Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Voluntary Work

I'm really enjoying the work I do at the British Schools Museum. At first, I thought I'd be involved with the groups of children who come for a day's immersion in the educatioal system of the Victorian age. It soon became clear that I was much more comfortable working on the database that is cataloging the thousands of items in the museum's care.

I started with the Ladybird books, part of the Benchmark Collection at the museum.  Then I moved on to the Jill Grey Collection.

My biggest thrill came last week, entering the details for Aunt Charlotte's Stories of English History for Little One's (!873)

Handling a book of such a great age was a priviledge, Although the cover showed signs of wear, the inside was beautiful. The colours of the illustrations and the black ink of the text looked like new.

Today, it was the turn of geography books. My favourite was an original 1867 edition of  The Civil Service Geography: being a manual of geography arranged especially for examination candidates and the higher forms of schools, by Lancelot M. Dalrymple Spence (of HM Civil Service). Lancelot died before the book was completed, so it was finished and edited by Thomas Gray (one of the Assistant Secretaries to the Board of Trade.)

After entering the details of this book into the database, I thought of Anthony Trollope (who worked as a Civil Servant with the Post Office), and his thoughts about the need for entry by examination.  This work really appeals to the historian in me, and allows me to experience what was my second choice of career as a librarian.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Some of my Favourite Pratchett Quotes

Arranged A - Z
First draft: let it run. Turn all the knobs up to 11. Second draft: hell. Cut it down and cut it into shape. Third draft: comb its nose and blow its hair. I usually find that most of the book will have handed itself to me on that first draft.

After you’ve learned to shout you have to learn not to!

A lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on.

All tapes left in a car for more than about a fortnight metamorphose into Best of Queen albums.

Always be wary of any helpful item that weighs less than its operating manual.

Always remember that the crowd that applauds your coronation is the same crowd that will applaud your beheading. People like a show.

And no practical definition of freedom would be complete without the freedom to take the consequences. Indeed, it is the freedom upon which all the others are based

And sin, young man, is when you treat people like things.

And so the children of the revolution were faced with the age-old problem: it wasn't that you had the wrong kind of government, which was obvious, but that you had the wrong kind of people. As soon as you saw people as things to be measured, they didn't measure up.

Anyway, if you stop tellin' people it's all sorted out after they're dead, they might try sorting it all out while they're alive.

An angel who did not so much fall as saunter vaguely downwards. 

Ankh-Morpork had dallied with many forms of government and had ended up with that form of democracy known as One Man, One Vote. The Patrician was the Man; he had the Vote


“Bandits and governments 'ave so much in common that they might be interchangeable anywhere in the world...” 

Beer! It was only water, really, with stuff in it. Wasn’t it? And most of what was in it was yeast, which was practically a medicine and definitely a food. In fact, when you thought about it, beer was only a kind of runny bread.

Belief is one of the most powerful organic forces in the multiverse. It may not be able to move mountains, exactly. But it can create someone who can. People get exactly the wrong idea about belief. They think it works back to front. They think the sequence is, first object, then belief. In fact, it works the other way.

Books must be treated with respect, we feel that in our bones, because words have power. Bring enough words together they can bend space and time.

Building a temple didn't mean you believed in gods, it just meant you believed in architecture.

But here's some advice, boy. Don't put your trust in revolutions. They always come around again. That's why they're called revolutions.


Cats will amusingly tolerate humans only until someone comes up with a tin opener that can be operated with a paw.

Chaos is found in greatest abundance wherever order is being sought. It always defeats order, because it is better organized.

Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.

Consciousness to sarcasm in five seconds.

Destiny is important, see, but people go wrong when they think it controls them. It's the other way around.

Do not seek perfection. None exists. All we can do is strive.

Even if it's not your fault, it's your responsibility.

Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things.

Evil. Human beings mostly aren't. They just get carried away by new ideas, like dressing up in jackboots and shooting people, or dressing up in white sheets and lynching people, or dressing up in tie-dye jeans and and playing guitar at people. Offer people a new creed with a costume and their hearts and minds will follow

Fantasy is an exercise bicycle for the mind. It might not take you anywhere, but it tones up the muscles that can. Of course, I could be wrong.

Geography is just physics slowed down, with a couple of trees stuck in it. 

Gods prefer simple, vicious games, where you Do Not Achieve Transcendence but Go Straight To Oblivion; a key to the understanding of all religion is that a god's idea of amusement is Snakes and Ladders with greased rungs.

Goodness is about what you do. Not who you pray to.

He's out of his depth on a wet pavement.

He says gods like to see an atheist around. Gives them something to aim at.

He was talking in philosophy, but they were listening in gibberish.

History isn't like that. History unravels gently, like an old sweater. It has been patched and darned many times, reknitted to suit different people, shoved in a box under the sink of censorship to be cut up for the dusters of propaganda, yet it always - eventually - manages to spring back into its old familar shape. History has a habit of changing the people who think they are changing it. History always has a few tricks up its frayed sleeve. It's been around a long time.


I believe you find life such a problem because you think there are good people and bad people. You're wrong, of course. There are, always and only, the bad people,but some of them are on opposite sides.

I do note with interest that old women in my books become young women on the covers... this is discrimination against the chronologically gifted.

I'd rather be a rising ape than a falling angel.

If cats looked like frogs we'd realize what nasty, cruel little bastards they are. Style. That's what people remember.

If failure had no penalty success would not be a prize.

If you sit down and think about it , you come up with some very funny ideas. Like: why make people inquisitive, and then put some forbidden fruit where they can see it with a big neon finger flashing on and off saying 'THIS IS IT!'? ... I mean, why do that if you really don't want

If you trust in yourself. . .and believe in your dreams. . .and follow your star. . . you'll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren't so lazy.

If you want to change a whole people, then you start with the girls. It stands to reason: they learn faster, and they pass on what they learn to their children

In fact the mere act of openng the box will determine the state of the cat, although in this case there were three determinate states the cat could be in: these being Alive, Dead, and Bloody Furious.

In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded. 

It has been said that civilization is twenty-four hours and two meals away from barbarism. 

It is hard to convey five-dimensional ideas in a language evolved to scream defiance at the monkeys in the next tree. 

It is important that we know where we come from, because if you do not know where you come from, then you don't know where you are, and if you don't know where you are, you don't know where you're going. And if you don't know where you're going, you're probably going wrong.

It is true that words have power, and one of the things they are able to do is get out of someone’s mouth before the speaker has the chance to stop them.

It's a sword …. they're not meant to be safe.

It’s still magic even if you know how it’s done.

It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone's fault. If it was us, what did that make Me? After all, I'm one of Us. I must be. I've certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We're always one of Us. It's Them that do the bad things.

  Joy is to fun what the deep sea is to a puddle.
Just because things are obvious doesn’t mean they’re true. "Just because someone's a member of an ethnic minority doesn't mean they're not a nasty small-minded little jerk.


Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.

"Listen, Peaches,  trickery is what humans are all about," said the voice of Maurice. "They're so keen on tricking one another all the time that they elect governments to do it for them.

Mere animals couldn’t possibly manage to act like this. You need to be a human being to be really stupid.

Modesty is only arrogance by stealth.

Most species do their own evolving, making it up as they go along, which is the way Nature intended. And this is all very natural and organic and in tune with mysterious cycles of the cosmos, which believes that there's nothing like millions of years of really frustrating trial and error to give a species moral fiber and, in some cases, backbone.

No-one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away... The span of someone's life, they say, is only the core of their actual existence.

Of course, it is very important to be sober when you take an exam. Many worthwhile careers in the street-cleansing, fruit-picking and subway-guitar-playing industries have been founded on a lack of understanding of this simple fact..

Once we were blobs in the sea, and then fishes, and then lizards and rats and then monkeys, and hundreds of things in between. This hand was once a fin, this hand once had claws! In my human mouth I have the pointy teeth of a wolf and the chisel teeth of a rabbit and the grinding teeth of a cow! Our blood is as salty as the sea we used to live in! When we're frightened, the hair on our skin stands up, just like it did when we had fur. We > history! Everything we've ever been on the way to becoming us, we still are. [...] I'm made up of the memories of my parents and my grandparents, all my ancestors. They're in the way I look, in the colour of my hair. And I'm made up of everyone I've ever met who's changed the way I think.

Personal's not the same as important. People just think it is.

Quaffing is like drinking, but you spill more.

Real children do not go hoppity skip unless they are on drugs.

Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time.

Scientists have calculated that the chances of something so patently absurd actually existing are millions to one.  But magicians have calculated that million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten.

Some humans would do anything to see if it was possible to do it. If you put a large switch in some cave somewhere, with a sign on it saying 'End-of-the-World Switch. PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH', the paint wouldn't even have time to dry.

Seeing, contrary to popular wisdom, isn't believing. It's where belief stops, because it isn't needed any more.

Sometimes I really think people ought to have to pass a proper exam before they're allowed to be parents. Not just the practical, I mean.

Sometimes words need music too. Sometimes the descriptions are not enough. Books should be written with soundtracks, like films.

Space. It's sometimes called the final frontier. (Except that of course you can't have a final frontier, because there'd be nothing for it to be a frontier, but as frontiers go, it's pretty penultimate. . . .)

"The female mind is certainly a devious one, my lord."
Vetinari looked at his secretary in surprise. "Well, of course it is. It has to deal with the male one.

The intelligence of that creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it..

Then there was the puzzle of why the sun came out during the day, instead of at night when the light would come in useful.

The people who really run organizations are usually found several levels down, where it is still possible to get things done.

There isn't a way things should be. There's just what happens, and what we do.

There is a rumour going around that I have found God. I think this is unlikely because I have enough difficulty finding my keys, and there is empirical evidence that they exist.

There may be something called 

The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.

The truth isn't easily pinned to a page. In the bathtub of history the truth is harder to hold than the soap and much more difficult to find.

The universe is, instant by instant, recreated anew. There is in truth no past, only a memory of the past. Blink your eyes, and the world you see next did not exist when you closed them. Therefore, the only appropriate state of the mind is surprise. The only appropriate state of the heart is joy. The sky you see now, you have never seen before. The perfect moment is now. Be glad of it.

They didn't know why these things were funny. Sometimes you laugh because you've got no more room for crying. Sometimes you laugh because table manners on a beach are funny. And sometimes you laugh because you're alive, when you really shouldn't be.

They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it is not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance.

Things had all the grace and coordination of a deck-chair.

Things just happen, one after another. They don't care who knows. But history... ah, history is different. History has to be observed. Otherwise it's not history. It's just... well, things happening one after another.
Tourist, Rincewind had decided, meant 'idiot'.

Using a metaphor in front of a man as unimaginative as Ridcully was like a red flag to a bu... was like putting something very annoying in front of


What kind of man would put a known criminal in charge of a major branch of government? Apart from, say, the average voter.

"What're quantum mechanics? "

"I don't know, people who repair quantums I suppose."

What kind of man would put a known criminal in charge of a major branch of government? Apart from, say, the average voter. 

 “What's a philosopher?' said Brutha. 'Someone who's bright enough to find a job with no heavy lifting."

When all else failed, she tried being reasonable.

When you seek advice from someone it's certainly not because you want them to give it. You just want them to be there while you talk to yourself.

Why bother with a cunning plan when a simple one will do?

Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.

 comes from experience. Experience> is often a result of lack of wisdom


You can't second-guess ineffability.

You had to deal every day with people who were foolish and lazy and untruthful and downright unpleasant, and you could certainly end up thinking that the world would be considerably improved if you gave them a slap.

Your own brain ought to have the decency to be on your side!

You were so worried about legal and illegal that you never stopped to think about whether it was right or wrong.


Friday, 28 August 2015

I can't be having with that.

This Blog entry was prompted by the mistake I made this morning. Had I looked at the Amazon reviews of The Shepherd's Crown, first, I would have been prepared by this.

DO NOT READ THIS. There's a massive spoiler right from the start, shameful review, ruins the book for people who haven't read it.

I already knew that there was to be a major character death, and was unprepared for the naming of said character in the Guardian review.

The Telegraph went even one step further in its spoiler-laden, non-review, telling its readers about the ending twist Pratchett had planned but never got the time to write.

What, then makes a good review? In my opinion, and not one shared by many newspaper editors it seem, it does not  include plot spoilers. It is not a summary (though a brief outline of the scope of the book (setting, characters, themes) is fine.

MWNN told me an anecdote from Have I Got News for You, where a panelist revealed who killed Dumbledore in Book 6 of the Harry Potter Series. Although many people will have read the book by now, or seen the film, Giles Brandreth feigned horror on behalf of those who hadn't.

 The Shepherd's Crown hit the bookshelves yesterday. I, for one, am saving it for reading later in the year. I was, however, keen to read the reviews. To say that the newspaper spoilers have runied it for me would be overstating things, but I did want to react to the book as I read it, without any foreknowledge interfering.

The Independent published a good review without resorting to spoilers. 

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

23 days to go

to WriterConUK and there are still places available.

Intended Audience: Anyone currently involved with, or wishing to become involved with, the creative side of any fandom as a writer, vidder, artist, beta or reader/reviewer. All levels of experience welcome. 

This is our 8th year, so join us for a well-run  weekend of fun, learning, creativity, and cocktails.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Mindless Vandalism

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Today's Comet had a two page spread on our contribution to the Hitchin Festival.

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The main news item focused on the vandalism done to one of the exhibits.

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It's back!

This morning, I was working on the database at the British Schools' Museum and decided to go and have a look to see if everything was still there and in good condition. Clare's litter campaign was back in its rightful place,beside the river, instead of in it.

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The Nursery Rhyme tree

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and banner were still intact

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as were  the butterflies

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As I made my way past the Festiwool tree, I spotted something

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which was joined by a second 'something'.

It is nice to see that our installation has no adverse effect on the local fauna.

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Just as the Fountain in the river  the Hiz alongside St Mary's, commemorates the life of Sir Ian Dixon,, so our project commemorates the church's medieval roots with the wool industry,

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Hitchin Festival

kicks off next week, with an  Installation in St Mary's Churchyard. Members of Hitchin Stitchin' have been preparing for this. Some of us have even chosen our trees.

It was while touring through the churchyard, avoiding the marquees, that I became aware I was being watched.

I began to feel like an extra (one who wouldn't last long) in Hitchcock's The Birds.

 It was lunchtime, of course, and there were people eating, but I couldn't help feel that these plump ducks needed no extra padding.

People use St Mary's churchyard for a picnic lunch on fine days, and this was a fine day.

Not so the following day, when The British Schools Museum's Fair in the Square was taking place alongside the first full day of Rhythms of the world.

The Market Square was almost deserted when I arrived to do a stint on the bric-a-brac stall. Friends of British Schools were manning each stall and no one needed any help.  It was bucketing down, so, after distributing a few leaflets and taking these photos, I headed back to the car.

I volunteered for the wrong spot. I think the Museum had more customers than the Fair, as there was a quilting and sampler day there, and tea and cake!

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Volunteers' Week

Before I joined the team of volunteers at the British Schools' Museum, I was unaware of this week of celebration. The Chairman of the Britosh Schools' Trust reminded us that volunteers contribute billions of £s to the national economy..

The British Schools' Museum was one of only two museums to be awarded the Queens' Award in 2012.

In this, the 800th year of Magna Carta, Martyn Lewis CBE, chairman of NCVO’s trustee board says this;

Whether driven by a neighbourly passion to help others or to achieve a personal “high” of satisfaction, it is the finest example of real democracy in action – people voting with their feet not in response to the relatively long-delivery election promises of politicians, but to identify and tackle immediately an issue on their doorstep or in society at large.  Of the 164,000 registered charities that weave a web of support across our country, an amazing 90% have no paid staff.  And it is estimated that there are another 150,000 non-registered organisations also run entirely by volunteers. They are all succored and sustained by an army of people who get a real kick out of donating personal time and effort to help others.

The Hitchin British School (founded 1810) was an early example of how education provides social mobility. A child born in the slum yards beside the parish church could move out of dire poverty and into a relatively comfortable existence.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Missing Monarchs

Fotheringhay Church

I've been interested in Richard III ever since I discovered his birthplace during a cruise on the River Nene. I also share his birthday, which has kept that interest alive for over 20 years.

Henry I Memorial Cross

When the news broke about the finding of Richard's remains, I thought of another monarch, whose burial place MWNN and I  had discovered during a different cruise, this time on the River Thames.

For some reason, lost in the distant memory of the past, we visited Forbury Gardens, in Reading, by road, shortly after an aborted trip up the River Kennet earlier in the summer.

There we found a charming urban park that contains the remains of Reading Abbey. Henry I (son of William the Conquerer) founded the Abbey in 1121, and was reputed to have been buried there.

When we visited, there was a small car park and access to the gardens on foot. The park has been re-furbished since then, and the notice of Henry's burial removed from interior railings.

A plaque on the Abbey ruins, unveiled on the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Abbey, marks Henry's burial.

Henry isn't the only 'missing' monarch. There are many others whose burial spot has been lost for one reason  or another. Is it a mark of the renewed popularity of  the present Royal family, the remarkable story of the re-internment of Richard III's bones, and  an increase of interest in tracing one's own ancestors, that has led to the search for the remains of Henry Beauclerc?

Unearthing Henry may prove more difficult than finding Richard III. It's possible that the remains are underneath a nursery school or Reading Prison.

Coin found at Foxholes on the road from Hitchin to Offley

Even more difficult, could be the search for King Offa of Mercia's burial site. He died at Offley, near Hitchin, so it is possible that he was buried in the church he founded beside the river Hiz.

However, legend has it that his body was transported to Bedford, on the River Great Ouse, and buried there. Given the river's habit of flooding, the remains of the first King if the English could be in the mud at the bottom of the river. If King Offa’s grave is located in the River Great Ouse itself, as suggested, this would involve an aqua-archaeological survey, presumably involving personnel in full scuba gear.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

A Village Ignored

Tinted postcard c1900 Walsworth

Despite having its own Common, Church, shops. pubs, refurbished playpark, primary schools, and Community Centre, Walsworth has always been the neglected village in Hitchin.

The Walsworth Festival, the only free festival in Hertfordshire, is run by Walsworth volunteers. Others, regularly clean the river and Common, keeping it a green space that can be enjoyed by the whole community,

Why, then, is a housing estate on the other side of the town, benefiting from a £7 million boost to its community facilities, when the village of Walsworth is denied £160,000 to maintain its Community Centre?

Monday, 4 May 2015

Why you should read at least one

of Terry Pratchett's books.

Sir Terry Pratchett is the Carrier of Carriers

It would have taken me far too long to compose as good an entry as this one from io9, so I'm going to be lazy and just give you (the reader), the link.