Monday, 19 December 2016

Terrible TV Review: Digging for Britain, series 5

...and as soon as I declare my hiatus, out comes an archaeology program on the TV that has me tearing my hair out so much that I want to dissect it in a blog post. So that hiatus will have to wait until after you've read this post! Digging for Britain has been going since 2011, and normally hosted by Professor Alice Roberts, sometimes with a co-presenter. They've moved away from site visits by the presenter to getting each dig team to film their own digs to get as many as they can inside an hour for each episode, splitting the country into North, Central and South (more on this later). I was actually in the first series at Binchester with my University course mates back in 2011! That bias aside, this first episode of the latest series had me pulling out my hair and stopping inches away from the remote as a good bit of archaeology was done. Why? Although  all the archaeological sites unto themselves have some amazing finds that are pretty much all unique in their own right, and could happily be expanded upon, sometimes the analysis and the interpretation (or lack of explanation in the interpretation) had me fuming. Or maybe I just misunderstood what they were saying...

One of the issues they had is, as hinted above, is that they are trying to squeeze as many sites into the show as possible. With 10 sites, that's about 5 minutes realistically for each site. There were 6 in this episode, BUT there were a lot of segments involving talking about collections in the National Museums Scotland, which reduced the overall amount of time spent on site. As a comparison, Time Team got one site for a whole hour to explain it in depth, usually over 3 days. Some of these sites had fantastic stratigraphy but I imagine they had to miss out a lot of it because they normally had 3 weeks of filming, which then had to be heavily edited to show the "juicy bits". don't get me wrong, these "juicy bits" are what attract the attention and lead to further investigations, but as an archaeologist, I do wonder how much of the wider picture had to be left out to fit all these sites in, so maybe more programs to fit in the same sites, so they get more time to talk about their sites and some of the other things they've found next time please. Burnswark could have done with more time (or possibly a GIS specialist); two Roman era camps (which could have dated to any period in the Roman era and not necessarily an aggressive military application e.g. a siege) surrounding a hillfort in southern Scotland (presumed early 1st century). They dug the camps (not the forts, interestingly) and found huge quantities of worked stone for slings. They assumed that the Romans made the stones without telling us the provenance of the stones, and simply stated that they must have been fired at the local besieged population in the fort. Why couldn't it be the locals also firing back? I'm aware that the evidence is limited for slings in Iron Age/ Romano-British Britain but it just seems too much like something else is at work here. That being said, they did find a nice stockpiles of sling shot, which probably indicates a reasonably long period of activity for the siege. That being said, the hillfort wasn't investigated at all, and there was no mention of excavating it in the past, or plans to do so in the future, although the area had been fieldwalked. The GIS wasn't used well here at all... there was no way of determining the direction of the shot without some serious assumptions (admittedly quite hard to do), and the map itself didn't differentiate between those shots that appeared to have been fired and those that had been left untouched (either in the stockpiles or otherwise). A bit of use wear analysis fed into the GIS could have gone a long way into making this a much more informed conclusion. Even then, the sheer quantity of sling shot in the area could have been a series of training rounds, as originally the camps were thought to be training bases. Instead, I nearly turned off the TV at this point as this one sites' very selective approach to the wider context of the area was unbearable!! Moral of the story here- assumptions make asses out of you and me. At least the camerawork was reasonable in showing off the sites they did dig, and the experimental archaeology was quite fun to watch on a slow motion camera while informing us that slings are dangerous in the right hands.

Other sites were not so reliant on a quick and dirty approach to interpretation, but probably still have a number of juicy finds that are being missed out for time constraints, as is normally the case with excavations. The hospital at Thornton Abbey could have had a quick map to illustrate the hospital layout on site, because the preservation of the walls and the skeletons are fantastic, but on a video you don't capture the scale of the building, or the position of the skeletons within the hospital. Perhaps even a 3D model? Even a relatively small site, like Loch Arnish in the Isle of Lewis, has only 3 minutes of footage dedicated to it. They spent a good 6-7 hours exploring the underwater landscape and they have probably barely scratched the surface of these island houses (crannogs). What annoyed me on these prehistoric sites is that they didn't even tell us how they could tell it was Neolithic pottery! Even just saying slipped ware (it's not, but as an archaeologist I can say that it is from its appearance) would give the general public a better understanding of these crannogs, which are basically middens (rubbish tips) that was deliberately made into a habitable piece of land. Such sites (including Tells), involving reusing materials to build these "monuments", are not as rare as you think in ancient civilisations, but most are found on land in Europe and the Middle East. Some more discussion on why they thought they built crannogs would have been good, although they did have a good discussion with Professor Alison Sheridan on trade and travel in the Neolithic. Otherwise, a nice showcase of Britain's small but growing underwater archaeology sector.

Lindisfarne, another coastal site, is given a going over by Durham University and Digventures, this time focusing on the famous monastery.  Not the one you can see but the earlier one it replaced. That much is nicely summarised. I won't focus on my worries of Digventures and Durham University cherry-picking Lindisfarne but as if to epitomise my previous argument, a monastery is a massive construction, likely to have a large network economically, socially and politically. Dr David Petts has been on this program before and his experience in summarising the site is evident. Again though, much like Thornton Abbey, I suspect only certain finds were not put on TV to form a particular story, just for time constraints. At least they managed to squeeze in the context of Lindisfarne into the wider history of Britain, with the Viking raids and continuity of Lindisfarne post-793AD.

It is difficult to cover the sheer variety of archaeology in northern Britain, but this program does try, but it is a Sisyphean task. That said, the Hunteston Brooch they describe is a great example of early christian art in British metalwork. Any site on Orkney is going to be unique, to both Britain and itself, as there is simply so much that remains standing. The South Ronaldsay Broch is hardly known outside of Orkney, so it is nice to see it, like Burnswark, getting some much needed attention. Especially as it also demonstrates the reuse of the site from a Broch into a sacred site (with only the bones as supporting evidence). But in discussing the emphasis on the transformation of the site (which apparently takes 17 days!) they have missed out talking about the Broch itself in any great detail. Again, the discovery of bones of various animals makes you wonder what else they found. Bone doesn't survive well on many sites so if bone is being found, what else could have been there? Especially to support such a tentative theory as a sacred site? Why not just a midden with comparatively few animals?

Little Carlton, the last site in this selection, focuses on the recent Saxon discoveries made by metal detectors, leading to a large scale excavation of the area. Here, they finally get it right, showing off the context of the site trenches (albeit by accident), some unique finds and more discussion on the context of the archaeology, in particular the skeletons. It should be said that east to west is a traditional christian practice in burial.The last skeleton they focus on is unusual and merits attention. It also shows us finally why Professor Alice Roberts is an academic, pointing out the knee joint in its incorrect position and this observation gives us a clue into who the skeleton might be. Again though, this is tentative, and relies on the skeleton being a christian to support the hypothesis. Little Carlton is rightly summed up as hard to decipher.

My final thoughts: The definition of north in this episode covers half of the country, from Orkney all the way to Lincolnshire! Even on the northern tip of the East Midlands, that still means that there is a huge amount of land that is covered in this program. This means that either there aren't enough sites to cover the program, which on the face of it is worrying, because it would imply that there is less emphasis on sites in the north. However a more realistic explanation is that there are simply less people. However, this rough guide encompasses 2 countries which have 2 slightly different agendas to archaeology, which weren't focused on in the program. the other problem appears to be that if there is a north, where are the boundaries for the other cardinal points? The previous episode focuses on the West of Britain, but doesn't include the West of Scotland. This also means that the East of Britain won't include a large amount of the east coast of Britain. However, this is covered by the North but also by another recent program from Channel 4 - Britain at Low Tide, which focused on coastal regions with archaeology at risk from the sea. These distinctions are rough guides but could have been better aligned as they don't seem to match current thinking on what the "North" is, in historical or contemporary terms. They could have titled the episode "North and Midlands" and it may have felt a bit more appropriate, but you would still be missing large swathes of Midland area, which are included in the next episode and the last episode. Interestingly, the south is amalgamated into the east and west regions; perhaps this is a deliberate attempt to shake up perceptions of what is east, west and north in Britain? They don't reflect on why they did this but its a nice idea.

Perhaps a little harsh saying it merits "Terrible TV" but sections could be improved as outlined above, particularly with the interpretations, which haven't either been explained fully or just didn't get any decent theoretical treatment, or even simply not stating how the archaeologist knows that it is Neolithic pottery!!. As much as I want to see as many sites as possible in a program, because at the end of the day they are all quite interesting and merit further work, this program demonstrates the difficulties in this program's approach, rather than an in-depth "Time-Team" style approach which has one site dug up for an hour on TV (or maybe longer) and gives you an impressively detailed perspective of a very small area. Other shows seem to fit somewhere between the two on the spectrum.

With that min-rant over now I can enjoy my hiatus... pop over to www.arc-robotics.org.uk for more information on my new joint project!

Sunday, 11 December 2016

A Christmas hiatus

I am taking time off from this blog for the foreseeable future, so I can focus on one of my childhood passions, Robot Wars. I will be making blog posts for team ARC as the team's driver. Follow my progress at https://www.arc-robotics.org.uk/. With that, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Heritage Theory and Practice Conference Summary, 5th November 2016


The Heritage Theory and Practice Conference was a one day event at Leeds City Hall, hosted by Leeds Beckett and Northumbria Universities. It focused on the practical applications of heritage theory (as the name suggests). I attended in my professional capacity; as a largely academic conference I hoped that there would be some commercial input, and that the practice element would contain elements that archaeologists and heritage practitioners at large could take away from the conference. As it was the first time this conference had been run, there was a wide variety of papers, focusing on a number of areas of theory and practices within the heritage sector.

Dr Bernadette Lynch provided the excellent keynote speech, reflecting on her time in Canadian institutions, opening her eyes to how different cultures perceive museum practices in positive and negative ways, but also how museums can be proactive in understanding different cultures. Sounds easy, but the reality of some of the issues museums face was demonstrated by her work as director of the Manchester Museum, where minority ethnic groups were openly invited to have their say on how museums work for them, which had some surprising results, particularly if you see museums as part of a "power-charged set of exchanges", which often manifest as political and social exchanges. She concluded that museums should be used as spaces for "friendly enemies", where you can have conflicting opinions and debate in a safe space, and criticising Scottish museums for not exploring Scottish-ness during the 2014 referendum.

The first session was titled Establishing Heritage, which had papers on the intangible heritage of women during the Upper Clyde Shipyards strikes in Glasgow (by Tara Beale), the Church Heritage Record (CHR) (by Rob Piggott), and the influence of heritage studies on designation practice for listed buildings and scheduled monuments (by Claire Price). This session was the one I was professionally most interested in as understanding the forces at work in defining our HERs allows you to think about what could be missed out- what about feminist heritage, for example? Often the HERs and the CHR (which both feeds into and uses the HERs but is used by the Church of England and the Church of Wales, some 16,000 entries to date) is biased towards the architectural records, rather the social significance of the entry; a hangover from when the first legislation for scheduled monuments was made in 1882 (The Ancient Monuments Act). There was also some discussion on to what extent the bureaucracy involved in church heritage records are dictated by the legality given to it by being a "servant of the state" (i.e. Historic England's position as a part of government).

The second session Participatory Approaches in Heritage Practice, with a presentation by the Bam! Sistahood project (by Rosie Lewis and project volunteers, The Angelou Centre), which looked at how a successful project focusing on ethnic minorities can be easily mishandled if it's done from a top-down approach. While museums can help with these projects, empowering minority communities by discovering their own heritage and presenting it in a unique manner that doesn't necessarily have to be recorded. The focus on training, sharing information and creating safe spaces for women have proved to be good ways of getting women from minority groups to come together and explore their own heritage in North East England. The other paper in this session was by Tara Beale on travelling show-people in Glasgow, and how their heritage has been preserved in a collaborative project with Glasgow museums, which also led to reinterpretation of a small number of the museums collections!

The third session, Rethinking Heritage, had a theory-heavy paper on the Museum as a deep map (by Adrian Evans). This explored architecture's relationship with landscape in the modern world (as a detached entity), and used this as an analogy with museum collections, with an implicit objectivity and variety of presentation and preservation techniques, including narrative. The most important aspect was how much you interpret an artefact- too much and you lose the mystery of the object. Too little and you risk  going into pataphysics and escapism (the science of imaginary solutions). The deep map allows a narrative to be built up as layers, thus you regain the identity of the object within it's locality. The other paper by Taras Nakonecznyj, focusing on his work with the Cockburn Association, Edinburgh's Civic Trust, and their attempts at promoting Edinburgh's architectural heritage to a wider audience using social media. With Edinburgh's cultural heritage being prioritised by the council, potentially threatening the historic aspect of Edinburgh and endangering it's World Heritage status, this could be an interesting case study for the rest of the UK.

The final session was Immersive heritage, which felt more like an outlet from the Annual Student Archaeology conference, with a mixed bag of quite fun and interesting papers, but with less of a critiquing theoretical focus. However, these works should be commended as they had no research frameworks to fall back on. There was a paper on ghosts by Alison Edwards, who argues that as a phenomena has been criticised too much for being a pseudo-science (with a top-down approach) and a number of valuable points can be taken away from her exercise (people who actively hunt ghosts themselves often do so as a reaction to feeling left out of mainstream heritage interpretations, much like minority ethnic groups) and the way ghost tours are marketed and organised could be used as a model for archaeology and heritage. However the statistical analysis of the tour was a little thin on the ground. Rhiannon Pickett presented her work in collaboration with the Nottingham County Gaol, where new research into the lives of the inmates and workers there allowed for an impressive overhaul of the interpretation of the museum, although there was conflict in what information should be on display to the public. The final talk of the day was given by Lisa Traynor, who looked at reconstructing the events of 28th June, 1914, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was killed by a bullet. The question she sets out to answer is "Could the archduke have survived?" (with body armour available at the time). She isn't trying to re-imagine the historical events but to see if the silk body armour at the time could have stopped a bullet from the weapon it was fired from (at 2 metres). The results will be released on BBC 4 in January 2017.

Overall this conference (which was free to attend) provided a good platform for debating current heritage issues in the UK. It touched on a number of pressing concerns and I feel I can take away points that will feed into my own commercial projects. While it was overwhelmingly academic in outlook, there were commercial archaeologists who made the effort to go and make sure that our voices were heard, and that relations between University researchers and professionals are healthy.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Protecting Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament

A couple of years ago the Right Honourable MP Chris Grayling stated that "if we ended up having a debate about alternative venues for this House, we would very proably find 650 different arguments being made". As it is being highly recommended that MPs have to now move out of Westminster Abbey, a number of alternatives are having to be looked at, and a location outside of the M25 isn't not completely out of the question. There is absolutely nothing in the constitution of the British government that says we can't have parliament being held anywhere else. They could debate in my back garden (all 5 metres of it) and if all the relevant people are present and the protocol is followed, then constitutionally any laws passed there and then would be as valid as they would be in Westminster.


What do we know of the history of Westminster Abbey and the site of the Houses of Parliament? This is a very quick rundown taken from the official westminster abbey website and the Houses of Parliament website. Founded by Edward the Confessor, who had it dedicated to St. Peter, near the site of a benedictine monastery. Previously there had also been a Saxon church on the benedictine site. It has been at the centre of British monarchy for almost a millennium, as Edward was buried there in 1065 and William the Conqueror was crowned there; only 2 kings haven't been crowned in Westminster abbey. It's called Westminster because St. Paul's was in the Eastminster. The original church was mostly replaced by a gothic structure under King Henry III. Subsequent additions by Henry VII and even later in the 18th century with Nicholas Hawksmoor.

Meanwhile, the Palace of Westminster (the current seat of the government) was established by King Cnut in the early 11th century. The layout of the palace, and in particular its relation to the abbey, has not changed dramatically over the years. For example, the placement of different courtyards. The old courtyard was also where Robert Catesby, Guy Fawkes and co. rented one of the houses which ran in a row across the centre of the yard and actually tried to tunnel through to the House of Lords through the Old Yard before discovering the cellar under the House of Lords!! The New Palace Yard was built by William Rufus and It now conceals a five-level underground car park with space for 450 cars, constructed in 1972-4. An archaeological investigation undertaken at that time yielded much information about the history of the Yard. In particular, it revealed the octagonal base of a large canopied fountain built in 1443 by Henry VI.

The old monastery was dissolved in 1540 by Henry VIII, who then erected Westminster into a cathedral. However the abbey was refounded by Elizabeth I, and these clergymen had important functions within the civil government of Westminster until the 20th century. The whole complex of Westmnister suffered partial damage during the Second World War but could have been much worse. This wasn't the first time fire had threatened the Abbey- in 1834 a fire in the Houses of Parliament gutted both houses of parliament but the Abbey was prioritised and also saved by the change of direction in the wind!

Today, the building is in a dire state, but not through lack of trying. Rodents have taken up residence (not good, particularly considering food is prepared on site), not to mention the antiquated heating, ventilation, water, drainage and electrical systems combined with extensive stonework decay, leaking roofs and the external fabric could collapse into the Thames if there's a big storm (disclaimer: this last fact based on its perilous position next to the Thames rather than any report information). And not forgetting the biggest risk in working inside old buildings-asbestos. Lots of it, in perilous and dangerous places near where people are working. Asbestos related cases are being reported from people who worked inside Westminster, who could now sue the government for allowing them to be exposed to asbestos (from an article in the Metro, 24th October 2016). Would you want to live and/or work in a place like this? If it wasn't for the history, architecture and cultural surroundings, of course...

The main source of contention (I suspect) is the cost of repairs. Much like any big project the final costs are yet to be worked out but it somewhere between £3.1bn to upwards of £7bn. Now, if they go for the cheaper option, all MPs and other residents (if there are any) would have to move out. But where to? Coming back to the Right Honourable Chris Grayling, he may have a point. Everyone could legitimately have a space that could be used in their constituencies.

So how to resolve this issue? Find a space that everyone agrees on? The Thames? There are genuine plans for a floating Houses of Parliament as a temporary space while restoration happens, connected to the Westminster banks. It should be said they are not confirmed at this stage, but the architects, Gensler, appear to have called it Project Poseidon. One wonders how this would fit into the setting of the central London character, which has been recently described as under threat from modern development. However, the advice given is just that, advice. It is up to the archaeologists, councillors, MPs, developers and other interested parties to create that dialogue to preserve our heritage in a suitable way. That said I'm not against a floating Parliament, it is forward thinking and flood proof (to a point). The National Assembly of Wales and Holyrood are modern buildings that are arguably more suited to modern democracy. My personal favourites for potential new locations are the St. George's National Football Centre, seeing how it is barely used (from my understanding), or one of the many empty mills in Bradford, to kill 2 birds with one stone (regeneration in Bradford and attract more income to the local area, badly needed). Or an abandoned mine shaft? Save on heating bills with underground heating... A lot of arguments for leaving London rest on the distance travelled by many MPs to London, and that a more central location in the UK would resolve this. However, there are just over 70 MPs in London out of 650 MPs. With this number set to decrease by the end of the decade, will it make a less London-centric location more feasible? Other major cities like the West Midlands region (Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton etc.) (28) or Greater Manchester (26) enjoy less MPs, even when put together. So that's a large chunk of MPs who would all have to travel out of London to get to another destination. Or buy a second home...

Furthermore, its World Heritage Designation is great for highlighting its cultural value to the city of London, but this is not a barrier to funding or stopping maintainence. It is simply a sticker stating its importance in global culture as approved by UNESCO, the United Nation's education and culture sector. Therefore, any changes to the fabric of the building should be in keeping with its cultural value to the city of London, although this statement includes the setting of the buildings as well as their 

Another threat to consider are groups like ISIL, who are now a major threat to global cultural heritage, including Westminster. Supporters of ISIL seem to support the idea of "If you're not with us, you are by defintion against us". An interview with the BBC's Dan Cruickshank confirmed this, and this makes the Houses of Parliament, a symbol of democracy for western governments, arguably even more of a target than before the 7/7 attacks 10 years ago, when there were less organisations committing iconclastic acts. UNESCO has recently recognised this threat with the Unite for Heritage Coalition in Bonn, which is designed to strengthen the mobilisation of governments and heritage stakeholders in the face of deliberate damage to cultural heritage. So with this Westminster and the Houses of Parliament must evolve against these threats, either physically or through other means. However, other threats, such as the immediate condition of the Houses of Parliament, must be addressed first.

This is an excellent opportunity to answer a few research questions about the archaeology and history of Westminster. What about the site before the creation of the palace? The abbey was nearby but not directly underneath the palace. Was it chosen as a natural high point on the Thames bank? Get some archaeologists in and dig up a few mass graves while we're at it! However, we have to weigh up the cost of more people walking around Westminster while it is still functional, which would help in explaining how archaeology works to the users of Westminster and visitors, or going for the cheaper and quicker option and hope that the archaeologists get to explain their findings to the public. My gut feeling says the latter but for the sake of saving money (especially as it would look very bad on the current government); archaeologists should proactively seek ways of investigating and publishing their findings to the wider world while the repairs are being carried out.

Finally, it would be nice if Westminster Abbey was given some climate change resistant upgrades. Maybe a rising water barrier?

Friday, 2 September 2016

Robot Wars 2016 review, episode 6 (Final)

After 5 weeks of pure carnage and controversy, of audiences and announcers, of rising stars to fallen giants (ok, that was meant to rhyme, but if you pronounce the nt's as r's it works...), we are at the final of the revamped series of Robot Wars!! Now for my own text based commentary, one week late (because mainland Europe doesn't show the BBC).

The intro sequence, I'm fairly sure it's re-hashed from the previous intro sequences, with a bit of  extra voice over from Dara and Angela. Dara sums up the previous episodes nicely in one sentence! Although he misses out the spikes in summarising the perils of the arena.

So we have TR2, a thoroughly enjoyable robot to watch with the youngest driver. Carbide, probably the most popular! Apollo, with a very powerful flipper. Shockwave, who shocked us by beating Thor. And Shockwave, the controversial winner of the last episode after being beaten in the heats. Nonetheless, there is one spot left for the runners up. And the judges have gone for... Thor!  Good to see at least one former Robot Wars competitor. Now we see the format for the episode- group battles, followed by another set of head to heads.

Group battle 1: Pulsar, TR2 and Thor. Possibly the less destructive of the 2 group battles but could be tactically very interesting. TR2 seem a bit nervous about the fight. Thor has the experience but can it survive more flips and hits? Pulsar are possibly the weakest one in here, especially with their motor issues!

Judges get the first view of the night there just before the battle. Shropshire, Northampton and Gateshead, a distinctly midlands/northern battle we have here! Shhhhunt and Dead Metal, the brothers of brutality, take their positions in the arena. And off we go (with some odd gestures from the cockpit)!! A direct reference to the controversy fro Pulsar. Thor  moving round the most but currently no real damage being done, but Pulsar is already having problems with the motor. TR2 misses with the flipper! Second time lucky and Thor goes over! TR2 on top here, sending Thor to all sides of the arena.  Pulsar has been flipped and will be lucky to progress any further, but Thor is picking a fight with Shunt! Not a good idea... TR2 still not perfect on the flips but they constantly applying pressure onto Thor. Pulsar may have been counted out here, but not before causing some damage to Shunt's axe!!! TR2 very impressive overall, a slightly disappointing battle but TR2 demonstrating their credentials. Pulsar unlucky but I'm not sure what else they could do. Sounds like those flips Thor took have shifted bits inside it. Again those graphics aren't very clear. I can sort of tell that Pulsar is out...

Group battle 2: Carbide is worried about Apollo? They should be fine but they're not sure with Apollo in their heat. Apollo have a simple plan, but maybe they can just go for the house robots?? Shockwave maybe have a disadvantage in not having the most powerful weapon, but they have this worked out! They think they do anyway...

Again, Shunt is in, but now we have Sir Killalot. A challenge for Apollo? Will we have lift-off for the knight of the realm? And Carbide go for Shockwave! But Shockwave are able to get underneath Carbide and the power of Carbide's weapon TAKES OUT PART OF THE WALL!!! Typhoon 2-esque that is........ 2,500 rpm is less than Pussycat's circular saw but the momentum on that bar is so powerful, it's taken the wall clean out... meanwhile, the the camera just caught the moment Carbides hit Shockwave's side and hit the tyre and its protective cover, doing a ridiculous amount of damage, so much so that it would be almost impossible to repair in a day, never mind 2 hours!! Carbide, setting the "bar" (sorry) high there. Apollo did almost nothing  in the few seconds that fight happened. Turns out Professor-god Noel Sharkey likes his carnage the Typhoon 2 style.

Head to Head 1: Carbide v Thor. Some interesting modifications to try to counteract that incredible bar weapon, even adding his special axe. 

.... I'm sorry, I can't write and watch this match at the same time. This is incredible. Carbide just ripped Thor to shreds. Literally... That was MADNESS!!!! Every time Carbide hit Thor, whole bits came off Thor, even the defences added onto Thor came off fairly quickly. Can Thor be repaired in time??? That is so destructive, Thor may not be able to compete any more in this episode!

Head to Head 2: Apollo v TR2. Flipper v Flipper. I've vented my anger about flippers but these two have been the best flippers in this series and both of the teams are really enjoyable and have added a lot to the series. Who will fly? TR2 starts better,and  seems to have the better ground clearance, but once Apollo gets his mark, they almost send TR2 out of the arena! Instead, Dead Metal has some fun. But now, TR2 turns the tables and Apollo is forced to TRY TO FLIP DEAD METAL... but fail. Just!  This is very back and forth here. Neither has a clear advantage here, but they are both running out of power... but wait, TR2 is flipped on its backside and TR2 is struggling to self right!! It must have been counted out there. TR2 came so close here to finishing the fight... That was a great spectacle to watch! Great camaraderie between the teams, that could be one of the fights of the series.

Head to Head 3: Carbide v Apollo.

Jeeezz!! A massive hit on Carbide by Apollo. I think Apollo have a chance here.... but wait, they're not moving... oh no... they've taken too much damage in that ONE hit from Carbide! Carbide were flipped over but that was some hit, even only on half power. A cheap shot at the end from Carbide, but it looks like Apollo could still get to the final.

Head to Head 4: TR2 v Thor. Wow, Thor has been completely rebuilt! That's a fantastic job in under 2 hours. 

TR2 seems to have the measure of Thor here, forcing them around the arena. But that axe is a good schrimech. What a push and flip from TR2 to throw Thor at Dead Metal!! Nicely done. I really can't see Thor coming back from this. And now Matilda's tusk flip Thor! A rare piece of poor driving from Thor. You can actually hear the axe hitting TR2 at times. Thor seem to be getting back into this but they are hit by Matilda's flywheel!! That's a HUGE hit! Are they immobilised? No, Thor manages to restart itself. But it is taking flip after flip from TR2, the floor flipper and finally Matilda's tusks take Thor clean out the arena! Finally, nearly 20 years after her debut, those tusks show their potential. Well done TR2, a commendation from Professor Sethu! Surely the youngster from TR2 will do engineering at Uni? That is one fine robot he has there.

Head to Head 5: TR2 v Carbide. Surely Carbide don't need to do very much here? Can TR2 do any better. Some good insight from the dad of the team, maybe some good tactical advice. Oooof! TR2 take more hits than Apollo and are still moving, but Carbide and ripping that flipper apart! After Sir Killalot has a nip on TR2 they hit the pit release and Carbide have now lost power and the bar HAS STOPPED MOVING!! I am getting goosebumps, TR2 still have enough of a flipper to flip Carbide! The arena flipper gets Carbide. Shunt gets Carbide! The crowd is behind TR2 here! TR2 is struggling with its turning circle but Carbide is next to useless and without their bar their driving and control has been appalling! TR2 push Carbide into Shunt...and he has Carbide on its backside...but not long enough to not go to the judges. They almost certainly have at least 2 points, do TR2? That may well be the best match of the final, but how on earth did TR2 survive that incredible punishment? Angela sums it up nicely by starting with "Unbelieveable"! And she reveals that the 2 points go to TR2! If Apollo mess up, TR2 will have a rematch with Carbide. A good observation from Dr. Lucy Rogers showing how Carbide tried to use the floor flipper to overturn. Even Carbide took internal damage! Great underdog victory for TR2. At this point even I'm going for TR2!

Head to Head 6: Thor play for pride, Apollo for so much more. Hah, Zombie Thor... nice to see Dara getting support for Thor. A nice tribute from Apollo to Thor. Interesting that Dara and Angela are watching from the cockpit with TR2.

No mention of the house robots! However, the fight is very quick, with Thor being very quickly flipped around by Apollo, the back end came off and finally the floor flipper sends it onto its back. There isn't any power left in it and Apollo win with 3 points. After that slightly anti climatic match we now have....

Final: Carbide v Apollo. Arguably the most destructive robots (at least one of them has been the most entertaining). Carbide have the advantage, but how much damage has TR2 done to Carbide? I agree with Dara. This is reminiscent of my classic fight, Chaos 2 v . Hypno disc.

Ahh!! Carbide and Apollo hit front on. Anotehr HUGE hit, but this time, crucially, Apollo survive and something flies off the arena floor!! Carbide have the advantage, managing to knock plates off Apollo, but they're superficial, but not for very long!! Apollo manage to stop Carbide by getting behind it into the CPZ!  Carbide are in real trouble now!!! When they're flipped, the bar isn't working.... and Apollo has the advantage here, almost flipping Carbide out several times!! They eventually activate the pit, and Apollo start to run out of steam. Carbide manage to flip themselves over, but not before Shunt gets some hits in there. At the end Carbide are slowly eaten by Apollo's flipper while Shunt hit the armour with his axe. That's a close one... I think  Apollo have this but that damage may count against them. A special mention to the crowd, when they're their moment, you can almost feel their passion and enthusiasm for the fights! I've said before many of them are probably old enough to remember the old series, but now they aren't using stock footage of the crowds, it definitely adds something in the final.

The judges have to make the decision as it goes all the way... and it goes to.......


Apollo!! Much like Chaos 2, they overcome the incredible destructive power of their opponent by going flipping mental, being more aggressive and ultimately being the better robot (once it could withstand those hits). Congratulations. I would have preferred a Cassius v Panic Attack style finish with the underdog winning by beating the flipper bot, but one could argue Apollo was technically the underdog ther for losing in the head to head. I guess I'm just bitter about flippers, although Apollo is a deserving champion. Especially one that can take on anyone, even the house robots!!

So next year, we have to see even more powerful (and more reliable) weapons to take on those flippers! A flipper as champion will give them the glory but Carbide did well until those last 2 fights to show that destructive weaponry is definitely a viable alternative. Here's to next series!!

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Robot Wars 2016 Review, Episode 4

So time for a very belated review of the latest episode of robot wars!

Good to remember TR2's increbile driving getting them through the 3rd episode.

Group battle 1: Apollo looking very much like a shuttle. Unofficially a "launcher", not a flipper! Sweeney Todd have some unique wheels, those should be interesting to see in the arena! Kan-Opener are a returning robot, who have an incredible crushing ability. PP3D have an odd design, I don't think it will do too much damage despite it's position on the robot primed for hitting wheels. It also has the biggest spinning wheel, AND 3-D parts! 12 tonnes of crushing power for Kan-Opener, surely Kan-Krusher would make more sense? How will the CO2 supply fare for Apollo? So off we go with Sir Killalot in tow. Kan-Opener opens the pit immediately! Apollo has trouble with the floor flipper but quickly get back and assault Kan Opener. PP3D are being slowly crushed by Kan Opener, eventually released after a trip to the floor flipper and Apollo's flipper! PP3D are flying all over the place, their spinner is actually generating uplift if it is sent upwards by a flipper! Kan-Opener are gone in the meantime. Sweenet Todd are now just taking a battering from PP3D and Apollo. How wrong I was about PP3D! It's more of a helicopter than a grasscutter, but what a likeable robot! It moves around so much when the spinner is on the top, not the bottom! So Apollo and PP3D are through. Thoroughly enjoyable. I was smiling when PP3D went spinning around. Kan-Opener taking damage from Apollo, and Apollo losing a wheel from PP3D. Trying to repair that is causing problems for Apollo although that said they could still move quite well after the wheel was ripped off.

Group battle 2: Terror Turtle don't look too competitive with the fibreglass, although a clusterbot might help out here. Storm 2 cost how much? £20,000!! They surely didn't cost that much when they were fighting in the grand final of the 7th series! Sabretooth has some teething problems they can't fix before getting into the .arena. I like the look of team Eruption, even though it is another flipper and I don't like flippers as a rule. Well the fact that the captain was head of Greenpeace for 6 years explains his haircut (and the robot design)! Matilda is looking lovely as ever... and away we go! Terror Turtle sends in its mini cluster bot into the carnage. Eruption is on Sabretooth and Storm 2 is pushing Terror Turtle. And now Sabretooth is flipped over by Eruption! They're not going anywhere without a schrimech. Terror Turtle now being double teamed! But the fight finishes with a bang as Terror turtle is flipped out of the arena by Eruption with an amazing flip! Does that come under animal cruelty? Someone call RSPCA! Dara was a little unfair on Storm 2 there. Sabretooth did try to get some damage to Eruption but it was too little too late.

There is a LOT of tech on Storm 2! That gets the nod of approval from Sethu the judge.

Head to head 1: Apollo v PP3D. These two did a lot to each other, relatively speaking. This could be fight of the series! And Apollo sned PP3D flying without even using the flipper! Good tactics from Apollo, stopping PP3D from getting the spinner from moving at full speed. Apollo managed to flip the wheel off PP3D and now both of the robots have trouble moving! Some retribution... finally Apollo get to flip PP3D and immobilise them completely! Poor PP3D but another great performance from them, some real damage taken. This time Apollo comes off lightly.

Head to head 2: Eruption v Storm 2. Flipper v Ram bot. Previous history shows that the Ram bots are better in this case (think Chaos 2 v Tornado). And the battle start with a lot of pushing, but actually Storm 2 doesn't have that much pushing power! Eruption is putting up a good fight but they've gone onto the floor flipper! By self righting, they've hit the pit release. Sit Killalot nearly get hold of Eruption. Storm 2 have learned how to get underneath Eruption and are now more confidently pushing Eruption, but Storm are still getting flipped by Eruption. Oh my, that's a close one! Were Storm 2 immobilised for long enough? Its definitely going to the judges. Storm 2 surprisingly happy with their performance. Good assessment by the Eruption team of the battle. Storm 2 I think got lucky there. A split decision!! That's a first. Just too little too late for Eruption, a shame really but since I'm not a big fan of flippers, I guess I have to eat my words if I say Eruption deserved it.

Head to head 3: Apollo v Storm 2. Apollo now running on full power! I think Storm should've gone for the spinning disc really. Storm 2 is finding it easy to get underneath Apollo but WOW that floor flipper is really powerful! Now we can see Storm 2's schrimech in action. Apollo seem to be without some drive but WHO CARES THEY'VE JUST FLIPPED DEAD METAL!! The hairs are standing on their ends on my back and arms (and pretty much everywhere)! Apollo clearly still working well, they've flipped Storm 2. AND NOW APOLLO HAVE RIPPED THE ARMOUR OFF MATLIDA WHILE SHE'S TRYING TO SELF RIGHT DEAD METAL AND FLIPPED HER OVER!! This is the battle of the series, even without considering that Storm almost had Apollo in the pit at the end but were just about ok! It goes the judges, while the technical team inspect Matilda. Will she fight again?? The winner is Apollo!! Well deserved. Even the judges approve of flipping the house robots!!

Head to head 4: Eruption v PP3D. A hard act to follow then. Both teams know this. Eruption trying to go in hard. JP making a subtle pun about tyres there. Huge hits from PP3D! Bits flying off everywhere! The side plates are shattered on Eruption!! And a wheel is broken inside Eruption. But so it one wheel on PP3D! Now they're both circling around themselves like broken hooverbots. A shame really but that fight demonstrates how powerful these robots can be. JP got a bit bored at the end. Definitely one for the judges. Control to Eruption, damage to PP3D, aggression...??? The winner is PP3D! Sounds like a lot of work for Eruption. Meanwhile less work and more a need for a need for a new motor!! Nice to see the roboteers sharing parts on the sly...

Dr Lucy Rogers almost interrupted by the sounds of hammers on metal!!! She discusses about the usefulness of internet interactions to crowdsharing, including the use of Raspberry Pi and sensors.

Head to head 5: Apollo v Eruption. The 2 flippers here and Eruption need the points. Eruption is struggling to get underneath until Apollo hit the floor flipper and Eruption hits them hard with several hits! And they've been immobilised here by Eruption. Surely they've got all 3 points. A lot of dancing from Eruption, shame they can't qualify, Angela leading the tributes after that lovely pirouette. Apollo now need some repairs.

Head to head 6: Storm 2 v PP3D. Can PP3D overcome the technical prowess and ramming speed of Storm 2?  Who dares wins... Good plan by Storm but every hit from Storm 2 is sending PP3D into the and allowing them to power up! Even Shunt's scoop is damaged! from the hit! I think PP3D are unable to move off the pit and Storm 2 hit the pit release, good tactics there. They nearly flew out of the pit! Storm 2 not being too nice to the opposition there, I'm not liking that.

Heat final: Apollo v Storm 2. Can Apollo follow up from their incredible run against the house robots? Storm 2 using their front to stop Apollo from flipping the and now shunt has Apollo.... BUT OH WAIT, THERE GOES SHUNT!!! Storm 2 has the pit released and are getting underneath Storm 2 but WHAT a flip! Storm 2 are unable to self right but can keep going. Apollo flip them over while Matilda selfs right Shunt. Oh my goodness, Storm 2 are flipped OUT of the arena! Poor positioning from Storm 2, they can only blame themselve there. A few more inches backwards and they could hav hit the side wall, not the thin air they went through. These guys, the "boy band" of the pits, have a real chance of winning the final with flipping power like that... Dara is taking apart Storm 2 here (verbally), maybe going a bit too aggressive on the captain but possibly deserved?

Easily the best fight of the series goes to Apollo and Storm 2's first fight, with both Dead Metal and Matilda being flipped over! Very enjoyable episode, although PP3D will never be forgotten. Maybe next series for them? That is one heck of a spinning disc!!

Robot Wars 2016 Review, Episode 5

Time for the penultimate show! How time flies...

So we start off with a quick statement about how varied the robots are. Fair enough... I thought I wouldn't like the variety of the intros but it is actually getting me hyped for the next episode!! Especially after the last episode (the best so far). I wonder if Dara did that "This is Robot Wars" intro every time, or did they just use one good take? Angela doing the NOT Phillipa Forrester routine with the brevity that gets us to the fighting quicker. Lovely!

Team Pulsar look like they are in pieces in the pits but sounds like it will make some serious noise! Chompalot looks nice but how much power is in that crusher? Oh, *only* a ton. Team Ironside is going for the massive arm, but no testing? Sounds like the sort of amateur team we need more of! Finally, Team Thermidor, the only golden oldie in the first heat. The team captain has an incredible set of teeth! 

Group battle 1: Turns out Ironside 3 (Nottingham) and Chompalot (Derby) are recreating the Clough derby! Shunt is in the arena... and we are off! Chompalot goes after Ironside but Thermidor and Shunt double team Chompalot! You can hear Pulsar, but not doing too much here... they hit Ironside but now they're spinning on one wheel! Thermidor is OUT in the melee! Massive hit from Ironside meanwhile, on Chompalot, rips the side panel off!!! Incredible robot. Chompalot is all over the place here, almost in the pit but mostly on the front of the immobile Pulsar...it goes to the judges while Chompalot tries to push Pulsar into the pit. And those through are Ironside and Chompalot (the most deserving fighters)! The Clough derby continues, but for how long? Bits are falling off left right and centre, will they be able to fix it in time (2 hours is surely too long)?

Group battle 2: So now we have Crazy Coupe 88, a fairly chrome-y looking fellow, but not looking too dangerous. Proper old-school, even getting the fiancee involved! good old Dara. Gabriel looks like a giant cousin to the old Stinger, very tall. I forget what the height restrictions is. Not easy to explain how Gabriel works. Beast is your conventional flipper bot but with a roll-cage on top. All the weight is in the flipper? Interesting... Infernal Contraption another returnee from the old series (I think, it looks very similar to the old Infernal Contraption). There are quite a few teams from Norwich. Oh dear, JP can't pronounce coupe... And away we go! A lot of hits, it turns into a complete melee! Beast flips Crazy Coupe, but its invertible! Dead Metal gets Crazy Coupe and they aren't moving! Gabriel just spinning around. Infernal Contraption and Beast dance around each other but Infernal Contraption pirouette their way into the pit! Gabriel and Beast are through. Meanwhile Dead Metal leaves Crazy Coupe on the flame pit.


Head to Head 1: Gabriel v Chompalot. Gabriel's huge blade has flipped Chompalot but eventually Chompalot have their crusher on Gabriel. The flipper gets Chompalot and launches them on their side and across the arena! They can't self-right! And now while Angela is talking to the team it has caught on fire... Poor Chompalot. They stood up so well in the group battle too. That is a lot of smoke, they've even had to take it outside. I think Pulsar will get in over Thermidor, and the judges select Pulsar! 

Head to Head 2: Ironside 3 v Beast. Beast and Ironside are dancing around each other and the first hits are ripping chunks out of Beast! Very manoeuvrable and after a slight malfunction they hit the exposed tyres on Beast and almost completely immobilise Beast! Eventually it is unable to move completely. Will it go to the judges? No! It's been given as a straight victory.

A quick break to talk to Dr. Sethu Vijayakuma  about prosthetic arms, which is actually quite cool! T-1000 style hand holding the flask. A cheeky reference to the old techno games?

Head to Head 3: Gabriel v Ironside 3. A change of weaponry for Gabriel but how much damage can it do with that axe? Too late, Ironside is way too quick and is hitting Gabriel's wheels and Sir Killalot gets a hold.But it's still going... the wheels are doing very well considering how many hits are going in from Ironside and Killalot! The flamepit is getting a lot of use today and Gabriel is in trouble here. They eventually escape and it goes to the judges. That might be closer than we think.... but the decision goes Ironside's way.

Head to Head 4: Beast v Pulsar. A bit unfair on Pulsar to only have 2 fights but such is the way of Robot Wars! That said both robots need the win.. Pulsar seem to be in trouble with their drive. Both of them are in trouble... but what a hit on Beast!! And that seems to have immobilised them! Well done Pulsar, although the cameras seem to have missed out most of the rest of the battle, which might have been really good, but I suspect it was a bore-fest.

Head to Head 5: Beast v Gabriel. Would Beast have had time to see Gabriel's problems on the flame pit? Back to the arm for Gabriel. Beast having some technical problems. On that same wheel that was ripped apart before... Gabriel's arm sounds good on hitting the floor. A strange ending there with Gabriel not wanting to do any more damage after immobilising Beast. A mercy killing? If you're not going to, Dead Metal will... the judges still have to decide, that is one less point if they do decide and that would be crucial. But they've been given the full points as Beast was immobilised for longer than 10 seconds.

Head to Head 6: Ironside v Pulsar. Spinners fight each other, they didn't do much against each other in the group stage except for the one hit that has given Pulsar so many drive problems. Now we will see their true powers... OH MY WORD THAT WAS INCREDIBLE!! Ironside flipped by the sheer power of Pulsar's vertical spinner when the horizontal spinner collided on it!!  Sir Killalot controversially self righting Ironside after a very long time!!  Ironside have suffered heavily here, only chance is to pit them. But wait, Pulsar aren't moving!! They've both gone into the pit... judges are looking for more than control, damage and aggression! They've gone for Pulsar!! Fantastic! Ironside were immobilised for more than 10 seconds. In just 2 fights they've gone through to the final against Gabriel! Of course that is a controversial decision, perhaps cease should have been called after the 10 seconds?

Heat final: Gabriel v Pulsar. Wow, I thought Ironside would walk through this heat, but here we are. Gabriel are so big that Pulsar are going straight under them! Pulsar are hitting the wheels, but Gabriel is still moving around, those wheels are almost indestructible. Pulsar are more manoeuvrable, Pulsar are having issues and almost stop in front of Killalot! Pulsar continue to hit the wheels of Gabriel, causing it to flip around. Again Pulsar are in trouble, right next to Killalot!! And again Pulsar is  immobile! And again they start again!! They seem to be starting again within ten seconds so it will go to the judges... even the flipper can't get a hold of Gabriel!! Who would want to be a judge! Very enjoyable final, Pulsar did more damage but that drive will count against Pulsar. Aggression to decide? Gabriel are surprisingly robust, I will agree with the team on that one. Pulsar get the win!!! I think Gabriel ran them very close, although on criteria alone, Pulsar had 2 categories going for them.

Overall, an episode that will go down as controversial for Pulsar's inclusion (maybe it should have been left blank?) and for Pulsar getting a win over Ironside when they maybe should have lost. Yes it has happened in the old series but something just doesn't seem right about it. At least this time there are no bad losers! Plus we've had our first robot so completely destroyed they've had to retire! No Matilda I see in hindsight...too much damage maybe from the 3rd episode??

The grand final is next week, let's see how it goes down...