Surprise Surprise

St. Paul’s Cathedral is one of the most photographed sites in London. Well the outside of it is anyway. Usually, photography is forbidden inside the cathedral. It’s a working church and the powers that be have decided to try to preserve the spirituality and peace of the building. No mean feat when you consider that it was visited by over two million people last year (2014)*

But this week, for the first time in its history, St. Paul’s Cathedral was opened up to photographers who have been asked to capture images of all those specials places, those magnificent views, those random details that make the church such an iconic place. ‘Surprise St. Paul’s 2’** was announced and 300 tickets sold to anyone with a tenner. So photographers with some pretty professional looking kit rubbed shoulders with iPhone snappers, all taking advantage of this amazing opportunity.

I was lucky enough to snap up one of these coveted tickets, so here are a few of my pictures (taken on my battered old Panasonic Lumix).

St. Paul’s is a church that is full of amazing ceilings.



And those views that everyone is after.




It’s the home of a million upshots.


And plenty of #wallporn.



Crypts are always photogenic.


Here is Wellington’s tomb.


And here and there are reminders of the older St. Paul’s. The one destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666.


And of the affiliations of the Catherdal’s architect, Sir Christopher Wren.



Smaller details are as interesting as the grand sweeping vistas. This putto has good co-ordination.


And look at these impressive chops.


I wonder how many illustrious bottoms have parked themselves here.


A reminder that this is a working church, with regular services (one of which finished just before we were let in). All that singing can be thirsty work.


I also found myself watching other visitors, finding and capturing their own favourite views.



But I’ll leave you with the man/God/ghost himself. He is, after all, the star of this show.




I lit the two candles here. I’m not at all religious, but many members of my family are. One candle was for my Nan and the other for my cousin Merry, who passed away just recently.

You can see some of people’s images on Twitter under the hashtag #SurpriseStPauls. There are loads of really good ones.



**’Surprise St. Paul’s 1′ was for photos of the outside of the building.

Like a Daydream

Well we have all known for a while that this was happening, but here it is at last.


On April 1st, Ride sent emails out via the mailing list advertising 3 small, low-key warm-up gigs; two in the US and one in their hometown, Oxford. It being April 1st, many people assumed that it was an April Fool. It wasn’t.


Having missed out on the Roundhouse tickets, I was pleased to nab a couple of tickets for the Oxford date. And so, joined my my friend Jeremy, I took the Oxford Tube to see Ride for the first time since…oh, I don’t know when.


I’m glad to report that it was really pretty good. They stuck to a crowd-pleaser set, nothing much too obscure at this stage, starting with Polar Bear. Then proceded with a set that included Ride classics such as Seagull, Dreams Burn Down, all that. Vapour Trail was lovely. Drive Blind was great, although a little ‘cleaner’ than I remember, and included a little mini-holocaust of  around 5 minutes.

Here’s Loz beating up his drums during the mini-holocaust.


The first encore was Leave Them All Behind and then the second was Like a Daydream and then Chelsea Girl to finish.

A couple of niggles, some guy yelling what I understand was an Oasis chant (seriously, eyes-roll), and THE HAT.


It’s like an elephant in the room. Some kind soul should, gently but firmly, have a chat with Mark Gardener and explain that he really really doesn’t need it. We’re all older. And honestly, that’s fine. There’s no need to dress up like a spiv.

So, anyone with Ride gigs to look forward to, you’re almost certainly going to have a great time. But be aware, the show may contains strobes.


And for more Ride-related nonsense, you can check out @RideTheNetwork on Twitter and the Ride Appreciation Society on Facebook. There’s also a review up here Also, If you go on Twitter and search “Ride Oxford”, there’s lots of very good fan-filmed footage.

Roman counter culture: Dodgy geezer.

Well, it’s our last week for a little while and it all ended on a rather dodgy note.

And here it is.


What a sorry specimen. It’s little more than a chip off the old die. I had just over half of the 6-face and a sliver of a couple of other faces but that’s it.

 And then I turned it over…


The first thing to notice is that hole. It lines up with one of the 6 pips, which is odd. The maker has drilled a hole in the die and then covered it over with a dot-and-double-ring pip on the surface. Hmmm.


Then there’s that grey stuff. It looks like a tooth-filling. Is it lead? Hmmm.

The other clue that there is something iffy about this die is the weight. Although it’s just a tiny scrap, it weights as much as some other complete dice that we’ve had. Hmmm.

It’s a dodgy die, later known as a ‘Fulham’. The maker has hollowed out a little space inside the die and then filled it with with a weight (possibly lead, but I’ll try to find out what this substance is). This would influence the outcome of throws, perhaps increasing the chances of ‘high’ or ‘low’ throws.  Naughty people.

And this brings me on to what we will be doing next. These dice have all been really interesting, but so far we only know a limited amount about them. They’ve been removed from their contexts. We don’t know much about where they were found, what they were found with, or even their dates. We’ve had ‘Roman’, but ‘Roman’ in Britain covers 400 years! Can we narrow that down a bit? We also need to know what, if anything, the conservators made of these objects. What did they think that grey stuff is?

This will be an ongoing task which Guy John and I will be working on over the summer. I’ll post anything of particular interest but for now I’ll leave you with his fantastic little gaming scene from the Bardo in Tunis.


Roman Counter Culture: same again, guv.

We’re back at the Museum of London again this week to finish the digitization of the Museum collection of Roman, and later, dice.

This is pretty much ‘more of the same’ except for one beauty at the end, so here they are.


Again, these dice have all be taken off display in the Museum for us to work on. They’re probably back on display by now.

I had another one very similar to this (below) last week.


And here’s a nice, but rather squat bone type 1 die.


I also had this very nice type 2 die.  Unfortunately one of the plugs was missing from the 4 face, but otherwise, it was in very good condition.

P1400536  P1400538

We also created a record for this lovely jet (-like) die.


It’s in really good condition, the only damage being a chip out of one face. These black-material dice don’t scan well, as the edges tend to disappear into the background. This one will be photographed instead. We were all having a conversation about what the white substance in the pips might be; wax? clay? some wort of resin? Dunno, and we’re not going to scrape any out to get it tested, so it’ll just have to be a mystery for now.

Glynn was giving a paper at the Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference (TRAC) utilizing some of the objects that we’ve been working on, specifically the jet and amber pieces. I was attending the conference and can report that his paper went down very well. This lovely amber die, which I’ve been hiding this picture of since November, was a particular hit.


Roman Counter Culture: Museum pieces

This was the view from my window this week.


The wall running along the bottom of the photo is the medieval city wall, built on the foundations of the Roman wall which formed part of the city wall and the fort. We’ve relocated for a little while, from the LAARC to The Museum of London to work on the pieces that are actually on display. Glynn had already swiped the necessary dice from the display cases, just for a little while, so we can create digital records of them for the Museum’s Collections Online.

As we only had access to one scanner, we worked on the basis of a division of labour. John scanned the dice and saved the images while Guy and I worked on the descriptions, weights and measures. Then we all started on cleaning up and assembling the images.


I started with a nice Type 2 die…


One of the plugs was missing, but otherwise it was in pretty good shape.

And then this one (below). The 6 face looks nice and square, albeit with slightly wobbly pips.


The 3 face, somewhat less square.


It’s a bit of a wonky one. Most of the faces are different sizes and there’s a discinct curve to the 1 face.


This one is a bit (lot) more regular.


We’ve see a great deal of variety between the dice we’ve been working on. That raises questions about manufacturing techniques and the rationales for production.

From the museum collection, we came across two that looked almost like a pair.


They came from the same site, although not from the same contexts, and Guy and I did think that they looked like they might have been made by the same person. This was just because of the size and shape, and the way that the pips look. The sides are not very even, with the 6 and the 1 faces being nice and square, but the 2,3,4 and 5 faces being quite rectangular. They would have had a definite tendency to land with either the 6 or the 1 face uppermost. They looked like they were reasonably nicely made, but have suffered some damage.

 P1400407.  P1400406.

They were recovered from a cemetery context, which made me wonder – RANDOM SPECULATION ALERT!! – is it possible that these dice were being made specifically as funerary objects? I wondered this because their shape does make them a bit dodgy for use as gaming dice, but wouldn’t matter at all if they were made as symbolic objects to be buried with the dead. They could then be made from oddly-sized off-cuts of bone, and it wouldn’t matter.

I’m going to have a little think about this, and try to have a look at more dice found as part of burials to see if there really are any patterns, or if we just have a slightly tipsy dice-maker here.

More from the Museum next time.

Roman Counter Culture: Branching out

Well, we’ve actually come to the end of the LAARC’s collection of dice. Bit that doesn’t mean the end of our project. In the Museum of London’s collection pieces are held in a range of locations and as part of different individual collections. Today we started on a couple of dice that are part of the handling collection, used for outreach and educational purposes.

This die, from the handling collection, is a fairly small example.


It has it’s site code and context mumber painted onto it, as do Several others, but two faces have also quite clearly been varnished. This is not really how we do things now. Perhaps that’s why it’s in the handling collection.


We also made a start on material that has not yet been deposited at the LAARC, but are still held by MOLA. MOLA is actually based in the same building as the LAARC but is a seperate, commercial archaeology company. Their holdings include material that has been excavated in London as part of jobes that MOLA has worked on. Thia material will eventually be deposited at the LAARC one MOLA have finished studying it and preparing it for archiving.

My old VIP09/10 mate Carl is doing some archiving work for MOLA and has been working on the material recovered from the dig at the Guildhall, when the London amphitheatre was discovered. And this is one of the artefacts from that dig.

It’s a small bone die recovered during the wet sieving of a soil sample.


And, from another excavation, there is this large, and surprisingly heavy, type 2 die. It’s made from a section of long-bone with plugs at the 3 and 4 faces. The 4-face plug is missing.

P1390781.  P1390779.

And this is how it looks mid-digitization.


Just to give you an idea of the differences in sizes…


We’ll be working on some more of the MOLA collection, and on the museum collection too, over the next couple of weeks.

Roman Counter Culture: More more more

This week’s jolly at the LAARC  started off a rather quiet affair for me.  Guy was otherwise engaged, with the possibility that he might come in a bit later. John was being de-asbestosized* downstairs.


This was fine because I am fully back into the swing of the digitization so I just cracked on with the last few remaining dice that were available this week.


I had this lovely die, made from a section of long-bonewith plugged ends (Greep Type 2). This is one way of making  larger dice.

P1390676 P1390675 P1390673

And here are a couple more.

We are expecting to begin working on the museum collection (the pieces that are actually at London Wall) next week, and I understand that there are also a couple of dice in the handling collection which we should also catalogue and digitize while we’re at it.


The intention once all of these are done is to start going through the records to have a look at the locations of the find spots and the contexts. We want to know more and bring more of that information together to try to see what it might say about gaming in Roman, and later, London.


* Obviously John’s de-asbestosization is made up. He was actually on an asbestos awareness training course.  He’ll be back next week.