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Some Recent Published Work
Filming Great White Sharks
the coast of
for BBC Wonders of Life
A small selection of random Scribbles
The site bore a set of huts called Bandas in which I would spend the night, plus a small hut designated as a museum with a few bits on show. But the prize displays were outside. Following the fenced in chicken wire clad pathways, I was led to piles of stone tools hand crafted by Homo Erectus some 800000 years ago. At every turn were round cobbles, large pointed hand axes, and sharp slithers of rock. It was like stepping into a stone age B&Q, with row upon row of Neolithic toolkits. Rick explained that this indeed was the place the early humans in the area would come to make their tools. There was very little evidence of butchery going on here, more a tool workshop where tools were fashioned as and when they were needed and then food taken home to the hills for consumption.
At nightfall I phoned home, intrigued that I had a much stronger signal here in the African bush than I can ever get in Blackheath. With a billion stars gazing down on me, I shared my days’ exploits with the family. Here I was using a tool of incredible complexity, surrounded by tools that in their own time and for hundreds of thousands of years more were the pinnacle of human achievement. My son Evan was most excited that I had seen a stick insect. The toilet facilities were basic. I am always wary of going to such a toilet at night, for bearing a headtorch, there is the scant chance you might glance into the hole and catch a glimpse of what is actually down there. Better not to know. The shower was a big barrel of water with a sprinkler at the bottom. Very refreshing.
A short drive into the bush and Rick led me off down a dried up river bed. He was keen to show me a place they had uncovered just last year which he called ‘the quarry’. The ground underfoot was very dusty, but more chalky in appearance rather than typical soil. Rick explained that the chalk was actually the remains of billions of ancient single celled alga’s, as this whole area (at various times in the last million years) had been freshwater lakes. The lakes had come and gone with the changing climate, and all this could be told from the microscopic remains of the algae in the dust. Turning a corner we came to an exposed flat. Sitting down (at his insistence), Rick revealed that I was now sitting where a homo erectus had sat possibly up to a million years ago and made his tool kit from the surrounding rock. I could see the marks where my distant ancestor/cousin had worked on the rocks, bashing off thin sharp flakes and making his hand axes. My bum cheeks and his were connected through a million years of time.
found myself at gone walking the streets of
Apparently it was at least minus 6C. It was very strange as there was a thick fog hugging the ground, and from it ice crystals were falling all around. It was almost magical, in a sort of industrial and freezing magical way. There wasn’t a soul anywhere and the few eateries which I saw were long shut. The walk to the station was very easy and I didn’t get lost, though I did pass what appeared to be an imported sandy beach boasting DJs and beach parties (though I imagine not this time of the year). The train station (what I believe is Berlin’s central station) was massive, a sprawl of glass and steel with clever revolving doors and escalators that slowed to a snails pace when not in use, but sped up again as you approached them. Inside I encountered a few people as it appeared from the boards that there were some trains running all night. Happy that I had located the station and better still, that I had been able to read the timetable which also gave me the platform for my specific train (wonderful German efficiency), I headed back to my hotel.
The Tv had virtually all German channels but I did come across what hailed itself as a ‘sports channel’, and there before me was something I had never seen. It was an American programme called ‘Girls Gone Wild’, and was basically teams of girls competing against each other with very little (if any) clothes on. Curious, the competitions included simulating sex with each other (assorted positions shouted out by the dwarf referee) whilst on a revolving platform - the pink team were doing so well until the platform spun into action and flung them off. In the end it was (I believe, though I’m not sure) the blue team that won, completing a sort of obstacle course just seconds ahead of the pink team (who I had been rooting for). I say ‘I believe’ because at this juncture, neither members of each team had any coloured clothing on at all. And so to bed.
ludicrously early to get the train to
been shown around and had a quick primer in evolutionary genetics from a
German/American PhD student, I met the head man and grilled him about what it
was he does and why and tried desperately to try and frame their work within
the needs of the story we were trying to tell. I also got to see their vast
selection of bones. Avoiding lunch, I said my farewells and decided to have a
walk into town to see where I might get a set of shots to establish ‘
after the fall of the
through town, I was in search of something to take home. Never shy of seeking
out ‘les souvenirs’ (or their German equivalent), I was having trouble. I was
told that German biscuits might be fun for my sons, and at last I found some,
not in a wonderful sweet smelling patisserie and bakers (of which there were
many), but in the equivalent of a pound shop. I also managed to secure two
novelty rubber ducks. Back to the station to get the train back to
Heading out from the marina on a bright yellow dive-cum-dolphin
sporting boat, I was en route to a date in history. Armed with a film crew,
presenter and local paleontologist, we were motoring round to the east side
We were staying in the rather grand The Rock hotel. The whiff of art deco from the outside was soon lost on entering, but it maintained a certain level of colonial charm. From the black and white photos on the walls, this hotel had certainly seen some action, at least back in the 50s and 60s, but now it looked not so much a little tired, but trying to cling on to what it had. The menu reflected this bearing the most ridiculous names for what was otherwise quite bland food. The view out to sea could have been wonderful peering over the tops of the exotic trees of the botanic garden .But sadly all you see is the ugly port, ugly massive tankers at anchor and then on the Spanish mainland, a massive and stinky oil refinery, built there I can only assume again out of spite.
Over the course of the weekend, I saw pretty much everything
the peninsular outpost had to offer. Gibraltar once played a pivotal role in
WW2, but all the ugly concrete they poured everywhere to facilitate the
campaigns (from gun placements, to landing areas, to lookout posts) has just
been left to very very slowly rot away. Everywhere you look are slabs of
concrete and rusting steel. There is a huge military presence with assorted
barracks and enclaves and I suppose to the military, making things look
pretty is a waste of their time and resources. The rock also has miles of
tunnels excavated during the war effort with barracks and hospitals and
control rooms all deep within the limestone (like what they have at
As we failed to make the cave on the first day, I decided
to film up on the top of the rock as the sun was setting. Our driver was
rather reticent saying that large buses were not allowed up there. I
suggested he get a small one then, at which point he looked round and with a
wild glint in his eye he laughed, said he hoped we were insured and floored
it. Finding nice views was much harder than I anticipated. I think it was a
combination of geology with the sheer sides of the rock, and the ugly rotting
fortifications that made finding a place with assorted pretty angles hard
work. We eventually found a place at the very top (which was lucky as there
was nowhere else to go except back down). This is one of the places the
Back on the boat the following morning, as the sun gained in strength over the Med, we sat outside the cave, assessing if we could get in. We were here as this is prime Neanderthal country and we were trying to answer the question why did we survive and they die out. 30,000 years ago, the level of the sea was much lower than it was today and these caves would have been penthouse suites, surrounded by a wide wetland savannah. Nowadays with the sa lashing at their entrance, there is a perfectly good staircase cut into the rock that leads down to the caves. But the MOD have decided that it poses a risk to those scientists and film crews that may want to use it and so bar access, hence the boat and the precarious nature of us trying to leap onto the rocks from a small bobbing dingy.
With the sea very calm this morning, we were finally able to make landfall. Led by the local paleontologist, we headed into the cave. Bathed in the golden morning light, the wide entrance to the cave was lit up with a warm orange glow. Our man in the know, Clive, immediately started showing us the evidences of ancient habitation in the rocky sediments by the entrance. Here was marine seashells dating back to the time of the Neanderthals, in a location that only they could have dropped them (as opposed to them just being washed up). The inference here is that what were previously assumed to be mammoth eating ambush hunters actually had a much wider diet and were partial to a bit of shellfish which they could collect a stones throw from their cave. Clive also showed us tools and animal bones he had found in the cave, revealing that here lived a group of humans who ate everything from dolphin and seal to Hyena, and they were using wonderfully intricate tools to butcher the meat very similar to what modern humans were using elsewhere. Casting a glance over my shoulder, you could just imagine these humans waking up to the morning sunrise, looking out of their prime real estate and getting breakfast ready.
Mounting the rusty scaffold ladders that they use during their archaeological digs, we climbed up to a second level and headed further into the cave. The penetrating sunlight still illuminated the high ceilings, but now we were very venturing into the dark. 200m in, at the very back, Clive showed us where they had excavated a campfire, dating the charcoal to around 28000 years. This is the very last date the Neanderthals had existed anywhere on our planet. So here we were sat in the place where the last of the Neanderthals lived. I had a bit of a ‘moment’ sat there in the gloom. To think this was where our cousins made their last stand and their line of humanity ended.
It’s been some time since I went to the barber. Its not that I’m a long haired hippy type, its just that I have been on an economy and temporal (money and time) efficiency drive for a couple of years as far as hair goes. I employ the haircutting talents of Mrs Olding to cut my hair to the best of her ability with a home haircut kit. This has oft resulted in a partial lobotomy look or even the occasional hair horns (chunks of hair that lie flat during the cutting process, but then erect following a hair wash), but seeing as that makes me look unhinged and can keep people at a distance affording me a little more personal space, its not something that has overly bothered me.
Working from home one day and feeling the weight of a full
head of hair and tickling beard, I decided that today I would venture out to
seek a cut (so long as there was no queue) at my old barber shop. Many years
back it used to be called Chris’s barber shop. I always thought this was
named in some way in recognition of the trad jazz legend Chris barber (who
often played with Mr Acker Bilk). Or it may of course have just been called
that as it was run by a barber called Chris. Some time ago, Chris had moved
on, to be replaced by
Hairdressers and barbers have always places that have generally annoyed me, hence the decision to go DIY. I had always found them to be very busy just at the moment I had decided to go get a hair cut, and busy with people who quite clearly did not need a haircut. I entering the said emporia, the barber would always be hard at work on a short haired gent, and sat int eh waiting chairs would be 4 other (often elderly) gents all with short hair wanting a haircut. I’d be the only one there who seemed in dire need of a cut, and always thought I should be triaged (like in emergency departments), as my need was considerably greater than others in front of me.
Today though, there was no queue and I wandered straight
The haircut itself was uneventful, but actually rather
enjoyable. When I’ve been home cut, there is no mirror, and so I can only see
how good or bad the cut has been once it was finished and I stare into the
bathroom mirror. Here of course, in a professional barbershop, the large
mirrors kept me fully updated in real time. Now as I said,
Our cat David will often bring in mice. He's very careful not to hurt them at the point of initial capture. We know he has something as he does his usual welcoming "I'm here" meow, but it comes out slightly muted as he is carrying a prize carefully in his mouth. As with our children, we shower praise on Dave for being such a clever cat, but being animal lovers we then try to rescue said mouse prize and return the creature back out to the garden. This has met with varied success.
So to Monday night. The catflap rattled as our ninja feline slunk in. He called out a muffled "I'm here and I've got something to play with" meow. We tore ourselves away from Have I got News for you to see what he had (it’s usually a mouse, but there have been rare occasions in the past when it has been a squirrel or even a pigeon) and with a "well done David aren't you a clever cat" we hatched a rescue plan to save his prey. It’s at this point, once he has brought the mouse in, that the real purpose of David's mouse hunt comes into action. He is not a hungry cat and we feed him the regulated amount of science diet. He just likes to play with his food. What usually happens next is that he lets go of his mouse and then proceeds to pounce, flick, jab and generally fling about his hyperventilating living toy. If he gets an inclination that we are about to intervene, he will often take his wide eyed toy back out into the garden, have a few hours crazed pleasure to then leave us the mouse's head and possibly spleen on the front door mat as a present some hours later.
So it was that at this point in the evening’s entertainment that Dave let the mouse go ready to chase, and the mouse made a quick escape to hide in the row of shows underneath our telephone stand. Losing sight of his prey, David then backed off and stared into the assorted footwear, waiting for his prey to make a move and give away his hiding place. It was also at this time that we stepped in to try and rescue the mouse. David may have incredible hunting instincts, but the brain size difference between us and him allows us to step back and look at the bigger picture. And so it was that I spotted said mouse hiding within the toe region of some strappy sandals. From experience I now know that even during a rescue, mice are oft given to biting, and so with hand inserted in sock, I lent in to scoop him up to safety. That is until he legged it. Dave was still poking around my green stained trousers (green from a recent mowing session) moving on to the scuffed black school shoes. As it was after the boys bath time, I was dressed in pyjamas. Rarely are we dressed in anything else beyond 7. Kneeling down and trying to locate the elusive mouse, I caught sight of the timid rodent, when he suddenly legged it out of the shoe store, and up my trouser leg.
This was an altogether different way of helping him to safety, but one I could just about accommodate. Notifying Mrs O of the whereabouts of the mouse and my daring plan to walk him to safety carefully sealed in my trouser leg, I wrapped y hand round the base of the pyjama and carefully stood up. The moue then scuttled right up my leg. With a girlish squeal I feared for the safety of my manbits and according to Mrs O now unable t catch her breath for laughing so hard, I performed a unique animated dance accompanied by a face of horror. Luckily, the mouse bypassed my crotch and headed straight up my back. Hurrying to the back door, the mouse now racing back and forth across my shoulders, I managed to carry the rodent out the back door. Kneeling down, I then tried to encourage the racing rodent to exit from under my shirt. After some minutes, the mouse finally made his exit through my left sleeve hole and scurried off into the night. It took another 20mins for Mrs O to stop laughing.
To the Bafta
nominees party at Coutts bank on the strand. Straight up the escalator to
their atrium and greeted by Tattinger
classic white stretch limo picked us up from the entrance to the vast Pyramid
shaped hotel that is the
We were introduced to our minister who looked like a smaller and less angrier version of Ian Paisley. He asked if we'd like God involved and we said yes. The organising lady then presented Andrea with a complimentary garter and took her off to the bridal suite for some photos whilst I, Ma and the boys waited in their waiting area. The chapel had a live, real-time web link where people could log on and watch proceedings over the interweb. We had already sent out the online coordinates in case people wanted to watch, so as the chapel were running a little late, Huw took it upon himself to announce to
the world that if anyone had just tuned in, we were running a few mins late but to keep watching.
And so with Dean Martin singing Moon river, and me and Ma standing at the 'alter', the service began. Evan entered depositing petals as he went (a mere $45 dollars add on to our package), then Huw bounded in bearing the ring (something Andrea has wanted for sometime and purchased from the lovely Mr Hirsch of Burlington Arcade), and finally Andrea walked up the aisle, a 1950s style stunner complete with beehive hairdo that had been created some hours earlier by Eileen back in the pyramid. Mum kicked it all off with a reading, speaking in a voice not unlike the Queen. Then the minister took us through the renewing of vows, first the vows he had, then we read our own vows from 10 years ago. We were then invited to light the unity candle, something Andrea had been most looking forward to. Basically you each take a separate lit candle and together you light a central significantly bigger candle. Then it gets whipped away, packaged up and given to you after the service in your wedding goody bag. It sounds a little fromage and it was, but on the scale of a nice cheddar not a stinky camerbert.
thought long and hard about our Vegas wedding. Initial thoughts were of Elvis
or even King Arthur or Frank Sinatra being involved. We wanted the razzle
dazzle, the comedic value and a Vegas feel, but in the end we decided that
although fun was high on the agenda, there really was no point in making the
whole thing too silly, particularly the important bits. So we moulded our vow
renewal to be 'classy Vegas'. Andrea was in a white wedding dress adorned by
the aforementioned fabulous beehive and tiara combo. I stood in a vintage
1950s tuxedo and frilly shirt (located after some time of looking in back
raced through our vow renewal (they run a busy shop and we had already seen
the next bridal party arrive), the minister drew the service to a close. With
a twinkle in his eye, and no sense of irony, he summed up the proceedings
with words made even more poignant given the world's high divorce rate.
"By the power vested in me, by the state of
All words copyright Paul Olding 2011
No part can be published without prior permission