Friday, 24 November 2017

The Beginning of the Avengers

That's the Steed Avengers, not the Captain America Avengers.

I grew up watching The Avengers, and wanting to be Emma Peel when I grew up (or Sharon Macready from the Champions - I wasn't fussy as long as it involved stylish costumes and the ability to throw a man across a room!)
I was rather too young to have watched the very beginning of the series, though, and I only have very hazy memories of Cathy Gale, Steed's partner before Emma Peel.

So this week a collection of DVD boxed sets arrived at the Cinema Bookshop, where I work - and amongst them was a complete set of the Avengers. So I raided the piggy bank, and I watched the first disc last night.
I was aware that the first season was all about Steed and Dr Keel, played by Ian Hendry - not all of the episodes survive, but the few that do are quite entertaining from a historical viewpoint. Ian Hendry had been the lead in Police Surgeon, which only ran for 13 episodes before running into some legal difficulties, so the idea of the Avengers was thought up very quickly to give him another series to star in, and Steed began as a supporting character. The trademark umbrella and quips are there from the start, though - he's recognisably the Steed of the later series, though he does seem to be a bit more ruthless - he has a thug wailing in fear (off camera so we don't see exactly what he does to him) at one point, and a cut throat razor is involved....

Only the first fifteen minutes of the very first episode survive, and most of those are taken up with a man in a raincoat lurking around a doctor's surgery after hours, which introducing Dr Keel, his fiancée Peggy, and Dr Tredding, the partner in the London practice. Pretty quickly, though, Man in Raincoat's criminal gang decides that Peggy must die, and she is 'fridged' to give Dr Keel his motivation to help Steed bring the criminal gang to justice.
I honestly don't know why they bothered killing Peggy, because the next episode to survive has a new young woman, Carol, as the practice nurse, helping Dr Keel and really, it may as well have been Peggy.
There's a fair amount of location shooting in the episodes, which is fun. I recently watched the Dalek Invasion of Earth, a First Doctor story with a lot of location work around London from just a few years later than this season of the Avengers - so there was Dr Keel helping to get a body out of the Thames on the Embankment very close to where the Daleks later patrolled.
There was also a busy scene of a London shopping street, complete with man wheeling a bicycle laden with onions - I don't suppose many of those shops are still there. However, there was a nice acknowledgement of multi-culturalism, as that week's criminal gang had their headquarters in the back room of a shop owned by an Italian, and Steed speaks Italian to him. One of Steed's informants on the street is a black man, who gets a few lines, too.
And the women are mostly pretty capable - Carol the nurse proves to be brave and resourceful when captured backstage of an Eastern European State Circus. One of the baddies in that episode, The Girl on the Trapeze, is Vera, looking like an early superhero in leotard and long cape - Dr Keel gets to punch several men, but of course Carol can only fight another woman - but it's pretty good for the early 1960s.
There are parts for older women as well, one of whom is the wonderful Doris Hare, as an actress brought in to con a con man (she's pretending to be his mother to expose his con to his victims). As soon as the bad guys are successfully rounded up, she drops the poor old mum routine and shares a glass of brandy with Steed as she gets her fee for the performance.
There's some wonderful slang, too, which can be pretty obscure for a modern audience. One posh character talks about "debs" and "The Season" - young women were still being presented at Court as debutantes in the early sixties, though the custom was about to die out.
And then there's the money - there's a bit of business with Dr Keel paying for tickets for the circus. Sixteen shillings each, with him giving an extra two shillings so he got a ten shilling note in change (there were twenty shillings to the pound). And after all that, they only got to watch half the show.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Goodbye, Mr Rodney

Very sad to hear that Rodney Bewes has just died. He was 79.
Most people seem to be remembering him for The Likely Lads, but I first knew him as Mr Rodney, human sidekick to Basil Brush, trying to be sensible, and reading Basil de Farmer, the Man in Shining Armour in instalments at the end of each show.


In more recent years, he toured a one man show about Three Men in a Boat, which came to local Theatr Brycheiniog.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Taoist Priestesses

So I've just spent a very happy week with my Young Man, during which we did a bit of brainstorming on my latest story. My Steampunk heroine is researching Chinese magic, and as a result, I've been attempting some online research. After a while, I discovered sites talking about Taoist magic, and I was delighted to find that there are Taoist priestesses. So Li Bic will be meeting someone like this in her search for a ritual good enough to fool a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn (she's putting her head somewhat into the lion's den in this one, tangling with real Western ritual magicians!).

Thursday, 9 November 2017

New Doctor, New Costume

Jodie Whitaker's costume as the Doctor has only just been announced, and already there is fan art!
This is by ZestyDoesThings, seen on Twitter:

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Remember, Remember....


The real meaning of Guy Fawkes Night - when a group of conspirators tried to blow up Parliament with everybody inside it.
Okay, they did not have a credible plan - they wanted to restore a Catholic monarchy, with very little political support, by kidnapping King James' nine-year old daughter Princess Elizabeth and bringing her up as a Catholic.
However, it's still important that we should remember it, and not let it get completely swamped by Hallowe'en. Maybe the new TV series with Kit Harington will help. It seems that he's a direct descendent of Robert Catesby, the leader of the conspirators.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Roy Dotrice, RIP

Sorry to hear that Roy Dotrice has died. He was 94.

I remember him first as Father in Beauty and the Beast - the wise, kind older man who held the underground community together.


Later, he played a much more unpleasant father - Wesley's dad in Angel:


And of course he was in Hellboy, with Ron Perlman again.

On stage, he was part of the RSC at a time when many great names were gracing the boards there, including Laurence Olivier, Peter O'Toole and Paul Robeson.

Born on the island of Guernsey, he escaped with this brother and mother at the beginning of the Second World War, and joined the RAF as a wireless operator and air gunner - and ended up in a POW camp after being shot down. After the War, he began his acting career, and was still going strong quite recently, with a small part in Game of Thrones, for which he also read the audio books.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Trowelblazers - Bridget Allchin in South Asia


Here's a fascinating archaeologist with links to Gordon Childe, Kathleen Kenyon, and Agatha Christie!

Bridget Gordon was born in 1927, in Oxford, and during the Second World War she ran the family farm in the Scottish Borders when her father was called up for military service. He was a Major in the Indian Army Medical Service.
After the war, the family moved to South Africa, where Bridget managed to persuade her family to let her study at Cape Town University, where she was taught anthropology and archaeology as part of her African Studies degree. She also learned to pilot a small aircraft, taught by a Battle of Britain pilot!
She returned to London in 1950, where she wanted to take up a higher degree in prehistory at the LSE, only to be told that she needed to do another first degree because the one she had was "colonial".
She went for an interview with Gordon Childe, who was the Director of the Institute of Archaeology at UCL, and walked out ten minutes later with her being admitted to a doctorate focussed on the late Stone Age of South Africa. This was where she met Kathleen Kenyon and Agatha Christie.
While studying, she met Raymond Allchin, late of the Indian Army, who was studying Sanskrit and Hindi. Raymond was offered a PhD scholarship to study the archaeology of the Deccan in 1951, with provision for a wife's fare and allowance, so they got married and set off. First, though, they spent their honeymoon in the Dordogne, looking at prehistoric wall paintings.
At first in partnership with her husband, and later on her own, Bridget established herself as a foremost authority on South Asian archaeology, from Afghanistan to Sri Lanka, with many publications to her name. By this time, she and Raymond also had two children, born in the early 1950s.
One of the projects she worked on was the study of the Great Thar Desert, between India and Pakistan, and stone tools were one of her areas of expertise.
She became secretary-general of the Association of South Asian Archaeologists in 1970, and became editor of Afghan Studies in 1978. She was also the founding editor of the journal South Asian Studies.
In 1980 she and Raymond helped to found the Ancient India and Iran Trust, and she became first secretary, and later chair, of the Trust.
She was also a fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge for 50 years, and in 2014 she was awarded the Royal Asiatic Society's gold medal in recognition of her role as a pioneering female field archaeologist in South Asia. She and Raymond also gave their name to the Annual Allchin Symposium on South Asian Archaeology.
She died in June this year. Raymond died in 2010. There is a joint autobiography called From the Oxus to Mysore in 1951: the Start of a Great Partnership in Indian Scholarship.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Tea Gown from 1908


Isn't it gorgeous? I saw it on Twitter, copied from the Museum of the City of New York. Apparently it was designed to be worn in the comfort of the wearer's home - of course, it's the sort of thing I wear in the comfort of my own home all the time (I wish!).

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Men in Sarongs

Stewart Granger made several films in the Pacific Islands around the 1950s - I remember watching All the Brothers Were Valiant, an action adventure film in which he played a sailing ship's captain, for instance - and he came back from the Pacific with a habit of wearing sarongs as casual wear. He found them comfortable and practical garments.
They're basically skirts, of course, and they're worn throughout the Pacific and South East Asia as everyday male clothing.
Sadly I was unable to find a picture of Stewart Granger in a sarong, but here is a group of Indonesian men:

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Gender Neutral School Uniforms

So, I've been thinking about the recent case where a family took their six year old out of school because he'd seen another child wearing a skirt - and the child was a boy. The parents said that the child had been confused and upset, though presumably he had no problem with girls wearing trousers. I was glad to hear that the other parents at the school had rallied round the family of the skirt wearing child.

It reminded me of the private school in London I once saw a documentary about - set up in the 1940s, I think, the headmaster wanted all the children to be treated identically, so he wanted a uniform which every child could wear. His solution to the problem was knickerbockers. I looked it up, and the school still exists today. It's called Hill House, and this is the uniform:


Apparently Prince Charles was a pupil there.

But why shouldn't boys wear skirts? Here is a picture from another school, where the boys wanted to wear shorts in the hot summer term. When they were refused permission, they came to school like this:


They're boys. They're wearing skirts. Nobody is confused about their gender or sexuality here. They just wanted to wear a comfortable item of clothing.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Men in Skirts

There's been a furore recently about John Lewis store re-labelling their children's clothes "For Boys and Girls" instead of having separate ranges for boys and for girls. Also in the news has been a school developing a gender neutral uniform, and I heard an interview on Radio 4 the other day with a woman who had traditional views about what children should wear (and thought it would be confusing to their delicate little minds if a boy was seen wearing a skirt) and a trans gender person, who obviously was involved in the debate because they thought it was a good idea.
I appreciate the trans gender argument, but I think that it's something of a red herring. Why shouldn't a boy wear a skirt if he wants to, without wanting to be a girl or exploring the idea he may be gay or transgender? Why can't he just wear it because it's a comfortable article of clothing?
I wore shorts as a child, and I was never confused into thinking I was a boy, and nor did I want to be - I wanted to be a girl who got to do all the exciting and interesting things that boys were allowed to do. I wanted a pair of shoes with a compass in the heel, too, but those were only made for boys.
And the thing is that men wear skirts all around the world all the time, without it confusing their sexuality, or making them want to change gender.
The obvious example is men wearing Scottish kilts:

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

The Wreck of the SS Mendi

I was reading the latest issue of British Archaeology magazine when a small story caught my eye - it was about the wreck of the SS Mendi, which sank in 1917 with great loss of life off the Isle of Wight, and the rediscovery of the ship's bell, which had somehow found its way to Swanage Pier in Dorset.
So I went looking for a few more details, and found a fascinating story of the First World War.
The SS Mendi was built in 1905, as a passenger steamship, for the British and African Steam Navigation Company. In 1916 the ship was chartered by the Admiralty as a troop ship, and in 1917 she was being used to bring 823 African troops of the 5th battalion of the South African Native Labour Corps from Cape Town to France. They were on their way across the Channel from Plymouth to Le Havre, escorted by HMS Brisk, in thick fog, when the Mendi was hit by the Darro, a cargo ship - sinking the Mendi with the loss of 607 black troops and 30 crew, many of whom were also black. Many of the troops had never been to sea before their voyage from Cape Town, and few could swim. Some were trapped below decks.
The Darro did not stay to assist, but the Brisk lowered life boats to rescue survivors.
The master of the Darro was later found guilty of having travelled too fast during fog, without sounding the proper fog warnings, and his license was suspended for a year. The Darro sustained damage that put the ship out of action for three months.
The wreck of the Mendi was rediscovered in 1974, and in 2009 it was designated a protected war grave.
There was a commemoration of the sinking in February this year, on the 100th anniversary, and there are monuments in South Africa, as well as a short film telling the story, and a Radio 4 documentary featuring a memorial poem by Jackie Kay.

The hero of the hour, who was one of the men who drowned, was Isaac Williams Wauchope, a Xhosa Congregational minister and noted South African journalist who stayed with the men on the sinking ship. He was 64 when he died. Here's part of his obituary:

(From Wauchope’s obituary by S.E. Krune Mqhayi)

…On 20 February 1917 the ship Mendi left England to cross the straits known as the English Channel, between England and France. Everyone thought they were beyond enemy threat, but danger lurked close at hand. That night was pitch black in the sea fog and the lights were ineffective. At dawn on the 21st a thunderous crash was heard as the Mendi was rammed by another ship, truly gigantic. They could not see each other. The Mendi was pierced in the side, and a huge fissure was opened through which the water poured in, eliminating all hope of saving her. The other ship struggled to rescue those who were drowning, but the confusion of darkness and war hampered the effort.

Reader, observe the frantic thrashing of people trying to save themselves! Danger of this sort was something new: they had no experience of it! Some woke befuddled by sleep and had no idea where to head for safety! It’s said there were too few lifeboats for the crowds on board. Then in an instant the ship went down like a stone! Reader, please observe your boys sucked down into a watery expanse without beginning or end! See them clutch at each other, ignorant of their actions! See them filling that boat there, more weight than it can bear, so that now all the dozens in it are engulfed by the sea! Never forget, reader, the cold of that country, and in water too! Think of the groups in that cold, their manly arms failing, their bodies sinking from sight! Never forget, reader, that the young men of your country worked wonders in that crisis, wonders in rescuing large numbers of white men who were their superiors, and lost their own lives in saving others!

Was there ever such a sacrifice? Don’t shut your ears, reader, to the cry of your country’s children. Does a sacrificial beast not cry because of the pain? Without it that sacrifice would not be acceptable! The cry is a sign that the sacrifice has been accepted. Didn’t our Lord utter a confused cry on Golgotha? Today that rock juts over the whole world.

But wait! Please do the right thing, my friend, my reader. Where exactly is the son of Citashe at this juncture?

Those who were there say the hero from Ngqika’s land, descended from heroes, was standing to one side now as the ship was sinking! As a chaplain he had the opportunity to board a boat and save himself, but he didn’t! He was appealing to the leaderless soldiers urging them to stay calm, to die like heroes on their way to war. We hear that he said:

Now then stay calm my countrymen!

Calmly face your death!

This is what you came to do!

This is why you left your homes!

Peace, our own brave warriors!

Peace, you sons of heroes,

Today is your final day,

Prepare for the ultimate ford!

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Trowel Blazers - Mary Leakey

The Leakey family are among the "aristocracy" of archaeology - justly famous for their work in Africa. Mary Leakey was the wife of Louis Leakey, working with him for many years at Olduvai Gorge, and the mother of Richard Leakey, who also went on to become a famous archaeologist.
She had an interest in archaeology from an early age, but had an unconventional education, so was unable to go to university. However, she attended lectures on archaeology, and studied under Mortimer Wheeler at the London Museum. He accepted her to work on her first dig, at St Albans. She also worked for Dorothy Liddell at Hembury, a Neolithic site, where she worked for four years, until 1934.
She met Louis Leakey when she was hired to illustrate his book Adam's Ancestors.
They spent much of their time, after they married, working on sites in Kenya and Tanzania, including Olduvai Gorge and Laetoli, where they brought up their children Jonathan, Richard and Philip. These sites are of immense importance in the study of early hominids.
She died in Nairobi in 1996, at the age of 83.
Here she is, with a cast of the famous footprints found at Laetoli, made by an early hominid classified as Australopithicus afarensis, around 3 million years ago:

Monday, 14 August 2017

Women Warriors - WAVES, American women during the Second World War


By the end of the Second World War, around 84,000 women had been accepted into the WAVES programme of the US Navy - standing for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. Around 8,000 women served as officers. Many served in secretarial and clerical positions, but there were also aviation mechanics, photographers, control tower operators and intelligence personnel. In 1944, African American women were also accepted into the programme.
Originally, it was thought that women would only join up for the duration of the war, but in 1948, the Womens' Armed Service Integration Act was passed, allowing women to serve alongside men as permanent members of the armed forces in the US.


Tuesday, 8 August 2017

International Cat Day


For International Cat Day, it's got to be Catwoman, and her henchtigers!

Monday, 7 August 2017

The Ministry of Unladylike Warfare

So I've finally put my latest story on Smashwords - and somewhat to my surprise, I've already sold 2 copies!
I had a lot of fun with this one, researching the early days of the British secret service and SOE and then, in the second half of the story, sending my heroine, Li Bic, to Manchester's Chinatown - which didn't actually exist in 1895, but this is my alternate history, so in my universe the Chinese started arriving from Hong Kong in the 1860s instead of the 1960s.
I was at a panel discussion at EasterCon last year, at the Manchester Hilton, which was talking about Manchester's rich history and wondering why more stories are not set there, especially in the Steampunk genre, when Manchester was the manufacturing capital of the world as far as cotton was concerned!
I'd already decided to send Bic there, but hearing the talk gave me added confidence - it would have been lazy to send her to London, and I wanted to play with the history of my home city.


And, since Bic is undercover as an American newspaper reporter, here are the offices of the Manchester Guardian, which she visits in the course of the story.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Steampunk Tea Set


I only went into Oxfam to get out of the rain!
And then I saw this wonderful tea set with the Hendrick's Gin design. It says "A most unusual gin that is almost certainly not for everyone."
The whole lot cost me £5.99!

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Another Companion Leaves the Time-Space Continuum


It was sad to hear of the death of Deborah Watling, who played Victoria alongside Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines in the 1960s.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Martin Landau has died


Here he is as the commander of Moonbase Alpha in Space:1999, in which he starred with his wife Barbara Bain - though I first knew him as a member of the Mission:Impossible team. He was Rollin Hand, the master of disguise. He also appeared in films like North by Northwest, so he had quite a varied career over the years including, apparently, turning down the role of Spock in Star Trek!
His daughter is Juliet Landau, who played Drusilla in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

New Doctor!

I've just seen the news on Twitter, and it's very exciting! Jodie Whittaker will be the next Doctor!
I haven't seen Broadchurch, but she had a leading role in that series.
Colin Baker tweeted "Change, my dear, and not a moment too soon!"

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Trowelblazers - Katherine Routledge and Easter Island


Katherine Routledge was an anthropologist and archaeologist, born in 1866. She was educated at Somerville Hall in Oxford, where she gained a degree in Modern History in 1895.
In 1906, she married William Scoresby Routledge, and went with him to live among the Kikuyu people in South Africa. In 1910 they published a book about their experiences called With A Prehistoric People.
They next decided to mount an expedition to Easter Island. They had a schooner built which they called the Mana and, with the support of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, the British Museum and the Royal Geographical Society, they recruited a crew and borrowed an officer from the Royal Navy. They set out for Easter Island in 1913, arriving at the beginning of 1914. Although Katherine had no formal training in either anthropology or archaeology, she was given notes and instructions to follow by the Oxford scholar Dr Marett. They excavated statues, and collected oral history and legends from the Easter Islanders, doing a lot to preserve the traditional culture of the island. For instance, she recorded tattoos on the backs of older inhabitants which corresponded to carvings on the backs of some of the statues - tattooing had been suppressed by European missionaries, so this information was not available to later scholars except through her records.
Then the German East Asia Squadron, including armed cruisers and light cruisers, rendezvoused off the island, and landed captured French and British merchant seamen there. It soon became clear that World War One had started, and Katherine complained to the local schoolmaster, as the representative of the neutral country of Chile (Easter Island was within Chilean waters) while her husband sailed the Mana to Valparaiso to complain to the government officials there. The Germans did leave the area after that.
In 1915, they left the island, and in 1919 she published a book called The Mystery of Easter Island. Objects that she and her husband found are now in the Pitt Rivers Museum and the British Museum, and her notes are held by the Royal Geographical Society.
Sadly, she suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, which got worse in 1925 - she was institutionalised in 1929 and died in the mental institution in 1935. Her husband left some of her field notes to the Royal Geographical Society, but other papers continued to turn up later in the family papers.
A book about her life was written by Dr Jo Anne Van Tilburg, a prominent archaeologist on Easter Island, or Rapa Nui. It is called Amongst Stone Giants: the Life of Katherine Routledge and her Remarkable Expedition to Easter Island.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Black Women in Science - Mary Jackson, NASA engineer



Mary Jackson was the engineer featured in the film Hidden Figures. She became the first black female engineer in NASA in 1958, encouraged by Kazimierz Czarnecki, who she worked for at the Supersonic Pressure Tunnel. She co-authored several scientific papers with Czarnecki over the years she worked with him.
In the 1970s, she helped the children at the science club in Hampton to build their own wind tunnel, to get them interested in science and show them that there were black scientists out there. She started off her working life as a teacher in 1942. Away from her work, she was a Girl Scout troop leader for thirty years.
She rose through the ranks at NASA to the most senior position available in the engineering department over her 34 year career there, and then agreed to accept a demotion in order to work as an administrator in the Equal Opportunity Specialist field, where she worked to assist talented women to gain promotions and achieve the recognition they deserved.
She retired in 1985 and died in 2005.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Trowelblazers - Jale Inan, Turkish archaeolgist

Halet Çambel wasn't the only Turkish woman archaeologist - the first woman to work in archaeology in Turkey was Jale Inan.
Her father was the director of the Izmir Archaeology Museum, and she was born (the second daughter of the family) in 1914. He encouraged his daughter in her interest in archaeology, and managed to get her a scholarship to study in Germany, at the German Archaeological Institute. Jale remained in Berlin during the war, completing her doctoral thesis in 1943, sometimes studying in a bunker with bombs falling. Then she returned to Turkey, working at the University of Istanbul. She married Mustafa Inan in 1944, and the following year gave birth to a son.
In 1946, she began work on the Temple of Artemis at the site of Perga, having spent the preceding two years organising the archive at the University and setting up a chair of archaeology with Arif Mufid Mansel. She spent the rest of her career working on sites around Turkey and publishing in both German and Turkish. She died in 2001.
In 1980, at Perga, the bottom half of a statue of Hercules was discovered. No-one knew at the time that one of the workmen on the site had stolen the top half of the statue, which turned up later in New York. In 1990 Özgen Acar, a Turkish journalist, visited the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, and spotted the top half of the statue, a 2ndC AD copy of a statue known as Weary Herakles, by Lysippos. When Jale Inan learned of this, she worked to re-unite the two halves of the statue, having a plaster cast of the bottom half made so that it could be shown that the two halves fitted together. The Americans resisted the calls to return the statue to Turkey until 2011.


Saturday, 24 June 2017

Olive Edis, First Official Female War Photographer


Olive Edis got her first camera in 1900, and set up a studio in Sheringham, Norfolk, in 1905. She became known for her photos of local fisher folk, and also became known for her colour photography. She took her first autochrome pictures in 1912. Later she also had studios in Cromer and Ladbroke Grove in London. The studio in Sheringham still exists - it was designed by her uncle, an architect, with a glass roof to give natural light, and she became known for only using natural light in her photographs.
In 1918, she went to France to photograph the battlefields of France and Flanders, and the British Womens' Services, for the Imperial War Museum. She was only the fourth or fifth photographer officially commissioned to go to a war zone, and the first woman to do so.
In 1920, she was commissioned by Canadian Pacific Railway to take photos for their advertising campaign, and these are believed to be some of the earliest colour photographs of Canada.
She also took portraits of prime ministers, authors and prominent women, including Lloyd George, Thomas Hardy and Nancy Astor, as well as many other prominent people in society.
She died in 1955, and is buried in Sheringham.
Collections of her work are still held by the Imperial War Museum, and Cromer Museum - which holds over 2,000 pictures, the largest single collection of her work. There was also an exhibition of her work last year in Norwich Castle Museum.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

And Now it's Brian Cant....


He was a reassuring, friendly voice for small children for over twenty years as the presenter of Playschool, and then there was Playaway, and the wonderful Camberwick Green, Trumpton and Chigley. He also had a long theatre career, and even appeared in some early Doctor Who episodes.
So here are Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb, at Trumpton Fire Station, on parade.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Vir Cotto Waves Farewell


I came late to Babylon 5 fandom - when it was first on TV, I didn't have access to a set, though I read the novelisations.
Then a friend lent me the entire 5 seasons, and the films, on DVD, and I came to appreciate the barbed wit of the exchanges between G'Kar and Londo, and the relationship between Ambassador Delenn and Captain John Sheridan.
And in the background there was Vir Cotto, light relief in the Centauri embassy - but as the show progressed, he became a more nuanced character, with a good heart.
And now I hear that Stephen Furst, who played Vir, has died, at the age of 63. He had suffered with diabetes for many years, and died of complications due to diabetes. He had a long and varied career on US TV, but Babylon 5 is the only work of his that I've come across.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Sending up the Bat Signal for the Last Time

I heard yesterday that Batman had died. That's my Batman, of course, the first actor I saw take on the cowl. Adam West was 88, and brought a wonderful seriousness to the silliest situations. He was associated with the role all his life, and accepted it with great grace and humour.
In an alternate timeline, the pilot of Alexander the Great might have been picked up for a series in the 60s. Adam West was the co-star to William Shatner's Alexander, playing his friend Cleander - so if that series had taken off, there would have been a different actor in the Captain's seat of the Starship Enterprise as well.
He also played Col. Dan McReady in Robinson Crusoe on Mars, as the astronaut who did not survive the landing on the Red Planet.


Here is Batman sharing a milk shake with Catwoman.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Rudolf Valentino Films

I came across a couple of Rudolf Valentino films on DVD recently. Of the two, Blood and Sand was the one I wanted to see, because it was one of his most famous films - and when I was growing up in Lancashire, when a man wanted to swear but didn't want to use real swearwords in front of the children, "Blood and Sand!" was a phrase that could safely be used, taken from the film, and the later re-make with Tyrone Power.
Although it was 1922, and silent films had been around for a while, the film makers didn't seem to have caught on to having the cast list at the beginning of the film. Instead, the name of the actor who had just appeared was written on the next caption card.
It was also noticeable that actual bull fighting scenes were kept to an absolute minimum - not many special effects in those days (and being a film stuntman was incredibly dangerous!). Some scenes may have been from a real bullfight, with a huge crowd and the bull fighters seen in the middle distance. Close ups of Rudolf Valentino in the bull ring showed him posing with the sword and cape, and that was about it.
The real action was going on out of the bull ring, where cocky Juan Gallardo has a meteoric rise to fame and fortune, marries his childhood sweetheart Carmen, and is seduced by the wicked Donna Sol. He's out of his depth in society and he knows it - but he still keeps going back. When Carmen finally finds out what he's been up to, his apology to her is one of the lamest possible, some rubbish about having a "good love and a bad love" - but since this is a film made in 1922, all Carmen can do is turn away and quiver tragically.
In emotional turmoil, Juan goes to fight in the last bull fight of the season.... It's all very tragic, and I can see why it was popular enough for a re-make in 1941, but it really hasn't stood the test of time.

I had never heard of The Eagle, made in 1925, but I enjoyed it a lot more than Blood and Sand.
In this, Rudolf Valentino plays a dashing young Russian lieutenant - and he was a pretty good actor, because Vladimir Dubrovsky is quite different from Juan Gallardo. He comes to the notice of the Czarina when he heroically stops a runaway carriage (using the Czarina's own horse - a good example of stunt work as the rider jumps onto the lead carriage horse at a gallop). The Czarina invites him to supper, and obviously intends to seduce him - at which he takes fright and runs away. This wasn't what he signed up to the army for! His captain is fortunately on hand to take his place at supper, and the Czarina soon issues a warrant for Vladimir's arrest for desertion.
Meanwhile, the wicked Kyrilla has taken over the family estate, the sort of chap who keeps a bear in the cellar to feed his enemies to, and Vladimir arrives just in time to find his father dying in a peasant's cottage. He vows vengeance, gathers a band of peasants together, and basically becomes Robin Hood.
Then the bandits, without their leader (now known as The Black Eagle), capture Kyrilla's beautiful daughter (and her aunt, but they let her go again immediately!). I liked her! As the bandits pursued the open carriage, she was standing up and fighting them off with a horse whip! She is, of course, the girl who Vladimir rescued in the runaway carriage at the beginning of the film.
So he takes the place of the French tutor who has been sent for to teach the beautiful Mascha, and gets inside the family home, and into a delightful battle of wits with Mascha, played by Vilma Blanky. She has her suspicions that she's seen the handsome French tutor before....
It all comes to an exciting climax when The Black Eagle is unmasked, escapes with Mascha, and runs straight into a troop of soldiers who arrest him for the desertion at the beginning of the film. The Czarina signs his death warrant - but first, he is allowed to get married, and the general who is to carry out the sentence is Vladimir's old captain....
So it all ends happily for the lovers, but not so good for the poor peasants who have to carry on putting up with Kyrilla's rule over them.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

And Goodbye Peter Sallis


I watched him for years on Last of the Summer Wine, and enjoyed his voice work on Wallace and Gromit. I once heard an interview with him where he described playing Samuel Pepys for live TV, back in the early days of TV broadcasting - dashing from set to set, and about to make a flamboyant entrance into a church, his companion murmured "You do realise you're going to a funeral?" just in time.
He'll be missed.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Goodbye, John Noakes


Another part of my childhood gone. John Noakes was 83 - here he is with Shep in the Blue Peter studio.
I watched Blue Peter twice a week for years - for most of that time the presenters were John Noakes, Peter Purves and Valerie Singleton - and the dogs Petra and Patch. I remember him climbing Nelson's Column, and going on a flying trapeze, and (less dangerously) attempting traditional Northumbrian wrestling. Of course, I remember the incident with the baby elephant. Blue Peter was a comforting presence - we got the annuals at Christmas as well.
After that, I watched Go With Noakes, which he did with the help (or hindrance) of Shep.
He was a great children's TV presenter.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Trowelblazers - Halet Çambel

Halet Çambel was a Turkish archaeologist - and an Olympic fencer! She was the first Muslim woman to compete in the Olympic Games, in 1936, in Germany. She was invited to meet Adolf Hitler, but refused on political grounds. She had already been dubious about competing in the "Nazi Games" and felt that this was a compromise too far, according to her obituary in the Telegraph.


Here she is, third from the left.


She was born in Berlin in 1916, the daughter of a Turkish cultural attaché there. The family was very close to Kemal Ataturk, and they could not return to Turkey until the mid 1920s, when Turkey became a republic. She was a frail child so, inspired by German children's books about knights, she decided to learn fencing. Later she was educated in Turkey, and went on to study archaeology at the Sorbonne in Paris between 1933 and 1939. Returning to Turkey, she became a scientific assistant at Istanbul University in 1940. In 1944 she received a Doctorate and in 1947 she began lecturing there.
She also spent two years as visiting scholar at the University of Saarbrucken in Germany and did a lot to strengthen ties between the German and Turkish archaeological communities.
Later, she became a professor, and founded the Institute of Prehistory at Istanbul University. She married Nail Çakırhan, an architect and communist poet, who divorced his Russian first wife in 1937, and they remained together for seventy years.
She dug at Karatepe, in the Taurus Mountains of southern Turkey, after the Second World War, with the German archaeologist Helmut Theodor Bossert, who was the professor of archaeology at Istanbul University. This was a site associated with the 12th Century BC Hittite king Azatiwada, and she played a key role in deciphering the Hittite hieroglyphics found at the site, with the help of the Phoenician alphabet. This site became her life's work - for over fifty years she spent about six months of every year there. She also spent time in the early days teaching the local children, as there were no schools in the remote area.
She was also active in preserving her country's cultural heritage, creating an outdoor museum at Karatepe in 1960, for which her husband designed some buildings. She also opposed the damming of the Ceyhan River, which would have drowned many archaeological sites. She was able to negotiate a compromise on the water level which saved the sites.
In 2004, she received the Prince Claus Award from the Netherlands for her services to Turkish archaeology.
She died in 2014, aged 97.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Farewell, Roger Moore

He may have been 007 to most people (he starred in 7 James Bond movies, after all), but to me, he was the Saint.


Watching him in the 1960s series led me on to a love of the Leslie Charteris stories - I was even a member of the fan club for a while, just so I could carry the membership card around with me. This proclaims, on the back, in a message to the police:
"The bearer of this card is probably a person of hideous antecedents and low moral character, and upon apprehension for any cause should be immediately released in order to save other prisoners from contamination."

And then, later, he was Brett Sinclair in the Persuaders, co-starring with Tony Curtis:


But the thing he himself was proudest of was his work as Unicef ambassador, for which he was knighted.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Black Women in Science - Annie Easley


Annie Easley was a computer scientist, mathematician and rocket scientist. She worked for NASA at the Lewis Research Centre, where she was one of the first African-American computer scientists, and was part of the team which developed software for the Centaur rocket stage.
She went to Xavier University New Orleans, where she majored in pharmacy. At that time, in Alabama, in order for a black person to vote, they had to pass a difficult literacy test and pay a poll tax (this was 1954). According to Wikipedia, the person giving the tests saw that she had gone to Xavier University, and waived the test in her case, just charging her two dollars. Later, she helped other people prepare for the literacy test, which was only abolished in 1965.
Unable to continue her pharmacy studies when she married and moved to Cleveland, Ohio (the university there had recently stopped its pharmacy program), she heard that the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, NACA - the predecessor to NASA - was looking for "computers" and applied for a job. In 1955, a computer was a person who did the maths manually. She was one of only four African-Americans in a staff of 2,500. She spent 34 years working for them, on many different projects. Later at NASA, she also worked as an Equal Employment Opportunity counselor, where she educated supervisors about workplace discrimination on not just race and gender, but age as well.
She retired in 1989. She was also a founder member, and eventually president, of the NASA Lewis Ski Club. She learned to ski when she was 46.
She died in 2011.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Black Victorians - Walter Tull, footballer and First World War officer


Walter Tull was born in Folkestone in 1888, but grew up in a Methodist Children's Home in Bethnal Green, along with his brother Edward, as his parents died when he was nine. His father Daniel Tull was a carpenter from Barbados, and his mother was Alice Elizabeth Palmer, from Kent. Edward went on to be adopted by the Warnock family in Glasgow, and became the first mixed race dentist in Britain.
In 1909, he joined Tottenham Hotspurs, playing inside forward. He was the third black player in the football league, the first being Arthur Wharton, who I wrote about a couple of years ago, and the second being Billy Clarke of Aston Villa.
He went on tour with the team to Argentina and Uruguay, becoming the first mixed race professional footballer from the UK to play in Latin America. However, in October 1909, while playing at Bristol City, he was subjected to serious racial abuse. The Football Star reporter at the match was so angered by this that his report on the match was entitled "Football and the Colour Prejudice", in which he praised Walter for his professional approach, and said that he had been the best forward in the game. This was probably the first time racial prejudice had been highlighted in the newspapers in British football. However, he was dropped from the A team, and in 1911 he transferred to Northampton Town.
During the First World War, Walter served with the Footballers' Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, where he was promoted to Second Lieutenant in 1917. He was recommended for promotion despite a rule against non-European soldiers becoming officers. He also fought in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, as a sergeant. In 1917, he was sent to Italy, where he was praised for his coolness under fire. He returned to France in 1918, and was killed during the Spring Offensive. His body was never found.
A memorial to him was unveiled at Northampton Town FC in 1999, and there is a Walter Tull Memorial Cup, which was won by Rangers in 2004, when they beat Tottenham Hotspurs 2- 0.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

The Librarians, Series 3 - Jenkins is Awesome!

I sent off for the DVD set of series 3 of The Librarians as soon as I heard it was available, and have been trying not to binge watch it. Some things need to be savoured, and there are only 10 episodes.
It's a brilliant season, though - the Big Bad, introduced in the first episode, is Apep, Egyptian God of Chaos, who wants to release Pure Evil into the world. Another complication for the Librarians is DOSA, the Department of Statistical Anomalies - the US government have become aware of magic in the world, and have created a department to deal with it. Unfortunately, they have noticed that when magical events take place, the Librarians are often there, and have leapt to the conclusion that the Librarians are causing the problems rather than trying to solve them - so they are also after the Librarians, treating them as domestic terrorists.
As if that wasn't enough, there's a theme running through the season about the use of magic and when it might be justified (Cassandra has always been a fan of using magic as a first, rather than a last, resort to solve problems).
Another theme running through the season is that of various characters coming to terms with their own death, particularly Cassandra, who has to deal with her brain tumour, and Flynn, who learns that the magical artefact which may stop Apep requires a human sacrifice for it to work.
And they meet vampires, return to Shangri La, meet the Monkey King, and Frost Giants, go to a carnival, infiltrate a cult, and discover a Lewis Carroll themed world. They discover that Charlene, last seen with Judson, shutting down the Library so it couldn't be accessed at the beginning of season one, is still alive.
And Jenkins is awesome! He saves the day several times, and gets to do some more sword fighting.
The best guest star of the season, for me, was Sean Astin, as the conjuror in charge of a magical carnival.

I understand that season 4 is being made - I'm looking forward to seeing where they go from here.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Trowelblazers - Hetty Goldman


Hetty Goldman has a very scanty biography on Wikipedia, but there's enough there to show that she was quite a remarkable woman. She was a member of the Goldman-Sachs banking family, born in 1881, and she took her BA in English at Bryn Mawr college in 1903, then decided that she would not follow a writing career because she felt she had nothing to say! She had already become interested in archaeology, and went on to gain her MA in archaeology and classical languages from Columbia University in 1910, when she had her first article published, The Orestia of Aeschylus as Illustrated by Greek Vase-Painting. This article was the major reason for her being the first woman to be awarded the Charles Eliot Norton Fellowship to attend the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Greece. She worked and studied here from 1910 to 1912.
Her archaeological career was then disrupted by the Balkan Wars and First World War. She returned to New York City to work for the American Red Cross. She was asked by the American Joint Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to return to Greece for a report on the Jewish communities. However, she found time to gain her PhD in 1916, from Radcliffe College.
By 1922, she was working for the Fogg Museum, digging in Ionia and Central Greece. One of the sites she worked on was Colophon, then controlled by Turkey - and this dig was disrupted by the Greco-Turkish War! When the archaeologists returned to the site, they found that all the artefacts had been stolen. However, they had also discovered some of the earliest known Greek houses, and a drainage system of terracotta pipes.
She was the first woman to be appointed to run a dig by the Archaeological Institute of America. She dug widely across Turkey and the Mediterranean, and published many papers, including The Acropolis at Halae in 1940, showing the continuity between Semitic and Mediterranean cultures.
In 1936, she became one of the first professors of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. She became professor emerita in 1947, which was also the last year of her excavations at Tarsus. The site at Tarsus had been chosen specifically because it was likely to be a place where different cultures of the region had come together, an aim which was confirmed by the finding of Hittite royal seals and Mycenaean pottery in the same contexts.
In 1966 the Archaeological Institute of America awarded her a gold medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement.
She died at Princeton in 1972, aged 90.

Apart from archaeology, she was active in sponsoring Jewish refugees escaping from Nazi Germany. Her family origins were German-Jewish, of course.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Concerning the Crew of the Franklin

It's a well known folk song, among other things - the sad tale of the doomed expedition to the Arctic, all hands being lost to cold and starvation. The two ships commanded by Sir John Franklin, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, got stuck in the sea ice off Canada in 1846. Their final message, sent in April 1848, indicated that they were abandoning their ships to head south overland. The wreck of the Erebus was only found in 2014, and HMS Terror was found nearby in 2016.
Recently, remains of the crew have been found, both bones and mummified remains in the ice, scattered along the trail they took to try to reach safety. Researchers have been gathering DNA samples from the remains, identifying 24 individuals so far - and have found that at least 4 of the 129 crew members were women.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Innominate - EasterCon Monday

We started the morning doing our bit to help take down the art displays. Fangorn was there packing his paintings away - he did covers for the Redwall series, and had the one with the badger and hawk on display over the weekend.

The final day of panels at the Con began with the intersection of two very different interests - SF and pub signs. There was quite a bit of trouble on the technical front to start with - horrendous howls from the electronics, and difficulties with the slide show - but eventually we could see the pub signs that Arthur Chappell was talking about, starting with one from a pub called the Vulcan, showing the god Vulcan, a Vulcan bomber and Mr Spock (positioned so it looked as if the god Vulcan was hitting him with his blacksmith's hammer). The talk also covered famous pubs connected with SF writers, like the Eagle and Child which was CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein's local watering hole, and fictional pub signs like the Slaughtered Lamb from American Werewolf in London and some of the pub signs from the Simon Pegg World's End pub crawl.
We went on from there to the Travelling in SFF panel - space ships, portals, quests, and so on.
And finally it was the Closing Ceremony, where the guests of honour said what a wonderful time they'd had, and Pat Cadigan thanked the Con goers for a wonderful and uplifting weekend.
And the Committee handed over the reins to the FollyCon committee. Next year in Harrowgate!

We didn't have to hurry away, as we decided to stay for an extra night. Our plan was to beat the post-Con blues by doing something completely different for the last afternoon and evening, so we took the train into Birmingham New Street. Back in the 1980s, I went to Star Trek Cons at the Metropole and the Grand. The Grand is no longer a hotel, though I think it may be re-opening soon, but part of the space is now taken up with a new wine bar called The Alchemist. I'd looked it up online, and it seemed to be Steampunk themed, so we started out by going to have a look. The directions I got from Google map took us out of the wrong side of the station, so we had to climb the hill to the main square, so we basically ignored them after that and headed for the cathedral, which I knew was close by. The Alchemist was busy, and the cocktails looked interesting - but there was no Steampunk theming that we could see, so we moved on to a pub called The Wellington which the Young Man had discovered while doing training in Birmingham.
This was more like it - a Victorian style pub with about a dozen hand pumps on the bar, each of them serving an interesting, and often local, beer. The Thoughtless stout was very strong, but very tasty.
Then we headed back down the hill to the BrewDog pub, where we had dinner, with more excellent beer. It was the perfect way to wind down, and we were enjoying the music there, too.
So we missed the Dead Dog Party in the hotel in favour of an early night.


We had a fantastic weekend, and the scrambled eggs at breakfast every morning were delicious, and the girl who cleaned our room was lovely - she'd never seen anything quite like the Convention before - and we met lots of interesting and lovely people, and just had a great time!

Monday, 1 May 2017

Innominate - EasterCon Sunday

I've been ill, and thus not blogging for a while, but I'm back out of my sick bed now....


A bit blurry (but thank you to the chap behind the registration desk for taking the picture) - we spent the day as Holmes and Watson, and got an embarrassingly large number of Hall Costume tokens, since these costumes were assembled from fairly ordinary clothes which we happened to have in our wardrobes rather than anything specially made.

Sunday at EasterCon for us was Science Day! It was quite impressive just how many real scientists were at the Con, and at the Bio-hacking panel we had a group of speakers who were all experts in their fields, including one chap who works at Cambridge and was dressed in a smart blazer from The Prisoner - we saw him going round with a lady dressed in the striped cape from the series later. The discussion covered body modifications of all sorts, including having chlorophyll in your skin so you could take nourishment from the sun rather than eat food, and some of the possible consequences of various modifications.

After that, astronomy, with Seven New Planets! Squeeee!. On the panel for this discussion there was a space physicist and an astrophysicist - one looks at space within the solar system, and the other looks further away. The discussion wasn't just about the new planets discovered around Trappist-1 - it also covered human colonisation and sending robots into space.
There was a discussion about BREXIT and Science later in the evening, which we didn't go to, but which was reportedly well attended, if somewhat depressing. One of the things that came up was the possibility that the UK could be seen as a rogue nuclear state until things get sorted out, as at the moment, the UK comes under the EU committee on nuclear regulation, which will cease when the UK leaves the EU - and keeping the nuclear industry well-regulated is kind of important....

The Con had a pretty strong Disability in SF thread running through it, and so the next thing we went to was the Wheelchair Martial Arts Demonstration. I'd seen Al Davison in the dealers' room - as well as being an accomplished martial artist, he's an artist who works on comic books. I bought a pencil sketch of Jon Pertwee from him, and the Young Man was very pleased to find a graphic novel on his stall he'd been looking for, with an introduction by Neil Gaiman. He also has a film background, and for a recent film that he worked on, he developed a choreographed fight scene between an able bodied man and a man in a wheelchair (himself). With the help of two able bodied martial artists, he demonstrated - how film fight scenes go for the larger, more visually interesting moves, whereas if a person is attacked in the street (and he said he used to get regularly beaten up by people who thought it would be funny to tip someone out of their wheelchair - until they actually tried it) they need to go for the fastest and most efficient way to end the fight, because disabled people often don't have the stamina for a long fight.
He talked about his background in martial arts - meeting a Chinese man and his sister when he was young, who had come to Britain when their village had been destroyed. They had survived only because of the man's habit of meditating by a waterfall at 4am, so were not in the village when everyone else was killed. After a long time when young Al went to watch the man do his practice every day, the man agreed to take Al on as a student.
He also talked about disabled people in film - if you see an amputation of a limb on film, it's almost always a disabled actor who has lost that limb on screen - but it's a lot more difficult for disabled actors to graduate to speaking roles. Years ago, he was one of a group of disabled actors who went for the casting of the starring role in My Left Foot - they were all taken out of the queue and sent home, and only able-bodied actors were considered. Conversely, the makers of Kingsman, more recently, actively looked for a double amputee to play the assassin with blades, and none of the double amputee actors available wanted to do it, so they eventually went for an able bodied actress and CGI. Although it seemed like a very cool idea, the amputee actors were concerned that the character was using their disability to maim others - and maybe it would have been better for the film makers to have re-thought that character.
It was a fascinating and thought-provoking session.

And in the afternoon, Pat Cadigan Explained it All For Us. I'd been vaguely aware of her name as an SF writer, but never really taken much notice of her work. And then when she was introduced as one of the Guests of Honour of the Con she greeted the audience with "I'm Pat Cadigan, bitches!" in a broad American accent and - well, what a fascinating woman she turned out to be! Her talk was mainly about her life, starting with some life-changing incidents involving anaphylactic shock, near death experiences, vaginal sponges which were not in a good place.... and her next sentence began "My son...."
She held the audience in the palm of her hand, talked honestly about her terminal cancer (she came to the Con with a carer), and is determined to enjoy life as much as she possibly can while she can.
I went straight down to the dealers' room after the talk and bought the only book I could see with her name on it - Synners.

We walked round the lake for dinner, back at the World Bar, where the girl behind the bar asked us if we were enjoying our weekend. She said she'd seen a few people with Con badges coming over, some in costume, so she was aware something was going on at the other side of the lake.

The last part of the evening was a world premiere! The performers were Pauline Haas on concert harp, and Thomas Bloch on three of the strangest instruments I've ever seen. They were the ondes Martenot (invented in 1919 by a wireless operator who wanted an instrument which could reproduce the sort of sounds a radio makes when you're trying to tune into something), the glass harmonica, which is 37 glass bowls, carefully graded to give different notes, on a revolving spindle - the principle is like rubbing your finger round the rim of a wine glass. This one is the oldest instrument, invented by Benjamin Franklin, and some classical music has been composed for it. And then there's the cristal Baschet, invented in 1952 to make electronic type noises acoustically - there are glass rods and an odd shaped gong. Basically, it makes the sort of sounds that were popular for 1950s SF B movie soundtracks.
It was a fascinating recital, with classical pieces, and film and TV scores - including the world premiere of the music for Blade Runner 2049 (though the film is not yet out, so the music may change between now and then). TV music included Twin Peaks, Being Human and Monk. Films were Chant d'Atalyante, The Elephant Man, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Fellini's Casanova and The Fifth Element, and Pauline Haas also played one of her own compositions, La Lyre d'Ys.
I bought Thomas Bloch's CD afterwards, and they were also signing pieces of sheet music for donations to the Con charity, Afghan Mothers.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Innominate - EasterCon Saturday

On Saturday, we were Jedi. I wore the Jedi librarian costume I wore last year - with the addition of two little pins to keep the bands on my shoulders, which worked really well. I was forever fiddling with them to keep them up last year!


And here is the Young Man as a Grey Jedi.

So the first panel we went to had to be the Women of Star Wars, which started slowly and finished in a rush as they found there was more than enough to talk about for an hour!
We had plenty of time to look at the art show and dealers' room, followed by a Kaffeeklatsch with Aliette de Bodard. She was one of the guests of honour last year, which led me to buy The House of Shattered Wings, and earlier in the day I had treated myself to The House of Binding Thorns - more Fallen Angels, and a Vietnamese dragon kingdom below the River Seine.
After that was the BSFA Award ceremony (I spent some time on Friday running round trying to find the box for votes, and ended up leaving my voting form in Ops, because that was where the votes were going to be counted).
The best novel was Europe in Winter by Dave Hutchinson. Best short story was Liberty Bird by Jaine Fenn. Best non-fiction work was Geoff Ryman's 100 African Writers in SFF, which he wrote for Tor.com, and best artwork was the cover for Central Station by Sarah Anne Langton.

And then the big screens in Kings, the biggest hall, were set up for Doctor Who - which was awesome! I loved Bill, and the way she became a Companion, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the season.

And to finish the evening off, we went to the filk session. The Young Man came away inspired to write lyrics! I brought along a song book I'd bought at WorldCon 87 - one of the other filkers in the room sang one of his own songs, Hoopiness, which happened to be in my book (The Drunken Rabble Project), so I got him to sign it for me. Later, I sang Welsh History 101b (failed), and when I looked up from the page, it was straight at the name badge of the writer of the song! So I got him to sign the book, too. It was that or sink through the floor with embarrassment! One of the other singers in the room was a girl called Shadow, who sang one of her own songs based on the Mercedes Lackey Vandemar series (which I have fond memories of). We'd seen her earlier in the Kaffeeklatsch, when she was really quiet and shy, so it was a bit of a surprise to hear such a lovely voice.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Innominate - EasterCon 2017 - Thursday and Friday

Remember the good old 1980s? I thought I did - I went to the Metropole Hotel at Birmingham International airport several times for Star Trek Conventions.
It's all changed, of course. I remember walking across to the hotel from the station, but this time we were very happy to take the courtesy bus, because I didn't recognise anything! There's a whole new building next to the lake called Resort World - where we found a nice place to eat and sample interesting beers from round the world called World Bar. The Young Man was especially pleased to find some Icelandic Einstock beer.
Since we'd arrived early, we volunteered to help with the setting up. In the end, there wasn't much for us to do beyond moving some panels about, setting chairs out, and cheering the Thunderbird-esque machine which trundled into the middle of the dealers' room so that Tech could run cables across the ceiling with skyhooks. We also spent some time chatting to a very interesting couple who seemed to know everything there was to know about running conventions - so it was lovely to see them accepting the Doc Weir Award for fans who work hard behind the scenes, at the Closing Ceremony on Monday.

On Friday, our first costumes of the weekend were Steampunk Victorian adventurers. As Miss Amelia Harper, I'd just come out of the desert where I'd been digging a lost city with Gertrude Bell, and the Young Man was Cutter Conway, world traveller - and willing to indulge in various shady dealings for the right price.
The first panel we went to was From LGBT to QUILTBAG, talking about all the different varieties of gender and sexuality, and how they can be incorporated in SF and Fantasy, so that stories are more realistically diverse.
The history of comics was next, with Jack Kirby at 100 - I hadn't realised just how wide his influence was.
The panel on Preparing Your Manuscript for Submission was well attended, and the lady running it, Joanne Hall, who works for Kristell Ink as acquisitions editor, gave a lot of sensible advice.

Then it was time for The Explosive Opening Ceremony, at which the guests of honour were introduced. These were Colin Harris, fan and scientist, Pat Cadigan, writer, and Judith Clute, artist.
And then Dr Emma King took over for the explosive part. She workfor the Royal Institution in an educational capacity which seems to involve blowing a lot of things up!
Here's a photo taken by David Lascelles, where she had three children on stage as volunteers, who had to put an asprin into a film canister with some water, and then run like mad to the other side of the stage before it blew up!


I had taken a short piece of writing to read out at the Open Mic - but the room had problems with the lights, and nobody could find the person who was supposed to be organising it, so we headed off to the fan lounge to eat before the stalls closed at 8pm. We ate very well over the weekend, and there was a constantly changing variety of food on offer - we never did get round to the Jamaican goat curry, though the Thai green curry was very nice. And we were also in the right place for the last event of our evening - a Literary Beer with Russell Smith:

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Women in Science Dorothy Vaughan

Dorothy Vaughan was the second of the three leads in the film Hidden Figures - the one who wanted the supervisor's job, and taught all the other women in the Colored Computers section to use FORTRAN so that they could use the new IBM computer and not lose their jobs doing the manual calculations for NASA.
She joined the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Lab in 1943, for what she thought would be a temporary job for the duration of the Second World War. She had previously been a maths teacher. She became the first black supervisor of the West Area Computers, and an expert in FORTRAN, though not quite as it happened in the film.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Women in Science - Katherine Goble Johnson


I've just been to see Hidden Figures, the film about Katherine Goble, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who all did outstanding work for NASA in the early days of space exploration.
Katherine Goble was the "computer" who calculated the trajectories of rockets. She worked on the early missions of Alan Shepherd and John Glenn, and on the Apollo 11 mission, right up to space shuttle flights in the 1980s. She's still alive at the age of 98, and has said of the film Hidden Figures: "It was well-done. The three leading ladies did an excellent job portraying us."
Along the way, she was one of the first African-Americans to attend graduate school at West Virginia University, and the first African-American woman to do so. The film points out the many difficulties of living in a segregated society - it wasn't easy for any of them, and they had to be extraordinarily determined to do what they wanted to do.
She had three daughters, Constance, Joylette and Katherine, and after her first husband died of a brain tumour, she married James Johnson - and they've been together ever since. They still live in Hampton, Virginia, near the NASA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory where she did her work.
On May 5, 2016, a new 40,000-square-foot building was named Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility and formally dedicated at the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and Katherine Johnson was there as guest of honour. It was the 55th anniversary of Alan Shepherd's flight, for which she had provided crucial calculations.

And here she is recieving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama:

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Trowelblazers - Tatiana Proskouriakoff


Tatiana Proskouriakoff was a Russian archaeologist whose speciality was Mayan culture. She was born in Tomsk in 1909, and her father was sent to the US in 1915 by Czar Nicholas II to oversee the production of munitions for the First World War. When the Revolution happened in 1917, the family were forced to stay in the USA, and Tatiana only visited Russia again once, to meet fellow Mayanist Yuri Knorozov.
Initially trained as an architect, she went to work for the University of Pennsylvania Museum in 1936, on the Mayan site at Piedras Negras, between Mexico and Guatamala. Here she discovered the discipline which would become her life's work, and led to positions at the Carnegie Institution in Washington DC, and later Harvard University.
During the Second World War, she worked on the translation of Mayan heiroglyphs, making significant contributions to the field.
She became the honorary curator of Mayan art at the Peabody Museum on 1958, where she also taught a number of young women who went on to work in the field of Maya archaeology, and she died in 1985. She was buried at Piedras Negras, in Structure J-23, on Easter Sunday, 1998, where there is a plaque in her honour. Another plaque in her honour has been set up in her home town of Lansdowne, Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Lady Gardeners


I found this picture on Twitter, shared by Kew Gardens. It's how the first young women who worked as gardeners at Kew dressed (so as not to "distract" anyone!) in 1896.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Local History I Never Knew

Occasionally, I read the blog Beamish Buildings, because one of the staff at Beamish is the daughter of a woman I went to school with. Just recently, Shannon has been researching Georgian hearse houses, which were built in churchyards, as they are building one at Beamish at the moment.
She's been looking at examples of surviving hearse houses across the North of England - and one of the best sources mentioned in the blog is at St Mary's, Prestwich.

What?


I used to go to this church as a child - I went to the C of E Primary School, and we occasionally used the church for services. I remember a carol concert when I was in the choir - we were doing it by candlelight and torch in case (or possibly because) of a power cut. Graham Ward, from my class, sang the solo first verse of Once in Royal David's City from the back of the church, and it was so beautiful....
I also remember a service where I had been chosen to do a reading from the pulpit (I could only just see over the top). It hadn't occured to me to mention this honour to the rest of my family - my gran found out by accident, and came to stand in the back of the church to listen to me. I was so focussed on what I was doing, I never noticed her.
It's also the church usually used for filming when they need a church in Coronation Street!

So I remember the church, but I don't remember a hearse house!

It seems the local history of the area where I grew up was more interesting than I had imagined.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Trowelblazers - Dorothea Bate, Welsh Palaeontologist

Since it's close to St David's Day, I thought I'd choose a Welsh archaeologist this time. Dorothea Bate was born in Carmarthenshire, the daughter of a police superintendant.
In 1898, when she was nineteen, she went down to London and talked her way into a job at the Natural History Museum - and stayed there for fifty years. Her first job was sorting bird skins and later she prepared fossils, being paid piece work, by the number of fossils she prepared. She was learning all the time, and in 1901 she published her first scientific paper, "A short account of a bone cave in the Carboniferous limestone of the Wye valley", which appeared in the Geological Magazine.
She also visited Cyprus, first at her own expense and in 1902 with a small grant from the Royal Society, where she discovered the fossil bones of a new species of dwarf elephant, which she named elephas Cypriotes. She was able to do this with the help of a family connection on the island.
Later she visited other Mediterranean islands, making other discoveries of previously unknown prehistoric fauna. She was known for using dynomite to get at the fossil layers! Most of this work was financed from her own pocket, and she was unable to become a scientific member of staff with the museum, as this was forbidden to women until 1928.


The Coves dels Coloms in Majorca, where Dorothea Bate found the remains of Myotragus balearicus, the mouse goat

She became friendly with the archaeologists working at Knossos, including Sir Arthur Evans, while working in Crete, and in the 1920s worked with Professor Dorothy Garrod in Palestine. In 1937, they published The Stone Age of Mount Carmel, detailing the prehistoric fauna found there, including a hippopotomus.
In China, she worked with Percy Lowe on fossil ostriches - and she also found a fossil giant tortoise in Bethlehem!
She was consulted throughout her career by other archaeologists, including Louis Leakey, for her expertise in identifying fossil bones.
During the Second World War, she was transferred from London to Tring, where she eventually became officer-in-charge when she was nearly seventy. She died in 1951, and sadly, shortly after that, her personal papers were destroyed in a house fire. Her field notebooks, however, have been preserved at the Natural History Museum, including detailed maps of the islands where she worked.
Last year she was the subject of an episode of a Radio 4 series called Natural History Heroes (still available on iplayer), and there is also a book called Discovering Dorothea by Karolyn Shindler.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Zhou Shu Liang, Painter of Native American Scenes

Over on Facebook, I've been sharing beautiful art to break up the relentless bad news of current affairs, and I came across this artist. Zhou Shu Liang was born in China, and comes from a family of artists. In 1982, he moved to the United States and gained his BFA in painting from Massachusetts College of Arts in 1986, and his MFA from Boston University in 1989.
While he was there, he spent some time painting scenes of the Wampanoag Indian culture at the outdoor museum in Plymouth, Massachusetts. He's made Native American culture his speciality since then, and his paintings are beautifully detailed. He pays a lot of attention to historical accuracy, and has made many contacts and friends among Native tribes across the US.
Many of his pictures show Native warriors, but the one I particularly liked when I visited his website at www.liangstudio.com was this one:


It's called Pueblo Market 1920 - and it immediately made me think of one of the main characters in my Steampunk stories. The white lady bending over the little girl's wares is just as I imagine Amelia Harper would be.

ZS Liang's prints and paintings are available at several galleries in the United States.