Blog : Posts from March 2009 : Page 1

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Broadcast

In which we recommend some telly


Regular readers might remember that, back in the mists of time – well, December – I mentioned that we’d been watching The Wire on DVD. And that it was very good. None of the bogus and ridiculous “science” you get on CSI;* not much patronising or heartstring-tugging, no deus ex machina and no wrapping the plotlines up inside an hour; just lots of what was – to someone who doesn’t know anything about the real thing, like me – lots of realistic investigative work.

Well, we’ve finally finished watching Season One, just as it finally makes its way onto the BBC. And, to be honest, I’m glad we had the DVDs to watch it from. It took us six months to do, twice as long as it will take BBC2 to show it. It’s a complicated programme, and we ended up watching several episodes twice because we hadn’t been concentrating the first time. In the end, we had to make sure that we only tried to watch it when we were definitely wide awake, otherwise we’d end up missing half of what went on. If we’d tried watching an episode on late night TV every week, we’d have been baffled – we had enough trouble with Dexter season two, just finished on ITV1,** and as unlike The Wire as it is possible for a cop show to be.***

I did wonder, idly, about recommending The Wire to The Parents. They’ve always liked police procedurals, both on telly and in books, and long-form dramas, so, I thought, they’d probably love it.**** But then, I remembered, how much The Mother tuts at the slightest hint of a bad word. The Wire has realistic dialogue.***** It wouldn’t work out. Before they were ten minutes into the first episode, she’d have asked to turn it off.

If you’ve seen the mysterious trailers for The Wire on the BBC, and you’ve not heard of it, go and watch it. It really is good. Very good. As for us: we’ve had the Season 2 DVDs sitting on the bookshelf since Christmas. As soon as we’re properly awake, they’re going in the DVD player. Hurrah!

Update, April 2nd: BBC2 currently seem to be showing episodes of The Wire daily. Meaning that, for one thing, they will whip through the whole series in under three weeks; and for another, if you didn’t start watching on Monday then it’s already too late. Tonight is Episode 4, and the plot is already well under way.

* insert your favourite “CSI [somewhere]” joke here. I’ve mentioned CSI Bedminster myself before, and Half Man Half Biscuit have produced CSI:Ambleside.

** I’m still not used to the name “ITV1″. In my mind it’s still the old federated network – Yorkshire TV where I grew up.

*** Dexter, though, certainly had more tension. Even though we knew full well that there are at least three more series after the one ITV have just been showing, we were still on edge at practically every cliffhanger.

**** Unlike us, they have a DVD recorder, so it would still be compatible with their in-bed-by-10 lifestyle.

***** And at least one scene where every single word of dialogue is a swear word. Every word. A bit like the opening scene in Four Weddings And A Funeral, but set at a scene-of-crime.

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Equinox (and a week)

In which spring is arriving


The weather does not know what it wants to do at the moment. As spring comes in, we sat by the harbour, eating ice cream, and felt uncomfortably cold and hot at the same time. The sun shone brightly down, as a sharp wind nipped up from the water. We shivered, but were too hot to wear our coats.

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Calling Dr Jones (part four)

In which we finally finish talking about Tudor Parfitt and the Ark of the Covenant


Series of posts, on here, always seem to take me longer to write than I had planned. It’s now, ooh, at least six weeks since I wrote the first post in this series, so I really should tidy it up and finish it off. For people who aren’t regular readers: some time ago, a Jewish Studies professor called Tudor Parfitt made a documentary about the lost Ark of the Covenant, the Biblical artefact which starred in Raiders of the Lost Ark, which in reality has been missing for well over 2 millennia. Professor Parfitt’s theory is that, although the original ark is probably long destroyed, it passed into east Africa, into the possession of a Jewish tribe there called the Lemba, and that its replacement is a war drum now sitting in storage in an Harare museum. Feel free to go back and read what I’ve written so far, if you’re a new reader.

All that is so well and good. It may well, indeed, be true, so far as I’m concerned. However, that’s not the end of the theory. Its logic goes as follows: the ark’s descendant is a war drum; therefore, the original ark must have been a drum too. Even though all the evidence for its existance states that it wasn’t a drum, a drum it is now, so a drum it must have been. In part three, I discussed how, in some ways, this theory is typical of what I suppose you could call “primitive archaeology”: the traditional diffusionist archaeology that held sway until the 1960s. Change was seen as a hard thing to do, and the possibility of cultural change tended to get swept under the carpet.

Change happens, though, in the real world: we can see it every day. It’s hard to see it occurring in the archaeological record, though; and very hard to determine its cause. Archaeological change and historical change are very different beasts.

There is one case in the British archaeological record where archaeology and history match up, and together provide evidence for inward migration. It’s in a small area of East Yorkshire, and archaeologically it’s known as the Arras Culture. It’s distinctive because of its chariot burials, unique in Britain. The nearest parallels are with similar cemetaries in the Ile-de-France region and the surrounding area.* Some of the riding gear buried with the chariots – the bits, for example – also resemble continental riding gear more than British.**

Fast forward to the end of the Iron Age; and the Romans arrive in the area. They have historians with them, and said historians write down the names of the various British tribes that the Romans encounter. The tribe that lives in East Yorkshire? They’re called the Parisii. They’re not the only tribe of that name, though. The Romans had discovered Parisii before, in the Ile-de-France, where they even had a city named after them.*** On the face of it, then, an obvious link. One of the few clear examples of cultural change in the British archaeological record which has matching historical evidence for a migration.

It’s not quite that simple, though. The Yorkshire Parisii and the French Parisii both buried people in chariots, and they used similar riding gear. But if you put a Yorkshire horse bit next to a French horse bit then, although the Yorkshire one looks suspiciously Continental in its general design, it’s still also clearly separate from the French one. Its detail design work will still be distinctively British. Overall, the Arras Culture is something of a hybrid of British and Continental Iron Age styles.

How does this fit in with Tudor Parfitt’s Ark of the Covenant theories? Well, archaeologists have tried to explain the Arras Culture in various ways other than straightforward migration. For example, a British tribe might have been trying to adopt Continental styles and fashions.**** Or, it might reflect a limited migration: a small number of leaders move, bringing their technology with them; but the craftsmen and engineers doing the actual work are British and use the same styles as their ancestors did. And, curiously, this is exactly what the Lemba say happened to them. A small number of priests came down from the north, bringing with them Jewish traditions, laws, and their holy war drum.

It’s entirely possible that this happened. There aren’t many other ways to explain the Lemba’s existence, after all. However, we do know that the priests from the north didn’t bring all the Jewish traditions with them. The Hebrew language, for one thing: the Lemba speak a Bantu language. Just like in Yorkshire, the new leaders brought with them the outline of a culture but not the detail. They brought with them an idea of the Ark, if not the Ark itself, as a holy object through which God could speak and smite, to be carried into battle in front of the tribe. But the concept of the Ark as a reliquary didn’t survive. In the Lemba culture, it became a drum, the literal and thunderous voice of God.

Professor Parfitt is forced to admit that the Harare drum is definitely not the Biblical Ark, because, being wood, it’s straightforward to date. He wants to stick with the idea, though, that the Harare drum is as close to the real Ark as we can get now. It may well be the closest surviving object to the Ark we have, yes. But that doesn’t mean that the Ark was always a drum. Cultural change happens, details of culture get left behind, and things change and adapt. The Lemba’s religion isn’t Judaism as the rest of the world practises it: it is Judaism filtered and absorbed through a small group of priests and the African tribe they evangelised. There’s no reason why we should follow their lead and say that the Ark of the Covenant was a drum, when the rest of Judaism***** says it was a reliquary. Tudor Parfitt’s theory may be partly right, but it is also very flawed, because of his inability to consider how the Lemba culture developed, and how cultures can adapt and change.

* Confusingly, the “Arras Culture” name is nothing to do with France at all; it refers to a place in Yorkshire.

** Specifically: the number of joints in the bit mouthpiece.

*** It’s still there today, apparently.

**** Even today, I can see why, if you came from Hull you might want to imagine you were from Paris instead.

***** Not to mention Christianity, and Islam.

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Sound and music

In which we go to see The Boy Least Likely To


As soon as we get home, we’re out again. To a gig, at the Louisiana, to see The Boy Least Likely To, hard at work promoting their new album that’s just been released. We were slightly confused when we arrived, to see that according to the posters the gig was on Monday, March 24th, and we’d turned up on a Tuesday. After checking our calendars, we went in. Inside, there’s not much room in the Louisiana. It’s quite a cosy place, so cosy that we quickly spotted that a good chunk of the pub was taken up by support band The School tucking into their tea.

The first band that came on were The Fox And The Bramble, an electric/acoustic duo who dashed about the stage swapping instruments, and made slightly-twee twinkly sounds with children’s toys. I spent a while wondering which one was Fox and which Bramble; the internet says the name comes from Aesop, though.

They were followed by The School, as I mentioned. We’ve seen The School before, so we knew what to expect; but we were slightly disappointed. They didn’t seem as good as they did in November. The sound didn’t seem to be mixed quite right, with keyboard and vocals overpowering the rest of the band.

The Boy Least Likely To had sound troubles of their own. “Violin isn’t plugged in,” one of them shouted, after the first song. “Too much violin,” he shouted after the second. They are apparently only a duo normally, but on-stage they mysteriously expand to a full band, like one of those toys for dropping in water. I have to admit to not knowing very much about them; but the gig left me wanting to find out more.* Their frontman smiled broadly, and flicked balloons back and forth with the audience in a genial way, never missing a beat.

* they do have a blog, and they’ve already written about last night’s gig on it.

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Brokenness

In which things go wrong in hard-to-diagnose ways


We go away for the weekend. We come back. And the house is cold. Turn on the hot water tap: freezing. The boiler has given up the ghost.

I turn on the PC this morning: and that refuses to come on, too. Which, to be honest, is a recurrence of a problem I was already aware of. Sometimes, on start up, it gets partway and loses contact with the disk drive. Or, sometimes, if you ask it to do too much disk-thrashing just after booting, the same thing happens. On the other hand, if it starts up all its services and is fine for 15 minutes, it will probably stay fine until it’s switched off.

All that points to something like a loose contact somewhere, if you ask me. As I say, it’s been happening for months now; but today I was in the mood to sort it. The computer now has a new hard disk cable. It booted up first time, and it’s still running. Let’s see if it still works in the morning.

The boiler might be suffering from something similar. The gas engineer came out, poked around at it, and fixed it. The chap wasn’t sure what the problem was, or how he fixed it, but fix it he did. Maybe. It’s working now, but we still have to see if that, too, will come on again come tomorrow.

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Photo post of the week

In which we photograph some models


This week, it’s mostly been model trains. Not my own – I don’t have any – but at an exhibition.

Station and carriage, "Lydham Heath" Mixed train, "Lydham Heath" BCR cattle wagon, "Lydham Heath"

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A break with tradition

In which we review something *after* watching it, for a change


After posting this and that recently, I thought it might be time for a break with tradition, and actually watch something before getting opinionated about it. So, we sat down last night and watched an episode of the BBC3 series Horne & Corden. Which, admittedly, I’ve already been opinionated about. But it’s a start.

Possibly we were already slightly biased, by our reaction to the Lesbian Vampire Killers publicity, and to the show’s trailers. But, I can honestly say, we didn’t laugh. Not at all. Not once. None of the sketches in the show seemed at all funny. Mathew Horne is a good actor, granted, but good acting isn’t enough.

Many writers have said, over the years, that good short writing is harder than good long writing. Most famously, there is Pascal‘s quote: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” It’s frequently referred to, though; I remember the Anglo-Australian novelist* Nevil Shute saying, in his autobiography, that the reason he was a failed poet was: because of its length, there is no room in a poem for mistake.** And, structurally, a poem is to a novel what a sketch is to a sitcom. In a sitcom, although it’s not ideal, you can cope with a weak scene in each episode, or a weak line in each scene. In a sketch, you don’t have enough room for any weak lines. Like a poem, though, it all has to make sense, despite having very little space for setup and explanation.

Too much of Horne & Corden felt like private jokes; too little of it was funny to an outsider. Sometimes I thought: I can see what they’re trying to do here, but that’s not funny. Sometimes, they had a setup, but nowhere to take it: “wouldn’t it be really funny if we did synchronised swimming! And we weren’t very good!” Sometimes, I couldn’t see where the joke was meant to be at all. We won’t be watching it again. At least now, though, I can criticise them with a clear conscience.

* and aeronautical engineer. I have a vague memory, which may be wrong, that his company designed the first retractable aeroplane undercarriage.

** Of course, he apparently never tried to write an epic poem

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Journalistic accuracy

In which the news needs its facts checking


Long-term readers might remember that, back in the mists of time, I upset some busy bees at the Grimsby Telegraph after describing that newspaper as “rather news-thin”. Which, indeed, it is: they don’t have much news in it, because they don’t have the reporters or the money to research much news. I kept meaning to take a random copy, take it apart, and break down its content into “quality” and “filler” – the latter being things like the letters pages, readers’ photos, TV listings, local sports reports* and so on; but, not living anywhere that I can get hold of a copy easily, it has been put on the back burner.

I was gratified to see, though, that its stablemate the Bristol Evening Post may have similar issues. Certainly, job cuts at both the Grimsby Telegraph and the Evening Post were making the news recently; and I’ve since noticed that the Evening Post no longer seems to pay as much attention to the accuracy of what it prints.

On Monday afternoon, a story appeared on their website, concerning a street fight in Bedminster the night before; your average local news story really. Five people were injured, and police closed the street** to search for evidence. As the Evening Post said:

The street has now reopened

Which it has. Unfortunately for the Evening Post, that story is dated 15:35, Monday. In the real world, at 5pm, everything was still cordoned off, as CSI Bedminster’s finest were still going about their jobs: white suits, facemasks and all. Oops.

Earlier in the day the police had said that they’d probably have tidied everything up by lunch-time. Clearly the Post staffer responsible for that story had heard as much, assumed that “probably” meant “definitely”, and didn’t have chance to check their facts before going to press. Which is understandable, given that it’s a small point, and the Evening Post has to get a paper out every afternoon however few reporters it has left. It makes me wonder though; if they don’t check small details like this, what else gets printed unchecked?

“It’s just like you reviewing things you haven’t seen or read,” said K, when we talked about it later.

“You’ve got a point,” I admitted.

“You should be writing reviews for them, then!” she said. Now there’s an idea.

* Most of which, especially if they appear without a byline, are essentially press-releases from the teams involved.

** Here’s a factoid for trivia fans: the street in question is part of the longest road entirely in England.

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The changing of the seasons

In which we pass a milestone


It’s nearly six months, now, since we moved house, and we seem to have made it through the winter. By next week the days will be longer than the nights; and this morning, when we left the house, the sky was blue and the sun shone down on us. Astronomically we might be at the start of spring; outside, it feels as if spring is already verging on summer.

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Afterlife

In which we consider how “Being Human” ended.


Given the amount of space I’ve used to talk about Totterdown-set* BBC3 series Being Human on here, it’s about time I mentioned the series finale – it was a fortnight ago now, after all. Before the finale had been shown, we already knew that Series Two had been commissioned, which, I have to say, took away some of the suspense. It was possible that the writer would follow through the compulsary penultimate-episode cliffhanger by “killing off”** the main characters; but it wasn’t likely. It was also very likely that we’d lose some of the other characters; and, indeed, it happened.

The setup for the next series is already well in place, with at least three storylines there to take up, all fairly well-divorced from the series one plot. How much reference will be made to the first series, I don’t know. From a new-viewers point of view, three new-starting plot strands make sense; but from a writing point of view, it seems unrealistic. Given the end of the finale episode, I’d have thought that there shouldn’t be much of a gap in the series timeline between series; so how realistic will it be for the previous events to be barely mentioned?

Overall, the series was pretty damn entertaining, even though the finale itself wasn’t particularly exciting. This is the problem with the “compulsary cliffhanger” structure mentioned above: if the writer isn’t careful, the penultimate episode can end up much more action-filled and suspenseful than the final episode itself. Recent series of Doctor Who have tended to suffer from the same problem: the finale has trouble living up to the build-up in the previous episode. It left me thinking: “but why didn’t they just do that at the start?” To be honest, we were mostly watching it for the locations; and we’ll probably still watch the next series. Marks out of ten: ooh, I don’t know. Maybe a seven.

* for all those people searching: the shared house’s address is 1, Windsor Terrace; the hospital is Bristol General, by Bathurst Basin; and the undertakers are Up North, in Clifton.

** After all, they were all either dead or undead already.

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