In Our Time: The Written Word Part 1

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).

Doctor Who: A Town Called Mercy

We were out all day yesterday, so I’m a day late writing this up – probably going to end up rather more disjointed than I might wish 😉 Spoilers galore in the rest of the post, hover mouse over text to read or read on full entry page.

Where to start? Another good episode 🙂 I liked it right from the start with the voice over cluing us into the tone of the episode – a Western. Tho for all I know everyone across the US is wincing at how the accent was all wrong, but it worked for the Brit audience anyway 😉

Note the fakeout in the intro voiceover, too – the man who doesn’t die, who falls from the sky. And it’s not the Doctor. Also, another fakeout early on – it’s the “alien Doctor” that the cyborg is looking for to kill, and again it’s not the Doctor. Which resonates with three fakeouts I can think of from last episode: a) Solomon wants the Doctor brought to him when he overhears Rory calling him Doctor, but it’s because he wants medical attention, not because he wants “The Doctor”; b) the scanner that tells the value of everything doesn’t flag up the Doctor as interesting or even known; c) Solomon finds something “more valuable than the dinosaurs” and it’s neither the Tardis nor the Doctor, it’s Nefertiti. I’m not sure if this is season arc stuff or if this is more about aggressively re-educating our expectations – I’m sure I read somewhere that Moffat thought the stakes for Doctor Who stories had got too high, and that he wanted to pull back the scope of the stories to more personal ones rather than universe destroying ones. Certainly these last two episodes have fit that mould, and the fakeouts remind us that the whole universe does not, in fact, revolve around the Doctor.

I liked the way that the characters generally weren’t one-note this time. I say “generally” partly because I’m not sure whether to count the preacher as a “proper” character or not, he has a speaking part but he doesn’t really do much (and in not doing much doesn’t get characterisation beyond stereotypical “man of the cloth in frontier town who prays a bit”). Obviously Jex & the Gunslinger are set up to play with our expectations & sympathies, and set up to mirror & cast lights on the Doctor & his demons. But also Isaac – I felt clearly he did things in the war he wasn’t proud of and he was in some ways atoning for this by his protection of Jex. And “the kid” who ringleads the push to fling out first the Doctor then Jex to the Gunslinger – leading a lynch mob isn’t exactly a plus point, but he’s doing the best he can think of to look after his family and his town.

Jex in particular was well done, I thought. He was a manipulative little bastard (the “bonding” moment with Amy as a parent, the way he pushes the Doctor’s buttons, the way he clearly got Isaac onside), although he doesn’t always get quite the reaction he wants – not as clever as he’d like to hope he is. You could see how he managed to rationalise his participation in atrocities and how he justified himself to others. You could also see he was consumed by guilt, he knew he’d done wrong, but you could see the self-interest in his repentance – redemption for him wasn’t about atoning for the wrongs he’d done to others, it was about avoiding or ameliorating an afterlife that would be unpleasant for him.

Some nice callbacks to previous continuity like Amy having to do the “and this is why you need company” speech. I felt the Time War was the elephant in the room for a lot of the Doctor/Jex scenes but as well as that there’s more recent & on-screen moments like “A Good Man Goes to War” and “Waters of Mars” are clearly referenced in the “what holds you back is your morality” conversation where Jex is both manipulating and wrong – the Doctor has rules, and people who expect better from him, the Doctor left to his own devices in the past has acted like a vengeful & capricious god not like a moral person.

On a lighter note there’s also the “I speak horse” thing, like how he speaks baby in the cyberman one with the rom-com star (I can’t remember the episode name, or the famous actor in it, hopefully you can figure out what I mean!). And the horse being Susan and wanting his life choices respected gave me a good giggle, from the combination of the deadpan delivery from the Doctor and the preacher’s face.

Amy & Rory didn’t really have a lot to do here – Amy’s “you need us” moment aside. In fact Rory could’ve been elsewhere entirely & I don’t think it’d be noticeable. The end is noteworthy though for Amy also being keen to get home, things have changed again since last episode. The Doctor may or may not’ve been intentionally weaning Rory & Amy off him, but he’s certainly succeeding. Note also that he’s 1200 years old now, and at the end of last season he was 1100 years old – I presume that’s to show us how he’s stretching out his visits to Amy & Rory even more from his perspective. I had another thought about the “you’ll be here till the end of me” conversation from last episode too, is the Doctor trying in some ways to spread out his visits so that he doesn’t out live this set of companions?

Oh, and I’ve seen a few comments elsewhere on the web about how the Doctor wouldn’t point a gun at anyone coz he’s anti-violence … I think he’s actually a hypocrite and was so even in old school Who 😉 I ran across a link to this montage & it seems appropriate here:

Note that it’s got swear words in the music it’s set to, so perhaps headphones if you’re looking at it at work.

Adventures in Geocaching, Part 1

J got interested in geocaching, coz some of his work colleagues are into it. So while we were up north for the bank holiday weekend we went to find some caches.

Day 1

map for geocaching day 1

We picked up two caches on our first trip out – “Stonehinge” & “Snow White”, both of which are in Shildon Woods to the north of Blanchland.

Noah is Not Entirely ConvincedI Think It's This Way?Found It!

After lunch we then headed out for another two, “Baybridge Beans” & “Faerie Glen”, which are to the southwest of Blanchland. It was threatening rain, so I didn’t take my camera – just well, because it started to rain when we were about a quarter of the way round the walk and we ended up completely and utterly soaked! Well, all of us except for Noah who had his own little roof (on the carry thingy).

Day 2

map for geocaching day 2

The weather the next day was also pretty miserable, so we drove to 4 round the edges of Derwent Reservoir – “Sheep Rabbits & Water”, “Tree-mendous”, “Cache Hill Stream” and “Sheila’s Tree Cache” (the latter two being in the same rough area). Obviously we drove round, rather than through, the reservoir despite what Google Latitude seems to think we did.

Day 3

map for geocaching day 3

Jo, Chris & Noah went home the next day, but J and I did another batch of caches once they’d gone. First we headed to Hexham, picking up “The Hollybush – Jacobite Rising” on the way.

map for geocaching day 3, in Hexham

And in Hexham itself we found “The Sele” and “Hexham House of Correction”. The latter was in the remnants of a Victorian House of Correction – there’s just one bit of the building left, rather incongrously tucked into a housing estate next to a bus garage.

After we’d got back to Blanchland and had some lunch we headed off on a couple more walks:

map for geocaching day 3, in the hills

The theme for the afternoon appeared to be derelict buildings, first we went up on the moors to Belmount Farm for “Murder Most Foul”.

On Top of the WorldDramatic SkyRock HeapBelmount FarmOn Top of the WorldPonyOnly the Occasional Cow

And then we walked down a steep valley from Hunstanworth and back up the other side to Gibraltar for “Gibraltar (Co. Durham)”. We’ll have to go back there sometime, as we discovered subsequently that J’s Dad has a copy of a photo from when that cottage was inhabited, and that would be a nice thing to leave in the cache for people to see.

On the Way to GibraltarGibraltar CottageGibraltar Cottage

A 100% success rate for our first few trips, not bad 🙂

Tour of Britain Cycling 2012

The cycling race the Tour of Britain started its first leg in Ipswich down at the Waterfront area on Sunday, so we got up early and headed down there to have a look and to take a few photos. We should probably have gone down quite a lot earlier than we did, as by the time we got there half an hour before the start it was really very busy. Eventually we managed to find a spot where we could see and I could kinda almost get some pictures!

To be honest, I’m not 100% happy with any of the photos. But some have come out well enough to share & I’ve put them up on flickr, here, and below are a few taster images.

Just before the race started they had some people cycle round that bit of the route – advertising cycling clubs I think. And the actual racers were also riding up & down a bit to warm-up.


Then it was time for the race!


Tour of Britain

Tour of Britain

Afterwards we headed into town to get some breakfast, and noticed that there was a “fun ride” type thing going on round the town centre:

Fun Bike Ride

In Our Time: Scepticism

We’ve developed a tradition of listening to a podcast of a recent In Our Time episode while we eat our breakfast on Sundays. This week we moved it to Saturday morning as we were off to see the Tour of Britain start on Sunday (of which more another time), and the programme we listened to was about Scepticism.

A brief note on the format, in case you haven’t listened to any of the In Our Time programmes – it’s a BBC Radio 4 series where each week Melvyn Bragg invites 3 experts on a particular subject to come on the programme and they discuss that subject live on air for 45 minutes. The subjects cover all sorts of things – philosophy, history, the sciences, art etc. It’s generally presented at a level where you don’t need to know anything about the subject in advance, but it still feels like it gets into the details. Some programmes are very narrowly focused (someone’s life & works, or a particular event in history, or a particular concept), some are more broad – like this one about the philosophical idea of Scepticism.

The experts this week were Peter Millican (Professor of Philosophy at Hertford College, Oxford), Melissa Lane (Professor of Politics at Princeton University) and Jill Kraye (Professor of the History of Renaissance Philosophy and Librarian at the Warburg Institute, University of London). They started the programme by discussing what the philosophical concept of Scepticism actually is – the idea that it isn’t possible to be certain about anything, including whether or not the external world is real. They then moved on to discuss the origins of the philosophy in ancient Greece, and how it is opposed to more dogmatic movements that insist that some things can be assumed to be truth. The second half of the programme followed the rediscovery of this philosophy in medieval Europe & the impact that this had on the Renaissance & Enlightment eras (and on our own world). For instance Descartes philosophy (the man who decided “I think, therefore I am”) came from an examination of Sceptic ideas. And modern science is heavily influenced by Scepticism – instead of dogmatically insisting one “knows” something, to come up with hypotheses that fit what’s been observed & then keep asking questions, being sceptical.

Rock Band Blitz

The new Rock Band game came out on my birthday! 🙂 It’s a return to more of the pre-Guitar Hero gameplay from Amplitude which was a game Harmonix released about 10 years ago – I remember we were playing it on the New Year’s holiday we took with Rachel, Ellen, Gordon & Ainsley and that was New Year ’03 iirc. So there are no fancy controllers needed, you play it with the standard PS3 (or Xbox) controller, and it’s a single player game as far as the actual playing experience goes.

photo of J playing Rock Band Blitz

Dreadful quality picture of J playing Rock Band Blitz.

You move between the different tracks (drums, guitar etc), and on each track you have to press the two buttons in time with the displayed pattern (which is generated to feel “right” for the sound of the part). Unlike Amplitude all the parts are playing all the time, with the track you’re on being higher in the mix. As you play notes in a track you increase the multiplier up to the cap for that track. Then at a checkpoint the multiplier cap is raised based on how far up the lowest track is – so you try to make sure each track multiplier is maxed out before the checkpoints. And you score for every note correctly hit – so you try & play tracks with lots of notes. There’s no concept of failing, it’s just higher or lower scores at the end.

At the end of a track you get your stars/points for the track and also “Coins” and “Blitz Credit”. The credit just unlocks the power-ups you can choose from, and that seemed to happen quite quickly, and I don’t really see the point of it after that. Coins are more interesting and are tied in with the power-ups. You have 3 power-up slots for 3 different types, and before starting a song you decide whether to use a power-up in each slot, and if so which. It costs coins to assign a power-up to a slot, and at the end of the song each star earns you 100 coins. So you have the choice of not using any power-ups and getting a lower score but gaining more coins, or using power-ups so getting a better score but maybe still losing coins. They can tweak that economy server-side (and have done so already) so they can find a balance between having to grind too much or having power-ups be too cheap (and thus coins irrelevant).

The three sorts of power-up are those you have to build up energy to use, those that rely on you hitting specific special notes & those that increase the score of notes on a particular track. My current loadout tends to be the Bandmate energy power-up (set it off on one track and play another, earn points from both while the power-up runs); Flame notes (hey, I’m a pyro – but it’s also high scoring if you get it right, hit a flame note & get a score bonus and also set fire to another one, perhaps on a different track, hit that & get a higher bonus and set fire to another one etc); and a points-increaser on whichever track has most notes.

It comes with a set of tracks, and it works with all the Rock Band DLC or exported songs from previous games. That means J & I have ~500 songs to choose from right away. The Blitz tracks will also work in Rock Band 3 (tho we’ve not been to play them in that yet). The only thing you don’t get is the Rock Band 3 tracks to play in it, as there’s no way to export them (yet?). It also gives a different perspective on buying more DLC tracks, as there’s some where we like the song but haven’t bought the DLC because it looks like a pain in the arse to play in Rock Band, but now we can get them for Blitz.

The multiplayer, and replay value, of the game comes in the competitive scoring. As well as always making it clear what the rankings are among your console friends, it also has Score Wars – for these you challenge a friend (or a random stranger) on a particular song, and over the next 3 days you each try to beat the other’s score. You get Coins & Credit for doing so – and a lesser amount for losing. If the other person never plays then that one is forfeit & no-one gets anything. These are pretty good for getting you to replay a track several times looking for the ways to squeeze just a few more points out to beat the other guy – J & I have done several so far (he normally wins, but I’ve got one at the moment where I think he’s not going to beat me (“I Turn My Camera On” by Spoon) as I’m ~40k points ahead of him and we’re #1 & #2 on the worldwide PS3 scoreboard at the moment 😉 (OK, there’s only ~120 people on the scoreboard for PS3+Xbox combined & it’s an easy song, but still, I think I got bragging rights 😉 ).

It also hooks into a Facebook app, that lets you see stats & such (which is where I got the number of people on the combined scoreboard for that Spoon song from). And that also lets you set “goals” which earn you more coins when you complete them (like get 12 stars in a particular genre across as many songs as you wish). And it lets you set up score wars with your facebook friends (if they’re on the same platform).

Like all Harmonix games it seems to’ve fallen down just a little bit on the social/multiplayer side of it, I don’t know how come they consistently seem to just not quite make it work well, but once again they’ve mananged it. My niggles are that from the game itself you can only start Score Wars with the person & song it’s recommending – and it doesn’t seem to perform any check for if they have the full game or have just played the demo. And it doesn’t perform any check for if they own the song you are challenging them on. So the automation actually means you have a decent chance of filling up your Score War slots (you can only have 10 at any time) with useless ones. At least they only last 3 days before they expire. It also seems fixated on some of our songs – almost all the recommendations I’m getting are for Spoon songs and Bob Marley songs, sometimes repeating one that J & I have had a score war on before. You’d think with 500 songs there’d be a bit more variety (perhaps it shouldn’t actually be random, perhaps they should’ve weighted it towards things you haven’t played before or haven’t played recently). Some way of manually choosing person and song would be good, you can on the facebook app so they’ve thought of it in one context, just not this one.

As well as this the facebook app doesn’t seem to quite work properly – you should be able to join together to do a goal in a group, and when J & I tried that it didn’t actually seem to work, it put us in seperate groups. And once you’ve started a goal you can’t join someone else’s group to do it. That may’ve been fixed, Score War display in the app seems less flaky now than it was on release so perhaps some work happened behind the scenes.

However, niggles aside this is a good game! Both J & I have been playing a lot since we got it. And at under £10 we’ve had our money’s worth several times over 🙂 Definitely recommended if you’re at all into music/rhythm games.

He Roars with the Sound of the Law

This is the image I am currently using as my desktop background, it’s made from 3 pictures I took in the Japanese Galleries at the British Museum on Monday. In the middle is Monju Bosatsu (Boddhisatva Manjusri), whose lion roars with the sound of Buddhist law. To the left is the deity Fudõ Myõ-õ whose fierce appearance shows his intolerance of wickedness. To the right is Aizen Myõ-õ who has the power to crush desire.

Boddhisatva and Deities

I’ve put more pictures from the Japanese galleries up on flickr, here.

Doctor Who: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

We went out for dinner last night, but recorded Doctor Who so we could watch it when we got home. Spoilers in the rest of this post – hover mouse over text to read, or read on entry page 🙂

I’ll confess to being a bit anxious when I saw that it was a Chibnall episode – he was the show runner for Torchwood during seasons 1 & 2 and those weren’t exactly bastions of quality television, even though watchable. But I needn’t’ve worried, this was a fun episode & felt like there was some thinking behind it too.

Nefertiti was good, I liked the way the clothes & jewellery etc that she was wearing looked authentic enough plus also looking like they were something someone would wear. I also liked her characterisation as being competent and expecting to be taken seriously. Her ending up in Edwardian wherever it was was also kinda cool, coz it’s not actually known when she died – she just vanishes from the historical record, possibly dead, possibly in disgrace, possibly changes her name to Smenkhare & rules after Akhenaten dies. So why not time-travel? 😉

Riddell was amusing comic-relief, and faced with all these competent women he does seem to realise the foolishness of his prejudice – certainly in his future with Nefertiti I don’t get the impression that he’s going to be the one in charge 😉 The gender stuff showed signs of having been thought through in general this episode – there’s not just Riddell being confronted with women who are at least as useful if not more so than him, but also the by-play between Rory & his Dad. “What sort of man doesn’t carry a trowel with him?” … well, how about the sort of man that’s a nurse & carries a first aid kit. Both as useful as each other, and better to play to one’s strengths than some gender-defined role.

I liked the Indians as being the ones with the Space Defense Agency that was going to fire on the ship – 50 years ago when Doctor Who started it’d’ve been the US or the Russians but these days India or China make more sense, and India resonates more with a British audience. Particularly with Riddell as a tail-end-of-empire character to remind us of how it has changed. I don’t think we got reaction shots of him when he finds out it’s not just a woman in charge of the military organisation firing on the ship, but also an Indian woman. I suspect that would’ve broken his head even more than Nefertiti or Amy.

Solomon the genocidal pirate was a bit cartoon evil as the big bad, I think. He doesn’t have any redeeming features, just camp nannybots for comic relief (“ooh, you’re going straight on the naughty step” made me giggle). We know he’s bad news from the start – he hurts people to get himself healed, he thinks only of the monetary value of everything. We then find out he killed all the Silurians (and it was neat that Amy did the solving of that half of the mystery – her subplot was all about Amy==Doctor, companions & all). And then he explicitly objectifies Nefertiti, and kills the triceratops & frankly by the end we know he’s a worthless piece of scum with no “good side”. A shame there wasn’t something more nuanced about him.

I liked the dinosaurs, just coz dinosaurs are cool 🙂 But also making it a Silurian Ark ship gave them a reason to be there that felt like it made sense. And I noticed on wikipedia that Chibnall wrote the Silurian two-parter a couple of years ago, so kinda nice of him to bring them back (albeit dead off-screen). I particularly liked what they did with the triceratops – that first scene works all on it’s own as a comedy moment with the triceratops in the role of that sort of obnoxious dog that goes up to everyone & sniffs their crotches. But that also establishes that the triceratops wants to play fetch, and shows us two golf balls … setting up the next scene where they ride the triceratops to safety following the second golf ball. And both of those establish the triceratops as effectively a puppy. And thus Solomon is not just an evil bastard, but he kicks (kills) puppies too!! While I’d like more nuance to the big bad, if you are going to go for one-note character, you may as well go for it whole hog 😉

The combination of the name of Solomon & the sort of character Riddell was made me think of H. Rider Haggard & I did wonder if Riddell would turn out to be the name of one of his characters. But a quick scan of the wikipedia entries for King Solomon’s Mines and She turned up nothing. And H. Rider Haggard was writing earlier. But still, the resonance was there for me. (Tho I should say that I don’t think I’ve read any Haggard, so perhaps his explorer characters were nothing like the stereotype that Riddell was embodying, I wouldn’t know.)

I liked the Amy/Rory stuff this episode. The juxtaposition of the start with Amy’s indignant questioning of if they’ve been replaced and the end with Rory’s desire to go straight home shows the fault lines in their relationship again. Amy’s clearly only really happy when she’s out adventuring & fighting Daleks or accessing Silurian data records. She’d travel with the Doctor forever if she could, and that conversation with the Doctor was weird. Why’d he react so oddly to the idea that he’d outlive her – obviously he outlives his companions, that’s come up before, he’s 900 years old after all. So what does he know that Amy (and us) don’t?

British Museum Members Open Evening (3/9/12)

Monday evening was the September British Museum Members Open Evening & this was really why we’d come into London that day. We’d booked on the gallery talk about Chinese horses, given by Carol Michaelson, a (partially?) retired curator at the museum. She gave us a 45 minute overview of a vast swathe of Chinese history from prehistoric times through to the Tang dynasty (~9th Century AD), focusing on horses. Apparently because the Chinese have very little pasture land they never actually managed to successfully maintain a breeding population of fast horses (the Arabian type of horse that the Horse exhibition had been about) despite needing them for cavalry soldiers to defend against the northern & western nomadic tribes that frequently attacked the Chinese Empire. So one of the reasons for the Silk Route being an important part of Chinese trade was that the Chinese were frequently needing to buy more horses from the area in the Middle East that was breeding them.

The museum doesn’t actually have many models of horses from China, so instead she mostly showed us pieces of chariots & horse tack, and pictures of things from other collections. And recommended the Han exhibition that we’d just been to on Friday.

Tang dynasty model horses

This was an interesting talk – these gallery talks are always pretty fascinating, because it’s not formal at all it’s just an expert in some field talking about something they’re enthusiastic about (and generally only sticking fairly loosely to the advertised theme). And she was a good speaker too.

After the talk we decided to take a look at the new Members Room that was opening for the first time that evening, and to relax with a nice glass of wine (we’d got the train so J could have one too). And a small spot of retail therapy – J got a fluffy Ankh that he’s threatening to hang from the car rearview mirror, and we picked up books for the exhibitions we’d been to.

The Horse: From Arabia to Royal Ascot (Exhibition at the British Museum)

On Monday afternoon we went to look at the free exhibition the British Museum have on till the end of September about horses. To be honest I was much less interested in this in advance than other exhibitions we’ve been to, but it turned out to be more interesting than I’d expected.


This exhibition was part of commemorating the Diamond Jubilee, and as such I think part of the context was “The Queen likes & owns race horses”. And the Saudia Arabian royal family were involved in sponsoring it, so even the broader view than thoroughbred race horses was still fairly focused on Arabian horses.

The Exhibition

It felt very much like an exhibition of two halves, and of the two I much prefered the first which focused more generally on horses in the ancient Middle East. The three rooms devoted to this covered a time period from the earliest references to horses about 5000 years ago to the medieval Islamic Middle East. The ancient era section had a few iconic items – like the Royal Standard of Ur, and some of the Amarna letters – as well as several Assyrian wall fragments (decorated with horses, and lion hunts) and pieces of ancient horse tack. Particularly striking in this section was the model horse head with the pieces of bridle etc put in their proper places, as a non-horsey person I appreciated the chance to see what things actually were rather than relying on my understanding of the technical terms.

It was also interesting to see how some of Egyptian culture clearly permeated through other parts of the Middle East – there were some Phoenician horse cheek guards which had lotus flowers or eyes of Horus on them. And model chariots or horses seemed to frequently have Bes faces (an Egyptian protective deity) on them.

The last room of this half had a model horse & rider in Sassanian style, in metal armour. And also some textile armour for both people & horses in the Islamic medieval period – as J said this looked like a horse-cosy, very like a tea-cosy! There were also some Korans (I’m not entirely sure why), and several paintings of people on horses from Islamic Middle Eastern countries.

And then the next room went back to prehistoric times, but this time in the Arabian peninsula, with a display of rock carvings of horses & neolithic Arabian tools loosely connected with horses. I think it would’ve been more interesting if this part and the bit with the Korans had been replaced with a bit about the horse in British society in general – as the next parts were about racehorses and Arabian purebred horses in the UK.

I didn’t know before this exhibition but pretty much all racehorses these days are thoroughbreds descended from 3 Arabian sires brought to the UK in around the 17th century and bred with native mares. These crosses turned out to be faster than the other horses in the races and came to dominate the racing scene. This part of the exhibition contained several paintings of famous horses, some pedigrees of particular lines and several things loaned by Her Majesty the Queen – like a set of silks (the jockey’s racing gear). I was particularly amused to see the paintings of the horse Pot8os – so named because when the groom was asked to write the name “potatoes” on the horse’s stall he wrote “Pot oooo oooo” and the owner was sufficiently amused to keep it as the actual name. The first ever txtspk! (in Victorian times, iirc.)

I spent a while at the end sitting infront of the small film of “horses in action” that they had, while I was waiting for J to catch up … particularly amusing (second only to the dancing horses of dressage) was the Queen jumping up in delight as her horse won something in 1954 and the gentleman next to her looked like he stood up because you can’t sit while the Queen stands, not for any other reason.

Other Stuff

Retail: We dithered about whether or not to pick up the book of the exhibition, but in the end decided we would. We also got a mug with a picture of Sassanian horses on it, and I looked at (but didn’t buy) lots of other nice but expensive things.

Other exhibits: We had a quick look at the Olympic medals display in the museum – this has the medals for this year plus a short explanation of the design & manufacture of them. And some medals and memorabilia of previous London games. I’ve got a small selection of photos up on flickr, of which this is a taster:

2012 Olympic Medals

Also while J went back to the Shakespeare exhibition and then looked at Egyptian stuff, I went to look at the Japanese galleries more for the purpose of taking photos than looking at the labels. Photos to come at some future date 🙂

Other things: Dinner at Pizza Express, then back to the museum for the Members Open Evening, of which more another time.