ROUGH SCIENCE - Episode 4 (ca. 2000)

Building a record player is a tough challenge. Firstly it's not easy to get a turntable to be flat let alone to move smoothly at a regular and reliable speed. The sound that comes out of the pick-up (another challenge in itself) will be dependant on the speed of the record and it would be much louder with an old 78 rpm record which unfortunately we don't have. Then there is the problem of how to power it ? We could have a handle and power it our selves but then one has to make sure that the handle is turned very evenly and it's a bit boring to do for a long time! What follows are a few scattered memories of the last few days in our island paradise…

I woke up very early. My mind was full of images and feelings from the last few wonderful weeks. Paul (the producer) and the crew had been chatting about the challenges for the final programme in the series and a record player was mentioned! Now with my mind jumping from one thought and image to another a design for a record player started to come together in my mind's eye. It was about five o'clock in the morning and I tried to ignore these images to go back to sleep. The last few weeks had been fun but completely draining. I needed my sleep, not a brain full of designs.

It was no good though, I couldn't stop my mind from wandering. I got up and drew some of these ideas down in a notebook that I carry around with me everywhere. Everything goes in this book: positive, negative, good, bad, interesting and even naive thoughts - its a sort of extension to my thinking, memory and mind. After about an hour of sketching out one design after another, and from solving one problem to the next problem that comes along, I had somehow come up with what, I thought at the time, was a great idea.

I was so relieved that I had got this out of my system that I felt much more relaxed and found I could go back to sleep. I sleep for an hour or so, then awoke itching to get on with it. However, today was a day-off designed for us to relax and get some rest. I decided to take-off on one of the lonely island walks that treks across the rather barren landscape to explore and take some photo's. Capraia has these rather amazing paths made up out of large square blocks of rock. They wind their way along, and across, the island and allow one to get to see the wonders of the island by foot - boat being the only other way. I took one of these paths across the island, up and over one of the high spots and from here I could see Corsica and its amazing timeless looking mountain ranges.

view of Corsica
Corsica and mountains just visible in the haze

I got back around lunchtime and joined up with Mike L, Mike B, Paul, Angie and David. Paul, the two Mikes and I spent a happy afternoon chatting and relaxing near to the coast in the gorgeous late summer Mediterranean sun. I think the others were off diving, swimming or exploring the island.

Mike and Rod
Mike with homemade bow and arrow and also fishing rod


When the time came to get cracking on the record player I started with confidence. However, the rather sleepless nights before started to creep up on me, and slowly the 'great idea' of a record player started to turn into a bit of a nightmare - my god, I thought, what the hell have I let myself in for! Each pulley and circle I cut up and sanded down seemed to be teasing me. It felt a bit like waking from one of those dreams where everything seems to make sense but then slowly as one awakes large cracks appear in the logic. Things seem so much more reasonable and practical when ones mind is only half awake.

Each morning we took the Land Rover up to our prison base. It took an hour or so to get up and although the drive started fairly even, near to the prison end the Land Rovers seemed to bounce from one rock to another. Each morning we dreaded this drive up the mountain and I think at times it was only Mike Bullivant's humour that got us to the top in one piece - at least mentally in one piece !

One morning Mike Leahy tried to convince David (the director) that he could estimate the height of the prison, above sea level, just by 'feeling' the pressure difference. He was claiming that by blocking up one ear with a finger, when down at the sea, and leaving the other ear 'unstoppered' he could feel the pressure change when going up the mountain. After the first programme was filmed and our latitude and longitude was measured Mike and I were allowed to look at the maps. Mike had noticed the height of the prison mountain. Now after this hell of a bumpy ride, with finger in ear, Mike was confidently predicting to David that the height of the prison was about 330m above sea level! That was the sort of mischevious atmosphere with which we started each day.

Most mornings we got to the top in the wonderfully clear and somehow beautifully optimistic sunshine. The air was fresh and there was an excited and wonderful feeling about the day ahead. But this particular day, the last one of the filming, my record player was making unpleasant sounds in my head and heart. I really felt I had bitten off more than I could chew!

The last programme in the series was difficult in a number of other ways. Firstly, we were all very tired and secondly the film crew kept going off and filming various sequences needed for the editing stage later on. So there seemed to be hours when we were asked to stop making things because the crew had to go elsewhere. I couldn't continue without them because they needed to film each step. Consequently I spent a lot of the time going off for walks and trying to help out with anything that needed doing. I spent a happy hour or so with Anna and Vanessa breaking up pine nuts from their shells for the banquet, and spent hours helping Vanessa and Kate with their amazing lobster pot.

Lobster Pot
Homage to Marmite - our Rough Science Lobster pot

Somehow in this rather on-one minute, off-the next state, coupled with feeling tired and slightly unsure about my original plans, the record player slowly came into being. It wasn't that I didn't care about whether or not it worked, it was just that I think I was sort of drunk with tiredness and had slightly given up caring about the finer points. I sort of drifted along with the programme. The record player however did start to look like it might work and I think with a few more days we could have sorted out the speed and actually played a recognisable track. All the while this was going on though we knew that time on our desert island paradise was slipping away and all these magic moments would soon be just memories.

Record Player
Jonathan and the Rough Science Record Player

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Dr Jonathan Hare, The University of Sussex
Brighton, East Sussex. BN1 9QJ.

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