Thursday, September 25, 2003

Books — the October Horse, Oath of Empire and Hidden Empire

Colleen McCullough's the October Horse is a fine conclusion to her fall of the Roman Republic sequence, carrying on past Caesar's assassination to the victory of the Triumvirate - i.e. just about to the end of Shakespear's Julius Caesar. A pity, as I would have liked to read the next volume that would bridge the gap with I, Claudius, covering Antony and Cleopatra too.

Not so good was Thomas Harlan's the Dark Lord, billed as the conclusion of his Oath of Empire sequence. It managed to merge a "with one mighty bound" resolution and a more realistic messy, incomplete, compromised outcome, falling between two stools. There is also one blatant dangling plot thread which strongly implies sequels. A disappointment, as it was going quite nicely up to then - but this volume really seemed to have gotten out of hand.

A not recommended - Kevin Anderson's Hidden Empire. It looked borderline (first volume of N being a danger sign), but then so did Karl Schroeder's Permanence, which I liked, used a similar sort of scenario (two distinct human factions, various mysterious extant and extinct aliens). And it seemed to start out OK, though the economics of the mercantile human society seemed a bit implausible. But things soon went downhill - gas-giant planets that are being mined for hydrogen but which have breathable atmospheric layers just don't work chemically. And then the tired old "aliens want our women" plotline gets invoked. Verdict - avoid.

Film — Underworld

The setting for Underworld is really White Wolf's World of Darkness with the serial numbers filed off; and with enough running gunfights (with a pounding dance music backing) to match the average run of gun-bunny Vampire, a slight plot designed to string the action sequences together - and a hook for a sequel if the box-office take looks good.

It's the sort of film that you watch as a couple of hours of complete frivolity, or not at all.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003


That time of varied temperatures. As noted, Monday was wet, but but 19:00 the rain had ceased and there was just a sheet of cloud, with a gap of a few degrees between the western edge and the horizon, displaying brilliant turquoise sky, with the crimsons and golds of the sunset reflected off the underside of the cloud, filling the house with a bright golden glow.

Tuesday morning was dull and overcast, but brightened later - a good cycling day that ended clear. The dull morning was enough to make me put the sunrise alarm on for the first time this season, and I roused about 06:15 feeling that it must be a lovely day outside - which is what the alarm is meant to suggest. Indeed it was - a bright crisp autumn morning, with the first frost on the car roof, and in patches of the verges open to the sky. I needed heavy gloves and shirt for cycling in - and now the sun is streaming through my office window, onto my desk, and it's over 30C in here, worse than in the height of summer.

Monday, September 22, 2003


Well, we're past the equinox, and I am taking today's weather forecast of a cold front, rain and cool northerly winds on trust - so I drove in today. There was quite an assortment of roadkill after the weekend - squirrel, another snake, and the first hedgehogs I'd seen for a while (in recent weeks the corpses have been rabbits and the occasional farm cat).

The Orlanthi sun-god [update]

In the spirit of blogging, I'm adding a new entry rather than overwriting the earlier draft.

Greg Stafford asked an interesting and correct question over a decade ago, when asking about "who is the Orlanthi sun god?" - but the answer he got is one that caused a lot of confusion, until it was hammered into a compromise , such as this summary by Nick Brooke

Unfortunately, I still think Greg's answer was wrong in its essentials. One god is the night watchman who stayed behind when Orlanth went on the LBQ - his aspects are twilight and the watch-fire. The reconciliation with Yelmalio is an identification of the twilight aspects, which presumably rejected an origin amongst the Lowfires that the watch-fire implies. This is the god most obviously deserving of the name of Elmal. His devotees are able to use some minor fire magic appropriate to a night watchman's role (no Hill of Gold in his story), while Yelmalions are not. That aside, any deity around during the Great Darkness really, by definition, cannot be a sun god – the mythic precedent is too strong.

At about the same time that Greg dropped his bombshell, Neil's RQ game almost stumbled across the what I feel is the right answer, when the PCs stumbled across a remote Orlanthi tribe who partook of very austere ways like the Solar monks of the far northern Empire of long ago. Their Orlanth is, I think, much more likely to be the real Orlanthi sun-god.

The obvious Orlanthi Sun-God is, of course, Orlanth in his aspect as the successful completer of the LBQ, restorer of the Sun after the Great Darkness and the Gods' War, Orlanth Lightbearer, or Orlanth Lucifer if you rather. We can see the influence of Orlanth in the fact that what he restored was not the static Sun of the old sterile Fire Tribe Emperor, but a Sun that follows the Storm Spiral, around and around the world, sometimes to the north, sometimes to the south. Orlanth Lucifer would be the god of the Sun, but clearly not the Sun himself. The Orlanthi New Sun, the thing he came back with would be a separate entity - and Ehilm sounds the most plausible name for the sacred fire itself, which may or may not now be borne by Elmal.

Variant keywords:

Orlanth Lucifer: Affinities: Light, Underworld, Reconciliation; Secret: Return from Underworld. [This very mystical cult would have almost no devotees.]

To be initiated in this aspect, the candidate must have completed the Lightbringer HeroQuest, either as principal or by significantly supporting one of the principals. As a consequence, there are few initiates; and almost all of them are devotees.

Elmal: Combat as in Storm Tribe, but replace Light with Fire: Illuminate Surroundings, Tend Watch-fire, Kindle Brand, Unquenchable Light, Withstand Cold.

Ehilm, the sacred torch: Light as Storm Tribe's Elmal , Sunpath: Find Sunpath, Reveal Sunpath, Follow Sunpath, Sunpath Defence, Rising Leap, Warmth - Banish Frost, Resist Chill, Ripen Fruit, Cruel Heat; Secret - Radiant Gaze.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Night Watch

Well, as the equinox approaches, it's not until well after 07:00 that the sun lifts over the rooftops opposite in the morning; but the weather is staying as Indian Summer - though yesterday the clear bright start turned into mist about half an hour after sunrise. The fair weather means that this is the first week of the year when I've cycled to work every day, without weather, logistics or just plain laziness preventing.

Then in just over a month, the days will be too short, and I'll be back to driving again. Always the way - just about get the legs into proper condition, and the season's over. At least I'm still cycling - the couple of other occasional cyclists seem to have given up, going by the complete lack of other bicycles in the racks even when leaving work a bit early to cycle into town, or fit in an hour's blackberry picking [enough to fill my lunchbox so the fruit doesn't rattle and thereby turn into purée] on the way home.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

The moravec flight and other miscalculations

First some numbers. The speed of light, c, is 300, 000 km/s; a year is 365.2422 x 86400 = 31, 556, 926 seconds. The earth's gravity, 1g, is 9.8 m/s2. So 1g for 1 year gives 309, 258 km/s, or 1.03c. A year is 8765 hours ~ 10, 000 hours. The Earth-sun distance, called one astronomical unit (AU) is 150, 000, 000 km or 500 light-seconds (i.e. light takes 500 seconds to cover it).

And some formulae. From a starting point at rest, under constant acceleration a for a length of time t, the velocity change is at, essentially by definition, and the distance covered is just the time multiplied by the average velocity or at2/2 .


This is the new book from Dan Simmons, who for the most part writes horror, rather than hard SF, so may be excused to some extent. Alas, when he actually quoted some numbers for a high-speed dash across the solar system it was enough to interrupt my reading with a bang with a "those don't tie up even on a simple order-of-magnitude calculation".

The moravec flight from Jupiter to Mars, then at opposition is quoted as accelerating at 3000g, and ending acceleration at a speed of 0.3c. Relativistic effects go as square root of (1 - (v/c)2), or about 95% - so enough to throw your watch out, but not enough to seriously affect the Newtonian formulae used above.

To achieve 0.3c with 3000g acceleration is to take 1/10, 000 of a year or 3156 seconds, and will cover 0.15 x 3156 light-seconds = 473 light seconds, or 0.85 AU - but their accelerator is the Io flux tube, and Io's orbital radius is only about 500, 000 km.

Later it takes them a day to cover the distance between Mars' orbit and Earth's - about 0.5AU. That's 250 light-seconds in 86400 seconds or about 0.003c - and that's before their big deceleration. Assuming that lower speed, then the acceleration would take only 32 seconds, and cover 0.048 light seconds or 14,400km - a much more reasonable size.

Then there is the matter of the neutrino ring that intersects the Earth at a certain date of the year that isn't seen moving at some noticeable velocity across the ground as the Earth rotates - let alone as it moves through the intersection point...


Now Stephen Baxter is a hard-SF writer who ought to know better. In Ring, he has an expedition set out to go 5 million years into the future. The ship accelerates at 1g constantly, turning over after 1/4 of the time, coming to a standstill at half the time, then returning as it left; relativistic effects keep the duration on board much lower.

For a uniform acceleration, the relativistic formulae are

at/c = sinh( aτ/c)


ax/c2 = cosh( aτ/c) - 1

where t is the external time, x is the distance covered and τ is the time on the ship. The sinh and cosh functions are hyperbolic sine and cosine (what the "hyp" checkbox gives you on the Windows calculator in scientific mode). If we work in years and light-years, and assume that the ship accelerated at 0.97g, so that a=1 in these units, we have for t = 1.25 million years, then

τ = sinh-1(1,250,000)

So using Inv Hyp Sin 1 250 000 gives 14.73 years shipboard. By symmetry the total voyage is 59 years, and the furthest distance is a whisker under 2.5 million light-years - a bit further than M31 in Andromeda.

Then how come the journey took his ship 1000 years shipboard? After 250 ship years, the external date would be 1.8 x 10108 - and the return would come at 7.2 x 10108 if we ignore the corrections that would be needed to account for cosmological effects. This is about as far into the future as the deepest look in his later book, Time. So the acceleration must be wrong. At a 0.097g rate, the shipboard time for the 5 million year voyage is 125,000 = sinh ( 0.1τ ) or τ = 10 sinh-1(125,000) = 124 years per quarter, or 500 years in all, so a kiloyear excursion would need less than acceleration even than that.

But that's not the end of the howlers. When the ship arrives back at the solar system after a 5 megayear excursion, they find that the constellations are just as they left - in particular, α Centauri is 4 and a bit lightyears away, opposite a W-shaped Cassiopeia. It's a pity that in about 350, 000 years, α Cen will be the brightest star in the sky, about a parsec (3.3 light-years) away in the constellation of Cancer, before drifting away into the northern sky, getting further away all the time.

There's a similar howler in forgetting about things moving in Time, too, where the first of the fast-forward-future views would happen after M31 collides with our galaxy - unless of course the posthumans have done the engineering work to use the magnetic fields of every star in M31 to channel its stellar wind as a rocket and moved the whole galaxy en masse - central 100-megasol black hole and all - sometime in the next gigayear. We certainly have to assume that there is such massive engineering for there to be a coherent galaxy in the Black Hole Miners epoch, as dynamical effects will have caused a galaxy that is not being actively maintained to have disintegrated by that sort of timescale - see John Baez's useful summary of the end of things; or my own riposte in fictional form.

Friday, September 12, 2003

The Orlanthi sun-god

(There is a later draft of this).

Greg Stafford asked an interesting and correct question over a decade ago, when asking about "who is the Orlanthi sun god?" - but the answer he got is one that caused a lot of confusion, until it was hammered into a compromise, such as this summary by Nick Brooke.

Unfortunately, I think Greg's answer was wrong in part. Elmal is the night watchman who stayed behind when Orlanth went on the LBQ - his aspects are twilight and the watch-fire. The reconciliation with Yelmalio as per Nick is an identification of the twilight aspects, which presumably rejected the contamination by the Lowfires that the watch-fire implies. Corollary - Elmali are able to use some minor fire magic appropriate to a night watchman's role, while Yelmalions are not. That aside, any deity that was around during the Great Darkness really, by definition, cannot be a sun god.

At about the same time that Greg dropped his bombshell, Neil's RQ game almost stumbled across the right answer, when the PCs stumbled across a remote Orlanthi tribe who partook of very austere ways like the Solar monks of the far northern Empire of long ago. Their Orlanth is, I think, much more likely to be the real Orlanthi sun-god.

The Orlanthi Sun-God is Orlanth in his aspect as the successful completer of the LBQ, Orlanth Lightbearer, or Orlanth Lucifer if you rather. Not the static Sun of the old sterile Emperor, but a sun that follows the storm spiral, around and around the world, sometimes to the north, sometimes to the south. And in the same way that the adventurer aspect of Orlanth has a separate name, so would this, the Orlanthi New Sun - and Ehilm sounds the most plausible name, but the cult of that name in HeroQuest is actually that of Elmal, the night watchman.

I shall have to think about what the appropriate keyword description would be for this.


As anyone who's read my RPG pages - and especially my background page - will know, I burned out on gaming about 8 years ago - and that I spend a lot of time on those pages talking about either variant D&D or Champions, but other systems are only mentioned in passing. This may make the entry below, about HeroQuest, a little cryptic.

I've had a love/hate relationship with RQ/Glorantha for going on 25 years now.

I first encountered Glorantha in the form of the original Nomad Gods game at the Wargames Soc. at college, and thought it a little bit silly - though by no means as bad as Greg Costikyan's humour in the SPI Swords and Sorcery game. It was a while later, when looking to other systems to find bits to plunder to fix D&D, that I picked up a copy of RQ2 (the new edition at £8, as opposed to the old one at £5, this being back in about '78). RQ2 had a lot of things that I thought made for an ideal game - individual skill ratings rather than blanket levels, fixed hit-points - but it didn't have a splashy magic system in that way that *D&D always has, so while I tried a few one-off sessions, and Karen even did her first bit of GMing c1980 with RQ set in a setting of her own, Glorantha languished as something I read fragments of in Cults of Prax, Trollpak, and Cults of Terror, but never did anything with.

And at that sort of time, we burned out on the genre, and we moved because I needed a job, and we started playing other games, mainly Champions. Meanwhile HeroQuest had gone from being a "source to be published" in the list at the back of the RQ2 rulebook, to an item in the Spring 1982 issue of the Chaosium Games catalogue in which promised it for that summer.

Time passed. RQ3 happened, and the combination of the dollar price hike, and the pound falling almost to parity meant that it cost 5 times what the previous edition did - £40 in 1985 money [by comparison, HeroQuest is priced at about £24 in 2003 money]. I did pick up the hideously expensive boxes of Gloranthan background (Gods of... , Genertela) and pored over them for arcane details.

By the late 80s, I was back in Cambridge and working at the same company as Neil. As the Champions game folded due to increasing dissatisfaction with the Hero System, he and I would spend hours going over the minutiae as revealed, especially the new scraps in a new fanzine, Tales of the Reaching Moon. I remember fascinating discussions about recherché topics like the implications of the RQ2 Prax map showing the burial mound of a prehistoric hero as the same specially large mountain pictogram as Kero Fin.

And so he set up an RQ3 game bsed in a slightly variant Glorantha. I had problems stumbling over bits that had changed subtly since the previous edition; other players had problems with other bits of the system like the experience rolls (one Unicorn Woman had her most frequently used combat skills stick at ~45% while others went up to ~70% because the dice would hardly ever convert a skill check into a % increase). We all found that the restraints on spirit magic meant that the old standby of "Glue" (Healing 6) that made combat a survivable thing was no longer a plausible strategy. A belated change to Pendragon, to use the virtues and passions system as part of the cult attributes just made things worse - the movement rates and ranges meant that we had something like five times as many rounds to take damage from emplaced trollkin slingers when advancing from their extreme range to contact. [From this experience, I'm somewhat dubious about Pendragon's ability to truly emulate tha almost D&D-like combats in Malory.]

The game also suffered from the "tourist trap" tendency - with a detailed world, the temptation comes to play tour guide, and escort the PCs around all the interesting parts - so out lowly step and fetch PCs were sent hither and yon, until the game folded under cumulative dissatisfaction, and I ran some cathartic high level D&D to permit some righteous ass-kicking that the RQ had denied us.

With the '90s came the RQ-revival, spearheaded by a group that gave the appearance of seeking to play something between "Morris-dancing, the RPG" or "Iron John, the RPG". The Glorantha that came out of this was trapped in a Procrustean bed of unsatisfactory mechanics, and with revelations that changed the perception of the world - not essentially trivial things like the (Y)elmal(io) flap, but that the Sartar/Lunar conflict was a lot more German/Roman rather than Greek/Persian as the RQ2 art implied. Yes, Orlanth is meant to be Tiw, not Zeus, and the new vanguard had only contempt for the stuckist grognards who liked the old way better.

In the middle of this I burned out on gaming, and when Hero Wars came out, I couldn't even gather the energy to focus my eyes on Neil's copy. I knew I had reservations about what I heard about the system - important events getting handled in a quantum box, with abstract action points expended until the state collapses and you can tell what happened - like who got wounded and how much. Later on, I did buy Storm Tribe, another gods book, and without the damnable barbarian culture.

But this year, HeroQuest - I did like what I saw at Conjuration enough to look out Storm Tribe, if only to try and answer the question “who are all these strange gods that the demo game PCs were devotees of?” and then get a copy of HQ for my birthday. I'm still not sure about the system, the extended resolution in particular; and when I'm in a mood to worry about having too much arbitrary fiat power as GM at the totally free scope of attributes (like Over the Edge, but more so). The rules hacker in me starts to think about perhaps using something like the West End Games' StarWars D6 system, with a HQ keyword corresponding to an SW stat. But I was motivated to at least think about doing something.

Having been out of the loop for a while, I found much Gregging and counter-Gregging had gone on, but I think that Glorantha has reached a point where it has completed a metamorphosis, to a new understanding and a new system, unlike the very awkward state in the '90s when the New True Way and the uninspired changes that went into RQ3 mechanics tore in different directions. Now at last we have a mechanical exposition that supports, rather than thwarts the subjectivist approach.

For example, back in RQ2 days, there was the assumption that a warrior would be an Humakti, and there was the one-size-fits-all cult of Humakt; but in ST, Humakt is a seriously scary god that only dangerous weirdos follow (normal warriors would follow Orlanth sub-cults that no-one who hasn't been following Gloranthan events in detail for the last few years will have heard of, like Hedkoranth and Helamakt). In HQ, he's back to being a standard warrior god – but only for cultures neighbouring Sartar. This I interpret as being because the core Orlanthi culture has access to all the minor attributes/associates of Orlanth, which squeezes the other big gods out into the margins. A similar process seems to have taken place with Babeester Gor, with the Orlanthi having Vinga in the place that the Earth Avenger takes in related cultures who don't also have the Defender Storm.

Of course the process is not 100% – it doesn't fix the (Y)elma(io) problem that really set the cat amongst the pigeons over a decade ago, and had been just about reconciled (provided you don't enquire too deeply into how the myths fitted together) – the ST version of Elmal as the Orlanthi sun-god doesn't really hang together as a myth (it singularly ignores who it was that the Orlanthi think was the object of the Lightbringer quest, or the fact that Yelmalio is the light of the sunless sky i.e. twilight). So far he's swept under the carpet in HQ, in favour of (St.) Ehilm (a Saint in Aeolian Esvulia (formerly Heortland)) - and we last heard of Ehilm as a western figure, the sorcerer who had become too entangled in solar powers, cognate to Yelm.

One thing that hasn't changed in HW, and by adoption, HQ, are the rather silly monsters, which hark me back to the first encounter with Nomad Gods. One thing that has improved a bit are the scenarios. I dismissed an early famous RQ scenario with this summary:

The adventurers are approached by a man seeking armed assistance. He explains that he has bought, for resale, a sacred item. The person who he'd bought it from had stolen it from a small nomad tribe, killing most of the adults in the process. When two of the survivors demanded its return from the man now seeking PC assistance, he had his assistant shoot one. He has now found out that they intend to return in force to recover their property, and is seeking help to defend his house and this item. – What do your characters do?

The scenarios in HQ are a bit better than this.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Shot down in the night

I had been expecting to report something about some tentative progress to maybe giving HeroQuest a try. So I started to sound out the group descended from my old Wednesday night players. Karen had dropped out when they moved on to Ars Magica, Ian left subsequently after "creative differences"; but shifting to a one Sunday afternoon a month format they'd picked up Phil Masters, and Sheila, and David Chart (but he's in Japan for a year so is out of the picture). I started by approaching Neil, who ran our last essay into Glorantha over a decade ago, and who now guides the saga. Was there surprise or even encouragement that I might be thinking of getting back into active practice of the hobby? Was there heck!

No, instead, I was met with a fairly sneering bit of style snobbery, which could be summarized as "We have discovered troupe-style play and it is the one true way." And I was cited an example of this superiority from the Saxum Caribetum saga. The covenant has discovered some tunnels affected by faery magic that give them a reliable one-way short-cut into the crypt of the cathedral at Nantes, several leagues away (but they've not figured out the rule for the way back, though some characters have lucked out). Apparently a very satisfying session was had when one of the magi - with the Blatant Gift, and an in-yer-face sigil - took the short-cut, arriving in the crypt just when Mass was being celebrated. Seeing a church full of worshippers, his reaction was not to lie low until later, but to cast invisibility on himself and exit through the crowd - with predictable results. Meanwhile a number of grogs wait in an ale house and make like Shakespearean low-lives.

Earlier, agreeing rules for gifts to and loans from the covenant library had become a long-running issue that occupied much of the early real-time months of play. Now I was told how another player (the quiet and unassertive one) helps by keeping a database with the community economic model including models of death and injuries as part of the working year - not just disease, but "industrial" accidents like crushed by falling tree when felling for lumber - and that they were all happy with playing their mediæval soap-opera.

From which I deduced three things. One, the first-cited player still hasn't gotten over playing self-destructive chaotics; two, the real benefit of eschewing the party is that he can no longer get everyone else into deep shit. And three, that I don't think I'm going to find any potential HeroQuest players there.

Looking to other likely victims - One gaming couple we know, but they have children of an age where they are no longer tucked up in bed soon after dinner, but cannot yet be left to fend for themselves for an evening. Or there's the different Wednesday night group which Karen has joined, the only one of whom I've played more than a very occasional convention pick-up game including is the ubiquitous Phil Masters. The others I don't know well enough to put names to faces, let alone idiosyncrasies in playing styles. Coming in as an outsider to GM definitely isn't the environment I'd want for an all-new all-different toe back into the gaming water in terms of system and interpretation of setting. Which rather puts the ki-bosh on the whole enterprise, really.

[Now playing - Argent - Hold your head up]

Book — Ilium — by Dan Simmons

I just finished Dan Simmons' new book, Ilium - which starts out as a reworking of the Iliad, through the viewpoint of a classical scholar sent to observe the Trojan War from a post-human solar system, some 1500 years into the future, and gets both epochs increasingly involved with each other. It's neat, wide-screen epic stuff. Just a pity about his total flubbing of his arithmetic in the one point where he suddenly quotes exact numbers (the acceleration, journey time and distance covered in various phases of the moravecs' flight from Jupiter to Mars at opposition just doesn't cohere, even granting a generous allowance of slipped decimal points).

There is a bit of the rather hackneyed ignorant managed humans of the future in one of the plot threads, which I found boring and annoying, and not terribly original (I was reminded a bit of Raymond F. Jones' Renaissance), but don't let that spoil your enjoyment of the other threads. I'm eagerly awaiting the Odyssey that must follow.

That day again

Today is a beautiful crisp autumn morning, with high cloud, and the promise of a warm front coming over later. Dew turned all the spider webs to silver in the fields, unlike the dry, clear, high-pressure weather of that day two years ago, when we needed the blinds down in the meeting room where we were that afternoon, when the news came in.

Pretty soon after, I suggested what the obvious rebuild for the WTC ought to be - and it seems that I was not the only one thinking along those lines.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Night Watch

Today, the streetlights were still on at 06:30 - admittedly it was overcast and drizzling; but already the alarm goes off before the sun clears the rooftops across the road.

Friday, September 05, 2003

As the year turns...

Well, today is my 46th birthday; and I'm greeted by the first fogs of the autumn - visibility about 4-5 car-lengths - at my normal going to work time. Not at all the sort of weather to want to bicycle in, even though it would have been starting to clear before I got to work, cutting in to the rapidly diminishing number of days in which I'll have the daylight to comfortably cycle to and from work in.

Monday, September 01, 2003

Film — Pirates of the Caribbean and Tomb Raider/Cradle of Life

Pirates of the Caribbean is a harmless piece of tosh, with Johnny Depp looking stoned throughout his totally over the top performance. Possibly a little too post-modernist and self-referential, but fun.

Tomb Raider/Cradle of Life was not so good.

The first movie was pretty much in the spirit of the game - Lara doing her thing essentially solo against opponents, with the occasional "cut-scene" for conversation. The second movie provided the underwater sequence missing from the first movie (still waiting for dinosaurs and rabid dogs in Italy), and the first sequence in the flooded temple certainly fitted in as hybrid of scenes from the first two games, the story thereafter had far too much of an even dodgier ex-boyfriend than the one that was the main flaw of the first movie. This turned it into just another action movie, for which the sight of Ms Jolie in that skin-tight wetsuit was not really a sufficient balance.


Did the Stratford-upon-Avon thing at the Bank Holiday. The As you like it... was not very well done - a new director had the actors all shounting their lines (spit everywhere), and all on one note. I didn't like it, and after suffering through the first hour and a bit, left at the interval rather than sit through another couple of hours of it.

The Cymbelline was much better done, and interesting production of a minor play (another instance of the cross-dressing/missing relatives plot). Unfortunately timing wasn't right to see a performance of The Tamer Tamed, a contemporary riposte/sequel to The Taming of the Shrew.

The best is yet to be

About 21 years ago, towards the end of my research studentship, I decided to take off on my bike for an afternoon, and cycled from Cambridge, out along the Cherry Hinton road, and kept going, through Fulbourn, over the A11, and then decided that was far enough and I'd take the next turning to loop back. That was at Balsham, and the loop back to Linton brought me back on what was the A604. I remember noting how the rough paving (~20mm gravel, standing proud of the asphalt, to give good grip for tyres) sapped energy from my pedalling as I climbed out of Linton, and how I was desperately tired when I surmounted the Gogs and finally saw Cambridge laid out before me once again.

The other Friday, celebrating getting my top gear back (my bike was in for service/repair as top gear had become less and less reliable until I couldn't put any sort of force on it - plus getting a back carrier and mudguards with some decent clearance put on), I set out from town, through Cherry Hinton, up to Teversham, then Fulbourn, then up through the Wilbrahams to Six Mile Bottom, and thence down through Balsham to Linton. Feeling good, I carried on past down to Little Walden (with a stop for beer), to Saffron Walden (a sandwich break), then back through Littlebury, Barley and Fowlmere.

Sure the bike is better than the old one, yclept Death Trap, but the legs are that much older.

In similar vein, last Thursday, cycling home from town, I spotted another, and I think younger, cyclist ahead of me, halfway between me and the start of the junction crossing the M11, whom I passed at the junction (so he can only have been doing half the speed I was at our respective natural paces), and continued up the slope without bothering to change down for such a slight incline. With a massive rattling of gears, he stormed past me near the top, only to fall behind shortly thereafter. As we both turned off the main road, he passed me, but then slowed down so that carrying on at my steady pace, I overtook again. He then sat for a while where I could see him in my mirror, positioned to try and overtake; but eventually he gave up and fell behind, which gave me a little - albeit childish - pleasure at having broken his challenge.

Night Watch

Here's what I mean about getting dark at 20:30 at the end of August - 1st magnitude stars visible, or if cloudy, colour only in the deep blue of the sky. Just about enough light to navigate to the bottom of the garden, without the house lights being too bright for necessary dark adaptation.