Blog : Posts from February 2009 : Page 1

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Photo post of the week

In which we visit east Bristol, and Clevedon


A month or so ago, we took a trip to Clevedon, Somerset. I wrote about it at the time, although, I realise now, didn’t actually say which town we’d been to. Here, though, are some of the photographs.

The derelict Royal Pier Hotel, Clevedon Clevedon pier The derelict Royal Pier Hotel, Clevedon

And, as that’s not very many, here’s some of Bristol just after Christmas, too:

Christmas decorations, Church Rd, Bristol St George's Park, Bristol Moon, Bristol

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A Medley

In which we discuss local things, and eat pancakes


A few different things on my mind today, none of which are worthy really of a full post.

Firstly, in serious local political news, the city council’s minority Labour administration has collapsed, to be replaced with a minority Lib Dem administration. Whether the change in cabinet will lead to any changes to or abandonment of the destructive and wasteful guided busway scheme, much blogged about here in the past few months, we will have to wait and see. For that matter, there may well be changes to the rather rushed scheme to pedestrianise half of Prince St Bridge, which some people think was part of the guided busway plans; but which I think was more likely to be some sort of council sop to transport charity SusTrans, whose main office overlooks the bridge.

Talking of things round the Harbourside, regular readers might remember me talking about Folk Tales, the monthly music-and-storytelling event at the Scout Hut on Phoenix Wharf. February’s Folk Tales was last night; however, me and K didn’t remember this until about half-seven last night, at which point we didn’t really feel like going out. Oh well: roll on the next one. I remembered, when noticing that people have been searching the internet for information about it (and finding me).

Another topical search term: “what happens to Annie in Being Human?” Episode 5 spoiler time: sharp-eyed viewers will have noticed that although Annie was on the verge of passing on to the next world, she hadn’t actually gone when the credits rolled, so will no doubt still be in the final episode. Highlight the preceding bit to read it.

Aside from that: we had plenty of pancakes on Tuesday night, as is only right and proper; and enjoyed them so much, we had more yesterday. Which is probably slightly going against the point of Shrove Tuesday, but never mind. More pancakes has to be a good thing.

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Asking for advice

In which we wonder what FP knows


Or, the perils of knowing a little on a lot of subjects.

Say, hypothetically, you were considering auditioning for a popular TV quiz show, confident in your general knowledge. However, the hypothetical quiz show in question requires you to also answer questions on a few specific topics – let’s call them, for the sake of argument, “Specialist Subjects”. What sort of things would you pick, and why would you pick them?

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Days Out

In which we describe Portishead


Another lazy weekend this weekend. Wanting to get out of the house, though, we took a trip to Portishead.

It’s a strange town. A strangely-shaped town. Like Clevedon, it’s a seaside town that doesn’t look towards the sea. The harbour is lined tightly with recently-built classically-themed terraces, designed to look like Totterdown or Clifton, but packed in much more densely. Further south is a muddy bay, a headland looking across to Newport; and the remains of an old fortress, little more than lines of concrete in the clifftop grass. There is also, signs said, some Iron Age defensive works; but they are well-hidden by trees and my rusty eye couldn’t make them out.

Clevedon had a pier and an interesting bookshop; Portishead didn’t seem to have any similar attractions. We tried (and failed) to find the lighthouse marked on our map,* before going home, blown back by the wind off the sea.

* taking the map with us might have been a start

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Calling Dr Jones (part two)

In which we discuss lost relics once more


Time to return to Tudor Parfitt‘s documentary The Quest For The Lost Ark, which I started to discuss last week. A brief recap: Prof. Parfitt has discovered, in a museum in Harare, a 14th-century southern African war drum whose descent can, arguably, be traced back to the Biblical Ark of the Covenant, as described in Raiders Of The Lost Ark Exodus:

“Have them make a chest of acacia-wood: two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold molding around it. Cast four gold rings for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other. Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the chest to carry it. The poles are to remain in the rings of this ark; they are not to be removed. Then put in the ark the Testimony, which I will give you.

If you remember the film: the prop-makers on Raiders Of The Lost Ark followed this description pretty much spot-on. Tudor Parfitt, though, has another theory. As the Ark’s descendant is a drum, the original Ark must have been a drum also.

There are, though, a couple of glaring problems with this. Apart from one verse in the Quran,* the evidence we have for the Ark’s original existence comes from the Bible; from the Old Testament and related books. In all those Biblical references, it’s described in the same way, as a chest. That’s very clear. For Professor Parfitt’s theory to be correct, then we have to assume that although the ark existed according to our sources, all those sources are wrong about what it essentially was. It’s like saying “I believe the Battle of Agincourt happened just like it says in the chronicles – only it wasn’t a battle. And it was somewhere else.”

Furthermore, it makes good archaeological sense that the chest the Israelites built was indeed a chest. If you follow the description of the Ark in the Bible, it’s a chest, about a metre long, designed to be carried on poles. According to the Bible, it was built just after the Israelites had left their Egyptian bondage; and the Egyptians used very similar chests in their own religious rites. They had portable shrines, chests borne on poles just like the Ark, used to carry iconic statues in religious procession – just as the Ark was carried in procession in front of the Israelites. Indeed, Parfitt’s documentary covered all this, and pointed out that the description of the Ark quoted above is pretty close to a description of an Egyptian portable shrine. He didn’t believe in it, though, because it’s a very ornate object to be built by people wandering about in the desert.

In Deuteronomy there’s a different description of the building of the Ark:

At that time the LORD said to me, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones and come up to me on the mountain. Also make a wooden chest. I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Then you are to put them in the chest.” So I made the ark out of acacia wood and chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I went up on the mountain with the two tablets in my hands.

None of the ornate decoration, just a wooden box. A box, note. This passage has led some people to believe that there might have been two arks, an ornate one in the Temple and a practical one for use in war; but equally, it could be that the Israelites built a simple chest first and decorated it later.** In any case, it’s still most definitely a box, not a drum.

In order to argue that the Biblical Ark of the Covenant was a war-drum, as Tudor Parfitt thinks, you have to argue that the Biblical Ark of the Covenant didn’t exist at all; and that the Israelites had some other holy object which they carried in front of them, some holy object for which there is no evidence at all. On the other hand, if you’re willing to embrace a more sophisticated model of archaeology and culture than Professor Parfitt apparently is, it’s quite possible that there is a 14th-century AD African war drum which is, in some way, a descendant of a 14th-century BCE*** Israelite reliquary. A lot can change in 2,800 years, after all. In the final part of these posts, we’ll talk about cultural change, the archaeology of Yorkshire, and why a holy chest might well become a holy drum over time.

Part Three of this post follows, here, even though I haven’t got around to the Yorkshire bit yet »

* Which agrees pretty much with one of the Torah’s description’s of the ark.

** Or, this could be a brief summary of the previous chapter which didn’t need to delve into the full specification.

*** That date’s based on Moses’ traditional Jewish birth date, in 1391 BCE

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Photo Post Of The Week (sort of)

In which we remember Christmas


First off: we’ve got a visitor coming again, a week today. Does anyone from Bristol who might be reading this know of anything interesting that might be happening next weekend? Anything artistic, or musical, that’s maybe a little quirky and offbeat, that we can take him to? After all, there’s bound to be something.

Secondly: although I still have at least 6 or 7 weeks backlog of photos to get online, most of the ones I’ve been posting to Flickr this week are shots that have already appeared on the blog, in a few days over Christmas.

Having said that, though, here are a few of this week’s uploads, from Christmas itself.

Family Christmas Family Christmas Family Christmas

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Development

In which we anticipate the new design


Incidentally, the Grand Redesign plans, as mentioned here several times previously, are still trundling along at their own pace. Parts, indeed, have already been finished and are up on the server; although, as they’ve not been linked-to, nobody can get to them yet.

The slowest part, though, has been: backtracking through the entire post history and editing every post to conform to the new type: proper tags, proper excerpts, and so on. It’s a long slog, given that there are 3 1/2 years’ worth of posts,* and rereading them all has been hard work. It’s been a strange experience, too, because in many cases I’d forgotten an event, and reading all the posts jogged my memory in unexpected ways.**

The end is in sight now, though; so it won’t be long before I can check everything over, finish tidying up the new design, and put it all live. Fingers crossed that when it does go live, it’s all going to work.

* about 750ish, following the long hiatus last summer

** In some cases I’ve completely forgotten events – there are some posts where, if someone had showed them to me, I wouldn’t even have realised that I’d written them myself. And there are plenty of “guarded posts” where, now, a few years later, I’ve forgotten exactly what events I was describing

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Quis Custodiet

In which we are the people who will be watching the Watchmen


We’ve noticed that trailers for the forthcoming Watchmen movie have started appearing on the telly, which means it can’t be long before it pops in to the cinema.

We’ll have to go and see it. Not because it’s going to be a good film – I don’t really think it will be* – but because the book is so iconic, seeing exactly what’s been done to it is an irresistible temptation. No doubt we will come out of the cinema going: “bah, they shouldn’t have filmed it that way,” “they shouldn’t have cut that part out,” and so on. We know, for a start, that the ending has been changed; which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because the overall plot is hardly the most important aspect of the book. On that note, though: the overall design of the book is far more important, and what I’ve so far seen of the film design doesn’t look promising. It’s both too dark and too sharp, not dirty enough and not ambiguous enough.

Even though it will probably seem too slick, too polished, too computer-generated, we have to see it. Because if we don’t see it ourselves, we can hardly criticise it. When we have, though, we almost certainly will.

* As I haven’t seen 300,** my only experience of Zack Snyder’s previous work is his remake of Dawn Of The Dead; which was a good (and scary) film roughly up until the end of the opening credits, and undeadly dull thereafter.

** I do think a British version of 300 would potentially work rather well, though. Feel free to try and guess exactly which episode of British history it would be based on.

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Voiceover

In which we make better documentaries


We sat down last night to watch one of the Christmas present DVDs: Arrested Development Season 3. It got me thinking, after yesterday’s post, about pseudo-archaeological documentaries.

I don’t mean Professor Parfitt’s documentary described yesterday, so much as the far wilder theories produced by, say, Graham Hancock, or the many who have followed on from The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. You know the sort: the sort who will tell you, straight-faced, that the Bavarian Illuminati knew the secrets of the Knights Templar, who had found ancient Jewish documents containing the mystical secrets of Egypt and the bloodline of Jesus, whose descendants formed the Priory of Sion, founded the Freemasons, who preserve the secret that Atlantis was in Antartica, and who hope to return to the French throne as predicted by Nostradamus. And that you would already know all this, if it wasn’t being kept secret by a global conspiracy involving the Pope, the British royal family, and the Bilderberg group. That sort of documentary. The sort which is bound, somewhere, to contain the line: “if the documents we had found in the obscure archive were true, it would mean rewriting the history books.”

Anyway, if you didn’t watch Arrested Development – and not many people did – one of its constant features was a narrator’s voiceover, performed by Ron Howard.* A rather sarcastic narrator’s voiceover, pointing out every moment where the characters lie or make a mistake.** And that’s exactly what all those documentaries need.

Presenter: If the documents we had found in the obscure archive were true, it would mean rewriting the history books.

Ron Howard: But they’re not.

A thousandfold improvement, I think you have to agree.

* who has lately been directing a movie based on a Dan Brown book, so will know exactly what I’m talking about.

** which is rather frequently.

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Calling Dr Jones (part one)

In which we go in search of lost relics


In our attempt to make sure we didn’t do anything too romantic on Saturday, we stayed in and watched an archaeology documentary on the telly. Or, at least, it said it was an archaeology documentary. It quickly veered off towards pseudoarchaeology, and stayed there.

The documentary in question was The Quest For The Lost Ark by Tudor Parfitt – a repeat, although neither of us had previously caught it. The titular ark in question was the Mosaic Ark Of The Covenant, as described in the Bible: built according to God’s instructions while the Jews were wandering lost in the desert, then later installed in the inner sanctum of Solomon’s Temple. It went missing, though; Jerusalem was sacked, the Temple was destroyed, and nobody knows where the Ark now is* – or, indeed, if it survived at all.

Professor Parfitt’s theory was, essentially, that the Ark of the Covenant can’t have been the chest described, in remarkably detailed fashion,** in the Bible. This is because he has found its descendant: an African war drum, currently in storage in an Harare museum. This drum and the Ark were both used something like a military standard was in later times, borne at the head of armies; except that unlike a standard, both the artifacts had unearthly powers. It was the Ark, for example, which brought down God’s destruction of the walls of Jericho, after it had been paraded around the city.

Some backtracking might be needed here, to explain the professor’s argument. This wasn’t any random African war drum. Rather, it belonged to a tribe called the Lemba, who, despite living in Zimbabwe, maintain that they are a lost tribe of Israel, having been led south by seven priests, back in the mists of time. They do, indeed, have religious practices that are similar to Judaism in some ways; more to the point, study of their Y-chromosome has apparently found that a large number of men from their priestly clan are probably descended from a small group of Kohanim.*** That wouldn’t really be that significant if they were a Semitic people; but, they’re not.

The Lemba’s traditional belief is that, as they were led south by this small group of priests, they took with them a holy war drum. Remade over the years, the descendant of this artefact is the drum now in Harare. It is, indisputably, a drum. So, says Professor Parfitt, if this 14th-century drum is modelled on the Ark of the Covenant, the Ark of the Covenant was a drum, and not the box described in the Bible**** – even if it definitely did exist, as described in the Bible. Hum. I can spot a bit of a logical gap here.

Putting on my archaeological hat,***** there’s nothing at all to say that the Lemba drum in Harare wasn’t inspired, in its use and construction, by the original Ark – or by traditions of the Ark, which is slightly different. That is, of course, if the drum in Harare is the genuine article, evidence for which wasn’t really discussed: Parfitt skipped over that bit in something of a hurry. However, you can’t then justify a logical leap to say that it is modelled directly on the original, so the original can’t be as described. There are sound archaeological reasons why the Ark of the Covenant is unlikely to have looked like the drum Parfitt found in Harare; and, for that matter, why the drum might have become a drum later. I’ll come to that, in the next part of this post.

Part Two of this post follows, here »

* although you might know the apocryphal story about the Nazis and an American treasure hunter…

** at least he’s not as bad as those of the von Däniken school – I forget if it was von D himself or an acolyte – who stated baldly that if you build the ark according to the biblical plan, you get a radio receiver with a high-voltage battery. Unsurprisingly, they have not managed to replicate said item.

*** The Jewish priestly clan, if you didn’t know and didn’t want to follow the link.

**** It does get two contradictory descriptions, but in both it’s a reliquary, a chest for relics.

***** (it’s a bit dusty)

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