10 cities and counting

I’m up to ten cities on the Nerd List so far, with varying degrees of accuracy and completeness. Plus London, which I’m splitting into boroughs for manageability, and which I am getting some help with.

It’s about half major cities and half cities near me, since I may as well see whats around here. Turns out the South Coast has some cool literary history, including Tolkien’s favorite holiday spot and Mary Shelley’s grave (with bonus Percy Bysshe Shelley heart!).


This was a weekend of people visiting us this time, John’s brother George and his girlfriend Kathryn were over on Saturday and Sunday. We ran some errands in the morning before they arrived late afternoon, and our plan was basically; play games, head to 7bone for dinner, then probably more games. I enjoyed the first two parts of that but had to excuse myself after dinner for a mildly stressful but ultimately not-actually-urgent and in fact rather boring, out of hours visit to the hospital, which is I suppose exactly how you want life’s little emergencies to turn out.

I got back home a bit late but got a full night’s sleep and in the morning we had a nice big breakfast hash and, you guessed it, played more games. It was hailing at one point, so we were disinclined to venture outside and it ended up being a nice relaxing Sunday. After they left John made a tasty chorizo pasta and we continued to catch up on season 6 of Game of Thrones (so much happening!) and generally chill.

Pottering at the Library

John and I went up to London again this past weekend, just for the day this time, to see the Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition at the British Library.

We had tickets for the evening but took the opportunity to spend the day kicking with Hogg before then. We met up at Fabrique, Swedish bakery next door to The Orc’s Nest which has delicious cardammon rolls. Then we did a tour of the local nerd spots; Orc’s Nest, Orbital Comics, and Forbidden Planet. At that last one they had Fred Gambino and John Harris art books on clearance for five pounds each, so we nabbed those and made our escape otherwise intact.

Hogg left us at the Library and we had just enough time to check our coats before it was our ticket time. The exhibition was a good size and explored the parallels and differences between the magic in the Potterverse and the history of magic in the real world, primarily but not exclusively in a European setting. It was divided roughly into sections focusing on objects, medicine, herbs, witches, and so on. The Potter and the other artifacts are intermingled in these sections for context, a good idea even if it was clear that for the most part the Potter parts were far more popular.

Some of the art and historical objects on display were world class; John William Waterhouse’s “The Magic Circle” for one, a favorite of mine and nice surprise. Also on display, an astonishing 16th century alchemical scroll describing the Philosopher’s Stone. The real-world artifacts range from purely fantastical to scientific, with a solid section belonging to both worlds in the form of alchemy and early science. One of my favorites there was an illustration by 18th Century naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian of a bird eating spider, which was apparently dismissed as too fantastical by the established science community when she published originally.  A nice touch as well were a handful of objects from modern practitioners, mainly from the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Cornwall, which looks worth a visit.

The Potter artifacts were primarily in two categories; original notes and drawings by Rowling, and Jim Kay sketches and illustrations. The former were sometimes a little overblown (did HP “change the history of publishing forever”?) but generally quite interesting and occasionally very charming,  for instance the handwritten review by 8-year old Alice Newton, daughter of the head of Bloomsbury who convinced her father to publish the first book in the series. Also nice to see were Rowling’s illustrations, which are not bad at all and show how vivid the world and characters were from the get-go. Bu the Jim Kay illustrations were probably the best part, lovely pencil sketches for the most part, standouts included a simple portrait of young Harry, a wide view of the storefronts of Diagon Alley, and a big sketch of Hagrid, whom Kay describes as his favorite subject, a “mass of scribbles with eyes”.



Last weekend we went up to visit Anna and Hogg and try out a 3D experience thing. John was very excited about it, and while it sounded neat I only half paid attention to what it was all about. I’d watched him try out a 3D demo once, it looked okay but not anywhere near worth paying money for. But we were doing it for Hogg’s birthday, and it’s Star Wars, so I was happy enough to go along and see if things had advanced.

It is Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire, and as it turns out, it was pretty amazing. While the graphics are still a little on the clunky side, mostly in synching player movement to each other or surrounding, but the overall effect is completely convincing. I don’t know if I would call it “hyper-reality” (as The Void marketing department has chosen to brand it) but it is a very cool immersive 3D gaming experience for sure.

You and your teammates are strapped into backpacks, a chest piece, and a visor helmet. All necessary equipment, of course, but these all also help you feel “suited up” so to speak. Then you are herded into a small room, you flip your visor down (after adjusting the focus) and the adventure begins.

It’s a fairly basic crate grab mission in an enemy base, but the effects of movement, distance, and interactions are all smooth and you are quickly in the action. Several parts take place very high up, and my fear of heights was utterly convinced. Blaster hits were conveyed through haptic feedback, while sounds, temperature changes, air blasts, and smells, are all used to help flesh out the environment. It works beautifully.

What surprised me the most is how quickly you adjust to trusting the visual space in front of you in spite of knowing your eyes are completely covered in what amounts to a blindfold. After the first ten or twenty seconds I don’t think I once worried about walking into anything, though there was a little bit of smacking into other players now and again.

In any case, well worth the visit. It looks like they’ve done Ghostbuster adventures in the past, and it will be neat to see what they come up with next.

The rest of the evening primarily involved moderate-to-heavy drinking and science fiction trivia, and Sunday we lazed about and generally recovered out strength for the train ride back to Southampton.





Nerd List UK

I’ve started a new project in over at thenerdlist.wordpress.com

Basically, it is an extension of a habit I already have; obsessively looking up all the nerdy, sftnal, or weird stuff in any city I plan visit even briefly. Coupled with John’s encyclopaedic knowledge of board game shop locations it seemed a bit of a waste to do this research and not share it.

So far, the format is loosely; a) actual nerdy places like comic book stores, b) bookstores, and c) nerd-adjacent things like HMV or science museums. The idea being that if you are in an unfamiliar city, say a day early for a convention or needing an afternoon off from visiting relatives, this is the sort of list that might help find something to do.

I will add places sporadically and recommendations are welcome. For now it’s a UK only project to keep it manageable.

Zines (old-timey edition)

January is a slow month, so I’ve been working on the University of Iowa Libraries Hevelin Collection transcription project on and off.

It’s pretty interesting; I’ve done a couple of Tale of the ‘Evans, and am working on the 1940 issue of Rocket at the moment. Seeing some familiar names, some less so (at least to me), and getting a nice glimpse into First Fandom. It’s particularly interesting because what I’ve done is before conventions were thick on the ground but also in the middle of WWII.

Best so far has been future Torcon II chair John Millard’s con report in Banshee, for the 1944 Eastercon. Rob Hansen’s site has a good write up on the convention here as well.

Interesting, although it was called Eastercon, and clearly was the national convention for the year, it is not considered part of the official Eastercon chronology as currently counted – I’m fuzzy on the logic of it but that’s Eastercon for ya.

Xmas and NYE

December flew by, as it does. We went to the midnight screening of The Last Jedi, which I actually enjoyed more than John! Although he has since watched it twice more and surpassed me, as is right and proper.

And then it was off to Peterborough for Christmas at the Coxon’s. Mince pies, roast dinners, boardgames, and of course the pantomime. This year Dave and James couldn’t make it and George was only there for part of it so everything was a bit less crowded and busy, but it’s always lovely and a nice break, get some reading done, and eat Ruth-cooked food. Among other gifts I got a sewing machine, which I am very much looking forward to using even though there will be a bit of a learning curve.

For NYE we went to Leicester, we got in a day before the rest and enjoyed the Holiday Inn pool and sauna facilities and then Ruth, Charles, George, and Kahtryn joined us on the 31st, we got a little more splashing around time in and rang in the new year at 33 Cank Street drinking cocktails and listening to The Verzions.

And now it is 2018, unbelievably.

Art and Reading

John got back on Friday but only long enough to unpack before we were both on a train together to London for the weekend.

Between weather, strikes, and track work, travel was a bit slower and less fun than it might have otherwise been, but we made it up to Croydon to stay with Anna and Hogg and they were kind enough to feed us some delicious barbacoa which warmed us up nicely.

The next day we all got breakfast together and then John and I took the train into London and met up with his parents for a day of museums. First was the exhibition El Greco to Goya at the Wallace Collection, which is a stunning private house museum. The collection is enormous, and each room has a different colour of silk wallpaper, which is striking. The Spanish exhibition was good, with a couple of rooms with highlights like a Greco and a Goya, and then a list of pieces in the main collection, primarily Murillo who I was only passingly familiar with but find I rather like.

We rested and had some tea and a scone, which was very nice indeed, before walking over to the National Portrait Gallery for Drawn in Colour: Degas from the Burrell, which was a nice overview of an artist who I mostly knew superficially from the dancer paintings, there were some gorgeous pieces and a few that were actually kind of creepy.

We rounded off the night with dinner at the India Club, which has good food, an interesting history, and very friendly patrons (the table beside us shared their whiskey). Afterwards John’s parents went off to catch their train back to Peterborough and we went back to Anna and Hogg’s place where after about forty minutes we found ourselves falling asleep where we sat. We had to be up early in the morning anyway, so we called it a night.

The next morning it was snowing! We caught the train to Reading and there John went off to play in a Star Wars: Destiny tournament while I wandered through the snow till my feet were too cold. Once he was done we had a lovely burger at 7bone before facing the mess of weather/strike/track work disrupted train service back home.


John has been on his annual getaway, where he and some friends rent a cottage and play board games for the week. Which means I started Horizon Zero Dawn which is very pretty so far, and marathoned all of Bojack Horseman which stars off okay and is just fantastic and devastating by season 4 (but also very funny!).

I decided on a daytrip in his absence, to avoid cabin fever. Plan A was a visit to Watership Down, but despite its proximity as the crow flies it’s difficult to reach via public transit from Southampton. Plan B was checking out cheap Megabus tickets, and Oxford was a mere £7.10 roundtrip! Another bonus is that Liz Batty lives in Oxford, something I knew but had completely forgotten, and was kind enough to offer herself up a tour guide.

I arrived at the city centre at 9:30am and my bus back was 5:25pm, giving me a solid day to poke around. My knowledge of Oxford is minimal; I knew there were famous museums/libraries associated with the University and about the Inklings, but little beyond that. I figured that for a short visit with a local to show me around I could dispense with my usual obsessive researching.

I started with coffee and a croissant at a place called Morton, which advertised a real log fire. It was tasty and comfy and prepared me for the bracingly cold day. Then a look at the map suggested the Covered Market was on the way to the Ashmolean, so that became my plan for the morning.

The market is a nice mix of shops selling crafts, gifts, and food. There was one long stall with jewellery by a bunch of different people and I saw about a dozen things I would have bought on the spot had I the cash. There was a traditional butcher with entire boars hanging outside, and a very tempting cheese stall. I had a happy mosey through the stalls before continuing to the Ashmolean.

I had till twelve thirty before meeting up with Liz, so I started on the top floor and had a freeform wander from one interesting bit to the next. I saw the Alfred Jewel (or a replica, the real thing was on loan) and a bunch of artefacts from early English history, and then a lot of European art. As noon approached I made my way to the Pre-Raphaelites room. The highlights for me there were the two big pieces of furniture; The Prioress’ Tale Wardrobe painted by Burne-Jones and the Great Bookcase painted by multiple artists from the brotherhood.

I went back down to the ground floor and waited among the Roman statues for Liz to arrive. This gave me the opportunity to spot what is now my all-time favourite museum caption;

Neither of us had eaten lunch so our first stop was at Natural Bread, where we both had a warm, delicious chickpea stew and I bought a massive sourdough loaf to take home.  Then we wandered through the Christmas Market to look at all the pretty things and say hi to a friend of hers with a stall there. We each bought a book at the Oxfam charity bookshop and then proceeded to the Bodleian. They have a very clever set up where there are two smallish exhibitions side by side, one a rotating selection of from their permanent collection called Treasures of the Bodleian, and the other a special exhibit of some type. Each takes probably half an hour to see, maybe an hour if you’re thorough.

Treasures has a fun conceit; it displays major items from the collection, a Magna Carta, a First Folio, a copy of Audubon’s Birds of America, each paired up with another item. The connections can be quite whimsical; the Magna Carta has small holes from where mice ate bits of it over the centuries and is thus displayed beside a tiny manuscript so small it is worn as a pendant, and whose owner worried it might be “carried away by a mouse”. Other standout items; a wonderfully illustrated Letter from Father Christmas by Tolkien and a personal letter from Mary Wollstonecraft to her future husband.

The temporary exhibit next door is called Designing English and it looks at early English language in its written form, primarily how it was designed and laid out. It was interesting to see it first show up in Latin texts as very much the poor relation, mostly as a necessity when transcribing folk songs or recipes that didn’t make sense to translate. I was amused to find the Alfred Jewel on display here, as an example of English text appearing on objects rather than manuscripts.

There was also a bonus exhibit in the lobby, called The Full Picture: Oxford in Portraits which is a nice glimpse into the institution. Top notch giftshop too, with some nice designs based on items in their collections.

The plan next was to tour some university buildings, but most were hosting holiday events so instead we took advantage of the remaining light to wander between them outside. “City of dreaming spires” is a very apt description, even on a cold, gray afternoon it’s a beautiful city.

By now it was nearing the end of my excursion, so we popped into Blackwell’s Bookshop whose Norrington Room is apparently the largest single room selling books in the world and then went to The Eagle and Child, famous as the watering hole for the Inklings. I couldn’t very well go to Oxford and not stop in, despite being worried it would be a tourist trap. But in fact, it’s a pretty cozy traditional pub with real ale, nice looking food, and hardly any exploitation of its famous associations.  It was packed to the gills, but someone was vacating their table and kindly pointed us towards it, so we had a nice pint and chat for the last half hour before it was time to get my bus.