September 2012

End of the half season, so no more Doctor Who till Christmas. I don't think I've much non-spoilery to say so I shall fill up the bit that'll show up on facebook/G+ with a bit of meaningless wittering, like so. Perhaps after this sentence that'll be sufficient? Spoilers ahead. Mouse over text to read or read on entry page:

I thought this made a satisfying conclusion to Amy & Rory's time as Companions - Amy finally makes once & for all her choice between Rory and the Doctor, and while it was obvious how she was going to choose it still felt like it was a decision with costs that she knowingly accepted. I liked the way they did the fakeouts for what whose fate was going to be - because we knew that Amy & Rory were leaving, we knew from Moffat interviews that "not everyone gets out alive". And so there was tension each time when old Rory died, then Rory & Amy died and then we knew it wasn't over till the headstone with both names on - and they did die, but only after a long life together.

That wasn't the only resonance with their entire story arc that made this such a fitting ending. There was also the "time can be re-written" thing that's run throughout their seasons - not just the first one where that was the actual obvious theme (the one with the crack), but also how Melody their daughter grew up with them. Except that has always come with costs, and this time they reached the point where they couldn't re-write it any more without paying too large a price. Another resonance was old Rory waiting, again, for Amy and not dying till he saw her that one last time. And they also made explicit the Rory dies but comes back trope which has been part of the re-writing time theme.

I liked the way the fixed point stuff was built up. Don't read ahead, because then you can't change it - if you don't know then the future is fluid, it crystallises & solidifies when observed. And it built up in multiple iterations, "why do you have to break mine?" is first only bad because of what Amy could've accidentally read instead, then it's bad because of what it is. And we move from there to the chapter headings, which have their own fakeouts ("Death at Winter Quay" wasn't just old Rory's death, Amelia's last farewell was to River and the Doctor not to Rory) and aren't as spoiler free as the Doctor had hoped for. And finally the headstone which sealed Rory & Amy in the past to live out their lives. Rescuing them now would cause a paradox and that would destroy New York. So the Doctor (and even River, probably) can't go and visit because then he'd probably be far too tempted to take them away for just a quick trip and if they die somewhere that's not Manhattan at the ages of 82 & 87 then *bang*. They're only trapped and lost forever because that's the moral choice, not because they're unrescuable. Which makes it more poignant, I think.

And an interesting counterpoint to Ten & Rose - Ten burned up the energy of a star to talk to Rose one last time in the other universe. But Eleven and Amy & Rory aren't going to risk blowing up New York for the sake of another few years. Lower price, higher reward, but still not considered.

Very thematically appropriate for it to be the Weeping Angels. They weren't there just because they're the monsters that send people back in time. They were there because as long as you're looking they can't move. Solidified. I think this was a better successor to Blink than the other Angels one, because it went back to them sending people back in time, and because they went back to creepy.

One thing I'd seen mentioned elsewhere on the web between last week & this week was that perhaps the Doctor was visiting Amy & Rory out of order - there was some mention of his age in one episode, and some adventure mentioned earlier than we see Amy & Rory doing it (to do with Henry VIII). That wasn't really touched on this week (if it even exists). It does make me wonder if the Doctor that stays with Amy & Rory in the last episode (The Power of Three) is in fact not long after he loses them in his timeline - he does make a point of saying he missed them. And then his reaction to her asking why it's so long between visits in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship one isn't because he is or isn't weaning them off him but because now she's said that he can't go back to fill in the gaps. Spoilers solidifying time.

Or perhaps that's all a load of rubbish & it either isn't even happening, or will be touched on in the next half of the season ;)

Another thing that may or may not mean anything - Amy suggests in the afterword that the Doctor won't be "coming back here soon" ... does that mean the next Companion won't be from 20th or 21st Century Earth? That'd be a nice change.

Started off TV night with the second episode of Vikings - it's only a 3 episode series, which seems a shame. This middle one talked about the Vikings as traders which is something more Anglo-centric views of the Vikings tend to forget. He started by telling us about the eastern Vikings (from what's now Sweden) and how they spread through Russia setting up small settlements on the way. They traded as far afield as Constantinople and with parts of the Islamic world. One of the things we were shown was an Arabic book describing the appearance of the Vikings (both men & women on these trading missions) and calling them Rus (I think he said it meant "rowers") - which is where the word Russia comes from. They were allowed to trade in Constantinople, which was hard to get permission to do and some clearly settled there. He also showed us some graffiti in the Hagia Sophia from the 9th Century in Viking runes, which apparently says something like "Halfdan was here" :) The Vikings brought silks and spices and other luxury goods back from the east, to places like Birka (near Stockholm) where grave goods etc that have been found show that this was a wealthy market town. The Vikings exported amber & furs which are found in abundance in the north, but also slaves. The programme made a big big deal out of that, but I didn't think it was that surprising. I guess the story we tell about Vikings is normally more kill-rape-plunder not kill-capture-plunder-sell.

The second half of the programme expanded on that - the western Vikings (from what's now Norway) and their settlements in Dublin in particular (an important hub of their slave trade). And then moved a bit away from their trading activities to talk about their conquest & settlement of a large part of England. This being different to what they had done in Russia & in Ireland, because the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms at the time in England were wealthier and more organised. So it wasn't so much a case of setting up a settlement and being the most sophisticated group in the area, more that they first had to fight to take the places and then live there in greater numbers & with a more organised occupation of the area. It felt a little odd the way we suddenly went Anglo-centric again after focusing so much on the Viking point of view earlier, but I guess it is a big part of the Viking story.


Second programme of the evening is another one we're not timeshifting much! Andrew Marr is doing a series about the whole history of the world, in 8 one hour episodes. Which is quite a tall order, as the article on bbc news that alerted us to this admitted. So part of the interest is seeing just how they manage it :) And also we've liked Marr's previous serieses that we've watched - two about the history of the last 100 years in Britain, one about mega-cities and one about the Queen. This feels like a big budget programme, there are a lot of dramatic re-enactments and a lot of CGI as well as exotic locations. The re-enactments I thought had just the right level of irreverence, given particularly at the beginning they're not exactly going to be accurate representations of a particular event so instead they're little vignettes with a degree of melodrama or humour. Which fit well with Marr's narration, being as that was full of snark and cynical one-liners as well as facts.

This first episode covered a vast swathe of time, from the first humans leaving Africa approximately 70,000 years ago through to the end of the Minoan civilisation about 3500 years ago. Which is pretty impressive when you think about it ;) The title was "Survival" and the theme was exactly that - we had people spreading out and surviving against all the odds no matter what nature flung at us. The broad sweep of the story is something I already know, but the stories picked out did highlight things I didn't know or cast a different light on things I do. For instance I hadn't really thought about how the development of the needle was a great step forward in hunting technology in the Ice Age, because fitted clothes in layers protect against the weather better than just wrapping an animal skin round you. So you can stay out longer in the Ice Age weather while hunting. And the retelling of a Chinese legend about the man who organised a great civil engineering programme to dig channels to dissipate the force of the Yellow River floods which damaged so much of the land & people was completely new to me.

The programme didn't present it as all progress all the time, either - stressing, for instance, how agriculture is good for feeding extra mouths but the consequences of doing the work of farming and living closer to each other & to the livestock actually reduces people's life spans. And how while our tribalism was our great strength as hunter-gatherers (enabling us to work together in groups of the right size for survival), it's not so good once we start to settle down and perhaps need to work together with other tribes to get things done.

Oh, and bonus Egypt - telling the story of a trial in Deir El Medina in the time when that village was the place where the workers on the tombs in the Valley of the Kings lived. The vignette for that was particularly hammed up I thought (and well done, too), making it seem almost more soap opera-ish than it already was.

A good programme, looking forward to the rest of the series :)

At the weekend we took advantage of the nice weather and headed off to a village near Aldeburgh to do a longish circular walk with several geocaches on it. That wasn't actually our next geocaching trip, we had gone out one evening during the week to look for (and fail to find again) the one in Alexandra Park and also the puzzle one near the Dove ("Speed dating at the Dove" which we found :) And so had a celebratory pint at the pub, coz it'd be rude not to really ;)

Day 8

On Saturday we started off by driving to Aldeburgh and buying ourselves some fish & chips to eat by the sea - Aldeburgh has a very good chippy that's always very busy, even on a Saturday in September. There's only one geocache in Aldeburgh itself, "Church Micro 1071 St Peter and Paul Aldeburgh", so we walked up and got that before heading off to Sudbourne which is a small village on the other side of the river Alde. The walk itself was in the marshes to the east of the village, starting at a farm and heading out towards the river.

map of route

I used gmaps-pedometer to map out the route above, and it tells me it was just short of 4 miles (3.98) so given I guessed at precisely where we parked the car then 4 miles is probably right enough :) We found a big enough layby to park the car that wasn't the entrance to a field and still had space for other cars to use it as a passing place, then set off on foot. Started at the marker with the central dot, then the mile markers show you which way round the route we went - after picking up the cache just past the 3 mile point we doubled back on ourselves to get to the car. The nine caches were all part of a route called "Sudbourne Marsh 1" etc, and so were all put down by the same person. Who had a knack for hidden but still findable locations - some very clever places which had us searching just long enough to feel a sense of satisfaction when we figured it out :)

And I'm convinced this person works in a lab - the tubes used to hold the logs were all fairly recognisable. There was an eppendorf, there were several universals (with blue lids, I'm used to universals having white lids, guess it must be a different brand), and a tube I feel like I ought to recognise but didn't (Corning branded, bit bigger than a cryovial, something's niggling at the back of my head but I can't put my finger on it). I guess my noticing that just goes to show you can take the woman out of the lab, but getting the lab out of the woman is more difficult ;)

It was a good walk, in a really quiet area. We saw a very small handful of other people near the start and end when we were on the roads, but otherwise no-one. Which meant there was a lot of wildlife, including dozens of dragonflies. And quite a lot of startled pheasants (I think they were pheasants anyway).

HorsesPheasant?DragonflyDragonflyOut for a StrollDragonflyDragonflyDragonflyDragonflyDragonflyDragonflyToadToadToad

As you can tell, I took the camera out with me. I'd put the longer lens on it (55-200) before we got out of the car and whilst I lugged the other one around with me in the bag I didn't want to faff about changing it. I did think at a few times that maybe I should've done so, but actually both closeups of insects and the landscapes came out OK (or enough of them did), so that's OK :)

Due to the way the land is - i.e. flat - there were banks built up near the river, to keep the farmland from flooding. That caused an entertaining illusion that there were land boats sailing past the houses in the distance. Well, it kept us amused for quite a while anyway ;)

Middle of NowhereMartello TowerJMade by Browns of IpswichMartello TowerFooTPatHLand Boats and Martello TowerLand BoatsMarshMarshLand BoatsMarshNot Land Boats After AllJ

While J looked at Egyptian stuff in the British Museum on our most recent trip to London I took the camera & went and looked at the Chinese Galleries again. The right hand side of the room is laid out chronologically so I started here with the Neolithic period. Even that early jade was still an important and symbolic material for the Chinese.

Jade Hair OrnamentJade DragonCeremonial Jade Axe

The Shang Dynasty is the next period in Chinese history, moving into the Bronze Age - it was during this time that writing was invented in China, and the tradition of using bronze ritual vessels to offer food and drink to the ancestors was started. These vessels were based on the shapes of Neolithic pottery vessels.

Jade Spearhead with Turquoise Inlaid Bronze FittingsCarved Antler & IvoryBronze Ritual Food VesselBronze Ritual Food VesselBronze Chariot FittingsBronze Chariot FittingsBronze Chariot FittingsBronze Ritual Wine VesselBronze Ritual Vessel

The Zhou conquered the lands ruled by the Shang - they kept many of the same traditions, including the bronze vessels and the writing system. During this period it was fashionable to inscribe your bronze vessels with a historical note about when the vessel was made or entered the family, which is invaluable to later historians. It was intended at the time to be a historical document, these vessels weren't buried with the dead they were kept by the living. The latter part of this period was known as the Warring States period, and is immediately before the unification of China under the First Emperor. Confucious lived during this time and his ideal of harmony and service to the state was developed with the backdrop of war between the various Chinese states.

Bronze Ritual Water BasinBronze Ritual Vessel Inscription Inside a Bronze Ritual VesselDragon Handle to a Ritual VesselBronze Bell Sword Blade, With InscriptionChariot Fitting in the Shape of a Bulls HeadBronze Fittings from a Crossbow

As well as items from China proper the museum has things from the area around China as well. These two plaques are from nomadic tribes from the region that's now Mongolia, and show evidence of Middle Eastern influences in their designs:

A Horse Being Attacked By a TigerTwo Winged Horses

The First Emperor's Dynasty consisted solely of himself, and after his death there was a brief period of civil war before the Han Dynasty took over and ruled for about 400 years. These are the rulers who were featured in the exhibition we went to at the Fitzwilliam Museum earlier this month. Their court was very opulent and rich - lots of fine gilt objects.

Gilt Bronze Dragon Shaped Furniture StandsGilt Bronze Rearing BeastGilt Bronze FinialChariot Parasol FittingBelt HooksBelt Hook

And I think next time I go to the museum I need to start over again with this next section and make a bit more sense of it! I have photos of a couple of things from the sort of time when Buddhism spread into China, displacing Confucianism as the primary religion, but that's all between the end of the Han & the start of the Tang Dynasty and I think that means I've missed some stuff as that's quite a long period of time (4 centuries or so). I am rather fond of the Tang pottery, with its distinctive bright colours and stylish designs.

Yue Ware Water VesselMoulded Plaque of the BuddhaPottery Tomb GuardianPottery Tomb GuardianTang Dynasty PotteryTang Dynasty PotteryTang Dynasty PotteryTang Dynasty PotteryTang Dynasty PotteryLiao Dynasty PotteryLion Supporting a Tray

And after that we get into the time when the Chinese developed porcelain. And also some gorgeous purple and green dishes, called Jun Ware.

Early PorcelainEarly PorcelainJun WareJun WareJun Ware

Pictures are, as always, on flickr - click through to see larger versions :)

On Sunday morning we listened to the next episode in the In Our time series on the Written Word. This one was all about books, from the earliest known ones through to the development of the printing press. And the secondary theme was how the various changes in writing technology revolutionised time and time again the availabilty of the knowledge that was written down.

Before the 1st century AD most writing was on papyrus & in scrolls, but each time you open a scroll the actual fabric that is written upon gets damaged. So once the idea of how to bind books was developed this took over as the standard format for preserving writing & knowledge. Bound books could also use parchment or vellum as their surface for writing (I think this is because if you have a long continuous roll then it's easier to make when using papyrus), and this is more durable in damp climates. And books are more easily put in one's pocket and carried about.

The next change that was mentioned was the putting of spaces between words - invented by Irish monks, apparently, to make it easier to learn to read a language than none of them were native speakers of (latin). And then we moved on to the development of paper, which was originally invented by the Chinese and came to Western Europe via Islamic Arabs. Paper is much cheaper and easier to make than parchment and vellum, and this made books more available to scholars. And once the material was cheaper mass production systems were set up to make more books more quickly - so one way this was done was to break a master copy of a book into sections and then give these to several different scribes, each would then write his part in a few days and the sections would then be bound together. Each copy was then made direct from a master copy so more accurate as well as much more quickly than one scribe copying out a whole work. One of the experts Bragg talked to pointed out that even though it's hard to tell from actual book prices what the effect was it's possible to tell by looking at the numbers of books people had. So in Chaucer there is a tale of a scholar who is very proud of having 10 books, but once these mass produced paper books were available even undergraduate students could have twice as many.

Then comes the printing press & the Gutenberg Bible. Printing again was an invention of the Chinese, several centuries earlier, and I'm not quite sure if the idea made its way to Western Europe or if this was an independent invention. But even if he got the idea from somewhere else the revolutionary thing was movable type, to allow you to do many different pages with the same equipment. And this then made books even more easily available (and cheaper again) than they had been. One of the experts refered to it as "the Internet of its day", meaning that it was as revolutionising to the society then as the Internet is to us in terms of ease of sharing of knowledge & scholarship.

It was a very Western centric episode, even though China and the Middle East were mentioned, it was only in relation to developments in Western Europe. So that seemed a shame, but there are still 3 episodes so they may redress the balance a bit.

More Doctor Who - fourth of five episodes, I'm really not that keen on this splitting up of the season that they are doing these days. It feels a bit like you barely get started and then it's finishing up again. I'm not sure I really have much to say about this episode, despite enjoying it. Spoilers in the rest of this post, hover mouse over text to read or read on the page for the post.

I thought the way it started as a flashback type thing with Amy's voiceover was going to turn out to be interesting. Bit of a shame it seemed to be mostly to let them make the lame pun of a title explicit.

This felt like quite an old school Who episode, what with UNIT and callbacks to the time the Doctor spent on Earth in his 3rd & 4th regenerations. K9 was mentioned, the Brigadier too. And still a more personal level of story, even if it was an invasion of the whole Earth - we're still a step back from the universe destroying stories of recent seasons.

I liked part of the way the Shakri designed their pest extermination tools, it really is the way that would work - the initial worry & panic about the cubes followed by them just becoming part of the way things are. And then they switch on & do their stuff once we've relaxed. Perfectly designed. But other than that - why did they do a count down in arabic numerals, but not an Earth time unit? I mean either it was designed to tell us or it wasn't.

I was also a little unclear why they were stealing people as well as doing their thing with the cubes analysing us. I mean, either the cubes did the scan/response tests/whatnot or they looked at the people they stole. Felt a bit like they stole people so that there was a way for the Doctor to go & stop them. Which felt resolved a bit too quickly to be honest, right up until the end I thought it was going to be a two-parter but then Doctor just waves his screwdriver & everything is sorted out. But there's still a ship, and the Shakri presumably aren't going to give up just like that. Maybe it's going to come back in the second half of the season? Maybe they're just going to become vaguely recurring enemies in future.

No fakeouts with "the Doctor" not being him this week - but then he spent years working for UNIT so of course they meant him. Nice touch having Kate Stewart do the scan, show us two hearts to remind us why the heart stopping device wouldn't work on the Doctor for people who don't just automatically know he's got two.

The fakeout that did happen was when it looked like Rory & Amy were choosing to settle down. That was also one thing the voiceover thing did well, telling us how they were choosing between the two lives and showing what the choice was. They might even have done that too well, because the reversal at the end where Rory's Dad persuades them to go off and adventure again seemed to come a bit quickly.

More anvilicious hammering home of the "sometimes companions die" thought. Which I suspect means it won't quite work out like that, but it's going to look like it's going to. Or maybe I'm wrong, and one or both of Amy & Rory will die.

Interesting the "imprinting" of the Eleventh Doctor on Amy, I did wonder why these people were supposed to be different to any of his previous companions although that explanation does leave one wondering why it didn't seem to work that way before. But I think that's something we're just supposed to handwave past ;) (And it does work for Ten I suppose, as the Rose/Ten dynamic was also clingy).

Hmm, seems like I did have stuff to say :) Overall I did enjoy the episode, but it feels like the weakest of the 4 we've had so far this season.

The first TV night for a while, since we've been away or J's been out or we've both been out on a Wednesday for several weeks. We started off with the last in the Britain's Secret Treasures series that was broadcast on ITV a while ago. A technical niggle first - I don't know if it's our PVR or if it's the channel itself, but the sound and images on ITV HD always seem just slightly out of sync. I noticed it during the World Cup and now with this series, it's not a problem most of the time but with close-ups of people talking it's a little disorienting.

The series was looking at the top 50 objects that have been found in recentish years by members of the public, chosen and ordered by Bettany Hughes and a panel of fellow experts. The programmes were presented primarily by Bettany Hughes & Michael Buerk ... and I'm not entirely clear why Michael Buerk. He didn't seem to've been involved in the choice or anything, effectively he was there to be a "pretty face" (or alternatively to provide an authoritative male figure for those who'd think Hughes too female to count?). Perhaps I'm over cynical here. Each object then had a short segment of film where some tenuously linked celebrity (like Michael Portillo looked at a Roman coin because it had an emperor on it and Portillo used to be the Defense Secretary so that's all the same sort of thing - seriously, that's what they said!) or an expert in the subject went off to the site it was found, and/or somewhere relevant, and told us about the object and why it was significant, and maybe interviewed some experts on the subject.

The best thing about the series was the chance to see all these lovely things, and to hear the stories about the lucky finds. And in general I thought the objects were well chosen - I don't know if they'd be my top 50, not only am I not an expert but I don't know what the choice was from, but I thought they were a good top 50 if that makes sense. And I don't regret watching the programmes.

But - and you could tell there was a "but" coming, couldn't you? But I think there were some odd choices in the presentation of the series. By necessity it was a shallow look at the objects, but some choices of what to dwell on and what to gloss over were odd. The one that sticks particularly in my mind is the programme where we had a 5 minute segment of Hughes scuba diving in a river looking for coins (the objects this was related to had been covered earlier for 5 minutes already), and there was at least one object in that programme that got about 2 sentences & moved away from. Personally I'd've skipped the diving and looked at the actual objects more. There were also some odd choices of experts - particularly this last programme where both J and I were spluttering over the choice of a priest to talk about a 4000 year old gold cup. Yes, it was found in what was probably a temple, but I don't think a spiritual leader of Christianity has any special insight into possible religious practices of people who lived in Britain around 2000BC, and leaping from how the rituals around the chalice in Christianity are about both communion with God and communion with the community to how this cup must've also been part of a communion ritual seemed like a very good example of bringing one's own cultural blinkers along. (I'm not saying it's not true, I don't actually know anything about the subject, but I am saying I thought it was a poor argument.)

So in summary, good to have seen but at times eye-rolling to listen to.


Our second programme of the evening was the first episode of Neil Oliver's new series, Vikings. This is actually only timeshifted by a little over a week, quite prompt for us!

I'll start with the negative, and get it out of the way - I don't like the stylistic choices of the director and/or cameraperson for this and the other recent Neil Oliver serieses (the one about the Bronze Age and before & the one about the Iron Age, I can't remember what they were called). Basically they make me notice the camera too much, my preference for a documentary is for it not to try too hard to be "arty". They do stuff like when they're showing you an object they have a narrow depth of field and shift the focal plane around - and I just want to see the whole thing, damnit. Also shaky cam while he's walking along talking to the camera, which I think is supposed to make it feel intimate but just reminds me there's a cameraperson there. Having said that - both of those were toned down from the previous serieses. They'd added a new trick though, shots that made everything look minature - street shots where it looked like little mobile dolls walking between dolls houses. Which I found deeply deeply creepy in a visceral fashion.

However, that's enough bitching about the filming. The programme itself was interesting, and it promises to be an enjoyable series. The premise is to look at the Vikings from the Viking point of view & this first programme was setting the scene. First we had a brief section reminding us of the things "we all know" about Vikings, just to get us all on the same page at the start. So he spent a little bit of time in York with a few wee toy models of Vikings and some kids dressed up with helmets & swords playfighting, pointing out that most of this is later myth. And then we were off to Scandinavia to look at both the land the Vikings came from, and their history before the first raids on Europe.

The land obviously shapes the society that lives in it - and particularly in the far north of Scandinavia, like Norway, there isn't much arable land. Clearly over time this leads to population pressure, so a culture of young men going out adventuring would ease this both by killing some of them off and by having them bring back wealth from other more fertile regions. This and the amount of coast also makes seafaring important - during the sort of time period that Stonehenge was built, the people on Gotland were building stone ship shapes. An integral part of their culture even in the Bronze Age.

He also made the point that Scandinavia was never part of the Roman Empire, and this shaped the people & culture by not shaping them. The Scandinavians kept their old gods, rather than being integrated into Roman religion and then later into Christianity. And their gods and religion emphasised that while you will inevitably die your reputation will live forever. I wish I could remember the exact words - there was a segment of the programme where he talked to a scholar who was an expert on the old religion & she read out some of what I think was an Old Norse book about it, and translated it into English for us. It was much more poetic than how I phrased it. And what mattered to a Viking about his reputation was that he wasn't a coward - honour and glory were what would keep your memory alive.

As well as keeping their own religion they also weren't urbanised by the Romans - so while the south of Scandinavia (Denmark) had wealthy individuals and even regional kings, they weren't organised in towns. I think the point here was that this is a contrast to the way that the ex-Roman Empire parts of Europe thought that a society was automatically organised. As part of this section he also showed us objects that demonstrated that the southern Vikings at least did have trade connections to quite far afield. Some very impressive silver cups which I think were from the Mediterranean and were decorated in a Roman style with scenes from the Iliad. Also the bones of two women from a ship burial just before the time of the first Viking raids on Britain - and one of these women DNA analysis has shown that she may've had some connection to Middle Eastern peoples. (I was unclear if he meant that she herself was from the Middle East or if she had ancestors from the Middle East, perhaps because that's not actually known.)

So that was a fairly brisk sweep through a vast swathe of history & geography to give us a flavour of where the Vikings came from both culturally & physically. Next I guess we're on to what the Vikings actually did :)

Marillion did a (fairly short) UK tour just after the new album came out and we went to the show in London on 16th Sept. We did a bit of museuming beforehand (which I'll write up another time), then met Ady & Pete at Kentish Town to find dinner before the show. Paul was supposed to join us too, but his trains were all screwed up so he had to give it a miss :( Ended up eating in Nandos, which I haven't done in probably a decade ... and it would've been that Nandos last time too, before a Marillion gig!

Unusually I had a camera with me, a few years ago most concerts tried to stop you taking photos but things have moved on a bit. Didn't take the big camera, obviously, if nothing else it's awfully hard to take photos at arms length above my head with that one. And despite taking quite a lot of photos (coz only a few would come out) I didn't watch the whole show through the viewfinder either ;) All the pics are on flickr, so click through for a larger version.

The support band for the evening were DeeExpus - Mark Kelly (keyboards in Marillion) plays on the album, but didn't come out and play on stage with them. We do actually have the album, but I haven't listened to it much so I didn't know the songs. They sounded good at the time, but haven't really stuck in my head at all.

DeeExpusDeeExpusDeeExpusDeeExpusDeeExpus

And then on to the main act! They started with a little fake-out of the intro to Splintering Heart, followed by explosions and then into Gaza - the opening track off the new album (which is called "Sounds That Can't Be Made"). A bit of a politically charged song, as it's about the humanitarian side of the situation in Gaza, and it made for a powerful start to the show.

Logo for the New AlbumSteve HogarthSteve Hogarth

I think I've said before I'm bad at remembering setlists. As well as four songs off the new album, this one had some old classics like This Town and Great Escape, some of the newer classics like Neverland and You're Gone. Oh and a rendition of A Few Words for the Dead where h waved a gun around, with a flower in it for the bit where the lyrics kick in with "or you could love".

Steve HogarthSteve HogarthSteve Hogarth

The (last) encore was Sugar Mice which is a favourite of mine (starting with a slightly ropey crowd sing-along), and in a nice touch the final song - Estonia - was dedicated to Neil Armstrong. The show was recorded, and they'd organised it so that you could buy the CD after the show, which was kinda neat :)

Pete TrewavasSteve RotheryMark KellyIan MosleyMarillionMark KellySteve HogarthSteve RotheryPete TrewavasMarillionSteve HogarthSteve HogarthPete TrewavasSteve RotheryMarillionMark KellySteve RotherySteve RotheryMarillionMarillion

We've been to find a few caches in Ipswich since coming back from Northumberland, but with a lower success rate. The first trip in Ipswich was a complete failure - we were only looking for one cache, which is in the park near our house. Unfortunately when we got to the rough area of the site we discovered it's completely overgrown with nettles, and despite J's best efforts at looking we had no luck at all. J got very stung by the nettles, tho :( (I had a skirt on & bare legs, so didn't venture into the nettles at all!)

However our next trip was better.

Day 5

map for geocaching day 5

We met up with some of J's work colleagues (Kerry, Peter, Anna & Adam), near the College, and headed off to find some caches. All three we were looking for were puzzle ones - you have to solve the puzzle on the website to get the actual co-ordinates of the cache (it does give you wrong-but-close co-ordinates to get you to the vague vicinity). I'd not actually done any of the solving myself (to be honest with the geocaching stuff I'm pretty much just along for the ride, it's a good excuse for a walk and to be sociable). The first one we were looking for was "Ipswich Haven Marina" and we failed with that one :( Peter had been a couple of times before & failed to find it, too. The cache owner got in touch with J and with Kerry after they logged DNFs, so we now know that we do have the right co-ords and that the cache is still there (he checked for us). So another trip another day! (Peter has already gone back and found it, so it's definitely definitely there ;) )

The next two were successful! One near the New Wolsey Theatre ("What a Performance") and one a little way up Bramford Road ("A Cachers Melody"). Both found without much trouble, despite it being dark by the time we got to them.

And after that we headed back into town to get some food, ending up at the Kwan Thai partly by virtue of it still being open at 9:30pm. And partly because it's a nice resturant :)

Day 6

map for geocaching day 6

J and I went back out on Saturday afternoon, and promptly discovered the "Ipswich Haven Marina" cache - not quite sure how we all missed it before, to be honest.

We then (via a coffee in Cafe Nero) headed off to look for "A hard one ..." which J and Anna had solved the puzzle for the day before. We searched for quite a while, but in the end had to admit defeat on that one :( We did check the co-ordinates with the cache owner once we got home & apparently we're right so perhaps it's vanished or perhaps we just need to look harder!

Back in January there was a five part series on the Written Word as part of the In Our Time series, which is what we've chosen to listen to next. This is a slightly different format in that instead of 3 guests in the studio Bragg is going to museums etc & talking to the curators & experts there.

This programme covered the initial development both of writing itself, and of the alphabetic system we use today. He went and looked at (and described to us) examples of early cuneiform writing, Egyptian hieroglyphs and Chinese oracle bones, which are three of the four independent inventions of writing. It's interesting that something so fundamental to modern civilisation was invented so few times - as well as the three I listed there's also an independent development on the American continent, but all other writing systems were developed from other systems or directly inspired by other systems.

(It's actually a little controversial to say that Egyptian writing was developed independently like I did in the preceding paragraph - it may've been inspired by cuneiform, however the earliest known Egyptian writing is getting to be early enough that it's more likely to be independent. Also J's been reading a book about the development of writing, and it also makes the point that the Egyptian and Mesopotamian writing systems developed for different reasons - Mesopotamian writing was proto-book keeping, Egyptian writing had religious significance. So probably independent origin.)

I actually found the Chinese stuff the most interesting as it was completely new to me - in ancient China (in the Shang Dynasty) the rulers read oracles in the pattern of cracks that you get by using a hot poker on ox shoulder bones. These oracles were then recorded on the bones by scribes in the earliest known forms of modern Chinese characters, which makes the Chinese system the longest consecutively used modern writing system.

The programme also name checked Linear A (undeciphered) and Linear B (a syllabic system that was an early way to write Greek), and then moved on to the development of our more familiar alphabet. It made the point that the Greek alphabet was the first to write down vowels - previous alphabetic systems were for Semitic languages and due to the way those languages are structured the consonant sequences are less ambiguous (as I understand it). So to a native speaker it's a lot more obvious in context what a word is than it would be in English (or presumably Greek).

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