Saturday, 31 August 2013

Badger God

Badger culling is in the news. Despite scientific evidence that culling will not work to prevent TB in cattle, and the opposition of wildlife trusts and the RSPCA, the government is pressing ahead with the support of the National Farmers Union.
Volunteers are going out by night to protect the setts as far as they can, and it occurred to me that there really ought to be a god of badgers for Pagans to appeal to.
A little bit of Googling brought up something interesting.
There is indeed a Gaulish badger god - at least, if the translation of Moritasgus really is Great Badger. It might also be Sea Badger, or "masses of sea water". There was a Romano-Gaulish shrine to Apollo Moritasgus at a place called Alesia in present day Burgundy. The Romans often tagged the name of one of their own gods onto a local deity, and since Apollo and Moritasgus were both associated with healing, it seems apt. There was a healing spring at the shrine, and excavations have turned up offerings of model parts of the body, much as you'd find today at Lourdes or other Catholic healing shrines. Alesia is nowhere near the sea, though, which makes me tend to favour the Badger translation of the name.
And then it gets even better, because Moritasgus's consort goddess is Damona - the Divine Cow.

Alesia became even more interesting when I dug a little further, too. It wasn't just the site of a healing shrine. Anyone who's read Asterix will be familiar with the name of the great Gaulish hero Vercingetorix. Alesia is the place where Julius Caesar defeated Vercingetorix in battle, and conquered Gaul (except for that one little village where Asterix lived, of course). It was, in fact, a huge siege, with the Romans throwing up vast earthworks to cut off the Gauls from their re-enforcements, and traces of these earthworks have been picked up by aerial photography There's a statue of Vercingetorix there now.

So here's to Moritasgus, the Great Healing Badger, and his consort Damona the Divine Cow, and to the volunteers who are going out to protect the badgers in Somerset and Gloucestershire.

FAQs about the cull can be found at

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

I Want to be a Space Vixen

While I was in London, I got taken out to see a show in the West End (as one does).
This particular show was in what amounted to a cellar just off Leicester Square. When we got there, the only indication that there was a theatre there was the box office and a set of stairs leading down. The Reduced Shakespeare Company were doing a show in one of the rooms, but we were going to see Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens.
It was a tiny venue, which meant that the actors were right there amongst the audience - we had to cross the stage to get to our seats, and it was set out like a disco.
Before the main action, the stage was taken by the Martini Encounter, described as "Permanently shaken. Occasionally stirred". They're a ukelele and close harmony singing trio, who lull you into a false sense of security with 1930s standards and then sing something very rude in the same style. Which was very funny.
Then the mics were whisked away, and we were in Saucy Jack's seedy disco, where artistes are being murdered. The only clue is a slingback sandal found with each victim. The Space Vixens arrive to investigate (with the power of Disco) - and one of them has a Past with Saucy Jack. Another of them has a sweet romance with Sammy Sax, the saxophone player who has ambitions to leave Saucy Jacks, and the third Space Vixen falls for a raunchy bubblewrap smuggler. Watching from the sidelines is a German professor who wants to get more than drinks from Saucy Jack's kilted barman, and a waitress (played by a man) who longs to be a Space Vixen herself.
Music - dancing - glitter boots! A Pantomime villain to boo! Some of the people sitting at the end of the stage obviously knew all the songs and were having a great time - and I came out singing "I Want to be a Space Vixen" and "Glitter Boots Saved My Life".

The Space Vixens

Friday, 23 August 2013

A Pub Not to be Missed

A little while ago, I got a book called London Heritage Pubs, and amongst the top "Ten Pubs not to miss" was the Black Friar.
Last week, I finally made it there. We had a delicious meal, a mixed plate of nibbles to share, and a pleasant half of Adnams Fat Sprat (which they brew to support the Marine Conservation Society).
It's a long narrow building, which was once a corner on narrow streets - all gone now. We sat in the bar, which was impressive enough, with the frieze above the bar of cheery monks going about their business - but the Saloon was a marvel of marble and brass! There were little mottos attached to the pictures, such as "Tomorrow will be Friday" under a picture of the monks catching fish for their Friday meal, and "Don't Advertise it, Tell a Gossip".
The pub was almost lost, along with so much else in the redevelopments of the 1960s, and Sir John Betjeman the poet laureate was one of the famous people who campaigned to save it.
The reason for the name Black Friar is that there was a Priory of Dominican Friars, known as the Black Friars, in the area during the middle ages. Medieval Parliaments met there on occasion, and Henry VIII held his divorce hearing against Catherine of Aragon as a guest of the friars - and later dissolved the Priory along with all the other religious houses in Britain.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Great British Beer Festival

The main reason I went to London last week, rather than any other time, was to visit the Great British Beer Festival at Olympia.
Getting there was interesting. We went to Earl's Court, where there's a little branch line that goes to Olympia, only to be told on the station that no trains were running along that branch line (despite the major event being held there) so all those thirsty people with beery slogans on their tshirts had to get back on the Wimbledon tube for one stop, and then take the overland train to Olympia - where we found a tube train was in the station after all.
After that, though, it was plain sailing.

I estimated that I would be able to sample only about 1% of the 800+ beers, ciders, perrys and foreign beers on offer, so it's always important to choose carefully - and ask for a third of a pint at a time! I always start with Woodforde's - I learned to love Wherry when I lived in Norwich, so if possible that's always my first choice. This time, Nelson's Revenge was a very pleasant alternative. After that - well, these beers are not in the order I drank them!
We first discovered Umbel Magna at the Beer on the Wye beer festival in Hereford a few years ago, and have been looking out for it at beer festivals ever since. It was just as good as we remembered - a smooth, creamy porter infused with coriander.
On the same stand, I was delighted to see Uley Bitter. I have happy memories of visiting the brewery years ago with a party from CAMRA, and sitting in the vaulted cellar while the brewer played his accordion and we all sang. I seem to remember he doesn't like his beer to travel far - the furthest being the magnificent Fleece in Bretforton, which is owned now by the National Trust. The taste didn't disappoint - hoppy without being over the top, and a bit of fruitiness too.
In the Lancashire area, Moorhouse's Black Cat is an old favourite - I'm quite fond of milds when I can find them.
I was keen to try something from Hook Norton again, too, and Old Hooky was there - again, I have happy memories of visiting their brewery tap (the Pear Tree?) and the Rollright Stones on the same sunny afternoon. We went back to the Rollright Stones to see Mark Rylance's company perform The Tempest, the year that the Globe opened in Southwark.
Back to East Anglia now, for Adnams, and Ghost Ship - along with Woodforde's, Adnam's was one of the first breweries I became fond of when I lived in Norwich.
And how could I ignore a beer called Triple Chocoholic? It's brewed by Saltaire in Yorkshire, and has three dark malts in it, with cocoa, chocolate syrups and essence!
It's always nice to step outside the comfort zone and try a foreign beer, so we shared a bottle of Stones, from the States - it wasn't the one listed in the booklet, but I think it was Levitation.
Finally, there was a beer that my Young Man had told me I really had to try. It was only available at certain times in the day, and they would only serve thirds until it was gone - 5X from Greene King. There was a long queue. It's a 12% beer, and a beautifully complex taste.
To mop up all that beer (even in thirds) we had to eat, and the wild boar burgers from Inyama were delicious.
And then there were the other stalls to tempt us, so I also came away with a Seal of Rassilon keyring and a tshirt with a picture of Winnie the Pooh peering out of the Tardis (Whovians are everywhere now!). We also treated outselves to some of Martin's Jerked meats - partly because they are delicious and partly because Martin himself posts comments on the Living History Forum which I visit regularly - historical re-enactors should stick together!

It was a very satisfactory day out (and neither of us had hangovers in the morning).

And here's one of the most flamboyantly dressed people I saw on the day - he had matching Welsh flag knickers, too!

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The Temple Church

Another wonderful thing about London is the way that you can step from a busy main road thronged with people straight into a quiet green space. The Inns of Court are a beautiful oasis of calm in the middle of the city, and it's all the more remarkable when you see the damage that was done to the area in the Blitz.
We were going to the Temple Church, originally built as a round church by the Knights Templar, to mimic the Temple at Jerusalem. Later, it became the church of the lawyers, and the round church was extended eastwards to make a large, light and very beautiful building. Again, it's all the more remarkable when you see the destruction caused by German bombing. My Young Man was most impressed at the way one of the arches had survived despite a big crack in it.
The tombs of the knights buried there were pretty knocked about though. We had actually gone to the church to visit William Marshal, probably the greatest knight in Christendom of his age, who started off life as a younger son, was almost killed as a hostage of King Stephen when he was five years old, and yet rose to become a champion of the European jousting circuit and later Earl of Pembroke. He was also the first person who was not a king or a saint to have his biography written, in the form of an epic poem, which is why we know so much about his life and times now. Two of his sons also have their tombs in the church, and over on the other side of the dome is Geoffrey de Mandeville (there were several Geoffrey de Mandevilles - I'm not sure which one this was, though I suspect him to be either the one who was active during the period of the Anarchy or one of his sons).

The glass things appear to be candle holders, and each one has the name of a different medieval saint etched down its length.

The church also has a rather magnificent Romanesque archway over the West door, which is protected by a porch.

One thing that I wondered about, and the volunteer at the church couldn't tell me anything about it, was the winged horse that is used as the symbol for the Inner Temple. Why a pegasus? The Middle Temple has a lamb and flag, the symbol of St John the Baptist, which is sort of understandable for a body that was formed in medieval times, but the pegasus comes from Classical mythology and doesn't, at first glance, seem to have any connection with the practice of law, or with the Knights Templar.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Wandering through London

One of the wonderful things about London is that it's such a hodge-podge! We were walking from the general area of the British Museum, where we saw the penny farthing and visited the Atlantis Bookshop which specialises in occult books - and suddenly we were in Seven Dials, which I knew as a notorious slum in Victorian times. Anthony Valentine, as AJ Raffles, claimed to be living there once, when he was caught burgling an old flame, to make it seem that he was down on his luck, until she discovered that he actually had rooms at the Albany club and played cricket for England!
Just round the corner from the Seven Dials is a wonderful warren of Victorian buildings, including Neal's Yard, and a little further on we saw a blue plaque saying that Charles Dickens had worked in a building. When we finally got to the Porterhouse pub (which is all old wood and copper piping inside, with a tiled front to the bar and a huge clock with all the workings showing over the main bar - and also some very good beer, and delicious omelettes), we found that Turner the artist had been born in a building on that site.
Later, I noticed on a map we were consulting that the Temple of Mithras was fairly close to where we were - or at least, it had been. There's an area of redevelopment just outside Cannon St station where it used to be, but there seems to have been a thorough archaeological dig before it became a huge hole in the ground, so I presume they saved what they could. I'd wanted to see that since I discovered it existed, after reading Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff (where Marcus belongs to the Raven grade of Mithraism) and The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart, where young Merlin sees a re-enactment of the central myth of Mithraism, when the god sacrifices a bull.
While walking along the riverbank not far from St Paul's, I kept turning round to look at the dome, to remind myself that this really was THE St Paul's - and there were the steps the Cybermen had walked down, and there was the spot where the Daleks had stood on the bridge near the Houses of Parliament, and towering over it all was the London Eye, which was also the radio receiver for the Nestene Consciousness.
Not far away, a small church was tucked in amongst the more modern buildings, and turned out to be the place where Chad Varah started the Samaritans. It's over a thousand years old, and when it was built, the Walbrook flowed down to the Thames just in front of it - one of the lost rivers of London now.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Number Six Goes Shopping

Seen outside a shop selling tweedy waistcoats and other gentlemen's attire somewhere near the British Museum.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Bad Astronomy

I've just added a blog called Bad Astronomy to the side bar - if you don't feel a sense of wonder after looking at some of the pictures on there, you're probably dead!

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Mouse Man

Here's something else that makes me happy - traditional craftsmen in wood. I came across a mention of a man in North Yorkshire called Robert Thompson, on Archie Miles' blog. He's a photographer who went to the workshop to take pictures of some of the furniture which is still produced there. Robert Thompson was called the Mouse Man because he carved a small mouse on every piece of furniture he produced. The workshop now employs 35 craftsmen, and they still carve a mouse on every piece of furniture they make.
I've sat on some of his stools - there were several pieces of his furniture at one time in the Black Swan (or Dirty Duck) in Rugby, though I think they were sold off with a change of ownership, which was a shame. It was a lovely old pub, with stone flagged floors and a rambling floor plan, and a traditional skittle alley out the back where you threw "cheeses" at the skittles. These days, it's CAMRA listed, but only seems to offer pool as a pub game.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013


This blog is about things that make me happy and, strangely, Pentrebychan Crematorium just outside Wrexham in North Wales is one of the places that makes me happy. I found a mention of it the other day in the blog Archaeodeath, on the 30th July (it's a fascinating blog about the archaeology of death).

Here's the dovecote just outside the main gardens. They've tidied it up a bit, and added a description board, since I was last there. It was just down the slope from there that me and my sister and our Welsh friends found a mole, just before it scrabbled back into its tunnels. We used to climb over a fence at the back of the Crem and paddle in the stream, and build dams, and explore in the woodlands. The gardens seemed enormous, and wild (again, they've been tidied up a lot since then).
Once, we took our friends' little sister with us. She slipped over in the stream and was swept away (it must have been about twenty feet, I suppose, down a concreted section) before we could haul her out. She was fine, but we spent the next hour or so running round a field waving her clothes in the air to try to get them dry, so her mum wouldn't find out!
Another time, we took my gran there with us. When it came to climbing over the fence (she was over eighty!) she lost her balance and fell into the middle of the lane, and crouched there on her hands and knees, laughing so much she couldn't get up.
We went to the daffodil meadow, when we finally helped her over the fence. It was glorious, and our friends picked huge armfuls: "Here's some for my Auntie, and some for my gran and some for...." So we thought it was all right (because they were local) and we picked daffodils too.
As we were climbing back over the fence, a very smart man in a blazer stopped his car, and challenged us. We weren't supposed to have been picking them at all! He took the great armfuls away from us - apart from Nana's bunch, because he thought she was such a respectable lady that it must have been an honest mistake!
When she died, the funeral was at the crematorium, and we all decided that there was only one place her ashes could be scattered - so she's part of the daffodil meadow forever!

Monday, 5 August 2013

"Splendid Chap - All of Them"

Last night was the grand reveal of the Twelfth Doctor on BBC1 - and it's Peter Capaldi, who was a wonderful Angel Islington on the original Neverwhere TV series. He was also the civil servant in Torchwood: Children of Earth, and the Roman dad in Fires of Pompeii - which is quite a range even without considering The Thick of It (which I haven't seen).
I'm sure he'll do very well.

Meanwhile, I finally realised that the dark blue silk waistcoat I picked up at a charity shop is Tardis blue - so what it really needs is a St John's Ambulance brigade badge to pin on it. I found just the thing on ebay, from a seller in the Netherlands, and it looks absolutely perfect!

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Making Your Own

There are some rather wonderful Captain Marvel tshirts at Kelly Sue DeConnick's page on - but the UPS postage to the UK is $44, and since the shop where I work can get a book to the US for around £7.00, I thought that was excessive (and the tshirts are only $25 - I don't want to pay more for the postage than the tshirt).

So I started to think about it, and considered long sleeved tshirts in red and blue. When I was putting my washing away, I realised I had long sleeved tshirts in red and blue, and my big scissors were just there....
....and I spent the rest of the afternoon fixing the shoulders of the red tshirt onto the blue tshirt, and then cutting up a cheap pashmina to make the stripe and the star.
Okay, the star is a bit wobbly, but on the whole, I'm very pleased with the result, and now I'm all ready to "be the star I was always meant to be"!