Sunday, 29 December 2013

Happy Marriages in SF

I've just finished watching the last episode of the last season of Babylon 5, and watching Delenn and Sheridan's heartbreaking farewell made me think that successful, happy marriages are quite rare in science fiction.
Captain Kirk famously has a few one night stands, but everyone knows that his heart belongs to the Enterprise (or possibly Spock, if you read some of the K/S fan fiction).
Picard, likewise, has fantasies of a happy family life with lots of children, but he too is firmly wedded to his ship and his career.
Sisko is a widower, and Janeway is unattached (I never got round to watching Enterprise).
The only happy, stable marriage I can think of over the whole of the Star Trek regular characters is that of Miles O'Brien and Keiko.
Star Wars, too, is noticably devoid of any married couples, let alone happy ones (unless you count Luke's uncle and aunt, and look what happens to them!).
In Firefly, there's Wash and Zoe, and in Doctor Who Amy and Rory are devoted to one another, but most SF shows involving space ships are based around a regular cast of unattached people thrown together by circumstances - like Farscape and Blake's Seven.
I'm not very familiar with the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, but in the original series, when Captain Apollo had thoughts about wedding bells, his bride-to-be was quickly killed off.
So it was lovely to see Delenn and Sheridan making a success of their relationship over the course of the series, and it would be nice to see happy marriages in other SF universes.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Women Warriors - the Soldaderas


In 1910, a revolution began in Mexico against the Diaz regime. About the only name I was familiar with before I started looking into it was Pancho Villa, and I didn't know a lot about him.
In England, women were chaining themselves to railings to get the vote; in Mexico, they were joining the revolutionary army and fighting for a better future.
Mostly, women with the revolutionaries seem to have had the role that women have always had in warfare - they were camp followers. But there were also women who disguised themselves as men to fight, and later women who openly fought as women. They were also used as spies and messengers.

Jim and Carol's Mexican Adventure, at http://cookjmex.blogspot.co.uk/ has an excellent and very detailed post on the Soldaderas, and comments:

"Although generals on all sides eventually accepted the help of soldaderas in battle, they often tried to hide or minimize the important role the women played. But history shows the women everywhere, as simple soldiers, as commanders of all-female combat units, even commanding male units."

After the war was over, the women's units were disbanded, and many were denied the pensions they had been promised. The role of women in the struggle was minimised and glossed over - but they were there.

Friday, 27 December 2013

More Left-Handed Characters

Having failed to find a list of fictional characters in books who are left handed, I decided to look for actors, and that turned out to be a bit more productive.
Bruce Boxleitner (Sheridan in Babylon 5) is indeed left handed.
Over in the Star Trek universe, there are three members of the TNG crew who are played by left handed actors - Wesley Crusher/Wil Wheaton, Data/Brent Spiner and Worf/Michael Dorn.
In that galaxy far, far away, Mark Hamill is left handed, but I don't think that carries over to Luke Skywalker (I honestly don't remember which of his hands got chopped off - but it didn't seem to make much difference, artificial hands in that universe being pretty much indistinguishable from real ones). I've also seen it alleged that all the Stormtroopers are left handed - something to do with the way their armour and blasters were designed? It's not something that I've ever noticed myself, but I will be looking out for that next time I sit down to watch Star Wars.
Ron Perlman is left handed - so maybe Hellboy is too? And Vincent from Beauty and the Beast?
Peter Graves, the leader of the Mission: Impossible team in the 1960s, is left handed, and so is Martin Freeman (though Watson seems to be right handed, and I'm not sure about Bilbo Baggins).
Moving on to archers, Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye in Avengers Assemble) and Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen) are both left handed.
Angelina Jolie is left handed too, which presumably covers Lara Croft.
And, coming back to Game of Thrones (mentioned in the last post I was talking about lefthanders) Arya Stark is described as left handed in the books, but Maisie Williams is right handed, so she learned to swordfight left handed on screen.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley: Good King Wenceslas, Upholder of Patriarchy

Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley: Good King Wenceslas, Upholder of Patriarchy: "Bring me flesh and bring me wine, Bring me pine logs hither Thou and I shall see him dine When we bear them thither" The poo...

This was always one of my favourite carols.  I don't think I'll ever think of it the same way again.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Left-Handed Fictional Characters

I've been working my way through episodes of Babylon 5 over the past year. I'm now coming towards the end of season 5 - and I noticed something that hadn't caught my eye before. President Sheridan is signing a sheaf of papers before a meeting - and he's left-handed.
It reminded me that I had once belonged to a book discussion forum where there was a list being made of left-handed characters in fiction - but it's long enough ago that I can't remember what the forum was called.
I do know that I contributed to the list. One of my favourite characters in children's fiction was Drem, in Warrior Scarlet by Rosemary Sutcliff. He's a Bronze Age boy with a withered right arm, and therefore does everything left-handed.
I seem to remember that there was a character in one of the Darkover books by Marion Zimmer Bradley who was left handed, too - but she wrote so many Darkover novels that I'm not sure where I saw it now.
I'm not sure how much of a spoiler it is to say that a major character in Game of Thrones is also forced to become left-handed - but after that, my mind goes blank. The list I remember had a lot more characters on it than this, but googling has so far not been helpful.
In my own fiction, I wanted there to be a genetic component to the magical powers that some of my characters have, and also for the powers to be fairly rare, so I linked the powers to left-handedness. The characters are also allergic to cold iron, which gives them a disadvantage to go with their magical advantages over ordinary mortals.

Singing Tradition: Welsh Plygain Carol



A beautiful tradition that deserves to be better known.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Magus of Hay by Phil Rickman

Oh, this was fun!
I live in Hay, and I have lived in Cusop Dingle, where part of the action takes place. In fact, the first victim in the book is drowned in my favourite waterfall!
And Phil Rickman gets Hay. He understands what makes the booksellers tick.
For those unfamiliar with Hay-on-Wye, it has been a town full of second-hand bookshops for fifty years, and second hand booksellers are a peculiar breed. The pagan couple are typical of newcomers to the trade, hoping to get their stock from charity shops while selling their own private collection, but Phil Rickman also comments on how the trade is changing because of the internet and Kindles.
He said himself that he had to tone down the eccentricity of the town to make it more believable (even the neo-Nazis have a factual past in the area!). And of all the eccentrics in town, there are none more so than Richard Booth, the King of Hay, who has a minor, but important, part in the story (and about one line, which is "Bugger off!").
For the purposes of the book, he invents a few new bookshops and a bar, including an Indian character who is quite fun - it's pretty hard to include ethnic minorities in Herefordshire, because there just aren't very many of them, but Jeeter makes sense within the neo-Nazi storyline.
I'm a great fan of Jane (Merrily's daughter) and Lol (Merrily's boyfriend) as well - who hardly appear in this book, though Frannie Bliss the policeman has a large part.
The story also goes up to Capel-y-ffin, home of a medieval priory, a Victorian Anglo-Catholic community run by Father Ingnatius (with bonus vision of the Virgin Mary) and Eric Gill the artist and head of a dysfunctional family. It's up in the Black Mountains not far from Hay, and is part of the Vicar of Hay's group of parishes. Father Richard himself gets a mention, though he doesn't meet Merrily (he doesn't approve of women priests, though a man who has a standard poodle called Jimmy the Curate, and welcomes all dogs to his services, can't be all bad. He's even blessed my dog in the street, which she accepted quite happily, though she herself was a Buddhist (long story).
I saw Phil Rickman talk about the book at Hay Castle (which is also mentioned in the book) during the Hay Winter Festival, and he was fascinating and enjoyable as always. I always try to go and see him when he's giving a talk.

Tawel Yw`r Nos/Silent Night - Janet Rees



 
Tawel yw'r nos; sanctaidd yw'r nos; Cysgu'n bêr nae Bethl'em dlos; Mair a Joseff yn gwylio 'nghyd; Lesu'r baban bach yn ei grud Gwsg ei nefolaidd hun Tawel yw'r nos; sanctaidd yw'r nos; Beth yw'r gwawl sy'n yr wybren dlos? Gwêl y bugeiliaid engyl glân Clywant eiriau y nefol gân Ganwyd y Crist o'r Nef Tawel yw'r nos; sanctaidd yw'r nos; Mwyn yw'r gwynt ar waun a rhos Llif pob gras o wedd Mab Duw Dydd ein hiechydwriaeth yw Moliant drwy'r nef a'r llawr

Nadolig Llawen - Merry Christmas!

Friday, 20 December 2013

UFP Con 1986 Part 2

The business meeting over ran by an hour. Several important points were debated:-

1. Should business meetings be abolished? Vote almost unanimously no.

2. Should all fans get a chance to vote on changing or doing away with the business meeting system, rather than just the ones who were at any particular con?

This was debated long and hard and it was finally decided that it would not be fair to put the whole future of Cons in this country into the hands of people who, for whatever reason, had not or would not in the future, go to them.

3. The term 'Official', as disapproved of by Paramount. It was decided that they would be renamed 'British' with the running number.

All in all, a very good, reasonable discussion, with no back-biting, bickering or other nastiness.

Finally the bid for Necon 87, from New Enterprise. This happened to clash with Conspiracy 87, the World SF Con, in Brighton. It was decided to defer the bid in an attempt to change the date.

David waited patiently through all this for his talk, and the entire programme was put back an hour. He told the leprechuan joke that supposedly got him thrown out of Ireland. He also read 'The Shaggy Dog Story', which was deemed too funny for the Twilight Zone. The computer printout manuscript was later auctioned for £50.

As Pat used to adore Ed Straker, we went to see 'Invasion:UFO', which appeared to be cobbled together from at least three different episodes. We noticed how 'terribly, terribly polite' Moonbase was, and the prototypes of Concorde and the Shuttle.

We watched the Klingon Hunt from the balcony for a while, while I was ceasing to be an elf and turning into a Tudor lady for the masked ball. Pat and Claire ended up feeding a pair of cheeky pigeons ginger biscuits while they waited.

The masked ball was simply amazing in terms of variety and elaboration of costume. Pat and Claire refused to even wear masks. However, Batman and Robin were there, together with Dangermouse, the Pink Panther, all of Parsec in pig masks, Elizabeth I and Lady Blackadder (could this be one of the first gender-bending cosplays ever?)
, Roj Peyton and co. in Andromeda paper bag masks, Janis and Kim in rather nice black and silver creations - and David Gerrold who, when he wasn't chasing Shona, the ScotPress dog, on his hands and knees, was wandering around carrying a masked banana. The infamous room party, by the way, was to be held later that night in Diane Duane's room, until whenever. (David suggested July).

Monday: Breakfasted in the main hall. Overheard in conversation: "I haven't been to bed yet. There was this room party...."

Pat's never even seen Planet of the Apes, and I used to think that Galen was wonderful, so we spent an hour watching Urko and Burke trapped in a subway station. It puts a whole new light on the thing when you know Mark Lenard is the gorilla.

As I was now out of costume, Pat complained she kept losing me in the crowd. I suggested a flashing light might help. She is now measuring me up for a Tardis costume!

Speaking of which, at very short notice John Levene (Dr. Who's Sergeant Benton) agreed to talk for twenty minutes, having arrived at the hotel the previous day on business. He came over as a very pleasant chap, who had hugely enjoyed his time as an actor, and who took great delight in answering questions in a very roundabout, and interesting, way.

He was followed by the Writers Panel, comprised of David, Diane, David's editor (who had been selling copies of his new magazine 'The Brass Cannon Report' all weekend) and a British writer who works for the Civil Service whose name I didn't catch. (A letter to the fanzine later, from Diane Duane, said that it was Peter Morwood, who she later married, and who is Northern Irish) 'The Brass Cannon Report' is a little bit of everything from computers to space to translating German. It came out during the panel that the woman who had written an excellent piece on the 'Challenger' tragedy is actually dyslexic, and it took the computer over five hours to correct the spelling.

The closing ceremony went as usual, and David Gerrold was presented with a giant inflatable banana covered in autographs and messages ("Hey, this one says 'Yankee go home'!"). Roj Peyton auctioned off some special items that David had brought, the usual percentage going to charity, and the American guests now have a hazy idea of panto:-

Chris Chivers: "Where's Roj Peyton?"

"BEHIND YOU!"

Roj Peyton: "Oh, no he's not!"

"OH, YES HE IS!"

David Gerrold was asked if he would write a book on the English sense of humour, to which he replied: "How can you write about something you can't understand?"

And on that note, we reluctantly returned to the real world.

Looking back on this Con, I think it's the one I remember the most clearly, and one of the ones that I enjoyed the most. I was with friends, and knew quite a few familiar faces among the other Con goers, and I knew what to expect from the programme, so I could just relax and enjoy everything. Also, there was the writing tutorial, which helped my writing a lot. At the time, I was writing Star Trek fan fiction, most of which has mercifully disappeared into oblivion, though I was quite proud of one or two stories.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

UFP Con 1986

Or: Anyone who walks around with a masked banana can't be all bad!

(This is another of the old Star Trek Con reports I found in the bottom of a cupboard).

Friday - Picked Pat up from school. (She was a teacher) I had one suitcase, one rucksack and a shoulder bag containing various weaponry. The taxi driver was fascinated. Pat, with her one small, efficiently packed bag, was rather scathing about the bulk of my stuff - it was only for a weekend, after all!

Picked up Claire at Euston, next stop Birmingham International. We navigated our way through the shopping complex and as we reached the open air, we all saw the water spout in the middle of the lake. We started looking for a) Geneva and b) The Champions.

After checking in, and seeing several familiar faces in the foyer, we dumped our bags and adjourned to the cocktail bar. The orange and lemonade cost £1.10, so I decided to take the swizzle sticks they gave us with it. I didn't bring my usual Andorian gear this time, so Pat and Claire made a suggestion. They looked quite good, if a little wobbly, stuck in my hairband, and gathered a few odd looks from 'ordinary' people sitting in the lounge.

Opening Ceremony: David Gerrold was introduced, giggling already (and he has a very loud and high-pitched giggle). A bonus was also announced - Diane Duane, who was at DragonCon in January. She was separated from her beloved Guinness long enough to say hello, and left chased by David, waving his inflatable banana. He was presented with one at the last British Con he came to, and has since gained another, since the original let out air, "for some reason" reminding him of Jim Pauley.

N.B. Jim Pauley, later to be seen singing with 'Chinatown', did a very good report in the Con booklet, on an American Con he'd attended. It sounded sort of interesting to experience - once! No wonder guests like coming to Britain.

Saturday: I put on my hooped Tudor gown, first seen as 'The Bride of Mr Kyle' at the Grand Hotel, Birmingham three years ago (time flies when you're having fun). Breakfast was in the Lakeside Pavilion, which literally is a huge marquee hung with drapery. I stole half my breakfast to eat later in the day. Pat threw a couple of bread rolls at me and asked innocently why I hadn't brought my bowie knife to butter them.

9am: Writers' Workshop, a major reason for wanting to come to this Con. The whole course cost £15, witha percentage going to the Con charity. First session was Story Structure. It was also 'character assassination' as far as Pat was concerned. David Gerrold had her in tears by the end. Of the eight of us, five escaped relatively lightly, myself among them. In spite of that, it was a good session and I think we all learned something. (David did admit that he is not a nice person fairly early on, but, judging by the number of times he had to repeat it, I don't think he was kidding anybody.) One girl has promised to write a novel within the year, and if she doesn't, David will come back and tear her left arm off. If he can't make it, he has deputised someone to draw a red line around the arm, with the words "David will be here later."

We came in on the end of the auction, and I madly bid £6 for Kraith volume III, which contains a real Spock-bonker. (Kraith was a rather good Vulcan oriented fanzine, and very desirable in the UK at the time)

The Drama Competition was next. Excalibur was represented by Kim Anderson and Janis Bowers, who were auctioning various items from the Enterprise, like Kirk's nightshirt and the remains of a security guard. The best, and most unbelievable entry, though, was the STAB Morris Dancing Team!

Diane Duane then gave her talk - well, actually she just started chatting loud enough for everyone to hear her. She told us about her new, adult 'Wizard' book, which features a dinosaur in Central Park lake, a Malaysian Hissing Cockroach, and lines like "Don't worry, ectoplasm comes out with vinegar and warm water". (I'm ashamed to say that, 26 years later, I still haven't read it, but I do have all the juvenile Wizard books!) She's also planning a new Trek book, 'The Romulan Way', with everything you ever wanted to know about Romulans, plus a vocab in the back. (Now that one I have read, and I highly recommend it!)

David talked next, and gave a slide show of LA, his dogs, and the six MacDonalds within walking distance of his house. He refused to spread any rumours about the fourth film, but he did spend a day on the set. They were filming on the Klingon Bird of Prey, in uniform. The director was in makeup, and they're building something large in the Paramount water tank.

I went off then to watch 'Robin of Sherwood' with 'Forest', the official fanclub. Lewis Collins came to a gory end as a replacement Sheriff, or, as the original Sheriff put it, "a posturing catamite".

Then out came my weaponry for my elf adventurer costume. I now have a real bow, draw weight 30lbs, which comes in three pieces that screw together for easier transportation. A quiverful of arrows and a shortsword on my belt completed the effect.

I didn't win anything in the Fancy Dress, though I was invited to shoot Kim's brother. Non-Trek winners were Batman and Robin, who did a little sketch which ended with them hitting each other over the head with paper hoops labelled "Biff!" and "T'Pau!". The transvestite vampire was absolutely terrified before he went on - to great applause which he thoroughly deserved. In the Trek section was the 'middle-aged lady from Leningrad' with a sledge pulled by reindeer Tass and Pravda (the third one didn't have a label and I couldn't hear the script from where I was - something about inventing whisky). Finally, Industrial Light and Tragic, who brought us the unforgettable 'Destruction of the Enterprise' and 'Transporter Malfunction', costumed this time entirely in pink loo rolls, gave us "Mummy Chtorr, Daddy Chtorr, and the one with the beard is Baby Chtorr."

Sunday: How come elves in D&D never have trouble finding somewhere to put their bows at breakfast? (Eventually it went under the table). Pat started calling me Heidi when I nicked the bread rolls again.

9am: Writers' Workshop again; this time Character Formation. Pat suggested getting a badge saying "I survived David Gerrold's Writers' Workshop". It was actually a lot better than Saturday, with plenty of discussion back and forth. David made much of the English character being "terribly, terribly polite", and observed that the Vulcans are British - of course they are! We ran the gamut of emotion from Death to Enthusiasm, and finished a little early. Pat decided I was stuck on Appeasement, but that's because she hits harder. At the end, David was presented with a lovely little samovar. (He tells everyone in the States to bring an empty suitcase when guesting at British Cons, because of the generosity of the British fans).

the auction had got to the silly stage by the time we arrived. £87 was raised for Roj Peyton to drink a can of lager, we had great fun with an escaped balloon which had to be rescued from the ceiling, and a half-penny that David Gerrold contributed went for £2, to cries of "You're crazy people!" from David. Claire came away with a tribble and one of David's books.

(and that's where we'll leave it for now....)

Monday, 16 December 2013

Heckling

On the Brass Goggles forum for Steampunks, there is a long discussion going on about what a person should do if they are heckled when wearing Steampunk attire. One of the contributors to the thread had this to say:

"I'm 6'4" - 240. People don't say anything to me...at least not to my face, anyhow.

If they are insistent on making fun of me, I am able to make fun of myself. Anything they say just rolls off me like water off a ducks back. I am Practically incapable of being embarrassed and was born without a shred of modesty.

If you are unable to take a little good natured ribbing, you should probably avoid being amongst the general population in SP attire. Bring your outfit and change when you get to your venue."

Now, he's a well built, white male, so it's easy for him to say that he can cope with a little good natured ribbing. I bet his attitude would be rather different if he were female, or disabled, or a different colour (or any combination of those things). Especially as someone further up the thread brought up the case of Sophie Lancaster, who was walking along minding her own business when she was set upon and killed simply because she was wearing Goth clothing.
I'm a middle aged white woman, who can put on a cut glass accent when I have to, and have long practice in "looking Vulcan" in order to intimidate and impress. Even so, I've had experiences when I've been walking around minding my own business that I bet any money that 6'4" white male has never had to deal with.
A kid has thrown stones at me while I was out walking the dog along the riverbank (I told him he was a rotten shot - and added that I, on the other hand, was a good shot - he ran away before I was able to demonstrate!)
A group of teenaged boys, after dark in a residential area, followed me and tried to look intimidating (I called them cowards - not one of them would look me in the eye - and they shuffled away).
Another kid, with his gang of mates behind him, threatened to rape me (I suggested he came a bit closer - it's not something you can do at a distance - he ran away , too).
I would add that almost all of the people who have heckled or tried to intimidate me have been male, and white - and usually young enough to be my son. And none of them have known a damn thing about me except that I was female and on my own.
I don't live in a dangerous part of the world - this is a very safe place compared to many others - but it is something that happens occasionally. It's something you learn to deal with - and that's the point. Women have to learn to deal with this sort of thing as a matter of course - all these things happened to me when I was wearing ordinary clothing, and just walking along minding my own business.
White men don't generally have to deal with that sort of heckling. They don't have to deal with a stranger in a lift trying to invite himself to their hotel room (there was a highly publicised case recently - Richard Dawkins was involved, and not to his credit - where a woman who was a speaker at a conference found herself in that situation, and when she wrote on her blog "Guys - don't do that" she found herself getting rape and death threats.)
I follow a blog called Rolling Around In My Head, which is written by a man who uses a wheelchair - he writes a lot about the difficulties wheelchair users have from day to day, and one post was about the time that a complete stranger threw a garbage can (he's in Canada) at him, simply because he is a fat man in a wheelchair (it missed, fortunately). This is something able-bodied people don't have to put up with, and therefore don't think about when they go out. It's something that nobody should have to think about when they go out.
Also recently, I read a piece by a large, well-built black man, who was talking about the way nobody would ever sit next to him on buses, and how people reacted to him with fear, just about every time he went out, simply because he was a large, black man. And there was nothing he could do about his appearance - people felt threatened just because he existed, and nothing he could do seemed to be able to minimise that.

So, "good-natured ribbing" is one thing, but there are a lot of people in the world who have to deal with far worse than that. And they shouldn't have to. They should be just as free to go about their business without being heckled, or stared at, or attacked as the man I quoted at the top of this post.

(There - that's enough ranting from me!)

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Another Woman Warrior

I found this picture on Facebook today - this is what sensible armour looks like on a woman!

Friday, 13 December 2013

Women Warriors - Ellen Gethin

People who don't like the idea of women warriors might criticise my last post by pointing out that Gwenllian was a Princess, and she was leading troops in the place of her husband, so maybe she didn't really count as a woman warrior in her own right.
That's why I'm fond of Ellen Gethin.


Here she is, on her tomb in Kington Church, in Herefordshire, next to her husband Thomas, the Black Vaughan. She looks quite demure, doesn't she? Yet her name means "Ellen the Terrible".

Family feuds were quite common in the late middle ages, and Ellen's brother was murdered by one of his cousins. There was no police force in those days, and no-one was going to do anything about the murder. So Ellen found out that the murderer was going to take part in an archery competition nearby. She disguised herself as a boy, and went off to take part in the archery competition. When her turn to shoot came, she turned from the target and shot her murderous cousin dead - and she got away with it!
Later she married another cousin, Thomas, who was known as the Black Vaughan and reputed to be a magician. He was executed after the Battle of Banbury in the Wars of the Roses in 1469. After his ghost was seen, sometimes in the form of a black bull or a black dog, twelve clergymen with bell, book and candle were recruited to imprison his soul in a small box which was thrown into the pool at Hergest Croft, which had been his home. It's supposed to be still there.

When I was choosing a name for my medieval re-enactment character, I had to go for Ellen Gethin. I'm also an archer, and I have been known to make up the numbers in a skirmish (I die very quickly).
It's worth bearing in mind that Ellen Gethin must have been a good archer already - accurate shooting takes quite a bit of practice with a longbow.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Women Warriors - Gwenllian

I've become involved in a conversation on Facebook about realistic armour for women in fantasy role playing games and so on - and one chap said (I'm paraphrasing here) that it didn't matter if women were dressed in chainmail bikinis because the whole idea of women warriors was unrealistic anyway.
But, I countered, orcs and elves and dwarves are not real, and they are given sensible armour that protects their bodies.
And once you start looking, women warriors are everywhere, so I thought I'd highlight a few here.
Since it's the anniversary of the death of Prince Llewellyn of Gwynnedd in 1282, ambushed just outside Builth Wells, I thought I'd start in Wales.

In medieval Welsh history, the Welsh would often use as their battle cry "Revenge for Gwenllian!".
Gwenllian ferch Gruffydd was a Princess of Deheubarth in the 12thC - she died in 1136. She was the daughter of Prince Gruffydd ap Cynan of Gwynnedd, who was responsible for having the Mabinogion written down - this is the major collection of Welsh myths and legends that has survived from that period, and includes some of the earliest stories of King Arthur (back when he was a Celtic warlord, stealing pigs with Kai). Memories of the stories kept Gruffydd going during his long captivity in Chester castle, a prisoner of the Norman Earl Hugh of Chester.
For some time, Gwenllian lived virtually as an outlaw in her own lands, with her husband Gruffydd ap Rhys, fighting the Norman invaders. In 1136, while Gruffydd was in Gwynnedd in North Wales seeking an alliance with her father against the Normans, Gwenllian raised an army to defend Deheubarth's Welsh from Norman attacks. After a battle outside Kidwelly Castle, she was captured and beheaded. Two of her sons, Morgan and Maelgwn, also died. News of the deaths led to a general uprising against the Normans.
Her youngest son went on to become one of the greatest leaders in South Wales, the Lord Rhys.

Monday, 9 December 2013

If I Won the Lottery....

Everyone has these daydreams about what they would do if they had squillions of pounds in the bank. New house, world cruise, that sort of thing.

I want to buy a castle.

When I was a kid, we used to holiday in North Wales, at Pensarn near Abergele. Looking down on us from the hillside was a Victorian mock castle, a huge affair, called Gwrych Castle. At the time it was a sort of medieval theme park. There was jousting every afternoon in the summer, a miniature railway, pony rides, a potter, and I'm sure there were lots of other things that I don't clearly remember.
We went to a Sealed Knot battle re-enactment there, which was very exciting, and the first time I'd seen a full scale Civil War battle. That's one of the influences that got me to join Gilbert de Houghton's Regiment of Foote at college, and started me off as a re-enactor.
In the eighties, though, the castle was sold, and quickly became derelict. The Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust has been trying to renovate it and turn it into a 90 bedroom 5 star hotel (I said it was big!), but they're not there yet.


So my daydream would be to renovate the castle, using alternative energy and incorporating geodesic domes and rooms that had huge maps on the floor and Narnian wardrobes and beds that look like Viking longships, and I'd have craftspeople working there, like that potter in the seventies, and a brewery, and a huge library, and artists and writers, and re-enactment weekends.
It's all completely impractical, and I never even buy a lottery ticket, but it's great fun to daydream sometimes.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

English Historical Fiction Authors: What did the Vikings and Saxons call the Stars?

A fascinating look at alternative names and shapes of constellations in history.

English Historical Fiction Authors: What did the Vikings and Saxons call the Stars?: by Richard Denning Image from Timothy Stephany's Myths, Mysteries and Wonders site The Norse and Anglo- Saxons looked at the wor...

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Human Nature

I finished a book the other night (In Our Time, a collection of transcripts of the Radio 4 programme presented by Melvyn Bragg) and as I am still binging on all things Whovian, the next book that I pulled down from my "Mons liborum legendurum" ("the mountain of books that must be read") was Human Nature by Paul Cornell.

I've been meaning to read this ever since I found out that this novel is the origin of the wonderful Tenth Doctor episodes Human Nature and The Family of Blood. It took me a while to track it down secondhand, and I felt that the moment was right to see what the Seventh Doctor is like in the story, and to meet Bernice Summerfield for the first time. Bernice is a Companion created by Paul Cornell and used by several authors during that long period when the only new Who that existed were the novels.

The basics of the story are the same - just before the First World War, the Doctor is working as a teacher at a boy's boarding school, and the Family of Blood are after him. I think, though, that as written, the story is unfilmable. There are some graphically violent deaths, including many schoolboys, and the Family of Blood turn the entire school into glass! That would use up the special effects budget pretty quick!
It made sense, too, to have Martha as one of the servants at the school on TV, rather than living in a cottage in the village as Bernice does. I did like the political touches in the novel, though - the suffragette and the Labour candidate, and the chap who runs the local museum. It was nice to see a gay couple portrayed in such a matter of fact way, too, at a time when they had to be very circumspect.
I finished it in an evening. The TV version is, I think, better - more tightly plotted and with better motivations for some of the characters - but it's a good, gripping read in its own right, too.

My favourite quotation from the book, by the way, comes from the beginning, where Bernice is waiting for the Doctor at a beer tent at a huge market.

"Now, you may well be thinking: 'Beer? What a terrible idea. That's no solution.' I would reply that you're wrong. It's a solution of hops, barley and yeast, and it is so transcendentally wonderful that I long ago made the decision to sacrifice any chance of trim thighs in favour of it."

Of course, Bernice is an archaeologist as well as a beer drinker - I think we'd get on rather well together!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Kindertransport and Kosher Food in Blackpool

I was reading Bookwitch's blog today (www.bookwitch.wordpress.com, on 22nd November), in which she attended a performance of a play about the Kindertransport on the concourse of Manchester Piccadilly railway station. This happened in 1938, when hundreds of Jewish children were sent out of Nazi Germany by their families to safety in England - many never saw their families again. Suitcase is being performed at ten stations around the country to mark the 75th anniversary of the Kindertransports.

It reminded me of one of my gran's stories.
She was evacuated from Manchester at the beginning of the Second World War because she was pregnant, and sent to Blackpool (the coach they were in went round and round the streets about three times before they were found somewhere to stay). She ended up in a group taken in by Mrs Colenso, who ran a boarding house - which began a friendship between them that lasted over fifty years.
Also in the group of pregnant women was an Orthodox Jewish woman - and she had a problem. None of the food Mrs Colenso was cooking was kosher. The woman was eating slices of bread and butter, but not much more than that - and one of the other women was quite deliberately eating the bread and butter first, because she didn't like Jews.
My gran was the sort of woman who couldn't stand by and do nothing - so she went to Mrs Colenso and explained the problem.
"But, I don't know how to cook Jewish food!" Mrs Colenso said. "What can we do?"
My gran suggested that they find a Jewish family in Blackpool that the woman could have her meals with, and somehow they found a couple who were willing to feed her. It all had to be done on the quiet, because Mrs Colenso was in charge of all the ration cards for her guests, and for this to work, she had to hand over the Jewish woman's ration cards to the couple who were buying the food. No-one in authority ever found out, and the Jewish woman was able to have her baby in Blackpool, safely out of range of the German bombers.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Beer to Drink While Watching Dr Who

There's a quite interesting post on Boak and Bailey's Beer Blog ( www.boakandbailey.com) on suitable beers to choose to drink while watching the 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who - time travelling beers, Tennant's Lager, and so on.

I settled down with a bottle of Old Tom with Chocolate, from Robinsons, which I have been saving for a special occasion - and wow, was this a special occasion!
(and maybe when the Doctor finds Gallifrey and re-boots it, the Time Lords will give him another cycle of regenerations, to last him a further fifty years of TV time).

I've also been enjoying An Adventure in Space and Time, which was unexpectedly sad (and with some wonderful shots of the Television Centre itself, which is now no longer used by the BBC - I think this was the last thing they did there before they moved out).

And one glorious extra treat was The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, where Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy tried to get into the Anniversary episode, with cameos from all sorts of people, including Ian McKellan and Peter Jackson on the set of the Hobbit, Sean Pertwee, Russell T Davies and Georgia Tennant. It's wonderful that so many people who have been associated with Doctor Who through the years have such a genuine affection for it.

Friday, 22 November 2013

In Search of a Wig

My Young Man has been visiting, so I've been - a little distracted.

I went into Hereford to meet him off the train, and had a little time to do a bit of shopping. I was in need of a wig. I'm putting a costume together for next year's WorldCon of a character from Bryan Talbot's Grandville series of graphic novels. Bryan Talbot is one of the special guests of the Convention and I want to be the Divine Sarah, actress and love interest of the hero, Inspector LeBrock. She's also a badger - and so is he. My Young Man will be playing LeBrock - he likes the very big LeMat pistol that the Inspector carries.
I'm not even going to try to compete with the cosplayers who go to enormous lengths to get their costume just right, so I'm going to print off a badger mask from one of the Wildlife Trust websites for the face, but I did think I needed a wig. My natural hair colour is a sort of mousy blonde, which is not exactly a badgery colour.
I saw a likely looking wig in the local Spar shop just before Hallowe'en - black but with either a white or purple stripe running through it. Of course, they only had the purple one in stock, and the white stripe would be much better for my purposes.
So I went into a party shop just behind the building that used to be Hereford's big department store, Chadds. I'd passed it before, and thought it was quite a small shop that sold balloons and party banners and so on - but when I ventured inside, I discovered that it goes back, and back, and back, and there's an upstairs.... I came out with the perfect black and white wig, and a Robin Hood hat that I can use for my Green Arrow costume, to make it a bit more Golden Age (I'm not going for Oliver Queen's little yellow beard, though. That would be silly.)

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Thinking With My Hands: Let's do some exploring along The Catenary Trail

Thinking With My Hands: Let's do some exploring along The Catenary Trail: Stan Wagon, a mathematician at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., had a bicycle with square wheels. It was a weird contraption,...

Hengist Pod Lives!  He was the character in Carry On Cleo who invented the square wheeled bicycle, and therefore got captured by the Romans before he could raise the alarm.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Another View of Stag Con 81

This is the con report written by Keith Cook, in which he names The Professor (writer of the other report) as Stuart McGregor:

Tiles May Fall - But Petrol Tanks?

PROLOGUE

It was with great enthusiasm that, having finished my exams, I directed my trusty automobile in the general direction of London where I was to pick up such notables as Stuart McGregor, Kathy Halsall, Carole Keogh and Paul Armour before proceeding to the first main ST Con of the year of that good old bastion of fandom - The Dragonara Hotel in Leeds.

Five hours later and I was home again feeling somewhat less enthusiastic following my car's determination to be the first Avenger with a detachable fuel tank! And so, having left the car at a garage in Ipswich for repairs (compliments of AA Relay) I faced the unpleasant fact that I was going to have to miss this Con as I couldn't afford it - right? Wrong - there was absolutely no way I was going to miss a Con (especially when I was looking forward to a meal in the charming company of Margaret Bazell, Janet Bull, Sue Berry and 'Tribble' Trent, Kathy Walton and the no less welcome company of Stuart McGregor, John Field and Keith Jackson alsong with a couple of friends of Margaret and Janet's whose names escape me at the moment and I hastily evoked contingency plan code named British Rail and in a very short time....

SD: 8104.10

....it was Friday and I was, following the usual insanity of getting up at 04.00hrs to catch the 06.05 to London, soon to be seen waiting at London's King's Cross (wondering what he was cross about? - presumably the lack of efficient service by BR) for the arrival of the inimitable Stuart McGregor for the journey to Leeds.

Following his attempts to lose me at the station and one train journey (punctuated by some inane American who seemed to be of the opinion that the right to speak on a train was reserved for him alone) later and we deposited ourselves at Leeds and were soon staggering into the main reception area of the Dragonara (compliments of the affects of the, by now, infamous lifts) to be greeted by the irrepressible Mike Wild, the enchanting Sue Toth, the inexplicable Steve Hatton and the surprisingly sober Martin Smith.

The hotel staff then made our day by cheerfully announcing that rooms would not be available for occupation until 14.00hrs so we decided there was only one thing to do - you guessed it we made for the bar and, following explanations as to why I hadn't driven to the Con, were soon refreshed and made our way to the nearest television to watch the launch of the Space Shuttle. It soon became apparent that at a speed of zilch miles an hour it wasn't going anywhere for a while so, upon pointing out that it was after two, we were finally allowed into our rooms.

Hurtling down from the seventh floor I went back to the bar and met up with that Doctor Who of the North - John Field and, after a cheery greeting, were soon involved in phaser battles before retreating to our room to exchange merchandise, slides and insults. Returning to reception John and I (joined shortly thereafter by Stuart) were soon helping Chris Chivers set up staging platforms, sound, lighting and chairs for all the convention attendees who valiantly ignored Chris' pleas to help in the main hall (thanks a bunch folks).

Following registration and checking up on the setting up of the sales room Stuart, John and I chatted in the reception area before being rewarded by the appearance of Margaret and, following the collection of our complete party, we embarked on, what was for some of us, our only proper meal of the Con - at a charming French restaurant.

Having left some of our party to sample the restaurant's disco we arrived back at the main hall some two hours later in time to obtain several interesting shots of the Fashion Show rehearsal (especially of John - deputising for the absent Paul Armour - and Chris rehearsing for Kath's collection as those who saw it on the Sunday can easily imagine).

Having bid a fond farewell to Margaret (who had the wise sense to go home for the evening) John, Stuart and I retired to watch Jimmy Doohan in The Outer Limits before deciding that, to survive the rigours of the Con, sleep was a wise move and so....

SD: 8104.11

....following all too little rest, an early morning alarm call and a breakfast of a couple of cheese spreads, crisp bread, tea and coffee, were soon together with Dave Whiley and a couple of other stewards, resetting the hall for the day's events.

This accomplished we hurtled (in the general direction of up) to the sales room where I parted with that little cash I had (so who needs food?) in purchasing annuals, posters and other merchandise before returning to the main hall to see (for the first time in many cons) the opening ceremony where, having renewed my acquaintance with Margaret, I along with Stuart, John and Dave were 'persuaded' by Kathy and George into helping set up the hospitality room and generally moving things about before, after substantial debate, George, John and I set out to do two things:-

i) Shop for food, films, Doctor Who hats, belts and 'flip flop' sandals
ii) terrorise, bemuse and otherwise astound the locals.

Reappearing some 11/2 hours later having obtained all bar the sandals we returned just in time for George to go upstairs for a "Binge" (his words not mine) whilst John and I, gulping down a bread roll and cup of coke each, hurtled down to the sales room to commence our stewarding duties for the day.

Following a further excursion into Leeds, (dragging a protesting Kathy Walton along for good measure) where Anne Page went in search of whatever whilst Kathy obtained the missing flip flops and persuaded me to purchase some feathers that would be used in the costume Margaret was wearing in Kathy's fashion show entry, I returned to the main hall and was pleasantly surprised to find Margaret had saved a seat so that I could settle down and, having taken sufficient photos, watch Rupert Evans' speech and the following ST episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before".

Leaving Margaret and Janet to pass their time preparing for the disco, I along with the other stewards, discovered that we had about an hour to clear the hall, set it up for the disco and then to get ourselves ready for the disco and fancy dress.

Having succeeded with about fifteen minutes to spare, John, Stuart, Dave, Margaret and Yours Truly settled down to take photos of the fancy dress contestants before they entered the main hall. Being more fortunate than most I was able to get sufficient shots (including the odd shot of Sue Toth and Margaret) and allowed Stuart to return my camera to our room having decided that I would not be repeating this photographic experiment again if only for the reason that, without being in the main hall, one has no idea as to what the costumes were meant to be. We then settled at our table (thanks to our illustrious president - that's you, Shirley - and Martin Pay for reserving them) and had soon tucked into, in my case, chicken and a chip, whilst Margaret and Janet brought us drinks (thanks ladies).

Following a brief foray onto the dance floor (where, not for the first time, I found myself taking dancing lessons) with Margaret I left her and Janet to go to their room for a meal whilst John, Steve Manning, Ian Watson and myself went on the first of many Shore Patrols to ensure the safety of the attendees, their cars and personal belongings.

The evening proceeded with relative calm (assuming you include the ejection of 14 or more gate crashers as "relative calm") and, after the departure of Margaret, and later Kathy who went in search of something called sleep, John, Mike Wild and I decided to complete a final "once around the Dragonara" before following their example and so by 03.30hrs I was cheerfully asleep when....

SD:8104.12

....my slumbers were shattered by a sadistic operator with my early morning call and so, by 07.30 we, (being John, Stuart, Dave, George, Chris and Yours Truly) were in the main hall clearing up the mess of the night's festivities (and realising just what a messy bunch the Human race is) and setting up the room for the day's events (not least of which being the Fashion Show) in under an hour and a half which, with the help of a few more gradually awakening bleary eyed stewards who were beginning to arrive, we managed to accomplish with a few minutes to spare thus allowing the first event of the day, 'Barbarella', to be shown on schedule.

There then followed the Fashion Show which had the high standard of entry that we have come to expect (and as usual I totally failed to pick the winners) and it was at this point, while taking photos of the entrants, that Stuart and I realised where all the stewards had got to - you guessed it, they were in the Fashion Show. The thing that really sticks in my mind from the Fashion Show was just how naturally John and Chris fitted into their roles (why do I get the feeling that I am going to get killed for that last remark.)

Following a reshowing of Buck Rogers interrupted only by the highlight of the decade, namely the launch of Columbia (the Space Shuttle for the uninitiated - and if you didn't know that what are you doing reading this article?) which went up like a beautiful dream (even if they did have a few tiling problems) we moved onto the first business meeting at a ST con. The rules for choosing conventions were approved and Newcastle elected as a venue for the August 82 convention (ell no-one can accuse us of not moving about) and we then settled down to listen to Susan Sackett's slide show/talk before bidding a heartfelt farewell to Janet who had to leave before the end of the Con.

The closing ceremony was brought forward and, having left both phaser and camera which Margaret with the instructions to "use as you see fit" I watched the ceremony before taking the enviable task of escorting my slave, the delectable Anne Page, onto the stage for auctioning. Having then 'persuaded' Chris Chivers to likewise be auctioned for charity (or even money) John, Stuart, myself and other stewards helped to sort out the Neville Suite for the evening's 'End of Con Party' before I returned to Margaret and watched 'City on the Edge of Forever' and the three blooper reels.

Having bid Margaret a tearful (who's he kidding?) farewell as she had to leave prematurely I emerged in reception to find myself in the middle of a pitched phaser battle between John and the delightful Klingon - Sue Berry. Having finally disarmed Sue and having shot Tribble for attempting to shoot me (well she was meant to be on MY side!) I retired to my room for a quick change of uniform and to grab my camera for the evening's festivities. John, Stuart, Kathy and I then located Anne Page and, following a brief discussion on the lack of merits of interrupting a party with a slide show, made our way to the Neville for the evening's party.

Having taken an order for photos, John, Stuart, Colin and myself had a short talk with George whilst Kathy and Anne "borrowed" my camera (I'll await with interest to see just what those photos turn out like) before chatting the night away about such diverse subjects as "The Trisha O'Neil camera jinx" to the forthcoming delights of Starcon.

Following John Field's departure and further conversation, sleep became an inescapable requirement and following a cheery (or was it bleary?) "Good Night" I was fast asleep and....

SD: 8104.13

...with the lack of alarm calls or any reason to set up the hall I did not emerge into the reception area until about 10 o'clock to say "Hi" to the assembled masses only to find that many of them had already departed (notably Kathy Walton, the Billings and all trace of Starship Excalibur - hey folks where were you - I mean it wasn't that late.)

Having exhausted any semblance to intelligent conversation by going through every "con" joke in the book (my natural regard for human life prevents me from repeating any of them here) Stuart and I finally bid farewell to the remaining friendly faces and were soon on a train heading South looking forward to Teal Vandor Con, The Empathy Day Out, Starcon and,if we can afford it, Aucon and remembering Helen McCarthy's comment to me at the weekend that I shouldn't have to go to conventions but should stay at them all year round - nice idea Helen - just one question: Where can I find an all year convention?



n

Friday, 1 November 2013

Stag Trek at the Dragonara Hotel, Leeds, 1981

Here's another Con report from the old file I found at the bottom of a cupboard.
This time it's not one of mine - it's by "The Professor (as opposed to the Doctor)", so I hope he won't mind me resurrecting this from the mists of time.

Leeds. The Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship 'Dragonara'; its five year mission, to hold Star Trek conventions, to seek out new con attendees and new science fiction programmes, to boldly go where no hotel has gone before.

STAG TREK
by The Professor (as opposed to the Doctor)

Government Health Warning: Going to Star Trek conventions can damage your wealth.
Intergalactic Health Warning: Failure to go to Star Trek conventions can damage your sanity.

For those of you with a nervous disposition, please turn over the next few (many! - Ed) pages for, as you may have guessed, it is I, your local Time Lord reporter doing his penance in a desperate bid to avoid being eaten by your President.

Archaeologists have discovered that one of the earliest of all ST conventions was held at the Dragonara Hotel in Leeds on 11/12 April 1981. (NB for those of you who are reading this report in a different time period, please note that it is being written on 27 October 3170AS and will be passed back to you through a time portal. Since there is a chance that this will in fact fail, if it does not appear in print please accept my apologies.)

Thursday 9 April started at an early hour. It was on that day that the well-known Excalibur reporter Keith Cook was due to pick me up, along with others, for our long journey up to Leeds. Unfortunately as you may have read in his report (see last newsletter - Ed) he had slight difficulties with his petrol tank. Therefore it was on Friday 10 April that I found myself (which is not easy, particularly when there's crowds around) meeting him at Kings Cross Station. Once there we boarded the train only to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous British Rail (not to mention outrageous Americans) on our journey up to Leeds and the Dragonara Hotel.

Once at the Dragonara, we made our way to that hallowed shrine of the convention goers - yes, you've guessed it, the bar. The bars in the Dragonara are similar to bars everywhere on your planet, with one important difference - they are more expensive.

While standing in the Dragonara bar I was tempted to think of some of the great bars of the universe. One of the greatest must be Patrick's Bar in the great Hotel of Light on the planet Caprika. There, barmen, dressed in bright red (or for those of you reading in black and white, the darker colour) serve the patrons with a dazzling array of drinks from the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster to the infinitely more potent Beeblebrox Cocktail. By these standards the Dragonara Bar is mundane yet functional.

Unable to get into our room until 2pm a group of us, including Mike Wild, Sue Toth, Steve Hatton, Martin 'call me Zaphod' Smith, Keith and myself decided to go and watch the launch of 'Columbia'. Having watched a favourable comparison with a British Rail timetable, and with the hotel staff willing to let us unto our rooms, Keith and I took one of those well-known Dragonara lifts to the 7th floor where we deposited our gear.

Hastily returning to the bar we came across that well-known Time Lord extra-ordinaire John Field and, shortly after, it came to pass that having exchanged gifts, purchased annuals etc., we found ourselves in the main hall helping the ever-present Chris Chivers set up for the convention.

And so the day passed. That evening a group of us set out for what, for some people, has become a tradition at conventions - the pre-con meal. In this case we went to a small French restaurant-cum-disco where we remained until about 11pm. The meal itself was very good. I must admit there is something to be said for French food, though to be honest, I can't for the life of me think what.

Back to the hotel, we watched the rehearsals for the fashion show (which is even more fun than the fashion show itself, particularly when John Field and Chris Chivers are ...um...rehearsing for their.....how shall I put this?....'act' on the Sunday which those of you who were there will no doubt remember as being somewhat....interesting?).* It was at this point that we noticed the staging had a distressing tendency to collapse; this was due to a marked lack of locking pins. Such are the problems of conventions.

And so to Saturday, and the convention opening. Opening ceremonies, by their nature, start proceedings, as opposed to closing ceremonies which do the opposite. This is of course not true on the planet Ursa Minor Beta where, at the Festival of Normality, events are preceded by the closing ceremony. The exact reason for this is lost in antiquity although some independent observers have speculated that it is probably of some deep religious significance. Others, however, refute this and claim simply that it is precisely what you would expect on that planet.

The opening ceremony having finished, I spent the rest of the morning helping set up various odds and ends, including the hospitality room. And so after much hard work (who's kidding? - Ed) I found myself being dragged bodily into Leeds by Keith Cook, John Field and Kathy Walton who were searching for some sandals for Sylvia Billings and some feathers for a head dress for one of the costumes in Kathy's fashion show entry. These having been duly purchased I returned to the hotel just in time for Rupert Evans' speech on stunting and stuntmen, a topic perhaps appropriate for convention attendees.

There then followed a Star Trek episode - 'Where No Man Has Gone Before'. However since I have been there I did not watch it.

And so in what seemed like no time whatsoever I found myself, camera in hand, awaiting the start of the fancy dress which as always featured a large selection of aliens who, earlier in the day, had been masquerading as people.

Finally there was the disco. Yes, that well-known event featuring lights, music, people and hangovers. (Speak for yourself - Ed). And so, after a minor excursion to watch some blooper reels at a room party, I found myself falling into bed at about 3.30am only to be rudely awakened at 7.30am where along with Keith Cook, John Field, Dave Whiley, George Billings and Chris Chivers, I was coerced into helping to clear up the mess of the night before which, believe me, was substantial (I do - Ed) although I must confess there was not as much mess as after Zaphod's all year inauguration party.

Nevertheless, despite our lack of numbers we had 'Barbarella' ready for showing by 9am, its scheduled start time. There then followed, at 11am, the highlight of the convention events, the fashion show. As usual with these events, I totally failed to pick the winners (didn't everyone? - Ed).

It was shortly after, in a fit of insanity, which manifested itself in the reshowing of the 'Buck Rogers' film, that America's apology for the British Rail timetable was eventually launched, accompanied by an almighty cheer!

There then followed the business meeting, the first held at a Star Trek convention. It followed the pattern set by SF conventions throughout the galaxy. As a result of this Newcastle was chosen as the venue for the autumn 1982 con. (We'll keep you posted on Galileocon - Ed).

There then followed Susan Sackett's slideshow and talk before the closing ceremony, which was highlighted by a slave auction where mid fools such as Chris Chivers were auctioned off for charity though who'd want to buy some of them remains a mystery.

And then there was, finally, the end-of-con party held as always in the Neville Suite. The end-of-con party....

(TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: Here the Professor's message ends due to static in the Time Portal. We apologise to our readers for this problem which is, unfortunately, beyond our control.)

*I now have no memory of this 'act' at all, though in the margins of the report I have written "Fairycakes!"

Looking at this report now, it's not overly informative about what went on at the Convention, (what were the costumes in the fashion show? Who won?) though it does give a flavour of what was going on behind the scenes.
This was one of the first cons I went to, and I remember being quite overwhelmed - I was a shy little thing then. I remember bidding for, and winning, a new Star Trek paperback in the auction - I think it was a book of quotes from the series, and it was certainly purple. They auctioned five of them separately, and I got the second one. I paid £12 for it, which was somewhere around the same cost as the convention weekend itself - the others went for around £24. Sadly, I no longer have it, though that weekend I did get it signed by Rupert Evans, who was a friend of Gene Roddenberry's as well as a stunt man. That was why he was invited to the con, and he was fascinating. One of his early jobs was on the Errol Flynn version of Robin Hood, when Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone insisted on doing their own duel on the stairs, rather than letting the stuntmen do it. He said that Errol Flynn had a certain way of swinging the sword blade that he liked, and which he tried to get incorporated into every fight sequence. He talked about other swashbucklers, too, and being the charioteer in Ben Hur who was dragged behind his chariot (he was wearing an early version of a skateboard strapped to his chest). I'm pretty certain that the main guest was Dorothy Fontana, who was also a fascinating speaker - and I was far too shy to approach her until nearly the end of the convention for her autograph in the book.
At this convention, I knew the named people only as distant 'famous fans', though later I went out with Keith Cook for a while. John Field actually had a job as the Doctor - he dressed up as Tom Baker at the Blackpool Doctor Who exhibition, and was once mistaken for Tom Baker on a train (which he milked for all it was worth!). Martin Smith had a false Zaphod Beeblebrox head which he would wear as part of his costume - Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was really big at the time. Chris Chivers worked at Andromeda Bookshop in Birmingham, and also did the technical sound stuff at conventions.
One thing I do remember is the launch of the space shuttle Columbia. I was with friends down in a snack bar somewhere at the bottom of the hotel, and it was announced over the hotel tannoy. The woman making the announcement upgraded it from shuttle to space ship in the space of a couple of sentences. The cheer that followed the announcement must have come from every floor of the hotel! We felt as if we were at the beginning of something really special - that this was the start of the space race which would eventually get us to a 23rd century like the one imagined in Star Trek.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

The Antigallican

Just down the road from the Woolwich Infant - and I think on the same bus route - is the Antigallican.
This was a name so unusual that I had to look it up, as well.
It seems that xenophobia is nothing new. The Anti-Gallican Society was formed around 1745 (according to the British Museum website, which holds a badge of one of the Presidents of the Society), to oppose French imports and French cultural influence in society. They also gave prizes for local products - a sort of early "I'm Backing Britain" campaign. The badge in the British Museum shows St George spearing the French flag.
A blog called Caroline's Miscellany mentions the pub, back in 2009.

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Woolwich Infant

In London recently, I was sitting in the top of a bus going through Woolwich when I noticed an old pub sign on the wall up above a row of shops near Woolwich Market. The pub had been called The Woolwich Infant, and had sold Courage beers.
It's such an unusual name that I looked it up.
The original Woolwich Infant was a 12 inch bore cannon, made at the nearby Woolwich Dockyards. It was designed to fire a 2 foot 6 inch long cartridge with 130lb of gunpowder, for a 700lb shot - but it cracked at the experimental stage. It was called the Woolwich Infant as a joke about it's great size - it weighed 35 tons.
The design of the gun was quickly improved upon, and when the Emperor of Russia was given a conducted tour of the dockyard in 1874, he was shown an entire "Infant School" of 35 ton and 25 ton guns.
The pub itself closed down in 2006, but before that it was said to be popular with the market traders.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Portal Fantasies

I've just been reading the blog of Phenderson Djeli Clark, at pdjeliclark.wordpress.com. On 11th September she was talking about her experiences of trying to get her novel published - an Egypto-Nubian fantasy with a word count that enabled it to be split into four separate novels, and with a lot of black female characters - the Daughters of Sekhmet sound like fun!
I sympathise greatly with her struggles with agents and publishers - but one of the reasons that was suggested for why the book was not taken up was that it was a portal fantasy.

Now, I spent many hours as a child sitting in my mother's wardrobe trying to get to Narnia, so I'm naturally in favour of portals to other worlds. That's why my own first attempts at serious fantasy involve portals. Some of my characters live in Hay-on-Wye, the secondhand booktown on the Welsh Borders (on the grounds of 'write what you know', as I've been working in bookshops in Hay-on-Wye for around twenty years now), but they have a whole other life in the fantasy world of Ytir - one that they're reluctant to return to, for various very good reasons.

Like Phenderson Djeli Clark, I toyed with the idea of setting my story wholly within the fantasy world, which involved a huge amount of re-writing - but in the end, I decided I wanted the Hay-on-Wye parts of it, dammit, and I was going to have them. Which involved even more re-writing to get it back to the shape it had before (though I hope rather better written after all that work!).* And, despite the kind rejection letters that told me I was almost there as far as professional publishing was concerned, I decided I wasn't getting any younger and I wanted the stories to be out there and available - which is why I went the Smashwords route.
She's had some supportive comments about the portals, so maybe they're not the liability they're thought to be.

*as David Gerrold once said: "Remember, the first million words are just for practice!"

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

When Cult Viewing becomes Mainstream

You can tell that something only geeks once cared about has gone mainstream when it is used as the title of a teaching method at a University.
In this case, it is a training excavation site for archaeology students at the University of Queensland in Australia, which has the title Teaching Archaeological Research Discipline In Simulation.

Well, it's a form of time travel, I suppose.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Pangur Ban

"I and Pangur Ban my cat,
Tis a like task we are at.
Hunting mice is his delight.
Hunting words I sit all night..."

So starts a poem written in the margin of an early medieval Irish manuscript, with the monk comparing himself to his white cat - Pangur Ban means the white fulled one, fulling being a process in the making of woollen cloth. Any Welsh place with Pandy in the name once had a fulling mill.
I was footling about on Goodreads last night, and came across the children's series about Pangur Ban by Fay Sampson - and realised that I'd read almost all of them, years ago when I worked at the Children's Bookshop.
Pangur Ban and his monk Niall team up with pony-mad Princess Finnglas, and have several adventures in a fantasy version of medieval Ireland.
There are a lot of things to like about these stories, like the way Niall sings hymns loudly when in dire peril, and the dolphin Arthmael who helps them - or possibly the Son of God in the form of a dolphin (and sometimes, when they are away from the sea, a dog which is prepared to sacrifice himself to save them).
Her story about the naming of Pangur Ban, when he was still a kitten in a witch's cave, reminded me of another childhood favourite, Gobbolino the Witch's Cat, by Ursula Moray Williams - in that story, Gobbolino spends the whole book trying different ways of being an ordinary house cat, but is always discovered and chased away. His sister, who takes up the life of a witch's cat with enthusiasm, has the glorious name of Sootica.

Fay Sampson is a very good writer indeed, and for adults she has also written a re-telling of the myth of Inanna, the Mesopotamian goddess of Love and War, and her descent into the underworld, as well as a series of Arthurian novels, among other things. I liked Star Dancer, the Inanna story, a lot - it's not often that Mesopotamian myths are made into novels, but there are any number of versions of the Arthurian myth.
She also wrote a stand alone novel for older children called A Free Man on Sunday, about the Mass Trespass of Kinder Scout in the Lake District in the 1930s - back when the Ramblers' Association was considered to be a bunch of radical Communists, just for wanting the freedom to walk out on the moors that surrounded the Northern mill towns where they lived! That story includes the folk song written by Ewan McColl - The Manchester Rambler - which is also about the Mass Trespass. Part of the chorus is "I may be a wage slave on Monday, but I am a free man on Sunday".
She has a website - with lots more books that I haven't read yet - at www.faysampson.co.uk

Monday, 21 October 2013

Rabbi Small and the Absence of Guns

When I read crime fiction, I'm usually not reading it for the puzzle of who-dun-it, but for the background details of different ways of life. That's why I like the Harry Kemelman series about Rabbi Small. He's the rabbi of a Conservative Jewish temple in a small town somewhere near Boston in the 1960s and 70s, and the books go into some detail about the inner workings of the temple and the Jewish religion. With added murders, which Rabbi Small solves by applying rabbinical scholarship to the problems.
I've just finished reading Thursday the Rabbi Walked Out (all the titles include days of the week), which brings Rabbi Small to his twelfth year as rabbi of the congregation of Barnard's Crossing, and somewhere in the early 1970s. Women's lib and sexism form part of the plot - women in the congregation want to take a full part in the synagogue services, while at the murder scene the police think a woman must have done the shooting because of the erratic nature of the shots fired.
And that's where I started pondering. It's not long ago that there was a massacre at the school in the town of Sandy Hook - a town that I imagine to be similar to Barnard's Crossing. I remember it being described by residents as a nice place to live, friendly, with a low crime rate - and yet the first woman to be killed (by her son) thought it necessary to keep assault rifles in her home.
Back in the 1970s, the murder weapon is brought from the local bank to the scene of the crime by one of the tellers - the guns were bought to make the tellers feel safer because the bank did not employ an armed guard. The old chap who lives in the semi-derelict old house on the hill does not have any weapons in his house. Nor does the ex-Captain of Marines who is president of the temple, it seems, or any of the other characters. Only one character is described as being keen on shooting - he spends a lot of time at the pistol range at the local yacht club - but he deliberately doesn't have a gun licence so that he isn't tempted to use his skill with a pistol to solve his arguments for him. Oh, and the janitor at the temple goes deer hunting occasionally - but that's it.
So how did small town America get from there to a situation where an ordinary woman thinks she needs an assault rifle?

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Captain Sheridan and Admiral Nelson

It's not an obvious pairing - the hero of Babylon 5 from the second season on, and the hero of Trafalgar. I recently discovered something that interested me, though. Before Lord Nelson commanded the Victory, his favourite ship as a Captain was the 64 gun Agamemnon. The ship was present at the Battle of Copenhagen (where she ran aground) and Trafalgar - and she was later wrecked at the mouth of the River Plate in South America.
When Captain Sheridan first showed up at Babylon 5, craving fresh oranges and a water shower, he was in command of the Agamemnon.
Somehow, I don't think it's a co-incidence.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Doctor Who at the Shire Hall


This is me, standing just across the road from the Shire Hall in Hereford, earlier today. BBC Hereford and Worcester were having a Doctor Who day, and I went in costume as a Tardis engineer. I have three jazzed up screwdrivers and a reel of gold wire on my toolbelt, together with a sonic screwdriver and a sonic torch. The engineer's overalls are a silk jumpsuit that came from a vintage fair in Hay a few months ago, and the beret has a UNIT badge sewn to it. I'm also wearing a Tardis key round my neck.

It was a fun event for the kids - toy daleks to drive, face masks to colour in, small Tardises to make, and plenty of tea and cake. It was also an excuse for local fans to show off their collections and some of the things they had made - like the full sized World War Two Dalek being shown off by one young man dressed as the Fourth Doctor (though he admitted that he had run out of jelly babies!). Other very fine costumes included an early Cyberman, a Weeping Angel, and a Cat Nun. There were also several fezes and tweed jackets in evidence - and a "Pin the Bowtie on the Doctor" game. There was also a Dalek up on the stage (called Derek, strangely - how can you be scared of a Dalek called Derek?) which must have been a real one from the TV, because no-one was allowed to touch that one. You could also go inside the Tardis, though that definitely wasn't the real one, because it wasn't bigger on the inside....
I saw quite a few kids in wheelchairs around the entrance hall. I'm not sure how they were able to get to the main hall, because the front way in is up a long staircase.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Alice in Sunderland

I first came across Bryan Talbot as the author and artist of the Grandville graphic novels, about Inspector LeBrock of Scotland Yard (who is a badger - one of the influences on the stories is the Rupert Bear Annuals).

Alice in Sunderland is rather different. It starts with the idea that Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell (who was the real Alice in Wonderland) are just as firmly associated with Sunderland and the surrounding area as they are with Oxford. As Bryan Talbot puts forward the evidence for this, based on a book by Michael Bute called A Town Like Alice's, he also tells the story of the Sunderland Empire theatre, which is where the story opens. This is, among other things, the place where Sid James of the Carry On films died on stage during a play, and Sid as a ghost turns up to make comments on the action throughout the book. I'd known about Sid James' death, but not that it had happened there. I was also aware, through a blog about Victorian life I came across some time ago (I think it was Cats Meat Shop), of the disaster in which nearly two hundred children at a Christmas show were killed in a crush caused partly by badly designed doors - and that happened at the Sunderland Empire, too.

But that's only a small portion of what the book contains. It also takes in the entire history of Sunderland back to prehistoric times, including local heroes like Jack Crawford, the Hero of Camperdown (a sailor in Nelson's navy - done in the style of the Boys Own comic). Doctor Who passes through - the first police boxes were made in Sunderland, and the ancient rivalry between Sunderland and Newcastle-upon-Tyne is explained.
There are white rabbits, and rabbit holes, and the building of Sunderland docks, and - all human life, almost. He also manages to cover the history of comics, the history of his own house, Jack the Ripper (who never came to Sunderland, as far as anyone knows), the Corn Laws, the legend of the Lambton Worm - and manages to include his own views on fascism and immigration (he's against the first and in favour of the second).
In fact, immigration is something of a theme throughout the book, as he chronicles all the different peoples who have come to Sunderland to settle, all the way from Roman times to the present.

It's the sort of rich mixture that cannot be taken in completely on one reading - and the artwork is fantastic as well, in a variety of styles, including photography.
And one little extra pleasure for me is that the acknowledgements at the end of the book mention someone I know - he consulted Edward Wakeling, who is a renowned expert on Alice, and who comes into the shop where I work regularly.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Spirit of Albion


There's a record/CD/DVD shop down a local alleyway which often has interesting things in it. The last time I was in there, I caught a glimpse of a film called Spirit of Albion, which featured the music of Damh the Bard. I've been following Damh's blog, on the sidebar as The Bardic Blog, for some time, and I like his music a lot. I've also seen a video of him performing his song "The Sons and Daughters of Robin Hood" at the barricades at Balcombe, during the anti-fracking protests.
At first, I thought it would be a music video, but when I got it home I realised it was a film. It's an extremely low budget film (one of the characters wears her own wedding dress as a costume), and it is based on a youth theatre production - which shows in the way some of it is written, but the story is good enough to transcend the slight "staginess". It was performed at Witchfest, too, and was well received there.

Three people with problems meet in a wood, brought there by the Old Gods, who appear and disappear as the story goes on. The actors playing the gods are excellent - Arianrhod (Lucy Brennan) narrates, and Ceridwen, Herne, the Morrigan and Robin Goodfellow also appear (Joy Tinniswood, Sean George, Joanne Marriott and Redvers G Russell). There are also some battle scenes filmed with re-enactors.
The music is excellent, and really complements the action - I particularly liked Grey and Green, the song about Herne. In fact, I liked the music so much that I went online and downloaded the album after I'd watched the film.
What surprised me about finding the film secondhand in the first place is how new it is. It was only released in May 2012, and there weren't a huge number of copies made. So how did it make its way to a small shop on the Borders of Wales so quickly, I wonder? Maybe I was meant to find it!

However, the good news is that they did well enough that they are now working on a new film, Tales of Albion. Sean George will be returning as Herne (with bigger antlers - they joked that they'd been watering him over the winter!). There's a Scottish section to this one, and also a Robin Hood section, and more information can be found on the Facebook page for Spirit of Albion.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

New Book Covers

I've gone minimalist, to go with my minimal skills in Paint. The photos I used before were the best I could do at the time, but they were never quite right. These are better, I think - and hopefully more eyecatching! (I think I may have overdone the red for Raven's Heirs!).
So they're now appearing down the sidebar - Quarter Day, Raven's Heirs and Like Father, Like Daughter. I've left Ice Magic alone, since 207 people have downloaded it with the cover it already has, and it's free. I'm hoping that people will give me real money for the others!

Friday, 4 October 2013

The Minister of Chance

My Young Man gave me a business card. On one side there was a picture of a hooded man and a white haired girl, and the words: "Julian Wadham The Minister of Chance Lauren Crace"
On the other side it said:
Jenny Agutter, Jed Brophy, Paul Darrow, Philip Glenister, Tamsin Greig, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann - download all episodes absolutely free from iTunes or minister of chance.com"

He said it was a sci-fi/fantasy series, done as radio. It's sort of a spin off of a Doctor Who adventure called Death Comes to Time - but this version gives the Minister a universe of his own.
And - really, how could I not at least give it a go? - it's got two Doctors, and Avon, and Gene Hunt in it!!!

So I tried the prologue, in which Paul McGann plays a pleasant and genial ambassador - right up until the moment that he becomes totally ruthless.... I was hooked.

Then the Minister becomes involved, and gets himself a Companion in the form of Kitty, an argumentative young lady who is involved in the resistance movement against the Ambassador, who has taken over the country. The Ambassador's people are hunting down scientists - their leader back home, played by Sylvester McCoy, is called the Witch Prime, which gives some idea of their views on science - and Jenny Agutter is fantastic as the Professor in hiding.
All the actors are brilliant, and the script is intelligent and witty and keeps you guessing about who the villain of the piece really is - is it The Horseman (dangerous and deadly)? Or the Ambassador/Governor (clever and ruthless)? The Witch Prime? Lord Rathen, the general who is sent by the Witch Prime to keep an eye on the Ambassador? And why has the Minister involved himself in this (from his point of view) petty little war anyway? And just what is his relationship to Kitty, whose origins are shrouded in mystery?

I'm not going to give any spoilers - I'm just going to say listen to the episodes!


The whole thing was crowd funded, and now they're trying to raise money to turn it into a film. They're going to be making it in Cheshire, which they are renaming "Chanceshire" - the landscape is what they had in mind when they were describing Tanto, the country in which most of the action takes place.

Friday, 27 September 2013

St Hugh of Lincoln


This is one of my favourite medieval saints, for two reasons: he had a pet swan and he quelled an anti-Jewish riot. He was the Bishop of Lincoln from 1186 until his death in 1200, and he was quickly made a saint after that.
The swan lived at his manor of Stow, and this is what Gerald of Wales (who wrote a Life of Hugh, and knew him personally) says:

"When he fed it, the bird used to thrust its long neck up his wide and ample sleeve so that its head lay on his breast; for a little while it would remain there, hissing gently, as if it were talking fondly and happily to its master and asking something from him...."


This is the Jew's House, which may also have been a synagogue, and which was certainly there at the time Hugh was Bishop - it may have been somewhere near here that Hugh faced down an anti-Jewish mob, at considerable risk to his own life. It was one of the riots that took place all over the country where there were settlements of Jewish people just after King Richard the Lionheart was crowned, in 1189.

When he died in 1200, in London, his body was brought back to Lincoln, and this is how David Hugh Farmer describes it in his book Saint Hugh of Lincoln:

"When they arrived 'at the foot of the hill almost a mile from the city', they were met by the Kings of England and Scotland, the archbishops of Canterbury, York and Ragusa (now Dubrovnik - what was the archbishop of Dubrovnik doing in England?), bishops, abbots, magnates, nobles, clergy and people in an immense crowd that had seldom been seen before. The king of England and other magnates carried the coffin on their shoulders: the king of Scotland, William, was so overcome with grief that he stood behind.
At the entrance to the city of Lincoln the king and bishops gave way to other bearers, and they in their turn to others and to others again, in spite of the heavy rain and deep mud."

I've always rather admired King John for doing this, and now I've actually walked the route that the coffin took I'm even more impressed. He didn't help to carry it up the steepest slope - that comes inside the city wall - but he still went quite a distance, and partly up hill.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Tea!

I didn't just drink beer while I was in Lincoln - I also went to a rather superior tea shop!


This is the Norman House on Steep Hill, and inside is the most amazing selection of teas that I have ever seen. Some are incredibly rare - only picked by the light of the full moon from one hillside in China, that sort of thing!
I also managed to get some more Russian Caravan Tea, as I've grown rather fond of the taste since I discovered it in that other amazing tea shop in Bath (which I wrote about on 10th July on my other blog, Life in Hay).
Underneath the tea shop, in the Norman undercroft, is a cafe and bookshop. The chap behind the counter (wearing a rather snazzy waistcoat with old books pictured on it) said that he had opened up in May as both a tea shop and an outlet for local authors to sell their books. He also has a selection of second hand books that can be browsed as you sip. My Young Man was very taken with the design of the teapots, which had a plunger set into the lid, and the tea cups, which were wide and shallow, with a deep brim - the chap explained that they were the sort of tea cups that professional tea tasters use, to bring out the full aroma of the tea.
I must say, the Darjeeling was excellent!

Both shops are, of course, online, at www.imperialteas.co.uk and www.bookstopcafe.com

Friday, 20 September 2013

Real Ale in Lincoln

After a long journey across country by train, when I got to Lincoln, I needed something to revive me!
Fortunately, my Young Man had already been researching the local hostelries, and led me to The Treaty of Commerce, close to the level crossing at the end of High Street.
I had forgotten that Lincoln was in the general area of the Bateman's brewery, but seeing the Bateman's name on the sign board of The Treaty of Commerce made me feel very happy. When I started to drink real ale back in Norwich, many years ago, the two breweries that I immediately took notice of were Bateman's and Adnams - and not just because one of them has a windmill as part of the brewery, and the other has its own lighthouse!
As the weekend wore on, we noticed lots of signs that this is a city with a good pub culture, and it's not only a stronghold of Batemans - there are Marstons pubs as well, and quite a few with CAMRA signs in their windows.
On the first evening of Steampunk Asylum, we had been told that people would be gathering at Widow Cullen's Well, which is also the meeting place of the local Steampunk society. This was when we found out just how steep Steep Hill really is! By the time we got to the doors of the pub, we were gasping - and definitely in need of a drink! Widow Cullen's Well is a Samuel Smith's pub, and the pints amazed us with their low prices. We tried the dark mild and the Imperial porter to start with, and followed it up with the (more expensive but still very reasonable) bottles of Oatmeal Stout and Chocolate Stout. The building itself is 14th century in origin, and there are exposed beams upstairs. We sat near a bay window which was obviously far later in date than the medieval tenements that had occupied the space originally, and looked across the narrow street outside - which had once been the Roman Via Principalis - the main road up to the Roman fort at the top of the hill. I reckon they wouldn't have been able to march more than four abreast - and there's no way any horse drawn carts could have made that climb, in any century.
The two main pubs that seemed to be used by the Steampunk community over the rest of the weekend were the Victoria at the western entrance to the castle, and the Lion and Snake by the Assembly Halls, both of which we spent time in. The food in the Lion and Snake was good pub grub, and the beer in both (the Lion and Snake is a Marstons pub) is excellent. The Victoria serves Batemans and several guest ales, and also does food. Both of them were good places to watch the world go by and marvel at the inventiveness of the costumes.

Those were the pubs we actually managed to visit, but there were others that we wished we had time to go into as well. The Magna Carta, on the square between the Castle and the Cathedral, for instance - another Marstons pub which was reputed to be one of the oldest in Lincoln (which means that the 14thC Widow Cullen's Well isn't one of the oldest in Lincoln!), and the Green Dragon, a stone building down near the river, which we saw from the windows of the taxi but never got close to.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Getting across the country by train

It's a lot easier to get up and down Britain than it is to get across from one side to the other - by public transport, anyway.
However, the fact remains that Hereford is in the far west of England, and Lincoln is far to the east, and I was determined to get to Lincoln (and back again, obviously).
I was not looking forward to the journey. I was looking forward even less to the return journey, which would (for various complicated reasons) not only be across the country, but across the country on a Sunday! It didn't help my anxieties that the staff of Hereford railway station seemed to be as baffled about how to do the journey as I was myself. At least the fare seemed to be quite reasonable - £55 for an off-peak return, which is only a little bit more than a taxi fare from Hereford to Hay!

It wasn't as bad as I'd feared.

The journey out started with the college bus from Hay at around ten past seven in the morning, which left me plenty of time to wait for the Birmingham New Street train. I always pop into the local newsagents to get a magazine, so I had something to keep me occupied (and chocolate - I thought I'd need chocolate).
The change at Birmingham, to the Derby train, went smoothly. The chap pushing the refreshments trolley was very jolly - and so was the train guard, who looked at the way I had been told to go and said: "We can do better for you than that!"
So instead of going up to Derby, then changing for Beeston, then changing for Lincoln, he sent me straight up to Nottingham to change for Lincoln. Nottingham station is going through a big re-development - it's going to be very smart when it's finished, but it's like a building site at the moment. It was quite easy to find where I needed to be, though.
The final leg of my journey stopped at every little station on the line to Lincoln, and I got there at about half past two in the afternoon. My Young Man had got there earlier (he was travelling up and down the country) and he took me straight for a beer!

On the way back, we left the B&B at ten o'clock, and got a taxi round to the station rather than trundle all that luggage up the High Street. The station didn't actually open until half past ten, and quite a little crowd had gathered by the time the doors were opened.
I had several options to get back home - but I had to wait until three o'clock in the afternoon for two of them, so I decided to go for the one that put me on the quarter past eleven train. That way, I could go to the first changeover in the company of the Young Man, before he carried on south to London.
He got off all right, but my connection was delayed by engineering works - he told me later that his train was delayed at the same works, and he'd been very impressed with the speed that the engineers were working to get the track back up and running.
Meanwhile, I was hanging around on the platform at Newark, and beginning to realise that there was no way I would catch the connection that I was aiming for. So I went to the nice man in the Customer Services office. "Why have they sent you this way?" he asked. "We can do better than that for you."
So he put me on the next train to Peterborough.
About a minute after I arrived in Peterborough and trundled my case across to the next platform, the train to Birmingham New Street came in.
At Birmingham, the train to Hereford was waiting at the platform.
And outside the station in Hereford, I climbed straight into a taxi.
So I did the journey in about six hours rather than the eight that I thought it would take!

Thank goodness for friendly and helpful railway staff!