"There have been some big developments, just this week, just in the past few days actually.... on King Arthur"
Every class starts out like this. New developments, moving very fast, totally earth-shattering. No further details. The first week was not too bad, but the second week was mostly the same as the first week. We went back over all the same stuff, and he told the same stupid stories. He claims that when he's looking for information in a book, it just opens at the right page. "The first time I got a bit freaked out, the second time it happened I got REALLY freaked out, but then after it happened four, five, six times... I just stopped caring". Right, so what are you suggesting here Mr Professor? That you have book magic? On one of these tellings (we have the same story every week) he adds "it's almost as if the information WANTED to be found". Sentient information, using supernatural power, to reveal itself to you. Is that what we're going for here? Also, it would be more effective if when you did actually have to look up something in a book in front of everyone, you didn't take 5 minutes to do so, scrambling around in the index totally unable to find what you want. I guess that information didn't want to be known. There are so many problems with this course. The classes are clearly unplanned and are being more or less made up as we go along. It took him 4 weeks to get a register. In the first week he didn't know what time his own class started. In week two we are told we are going to be focusing on a farm belonging to someone in the class, to see what we can find out about it. After that, it is never mentioned again. "I'm going to give you all an area to look at", he says in week one. It is never mentioned again. Like all historians, he hates all other historians and derides them as idiots. "We must follow the evidence", he says repeatedly. This is a good mantra, but alas he is prone to telling us that what he's about to say cannot be proven at all in any way and there is no evidence to support it, but it's definitely right. Often he presents things as evidence which prove flimsy when subjected to even basic research. One week's lesson was based mostly on Calanais, and someone asked whether the stones there were naturally occurring, or had they been quarried? The reply was really quite incredible. "I've never thought about that before", said the Professor, teaching a class to people, an entire lesson of which is devoted to Calanais. 'I don't know' would be one thing. But 'I've never thought about that before'? Seriously? The most basic question anyone could ask about standing stones?
What he has done is written a book, a book about a way of looking at history which he is calling geomythography. What he appears to want is credit for inventing this, and lots of other people to go and do the work for him, because he's too busy with... well... stuff, y'know? He has made a youtube video about the process; the rest of his channel consists of videos of him playing the guitar in front of a poor quality webcam. The classes often remind me at best of a Graham Hancock, at worst of some of the people who run around Rennes-Le-Chateau. There's very little direction or point, we're not really being taught anything, we're just being shown stuff. Each week my note-taking has dwindled ever more, this week I lost my pen on the way over and it didn't even matter, there was nothing worth writing down. This course could have been a half-hour podcast. Thanks for downloading; you should listen to old folklore and stories because they might have historical details in them that relate to the local landscape. By the way, in Gaelic mythology there is the Cailleach, which means old woman or hag, and some mountains in Scotland have her name or something like it. Some of them sort of look a bit like the outline of a person, or a woman lying down. Here are some photos, thanks for your money, I'm going to invest it in a better webcam. Goodnight!
We are shown a photograph of an island in a loch. It looks like a person lying down. It actually does.
"And here is the photo... hot off the press... just the last couple of days this has developed..."
We're actually going to get some detail! The breakthrough on King Arthur!
And it's a photograph. Apparently one of these hills is called something that sounds a bit like Arthur. And... if you sort of crop off the bits that you don't want... then it sort of looks a bit like a man lying down! And that's it. That is the major development on King Arthur. Somebody (not him, of course... he describes himself as 'co-ordinating' the process) has taken a picture of some hills that look a bit like someone lying down, and they have a name that sounds like Arthur! This MEANS SOMETHING!!
And at that point I decided I was not coming back for week six.
In Langholm there is a board commemorating Neil Armstrong's visit to the town. In 1972 he visited the town, invited by a fellow Armstrong. Neil had apparently traced his family roots back to Northern Ireland and the Scottish Borders, and in his speech he said he felt he had come home. Well, he always did have a knack for knowing just the right thing to say. He was awarded the freedom of the town, then of course went home and never came back.
A good part of the allure of ancient sites is their remoteness, the separateness from present settlement. There's a journey to get there, a building of the sense of the mystical. Often you find yourself alone among stones or earthen ditches, engulfed in the vastness of the larger landscape, trapped in the silence. There is a school of thought that these sites were always so, deliberately apart from dwelling areas to maintain precisely that sense of journey and occasion.
Review of 'A Spell To Ward Off The Darkness' submitted to imdb.com
Our main character here is scarcely a character at all. He speaks no words, and though he is often seen in contemplation, we are never privy to his thoughts, or even a suggestion of them. He remains an outsider in communities of outsiders. He haunts the periphery at a Scandinavian commune, never much a part of anything, barely even there. We could scarcely imagine that this film is about him having gone through the commune section; only when we see him aboard the boat linking back to the long ponderous opening are we able to form the link. We see him in a building with some clothing, some postcards, some hint of a root perhaps? Does he inhabit this world or is he just passing through it? We are comprehensively denied an answer moments later when he stands passively watching the building burn to the ground. Finally we see him in a black metal band on stage, again an outsider among outsiders, back from the main glare of the wandering camera, seeming barely to contribute, barely to exist. When he does take the microphone and the camera we wonder, is this then at last his identity? It would seem not so either, as the show's end sees him immediately removing his corpse paint and disappearing without word or connection through a back door into a nondescript modern car park, unhurried, destination unknown.
The band are pretty good, although often shown to be lip and instrument syncing. Their audience consists surprisingly mostly of short- haired, albeit bearded, men and a long pan around them leaves us also to wonder at their thoughts and motivations. This is a film that offers no answers, and you must come up with the questions yourself. It is not quite a documentary; we presume the commune and its characters are real, we know the band are not, we know our main character is an actor. It's also very strongly not a drama, there is little 'acting' in the common sense and there is certainly no scripting. But there is direction and there is, just, editing.
Our sole plot device would seem to be the burning. Those of us already attuned to black metal will immediately recognise the visual link to church burnings. For many of us the house, the home, the possessions within it and the links that they give us are sacred, they become our spirituality and our strength, and perhaps therefore also our weakness. Our character knows no home, no identity, no ties, he wishes (we assume) to be and remain rootless in the world. All of life to him is but a passing transitional phase. He is on some level attracted, as I myself am, to two seemingly opposite scenes; the idealism and togetherness of the finger-up-the-asshole hippy commune and the bleak misanthropic individualism of black metal. He participates in both but belongs to neither.
If that is it by way of 'plot', we must look next to direction and editing for a message. We always assume there must be a message, an agenda, a purpose. We assume it of films and we assume it of ourselves and others, but it may not always be there, and it shouldn't always need to be.
Our directors break apart our main sections with shots of the dark lake of the opening, which was almost pushed to breaking point. Our character is seen on the water with a gun propped in his boat, a powerful symbol of violence and control among the tranquil silence. It and the burning speak of some desire to control at least a portion of his world while passing through it, indeed the withdrawal from mainstream society could be seen as a desire for total control, total independence. Our hippies yabber on philosophy, our character is a living philosophy that is not in need of words to explain itself. The other has only words, yet still cannot.
Where they come closest is in the amusing analogy of the finger in the asshole. Perhaps someone was left out, it is suggested. Perhaps so, it is conceded, but I feel sorry for that person. The breaking down of mental barriers with the shared atmosphere and nudity of the sauna finds its logical conclusion in the breaking down of all physical barriers. What could be more invasive yet more uniting than a finger in the asshole?
There is one person missing out, both then and now; our character is nowhere to be seen.
There is a second stone circle not far from the first. This is larger, though it is not known which came first. Carbon dating requires something to have once been alive and you don't get that from stone. Half of the circle is missing, leaving a semi-circle that drops away. At some point in history the river changed its course and ate up the ground the circle inhabited. It's a reminder that what we look at in a landscape may be very different to how our ancient ancestors saw it when they were alive. Cleared farm land is all around here, sheep are free to wander through these circles. There is a school of thought that sites presently identified generically as hill forts were not fortifications but meeting places, their 'fortifications' nothing more than walls to keep out livestock. The stone circle here shows why; there's something less than reverential in the sheep droppings that dot this place.
Practically no evidence of warfare has been found at the sites of hill forts. A great many are very obviously completely unsuited to be defensive structures, they make no sense in that context. Chesters Hill Fort in East Lothian for example has a larger, higher piece of ground rising directly in front of it. In a culture which possessed and used arrows giving up such a massive advantage would be unthinkable. Similarly, not many artefacts are turned up at stone circles. Most seem to have solar and lunar alignments relating to solstices. Markers of time. Like the town clock they are seen and used by all, but you'd rarely actually need to spend any length of time there, probably for most people it would be none at all, ever.
There are many other sites along the 'Prehistoric Trail' through Eskdalemuir. Tribal villages from the time of the Roman empire, 'hill forts'. Humankind have a history of reusing the same sites over and over and I wonder how much our view of the past is skewed by the most significant sites being right underneath places that are still our most significant sites today.
Excavation at Edinburgh Castle revealed a 2000 year old bronze brooch. It was buried no less than six metres below the current level, the same sort of use and reuse seen at the site presently believed to be Troy, each level built on another, up and up. Christians built their early churches over existing sites of religious or ritual significance, and often were in turn built upon again and again with newer, more glorious buildings. We think of stone circles as being absolutely central to ancient life, the main focus of entire communities. Evidence does not seem to support this, however. Perhaps the truth is that they were always remote, apart, separate, and it is only that separateness that has retained so many of them. Settlements were used and reused over and over but the circles stand where they are, their only adaptation being that sheep now wander through them.
Edinburgh Castle is a military site. It's easy to forget this. It's also easy to forget that a great deal of the castle is not that old. The great gatehouse dates only to 1888. The Argyle Tower that rises over the inner gate came the year before, 1887. The military prison, 1842, the massive 'new barracks' which dominate the view from the west, 1799. There is of course St Margaret's Chapel, 1130, though its restoration dates to 1845, its stained glass windows to 1922. The Great Hall, 1512, but again everything except the ceiling timbers are from the restoration of 1886. The Great Hall was taken over as a military barracks, three floors squashed into it, new windows cut into the wall.
The fetishisation of the military is everywhere. Out front on the Esplanade soldiers are marching, guns over shoulders. Marching around with arms and legs going through ludicrous posturing. The man in charge has his troops all stand, then walks around them in a square waving his white-gloved hands up and down and making sharp 90 degree turns on the corners, while his company just stand and stare ahead at nothing. What purpose does any of this serve? Outside the castle are two guard boxes, where two poor sods have to stand and stare straight ahead at nothing, reacting to nothing, which surely defeats their purpose as guard. Wouldn't you want a guard to be looking out for stuff? And there are museums galore here; The Regimental Museum of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, The Museum of the Royal Scots and the Royal Regiment Of Scotland, The Scottish National War Museum. The latter's "outstanding collection presents the story of Scots at war from the creation of the first standing army in the 1600s to the present. It provides a personal perspective of more than 300 years of warfare". Who on earth thinks that 300 years of warfare is something to glory in? Outside the museum stands the relocated statue of Field Marshall Haig. Previously it stood out on the Esplanade, where it grew increasingly unpopular and controversial. Officially it was removed to allow works for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, but there's also a little sense of it being taken off to a safe place, back among his own kind, people who understand the senseless slaughter of millions is only good and proper. If we remember the First World War, 'The Great War', let us remember it as the tragedy it actually was; a brutal war fought for absolutely no reason whatsoever, to gain nothing, to the benefit of no-one. The senseless, pointless, needless deaths of those millions involved, driven on by government propaganda that scapegoated and even executed those who wouldn't feed themselves to the machine. And then, when it was all over, we raised monuments and called their sacrifice glorious, laying down their lives for King and country and a noble cause. It is sometimes even called 'The Just War'. And now to honour the slaughtered we obsess over the military machine that chewed them up, these "heroes", professional killers, who protect our freedom by invading countries we have no business being in and bombing schools, hospitals, and even their own comrades in 'friendly fire' accidents. We must worship them and thank them, these heroes, have them be special guests at all our sporting events where we will applaud them. The military myth perpetuates itself on and on, which is why we have 300 years of warfare to put into museums, and why people are poncing around and staring at nothing on the Castle Esplanade right now. He's like a little clockwork toy, the leader, the commander, whatever the appropriate title is. He seems to take a lot of steps to cover not a lot of ground. Stop kicking so high pal, you'd get around your square in half the time. Put your arms down as well, you're wasting a lot of energy. You're going to need that energy if anyone comes to attack you, because your guards certainly aren't going to do shit on that score. I'd get rid of them to be honest, you know that there's CCTV these days?
David's Tower was built up like a medieval keep, over 100 feet high, based on the Norman strongholds he had seen. In the siege of 1573 it collapsed. The siege was then ended, not because the huge tower had fallen down, but because it had fallen into the well and no-one could get anything to drink. The Half-Moon Battery was then built over the remains and then everyone forgot about David's Tower until 1912 when it was rediscovered. You can go under the Battery into those remains, or at least the sections of it that have been opened. It's frustrating to be kept to the designated platforms while looking out onto little corridors that lead away into unknown areas. One of them, a little cavern-like opening, has something green growing in its entrance despite the complete lack of any natural light. Calcified stalactites are forming on the ceilings, it's as dark and damp here as the chapterhouse at Dryburgh Abbey.