Yesterday morning I was confronted, according to the WordPress counter, with this being my two thousandth post. I am assuming that includes the earlier efforts imported from Blogspot; but excludes that pathetic effort to maintain a parallel reading blog.
It has taken about eight years to reach this point. I never expected the mood and motivation to last this long, even intermittently. I doubt, one way and another, I shall be around for another thousand. After that the unloved semi-colon can die its inevitable death.
So this one ought to be a bit special. However, on past experience, that is too much to hope for.
I’d reached that point of musing, whereupon, from above and as some meteorological hypertext, there came a rumble of thunder. Thrice in the day we had torrential downpours. There was one moment the whole back of the house was running with overflow from the gutters. The roadway was awash for kerb-to-kerb — and across the sidewalks. It was not a good day to live at the bottom of the hill. And the last snap of thunder, in the gloaming, was the loudest and closest.
What’s left to be said, perhaps?
Reading has been off the agenda here this last while.
When the froth and kerfuffle of daily politicking — with which, I must admit, too many of these posts have been concerned — are left aside, that’s what really matters.
If there has been an achievement these years it is that I am now sit here, surrounded by seventy or eighty linear metres of white-painted marine ply, all full of the books I have acquired over a lifetime. They take me all the way from those Dent Classics, Purnell’s “Juvenile Publications” and “The Heirloom Library”, probably bought in Woolworths in Norwich — one I see here with the inscription from 1952 — to last week’s meander through the York Waterstone’s (so conveniently close to a number of decent boozers).
I notice the desk in front of me is cluttered with the various new(ish) books on the outbreak of World War One. I’m coming to the view that Sean McMeekin and Margaret MacMillan are the pick of the litter. Similarly, I didn’t really take to Max Hastings. On the other hand, Allan Mallinson, the former professional soldier, is remarkably readable — and seems sound.
All terrible, and terribly worthy, of course. We are in for a whole mess of anniversaries: I doubt I’ll want to be in Belfast for the Orangemen and the Somme in two years time. Or in Dublin for the Rising. The Martin Luther 500th at Wittenberg might be worth a punt, though. Then it’s convenient that as soon as we have marked the Treaty of Versailles (28 June 2018) we can reboot on the 80th of the Second Unpleasantness.
Recent bookish delights
Much of that 1914 stuff was hard work: so too is Graham Robb’s The Ancient Paths.
After his The Discovery of France and Parisians this one had to be a must. So I am totally bewildered. If Robb’s thesis, that the Celts had well-worked out geomatics, and aligned their structures across continental Europe with a precise meridian and the winter solstice, this is literally earth-shattering. On the other hand, a quiet voice says we’ve been here before with fluff like Alfred Watkins and his The Old Straight Track. And look what the New-Agers did to that.
I see that some claim there is a York ley, linking a whole series of early local sites, through the Minster, via Clifford’s Tower to the point where the Foss discharges into the Ouse. Let’s be honest: almost any line drawn on the map of a tight, old city like York has to go through a quantum of prominent places. Out of cussedness I tried another axis: was I perchance living on a ley? Sure enough, the straight line from the West End of York Minster would come through a couple of pubs (goody, goody!), Redfellow Cott, and on to … well, the sewage works. Oh dear.
Robb unquestionably is fun, but fraught. When he gets to looking at Ireland, and the omphalos of the Hill of Uisneach (see pages 273ff), it all becomes a bit silly, or too close to home, or too profound for my little mind. I want these sites to be significant. I love the notion of standing at the edge of Europe, to see the sun (Lugh) sinking into the realm of the dead, beyond the western ocean, but …
The most obviously Druidic feature is this: the omphalos of Uisneach is connected by a solstice line to the royal sites of Cruachan and Dún Ailinne. The bearings are close but not identical to the British standard (within 1.4˚ and 1.6˚ respectively). Two other royal sites — Cnoc Áine and Emain Macha — are also roughly aligned of the Uisneach omphalos, with a range of 2.2˚.
With great respect, Mr Robb, that’s more than a couple of degrees between friends, and allows a great deal of latitude.
One other book I have relished is Simon Winder’s Danubia. After what Winder did to German history with Germania, this was another no-brainer. By the nature of the beast, Danubia lacks the focus of that earlier book: the whole tale of the Hapsburgs is just too diffuse, all the way from Rudolph I, King of the Roman in 1272 to the “Blessed Charles of Hungary”, who “renounced participation” in public affairs in 1918, but never actually abdicated. This book isn’t “history” (though there’s a stack of history in it), but it is a hoot and an education.
Since this is post 2000, let me end with a retread
To begin at the beginning
One or two readers have identified “Malcolm Redfellow” and recognised his origins in Wells(-next-the Sea), Norfolk. On Thursday Little Brother, the Professor (two more clues there), emailed a link to Jeremy Brettingham’s films on http://www.rescuewoodenboats.com/
That occupied me for too much of yesterday or should that be “yisty“. Two in particular brought back the past:
- Alan Cooper relating the story of whelking — I cannot recall anyone using the term “whelk-fishing”. Proust had his madeleine: for me it’s the whiff of wet bags of whelks on a trolley at Wells (on-Sea) station.
- Roger Cooper on Gully Grimes, Fred Hooker and the Shipwrights.
I don’t really miss Wells. I’ver tried going back, smelled the air, looked at the changes, and it doesn’t work for me. My Wells is sixty years gone, overladen with incomers and bereft of outgoes — many of my generation had to leave to find careers. That incredible class of Wells County Primary sent half of us to Fakenham Grammar; and most couldn’t go back.
What I do miss is the speech. It’s not just the authentic North Norfolk accent. It’s that stately, deliberate delivery. Even the jokes and anecdotes are delivered pontifically.
Unlike that which you meet here.