Monthly Archives: September 2013

Thoughts on Shakespeare… and ‘Star Wars’…

Shakespeares Star Wars

Yep. You did see that book cover image right. There is indeed a lost manuscript by Shakespeare that has recently been unearthed titled ‘Star Wars’, which seems to have been in the private collection of a one George Lucas (before he sold the work not to the Bodleian or the Library of Congress, but to Disney) and mercilessly plagiarised in order to make several moderately successful films… Okay, I jest. ‘Star Wars’ has been more than moderately successful…

I’m joking, obviously (…), but there is indeed a book out entitled ‘Shakespeare’s Star Wars’ by Ian Doescher, which reimagines Episode IV as if it were a play by The Bard. My wonderful partner bought me this when we were in Oxford for the Graduation last week, and I devoured it soon after due to the sheer brilliance of the concept, and my mutual love of ‘Star Wars’ and Shakespeare (although my love of the former is somewhat greater than that of the latter…). Indeed, the book is actually ridiculously good (and borders on the ridiculous), as the dialogue is highly convincing as Shakespeare whilst also being so ‘Star Wars’: for example, the famous line “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi; you are my only hope” is kept, becoming this:

“Oh help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, help. / Thou art mine only hope.” Act I Scene 6, Line 73-74

I was also interested to see that several famous Shakespearean lines had been preserved in slightly modified form:

  • “- that all the world’s a star.” Act I Scene 7, Line 98
  • “I do not like thy look. Indeed, young lad, / I bite my thumb at thee.” Act III Scene 1, Line 57-58
  • “What paradox! What fickle-natur’d power! / Aye: frailty, thy name – belike – is Force.” Act III Scene 6, Line 51-52
  • “…We enter swift unto the area / Where should there be great Alderaan in view. / But pray, what madness meets the Falcon’s flight? / Is this an ast’roid field I see before me?” Act III Scene 8, Line 2-5
  • “A plague on 3PO for action slow, / A plague upon my quest that led us here, / A plague on both our circuit boards, I say!” Act IV Scene 4, Line 120-122
  • “Alas, poor stormtrooper, I knew ye not, / Yet have I ta’en both uniform and life / From thee. What manner of a man wert thou? / A man of inf’nite jest or cruelty?” Act IV Scene 6, Line 1-4
  • “It hath defenses ‘gainst a large assault, / But like a king who fell for want of horse / This station may be crush’d by smaller might.” Act V Scene 4, Line 29-31
  • “Friends, rebels, starfighters, lend me your ears.” Act V Scene 4, Line 65
  • “Once more unto the trench, dear friends, once more!” Act V Scene 5, Line 231
  • “So Biggs, stand with me now, and be my aide, / And Wedge, fly at my side to lead the charge- / We three, we happy three, we band of brothers, […]” Act V Scene 5, Line 248-250

There may be more, but those were the ones that I picked out. I also like the other Shakespearean devices that Doescher employs, such as the use of asides and soliloquy, the clever wordplay, and the way in which C-3PO and R2-D2 take on a role akin to that of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in ‘Hamlet’. It is also clever that within this version of ‘Star Wars’, R2-D2 actually uses English in his asides to show that he is far more intelligent that many of the other characters, and allows us to actually see the droid as a character with proper emotions, thoughts and views. Also, this adds comic value to many of the exchanges between R2 and C-3PO, as the latter is unaware of much that the former thinks, making him seem somewhat stupid.

I quoted above Doescher’s interpretation of the line originally spoken by Hamlet when he is confronted with the skull of the jester Yorick, and just wanted to point out that here, we have an element to the play that is missing in the original film. In this soliloquy, we have Luke musing upon the helmet he had procured from a dead Stormtrooper as a means of disguise, imagining the person that once wore it. In the films, there is no sense of the ‘troopers as people; rather they are faceless soldiers, and so it is nice to see this extra flash of humanity added to make us think for a moment upon the true nature of those who make up the enemy side. I don’t want to dwell on this point, but it would be nice occasionally if this sort of thing was done- not just in film and literature, but in the current news and in our teaching of history (I’m thinking of the killing of insurgents in Afghanistan and the dehumanization of German soldiers in the two World Wars as two examples).

All-in-all, this is a remarkably good book, that doesn’t require prior knowledge of either ‘Star Wars’ or any of Shakespeare’s works (although knowledge of both does improve the enjoyment and the understanding greatly), and it is definitely something that I will come back to again and again.

Image: Michael Sloan/Yale Alumni Magazine

Image: Michael Sloan/Yale Alumni Magazine

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Thoughts on Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’ books

aiw and ttlg

I actually finished reading these two over a week ago, but have only just got around to posting anything about them. Now, it may seem strange that I have been reading two children’s books, but they are two that I’ve wanted to read for quite a while and have never had the chance before now due in part to never owning copies. Also, having lived in Oxford- the home of Alice and the home of a rather quaint shop selling nothing but Alice memorabilia- I feel that I sort of have a duty to read them.

I know the story of the first from the Disney cartoon from 1951, and simply adored the 2010 live action version despite the plot alterations and the more radical mash-up of the two stories, but was actually rather surprised by just how many famous sections of the Disney film are taken from ‘Through the Looking Glass’- for instance, the talking flowers and Tweedledum and Tweedledee. I was also pleasantly surprised by how good the two books are, and reminded again that children’s books in the 19th century were actually far more intellectual and difficult than they are now, which is no bad thing, but which is a sad state for current children’s literature. Honestly, I don’t think that I could pick a favourite out of the two, but I did find ‘Through the Looking Glass’ a tad dragging in places due to the exasperating amount of discussions between the Queens over the logic of their conversations and the laborious actions of the White Knight. In contrast, the wordplay by the Gryphon in ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ is truly brilliant, and the story in this one for me is a lot tighter. I don’t know if that is just because it is more familiar, though. ‘Through the Looking Glass’ also has the added bonus of containing the poem ‘Jabberwocky’, which I had forgotten was such a good piece of writing.

I am glad that I read these two books, as they are perhaps the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time (and made such a refreshing change from the not long finished ‘Ulysses’, which is still casting an unhealthy shadow over me several months after completing it). It has also made me realise just how many other books have been inspired by Carroll’s (or should I really say Dodgson’s) use of nonsense and the concept of a journey by a central character, on which they meet a number of strange characters. One of the most obvious such books is ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ by Norton Juster. I have read this, but long now to read it again, and hope to get a copy soon so as I can. Looking at Wikipedia, there are a vast number of books using the world of Alice and similar characters or settings, but I find those like the aforementioned ‘…Tollbooth’ the most interesting due to not attempting to align themselves with Carroll’s work whilst still retaining that seed and element. Interestingly, Wiki also says that Joyce’s ‘Finnegans Wake’ also contains several references, but… I don’t fancy reading it to find out… I do, fancy writing my own Alice-esque novel off the back of my reading, however, and so may have to get thinking…

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Stoke-on-Trent: The city that died

While talking to people at the graduation, I realised that many of them didn’t really know much about the place I come from, and so I thought that as most of my followers and visitors on here are not from the UK, you probably know even less about it. As I said in my post Life Update #1, both myself and my partner come from Stoke-on-Trent, which is a city in the Midlands. The place is most famous for its ceramics industry that made the city known across the world as ‘The Potteries’, with the likes of Wedgwood, Spode, Minton, Royal Doulton (despite originating in London), Moorcroft, Clarice Cliff and Steelite all being based here. During the city’s peak, there were several thousand pottery companies producing wares, of varying size, production capacity and renown. However, this image off the ‘Telegraph’ website sums up the state of the pottery industry in the city now…

SoT from Telegraph

Behind that mound of rubble can be seen the tops of two structures known in Stoke as ‘bottle ovens’, and these are (or were) the defining features of the region’s skyline. These kilns were once part of pottery factories (or ‘pot banks’), being the actual ovens in which the ceramics were fired, and in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, came to dominate the city.

An 1898 OS map showing a small area of Middleport, Stoke-on-Trent, with bottle ovens marked in red.

An 1898 OS map showing a small area of Middleport, Stoke-on-Trent, with bottle ovens marked in red.

Several images of the Stoke-on-Trent skyline in the 19th century.

Several images of the Stoke-on-Trent skyline in the 19th century.

With the decline of the pottery industry due to cheap foreign produce and the increasing appeal of sending manufacture to the Far East, many of these kilns have been demolished, leaving the handful that are left as Listed structures and important symbols of the region’s past, as well as emblems that the place can use to define itself.

Indeed, the City of Stoke-on-Trent is an interesting one that is not easy to define. From 1910 until 1925, it was a borough, made up of the ‘Six Towns’ of differing administrative and district status: Burslem, Hanley, Stoke (or Stoke-upon-Trent), Tunstall, Fenton and Longton, and numerous smaller settlements and areas. Then, in 1925 it gained City status, with Hanley becoming the main commercial centre of the city. Stoke retained the administrative and religious focus, but the former is now also being moved to Hanley, with the latter being pretty much all that is in Stoke itself besides a railway station. Stoke (the town- the city is confusingly refered to as simply ‘Stoke’ too) was where the first church was built in the region in the 7th century, with the name ‘Stoke’ or ‘stoc’ referring to a ‘place’. This has been interpreted as being a holy place, but may have also been a farm, or a crossing place where two roads meet. However, there are remains of a Saxon church and stone cross in Stoke town, near the site of the present Minster Church of St. Peter ad Vincula.

Out of all the towns, Burslem was the most prolific for ceramic production, becoming known as the ‘Mother Town’ of the Potteries, and it is here that the earliest evidence for pottery production in the city has been found, dating back to the medieval period. This was found by Channel 4’s ‘Time Team’ when they came to excavate on the site of Josiah Wedgwood’s first factory, the Ivy House Works, in Burslem town centre in 1998, and I’m on the end of the programme in the crowd, madly waving!

These images are incredibly naff, but are about all I can find on the web from the 'Time Team' dig in Burslem. I have my own images from the tiem, but can't put my hand on them at present. Note the late great Prof. Mick Aston in stripey fleece.

These images are incredibly naff, but are about all I can find on the web from the ‘Time Team’ dig in Burslem. I have my own images from the time, but can’t put my hand on them at present. Note the late great Prof. Mick Aston in stripey fleece, and the building in the top right, which is the only extant part of Wedgwood’s Ivy House works.

As well as ceramics, Stoke-on-Trent has provided the world with several other people and things, too. It was here that William Clowes and John Bourne (both born in Burslem) founded Primitive Methodism at the turn of the 19th century, and in the city that Reginald Mitchell, the designer of the Spitfire, was born. Also, the author Arnold Bennett (the Potteries answer to Charles Dickens) immortalised the towns in his works such as ‘Anna of the Five Towns’, ‘The Card’ (made into a 1952 film starring Alec Guinness and filmed largely in Burslem), ‘Clayhanger’ and ‘The Old Wives’ Tale’. He was friends with H. G. Wells, who stayed in Stoke with Bennett in 1888 and later wrote the short story ‘The Cone’ about the Shelton Bar Iron and Steelworks in the city. Here we also come to a further industry that once powered the city- steel production. Similarly, the region was also well-known for coal mining, but this died when the rest of the mines went bust under Thatcher.

More recently, the city has become known for its football in the form of Stoke City and the less-successful Port Vale, but the latter is perhaps better known for its most famous supporter Robbie Williams, who was born in Tunstall and raised above a pub (The Red Lion) in Burslem. Incidently, the pub is next door to the building shown on the top right of the ‘Time Team’ image.

From left to right: Arnold Bennett (1867-1931); a Spitfire; Robbie Williams; the angel wethervane on the clocktower of Burslem Town Hall, which is believed by some to have inspired Robbie's hit 'Angels'

From left to right: Arnold Bennett (1867-1931); a Spitfire; Robbie Williams; the angel weathervane on the clocktower of Burslem Town Hall, which is believed by some to have inspired Robbie’s hit ‘Angels’

I don’t suppose that Stoke is that bad when I write about it like this- it has had a fascinating and quite important past, and has given the world quite a few things. Did I mention Henry Faulds (1843-1930), who developed the technique of fingerprinting? He lived out his years and is buried in the city. And Anthea Turner? …yeah. Perhaps I’ll leave that last one…

No- I don’t hate Stoke. I just feel that now the place lacks ambition and drive, and where I want to get with my life, I can’t do it here. I hope, however, that you have learnt something, and now will know where I am talking about when I mention Stoke!

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Graduation!

Graduation1

Looking down on the ceremony within Christopher Wren’s exquisite Sheldonian Theatre. I’m somewhere on the front row.

As I stated in my last post, we were in Oxford on Friday 20th for my graduation ceremony, and this proved to be an interesting, nerve-racking, amazing and upsetting day all at once. We had originally planned to travel down to Oxford by train and stay several nights, but a reassessment of funds suggested that this would not be possible. Then, it turned out that my partner’s father couldn’t take us as we had planned due to being in hospital for a pre-op to a knee-op, and so for a few days it seemed as though we wouldn’t be going at all, and I may have had to graduate in absentia. In the end, we went down by car with my parents, despite our recent falling out, but this meant that there was only room for five people: my parents (x2), my partner, our youngest son, and myself. It put a dampener on the day that our eldest couldn’t be present, but he was happy enough watching ‘Pepper Pig’ and ‘Spongebob’ with his maternal great-grandparents back in Stoke to really care. To make things worse, my partner also couldn’t come into the ceremony with our youngest, as young children aren’t allowed into the Sheldonian Theatre where the ceremony takes place. However, we could all meet in my college (St. Hugh’s- previous alumni of which include Emily Davison and Aung San Suu Kyi) before hand for a briefing of what we had to do in the ceremony and for refreshments.

When the guests were in the Theatre, graduands met in the Convocation House, a very beautiful room off from one end of the Divinity School of the Bodleian. Convocation House was built between 1634 and 1637, and was used in the English Civil War as the House of Commons, and later in 1665 and 1681 by the parliament of Charles II when they were unable to meet in London. The Divinity School, on the other hand, is a breathtaking space that dates from 1427-1483, and is the oldest surviving building purposefully constructed for the University.

Convocation House. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Convocation House. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Divinity School may be familiar to some of you from the ‘Harry Potter’ films, when it was used as the Hogwarts Infirmary in the first few films:

graduation divinity harry potter

Image: Warner Bros. etc. etc. etc.

…yeah. Okay- that picture doesn’t really show you a lot. Anyhoo- the ceremony itself was terrifying mainly because almost all of it was carried out in Latin, and the graduands didn’t have a booklet telling us what was being said. Unlike the guests… We didn’t go up individually, however, which was what I’d been worried about, and were done in groups of about 20, which was better, with our names all read out at the beginning. Also, BA’s were last due to being the lowest degree awarded, and so we had plenty of others to watch and learn from first who’d done DPhils, MSc’s, MA’s and all the other plethora of degrees offered. I never knew there were so many, to be honest. We all had to respond ‘”Do fidem!” (“I swear!”) to agree to the terms of us joining the university in the capacity of a graduate, and then left to re-enter to applause wearing our hoods: black with white fake-fur-trim for BA’s. You can also wear the hood as an actual hood, which may seem a stupid comment, but which I’d never realised until I saw some people wearing them such back at college.

graduation gown S & W

The BA hood with gown. That’s not me, by the way, hence Image: Shepherd & Woodward.

Mortar boards were dutifully donned and then doffed to the Pro-Vice-Chancellor before returning to college for official and unofficial photographs, family pictures and drinks, but all too soon we were having to pile back into the car for the return journey up north.

Returning to Oxford for the day had seemed like coming home to my partner and I, and arriving back in Stoke after the pomp, grandeur and joy of the day (despite the disappointment of not being able to have everyone present in the Theatre) seemed like a massive kick in the teeth. It has, however, given us more impetus to return to the city we love so much as full-time residents either to work or study, and we can only count down the months!

 

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Life update #2

This isn’t like the first update- I just wanted to say a few things without making a separate post about each of them.

  • In terms of reading updates, I have finished Seamus Heaney’s ‘North’, Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘The World’s Wife’ and ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, and am currently half way through ‘Through the Looking-Glass.’ I will put on a review/post of thoughts about the two poetry collections in a few days, and then the two Lewis Carroll together as another post. I haven’t forgotten!
  • Tomorrow (20th September) is my GRADUATION, so we’re back down south for the day. I will post on this once it’s over to try and give you an insight into what one of these at Oxford is like.
  • In terms of my writing- I haven’t really posted on here anything about this yet, but I will say now that the book of poetry I am currently writing is only 2 poems off being completed in first draft form. Also, I have got several ideas for further poetry collections centred around several different themes, as well as a few ideas for novels/short stories that I hope to flesh out a little.
  • Again, please ‘like’ the Electric Puppet Facebook page. I haven’t set up a Twitter page yet, simply because I have absolutely no idea how Twitter works, but aim to within the next week. So far, I only have 4 likes! Please help this to increase and share profusely to get everyone you know to like it and to follow this blog too! I do appreciate every follower for deciding to follow me, and just wish I could reach more people. It’s not as though I have anything terribly important to say, but it is just nice to think that I am a part of some wider online community, and I like sharing my ideas and thoughts with you.
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More Iron Age treasures from Norway.

It seems at the moment as though glaciers are becoming as prevalent for archaeology as car parks. A few weeks ago, I posted a piece about an Iron Age tunic and arrows that have been found due to thawing ice, and now the Lendbreen glacier near Lillehammer, Norway, has thrown up another Iron Age item of interest: a horse. This perhaps doesn’t sound too exciting in itself, but it is actually rather interesting as it is one of the only examples of a horse discovered from this period that is at such a high altitude. It is thought that this glacier was used from the Late Iron Age to the Early Medieval period as a short cut across the mountains, but the view proposed by Lars Pilø, the Head of Snow Archaeology* at Oppland council, is that this animal would once have been used to transport reindeer carcasses down the mountains. In the summer months, horseflies affect the deer and force them to higher altitudes where the insects cannot survive, which also makes the ice the perfect hunting ground due to its lack of cover and good visibility (i.e. dark animal on white snow). Personally, I am unsure how we can really say which theory is correct, as any load would have been removed from the horse once it had died and therefore there would be little to inform us of its original purpose in that location. However, it does show us again that this glacier (and presumably many more glaciers besides this one) have a vast number of secrets still to tell us.

iron age horse

Main image: Preserved Iron Age horse manure. Inset (L): A piece of the horse’s skull. Inset (R): An Iron Age horse-shoe. Image: Oppland County Council

* I’m intrigued! Snow archaeology? Is the study of features highlighted by the snow a distinct area of archaeology or does it come under landscape and reconnaissance? Or is it something different? I think I may need to do a bit of research!

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Now on Facebook!

Well- I’ve finally got around to making the Facebook page for this blog, which can be found at:

https://www.facebook.com/electricpuppetblog

Please like it, share it and do whatever with it to get me more followers! Thank you!

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Life update #1

I haven’t really written anything on this blog so far about me or my life, other than my interests and reading updates, and so I thought that it is perhaps time that I put a bit of a ‘Life Update’ up. My partner, our two children and myself have recently moved back to our home city after a three-year stint at university, and are taking a bit of time now to reassess our life and what we both want for our family. However, this is thwarted somewhat by the fact that where we are living is just so damn depressing. I’ll illustrate. We’ve gone from spending almost everyday for the past three years amongst this…

oxford

…to suddenly return to this…

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

That latter paradise (…) is Stoke-on-Trent, a once-great producer of ceramics known across the world, but now a decrepit, soul-less and polluted stain of its former industrious and ruggedly handsome self. It may be both mine and my partner’s home city, but it doesn’t mean that we love it. Sure, it has its good points, but the majority of these are in its past, and if it wasn’t for our lack of money and familial ties, we would most certainly cut and run. To be fair, the second photo above doesn’t make Stoke look too bad, and from where we live, we have a rather impressive view across almost the entire city from the window, but- the place just lacks ambition. The people here lack any sort of desire or hope, and seem in general to be content with a life that has gone and will go no-where. For us, though, that isn’t enough. Three years amongst the Dreaming Spires of Oxford have changed us for the better into the rounded, mature and aspiring people that we both now are, and it is there that now feels like home, and the place where we can reach our potential. It is the place where our children can be inspired and strive for greatness, as the makings of them and the cultivation that they need is all around them, and the place where our family really came together. It is in Oxford that our children have spent their whole lives, and in Oxford that they have become who they are. With any luck, we hope to be able to move back here within the next few years to work and continue to study, and where we can break away from this phase of our lives that is very quickly dragging us down a slippery slope towards mediocrity.

it also doesn’t help matters that there are family dramas unfolding in relation to my bloodline, which make the whole experience of being back all the more painful, drawn out and despondent. This comes down mainly to the fact that three years away have opened mine and my partner’s eyes to a number of issues, and has also matured us to the point where we have outgrown the trivialities of our families. However, being able to draw a line under issues and finding closure is made infinitely more difficult when those who have not matured and grown up in wisdom or tact decide to blinker themselves and hinder our process of healing and answering questions. They will learn- but I really dunno when.

However, we have also resolved while we are here to make the best of our present, and to plan to make the best of our future. This in part has come from a desire to give our children the best, and also through watching an inspirational man on YouTube whom I mentioned several weeks back in relation to an upcoming documentary film named ‘Vlogumentary’, named Shay Carl Butler. There are many self-help guides and motivational speakers out there, but this bloke is not one of them; rather, he is a normal bloke from California who decided to lose weight and concurrently improve his life to accentuate the positives and make the most of his time one Earth. We now strive to make our life as positive as possible, and aim to make our lives and our life together as wonderful, productive, and as simply amazing as we possible can- as long as we get out of Stoke…

Being a Christian (High-church Anglican [CofE]), it is also easy to see your life as being simply as it is, and I was in danger of falling into the trap of thinking that as a Christian, I should perhaps be happy with this life, as I am meant to strive not for this one, but for the next. However, I am now thinking that it is surely possible to do both- to embrace and live this life to the full whilst also anticipating the next. We don’t believe that Heaven will be like this life (as it was for example for the ancient Egyptians), and therefore there is surely no problem in making the most of this life and getting all we can from it t the same time as praising God and wanting to also reach that life which is before us. besides, I constantly waver in my views on the afterlife, and hypochondria often creeps up on me in a big way when I reach stressful patches, and so it is logical to experience and do as much as we can humanly manage. For example, my partner would love to travel to the USA (even though I am petrified of flying and really don’t want to ever get into a plane), and I would love to carry out the Coast-to-Coast walk across the north of England, as planned out by Alfred Wainwright. I want to get my current book of poetry (which is almost completed in first draft form) published, along with many more volumes and several novels. I would love to travel across America too (see previous comment regarding flying) to experience the America that is seen in those road trip films, down Route 66 and to see the Grand Canyon. I want to see the Northern Lights. And why should we not do any of these things (except: see previous comments regarding flying)? I’m sick of the defeatist, uninspired and unambitious views given out by Stoke and its people, and hope to make something of ourselves that will suggest three years at Oxford were not for nothing, and that can make our children proud in the years to come.

I’m sorry to go on for a bit, but just felt that I need to get some of this out to make myself feel better for one, as well as giving me something to look back on to remind me of our ambitions and our hopes.  Please forgive this life update, as you probably aren’t that bothered about where I’m headed and all that, but- normal service will resume with the next post!

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Voyager-1

voyager1

You may have seen that a few days ago, scientists announced that they had confirmed the Voyager-1 probe finally left our Solar System on 25th August 2012, after having been launched on 5th September 1977. In this time, the probe photographed in spectacular detail the planets beyond the Asteroid Belt, and has simply kept on travelling away from the Sun towards deep space. It is thought now to be around 19 billion km (19000000000km) from Earth, and any radio signals sent by the craft take 17 hours to reach us due to this insane distance. The power source onboard is believed to still have enough energy to keep Voyager going until 2025, after which it will stop transmitting and simply drift further and further out, carrying its cargo of one gold LP until it is picked up by aliens, absorbed by a star or smacked by a rock. However, for now it can still provide us with information, despite its cameras having been disabled and several of its instruments turned off. It detected a change in the flow and temperature of particles in order to signal its passage through the heliopause at the edge of our Solar System, and with any luck will continue to send us back information about the composition of an area of the universe that we can never otherwise reach and which until now we knew nothing (or next to nothing) about. It’s just a shame that the cameras weren’t still working, as it would be amazing to see our sun from such a distance and to get a glimpse of our galaxy from such a different vantage point.

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Morrissey! You can be irritating!

Autobiography Artwork

According to the semi-official website true-to-you.net, that’s the cover of Morrissey’s autobiography (titled ‘Autobiography’. Wow. What a name…) which should have been published today. However, in true Morrissey fashion, its release was pulled three days ago due to “a last-minute content disagreement” between the walking deity and Penguin. The BBC news page has gone for the dramatics, saying that he is now “searching for a new publisher” and suggesting like it will never see the light, but the semi-official site suggests that the release by Penguin has simply been delayed. Hopefully that is the case, and the book will be finally published soon. And hopefully that image above is going to actually be the cover, and isn’t just a mock-up. Morrissey has stated previously that he wished his ‘Autobiography’ to be issued as a Penguin Classic, but usually such titles have to have actually sold a few first and have entered popular culture. Indeed, if it is to be issued as a ‘Classic’ and not a ‘Modern Classic’, the author is meant to have been writing over or just around 100 years ago and to very probably be dead. To be fair, the infamy of its existence and drawn out publishing history have perhaps given it enough social circulation, but… anyhoo. It would be all the more interesting if it is to be issued as above, and with any luck, it should be out soon. I also expect that when it is out, it will receive a reception not unlike Truman Capote’s posthumous ‘Answered Prayers’ (1986) and manage to offend everyone who is mentioned or veiled within it. At least, that is the hope!

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A 14th century view of God

I managed to finish reading the other day ‘The Cloud of unknowing and other works’, and one of the ‘…other works’ is entitled ‘Dionysius’ Mystical Teaching’. This has nothing to do with the Dionysius of classical Greek mythology, but it is thought that he was a 6th century AD Christian writer from Syria. However, the work mentioned here dates from the 14th century, and is written by an unknown author referred to as “Pseudo-Dionysius” due to his similarity in style and teachings, and I have decided to quote in full the fifth and final chapter of this short work. In it, the author puts forward his belief about God and how he is truelly unknowable (and within a ‘Cloud of Unknowing’), which I find to be highly perceptive and quite near to the mark with my own views.

God who is the cause of them all is none of the things we can understand.

And so we who have begun our denials and removals by reaching the ‘highest’ of the things we can understand say that God is neither soul nor angel; he has no imagination or opinion or reason or understanding; nor is he reason or understanding; nor can he be described or understood. Moreover, and here we are moving from high things to low, he has no number, order, greatness, smallness, equality, likeness, unlikeness; he neither stands still nor moves, keeps silence nor speaks. And if we turn back to the highest matters to end our denyings there, we assert that he has no virtue, nor is he virtue or light; he is not life or substance or age or time; we can understand nothing about him, nor is he knowledge or truth or kingdom or wisdom or singularity or unity or Godhead or goodness. Nor in the sense that we understand ‘spirit’ is he spirit; there is no sonship or fatherhood, nor anything else that is known by us or by anyone else. He is none of the things that have no being, none of the things that have being. None of the things that are known know him for what he is. Nor does he know the things that exist for what they are in themselves, but only for what they are in him. Nor is there any way by which we can reach him through reason or understanding: he has no name; we cannot know him; he is neither darkness or light, error nor truth. Speaking generally there is no affirmation we can make of him, nothing we can deny of him. When we attribute something  to him, or deny any or all of the things which he is not, we do not describe him or abolish him, nor in any way that we can understand do we affirm him or deny him. For the perfect and unique cause of all it is necessary beyond compare with the highest of  all imaginative heights, whether by affirmation or denial. And this surpassing non-understandability is ‘un-ununderstandably’ above every affirmation and denial.

‘Dionysius’ Mystical Teaching’, in ‘TCoUaow’ pp 217-218

 

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An extraordinary kurgan discovery

Now, until I studied A Level Archaeology, I had believed a kurgan to be a villain from the 1986 film ‘Highlander’: 

Very nice, but he doesn't look much like a burial mound...

Very nice, but he doesn’t look much like a burial mound…

However, I am now older and slightly wiser, and can see the fascinating insights that these kurgans in their archaeological sense can provide us with. I can across an article earlier today on a Sarmatian kurgan excavated in the Russian Southern Ural steppes by the Institute of Archaeology (Russian Academy of Sciences), and it is truelly amazing what has been discovered. Until this point, I did not really know anything about Russian (or indeed any European) nomads except that some actually practised tattooing several millenia ago, but this find from the 1st millennium BC is the Iron Age equivelant to our own dear Sutton Hoo. These Sarmatians and other nomads called Scythians interacted with both Persian and Classical Greek culture whilst managing to retain their own distinct style that can be illustrated in some of the amazing artifacts uncovered from this recently-excavated kurgan. The finds are believed to suggest that this burial contained a woman- assuming that you subscribe to the dated and gender stereotyped view of 1970’s archaeological theory that women can be identified in the burial record by jewellery and mirrors. Osteological indications suggest a man, however, and I would be more inclined to believe this, to be honest.

The burial chamber showing the body, and some of the grave goods. The mirror is visible to the middle right of the image, and the silver container on the top left.

The burial chamber showing the body, and some of the grave goods. The mirror is visible to the middle right of the image, and the silver container on the top left. Image: Leonid Yablonsky.

Apparently, this particular mound had been excavated 20 years ago and had revealed 26 “golden” deer statuettes, but the section unearthed this year had been left unexplored. In a passage near the enterance the team found a cast bronze cauldron with a diameter of 102 cm, with handles decorated in a Scythian-Siberian animal style showing two griffins beak-to-beak:

The bronze cauldron. Image: Leonid Yablonsky

The bronze cauldron. Image: L.Y.

Detail of cauldron handle showing beak-to-beak griffins. Image: Leonid Yablonsky

Detail of cauldron handle showing beak-to-beak griffins. Image: L.Y.

Within the intact burial chamber, which measured 4x5m and was 4m deep, there was found a skeleton, and near to the skull, a wicker chest. This may have been a ‘vanity case’, and was filled with items including: a cast silver container with a lid; a gold pectoral; a wooden box; cages; glass; silver and earthenware bathroom flasks; leather pouches and horse teeth containing red pigments. There was also a large silver mirror, as well as items of clothing decorated with several plaques that showed flowers, rosettes and a panther leaping on a saiga’s (antelope) back. Breeches, a shirt and a scarf were found to have 395 pressed pieces of gold leaf sewn onto them, with the shirt having its sleeves embellished with multicoloured beads, and a fringed shawl was held together with a golden chain. Also, two cast gold earrings were decorated in places with cloisonné enamel and found on the skeleton, suggesting that they had been worn on the corpse. Less ornate were two stone mixing palettes that were discovered, along with gold-plated iron needles and bone spoons and pens decorated with animals- but it is believed that these were used to carry out tattooing. In all, there were over 1000 artifacts uncovered, and a few can be seen below:

Silver mirror. Image: L. Y.

Silver mirror. Image: L.Y.

Silver container. Image: L.Y.

Silver container. Image: L.Y.

Gold plague depicting a panther catching an antelope- not a particularly Russian image! Image: L.Y.

Gold plague depicting a panther catching an antelope- not a particularly Russian image! Image: L.Y.

Earring with visible enamel cloisonné detailing. Image: L.Y.

Earring with visible enamel cloisonné detailing. Image: L.Y.

This excavation has certainly opened my eyes to a society that I previously knew next to nothing about, and has certainly excited me to find out more about these Iron Age peoples. A couple of days of research are in order over the next few weeks, I think.!

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The move to social media: ElectricPuppet on Twitter?

I’ve realised that this blog doesn’t seem to be growing in quite the exponential manner that I had first envisaged. After a month online, ElectricPuppet has gained 18 followers, and as of two days ago, has had 100 views. I’m guessing that this is because this blog is either too boring, or no-one can actually find it due to my lack of internet presence. As a result, I’ve been wondering whether to set up a Twitter page, and possibly a Facebook one too, to try and get more followers. I do already have a F/bk page, but it is one that I share with my partner and which we use to communicate to our friends and post images of our children on, and so I don’t want to link this page to that. I may set one up though, and just hope that people like it and follow and comment and share and etc ad infinitum. I also notice that I’ve had NO SHARES so far! Please share articles and posts! Please! Please! And please like and comment and follow and share and comment and follow and like and…and now I’ll stop begging.

Anyhoo- I may set up a Twitter page, and possibly Facebook after that. Watch this space!

twitter

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More books…

photo (1)

Erm… I’ve been buying again. Only a few this time, though:

  • James Joyce-  A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man     £1.49
  • Kingsley Amis- Lucky Jim     £1.49
  • Anne Carson- Glass and God     99p
  • Jonathan Swift- Gulliver’s Travels     £1

Thoughts etc. when I get around to reading them.

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Penguin Great Ideas

 

penguin great ideas

These are the 100 books in the Penguin ‘Great Ideas’ series 1-5. I mentioned no. 15, John Ruskin’s ‘On Art and Life’ in my last post as one of my recent purchases, and I also own a copy of the Plutarch book ‘In Consolation to His Wife’ from series 3 (the green). Some of the others sound of interest, and some don’t, but what strike me most are the covers- I think they are fantastic. Most of them consist mainly of text, with the title, the author, the title of the series and a quote from the book, but the way in which this is done I think is truly inspired, as each one relates to and fits the book so well. I particularly like this one:

Walter Benjamin - 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' No. 56 of 60, series 3

Walter Benjamin – ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ No. 56 of 60, series 3

I don’t know the book or indeed the author, but considering the title, I think that the cover is a masterstroke of design, truelly creating a work of art from a mechanically reproduced object and indeed image, that is then mechanically reproduced. A picture of the book itself becomes the image on the book. It’s also quite Warhol, when you think about it, and I think one of my favourites in terms of design from the set. The top image links to the Penguin minisite for the 5 series, so check it out and marvel at the cover art!

 

 

 

 

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Reading update

I haven’t posted on here for a few days, but in this time I have managed to procure some new reading matter, and have made progress with another book. However, I haven’t started the Kafka book I said I would read next. This will be digested in due course. Anyhoo- my new books can be seen below:

photo

Incase the titles are a tad difficult to read, here they are from left to right, along with the price that I paid for them:

  • Lewis Carroll- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (two volumes)  10p each (yes- really!)
  • Ian Fleming- Diamonds are Forever  50p
  • John Ruskin- On Art and Life (Penguin Great Ideas No. 15)  50p
  • Penelope Lively- Heat Wave  25p
  • Carol Ann Duffy- The World’s Wife  25p
  • Rudyard Kipling-  Just So Stories  £1.49
  • Thomas More- Utopia  £1.49
  • Seamus Heaney- North  £1.49
  • Martin Amis- Money  £1.49

I have currently been distracted away from the Kafka collection by another Penguin Classics book titled The Cloud of Unknowing and other works, which is a decent-sized volume of 14th century Christian teachings about the sheer impossibility of actually perceiving and understanding God, which I have recently learnt is actually a way of thinking that is taken up by the Eastern Churches, but not so much in the West. In the West the view is generally more along the lines of God being a friendly, approachable father-figure, whereas in the East, he is a powerful and unreachable being who cannot be represented in human terms and who can never be fully understood by simple mortals weighed down by sin and their perception of the body. To truly know God, The Cloud teaches that a person must become a contemplative, and be able to stop perceiving and thinking about his own existence to focus solely on God. The …other works of the title are shorter pieces believed to have been written by the same anonymous author upon similar themes, and it is in fact quite a good read. A tad heavy going at times, but it certainly gives food for thought and has provided me with a few new ways to look at both myself, my faith, and my perception of God. Also, the whole idea of a ‘Cloud of Unknowing’ is a great metaphor and image to use in my poetry…

tcou

Once I’ve finished this, I plan to read the Heaney and Duffy poetry collections, and then the two Lewis Carroll books, before finally getting to the Kafka. I promise to provide opinions etc. when I finish these.

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A new theory on why civilisation dawned

That’s an interesting image to be at the top of a post about the dawn of civilisation. It would be assumed that it would be more apt for a post about the end of civilisation, but no. The idea that all life on Earth came from outer space via an asteroid has recently gained credence, with scientists expressive the belief that said asteroid could have come from Mars and brought primitive life from there, and I for one find the arguments in favour highly compelling. However, I came across an article earlier today on ‘The Times’ website that suggests a meteor may also have had something to do with man’s (and woman’s) move to sedentary living and life within urban centres (I won’t call them ‘cities’, as I don’t want to get onto that debate…).

The idea is that a meteor struck in Quebec, Canada, around 12,900 years ago, and caused the onset of the colder, drier period known as the Younger Dryas. Previously, it was thought that this change in climate came about due to the rupturing of an ice dam that let a vast quantity of fresh water into the Atlantic and subsequently stopped currents carrying warm tropical waters towards Europe. Small droplets of molten rock known as spherules have been discovered in Pennsylvania and New Jersey that match chemical fingerprints of rocks in Quebec, and which suggest that they were formed under the high pressures and heat of a meteor impact in Canada. No crater has been found yet, but it suggests that the shift to agriculture as a more reliable source of food and thus eventually sedentary living that came about due to the change in climate may have been a fluke brought about by events that begun many millions of miles away from Earth. Also, this is one of the more rare occasions where two of my loves- namely archaeology and space- can come together in the same article! I am very intrigued to see whether this is definitively proved (or at least proved as much as is possible).

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The Cool Pope

Before I start, let me just apologise for my use in the title of this post of a word that fell out of popular parlance at around the turn of this century. I’m a Dad, so I have a license to be cringeworthy at times.

Anyhoo- I just thought that I’d share these pictures, as I personally find them both rather telling and also highly encouraging. The new Pope, Pope Francis, was greeting a group of around 500 young people from the Italian Diocese of Piacenza and Bobbio at the end of August when he posed for a photo that has gone viral on the ‘net, and which I’m sure you have come across.

papal selfie 1

It’s a nice photo- even if he does look a tad awkward and unsure there on the left- but what makes it quite remarkable is the fact that the bloke on the left is the Pope. He whom Catholics regard as God’s ultimate representative on Earth. I can’t imagine Pope Benedict XVI posing like this for a ‘selfie’, but as many have pointed out, Francis is a lot more down-to-earth than his predecessor, having come from a normal diocese rather than directly from within the confines of the Vatican. I mean, Benedict was already installed in the Vatican before he became Pope, making him more accustomed to the finery and the protocol than his successor. I feel that Francis is in fact a more ‘holy’ Pope in as much as he is willing to carry his own bags, pay his bills, live in an apartment that is just big enough for his needs, and wash the feet of female prisoners as well as males. He lives a more Christian life through his shunning of the extravagance that became the trademark of Pope Benedict- the fine red stole and cassock, the red slippers made by nuns, the over-sized living quarters. Also, this image shows a Pope that not only embraces the modern world (as indeed Benedict did when he joined Twitter), but also one who sees the importance of engaging with the next generation of the church in order to be relevant to it, and to be seen as someone who is not out of reach, inaccessible and aloof. if he is God’s ultimate etc., then here we have a God who is within reach; who is able to be engaged with and responsive to the changing face of the world. A modern God, and a modern Pope. Something to be embraced, I think. It’s just a shame that he will not alter the view of the Catholic church on issues such as contraception and women priests and bishops. But I suppose there is time, and indeed it is only a matter of time before a future Pope hopefully not too far down the line will correct these and other matters.

papal selfie 2

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