Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Viking Carrots

I was flicking through the Amnesty International gift catalogue today when I saw something that made me wince slightly (speaking as a Viking re-enactor).
The idea is great - get kids growing vegetables under the pretext that they're "Growing and Eating like a Viking". Trouble is, the crop they are encouraged to grow is carrots.

Vikings didn't know about carrots.

One of the early references to carrots in Europe was the rather lovely book The Menagier of Paris, a manual written by an older man to instruct his new young wife in her household duties - including gardening, and including exciting new vegetables like carrots! The book was written in the 14th century. And the carrots were white, or purple, or yellow. Orange carrots that we know and love now were bred in the Netherlands, to celebrate their prince, whose title was "of Orange". Which was a place, as well as a colour.

So, it's not quite as bad as horns on helmets (Vikings never wore them - however the silly little bird on Kirk Douglas's helmet in the film The Vikings is totally authentic), or the scene in Noggin the Nog where he's planting potatoes in his garden when he's called to his throne room to give an audience (potatoes came later, too, and from much further south in the New World than the Vikings ever reached).

I wonder what the "Viking feast" is like, as described in the Viking recipe that comes with the pack....

Monday, 25 January 2016

Weather, Climate Change, and Related Matters in 2015

I thought this was worth sharing, from Greg Laden's blog, as a clear explanation of what's been happening with the climate recently

Weather, Climate Change, and Related Matters in 2015: Science as culture, culture as science

Mrs Pankhurst's Statue

A Manchester councillor has started a project to have a statue of a famous woman associated with Manchester erected in the city. At the moment, the only statue of a woman in the city centre is Queen Victoria in Albert Square.
Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst won the nomination, from a shortlist of 6 women, with 56% of the vote. The statue will cost £200,000, from private funds, and should be ready by 2019.
The other women on the shortlist were:
Ellen Wilkinson, who helped to organise the Jarrow March in 1935, and was a Labour MP.
Elizabeth Gaskell, the Victorian novelist.
Louise Da-Cocodia, the first black senior nursing officer in Manchester - she came from Jamaica in 1955 and also campaigned against racism.
Elizabeth Rafald, author of The Experienced English Housekeeper, who was born in 1733 and was the housekeeper at Arley Hall in Cheshire.
and Margaret Ashton, the first woman city councillor in Manchester, who also campaigned for votes for women.
Mrs Pankhurst's home, at Chorlton-cum-Medlock, is now a museum and community centre - the manager there said she was "thrilled to bits".

Friday, 22 January 2016

Black Sailors at Trafalgar

It's slightly before Victoria's reign, but does show how black people were an integral part of major British events as far back as 1805.

I was listening to a piece on Radio 4, where a historian was saying that 20% of the sailors in the British fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar may have been black. He also pointed out that there is a figure of a black sailor on the plinth of Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, and another black sailor in the painting of the Death of Nelson now held at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. As he said, the painter and sculptor weren't putting those figures in to be politically correct - they were putting them in because the sailors had been there.
After doing a little research myself, I see that it's not actually that easy to determine how many black sailors there were - the muster rolls didn't indicate race, but they did usually say where the sailor came from. Here's the list from the Victory, taken from an article in the Independent:

"Nelson's Navy may now be seen as being as English as boiled beef, but the Victory muster book listed only 441 English on board on the morning of the battle. The remainder were a seafaring United Nations: 64 Scots, 63 Irish, 18 Welsh, 3 Shetlanders, 2 Channel Islanders, one Manxman, 21 Americans, 7 Dutch, 6 Swedes, 4 Italians, 4 Maltese, 3 Norwegians, 3 Germans, 2 Swiss, 2 Portuguese, 2 Danes, 2 Indians, 1 Russian, 1 Brazilian, 1 African, 9 West Indians, and three French volunteers."

Also on the Victory was "William Brown", who was dismissed from the British Navy in 1815 after serving eleven years and becoming captain of the foretop on the Charlotte - because she was female. Two women are also in the painting of the Death of Nelson, on board the ship as wives of members of the crew.

57 of the crew of the Victory died during the battle or of their wounds in the next few days, with 102 being wounded.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Doctor Who Unbound from Big Finish

Some time ago, I heard about a CD put out by Big Finish in which the Doctor has regenerated into female form, and is hiding out from the Time Lords by working at a supermarket and going down the pub.
I've finally got round to ordering it from Big Finish. It's called Exile, by Nicholas Briggs, in the Doctor Who Unbound series, and stars Arabella Weir as the Doctor. A bonus is the fact that David Tennant plays Time Lord 2 (and I wouldn't have known - he sounds very different from his usual voice).
Well, I'm glad I listened to it, but there was rather too much drinking to excess and throwing up afterwards for my taste. It was very much played for laughs (as with the Time Lords arriving in the year 2000 dressed like something out of Starsky and Hutch).

While I was looking at the Doctor Who Unbound series, I noticed Sympathy for the Devil, by Jonathan Clements, and decided to order that as well.
This was very impressive! The Doctor this time is David Warner, who plays it much in the style of Patrick Troughton. He has been exiled to Earth by the Time Lords - but instead of arriving in the 1970s and joining UNIT, he arrives in 1997. So this is an alternate time line where UNIT had to deal with all sorts of alien threats without the Doctor's help.
The Doctor arrives in Hong Kong, on the eve of the handover to Chinese control, and finds the retired Brigadier running a pub on the waterfront. And then an invisible plane crashes on the hillside.
Again, there's the bonus of David Tennant, playing Colonel Brimmicombe-Wood - this time with a broad Scottish accent, and an antagonistic attitude towards the Brig.
It's got Buddhist monks, and an old enemy, and I enjoyed it immensely!

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Researching Manchester's Railway Stations

My newly qualified secret agent, Li Bic, is being sent to Manchester to investigate the Chinatown there (which didn't actually exist in 1896, but I'm sending it back in time for the purposes of the story). So naturally, she will arrive by rail - but which station?
It surprised me to find that Manchester Piccadilly has only been known by that name since about 1960, but there has been a station on the site since 1842. For most of that time, it was known as London Road Station, and they even had postcards:

It looks a little bit different today, but that ramp in the foreground is still there.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Kim Siddorn

The funeral will be held tomorrow of Kim Siddorn, founder of one of the oldest and biggest re-enactment groups in the country, Regia Anglorum.

Back when I was an archaeologist, I met Kim, and other members of Regia Anglorum, when they came to the castle in North Wales where I was one of the diggers. The local community had got so interested in what we were doing at the top of the hill at Caergwrle that they decided to hold a Historical Festival, and they invited members of Regia Anglorum along to do living history and skirmishing.
It was great fun! I made a costume, one of the first medieval costumes I'd ever made, with Laura Ashley fabric and a pinafore dress pattern - and I asked a nun of my acquaintance how to make a proper wimple, which I could fasten on with three pins, and without a mirror, if I had to.
I went to work on the bus that weekend, in costume, which turned a few heads. Most people seemed to think I was a nun, despite the patterned fabric of my overdress. One of the Saxon ladies with Regia told me she had the same problem, which was why she had decorated her wimple with embroidery to make it less nun-like.
The chaps in Norman chainmail were great, too - I was doing some of the castle tours, showing what the archaeologists had found so far and talking about the history of the castle, and they were so enthusiastic! It was great to have a discussion with the people I was showing round, who knew about castle design.
Kim Siddorn did the commentary for the shows that Regia put on, and he was very interesting, talking about how members of the society looked at things like the Bayeaux Tapestry and tried to work things out by experiment - for instance, what were those little squares depicted on the tapestry attached to the chainmail cowl? It seemed most likely that they were extra face protection, which could dangle down when not in use.

So that show, and the one the following year, whetted my appetite for re-enactment. In fact, several people who were volunteering on the dig wanted to set up a Regia group in the village. The only reason I didn't join in the end was because I moved away to do archaeology in London - and the group in Caergwrle ended up as the Samhain Society, which still exists.

Here's a picture of the corner of the castle where the medieval bread oven was found - which I helped to excavate.

Friday, 8 January 2016

The Amazing Kreskin

A chap came into the bookshop where I work the other day and bought a book about hypnotism. He said he was going to send it to a friend in the States, who has a collection of six and half thousand books on hypnotism - but not that one, even though he's mentioned in it several times.
So I asked who the man's friend was - and he said Mr. Kreskin.
I remember coming home from school for lunch when The Amazing Kreskin was on lunchtime TV, back in the 1970s. I was always very impressed with what he could do.

The man told me how they had met, thirty years ago. He does a bit of magic and hypnotism himself, and had gone to a show that Mr Kreskin put on, with a portrait he had painted to give to him. The show had a late finish - 1am, but he went to the stage door after the show with his parcel. An enormous bodyguard opened the door to him, and said that Mr Kreskin didn't want to be disturbed - he was eating his chicken and chips. My customer explained about he portrait he had painted, and the bodyguard took it in to the theatre. A little while later, he returned. "Give him fifteen minutes," he said. So, after Mr Kreskin had finished his meal, my customer went in to see him and chat. They've been friends ever since.

He's still active in the States, I was surprised to find - he has an official website.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Horwood House - secret agent training school!

I've started writing the sequel to The Secret of Saynshand, in which my heroine, Li Bic, is sent for training as a secret agent.
She arrives in England, in proper Steampunk fashion, aboard an airship, which lands at Northolt Aerodrome. This was the predecessor to Heathrow.
I knew I wanted the training school to be a country house somewhere in Southern England, but where?
So I had a look at a railway map - and found the line going to Bletchley. Bletchley Park, as a code breaking institution, didn't exist in 1895, of course, and neither did nearby Milton Keynes, but one of the villages close by might fit the bill for my purposes.
Great Horwood sounded as if it was the sort of place that would have a Hall.
So I looked it up - the house is actually called Horwood House, and seems to be a hotel where they do weddings now - and it is absolutely perfect as a setting!

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Agent Carter

One of my Christmas presents this year was the DVD of the first series of Agent Carter - and it's been tremendous fun watching it!
The period detail is wonderful - those cars, and those fashions! Howard Stark looks like Douglas Fairbanks (it's the moustache, of course), and - can I just take Jarvis home with me?
And Peggy Carter is awesome! Having shown just how competent she was during the War (and the after effects of the War are everywhere, from Agent Souza's crutch to Peggy's first room mate, who really was Rosie the Rivetter) now she's reduced to taking the coffee orders, manning the phones and having to argue to get any more taxing assignments.
It's a breath of fresh air when she does go out on a mission, having obtained the services of the Howling Commandos, and they treat her with the respect she deserves, having served with her and Steve Rogers before.
There's also an intriguing look at a Russian training camp for little girls....
So she has to investigate the theft of Howard Stark's "bad babies" (his really dangerous inventions) behind the back of the SSR, with the help of Jarvis.

I'm so glad there's going to be a second season!

Friday, 1 January 2016

The Secret of Saynshand

I've just been on Smashwords, uploading my new story.
It's a Steampunk adventure, featuring intrepid secret agents, Mongolian Book Bandits and a dastardly Russian plot involving the trans-Mongolian railway.
Li Bic, a Chinese-American young lady from San Francisco, and Amelia Harper, from England, are the heroines, and I had great fun researching their travels through China on the Grand Canal, and up into Mongolia and the town of Saynshand, on the edge of the Gobi desert.

My book covers are very basic, but there are websites full of the most appalling covers which were designed by professionals working for proper publishers. The title and author are the most important things - and the image is of Bic's fighting fan. It's now been added to the side bar, and there is a link to my Smashwords page at the bottom of the blog list.