Friday, 22 April 2011

David Cameron

Ok, so I've been quietly taking in all the things he's been saying and reported to have done this past week on the radio and on television. I feel I should make a few short comments.

  • First, with his frivolous decisions regarding the royal wedding: 
Not wearing tailcoats will not make you any less of a pretentious toff. Your wife probably had reservations because tailcoats do not flatter ANYBODY, save, perhaps, Anton du Beke.

Nobody cares whether you turn up in a stodgy tailcoat (though I'll laugh cause you certainly have a horrendous figure) or a crappy pale lounge coat. You are an Eton bastard through and through and you are always going to be Toff.

By the way, if you're going to be a toff, could you at least get your grammar correct when speaking on national television? It doesn't do to sound less posh than a working class person.

  • His stance against A.V. voting 
David, David, David. I know that A.V is a shoddy substitute for truly proportionate voting, but, let us not forget that that is how you, The Right Honourable David Cameron, became party leader of the Tories. Does it not seem to be ungrateful to then declare it a useless mode of democracy?

And to say that Gordon Brown would have been PM again if we'd used A.V. last year is nonsense - I saw the tables explaining the three methods of voting, using the results from last year's election. Had we used A.V, then we would still have had a coalition government, because that is simply how craply the nation were able to decide which naff party to consider as leader. But proportionately, had we used a proportionate voting system, the Lib Dems had a greater number of seats, and perhaps they would have opted for a much better Lib-Lab coalition instead. Can't have that, can we?

  • His opinion of benefits 
I am in agreement that where obesity is concerned, I'd rather not be paying my taxes to pay for someone who has absolutely no will power - I know it's effort to do exercise, but it's quiet easy to control how much you eat. Better to not pay him and hope that he starves off some of the weight. Harsh, but true.

But with drug addicts and alcoholics is it ludicrous to say that they need to be taken out of their pits and put to work, when you are withdrawing funding from rehab and self-help clinics, and that places are so hard to come by, it is considered ''lucky'', by one ex-heroin addict, to be given a court order to be on the programme. To suggest that clinics should be funded upon results is insane. Do you think that drug addicts and alcoholics are off their poison within a week, or a month? It can take at least sixth months to become clean and functional enough to have a job, and up to a year before they begin to be weaned off the counselling - possibly even 2 years. How do you expect these clinics to provide the scarce help that they can when you do not plan to help them pay for these treatments?

  • His response to Nick Robinson about the slating of Nick Clegg by the No Campaign 
I am sorry, but as PM and close colleague of Nick Clegg, you should not palm off the responsibility of the awful ad hominem (remember what that means, David?) attacks on Clegg onto the Tory and Labour heads of the campaign. You, yourself, are head of that party, and you have the responsibility to make sure it is clean and that it is not funding a shoddy and over personal campaign.

  • His appointing 117 peers to the House of Lords in the past 11 months
That is more than any other post-war PM. Hell, that is a lot even for Henry VII - he appointed about 114 in about 7 years, and he was king. What the hell, Cameron? There is hardly any space in the House of Lords should they all wish to attend a sitting, what with the 500+ others already there. And I notice that the majority of those are Tory peers. Could it be that you hope that by appointing a lot more Tories into the Lords, you will be able to get your crazy schemes passed through Parliament more swiftly? Do you not trust that your plans are suitable and clever enough to get through on their own merit?

Seems shifty, to me.

  • His ‘uneasy’ness about the Injunction ‘fad’ 
So Cameron is upset that the courts have lately taken to granting celebrities the chance to keep any misdemeanors out of the public eye. Apparently, it is the same as if the Judges were making laws, not Parliament.
Correct me if I am wrong, Cameron, but it was Parliament which added the Human Right’s Act which means that anybody has a right to a private family life - and that that trumps the freedom of press in many cases. And the human right to be left alone, as well as in conjunction to confidentiality laws, applies to the rich and famous as much as the ordinary Joe.

Whilst I do not think it is entirely good that certain bad men are getting protected, if they end up prosecuted, we’ll hear about it. However, in many cases, the press ruins the privacy and compromises patient confidentiality laws for many celebrities.

Case 1 in point: Naomi Campbell had her privacy infringed when she was snapped entering a rehab clinic.
Case 2 in point: Catherine Zeta Jones was seen entering a Mental Health clinic and forced to tell the world she had Bi-Polar, as a form of damage control - her privacy was made public by enforced volunteering of information, rather than the smut that would have been printed, otherwise.

Perhaps we should set the reporters and photographers on Cameron’s household, to dig out anything that he’d rather be kept private, either for the peace of mind of his wife and children rather than have them harassed by reporters, or for the safety of his own home. Cause only then will he be spurred on to make proper laws that will limit what the Judges can and can't do where injunctions are concerned AND protect the deserved privacy of famous individuals who really are being wronged by the press.

  • And finally, his advice to the Pakistani rich: 
Do not for one second think that people did not laugh bitterly at your hypocrisy. Yes, Pakistan is corrupt and much of the money of that country is held in a small number of hands, and those hands are not giving much back in the way of taxes, but I seem to recall you were bitterly against raising taxes of those that can certainly afford to be more altruistic. Yes, it's not fair to tax more of their hard earned (sometimes not hard earned) money than those who earn less, but it is simply more humane and makes more sense. The burden has to lie with those that can help - and it is a lot more fair than inheritance tax.

No doubt, I shall be commenting on something else he's said very very soon.
Michael Gove and George Osbourne will probably give me plenty of ammo, too.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Ye Historical Village of Bartlow

I have this friend, right, who seems to know where *everything* is in England. He asks where you live and then tells you where that is. Well for some unknown reason he's heard of my village, but he hadn't heard of the more historically significant (he's a church history buff) village just 3 or 4 miles away from my house.
Bartlow. Known chiefly for its three enormous Roman Hills, and also the 11th cenutry church with 15th century wall paintings. Lovely.

So I grabbed a leaflet, and I'll stick up relevant photos. I have sort of done this for the above friend, since I thought he'd like it.

'The small village of Bartlow lies at the extreme south east of Cambridgeshire on the boarder with Essex. From the architecture of the Church, its Registers and records and from archaeological finds, it is possible to something about the people who lived there since earliest times.

Bartlow Hills to the south east of the Church is the site of some interesting tumuli dating from the 2nd Century A.D which indicate that Roman British settlements existed here; a fact supported by the many Roman coins found in the neighbourhood.

(There are at least 3)

(The biggest - had lunch up there. Coming down wasn't very nice.)

The Church standing today almost certainly replaced an earlier building. Lysons, in his Magna Britannia, states that Bartlow is the Church built by King Canute in 1020 A.D. in reparation for the blood spilled in the battle of Assandune (Ashdon) between the Saxons and the Danes. This is disputed by later authorities and Ashingdon in South Essex is most likely the site of the battle.

The present Church belongs, in the main, to the decorated period from about 1300 A.D. The North and South windows of the Chancel are of this period, as is the Nave whic hhas some perpendicular insertions. The East window is from about 1500 A.D and probably replaced smaller windows. The Round Tower is Norman and is a kind rare in Cambridgeshire. Its walls are about 5 feet thick at their bases. The porch is perpendicular; the common rail is 17th century and has notable balusters.

The Wall Paintings are of great interest and date from the 15th century.

St. Michael weighing the souls. The devil is seen trying to weigh the scales in his favour but is thwarted by Our Lady using her influence on the behalf of the sinner being judged.

St. Christopher. This is only the top half of a much larger picture. On his left shoulder is seen the Christ Child.
[An even clearer picture here - contributed by my grandmother using a tripod for height and a really swish video camera.]

Over the door is St. George and the Dragon. Only the dragon remains.

Stained Glass - the East window is by Clayton and Bell c.1881. There are traces of mediaeval canopy work in the North and South Chancel windows.

Registers dating back to 1573 are now in the care of the County Archivist, Shire Hall, Cambridge where they may be consulted.

Bartlow people have worshipped here for nearly 700 years under the protective gaze of St. Christopher, during which time many changes have occurred. When he was first painted the services were in Latin. He watched over the events of the Reformation which brought in Cranmer's Prayer; he saw the dread days of the Commonwealth and the over hasty destruction of much beauty. (On March 22nd 1643 one William Dowsing "brake down a crucifix and a holy lambe and about ten superstitious pictures", a fate shared by many other churches in East Anglia).

The Church is well cared for. In recent years the round tower has been re-pointed and re-roofed. Internal walls have been re-plastered and re-painted. That refurbishment led to the discovery of the stoop by the entrance which had been filled in during Cromwell's time and we have now restored it.

Our next challenge is to re-roof the north side of the Church where the clay tiles have finally given up the fight with decades of winter frosts, repair a collapsing stone buttress and replace the oak louvres in the bell tower.

The village has undertaken considerable fund raising and is now awaiting the outcome of a grant application to English Heritage. If we are successful, we hope that this major piece of work will be undertaken in 2008. (I don't know if it has)

If you would like to contribute to our fund for restoration, please place any donation in the box or send it to the Rector at Linton Vicarage, Church Lane, Linton, Cambridge CB1 6JX. Our sincere gratitude to anyone who has helped.'

I don't know whether or not they got English Heritage funding, unfortunately.

Here's information on the hills (unfortunately it would not all legibly fit on one photo):



Sunday, 17 April 2011

"The Cave of Forgotten Dreams"

I apologise for the massive spaces between paragraphs - apparently, I can not change this. 

Directed by Werner Herzog, this documentary film allows us the chance to view the spectacular palaeolithic rock paintings inside a cave in the Ardeche Gorge, South France (slightly strange watching on t.v. as I have actually canoed down parts of that river with my secondary school and it felt very familiar). It was filmed in 3D, and it is totally worth it. Unfortunately, google does not throw up any shots of the amazing geology of the cave inside.

In 1994, some explorers discovered a cave. It is a beautiful cave, with many fantastically formed stalactites and stalagmites, and calcium build up over the many bones of extinct cave bears. But aside from the geological beauty of the cave (shown to best effect in 3D, though it'd be beautiful in 2D, too), this cave has amazing cave paintings, done during the time of the Neanderthals. The cave was named for the finder, Chauvet Cave.

It is a fairly slow-paced film (only 90 minutes), has somewhat over-bearing musical accompaniment and some jerky movement as the camera crew were only permitted a small camera a lot of the time, with the team size severely restricted.
The paintings, though, were stunning. I'm sure that the majority of those that actually bother to read this post or even this blog have heard of the Cave of the Swimmers. If not, then go and watch The English Patient, you'll thank me later. (But no, seriously, it's a really famous cave in the Sahara, though it has been somewhat weather worn, and is no comparison, I think, to this fantastic display in France which still looks fresh and stylistically is more ''advanced''.)

The paintings were so fresh looking that to start with, there was uncertainty as to their authenticity - but calcium or whatever it is that has something to do with calcium deposits over the paint proved that they were real - since some of that took thousands of years to develop. It's just that the cave was closed off to the world after a huge landslide (which is only detectable from the inside) so they were preserved far better than any overhang in a desert.

So! Yeah, the paintings. I'm not an artist, but they were damn better than what most people who can't really sketch can do. They were detailed enough so that we know that palaeolithic male cave lions did not have a mane, the way modern African lions do - we know this because there is no change in the head shape, and the artist has drawn the testicles hanging underneath the tail.
The paintings follow the contours of the rocks and almost add an extra dimension - there was one shot of a horse in an alcove, with the closer wall of the cave bearing the heads of lions, which to me seemed to be stalking the further away horse. The eyes on the animals are often detailed - the lions have similar styles to the way Disney drew the eyes in the Lion King (if you see what I mean).

Rhinos and bison have shading and even have extra horns or arms to indicate movement - I disagree, with a few, where my grandmother suggested that instead it was to show more than one, as the Egyptians did in their paintings. I think it looks more as though they are trying to make the animals move, not to make them plural.
Note the shading using not just the charcoal, but also the colour of the rock. The shapes were accurate and, in some cases, reminded me of a cartoonist or caricature artist sketch in black pen.

The most stunning (according to the film, and whilst I agree they are beautiful, I had other preferences) are the horses. There are four or five heads of horses, and there is a feeling that they are running, whilst the one in the foreground's mouth is open - perhaps whinnying, as the cave keeper suggested. They have shading. Their eyes give them presence.
They are moving and complete a montage that does a sort of circle, starting with two rhinos fighting in the foreground, their horns clashing (not in that picture, the rhinos are in to the bottom right corner).

There were interviews with various scientists and archaeologists asking about the painters, what they might have been doing, and about the cave itself and what we can learn. The narration (done by Herzog) can get quite heavy with philosophical and almost whimsical sounding ideas - such as what the cave can tell us about the dreams of the painters and their hopes and fears. I'm not exaggerating. I wish I could properly tell you the content of his final philosophical point, related to a nearby nuclear plant, which has developed mutant albino crocodiles (they live there, in the water, and some of the chemicals have clearly taken a toll) and Herzog muses over various things such as how the crocodile will view the cave ''when'' it gets there, and such, as though the crocodile will mutate to a sapient being or something.

There was, however, a particularly amazing moment for me. This 'pendant' in the cave depicts a bison clutching at the lower half of a woman - the only depiction of a human, which greatly resembles early palaeolithic 'Venus' statues, as we see in a museum in Germany over the boarder. Anyway, the bison has a relatively human body, and the woman giving us the tour around the cave paintings compared it to the story of the Minotaur and the Lady, from the Greek period. Of course, this isn't a Minotaur per se, but it is damn close to one, and it is somewhat astonishing to think that, whilst in history there are plenty of cases where ideas and stories and descoveries were made at the same time by independently working people, this 'Minotaur' is over 30,000 years old, perhaps, whilst the Greeks, and the story of the Minotaur as we recognise it, were around 2500 years ago.

Another thing we learn is that there was a discovery of bone flutes in Germany and France from the same period as these paintings. The flutes have been reconstructed and tested, and they use the same sequence of notes and tones as we do today. The man showing us the flute played us the beginning of Star Spangled Flag - which the audience found very amusing. So music back then would have been recognisable and transposable, perhaps for us. Had it of course been written down and stuff.

The overall film, I suppose, could feel a bit scattered, with various points not quite tying into each other - but then I suppose that's almost like the paintings in the cave. But it is very interesting, and definitely a visual treat, even if the music could get a bit oppressive or over the top. If it is available at a cinema or arts theatre near you, I recommend you go to see it.

Post-dissertation life.

Ok, so it seems I still actually get some readers. Fancy, just as I was going to just end up blogging on Tumblr alone. Seems I've been read from all over the world - I knew I had one or two views from Korea, in the past, but lately I've had a surge from American places, and in Europe. Though partly because someone searched for Tangled pictures on, and, and got the same image each time. Dunno if that was a bot or not. But the comment from a dude in Georgia was real enough. As was one from my Welsh friend.

This is the image I used on my front cover.
So I finished my dissertation - it's final title is "'Penitent Harlot': The Life of Mary of Egypt Between the Eighth and Fourteenth Centuries". I tell you, it was a relief to get that thing finished. My tutor had been supportive in an unsupportive way, and I was one of those that *could* have got an extension, but chose not to and to just get it done. Sure, I won't have got a First, but who gives a crap? My grandparents (grandmother in particular) are very proud and have a shiny, specially bound copy and my grandmother has posted a picture of it on her facebook to show off to her friends. She thinks the subject matter alone is impressive, even if my conclusion adds nothing to the academic field. Well, possibly a little to undergraduates, but not a lot - I'm sure some scholar somewhere will have noticed the same 'ground-breaking' discovery I made at some point. I think it should earn me some marks though, as it is a clear demonstration of my detailed knowledge of the text. I noticed that the later versions do not mention any form of washing Mary's feet, either with tears, or when the lion appears and licks them, but they name the day of her burial as ShereThorsday, or Maundy Thursday. I looked up Maundy Thursday, and traditionally, one washes his feet, as part of the day's rituals. I wondered if perhaps the compiler of the collection in which this amended version appeared, who had a penchant for dating texts and emphasising any numerical significance or mysticism, chose to date her burial as Maundy Thursday in the lent calendar because of the previous mentions of the feet-washing. So I hypothesised this within my third chapter, a little.
In the end, my total word count was 10,166.

Anyway, I've got another 2 pieces of coursework due in the week starting the 2nd May, and I've spent the last 17 days or so doing absolutely nothing uni-related, and it's been great.
...well, not absolutely.... I have planned my final essay on Richard III. It's question is "What impression of Richard III do the non-chronicle sources give?" - answer to that? Not a great one. He's passive aggressive, too clever for his own good, ruthless and very religious. And not in the good way - he blames everybody else's impurities for the state of his country and reign but his own personal problems. And what's more, it looks as though he's murdered his consort, Anne. It doesn't matter whether he did or not - it's how he is perceived that ultimately loses him followers. He's also grabby and too hands-on. None of the nobles got any decent rewards, and as such had nothing to lose and potentially a lot to gain by supporting Henry Tudor when the time came. He "brung it on himself, the stupid tosser", as the locals would say.

I've been home since the evening of the first of April, and I've set to losing a stone in the next four months - that's 3.5lbs a month. I've already nearly lost 3lbs, but I have to keep going when I'm at uni, or else I'll balloon and all this hunger will have been for nothing. The problem with university is that I do less exercise, but the way that cooking for one works is that I end up eating more than I used to. So I've been putting on the pounds on and off for the last three years. Granted, I've done a lot better than most people - but first year I was very unhappy, and only in the final term of second year and all of this year have I been treating myself more, happier and even drinking a bit. Not a lot, but alcohol does not make the calorific pizza go down past the hips.

So really, my diet involves eating and being a liiiiiitle more active. I'm not going to start jogging. I have yet to find a sports bra that is both cost effective AND fits. See, if you're a woman, having large lumps of tissue and nerve endings bouncing around is uncomfortable and impractical. I'm not about to get a black eye from it, but I wouldn't be surprised if they got misshapen or stretched or something from the force of movement.
And with that image I move on to the food.

I've pretty much just been making sure I don't eat more calories than I burn by living and occasionally moving about or doing exercise. With larger dinners and meat and stuff, I just make sure I only have as much as is necessary, and if my stomach isn't full, fill up with some liquids or have a small snack bar. Eating less is the main thing. I have small but healthy lunches, a nice dinner, and depending on what time I get up, a slice of toast for breakfast and/or a chocolate milk, or an energy bar, just to keep me going till lunch.
My favourite thing is to get about 15g of mixed peppers and an apple, chop it up, throw in some walnuts and pumpkin seeds, and then add a forkful of mayonnaise - this is MY version of a Waldorf Salad, just no celery. (That stuff is foul).
I've had very little chocolate, but I'm not going to cut it out of my life - that'll just end in binging or something. I have to learn to restrain myself again. Imagine I'm out in the countryside with no shops in walking distance, even when the chocolate bars are right in front of me in Spar.

So yeah. That's my catch up. Oh, and I really really really dislike religion at the moment, for various reasons. I might have a mini rant about this stupid letter some stupid person wrote into the radio times complaining about a fascinating documentary series, Buried Secrets of the Bible.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Local History Society

So my grandmother’s been going to this monthly history society of a hamlet next to our village, partly to keep a family friend company.
It’s usually quite dull and entirely localised in its interests. Which is fine, really.
I went with her tonight, just for fun, and it was oddly interesting tonight. 

So there’s this family that still has descendants in the hamlet/village, the Dickinsons. They had this one son who was very much a bad egg. Got convicted for stealing a bushel of wheat from his neighbour (from whom he’d previously stolen - entirely for profit. I suspect personal vendettas) and was caught because he left a trail; his sack had a hole in.
He got transported to Bemuda for 7 years - for that reason alone, he got to come back after 4 years to work at Portsmouth for the remainder of his sentence.

Then about 10 years later, after spawning another 4 of his 6 children, he was transported to Australia, for stealing from a separate neighbour.
He never returned. But he did ok - he didn’t  bother trying to save up money to come back, so he married a fellow convict from Ireland (the authorities gave him leave to be a technical bigamist, what with separate continents) and had a bushel of brats there, too.
The descendent in Australia has been in touch with the woman who was looking through all these archives and giving the lecture.

That family also had a penchant for shot-gun marriages. Henry Dickinson was married just after his first child was born, and his grandchild was born just after or before the marriage, and so on. Apparently it’s still an odd family tradition today. Not a conscious one, though. Just that they were a bit of a wayward family.

But there are also interesting things about how census’s changed, and how people moved cottage to cottage and never really stayed put - so it makes it even harder to pinpoint where they were living, since they didn’t have house numbers or names back then, unless you were living on a farm or at the vicarage.
Then later, in the early 1900s, they started saying “near the vicarage” or “near the green” or “near the White Hart” (the decrepit pub).

Also what with the industrial revolution, and the desire to prove one way or another that industry damaged or killed people, they started to ask whether people were deaf, dumb or blind. And later, deaf, dumb, blind, imbecile, idiot or lunatic. Of course these were always left blank, cause our village is very lucky, and apart from that, in an agricultural area.

Really quite interesting, though a bit long-winded as she’s not an accustomed public speaker I think.
But there were pretty pictures of some of the cottages, that have been there since the 1800s and are still there, taken in the 1920s. <3

I rather liked this Dickinson guy, even though he left his wife and 6 kids. In the census 10 years before he died, she was still listed as ”married”. It was soon after that census that she decided she was a widow and he wasn’t coming back - he never wrote to her or anything. Not that convicts could, I imagine. Families had to just hope that they survived both boat journeys.