Friday, September 30, 2005

White Knight

I checked out a website to find my medieval vocation!

Strangely, it came out as White Knight, though I'm not quite sure if it's accurate!:

Your distinct personality, The White Knight, might be found in most of the thriving kingdoms of the time.
Don Quixote was a White Knight as was Joan of Arc, the Lone Ranger and Crusader Rabbit. As a White Knight you expect nothing in return for your good deeds. You are one of the true "Givers" of the world. You are the anonymous philanthropist who shares your wealth, your time and your life with others. To give, is its own reward and as a White Knight you seek no other. On the positive side you are merciful, sympathetic, helpful, giving and heroic. On the negative side you may be impulsively decisive, sentimental and misdirected. Interestingly, your preference is just as applicable in today's corporate kingdoms.

I'm definitely a civil service type (not interested in earning a huge wage and like the idea of public service) is that what it means? I'd agree with the negative and positive sides, except for 'heroic' - I'm the biggest wimp I know, and getting worse as time goes on!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Disco beat

I thought they'd already put on some disco beat music on when I went into the room where the MRI scanner was. Wrong - that's the sound the MRI scanner makes. It also makes other, much louder, click/thud sounds at certain points, so that the patient (or are we called customers, theses days?) needs to wear headphones. Spem in Alium made it to the final cut, so I listened to that through the headphones as I lay with my foot in the machine for upwards of 40 minutes. It didn't really seem that long.

The view from the machine was white and grey, so the heavenly Tallis voices acted like an angel choir. They were a good choice over the complex orchestral/choral tones of Kullervo. Actually I thought the MRI machine looked rather like one of theose megalith stones with the hole in. So that's what the stones were for - channelling magnetic resonance! Prehistoric MRI scans :-)

Anyway, the MRI scan is the easy bit. It's the results that matter. If they don't find anything from this, it's back to the drawing board. Unfortunately, not being able to walk properly is something I can't ignore (the foot started swelling up after last Thursday's exertions up the hill at Goathland last week, for example), so I'm just hoping that the scan will have shown something, and that the treatment can go forward. October 25th, when I see the specialist again, will be crunch-time.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Top of the Pops

Preparing for the MRI scan tomorrow. Have been advised to take along a CD to listen to. They'll pipe the music through on headphones apparently, ostensibly to cover the loud sounds of the MRI machinery. What to take? Since I've got to stay still, nothing that's remotely dancey that's for sure! Or anything too emotional either. So these are the ones I rejected - actually it lead me to put my part of my CD collection in order, and I couldn't help but put these on for a quick burst as I sorted stuff out:

Britten, Serenade for tenor, horn and strings: Love the seemingly-lazy horn solo at the beginning and end of this piece. This music was used to introduce a reading of Alfred Duggan's Conscience of the King (about 5th-6th century king/tyrant Cerdic) many years ago on radio. I only found out many years later what the music was, and I rushed out to buy it. For me, it remains the epitome of the Dark Age hunting horn, though I'm sure they couldn't get all those notes then!

Tavener, The Protecting Veil: quite simply jaw-dropping and I have never failed to have a few tears falling. As intense as Part, but possibly more audacious

Holst, Oriental Suite/Beni Mora: The first dance is a sheer outbreak of early 20th century european orientalism. Great fun (as Holst invariably is). I also really like his Japenese Suite. His Planets Suite was responsible for introducing me to the moods of classical music.

Barry - Lion in Winter: Loved the film (yes, I know it's anachronism-city, but it put over all the rivalries and in-fighting quite well), and adore the music, some of the strongest that York-born John Barry has composed. When I was looking for links for this blog, I came across a website about a 2003 remake.

And the winners of my MRI CD contest are:

Sibelius - Kullervo: Yes, full heroic mode here. Good stuff: engage brain (check!) engage imagination (check!) and sit tight (hopefully)


Tallis - Spem in Alium: Cool, calm and collected.

Yes, I'm taking two in case there's an outbreak of 'Alex Fever' so that my first choice doesn't work for some reason best known to the gods who rule my fate. Innocent folk involved, tend to say 'That's never happened before' or 'That's unlucky', but to me it's about par for the course. Umm, perhaps I ought to take three CDs, just in case ...

Margaret Graham talks sense (again)

When I attended the Winchester Writers' Conference a couple of years ago, apart from getting lost on campus frequently (on foot and in car - my fault, Sarah!), I signed up to Margaret Graham's courses. Her talks seemed the most relevant (about story arcs) but I hadn't heard her speak before. But I would certainly recommend her! Though she'd obviously given the talks before, I thought her most direct and plausible. Sometimes people say things that I immediately understand, and she's one of them. She was also astute, particularly when we had to read out some of the pieces we'd written (gulp!) She told me to slow down the pace, which I have certainly kept in mind ever since. btw, I'd written the beginnings of a thriller-type story, since I couldn't think of anything else given the theme we'd been presented with.

Anyhow, she mentioned that she was helping to run a competition, the Yeovil Prize, and encouraged us to enter. I must admit, I didn't get myself together in time for the deadline earlier this year, but I checked out the website to see who won. Once again, she said something which struck a note, when commenting on some of the submissions:

In a few cases there was [also] a tendency to create a predictable plot, and to present the plot with a predictable 'voice' or style. It takes time (almost an apprenticeship) to learn or to delve into the creative imagination, and get in touch with your own unique way of looking at the world and situations and then to SHOW this in a three-dimensional scene

And that is very much how I view my work at present. She knows, you know ;-)

Anyway, the Yeovil Prize is running again next year, so why not have a go? I may even trot LOTR out, if I'm feeling masochistic enough (and after I've made a few revisions).

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Roman Lamps

A couple of ceramic lamps in Malton Museum. Lamps were often moulded in two parts - the base, and the decorated circular 'lid' or discus. The lamp on the left has lost its discus. They were normally tamped down, but were always the weak part.

In Britain, lamps are very often associated with cemeteries, and are generally not a common find on Roman sites. Lamp stands are known in Britannia. However, lamps required oil for fuel. Olives were not grown in this country, so the oil would need to be imported. Lamp use would probably be restricted to those with enough wealth to use olive oil in this manner, or for religious needs. Other methods of illumination could be: tallow or beeswax candles (candlesticks are known in Roman Britain), or depending on the area, possibly rush/pitch torches. Little pine sticks, so sodden in pine resin that they would burn slowly, may also have been used. There may be other methods, but it's not my specialist subject!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Chaff Cutter

This is one of two Chaff Cutters at Beck Isle Museum, Pickering. I was particularly interested in them as my great grandfather (Harry Long) on my father's side was a 'Chaff Cutter's Labourer' in 1914, when my grandmother (Evelyn Dorothy Louisa) was born. One of the machines was made in by Maldon Iron Works, Maldon, Essex, not too far from Tottenham (north London) where the Long family lived. So Harry may have easily have used this model of machine! Apparently they were in production from the 1860s to the 1940s.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Authorial paranoia rules!

In the last couple of days I had to attend to other things, but now I'm trooping back to the writing trail. My previous blogs here and here, and via email, brought some interesting replies. Thank you for investing your time in answering - I really appreciate it!

Yep, authorial paranoia sounds good to me, or rather certainly on the lines of the way I think! And indeed I am seriously thinking doing my non-fiction archaeological magnum opus first. It's basically the stuff I have to write up, otherwise it wasn't worth me doing archaeology for over 20 years. It's rather been thrust upon me by the 'profession' which can't be bothered to employ me properly. Where others have been able to write up their work from within the cushioned confines of a nice cosy archaeological unit, I've been left to drift. So I'll do what I want, and that will be more than good enough, as so little has been written on my specialist subject.

As to the fiction ... My first attempt, the much battered SoD, was actually designed to be my learning piece. It was difficult to find subject matter which would keep me interested, but I found something and it saw me through. It looks like I might have to find another subject, or perhaps attempt a re-write. LOTR is the one I really want to write, but I don't think I'm up to it yet. But the upshot is that I probably need to give the fiction a rest for the time being, though it won't stop me doing a bit of research, whether it be re-enactment, visiting sites, reading, etc!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Last couple of days ...

The dp's off work this week, so we've been going on jaunts. On Wednesday we went to Malton, to visit the excellent, if small, museum there. It's got a great, well displayed Roman collection, with plenty to admire.

Yesterday, we went to Pickering by bus, then got on to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. Then spent the rest of the day travelling on the steam engines and getting off the various stops, including Goathland and Grosmont. Found out about further details of the Railway's Wartime Weekend in October. I know it gets very crowded on the railways during these weekends (it was busy enough yesterday!), but I may well at least go to Pickering and get some good photos with the possibility of using them in the article that Diane pointed out I might be able to sell!

After the railway, we returned to Pickering just in time to whizz round the Beck Isle Museum. There I found some chaff cutting machines, which one of my ancestors would have used - on my paternal grandmother's certificate it says her father was a 'chaff-cutter' I don't know what the chaff was used for (feeding cattle?) but I know what a chaff cutting machine looks like now!

It was now about 5pm, and our attempts to find somewhere to have a meal seemed to be failing. In Pickering, the cafe bars were just shutting (!). But we disovered the Concorde Cafe, and had a good meal there before proceeding to catch the bus back to York.

Anyway pics to follow!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Early spectacles

Until I started to do re-enactment, I didn't realise exactly when spectacles appeared. They made a brief appearance in The Name of the Rose film, starring Sean Connery, who pulled some out in one scene. That film was set in the 14th century and I was a bit dubius. Then I saw someone from a late medieval group wearing them at Kirby Hall in around 2001. Spectacles were certainly around by the 15th century, as this photo of a section from some stained glass windows from All Saints North Street, York (which I visited last Saturday after scoffing John Hudson's lovely food) proves. They just balanced across the nose, and the reconstructions I've seen had wooden frames. At any rate, it allows medieval re-enactors to use this type of eye-wear should they not be able to wear contact lenses. As a Roman re-enactor, my partner certainly can't wear specs, so wears contacts, which also allows him to play footie, and actually see what he's doing!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A fully paid-up member of the awkward squad

I think my writing lacks depth, which is why there's been a lot of navel-gazing going on of late. I have no style to speak of, and what I see in my head patently does not translate onto the page.

I've written one rambling manuscript (SoD), during which I read loads of how-to books, took part in crit groups, attended day schools and conferences, and read loads and loads of historical fiction from all eras. I fed some of what I'd learnt (including not to bother with general rules) back into the first chapters of the manuscript. It still got nowhere when I re-submitted first chapters/synopses to competitions, and a partial to the Romantic Novelists' Association New Writers Scheme. The feedback from all concerned, wasn't good, or even hopeful.

LOTR had a much more auspicious start (writing group win) only to be stymied by the same old story again with the Winchester Conference, and worse, the critiquer thought I was a total beginner. The judges from this competiton are professional writers who know their stuff. So what the heck is going on here? I can only come to full stop in the face of this, as I don't want beloved LOTR to be another lamb to the easy slaughter.

Either my writing's earth shatteringly unusual (unlikely) or it's pretty awful (say no more) I reckon I still write like I am compiling reports, being very concise - as in habitually following report writing rules. It is not to say my characters lack emotions, but something is not getting across. It's extremely frustrating, and I am trying to find ways to get this problem moving. Part of me says 'oh just get on with it' but I have been getting on with it for around five years, to more or less no avail.

Hence back to the drawing board. Hence looking seriously at the novels I admire and trying to work out what they do that makes it all work. Hence trouble-at-mill (as usual).

Anyway, I'm hoping this, after all the ruminations, is finally the nub of the problem.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Food and pots

Another pic of John Hudson in action. Here he is serving up Savoury Tosted or Melted Cheese a recipe by Sir K Digby who wrote a cook book in the 17th century. The recipe contains farmhouse cheddar cheese, cream, peas, and bacon, melted down in a pan, which John then poured over toasted white bread. I can attest it was yummy! Also lovely was the Norfolk Fool (R May, again 17th century) - cream, eggs and spices heated, poured over white bread, and intended to set. It didn't in the alloted time, but still tasted very nice indeed. A Sallet of boiled spinach tasted really good, complete with the addition of spices and sultanas. This recipe is from from W Rabisha, 17th century. Also on offer were freshly made sausages, boiled chicken for the winter season, bread pudding in guts (like a sausage, but sweet), and stewed salmon.

And to give Olga some hope that John Hudson may come her way, he'd just recently returned from attending a conference in the US, where he'd done the same show. How on earth he got his huge chopping knife through customs on both sides of the Atlantic in the current climate, I'm uncertain. Apparently it went in the hold, but was thoroughly checked over. Anyway, John's obviously open to invitation from all comers :-)

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Medieval cooking

John Hudson is well known and admired in the archaeological world for being a talented potter. In particular, he makes wonderful reproduction pottery from the Roman to the post medieval period. Yesterday (17th September) he was at Barley Hall in York doing a session on using ceramics in Medieval cookery. For two hours we watched him make the various recipes, put them on the open charcoal fire, then finally we got to taste the food. Verdict: fantastic! The man is a national treasure :-)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Writing to order

I find it really difficult writing reports. When I had to do a lot of pretty superfluous reports for the archaeology work (that was what they required, btw), it got so I tried my best to avoid doing them. I'd view the material, no problem, but writing it up was immensely boring. Unfortunately, I brought this with me into other areas.

However, I think I'm cracking it now! I had to write up four events for my re-enactment group's newsletter, and once I started (it took me a long while to knuckle down ...) I actually enjoyed it! It was because I had to be creative, and look for some sort of an angle. One does not need to look for an angle with the type of archaeology reports I was (barely) employed to write, but I can control what I do for these event write-ups. I even liked editing them afterward, as it was part of shaping the pieces.

Perhaps the Winchester competition comments on my creative writing was picking up on restriction rather than me being a beginner. LOTR isn't particularly report-like, but there is a something of the I am following the rules about it. It's as if I need to set myself free. But will trying to emulate other authors' styles further restrict my writing?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Well finally ...

Good grief! I'm still recoverin' from the sheer shock. After a 7 month wait, I've finally been offered an MRI foot scan appointment (cue much rejoicing). It's at the end of September, but I won't be seeing the Specialist until the end of October. But it is progress. I was seriously thinking of setting my dp on them - just the mere shimmer in the air of that, and the NHS capitulated in short order :-) The dp is never aggressive or bullying (other wise I wouldn't touch him with a barge pole, having already lived with someone like that), but he is extremely persistant when he thinks something should be sorted. In fact, I reckon I've been protecting the NHS from him for the past couple of weeks; they should be grateful to me, I tell yer.

I'm still checking out jobs (Wednesday is job adverts day in this city) but so many of these posts ask how many days you've had off ill. Days? Try months, in my case. In fact, probably bordering on a year over these past three years since my stay in hospital. Still, the longer the time that I have enforced time off paid work, the more likely I am to do the stuff I need to do (i.e. finish writing up the archaeology) But perhaps the end of the foot problem is in sight? With the stomach problems much improved, it's just the foot that's holding me back. Then I can get back to my dazzling career in ... er ... um ...

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


I have 12,000 words of my 5th century story, LOTR and have just read it over again. The first 5000 words won me the Novel first prize for the local writing group. The first three pages garnered a report from the Winchester conference which effectively trashed my writing completely, and once again made the suggestion of writing for children. So now I'm trying to reconcile the opposing views.

Firstly, I'm not about to start writing for children. Stuff goes on in my novels which would have to be cut if I did that. Yes, I write rather plainly, but at the root of it, is a belief in trying to be realistic. So that's a no-no, at this time. As to the 'not settled with your writing style, you are a beginner' that has more credence for me. I need to get out from under and I'm looking for novels I admire so I can at least try some emulation in style. If it's good enough for Bernard Cornwell, it's good enough for me. He did the same with C S Forester's Horatio Hornblower, so Bernie, I'm looking seriously into trying it your way.

Who though? Sutcliff is out - mostly due to similarity of subject matter, but also some people whine that she's old fashioned. Yes, I know, it's silly, but it's best I look for something written in the last 10 years, I think. Gillian Bradshaw? A possibility, if I was still writing SoD. The Bradshaw books I have are written in first person, as is SoD. But LOTR is in third. Hmmm. Mary Gentle; she writes in tight third. Good, yes, but her style is so distinctive and bold, I'm not sure I can copy it. Will contemplate problem further ...


Over on Gabriele's blog, she has posted a reconstruction of a very neat 'pit house' from Tilleda in Germany. We call these 'Grubenhaus' in the UK! They also get called SFBs, which stands for Sunken Featured Buildings. There is evidence that some of them had their pits boarded over, so in effect the pits were cellars, and the created floor could be used for something else. There are lots of theories as to how these building were used, but they are generally taken to be markers of 'Anglo-Saxon' occupation dating from the 5th-6th century in Britain (often the east of England).

The UK also has some experiemental reconstructions of these buildings, including the one at Bede's World, which is very deep, and damp. Certainly woudn't have like to sleep in that one, and I rather think it demands a boarded floor to create a cellar. Then there is West Stow, in Suffolk. I actually don't remember much about this one, though we did a show there! However, our tents were somewhat remote from the buildings, and the buildings were being occupied by another group.

Having a nosey on the Tilleda Museum web pages, I note that they've even got mortar mixers! Brings back memories of digging in Northampton in my early archaeological career; Northampton is one of the few places in England to have evidence of Anglo-Saxon mortar mixers, which are dated to around the 8th-9th centuries. I managed to find evidence of an Anglo-Saxon hall; it was a ruddy great stone in a ruddy great post pit - my supervisor said I should take the stone out, but it just became rather substantial, and then we found other massive pits! Anyway, I'd definitely like to see this German site, when I visit the Continent again.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Music and writing, again

Just seen the South Bank Show's programme on Karl Jenkins, the composer of Adiemus, and doyen of Classic FM. Even in the programme someone said his music is bland. His music is extremely pleasant, and I have got Adiemus and Palladio, but this is not music I would write by. Simply, he lacks bite and danger. One or two of his pieces start off with promise of drama, but then his good nature shines through, which nulls the impact for a bit nastiness! It's a shame really. However, he's very successful and I thoroughly understand why. He is a skilful composer. But give me the drama queens of Prokofiev and Part and I could write up a storm.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Berry pickin'

Yesterday, I went to wave the dp off on a visit to his parents. We walked the back way round to the railway station, and remembering that there had been blackberries and elderberries in the bushes, I took a box and scissors. So, we gathered lots of berries! Yesterday I had a big bowl of blackberries with evaporated milk (yum) and this morning, I boiled the elderberries down for juice. It's the first time I've done this, and all I can say is that for the amount of berries, the out put wasn't great, but an excellent drink. The recipe said that I could add honey if required, but it was easily sweet enough. I may return for more berries next week.

I had to strain the elderberries and was surprised to find the muslin dyed nice shades of blue. Cogs have started ticking over in my brain writing wise ... Someone will be wearing a tunic of elderberry blue, that's for sure :-) Rather suspect the colour will fade quite fast. I already have a scene in SoD where the two main characters are having a game of knucklebones, using blackberries as winnings. I don't think the lazy pair have gathered the blackberries themselves, after all they are warriors and it's beneath them!!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Sheep feeding

Here I am insisting on feeding the black sheep! The white lamb had plenty of feed beforehand, and I reckoned it was someone else's turn. The dp managed to distract the lamb for a short while, and I was able to tempt the skittish black sheep to come and lip the food from my hand.

No mosaicing at this event, as the Anglians didn't have them :-( But the sheep more than made up!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Skippy ... the sheep

Camping at Bede's World was great, especially since we pitched our tent very close to a bunch of sheep. Yes, they were fenced in, but this little madam had a habit of jumping out and wondering around, hence the name Skippy. And what's more, Skippy was 'a slapper,' in the words of the Farm Manager. When the rams got loose, it was only Skippy who got caught in the family way!

By now, she has a rather large lamb being weaned, but still calling (and calling, and calling) for his mother at unearthly times in the morning ... But it was a pleasure to be so close to them, and Skippy in particular. Before this, I wanted a pet sheep or two, but now I know I'd love having them around. Skippy in particular was a character, being 'top sheep' in (and out) of the pen. There was definitely a pecking order, namely The Lamb, Skippy (she'd always let the Lamb feed first, when treats were on offer), the black sheep, the brown sheep, with the white sheep hardly daring to draw breath. It's a shame Bede's World is so far from York, otherwise I'd be offering to volunteer and work with the animals.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Way to go, RNA!

Just watched University Challenge: the Professionals, only to see the RNA beat the Economist, which means the RNA is in the final! Beau Bowden, when I met him at Kelmarsh, was honourably not letting on about the outcome. Looking forward to the final next week; well done the RNA :-)

Back from the last re-enactment event of the season. Totally knackered. I nearly always am, and I reckon it may be down to being dehydrated, as I drink tons (of tea!) afterward. Trouble is, at events, the loos are nearly always a long walk away and/or there's a queue, and there's no motivation to drink much. That said, I always drink if I feel thirsty, but if the loo's a fair walk away, and you're supposed to be 'on show' one doesn't keep necking it down unnecessarily.