Sunday, April 04, 2010


Thought while packing

Does anyone actually keep a sponge in their sponge bag?


Nice quote, shame about the author

"Change can only come about through persuasion, and not through violence of any sort"

A quote from Tony Blair, co-sponsor of the war in Iraq - something which presumably did not count as "violence".


Thursday, April 01, 2010


Getting it right

I'm clearing the apartment at the moment, and going through heaps of old papers and magazines accumulated over five years of flights to Damascus. One of these, an Economist from 2005, contained a review of a book by Juliet Barker about the Battle of Agincourt, and in particular the role of the English long-bow in deciding the outcome. Given the centrality of this weapon to the story, and the Economist's reputation for precision, it was sad to find in the review two glaring errors in terminology and understanding. One sentence read: "Their weapons were not Tommy-guns but longbows, each six feet long and weighing 150 pounds, strung with gut and equipped with arrows so finely barbed that they could pierce armour-plate." Now, even muscular English archers would have struggled to hold up a ten-stone weight on a fully-extended arm, let alone take good aim; it's a case of misunderstanding terminology. A bow's "weight" is the the force ("pull") required to draw the bow fully. This was usually tested by simply hanging weights on the string until the bow was at full draw, hence "weight". Even so, 150 pounds is a fearsome pull. When I shot competitively in the 1980s my bow's weight was 40 pounds, and that was tough to hold and aim. It was still accurate at 100 yards though, so the longbows at Agincourt must have been devastating. No wonder Henry VIII put such a premium on compulsory archery practice for his subjects.

The other error was referring to "firing" arrows at up to twenty a minute. You "shoot" or "loose" arrows. "Fire", not surprisingly, referred originally to setting off cannon or muskets by applying a lighted taper. Sadly the film Lord of the Rings made the same irksome mistake.

I just hope the book didn't get these things wrong too.


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