Saturday, 31 December 2016

Eagle Huntress

I went to see this film last night, about a 13 year old girl who wanted to follow in her father's footsteps and become an eagle huntress. Her name is Aisholpan, and the film showed her helping with her father's eagle, and at school where she boarded during the week with her little brother and sister (the school being too far away from the family home to go daily), climbing down the cliff to take an eaglet from the nest to train for herself, and on to the annual Eagle Festival, where she was the first girl to take part, competing against around 70 men up to the age of 80.
It was amusing to see interviews with some of the male eagle hunters, who trotted out all the usual rubbish excuses for why a girl couldn't do what they did - and then after the Festival, when she had won the gold trophy, they all had a long awkward silence before they said that it didn't really count, and she wouldn't be able to put up with the conditions of a real eagle hunt in the winter.
So her dad, who was brilliant, and supported her all the way, took her out to catch her first fox with her eagle.
It's a wonderful film, full of beautiful photography, and narrated by Daisy Ridley, who played Rey in The Force Awakens earlier this year.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Debbie Reynolds

I've just been watching the "Good Morning!" clip from Singing in the Rain. What talented people they were - Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly, all tap dancing together.
They don't make films like that any more!
It's nice that the first thing people are thinking of in tribute to Debbie Reynolds is such a cheerful song.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Richard Adams

I cried when Hazel went with El-Ahrairah at the end of the book when I first read it - it's beautifully done. The book was adapted very well done on Radio 4 recently, too, and worth looking out for. I never really liked any of his other books, but I think this one deserves to join the classics.

It was beautifully done in the film, as well.
Richard Adams was 96, and it seems, like Hazel, he was feeling tired, so he left his body behind to go with the Prince with a Thousand Enemies and join his Owsla.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Monday, 26 December 2016

Agent Carter

I actually got the Season 2 DVD a little before Christmas - I don't watch TV all that fast!
But I had been looking forward to this, after loving Season 1, and it didn't disappoint. Whitney Frost was a satisfying villainess, Peggy Carter had two handsome men to choose from in the romantic stakes, and a fairly brutal heart to heart conversation with Jarvis - and we finally got to meet Mrs Jarvis, who was delightful. Dottie Underwood is back, too, and looks fantastic in a black evening dress while beating up bad guys. And Rose from the front office and Dr Samberley (who no-one likes) get to go on an important mission.
The scene shifted from last season's New York to Los Angeles (Howard Stark has started making movies), and there's a lot about old white men keeping power to themselves, while women and people of colour (like Whitney and Jason Wilkes the black scientist) are marginalised.
Also a lot of rats are killed.
Jack (now SSR Chief in New York) is seduced by the Dark Side, and people watch nuclear explosions with no protection apart from sunglasses.
The last scene is a set up for a third season - I do hope they make one!

Monday, 19 December 2016

A Cyclone of Scorpions

My Young Man has been to stay, and we watched many DVDs. I introduced him to The Librarians (he loved the Christmas episode, and the film involving vampires) and he introduced me to Scorpion, which he told me was kind of like The Librarians but solving real world problems instead of magic.
I really enjoyed the pilot episode (I've seen three so far, and it's all good), because it is incredibly clever people solving problems by thinking rather than shooting at stuff. It's even more impressive that the pilot episode is based on a true event in the life of the real Walter O'Brien (the leader of the Scorpion company). There was a day when the computers at LAX airport went down, with over 50 planes in the air needing to land, and they fixed it.
I'm not entirely sure that it involved a jet airliner flying very low over an airfield while a Ferrari sped underneath it, but it was a thrilling sequence!
I also like the way that the four geniuses - Walter, Sylvester, Toby and Happy - take 9 year old Ralph under their wings, because he's growing up a genius too, and having trouble adapting to the world. They're not just brilliant at what they do - they are also kind enough to take time to play chess with a lonely kid, and tell him that the collective noun for scorpions is a cyclone, and now he's part of the cyclone.
Ralph's mother, Paige, becomes their liason with the outside world, because they have trouble dealing with ordinary people, too. The group is being "handled" by Homeland Security agent Cabe Gallo, who gets their cases for them.
It's kind of on the edge of SF, bordering on real life, and I think I'm going to enjoy the rest of the series.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Happy Birthday, Kirk Douglas

The Vikings had a big influence on me as a child - I still love that film!
And now Kirk Douglas is 100 years old - some good news in a year with so many celebrity deaths.

Friday, 9 December 2016

John Glenn Has Died

This is what a hero looks like!
He was the third American in space, and the first to orbit the Earth, in the Friendship 7, in 1962.
At the age of 95, he was the last surviving member of that first group of astronauts, known as the Mercury 7.
He was also a pilot during the Second World War and the Korean War, earning six Distinguished Flying Crosses as well as other awards, going on to become a top test pilot.
And he was a friend of the Kennedy family, and a US Senator for Ohio for 24 years, as a Democrat.
When he retired from politics, he went back into space, at the age of 77, on the shuttle Discovery, as part of experiments on aging in space, making him the oldest human who has ever gone into space.
And he was married to his childhood sweetheart for 73 years. He married Anna in 1943, just after he joined the Marine Corps. She survives him.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Seshat, Egyptian Goddess of Writing

Why have I never heard of this goddess before?
I've been familiar with Thoth, her consort, since I read The Tales of Ancient Egypt by Roger Lancelyn Green (the classic Puffin edition) at junior school, but I don't recall ever coming across Seshat, with the odd seven pointed thing hovering over her head, before.
And she's really very interesting - her name means "she who is the scribe", and she is often depicted inscribing the years of a pharaoh's reign on a palm leaf rib. She was the goddess of wisdom, writing and mathematics, which also included astronomy, architecture and surveying, and building (for which accurate mathematics was required). Knowledge of history was another of her attributes. She recorded the spoils of war, and the speeches of the pharaohs, and was part of the ceremony of "stretching the cord", the surveying tool which was used for accurate measurement in building, and symbol of the power of the pharaoh. As a funerary goddess, she kept the memory of the dead alive by writing an account of their lives.
She was also known as Mistress of the House of Books - her priests oversaw the library, and she was supposed to look after the library of heaven. In Spell 10 of the Coffin Texts, it says: "Seshat opens the door of heaven for you." Sounds like a library to me! Though it could also refer to her astronomical attributes. Sadly, she doesn't seem to have a temple in her honour, though I suppose any library would fulfill that role.
She is usually shown wearing a leopard skin, or a dress spotted like a leopard skin - symbolic of the stars and night sky.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Not So Shiny

I heard today that Ron Glass, who played Shepherd Book in Firefly, has just died, aged 71. I liked the character from the moment Kaylee told him he was coming aboard.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Trowelblazers - Blanche Williams

Here's another archaeologist who concentrated on Ancient Greece.

Blanche Williams studied archaeology, as well as Greek, Latin and art, at Smith University, where she became a friend of another trowelblazer, Harriet Boyd. After graduation, she taught Latin, Greek and English at her aunt's school in Providence, Rhode Island, and conducted tours of Europe with students.
In 1898, she visited Greece and Italy with Harriet Boyd and Mary Waring, and in 1900, she visited Crete, where she discovered a Bronze Age beehive tomb at Hierapetra. She presented her findings at a meeting of the Philadelphia Archaeological Institute, and so impressed them that they funded her 1901 and 1903 excavations.
In 1901, she worked with Harriet Boyd (a more experienced archaeologist) at Avgo, where she drew the maps of the site and the finds. Later they moved to Gournia, where they discovered an ancient Minoan complex. At its height, the dig employed 110 diggers, under the supervision of Harriet Boyd, who went on to dig the site over several seasons.
In 1904, Blanche got married, to Emile Francis Williams, an oriental rug importer from Boston. She wrote essays about Minoan archaeology, and contributed to a book about the Isthmus of Heiropetra in 1908, but did no more field work.
She died in 1936.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Closing Channel D

Robert Vaughn has just died, aged 83 - another childhood hero gone. Here he is in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. as suave spy Napoleon Solo.
He was also the last remaining member of the Magnificent Seven.

Remembrance Day

A picture from the Somme 100 commemoration, when re-enactors in First World War uniform appeared in London railway stations.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Voting for Susan

Apparently, when you vote in the US you get a sticker which says "I Voted".
Some people have been going to the grave of Susan B Anthony to put their stickers on her gravestone.
So who was Susan B Anthony?
I've been looking her up, and she was pretty awesome.
Born into a Quaker family in 1820, she campaigned against slavery, in favour of Temperance, and for equal rights for women and African Americans. She worked with Elizabeth Cady Stanton to campaign for women's right to vote.
In 1872, she was arrested for voting in the presidential election in her home town of Rochester, New York. She refused to pay the fine.
A celebrity in her later life, thanks to her tireless campaigning, she was invited to spend her 80th birthday at the White House with President McKinley. She died at the age of 86, in 1906, and is buried at Rochester, having seen many changes for the better in the position of women during her life.
In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment, giving women the right to vote, was ratified - and was widely known as the Susan B Anthony Amendment. Since then, her face has been on postage stamps and a dollar coin.
But she never saw a woman running for President, which leads me to this extract from the Wikipedia page:

"In 2016, Lovely Warren, the mayor of Rochester, put a red, white and blue sign next to Anthony's grave the day after Hillary Clinton obtained the nomination at the Democratic National Convention; the sign stated, "Dear Susan B., we thought you might like to know that for the first time in history, a woman is running for president representing a major party. 144 years ago, your illegal vote got you arrested. It took another 48 years for women to finally gain the right to vote. Thank you for paving the way."[203] The city of Rochester put pictures of the message on Twitter and requested that residents go to Anthony's grave to sign it.[203]"

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Season One of The Librarians

Beware! Here Be Spoilers!

I enjoyed The Librarians so much that I've ordered Season Two and the three films that came before the series. This is just the sort of light hearted, witty, fun TV that I like!
Two or three episodes into the series, I remembered why the name Christian Kane sounded so familiar. He's the actor who plays Jacob Stone, the oil rigger/art history expert - and he used to be Lindsey MacDonald, the evil lawyer who worked for Wolfram and Hart in Angel! This time, he's firmly on the side of the angels (though I did wonder if he was going to suffer from "evil hand issues").
It took me a while to work out what sort of accent John Kim (playing Ezekiel Jones) was using - but eventually someone mentioned that he's supposed to be Australian....

So, our intrepid heroes and heroines are sent on several missions, usually by the Clippings Book, which collects information about magical happenings around the world, but once by a phone call from Mother Christmas (or "Gretchen" as Jenkins called her) for a delightful Christmas episode in which Santa is seen in several different manifestations, including Odin, and we learn that Colonel Baird's first name (which she hates) is Eve, because she was born on Christmas Eve.
There are also dragons, a haunted house, a labyrinth with a Minotaur (in Boston), and all the cast have the opportunity to do different things - as Ezekiel learns what it's like to be Santa, for instance (he doesn't like it), or Cassandra becomes Prince Charming in a town (named Bremen) where fairy tales are coming true.
We also learn, through the series, that Jenkins is something more than he initially appears (a knowledgeable recluse who just wants to be left alone to do his research) - especially when Morgan le Fay recognises him. That was in the episode about the high school science fair, which had a guest star (Bex Taylor-Klaus) who I recognised as the street kid in Arrow who idolises Black Canary. This time she was playing a brilliant science nerd (with an appalling mother and a Goth boyfriend).
Flynn Carson turns up occasionally through the series, as the original Librarian who is searching for a way to retrieve the Library from the Void - and the very last episode ties together all the previous episodes in one long arc, very neatly indeed. It seemed that each quest was random and self-contained, but they brought together everything they needed to magically restore the Library by the end. Of course, Dulaque and the Serpent Brotherhood are also in the background, also wanting to get their hands on the Library.
It's fairly obvious who Dulaque used to be - there's an Arthurian strand running through the series, and Morgan le Fay turns up half way through - and the reveal of Jenkins as the only Knight of the Round Table who could best Lancelot was glorious!

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Women Warriors - Molly Rose, ATA Pilot

My Young Man shared an obituary from the Telegraph with me - of Molly Rose, who has just died aged 95.
She joined the ATA during the Second World War. Women were not allowed to be fighter pilots, but they were needed to deliver planes to airfields as part of the Air Transport Auxiliary. For much of her service - she joined up in 1942 - she was based at Hamble near Southampton, in an all-female unit.
She delivered 273 Spitfires to airfields, and many other types of aircraft including Wellington bombers, Beaufighters and Mosquitos. Later in the War she flew Tempests and Typhoons, which were higher powered Spitfire variants. Sometimes the ATA pilots flew four different types of aircraft in a single day. They flew without radio, and often to airfields which were camouflaged and difficult to find. In all, she flew 486 aircraft of 38 different types - and after the War, she never flew again. She spent the rest of her working life as a magistrate.
She married Bernard Rose, who was a Captain in the 4th City of London Yeomanry during the War, in 1939. After the War he became a Lecturer in Music at Queen's College Oxford. They had three sons. They met while she was an apprentice engineer in the family business - her father was David Marshall of Marshall Aviation in Cambridge - and she learned to fly on a Tiger Moth belonging to her brother, gaining her flying licence at the age of 17.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Trowelblazers - Maria Reiche and the Nazca Lines

Maria Reiche was born in Germany, but spent most of her life in Peru. She studied mathematics and astronomy at Dresden University, and went to Peru in the 1930s to become a private tutor to a German-Peruvian family. Mr Tabel was the German consul and head of a local brewery. She remained in Peru during the Nazi era and through the Second World War, and by this time she had met Dr Paul Kosok, who had begun to study the Nazca Lines. Unfortunately, the Pan American highway had already been built across the area, damaging one of the figures.
Maria became Dr Kosok's research assistant, measuring the lines and suggesting astronomical reasons for the layout of the figures.
She spent the rest of her life studying the figures and protecting them - from a proposed cotton plantation in the 1950s, for instance, when the landowner wanted to irrigate the plain.
She had a tower built so that tourists could see the figures more easily without damaging them, and even went round the lines with a broom to clean them so they could be seen more easily. She said: "I went through so many brooms rumours circulated that I might be a witch!"
She died at the age of 95 in 1998.
There is now a Maria Reiche Park at Miraflores in Lima, with figures from the Nazca Lines laid out in flowers on the lawns.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

The Librarians

I'd heard, vaguely, of this series, and thought I might enjoy it - and last week I decided to send off for the first season on DVD. I'd seen it described as a cross between Doctor Who and Indiana Jones, which are fairly high bars to clear - but the first two episodes were just glorious fun!
The first two episodes set up what's to come - there's a marvellous magical library, stuffed with magical artefacts, and run by The Librarian. Like the Slayer, there is only ever one Librarian, because that's the way it's always been done.
But now someone is murdering people who were runners up to be the latest Librarian, and the present Librarian is in a race against time to find the others on the list before they are murdered too. And the Library has contacted a counter-terrorist Colonel to be, basically, the Librarian's bodyguard, or Guardian. Librarians tend to die quite often.
So, the team is put together - a thief, an oil-rigger who writes books on art history (all these people are incredibly smart - I love a series where the heroes solve their problems with cleverness rather than violence), and a cleaner at a hospital who has a photographic memory - and a brain tumour.
And they're up against the Serpent Brotherhood, led by a man straight out of a Nazi thriller, who wants to bring magic back into the world, under his control.
By the end of the second episode, they have lost the main library, which has become untethered from its portal in Time and Space, and are working from an annexe to the Library underneath a bridge in Oregon, with the reluctant help of the man who was using the Library for research there. The Librarian goes off to try to find a way back into the library (they can access the books, but not get into the space - they must have spent a lot on the main Library set and the special effects to fold it in on itself, and the annexe is obviously cheaper!)
I was having so much fun that I just about forgave them for the Librarian's ignorance of archaeology. IT ISN'T A HENGE that they find in the Black Forest - it's a stone circle that looks like a very fake Stonehenge (honestly, I haven't seen stones that fake looking since the Doctor Who episode The Stones of Blood and that was filmed in the 1970s). A henge is the ditch and bank round the outside of the stone circle at Stonehenge - which is why most people think the word henge relates to the stones. It did give Cassandra a good scene where she worked out the angle of the sun on a certain day to find the magical artefact, with lots of CGI mathematical formulae swirling round her head. Basically, she's Fred from Angel, and I liked Fred from Angel.
And the exhibition of the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London looks nothing like the set they put together either - I've been there.
But it's such fun that I don't really mind - I want to see how the new Librarians get trained, and what the Serpent Brotherhood will do next. And I wasn't expecting to be quite so emotionally involved with Excalibur - the sword really came across as a character in its own right.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Trowelblazers - Harriet Boyd Hawes

Harriet was an American teacher with a modest inheritance who decided to go to the source of Greek history and discover it for herself. She had studied Classics at college, but was not interested in the more usual career path for ladies of librarian or museum curator. In 1896, she enrolled in the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, but the school would not send her out to do field work.
So she set out on her own to Crete to find a site and dig it, getting all the necessary permissions herself, and talking to local farmers and villagers to help her to decide where to dig, with the help of local workers.
Her first site was a tomb, and she went on to teach Greek archaeology back at Smith College, Massachusetts, where she had studied, while returning for further seasons in Crete, mainly at Gournia, a Minoan village of 70 houses and an acropolis. She was the first archaeologist to discover and completely excavate an Early Bronze Age Minoan town site. She recieved her MA from Smith College in 1901, and an honorary doctorate in 1910.
She married Charles Henry Hawes, a British anthropologist and archaeologist who she met in Greece, in 1906. Charles went on to become associate director of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. She and Charles wrote a book together; "Crete: The Forerunner of Greece" and she continued to teach. They had two children.
She was also active in nursing during the Greco-Turkish War of 1897 and the First World War.
She died in 1945, aged 73.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

RAF Hero, Mohinder Singh Pujji

I was reading the excellent blog Spitalfields Life, in which the Gentle Author had a day out in Gravesend - where he found this statue (picture taken from Wikipedia):

Mohinder Singh Pujji was a commercial pilot before the Second World War, and one of the first pilots to volunteer with the Royal Indian Air Force to come to Britain. He flew Hurricanes just after the Battle of Britain, and later flew in the Middle East. He was awarded the DFC during his service in Burma for flying reconnaissance missions over Japanese territory, often in monsoon conditions, to bring back information about Japanese troop movements.
After the war, and a bout of TB that ended his military career, he worked at the Safdarjung Aerodrome in Delhi, and after his retirement he moved to Britain, finally living in Gravesend. In 2000, he was made an honorary Freeman of the Borough of Newham.

In 2005 he protested the use of the image of a Spitfire by the BNP in their leaflets, saying:
"The BNP are wrong to use the Spitfire as representative of their party. They forget people from different backgrounds helped in the Second World War. I am proof of this - I was flying a Spitfire. I also met Winston Churchill. Even in those days, there were ethnic minorities fighting for the British."

Partly because of his comments, the Royal Air Force Museum at Cosford mounted a permanent exhibition in 2009 called Diversity in the Royal Air Force - Mohinder Singh Pujji was guest of honour at the opening.
He died of a stroke in 2010, aged 92.
The statue was erected in 2014.

Friday, 14 October 2016

This is What a Doctor Looks Like

There's a news story going round Twitter about a medical emergency on a commercial airline, and a black woman doctor who was not believed when she volunteered her services to help the patient. There's now a hashtag #thisiswhatadoctorlookslike, sharing photos of black women doctors.
So here's a picture of three of the first non-white women to train as doctors in Philadelphia in 1885, in their national costumes:

They are Dr Anandabai Joshee, from India, Dr Kai Okami, from Japan, and Dr Tabat Islambooley from Syria.

Non-white women doctors - healing people since at least 1885.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Ada Lovelace Day

To celebrate women in science, here's Mary Ross, Cherokee rocket scientist.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Why Are They Afraid?

I normally keep this blog to share things that make me happy, but I had to say something about the story on Wales Online in which Carwyn Jones, First Minister of Wales, replied to Theresa May's comments about immigration. One of the comments, by DillThomas, was:

"He doesn't realize that the EU referendum went the way it did because the ordinary British people were afraid of what uncontrolled immigration was going to do to the country long term."

Why are they afraid?

We can see what immigration has done to this country long term if we just look back into the past. How about 1950 to the present? That's pretty long term, and we should be able to judge how immigration has affected this country by the changes we have seen over that time. My view is that I'd rather live now than in 1950.

British culture has changed over that time, but things that are traditionally English, or Welsh or Scottish have not disappeared. There's a local Morris dancing side, I can drink a wide variety of real ales, and sing folk songs in a local pub, and watch cricket or football or rugby should I feel so inclined, or sing in a choir, or attend a Remembrance Day parade, or eat a traditional Sunday roast at a local pub.
But I can also go out for Indian or Nepali or Chinese food locally, or Spanish tapas - and Greek mezze if I go into Hereford. The pub that does the Sunday roast also does good pizza. A friend of mine plays in a samba band, and enjoys it, but traditional brass bands still exist.

Long term, the country has changed, but it would have changed even if there had been no immigration at all. Technology has changed the way we live almost out of recognition, but culture continues where people want it to - where they participate in activities, and learn to dance, or play an instrument, or join a sports team, or organise a St David's Day party, or go to a Shakespeare play.

Immigrants have enriched this country, bringing new businesses, different sorts of food, expertise in science, and law, in teaching - and in the NHS, which wouldn't be able to cope without foreign doctors and nurses.

Carwyn Jones says that: "The content and tone of the announcements made in the Tory Conference have been disturbing, sinister and beneath contempt."
He talks about an open and inclusive Wales, with "A bright future for our children and grandchildren, based on our values of fairness, internationalism and prosperity for all." and continues: "What a terrible message to suggest that some people in our NHS, in our communities, are worth more than others."

That's the sort of country I want to live in, not a country which is afraid of foreigners.

Friday, 30 September 2016

The Rihannsu Novels of Diane Duane

Back in the 1980s, I was a big Star Trek fan, and one of my favourite authors (in that time when there was very little commercially available apart from novels and re-runs of the classic TV series) was Diane Duane. I saw her several times at conventions, and she was always great fun. She even gave me some good writing advice once.
Her aliens were inventive (like the spider character in The Wounded Sky, and the rather sweet Horta Starfleet lieutenant) and her female characters were rounded, interesting characters who did interesting things.

So yesterday on Twitter, she shared her outline for the last two (which became three) novels in her Rihannsu series of Star Trek novels. I'd read the first two - My Enemy, My Ally and The Romulan Way, but never knew there were any more. I spent a lot of time outside fandom for various reasons, and moved house several times, so I had to part with a lot of my belongings along the way, including most of my collection of Star Trek novels. But I still have The Romulan Way. I couldn't quite bring myself to part with that one.
So I was quite excited to find that the story continues and reaches a satisfying conclusion. Rihannsu, by the way, is what the Romulans call themselves. It may only be a term used in the novels, but it's canon as far as I'm concerned.

The Romulan Way involves a Federation agent in deep cover in Romulan/Rihannsu society, Terise Haleakala-LoBrutto, who uses the Rihannsu name Arrhae ir-Mnaeha t'Khellian, and who finds herself in a position to save Dr. McCoy's life. There's lots of meaty information about Rihannsu society, and intrigue, and adventure - and I really need to re-read it before I settle down to the sequels! But the main character over the series is Ael i-Mhiessan t'Rllaillieu, commander of the Bloodwing, who joins forces with Kirk and the Enterprise to stop some unethical Romulan research in My Enemy, My Ally. I understand great things are in store for her in the sequels - if she can stay alive!

The sequels are: Swordhunt, Honor Blade and The Empty Chair - and I can see why I missed them coming out so completely! Swordhunt and Honor Blade came out in 2000, and The Empty Chair in 2006, and in 2000 - well, let's just say that the new millennium was not a fun time for me, so the last thing I was thinking of was Star Trek novels, though I was aware of Diane Duane's Young Wizard series at the time (also very good!).

Monday, 26 September 2016


Greater love hath no woman.... I sat and watched Braveheart on TV with my mum!

Now she's gone home, and I took advantage of the trip into Hereford, to see her onto the train, to treat myself.

So I got the graphic novel Ms Marvel Super Famous, Ann Leckie's Ancillary Mercy (the third book in the trilogy - I will be sure to read it while drinking good tea), and Paul Cornell's Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?, the latest of his Shadow Police novels (because I feel the need for something to tide me over until the next Peter Grant novel by Ben Aaronovitch comes out - good as the comics are, they are quite quick reads).

And cake, at Patisserie Valerie, of course.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Remembering Space:1999

On 13th September, 1999, the moon was blasted out of Earth's orbit, thereafter travelling implausibly quickly to visit other planets....

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Trowelblazers - Alice Kober and Linear B

The first name that springs to mind when talking about the decipherment of Linear B script is Michael Ventris. Linear B is the name given to Mycenean Greek script which was found in excavations at Knossos, Mycenae and other sites and is the earliest written form of Greek known. There is also Linear A, which recorded Minoan, and has not yet been deciphered, out of which Linear B developed.
No-one ever mentions Alice Kober, without whose work, Michael Ventris would have had a much more difficult time.

She was an academic, an assistant professor of classics at Brooklyn College and in the 1930s she started studying Linear B inscriptions in her spare time, creating a massive card index system. She even had to make the index cards herself, out of old greetings cards and so on, as paper was scarce in wartime America. What she was doing was cross referencing all the relationships between the characters of the script, and the frequency of their use - all essential work to find out the meaning behind the symbols. At the same time, she was learning a variety of ancient languages, including Hittite, Akkadian, Old Persian, and Chinese. She also studied field archaeology in New Mexico and Greece, and also learned Braille, to transcribe textbooks, library materials and exams for blind students at the college.
In 1946, she won a Guggenheim Fellowship, to study Linear B full time for a year. She spent some time in Oxford, copying inscriptions found by Sir Arthur Evans at Knossos, and she discovered that the language she was transcribing was an inflected one, written in a syllabic script.
She died in 1950, at the age of 43, possibly of cancer, as she was a chain smoker. She had met Michael Ventris once, and reportedly didn't like him, but she did leave him her archive when she died. Michael Ventris took over her work, and discovered that the inscriptions were lists of commodities in Mycenaean Greek two years later. Before he could write a book about how he did it he, too, died - in a car crash at the age of 34.

Friday, 2 September 2016

A Pair of Gaiters

I saw a pair of gaiters on a market stall in the Buttermarket in Hay today. They were only £10, and nice leather, so I took them home with me. Sadly, they were made for skinny little legs, and the buckles were purely decorative over a solid seam.
Fortunately, I have a little craft knife, so I unpicked the seam, cut the lining, and buckled them on:

I have a pair of suitable shoes in almost the same colour, and they'll go well with my brown trousers for a Steampunk adventurer look!

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Women Warriors - Lyudmila Pavlichenko

Otherwise known as Lady Death, Lyudmila was a Ukranian Soviet sniper during the Second World War.

She was creditted with 309 kills, making her the most successful female sniper in history, and one of the top military snipers of all time.
Her hobby before the Second World War was shooting, and in 1941 she volunteered for the infantry, being assigned to the 25th Rifle Division, where she became one of 2,000 female snipers in the Red Army - only about 500 of whom survived the war.
In 1942, she was wounded by mortar fire, and taken out of combat. Instead she was sent on a publicity tour of the USA, meeting President Roosevelt (the first Soviet citizen to be recieved by a US President). Woodie Guthrie wrote a song about her.
She also toured Canada, where she was presented with a Winchester rifle which is now on display in the Central Armed Forces Museum in Moscow.
In the UK, she visited the cathedral ruins at Coventry, and several factories in Coventry and Birmingham, and collected over £4,000 from Coventry workers to pay for three X-ray units for the Red Army.
Back in the Soviet Union, she became an instructor, and trained snipers until the end of the war.
In 2015, a film of her life was made, called Battle for Sevastopol ("Unbreakable" in Ukranian), and her portrait has also been used on Russian postage stamps.
She died in 1974 after a career as a historian.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Steampunk Accessories

A friend shared this picture with me on Facebook. It's made by Broadarrow Jack Leather, and it's a fan holster!
It's just perfect for Li Bic, the main character in my Steampunk stories, to keep her fighting fan!

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Goodbye, R2D2

Or rather, Kenny Baker, who operated the droid. He was 83, and had been ill for some time. Here he is at the opening night of the last Star Wars film:

This picture's from the Guardian.

But he was much more than just the operator of R2D2.
In his long career, he worked as the shadow ringmaster in Billy Smart's Circus, and with many famous British comedians of the 1960s and 70s. He was even a Diddyman with Ken Dodd! He also played the harmonica as part of the Minitones musical comedy duo, and he could ice skate, starting off in Holiday on Ice and appearing in ice shows for the next twenty years all over the world. He was one of those old-fashioned variety entertainers who could turn his hand to anything.

Trowelblazers - Christian Maclaglan

She was "arguably the UK's first female archaeologist" according to Dr Murray Cook, who is leading a project to rediscover the broch she discovered and recorded in the 1870s. She is also one of the first to consider stratigraphy, and to draw cross sections of ruins, something that is absolutely basic to archaeological recording now. She was doing this five years before Pitt Rivers used the technique at Cranborne Chase, though he is generally credited with the introduction of the technique. She was, apparently, quite a talented artist, and left handed, as her right hand was affected by a bone disease.
The broch she recorded, at Livilands in Stirling, is thought to have been buried under garden landscaping.
The paper that Christian Maclaglan wrote, describing the broch, was not accepted by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland because she was only a lady associate of the Society, not a Fellow - and only men could become Fellows. The paper was only accepted when it had been transcribed by a man. The Society first admitted women as Fellows in 1901, the year of her death.
So she donated important pieces of her research, on other brochs and monuments as well as the one at Livilands, to the British Museum rather than the Scottish Society. This included all the rubbings she had made of carvings on standing stones.
She was born in 1811, and died in 1901.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Trowelblazers - Beatrice de Cardi

Beatrice de Cardi died on July 5th this year, aged 102, and at the end of her career she was the world's oldest practicing archaeologist, as she continued to write up her excavations and catalogue pottery until after her 100th birthday. Her Who's Who entry lists her hobbies as "keeping up with archeological research".
And what a life she had!
She was born in London in 1914, the daughter of a Corsican aristocrat and an American heiress of German origin, and became interested in archaeology when she attended lectures at University College London given by Sir Mortimer Wheeler.
She went to work with Mortimer Wheeler and his wife Tessa at Maiden Castle, where she worked on the classification of the pottery. After her graduation from university, Sir Mortimer Wheeler offered her a job as his secretary - he was then Keeper of the London Museum.
During the Second World War she was seconded to the Foreign Office, which sent her out to Chungking, China. She also visited India as part of her work there, and after the war she got a job at the Board of Trade in Delhi, and later Karachi. There she read an article about some previously unknown pottery from Quetta in Baluchistan, written by a young Stuart Piggott.
Sir Mortimer Wheeler was now Director General of Archaeology in India, and Beatrice persuaded him to lend her a jeep and an assistant, Sadar Din, to look for archaeological sites in Baluchistan.
Michael Wood the historian described her as "part Miss Marple and part Indiana Jones". Baluchistan was a wild and dangerous area, and she had to deal with bandits and wild animals during her time there, but she and Sadar Din located 47 archaeological sites, many of which contained the pottery style she named Quetta Ware, and dated to 4th - 3rd millenium BC.
Unrest in the region meant that she had to return to London, where she worked on archaeology uncovered by the Luftwaffe's bombing raids in the Second World War, but she returned to Baluchistan under her own steam in the 1960s.
In 1973 she helped to set up the national museum of Qatar, as director of an archaeological expedition sent by the British Museum. She had ten weeks to produce a report on Qatar from the Stone Age to the Oil Age and she later wrote a book on the archaeology of Qatar.

From her obituary in the Telegraph: "In 1989 Beatrice de Cardi was awarded the Al Qasimi Medal for archaeological services to Ras al-Khaimah, and in 1993 the Burton Memorial Medal by the Royal Asiatic Society. In June 2014, she was awarded the Gold Medal of the Society of Antiquaries of London “for distinguished services to archaeology”. She was a fellow of the British Academy and was appointed OBE in 1973."

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Goodbye Garibaldi

Jerry Doyle, who played Michael Garibaldi in Babylon 5, has just been reported dead by the BBC. He was sixty.
I had no idea that he'd been a jet pilot before he became an actor.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

The Bandit of Sherwood Forest

This is the 1946 swashbuckler with Cornel Wilde as the son of Robin Hood - and watching it has cleared up a false memory I had.
I thought I remembered a scene from the Richard Greene Robin Hood series, in black and white, in which Robin is captured and must fight a duel with (I thought) the Sheriff, but first he is kept in a cell for three days without food or drink, so the Sheriff is sure to win. During this time, Maid Marion (I thought) swings baskets of food and water to his cell window, so he isn't starved at all.
What I was actually remembering was this film, which is in glorious Technicolour (though I may have watched it in black and white, it's so long ago). It's Cornel Wilde in the cell, and it's Lady Catherine who swings baskets of food over to him - and he's fighting the Regent of England in a trial by combat, because William of Pembroke dearly wants to kill the boy himself.
And it occured to me that William of Pembroke, played by Henry Daniell, is probably meant to be William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, who was indeed Regent of England during the minority of King John's son Henry III (the boy king in this version has the most appalling pageboy wig). And William Marshal, historically speaking, was one of the good guys, and most unlikely to be plotting to kill the boy king and crown himself, while throwing out Magna Carta and banishing the Earl of Huntingdon (original Robin, Cornel Wilde's dad, who returns to the greenwood to fight tyranny).

And then I started thinking about all the ways the film could be made better than it is.
We start the film with lots of bowmen riding through the forest to a meeting with the Earl/Robin, including old friends Friar Tuck, Little John, Will Scarlet and Allan-a-dale. Earl Robin is about to attend a meeting at Nottingham Castle of the Regent's Council, and he fears for the future of the country.
There's one glaring omission in the meeting of old friends here - where's Marion?
And Earl Robin then rides to the castle alone.
This would not happen. Earls had a retinue to follow them everywhere. So if the film makers wanted to start with a bit of spectacle, why not start with Earl Robin and his retinue heading for the meeting, during which he discusses his worries with Marion and Young Robert (who in the film is in the North Country, who knows why? and is not recognised as Robin's son when he first meets the outlaws). Then, when the meeting goes badly and Robin is banished, he can go to the Queen's chambers to collect Marion, telling the Queen his plans as he does so, and leave the castle - and then collect all his old friends together in the greenwood. This would also get over the old "love/hate at first sight" plot line with Lady Catherine, because Young Robert would already know her from Court, and not try to sexually assault her in a humourous way the first time he meets her in the greenwood when she and the Queen have fled the castle.
But at least the film did have two named women talking to each other, and not about a man, and at least Lady Catherine (Anita Louise) made decisions and didn't just hang around waiting to be rescued.
The fight scenes weren't bad, as long as you accept fencing with broadswords. Cornel Wilde was actually an Olympic class fencer, and you could see they were going for the Errol Flynn 1938 Robin Hood film look, with fencing shadows on the walls and a Korngold-style musical score. Cornel Wilde had a cheery grin when he fenced, but he wasn't Errol Flynn.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Suffragette on a Scooter

Here's Lady Florence Norman, who's stopped to pose for a photo on her way to work in 1916. She was a member of the Liberal Women's Suffrage Union - her husband was a Liberal MP - and the Women's Liberal Federation. She also ran a hospital in France during the First World War, for which she was awarded the Mons Star. At this point, she was an office supervisor.
I'd love to have a scooter like that!

Friday, 22 July 2016

An Apple for an Archer

They missed a trick when they were naming the characters for this episode of The Adventures of Robin Hood - the 1950s version starring Richard Greene. I would have called them all after apple varieties.
As it is, the young hero is Timothy Cox, who grows apples but can't shoot a bow - and he needs to win an archery contest in order to marry the girl he loves. He's played by a young Kenneth Cope, who went on to become Marty Hopkirk in Randall and Hopkirk Deceased, who glares moodily at Paul Eddington, a regular guest actor, who started his Robin Hood career as Second Peasant and worked his way up to be villain of the week. In this episode he is Pierre of Bordeaux, a Frenchman who can shoot with the longbow but prefers to lounge around playing the gittern (a sort of early guitar). He doesn't expect poor Timothy to make a good show of things at the archery contest planned for the hand of Mary Quartermaine - who is also a pretty good shot.
So Timothy goes off into the greenwood, where Robin Hood teaches him how to shoot - and in doing so gives a lot of information about how bows are made, the correct stance for shooting, and the different arrowheads.
When I was re-enacting regularly, members of our group (including me) used to do "the arrow talk", with a variety of different arrow heads, and all sorts of interesting information about the making of the bows and the linen bow strings, and fletching the arrows - and the scenes where Timothy is learning about bows and arrows is practically the prototype of that re-enactor talk!
He wins the contest, of course.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Gordon Murray Dies

Just when I was thinking things couldn't possibly get any worse in the world, I discovered that Gordon Murray, the creator of Camberwick Green, Trumpton and Chigley, has died. He was 95.

There's another part of my childhood gone forever.

Gordon Murray also operated Spotty Dog in the Woodentops. I loved Spotty Dog when I was three.

And here's Windy Miller, from Camberwick Green, waving goodbye. (My sister used to do a spot on impression of the sound his windmill made as the sails went round!)

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Captain Paiute

I'm not sure now where I heard of this comic - it may have been via the blog American Indians in Children's Literature by Debbie Reese. Anyway, I was intrigued enough to send off for it, despite the postage and packing being more than the comic itself. Their offices are in Albuquerque, New Mexico - a long way from the Welsh Borders!
Captain Paiute is by Theo Tso, who did the story and the art work, and is basically an origin story for the Indigenous Defender of the South West. I hope he tells more stories, showing Captain Paiute working to save his tribe.

Native Realities Press is especially for stories about Native Americans, by Native Americans. Other comics available from them are about the Code Talkers of the Second World War, Deer Woman, and Kaui (a Polynesian tale of Beauty and the Beast).
They also have a poster for sale of Pueblo Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Art. Now there's a story I'd like to read!

Friday, 17 June 2016

Trowelblazers - Hattie Cosgrove

Hattie Cosgrove started out as an amateur archaeologist, investigating sites near her home in the Mimbres Valley in New Mexico with her husband Cornelius and her son Burton.
In the course of this work, they met Alfred Vincent Kidder, curator of North American Archaeology at Harvard's Peabody Museum. He was impressed with their work, and hired them as a team in 1924. Hattie was one of the first women to be professionally employed as an archaeologist.
The major site they worked on was Swarts Ruin in the Mimbres Valley, which they documented thoroughly with photographs and pen and ink drawings of every pot they excavated - around 700 of them! They were meticulous in recording where the artefacts had been found, and the plans of the rooms in the complex, and the work is still used as the primary reference for the Mimbres Valley culture.
They went on to do more work together at Gila River, New Mexico, Stallings Island Mound in Georgia and a Hopi Pueblo in Arizona. Cornelius Cosgrove died in 1936, but Hattie returned the following year to take charge of the pottery tent, where she trained students and Indian assistants.
She died in 1970, aged 84.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Women Warriors - Hanna Reitsch, Luftwaffe test pilot

She was always proud of supporting the Third Reich, and was close to Hitler - she was at the Bunker during the last days of the war, when she accompanied Generaloberst von Greim as he accepted the command of the Luftwaffe after the dismissal of Goering for what Hitler considered to be an act of treason.

But her flying career was remarkable.
She started off in gliders in the 1930s and broke several records for altitude and endurance. She became a stunt pilot in powered aircraft in 1934 for the Ufa film company, and also travelled to South America with an expedition to study thermal conditions. She became a test pilot in 1935.
In 1937 she was posted to the Luftwaffe training centre at Rechlin-Larz airfield, and tested the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka and Dornier Do 17 barrage balloon fender projects, for which she recieved the Iron Cross Second Class in 1941.
She was the first female helicopter pilot, too.
In 1942 she test piloted the Messerschmidt Me 163 Komet, which was rocket propelled, making her the first woman to pilot a jet aircraft - and crashed on her fifth flight, spending five months in hospital. For this, she recieved the Iron Cross First Class.
In 1943, she spent several weeks touring the Luftwaffe units of the Eastern Front.
She also test piloted a manned version of the V1 rocket, and trained instructors.
After the war, she spent 18 months being held by the Americans, and after that settled in Frankfurt. As soon as she was able, she started flying gliders again. In 1952, she won a bronze medal in the World Gliding Championships in Spain, the first woman to compete.
She was invited to India by Nehru to set up a gliding school there, and was also welcomed to the White House by President Kennedy. In 1962, she went to Ghana to set up the first black African national gliding school, where she became a friend of Kwame Nkrumah, the president.
She wrote several books about her life, including Ich flog in Afrika fur Nkrumah's Ghana and Fliegen, Mein Leben.
She died back in Frankfurt in 1979 and there were rumours that she had saved the cyanide pill she had been given by Hitler at the Bunker in 1945 for all that time until she, too, was ready to commit suicide.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Trowelblazers - Anna O Shepard

Anna Osler Shepard was a trailblazer in the study of ancient ceramics in the American South West. She studied optical crystalography and chemical spectroscopy in the 1930s, at Nebraska University, Claremont College and New York University, moving on to MIT in 1940, and gaining her PhD in 1942 from the University of Colorado.
The fabric of pottery can be used to determine where the clay came from, and Anna Shepard pioneered the work to determine sources for South Western and Mesoamerican pottery, demonstrating that potters from the Ancestral Pueblo culture, mostly women, made pottery on a large scale for trade throughout the region.
Her book Ceramics for the Archaeologist, published in 1956, is still used as a reference book today (and the book has 4.5 stars on Goodreads!).
She died in 1971.
Here she is with some of the pottery she studied:

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Remembering Burt Kwouk

"Do not despise the snake for having no horns - who is to say it will not become a dragon?"
Those were the opening lines of The Water Margin, narrated by Burt Kwouk, who died today aged 85. He was everywhere on TV in the 1960s and 70s - whenever someone Chinese was needed (usually a baddie). He was also, of course, Cato in the Pink Panther films, and appeared in several Bond films. Here he is in the pilot episode of The Champions, hunting our heroes across the Himalayas as a Major in the Chinese Red Army:

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Trowelblazers - Helen O'Neil and Elsie Clifford

Famous in Gloucestershire!
Helen O'Neil, who was born Helen Donovan, lived at Camp House in Bourton-on-the-Water - the Camp referring to the Iron Age hillfort of Salmonsbury. In 1931, she became involved in the excavations at Salmonsbury, and she became a member of the Royal Archaeological Institute the following year, following that up in 1933 by becoming a member of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society. In 1938, she was invited to become Honorary Curator of the new Corinium Museum in Cirencester.
The Director of the dig at Salmonsbury was Dr Gerald Dunning of London Museum, and it was on the dig that Helen met her husband Bryan, who eventually became Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments. Helen carried out work for Ordnance Survey and for the Ancient Monuments Inspectorate, and in 1948 she was elected to become a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.
Following her husband's death, Helen returned to live at Camp House, and became closely involved in archaeology in the county. In 1968, she recieved an MBE for services to archaeology, and published work in the Bristol and Gloucestershire archaeology journal from 1934 to 1977.

Elsie Clifford also did a large part of her archaeological work in Gloucestershire, and at about the same time as Helen O'Neil. Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum holds the collection of artefacts from her work on Notgrove long barrow in 1934-5, as well as artefacts from several Romano-British villas she worked on. Notgrove had been dug before, but hers was the first properly scientific excavation of the site.
Although a close associate of such well-known archaeologists as Sir Mortimer Wheeler, she stuck to her status as an amateur. In 1968, she was awarded an OBE for her achievements in archaeology.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Multicultural Scotland

Isn't this brilliant? :)
This is Humza Yousaf, the MSP for Glasgow Pollock, being sworn in to the Scottish Parliament. I saw the picture on Twitter, shared by the Scottish Parliament, though the first thing I noticed as I scrolled down was that gorgeous embroidered jacket. I think he looks great in the kilt, too.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Women Warriors - Fecht Yeah

This picture is from an article in The Village Voice which my Young Man shared with me on Facebook. I can't share it directly from there (they do Facebook, Twitter and Google+), but it's well worth a read. It's all about women who practice Historic European Martial Arts (HEMA) - which includes various forms of swordplay from longsword to rapier - in East Harlem, New York, and the women only tournament they have organised. Fecht Yeah is actually happening this weekend in New York.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

"The British Are Coming!" - Sybil Ludington's Ride

Paul Revere is the famous one, riding through the night to warn the American militia that the British soldiers were on their way. But on April 26th, 1777, sixteen year old Sybil rode forty miles through the night doing the same thing, on her horse Star. Her father was Colonel Henry Ludington, and it was his men that she was riding to warn.
Here's a picture of the statue commemorating her ride.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Women Warriors - Lozen and Dahteste, Apache warriors

"Lozen is as my right hand, strong as a man, braver than most and cunning in strategy. Lozen is a shield to her people." So said the Apache chief Victorio, her brother. When Victorio's band left the San Carlos Reservation in 1877, where they had been sent to live in terrible conditions, Lozen fought by his side. While retreating from the US Cavalry, Lozen led the women and children of the band across the Rio Grande while the warriors held off the cavalry.
Victorio died fighting the Mexicans in 1880. On that occasion Lozen was not with the band, having left to escort a woman and child to the safety of the Mescalero Reservation. On that journey, she stole horses, and killed a longhorn with a knife rather than shoot it so as not to betray their position.
Lozen rejoined the band, now under the command of the elderly chief Nana, as they fought their way across New Mexico.
She was also with Geronimo when he broke out of the San Carlos Reservation in 1885, in the last campaign of the Apache wars. She also acted as a prophet for the band, praying to Ussen (the supreme god of the Apache) before battles.
She and Dahteste, another Apache warrior woman, started negotiating a peace treaty with the Americans. Dahteste was fluent in English, and had worked as a scout for the US Cavalry.
During this time, the Chiricahua Apache were rounded up and sent to Florida, and eventually Lozen and Dahteste surrendered.

This is a picture of a group of Apaches waiting to be taken by train to Florida in 1886. Geronimo is somewhere near the front, and Lozen and Dahteste are sitting near the back. (Picture found on Red Power Media wordpress site).

Lozen died of tuberculosis while a prisoner of war in Alabama in 1890. She was fifty years old.
Dahteste survived tuberculosis and pneumonia and later married Kuni, another ex-scout. They lived at the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico. Dahteste lived until 1955.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Trowelblazers - Annette Laming Emperaire

This was a French archaeologist, who also joined the French Resistance during the Second World War. She specialised in cave art, and her techniques for recording the art are still in use today.
"It involves compiling minutely detailed inventories and diagrams of the way that species are grouped on the cave walls; of their gender, frequency, and position; and of their relation to the signs and handprints that often appear close to them." (from an article in The New Yorker by Judith Thurman in 2008).

She married Joseph Emperaire, also an archaeologist, who believed that early humans had come from South Asia to South America, and gradually worked their way up into North America, rather than the "ice bridge" theory that early humans came into America across the Bering Straits in the North. They dug several sites in South America, but Joseph died when a wall collapsed on him at a dig in Chile.
In the 1970s, Annette returned to South America, digging in Brazil, where she discovered the oldest human fossil known from Brazil, at around 11,000 years old.
In 1977, she died of asphyxiation in a shower with a defective gas heating element.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Women Warriors - West Point

I saw this picture on Twitter this morning. It's this year's black female graduates of West Point Military Academy. I must say, I love the way that a sword is still part of the dress uniform!

Monday, 25 April 2016

Doctor Who and the Peterloo Massacre

Just out from Big Finish is a 5th Doctor story by Paul Magrs, set in Manchester in 1819, the time of the Peterloo Massacre.
This is part of my local history - I'm from Manchester, and I remember being taken to see the plaque commemorating the 15 dead of the massacre (and the 600+ injured), at St Peter's Field when I was a child.
Historical stories are so often set around London, but other cities have interesting histories too, and this was an important event in working class history and Manchester's history. The peaceful crowd of around 80,000 had gathered to hear speeches against the Corn Laws - they wanted cheaper bread, and they also wanted to be able to vote. Manchester was growing rapidly with industrialisation, any yet had no MP. There were only two MPs for the whole of Lancashire, and only (male) property owners could vote.
After the reading of the Riot Act (which nobody heard) the local Yeomanry charged into the crowd on horseback, sabres drawn - and later cannons were used against the unarmed crowd. The regular Hussars, also in attendance, were horrified by the actions of the Yeomanry, and some officers tried to restrain the Yeomanry, while the way to Peter Street was blocked by infantry with bayonets, so the crowd could not escape - an early version of "kettling".
This was also one of the first mass meetings that journalists attended, and the Doctor has a great rant at Thomas Tyler, the journalist from London, urging him to tell the truth about what he has seen.
Peter Davison is in great form in this retelling of the story of the Massacre, and so are Tegan (snarling about the injustice of it all) and Nyssa (befriending a maidservant who is involved with the Radicals). Of course, they cannot stop the massacre from happening - it's a fixed point in time ("You always say that," grumbles Tegan) but they can do something to help, out of the historical spotlight.
The other actors, playing the historical characters, have properly Northern accents - there's a little extra at the end where they talk about the story and the director says he didn't want actors with RP accents pretending to be Northern.
"I was surprised there were no aliens in this one," Peter Davison says, at the end.
"Except you and Nyssa," Janet Fielding says.
"Oh, good point."

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Chinese Victorians - Dr Wong Fun

Wong Fun (also called Huang Kuan) was the first Chinese student to graduate from Edinburgh University. He may have been the first Chinese student to graduate from any European University. He graduated as an MD in 1855. A plaque commemorates him in Buccleuch Place in Edinburgh.
Most Chinese coming to Britain in the nineteenth century came as seamen. Some of them stayed, mostly in port cities like London and Liverpool, opening restaurants and laundries (and that one opium den in Limehouse that all the newspaper reporters in search of a sensational story went to!).

Thursday, 21 April 2016


I'm ridiculously pleased to have recieved an email from Smashwords, telling me that I have earned the grand total of $10.90 from my novels!
Wow! What should I do with this windfall? :)
Actually, I'm just ridiculously pleased that someone out there has read my work (and presumably enjoyed the sample enough to buy the full story)!

Monday, 18 April 2016

Trowelblazers - Honor Frost

Here's Honor Frost at Bodrum Harbour, with the Crusader castle in the background. She was born in 1917, and became a pioneer of underwater archaeology. The castle at Bodrum is also the home of the Underwater Archaeology Museum in Turkey, with some spectacular finds preserved there.
She started her career as a ballet designer with Ballet Rambert, but fell in love with diving in the 1940s, when she met the archaeologist Frederic Dumas, who became her mentor and took her on her first dive, to a Roman ship off the coast of France. She later joined Kathleen Kenyon at Jericho as a draughtsman - having studied at the Central School of Art in London and the Ruskin School of Art in Oxford. Having seen how digs on land were conducted, she considered how those techniques could be adapted for work underwater. She explored the harbours of Byblos, Sidon and Tyre for the Institut Francais Archaeologie in Beirut.
In 1960 she put her techniques to use on a Bronze Age Phoenecian ship off the coast of Turkey, with George Bass and Peter Throckmorton. She also worked in Alexandria, on the Pharos and palace of Alexander and Ptolemy, and other wrecks around the Mediterranean.
She helped found the Council for Nautical Archaeology and was on the Council for Nautical Research.
She died in 2010, leaving her art collection to be sold to fund the Honor Frost Foundation, which continues her work in the field of underwater archaeology.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Goodbye, Blake - Who Will Lead the Resistance Now?

Sad to hear that Gareth Thomas has just died, aged 71. Here he is in one of his most famous roles, as Roj Blake in Blake's Seven. I remember trying to watch this on a tiny portable TV with appalling reception at college, with one person holding the wire to the ariel up to get the signal for the whole episode! Of course, he was rather outshone by Avon (Paul Darrow) who had the best snarky lines!
He was also in a couple of other cult classics of the 1970s and 80s - in Children of the Stones, he was the sensible dad who had just moved into Avebury, which was not a normal village by any stretch of the imagination.
After Blake's Seven he was, again, the dad - and Welsh resistance leader - in Knights of God, which was also the last role for Patrick Troughton, as Arthur, mystical leader of the resistance against John Woodvine's evil (and increasingly bonkers) Prior Mordrin.
He even had a guest role in Torchwood, more recently, in the episode Ghost Machine.
I understand that there is a Blake's Seven audio series from Big Finish where he also played Blake, as well as appearing as various characters in Doctor Who audio adventures.
Looking down the list of his credits on Wikipedia, he appeared in quite a few things I remember watching, like the Civil War drama By the Sword Divided. He was also in the TV adaptation of the childrens books by Jenny Nimmo, Emlyn's Moon and the Chestnut Soldier, which drew on Welsh legends for the fantasy element. The first book in the series is the Snow Spider.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Random EasterCon Thoughts

So, for the past three posts, I concentrated on the panels I went to, but there was so much more going on as well. The bar area was a good place to meet people (and we also found a mostly un-noticed bench by the cloakroom when we needed to sit down).
There was Michele, who helped me with my Jedi costume - and who turned out to be the maker and wearer of a magnificent dress in the Masquerade at LonCon, which had pictures from the Greek myths appliqued all over it. As we chatted, more of her friends joined the group, including a chap in vintage British Army uniform ("these were my father's trousers") but with badger themed badges. We saw him later dressed as a Jedi, and Michele dressed in the most gorgeous full length patchwork coats.
There was Wilf, 80 this year, who we also met at LonCon, and had breakfast with last year at EasterCon, who was volunteering as a steward.
I sat next to one of the Guests of Honour, Ian McDonald, at the Jodrell Bank talk.
There was a dealer who had a wonderful selection of classic SF and pulp titles, just by the door of the dealer's room. The Young Man got a rare Conan Doyle hardback from him (but no Doc Savage, sadly).
He was opposite the Steampunk stall, where I bought a watch, and we had a long chat with the lady behind the stall. I nearly left my Librarian behind there, too! I was carrying a cuddly orangutan around all day - my colleague from the Unseen University.
The art show was full of gorgeous stuff, including Jim Burns (winner of the BSFA Award this year) and Anne Sudworth, and an almost hypnotic 3D picture of a Moon crater by somebody Hardy? So many lovely things.
Up in the other dealers' room, we got into another conversation about comics, Captain Britain, and diversity (700 background characters, and not one brown face, in one story, apparently! Yay, diversity.)
There was the Scottish Klingon, in kilt and battle armour (who was actually German), and a lady in a very good Babylon 5 uniform. I gave one of my costume tokens to the couple dressed as Number 6 and a lady from the Village in multicoloured cape.
There were several men in utilikilts, and a purple Minion strapped to the main Tech area in Deansgate 2 & 3.
There were the girls in the row in front of me at the feminist fantasy talk, with their arms round each other, while behind me the oldest man at the convention (90 this year) was nodding off.
In one Room 6 panel, one of the panel members said we could squeeze another person into the room if they came and worshipped at her feet, and a young girl (I think they knew each other) knelt down in the aisle to do a full kowtow.
There were the Slippers of Doom in the comedy horror panel - "the fluffy slippers of Shoggoth - they will eat your soles!" That was also the panel where they had to explain what cognitive dissonance was.
Oh, and the note in one of the Waggle Dance newsletters, where a Random Member of the Public asked what we were all doing at the hotel, having seen the badges with bees and hexagons on them (the symbol of Manchester is a bee, for industry). When told it was a science fiction convention they said; "Oh, I thought you were all beekeepers!"

Friday, 1 April 2016

Mancunicon on Sunday

This was a time-travelling Con - since the clocks changed overnight - so the first panel we went to see had a few bleary looking people on it.
Russell Smith was the moderator of the panel on Manchester in Speculative Fiction. I first became aware of him at LonCon, where he was on several panels, and then at EasterCon last year I saw him on several more panels, where he always had interesting things to say (and he's a Tudor re-enactor!), and we got to have a chat with him in the audience of a panel on swordplay in fiction, with real weaponry on display. This year, we finally tracked down his books - the Grenshall Manor Chronicles - and chatted about Aly Fell's new comic Shadowglass on the way to the lifts (Aly Fell is another Mancunian, and we all know him). The Young Man and I had already read it, and Russell said he was looking forward to getting it.
So there we were, talking about Manchester in fiction, and wondering why more authors don't set their work there. As Russell said, we were sitting in one of the iconic buildings of Manchester - the Hilton tower; "and it looks like a USB drive, plugged into the city. What's it downloading? There's a Doctor Who episode right there!"
Manchester is also the home of scientific breakthroughs like splitting the atom, at Manchester University by Professor Rutherford, and more recently breakthroughs with graphene. Turing has a statue here, on Sackville Street, and Anne Charnock also mentioned the thriving arts scene, with small theatre groups performing in pubs, and cheap warehouse space for artists in Ancoats. There's political history too, with the suffragette movement (Mrs Pankhurst is about to get a statue in the town centre), and the Peterloo Massacre (recently the subject of a Doctor Who episode from Big Finish which was highly recommended). It made me think of the old Manchester Guardian strap line "What Manchester thinks today, the world thinks tomorrow!"

We followed that with If You Don't Scream You'll Laugh, a look at comedy and horror and combining the two, which was another opportunity to see Charlie Stross's evil genius in action. Sarah Pinborough, one of the Guests of Honour, was also on this panel, and she was very funny.
Later there was a panel about the future of superhero movies, Are We Diving into a Superhero Crash? Daredevil fan Lilian Edwards was on this one, and so was Jacq Applebee, proclaiming her love for Stephen Universe as an example of diversity in superhero fiction done right. Nobody had much love for DC!

As we went down to the ground floor for lunch, one of the hotel staff stopped us and asked about our costumes. The Young Man was a Time Agent, with a Babel Fish badge, which the chap said would be really useful in his job - several languages are spoken by the hotel staff, including Russian. He was really enthusiastic about the Con, and said that all the staff were enjoying it.
Later we overheard another member of staff behind the Real Ale Bar. He was saying that he'd actually done two previous EasterCons, at another hotel he'd worked at. "I came here thinking I'd never have to do another one," he said, laughing, "but you're following me about!"

The discussion with Guest of Honour Aliette de Bodard, who had also just won two BSFA Awards, for The House of Shattered Wings and a short story, was very much like the setup for Hay Festival interviews - which I'm very familiar with, since I live in Hay-on-Wye. Actually, when people ask me what SF Cons are like, I tend to describe them as being like Hay Festival only for SF. And slightly smaller. And not in tents.
I got The House of Shattered Wings at the Con, too, and I'm looking forward to reading it.

Aliette de Bodard went on to do a cookery demonstration.
I went on to the Author Reading Open Mic. I just happened to have the fragmentary first draft of the story I'm writing at the moment with me, to pass on to the Young Man so he could suggest improvements. Otherwise I wouldn't have been able to do it. And part of the story is set in Steampunk Victorian Manchester, in a Chinatown that wasn't actually there then, but I thought "The Hell with it - my Manchester has a Chinatown in 1895!" So I felt I really had to stand up and do it - my first time reading my own stuff in front of people I'd never met before! I have, of course, the best boyfriend in the world, who supported me through it all. I was also thinking of the acoustic evenings I go to locally, where I sing and recite - so I thought of Bob, who runs the acoustic evenings, sitting in the corner and encouraging new singers by saying "You're among friends here."
It was still terrifying, but I got a quite respectable 40 points from the judges in the audience. The 5 winners tied with 54 points, including the chap who had suggested the panel, who read his story about a haunted Christmas tree. I also liked the one about the Goddess of Draughts who was living in a cupboard on the main character's landing. Jacq Applebee was there too, with an interesting story set in a world which I'd like to know more about. She was sitting in the audience near us, and confided that, as a library assistant, she had sometimes pretended to mend the photocopier with a sonic screwdriver, and at least one person had believed her!

After that, I needed beer, and dinner, and then we went to Steampunk as a Force for Good, which was a bit more serious than I expected. David Wake was the moderator of the panel, and the one who thought of the panel, and he started off by saying that the police in Lincoln, where Steampunk Asylum is now held yearly, are always keen for the Steampunks to come back. Usually, when large events are held, local crime goes up by 10%, but for Asylum, crime goes down 10% - so how could the Steampunk movement help to make society at large more Splendid?
The conversation ranged widely, pointing out that the Victorian era was the first time of mass production, bringing consumer goods and better food (mass produced bread vs. artisan bread) to the masses, but Steampunk emphasises the hand made and individual crafting skills.
Jacq Applebee (we weren't following her around!) made the point that all this dressing up in colonial uniforms was problematic from the point of view of the people whose ancestors had been oppressed by the British Empire. If you're white and English it's all a bit of fun, but it can be a nasty shock for someone black.
We also talked about the Triangle shirt-waister fire and industrialisation - are Steampunks just picking out the nice bits of Victorian history without thinking about the seamier side of Victorian life, or is it a way of engaging with the real history behind the corsets and goggles? I'm not sure we came to any firm conclusions, but it certainly made us all think!

And that, for us, was where the Con ended. It would have been lovely to stay for some of the events on Monday, but it would have made it very awkward to catch our trains. At least we also had a chance to sample the delights of the Piccadilly Tap - including Adnams beer, which I never expected to see that far from Suffolk!

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Mancunicon Saturday

On Friday morning, we went in search of the free bus service that serves the town centre, but it was a bit of a long way to walk to the bus stop by Oxford Road railway station (the first railway station in the world!) with my Young Man still needing his crutch, so for the rest of the weekend we got taxis either way instead. I could definitely get used to helpful staff phoning for a cab which arrives within five minutes every time I want one!

I wanted to see the A Feminist Fantasy Canon panel, which included one of the guests of honour, Aliette de Bodard. The consensus was that we don't actually want a fixed canon of women fantasy writers, because that would be bound to exclude other writers, but we do want the existance of women SF and fantasy writers to be acknowledged, instead of being discovered anew every generation with astonishment, as if women had never written SF or fantasy before (except for Ursula le Guin!).
At the moment I'm following the re-read of Katherine Kurtz's Deryni books on - she was writing historical fantasy in the 1970s which was influential, but overlooked now. One edition of her books has an introduction by Lin Carter, who did a huge amount of work to get fantasy books published, and he was astonished that the first four authors he had published were women, and that they were better than any of the men's work he had looked at! Another of those authors was Joy Chant, whose Red Moon and Black Mountain deserves to be far better known.

Lunch was down on the ground floor, with more helpful staff behind the counter - we had a burger and potato wedges, and drinks from the American Craft Beer stand which the hotel had laid on specially for the Con. I never usually drink lager, but the Amber Lager I had was really very nice (and now I've forgotten the brewers!). Outside the windows, the rain was blowing sideways, which really made me feel I was back home!

Later, the Young Man went to the Tribute to Tanith Lee, another great fantasy writer, while I went to the Kaffeeklatch with Charles Stross.
This was very exciting. I first became aware of Charles Stross when he won a Hugo for Equoid - and thought that I probably wouldn't like to read it because it was described as horror. Then I saw him at EasterCon last year, sharing a stage with Jim Butcher - and they were both very funny together. So I tried one of the Laundry Files series, and was instantly hooked. For me, horror is a lot easier to read when it's also very funny. The other people in the room with Charlie were far better versed in his work than I was - now I need to look out for the Merchant Princes series, too.
He is immensely busy at the moment, with five books on the go at different stages (on another panel the following day he said he managed to watch about two new films a decade, prompting the response "That's why you meet your deadlines!"). He also gleefully described the way he's going to blow up Leeds (with added dragons and elves) in his next Laundry Files book, and make Bob (main character in the Laundry Files) go on TV to be interviewed/grilled by Jeremy Paxman at the beginning of the following book about elvish immigration policy!

Later, we went to the talk by Lilian Edwards entitled Privacy and Identity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which she said was her Daredevil talk, with a bit of Captain America. She works in the area of privacy laws, and casually mentioned being quoted in New Scientist, and attending a House of Lords committee - but she's also a great Daredevil fan (and a fan of the present trend for male heroes to take their tops off for the delectation and delight of middle aged women!). The talk also went off into the areas of real names on Facebook - and the good reasons some people have for using a pseudonym, illustrated with the way Matt Murdock's life was ruined by him being outed as Daredevil.

We were going to the Little-Known British SF TV shows of the 1950s to 1970s talk - but it was in Room 6 and there was no way we were going to squeeze in, so we went up to the Presidential Suite for the Elsewhen Press book launch. We didn't stay too long, because the Young Man needed to sit, and all the chairs were taken, but several of the authors appearing in the new anthology read from their work, with the backdrop of sunset over Manchester from a great height.

We finished the evening off with An Adventure in Time and Space: 53 Years in 53 Rels - a play dashing through the entire history of Doctor Who, with a small cast who all played several parts (and were all holding their scripts, which didn't detract from the fun at all), with minimal costume changes (Adric had his gold star of mathematical excellence; Davros sat in a chair holding his arm at an odd angle etc.) with Daleks and dinosaurs being represented by toys being waved in the air from the side of the stage. It was very funny.
There was a running gag about girl companions leaving to get married ("Yay! Feminism!"), topped off by Missy snogging the Doctor near the end ("Yay! Feminism!"), and the chap playing the War Doctor did a very good John Hurt impression. He also played the Fourth Doctor. Oh, and Leela had a Scandinavian accent for some reason.