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Snow! in Devon! Even my cynical "call half an inch exciting? when I were a lass we had it up to our knees in t'Midlands..." side tends to smile at the site of snow actually settled on the ground in Exeter. The city's sheltering hills, which do wonders in terms of cutting out the wind, also normally prevent the ground getting cold enough.

oh my goddess! (Kuan Yin in my garden) | St Thomas parish graveyard | St Thomas parish church (the shot everyone takes of it)

steps to the river | the Mint communal garden | blue flower in Northernhay Gardens | Northernhay Gardens, near the bamboo corner

I realised there was proper snow when, whilst doing my best to have a lie-in, I heard excited squeals in the street. The little kids at the local primary, who walk past my house, are young enough never to have seen snow covering their everyday surroundings. Still didn't get out to the flowerpot skate park at sunrise, due to said lie-in. I want to get some photos of the graffiti-laden concrete with undisturbed snow so I'll have to hope it snows again tonight. And remember to set my alarm so I can get there before the terrifying teen skater boys arrive.

You are Lost Emily!! You prefer to stay 'lost', you are a loner and do your own thing.
Went to the Picture House bar last night to meet Treacle-A, with whom I share a mutual friend. What with Carrie and A, I suddenly feel like Exeter really is a connected city and maybe there should be some kind of online hub for all the Exeter bloggers etc.

Which Emily Strange are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Posted @ 10:19 am on Friday, February 27, 2004
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A new review is up at Shiny Shelf: Historians of Genius. I'm a sucker for a good history documentary, and this was one which neatly and clearly narrated the events leading up to the Battle of Sedgemoor. Which reminded me of Carrie's sense of historical spookiness there last month. I used to share a house with a Scot who had grown up next to Culloden and who swore the battlefield was haunted, weighted down with those violent deaths.

Posted @ 8:02 pm on Tuesday, February 24, 2004
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I try not to play with LJ memes but this Random MP3s Meme Trina posted was hard to

  1. breeder - cannonball
    proving my love of vibrating bass
  2. Franz Ferdinand - Take Me Out
    yes, they're everyone's new favourite band, apparently
  3. Goldfrapp - Strict Machine
    connects to my liking for moloko, I suspect
  4. Chinese flute - Meditation
    from my bundle of stuff for tai-chi work
  5. Billie Holliday - Summertime
    I have a lot more Ella Fitzgerald as well as Vera Hall, Sarah Vaughn etc, but this one made it to the list
  6. Saint-Saens - Aquarium
    this makes me think of the Snow Queen, Elfman's soundtrack to Edward Scissorhands etc etc
  7. Madonna - Frozen (Orbit mix)
    actually, I prefer the radio version, but that's how the randomiser pulled it up
  8. Fats Domino - My Blue Heaven
    this was downloaded for a compilation I was doing for an event, but it's fun anyway
  9. Royal Crown Revue - Beyond the Sea
    first heard this version via an Xphile fan mix thing
  10. Kula Shaker - Hush
    Yes, Tina, I admit they did it
  11. Eartha Kitt - C'est Si Bon
    not as good as I Want To be Evil
  12. PJ Harvey - Is that All There is?
    ouch, a really harsh, sparse Polly track
  13. The Jam - The Bitterest Pill
    for some reason I'm always convinced this was by the Style Council...
  14. The Specials - Ghost Town
    [insert the obligatory 1981 riots comment here]
  15. PJ Harvey - Sheela-na-gig
    angry Polly

Posted @ 1:38 am on Monday, February 23, 2004
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Just back from the Viking Festival in York.

I'd actually gone up on the Thursday, on a not-crowded train, and spent Friday working at the Imperial War Museum North. Lovely building, but waiting for a tram at Salford Quays at 6pm in February is bloody freezing. On the Saturday, Lucy Z and I met up with people from the ZZ plural Z Alpha group (including the utterly adorable Henry, a King Charles Cavalier) to do Vikingly things.

First to the boat race on the River Ouse:

to the boats! | co-ordination | long shot of long boats

There were three in all: a very heavy longboat complete with dragon carving and shields etc., a medium sized boat and a small black one. The obvious winner ought to have been the small black boat. It was the lightest, afterall. The crew appeared to be new to this rowing lark however, despite being dressed not in cloaks and leggings like the other crews but in 'York Rowing club' gillets. Every time, the other boats - the heavy ones crewed with people in restrictive period clothing - won.

After a wander through the shambles we watched the armies mass in the fields outside the city walls. I was particularly taken with the images of Viking hordes in suburbia, although I also got a shot of them against some ruins.

the vikings of suburbia | hordes

From there we followed the armies up to a field inside the city walls where battle was to commence. Unfortunately, battle also commenced to the sound of an overblown narration over the soundtrack of Lord of the Rings. This, unsurprisingly, caused a certain amount of humour in the crowd. Especially his opening line, in full portent voice: "Men come. And go." The idea of narrating the battle is a good one - we don't know who the players are, nor the movements. Doubtless if the battle were being recreated amidst a lot more trees, as it would have originally been fought, it would also have been more dramatic. If rather harder to watch. I feel the narration could have been more lyrical though. The line about the smell of battle being "the smell of men" caused hysteria in the crowd.

parlay? down to the depths with the dogs who thought of parlay! | I love the smell of battle in the morning....smells like....Vikings | you're dead, and you know you are

It was also entertaining to see the bloodlust in the crowd. There was a rising demand for "dead people" and cheers when fighters finally started falling. I tried to get a photo of some of the fun stuff going on then, with victors putting the boot into the fallen or rifling through their pockets, as the recreators were clearly enjoying that, but they all came out fuzzy. Grr. The sound of the shields being beaten was impressive - you can imagine it echoing through a wood and seeming to come from everywhere. I think, had I been facing it, I'd have gone from the traditional "run away!" response. We, instead, went to the pub.

It seems Henry is a troublemaker - we had to ring around to find a place which accepted dogs. Eventually found one which was very much in the traditional Yorkshire pub style. Unlike the lovely real ale place Lucy had taken me to on Thursday night, this had one type of brewery beer. None of the dark red bitter I really love. It did have a roaring fire though, which was very welcome after hours in the cold watching Vikings.

In the evening, Lucy and I went to the coronation of Erik Bloodaxe in the York Minster. The entire place was candlelit, which changes the feel of a building quite dramatically. All the bright colours you might get in the daytime become subtle shadows and the vaulted roof disappears into darkness beyond the screen. There was also a heavy smell on incense in the air, making my head swim slightly.

the return of the king | enobling some lord of somewhere - I reckon he's a young upstart who will threaten the king next year

Again, I felt the staging could be a little more interactive. There was no guidance as to whether we ought to be responding during the service or not - I feel it would be a more enthralling experience if the audience were encouraged to be active participants rather than passive witnesses. The king was a very fine king indeed. After the photo op, we started to leave, only to nearly get in the way of the ruler of the North. When a bunch of armed men in mail quick march towards you shouting "make way for the king" you do leap out the way like a startled peasant. Erik spoke to us briefly, leading to the wonderfully Python remark from Lucy afterwards of "he's a good king - I'd vote for him".

Came back on the Sunday. Virgin trains clearly believe that there is no such thing as overcrowding, since they only put on a four carriage train on the last day of half-term. There were people piled up in the corridors, including ones with babies and toddlers. And then three of the four toilets went out of order.

Posted @ 7:32 pm on Sunday, February 22, 2004
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The confirmation is finally public on my new novel: Warring States [link to book order page - note that ISBN, people]. Says Lars:

Warring States takes place in China, 1900, and concerns Cousin Octavia (the Faction Paradox member responsible for the fall of the Thirteen-Day Republic, as told in The Book of the War).
I'll only add for now that this is the one I have muttered drunkly about over the last 18 months or more, and will contain the Last Empress, beseiged Boys Own Adventurers, the Red Lanterns and vaguely steampunk things. And a grrl with a shadow sabre.

It seems book contracts are like buses: you wait years and then two come along in the same week. The non-fiction book is signed, but not yet announced. Now, I'm off to drink an entire bottle of cava...

Posted @ 5:45 pm on Monday, February 16, 2004
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Exeter Sci Fi Society's Microcon is going ahead on 6th/7th March this year. I'll be going along and doing a couple of panels.

Posted @ 12:18 pm on Sunday, February 15, 2004
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I put the I Believe in the BBC sign up last week, but didn't really know how to express why I think the BBC matters. Perhaps because there are too many reasons to neatly encapsulate them, and it's too tangled up in the whole ugly business of the ongoing wars. Yes, Gilligan was sloppy. Yes, his sloppy journalism was bad. Would it have led to the witch-hunt for his source, a witch-hunt which only ended when a man killed himself, if Alastair Campbell hadn't been on a long-running vitriolic campaign against the BBC news services? Would the BBC have been so defensive if Campbell hadn't been crying wolf at every single perceived anti-war bias he saw? And let's make it clear, it was perceived bias on Campbell's part: a Cardiff University report makes clear, the BBC was the most pro-war of the main broadcasters.

I'm finally posting the reason for the I Believe in the BBC logo today because there was an article in yesterday's Guardian which expressed why I will defend the corporation.

"Within that heartland at the BBC resides a faith that it is still possible to make a TV programme for no other reason than the shared belief that it is worth making for itself alone rather than as a commodity or a token in the ratings game."
I am a bit of a Reithian - I prefer Radio 4 and BBC4 to Radio 1 and BBC3, and I think BBC2 should show more arts programming earlier in the evening, rather than gardening/makeover shows. There is a slight tendency to assume that anyone after the obscure stuff will be more willing to set a video than anyone after Alan Titchmarsh. But, and this is the important thing, I still have some trust in the BBC.

Like pretty much anyone in this country, the BBC has always been there in the background. From my early memories of Radio 4 at Saturday lunchtime to my planning to put it on again as soon as I'm done writing this (it's almost time for Just a Minute, after all). Whatever has happened, whatever is going on, the BBC is there. Governments come and go. We either distrust them from the start or come to distrust them over the course of their governance. When Campbell tried to denigrate the BBC, he was asking the public to choose between something we may gripe about but have known our entire lives or government we no longer trust (in part because of Campbell and his ilk). There really can be no surprise that an awful lot of people prefer to believe in the BBC.

This week seems to involve finishing up a lot of the smaller projects I have going on. Last night I finally finished the first draft of a comic strip script (my first, and therefore likely to be poor) and sent it off to an editor for acceptance or rejection. That had only been lurking in my in prog folder for about two years.

Then this morning I've finished posting the images for thisisalsoexeter. I think the presentation of the stuff isn't ideal. I need to look into how to create those far more user-friendly photo albums as used at No Relevance , street stickers etc. I wanted to get the stuff up whilst the Circled With Stone exhibition is on at the museum though.

The exhibition is interesting, if you're into mapping cities, although it has by its definition focussed on the old city walls rather than the whole of the city. The old maps are wonderful (especially the giant swans on the river in one sixteenth or seventeenth century map) but I think there is so much more that could be done with this material. Whilst I was taking the photos for thisisalsoexeter I noticed that one of the side streets off the High Street is called Goldsmiths Street. On the old maps at the museum, it was Goldsmythes Street. And then you realise that it has not one but two local jewellers on it, with another just a couple of doors away on Fore Street. In Peter Ackroyd's London: A Biography, he suggests that areas of that city retain meaning/use over the centuries. For example, the old St Giles' leper colony becomes the Rookeries slums and they in turn become Center Point. Goldsmiths Street in Exeter would seem to be a similar geographical hotspot, but for jewellers/goldsmythes. Which makes you wonder how many other hotspots there are in the city: is there some connection of meaning that a nightclub now resides in a building where witches were held prior to their execution? The Marsh Barton trading estate is merely the latest form of industry to take place on the now-drained marshes: the area used to be used for cloth dying when the wool trade was Exeter's main trade.

Posted @ 11:36 am on Saturday, February 14, 2004
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My last post on grafitti produced some wonderfully ironic blogspot banner ads for grafitti removers so I can't resist linking to the graffiti archaeology site in the hopes of more inappropriate adverts. The link comes via the spaceandculture blog. Anne mentions the wifi future planned for Milton Keynes, yet Exeter is alleged to be the hottest wifi spot in the country. This city often confuses me.

Posted @ 9:54 pm on Friday, February 13, 2004
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I have a caffeinne withdrawl headache. I've just had some tea, so I'll be better soon. I hope. It's my only physical addiction. Which is mildly surprising given the number of addictive things I've tried over the years.

Meanwhile, on planet quiz:

You're Captain Jack Sparrow: smart, savvy, a demon with the eyeliner and the best damn pirate we've ever seen. And only a litte crazy. Savvy?

Which POTC character are you?

this quiz was made by alanna

Posted @ 1:17 pm on Thursday, February 12, 2004
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I'm increasingly sure that digital photography makes better snappers of all of us. Freed from the tyranny of development costs, of new film, of good physical storage, even of the limitation of 36 exposures, it's easier to be relaxed about the actual gritty business of photographing - the choice of what to include and exclude. Compositions become something we can play with at the moment of creation, whereas with the old medium of film, the photograph is fixed before you ever get as far as developing the film (never mind bunging it in the developer and fixer).

"I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed." (Goodbye to Berlin, Christopher Isherwood, 1939*)

I should perhaps admit at this point to being one of the three siblings who did practical arts at some stage and therefore have the smell of fixer as a strong sense memory (even thinking about it makes my nose tingle). One sibling got a first in photography, in fact, whilst I gave up on practical art in favour of criticism precisely because I could never quite capture things in the traditional 2D and 3D media. Going through the digital photos I took for thisisalsoexeter, with my arts critic glasses on, I am struck by the fact almost every single composition is better than anything I have ever achieved in film. I look at the one of the phoenix and see how the tree with just a few yellow leaves echoes the decay on the golden sculpture and I can't quite believe that I've managed to create an image with meaning when all my previous photography has been...highly disappointing to my inner art critic.

At some point I am going to have to give the camera back to C.

yes, I did quote this in History 101. It's a good quote...

Posted @ 10:38 pm on Monday, February 09, 2004
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Whilst I wait for feedback from a publisher, and before starting on some other big writing stuff, I've started on the much threatened photo project. It's very much in draft form tonight, simply to get me underway.

Within City Walls is part of the thisisalsoexeter blog and is inspired by any number of websites but especially anti-mega's 58 London Things, Satan's Laudromat, Forgotten NY and ruavista.

As well as the blog posts, which give no location clues but where people can leave their ideas on where the image is from, there is a webpage with locations.

Posted @ 12:36 am on Friday, February 06, 2004
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In my office, the cry frequently goes up "it's groundhog day!". Well, if you spend hours writing and rewriting technical documentation, only to start on it all over again you too would start thinking about robbing banks aided solely by a North American rodent.

The Observer | Review | Ryan Gilbey celebrates the phenomenon that is Groundhog Day includes the stunning quote "And when I say the groundhog is Jesus, I say that with great respect".

There's the odd bit in the article I disagree with: the idea of the recursive day, whilst doubtless entering Xena and the X-Files via Bill Murray, does exist in earlier forms. At least, I think it does. I can't remember any specific examples off hand, but certainly when I first saw the film (in the cinema, with a helpful audience member three rows in front explaining the plot loudly) I recognised the structure and I'm fairly sure not just for its Buddhist parallels. Any help on that would be appreciated. Oh, and they missed out the obvious homage to it in Buffy season 6 (Life Serial) where they did it as a single act of the episode and ellisped events even more than the film did.

It's not the notion of repetition which has turned the film's title into a phrase: it's the notion of being both aware and deeply frustrated by the repetition.

Posted @ 9:43 am on Thursday, February 05, 2004
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And quirkyalone, previously mentioned last month, appears to be gathering pace...The Observer | Review | Let's say it loud: We're single... and proud.

I did actually get a copy of the book via It's entertaining, although the section on Romantic Obsession has a lot in common with the guide to types of love in the pre-AIDs singleton book Sex Tips for Girls.

Posted @ 12:20 am on Tuesday, February 03, 2004
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After yesterday's long and mildly rambling thing about memory, Nicholas goes and mentions How to Make a Complete Map of Every Thought you Think and Heidi mentions the Ten Years of My Life photoblog which will post a photo a day over the coming decade.

Posted @ 10:14 pm on Monday, February 02, 2004
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Got back at 1am this morning from a day job trip to Dublin. And found a pigeon sitting on the counter in the kitchen. So last night wasn't spent doing some promised rewrites but getting the damn creature out the house and cleaning up after it. A few months ago, the RSPCA told me to lure a bird out with a bright light outside. That sort of works, but you have to get it interested in moving. In the end, I remembered my Charlemagne. Or, more acurately, I remembered Sean Connery as Henry Jones Senior remembering his Charlemagne in Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade and used the Chinese painted umbrella in the lounge to wake up the evil bird.

So now I'm trying to do the rewrites and watch the South Bank Show (Melvyn Bragg on soap opera - this has got to be good). And getting irritated by adverts. Bad attempts to tell men that a disposable razor is the best they can get I can cope with. But not ones with a bastardised musak version of the Violent Femmes in the background as some lipglossed moronic blonde walks over tables to get to the well-shaved perfectly tousled bloke in an amber room bar. Please.

Posted @ 10:54 pm on Sunday, February 01, 2004
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It's a little early to tell, being only a few weeks into the year, but there seems to be a recurrent theme about memory developing.

2003 was a decidedly disconnected and disorganised year for me: geopolitical events, and personal events, left me rather incoherent and off kilter. As if the cause and effect links had been cut somewhere and that any action was an exercise in futility, yet I could not not act. At New Year's, the memory theme first snuck in when I recognised but couldn't remember someone at the Cavern. Since then, I've been reading blog entries such as A's new project to release packets of personal memory into the wild, Jon over on rogue semiotics listing five things he's forgotten, Heidi on me, my life + infrastructure raising her grandmother's Alzhemiers, pixeldiva has been asking am I still me? and so on...

I'm going to run with an analogy here. Print articles are keen to parallel bloggers with diarists, and there seems to be a bit of fad for dramatisations of diaries (Pepys and now Alan Clark), but what connects all these is that they are acts of consciously creating memories. If you look at how organic memory may work, current theory is that the information is stored in cells and a neurological net is formed, connecting triggers to these cells of knowledge. Our brains map our memories, connecting the word "jam" with memories of the taste of it, the smell of it, the memory definition of it. The borther of a friend was in a bike crash a few years back and suffered brain damage. When he was recovered he would be perfectly fine, except that if he asked you to pass the salt, he would ask "could you pass the trousers?" because his memory map had become corrupt. He thought he was retrieving the word 'salt' but the link now pointed to the word 'trousers'. Missing memories are things we've lost the links to.

It's pretty obvious that blogging is the same process of knowledge mapping but at a conscious level. Instead of a trigger in the brain connecting within the same system, it connects externally, to others' memory maps. Over the last few years we've been increasingly subject to the manipulation of history, of being told that whatever we were thinking, we weren't seeing things correctly. Just look at the Hutton report, look at the entire issue of the invasion of Iraq, and the determination of Blair to be judged by history (as if history were an objective thing capable of making moral and/or legal judgement rather than a cultural construction*). It seems quite likely that we are all becoming more aware of how fragile our organic memories are, resulting in a new interest in the whole business of memory and perception.

*one invideous side-effect of this business of using the phrase "history will judge us" is to suggest that any opinion on events should be deferred until some unspecified future date when there will be an authoritative judgement of right/wrong. This discourages people from forming current opinions or taking action, instead encouraging a "wait and see" mentality. Switch the word 'history' for the word 'God' and the whole phrase reveals its manipulative subtext.