Wednesday, November 30, 2005

200th blog!

Yea! This is the 200th blog I've written. Good grief. I haven't done so well with a diary since I was in my teens. I've still got my diaries from then. Not pleasant reading, I have to say, and not due to the normal teenage glooms either. The 1970s as a whole were a gloomy time for everyone, I think. If I was offered a million quid, I wouldn't go back there again. It's much nicer being here and now.

Happy Birthday to my sister for yesterday, if she's reading!!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Let it snow ...

The view from my window at the moment is of falling snow. It's probably not going to settle - it's been raining too recently. Still, it is snow, for a second or two.

Meanwhile, the clients for whom I'm writing a finds report for have been terribly sweet. I was dreading ringing them, but they were very understanding about me not being able to meet the December deadline. So I'll be able to get on with my teaching prep - lots of reading, and a fair amount of picture/slide gathering. Trotted out to get take some photos on Saturday and somehow the weather knew I had my camera with me - yes, it rained and was mostly gloomy. Fab ;-)

Unfortunately, when the weather was better, I wasn't up to walking across town ... This weekend my foot did me proud, as I dragged it out on both days. Neary a bus was taken! However, my foot's a bit grumpy today, so I'm giving it plenty of massage. We're not going out again till tomorrow, so it can have a rest.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Data and snow ...

Just finished the major part of data entry for the finds report I'm doing. Unfortunately, I've realised that I won't be able to complete the report by the deadline. Will have to tell the client shortly, and am not looking forward to it. It'll be the first time I've had to do this. I'm pretty sure other report writers will also not stick to the deadline. Deadlines are pretty bogus, as this stuff will get sat on for years - we're archaeologists, and don't have a good perception of time in general! After all, the stuff has been under the earth for hundreds of years, so what's another few years before it gets put in the public domain?

The first ever report I wrote is still languishing in prep, and has been since 1989; I put it in on time, it's just waiting the excavation director to finish the rest of the site report! And I'm sure this will happen with the current report, which is why I'm going to stop doing it, and turn to lecture preparation I sorely need to do for January. The lecturing was booked well before the find report, and it's not as if I can put the lectures off (people have booked to attend!). But that's not really any comfort.

Meanwhile, where is the snow we've been promised? It's certainly cold enough in the Vale of York, but we aint gettin' that's for sure. I'm sort of hoping it will actually snow on my birthday (beginning of December) which would a pretty unusual occurence these days.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Got the blues? Call for Jeeves

I have trouble being happy. I reckon it's an art, so Victoria Coren's piece on a new magazine called Happy and her reaction to it, definitely strikes a chord with me. Though, perhaps being happy is having the knack to take your mind of your cares. When really down in the dumps, I'll deliberately watch rubbish tv. The soapy or war-like the better. However, when it's done, it's back to the problem in hand. But all things seem to pass, eventually. So, no apologies for the watching or reading the trivial - enjoy it!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Sword of Honour

Finally! I will get to see part two of Sword of Honour which was on tv in 2001. For some reason (probably video recording failure) I didn't get to see part two and have been frustrated ever since. I really rather got in to it, and wanted to know what happened next. Yes, the fatal words. Once that happens, I'm lost (and the tv series Lost is indeed another example of that) and want to see it out. Well, yes, I could have resorted to Evelyn Waugh's World War II trilogy of books, but I'd rather stick to an adaptation, see it out to the end, and then proceed to the book if so moved.

The local library has come up trumps, and I've now got the video out. Sometime this weekend I will sit down and watch both episodes. Although I know I wanted to see it to the end, I've largely forgotten the ins-and-outs of the first episode! So it's back to the beginning for me :-)

Just as a bit of trivia, the new James Bond, Daniel Craig, plays the lead in Sword. I had my beady eye on him before Sword of Honour, never mind James Bond ... His performance in The Trench is very moving (all I will say is jam, and I'm sure anyone who has seen the film will know what I mean), and he was eyecatching in Our Friends Up North. In the latter, he shared the screen with another up and coming star, a certain Christopher Eccleston (another one I was keeping an eye on, especially as he comes from the same place as my partner; oh, that accent ...). Eccleston had an all too brief tenure as Dr Who this year :-( One of the funniest lines in the series was his side kick Rose saying he sounded northern. His blithe reply was that every planet has a north! Indeed, Mr Eccleston!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Get your kit off, Mark Anthony!

The third episode of Rome. Am I warming to it? Not really. It's rather plot driven, I think. And I do not seem to be a fan of plot over character. Personalities are jockeying for position, but I still see no one enough to become really interested in what happens to them.

Anyway, last night Mark Anthony, for some reason, seemed to be having a wash in the middle of his yard. I'm afraid this was full-frontal nudity just for the sake of it. Perhaps slaves might have stripped off and sluiced a bucket of water over their head (and we've seen a snatch of that too). But Mark Anthony? Wouldn't he have had his own set of baths to wallow in? And to add to that, Mark entertained one of his clients whilst he stood there been wiped down like a shire horse being cared for after a hard day in the hay field! I think the idea is to give the impression that Mark is a hard man, but actually all he seems to do is get his kit off for the lady viewers. At least Julius Caesar has more decorum :-)

However, the said client in the yard-shower scene was Vorenus. He was clothed, and the way his tunic hung over his chest was very reminiscent of Roman stone carvings. So Rome taketh away and Rome also giveth on the authenticity stakes ...

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

American Title

Courtesy of Lady Tess, this first line of a novel competition is rather intriguing. The comments of the judges are priceless, and illuminating. Some of the sentences don't read quite right or don't really grab me, and normally one of the judges puts their finger on why. Meanwhile, I'm trying to work out which first line I like best, and why. I'm erring on one with a definite battlefield reference. How predictable am I?

Monday, November 14, 2005


Leading on nicely from the Diary of a Homeworker column, where isolation is a problem, the Guardian also had a olumn called Ask the Experts: Networking. Networking is definitely what you need to do as a freelancer! There's some useful tips, though Woody Allen's advice: 80% of success is showing up doesn't ring quite true. I used to go to as many applicable meetings and conferences as I could afford, but if you're not good at going up to people and just starting conversations, you're dead in the water! Having the gift of the gab would get a good percentage from me. But generally, I think being seen is a good thing. I've just been invited to speak at a conference, which is even better than just attending. At least I'll be there to do something other than networking. And because I'm a speaker, people are more likely to come up to me and want to talk about some aspect my lecture!

But I do like the way the article says to see networking as farming not hunting. That takes the heat out of it. Just occasionally, I've quite enjoyed some meetings, and it's when I've had a good chat with someone who's doing an aspect of work applicable to my own.

Meanwhile, I'm about to go into teaching purdah for the next couple of days. Teaching on Wednesday, but currently frantically preparing my talk :-)

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Glad 'e ate 'ere!

Ay-up, Russell Crowe has been seen in York! It's not surprising, as his wife has relatives living close by in Nether Poppleton. He's been sighted in hte area before, but this may be the closest the average Yorkie has ever come to meeting the Gladiator star. Anyway, the local newspaper had a field day, hence the truly naughty headline of the article: Glad 'e ate 'ere. Yes, he was seen queuing (!) to get into the local Betty's Tea Rooms. There was no media frenzy, as he wasn't making a big impact, and the newspaper only found out after the fact. Unfortunately, I wasn't in town that day, so missed it all. It sounds like I might not have realised anyway, as he was obviously blending easily into the crowd.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Diary of a homeworker

A column in The Guardian struck a cord for me today. Diary of a Homeworker addressed the limitations of working at home. Though the columnist patently has a 'proper' job, whereby she has a steady income and there is a head office that isn't her own home, she experiences similar frustrations and dubious joys to a freelancer. Must admit I don't have a problem with callers - most the time I opt not to answer, unless I can sneak a look out the bedroom window and either see a car or the caller and it looks like I should reply (eg. a services meter reader or the Royal Mail). Somehow the callers can see that she's in and don't get the hint she's on the phone! Er ... I think she might find it useful to install net curtains for starters.

But the thing that really struck home was the isolation. I don't get lonely, but I feel I'm definitely out of the loop. And then when you do visit offices (which I've done recently) I know I'm out of the loop. But in the end, it's nice to come home and keep away from getting involved in things that distract me from my primary tasks.

Oh yeah, my partner liked the last line of the article:

This column appears monthly

He took that to mean she only works one day a month - rather like me of late, especially regarding the pay aspect :-)

The previous homeworker column was of interest too - about having to create routine, having the work at home means the work's always with you, and having to make yourself go out to get fresh air. All very familiar, except that I don't really miss the office company!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Nasty is ...

Still reading the 11th century book. I do think some bits are very good. It's gritty in setting, and there's only been a one or two 'authenticity' slip-ups (only an archaeological pedant like me would pick 'em out!) But my next 'problem' with it is that virtually everyone's just plain nasty. And they normally are in this author's books. Sometimes reading the novel is like serving penance for something one didn't do!

I have read books which have covered similarly serious, awful stories, and yet haven't been totally brought down by them, because the author throws a line to the reader and shows the human spirit in a good light somewhere along the line. There's some sort of redemption, some sort of hope, some sort of joy that is paid for in the most horrendous manner. I haven't finished the book yet, but am uncertain if I'm willing to wait for 700 pages to see if the lead character's spirit triumphs.

I'm sure that the 11th century book is generally correct in following the nasty line. Rather like Rome on the BBC at the moment. However, at least the Romans aren't talking in a highly stylised manner - which actually makes their behaviour all the more shocking: they speak like us, perhaps they were like us ... But the 11th century book has alienated me by overplaying the nasty hand.

As a package, I don't find the 11th century book convincing. Which is a shame, as the author has patently done her research and has tried hard to get into the minds of the lead characters. Or is it that I just like reading soap operas?!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Kill your restless darlings

I've just started reading a book set in early 11th century England. I'm not about to say what book it is, or who the author is, as I know she has a tendency to take any sort of criticism all too personally. Anyway, it started well, the usual writing quirks appeared, but that's fine; it's just the author's style. It tends to cause my eye to 'trip' and I have to re-read, but I can put up with that (at this point, Sarah may well know who I'm talking about!). Then something occurred which I am becoming increasingly familiar with, and have seen in recent novels by other authors. Namely, the building up of very likeable characters, which the author then kills off to serve the main character in some way. I think these characters historically die, but were they so likeable? It doesn't matter, the point is that as a reader, I feel manipulated. It's all too obviously a device. Don't get me wrong, the authors who do this are successful, their books sell. However, my suspension of disbelief is now faltering badly with this book.The author generally writes characters who are pretty nasty, so it's not diffcult to pick out the sacrificial lambs.

And then I got to thinking. Have I done this in my own writing? I don't like writing characters who are so extreme, though there are one or two. There is one very nice chap who gets killed in an ambush - his death has tremendous repercussions for the story. To some extent, he's such a trusting character he opens himself up to danger. There is another who just hates my lead character, and I try to show an explanation for that. But am I doing the same at the authors I'm complaining about?

And then there's the restless narrative. In the 11th century book, the narrative swops to various people. Just when I'm getting in to the main lead's story, it jumps elsewhere for a couple of chapters. But I want to know what's happening to so-and-so! Grrr! I know for certain I haven't done that in my writing - I don't like reading it, so I'm not going to write it.

Perhaps all this is just down to reader preference. These authors are successful, so perhaps I should just bog-off and find books with the type of story-telling I like.

Oh, and this 11th century book is going to include one of the characters I'm thinking of writing about at some point - Thorkell the Tall. That'll keep me reading, as I'm dying to know how she interprets him :-)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Answering enquiries

Today I had a request from a colleague for a necklace of amber beads, with no modern fittings, to be used to represent a 6th century Anglo-Saxon artefact. She wants to use a photo of them in her new book. It turned out I had two to choose from, though I had to search for them, as I'd stashed them away for winter. There's a proper necklace, and the one below, attached to replica 6th century brooches. I've given her the choice. I can easily detach the amber string from the brooches if she wants. It's good when I'm able to help people like this!

Replica brooches

Replica 6th century Anglian brooches with amber, glass, and carnelian beads

Monday, November 07, 2005

Bloomin' endowments

Like so many others during the 1980-90s me and the dp were pushed into buying endowments to pay off the mortgage. We were assured that these policies would mature and pay off the mortgage, with perhaps a surplus. But no, they now seem to be underperforming to the tune of £12,000 in our case. Fortunately, the last time we moved, I was so dubious that I insisted on part endowment and part normal repayment. The latter is initially more expensive, but at least we know how much we're paying off. I seem to have the instinct about financial stuff; if I'd been the only one in the room, I would have come out with a full repayment mortgage. It must be my background of close-to-the bone finances when I was a child. Though I can't add up for toffees!

Some friends of ours in a very similar 'endowment' position have recently consulted a financial advisor who has suggested that they surrender their endowments. They need to bump up their repayments to the tune of what they were paying monthly in the endowment, but due to cashing the endowment in, they will pay-off their mortgage three years earlier!

Though now thoroughly distrustful of anyone who wants to get hold of our funds, I must confess to being interested in this. But is the financial advisor's advice good? To this end, I've put a question to Money Saving Expert website forum. It's a website that Diane recommended, and has been helpful on other occasions too. Regarding the current question, I've already discovered that Standard Life will probably be demutualised in 2006 (though see this). What this means, I don't really know, but since we have a policy with Standard Life, apparently we stand to get a payout. So we're not to cash in that endowment until after that happens. We also have another endowment with another company, but I don't think there's anything stopping us from surrendering that ASAP. By the time we've worked it all out, I daresay it'll be well into 2006 anyway.

And just don't get me started on the question of pensions! The government in the 1980s encouraged contracting out of the state earnings related pension (SERPS), but now we're being told to contract back in again. Someone's benefitted from all this, but it's not those of us with average or lower pay, that's for sure

Sunday, November 06, 2005


Beau Bowden has commented that I haven't said anything about HBO & BBC's Rome which finally made it to UK BBC this week. So I'd better put my pennyworth in! Last week went in a bit of a blur due to me doing a lot of travelling, but I made sure I sat in front of the tv for this event.

It's not perfect, by any means. But it looks right. The sets look lived in, the extras look consistent. There's lots of colour, peeling paint, unusual sights. All is well in this version of Rome on that front.

As usual, on the 'literary programmes' those who know very little about the era - or about writing about the era - were commenting adversely on the dialogue. What on earth do they think the writer is going to use to let the Romans express themselves? Latin? OK, fine, but very few people will understand what's being said and the commentators will complain about that as well. The moaners should think about this aspect carefully before condemning. I actually rather liked 'Hello Brutus, me old cock' - it was absolutely in keeping and gives the right flavour. These Romans don't declare their dialogue with great import, and as a consequence sound like real human beings. Hurrah!

However - and there's always a however! Most of the characters aren't likeable. So if I have any quibbles, it's in the story-telling. In I Claudius, the audience could at least like Claudius and a few other characters. So far in Rome, I'm singularly uncertain if I like anyone. Vorenus is a possibility - he's not such a thug as his side-kick Pullo - and his wife is perhaps a sympathetic character, as are a couple of the other females. Other than that, they're a bunch of vipers, which is entirely correct. But it makes the whole thing rather uninvolving, unlike Bleak House which is completely absorbing due to a delightful mix of characters and the super adaptation of Andrew Davies.

I shall keep watching Rome, if only to sight-see (and perhaps some sympathetic characters might emerge), though I could do without quite so much sex, gore and lack of trousers on occasion :-)

Saturday, November 05, 2005


Finally, this morning we got to watch the first episode of the BBC series Egypt, which we DVD'd last Sunday. This series will be focusing on various aspects of the discovery Ancient Egypt. Champollion (Rosetta stone) and Belzoni (hieroglyphics) will be covered, but first up was Howard Carter and Tutankhamun.

The most recent of the three, Carter had a struggle to undertake the work he wanted to do. That certainly struck a nerve with me. Along with funding problems, he also had work taken away from him on the whim of said funder - unfortunately, I've also experienced that as well. But the episode also commmunicated the single-mindedness, the passion, the expertise, and the sheer curiosity true archaeologists have. So bravo!

However, the dp pointed out that egyptology of the early 20th century is not really like the archaeology we know today. There was scant regard for stratigraphy, which gives the context of the material. It's more like a treasure hunt. But Carter, for his time was very good, and recorded meticulously (i.e. slowly, which put his employers to the test somewhat, but is standard archaeological method) The focus is very much on the artefacts, and that's also what I am mainly interested in. So I enjoyed this first episode immensely.

Archival information about Howard Carter and the excavations can be found here.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

All about me

OK, that horrid Diane has tagged me ;-)

Three screen names that you've had: Mrs Grumpy, Siloorfe, Banana

Three things you like about yourself: I laugh, I smile, I occasionally have a sense of humour

Three things you don't like about yourself: Wot - only three?! Introspective, over analytical, a great capacity for being grumpy

Three parts of your heritage: Shropshire lass (mother), Eastender (father), Italian (great, great, great - hope that's enough greats - grandfather from Como, c1841)

Three things that scare you: my mother, not being in control, olives

Three of your everyday essentials: chocolate, reading something - anything! the radio

Three things you are wearing right now: The dp's ring, a fleece, a nice pair of supportive shoes

Three of your favorite songs: Does Prokofiev's cantata Alexander Nevsky count (it's got lots of songs in it)?
You're beautiful by James Blunt, She Loves You by The Beatles

Three things you want in a relationship: kindness, respect, humour

Two truths and a lie: I have a PhD, I enjoy research, I eat a banana every day

Three things you can't live without: asthma Inhaler, my best friend, anti-histamines

Three places you want to go on vacation: Lake Como (!), Rome, Pompeii

Three things you just can't do: add up, throw a javelin, run a four minute mile

Three kids' names: Alexander, Fiona, Juliana

Three things you want to do before you die: visit Italy, feel that I am suitably spoiling the dp, have a nice day at least once a week on a consistent basis

Three celeb crushes: Tobey Maguire, Paul Bettany, Matthew MacFadyean (I wish to point out that I liked all these guys before any of them became really well known)

Three of your favourite musicians: Prokofiev, Arvo Part, Thomas Newman (ok, I know they're composers, but
they play/ed instruments too)

Three physical things about the opposite sex that appeals to you: long legs, beards, smile

Three of your favourite hobbies: visiting museums, visiting tea rooms, reading

Three things you really want to do badly right now: have another cup of tea, sniff, go to loo

Three careers you're considering/you've considered: showjumping, ballet dancing, museum curator

Three ways that you are stereotypically a boy: I like weaponry, I like war films, I can swear like the
proverbial trooper

Three ways that you are stereotypically a girl: I cry way too much, I'm not as physically strong as I could
be, I like chocolate

Three people that I would like to see post this meme: Sarah, Beau Bowden, Gabriele C

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Alexander Nevsky

This weekend Eisenstein's film Alexander Nevsky is on at the local cinema. Hurrah! I own it on disc. I've seen it in concert (live orchestra and chorus performing Prokofiev's super score, with film also showing; conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy in 1989). I've seen in at the cinema before, but I'm always game to see it on the big screen again.

The film is about a 13th Russian century warrior who really existed. Details about Nevsky can be found here. Looks like he was in almost constant conflict with the neighbours. He's called Nevsky for his victory over the Swedes at the River Neva. The film centres on his fight with the Teutonic knights, so we get the Battle on the Ice which some people will realise that a lot was swiped by the recent film King Arthur.

But the film of Alexander Nevsky is a lesson in propaganda. It was released in 1938, and prior to this the Soviet Union's relations with Hitler were somewhat strained, to say the least. Then a pact was made between Russia and Germany so the film was hastily shelved. The Teutons seen soundly thrashed in the film were of course Germanic... But when Hitler invaded the east, the film was brought out of 'retirement' and shown widely in the Soviet Union. The film is history classically filtered by modern considerations. However, some images (and sounds) are truly beautiful and it's well worth seeing it for those moments alone.

It's thought that Laurence Olivier was inspired by Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky in making Henry V in 1944. Again a film used for propaganda; so what if Henry's opponents were French ;-). I think the central mounted duel between Henry and a French knight has some similariities to Nevsky fighting a Teuton knight, but the two films don't really mirror one another. Henry V is in colour for starters, and there's is definitely a Hollywood sophistication about it that Nevsky does not have. To be sure, Olivier got classical composer, William Walton, to write the superb film score, and Eisenstein used Prokofiev. Just occasionally, Walton's music seems to echo Prokofiev, but otherwise, it's very much a British score. Prokofiev's is very Russian indeed. Both use folk melodies from their respective countries, which is very much a trait of the time.

And yes, Nevsky is of interest for writing a novel about! Since the story's set in Russia, I would be facing a heck of a lot of research - not that I'm complaining :-)