28 May 2013

Hillary's oxygen tank

In honour of tomorrow's 60th anniversary of the scaling of Everest by Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay on 29 May 1953, here's a crucial piece of their expedition. The tank is part of the collection of the Science Museum in London, and was photographed on 23 March 2009. Interestingly, the Surveyor-General of India after whom the British named the mountain, Colonel Sir George Everest (1790-1866), actually pronounced his surname with the 'Eve' portion identical to the woman's name, rather than the pronunciation commonly in use, 'Ever-est'.

27 May 2013

Friends don't let friends drink & bounce

No matter how many chardonnays you've had, keep off that bouncy castle you hired for the kids' birthday party.

Figures from ACC show injuries relating to inflatable castles have risen by over 60 per cent in the last five years, and the fastest growing demographic is the over-40s.

Children are still the most injured, with 5 to 9 year-olds accounting for more than half of each year's casualty rate. However, in 2008, at least 18 people aged 40-plus registered claims for bouncy-castle-related injuries - last year 31 adults made claims including nine people over 50.

So far this year, at least one person aged over 70 has claimed ACC for a bouncy castle injury [...]

ACC figures show bouncy castle injury claims cost the country more than $100,000 every year with 2010 a particularly costly year at $212,816.

Inevitably, experts point the finger at one common denominator: "Don't drink and jump" is the message one Auckland bouncy castle hirer tells his client.

"I can pretty much guarantee alcohol would be involved in at least half those (adult) accidents," the industry veteran said.

Many companies thought bouncy castle staff parties were a good idea but "I've seen the staff go crazy in them," he said.

- Ian Steward, 'Adult bouncy castle injuries on the rise', Sunday Star Times, 26 May 2013

25 May 2013

The creatures beyond the Devil's Gate

Actually, it's not as melodramatic and Lovecraftian as it sounds. The creatures at Devil's Gate are in fact New Zealand fur seals, who congregate on the coast just past a cleft in the rock known as Devil's Gate. This in turn is just past the rather more commonly known site, Red Rocks, so named for the burgundy-hued stones deposited here by geological processes best left unexplained. The seals are usually present from May to August, and having seen one swimming happily along the Wellington waterfront earlier this week, I decided to make only my second expedition to the Rocks. Unlike the last time about 10 years ago, this time I aimed to spot the seals in situ.

This morning was calm and still in the capital. Setting off this morning from the carpark at the bottom of Happy Valley at 9 o'clock, perhaps half of the walk was bathed in sunlight despite the north-facing cliffs. I reached Red Rocks after 50 minutes, and spotted my first seal a short while after that. You're required to keep a healthy 20 metres from the animals at all times, and never get between them and the sea, but it's still easy to get a good view because the rocks where the seals haul themselves out of the water to bask in the sunlight are close to the trail. There's little danger of surprising the seals, because the beach stones are noisy underfoot - they generally look up briefly from their doze when they hear you, and then go straight back to sleep. (Click photos to enlarge)

The vicinity of Red Rocks is also the location of a famous marine tragedy, which is hardly surprising because the south coast of Wellington is notoriously rugged and unforgiving. On 12 February 1909 the 45-year-old steamer Penguin was travelling with a crew of 41 plus 64 passengers from Picton to Wellington in seas that were described as dangerous. At about 9.45pm the Penguin struck on Tom's Rock, and gashed open its starboard side with 'the sound of the ship striking being described as like the rending of a giant piece of calico'. Many lives were lost when lifeboats carrying women and children capsized in the violent surf shortly after being launched from the sinking ship, and in all 75 lives were lost. This was New Zealand's worst maritime disaster of the 20th century; by way of comparison, around 50 people died in the Wahine disaster in April 1968. 

The next morning the Dominion had only just heard of the disaster, printing the following message in full:

WRECK OF THE PENGUIN - Reported serious loss of life. At 5.45 this morning a telephone message was received from Mr Kennedy, manager of the Union Company, that the Penguin, on her way from Nelson and Picton to Wellington, had been wrecked at Terawhiti and great loss of life is feared. Mr Kennedy sent a man over the hills on horseback, the weather being too rough to permit a steamer to approach, and the fullest information of the sad occurrence will be posted at the Company's office.

By the time the Evening Post was published later that day Captain Naylor of the Penguin had reached Wellington and had been tracked down for a comprehensive eye witness statement by the reporter. After relating all the grim details of the grounding and sinking, the Evening Post added, 'Captain Naylor, when interviewed, showed unmistakeable signs of his rough usage in the water. Although he did not say so, it was clear that he was the last man to leave the ship'. According to C.W.N. Ingram's New Zealand Shipwrecks,

The Court of Inquiry into the loss of the Penguin found that the cause of the casualty was the presence of an exceptionally strong flood tide [and] contributed to by the master in not putting his vessel's head to sea sooner. The court, on a majority verdict, one of the nautical assessors dissenting, suspended the master's certificate for 12 months.  

The only female survivor from the Penguin, Mrs Hannam, saved a boy named Matthews from drowning and believed she had saved her two-year-old child. She was found underneath an upturned boat on the shore by Mr McMenamin's shepherds the next day, at which point the death of the two-year-old was discovered. Mrs Hannam was feted for her bravery, and lived a long life. She is mentioned in a report from her home in Onehunga in Auckland in 1950, which states that despite losing her husband and all four children in the disaster, she was pregnant at the time and later gave birth to another son, who went on to become an officer in the merchant navy.

Men pull bodies and wreckage from the surf at Cape Terawhiti,
after the wreck of the Penguin (via Te Ara)

See also:
Blog: HMS Orpheus memorial at Greenwich, 1 January 2008
Blog: Highbury to south coast walk, 17 February 2013

23 May 2013


Recently Slightly Intrepid passed 100,000 pageviews since I started blogging here in January 2007. There have been 520 posts before this one, and I've used 33 categories to divide them up. The top 10 posts according to pageviews are dominated by a silly little post that I wrote in April 2008 on a possible route for a tunnel under Cook Strait - it would appear that there's an untapped groundswell of interest in sci-fi New Zealand transport projects out there!

Top 10 blog posts by total pageviews

1. A Cook Strait tunnel? (4191 pageviews)
How about a walkway to Tasmania while you're at it?
Cheaper to hire short people than build a big plane.

3. Obrigado Lisboa (1229)
Portuguese capital travelogue.
Cucumber sandwiches with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
Flying back from the South Island, incl. plenty of traffic from Theonering.net for the Hobbit set shot.

6. Sim City 4 (994)
Building the city of Cullinane in SC4, incl. neighbourhood profiles and transit map.
A slice of London local history and a mythical highwayman.
Seeing Adele perform live at the BBC... and R. Kelly (bleurgh!)
Cool old planes in Paris.  Concorde and rockets too.

10. My best and worst films of 2010 (437)
Any year with Inception and Scott Pilgrim vs The World has to be a good year for movies.

Top 5 search keywords

1. Cook Strait bridge
2. Cook Strait tunnel
3. Dave Arbus (violinist who famously played on The Who's Baba O'Riley)
4. Lisboa
5. Melody Gardot (mentioned in another Jools Holland post here)

Top 5 pageviews by country

1. USA 40,163
2. UK 14,600
3. NZ 7662
4. Germany 3286
5. Australia 2413

22 May 2013

8am: Bacon & egg butty, four pints of cider

From an American reporter's anthropological perspective on attending Premiership football matches in England (including this Newcastle v Liverpool match), here's her view of the culinary side of things: 
The food is cruddy and no one really cares about it, but the alcohol is essential.
Alcohol is allowed to be consumed in stadiums’ snack areas, but not in the stands. To temper the annoyance this causes, hard-core fans tend to drink heavily beforehand — carrying plastic bags full of beer onto the train, spending hours in nearby pubs — and at halftime. They are not supposed to arrive at the stadium obviously drunk, but many have ways of getting around this.
Meanwhile, very little eating goes on in the stands; nobody is walking around wearing a friendly hat and asking if you want to purchase yummy seat-side treats. No cotton candy; no Dippin’ Dots. Inside, the snack bar menus tend to be basic, offering things like French fries with curry sauce; chicken pie; and Bovril, a hot beef-flavored bouillon masquerading as soup.
At St. James’ Park, the Newcastle stadium, the menu in the away-fans’ snack area consisted of one type of entree — meat pies in various flavors — and eight types of alcoholic beverage. “Three-course meal: 7.80 pounds!” advertised a sign. Course one: meat pie. Course two: flavored vodka drink. Course three: Twix bar.
At the Aston Villa game in Birmingham, Steve James, 47, took time out from chanting obscene remarks at the visiting Chelsea players to observe that because the game started early in the afternoon, the fans had had less drinking time than they might have liked.
Take himself.
“I have only had 11 beers so far,” he said. “I met my mates at a bar at 8 in the morning and had a bacon and egg sandwich and four pints of cider,” cider being an alcoholic drink here. “On the train, I had a few more. Then I had six in a bar when I got here, and a couple at halftime.”
Except for his addition problems, James did not seem drunk at all. “I don’t like to be uncontrollable or not know what I’m doing,” he said. “I have my limit.”
What is that?
“I have no idea,” he said.
- Sarah Lyall, 'Game Hunting in England', New York Times, 20 May 2013
[Via Kris. If I have the right game, Newcastle lost the match at home 6-nil]

21 May 2013

Etiquette on meeting a lady writer

If, when admitted into her study, you should find her writing-table in what appears to you like great confusion, recollect that there is really no wit in a remark too common on such occasions, - "Why, you look quite littery," - a poor play on the words literary and litter. In all probability, she knows precisely where to lay her hand on every paper on the table: having in reality placed them exactly to suit her convenience. Though their arrangement may be quite unintelligible to the uninitiated, there is no doubt method (her own method, at least) in their apparent disorder. It is not likely she may have time to put her writing table in nice-looking order every day. To have it done by servants is out of the question, as they would make "confusion worse confounded;" being of course unable to comprehend how such a table should be arranged.

If you chance to find an authoress occupied with her needle, express no astonishment, and refrain from exclaiming, "What! can you sew?" or, "I never supposed a literary lady could even hem a handkerchief!"

This is a false, and if expressed in words, an insulting idea. A large number of literary females are excellent needle-women, and good housewives; and there is no reason why they should not be. The same vigour of character and activity of intellect which renders a woman a good writer, will also enable her to acquire with a quickness, almost intuitive, a competent knowledge of household affairs, and the art of needlework. And she will find, upon making the attempt, that, with a little time and a little perseverance, she may become as notable a personage (both in theory and in practice) as if she had never read a book, or written a page.

The Dora of David Copperfield is an admirable illustration of the fact that a silly, illiterate woman may be the worst of housewives. Dickens has unquestionably painted this character exactly from life. But that he always does. He must have known a Dora. And who has not?

- Eliza Leslie, Miss Leslie's Behaviour Book, Philadelphia, 1839(?)

[Via Lapham's Quarterly. Miss Leslie's book is subtitled, 'A guide and manual for ladies as regards their conversation; manners; dress; introductions; entree to society; shopping; conduct in the street; at places of amusement; in traveling; at the table, either at home, in company or at hotels; deportment in gentlemen's society; lips; complexion; teeth; hands; the hair; etc., etc. With full instructions and advice in letter writing; receiving presents; incorrect words; borrowing; obligations to gentlemen; offences; children; decorum in church; at evening parties; and full suggestions in bad practices and habits easily contracted, which no young lady should be guilty of, etc., etc.' 

The expression 'confusion worse confounded' refers to mix-ups that have gone from bad to worse and comes from Milton's Paradise Lost (1667): 'With ruin upon ruin, rout upon rout, confusion worse confounded'.

The date of the book is unclear. The title page seems to indicate 1839, but David Copperfield, mentioned in the text, was not published until 1849-50.]

18 May 2013

They Might Be Giants

They Might Be Giants
Bar Bodega, 101 Ghuznee St
17 May 2013

The sound: choppy, punchy, blippy Brooklyn nerd rock. The participants: the spiritual heirs to the legacy of Devo. The clothes: Casual Architect. This was They Might Be Giants' first Wellington show, and their first visit to New Zealand since 2001. In a way, it's a small miracle that a band that makes pop music in such a pleasingly off-kilter fashion should have survived for more than three decades, but it's to our benefit because their snappy, high-pitched tracks are so enjoyable in a live venue. Bodega is a perfect venue to appreciate the band live - I was 10 metres from the stage, positioned strategically behind shorter concert-goers, and had a perfect view of the stage and the performers. It's a pleasure to see John Flansburgh and John Linnell still clearly enjoying their work, resolute in refusing to take themselves too seriously, and relishing the opportunity to play songs from their back catalogue mixed in with new material from this year's new album Nanobots.

The new material is catchy and appealing. Nanobots' premise is plenty of micro-songs, but there are also tracks of traditional length like those performed, including You're On Fire, the title track Nanobots, the dynamic Circular Karate Chop, and that TMBG specialty, a biographical ode to inventor Nikolai Tesla. The material from the back catalogue gets a very warm reception too, of course. It must be a treat to fly to the other side of the world and receive rapturous applause for your number about the obscure 11th president of the United States (James K. Polk, from their 1996 album Factory Showroom) or your cover of Why Does The Sun Shine? (The Sun is a Mass of Incandescent Gas) from their identically-titled 1993 EP. It was also great to hear the wilfully schizophrenic Fingertips 'suite' from Apollo 18 for the first time, which consists of 21 micro-tracks totalling four and a half minutes.

Perhaps a useful illustration of TMBG's outlook is to quote from their John Linnell's Don't Let's Start from 1987, a gleaming slice of power pop sporting the potentially haunting lines: 'No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful / Everybody dies frustrated and sad and that is beautiful'. This would be quite a heavy concept were it not directly followed up with: 'They want what they're not and I wish they would stop saying deputy dog dog a ding dang depadepa / Deputy dog dog a ding dang depadepa'. Well, quite.

TMBG are one of those bands I have foolishly neglected, basing my admiration on the contents of the excellent Dial-a-Song double CD compilation. There's plenty more to explore, and this concert was a reminder that I need to track down more of their albums - particularly Flood and Apollo 18, for starters. The band is to be commended for its move several years ago to diversify its recordings to include clever and catchy music for children - a field notoriously dominated by rampant cliche and po-faced infantilism. But that does raise the alarming prospect that some of the younger members of the audience actually came across the band in their nurseries!

TMBG's charm also assists matters greatly. They showed a pleasing stage presence, bantering with the audience despite a lack of coherent witticisms from the Friday night crowd, which was usually dealt with by professing not to understand a single word of the New Zealand accent. And while I know stories of celeb Twitter interaction are deathly dull to the people not involved, I would just like to point out that when I'd walked home and posted my thanks for a great gig, adding jokily 'If only we could understand your impenetrable accents', John Flansburgh replied within a few minutes 'It is difficult. We're like the Brooklyn Proclaimers'. Simple things like that earn plenty of loyalty from fans!

Here's an unofficial (but TMBG-endorsed) fan video for a track from the new album:

Earlier, floppy-fringed David Bain jumper-wearing Christchurch support Tom Lark (plus a mate) impressed with a fun collection of indie jangle-pop.

See also:
Music: TMBG - Birdhouse in Your Soul (on Leno, 1990, with Doc Severinsen)
Music: TMBG - New York City (live, Williamsburg NY, April 2013)
Music: Tom Lark - Hipsteranity

16 May 2013

A German spy, or possibly a transvestite

From Simon Garfield's We Are At War, Glasgow war diarist Pam Ashford (a pseudonym) records a workplace conversation about the German spy threat, in her entry for Boxing Day 1939 (plus some additional gossip about two office girls and her family canary):

Mr Mitchell and Miss Crawford had a long conversation on the subject of spies. Both believe every word of the following stories:  
Mr Mitchell: 'A porter at Paisley Station saw a nun. She dropped something and when picking it up he noticed it was a man's hand. He warned the police. The nun was a spy. The porter received a letter from the War Office thanking him. That proves it is true'. 
Miss Crawford: 'No, you have the story wrong. The facts are these: my friend's friend went from Glasgow to Greenock late one night. She got into a carriage in which there were nuns. During the journey a nun dropped something and the girl noticed it was a man's hand that picked the article up. She warned the police. She has a letter from the War Office thanking her'. 
Several people drew a comparison between our two office girls. Betty (14) notices every bill in the street and can always tell you what the latest is; Margaret (18) never notices anything at all. Several people wondered if she knew there was a war on. I commented upon the fact that Margaret often says, 'Daddy says the only thing that matters is if I am happy'. 
A curious piece of natural history. For the seven years from 1932 to September 1939, Dick, our canary, fell into a somnolent position at tea-time and the family did not get much pleasure from his company thereafter. On the day that the war was declared he changed completely, and now spends the evenings singing and hopping and being as sociable as he can. 
- 'Pam Ashford', quoted in Simon Garfield, We Are At War, London, 2005, p.133.

The diary entries from Ashford and four others in the book were obtained from the remarkable social experiment, the Mass Observation project (official website, Wikipedia), which ran from 1937 until the mid-1960s, and was revived in 1981. For a revealing summary of MO's work, see Caleb Crain's excellent September 2006 summary in the New Yorker, Surveillance Society. In it Crain highlights the subversive intent of the early MO work, seeking to offer an alternative outlet for public questioning of government propaganda. This was later subsumed when it was incorporated as a market research firm in 1949. 

15 May 2013

Chinatown, San Francisco

A walk north through Chinatown on a sunny day in April, starting at the Dragon Gate at the corner of Grant and Bush. (Click photos to enlarge).

13 May 2013

Awesomest Canadian ever!

Cmdr Chris Hadfield performs a slightly modified cover of David Bowie's hit Space Oddity aboard the International Space Station, to mark the end of his stay in orbit. Someone make this a hit, please!  

[Via Former Flatmate Al]

11 May 2013

1920s London in colour

Via the BFI, and latterly Kevin Spacey and Kermode & Mayo on Twitter, here's Claude Friese-Greene's superb footage of the bustling capital in full colour, using a process designed by Claude's father William Friese-Greene. There's much to admire, but my favourite is the scene at the crowded Petticoat Lane market, with the camera slowly pushing its way through the throng at crawling pace. The title 'London in 1927' may be slightly misleading though. The film seems not to have been shot all at once, because the reference to England defeating Australia at the Oval refers to a 289-run victory in August 1926. Presumably the footage is part of Friese-Greene's The Open Road, a 1924-26 travelogue of a journey from John o' Groats to Land's End. So, maybe not London in 1927 precisely, but certainly London looking fantastic in vibrant and extremely rare colour.

London in 1927 from Tim Sparke on Vimeo.

09 May 2013

Whale-watching in the Saratoga Passage

On Saturday 13 April I was lucky to join a Murray family adventure from Seattle to the nearby coastal village of Oak Harbor, Washington, for an afternoon whale-watching expedition. Gray whales frequent the area in March and April during their migration northwards from Baja to the Bering and Chukchi Seas.

It was a chilly and gloomy late spring day in Washington, and the whale-watching company cautioned us that many layers of clothing would be required, because wind-chill out on the water would lower the temperature dramatically, and the boat was open to the elements apart from a canvas roof. We donned the offered wet-weather gear over multiple layers of thermals and winter clothing, and were glad of the insulation, because once the boat left port the wind was bitterly cold.

The outward journey south down the Saratoga Passage from Oak Harbor was marked by the sight of a chap taking his dog for a paddle around the harbour on his wake board (with the dog on the board, not swimming in the chilly water), and by a pair of bald eagles guarding the harbour entrance, glaring in a frankly irked fashion at us as we set out to find some whales to observe.

Our first two attempts to find whales were unsuccessful, so the boat crew took us as far as they could, level with the busy waterfront at Everett and near the ferry crossing from Clinton on Whidbey Island to Mukilteo on the mainland. There we finally saw three male grays. About 200 metres from the boat the grays would emerge from a shallow dive every few minutes, and either roll their back and barnacled belly in the air or, on a few occasions, flick their tail in the air. It was easy to spot their location from the plume of mist ejected into the air whenever they surfaced, but it was quite a challenge to get a good photo because we didn't approach too close, and the males weren't in a playful mood like the humpback whale I saw breaching off the coast of Rottnest Island in Western Australia last year.

Despite the chill winds, it was an excellent outing. We also enjoyed a pleasant Italian dinner on the way home at Pacioni's in Mt Vernon, and we all got a surprise when Tom stopped for a pick-me-up espresso at a highway gas station on the way home and the attendant turned out to be a 'bikini barista'! Clearly feminism has a long way to go in parts of Washington state - one website reckons there are a mind-boggling 126 outlets. Lucky she had double-glazing, is all I can say.

06 May 2013

Josie Long

Josie Long: Romance & Adventure
San Francisco Bath House
171 Cuba Street, Wellington
5 May 2013

Josie Long is far, far from home, but that doesn't stop this self-professed 'whitest girl from Orpington' (and one whose predominant stylistic motif is most accurately referred to as 'Norwegian Boy') rapping in the style of (but, parenthetically and obviously, nothing at all like) Jay-Z, or Jasper Zed as he is known in the UK. It was a real treat to see her stand-up act so close to home, when for all the years I lived in London and meant to go see her perform, I wilfully neglected to do so.

This was my loss, because of course Long is utterly charming, mixing goofy whimsy and heartfelt political satire with a dedicated penchant for self-deprecation and cod philosophy (which is philosophy devised over a meal of fish and chips). Long mines the insecurities arising from being a person with unassailable left-wing convictions who is sorely tempted by the glimmering trappings of fame but is also repulsed by the contradictions they present. I particularly loved her description of working comedy gigs on Euro ski-fields (playing to audiences of, in Long's words, 'ski-c***s'), noting that if there's one audience that can be guaranteed to be a hard sell for comedy underpinned with a fervent commitment to social justice, it's the apres-ski audience. And the unseemly competitiveness she saw arising in herself when climbing Mt Kenya for a telly charity gig, which led to the revelation that it's all well and good mocking your fellow climbing celebs as you pass them on your inexorable ascent to be the first one to the summit of Africa's hardest mountain climb, but then you actually have to pass them again on the way back down. The simple solution to this is of course to make sure your rivals never make it to the top - the Sherpas clearly have the right idea.

There was also time for a truly lamentable (and therefore hilarious) stab at the New Zealand accent, and an attempt at cultural blasphemy when Long admitted to having rude lady-thoughts about our five dollar bill. And not about the little blue-eyed penguin.

Seeing Long perform reminded me of an interview with comic actor Jessica Stevenson (now Jessica Hynes), in which she expressed a wish to just be as silly as possible, but also that it was hard because there weren't many avenues for a woman actor portraying silly characters on the screen. Josie Long is the perfect heir to Hynes' legacy.  (Not that Hynes isn't still going strong - she is marvellous as the nonsense-spouting PR flack Siobhan Sharpe in 'Twenty Twelve'). It took a great sitcom role to catapult comedians like Bill Bailey into the next level of fame (c.f. Black Books). Someone should write Long a role and get her the big audiences that she deserves. Is Miranda Hart listening? Could she put in a good word at the BBC? For the time being, Long has indeed had a few acting roles. There's this sweet little piece from a recurring guidance counsellor role in 'Skins' to hint at her potential:

And of course there's plenty of great standup on offer on Youtube too. But to be honest she'd probably even make a video of her sitting on a bench enjoyable. Oh, right.

See also:
Blog: Stephen Merchant, Wellington, 17 December 2012
Blog: Bill Bailey, Wellington, 29 September 2012
Blog: David O'Doherty, Wellington, 4 May 2012

05 May 2013

Crusader Kings 2: House of Dunkeld

Following several abortive attempts to establish a long-running dynasty in Crusader Kings 2, I finally settled on the Dunkeld kings of Scotland. After an on-again-off-again playthrough lasting many months I finally completed my first full run-through of the game, preserving the Dunkeld grasp on the throne of Scotland through the entire 387 year history of CK2 from 1066 to 1453. This entailed 18 kings, whose reigns ranged from the trifling (less than 12 months for the ill-fated King Findlay) to the legendary (63 years for Godfrey the Great). In reality, the Dunkelds reigned over Scotland only until 1286, when they were supplanted by the Bruces and then the Stuarts. Here then is the alternate, condensed history of my Crusader Kings 2 version of Scotland's history. (n.b. The leaderhead in the top left of each screenshot is Duncan the Great, who was king when the game finished in 1453)

King Malcolm III (r.1058-96)
In his 30-year reign Malcolm avoided war with powerful neighbours and instead concentrated on methodical expansion of the borders of the rump Scottish kingdom. He added Innse Gall, Argyll and Carrick to the kingdom, and created the title of Duke of Albany to bolster his credentials. But his downfall came when he claimed and invaded Galloway in 1096. Later that year he died aged 57 in 'a suspicious explosion', i.e. the inn he was staying in had been booby-trapped with a pungent, fermenting cesspit that was set off with a spark, causing a mighty king-despatching conflagration. What a way to go!

King Duncan II 'the Cruel' (r.1096-98, 1105-09)
Duncan's reign illustrated how messy Scottish politics could be in the Middle Ages. Immediately upon taking the throne in 1096, Duncan was excommunicated by the Pope, thereby paving the way for the Duke of Lothian to rebel against Duncan's all-too-new rule. By 1098 Duncan had defeated the rebellious Lothian, but the kingdom was wrested from him and passed to his 23-year-old son, William. Biding his time, Duncan now styled himself the Duke of Albany and consoled himself with the idea that at least he still had his head. He also served as his son's Marshal, leading the Scottish armies, and giving him plenty of time to plot his revenge. By 1103 it was time to pounce, and Duncan launched his claim to regain the throne. William's supporters saw the writing on the wall by 1105, and as Duncan was besieging his son William they stripped William of the title and passed the kingdom to William's son Donald (Duncan's grandson), who was only eight years old at the time. Within six weeks Duncan's relentless siege was a success and he proclaimed himself king once more. Duncan's enemies were punished, but not his errant son or grandson, both of whom later had a second chance at kingship. Duncan's prize was four more years on the throne, until he died a natural death aged 52 whilst campaigning in France.

King William (r.1098-1105, 1109-18)
William didn't have long to wait for his second taste of life as the king, but the start of his new reign was troubled. Moray rebelled in 1110, and the covetous King Rayner I of England declared war on Scotland in 1111. William suffered a major setback, losing Cumberland to England the following year, but at least by 1114 he had crushed the Moray rebellion and imprisoned its leader. Seeking to atone for his losses to Rayner, William claimed Galloway from its rightful (or should I say 'current') owner. Alas, in 1118 William died at the Battle of Dunragit, fighting Duke Bard of the Isles, at the age of 43.

King Donald III (r.1105, 1118-21)
An ill-starred king. Duncan's grandson had six weeks on the throne whilst cooped up in an isolated castle when he was merely a boy, but by the time he finally regained the throne aged 21 it was clear he was not suited to a life in command of an entire kingdom. While he did manage to oversee the surrender of Galloway and its addition to the Scottish realm, after a mere three years on the throne Donald died aged 24, of symptoms arising from severe stress.

King Malcolm IV 'the Noble' (r.1121-74)
A mere toddler when he came to the throne, Malcolm's early regency was turbulent as Rayner I of England renewed his bullying of Scotland, declaring war a few months after learning of Donald's death. Two terrible Scottish defeats in 1122 saw English spirits soar - at Carlisle Malcolm lost 3800 men and at Roxburgh a further 1000 died; Teviotdale was lost to Rayner. Matters worsened the following year when Galloway rebelled once more, seeking to install the pretender Prince Duncan on the throne. After years of warring, Rayner was halted and by 1129 Galloway was finally imprisoned; Teviotdale and Cumberland were reclaimed for Scotland! Upon attaining his majority in 1135 Malcolm immediately took Princess Cecile of France as his wife, and the following year he set forth to earn his reputation on crusade to Jerusalem. With a mere 1425 men Malcolm reached the Holy Land and fought the infidel, but it was in Catalonia and Sardinia that he made his mark, taking Tortosa and Cagliari for Christendom.

Returning to Scotland as a famed young warrior, Malcolm proceeded to expand his holdings by revoking rivals' titles, invading Ireland and building strong claims to new lands. Fife, Ulster, the Isle of Man, and Caithness joined the kingdom over the next 10 years. Following an ill-advised adventure to France to aid the Duc de Berry, in which Malcolm's forces were defeated by Moorish hordes at Tours, Malcolm was bereaved in 1155 when the 35-year-old Queen Cecile died. He did not remarry for four years, when he finally wed the 17-year-old Duchess Tatyana of Vladimir from the far lands of Rus. Malcolm earned the title of champion of a tournament in 1161, which led to him staging Scotland's greatest tourney of the 12th century two years later. Further territorial additions led to secret rivals hatching a kidnapping plot against the king in 1167, but this was foiled by chance. In thanks for this lucky escape, Malcolm collected his Welsh territories and crowned himself King of Wales alongside his Scottish claims, and also joined the Pope's crusade in Aragon. While 1170 was marked by the diplomatic triumph of the marriage of Malcolm's daughter Princess Cecilia to Basileus Isaakios II of Byzantium (nice to have an empress in the family), it also saw a stinging Scottish defeat at the Battle of Zaragoza (2900 dead). Malcolm's luck on the battlefield had deserted him. He was scarred in 1172 at the Battle of Ossona, and two years later in 1174 he died a natural death aged 55, still crusading in Aragon.

King Ingram (r.1174-91)
On attaining the throne at age 34, Ingram chose the wise path of buttering up potential rivals, dispensing duchies, earldoms and counties to his vassals. Following a brief sojourn against the infidels in which he took Santiago in Galicia, he returned to put down a rebellion on the Isle of Man in 1176. By 1180 Ingram's attention had switched to Aragon, which was claimed by Christendom in 1181. In 1184 Ingram showed his diplomatic mettle, marrying two of his half-sisters to European rulers: Princess Agatha was wed to King Klas of Sweden and Princess Isabel married Prince Ljutomirl of Croatia. He later returned to crusading, venturing to Anatolia in 1188 and on to join the King of Croatia's crusade against Transylvania the following year. Ingram died like his father, on crusade, but even further from home - he passed from this world after a severe illness in Semender in the remote Caucasus, aged 51.

King Malcolm V (r. 1191-98)
Young Malcolm's reign was dominated by the rebellion of the Countess Aelfthryth of Dyfed in Wales, who was joined by four other disloyal Scottish vassals, leading to a Scottish civil war. The highest price for this conflict was paid by Malcolm's brother Prince Ingram, who died aged 22 in a suspicious accident, presumably having been assassinated by Malcolm's rivals. Malcolm fought long against his rivals, but eventually perished in 1198, aged 31, at the Battle of Fortingall against the Earl Oystein of Caithness.

King Alwin I 'the Hunter' (r.1198-1213)
The third son of King Ingram, Alwin was not expected to take the throne, but he outlived his brothers Malcolm and Ingram and became king aged 25. Soon after his reign commenced Scotland was riven with another civil conflict: in 1200 the Duke of Lothian declared full independence. Biding his time, Alwin permitted the insult to go unpunished for the time being, and concentrated on defeating rebellious Ulster. By 1203 Alwin was ready to punish Lothian, and declared war to regain the territory for Scotland; this was achieved by 1205 and the erstwhile duke was sent to Alwin's dungeons. A failed campaign to wrest the county of Durham from the Duc de Normandie occupied Alwin for several years until the annus horribilis of 1211 in which the new Duke of Lothian declared independence just like the last one (it's so hard to get good help these days), and Alwin's Queen Janet died of syphilis! How ignominious, particularly given that Alwin preferred the company of men, both in the halls and bedchambers of royal Scone. Alwin tried to keep the news of his wife's infidelity from spreading, but his reign was cut short only two years later when he was besieging Roxburgh; he caught an infection and died a natural death, aged only 40. Ultimately, Alwin left a great legacy for Scotland: despite his homosexuality, he sired five children, and all became monarchs. His three sons, Findlay, Alwin and Stirling all ruled Scotland in turn, and his two daughters Mariota and Elspeth became Queen of France and England respectively.

King Findlay (r.1213-14)
The doomed boy king Findlay reigned for less than a year before succumbing to a youthful bout of pneumonia, aged 14. During his brief reign the Lothian rebellion was suppressed once more, but the Countess of Carrick also rebelled.

King Alwin II 'the Just' (r.1214-1229)
The second son of Alwin the Hunter took the throne aged only 13, but unlike his older brother he attained his majority. His reign started perilously with a military defeat in Ulster, which saw the boy king fleeing across the sea to Gowrie. Determined on revenge, Alwin opened the Scottish coffers and recruited the famed White Company of mercenaries, unleashing 6100 trained men. Displaying his flair for military strategy, the Countess was soon defeated and imprisoned. In 1217 Alwin joined a crusade for Andalusia, but upon the death of the traitorous Duke of Lothian in the dungeons at Scone, his son Coenwulf, the new Duke, rebelled against the crown. By 1219 Alwin had come of age. He married an obscure Croatian courtier, Rijeka, who was famed for her genius, and before the year was out he had captured and imprisoned Coenwulf. (The young Duke spent five years in the dungeons and emerged chastened and loyal to the king; Alwin gained a reputation as a fair and lawful monarch).

Feeling secure, Alwin set sail for al-Andalus with an army of 3200 men to join the siege of Almonte. Soon he was defeated by a superior Muslim force at the Battle of Fuente de Maestre (in 1220, 3000 men lost). In 1222 Alwin made history by founding the city of Falkland in Fife, but the year was marred by the king's terrifying bout of typhoid fever, which he fortunately survived. By the late 1220s Scottish advisers were increasingly concerned that Queen Rijeka had produced no male heirs, having delivered five clever daughters but no sons. But the king was still young. Ever active, Alwin ventured with an army of 3000 to support his ally the Duke of Vladimir in Rus, but he was soon called back westwards by the rebellion of Duchess Janet of Deheubarth, who fought for an independent Wales. A sixth royal daughter for Alwin didn't improve the situation overly, but the fortunate marriage of the king's sister, Princess Elspeth, to the ominously-named King Rayner the Ill-Ruler of England cemented a useful alliance. Alwin joined Rayner's wars against Munster and Cornwall in 1228, but was called away to more important matters: a mundane, run-of-the-mill peasant uprising in Lothian. Leading the army to restore order, Alwin suffered a humiliating accident when he was isolated at the Battle of Abercorn and massacred by peasant levies who mistook him for a hated nobleman. Alwin II was the last Scottish king to die on the field of battle.

King Stirling 'the Just' (r.1229-62)
The crown of Scotland passed to the third son of Alwin the Hunter, Stirling, who was in his prime at age 25. He was blessed with an honest, humble nature and a kind spirit, and in more practical terms it was indeed fortunate that when he took the throne two of his sisters were queens of neighbouring powers, France and England. His subjects came to overlook the disfiguring harelip that foreign dignitaries couldn't help staring at. Stirling's early reign was dominated by campaigning, including joining the French holy war in Valencia (with an army of 1300 Scots), successful campaigns against Duke Alwin of the Isles, and the rulers of Galloway and Connacht. In 1238 Stirling's young heir, Prince Alwin, was married to Theodosia the Greek, another eastern genius like his sister-in-law Rijeka. In 1242 Stirling married his daughter Princess Maud to King Sandor of Hungary, and three years later another daughter, Princess Cecily, married King Berenger II of France. Stirling then saw his chance to seal his control of Irish lands, declaring a holy war to extinguish the Cathar sect in Munster. Within two years Munster had surrendered and Stirling crowned himself King of Ireland alongside his Scottish and Welsh crowns. Irish lands were dispensed to loyal and grateful Scottish vassals. In 1251 he seized control of Dublin from his English rivals, which led to full-fledged war with England. This was not resolved until 1254, when Prince Henry of England was slain by Scottish soldiers on the field of battle. Demoralised, England finally gave up its claim on Dublin.

The following year Stirling took his armies to France to fight for King Berenger against an Orleanite rebellion, but the war was short-lived because Berenger was killed in battle. In 1255 things went from bad to worse for Stirling when his wife Queen Euphrosine died aged 53, and shortly afterwards the Orleans armies massacred Scotland's army in the Battle of Luzen. Stirling fled to Scotland, where he succumbed to a debilitating bout of consumption. Seeking a soulmate, and against his counsellors' advice, the king took the lowborn Donada, a mere 23-year-old, 30 years younger than the king. Donada piqued Stirling's curiosity, being a sickly, celibate genius whose nimble wit fascinated the ageing monarch. Sadly, Donada's illness worsened dramatically and she died a mere three weeks after the modest wedding ceremony. Stirling consoled himself with the good news that one of his daughters wed Basileus Belisarios I of Byzantine. Ill fortune stalked Stirling now, because in quick succession in 1257 his son and heir Prince Alwin died of a wasting illness and the following year his grandson and new heir Stirling also died, this time of typhus. Seeking a partner more his own age, Stirling married for a third time, this time to Godgifu, the 51-year-old daughter of the Duchess of Moray. Godgifu was present at the founding of the new city, Kenmore, in 1259, and by this time Stirling had gained the same epithet as his brother: the Just, for his work reforming the Scottish law codes. Stirling set sail for France once more that year to battle the Orleans forces. Besieging Bordeaux, the king became enfeebled and infirm, but he rallied and eventually took Orleans itself, earning a white peace for the weakened King of France. In 1262 Stirling ordered one last campaign: his forces invaded Orkney and besieged its Danish lord. Alas, Stirling died bedridden and infirm before victory was achieved. He was 58.

King Godfrey I 'the Great' (r.1262-1325)
The second grandson of Stirling the Just, Godfrey was an unlikely king, being largely fascinated with religious texts rather than kingly duties, but he eventually became Scotland's longest-reigning monarch of the medieval period. The new 13-year-old king's first task was to put down the Moray rebellion, plus that of his disloyal uncle Prince Giric, who inflicted a huge defeat on the king's men at the Battle of Dunkeld in 1264, in which Godfrey's army suffered 10,800 casualties. Matters were saved when Godfrey came of age and wed Princess Maud of England; this brought King Robert V of England into the Scottish civil war on Godfrey's side, and following a defeat at the Battle of Scone, Prince Giric surrendered. To celebrate Godfrey staged a Grand Tourney in 1269, the first in over a century. In 1272 Godfrey declared a holy war on the Moorish invaders holding Brittany. Several counties were returned to Christian rule under hand-picked Scottish vassals. Favouring the king for his piety, the Pope granted Godfrey an annulment of his marriage to Queen Maud, who had produced five daughters in a row (something of a Dunkeld family curse). In her place Godfrey married Duchess Richwara of Upper Lorraine, who after yet another daughter finally produced a son and heir, Donald, in 1277. Godfrey also took the opportunity to expand Scotland's holdings in Iceland, seizing the west of the island in 1276.

Emboldened by his success in Brittany, Godfrey declared holy war on Galicia in 1283, and set sail with 21,300 men in 233 ships, a massive armada for the time. When this war ended inconclusively Godfrey consoled himself by besieging Quimper in Brittany. Relations with England soured to a point when, in 1291, King Robert the Cruel declared war to regain Cumberland. The strain of the war was too much for Queen Richwara, who died of distemper not long after Robert invaded. Godfrey quickly remarried for a third time, to Princess Christina of Denmark. This quickly paid off when Christina give birth to a second royal son, Gilbert, in 1292. Three years later, Godfrey had successfully beaten back the English armies. After seizing York Castle, Robert was forced to surrender his claim to Cumberland and pay a hefty fine of gold into the coffers at Scone. Soon Queen Christina would show her considerable mettle: on her orders the royal spymaster the Duke of Lothian was murdered, and Christina took over the position of spymaster herself! She performed well in this role for nine years, until her sad death of slow fever in 1308, at the age of 38. Seeking another wifely spymaster, Godfrey then married his fourth bride, Eufemia of Vodi. In 1311 the now elderly Godfrey completed his hold over all of Ireland, and four years later he took Yorkshire from a weakened and fragmented England. Godfrey's reign stretched on and on, displaying his impressive longevity. By the time he died a natural death in 1325 he was 77, and had reigned for 63 years, producing 12 children and marrying four times.

King Donald IV (r.1325-1333)
Donald inherited his father Godfrey's fascination with matters religious, but preferred obscure mystic and occult matters to traditional churchly fare. He had many years to hone his knowledge, because his father's long life did not end until Donald was 48. Upon finally taking the Scottish throne, Donald had to wage war against the Lollard heresy of the Duke of Ulster, and was then beset by King Christopher of England, who tried to test the martial skill of the new monarch. Within a year it was the English who had been taught a lesson, suffering a huge defeat at the Battle of St Peters (9000 English casualties); by 1331 Christopher had surrendered and paid gold tribute to Scotland, just like King Robert in 1295. Following a brief period of crusading in Navarra, Donald had returned to Scotland, where he rapidly sickened and died of natural causes at the age of 56.

King Godfrey II 'the Apostle' (r.1333-1363)
Godfrey was a serious young man touched by religious fervour and gifted with a strong command of military strategy. The early part of his reign was dominated by the Great Tourney of 1337, with which he hoped to evoke the memory of his idolised grandfather for whom he was named. Soon Godfrey found his calling on the battlefield against Moorish foes, joining Toulouse's war for Aragon in 1338 and then Aquitaine's war in the same land. In 1343 Godfrey showed his spiritual side by seeking wisdom from a renowned hermit in the hills of Aragon. The knowledge he gained there sustained him during his later captivity, when on 1 October 1343 Godfrey was captured by Sultan Musa on the battlefield. Godfrey's imprisonment was brief and luxurious: after a mere three months in the Sultan's palace Godfrey paid a heaping gold ransom to free himself. Despite the hospitality of his courteous captor, Godfrey became maddened by the humiliation, and soon began to torture Moorish prisoners. Worse still, some whispered that he had developed a grotesque fascination with the grim art of impaling his victims. His hatred grew when his Queen Christina was murdered - allegedly on the orders of the king's brother, Prince Edgar. Marrying Princess Marie of Bohemia, Godfrey threw himself into endless military campaigns to assuage the demons in his heart and head, besieging Toulouse and Narbonne in 1349, joining Hungary in its war against Poland in 1352, and putting down a rebellion in Leon in 1353-54.

Soon it was time for one of Scotland's great medieval epics: in 1356 Godfrey declared war on the English over Lancaster, and in a famous campaign taking the war to the soft Sassenachs even besieged Westminster itself in 1359. With Lancaster won, Godfrey turned his gaze once more to Brittany and the remaining Almoravid lands there. Declaring a holy war in 1362 he took 31,300 Scotsmen across the sea, and in the Battles of Leon and Lezergue he wreaked havoc against his enemies, gaining a reputation as a holy warrior of Christendom. Sadly, Godfrey's days were numbered: in the third major battle in Brittany, the Battle of St Brieue, Godfrey received a severed blow to the head and was rendered mentally and physically incapable. Unable to be moved, he died the following year abed in Brittany, aged 66, having dealt a crippling blow to the health of the Muslim conquest in France.

King Kenneth IV (r.1363-65)
Definitely ill-suited to the throne, Kenneth was at heart a simple man - his loves were falconry, old-fashioned hymn-singing, and drunken carousing. His reign started with the chilling revelation that Kenneth was a reviled kinslayer, having murdered his younger brother in an insane rage. After 18 months of uneasy rule Pope Vigilius III had been convinced (with healthy donations from the Scottish coffers) that Kenneth deserved absolution. It was to be of no avail, because almost immediately the king set forth to complete his father's punishment of the Almoravids in Brittany, where he was maimed and crippled in battle. Kenneth died aged 49, like his father, on a sickbed in Brittany.

King James 'the Fat' (r.1365-1409)
Coming to the throne at age 23, James' interests were primarily in things martial, although he also took an interest in agriculture and gardening, hoping to improve the crops grown in his kingdom. He was also concerned with the Dunkeld legacy, and in 1367 commissioned a scholar to write his family chronicles for posterity. The following year James completed the work of his grandfather when he pushed the Almoravids out of their last lands in Brittany, and crowned himself King of Brittany. The ensuing goldrush of titles for James' vassals secured his popularity. During a two-year papal crusade in Sicily, James suffered the loss of his wife Queen Maud, who died aged 27 of an unknown illness. His second wife, Antonina, was a Byzantine princess. From 1377 to 1379 James fought for the Holy Roman Emperor in his war against Burgundy, and once this was won he called a Grand Tourney in 1380 to celebrate the return of peace. In this legendary event the king, still vigorous at age 38, was triumphant in the open melee. Two more wars for his ally the Holy Roman Emperor followed: a holy war in Alger and the Atlas Mountains, and a crusade against the Shia in Africa.

As he entered middle age James lost the enviable warrior's physique of his youth and gained in girth. Soon he became known as James the Fat, a name that stuck for the remainder of his rule. Now James' attention was directed homewards, by the exploits of his wayward daughters. The unmarried Princess Affraic fell pregnant and delivered a bastard son Angus; James took custody of the babe and married off his daughter to King Marcau II of Aquitaine. Seeing this outcome, James' younger unmarried daughter Princess Maud also gave into temptation and delivered her own bastard, Godfrey. James followed suit, fostering the boy and marrying Maud off to the Duke of Thuringia. He also vowed to pay more attention to his domestic responsibilities. Following several years of recuperation as a result of a serious hunting wound, James returned to campaigning for his imperial ally, joining the Holy Roman Emperor Gottfried's war against Thuringia, which his daughter Maud had become Duchess of five years earlier. In 1393 James won the siege of Zutphen and the battle of Nijmegen, but this was insufficient to save Gottfried's doomed campaign, and the emperor lost the rebellious province. James was also distracted by the machinations of his heir's wife Sheena, who his spymaster discovered was plotting to have the king done away with. Despite his son Duncan's protestations, Sheena was despatched to house arrest in her quarters.

In 1396 James ventured to France to support King Robin in his war against Orleans, and the following year's conquest of Le Mans by Scottish troops was a major factor in Robin's eventual victory. As he entered old age, James' exploits were fewer, but he found time to seize the Shetland Isles and joined Ferrara in its trade embargo war against Venice. In what was to be one last hurrah James joined another papal crusade for Sicily in 1408; the following year Scotland took Erice from the Muslim forces, and the crusade was won by the Emperor. But during the seaborne return to Scotland the 67-year-old James weakened and in a rapid decline, died while his ship was still in Mediterranean waters.

King Duncan III 'the Blind' (r.1409-37)
The scholarly 36-year-old Prince Duncan had journeyed to Argyll to meet his father's fleet returning from Sicily, but instead was told the news of his accession to the throne. Seeking to make his own mark, Duncan declared a holy war on the mighty Sultan for his lands in Asturias in 1411. He was forced to abandon this campaign temporarily the following year when the underhand King Gerald III of England declared war on Scotland to reclaim Yorkshire. Instead of making his name in Spain, Duncan entered the history books fighting at home: in two battles in 1413 his forces killed first Duke David of York and then, in the Battle of Conisbrough, slew King Gerald himself. The 20,000 English casualties suffered in the latter battle broke the English spirit. However, in 1415 Duncan suffered his own tragedy, when boiling pitch from an enemy siege engine took his sight permanently at the age of 42. Just before Christmas of that year King Nicholas I of England surrendered and offered huge gold tribute to the blinded Scottish king.  

This permitted Duncan to return to his long-neglected Asturian ambition in 1416, but after two further years of crusading there and in Qulumriyah Duncan had to admit defeat, and pay some of his hard-earned English gold to the Sultan to secure peace. To salvage his pride Duncan staged another Grand Tourney in 1422. After several years of political management in Scotland, Duncan was surprised by the death of his wife Queen Sheena of depression at age 63. It was mused (in private, out of Duncan's hearing) that the queen had never truly recovered from her long incarceration by her father-in-law. Taking a new wife, Duncan married the 24-year-old Albina of Tusculum, a devotee of the dark arts of espionage and intrigue. While Albina gave Duncan another son (his sixth), more tragedy struck in the same year when the king's heir, the 39-year-old Prince James, Duke of Moray, was crushed to death when a pile of flagstones fell from a cathedral roof directly onto him. Duncan's spirit was diminished by these setbacks, and during a campaign against the rebellious Earl Gilmure of Ross, Duncan died at Scone of complications resulting from his old battle wounds, aged 64. His heir, Duncan, was a mere boy of 11.

King Duncan IV 'the Great' (r.1437-??)
Duncan's father James had married wisely if in an unorthodox fashion, taking Gurbesu of Ryazan as his wife: widely regarded as one of Europe's greatest female geniuses. Gurbesu played a major role in safeguarding Duncan's early rule when he became king. Titles were dispensed to vassals judiciously and fairly, and alliances were forged with valuable friends, including King Stenkil II of Sweden. When he attained his majority in 1442 Duncan married Princess Nada of Poland, a woman after his mother's heart, in that she was a renowned theologian in her native land. For two years young Duncan fought for his new father-in-law in the Polish king's war against the rebellious Duchess Katalin, joining the siege of Balga, and proceeding to invest Znin. It was in these far Baltic lands that Duncan's heir Prince James was brought into the world. Returning to Scotland after the war's successful conclusion in 1444, Duncan craved the excitement of battle. Unfortunately Duncan's father's ill luck appeared to be hereditary, because while on an expedition in the woods of Gowrie hunting the fabled white stag, his charger stumbled over a tree root and pitched the king onto a rocky outcrop. Despite the efforts of court physicians the 19-year-old king lost the full use of his right leg. This did not halt Duncan's quest for battlefield glory, however. In 1447 he battled Duchess Margaret of Gwent, and in 1449 he set sail with 20,000 Scots to support King Stenkil's ailing civil war campaign against would-be usurpers of the Swedish throne. Duncan's force took the strategic fortress at Gripsholm, helping Stenkil to put down the rebellion. As New Year's Day dawned in 1453 the 27-year-old Duncan was loved and admired by the Scottish people for his fortitude and military prowess, and a mighty reign akin to that of Godfrey the Great seemed surely to be his destiny.

And that's where the game ended! The year 1453 was selected by the designers as the traditional end date for the Middle Ages, as it coincided with the Ottomans' conquest of Constantinople on 29 May of that year. Here is the core of the Scottish empire ruled by Duncan the Great at the end of the game:

See also:
Comedy: Dara O'Briain, 'His behaviour in the field was erratic at best', 5 March 2013
Blog: The new kings of Ireland, 7 July 2012
Blog: Feudal backstabbing in all its glory, 25 May 2012        

04 May 2013

No pouches of tobacco

John Kifner, a young New York Times reporter respected by student radicals at Columbia, wrote a January 1968 article from Amherst on marijuana and students, which contained the shocking news that the town was selling a great deal of Zig-Zag cigarette paper and no pouches of tobacco. The article introduced readers to the concept of recreational drugs. These students were doing drugs not to forget their troubles, but to have fun. "Interviews with students indicated that, while many drug users appeared to be troubled, many did not." The article suggested that the drug lifestyle had been encouraged by media coverage. A high school principal in affluent suburban Westchester was quoted as saying, "There's no doubt that this thing has increased since the summer. There were articles on the East Village in Esquire, Look, and Life and this provides the image for kids."

Such articles described "college marijuana parties," although a more typical get-together would be students lying around smoking joints and reading such an article while uncontrollable giggling led to gasping, wheezing laughter. A popular way to pass a rainy day in the East Village was to get stoned and go to the St Marks Cinema, where sometimes included in the triple feature for a dollar would be the old documentary on the dangers of marijuana, Reefer Madness.

- Mark Kurlansky, 1968: The Year That Rocked The World, London, 2004, p.186-7.

[Although Mr Kurlansky may be mixing up his decades - the Wikipedia entry for Reefer Madness reckons it didn't attain renewed popularity until it was rediscovered in the Library of Congress archive by Keith Stroup in 1971]

03 May 2013

On Broadway

George Benson's masterful live version of Mann and Weill's classic 'On Broadway' is not only a breezy funk outing that's more successful than the original. The live version that appeared on his 1978 album Weekend in L.A. is a perfect example of an artist working so closely with his band and his instrument. It was recorded at the West Hollywood Roxy Theater in September or October 1977, and helped the album to win a Grammy for Best Male Vocal R&B Performance in 1979, beating a strong cast of rivals: Ray Charles, Lou Rawls, Teddy Pendergrass and Peter Brown. Benson's version also appeared in major films, including the opening scene-setting audition montage in 1979's All That Jazz and in the 2000 Best Picture Oscar-winner American Beauty. Not bad for a song that started out with an unassuming theatrical pop rendition by The Drifters in 1963.

See also:
Music: Elvis Costello - Tramp The Dirt Down, 14 April 2013
Music: Meryn Cadell - The Sweater, 22 March 2013
Music: Jackson Browne - Doctor My Eyes, 8 March 2013
Music: Beck - Sound & Vision, 16 February 2013
Music: Caro Emerald - Back It Up, 5 December 2012

01 May 2013

EMP Seattle

Pictures taken on a visit with Tom to the EMP Museum (Experience Music Project) in a Frank O. Gehry-designed building at the Seattle Center next to the Space Needle, Saturday 6 April. (We could've had a Gehry design for Te Papa in Wellington if we'd played our cards right.) The museum is a mix of pop culture, mainly music and film, with prominent exhibits during our visit including The Lure of the Horror Film, Hendrix in London, and Nirvana: Punk to the Masses.

EMP Museum interior
Simon Pegg's shirt from Shaun of the Dead, 2004
Lt Uhura's uniform, Star Trek
Capt Kirk's command chair + Tribbles, Star Trek
Hendrix in London
Hendrix in Hounslow, 1967
Hendrix's Stratocaster from Woodstock, 1969
EMP's mental guitar sculpture
Dave Grohl's drumkit from Nirvana, c.1993-4
See also:
Blog: Who Shot Rock & Roll, Auckland, 1 January 2013
Blog: Feel like letting my freak flag fly, London, 4 July 2010
Blog: Denmark Street, London, 18 January 2010