New Who

News on the Beeb’s website that bloody Billie Piper is to be the new Doctor Who assistant. Oh gods, no…. Suddenly my hopes for a glorious new interpretation of a Brit classic for a new generation are sinking fast… What are they playing at?

Blake

A few days after shaking hands with a real life astronuat (see excited blog below!) I served Gareth Thomas on Friday – Blake from Blake’s 7 of course. So this week I met a man who sailed into space in an early ship which was little mroe than a flying tin can then a man who ran around a cardboard BBC set of a fictional starship. Cool. Yes, my job is still crap and dreadfully underpaid but occassionally it can be fun. I wonder if I’ll bump into Sylvester McCoy during the Festival again this summer? He was quite friendly – he was in a good mood because Kath, our kid’s buyer had found him exactly what he wanted when he wasn’t too sure of his information. I was loathe to mention the ‘B’ word as I’ve heard he gets pissed off that after decades of acting that show is all anyone ever mentions. However, he was okay with it, saying he doesn’t worry about it now since, when he reflects back on it, it gave him recognition and job security. Nice to meet him.

Dry history

I’d have to agree with Ariel that far too may historians, in the elusive quest for ‘respectable, heavyweight’ histories can veer too far into detail at the expense of readability. Regardless of how accurate your historical facts or how insightful your theories, if no-one reads the book, it is useless. Personally I attribute this, at least in part, to the fact that many academics – in many fields, not just history – write books as if they are writing for a peer-group reviewed journal. Having worked through mroe than a few of those in my time as well I can say some of them have two main problems. The first is that they are so worried their peers will find holes in thei arguments or, worse still, consider them ‘lightweight’ that they drag in far too much detail an an effort to draw on overwhelming evidence to back up their viewpoint. This has the unintentioned effect of boring the reader to death and rendering the prose unreadable. Couching far too much in ‘academese’ rather than plain English does not help.

The other problem is a much simpler one – many of these people simply don’t know how to write! Not everyone can do this well and all too many history books have grown out of a well-researched but poorly written doctoral thesis. Since one of the first rules of all kinds of writing is to know what audience you are aiming at, the author should know to make alterations from a document meant for academic research, to be read by a few experts on a panel and a book which many are meant to read. In modern academia there is an enormous pressure to publish. This has, along with the DTP revolution, lead to an explosion in the number of specialised journals and the articles to fill them, then even mroe articles refuting those articles by other academics. Indeed half of academia seems to spend it’s time refuting the other half in print. I’m all for peer review in specialise journals but certainly in my academic field I foudn it was becoming ridiculous – lecturers were publishing for the sake of publishing, not for valid academic reasons.

If you look at most job decsriptions for academic posts now you’ll see that they almost always expect the applicant not only to have a good degree or higher, research skills etc (teaching ability is low down the list – you only have to study to teach at secondary level, not higher it seems) but preferably (ie you better have it) a record of having been published. Once this meant only in said journals, of which there were many. Now it also means in book form, which frequently takes the form of basically publishing your doctoral thesis with a few pictures and hopefully a catchy title. While I am all for a range of books on many subjects and at many levels I have to say I think an awful lot – and not just vanity publications – are published for the wrong reasons and with too little editorial oversight.

Headsplitter

On a Sunday which lived up to it’s name I spent several happy hours walking along the beach all the way from North Berwick to the neighbouring village of Dirleston. Sipping some beer on a long, sandy beach with an arching sky of blue above you must be one of life’s simple pleasures. A 99 cone and shucking your shoes for a spot of paddling in the surf add to the pleasure. Warm sand underfoot contrasting with cool tidal water from the Forth and North Sea washing over my tootsies, sloshing over and back, little grains moving between my feet. How deep can you wade before the waves hit the bottom of your shorts? Always a fun game. Then lounging like a wee lizard on a rock to let the sun dry off your feet.

Today I am paying the price for spending far too many hours in the bright sunlight. Nope, no sunburn – I had slathered on sunblock all over before leaving the house and my shorts-encased legs are still the pale blue-white (Daz legs!) they were before I left. No, I found my eyes were very tired after nearly five hours of beachcombing. I figured last night it was a combination of lots of fresh air, miles of walking, sand getting in my eyes (the breeze blew dry sand across the wet in fascinating patterns) and the glare of bright sunlight from sea and sand.

But this morning my eyes were still rather painful. When I opened the blinds the early morning sunlight was like hot pokers in the eyeballs. I made it as far the end of my road but even the morning light, filtered through my very dark shades, was causing me a lot of pain. And I could feel the pressure building up in my head, like a balloon inflating behind my forehead. Fearing a migraine I retreated back to my flat and phoned in sick before entombing myself in my little boxroom study/library. Having no windows I could sit in total darkness surrounded by the scent of hundreds of books. All the better to watch the fascinating spirals and zigzag patterns which played out on my eyeballs… Major ouch. Alas, nothing to do but ride it out like a storm. It didn’t last too long but as any migraine sufferer will tell you, you’re washed out for hours afterwards. Even when I could venture back into my living room which is very airy and light I had to wear my shades as my eyes were still far too sensitive. Now the sun has finally gone down and my eyes feel a lot better. Who needs vampiric blood to be overly sensitive to bright daylight? You just need Celtic blood. Still, it was a fun day the day before, so it was worth it.

As I watched the coloured patterns play out on my eyes during the migraine though I was reminded of a passage in Stephen Baxter’s challenging Evolution. An early modern human suffers from migraines, but obviously her primitive hunter-gather tribe have no medical knowledge. She begins to attribute the images the headaches cause to spirits and gods and begins drawing the spirals and patterns in the dust, then later in ink on her face. Before long others too begin to copy these basic tattoos and it becomes a cultural signifier, showing who belongs to their group. Pure supposition but it would be nice to think the pain would cause some good.