Superstitious…

Just wondering, but does anyone actually own up to being superstitious these days?

I sat down to write today, aware that it’s a Friday 13th – a date many people associate with bad luck – and it struck me that nobody I know seems to admit to having superstitions any more.

We’re all rational beings now, looking for scientific explanations for everything and dismissing as primitive anything that doesn’t lend itself to neat scientific explanation.

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I started to consider how superstitious I am. Do black cats crossing my path cause me any concerns? Not especially, unless I’ve had to do an emergency stop to avoid them. Do I avoid stepping on cracks in the pavement, throw spilt salt over my shoulder or poke spoons through the shells of boiled eggs? Nope. And to be honest, I’ve always thought of Friday 13th’s as rather lucky days.

But then, ahem

…there may just happen to be a horseshoe in my kitchen window, (only for decoration of course). I definitely avoid walking under ladders (common sense surely?). I didn’t let my husband see my wedding dress before our wedding day, I don’t put new shoes on the table, I don’t open umbrellas indoors and I do occasionally speak to single magpies.

Just in case you’re now thinking what a weirdo I am, I’d like to point out that the ravens at the Tower of London have their wings clipped so they can’t fly away because ‘if they do, the Kingdom will fall’ !

By the way, if ravens are your thing, I urge you to follow the Ravenmaster, Chris Skaife, at the Tower on Twitter @ravenmaster1 . He happens to have quite possibly the best job in the world.

What about you? Super-stitious or super-sensible?


The photograph above was taken at Wayland’s Smithy, a neolithic long barrow on the Ridgeway in Oxfordshire, on a very foggy late December afternoon last year (actually our wedding anniversary).

Superstition has it that horses who cast a shoe will be mysteriously re-shod there by Weland the Anglo-Saxon god of metal working in return for a silver coin left on the stones…

Anyone tried?

All changes, all stays the same…

You know how at some times in your life things feel steady, grounded, perhaps occasionally just a little bit boring – yes well, this isn’t one of them around here.

It’s not as bad as when I had Number One Daughter and spent the first six months after she was born waiting for things to go back to normal (i.e. pre-baby normal) – the realisation one day that that normal had gone forever hit me like a brick, I’m not sure I ever completely recovered.

stained glass window at baddesley clinton

No, it’s not that bad, it’s just that this autumn, with the girls now largely independent, I’m suddenly (I know I should have seen it coming, I just didn’t, ok) – faced with regaining most of my own independence.

Crikey, too much choice or what!

I don’t think I’d quite appreciated just how much of my own routine was determined by the pattern of the school term, and now although Number Two Daughter is still at school, there’s so much less for me to do, I feel oddly liberated.

But nature abhors a vacuum they say, so I’m going to avoid problems by using my new-found freedom to gad about the country indulging my passion for historic places.

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It probably sounds terribly flippant and a poor use of time when I could be doing something very much more useful. But for me, the physical connection to historic places, is in some way I find impossible to articulate, absolutely essential. I derive an energy, a sense of belonging, a feeling of simultaneously losing myself and finding myself when I’m exploring a castle or walking around a stone circle that rarely happens otherwise and the regained ability to tap into that source is life enhancing.

I’m sure that on some emotional level, this energy feeds into the stitchiness I create, although I couldn’t really explain that either. I don’t stitch pictures of moated manor houses, but something of their atmosphere inspires me. It’s a puzzle that I haven’t yet understood, let alone solved.

Is it just me, am I losing it a bit, or do you too share a special connection or feeling towards a place or an activity?

Anyway, I’m rolling with it yet again – another one of life’s spirals…

 

 

 

 

Blogging?

 

How is your blogging going? I only ask because mine is decidedly creaky and I know quite a few of my ‘go-to’ bloggers have either stopped or are taking a sabbatical.

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A few weeks ago I decided that as we weren’t planning to go away this summer, I’d get back into what used to pass as a habit – well you can see for yourself how successful that turned out to be…

I’ve been giving the whole blogging thing a lot of thought, particularly in view of the impact of Twitter, Instagram and the like. Personally I’ll admit to loving Instagram. I use it almost as a cross between a nature diary and a journal of my work-in-progress with the odd historical jaunt here and there. It’s so easy to use, I generally post pictures from my morning walks while I’m eating my breakfast. And I rather enjoy a quick scroll through my feed to catch up with what’s happening amongst my IG friends. It feels like a very friendly and supportive community.

I’m also a Twitter fan, although I tend to use it as much as a tailor-made news feed as a way to keep in touch with a variety of lovely friends I’ve made there.

So where does that leave blogging? It seems to me that in many ways, Twitter and Instagram have taken over the role of the ‘what I’ve been up to’ post. It’s much easier to Tweet or post a quick photo of the relatively mundane, than to sit down and blog about it days later.

But we bloggers are a thoughtful bunch, and not everything that needs to be expressed comes instantly in 140 characters. I know that many of us write as much for ourselves as for readers, and we feel compelled to do that for a whole raft of reasons.

Having thought about it now over several months, it seems to me that there is still a very real role for blogging as a means for us to find and use our voices, whether it’s exploring aspects of our inner landscape, debating with ourselves as much as with others, or raising issues important to us and hoping to reach a wider audience.

Social media is a great way of showing the ‘now’, but it’s not so good at explaining feelings, and that depth of exploration is much better suited to blogging.

I miss the voices of those now quiet bloggers whose insights, questions and experiences gave me pause for thought and sometimes even caused me to act.

Maybe we don’t need to recount at length the tiny minutiae of our daily grind – or maybe we do – but I believe we do need to tell our stories, talk about the things that are important to us and let our voices be heard.

I intend to try harder to get back into the habit and I hope if you’ve been resting, you might join me too.

 

 

 

 

 

If Women Rose Rooted…

Along with many of you, I’m something of a bookaholic – occasionally I write here about the latest stash waiting to be devoured (indeed as luck would have it, the previous post was just such a one). You might well have noticed however, that I don’t very often return to review the books I’ve read.

But last week I read ‘If Women Rose Rooted’ by Sharon Blackie and it was one of those rare times when I felt as if by some means of synchronicity, the right book reached me at exactly the right moment. Reading it was such an immersive experience, I’m going to try to talk just a little about the feelings and questions reading it has raised in me.

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So, if you haven’t read it yourself, this is the weaving together by Sharon Blackie of her story – her history, with the powerful threads of Celtic myth, and a cry for the active re-establishment of the balance between masculine and feminine values and energies for the health of the planet. It is a journey in its fullest sense.

But for me it was no passive read. Perhaps because Sharon’s experiences mirror many of my own; the acceptance of a career based on masculine values, the increasing difficulty of riding the gulf between those values and my gut/heart intuition, the sharp sting of a crisis and realisation that change was essential.

It would have been a sympathetic read based on that thread alone, but the reason I felt Sharon had written this book for me in particular was the weaving together of the Celtic themes and the importance she places on being rooted in the right place. Both themes which are currently incredibly powerful for me.

Like so many of us, I was brought up to know a lot of Classical mythology whilst practically nothing of our native stories. I suspect I thought there wasn’t much to know – how wrong! For a few years now, I’ve been trying to educate myself in this wonderfully rich heritage and it seems that the more I discover, the more there is to find. And these stories are rewarding, they are complex, multi-layered, enigmatic – the food for endless meditation and contemplation.

The desire to find my way to these stories came on gradually, but looking back, I can see that it was (and remains) fuelled by an urge which once was buried, then released – the call of the land where I belong. And here is the greatest pain, because unlike Sharon, I still have to make that journey. The need to be rooted in a place that is not where I currently am is strong and I am determined that it will happen, but for now, my own needs have to be balanced with the needs of others – so be it. I am using the time to develop other threads which will come with me when the moment is right.

Balance of course is the major issue being addressed in Sharon’s book – how can we as women actively work towards a true balance? I must admit, whilst every atom of my body wants to find that reassertion of the feminine values – as Sharon puts it ‘a determination to nurture rather than destroy’ – I also feel overwhelmed by the size of the task. I have begun to ask myself some of the questions Sharon poses for us in her book, but I don’t yet have the answers. I know this is a quest for us all, there is no magic bullet, but what will my role be? I can’t say.

What I know, is that reading Sharon’s book has had a profound effect on how I view my own situation. I feel as if having had a load of random jigsaw pieces in my possession, I’ve now been given the picture of how they fit together. It’s a gift.

And so if any of this resonates with you too, find your way to reading ‘If Women Rose Rooted’ – savour it, who knows what it might say to you.

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More guilty pleasures…

or ‘How what you read in your teens can scar you for life…’

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Last week, with the girls still at home for Easter, we found ourselves in need of some new books – as you do…

Naturally the first choice on these occasions is Hay-on-Wye, but as it’s over four hours away by car, it isn’t really an option for a quick mid-week fix. Instead we opted for Berkhamsted, (of Ed Reardon fame), where I have a soft spot for the Oxfam bookshop.

I really do think it’s the sort of shop where they should have lock-ins, like pubs once did. I’m pretty confident I could spend several hours (quite possibly days) working my way through the shelves there without ever getting bored.

I came away with an old Folio Society version of ‘Richard III The Great Debate’. It contains Sir Thomas More’s History of King Richard III, and Horace Walpole’s Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard III.

I blame Rosemary Hawley Jarman for my Richard fetish. I read We Speak No Treason when it first came out in the 1970s, at that impressionable age, and have been in love with him ever since. Loads of history books, TV programmes and a car park exhumation later and I still enjoy reading anything about Richard and that era.

I’m looking forward to reading what More actually wrote. As a chief propagandist against Richard I’m naturally inclined against him – even studying Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons in the Sixth Form didn’t make him any more forgivable and Anton Lesser’s portrayal in Wolf Hall fits better with my view of More. But the great benefit of being a history junkie not a proper historian, is that you can happily indulge your own prejudices to your heart’s content.

I know next to nothing about Horace Walpole, so that section will be educational on several levels.

The useful thing about Berkhamsted, is that if there’s a book you want but can’t find in Oxfam, they’ve thoughtfully built a Waterstones just down the road.

I didn’t want anything else and was just browsing while the Daughter looked for a specific title when two more books leapt into my hands – as they do…

Mary Beard’s SPQR A History of Ancient Rome and Ruth Scurr’s John Aubrey My Own Life.

My knowledge of Ancient Rome is best described as patchy, being the result of a few lessons about the Greeks and Romans which I had when I was about eight years old and from watching (avidly) and then reading (almost as avidly) I, Claudius when it was on TV in the 1970s. It feels like having a few pieces of a jigsaw puzzle without the picture to guide you and lots of bits missing. Hopefully Mary Beard will help me put it all together and fill in the gaps.

I hadn’t heard anything about Ruth Scurr’s book before I saw it on the shelf, but I have  been a fan of John Aubrey’s Brief Lives, since I read it as a history obsessed teenager.

At the time, I’d only encountered history text books and historic fiction, so to find Brief Lives was a revolution, here were snippets of information about famous and now largely forgotten people in a style unique to Aubrey.

So to find a biography of John Aubrey and one written in such a delicate homage to Aubrey’s style, weaving history and biography together, is a fabulous treat.

Looking at the books when we got home, it suddenly struck how they all linked so much to the teenage me. I suppose some things never change.

Happy reading…

 

 

 

 

 

Teetering or tipping?

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These crows have been providing the soundtrack for all our recent walks…

I’m sure by now, some jolly soul you know, will have cracked the ‘ooh the nights are really drawing in now’ line – which really helps lift your mood if you’re already feeling a touch of autumnal melancholy…

But of course they’re right (well for those of us up here in the Northern Hemisphere at any rate), this is the time of shortening days, we’ve passed the tipping point of the autumn equinox and it’s all wooly scarves, thermal undies and stew for dinner, until winter gives way to spring again.

For the last few days, I’ve been obsessing over the whole concept of balance. We’re told how important it is to achieve balance – in life, in work, in our diet…, balance is described as something to be attained and held on to, it’s an objective, a target, something to strive for. But in practice, surely balance is an extremely tricky customer – and the energy required to maintain balance is exhausting – try the Tree (Vrksasana) or my favourite Eagle (Garudasana) poses in yoga if you don’t believe me.

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The first touch of autumn amongst the oak leaves..

If you’d asked me a few months ago if I was happy with my own balance, I’d have said I was, but just lately I realised that I wasn’t so much balanced as teetering – wobbling about in roughly the same place, desperately trying to keep everything the same, but feeling that at any moment, I should really be heading off in some new direction.

Then today, right on cue, while I was walking with the Delinquent Dog, I realised that I’m not teetering any more – I’ve tipped.

Weird, because I’ve no idea what pushed me over the edge, all I know is, I suddenly feel as if I’m moving forward again. Perhaps I’m someone who enjoys the journey more than the destination, or perhaps we’re just not designed to spend too long in one place, – perhaps as someone who embraces a cyclical attitude to time, I just tried to stand still too long.

Whatever, I have to admit to feeling much happier again now.

 

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Did anyone in the UK watch Midwinter of the Spirit last night? What did you think?

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I’ve really enjoyed stitching this piece – not much more to do now, then I’ll show you the whole tapestry. I’ve used a lot of un-dyed wool this time – Wensleydale and North Ronaldsay, both from http://www.blackbat.co.uk which has added quite a lovely variety of texture and tone, although it’s been moderately more challenging to work with.

We have a date for the new boiler – yippee!

Summer Reading…

Any minute now – in fact almost certainly by the time you read this – the summer holidays will have broken out around here – hooray! It’s been a tough old year one way or another and I’m sure we’re not the only family relieved to have a few weeks away from the usual routine.

For most of the year, I do the main part of my reading at bedtime, but during the holidays, I feel no guilt whatsoever about reading whenever I like, so I’ve started putting together my reading list for July & August.

And the books I’ve chosen are…

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The Celtic Myths: A Guide to the Ancient Gods & Legends – Miranda Aldhouse-Green

In recent years, I’ve become increasingly interested in all things Celtic, and I keep coming across names and stories that I know nothing about. Ironic isn’t it, that I could certainly tell you much more about the Ancient Greek gods and heroes, than anything about those of our native countries. When I saw this book last week, it practically screamed at me from the shelf, to buy it. And I’m so pleased that I did – it’s a lovely ‘beginner’s guide’ – complete with pictures and – get this – a guide to pronunciation!

And it’s timely too. In September, the British Museum is opening a new exhibition featuring Celtic art and identity – I’ve booked my ticket already!

Next, I chose…

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Thomas Traherne: Selected Poems & Prose – Penguin Classic.

I have Phil Rickman to thank for introducing me to Thomas Traherne. References to Traherne crop up in several of his brilliant Merrily Watkins novels and it took me some time to find any of Treherne’s works in print. Then, on a day when I wasn’t particularly looking for it, there it was, on the shelf of the Oxfam bookshop in Berkhamsted – definitely there waiting just for me.

If you like William Blake’s work, Treherne might be for you too.

 

My third choice is the recently published…

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Field Notes From The Edge: Journeys Through Britain’s Secret Wilderness – Paul Evans

 

Now, this is a book I intend to consume in small amounts, it is so beautifully written and the mental imagery so rich, that it would be a shame to read it too fast. It’s like a fine wine that deserves to be savoured. I downloaded a sample onto my Kindle, but although I knew straightaway I wanted to read it, I felt sure I needed a hard copy. Fortunately, when I visited Toppings in Ely last week, (possibly the best bookshop outside Hay that I know), I found one to bring home with me.

Paul Evans is on Twitter if you want to find him there.

My fourth choice is…

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God’s Traitors: Terror & Faith in Elizabethan England – Jessie Childs.

I’ve actually been reading this for a while now, but things have been so busy around here lately that instead of reading at bedtime, I’ve been crashing out as soon as my head hit the pillows. But I am delighted that Jessie has written this book. Having been brought up in the West Midlands, right in the heart of Elizabethan recusant territory, and on the doorstep of Harvington Hall, one of the existing Elizabethan houses where you can still see numerous priest’s hiding-holes, I was excited to finally hear more of the story of that period in English history.

For anyone familiar with the area and the many houses linked to Catholic recusancy, it’s wonderful to have a whole book describing events, and not be confined to a few footnotes.

And my final choice doesn’t have a picture, because I have it loaded on my Kindle – it’s Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I absolutely loved watching the recent TV series, I remembered reviews from when it was first published, but somehow didn’t get around to buying it, so now I have! I think it should keep my fantasy levels suitably inflated over the summer…

Have you read any of these? Do let me know what you thought of them, or tell me what delights you’re planning to read over the hopefully long, hot summer.

Happy reading.

 

 

 

The ones that got away…

I’m always telling people how meditative stitching can be, and how wonderful it feels to ‘let go’ and simply enjoy the process – which is all true, for me stitching is where I’m most myself. But perhaps it’s worth mentioning, that it isn’t always plain sailing. Sometimes, the idea in your head refuses to be captured in stitch. Sometimes, despite everything you do, the piece you’re working on, just doesn’t click. 2015-03-19 12.21.49 Anyone making faster art will also have this experience, I’m certain – let’s be honest, more of what we create goes in the bin than on the wall. But making slow art has the particular downside, that you can invest considerable time – we’re talking days, perhaps weeks – into a piece, only to find at some point, you don’t like it, it doesn’t feel right. Which is the time when you have to decide whether to press on regardless and hope it comes together later, or put it down to experience and consign it to the ‘no’ pile. It isn’t always easy to accept that the time poured into a piece isn’t going to result in the work you’d set your heart on. So just in case anyone else is going through a rough patch on the creative front at the moment and thinks they’re the only one, I thought today I’d show you my collection of might have beens from the last few months, the ones I’m calling my experiments, the ones that got away…

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Keep calm and carry on stitching.

Searching for Shakespeare: And she’s off…

2015-02-10 11.59.13Just a few weeks into this quest to understand who wrote the plays of Shakespeare, and I have to say, if you’re trying to keep your brain active, forget Sudoku’s or cryptic crosswords, there’s more than enough here to keep the synapses busy.

Anyway, as I mentioned, I started off with a book by Diana Price – Shakespeare’s Unorthodox Biography, because it was obvious very quickly, that I didn’t know very much at all for sure about the writer, and I wanted a source that would look at the actual evidence, and discuss its context and interpretation in a less emotional way than those authors who are closely bound up with theories for particular candidates for the Shakespeare authorship.

It’s not a particularly difficult read, but you’re not far into it before you start to understand just how complicated this quest is – what we have, it seems to me, is a giant Elizabethan jigsaw puzzle, with most of the pieces missing, and to make matters worse, we don’t know if the pieces we do have, fit together in one puzzle, or whether some pieces are part of an entirely different puzzle.

But before I get carried away, the first question I wanted to answer was this – why is there any debate at all about who wrote the plays of Shakespeare, after all, we’re familiar with his name, his plays and his connection to Stratford-upon-Avon – where is the area of doubt?

Right…

The answer – it seems – is that whilst we can be pretty certain a man called something like William Shakespeare (even the question of alternative spellings could keep you busy for months…), went to London and was involved in theatrical companies there, no contemporary evidence survives which confirms him as a writer.

So, going back to the jigsaw analogy, we have about 70 pieces that could fit into a picture of a Stratford actor, financier, play-broker, wheeler-dealer, but none that fit into the picture of a playwright.

That means, either he did write the plays/poetry, we just don’t have any evidence, or, someone else wrote them.

And that’s the debate. Into that gulf of un-knowing, flows a massive river of conjecture, theory and conspiracy – brilliant isn’t it!

So, the result appears to be, that people who think the man from Stratford did write the plays, look at the pieces of the jigsaw and try to fit them all into a picture of a playwright, trimming off the edges, bashing pieces that don’t fit too well, hiding the really difficult bits under the carpet, until they accommodate the pieces into something resembling a playwright.

Whilst people who think someone else wrote the plays, look at the pieces and say, no, these pieces don’t belong to the picture of a playwright at all –  William Shakespeare must have been the pen-name of an aristocratic person, unwilling to publish under their own name, we must look for clues about his/her identity somewhere else.

Now, the bit that really confuses me, is this – if you’re an aristocratic would-be playwright, turning out sublime poetry and prose, but unable for reasons of political sensibility or social mores to use your own name, why choose instead, that of a Warwickshire actor with a debatable reputation? Coincidence?really?

So, without – as far as I know yet – a shred of evidence to confirm it – the assumption is, that the man from Stratford put his name to plays which he took/bought/acquired from a shady aristocratic writer, presumably in a relationship that benefited both parties – otherwise how would it have continued?

The plot thickens…

My plan, now that I’m beginning to see the big picture and understand the groundwork, is to re-read Price’s book, listing out my questions to follow-up on next.

I’ve become aware of a lot of the anti-Stratfordian positions so far, but in the interests of balance, I’m going to try out an orthodox biography soon to see which questions that raises.

Do join the debate if you’re interested – you won’t be bored!

In other news…

There was a big surprise in the lane this morning – a huge tree had come down across the road.

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Fortunately not my old oak, and hopefully nobody hurt.

A Quest For Identity…

You’ll have to forgive me, this is probably going to be a rambler – feel free to wander off now, no hard feelings.

Ah so, gluttons for a wordy post – don’t say you weren’t warned…

The thing is this, people have been coming up with words to focus on for the year, declutter seems popular, simplify I’ve seen a few times, you may have your own. I haven’t had a word for 2015, well not until now, but perhaps I might just have stumbled across one – and I’ll tell you straight away, it’s IDENTITY.

This isn’t the result of any ego-centric bid to define myself – it just happens to be a theme that’s cropped up a lot lately. Bear with…

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The first outing was the TV series with Grayson Perry – Who Are You? It’s no secret that he’s a hero figure for me, but even still, watching the programmes where he spent time with various people, delving into their identities and self-perceptions, then producing artworks to reflect his take on each, was a masterpiece – of art certainly, but also in my opinion, of his ability to penetrate through the outer layers and reach inside the character of each sitter.

I knew he was a brilliant artist, but here was also someone able to listen, observe and understand, if not dispassionately, then at least non-judgementally, a disparate group of individuals. It was humane and beautiful.

Just before Christmas I went along to the National Portrait Gallery and saw his artworks for myself. Simply stunning, although the piece I would most like to have brought home, was A Map Of Days – his own vastly engrossing and unconventional self-portrait.

So, I suppose the thread of identity started with Grayson Perry and then lay dormant for a few weeks, waiting for me to pick it up again when the BBC started all the Wolf Hall business.

Although in between was a little strand from Last Tango In Halifax, with Derek Jacobi – let’s just hold that one for a moment and come back to it.

I wasn’t going to watch Wolf Hall. I’d loved reading it so much, I didn’t believe the TV production would live up to what the words had created in my imagination – how wrong I was. I ‘happened‘ to watch the first five minutes of the first episode and that was that – hooked, 100% mesmerised. But watching it brought back thoughts from the time when I read it – how can Hilary Mantel convince us so well that Thomas Cromwell was a sympathetic character, when history, and more importantly Hans Holbein shows us such a different face.

This was precisely the theme taken up in the Culture Show Special: Holbein: eye of the Tudors, with Waldemar Januszczak. In the famous portrait by Holbein of Thomas Cromwell, what do you see? I spent over forty years looking at that image and seeing a hard man, a ruthless man – which you’d have to say, considering what he did, must have been true? And yet, Mantel has convinced my heart that this is not the character of the man, so captivatingly portrayed by Mark Rylance in the TV series. Who is right – what is the truth – where does identity lie? Is there an inner and an outer identity?

Thinking about Cromwell and that portrait made me think about another question of identity. Have you read The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey? It’s the fictional story of Alan Grant, a policeman laid up in hospital, who for the want of something to occupy his mind, investigates the life of Richard III. It starts with him seeing a portrait of the man and being unable to reconcile the moderate, benign features with those of a child murderer.

He proceeds to conduct an investigation from his hospital bed into the crimes of Richard – looking at who else might have murdered the Princes in the Tower – who stood to win and lose. If you haven’t read it – do!

Incidentally, the title of Tey’s book is from a quote by Sir Francis Bacon –

“Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority.”

That’s another thread by the way – we’ll come back to it too.

Where were we – oh yes, Wolf Hall. So, we’re extremely lucky to have a neighbour who brings us the weekend newspaper supplements every week and in the lead up to the airing of Wolf Hall, you’d be hard pressed not to have read something about it, the story, the locations and the actors taking part.

One of the pieces I read, was about Mark Rylance. In the article, it mentioned that Rylance was one of the founding members of The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition – a body set up to formalise the acceptance of reasonable doubt as to the identity of William Shakespeare.

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Now, I am a huge Shakespeare fan (my tag line is a tiny snippet from the Bard). I ‘did‘ him for ‘A’ Level (my undying gratitude Mr Holden) and loved every moment, and I’ve lapped up anything Shakespeare ever since. I’m a member of the RSC, who probably finds live theatre more exciting than almost anything else – so let’s just agree, I love Shakespeare. And therefore, hearing that the man hailed as the greatest stage actor of his generation and the Artistic Director of the Globe Theatre from 1995 to 2006, has doubts about the authorship of the plays, had me intrigued and a little unsettled. At almost exactly the same time, I happened to read in another article, that Derek Jacobi – also a great Shakespearean actor – was involved in The Shakespeare Authorship Coalition too (see I told you we’d come back to him)…

So, my interest was well and truly piqued, thus, I’ve spent a little time this week delving further into the murky world of Shakespearean intrigue. It seems there are people who fervently believe that Shakespeare – the man from Stratford, was absolutely the author. There are others who doubt that he was the author, but don’t know who the real author was, and there are those who believe he wasn’t the author and do know who the real author was.

Terrific!

I love a good whodunnit – or in this case ‘who wrote it’. I feel a quest coming on.

Now I have the chance to be my own Alan Grant and investigate the whole Shakespeare issue from a position of total impartiality, because the truth for me, is that I don’t really mind who wrote the plays and poems, I’m just grateful to live in a world where they exist. In a way, the qualities, the values and the character of the author are his/her identity – a rose by any other name…

I wonder if Grayson Perry, in a reverse of the process he used for Who Are You, could take all those qualities found in the works of Shakespeare, the humanity, the love, the emotions and work back up through the layers, to build us a picture of the outer layer of the author…

Anyway, I’m now looking forward to reading as much as I can about the evidence on all sides.

Today I’ve ordered a couple of books to get me started on my quest, but if I’m lucky this could keep me busy for the foreseeable future! I think the prospect of insanity has been mooted for those getting caught up in this debate, well, I’ll risk it.

Oh yes, and the quote from Francis Bacon? – well, you know don’t you, some people believe Bacon wrote Shakespeare…

I’m well practised in untangling mingled yarns – I’m not sure that this one is ever likely to be unraveled, but nevertheless, it looks like an excellent mess to be mixed up in.

I’m hoping to post about how this quest progresses over the year – anyone interested, do leave a comment – and if you’ve already completed your own Shakespeare quest, I’d love to know what you’ve discovered.

Self-discipline…

When you’re really busy and need to focus all your energies into one project, the thing you don’t want is a major distraction…

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Oops.

When Jenny mentioned The Wake to me last week, I knew it was going to be right up my street. I should really have exerted some self-discipline and resisted it. But there you are, look what turned up in the post this morning.

I now have to be extremely strict with myself. Stitch – read – stitch, stitch, read…

The Year In Books: October…

In which I come over all contemplative…

IMAG7609I seem to have given up on fiction for a while. Looking over the most recent reads, it’s all been factual.

I thoroughly enjoyed Marc Morris’s The Norman Conquest and was going to go straight on to read his book about castles – rather succinctly titled Castle – except that somewhere in between, I bought a copy of Katherine Swift’s book about her time creating the garden at Morville in Shropshire – The Morville Hours – and found myself immersed in a wonderful way that wouldn’t allow me to put it down until it was finished.

I had intended to read it when it was first published – am I right, was it serialised on radio at the time? But I never got around to it. I used to drive through Morville regularly at one time, before Katherine took over the garden, so I was intrigued to know more.

But this is far more than a gardening book. Oh yes, there is a lot to interest a gardener, but Katherine cleverly arranged her chapters in the form of a medieval Book of Hours, and so, following the turning year, in rhythm with the turning offices of the monastic day, she gives us glimpses of her own life, the history of Morville and people over the ages connected with the area. I was spellbound. I read a review of the book which described its tone as melancholy. I agree, but it felt totally appropriate and I felt sad when I came to the end.

I cheered myself up by going back to Castle. If castles are your thing, this is going to please you, but perhaps not the best reference for your thesis on medieval architecture. My only problem with it though had nothing to do with the content, but with the paper it was printed on. The hardback copy I have uses thick shiny paper – very pretty, but dreadfully difficult to read in bed with the bedside lamp – I had to keep moving the pages around to avoid the reflections (I know, never satisfied some people…). I hadn’t seen the TV series which went with the book, but having finally managed to get Channel 4OD to work, I might seek it out.

It hasn’t been the best summer for history trips for me this year, so reading all these history books has gone some way to sooth a need, but reading The Morville Hours, had renewed an interest in these medieval books – the Books of Hours – each one a magnificent work of art, combined with a story of the men and mostly women who owned them and used them daily. I love that rich mixture, the sense of connection both with the medieval artists who slowly, religiously, wrote and decorated the pages and with the women in whose hands these very pages were held. I suspect that it’s a similar sensation I get from looking at ancient needlework.

So when I was out yesterday on an entirely different mission, and I saw John Harthan’s Books of Hours, I couldn’t resist. It is a book for a history junkie to drool over. There are many colour pictures from Books of Hours throughout the middle-ages, accompanied by a description of the work and details of the owners.

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This is just a tiny detail from The Hours of Isabella Stuart, Duchess of Brittany (c. 1417-18). So much crammed into that space – but what I adore, are the little black lines, deliberate, but also free, can’t you just feel your own hand making those marks. There’s much, much more inside – I will have to restrict my time looking at each example or nothing else will get done around here.

And then, all my Christmas’s coming together, I also found the Sue Clifford and Angela King book, England In Particular in the Oxfam bookshop in Berkhamsted. (Thanks Sue for the recommendation – it’s even better than I’d hoped).

This is another book that could easily keep you engrossed for hours. It’s an A-Z of England and its special ways. I like the blurb that says “…offers a way of looking that makes the mundane magical. It will change the way you see the world”. 

So I’m starting October with two gems. Do you believe in serendipity? I certainly think I was extremely lucky to find these – maybe magical? Who knows, it’s something to contemplate…

Changing the subject completely – I’m currently gorging myself on Cox’s apples. My mum craved them when she was expecting me, which is my excuse for eating pounds of them at this time of year. Is it me or are they especially good this autumn?