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The Crab Nebula


The Crab Nebula is a supernova remnant and pulsar wind nebula in the constellation of Taurus. Corresponding to a bright supernova recorded by Chinese astronomers in 1054, the nebula was observed later by John Bevis in 1731. At an apparent magnitude of 8.4, comparable to that of the largest moon of Saturn, it is not visible to the naked eye but can be made out using binoculars under favourable conditions.

At X-ray and gamma-ray energies above 30 keV, the Crab is generally the strongest persistent source in the sky, with measured flux extending to above 10 TeV. Located at a distance of about 6,500 light-years (2 kpc) from Earth, the nebula has a diameter of 11 light years (3.4 pc, corresponding to an apparent diameter of some 7 arc minutes) and expands at a rate of about 1,500 kilometers per second (0.5% c). It is part of the Perseus Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy.

At the center of the nebula lies the Crab Pulsar, aneutron star 28–30 km across, which emits pulses of radiation from gammarays to radio waves with a spin rate of 30.2 times per second. The nebula was the first astronomical object identified with a historical supernova explosion.

The nebula acts as a source of radiation for studying celestial bodies that occult it. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Sun’s coronawas mapped from observations of the Crab’s radio waves passing through it, and in 2003, the thickness of the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan was measured as it blocked out X-rays from the nebula.

Crab pulsar dazzles astronomers with its gamma-ray beams Researchers have detected pulses of gamma rays with energies exceeding 100 billion electron volts — a million times more energetic than medical X-rays and 100 billion times more than visible light. By Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts — Published: October 6, 2011

A thousand years ago, a brilliant beacon of light blazed in the sky, shining brightly enough to be seen even in daytime for almost a month. Native American and Chinese observers recorded the eye-catching event. We now know that they witnessed an exploding star, which left behind a gaseous remnant known as the Crab Nebula.

The same object that dazzled skygazers in 1054 continues to dazzle astronomers today by pumping out radiation at higher energies than anyone expected. Researchers have detected pulses of gamma rays with energies exceeding 100 billion electron volts (100 GeV) —a million times more energetic than medical X-rays and 100 billion times more than visible light.

“If you asked theorists a year ago whether we would see gamma-ray pulses this energetic, almost all of them would have said, ‘No.’ There’s just no theory that can account for what we’ve found,” said Martin Schroedter of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The gamma rays come from an extreme object at the Crab Nebula’s center known as a pulsar. A pulsar is a spinning neutron star — the collapsed core of a massive star. Although only a few miles across, a neutron star is so dense that it weighs more than the Sun.

Rotating about 30 times a second, the Crab pulsar generates beams of radiation from its spinning magnetic field. The beams sweep around like a lighthouse beacon because they’re not aligned with the star’s rotation axis. So although the beams are steady, they’re detected on Earth as rapid pulses of radiation.

An international team of scientists reported the discovery. Nepomuk Otte from the University of California, Santa Cruz, said that some researchers had told him he was crazy to even look for pulsar emission in this energy realm.

“It turns out that being persistent and stubborn helps,” Otte said. “These results put new constraints on the mechanism for how the gamma-ray emission is generated.”

Some possible scenarios to explain the data have been put forward, but it will take more data, or even a next-generation observatory, to really understand the mechanisms behind these gamma-ray pulses.

The Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System (VERITAS) — the most powerful high-energy gamma-ray observatory in the Northern Hemisphere —detected the gamma-ray pulses. VERITAS is located at the Smithsonian’s Whipple Observatory, just south of Tucson, Arizona.

Astronomers observe very-high-energy gamma rays with ground-based Cherenkov telescopes. These gamma rays, coming from cosmic “particle accelerators,” are absorbed in Earth’s atmosphere, where they create a short-lived shower of subatomic particles. The Cherenkov telescopes detect the faint, extremely short flashes of blue light that these particles emit (named Cherenkov light) using extremely sensitive cameras. The images can be used to infer the arrival direction and initial energy of the gamma rays.

This technique is used by gamma-ray observatories throughout the world, and was pioneered under the direction of CfA’s Trevor Weekes using the 10-meter Cherenkov telescope at Whipple Observatory. The Whipple 10-meter telescope was used to detect the first galactic and extragalactic sources of very-high-energy gamma rays.

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Salad Days

Agriculture is the foundation of human advancement. As soon as we were able to reliably grow our own food, we could finally do-away with the nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle and begin the serious business of cultivating a staggering array of vegetables, that would one day terrorise our children at tea-time and be hilariously compared to the shape of David Beckham’s genitals. All vegetables have an interesting story to tell. Instead of that, here’s this:

10 Johnny Appleseed
Johnny Appleseed was a real person. Mystery surrounds his name so that, like Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, he has passed into the realm of legend. He roamed the New World territories of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana in the late 1700s and early 1800s, planting 100,000 square miles of apple orchards as he went, some of which remain today. Barefoot and dressed in sackcloth, people were greatly entertained by his activities. He was quick to befriend Native Americans, children, and animals alike.
He was not a saint however; growing apples was big business. He seemed to have an uncanny knack for knowing where the next settlement was going to spring up and arrived ahead of time. When the pioneers came along, he would sell his trees for a few pennies and move on and due to this commercial prowess, he died a wealthy man.
Johnny’s apples did not go into pies and cobblers: Apples were not highly valued as food back then. Johnny’s orchards were planted for making strong cider and applejack. After all, there was no sense in conquering frontier if you couldn’t suck down a gallon of scrumpy of a night.

9 Negative-Calorie Celery
There is no pursuit fraught with more anecdotal, questionable, and downright dangerous advice than dieting. One of the most dubious claims is that there are “negative calorie” foods—so low in calories that the very act of chewing and digesting them consumes more energy than the food actually gives us. The most commonly cited example is celery, which contains about six calories per stalk. Dozens of otherwise reliable sources assert that celery will actually help you lose weight.
However, the act of digestion is remarkably efficient and burns very few calories. Humankind often had to expend enormous amounts of energy to obtain food. If digesting what they managed to amass was also susceptible to energy-consumption tax, they would have most likely starved to death. Celery is no replacement for exercise, but feel free to chow down on the stuff until your heart is content. It would take over 300 sticks to equal the average daily ration of calories.

8 Banana Extinction
Our Great-grandparents had to deal with The Great War and The Great Depression, but they did have something we don’t – Great bananas. Prior to the 1950s, the most widely distributed banana in the world was the “Gros Michel.” Unfortunately, the Gros Michel banana was nearly wiped out by a fungus called Panama Disease.
Today, we enjoy a similar version of the banana called the Cavendish. The Cavendish is smaller, more fragile, and less tasty than the Gros Michel, but it has a resistance to the Panama Disease. But like the Gros Michel before it, the Cavendish is in big trouble. There’s a new strain of Panama Disease on the rise, and most scientists believe that it is only a matter of time before the Cavendish, which is susceptible to this version, will also disappear functionally; There are still Gros Michels around, just not enough to meet global demand.

7 Toxic Potatoes
The common potato is a member of the Solanum genus and a kissing cousin of deadly nightshade. Like nightshade, the potato produces large amounts of substances called glycoalkaloids, particularly one nasty strain called solanine. This poison is the potato’s defense mechanism that keep it from getting eaten, and is most concentrated in the leaves, stems, and shoots. Spotting any green on the skin of the potato is a sure indication of the presence of solanine. Most commercially available potatoes are carefully cultivated for low levels of the poison, but it is possible to get one with a high amount present, and people have died from ingesting potato solanine. While cooking can reduce the level, every potato you eat gives you at least some small amount of exposure.

6 Grape Plasma
A simple grape can be turned from a solid to a gas to a plasma with a little ride in the microwave. There are some inherent dangers involved in catastrophically changing states of matter, and the microwave might not survive this stunt. There is also a chance, however remote, that you might set your house on fire, but you’ll never know unless you try it..
The set up is simple. Take a grape, and slice it about 90 percent of the way through, leaving both halves attached by a small strip of skin. Remove the rotating tray from the microwave, insert grape, and set it for no more than ten seconds. After a couple seconds, the moisture inside the grape emerges as a gas, and the charge between the two halves turns the steam into a brief electric lightshow. Placing a clear glass over the top of the grape will contain the plasma a few moments longer.

5 Cannibal Tomato
Cannibal tom
The Cannibal Tomato is actually an aubergine. The plant closely resembles a tomato and was used by the natives of Fiji, who have practiced cannibalism for thousands of years, to create a sauce said to be the perfect complement to eating human flesh. Some modern-day folks who have tasted human meat have likened its flavour and consistency to that of veal, so it would seem entirely appropriate to pair it with a nice marinara.

4 Designer Melons
The watermelon originated in southern Africa, and its spread throughout the world highlights the existence of sophisticated trade routes in ancient times. It was consumed by Egyptians during the time of the pharaohs. It reached China by the 10th century and Europe in the 13th century.
Highly adaptable, the watermelon was a natural target for the Japanese appetite for novelty. Farmers discovered a way of raising the melons inside glass boxes so that they grow into cube shape for easy storage in refrigerators. Other shapes—including pyramids—have also been formed. Even more outlandish are the prices paid for gourmet “Densuke” watermelons. Grown only on Hokkaido Island, the first few specimens harvested each year sell for thousands of pounds. The average Densuke melon retails for about £180.

3 Purple Carrots
Like the watermelon, the carrot’s migration around the world can be traced, though there are some doubts regarding its origin. It is believed to have been first cultivated in modern-day Afghanistan, then swept into Europe along Middle Eastern trade routes. Of course, we would hardly recognize these ancient carrots—they were rather straggly and either white or purple. In the green fingers of the Dutch, the carrot was lovingly bred into its current orange splendour. While most of us have never seen anything but orange carrots, other colours are available in high-end grocery and health food stores, often in “rainbow packs,” including white, yellow, red, purple, and even black varieties.

2 Spinach
Many people, particularly children, turn up their nose at spinach. Enter Elzie Segar, whose Popeye character derived superhuman strength from a can of spinach. There is no telling just how profound an impact Popeye has had on the worldwide consumption of spinach, but there have been statues erected of him in growing communities. Canner Allens Vegetables even markets a Popeye brand. It was said that spinach was chosen by Segar because of a dubious study from the 1800s that misplaced a decimal point in estimating the iron content of the vegetable.

1 The World’s Most Hated Vegetable
Unfortunately, vegetables are often the most reviled of foods. President George H.W. Bush so hated broccoli that he made headlines when he banned it from the White House. Surveys in the UK have shown celery to be their least favourite green. But the world over, one vegetable continually tops the lists of “most hated”: The Brussels Sprout.
These tiny cabbages are extremely healthy, with over a dozen vitamins and minerals, but their flavour turns off most palates. In fairness to the sprouts, certain cooking methods can improve their taste. For best results, aficionados claim that smaller sprouts taste sweeter. Halving them, plunge boiling them and then sautéing with pumpkin seeds will deliver any set of discerning taste-buds into transports of delight.

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Floods? Whatever next?


The true cost of fossil fuel emissions, which has seen two centuries of meteoric advances in technology and living standards is now being counted in the billions that will be needed to build flood defences and relocate many thousands of people. Rising water levels, causing devastating floods are now occurring regularly in various regions throughout the world.

This weekend, more than 80,000 emergency personnel including fire-fighters and soldiers were on duty, working to contain the most dramatic floods in Germany in a decade. Thousands of residents were still unable to return to their homes, and bridges and streets were impassable in many regions of eastern and southern Germany.

Twenty people have already died in the floods across central Europe after several days of heavy rains. Thousands have been temporarily housed in emergency shelters waiting for the waters to recede so they can return to their homes.

High water levels were also reported in Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, while thousands of people in Austria were busy shoveling away mud left by the receding flood-waters of the Danube. In Hungary, around 2,000 residents of the town of Gyorujfalu north west of Budapest were evacuated because authorities were afraid the levees would not withstand the pressure of the Danube’s waters.

The rising waters of the Danube, Europe’s biggest river, were expected to reach Budapest on Monday, inching close up to the top of the river’s flood fences, which are 30.5 feet (9.3m) tall. In one of the most devastating floods, in 1838, the Danube killed 150 people and left over 50,000 homeless.

Similar and worse catastrophic floods have been suffered in China, Mexico, India, Australia, Chile, the U.S. and the list goes on. Predictions for the future are grim. Things are only going to get worse – or are they? In 1894, the Times of London estimated that by 1950 every street in the city of London would be buried nine feet deep in horse manure. In 1894 they could not have envisaged the birth of the motor car.

The Iter project is the biggest scientific collaboration ever. Using nuclear fusion, the project aims to recreate the process at the centre of the sun, converting hydrogen to helium with a method quite literally as old as the stars. The 34 nation collaboration, representing half of the world’s population, are seeking to create and produce a clean, cheap energy source for the planet and reduce the quantity of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Should this happen, it is predicted by some that the Earth would begin to cool again.

Staying with the Sun, some astronomers believe that the Sun’s natural cycles of sunspots and solar storms, point to a period of extreme cold or a ‘mini ice-age’ similar to the one experienced in the 300 years between 1400-1700.

If the ice-caps re-freeze and consequently, the water levels fall, maybe flooding would be avoided, but in 1400 there were 350m people in the world. Would we have enough fresh water for the 8bn people of today, or would ‘Water-wars’ ensue and water become as sought after as oil is today? And with all the cheap, clean fuel and the medical advances expected in the coming decades, how long before we are 20bn? Or 50bn? And won’t that present a whole raft of new challenges?

The floods are real and their consequences are dire. Their causes can be explained but using that evidence to forecast the prevailing predicaments of the future is not such an exact science.

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Primarily emerging in Germany and Austria during the first decade of 20th century, the flexible concept of Expressionism refers to art that emphasizes the extreme expressive properties of pictorial form in order to explore subjective emotions and inner psychological truths.

Although much influenced by the work of Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, and Edvard Munch, the artists who pioneered Expressionism departed even further from traditional notions of recording the appearance of reality than the Post-Impressionists or the Symbolists had.

They were also influenced by Henri Matisse and the other Fauves, the Cubists, African and Oceanic art, and the folk art of Germany and Russia. In conjunction with poets, dramatists, and other writers, they championed idealist values and freedom from the constricting forces and repressive materialism of bourgeois society.

One prominent Expressionist group, Die Brücke (The Bridge), which was active as a group from 1905 to 1913, included founders Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff as well as Otto Müller, Emil Nolde (for a brief period), and Max Pechstein.

Members of Die Brücke conveyed pictorially the Modernist themes of alienation, anxiety, and social fragmentation. They employed emotionally charged images, a primitive simplification of form, a deliberate crudeness of figuration, agitated brushwork, and powerful, often violent juxtapositions of intense color.

Expressionism is characterised by distortion, exaggeration, primitivism and fantasy through the vivid, jarring, violent, or dynamic application of formal elements to strongly impose the artist’s own sensibility to the world’s representations.munch-the-scream

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German Occupation of the Channel Islands

Hitler considered the Channel Islands – Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and Herm – a valuable landing stage for the invasion of mainland France, as they sat just 20 miles off the French coast. Winston Churchill, however, thought they held no strategic importance for Britain and decided to de-militarise them and leave them undefended.

The Germans invade

As the German army stormed through France in June 1940, some 30,000 Channel Islanders (one third of the total population) were evacuated. Once the initial panic was over, the rest decided to stay and tough it out, mainly on Jersey and Guernsey.

On 28 June, the Luftwaffe bombed Jersey and Guernsey, unaware that the islands were undefended. They killed 44 people. Two days later, Luftwaffe personnel took control of Guernsey airfield. There they met the chief of police, who informed them that the islands were undefended.

The following day, a detachment of troops arrived on Guernsey and that afternoon the German flag was raised. More arrived later and their attention turned to the other islands.

Jersey surrendered on 1 July and soldiers were swftly stationed. Islanders had to show their compliance by flying white flags over their houses.

Sybil Hathaway, the Dame of Sark, received German officers on 2 July. They assured her she had nothing to fear and the island’s garrison of just ten men arrived on 4 July.

Alderney, meanwhile, was almost completely empty, but was garrisoned by a company of troops. Herm, the smallest of the islands, was visited by German soldiers on 25 July, although they did not set up a permanent station there.

Life under Nazi rule

A curfew was imposed between the hours of 11pm and 5am and ID cards had to be carried. The sale of spirits was banned. Later, wirelesses were banned and all British-born Islanders were deported to Germany.

A register of Jewish people was created and all Jewish business had to publicly identify themselves. Some were deported to concentration camps. Cars were requisitioned and the Germans controlled the food grown by farmers and caught by fishermen. Anyone caught trying to escape to Britain was imprisoned or shot – if they didn’t drown.

Four concentration camps were built on Alderney – the only ones on British territory. Alderney became the most heavily fortified of the islands, built by slave labour.

Resistance and collaboration

Whilst there was no consolidated resistance movement as there was in France, V for Victory signs were painted around the islands, underground newsletters were written, and guns and ammunition were stolen from German stores. Some Islanders assisted their Jewish neighbours and fed slave labourers. On Jersey, letters sent to the Commandant by informants were intercepted by the Post Office and destroyed. Many who did collaborate were attacked after liberation.

The beginning of the end

The D-Day landings in June 1944 came as both a blessing and a curse. Whilst they marked the beginning of the end for the German occupiers who relied on supply lines from the continent, they also meant that food lines were cut. As supplies dwindled, everyone began to starve. However, after negotiation with the Home Office, the Germans allowed the Red Cross’ SS Vega to deliver food, saving many of the Islanders’ lives. The Vega continued to bring food parcels even after the British liberated the islands on 9 May 1945.

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The History of Porcelain

d7ad1e09d5Introduction of pottery Zen priests are linked with two very characteristic elements of Japanese culture: the exquisite simplicity of Japanese ceramics; and the polite formalities of the Tea Ceremony for which much of the pottery is designed. In 1223 a Zen monk takes a Japanese potter, Kato Shirozaemon, to China to study the manufacture of ceramics. This is a period, in the Song dynasty, when the Chinese potters have achieved a perfection of simplicity. The Japanese, in the same vein, will evolve their own styles to rival this perfection. The Japanese potter, returning home, establishes himself at Seto. This rapidly becomes a center for the manufacture of pottery, with as many as 200 kilns in the dtrict. Seto has retained ever since the status of the classical pottery region of Japan. Much of the early Seto output is temmoku – stoneware cups and bowls with a black or iron-brown glaze, in direct imitation of the contemporary Chinese style. This becomes much in demand with the increasing popularity in the samurai class of the Tea Ceremony, in which a mood of rustic simplicity is required.

Introduction of porcelain In the early 17th century potters succeeded in firing the first soft paste porcelain after the discovery of suitable raw materials in Arita. Within just 30 years, the production of blue-white porcelain was flourishing. Between 1643-1647, Sakaida Kaiemon developed the technique of polychrome over glaze enamel for porcelain. This porcelain with polychrome painting was appearing in various styles, such as ko-imari, with its sumptuous brocade style. In accordance with the changing wishes of the aristocracy to have an elaborately equipped tea ceremony, as well as the requirements of the urban elites for high-quality domestic wares, an innovation followed in Kyoto in the mid 17 century in the form of overglaze-decorated stoneware by Nonomura Ninsei and Ogata Kenzan. With their decorative styles, both artists and their pupils influenced the development of ceramics far beyond the bounds of Kyoto. Many potters from provinces were sent by their feudal loads or by rich merchants to be trained in Kyoto, or the Kyoto masters were invited to the provinces

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Scotland – Our Brothers in Arms

TrainScotland_BOV460On 1 May 1707 the Scottish Parliament and the English Parliament each passed an Act of Parliament to simultaneously dissolve and form the new combined Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

The new parliament would sit at the Palace of Renaissance, Reformation Westminster, the home of the old English and Mary Queen of Scots Parliament. Previous attempts at union had been made, but this was the first time there was sufficient support on both sides to make it happen.

Put simply, the Scots needed financial support from England, and the English wanted to ensure that Scotland would not choose a different monarch. It was not, however, a universally popular move and many teething troubles had to be overcome as the two different sets of traditions and practice were merged into one parliament.

Robert Burns would famously write about the Scots parliamentarians that had signed the Act of Union: …O would, or I had seen the day That Treason thus could sell us, My auld grey head had lien in clay, Wi’ Bruce and loyal Wallace! But pith and power, till my last hour, I’ll mak this declaration; We’re bought and sold for English gold-Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

Burns’s view, and the view of many Scots, was that the parliamentarians that signed the act had been bribed. Tens of thousands of pounds were sent north to recompense Parliamentarians for losses they would suffer as a result of the union and for pensions.

The 1707 Union of Parliaments would open up the English colonial markets to Scots trade. In time Scotland recovered from the financial disaster of the Darien Scheme and the Scots made the most of the opportunities that the union offered.

Red tape aside, our cultures are richer, our boisterous rivalry endures. We remain united in brotherhood and long may it last.

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Banksy: Psyching Out the Gift Shop

Exit Through the Gift Shop marked the feature-film debut of notorious street artist Banksy. The documentary’s focus was French-born L.A. thrift-shop owner Thierry Guetta, whose apparent compulsion to videotape every moment of his life leads him to document the phenomenon of contemporary street art. Guetta’s cousin, a street artist known as Space Invader, allows the avid cameraman to tape him as he illegally produces his art. Eventually, Guetta hooks up with Shepard Fairey, best known for his widespread stickers featuring an image of Andre the Giant over the word “OBEY.” Guetta soon hears about the mysterious street artist Banksy, and becomes obsessed with finding him and videotaping his exploits. Thanks to Guettta’s growing reputation among street artists, the two eventually meet and form a sort of partnership. Guetta even videotapes Banksy’s infamous “Gitmo” prank at Disneyland, wherein a handcuffed, hooded figure in an orange jumpsuit is placed beside one of the rides. They get along quite well until Banksy suggests that Guetta stop shooting, take the countless hours of footage he’s accumulated, and start assembling them into a documentary. Banksy eventually takes over the documentary project, and inadvertently pushes Guetta’s creative energy in a new direction, as Guetta becomes a kind of street artist himself, with shocking results, leading to much speculation as to the documentary’s veracity and the provenance of Guetta, his videotape, and his artwork.


He is a national treasure: but he won’t be accepting a TV viewers’ award from Ant and Dec any time soon. Street artist, situationist and public-space japester Banksy is famed for his snogging coppers, simpering apes and for debunking Israel’s new West Bank barrier with graffiti. First shown in the director’s own pop-up cinema in an underpass in London’s Waterloo before moving on to more conventional locations, Exit Through the Gift Shop, like many of his graffitied images, is a kind of cinematic trompe l’oeil.

There have been notable hoax-oriented films in the recent past: such as The Blair Witch Project, Borat and the complete works of Lars von Trier. Exit Through the Gift Shop is in this genial tradition. Orson Welles made F for Fake; Banksy has made W for Windup. As a documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop is as about as reliable and structurally sound as that house-front with the strategically placed window that falls on top of Buster Keaton. As entertainment, though, it works very well.

Introducing it at the Berlin film festival – he appeared on video with his face in darkness – the artist himself cheerfully declared he hoped that it would do for street art what The Karate Kid did for martial arts. Like karate, street art is more difficult than it looks, particularly the trick of making a living from it, maintaining a combat-ready crew of studio assistants, and all the time persuading an ever-widening circle of professional acquaintance to keep the secret of your anonymity.

What the film does, or purports to do, is take a sideways look at Banksy and the new explosion of street artists, particularly in Los Angeles. The practitioners, at the outset of their careers at least, were unpaid graffiti-outlaws, pulling off daring and often dangerous visual stunts for the sheer hell of it: people like Shepard Fairey, who incessantly replicated his Andre image on the sides of buildings, a fat staring man over the single word “Obey”. Fairey eventually became conventionally celebrated for his Barack Obama Hope poster.

At the centre of the film is the apparent friendship between Banksy and one of his biggest fans, Thierry Guetta, an LA-based Frenchman with a lucrative retro clothing business and a passion for making videos. Guetta got fascinated in the LA street art scene, followed the artists around and shot miles of unusable video in the hope of making a documentary. Eventually he seems to have made the acquaintance of Banksy himself, filming his “Guantánamo” stunt in the precincts of Disneyland: propping up an orange-jumpsuited life-sized doll near a ride.

With pixelated tongue in blanked-out cheek, Banksy claims that he persuaded Guetta not to make his own film, but to be the star of this one, and then to be an artist himself. In no time, Guetta is somehow producing hundreds of suspiciously accomplished Warhol-Banksy pop art-style knockoffs for a colossal Los Angeles show under his new street-art name “Mr Brainwash”. Well, Thierry Guetta may well exist – but at the mention of his Mr Brainwash output, you may feel a strange tugging sensation on your leg. This could be the most startling debutant in the art scene since novelist William Boyd told us all about the neglected genius Nat Tate –but Mr Brainwash’s works are available for purchase, which is more than I can say for Nat Tate.

You’re under no compunction to take the film seriously: but it does offer an insight, of a teasingly incomplete and semi-fictionalised sort, into Banksy’s working life. We see his helpers carry away a London telephone box, take it to pieces in his workshop, replace the wackily twisted result in its original position and film the response from passersby. Nobody scratches their head or strokes their chin and wonders if it is “art” or if its creator might have “sold out”. They just laugh their heads off. They enjoy it: it is absolutely hilarious and this, to my perhaps naive and untutored eye, is the most compelling argument in favour of Banksy and in favour of this chaotic film.

The same goes for Banksy’s Diana tenners: he shows a cardboard box full of real-looking £10 notes with Princess Diana’s face on instead of the Queen’s. These things could get him arrested for forgery. Like Mr Brainwash, they are inspired counterfeits. Perhaps the point of Banksy’s art is that it inhales the wild spirit of forgery: his work makes free with brand identities and the symbols of authority, it replicates them, debunks and devalues them, it is a form of benign subversion. And he could be an important artist or just a silly fad – either way, in the street and with this film, he’s providing pleasure while he lasts.Banksy-001

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Osterly Park, West London

Osterley Park and its surrounding gardens, park
and farmland is one of the last surviving country
estates in London.
In the 16th century, Sir Thomas Gresham, financier
and adviser to Elizabeth I, began amassing land at

Osterley. In 1565 he built a house here in a very
similar location to the one you will see today.
Nearly 150 years later, in 1713, the Osterley estate
was acquired by the Child family and in the 1760s
they commissioned Robert Adam to remodel it.
A banking family with a house in central London,
they used Osterley as a country villa for
entertaining. When the heiress Sarah Sophia Child
married the 5th Earl of Jersey in 1804, the family
moved to the Jersey estate at Middleton Park.
Osterley remained in family ownership, used on
occasions by the Jerseys or leased out, until the 9th
Earl of Jersey gave it to the National Trust in 1949.

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The Thames Barrier

The Thames Flood Barrier is one of the largest movable flood barriers in the world, and celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2009. It protects London against surge tides from the Atlantic, and rising sea levels generally.

The need for a barrier was recognised in 1954 following disastrous storm surge floods in 1953, when 300 people died and 24,000 properties were destroyed. The then Greater London Council, statutory body responsible for flood protection from the 1960s, presided over an area of approximately 115 sq km below the 1953 river level.

Consultant Rendel, Palmer & Tritton first suggested a drop-gate barrier with two large navigable openings in 1958, which was rejected. The government appointed mathematician Sir Herman Bondi to review the situation. Following his recommendations, in 1968 the council commissioned physical model studies of the River Thames between Teddington Weir and Southend.

By autumn 1969, it was decided to site the barrier at Woolwich Reach and to improve the downstream flood defences as far as the outer estuary. Charles Draper devised the final design, using the shape of gas taps as his inspiration for the gates. Additional design work was by Rendel, Palmer & Tritton. Construction began in 1974.

The barrier has nine concrete piers and 10 gates, which together span some 520m from north to south bank. The piers are founded on steel cofferdams built on solid chalk 15.2m below river level. The iconic boat-shaped pier roofs are timber clad in stainless steel, containing machinery and lift shafts.

There are six openings for navigation, each with rising sector gates, and four non-navigable tidal openings, each with falling radial gates. Individual gates can be closed in 10-15 minutes, but closing the entire barrier takes one and a half hours, allowing for dissipation of reflected waves and equipment checks. Gates are closed in pairs from bank to centre. The optimum time to close the barrier is just after low tide.

The four central rising sector gates span 61.5m and weigh 3,300 tonnes each. The two flanking rising sector gates each span 31.5m. The straight back of each gate is at least 20m high, and just the paint can weigh up to 200 tonnes per gate.

Gates are recessed 4m into the river bed when the barrier is open to river traffic. When the barrier is closed, they are rotated up into the vertical position by pairs of yellow-painted hydraulically powered steel rocking beams weighing 49 tonnes. The gates can resist a maximum differential head of 9.1m, at which time each one transfers a thrust of 9,100 tonnes to the piers.

Construction work on the barrier was completed in October 1982, at an estimated cost of £535 million, with the first closure in February 1983. It was officially opened by HM Queen Elizabeth II on 8th May 1984.

The barrier was out of use temporarily in 1997, after the MV Sand Kite collided with it in thick fog on 27th October and sank. The vessel was refloated and most of her cargo salvaged, and the barrier resumed normal operations.

Although futuristic in appearance, the barrier relies on proven engineering technology rather than innovation. Resilience and reliability, together with a rigorous maintenance programme —each component has its own schedule — should ensure that the barrier is operational into the 22nd century, well beyond its design life of 2030.

The barrier has been closed against flooding 114 times, although closures occur monthly for maintenance too. It protects some 125 sq km of central London from flooding, notably during the storm surges of November 2007.