Friday, May 30, 2014

Cornwall Goes to the Movies - The Birds!

You don't have to spend very much time on the south coast of Cornwall before you start hearing about Daphne du Maurier.  Although she was originally from London she vacationed in Cornwall as a child and adopted it as her home during a prolific writing career.  Many of her best known works such as Rebecca and Frenchman's Creek used Cornwall as their settings.

Although several of her novels were made into successful movies - Rebecca won the Best Picture Oscar in 1941 - it is one of her short stories that has attained the greatest degree of cinematic fame.

The origins of her story The Birds is the subject of some controversy.  Dame Daphne said that the idea was inspired by two incidents.  In one she saw a farmer tilling his field being dive bombed by a flock of angry seagulls.  In another she herself was attacked by aggressive birds while walking her dog.  But there are also allegations of plagarism.  A fellow named Frank Baker claimed that while du Maurier was employed as a reader for his publisher she must have come across his 1936 novel that was also called The Birds.

Whatever the ultimate source of the idea Alfred Hitchcock made an iconic and very frightening movie from it.  He did move the setting from Cornwall to Bodega Bay, California.

So of course when we were walking the Cornwall coast we kept a wary eye out for birds.  And felt that at times they were doing the same for us.  One day we stopped at the public beach outside the city of Par.  Sitting on a bench for a rest we noticed that we had company;

Out of curiosity we tossed out a few biscuit crumbs to see what would happen:

And were surrounded by a pack of "in your face" avians!

The odd thing was that this was our last day of walking.  In our B & B the next morning we were waiting for our taxi to the train station.  I picked up a book about Daphne du Maurier and learned that the spot where she was attacked while walking her dog was exactly the spot shown above !

So, sorry Frank Baker, in the matter of plagarism for The Birds I find in favor of Dame Daphne.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Cornwall Goes to the Movies - Zombies !

As I was saying on Monday, Cornwall is a great place to shoot a movie.  Stunning scenery, lots of quaint villages that can be transformed to earlier eras.  But I admit to being a little surprised when I learned that last year's Brad Pitt zombie movie World War Z was partly filmed in Falmouth.  Zombies in general seem to be a more natural feature of gritty urban centers or of mist shrouded grave yards. Falmouth is just too.....cute for the apocalypse.

But the answer once again was the ships.

Here is a scene from World War Z.

This supposedly shows a helicopter coming in to land on the "U.N. Command Ship U.S.S. Argus". When we were taking a ferry across Falmouth harbor I spotted this:

You are seeing it from the other side in this shot, but it is indeed the Argus.  But the R.F.A. Argus. This is a converted container ship that is now a Royal Navy Auxiliary Ship.  It served in the Falklands War in an aviation support role and was converted by the time of the Gulf War to a Primary Casualty Receiving Ship.  It is based in Falmouth and now has a complete hospital suite with ICU, CT scan capacity and so forth.

The makers of World War Z were initially hoping to use an aircraft carrier but when one could not be made available for the filming schedule switched over to the Argus with general satisfaction.

Although there was a local call for extras it does not sound as if there were a lot of actual zombie scenes filmed in Falmouth.  But that does not seem to have dampened the enthusiasm of some, on our recent visit I snapped a picture of this converted Land Rover:

I am not a fan of zombie flicks.  They creep me out.  And it seems as if the genre has more or less run its course, as if there are no new creative avenues for the living dead to shamble down.  A few recent movies have actually tried to show the Dead in a sympathetic light, as if they were perhaps just misunderstood. Well, maybe.  I hope the Zombie Apocalypse never actually comes to Cornwall, but if moaning corpses start staggering through the picturesque cobbled streets I suppose they might simply be looking for this frozen entree that I saw in local markets....

Monday, May 26, 2014

Cornwall Goes to the Movies

One of the most popular destinations on the south Cornwall coast is Charlestown.  It is one of those odd little places that somehow fell into a slumber and was spared the damaging attentions of developers.  So it still looks like what it once was, a small working port from the late 1700s.

Fast forward to the 21st century and we find it doing well, partly from tourism but also, oddly, as part of the movie and television industry.

In a general sense it should not be surprising that Cornwall has been deemed highly photogenic.  It just is.  But sometimes the specifics will make you blink a bit.  This was outside our B & B in Charlestown:

Yes, it is a Greek trireme.  Our host said that the company that owns the harbor does a lot of work for the movie industry, and that this had been built for Clash of the Titans and Clash of the Titans II.  He also mentioned that it had been towed to the Canary Islands for filming and that the owners were keeping it around in hopes of a sequel.

As it happens he got most of this correct.

The company is called Square Sail and they do provide a wide array of services.  Basically you can use their sailing ships and harbor to recreate past eras....or they will custom build/convert a boat for you.  The above craft seems to be one called the Nomos, built for a remake of sorts called Wrath of the Titans.  IMDB only gives it a 5.8 rating so further installments are not likely.  Here is a scene from the movie on board this ship:

Charlestown harbor has had quite a bit of screen time over the years. Here it was on our recent visit:

Keep an eye on the yellow pub building at the far end of the harbor, it was somewhat obscured by construction scaffolding in this image but makes the best reference point.

This is from Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.

Here is the pub in a 1976 movie called The Eagle has Landed.

And here the town is taken over for a night time shoot of a Dr. Who episode.

It is a fun little business for the area, one that takes advantage of the natural beauty of Cornwall and of the state of historic preservation.  We were a little disappointed that during our stay none of the Square Sails fleet were in the harbor.  We were told that they winter over at another port nearby where they undergo routine maintenance.  But as we walked the windy headlands east of Charlestown I think we caught a glimpse of one out on a shakedown cruise:

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Life in the ER - Welcome to The Show

Ah, the long Memorial Day weekend.  For my non-US readers I should explain that this is really not a solemn time of remembrance and reflection.  No, it is the first exuberant three day holiday of summer, a time when the grim memories of long winter are thrown off.  A time to pop open a beer and toss some bratwurst on the grill.

Or in the case of my patients in the ER, to chug down a bottle of Jaeger Meister and stick their hands on the grill.

I am gearing up for three straight days of long, busy work.

But I like it.  The ratio of Silly to Serious shifts towards the former on such occasions.  And like most clinicians I would prefer - up to a certain point - to be dealing with acute illness and injury. So often we are by default the place in the health care system that is always open, and so becomes the destination for folks with the Incurable, the Incomprehensible and the Indefinite.

On a busy summer weekend the ER staff brings the A Game.  We brew the coffee a little stronger, and move from room to room with a bit of spring in our step.

It is all about being organized.  Do we have enough suture sets ready?  Do we need to pull in a bit more staff from the floor?  How many ambulances are out and how far out?

When I arrive for what promises to be a busy shift I stop in the parking lot and take a quick census. One point for each out of state licence plate ( welcome visitors but good luck getting any medical records if you need them ).  Five points for each law enforcement vehicle.  Fifty points if the helipad lights are turned on anticipating an air transport.

Busy times, busy times.  I never complain after these shifts, even when things get bad.  One Fourth of July weekend I had three stabbings and a baseball bat beating all arrive from a party gone bad.  We keep moving, we apologize to those with lesser issues who have to wait.  "Worst Come, First Served" I tell them.

As I get into the last few years of my ER career I suppose I could count on my fingers the number of times I will have to gear up for one of these.

In whatever puttering about mode I find myself eventually, I will certainly look back and miss these times....

Friday, May 23, 2014

Things are Looking Up for Vincent Van Gogh

An Authoress of our acquaintance is working on a book dealing with the time that Vincent Van Gogh spent in an asylum near Saint-Remy, France.  He was there for a year, starting soon after he cut off his left ear.  This is considered the most productive period of his career.  Many of his most famous works including Starry Night were produced while an inmate there.

The Authoress is heading down there for a visit, and I was happy to report to her that I had already been there on a trip some years ago, and had toured the Saint-Paul Asylum while there.  It is a quiet and contemplative place, but did contain one jarring scene.

When our little party of travelers visited the room in which Van Gogh received his hydrotherapy treatments we saw this:

All of us had the same mental image flash, one that I should think would be universal among anyone exposed to the United States advertising market:

Hmmmm.  This ad for Cialis seems to have been based on something.  But the guy in the ad still seems to have his left ear so it might just be a coincidental similarity.

But happy travels S, and hope you find great material for the book.  I offer no apologies for the double entendre of this post title, you heard lots worse during your time down in the excavation trench with a bunch of muddy guys!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Cornwall Coast - Danger EVERYWHERE !

The British have an interesting approach to safety.  In some ways they go way overboard.  School kids on a field trip are outfitted in the sort of high visibility fluorescent yellow vests that are normally worn by our construction workers.  And "Health and Safety" is a standard joke/reply for just about any nonsensical edict from management or government.

On the other hand they have some activities like long distance walking trails that appear to be genuinely hazardous.  You saunter along jagged cliffs and through pastures containing bulls.  But at least they have swell warning signs.  Here is a collection that we came across during our 50 miles of walking the South West Coast Path in late April:

Don't fall off that cliff.

If you own a flaming red Demon Dog keep it on a leash.  Oddly, the top sheep seems to be smiling. Must not have liked the defunct sheep.

Don't drive into the ocean.

This was inside a castle that had its gardens open for the public.  Presumably the chair in the back ground is where the gnarly gamekeeper usually sits, awaiting the lordly instructions to "Release the Hounds!"  The lower left corner of the sign looks to have been chewed off.

At this point the Coastal Path went through a golf course.  There is an odd pun here...

We photographed a group of golfers.  The smoke in the distance is ironically the city of Par.  It would take quite a shot to reach it.

So very many things to Beware Of......

Monday, May 19, 2014

Beachcombing St. Mawes

On our recent walking trip to Cornwall there was less "leisure" time than you might expect.  But one morning in St. Mawes I did have a few minutes to spare before catching a ferry boat over to the Roseland Penninsula.  You may recall from my "Tin and Tintagel" post that post Roman pottery can be found in Cornwall, reflecting its continued contact with the old core of the Empire even after the Roman implosion of the early 5th Century.  This post Roman pottery was partly amphorae, but also what is called "African Red Slip Ware".  Here are a few specimens from the British Museum:

OK stuff, but clearly a later and lesser imitation of proper Samian ware.

The greatest concentration of post Roman pottery in fact comes from Tintagel, but scattered finds are known from up and down the coasts.  So my eye was caught by this nifty shard that I saw at low tide in St. Mawes:

I dunno.....maybe?  Then I turned it over.

Not only is it too thick, but I'm pretty sure that African Red Slip ware does not have a different color glaze on the inside. It is more likely something from the local garden shoppe.  So back on the beach it went.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Shifting Gears

Ugh.  Jet Lag and a string of 12 hour shifts starting tomorrow.  Although I have a lot of stored up tales from the recent jaunt it may be a couple of days before I have time and brain cells for coherence. Short posts or older stuff until then.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Vindolanda 2014 Day Ten and Last

Our last day had decent weather and a long delayed victory over the water that had been seeping into our trench all week.  It is amazing how much lighter a wheel barrow is when it is full of light crumbly wood and bracken as opposed to soupy mud.  Spirits were high as we hit our last day of excavating.

Over on the adjacent trench some useful artifacts turned up including a very encrusted coin that should eventually give us confirmation of our dating.  We are "around" the time of Emperor Hadrian.  In fact he quite probably visited the site in association with the construction of "Hadrian's Wall".  It is not too far fetched to imagine him strolling down the road surface we are working on, it seems to have been one of the priniciple roads of the early fort.

Sometimes road surfaces can be great for small finds, but on this occasion....not so much. Perhaps being this close to (we think) the headquarters building there was thorough policing of the place.  So we dug down through layers of cobbling and foundation rubble interspersed with bands of compressed sticks and wood.

Here is some 1800 year old heather.  It still smells faintly of fresh cut peat.

Another shoe, this one a better specimen.

Nice horse skull.  Given the number of cavalry stationed here we really should find horse remains often.  We do not.  This has been puzzling and raises questions.  Was there a special horse graveyard somewhere?  Was there some prohibition to eating them?  The latter seems odd, the Romans appear to have eaten most every other critter.  We had cow, pig and dog bones turn up in recent days.

Here is a nice bit of samian wear bowl.  It is similar in pattern to a bit I found two days ago.  Perhaps from the same vessel.

Here is the top of some kind of wooden structure.  It might be a fence.  It might not be.

It was a relaxed end to a fun two weeks.  As our assignment was primarily to define structures we were not seized by the customary "Friday Frenzy" as diggers trowel like mad trying to find some shiny bauble that had thus far eluded them.  We just worked on methodically, then stood back to admire the remarkable amount of soil we had shifted.

Another year.  Another bunch of excavators, many of them old friends by now.

Farewell to the fort by Hadrian's Wall.  And farewell to the Twice Brewed Inn, my home away from home.  May your creaky, off center architecture, your appalling pub quiz and your breakfasts full of fried food served with sarcasm never change!

Post Script:  Fairness demands that I post a link to MooseandHobbes whose summary of the two weeks of digging and shenanigans is much superior to mine.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Vindolanda 2014 Day Nine

Short post today I think.  Archeology is not all gentle troweling and whisking.  The last two days have been plenty of wheelbarrows full of mud and boulders.  I am "knackered" as they say here in the U.K.

Our nice layer of laminate, packed with tasty organic bits, proved to be only two inches thick.  Underneath we have the surface of a road.  This had to be cleared, plotted and photographed before we could go deeper.  And under the road we have another layer of clay and rubble.  But a few interesting structures are peeking through.

We "might" have the top tier of a wooden fence.

This surely is one whopping wooden post.  Presumably it once supported a timber building.  Circa 120 AD?

Lots of grunt work today with not much for interesting finds.  This is a partial shoe found in the trench next to us.  Vindolanda has what I believe is the world's most extensive collection of Roman footwear.

And look at this bit.  When I found it I was certain that I had something.  A mirror maybe?  A painted bit of wood?

Nope, not an artifact.  Just  a  little bit of silver birch wood with its nice shiny bark.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Vindolanda 2014 Day Eight

The battle against the mud continued in the early part of our day, but dry skies and a nice breeze helped a great deal.  Also our Dutch team member fashioned a clever drainage canal that diverted some of the ground seepage.  Dutchies have always been clever at that sort of thing.

But it was still heavy work in the morning session, "a bit of hard graft" as our Scottish friends would say.

Then a minor miracle happened.  We carved our way down to a layer of firm, water repelling stuff.  This is the long sought "laminate", a compressed layer of organic stuff.  Twigs, boards, bones.  Other stuff we do not want to think too much about.

The following are some pictures of artifacts we found down deep, they come up immaculate.  And, some wooden stuff.  Sure, wood may seem boring, but keep in mind that the last time daylight hit this stuff was 18 centuries ago.  (Maybe 19, we need to find a nice coin for dating purposes.  And we will, oh yes, we will).

The above is a bit of Roman glass.

You don't dig this stuff in the usual fashion.  We put one excavator down into the "active layers".  He or she cuts squares of the laminate which when dry is something like felt.  Two wheel barrows are perched above and mats of laminate are picked apart by bare hands.  It seems excessive but recall that the real prize to be sought are the famous wooden writing tablets.  These "Post It Notes" of the ancient world contain information that can't be found anywhere else.  But they are so very, very fragile that bashing about with shovels or even trowels can destroy them.

So we crush and crumble the lumps, looking for that elusive little rectangle of thin wood.  I thought, just maybe, that I had one today.....

I was told, "Good eye", the right size and material but this is just a little bit too thick, and one side should be polished a bit smoother.  Keep looking.

For the next two days - and the weather is forecast to be glorious - that is just what I shall do.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Vindolanda 2014 Day Seven

I am going to have a hard time making today's post interesting.  The subject matter is:  mud.

We are still dropping down to the hopefuly productive layers where organic material slumbers pristine after 1800 years.  But we are not there yet.  In our way are layers of rock, clay and mud.

The problem is that the Romans were so damned diligent in their efforts to create firm foundations in this swampy place.  Wagon loads of solid clay were excavated miles away and with tools made primarily of wood.  Laboring horses and mules  hauled it up the steep hill to the fort site.  Lacking wheel barrows they had to transfer the stuff in - we think -wicker baskets.  Then add layers of rock and rubble and pack it down.  Repeat as needed.

In addition to the formidible barrier thus created we have another problem.  The dense clay acts as a drain field for the surrounding area.  And it rains.  Almost every day.

So water pours in, making our task a sloppy wrestling match.  Sometimes you can hardly see your tools under their coating of gummy glop.

You will have to take my word for it, there is a mattock in there somewhere.

Progress is slow.

You have rusty mud where the local low grade iron has leached into the soil.  You have grey mud that is exactly the consistency of modeling clay.  In fact, you could just pick out a few random bits of charcoal and pottery and use the stuff we are digging in for that purpose.  When it rains you get slovenly liquid mud, as water tumbles down through still functioning Roman street drains to generate clinging slime.  It splatters on my fellow diggers when we toss rocks into our wheelbarrows.

And somewhere , about a foot deeper, lies the dark and mysterious anaerobic mud.  Occasionally we come across a small clump of it.  You hold it up and inhale the vile yet wonderful odor.  It smells of promise.