Blog : Posts tagged with 'Hull' : Page 1

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Strange Times

In which research fails


Sometimes, there are little things that bug me. Like: remembering the vague outline of the plot of a book I read 20 years ago, but not being able to remember enough to track it down. Or remembering something I saw on TV,* or read in a library book at some point in the distant past.

It’s something like that that’s bugging me at the moment. Regular readers might know that I occasionally enjoy talking about prophets and predictors of the future, noting people who make predictions that fail to come true, or try to rewrite their predictions retrospectively to match the actual events. Ages ago, probably approaching the 20-years scale, I read that a sometime-famous clairvoyant had predicted that a nuclear war was going to start, and that it would involve a nuclear attack on Hull. Which may one day happen, I suppose.** Unfortunately, this was a prophecy with a very specific date, and that date was in 1981.

The only hint I have to go on is that I’m fairly sure this was in a book I got from my local library of 20 years ago, and it might have been by Jenny Randles. As Jenny Randles has written several shelves’ worth of paranormal books, that’s not much help. It may well have a book about the vast number of prophecies indicating that Something Horrible Would Happen To Civilisation As We Know It around the start of this century; clearly all very very accurate ones. There’s not much to go on, though, and searching for information on prophecies about Hull hasn’t dragged anything up either. So, in trying to track this one down, I’m puzzled.

* Like an old movie where a pit pony refuses to be evacuated from a coal mine and gets blown up in an accident as a result. That movie gave me nightmares for weeks.

** Feel free to insert the compulsary joke along the lines of “at least [insert street/district here] might be improved a bit”

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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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Statistics and probability

In which we think about flooding and chance


In the summer, we had big floods up here, worse floods than anyone in this village could remember. It was, apparently, a once in fifty years event.

Now: we’ve got floods again, six months later. Maybe not a once in fifty years event, true, but let’s say (for the sake of argument) that this is a once-in-twenty-five year flood.

Maths time: in any 6 months, your chance of having a 1-in-50 year flood is 1/100. 1/50 for the more likely 25-year flood. The chance of having both, though, is those numbers multiplied together. 1 in 5000. Which doesn’t, at face value, look like a particularly big number; but that’s because we’re not great at judging magnitude. Something that has that chance of happening within 6 months should, on average, have happened once in the last 2,500 years. That’s once, since the start of the Iron Age.*

The problem with probability, though, is that you can’t say: this will definitely only happen once. It could happen three times within a week,** and still be within the bounds of probability. It could still happen, within the rules of our simple model; it is just highly unlikely to happen. If it does, you’ve just seen something amazing, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that your starting figures are off. On the other hand: if something happens that, according to your figures, is highly unlikely, it does make more sense sometimes to decide that the numbers you’re basing your statistics on are out of date. Suddenly, big floods aren’t rare any more.

* slightly more than once, to be honest, because the Iron Age started about 2,700 years ago.

** Hull was flooded twice, 14 days apart, in summer 2007. Some of the floodwaters in unimportant places, such as verges and parks, still hadn’t drained from the first flood when the second (and worse) flood came. That, though, means that normal “multiply the two numbers together” probabilities don’t work. The two floods weren’t independent of each other, because of all that water lying about, so the probability of the second was rather lower than it would have been.

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Hospital

In which we encounter cleanliness


They’re very careful now about MRSA and similar bugs. Each sink has a poster showing the correct, and complex, way to wash one’s hands. Each wall has a poster about the importance of cleanliness procedures. Each bin has a sign on top: use the foot pedal, not your hands. Cleaners stalked the corridor constantly, with gloved hands. The signs, though, don’t do anything about the doctor, who whipped the bin lid open with her hands just as if the sign wasn’t there. And neither the signs or the cleaners did anything about the fresh spots of blood on the floor, under the trolley and around the bin. Signs are very nice, but they don’t do the work for you.

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Heroics. And cheese.

In which we witness a crime


I am not a hero. I had always suspected as much, but now I know it’s true.

I popped round to the corner shop,* just to pick up a few things, and noticed some dodgy-looking men hanging around outside. Nothing surprising there, really. I tried not to pay them any attention. You don’t, do you.

As I was pottering around at the back of the shop one of them comes in. Late 20s but looks older, scraggly beard, dirty jacket. Looks like he should be dragging a dog on a string behind him. Purposefully, he strides to the back of the shop, and starts grabbing packets of cheese off the shelf. Two at a time, stuffing them into a Lidl carrier he’d brought with him. One of his friends followed, jacket over his arm; he plucked something off a shelf and slipped it under his jacket.

Should I do something? Should I say anything? The cheese man eyed me up, as I put a yoghurt in my basket. As he looked sideways, he didn’t stop grabbing cheese and dropping it into his bag.

I did nothing. Nothing at all. “He might have had a knife,” I rationalised to myself. “He might have punched me.” Or he might just have ran. As it was, they walked out of the shop, as quickly as they’d came, with about £20 of cheese in the carrier bag. Is there a market now for black-market dairy produce? Has someone worked out how to get a legal high from mild cheddar? My logical mind says: it was the far corner of the shop, furthest from the tills, furthest from any of the staff and in a straight line to the door. The rest of me says: maybe he just liked a lot of cheese?

* a formerly-Jacksons now-Sainsbury’s, if you’re interested.

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Floods

In which the waters rise again


Everyone has a flood story at the moment. Lots of people who couldn’t drive home, who had to abandon their cars in the street. People whose houses were cut off, who had to wade home. Phone photos of water, water, everywhere. Some rivers burst their banks last night, and have expended themselves, run out of effort. Other rivers are still rising – our branch office was evacuated late this afternoon, and the escaping staff saw rescue officers tying motorboats up in the dry streets, ready for the flood water expected to come.

I’ve stayed dry myself, although at some points last night we were cut off, if we’d tried to go out. I slept fitfully, wondering if it would rise more, creep over the front step and into the hallway. And the clouds outside are dark again; still more rain to come.

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Unwell

In which we see something uncomfortable


People kept coming in and alerting the staff, taking one aside* for a quiet talk. Not quiet enough not to be overheard, though. “Can’t you call the police or something? Can’t you call 999? She’s obviously disturbed.”

We were in Starbucks on the corner of Jameson St; it has a large outdoor area spreading out into the wide, pedestrian street. Given the April weather, it was empty, aside from one woman with her back to the shop. An empty coffee cup was on the table in front of her, but she never made to lift or touch it. She was slumped forwards, her head hooded and curly dark hair hiding her face. Every so often her shoulders would shake, as if in mighty sobs.

After the third or fourth person came into the cafe, one of the waitresses went outside to talk to her. She bent down to chat to the woman, and I assume the woman replied. Before long, the waitress returned inside.

We left the cafe not long later, and the woman was still there, shaking slightly. I turned as we left, to see her face, but whatever angle as we passed her face was hidden behind her unruly hair. I wondered how long she would be there for, and who, if anyone, would come to scoop her up.

* I flatly refuse to use the cod-Italian barista. It is fake Italian, isn’t it? Any genuine Italians to reassure me?

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Bundled away

In which we see someone get lost and disappear


As we got back home at half-three in the morning, I noticed a man sitting on the other side of the street, sitting on a front-yard wall. I’m always wary of people loitering in the small hours. We got out of the car, and I could hear him mumbling, his hand to his head. I assume he was talking on the phone. I couldn’t make much of it out.

“Yeah, I’m just off Sunk Island Road somewhere. Yeah.”

Which he wasn’t. In fact, he was nowhere near Sunk Island Road. He was on Iambic Ave, which is off Pentameter Road West, which is on entirely the wrong side of the city. Here’s a map. It’s not a very good map, but it’s a map nevertheless:

Pentameter Rd. W. —— Pentameter Rd. —— city centre —— Sunk Is. Rd.
< ------------------------ a long long long long way ------------------------>

Flash forward. Twelve hours later. We’d been out again, and we’d come back again. And as I was parking the car, I noticed a man sitting on the other side of the street, sitting on a front-yard wall.

I looked at him.

I wasn’t sure it was the same man. Similar clothes. It had been too dark to get a look at him.

Just as we were getting the shopping out of the boot, up pulled two police cars, one with its rear side window missing. No glass there; the space was filled with a metal grille. They stopped alongside the man sitting asleep on the wall. I watched the coppers approach him, one holding his handcuffs out of sight behind his back. As one of them checked all the rubbish bins in the yard, the others scooped him up and walked him into the waiting car. Bundled away, as if he was never there.

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This title will make sense with tomorrow’s post

In which summer breaks through the fog


When I write posts on here, I normally write the title first, then ramble on about it.

Yesterday, I managed to write a title, then ramble on about something entirely unrelated to the post I was meaning to write when I started. Which was, you might be able to guess, going to have been about the weather.

We’ve only just changed the clocks, shifted an hour, and already the character of the day seems to have entirely changed. Already, whatever the temperature is outside, it seems like balmy summer days are here again. Already that lazy, depressing summer evening feeling is back. It doesn’t last very long, because it’s getting dark again by half-seven still, but it’s there already.

The morning hasn’t sorted itself out yet. Every morning so far this week I’ve driven to work through thick fog, as if the weather is still trying to work out what to do, and is trying to hide its ignorance. Thick fog all the way, except when crossing the Big Expensive Bridge. Each end of the Big Bridge is befogged, but the middle, as the deck peaks, breaks out through the fog into bright yellow morning daylight.

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Sunday Sunday

In which we’re all efficient


We managed to be awfully productive yesterday. We’d gone to bed fairly early on Saturday night,* so got up bright and early on Sunday morning. We were having breakfast in town when the streets were still deserted, and were wandering around shopping in almost-empty shops. We even managed to get all H’s grocery shopping done, get back home, feel like we’d used up a full day’s energy, and it was still only one o’clock. A whole half-a-day left to do productive things, creative things, imaginative things, limited only by our own imaginations.

So, of course, we lazed around on the sofa and ambled around the internet all afternoon instead. Hurrah!

* after a rather nice Indian meal at a restaurant on Chants Ave.

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