Articles on this Page
- 12/27/18--17:00: _The Wandering Womb ...
- 12/28/18--16:01: _ My Mother's War, ...
- 12/29/18--16:30: _Cabinet of Curiosit...
- 12/30/18--16:01: _No December competi...
- 12/31/18--16:01: _"All the afterwards...
- 01/01/19--16:30: _Janus - by Gillian ...
- 01/03/19--01:24: _Creating Historical...
- 01/03/19--22:00: _Socrates Talks Sens...
- 01/04/19--16:30: _Rossini and a Coupl...
- 01/05/19--20:30: _Other People's Rubb...
- 01/06/19--17:30: _Gaetano Meo and his...
- 01/07/19--16:30: _Wilkie and "that al...
- 01/08/19--16:07: _Ancient Wisdom & Ne...
- 01/09/19--17:30: _Gibbering light - M...
- 01/10/19--16:00: _ Bathsheba Ghost: C...
- 01/11/19--22:00: _Extreme fasting - S...
- 01/12/19--16:30: _The Plight of the M...
- 01/13/19--16:30: _The Dawn Comes Up L...
- 01/14/19--16:00: _The gardens of Cast...
- 01/15/19--18:00: _A memory trail, by ...
- 01/16/19--22:00: _ONCE UPON A RIVER b...
- 01/17/19--16:30: _My Writing Resoluti...
- 01/18/19--16:01: _The Art of Flattery...
- 01/19/19--16:31: _Warnford: a village...
- 01/20/19--16:30: _ Neo-Classical Revi...
- 12/27/18--17:00: The Wandering Womb - by Ruth Downie
- 12/28/18--16:01: My Mother's War, Part One by Susan Price
- 12/29/18--16:30: Cabinet of Curiosities - a Baby Dinosaur
- 12/30/18--16:01: No December competition
- 12/31/18--16:01: "All the afterwards": Edward Burne-Jones by Mary Hoffman
- 01/01/19--16:30: Janus - by Gillian Polack
- 01/03/19--22:00: Socrates Talks Sense, and Penguin Classics - by Katherine Langrish
- 01/04/19--16:30: Rossini and a Couple of Cats - Joan Lennon
- 01/05/19--20:30: Other People's Rubbish or The Charm of Ephemera
- 01/06/19--17:30: Gaetano Meo and his great-granddaughter. By Adèle Geras
- 01/07/19--16:30: Wilkie and "that all-potent and all-merciful drug" by Karen Maitland
- 01/08/19--16:07: Ancient Wisdom & New Year’s Resolutions
- 01/09/19--17:30: Gibbering light - Michelle Lovric
- 01/10/19--16:00: Bathsheba Ghost: Convict Hospital Matron
- 01/11/19--22:00: Extreme fasting - St Simeon the Stylite
- 01/12/19--16:30: The Plight of the Moriscos in 17th Century Spain
- 01/13/19--16:30: The Dawn Comes Up Like Thunder - by Lesley Downer
- 01/14/19--16:00: The gardens of Castle Howard by Fay Bound Alberti
- 01/15/19--18:00: A memory trail, by Sue Purkiss
- 01/16/19--22:00: ONCE UPON A RIVER by Diane Setterfield. Review by Penny Dolan.
- 01/17/19--16:30: My Writing Resolutions - Celia Rees
- 01/18/19--16:01: The Art of Flattery by L.J. Trafford
- That time Domitian went somewhere else for a bit and then came back.
- The Emperor’s lovely winter roses
- A measure that widened the paths in Rome which Martial very much appreciates.
- Domitian banning the Equestrian class from appearing on the stage.
- Domitian reintroducing boxing as a sport “Valour contends with the natural weapon, the hand. “ Martial.
- That time at the Games when it snowed and the snow fell on Domitian’s face
- The time Statius sat near Domitian at a banquet and was just a bit excited about it: "I seem to sit with Jove among the stars, and I seem to sip Immortal nectar offered me by TrojanGanymede’s hand. The years behind were barren; this is the first day of my Mortal span; behold, here is the true threshold of my life. Is it you I gaze at, as I sit here, sovereign of all the lands, Great father of a world conquered, dear to the gods, hope Of all mankind? Is it given to me, indeed, to look on your Face nearby at wine and board, allowed to remain seated?
- And a whole series on how wonderful every single one of Domitian’s staff are: "So sweet are the tempers of your courtiers, so considerate are they towards us, so much of quiet good-feeling do thev display, and so much modesty is there in their bearing. Indeed, no servant of Caesar (such is the influence of a powerful court) wears his own character----but that of his master." Martial.
- 01/19/19--16:31: Warnford: a village of two halves? by Carolyn Hughes
- 01/20/19--16:30: Neo-Classical Revivalism by Elisabeth Storrs
This may come as a surprise to anyone trained in anatomy (or indeed anyone at all in the 21st century) but it would have been a sensible question in the ancient world. Opinion was divided even then, but a substantial number of doctors believed that the womb was not firmly attached to its moorings. It was thus free to roam about the body causing trouble.
The doctors of the time were a fiercely competitive bunch who did their best without the aid of microscopes, x-rays or very much sense of scientific method. They were, however, keen observers, and they were confident that neither asthma, epilepsy nor anything else they could name explained the problem afflicting some of their women patients. It became known as hysterical suffocation (from ‘hystera’, a Greek word for ‘uterus’).
Luckily there was a relatively safe and straightforward remedy. Wombs were said to be very sensitive to odour. They could be lured by sweet smells and repelled by foul ones. (Smells that they disliked included charred deers’ horn, burned hair or rags, and squashed bed bugs.) Apply the right smells at the right ends of the suffering woman, said the theory, and her troubles would subside as her womb slunk back home.
|Models of wombs presented to the gods in the hope of healing.|
Soranus, a specialist whose book on gynaecology still survives, was scathing. “For the uterus,” he declared, “does not issue forth like a wild animal from the lair, delighted by fragrant odours and fleeing bad odours.” He warns that trying to straighten out a woman’s internal tangles by using smith’s bellows to force in air – a ghastly suggestion that seems to have had a long, if surely unhappy, history – would only do more damage. As for the therapeutic effects of loud noises and the prescribed crashing of metal plates – “even many healthy persons have been given headaches by such sounds”. He agreed that the womb was the source of the trouble, but that rather than trespassing in unauthorised places, it was suffering from inflammation.
While Soranus and his fellow-medics disagreed on the causes and treatment of hysterical suffocation, they didn’t question its existence. The usual view of modern commentators is that they were describing some sort of stress-related symptoms that we would name and treat very differently today.
Before we feel too superior in our modern knowledge, though, it’s worth remembering that when my grandparents were young, smoking was considered to be a harmless way to relax. And by the time surgeons decided that routinely removing parts of healthy five-year-olds wasn’t such a great idea, my innocent tonsils were long gone. Who knows what twenty-first century beliefs future generations will look back on with alarm and incredulity?
Hopefully many sufferers were offered the sensible and restrained treatment recommended by Soranus, who suggested laying the afflicted woman down in a warm, bright room, placing warm compresses on her, gently straightening the constricted limbs and washing her face with a sponge. Given such treatment, we can only hope that she would feel well cared-for and that her womb, wherever it had gone, would find its own way home.
Ruth writes a series of mysteries featuring Roman military medic Ruso and his British partner Tilla - find out more at www.ruthdownie.com.
|My mother, aged 16|
I've recently seen it said that ‘before the Second World War, women didn’t work outside the home.' Nonsense. My maternal grandmother, like all the women in my family, always worked. For one reason or another, they had to. My maternal grandmother started work at ten and just carried on. She might have changed her job when the war started, if there was an opportunity for better wages, but she didn’t suddenly decide to go out to work 'to do her bit.' Children had to learn to cope being on their own — and doing a lot of household chores — at a young age.
None of my mother’s older siblings went to war. This was the industrial Black Country: they all had protected occupations. One of my uncle’s was in ‘Dad’s Army’, the Home Guard, and was issued with a gas-mask. The only time he ever wore it, my mother said, was when he sat on a low stool and put it on to terrify the dog, which ‘went yampy.’
It was a rackety household. My mother often told me that she never knew who was going to be in the house when she got up in the morning. Her brothers and sisters brought their friends home all the time and the kitchen might be crowded with people drinking tea and eating breakfast after coming off a night-shift.
She once came down to find a monkey in the kitchen. One of her brothers had won it at the Oldbury Wake (a fair.) As soon as my Grandmother came home, the monkey had to pack its bags. Poor thing.
It was Mum’s three older brothers who were supposed to construct their Anderson shelter. The instructions were to dig a hole at least four foot deep (a little over a metre) to put the shelter in, and to pile earth over the roof.
My paternal Grandad, George Price did this. He was a keen gardener anyway and used to digging. My aunt, his daughter, tells me that the family spent many nights in the cold, damp shelter, her wearing her siren suit, her mother knitting and her father reading. A miserable, boring experience it was.
About a mile away (but as yet unaware of each others' existence), my mother’s brothers started digging a hole but couldn’t be bothered to dig it deep enough. They didn’t cover the shelter with earth. It stuck up from its shallow hole like a tin shed. It flooded and frogs moved in, meaning that none of the women would go near it. Nobody in the family ever used it on even a single occasion. Bombs fell, the anti-aircraft guns they called ‘Big Bertha’ resounded from the Rowley Hills behind the house, but my mother’s family ignored it all and went about their business as usual. I suppose you could say they kept calm and carried on. (Grandad Price would have said, 'Where there's no sense there's no feeling.')
Nor did my mother's family have black-out curtains. Either nobody in the family could be fashed to organise them, or they had other ideas about what to spend money on. My mother usually came home from school to an empty house because everyone else was at work. She did this from an early age, well before the war began, because she told me of being too small to reach the latch and open the door. She used to stand in the yard and wait until the family cat came home. The cat leaped up, swung on the latch and let itself in. Mum used to tell me how much she resented that cat and its lordly ways.
During the war her family were either working, volunteering for war-work or socialising. So she came home to an empty house and then spent the evening alone. She would light the gas-lamps to begin with but the air-raid warden would come and bang on the window because light was showing, and she’d have to turn them out. You could be prosecuted for showing light. Alone in the dark she listened to ‘The Man In Black’, Valentine Dyall, tell ghost stories. Here’s a sample -
Altogether, my mother’s family had a casual attitude to air raids. When the siren went while Mum was at school, they were supposed to go down into the school cellar and stay there until the all-clear. However, this always meant listening to one ‘teacher’s pet’ recite ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ and the other teacher’s pet recite ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade.’ (My mother was certainly not a teachers' pet. Her teachers disliked her for being one of 'that rowdy family.')
She liked poetry (The Highwayman and Young Lochinvar were her favourites) but her war-time experience left her with a lifelong dislike of the teachers' pets’ choices.
When the sirens sounded, children were allowed to run home to their family shelters if they lived close to the school and their parents were at home. My mother’s best friend lived in a house in the same street as the school. Faced with hearing ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ and ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade,’ yet again (with all the actions), my mother got her friend to tell the teacher that they were going to run to the friend’s house. The teacher let them go.
What they hadn’t told the teacher was that the friend’s mother and father were both at work, the house was locked up and they had no way of reaching the friend’s shelter in the yard behind it. While the bombs fell and the guns fired from the hills, while shrapnel rained down, pinging off metalwork, they wandered round the streets; and they did this every time there was a raid during school hours. They whiled away the time by studying the gardens and giving them marks out of ten for neatness, productivity or pretty flowers.
Whenever the Second World War is mentioned, that’s the image that comes to my mind: two little girls looking over a garden fence and assessing flower displays while bombers fly overhead and guns boom and recoil, boom and recoil on the hill where I live now.
I looked up ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ while writing this blog and I think, in Mum's place, I would have risked the bombs too.
We are grateful to Susan Price for stepping in with this reserve post, as our planned guest for December fell through.
A few months ago I wrote on this blog about an ending for me – finishing my life as a civil servant. Since then I've had another ending – and, excitingly, a new beginning – because I've moved from London to Brighton.
Me on Dinosaur Island, Crystal Palace Park
Photo: L O'Sullivan
It became the defining feature of the area, bringing millions of people to visit and live over the next 80 years and changing it forever. Two train stations were built to manage the influx of visitors. Many of the bus routes in south London end in Crystal Palace even now because of the number of people who wanted to get to the attraction. And, as across London, huge numbers of houses were built, but in this case many of them were large and beautiful villas for the well-to-do, wanting to live in this now-fashionable spot.
The Megalosaurus, striding through the
autumn foliage. Photo C. Wightwic
|The Subway in 2017. Photo: C.Wightwick|
Find out more at:
Crystal Palace Dinosaurs: https://cpdinosaurs.org/
The Crystal Palace Subway: www.cpsubway.org.uk
Because our planned guest for 29th December fell through, there will be no competition this month.
|The Golden Stairs 1880|
If you like the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, the chances are you will enjoy the Burne-Jones exhibition at Tate Britain in London, on till February 24th. If, on the other hand, you detest them, it will be anathema to you.
For Burne-Jones is the quintessential pre-Raphaelite: his paintings, tapestries, even his stained glass is intensely finished, his figures idealised, his subjects high-falutin'. And yet he wasn't one of the founder-members of the "brotherhood in 1848." They were Holman Hunt, Millais and Rossetti.
Burne-Jones wasn't even one of the four artists who joined the PRB a few months later. (William Morris wasn't one at all, much to my surprise). But Burne-Jones was only fifteen when the brotherhood was founded; later, under the mentoring of Rossetti, he became very much associated with their ideas and practices.
What linked them all was an interest in medieval literature, such as the works of Geoffrey Chaucer and Thomas Malory, and the myths and legends that were the subjects of their writing, and more recent poets like Keats and Tennyson. They also shared a love of nature and wanted to depict it in great detail.
They longed to return to the simplicity of Italian painting of the 14th and 15th centuries, particularly the work of Sienese painters. That aesthetic which reached its apogee "pre-Raphael," (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino 1483-1520). And they, all young men in 1848, opposed the current aesthetic of the Royal Academy.
|The Beguiling of Merlin 1872-7|
(I like to think there is a sub-text of Burne-Jones liberating himself from his teachers and going to make his own way in the art world.)
In 1859, at the age of twenty-six, Burne-Jones made his first visit to Italy and discovered the work of Michelangelo. That might have counted as "late" to someone fixated on the earlier period of Italian art but it seems to have given him a lifetime's fascination with "contrapposto" in his depiction of the human figure.
|Phyllis and Demophoon 1870|
He was asked to make an adjustment to the painting but refused and withdrew it from the exhibition, also resigning from the Society; clearly Burne-Jones had no truck with Victorian prudery.
|The Tree of Forgiveness 1981-2|
As well as medieval and classical subjects, Burne-Jones sometimes invented stories for his paintings, like The Golden Stairs and Love Among the Ruins. But he was also attracted to making series of images based on a single story, such as the legend of Perseus and Andromeda:
|The Doom Fulfilled 1888|
But in the Briar Rose series, based on a version of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, Burne-Jones is not interested in the fulfillment scene of the prince waking the princess from her enchantment; what fascinates him is the notion of stopped time and suspended animation.
|The Rose Bower 1886-90|
|The Council Chamber 1885-90|
|The Briar Wood 1874-84|
Burne-Jones' wife, Georgiana, said his concept was: "I want it to stop with the Princess asleep and to tell no more, to leave all the afterwards to the invention and imagination of people."
|The Adoration of the Magi 1894|
The one above seems topical, as we approach January 6th, Epiphany, the visit of the three Magi (or kings) to the infant Christ in his stylised stable.
Happy New Year to all our readers and Followers!
Historical fiction is in some ways like fantasy fiction: the author has to create a world in which readers can believe. That generally means the author has to believe it themselves. Even if we don’t describe it all to the reader, we have to be able to picture what the historical world of our novels look like, smells like and feel like in order for our characters to inhabit the space with confidence.
My second novel, The Story Keeper, is about a folklorist’s assistant on the Isle of Skye in 1857. This was an isolated and impoverished island dealing with the aftermath of the Highland Clearances - a very different world to that of late Regency and early Victorian London I had written about in my first novel, The Unseeing. How would I ever understand it?
Reading primary and secondary resources
Like most historical writers, I start with broad research. I began with the history of Skye and of the Clearances, seeking out books at the British Library and buying key texts. It’s often like following a treasure trail: the bibliography of one book will give you several clues on which to follow up.
I also found many 19th century resources online, for example newspaper articles at Am Baile and travellers' accounts on Gutenburg, Internet Archive and Google Books. When reading contemporary accounts I make notes of particular vocabulary and phrases so that I can create a voice for my own characters which gestures to how people would have spoken at the time.
I also read much about the Gaelic language and about Hebridean folklore – the fireside stories that Audrey, the protagonist, is tasked with collecting. I even located a mansion elsewhere in Scotland (Newhailes) that I could use as a template for my fictional mansion, Lanerly.
But I still had no real idea of what life of the island would have been like.
Archivists to the rescue
Thankfully help was at hand from the generous staff at the Skye and Lochalsh Archive Centre who located census records so that I could see the names and professions of real people living in the locations I was writing about, and read accounts given by ministers of their parishes.
I also found several 19th century maps, and looked at photographs and portraits of stern-faced police officers and black-robed clergymen. I find that pictures and maps are key to my writing. I prop pictures on my desk and save them to my computer desktop so I can look at them as I’m writing. I know other writers, such as Jane Harris, also do this, and others create Pinterest boards.
|Bill Brandt, The Isle of Skye, 1947|
However, the written records and the photographs only tell so much. They tend not to provide intimate details of how people would have lived and you rarely glimpse details of those whose lives weren’t generally recorded – women, servants, minorities, the poor. In this case, there was very little to show how the islanders would have spoken, or what their daily lives entailed. Most of the accounts were written by rich Englishmen on a jolly jaunt to the Hebrides, who were appalled at the squalor in which the crofting people lived. Not much remains of the crofters’ own experience of island life.
Dig deep enough, however, and you will find nuggets. In the Skye Archives I found letters sent home by those who had been cleared: stories of children taken with fever on the boats; of sea burials and sea weddings; of hopes for a better future. It is here that you find the people’s real speech and their real concerns.
I also read the reports of the Napier Commission, the inquiry into the conditions of crofters and cottars. Here you get a glimpse of the expressions islanders used - ‘I am a Skyeman to my backbone’; ‘a little pimple of a woman’ - and learn of the effects of the Clearances. Witnesses used the word ‘scattered’ again and again:
‘How many brothers had you?’
‘We were six altogether.’
‘What became of the other five?’
‘They have scattered. Some of them are hereabouts, and as for the rest I cannot tell where they are.’
I tried to build the speech pattern into the dialogue of the characters in The Story Keeper, to give a hint at how people would have spoken.
Walking the land
Perhaps most important of all was staying on and walking across the island. It’s only really when you feel the wind stinging your face and the salt in your hair, only when you smell the sour peat-reek of an old crofter house (as I did at Skye Museum of Island Life) that you can conjure those things up for your reader.
I couldn't spend a long time on the island (I have small children and, at that time, a job), but I had several weekends on Skye, mostly on my own. I stayed in a little cabin just by Broadford bay, the key location in the novel, writing and researching and watching for otters and seals. I went out walking, and running, to the places where the key scenes in the novel are set: to Skulamus, Breakish and Suisnish – stunning landscapes where crofting communities once lived. I took many photographs, which I could look at when writing the scenes set in those places. I also took videos and audio recordings to capture the sounds of the place – the whistle of the wind, the calling of birds, the bleating of the sheep, the murmur of the sea.
Lastly, I used that key item in the toolkit of every novelist: imagination. Building on the resources I'd collated, I imagined what Skye would have looked like and sounded like. Adapting a floor plan from Newhailes, I conjured up the mansion of Lanerly, looking down onto Broadford Bay. I tried to imagine what it would have felt like for Audrey to arrive on this island as a stranger. What did the ground feel like beneath her feet after the rains? How did the air smell after the dirt and dust of London?
The full picture only emerged gradually over the couse of writing and rewriting the novel, but by the end I could see it pretty clearly. I hope my readers can too.
What would your own list contain?
And a Happy New Year!
Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.
He's also the gorgeous youth in Edward Burne- Jones's famous painting, Love among the Ruins. You will find him in paintings by Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Henry Holiday, and William Blake Richmond, who taught the young Italian to paint. Gaetano had walked all the way across Europe from Calabria, earning money by playing his harp. In London, he met members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and today, his image is here, on display in the exhibition currently on show at Tate Britain.
The grave where Gaetano is buried was somehow forgotten until recently. It was made by him as a memorial for his beloved wife and it was the last mosaic he created. When it was rediscovered, it was not in a good state, but Helen, together with the well-known mosaicist Tessa Hunkin (who oversaw the skilled cleaning, and the replacement of fallen tesserae) brought it back to its old glory once again.
This is the finished image .....
...and I'm sure Gaetano would have loved it and been proud that his own great granddaughter was instrumental in restoring it to a state of great beauty. If there's an afterlife, Helen's ancestor, (who seems to have been a delightful man, as well as a talented artist,) would be thrilled to bits with what she's done.
Helen has a hat too, though it lacks Gaetano's decorations. Here she is at the grave. She should put a feather in her cap, I think, in honour of what she and Tessa Hunkin have rescued from oblivion.
Wilkie Collins in 1874, aged 50
Photographer: Napoleon Sarony
At this time, Laudanum was a mixture of opium and alcohol and was sold under names such as Godfrey's Cordial and Mother Bailey's Quieting Syrup. Wilkie’s own father had taken Battley's Drops for his pain, which contained opium, sherry, and alcohol.
|Engraving by Franz Muller-Munster (1867-1936)|
‘Laudanum’ was originally the name for Cistus ladanifer a beautiful flowering plant found in western Mediterranean, also known gum rockrose and common gum cistus. Paracelsus, a 16th-century Swiss-German alchemist, combined this with opium and other ingredients such as crushed pearls and musk to produce a pain-relieving medicine. The name stuck, even when Cistus ladanifer was no longer included as an ingredient. In 1618, the London Pharmacopoeia describes laudanum as a ‘pill made from opium, saffron, castor, ambergris, musk and nutmeg’.
Cistus ladanifer or Laudanum
Photo: Juan Sanchez
Victorian women of all classes, plagued by ‘women’s problems’ which they were not supposed to mention much less seek help for, could buy a bottle of laudanum to ease their pain without having to consult a male physician, and, in any case, many could not afford a doctor’s fees. That was both the attraction and danger of laudanum – it was cheaper than a bottle of spirits or wine because, being medicine, it was not taxed as alcohol, but it gave the same kind of escape from the stresses and miseries of life.
Until 1908 in Britain, Laudanum or tincture of opium was also included in a number of baby’s ‘soothing’ syrups. Grandma’s Secret, Mother’s Treasure, Morrell’s Teething Syrup, Godfrey’s Cordial and Mrs Winston’s Soothing Syrup were just some of the brands a desperate mother or nursemaid could buy and, especially in the hands of parents or wet-nurses who either couldn’t read well or might think an extra dose would ‘do baby good’, these syrups could be lethal. Koop’s Baby Friend killed 11 infants in two years, and those were only the infant deaths that were investigated. There were probably many others that weren’t.
|1781, 'Nightmare' by Henry Fuseli (1741-1825)|
A number of prominent people took laudanum to calm their nerves before a public speech, including John Hunter, the ‘Father of Anatomy’ (1728-93) who took 30 drops before giving lectures; William Wilberforce, the slavery abolitionist; and the Prime Minister William Gladstone who took it to steady his nerves before addressing parliament. I imagine there are days when modern Prime Ministers might sympathise with that.
‘… forgive me if I am absent tomorrow night. My doctor is trying to break me of the habit of drinking laudanum. I am stabbed every night at ten with a sharp-pointed syringe which injects morphia under my skin - and gets me a night's rest without any of the drawbacks of taking opium internally. If I only persevere with this, I am told I shall be able, before long, gradually to diminish the quantity of morphia and the number of nightly stabbings - and so emancipate myself from opium altogether.’
1863, Advert for 'Wolcott's Instant
I read ancient authors almost daily and am always surprised by how relevant they are. (Usually!) Here are my ten New Year’s resolutions based on ancient authors, some with links to advice for modern application. Maybe some of them will inspire you, too!
1. Examine Your Life– Socrates (Greek 5th century BC)
Socrates famously said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ The bleak midwinter is the yearly equivalent of four in the morning, when all our fears rise to the surface of consciousness. Don’t push them back down. Take them out and examine them one by one. One way to do this is something like Morning Pages where you write a stream of consciousness first thing. Check out a 3-minute clip HERE.
2. Know Thyself. Anonymous (Greek 6th century BC)
This slogan was written in Greek on temple of Apollo at Delphi. It’s not entirely sure who first coined it but many philosophers have echoed it ever since. According to Yuval Noah Harari, algorithms already know more about us than we do ourselves. (Watch a revelatory interview with Harari HERE). Until they make the ‘Know Thyself’ app, I’m going to constantly ask myself why I’m taking certain actions from little (online purchases) to big (the nature of my next project).
3. Let Your Food Be Medicine. Hippocrates (Greek 5th century BC)
The reason we make New Year’s Resolutions now is because of the two weeks of overindulgence we’ve just experienced, telling ourselves ‘It’s the holidays... Let the regime go for a while.’ That’s fine. That’s why winter is a time for feasting. And why Lent is a time for fasting. Two and a half thousand years ago the ‘father of medicine’ urged people to eat for health, but fasts were also part of the ancient health regime. Sometimes a lack of food is good for the body and lets it recover. I started the new year with a ‘diatritos’, a three day fast, and will try to fast for a couple of days each month. HERE is a short introduction to fasting.
4. Withdraw into Yourself as Far as You Can– Seneca (Latin 1st century AD)
The first century AD Roman Stoic philosopher seemed to be talking about something like meditation or mindfulness. I’m going to try to meditate every day and take stock, even if only for a few minutes. Try a short 3-minute version HERE.
5. Always Be On Your Guard– Marcus Aurelius (Greek 2nd century AD)
Wise words from the second century AD Stoic philosopher and emperor. The full quote is this. ‘The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, you should always be on your guard.’ Whether on the streets of London or posting on Twitter, I’m going to try to be alert to danger and let my intuition warn me.
6. Take Power Naps– Pliny (Latin 1st AD)
He was a most ready sleeper, insomuch that he would sometimes, whilst in the midst of his studies, fall off and then wake up again… [After lunch] he generally took a cold bath, then some light refreshment and a little nap. After this, as if it had been a new day, he studied till supper-time… Pliny Letters 27. As I get older, I am learning to take power naps before they take me. Read Pliny the Younger’s account of his Uncle’s daily routine HERE.
7. Keep Fit– Juvenal (Latin 1st AD)
Mens sana in corpore sano can be translated as ‘a healthy mental outlook in a fit body’. You don’t have to join a gym or invest in new trainers. We all know the ways to increase daily movement like getting off the tube a stop earlier or taking the stairs instead of a lift. I love walking but my knee is getting a bit stiff so I’ve now started to supplement walking with a short yoga session first thing in the comfort of my own home via YouTube or DVD. My favourite is Rodney Yee.
8. Hurry Slowly – Augustus via Suetonius (Latin 1st AD)
I do things quickly. Sometimes too quickly. The Roman historian Suetonius, in De vita Caesarum, tells that Augustus deplored rashness in a military commander, thus σπεῦδε βραδέως or festina lente in Latin was one of his favourite sayings. I resolve to be quick but not impulsive.
9. Treat Others As You Would Like to be Treated– Jesus (Greek 1st AD)
In Matthew 7:12, Jesus states the so-called Golden Rule. We know it in our heads (and hearts) but it goes against the survival instinct of our reptile brain. I had a revelation recently while teaching John Truby’s seven beat plot structure, which includes the Desire and the Opponent. We often consider people as opponents or barriers to things we want, but in God’s eyes it is the people who are important, not the things we want.
10. Delight Yourself in the LORD– King David (Hebrew 10th century BC)
We can be overwhelmed by the suffering and stupidity that surrounds us, and be tempted to despair. But we live lives of greater comfort and luxury than almost any generation before us. I am going to count my blessings, say thank you to the Universe and delight myself in God and His creation. For me, this verse from Psalm 37 is the most important resolution of all.
Christmas in Venice is a season of low winter light gibbering on the stones under the bridges. The Venetians call this phenomenon ‘gibigiana’. The Italian word for it seems to be ‘sbarlusso’.
The winter sun brings out the basking cats, particularly the three magnificent Maine Coons at the Calle dei Muti. I think this one below is called ‘Rudolf’. In a scene that was sadly edited out of my forthcoming children’s book, these cats had a starring role. They even danced the hornpipe. Oh well.
Everyone who is anyone in Venice gets their Christmas tree at this little outpost at San Felice.
But I won’t be dipping into this basket of Moors.
I have written elsewhere of the patere, discs of stone sliced from columns and decorated with cautionary scenes, usually of beast eating one another. I always look out for previously unseen patere in Venice and this is a new one for me: two lobsters grappling.
On a killing note, Christmas is the time when Venetian ladies of a certain age get out their minks. Fur brings out the brilliant orange lipstick and the glittering earrings. The earrings bring out the diamond rings and the designer sunglasses. There’s no word in Italian for ‘privacy’ but I decided not to shame any of the minky ladies with a photograph. I can only hope that many of these elegant she-bears shuffling around Venice are wearing their grandmothers’ coats. Venetian senators surely handed down their robes lined with squirrel fur. How many squirrels must have been culled to supply the Maggior Consiglio of around 2000 patricians in the long life of the Venetian Republic?
On the vaporetto the other night, I saw a Venetian lady of fashion wearing the skins of at least three different animals. However, on a designer lead she dragged a little dog with a lustrous pelt of his own. Was it just me, or did that dog have a worried expression every time he looked up at his mistress? And, I wondered, how could she herself not see the irony of prizing her pet’s fur as the living upholstery of her love-object while taking it for granted that the beasts of the forest and jungle must be slaughtered to keep her looking expensive?
Venice, fortunately, doesn’t do garish Christmas lights or ruin the Grand Canal with Disneyfied illuminations. Around San Marco and Rialto, there are usually beautiful cascades of pinpoint white lights. This lovely picture was taken by Janny Williams under the arches that formerly enclosed Venice's jewellers at Rialto.
And when I went back to check after Christmas … there He was.
In the bigger squares, there are also lovely stalls selling every possible accoutrement for your home crib … this year there are steampunk accessories for the modern manger; masks, too. And of course there are cakes. At this time of year, panettone, pandoro and focaccia all become currency. People trundle around with trolleys full of exquisitely packaged confectionery.
At the Bifora in Santa Margherita, the decorations are simply beautiful, adding beauty to beauty. The Murano glass chandeliers bear extra glass balls of scarlet.
Finally, the best modern retail acknowledges Venetian history. This is the window display in a shop by the Ponte delle Tette, a place where state-sponsored courtesans would bare their breasts to encourage customers.
Merry Christmas to Venice past and present! (photo by Janny Williams, with thanks).
Michelle Lovric's new website.
There were opportunities in the penal colony of New South Wales for a smart woman to overcome her convict past, forge a new career and become one of the most highly paid women in the colony. Bathsheba Ghost managed to do all that in her twenty-two years at the Sydney Infirmary, first as a nurse and then as matron. And when she died she was able to leave a substantial bequest to her beloved hospital.
On 19 May 1838, in the Central Criminal Court of the Old Bailey, twenty-eight-year-old Bathsheba Ghost, former ladies’ nursery maid (I like to think of her looking like the nursery maid above), was found guilty of receiving stolen property and sentenced to 14 years’ transportation to the colony of New South Wales.
At the time she was living at 338 Oxford Street in London (now the site of Debenhams flagship department store) with her husband and three-year old son. See: https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=def2-1309-18380514&div=t18380514-1309#highlight
for an account of her trial at the Old Bailey.
She left husband and son both behind in London; her husband had publicly distanced himself from her, despite some evidence of his own involvement in the crime.
And so Bathsheba, together with 170 other female convicts, departed England in 1838 on the Planter, a ship similar to the Buffalo (above).
After four months at sea, she arrived at Port Jackson in March 1839 and was assigned work as a domestic servant.
Her nursing career began when she was granted her ticket of leave in 1844 and began work as a paid nurse at the General Hospital. Two years later, she was granted a conditional pardon; effectively she was free, but it stipulated that she could not return to Britain. So she continued to nurse at what was now the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary.
By 1852 she had so impressed the Infirmary Board that they offered her the position of Hospital Matron, a post she was to occupy for the next fourteen years.
Her salary of £80, with board and lodging provided, was considerably higher than that given to her predecessor. By 1854, her salary had been increased to £100. In recommending the increase, the board stated: ‘It is sufficient to say that the order and cleanliness which reflect so much credit upon our institution are mainly owing to her unwearied personal exertions’.
Eventually, Bathsheba was earning £120 per annum, which was one of the highest salaries for a woman in New South Wales at the time.
During Bathsheba’s 14 years as matron, there were major changes in medical practice, including the first use of anaesthetics. Apparently she took these in her stride, as the Infirmary’s annual reports regularly praised its matron for the order and cleanliness of the hospital, and for taking a leading role in training nurses under her care. In 1864, the board arranged for her ‘small and unsuitable apartments’ to be upgraded to allow her ‘accommodation due to her position and long and faithful service’.
Not only the board was impressed by Bathsheba. Maria Rye, a friend of Florence Nightingale, visited Sydney in 1865. Although she generally condemned colonial hospitals, in a letter to Miss Nightingale she wrote that the Sydney Infirmary was ‘a wonderful exception as good as any Hospital in London’.
Bathsheba never remarried but, towards the end of her life, her son Thomas migrated to the colony of New South Wales and she came to know her granddaughter Eliza.
Sadly, her final years were marred by a painful and lingering illness of the uterus. In a time of limited pain relief she turned to opium and alcohol, and despite Bathsheba’s much praised efforts to maintain order and cleanliness at the hospital, matters deteriorated during her last illness. (See the cartoon in the Sydney Morning Herald of 1869).
Despite her illness she continued her duties as matron and opposed any idea of change in the running of the institution until her death in August 1866.
In August 1866, Bathsheba Ghost died at the hospital where she had worked for 22 years. Her death was noted by the board with ‘much regret’. She left a bequest of £100 to her beloved Sydney Infirmary in her will – a substantial amount at the time – and her passing was noted with ‘much regret’ by the board.
In her will she left the Infirmary a bequest of £100 – a substantial amount at the time – and her passing was noted with ‘much regret’ by the board.
In 1953, a memorial to her was unveiled in the Camperdown Cemetery, in a ceremony presided over by Elsie Pidgeon, the then matron of Sydney Hospital.
Given her high regard at the time of her death, it is surprising that a century later, in a 1970 book about the Nightingale nurses, Bathsheba Ghost should be referred to as ‘a Sarah Gamp of the Southern Hemisphere … in the habit of fortifying herself against minor discomforts with a judicious choice of alcohol’.
|The Bathsheba Ghost Memorial|
[The above is taken from my book: An Illustrated History of Nursing in Australia (National Library of Australia). To be published 2018.]
by Antonia Senior
I am hungry. Really, really hungry. Yup, it's January diet time. Like countless other podgy, Mum-tummed dipsos I've started fasting. Christmas, and the evil trinity of craft beer, crisps and mince pies, pushed me, and my straining waist-band, over the edge.
Fasting is nothing new. Researching a book some years ago, (the one in the drawer), I became fascinated by early Christian ascetics. Pre-enlightenment Christian mind-sets are staggeringly weird to modern brains, but the bonkers brigade of fasters and scourgers seem particularly alien.
My favourite early Christian nutjob is St Simeon the Stylite. His life is well documented for the time. He was famous throughout the Christian world and beyond, and we have a contemporaneous account of his life from Theodoret's History of the Monks of Syria. Written in about 440AD, Theodoret of Cyrus writes profiles of some thirty holy men, who all practised some form of asceticism.
|Theodoret of Cyrus|
The path to God was a troublesome, painful, hungry one. Theodoret's account is wonderful - full of detail and replete with anecdotes of his own meetings with many of the monks. Take Eusebius, who ate 15 dried figs over seven weeks and whose belt kept falling down over his skinny buttocks, forcing him to sew it to his tunic. Eusebius, not wanting his vision of God to be disturbed, rolled a stone over the entrance to his cave. Theodoret talked to him through a small hole, listening to his "sweet voice, dear to God". Theodoret tries to leave, but the starving, solitary monk won't let him go - talking relentlessly through the hole about heaven.
The demands of worship in this tradition all involve physical discomfort. The body must suffer to free the mind, turning it to God's vision. Maricanus and Bardatus, for example, lived in mountain huts which were too small for a man to stand or lie down - and they were entirely open to the elements.
This ascetic fanaticism was much admired in early Christendom - and it spread far. The Celtic Church, thousands of miles from arid Syria, developed its own tradition. The Culdees - medieval monks - lived in complete seclusion and sought God in silence and hardship.
The ascetic tradition is dominated by the story of Simeon, however. He was born in the late fourth century, and became deeply religious in his teens. As a young man, according to Theodoret, he heard the "gospel utterance which declares blessed those who weep and mourn, calls wretched those who laugh, terms enviable those who possess a pure soul.."
Simeon decided to join a community translated by RM Davis as an "ascetic wrestling school" where he spent ten years contending as a "contestant of piety". He annoyed everybody by being brilliant at piety - consistently going one week rather than a couple of days without any food. He tied a rough, palm cord about his waist and started to bleed from the copious chafing, refusing to take it off or tend to the lacerated wound. At this point, he was kicked out of the pious wrestling school in case weaker students tried to copy his mad feats of penance.
He left in a huff, heading for the mountains. He lowered himself into a cistern, where he stayed without eating or drinking for five days, before eventually being hauled out by some shepherds. He then decided to go 40 days without food, and had himself sealed into a cottage with a jug of water. When, at last, the sealed door was cracked open he was found barely alive. He was revived with a bit of lettuce.
The Godly flocked to the miracle man. People came from as far as Britain to see him, hear him, touch him. Eventually, fed up of being jostled by his admirers, he climbed up a pillar. And stayed there. And stayed. He ordered the pillar to be made higher, and higher - closer to heaven.
|A sixth century icon of Simeon on his pillar|
He stayed at the top of the pillar for thirty-seven years. Every so often, local boys would shimmy up to deliver food. Once a year, he would fast for forty days, lashing himself to a beam attached to the pillar when the weakness was too much to bear.
Some modern scholars believe that Simeon was following a local pagan tradition; On the Syrian Goddess, a treatise written in the second century AD by Lucian, refers to pillar-dwellers as part of the cult of the local Goddess. Regardless, Simeon's insane piety was a propaganda bombshell for the early church. Theodoret writes of hordes of converting Ishamaelites converging on Simeon's pillar, rejecting their ancestral Gods in the face of such superhuman feats. Indeed, our reporter from the Fifth century nearly gets crushed to death by a crowd of over-eager worshippers.
Simeon spent most of his time standing; to the point where he had a pus-oozing ulcer on his left foot. Theodoret adds the detail that he could bend over to touch his forehead to his toes, so empty was his stomach (I'd settle to being able to touch my toes with my hands).
Simeon had many copycats, but he was the first and the most famous stylite. A church was built around his pillar, almost as big as Hagia Sophia, and his pillar stood for more than fifteen hundred years - smaller each year as successive pilgrims chipped off slivers of stone as souvenirs. Sadly, in 2016, a stray missile caused extensive damage to the church and the pillar, according to a report in The Telegraph.
|The remains of the pillar before the Syrian civil war|
An extraordinary, barmy life. Simeon couldn't bear to give up his piety contest, even at the last. According to the awe-struck Theodoret, when his soul departed to heaven, his body remained standing upright, 'like an unbeaten athlete who strives with no part of his limbs to touch the ground'.
by Deborah SwiftSeventeenth Century Persecution in Spain
|Moorish tiles from the Alhambra|
During the following centuries after moorish Spain was conquered, Christians were determined to expand their dominion over Spain, and in 1492 Muslim Granada fell - a momentous day for Christian Europe, a day of rejoicing, but for Muslims it became a day of eternal sorrow. Precious buildings were sacked and destroyed, atrefacts such as ceramics with islamnic designs smashed.
After the conquest of Granada by Christians, the Jewish population was driven out, whilst tolerance was promised to its Moorish citizens. So by the seventeenth century the Moors had become indelibly Spanish. Some were genuine Christian converts, and many, like Sancho Panza’s neighbour Ricote (in Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote), and Luisa in my novel'A Divided Inheritance', thought of themselves as ‘más cristiano que moro’ (More Christian than Moor).
A short period of relatively peaceful co-existence between the Muslims and Christians was shattered when the Archbishop of Granada, Hernando de Talavera, was replaced by the fanatic Cardinal Cisneros, and Muslim religious leaders were persuaded to hand over more than 5,000 priceless books with ornamental bindings, which were then consigned to bonfires. Only a few books on medicine were spared the flames. Unsurprisingly, this event led to an armed response from Muslims in the First Rebellion of the Alpujarras in 1499. By 1502 the monarchy had rescinded the treaty of tolerance and Muslims in Andalusia were forced to convert or leave. Those who converted were called Moriscos, which means “little Moors”.
Further repression of the Moriscos resulted in a second Rebellion. Fearing the rebels were conspiring with the Turks of the Ottoman Empire, the uprising was brutally suppressed by Don John of Austria. In a spate of atrocities the town of Galera, to the east of Granada, was razed to the ground and sprinkled with salt, after the slaughter of 2,500 people including 400 women and children. Some 80,000 Moriscos in Granada were forcibly dispersed to other parts of Spain, including Seville. Christians from northern Spain were settled on their empty lands. Ayamena and Nicoloao in my story were displaced from Granada before settling in Seville.
As early as the 16th century The Council of State proposed expulsion as a solution to the on-going Morisco 'problem', for which the previous expulsion of the Jews provided a legal precedent. However, the action was delayed because of Spain’s pressing political concerns abroad and because of the drawbacks of losing so many skilled Muslim labourers from the Spanish working population. Muslim labourers and artisans were responsible for much of the beautiful spanish architecture we admire so much today.
Final Expulsion of 400,000 people
This little-known part of seventeenth century forms one of the threads of the narrative in my novel,' A Divided Inheritance'. Read more in this excellent article by Roger Boase in History Today
|Dawn over the Ayeyarwaddy (Irrawaddy) at Mandalay|
King Thibaw, Queen Supayalat
and her sister Princess Supayalay
Thibaw set about reforming the administrative structure of his kingdom, Upper Burma. His government was one of the best educated the country had ever seen, including many scholars who had returned from Europe and were fluent in the Burmese classics as well as English and French.
|King Mindon's palatial apartments, |
now the Shwenandaw Kyaung, Mandalay
The British had annexed western Burma in the First Burmese War of 1824 and had ruled Lower Burma for thirty years, since the Second Burmese War of 1853. Jane Austen’s brother, in fact, Rear Admiral Charles Austen, commanded the British Expedition of 1853 and died in Burma of cholera.
|Old capital at Sagaing, outside Mandalay|
Mandalay fell almost immediately. The next day the British escorted the king and his wife away on a bullock cart. It was said that Thibaw begged for his life but his proud queen refused to bow her head. They were exiled to Ratnagiri in Maharashtra, in India, where they lived out their days. Thibaw’s kingdom was officially annexed by Britain on January 1st 1886.
|Stupa at Bagan|
British rule was hated. Resistance by fighters whom the British derided as dacoits or bandits continued for many years and for the colonialists Burma was a hardship posting.
Four years after Thibaw’s fall, in March 1889, a little-known 23-year-old journalist called Rudyard Kipling passed through Burma. He was there for just 3 days, in Rangoon and Moulmein. In his famous poem, Mandalay, he conjures up the magic of Burma and the siren call of the east:
‘ ... “If you’ve ’eard the East a callin’, you won’t never ’eed naught else.” ...’
When Boris Johnson quoted Mandalay when he visited the Schwedagon Pagoda in Yangon in 2017, he was lambasted on the basis that Kipling was a racist and a colonialist. But when the poem was first published in 1890 what annoyed everyone was the line, ‘An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ’crost the Bay’, China of course being not across the Bay of Bengal at all but a long way north and east.
|Sunset over the stupas of Bagan|
Lesley Downer’s latest novel, The Shogun’s Queen, is an epic tale based on a true story, set in nineteenth century Japan at the time of the Meiji Restoration. It’s out now in paperback.
The picture of King Thibaw, Queen Supayalat and her sister Princess Supayalay in late November 1885 is made from a negative found in the Royal Palace, Mandalay, and is by an unknown photographer; in the collection of Willoughby Wallace Hooper, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
|Castle Howard, North Yorkshire|
Over the festive period, my friends and I visited Castle Howard, a stately home in North Yorkshire. I am not a fan of country estates as a rule; I prefer finding out about the lives of the ordinary men and women who made aristocratic life possible. But it was a beautiful day and we were keen for some fresh air and green spaces.
Castle Howard fit the bill. A short drive from York, it is set in a thousand acres of parkland, with statues, lakes, temples and fountains. There are numerous artworks and world-renowned collections held at Castle Howard, though the house was unfortunately closed for the winter.
|A view of John Vanbrugh's project for Castle Howard (1725)|
|Castle Howard as imagined in Brideshead Revisited (Granada TV)|
Castle Howard was opened to the public in 1952, reflecting a world where stately home upkeep had become impossible for traditional aristocratic families. Many stately homes were demolished or sold off bit by bit, or redesigned as tourist attractions in the post-war era. Castle Howard is now owned by Castle Howard Estate Ltd and run by Nicholas and Victoria Howard. The grounds were excavated by Channel 4's Time Team in 2003, searching for evidence of a local village that had been demolished so that the estate could be landscaped. You can find the episode on YouTube.
|Still from the Artic Monkeys'Four out of Five, showing the mausoleum|
The Temple of the Four Winds lies at the eastern end of Temple Terrace. It has four doors and four sets of stairs, each of which faces a cardinal point on the compass. The Temple was designed by Vanbrugh in 1724, and influenced by Andrea Palladio's Villa Rotunda in Vicenza, Italy. Originally named The Temple of Diana, it remained unfinished for ten years after Vanbrugh died in 1726. After it had deteriorated in the 1940s, George Howard restored the Temple in 1955. It was used as a place for refreshment and reading, with a cellar beneath that was used by servants.
|The Temple of the Four Winds|
The walk from the Temple to the house is lined by statues; 18 lead figures can be found throughout the gardens as a whole. Aside from Hercules - who has a rear end that would put Kim Kardashian to shame - our favourite was Meleager, one of the great heroes of Greek mythology. When his father Oeneus forgot to sacrifice to Artemis, the angry goddess sent a huge wild boar to ravage the country. Meleager gathered a band of heroes to hunt the board, and he finally killed it after a long battle. This lead statue is on the Temple Terrace, with an adoring hound at the hero's feet and a slain boar to the side. We didn't find the statue of the large boar that Meleager defeated, though that is also on the estate.
Meleaguer the hunter with hound, and the head of a newly slain boar.
|The Atlas Fountain|
I've vaguely noticed on social media lately that there's been a lot of stuff about de-cluttering. This very morning, someone posted a picture of a smiling lady called Marie Kondo saying: "Ideally, keep less than 30 books." (Seriously? It must be a spoof, right?)
Well, the other day I discovered, lurking in the back of the bathroom cabinet, this bottle of eau de toilette. I looked at it thoughtfully. I know for a fact it's over fifty years old, and I know that I don't use it. Why keep it? Just clutter, surely. It must be off by now. Just to be sure, before it goes in the bin, I take the top off and spray it.
And there it is. The sweet, flowery scent of Nina Ricci's L'Air du Temps, just as fresh as it ever was. Perhaps it's kept so well because it's in a plastic container - embossed with flowers, doves and butterflies and finished with a golden bow - rather than in a glass bottle. My sister brought it back from France as a gift for my mother, when she went to France as a teenager on a school exchange. This was the sixties. We lived in an industrial town between Nottingham and Derby. We went on holiday every year to seaside towns - Skegness, Bridlington, Llandudno. 'Abroad' was out of reach for us as a family - it was the school which made it possible. My sister came back with talk of wine at every meal, with necklaces made of melon seeds and small tawny beads, and with this bottle of French perfume, which was so much cheaper than it would have been in the shops because it was from that exotic place, 'Duty Free'.
My mother, I'm sure, was thrilled. She never used it, just as she never used face cream or eye make-up. Occasionally she would dab on a little powder from her Max Factor compact, and a slick of red Coty lipstick: never anything more.
Here is a photograph of Mum which I found recently in a drawer (full, yes, of more clutter). I remember taking it. It was in our house at Kirk Hallam, so I would have been in my early teens. I'd bought a camera when I was about twelve. It was a Koroll 11, and it came from Boots in Nottingham. I think when I took this picture I'd just acquired a flashgun, and I wanted to try it out. (It had bulbs and everything!) So I posed Mum in front of the window, drawing the curtain to keep out the light. Looking at the picture, I'm reminded that the curtains were a pale green brocade, with silvery flocked flowers. Mum would have sewn them. She loved gardening, and so I put the bowl of roses beside her, and put a rose catalogue in front of her. The blouse was some silky stuff - green too, I think, with a cream pattern. She'd have made that, too. As you can see, there was nothing casual about this picture - films were costly, as was developing, and I had to pay for them out of my pocket money, so every frame counted.
The perfume was kept on her dressing table. There was always an embroidered or lace-edged cloth on the surface, and a cut-glass tray, and one or two framed pictures of us when we were small. And there were these, which I don't think she ever used - the brush is too soft to be practical - but nevertheless had pride of place. I have them now - more clutter, I suppose. I don't know where they came from, but I suspect from Auntie Ada (no actual relation) or Mrs Thorpe, two elderly ladies who were both clearly fond of Mum, as her own mother did not seem to be.
So. Bits of clutter perhaps, but clutter which brings with it a trail of memories. And, to be honest, some rather sad thoughts of a mother who seemed able to show her affection only obliquely - through what she made and what she cherished. I wish I could give her a hug. I wish she could have been a happier person. But I'm so very glad I never threw away any of these things which help me to remember her.
And the embroidered tablecloth? Yes, she made that too.
ONCE UPON A RIVER is a memorable and haunting slow-burning novel, and is published in the UK by Doubleday this month. Diane Setterfield's two earlier novels are THE THIRTEENTH TALE and BELLMAN & BLACK.
I'm not going to make up rules that I know I will break. so...
Resolution #2: I'm going to remind myself that writing doesn't only take place when you'r sitting at your desk.
Resolution #3: I'm telling the Imp of Self Doubt to: SHUT UP!
Resolution #6: I am going to keep a journal.
But I will use my stockpile of notebooks instead of buying new ones all the time.
Resolution #8: I'm going to set boundaries to protect my writing time - and stick to them.
Will it work? I'll tell next January...
|Statue of Domitian in Ephesus Museum.|
Photo by Carole Raddato
Working on my current book I have been researching and reading an awful lot of Roman panegyric poetry, in particular Martial and Statius, who wrote under the emperor Domitian. Panegyric means to praise and both poets do not stint on the praising of the emperor. In fact it’s fair to say they dive right into a pool of swirling, queasily obsequious emperor adulation. However, I have a confession to make.. don’t tell anyone... please.... but I’m really starting to enjoy it as an art form.
I’m now going to hide under a cushion with embarrassment. But before I do that, let me tell you the reasons I have begun to appreciate the court poet.
Every poem needs a hook and the court poets does not fall shy of this:
I don’t know, Statius. What is it? I need to know? Tell me NOW!
It’s yet another riddle from Statius. I give up please tell me in extensive verse, NOW!
Martial on the overhand goes straight in with the compliment for a poem dedicated to the emperor's birthday.
|If Domitian had a birthday cake he might choose|
one with Vitellius on.
I think he just got the attention of Emperor Domitian. Let’s face it it’s better than having happy birthday sung at you distinctly out of tune.
Here’s the opening line for a poem dedicated to hopes for an heir to Domitian:
Or a reminder of the name Germanicus that Domitian had adopted after triumphs in Germany
One can imagine (if you’re me) Domitian nodded sagely and appreciatively at these first lines. He’s totally going to listen to the rest of this poem now.
Which brings me to my second thing I secretly love about panegyric poetry. The use of florid and vastly over the top compliments.
Complimenting the Emperor
|Domitian - Face of a million flattering words|
An Emperor as an absolute ruler is used to fair amount of fawning and simpering. I think we can all agree that should we become a vastly powerful and rich ruler it is the very first thing we’d insist upon. Frankly I’m not even going to respond to anyone who doesn’t first address me as The Tremendous Trafford.
I’ve spent so much time not being Emperor to waste not enjoying every aspect of it. The same was true of Domitian who had watched both his father and brother be emperor before he got the chance.
Therefore the court poets really have to work to find new and original ways of flattering a man who is flattered on an hourly basis.
See if you can hold onto your breakfast/lunch/dinner whilst reading these queasily toadying lines
Put your 21st century scorning of politicians aside for a moment. Imagine you are the recipient of these verses. Imagine you are the Emperor Domitian. That’s nice isn’t it? Being told how special you are. Poets taking time and effort in composing such sentiment of your wonderfulness. Being Emperor after all can be pretty awful. Yes you get wonderful palaces, hold all the best parties and employ thousands of people dedicated to providing for your comfort/desires. But there is a downside: all those people trying to kill you or plotting to kill you or thinking about plotting to kill you. Not to forget those people who aren’t trying to kill you, plotting to kill you or thinking about plotting to kill you but might do so in future. And thus need removing. That’s got to bring the mood down. What better to lift it again than a lovely poem saying how great you are. It’s like the best appraisal you’ve ever had plus a 50% bonus. It’s bound to encourage you in your emperoring, if only to secure more impressive poems next year.
Domitian ruled for 15 years. That’s an awful lot of poetry to produce to cheer him up. That pulls on all the ingenuity of the court poet to produce new subjects worthy of praising.
This is my third reason for appreciating panegyric poems.
Inventive tackling of subject matter
If you’re a love poet there’s an ample amount of objects/goddesses/seasons you can compare your love too. Similarly, epic poets have all of mythology to choose from with its grand themes, tortured heroes and awesome battles.
However, your court poet is faced with challenges of gargantuan scale. We’ve already seen how both Martial and Statius out do each other in new ways to praise, to flatter, to compliment the emperor.
But now we get into very tricky territory. You are to write a poem praising a new imitative of the emperor. He’s built a new palace on the Palatine Hill? No problem.
|Domitian's lovely new palace|
Image by Matthias Kabal
Domitian ordering a new shield in the fashion of the goddess Minerva’s. Hold my stuffed dormouse while I whip this one out:
But what about more mundane actions of the emperors, such as Domitian’s morality laws which tackled amongst other abuses: adultery and the castration of free born boys. Surely there’s not much of a poem in that?!?
Well stand back because Martial has it covered:
And err yes again:
What about the construction of a new road? There’s nothing august and majestic about roads. Nothing! Well maybe you couldn’t write a poem about a road, but Statius can. He gets over 1,000 words out of the subject.
He even spends time on the actual construction of the road:
Before moving onto marvelling at improved journey times
|A Roman Road -phwoarr look at the flagstones on that!|
Other impressive subjects covered by Statius and Martial include:
Come on! It’s impressive, isn’t it?
Embrace the panegyric. You know you want to.
Paper mill at Warnford © Ashok Vaidya|
Church of Our Lady
The Church of Our Lady in Warnford Park. Hampshire.|
© Simon Burchell
“Brethren, bless in your prayers the founders of this temple: Wulfric who founded it and good Adam who restored it”
|© Copyright Mike Searle under Creative Commons Licence.|
|© Copyright Basher Eyre under Creative Commons Licence.|
King John’s House
Image from British History Online, Parishes: Warnford.
|(c) Anthony Brunning / St John's House, Warnford Park, Hampshire / CC BY-SA 2.0|
Warnford Park House
|Image from http://www.capabilitybrown.org/garden/warnford|
Image from http://www.lostheritage.org.uk/houses/lh_hampshire_warnfordpark_info_gallery.html|
|Castellani Medusa Cameo and Micromosaic Egyptian Necklace|
|Castellani C19th/original C5th BCE millegrain pendants|
In 1860, Castellani was enlisted to be an advisor on the excavation of the Regolini-Galassi tomb at modern day Cerveteri. This site is renowned as one of the great treasure troves of Etruscan art. Castellani became fascinated by the brooches, earrings and necklaces found in the tomb which were studded with minuscule gold spheres, often smaller than a pin head. This ‘granulation’ technique was achieved without soldering and created an effect called ‘millegrain’ or ‘thousand grains.’ Knowledge of the craft of granulation was believed lost but Castellani discovered there were goldsmiths in the mountain villages near Rome who had preserved not only the secret of granulation but also another procedure called ‘fillegrain or ‘thread and grain/filigree’ where motifs were applied using thin gold wire.
|Castellani gold necklaces, amber & gold parure set, gold millegrain brooch|
Emperor Napoleon III of France was a great lover of Etruscan artefacts, too. He bought the famous art collection of an Italian marquis, Giovanni Campana, which he exhibited in the Louvre. The Castallani family were commissioned to catalogue and restore the jewellery of the Campana Collection which enabled them to study ancient techniques and gain access to an enormous number of designs. By 1860 neo-Etruscan style pieces had become contemporary fashion accessories and remained in demand until the end of the century. At this point complete ‘parure’ sets of jewels appeared usually consisting of a brooch, necklace and matching earrings. In fact, a few years ago I attended a Titanic exhibition and was amazed to see neo-Etruscan jewellery on display which indicates the ‘fad’ was still in existence in the early C20th. Indeed, it was only when diamond jewellery became increasingly fashionable that the allure of the finely wrought gold pieces faded in contrast to the attraction of sparkling gemstones.
Englishman Josiah Wedgwood was another artisan who was inspired by Classical artwork. His interest was sparked by discovering the various volumes in the Collection of Etruscan, Greek, and Roman antiquities from the cabinet of the Honble. Wm. Hamilton, His Britannick Maiesty's envoy extraordinary at the Court of Naples.
|Wedgwood black basalte urn/Etruscan bucchero jug|
|Wedgwood copy/Roman Portland Vase|
|Castellani earrings/Wedgwood Blue Jasperware|