Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Age of Uncertainty: Star Trek - The HR Perspective

The Age of Uncertainty: Star Trek - The HR Perspective: I watched an episode of Star Trek yesterday, for the first time in years. The episode was called 'The Immunity Syndrome'. I have fon...

Friday, 25 July 2014

The King's Arrow

Here's a picture from the prologue of The Minister of Chance, where the King of Tanto is practicing archery at his country retreat, which is actually Little Moreton Hall in Cheshire.
The production team are trying to raise quite a modest sum of money to make a full film of the audio drama that is already available online (which is brilliantly written, and full of great actors) and to do this they are selling some of the props on ebay.
And I got one of the King's arrows!
I think this will make a very fine addition to my re-enactment quiver!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Stephen Bodio's Querencia: Found Object

Stephen Bodio's Querencia: Found Object: From Paul McCormack:

More women warriors, in a most unlikely place! What a pity it seems to be a hoax!

Sunday, 20 July 2014

A Free Man on Sunday

Here's another of the byways of history that is easily passed by - the mass trespass of Kinder Scout.
It seems strange now to think of the Ramblers' Association as a radical communist movement! Yet in the late 1920s and 1930s a walk in the countryside could be met by hostile farmers and gamekeepers with shotguns, and there was a militant left wing group of ramblers calling themselves Red Grouse. The working people from the industrial towns of the north wanted to get out on their days off to fresh air and countryside, and the landowners wanted to keep the walkers off their land, even where public footpaths existed.
The differences between the two culminated in the mass trespass on the moorland around Kinder Scout in the Peak District in 1932. Trespass was not a criminal offence (and still isn't), but half a dozen men were sent to prison for between two and six months after violent scuffles with the gamekeepers who were trying to keep the walkers off the mountain. The moors were kept for grouse shooting at the time, and were owned by the Duke of Devonshire. Undeterred by the threat of prison sentences, ten thousand ramblers gathered a few weeks later for a walk up Winnat's Pass, nearby.

The only way most people get to hear about this now is through Ewan McColl's song The Manchester Rambler, which has the refrain: "I may be a wage slave on Monday, but I am a free man on Sunday" and includes a verse where a walker argues with a gamekeeper:
"well, he called me a louse, and said 'Think of the grouse'". Most of the ramblers who went on the mass trespass came from Manchester.
There's also an excellent children's book about the mass trespass by Fay Sampson called A Free Man on Sunday - she also wrote the Pangur Ban series for children, a Celtic fantasy involving a white cat, an Irish monk and an Irish princess - and a magical dolphin. She's also written Arthurian fantasy and (more unusually) Sumerian fantasy based around the goddess Inanna.
The mass trespass was the first event in the struggle to open up the countryside to the public, and paved the way for the first National Parks, which were created after the Second World War. The Right to Roam is now enshrined in law, in the 2000 Countryside and Rights of Way Act. On the 70th anniversary of the mass trespass, a commemorative walk was held, and the present Duke of Devonshire apologised for the actions of his grandfather in 1932. Benny Rothman, who was one of the leaders of the mass trespass and was sentenced to six months imprisonment for his part in it, lived to see the Right to Roam legislation - he died in 2002 at the age of 90.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Friday, 18 July 2014

The Tolpuddle Martyrs

I first heard about the Tolpuddle Martyrs on Blue Peter. In the days of Valerie Singleton, John Noakes and Peter Purves, Blue Peter was a source of all sorts of interesting information which I still remember today.
It was 1834, just after the Captain Swing riots, and a group of men in Dorset decided to form a trade union to protest about their low wages - they were getting 6/- a week at that time. It was called the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers. Forming a trade union was legal - but they were arrested for swearing an illegal oath when they joined. The law that was used had actually been passed to deal with the naval mutiny of 1797, and had never been repealed. The jury at the trial was packed with landowners and magistrates who opposed the rights of working men to band together to negotiate a fair wage, and the six men were transported to Australia.
And then there was a public backlash against the severity of the sentence. Petitions were signed (with 800,000 signatures), there was a protest march - 30,000 people marching up Whitehall, and most of the men were freed and were able to return home.
There's now a Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum, and there's a festival in the village every year to commemorate the men, usually the third week in July - so just around now. People like Tony Benn and Billy Bragg have attended, because of the importance of the Martyrs to the history of the trades union movement. The website is

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Captain Swing

Last night I was over at a local musical evening (it's an 'open mic night' without any microphones) and a local poet performed a poem about the last men to be executed in England at the scene of their crime. The poem started a discussion about the forgotten history of working people in this country, like the Captain Swing riots.
In 1830, three men burned the hay ricks of a farmer, in protest at low agricultural wages (7/6 a week, which was low even by the standards of the time, and caused great hardship among the working poor) and were hanged for it.
This was part of the Captain Swing protests - they were campaigning for higher wages, higher levels of parish relief (the benefit system of the time) and against the new threshing machines which were taking away their jobs. Agricultural wages were so low that families depended on the parish relief to survive. The situation was not dis-similar to today, where the bulk of the benefit bill is paid to people who are in employment but who cannot survive on the low wages they receive.
Captain Swing was probably not a real person, but the name was used by the protesters when they sent threatening letters to farmers who owned threshing machines or paid low wages, usually before the farmer's hay ricks or barns were burned down, or their threshing machine destroyed.
William Cobbett, who wrote about agricultural reform, among other things, observed the change in agricultural practice. Large farms originally employed farm servants, who lived at the farm and got bed and board, on year long contracts. This was changing to the hiring of casual day labourers, who came in to do the work but lived elsewhere, and were only paid for the days they worked rather than for the whole year.
Cobbett said that the farmers preferred this, as it was cheaper for them than having live-in farm servants. It was, of course, worse for the labourers, especially when there was a surplus of people looking for work.
The authorities cracked down on the protests brutally, sentencing 500 people across England to transportation to Van Diemen's Land, as Tasmania was then known. Around 19 people were executed.
However, agricultural wages did rise a little, for a while, to as much as 10/- a week
and threshing machines fell out of general use.

The next stage for the labourers was unionisation....

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Sally Heathcote, Suffragette

Google tells me it's Emmeline Pankhurst's birthday today (she would have been 156), so it seemed appropriate to talk about Sally Heathcote, the heroine of the graphic novel by Mary Talbot, Kate Charlesworth (the illustrator) and Bryan Talbot.

The first thing to say is that I've learned a lot about my own local history from this book. I grew up in Manchester, and that's where the story starts, in the household of Mrs Pankhurst. Sally is in service there, and later moves to London where the headquarters of the Votes for Women movement were.

I'm about half way through the book at the moment, and enjoying it immensely. It includes leaders of the movement I'd never heard of (it wasn't all the Pankhursts, though they are the most famous suffragettes), like the Pethick-Lawrences, and Emily Wilding Davison, the woman who threw herself under the King's race horse, who Sally meets when she goes up to Edinburgh for a demonstration.

It's very good at showing the gradual hardening of attitudes among the politicians of the time. First, women asked questions at public meetings about votes for women - and were thrown out. Then they were banned from attending the public meetings, so they protested outside. Then they started getting arrested. When they demanded the status of political prisoners they were refused, so they went on hunger strike - which led to force feeding, and the notorious Cat and Mouse Act, by which a woman would be released from prison when she was weak from her hunger strike, and re-arrested as soon as she had recovered.
But the women didn't go away, and they didn't stop asking the Establishment for the vote.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Queues at London Film and Comic Con

My Young Man went to London Film and Comic Con this weekend, organised by Showmasters. He'd booked his tickets in advance, and paid for a photo with Stan Lee (which he was really looking forward to). So it was somewhat disappointing for him (to put it mildly) to be stuck in a queue outside the venue for four hours when he should have been inside - he missed the time slot for the photo, and he only had about two hours inside the venue to belt round to see what he could before it closed for the evening.

I've just been looking at the London Film and Comic Con website. At the very least, I would have expected some sort of apology on the home page to the many people who were stuck outside and unable to see all the things they had been expecting to see, particularly when they had paid in advance for those things. However, all the home page says is that there are (were) plenty of tickets available at the door on the day.

A reputable company would refund the money that their customers had paid for photos and autographs that they were unable to get because they were outside in a queue - the fault clearly lies with the organisers. And where tickets were being bought in advance, so the organisers had some idea of the numbers coming, I wouldn't expect there to be long queues at all.
My Young Man doesn't expect to get his money back - and it doesn't look as if Showmasters are about to apologise.
He tells me that the same company organised the March Comic Con at Excel - which was smaller, but there were no problems with queuing to get in there.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Iron Man and Captain Britain

I picked up a copy of the new Marvel comic yesterday - with Guardians of the Galaxy, Daredevil and Avengers Arena in it. With the film coming out shortly, I wanted to see what the Guardians are like in the comics. On the whole, I really enjoyed the story, but there was one moment....

So, Iron Man has teamed up with the Guardians of the Galaxy, and they are thwarting an alien invasion over London. Communications are out, so Tony Stark can't summon the other American Avengers to help.
"Hey, Stark," Starlord says, in the middle of the battle, "are there any London-based superhero initiatives? Any British X-men?"
"There is a Captain Britain," says Tony.
"Is he any good?"
"Not really."

Cheeky beggar! Or at least, the writer Brian Michael Bendis is, for putting those words in Iron Man's mouth!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Breakfast in Dorne

Some time ago, I treated myself to A Feast of Ice and Fire, the official Game of Thrones cookbook. It's a mouthwatering collection, which came out of the blog Inn at the Crossroads, and has been endorsed by George RR Martin, who says he has tried several of the dishes that have been included. "I can't cook," he says in the introduction, but fans have turned up to book signings across the United States with lemon cakes and meat pies and other goodies for him to try.
The book is helpfully laid out with an original medieval or Roman or Elizabethan recipe, followed by a modern equivalent, and has a quotation from the books for each recipe - and lots of glossy pictures of the food.

I haven't actually tried any of the recipes yet, but I have eggs I need to use up, so last night I looked through the book and found the recipe for "Breakfast in Dorne". It's hot weather here at the moment, just right for the spicy food that Dorne seems to specialise in. The book is American, of course, so some of the terms are unfamiliar. Along with the eggs, there are various sorts of peppers - I'm pretty confident I know what a jalapeno pepper is, but the bell peppers are divided into "orange" and "cherry - in different colours", and I really have no idea what cubanelle or poblano peppers are! (I know, Google is my friend....).
More to the point, I don't think my local friendly greengrocer knows what the different sorts of peppers are, either. So I bought a selection of peppers that are available here, and I'm good to go! In fact, at the end of the recipe, the authors suggest improvisation, according to how spicy you want the dish to be.
So that's tomorrow evening's dinner organised - and if it goes well, perhaps I'll move on to a Sansa salad, or white beans and bacon - but maybe not the honey-spiced locusts from Meereen!

Saturday, 5 July 2014

"Chappie with Wings - Five Rounds Rapid!"

I'm not really a collector of action figures, but when I got my present computer, and discovered that it came with a Hub, I decided that I really needed a Captain Jack Harkness to defend it for me. There he is, in the shirt and braces.
Behind him is Rory Williams, because Rory is just lovely, and beside them is the Brigadier.
The Brig is one of my favourite characters in Doctor Who, and I was disappointed to find that there isn't an individual action figure of him. However, he does come as a part of several sets, and the best of the sets from my point of view was the Daemons set - so I got the Master and Bok the demon as a bonus!
Now, if only they did a Sergeant Benton....

Friday, 4 July 2014

Neverwhere and The Bull from the Sea

I've just been looking at some pictures of the cast of Neverwhere, the Neil Gaiman story set mostly in the parallel world of London Below. There's the climactic scene where Hunter goes after the Great Beast of London, and is gored, leaving Richard Mayhew to finish the job. It had always reminded me of something....

One of the great Cretan bulls, bred for the bull leaping arena, where teams of young men and women danced around them, risking death - you can see the frescos at Knossos - has been shipwrecked on the Greek coast near Athens, and is terrorising the area. Mary Renault brings the scene vividly to life in her book The Bull from the Sea.
She was using the legends of Theseus as her inspiration. In the first book, The King Must Die, he goes to Crete as part of the Athenian tribute, and becomes the leader of a bull leaping team. At the start of the second book, he is back in Athens, as King, and the team has broken up and gone back to their families.
And then this bull appears, and only a bull leaper can deal with it. Two girls from the team go to try, and Theseus arrives just in time to see them fail.
"He gores to the right...." are the last words of Thebe, warning Theseus before he finishes the job of capturing the bull.

The audio book version has the magnificent Michael York reading the story (I shall always think of Theseus with his voice, now) but of course it was abridged, and the bull girls are left out - which is a pity, because it is one of my favourite scenes from the book.