Thursday, 26 April 2012

Pub Dig

(I don't wish to give the impression that I only ever watch TV, but...)...I was watching TV last night and was entranced, enthralled and utterly gobsmacked by a series, currently showing on the UK terrestrial Channel 5, called 'Pub Dig' (well, OK, so it's full title is 'Rory McGrath's Pub Dig') for this is quite simply brilliant (and, dare I say it, one of the best archaeologically themed programmes that I've seen for a very long time).

A small team of people with a mini-digger led by a presenter (Rory McGrath) and an archaeologist (Paul Blinkhorn) in a pub garden digging for...

....well, just digging if truth be told.

They talk strategy (in the pub or, if the weather is good, in the garden of the pub), get in a big machine (and a dedicated, if largely silent, set of circuit digger types) and then proceed to cut a small-sized hole through various layers of human debris (which they analyse and discuss with obligatory pint of beer) find stuff (pottery, glass, clay pipe etc) and then assess what they think it is they've found and what it all means. 

There's no attempt to make the discovery the "most amazing thing ever found" or sound as if it "will revolutionise our understanding of..." etc. Just pub dig; a dig in a pub with some finds, none of which are particularly amazing, but all of which have a very human story to tell.

There has been a very real problem with archaeological-related TV of late in that potentially interesting stories, sometimes of research ongoing or only part finished, are grossly oversold, so the unwitting public are asked things like: "could this be the most explosive discovery ever?" or "could this one site change our perception of the world?" to which the answers are inevitably 'no' and 'no'. In such circumstances, and in such over-hyped programmes, disappointment will usually have hit the viewer hard by the final reel, presuming, of course, that they've successfully managed to sit through the multiple ad breaks and endless repetition from the deep-voiced narrator (reiterating the 'main conclusions' so far for those who've only just tuned in).

This 'over-egging' of the documentary / docu-drama annoys me intensely (and I know I really ought to get out more) because, in most instances, archaeology is exciting enough without the need for artificially created, Hollywood-style oversell. For those who think I might just be over-reacting (and that wouldn’t be for the first time I guess), I have only two words to say:

Extreme Archaeology

This short-lived series, first screened in the UK in 2004, was, in retrospect, quite brave attempt to introduce the concept of archaeology to a younger audience; one who might not normally watch such heritage-related staples as Time Team or Antiques Roadshow. The name reflected the (then) popular craze of adding the word 'extreme' to anything in order that it might appear more of an adrenalin-fuelled, white-knuckle thrill, such as the (short-lived) sports 'Extreme Ironing' (carefully removing the creases from a shirt on an large collapsible ironing board whilst suspended by a goat-nibbled rope from a mountain top above a vertigo inducing crevasse), 'Extreme Chess' (two people playing the popular board game whilst dangling from a high-wire set across a busy motorway) and 'Extreme Sudoko' (playing the frankly rather dull numbers game whilst suspended from an elastic band tied to a stick above a piranha-infested river - ok I made that one up, but you get the picture). Extreme Archaeology was all about the investigation of sites considered 'too dangerous' for mere mortals (with all their attendant Health and Safety legislation) to examine. It was as much about the process of getting to the archaeology (caving, pot-holing, swimming, abseiling, sky-diving) as the investigation itself.

Now I must admit that I quite liked Extreme Archaeology. As I've probably noted before, I'll consume any archaeo-related bit of TV programming - love it - can't get enough of it (I even obsessively watched every last bit of Bonekickers, the BBC drama from 2008, described by the Beeb’s publicity machine as “CSI meets Indiana Jones” and (perhaps less favourably) by Charlie Brooker as something which “combined the nerve-jangling thrill of archaeology with fatuous, made up bulls***”), but the general consensus amongst reviewers and the public (at least those who were asked) towards Extreme Archaeology was unfortunately hostile. One reviewer described it as “a pointlessly testosterone-fuelled attempt to grab ratings”, whilst another called it “Time Team on steroids”.  

It was not commissioned for a second series.

This is, I think, why Pub Dig feels like a blast of extremely refreshing air. Yes, it is a wholly artificial construct (what TV programme isn’t?), but it has no pretence about it; no pseudo-pompous tone; no over excited (and unnecessary hype). You get, quite emphatically, ‘what it says on the tin’.

Pub dig. A dig in a pub.

Watching it, I was taken back to the heady days of my youth, conducting urban watching briefs in densely built up areas staring forlornly at the unfolding excavation of small machine-dug trenches, cut through centuries of human detritus (concrete, bottle glass, tarmac, corroded iron, smashed china) in the hope of avoiding a direct hit onto a live electricity or gas main (or worse an active sewer). The series is a bit like Archaeological Watching Brief - the movie (except with more beer).


I don't know who suggested this particular series or who successfully pitched it at a programme planning meeting, but they deserve a medal (or at the very least a big hug).

My only (very minor) quibble (other than the worry that all archaeologists in this programme appear to be 1) Male 2) bearded 3) rotund 4) beer-swilling - all of which is sadly true in my case) is the much-repeated comment “now that’s archaeological gold”, which, on one memorable occasion, was made when it was revealed that the organic-rich layer freshly excavated was, in fact, human excrement, because archaeological gold is in fact....well gold actually. Poo, although undeniably of archaeological importance (if we want to understand the eating and digestive habits of past (or passed) societies), is clearly not a precious metal (unless I've missed the latest bit of Alchemy News - or 'Poo into Gold') - there won't, I suspect, ever be a report on the Ten O'clock News that "Poo has been found by metal detectorists working in Oxfordshire" (probably because I imagine that happens quite a lot) – but, hey, that's a minor quibble amidst a sea of archaeo-contentment.

Viva ordinary archaeology ! Viva under-hyped archaeology ! Viva unexpectedly exciting archaeology !  Viva Rory McGrath's pub dig ! Viva las Vegas ! (well ok, maybe not the last one).

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Digging the Star Trek way

I awoke from a marking-induced stupor (10 minutes break from looking at 302 identical stratigraphic matrices had somehow morphed into 35 minutes on the sofa) to find that I was slumped face down in front of the television.

On the rare occasion this happens (and it is rare, I assure you) I usually awake to be confronted by some educational wonder such as Location Location Location or Move to the Country or 60 minute makeover or House Swap or some other property-related programme designed to make the viewer feel less secure about their own personal surroundings. This time, however, it was different, for my slumber had been interrupted by the musings of an intergalactic archaeologist fresh from digging a deep hole through the floor of a subterranean cavern on an alien world in a galaxy far, far away....

...this time it was an episode of Star Trek: the next generation and it was Captain Jean Luc Picard (and not a wildly gurning estate agent) who had rudely awakened me.

OK, so I'm not really much of a 'trekkie' / 'trekker', as a Dr Who fan I suppose I'm a 'Who-er' (though to be honest that doesn't sound all that complimentary - perhaps 'Whovian' is better) and I've never really understood the need of perfectly respectable members of society to suddenly don figure-clinging jump suits and facial prosthetics in order to leap around a conference hall yelling "it's life Jim, but not as we know it" or "set phasers to stun" or "the engines canna take it" or "ahead warp factor three" or "my genitals appear rather shrivelled and unappealing", but I don't object to the odd episode of Star Trek (and I certainly don't turn it off when it's on).

So there I was, confronted by a Starfleet captain and part-time exoarchaeologist digging a wacking great big hole through the stratigraphy of an alien world. Apparently he was looking for a "Tox Uthat" a weapon of extraordinary power that fell through time and whose arrival was foretold by the Vorgons....

....or something. I think I may have slept through a crucial plot element.

Anyway, what struck me most about the search for this particular archaeological artefact was just how random it all seemed. I may well have missed the part of the story when the Captain and his colleague, Vash (sounding uncomfortably like something you could catch from a dirty toilet seat), undertook a detailed documentary search of the intergalactic Historic Environment Record or the interplanetary Sites and Monuments listing or utilised the latest advance in subplanetarysurface detection - but to my untutored eye it looked as if they'd just found a cave and hurriedly dug a hole through the floor.


This is, of course, something that is not just peculiar to Star Trek, for the archaeologist in  all forms of popular culture apparently suffers from a surprising lack of modern equipment and technology, let alone strategy and tactics. Most archaeo-related fiction (or at least fiction where archaeology and archaeologists play a central role) has the excavator attempting to work with the bare minimum of equipment in the most rudimentary of conditions (and with scant regard for an kind of health and safety - though perhaps future safety legislation is less stringent than that of today).

Rather bizarrely, considering that scifi / pop culture archaeologists such as the good Captain Picard, are conducting fieldwork work in the distant future, the world of the contemporary archaeologist has, in contrast, benefited greatly from the latest technological and scientific advances, from geophysical prospection to Global Positioning via Virtual Reality. Look at any archeo-related-documentary and you'll see techno geeks with expensive kit doing mind blowingly complex things with machines that go 'ping' (or, more usually, 'bleep').

Fictional, futuristic pop culture archaeologists do not appear to use satellite technology. They do not have geophysical plots in order to help them locate their site or design their sampling strategy. They do not possess robotic excavators equipped with laser samplers. They do not own transmat beams or transportation devices in order to instantly teleport sensitive artefacts direct to the conservation laboratory on Pluto 5. They do not, in most cases, appear to have a compass, notebook or even pencil.

The pop culture exoarchaeologist, as evidenced by Star Trek, Doctor Who and others, seems to prefer working alone, or with the minimum of support, in narrow, irregular sized (and often dangerously deep) trenches, with, I might add, not a straight-sided section edge in sight. What do they teach at Starfleet Academy? Certainly the work of Mortimer Wheeler and other archaeo-luminaries of the 20th century would appear to have long since been forgotten, or more likely lost in some catastrophic war (with mutant cockroaches). Futuristic trenches (perhaps 'trench' is too kind a term - 'hole' seems more appropriate) are excavated in classic, randomly placed 'Battleships' game-style (in the vain hope of hitting something) - to be fair, however, this non-scientific approach does appear to work (well, this is fiction) as the exoarchaeologist is surprisingly good at finding wonderful things.

As the episode of Star Trek: TNG (or at least what was left of it) developed, I couldn't help but notice that the archaeology of the future had apparently taken one giant leap backwards. There was, it would seem, to be no new way of investigating deeply buried alien civilisations in this version of things to come; in fact the traditional shovel, spade and pick axe would appear to be the very height of the sophisticated futuristic archaeological tool repertoire. No fancy gismos; no techno-flimflams. Not even a sonic trowel.

It was the absence of the trowel, or indeed of any hand held tool smaller than a shovel, that perplexed me the most. It is the trowel, a tool so ubiquitous and beloved by archaeologists today, that is almost always absent from the expedition kit of the pop culture fieldworker. No modern archaeologist would be without one; no future archaeologist would, it seems, dare be seen with one (perhaps they were banned under some pan galactic armistice?). Without trowels, I wondered, just how did my futuristic colleagues clean up buried surfaces or unearth delicate objects?

Aside from the lack of useful equipment, the Star Trek team of two had not, I observed, actually recorded anything as they indiscriminatingly hacked their way through the sealed layers of their site (although that's an accusation that could be levelled at a number of archaeologists today). Worse, there were no cameras, 3D geospatial recorders, planning frames or individual context sheets. There were no notebooks, day books or dig diaries. No one was looking at artefacts (there were no finds trays) nor were they noting changes in soil colour or texture.

As the end credits rolled and I rose to reconnect with my marking, I shook my head in sadness. I dread to think what the timeline for publication of the Tox Uthat Project (TUP) is, but I do hope it doesn't take too long to compile, for I really look forward to seeing the final results... should make for an interesting read.


Thursday, 19 April 2012

Archaeology not the only profession to employ double-speak! (Shock, Horror)

"What do you think?"

This seemingly innocuous question came out of nowhere, but, in the silence that followed, I began to realise (with some horror) that it had been directed at me.

This was not good news.

I had, for the previous 10 to 15 minutes, been singularly failing to pay any sort of attention whatsoever, losing track of the main meetings agenda, instead finding myself recording a series of words and phrases, all employed during the meeting, which had left me feeling utterly bewildered. 

I've already noted (in earlier posts) my semi-schizophrenic relationship with 'double-speak', the euphemism, misinformation, verbal camouflage and techno-babble that officials often resort to when they wish to disguise 'the truth' or make it more palatable to a general audience (by making it totally incomprehensible). On the one hand I can't help but admire double-speak (for its sheer, naked artistry); on the other I utterly despise it (for confusing simple-minded people like myself). Gobbledegook has bleed into all areas of the modern world, archaeology being no exception (hence the term 'archaeospeak' which is thrown at the profession every time it uses terms like 'ground intervention' instead of 'trench' or ‘Hypothetico-deductive explanation' instead of 'a wild guess' ).  

Excising legitimate forms of speech through a word-based form of “regime-change” serves only to create an ever increasing gulf of incomprehension between speaker and listener, which, in the case of archaeology in particular, serves only to switch people off. All practitioners (and not just archaeologists) have, in my mind, a public duty to speak honestly and directly about their profession avoiding all attempts at doublespeak; unless of course they really don't want people to know what it is they do (just in case anyone finds out that their job isn't really all that important). 

To begin with I had assumed that the management buzz-words employed in this particular meeting were pretty much incomprehensible to one and all, and, to be honest, I was waiting for someone to snap, slam their fists on the table and shriek "what in billyo are you talking about?".

But no one did. 

Looking round the room I saw only a mass of nodding heads, all moving in synchronised mutual agreement. This was all obviously making some kind of sense to them....perhaps, I began to think, it was just me?

For the record (and for my own sanity), I append my list, compiled in those 15 minutes adrift in a sea of verbal incomprehension, of management doublespeak which I did not then (nor since) fully understand:

We need to touch base on that A-Sap

I guess "A-Sap" is a verbalisation of A.S.A.P. ('as soon as possible'), but 'touching base'....? Don't know, but it really does sound unaccountably rude. I've heard people use this particular term before, but have never really worked out quite what it means. Is it a sporting metaphor? Are there 'base-touchers' in baseball (probably) / rounders / cricket / some-other-sport-i've-never-heard-of? (or is, as I suspect, the idea of touching someone's base a form of improper contact for which one can be summarily imprisoned?).

That's par for the course

I'm guessing (again) that this is a sporting analogy / metaphor...probably golf-related. I've never fully got the hang of this particular ‘sport’, so I can’t be totally sure, though I have to say that the phrase certainly proved popular in the meeting (three different people using it at various intervals – perhaps there are more golfers in the world than I had thought).

Let's run that up the flagpole a guess I would suggest this is a metaphor for trying something out (akin to 'let's stick our heads over the battlements and see if they get blown off our shoulders' sort of thing...) but I really wouldn't like to bet on it.

Can we take this offline?

I think this means 'let's not talk about this here (in front of witnesses)'

The platform requires significant incentivisation before it can move forward

I wrote this down just as it was spoken - then looked at the phrase repeatedly as it sat menacingly on the page. In the cold light of day, and with much subsequent thought, I'm still not exactly sure what it means. Can a platform be incentivised (whatever that entails) or even move for that matter? Platforms are large, solid, utterly immobile features that people stand on in order to wait for a train....aren't they....?

This news will inevitably cascade down

like a waterfall...? Is this a good thing?

I'm afraid that this has really come at us from under the radar

I guess this means that a particular situation or scenario has caused some degree of surprise?

Can we move forward before the close of play?

er....can somebody please do something before we all go home for dinner and slump in front of the One Show (or some other great televisual feast)?

Let's workshop later

no...sorry…lost me completely. Is 'workshop' a verb?

It's all a bit too shopfront for me

Excusez-moi, parlez-vous Anglais?

My favourite piece of doublespeak in the meeting, however, was the rather spectacular:

The problem as I see it is that things are too top down - we really need to be more bottom up

Now, I'm an open-minded, liberal kinda guy and, if somebody wants 'bottom-up' then, by all means, I think they should have's just that I'm not altogether sure that a management meeting is really the place to discuss this sort of thing. Anyway, suppressing a rather school-boyish-type snigger (from hearing the words 'bottom' and 'up' in an otherwise serious conversation), I became horribly aware that all eyes were now turning towards me.

"What do you think?"

That question again. There had clearly (just) been some sort of a discussion in which my lack of participation had been noted and for which my thoughts were now being requested.

I cleared my throat.

"I agree."


Monday, 16 April 2012


Seriously.....I know I seemed to have been on a wee bit of a downer (no pun intended) in my last blog posting (on Titanic euphoria sweeping the TV and radio channels this month), but, as the saying (almost) goes, there's nothing quite as strange as real much so that I have a new word of the week: "Titanorakotat" (which may be defined as the obsessive consumption of tasteless souvenirs derived from real life disasters by those who really ought to know better).

OK so the Titanic memorials, church services and general world-wide commemorations held across the weekend of the 14th and 15th of April 2012 all seemed entirely respectful, reverential and appropriate, given that this is the centenary of a truly appalling loss of life at sea (and I have to say that seeing Protestant and Catholic / Unionist and Republican sat together in services held across Belfast was, given the history of the troubles here, rather awe-inspiring), but the general levels of, what one could legitimately describe as 'cashing in' that some have participated in seem (to me at least) somewhat distasteful.

Titanic coffee mug anyone?


How about a moulded plastic kit (available in 25 weekly parts) or a ship-in-a-bottle, tea towel or commemorative key fob? How about (and I kid you not) an ice-cube maker dispensing novelty ice-bergs and miniature liners (for what could be more entertaining than reliving the disaster in one's own gin-and-tonic?).

Even if the profits generated from such Titanaroakotat were going to deserving maritime charities, I have to ask who would actually feel that their lives (or homes) could in any way be improved by such purchases? The tabloid press would have a self-righteously indignant field day if they had discovered that someone was making money from the sale of novelty tourist paraphernalia based upon the loss of life in a more recent plane / train / car crash....why should RMS Titanic be any different?

There is even a commemorative cruise (on board the ship MS Balmoral) designed to coincide with the exact route and final destination of the RMS Titanic (although without, I hope, the last moments at sea). I don't know how I should feel about this. OK, so there was a wreath laying event at the scene and prayers were said, lives remembered....but...and once more here's the rub, did those involved in the cruise (some of whom were rumoured to have spent up to £5,000 for the privilege) really need to be in fancy dress? Did they need to be having, to my untutored eye, so much fun? And, for that matter, why were all those featured on the news wearing either big floral hats and corsets (mostly the women) or top hats and immense handle-bar moustaches (mostly the men). Why were they only reliving the final moments of the wealthy and privileged in first class, rather than the third-class discomfort of those seeking a new life in the USA? Where (without sounding too 'right-on') were the poor, downtrodden and miserable re-enactors in all this?

One particular reporter on the Balmoral commented upon the desire of those on board to shop (for where else could you obtain mementoes of the commemorative cruise?), noting that passengers were queuing "for up to half an hour" in order to nab a bargain (tankards, keep-sake boxes, baseball hats, T-shirts, teddy-bears, DVDs of the movie etc). A British-based auctioneer, selling genuine 'souvenirs' from the original ship-wreck, laughed when asked by a BBC reporter whether he thought people who collected such material were in any way strange. "How do you define weird?" he said "people collect memorabilia from Roman's far from weird".

Yes, but this is a whole new level of ghoulishness isn't it? 

Collecting Roman coins, pottery or tiles (whether ethical or not), is one thing - seeking out 100 year old items purely because they belonged to someone who died of hypothermia in the North Atlantic, or who was blown apart during the compression of air pockets in a sinking ship, or whose lungs filled with water, or who was crushed, smashed or who died horribly in a multitude of other ways (or committed grief-stricken suicide afterwards) is quite another isn't it? 

Is this not a whole new level of grave-robbing (an accusation which, as an archaeologist, I realise is perhaps another case of 'pot-kettle-sooty bottom')? But, ask yourself this: if the news reported that people were queuing for half an hour on board a plane in order to buy novelty tankards 'commemorating' the Lockerbie disaster or the twin towers inferno of 9/11, would we not feel just a little bit uneasy? If there were fights among tourists trying to buy commemorative T-towels in the souvenir shop of the Ladbroke Grove rail-crash or the Kings Cross underground rail fire, would the press feel justified to ask "what the ruddy heck is wrong with people?"

Or is it just me.......?'s just me isn't it. 

Monday, 2 April 2012


I learnt a new word today: 'Titanorak'. A Titanorak is somebody with a (perhaps rather unhealthy) obsession with a ship; or rather with the way in which a particular ship died.

100 years ago this month (on the 14th of April 1912), RMS Titanic sank with a loss of 1522 of her 2224 passengers and crew. It remains the worst non-wartime maritime disaster in history. For the purposes of historical accuracy, it is perhaps worth noting that point again: over one and a half thousand people died.


There really is no getting away from it: the loss of the Titanic was a catastrophe; a terrible loss of life on an unimaginable scale. Many of those who survived the sinking were, furthermore, left deeply traumatised, bereft and, in many cases, destitute, having lost all their savings and possessions in the belly of the ship. Contrary to what you may have heard (or indeed seen) on TV and in the cinema, there was absolutely nothing 'romantic' about this particular event.

The sinking should, of course, be commemorated and the innocent victims remembered on this anniversary but, and here's the rub, I find the obsessive way in which some Titanoraks seek out objects and artefacts associated with the sinking, somewhat bizarre (if not morbid and, dare I say it,  distasteful). A few days ago, for example, a menu written on the day the ship went down, detailing what proved to be the last supper for those in first class, went at auction for £76,000. Other items included in the sale were a set of keys, originally for the storeroom in which the Titanic's lifeboat lanterns were kept (described in the sale as being of particular importance as they had "actually been used in those last desperate hours") which were sold to a Titanorak for £59,000, and a letter from one of the ship's officers who died in the tragedy, which raised £29,000.

The British Press seemed genuinely amazed by the sums of money generated in the auction, but they also appeared in awe of the historic importance of the particular items. Would, I couldn't help but think, they be running quite such 'feel-good' stories if the items on sale were luggage found after a recent plane crash or, say, a passport retrieved from the sea following the sinking of a passenger ferry?


OK so the sinking of the Titanic occurred a century ago, so the site and the finds could be classified as archaeological, but does this in any way soften the circumstances of the disaster? Does the passing of time really make the event any less tragic (and the finds therefore more valuable)? War graves get statutory protection, but civilian casualties killed in, what insurers would call 'an act of God', apparently are not always accorded the same rights. The wreck of the RMS Titanic has, since its rediscovery in 1985, been repeatedly probed, prodded, filmed and, as far as we can tell, irreparably damaged by the accidental introduction of rust-eating bacteria. Large numbers of artefacts have been lifted whilst 'mementoes' (tickets, menus, diaries etc) have gone for increasingly obscene prices to Titanoraks obsessed with the demise of so many men, women and children in the icy waters of the North Atlantic.

Worse, in my (admitedly perhaps rather non-objective) view, is the dramatic fictionalisation of the last moments of the Titanic's passengers and crew. James Cameron, whose work in other areas I very much admire (especially Terminator and Aliens), restarted the Hollywood Titanorak obsession, which followed the 1958 movie A Night to Remember, with the rather more gut-wrenchingly schmaltzy and historically inaccurate, though ultimately financially lucrative (people seemed to have stopped calculating profit once it passed a billion dollars) epic Titanic in 1997, which went on to scoop 11 academy awards (which for those who love  movie-trivia equalled the amount won by Ben Hur), including best picture and best director. This wasn't documentary or factual investigation, it was dramatisation: real tragedy as entertainment; movie-makers profiteering, you could conceivably argue, from a 100 year old tragedy. I see that, in order to cash in on the centenary (and perhaps wring a little extra profit out of the deaths of so many), studio execs have re-released Titanic "in 3D" so that audiences can now appreciate the tragic, painful, unnecessarily gory demise of so many men, women and children in hyper realism (whilst gorging, no doubt, upon hot dogs and pop corn).

Cameron has, I noted, recently taken a break from his deep-sea probing of the Mariana Trench, to publicise the new 3D version of his film. "I think it's fairly intuitive that 3D is going to enhance a sense of being on the ship" he commented in the Sunday Times, observing that the new version helped enhance "the luxury of the sets" and "the opulence of the production design". Fair enough. Most directors (apart from the really obtuse ones) continuously feel the need to improve their work, and the recreation of the Titanic's interiors is an exercise in historical recreation in itself. However the justification loses some credibility when Cameron added that the real joy of 3D was that it enhances the experience so "you feel more physically present, more participatory"...I see...all the excitement of dying horribly without actually having to die horribly.

TV and radio are, perhaps unsurprisingly, also getting in on the act with a mass of specially made programmes such as Nazi Titanic (which my digibox guide inexplicably, and perhaps rather inappropriately, managed to shorten to: 'Nazi Tit'), Titanic: a commemoration in Music, Titanic 100: the Myths and Legends, The Titanic enquiry, Ship of Dreams, Why Ships Sink, Sinking of the Titanic Special, Titanic: the Final Word (patently untrue), Titanic: and the band played on, Titanic: the Aftermath, Scotland's Titanic and, perhaps most bizarrely of all, Titanic with Len Goodman. I read this particular gem in the TV schedules with some incredulity. Len Goodman, the dancer and judge from Strictly Come Dancing? Len Goodman (and in that case why not Titanic with Lulu or Cilla Black? - or, for that matter, what about hard-hitting documentaries such as War in the Balkans with Bruce Forsyth, or Great Chemical disasters with Craig Revel Horwood?).

Fortunately the BBC website explained all, with the help of three rather inappropriate pictures of a gurning Goodman (surely the sinking wasn't that much fun?), noting that before he'd been a dancer, Len had been a welder "with Harland and Wolff...the company that, from 1909 to1912, built the Titanic in Belfast". 

Ah, well then, that explains everything.

Perhaps most unsettling, at least from my own fevered mind, has been the contribution of Julian Fellowes, actor, Conservative peer and celebratory aristo-loving screenwriter of Gosford Park and Downton Abbey, who, to commemorate the disaster, has written a 4 hour (11 million pound) epic for ITV entitled simply Titanic (or, as one critic unfavourably described it, 'Downton-on-Sea') in which the accident can be relived again, and again, and again (in High Definition). How long I wonder before other, more recent plane / train / ship disasters are immortalised as docu-dramas / factu-mentaries / bodice-ripping fantasy dramas or musicals? I do find the whole thing rather strange and incomprehensible (if not a tad ghoulish). Calm, rational, sensitive TV investigations are one thing. Sensationally fictionalised accounts profiting from disaster by turning it into light entertainment, quite another.

So, here's my new word for the day: Titanoraknophobia, or fear of those obsessed with the sinking of the unsinkable. Let us not forget the passengers and crew of RMS Titanic in all the hype - I do hope that, after this particular anniversary has passed, that they will finally be able to rest in peace.