worldview and disconnect in names

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See that? That’s a fairly standard view of the Thames valley for me, and has been for a lot of my life.  Thames in the middle, steep hills either side of the river climbing up after about anything from 50m to 3/4 mile of flat floodplain.  (no crops, few houses.  Clue’s in the name – it floods most winters. The metal thing is a set of railway lights – the railway’s set halfway up the hill on our side.)  It’s what the valley looks like round here – an actual valley.  Not a very big one, either.  4 miles as the crow flies from top point of the hills on either side of the river, 30-40min to walk from the top of the hill on my side down to a wideish river. The hills are steeper on the other side.

Hence why I always blink a lot when I hear the name of the massive half flat half rolling hills bit of the South East of England described as ‘the Thames Valley’.  (a more accurate term would be Thames River Basin)  I come from the narrowest, steepest sided part of the Thames Valley where it’s recognisably a valley.

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Vaccinate your fucking kids

VACCINATE YOUR FUCKING KIDS

This is one of those things that never fails to make me giggle whilst at the same time narrowing my eyes at those who don’t, or spread that absolute fucking poison that you shouldn’t vaccinate people because it causes autism (unproven, studies faked, person doing the study in the pay of a company who had an alternate vaccine they wanted to push) or, hey, my kid displayed the extremely common and warned for minor side
effects that they tell you about when you walk in the door and last for a week tops.

Herd immunity : it works.

It’s why we don’t have polio, or tuberculosis on a vast scale, tetanus, or hey – smallpox. You know, all those nasty diseases that no longer kill people in vast swathes and so pass out of memory from idiots with no medical qualifications (who also believe in shit like homeopathy).

Smallpox is interesting; it’s one of the first vaccinations – people lining up to have cowpox cells put in their arms because you’d get a bit sick and a get a few pockmarks but you wouldn’t go blind, deaf or die like you would with smallpox. These days we don’t use a vaccination like we think of them normally – injection or fluid – instead relying on chickenpox in children (miserable for a week) and thus getting herd immunity from smallpox. And so you regularly see little pox marks on peoples’ faces.

Maybe one day there won’t be anyone with chickenpox scars. And then I wonder if smallpox will fade so totally from memory.

So I was looking for that picture of pomegranate seed heart-shaped ice cubes

 

You know, the one with ‘HADES, NO’ on it?

And I found plenty using heart shaped ice cubes.  As ‘a cute idea for valentines day!’

Most of them said ‘use 3-4, but if you’re careful you can get three in and it makes this nice star image inside the heart’.

*facepalm* I… I’m going to hide from this world that doesn’t know what the significance of three pomegranate seeds means.

My *mother* knows.

Name me some absolute historical shits. Go on.

Like, people in history that have a terrible reputation. The kind of person your history books don’t have a good word to say about. Even the kids history books from the 50s who want to believe that everyone’s quite nice and de-emphasize the blood and guts struggle to say anything nice about.

But as anyone who’s ever read a few history books knows, perceptions of actions change over time, depend on the mood – remember the absolute fear of communism in mid-20th century America – depend on the politics, depend on the writer, depend on the editor. There’s a reason revisionist history exists as a genre and study piece.

So after gaining a bit more knowledge than was in that first book you read that painted someone as a hook-nosed villain, you might hear the revisionist histories. You might study the period a bit. Figure out political motivations. See who wrote those tales and histories to see why they mgiht benefit from painting their predecessors as black hearted murdering villains.

Case in point : Richard III, onetime Duke of Gloucester.

murderer of the Princes in the Tower
One of Shakespeare’s creepiest villains.
crook-back and hook nosed and lank haired and old and creepy and…

And then you read facts. Bare bones history. Look at all the other players. Look at the actual reign. See that Shakespeare was writing to please the Tudors, who… oh hang on a minute, wasn’t granddad Henry VI? Henry Tudor? Who was well known to have one of the weakest blood claims of the Lancastrians to the throne and married the prince’s sister so might have, oh, some reasons for getting rid of the princes himself? For a long time it was reckoned that the smear campaign was so bad that the crook back thing wasn’t true. A little physical deformity, maybe a bit of a limp. Then we discovered the skeleton in a car park that had a really bad case of scoliosis. Right age (early 30s). Right historical dating. Horrible wounds from a battle that had clearly killed them. Really rich diet. Like, completely over indulgent, used to the absolute best of everything at all times. So. Er. Yes. Looked like the physical description was correct. But still, plenty of the other legends didn’t add up. Not all bad, not all good.

So with this in mind, you look at other villains of history. the ones that feature in your nation’s history. You look at other heroes. You learn the shades of grey. You learn that some ‘great men’ were monsters. (William the Conqueror) You learn that the so called teaching legend that makes them look a fool was actually a teaching legend about the man calling his advisors overweening idiots. (Canute)

So double back. look at the villains from your childhood history books. Think that they can’t be all that bad, there’s got to be some redeeming qualities. The bad rep is just the Hollywood legend, reinforced by said king/noble being a figure in a particular legend.

Case in point : King John.

everyone’s favourite overweening weak, cruel monarch from the Robin Hood legend, where his brother King Richard who’s portrayed as the great hope of England and the peasantry. (you soon learn Richard bled the country dry for his Crusades)

So if Richard was a gloryhound who taxed the country to the hilt and beyond, surely John didn’t deserve his rep, right?

Well, he – and – oh good lord, really? Ew. Wow, that many nobles’ wives and daughters? …Oh, that’s some shit deals. How did you rule that badly and not get kicked off the throne? Oh. yeah, that nearly happened except for bad timing… Serously, how did you manage to double cross that many – the starving people to death in prison thing. Um. Surely there’s someone that actually had a good word to say about him except dad and mum, both of whom he turned against when he had the chance? Looking for a good word, looking for an alternate view… Oh, there’s a monk who insisted he’d been poisoned, he didn’t die of a gut problem – oh. No-one gave enough of a shit that they went looking for reprisals. ….this is going to be William Rufus’ ‘hunting accident’ all over again. Someone so deeply unpleasant that no-one in the land is going to do more than shrug a bit at the news of their death.  Impressively, this is a king with a reputation so bad that no monarch since has taken the name.  The name that’s the most common in the country.

So name me some absolute historical shits. Go on.

Wolves and Valentines

Valentines is coming. You may hate it. You may love it. You may just be in it for the chocolate like me.

You may know it takes place at the same time as the Roman festival of Lupercalia. (one of the many Mediterranean fertility festivals that took place around this time of year) and had nothing to do with some made up Christian martyr (there’s at least three St Valentines, celebrated in all kinds of ways and the 14th Feb thing and any connection to romance was really, really late on). Wolves and young worshippers of Lupercal running around with soft leather whip thongs while young women and girls lined up along the route to get hit by the thongs to ensure fertility, prevent sterility and ease childbirth pain.

Why can’t we merge the Lupercalia bits with the hearts and flowers? It’s not like stuff on similar dates hasn’t been merged before in the name of partying and commerce.

We’ve all seen those really amazing realistic heart cakes and cards, right?

WHY NOT WOLVES?

I WANT MORE WOLVES ON VALENTINES STUFF.

Imagine how much cooler if Valentines stuff got wolf-associated.

Even all the horrendous Hallmark stuff with non specific puppies and kittens could have wolf puppies on it.  See?  Aren’t they better?

cubs3

on plague articles

Came across a new plague article today. my ‘oooo! plague article! yay!’ reaction got a couple of raised eyebrows. I work on all kinds of subjects. There are some subjects that I love that I’ve since been convinced that I can’t stand reading articles about. Some subjects you’ve read a few and everything after that it’s more about the minutiae.

Historical plague, otoh… endlessly entertaining.

*Always* a new angle. Want something about the society it took place in? New medical musings? Social inequality? Careful examination of trade? Vectors? Mathematics? Unreliable narrators? Archaeology? History? Writing? Religious hangups? Biology? Human behaviour? Meteorology?

PLAGUE ARTICLES.

Seriously. Today I had one that was examining plague outbreaks in medieval Iceland.

It talked about rural society makeup in a good couple of centuries apart, possible ways the plague got to Iceland due to it being isolated, which possible version of the plague it was due to how it was described (bubonic – that’s the fleas one – or pneumonic) and the time of year. Comparisons between different versions of the plague and the ones that had been reported in China and throughout Europe at that point. Disputing its own first theories on this later due to how warm it had been during the winter in that century. There was examination of unreliable narrators due to the monks that were compiling the stories were getting them from the elderly and they were talking about events that happened 50-60 years previous. How the stories and descriptions fitted into narrative and fairytale structure. Rat vs mice behaviour and rat populations in Iceland but also how rat populations could go relatively unnoticed if they were sufficiently hidden. Archaelogical discoveries regarding farms. Taxes and rents in lands owned by the church and how they were or weren’t collected. (adult cattle could be rented. Did you know that?)

All in one paper. And this was all stuff I’d not read before on the subject, or had new angles and new details. I’ve read ones that talked about the rise of highwaymen and ones that talked about how plague completely tore up societal structure and created a demand for labour so peasants and anyone with a skill didn’t have to be tied to the land or one lord and went where the wages were best. Created the roots of laws we take for granted. Medical discoveries! Religious fervour and new atheistic movements!

So yeah. Read plague papers. They’re worth it.

Top Ten (ish) Theatre of 2015

The full list :

Knight of the Burning Pestle (globe)
Assassins (Menier)
The Hard Problem (NT)
The Ruling Class (Trafalgar Studios)
The Merchant of Venice (almeida)
Anything Goes (touring)
Othello (globe schools)
Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (NT)
Everyman (NT)
The Car Man (Bourne)
The Merchant of Venice (globe)
As You Like it (globe)
King John (globe)
The Beaux Stratagem (NT)
Richard II (globe)
Ballet de Trockadero de Monte Carlo
Nell Gwynn (Globe)
Three Days in the Country (NT)
In the Heights (KX)
Harlequinade (branagh company)
As You Like It (NT)
The Hairy Ape (old vic)
Macbeth (Young Vic)

Anyway, in date order, the top 10 were

Knight of the Burning Pestle (globe) – completely bonkers. 17th century panto, meta, backstage, then turn up the knobs until your audience hurts itself laughing and then KEEP GOING.  And add morris dancing, monsters dressed as barbershop poles, and princesses in towers who nearly fall out of them.
Assassins (Menier) – When Sondheim is touched by genius and produces obsessive black comedy.  And then has Catherine Tate and Aaron Tveit and Simon Lipkin AND Jamie Parker as the banjo-strumming narrator and the play ends with Jamie Parker pointing a gun in your face.
The Merchant of Venice (Almeida) – They set it in Las Vegas. Launcelot Gobbo is an Elvis impersonator. The caskets thing is a reality tv show that’s been going on so long it’s completely fucked up Portia. The ‘court’ is a mob justice dungeon out in the desert. And it turns out Elvis is the perfect soundtrack to Merchant of Venice. No-one ends up happy.
Anything Goes (touring) – fuck you, tap dancing, full on Cole Porter with a PG Wodehouse book. *jazz hands*
The Car Man (Bourne) – Bourne company, sex, violence, tension and jealousy. The audience will be in their bunk and needs an ice bath.
King John (globe) – Do not mess with the progeny of Eleanor of Aquitaine, ‘kay? Possibly the most politically relevant Shakespeare around.
Richard II (globe) – Charles Edwards, stop being so charming.
High Society (Old Vic) – Go away, you’re interrupting the party.  Duelling pianos.  Dancing on the pianos.  Drunk Tracy. True Love. Boring fiancés. Jamie Parker as a cynical journalist.  Surprising lean Rupert Young.
As You Like It (globe) – close scrape, this one, but the fools. oh my Bill, James Garnon as Jacques doing ‘All the world’s a Stage’, and then the tennis match-like sparring between the fools…
Harlequinade (Branagh) – If we are going to have 1940s backstage hapless players farce, then it will be perfectly timed comedy and having Branagh being an over the hill Romeo company manager, Zoe Wanamaker being a grande dame, enthusiastic promoted guardsmen, tea, and then a policeman will turn up 2/3rds of the way through, DAMMIT.

The WORST. Avoid if possible. In order of awfulness:

The Hairy Ape (old vic) – Completely incoherent.  Sound and fury signifying nothing sums this play up.  I couldn’t tell if the performances were any good because the play was so fecking awful.

The Hard Problem (NT) – Stoppard being Stoppard.  But completely over-egged and really quite boring.

Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (NT) – civil war and everyone trying to figure it out afterwards by squabbling and then squabbling as they meandered through the countryside.  needed to be cut in half.