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    Women! Are you suffering from choking, collapse, suffocation, seizures and the inability to speak? Has your doctor ruled out all the usual causes? Have you considered that your womb may have gone wandering in search of moisture?

    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.
    If the smells didn’t work there were other options. Few of them can be recommended for trying at home, or indeed anywhere else. Doctor Mantias prescribed drinks of beaver secretions and bitumen in wine, plus flute music and drumming (presumably performed to, not by, the patient). Doctor Asclepiades suggested tight bandaging just below the ribs, making the woman sneeze, shouting at her and blowing vinegar into her nose. If that failed, her helpers could try pouring cold water over her head. 

    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

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    My mother, aged 16
    My mother was nine when the War broke out and like my father and his sister, she was never evacuated, though with my mother’s family this was probably due as much, or more, to a general lackadaisicalness. My mother was the pretty little red-headed youngest of six with two much older sisters, and three older brothers. As they all left school and started work at the earliest opportunity, all of the others were working when the War started, including her widowed mother. (My mother’s father died of lung cancer when she was four.)

    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.

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    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.

    I’ve lived in London all my adult life and in Crystal Palace for nearly fourteen years. It has been a wonderful place to live. I’ve always loved its history and the sense of community and shared identity that brings, and I’ll miss it very much. 

    Me on Dinosaur Island, Crystal Palace Park
    Photo: L O'Sullivan 
    Crystal Palace wasn’t always known as such. But after the success of the Great Exhibition in 1851 it was decided to rebuild Joseph Paxton’s masterpiece on a permanent site, and run it as a commercial enterprise. A commanding position on top of a ridge in south London on the borders of Upper Norwood, Penge and Sydenham was chosen, the Palace rebuilt and a new identity forged.

    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 Crystal Palace burned down in a catastrophic fire in 1936. The site of the Palace and grounds is now the local park. You can see the foundations of the Palace at the top of the hill, complete with a few of the original statues. There are two more complete reminders of the heyday of the Crystal Palace, however, which I have especially loved while living here:
    The Megalosaurus, striding through the
    autumn foliage. Photo C. Wightwic

    1) The Dinosaurs. I’ve written about them before, but I make no bones (boom boom) about doing so again. Declaring an Interest, I’m now on the Board of the charity that works to promote and conserve the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs (most of which aren’t actually Dinosaurs, but hey…) They were built in the 1850s as an attraction in the grounds of Crystal Palace and were the first ever life sized sculptures of dinosaurs (and other extinct creatures) anywhere in the world. The sculptures were created at the dawn of dinosaur palaeontology, taking into account the cutting-edge science of the day. We obviously know much more now, so many of them look weird and ‘wrong’ to our eyes. From the point of view of the history of science, therefore, they are a testament to how our knowledge changes and grows with each generation. For the general viewer today, their ‘wrongness’ adds to their charm.

    2) The Subway. This gorgeous subterranean space isn’t often open to the public, although the Friends of the Subway are doing an amazing job to provide occasional access days. One of the last remnants of the Crystal Palace and its associated infrastructure, the subway was the passageway between the ‘high level’ train station and the great Crystal Palace itself. The red-and-white patterned space is all that remains of the high level station, but gives an impression of the grandeur and excitement of a visit to one of the greatest spectacles of the age. 

    The Subway in 2017. Photo: C.Wightwick
    So, what to take to Brighton as part of my ever-expanding Cabinet of Curiosities? Well, the Ruling History Girl wasn’t very impressed a few months ago when I tried to bring a life-sized sculpture of a naked man into the Cabinet (apparently he wouldn’t fit) so I don’t suppose I can get away with a life-sized Dinosaur either. And I wouldn’t want to take them out of their natural habitat, even virtually. In designing the Dinosaurs, smaller maquettes were made, about 1/8th size of the final pieces. None of them survive, to our knowledge. But if they did, maybe I could fit one of those into the Cabinet?

    Find out more at:

    Crystal Palace Dinosaurs:

    The Crystal Palace Subway:

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  • 12/30/18--16:01: No December competition
  • Because our planned guest for 29th December fell through, there will be no competition this month.

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    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
    This oil painting, now in Liverpool, but on loan to the Tate exhibition, is my favourite and I've known it for as long as I can remember. You can admire it as a skilled depiction of two figures in nature but, in order to understand it, you need to know that the nature depicted is a hawthorn bush in which Merlin the wizard is about to be imprisoned by Nimue, his lover and apprentice. What she is removing from him is his book of spells and with it his power to resist her. ("Beguiling" is a wonderful word to use here.) He has taught her all he knows and she now regards him as superfluous and dispensable.

    (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

    This picture was exhibited a year later, at the Old Water-Colour Societyand caused a scandal. It takes a story from Ovid's Metamorphoses about a nymph who has been transformed into an almond tree by her reluctant lover and shows her emerging from her transformation to fight back and reclaim her man. It was not just the androgynous figures and the obvious sexual relationship shown that shocked but the fact that Demophoon is presented as a full frontal nude. (Ignoring Burne-Jones' following of the Renaissance convention, observed by Michelangelo, of depicting male genitalia modestly and not life-sized).

    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
    Here is the same subject ten years later, this time an oil painting called The Tree of Forgiveness. Now Phyllis is naked and her lover sports a modesty cloth (with no visible means of staying in place). Naturally, no complaints this time.

    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
    See Andromeda's contrapposto and the convoluted coils of the serpent. This is the typical "hero rescues female in jeopardy" story of so much of western culture.

    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
    Here she is, sleeping peacefully among her waiting women, with no sense of any lack of fulfilment.

    The Council Chamber 1885-90
     The king her father and his courtiers sleep too, unaware of their fate.

    The Briar Wood 1874-84
    The prince does arrive but he is an anomalous figure, the upright hero among the sleeping knights who have previously assayed a rescue. Hw seems almost to envy their sensual slumber.

    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
    In 1861, William Morris had founded the decorative arts firm of Morris Marshall, Faulkner and co., with among its partners Rossetti, Ford Madox Ford and Edward Burne-Jones. When the firm was re-organised in 1875 as Morris & Co, Burne-Jones continued to contribute designs for stained glass and tapestries.

    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!

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  • 01/01/19--16:30: Janus - by Gillian Polack

  • Yesterday I thought a lot of Janus. Christianity’s early rise as a major religion was strongly linked to the Roman Empire, so in the Julian and Gregorian calendars we have a month named after a god. More than one month, in fact, but today I shall focus on just that one. I love this. It reminds me, always, that the relationship between religions and the places they grow up help shape the way they shape us. I don’t want to talk about that today, however. I was thinking of Janus. 

    In the Middle Ages (which is definitely the period of western European history I know most about) representations of Janus showed him as two-faced or three-faced. On a bad day, I would make Batman jokes about Two-Face, but today is a good day, and what interests me is what Janus means for the way people saw time in the Middle Ages.

    Janus was two-faced on calendars because he looked back into the old year and forward into the new. This reflected something so important culturally that we still check our futures on horoscopes and we make resolutions for the New Year and we write “This is what 2018 was like.” Not everyone does all of this, but enough of us do these things that I have to suspect that this response to the change of years is a deep artefact.

    It may date back to far earlier than the Middle Ages, and it may not. My evidence is Medieval. In the Middle Ages one gave nice gifts (gloves, for instance) to celebrate the new year. That was part of the looking forward, too. These presents were, I suspect, more important than anything given for Christmas itself, for we have a lot more listings of presents given for the new year than for any other part of Christmastide.

    In the Jewish Middle Ages in the same western European countries, Janus does not appear. Jews used both the Christian calendar (for their everyday interactions with the majority part of the community) and their own, and the change of year was governed by the Jewish calendar and was, as it is now, in September/October. White was the colour of the New Year, so white food was popular. New food was popular and new clothes. 

    The celebration of the calendar change focussed more on the forward and the cleansing of the slate than on looking back. I suspect this is because there is a formal ‘looking back’ during the ten days after the new year itself in the Jewish calendar. This means there isn’t as much of a call for it during the actual new year celebrations. 

    Interestingly, Judaism and Christianity lived alongside each other in ancient Rome. 

    Cultural remnants are not always an indication of worship. Christianity was the minor religion of the two nearly 2000 years ago but it adopted facets of Roman religion quite early. Judaism did not. The gods that label Jewish months are earlier deities from a different region. Just as Christians didn’t worship Janus just because Janus illustrated calendars and prompted people to look at both past and future on New Year, Jews didn’t worship the gods that appear on the Jewish calendar. 

    If gods don’t indicate worship or even belief, what do they indicate? Why weren’t they dropped?
    They are cultural remnants that act as reminders of the paths our cultures have travelled. I mostly like to think of it as a form of respect for our ancestors. Our world is very different to theirs. Some years, though, certain similarities strike. I look at Janus today and see something old that’s nevertheless very new and very important.

    So many people assume that I am an ethnohistorian because the food history side of it is amazing. Well, the food history side of it is totally amazing. I’m not going to give it up in a hurry. My friends will suffer my experiments with old recipes for a long time yet. 

    Cooking, however, is part of a vastly complex everyday and that everyday is our Janus-looking-backwards. I’m not actually a culinary historian. I’m an ethnohistorian. I need to understand people and their societies, not simply one element of them, but as much as I can.

    Janus is important as an indicator of the strength of culture over time and of the legacy that culture gives us. Cultural artefacts can hang on or leave powerful echoes. Culture is not some neutral aspect of the universe: it’s our lives. Janus reminds us, every year, that we have a past as well as a future. If we’re wise and clever and remember to look back and think about that past, we’re more likely to walk into that future without as many burdens. If we stride forward blindly, then we’re carrying all kinds of burdens with us. 

    Right now, with all the hate in our current world, it helps me to be able to look at the witch trials and back further at how the Inquisition targeted people who were Christian but with Jewish ancestors, and back further at the invention of the blood libel. All three of these vile parts of the past have carried forward into the present and re with us right now in a variety of forms. Imagine a Janus looking at mass murder in the past and then imagine him turning his head and looking at us, with a grim face. He’s seeing the same sights in both directions.

    That’s the way I see Janus this year. We had a difficult 2018 and 2019 is going to be a challenge for many of us. The wonderful thing about looking at history through Janus’ eyes is that we know it. It doesn’t just change theoretically. We change it. We can choose to carry all those wonderful foodways forward and we can also say, “But we don’t need to carry this other thing.” 

    Instead of a resolution, we can make a choice as to which aspects of culture we want to keep from those that Janus saw in the last year.

    This isn’t where I meant to go with this month’s post. I was going to talk about the formal change to calendars. I wanted to talk about the libraries that keep the ephemera, those cheap Jewish calendars from the seventeenth and eighteenth century that married the Christian year with the Jewish so that people could live in both, happily. Then I read the news and I thought that the only part of the calendar I wanted to talk about was Janus.

    The news in Australia today was that our government in 1996-7 began a lot of the policies we so hate in 2018-9. 

    Looking back colours what we see when we look forward. It also helps us to say “I don’t want this” and pushes us to action. This year, I can see precisely why Janus was so important when the year was depicted in the Christian Middle Ages. It was nothing to do with his ancestry as a god and everything to do with the help he gave in understanding what they year meant and how to handle its more impossible aspects.

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    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

    Marginalised voices

    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.


    Anna Mazzola is a writer of historical crime and Gothic fiction. The Story Keeper will be published in paperback on 10 January 2019. 

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    Do you remember Penguin Classics – that fantastic collection of black-liveried paperbacks comprising translations of classic literature from all over the world?  They still exist of course, though redesigned: and they still retain their black jackets, but I began buying them in the 1970s as a teenager, and with their assistance and entirely for pleasure read my way through much of Plato, Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides. Call me a nerd, but there was a time when on solitary hill walks (yes, they would have had to have been solitary!) I used to parody the charmingly stilted effects (at least in translation) of Socratic dialogue, for my own amusement:

    'So, for information about sheep you would go to a shepherd?' 
    'Yes, Socrates.'
    'And for information about ships you would talk to a sailor? Or if you desired to know something about insects you would visit an entomologist?"
    'Yes, certainly.'
    'And you would think it useless to ask a sailor about sheep, or to demand information about ships from an entomologist?'
    ‘That would be ludicrous indeed, Socrates.'

    ...and soon, once Socrates has established that for information about birds you would visit an ornithologist, and for details of the lives of celebrities you would buy Hello magazine, and that you would be disappointed in a shepherd who knew nothingabout sheep, you find yourself agreeing that a statesman or stateswoman really ought to possess some notion of the Good, and of Justice and the  Laws. Both Plato and Socrates held opinions about about democracies, and neither would have approved of referendums:

    ‘So you would expect a ship’s master to be knowledgeable about seamanship?’
    ‘I would, indeed, Socrates.’
    ‘In fact you would expect him to know much more about it than his passengers and crew?’
    ‘Of course: he would not be qualified to command if he did not.’
    ‘And you would be surprised if, instead of guiding the ship himself, he asked everyone on board to decide how he should steer and what landfall to aim for, even though they had no experience of the winds, the currents, the coast or the rocks?’
    ‘I would suppose the gods had struck him mad, Socrates!’

    See? You can find yourself wandering off into all sorts of unrealistic places. 

    It was possible to pick up a pretty good education simply by choosing one title after another from those blocks of severe black which occupied prominent shelf-space in nearly all bookshops. They were by no means all about the Greeks. Courtesy of Penguin Classics I discovered poems by Li Po, haiku by Bashō, and the writings of the eleventh century Japanese lady Sei Shōnagon, whose ‘Pillow Book’ has to be one of the most urbane and delightful books in the world.  

    Shōnagon was born around 965, according to Ivan Morris’s introduction to the book (all quotations below are taken from his Penguin translation). She acted as lady-in-waiting to the Empress Sadako at the court of the mid-Heian emperor Ichijō. This was a fascinatingly cultured and civilized court. At a time when in England, Ethelred the Unredy was trying to buy off the Vikings, and literacy was the province mainly of monks, in upper-class Heian Japan it was impossible even to function socially, still less conduct a love-affair, without the ability to compose at a moment’s notice impromptu verse written in beautiful calligraphy on coloured paper, complete with allusions to classical Chinese poetry.

    Although at the time upperclass Japanese men and women were both literate, the men tended to get that extra bit of education. They learned Chinese for exactly the same reasons that men in the West learned Latin. The result: they themselves wrote in Chinese and their work remained derivative, while the women wrote in their own native tongue and composed lasting works of literature. Murasaki Shikibu’s immensely long and wonderful novel ‘The Tale of Genji’ dates from this period: she was a contemporary of Sei Shōnagon, and disliked her.

    Sei Shōnagon has the most extraordinary air of self-satisfaction… She is a gifted woman, to be sure. Yet, if one gives free rein to one’s emotions even in the most inappropriate circumstances, if one has to sample each interesting thing that comes along, people are bound to regard one as frivolous. And how can things turn out well for such a woman?

    How very Jane Austen that sounds! Anyway, Shōnagon’s ‘Pillow Book’ is a collection of miscellaneous writings bundled together over about ten years’ worth of observations. They range from gossip and scandal, to the beauties and sorrows of the world, to mundane things like the extraordinary way the lower classes shovel in their food (yes, she was a snob). One of her most fascinating habits is the occasional interspersion of lists of various things with different qualities. Like this:

    Things That Give a Clean Feeling
    An earthen cup. A new metal bowl.  A rush mat. The play of light on water as one pours it into a vessel.  A new wooden chest.

    Adorable Things
    One picks up a tiny lotus leaf that is floating on a pond, and examines it…
    An extremely plump baby, who is about a year old and has lovely white skin, comes crawling towards one, dressed in a long gauze robe of violet with the sleeves tucked up.
    Duck eggs.
    An urn containing the relics of some holy person.
    Wild pinks.

    Squalid things
    The back of a piece of embroidery.
    The inside of a cat’s ear.
    A swarm of mice, who still have no fur, when they come wriggling out of their nest.
    Darkness in a place that does not give the impression of being very clean…

    "The back of a piece of embroidery..." Yes, yes and yes! If you don’t know her already, you will find Shōnagon a wonderful companion. In the meantime, since we might as well take our minds off things while the ship of state veers towards the rocks with the passengers and crew all fighting like cats in a sack, here in Shōnagon’s honour is a list of my own.

    Things which are pleasant to use:

    An old-fashioned rotary push-along lawnmower: the whirring noise and the way the grass clippings pour in green showers  off the blades.. 

    A rotary egg-whisk: the double sort you wind with a handle.

    A really sharp pair of scissors, with the crisp snark-snark sound they make as they cut through cloth.

    A ratchet screwdriver: the clickety, clockwork sound of the ratchet and the way each twist of the hand adds to the last.

    A good fountain pen freshly filled with black ink: the nib swims over the paper leaving a shining trail and  you feel as though what you have written must be good…

    A clean block of white paper. 

    A fresh eraser as soft as a mushroom: the tingling dusty feel under your fingertips, and the way it shreds at the corner when you begin to rub out.

    What would your own list contain?

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    Composer Gioachino Rossini 1865

    Rossini (1792-1868) - we love him for The Barber of Seville, Otello, The Thieving Magpie, William Tell and so much else. He was a prolific composer, who is said to have joked "Give me the laundress' bill and I'll even set that to music!"  He was a complicated man who led a complicated life, but sometimes he drops moments of simple delight into our laps, like The Cats' Duet.  Maybe you know this piece well - maybe it's new to you - either way, take three minutes to receive a gift from the past.   

    My favourite version is sung by Les Petits Chanteurs a la Croix de Bois. 

    And a Happy New Year!

    Joan Lennon's website.
    Joan Lennon's blog.
    Silver Skin.

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    It started with a button jar. ‘I can’t quite bear to throw it out,’ my friend Susanne said, ‘but I must be sensible…’

    I was a strange child. I hung round at the end of jumble sales to buy the ragtag rubbish toys that hadn’t sold. One-eyed cats; amputee teddies, once a knitted doll of such startlingly bad execution that my own eight-year-old knitting skills were better. I never paid more than 5p and often the kind churchy ladies would give me the toys for nothing, because, ‘Sure, they’ll only go in the bin’ – at which I would cover the toys’ poor ears (if they had them). When I read Little Women I identified with Beth March’s retinue of mutilated dolls (though it was animals I favoured: I remember a particularly forlorn woollen cat.) 

    As an adult I have learned to harden my heart. I am a cruel thrower out of letters, shredder of old photos and packer-off-to-the-charity-shop of faithful old frocks. For that reason perhaps Susanne asked me to help her pack up the large house, once her childhood home, she is moving away from. ‘I know you’ll be sensible and not let me hang on to sentimental rubbish,’ she said. 

    It is easy to be sensible about the death notices of other people’s relations; the pages of O level notes; the baby clothes; the costume jewellery worn by other people’s aunts. The rubbish pile was satisfyingly higher than the keeping pile. We were good at this unsentimental business!

    But the coins. Her father had been an enthusiastic collector of coins, and who can resist a silver sixpenny bit, especially the Irish one with the dog on it? Such classic design could not in conscience be thrown out.
    And the old Brownie badges? I have no idea what happened to my own Brownie badges (I left in 1978) but I could not bear to think of Susanne’s being discarded. As for the collection of china horses – no, no, no! They had such trusting faces! As for those adorable little cotton handkerchiefs with the horses’ heads on them – why, they were exactly like the ones people in pony books used to get in their Christmas stockings. And they took up no space really. 

    I left Susanne’s house with a bursting carrier bag full of, well, other people’s rubbish, really. But fear not, gentle reader: this is not a matter of sentiment. This ephemera will work for its keep. I have several workshops on historical fiction to give in the next few months and who knows what flights of fancy might be inspired by that bag of coins, or the ARP badge or the mid-century dolls’ house furniture?

    And the button jar of course. I have never quite forgiven myself for letting my own granny’s button box go. I’ll look after this one better. 

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     Before Christmas, I spoke to my friend Helen Craig about her great-grandfather, Gaetano Meo, and I'm also  grateful to Sarah Timewell for her help with much information about him. He's the handsome young man in the very jolly hat below. 

    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.

    Below is one of Gaetano's drawings, now in the possession of his great grand-daughter, Helen Craig.  It's a depiction of his birthplace, called A Memory of Basilicata.

    Readers all over the world know Helen as the creator of the beautiful illustrations for Angelina Ballerina, but as well as being one of our best illustrators of many different children's books in addition to the  Angelina stories, she's also an accomplished sculptor. 

    Helen grew up hearing stories about her famous great-grandmother, Ellen Terry, whose son by Edward Godwin was the theatre designer, Edward Gordon Craig. He has a theatre called after him in Stevenage and he changed the way sets were conceived and hugely extended the possibilities of what could be done on a stage. While a neighbour of the Downshire Hill house in Hampstead, Edward Gordon Craig, (who was married) fell in love with Elena, Gaetano's violinist daughter and they ran away to live together.  Gaetano was enraged, but later,  he and Elena were reconciled. Helen's father, art director Edward (Carrick) Craig, often sat with his grandfather, listening to tales of his adventures on the way to England, including the story of the captain who smuggled him aboard a ship bound for London...

    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.

    After much preliminary experimentation with different paints to see what would be suitable for working on  glass (which is the material used for the tesserae) and after many sketches of the Madonna and her child, Helen went to Hampstead Cemetery to paint new and beautiful faces on Gaetano's gravestone. Her nephew, Paul,  fixed up a wooden frame which made it possible to paint straight on to the marble and here's a picture of Helen doing that on a hot summer day.

    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.

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    Wilkie Collins in 1874, aged 50
    Photographer: Napoleon Sarony
    Today, 8th January, is the birthday of the Victorian novelist and playwright, Wilkie Collins, born in 1824 and famous for the enduring classics The Woman in White and The Moonstone. He was a very successful writer, earning £10,000 in just one year in 1863. Many modern novelists would envy him, given that, 154 years later in 2017/18, the average income for a full-time professional writer in the UK was less than £10,500. (Compare this to average annual salary for a clerk in the 1860's of around £100, and the average clerical salary today of around £21,000.)

    But behind the success, he was battling illness which was diagnosed as ‘rheumatic gout,’ which cause his eyes to become ‘bags of blood’ and agonising pain in his legs and feet. He also developed neuralgia and arthritis, which meant that for the last 20 years of his life, he was often confined to bed and his famous novel, The Moonstone, was dictated from his bed between bouts of pain. 

    His physicians tried all manner of medication until he finally sought pain relief in what he called divine laudanum, which he took in ever increasing quantities, becoming hopelessly addicted, as is the character, Ezra Jennings, in The Moonstone. Both author and character paid the price for the relief of their pain with terrible nightmares and hallucinations.

    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)

    Wilkie began to be unnerved by the movement of shadows in his gas-lit study, thought that ghosts followed him through the house and a green woman with tusks, waited for him on the stairs or in his bedchamber. On one occasion he was convinced she was biting chunks of flesh from his shoulder. Wilkie introduced the drug to his friend and patron, Charles Dickens, who also used it though not in such quantities as Wilkie.

    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

    Laudanum was not widely known until in the 1660’s, when the English physician Thomas Sydenham (1624–1689) produced a tincture of opium that he also named laudanum, although the only ingredient it had in common with laudanum of Paracelsus was the opium. By the 18th century, the name laudanum was being given to any combination of opium and alcohol. George Young was one of several leading physicians who recommended the drug for all sorts of ailments including neuralgia, coughing, or diarrhoea, and to ease the symptoms of ague, rheumatism, consumption and cholera. 

    In the early 19th century, there were laudanums containing a tincture of opium mixed with all kinds of other ingredients from the fairly innocuous such as cayenne pepper, brandy, whiskey, and wine, to the downright dangerous – belladonna, mercury, hashish, ether and chloroform. Laudanum was being prescribed for everything from colds to heart disease for adults and children, and was used widely during the yellow fever epidemic. It must have seemed like a miracle drug for patients racked with pain or fever, because it relieved the pain, helped them sleep and even dried up excessive mucus.

    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.
    Photo: Cydone

    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.

    Wilkie Collins was not the only writer to become addicted to laudanum, Lord Byron took it in the form known as Black Drop, which is four times the normal strength, as did Coleridge. Somehow Coleridge managed to keep his addition a secret, though he could imbibe up to a pint in one day.

    The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning first took laudanum at the age of 15 after suffering a spinal injury, and at the time of her engagement to Robert Browning was taking 40 drops a day, which was large dose. Florence Nightingale also took it for medical reasons.
    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.

    Wilkie Collins tried many times to break his addiction through hypnosis and other means. On 26th February 1869, he wrote a letter to Mrs Benzon, 
    ‘… 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.’ 
    Sadly, he was never able to do that.

    1863, Advert for 'Wolcott's Instant 
    Pain Annihilator'
    A few weeks ago, my wisdom teeth erupted. I couldn’t open my jaws more than half an inch. My cheeks swell up like a hamster with mumps and I discovered that sucking soup for Christmas dinner doesn’t make you feel festive, especially when soup is all you’ve been able to eat for a fortnight. It was massively painful and if I could have travelled back in time, I would have been snatching bottles of ‘Morrell’s Teething Syrup’ from any Victorian baby I could find.

    Trying to stick to my daily writing routine whilst grizzling like an infant, I found a renewed admiration for Wilkie Collins. Since my teens, I’ve been captivated by his novels, but thinking about what he was battling when he wrote them, makes them seem even more amazing. He was able to turn the pain and nightmares that tormented him into great stories. Now that really is the stuff of fairy tales – spinning the nettles of life into pure gold. Happy Birthday, Wilkie!

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    by Caroline Lawrence

    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 Gods 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. 

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    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.

    I don’t know why this seems to be the only place. It has been for all decades I’ve been here. I imagine the journeys of these trees … perhaps from Slovenia via Trieste to this city. I imagine them disappearing into the homes of the disappearing Venetians. The 'Venetian counter' in Campo San Bartolomeo was down to around 53,000 last time I checked.

    Where there are Christmas trees, there are decorations. This shop in San Pantalon always has the best ones in Venice. One year, I am going to crack and buy these dinosaurs. I really am.

    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.

    It’s at the Ponte delle Guglie. Lobster is on the menu at all the most expensive restaurants on New Year’s Eve in Venice. So it seems appropriate to the season.

    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.

    I was hoping to find some kind of lurid lit Veneziana to join my Venetian Christmas grotto in London, but I failed. The town hall's tall columns are garlanded. There are little cribs everywhere. This one below is at the gondola stazione at Santa Sofia, which porters people from Cannaregio over to the Rialto Market and back.

    There’s a hotel near Ca’ d’Oro with a vast nativity scene all lit up in its garden.

    But on closer look, something is missing in the manger department.

    A friend explained that the Christ child is not added until Christmas morning, Of course.

    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.

    The roof is festoonery with greenery. And the company is absolutely splendid. (Photo by Ross Frassanito, with thanks, and not just for the photo …)

    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.

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    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:
    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
    Her name does have a Dickensian quality about it, but it is both ironic and sad that Bathsheba’s character and place in history should have become entwined with that the speech-mangling, cucumber-guzzling, gin-tippling, patient-brutalising nurse presented by Charles Dickens in his novel Martin Chuzzlewit.

    [The above is taken from my book: An Illustrated History of Nursing in Australia (National Library of Australia). To be published 2018.]

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    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'.

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    by Deborah Swift

    Seventeenth Century Persecution in Spain

    The Spanish Inquisition is associated with the persecution of the Jews but it is not common knowledge that Muslims were also tried and tortured by this institution. When researching A Divided Inheritance I took a trip to Seville and visited the remains of the San Jorge Castle, the place of imprisonment for victims of the regime. There I saw chilling evidence of this persecution, which the Inquisition applied not only to rival faiths to Catholicism but also to mystics of their own faith.

    What made this climate interesting for my novel was that in seventeenth century England Catholicism was repressed, whereas in Spain Catholics were the ruling majority. To understand the climate of oppression for religious minorities in Spain in 1609, one must look back a few centuries to 1248, when Seville, formerly a Moorish city, fell to Christian armies.

    Moorish tiles from the Alhambra
    Symbols of Lost Culture
    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. 

    Just as the day is marked by celebrations in Spain, in Morocco black flags are hung out to indicate loss and mourning. Some descendants of those expelled still retain the original 15th century keys of their Andalusian homes as a symbol of their lost culture.

    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).

    The Burning of Books
    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”. 

    The Expulsion of the Moors from Denia - Painting by Viincente Mostre

    A Secret Religion
    Many Moriscos professed their allegiance to Christianity while practicing Islam in secret. Every aspect of the Islamic way of life, including the Arabic language, dress and social customs – was condemned as uncivilised and pagan. A person who refused to drink wine or eat pork, or who cooked meat on a Friday might be denounced as a Muslim to the Inquisition. Even practices such as buying couscous, using henna, throwing sweets at a wedding or dancing to the sound of Berber music were un-Christian activities for which a person might be reported to the Inquisition by his neighbour, and obliged to do penance.


    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

    Juan de Ribera, the ageing Archbishop of Valencia, who had initially been a firm believer in missionary work, and the conversion of the Moorish population to Christianity, became in his declining years the chief partisan of expulsion. In a sermon preached on September 27th, 1609, he said that Spanish land would never become fertile again until these heretics (the Moriscos) were expelled. The Duke of Lerma, the corrupt chief minister agreed with him. The new king, Felipe III, known as Phillip the Pious for his supposed religious zeal, finally acquiesced to political pressure and in the expulsions began. 

    The embarkation order was read out in Seville on January 10th 1610. The entire Muslim population, along with anyone who had converted from Islam to Christianity, was ordered to leave Spain on threat of death. By 1613 it is estimated 400,000 people had been forcibly removed in this mass expulsion from Spanish territory.

    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

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    Dawn over the Ayeyarwaddy (Irrawaddy) at Mandalay
    'What will our descendants think of us when they read that the British banished the King of Burma, annexed his country, and proceeded to govern it by officials of their own race? Historians will add that we saw no harm in this, though we always resisted such a fate to the death when it threatened our own land.' - Maurice Collis, The Journey Outward, 1952

    King Thibaw, Queen Supayalat
    and her sister Princess Supayalay
    In 1885 King Thibaw of the Konbaung dynasty was governing Upper Burma from his palace in Mandalay. He was 26 years old and had succeeded to the throne after his father, King Mindon, died suddenly in 1878. Following Mindon’s death, seventy nine of the king’s relatives who were potentially Thibaw’s rivals were murdered in a plot hatched by Thibaw’s implacable mother-in-law to make sure that he took over the throne.

    Thibaw was convinced that his father’s apartments in the palace were haunted by Mindon’s ghost. He had them moved out of the palace grounds and rebuilt as a monastery. It’s a gorgeous building made of teak and covered in intricate and delicate carvings depicting the Jatakas, the Buddhist scriptures. You can still see King Thibaw’s meditation couch there. As it transpired the vast palace complex which forms the heart of Mandalay was destroyed in World War II. King Mindon’s apartments were the only part of the palace to survive. 

    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. 

    The king was determined to win back his kingdom and started making moves to align more closely with the French, signing a Franco-Burmese commercial treaty which both he and the French swore had no military or political clauses. But the British were not convinced. There was also the Great Shoe Question. Visiting British dignitaries refused to remove their shoes on entering Thibaw’s palace, causing deep offence. 

    Old capital at Sagaing, outside Mandalay
    In 1885 Thibaw issued a proclamation calling on his countrymen to liberate Lower Burma, thus providing the pretext the British were looking for. Declaring that the king was conspiring with France, they denounced him as a tyrant who reneged on his treaties and sent an invasion force of 11,000 men in a fleet of flat bottomed boats and elephant batteries. Great paddle steamers crowded with troops thrashed up the broad Ayeyarwady - the Irrawaddy, as the British called it.

    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
    To crush any residual support for the monarchy, the British painted Thibaw as an ogre, despot and drunkard, uniquely weak, not up to the task of government, all of which was taken until recently as gospel.

    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
    Thirty years later, starting in 1922, another young Englishman called Eric Blair spent five years serving in the Indian Imperial Police in Moulmein. I spent much of our own trip along the road to Mandalay reading George Orwell’s first novel, Burmese Days, published in 1934. It’s a savage indictment of colonialism. But it’s also a paean to the extraordinary spell the east can cast, evoking Burma’s maddening heat, drenching monsoon rains, dark tangled forests and mesmerising culture in glorious prose.

    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. 

    For more see

    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. 

    The other pictures are mine.

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    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)
    Work began on the stately home in 1699, though it took over a century to complete. The architect was Sir John Vanbrugh (c. 1664 -1726), who was also responsible for Blenheim Palace, as well as a number of Restoration comedies (such as The Provoked Wife, 1697). Castle Howard was Vanbrugh's first foray into architecture, and he was assisted by Nicholas Hawksmoor (c. 1661-1736), a pioneer of the English Baroque style. A Baroque building, Castle Howard has two symmetrical wings that project either side of a North-South axis. The characteristic dome was added to the design at a late stage.

    Castle Howard as imagined in Brideshead Revisited (Granada TV)
    Castle Howard has been the home of the Carlisle branch of the Howard family for over 300 years. It is perhaps best known for its role in Brideshead Revisited (1981). Castle Howard also featured as the Kremlin in The Spy with a Cold Nose (Galton and Simpson, 1966) and - for inside scenes - in the television series Death Comes to Pemberley (2013)

    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.

    The mausoleum 
    In addition to the landscaped gardens to the front of the house, the park grounds contain a forested area and two major buildings: the Temple of the Four Winds and the Mausoleum. Built in 1729, the Mausoleum sits on a hill, and is raised on a terrace encircled with a stone wall. It looks rather like an observatory, and is encircled by Doric column and crowned with a dome. The burial vault lies below, and contains sixty three catacombs. The mausoleum was said to have cost over £10,000 when built, and it influenced their fashionable spread. Such a building, announced the English whig Horace Walpole, 'would tempt one to be buried alive'. More recently, the mausoleum and gardens featured in the Artic Monkeys' video Four out of Five

    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

    We sat on the western side of the Temple to enjoy a packed lunch. From there we had views over the Howardian Hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty located between the Yorkshire Wolds, the North York Moors National Park and the Vale of York. The Howardian Hills, as you might expect, take their name from the Howard family.

    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 spectacular Atlas Fountain and pond crowns the gardens. Dating from 1850, it was exhibited at The Great Exhibition prior to installation at Castle Howard. The Fountain was designed by the English architect and artist, William Andrews Nesfield, and the figures carved in Portland stone by the sculptor John Thomas. who also worked on Buckingham Palace. The figures were transported from London by rail for installation at Castle Howard. 

    A large bronze globe dominates the fountain, and is supported on the shoulders of Atlas. In Greek mythology, Atlas was a Titan condemned to hold up the celestial heavens for eternity. The fountain has four recumbent Tritons blowing water through shells over Atlas, as he kneels in the centre. 

    The fountain was empty when we visited, but is beautiful when filled, as you can see by this YouTube clip. The pond alone is vast - 27 metres in diameter. The shell and basin carvings were made by local craftsmen, and the water transported from a stream nearby, and brought up to the estate reservoir by steam engine. The fountain was turned on for the first time in October 1853. 

    The Atlas Fountain
    You can find out more about Castle Howard from its website, where you can also find videos of the house and gardens. It's definitely worth a visit if you're in the area. We will be going back in the summer when the house is open. 

    A belated happy new year to you all!

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    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.

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    The opening chapter of ONCE UPON A RIVER led me quietly and confidently into a long and satisfying story. I was not disappointed.  

    Diane Setterfield’s third novel takes place in the late nineteenth century. She weaves a complex, gothic story that is set along the rural banks and meadows of the Thames between Cricklade and Oxford. At times, though the haunted landscape almost drips with mist and marshiness, the writer's well-researched descriptions of Victorian life make ONCE UPON A RIVER feel firmly plotted underfoot.

    Setterfield lives in Oxfordshire and knows the area well. In real life, the ancient inn at the centre of the novel – The Swan - doesstand close by Radcott Bridge; Brandy Island was the site of an old distillery, and the central character of Henry Daunt - with his glass plates and his travelling darkroom – is based on Henry Taunt, an Victorian photographer whose popular Thames tourist scenes can be found in Oxford archives. I found this is a wonderful novel, rich with intertwining events, places and characters: a tale to be read and enjoyed slowly.

    Yet ONCE UPON A RIVER is more than that. Setterfield is a performative author:  her light, interested voice runs alongside the plot, reminding us that fiction springs from the deep human need for stories. In particular, she shows how we carry the stories of the missing and the lost inside ourselves, telling and retelling them in our effort to understand. Furthermore, this thread is skilfully highlighted by the way that Setterfield lets the occasional traditional storytelling trope glint out at us from behind her “everyday” Victorian world.

    But how does the story begin?
    It is night at the start of ONCE UPON A RIVER and The Swan is crowded with folk ready to listen to the inn’s famed storytellers. Some of the audience are wary because, as the author repeats and repeats, they have been sensing that
    Something is about to happen.
    All at once the door crashes open and a monster with a bloody face walks into the room, dripping water.
    “In its arms the awful creature carried a large puppet,
    with waxen face and limbs and sickly painted hair.”
    As the intruder collapses among helping arms, the inn-keeper's son catches the falling puppet:  he is holding the body of a drowned four-year-old girl. Nobody knows the identity of the man or child for sure, but suppositions and stories start and are carried away home by the departing drinkers.

    When all is peaceful, the midwife tends to the man’s broken nose and gash of a mouth. However, returning to the tiny corpse, she senses something strange: a faint pulse flickering where no pulse was before. As if by a miracle, the dead girl revives. The innkeeper’s son cries out in witness of the moment.
    I kissed her and she woke up . . . . It is like Jesus.
    The pale child starts to recover but she does not speak. The question grows more urgent. Where does she come from and who should she belong to?  

    The novel offers three possible claimants - one more than for the judgement of Solomon - whose stories and thoughts are amplified  and cleverly intertwined within the telling.
    - First, in the elegant house, with ample grounds and river frontage, live a married couple, each existing in separate agony, grieving for their infant daughter kidnapped two years before and never returned.
     - Next, there is a well-to-do farmer - the son of a gentleman and a black servant - and his pretty, reclusive wife who long to find the grandchild they have only just learned exists.
    - Last of all, living in cottage among the rushes, is a simple-minded housekeeper, mourning her lost sister and fearing the return of a brutish, secret visitor.

    To whom does the child belong? Or are there others who would choose to look after and love the small, silent girl? By twists and turns, the stream of the novel deepens. The plot grows, meanders, turns back on itself, flowing closer and closer towards the final great whirl of disaster, misunderstanding, tragedy and reconciliation.

    Along the way, ONCE UPON A RIVER picks up many well-rounded characters of the period:  the travelling photographer, the convent-bred midwife, the innkeeper and his extensive family, the enigmatic medium, the kindly parson, the runaway son, the jilted girl, the accused maid and more. Within the novel's four-hundred-and-more pages, the reader is offered a whole throng of the riverside community, along with a couple of nasty villains, a beloved goat and a fortune-telling pig.

    Furthermore, floating through the tale, comes  the spectral ferryman Quietly. If you fall into the water and your time has not yet come, says the local legend, Quietly will rescue you and bring back to safety. Of course, if your time has come, Quietly will carry you in his ferry-boat to the far. misty side of the river. For some in this novel, as in life, that time will arrive. 

    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.

    Review by Penny Dolan

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    New Year is the time for Resolutions, or Intentions, or Affirmations, or whatever you want to call them. This is my first post of the New Year, so I'm going to share some of mine. They are not in any particular order and they are all to do with writing.

    I'm not going to make up rules that I know I will break. so...

    Resolution #1:  I'm not going to make up Rules. 

    I'm not going to feel guilty about 'wasting time'. One of the joys of writing is the stuff around it, the research, ideas gathering. I don't mean sitting in libraries but visiting places, taking photographs, collecting stuff, going to museums, exhibitions. If I want to spend all afternoon making a scrapbook of the Work In Progress, I will do that. The book never leaves you. It's in your mind all the time. Sometimes going for a walk, going shopping, going to your pilates class, yoga class, having a coffee, going for a swim frees you to think in ways that staring at a screen can never do. So...

    Resolution #2: I'm going to remind myself that writing doesn't only take place when you'r sitting at your desk. 

    I'm banishing what a writer friend calls the Imp of Self Doubt. A pesky little creature and most of us know him. He's our Familiar. He whispers, or hisses (mine hisses) in your ear all the time you are writing: that's no good that's rubbish that is you can't write call yourself a writer you're no good if you were any good you'd have won the costa the carnegie sold shed loads of books but you haven't have you And on and on, like tinnitus. So:

    Resolution #3: I'm telling the Imp of Self Doubt to:  SHUT UP!

    His chatter drowns out the calmer, cooler, creative voice that is always there to quietly offer solutions, come up with ideas, find ways through.

     Resolution #4: I’m re- tuning  to a different frequency.

    When I'm writing, I'm just going to write. Focus my full attention on the task in hand, words on the page, the character who’s not quite working, how the plot is developing. 

    Resolution #5: I'm banishing extraneous thoughts. At the best, they are Irrelevant and distracting; at worst, incredibly destructive and emotionally exhausting. 

    After years of pontificating about and not doing it... 

    Resolution #6: I am going to keep a journal. 

    Well, two actually. A small notebook where I record the day to day. Not word counts but my responses to writing - good and bad. Not just what I feel but why I feel like that. I have also bought a lovely, lovely leather bound notebook for more serious journaling which I intend to do every day now. So...

    Resolution #7: I'm not going to feel guilty about stationery. 

    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.

    Which means I have to learn not to say 'yes' to everything, to say 'no' to time eaters, doing favours, social media, gigs I don't want to do or won't pay me (enough). I will also be careful not to allow my domestic life to erode my writing time. 

    Will it work? I'll tell next January...

    Celia Rees

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    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.

    Opening Lines 

    Every poem needs a hook and the court poets does not fall shy of this:

    “What’s that imposing mass dominating the Latian Forum, the
    colossus on its back rendering it twice the size?” Statius

    I don’t know, Statius. What is it? I need to know? Tell me NOW!

    “Go, locks if hair go swiftly over favourable seas”

    You what? Flying hair. I must know more. Tell me NOW!

    “What vast cacophony, of tough flings and solid steel, filled stony App is on
     the side that borders on the sea” 

    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.

    “O auspicious birth-day of Caesar, more sacred than that on which the conscious Ida witnessed the birth of Diotaean Jupiter, come, I pray, and prolong your duration beyond the age of Pylian Nestor, and shine ever with your present aspect or with increased brilliancy. “ 

    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: 

    “Spring into light O child promised to the Trojan Iulus true scion of the gods spring into light illustrious child!” 

    Martial likes to drop in the emperor's held titles into his first line. Like this one mentioning the post of censor that Domitian held. 

    “Most mighty censor Prince of princes” 

    Or a reminder of the name Germanicus that Domitian had adopted after triumphs in Germany

    “Crete gave a great name Africa a greater to their conquerors, Metellus and Scipio, a still nobler name did Germany confer on you.” 

    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

    “With visage calm, its radiance tempered 
    By tranquil majesty; he, modestly lowering the banner 
    Of his good fortune, yet a concealed beauty still shining 
    In his face. So might barbarian emissaries, or unknown 
    Peoples, recognise him by the sight. “ 

    Rome is already indebted to you for so many triumphs, so many temples, new or rebuilt, so many spectacles, so many gods, so many cities, she owes you a still greater debt in owing to you her chastity. 

    No ruler, Caesar, has Rome ever so loved before, and she could not love you more, even were she to desire it. 

    Then all the gods opened wide their shrines, issuing joyful 
    Portents from heaven, and Jupiter promised you, our great 
    Leader, long days of youth, and as many years as his own. 

    If two messengers were to invite me to dine in different heavens, the one in that of Caesar, the other in that of Jupiter, I should, even if the stars were nearer, and the palace at the greater distance, return this answer: "Seek some other who would prefer to be the guest of the Thunderer; my own Jupiter detains me upon earth." 

    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

    “The gods rejoice to see you installed in a palace equalling 
    Their own (hasten not to ascend to the heights of the sky); 
    So wide are its foundations, such is the extent of its halls, 
    Wider than a spreading plain, embracing much of heaven 
    Within its roof; you fill the house and weight it with your
    Great genius. “ 

    “Smile, Caesar, at the miraculous pyramids of Egyptian kings; let barbarian Memphis now be silent concerning her eastern monuments. How insignificant are the labours of Egypt compared to the Parrhasian palace! “ 

    There’s a new statue depicting the emperor on a horse? Easy peasey.

    Your chest is wide enough to bear the world’s cares, 
    Temese gave all from her exhausted mines to forge it. 
    A cloak hangs at your back, a broad sword protects 
    Your flank, large as that blade with which Orion 
    Threatens on wintry nights, and terrifies the stars. 
    While your charger, matching its master’s thoughts 
    And gaze, lifts its head and threatens a fierce ride, 
    Mane bristling at its neck, life pulsing through its 
    Shoulders, its broad flanks readied for the spur. 

    Domitian ordering a new shield in the fashion of the goddess Minerva’s. Hold my stuffed dormouse while I whip this one out:

    Breastplate of our lord and master, impenetrable to the arrows of the Sarmatians, and a greater defence than the hide worn by Mars among the Getae; breastplate formed of the polished hoofs of innumerable wild boars, which defies the blows even of an Aetolian spear; happy is your lot, to be permitted to touch that sacred breast, and to be warmed with the genius of our god. Go, accompany him, and may you, uninjured, earn noble triumphs, and soon restore our leader to the palm-decked toga. 

    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:

    It used to be a common sport to violate the sacred rites of marriage; a common sport to mutilate innocent males. You now forbid both, Caesar, and promote future generations, whom you desire to be born without illegitimacy. Henceforth, under your rule, there will be no such thing as a eunuch or an adulterer; while before, oh sad state of morals! the two were combined in one. 

    And again:

    To you, chaste prince, mighty conqueror of the Rhine, and father of the world, cities present their thanks: they will henceforth have population; it is now no longer a crime to bring infants into the world. The boy is no longer mutilated by the art of the greedy dealer, to mourn the loss of his manly rights. 

    And err yes again:

    The father of Italy, who but recently brought help to tender adolescence, to prevent savage lust from condemning it to a manhood of sterility, could not endure such horrors. Before this, Caesar, you were loved by boys, and youths, and old men; now infants also love you. 

    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.

    Here the slow traveller gripped the swaying 
    Pole of his two-wheeled cart as malignant 
    Ground sucked at his wheels, here Latian 
    Folk feared their journey through the plain. 
    No swift passage; glutinous ruts slowed 
    Tardy travel, while weary beasts crawled 
    Along, under the weight of their high yoke, 
    And baulked at their over-heavy burdens. 
    Yet now a task, that wore away a whole 
    Day, scarcely takes a couple of hours. 

    He even spends time on the actual construction of the road:

    The first labour was to mark out trenches, 
    Carve out the sides, and by deep excavation 
    Remove the earth inside. Then they filled 
    The empty trenches with other matter, 
    And prepared a base for the raised spine, 
    So the soil was firm, lest an unstable floor 
    Make a shifting bed for the paving stones; 
    Then laid the road with close-set blocks 
    All round, wedges densely interspersed. 
    O what a host of hands work together! 

    Before moving onto marvelling at improved journey times

    Come then, all you peoples of the East, 
    Who owe allegiance to Rome’s Emperor, 
    Flow along in your unimpeded journey, 
    Arrive more swiftly, you Oriental laurels! 
    Nothing obstructs your wish, no delays. 
    Let whoever leaves Tivoli at daybreak 
    Sail the Lucrine Lake in early evening. 

    A Roman Road -phwoarr look at the flagstones on that!
    Image MM

    Other impressive subjects covered by Statius and Martial  include:
    • 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.

    Come on! It’s impressive, isn’t it? 

    Embrace the panegyric. You know you want to.

    You're wonderful.
    You look wonderful.
    Everything you do is wonderful.
    Every photo of you displays your wonderfulness.
    Everyone around you is wonderful because of you and your wonderfulness.
    Did I mention you're wonderful?

    You feel better already, don't you?

    L.J. Trafford is the author of the Four Emperors Series of books.
    Available here

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    After last month’s excursion into the topic of language in historical fiction, today I am continuing my series of blogs about the history of the Meon Valley in Hampshire.
    I have mentioned the little village of Warnford in previous posts, in particular my post, Lost worlds, changed lives: life beyond the Black DeathDiscussing how the shape of the countryside changed in the centuries following the Black Death, I referred to the creation of parks on great estates – “emparking” – and showed how some estate owners, seeing a great country house and a fashionable park to set it in as a visible expression of their wealth, were more than willing to evict their tenants to realise their ambitions. Although some owners simply evicted their tenants and expected them to fend for themselves, others built their tenants a new village outside the estate. And Warnford is an example of a village where it is thought that the existing settlement was moved to a new site, to enable the creation of the landscaped park, though exactly when it happened isn’t clear. The still standing church and the ruins of the medieval manor house are evidence of the location of the original village.
    I was interested to explore Warnford a little further, and in particular some of its buildings...

    The parish of Warnford lies between West Meon and Exton, mainly along the main south-north road (the A32), which follows the line of the River Meon, though outlying areas of the parish climb up to the downs. Warnford Park lies to the east of the road and has the river running through it, whilst the village pub, the 17th century George and Falcon, and the majority of the village’s houses lie on the north and west side of the road.

    The parish is now very small, with a population of around 220, but is well-known for its extensive watercress beds, which are fed from the waters of the River Meon. At the time of the Domesday survey in 1086, Warnford was relatively large. It consisted of two manors, both held from St Peter’s Abbey (Winchester) by Hugh de Port, an Anglo-French Norman aristocrat who amassed a great number of properties throughout the south of England, and in particular in Hampshire, possibly as many as fifty-three all told at the time of Domesday.

    One manor had eight hides (1 hide=120 acres) and a mill, and its population consisted of eight villagers and six smallholders and their families, and six slaves. The other manor had seven hides, two mills and the church, and was inhabited by the families of 31 villagers and nine smallholders, and six slaves. This is presumably the manor that eventually became the Warnford Park estate, as it had the church and two of the mills.

    Those population numbers for Warnford might equate to roughly 250 people, which made it actually quite a large place for those times – bigger in the 11th century in terms of its population than any other Meon Valley village except East Meon, in contrast to the present day, when it is one of the smallest.

    The four buildings I am going to discuss all lie in the Park: the Church of Our Lady, the 13th century ruin of King John’s House which stands close to the church, the long-demolished Warnford Park House, and the Paper Mill building.

    Paper Mill

    Domesday claimed three mills for Warnford. Today there seems to be evidence of the locations of two of them. One is the remains of a water wheel at a small weir a short distance from the church in the middle of the Park. The other is a restored paper mill building, also in the Park, presumably built on the site of one of the mills referred to in Domesday. This mill was one of the earliest, if not the earliest, paper mill in Hampshire. It was built around 1618 by the then owner of Warnford, Sir Thomas Neale, and paper was made at Warnford for at least 170 years, though by 1816 it had stopped working, perhaps due to the technical changes in the industry that led to the establishment in the country as a whole of far fewer but much larger mills. Currently the building has been restored and is available as a bed and breakfast.

    Paper mill at Warnford © Ashok Vaidya

    Church of Our Lady

    Warnford’s parish church, the Church of Out Lady, stands in the middle of Warnford Park, isolated for centuries from the village it once served. It is presumed that this isolation occurred, as already mentioned, when the owners moved the village to its present location outside the park, though exactly when this happened isn’t clear.

    The Church of Our Lady in Warnford Park. Hampshire.
    © Simon Burchell
    It has been suggested that the original church in Warnford was founded by Saint Wilfrid in the 7th century, during the years when he was bringing Christianity to the heathenish people of the Meon Valley. When the original church was built in Saxon times, the people who came to worship here would have belonged to the Jutish Meonwara tribe who, according to Bede, were “ignorant of the name and faith of God”.
    In 1190, when Adam de Port, son of Hugh, decided to rebuild the church, he must have believed that it had a particular association with the saint, for he had a stone tablet inscribed in Latin to record the fact. Today, the tablet sits below what is thought to be a Saxon sun dial. The words on it are:

    Brethren, bless in your prayers the founders of this temple: Wulfric who founded it and good Adam who restored it
    The circular sun-dial is set on a square stone, with leaves carved at the corners, similar to the dial at Corhampton (described here). It is probably also of Saxon date. One presumes it was once on an outside wall which was at some point covered by the 13th century? porch.

    Within the church itself is a monument to the family of Sir Thomas Neale, the man who built the paper mill referred to above. The monument has alabaster effigies of Thomas and his two wives lying beneath a panelled canopy. Around the base are the kneeling figures of two sons and seven daughters, four of whom are, somewhat gruesomely, holding skulls, showing that they died before their parents.

    © Copyright Mike Searle under Creative Commons Licence.
    There’s also a rather grisly gravestone in the churchyard. In the 19th century, George Lewis was the estate carpenter, and used to cut down trees on a Sunday even though he was apparently warned against the ungodly practice. But in 1830, George, persisting in felling trees on the Sabbath, was hit by a tumbling branch and died. His gravestone illustrates his foolhardiness!
    © Copyright Basher Eyre under Creative Commons Licence.

    King John’s House 

    Close by the church are the ruins of what is variously called St John’s or King John’s House. This is a very rare example of a 13th century hall, built in 1210 by a member of the St John family who had married into the de Ports.

    Image from British History Online, Parishes: Warnford.

    The ruin consists of a hall 52 ft. long by 48 ft. wide, divided by 25 ft high columns into a central span and north and south aisles, and a two-storey building attached at the hall’s west end. The two-storey section seems to have been divided into two rooms on the ground floor, and on the first-floor level are traces of a doorway opening to a staircase or perhaps a gallery at the west of the hall. One imagines this structure might have been part of a larger house though there is no evidence of any other remains adjoining it.
    The building appears to have been already in ruins by the 17th century, and was later incorporated into the landscaping as an interesting feature of the pleasure park. In 17th and 18th century documents, the building is referred to as The Old House.

    (c) Anthony Brunning / St John's House, Warnford Park, Hampshire / CC BY-SA 2.0

    Warnford Park House

    Little is known of the early history of the Warnford estate. The earliest park enclosure was possibly a deer park that stretched between Beacon Hill and Old Winchester Hill. In the late 1500s, the estate was owned by William Neale, an auditor to Queen Elizabeth, who built a house near the site of the later mansion. One presumes that King John’s House was either already a ruin by then or perhaps considered by William as unfit as a residence for his family.

    William’s son and heir, Thomas, was later knighted and became auditor to King James I. He was the man who built the paper mill. On his death in 1621 – it is his grand monument that lies in the church – Warnford passed to his son, another Thomas, and this Thomas built the later mansion that was apparently referred to as The Place House. His son, yet another Thomas, sold Warnford in 1678 and it moved out of the Neale family, passing through the ownership of several different families until, in 1754, John Smith de Burgh, the 11th Earl of Clanricarde, bought the estate. In 1752, John had changed the family name from Burke to the earlier form of de Burgh, to reflect their Norman-Irish origins. He called his new house Belmont, and the park Senfoy (Saint Foin). 

    In the 1770s, the earl hired Lancelot “Capability” Brown to improve the landscape of his Warnford estate. An estate map of 1811 shows that the River Meon was diverted as it entered the park and a long tear-shaped lake was created in a loop, and the river’s exit from the park was arranged via a series of sluices. A walk was created encompassing a sequence of garden buildings including a grotto, a hermitage and a bath-house, the design of which closely resembles an unexecuted Brown design for a lakeside pavilion at Rothley, Northumberland. The old hall, King John’s House, was also apparently deliberately incorporated into the landscape design as a “scenic ruin”.

    An illustration from the 19th century shows the house in a landscaped park typical of Brown’s style, with the River Meon forming a lake to the south.

    Image from
    In 1865 the estate was purchased by Henry Woods, a colliery owner and the MP for Wigan, who carried out further alterations to the house, created a formal garden and undertook considerable ornamental planting in the pleasure grounds.
    Image from
    During the Second World War, the house was requisitioned by the military, but the troops apparently “severely damaged” it and, after a long decline, the house was demolished in 1956, though the park and pleasure grounds remained in private ownership and a new house was built.
    There is, I suppose, nothing very extraordinary about what happened in Warnford over the centuries since it was recorded in the Domesday survey. Estate owners have always done whatever took their fancy to create the environment that met their private and public ambitions. If that meant moving a few tenants out of the way, well so be it. At least, in Warnford, though we don’t know exactly when it happened, the tenants were not entirely displaced. Despite further development in the past century or so on the south side of the road, it is interesting to see to what extent Warnford is, geographically, still a village of two halves and to understand what brought it about.

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    Castellani Medusa Cameo and Micromosaic Egyptian Necklace

    I’m not the only one who admires the exquisite jewellery of the Etruscans (see my earlier post on Ancient World Glitter and Glamour). In the mid-19th and early 20th centuries jewellers and artisans were inspired by archaeological fashions. The most influential of these was a Roman goldsmith, Fortunato Pio Castellani, and his sons, Alessandro and Augusto, who rose to eminence through their introduction of the neo-Classical revivalist styles. For three generations the Castellani family, with the crossed ‘C’s as their hallmark, were at the centre of the archaeological revival movement, which saw jewellery created in the styles of the ancient Etruscans, Romans, Egyptians, Byzantine and Greeks of the 9th to 4th centuries BCE. Castellani based many of his designs directly on archaeological evidence and often incorporated intaglios, cameos and micromosaics into his jewellery.

    Castellani C19th/original C5th BCE millegrain pendants
    Castellani Jewellery
    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
    The Castellanis owned a shop near the Trevi Fountain in Rome where they assembled a magnificent collection of antiquities in their showroom. Visitors could then buy replicas as a souvenir of their visit. Not so very different from the ‘museum’ shops that await you when you try to exit from any art gallery or museum exhibition today!

    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.

    Wedgwood Ceramics
    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
    Sir William Hamilton was the British Ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples in 1764-1800 (His second wife was the notorious Emma Hamilton, mistress of Admiral Horatio Nelson!) Hamilton’s collection of vases and other antiquities were described as ‘Etruscan’ but in fact many of the items described as such were actually Greek. However, this does not detract from Josiah Wedgwood’s love affair with Etruscan ceramics. He established a factory named ‘Etruria’ in 1769 in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, which operated for 180 years.

    The motto of the factory was ‘Artes Etruriae Renascuntur’ ie ‘The Arts of Etruria are reborn’. His most authentically Etruscan design was his ‘black basaltes’ which were black, burnished and unglazed ceramics similar to original Bucchero ware (see Black on Red, Red on Black: Figure it Out) Made from reddish-brown clay which burned black in firing, black basalte owed its richer colour to the addition of manganese.

    Hamilton also inspired Wedgwood’s more famous ‘Jasperware’. When the ambassador returned to England in 1783–84, he brought a Roman glass vase (known as the Portland Vase as he sold it to the Duchess of Portland ) which was given to the British Museum. The relief decorations on the vase served as inspiration for Wedgwood’s unglazed matte ‘biscuit’ Jasper stoneware produced in a number of different hues such as green, yellow, lilac, and black. The best known colour is the pale blue known as ‘Wedgwood Blue’. Decorations in contrasting colours (typically in white) give a cameo effect to the ceramic. The cameos were initially in the Neo-Classical style but, over the centuries, were adapted to more modern subjects including silhouette portraits of notable people.

    Wedgwood copy/Roman Portland Vase
    Josiah Wedgwood’s copy of the Portland Vase proved to be more valuable than its price. In 1845, a vandal called William Lloyd shattered the original vase into 200 pieces. The British Museum’s restorer was able to reassemble the classical vase by referring to Wedgwood’s own masterpiece.

    Antique Wedgwood ceramics are sought after in auctions houses around the world, but it is Castellani’s craftsmanship which provides the best example of the value placed on neo-classical revivalism. A set of gold tasselled earrings (depicting the god Apollo riding his horses upon a crescent held aloft by two angels) was the subject of a bidding war in 2013. Estimated at $6000, it eventually sold for $169,000! However, no matter whether it is an original or replicated piece, I always wonder about the women who wore cherished pieces of jewellery be they ancient Etruscan princesses laid to rest in tombs or an ill-fated passenger who ended her life beneath icy waters.
    Castellani earrings/Wedgwood Blue Jasperware

    Elisabeth Storrs is the author of the Tales of Ancient Rome saga. Learn more at  More Neo-Classical Revivalist jewellery can be found on her Pinterest board. Images are courtesy of the MET project and Wikimedia Commons.