Correcting the Myth of Jon Frum

Posted in History, Travel on August 1, 2011 by Jack Noble

I followed our guide down the precariously narrow path over muddied and marred roots, as he tried to beat back the disobedient vegetation with his rusty bush-knife. It was not the sight of the jungle that was enrapturing me; it was the sound of singing and clapping which slowly toned out the noise of the dancing foliage and the chirr of crickets that had been with us for the last two hours. We were heading to Ipëkël, Sulphur Bay; the headquarters of a religion that had shunned Christianity for 70 years in the belief that a mystical figure called Jon Frum would return and shower the faithful islanders of Tanna in riches and unlimited prosperity.

As we arrived, we were greeted by a small dust storm, kicked up by raw-boned children dancing to the sound of their elders’ singing and clapping. It was Wednesday, the cult’s equivalent of the Sabbath. I immediately became transfixed on an elderly woman, maybe of around 60 years of age. Time after time, this woman flung herself to the floor before staggering to her feet and repeating the same action. As I looked more closely, I could see that she was crying and clearly in pain. As she climbed to her feet, she again attempted her spinning dance, which almost resembled a game children play in order to make themselves dizzy. Before too long she was on the floor again, this time at the feet of a man, a man who barely acknowledged that she was even there. He signalled to us to come over and meet him. This man was Chief Isaac Wan’s right hand man, Robert. Isaac Wan was the leader of the Cult and the man I had come to meet. Robert led us over to a small clearing where the leader sat. Chief Isaac was just how I had imagined him to be, a senescent man with a long white beard, his eyes were tired and deep set and many of his bones were visible in the dimmest of light. He was naked apart from a single piece of orange material wrapped around his midriff. He opened his crusty lips to reveal a set of yellow misplaced teeth that had been hiding behind a damp curtain of worn whiskers and greeted us in the language native to Vanuatu, Bislama.

 We were given a guided tour around the village which consisted of around fifty dilapidated huts, constructed from bamboo and the leaves from the natangora tree. We finally settled in a small clearing away from the Wednesday morning worship. Before too long, four small boys had joined me, my guide and my two friends, Will and Tom. In each of the boys’ hands was a root which they started to chew. This had been taken from the kava plant, I had previously tried the kava drink on the other islands of Vanuatu, but it is hard to prepare for the ritual that is kava on the island of Tanna. The pre-pubescent boys placed the freshly dug roots into the back of their mouths and started to grind them on their molars. Once the root had formed a mushy gunk within their mouths, they spat the remnants onto a large leaf before filtering the mush through coconut fibres and adding water. The pungent, muddy water is not appealing to the nose or the eyes and its’ texture reminded me of lumpy school rice pudding. As I struggled to down the liquid, I found it important not to think about the preparation process and just focus on finishing the hollowed-out halved coconut shell. After two shells, the effects started to occur. My lips became numb, my limbs heavy and the heat of the midday sun became intrusive. This exclusively male activity normally occurs every evening in a designated ‘Nakamal’ for all the local men. This hut, similar in concept to the western pub, also hosts kava ceremonies to welcome visitors, seal alliances and most importantly in the case of our hosts, to carry out the wishes of Jon Frum.

 Whilst I was teaching on the northern island of Pentecost in the archipelago of Vanuatu, many of the islanders told me of the ‘kastom’ or traditions of Tanna island, located in the South of Vanuatu. They told me of a mystical tribe that have worshipped an American serviceman ever since his arrival in the South Pacific just before the outbreak of World War II.  As the story goes, Jon Frum arrived on the island and announced himself to some kava drinkers. The locals believed the white man to be the brother of the god of Mt Tukosmere and he stated that all the islanders must remove their western ways and revert back to true kastom. If they achieved this task and removed all Europeans from Tanna, they would receive an abundance of wealth. Men from all over the island came to listen to Frum secretly preach. He advised his followers to promote community work, ritual, kava drinking and to remove themselves from any contact with money. Frum disappeared at the end of the war, many believing he returned to the volcano of Yassur from which he was thought to have arrived frm.  During the 17th century, the western Presbyterian missionaries had asserted a hugely overbearing grasp over Tanese society. They introduced their own forms of traditional marriage systems as well as prohibiting ritual, the use of kava and almost anything that was kastom to Tanna. This repression of traditional life and expression continued right though until 1930s and the arrival of Jon Frum. 

 In 1943, with the Americans fighting the Japanese in the South Pacific, many US troops based themselves on the islands of Efate and Espiratu Santo, north of Tanna. Numerous Tanese islanders were recruited to these islands to provide labour for the Americans, and it was here they witnessed black soldiers in striking uniforms with huge quantities of cigarettes, Coca-Cola and radios. The islanders were stunned at the vast amounts of machinery the US Navy would unload from their mammoth vessels, guns, trucks, aircraft and tanks. They concluded that Jon Frum had come from America, and they adopted the stars and stripes as their cross.

 Intrigue had got the better of me, I would return to Vanuatu. This time I would venture south, right into the heart of the Jon Frum movement. I wanted to meet these, almost Biblical figures I had read so much about. I had examined many articles on the cult from a western viewpoint, the opinion of outsiders. I wanted my own understanding not the patronising, almost pitiful commentaries that the media in the west had generated. If there was anything I had learned from my time living in the South Pacific, it was that kastom needs to be respected. It is a way of life and in many cases us money-orientated westerners could learn one or two things from the simple, yet happy lives these communities live.

 When the war against Japan had concluded in 1945, the US forces headed home, but a new spiritual mindset had been left behind unintentionally. The late 1940s saw the islanders fashion airfields with mock-up aircraft in order to entice planes from the US Air Force down from the skies. It was believed that these planes had been sent by Jon Frum. The islanders had studied the US military closely and adopted their customs, their forms of worship- and they used the acts of marching, saluting and the raising of the US flag as their ritual. The leaders of the cult donned makeshift military uniforms in the belief that if it was working for the Americans, it would appease Jon Frum and work for them. There were also reports of tin-can radio transmitters and red-crosses dotted all over Tanna, since to the Americans; this meant ‘free medical treatment.’

We made our way back to the centre of the village where Chief Isaac instructed us to sit under a small natangora canopy. I sat quietly and gazed up at Mount Yassur, Tanna’s active volcano. It was Yassur that was responsible for the baron, desert-like wastelands that surround Sulphur Bay. This lunar landscape, an expanse of lifeless, serene, unbroken terrain was fringed on all sides by the lush verdant life of the jungle, a truly mind-blowing contrast. The volcano did not faze the islanders whatsoever; each minor eruption was ignored casually, although it certainly kept my friends and I on the edge of our seats. Chief Isaac finally sat down opposite me and starred at me expectantly. I started by reading him the small chapter on the ‘Cargo Cult’ of Jon Frum from my guide book, just to gauge his reaction. “Jon Frum, i no wan man blong America,” he said calmly. I wondered if I had made a mistake in my translation. The chief repeated himself, “ Hem i wan man blong Tanna, no wan man blong America!” I quizzed Isaac on this for a few moments, he had stated before that he had become disillusioned with Western journalists and now I could see why. There has been an incredible amount of nonsense written about the Cult of Jon Frum over the years by journalists and tourism agents who have been copying off each other and incorporating their own ideas into the story. Isaac continued to tell me his account from the beginning. Jon Frum had appeared on the island, but he was not American. He was however a white man, who could speak all the languages of the natives. Whilst visiting the other islands of Vanuatu, I noted a huge number of people suffering from albinism and I have since concluded that perhaps this is the most rational explanation for this. The secret meetings did occur and the missionaries and colonial administration knew nothing of this until the end of 1940. The local government had noticed a sharp increase in the sacrificing of animals and kava drinking, which at this time had become an anti-Christian symbol of resistance. Isaac recalled his father and Jon Frum being taken from Green Hill and imprisoned by the colonial administration. They were seen as gaining too much influence and power as well as stifling the Christian message. This story seemed to have remarkable parallels with the story of Jesus Christ. Jon Frum was described by the Chief as ‘a spirit in human form’ and it is believed that one day he would return. It was at this point of the story a new name was thrown into the equation, Tom Navy , no prizes for guessing what his occupation was. There is evidence for the existence of Tom Navy, although he went by the name of Thomas Beattie. Beattie headed a recruitment sector of the US navy and took many Tanese men to the island of Efate to work. Beattie preached a message of peace to the inhabitants of Tanna and Isaac Wan credited him for the release of Frum and his father from imprisonment after persuading the local administration to free them. It is for this reason that the stars and stripes are raised every day in Sulphur Bay. It is a symbol of peace, and the message that Jon Frum and Tom Navy brought with them, it is not a symbol representing the nationality of Jon Frum as many believe. Only recently, a delegation of Tom Navy followers from Tanna visited the then US Secretary of State Colin Powell to verify that the spirit of Tom Navy lives on in current president Barack Obama.  

Chief Isaac Wan

 Chief Isaac explained how there had been a divide in his following. In 2001, Sulphur Bay was the centre of an ideological rift between himself and a man named Fred Nasse. Nasse , known on Tanna as Prophet Fred, was responsible for taking half the Jon Frum movement and converting them to Christianity. He correctly predicted that a lake at the foot of Mt Yasur would be swept into the sea after he had spoken with God whilst out fishing. The breakaway erupted in violence with tradition weapons such as arrows and spears being used between the rival movements. 25 were seriously injured during the bloody encounter and many were evacuated to Port Vila for medical treatment whilst 12 houses and a thatched Presbyterian church were burnt down during a battle which involved 400 islanders. Followers of Prophet Fred believe that the Jon Frum message is dated and that their rituals do not apply in the modern age. I wondered if Nasse had become disillusioned with life within the Jon Frum community and started his own form of westernization but it was hard to tell.

 So how had this story become so distorted? I wondered whether it may have been down to the cult wanting to increase tourism in their village for financial reasons, but it dawned on me that these people were not motivated by money, and this was how Jon Frum told them to live their lives. As with Christianity, there are several variants of the religion, however most writers do not acknowledge this. There was a variant called ‘the Cult of Kastom Jon’ in Northern Tanna that was credited with the construction of airfields and mock aeroplanes, however this religion has since died out. All these types of movement charge rapidly as new ideas are introduced and new variants spring up, but this is how the movement stands at the moment. It struck me that the spiritual movement was not a ‘Cargo Cult’ as the western media portrays it to be, but a visionary movement for peace and the protection of a kastom . The Cult does not want Jon Frum to return and shower them in riches and material goods, they want him to return and give them spiritual serenity. The Jon Frum ‘Cargo Cult’ is dead, all that remain is an ideology for kastom. So the blame for distortion must lie with the tourism agents and the journalists looking for a good story.

 I left Tanna very confused, the results of the expedition were hugely different to anything I had expected. I returned to the Ni-Vanuatu capital city, Port Vila to catch out flight home to London. In Port Vila, other side of the coin immediately became apparent. The poverty was substantial. Although these people had more money and possessions than the men and women of the Jon Frum movement, I doubted their lives would have been as happy and richly fulfilled as them. I wondered around the streets of Vila, being December the western image of Father Christmas littered every window of every shop and over-weight Ni-Vans sat in fast food joints stuffing themselves with southern-fried chicken and lager. On Tanna, there was no need for money, the movement was self-sufficient and everyone lived happily away from material goods, greed and envy. The villagers lived a near idyllic existence, tending gardens of taro, mangos and bananas, fishing in dug-out canoes and hunting wild pigs and fruit bats in the forest. The role of money was nothing but peripheral. Kirk Huffman, an anthropologist who lived in Vanuatu for 17 years, said: “Nobody knows who John Frum was, though it is irrelevant whether he was a real person or a spirit. Movements like these were a way for traditional people to come to terms with colonialism and Christianity. Vanuatu’s culture would have been entirely squashed if it wasn’t for cults like John Frum.” The contrast between Kastom and Western culture had hit me hard, but I came away from the South Pacific being glad that two men, Jon Frum and Tom Navy, whoever they were, really did make a difference.


Spare a Thought for Newcastle Fans

Posted in Sport on August 1, 2011 by Jack Noble

So you have just got promoted to the Premier League, you have the most popular manager in the league, he has steadied the ship and is raising a young English team with little to no money. The wheelchair personified Michael Owen has left and Joke Innear is nothing but a distant memory. The new manager is respected by the players and has you sitting in 9th, after a 5-1 win over Sunderland, 6-0 over Villa and wins against Arsenal and Chelsea.Thing are looking up, maybe Europe this season? Sack him. Replace him with a manager sacked 3 months before by League 1 Southampton and jokes about rape on MOTD.

Oh well, you still have your number 9, the pony-tailed geordie. The man who is destined to follow the greats, McDonald, Cole, Milburn, Ferdinand and Shearer.The best thing to come out of the academy since Michael Chopra and the Caldwell brothers. The one player that makes us proud to follow the club. Recently capped, 12 goals in his first 4 months in the Premiership. Promise fans he isnt for sale at any price. Sell him with 25 minutes of the window remaining. Who needs a back up plan when you can get the unattached Shefki Kuqi in?

Derek says, ‘Oh dear Mike, the fans are turning against us, what should we do?’ Mike has a little think. ‘Derek, we should rename the stadium “ StJames Park.” It seemed like a good idea at the time.

 Well at least you still have your inspirational captain. Hatrick hero against the mackems, the top english midfielder scorer in the premiership. A man who truely loves the club and speaks of his pride of wearing the black and white. Sell him to a Championship club. Give the armband to a non-english speaking Sideshow Bob.Where will our goals come from now? Ah yes, the returning Hatem Ben Arfa. Hope. Snap. Sign Marveaux (failed medical at Liverpool) and Demba Ba (failed medical at Stoke) to cover him. At least one will be fit, right?

Ok, lets forget all that. Lets start afresh. Pre-season, a new begining. Lets book a tour of the USA. Oh. Well 3 of the players cannot go because of criminal records, sorry Joey, Yohann and Nile, no visas for you. You may as well go train with the U18s. That should help our team gel for the new season. At least there is one player left who wont just play for a pay check. One that will run himself into the ground for the team, one who will inspire your team to a point when you are 4-0 down at half time to Arsenal. Release him for free.

This leaves Lovenkrands to be our Messiah now.

Dressed In Black

Posted in History, Music on March 1, 2010 by Jack Noble

A deep gravelly voice and dressed from head to toe in black, Johnny Cash was unique. That can’t be said for many musicians who’ve made a living playing country and gospel tunes, but the ‘Man In Black’ is undeniably so, a consensus that crosses genre and generations. A man of contradiction, who has fought the darkest demons, yet whose gaze, falls on God and the heavens. He has been a violent man, drug abuser and adulterer but also a scholar of the Old West, and of the Gospels, a dedicated reader and connoisseur of  art. Cash’s life was never simple.

 The career of JR coincided with the birth of rock and roll in the 1950s, and Cash borrowed his country music influence and the gospel roots he had grown up with to develop a sound that has never been matched since and lyrics that really spoke to people. In some ways, Johnny Cash was like some old preacher crossed with a hero you may see in a western and his music had a dark energy that surrounded it. One thing that is clear in Cash’s music is his integrity, the integrity of his relationship with his music, with his life and the people in it. The story of Cash’s life is one that is filled with highs and lows and he will always be remembered for the way he grew as a person and an artist. 

Cash joined the US Air Force at the outbreak of the Korean War where he bought himself a guitar and taught himself to play, it was at this time that Cash composed one of his greatest hits Folsom Prison Blues. After a number of unsuccessful auditions with his ‘Tennessee Three’  Cash joined Sun Record’s so-called million-dollar quartet session with Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley in 1955.  Top ten hits followed on the Sun Label including Big River, Hey Porter and I Walk the Line. For his debut in 1957 at Nashville’s famous country music venue, the Grand Ole Opry, he appeared clothed entirely in black and eventually earned the nickname ‘The Man in Black’. Legend has it that he was often criticised for dressing in black as if he was ‘going to a funeral’, Cash’s response was always ‘maybe I am.’

As time wore on and his career progressed, drugs and alcohol became a regular feature on Cash’s tour leading to his record sales declining. Amphetamines and barbiturates became Cash’s drug of choice and over time he became addicted and used the drugs to stay awake during tours. Cash was spiralling out of control and collapsed several times during his concerts due to over-doses. Cash did however carefully cultivate a ‘bad boy’ image out of what was happening to him and this romantic outlaw style became a unique selling point for him. Despite landing in jail several times for misdemeanors, Cash never spent 2 nights in a row behind bars but it was his infamous run in with the law in 1965 that he will be remembered for. In 1965, Cash was arrested by a narcotics squad in Texas whilst on tour after the team found amphetamines hidden inside the singer’s guitar.In the mid 1960s, Cash released a number of concept albums, including Ballads Of the True West (1965), an experimental double record mixing authentic frontier songs with Cash’s spoken narration, and Bitter Tears (1964), with songs highlighting the plight of the Native Americans. His drug addiction was at its worst at this point, and his destructive behavior led to a divorce from his first wife and canceled performances.In his autobiography, he told of how, in 1967, with ‘nothing in his blood but amphetamines’, he crawled into a cave to die.

Johnny Cash’s personal life was just as turbulent as his dabbling in drugs. At the height of his career, Cash was performing with June Carter, whose radio broadcasts had inspired him during his youth. Carter had written Walk the Line and had collaborated with him on arguably Cash’s biggest hit, Ring of Fire. Carter helped Cash overcome his addictions and together they made a triumphant comeback selling out Carnegie Hall and beating the Beatles’ attendance at the London Palladium.  After Vivian Liberto had divorced Cash for his numerous affairs, including one with Carter, Cash proposed to June Carter during a live performance in London, Ontario, marrying on March 1, 1968 in Franklin, Kentucky. He had proposed numerous times, but she had always refused. They had one child together, John Carter Cash. 

Cash is probably most famous for his concerts in Folsom Prison. He had great compassion for prisoners and he also performed at San Quentin and Österåker Prison in Sweden. His live prison performances led to a pair of highly successful albums in the late 1960s after his fan base had grown significantly after records such as Folsom Prison Blues.

In the years before his death, Cash had been in and out of hospital several times, suffering from bronchitis and pneumonia. The albums American III: Solitary Man (2000) and American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002) contained Cash’s response to his illness in the form of songs of a slightly more somber tone than the first two American albums. The chilling epitaph which in the music video that was released for “Hurt”, a cover of the song by Nine Inch Nails, fit Cash’s view of his past and feelings of regret. June Carter died in May 2003 and before his last public performance in July 2003, Cash said before taking the stage,

The spirit of June Carter overshadows me tonight with the love she had for me and the love I have for her. We connect somewhere between here and heaven. She came down for a short visit, I guess, from heaven to visit with me tonight to give me courage and inspiration like she always has.

Johnny Cash died four months after June Carter and was buried next to her. Many believe that he gave up on life after she left him.If country tended towards the sentimental, Johnny Cash, in both his music and his life, sounded a note of gritty realism.  Cash is nothing but a contradiction, and that is one reason he will always be remembered.

Top Ten Outside Bets For The England World Cup Squad

Posted in News, Sport on February 19, 2010 by Jack Noble

So the clock is ticking down to South Africa 2010 and on May 12th, England boss Fabio Capello will name the lions he believes are the best 23 men to bring the World Cup back to England for the first time since 1966.   

 It was four years ago that former England boss Sven Goran Eriksson shocked the nation by naming  17-year old international rookie Theo Walcott in his squad to head to Germany and although  Capello is not renowned for surprise selections, injuries to key players may force the Italian to delve deeper into his player base than he would like. As we are all aware of, injuries will hit the England camp, we have seen this with injuries to Owen, Rooney and Beckham for example and with Ashley Cole in a race for fitness, we can have a look into the 10 players that could be given the chance to show what they can do in South Africa.   

Joe Hart   Birmingham City

  Why not start with a goalkeeper and there is hardly a keeper in better form than Birmingham City’s Joe Hart. The 22-year-old keeper on loan from Manchester City has jumped up the England pecking order after some confident and assured performances this season. Hart has kept eight clean sheets in 20 games for Birmingham so far and played a key role as part of their solid defence as they’ve embarked on their record-breaking unbeaten run in the top flight. Many suggest that Hart will be given his second cap against Egypt next month and with more established goalkeepers struggling such as David James and his fitness, Ben Foster falling out of favour at Old Trafford and Robert Green having an inconsistent season at West Ham, surely there is no better opportunity for Hart to establish himself as England’s number 1 come May.    

Leighton Baines/Steven Warnock   Everton/Aston Villa

 With England sweating over the fitness of Ashley Cole after the Chelsea man fractured his left ankle 2 weeks ago, talk has turned to who would be selected if Cole fails to recover in time for the World Cup.  With Wayne Bridge almost certain to take the left back position in this worst-case-scenario, England would still need back up for the Manchester City man and two names have been branded about,  Villa’ s Stephen Warnock and  Everton’s Leighton Baines (left).   

So what does Baines have to offer? The Everton man has pace, a solid left foot, and is not scared to make a tackle despite not being the biggest, while his set-piece delivery is a key weapon in Everton’s attacking armoury. On the other hand, Steven Warnock has already been selected by Capello in a few of his England squads and has not been overlooked as Baines has been and therefore may be higher up the pecking order. James Milner has also been asked to fill in at left-back for England this term and performed adequately, but surely this would only be done in an emergency. Overall I predict that one of these two will be selected and it is very close to call, but judging on history, I reckon Capello will be calling on Steven Warnock to be Bridge’s back-up if Ashley Cole does not make it to South Africa.   


Ryan Shawcross   Stoke City

  Stoke boss Tony Pulis has been talking up his centre-back’s England chances of late and with Rio Ferdinand and Joleon Lescott both struggling to get a decent run in their teams due to injury, the 22-year-old Shawcross could find himself selected in the World Cup Squad. The most attractive attribute to Shawcross’ game is his old-fashioned no-nonsense defending that the former Manchester United man has to offer. The Stoke man’s cause is only strengthened by Capello’s reluctance to pick Spurs’ pair Jonathan Woodgate and Ledley King due to their woeful injury records. Much like Warnock and Baines, Shawcross needs to maintain his personal form, hope that his club side continue to fare well in the Premier League and then hope that he will perhaps profit from the misfortune of others in his position.   

Adam Johnson   Manchester City

  Adam Johnson has been one to watch for a few years now, and the left-winger finally got his break due to the relegation of his former club Middlesbrough. After some glittering performances in the North-East, Johnson swapped the Riverside for Eastlands in a deal believed to be around £8m. It is this move that has put the pacey winger in the limelight and the 22-year old will no doubt be in direct competition with former ‘Boro team-mate Stewart Downing for the left hand side position. It may be a little to early for Johnson to break into the squad, but we have seen Walcott and Aaron Lennon do exactly the same thing last time round, but if not involved this year, Johnson is certainly one to step up to the senior squad at a later date.   


Charles N’Zogbia   Wigan Athletic

  Well this would be a turn up for the books, but stranger things have happened. French-born Charlie ‘Insomnia’ has impressed for Roberto Martinez’s side this season and there has been nothing weary about the Wigan wide-man’s performances this term. The 23- year old qualifies for England selection as he has been playing in the country since 2004 when Sir Bobby Robson poached the French teenager from Le Havre. With England’s lack of abundance in left wingers, Capello could be forced to look in the direction of N’Zogbia who possesses real pace and fantastic dribbling attributes. A very unlikely selection, but certainly an interesting one to ponder.   


Lee Cattermole  Sunderland

  A no-nonsense hard-knocking holding anchor man is number 6 on the list. With just under 20 England under-21 caps, Lee Cattermole is certainly one for the future. After a promising start to his debut season with Sunderland, Cattermole’s run in the team was cut short after picking up a knee injury against Liverpool and since then his side’s results have plummeted. With Sunderland only averaging 0.7 points per game without him, compared to 1.6 points per game when Cattermole was in the side, Cattermole’s importance to the team is clearly emphasised. Capello will clearly go with the already established Gareth Barry in the ‘holding role’, Cattermole will be in direct competition with the likes of Owen Hargreaves, Tom Huddlestone and Michael Carrick, however it is becoming more and more unlikely that Hargreaves will return in time for June and if Huddlestone suffers a drop in form or finds himself benched more and more often, the door could open for the former Wigan man. The 21-year old midfielder naturally lacks experience at the highest level but would certainly give England more bite in the centre of the park if Capello’s considers that the way to go.   


Jack Rodwell   Everton

  Young Everton midfielder Rodwell has burst onto the scene this season with a string of decent performances which has alerted the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Chelsea, however like Cattermole and Johnson, it might be a bit soon for this young-gun to be boarding the plane to South Africa and it can be argued that he would only make it in the event of an epidemic of injuries hitting centre-midfielders.The 18-year old has not looked out of place in the Premiership and has handled greatly experienced players such as Javier Mascherano and Paul Scholes extremely well. His range of passing and hard tackling is something I am sure Fabio Capello and his staff have noted for the future.   

Jack Wilshere   Bolton

   ‘In 2010 Wilshere will be 18,Theo was 17 and had never played a single Premier League game and had not grown like Wilshere has now. Wilshere now will come in and out of the team, he’ll play in the Champions League,’ the words of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on his young prodigy Jack Wilshere, and the Frenchman has a point, would it be such a shock if this pacey left-winger was included in Capello’s 23 man squad for South Africa?   

Since Wenger said this at the beginning of the season, Jack Wilshere has been loaned out to Arsenal’s fellow Premiership rivals Bolton Wanderers in a deal that can only enhance Wilshere’s chances of playing in the World Cup with such an abundance of first team football. There is no doubt this boy has talent and many have compared him to surpass England’s best winger of recent times, John Barnes. The country is excited about this talent as the Hertforshire-born Wilshere has bit of flair about him, and an eye for a pass and the ability to score some cracking goals. Wilshere is a star for the future, and who knows, if he can get some form and a decent run in the Bolton team, we may seem him lining up in the England midfield come the summer.   

Bobby Zamora   Fulham

  Not somebody I would pick personally, but there has been a lot of hype about Booby Zamora of late. After only netting twice in 35 Premier League games last year this season has been a revelation for Zamora who has scored 9 goals in all competitions already this season, alongside five assists, prompting talk of a possible England call-up. Zamora is however facing a lot of competition in his race to be named in Capello’s squad. There are a number of players that are on the fence for the squad including Darren Bent, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Emile Heskey, Peter Crouch and Carlton Cole and anyone of them could make South Africa, it all depends on who stays fit and who scores the most goals. In my opinion, Zamora is probably last in this queue, with no senior international experience to date however Zamora’s strength and power, along with his ability to hold up the ball and bring others in to play could be the perfect foil for Rooney should Capello elect to start with two strikers in the World Cup finals in South Africa. Zamora offers something a little different to Heskey and Cole and in that respect, he may be considered by Capello and his staff.   

Michael Owen   Manchester United

 Is the dream over for the former England ‘boy wonder’? Yes, most likely it is, Owen rarely features for Manchester United and therefore will never feature for the England team, it is how the game works. On his day, Owen is one of the best finishers in the world and nobody can argue that and the former Newcastle and Liverpool striker has international experience in abundance which Capello realises .Owen can be world-class. But Capello, who admires Owen’s movement, his presence, his knowledge of the job, his awareness won’t select on sentiment or history. Capello is very different to Eriksson and McLaren in that he purely picks his squad on form and not past glories, and this is why the Italian consistently picks players such as Carlton Cole and Gabby Agbonlahor in front of Owen. It can be argued that Owen may have stood a better chance of getting into the England squad for the summer if he had stuck with Newcastle United in the Championship or moved to Hull City where in both cases he would have been a big fish in a small pond and getting games rather than sitting way down the pecking order at Old Trafford. If Owen is to go, he has to prove he is playing better than Jermain Defoe or Darren Bent, he needs to  get the game time. Owen is a particular type of player. He’s a predator. A goal-scorer. And if he is not scoring, he is of far less use to England. He can’t do the job of Emile Heskey, who is hardly prolific but is a team player who helps define the space for Wayne Rooney, who drops in and helps out. As I said before, on his day Owen can deliver, but if he is not doing it for United, will he be doing it for England, most likely not.   

So where we have it, a few players to watch over the coming months. Most of these players will only have a look-in if they keep a consistent run of form, keep injury free and hope for injuries to the more established England players, but what is for sure come May, is that the England squad will not be totally what the English population expected and there will be a number of talking points.

The Peculiar Customs of a South Pacific Archipelago

Posted in History, News, Travel on February 12, 2010 by Jack Noble
Since spending a year out from my studies to teach in the South Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu, I have been facinated by the customs that dominate this area of the world, may it be jumping off a 35m high structures with the intention of landing on your head or simply worshipping the Duke of Edinburgh, you are never far away from some amazing traditons and beliefs wherever you are.

Vanuatu is a country rich with culture and traditions. Every year the villages on the island of Pentecost take part in what has become on of the worlds’ most famous customs, the act of Naghol. The story of the Naghol dates back to the legend of Tamalie, the first man to jump from a Naghol tower. Centuries ago, Tamalie was alledged to have followed his wife up a large banyan tree, she was presumed to be attempting to escape a beating, whilst others on the island believe she would not consummate her marriage. As Tamalie tried to grab his wife, she leapt from the top of the tree and he followed trying to save her but without realising that she had actually tied vines to her ankles. Tamalie fell to his death. Well you may feel this is quite a depressing story and believe there is little to celebrate about a man falling to his death, but every year this story is reenacted by the Pentecost villagers.

The men of Pentecost spend many weeks building towers from tree trucks, saplings and branches to form what looks like a very unstable tower around 35m high. The tower is designed to jostle in the wind so that it is clear that Tamalie’s spirit occupies the structure. The divers are strictly men who spend weeks together as a group training, bonding and getting their timing right when it comes to the actual jump. Each diver selects his Liana vines before the chief of the village approves the vines for elasticity and size. Once a child is circumsized at the age of 8, he become eligible to jump. The child will then practice by jumping off his father’s shoulders.  The ground or ‘landing-zone’ must also be cleared of rocks and loosened into a bed of  soft soil. The men and women below the divers dress in little but a penis-sheath ‘nambas’ or a white grass skirt made from the hibiscus plant. They chant, stamp their feet and whistle as the diver climbs the branches to the top.

The children are the first in line to make their jumps. It is more terrifying watching the young jump from heights of 12m than the adults from 35m but not one of them panics. As the child leans forwards, his father has to get the perfect timing to cut the boy’s vines. The childs head skims the broken soil before landing in a heap much to the excitment of the villagers around him. Between 20 and 60 divers partake in the Naghol and the final jumper is the chief of the tower. The diver climbs slowly to the top of the tower, his friends patting him on the back and giving him last minute encouragement. As he reaches his plank at the top, the moment is his. He waves and dances and basks in his own glory. He raises his hands and speaks a few words to the crowd before closing his eyes and leaning forward. The final jump is the deadliest,  if the diver misjudges his jump, he may not clear the tower. The fatality rate on Naghol is remarkably low for what the westerners are told.

I met the son of John Peter, whom by the same name died from taking part in the Naghol. Queen Elizabeth II visited Pentecost in 1974 and witnessed a land diving ceremony, during which John Peter Snr. died because the jump was performed during a dry season, when the vines were not as elastic as they were meant to have been. The jumps are not made only to celebrate the death of Tamalie, but as each jumper’s hair touches the soil as he lands, it is said that this fertilises the soil for the following yam season.  A truly breath-taking and mesmorising tradition that has to be watched through your hands.

A Jon Frum CeremonyPentecost is not the only ‘Ni-Van’ island to have strange and wonderful customs. The island of Tanna situated in the south of the archipelago of Vanuatu, has a few strange traditions of its own.  During World War II Jon Frum (perhaps meaning John From America) arrived on the island and claimed to be the brother of the god of mt. Tukosmera. described as an American serviceman by some that saw him, Frum claimed that if the Tannese islanders removed all that was European from their island, there would be an abundance of wealth. Many islanders listened and went back to their normal customs of drinking kava (root vegtable drink) and their traditional ceremonies in the hope Jon Frum would return. When America’s involvement in World War II began in 1941, the USA based much of their Navy on the local island of Santo and many islanders from Tanna returned speaking of the wonderful uniforms these men like Jon Frum wore. These replica uniforms can be seen worn today on the leaders of the Jon Frum movement.  Across Tanna the movement have constructed whole runways for Jon Frum planes to land as well as wooden airplanes, similar to the ones that were seen on Santo during World War II. Others have constructed tin can radios hoping to contact Frum and warfs for ships to berth and deliver what they believe they are owed. Red Crosses have also been erected all over the island, as seen at the US military bases. People have constantly asked the members of the Jon Frum movement, ‘why do you still wait, it has been 70 years?’ and they respond by saying, ‘how long have you Christians been waiting?’

The weird and wonderful religious movements in Tanna do not stop with Jon Frum. The Prince Phillip movement is a front led by the ‘Yaohnanen’ tibe and is believed to have been formed in the 1960s. Prince Phillip is believed to be the pale-skinned son of a mountain spirit and brother to Jon Frum. According to legend, Prince Phillip was in fact born in Vanuatu before travelling over seas to a distant land to marry a powerful lady. During the royal visit in 1974, the villages had the chance to see the prince for afar and the prince handed over a signed photograph to the tribe. Like the Jon Frum followers, the Yaohnanen tribe believe that Phillip will return to his ‘homeland’ bringing incredible wealth. Prince Philip, who turns 89 this year, has officially accepted his Vanuatuan birthright, maintaining a correspondence with his South Pacific counterparts for several decades. Tanna elder Chief Jack has invited Prince Philip to live out his remaining years on the island paradise.

On the islands of Vanuatu, magic is alive.  Residents, both native and expatriate, subscribe to the reality of magic, and magic men, or ‘man blong majik,”‘are held in extremely high regard.  Magic is believed strongest near the glowing cauldrons of active volcanoes. On Pentecost where I lived for 7 months, I was told of men (that I knew) and their powers to turn into sharks and bats. Many islanders insist they can fly, however keep their powers a secret. During my time in Vanuatu, there was a court case held near my village after one man was accused of turning into a bat and attacking and killing a woman. On the island of Epi the waters are said to be strangely free from sharks, the locals protected by forces unseen.  On Ambrym, often referred to as Black Island, black magic is still a part of daily life — and not for the sake of gullible tourists. The government of Vanuatu has established regulations to protect native customs from being exploited by foreigners.  Objects used in traditional ceremonies can’t be sold, nor can the craft be used commercially in any form. Large fines are levied on offenders. The most amazing wonder about Vanuatu is its ability to resist western culture and as the influx of tourists to Vanuatu increases, the magic will begin to fade and within 100 years, I would not be surprised if these customs and traditions were no-more.

Bloodhound Sniffs Out 1000mph Speed Record

Posted in News, Technology on February 9, 2010 by Jack Noble

With the recession slowing to a halt, a team of British engineers are speeding up in their attempt to break their own world land-speed record. The BloodhoundSSC team hope to have their car built and ready to take to South Africa next year in an attempt to smash the land speed record by the biggest margin in history. The record, held by the same team’s Thrust SSC, was set at at 763mph, but the new team, fronted by Richard Noble, hope to top that by 200mph in a machine powered by a Eurofighter Typhoon’s EJ200 engine and a hybrid rocket. To give you an idea of the speeds this car will be reaching at its peak, Bloodhound will cover over four football pitches a second and travel faster than a speeding bullet. Even the car’s fuel tank is to be powered by a Le Mans 24hr racing car’s V12 engine. All three engines will produce over 135,000 horse-power, the same as that of 180 formula one cars.

The man who will be strapping himself into this jet/rocket on wheels is no stranger to the land-speed record. Wing Commander Andy Green, 46, was the first man to break the speed of sound on land and an extra 200mph seems to be little weight on his shoulders. With an acceleration of around 30mph a second and the experience of a constant 3g, Green expects to be feeling ‘very comfortable’ and he will be following RAF muscle-squeeze techniques in order to stay conscious during each run. Green also admits that despite all the research and tests, travelling at such speeds are a great mystery and the team will be learning every step of the way.

I’m not saying that this is entirely risk-free, but neither is crossing the road. Is life with zero-risk interesting? No. – Andy Green

The Bloodhound SSC education programme has started brightly

So why break the land-speed record when you already hold the record? The answer is the need for new batch of British engineers. The number of students studying engineering has dropped by 17% in the last decade leading to 60% of firms finding it hard to pick up the scientists, engineers and mathematicians they require. Science Minister, Lord Drayson proposed the Bloodhound project back in 2006 after struggling to recruit a sufficient number of engineers whilst at the Ministry of Defence. Project leader Richard Noble was challenged to create a new iconic British project, and with it bring what Noble describes as the ‘Apollo factor’. So if the project can create even a small percentage of what the Apollo moon landings achieved, the project will be a success. The team believe that if they make 1000mph and fail to influence anyone, they would have failed on their mission. Signs so far are positive as over 3,365 schools have already signed up to the Bloodhound education programme which hides no secrets from the public and reveals all its data for its supporters club to follow.

The consequences if we don’t inspire the next generation are that we will wither as a country – UK Science Minister Lord Drayson

The 12.8 meter pencil shaped car should be ready by late 2011 and will head to the Verneuk Pan flats in South Africa. The team found difficulties in finding a surface that would span 10 miles without obstructions and could support a 6.5 tonne car but finally they have met their match. But finding the desert was not the only serious struggle the team have had to overcome. Apart from the substantial in-kind support of the MoD in the loan of the EJ200s, Bloodhound is a private project that will need to raise some £10m in financing.

Bloodhound is not the only land-speed record car in the running. Australian Rosco McGlashan’s 8.5 tonne Aussie Invader 5R will run on four rocket engines and USA/Canadian built North American Eagle will challenge BloodhoundSSC to the prestigious title of fastest car in the world. Let battle commence….

Follow the project at BLOODHOUNDSSC.COM

O So Simple – But Effective

Posted in Music on January 17, 2010 by Jack Noble

A Review Of The Soundtrack to Where the Wild Things Are by Karen O and the Kids

Karen O

It is extremely rare to leave a cinema talking primarily about how exceptional a film’s soundtrack is rather than the film itself and I found this when visiting the pictures to see Spike Jonze’s 21st century adaptation of the 1963 children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are. Taking on this daunting task was the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s vocalist Karen O (Orzolek) with her untutored children’s choir from New York whom in turn create a balance of the folky and fantastical, with immediate, all-together-now hooks designed for songs around the campfire.

Orzolek and her kids add a whole new dimension to the motion picture which beautifully reminds the older viewers of their adolescent innocence and her repetitive lyrics are simple yet catchy, which in some ways are perfect for the film’s target audience. The style of her music covers all different emotional wave-lengths, from the start of the wild ‘rumpus’ to the melancholic, tender ‘Worried Shoes’ which captures the loneliness and dejection of the film’s hero, Max perfectly.

The leading song on the album,  entitled ‘All is Love’, is a song in which Karen O and her kids spell out the word ‘Love’ numerous times, reminded me of  something that would not look out of place in the kindergarten classroom, a simple yet hugely effective song and the untrained children create a disorganised but charming addition to the tracks. Karen O is not trying to produce a soundtrack that would appeal to the older audiences of this film, she  purely attempts and succeeds in transporting the audience back to their childhood innocence. Songs such as ‘All is Love’ and ‘Heads Up’ are direct and participatory enough to engage children of a young age to the film and  the music is so simplistic, that if you were to take away the names of the tracks, it could be the soundtrack to almost anything, but Karen understands the power of imagination in transforming your mundane surroundings into something spectacular, creating the sweetest, deepest escape from reality.

The dejected ‘Hideaway’ does not follow the same pattern as the majority of the album and its hazy-headed, long and dreary sound creates a tear-jerker moment in the film, a complete contrast from the homely hum of the likes of ‘Igloo’ and ‘Food is Still Hot’ which have a feeling of warm safety and drowsy mystery. Overall I must say that the simplistic yet emotional debut album from Karen O fits the film perfectly and her Grammy nomination for ‘ best song written for a motion picture, television or any other visual media’ is hugely deserved, and if there is any justice in the world, she will walk away with the award hands down.