Communion Of Dreams


Spinning wheel got to go round.*

I was surprised when one of the other BBTI guys said that he had found a reproduction wheellock on Gunbroker recently, and that it wasn’t even horribly expensive. This one:

20200822_092520

Wheellock with Diablo double-barrel pistol.

I was surprised, because there aren’t many reproduction wheellocks out there that I was aware of. It’s a quirky firearm design from the 16th century (Ian from Forgotten Weapons has an excellent primer on Wheellock history and operation in this video), which was superseded by reliable & cheaper flintlocks, and not too many people are familiar with them. But it seems that a firm by the name of Mendi was producing them in Spain in the 1980s. This one is stamped along the top of the barrel “Jacobi Iserlohn”, which is a firm selling historical firearms in Iserlohn, Germany. You might be able to make out the stamp in this image:

20200822_100933

Jacobi Iserlohn.

We didn’t know much about the gun beyond what was stamped on it — it came with no paperwork or anything (which, being black powder, it didn’t need).  As you can see in the image above, it says that it is “CAL 45”, and a normal .451 lead ball seemed to fit, so …

So we figured we’d try and figure it out and shoot it, of course. The first thing was to check the bore, see if the mechanism worked, etc. Most things checked out fine, though it looked like someone had substituted welding rods clamped between a piece of thick lead sheet for the historical pyrite used to generate sparks. See for yourself:

20200822_111309

Welding rod?

Which would clamp in this (called the ‘dog’):

20200822_111313(0)

We adjusted the rods so they were equal length and extended far enough to engage the spinning wheel of the mechanism when the dog was lowered. So far, so good.

Next was to test the wheel mechanism. The way a wheellock works is that there’s a spring inside the stock, attached to the inside of the wheel usually by a chain or strap. Using a suitable crank (we didn’t have one that came with the gun, so we used a simple adjustable wrench), you crank the wheel until a ratchet inside locks it into place. We discovered that this gun only needed to be cranked about half a turn before the ratchet clicked. When you pull the trigger the ratchet is released, and the wheel spins.

We tried that, and it seemed to work.

OK, time to load the thing. We elected to start with a mild load typical for other black powder handguns we have in .44/.45 — 30gr of fffg. The lead ball seemed to fit tightly enough into the bore that we went without a patch. All of that went smoothly.

Last was to put some powder in the pan and see if we could shoot it. First, we cranked the wheel into place. Then we put some powder beside where the wheel was, next to the touch-hole. And gave it a try:

Remember, we had no idea what to expect.

At least we got sparks. Just sparks. The powder in the pan failed to ignite. We considered the matter, and decided that we had been too stingy with the powder, that it needed to more or less fill the pan all around where the wheel protruded.

The result:

Excellent! It fired! It hit the target! It didn’t blow up and kill us! Yay!

So each of us had a go:

 

That last one’s me. And let me share what it felt like.

Mostly, like shooting any similarly sized/powerful black powder handgun, with the gentle push of black powder. But when you pulled the trigger, you could feel a little bit of torque as the wheel released and spun for a moment. It was different than either a flintlock or cap & ball handgun, in that regard. And the delay between pulling the trigger and ignition was about what it’s like with a flintlock, perhaps a little longer.

All in all, it was pretty cool. And it wasn’t something I expected to ever have a chance to actually try, since most of the wheellocks I was aware of were either 300+ year antiques or fairly high-end (and rare) custom reproductions. Needless to say, if you do get a chance to try one of these things, definitely do it.

Jim Downey

* of course.

(Cross posted to my ballistics blog.)



“In the before time.”

Some variation of the phrase “in the before time(s)” has been a staple of post-apocalypse Science Fiction for so long that it’s a well-deserved cliche, mocked even by South Park. Usually invoked by some grungy child reciting a barely-understood mythos, or an aged ‘elder’ thinking back to their youth, it served as a mechanism to explain what happened to civilization.

Of course, in our post-modern, self-aware world “in the before time” came to be widely used in a joking manner, to refer to some not-so-serious turning point in recent history. Before YouTube. Before Google. Before the internet. Before Fonzie jumped the shark. Whatever. It was funny, see?

Except in the last couple of weeks, I’ve started hearing it used to refer to the pre-Covid pandemic times. And not in a humorous way. People are using it completely seriously. Here are just two examples, the first from NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday program on 6/12:

New York Eater’s Chief Critic Isn’t Ready To Eat Out. Here’s Why

* * *

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are you worried about the future of the restaurant industry? I mean, do you think it will look anything like what it resembled before the pandemic?

SUTTON: I don’t think anyone knows what the restaurant industry is going to look like in the coming months, never mind the coming year or so. We can only agree – is dining out in the future won’t look anything like it did in the before times. We’re going to continue to see a lot more takeout, and we’re going to continue to see, I think, a lot of people continue to eat at home rather than treating restaurants like extensions of their dining rooms. It’s not going to be a nightly fare anymore. And that’s going to cost a lot of jobs, and that’s going to close a lot of restaurants. And that’s just a terrible thing for everyone.

And the second from a FaceBook post a friend shared, about whether schools would/could open in the fall:

A high school teacher in this state has a maximum class size of 32-35 students, which gives the teacher around 200 students across 4-6 classes in beforetimes schooling. To mitigate coronavirus would then require 3 kindergarten teacher now to do the job of one kindergarten teacher a year ago. High school would require 24 high teachers to do one beforetimes high school teacher’s work and that is if we overlook the very awkward point that having half the class meet half the time might limit the children’s risk but only extends the hours of exposure to the virus that is faced by the teacher.

In doing a bit of quick research for this post, I also find that lexicographer Ben Zimmer (brother of excellent science writer Carl Zimmer) has noticed this change as well:

‘The Before Time’: A Sci-Fi Idea That Has Made Its Way to Real Life

(I haven’t actually read that, since I don’t have a Wall Street Journal subscription. But it’s obvious that he’s noted the same shift in usage.)

Just an interesting observation about how our language changes, and another example of how science fiction has had an effect on the ‘real’ world.

Jim Downey



Scotland 2018: 6) More Magical Movie Moments!

Being a photo-heavy travelog of our 2018 trip to Scotland.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Wednesday, May 9.

This was going to be another driving day, going back across Scotland, but further north. We had a nice breakfast at the B&B, and got on the road. The rain started just as we got on the road.

But it kindly paused, so that we could make a stop once we were back on the mainland: Eilean Donan Castle. This 13th century castle is extremely photogenic, being on a small island at the juncture of three major lochs. See for yourself:

It’s the traditional home to Clan Mackenzie, but you may recognize it as the home of Clan MacLeod from a certain well-known film:

Yeah, that’s the same causeway. Which was actually added just last century. But looks cool.

Still, it’s a very cool place. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside the castle. But there’s plenty more to see at their website.

Just as we got back to the car to leave, the rain started back up. I gotta say, the Scottish weather was most considerate for us this trip.

We headed east on the A87 to the A82, stopping at Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness. Yes, that Loch Ness. Urquhart Castle is a ruin, dating back to the 13th – 16th centuries, but it is a *very* picturesque ruin:

We had a light lunch in the cafe, and got back on the road towards Inverness. Well, towards Tain, actually, on the coast north of Inverness, where we had accommodations for the night. But first we stopped here, to make arrangements to take a tour the next morning:

It may not look like much, but it’s the home of one of my favorite whisky lines: the Glenmorangie Distillery.

And this is where we had accommodations for the next two nights:

The Mansfield Castle Hotel. It was perfect — stylish, a bit old & stuffy, with just enough of a hint of having seen better days to give it a certain seedy charm. Hey, that same description applies to me, so I don’t mean anything negative by it.

We collected some items for a light dinner and enjoyed them in our room.

 

Thursday, May 10.

A really excellent breakfast at the hotel the next morning, with both Martha and I enjoying traditional kippers and eggs, in addition to all the other goodies. Then we popped back over to the Glenmorangie Distillery for our tour, and concluded with a bit of shopping there.  As it turned out, at each of the distilleries we stopped at on this trip, the very same whiskys were available for purchase back in the States (well, except for some absurdly high priced — I’m talking $3k and up — selections), so I didn’t get too carried away, and only brought home a few bottles as keepsakes.

It was still quite early, and we had decided to take a trip to the far north, all the way up to John o’Groats and the nearby Castle of Mey, just across from the Orkney Islands. I would have liked to spend some time in the Orkneys, but the logistics for this trip were just too difficult to arrange. Perhaps another time.

But the drive up was wonderful! We stopped in the small town of Wick to check out the Old Pulteney Distillery and Old Wick Castle (which was closed for work). We did get some great pics of the seashore there. Here’s one:

And then on to John o’Groats and Mey. Even though we arrived there mid-afternoon, it felt early because the sun was still so high in the sky. That’s because that part of Scotland is so far north that there was more than 18 hours of daylight in early May. We had a nice lunch in the Castle cafe, then enjoyed a guided tour through the Castle itself. Spending time in the Castle of Mey and the attached gardens was a delight.

Orkney Islands in the distance.

 

Castle of Mey

 

Walled gardens. Wall is about 4m tall.

 

As you can see, the gardens are extensive.

 

Looking north to the Orkneys.

 

We started back to Tain, taking our time to enjoy the land- and seascapes. We hit some pockets of rain, which didn’t last, but gave us some great scenes:

Somewhere, over the North Sea …

 

The gorse was gorgeous.

 

For my otter-loving friends, look close at the sign.

Again, we decided to take dinner in our room, just relax and unwind a bit after all the driving.

 

Jim Downey

 

 



Three weeks in Wales, Part 11: end days.

 

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8. Part 9. Part 10.

The next day we were in a neolithic kinda frame of mind. This was by design, actually, since one of the sites we wanted to see is only open on weekends, if you want to see the inside of it. That’s the Barclodiad y Gawres burial chamber on Anglesey, and I love this aerial image of it from CADW’s site:

I actually mentioned this site in a blog post three years ago about St Cybi’s Well, and I’ve been wanting to see it since I did the research about the site. And this was another case where I had a false memory of having previously visited it, thanks to that research. But this time I knew full well that I hadn’t been there … even as the false memory played out as having been there when we went looking for it. A very strange feeling.

Anyway. We stopped at the little shop in the nearby town, as instructed on the CADW site, and collected the key for the chamber. The site was only about a mile away, and we parked there in the lot for a small beach, and walked out to the mound.

The mound was excavated in the 1950s, and when that research was done they capped it with a concrete dome and turf to protect it and to return it to something like what it may have looked like when constructed 4,000 – 5,000 years ago. The entryway you can see in the image above allows anyone to partially enter the mound:

Where you see this:

The original entry path of the cruciform passage grave.*

The gate is locked, and the key allows you entrance. We wanted to get inside because I wanted to personally see the neolithic art:

There are better images (and more of other carved stones at the site) at the site linked above and elsewhere online.

After exploring inside the chamber we locked it back up, then explored the exterior. There on the headlands the wind was brisk, but it was a wonderful location with excellent views:

We returned the key to the shop, and went off in quest of other neolithic sites there on Ynys Môn. First was Caer Lêb, a Bronze Age settlement which is little more than mounds now.

Then we stopped at another passage grave: the Bodowyr Burial Chamber.

From there we headed back to the mainland, stopping for some lunch before visiting friends of Martha’s for a couple of hours. When we headed back to our beachside hotel it was still a bit early, so we decided to to explore the substantial Iron Age hillfort overlooking our portion of the beach:

From the hotel parking lot.

That’s Dinas Dinlle, and there’s not a lot of information available about it, though the Megalithic Portal has a number of images of the site. Here are some more of mine:

At the top. I’d guesstimate the hill to be about 100 meters high.

 

Along one of the defensive earthen walls.

 

Path across the village ‘floor’ to the other defensive wall. To the right the sea has claimed approximately a third of the original hillfort.

 

During WWII there was a military airport just up the coast, so at the base of the hillfort it wasn’t surprising to see a small defensive pillbox of that era:

I thought that it was an interesting juxtaposition.

The next day was our final one in Wales. After a nice breakfast we packed up and headed east. We were driving back to Manchester (where we would fly out the next day), but we thought to hit several castles along the way. The first of these was Rhuddlan Castle. We had visited Rhuddlan some years previously, but at that time it was undergoing some restoration work.  CADW has a nice overview of the castle … in the form of an aerial fly-by:

It was nice to have a chance to really walk around the place and enjoy it.


 

From Rhuddlan we went to the first castle King Edward built to subdue Wales: Flint. Both Wikipedia and Castle Wales have good entries on Flint Castle, but I prefer my own images:

There were a number of these shadow-sculptures, which I really thought were striking. the images were drawn from history/Shakespeare.

Entry into the unusual large circular detached tower, called a donjon keep, which overlooks the main castle entrance.

 

The donjon had your typical central rooms, but it also had wide (7-8′) corridors in the walls, with defensive windows and arrow slits looking out.

 

Inner room of the donjon.

 

The lower inner corridor in the donjon keep. 

Top of the donjon. 

Inner ward of the castle.

 

Across the inner ward.

 

Our last castle of the trip was to be Ewloe. This small Welsh castle was one I’d never even heard of, as its history is both brief and unremarkable. But it is a surprisingly charming little place. I’ll add a couple of pics, but I like the ones at Castle Wales better, so would recommend that you check those out.

From there, it didn’t take us long to drive the rest of the way to Manchester, where once again we had reserved a room at Ash Farm:

It was a good trip. Thanks for sharing it with us here.

 

Jim Downey

* I’ve always been struck by the fact that the shape of these passage graves is a cross. Obviously, that was the shape which came to symbolize Christianity, and which was used to construct churches and cathedrals for hundreds of years. But I don’t recall having ever read anything where someone has drawn the obvious connection between the two. Evidently that’s a gap in my knowledge.



No escape from reality.*

For fun, and to make someone’s year a little better, I recently rebound a friend’s SF novel, converting the paperback edition into a hardcover binding.

With my bookbinding skills it’s a fairly simple and straightforward process, but not a cost-effective one (so don’t ask me to rebind your favorite paperbacks). The result is usually very satisfactory and striking, and makes for a nice little present when I am in the mood to do something different from my usual conservation work.

Anyway, I made this book and mailed it to my friend where she works. She opened it and shared it with her co-workers, who thought it was “pretty darn cool.”

Which, you know, is cool and all. But consider: making that book, that physical object, took me maybe an hour and a half actual labor time. But I’m sure that it took my friend hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of labor to write that book. To conceptualize it. To make notes. To research. To stare at the blank computer screen in abject terror. To write the first draft. To edit.  To stare at the words there in horror and disgust at how horrible her writing was (I assume this happened anyway, since almost every serious writer I’ve known goes through this multiple times with any book). To write the second draft. And then the third, after getting feedback from friends and editors. Et cetera, et cetera.

But what her co-workers thought was “pretty darn cool” was a simple physical object.

Now, I’m sure that if you asked them, her co-workers would say that her book — the written words — was also pretty darn cool. And maybe some of them have even read it.** Still, the fact remains that for most people written work is mostly an abstraction, one which takes real effort and time to understand and enjoy. Whereas a tangible artifact like an artisanal hardcover book can be handled and appreciated as reality.

People are funny, aren’t we?

 

Jim Downey

*Naturally.

**A confession: I haven’t yet myself, since I am still in the middle of doing battle with St Cybi’s Well, and I just can’t read long fiction when I am trying to write it, since it just messes up my own writing. But you can bet I will when I finally finish this book.



And then one day you find ten years have got behind you …*

Happy anniversary!

Yeah, ten years. More than 1850 posts here (though not many in the last year). Big changes in both the history of the novel and in my life. Mostly good changes, though it has been a rough road at times.

Thanks for being part of the journey.

 

Jim Downey

*Of course.

 



Llangelynnin

The title of the next chapter is “Llangelynnin” (which refers to the church/churchyard, rather than just the holy well at this site — this is a change from what I had originally planned), and in doing a little research I found this nice bit of video:

 

The holy well isn’t shown in this video, but is basically directly below the drone at about the 0:13 mark. It can be seen at the very southern point of the wall enclosure here, and in an image in this entry. Some of my source material is drawn from this travelogue from 2006 (towards the bottom of that post). And I think the video gives a very nice feel for the remoteness of the site, and why I have wanted to include it in the story I am telling.

Oh, I haven’t said in a while, but I now have approximately 85,000 words written (that’s actual novel, not including notes or reference material), with about 25,000 – 30,000 to go before I’m finished (and a fair amount of that is partially done already in notes and reference material). So I’m not in the closing stretch, but am getting there. It’s progress, anyway.

 

Jim Downey



“We are on a marble, floating in the middle of … nothing.”

Via BoingBoing, this completely delightful short video about the scale of our solar system:

That does a better job of getting the real sense of scale than just about anything else I’ve seen. Wonderful.

 

Jim Downey

 



You never know …

… how what you write, or say, or do, will inspire and encourage others:

 

Jim Downey



Living in the past.*

Can you recognize what is depicted in these illustrations?

First

Second

Third

Fourth

They’re different types of set-ups for using alembics. All taken from a 1563 German language botanical text I started work on this afternoon. The client has asked me to document the conservation work as I go along, so at some point I’ll probably put up a post about the whole process. But for now I just thought I’d share those.

 

Jim Downey

*With apologies.