Thursday, March 30, 2017

Two Wonderful Reads

Thanks to Soho Press and Skyhorse Publishing, I enjoyed two wonderful spring reads.

The first, WHAT MY BODY REMEMBERS (Soho Press), by Danish mystery author Agnete Friis, is a chilling and atmospheric suspense novel about a twenty-seven-year-old woman who is unmarried, unemployed, and suppressing a major trauma that is making it hard for her to function in her everyday life and putting her in grave danger of losing her son.

The main character, Ella, witnessed the murder of her mother when she was seven years old, but remembers nothing about the incident. Instead, her body does, and she suffers seizures whenever something reminds her of the night she lost everything--her mother to death, and her father to jail, for killing her mother.

Author Agnete Friis takes readers on a fairly predictable ride into Ella's past, but the book is compelling because of Friis' gift for description and characterization. Ella is prickly and vulnerable, and the ghosts of a twenty-year-old crime loom over her throughout the story, ready to emerge at any moment.

The book also raises some interesting questions about the nature of poverty, welfare, trauma, and essential humanity. Ella cannot hold a job, and she is judged harshly by a world that did little for her when she was broken by a terrible event.

While the novel holds few surprises in terms of the plot, it is stylish, compelling and hard to put down!
A totally different reading experience was Julian Lennon's beautiful TOUCH THE EARTH (Skyhorse Publishing). This book seeks an audience of very young readers who have the potential to save the earth by learning of our inextricable relationship to the environment.

I always loved BLUE'S CLUES because of the way it allowed young viewers to feel that they were taking an active role in the adventure. Lennon does the same here (along with his co-writer, Bart Davis) by letting young readers sit inside the White Feather Flier and take control of the instrument panel. He teaches them the four directions, and the way to use a compass. And then he lets them fly up and down, all over the earth, learning about the importance of water all over the earth--for people, animals, and the maintenance of all life on earth.

The book, in a simple and entertaining format, with beautiful illustrations by Smiljana Coh, includes young people in the important questions that face humanity. It encourages them to see that clean water is crucial to life, and that we can do things to help make the world a better and more ethical place.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Amateur Scientist Gordon Holmes on Scotland's Loch Ness, The Legendary Monster, and The Scientific Unknown

Back in 2007, I wrote this blog post about the Loch Ness Monster, in which I referenced Gordon Holmes, the man who took footage of a mysterious creature in the Loch. Recently I had the pleasure of chatting with Gordon, who provided many insights into the world's fascination with both the Loch and its reputed "monster."  Here's our interview--all photos supplied by Gordon Holmes.

 Are you a scientist by profession?

For twenty-two years I worked my way up from a Machine Tool Craftsman to a Design Engineer.

Then, when manufacturing went duff, I worked at Bradford University, Yorkshire, as an IT/Media Technician for another 22 years. Now I've retired early, so I have much more freedom.  

What got you interested in searching for Nessie?

Like most people, I have always been interested in the scientific unknown. So in 2003, I decided to finally  investigate the so-called Loch Ness Monster phenomena.  During the next four years, I visited the Loch on six occasions, armed with 7 X 50 Binoculars and Video Camera. However, there was no sign of Nessie.

Do you live near Loch Ness?

I live in a Yorkshire town called Shipley. Which is about 350 miles South of Loch Ness in England via roads and motorways. Journey time is about 10 hours, having several stops on route.

 You seem to have invented a great deal of sophisticated equipment. Do you have patents on your inventions? Do you work with a team, or alone?

No, I cannot patent anything on the equipment side since, I basically am utilising several units into a complete assembly. Anyone can do this, it just needs a bit of imagination and some technical know-how in mechanics, dynamics, electronics and, say, instrumentation. I have been fortunate to have experience in these topics during my career and hobbies. Most people could achieve all this; the main challenge is overcoming the fear to attempt it in the first place. Belief in the force, Luke or Lucy!

On the day that you got your famous footage, were you taken by surprise? Or were you expecting to find something?

On Saturday 26th May 2007 at about 9 PM (British Summer Time) I began to have doubts about my past 4 years and approx 160 hours attempting to observe the Loch Ness Monster, but with no luck. I had virtually decided not to investigate it in future. Although, one hour earlier I observed a good omen, a rainbow across the Loch. Then, whilst I was sat in the car, 70 foot above the loch (parked in a small parking area), around
 9: 30 PM, I noticed something moving tangentially across my line of sight about 150 yards away. I grabbed the camcorder and dashed next to the edge of the parking area. 

It took me about 20 seconds before I caught in through the camcorder viewfinder. For the next 2 minutes, I recorded, panned and zoomed in and out on the moving object. It seemed to be moving about 6mph. During this time, I also looked at it with just my eyesight. It was jet black but, appeared to be a couple of feet above the loch level with the water flowing over it. It was very aerodynamically shaped, like a Dolphin or a Big eel's head. Finally, it went out of visible range. When I stopped filming, I started shaking, for I knew this was going to be a massive sighting. A year later, Scottish TV told me their webpage showing my sighting, had about 1.8 million hits in the first 2 weeks!

DId you read about the Loch Ness Monster as a child?

 I was aware of the Loch Ness mystery from about the age of 10 years (1962) when my Mother bought me a small glass-like Nessie (actually, it was probably meant to be a stylish swan). My oldest Brother took me camping in Scotland during the early days of Skylab. For I remember seeing a large solar flare flowing off the low down, hazy sun. We had stopped near the shores of Loch Ness when it happened. (Note: Gordon warns that people should not look directly at the sun.  :) )

Why do you think the legend of the Loch Ness monster is so enduring?

When you observe tourists standing next to the Loch, they are praying to see Nessie. Whether they are from the US, Canada, Japan or Europe, they all are desperate for a Sighting. They want to believe, but should Nessie move quickly towards them, everyone would scream and quickly vanish, not surprisingly. 

Do we really want mysteries like this to be solved? Or is the joy in the quest?

As you say, it is the quest to solve the mystery that brings out our efforts. If we then solve it, the challenge has dissipated. I suppose if we knew all the Universe's biggest mysteries, then what would we search for? Fear not, though, is it likely we Humans will solve everything? Very unlikely, since we will probably be extinct long before then.

You've been to Loch Ness many times, but to most of us in America it's just the name of a famous body of water. What is the most striking thing about Loch Ness?

Since 2003, I believe I have had seventeen visits to investigate the Loch and Nessie. One year I visited four times. Usually, it is for a one week duration.

Loch Ness has many different aspects/treasures to it. One of the major influences is the weather. 

A foggy, murky loch has a mystical, frightening feel to it.

A bright, sunny loch would be wondrous and delightful.

Four days of continuous rain at Loch Ness would obviously be depressing.

Your 2007 webpage blog mentioned a romantic legend, which is something I never thought of, Julia. 

A child would be excited, but would also experience a scary-like sense.

To me it's a vast expanse I know well, a sort of friend, a second homecoming. The weather can change within minutes, so its never boring. However, the Real Monster of Loch Ness ia the Midge, a tiny biting fly thing. If the loch is calm and it is about to rain, beware of the Midge - aaarr!

Do you believe in the Loch Ness Monster?

Reports of Monster sightings at Loch Ness go back centuries, even to Saint Columba - 565 AD. For many years the locals would not discuss, if they had a sighting, since, they were very superstitious. However, based on hearsay, they describe a horrible looking Beastie. From the 1930s, there have been many hoaxes, and unfortunately it still happens up to the present day. The Experts agree that my footage was genuine, but they do not agree what it was. There is a TV Programme called, 'River Monster' and the Chap it is based around, catches very large and rare fish all over the world. He proves the local legends are indeed, true. 

Therefore I believe one or more large, scary looking Monsters could exist in Loch Ness over the centuries. Based on my footage, I would guess I filmed two large eels or dolphins (about 8 to 12 foot long), although, I don't believe anyone else has observed Dolphins in the loch before.

Thank you so much for chatting with me, Gordon!

Finally, here's an interview with Gordon on YouTube from the time of his sighting.