Articles on this Page
- 01/27/14--16:30: _Singing History wit...
- 01/28/14--16:30: _Article 0
- 01/29/14--16:01: _You're never alone ...
- 01/30/14--16:01: _January Competition
- 01/31/14--16:01: _An indoor "Jacobean...
- 02/02/14--00:00: _Anatomical Artist J...
- 02/02/14--22:00: _The History of the ...
- 02/03/14--22:00: _Time and the Hour -...
- 02/04/14--16:30: _Vermin and Vellum -...
- 02/05/14--17:00: _Year of the Wood Ho...
- 02/06/14--23:30: _BLASTS FROM THE PAS...
- 02/07/14--16:30: _'Water, water every...
- 02/08/14--23:27: _The Year of the (Gr...
- 02/09/14--13:00: _January Competition...
- 02/09/14--17:00: _milk-fed zebras - M...
- 02/10/14--17:30: _Laurie Graham revie...
- 02/11/14--17:30: _Looking for Gladys ...
- 02/12/14--22:00: _STAR-CROSSED LOVE, ...
- 02/13/14--22:53: _A Site Worth Seeing...
- 02/14/14--17:00: _Swords of Lineage
- 01/28/14--16:30: Article 0
- 01/29/14--16:01: You're never alone with Tineola by Maria McCann
- 01/30/14--16:01: January Competition
- 01/31/14--16:01: An indoor "Jacobean" theatre by Mary Hoffman
- 02/02/14--00:00: Anatomical Artist Jan Van Rymsdyk - Lucy Inglis
- 02/02/14--22:00: The History of the Future - by Eve Edwards
- 02/03/14--22:00: Time and the Hour - by Katherine Langrish
- 02/04/14--16:30: Vermin and Vellum - Joan Lennon
- 02/05/14--17:00: Year of the Wood Horse - Katherine Roberts
- 02/06/14--23:30: BLASTS FROM THE PAST by Adèle Geras
- 02/07/14--16:30: 'Water, water everywhere...' by Karen Maitland
- 02/08/14--23:27: The Year of the (Green) Horse
- 02/09/14--13:00: January Competition winners
- 02/09/14--17:00: milk-fed zebras - Michelle Lovric
- 02/10/14--17:30: Laurie Graham reviews One Night in Winter, a novel
- 02/11/14--17:30: Looking for Gladys - by H.M. Castor
- 02/12/14--22:00: STAR-CROSSED LOVE, ROYAL BLOOD AND THE TOWER by Elizabeth Fremantle
- 02/14/14--17:00: Swords of Lineage
|Singer-songwriter Katy Carr|
You can watch my National Army Museum lecture here: Clare Mulley talking about Krystyna Skarbek at the National Army Museum
Over lunch in the pub afterwards with our mutual friend, Paweł Komorowski, who is a distant cousin of Krystyna Skarbek, I began to learn what made Katy tick. Raised in Nottingham, Katy’s East Midlands accent belies her knowledge and passion for Poland, her mother’s country. This is a woman with a mission to communicate not just the culture and history of Poland, but the individual, and very personal stories, that compose and reflect the nation’s character.
Katy has released four indie-folk music albums, the last of which, the hauntingly brilliant Paszport, was produced in Poland and Britain in 2012. Described as ‘an epic, poetic journey through her past and that of her mother’s nation’, Paszport is dedicated to the Polish experience in the Second World War. Its sixteen songs explore the themes of love and loss, patriotism and resistance, hope and struggle through the prism of Poland’s modern history.
|Paszport album cover|
Watch the video here: Katy Carr, 'Mala Little Flower'
The song of Katy’s that I find most moving, however, is ‘Kommander’s Car’, which tells the story of Kazik Piechowski. Kazik was imprisoned by the Nazis for being a Polish Boy Scout at the start of the war and sent on the second transport to Auschwitz in June 1940. It would be two years to the day that Kazik and three fellow political prisoners would realize a plan to steal SS uniforms and drive out of the camp in the car belonging to its infamous commandant, Rudolf Höss. The song, beautifully illustrated here by South African born artist and illustrator Galen Wainwright, manages to convey the emotional truths as well as the factual story of Kazik and his friends’ bid for freedom.
Watch the video here: Katy Carr, 'Kommander's Car'
|Two stills from the music video for 'Commander's Car'|
Katy and Kazik’s meeting was documented by British film-maker Hannah Lovell in a short film: Kazik and the Kommander's Car short documentary
|Kazik and Katy at a memorial in his local Gdansk park|
‘Kazik is my inspiration’, Katy told me earnestly, ‘meeting him changed my life’. This is not just some flip patter. Kazik not only inspired Katy to learn more about her Polish roots, he showed her the importance of memory and reaching out to share stories. Kazik has written two books and many articles about his experiences, inspired by the words of the Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert, ‘You did not survive simply to live, you have little time left, you must give the world the truth’. Katy now also tours schools and local community groups to bring Kazik’s story to new audiences, and to foster stronger relations with local Polish communities across Britain. It is work that has earned her the prestigious Polish Daily Award for Culture as part of their ‘People of the Year’ awards in 2013.
Last year, when my biography of Krystyna Skarbek was published in Poland, Katy and I flew over to Warsaw together, where Katy is something of a star! Paweł came with us too, to generously help promote the book and to toast Krystyna in her homeland. The launch was held at the wonderful Warsaw Uprising Museum, where Katy has performed in the past with her band, The Aviators. However, for me the night before was just as special. Paweł’s wonderful aunt Joanna had invited us over for dinner to meet family and friends including his mother, Babcia. After some fine barszcz czerwony (Polish borscht) and far too much good Polish liquor, Katy got out her ukulele and treated us all to some traditional songs like ‘Hej Sokoły’ - in which you can hear my faintly ludicrous ‘Hej’s’ towards the end! A camera, balanced on a wineglass, recorded the lot: Katy and Babcia Sing 'Hej Sokoly'
|Katy singing with Babcia|
There is a lot of talk about immigration at the moment, and this month Polish Foreign Minister, Radek Sikorski, who also came to the Warsaw launch of the Polish edition of my book, blogged that ‘if Britain gets our taxpayers, shouldn't it also pay their benefits?’ I certainly believe that Britain is all the richer, in every sense, for remembering, celebrating and building on our historic connection with Poland during the Second World War. With singer-songwriters such as Katy Carr, I hope that another generation will hear these stories.
I am absolutely delighted to announce that Katy is now working on a song about Krystyna Skarbek for her new album, Polonia. Being released this September, Polonia will mark the 75th anniversary of the start of the Second World War, and the beginning of Poland’s long loss of independence which Krystyna and the Polish Free Forces fought so hard to regain.
|Me, with Katy holding The Spy Who Loved|
Theresa: I love the title. It has enormous impact - the way it sounds and the freight the word carries.
|Some terrifyingly large bed bugs and lice|
In fact grooming routines go back beyond the middle ages, ancient history or even prehistory. They are our inheritance from our primate ancestors. Clean, Virginia Smith's wonderful 'history of personal hygiene and purity', shows how the animal behaviour knows as COBS (care of body surfaces) is the origin not only of such human grooming as parasite removal but also of much more sophisticated procedures such as cleaning wounds and massaging painful limbs.
|Monkey doctor and cat patient|
|Bottle for hair or wig powder|
We have five copies of Katie Grant's Sedition to give away to the five best answers to this question:
'Can you match a novel with a piece of music (doesn't have to be classical) that would reflect the novel's story or mood?'
You can read about Sedition in the post for 29th January.
Just put your answers in the Comments section below. Closing date: 7th February
We are afraid that History Girl competitions are open to UK residents only.
These were the plans for an indoor theatre that fell out of book in Worcester College Library, Oxford in the 1960s.A roughly U-shaped building with galleries, pit seating, a stage, musicians' gallery and a tiring house. For years they were thought to have been the work of Inigo Jones, but now scholars believe it to have been his protegé John Webb who sketched out his ideas for a theatre in the late 17th century. It is the earliest design for such a building in England.
And it is almost certain that it was never built.
But when the visionary Sam Wanamaker had his ideas for building a new Globe based on the one Shakespeare's company would have played in, he wanted to create TWO performance spaces on Bankside.
|Photo by Christine Matthews under Creative Commons|
We are all familiar with the octagonal Shakespeare's Globe which sits opposite St. Paul's just a (no longer wobbly) walk across the Millennium Bridge. But you might not have realised that there was another building inside the complex, a red brick shell built at the same time in the 1990s to house an indoor performance space. It sat there waiting for its time to come - and it has.
|The outer shall of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse as seen from the remodelled Foyer|
From 1609 onwards, Shakespeare's company, called The King's Men after their valuable patron James the First, had two places to stage his plays in: the open ait Globe theatre south of the river and an indoor hall in Blackfriars on the north side. Globe in summer, Blackfriars in winter was the pattern.
There are no drawings left to tell us what the Blackfriars hall was like and the building is long gone. It had been the Refectory of the Dominican Friary and James Burbage, father of the actor Richard, bought it in 1596, only to be thwarted by local Nimbys, who did not want a "common playhouse." So Burbage built the Globe and waited for the Wheel of Fortune to turn.
As it has again. A formidable team at the Globe, headed by Dr Farah Karim-Cooper, has been working for years to create not a facsimile of Blackfriars, which remains unknown nor a realisation of the Worcester College plans, which would have been unworkable, but a convincing wooden, candlelit indoor theatre as close to the Jacobean playgoing experience as possible.
|Computer generated image of the stage|
We sat at the lower level, only feet from the stage and, although well to one side had no problem seeing everything, but we were in the front row, just above the pit. The seats are made, like most of the wood in the playhouse from unseasoned oak, by Peter McCurdy's firm, who completed the main Globe theatre in 1997.
By the interval, taken very late in this Duchess, I was wishing there had been cushions for hire as in the open-air theatre.
The Frons Scenae, as the wall at the back of the stage is called, has three openings and is richly gilded, the detail being picked up by the light of the 72 + candles. In Shakespeare's day, in the Blackfriars it would have also sparkled on the jewellery and brocades of the audience. Alas, the jeans and jumpers of a matinée audience in January did not give much scope for that. Next time I must wear some bling.
The lighting is just one aspect of the meticulous planning by Reconstruction Architect Jon Greenfield and the whole Architecture Research Group. Panels in the corridor between the auditorium and outer shell mimic the light going down as the afternoon advances. Professor Martin White, of Bristol University, knows how long it takes a beeswax taper to burn down and how much longer they last if their wicks are trimmed in the interval (no smelly tallow here!)
Of the many specialist listed in the excellent programme for The Duchess of Malfi, it's good to see a Fire Consultant but Oliver Heywood from Allies and Morrison, who were the architects for the project, assured me that perhaps surprisingly it is very hard for flame to get any kind of hold on solid timber. That's reassuring considering the main Globe theatre burned down in 1613 - though that is thought to have have been caused by a spark in thatch.
Once Shakespeare had the resources of the candlelit Blackfriars at his disposal, he wrote plays that could take advantage of the more intimate, interior space. It's hard to think of the "headless corpse" scene in Cymbeline, the living statue of Hermione in Winter's Tale or the many illusions and masques of The Tempest coming off in broad daylight.
For this if no other reason, I shall be fascinated to see what goes on in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. And just as in the main Globe theatre, they have resisted the tourist trade "Heritage" approach, if the first production is anything to go by.
Do go if you can but I was also pleased to see a credit for Video/Camera Systems, which I hope means in time the plays will be part of the cinema relays that are proving so popular and which the main theatre already is. I'll be there if they are, bling at the ready.
The Artistic Director of the Globe is Dominic Dromgoole, who also directed The Duchess of Malfi. It is thought that the Duchess was first performed at Blackfriars in 1613, the year the Globe burned down.
My review of the production is over at my Book Maven blog.
I am grateful to Oliver Heywood of Allies and Morrison for giving me his time and taking me to see the Playhouse while it was under construction
In 2009 I began researching Jan Van Rymsdyk and his contribution to the medical art of the eighteenth century. Then a controversial allegation that women had been murdered by medical professionals to provide corpses for dissection left me even more intrigued by JVR. His life, as it turned out, held just enough mystery to be fascinating. He had worked for both the great man-midwives of the eighteenth century, William Hunter and William Smellie, still revered as pioneers by modern obstetricians. It was Van Rymsdyk who had illustrated, almost entirely, their two defining works: Smellie’s A sett of anatomical tables, with explanations, and an abridgement, of the practice of midwifery of 1754, and William Hunter’s Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus, Exhibited in Figures twenty years later. These books are still regarded as the moment modern obstetrics was born, through the labours of two supremely talented doctors. But Van Rymsdyk’s contribution has been largely ignored.
He was not only an artist, but at times, a drunkard, a comedian, and a deeply thwarted man. His life’s ambition was to be a portrait painter, yet his life’s work was a series of dead women and their children. The women’s faces are never depicted, but every detail of their children is captured and there is a curious dignity, almost an adoration in his renderings: the sitting posture of the gravid woman, with her knees covered by a blanket but her internal organs displayed by the neat flaying of the anatomist, the baby curled snugly inside her, a stray wisp of its hair escaping the womb. These images and their origin became a touchstone as I wrote Georgian London: Into the Streets. Whenever the past eluded me I returned to Jan Van Rymsdyk, the conflicted artist who brought his precise hand to those Soho dissecting rooms.
The more I read about Van Rymsdyk, Smellie and Hunter, the more interesting it became. It wasn’t just a story which made medical history, it was a scientific collaboration formed around the pivot of an artist. Both doctors were desperate to leave a legacy. Smellie wanted his advances in the use of forceps to continue helping women after his death. Hunter wanted his scientific discoveries on why women miscarried, presented still births and died in childbirth to ensure his fame. They both needed Van Rymsdyk. He worked fast, with pinpoint accuracy, recording the fresh corpses in a only a few hours. And his images had a strange allure, for all their gruesome reality; in them he managed to combine the Enlightenment ideal of beauty and truth. As Hunter said, the magic of Jan Van Rymsdyk is that he ‘represents what was actually seen, it carries the mark of truth, and becomes almost as infallible as the object itself’.
Over Christmas I chanced upon the original Starwars films (parts now called IV and V) being shown on TV. These were the cult films of my school days - I collected the bubblegum cards and played games based on the world in the playground.
|I can't show the Death Star due to copyright but here is Mimas, |
a moon of Jupiter that looks just like it! Thanks to NASA.
Yes, they are much better than the more recent clutch of three, saved by a knowing humour missing from the solemnities of parts I-III, but I had forgotten just how stilted the love dialogue was in them - or maybe I didn't notice. Add to that, I now see how much they reflect their era of late 70s, early 80s - they are a little history of what we thought the future would look like (though technically Lucas claims them for long long ago in a distant galaxy...). Good (American) guys fighting an evil empire - the men's hair - the futuristic white Leia costume that somehow look like a Biba trouser suit - the 70s is everywhere - I'm sure you know what I mean. Even the sexual politics is very much of its time - Leia a kind of Germaine Greer fighting for her rights among the masculine warriors while the Hollywood male (Harrison Ford) manages to quell her with a kiss. I missed this as a kid but now wish Leia had kneed him in the place where he did most of his thinking.
That set me thinking how futuristic films and novels are so often the best way of accessing the preoccupations of the present. To change my metaphor, they are a boiled down stock of all most intense flavours swirling around in society. One of the first futuristic novels I can think of is Mary Shelley's The Last Man (1826).
Next major work I thought of was The Time Machine by H G Wells (1895). Much better know, you are probably aware that this captures the ripples of the Darwinian evolutionary debate with a society that has divided in to useless, pretty Eloi and underground predators, Morlocks. There are also fascinating reflections influenced by the Marxist debate of where class and society is going.
And then there is Zamyatin's We (written 1921) - one of the best reflections in the Russian revolution even though it is sci-fi. And George Orwell's 1984 (1949) - we haven't come to the end of the lessons that teaches us, have we? The examples are popping up everywhere now I am looking for them.
So that leads me to the rather pleasing conclusion that to understand the past we need to be familiar with the future. I'd love to hear you thoughts as this is a huge topic and I'm sure you'll have your own gems to share.
My husband's Uncle Bill Dilger was a watch and clockmaker-cum-repairer, and his workshop, in a small back room in his Victorian Manchester home, was a fairy palace dedicated to Time. You walked through the door and found yourself immersed in a sussuration of soft ticking from walls crowded with clocks - mahogany-cased wall clocks with sober cream faces and slow-swinging brass pendulums; elaborately carved grandfathers looming up to the ceiling with their painted moons and suns and ships; busy gilt carriage clocks tick-tick-ticking away; great dark rustic cuckoo clocks with pine-cone weights and little half-open doors (family history proudly states that the Dilgers were one of two Black Forest families who claim the invention of the cuckoo-clock); a Mickey Mouse clock with eyes that flicked from side to side; a clock with a ballerina who spun around on her pointed toe to the tune of the Blue Danube; an antique novelty clock shaped like a clockmaker holding a timepiece under his arm: big clocks, little clocks, old clocks and new clocks, clocks in the process of being mended, and clocks which would never work again, clocks ready to be claimed and clocks whose very owners, it seemed, had left them here long ago and vanished into time themselves.
In the middle of the small room, under a low-hanging, glass-shaded light, was Uncle Bill's wooden worktable, covered in small, intricate, shining parts - cogs and springs and watch-cases. Those he wasn't currently working on would be protected from the dust by a collection of upturned crystal sherry-glasses whose stems had snapped. Everything gleamed.
We always tried to arrive just before noon. Bill would welcome us and we would all crowd into his workshop, adults and children alike, and wait, breathless and smiling. There would be a strange whirring. Then the first shy chime. And then one after another every working clock in the room would clear its throat and strike. Ding, ding, ding - dong, dong - bing, bing, bing - cuckoo, cuckoo - interrupting one another in a delightful, clashing crescendo and diminuendo of shrill and rapid and slow and mellow, till finally the last cuckoo ducked back in as the little doors whipped shut, and all that would be left was the constant tick-tick-ticking. It was something that could never fail to give pleasure.
|Isaac Peabody - illustration by A.R. Whitear|
Uncle Bill's clock room often used to remind me of Isaac Peabody's workshop in Elizabeth Goudge's novel 'The Dean's Watch' which is set in the 1870s in an unnamed fictional cathedral city which combines elements of both Wells and Ely. Isaac is described as 'a round-shouldered little man with large feet and a great domed and wrinkled forehead. ...His eyes were very blue beneath their shaggy eyebrows and chronic indigestion had reddened the tip of his button nose. His hands were red, shiny and knobbly, but steady and deft.' As for his workshop:
The shop was so small and its bow window so crowded with clocks, all of them ticking, that the noise was almost deafening. It sounded like thousands of crickets chirping or bees buzzing, and was to Isaac the most satisfying sound in the world.
But old Isaac has a secret. Brought up by a stern father in the fear of an angry God, he is terrified of the great cathedral, and even though he is fascinated by the Jaccomarchiadus (the mechanically-operated figure that strikes a bell on the outside of a clock) which adorns its tower, he is too afraid ever to go inside the cathedral and see the clock for himself:
The Jaccomarchiardus stood high in an alcove on the tower, not like most Jacks an anonymous figure, but Michael the Archangel himself. He was lifesize and stood upright with spread wings... Below him, let into the wall, was a simple large dial with an hour hand only. Within the Cathedral, Isaac had been told there was a second clock with above it a platform where Michael on horseback fought with the dragon at each hour and conquered him. But not even his longing to see this smaller Michael could drag Isaac inside the terrible Cathedral. No one could understand his fear. He could not entirely understand it himself.
Perhaps not. But here is the dial on the outside north wall of Wells cathedral, and here - below - is the west entrance, and I think you can see that there is, or could be, something awe-inspiring, even terrible, about its beauty. You might well feel a bit of an ant, approaching it as Isaac does through the small streets of his anonymous city: 'Like a fly crawling up a wall Isaac crawled up Angel Lane, scuttled across Worship Street, cowered beneath the Porta, got himself somehow across the moonlit expanse of the Cathedral green and then slowly mounted the flight of worn steps that led to the west door...'
Eventually, right at the end of the book, Isaac does manage to conquer his fear and enter the cathedral. And there it is, the other clock.
It was just as it had been described to him. Above the beautiful gilded clock face, with winged angels in the spandrels, was a canopied platform. To one side of it, Michael in gold armour sat his white horse, his lance in rest and his visor down. On the other side the dragon's head, blue and green with a crimson forked tongue, rose wickedly from a heap of scaly coils. They waited only for the striking of the bell to have at one another. It was a wonderful bit of work. ...And to think he had lived in the city all these years and had not seen it!
Here is the one at Wells. It dates to the late 14th century. Around the dial you may just be able to make out the four angels in the corners, who hold the four cardinal winds.
After I had taken these pictures, one of the cathedral clergy came out and spoke to the gathered onlookers. He didn't preach, not in a specifically Christian way, but he did ask us to consider the value of time in our lives, and to make good use of it. It was a suitable message. In Goudge's book, old Isaac makes friends with the great Dean of the cathedral, whose clocks he comes to wind. The Dean is a sick man, who knows he has not long to live. He pays a visit to the clock-shop and listens to Isaac talking about horology:
He delighted in Isaac's lucid explanations and he delighted too in this experience of being shut in with all these ticking clocks. The sheltered lamplit shop was like the inside of a hive full of amiable bees. ... [The clocks] spoke to him with their honeyed tongues of this mystery of time, that they had a little tamed for men with their hands and voices and the the beat of their constant hearts and yet could never make less mysterious or dreadful for all their friendliness. How strange it was, thought the Dean, as one after another he took their busy little bodies into his hands, that soon he would know more about the mystery than they did themselves.
Dear Uncle Bill was nothing like poor frightened Isaac, but a truly happy man and a faithful Catholic who willed his best and favourite clock, the massive black grandfather which stood in his living room, to the Catholic Bishop of Salford. It was a typical gesture which I hope the Bishop appreciated, but I expect he did, as - just as Isaac does for the Dean - Bill used to go regularly to wind the Bishop's clocks. Bill used to joke sometimes, that he didn't know what he'd do in heaven. "I don't know what I'll do in heaven," he'd say in his soft Manchester accent, with a twinkle in his eye. "There's no clocks there!" He died at the age of ninety-? contented to the last, and would have both enjoyed and deserved the genuine epitaph that Elizabeth Goudge quotes at the beginning of 'The Dean's Watch':
It's no secret that I find having a sleeping cat near me when writing to be both soothing and inspiring, in equal measure. When I've read about how, in medieval scriptoria, monks shared their literary space with cats, I've thought, Aw, that's sweet - them and me and our furry muses ... not thinking about any other reasons to keep a cat. I know the Pangur Ban poem which begins -
and still I didn't twig.
It's obvious, of course. Medieval monks, working away at their beautiful illuminated manuscripts, had enemies other than just Nordic types going a-viking. They were painstakingly inscribing their letters and images onto lunch.
(© Corpus Christi College Cambridge, MS 214, fol. 122r)
That manuscript has been thoroughly gnawed and nibbled on. (Though the mice have shown a certain restraint. Or is it just a question of generous margins?) It was, therefore, an excellent idea to have in your scriptorium at least one cat. Some, perhaps, larger than others ...
(image from wikipedia)
(Okay, I know, I know, it's a lion and it's there because St Jerome took a thorn out of his paw - but it's such a lovely picture ...)
But, as anyone who's ever tried to shoo a cat off a keyboard will know, cats and writing do not always go together so peacefully.
Inky paws skitter across the page - or sometimes something worse ...
(© Cologne, Historisches Archiv, G.B. quarto, 249, fol. 68r)
Make the image a bit bigger - that's a cat the cheesed-off monk has drawn, not a donkey, and those accusing fingers are pointing at potent, pongy, moggy pee. It's enough to make a good man curse.
Joan Lennon's blog.
P.S. It was not only monks who had grudges against cats. If, instead of nibbling the vellum, the vermin had engaged in some art work of their own, they might very well have come up with something along the lines of this 18th century Russian print -
I'll not be showing this to my cat. She's a sensitive soul.
No, not the one stuffed full of Greeks that destroyed the ancient city of Troy, although war is meant to be one of the wood horse's characteristics! This is the Chinese Year of the Wood (or Green) Horse, which began earlier this week and heralds a year of similar nature to that of 60 years ago, when the element of wood last coincided with the animal sign of the horse. (1954, if my calculations are correct... anyone remember that one?)
|Chinese zodiac wheel (picture thanks to wikipedia)|
|a tiger galloping along the water?|
As a horse lover, I've got a natural fondness for horse years, although it seems I was not born in one - I am a tiger (a water tiger to be accurate), but that's ok since tigers can apparently get on well with horses... which is maybe just as well, since I enjoy riding them! You are a probably a horse if you were born in 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, or 2002 although if your birthday falls in January or early February you might be a snake instead. Famous historical figures born in the Year of the Horse include (rather appropriately) the Mongol leader Genghis Khan, the artist Rembrandt, French scientist Louis Pasteur, and US president Franklin Roosevelt.
If you want to check which Chinese zodiac sign you were born under and discover your horoscope for 2014, try this site.
According to the Chinese, this is a year to be bold. There is a lot of fire involved, and may be battles, since the wood aspect means people will stick to their guns this year and not be prepared to negotiate. I imagine it as a rather stubborn horse, digging in his toes when forced to carry a rider where he does not want to go, but galloping keenly in his chosen direction. I have decided it will be a good year to get my Genghis Khan novel out of its drawer and into the world, since my fascination with the Chinese zodiac began while I was doing the research for that book a few years ago... and, of course, it has horses in it!
The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman - which I haven't read yet, but the title caught my eye.
Troy by Adele Geras - not Chinese, but it contains the famous wooden horse of Greek myth.
More details at www.katherineroberts.co.uk
There was a time, O Best Beloved, when things were not as they are today. Many of the older History Girls and many of our older readers will have a dim memory of the days when the Guardian was a broadsheet newspaper. Back then, there was a whole page of book reviews in the paper four times a year. Just imagine it: a full broadsheet page! Four such pages per year. In charge of all this in the halcyon days of the late 60s and early 70s and into the 80s was Stephanie Nettell. Anyone who was around in the Children's Books world in those days knows Stephanie. The broadsheet changed to a Berliner format; Stephanie retired to a beautiful farmhouse in Norfolk and has since those days been a tireless supporter of all things literary, both through her work as an editor and with schools and also by being involved for many years with the King's Lynn Literary Festival.
Stephanie's husband is Alex Hamilton. Above is a picture of the cover of his latest book, which I'm going to review here. It may seem odd to be reviewing such a volume, which has nothing overtly historical about it. I justify this by saying: the kind of journalism that is collected here is a thing of the past, for the most part. The Paris Review keeps up a formidable roster of far-ranging long interviews with writers, but apart from the odd article in the Sunday papers, and those mostly for writers who are already well-known, the kind of interviews Alex has given us here are few and far between. His name may be less familiar to some readers but for many years he was well known for compiling, for the Bookseller and the Guardian the famous BEST SELLING HUNDRED BOOKS list. This, however, was only the tip of a huge literary iceberg. He was born in Brazil and came to the UK as a child. As an adult, he's written novels, short stories and all manner of other things, but he's best known as a journalist. Below is a photo of him.
There are several good reasons for reviewing this book. The first and most important is: it's a book that deserves much wider recognition than it received when it came out. It comes from the Matador imprint of the Troubadour Press which is a small press and I fear many literary editors wrote it off immediately for that reason alone. Then there's the subject matter. It's all appeared before, in the pages of the Guardian or the Times, mostly. For the young, whose horizons are bounded by the latest prizewinners and hyped up first novels, a collection in which you might rub shoulders with Erskine Caldwell (who he? the 20 year old might ask...) Edmund Crispin, Charles Addams, etc will not be all that enticing. True, there are the Golden Oldies like Graham Greene and Rebecca West but surely this book will only be of interest to students of literature and not to the general public? Nothing could be further from the truth. These are proper interviews which cover a whole lot of gossipy and fascinating personal ground for each writer. Hamilton is very good at being self-effacing but we never forget we're overhearing a conversation, and it's always a pleasure to eavesdrop when two good talkers are doing the talking.
My second reason for loving this book is because, unlike so much of the rest of the lit.crit world, it gives equal weight to genre fiction. Science fiction and crime are treated as meriting close scrutiny and the same standards as are applied to more literary efforts. That is a rare thing indeed, as any genre writer will know. The best you can hope for, if you write genre fiction is a round-up where your book will get maybe 100 words of criticism if you're lucky and it's very hard to be deep in 100 words. Full marks, too, for including romance and erotica along with thrillers and SF. Hamilton deserves three cheers for that as they really are the Cinderellas of the literary world.
The third reason to write about this book is very simple. I loved it. It seems to me the ideal bedside book and the perfect present for anyone who likes reading and wants to know more about beloved writers from the past and also from those who've had a long shelf-life, like Joyce Carol Oates and Margaret Atwood. You can read about two or three writers before you turn out the light, but be warned: it's very easy to say: "Oh, I'll just read one more piece and then go to sleep."
The fourth reason is: it's a book where women writers are well-represented. That also doesn't often happen. In short, it's a smashing, satisfyingly fat volume and one you're sure to enjoy if you're at all bookish. My one caveat is: there are no children's writers represented here. Perhaps Alex is waiting for his wife to compile her own collection...that would be fun! Meanwhile, go to your nearest bookseller and order a copy of WRITING TALK. You won't regret it.
‘... nor any drop to drink.’ Coleridge wrote in the The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
Researchers have discovered that down through the centuries there have been proportionally more recorded supernatural events and disturbances, such as graves being opened, in medieval churches dedicated to St Michael than in churches dedicated to any other saint. Although this may be due to the fact there are over 600 churches in England dedicated to St Michael.
During the medieval period many ancient sacred springs themselves became associated with saints. Legend often had it that they gushed out when saints such as St Edith had, like Moses struck a rock, to provide water for her workmen. A number of holy wells are said to have sprung up on spot where a saint’s head had been struck from their body, such as St Justinian, presumably because the gush of water resembled the arch of blood which would pour from a severed neck.
People came to these holy wells, they had in pre-Christian times, with a bent pin, a coin or flowers to offer to the saint, instead of the water deity, in the hope of a cure. That generated a lively trade in the selling of ampulla in which to carry water home to keep in the house or wear as an amulet to protect against sickness or the perils of childbirth.
Incidentally, superstition has it that if you are obliged to walk around a holy well or spring to pass it, you must always walk around it deiseil that is in a clockwise direction, with the sun. To turn to the left, and walk widdershins around the water will strengthen the powers of darkness, bring bad luck and even rouse some malicious spirit or monster from deep within the well or spring.
The sudden drying-up of certain holy springs or wells such as St Helen’s Well in Staffordshire is said predict a national disaster. If the spring in Langley Park dries up, it foretells a battle, but if it fills up there will be peace. This was said to be true whatever the weather. While the Drumming Well at Oudle warns of a calamity when a thumping is heard down the shaft. The predictions of some springs such as Dudley Spring in Warwickshire or Barton Mere at Bury St Edmunds are more easily explained, These are known as Cornsprings or Levants which Gilbert White in his Natural History of Selbourne said would fill or flood if the price of corn was going to rise. I think we can take it then, bread prices are going to rise this year!
I wonder if it was a co-incidence that in the 16th Century, as soon as the collecting of ‘holy water’ from saints' wells was deemed heretical under the Reformation, people began to discover the ‘health’ properties of water such as Malvern water, and started bottling it to sell to all parts of England? Perhaps we still need to believe in the powers of healing water. Certainly watching people today determinedly clutching their bottles of water as they walk around towns, reminds me of those medieval pilgrims clinging to their ampulla of holy water.
One last thought - I was listening to politicians and Environment Agencies this week explain that it makes good economic sense to allow houses and farmland in some areas to flood. And it reminded me of an ancient statute I came across while researching medieval fenlands. It said that if you wilfully, or through neglect, caused a neighbour’s property to flood by failing to maintain ditches, water courses or flood defences, you could be buried up to your neck in the dyke and left there to drown in the flood water. Your body would then form part of the flood defences to protect your neighbour. I wonder if that statute is still on the books, if it was revived, it might concentrate the minds of our planners and ministers wonderfully.
But remember in 1348, the year the Black Death, came to Britain it rained every day from Midsummer's Day to Christmas Day - I think someone must have walked round quite a few springs widdershins that year.
horsey books for YA readers and got me thinking!
When schoolchildren ask me what I would do if I could time-travel back to ancient Rome, I always answer without hesitation: A day at the races! When I was researching the 12th book in my Roman Mysteries series, The Charioteer of Delphi, I learned so many amazing things about chariot racing I had never come across whilst studying Classics at Uni. Here are twelve fascinating facts that convinced me this would have been THE most exciting thing to do in the Eternal City.
1. Chariot racing was the most popular public event in Imperial Rome, attracting far greater crowds than beast fights and gladiatorial combats.
2. The size of the arenas reflect this: the Flavian Amphitheatre (now known as the Colosseum) held 50,000 people keen to watch beast fights and gladiatorial combats. But the Circus Maximus held five times that number! Nearly a quarter of a million people could fit in Rome’s famous hippodrome. As far as I know, there is no arena of equivalent size in the world today.
3. Unlike the Colosseum, women and men could sit together at the races. This is why the poet Ovid tells young men that the Circus Maximus is a good place to pick up girls!
4. Chariots were not the sturdy wooden vehicles we see in almost every dramatisation of Ben Hur. They were very springy and light so they could go as fast as possible. Oil lamps, frescoes and reliefs show that they were made of wicker and leather. Driving one would have been like driving a basket on wheels!
6. Charioteers were mainly young men in their teens and twenties. Some of them achieved superstar status, but like football players today, you stayed faithful to your faction (your team) not to specific personalities. The life expectancy of a chariot racer was not long, and if one survived more than a thousand races he became known as a miliarius or thousander. It was the same for a horse!
8. Whenever a chariot crashed, the crowd would yell out naufragium! This means ‘shipwreck’ in Latin! See? I told you it was fun!
9. Some charioteers downed a concoction of bull’s mucus before the race to make them more phlegmatic (i.e. to calm them down). They called this disgusting potion snorteum.
11. For me, the most exciting fact is that every single element of the Circus is symbolic, relating it to the cosmos.
• The four faction colours represented the four seasons and also the four humours or temperaments. Red stood for summer or the choleric temperament. Blue was autumn and also melancholic. White was winter and phlegmatic. Green was spring and sanguine. Charioteers wore leather helmets and jerkins in the four colours of their factions. The horses were adorned with ribbons and gear in these colours, too.
• The seven laps represented the days of the week.
• The twelve starting gates (and lanes) represented the months of the year.
• There were often twenty-four races held per day. These represented the hours of the day.
• The water of the euripus (canal in the central spina) represented the sea.
• The dirt race-track represented the earth around the sea.
• The obelisk rising from the euripus represented the sun.
Now come on, admit it! Wouldn't a day at the Roman races be your first choice, too?
Caroline Lawrence writes history-mystery books for kids. She has written over twenty books set in first century Rome and is now writing a series about a detective in the Wild West. There are horses in those books, as well. For more info, go to www.carolinelawrence.com and follow her @CarolineLawrenc
The winners of the January competition are:
Clare the Reader
Spade and Dagger
Please send your land addresses to:
to claim your prizes.
A friend of mine - a Renaissance man himself - has made an exotic purchase in Venice: a letter of passage for two zebras. He has kindly allowed me to share its contents.
The letter is addressed to Cavaliere Cerrutti, agent and Consul General for Sardinian Affairs in Egypt and was written in Alexandria on the 23rd June, 1833
Most Illustrious Lord,
By order of Signor Cavaliere Luigi Molinari, Consul in Aleppo, I am shipping to you, on the French steamer Menton, two zebras (or two desert mules), male and female, to be put at the disposal of Signor Francesco Gatti, for the Royal Menagerie of Turin.
Rather than simply consigning them to the steamer and sending them off, I thought it would be better to send a trusted man of mine to see to their care; the fares of the man and the animals were paid by me; I only ask that Your Illustrious Lordship arranges the return of the aforementioned man, named Hassan, and to acknowledge the receipt of the animals and advise their condition; if these same beasts are doing well, I’d ask you to give him a tip, as I assured him that he would be remunerated by the recipients if they were satisfied.
These animals eat barley, vegetables, milk, unsalted bread, but the best food for now is milk, and therefore it is recommended that the man should obtain milk and vegetables in every port where the boat stops.
I rejoice in this opportunity to express my respect and to be able to offer my obsequies and declare myself yours, my most Illustrious Lord.
Your devoted servant
So many interesting questions are raised by this letter. Were the zebras ordered particularly? What was the role of Cavaliere Cerrutti in this matter? I could have spent several days researching this matter but in the end decided to concentrate on the destiny of the two zebras rather than the surely far more prosaic lives of their human keepers.
I believe that this letter refers to the 18th century Palazzina di Caccia of Stupinigi, a stupendously grandiose hunting lodge for the Royal Houses of Savoy. Stupinigi is now a suburb of Nichelino, ten kilometers southwest of Turin. A Royal Menagerie of exotic creatures was set up at the Palazzina di Caccia between 1815 and 1826. The collection constituted a kind of living Cabinet of Curiosities – the animals in ornate cages and enclosures being an extension of the rich collections of minerals, shells and antiquities kept under glass in cupboards and display tables. The exotic beasts of the Royal Menagerie were intended as an expression of the monarchy’s wealth, culture and taste.
Unlike the animals displayed in the travelling circuses already common at this time – especially in Turin, it seems – our zebras were destined to be seen only by honoured guests and aristocratic visitors to this favourite palace of the royals. Weddings and great parties were often held there.
The Stupinigi zoo was later turned into a stud farm. Were our zebras still alive then? Were they put to reproductive works?
But it seems that some of the exotic animals from Stupinigi, including perhaps these milk-fed zebras, ended up stuffed in the zoological museum of Turin. The collections of this organisation now appear to have been translated into the Museo Regionale di Scienze Naturali di Torino.
If I am ever in Turin, I shall certainly make a visit in the hope of meeting the two zebras face to face.
Letter courtesy of Greg Warren Wilson
Translations by Sergio and Daniele Altieri and Michelle Lovric
One Night in Winter,published 27th February 2014 by Arrow, price £7.99
Section of a pom-pom gun being reassembled by Ordnance Wrens at Liverpool (World War II)
by Royal Navy official photographer, Lt H.W. Tomlin.
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Wrens riveting anti-submarine nets at Greenock, Scotland (World War II)
by Royal Navy official photographer Lt S.J. Beadell
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
WRNS craftswomen dismantling a large marine engine
in the workshop at HMS Tormentor, Southampton (World War II)
by Royal Navy official photographer Lt L. Pelman
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
|Margaret Douglas in later years|
|Lady Katherine Grey with her son, born in the Tower|
|Drawing by Durer|
Valentine's day? Pah! Today I write a love letter to the Internet, boon to writers and sad teens world wide. I really don't know what I'd do without it all that random clicking to find out where and when, the ability to swoop through antique maps of cities far far away, the chance to see what people wore and how long it might take to travel by stagecoach from Valenciennes to Paris. What did one do before the internet? Were writers dependent on big important libraries? What if you didn't live in a big city or even if you did felt too intimidated by 'proper academics' to go in?
Those of us with computers and internet access are all so very very lucky.
So bearing in mind that we all have go to websites, ones we like - mine include several high end vintage clothes dealers that I scroll through and drool over as well as a lovely fly through map of 18th century Paris - I thought I would share this one, a fabulous site that was initially simply a history of people of colour in Europe through art. I think it's much more than a repository of interesting pictures from collections of art and illuminated manuscripts, for me it's much more visceral; it's a kind of personal endorsement that says you know what, people like you have been here forever, you belong just as much as anyone else. And if that isn't a truly loving thought for Valentine's day then I don't know what it is...
This is the address, go and have a look and let us know your favourite sites too...
|A Mulatto Gentleman c1800 Fabre|
by Marie-Louise Jensen
Tolkien's named swords in Lord of the Rings have brought the concept of swords with lineage and personality into common consciousness. Swords such as Bilbo's Sting and Elendir's Narsil which is reforged for Aragorn as Anduril (Flame of the West) are known to Lord of the Rings fans everywhere.
Tolkien took his inspiration for this - like so much else - from the Norse sagas. His people of Rohan, in particular, were based on Viking peoples and society.
There are a number of named swords recorded in the Viking sagas and elsewhere. All the names are intended to glorify the wielder or the gods and to intimidate the enemy. The sword of Laxdaela Saga is Leg Biter, another recorded name is Foot Biter. Others are Fierce, Head Biter, Hole Maker, and Sword Breaker.
|Viking swords (courtesy of Wikipedia)|