Tuesday, 28 July 2015

The Roof at Manchester Victoria Railway Station

I heard the other day that Manchester Victoria had been having a massive face-lift - after it had been voted Britain's worst railway station in 2009. Apparently they have taken off the old glass roof and replaced it with something more fitting for the 21st century as part of the upgrade. "Well," said the chap who told me, "it always used to leak anyway."

But I was thinking of a story my gran used to tell.

During the Second World War, my gran was travelling into Manchester Victoria from Bury (I think) with my mum, then a small baby, in a pram. Prams in those days were enormous, unwieldy beasts, and she could only travel in the guard's van. Which is why she was forgotten when the train was cleared of passengers at Victoria.
So she comes struggling off the guard's van and starts wheeling the pram down the platform - and comes face to face with a Luftwaffe officer! He was in handcuffs between two guards, presumably being taken to a prisoner of war camp. Outside the station, there was a crowd shouting at him through the locked railings - this was after Manchester had taken quite a bit of bomb damage, after all, and they wouldn't have been kindly disposed towards him if they'd got their hands on him.
Nana remembered him ignoring the crowd, and looking up at the roof of the station, with the glass shattered by bomb blasts, and she said he looked very satisfied, and pleased with what the German bombers had accomplished. Then she was hustled away and let out of a side door.
So I always used to look up at that old roof when I went through there, and think of my gran meeting the Luftwaffe officer.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Swallows and Amazons Forever!

I happened to hear on Radio 4 the other day that a new film of Swallows and Amazons is being made!
There is a film already, which is practically perfect, but it was made in 1974, so maybe this would be a good time to re-visit the story. As they said on the radio, children today almost never get a chance to do what those children did, camping out on Wild Cat Island without adult supervision (as long as they collected the milk from the farm every morning, they were assumed to be okay), sailing on the lake (and no life jackets in 1930!), with their father's permission for the holiday coming in a telegram worded "If not duffers, won't drown."
The island is real - Peel Island on Coniston Water, but the lake is a mixture of Coniston and Windermere.
The children were real, too, or at least very closely modelled on a real family, the Altounyans, who were taught to sail by Arthur Ransome.
According to the Arthur Ransome Trust, there may be one important change to the character names - Titty will become Tatty, to prevent sniggering at the back.

I hope they get it right!

Friday, 24 July 2015

Trowelblazers - Lina Eckenstein

I'd heard of Flinders Petrie, of course - you can't really avoid knowing his name if you have any interest in Egyptian archaeology. What I hadn't realised, though, is that he couldn't have achieved what he did without his wife Hilda and their friend Lina Eckenstein. Hilda Petrie took charge of the workers on the digs, and led expeditions, and Lina recorded the finds and made sure they were packed safely when they were sent back to wherever they were supposed to go. She also worked with Margaret Murray on these expeditions.
She wrote A History of Sinai in 1921, about the dig at Serabit el-Khadim, and theorised that it was the site of the Biblical Mount Sinai, in part because of the temple of Hathor they found there, which might be the origin of the story of the Golden Calf. The earliest recorded Semitic inscriptions were found here. It was also the site of mining activity - Hathor the cow goddess is associated with mining (though it seems to be a fairly strange association!).
This was one of several books she wrote on Egypt, including one which compared an Egyptian painted scene with the nursery rhyme Who Killed Cock Robin. She also wrote important scholarly works about medieval monastic women, including Hildegard of Bingen, whose life and writings were little known at the time.

Friday, 17 July 2015

The Buccaneers

Here's Robert Shaw, about to give the order to fire cannons in the opening sequence of The Buccaneers.
The series was made by the same studio that made Robin Hood with Richard Greene, and at about the same time. It's maybe not quite as good as Robin Hood, but it's still enormous fun, and it's sad that it wasn't repeated very often. It's terribly dated now, of course, and was made very much with children in mind (the sort of child I was, who also loved Errol Flynn movies, though I suspect the makers were only thinking of boys).
Captain Dan Tempest was a reformed (sort of) pirate, working with Lt. Beamish of New Providence and getting involved with the Spanish, other pirates, searches for treasure, damsels in distress (or damsels perfectly able to hold their own, in the case of guest Joan Sims and her companions). Quite often, the villains of the week were corrupt British officials, so Dan and his crew were fighting redcoats.
There was some attempt to tie the events into real history, so the governor of the island (never seen after the first couple of episodes) was Woodes Rogers, who really was the governor of New Providence.
Dan was assisted by a multi-national crew - Armando the Spaniard (and where the script called for it, half-Indian), Taffy the Welshman and Gaff the Londoner, with Dickon as ship's boy in some episodes (introduced in the episode The Wasp, where he was working for Blackbeard).
There are some interesting guest stars, some of whom worked on Robin Hood as well - Sid James before the Carry On films, for instance (he was also a moneyer - maker of silver coins - in Robin Hood), Roger Delgado as a Spanish captain (who wonderfully at one point has the line "I am the master now" as he takes over the governor's mansion on New Providence briefly).
There are 39 episodes in all, some better than others of course, but the best are well plotted, and full of humour - and there's always a sword fight (and Dan always wins!).
I've just finished the box set, and I recommend it to anyone who likes old pirate films.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Klingon in the Welsh Assembly

There are times when the Welsh Assembly really does something with style!
Here's the story from boing.boing:

"Darren Millar, the Shadow Minister for Health and Social Services in Wales, posed three questions to Welsh economy, science and transport minister Edwina Hart about recent UFO sightings and funding research into the phenomena. A Welsh government spokesperson responded in Klingon:

Jang vIDa je due luq. 'ach ghotvam'e' QI'yaH devolve qaS.

Translation: "The minister will reply in due course. However this is a non-devolved matter."

"I've always suspected that Labour ministers came from another planet," Millar said. "This response confirms it." "

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Charles Stross: The Apocalypse Codex

I first saw Charles Stross at WorldCon last year - his novella Equoid won the Hugo.
I saw him again at EasterCon this year, making a great double act with Jim Butcher on stage, discussing such serious topics as how a werewolf might be affected by the Dangerous Dogs Act.
I'd somehow got the impression that he wrote horror, which is not something that I enjoy reading, but after seeing him on stage I thought I'd at least have a try of his Laundry Files series.
I can take horror if it's also funny, and this is very funny. The hero, Bob Howard, has a very witty turn of phrase. It's also more like an occult James Bond story than I was expecting, with their equivalent of "Q Division" handing out gadgets powered by ceremonial magic via laptops. And he's spot on with the descriptions of civil service bureaucracy, with Bob worrying about keeping receipts for his expenses along with the sorcery.
Of course, the book I picked up at random turned out to be number 4 in the series, but it was fairly easy to work out what was going on.
And now I'll have to get the others - I've just found myself another favourite author.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Women Warriors - Mai Bhag Kaur

Mai Bhag Kaur, or Mai Bhago, was a Sikh at the beginning of the 18th century. At this time, the Mughal Empire was trying to stamp out Sikhism, and the tenth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh, was besieged at Anandpur.
Forty of the Sikh soldiers there asked to be allowed to leave - the position seemed hopeless. Mai Bhag Kaur followed them, talked them into going back, and led them in a desperate battle against the Mughal forces - the Battle of Muktsar in 1705. All of them died, and Mai was badly wounded, but the Mughal army fled.
The forty soldiers are now known as the Forty Liberated Ones, and Mai Bhag Kaur became the Tenth Guru's bodyguard.
There is a shrine to her memory at Gurdwara Tap Asthan Mai Bhago.