440 days of plague

I was in the office again today, entirely on my own, which gave me the freedom to play loud music and yell at the top of my voice; but that gets old fairly quickly as it turns out. Who knew?

Both the Belgian numbers and the weather have been improving, which greatly lifts the spirits. As I predicted lsat time, the number of COVID patients in hospital is now well below where it had since before the October lockdown, and the number of new infections seems likely to drop below that benchmark in the next week or ten days (and the number of ICU patients, currently the slowest moving indicator, will not be far behind). We actually got out to our favourite restaurant for dinner last night, for the first time since last summer.

I walked back with U, who had firm views about the route that we needed to take, deviating twice from my preferred shortcuts (in orange).

Already noted both our guests of the previous weekend and my museum trip on Monday last week. We also profited from the good weather yesterday to walk at the nearby Doode Bemde nature reserve.

Not sure how soon it will happen, but I do feel that we’re nearer the end than the start of all this.

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My tweets

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Whoniversaries 31 May

i) births and deaths

31 May 1940: birth of Peter Mayock who played Ibrahim Namin in Pyramids of Mars (Fourth Doctor, 1975) and Solis in The Deadly Assassin (Fourth Doctor, 1976)

31 May 1948: birth of Lynda Bellingham, who played the Inquisitor in the Sixth Doctor’s Season 23 (1986), and returned to the role for some excellent Big Finish plays.

31 May 1983: birth of Reggie Yates who played Martha’s brother Leo in the 2007 series of Doctor Who.

ii) broadcast anniversaries

31 May 1969: broadcast of seventh episode of The War Games. The Doctor and friends start a rebellion, capturing the 1917 chateau from General Smythe.

31 May 2008: broadcast of Silence in the Library

31 May 2010: broadcast of Robot Gladiators, twenty-first episode of the Australian K9 series. K9 and the crew take on and shut down an illegal, underground robot fight club.

One more month to go in this project. It’s been interesting to come back to this ten years on – there’s actually been much less Who since 2011 than there was in the 2005-10 period, when you also had Torchwood and Sarah Jane in the mix, so the updates have generally not needed to be substantial.

Another genealogy case

I had a new DNA detective case last week. I connected via Reddit with a young woman in Las Vegas, who I’ll call Maria. She had done the 23andMe test, and was surprised to find that her ancestry was more or less exactly 25% African. Her mother’s family are of European descent, and her mother had always told Maria that her father was Mexican or Central American, but also that she could not remember any more details. (Her mother is, to put it delicately, not a reliable reporter. Maria and her half-brothers have been brought up by their mother’s parents.)

By the time I connected with her, Maria had already put most of the pieces together herself, and in particular had found someone on 23andMe whose DNA overlap with her is 16%, within the range that you’d expect for a first cousin (or a half-aunt/uncle or half-niece/nephew, or a great-aunt/uncle or great-niece/nephew or a great-grandparent, but we can eliminate those possibilities for various reasons). The cousin recalled a long-lost uncle, Jamie Jr, named after her equally long-lost grandfather, Jamie Sr. The cousin also provided a recent photo of Jamie Jr and Rose, his mother, and Maria and her other grandmother felt confident that there was a resemblance between her and Jamie Jr around the nose and eye shapes. Rose is of European descent, and Jamie Sr is African-American, so that tied up neatly with Maria’s genetic results.

It took a couple of days for Maria and me to untangle the various possibilities, including dead ends and false trails in Louisiana and Pennsylvania. I was eventually able to track down both Jamie Sr in Portland, Oregon, and Jamie Jr in Los Angeles. To make matters more complex, both are known by their (shared) middle name, which has an unusual spelling that the cousin did not know about. Putting together the DNA tests, family history and public records, Jamie Jr is almost certainly Maria’s biological father, unless he has a brother somewhere who has been forgotten both by his family and by California bureaucracy.

I found no record of Jamie Jr having married or having had other children, but the closer you get to the present day, the less reliable it is to argue that absence of evidence is evidence of absence. However, he has a substantial criminal record, which is partly why it was relatively easy to find a trail for him online. Maria is familiar with her mother’s taste in men, and was not surprised by this at all. Given her mother’s general vagueness (to put it delicately again), Jamie Jr is almost certainly unaware of Maria’s existence.

Maria has decided to keep it that way. She has a name and a photo, and an explanation of why she looks quite so different from her half-brothers. But, as she put it in one of her emails, “I don’t need another disappointment and false hope in my life after what my mother has put me through. I think having my answer is satisfying enough .” She is still at high school, but she has a good head on her shoulders.

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August 2011 books

This is the latest post in a series I started in late 2019, anticipating the twentieth anniversary of my bookblogging which will fall in 2023. Every six-ish days, I've been revisiting a month from my recent past, noting work and family developments as well as the books I read in that month. I've found it a pleasantly cathartic process, especially in recent circumstances. If you want to look back at previous entries, they are all tagged under bookblog nostalgia.

I started August by inspecting the sculpture too scandalous to see in Brussels. We spent the second half of the month in Northern Ireland, where we did a particularly lovely trip to County Tyrone:

While in Northern Ireland I completed my rewatch of twentieth century Doctor Who.

Over the 31 days of the month I read 31 books:

non-fiction 11 (YTD 46)
Full House, by Stephen Jay Gould
The Plot Against Pepys, by James Long and Ben Long
Primate Robinson, 1709-94, by A.P.W. Malcolmson
The End of the Peer Show? ed. Alexandra Fitzpatrick
A Reader's Companion to A Civil Campaign, edited by Nikohl K. & John Lennard
Science & Technology in 19th-Century Ireland, ed Juliana Adelman & Éadaoin Agnew
Granuaile: Grace O'Malley – Ireland's Pirate Queen, by Anne Chambers
Early Christian Lives, ed. Carolinne White
George Herbert, Priest and Poet, by Kenneth Mason
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: A Practical Guide, by Elaine Iljon Foreman and Clair Pollard
Neurolinguistic Programming: A Practical Guide, by Neil Shah

fiction (non-sf) 7 (YTD 35)
Niccolò Rising, by Dorothy Dunnett
Tales from Shakespeare, by Charles and Mary Lamb
The Broad Highway, by Jeffrey Farnol
Old Goriot, by Honoré de Balzac
The Collector of Treasures, by Bessie Head
The Naming of the Dead, by Ian Rankin
Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe

sf (non-Who) 6 (YTD 49)
Western Shore, by Juliet E. McKenna
Last Call, by Tim Powers
Timescape, by Gregory Benford
Jewels of the Sun, by Nora Roberts (barely qualified as sf due to having two friendly ghosts)
The Second Interzone Anthology, ed. John Clute
The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood

Doctor Who / Torchwood 5 (YTD 54)
Another Life, by Peter Anghelides
Lords of the Storm, by David N. McIntee
No Future, by Paul Cornell
Dominion, by Nick Walters
Trace Memory, by David Llewellyn

Comics 2 (YTD 19)
Mourir à Creys-Malville, by Santi-Bucquoy
Lichaamstaal Wordt Banaal /When Body Language Goes Bad, by Scott Adams

~8,400 pages (YTD ~58,100)
13/31 (YTD 41/203) by women (Fitzpatrick, Nikohl K, Adelman/Agnew, Chambers, White, Foreman/Pollard, Dunnett, Lamb, Head, Stowe, McKenna, Roberts, Atwood)
2/31 (YTD 11/203) by PoC (Shah, Head)

The best of these were The Handmaid's Tale (a reread of course), which you can get here, and the Reader's Companion to A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold, which you can get here, but I'm also going to give a shout to Paul Cornell's Doctor Who novel No Future, with its references to 1970s pop culture, which you can get here. I totally bounced off Jewels of the Sun, by Nora Roberts, which you can get here.

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Whoniversaries 30 May

i) births and deaths

30 May 1938: birth of Christopher Robbie, who played the Karkus in The Mind Robber (1969) and the Cyber-Leader in Revenge of the Cybermen (1975)

ii) broadcast anniversaries

30 May 1964: broadcast of "The Warriors of Death", second episode of the story we now call The Aztecs. In his efforts to regain entrance to the tomb, the Doctor is inadvertently responsible for poisoning Ian.

30 May 1970: broadcast of fourth episode of Inferno. The Doctor is imprisoned, but escapes, trying to stop the drilling of the planet "screaming out its rage".

30 May 2003: webcast of fifth episode of Shada. The Doctor and friends evade the Krargs and return to Cambridge, and then go to Shada where Professor Chronotis reveals his true identity as Salyavin.

30 May 2020: webcast of The Secret of Novice Hame.

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Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1994, and five others: Best Actor (Tom Hanks), Best Director (Robert Zemeckis), Best Visual Effects, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing. It lost in seven categories, two each to Ed Wood and Speed. The Hugo that year went to the final episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

For once – I think uniquely – I have seen all of the other nominees for Best Picture. They were Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show and The Shawshank Redemption. I have also seen Star Trek: Generations, Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, The Madness of King George, the great Macedonian film Before the Rain, Kate Beckinsale’s gorgeous debut Uncovered, and Peter Capaldi’s Oscar-winning Franz Kafka’s It’s A Wonderful Life. I liked all of these much more than I liked Forrest Gump. IMDB users show a rare unity between the two ranking systems, with both lists putting Forrest Gump third after The Shawshank Redemption in first place and Pulp Fiction in second, followed by Léon: The Professional in fourth and The Lion King in fifth (they diverge after that). Here’s a trailer.


A huge cast, but I spotted only no actors who had been in Doctor Who or previous Oscar winners, and a couple from Hugo winner, one a pretty big one: Robin Wright is the female lead, Jenny Curran, here, and seven years ago had the title role in The Princess Bride.

The other was Brett Rice, here the college football coach, four years ago a reporter in Edward Scissorhands.

I’ll be brief. The film is about Alabama-born Forrest Gump, who has a learning disability but gets into hilarious scrapes including encounters with three American presidents and much of the counter-culture of the 1960s, before getting back together with the girl he has always loved, who promptly dies. The end. Perhaps because of my family situation, I don’t find learning disabilities particularly funny, and perhaps because I am Irish, I don’t like people’s accents being used as markers of their stupidity, as Gump’s deep Southern drawl is here.

The film is not as sound on race as it thinks it is. Sure, Gump’s best friend Bubba is black, and Gump himself plays a sympathetic role in the integration of the University of Alabama. I noticed however that the population of his home town of Greenboro seemed to be entirely white, and Bubba’s family are in another part of the state. I also felt that a false equivalence was being drawn between the excesses of the Left and Right during the 1960s, where my heart is firmly with the former. I also thought the sequence of Gump running across America near the end was pointless and frankly not very good cinema, apart from the excuse to have some nice landscape shots.

Tom Hanks is OK as the lead, but as noted above I did not really appreciate the character. I thought Gary Sinise was very good as his friend Lieutenant Dan Taylor. (The following year, both were in Apollo 13, Hanks the lead again, Sinise as Ken Mattingly who gets bumped off the flight at the last moment.)

Now that I’ve got to Sinise, the one thing about the film which I thought superb: the special effects. Sinise’s character’s legs are amputated; the actor’s legs were not, but were removed from every frame in post-production. 1500 extras were filmed several times over to provide a crowd stretching along the National Mall. Forrest Gump meets three presidents, and John Lennon. I thought this was audacious and successful.

But it did not salvage the rest of the film for me. I’m putting it way down at the bottom of my list, 60th out of the 67 Oscar-winners I have seen so far, just below Patton and just above All The King’s Men.

As usual, I read the original novel as well. It is mercifully short. The second paragraph of the third chapter is:

All this was durin the month of August, which in the state of Alabama is somewhat hotter than it is elsewhere. That is to say, that if you put a egg on top of your football helmet it would be fried sunnyside up in about ten seconds. Of course nobody ever try that on account of it might get Coach Bryant angry. That was the one thing nobody wish to do, because life was almost intolerable as it was.

I thought the book even worse than the film (with the exception that the ending is a bit better, Forrest and Jenny don’t actually get back together and he makes his peace with that). A particularly offensive section involves him being recruited for NASA for a space mission with a woman astronaut and an orang-utan; they crash on a tropical island where they are nearly eaten by cannibals. The film made some odd choices but leaving this out is understandable.

Next up is Braveheart, which is the second Oscar-winner to be based on a work of epic poetry.

Winners of the Oscar for Best Picture

1920s: Wings (1927-28) | The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
1930s: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30) | Cimarron (1930-31) | Grand Hotel (1931-32) | Cavalcade (1932-33) | It Happened One Night (1934) | Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, and books) | The Great Ziegfeld (1936) | The Life of Emile Zola (1937) | You Can’t Take It with You (1938) | Gone with the Wind (1939, and book)
1940s: Rebecca (1940) | How Green Was My Valley (1941) | Mrs. Miniver (1942) | Casablanca (1943) | Going My Way (1944) | The Lost Weekend (1945) | The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) | Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) | Hamlet (1948) | All the King’s Men (1949)
1950s: All About Eve (1950) | An American in Paris (1951) | The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) | From Here to Eternity (1953) | On The Waterfront (1954, and book) | Marty (1955) | Around the World in 80 Days (1956) | The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) | Gigi (1958) | Ben-Hur (1959)
1960s: The Apartment (1960) | West Side Story (1961) | Lawrence of Arabia (1962) | Tom Jones (1963) | My Fair Lady (1964) | The Sound of Music (1965) | A Man for All Seasons (1966) | In the Heat of the Night (1967) | Oliver! (1968) | Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970s: Patton (1970) | The French Connection (1971) | The Godfather (1972) | The Sting (1973) | The Godfather, Part II (1974) | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) | Rocky (1976) | Annie Hall (1977) | The Deer Hunter (1978) | Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
1980s: Ordinary People (1980) | Chariots of Fire (1981) | Gandhi (1982) | Terms of Endearment (1983) | Amadeus (1984) | Out of Africa (1985) | Platoon (1986) | The Last Emperor (1987) | Rain Man (1988) | Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
1990s: Dances With Wolves (1990) | The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Unforgiven (1992) | Schindler’s List (1993) | Forrest Gump (1994) | Braveheart (1995) | The English Patient (1996) | Titanic (1997) | Shakespeare in Love (1998) | American Beauty (1999)
21st century: Gladiator (2000) | A Beautiful Mind (2001) | Chicago (2002) | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) | Million Dollar Baby (2004, and book) | Crash (2005) | The Departed (2006) | No Country for Old Men (2007) | Slumdog Millionaire (2008) | The Hurt Locker (2009)
2010s: The King’s Speech (2010) | The Artist (2011) | Argo (2012) | 12 Years a Slave (2013) | Birdman (2014) | Spotlight (2015) | Moonlight (2016) | The Shape of Water (2017) | Green Book (2018) | Parasite (2019)
2020s: Nomadland (2020) | CODA (2021) | Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

Whoniversaries 29 May

i) births and deaths

29 May 1928: birth of Frederick Jaeger, who played Jano in The Savages (First Doctor, 1966), Sorenson in Planet of Evil (Fourth Doctor, 1975), and Prof. Marius in The Invisible Enemy (Fourth Doctor, 1977).

29 May 1987: birth of Pearl Mackie, who played Bill Potts in Series 10 of New Who (2017).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

29 May 1965: broadcast of "The Death of Time", second episode of the story we now call The Chase. The Aridians capture the Doctor, Vicki and Barbara, and are about to hand them over to the Daleks when a Mire Beast attacks and they are able to escape.

29 May 1971: broadcast of second episode of The Dæmons. Giant footprints and a heat barrier beset Devil's End; the Doctor and Jo discover a miniaturised spaceship inside the abandoned dig.

29 May 2010: broadcast of Cold Blood. The Doctor manages to negotiate an accommodation between Silurians and humans, but the situation breaks down again, the Silurians return to sleep for another thousand years – and Rory is killed and then erased from history!

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Friday reading

Wonder Woman: The Golden Age, Vol. 2 by William Moulton Marston
Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding
The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women, ed. Alex Dally MacFarlane
Invisible Kingdom, vol 2: Edge of Everything, by G. Willow Wilson and Christian Ward

Last books finished
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist, by Adrian Tomine
The Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant
Ghost-Spider vol. 1: Dog Days Are Over, by Seanan McGuire, Takeshi Miyazawa and Rosie Kämpe
City of Blades, by Robert Jackson Bennett
Forrest Gump, by Winston Groom

Next books
Don't Be Evil: The Case Against Big Tech, by Rana Foroohar
Comic Inferno, by Brian W. Aldiss

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Whoniversaries 28 May

i) births and deaths

28 May 1935: birth of Anne Reid, who played Nurse Crane in The Curse of Fenric (1989) and Florence Finnegan in Smith and Jones (2007)

28 May 1940: birth of Frank Cox, who directed part 2 of the story we now call The Edge of Destruction (First Doctor, 1964) and parts 5 and 6 of the story we now call The Sensorites (also First Doctor, 1964).

28 May 1966: birth of Sharon D. Clarke, who played Graham’s wife and Ryan’s grandmother Grace in Series 11 and 12 of New Who (2018, 2020).

28 May 1968: birth of Kylie Minogue, who played Astrid in Voyage of the Damned (Tenth Doctor, 2007).

(Births also of Patricia Quinn and Faith Brown in 1944, Michelle Collins in 1963 and Carey Mulligan in 1985; much as I enjoyed their appearances in Who, they don't fit my criteria for a full mention.)

ii) broadcast anniversaries

28 May 1966: broadcast of first episode of The Savages, the first episode not to have an individual title. The Doctor, Steven and Dodo are welcomed by the Elders, but something very sinister is going on with their savage neighbours…

28 May 2005: broadcast of The Doctor Dances. The Doctor realises that the gas mask zombies are being created by escaped medical nanocytes, and set matters aright.

28 May 2011: broadcast of The Almost People. The Doctor and the Gangers, and a major plot twist involving Amy at the end.

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All the Fabulous Beasts, by Priya Sharma

Second paragraph of third story ("The Anatomist's Mnemonic"):

Why don't we ask Sam to the party? I've invited Judith. We should introduce them.

I was blown away by Sharma's novella, Ormeshadow, which I read at the end of last year; this is a collection of her short stories, almost all of them with some genre elements (though one of the best, "Small Town Stories", seemed to me to be a straightforward psychological tale). I thought they were tremendously good, combining fantasy, horror and human elements, each one of them a real jewel. Strongly recommended. You can get it here.

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Whoniversaries 27 May

i) births and deaths

27 May 1926: birth of Peter Ling, who wrote The Mind Robber (Second Doctor, 1968)

27 May 1981: death of Kit Pedler, who co-wrote The Tenth Planet (First Doctor, 1966), The Moonbase (Second Doctor, 1967) and The Tomb of the Cybermen (Fourth Doctor, 1967).

27 May 1983: death of George Cormack, who played King Dalios in The Time Monster (Third Doctor, 1972) and abbot K'anpo Rimpoche in Planet of the Spiders (Third Doctor, 1974).

ii) broadcast anniversaries

27 May 1967: broadcast of second episode of Evil of the Daleks

27 May 1972: broadcast of second episode of The Time Monster. Stu has been aged by the effects of TOMTIT; the Master evades Benton by tricking him.

27 May 1996: broadcast of Doctor Who: The Movie on BBC (it had already been shown in the USA and Canada).

27 May 2007: broadcast of The Idiot's Lantern. The Doctor prevents The Wire from feeding on the energy of TV owners watching the 1953 coronation. Includes a reference to Belgium.

27 May 2017: broadcast of The Pyramid at the End of the World. An 'ancient' pyramid appears overnight. Every clock in the world begins counting down to the Earth's destruction. Three opposing armies lie ready to annihilate each other. An alien race stands ready to offer humanity a deal that could save them, but enslave them. It is a terrifying race against time to save the world. Will the Doctor be forced to accept their help?