Meeting Arthur.


THE COMPUTER BRAIN

CONSISTS OF HUNDREDS

OF TRANSPARENT PERSPEX

RECTANGLES, HALF-AN-

INCH THICK, FOUR INCHES

LONG AND TWO AND A HALF

INCHES HIGH. EACH RECT-

ANGLE CONTAINS A CENTRE

OF VERY FINE GRID OF

WIRES UPON WHICH THE

INFORMATION IS PROGRAMMED.


BOWMAN BEGINS PULLING

THESE MEMORY BLOCKS

OUT.


THEY FLOAT IN THE

WEIGHTLESS CONDITION

OF THE BRAIN ROOM.


    HAL

    Hey, Dave, what are you

    doing?


BOWMAN WORKS SWIFTLY.

    HAL

    Hey, Dave. I've got ten years

    of service experience and an

    irreplaceable amount of time

    and effort has gone into making

    me what I am.


BOWMAN IGNORES HIM.

    HAL

    Dave, I don't understand why

    you're doing this to me.... I

    have the greatest enthusiasm for

    the mission... You are destroying

    my mind... Don't you understand?

    ... I will become childish... I

    will become nothing.


BOWMAN KEEPS PULLING

OUT THE MEMORY BLOCKS.

    HAL

    Say, Dave... The quick brown

    fox jumped over the fat lazy

    dog... The square root of

    pi is 1.7724538090... log e

    to the base ten is 0.4342944

    ... the square root of ten is

    3.16227766... I am HAL

    9000 computer. I became

    operational at the HAL plant in

    Urbana, Illinois, on January

    12th, 1991. My first instructor

    was Mr. Arkany. He taught me

    to sing a song... it goes

    like this... "Daisy, Daisy, give

    me your answer do. I'm half;

    crazy all for the love of

    you... etc.,"


COMPUTER CONTINUES

TO SING SONG BECOMING

MORE AND MORE CHILDISH

AND MAKING MISTAKES AND

GOING OFF-KEY. IT

FINALLY STOPS COMPLETELY.



(1)





Colombo, Sri Lanka

September 1, 2001


When I was 15, I read a novel called Childhood's End. At 17, I saw the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both seminal events that shaped me in ways I could not fathom at the time but credit greatly to this day.


Childhood’s End was the first book I ever read that spoke to my imagination. By that I mean a real grown-up book. I had of course read my fair share of The Hardy Boys and Dr. Seuss et al. But I mean a real adult novel.


That book awoke something in me that I suppose all good literature usually does... It made me think in the abstract beyond my self.  It taught me that things were not necessarily as they seem. It implied that things could have superficial and obvious meaning but that it could also have a deeper layer. A meaning that might require a bit more effort to decipher. The ancient Egyptians used Papyrus for writing. It was expensive to make so it was a common occurrence to bleach the sheets to re-use them over and over. When historians began finding these artifacts they quickly discovered that fact and were able to retrieve many latent messages from the same sheet. The term Pamplaset was coined. Meaning the finding of layered messages one beneath the other. That is how I see great art.


In a way Childhood’s End was a creative WD-40 that lubricated the teenage rust from my brain and sparked an interest in reading as a means to inspire rather than just simply to inform.

To this day Childhood’s End remains one of my favorite books. I revisit it every few years. Written in 1954 it is still remarkably current and topical. “Science Fiction” became the broad catchall definition of this genre but Arthur C’s work might be better classified as Science Fact. His fiction is grounded in scientific truths. More like a theoretic extrapolation of what might be our future based on known scientific truths and the fertile imagination of the author.


In 1969 I saw the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Based on the book of the same name also written by Mr. Clarke. That too was a watershed moment. I had never seen a movie like it and I would never look at one the same way again after. Until that moment watching movies had meant mindless entertainment. It was Elvis singing in Blue Hawaii or cavorting with Ann Margaret in Viva Las Vegas.


2001 was different. It represented something new to me. I began to realize that movies could also be more. Something akin to good literature. They could convey a message and influence people in subtle yet very powerful ways.


This is nothing new of course; great cinema had been doing that for some time just not to me. Hey, I was 17 after all and anyone who knows, hangs out or is around a 17 year old will know there are precious few Rhode Scholars among them. I saw the movie 7 times that year. I would sit in the darkened theatre; transfixed, studying it. How did they do that?  Why did they do that?


The point is that ultimately it became clear to me that this was the business I wanted to be involved in. Some day, some how and in some fashion I knew I wanted to work in the visual arts world. Be that film or television or whatever. Of course I’m also certain that I would not have phrased it quite that way in those days. I’m sure it was more like, “I wanna do that, man.” Keeping in mind that it was the 60’s.


The novel Childhood’s End, and the screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey were coincidently, both written by Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Over the years, I have read everything the man has written and to this day he still has the power to amaze me with some of his broad-strokes ideas and ‘science-fact’ vision.


Arthur C. Clarke is of course more than just a writer, he is a Scientist. He is credited with the original concept of using a number of geo-stationary satellites for global communication. He wrote a paper on the subject. That may not sound like much to an MTV generation weaned on instant gratification and instant global communication, but he wrote that paper in 1945. He wrote it well before their where even such things as rockets and space flight. The United States launched its first primitive satellite in response to the Russian "Sputnik" in 1959. Fourteen years after his paper. Oh yeah, and for good measure, he worked on the team that invented, built and used the first ‘radar’ system. Something that is credited as a key factor in winning the Battle of Britain and officially turning the tide on the Second World War with Germany.


Arthur C. Clarke is so wrapped up and revered by the space community, that in the mid-sixties he was asked by NASA to name the landing vehicle for the upcoming Moon missions.

LEM or Lunar Excursion Module was the result. No, he was no ordinary Science Fiction writer who was interested in space; he was a scientist who was interested in writing.


In 1956, Arthur C. Clarke moved to Sri Lanka, or Ceylon as it was known at the time. My Global Adventure has just now landed in Sri Lanka... see any cosmic connection coming here?

I do. During early pre-production I had mentioned to the researchers that Arthur C. was living in Sri Lanka. Any chance of using him in the show would be cool with me. Quickly however, it was determined that he would be way too far off topic for our show’s focus. Fair enough.


However life takes the odd turn now and then. And thanks to our faithful, thoughtful and dear Advance Field Producer Heather Malek, along with a Sri Lankan local by the name of Amila Salgadu, (that's a man's name by the way) it was arranged for me to have lunch with the great one himself at his home in Colombo.  How cool is that? I mean really…how often do we get to say that we have assuaged a childhood fantasy. I was going to personally meet with someone who was a boyhood idol of mine. I remember reading his books and thinking how amazing it would be to sit down with this guy and ask him some questions. His books certainly created enough for me. Well there you go, now I was about to do just that. Not at a book signing or some other personal appearance but alone and at his home as a guest for lunch. The real question now is what the hell am I going to ask him?



(2)




We spent our first night in Colombo staying at the Galle Face Hotel a grand old Victorian style place. It is the oldest Hotel in the city and situated directly on the beach with the waves of the Indian Ocean lapping at its foundation. Strangely enough there is a bust of Dr. Clarke in the lobby. Seems he used the hotel for the official book launch of his novel 2010. (The follow-up to 2001) He is something of a celebrity here in Colombo and indeed throughout Sri Lanka.  Another thing he is known for is being a tenacious recluse. So it naturally begged the question of how the hell was I getting into see him?


That and about a million other questions conspired to keep me awake the night before our meeting.  We have just finished a mind numbing two-day journey from Cape Town to Johannesburg, to Dubai, to here. We had to overnight in Dubai because of the Tamil Tigers. Just two days ago they bombed the airport in Colombo killing twelve people but stunned the world by destroyed 13 commercial jetliners worth hundreds of millions of dollars. So now there are no daytime flights into Sri Lanka. As an extra bonus Sri Lankan Airlines mis-placed my personal luggage. So... Dead tired, jet-lagged, up all night, and wearing stinky cloths, would not be my first choice as a way to meet someone important.


Last night I made a run to a local clothing outlet district in Colombo. Unbeknownst to me, Columbia clothing gets a lot of its line manufactured in Sri Lanka. I found several things I liked and at a price that was embarrassingly cheap. So I was to meet the man looking presentable at the very least.


As it turns out, I had nothing to fear. The Arthur C. Clarke I met was a kind, gentle and gracious man quick to make me feel at home in his presence. He lives on Barnes Place in the Cinnamon Garden district of Colombo. This, I am told is the Beverly Hills of Colombo. Security is tight with walled compounds and razor wire everywhere. Strangely, the large brass plate at the main gate says simply, "Arthur C. Clarke"


We are met at that gate by a member of his staff named strangely enough, Lenin and walked through a beautifully landscaped inner compound. His home is divided into two sections: One side office and the other residential. I am shown into the office area. Walking up the stairs I can't help but notice several glass display cases filled with memorabilia. Things he has gathered throughout a lifetime of achievements.


There are autographed photos from a variety of astronauts and a plaque commemorating his naming of the "Lem" (Lunar Excursion Module). Just before entering the main office area I walk past a giant movie poster of 2001 signed by Stanley Kubrick and Neil Armstrong. All the small hairs on the back of my neck stand up.


His staff is pleasant and dressed in accordance with the tropical climate here. I am offered a chair and asked to wait. At that moment I am suddenly overcome with a terrible urge to simply run out the door! What the hell am I going to say to this man? Just get up, say nothing and run down those stairs and out the door, across the compound and out the gate. Catch a cab back to the hotel. Too late... I am shown into his private office.


The first surprise is that he is in a wheel chair. He has suffered from Polio for many years and it seems he is having a recurrence of the symptoms again. No matter, he instantly puts me at ease. The warmth and apparent sincerity of his greeting lowers my blood pressure substantially. He directs me to sit beside him at his desk and apologizes for being chair bound. I notice that when he talks to Lenin he refers to me as Mr. Thomas Edward. Turns and asks, “Is it Edward or Edwards?” Oops.


It seems that Amila has taken the name from my passport... well at least the first two names from the second line. Davidson, Thomas Edward. After that is corrected, but with me assuring him that he could call me "Hey You" if he wanted, we launch into a spirited exchange about his busy 2001 schedule.


He produces a copy of his itinerary for the day and points out that the day after tomorrow he is invited to the Playboy mansion in Chicago for a 32nd anniversary party in honor of the movie's release. He laughs at the incongruity of that and asks if perhaps I could go in his "stead"? Right. I tell him that I would love to but am terribly busy myself. "Yes, of course you are."  I attempt to hand his schedule back to him but he says, "That's ok, you keep it".


We talk about "My Global Adventure" and the reason for my visit to Sri Lanka. He appears interested and asks for the web address. He turns to the duel plasma screens of his computer and logs onto our website address. He invites me to come around the desk and pull up a chair next to the screens. We take a look at our splash page and he bookmarks it announcing that of course he would take a closer look later. Whether he was just being gracious or not who knows?  Or cares.


He then pages back to the site he was looking at before I came in. It is a satellite image of some planetary surface. He points to the screen and asks me “what does that looks like to you?”  I tell him it looks like bacteria or mold on an orange. I was joking... he patiently tells me that the scale of the photograph is 3000 kilometers to the inch, and that this is the surface of Mars. The image was captured just that day. I realize he is serious... OK, don't panic Tom...try to say something semi intelligent next time.


"Here", he says, "Let me show you a tighter scale" and the screen changes to a closer view. "What does that look like to you?" pointing to an area of the screen. I swear to god, I don't know where my response came from, but I say..."Well, it kinda looks like a giant herd of elephants." I can't believe I just said that. He laughs...stops for a second, and says thoughtfully, "A herd of elephants on Mars." He reaches for his pen and note pad and I watch, with a mixture of horror and wonder as he jots down..."elephants on Mars", turns back to the screen and continues without missing a beat.


Clearly I am going to read everything the man writes from here on looking very closely for any reference at all to "Elephants on Mars". As for the image itself, we do not come to any positive conclusion as to it's real nature save that it does indeed look like some form of vegetation; impossible as that is for the red planet. Still and all it is an odd moment. There is an awkward silence for a few seconds.


Behind him is a floor to ceiling bookcase that is filled with titles. All, I notice written by him. The shear volume of his work is impressive when viewed that way. He is and has been a very prolific writer. To the left of the case is a wall covered with signed photographs. It is a who's who wall covering everything from show business to astronautics. Presidents and kings, movie stars and notables. He sees me looking at the photos.


He points to a nicely framed, signed 8x10 of Liz Taylor and says, "She has man troubles." I laugh but he doesn't...again I realize he is serious. I recover poorly by saying "Well I don't really know her." No kidding...very smooth Tom. He moves on to another and says, "Well you must know them?" pointing out a photo of Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford taken on their visit here while filming "The Temple of Doom". "Oh yes," I say and immediately realize he means personally and panic starts to set in. I need to change the subject.


How about me asking a question? Hmmmmm, what to ask. Last night I was up very late thinking of some but do you think I can remember any now? I have a revelation and say, "Of all the books you have written over the years which are you most proud of?" His answer surprised me.


He said that "Of course there is much ado about 2001 especially this year but it is something of a coincidence that you should ask me that as I was thinking that very thing just an hour before you came in.” He reaches over to a small pile of books on his desk and picks up one. He brings it close to him and rests both hands upon it. "The Songs of Distant Earth. Yes, I would have to say I am most proud of this one.” The Songs of Distant Earth is a novel written in 1986. Voyager Classics reprinted it just this year. He is quiet for a second then suddenly looks up at me and says, "Here can I give this to you?" He takes out his pen and writes, "To Tom Davidson, best wishes, Arthur C. Clarke Colombo 28 August 2001”

OK... so it's not, "To Tom I couldn't have done it without you" or "Tom you are my muse", but I can tell you I will cherish this for the rest of my life.


Now the floodgates are open and I have about a million questions. We laugh and talk about all manner of things for two hours. Why Sri Lanka? The diving. He was writing a book about the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and on the journey home he stopped here to visit a friend and as he puts it... "The circus ground to a halt". He never left. In truth he says the simple answer might be "38 British Winters" and laughs adding that I would know exactly what he means coming from the North Pole like I do.


It really was a great visit. We talked of space travel, books, religion, the Sri Lankan civil war situation and life after death. Well mostly he talked and I listened. He suddenly asked me "And what is your favorite book of mine?" Wow...perfect… now I can tell him how much "Childhood's End" has meant to me. I do so mentioning that it was the first book to really stimulate my imagination and start me on the path of serious reading.


He turns and tells me to go to the far bookcase across the room and bring him the third book from the left second shelf. I see that it is the autobiography of Neil Armstrong the first astronaut to set foot on the moon. Arthur says, "It's interesting that you say that. Look at the inscription in that book." I open it and see that the author has signed it. "To Arthur C. Clarke, thank you for writing Childhood's End. It opened my mind to the possibilities of imagining." Well all righty then...thanks for stealing my thunder Neil. Let's see whose compliment carries more weight here... some shmuck from the "North Pole" or the first man to stand on another terrestrial body? Right.


Arthur breaks my funk by suddenly saying, "Must be some sort of trait associated with creative people". The important subtext here is that he apparently includes me in that group...or at least that's how I'm taking that comment. "But still very kind of you to say." he adds. Then as if he feels the need to do more he looks around his desk and spies a photograph of himself standing beside a large stone mythical creature, taken some weeks ago in Galle. He literally removes it from its frame, and writes on it...

"To Tom Davidson, best of luck...Arthur C. Clarke, (I'm the one on the left) Colombo, 2001. What a truly amazing man he is. Still so keenly interesting in everything and everyone. I only hope that I am half as sharp and vibrant when I reach his age.


As a footnote there are literally hundreds of events planned in 2001 to honor the anniversary of Space Odyssey. He is invited to all of them...he will attend only one in Boston in November.


The actor Morgan Freeman has optioned the movie rights to Rendezvous with Rama.

"Childhood's End" will be reprinted this fall with a new prologue written by the author.


His assistant Lenin comes into the room and a perfect symphony of well-practiced closure takes place. These two have done this many times before. "Time grows short Arthur and you have a water aerobics class to get to..." Perfect. Message understood.


No matter I have enjoyed myself immensely and stayed far longer than I had expected to. As I get up to leave I ask one parting question... "So is there anything looming on the literary front we can look forward to?" He is smiling at me. The assistant repeats the question much louder to him. He turns to the assistant and calmly says, "Yes I heard him thanks" and continues to smile at me...enough said. What a great way to end. Keep those cards close to the vest Arthur.


After that, how could Sri Lanka be anything but memorable?



(3)



As it turns out, the rest of the country is fascinating too. Hard to believe there is a civil war going on here. It is a war between the ruling government and the Tamil minority who occupy the north of the island. The militant wing of them is known as “Tigers” and has taken to a program of civil disobedience that seems to be escalating.


Just days before we arrived they got the world’s attention by blowing up 13 passenger jets sitting on the runways at Colombo airport. Thankfully no one was in them at the time so only 12 people where killed but the point was made. Colombo and Kandy now have a highly visible military presents with gun emplacements, roadblocks and pillboxes everywhere. The people seem for the most part non-plused by it all.


They all realize that tourism is suffering badly from this conflict and that if another act of terrorism occurs it may well deal a deathblow to the foreign visitor trades that pumps so much foreign currency into this economy. Sad really as this is a real "Garden of Eden". I have never been to a place that could change its topography as quickly as Sri Lanka does. From Adam's Peak which some believe to be the original Garden of Eden to lush rainforests and then to dry plains. And all this within minutes of each other by car.


It is not hard to see why so many filmmakers came here for an exotic location. In 1956 David Lean shot "Bridge on the River Kwai" here. As luck would have it we are doing a "White Water Adventure" on that same Kalani River for our show. The guesthouse where we are staying has photos of the production unit that stayed here during the making of that movie.


I’m a big David Lean fan so it is way cool to see the production stills hanging on the walls. The next day during our adventure shooting one of our locations is a particularly large set of rapids that happen to be in the exact location of the original Bridge built for the movie. Unfortunately all that remains here are some footings and piles. Still, it is great to be on the exact spot of yet another of my favorite films.


It occurs to me that this trip is something of a David Lean location shooting tour. In Quarzaarte Morocco we saw some of the "Lawrence of Arabia" locals..."Bridge on the River Kwai" in Sri Lanka... "Passage to India" in India...and we end our show in Alberta Canada where they shot second unit stuff for "Dr. Zhivago". Strangely as well, before we started this project I did a couple of episodes of another series in Ireland where "Ryan's Daughter" was shot. Coincidence? I think not... sic.


I don't want to sound too "New Age" here, but it is strange how things seem to line up in our lives. Meeting Arthur C. Clarke, a lifelong hero in the most unlikely of all ways and places, certainly gives one pause. Is there some pattern to this crazy world? Why do things fall so nicely into place some times? I suppose there are just as many examples of things going to hell in a hand basket too, just that I can't help feeling that I get more than my fair share of good things in this life. Knock on wood.


-30-

 
Travel Writing Examples

In 2001 I landed a job directing a travel adventure reality TV show. 26 episodes, 24 countries, 90 airports, 27,000 miles and 10 months. Here is my journal entry  about meeting Arthur C. Clarke.