red: bad, blue: good, green/purple: indifferent but willing to troll red/blue

I rode my bike down to the station to pick up some tickets for tomorrow. Turns out that while the first train for Malvern does in fact leave at 9:26 from Moor Street, the trains into town from University don’t actually start until five to ten.

Whatever; it’s not going to be hard to cycle down there. In fact, I’ll do that right now to be able to make proper plans. TC to the Mailbox is ten minutes at a good clip, even allowing (as it’s sensible to do so) for retarded pedestrians, angry geese and the tunnel); from the Mailbox to Moor Street, navigating by the skyline of plate-glass architectural abominations and across the pagoda-roundabout-rotary-supercollider, fifteen more. That’s not much of a problem. Apart from the only bike parking facilities being highly exposed, rather thin railings in a not particularly good neighbourhood, doable. I’ll just have to get up at a normal person time and hope crooks don’t think my bike is interesting enough.

In fact, hello ticket office man, can I buy a ticket for Malvern tomorrow? What do you mean that’s an extra £5, the internet doesn’t charge you that. Fine, I’ll get up another fifteen minutes earlier.

Back home via the post office. And oh, look, it’s started raining.

fuck I’m tired

life is a battlefield, and you’re Audie Murphy

When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.
– Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

There is indeed nothing quite like hopping on your bike at wat o’clock and zipping through a deserted campus at breakneck speed.

Feels good, man.

donnelly drove a grey hatchback with no bottom, all the creatures of the tarmac rose to sing to him

Exams are over and the sun is high and bright. Blockmates go to and fro indoors and out, underdressed and sometimes lobster-pink. The weather is lovely, for reading books in the shade or cycling up and down the canal. Except that I got another puncture (in the front wheel this time). So I walked, slowly, up the canal; the gates on the northern side of the Bristol Road are (again) shut, with all the heavy machinery and earthmovers that have been working thereabouts moved to the other side of the canal, but there’s another ramp Selly-side that makes the journey only a hundred metres longer and an extra road crossing more complicated. A good trip; one month into the year-long service plan I got at Halfords, it is one minor malfunction away from paying for itself, and I am now assured of a canal ride back for the next few Sainsbury’s journeys I make from TC, not that there will be many.

According to the grapevine, exam results are supposed to come out on the 18th of June; this is fine, as there is an airpower day school on the 19th that I’m staying to visit (Hovercraft will join me.) After which… My contract for next year’s house, I believe, comes into force on July 1st (so I’ll be paying rent from there; fortunately I’m much less insolvent than I thought I was.) My stay at TC ends on the eighth, I think (must check with Siz and arrange Moving Plans, but I intend to bring most of my stuff home anyway as I’ll be using it over the holidays).

The counselling Dr Basra recommended seems not to be the way. The nice learning support lady I talked to farmed most of my specific academic worries off either to my subject tutors (who I haven’t got so much out of) or to promising-sounding workshops on revision and procrastination LS are running next year.
Then a long list of questions about my general state of composure. How do you get on with the people you live with? Good, none I’m terribly close friends with but no fights either. Diet? Not bad. Exercise? Not bad. Self-harm, suicidal thoughts? No. Good relationship with family? Yeah, I think so. Anyone you’re particularly close to? All about the same, I think. Outside your family? Not in this city, not really, just a couple of good friends. Joined societies to meet people, but none of them grabbed my interest enough to keep visiting. What do you think counselling would help you with? I have no idea. I don’t know anything about counselling. I don’t know many people in this city, I don’t do much with my time, and I don’t really care enough about any of that enough to want to change it. I’m not miserable, but I’m not particularly happy, because I don’t really see the point in any of it, or see where I fit into life or see that I have a happy future. Something I could properly care about, some sort of proper direction, or just tell me what to do; that would be just fine, you know? Anything you can do about that? Not really.

Eh.

As one of lots of things I’ve been Meaning To Do and now have the time and freedom to, I played Dear Esther. It’s hard to describe what it is exactly – a ghost story with FPS controls? A shooter with no weapons, no items, and no enemies? An audiovisual tour of a dying dream? Whatever it is, it’s amazing, and highly recommended, even to people who aren’t normally into the vidjagaems. Go and download and play it if you own anything that runs on Source (argh, you’ve missed the free Portal offer, damn shame.)

all in Lincoln green

Went out with Jon, Siz and Greg (a different Greg, Jon’s next-year housemate rather than mine) to see Robin Hood (pretty much randomly selected.) It’s good to do things with friends, I’ve felt a bit reclusive lately. Anyway – while I’m hardly a proper Robin Hood nerd, I’m much more acquainted with him than with King Arthur, having (among other adulterations) read Roger Lancelyn Green’s truly lovely and deeply tragic version as a little boy, which I still remember well.

The first two acts of the film were not bad, it must be said. Not a Robin Hood film, but still not bad.
It begins with narration and titles in a wannabe-medieval font. Shit. Telling rather than showing, clear sign of lazy lazy filmmaking. Still, what are they saying? They’re saying… the kind of lunatic anti-government rhetoric I’m used to seeing from the furthest-right /k/ommandos. Double shit. (Inb4 “grab my SKS longbow, go inna woods”). After which, the actual content begins with an assault on a castle, which is all very manly and impractical and involves napalm (like every film battle ever seemingly has to; remember those napalm-lobbing Pictish trebuchets in that godawful ’04 King Arthur?) during which Richard the Lionheart gets shot. In the throat. And dies. At the start of the film. How’s that for shaking the legend up?

Meet our hero: an archer in the service of the punctured ex-king. I was hoping for a Crecy monologue in which he considers English punctuation, but instead he’s the brooding silent type Russell Crowe is in every movie ever. The plot thickens quickly; the intrigue begins, involving a dead man named Locksley! As he lays on the chainmail and deceits, saying very little except a bit of silly and cheap anti-classist rhetoric, Robin is backed up by “Will”, “John” and a bearded singing type I’m guessing is Alan. They’re fantastic, filling their archetypes perfectly and being highly entertaining without stealing the scene. Through a shower of arrows and plot points, they head back to England. There are fights, Frenchmen, an attractive fella with a shaved scalp named Godfrey, and someone uses the word “equerry”, which is a fantastic word which needs more airing.

King John was by far the most interesting character, his somewhat jarring Guatemalan (!) good looks notwithstanding; a clever, conflicted, conniving bastard, living in the shadow (and more importantly, the debt) of his warmongering brother. This was something that could have been played up more, but I’m very glad they did note that the fearless, peerless Coeur de Leon, the hero of the Hood legend, paragon and exemplar of all true English heroism, pretty much forced John’s “evil taxes” by draining the country’s funds swanning off to the Holy Land killing people. They could also have mentioned that he couldn’t speak English, resided in the British Isles for about two years total and spent most of those massacring Jews for the lulz, but given what they did to Robin I think there’s probably about enough iconoclasm going on in this film already.

Without going into much more detail (intrigue, impersonation and Frenchmen being bastards, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before) the first two thirds really weren’t bad: well executed plots, good characters, good casting (Cate Blanchett as an old, steely Marion), nice camerawork and authenticity. The only niggling point is that so far it’s got fuck all to do with Robin Hood. There is no robbing, no living in forests, nobody is even wearing green.

Then in the third act:
There is a generic and rather poor lolviolence medieval battle scene;
It turns out Robin Hood’s father wrote the Magna Carta;
Robin the grubby mercenary archer is suddenly a heroic figure, which is to say he jabbers about liberty with all the passion and self-awareness of a 21st century right-wing strawman;
There is a much bigger, much more generic and much worse lolviolence medieval battle scene, when the French stage D-Day;
No, really; the French landing craft assault on the Cliffs of Dover is beaten back by the army of England plus Robin, Maid Marion on horseback in full armour, Friar Tuck on horseback in chainmail underneath his habit, and a ragtag band of feral Sherwood children with sticks (I’m not even making this up. Honest. I wish I was);
There is some tax-related, King John-related dickery;
The named cast grab their rifles and American flags WOLVERIIIIIINES longbows and go inna woods;
Close with shitty narration and “AND SO THE LEGEND BEGINS”. Seriously?

Let’s have a look at some classic Hood elements and how this film did at them.
[ ] Swashing
[ ] Buckling
[ ] Living in woods
[ ] Wearing of green
[X] Tax
[ ] Robbing from rich
[ ] Giving to poor
[ ] Archery contest
[ ] Other display of amazing bowmanship
[X] Someone getting shot
[ ] “Historical accuracy”

THE FUCKING LANDING CRAFT GODDAMNIT WHAT. Are people so utterly retarded that they don’t understand an amphibious assault without them? They had Orcs using similar devices in the Return of the King film, but that was a) for a single, short river crossing b) actually a pretty nice example of the Evil Orcish Ingenuity of the books c) fantasy. Asterix did pretty much the same scene, with the Romans attacking Dover in wooden landing craft, but there it was funny; Asterix is not pretending to be realistic, and never lets historical accuracy get in the way of a good visual joke or a terrible verbal one.

But Robin goddamn “ostensibly realistic” Hood? In the year 1200 people did not have FLAT-BOTTOMED LANDING BOATS WITH ASSAULT RAMPS. I was half expecting them to start suppressing the English pillboxes with mounted Oerlikons, or for French woodpunk duplex drive tanks to roll out of the waves. Landing at Point Rain was intentionally based on Omaha Beach and it felt less like Omaha Beach than Robin Hood did. (Ah, my mistake; Sword Beach.) The moment I saw them I knew there was going to be a shot taken underwater with kicking legs, splashing and arrows slicing streams of bubbles through the surf. I called it. Fifteen seconds later it happened. I suppose I should be grateful we didn’t see someone firing an English longbow from horseback.

It’s probably still better than the BBC show. I haven’t watched it; all I know about it is that a) the villains are Normans in black veils and b) it includes among the Merry Men a female Muslim scientist who invents gunpowder… so don’t expect this to change.

Robin Hood (2010): two acts of a moderately good low fantasy film in a weird alternate universe, followed by a string of reaction-image-provoking stupidity. Why on earth? Did they think that Hollywood really needs another example of “sticks name of beloved and well-known story on completely unrelated and incoherent directorial outpourings”?

Brace for Eagle of the Ninth, starring Loch Lomond and an American with a truly stupid name…

post Black Death Europe, a child wearing its parents’ clothes

On Thursday morning I had an interview for the student mentoring thing, which I think went swimmingly. (Also, congratulations to Tom in order, who finally stopped being messed around by Hertfordshire and should now be a dead cert Stuff-Maker.) We passed our flat inspections (for some reason they didn’t even check my room – a good thing, there were a lot of spiders and biological warfare plants lying around). And on Friday (not Saturday – thank you, Tom R, and damn you exam board for that wretched clusterfuck of a timetable you gave me)… it was the Early Modern exam.

The signs were not initially in my favour.

Although the Early Modern course has a fantastic and comprehensive archive of revision material (there are more scans and sources uploaded to WebCT for one 20% block in Early Modern than the entire Late Modern and WAFS modules put together) and although it seemed to be the topic I liked and understood best of all, I was worried I hadn’t done anything like enough revision. Worse, after the catastrophe of the Late Modern exam and the mixed success of WAFS I was finding it somewhat hard to care, having completely lost confidence in my ability to exam and knowing I’ll clearly be doing retakes anyway. I was not in a terribly good temperament for exams. Oh, and remember The Unluckiest Finger, door-magnet of cars and chip shops alike? Guess what got the chop while slicing onions. That was a lot of blood. Fortunately Jess has a big box of plasters and is a wonderful person not to be put out by a flatmate leaking red all over the place.

And then, to put the tin lid on it, the invigilators were the same two who had been present for the Late Modern panic attack; moustache-man and asian-lady. So it was with serious trepidation I turned over the yellow question sheet at 2pm and read my fate.

I’d revised topics on urbanisation, food and Malthusian crises, demographic changes and population growth, Military Revolution, rebellion and General Crisis, each fairly specifically and without that much reference to others. There was one question on the paper about food and Malthusian crises in relation to demographic changes and population growth, and one about the Military Revolution’s influence on the General Crisis. The questions weren’t the ones I’d revised specifically for, but they were ones I could do confidently; I think it actually helped to be considering answers and angles in a different light rather than trying to remember my down-pat answers.

The essays I wrote weren’t perfect, but they were by far the best I’ve done in exams, and as well as being very happy with the overall structure, arguments and conclusions I planned, I managed my time much better and had myself ten minutes of final proofreading and broad grinning at the end. All in all? Objectively a success, relative to the others a triumph.

So, what’s next? SUMMER!

Well, that could have gone better! But I suppose it could have gone a lot worse.

Twenty possible subjects for the three-hour WAFS exam; we were advised to revise at least six properly. I was most confident about Strategic Air Power, Irregular Warfare, Warrior to Soldier, War & Economics and The Nature of Armed Forces, with a decent understanding of the horribly broad War & Society. At the other end of the spectrum, Total War was what gave me a panic attack last time, War & Gender was lunacy and if you think I’ve got Why Wars Begin down I’ve got some real estate to sell you in Glen Ross Farms. At the revision meeting I questioned the whole “gambling on good questions coming up” approach and didn’t really get a satisfactory answer.

Ten questions actually in the paper included one on War & Economics, one on Total War and on Why Wars Begin, a War & Society one based on a Marwick line I couldn’t remember, and no other subjects that I’d covered in depth.

Ugh.

Elected to do: War & Economics, one on the laws of war with particular regard to the World Wars, and one on military change since 1900 being evolutionary or revolutionary. War & Economics: can belligerents benefit economically from wars? Yes! And no! Here is a lot of semirelated evidence, a Gran Chaco namedrop (I wasn’t certain if it was Bolivia vs Paraguay so I guessed – and I was right!) and an ambiguous conclusion. Done!

Laws of war! Are they meaningless considering the realities of war? Specialist knowledge on chemical weapons, dum-dums vs FMJs and Eastern Front prison camps to the fore. Felt good about that one despite only knowing a couple of terms of the Hague Convention. Done!

Military developments! Made an essay plan, a really good ambitious one, and two paragraphs into expanding the plan realised I was ten minutes from the end of the exam.
Took the rest of the plan and added immense amounts of detail, so that the bullet-pointed not-quite-paragraphs had most of the content of the intended final product if none of the polish, and felt I’d done about as well as I could considering. It definitely demonstrated a lot of historical knowledge, of that I’m certain. Spent the final minute polishing the first two paragraphs to say This Is What I Would Have Done and just stopped thinking about it.

So, 2.5/3 essays done. I clearly need to learn better time management. But I put down lots of relevant-seeming information, and I didn’t spaz out and break down, so I guess this sort of goes in the win column?

I am knackered and am now going to bed.