James Hartwell Williams

16 September, 2017

I was taking a walk from home today and passed through St Thomas Rest Park, an old cemetery, now used for exercising dogs by local residents, as it’s no longer actively used for new burials. I’ve been through here dozens of times but I’ve never taken a good look at the graves and inscriptions.

I did today and was surprised to find this one, which marked the grave of one James Hartwell Williams. The remains of his headstone, in rather bad repair, have been placed on a newer memorial, which lists his significance – he was the first United States Consul to Australia, appointed in 1836. (Well technically it would have been to the colony of New South Wales, as Australia didn’t exist as a nation yet.)

James Hartwell Williams

He didn’t arrive in Australia until 1839, where he served as Consul until resigning in 1858, except for a 6-month period in 1853-54 when he was removed by the American Whig government, before being reinstated by the newly elected Democrat government.

He did not return to the US, but instead sought naturalisation as a British subject of New South Wales. He died in 1881 in St Leonards, and was buried in the cemetery that later became St Thomas Rest Park, in the adjacent Sydney suburb of Crows Nest.

A new bird field guide

13 September, 2017

After donating blood today (my 58th donation), I went over to one of my favourite bookshops, Abbey’s on York Street in Sydney. I hadn’t planned to buy anything in particular; mostly I wanted to check up on the status of an order I put in for Star Wars Art: Ralph McQuarrie (Publisher | Amazon). Good news: a new shipment of these arrived in Australia today, and I should have my copy within a week.

I also saw that Volume IV of Peter Ackroyd’s History of England: Revolution (Publisher | Amazon) was finally out in the smaller paperback size that I have been collecting, so I picked up a copy of that.

And then browsing the science section, my eyes fell on not a book, but one of those notes that bookshops have nowadays handwritten by a staff member, telling you how much they enjoyed a particular book. It was sitting under copies of a book titled The Australian Bird Guide (Publisher | Amazon). The note said that the writer was a keen birdwatcher and had all the other Australian bird field guides, and really wasn’t sure if yet another one would be capable of adding anything. But she was converted by the unprecedented depth and detail of this guide, saying it contained hundreds of facts and distinguishing features not mentioned by any of the others. This really is the one Australian bird guide to Rule Them All.

So on that recommendation, I bought it. And flipping through it now at home, I too am blown away by how detailed and lovingly produced it is, with lashings of amazing quality illustrations – often 4, 5, 6, or even more different images of each species, showing both sexes, juveniles, intermediate growth stages, moulting phases, breeding phases, perched, in flight, and regional plumage variants. Picking a bird at random – the ubiquitous and boring silver gull – it has eleven different illustrations showing different growth stages and regional variations in the black and white plumage of the wing tips.

My previous guide was The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds (Publisher | Amazon), which I chose over the slightly more popular The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia by Pizzey and Knight (Publisher | Amazon) after browsing through both in a bookshop some years ago. I preferred Slater because it was lighter, I preferred the illustrations, and it had more description of bird behaviour and less of things that I wouldn’t normally see like nests and egg colouration. But this new book definitely wins on all fronts, except the lightness and portability.

I guess this is a recommendation, then! If you’re in the market for a field guide for Australian birds, look no further than the new Australian Bird Guide.

Game of Thrones, Season 2, Ep 2 “The Night Lands”

11 September, 2017

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

I forgot to mention last time that Tyrion had reached King’s Landing and assumed the role of acting Hand of the King, after showing the written order from Tywin (whom Joffrey had earlier appointed Hand of the King in absentia, probably thinking he’d never show up and so wouldn’t actively meddle – ha!).

And again we get treated to another new location in the opening credits map: a small group of islands with the name “Pyke”. I assume this is the Iron Islands and Pyke is the capital. But let’s begin at…

Dothraki-land: I still don’t have a better name for this land, across the Narrow Sea. Daenerys and company are dying of starvation and thirst, when one of the scouts she sent out returns. Or at least his head does, in a saddlebag on his horse. Jorah says it could have been any of a number of other Khals. Khal is the Dothraki word for “king”, and Khaleesi, Daenerys’s title, means “queen”. (I figured this out some time ago, but never mentioned it before.) A distraught relative/wife of the scout says the other Khal has denied the man his passage to the afterlife by not burning his body. Daenerys orders a pyre built and promises the man will ride with his ancestors this night.

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Game of Thrones, Season 2, Ep 1 “The North Remembers”

9 September, 2017

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

So I opened my media viewer and looked for season 1, episode 11… and there was none. It was only after a few panicked minutes when I searched online and found that season 1 only has 10 episodes in it, that I breathed a sigh of relief and turned to the first episode of season 2.

The opening credits show a new place on the map: an island called Dragonstone. I immediately thought this must have something to do with Daenerys. Maybe she takes her group of followers on a small ship to an island in the middle of the Narrow Sea and sets up a colony where she starts raising dragons. It turns out this didn’t happen at all.

Winterfell: Bran is still having weird dreams. The recap at the start of the episode reminds me of a bit from the previous episode which I think I forgot to mention last time. He dreamt that he heard Ned’s voice in the crypts where past Starks are buried, and then went down there later to investigate, and ran into his younger brother, who said he was also down there looking for their father! So something weird is going on with Ned Stark and some sort of influence from beyond the grave. I guess we might see his ghost or something at some point.

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Heavenly limerick

9 September, 2017

There once was a lady so bold,
Who was sure all that glitters is gold.
It all makes me wonder
If it is a blunder
That a stairway to heaven is sold.

Bohemian Limerick

9 September, 2017

There once was a man in a fantasy,‬
‪Or wait, was it actually reality?‬
‪Put a gun to a head,‬
‪And killed a man dead.‬
‪Said, “Nothing really matters to me.”‬

Game of Thrones, Season 1, Ep 10 “Fire and Blood”

4 September, 2017

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

This is very exciting, because two of the predictions I made came true in this episode! We’ll see those near the end…

King’s Landing: Well, Ned’s definitely dead. The episode opens with his blood dripping off the executioner’s sword. As his head is hoisted high for all to see, Sansa faints and a guy in the crowd has grabbed Arya and shielded her eyes from the sight. This is obviously someone who knows who she is, but I’m not sure who this man is. He drags Arya off, cuts her hair, and tells her to act like a boy, then throws her into a bunch of captives and slaves apparently about to set out north for The Wall to bring recruits for the Night’s Watch. I don’t quite understand what’s going on here, except that whoever this is, he thinks he’s doing Arya a favour by hiding her and smuggling her out of the city – which is probably at least half true, since no doubt she’d be in worse trouble if Joffrey caught her.

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Game of Thrones, Season 1, Ep 9 “Baelor”

28 August, 2017

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

Joffrey, Joffrey, Joffrey…

Well, we’ll get to that.

Across the Narrow Sea: Bacteria. Minute, invisible, bacteria! A dude with an exotic curved sword can’t fell Drogo, but the bacteria in his wound do – he falls off his horse while riding. Immediately some of his followers declare him unfit to be Khal, if he can’t stay on his horse. Daenerys shoos them away. Jorah warns her that the Dothraki don’t respect bloodlines – as soon as Drogo is too weak, or dead, someone else will claim the leadership through strength.

Daenerys realises she has to save Drogo and summons the witch woman again. Her diagnosis is not good. But she can perform a magic ritual, which requires the sacrifice of Drogo’s horse to transfer life into him. Daenerys orders it, and ends up covered with blood (again). As she leaves the tent the men outside are angry, and she collapses, declaring the baby is coming! Jorah carries her back into the tent in the hope the witch woman is also a midwife.

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Game of Thrones, Season 1, Ep 8 “The Pointy End”

25 August, 2017

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

The pointy end indeed. Things are really stirring across the land.

The Wall: The Rangers have retrieved two frozen bodies, one missing the hand that Jon’s wolf, Ghost, recovered. They are part of Benjen’s patrol, but Benjen is not found. A raven arrives from King’s Landing, bearing the news that King Robert is dead, and Joffrey has claimed the throne. Jon wants to head south to aid his family, but the commander warns him against doing anything foolish. We know the penalty for desertion is death – as meted out by Ned himself in the very first episode. Jon seems torn between heading south to assist one half of his family, and north to look for Uncle Benjen. Since south would be desertion, it looks like he’ll settle for north.

During the night, Ghost goes wild and leads Jon to the commander’s quarters, where one of the “dead” bodies is lurching around. It attacks Jon and he kills it with fire after a few fruitless stabs of his sword right through its chest. Later, the watchmen burn both bodies, and Samwell says they must have been killed by White Walkers, thus ensuring they rose from the grave to threaten the living. It seems Jon will have his hands full without being able to help further south. If I were to make a prediction here, I’d guess the White Walkers will eventually overrun the Wall and Jon will be among a scant few survivors who are then forced to head south to warn/protect the lands further away.

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Game of Thrones, Season 1, Ep 7 “You Win or You Die”

24 August, 2017

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

Whoa. Okay, a lot of stuff happened in this episode. Oh, a thing I remembered from last time: Sansa always refers to Syrio as Arya’s “dance teacher” and to Arya taking “dancing lessons”. I’m not sure if this is a euphemism, or if Sansa is really under the impression that Arya is taking dancing lessons, rather than fighting lessons. Anyway:

The Wall: We catch up with Jon Snow and Samwise Samwell. It’s time for them to take their oaths as members of the Night’s Watch, and to be assigned to specific duties. Jon assumes he will be appointed a ranger, ready to patrol north of the Wall. Sam assumes he’ll be a steward, doing menial duties in the guardhouse. Jon worships the Old Gods, and so is given the chance to take his oath at some special tree that exists a bit north of the Wall; Samwell decides to forsake the New Gods because they never treated him well and join Jon. Before the oath, they are given their assignments, and Jon is shocked to also be named a steward. He protests that he is the best fighter there, but Sam points out that he’s probably being groomed to take over from the old commander. This appears to appease Jon a bit. I fear that Sam may be being a bit optimistic, and Jon is being set up for an even bigger disappointment. We shall see.

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