Friday, 28 September 2018

More Bletchley Circle

The Bletchley Circle has maintained its very high standards.
Series 2 has the group of women, who had been code-breakers at Bletchley Park during the war, trying to prove the innocence of another Bletchley girl who has been accused of murder. The victim is a scientist played by Paul McGann.
That story deals with Cold War spying and experiments at Porton Down, while the second half of the series (only 4 episodes to a season, sadly) deals with Maltese gangsters trafficking girls into the country, via a little 'harmless' perfume smuggling. Spivs selling dodgy nylons were still around, as was rationing, in the early 1950s.

The beauty of the series is that there are four main characters who work together, so when Susan leaves, she is replaced by Alice, and by the time of the third season, set in San Francisco, there are only two members of the original team left, Millie and Jean.
They discover that a murderer in San Francisco is killing women in exactly the same way as one of their colleagues at Bletchley during the War was murdered, and travel there to see if they can bring him to justice. But they need some local knowledge, so first they have to track down an American code-breaker Jean was in touch with during the War, who they know only as Major Six.
The story takes place against the backdrop of the Fillmore district, where mainly black families are being forced out for re-development to take place. During the War, the area was home to a Japanese community, who were also forcibly removed.
And for the second part of the series, it all goes a bit Peyton Place, with intelligent women trapped in loveless marriages and meaningless lives in the suburbs, until one of them is killed in what seems to be a hit and run accident - or was it murder? (The only really happy marriage seems to be between Iris and her husband living in the Fillmore).

I'm looking forward to seeing Millie, Jean, Iris and Hailey in Part Two.

Monday, 24 September 2018

RIP Gary Kurtz

I just heard that Gary Kurtz, the film producer who worked on Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back (among many other films) has died.
I remember seeing him as a guest at a British Star Trek Convention in the early 1980s, where he spoke about making the Star Wars films, and was very courteous in answering all the questions he was asked. Back then he had a beard with no moustache, and I'm pretty sure he talked about being a Quaker as well as the film related stuff.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Some More Sights of London

We passed a few interesting things while on the way to other places over the week. One of them was this church spire:

It's St George's in Bloomsbury, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, the sixth and last church that he designed and built in London. The spire appears in the background of Hogarth's famous picture Gin Lane. The lion and the unicorn were added in 2006, as the originals had been lost.
Looking at their website, I see that the memorial service for Emily Davison was held here in 1913. She was the suffragette who threw herself under the King's horse during the Derby. The horse, Anmer, completed the race without his jockey, who was also injured in the fall. Emily Davison died in hospital two days later without regaining consciousness.
The basement of the church houses the Museum of Comedy, and the church itself holds services in Korean.

And then there was this mews, down the hill from the Horniman Museum:

It's called Havelock Walk. The houses were decorated like this all the way along the row, and there's also an artist's studio.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Buses and Daleks in London

I'm fairly easy to please, so a long bus ride sitting on the top of a double decker right at the front was an ideal way to start the day.
We went from Woolwich to Greenwich to start with, and met a chap on the market who turns London landmarks into Daleks in his art - it's very cleverly done, and he also takes stalls at Comic Cons around the country. I took his card - but now I've lost it.
Anyway, we went on from there (the bus stop is by a building that claims to be the oldest in Greenwich - now a takeaway), roughly following the river through Deptford, Canada Water, and Bermondsey (I caught a glimpse of a plaque marking medieval Bermondsey Abbey). Then the Young Man told me to turn to look, and I could see the end of Tower Bridge at the end of the road as the bus turned away from it down Tower Bridge Road and then onto the New Kent Road. I'd heard of the Old Kent Road, but never thought that there must be a New one to go with it. That took us to Elephant and Castle, and then to Waterloo, where we got off.
I had expressed my desire to buy a pith helmet, for Steampunk costuming purposes. My original one was quite cheap, and the webbing inside had broken so it came down over my eyes. The Young Man knew just the place for me to find one - an army surplus shop along The Cut near Waterloo.
The shop is so crammed full of stuff that we had to climb over a pile of rucksacks just to get in. The chap behind the counter produced two different styles of pith helmet instantly, though, together with a tiny mirror so I could see how I looked in them. I chose the one with the more pointed brim - dressed up with a flowing silk scarf it will be just the thing for my Victorian adventuress.
Feeling in the need for sustenance, we had a look at the local cafes, and decided on noodles for lunch. We ate at Culture Grub, a Chinese café that served green tea in glasses. The noodles were very good.
Then the Young Man took me off the main road and down a back street - to the very spot where some of the outdoor filming for Remembrance of the Daleks (Ace's first full story as Sylvester McCoy's Companion) was done. Coal Hill School, the main location for the story, was somewhere else, but Daleks were blown up right where we were! This Doctor Who story was written by Ben Aaronovitch, who also wrote the Rivers of London series we had been visiting locations from earlier in the week.
Then we set off for a little retail therapy in the afternoon, finally getting the bus to Trafalgar Square to get the train back to Woolwich from Charing Cross Station.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Historic Woolwich

One of the days that I stayed in Woolwich was spent just looking round the local area.
I was impressed with the shopping centre - it's about as big as Hereford! And the market sells all sorts of interesting foods, including African snacks. I even saw a cage of live giant snails outside one shop! It's a very ethnically diverse area, which is fascinating for me, as it's very different from Hay. There are women in African dresses and head wraps, women in saris, men in shalwar kameez, and there seems to be a fair sized Turkish community, too.
There's also a lot of history locally. The Victorian town hall has been retained for weddings and so forth, with a modern civic centre across the road.
This is the Victorian library:

And here's the new library, which is bigger than Hereford Library, and seemed to be busy every time we passed by:

There's also a Victorian bath house and swimming pool - I'm not sure what the building is used for now:

Across the main road, is the old Woolwich Arsenal, now being redeveloped into luxury apartments, and it's like stepping into a different world. It's much quieter, for a start. A lot of the Arsenal buildings are still there - there's also the Firepower Museum and the Greenwich Museum, but both were closed when we walked through.
There are plenty of cannons around, though:

And, of course, several bars, including this one - the brewery is just down the road in a nearby industrial estate:

Monday, 3 September 2018

Farewell, Servalan

Just heard the sad news that Jacqueline Pearce has died. She was a wonderful villain in Blake's Seven, and also appeared in Doctor Who (with the Sixth Doctor) and some of the Big Finish audio Doctor Who adventures. She was 74.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

The London Stone

The Young Man used to drink in a basement bar called The London Stone - which now seems to have been renamed the Cannick Tapps - near Cannon Street station.
The London Stone itself is an important part of the mythology of London, though opinions are divided about what it actually represents - the centre of the City? an object of Druidic worship (very unlikely)? part of the Roman governor's villa? Several ley lines are supposed to pass through it, and John Dee is alleged to have chipped bits off it for his alchemical experiments. It's even been suggested as the Stone that the Sword was stuck into, when King Arthur pulled it out!

Whatever it is, it used to be housed behind a grille right by the bar.
We couldn't find it, so we went into the All Bar One, where the Young Man remembered it to be, to ask if they knew. The barmaid was very friendly, but wasn't sure where it had gone to - she thought it might be next door but one, where the building was behind hoardings, being renovated.
According to Wikipedia, the Stone is presently in the Museum of London, on display, and will be replaced at 111 Cannon Street when the rebuilding is finished.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

The London Mithraeum

This was the highlight of the week!

Back in the 1950s, an excavation of a bomb site unearthed a Roman temple that had people queuing round the block to see it. It was only near the end of the dig that the archaeologists found the conclusive evidence that it was a Temple of Mithras.
The Temple was reconstructed nearby, and so things remained for many years.
Then a company called Bloomberg acquired the site to build a new office block, and they offered to put the Temple back in its original position as part of the rebuilding work. As the Temple was discovered 7 metres under the present ground level, this was not as easy as it sounds. Also, some of the Temple was discovered to be still in situ, so the reconstruction is actually slightly to the west.

They have done a magnificent job, in consultation with a team from the Museum of London. They also conducted an archaeological dig of their own, between 2010 and 2014, discovering many artefacts that are usually not preserved, but survived here because of the marshy nature of the ground.
And all this is open to the public for free (except on Mondays). When the Temple first opened, it was necessary to book, but now you can just turn up, and friendly staff are there to help you.

The top layer has a display of architecture, and beyond that a cabinet of finds from the site beneath our feet. Anyone who wanted could look at a touch-screen device to show what the artefacts were, but I always feel this is cheating slightly. So we lingered by the writing tablets, and sandals, and the merchant's scales, and the piece of door (!) and the pottery for a while, and then we went down the stairs to the next level (there's a lift, too, I think). The black marble walls are inscribed with the ground levels over the centuries, such as at the time of the Great Fire (which destroyed everything above), and the date (1505) that Thomas More moved into a house on this site.
The room downstairs is dim, with pictures being projected on the walls along with a commentary spoken by Joanna Lumley. There are also three plinths, each with information about the cult of Mithras, the Temple itself, and the head of Mithras that was found in 1954. You have to wait here for a little while (and there are also seats) because visitors are only let into the Mithraeum itself every 20 minutes.
I knew some of the information, but was surprised by the strong links between the cult of Mithras and astrology.
And then, the Mithraeum itself.
There is a sound and light show which is very effective, with voices speaking Latin and mist. Then the lights go up and you can examine the ruins more closely. There's a walkway right around the outside, and also over the part of the Temple nearest the door. There's a central aisle, with 7 pillars down each side, and between the pillars and the walls a narrower space where the congregation sat. At the top end there's a Perspex copy of the altar slab, showing Mithras slaying the bull (or at least waving a dagger around in the general area of the bull's throat - opinion is divided about whether he's actually killing it or not).
There's also a square well in one corner.
No-one is really sure what went on in the Temple, because it was a mystery cult, and nothing was written down - but we do know it was all-male, and popular with soldiers. The temples that have been discovered are also rather too small to get a bull inside, so there probably wasn't any ritual sacrifice involved in the worship. The London Mithraeum is actually larger than average - about 100 temples have been discovered across the Roman Empire. This one is also oriented towards the East, like a Christian church.

It was a ridiculously exciting experience for me. I first found out about Mithras when I read The Eagle of the Ninth, aged 12. Rosemary Sutcliff would have been drawing on recent news stories to write the scenes inside the temple. So along with my archaeological knowledge, I was sitting in the dark with Marcus Flavius Aquila, in his Raven mask, in the flickering torch light.