Hello there 🙂

Welcome to issue forty one of Manufacturing Serendipity, a loosely connected, somewhat rambling collection of the unexpected things I’ve recently encountered.

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Speaking of coffee, grab yourself a suitable beverage my loves, let’s do this thing…

Part I: Things I’ve Encountered…

Last weekend, my Dad and I had a lovely time visiting our friend Diana in Devizes. Whilst we were there we visited Avebury, the site of a Neolithic monument.

When I got home I looked up its history, which I found fascinating – here’s a potted version:

Avebury was not designed as a single monument, but was the result of various projects that were undertaken at different times during late prehistory. Archaeologist Aubrey Burl suggested dates of 3000 BC for the central cove, 2900 BC for the inner stone circle, 2600 BC for the outer circle and henge, and around 2400 BC for the avenues.

The site is an incredible feat of engineering – it’s thought that the outer circle was originally comprised of 98 sarsen standing stones, which varied in height from 3.6 metres (12 ft) to 4.2 metres (14 ft); some of which weighed in excess of 40 tonnes.

No one knows exactly what the monument was used for; Aubrey Burl believed that rituals would have been performed at Avebury in order to “appease the malevolent powers of nature”, such as the winter cold, death, and disease.

Similarly, no one is sure of the monument’s meaning – archaeologist Colin Richards has suggested that the stone and wooden circles built in Neolithic Britain might have represented the centre of the world, or axis mundi, for those who constructed them. Archaeologist Aaron Watson theorised that by digging up earth and using it to construct the large banks of the henge, Neolithic labourers saw themselves turning the land “inside out”, thereby creating a frontier between the worlds above and beneath the ground.

Let’s fast forward about 2,000 years. By the Iron Age (800 BC – 100 AD), it appears that the Avebury monument had fallen out of use. Aubrey Burl believed that the Iron Age Britons living in the region would not have known when, why, or by whom the monument had been constructed, but perhaps had some vague understanding that it had been built by an earlier society, or considered it to be the dwelling of a supernatural entity.

Let’s skip forward another 1,000 years to the late Mediaeval period (1250 AD to 1500 AD). By now, England has been entirely converted to Christianity, and Avebury, being an evidently non-Christian monument, begins to be associated with the Devil. The largest stone at the southern entrance becomes known as the Devil’s Chair, the three stones that once formed the Beckhampton Cove become known as the Devil’s Quoits and the stones inside the North Circle become known as the Devil’s Brand-Irons.

At some point in the early 14th century, local villagers find the whole thing entirely too devilish, and begin to demolish the monument by pulling down the large standing stones and burying them in ready-dug pits.

But it doesn’t go well. During the toppling of the stones, one of them (which was 3 metres tall and weighed 13 tonnes), fell on top of one of the men, crushing him to death. His corpse was trapped in the hole that had been dug for the falling stone, and so locals were unable to remove the body and offer him a Christian burial in a churchyard.

It appears that the death of this man caused the locals to stop pulling down further stones, perhaps because they feared the man’s death was retribution, enacted by a vengeful spirit, or even the Devil himself.

Soon after, in 1349, the Black Death hit the village almost halving the population. Those who survived focused on their agricultural duties to grow food and stay alive.

Fast forward another couple of hundred years to the latter part of the 17th and 18th centuries, England is now a Puritanical place, and destruction at Avebury reaches its peak.

The majority of the standing stones (that had been a part of the monument for thousands of years by this point) were smashed up and used as building material for the local area. This was a non-trivial undertaking: fires were lit to heat the sarsen stones, cold water was poured on to create weaknesses in the rock, and then finally folks took sledgehammers to them in order to smash them apart.

Somewhat related: it was around this time period that widescale witch hunts were taking place in England, which I think gives you a flavour of the way the winds were blowing back then.

By the beginning of the Victorian period, the majority of Neolithic standing stones at Avebury had gone.

So what’s the deal with the monument today?

In the 1920s, archaeologist Alexander Keiller (heir to the James Keiller and Son marmalade business) took an interest in the site and decided purchase Avebury it in its entirety. During the 1930s, Keiller re-erected many of the stones; and today the site is owned and managed by the National Trust.

And so, despite the wanton destruction; happily, parts of the monument remain today.

Incidentally, in this course of writing this, I came across this Google review of the site:

A Google Maps review of the monument at Avebury: “Great place, good atmosphere, cold drinks, chilled out pre-club vibe”.

I wonder what prompted Ray MacArthur to leave this review? (If indeed he is a real person.)

I like to imagine that he is real, and that he left this review in the hope that one day a group of lads would rock up at this site expecting pre-club vibes; and be baffled to find nothing but strange stone circles erected in muddy fields, and a National Trust gift shop which has closed for the day.

Moar Serendipitous finds:

A 45-Foot Herb Garden Visualises the Threat to Women’s Reproductive Rights

Maureen Connor and Landon Newton of How to Perform an Abortion with the collective’s piece 
Trigger Planting presented by A.I.R. Gallery at Frieze New York. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

“A leafy green bank of herbs hangs on a wall at Frieze New York. The work, titled Trigger Planting, is by the art collective How to Perform an Abortion, and is intended as a stark reminder of the Supreme Court’s likely plan to overturn Roe v. Wade and roll back women’s reproductive rights.

All of the plants in the site-specific display have traditionally been used for contraception and abortion. The collective planted them on a map of the U.S., over each of the 26 states where so-called trigger laws will immediately ban abortion once Roe v. Wade, which legalized the procedure, is overturned.

Realizing just how much green covers the installation is a terrifyingly effective visual of just how restricted women’s access to abortion stands to become.”

A list of good reasons to make lists

“To dissolve an impossible-seeming thing.

To guard from panic.

To write down things said/mentioned/referenced by teenagers or early twenty-somethings at a party with the title of the list being “GOOGLE WHAT IS THIS.”

To remember cool words.”

A diet app helped me shed my extra Covid pounds — and reminded me that I’m still the same old me

“Diet culture is a fear of death disguised as transformation. But the transformation is a fantasy. If, through some heroic act of will, you do manage to heave yourself into a new place, it is still you who did the heaving. It is you who stands in the new place. You will still be you.

And I will still be Fat Sam. I will also be the person who is embarrassed by Fat Sam. My feelings about my body form a chord of many notes, not all of which sound good together. I am, all at once, the one who wants to swallow the world and the one responsible for stopping myself from swallowing the world. This probably means that I will always be unsatisfied, in some way, until the moment that everything ends. And I will have to learn to be satisfied with this.”

To sell something surprising, make it familiar…

Some fascinating insights into the efficacy and history of skeuomorphism (where a new technology deliberately adopts the design features of a previous technology).

What TikTok’s obsession with nepotism babies says about class

There’s a whole community of fans on TikTok exposing famous people who turn out to be ​“nepotism babies”, a term coined by Gen Zers to describe celebs who, put simply, are only celebs because their family members are in the ​‘biz too.

Symphony in Acid

This is a delight. It’s an interactive website created to promote the track Symphony in Acid from the album Unspoken Words by Max Cooper. It features text from Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein, which deals with limits of language. Animation and code are by Ksawery Komputery.

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Part II: Books I’m Reading Right Now

This fortnight I devoured The Sun on My Head by Geovani Martins (translated by Julia Sanches). In this debut collection, Martins transports us to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro where his 13 short stories are set.

In one story, a young boy is drawn to his father’s gun, in another, a young boy frets over the demise of a butterfly. In further stories we see drug culture, gang violence, and corrupt policing. In showing us both – the familial tenderness alongside the violence and oppression, Martins paints a vivid and complex portrait of his community. Thanks to the subject matter, this one won’t be for everyone, but I loved it.

Part III: Things I’ve Been Watching

Here are a couple of things which I’ve watched this fortnight:

  • Conversations with Friends (BBC iPlayer) – This TV adaptation of Sally Rooney’s first novel definitely isn’t the compulsive viewing experience that Normal People was (Rooney’s hit TV adaptation from 2020); but controversially perhaps, I kind of liked it. It’s been criticised for being slow (and it really is); but I think because the characters are all pretty flawed, and (with the possible exception of Bobbi) difficult to sympathise with, it’s actually a much more interesting and complex story than Normal People.
  • The Father (Amazon Prime) – I loved this film adaptation of Florian Zeller’s stage play. Anthony Hopkins plays the Father in question, a man suffering from dementia; and Olivia Colman plays his daughter. The film offers viewers an terrifying insight into how sufferers might experience dementia, as we follow Hopkins through a series of hellishly disorientating time slips and time loops. I felt that the incredibly difficult subject matter was handled both sensitively and brilliantly; but it should be noted that some viewers may find this film upsetting.
  • Coco (Disney+) – I’m still making good use of my free subscription to Disney+; clearly I’m very late to the party with Coco (it was released in 2017), but this one is an absolute delight, and you should watch it if you haven’t already.

Part IV: What I’ve been up to…

I met up with my friend Sean after way too long, had a wonderful time visiting my friend Diana in Devizes, spent a delightful afternoon with Areej and Amira and their gorgeous babies, and did a circuits class outside with my pals in the sunshine.

What’s next?

It’s a long bank holiday weekend here in the UK. I’m planning on taking a trip to Kew Gardens, going to a barbecue (assuming the weather holds), bingeing Season 4 of Stranger Things, and reading a stack of delicious books.

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