Kerr's Corner

Kerr's Corner is a regular feature in East Antrim and Newtownabbey editions of The Wizard. David Kerr would like to hear your memories of life in your own area. Maybe you'll trigger some thoughts for a future column. kerrscorner@ulsteronline.org.uk

Thursday, December 21, 2006

In Praise of the Biro

SIXTY YEARS ago last month an item went on sale in Britain for the first time that would conquer the world. It was looked down on by many as cheap and nasty but it nevertheless has overcome most of that prejudice – the Biro pen. The most common version, the BiC Crystal sells some 14 million pens a day worldwide. Check your own pockets, handbag, briefcase or schoolbag. You’ve probably got at least one somewhere about you.

The good thing about this wonderful invention is that they still have a place in this digital age. You don’t have to worry if the batteries are fully charged up. They write for over a mile without stopping and they are cheap to replace when they die or are lost or ‘borrowed’ by someone else. I like using computers. They have revolutionised the task of putting together your favourite magazines or papers like the one you are reading now. But it all starts with the humble biro pen. If I'’ watching a film, a play or if I’m at a gig it would be too distracting to start typing away into a laptop. It’s much more discreet to scribble a few notes into a little notepad and type them up later. The biro is ideal for this task.

There were attempts to patent earlier types of ballpoint pens in the late nineteenth and early part of the twentieth centuries but none of these were reliable. Laszlo Biro, a Hungarian newspaper editor was frustrated by messy nib pens. The sharp nibs tore paper and were very messy. Newspaper ink, he noticed, was quite thick and dried almost immediately, doing away with the need for blotting paper. In co-operation with his brother George, he came up with a way to feed quick-drying ink through a tube tipped with a rotating steel ball bearing in a socket. This rotated as the pen moved across the page letting the ink flow evenly through capillary action. It was the world’s first practical ballpoint pen.

The Biro brothers fled Hungary in the run-up to the Second World War and set up shop in Argentina. The Biro pen was patented in 1943 and taken up by the Royal Air Force. Fountain pens had a tendency to flood at high altitudes in unpressurised aeroplanes. The new invention was adopted by the RAF because it proved to be immune to this problem. By the end of the Forties it became very popular for the military as it could write for up to a year without needing a refill.

The next step in the evolution of the biro came from a Frenchman, Marcel Bich. He brought out the rights to the pen, reformulated the ink and founded the BiC Company to make inexpensive ballpoint pens. He used a shortened form of his name Bich as it would be easy to remember and it would avoid any mispronunciation problems in English. By the early Sixties the Bic Crystal dominated the pen market – a place it still has today.

There have been a few changes in its basic design over the past sixty years. The ventilated cap is less dangerous if accidentally swallowed; the hexagonal barrel prevents it rolling on the floor and the ballpoint of tungsten carbide is harder to dent if you drop it on the floor. It’s no wonder that it has become recognised as a design classic. Here, hear to that decision.
Many traditionalist teachers maintained that the biro ruined good handwriting and banned them from schools but the French government led the way by approving the BiC Crystal for use in the nation’s schools.

They were still forbidden when I attended Abbott’s Cross Primary School in the Sixties. We were forced to use fountain pens or cartridge pens. This was a matter of great annoyance for me as I am left-handed. Right-handed folks pull their pens over their work so their hand is clear of the parts of the page they have just written on. We lefties push our pens over our work, and have a tendency to drag our pen hand over the still wet ink, leaving a mess of smudges behind us on the page. You can’t believe my joy when I moved on to Rathcoole Secondary School in 1969 and discovered that I was allowed to use the biro. It was liberating! To some folk the humble biro may be cheap and nasty. To me it’s revolutionary. I doubt if it can be bettered.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Gig Review – Carrick in (Bohemian) Rhapsody

FLASH HARRY – Ulster’s hugely popular Queen tribute band – had a successful return visit to the Clarion Hotel in Carrickfergus last month. In an exclusive interview with the Carrickfergus edition of The Wizard, lead singer Harry Hamilton told me that he and the lads were looking forward to a terrific gig as they had a great bunch of fans in the borough.

This certainly turned out to be true. The Carrick crowd didn’t disappoint him. The eager audience had been waiting for over two hours before the band took to the stage. Every seat in the auditorium was taken. Much to the thirsty crowd’s relief, early problems with the bar were soon overcame when reinforcements arrived from the main hotel. These good folk were kept on the go as the DJ played a good selection of music and the buzz of excitement began to mount.

Suddenly a roar of appreciation went up from the crowd as the first bars from the Flash Gordon theme heralded Flash Harry’s entrance on stage. That was the end of idle chit-chat as the band launched into We Will Rock You. This was more than just an introductory song. It was a promise from the band for the rest of the night; a promise they more than made good! Harry Hamilton was a dead ringer for the late, great, Freddie Mercury – a look-alike and a sound-alike. The superb guitar riffs in the band’s rendition of One Vision were worthy of the great Brian May himself. It’s no wonder that the official Queen Fan Club in the UK invited the band to provide the entertainment at their celebrations for what would been Freddie’s sixtieth birthday.

The Great Pretender and the classic hit Bohemian Rhapsody brought out a large degree of audience participation. All over the hall, people were joining in the choruses. Me too! There were so many seats and tables that there was very little room for dancing, but many determined fans found enough space for their needs. The lead singer went through three changes of costume, played for over two and a half hours and came back for an encore.
The applause was loud and long. Nobody wanted to go home. Everyone had a great time. This was pure entertainment at its best.

If you’re sorry you missed them or want to see them again you can check out the band’s website for future gigs. The next big one is early in the new year in the Waterfront Hall. Don’t miss it!
Reviewed by David Kerr.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Classic Movie for Christmas - It's a Wonderful Life

CHRISTMAS is around the corner. It’s a happy time for many folk, but others dread it. Things in their lives are not working out so well. Many are in despair. Some may even try to end it all by taking their own lives. This is the situation facing George Bailey (James Stewart) in the classic Christmas feel-good movie to end them all – Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life! which is sixty years old this year.

George is a pleasant bloke who runs a savings and loan company – something like a credit union in this country – in Bedford Falls, an American small town. He is held responsible for the loss of a large sum of money and is hung out to dry by the evil Henry Potter (brilliantly portrayed by Lionel Barrymore); an unscrupulous local banker who give him a deadline to come up with the cash or go to prison. In depair he decides to drown himself.

Before he can do so, he rescues another drowning man who turns out to be Clarence (Henry Travers), an apprentice angel sent to save him from himself. George wishes he was never born, so Clarence shows him what life in his little town would have been like had his wish come true. The town without him is Pottersville; a miserable, nasty, unpleasant place. George is made to realise that his life had not been futile. He really did make a difference to the lives of every inhabitant.

This film hits the spot in many ways. James Stewart brilliantly brings out George Bailey’s essential decency with strong support from the lovely Donna Reed as mary, his sweetheart and later his wife. It should never go out of fashion. It’s just perfect viewing over the Christmas period. Look out for it in the TV schedules or for the special Sixtieth anniversary DVD edition in your local music and video shop or in some supermarkets.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Film Review – The Prestige

ENTERTAINMENT AND FILMS in association with Counter Culture – www.altculture.org

Directed by Christopher NolanCertificate: 12ARunning Time: 128 minutes.

THIS IS Christopher Nolan’s fifth feature film. Young magicians Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) become rivals after an accident during an underwater trick. Robert’s wife, Julia (Piper Perabo), is the magician’s assistant. Julia agrees to be tied with the preferred knot by Alfred. Even though the knot is difficult to untie while she is submerged in a tank, she insists she can handle it. Julia dies.

This then becomes a story about obsession and jealousy. They not only try to one-up each other’s tricks, but they also try to sabotage one another. In trying to ruin one another they ruin virtually everyone around them, including themselves. It is a dark psychology.
There are many twists and surprises and this film keeps you guessing right to the end. Intriguing and very watchable. It is certainly a film that you think about afterward and might want to watch more than once.

Special mention to David Bowie who plays scientist Nikola Tesla in a small but vital role.

Cast:
Robert Angier: Hugh JackmanAlfred Borden: Christian BaleCutter: Michael CaineJulia: Piper PeraboSarah: Rebecca HallOlivia: Scarlett JohanssonMr Alley: Andy SerkisNikola Tesla: David Bowie

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

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