September Pieces Of My Mind #3

Polish glass at the Szołayski House National Museum in Kraków
  • A memory. During an election battle, a Conservative US politician reminds the constituents that his rival’s sister is a Thespian. This is true, but he is counting on them not to know what the word means, interpreting it instead as (shock, horror) “Lesbian”.
  • Well preserved Early Roman Period farmstead sitting under sand dune on the Frisian island of Amrum is rescue excavated. Partly because the sand is moving again, uncovering the site. But more urgently because creative and ignorant locals are ripping stones out of the house foundations and building neo-Pagan stone circles.
  • Slavic speakers, surely you must agree that “the 1920s” is a better way to name a decade than “the 20s of the 20th century”.
  • Hey military minded people. When Russia “mobilises”, aren’t they likely to mostly get completely useless recruits? I know I would be absolute shit in the army.
  • Doing impromptu outreach at the Bergslagen History Festival, a.k.a. my used car salesman act. (The car is from the early 1600s.)
  • Movie: The Abyss (1989). Underwater catastrophe techno thriller with nukes and the kindly aliens from Close Encounters, including angel choir. Grade: good!
  • The bank was going to send me a new payment card, but it seems I got a futuristic prop from some scifi movie production instead. It says that it’s supposed to be valid through 2027, haha.
  • Is anyone in your tree? Is it high or low?
  • Crosby, Stills & Nash had a hippie song titled “I Almost Cut My Hair”. The Grails have a space rock song titled “I Almost Grew My Hair”.
  • Paraphrasing Darth Putin from Twitter: the question now is whether Russian men are as brave as Iranian women.
  • Surprised to think of the Stockholm Tolkien Society’s age. Both how new it was when I joined: 16. And how old it is now: 50. Same age as me.
  • A memory: at one of my first jobs, for a private company which was rare in Swedish archaeology back then, the CFO advised me at the hiring interview not to talk to my co-workers about my salary, because it could cause envy. I realise now that what she meant was that it could cause union activity.
  • Watching the double asteroid system grow in the sights of the approaching DART probe.
  • Missing house cat found living in lynx enclosure at Stockholm zoo.
  • Did you know that gna is a traditional Tibetan pasta dish? And that the most popular regional variant is the Lhasa gna? Widely imitated in Italy.
  • Say what you will about the old media, but it was rare for complete morons to reach nationwide circulation and electoral visibility back in the day when you had to get your message past an editor.
  • Insight: to a bedrock geologist, given the usual time scale and dating error bars in that field, the ice age didn’t end recently. It ends now, and apparently causes or creates necessary conditions for the anthropogenic mass extinction.
  • Imagine Bob Dylan covering “I Will Always Love You”.
  • Movie: Katalin Varga (2009). Rape revenge story beautifully shot in Transylvania. This was Peter Strickland’s first feature film and IMO the weakest of them. Grade: OK.

September Pieces Of My Mind #2

Prague, National Technical Museum
  • I’m heading out on tour. Conference in Jena, speak about Aska, sightseeing in Prague and Ostrava, conference in Kraków, speak about Husby, meet colleagues and collect conserved finds in Łódź.
  • The platform of my political candidacy is “I don’t share your concerns and I think you’re an idiot for voicing them”.
  • Met a guy today with my exact hair and sideburns configuration. He was wearing vintage clothing though. Should have asked him what subculture I belong to.
  • The rain lashes the skylights in my East German garret room as I translate Lord Dunsany into Swedish.
  • My list of recently used emojis has a new item. ✊
  • The Germans bombed Britain 51 times from airships during WW1.
  • Prague is full of US college students and head shops. In addition to the well kept historical glory.
  • In East Germany a lot of the homeless people have punk style hair and clothes. In Sweden the only ones I see are a lawyer neighbor and an eminent Stone Age scholar.
  • Yuriy Gagarin’s first space flight was what you got if, with little regard for the risk to him, you welded a deep-sea diving bell onto the top of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
  • So annoying. You need a few buckets of lard, and all you can find are endless laundromats. Not one single lardomat!
  • Happy to find that my rudimentary Polish allows me to understand bits of Czech as well.
  • Saw an exhibition on German atrocities against Czech civilians in 1942 at the National (of course) Museum. Thinking of Ukraine in 2022.
  • Passed a woman who was carrying her 2-y-o on her shoulders. The little one was sucking her thumb and humming muffledly & contentedly to herself. ❤
  • Czech inner cities don’t have the mix of ruins and perfect upkeep that you see in Polish and Baltic cities. Simply richer, or just a different way of dealing with uncertain post-Holocaust and post-Communist property ownership?
  • The intro to “Animal Nitrate” blows my mind.
  • The Jews are coming back to Czechia and Poland, reclaiming ancestral property or as tourists. But they’re Israeli Jews now, and they’ve created a market for Near Eastern restaurants where you listen to Lebanese music while eating Moroccan fish soup. Have some shakshouka with falafel!
  • Chatting with a friendly Kraków lithics specialist, I tell him I’m at the University of (w)Oodge here in Poland. He looks confused, not sure where this is. Later he suddenly shouts, “You’re at Oodge! Now I understand! Of course I know about Oodge! You can’t say ‘(w)Oodge’ like that!”

September Pieces Of My Mind #1

The Futuro is a reinforced plastic skiing cabin designed by Matti Suuronen and produced in 1968–78. This one is on the outskirts of Örebro.
  • Dr. Henry Jones’ academic work has never been very important to me. But I agree with him that punching Nazis is a core task for the archaeological profession.
  • Reading Arthur Machen yesterday, I learned that Welsh country folk would cut labyrinths in the turf, calling them Troy Town, and perform folk-magical rituals in them. In Sweden we get identical labyrinths built from pebbles at 13th century fishery sites, and we call them trojeborgar — Troy Strongholds.
  • Movie: Nope (2022). Remote movie-horse ranch is terrorised by giant airborne man eating manta-jellyfish monster. People of colour are in Western movie situations. Grade: OK.
  • In Swedish cities it’s easy to find alcohol and soft drinks late in the evening, but not the cake and hot chocolate that I want.
  • I’d be fine with using nuclear power as a stop gap while we develop and build out volume with clean energy sources. But in fact it would take too long to build the nuclear power plants — decades. We have to get CO2 emissions down last year at the latest.
  • Stockholm restaurants have started to serve bread in paper bags instead of baskets. Excellent, I always put the whole thing into my backpack.
  • The “tea” at the motel Friday morning was nasty, so I drank half a cup of coffee instead. Knew I wouldn’t have any opportunity to take a nap. Then I was unexpectedly SUPER STRESSED OUT FOR NO REASON when driving to site.
  • Machen is not mentioned in Tolkien’s biography nor in the letters volume.
  • After age 45, my mental stack space shrank. I used to be able to queue a lot more function calls. Now they often just drop off the list when a new call is made, for instance on Facebook.
  • Two days ago, the former US president called the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice “vicious monsters”. Stable genius?
  • Movie: Swan Song (2021). Elderly small-town Ohio beautician and drag performer escapes from care home to do his favourite customer’s hair and make-up one last time — for her funeral viewing. And all the memories come back. Grade: good!
  • Odd how nobody talks about Bojan Križaj anymore.
  • King Gizzard is a majestically productive and inventive band. Now they’re releasing three albums at once, all probably in different styles!
  • 60% of Sweden’s power production is from hydro, wind and solar. Nuclear is 31%. I had no idea that we’re burning so little fossil fuel in our power plants.
  • I like to start my day with tea and writing.
  • The guitar driven first minute of Depeche Mode’s 1988 cover of “Route 66” sounds like Jesus and the Mary Chain.
  • The entire extent of my knowledge of Barstow CA has been that this is where the drugs start to take hold of H.S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing. Now I’ve just discovered that Barstow is also one of the places along Route 66 where you can get your kicks!
  • According to many music historians, The Kings of Rhythm recorded the first rock song in 1951, and so they have a pretty good claim to being the first rock band.
  • If at any point we should disagree on a matter of science, then it’s important that you remember that you’re just a social construction.
  • Truth-neutral history of science is deeply annoying.
  • Time to re-read The Queen And I, Sue Townsend’s funny 1992 novel where the UK abolishes the monarchy and the Windsors end up in council housing. Unlike several of the former royals, E2 gets a friendly and sympathetic treatment.

Best Reads of 2022, #2

Here are my best reads in English during May through August.

  • Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Robin Sloan 2012.
  • The Corner That Held Them. Sylvia Townsend Warner 1948.
  • Piranesi. Susanna Clarke 2020.
  • The Songlines. Bruce Chatwin 1987.
  • We Can English. Paddy Kelly 2022.
  • A Judgement in Stone. Ruth Rendell 1977.
  • 88 Names. Matt Ruff 2020.
  • Rest in Pieces: the Curious Fates of Famous Corpses. Bess Lovejoy 2013.
  • Amazing Stories of the Space Age. Rod Pyle 2016.
  • Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing. Melissa Mohr 2013.
  • Limonov. Emmanuel Carrère 2011.
  • Mudlark: In Search of London’s Past Along the River Thames. Lara Maiklem 2019.
  • Voodoo Histories: the Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History. David Aaronovitch 2009.
  • The Go-Between. L.P. Hartley 1953.
  • A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking. T. Kingfisher 2020.
  • Passionate Travellers. Trish Nicholson 2019.
  • The Elusive Shift: How Role-Playing Games Forged Their Identity. Jon Peterson 2020.
  • The Warrior’s Apprentice. Lois McMaster Bujold 1986.
  • High Life, Low Morals: the duel that shook Stuart society. Victor Stater 1999.

Find me at Goodreads! Dear Reader, what have been your best reads of the past few months?

August Pieces Of My Mind #3

Steam pressure 17 kg/bar. Effect 3.5 steam horse-powers.
  • Two days of running around in the woods on islands while wearing shorts works out to roughly 50 ticks.
  • Movie: Turning Red (2022). 13-y-o Chinese-Canadian straight-A’s student doesn’t just have puberty problems. She has a family curse that turns her into a giant red panda whenever she becomes emotional. Grade: good!
  • Suddenly remembered espadrillos, those fabric shoes with soles made of coiled-up rope.
  • First Feargal Sharkey sang in the Northern Irish punk band The Undertones. Then he had a hit with a short-lived 80s synth pop band. Then he worked as a spokesman against illegal online music distribution. Now he’s campaigning against river sewage pollution. Not a lazy man, not a single-issue fellow!
  • Depeche Mode’s first album and the Pixies’ last pre-hiatus album were recorded in the same studio: Blackwing in south-east London.
  • I’ve been asked to do some public archaeology outreach at a place near Örebro named the Äs Sound. Listen up!
  • I love the internet but I hate the way it makes me conscious of what stupid and ignorant people believe.
  • Remember how clip art used to be a pretty big deal in software packages?
  • You know when someone successful thanks a mentor for believing in them when they started out? That’s survivor bias right there. The mentor believed in 999 other young hopefuls too who never made it.
  • Funny situation with the Tory leadership level-up. The Left doesn’t really want a competent and likeable leader of the opposing party. But equally, it doesn’t want the Prime Minister to be a Tory at all.
  • In about one year, the message in a bottle that I found recently had travelled 37 km as the crow flies, from Bergshamra to Djurö.
  • Movie: Iron Sky (2): the Coming Race (2019). Dieselpunk, moon Nazis, Agartha in the hollow Earth, Udo Kier as reptoid Hitler riding a T. rex, original songs by Laibach. Grade: OK.
  • Tabletop game design has come so far that Routledge publishes an encyclopedia of known mechanisms. You can look up Deck Building, Card Drafting, Hex and Chit, Roll And Move, Victory Points, Worker Placement…
  • Do people who get that Icelandic magic sigil as a tattoo know that it’s from 1860, or do they believe that it’s from the Viking Period?
  • There are TikTok influencers who talk about books and create an enormous demand among young people for certain writers.
  • Had a Peruvian lomito at the street food festival, then cycled over to Gröna Lund to listen to Clutch. Haven’t been to the fun fair since Jrette was like ten.
  • Breathlessly the two mathematicians explored each other’s parameter space.
  • Passenger planes with a hold for bringing your car were a serious business in the UK of the 1950s.
  • All Madonna’s best songs are about her love for hats. “Last night I dreamed of sombreros”…
  • Oh great. The local historical society’s board is planning events over group email without noticing that my address is also in the email header.
  • Movie: In the Mouth of Madness (1994). Metafictional horror where an insurance claims investigator is sent to retrieve the latest manuscript from a hit novelist whose books drive people insane — only to discover that he is living in that book. Grade: OK.
  • My labour union interviews members who are also active in political parties on the occasion of the impending Swedish elections – including me.
  • I’m really old. When someone mentioned padded envelopes I immediately thought of a store that sells them. Only the entire block containing that store is gone now. Blå bodarna, Slussen.

August Pieces Of My Mind #2

Glacial-melt potholes on Fjärdlång Island
  • I’ve got three career defining dice rolls lined up for the next few months. All appear to offer decent odds. I’ve decided that if two of them work out, I’m going to be happy.
  • I feel way better about cycling past the 1970s murder victim dump site now that I know her name and can say hello to her.
  • We don’t inherit our parents’ debts anymore. If their estates aren’t worth enough to pay their debts, then the estates are declared bankrupt and the debts disappear. I wonder when this became the rule. I’m reading about 17th century English noblemen who routinely inherited crushing debt from their fathers. Particularly from rakish fathers who lived fast and died young. Apparently it had to do with being a landed nobleman who couldn’t get rid of his debt by letting go of some mortgaged land.
  • Movie: November (2017). Estonian rural folklore in gloriously strange, radically manipulated black and white. Grade: good!
  • Thinking about meta studies in archaeology and history. The ten most interesting aspects of the Middle Ages do not include how people relate to the period in 2022. And the ten most interesting aspects of 2022 do not include how people relate to the Middle Ages.
  • My paperback copy of Jackson’s Celtic Miscellany contains full endnotes. But no note numbers in the text. What was the editor thinking?
  • 80s graphics adventure games, King’s Quest, Uninvited etc: the machines were so slow that you could see which objects you could interact with because they were displayed a little later than the background.
  • The expression “in many ways” usually means “not”.
  • Have you recently freaked out in a moon age daydream? If not, then what’s keeping you?
  • Movie: The Dead Don’t Die (2019). Loving tribute to the zombie film genre with Jim Jarmusch’s trademark mild ironic humour and an extremely star studded cast. I don’t understand why it has such low scores everywhere. Grade: good!
  • Cycling through Nacka municipality from the east shore to the west border on Stockholm proper, I pass a series of election posters from the Conservative Party. All of them say “Preserve the unique character of XXX”, where XXX is the name of each area along the way with old, large mansion houses.
  • People who are afraid that immigrants will take all the jobs: it’s cool, they create jobs because they buy stuff and start businesses.
  • Somebody should write a song about a day in the life of John Lennon where he’s reading a newspaper while completely spaced out on acid.

August Pieces Of My Mind #1

Concert with local band Amason in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art
  • The Spanish basketball team at the 2000 paralympics consisted of two disabled players and ten who only pretended that they were intellectually disabled. 😃
  • A good political party does not modify its ideology to suit popular opinion. It exists to modify popular opinion according to its ideology. And if popular opinion refuses to follow along, then fuck those voters.
  • Watching a really well-made documentary miniseries about Swedish metal music, I realise that I don’t like a lot of Swedish metal music. It’s either too cheesy and wimpy (Europe) or too fast and aggressive (Entombed). The Swedish metal bands that I like are groovier more recent outfits in the Black Sabbath tradition.
  • The Kobo Clara and the Kindle Paperwhite are both excellent e-readers, both book stores are super comprehensive and the prices there are about the same. Buy either! *shrug*
  • For the past 300 years we’ve been making random unintended interventions into the climate. We need to develop geoengineering technology and start doing this in a planned manner.
  • One reason that so little Swedish metal interests me is that most of the vocalists are either operatic tenors, or hysterical Cookie Monster soundalikes, or unmelodic abyss growlers, or even musical theatre singers. I want straight rock voices like Chris Cornell. In fact, I think all Swedish metal would be improved by Björn Skifs replacing the singer.
  • Rarely an indecisive person, I can’t decide right now if it’s worth €48 to see Franz Ferdinand on their farewell tour. It was easier back in the day when you could ask the counter-question, would I buy one of their albums?
  • Observation after three hours the metal documentary: it’s an ethnically diverse field. Few bands have no members with foreign surnames. But they seem to be mostly 2nd generation, sons of immigrants. What music will the children of the Afghan 2015 teen immigrants create?
  • I know what futuristic music sounded like in 1992. What is today’s futuristic music?

Oiling the Cricket Bat in “The Go-Between”

L.P. Hartley’s excellent 1953 novel The Go-Between deals with a secret affair between a manor-dwelling girl of good family and a young tenant farmer in Norfolk during the summer of 1900. We see it through the eyes of a visiting 12-y-o boy who takes messages between them without understanding what sort of “business” the couple has together.

Sex is very much visible and understood in the surface text here: the plot hinges entirely on these two young people carrying on across the class boundary. But let’s look at the sub-text in the remarkable ch. XV. The author is a 60ish closeted gay man writing in an early-1950s literary climate where homosexuality is not discussed frankly. It seems pretty clear what reading demographic he’s addressing so knowingly here.

At a prior visit, farmer Ted has alluded to a pregnant horse and the link between its pregnancy and “spooning”. This shocks young Leo who has no clear idea of what spooning is about, except that it is a silly laughable thing that grown-ups do. Ted offers to explain more fully about spooning at a later date, but Leo is not sure he wants to know. Now the boy has come to deliver yet another secret message from Ted’s girl up at the manor.

—–

He was sitting on a chair behind the table with a gun between his knees, so absorbed that he didn’t hear me. The muzzle was just below his mouth, the barrel was pressed against his naked chest, and he was peering down it. He heard me and jumped up.

‘Why,’ he said, ‘it’s the postman!’

He stood the gun against the table and came across to me, with a swish of the brown corduroy trousers that he wore in the hottest weather. Seeing the hesitations and reservations in my face he said, ‘I oughtn’t to be like this when callers come, but I was that hot. Do you mind? Shall I put a shirt on? There are no ladies present.’

[…]

‘Well, would you like to come out and see me shoot something?’ he suggested, as if my salvation lay in shooting. ‘There’s some old rooks round here that could do with a peppering.’

[…]

‘Do you ever miss?’ I asked.

‘Good Lord, yes, but I’m a pretty good shot, though I say it. Now, would you like to see me clean the gun?’

No one is quite the same after a loud bang as before it: I went back into the kitchen a different person. My grief had changed to sulkiness and self-pity, a sure sign of recovery. The deed of blood had somehow sealed a covenant between us, drawn us together by some ancient, sacrificial rite.

‘Now you take this cleaning-rod’ he said, ‘and this bit of four-by-two’ — picking up a piece of frayed, white, oily rag — ‘and you thread it through the eye of this cleaning-rod, same as you would a needle.’ Screwing his eyes up, for the kitchen was not well lighted, he suited the action to the word. The slightest movement brought into play the muscles of his forearms; they moved in ridges and hollows from a knot above his elbow, like pistons working from a cylinder. ‘And then you press it down the breech, like this, and you’ll be surprised how dirty it comes out.’ He pushed the wire rod up and down several times. ‘There, didn’t I say it would be dirty?’ he exclaimed, triumphantly showing me the rag, which was filthy enough to satisfy one’s extremest expectations.

[…]

‘Now I’ll just clean the other barrel’ he said, ‘and then I’ll make you a nice cup of tea.’

Should I accept his offer? Tea would be waiting for me at Brandham Hall. I saw his cricket bat standing in a corner, and to gain time I said: ‘You ought to oil your bat, too.’ It was rather pleasant to give instructions after receiving so many.

“Thank for reminding me. I shall want it again on Saturday.’

‘May I oil it for you?’ I asked.

[…]

I handled the bat as reverently as if it had been the bow of Ulysses … I poured a little oil on to the middle of the bat and began to work it in gently with my fingers; the wood seemed to drink it thirstily and gratefully as if it too was suffering from the drought. The rhythmic rubbing half soothed and half excited me: it seemed to have a ritual significance, as if I was rubbing out my own bruises, as if the new strength I was putting into the bat would pass into its owner.