Out Now!

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Snakes and Ladders: The story of three Beardies.

One of the highlights of our summer was visiting Laycock Abbey, known to some as where some interior scenes from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets were filmed,  as well as Harry Potter and the Halfblood Prince.

Its history is less interesting or more interesting depending on viewpoint. It was founded in Snail’s Meadow by Lady Ela, the Countess of Salisbury in 1229. The foundation stone was laid in 1232, and she retired there in 1238 some years after her husband died

The nuns and their servants prospered throughout the Middle Ages but the Abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII who sold it to Sir William Sharington for £783.

Like the good Protestant he was. he knocked down the adjoining chapel but retained the cloisters (Luckily for Warner Bros) and built above and around them.

William Sharington exemplifies the ruthless, almost manic lust for property and power that characterized the Tudor period.  Connections and land were paramount. Religion too was important, though it also proved a useful cover.

Through his brother-in-law he became a friend of Thomas Seymour, the less famous brother of Jane Seymour who made the family fortunes by marrying the king. On the back of the Seymours Sharington’s rise was rapid and his acquisition of land began. 

Apart from Laycock Abbey he owned fourteen manors in Wiltshire and more manors in Somerset, Dorset and Gloucestershire. He became the MP for Heytesbury and was knighted in 1547.

You might have thought that would be enough for him but like many rich men, he thought himself poor. He dabbled in trade, owning several ships trading from Bristol. He bought and sold sheep, and accrued even more wealth as an active moneylender.

One imagines his joy when he became ‘under-treasurer’ of the Bristol Castle mint – the only mint outside of London. All that silver and gold!

It led to his downfall, or rather his greed did. He debased the king’s coin by making it too light, saving the excess silver and gold for himself: fraud – and at the expense of the King.
Fearing discovery he sought the protection of his old chum Thomas Seymour. 

This was understandable but a profound mistake. A contemporary described Seymour as: "hardy, wise and liberal ... fierce in courage, courtly in fashion, in personage stately, in voice magnificent, but somewhat empty of matter.” Seymour proved the truth of it when he embroiled William Sharington in treason.

Eward VI, too young to rule on his own, governed through his regent the Duke of Somerset – Edward Seymour and Thomas’ brother.  Thomas Seymour was riven with jealousy and planned to seize power by capturing the king for himself. Sharington's part  was to finance an armed uprising. The plot was discovered when Seymour was found, gun in hand, outside the king’s bed chamber. He had just shot the royal spaniel for barking too loud.

Thus ended the career of Thomas Seymour, the man who married Henry VIII’s widow, Catherine Parr, but couldn’t keep his hands off the young princess Elizabeth, pinching and tickling her in bed, the man 'somewhat empty of matter.'

Sharington  though immediately squealed, getting off with the lesser charge of debasing the king’s currency. Sharington lost his estates, Seymour his head.

Interestingly Sharington was helped by Bishop Hugh Latimer, who in a sermon to the king called Sharington "an honest gentleman, and one that God loveth... a chosen man of God, and one of his elected."

 This calls into question the great bishops’s honesty or wit. My suspicion is that Latimer was just another  power-player, a wolf in clerical garb. In this instance the boy King was persuaded. In November 1549 Sharington was pardoned, and in exchange for £12,867, recovered all his estates.

Under the next monarch, Edward's Catholic sister Mary, Bishop Hugh Latimer was burned alive. Sharington, one imagines kept his head down low and survived. One beardie climbed the ladder.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Gis a clue, Billy

I go back to Liverpool on special occasions. When my mother was alive I went often, and the highlight of Sunday mornings was the Billy Butler show: ‘Hold Your Plums’. (Don’t ask)

The format was simple, a phone-in quiz. The result was comedy gold as callers struggled to find an answer despite clues that all but gave it it to them.  I’m not too sure I’d recommend listening to these short clips (5mins average) all in one go, but even now I found myself snorting with disbelief and laughter, much like I did all those years ago. They also bring back memories of teaching, where I would be determined to tease out an answer, and the pupil would be equally determined not to give it.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Worlds disappear

I wondered what to write about this week,  or whether I should bother. A new computer, transferring of files, learning to find my way round a spanking new 'Office' as opposed to the familiar but outdated 2003, posed problems, but on the basis of learning by doing, I ploughed on, exploring this and that like a rat in a maze. Blogging though seemed one step too many.

Then something turned up. Some pictures I thought I'd never ever find. Pictures of Blessed Sacrament Primary and Junior school where people started at five and left at fifteen. I went there at five, fell in love at seven and left at fifteen. When I went back many years later it had been knocked down and replaced with something more modern and with a few houses squeezed in where once there'd been a much larger playground. 

I tell you, I spent ages searching the internet trying to find a visual record of where I'd learnt to read and write, and in-between times played. Nothing. Zero. Zilch. On one of my trips to Liverpool I'd even called into the Church Presbytery hoping there might be a photograph or two tucked in a chasuble. The priest was sympathetic. He murmured a blessing. I left empty handed. 

And then yesterday - this. And it is exactly as I remembered, but you have to imagine red and tarnished bricks, slate roofs and hard grey surfaces where, if you fell, you knew about it. 

The school gates where you were deposited or picked up. I've seen more attractive prisons, but we liked it...in the main,

The Girls' Playground. The Boys' Playground was to the left, marked by a wall and a small exit point guarded by a teacher. Sometimes a nun.

Prefab classrooms at the other end of this playground. To the left, kids who had failed the 11+ were taught. The classroom to the right housed those preparing for the 11+ --- Grammar school, new bikes, leather satchels, and worldly success.

The Boys' Playground

A photo opportunity

And another photo opportunity: A First Communion.

Worlds disappear 

Like old computers

Friday, 14 August 2015

Housemaid's Knee would be better than that

I have one more thing to remember now. 
First thing I think of before leaping from bed. I rub them, muttering fond endearments and encouraging words.
It came without warning but I was slow to realise anything amiss, ie walking down each stair a foot at a time and holding a banister. It may have been wilful blindness - I'm good at that - or just the fact that early in the morning I can fulfil basic tasks like making tea whilst my brain remains asleep.

Gradually I realised I shouldn't be walking like an old man. Not for another fifty years at least!
What was happening?
Why did my knees ache after a good night's sleep, or on standing up from the desk top? 

It was time for Dr. Google. It told me I had a problem with 'the knee cap (patella) and how it moves.' Well, thank you. I'd already figured that one out. But then it went on to tell me more than I wanted to know:

"The kneecap is a small bone, shaped like an upside down triangle which sits in the patella groove at the front of the knee and glides up and down as the knee moves. Huge forces go through it with every day activities. As a result, the back of the patella is lined with the thickest layer of cartilage in the whole body as it is designed to withstand massive compressive forces.
Knee pain going down stairs is not surprising when you consider that the force going through the patella is 3.5x body weight when you come down the stairs (normal walking only puts a force of 0.5x body weight). That means for a person weighing 120lbs, when they come down stairs, a force of 420lbs goes through the kneecap which has a contact surface area of only 12cmsq."

Well, when I read that, I thought 'Respect'. Fondled each knee in turn and considering perhaps it was time to lose weight. But even halving my 210 Ib would still amount to 367.5 lb going through each of my small but precious 12cmsq knee caps. If significant weight-loss seemed pointless, losing a mere stone seemed even more so. (This is how the mind of a reluctant dieter works.)

Well okay. I'd learnt something, time to learn more. The question now was whether it was simple damage to the meniscus caused by intense athletic activity. Reluctantly I discarded that as unlikely. Two options remained: Osteoarthritus, or Housemaid's knee. I liked neither of those. One cast the shadow of approaching apocolypse, the other seemed merely ignonimous. Housemaid's knee. Never!

I read more. One doctor used the analogy of a rusty door, opening and closing ever more smoothly with use. At rest the joint fluid is soaked up by the cartilage like a sponge soaking up water. When the joint is used the cartilage is squeezed and fluid lubricates the joint. However, in an arthritic joint less fluid and diminished cartilage makes for a 'rusty door'. Use brings some respite, over-use makes it worse. 

There is still hope. It may be gout. I like the idea mellowing into the crusty and obstreperous, but then again  I'd have to give up alcohol and cheese. Even Housemaid's knee would be better than that.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Bang bang bang, you're dead.

 The Dutch army is so short of bullets that soldiers in training have to point unloaded guns and go 'bang bang' bang'. They should come to Britain where we, too, seem to have a problem in understanding the reality of violence.

John 'Goldfinger' Palmer, a well known gangster, was shot in the chest six times and the police accepted the paramedics assurance he'd suffered a heart-attack. This may sound unlikely, even unbelievable, but then again society seems increasingly confused as to what constitutes violence. The police, too, so it seems.

A child brushed with a stinging nettle and a man hit by a biscuit have both been recorded by police as violent crimes, acting under new, stricter Home Office rules. Another incident in which a child was caught by a boxing glove being swung about by a younger brother was recorded by Norfolk police as an assault occasioning actual bodily harm.  

The biscuit incident involved a woman throwing said comestible at a man and causing a small red mark. In another case involving two children, police recorded an assault after one of them rode into his friend while they were doing 'wheelies' on their bikes. Similar lunacy involved a woman charged with assault for slapping her three year old son's hand after she caught him stealing a bar of chocolate from a shop.

 I don't know who was most stupid, the police or the member of the public who recorded it. In this context the delay in diagnosing what actually killed John Goldfinger Palmer becomes almost understandable.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Let Them Eat Nettles!

A 24 year old man from Devon recently set a world record after eating 96 feet of nettles in an hour (Precut into two ft units) He was taking part in the World Nettle Eating contest at the Bottle Inn in Marshwood Dorset. A record was also set in the women's nettle eating event by Naomi Harris from Chard Somerset who got through 58ft of nettles.

Meanwhile on a planet far from ours we have the House of Lords obsessing over food.

Complaints by Peers about their quality of food in the House of Lords included such horrors as having to wait for too long for a sandwich, and a 'Supreme of Hake' with too hard a crust. Another peer complained: "This week with the roast meat we have had carrots, parsnip and celeriac so that with the roast potatoes there is a considerable excess of carbohydrates." He was met with an apology and an assurance that in future there would be more spring veg

Another moaned about the "yoghurt being too heavy." Bear in mind the eight restaurants and bars in the House of Lords are subsidised and cost the taxpayer nearly £2million. The subsidies mean that a Lord can enjoy 'prawn and lobster meat folded into avrugia caviar for a mere £10. There will be some who think the noble lords are but troughers, others who think the catering staff need try a little harder.

The orange bra wearing Lord Sewell recently caught sniffing cocaine from prostitutes' breasts expressed similar unhappiness that his Parliamentary allowance and expenses were barely adequate to fund his activites. I think we can exonerate Parliamentary caterers from this particular grievance.  It is quite clear the niggardly tax-payer is at fault in this instance.

There will be others who disagree, suggesting perhaps that Peers should eat nettles.

Friday, 24 July 2015

A minor miracle

Wales is studded with places beginning with 'Llan' which is often denoted as a settlement centred on an ancient and noted church. In fact Llan originally denoted a hermit's cell, or in reality a group of hermit cells, because in the early celtic church, a holy man would attract like minded followers. It was the Norman Conquest that imposed churches and a more organised religion. Hence the church at Llancarfen. There are a few remaining Norman touchs, but most is a relatively modern C14th. 

Things took a turn for the worse in the C16th when the boy king Edward VI, and his regent the Duke of Suffolk, ordered the destruction of ornamentation, stained glass and wall paintings. By the Cromwellian period over 97% of church art had been destroyed - or to depress you in a different way, a mere 3% of the glories of medieval church art remains. Our own C17th Taliban at work. 

All this  makes what occurred at Llancarfen a minor miracle. 

The easiest way to erase wall paintings was to simply limewash them. In time the white became grubby and every five years or so it was redone until by the late C20th the limewash had become a crust. 

It was when some external work was being done that a fragment of crust cracked and fell from the wall, revealing a glimpse of what lay beneath. Since then part of the interior wall has been painstakingly restored. This wasn't the only minor miracle. A C19th vicar, in line with all things gothic, had planned to strip everything down to bare stone. Luckily he died, or ran out of money.

What is lovely about the paintings so far revealed is a fine mix of naivity and modernity. The faces have personality and life in the style of a contemporary comic book.
Here the story of St George and the Dragon comes to life. The story had it that a dragon was terrorising a kingdom and could only be kept at bay by a regular gift of two sheep. Fearful of running out of sheep, the community offered it one sheep and a young girl chosen by lot. When the king's daughter was chosen. He was distraught. Enter St. George. Here you see the king and his wife staring out from their turret; the princess with her companion lamb, and St George ramming a spear down the dragon's throat. Our Lady is blessing her knight.

I love the flamboyant crests to his helmet and elbows, the determination in his face.
This is interesting, the way the artist continues the picture round the corner of the window.You see George's spear going right through the dragon's head

Elsewhere on the wall is a depiction of the seven deadly sins. Here beautifully drawn devils are not so much tempting but forcing these hapless folk into:
                                                                    Greed and sloth
                                                             Despair, Pride and Anger

And the sinners, all of them, are poised over gaping-jawed serpents - Gateways to Hell. What is clear is that these would have led down to an equally wonderful depiction of Hell. Unfortunately an earlier vicar inadvertently destroyed it when building a short-lived vestry at the back. All that remains is bare stone.

 Finally a reminder that all is vanity, and death awaits everyone.
Here we have a C15th dandy wearing a Monmouth cap, and he's not looking very happy. On the inside of the window you can see why. Death (not a skeleton but a rotting cadaver with a  toad for a heart and snakes in his belly) is dragging him where he would rather not go.
I on the other hand was looking forward to  to a fine lunch at the Fox and Hounds and two beers.