Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten

Another week, another Doctor Who episode πŸ™‚ Felt pretty epic this week, especially for just the “first trip” for the new companion. Of course, this is her fourth episode, so perhaps that’s part of it.

SPOILERS AHEAD! Hover mouse over text to read, or read on entry page:

I also liked the call backs to previous (New Who) companions second stories – Rose & Nine silhouetted against the exploding sun, Amy & Eleven finding a little crying girl and that hooking them into the story (the Space Whale one). So I had to look up some other companions second stories – Donna’s second (er, if you don’t count her Xmas special appearance) was the Fires of Pompeii, and I did think the market place was reminiscent of the start of that episode and there’s the priestesses in red with their god. But unfortunately Martha’s second episode was the Shakespeare one, rather than Gridlock (with the singing). Oh well. Lots of resonance with early trips with companions anyway. I think that’s part of what made it feel epic, it gave it a feeling of being part of something bigger without hitting you over the head with it.

I thought they did a good job at keeping Clara’s characterisation right there in front of you in a natural seeming way – she doesn’t walk away from people, not her new friend, not her prior obligations (witness going home at the end of the trip). I hope when she eventually stays on the TARDIS it’s because she takes care of those obligations, rather than an accident (a la so many Old Who companions).

On that note, is the “came here with my Granddaughter” bit referring to an actual story or is it just a reference? Doesn’t much matter which it is, tho. I’m just curious about it.

Back to Clara – also we saw the personality traits that are why she’s looking after her “friends of the family”‘s kids and why she was a nanny in Victorian times. Her response to the scared girl felt like someone who likes kids and knows how to deal with kids, and who can’t pass a child in distress by.

Those scenes also tied into the larger theme of the episode – which is a clichΓ© really, but still a good one: True courage is being scared and doing it anyway. Or maybe it’s that everyone’s scared and at a loss for what to do sometimes, but the Right Thing To Do is to try your best anyway.

Some things that drew our attention to the season arc (in more subtle ways than the opening sequence) – the Doctor explaining to Merry how she’s unique and special (just like everyone else). But of course, there’s 3 Claras so far (or are the two we saw first later in her timeline – I don’t know that we’ve seen enough during those episodes to believe that it’s not someone who already knows the Doctor but knows he doesn’t know her). Also, we had that bit where Clara was trying to take Merry to the TARDIS to hide. I heard it one way (“I don’t think she likes me”), J heard it another (“I don’t think he likes me”) but either way the scene drew our attention to the fact that this Clara doesn’t have a TARDIS key – the Doctor doesn’t trust her quite enough yet (unlike the Victorian Clara), coz what on earth is going on here with the three Claras? Like I said, J & I heard it differently – so I was also wondering why the TARDIS didn’t like Clara. Not actually sure who’s right (this week we didn’t have subtitles, last week they were stuck on coz we’d paused live TV and that seems to make our PVR put the subtitles on).

Also of note – lots of dead mothers/mother-type-things. Clara’s mother is dead, she’s nanny to a family whose mother is dead, Victorian-Clara is nanny to a family whose mother AND nanny are dead. Oswin’s mother wasn’t dead – wonder if that’s significant. And Merry was chosen when the last Queen of the Years was dead. Which feeds into me wondering about “Oh my stars!” as an expression – awfully odd, and first Ellie (Clara’s mother) uses it, then Clara herself. And Clara has inherited her mother’s travel book. Not sure where that’s going though. “Oh my stars” is still odd tho. So maybe significant? I liked the leaf/parents/origin story. Tho I was a bit surprised the leaf was “used up” quite so early in the story arc for the season.

And re-reading all of this – I really don’t watch Doctor Who for the plot, do I? πŸ˜‰

A History of Syria with Dan Snow; Howard Goodall’s Story of Music

Instead of starting TV night with our on-going series, we started with a documentary about Syria – watching it first because it was bound to be depressing viewing. A History of Syria with Dan Snow was a This World documentary that looked at the historical underpinnings of the current civil war, to put it into some sort of context. I’m sure I’m not going to manage to get everything right in my summary and being a current & politically charged subject I’m more conscious that errors may offend, I’ll still try & give some sort of feel for what Snow told us.

He started with a little bit of geography – showing us where Syria is on the map, and pointing out that it’s at the point of contact between Asia, Europe & Africa. So trade flows through the region, and empires butt heads across the region. In some ways the 5000 year history of the region could be summed up as “the Syrian people got screwed over by one big empire after another”. Snow only name checked the Egyptians & Assyrians, and got down to business properly with the Romans. Syria was a wealthy province under Roman rule, due to its location and the trade routes running through it. And the people converted to Christianity when the rest of the Empire did (if not before) – Syria was an important centre for Christianity until the Muslim conquest, and there is still a sizeable Christian minority in the region to this day. Snow visited a church service in Damascus, and talked briefly to a priest afterwards who was keen to stress his view that all Syrians were important regardless of religion, sect, ethnic background. Which was an optimistic way to start the programme.

Syria became part of the expanding Muslim empire very early on and then the capital of the (Sunni) Umayyad Caliphate was in Syria. The majority of the people living in Syria today are Sunni Muslims, and Snow said that the time of the Umayyads is looked back to as a kind of golden age for Syria by the Sunnis. He skipped lightly over the next few hundred years when Syria was first ruled over by an Egyptian centred Muslim empire, and then by the Ottoman Turks. The only key point from this era that he mentioned was the Crusades & the way they have shaped Arab feelings about Western intervention in the region. The next period he discussed in depth was the British Empire’s turn at screwing over the Syrians – this was during the First World War when the British allied with the native Syrians as a way of destabilising the Ottomans. This is the time of Lawrence of Arabia, and the war ends with the Arabs convinced that the British have promised them their own independent state – only the British had also promised most of the territory to the French & guess which promise gets kept? The French rule over Syria was imperialist & brutal, and there was a rebellion (which ultimately failed) in 1925. Snow talked to the daughter of the man who lead that rebellion & she talked about how she feels the current rebellion is the spiritual successor to her father’s rebellion.

Syria became independent in the 1930s, and the programme skipped lightly over the next period until we get to the seizing of power by Hafez al-Assad – but first it back-tracked to explain another bit of older history that is important to put this into context. Most of the Muslims (and indeed most of the people) in Syria are Sunnis, but the largest minority group is a Shia Muslim group of people called the Alawites who make up about 12% of the population of Syria. The division between Sunni & Shia Muslims goes back to immediately after the death of the Prophet, and has continued ever since. In Syria (and the region around Syria) the Alawites have been particularly persecuted – Snow was telling us that almost within living memory members of this group were unable to find work because of their religion. Assad was an Alawite, and rose to prominence via the military at a time when the Ba’athist political party were gaining in strength. Through two military coups (first that put the Ba’athists in power, then that put Assad himself in power) he took control of the country. Snow interviewed a Ba’athist political figure, a woman who is an advisor to the current government and was an advisor to Hafez al-Assad’s government. She emphasised the secular nature & policies of the Ba’athist party, dwelling on how Assad put schools into all the villages, and that women could get an education. What she didn’t mention was that the Assad regime was a tyrannical police state. Snow also interviewed a couple who had lived in Hama, a Syrian town, during the 1982 massacre that the government perpetrated there – theoretically to quell Muslim Brotherhood led insurrection, but actually tens of thousands of civilians were killed.

Assad’s Russian connections were also important – during the 60s he’d been an army leader at a time when Israel was flexing her muscles. And he gained a reputation as an Arab strongman, who’d helped the Arab world to recover it’s pride after defeat by Israel. I’m fairly unclear on the details of this bit to be honest – but the take home message was that Assad’s regime had both the backing of parts of the Arab world, and the backing of the Soviets as a counterpoint to the US backing of Israel.

So that’s almost all the pieces of the situation lined up – the last bit that’s needed is that once Hafez al-Assad died, his son Bashar inherited the presidency. He seemed at first to be likely to reform the police state nature of the Syrian state, and hopes were high that he’d move the regime towards a more open & democratic (and Western-friendly) state. But this was not the case, and he continued with his father’s policies – and methods.

The Arab Spring of 2011 was then the spark that lit the tinderbox. Snow’s interview with the couple from Hama also talked about this – they and their sons had been involved in the first protests, but are now living as refugees away from the fighting in Syria. One of the sons was saying that at first the protests were about wanting democracy, then once people started being killed it was about overthrowing the regime. The programme then cut back to the woman in the government who was saying that they had reacted to armed insurrection the way any government would – that the rebels were preventing the normal business of the country so the army had to be sent in to protect the state. With interviews with people on both sides of the conflict Snow showed that however it started it’s fragmented down the fault lines that history has provided – Sunni vs Alawite, secular vs religious, to name a couple. With the ordinary people being caught in the middle of it.

Sobering to watch – it seems like a situation where there’s so much history and ill-will on both sides both recent and dating from centuries ago that it’s hard to see how it can be resolved.

To follow that up, we watched the fifth episode of Howard Goodall’s Story of Music as something lighter weight to cheer us up before sleep! This was titled “The Age of Rebellions” and covered the period from the death of Wagner (in 1883) through to just before the First World War. Goodall opened by talking about how after the death of Wagner instead of several pseudo-Wagners continuing on with his style of music instead you have a movement away from a Wagnerian style – rebelling against it, if you like. Goodall seemed quite gleeful about this πŸ™‚ So we heard some bits from Satie, Faure and other French composers of that era. Goodall also talked about Mahler in this segment & discussed how his symphonies & songs were a move to a more personally emotional music. Rather than writing some abstractly sad piece & calling it something general like “Nocturne” Mahler wrote songs about specific subjects like the death of a child.

Another of Goodall’s themes for the programme was the influence that folk music had on the classical music of the time – Mahler, for instance, incorporated the sounds & rhythms of the Jewish folk music of his upbringing. It was in Russia where this was a really striking trend. Previously Russian music had looked to the West rather to its own traditions of music, but in the late 19th Century this was to change. One of the major players in this change was Mussorgsky – and his music was different because he was not formally trained, and so didn’t know the “rules” that he was busy breaking. Not all of the composers influenced by Mussorgsky were Russian – Debussy heard Mussorgsky’s music at the World Fair in Paris. Debussy was also influenced by other music he heard there, like the Javanese musicians, and he incorporated these non-Western rhythms & tonalities into his music.

This breaking of the previous rules for composing music encouraged others to experiment even further. The ballets of Stravinsky (like Firebird & the Rite of Spring) with their overlayed rhythms & polyrhythms were a result of this experimentation, as was the dissonance & emotionality of Strauss’s opera Salome. We were shown a little of Salome & I don’t think I’ve any desire to see the whole opera πŸ˜‰

The last segment of the programme was devoted to the new mainstream music that was beginning in this era – the blues and later ragtime and the beginnings of jazz. Goodall talked about how the blues and the spirituals grew out of the African-American’s musical traditions, both from the music that they remembered from their African origins & the Christianity they were converted to once in America. Goodall said it was controversial to suggest that there were any other influences on this music, but that he believed there were also traces of the music of European immigrants (in particular railroad workers) and also the Chinese railroad workers.

As this new music became more mainstream classical music began to decrease in popularity. Goodall told us that the reaction of classical composers was to write music that appealed to a sense of nostalgia. The music of Elgar is a part of this nostalgic music. And the programme ended with Goodall pointing out that this nostalgia was for the sort of elite lifestyle that was just about to end with the outbreak of World War I.

“China: The World’s Oldest Civilisation Revealed” John Makeham (Part 6)

Great Changes: The Tang-Song Transition (Second Half)

This is the second half of the chapter on the Tang & Song dynasties & it covers the Song Dynasty and the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty. The time period covered is from 960AD through to approximately 1370AD.

Orientation Dates: Mostly English history for these, plus the dates of some of the Crusades. 1066AD is the Battle of Hastings. First Crusade was 1095AD to 1099AD. “The Anarchy” was between 1135AD & 1155AD (post). Third Crusade (Richard Lionheart & Saladin) was 1187AD to 1192AD. Gerald of Wales lived at the end of the 12th Century (post). Fourth Crusade (and sack of Constantinople) was 1202AD to 1204AD. Magna Carta was signed by King John in 1215AD. Edward I conquered Wales between 1277AD & 1283AD. Hundred Years War started in 1337AD. Black Death arrived in England in 1348AD.

The Northern Song

Like many of the Chinese ruling dynasties the Song Dynasty is split into two parts – first the Northern Song, then the Southern Song. The Northern Song started by re-unifying most of the country, all but the most northern parts of what had been China under the Tang Dynasty. Unfortunately the book didn’t give me a map of this, so I had to resort to looking it up in another book. They (again like the immediately preceding dynasties) tried to change the military focus of the culture – during the reigns of the first two Emperors of this dynasty (about 40 years from 960AD to 997AD) the military was overhauled and put under the control of civilian officials at the top level. The Emperors also made the civil bureaucracy more important by presiding as the final examiners who appointed all the bureaucrats. This lead to problems later in the dynasty – by the end of the mid-Northern Song period (around 1085AD) the elite regarded themselves as co-rulers of the empire and bureaucratic factionalism weakened the power of the dynasty.

The threats from the north of China (see below) meant that despite backing away from military rule the Northern Song had to maintain a large army. This in turn meant that higher taxes were necessary to pay the military expenses (and to pay tribute to the northern peoples), and there were attempts to reform the tax system to make it more efficient. These reforms seem to have been poorly implemented and as they often went against Chinese tradition (for instance by trying to employ specialised bureaucrats rather than follow the Confucian ideal of generalists) they ultimately failed which wasn’t good for the long term prospects for the dynasty.

Despite all this the Northern Song dynasty was a time of economic growth, and of a cultural renaissance. The economic growth partly came from properly integrating the south of the country into the economy for the first time – farming with new crop varieties that grew well there, and by improving the Sui canal system to integrate the nearer south with the northern heartlands. Maritime trade was also a growth area, and was particularly important as the country was now cut off from the Silk Road due to losing their more western provinces. The increased maritime trade lead to better ship building, and better maps – which could be up to the standards of the 19th Century maps of the Western world. Some southern cities had large colonies of foreign merchants within them – from places such as India, Arabia and Persia. The book says that this was a time almost of an industrial revolution, again comparing to 19th Century in the West (in this case saying that coal production was on similar levels to 19th Century Britain).

And shortly after discussing the trade with outsiders the book says “China looked inward during the Song Dynasty, and so remained isolated from the rest of the world”. Which doesn’t seem to add up, to me. This is used to lead into discussing the art of the Song period – which was more focussed on realistic depictions of nature than was previously the case, although increased realism doesn’t mean that there weren’t also symbolic constraints on how you depicted things. This time period was also the time when Neo-Confucianism flourished.

The Khitan (Liao) and Jurchen (Jin)

So the Northern Song never managed to whole re-unify what had been Tang China. During this time (960AD through to 1125AD) the people in the north were ruled by the Khitan – who were a northern tribal group of pastoral nomads. They conquered some of the Chinese settlements in the north and became increasingly Sinified in their rule over them – although the majority of their society stayed nomadic. The rulers even took a dynastic name, the Liao dynasty, and attempted to conquer Song China. This failed, but the resulting peace treaty in 1005AD involved the Song paying the Liao tribute.

In 1125 the Liao rule of northern China was supplanted by a new wave of nomadic tribesmen from the north. These were the Jurchen, who first conquered the Liao and then before they were even finished doing that they started to invade Song China. In 1127 they succeeded in taking the Northern Song capital and pushing the Song rulers back into southern China – this was the end of the Northern Song and the start of the Southern Song.

The Jurchen rulers took the dynastic name Jin and ruled over the northern part of China for a bit over a hundred years, until the Mongols displaced them in 1234. At first they were the rulers of the territory via the same officials who had ruled the districts under the Liao or Song administrations. But the Jin encouraged the Jurchen people to move into their new territory, and gradually came to directly rule the region. Over time they became more Sinified – partly as a deliberate act of policy by the ruling Jin designed to reduce the importance of the traditional Jurchen elite. This was then reversed by later Jin Emperors, and the various competing reforms reduced the military power of the Jurchen people. The book makes it clear that this was another large & prosperous empire, on a par with the Southern Song – they were trading partners despite occasional conflict and neither could defeat the other.

The Southern Song

As so often with this book, a map would’ve helped at this point. The Southern Song was a period when Chinese power was confined to the south of the country. The retreat, and loss of power, did nothing to stop the factionalism within the court. One minister, Han Tuozhou, even went so far as to start a war with the Jin, to discredit his opponents in the “peace” faction. This didn’t work out well for him – the Jin demanded his head (literally). And despite the fact that treating a minister like this was unprecedented for Song China they did indeed send his head off in a box, as requested.

During this era Confucianism was again reinvented to suit the current time. Neo-Confuciansim of the Northern Song period was forward looking & encouraged people to think for themselves. But during the Southern Song period a philosopher called Zhu Xi reinterpreted Confucianism with an emphasis on the authority of the teacher, and the authority of the old texts. Effectively doing what you were told became more important than thinking about what you were doing. During this time the exams for civil servants became the only way to become a part of the government (in contrast to previous eras when they were one path of many). And they became a test of moral orthodoxy as much as a test of talent.

The Mongol Yuan Dynasty

The Mongol tribes were united in 1206AD by Temujin – better known as Genghis Khan, the Great Khan. The Mongol armies then swept across large parts of Eurasia bringing them under Mongol control. This continued even after Temujin’s death in 1227AD and included the Jin territory in the north of China who were finally conquered in 1234AD. During the last part of their resistance they appealed to the Southern Song for help, but were refused. The inevitable conquest of the Southern Song was then delayed by internal Mongol politics, but completed in 1279AD by Kublai Khan’s forces. China was now fully re-unified for the first time in several hundred years – under the first Emperor of the new Yuan Dynasty, Kublai Khan.

The book concentrated on Kublai Khan and his dynasty in China, but also pointed out that he wasn’t just an Emperor of China. In fact a lot of his regime was tangential to China, he was trying to re-unify the Mongols and maintained a presence in Mongolia, Turkistan & Mongol Iran. And he was also keen on trying to conquer the other territories around China – like Korea, Japan, Burma & Java. To his Chinese subjects he was never anything other than a foreigner, as with his successors. And ultimately the Yuan efforts to conquer and control more territory weakened their rule in China.

Mongol ruled China was more religiously & cultural diverse than previous regimes had been. The Mongol elite brought other customs to the Chinese court, and patronised different religions to their Chinese predecessors. Tibetan Buddhism was one of these that rose to greater prominence during Kublai Khan’s reign. Art and literature were influenced by styles from other parts of Mongol ruled territory, and in turn Chinese styles influenced other parts of the world. During this time period blue & white porcelain became the first international art craze, prized across a large part of Eurasia, including parts of the West. Other cultural exchanges included the sciences – medicine & astronomy for instance – and even food. I was particularly struck by an aside about the food – when we go to eat at Mizu in town we often have gyoza as a side dish. These apparently derive from a Russian dish – piroshky – which entered Chinese culture during the Yuan dynasty period. I’d always thought of them as oriental. Trade occurred across the whole of Mongol territory, and beyond, which boosted the Chinese economy. Trade in the Jin and Southern Song territories had been mostly internal or between the two empires, so this greater market for their goods (and to buy goods from) revitalised the economy.

This is the time period when Marco Polo visited China. If he existed and actually visited China, that is. This book is firmly on the side of him being legit, but I’m sure we listened to an In Our Time on Marco Polo (which I don’t appear to’ve written up, must’ve been a while ago). And the experts on that programme were more inclined to think that he might’ve been a useful fiction to make a description of China more readable. Anyway, if he went, it’s Kublai Khan’s court he went to. And if he didn’t go, someone still described (reasonably accurately, it seems) the court & land. There are other Western visitors to the Mongol court described – some of them in both Chinese & Western records, for instance a papal envoy called John of Marignolli. The papacy sent quite a few envoys, and missionaries, to China and other Mongol states at this time. This was the time of the Crusades, and they were hoping for allies against the Islamic countries.

The Yuan ruled China for about a century – Kublai Khan was the most successful Emperor and after him and his immediate successor there were a series of short-lived Emperors. The Mongol state discriminated against the descendent of the Southern Song region in particular, and Mongol citizens had more rights under the law than Chinese. Eventually after those short-lived, weak and ineffectual Emperors there was increasing rebellion in the south (called “banditry” by the regime but more political than that word implies). And the Yuan Dynasty came to an end in 1368AD.

Tangents to follow up on: Mongols, and the whole history of that northern region – it’s interesting how the history of China seems to involve a lot of “barbarians” sweeping in from the north & conquering or re-uniting China.

In Our Time: Romulus and Remus

The primary founding myth of Rome is the story of Romulus and Remus, which we know from written sources from the 1st Century BC. It’s clear that the story is older than that, but opinions differ as to how old it is. The three experts who talked about the myth & it’s origins on In Our Time were Mary Beard (University of Cambridge), Peter Wiseman (University of Exeter) and Tim Cornell (University of Manchester).

They opened the programme by giving us a recap of the basic form of the myth, which opens with Numitor and Amulius. Numitor is the true King of Alba Longa, but his brother Amulius usurps his throne and tries to ensure there are no true heirs left. He installs Numitor’s daughter as a virgin priestess to prevent her from bearing more heirs to Numitor’s crown, but despite this precaution she still gets pregnant. One version of the story is that the father of the children is the god Mars who appears in the holy fire as a phallus and impregnates her (which must’ve been a trifle disconcerting for the lass!). The children, Romulus and Remus, are exposed on the banks of the Tiber but instead of dying they are suckled by a she-wolf for long enough to be rescued by a shepherd & brought up. Skipping forward to when they become adults they return to the city of their birth, and once they realise who they are they overthrow Amulius and reinstate Numitor as King. Wanting a city of their own to rule (as Numitor doesn’t look like to die any time soon) they set out to found one. Because they’re twins there’s no obvious answer to which one’s in charge, so they ask the gods to give them a sign. Both see a sign that they think makes them ruler, and in most versions of the myth the arguments continue until Remus is killed (most often by Romulus himself, or by his orders).

That’s the bit I knew already of the myth, but the story continues. Once the city was founded Romulus (and Remus if he’s still alive) wanted to attract new citizens, so that they had people to rule over. And so they allowed refugees and asylum seekers to join their population – regardless of the reasons they were unwelcome at their place of origin. So not just political refugees, but also criminals or runaway slaves were welcome. Most of these people were male, which presented a problem for the proto-city and its ability to sustain its population. So Romulus tried to negotiate marriage agreements with surrounding settlements – but these were turned down on the basis that the citizens of Rome were the dregs of society. So Romulus held a festival and invited all these other settlements to it – they came, with their daughters as well. And then Romulus and the citizens of Rome abducted the women – this is the rape of the Sabine women (which is a phrase I’d heard, but I didn’t remember the story if I’d ever heard it). The other settlements were obviously rather annoyed, and went to war with Rome – most were easily defeated but the Sabines were not. At the height of battle in Rome itself the women (who had now had children with their abductors) appealed to both sides to stop fighting – on the basis that their fathers were killing their sons-in-law, and this was senseless. The two communities made peace, and merged with Romulus now ruling jointly with the Sabine King. The Sabine King later dies, under suspicious circumstances which some versions of the myth pin on Romulus. Romulus lives to a ripe old age, then rather than dying he vanishes – in some versions ascending directly to heaven.

So that’s the story, and then the programme moved on to talking about how old it was and what the Romans themselves thought about it. There are no texts before the 1st Century BC, so what evidence there is for the story being older is more tenuous and based on art. Beard presented a couple of different things – a generally agreed upon one, that there was a statue of Romulus and Remus erected in Rome in the early 3rd Century BC. So there must’ve been a version of this myth then. The other piece of evidence is a mirror from the 4th Century BC which has a design on it that is a pair of infants and a wolf. Beard said that she thought this was pretty good evidence for the existence of the myth at that time. Wiseman disagreed – saying that the design also includes the god Mercury who has no place in this myth but does in a different with with twins in (but no wolf). He also thought that the myth cannot be older than 300BC because that’s when Rome & Sabine merged as a historical event so thus the story must have been invented to explain that.

And then the three experts had a very robust (yet utterly courteous) disagreement about myth, story and the origins of stories. This was clearly a debate these three had had before, they were all aware of each other’s positions on the matter before they started. I’ll attempt to summarise – Wiseman holds the opinion that a story has a single point of creation and that this is a conscious act by a specific person, who is inventing the story in order to explain some event. Beard and Cornell on the other hand think that the stories grow out of older stories and change with time and with telling. That you can compare the writing down of the Romulus and Remus myth in the 1st Century BC to the Grimm brothers collecting old folk tales by going and listening to people telling them and then writing down a “definitive” version of a fairytale which is not necessarily the only or the original version. I’m with Beard & Cornell, personally – I don’t see why there can’t’ve been a Romulus and Remus myth dating back a long time into Rome’s history (perhaps growing out of something earlier), that later incorporated bits & pieces of other stories and events as they seemed relevant to the people at the time*. Yes, Wiseman is right that by definition there must be a first time a particular story is told – but how do you decide when it counts as this story and stops being that other story that’s got a lot of similar features.

*Worth noting that the lack of evidence is lack of evidence for both theories – pre-1st Century BC it’s an oral tradition and we have no way of knowing what exactly that was.

At the end of the programme they also talked about how the Romans thought about the myth, and about what it said about what the Romans thought about themselves. Cornell (I think) pointed out that the Romans often seem embarrassed about this myth – it involves a fratricide, and the earliest Romans are “riff raff”. So some Roman authors try and explain away these elements to sanitise it and make it more “suitable” for their great civilisation. And Beard talked about how it’s interesting that this myth makes Romans foreigners in their own city – and even the other founding myth (Aeneas fleeing Troy and founding Rome) is still a tale of refugees. And I think it was Wiseman who talked about how during the civil wars around the 1st Century BC there was a feeling that of course Rome was turning on itself because didn’t their city start with a fratricide and weren’t they doomed because of this.

Marillion Weekend 2013

Marillion Weekends are held every 2 years, and on March 8-10th was the 10th convention – J and I have been to every one of them so far πŸ™‚ This year, as with the last 3, it was held at the Center Parcs at Port Zélande, in the Netherlands. The current format is the band play 3 gigs, one each on Friday, Saturday & Sunday, complete with support bands and a long set from Marillion. There’s also stuff during the Saturday & Sunday afternoons, including a pub quiz about the band where the final is the fan winners vs. the band. And Swap the Band where fans get to play on stage with the band in place of one of the band members.

Logo on the Screen

As I said, J & I have been to all of these conventions, from the first one which was just an evening in a small club in Oxford (The Zodiac) in 1998. (At first they were more frequent than every two years, as well as smaller.) We’ve had a selection of different people join us over the years. This year there were seven of us in our group – me, J, Paul, Ady, Ellen, Avi and Gordon.

Photos are up on flickr, I’ve just put some highlights in this post. I only took the point & shoot camera with me, not my DSLR – too faffy to have the big camera in a gig, and harder to hold over my head to take the pictures. J took most of the photos of our group, btw.

Friday 8th March


My notes emphasise beer … funnily enough πŸ™‚ Those of us coming by car (Paul drove himself, me & J and Ady from Ipswich) got up at brutal o’clock (ie 4am) and got to Center Parcs around 1330 local time, in time for lunch and BEER! πŸ™‚ We met the others (who came by plane and shuttle bus) afterwards, while we were buying merch, then got settled in at the chalet before our dinner.

The evening’s concert started off with a set from DeeExpus (who we’ve seen support Marillion before). And as was the case then – I enjoyed the set while they were playing, but I still haven’t listened to the album at home.


And then it was on to the main act πŸ™‚ Marillion came out and played through the whole of their album Radiation – which was released in 1998, so is 15 years old. I think it was the first album released after I’d got into the band, so I feel a trifle old now πŸ˜‰ It’s an album that’s not had all that good a reaction from “fans in general” in the past, because the mix is thought to be a bit sub-par – but live the tracks have always rocked, so they’ve re-released it this year with a new mix. This set included several tracks I like live – and one that’s gradually becoming a favourite of mine: A Few Words for the Dead. Since they toured Sounds That Can’t Be Made h has been doing some playacting with a fake rifle during this song & it adds something to it, to me.

The second half of the set after a short break was very much the bouncy set of the weekend – and could’ve been designed for me. Several Fish era songs (including Script for a Jester’s Tear which is one of my favourite Marillion songs), and the h era songs included both Hooks in You and Cover My Eyes. I bounced up & down till my feet hurt, and sang so much my voice went a bit πŸ™‚

MarillionPete Trewavas and Mark KellySteve HogarthSteve Hogarth

Afterwards those of us that were staying out (me, J, Paul, Ellen & Ady) walked briskly to the Adventure Factory (yeah, that’s the name of the bit where the bar was) and got beer. There was a queue from hell for beer from the bar, so we won’t dwell upon that – aggravating tho it was, we did end up with a sufficient quantity of beer πŸ˜€ About 1am we headed back to the chalet and I think in the end we stayed up till 3am chattering away – only 22hrs since we’d got up in the morning!

Saturday 9th March

Logo on Screen

Funnily enough, I started the day with a mild hangover, can’t think why πŸ˜‰ Didn’t stop me having a few beers during the afternoon – although perhaps it should’ve done coz the hangover came back for the evening, oops :/ Gave away the beer I’d bought at the start of the gig and drank coke for the rest of it – caffeine, sugar, liquid, perfect hangover cure, shame about the taste!

The first of the support acts was Pete Trewavas doing a “solo” set – I put it in quotes because he had someone whose name I forget come on stage with him for a couple of the songs. But it was all his own music, and mostly himself singing and playing guitar. He kept saying he was nervous, but it didn’t really show. And obviously he got a good reception, because he’s part of Marillion. The second support act were Sweet Billy Pilgrim, who I have to confess passed me by entirely. Pleasant yet un-memorable would be my take on them, but everyone else really liked them. Perhaps the previous paragraph explains it, and I just wasn’t in the right head space for the band?

Pete Trewavas "Solo" setPete Trewavas "Solo" setSweet Billy Pilgrim

The first half of Marillion’s set was a play through of the album Brave in it’s entirety. Previous conventions have normally done an album play-through on the Friday night, this is the first time we’ve had a whole album on the Saturday night as well. And this is the first time we’ve had a repeat of an album as well – they played Brave at the convention at Pontins back in 2002. Brave as an album is a pretty emotional (and bleak) piece of work – it’s inspired by a news story about a girl found wandering about on/preparing to jump from the Severn Bridge who refused to tell her rescuers who she was or why she was there. The songs on the album are possible stories for how she ended up there. To be perfectly honest, this is not one of my favourite Marillion albums. Everyone you talk to about it says it’s an album to sit down and listen to – lights off, volume up, read the lyrics, give it your full attention. And I don’t really interact with music that way – I stick it on as background, and sing along with the stuff I know or dance round the living room (depending how many people can see me …). So Brave passes me by a bit on record. It’s still a powerful experience live. And it’s enhanced when the band play it as a whole album because the stage show to go with it involves h acting out some of the bits as well as the music playing. So there were bits with a girl in a white dress (Jennifer Rothery, the guitarist’s daughter) lighting candles round h during an atmospheric bit, masked men pulling h off stage etc.

Steve HogarthSteve HogarthSteve Hogarth & Jennifer RotherySteve Hogarth

We’d known for weeks that Brave would be played on this evening, so we’d been speculating about what the second set would consist of – I was assuming (and asserting) that it’d be all the more emotional songs, to continue the theme. And I wasn’t entirely wrong, this was the evening they played Out Of This World complete with the film of the Bluebird crash – always an emotional moment. But they did play some other stuff like Warm Wet Circles which was more upbeat and bouncy πŸ™‚

After the gig we split into two groups like the previous evening (tho not quite of the same composition – Paul had caught the lurgy so headed back to the chalet), and thankfully the queue for beer in the Adventure Factory was better managed this time and we got drinks quicker πŸ™‚ (And I was feeling up to beer again!) We met up with Tim, who works with J, while we were there and after a few beers headed back to the chalet for more. Tim provided us with the weekend’s lasting joke, I think πŸ™‚ While we were all sitting in the living room we heard footsteps on the top flight of stairs & all the lights dimmed. Tim said “who’s that? Beelzebub??” … given where people were, it had to be Paul letting his cold affect his masking of his dark powers πŸ˜‰

Sunday 10th March

Started the day without a hangover, always a plus πŸ™‚ We spent lunch in search of vegetables, but still failing to find much – always the problem at that Center Parcs, the food isn’t great. J also took charge of the camera over lunch because he’d noticed I wasn’t taking enough photos of the people we were with, so we have a few from this morning/afternoon.

Modern Socialising ...

Then it was off to the main tent for the afternoon – the temperature was dropping from the almost spring-like temperatures it had been down to the more arctic weather we’ve had since, so queueing was particularly chilly today. There’s a youtube vid of the queue for this (sped up) – look for us around the 0.44 mark.

The afternoon’s delights included the final of the quiz, which included a round on prices of various “collectibles” on e-bay – stumping the band more than the fans, unsurprisingly. Then there was the Q&A session with the band, which was the normal sort of thing – one question that stuck in my mind was someone had asked Rothery 10 years ago in a convention Q&A where he saw the band in 10 years, so they asked again this year. The answer was much the same, too “hope there is a band, see no reason why not, hope we’re still doing conventions”. In answer to another question h also let slip that he’s touring with Richard Barbieri later this year, so that gave us the next gig we needed to sort out tickets for πŸ˜‰

We then had a public proposal (… I hate these, I think they’re generally cringe making, and I feel it unfairly puts the poor woman on the spot), and people having their photos taken with the band on stage which went on for ever and ever. (There’d been a sweepstake for it, we didn’t enter.) Then it was Swap the Band which is always cool πŸ™‚ People enter by sending demos of themselves playing/singing Marillion songs, and a selection are chosen to come up on stage and play with the band. So it’s an extra mini-gig in effect, we got 6 extra songs and even if it’s not the whole band the replacements are always astonishingly good πŸ™‚ Also funny was watching Pete when he was the one swapped out – he didn’t know what to do with himself. First he sat at the back of the stage, then he started playing air bass, then air drums, then some more fidgeting around … eventually h took pity on him & gave him a tambourine or something to shake so he had something to do πŸ™‚

Swap the Band (Guitar)Swap the Band (Keyboards)Swap the Band (Vocals & h's Keys)Swap the Band (Added Electric Violin)Swap the Band (Drums)Swap the Band (Bass)Pete Trewavas

Dinner was brisk, as the afternoon stuff had been running late. And the queue afterwards for the main tent was very cold – and unsurprisingly they were running late for that. When we were let in the support act, Harvest, were still sound checking, which felt a little odd, and must’ve felt even odder to them. When they came back out they got a really good reception – I enjoyed their set, but I couldn’t tell you much about it now (and sadly my notes just say “Harvest were good” which isn’t enough of a memory prompt to tell you why when I’m writing this more than 2 weeks later).


Then it was time for the last Marillion gig of the weekend. We’d spent the day speculating about what they might play – there’d been no hints dropped by the band beforehand, so we were just working off “what haven’t we heard yet”. We had two main bit of speculation – one of which was right and one of which was wrong. The right bit was that we hadn’t heard anything off the most recent album, Sounds That Can’t Be Made, so we were wondering if they’d play the whole of that – and it turned out to be true, although they didn’t play it straight through in the order it is on disc. Instead the songs were scattered through out the whole of the set. So that was cool, it’s a good album πŸ™‚

Our wrong bit of speculation was that we’d get all the big “crowd favourites” that we hadn’t had yet – like Easter or Fantastic Place. But we didn’t – and we didn’t miss them either, still a very good set. Including one of the first times This Strange Engine has worked for me as a song (I generally find it too bitty & broken up, but this time it worked). And they ended with Garden Party – gold foil fluttering down through the air & lots of bouncing up and down πŸ™‚

Steve HogarthMarillionSteve Hogarth

Afterwards we went back to the chalet & chilled out for a while – drinking up the beer (had to be done, obviously πŸ˜‰ ) and playing cards & chatting till about 1am.

The trip back on Monday went OK, although it was brutally cold when we left and there was snow falling from around when we entered France all the way back to Ipswich. Ady was staying over at ours afterwards, but Paul had to get home so that Nat could have her car back (due to an unexpected work trip meaning she needed the one she was insured to drive for work purposes on Tuesday). Which didn’t work out all that well for him as the traffic apparently looked at the snow & stopped moving. Still he made it in the end, so that’s OK.

It was an awesome weekend πŸ™‚ Roll on the next one … in 2015 when we might just about’ve recovered πŸ˜‰