Trip report: Disobedient Objects

I was in London this weekend; my parents were over from the US, so my wife and I went down to see them. We were having dinner with some family friends and my cousin, who also lives in London, when she happened to mention that my uncle had consulted on or somehow been involved with this new exhibit at the V&A. We hadn’t heard of it, but it sounded like fun and we had no firm plans so we decided to go the next day.

I’m glad we did!

This is a pretty weird thing to see on the outside of the V&A.
The juxtaposition of the sign, which is made from a police barricade, and the stately V&A architecture is pleasantly jarring.

So what constitutes a disobedient object? The items on display are mainly tools used by protestors in various areas around the world. They include things like protest signs, banners, communication systems, memorabilia, documents, weapons, temporary structures, shields, all that kind of thing.

Most of it is pretty recent — last 5-10 years or so, except for a few items from older movements such as a teacup with a WSPU logo on it or “bust cards” handed out by gay rights activists in the 1960s and 70s. I suppose these are ephemeral objects. At best no one thinks “I’d better hang on to my improvised gas mask; some day that’ll be valuable,” and at worst you don’t want to get caught with these anti-regime graffiti stencils in your house. I think that’s one of the reasons it’s nice to see these things — which are typically cheap and improvised — on display in a museum. A wiser person than I could tell you if that’s a good instance of the V&A’s mission to cover practical stuff rather than fine art. Seems like it!

Me being me, I was impressed by the high-tech low-tech engineering of a lot of it. I wish I had a shot of the sound control booth in a chariot made out of welded bicycles, but here are some other cool things:

An automatic graffiti “printer.”
A sling made from the tongue of a child’s shoe.
Papier-mâché puppets
Graffiti stencils for easy concealment.

That last one is both interesting and depressing at the same time, because on the one hand it’s neat how they’re made out of other things (x-ray sheets, paper bags, newspapers) to be concealed while out and about, but on the other hand the reasons behind that are sobering.

Lots of banners and documents on display, of course.

And lots of other great stuff: masked dolls from Mexican Zapatistas, badges and buttons, loads more flyers and cards, placards, shields, lock-ons, maps and signs of protest sites, ordinary objects repurposed as symbols of resistance (Solidarity members used to wear a little electronic resistor as a play on words). The territory covered seem pretty broad — it’s not just British material, although of course Britain is well-represented.

At least one of the groups whose item was on display had some reservations about, I suppose, the way a museum exhibit tames and even commercialises the things it displays. The danger, I guess, is that if your stuff is in a museum, it means that it isn’t alive, isn’t current, isn’t active. And I can see that, although I thought the exhibit, both in its displayed text and the way it presented these objects as the products of ongoing movements, did the best it could to avoid that effect.

Sorry for the blurry image.

I would also have liked to see more information on historical protest movements, but that’s probably just me. Like, the art at the door (and, I think, the display materials) are meant to evoke the evolution of the barricade as a technology, and I would have loved to have seen more of that. Or, for example, they showed the giant inflatable cobblestones used by some modern protests (and very effective they appeared — a police officer in riot gear struggling to deflate a giant inflatable cube looks like a right tit), which prompted me to think about the use of cobblestones or roof tiles as weapons, but I didn’t see it mentioned other than in passing. I didn’t buy the book, though, so perhaps it’s all in there. Again, I guess it’s the problem you have with the material culture of resistance — it’s more likely to be ephemeral than the material culture of the status quo, since conveying permanence is what the status quo is all about. As a result, “disobedient” material culture doesn’t wind up in museums as often, which means museums can become de facto shrines to the status quo. I remember having a similar conversation about castles while doing my MA back in the early 2000s.

Bank representatives and the law are to stay out of this village other than at certain times, if I recall correctly.

So yeah. I thought it was interesting. I haven’t talked comprehensively about it, but I think it’s definitely worth seeing. It’s free and it’s on until mid-February. It’s only one room, although quite a large one; I think it probably took us about an hour to go through at a leisurely pace. The exit does not lead into the gift shop, which would have been a tad much.

Trip report: Disobedient Objects

The Worst Explanation for Anything Ever

A brief note today. As an undergrad, I did a course on “The Vikings in Europe,” which included a brief look at the origins of the Rurik Dynasty, rulers of the Kievan Rus and later Russia. The document that describes this legendary founder is the 12th-century Russian Primary Chronicle, also called the Tale of Bygone Years.

I don’t want to get into the Chronicle, because I am far from an expert on it, but this passage always stuck with me. It describes the “Russes,” the Scandinavian nation from which Rurik and his brothers came:

They accordingly went overseas to the Varangian Russes: these particular Varangians were known as Russes, just as some are called Swedes, and others Normans, English, and Gotlanders, for they were thus named.

I think that is literally the worst explanation I have ever heard that isn’t actually wrong.

Here is a picture of Rurik gazing heroically into the distance, as they do.


The Worst Explanation for Anything Ever

Oranges and lemmings

I have been busy as usual, and didn’t do a Movie Monday — Monday was the first day of my class this term, and I just came home, ate pizza and sat hunched staring at the television for a bit before getting an early night.

But I have not been entirely idle. I had a little trip to London, which was very nice, but notable for this-blog purposes in that I did quite a lot of reading on the various coach and Tube journeys involved. Notably, I read Travels in England in 1782 by German clergyman, novelist, journalist and educator Karl Philipp Moritz, which is … charming. You can find it here on Project Gutenberg, which I assume is where the free ebook I read also came from.


There is something goofy and lovable about Romantic types, even though I … disagree with the way they think about things. There’s something very pleasant about Moritz going into raptures about the sublime natural views of … Richmond. I mean, I’m sure it’s very nice, but it’s weird thinking about the sublime natural beauty of somewhere you can get to on the District Line.

I think my favourite line, however, was this one, one of those “some things never change” moments:

All over London as one walks, one everywhere, in the season, sees oranges to sell; and they are in general sold tolerably cheap, one and even sometimes two for a halfpenny; or, in our money, threepence.  At the play-house, however, they charged me sixpence for one orange, and that noways remarkably good.

I also read a book about the Battle of Kursk, which had a lot in common with a lot of the military history I read. That is, it was full of detail about which Corps did this, and which Front did that, and all I retained was the funny stories and an increasing conviction that most of the German high command had spent a lot of their lives starved of oxygen. But if you ask me about this or that Panzer division I’ll be as ignorant as I was before. I may be the worst wargamer.

I have some comments to make about recent historically-tinged news stories, but I couldn’t let characteristically tone-deaf behaviour by that fatuous narcissist Ted Cruz pass without pointing something out. The usual yokels, hacks and hooligans have endorsed Cruz, while slightly more alert right-wing commentators have taken to bitterly regretting his actions. It’s so terrible, they say, that Eastern Christians can’t rely on Western Christians to help them. To which I could only think:


Oranges and lemmings

The Frugal Dork

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been enjoying myself in my usual pastime of haunting car boot sales and charity shops and picking up cheap stuff! I will be writing about some of it on the gaming and bad movie blogs,  but as for history, here is the result of today and last weekend:


So I may have material to work with. I am particularly pleased about getting A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates for 33p.

However, despite acquiring all these books I have not read any of them, or at least not finished them. As to what I have been reading … next time.

The Frugal Dork

Movie Mondayish: Sword of Xanten (2004), Part Two

OK, so in my last post I scourged myself for past sins by watching the first part of 2004 Germany TV miniseries Sword of Xanten, alias Curse of the Ring, alias Dark Kingdom: the Dragon King, alias Fantasy-sounding Word: The Swordening. When you have this many titles, you know you’re in for some business. 

When last we left, dimwitted but well-meaning hero Siegfried (Benno Furmann) had remembered that he was actually a king and was going to take all his hard-won gold back to his castle. Meanwhile, sleazy weasel Hagen (Julian Sands) and hairy weirdo Alberich (some guy) were planning to use a love potion to wed Siegfried to already-smitten princess Kriemhild (Alicia Witt) rather than to his One True Love, badass warrior queen Brunnhild (Kristanna Loken). Also present: nice but naive King Gunther (Samuel West), surrogate dad Eyvind (Max von Sydow) and doofus prince Giselher (Robert Pattinson). Clear so far? OK, let’s go!


Meanwhile, Eyvind, who was swording two fools at once earlier in this movie, is suddenly dying of old age. He and Benno reenact Yoda’s death scene. Eyvind bangs on about the gods and the old ways and stuff, and it’s all very moving because it’s Max von Sydow, but still. They do a boat-on-fire funeral, “the old way” despite no evidence this ever happened. We cut to Brunnhild monologuing to remind us that she still exists. Kriemhild, misled by her love for Siegfried, slips him Hagen’s mystical mickey and he gives her the goo-goo-googly eyes. Honestly, he spends about a third of this thing high as the moon. They get it on; Brunnhild’s raven sidekick is going to tell her, but Hagen shoots it down. Actually, that’s kind of a neat thing about the film: there’s a bird motif, so that Kriemhild is often accompanied by her hawk and Brunnhild by her raven.

Siegfried wants to marry Kriemhild, but first Gunther wants to get married. Oh snap! He wants to marry Brunnhild. So Siegfried has to fight Brunnhild wearing the Tarnhelm, which Hagen wants to steal. Again, we know how this goes. They set out for Iceland. Giselher stows away. Siegfried disguises himself as Gunther with the Tarnhelm. Giselher doesn’t know about the plan. Tragedy is a tricky thing; it can also just be boring, since everyone already knows how it’s going to end. There is an axe fight on some unconvincing ice-floe backdrop. Brunnhild agrees to marry Gunther. She is disappointed. Meanwhile, Kriemhild has the ri


ng and is a-coveting of the treasure. Brunnhild’s witch-lady suspects something is up. The guys go home and there is much rejoicing. Brunnhild is all heartbroken, but Kriemhild doesn’t know that the mysterious other woman is her brother’s new wife. 

In some tragedies, events rush toward doom with the horrible inevitability of a raft going over the waterfall. In others, they just lumber toward a rote conclusion. This one feels like the latter, but maybe that’s because typing this is making my hands hurt. 

For some reason, people in this show sometimes speak in what I guess is probably Middle High German. But presumably everyone would be speaking that, or Old High German, or Old Norse, or whatever. Beats me. Anyway, Siegfried puts on a set of white pyjamas and gets married to Kriemhild. Apparently he has converted to Christianity at some point. Everybody is getting married on the church steps for some reason. Then there’s a big Medieval Tymes party with lots of guys clanging swords together and tootly flute music and roast beast. Brunnhild challenges Siegfried to a fight. They both have magic meteoric iron weapons, but she whups him. Aaaaaaaawkward. But not as awkward as the chastity-belt scene that follows, in which Brunnhild discovers Gunther’s deception when she discovers he’s a weed.

Gunther, increasingly turning out to be an SOB, persuades Siegfried to go and impersonate him once again, stealing the belt. There have not been nearly enough blood-drinking episodes in this thing. It’s mostly just Wagner. Pfft. Anyway, Siegfried, disguised as Gunther, steals the belt in a scene that is just … we’re starting to get into The Conqueror territory here. 

Someone once found my blog using the search term "rapemance." Considering some of the crap I've watched it's a fair cop.
Someone once found my blog using the search term “rapemance.” Considering some of the crap I’ve watched it’s a fair cop.

OK, pro tip for any intriguers, backstabbers, philanderers, deceivers and scoundrels out there: if you are carrying a piece of incriminating evidence, for the love of all that is holy, do not say “nothing important.” Kriemhild gets hold of the belt from Siegfried due to him being the worst liar in all of history, and then, motivated by a pissing contest over royal precedent, spills the beans to Brunnhild. 

Oh Lord, I can see the end coming. Hagen poisons Gunther against Siegfried. Brunnhild wants everyone dead. TOOT TOOT! All aboard the murder train! Brunnhild realises it wasn’t Siegfried’s fault, but Hagen kills him before she can change her mind, and even if she had who knows, I mean that dude is Julian Sands. That’s not a guy to back when you don’t want evil shit to happen. Gunther and Hagen try to cover it up, but Geezer (as my wife calls him) and Kriemhild aren’t buying it. Hagen, who I forgot was Alberich’s son, stabs Gunther. Giselher goes after Hagen, who thumps him. The various retainers switch sides, but Brunnhild wades through them and then takes out Hagen. Then she kills herself, so we’re just left with Kriemhild and Goosey. Kriemhild quotes the Havamal, which I guess you can’t get away without doing. 


OK, what have we learned from just getting punched in the stomach over and over wait I mean watching Sword of Xanten?

  • All of late antique / early medieval northern Europe is one big ambiguously Nordic cultural mass that you can just moonge together. 
  • When in doubt, but a bunch of swirly curlicues on things and then light them on fire. 
  • Pronouncing your ‘t’ sounds very firmly makes you sound more like a Viking (see also Vikings). 

Now, in fairness, treating all of late antique/early medieval Northern Europe as a single canvas to smush together is the authentic saga way of doing it. The story of Gudrun, for instance, drags in Ermanaric and Attila the Hun of all people, who lived like a century apart and neither of them near the time the rest of the story is sort of nominally set. 

So in a way I guess that this is just another entry in the genre of stories about Sigurd / Siegfried. It’s not like there’s a single canonical one that all the other ones are inferior copies of, like there would be if you were adapting a novel. There were clearly lots of stories about this guy floating around, and what’s one more or less? This is an imaginary story. Aren’t they all? 

On the other hand, I do hate it when a modern remake is just a gutless reskinning of something that already exists. Like, I don’t know what I was supposed to take away from this that I didn’t already get from Wagner or Baby’s First Book of Vikings or something. And I do feel like they missed some opportunities in terms of dramatic moments. Here is my favourite excerpt from Adventure XXXVI of the Nibelungenlied

Then Etzel’s wife gave the order to fire the hall. Fanned by the wind, the whole house was soon burning, and a new ordeal began for the knights inside. No troops can ever have been in more desperate straits … 

And one of them said: “We shall all die. … This heat and this tormenting thirst will kill me. I can’t stand it any longer.”

Hagen of Tronege answered him: “You noble knights, if anyone is suffering from thirst, drink up some of this blood. In a heat like this, it’s better than wine. In any case, it’s the best we’ve got at the moment.”

And one of the knights went to a corpse, knelt down, took off his helmet, and drank the blood as it flowed from the wounds. It was hardly a drink he’d been used to, but it tasted good to him all the same. “God reward you, Lord Hagen,” said the weary man, “for showing me such a drink. I’ve seldom had better wine served out to me. If I live long enough, I’ll remember your kindness.” When the others heard him praising the drink, a lot more followed his example, and each of them was filled with new strength. Many fine ladies paid for this with their friends’ lives.”

There is not a second of Sword of Xanten that is on that level. 

Movie Mondayish: Sword of Xanten (2004), Part Two

Movie Monday: Sword of Xanten (2004), Part One

I saw The Sword of Xanten in a charity shop on Saturday for £3. OK, OK, it’s not a historical film. But it’s based on a medieval poem. That’s close enough, right? My wife points out that this means I can review Beowulf. I don’t know why she hates me.


In the world of bad movies, one standby is the dude who is a serious actor in his native wherever. Case in point: Benno Furmann. In Germany, he is, I gather, a reasonably big deal. In the English-speaking world, he’s in Mutant Chronicles. So it goes.

Anyway, we begin “1500 years ago,” when Europe is abandoning paganism in favour of Christianity. There is a canned spiel about Odin and the fires of the ancient powers fading. We are told we’re going to hear the story of a dude who slew a dragon. Cut to a castle, where a boy, who I assume is Young Siegfried, is seeing the place get invaded by, I don’t know, barbarians. Yes, he is young Siegfried. He beans an invader with a rock, which is pretty funny. As the castle falls and extras clang their swords together musically, our young hero is spirited away by his mum. We see some barbarian brothers who I suppose are gonna turn up later. There is unconvincing CGI. As always in films, bows shoot tracer rounds and plate armour is held on with string. Mum puts Baby Siggy on a log and floats him down the river before dying.

I do not remember this being in the Nibelungenlied. In fact, I have my copy right here, and it says:

Lord Sifrid was not generally troubled by emotions.

That is not gonna be the case in this film; we are not that lucky.

Siegfried is found by Max von Sydow. That’s good news. Meanwhile, Brunnhild (Kristanna Loken) is consulting an old crone who has a raven and some runes and … this is kind of a mashup of every stereotype about Vikin’s and Wagner and the various Volsung poems, isn’t it? Not a lot of the very medieval Nibelungenlied. There is a nice bit where Brunnhild is sailing on her Viking ship. Good scenery. She sees adult Siegfried, who has a dubious haircut, being all smith-apprenticey by the riverside. Along come some barbarians to reenact the beginning of Conan the Barbarian. Siegfried is called Eric and the blacksmith is called Eyvind. There is a fight. I am perfectly willing to believe that the guy swinging a sword in each hand is Max von Sydow, for sure. He was only 75 when this film was made, after all. Later, they talk about the gods and stuff, and an unconvincing CGI meteor falls from the sky. Brunnhild comes trotting through the misty wood on her white horsie.

At this point, my wife said “so, this has already been going for two hours. How much longer is it?”

I have whisky, so this review might deteriorate as time goes by. Brunnhild and Siegfried have a big fight. She is wearing a hooded cloak so that it is a big reveal she’s a girl, even though we just saw her a minute ago. Siegfried bests her, which no one has ever done, you know the drill. Siegfried takes the meteor, because I guess meteoric iron? They sex. She tells him she’s the queen of Iceland, which a) hasn’t been discovered yet, and b) didn’t have queens, and c) where the hell is this movie set anyway? It’s somewhere in Germany, right? Because there are Saxons and Burgundians …

Benno Furmann has a really annoying face.


Fafnir awakens in unconvincing CGI mode. Max von Sydow says “there are many tales of blacksmiths who became kings,” which is my favourite line so far, in that it acknowledges that this part of a continuum of legends. Siegfried and Eyvind are off to Burgundia in their boat. As they go, they see evidence that Fafnir has been buy, burninating the countryside. Burninating the peoples. Burninating all the peasants in their thatch-roofed cottages.


A mysterious dude (Hagen) tells another mysterious dude (Alberich) about the dragon and its corresponding dragon treasure hoard. Meanwhile sneering dickbag Giselher (Robert Pattinson of all people) and Love Interest #2 Kriemhild (Alicia Witt) are establishing their characters. Giselher doesn’t like Siegfried, because this show operates by Doctor Who rules. There is a brief pointless “quick, everyone attack him one at a time” fight in which people go “HA!” a lot. Benno Furmann does a lot of stunts shot from behind while Alicia Witt does her “what a man” face. King Gunther is a well-meaning dumbo. His sidekick Hagen is Julian Sands. Julian Sands! Doing, as my wife pointed out, an Alan Rickman impression.


Some of these costumes might actually have some elements that aren’t too out of keeping for sort of post-Roman barbarians. Alicia Witt looks haughtily down at people from a tower window for like a continuous minute. Giselher starts buttering up Siegfried, and is even more annoying when being nice. Siegfried is making a sword by twisting rods of metal together in the forge, which is a step up from Conan, anyway. According to Wikipedia, we’re not even 1/3 of the way into this smellhammer. Anyway, Gunther and his boys set off to fight Fafnir with predictable results. Siegfried swears to go slay the dragon. Sword montage!

Horsey ride, cave, unconvincing tough-guy yelling, tiny lizard fakeout, dragon, weird dragon hip structure, roaring, stab stab stab, thrills, spills, our hero. <– This takes approximately 60 hours. Siegfried tastes the dragon blood and, instead of gaining bird speech powers, starts tripping balls. He hears voices telling him to bathe in the dragon blood, and responds with a totally called-for butt shot. However, he has an unconvincing CGI leaf sticking to him. You know the drill. Ghosts tell him not to take the gold. They identify as Nibelungs, “people of mist,” deriving it from ON nifl, I guess? Outside, Alberich, in the form of Siegfried, jumps Siegfried, who is getting dumber by the minute.

ALBERICH: The magical Tarnhelm. You can keep it. It made me take your shape!

SIEGFRIED: What do I need that for? I look like me already.

That is actually a pretty good line, making a total of … one so far.

Brunnhild is setting tests for her ugly, hairy suitors in her mighty castle in Iceland. Mighty castle that looks like a longhouse inside. Basically she doesn’t live in Iceland; she lives in Skyrim. Meanwhile, back in Gunther’s mighty castle, there are just a shit of a lot of mighty castles here in the Dark Ages. I may not be drunk enough for this movie yet. However, Gunther’s mighty castle has a sweet fireplace. There is a big dance to celebrate the dragon-slaying.

I gotta say, Siegfried has not really been that troubled by emotions, so I guess I was wrong about that. But Hagen covets the gold, or is frightened of it, or something. Kriemhild puts on a fancy mask and joins the revelers in distuide, although it’s not that good of a disguise since she is one of only a handful of people wearing a mask at all. Max von Sydow is hitting on Christian girls. Kriemhild is disappointed to learn that Siegfried loves another. Hagen is wearing a mask that does not conceal his beard or scowl. That night, Siegfried trips balls again, seeing the whole ring of fire bit.

The Twin Kings, who I assume are those guys from the beginning, are invading. Hagen is scheming. Twin kings are legit barbarian mythology. Whoever the Twin Kings are, their army is mostly on foot and, as is fitting for barbarians, hell of greasy. Just … just so greasy. Just in case it wasn’t clear they’re the same guys, Siegfried has a flashback. He fights them in single (or,well, double, I guess) combat and, given power by his flashback fury, kills them up nice. The Greasothurians or whatever bend the knee. Hagen is discomfited. Gunther decides he’s going to marry Siggy to Kriemhild, the better to bind a sword-proof killing machine to the royal house. Hagen and Alberich are scheming. Brunnhild sends Siegfried a message, which I cannot forgive for not starting with “Allo, Siegfried!” Alberich is going to hook Hagen up with a love-potion. We all know where this is going.

OK, you know what? This thing is going on forever. I’m going to call this Part One, and we’ll continue tomorrow with Part Two. I think I actually have something to say about how this relates to medieval literature, but it’s going to be a long road until we get there.




Movie Monday: Sword of Xanten (2004), Part One

Trip report: Centre for Computing History

On Saturday, I went to the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge for an evening of nerdcore (or chip-hop, depending on who you ask) music by MC iPod, The British IBM and Random (a.k.a. Mega Ran). This was my first time visiting the Centre. 

The museum itself

Computing history is a funny thing. Obviously, the tech industry is a neophile world, and I think most people (most people like you and me; I’m sure there are people in the field who’ve been thinking this way since forever) have only recently started thinking about old tech as historically significant rather than obsolete. This is something you see in every historical field; medieval houses in England, for instance, tend to be distributed in areas that saw major economic problems in the late medieval period (if I recall correctly), because otherwise prosperous people just knock down their old thatched eyesores and build new. Everything is obsolete until it’s a priceless historical treasure. 

You can even see this at the museum itself, where there are big boxes of old computer manuals being given away free. Just not enough space to store any but the most important, I suppose. 

So the museum has an impressive collection of early computers, as well various paraphernalia, documents and so on. When I was there, a big screen was also showing Micro Men, a BBC drama about the battles in the early British home computer market. 

Now, I am not enough of a tech connoisseur to tell you what is rare and unusual among these collections — well, except for one field, which I’ll get to in a moment. So here are some of the photos I took. The lighting’s not great, but remember I was at a concert. 

This is the lobby area.
Many of these were on, and MC iPod was amusing himself by programming them to write SATAN when a count reached 666.
I don’t even care what it says, that just cannot be safe. It can’t.
The old school. I have no idea what any of this stuff is, but that’s only because I didn’t want to miss part of the performance and had to hurry back.
Another row of vintage home computers, most of them set up for an evening’s gaming. The one in the bottom right is running Manic Miner, which is an easy way to make a British person of a certain age curse.

The part of the museum I can speak to is its collection of old games, which is wide. They have a collection of arcade cabinets, plus a wide range of consoles from all eras. I didn’t get photos of all of them (often because they were surrounded by gamers), but I played some Super Street Fighter 2 and various console games. Apparently these are just on most of the day and visitors to the museum just hang out and play retro games. There’s also a little snack bar where you can get, er, snacks. Honestly, at £7 a ticket that doesn’t sound like a bad way to spend a free afternoon. Not that I have those, but you know what I mean. 

Just a few of the arcade cabinets. There are several more out of shot, and another half dozen or so in the lobby.
Atari somethingorother, NES, ?Master System, TG16, Genesis/Mega Drive (with CD), SNES.
The original actual physical model from the game Creatures. I like me some dioramas, so I spent some time goggling at this.

So, yes. It is a cool little museum, maybe a bit pricey for its size, but that’s how things go in today’s economy, I imagine. You can buy an actual computer (a Raspberry Pi) in the gift shop. It’s in kind of an out-of-the-way location, tucked in an industrial estate off Coldham’s Lane, so I can’t imagine it gets a whole lot of passing traffic. It does host a lot of special events, including retrogaming nights, programming classes and so on. And it is, of course, one of those special events I was there for!

The show

I had a great time. It was a BYOB event, which I had not realised, but a friend put a beer in my hand the moment I arrived, so many thanks to him (and I owe him one). Also, there’s a supermarket just around the corner, so it was easy to go out to get drinks — and in fact much more affordable than what you’d usually pay at a gig. 

The turnout was OK. A few dozen people for the early shows, probably never more than 100 (and possibly quite a lot less) even by the end. I thought this was a bit of a shame for such a fun event, but I was told that nerdcore shows in Cambridge can draw single-digit crowds. The struggle, it seems, is real. I have to admit that I would never even have heard of the event if it hadn’t been for the fact that I was sat next to MC iPod at a wedding some months ago. Now I am signed up for the mailing list, though, so that’s OK. 

I had a good time and enjoyed the music. I didn’t catch all of The British IBM’s set, because I ran out for drinks toward the end, but I enjoyed what I heard. Honestly, in this day and age of YouTube, what am I gonna do, write a review? Look, here’s everybody: 

I can’t find a good MC iPod online video, but I’ll put one up when I find it. You can check out his music here, though. 

And here’s The British IBM: 

And Mega Ran (who was accompanied by collaborator Mr Miranda): 

I like nerdcore, but it is always on the edge of being novelty music. I didn’t think that was the case with Random at all; he branched out a bit into other topics and he did a really good job tying video game concepts back into broader themes, personal experiences and so on. He sounded like a person who spoke in video game terms because that’s his mythology. Lawrence Miles said this about Doctor Who:

Doctor Who’s my native mythology, that’s all. If you read, say, the work of Salman Rushdie… forget about the blasphemy for a moment, it’s not important right now… there’s a lot of material in there that comes from traditional Indian culture, there are lots of links to Indian mythology. Which doesn’t mean he has to believe in gods with the heads of elephants, obviously. It’s just part of his background, those are the symbols he grew up with. That’s more or less the way I feel about Doctor Who. I’ve got a pretty low opinion of a lot of the original episodes, but it’s still my home territory.

So this is music made by and enjoyed by people for whom geek things are our home territory. I am not a music critic, and you may not like the things I like, but I had way more than £8 worth of a good time. 

The acoustics in what is, after all, a warehouse, weren’t perfect, but the intimate venue was cool. And maybe it’s not OK to say this, but I was sort of glad that the venue wasn’t too crowded so that if I got restless and didn’t want to keep standing in one place for a long time I could wander around and play some games while still listening to the music. This was especially true at the beginning, me being me and liable to be antsy in new social situations. 

I love it when museums do this kind of thing; see also the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, which hosts film nights showing mummy movies both good and … less so. If I could get a Bad Movie Night / retrogame evening at the museum, maybe get some popcorn going … mmm. 

So yeah. Centre for Computing History in Cambridge. It’s pretty good. If they have more of these kinds of things, I will go.

Trip report: Centre for Computing History

“Book” Review: The Flying Serpent, or Strange News out of Essex

OK, so this is a bit of an odd product. It’s a PDF, not a book per se, and although I bought it from a site that sells products for role-playing games, it is not particularly an RPG product. It is The Flying Serpent, or Strange News out of Essex, and you can find it here. It’s published by Magnum Opus Press, who also do various other products, none of them (sadly) obviously related to this one. It costs $1.95 in American money, or £1.17. 

This is a PDF facsimile of an 1885 “fac-simile” of a 1669 pamphlet about dragons and other lizards in Essex, including the infamous Henham Serpent. The site I’ve just linked to suggests that the author might be William Winstanley, but I think the pamphlet suggests otherwise. It tells the tale of a large serpent with small wings seen in or near Henham, and of the various attempts to pursue it with clubs and muskets, all ending in failure. 

I love this kind of thing, as I think I’ve mentioned before — facsimiles of old documents are one of the things I can’t get enough of, and the fact this is a facsimile of a facsimile is better yet. And the fact that it’s about a baby dragon just makes it even more great, especially because the story boils down to “saw a snake; ran away. Saw it again; it ran away.” Like many documents of its age, it crams in references to everything from Ragnar Lothbrok to medieval legends to the ancient Greeks, including bizarre and unsettling visions of other serpents. Apparently, Saffron Walden once had its own cockatrice, which I believe the author contends was some kind of an analogy. 

I think the weirdest one was this, though: 


So yeah, well worth checking out if you’re interested in the ephemeral literature of other ages. And if you’re reading my blog and you’re not interested in that, I’d like to thank you for charity-reading my blog. 


“Book” Review: The Flying Serpent, or Strange News out of Essex

Movie Monday: The Legend Is Born: Ip Man (2010)



I got rained on pretty hard today and I did not feel like sitting through another ultraserious historical epic. Instead I fired up kung fu biopic The Legend is Born – Ip Man. I’m not going to go into much detail about the plot, but you can probably figure it out for yourself: Ip Man is virtuous, adopted brother Ip Tin Chi is conflicted but ultimately the genetic evil of being Japanese takes over; kung fu masters are variously old and stuffy or old and cranky, and there are just a heck of a lot of fights. You could probably change the main character’s name to Wong Fei Hong and you wouldn’t lose a lot. 

I think what’s really interesting is the apparent compulsion among martial arts filmmakers to tell the stories of characters in the history of martial arts as though they were kung fu movies. So as far as I can tell most historical martial arts instructors just hung around teaching martial arts and stuff. In fact, Ip Man had more of a movie-premise life than most, in that he was a police officer during the period the film covers. 

In fact, probably more than any other genre, the kung fu movie has some of that Robert-Ford-playing-himself sensationalist drama going for it still left. Ip Man’s son, Ip Chun, plays an old wing chun master in the movie, for instance. I assume he’s got to be aware that he didn’t have an uncle who was part of an elaborate scheme to smuggle Japanese children into the country? But nobody gives a hang. 

Myn Bala was another example of the history movie in its purest form: patriotic glurge, big epic fights, total disregard for veracity. A certain amount of this kind of thing is desirable, I think. Just not much of it. 

did like the fusion of Chinese and Western style in the costumes, which is always a fascinating thing about movies set in that era for me. 

Also, damn Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung got old. 

Movie Monday: The Legend Is Born: Ip Man (2010)