Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Asti and Moniack

I decided to check out exactly where Asti Spumante comes from in Italy. Surprise, surprise, it's northern Italian. As the dear partner said, it's from my spiritual home :-) Unfortunately, a whole bottle didn't get me drunk. Mind you, that 'whole' bottle was actually one of those small two-glass bottles ... It didn't even get me slightly wobbly. I must try harder.

Haven't hit the Moniack Mead yet. I tend to hoard this, and get it out on special occasions. It's the best mead I've ever tasted. It tastes of honey, but isn't over-sweet. It has a real kick as well. It's how I imagined ancient mead would taste, though I'm sure wrong. Also in the cupboard is some Domesday Mead, on sale at Kelmarsh, and is made at the Lurgashall Winery for English Heritage. I've had it before. Again, it's not the sweetest, but still tastes of honey. It's OK, though not as good as the Moniack!

Am still deciding whether or not to go to this weekend's show. Providing no further hostilities occur before Friday, we may yet still go. The van-hire now requires us to pay up front, so we'll have a van no matter what. But do I want to spend a whole weekend with possible confrontation in the offing?

This blog is getting to sound like a bleedin' soap opera! Come to think of it, one of the comments in the York Writers competition was that my LOTR sounded like EastEnders or Emmerdale. That's why I was so surprised when my entry won. Er, no, there's no plane crash in LOTR, though there's room for me to do a sort of Queen Vic tavern.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

One of those days

It's been one of those days where it might have been better if I'd stayed in bed until about 3.30pm. I got a big fat zero from anyone I had to communicate with. There was the NHS happily thinking it was fine I've been waiting over 6 months for an MRI scan. Never mind I haven't been able to go out to work since December (though things have got a little better - see below), and when I went to give blood the other week they told me to sling my hook because I was waiting for the MRI and didn't know the results of an attendent blood test. Then there was the re-enactmenr spat ... Really bad news, possibly personality clash there and I don't know what the outcome will be, but it's one step away from bullying and I will walk away if I have to. And then I couldn't get hold of my partner (not his fault).

Anyway by 4pm partner turned up and we went shopping. A nice natter over a tea allayed my fears that my behaviour regarding the re-enactment spat was not unreasonable. Came back to find that a message on the answerphone offering me an interview at a fossil shop in York. It's two days a week and I think I can cope. My foot is performing much better than it was, but I am still waiting for the MRI scan, so it's still a problem. Will the perspective employer be OK with this? I had to give up my previous job due mostly to this problem, but the job entailed catching 4 buses a day, as it was outside York. This job is in the centre of town, and the way my foot is now, it should cope. However, I wouldn't blame the employer is this in unacceptable. Really I need the NHS to pull their finger out here. When I have the MRI scan, then I have to go back to the specialist! So this a long way from being sorted. I need the job so I have some sort of regular income. I can't rely on the freelance archaeology, which is either famine or feast.

I always seem to be in this position, or a variant, so these days I jump to 'I'm really ticked off about this' very quickly. If it didn't keep happening, I wouldn't crawl up the wall so frequently, I assure you.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Alexander vs Ladder 49

And on the storytelling stakes, Ladder 49 wins hands down. Oh dear.

It's horrible when you want to like a film, but then it gives you so many reasons to not to. That's the case with Stone's Alexander. We had it out on DVD last night and hoped we were in for a treat, but sadly not. The problem is mainly structural. A flashback within a flashback is never a good idea. And then not to follow the story in a chronological fashion. It jigged about, trying to directly link Alexander's later motivations with events occuring earlier, hence the weird chronology. Hello! Trust the audience to work it out for themselves! Give just enough pointers and they will work it out. It was over-complicated, and in fact over intellectualised. The result was a completely uninvolving movie. Some of the battle scenes were spectacular (liked the phalanx, and the horse & elephant rearing at each other!), but in the end, I'm interested in the people. Here, there was no intimacy, no warmth, just people playing their part. No problems with the actors, they did their best. The costumes and sets looked good and didn't jar (so not overtly incorrect, at any rate) Oh, and the music by Vangelis was poor, poor, poor - let's be kind and say he's past his best.

By contrast, Ladder 49 (which I've just watched) was a haven of good, clear storytelling. Again, flashback is used, but that's fine and not overdone. Much building of character and exploration of modern day firefighters' motivations. Literal (!) and metaphorical warmth. Uncomplicated storytelling. I enjoyed it and cared for the characters way more than I did in Alexander. The music was modest, appropriately narrative and did its job without due fuss - much like the film itself. Competent and solid. Bravo.

Given, Alexander is about an extraordinary man doing extraordinary things, whereas as Ladder 49 is about ordinary men doing extraordinary jobs. But Alexander is made too iconic, and he certainly did not live as human for me. And neither did any of the other characters. They were mythic and unreal, mostly due to the lack of real human emotions. People in the past were as human as us, honest guv!

Ladder 49 worked as hard as Alexander to create its frame, and walked out with the honours. It's a crying shame for the historical epic. To my mind, no film has yet topped Spartacus or spectacle and intimacy. And that was released in 1960, so is as old as I am. Of recent epics, Gladiator is by far the best (much to admire, if a fair amount to niggle, but I did enjoy it), with the truly brainless King Arthur getting my Big Fat Raspberry award (oh how I cringed, mostly because it's set in my period of interest).

Whine, whine, whine. Whinge, whinge, whinge.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Novelists throw nothing away

In the Guardian, there's a column called 'Paperback writer' and this week Jon Courtenary Grimwood says that Novelists throw nothing away. I think I know what he's on about .... I certainly do use things from my own experience, though I wouldn't say I transplant whole people back to the 5th-6th century. Something useful presents itself, and if it's appropriate, I will use it. It could be an attitude, the way someone speaks, or the way someone re-acts, or a particular sight (and I see some really good, evocative ones being in re-enctment) and I find myself thinking I must use that!

He also mentions music as a mood-enhancer, which harks back to my post of only a few days back.

Friday, August 26, 2005

A good slap

Wenlock reckons that some Heyer heroines (or Heyeroines as he phrases it) really need a good slap. He then emphasizes that he is not implying any real physical violence. Unfortunately, disclaimers need to be done these days, just in case turns of phrase are taken seriously. World gone bonkers* - from one extreme to the other; somewhere in between would be nice, but until then, a very careful path must be taken.

I think words can be used as violence, and know of someone who can deliver a really good verbal slap. A few choice words from her and you're jumping to attention (or preferably running away). We should send her in to sort out these Heyeroines ... Rather them than me ;-) But it's a great lesson (one I'd rather not have had) on the sheer impact that words can have.

Anyhoo, I look forward to Wenlock's analysis of the Heyeroines, and I may even be able to bring myself to read one of Heyer's books ... Yes well, I know, but how many Heyer readers have read the must-read books associated with the Dark Age era?! (nb Wenlock excepted)

* Yes, I do mean bonkers (no violence implied) and I'm sure that statement in itself gives a clue to my age

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The writing thing

Slowly, very slowly, I think I'm working my way to doing a bit of writing. To this end, I check out some of the writing websites. One place I often visit is rec.arts.sf.composition, as there's plenty of interesting writing discussion on there. sf means specualtive fiction, which seems to encompass science fiction, fantasy, alternative histories (which is why I visit) and anything along that continuum. Nicola Browne, who writes children's fantasy novels, often chips in there, and today I found that she has some notes on how she writes on her website. In comparison to others (colour-coded charts, index cards and all), she seems relatively chaotic, which of course I have a natural interest in. And, as I well know now, but didn't when I started a few years back, she says there is no right way to write. Amen to that, though I sort of wish there was a formula. But no, as usual, I have to find my own way, and I'm no stranger to that.

Hey, I watched Lost the other night, and I genuinely didn't see the surprise at the end coming. Either I was having an off-night, or it was a rather well constucted episode. I normally work out the 'surprise' endings before, erm, the ending, and cry in disappointment: 'I coulda written that!' I knew what was going on with the Bruce Willis character in the Sixth Sense pretty early on for example. I think since I've started writing, I tend to deconstuct things more and really appreciate good writing, but the upshot is, I can over analyse and then not enjoy the programme or book in its own right. Lost is very good with tantalising clues and I wonder what they're going to do with them all.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Anglian bling

In preparation for the group's show at Bede's World, I've been getting the Anglian kit together for the first time this year. There have been other Anglian shows this year, but it's the first one we've been able to get tor. Unlike my Roman impression (the female version of which is pretty spare - plain peplos, two penannular brooches, belt and a chi rho pendant) the Anglian has lots of, well, bling! My Anglian items include, as well as a lovely green woollen peplos with tablet weaving braid: necklace, cruciform brooches, strings of beads, girdle-hangers, walnut in a little frame, latch-lifters, wrist clasps, and my new item for this year, a thread box. I'm afraid I love all this kit. We tend to do a Fashion Show, so I've piled it on rather!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Working to music

One thing that I haven't done for a couple of months, is work to music whilst tapping away on my computer. But I just got hold of Spem in alium by Thomas Tallis, put the CD in the player, and my level of concentration has gone right up and I've got a hell of a lot done. I'm not doing any creative writing mind, but I can certainly remember doing a lot of my writing for LOTR (and SOD) to music. I must go back there again, armed with appropriate music!

Haven't really found the right music for LOTR, though music from the Lord of the Rings film trilogy does fit, and might do the trick. For SOD it was the Oscar & Lucinda film music by Thomas Newman. It was a very odd film, but I actually bought the music (some of it was played on Classic FM, and it was an instant 'must have' for me) before I saw the film, so was able to 'picture' my own narrative to the music. I think the music reflects how much of a romance SOD actually was, though I tried to resist making the story so. No such problem with LOTR, thank gawd!

I have tended to go for the lyrical 20th century 'classical music' with sweet, sharp and witty Prokofiev being my favourite, and the 20th century Russians in general being a good match for me. Sibelius is an old, grumpy, favourite. Also like the pastoral British composers (Vaughan Williams, Holst, etc.) Latterly, I've gone for Arvo Part (Estonian, very much on the eastern european music continuum).

I'm a total pleb in that Mozart leaves me clock work cold, Wagner's waaay too heavy and Beethoven is only occasional. Only like opera that has good tunes (Carmen ...) Not good with music that has words, though like the sound choruses make. The sound and the emotion it expresses is the thing for me. When listening to people speak, I often remember the sounds they made and what that conveyed, rather than what they said. Probably not a good trait for a writer, though fantastic for a musician :-)

Monday, August 22, 2005

Useful re-enactment stuff - Part I

The main reason I do re-enactment is to gain insights as to how artefacts, clothing, etc., were actually used. This informs my archaeology, but also my writing (when I do it!)

With the previous ruminations over mail shirts, one of the useful things I found out was the use of a belt. Chaps use belts to help distribute the weight of the mail shirts. To get out of a heavy mail shirt, you need to lean forward and let the shirt drop off (after you've wriggled to get it loose) Watch your hair, otherwise it'll get entangled! Personal experience here ...

There are lots of types of mail, including all rivetted, one butted/one rivetted, and all butted. Mail can come unlinked, but quick field repairs can be made. Some sort of padding under the mail helps with deflection of weapons. Again, it also helps to distribute the weight, otherwise mail has a tendency to 'suck' in against the body. A fully armoured man is generally an overheating one - submarlis & mail are effective defence, but come at a price. During shows, we always have water with us. Major shows have specific water carriers. Otherwise, heat exhaustion sets in fast. The first thing a fighter wants to do after an event is shed the ole mail shirt.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Early Roman trousers?

Gabriele has asked if she can have her 122 AD Romans wearing trousers in winter on Hadrian's Wall. Erm, that'll be in Roman Military Clothing (1), which I don't possess (too early for me). However it does list trousers in the contents on the website, though the actual form of the trousers could be any number of variations. But I think it's a common sense sort of answer anyway. The question would be 'why wouldn't they wearing trousers?' It's ruddy freezing up on Hadrian's Wall in winter, when it's not generally horrible. It's generally been gloomy during the summer when I've been up there (except for one notable exception when we did a show at Chesters) Suffice to say it ain't the Mediterranean; knobbly knees show not required, thank you.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Roman trousers

Wenlock's back and questioning the use of trousers in the late Roman Army. Perhaps he's overly attached to the knobbly knee contest image of the Early Roman Army, but by at least the 3rd century the Romans were adopting 'barbarous' ideas. Good sources to consult on the subject are:

Roman Miltary Clothing (2)
AD 200-400
by Graham Sumner
Osprey Books, 2003

Roman Miltary Clothing (3)
AD 400-640
by Raffaele D'Amato & Graham Sumner
Osprey Books, 2005

The last one is just published and my dear partner is now choosing his new season wardrobe. He wants short trousers and leggings; possible. He also wants a semi-circular cloak and I've already told him to naff off on that front! I'm no tailor. He's already got a square cloak which is quite enough ...

As for trousers being up and down over the last 1500 years, Wenlock, I couldn't possibly comment ;-)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

500 Years of the Roman Army

August 2005
In this photo:
Foreground: 4th century Roman legionary
Middle ground: 3rd century Roman legionary
Background: (with backs to camera) 1st-2nd century Roman legionaries

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


The sun's out, and so's nearly all the stuff that needs drying after the weekend. It's draped all over the garden. I had it all out by 9am, so hopefully it'll be more or less dry by the end of the day ...? And then there's the pile of washing that needs to be done. Three sets of kit. If it's linen, it'll get washed. If it's wool, it gets thoroughly aired. Most of it's linen. The naalbinding socks held up well. They did get wet (even though we've now got some very solid shoes) but they didn't self-destruct; thought my stitches may not be tight enough, particularly in the early pair.

The next show is Bede's World in early September, and some of the kit will be different, as we're doing Angles. The Roman over tunics will be sorted out this week, and will then go into storage. As will the Roman pottery :-( Some of the stuff can be used for Anglian - the trousers, socks, and cloaks, my tube dresses, some of the wooden bowls. But I'll be breaking out the Anglian brooches and other metalware for the first time this season!

Whilst pathering about the garden, I met our resident frog! The Dear Partner first saw it a few weeks back, and I wasn't sure I believed him. We don't have a pond, but on the other hand, it's pretty damp out there. Anyway, I have seen the olive green beastie, and he was bigger than I thought he'd be! I wonder what type he is? Frog's Legs for dinner then ;-)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

It was wet, wet, wet ...

... but had cleared up sufficently enough for us to stay till the Monday. Deluge on Saturday, starting from about 3pm and continuing into the night. What a disappointment for the visitors, and damp-ridden kit for the remaining of the stay for the re-enactors.

A bright spot of the the event was meeting Beau Bowden, aka Wenlock It was great to hear about his writing, and I hope he has success soon; he's certainly doing all the right things!

Now the unpacking begins. Everything is wet, but the sun is trying to creep out, so I'll be throwing stuff outside for an airing.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Packing frenzy

Right, only a quick entry today. I'm packing for the Festival of History today, so need to make sure all variables are considered. For example, I don't know if there will be permanent loos or portaloos. If there are only portaloos, there won't be an easy source of running water. So I need to pack at least three large water containers, as we'll be using the water to wash-up as well as drink. I'm cooking for three, so need more pans (and more food ...) And it goes on. I'm the Quartermaster for everything from grub to clothes, weapons to tents!

Back sometime on Monday, or possibly Sunday if the weather's nasty :-)

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The slow factor

Thanks to Diane, I'm now wondering if naalbinding would make a good article as well! It's something that's useful for re-enactors who need socks, but I'm not sure if other people would do it unless they're die-hard knitters/crafters. It takes something like 4-5 hours per sock, at least, and that's using chunky wool. But an article's a possiblity. I'll have to think about it. I note that lots of photos are needed in these articles, which is doubtless another sticking point.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Doh factor

Diane kindly answered my question on her blog about craft magazines with mosaic articles. Typically, it was a very innocent question. I was actually looking for a craft magazine that might give me some ideas for presenting mosaics. I've been checking them out, but haven't come across anything with mosaics in it so far. But canny Diane has pointed out that there are no articles about mosaics in the 15 craft magazines she's been looking at for her Market Index spot in Writing Magazine. There may be an opportunity there. It's not that I'm slow on the uptake or anything ...

I'm going into town tomorrow, and will take the opportunity to have a really critical look at the craft magazines. Many thanks, Diane :-) And keep up the excellent momentum in revising Night Crawler!

It's all go ...

Meh. It's all go in Yorkshire, what with a man getting stuck in a gorse bush and all! Talk about Yorkshire tykes. I'm sort of glad I'm not one of them - they're such a strange breed :-) But they have grown on me in my 15 years or so of living up here. However, there's probably nothing worse when a Yorkshire bloke in a mood; I've been on the receiving end of that a couple of times. Fortunately, the dear partner is a Lancashire man, and so laid-back he's almost horizontal.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Busy, busy

After something of a hiatus, I've now got lots of stuff on the horizon, and none of it is creative writing! The archaeology is on the boil, with lecture preparations high on the agenda (ready for November and January), plus some publication work in the offing. And of course, then there's the re-enactment later on this week. I've got to check all the kit is in good order and that I pack what we need. Since we'll have the dp's nephew in tow, I've got to ensure we've extra food, plus find kit that will actually fit him! Lots to do :-)

Thursday, August 04, 2005


Crikey! Several of the US bloggers I normally visit are away at present, at the RWA conference. From a UK blog, I've just found out about what happened at the conference. Eek! Let's put it this way, these things are extremely unlikely to happen at the UK version - the Romance Novelists' Association - for one thing, it's much, much smaller in scale (though older than the RWA). Gabriele: you need not worry about joining the Historical Novel Society, either; again it's much smaller in scale, though there was a US conference this year (but I don't think they had strange videos or stretch limousines). Neither the RNA or HNS has the sheer market size that the RWA has. Sounds like Wendy Woo would be on the verge of being banned in the RWA !!! Can't imagine that happening in the RNA.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Carry on Romans

Unfortunately, my re-enactment group is no longer taking part in the York Roman Festival. We were supposed to be camping in the Yorkshire Museum Gardens this weekend, but the offer was withdrawn for some reason :-( It doesn't make sense. They've got other groups coming up from down south, and as far away as Hungary, but they haven't got the home team. And what's more we are Late Romans - they make a great thing about Constantine being declared Emperor here, but end up with early Romans saluting Constantine's statue outside the Minster. What a joke. So, my next mosaic outing will be at the Festival of History, Kelmarsh, Northants, 13th-14th August.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Historical Arthur II

Have you've been reading or watching Francis Pryor on the subject, Stephen? (see Stephen's comments under posting Historical Arthur) :

Yes, the 'Anglo-Saxon' cemeteries would be full of locals. Many of the 'ethnic' Anglo-Saxons would have been born in this country by then ... And that makes them British and locals - doesn't it? Their teeth would be the same as any 'Brit' So who was British? There are doubtless also ethnic British in the cemeteries too.

There were Germanics in the Roman Army, posted in this country during the 4th century. This is early, hence some of the 'locals' in 'AS' cemeteries being born in Britain in the 5th-6th century. I wouldn't like to say how many Anglo-Saxons migrated here, though I wasn't convinced by Pryor's reasoning as to why the dominant language in this country became English and not some form of Welsh or Gaelic.

When I wrote 'deep turmoil' I wasn't referring to war (though this was a violent era) but to something a little more abstract. For those tied to working on the land, it would have been 'different face [which could be either Roman, British, Romano-British, Anglo-Saxon, Irish, Pictish, etc.] same sh*t.' Those who wanted power/land would be fighting it out, literally - it's human nature to do so. The number of military elite would be pretty small, with others being dragged in to serve, probably with some reluctance. There is a heady mix of peoples, languages, inter-marriage, cultural affiliations, religions, loyalties, etc. That's deep turmoil. And that's what I'm interested in as a writer.

When a man walks down the street of a settlement in Deira/Yorkshire during the early 6th century, what language does he hear? And what language does he speak? That's what I keep in mind, as it leads me to all kinds of questions and possibilities. Keeping a careful eye on the human aspects ensures I'm not just writing a history lesson of some kind. I could easily fall into 'history-lesson-itis' (see Bulwer-Lytton post and Chim-chim-eney) given my background.

One of the things that typifies the era for me is the inclusion of the name Cerdic in the West Saxon King List. Cerdic is a very British name, Ceredig ... It speaks volumes. Unfortunately, Alfred Duggan in Conscience of the King (1950) has already written that story in a most excellent fashion, so I won't be going there. And yes, I do know that the King Lists are dubious ...

Archaeology rarely gives evidence for actual conflict. Interpretation of the evidence is all, especially for this period. I really don't want to write an essay on the subject; we all interpret history in our own way, so that Stephen's interpretation is valid, as is Mr Pryor's, and even mine!

PS In trying to find a nice link for Alfred Duggan I've just found out that Conscience of the King has been re-issued. I highly recommend it!