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.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Friday at Mancunicon

I've just spent a fantastic weekend in Manchester at Mancunicon, this year's EasterCon, which was held in the Manchester Hilton. We weren't staying in the Hilton - we were at a budget hotel across the town centre, which worked very well for us, though it did mean we had to curtail the last day of the con because of travel arrangements (the difficulties of living in a rural area with a limited bus service meant I had to leave Manchester quite early on the Monday to get back in time for the last bus home).

So, I come from Manchester - and Manchester has changed a lot since I last lived there. For a start, the Deansgate Hilton is new - and a prominent landmark (the eleventh tallest building in Britain, I think it was). We always knew we were going in the right direction to find it. The entrance was a bit of a wind tunnel though!
We spent quite a bit of time mingling in the main bar area, and meeting some lovely people (and sampling some good local beer from the Real Ale Bar - I don't remember the brewery, but the Black Swan was a very nice dark beer).

After the opening ceremony, the discussion panels, for me, were all about the local area. My Young Man went off to find out how to put twists in his stories, and came back full of ideas. I went to the science talk Jodrell Bank Explores the Universe. Jodrell Bank is fairly close by, and it was great to have scientists who work there to come and talk. There was a good selection of science talks during the weekend.
I learnt a lot - I had no idea that Jodrell Bank can link up with other radio telescopes all over the world to make one huge radio telescope, for instance.
There was a short film, When Galaxies Collide, showing 5 billion years of time squashed into just over a minute, which was a simulation of the Andromeda Galaxy passing through the Milky Way. "Shall I show it again?" Megan Argo asked, adding "I've never had anybody say no to that." She also said, with her first slide of the film poster from When Worlds Collide spliced with the galaxies in the background, that this was probably the most appropriate place she had ever shown it - she usually gives the talk to astronomy groups.
One of the other scientists talked about work they will be doing later this year, involving the event horizon of a black hole, which they were pretty excited about.

Later, I was reliving my youth, at the Alan Garner panel. It was a pity Room 6 was so small - there were several talks there where people were being turned away. In this case, the audience that managed to squeeze in were immensely knowledgeable about Alan Garner's work. On the panel was a lady who works with Alan Garner at his home, Toad Hall, which is open to the public occasionally (at which times, Alan Garner hides). She said that, if you timed it carefully, you could visit Toad Hall and Jodrell Bank and Alderley Edge all on the same day. Archaeological digs run at the Hall, all done on a shoestring - "It's like the WI running it," was one comment - and they have discovered Bronze Age artefacts on the site. Toad Hall itself is a medieval timber framed hall, which was disassembled and brought to the site from it's original site about fourteen miles away - you can do that with medieval timber framed buildings - they were deliberately built in kit form.
One of the speakers said that, although Alan Garner's work is steeped in myth and local legend, he doesn't have much time for modern Pagans, possibly because he doesn't want his work to be hijacked by a movement he's not particularly interested in (I think that was the gist of it).
She also pointed out the immense amounts of research that went into each book - Alan Garner learned Welsh for The Owl Service, for instance, and when there was an online discussion about his books (I think she said on the Guardian website) there were about a dozen people in the group, and between them they had the expertise that Alan Garner had on his own to write the story!
And, moving on to The Stone Book Quartet - that is his own family history that he's describing, and you can still go to see the church steeple that his great-grandfather worked on, and walls that ancestors of his had built.
And of course Boneland, the book that finishes off the story that started with the Wierdstone of Brisingamen fifty years after it started, brings us back to Jodrell Bank. Not many authors can do that with their work.
Sadly, what came out of the discussion was that Alan Garner is a writer with a deep connection with place, but also a deep connection with a fixed point in time. The audience was all around the same sort of age, and several had tried to get young teenagers to read the books, only to find that the teenagers were not terribly interested. They don't remember the clearance of the terraced houses (as in the beginning of Elidor) in the same way that we do, who saw it happening, for instance, and Alderley Edge is not so wild as it once was. To go down the old mine workings now, you need to be with an official group of cavers, while in the 1970s one of the ladies on the panel used to go exploring down there as a kid, with no caving equipment whatsoever.

In the evening, we ascended to the 22nd floor and the Presidential Suite for a magnificent view of Manchester by night and a Steampunk gathering, with a dramatic reading from David Wake's Steampunk series of books. He was the one taking a lectern around with him all weekend, ready to do a reading anywhere! My Young Man enjoyed the talk so much he bought the trilogy.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Let Women Fly! Pioneer Aviator Ruth Law

She flew during the First World War, but she was not allowed to fly in combat - hence her article in the magazine Air Travel in 1917, Let Women Fly! She was allowed to wear uniform, but was told she could best help the war effort by teaching others to fly.

Ruth Law got her pilot's license in 1912 - she actually bought her aeroplane from Orville Wright. She looped the loop during a flying display in 1915, the first woman to do this. In 1916, she took part in an altitude competition, coming second, and that November she broke the cross-America flight air speed record of 452 miles by flying non-stop from Chicago to New York State, a distance of 590 miles. The next day she flew on to New York City.
After the First World War, she set up the Ruth Law Flying Circus, with three planes, but her husband eventually persuaded her to stop flying, because he was so fearful for her safety.
She died in San Francisco in 1970, aged 83.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Manchester in 1901

Manchester in 1901

Amazing footage of Manchester city centre in 1901!Source: BFI

Posted by The MANC Bible on Monday, 14 March 2016

A street scene in Manchester in 1901, only five years after the date of the story I'm writing at the moment, so this is just the sort of research I'm looking out for!

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Goodbye, Lady Penelope

Sad news today that Sylvia Anderson, best known as the voice of Lady Penelope in Thunderbirds, has died, aged 88. She did a lot more behind the scenes than just the voice, of course.
As a lifetime fan of Thunderbirds (I remember watching it in the 1960s), I was really pleased that the new Thunderbirds series had found a place for Sylvia Anderson in the production. She plays the voice of the new Lady Penelope's aunt (or possibly great aunt) and gets that iconic line:
"'Ome, milady?"
"Home, Parker."

[Edited to add: I've just seen Designated Driver, the episode in which Lady Sylvia appears, and she never gets to say that line, though I'm sure I remember it being said in the interview I heard with Sylvia Anderson a while ago. The episode is great fun, though, and Lady Sylvia is awesome in her Mary Quant style mini dress. There's also a special appearance of FAB 0 - the original 1960s style FAB 1 Rolls Royce.]

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Trowelblazers - Marge Lambert

Marge Lambert was the first woman curator of archaeology in the United States - and has become a Santa Fe Living Treasure, along with her husband Jack, who started his working life as a cowboy.
Between 1932 and 1936, Marge began her archaeological career in New Mexico, digging at a variety of sites. Several of these were substantial pueblo villages like Kuaua Pueblo, which she dug with Edgar Lee Hewitt. In 1937, she became curator of archaeology at the Museum of New Mexico, and her work throughout her career was important in including American Indians of the South West and Hispanic people in the history, archaeology and anthropology of the region.

A picture of Kuaua Pueblo.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Asian Victorians - Prince Duleep Singh and his Family

Because people from all around the world came to live in Victorian Britain, not just black people.

Years ago, I visited Thetford, mostly for the fine motte and to see the places that had been the scenes of outdoor location shooting for Dad's Army - despite being nowhere near the sea, Thetford was actually Walmington-on-Sea!
And near the river, we came upon a statue of a Sikh Prince.

Prince Duleep Singh lived near to Thetford, at Elvedon Estate (now owned by the Guinness family). Before that he had lived in Yorkshire and Scotland, where he was known as the Black Prince of Perthshire. Although he lived the life of an aristocrat, and became the fourth best shot in England (apparently) in game shooting circles, he was not living in England by choice.

At the age of five, he was declared Maharajah of the Sikh Empire, after four of his predecessors were assassinated. After the First Anglo-Sikh War, he and his mother were imprisoned by the British, and at the age of fifteen he was sent to England. Queen Victoria befriended him, but he was separated from his mother for thirteen years, when she was allowed to come to England to be with him for the last two years of her life. He visited India only twice - once to be re-united with his mother, Maharani Jind Kaur, and once to scatter her ashes. He attempted to return to India in 1886, but only got as far as Aden, where he was arrested and sent back to Britain.
He died in Paris, at the age of 55, and is buried in Elvedon Church, beside his wife Bamba and his son Edward Albert Duleep Singh. In his youth, he converted to Christianity, but later (while at Aden on his way back to India) re-converted to Sikhism.

Prince Duleep Singh married twice - he and Bamba Muller had six children, and his second wife Ada Douglas Wetherill had two children. None of the eight children had legitimate children of their own, ending the line of the Sikh royal family. Princes Victor and Frederick went to Eton in the 1870s.
He met Bamba, the daughter of a German banker and a Coptic slave, in Egypt on his way back from scattering his mother's ashes, and they were married in Alexandria.
Ada was supposed to be a French princess, but was actually the Prince's mistress, who went to join him in Paris when he abandoned his first family. This was after his failed attempt to return to India. Ada was with him when he travelled to St Petersburg to try to persuade the Czar to invade India from the north and re-install him as ruler.

One of the most interesting of his children was Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, who became a suffragette. She lived in a "grace and favour" house at Hampton Court, and visited India in 1907. When she came back, she turned her attention to women's suffrage as an associate of Mrs Pankhurst, and the aid of the Indian soldiers during the First World War. She worked as a nurse among the Indian wounded soldiers in Brighton.
She died in 1948, and her ashes were scattered in India.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Women Warriors - Communist fighters in the Greek Civil War

In Greece, fighting did not stop at the end of the Second World War. The country had three more years of fighting in a civil war between the Greek government army, backed by Britain and the United States, and the Democratic Army of Greece - the military wing of the Greek Communist Party, backed by Yugoslavia, Albania and Bulgaria. Many members of this army had been partisans during the War, fighting the Italians and Germans.
Government forces eventually won the civil war.

These women are part of the Communist army.