Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Past Lives In The Books At Home/No Weak Men In The Books At Home

I was not killed outright during my PhD viva. In fact, I'm told I did rather well in it, referring constantly to things that were in the text, and mounting a vigorous and robust defence of the points I'd made. Perhaps the Mark-out-of-Peep-Show part of my subconscious was invoking Order 227?

The actual result was that I have passed subject to substantial corrections - they should take at least 6 months to complete, I have a maximum of a year to do them. So a good result, but not a great one. The main problem is that I was hoping that the viva would function as the event which would finally prove to me that I was good enough, and could, in fact, do this for a job*. For that, I'm still waiting.

I won't have to viva again however, and the examiners report which should arrive before Christmas will state precisely what I have to do in the form of corrections, so it's not like having to guess what the examiners want, which is pretty much what you have to do while you're writing the thesis.

*Curiously, I just finished reading David Peace's The Damned United, in which this is something of a theme. I suspect I'm substantially less damaged than Brian Clough, though.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

And Each Separate Dying Ember Wrought Its Ghost Upon The Floor

Well, the viva is a week tomorrow, and I think the nerves are starting to kick in. I've got some of those books out of the Library. You know, the ones with titles like How Not To Be Killed Outright During Your PhD Viva.

Still, if all else fails I might finally get to use the Simpsons "You're not the time, Kent! YOU'RE not the time!" defence, so beloved by Emily and myself, in a proper context.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Protect And Survive

For various reasons, many of them probably connected to the release of Fallout 3, I've been interested in retro-apocalypse stuff recently. This led me to Youtube, and to the T.V. segments of the British government's "Protect and Survive" programme, which capture the apocalyptic mood of the early 1980s.

There are two main unsettling elements to these ads. One, of course, is the matter-of-fact way in which horrific information is being relayed. The other is that a campaign to assist the British public in surviving thermonuclear war appears to have had about 25p lavished on it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Well, things are, finally, happening. At the end of last week we found out that I will be vivaing on the 15th December. In the e-mail that my internal examiner got it was also apparent that the external examiner has got the names of me and the internal examiner mixed up. This could result in an interesting situation.

I'm also applying for a position at a Very Prestigious Museum in London, which wants a curator for its Greek Bronze Age collection. According to the person description in their application pack, I'm a fairly good match for what they want, so I'm hoping for an interview.

Saturday, November 08, 2008


Yes, it's a little late, but I was up until 4 on Wednesday morning watching the results come in.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"The Future's Already Here - It's Just Not Evenly Distributed."

Looking at media headlines over the last few months, it's often seemed that we might, in fact, be living in the sort of dystopian future that 80s science-fiction was predicting. This week, the fact that stories about Iraq, global economic recession, and a child being murdered in Liverpool are taking second billing to two comedians making prank phone calls are only reinforcing the impression.

It's in this context that the photo below struck me when I saw it at the Daylife website. It is a view of the skyline from a shanty-town on the outskirts of Manila in the Philippines:


Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Around Him Images of Glass And Steel Bigger Than His Imagination"

More dispatches from the world of Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Unlike previous mentions in this blog, however, they're not here for straddling that line between really clever and really ridiculous that I like so much, but for having done something that's actually rather good. This is the video to "Dancerama" (1989), but the focus here isn't on the song (although, as one of the YouTube comments says, sounding a bit like the good years of Roxy Music is never a bad thing) but very much on the video, which takes the form of an homage to cult French art-house sci-fi film La Jetée (1962). My favourite element is the lines of text scrolling across the bottom of the screen.

Thanks to Tom for originally bringing the video to my attention.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008



Well, that's the thesis. We have no idea how good it is yet, but it is reassuringly thick. There's no date for the viva as yet, but the latest news is that it may be possible to do it in December rather than January, which is good.

I actually handed the thesis in on 26th September, my final deadline day. I've been meaning to post about it here for a while, because not everyone who reads this is on Facebook yet. Handing in the thesis is a strange thing: everyone other than you seems to be quite excited by it. Really for me it wasn't all that special, other than that I could stop working quite so hard for a bit.

People find this lack of excitement strange, so I should probably explain it a bit. It's not, of course, that handing in is not A Good Thing. It's just that, for people who are still keen on having a career in academia, handing in is really a minor step. Finding out whether I'm any good at research is more important, and that's what the viva will tell me. Getting a job is what it's all about, and as far as I can tell I'm as close to that as I was four years ago. These, for me, are the milestones that will count.

In the post-thesis phase, I'm staying busy, thanks mostly to the fact that I'm now lecturing in the ancient warfare module at the university. So far student feedback has been quite good, which is encouraging. The teaching of ancient warfare does, however, have some fairly unique problems, such as the fact that you find yourself having to repeatedly use phrases such as "thrusting strokes" in front of an audience of 18 year-olds.

Like Jen, I think i'm going to try and make a post a week here from now on. We'll see how that goes.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Uh-Oh, Culture Comes To Town

A video, taken by me on Saturday evening, of "La Machine" in Liverpool with their giant mechanical spider . At one point near the end you can just about see a couple of people by its feet, to give some scale.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

"Let Me Take You To School, Suckers...In Archaeology!"*

This morning the Continuing Eductation course-list booklet arrived in the post, and there I am on page 15. Hopefully there will be enough sign-ups to allow the course to go ahead. Should any regular readers want to join, they're welcome, although coming up here every Tuesday from the start of October would be a problem for most of you.

*Reference to a now-infamous Frank Miller Batman comic.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Through Every Human Heart

I have to confess, I hadn't realised that Solzhenitsyn was still alive. I've got my father's copy of The Gulag Archipelago sat on a shelf at home. I should really read it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

For You, There Is Only The Desert

Those of you who knew me a few years ago may remember my habit of flinching whenever I thought someone was going to touch me. According to Robert Graves, its a habit I shared with T.E. Lawrence. That, surely, was enough reason for me to go and see Lawrence of Arabia on a big screen at Philharmonic Hall. Oh, and he was an archaeologist, so that sealed it.

Prior to the film was a short introduction by Dr. Jack Shaheen, who noted that the film may in fact be the most positive portrayal Arabs have had in western cinema. Perhaps the biggest change the film makes from history is the depiction of the Arab occupation of Damascus in 1918: it shows Arab government failing after two days due to infighting and the refusal of the British to allow their technical experts with regards to power and medicine. In point of fact the Arab government lasted two years until 1920, when it fell because it was forcibly removed by the French. Shaheen would give it a C- as history, but an A+ as entertainment.

What was most interesting to me, not having seen the film in years, and having read Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom in the meantime, was the character portrait the film provides of a remarkably complex individual. Peter O'Toole's performance manages to capture the strange mixture of arrogant egoism and fragile insecurity that appears to have driven the historical Lawrence's personality - the personality which wrote an autobiographical account of colonial adventurism inspired by the Odyssey, Medieval Romances and modernist prose, and then finished it with the words "and then at once I knew how much I was sorry".

The omissions the film makes regarding Lawrence's personality are also interesting - you don't need to read much of Seven Pillars of Wisdom to realise that the historical Lawrence was much more racist that the film would have you believe. You also don't have to read much to realise that he was a complete sado-masochist, something which an early 1960s film can only hint at.

Regardless of what it does with history and character portraits, though, Lawrence of Arabia is perhaps the most subtle and intelligent of epics. As such, it's a fitting study of a very modern protagonist, and one which has become strangely relevant again.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I'll Bomb Your Photo Good

More new terminology being spread by the internet: "photobombing" describes the fine art of sneaking into someone else's photo and doing something hilarious. The list of photos over at the blog List of the Day appears to be the start of a definative catalogue.

Surely there should be world championships for this? If so, I believe these people would make the finals:



Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Sans Cat

I have just been alerted to the existance of Garfield Minus Garfield, a website which removes the eponymous cat and his speech bubbles from the cartoon strips. It's a simple concept, but one which turns an otherwise bland daily comic strip into something darkly surreal.

Some highlights:

Monday, May 26, 2008

"You're A Teacher?" 'Part-Time.'

As an archaeologist, it was pretty much mandatory fro me to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, so over the weekend I did. While it has its moments - many of them being call-backs to the original three, the overall film is only OK, and I would say that the three 1980s films were better. Yes, even Temple of Doom.

There was also a nagging feeling that Indiana Jones is somehow out of place in the 1950s. The 30s and 40s? Sure, that's the period of pulp adventure, but the 50s somehow feels slightly off. If there's a fifth installment they better not push it into the 60s. More positively, Harrison Ford does quite well here, which is impressive when you remember that his last decent film was, what, The Fugitive? Actually, Scrubs fans will be pleased to see the Janitor pop up yet again in a Harrison Ford film.

Of interest to the archaeological crowd is the fact that our impeccably anti-Communist Dr. Jones declares himself to be a fan of Vere Gordon Childe.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Post-Docs, And Rumours Of Post-Docs

The word on the archaeological street is that during the week, the British School at Athens will be informing those who applied for the MacMillan Scholarship whether or not they got an interview. Hopefully I'll be amongst them, as the MacMillan is my last opportunity to get funding that starts in September 2008 rather than September 2009.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Dreaming Darkly Of Craven Cottage

I'm not sure I've ever been so worried about a football match that it worried my sleep before. Last night, however, I was dreaming about today. My subconscious has some good verisimilitude, because it didn't have me at the match, it had me sat in front of my computer watching the automatic updates on Yahoo! Sport. As I recall, Fulham simultaneously won and lost the match.

In real life, I don't think I'll be able to take watching the automatic updates or listening on the radio. I shall walk around Sefton Park with my iPod, and will only turn on the media once the results are in.

Monday, April 28, 2008


Today I applied for a job at Birkbeck College. I'm almost entirely certain that they won't be interested in me - the advert is for a lecturer of Classical Archaeology or the Material Culture of the Greco-Roman world, which I only fit if you squint quite a lot. It's also possible that they'll get at least one application from someone who's actually given a lecture at some point. On the other hand, there was nothing to be gained by not applying.

The other thing that strikes me is how intimidating it is to see the quality of some departments out there. Birkbeck's archaeology falls under their "School of History, Classics and Archaeology", which currently features Eric Hobsbawm and Orlando Figes, so I'm pretty sure you can see the gap in class between me and them.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Already, They Are Organising The Viva

I just had confirmation of who the external examiner for my PhD will be. Prior to that, in July, he'll also be at WAC-6 in Dublin, in the same conference session as me. I hope he likes my paper...

Saturday, April 05, 2008


Tinkering is occurring, and because the old code was in such a state, there's no way back! Let me know if anything mysteriously stops working, as we boldly head off into the unknown.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

"Shoot Me"

It's not often that I go to see a film on the day it's released, but on Friday I ended up doing just that for Diary of the Dead, the new George A. Romero zombie film. Sadly, it turns out to be largely an exercise in frustration.

The problem with Diary of the Dead is that Romero doesn't seem to know what sort of film it was supposed to be. Update of previous themes? Use of new technology? Interesting media-collage zombie film? Scream-style genre deconstruction? All of these are attempted, with the result that there isn't really a core to the film that emerges.

This is actually a great shame, because there are some interesting ideas in Diary of the Dead, but they aren't really executed properly. To some extent, this is a long-standing problem with Romero's films: watch the original Dawn of the Dead again, and you'll notice that it's too long and flabby, which is why Night of the Living Dead and Day of the Dead are much more cohesive pieces of work.

These days, however, even Romero's good points seem to be slipping. In Dawn of the Dead the social commentary was implied, while in Diary of the Dead you'll usually find one of the actors delivers it straight to the camera.

The most interesting elements here are the use of hand-held video cameras, and the (under-utilized) idea of creating a larger picture through pseudo-new media sources. As someone who made his name on shoestring-budgets, you'd think that Romero would be in his element with the opportunities for first-person perspectives, but it feels a little stagey. The hand-held camera idea was actually utilized much better in the micro-budget British effort The Zombie Diaries (2006), where it feels real: confusing and panic stricken (the film still isn't up to much, mind, mostly because of its reliance on masturbatory sadism for the horror element).

So, while there is some entertainment to be had here, there are also a lot of missed opportunities. The commentary on new media and the use of hand-held could have made this one of Romero's most interesting films, but as it is, the far more conventional Land of the Dead is much more successful.

Also of interest on this cinema visit was the trailer for the forthcoming superhero film Iron Man. The film itself might not have a strong theme of "See the primitive Muslim savages quail before American technological might!" but the trailer appears to have been put together with just that in mind.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

"Smells Like...Barbeque"

OK, some of you may have seen this before - an episode of the children's cartoon series Eek the Cat which is closely modeled on one of the greatest non-children's films ever made.

You may not Get This, but if you do not then you may be Dead To Me.

In a similar vein, one day I will be able to show you the episode of Pinky and the Brain called "The Third Mouse"...

Monday, February 11, 2008

When Fiction Was Never Knowingly Under-Sold

The Big Kill

The thing about this cover is that, being for a Spillane novel, it's totally representative of the contents.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

We'll Keep The Green Flag Flying Here?

Recently I took the Political Compass test. It plots you on Left-Right, Authoritarian-Libertarian axes depending on your answers to their questions. As a guideline, some famous political figures are plotted out here:

Now, my own views came out like this:


Holy fuck! I think I just pwned Gandhi! Also, I appear to be Bakunin, or someone.

More seriously, that's not too far from what I thought, but there's a good chance that my results have been pushed slightly to the left and slightly down by two factors:

  1. Some of the questions are clearly designed to test Americans, and don't really help in mapping out British folk.
  2. I suspect that I idealized my political beliefs a bit when answering the questions.
The next bit of analysis, plotting the major British political parties, was where things got interesting:

Like most people, I've never really considered the Green Party. This prompted me to check out their policies. While there are parts of their programme that I'm not really bothered about (No nuclear power? Might have to be a bullet we bite, I'm afraid. No medical testing on animals? Do we *have* perfect simulations of people yet?), a fair few of their other ideas do interest me, to the extent that I'm going to have to find out more, at least.

So, long story short, this could be a solution to the problem of wanting to vote for a non-Labour leftist party that isn't some species of Marxist-Leninism.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

They Made The Wrong Film

Recently I saw Grindhouse on DVD, and it has to be said that the best thing about it isn't Rodriguez's Planet Terror or Tarantino's Deathproof, but the spoof trailers that separate the two films. The pick of the bunch is "Machete", which is approximately one million times better than either director's main effort.

"Machete" (Probably Not Safe For Work)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The One And Only Billy Shears

Liverpool 08 Launch

Ringo Starr and Dave Stewart playing on top of St. George's Hall. Honest.

Yes, I was there at the opening ceremony for Liverpool Capital of Culture 2008. I arrived a bit too late to get a really good view, but it was a bit cold to be standing around outside for an hour and a half or more.

As for the opening ceremony, it was...well it was all a bit opening ceremony. Lots of acrobats in hard hats representing the workers of Liverpool. Semaphore representing maritime trade. No mentions of slavery. You know the drill. Really I was only there to see Ringo. Perhaps fortunately, him and his mate Dave Stewart were too away to hear my comments about the less popular quarter of the Beatles and the less popular half of the Eurythmics. Their contribution was to close the ceremony by singing one of the songs from Ringo's new 2008 tie-in album (the world has, of course, been crying out for a new Ringo Starr album). This I was vaguely disappointed by: it would've been good if he'd done "With A Little Help From My Friends" as well, say. Still, it got a large crowd out, and I gather the whole thing looked good on TV, so job done.

I also realise that I haven't said much, if anything, about Liverpool 08 in this blog. Partly it all seemed a long way off for a long time, and, of course, I'm not exactly immersed in the cultural life of the city. There's also the fact that I'm a touch ambivalent about the whole thing.

Liverpool 08 is supposed to be a celebration of the city's culture, but I suspect that it's actually an attempt to create a new type of culture in the city. A friend of mine lived in Dublin when they were Capital of Culture in the early '90s, and he reports that what it did most effectively was kill off the pre-existing culture. Capital of Culture is an exercise in bringing to the city the kind of culture that businesses, and the young professionals that work for those businesses, will want to see - and that's not, in large part, the Liverpool culture that's already here.

You can see it written in the building work being conducted in the city. There's hardly an empty warehouse or a patch of land in the city centre that isn't being turned into "luxury apartments". I have a weird feeling that the city's going to be left with a large surplus of luxury apartments in a few years. In Toxteth (just next to the city centre, on the river front) they moved "problem" residents into Kensington to make room for apartments and business space. Less solving a problem, more moving it to where it'll be less visible.

At the same time, I'm compelled to be my own counterpoint. It's all very well for me to be sniffy from my ivory tower about the motivation and the means for the 08 project. After all, I'm not relying on a job for it. There's no denying that it has brought much-needed jobs and investment into a city which has some of the worst areas of deprivation in western Europe, and that's undoubtedly important.

So I suspect that Liverpool 08 is going to be a two-edged sword. Which edge has the most effect remains to be seen.

Sunday, January 06, 2008


Well, 2008 has finally arrived. In many ways it's likely to be the least fun year I can remember. On my list of things to do for the year are finishing the thesis, organising a conference, publishing the proceedings from another conference, writing a paper for WAC-6 in Dublin, and doing the viva.

Oh, and convincing someone to give me an academic job so that I don't have to go a-warehousing again come October.

Still, I'll not be bored.