Monday, 26 December 2016

And it's only Boxing Day Morning

I've already upset my younger daughter's partner,  my older daughter, my husband, and my brother.  Also I snapped at my sister-in-law.  Last year and the year before, my strategy of keeping off the alcohol worked very well.  This year even that is not enough.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Poem by Edward Thomas, "The Owl"

The warmth of the hearth - and anxiety for those who are outside at night in winter ....

Beautifully summed up in this poem, by Edward Thomas (1878 - 1917) 

The Owl

DOWNHILL I came, hungry, and yet not starved,
Cold, yet had heat within me that was proof
Against the north wind; tired, yet so that rest
Had seemed the sweetest thing under a roof.

Then at the inn I had food, fire, and rest,
Knowing how hungry, cold, and tired was I.
All of the night was quite barred out except
An owl's cry, a most melancholy cry.

Shaken out long and clear upon the hill
No merry note, nor cause of merriment,
But one telling me plain what I escaped
And others could not, that night, as in I went.

And salted was my food, and my repose,
Salted and sobered too, by the bird's voice
Speaking for all who lay under the stars,
Soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice

Thursday, 8 December 2016

100 Good Things About Growing Old - Part Two - One Has Learned more about How to Handle Relationships

Husband - will be dealt with in a separate post

 Other relationships -  Good Things Which I Have Realised at Last, but only because of the passing of years   .....  Items 11 -20

11. It's not necessary to like my sister-in-law, merely to be polite and hide my true thoughts.

12. It's not necessary to clean the entire house to the point of exhaustion immediately prior to a visit from my mother-in-law.

13.  It's not necessary to like my mother-in-law, merely to be polite and hide my true thoughts.

14.  Although, actually, I have found, at this late stage, that I do in fact like my mother-in-law.  Or at least I respect her for her longevity, survival instincts, and exceptionally positive attitude to enjoying life. 

15. In fact I can learn from my mother-in-law on the subject of not apologising for my existence and actively seeking to enjoy life.

 With regard to the partners of adult children,

who may well become sons-in-law in the medium term, a set of different rules apply.  By this time, it is a good thing to have realised with age some things that caused problems in earlier days.

16.  I've learned - Never, ever criticise.  Anything.  Even when it is implicitly invited - eg "Mum, those curtains you've just bought are SO MUCH NICER than the ones we've just bought."

16.  I've learned - Never utter divisive comments about one sibling to another.

17. I've learned - Never offer any opinion at all on the subject of either the partner, his parents, siblings or family.

18.  Exactly as above in (17), but further, never offer such opinions to anyone, even my best friend, and only in very limited circumstances to my husband.  Because it becomes a habit, and one may say it in the wrong place or to the wrong person, or it may be repeated to the wrong person.

19.  I've learned  - never offer any opinion on the subject of money, how to handle it, or inter-personal relationships and money.

20.  I've invented a strategy - "The Clothes-Peg Rule". 
The clothes-peg rule came to me in an adult education class, when I realised that I normally said far too much, and that this was not a good thing.  In order to keep this habit under control, I must take a clothes-peg with me to class, and at awkward moments, grasp hold of it inside my pocket, and imagine it firmly clamping my top and bottom lips together. 

The clothes-peg rule also comes in handy in group social situations.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

100 Good Things About Growing Old (Part 1) Winter Aspects.

It's a marker.  After years of saying, "forty is the new thirty", and then "fifty is the new thirty", followed by "sixty is the new forty", one can no longer put it off any longer - the realisation that one is actually old.  It's the physical signs that one can't ignore - the knees which hurt, the not being able to read anything at all without a pair of reading glasses, the having to ask people to repeat what they just said. 

However, there are many upsides.   After the introversion, the looking back at history and the prevailing gloom of my thinking since June 24th, I have turned a corner.  I am now going to focus on the positive.

One hundred good things about growing old - I'm starting today with seasonal aspects.
  1. Turning the heating up to 21.5 degrees no longer seems like an indulgence, but a necessity.
  2. I don't feel guilty about writing very little (or nothing) in Christmas cards to people I seldom see.
  3. I don't feel guilty about letting people "slip off the list" of Christmas cards if we haven't met for more than 30 years.
  4. I don't feel aggrieved if a sick child (now aged 29) keeps me occupied for a week.  Instead I feel grateful that she's under my roof and control, not out walking their dog or going to "gigs" whilst suffering from flu.
  5. I don't feel sad and heartbroken when said child leaves my premises after staying a week.  Instead I feel grateful to have my own time and sofa and footstool back.
  6. I take it as a badge of honour, instead of an insult, when said child tells me that the old "weird" couple on Gogglebox are the ones her dad and I have most in common with.
  7. It's easy to walk straight past the dresses, handbags and shoes in John Lewis without a second glance.
  8. Instead of drinking up that glass of wine, and then having another, the first thing I do is mentally step back, think, "What will I feel like in ten minutes' time, and what might I say which will cause terrible upset?" and refuse.
  9. Instead of worrying about what people will think of me if I decline an invitation I really dread, I simply apologise in simple terms and move on.
  10. On meeting people I've known for years while out doing Christmas shopping, I shut up after "How are you?" instead of going on to ask about everything they've done in the twenty or so years since I last spoke to them.
More soon.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

"The Tyranny of the Majority"

The phrase "The Tyranny of the Majority"  has a respectable pedigree, prior to the use of it last week by John Major.  Some of the problems outlined in the Wikipedia article (linked) include the election of a demagogue, and the abandonment of rationality.  Both seem particularly relevant this autumn.

In 1922, F Scott Fitzgerald wrote to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, "I think when I read Upton Sinclair's The Brass Check  I made my final decision about America - that freedom has produced the greatest tyranny under the sun.  I'm still a socialist, but sometimes I dread that things will grow worse and worse the more the people nominally rule. "

Significantly, the book to which he referred concerns the corruptive and corrosive power of the press.

Conceivably, the majority could use its democratically elected power to abolish democracy.  This, in fact, is how Hitler came to power.  Food for thought.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Man Food

Hairy Bikers' Belly Pork 

I usually keep my husband on a low-fat, high-fish content diet.  Occasionally he craves something really rich and fatty.  My friends tell me that their husbands are much the same, always ordering something with a huge plate of chips when they go out for a meal.  This week my husband was in craving mode, and plaintively asked if we could have belly pork. 

"Only if you cook it," I replied. 

So I thought I would have a day off cooking, and asked my husband would he cook the Sunday lunch on Saturday afternoon while I was out.  He said yes. 

I returned to the house at 5pm to a kitchen full of black, acrid fumes, and the smoke alarm going off. 

"Where's the smoke alarm?" he wailed in helpless man mode.  I ignored him, after all, he fitted it.

Then he opened the oven door, and sparks of fat burst out, catching into little flames.  I sighed.

Two hours later, after he had covered every work surface with a layer of greasy fat, consumed a fair quantity of alcohol, and created a pool of liquid grease in the floor of the oven, we sat down to eat.

The roast was delicious, but in my opinion, not worth all the effort.  It took me an hour to clean up the kitchen (excluding the washing up, which we did together).  After that we went to watch our recording of Strictly, and left the oven until the next morning.  It needed two cleans, so that was another morning's work.  So much for a bit of time off from cooking.

And never believe that the preparation time is 30 minutes and the cooking time 2 hours. 

Monday, 29 August 2016



by Jorge Ortega    (courtesy of Jorge), first published on the University of Iowa MOOC, "Whitman's Civil War, Writing and Imaging Loss, Death and Disaster"!/users/jorge_ortega_6                                         

Books are like dear friends,
holding your hand
at the worst of times,
when we are alone,
telling us
"The pain you have is nothing
to what we have seen".

Sunday, 26 June 2016

John Donne - a view on the referendum.

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
John Donne, Meditation XVII
English clergyman & poet (1572 - 1631)

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Francis Bacon as Shakespeare

So, after dismissing the Earl of Oxford as a contender, moving on to Francis Bacon:

Book by Ross Jackson 

This book was written to accompany a novel purporting to depict the career of another Shakespearean candidate, Francis Bacon.  The introduction states that it may be read independently.  Not really - I was lost as to the details of what was in the novel, but I persevered.

Francis Bacon was, according to this theory,  the son of Queen Elizabeth I, by Robert Dudley, her lifelong love and court favourite.  (To re-cap, The Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere, is portrayed by  adherents as both the son, AND the lover, of Queen Elizabeth). 

In this version, Elizabeth and Dudley were secretly married in 1561. Thus Bacon was not an illegitimate son.  He was the heir to the throne, and one of two, the other being Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.  The latter was factually executed on the Queen's orders very near the end of her reign. Why would she kill her own son?  As it happens, she is on record as stating that the children of the monarch seek to kill their regal parent, in order to accede.  There is no explanation as to why Bacon was neither acknowledged or executed.

One quoted contemporary source alleges that Dudley actually fathered five children on the Queen "and she never goes on progress but to be delivered...."    The thought of all that secret sex with "The Gypsy" is quite exhilarating.  However, there is no mention of the other three offspring in this book.

Francis, according to this theory, was brought up as a "ward" in the family of the Queen's second-most important official, Sir Nicholas Bacon.  He became a lawyer and polymath. This is a major argument for the attribution of Shakespeare's plays which display wide learning and detailed knowledge of the law.  Another plank in the argument is that Francis wrote a prose history of the life of Henry VII.  This is seen as filling the gap left by Shakespeare, who wrote a continuous sequence of history plays starting with Richard II and ending with Henry VIII.  Continuous, except for the omission of Henry VII.  The fact that Bacon wrote this in prose, not as a drama, is not addressed.

Bacon's notebooks are leaned on heavily as direct evidence of the fact that Bacon wrote Shakespeare's plays, and comparisons are quoted extensively.   Bacon's editor, however, in this book gives a detailed explanation of the common quotations.  Bacon was an exponent of the "Notebook Culture" of the time, and listed over 1,600 items as a mental exercise.  Of these, many were already common, including "255 from Erasmus, 110 from Virgil, 107 from the Bible, 46 from Ovid, a huge collection (443) of proverbs in Latin, French, Spanish, and Italian ...."   So they could equally well have been drawn upon by a different man, a playwright.

Most of the rest of the book draws on sources found here, where conspiracy theorists can have a field day.

As with the Earl of Oxford's case, however, one only has to go to the writings to destroy all the falsely alluring half-truths and allusions spread throughout this website  and the book pictured above.

Bacon's prose covers many different subjects and sprinkles aphorisms and nuggets of wisdom throughout his essays - such as the following:

 "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested."  (From the essay, "Of Studies").

Quite a nice metaphor.   However, just to make sure that all is understood, Bacon then immediately repeats the whole in clearer terms:

"That is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but cursorily; and some few to be read wholly and with diligence and attention." 

Shakespeare didn't see any need to explain his metaphors. Even in the character of Polonius, who was the epitome of a plodding old bore and lecturer, the instructions to his son fly:

"Yet here, Laertes? Aboard, aboard, for shame!
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay'd for. There- my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts in thy memory
Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportion'd thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar:
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch'd, unfledg'd comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in,
Bear't that th' opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are most select and generous, chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all- to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell. My blessing season this in thee."

Bacon's essay advising young men on how to profit from travel, states that it is most important to seek "acquaintance with the secretaries and employed men of ambassadors, for in so travelling in one country he shall suck the experience of many."

Bacon's essay "Of Honour and Reputation" begins thus:
"The winning of Honour is but the revealing of a man's virtue and worth without disadvantage."

Shakespeare says on the subject:

"Can honour set to a leg? no: or
an arm? no: or take away the grief of a wound? no.
Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? no. What is
honour? a word. What is in that word honour? what
is that honour? air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it?
he that died o' Wednesday. Doth he feel it? no.
Doth he hear it? no. 'Tis insensible, then. Yea,
to the dead. But will it not live with the living?
no. Why? detraction will not suffer it. Therefore
I'll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon: and so
ends my catechism." 

It's witty, ironic, subversive, and employs multiple metaphors.  This is the fat rogue Falstaff talking, of course, so you have to take it as tongue in cheek, but there is a truth under the jovial surface.  Falstaff, the drunken coward, survives the battle-field to die in bed. 

Harry Hotspur, on the other hand, declares:

"By heaven, methinks it were an easy leap,
To pluck bright honour from the pale-faced moon,
Or dive into the bottom of the deep,
Where fathom-line could never touch the ground,
And pluck up drowned honour by the locks .... "

Hotspur's language, more noble, more high-flown, puts active honour high in his priorities, and imagines himself doing fine deeds.  This character dies in battle.

So, to take two random Bacon essays and look into the language, and compare with that of Shakespeare, whoever he was, gives a clear contrast. 

Fascinating though it is, to follow these meticulously worked out conspiracy theories, I am totally unconvinced.


Monday, 11 April 2016

Shaxberd - who was he?

Shaxberd - from the Office of the Master of the Revels, 1605
Unfortunately my pictures are very weak.  I realise that some blogs win awards on the strength of their superb photographs, and I do wish I could be better at it;  my only defence is that usually I am so excited about what I am seeing that my hand shakes. 

Here is part of the displayed copy of the exhibition I referred to in my previous post.

Revels Office records 1604 to 1605

The listing in the margin on the right-hand page gives the names of the players. The King's Players, as Shakespeare's company was called, after their patron King James VI and I, from his accession in 1603, were very active.  Off the page (apologies), appear the names of the plays, the dates and the authors.

"Shakespeare," in the spelling variation "Shaxberd", (see top picture), is shown as the author of plays we now recognize to be his.  Documentary evidence, you might think, from contemporary sources.

Nevertheless, a substantial number of people, including Sigmund Freud and Mark Rylance, (described here by the Guardian as a bit of a fruit loop), believe that Shakespeare could not have been the author of these plays.  Someone else was, and used the name "Shakespeare" as a front.  The glover's son from Stratford-upon-Avon could not possibly have had the breadth of knowledge, nor the poetic, classical, and legal education to write the plays and the poems attributed to William Shakespeare.

Well, now that Richard III has been exhumed,  revealed to have suffered from scoliosis, (which some scholars insisted on for centuries, while others denied it), and laid to rest in peace, it was time for me to find a new conspiracy theory.

Some believe that Shakespeare was Marlowe.

Others, that he was the Earl of Oxford, and the film "Anonymous" takes this story to the limit, including the theory that Elizabeth I was actually Oxford/Shakespeare's mother.

Some champion Francis Bacon, and the latest theory I have come across is that Shakespeare was a woman

The thing is, that when I read the theories, much of it sounds quite plausible.  I'm currently reading Shakespeare's Lost Kingdom on my Kindle, and did not feel the urge to shout out "This is complete rubbish" until some way in.  I did, though.

Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford,  leading man of "Lost Kingdom", sounds like a reasonably viable candidate for authorship, until you pick up an actual piece of verse written by the Earl.

See below, from:  The Penguin Book of Elizabethan Verse:

"The Lively Lark Stretched Forth Her Wing" (first and second stanzas)

The lively lark stretched forth her wing,
The messenger of morning bright,
And with her cheerful voice did sing
The day's approach, discharging night
When that Aurora, blushing red,
Descried the guilt of Thetis' bed,

I went abroad to take the air,
And in the meads I met a knight
Clad in carnation colour fair:
I did salute this gentle wight,
Of him I did his name enquire,
He sighed, and said it was Desire."

Here, by comparison is part of one of Shakespeare's sonnets:

"Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy"

Or this, from "Romeo and Juliet"

"But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou her maid art far more fair than she"

So, I could not be convinced.  Enjoyable though it is to read the long lists of Shakespearean characters who are "modelled" on Queen Elizabeth I and her courtiers.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Shakespeare 400

As a card-carrying literature enthusiast, I cannot let the month of April pass without writing a post about William Shakespeare.

2014 celebrated the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare's birth, April 1564. Now we approach the 400th anniversary of his death,  April 1616.

Already I have binged on Shakespeare, having been privileged to watch the Cycle of Kings presented at the Barbican before it left for a world-wide tour.  I've seen Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale at the indoor Globe, otherwise known as the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.  I've attended a Shakespeare exhibition at Somerset House.  This presents an opportunity to see Shakespeare's own signature as it appears in his actual will, deposited in the National Archives. This is not a facsimile, but the original, albeit under a glass case,  the real thing. 

The British Library has an exhibition opening soon, which I hope to visit, but even if I can't, the online site is so very informative and fascinating, so generous in its sharing of digital texts, that it alone is worth spending much time on, and it is all free.

Other online portals abound.  The Royal Society of Literature has an audio recording of ten modern poets, who each choose one of Shakespeare's sonnets, and then read one of their own poems, inspired by the sonnet.

Here is a very special corner of the internet.  A manuscript copy of a play called "Sir Thomas More".  It's special because, it is claimed,  this is the only surviving example of a script of any play in Shakespeare's handwriting.  That alone is worthy of attention, but other things call out across the centuries.  The play was censured, because it contains a scene of rioting.  Any challenge to authority was seen as treason in late Elizabethan England.  It was a group effort, various playwrights being credited, and it is thought that Shakespeare was brought in to write scenes that would make it more acceptable to the censor.   

The scene highlighted is about the plight of refugees - the citizens of London are angry and rioting because they think that the incoming migrants are taking their jobs and their homes. The Londoners want them to be sent back home.  The character of Thomas More, as depicted here, tells these hard-hearted citizens to imagine how they would feel, if they were exiled to a foreign land, and treated in like manner by the inhabitants. It's strong, stirring stuff.

I found it difficult to understand the printed extract, the language and sentence construction are archaic.  However, help is at hand.

Sir Ian McKellen reads the whole speech here.  Awesome, majestic, wonderful. I listened to it twice.  It's so clear, so emotional.  How wonderful is the internet!

Monday, 21 March 2016

Has Anyone Else Had to Give up Yoga due to OCD?

It's the walking barefoot on a floor that is used by the public in their outdoor shoes ...

And putting my naked head down on a mat that has been rolled and unrolled on this same public floor .....

And having to wash outer layer of clothing each week after one use lying on this same mat ....

And having to take off some of my copious layers of clothing, (this would not be such a problem in summer, of course).....

Sunday, 14 February 2016

John Dee at the Royal College of Physicians

The Private Library of John Dee

A free exhibition!  Here is where I went on Saturday.  The exhibition runs until 29th July.

First, a word or two about the venue. It's at the Royal College of Physicians' building, opposite Regents' Park.  A 1960's concrete grey, designed by Sir Denys Lasdun (who also designed the National Theatre, South Bank).  Most would say it's ugly, and out of place among its tall, creamy Regency neighbours.  However it is now Grade I listed. 

The College as an institution was founded in 1518 by Henry VIII, in the days of his early, youthful idealism, before he started beheading people and generally behaving like a tyrant.  It has its own coat of arms, and was originally in a different building, probably much more attractive.  This is the fifth building the College has used as its HQ.

Free tours of the Medicinal Garden take place on Wednesdays.  This exhibition is also open free from Mondays to Fridays, 9-5.  The Saturday openings are by appointment, with a lecture tour.

The College owns more than 100 volumes that were stolen from John Dee when he went abroad in 1583, leaving his house and library in the care of his brother-in-law.  This was devastating to Dee, and although he recovered some of the books, many remained lost.  His library had, at its height, contained over 3,000 volumes.

The books in the exhibition eventually passed into the hands of the College by donation from the family of the Marquis of Dorchester, after the latter's death in 1680.

The exhibition has also sourced artefacts associated with Dee from the British Museum and the Science Museum.

Dee was a multi-faceted mind, a genius who pioneered early mathematics, navigation, and astrology.  He is most famous for being a "magician", who spent much of his life in search of the "Philosopher's Stone" which would turn base metal into gold.

Favoured by Queen Elizabeth, to whom he acted as court astrologer, he died in poverty during the reign of her successor, James I.  James I was noted for hostility towards "magic", having written a book attacking witchcraft, and introduced statutes demonising "witches".                       

Books were stored with the pages facing outwards
The exhibition curator, Katie Birkwood, gave excellent and comprehensive talk, and answered many detailed questions afterwards.

This was a most exciting opportunity to connect with the past.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Shakespeare: Cycle of Kings

Richard II
A feast for the eyes, the ears, the emotions and the memory.
Twelve hours of drama in all, and only once did a mobile phone ring.  No-one rustled sweet papers or got up to go to the toilet during a scene.  A respectful audience indeed.

In the first play, David Tennant played Richard II. Pictures from the production are subject to copyright, so, a taster from the past.
Here's a little excerpt of Richard Burton giving one of the most famous speeches from this play.

Much as I have always admired Burton's statuesque voice, I think David Tennant did it better. He played it much younger.  Indeed this king was only 32 when he was deposed and murdered.  Tennant has a young voice, sounds contemporary.  He made it seem like he was not declaiming some famous lines, but just chatting informally with his immediate circle, so that the build-up to the climax was all the more impressive:

"I live with bread, like you, feel want,
Taste grief, need friends; subjected thus,
How can you say to me I am a king?"

The audience was spell-bound, and there was absolute silence in the auditorium, which was sold out.  Most of the seats were on a block-booking, so the same people came to all four plays, like me, and I can vouch for the fact that many had coughs, which they indulged plentifully in the noisier Henry plays.  For Tennant, they kept a lid on their coughs.

I am so happy that I was able to attend this once-in-a-lifetime event. It became addictive, I wanted to carry on and on throughout the Shakespearean catalogue.

By the end of the fourth play, Henry V, the audience was so totally engaged, there was almost a pantomime atmosphere.  Actors spoke to the audience, asking for translations of French words, and people shouted back.  There was a lot of laughter.  I began to imagine that we were all Elizabethans, rowdy, interested, but not po-faced or self-important, enjoying the rough-and-tumble as well as the patriotic history.

A fabulous experience. 

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Thomas More, family portraits, and The Princes in the Tower

Thomas More and his family, as represented in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.  It's a miniature, isn't it wonderful?

Here it is again, (scroll down to item 3 on the page). With it on this page you can see the sketch, item 2, by Holbein, on which it is based, and a related picture, item 1, which you can see better in my next link.  This version is held at Nostell Priory in Yorkshire (National Trust).

And here is another related picture in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

First off, isn't it wonderful that
(a) these pictures have been handed down through the centuries, and not destroyed, by ignorance, malice or neglect.
(b) public-spirited people, into whose hands they came, bequeathed them to the nation - both the galleries acknowledge the name of the donor. 
(c) they are available for us to look at in public galleries and at the National Trust.
(d) they are available for us to look at online.

Next, all the pictures are linked, by a fascinating conspiracy theory. This was originally aired by one Jack Leslau, (sadly, now deceased).  It has regained currency as a consequence of the revival of interest in Richard III, after the discovery and conclusive proof of identity of his skeleton, followed by his stately reburial in March last year.

Of course, interest in Richard III has never gone away, largely due to the many mysteries surrounding his brief reign.  The greatest is the mystery of what happened to the Princes in the Tower.

It would test your patience to read the full conspiracy theory here; if you wish, you can follow the link to Jack's own lengthy exposition.  To sum up in a sentence, Jack believes that the Princes were kept safe in the home of Thomas More, and that the paintings offer clues to the discerning that prove this to be the case.

It's easy to get confused, but on this wonderful free site, the BBC, no less, shows you both the Lockey paintings right next to each other so that you can see the differences.

In essence, the second of them includes later generations of the More family, who could not all have been alive at the same time.  It seems to be meant as a sort of family tree seen from the perspective of the 1590's.  The first of the two, the painting Jack Leslau uses for his argument, only shows the members of the family as they would have been around the time Holbein made his sketch, ie about 1527. In his view, the young man standing holding a scroll on the far right is Richard, Duke of York, who disappeared aged 10 in 1483.

The young man is identified in the painting as John Harris, secretary to Thomas More.  Leslau, however, believes that he is meant to represent John Clement, who married More's adopted daughter, Margaret Giggs, (the lady standing on the far left of the Nostell portrait) and was hence a member of the family.  Although actually, says Leslau, he really wasn't John Clement at all, but Richard Plantagenet.  So three layers of ambiguity.  What is certain is that he doesn't appear in Holbein's original sketch.  Can't argue with that.  So there is a mystery there, although it may not be what is suggested.

It's also possible to pursue the link between Sir Thomas More and John Clement by looking at the first page of More's famous book, "Utopia".  The first edition, published in Latin in 1518, has a woodcut of Thomas More, his friend Peter Gillis, the fictional character Hythloday, and John Clement on the title page. This can be seen here .

On the left is a picture of John Clement, indicated "Io Clemens".  It's interesting to compare this image with that in the Holbein picture.

It's all a great testimony to the value of history, of documents and art, and permanence, and display.  And the power of the imagination, to draw out links from tenuous observations, and draw conclusions.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

The Aftermath

So, it's over at last.  We've taken down the tree, put the decorations back in the loft, and emptied the chip pan.

We only had, what was it, three arguments during this morning's procedures.  And we've agreed on proposals for re-decorating upstairs in the coming months.  As you can see below, this bedroom, decorated in primary colours to our younger daughter's specification when she was eight (she's now 28) needs to be first on the list.

After they'd gone

I've cleaned the house three times, changed the beds, and we have hosted four large, festive meals totalling 33 people.

There was one major incident when our younger daughter told our elder that she "Hates Mum", provoking elder to give back her present and declare that she did not want to have anything more to do with her sister.  I think we've managed to overcome this.

I got through hosting the New Year's Eve dinner party for eight by devoting a whole day to skivvying, helping with all preparations (hub did the cooking), and by not drinking any alcohol at all.  You will see why this was necessary when I tell you that his menu plan included the following:

Two starters, for one of which he insisted on making his own mayonnaise from raw eggs.  For the other he made vegetable stock by boiling a saucepan full of fresh veg which then had to be thrown out.  (Stock cubes and mayo from a jar are anathema).

Three puddings, nothing simple like fruit salad.  Apricot frangipane tart (he made his own pastry and his own frangipane, you could just grate marzipan).  Cheesecake, (again, he made his own sponge base, you could use mashed up biscuit crumbs in butter).  And Delia's ginger sponge puddings, which involve three steps, make the sponge, grill it, and cover it with a creamy ginger sauce.

The main course I have left until last, as reading it might cause a loss of will to live. 
Pea puree (with fresh mint). Asparagus.  Lemon sauce (made by melting butter and zesting fresh lemons).  And the centrepiece - salmon fishcakes.

For this, you have to peel, boil and mash potatoes,  and bake the salmon in an aromatic bath in the oven.  Then you flake the salmon and mix with shallots and a few other flavourings.  Form into balls, dip them in raw egg, then breadcrumbs (home-made, naturally), and finally fry in a deep-fat fryer.
I spotted hubby hovering over the supposedly automatic fryer with the basket in one hand and a jam thermometer in the other, constantly monitoring their progress.

So, an eight-stage process, which ended this morning with us throwing out all the oil from the chip pan (after two arguments provoked by the difficulties), and me saying, with deep feeling, "I really, really hope you never make that dish again."

Chip Pan Dismantled in Disarray, a Defective Robot.

In his book, Gary Rhodes describes his recipe with the words, "This is simple to make."

Fortunately the neighbours seemed to really enjoy the party.  They blew whistles, balloons and pea-shooters with abandon, helped by plenty of wine.  The meal ended with indoor fireworks.

Hub had gone to the office earlier to fetch a fire extinguisher, but it was not needed.   Thank goodness.  Now we can relax.