Looking through the Onion site, I found this interesting article in the AV Club about time travel and when and where you’d choose to go live for a few years if you had the opportunity:

Where and when would you most want to live for five years, restricted to a five-mile radius?

Everyone says things like “Oh man, how cool would it be to be in Dealey Plaza during the JFK assassination, or see The Beatles during one of their Cavern Club concerts, or witness ancient Rome?” Well, what if you were given the chance?

Here are the conditions. You’ve been granted a hypothetical ticket to live, in comfort and coherence, during one five-year time period. Maybe you want to be in New York in Chicago during Prohibition, or Victorian London, or France right before the Revolution. (Or during—no judgments.) You’ll be able to understand and speak the language (if needed), have enough disposable cash to live at leisure, and experience whatever you want, with no need for a job. You’ll have a comfy apartment or house to return to, full period wardrobe, and as much time as you need before making this trip to study up on the period you’ll live in.

But you must stay within a five-mile radius of where/whenever you choose to live. Thus you can’t go see the Kennedy assassination, then go zipping around the world to London to watch the birth of the British Invasion, or New York for the early years of Greenwich Village. Want to see the Kennedy assassination? Fine. But then you’re stuck in Dallas for the next five years.

What historical period (and place), in your opinion, offers the most enticing experiences in one five-year period?

So, despite the fact that they illustrate it with a TARDIS, this isn’t a simple where would you want to pop into as a time tourist for a few hours, but a proper time traveller, really experiencing and being part of the local culture. The fact you have to stay within five miles of your location for five years probably rules out some interesting locations – going to see the Boudiccan revolt burn down Colchester might be interesting, but spending five more years in and around an under construction Roman border town probably wouldn’t be. Other great battles and conflicts will most likely suffer from the same restrictions – several years of hanging around 20 square miles of countryside in exchange for a few days of historical action.

My choice would be for London between 1685 and 1690. For me, that period from the death of Charles II to the accession of William and Mary to the throne is a key point in British and world history. The changes that were wrought in that period were much more profound than the question of who got to sit on the throne, they were about the basic nature of the British state and whether Parliament or the Crown would finally emerge victorious from the battles that had begun long before the Civil War. How fascinating would it to be able to sample the public mood during that period – what did people think when news came through of Monmouth’s rebellion in the West? What were the protests, discussions and arguments over religion like during the reign of James II? What wild rumours went through the streets as William’s navy sailed down the Channel and James led the Army towards Salisbury Plain? And how did it feel to be in a city seemingly abandoned by its monarch and under what was effectively Dutch occupation? A remarkable time in history, and so much of it happening within those few miles of one city.

So where would you go?

Merely being better at it than Labour is like being funnier than Michael McIntyre – there’s a few people who might think it’s a laudable achievement but it’s really just clearing an extremely low hurdle.



Just had an idea for a film that would surely be a massive success, merging two things that are very popular in various media: Gladiators vs Zombies. Tattered corpses lurching through the streets of ancient Rome to confront the serried ranks of gladiators who stand waiting for them as the last line of defence before they break through and swarm over the seven hills. With plenty of opportunities for gratuitous violence and entirely artistically necessary scenes set at orgies, how could it possibly fail to be a success?

I’m not sure something like this even needs a script, but Hollywood? Feel free to call me and offer large sums of money for the rights. After all, if this is a success, you’ll need an idea for a sequel.


Cosy catastrophes

There’s something about the way the volcanic ash story is developing that makes me feel we’re in the opening chapters of one of John Wyndham or John Christopher‘s world-ending novels of the mid-20th century.

Not that I’m claiming the eruption of an Icelandic volcano is the beginning of the civilization-ending apocalypse – though that’s exactly what you’d expect a character like me to say at this stage of the book – but I can almost see the opening lines of the book. It seems strange now, but back in the April of that first summer of the ash, all we were concerned about was an impending General Election… something in that vein, as the main character goes about his life somewhere in the Home Counties, spending the occasional evening in the pub with a melancholic friend who warns that Things Are Going On Behind The Scenes and advises our protagonist to prepare himself (and possibly his family, if they’re included in the book) for Things Going Wrong.

(Of course, ever since I heard him reading The Death of Grass for Radio 4, I find all these protagonists have started resembling David Mitchell. His ‘mustn’t grumble’ world-weariness captures the spirit of this sort of book – where traditional British values are placed under threat by unknowable alien forces – perfectly.)

The other option is that we’re slightly more advanced in one of the more outlandishly silly Bond films of the 70s and 80s and even as I type this, Roger Moore’s strategically raised eyebrow is chasing Donald Pleasance on a volcano-causing submarine somewhere in the North Atlantic.

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According to her website, Jan Moir has a partner referred to only as ‘S’.

Our old friends at Christian Voice have a press release echoing her comments that Stephen Gateley’s death was linked to his being gay.

Christian Voice is run by (and possibly composed entirely of) Stephen Green. Just a coincidence, I’m sure.

When I was out on a walk the other day (more details on Sunday), I noticed this sign:

At first glance, I thought it was just another variant on the same sort of sign you see a lot of when you’re walking – and it is, but note who it’s from. Yes, the Homes and Communities Agency, which is an agency supposedly owned by the public, and out to serve the public, declaring that a large patch of open space is private land. Not restricted, private – normally used to state that the owner doesn’t want plebs tramping over it.

But what if we plebs are the owner?

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Bank Holiday Classic Gold Blogging

I remembered the Straw Man Institute the other day. Reproduced here, just in case the Sharpener site finally goes blunt and falls off the web.

One of the problems of modern newspaper publishing is the question of how to fill the blank pages of the newspaper every day. After all, even though there’s a lot of news out in the world, journalists only have a finite amount of time each day to turn reality into news, so sometimes they’re glad when the news comes prepackaged for them and it’s even better when it’s not just a press release, but an entire study allowing them to quote a whole host of spurious facts, stick in a couple of pictures and they’ve filled a page with the news that watching four or more DVDs a day can help lower cholesterol.

So, as the demand for news has increased, so the number of studies conducted has risen and the number of people carrying them out has grown to. No longer the sole preserve of the ivory towers of academia, just about anyone can call themselves an Institute or a Foundation and start pushing out their own factoids to an eager and hungry press. Everyone’s a winner – the journalist fills his space and gets to the pub earlier, the Insitute in question gets a mention in the press and a plug for their latest pamphlet and the paper’s readers get a few more vague statistics to quote in ill-informed pub discussions.

It’s not limited to the news sections of the papers either – where would sports pages be without the surveys of which flavour pies are most preferred by football fans, for instance? Even columnists, opinionators and leader writers can have their work eased for them by a well-timed report – I’m certain anyone doing a research project about Sure Start must have a momentary frisson of excitement when they realise that they can guarantee their name appearing in the papers if they send a copy to Polly Toynbee. Indeed, just about any columnist with a point to make can normally find the research from somewhere to back it up.

However, there is one need that isn’t being addressed, especially with the recent development of many newspaper columns into denunciations of things the author doesn’t like. Too often, they’re forced to resort to criticising nebulous figures who believe in the antithesis of the author’s beliefs and aren’t able to bring up someone concrete to make people believe that the threat they’ve identified is real. So, why not have an organisation that specialises in coming up with those arguments that no one else will make? One that will publish the unpublishable and allow it to be torn apart?

Yes, the time has now come for the Straw Man Institute. For far too long, columnists (and bloggers, of course) have been left to generate their own straw men to argue against, with the lack of effort immediately apparent to all expert observers. However, the Straw Man Institute will ensure that everyone has someone to shout against and denounce. Be it calling for an immediate surrender to the terrorists and all their demands while we all convert to Islam or calling for the whole of the government to be privatised with the poor sold into slavery and the profits used to subsidise fox hunts, the SMI will make sure that those arguments are out in the public arena and attributable to someone. For far too long, straw men have been ad hoc creations, summoned only for one article or argument and then dismissed. Now, with the SMI, the straw man will take its rightful place alongside all the other nebulous concepts that drive institutes, foundations and think tanks. Let a thousand straw men bloom!

Of course, I’ve since realised that it should be called the Jonathan Swift Institute, just to cover the tracks somewhat.