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!