Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Week on the S.S.Karim

Monday 21 May 2007 - We arrive at Luxor airport and are greeted by our handsome young guide Ahmed. It is gloriously hot as our little minibus takes us to the S.S.Karim, an ancient paddle-steamer which will be our home for the next week. Usually it takes up to 30 passengers but this week there are only 16 of us; this is because it is the end of the season and starting to get hot. We are outnumbered 2 to 1 by the crew of 32. From Walid the manager down to the boys in the engine room, they are uniformly charming and helpful. Alladin at reception always has a smile and Abdul the 'chambermaid' makes creatures out of towels when he cleans our cabin twice daily. He calls his towel creations 'Egyptian Art'.

We set sail immediately, leaving the heat and noise of Luxor for the cool blue Nile. The boat, built in 1917, is a pure delight of teak and brass and Art Deco stained glass with a big shaded terrace for sipping fresh lemonade. Our cabin is right at the back and we have a tiny but private semi-circular balcony over the wheel. Luckily we dock most nights and aren't kept awake by the wheel's rhythmic wheezing.

Tuesday 22 May 2007 - A delicious buffet breakfast, the first of many. There are sticky buns and cereal, but I choose the Roman option of cucumber, tomatoes, cheese and a freshly cooked omelette. Then a glorious day sailing down the Nile. We are travelling at only three miles per hour, so we can really see the life on the banks of the Nile, unchanged over 4,000 years. Men in their long, loose tunics and turbans cutting alfalfa for their donkeys, boys fishing from a small rowing boat, women washing clothes by the river. It is surprisingly lush. A Roman traveller would have recognized date palms, acacias, papyrus, mimosa and sycamore, but not the banana plants, sugarcane, pampas grass, cotton or mangos.

Ahmed gives us a briefing in the air-conditioned wood-panelled Edwardian lounge. He tells us to be careful of scams. We are rich tourists. Half the population of Egypt is very poor. The market traders will try lots of tricks. They will say something costs '5 Nubian pounds' when there is no such thing as a 'Nubian pound'. They will sell you perfume made with vegetable oil, so that you end up smelling like an omelette. They will try to sell you papyrus made of banana leaves. Worst of all, they will be very aggressive, sometimes even grabbing hold of you.

We arrive at Edfu to visit the Temple of Horus, and sure enough, as soon as we step off the gangplank they are upon us. Boys selling bottled water, men selling postcards and carved Egyptian cats. They reach out at you and shout and wave their goods in your face. Even after we get on the minibus they tap on our windows our yell through the open door. Finally we drive through hot, scruffy streets to the temple. Like all the temples and tombs we will see here in Egypt, it is very impressive. Ahmed tells us lots of interesting facts, some of which I will be sure to use. For example, in Egyptian cosmology, the sky is feminine, the earth is masculine and the moon, too. This is the opposite of the Greek and Roman myths. Egyptian hieroglyphics are fascinating, of course, and the animal-headed gods, and the story of Seth vs Osiris. But what really interests me are the glimpses of timeless Egyptian daily life I see around me.

We set sail again with relief. It is maybe 105º out there but under the awning, making its tiger-stripes of sunlight, and with the breeze from the river and a cold drink, it is glorious. The heat sucks all energy from you and the rhythmic pulse of the paddle-wheel is very soporific. It is evening now, and the banks of the Nile have come alive. Women filling buckets of water, brown slippery boys splashing in the bank and a grey donkey hurrying down a steep slope for a drink of cool water.

Wednesday 23 May 2007 - We passed through Esna lock last night at about 4.00am and now are berthed near the Temple of Kom Ombu, where the crocodile god Sobek is worshipped. Sadly there are no more crocodiles in the Nile, though there would have been in Roman times. This city was important in Roman times because it was midway between the gold mines of Nubia and the Mediterranean. Strabo came here and made notes about crocodiles and their feeding. I must make this a stop in my next book, The Scribe from Alexandria... We see a couple of dusty mummified crocodiles in glass cases and when we get back to our cabin on the S.S.Karim we find 'Egyptian art' in the shape of a crocodile!

We reach Aswan about 3.00pm and we dock next to a row of much bigger riverboats. Aswan was the gateway to Nubia and is now the last town before the high dam. The river is quite wide here and studded with islands. Almost at once a felucca pulls up to take us to the Botanical Gardens on Kitchner Island. A felucca is the timeless boat with a distinctive triangular sail. Like most of the feluccas here at Aswan, the owners are Nubians. The boy at the tiller has lovely features and neat ears, his skin mid brown rather than pale like Egyptians or ebony like Ethiopians. At the end of our trip he picks up a tambourine and sings for us.

In the evening we take a coach and painted wooden motorboat (they call it gondola) to the sanctuary of Isis at Philae, beyond the high dam. The sound and light show is a bit boring. It needs actors! But the temple is impressive at night. And there are bats!

Thursday 24 May 2007 - We opt not to return to Philae in the heat of the day. Instead we go with Steve and Sue to see the Aswan granite quarry and the famous unfinished obelisk. Steve is a stonemason from Dudley and he bounds around the rocks like a kid in a candy shop. 'Why didn't I bring my rock-chisel?' he moans. A quick stop at the Nubia Museum and then an expensive drink on the opulent terrace of the Old Cataract Hotel, where parts of the 1978 film Death on the Nile were filmed. It is bliss, and worth every penny.

At lunchtime I go across the street to an internet cafe. On my way back I am accosted by Egyptian men saying 'Hey, Madame!' and 'Hey, you!' The driver of a horse and cart follows me along the street and won't leave me alone. 'I'm only going one block!' I say, but he keeps following me. Then another man on foot approaches me. I start to run away, back across the street, and almost get run over by a bus! Even though I am dressed modestly in my long black shirt and trousers, I must remember a woman on her own invites attention. Next time I will have to take Richard with me as protection.

That afternoon there is an optional shopping trip to the souk to buy an Egyptian galabaya, the long loose tunic worn by men and women. It will be all right because I am in a group, and Ahmed is along. I bought my galabaya at the quarry so snap pictures while Ahmed helps the others make their purchases. I am epecially pleased with my photo of the water-seller, who clangs two little brass dishes together to announce his arrival. Of course you must ask permission to take a photo first and afterwards given them a little 'baksheesh'. I brought a bunch of US dollars for this purpose.

That night we are entertained by a belly dancer (very tasteful) and a whirling dervish (very dizzy) in the ship's lounge.

Friday 25 May 2007 - Today most of our party got up at 4.00am to make the three hour coach trip to Abu Simbel. Althought it must be stunning, Richard and I opt for later start on a boat trip of bird-watching and plant-identifying in the islands of the cataract, along with a visit to a Nubia village. I am more concerned with getting plant and animal details right and Richard loves birds. There are only about eight of us on the gondola, including a nine-year-old English boy with glasses and a Peter Pan haircut. Our guide introduces himself as Arabi. His father was head gardener at the Old Cataract Hotel and taught Arabi about plants. Arabi became interested in birds around the age of six or seven, and taught himself. He points out the hooded crow, swallows, parakeets and 'loving doves'. He shows us how to differentiate the great egret from the cattle egret. We also see a purple heron and lots of moor-hens, which I guess are from Africa since 'moor' comes from 'Mauretania'. He also sees a galinule, a green bee-eater and a little bittern but our eyes aren't sharp enough. Arabi grew up here and claims the Nile is so clean you can drink from it. He demonstrates!

At the end of our trip I can identify the wattle tree (a kind of acacia), the frangipani, liburnum, mimosa, jacaranda and the flame tree. In the water we see bullrushes, pampas grass and mimosa, with its little pink flowers. My book will be set in May so I make note of everything in bloom.

Presently we arrive at the Nubian village. It is very hot outside, but cool in the Nubian house. Arabi hands the nine-year old a baby crocodile and Richard holds one, too. Richard describes the crocodile as bumpy on the back but with an underbelly soft as a kitten's. I ask him if the crocodile is hot or cool or medium. Medium.

The plastered walls are covered with colourful and primitive designs. Of course, the Nubians used to be mainly nomadic, but since all their land was flooded by the high dam in 1960, they have been re-located to houses in and around Aswan. We are served mint tea and I get a 'Nubian henna' design on my hand. Outside I photograph an old man with his donkey cart, a Nubian family and spice-seller at his stall. The villagers are very poor and even after I give them 'baksheesh' they beg for more.

Everyone is back at the S.S.Karim by 2.00. The party to Abu Simbel were delayed because of a flat tyre on their coach, but luckily it was repaired and they are not bones bleaching in the desert. As we sit down to another delicious meal, the S.S.Karim chugs out into the Nile and we say farewell to Aswan. Now we are travelling north again, back to Luxor, and the current will help us go a little faster. Maybe 5 miles per hour.

In the afternoon we have a tour of the ship and see what goes on below our luxurious cabins and lounges and sundecks. We see the engine room and the pistons and the captain's cabin. The captain is about 22 years old and drives with his knees! His father was a steamer captain and his father before him, so I'm not worried he's so young. Alladin says he knows this stretch of the Nile so well that he never needs to use charts.

Saturday 26 May 2007 - We docked at Edfu late last night. I get up early and see the street come alive. Soon it is full of caleches, the little one-horse carriages which take tourists to and fro. Some horses are well-looked-after, others look very pitiful. We are eating breakfast when the S.S.Karim moves back out into the Nile. It is the hottest day so far, with a haze on the horizon. Ahmed tells us they have not had one single drop of rain so far this year! We sail all day and the big riverboats pass us smugly. But we don't mind. I try to write but the heat makes me sleepy and all I want to do is take a siesta. We arrive at Esna Lock, a town so poor that it seems to have survived a bombing. But even so, the towns here are ten times more colourful that the towns in Libya. We wait on the bank for about three hours before we finally get permission to pass through. Then we are on our way again.

Sunday 27 May 2007 - Today is our big hot air balloon day. We are off the boat by 5.10am and a coach takes us to the riverbank. From there we pile onto a jolly painted gondola which chugs us across to the West Back. Because the sun sets to the west, the West Bank is always associated with death. Our pilot Amr is on board the ship. He tells us the drill and I notice he's wearing a Blue Peter badge. That's all right then.

The balloons are in a field, about half a doze of them. One or two are already ascending, with only the sporadic hiss of the flames. Twenty of us pile into a sturdy basket divided into four sections. What surprises me is the terrible roar and heat of the flame as it heats the air. It's so hot I feel my hair might burst into flame. And the balloon itself is so fragile, just silk. But soon we are rising and although I cringe every time the flame blows it is an amazing sight. We cruise over the valley of the nobles and the barren mountains of the West Bank. The other balloons float around us, some higher, some lower. At last we start our descent. On the road below is a red truck full of about eight men. They are looking up at us and I realise they are our landing crew. We go lower and lower, so low that I fear we'll clip somebody's roof dome or get tangled in the phone wires, but finally we come down for an 'English-landing' (three bumps) and the crew swarm over us, holding down the basket and deflating the balloon. I can't say I enjoyed the experience. But I'm glad I did it.

The Valley of the Kings is also to be endured, rather than enjoyed. The heat is ferocious and it's packed with tourists though it's only 8.15. A Disneyland style-train takes us up to the entrances, but this place is like a stone quarry, with no shade and the lofty stone walls pound back the heat. It is not even cool inside the tombs, as you might expect. 'This is not crowded at all,' says Ahmed, as we pile back on the air-conditioned coach. 'You should see it in February and March.'

We endure one more blistering monument, the tomb of Hatshepsut, then run for the cafe and a cool drink. I am sure the temperature is nudging 110º.

Later, after lunch and a siesta, Richard and I walk down some of the backstreets of Luxor. Again we are struck by the poverty, but Egyptians are always cheerful and friendly.

Monday 28 May 2007 - The next morning I get up early as usual and see the balloons rising over the opposite bank. The Nile is like a mirror. They are breathtaking. Today we visit Karnak and Luxor Temple. We see the tallest columns in the world and an obelisk that was once tipped with electrum so that when the sun shone you could not look directly at it. Steve the stonemason buys three little alabaster statues for about £5: an ibis, a cat and a sphinx. Quite a good deal. But when he gets on the bus he discovers they are wax. The expert confounded!

We sandwich a papyrus factory between Karnak and Luxor. I get to see how the Romans would have made their most popular writing material. After Luxor Temple we go back to the boat for one final delicious meal, then sadly take our leave.

For me the worst part of the holiday was the aggressive sellers. In Morocco the police make sure the stall-holders do not accost you (as they used to do only a few years ago). If only the Egyptian government could enforce the same rules.

The things I enjoyed most about Egypt were:
Bats at Philae
Bird-watching around the Aswan islands
Lemonade at the Old Cataract Hotel
Getting my hand hennaed
Life unchanged along the banks of the Nile
Hot-air balloons (from the ground!)
Hieroglyphics of ducks, owls, and bees
The papyrus factory
'Egyptian art'
Tasty food like felafels

But the best thing of all was the S.S.Karim itself!

P.S. For more stories of my research in Egypt, Italy and Greece, get From Ostia to Alexandria with Flavia Gemina: Travels with Flavia Gemina

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Mystery on the Nile

We're about to leave for our river cruise along the part of the Nile closest to Nubia. Last night we watched Death on the Nile on DVD. This wonderful Agatha Christie mystery takes place on a paddle steamer (just like the one we'll be on) with about a dozen guests (just like our cruise) along the stretch of the Nile between Luxor and Aswan (where we'll be going). *gulp!* The victim? An annoyingly bossy and loud-mouthed American woman! *double gulp!* But never fear: Poirot is here. Hercule Poirot, to be precise. The Belgian detective with 'zee little grey cells'. I hope there won't be any Death on the Nile next week... just mystery and adventure. This, of course, is research for Roman Mystery 15, The Scribe from Alexandria.

Here's our itinerary:
Monday: arrive in Luxor and sail to Esna on the S.S.Karim
Tuesday: visit Temple of Horus at Edfu, then sail to Kom Ombo
Wednesday: visit temples at Kom Ombo, then sail to Aswan
Thursday: felucca to botanical gardens then Philae at night
Friday: birdwatching among the islands of the cataract
Saturday: sail from Aswan back to Luxor
Sunday: hot air balloon over the Valley of the Kings
Monday: temple of Amun at Karnak and temple of Luxor

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Roman Mysteries on TV

Nubia, Lupus, Flavia & Jonathan solve Roman Mysteries
The new Roman Mysteries TV series
What did you like about it?
What did you not like? 
Post your thoughts here!
You can be honest but please keep it clean... I am moderating this post! P.S. Season One is now available on iTunes!
Hi, my name is Esther, I love your books and was thrilled to see them on the telly!!! I think flavia is just how I imagined her and Jonathan, Lupus, and Nubia were fantastic!!! Your books were wonderful and I really enjoyed them, I thought that the programmes would'nt live up to the high quality and thrilling description of the books. I was taken aback, however to find myself mesmerised by the excellence of the programmes and was instantly gripped. I congratulate you, not only on a wonderful read, but now on a fabulous telly programme!
Esther, 12
I can put up with no Aristo just knowing that they will have be really creative to get him into the series. Not so sure about the O'Geminus brothers. I agree with the comments that it is rushed and that there is little character development. What has disappointed me is that they aren't solving any mysteries. I imagine this will be addressed over the next few episodes as Pirates lends itself much more to this.
So, overall if I wasn't familiar with the (vastly superior) books, I would be enjoying it. 6/10. Catherine loves it and gives it 8/10. Elizabeth sides with me (sensible girl) and has gone back and reread the books! Books 10/10.
Nick, over 29
In the bit when they are looking over the bay of neapolis and there is smoke and fire coming out of vesuvius doesn't look the most realistic but it is brill all the same.
I won't go on about how they cut out Aristo but I love the series and understand the fact that they cut pretty much everything but the series is amazing! I think all of the characters look like I would have imagined them. I've been spreading the news to pretty much everyone even those who havn't read your books they even said it was cool. Well anyway good luck with writing.
in the secrets of vesuvius when they run into the water, isn't it boiling? it said in the book.
From tom the doubter
[You're right to doubt, Thomas! The screenwriter changed the bit about the water to make the story more dramatic. You can actually hear me tell a story about that on Go 4 It!]
I thought that Flavia wasn't really right for the part, but I really like Nubia and Lupus. Dr Mordecai and Miriam were absoulutely excellent and so was Simon Callow as Pliny! I would have preferred the series, if they hadn't changed your books so much and if Aristo was included.
I thought the TV series was amazing... it was really atmospheric but it was a bit sketchy in detail in some places but I suppose it was a hard to fit in all the action! I thought the cast were perfect for the parts they acted really well and really brought the characters to life I can't wait for the next episodes
I loved the show! It was great! I really can't believe that they fitted the two stories in 1 hour! I can't wait till next tuesday to see the next one. I'm so excited!
I loved the first episode :-) I can`t wait to see the next one
love from Becky
I loved the first 2 episodes, they were great. I am a new reader of the books and I love them.
bye from Froggy
Just a note to say that i really enjoyed the first two episodes of the new television series on CBBC! They really took my mind off my SATs. Can't wait until the next episode.
Araminta (AKA Minty)
I thought it was quite good but some of the characters were quite different from what i thought they would be like. i think it will get better as it goes on ( i'm not saying it's already good. but it could get better....) me and my friend serian are hoping that aristo will be 'buff'! =] whoop whoop. and i'm sure we will have many discussions about it!
evie, 13
[Who's going to break it to Evie that Aristo does not appear?]
I think the T.V show is great but not a patch on the brilliant books. The actors are totally Brilliant though! Will they cut Nubias love for Aristo out? Im sure the scriptwriters/producers/whoever had a reason thoughand I cant wait for episode 2!:) I say once again, YOUR BOOKS ARE BRILLIANT!
Vale, Annabel:)
The TV series is great!! the actors are sooooooo good!!
Oh My Gosh, although, for budget, complication, copy-cat crime etc reasons, the TV series isn't identical to the books, it's still really good! (I just managed to work the recorder literally a minute before it started!) I might have been able to relate to the characters more because I know what they are like already from reading the books, but the casting was excellent. I havent seen the end of the second episode so don't give it away for me! :P
Your Fan, Roo, 15
I have just turned the tv off from watching the roman mysteries. It's super!
Regards, Alexandra, 9
Just like to say congrats on the show! Its really weird to think that just a few years ago you came to my school with the books and now look where they are! Well done to all the actors too. Im a great friend of Fran's and we all are so proud of her down here in London. I even remember the day she found out she got the part! Well done to you all, and i cant wait for ep 3! (yes, i have watched ep 2 already! i was a bit excited!)
Well done again, Jack
I saw it!!! I saw the Roman Mysteries!!!!! It was brill!!!!! You must be so proud Caroline, that all your work has payed off and maybe even more people will buy your books!!!!!!! I will set them all on reminder and will watch them all (except when i'm
with the school at Bude for a week!)
Hey Caroline,
I must say, after watching the first two episodes of the roman mysteries on tv, i was really impressed and was trying to get all my friends to watch it too! It was amazing and i enjoyed every minute of it..
Lots of love, Gemma, 14
I watched the first part of the TV Series yesterday =] I felt they could have taken some more time over certain aspects but then I suppose you can't spend too long on things that aren't as important when you have to keep to a time.
Just seen the first 2 episodes. They shouldn't have tried to compress "the thieves of Ostia" into such a short space of time. Also they changed nearly everything during the eruption, and where were most of the characters? ... Didn't Roman girls have to tie their hair up? In the TV series Flavia's hair was always down but in "the Sirens of Surrentum" Flavia got in trouble for having her hair down with Tranquillus...I thought on Blue Peter they were rather beastly not letting you say anything!
Vale, Thomas, 15
I saw the 1st episode of the TV series yesterday and ... I think they did really well to squash the beginning few scrolls of Thieves of Ostia and the 1st half of Secrets of Vesuvius into half an hour, but it is not as good as the books!
Zoe, 12
Salve Caroline!!!
I've just watched the first two episodes of the dramatisation! Yay! It's fabulous! Can't wait for the next few! It's really weird though because the first book is missing, and lots of things have changed, characters have been cut out... but still, its really great!!! (the books are best)
Heppy, 12
I didn't watch Part 1 but I did watch Part 2 which was good. I liked the special effects but it didn't really appeal to me (Don't get me wrong, it was good but it wasn't that exciting. It was really good acting though)
Ashir, 13
Salve Caroline,
I really liked the first 2 episodes but i prefered that lupus' tongue was cut and he was found up a tree. But apart from that i thought it was great!! I can't wait for the next ones.
Vale, Hebba
Hi Caroline,
I saw the first episode of the television series just now, and I thought while the acting and settings were good, the pacing was terrible! The characters had no time to develop personalities or friendships (and Nubia apparently learns Latin in about 10 seconds flat ;)). I hope that this first impression is improved by the next episode. Still, very glossy and slick!
Wow! The first two episodes were amazing! Only one down point...No Aristo! =( Does this mean no "Fugitive from Corinth"? I hope not, as that's my favourite book!
[If they do a second series then they'll HAVE to introduce Aristo.]
Salve Caroline,
I really enjoyed the Roman Mysteries, on TV. I just had one question, though. As there was no Aristo, does that mean no Fugitive from Corinth? I really love that book, and I hope that Aristo might be brought in later.
[See my answer above.]
Salve. I think that the series and the characters are perfect - especially lupus and Jonathan - they look just as I imagined them. Only some things i dont understand - as others say, as aristo is cut out, will that mean that in The twelve tasks of Flavia Gemina, Nubia's affections for him be also cut out, as with in fugitive of corinth? And also, I find that Nubia in the books does not mention slavery and understand her duties properly until Pulchra beats her in the Pirates Of Pompeii, but in the program, she is sternly spoken to immediately by Alma (I thought she was nice!), and understands immediately, as well as learning latin quickly.
I think the TV series is be brilliant! I’ve only got little moans though.
What happened to Aristo, Vulcan and Clio? If there is no Aristo, what will happen in ‘The Fugitive of Corinth’?
How come Flavia always has her hair down? I thought Roman women had to have their hair up.
How come Nubia speaks Latin already?
[They had to cut some characters because they condensed two books into one episode. And they didn't consult me on historical details like how women wore their hair, but if they do a second series they have promised they'll use my expertise.]
WOW. I've just seen the new Roman Mysteries TV show and it was great!!! The actors for Flavia, Nubia, Jonathan & Lupus fitted perfectly but I think they were introduced a bit too quickly. I reckon the 2nd episode was better than the first, but time flew while I was watching both of them! I can't wait for the next one now!
Vale, Becca xx
I watched the shows today and thought it was great apart from there was soo many things that were different, like the whole dog thing and practically cutting out huge parts like Vulcan and Aristo. Also wouldnt it be dangerous to go in to the sea when the volcanoe erupted? And didnt Aristo give Mirium the bird! Apart from it being very different from the books- it's alright because they did say they based it on your books-it was brilliant I loved the scenary and cant wait for the next one and they did great at choosing the actors!
hi caroline the secrets of vesuvius was really good. do you know when it will be repeated again because my dad forgot to tape it :( one question:why in the tv series does Nubia have long hair whereas in the books she has short hair????
Hannah, 14
[I am guessing Rebekah AKA Nubia didn't want them to shave her head! I'm not sure when you can see repeats, though it might be on again later in the year.]
Dear Caroline,
I thought that the programme was BRILLIANT! I thought that all the characters were wonderful, especially Lupus. The only thing I didn't quite understand was how Lupus stuck out his tongue near the end, when his not supposed to have one. I thought that all the backgrounds were great and looked exactly like I imagined.
From Fiona
[They have given Lupus a tongue in the TV series so there won't be copycat crimes of kids cutting out their younger brothers' tongues in homes across Britain.]
I think it was a mistake to add elements of "Thieves of Ostia" into the first half of the primary Vesuvius episode, it compacted that story too much and "Ostia" is a good enough intro to the characters on its own... The Vesuvius effects are not really a "Death Star" moment to launch the show on with a bang... I think it would have benefited by having another story prior to this so it introduced the characters in a less forced manner and gave them room to develop and become people the audience cared about a little more than people who they just met being instantly thrown into that kind of large-scale peril.
Congratulations on the TV series, we all sat down at 4.30 today to watch (very rare for us to find TV time this early in the day). We all enjoyed it a lot and thought it was great. We were happy to accept that the series and the books are just two different experiences, the series is fast paced adventure and the books are like an immersion into another time, with the action to keep you turning the pages.
Miriam (a mum)

Friday, May 04, 2007

Romans at Blue Peter!

Blue Peter is a British children's television programme which combines facts, fun and activities. It's been going nearly 50 years. To help publicize the brand new BBC TV series of The Roman Mysteries, Blue Peter kindly agreed to do a Roman-themed feature. Producer Andy Clarke asked if I would be a consultant and of course I agreed! The emails whizzed back and forth, sometimes as many as ten a day. I bombarded Andy with information on gladiators, slaves, highborn Romans and food. After a few days of this, Andy put it all together in a great script. As his 'thank you' to me for sending info, Andy told me I could have a bit part in their Roman Day. I was going to be Zoe's slave-girl. Euge! Yay!

Nothing could have prepared me for the sight of the Blue Peter studio converted into a Roman set! Art director Claire and props genius Julian (AKA Jules) had done amazing things. Andy had invited my old friend Draco the gladiator from the re-enactment group Britannia. But my first sight was of Gethin dressed up as a gladiator. Mecastor! He makes a fine gladiator. In the background, Draco and his pals were hacking about. They don't hold back. By the end of three rehearsals and as many takes, they were pouring with sweat.

Konnie was hilarious as a sassy slave-girl on the auctioneer's block: You wouldn't catch me in the gladiator ring. Oh no! In fact you wouldn't catch me anywhere in these chains. I've already been caught! Hence the writing that's been branded on my arm using hot metal, TENE ME NE FUGIA FUGIO: hold me lest I flee in flight!

Then came my part of the programme. I had to stand meekly behind Zoe and act suitably servile. I provided her with strigil (scraper) and spongia (poo-stick) but the best bit was when she gargled with her own urine to make her teeth white! Ewww! David aka Anakin of Britannia came in after we finished filming to ask for her autograph. He didn't seem to mind that she had just gargled with pee. (You can see me scrape Zoe and watch her drinking urine at the May 3rd Blue Peter Video Podcast)

Last but not least, Andy played the part of Servius, a fast-food seller. Jules the props-master had spared no expense. There were baskets of cabbage and fennel, clay bowls of honey, papyrus cones of olives and pistachios, as well as spices like cloves, pepper and turmeric. (The Blue Peter dogs, Lucy and Mabel, were beside themselves with excitement at all these exotic smells.) Here's a picture of Andy with one of his highborn customers! I got to be a random helper at the stall, shaking out coloured cloth. A very useful job.

I brought some copies of my books to give away, thinking there would be about 20 cast and crew on the set. There must have been at least 50 people there! And every one of them put so much work into making the day special. I must also mention the set designer Tracey, Laura the props buyer, Debbie in costumes and Julian the stage manager. Also the ladies in make-up! And all the 'extras' were great, too, like this senator and his wife. We enjoyed eating pistachio nuts from the papyrus cones on the food stall.

We finally finished filming at 7.00: a long day, (especially for Andy, who has to stay several more hours and edit it!) But it was so much fun. I wish every day could be a Roman Blue Peter Day. Thanks, Andy, for letting me be part of it. Oh, and thanks for promoting the TV series! [The Roman Mysteries TV series begins on Tuesday 8 May at 4.30 on BBC1, right before Blue Peter!]