May Pieces Of My Mind #3

Kammarstenen near Ånhammar in Sörmland is a giant glacial erratic that is cracked in such a way that you can climb into it and up onto its top.

  • Visited a country manor house turned hotel. The interior designer used old books as decorative tchotchkes. Random volumes from encyclopedias everywhere, many of them vandalised with the pages folded up to create a bulky fan. Clearly they had no idea how bookish people would react.
  • Nine years since my first visit to Poland and Łódź! 5½ years later I took up my current position there. After getting treated like useless supernumerary dirt on the Scandy academic job market since 2003, I love Poland and I love Łódź. Dziękuję Polsko, kocham Cię!
  • We’ve already noted that zegarmistrz means “watchmaker” in Polish. The term for cigar mistress is kochanka cygar. It is probably fully possible for a watchmaker to also be a cigar mistress in her free time, whatever that means.
  • Movie: Southern Comfort (1981). Military refresher training in the swamps of Louisiana goes catastrophically (and unrealistically) wrong for one squad after they anger some Cajun trappers. Grade: OK.
  • Kage Baker thinks the ancient Britons shot flint-tipped arrows at the Romans.
  • I’m kind of shocked to learn that poverty has gone so far in Sweden that schools in certain areas are investigating how to keep their lunch rooms open over the summer vacation. To me the word “sommarlov”, summer vacation, is one of the most positive and happy words in the Swedish language. To many of our children, it means starvation. Sweden is one of the world’s richest countries per capita. This is one of several super clear arguments for why greater resource redistribution should be a top-3 political priority. From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.
  • Three-day rock festival in Stockholm coming up, and they have mostly booked acts I have never heard of, or ones that I know that I don’t want to hear. With one exception. I’m surprised to find the Scottish 90s indie band Travis headlining the festival. They did release an album three years ago, but still? Then I see it. The headline act is someone named Travis Scott. I’ve never heard of him.
  • After 55 hours of no warm or solid food, I find myself thinking increasingly about kebab. (Had a big cracked molar pulled.)
  • Wait, is David Cronenberg not the same director as John Carpenter and James Cameron?
  • Hewlett-Packard and Packard Bell both started out as small 1930s electronics businesses in California. One was named for David Packard. The other for Leon Packard.
  • Science is aware of a bit more than 5400 mammalian species. More than one fifth of them are bats.
  • Guitar nerd alert! All hands on deck! I have discovered a discreet goth rock effect mixed way down in G’n’R’s “Sweet Child of Mine”! From 2:03 onward “Her hair reminds me” etc. a member of The Mission or Sisters or Cult has sneaked into the studio with an UN-METAL effect pedal!!!
  • I had no idea that there was a Gunpowder Plot against Gustav I.
  • I’m dabbling in 16th century history under the guiding hand of Tapio Salminen. Just cracked a little conundrum about why a deceased couple had stuff stored at Duvnäs Manor in 1547. Margit the Breweress was probably the daughter of Olof Svart who had built the manor house and died that same year!
  • Two things that were a huge deal to me as a teen but that have become unremarkable everyday tasks: 1) Baking three loaves of bread, 2) Cycling 10 km into town.
  • The vast majority of teabags are bad. But the other day I saw one that broke some kind of record for being pointless and absurd. It contained a mix of rooibos, the well-known caffeine-free substitute for tea, AND GREEN TEA. And it was flavoured with one of those absurd combinations, like licorice and root beer or some such shit.
  • Sudden blinding insight after 40 years: there is no reason to lug 25-litre drinking water containers around. You can just as well buy smaller ones and carry one in each hand. The only reason I’ve been doing this for so long is that my dad is such a macho.
  • When travelling in SE Asia, our daughter kept getting asked variations of the same question by locals in the tourism trade catering to Western backpackers. “Why is your face like mine? Why is your face Asian? Why are you Asian?”
  • One major difference between The Meaning of Liff and The Deeper Meaning of Liff is that the later edition omits all the jokes about someone named Nigel Rees and the colour green.
  • The US used to be a cutting-edge model for the rest of the world regarding constitutional democracy and the legal system. Sadly their system has not been upgraded regularly and they are still pretty much running Windows 3.1. One of the many details of US law that appears bizarrely old-fashioned to a Swede is the concept of post-divorce alimony. In Sweden you have to support your children regardless of whether you’re married to the other parent or not. You hardly ever have to support your ex.
  • Movie: In Search of Tomorrow (2022). A five-hour documentary about 1980s US scifi movies. Grade: good!
  • My first rock gig was Depeche Mode on the Black Celebration tour in Stockholm, 26 April 1986 when I was 14. My favourite band as a teen! Seven years later I bought my last album by dM and lost interest. So I won’t be in the audience tonight.
  • Idea for a time travel intervention: swap Jordanes and Snorri, so we get several excellent books about the Migration Period and one kind of crappy book about the Viking Period.
  • Emacsulate: to question someone’s gender identity because of what text editor they prefer.

Social Ancestry

Looked at my family history to get a sense of what my social ancestry is like. I’m a first-generation PhD and my parents are first-generation university graduates. But now I’ve gone back four generations and looked at the men’s professions around 1900. The women among my ancestors didn’t have any recorded professions at the time. These eight men were born between 1816 and 1862.

  • Three were farmers: two farm owners, one hereditary tenant farmer on crown land. Of the three, one later became a building contractor.
  • One was a sailor and had a smallholding.
  • One was a soldier and had a smallholding.
  • One was a foreman at a gunpowder factory.
  • One was a caretaker at a military hospital.
  • One was a rural merchant.

These are fairly humble folks. Neither a desperate proletariat nor any kind of national-level elite. Everyone except the merchant is involved in farming and/or the army. As far as I can reconstruct it, what happened to produce me, a middle-class academic, was the following.

  • A daughter of the merchant (with a bit of money and centuries of bourgeois heritage) married a bright son of one of the farm owners (with a lot of bookish talent), who became a well-connected journalist.
  • Their bookish son became an auditor with frustrated academic ambitions.
  • His daughter got a university degree as part of the great 1960s expansion of higher education, and convinced her smart but completely non-bookish boyfriend to do the same.
  • They got married and had me, she recognised my bookish streak and drove me to the library once a week.

May Pieces Of My Mind #2

This Chinese Buddhist temple at Rosersberg near Stockholm was founded in 1999

  • New journal note. Was the longhouse platform at Aska in Hagebyhöga re-used as a härad assembly mound?
  • Emacsulate: to question someone’s gender identity because of what text editor they prefer.
  • Our baby girl is back from over three months of happy and successful backpacking in SE Asia with her equally solid and dependable friends!
  • Watching this new documentary about 80s scifi movies, I’m starting to feel like maybe John Carpenter and James Cameron are two different directors?
  • Sorry to be obvious here, but “Tomorrow Never Knows” is sheer mind-blowing genius.
  • Today: guide a group at Stensö Castle, deliver Aska finds to the County Museum, look at the longhouse platforms at Agla in Överjärna, boardgame night. All wearing shorts and sandals for the first time this year!
  • I managed to creep this guy out through deviant social behaviour at a science fiction book store event. Go me! Specifically, I shook people’s hands “like an American political candidate”. I replied “They get so embarrassed if I kiss them.”
  • Have you considered that there are lots of configurations of the hands of a clock that are impossible when it’s correctly set? Such as both hands pointing exactly at six.
  • County archaeologist case handlers who haven’t used a metal detector will occasionally say that you can detect and map metal on your site, but you can’t unearth anything. Here’s my preferred response to this quaint way of thinking. It’s like telling an excavator that she can screen the dirt on her site, but she can’t collect anything she finds on the soil screen.
  • Awesome. I’ve been publishing for over 30 years, and my fifth most cited piece of work is still the journal version of my BA thesis.
  • Do I know any magazine or journal editor who might want to look at a popular essay on archaeology and storytelling? No academic jargon, no literature references.
  • A century ago, one of the main political goals of Swedish workers was to demonstrate to society at large that they were not stupid, ignorant or irresponsible. They passed this test and the elite opponents of democracy soon quieted down. Things are quite different now.
  • Summer is here. The first plum blossom, the first mason bees around the insect hotel, the first chequered lily. I’ve carried the biggest potted plants into the yard for the season. Bliss.
  • Visited a Viking Period cemetery today where only one structure was high enough to show up on the lidar, and it turned out to be a humongous anthill.

May Pieces Of My Mind #1

Deer like to browse our back lawn and take naps.

  • Pugh Rogefeldt has passed away aged 76. His 1969 début album is one of the first and still best rock records ever made in Sweden!
  • Futuristic music still sounds like The Prodigy did 30 years ago.
  • Someone has suggested that Lovecraft had a calculated reason for writing rugose, squamous, gibbous instead of ribbed, scaly, near-full. Not understanding the description of something scary is way more disturbing than any fully comprehensible description can ever be. A brief partial glimpse of a monster instead of a well-lit full-figure portrait.
  • There were typists on the moon bases Arthur C. Clarke imagined around 1950.
  • After playing Zork-like text adventures for hours as a boy, I would feel like primary reality was also an adventure game where you had to explore any place you could go to and pick up any loose objects.
  • Get this: they can determine the sex and the population-genetical affiliation of a person who lived 20,000 years ago by sampling a pendant she wore. They have no other remains of her body. In recent years we have alse seen ancient human DNA being recovered from chewed birch pitch and floor dirt!
  • In Poland it’s bad luck to shake hands through a doorway.
  • Repatriated Benin brasses are ending up in private royal hands. Despite the country not being a kingdom anymore.
  • Lord Dunsany’s “As It Seems to the Blackbird” has a lot in common with Machen’s “Great God Pan”. Using brain manipulation to gain a fuller impression of the world’s beauty and horror.
  • The Norwegian child mass murderer believes that there is a Jewish conspiracy to make Europe Islamic by means of vigorous baby making.
  • Maybe the main lesson of the stochastic parrots is that very few people can write anything that is factually and grammatically correct yet also highly original. The real reason that the machine is shit is that we are also mostly shit.
  • Thinking about the low life expectancy during prehistory, I mused, which one of the illnesses I’ve survived would have killed me then at a young age? Pneumonia maybe. Then I realised, I would have died from an illness that I’ve never even had thanks to vaccines, hygiene and sanitation.
  • Yay! One of the students on my 2020-21 excavation team is just graduating and has immediately got a museum job!
  • There’s a 90s alternate history novel by Harry Turtledove where aliens arrive during WW2 and sell tactical nukes to the inhabitants of the Warsaw ghetto.
  • The role of Solidarność in recent Polish history is really difficult to understand if you start from West European assumptions about anti-imperialist resistance movements. It started as a labour union. And became a Polish nationalist movement. And strongly anti-Communist. And strongly anti-Russian. And strongly pro-Catholic. And currently supports the extreme-right government.

April Pieces Of My Mind #3

Moesgaard Museum

  • In line with a fine old Swedish tradition, I am conquering Poland one city at a time.
  • Sweden had Gothicism. Now I learn that the Polish nobility had Sarmatism.
  • An Orthodox group in Poland is fighting a Reform Jewish congregation in court over whether they should really be recognised as Jewish under Polish law.
  • If you aren’t intimately familiar with Warsaw’s subway and bus network and the exact location of their stations, always allow for an hour if you need to switch trains there. It’s a 19th century railway system with several unconnected terminals on the outskirts of town. Some of them are deceptively close to each other and have deceptively similar names. Warsaw Central and Warsaw Head are not identical.
  • Some junkies once stole my old thesis supervisor’s little motorboat and used it for a summer jaunt. They left it in terrible shape, and they forgot their psychedelic diary on board. That’s a pretty strong start for a story.
  • A scam publisher asked me by automated email to write a popular presentation of an important paper of mine for their magazine. The paper in question is a two-page book review…
  • I don’t know how to say “cigar mistress” in Polish. But I do know that zegarmistrz means “watchmaker”.
  • Eastern Europeans use quotation marks to say “this is a name”.
  • Woah, the first third of the 20s ends in just a few days. There are young people for whom this decade will be deeply formative, always remembered in a special light. Not just one of the decades that zipped by.
  • Often I will hear a song where the singer has a really powerful gripping delivery, so I check the lyrics. And I usually discover that they’re just clichés or an impenetrable word salad, not particularly poetic, nothing worth quoting.
  • Jung’s idea of synchronicity is identical to the psychotic’s tendency to exaggerated pattern seeking. Apophenia, pareidolia, patternicity. “Nothing happens at random.” And indeed, Jung suffered from hallucinations for years.
  • I’m at Moesgård for the first time, invited to speak at a metal detecting workshop. It’s a kind of pilgrimage for me, because this is the site of Scandinavia’s best archaeology department, and one of its biggest archaeological museums, and a really famous piece of museum architecture.
  • Swedish archaeology is better than Danish archaeology in only one important respect. Our rock art research is much better than theirs. You know why? Because there are no rock outcrops in Denmark.
  • Life hack. How to get around those useless water-saving taps with the needle-thin, hard jets of water: wash your hands under the shower.
  • Scandinavia was under 2-3 kilometres of ice until about 12,000 years ago. This means that our entire ecosystem is recent and invasive. Humans were one of the original re-colonising species. Spruce trees were not. If you’re going to be hostile to recent immigrants, you should target the spruce trees, not humans. They come here and take our land, refuse to integrate into society, never learn to speak Swedish!
  • In Kage Baker’s 1997 novel In the Garden of Iden, the prehistoric Americas and Australia are very nearly devoid of people. Impressive research fail, there.
  • If you enjoy the sight of a strong chin, go to Århus. I have become convinced that “Jutland” has nothing to do with the Jutes or with land jutting out into the North Sea. It is simply a contracted version of Jutting Chin Land.

Polish train windows are exactly designed to make sure that passengers who are 187 cm (6’2″) tall will not be able to take in the scenery.

April Pieces Of My Mind #2

The Grünewald Hall in Stockholm’s Concert Hall

  • My boyhood experience with D&D gave me a set of erroneous assumptions about academia. In D&D, the game master will usually follow the rule book and will tell you beforehand which rules don’t apply. And in D&D, everyone gets to level up as soon as they have collected a certain number of experience points.
  • Another rural kebab place, I ask for bulgur and ayran, and it happens again. The guy stares at me and asks, “Where are you from?! This is the first time in eight years that somebody asks for bulgur!” “I’m from Fisksätra”, I reply.
  • The mites on my body have a religion that causes them to transport lint around. Then they sacrifice it in my navel and at the nape of my neck.
  • Given the state of gender politics in the 1970s, it’s kind of odd to find Elvis apologising for not putting out sexually often enough in “Always On My Mind”. The explanation is that the song was intended for a female singer. With Dusty Springfield’s “Spooky” it’s the other way around. Both songs are gender flipped in their hit versions.
  • I remember when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was just one unlikely indie hit comics album.

April Pieces Of My Mind #1

New bike tire!

  • It struck me that my attitude to the various theoretical schools in archaeology is the same as my attitude to football teams. I don’t support any football team, because I am hostile to football and want it out of the public sphere.
  • Movie: Les Cinq Diables / The Five Devils (2022). Little girl has the supernatural power of spying on people in the past. By these means she discovers that the reason her parents are unhappy is that her mom would really rather be with her aunt. Great child actress but slow and predictable. Grade: fail. This is the second movie starring Adèle Exarchopoulos that I quit after an hour, and believe me, it’s VERY MUCH NOT because I get tired of watching her wander around in skimpy outfits.
  • Robin D. Laws said something really eye-opening about dreams. One reason that they’re so confusing is that they’re generated in the moment as you dream along, and retain no memory of previous “stage sets” where you have been that night. Your dreams have a narrator or game master with a super short memory. They’re like AI Dungeon, the text adventure game that seemed so convincing until you realised that it had no concept of object permanence.
  • Some people have a synaesthetic relationship with numbers. I’m turning 51 in a few days. It reminds me of a woman on Twitter who reported acute discomfort, almost to the point of throwing up, when she realised that 51 is not a prime, but equals 3 x 17.
  • Movie: The Eternal Daughter (2022). A film maker goes to a rural manor hotel with her elderly mother to celebrate her birthday and write the movie we’re watching. The present and their memories become conflated for both women, each played by Tilda Swinton. Lots of Gothic imagery. Too slow, but interesting twist, so grade OK.
  • I casually mentioned “primary reality” to my RPG group. An excellent newer member who is a psychiatrist reminded me that this is not actually a household term for most. It’s from one of Tolkien’s essays, a synonym to “off live” in LARPing.
  • Movie: Dungeons & Dragons: Honour Among Thieves (2023). If you’ve ever enjoyed the sword & sorcery genre in any medium, and most particularly if you’ve enjoyed playing D&D, I think you too will adore this lavish exciting funny movie. It even has a diverse cast and badass fighting women! And owl bears and paladin jokes! Grade: great!
  • The Battle of Tumhalad makes no sense geographically. It’s on the wrong side of the River Narog. Troops are crossing two major rivers without a word from Tolkien. Then somehow it’s a problem that a new bridge across the Narog allows the bad guys access to Nargothrond. Come on JRR, you have just established tacitly that the Narog is fordable just north of the cave city.
  • Tolkien and Lovecraft: both obsessed with miscegenation; one thinks it’s great, the other is mortally terrified of it.
  • Swedish has no single word for mental health, no equivalent of sanity or sane. Unlike the English, we assume it as the default.
  • Reading Fleming about James Bond and Dunsany about Jorkens recently, it struck me that affluent men in the early to mid-20th century spent all their waking hours under the influence of caffeine AND nicotine AND ethanol.
  • You know how Republican base voters are paranoid about government being controlled by the “Deep State”? I’m betting that what they are dimly perceiving is actually university graduates.
  • I mourn the trilobites. They were awesome.
  • ChatGPT, write a sequel to the Iliad about how Ulysses and his men sail home to Ithaca through years of adventure and hardship.
  • Idea for an online dating scam: fill the site with attractive AI-generated pictures and ChatGPT chat bots, make the site free to use, put lots of ads on it.
  • I did the math. In the past 2.5 years I have game-mastered for over five office-hour working weeks, not counting prep. Live table time, quality time with good friends!

Found another tree house ruin

Easter Weekend Fun

Kunskapens Pris: Balladen om den vilsne vandraren

Spring finally arrived over Easter, and I had a really fun long weekend!

  • Role-playing game: started a new campaign in Mutant: Year Zero. The characters are members of a small mutant community living in the centre of a bombed-out and almost depopulated Stockholm where the sea level has risen 8 metres. Our first session involved wolf people and a dangerous robot that had fallen from the sky…
  • Movie: At the suggestion of game group member Roland, we watched the fine Swedish short film Kunskapens Pris: Balladen om den vilsne vandraren (2007, “The Price of Knowledge: Ballad of the Lost Wanderer”). It’s set in the world of the Mutant RPG and was directed and designed by the brother-in-law of an old Tolkien Society buddy of mine. Neat!
  • Movie: Avatar 2: the Way of Water (2022). I enjoyed this movie for its consistently incredible visuals. Not for its characteristically American preoccupation with fatherhood, family, New Age Gaia Hypothesis environmentalism and the Vietnam War. Grade: good!
  • Book: Tolkien’s Silmarillion (1977). There were two important reasons that it couldn’t find a publisher until after The Lord of the Rings became a best-seller. One was that LotR created a genre and an audience for Sil. The other is that Sil is by far not as good a read as LotR or The Hobbit. Sil is not a novel and not an epic. It is part mythology, part heroic legendarium, all written by a young 20th century academic who would only later become a successful fantasy novelist. You need to approach it on its own decidedly odd terms. Much of it is beautiful, but some of it is just patently silly. Sil is an almost Biblical crazy-quilt of tangentially related writings, not all of which are even complete. Chapter 22 on the Ruin of Doriath abruptly breaks down into terse synopsis. This book does not reward a focused read-through. But any fantasy reader can enjoy picking it from the shelf every year or two and reading a chapter at random.
  • Movie: Sabrina (1954). Audrey Hepburn, 25, is the chauffeur’s daughter who can’t choose between the rich brothers William Holden, 36, and Humphrey Bogart, 55, and this really hasn’t aged well. Nor had Bogart, come to think of it. Grade: OK.
  • Geocaching: renovated a cache of mine that’s been in continuous operation since 2006! Strange how time flies.
  • Book: S.J. Gould’s Eight Little Piggies (1993). Re-reading an old favourite essay collection. Makes me curious to read more about current advances in palaeontology and evolutionary biology!
  • Boardgame: Mosaic: a Story of Civilization (2022). Good game but way too long. The deluxe edition that we played weighs 12.3 kilos!
  • Concert: Jayhawks at Nalen, supported by I’m Kingfisher. A great gig that was made even more enjoyable by my son accompanying me!

Dear Reader, what did you do for fun over the long Easter weekend?