February 27th, 2021


Whoniversaries 27 February

i) births and deaths

27 February 1946: birth of Tom Chadbon, who played Duggan in City of Death (1979) and Merdeen in The Mysterious Planet (1986), and also various Big Finish roles including Harry Sullivan's younger brother Will in the second Sarah Jane Smith series.

27 February 1976: birth of Nikki Amuka-Bird, who played Keryehla Janees, aka Beth Halloran, one of the Sleepers in the 2008 Torchwood episode Sleeper, and Helen Clay / the Glass Woman in Twice Upon a Time (Twelfth Doctor with First Doctor, 2017).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

27 February 1965: broadcast of "Escape to Danger", third episode of the story we now call The Web Planet. Ian escapes and joins with Vrestin of the Menoptera; the Aniums forces the Doctor to help it.

27 February 1971: broadcast of fifth part of The Mind of Evil. The Master and the Doctor together try to subdue the Keller Machine, and UNIT raids the prison to retake the missile.

27 February 2009: broadcast of A Day in the Death (Torchwood), the one with undead Owen and Richard Briers as the dying guy with the alien device.

My tweets


May 2010 books

This is the latest post in a series I started in late 2019, anticipating the twentieth anniversary of my bookblogging which will fall in 2023. Every six-ish days I've been revisiting a month from my recent past, noting work and family developments as well as the books I read in that month. I've found it a pleasantly cathartic process, especially in recent circumstances. If you want to look back at previous entries, they are all tagged under bookblog nostalgia.

The big event of May 2010 was the British general election, which brought an end to 13 years of Labour government and installed the Conservatives, initially in coalition with the Lib Dems (remember them?) and later more or less on their own. It was a game-changer for me in that I spent election night punditting in the BBC studios in Belfast with Mark Devenport, an experience I wrote up here:
I got mentioned here and here in the BBC's online coverage too.

I actually had a whole week in Ireland, because the BBC asked me to turn up for rehearsals on the Sunday before the election, which was on Thursday. I spent the days in between exploring places associated with my ancestor Sir Nicholas White in the south-east. That's a project that is basically on hold because of the Hugos.

I read 22 books in May 2010:

Non-fiction 4 (YTD 25)
The Pensionnat Revisited, by Eric Ruijssenaars
Teach Yourself Irish, by Diarmuid Ó Sé and Joseph Shiels
Half-Life of a Zealot, by Swanee Hunt
Ever Since Darwin, by Stephen Jay Gould

Non-genre 3 (YTD 23)
A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini
Out, by Natsuo Kirino
Rookwood, by William Harrison Ainsworth

sf 8 (YTD 40)
Cordelia's Honor / Shards of Honor + Barrayar, by Lois McMaster Bujold
Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest
Quidditch Through The Ages, by J.K. Rowling
The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Women of Nell Gwynne's, by Kage Baker

WWW: Wake, by Robert J. Sawyer
Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

Doctor Who 4 (YTD 28, 31 counting comics and non-fiction)
The Murder Game, by Steve Lyons
The Final Sanction, by Steve Lyons

Apollo 23, by Justin Richards
Transit, by Ben Aaronovitch

Comics 3
Captain Britain and MI13: Vampire State, by Paul Cornell
Blood Upon The Rose: Easter 1916, by Gerry Hunt
Het Aïda Protocol, by Yannick Laude, Marco Venanzi & Michel Pierret

Page count ~5,800 (YTD ~37,100)
7/22 (YTD 29/125) by women (Hunt, Kirino, Baker, Rowling, Priest, 2xBujold)
2/22 (YTD 11/125) by PoC (Kirino, Hosseini)

It's always a pleasure to return to Bujold's opening Vorkosigan stories, which you can get here, and Lord of the Flies, which you can get here; the best new read of the month was Natsuo Kirino's gritty Out, which you can get here. The worst book of the month was Victorian potboiler Rookwood, which you can get (for free) here.


Megaliths of Western Belgium - blog post with maps and extra pictures

As you will know if you follow me on social media, I did a grand tour of the menhirs and dolmens of western Belgium on Monday, accompanied by J, my partner in crime. Here they are in the order that we visited them, with maps and a couple more pictures as well.

1) The first place we stopped was the museum in Velzeke, which reportedly had had a broken menhir in the grounds in 1993. The museum was closed and there was no trace of the menhir. My cousin Michael, who lives nearby, recommends the museum for a future visit.

2) Next was the fake dolmen of Jolybos / Bois Joly, a nineteenth-century folly which adorns the Hogerlucht cemetery North of Ronse near Tournai. This was the one and only occasion where the GPS let me down; you can actually park quite close to it, but we were ill-informed and wandered through a bit of nature reserve before finding the cemetery. The correct co-ordinates are 50.765089, 3.608481 so if you use those you'll probably be OK.

3) Our first real antiquity was nearby, the dolmen known as Peetje en Meetje, where apparently the capstone was placed on top only relatively recently but two of the supporting stones are genuinedly ancient and, unlike many, still in their original location.

50.75993, 3.49318

4) Not a megalith, but none the less fascinating: the Roman-era Tumulus du Trou de Billemont, near Tournai. The access road is particularly poor and it may not look like much (and someone had shot up the explanatory sign), but it has reconstructed Merovingian tombs just outside, and you can actually get inside and look at the (reconstructed) burial chamber.

50.57092, 3.46171

5) Very near the Tumulus du Trou de Billemont is the peak of the trip: Belgium's largest menhir, the Pierre Brunehault, 4m x 3m x 60cm, framed by four poplar trees, on a gentle rise near a Roman road. Hugely satisfying.

50.52606, 3.41583

By this point it was already lunchtime, so we grabbed what we could from a supermaket and admired the lovely old train station of Hollain.

6) Over to Mons now, for Le Polissoir de Saint-Symphorien in the square of the Mons suburb of the same name, after having been moved about a bit. I am sceptical that it was *just* for polishing flints. (Also, we were amused by the Filles de la Sagesse next door.)

50.43795, 4.00709

7) Not very far away are the Menhir(s) d'Estinnes, casually on a rural street corner, apparently once buried in a field and then dug up again (a story we hear about a lot of these). The bigger one does look like the usual menhir, the smaller one looks more like it's just a rock, but of course you don't get many of those in Belgian soil.

50.4157, 4.1029

8) La Piere qui Pousse, in Haulchin also not far from Mons and close to Binche. Like its neighbour at Saint-Symphorien, it has been placed in the main square, surrounded by what is currently a rather unkempt garden.

50.38381, 4.08188

9) Moving down south of Binche, there's an interesting cluster about half way between Beaumont and Chimay. First, on a rural road leading to the French border, just off a crossroads, the Pierre qui tourne de Sautin - actually two stones, one of which has broken and been cemented back together again; we are assured that one is the Pierre-qui-Tourne and the other a polissoir. Nearby is a menhir-style memorial to two French resistance fighters killed by Germans in 1944.

50.15216, 4.21582

10) Rouge de Rance. Modern rather than ancient, but really striking. In the middle of a roundabout in Rance (between Beaumont and Chimay). A tribute to the centuries-old red marble mined in the area. Probably the biggest of the stones we saw (though doesn't count as a megalith due to not being old enough).

50.1435, 4.2686

11) The Pierre qui Tourne de Baileux. Farthest south and east of any of these, near Chimay. In splendid isolation on a poor-quality track. The farmer did look at us a bit quizzically, but he surely must be used to megalith fans.

50.03883, 4.40671

12) Finally, up to Charleroi, or at least that part of the world, for the Dolmen du Mont de Viscourt, aka La Pierre du Diable. Gave us a true Spın̈al Tap vibe. Reconstructed in a carpark in Clermont village square. My Irish soul slightley rebels at these ancient monuments being moved from their original sites, but if they are put somewhere they will be seen, maybe it's not so awful.

50.25945, 4.31606

13) Nearby is the least impressive of the ancient menhirs we saw that day, the Menhir de Cour-sur-Heure, which frankly is not trying very hard, just sitting in someone's garden. Intriguing markings but they are probably natural. Leans at a jaunty angle. A bit small. Again we got quizzical looks from the farmer.

50.300543, 4.379977

14) But we ended on a relatively high note, the Pierre de Zeupire. Tucked behind a restaurant, 14 km SE of Charleroi, but pretty big, and presumably still in its original location. A bit overgrown, but atmospheric.

50.32916, 4.34833

All of these are pretty accessible, and the less crazy committed could break them up into several day-trips from Brussels; all of them are near cities and towns with more things to offer than menhors. And thanks to J for being a great travel buddy.