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


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 and

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!

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Steampunk Superheroes

A few more pictures from Asylum last weekend:

Superwoman outside the Victoria pub

Catwoman, Robin and Batman at the Castle

and Captain America, who makes the patchwork corsets - that's her stall in the Westgate hall.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Lincoln Steampunk Asylum

I've just come back from a wonderful weekend in the city of Lincoln, which was hosting the fifth Steampunk Asylum (so called because the first events were based around the city's old mental asylum). It's the first big Steampunk event I've been to, and I had the most enormous amount of fun! It kind of reminded me of the early days of Star Trek conventions, when there was a great outpouring of fan creativity (this was before any of the films were made, and well before The Next Generation), and it was all so relaxed, and friendly.

This is me, dressed as a Steampunk (and Whovian) Alice in Wonderland - on the same day that Robert Rankin was signing copies of his new book Alice on Mars! A little while after this picture was taken, I found the perfect hat to go with the outfit in one of the vintage clothes shops up the Steep Hill - it's a 1940s round cap with a cascade of blue feathers down the back.

The following day, I took part in the Wild West shoot out!

Here is El Guano/El Zombiro fearlessly facing his opponents in the Castle grounds, courtesy of Mr Eric, who is pictured at the far right of the line (his wife was taking the photo). The final show down involved about a dozen gunslingers with nerf guns, and started off like the gun fight in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, with a musical box.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Ann Crispin and Yesterday's Son

I saw on today that Ann Crispin has died. She was only 63.

Ann Crispin wrote one of my favourite ever Star Trek novels - in fact, two that come as a pair - Yesterday's Son and Time For Yesterday. It starts with the premise that, while Spock was trapped in the past of the doomed planet Sarpedion, he got Zarabeth (the woman who saved him and Dr McCoy from certain death in a snowstorm) pregnant. At the beginning of the book, he discovers that he is a father, and insists on going back to Sarpedion's past to rescue the child. Kirk and McCoy, being who they are, insist on going with him - and they find Zar, who is a young man, not a child, and who causes Spock quite a bit of soul searching.
I loved Zar - I loved the way McCoy cut his hair into Spock's fringe style, and the way he stalked off and got himself a ham sandwich when he violently disagreed with Spock but didn't want to show it emotionally, and how he experimented with sliding doors, and looked with wonder on his first alien sky full of stars. I was there, in the story with them, and that is the sign of a very good storyteller as far as I'm concerned. It's all the more remarkable in that this was Ann Crispin's very first professional submission.

She was also, it is obvious from the comments over on, a very nice person, who will be greatly missed from the SF family.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Sol III Star Trek Con, 1985

I've been having a clear out, and at the bottom of a cupboard I found a file full of - well, historic documents!
Back in the dim and distant past ("Remember the good old 1980s, when life was so uncomplicated?") I was a member of a couple of Star Trek fan clubs, STAG (Star Trek Action Group) and Starship Excalibur. I also used to go to Star Trek conventions, and I wrote Con Reports for the newsletters of the clubs. In a way, I was blogging even then, but in those days I would type it out on a manual typewriter, and send it off to the club secretary. She (and presumably her minions) would then type it out as part of the newsletter, make photocopies, and send them by post to the members, once every two or three months. And if we wanted to reply to a letter or article in the newsletter, we had to wait three months for it to appear!

So here is the Con Report for Sol III, 1985, just as I wrote it:

"Friday: We reached Liverpool from London about the same time as the opening ceremony. The Adelphi Hotel is a mere stone's throw from the railway station, and Reception proved to be quite spectacularly Edwardian, with a mirrored ceiling and lots of marble and gilt. We discovered that the hotel had been modelled on a luxury passenger liner when it was built in 1914. The washstand in our room was original marble (so was the plaster, complete with cracks, but otherwise the room was very comfortable).
The mezzanine level was even more impressive than reception, dotted with potted palms among the seats, with more marble pillars and gilt. All the rooms were off this central area, with the main hall through a hypostyle, more pillars and mirrors. There were a lot of new faces about - first time attendees had a green star on their badges; and a few costumes were already in evidence, including a very good Imperial Klingon who, I learned later, reacted completely in character to a passing tribble - leaping about eight feet backwards.

Saturday: Rose fairly early, and then spent three-quarters of an hour trying to put some new blue make-up on evenly. It was really too dark for an Andorian, and as per usual I hadn't tried it out pre-Con. I went down to breakfast looking like a blue panda, and found that the waiters were extremely helpful (perhaps this had something to do with the split in my skirt from ankle to waist). The poor staff were coping very well, considering that this was their first Con.
Then to the main hall, for James White's talk, which he read with a magnifying glass, as he suffers from a diabetic eye complaint. He was very amusing, for instance about his early days as a writer, when the carriage return on his aged typewriter was three cans of baked beans in a string bag. (N.B. All my quotes are paraphrases, more or less). "Press 'release' and let gravity and baked beans do the rest.... at least I knew that I would never starve as an aspiring author." James White wrote the Sector General hospital books, and other 'hard' SF, and was curious as to why a Star Trek con had invited a member of the 'lunatic fringe' to talk. He also told a rather involved and very funny story about intelligent plankton who wove themselves into a tartan carpet under stress.
Shortly after this, while collecting a drink (orange and lemonade, I hasten to add) I was approached by someone who asked me if I would like to speak on local radio! "Good grief!" I said, followed by "Yes, of course." Being told to go down to the registration desk in ten minutes, I had no sooner taken a sip of my drink when I was approached by a chap with a badge marked 'PRESS' in large friendly letters. Would I mind having my picture taken? So off we went to the art room, where the light was good, and he took several pictures, including a closeup of my by now blotchy blue make-up. He borrowed a pen from a passer-by to take my name and species, and said that my picture would be in Monday's Liverpool Daily Post. Gosh, fame at last! Then I went down to the registration desk, to have my picture taken again, in a group shot with all the other costumed fans they'd been able to round up. It turned out to be a local hospital radio service, and they interviewed James White, me, an Australian midwife who works in Harrow (dressed in a 14th century ball gown, having got the century wrong when she decided to visit Earth), Miri Rana in Starfleet uniform, and a Vulcan ambassador and STAB member, Robert Wooder. It was during the general chatting after recording the interview that it was mentioned that a group of educationally subnormal children would be coming with their teacher on Sunday morning, as a way of introducing them fairly gently to strangers in the outside world. (I didn't actually see them, being busy elsewhere - and if this is the outside world, lets have more of it!)
I arrived back in the main hall in time for Mark Lenard's talk. As on his last visit at Aucon 81, he was an excellent speaker, and told many anecdotes about the series and the two films. He got us all to repeat his Klingonese phrases from the first film. "The green slime was coming towards us. I was shaking, the camera was shaking, I was shaking the chair, and I had to look up and try to act...."
In the evening I changed my make-up for a paler blue greasepaint which I've used before. The standard of the fancy dress was as usual high. The best Trek entry was the priestess T'wit, keeper of the marbles on Mount Seleya. She was looking for the miscreant who had robbed her of a great prize i.e. Spock's katra. "She pauses... (she points at Mark Lenard on the judge's table)...but no - the eyebrows are wrong and the ears are wrong.... Perchance she will have more luck in London where she has heard of a certain Elgin, who has a great collection of marbles...."
The end of the competition was enlivened by the kidnap of Sarek of Vulcan by STAB, the statutory murder of Chris Chivers and Anne Page being forced around the audience so that paper money could be put in her garter. £110.53 was collected up off the dance floor.

Sunday: Sat with a lady called Susan Broughton and her mother for Lisa Tuttle's talkk, which was much concerned with sexual equality, how she discovered SF and started writing and what it was like to be an American living in England. She thought it a good thing for an SF writer to always have the edge of feeling a little bit alien, and suggested that the same thing gets people into SF fandom - feeling a little bit different from 'normal' people.
While at lunch, Mark Lenard wandered by. "My, aren't we pretty?" he said to me. "You're an um...?"
"Andorian," I supplied, trying not to grin stupidly. "That a Vulcan ambassador could forget names is acceptable - but species?) He spoke again in the afternoon, mostly about other shows he'd been in, like 'The Wild, Wild West', 'Buck Rogers', (as an ambassador who could remove his head) and 'Mission Impossible'. He also demonstrated on a small boy from the audience, how the latex appliance for Urko in 'Planet of the Apes' had been put on. He was also in 'The Greatest Story Ever Told' when, as a magi, he fell off his camel.
A STAG meeting took up the earlier part of the afternoon, with its own slide show quiz. Questions ranged from the serious - 'name the episode' - to the ridiculous - 'name the kid in the yellow shirt' (who happened to be Kirk) or 'name this brain and his two friends'. Best answer came to a slide which actually showed Spock leaving the bridge in 'Amok Time', to which the question was 'where is Spock going?' The answer: 'To re-negotiate his contract.'
(Best T-shirt of the Con, by the way, was "My Ceti Eel died of hunger").
The evening was taken up with the Heroes and Villains party - I got my free drink by saying I was Thelev's sister from Journey to Babel, and also an Orion spy. This got me shot by a friend dressed as Blake, after asking if there was a bounty on me. There was a great variety of costumes, including the sixth Doctor, the Master, a Skeksis, cowboys, Supergirl, Princess Irulan and the Shadout Mapes, and several devils with tridents. We stayed for the Starfleet Academy Challenge - the questions ranged from general media and books to specialist sections on a ST character, episode and film, and were really quite hard. The PARSEC team was a worthy winner with 84 points.

Monday: And the programme was running late again, in true con tradition. We arrived in the main hall for the end of 'Beastmaster', which Tim Broadribb had volunteered to put on at 7.30am for those who had missed it on Friday evening. There was a guest panel before the closing ceremony, when it was announced that the money collected for the various charities would come to nearly £2,000 when it all came in and was counted. Mark Lenard had brought some pictures to sell for the US Diabetics and the proceeds were split evenly with the British Diabetics charity, the rest of the money raised going to the main charity, the Anthony Nolan Bone Marrow Appeal. One sponsored swimmer raised over £100 single-handed! And finally, back to London (and my picture never did get into the Daily Post).

Good grief - it all comes flooding back! I went to the con with Pat Keen - I was living with her in London at the time - and most of the names I mentioned were famous fans. Miri Rana was a lovely retired lady who loved all the dressing up and was very popular - everybody knew Miri. Chris Chivers did technical things with soundboards and things, and I think he also worked at Andromeda Bookshop. Anne Page was actually collecting for the con charity and was in on the whole thing (which was why she was wearing the garter in the first place). And Tim Broadribb was the projectionist at many Cons. I honestly don't remember anything about STAB.

In the same newsletter was the news that DeForest Kelley was coming to the UK for the first time; Theodore Sturgeon had died; Riverdale, Iowa had declared itself to be the birthplace of Captain Kirk, and Thom Christopher was trying to interest Hollywood in a film or TV series of The Ship Who Sang, after he and Anne McCaffrey had done a reading from the book at a previous con.