and one outside Cadbury World," Maev Kennedy reported in The Guardian. "There is another at Colmore junior school, where a teacher was persuaded into an impromptu recital dressed in white gown with veil fluttering in the icy wind. She had been on her way to her wedding."
Six months later, Jerram installed 13 pianos in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The music-loving South Americans responded enthusiastically.

"At £1,000 each (a year's wage for some people) many people had never seen a real piano before, let alone been given permission to play one," Jerram said later. "The project made national news there"

Two clips from Sao Paulo TV: (speech in Portuguese).

Jerram invited online Sao Paulinos to tell him what they thought of the pianos and to post messages and videos on his website One commenter, Auro Augusto, wrote that he had heard a piano being played on a Sunday morning at the Lux station ... Bach, Tchaikovsky. Then (as translated by Google)

The most incredible, something that would never think that, (never seen in my 10 years of musical studies) a beggar (tattered and dirty, exhaled a smell that instigated people to come out of that person close) sat at the piano and incredibly started playing the first notes of the Moonlight Sonata (Beethoven) ..

In January 2009, Jerram visited Australia for the Sydney Festival. He arranged for 30 pianos to be bought, tuned, and installed in parks, public squares, on Harbor ferries and even in a tattoo parlor, for anyone to play.

The novel idea drew raptures from the press, radio and TV, and proved to be one of the most popular features of the festival. Thousands of pianists - ranging from accomplished musicians to complete mugs - happily tickled (or thumped) the ivory (or plastic) keys.

"Whether it's Chopsticks or Chopin, chances are you'll hear it on the streets of Sydney this summer", said Rebecca Baillie in an ABC-TV 7.30 Report.

A youthful-looking Jerram told her, "I'm hoping these pianos will act as a catalyst to get people talking to one another, to kind of connect people."

Sydneysiders' comments, videos and photos are posted on this website

Jerram is so enthusiastic about the project that he has set up a special fund so that public pianos can be installed in "less wealthy" cities, including San Paulo.

He sees public pianos as an important way to promote community harmony. "The pianos act as sculptural, musical, blank canvases that become a reflection of the communities they are embedded into," he says. "Who will play them and how long they remain is up to each community.

"Questioning the rules and ownership of public space, 'Play Me I'm yours' is a provocation, inviting the public to engage with, activate and take ownership of their urban environment."

Jerram lives in Bristol, UK with his partner Shelina Nanji and children Maya and Nico.

He has been described as "a colour blind installation artist, who fuses his artistic sculptural practice with his scientific and perceptual studies." He has an impressive academic career fully described in his biography.

Back in 2005, an article by Lewis Smith in The Times (London) was headed "With this talking ring, inventor wins his girl." It reported:

Luke Jerram wanted to avoid a traditional proposal, so spent three months developing a ring that would play: "I love you for ever. Marry me."

Once it was ready, complete with a miniature record player, he took Shelina Nanji up in a hot air balloon and, while the pilot discreetly looked away, asked for her hand. She is now his fiancee.

It seems that Luke Jerram is both a gifted and a gift-giving performance artist.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Grandma's Marriage Shocked the Folks

This story was first published by OhmyNewsInternational. To read their version, with interesting illustrations and live links, please cut and paste this address:

I was in awe of my grandmother, Becky, a white woman from Paddington in London who had, sometime in 1901-1902 while on holiday in Kingston, fallen in love and against all social convention of the time married a black Jamaican.

So writes Marie Campbell, in an intriguing account of her own journey almost a century later, in the footsteps of her adventurous grandmother. Marie traveled from London, England, to Jamaica, to meet cousins and other relatives, who helped her discover her origin.

"I discovered a story of cruelty, revenge and jealousy inflicted on an innocent young woman and how she demonstrated huge moral courage, dignity, resilience and, in particular, love," says Marie.

Her first discovery was about her mother, who in England was known as Carmen Browne . Her real name was Olga Browney, born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. She was one of 11 children from a close-knit, colored Catholic family. A kind, naïve and gentle girl, her mother had arrived in London in April 1939 and lived with "a malevolent, alcoholic aunt," intending to stay for only six months. However, the outbreak of World War II, personal tragedy and malicious intent had prevented her from returning home to Kingston.

"I learnt what a remarkable woman my mother was," Marie wrote. "Because of circumstances, she made a choice which resulted in her losing contact with her beloved family in Jamaica until nearly half a century later when her past caught up with her.

"When I visited my family in Jamaica in 1996 only six of Mum’s siblings were still alive: Boysie, Birdie, Pearl, Chickie (christened Kathleen), Ruby and Dolly. Boysie was living in Canada and I never got to meet him, although Mum spoke to him on the phone.

"It was wonderful to finally meet some of Mum’s family - my extended family, the family that as a child I’d always longed for but which, in the main, Mum didn’t like to talk about. She’d say, 'it makes me sad'. But ironically, when she was sad, that was when she’d open up a bit and I gleaned little bits of information about her family. I knew that as small children Mum, Ruby and Dolly had been very close and it was interesting, as well as being a bit unnerving, to see just how much Ruby and Dolly looked like Mum."

Two years ago, Marie migrated from England to join her son in Sydney, Australia. She has published her story as a book, which she is now posting, chapter by chapter, in the splendidly entertaining British daily online literary journal Open Writing In addition, she maintains a lively blog

Marie greatly admires her adventurous grandmother's flouting of the color bar. She says:

It wasn’t just white and coloured Jamaicans who would have shown and demonstrated contempt for Becky, but the blacks as well. A white woman marrying a black man was unheard of at that time – in fact there was a time when it was illegal!

I think that’s one of the things I found most surprising during my research about my family; how, even after Emancipation, Jamaica had continued to practice Great Britain’s colour and social prejudices – whites looking down on coloureds, coloureds looking down on blacks, and black accepting they were the lowest class in Jamaican society. My grandmother’s social standing would have been on a par with the blacks or maybe even lower, if that’s possible.

I wish I had known her. I thought how brave she was and what courage she had. Saying goodbye on the dockside at Avonmouth before she boarded the S.S. Port Morant, expecting only to be away from England for a few weeks, was to be the last time she saw or spoke to her parents. My grandmother never returned to England but she did keep the telegram her father sent her when he heard about her plans to marry Henry Brown from my Great Aunt Martha:

Telegram from Samuel Ross, Droop Street, London, to

Becky Ross c/o "Mon Repos", St Andrews, Jamaica


Stand by for a Hollywood blockbuster based on Marie's book!


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Chanel (20) is NOT the World's Oldest Pooch

This story was first published by OhmyNewsInternational. To read their version, with interesting illustrations and live links, please cut and paste this address:

Australian cattle dog Bluey lived 29 years 5 months and 7 days!

The 100th birthday of Bluey, a famous Australian cattle dog born on Jun 7, 1910, will be celebrated next year by people living in Rochester, a country town 130 miles (209km) north of Melbourne, Victoria, not far from last month's disastrous bushfires.

Bluey worked among sheep and cattle for 20 years, and survived until November 14, 1939, when he was put down. He had lived for 29 years, five months and seven days, on a diet of kangaroos and emus. He was the world's oldest dog, a record that has never been beaten.

John Harley, top dog of the Rochester Historical and Pioneer Society, told OhmyNews "We know about Bluey, in fact the daughter of the man who owned it is still with us and a regular attender of the Anglican church. No doubt there will be some sort of celebration for the oldest dog's centenary."

He said that William Hall, of Rochester, was Bluey's first owner. When William Hall died, his son Les looked after the dog. On the other hand, Wikipedia says Bluey's owner was named Esma Hall, who lived to be 103. It's not known whether she too ate kangaroo and emu meat.

While Rochester prepares for Bluey's centenary, a 20-year-old wire-haired dachshund called Chanel, living in Port Jefferson Station, a hamlet in Suffolk County, New York, has mistakenly been hailed as the world's oldest living dog. She has set the canine world barking mad... and, despite the error, is rapidly becoming a world-famous bitch.

Incidentally,when Marilyn Monroe was asked what she wore in bed, she famously replied, "Why, Chanel No. 5, of course."

Two British national newspapers, The Daily Telegraph and The Sun, and America's
NBC radio and TV network fell for the story, but their readers, listeners and viewers promptly named many other dogs who are (or were) older than Chanel.

"This dog's age is no big deal," JT Cro growled on The Sun website. "My grandparents had a dog before they passed away, 33 years old in human years and in remarkably good health. I am certain he could of gone another 10 maybe 15 years before he would of died, however he was put down once my grandparents died. They loved their dogs very much, most of the dogs they had lasted 25-30 years."

Chanel's bid for fame began on Dec 17, 2008, with a story in her local newspaper, the Times Beacon Record, published on the North Shore of Long Island, New York. "Is this dachshund the oldest dog in the world?" Lee Lutz asked, adding:

Chanel, a blond, wire-haired dachshund who calls Port Jefferson Station home, is famous — or soon will be if her owners' expectation becomes reality in 2009. The Shaughnessy family has been told by the publisher of "Guinness World Records" that Chanel will be listed in next year's edition as the oldest known dog in the world.

Born on May 8, 1988, Chanel is over 20 years old and going strong, according to Denice Shaughnessy, a retired Army veteran who now works in the principal's office of the Rocky Point Middle School.

"She's pretty healthy," said Shaughnessy, "cataracts, a little, but OK." The Shaughnessys adopted Chanel in Virginia at 6 weeks old, and the German-breed dachshund spent almost six years in the country of its origin when the family was stationed in Europe in the early 1990s.

Slow forward to February 23, when Rupert Murdoch's British tabloid giant The Sun (circulation 3 million+) published a sensational story under screaming headlines: Oldest dog is Chanel No 20:

The Daily Telegraph published the story with a more restrained headline: World's oldest dog needs jumper and goggles.

Next day, Chanel skipped back to America, where media outlets gleefully seized on the London furphy [false report], without checking the facts. "World's oldest dog is 20, needs glasses," NBC outlets reported in California, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere..

The story prompted The Daily Doxie ("your source for free daily dachshund photos, past dachshund pictures, dachshund resources, and more") to publish this article:

Breaking: The strange story of the Dachshund who would be the world's oldest dog
Last time this story was in the headlines the competition noted that there appeared to be something fishy going on. First of all, in the past, the holders of the world's oldest dog title have all been in their late twenties. What's more, there are plenty of comments here at the Daily Doxie from people who have 18- and 19- year-old wiener dogs, so they don't appear that unusual.

Is it really possible, then, that there are no dogs between the ages of 20 and 29 who could claim the crown? And how come there's no official announcement from Guinness World Records?

Guinness requires a dog's age to be documented, which bars many animals older than Chanel from the record book. At 20, Chanel is only as old as a 93-year-old human. Forget that old wive's tale of a dog's age beine one seventh of a human's. It's not always true. See How old is your dog?

In recent years, dozens of venerable pooches have been nominated for the proud title of The World's Oldest Dog. Here are just a few:

Bramble, in Bridgewater, Somerset, celebrated her 27th birthday in 2002, making her Britain's oldest living dog and a contender for the oldest dog in the world. Her owner, Anne Heritage, 43, is a vegan and has brought up her pet on the same diet regime she herself follows. "She has a big bowl of rice, lentils and organic vegetables every evening," says Ms. Heritage.

Jerry. A 26-year-old mongrel living with an Aboriginal family in Australia's Outback has the potential to become the world's oldest living dog, a newspaper reported Sunday. Jerry, an Australian cattle dog-bull terrier cross, will next month turn 27 - the equivalent of 189 years for a human - said Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals veterinarian Honey Nelson...

Jerry's owner, Waddie Harris - an Aboriginal tribal leader in New South Wales state's Wilcannia town, put Jerry's longevity down to his high-protein diet of Outback wildlife. "Jerry has grown up on kangaroo, rabbit and emu as well as scraps off the table," the newspaper quoted Harris as saying. - Associated Press, Jul 11, 2004

Jip celebrated his 25th birthday -- his age in human terms is 175 --last Thursday and incredulous owners Marilyn and John Regan, of West Lane, think he could be the world's oldest living dog.

Mrs Regan, 64, said: "He's already outlived two of our other dogs and a cat. He's going to outlive us all at this rate." ...The Regans acquired Jip through Airedale Vets after his owner abandoned him at the age of six. In his younger days he was treated to leisurely walks around the Clough, but now he much prefers to be ferried around like his royal counterparts at Buckingham Palace. Mrs Regan said: "He loves riding around in the car with John. Whenever he grabs the keys you can see his ears prick up." - Bradford (UK) Telegraph and Argus Sep 23, 2005.

Titch. The tiny terrier has already clocked up 19 years and turns 20 in September, making him a whopping 140 years old if he was human. - Coventry (UK) Telegraph, Feb.26, 2009.

Derek the Mongrel, at the age of 19, the equivalent of 133 in dog years - is still going strong, according to a report ... The dog is the much-loved pet of Jill Molnar, from Scunthorpe, who adopted him after he kept chasing her daughter's young sons. While he could be the oldest dog in the area, a Papillon named Fred made it to 29... - Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph, (UK), April 16, 2008.

Tip, the 29-year-old collie is the world's oldest dog, claims Ann Elliott, of Canterbury, who found him as a pup on a rubbish dump. - London Daily Mirror, Jan 17, 2004.

Bella. A dog believed to be the oldest in the world has died, aged 29 years. Bella, a Labrador cross, was bought by David Richardson from the RSPCA, 26 years ago when she was three years old. She had lived with Mr Richardson, 76, and his partner Daisy, 81, since 1982 in Clay Cross, Derbyshire. But she was put down on Saturday following a heart attack while on holiday with the couple. - London Daily Telegraph, Sep 8, 2008.

Skye, our border collie, will be 20 years old on March 1. Do you think she could be the oldest dog in Scotland? James Logan, Prestonpans, East Lothian. - Daily Record (Glasgow), Feb 1, 2007.

Cindy. Britain's oldest dog is a 24-year-old Jack Russell called Cindy. The secret to its long life is tea and walking eight miles a day. - Daily Mirror (London); July 26, 2002

Butch. 'His name is Butch. He's a beagle. His title is etched in official Guinness World Records certification and he earned it by living for 27 years...189 in human years... His eyes, however, are bright and his tail still wags. He still begs for petting, and as with all beagles, food is a major holiday to celebrate often. On regular occasions he lets loose and does a bit of running about the house...' -Charlottesville, Virginia Daily Progress, Nov 4, 2002. [Butch died in 2003, aged 28].

Beagle. I have a Beagle and he is 17 years old now. I kiss him many times every day and tell him "Mommy loves you. Stay with Mommy, Okay?". He gets fresh carrots for snack for many years. My husband told me that is why he still hears good and sees good. - Lilianne, in a forum message.

FOOTNOTE Then there's Hercules, said to be the world's heaaviest dog. "The Hercules English Mastiff is a real dog, but most of the images you see of him are not," says Kelly Roper. But that's another story.