Who Am I

I'm a physicist at Massey University, Albany. Here's my work page.  As you'll see if you read on, I spend too much time on mediaeval re-enactment stuff.

As this site has become rather blog-like, I'm going to try to add dates to my entries from now on.  Also, I decided I'd written enough about my fencing obsession to split it off into another page.


For some reason I volunteered to cook for an upcoming event (St Caytano's Revel).  I picked a few recipes out of Pleyn Delit (a somewhat low-brow menu to fit the theme of the event: corned beef, cabbage, peas), but decided to put in a bit of effort by baking the bread.  Katherine and I baked bread for a lunch some years ago, so this time I wanted to go a bit further by making sourdough.  I confess, this one isn't as well researched as I'd like, but I figure mediaeval bread must have been sourdough (can't see how else they did it).

I did a bit of reading on the theory of sourdough and mixed some flour and water and let it sit.  I used a mixture of rye, wholemeal and white (unbleached) to give myself the best chance of having some decent yeast to grow, but this was probably unnecessarily fussy.  Any way, after a few days (we were having a rather cold spell) it showed some signs of activity, so I halved the mixture and added a cup of white flour (something I'd read about after starting), gave it a couple more days (did I mention it was cold) then started feeding it daily.  I use half the starter to make a loaf of bread and here's what I got: Not too bad!

The bread I'm making for St Caytano's will be a mixture of rye, wholemeal, semolina and white.  Apparently the every-day bread was a mixture of available flours (instead of the posh white stuff) and this bread is tasty and solid, but not too solid.

p.s. The sourdough also makes a great pizza base, and it's quite easy.  Also, the baking stone was a good investment.

14th April 2010
I fell off the bread-making wagon for a while there, but got started again as a friend has asked me to make rolls for big event later this year (Midwinter Coronation), so I dragged the much neglected yeast out of the fridge.  If I'd realised I wasn't going to make bread for a while I would have stuck it in the freezer, but instead I just left it in the fridge and ignored it for a few months.  I halved it and fed it, it sat for about 24 hours doing nothing, and then suddenly burst into life!  Amazing stuff, yeast.  I halved and fed it again (for good measure) and went on to make one of my best loaves.  Not sure about the rolls yet.  When I get a picture of what's desired I'll give it a go.

17th July 2011
I was preparing the yeast to make bread for St Cayetano's II, when it suffered a (near catastrophic) mishap.  As the yeast had been sitting around idle for a few days, I thought I'd better feed it so it would be in shape when I needed it.  After halving the mixture (and throwing away the excess) I mixed in some fresh flour only to put my spoon right through the bottom of the glass jar!  I can't work out how it got so fragile.  I had to turf the mixture, as it could have been thoroughly contaminated by glass.  I did, however, rescue a couple of teaspoons from the top, that I thought were pretty safe.  After a couple of feeds the daughter starter was ready for bread-making, just in time.


Our friendly local A&S officer posted the list of upcoming Kingdom competitions and I saw that there's one for a research paper on boat building. For some reason that appealed (probably all that Hornblower I've been reading) so I typed "medieval boats" into the University library catalogue and, to my surprise, a decent looking collection popped up.  With a mouse click I denuded the library of medieval boat books. We'll see where this one goes....


Fencing's the first subject to get big enough for its own page.


In the picture at the top I'm playing my trusty Maxwin kit (a cheap kit made by Pearl); it's served me well.  The cymbals are 14" high-hats, 16" paper-thin crash, 12" splash and 20" ride, all Zildjans.  All except the splash were bought second-hand.  I'm particularly fond of the paper-thin: it's a beautiful cymbal.  The snare drum's an old Ludwig.  I'm playing with rods a lot at the moment, as I can wail away at the kit without deafening the neighbours.  They also work well for the drums and voice/flute/recorder duets that K and I are experimenting with. 

As well as the modern stuff, I've got a couple of frame drums, some nakers and a replica sixteenth century snare drum for early music.


Back in August I gave a talk on the crusades in Palestine.  It was great to re-visit this material, but it was rather a lot to cover in a single talk (especially when you're as liable to get distracted as I am).  The talk was part of a "History Night" I ran for my local SCA group.  We had two talks, the other by Matthew Mole on the history of combat as sport.  We had some drinks and nibbles, and the University provided an inexpensive venue.  It all seemed to go well and I hope we do something similar again.

At the moment I'm reading Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain.  I was delighted to see in the introduction that his near contemporary, William of Newburgh, wrote "It is quite clear that everything this man wrote about Arthur and his successors, or indeed about his predecessors from Vortigern onwards, was made up, partly by himself and partly by others, either from an inordinate love of lying, or for the sake of pleasing the Britons."  A handy reminder that mediaeval people were not uncritical consumers.

I've finally got around to a biography of Henry the second that I've sitting on, by one W.L. Warren.  There's this fabulous description of Thomas Becket's embassy to the King of France in 1153
Two hundred and fifty footmen led the van, filling the width of the road and singing as they went.  Behind them the chancellor's hounds and greyhounds were led on leash by their keepers.  Following them came eight great waggons, each drawn by five horses the size of chargers, laden with the impedimenta of the chancellor's household, and two with the finest English beer.  Each waggon was guarded by a chained mastiff, and each horse carried a monkey on its back.  Behind the waggons came twenty-eight packhorses carrying gold and silver plate, clothes, money, books, and the ornaments of his chapel.  Some way heind came the chancellor's retinue, two hundred of them: squires carrying the shields and leading the horses of the mounted knights, then the falconers with hawks on their wrists, the sons of barons who were in the chacellor's care, his clerks, stewards, and lesser servants, riding two by two; and last of all Thomas Becket himself with a few of his intimate friends.
They knew how to travel in those days.