Monthly Archives: October 2013

The best Roman sculpture ever found in Britain: An eagle in London

roman eagle

Image: PA/MOLA

If any of you have ever seen Channel 4’s ‘Time Team’, you will be familiar with the idea that on archaeological excavation, many of the best and most exceptional finds are discovered right at the end of the last day of digging. Sadly, this is often not the case in non-televised archaeology, but in this one instance, it was the case. Archaeologists had been digging just outside the City of London on what is going to become a 16-storey, 291-bedroom hotel for several months when they uncovered the magnificent statue shown above in literally the last few hours of the last day of excavating. It was originally thought to have been a Victorian garden ornament due to its condition, but was soon recognised as being within Roman contexts; lying in a site known to have been a Roman cemetery. It has since been dated to the 1st or 2nd century AD, and is carved from Oolitic Cotswold limestone, standing 65cm tall and 55cm wide. A well-known school of sculptors worked in that area, and it is thought that this statue may prove the biggest and best example of their work so far unearthed. Indeed, the sculpture has been described as one of the best statues discovered from Roman Britain. It was found lying next to the foundations of a mausoleum, and is believed to have once adorned this, standing within an alcove that protected it from erosion by the elements. Such a location also explains the statue having a plain back.

The statue depicts an eagle devouring a serpent, and is seen to be a representation of good and life triumphing over evil and death. The image was therefore a popular one in funerary contexts, and eagles are also seen in Roman art as carrying the souls of the emperors to the gods- allowing the mortal to become divine. There is also the possibility that it could have adorned the tomb of a member of the ‘cult of Jupiter’ that was popular at the time the statue is thought to date from, and as such would have also provided a protective role for the deceased.

Prior to this discovery in September, a fragment of what is thought to have been a similar statue was found at Keynsham Villa, Somerset:

The statue fragment from Keynsham Villa, Somerset, with possible reconstruction. Image: Anthony Beeson.

The statue fragment from Keynsham Villa, Somerset, with possible reconstruction. Image: Anthony Beeson.

The only other (near) complete example of such an eagle eating a snake was found at Khirbet et Tannur,  Jordan in 1937, and is now held in the Cincinnati Art Museum:

The eagle and snake statue from Khirbet et Tannur, Jordan. Image: Cincinnati Art Museum.

The eagle and snake statue from Khirbet et Tannur, Jordan. Image: Cincinnati Art Museum.

The statue is on display at the Museum of London for 6 months from yesterday, and will be well worth a look if you happen to be in the area. personally, I think that it is a truly superb find, and just hope that the rest of the site managed to reveal many further secrets even if they were not as visually striking as this piece. Also, it just shows that occasionally, real archaeology can be like ‘Time Team’!


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Perhaps the most beautiful bookshop in the world

I came across this the other day, which manages to incorporate two of my favourite types of building in the same space: a church and a bookshop.

Click on the image for a far better impression of this wonderful interior. Image: Joop van Putten and Hans Westerink.

Click on the image for a far better impression of this wonderful interior. Image: Joop van Putten and Hans Westerink.

This is the inside of a bookshop named Waanders in de Broeren  in Zwolle, The Netherlands, which has been created within a 15th century Dominican church. 700 square meters of shopping space has been added through the creation of three levels in the side wings of the church, whilst also retaining the historical elements of the 547-year-old building including stained glass windows, pipe organ, ceiling paintings and expansive arches. The even more impressive part of BK. Architecten’s design is that the entire shop interior can eventually be removed to leave the church looking as it originally did without harming any of the features. The entire space looks truly stunning on these pictures, and must be absolutely fantastic to walk around and inhabit. Sadly, I can never imagine such a design being attempted in Britain, or such care being shown to a building such of this that the modern use doesn’t impinge on the structure at all. The joys of the UK planning and conservation spheres.

church bookshop 2

Image: Joop van Putten and Hans Westerink.


church bookshop 1

Image: Joop van Putten and Hans Westerink.


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‘Reclaimed Books part 3’, and a quick rant

As I said on my last book-purchasing update, I was going to pick some more of my books up from my parents’ house, and I managed to do this a few days ago. Here are those I ‘reclaimed’:


  • Bill Bryson-  Shakespeare
  • An anthology of quotes called ‘A Booklover’s Companion‘ published by the Folio Society
  • Douglas Adams-  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (film tie-in edition)
  •                              The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (film tie-in edition)
  •                              Life, the Universe and Everything
  •                              So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish
  • J.R.R. Tolkien-  The Children of Hurin
  • Edgar Wallace-  The Feathered Serpent
  • Emily Bronte-  Wuthering Heights
  • Sue Townsend-  The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole
  • Oscar Wilde-  The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • F.Scott Fitzgerald-  The Great Gatsby

I’ve read the Bryson, Adams and Fitzgerald books here, and already have a copy of ‘Gatsby’ in the house, as my partner bought a nice Vintage Classics edition a few years back, but this copy is the Penguin Modern Classic edition with a critical introduction (always a bonus) and my annotated copy from A Level English.

The Adams books that I picked up are missing the final volume, ‘Mostly Harmless’, and at the moment I am in two minds as to whether I should get this with the original cover, or whether I should wait and purchase the full set in the very asthetically-appealing, Hipgnosis*-designed boxset, as I’m not too happy with the editions I have due to two being the film tie-in editions. This is the boxset:

DA boxset

Also, you may recall from my last book-purchasing post that I had also planned to pick up the old editions of ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ that I read as a child from my parents’. Well; this is where the rant comes in. I won’t go into detail, but suffice to say that I had a falling out with my Mum over this, as she seemed reticent to let me take these due to them belonging to my late Grandma, despite them now belonging to me. To save any further argument, I have decided to buy my own new copies, but have come across a bit of a problem. Which versions should I get? I’m not too fussed which edition of ‘The Hobbit’ I get, to be honest (as long as it is not the film tie-in edition), but am torn on ‘The Lord of the Rings’ between this set:

LotR boxset

…and this one (the picture shows ‘The Hobbit’ too):

LotR other boxset

Even though the latter matches the edition of ‘The Silmarillion’ that I bought the other day, I’m swaying towards the former, simply because I think that these would look far more impressive on a shelf, and because they are very very attractive editions. The only thing bothering me is the fact that the former editions look far heftier than the latter, and I am conscious of trying to conserve as much shelf-space as possible so as we will have to buy less bookcases. The benefit with the old copy I would have had was that it was a one-volume edition, and as a result was actually fairly thin (the joys of using thin paper in the 1960s). The new one-volume versions available are frankly awful to look at, and so are a no-no for me. The only other problem, is actually finding one of these sets for a reasonable price. Hmm. Preferably less than £10, and ideally nearer to £5. Double hmm. Maybe time to visit my local Oxfam, methinks, as they always seem to have a copy there- I just don’t know which edition. I’ll keep you posted!

*Hipgnosis are a design company who produce book and album covers. Famous clients include Pink Floyd (i.e. ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’, ‘Wish You Were Here’ and ‘A Momentary Lapse of Reason’ covers, amongst others), Muse (‘Black Holes and Revelations’) and Led Zeppelin (‘Houses of the Holy’).

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Thoughts on Jostein Gaarder’s ‘Through a Glass, Darkly’

Through a Glass, Darkly


To begin this post, I’ll just say that I’m not sure whether this is a children’s book, a teenage novel, or a work aimed at adults. I’m guessing that it is perhaps all of these, as the larger-than-average font and use of child protagonist suggests the former (and perhaps the second option too), but at times the subject matter hits for the older reader. Anyway- I read this a few weeks back, and have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by it. I read Gaarder’s sublime ‘The Christmas Mystery’ every Advent for a good 4 or 5 years when I was growing up, but haven’t yet read his most famous work ‘Sophie’s World’, and so was unaware just how good a philosopher and thinker this writer is. If this book is aimed at children, then I think that he deserves even more credit, as the way he manages to get the subject of death and the afterlife across to younger readers is incredibly sensitively and well done.

The short book centres on a girl named Cecilia who is ill in bed over Christmas with what seems to be cancer of some kind (this is never explicitly said, although it is mentioned that she has lost her hair). While she is here, she is visited by Ariel, an angel who wishes to know more about what it is to be human and how it feels to have a body of flesh and blood. Thorough is questions, the reader wonders with Cecilia just quite how you can actually explain what taste, smell and touch are like to someone who has never experienced these things, and what it really is to be alive. In exchange, the girl learns from Ariel about God and his creation, and though the discourse we learn that the God of the book’s reality is a flawed character. However, the most important lessons seem to be on the nature of life itself and what it like for both an individual with a terminal illness and for their family as they wait together- and apart- for the inevitable. Through her friendship with Ariel, Cecilia is able to carry out her last wishes of playing in the snow for the last time, using her new skis and toboggan, and seeing her best friend for the last time, but is also able to face death without fear, knowing what is on the other side and being guided there by her guardian figure.

This may make the book sound somewhat morbid and depressing but strangely it is far from it. I did initially have reservations with reading the book, and indeed it took me to read and re-read the blurb on the back of the book several times in the charity shop I had it from on more than one occasion before I finally decided to go back and buy it. However, I’m glad that I did get it, as it is a charming book, told with very little sentimentality and not purposefully trying to depress or upset the reader; uplifting and positive are two words I would use to describe it. Although, I did find myself fighting back the tears when the end arrived, and it is perhaps an emotionally sapping story if it is properly engaged with.

I enjoyed this book for the messages and discussions that take place within it, as well as the way in which it makes you view life and faith slightly differently, but it would perhaps be equally appropriate for helping someone through a bereavement- whether his may be an adult or a child. Recommended, certainly, but prepare to be surprised by both the books depth and your own vulnerability to emotion.

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An historic image part 2

Royal christening

I posted this image in the wee small hours of this morning, and said that it is the first time that such an image- with a monarch and three future kings- had been taken since Queen Victoria. Well, here is the image I was refering to, as I’ve managed to find it:

Edward VIII Christening image

This was taken in 1894, and shows the future monarchs Edward VII (L) and George V (R), with the infant Edward VIII being held by Queen Victoria.

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The jewelled saints of 16th century Europe, and other beautifications of the dead

The hand of St. Valentin. Image:  Paul Koudounaris

The hand of St. Valentin. Image: Paul Koudounaris

It has been a well-known fact in Christianity for much of its history that the presence of a saint’s body at a religious site makes it a much more enticing prospect for pilgrims, and by extension a very lucrative form of income. As such, there are numerous examples of monasteries and cathedrals throughout Europe that claim to hold saints remains- either entire bodies, particular body parts or items that belonged to a person or had touched a body- and in many cases several sites profess to possess the same relic. Some saints can quite comfortably be said to be where they are thought to be, such as St. Cuthbert at Durham Cathedral, whose elevation at Lindisfarne and subsequent removal to Durham was well documented. However, many others, such as the remains of John the Baptist, or pieces of the ‘True Cross’ are more suspect. Often, this dubious nature is down to enterprising, exploiting and morally corrupt clergy, who created false relics using randomly-discovered or disinterred bones to knowingly hoodwink unsuspecting and gullible pilgrims. However, sometimes this is down to simple confusion or misplaced assumption. It seems that both could be the case here.

In 1578, rumour spread that there had been found catacombs below Rome containing the bodies of thousands of early Christian martyrs. Many of these skeletons were removed from their resting places and transported to religious houses around Europe to replace relics that had been lost under the Reformation that had swept the Continent earlier that century. Whether or not these were actually the remains of the saints that they were believed to be will probably never be known, but I can see that misattributions may in many cases have been accidental and down to simple confusion. However, there is also the rather large possibility that some unscrupulous individuals did probably attribute remains to people that they may not have belonged to, and personally I think that many of the complete skeletons sent about the Continent may actually be composed of the bones of several individuals due to the often fragmented and jumbled nature of remains in catacombs.

This aside, the new relics were graciously received, and once they had been reassembled, they were often enshrined and decorated in costumes, wigs, jewels, crowns, gold lace, and armour as a physical reminder of the heavenly treasures that awaited in the afterlife. Many of these bodies have never been seen by the wider world outside of the religious institutions they are housed in, and have been recently photographed for the first time by the photographer Paul Koudounaris.

St. Albertus. Image: P.K.

St. Albertus. Image: P.K.

St. Benedictus. Image: P.K.

St. Benedictus. Image: P.K.

St. Deodatus

St. Deodatus. Image: P.K.

St. Friedrich. Image: P.K.

St. Friedrich. Image: P.K.

St. Getreu. Image: P.K.

St. Getreu. Image: P.K.

St. Valentius. Image: P.K.

St. Valentius. Image: P.K.

St. Valerius. Image: P.K.

St. Valerius. Image: P.K.

The whole enterprise may look somewhat bizarre and macabre to us now, but this is by no means the only time that such ornamentation has been employed, or the only culture in which it has been carried out. For example, that last image of St. Valerius has had jewelled eyes inserted into the orbits which is reminiscent of the cowrie shells inserted into the skulls of the Neolithic dead in Jericho around 6000-7000 BC.

JerichoSkullsLater, we see similar practices amongst the Aztecs:

A skull partially covered in jade, from Monte Alban Tomb 7. Interestingly, this skull was heald for a time at a convent.

A skull partially covered in jade, from Monte Alban Tomb 7. Interestingly, this skull was held for a time at a convent.

A mask made from a human skull with the back removed and lined with dear skin to be worn as a mask. This is meant to represent Tezcatlipoca, or ‘Smoking Mirror’, one of the four Aztec creator deities.

A mask made from a human skull with the back removed and lined with deer skin to be worn as a mask. This is meant to represent Tezcatlipoca, or ‘Smoking Mirror’, one of the four Aztec creator deities. Image: The British Museum.

Indeed, the Aztecs and other Meso- and South American cultures had a tradition of adorning corpses of ancestors and royalty when displaying them around the inside of their temples, and anthropological cases exist of extant tribes around the world carrying out such elaborate rituals of adorning the dead for display purposes. We could even include this famous piece of ‘art’:

'For the love of God' by Damian Hirst. image: Getty Images.

‘For the love of God’ by Damian Hirst. image: Getty Images.

All very interesting, and all very macabre!

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God moves in mysterious ways: The Northern Lights

My partner found this earlier, and I just thought that I’d share it on here for the simple reason that they look absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. The Northern Lights are certainly something that I hope to experience for real at least once in my life. I just need to get over that fear of flying- unless I’m lucky enough to see them in the UK. It is possible: my maternal Grandad saw them during WWII when he was stationed in Wick, Scotland, and they have even been seen on the south coast of England! I cannot help but see God in this spectacle, and this entire video is just so calming and relaxing. Enjoy!

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z8_GND_5296: the Oldest Galaxy in the Universe

Furthest galaxy


That little fuzzy red splodge enlarged above is the memorably named z8_GND_5296, a galaxy that has recently been observed by the Hubble Telescope, and then been confirmed by the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. As the title of this post says, it is believed to be the most distant galaxy ever observed, at a staggering 30 billion lightyears from Earth. The galaxy as we see it is as it was 13.1 billion years ago (the discrepancy between the distance and the age is due to the expansion of the universe), and shows the galaxy 700 million years after the Big Bang. In cosmological time, that is ridiculously close to the beginning of the universe, and so scientists hope that this can shed light n the earliest phases of the universe and the creation of galaxies. Indeed, so far we know that z8_GND_5296 is quite surprising and somewhat exceptional, as it is only about 1-2% the mass of the Milky Way, is rich in heavier elements, and yet it is turning gas and dust into new stars at a remarkable rate- hundreds of times faster than our own galaxy is. It is only the second distant galaxy discovered that has a high star production rate, showing that there were some very evolved galaxies in the early universe.

This galaxy has a redshift of 7.51, beating the 7.21 of the next furthest, and it is hoped that with better telescopes, even further galaxies still will be able to be observed. Perhaps it may even be possible to image the earliest stars in the universe from only a few million years after the Big Bang. Exciting stuff!

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An historic image: four generations of monarchs

Royal christening


As you probably know, it was the Christening of Prince George of Cambridge on 23rd October, and I just thought that I’d share this picture. It may not look that remarkable, even if it is quite a nice photo, but historically, it is- a similar picture has not existed since the reign of Queen Victoria. There are four generations of monarchs here: the reigning Queen and then the next three in line for the throne. It’s just not very often that you get pictures like this. Hopefully, I will be around long enough to see them all on the throne.

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A few more books


Just a few more books:

  • Ernest Hemingway-  The Torrents of Spring     50p
  • Tove Jansson-  Finn Family Moomintroll     50p
  • Henry James-  The Turn of the Screw and other stories     50p
  • Geoffrey Chaucer-  The Canterbury Tales     50p
  • J.R.R. Tolkien-  Roverandom     50p
  • J.R.R. Tolkien-  The Silmarillion     50p

I know that the Moomintroll series are for children, but I loved them when I read them quite a few years ago, and thought that a copy of one of them for 50p was too good a chance to turn down. Also, in terms of ‘The Silmarillion’: I have read ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (and I hope to ‘reclaim’ my old and battered copies of these next week from my parents’), but despite owning an old hard-back edition of this work, I have never attempted it as I’ve just been overfaced by it. Hopefully, the purchase of a new, less cumbersome softback edition may prompt me to have another go!

Oh- I’ve also nearly finished ‘Heart of Darkness’, so there should be a review up of this soon. I also mean to get a few thoughts up on Jostein Gaarder’s ‘Through a Glass, Darkly’ which I read the other week, and will endeavour to do this as well.


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I’ve got my socks on!

Regular readers of this blog may recognise the name ShayCarl from my post about an upcoming film called ‘Vlogumentary’ and my first life update. For those who don’t, he is a vlogger on YouTube who films himself and his family (known as the Shaytards) every day, and has done so for the past 4 and a half years. He has done a hell of a lot for my partner and myself through his daily updates, as his general outlook on life has given us both inspiration and has helped us to plan our life and our goals out in ways we would never have imagined before we started to watch them. Well, about a year ago Shay begun to sing on one of his vlogs about the socks he was wearing, and from that innocent seed there has grown a range of ShayCarl Argyle sock merchandise and now this- the music video for the song. I just thought that I’d share it as it is so fantastic, and it may bring a smile to your face as it did to mine! Also, both of my children now dance around the house every time we play it to them, and our eldest (aged 3) knows most of the words! If you like it, thumbs up the video!

If any of you want to subscribe to the Shaytards on YouTube, the link is in the text above and also below, as well as the families individual channels, which are here aswell:

And if you want a pair of the socks: 



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Two soldiers in the Italian ice

Following on from my two previous posts about an Iron Age tunic and an Iron Age horse discovered in a Norwegian glacier, I came across this story through a friend. In the Presena Glacier, part of the Italian Alps, there was uncovered last year the preserved bodies of two soldiers who were killed in the Battle of Presena in May 1918. It is thought from both their location and their uniforms that these two individuals may have been Austro-Hungarian mountain troops called Kaiserschützen, who fought against Italian Alpini to defend the mountains during the First World War. As could be imagined, the cold (reaching as low as -30°C), storm and avalanches killed as many people as the fighting did, but one of the two soldiers was found to have a bullet hole in his skull and a piece of shrapnel lodged inside. Due to the power of the glacier, the bodies were also fused together, but forensic analysis suggested that these people were both 17 or 18 years old. It is also interesting to note that these individuals were discovered in the same mountain range as Ötzi, the 5,000 year-old “Ice Man”, and that he was ironically in better condition due to having only been frozen and not crushed like the soldiers. Despite being separated by millennia and by wildly different cultures, these soldiers were found to be wearing coverings over their boots that had been made for them by the Russian prisoners used to transport ammunition and resources up the mountains, and which were very similar to those worn by Ötzi.

Once analysis had been carried out on the remains, they were buried in unmarked graves, as DNA- although present- was unidentifiable due to having no other identification on the bodies by which to narrow down who these boys were or where they came from. Again, this is in contrast to the “Ice Man”, who recently had around 16 of his descendents traced in Austria. The place in which they were interred was in the village of Peio, which is now in the italian province of  Trentino, but was in 1918 the highest village in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Emperor decided that as such, it should not be evacuated, as many other mountain villages close to the front line were, but after the war in 1919 it became Italian. This has led to Trentino and the neighbouring South Tyrol sharing a sense of belonging to both Austria and Italy, as well as meaning that in the “White War” that took place on the Presena Glacier and elsewhere in the mountains, the men fighting on opposing sides may have known one another before the war and been friends. Indeed, this previous familiarity and sense of similarity was seen when troops exchanged gifts on Christmas Day during the hostilities.

A slightly more disturbing discover this time from the ice, but again it shows that glaciers are a mine of information about the past- whether this is ancient or recent- and a precious resource that we need to protect in order that more information and more people are not lost and forgotten forever.

Image: Office for Archaeological Finds. Trento

Image: Office for Archaeological Finds. Trento


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A further Penguin discrepency

miller on being different


Just a quick post; I’ve got several longer archaeology posts to get up this afternoon, but this carries on from my last entry. I was searching through the Penguin Classics website last night when I came across the book shown above. It caught my eye as the cover is so bright and simple compared with any of the usual Penguin Classics (not Modern Classics) covers, and because it actually sounds like an interesting read. However, it turns out that the book- Merle Miller’s ‘On Being Different: What it Means to Be a Homosexual’ was first published in 1971. Surely it should be a Modern Classic?

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The discontinuity with Penguin Classics

In my last post, I mentioned and showed that my partner and I received our copy of Morrissey’s ‘Autobiography’ through the post on Thursday, the day of its release. Since its publication was announced, the biggest debate has been around the decision by Penguin to release the volume as a ‘Classic’, complete with the famous black livery. It was a condition of its publication that it would be issued as such, but this has provoked fury from many people due to the book having only just been released, and so not qualifying as a ‘Classic’ on the basis of the usual criteria ie age, importance and popularity. People have also stated that perhaps the ‘Penguin Modern Classics’ imprint would be more fitting, as the ‘Classics’ brand is reserved for texts that are pre-1900. However, I would like to take a moment to show several ways in which this decision is actually not a strange one by Penguin, by looking at some of their other books in print.

I said in the last post that I have recently started to read Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’, and so I will start with this.

HoD MCThe cover on the left is the Modern Classics version of this book that I have (well, mine is the 2000 edition without the white band, but otherwise it’s the same), and the other two are earlier Modern Classics editions. Now.

HoD CHere we have four editions of ‘Heart of Darkness’ (with ‘The Congo Diary’ in the third case) all from the Penguin Classics series. I can see where Penguin are coming from: the story was first published in serial form in 1899, and so falls under the ‘Classics’ brand, but was then published as a book in 1902- thus a Modern Classics.

Another case, this time E.M. Forster’s ‘Maurice’, written 1913-14, and published in 1971.

EMF MThe first two covers are from Modern Classics, with the third a Classics version. Similar images can be found for all of Forster’s works, with both Classics and Modern Classics editions available.

t s e t wThen there’s this: ‘The Wasteland and Other Poems’ by T.S.Eliot. Interestingly, this great work of Modernist literature has been published as a Classic by Penguin and not a Modern Classic. This is also the case with James Joyce- my edition of ‘Ulysses’ is a Modern Classic, but my copy of ‘Dubliners’ as shown in a previous post is part of one of the previous series of Classics. I could go on with similar examples.

Another issue that has been had is with Morrissey’s book being a new book, and having not already been out before. Well, Penguin do also have a knack of publishing previously unpublished works as Classics and Modern Classics too. For example:

Truman Capote Summer CrossingThis recently unearthed early manuscript by Capote was published for the first time in 2006 as a Penguin Modern Classic, despite not actually being a classic at this point. It could be argued that it was by a classic author, but… the book still wasn’t technically a Modern Classic. The same could be said for the published letters or diaries of famous authors which then get released as part of the Classics range.

Personally, I feel that Penguin are perhaps making an interesting choice publishing ‘Autobiography’ as a Classics, but unlike some people, do not feel that it is such a strange thing for them to do. Perhaps a Modern Classic would have been more appropriate, but some form of classic status is not unfitting. The lyrics of The Smiths could be published as Modern Classics, which by Penguin’s interesting logic (as demonstrated here) would then make this autobiography an automatic classic. Or perhaps we can now have the lyrics of The Smiths published as a Classic on the back of this. Only time will tell!


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A few more new books, ‘Reclaimed Books part 2’… and MORRISSEY!

I’ve had just a few more books since my last book-buying update, and have also picked up another from my parents’:



  • Milan Kundera-  The Unbearable Lightness of Being     25p
  • Jack Kerouac-  On the Road     25p
  • Hunter S. Thompson-  Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas     25p
  • James Doig (ed.)-  Australian Ghost Stories     £1

The last book in the photo, ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote, was the one I picked up from my parents. It’s the copy I had at A Level when we studied it in English, complete with my pencilled annotations on several sections. You may also notice that the first three books I had were insanely good value for money, especially considering one of these (‘On the Road’) is a book I mentioned in a previous blog as being one I’d really like to read.

Oh, and then there’s also this other new book that my other half purchased off Amazon and which arrived the other day…



OH YES! Morrissey’s ‘Autobiography’ is here! We are both extremely put out that he only book signing he is doing has taken place in Sweden, as we couldn’t get over there to go to it, and can only hope he may decide to deign the UK with his presence in the near future. Also, the matter of who is reading the book first has been solved in two ways: I’ve already begun to read Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’, and so want to read this first; my partner has been a lover of Moz since before I even knew who he was, and has found great comfort in his lyrics at many points of her life. Me: I just think his music is quite catchy and sounds good… However, the bit of the book I did have chance to gloss over is incredibly well written, and should make for an enjoyable read!

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Thoughts on ‘Metamorphosis and other stories’



Yeah… that pretty much sums it up, to be fair. I approached this book with an immense excitement and hyped it up somewhat in previous posts, but when I was actually reading it, I found the collection a bit lacklustre, if I’m being honest. The actual story ‘Metamorphosis’ is very good, in both the way it is written and in the story itself, and despite being fairly simple in plot when it is broken down (as above), I didn’t actually expect it to go how it did. I didn’t know the story before hand, and so was approaching it completely blind (other than knowing a man becomes an insect- or more accurately, ‘vermin’. The original German doesn’t state explicitly that Georg is an insect). However, I was expecting there to be some kind of moral in the story, but couldn’t find one. I will have to read some commentaries on it, but personally I missed any sort of allegory within it or greater message behind Georg’s plight. Now, I’m not saying that there needed to be a moral or that every story needs one, but to me it seemed as though it was written with this intention, but that it hadn’t quite been pulled off.

The other stories in the collection were a rather mixed bag. I could see that some of these did indeed have messages behind them, but again feel that some of these may perhaps have been lost in translation somewhat, as some of the very short glosses (‘Meditations’ and ‘A Country Doctor’) were completely lost on me. I was somewhat surprised by the way that these tales went, as they were in many cases very abstract and modernist- I knew the term ‘Kafkaesque’, but han’t realised it was originally applied to things that were quite so odd. Odd in a strange-and-somewhat-disjointedly-random way. I can’t really explain these pieces, other than to say what I already have, and that they were… different. However I do also think that they were ridiculously compelling too, due to the short, clipped nature of their writing and presentation. They have certainly given me some ideas for my own writing, and i think writing some similar pieces would be a good way to use up various story ideas that I have and scene ideas but which I can’t fashion into complete novels or stories. I suppose they could always be expanded upon later on, too, if I felt the inspiration. Perhaps this is an experiment I should endeavour to complete sometime soon. I will update this and say how I get on.

I feel that with this ‘Thoughts on…’ I should perhaps have gone through the book a story and collection at a time, giving thoughts on each, but don’t know quite how useful or interesting this would be, as some of the pieces, such as ‘The Airplanes at Brescia’ and ‘The Stoker: A Fragment’ left me feeling fairly lukewarm. However, I will produce an extended discussion of this book in the future as and when I think about it and get around to it.

Oh- a final note. ‘In the Penal Colony’ is well worth a look. I think that it is also available as a stand-alone Penguin Mini Modern Classic, and is very interesting. I enjoyed it, if only for the imagination and twisted thoughts that went behind its writing.

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The Mystery of the Late Anglo-Saxon African and the Confused Forensic Anthropologists

Back to archaeology for a bit. I came across this story from a number of sources yesterday, and having thought about it for a bit, it seems even more confusing and interesting than I had first thought. Back in June, two boys found a human skull in the River Coln at Fairford, Gloucestershire, and subsequently uncovered the majority of the rest of the skeleton. The remains did not belong to a recently deceased individual, and have been reported as having a C14 date of between 896 and 1025 AD, as well as being female and between 18 and 24 years old. However, the curious thing is that the remains have also been identified as belonging to a Sub-Saharan African. In itself, this fact makes for an interesting story and leads to various different interpretations and ideas about why an African woman was in England at this time. The most obvious is that she would have been a slave woman, and the next step would be to carry out some desk-based research of the Early Medieval period in Fairford to see whether their are any records of manor houses or large estates that may have had slaves.

However, the story gets a lot more interesting when it is noted that the forensic examination of the skeleton has not been made available to anyone, and the company that carried out the analysis haven’t made it known what features make them think that the body is that of an African; it doesn’t seem as though any DNA has been taken or any isotope analysis done to narrow down the place of the individual’s origin. And then there’s one other matter, that is best illustrated by a picture of the bones in question:

Fairford skeleton

Image: Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard

Does anything look… out of place? Here’s the image again, with several bits marked:

Fairford skeleton 2


Okay; quite a few bits marked. Let’s start at the beginning…

1. Well. What’s this bone? Two upper arm bones? I think that may be the tibia, which does indeed seem to be absent on the left leg.

2. …I think I need to come back to this one. It’s the best one by far.

3. The ulna seems to be upside down. See also 5.

4. I’m sure that the radius is upside down, as there is the bulb at the bottom that fits into the Glenoid cavity of the scapula. I assume the other arm has been similarly arranged, it’s just I can’t tell on the photo.

5. See 3.

6. The ilium is both upside down, and on the wrong side of the body. Ditto for 7.

7. See 6.

… and then we have the pièce de résistance…

2. That’s the sacrum. As in the bottom of the spinal column. I can only think that someone thought it was perhaps the sternum. But if they did, then they shouldn’t actually be a forensic anthropologist.

I really can’t understand how someone could put a skeleton together so badly- especially considering they are meant to be professionals. Strangely, those in question haven’t yet come forward or made themselves identifiable (another anomaly considering it should have been an anthropological company or department that has done the work, and thus be known to those who contracted them in the first place). I only did a course in forensic anthropology at uni, and i can point out the errors. One bioarchaeologist, Dr Kristina Kilgrove from the University of West Florida, has even set up a blog post asking readers to point out the errors, with many having never had any training. There may be even more errors, but I can’t make them out with the quality of the image. Feel free to post any comments and further thoughts or points I’ve missed, and I’ll follow this story with interest. I’m intrigued what proper analysis reveals about this skeleton, and will post updates as the news becomes available.


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Progress with Poetry

Just a quick post to say that after a little over 3 years of intermittent work, I have finally completed the first draft of the poetry book that I have been working on. I have slightly re-jigged the ‘running order’, as it were, and am soon going to re-write all of my scribblings into a brand shiny new A4 notebook so as I can cover them all in red pen, carry out alterations and produce the second draft. I will update on the progress!

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Electric Puppet going global!

Just a quick point- I was checking the stats for this blog earlier when I found that today I’ve had a visitor to my page in JAPAN. I know that this may seem like a daft thing for me to really get excited about, but I am genuinely surprised that this blog has been viewed on the other side of the world, and get excited every time it is seen outside of the UK. The majority of my views have come from the UK, followed closely by the USA, but I’ve also had a number of views from Germany and Switzerland, and the occasional view from Canada, France, Croatia and even Mauritius. See for yourself:

Views to this blog by country, as of 11/10/13

Views to this blog by country, as of 11/10/13. Click image for detail.

It’s probably stupid of me, but I never imagined that I might manage to reach a global audience with this. Granted, many of these are single views, and that might not count as a ‘global audience’, but… Anyhoo- please comment if you are viewing this blog from outside of the UK; it would be great to get feedback from you all! And thank you! If you are not doing so already, PLEASE FOLLOW THIS PAGE, and PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE ‘like’ the Facebook page. So far, everyone on the Facebook page is a friend of mine, so it wold be great if my followers would like it too and spread the word!



…and the books continue to come…

I wish that post title related to my voracious writing… but it doesn’t. Rather, it signals another update regarding the state of my ever-expanding library, and it’s increasingly precarious position on top of our fridge… (if that sounds confusing, I sort-of explained the situation regarding my books in a previous post) As with the last time I showed any books, the photo is again of a ridiculously crappy quality due to me using the laptop camera, so please forgive me:


Left to right, these are as follows:

  • William Blake-  Songs of Innocence and of Experience     50p
  • William Gibson-  Idoru     50p
  • John Buchan-  The Thirty-Nine Steps     20p (yes, really)
  • Harry Harrison-  Make Room! Make Room!     £1.49
  • D.H. Lawrence-  Lady Chatterley’s Lover     £1.49
  • John Kennedy Toole-  A Confederacy of Dunces     £1

I do already own a copy of the Blake book, which does (as this edition does) contain facsimiles of each of the original pages. Indeed, it is a very, very beautiful copy produced by the Folio Society, but it doesn’t include a critical introduction and commentary as this one does, so I thought for 50p it was worth getting this one too. It’s also published by Oxford University Press, which is always a bonus.

Apparently the Gibson book is the second out of a trilogy, but it sounds as though it may stand alone as a book in itself and be readable as such. so I thought that I’d try it, as it may give me some ideas when it comes to creating novel scenarios. Also, the writer created the term ‘cyberspace’, so it’s worth reading just for the kudos of the author.

Another point- the image you can just about make out on the Buchan book is taken from a painting in my local museum, which I thought was quite interesting. I may take this copy along and see if I can take a picture of it next to the original.

Now, lastly- I didn’t buy ‘Lady Chatterley…’ due to its salacious reputation or anything of that nature; it does actually sound a very good book on its own merit and even if the sex wasn’t in it. I will read it with interest, but not with the intention of shocking or arousing myself. I do believe I am adult enough to not trivialise and cheapen something such as this. Even if the woman behind the counter in Oxfam when I bought it thought that I may have wanted to hide it in a bag so as no-one else saw that I’d bought a copy. Heaven help her if I’d have bought the ‘Fifty Shades…’ trilogy…

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Thoughts on Ruskin’s ‘Great Ideas’

Ruskin on art and life

I finished reading this book before starting the Kafka works that I am currently enjoying, but never got around to posting on it.  This has been due to my reticence over attempting to succinctly explain the ideas within it. As I stated in a previous blog entry, this is one of the books in Penguin’s ‘Great ideas’ series, and is made up of two extracts from Ruskin’s existing books: ‘The Nature of Gothic’ from The Stones of Venice Vol. 2 (1853), and ‘The Work of Iron, in Nature, Art, and Policy’ from The Two Paths (1859).

The writing style of Ruskin is typically Victorian and somewhat hard going, but soon grew on me and became easier to follow- I think it just threw me at first. The first extract is a celebration of the Gothic style of architecture, claiming that this Mediaeval combination of features is the most perfect building style due to six “…characteristic or moral elements”, which he lists as: “1. Savageness. 2. Changefulness. 3. Naturalism. 4. Grotesqueness. 5. Rigidity. 6. Redundance.” I didn’t quite follow some of his logic within the chapter, or understand some of his points (I think that I may need to re-read it in due course), but what shone through more than anything was both Ruskin’s love for the architecture he was discussing and his sheer passion for his subject matter. He went off on various tangents within the piece, but the most important point that seemed to be made was on the nature and the production of art. Within his explanation of “savageness”, Ruskin suggests that the perfection of the Gothic comes from its imperfection- an imperfection that is due to true thought, feeling and application of craftsmen, rather than the perfection created by skilled workers who give no thought to their work. He views these latter people as slaves, and believes that people should do without convenience, beauty or cheapness, as these can only be gained through the “…degradation of the workman”. We then get a list of ways in which this can be prevented:

1. Never encourage the manufacture of any article not absolutely necessary, in the production of which Invention has no share.

2. Never demand an exact finish for its own sake, but only for some practical or noble end.

3. Never encourage imitation or copying of any kind, except for the preserving records of great works.

Through his examples, he displays his dislike for mass production and thoughtless creation that exploits the worker rather than celebrating them, and provides us with a moral and a philosophy that is as equally relevant now in the 21st century as it was then in the 19th. Despite some reservations, I found this piece of great interest as both an insight into the way Ruskin thought, and as an alternative way of viewing art and the work of the craftsman. From an anthropological stance, this latter point is of interest as it provides arguments that can be given in any discussion of the question of art- what it is; whether some things actually are art, and just as a way of providing another case study for a society’s opinions about art (as I’ve stated on the ‘Archaeology & Anthropology‘ page above, the anthropology of art is one of my particular interests in this discipline).

The second piece in this book was the essay ‘The Work of Iron, in Nature, Art, and Policy’, that originally was “A lecture delivered at Tunbridge Wells, February 16th, 1858”. I will say less on this piece, in part because I have less to say, and in part because this does not seem to have been the main focus of this ‘Great Ideas’ volume.

The essay takes as its subject iron due to it being integral to the economic and manufacturing of Tunbridge Wells at the time, and personally I think that the piece begins well. Even though a few of his facts are slightly questionable now, and some seem naive in their assumptions, he starts by explaining how both the natural and the man-made landscape are affected by iron in its oxidised form and how the majority of the colour and features we find so asthetically appealing are due to iron. I found myself learning a great deal from this, and at several moments as I was reading I found myself thinking “Oh yeah; I never thought of that!” However, I felt that Ruskin became somewhat unstuck in his discussion of iron in policy, as all this seemed to amount to was a religious and moral rant about war, which took away somewhat of the intellectual argument he begun with. I don’t mean to say by this that religious discussions cannot be intellectual- far from it; it is just that he didn’t really seem to make an argument, and seemed to… well- moan, for want of a better word.

However, despite the book ending on this rather flat note, I was pleasantly surprised by the two pieces as a whole, and am interested in delving further into Ruskin’s work in order to understand some of his other ideas and to see how these two segments fit into his wider academic philosophy. The book is also quite a recognisable product of its time, and it is also enlightening to read Ruskin as a way of further understanding his times. Slightly heavy going at times, but recommended on several levels!

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Bowie’s top 100 books

Bowie books

Image: George Underwood

I don’t know if anyone has come across this, but a list has been published of David Bowie’s top 100 favourite books, in no particular order  (although some aren’t technically books i.e. ‘The Beano’ and ‘Private Eye’), and I thought that I’d include it on here incase anyone is interested, and so as I can point out how many of them I’ve read. Spoiler alert: It’s not many. Those that I’ve read are preceded by an *; those that I own a copy of but haven’t read yet, are marked ^, and those which I hope to buy a copy of, are preceded by ^^. I haven’t reformatted this list to match the lists of my new purchases, as- well. There’s too many to individually alter around, frankly. Sorry!

Interviews With Francis Bacon by David Sylvester
Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse
Room At The Top by John Braine
On Having No Head by Douglass Harding
Kafka Was The Rage by Anatole Broyard
*A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
City Of Night by John Rechy
The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
*Iliad by Homer
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Tadanori Yokoo by Tadanori Yokoo
Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin
Inside The Whale And Other Essays by George Orwell
Mr. Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood
Halls Dictionary Of Subjects And Symbols In Art by James A. Hall
David Bomberg by Richard Cork
Blast by Wyndham Lewis
Passing by Nella Larson
Beyond The Brillo Box by Arthur C. Danto
The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes
In Bluebeard’s Castle by George Steiner
Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd
The Divided Self by R. D. Laing
The Stranger by Albert Camus
Infants Of The Spring by Wallace Thurman
The Quest For Christa T by Christa Wolf
The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
Nights At The Circus by Angela Carter
^^The Master And Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Herzog by Saul Bellow
Puckoon by Spike Milligan
Black Boy by Richard Wright
*The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea by Yukio Mishima
Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler
*The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot
McTeague by Frank Norris
^Money by Martin Amis
The Outsider by Colin Wilson
Strange People by Frank Edwards
English Journey by J.B. Priestley
A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
The Day Of The Locust by Nathanael West
^1984 by George Orwell
The Life And Times Of Little Richard by Charles White
Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: The Golden Age of Rock by Nik Cohn
Mystery Train by Greil Marcus
*Beano (comic, ’50s)
Raw (comic, ’80s)
White Noise by Don DeLillo
Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm And Blues And The Southern Dream Of Freedom by Peter Guralnick
Silence: Lectures And Writing by John Cage
Writers At Work: The Paris Review Interviews edited by Malcolm Cowley
The Sound Of The City: The Rise Of Rock And Roll by Charlie Gillete
Octobriana And The Russian Underground by Peter Sadecky
The Street by Ann Petry
Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
Last Exit To Brooklyn By Hubert Selby, Jr.
A People’s History Of The United States by Howard Zinn
The Age Of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby
Metropolitan Life by Fran Lebowitz
The Coast Of Utopia by Tom Stoppard
The Bridge by Hart Crane
All The Emperor’s Horses by David Kidd
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
^^Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess
The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos
Tales Of Beatnik Glory by Ed Saunders
The Bird Artist by Howard Norman
Nowhere To Run The Story Of Soul Music by Gerri Hirshey
Before The Deluge by Otto Friedrich
Sexual Personae: Art And Decadence From Nefertiti To Emily Dickinson by Camille Paglia
The American Way Of Death by Jessica Mitford
*In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
^^Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
Teenage by Jon Savage
Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Viz (comic, early ’80s)
*Private Eye (satirical magazine, ’60s – ’80s)
Selected Poems by Frank O’Hara
The Trial Of Henry Kissinger by Christopher Hitchens
Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes
Maldodor by Comte de Lautréamont
Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonders by Lawrence Weschler
Zanoni by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
Transcendental Magic, Its Doctine and Ritual by Eliphas Lévi
The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels
The Leopard by Giusseppe Di Lampedusa
^^Inferno by Dante Alighieri
A Grave For A Dolphin by Alberto Denti di Pirajno
The Insult by Rupert Thomson
In Between The Sheets by Ian McEwan
A People’s Tragedy by Orlando Figes
Journey Into The Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg

^^On The Road by Jack Kerouac

As you can see, there aren’t many of The Dame’s top 100 that I’ve read, but I have to say that the vast majority of these I’ve never heard of, to be honest. I will endeavour to look quite a few of them up, though, to see if they are worth pursuing at all. I’ve separated the last book on the list, as I’ve been reading up on this recently and am very intrigued by the ‘scroll’ manuscript of this that was produced- just for the sheer unusual nature of the document and the strange beauty that it possesses. Also, this is on my list of books to try and get a copy of soon; I don’t know why- I just fancy reading it.

Anyhoo- feel free to comment with your thoughts on any of these books, and if you can tell me more about what some of them are about, this would be greatly appreciated!


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Life update #3

Riding the high of my previous post, I may as well impart my other piece of good news. As you will know if you have been following this blog, I have been living in Stoke-on-Trent since finishing university back in June, and have been feeling rather down due to the lack of opportunity and the lack of drive in the city following the optimism and splendour of Oxford. Well, I have been speaking to my old form teacher/friend from high school recently on Facebook, when the other week he asked if I would like to meet with the new Headteacher at the school to discuss Oxford, and to see what I could offer the school in terms of advice about Oxbridge. I went in to see the two of them on Thursday (3rd), and have been offered a job as a mentor and in assisting with university links! I have yet to finalise pay, hours and have a CRB check, but if all goes well, I should hopefully be in work within a month. Yippee! I cannot thank my ex-teacher enough for facilitating this opportunity for me, and am truly grateful and humbled that they feel I could be of any use to the school at all, to be honest. I will post an update when I know more, but for now, things are looking slightly more shiny than they did!

Mr Happy


Yes! Yes! Oh, Morrissey; YES!!!

OH YEAH! You may remember my post regarding the delay to Morrissey’s ‘Autobiography’. Well, I’ve just seen on Penguin’s site that this is now to be released on the 17th October, and will be released as a Penguin Classic. That is both myself and my partner who are two very happy little Mozza-loving bunnies.

Smile 1


More newly acquired books (and ‘Reclaimed Books part 1’)


Please forgive the truly abysmal quality of the above photo (and the below photo, too, to be fair); the iPhone I normally take the pictures on has finally died, having soldiered on for about a year and a half with a slowly disintegrating screen. I’ve had to resort to dangling the laptop upside down and using the camera on this, which made for some interesting contortive poses trying not to get my arm in shot. Anyhoo. These are the four books I’ve acquired recently (I assume that you won’t be able to pick out the titles on the image):

  • Rudyard Kipling-  Kim     50p
  • Jostein Gaarder-  Through a Glass, Darkly     50p
  • George Orwell-  Nineteen Eighty-Four     99p
  • Zelda Fitzgerald-  Save Me the Waltz     99p

Now, I already owned a copy of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ that I bought from the Oxfam in Turl Street, Oxford, but I managed to drop it in a puddle a few minutes after purchasing it, and haven’t been happy with its crinkled state since then. I’ve meant to get a new edition, but had reservations due to technically still already having the book, and because I liked the cover of my edition so much:


The cover of my rain-soaked edition of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’

The spine had a nice flourescent stripe down it that really helped it to make a statement on the shelf, but I hadn’t got round to reading it due to the awkwardness of trying to turn the crinkled pages. The copy I recently purchased, however, had an introduction and a note on the text that are absent from the edition I did have, so this is actually a far better buy.



Now, I come onto the part of this post that is titled at the top ‘Reclaimed Books part 1.’ By this, I mean these are a few books that were at my parents from before I moved out and which I have picked up (or ‘Reclaimed’). As such, these aren’t new, but I’m showing them here as I will eventually get posts up on them (or most of them) when I read them- even if this isn’t for a while yet. Eventually, when we manage to purchase some shelving and I sort all of my books out (archaeology, anthropology, poetry, classics, music, space and other random things), I will put pictures on here and then post on any of these as and when I read them or feel like mentioning them, but for now my recent purchases, these and a few others are all that I can read as they are all I can physically put my hands on without burying myself under boxes and paperwork. Anyhoo- as you can only read three of the titles in the image, these are the books I ‘Reclaimed’ (from L to R):

  • William Golding-  The Scorpion God (I have already read this, but may read it again)
  • William Golding-  The Spire
  • T.S.Eliot-  Murder in the Cathedral (I have this in his ‘Collected Poems and Plays’, but like to have stand-alone copies too)
  • John Wyndham-  The Day of the Triffids
  • John Milton-  Paradise Lost
  • Stephen Hawking-  A Brief History of Time
  • James Joyce-  Dubliners

At the moment, I’m still reading ‘Metamorphosis and other stories’, but expect review and thoughts etc. in due course.

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LiDAR and landscape archaeology in the New Forest

LiDAR- Light Detection and Ranging- systems work by firing a pulsed laser beam from an aircraft many thousands of times a second. These pulses then pass through any vegetation or undergrowth and bounce off the ground, to be picked up by on-board detectors, and then converted into 3D CGI images. Such systems are used in the archaeological study of landscapes to build up a better and clearer ideas of the way sites in the past interacted with on another and fit into the topography of the landscape, showing the lines of sight and viewsheds available, as well as a plethora of other uses. One of these other uses is to find hidden and buried features, and this has been employed to spectacular effect recently by archaeologists in the New Forest, Hampshire. The New Forest National Park Authority (NPA) has said that experts have surveyed a 350-square-mile region, with much being hidden under dense forest, but the really exciting thing about this is the fact that over 3,500 new sites and areas of interest have been discovered. Amongst the finds have been prehistoric field systems, Bronze Age burial mounds and an Iron Age hill fort, with the new surveys contributing to our knowledge of two Bronze Age barrows on Beaulieu Heath. All-in-all, this seems to have been a very profitable piece of landscape archaeology, and should produce fruitful study and research opportunities for many decades to come. I shall look out for further findings with interest!

LiDAR scan of Bratley Inclosure by the A31, showing the archaeology. Imahe: New Forest National Park Authority.

LiDAR scan of Bratley Inclosure by the A31, showing the archaeology. Image: New Forest National Park Authority.

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Political intolerance

Before I start this post, I will say that this is based on personal observation and opinion- so don’t moan at me for what I say!

The reason that I’m writing this is because yesterday I came across an interesting string of comments regarding a uni friend’s choice of political party, and found the whole episode irritating to say the least. This was for two reasons: 1) Their grasp of British politics was rather shaky, despite professing that they knew what they were talking about, and  2) I am now unsure how their staunch views affect my relationship with them, as I would be a prime example of someone their party wouldn’t like.  Now, let me explain.

I am a supporter of the UK’s Labour Party- I do not hide this fact. However, I can see that other parties leaders may have been decent in the past and done their jobs well. For example, I can see that for the most part, Churchill was a good leader and Prime Minister during WWII, but this would not make me instantly vote Tory or Liberal, even though he belonged to both of these parties at various points of his career.  I say this because the said Facebook rant seemed to take the line that because Margaret Thatcher had been an effectual leader and caused a change for the better in an Eastern Block country, then the party she belonged to would therefore be the best thing for the UK 20 years later. Just by reading that, you can probably see the flaw in the reasoning. It wasn’t that no knowledge of politics was exhibited per se, but it showed a lack of knowledge and regard for the country- any argument made against this view that tried to show the way people are worse off under the present Lib/Con coalition was ignored or attacked on personal grounds. Now, personal attacks are not okay in political debates or discussions and have no place in politics. However, the lack of seeming regard for the fact that many areas of the UK are in poverty, with families living on the ‘bread line’ and unable to find work or any form of help under the present government, seemed to me insulting. As I said above, the fact that a past Tory leader may have been good for another country does not mean that the present Tory party’s policies are good for the country now in the present. The cuts the coalition has made so far hit the people at the bottom of the social pile first and the hardest. Rather than cutting the bonuses that banks and the BBC are allowed to give to present and former, ineffectual and disgraced chiefs, the government would prefer to cut benefits to those worst off, or make people in council housing pay more rent by giving them less housing benefit if they are deemed to have too many bedrooms. They would prefer to pay several billion pounds on a high-speed rail network (‘HS2’) that is not needed and would only benefit a select few, and make it easier for big businesses to pay no tax through loopholes in the law than  give help to those millions of families who need it. For someone who has only ever seen the privileged, middle-class side of the UK and has only spent time with middle class individuals from the ‘Oxford Bubble’, the cuts by the government may seem to have no relevance or may not matter, but I can personally see the effect that such stupid policies have in an area such as Stoke-on-Trent. Which leads me on to the second point that I detailed at the beginning of this post.

As previous posts have alluded to, I have studied at Oxford, but come from a working class background in a dead city. It is frustrating that as a write this, I am currently without a job and my family is scraping by on several forms of benefit. I am not proud of this, and as I have said before, my partner and myself aim to make the most of our life for the sake of our own happiness and for our children’s future- we want to return to university at Oxford, and then write, lecture and be successful sociologists  and priests (my partner); archaeologists and poets (myself). However that is the state at present, and the current government are making the situation worse for us. Now, in posting the views regarding the Tories as mentioned above, and by ignoring the effect their policies are having on those less well off in society, I cannot help but feel as though my friend shares the Conservative view of people of benefits and those at the bottom of the heap. Am I in a situation of my own making? Should I have to carry out community service for every penny of my Jobseekers, which I could end up doing, instead of carrying out volunteer work at excavations to gain important skills that could give me the experience that allows me to apply for the jobs that I hope to do? I cannot help but feel that this is how they silently view me; as a chav with kids who’s arsing around instead of working, or as a scrounger who should help myself instead of being helped. Perhaps I shouldn’t have even been to Oxford, coming from a working class area. Here, I could start with the Labour propaganda, as it is thanks to them and their introduction of Student Loans that I was able to go to uni; in much the same way as the Facebook comments suggested Thatcher should be lauded for making it possible to reach the University of Oxford from Eastern Europe.* However, I had hoped that my friends knew my family and I better; taking us for who we are and not what the government may say we are. It saddens me, and frankly hurts.

I do not have a problem with people holding different views to mine, whether this be political or religious. I just don’t like it when it is ill-thought out and personally insulting. Anyhoo- feel free to comment on here or on the Electric Puppet Facebook page. I would love your input.

Thatcher cartoon

Image: Shooty/

* I could also add that Labour’s Student Loans made it possible for foreign Tories to study here… but I won’t.

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