Posted in books, films & DVD, Television

Africa -Eye to Eye with the Unknown

ae2ewtuEver since I was young I have been a big fan of all the wildlife series done by David Attenborough CBE and I would love to get the latest five part BBC natural history series entitled Africa – Eye to Eye with the Unknown. Africa is the second largest continent in the world and is home to a diverse selection of wildlife, including Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo and Rhino and by Using state-of-the-art technology, the series explores the stunning landscapes and undiscovered creatures of Africa’s five major regions, taking a spectacular journey through a vast and diverse continent, uncovering an array of spectacular, never-before-filmed locations along the way,

From the Atlas Mountains to the Cape of Good Hope, there is a beautiful and unexpected abundance of African wildlife. The series features aerial shots of trains of wildebeest roaming across sweeping savannahs, running the gauntlet of Lions and Crocodiles to previously unseen wildlife behaviour, like lizards stalking their prey on the backs of lions and dramatic footage of eagles catching giant Fruit bats on the wing, as well as a nail-biting giraffe fight. The series also uncovers strange new creatures like the world’s rarest fish species, the first-ever access to an island sanctuary for the elusive African penguin, the Congo fish that flies like a butterfly and a love-struck beetle who thinks he’s James Bond. The series paints a breathtaking portrait of Africa as never before caught on film – savage, and dangerous, yet beautiful and full of life. There is also lavishly illustrated book to accompany the series which is full of stunning photography and reveals the undiscovered side of Africa’s five unique regions and captures unprecedented wildlife behaviour, mesmerising new creatures and magical landscapes.

Posted in books, Fantasy, films & DVD

Tribute to J.R.R. Tolkien

gandalf_abdul3Best known as the author of the classic high fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. the English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE  was Born on 3 January 1892 in Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State (now Free State Province was South Africa. As a child Tolkien was bitten by a large baboon spider in the garden, an event which some think would have later echoes in his stories, although Tolkien admitted no actual memory of the event and no special hatred of spiders as an adult. When he was three, Tolkien went to England with his mother and brother to live with her parents in Kings Heath, Birmingham. Soon after, in 1896, they moved to Sarehole. He enjoyed exploring Sarehole Mill and Moseley Bog and the Clent, Lickey and Malvern Hills, which would later inspire scenes in his books, along with places such as his aunt Jane’s farm of Bag End, the name of which would be used in his fiction.

Taught at home, Tolkien was a keen pupil and learnt a great deal about plants he also liked to draw landscapes and trees, and also enjoyed languages, so his mother taught him the rudiments of Latin very early and encouraged him to read many books. He liked stories about “Red Indians” and the fantasy works by George MacDonald. In addition, the “Fairy Books” of Andrew Lang were particularly important to him and their influence is apparent in some of his later writings. Tolkien moved to the Edgbaston area of Birmingham where he lived in the shadow of Perrott’s Folly and the Victorian tower of Edgbaston Waterworks, which may have influenced the images of the dark towers within his works. He attended King Edward’s School, Birmingham, and later St. Philip’s School, before winning a Foundation Scholarship and returning to King Edward’s School.

Aragorn-TXFLegolas2TXFIn 1911, Tolkien went on a summer holiday in Switzerland, a trip that he recollects vividly in a 1968 letter, noting that Bilbo’s journey across the Misty Mountains (“including the glissade down the slithering stones into the pine woods”) is directly based on his adventures as their party of 12 hiked from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen and on to camp in the moraines beyond Mürren. Fifty-seven years later, Tolkien remembered his regret at leaving the view of the eternal snows of Jungfrau and Silberhorn (“the Silvertine (Celebdil) of my dreams”). They went across the Kleine Scheidegg to Grindelwald and on across the Grosse Scheidegg to Meiringen. They continued across the Grimsel Pass, through the upper Valais to Brig and on to the Aletsch glacier and Zermatt.In October of the same year, Tolkien began studying at Exeter College, Oxford. He initially studied Classics but changed his course in 1913 to English Language and Literature, graduating in 1915 with first-class honours in his final examinations. In 1914, the United Kingdom entered World War I. Tolkien’s relatives were shocked when he elected not to immediately volunteer for the British Army. Instead, Tolkien entered a programme wherein he delayed enlisting until completing his degree in July 1915. He was then commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers. He trained with the 13th (Reserve) Battalion on Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, for eleven months.Tolkien served as a signals officer at the Somme, participating in the Battle of Thiepval Ridge and the subsequent assault on the Schwaben Redoubt.Tolkien was invalided to England on 8 November 1916. Many of his dearest school friends, including Gilson and Smith of the T.C.B.S., were killed in the war. He might well have been killed himself, but he suffered on more than one occasion from trench foot and was removed from front line combat multiple times. A weak and emaciated Tolkien spent the remainder of the war alternating between hospitals and garrison duties, being deemed medically unfit for general service. During his recovery he began to work on what he called The Book of Lost Tales, beginning with The Fall of Gondolin. Throughout 1917 and 1918 his illness kept recurring, but he had recovered enough to do home service at various camps and was promoted to Lieutenant.

GamlingTXFTheoden4_TXFTolkien’s first civilian job after World War I was at the Oxford English Dictionary, In 1920, he took up a post as Reader in English Language at the University of Leeds, and became the youngest professor there.While at Leeds, he produced A Middle English Vocabulary and a definitive edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with E. V. Gordon. He also translated Sir Gawain, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo. In 1925, he returned to Oxford with a fellowship at Pembroke College.During his time at Pembroke College Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and the first two volumes of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien was Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College, Oxford, from 1925 to 1945 and Merton Professor of English Language and Literature there from 1945 to 1959. He was a close friend of C. S. Lewis—they were both members of the informal literary discussion group known as the Inklings. Tolkien’s 1936 lecture, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics,” had a lasting influence on Beowulf research, Tolkien argued firmly against reading in fantastic elements. In 2003, Tolkien’s handwritten translation of and commentary on Beowulf, running to roughly 2000 pages, was discovered in the archives of the Bodleian Library. In the run-up to World War II, Tolkien was earmarked as a codebreaker.In January 1939, he agreed to served in the cryptographic department of the Foreign Office in the event of national emergency. However, although he was “keen” to become a codebreaker, he was informed in October that his services would not be required at that time. From 1959 up to his death in 2nd September 1973, Tolkien received steadily increasing public attention and literary fame due to the ongoing popularity of his novels. The sales of his books were so profitable that he regretted that he had not chosen early retirement. Tolkien’s status as a best-selling author gave them easy entry into polite society, and he was also appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II on 28 March 1972 and also received the insignia of the Order at Buckingham Palace. In the same year Oxford University also conferred upon him an honorary Doctorate of Letters.

Posted in music

Happy Birthday John Paul Jones

ledZepCelebDay0John Paul Jones, the bass player with Rock Band Led Zeppelin  was born 3rd January 1946. Led Zeppelin are widely considered to be one of the most successful, innovative and influential rock groups in the history of music and were formed in 1968 after former Yardbirds Guitarist  Jimmy Page recruited vocalist Robert Plant, drummer John Bonham, and John Paul Jones. The name  Led Zeppelin stemmed from an old joke by Keith Moon and John Entwistle, of “The Who”, and Page stuck with that name to use for his new band. The name was subsequently changed to “Led Zeppelin”, to avoid a mispronunciation of “Leed Zeppelin.”  Zeppelin’s sound became a marriage of blues, hard rock and acoustic music topped with heavy choruses – a combination that had never been done back in the 1960′s. Led Zeppelin’s sound has since become a prototype for countless rock bands ever since, and was one of the major driving forces behind the rock sound of the 1970′s.

Led Zeppelin released relatively few singles, preferring their albums to be viewed as indivisible, whole listening experiences, helping to promote the concept of album-orientated rock. Their first two albums, with their heavy, guitar-driven blues rock sound, led to Led Zeppelin being regularly cited as one of the progenitors of heavy metal and hard rock, even though the band’s individualistic style drew from varied sources and transcends any single music genre. Their next two albums incorporated wider musical influences, particularly from folk music;  the tracks “Stairway to Heaven“, and “Kashmir” are among the most popular and influential works in rock music, and cemented the status of the group as “superstars”.

Led Zeppelin broke up in 1980 following the death of drummer John Bonham, and Page refused to touch a guitar out of sadness for the loss of his friend Bonham, After the break up , Robert Plant briefly considered teaching, but nevertheless embarked on a successful solo career beginning with Pictures at Eleven in 1982, followed by 1983′s The Principle of Moments. Popular tracks from this period include “Big Log” (a Top 20 hit in 1983), “In the Mood” (1983), “Little by Little” (from 1985′s Shaken ‘n’ Stirred), “Far Post” “Tall Cool One”  and “I Believe”, another song written for and dedicated to his late son, Karac. In 1984, Plant formed a short-lived all-star group with Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck called The Honeydrippers, who had a No. 3 hit with a remake of the Phil Phillips’ tune, “Sea of Love” and a followup hit with a cover of Roy Brown’s “Rockin’ at Midnight”. Although Plant avoided performing Led Zeppelin songs through much of this period (he occasionally would improvise his unique Zeppelin screams into his set), his tours in 1983 (with drummer Phil Collins) and 1985 were very successful, often performing to sold-out arena-sized venues. Plant and Page occasionally collaborated on various projects, including The Honeydrippers: Volume One album in 1984. In the spring 2 years later Robert performed at the Birmingham Heart Beat Charity Concert 1986. The pair again worked together in the studio on the 1988 Page solo effort, Outrider, and in the same year Page contributed to Plant’s album Now and Zen. Also, on 15 May 1988 Plant appeared with Page as a member of Led Zeppelin (and in his own right as a solo artist) at the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary concert. In 2007, Plant released Raising Sand, an album produced by T-Bone Burnett with American bluegrass soprano Alison Krauss, which won the 2009 Grammy Award for Album of the Year at the 51st Grammy Awards. Page also released “Band of Joy” in 2010 featuring the song “Little Angel Dance”.

Throughout their career, Led Zeppelin also collected many honours and awards. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2006. Among the band’s awards are an American Music Award in 2005, and the Polar Music Prize in 2006. Led Zeppelin were the recipient of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005, and four of their recordings have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. They have been awarded five Diamond albums, as well as fourteen Multi-Platinum albums, four Platinum albums and one Gold album in the United States, while in the UK they have five Multi-Platinum albums, six Platinum albums, one Gold album and four Silver albums. The band are ranked number one on VH1′s 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock and Classic Rock’s “50 Best Live Acts of All Time”. They were awarded an Ivor Novello Award for “Outstanding Contribution to British Music” in 1977, as well as a “Lifetime Achievement Award” at the 42nd Annual Ivor Novello awards ceremony in 1997. The band were honoured with the “Best Live Act” prize for their one-off reunion at MOJO Awards 2008, where they were described as the “greatest rock and roll band of all time”. They also took the stage in 2010 at London’s O2 Arena to headline a tribute concert for dear friend and Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun and this amazing concert was released as  Celebration Day, on CD, DVD and Blu-ray on November 19th 2012.

Posted in cars, sport

Happy Birthday Michael Schumacher

German Formula One racing driver Michael Schumacher was born 3 January 1969. Schumacher is a seven-time World Champion and is widely regarded as one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time.He holds many of Formula One’s driver records, including most championships, race victories, fastest laps, pole positions, points scored and most races won in a single season – 13 in 2004. In 2002 he became the only driver in Formula One history to finish in the top three in every race of a season and then also broke the record for most consecutive podium finishes. According to the official Formula One website he is “statistically the greatest driver the sport has ever seen”. A poll of 217 Formula One drivers conducted by the British magazine Autosport in 2009 named Schumacher the second-greatest F1 driver of all time, behind Ayrton Senna.

After beginning with karting, Schumacher won German drivers’ championships in Formula König and Formula Three before joining Mercedes in the World Sportscar Championship. After one Mercedes-funded race for the Jordan Formula One team, Schumacher signed as a driver for the Benetton Formula One team in 1991. After winning consecutive championships with Benetton in 1994/5, Schumacher moved to Ferrari in 1996 and won another five consecutive drivers’ titles with them from 2000 to 2004. Schumacher retired from Formula One driving in 2006 staying with Ferrari as an advisor. Schumacher agreed to return for Ferrari part-way through 2009, as cover for the badly injured Felipe Massa, but was prevented by a neck injury. He later signed a three-year contract to drive for the new Mercedes GP team starting in 2010.

His career has not been without controversy, including being twice involved in collisions in the final race of a season that determined the outcome of the world championship, with Damon Hill in 1994 in Adelaide, and with Jacques Villeneuve in 1997 in Jerez. Off the track Schumacher is an ambassador for UNESCO and a spokesman for driver safety. He has been involved in numerous humanitarian efforts throughout his life and donated tens of millions of dollars to charity. Michael and his younger brother Ralf Schumacher are the only brothers to win races in Formula One, and they were the first brothers to finish 1st and 2nd in the same race, in Montreal in 2001. The two brothers repeated this achievement in four more races (the 2001 French Grand Prix, the 2002 Brazilian Grand Prix, the 2003 Canadian Grand Prix and the 2004 Japanese Grand Prix).

In 2009 the German press reported a possible return to Formula One by Schumacher which was confirmed by Mercedes in December. Schumacher’s return completing their line-up. Schumacher signed a three year contract, with Mercedes who were thought to want 22-year-old German driver Sebastian Vettel as a long term replacement afterwards. Schumacher’s surprise re-entry to the sport was compared to Niki Lauda’s return in 1982 aged 33 and Nigel Mansell’s return in 1994 at age 41. Schumacher turned 41 on 3 January 2010 and his prospects with Mercedes were compared with the record set by the oldest F1 champion Juan Manuel Fangio who was 46 when he won his fifth championship.

Schumacher’s finished sixth in the first race of the 2010 season at the Bahrain Grand Prix in the Mercedes MGP W01. A fortnight later at the Australian Grand Prix Schumacher, after running as high as third on the opening lap, was caught up in a tangle between Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button at the start and had to pit for a new front wing. He came from the back to finish in the points in tenth position after spending 20 laps behind Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari. In the Malaysian Grand Prix Schumacher retired early in the race. Schumacher qualified 9th in the Chinese Grand Prix and finished 10th .” Despite this Many  respected former Formula One drivers including former rival Damon Hill, warned “you should never write Schumacher off.” Some suggested that Schumacher may be having car trouble. For the first European race of the season, the Spanish Grand Prix, Mercedes upgraded their car with revised aerodynamics and a longer wheelbase. Schumacher  finishing fourth after defending his position from reigning world champion Jenson Button. At the Monaco Grand Prix Schumacher qualified seventh and finished sixth after passing Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. However he was penalised 20 seconds after the race by the race stewards dropping him to 12th and thus out of the points. The FIA subsequently outlined plans to clarify the regulations and Mercedes GP dropped their plans to appeal.

Schumacher’s 2010 season ended with a first lap crash at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. In Turkey Schumacher finished fourth which was his best race finish since his return. However 2 races later at the European Grand Prix in Valencia, Schumacher finished a lowly 15th – his lowest recorded finish in his career. In Hungary, Schumacher finished outside the points in eleventh, but was found guilty of dangerous driving at 180 mph (290 km/h) while unsuccessfully defending tenth position against Rubens Barrichello. As a result he was demoted ten places on the grid for the following race, the Belgian Grand Prix, where he finished seventh, despite starting 21st after his grid penalty.In the Italian Grand Prix, Schumacher missed out on the top ten in qualifying but managed to finish ninth. A fortnight later at the Singapore Grand Prix, Schumacher finished 13th after the Sauber of Nick Heidfeld collided with him on Lap 36, knocking Heidfeld out of the race. At the Japanese Grand Prix, Schumacher finished sixth. At the season finale in Abu Dhabi, Schumacher was involved in a major accident on the first lap, which occurred after Schumacher was spun around by his teammate Nico Rosberg. As Schumacher was trying to maneuver his car back around, Vitantonio Liuzzi’s Force India ploughed into his Mercedes head-on, barely missing his head.Nobody was hurt in the crash, but Schumacher said the crash had been “frightening.”It was the first session since his début season in 1991 that Schumacher finished without a win, pole position, podium or fastest lap. He finished the season 9th with 72 points.At a 2011 meeting in Madonna di Campiglio, Italy, Fernando Alonso, the second most successful Formula One driver still racing, said of Schumacher: “He will be always super class; if the car is right, he will be a contender that we will fear most.

During the 2011 season Schumacher retired at the  Australian Grand Prix, finished ninth place at the Malaysian Grand Prix to score his team’s only points.  Schumacher qualified 14th in China, but he worked his way up to 8th place during the race. He added more points with sixth place in Spain, and at the Canadian Grand Prix, Schumacher  finished in fourth position after being passed  by both Jenson Button, who went on to win the race, and Mark Webber, by the use of the DRS. In Valencia, he crashed into the side of Vitaly Petrov’s Renault while exiting the pit lane, breaking his own front wing, meaning he had to pit again the following lap. This incident left him outside of the points, and eventually finished 17th. In Britain Schumacher locked his front tyres while running behind Kamui Kobayashi, attempted to take avoiding action, and again broke his front wing spinning Kobayashi 180 degrees. As well as pitting to replace the wing, Schumacher served a 10 second stop-go penalty for the incident. Although working his way up to ninth, Schumacher was unhappy with the result and described the Kobayashi incident as his misjudgement. He finished eighth at his home race in Germany, and retired in Hungary with gearbox failure.

Schumacher marked the 20th anniversary of his Formula One début at the 2011 Belgian Grand Prix. He set the fastest time in the first free practice session, but after a wheel came loose in qualifying, he had start last on the grid. Despite this, Schumacher put in a very strong performance, ending the race in fifth place and ahead of his team mate Rosberg. Schumacher continued his run of form at the Italian Grand Prix, qualifying eighth and finishing fifth. This race saw a notable duel with Lewis Hamilton for fourth place. Schumacher defended expertly against Hamilton’s faster car, but was also criticised for leaving insufficient overtaking space. After a retirement in Singapore due to contact with Sergio Pérez, Schumacher finished in sixth place at the Japanese Grand Prix, having led three laps during the race, the first time he had led a race since the 2006 Japanese Grand Prix.In doing so, he became the oldest driver to lead a race since Jack Brabham in 1970. In Korea, Schumacher started the race from twelfth, and was well within the points scoring positions when he was hit from behind by Vitaly Petrov, forcing both drivers to retire. In India, Schumacher struggled in qualifying and qualified twelfth, although he moved up to eleventh after Petrov was given a five-place grid penalty for the incident in Korea; Schumacher blamed his lack of pace on tyre vibrations he experienced on his final run.[119] After making up three places on the opening lap, Schumacher remained in the top ten for the entire race, eventually finishing fifth, ahead of team-mate Rosberg after overtaking him during the final round of pit-stops. At the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Schumacher qualified eighth and had moved up to sixth after a few corners. He was ahead of Rosberg, and the pair battled over the position for the remainder of the first lap. Rosberg’s overtake eventually meant that he finished in sixth and Schumacher in seventh. Schumacher finished the season with a fifteenth place at the season finale at the Brazilian Grand Prix, following a collision early in the race with Bruno Senna which had forced him to pit for repairs. Schumacher finished the season in eighth place in the Drivers’ Championship standings with 76 points; his best result was fourth place at the Canadian Grand Prix.Schumacher drove for Mercedes AMG in the 2012 Formula One season, alongside Nico Rosberg.

At the Australian Grand Prix, Schumacher qualified in fourth place. He moved up to third place at the start of the race, which he held until he suffered a terminal gearbox failure on lap 11. In Malaysia, Schumacher qualified third, but only managed to collect one point after being hit from behind on the first lap of the race by Romain Grosjean in wet conditions. Schumacher started on the front row in China after a grid penalty for Lewis Hamilton; he occupied the front row of the grid with his team-mate Nico Rosberg – who scored the first pole position of his career – but a mechanic’s error during the first pit-stop forced Schumacher to retire after 13 laps due to a loose wheel. Schumacher suffered a defective DRS mechanism in qualifying in Bahrain, which was compounded by a grid penalty for a gearbox replacement. He started 23rd on the grid, and finished in 10th position. Schumacher had his third retirement of the season in Barcelona, receiving a five-place grid penalty for Monaco after causing a collision with Bruno Senna. Schumacher was fastest in qualifying in Monaco; however, owing to the penalty for his incident in Barcelona, he started sixth on the grid. At the start of the race, Schumacher was hit by Romain Grosjean as he attempted to move down the outside, dropping to eighth, before retiring from seventh position late in the race due to falling fuel pressure.

At the Canadian Grand Prix, a miscalculation from the team during qualifying prevented him from undertaking his second flying lap, and he qualified in ninth position as a result. He retired from the race after his second pit stop because of a jammed DRS flap. In the European Grand Prix, Schumacher qualified twelfth, although his time was only 0.28 seconds slower than the fastest time in the second part of qualifying. He finished third in the race, gaining his first podium finish since his comeback. At the age of 43 years and 173 days, he became the oldest driver to achieve a podium since Jack Brabham’s second place finish at the 1970 British Grand Prix.He set the fastest lap in a Grand Prix for the 77th time in his career at Hockenheim on 22 July. At the Belgian Grand Prix Schumacher became the second Formula One driver to race in his 300th Grand Prix after his ex-Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello achieved this feat. He wore a commemorative platinum leaf helmet on track during the weekend and was seen donning a special platinum-coloured cap during media appearances. He finished the race in 7th place. On 28 September 2012, it was announced that Lewis Hamilton would replace Schumacher at Mercedes for the 2013 season onwards, having signed a three-year deal to partner Nico Rosberg at the team. It was reported by Ross Brawn and other sources within Mercedes that Schumacher’s indecision about his future led the team to pursue Hamilton. On 4 October 2012, Schumacher announced he would retire for a second time at the conclusion of the season. The following week he was quoted as saying: “There were times in the past few months in which I didn’t want to deal with Formula One or prepare for the next Grand Prix.”On 25 November 2012 he competed in his last Grand Prix in Brazil. After a hard race he managed to finish 7th therefore ending up in 13th place in the drivers’ championship.