davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

Met friend X for Saturday lunch, having not seen any of my local friends face to face since May*, and in the process of catching up with her she brought me up to speed with everyone else. I'd known some of it was going to be bad, our regular Saturday lunch dates stopped suddenly when my friend Y's adult son was hospitalised, and I knew that was dragging on, but not how badly. And she opened that tale by saying "We didn't even see Y at John Z's funeral", to which my reaction was unfortunately, "What, John died? When?"

He was a friend who'd moved away, but formerly another of the Saturday lunch crowd. I was never entirely sure how he felt about me, but I liked him. He'd had serious health problems for years (I think since early 30s and he was pushing 70) and when they worsened had apparently chosen his moment to stop ongoing treatment and time his exit to his satisfaction. He was the archetypal engineer and controls were his speciality, and that is just so like him.

No better news WTR friend Y's son, I knew he'd been rushed into hospital with what they initially thought was an infection, and apparently the diagnosis wandered through meningitis and encephelitis before settling on terminal brain cancer with a 2 year prognosis. Needless to say Y has been distraught. Obviously I then felt a bit of a shit for not being more supportive, but X pointed out she has been offering to meet Y for coffee or whatever on pretty much a weekly basis and hasn't been taken up once (and she just lives around the corner from them). I'll make a similar offer now I know, but it sounds like it's unlikely to be taken up. The one piece of hopeful news is they've just switched his treatment from Kings to Guys**, and Guys thinks a chemo regime is worthwhile, where Kings didn't.

The one truly bright point among all this is that X's husband has been formally declared to be in remission after the bone marrow transplant he had at the start of the year.

I'm okay, sad for friends rather than sad for myself, but sometimes you need to write stuff down to work out how you feel.

* I actually live next town over from everyone else, so unless we actively plan to meet, we tend not to run into each other.

** Major London teaching/specialist hospitals

davidgillon: Text: I really don't think you should put your hand inside the manticore, you don't know where it's been. (Don't put your hand inside the manticore)

I was speculating about land-going angler fish as I read the comments on today's new Wilde Life strip (that moth looks awfully like a lure to me) and my idling brain just put two and two together to make five and imagine: The infernal vampire tree squid :)

Of course someone's always got there first: Tree Octopuses in the media In this case a surprising number of someones - I thought tree octopi were one of Pterry's creations, but apparently there's a rich literary tradition of them.

But I'm claiming the infernal vampire tree squid as mine, so there.
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
Whoops, two and a half months since the last of these? Well, I suppose I did lose about half of that to wall to wall Olympics, holiday and Paralympics.

I didn't actually carry on with Defying Doomsday, the anthology about disabled people in doomsday scenarios I mentioned I was reading next in the last one of these. That's not a reflection on the book, I read the Amazon kindle sampler, bought it to read while away, but didn't actually restart it - it would be doing it a disservice to say I didn't finish it, it's much more I didn't start it. I do plan to return to it when I'm in the right mood for that kind of fiction.

Anno Dracula, Kim Newman

I've been meaning to read this for years, and it was going cheap in the Amazon autumn sale.

Events did not happen as Bram Stoker imagined, Doctor Van Helsing failed, and his head decorates a pike outside Buckingham Palace, for Count Dracula's ultimate aim was no less than the seduction of Queen Victoria, and the undead now rule Victorian London, with Dracula as Lord Protector and his Carpathian Guard impaling dissidents in the streets. But a killer, Silver-Knife, is roaming the East End, gutting poor new-dead whores on Whitechapel's streets, and the newly vampiric establishment is quite clear that something must be done. That odd pillar of the establishment, the Diogenes Club, is on the case, in the person of Charles Beauregard, a man clearly cut from precisely the same bolt of cloth as Richard Hannay. 

As Charles delves into the hunt for Silver-Knife (Sherlock Holmes, like Bram Stoker, being interned in the Devil's Dyke concentration camp and therefore unavailable), he finds aid in the most curious of places, including a meeting with not one, but a whole committee of criminal genii in a Limehouse sewer. Providing him with his entreé into the seamier side of London is Geneviève Sandrine de l'Isle Dieudonné, who was a vampire when Dracula was still a babe in arms (and who Kim Newman assures us is not quite the same Geneviève Sandrine du Pointe du Lac Dieudonné as featured in Jack Yeovil's* Warhammer novels). Geneviève has been passing her time helping at the Toynbee Institute, a Victorian social initiative, though one increasingly becoming indistinguishable from a hospital as it tries to care for the newly dead, many of whom do not long survive being of Dracula's flawed bloodline (Geneviève is not, a point she's rather superior about). The Toynbee's plight is not helped by its increasingly distracted director, Jack Seward, who lives in fear of joining Van Helsing outside the Palace, while mourning his lost love, Lucy Westenra.

Meanwhile, another of Van Helsing's coterie, Art Holmwood, has done rather better for himself and as the newly-dead Lord Godalming is now gopher to the very not newly-dead Prime Minister, Lord Ruthven. When he isn't sniffing around Charles' fiancee, the oh-so-prickly Pamela.

And then the Dear Boss letter arrives, and the killer gains a new sobriquet, Jack the Ripper.

Jack the Ripper with vampires, in fact with a walk-on part for just about every literary vampire Kim Newman could think of, and he's an expert on the subject. And with plenty of non-vampires as well, from Mycroft Holmes of the Diogenes Club, to real people such as Florence Stoker and  Oscar Wilde (vampirised) and fictional ones ranging from Danny Dravot (The Man Who Would be King) to Soames Forsyte (the Forsyte Saga) and both Doctors Jekyll and Moreau. There's an extensive Afterword and Newman admits even he isn't sure how many real and fictional characters he managed to squeeze in.

It's a self-indulgent romp, but an incredibly readable one, and there's a far deeper game afoot than first appears. And the moment I finished it I downloaded The Bloody Red Baron, which picks up the tale in the Great War (Biggles as a vampire!)

*aka Kim Newman

The Peshawar Lancers, S M Stirling

This literally fell off the bookshelf into my hand (I'd bumped it) and I ended up thoroughly enjoying re-reading it. It's another one of Stirling's alternate histories where the world gets devastated, but in this case it's a fairly conventional comet strike rather than a change in the laws of physics and odd goings-on at Rhode Island. The comet strikes in the mid-1880s, triggering a nuclear winter across the Northern Hemisphere, followed by famine across the bits of it not already devastated by tsunamis. St Disraeli, warned of the reality he's facing as British PM by a coterie of scientists, oversees the evacuation of as much of British civilization to India as he can before Eurasia inevitably succumbs to cannibal hordes (Stirling does like his post-apocalyptic cannibal hordes).

Roll on a hundred and forty years or so and the Angrezi (English) Raj is the world superpower, with its airships and railways and even a few motorcars driven by Stirling-cycle engines. The British have assimilated into India as another martial caste, and high society is an odd mix of Victorian militant Christianity and high-caste Hinduism. On the borders of the Raj are it's rivals, the Caliphate, the Empire of Nippon (now including China) and the hellhole that is Russia, where the state religion is cannibalism and worship of Tchernebog, the Peacock Angel, destroyer of all - quite literally a death cult. The only other world power is French North Africa, loosely allied with the Raj by way of common enmity with the Caliphate and common European heritage.

Captain Athelstane King of the Peshawar Lancers, just back to the Punjab from a campaign in Afghanistan, is an officer in the pure Kipling mode, literally born to serve and incapable of being anything other than ruggedly heroic. Then someone tries to kill him, while at the same time another group tries to kill his physicist twin sister Cassandra serveral hundred miles away, and King finds himself, and his family, caught up in the Great Game. King is quickly brought up to speed by Warburton, a Political Officer (i.e. spy) and friend of his deceased father. It turns out the Russians have been trying to kill off Athelstane's family for several generations. Warburton doesn't have a clue why, but he does have a suspicion how they keep getting close, and he'll be branded doolally* if he tries to tell anyone. The nightmare that was survival in Russia post-holocaust produced a small bloodline of women, the True Dreamers, able to sense multiple parallel worlds, and to use that to select the actions that will lead to success. And now the Okhrana, the Russian intelligence service, who the True Dreamers serve, want to kill Athelstane, and Cassandra, and maybe they won't stop there.

So, like any manly-thewed Kiplingesque officer, Athelstane and his Havildar (sergeant) Narayan Singh, together with Ibrahim Khan, an Afghan bandit they pick up along the way, head off undercover to try and figure things out, while their mother finagles Cassandra the safest nest she can find her -- at the heart of the Imperial Court, as tutor to the tempestuously teenaged Princess Sita, currently being courted by Vicomte Henri de Vascogne on behalf of the French Dauphin, and which brings her into the orbit of the dynamically noble Crown Prince Charles. Meanwhile the dastardly Count Ignatieff, agent of the Okhrana, aided by his True Dreamer, Yasmini, is still out to kill the Kings, just like he did their father, and his ultimate aim goes much, much further, being nothing less than the extinction of the human race (like I said, death cult).

It's a great, rip-roaring, swashbuckling adventure in the Kiplingesque Kim/Gunga Din/North West Frontier sense, with desperate  fights with Thugs and with Ninja, fist fights on trains and sword-fights on top of airships, and the cavalry riding to the rescue, What impresses me most is the way Stirling has caught that upper-class Anglo-Indian sense of noblesse oblige and duty to the Raj. You could drop Athelstane King into North West Frontier (Cinemascope, 1959) in place of Kenneth More's Captain Scott and he'd be utterly at home. Of course that means it's also caught that sense of Imperial manifest destiny, and an upper class that has slotted quite comfortably into the Indian caste system, but it does do a relatively decent job of making Narayan Singh and Ibrahim Khan just as much heroes as is Athelstane King.

*from Deolali, the asylum for people of quality in the original Raj

Throne of Jade, Naomi Novik

I initially read this when it was released, but idly picked it up off the shelf recently and ended up reading it from start to finish in a single sitting.

Think of Patrick O Brian's Aubrey and Maturin series, but with Stephen Maturin a dragon instead of a doctor. In the first book, Captain Jack Aubrey Will Laurence of the Reliant seized a French frigate carrying the egg of a Chinese Celestial Dragon, impressed (in the McCaffrey sense) the dragonling when it hatched, named it Temeraire and was subsequently transferred much against his will to the Aerial Corps, whence Temeraire proved decisive in defeating Napoleon's aerial invasion.

Only now the Chinese want their dragon back. And as the British don't dare push them further into the French camp, Laurence is under intense pressure to give up Temeraire, whatever he, or Temeraire, think of the matter. Ordered to China, they set sail on a massive dragon transport, effectively a sail-powered aircraft carrier for dragons. From the UK to China is a long voyage under sail and there are ongoing tensions between Temeraire's crew and the Navy (particularly as certain aspects of the Corps are a closely held secret) and between the British and the Chinese delegation, which includes a Chinese prince much inclined to stand on his precedence.

Aubrey and Maturin seems very much a concious model as the transport plods its slow way around the African coast - there are encounters with the French, encounters with sea monsters, encounters with storms, encounters with Chinese cuisine, and superstition among the crew obscuring a real conspiracy. Novik does a good job of illustrating the slow speed of nautical travel in the age of sail, and her exploration of how dragons would affect war at sea is really rather good.

And then they finally arrive in China and the politicking kicks into high gear, but that almost fades into insignificance, because the Chinese have a completely different system for managing their dragons than the Europeans, one in which the dragons are much more equal partners. And if it is surprising for Laurence, it is a stunning revelation for Temeraire.

On re-reading you can see that this was the book where Novik really started to shape Temeraire as an agent of change, after a fairly conventionally plotted first book, but it went so far off our timeline in the next volume that I never did finish the series - which is probably more a matter of my tastes than the quality of the writing.

The Moscow Option, David Downing

I know I wrote a review of this somewhere recently,  but I'm damned if I can find it! As I don't think it was here....

Early winter 1941, and as the German front nears Moscow, Hitler flies out to assess the situation, But before he can issue revised orders, which in our time line will turn the thrust north towards Leningrad, his aircraft crashes and Der Fuhrer is left in a coma, leaving the German High Command free to prosecute the war as they see fit. Papilio Acta Est

They do rather well, but are still subject to that old military saw that only an idiot invades Russia, especially in Winter. Also covered are the campaign in North Africa, and the war in the Pacific. The coverage of the Russian campaign is solid, I didn't see any obvious weaknesses, but it's not one of the areas of military history I've a deep knowledge of. The Desert Campaign - actually a dual thrust with a northern arm coming down through the Caucuses towards Persia - I wasn't quite so convinced by. The book does a really good job of showing how knife-edge balanced the entire campaign was, with victory dependent on supply, but Rommel's initial triumph seems a little too easy. The campaign in the Pacific I have real problems with, the reasoning that sees the Japanese realise their codes have been broken and avoid the Battle of Midway is sound, but the option they come up with to replace it is, well, absurd. The Imperial Japanese Navy under Admiral Yamamoto was bold, but it was not so ludicruously self confident as to commit both the battle AND carrier fleets to a battle off Panama. There's either a deliberate ignoring of Japanese doctrine here, or a failure to understand it.

Despite the criticism it's a good read, but an annoying one. This actually first appeared in the 1990s when the military alternate history genre had its peak, with The Hitler Options, Disaster at D-Day and so on. I didn't notice it back then, but this is a recent reprint in e-book form, and it's patently obvious it was produced from an OCR scan of the original edition. I can understand why that might be done, but if you do it that way it's pretty important you have someone who knows the subject, or at least has a copy of the original, doing a line-editing pass to correct the OCR. I'm fairly confident Hitler did not have a general called Jodi (Jodl), nor did the Luftwaffe have an aircraft called the Mel-10 (Me 110, and should actually be Bf 110). There are OCR errors on almost literally every page, which made for a teeth-grinding read. At least I got it cheap.

The British Battleship, Norman Friedman

Technically I haven't finished this yet, I'm about 75% of the way through. It's a design history of the British battleship since the launch of HMS Dreadnought in 1906, it's 400+ pages of A4 small print and I've been reading it since early September. It is incredibly information dense and I keep having to put it aside when my head starts swimming. But if the Royal Navy is your thing then this is essential reading, Friedman having dug deep into the archives to write this. I already have his volume on Cruisers and the second one on Destroyers, and annoyingly his footnote habit has gotten out of control again. I thought he'd tamed it, but we're back to up to 8 pages of footnotes on a chapter, at the back of the book, and they're even more information dense than the main body of text. 120 footnotes in a chapter? Seriously? It makes the book physically a pain to read.

But for all the complaints, it's invaluable, I've found myself reforming my opinions of much accepted wisdom. It points out Dreadnought was even more revolutionary for her engines than her guns, puts the final nail in Beatty's "there's something wrong with our bloody ships today" line at Jutland (more like "there's something wrong with my fleet orders that have made my captains discard every safety precaution built into their magazines, and after the war I'm going to use my position as First Sea Lord to make sure that stays buried"), and the famed loss of HMS Hood to 'weak' battecruiser armour at the Battle of the Denmark Strait turns out to be the loss of the best, indeed most revolutionary, armoured ship in the world in 1920, and still better armoured than most of our battleships in 1940).

Rebuilding the Royal Navy: Warship Design Since 1945, David K Brown and George Moore

Fascinating, and arguably essential reading if the post-WWII Royal Navy is one of your interests. Full of the background detail that allows you to understand why the ships of the RN were designed and built the way they were. And this is the period where DKB was one of our senior Naval Architects, so we are in many cases privileged to hear the view of the man on the inside, who was actually there when the decisions were taken, or making them himself. It was amusing to read about his two decade fight to get even an experimental installation of a transom flap on a frigate (basically a hydrodynamic trick to make ships go faster - though no one understands how it works), simultaneously with finding out from other sources that a transom-flap is now going to be part of the mid-life update on the Type 23 frigates. The inexorable progression of technological development, and the need to keep pace, or fight to keep pace, is rather a theme here.

The authors divided the chapters between themselves, and for some reason I preferred the chapters where DKB was the primary author, rather than those were George Moore was, never mind that Moore gets to cover the immediate post-war period I'm most interested in. I can't actually pin down why that is, and they note that they each reworked the other's chapters, but I definitely found that I didn't feel George Moore's chapters quite matched what I expected from reading DKB's 'Warrior to Dreadnought', 'Grand Fleet' and 'Nelson to Vanguard', while DKB's did. It may be simply a matter of style, and the bulk of the book is DKB's work, but there was just that little niggle.


Up Next

The Bloody Red Baron, Kim Newman

Web Comics

A couple I've picked up recently: Storm and Desire, which is roughly a first contact situation involving some interesting characters in a far future setting - I've not quite worked out where this is going yet, but it's interesting enough to stick with, and White Noise, which is a post-apocaplyptic tale with a teenaged experimental subject (with large, white, fluffy tail) fleeing from the secret wilderness experimental site where he grew up/woke up moments ahead of the terrorists who killed everyone he'd ever known and forced to seek shelter in the big city, where mutants like him are shot on sight (definite manga influence here, one of the characters wears a top saying "I Glomp Bishonen" - and does). Meanwhile Strong Female Protagonist has been quite stunning in recent months, and Wilde Life has been almost equally good - incidentally both have strong fandoms on their respective fora. In other comics I follow, Footloose has put itself on hiatus, but the authors have picked straight up with the related Black Market Magic, and Spinnerette is doing the same, picking up with White Heron, possibly the first ever South Korean set superhero web comic (spun out of the origin story of Spinnerette's Mecha Maid).


Oct. 14th, 2016 01:43 pm
davidgillon: Text: I really don't think you should put your hand inside the manticore, you don't know where it's been. (Don't put your hand inside the manticore)

I'm back to feeling pretty worn out by whatever this chest bug is, I was better on Monday and Tuesday, but I seem to have slipped back to having no energy again.

This was something of an issue as my sister was talking about visiting over her school's half term, possiblty with her husband, which I thought was next week, with the place needing some significant tidying before it's fit for visitors, and I've just not been up to it. Further complicating things, my sister's mother-in-law just died - not unexpectedly, it's been on the card for years and got more likely at the end of August, so they've been organising the funeral etc, which meant I couldn't really pin her down as to whether she is actually coming or not - this wouldn't be the first time she's said she'll visit and then not done it because of pressure of schoolwork etc.

So I mentioned it to my mother when we talked on Wednesday, asking her to give me a ring as soon as Sister-Dearest decides if she is in fact coming. Mam pointed out that my sister and her husband do actually have a weekend away booked at the start of the half-term, so the earliest she could get to me would be Tuesday, not Saturday. So I could legitimately put spring-cleaning off til the weekend. Which was a relief.

And then my mother rang again last night - prompting 'Oh, hell, she is coming' thoughts as I went for the phone. "I've interrogated your sister," says she, "and if she does come it'll just be her, but I've told her she's got too much work to do here." And more significantly, I realised from what she was saying that half-term isn't next week, it's the week after.

So the good news is I've got at least a week to recover without needing to fret about house cleaning. The bad news is I owe my sister an apology for setting Mother on her, and do need to emphasise she is welcome to visit if she wants.

davidgillon: Text: I really don't think you should put your hand inside the manticore, you don't know where it's been. (Don't put your hand inside the manticore)

Fascinating Aïda nail Brexit
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
 .... The mini-dream about Springwatch* was rather inappropriate!

The one about starting university and alien encounters was interesting, if fairly psychologically obvious, but adding extra anxiety with the 'hey, I'm buying a coke and a mars bar and suddenly I can't find any change and the guy at the till is calling me an idiot' was a bit excessive.

And did you go third person for a while there? I don't think the bit highlighting the abilities of the six adopted sisters was first.

* A UK nature show that runs in, oddly enough, the Spring.

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

... it takes you almost a week to realise you're under the weather.

Actually it's a little more complex than that. I realised I was a little off last Friday, and I was really off in town on Saturday, I couldn't manage to push the chair back to the car - I could manage the level bits, but not the uphill. Chest bug + pushing appears to be a bad combination, but luckily I could still manage to waddle behind.

But it took me until last night, about six days in, to realise that no, I wasn't having a bunch of lazy days, I literally couldn't walk across the room without leaving myself out of breath, and it wasn't so much I was losing myself in relatively low level stuff, as it was all the brain I had. It seems to be a bit better today, but it's definitely taken the wind out of my sails.

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

Prompted by a friend posting an autumnal one on FB:

Lawn disappearing
beneath a sea of brown leaves,
Solstice vanishes.

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
I feel like I want to write something longer, possibly thoughts on the Paralympics, but I'm currently being driven to distraction by itching, mostly on the palms of my hands. This is the third day, and last night I ended up wearing wheelchair gloves to stop myself tearing my palms to ribbons. There's no rash or anything, so my guess would be opioid related, possibly compounded by general tiredness, but that's not a side-effect I get very often - and it's not one I'd like to see any more of, thank you!

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
[personal profile] sovay was asking if there were any shots of Durham cathedral being created from fountains dueing the Kynren performance, I knew I'd seen a pic last night, but couldn't find it again, which turns out to be because it's on a youtube clip - not great quality (people had been told not to use cameras and phones), but it'll give you an idea. The arches are about the 30 second mark, and if you watch through to the jousting, I was sitting directly in front of the target they're tilting at:

(Clip of a Kynren performance, showing various scenes from among the crowd).

The gothic arches are a repeating theme, the fireworks are set up to create similar shapes (the fireworks were superb, being integrated into the imagery rather than just the usual big bang)and the volunteers are known as Archers. And they repeat in the landscape.

Shot of the 11 gothic arches of Bishop Auckland Viiaduct towering over the valley of the Wear

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)

The advert, not actual Kynren footage

Footage and interviews from the press preview night, which is when the rest of my family saw it. That first interview is a proper Bishop accent!

I'm just back from three weeks in Bishop Auckland, my home town, but before I left I saw Kynren at the weekend, as an early birthday present from my sister. It's based on the Puy de Fou shows in France, which have developed into a theme park, and is being funded by my home town's local city fund manager turned philanphropist, who bought Auckland Castle (until then the seat of the Bishop of Durham) a few years ago. Reportedly there's been £35m invested to get it up and running, and that's well believable, because it knocks any son et lumiere I've seen before into a cocked hat. They've head-hunted the directorial staff from both Puy de Fou and the London Olympics Opening Ceremony, but the cast themselves are local volunteers, including my sister, who is variously playing Roman slaves, medieval peasants, miner's widows and Canadian Mounties, all in the same performance.

The showground lies in a loop of the Wear below Auckland Castle, in the shadows of the viaduct (from which the production company, Eleven Arches, takes its name) and is centred on an artificial lake, with significant parts of the show actually taking place on the lake. In front of that is the field where most of the action takes place, and rising from the back of the lake is a stone terrace, which becomes the backdrop when 'Auckland Castle' rises from it. From the back the seating looks like a wooden fortress, but from the front it's 8,000 steeply ranked seats which give a good view over the staging. As a wheelchair user I was in row A, actually in front of row A, which was great for seeing everything on the field, but one or two things on the lake were slightly obscured by the low angle. To be honest I'd still take the proximity and the slightly blocked vision if given the choice of a higher seat.

The show started at 8:30PM, which was full dark at the start of September, and that's apparently better for the spectacle. My brother in law was with me as my wheelchair user +1 and he said it was definitely better in full darkness than the dusk he'd first seen it in.

Anyway, Kynren. There's a linking narrative involving a young boy named Arthur, who boots his football through the pre-war Bishop's window and is rewarded with a lesson in British history, which in 90 minutes covered:

Joseph of Arimethea and the Holy Grail - complete with tree emerging from the lake

Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table

The Roman Withdrawal from England - with four horse chariot, Roman cavalry, legionaries, slave wagon.

St Cuthbert and the coming of Christianity to the North. The Lindisfarne Gospel.

The Viking raids, the wandering of St Cuthbert’s remains and the founding of Durham Cathedral - they built a cathedral from fountains, I was awestruck, so was everyone else.

The Battle of Stamford Bridge - Arthur gets the crucial role in the story the Viking on the Bridge

The Battle of Hastings, Harold and William - which features a crewed Norman ship emerging from the lake

Medieval Life and Tourney - complete with sheep, goats and geese, and with knights tilting at targets no more than 15 feet in front of you if you're in the wheelchair row

Battles against the Scots - flaming drumsticks!

Henry VIII and the Field of the Cloth of Gold

Queen Elizabeth and William Shakespeare meet at Auckland Castle - this is apparently historically attested, blew my mind!

The Civil War and the execution of Charles I

The coming of the railways - from Bishop Auckland to the world! (The Stockton and Darlington railway was built to service the Bishop Auckland coalfields). Complete with working Locomotion.

Mining disasters - very poignant, especially as many of the cast and audience will be descendants of miners, our family certainly is.

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee

WWI and the Christmas Truce - I may have had a tear in my eye here

The Durham Miner's Gala - first time I've seen the Charleston done in wellies

WWII, Arthur goes to war.

And all wrapped up with a curtain call and Land of Hope and Glory, during which my sister cunningly positioned herself in exactly the right spot for us to spot her.

It is non-stop, often with four or more layers of activities happening at once - track, field, lake, terrace. My brother-in-law kept prompting me which way to look.

It absolutely peed down all day, including during the performance, but it was so good it really didn't matter. Though I did have to practically hose down my chair the next day to get rid of the yellow dust that it had picked up from the chippings used on the paths. Car parking would have been good, properly laid out disabled spaces in a dedicated car park, but the car park volunteers were telling people to ignore the markings and park closer to the next car (someone said something about part of another car park being flooded). Advantage of knowing someone in the cast was the feedback that this is a problem for disabled people, especially wheelchair users, and the gaps between cars are there for a reason, was on the official system by Sunday lunchtime.

There've been some stories about the car parks being jammed until midnight, but we managed to get back to the car, out of the site and be in the pub by 10:20, complete with my sister, who'd had to do a quick change and find us.

There's a handful of almost sold-out performances left this year, Fridays and Saturdays 'til September 17th, but they're already planning for next summer. It's pricey, but if you get the chance, go, you won't regret it.

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
 On the 12:01 Darlington to Kings Cross, passenger assistance at Darlington were killing themselves laughing, apparently their roster says that not only am I on the 12:01, I'm also on the 12:00 from Kings Cross to Darlington, and they've been betting which way I'm actually going all morning. That's taking multitasking to extremes!

Just hope assistance is there to get me off at KX!
davidgillon: Me, in a glider cockpit in France (Gliding)
Sitting in my sister's garden in the sun, just lazing and catching up.

Life is hard ;)
davidgillon: A pair of legs (mine) sitting in a wheelchair (wheelchair)

My trip North was decidedly mixed. I got over to Rochester station okay, in fact the taxi was at my front door before I got it closed - he said he was passing my road as the call went out - and had time to do a couple of things I wanted and still catch the train before the one I had planned on. First negative hit 5 minutes outside of Rochester, I was reading my Kindle and suddenly felt travel-sick. A quick bit of experimentation confirmed head-down=travel-sick and escalating neck pain, head-up=fine. Fortunately I'd packed a collar (in one of the underseat bags[personal profile] kaberett

  recommends, though I was too cheap to buy an actual Black Box), first chance I've had to use it and definitely worthwhile. Thankfully the collar mostly solved the travel-sickness and neckache+headache (and a couple of ibuprofen fixed the rest), though not being able to bend my head forward made reading slightly more of an issue. I suspected it was an issue last time I caught a train, though I was hoping that was purely down to it being a Pendolino on the West Coast Main Line, which is a tilting design, but this time it was the Kent Coast Line and the East Coast Main Line and non-tilting Javelins and 225s. So looks like that may now be a thing - the wheelchair tech pooh-poohed the idea I needed a headrest, not happy to be proved right! (Though fortunately it's limited circumstances where it applies).

The transfer from St Pancras to Kings Cross was fine and I was chatting away for a while with the guy doing passenger assistance, which may have been responsible for him announcing, when he'd been off and found the guard, "Change of plans, we're putting you in First Class" - fine by me, I'll force myself to suffer people trying to ply me with free food and drink. The chicken caesar wrap was tasty, but more wrap than anything, the white wine was very nice and I'd have had a second glass if they'd offered it before York rather than after, given I was getting off at Darlington in 20 minutes.

And it was Darlington where things went very wrong, They got me off the train fine and I was sitting waiting for the 15:54 Bishop Auckland train when I overheard the platform staff taking a message that there were major signal problems at Middlesbrough, which is where the Bishop train comes from. The woman who was doing the passenger assistance came straight over and repeated the bits I'd heard, plus that it might be 18:30 before they got anything moving. They waited 30 minutes, then made the decision to put everyone in taxis, which was about 25 of us. If they'd asked I'd have pointed out I can transfer and that the chair dismantles, but they didn't and a wheelchair taxi quickly turned up. Assuming they'd want to squeeze the maximum number of people aboard I stayed in the chair (plus I'd not travelled in the chair by road before and there was a novelty value). I wish I hadn't, it was worse even than the Pendolino, not helped by there only being one front clamp for the chair, which the driver didn't bother with. I spent the journey with my foot tucked under the seat in front to stop the chair tipping backwards every time he accelerated. I'll pass in future.

But for all that I was only about 45 minutes late, and that included pushing from the station to home as there was no point trying to ring for a taxi when they were likely all half-way to Darlington with the people who'd been waiting at Bishop!

Hopefully the return trip will be smoother!

davidgillon: A pair of legs (mine) sitting in a wheelchair (wheelchair)
Heading North for three weeks in the morning. I deliberately haven't ordered a MIFI SIM, so expect updates to be intermittent as my folks don't have net access and I'll need to wander over to my sister's if I want to get online. I decided against MIFI in the hope of encouraging myself to make some serious progress on the WIP.

Actually booking the train ticket to get there was an exercise in frustration. I've had enough of trying to book through SouthEastern (my local train company), who always seem to have an issue with me booking the wheelchair space, so I thought I'd try with Virgin instead as it's the Virgin East Coast Main Line segment I need the wheelchair space booking for. I'm also switching to travelling from Rochester rather than Chatham due to better access - the new Rochester station has level access between taxi-ramp and platform, Chatham is more 'Oh my god, oh my god, can I stop in time?!). On checking Virgin's online booking I found that it would actually let me book wheelchair assistance as part of the process. Score - no need to phone them! So last Monday I tried to book, got all the way to it contacting my bank for payment, and my anti-virus decided to throw a spanner in the works. So of course I needed to wait to check it had definitely failed and I hadn't been charged. And similarly on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday as I tried different options to persuade the AV software to behave, including changing browsers. Eventually I disabled the AV software for the transaction, only to find 1) I could now only pick up the ticket from the station (which I was expecting) and 2) it was telling me I couldn't do that. That seems to have been purely an issue with overnight maintenance, so Friday I went to finish the process.

Enter all the assistance data yet again (it wanted home number, mobile number, email, and wheelchair dimensions(?!?)), all ready to book and I thought I'd better check the seat reservations, which turned out to be the middle of the wrong carriage, both ways. and you can change to any seat but the wheelchair space), so now I have to contact Virgin online, who tell me it's because of people trying to book it for luggage and prams (except you can't book it for luggage or prams) and that I need to phone passenger assistance to book the wheelchair space. So that means I can use the online system to book all the assistance I need to get on and off the train in the chair and save having to phone assistance, but not  the wheelchair space itself. (What happens if I then find all the wheelchair spaces are already booked I have no idea). {Roll Eyes} {Headdesk} {Roll Eyes}

So eventually I got the ticket booked and picked it up from the station, but I started the process Monday evening, and finished Saturday afternoon. I knew travel would be more complicated when I switched to the chair, I had no idea it would be this unnecessarily complicated and just plain irritating!

And of course I have to hope nothing goes wrong tomorrow (current odds based on exising data of being forgotten about , not expected. or assistance turning up at entirely the wrong station, c50%)


Aug. 2nd, 2016 01:31 am
davidgillon: A pair of legs (mine) sitting in a wheelchair (wheelchair)

A wee bit of a twitter firestorm broke out earlier when the World Fantasy Con panels were posted and one of them was called "Spicy Oriental Zeppelins" Apparently the title was based on a 'joke' that had only every been made by the WFC Head of Programming, Darrell Schweitzer, and he'd been repeatedly warned it wasn't funny in advance.

With just about every SFF author on twitter going WTF WTC? that was quickly changed to "Outrageous Aviation Stories, Flying Pulp Oddities."

What got a lot less attention, and has been more subtly changed was another panel:

"7. Freaks, Sideshows, and Human Oddities. From “Hopfrog” to Freaks to Geek Love. Is this the last taboo, the final frontier of bad taste, or something (perversely?) alluring even yet?"

Which became

7. Freaks, Sideshows, and Human Oddities. From “Hopfrog” to Freaks to Geek Love. Is this the last taboo, the final frontier of bad taste, or a persistent archetype in literature?

Schweitzer had been warned in advance about this one as well, and specifically that it was ableist. I'm glad to see it has been changed, but I still think it's deeply problematic and I'm horrified something so negatively objectifying about disabled people ever made it out as a formally released program item.

And it's not as if this is the first issue WFC has had with disability in the last year. WFC 2015 had major access fails, never mind they had a disabled guest who had talked to them about her access needs, and then earlier this year WFC 2016 instituted a significant price rise despite disabled people telling them they couldn't book until they had published their disability access policy. The price rise had no sooner gone into effect than they published their access policy, which looked to have been written in five minutes on the proverbial back of a fag packet. I got the distinct feeling that was sheer spite.

ETA : File 770's on the story:  Outrage Greets 2016 World Fantasy Con Program
davidgillon: Text: You can take a heroic last stand against the forces of darkness. Or you can not die. It's entirely up to you" (Heroic Last Stand)
I bought myself a Fire TV stick during Amazon's Prime Day, given it was reduced to £20. Technically it isn't letting me do anything I couldn't already do with the Kindle Fire and its TV dongle, but I rarely have the Kindle in the same room as the TV, so that hasn't been working out and I invested in Prime largely to have the extra programme choice it offers.

it's very well put together, remote about the size of an iPod, while the stick itself is about the size of a Mars Bar (note it does need a power socket). I've mostly been using it to play my Amazon-purchased music through the TV's sound system, which is the only decent one in the house, or ogling the absolutely gorgeous screensaver landscapes, but last night I finally got some time to watch stuff.

Content Warning: Here Be Spoilers

First up was the Tom Cruise vehicle Live. Die. Repeat aka Edge of Tomorrow

I did have a problem with the picture here, it was offset down and to the right, though I couldn't work out how much by, I did manage to sort it later (see below).

I wanted to see Edge of Tomorrow when it was at the cinema, but didn't get around to it. The scenario is Earth has been invaded by aliens, the mimics (thought they don't seem to actually mimic anything) who have taken control of Western and Central Europe, but have been stopped at the Channel in the west, and by Russian and Chinese forces to the east. Now equipped with powered exoskeletons, the allies need to launch a cross-Channel invasion. (A nice historical touch is that the invasion is codenamed Downfall; Downfall was the code name for the planned invasion of Japan in WWII)

Cruise is Captain Bill Cage, the proverbial REMF, an officer whose talent is for marketing, not fighting, responsible for producing recruitment ads.

When informed by the commanding general of the allies (Brendan Gleeson, looking perfectly at home in British battledress) that he'll be playing combat cameraman in the first assault wave, Cage tries to talk his way out of it, and ultimately tries to blackmail the general, as it becomes clear he's a complete coward. The blackmail attempt ends with Cage resisting arrest and getting himself tased. He wakes up at Forward Operating Base Heathrow, rebranded as a private impersonating an officer and guilty of desertion. He's promptly assigned to the mixed British-American J Squad, who are ordered to beat him 'until he can't pee standing up' if he tries anything, and the next morning he's fitted out with an exoskeleton and dragged out to the aerial armada headed for France.

The special effects are fantastic. The main part of the invasion force is in CGI created quad tillt-rotor 'dropships', and one shot shows Heathrow covered with them, and with exoskeleton clad infantry filing aboard, but flying among them are real Chinooks and V-22s and you need to know your aircraft to tell which is which. Unfortunately for the allies, what the effects show are the invasion force getting completely hammered. The aliens were waiting for them.

Cage makes it down to the beach, only to immediately see one of his squadmates crushed by a falling dropship. He tries to save a female soldier (Emily Blunt), but fails and spends most of the battle trying to work out how to disengage the safety catch on his guns. Finally reunited with J squad, he's just in time to see them wiped out by a mimic that was buried in the sand. Our first good look at a mimic shows us they're vaguely octopus like, but in motion they're like a thrashing propeller blade. Moments before the mimic kills him too, Cage triggers the claymore mine on one of the dead trooper's armour, killing them both.

He wakes up at Forward Operating Base Heathrow, rebranded as a private impersonating an officer and guilty of desertion. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Each time through the battle, Cage gets a little more competent, and eventually manages to save the female soldier, who turns out to be Sergeant Rita Vrataski, the famous 'Angel of Verdun,' who killed hundreds of mimics in her first battle. You can tell she's hardcore because she's wearing a black exoskeleton and using a cut-down helicopter rotor blade as a sword. When he explains how he managed to save her she tells him "Find me when you wake up". Then they die.

Back at Heathrow, Cage has to escape J Squad. This takes several attempts. Eventually he does manage to find Rita, and convince her of who he is. Rita reveals that she became the Angel of Verdun because she was like him, repeating the same day time after time, learning the sequence of moves that would let her survive, until eventually she lost the ability. But she and a scientist did figure out that the ability she had was acquired from the blood of an atypical mimic she killed, and that it ultimately came from the alien's central commander, the Omega, who had the ability to reset to the previous day anytime it sensed it was losing. Only no one ever believed them. Now Cage has the ability, and Rita needs to train him so that he can get her off the beach so that she can kill the Omega.

Cue a sequence of Cage being repeatedly mangled by the mimic simulators, which are a bunch of thrashing propeller blades. Eventually he gets good enough that he and Rita can make it off the beach and head off in pursuit of the the Omega, but time and again Rita is killed. Succumbing to combat fatigue, Cage absconds into London, and learns that the beach isn't the only human defeat, the aliens counter-invade while the focus is elsewhere and London falls.

In desperation Cage tries a tactic Rita has warned him about, because it always leads to 'psych wards, or dissection', and she's right, but it does eventually give them a shot at the Omega. But there's a hitch. (Of course there's a hitch!)

I liked Edge of Tomorrow, though I'll admit a certain amount of the pleasure comes from seeing Tom Cruise die repeatedly and horribly. I'm planning to watch it again now I've sorted out the picture problems.

I followed Edge of Tomorrow with the first three episodes of Constantine, the series based on the John Constantine: Hellblazer comics, previously the vehicle for a Keanu Reaves film. The opening shot is the gates to the 'Ravenscar Home for the Mentally Deranged', which was so far off centre I went to get the Kindle Fire to check where it should be. It should actually have been dead centre, but for some reason linking in the Kindle solved the problem and the picture has stayed centred since then.

Pilot, Non Est Asylum

Constantine's business card says "Exorcist , demonologist, and master of the dark arts", though as the pilot opens he notes he's thinking of getting it changed to "dabbler in the dark arts." He screwed up an exorcism, condemning a 9yo girl to Hell, and himself along with her. He's taking refuge in an asylum in Northumberland, hoping they can persuade him demons don't exist. That they aren't succeeding is demonstrated when one of the residents becomes possessed. Exorcising her reveals a cryptic message "Liv Die" Fortunately for the story's continuity Constantine knows who Liv is.

Cut to Atlanta. Where Liv Aberdine is headed home from work, or would be, if her car's electrics weren't misbehaving, shortly followed by her car falling into a gaping pit. Enter Constantine, exit Liv, convinced he's a creep. That night Liv's next door neighbour is murdered, later the murdered corpse tries to drive the mortuary van through Liv's office. This doesn't convince Liv to listen to Constantine, but seeing the ghost of her grandmother does. Constantine explains he used to work with her father, who could see ghosts and scry for problems, and that Liv is developing the same powers. Constantine meanwhile has encountered an angel, Manny, who wants him to commit himself to the Good Fight, which he hints might save Constantine's soul.

Constantine uses Liv to lure the demon stalking her into a trap. Problem solved.

He's an exorcist, she's a seer, they hunt demons!

Sorry, no. In a blatantly added-on coda, we're informed that Liv has lit out for the West Coast, but not before bleeding all over a map of the States with scryed troublespots. Meanwhile a female figure is frantically drawing images of Constantine

2, The Darkness Beneath

Liv's map takes Constantine to Heddwich, PA, a Welsh-settled mining town, where there are knockers in the mine and one of the bosses just burned to death in his shower. Within minutes of arriving he literally walks into our mysterious artist, who turns out to be Zed Martin. Despite the name, Zed is Hispanic, and desperate to know who Constantine is. Constantine claims she's trying to scam him and slips away, but not before Zed relieves him of his wallet. Resourceful lady. Finding her in his hotel room, Constantine relents for long enough to show her that she is what he calls a clairsentient, able to scry by touch. Then he gives her the slip again. It doesn't last.

After following a series of false leads, Constantine finally tracks down the cause of the problem. Someone is driving the Coblynau, the friendly mine spirits, to murder. And this is where the narrative lost me, badly. I'd already gone 'Oh, hell, no,' when a character was introduced, and I was right. The gypsy did it, and not only did the the gypsy do it, but she came onto Constantine at her husband's funeral, compounding which we have Constantine stating "There's nothing darker than Romany magic". Talk about demonising a minority!

Nor is that the only piece of poor writing. There's a claim from Constantine (who admittedly is spinning a line at the time), that he 'grew up among the pits of Liverpool' or something like that. What pits of Liverpool? The idiocy is that Matt Ryan, who plays Constantine, is Welsh and could easily have claimed to be from the Welsh Valleys, which have a far stronger mining history, spinning a link with the town's Welsh heritage (the name, a Welsh flag in the pub and the Coblynau in the mine seem to be the extent of it). There's also a line about the mine having dug too deep, when we see it it's a drift mine, by definition shallow.

3 The Devil's Vinyl.

Zed shows up at Constantine's fortress of solitude, and as Constantine needs a lift to Chicago for a maguffin hunt, she's in. The maguffin is 'the acetate', raw recording from an old sound studio that caught the moment the Devil came to take the soul of a legendary Bluesman who had sold his soul for his voice. The maguffin turns out to be a bargaining chip in someone else's deal with the Devil, with enough extenuating circumstances for Constantine to help.The problem is an old rival of Constantine's, unscrupulous voodoo priest Papa Midnite, who also wants the acetate. And when two of Papa's minions get their hands on it, things go from bad to worse as the problem with minions is they're always succeptible to someone doing their thinking for them, even if in this case it's a 60yo record.

I did love the scene where John charges to the rescue with the Sex Pistols' Anarchy in the UK blazing through his earbuds, but that doesn't outweigh the problematic portrayal of voodoo.

It's annoying, I can sense there's a good series fighting to get out, but it keeps being strangled by poor writing and low production values. When Matt Ryan plays Constantine performing an exorcism, you get a sense he really is engaged in a desperate struggle against a powerful foe, and that's what Constantine should be, but it doesn't make up for cliched and borderline racist portrayals of Voodoo and the Romany.

davidgillon: A pair of legs (mine) sitting in a wheelchair (wheelchair)

Distance covered yesterday, c 900m there with a descent of 24m in the first half, pretty much braking all the way - I've reached a landmark and worn my first pair of wheelchair gloves through to the gel on both thumbs. Hands were unpleasantly hot by the time I'd slowed onto the level!

c950m back with a 22m rise, 2m of which happens in about 10m on a corner. I'd have to choose a different route if I couldn't get out and push those 10m. I in 5 is not practical. But apart from that I pushed it non stop, if very slowly in places. I did have the traditional little old lady asking if I would like a push, but she did it aboot 10 feet from the crest of a slope, and there's a straight 150m with a slight descent immediately after, so of course I whipped by her as soon as I crested it.

So total distance about a nautical mile, which I think is the furthest I've pushed apart from the couple of days in Athens (and that was all downhill).

What taking the two slightly different routes confirmed is that I have substantially more difficulty on cambered pavements, and that my left arm is only capable of getting me up a kerb with difficulty. Because of a car being awkward, I ended up doing one slope on the opposite side to usual, The side I usually do it on has flat paving, the opposite side has the same slope, but is steeply cambered, it was far more difficult than it normally is (this is where I had the little old lady intervention). It's not simply a matter of me, though, the new chair isn't great at holding a line on a cambered pavement, it has a strong tendency to turn into the slope. The clown chair was  just as bad, the GPV, with cambered wheels, made it not an issue.The particular problem I have with this is it means I need to brake with the uphill arm while pushing with the downhill, and if my dud left arm is the downhill one, this is massively less than ideal.

I rang Wheelchair Services on Friday to say I definitely need a 3" cushion as discussed (and noted) at the handover, the seat to footplate gap is too short otherwise and my legs aren't flat on the cushion. I strongly suspect they measured me while I was sitting on a 3" cushion. I'm currently using the 2" they gave me, with a 1" I had in the house under it, which makes the difference between being in intolerable pain within an hour or so, and being able to sit for at least three hours.. Apparently fixing this will need one of the therapists to ring me back and discuss it. I'll raise the camber issue at the same time. I've checked the manual and the XLT can have cambered wheels, but you need an extra part in the wheel mounting to accomplish it, rather than just adding a couple of extra washers as on the GPV, so that'll probably need to be ordered in if I can get them to agree to it.

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
That 'Shockingly Bad' is my quote, in fact the entire first half of the article is one long quote from me. And I wasn't just writing for effect, I commented in a side note to John Pring, the journalist whose article it is, that I'm genuinely appalled.

TLDR: A government disability scheme is so bad it can't even get the legal definition of disability right.

We used to have a scheme called "Two Ticks", which had a logo of, surprisingly, two ticks, which employers could sign up to to say they were disability friendly, in return for agreeing to five measures.Measures like always interviewing disabled candidates who met the requirements, and discussing whether needs were being met on a yearly basis. So not exactly onerous. In practise companies used to sign up, put the logo on their paperwork and do nothing as it was almost never checked (Evil Aerospace are the only company I've ever heard of having it taken off them). Needless to say it fell into disrepute.

We (disabled people) were promised several years ago that a better replacement would be along soon.

In the meantime we've had the worse than useless Disability Confident proclaiming that employers are just embarrassed about disability.

It's now emerged, they aren't confident enough to do a proper launch, that a revamped Disability Confident is the replacement for Two Ticks and will have three tiers.

Tier 1 asks companies to make a single commitment in comparison to Two Ticks five, is self assessed, and once they've sent in the trivial paper work, they get to use the new logo.

Tier 2 asks companies to sign up to several more commitments, roughly equivalent to Two Ticks, and again it's self assessed and they get a pretty logo. The commitments basically amount to agreeing to do what is already legally required under the Equality Act 2010. (Yes, that's right, Tier 1 signs you up to do less than you're already legally required to).

I thought 'well, at least Tier 3 will better than Two Ticks'. More fool me.

Tier 3 consists of getting yourself assessed on Tier 2. You can pay to get yourself assessed, but you can also be assessed by your mate whose company is already Tier 3, or your mate who runs a Disabled People User Led Organisation, even if it has no interest whatsoever in employment. Pass this and you get to call yourself a 'Disability Confident Leader' and use the appropriate logo.

They've taken a scheme that was worthless because everyone signed up for the logo and never followed through on the commitments, and replaced it with one where you don't have to make the commitments.

The other quotes in the article are interesting, even the people who worked with DWP on producing it, including a DPULO that's stopped being a DPULO and rebranded itself into an assessment company to take advantage, are describing it as a lost opportunity. While others openly say 'if we asked companies to stop being disablist none of them would sign up'.

Talk about being seen to be doing something.





davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
... with a friend of mine.

I posted a link on FB to the Indy's long and depressing article on the scale of post Brexit racism.

His immediate response, 'I voted Leave and I'm not racist and I'm sure the majority of leave voters weren't racist.' Followed by a po-faced line about how free movement of labour isn't working.

I never mentioned Leavers, or free movement, and neither did the article.

And what makes his post doubly hypocritical is half his friends work in the EU.

I reminded him that the kind of people who launch racist attacks are precisely the same the same kind who attack people like me, or him, for being disabled in public.


davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
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