Thursday, 30 December 2021

Books Read 2021

From 1st January 2021 to yesterday morning  I have read 29 e-books, 46 audio books, and 56 actual physical volumes. That seems huge but it only works out at 2.5 a week,when theoretically I could consume double that. I am absolutely loving the chance to indulge my reading habit with the excuses of lockdown and other similar reasons for not going out. My stand-out reads are:

Hardbacks: “What Happened” by Hillary Clinton and “Apeirogon” by Colum McCann.

Paper backs – “American Dirt” by Jeanne Cummins and “Last Witnesses” by Svetlana Alexievich

e-books – “Rodham” by Curtis Sittenfeld and “Tom Stoppard” by Hermione Lee. Runner up “Miss Austen” by Gill Hornby

Audio books “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens and “The Silence of the Girls” by Pat Barker. Runner up “Dunstan” by Col Igguldon.

I received a Christmas card from an old friend dating back to 1972, when we met in the first term at University. This friend is now resident in France, and we last met in 2016.  She inscribed her card with "Thank God for books!"

I agree.

Thursday, 23 December 2021

Rules for Surviving Christmas updated (yet AGAIN)

I have written before on my (constantly lengthening) list of rules for surviving Christmas. Since writing that post in 2015, the rule about cutting everything you say by 50% was amended to 80%.  I would now further amend it to 95%.  That is in part attributable to the Covid pandemic, which means that most of what I say would amount to reminding hubby of handwashing, taking lateral flow tests before meeting people, not going into the houses of neighbours with school-age children. I've been criticised extensively for trying to get these messages across, right back to March 2020, and then been proved right a few days later when the advice becomes standard.  This morning, I waved him off as he went to visit his 97-year-old mother (who is in the terminal stages of cancer), and suggested that he should take a lateral flow test before entering her premises.  He hummed, and said he might.  I said not a single word more. There really is no point, he will do what he wants.  His subtext is that she's going to die soon anyway.  My point (made on previous occasions), is that Co-vid is a horrible way to go, and she would have to die in hospital without any visitors.  As things stand she is set to live out her last days in her own very warm and comfortable retirement flat, with carers, and all her pictures and possessions around her, and all her family able to visit at any time. I've said all this.  I can't go on with this battle.

So the new 95% rule, (which may well increase again to 99%)  - this will involve only speaking on factual matters to do with cooking, or to agree with what the other person has just said. Yes, the latter point is technically dishonest, but what has being honest ever done for anyone except gain them a reputation for being tactless.

Avoiding all alcohol remains the most important item of all, even more important than the 95% rule.

I have one new rule for 2021.  

Get up earlier. This morning I got up at 5.30 am, to see my husband off at 7.30 am, having checked his list, checked again that he has his phone, three chargers, his wallet, the bags of stuff he needs to take. Everything went smoothly, I remained calm, observed the 95% rule, and he forgot nothing (as far as I am able to make out).

Tomorrow I plan to get up at 4.30 am in order to drive to daughter's house, hopefully avoiding too much traffic on the M25.

I will be going to bed at 8.30 pm tonight.  This is no hardship.

I started getting up at dawn during the autumn of 2020, in order to see the sunrise. It got to the point, as spring 2021 advanced, and the pandemic showed no sign of lessening, that I was going to bed at 8.30 and rising at 4.30 to see the sun earlier and earlier.

I do see that you have to be old and retired to do this (no pressing evening engagements, no TV programmes demanding to be watched, no household tasks which have to be put off until after the working day is done). You have to be basically self-sufficient in terms of entertainment, (came in very handy during the lockdowns). You have to be able to survive on six hours sleep if necessary: (when the small hours tick round, you wake, start worrying, and never go back to sleep).  But all in all I strongly recommend this as a strategy.

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

The Anglo Saxons by Marc Morris


I finished this book yesterday, and have already ordered a copy of "The Norman Conquest", by the same author, since it will pick up the story at the exact moment this book leaves off.

That sounds like unqualified praise, but in fact I found the book quite hard to read, which surprised me. I own the author's "Edward I, A Great and Terrible King", a book I found extremely easy to follow.

My difficulties may have something to do with the very distance of the past in the case of the Anglo-Saxons.  One is used to following history in terms of: 

a) Personalities.  Problem - in this period there are no personalities at all.  Even the great King Alfred fails to impress as a person.  (The story of the cakes is fiction, apparently).

b) Castles, churches, stately homes.  Problem - as the author points out, almost no buildings from this period have survived.  The Saxon churches in Northamptonshire, at Brixworth and Earls Barton, are notable exceptions, shown in the colour photograph sections. The Normans introduced the Castle system. Stately homes?  Not a trace, although the author points out that the mead hall as depicted in "Beowulf" is the nearest we get to a picture of actual living conditions in the lord's hall.

c) Family trees and successions, marriages, identifiable descents and interlinking of families. Problem - there is so little on record. Only one family tree is shown in the book, (it is spread over two pages but is one tree).  It starts with King Egbert - (who was he?) reigned 802 to 839, and ends with the line linking Edward the Confessor (ruled 1042 to 1066) and his brother-in-law Harold who was killed at the Battle of Hastings. Before 802, the individual are difficult to distinguish. Churchmen, who kept written records, are clearer characters in these early chapters.

d) Maps.  Ah, now here we are on to something.  The maps in this book are an invaluable guide to the period covered by the narrative.  Each chapter starts with a map, which depicts the towns, the regions, and the rivers which are significant in that chapter.  I found the maps a more helpful indication of what was going on than anything else. My only criticism is that the maps are undated.  Each would have benefited, in my opinion, from a title, giving the approximate period covered.

I do have some criticisms of the book.

1) I would not recommend anyone read this book on a Kindle.  The colour pictures and the maps are clear in hardback, but even in this, the top-quality of all formats, the black and white photographs inserted in the text are very unclear, being too dark, and in some cases totally useless as a portrayal of anything. 

2)Another problem is the family tree.  In my experience with Kindle, a family tree has to be magnified each time it is consulted. In this case, the diagram needs to be consulted almost constantly once one gets past King Alfred.  There are just far too many people called Aethelwold, Aethelbald, Aethelberht, Aethelred, Aethelweard, Aelfweard, Aethelflaed, Aelfgifu, and Aethelstan. There is really nothing to distinguish them, because their birthdates are not recorded and there are no personalities to peg them. 

3) There is no list of personae.  An alphabetical list of all those names, with at least an approximation of the years in which they were active, would have helped enormously as the author rips through the 600 years covered in the book. It became quite exhausting trying to identify them, as a lay person. For a trained historian, of course, it would be easy because there is nothing so easy and satisfying as reading a newly published version of things you already know.

4) Another criticism, is the author's apparent lack of interest in female characters in the story.

I already knew that Aethelflaed, daughter of King Alfred, was titled "The Lady of the Mercians" and famously constructed fortified towns ("burghs")around Western Mercia, but had I not known this, I would have been none the wiser after reading the very brief reference to her in this book.  I was disappointed that she was dismissed so briefly, and not even the specific burghs she constructed were named.  A new statue of her was recently unveiled, to commemorate the anniversary of her death in 918.  There was already a very impressive statue in Tamworth, to commemorate her achievements. 

St Hild of Whitby does get a mention, but only in the context of the epic ecclesiastical row about when Easter should be celebrated.

No mention at all of these other significant ladies- Coenburga (Quenburga) (died c.735). She co-founded a double monastery at Winburnan (Wimborne, Dorset) with her sister Cuthburga.

The name echoes that of Kyneburgha (a hundred years earlier, mid 7th century), who likewise founded a monastery with her sister, Kyneswitha. These women were something, before the days of feminism, but utterly absent from the book.

The book succeeds as a political history, showing how the warring factions of the early tribes fresh off their boats from across the North Sea, were forced, by centuries of constant battles and punishments, into the shape of one kingdom, the England we know today.

In other ways it is a disappointment.

Hasn't stopped me, though, in my quest to learn more, hence I've ordered "The Norman Conquest".

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Old English Wisdom


 Courtesy of "Clerk of Oxford" :

Number 19

Ne deah eall soþ asæd ne eall sar ætwiten.

It does no good to tell all truths or blame all wrongs.

I have been leaning very heavily on this Old English Wisdom in the last two months. First there was a cataclysmic row with my husband.  The easement of lockdown has certainly released devils into the air which were suppressed during the months of literal containment.  I overheard him telling his mother on the phone (she is very deaf, so he was shouting), that I was a nightmare and he finds it expedient to tell lies (I already knew this), by saying the opposite of what he means in order to get his own way, because in his view, I just say no to be awkward.   There were other things.  I initially told hub that I had heard everything, and was really upset, but I have not brought this up again, and have not mentioned any of it to mother-in-law. 

Secondly, his mother (nearly 97) came to stay for a week.  I said nothing untoward for the whole week, despite some provocation.  We hosted two Christmas-size family gatherings during the ten day period of her stay. As I have mentioned before, Hub's determination to outdo himself in terms of all-day fancy cooking marathons can be quite taxing.   The washing-up went on for hours.

Sister-in-law (70), caused problems by eating lunch elsewhere while we were waiting for her and her partner to arrive for the big meal.  They finally arrived two and a half hours late.  I had  removed their places from the table, but they sat down anyway at the empty places, looking expectant, and ate their full portions.  I am particularly pleased that I forced a cheerful smile and said it was no problem.

On the final day, after this big meal, I tripped over the cable for my laptop, and sprained my foot badly.  It still hurts, two and a half weeks later.  I did not blame the fact that I was tired and distracted, as I had been on my feet nearly all day laying tables, helping serve, washing up.  I blamed no-body, but sat down with my foot elevated listening to the guests, (notably sister-in-law) prowling about the premises wondering aloud whether there would be any further food offerings, and  mentioning tea and toast (it was about 7 pm by this time).

I remained seated, and when these ruminations became louder and more insistent, I announced that I had hurt my foot and was retiring to bed to rest it in an elevated position.  In bed is literally the only place where I can guarantee rest.  I heard hubby sorting out the tea and toast, and everyone finally left about 8.30 pm.

I have not mentioned any of this since to hubby or any family member, merely coasted on regardless.  I would have liked to be thanked, by hubby for being so welcoming to his mother (we had to install a stair-gate to stop her falling down the stairs, and a commode for the guest room). 

I would have liked to have my patience and hard work acknowledged (the laundry for all the guests took three days in all).  I would have liked just some recognition that this enterprise took a week to prepare for.  Lockdown had meant that no-one had been in the house for eighteen months, and heaps of books, papers, and lockdown hoarding -(piles of dry goods, toilet rolls and detergents) - had to be cleared away in advance. This was one of the reasons I tripped, because re-arranging the furniture around my desk is needed to accommodate the nine people round the dining room table. The picture above shows some of the results of my tidying efforts.  Following the ten day visit, it took another half week to clear away and put the house back to how it is normally (obviously not  the piles of books and papers).  

However I have said nothing, and cast no blame.  Due to painful foot, I have not been able to seek my usual solace out walking in the neighbouring fields, which is normally my happy place.

However, I think it was definitely all worth it,  as both Mother-in-law and elder daughter said that that it was like staying in a hotel.  Elder daughter's husband (quite a picky eater), said on eating hub's fruit flambe pudding, that hub had certainly surpassed himself there. 

It remains to be seen whether I can maintain this Anglo-Saxon silence through the forthcoming repetition  of all the above at Christmas, and on into next year.