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Monday, July 16, 2018

Beyond Morro Rock

A wide, flat beach. A mighty volcanic hill. A delightful coastal town. Those are the obvious reasons to visit the California town of Morro Bay. Some are less obvious, but no less enticing.

One is the friendly locals. They'll come right up to you, and let you know how welcome you are.

Bringing a sack lunch? Bring a little extra to share. These friendly folks will jump right up on the park bench beside you, sit on your lap, and eat out of your hand. Not only do they make excellent company, but they're also super cute!

Did you bring your swimming trunks? The locals love nothing more than to relax and frolic in the azure waters of Morro Bay. So jump in, and have a great time.

After getting your fill of the beach, stroll on over to the local skateboard museum. I found my old board here, although it was green when I owned it. Funny, I remember mine rolling into the path of an 18 wheeler, and getting snapped in two. But here it is, along so many others, waiting for me to ride it again.

Of course, if you're looking for a more substantial ride, there's always this beauty.

Dragon Dave

Related Links
Morro Bay Skateboard Museum

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Shrinking Sister of California

In the California town of Morro Bay, there's no greater sight than Morro Rock. The round ball stuck into the shore dominates the horizon. In the early morning, it stands in the bright sun, while places along the shore remain in shade. 

Drawn by the rock, people come to the beach. They sit on the sand, the wind blowing in their hair, and wonder at all its rugged cliffs and craggy features. It no longer looks like a ball stuck in the sand, but a strange hill, gradually being eroded by the elements.

Walk closer, and you see all the plants that have taken root in the sides of Morro Rock. It no longer looks like a hill, but lots of rocks that were once fused together. Aided by the plants, the wind and the rain are slowly prying these rocks apart. 

While it seems so unusual, Morro Rock is not alone. Some people count it as one of seven sisters, a chain of similar volcanic plugs in California. (Others count nine sisters). Like the Seven Sisters in Sussex, England, it is a sight worthy of being seen. But come quickly. The sooner you arrive, the more of Morro Rock you'll be able to see.

Dragon Dave

Related Links
Morro Bay Official Guide

Monday, July 2, 2018

Airboy on President Reagan

The 1980s sequel series of Airboy, published by Eclipse, provoked its fair share of controversy. 

Airboy returns!

When the original Airboy, now operating an aircraft business, is attacked and killed, his son takes up the mantle. In the second issue, Airboy's son and his friends trace the attackers back to central America. There he learns that his father was supplying a corrupt regime with weapons. As a surprising development, when young Davy sees how the poor people in the country are living, he forgets about revenge, and decides to aid the guerrillas who killed his father!

Eclipse, the publisher of 1980s Airboy, was always politically involved. At this time, the news was filled with the Iran Contra scandal, and allegations that the United States government was funneling guns to Iran (despite an embargo) by aiding the Contras in Nicaragua. So in addition to the original Airboy supplying weapons to a bloodthirsty dictator intent on staying in power at any price, we learn that the United States is propping up a corrupt regime. 

We even see a signed photograph of President Reagan sent to the bloodthirsty dictator. On the photo, our president has written "Best wishes, your pal, Ron." As another sign of the times, given Reagan's contention that a nuclear war was winnable, we see written "Nuke 'em 'til they glow, then shoot 'em in the dark." 

Serious themes for a comic today, let alone in the 1980s. And this in an era when most U.S. citizens loved their president. Even today, many look back on Reagan as the ultimate statesman. Reading these stories today, in the love-him-or-hate-him, hard-swinging, tough-talking, never-apologize era of President Trump, these stories seem a little less audacious.

Dragon Dave

Monday, June 25, 2018

Airboy, Women, and Codebreaking in WWII

As an adult, I found it hard to take in the "new reality" Americans faced after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. So imagine how children in the United States felt after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Suddenly, Daddy and older brothers were signing up for the military, and Mommy was heading off to work in the factory to jumpstart a war program. Comics like "Airboy" would have helped frightened children feel more empowered. Just like the movie "Top Gun," "Airboy" would have helped children make sense of the sudden ravages to their home lives. 

"Airboy" may have inspired their older brothers to join the Air Force in hopes of becoming a pilot. It might have helped Army draftees feel better, thinking that all Americans were joining the fight in some way. At the very least, "Airboy" gave Navy seamen something to distract them while off duty, as they never knew when a squadron of the dreaded Japanese Zeros might bomb them, or a German U-Boat might sink their ship with a torpedo. 

Perhaps young women also read "Airboy." The stories might have inspired them to work in factories, or train to be nurses, just like Agatha Christie did in England during WWI. Women felt a duty to defend the homeland, and support and protect the boys.

Women didn't just work in factories or hospitals during WWII. They also played a crucial role in defending soldiers lives before battles were even fought!

In wartime, it's important to know what the enemy is planning. German leaders coordinated their military by coding messages sent by radio or phone. They did this by using encoding machines.

While other models preceded it, the best known machine used by the Germans was the Enigma machine. The model above was one specially commissioned for Adolf Hitler.

The Japanese also used encoding machines to coordinate military strategy and troop movements. Americans called this model the Japanese Red machine. Like its German counterpart, Red could scramble messages that troops in far flung Japanese outposts could decode, but would make cryptologic analysts puzzle over for days.

To cut down on the time necessary to decode German and Japanese messages, Americans built their own decoding machines. The type below, designed and operated by women as well as men, was known as the Bombe. Catchy, right?

If you ever find yourself in Maryland, visit the National Cryptologic Museum, where I took the above three photographs. There you'll find exhibits on all manner of Crytological devices, from simple code breaking methods used during the American Revolutionary war, to the Cray supercomputers used before the age of smartphones. The knowledgeable staff may not know much about "Airboy", but they can certainly tell you how the men and women who might have read the comic helped defend service members, and our shores, during World War II.

Dragon Dave

Helpful Links
National Cryptologic Museum

Monday, June 18, 2018

Airboy in the 1940s and Beyond

The cover for a 1940s Airboy

A while ago, I shared how I had been reading a 1980s series called "Airboy" by Eclipse Comics. These issues were penned by Chuck Dixon, and illustrated by Tim Truman, Stan Woch, and other artists who today are regarded as giants of the comic field. It was, in fact, a sequel series to the original series, which was published in the 1940s. Recently, I discovered the original series online, and began reading them.

For those unaware of Airboy's origins, the young pilot creates a revolutionary plane with the help of a Catholic monk. Then he goes off to help the military defend the United States against Germany and Japan.

Interior art for 1940s Airboy

The comics shine a light into the mindset of the times. Japanese fighter pilots are called Japs (when they're not called Yellow or Japanazis). Nearly all are villains. 

The Germans are equally dastardly. Service personnel from both countries appear as treacherous and cowardly. Modern people from those countries, or who share that cultural heritage, would likely be offended by everything Airboy or the narrator calls them. 

The stories, while entertaining in their simple way, also represent propaganda from an earlier time. Remember, the U.S. base in Pearl Harbor had been attacked. In one day, the country's military had suffered a terrible blow, and thousands of people died. The United States government, now forced to enter World War II, had to recruit soldiers, build new warships, and create all the infrastructure necessary to fight a war spanning the entire globe. 


So "Airboy," and publications like it, were thought necessary to rally the troops, convince women to trade homelike for factories, and help children make sense of the new situation.

Still, I'll be the first to admit that they're a little difficult to read, and enjoy as fully as I'd like.

Dragon Dave

Monday, June 11, 2018

Tom Wolfe on America's Astronauts

Gemini capsule
Smithsonian Air And Space Museum
Washington DC

Author Tom Wolfe died recently. One of his best known books, The Right Stuff, served as a guide to my travels in Florida back in 2012. The insights he shared helped me understand the people who founded the USA's space program, and the challenges they faced. Later, his book spurred other adventures in Texas and California.

The early astronaut program drew on the men who piloted experimental aircraft. These men packed themselves into canisters that were shot into space. The pilot in Nevil Shute's book who has to spy on his own country reminds me of those early astronauts. 

Remember how the former World War I pilot had to remain in a fixed position for hours, ignoring hunger and cold, battling sleep and maintaining focus with his temperamental airplane? When I look at the tight confines of these early capsules, like the Gemini, I wonder how long I could sit cooped up in there like that, with a helmet and spacesuit on.

Then again, if I got bored, I could just open the hatch and take a spacewalk, right?

If you're interested in looking back, to follow are a few of the posts I wrote about my Tom Wolfe inspired journeys.

Honoring the Mercury Seven
The U.S. Space Walk Hall of Fame
Everybody's Comin' to Kennedy Space Center

Meet NASA's Robot Astronaut

Our Visit to Edwards Air Force Base Part 2


Dragon Dave

Monday, May 28, 2018

Norman Clegg, Sir Humphrey Appleby, and Nurse Gladys Emmanuel

Time rolls on, even those who sought to bring the Eternal Captain Striker to life in the Doctor Who story "Enlightenment." A few years ago, Nigel Hawthorne, who was approached to play Captain Striker, passed on. Last year, actor Peter Sallis departed our Temporal ranks. A few months later, Keith Barron likewise departed our shores. The three actors who would have, and ultimately did portray Captain Striker in "Enlightenment" breathed their last, and spread their wings upon the great solar winds. Now they race toward the ultimate prize. Whatever sense of Enlightenment eluded them on Earth, we can only hope they will grasp it in Eternity.

Author Roy Clarke, who created and wrote "Last of the Summer Wine," created another comedy series called "Open All Hours." Although it only lasted a few years, it was so successful, and so beloved, that it recently spawned the sequel series "Still Open All Hours." Lynda Baron (no relation to Keith Barron), played the role of Nurse Gladys Emmanuel. In the first series, she played an important role, as the love interest of Arkwright, the proprietor of the local grocery store. 

After the death of actor Ronnie Barker, who played Arkwright, there was no real dramatic reason for her to return. Yet she came back for the sequel, simply because people loved seeing her in that role. It was comforting to imagine her sitting in her house across the street from Arkwright's, and in her own way, looking out for Granville, Arkwright's nephew, who now runs the shop.

In "Enlightenment", actress Lynda Baron played the role of Captain Wrack, an Eternal who sought to win the race through the solar system by sabotaging the ships of her competitors. I find it ironic how director Fiona Cumming sought out Peter Sallis, Nigel Hawthorne, and Lynda Baron, such noted comedy actors, to fill these dramatic roles. After all, the Eternals are supposed to be detached, used up creatures. In grasping eternal life, the Eternals seem to have lost their souls. Their only interest in life is derived from feeding on the emotions and thoughts of lesser, Temporal beings. 

This begs two questions. If the Eternals exist solely by constantly seeking diversions, who better to play such roles, than the people who divert us mere Temporals through their comedic performances? And if Eternals are beings who exist solely by constantly seeking diversions, could Foggy Dewhurst, Compo Simmonite, and Norman Clegg really be Eternals in disguise? 

Given the first choice of director Fiona Cumming for the casting of Captain Striker, it's ironic that the creator of "Enlightenment," the first woman to ever write for "Doctor Who," was veteran TV actor and writer Barbara Clegg. I wonder if she would have approved of well-known comedy actor Peter Sallis as Captain Striker. Or would she have seen his inclusion as one Clegg too many in her otherwise fine story...

Dragon Dave

Monday, May 21, 2018

Norman Clegg and Margot Kidder

One morning last week, I read a post on Facebook by Holmfirth artist Ashley Jackson. He spoke about how the wildness of the Yorkshire Moors had always called to him, even in his youth. It wasn't in town, or at school, or sitting in front of a TV that he felt truly comfortable and inspired. Instead, it was outside, surrounded by nature.

That afternoon, I read a newspaper article about Margot Kidder's life. The movie star, best known for playing Lois Lane to Christopher Reeve's Superman, lived her life in the big city. While acting in films and TV shows, she struggled with violent mood swings. Eventually she went off the rails, and was later found and rescued from a homeless existence. It was only then that she was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder. 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Coincidentally, I visited Holmfirth, the home of the TV series "Last of the Summer Wine," six years ago in May. I must admit, for a long time after that visit, whenever I felt low or depressed, I would turn to my computer, and review my trip to Holmfirth. Like Ashley Jackson, looking at all that pastoral beauty raised my spirits, and kept me going.

It may be a stretch to suggest that the wildness of nature calls to everyone. Perhaps some people need the confines of the urban environment to stretch themselves. Roy Clarke, the creator and writer of "The Last of the Summer Wine," suggests one reason for a Battle of the Sexes is that women and men need different things. In the series, the women like Ivy and Nora cling to the regimen of their daily routine. The men, as typified by Norman Clegg and friends, constantly yearn for adventure. While the women value schedules and cleanliness, the men value creativity, improvisation, and "getting their hands dirty."

Thankfully, after her homeless incident, Margot Kidder got the help she needed. She may have battled mood swings for the rest of her life, but she didn't go off the rails again. I wonder if she would have waged those battles with her emotions had she lived in an English country town like Holmfirth.

The women in "Last of the Summer Wine" usually view their husbands as imbalanced, and the other men as downright crazy. Norman Clegg's enduring popularity suggests that many of us yearn to be like him. Perhaps for us, he represents a person perfectly balanced. Norman Clegg: the sanest person in the world? 

Dragon Dave

Monday, May 14, 2018

Norman Clegg At The Crossroads

Norman Clegg and Foggy Dewhurst
played by Peter Sallis and Brian Wilde

In "Last of the Summer Wine," Norman Clegg is hardly a leader. Foggy Dewhurst fits that role instead. He's a former military man, a take-charge person, who is always enlisting his friends Norman Clegg and Compo Simmonite to partake in the adventures he plans. Although Norman would be content to peaceably fritter away his remaining years, he responds to Foggy's enthusiasm, and proves the ideal compatriot and friend.

Norman Clegg and Compo Simmonite
played by actors Peter Sallis and Bill Owen

Compo Simmonite is hardly a man Foggy Dewhurst would respect. By and large, the last thing Compo would readily do is hang out every day with Foggy. Norman Clegg serves as the glue that hold the three together. Norman's reluctant support of Foggy's hare-brained schemes prompts Compo to agree with them, even if he is the one of the three who usually suffers the most from them.

Norman Clegg's fear of Yorkshire women is well-known. He shrinks at raised voices, and is likely to run and hide when Ivy or Norma Batty yell at him. Actors, particularly at the BBC in the 1970s and 1980s, were chosen by directors, rather than casting agents. The directors cast people whom they've worked with before, usually because they played a similar role in another production. So actors often played the same role again and again in movies and TV shows. Or at least until a brave director ventured to try them in a new type of role.

Having never seen "The Pallisers," in which Fiona Cumming had worked with actor Peter Sallis before, I don't know the range beyond Norman Clegg the director saw in Sallis. Her casting choices for "Enlightenment" include some well known comedy names, such as Peter Sallis and Nigel Hawthorne. Also, she wanted Sallis to bring a quirkiness to the role, which suggests that she worried the production would be too serious, and wanted him to bring a touch of humor to the production.

I can only wonder what the "Doctor Who" production missed out on. I can only ponder the air of authority Peter Sallis would have assumed when ordering around First Officer Mariner, or when exchanging veiled pleasantries with the villainous Captain Wrack. I can only imagine how the actor would have transformed before my eyes, from the genial Norman Clegg, into the detached Eternal Captain Striker, and how he would have stood toe-to-toe with Peter Davison as the capable, the incomparable, Doctor Who. 

Would Captain Striker have proved a breakout role for Peter Sallis? Would he have started playing more serious and authority figures as a result? And what about "Enlightenment," which has gone on to be a fan favorite. Would the story have garnered more widespread acclaim, and won prestigious awards, had Sallis' portrayal of Captain Striker proven a success?

If nothing else, fans of "Last of the Summer Wine" can be glad Peter Sallis was never tempted away from his role of Norman Clegg to play more serious, authoritative figures. Certainly Ivy and Norma Batty had to be glad Norman Clegg never gained more confidence. What if Norman Clegg had become the leader of his little troupe of fun-loving guys? Foggy was never a serious threat to either Yorkshire woman. But an empowered Norman Clegg? Wow, that bears some thinking about!

Dragon Dave

Monday, May 7, 2018

Captain Norman Clegg

Due to an ongoing series of strikes that hit British industry during the late 1970s and early 1980s, production of the Doctor Who story "Enlightenment" shut down in November 1982. By this time, scripts had been finalized, cast and crew hired, and props and costumes made. All the model shots for the spectacular space race had been completed, along with one session of cast rehearsals. So producer John Nathan Turner worked hard at the BBC to ensure that, when labor union difficulties were resolved, production of "Enlightenment" could resume.

Actor Peter Sallis, who director Fiona Cumming cast for the role of Captain Striker, had regaled and impressed the cast with humor and wit during the rehearsal period he attended. Peter Davison, who played the Fifth Doctor, recalls rehearsing with Peter Sallis fondly. Sadly, by February 1983, when production on "Enlightenment" resumed, Sallis was no longer available, due to preexisting acting commitments. Either he was busy filming studio scenes for "Last of the Summer Wine", or some other film, TV series or play. 

Fiona Cumming scrambled to fill the role of Striker, the Eternal who acts as Captain of The Shadow, the ship which the fifth Doctor and his companions unwittingly board, when the TARDIS materializes in the hold. The director offered the principle guest role to three notable English actors, including Nigel Hawthorne, who at that time was another household name in Britain, thanks to his role as Sir Humphrey Appleby in the BBC comedy "Yes Minister." Sadly, he too was unavailable, or for whatever reason, had to decline the part. 

Eventually, actor Keith Barron won the role of Captain StrikerHe played his commanding, assured Eternal in a convincing, straightforward way. Compared with the villainous Captain Wrack, his was a mostly good Eternal, who treated his crew of lesser, Temporal beings comparatively well. Yet, as fans of "Last of the Summer Wine" know, another actor could never bring Sallis' unique brand of subtle quirkiness to the role. 

In a documentary on the making of "Enlightenment," Keith Barron said that his role of Captain Striker came at a time when he played many similar authority figures. Fans of "Yes Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" know that Sir Humphrey Appleby, as Permanent Secretary for the Department for Administrative Affairs, always had the upper hand in his dealings with Minister Jim Hacker. So, as with Keith Barron, casting Nigel Hawthorne for the role of the detached Captain Striker doesn't seem much of a stretch for the actor. Peter Sallis, so well known as the never-take-charge Norman Clegg, remains an unknown, at least to me.

As much as I would have liked to see Peter Sallis take on the role, I have to wonder how effectively Peter Sallis would have performed as Captain Striker. As I mainly know him from his starring role of Norman Clegg, it's hard to see him in another light. Could he have managed his crew, and maintained his authority of the Doctor as effectively as Keith Barron or Nigel Hawthorne? Sadly, we shall never know.

Dragon Dave