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Friday, 29 February 2008
It’s enough!

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It’s been a some years since I’ve seen a sticker like this with a political message. This one is on a lamppost in Nanterre, Paris, and is calling for an end to homophobia, lesbophobia and transphobia.

Posted by bigblue on 29/02/2008 at 09:54 PM
Filed under: EuropeFrance • (1) CommentsPermalinkBookmark or Share
Thursday, 28 February 2008
Superstitious train company

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Waiting for the train to Paris. While walking up to the stopping point for coach 17 i noticed that Eurostar does not have a coach 13.

Posted by bigblue on 28/02/2008 at 05:58 AM
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Wednesday, 27 February 2008
Medieval Torture

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The museum of Medieval Torture can be found on the South side of Charles Bridge in Prague. There is a review of this museum over at Anti-War.Com:

Upon entering one of a series of gloomy, cave-like rooms, filled with the implements of the dismal craft that had its heyday from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century, you would notice a range of mechanical devices and iron tools (also illustrated in drawings galore), all once meant to pierce, prod, or otherwise drive some poor heretic into the agony of confession. Often in those years before video cameras were available, all this was done in public sight.

And then, as you wound your way through the exhibit, you would come upon one of its centerpiece displays – the “water torture table” to which Bradbury [the head of the US Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel] alludes. After you’d checked out the period drawings of prisoners being tied to the edges of the flat tabletop or read about the interrogation method in which the water-filled abdomen was struck repeatedly with heavy blows, you might stop for a moment to consider the more detailed explanatory text nearby.

It would inform you that, over the course of these centuries, several water torture techniques were developed, one of which involved “inserting a cloth tube into the mouth of the victim [and] forcing it as deep as possible into his throat. The tube was then filled slowly with water, swelling up and choking the victim.” This is, in fact, an almost exact description of what has been described as CIA-style waterboarding.

Bonus link: Links to various torture museums around the world.

This evening I received a short email from a woman working at Service Canada, headed “YAY!” and advising me that we could relax as she was not pregnant, as her period had arrived.  I was obviously very relieved not to have made her pregnant, especially as I don’t even remember us actually meeting…

Posted by bigblue on 27/02/2008 at 09:32 PM
Filed under: EuropeCzech Republic • (3) CommentsPermalinkBookmark or Share
Tuesday, 26 February 2008
Bits of roof and drainpipe

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This is an old building in Pyrcroft Road, Chertsey. I was struck by the bits of roof and drainpipes on the side of the house and adjacent to the chimney.

Posted by bigblue on 26/02/2008 at 09:18 PM
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Newgate of Chester

Chester Newgate

This is the Roman Amphitheatre at Chester, with the Newgate section of the city wall pictured in the background.  The building on the extreme right (partly obscured) is a public house called Off the Wall.  According to English Heritage, the Cheshire Amphitheatre is

The largest Roman amphitheatre in Britain, used for entertainment and military training by the 20th Legion, based at the fortress of ‘Deva’ (Chester). Excavations by English Heritage and Chester City Council in 2004-5 revealed two successive stone-built amphitheatres with wooden seating. The first included access to the upper tiers of seats via stairs on the rear wall, as at Pompeii, and had a small shrine next to its north entrance. The second provided seat access via vaulted stairways. The two buildings differed both from each other and from all other British amphitheatres, underlining the importance of Roman Chester.

There are visible signs of excavation (fenced off areas, tarpaulins and the like) and 24 Hour Museum has a 2004 story about a two year project to conduct excavations on the site.  I hope that these were not abandoned half-way though, because that’s what it looks like! 

The Black and White Pics website has more detailed information on the amphitheatre, and they say that it is not the largest (of the 19 Roman amphitheatres of Britain), the largest being at Maunbury Rings, Dorchester.  According to the Black and White Pics website (ibid):

They were mainly used for military training, but were also opened to the civilian population for ‘recreations’ (spectacula) such as bull baiting, cock fighting, mock hunts- in which well-equiped huntsmen slaughtered wild animals released into the arena- wrestling and boxing. This latter was a popular, though brutal sport in Roman times.The fighters wore no protection, and instead of gloves had metal-studded leather thongs wrapped around their wrists.
Amphitheatres were also used for the public execution of criminals- both military and civilian- and for the celebration of state and religious special events. These latter would have featured the sort of gladiatorial combat (munera) with which Hollywood has so recently once again made us familiar. A relief carving on slate, found nearby in Newgate Street, showing a retiarius- a gladiator who fought with a trident and net, would seem to confirm that this type of activity went on here
...
Gladiators could be of either sex and were drawn from the ranks of slaves, prisoners of war and petty criminals, to whom the dangers of the arena may well have been preferable to the alternative fates that awaited them elsewhere. Those offenders against the state- including many early Christians- who were deemed a threat to Imperial authority, were condemned ad bestias, ‘to the beasts’- these unfortunates were left tied to a stake, or as an extra ‘refinement’ were pushed naked and unarmed into the arena, where wild and half-starved animals were turned loose on them.
In the centre of the arena here in Chester, a series of postholes set into narrow gullies (hidden from view today) suggest the possible presence of a timber platform of some kind- possibly a scaffold. This structure may have been temporary, being erected only when required. (It was this structure that encouraged the original assumption that the original amphitheatre had been timber-built).

Here is a second photograph of the Chester amphitheatre, which I took looking in the opposite direction from the top of the city wall at Newgate:
Chester Roman Amphitheatre

As always, click on either photograph to embiggen.

In both photographs the rather shambolic state of the site is evident, despite the fact that the light was not very good when I took the photos. Unfortunately it was also windy so I did not explore the site nor read the notices that would advise as to the status of the archaeological dig.  The Official Blog of the Chester Amphitheatre Project was last updated on 30 October 2007, so hopefully it has just shut down temporarily for the winter.

Posted by bigblue on 26/02/2008 at 08:22 AM
Filed under: EuropeUnited KingdomEngland • (3) CommentsPermalinkBookmark or Share
Monday, 25 February 2008
Eastgate of Chester

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It was here that I found the German-speaking machine on Saturday.

Chester is a city famous for its complete medieval walls - the only city in the United Kingdom that has a full remaining set of such walls.  However this is a somewhat misleading fact, because the walls have been built and renovated several times since the medieval times.  There is a rather patchy article at Wikipedia which has some historical information:

The city Chester was founded as a Roman fort at the head of the River Dee estuary in AD 79, in the territory of the Cornovii tribe. It was named Deva either after the goddess of the Dee, or directly from the British name for the river. Deverdoeu was still one of two Welsh names for Chester in the late 12th century; its other and more enduring Welsh name was Caerlleon, literally “the fortress-city of the legions”, a name identical with that of the Roman fortress at the other end of the Marches at Caerleon (Mon.). The colloquial modern Welsh name is the shortened form, Caer. The early English-speaking settlers used a name which had the same meaning, Legacæstir, which was current until the 11th century, when – in a further parallel with Welsh usage – the first element fell out of use and the simplex name Chester emerged. From the 14th century to the 18th the city’s prominent position in north-western England meant that it was commonly also known as Westchester.

The photo above is (apparently) of the second-most photographed clock in the UK which, according to aiden,

is regarded as the most familiar and most cliched image of Chester.

I have previously posted a photo of the most photographed clock in the UK.

The Black and White Picture website has some in-depth information about the clock:

At the end of the 19th century there was much discussion as to the best method of commemorating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee - 60 years on the throne - and a committee was convened to settle the matter. Altogether, Chester had raised £1,800 for the Jubilee Fund, one-third being for “general rejoicings”, one-third for a nursing scheme but the final third was the subject of much debate. Some wanted support for their favourite charities. Extensions to the Bluecoat School and Infirmary were suggested. The inevitable statue was proposed. But then the offer of a commemorative clock was made by Colonel E. Evans-Lloyd, and this was accepted. The eminent Chester architect, John Douglas was asked to design it, and some local relations of his, the Swindleys of Overleigh Road, who happened to be specialists in ornamental ironwork, were commissioned to produce the mounting for the clock and the railings for the top of the gate. The clock itself was made by the old company of J. B. Joyce of Whitchurch, who are to this day responsible for maintaining it.

The clock was run by weights instead of springs, thus enabling it to keep more accurate time. The pendulum was said to beat every one and a quarter seconds and the pendulum ball weighed one hundred-weight. The clock’s builders formerly had to make frequent visits to wind the mechanism but since its conversion to electricity, this is no longer necessary.

The clock was formally unveiled by the Mayoress of Chester and Miss Sybil Clarke, Col. Evans-Lloyd’s niece. During the ceremony, Colonel Evans-Lloyd said the clock was his humble contribution to his native city and he “hoped that by day and night it would prove to be a comfort and convenience, noy only to the citizens, but to the many tourists who visited the city”.

For years, he said, he had wished to see a clock on the Eastgate and he had first investigated the possibility ten years previously, though the difficulty had always been to find a receptacle on which to place it. The handsome Jubilee Memorial Tower had finally solved the problem.

J. B. Joyce, the designers of the Eastgate Clock, continue in business to this day- they even have a website- and are now part of the Smith of Derby Group. Founded in 1690, they are arguably the oldest surviving clock-making company and their clocks grace buildings throughout the world. One of the most famous is the magnificent mechanism and dial at the Shanghai Custom House. Built in 1927, it was the largest clock ever made at the time and became affectionately known as Big Ching.

Other Joyce clocks are in the post offices in Sydney and Adelaide in Australia; in Nairobi, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth in Africa and in Rangoon, Calcutta, Delhi and Kabul in Asia. There are also Joyce clocks in North and South America and in Canada, and there’s even one on the Falkland Islands, at Port Stanley.

I found some historical photographs of the Eastgate:

Plus, a bonus Chester link:

The Wikipedia article does contain some interesting information about the city, but you can see why I referred to the article as patchy just from the following excerpt:

On January 13, 2002, Chester was granted Fairtrade City status. This status was renewed by the Fairtrade Foundation on August 20, 2003.

Cestrians are often jokingly perceived as being anti-Welsh. This supposed animosity could be the reason that the Town Hall clock does not face west towards Wales so as not to give the Welsh the “time of day”.[citation needed] An archaic notice states any Cestrian may shoot a Welshman with a longbow if he loiters within the walls after sunset when the curfew bell chimes (although this law no-longer offers legal protection against prosecution for murder and this urban myth may be rooted in a local byelaw).

And as you can tell the Wikipedia sentences are badly constructed too!

Posted by bigblue on 25/02/2008 at 08:30 AM
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Sunday, 24 February 2008
Camden Town Hall

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From inside, looking out through the doorway, after the civil partnership ceremony was over.

Posted by bigblue on 24/02/2008 at 02:29 PM
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Grafitti tags at Honor Oak Park

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Mmm. So they had to climb down on the tracks to scribble that?

Posted by bigblue on 24/02/2008 at 01:09 PM
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