Category Archives: Up close and personal

On an anniversary

Sixty-nine years ago today, starting at 19:58 on 27 November 1944, the Royal Air Force launched Operation Tigerfish in the skies over Freiburg. In the space of just 20 minutes, 292 Lancaster bombers dropped 3,000 bombs and over 11,000 incendiary devices on the city, concentrating on areas to the east and west of their main target, the railway line. The old part of the city (Altstadt) and several areas to the west were very badly damaged, in some cases flattened. Some 2,800 people were killed, thousands more injured and/or made homeless.

It’s an uneasy date in the calendar for me, associated with conflicting feelings that I’m sure I don’t need to spell out here. I don’t want to spell them out, actually, either, as I’m not sure I can put them adequately into words; and doing so might oblige me to justify them to others or leave chinks in the logic that can be picked at too easily.

I find myself poring over pictures of then, now, before then, trying to reconstruct a city I never knew that has been replaced with the one I have grown familiar with and feel lucky enough to be able to call my home. The images I keep coming back to over and over again are the ones that are, in every sense of the word, closest to home. Unterlinden, a mere 40-odd metres from where I lay my head at night, looked like this before the war. You see a tree, the crucifix and the statue of Mary at the centre of the scene. Today it looks like this. It’s bustling in a different way now that the area has been pedestrianised, and things like palm trees and cafe tables have replaced the carts of yore. Otherwise, though, you’d be forgiven for thinking not much has changed. The statues are still there, even if they’re slightly hidden by the foliage of the tree in high summer.

Now, though, look at this image, possibly taken in 1944. It hits me in the pit of the stomach every time I see it. The first time I was shown it, I wasn’t even aware it was Unterlinden. The moment of realisation was a long and painful one.

This week the Christmas market has opened, and Unterlinden is once again filled with the festive scent of Glühwein and decked out with fairy lights, including the tree (which was replaced in the 1950s, in case you were wondering, so at some point after this picture was taken). The stall closest to the crucifix sells an assortment of cosmetics and gifts for the home. Among its wares: those effervescent scented “bath bombs”.

At the risk of sounding glib, though not wanting to end on a sour note, I’m just going to sign off thus…

Make foam, not war.


Filed under History, Up close and personal

Jean(s) Eyre

With apologies to Charlotte Brontë…

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. Or at least: not without changing clothes first, which I dutifully did.

My favourite jeans had finally given in that crucial place, having suffered from too rigid a restraint, and I was quietly despondent that drear November day. I set forth nonetheless, in a quest for a solution. I could not help it: the restlessness was in my nature. Women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do.

I entered one shop, and on seeing a suitable pair, I tried them. Lo and behold, they fitted, quite perfectly, and I was left sensible that this was no usual situation for a woman of my kind.

Reader, I purchased them.


Filed under Domestic, Up close and personal

Less is more… is even more

This summer has had its fair share of annoying or less successful aspects, but it’s seen me make an important realization in my social life, one that’s going to make life a lot calmer and more enjoyable.

I’m no longer interested in fitting in to some big social group with all its intrigues, dramas and abrasions. Give me the company of a couple of people I really want to spent a given day, evening or weekend with, and I’ll show you a happy, satisfied life.

It works for me, at least, and I’m lucky to have discovered a number of like-minded people in this. I’m already thoroughly enjoying doing more with them and am looking forward to the rest…

This isn’t about cutting people off – not in the least. I just want the chance to interact with them in a different way. I’ve always been a small-group person rather than a big-group one, and I think finally I’m happy to admit that and make the most of it.

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Filed under Domestic, Up close and personal

Storing up some chinks of light

This weekend has consisted largely of catching up with shopping, household chores (yesterday) and time-consuming work projects I didn’t have the space for during the week (I sometimes feel I never get around to significant work during the week 😦 ). The coming week will consist of regular work / teaching commitments, PLUS exams, PLUS a deadline on Friday for my writing project. Today I forced myself to go out for half an hour – it was a glorious day, weatherwise – and really felt the benefit, brief though it was. I’ve decided that I need to prepare a few such chinks of light to get me through the week ahead: nothing time-consuming, nothing requiring me to go out of the way, but things that will remind me that I’m worth investing time and energy in, too. I’m not going to schedule them specifically, but I want to have done something off this list every day by the time next weekend comes around. I’m quite aware that a lot of these are pretty humdrum things that other people manage to fit in as a matter of course, but maybe that increases their significance…

  • going to bed early with a crossword
  • making a fresh fruit, ginger and soya milk smoothie (I might even manage this more than once – I can’t use a whole carton of soya milk at once…)
  • dyeing my hair
  • relaxing with a magazine while a facepack does its thing
  • making a pot of proper tea before a writing session, rather than a mug of something unexciting
  • eating lunch ONE day in a place that is not at my desk
  • …and making the effort to go and get a salad rather than the quickest sandwich
  • …and maybe even catching a few rays of sun on the way – it all helps to keep the mood buoyant!

Well, I’ve run out of ideas now, which probably only proves that I don’t think about such things often enough. If you know any quick pick-me-ups for the body, soul or general sense of well-being, do please leave a comment and I’ll gladly add them to the list for future reference.


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Filed under Up close and personal, Work stuff

When great grandfathers turn up in unexpected places…

As anyone who has traced their family tree will probably know, a great deal of success in genealogy comes as a reward for being methodical – trawling through archives and indexes, noting down carefully every resource, area and date range covered, searching online for every possible permutation of the spelling of a name, painstakingly decrypting old handwriting, scouring historic maps, and looking into the history of places, ways of life and occupations. Every scrap of relevant information becomes a potentially valuable lead, a piece in the jigsaw, a clue in a never-ending detective novel of enormous complexity.

Often, though, this data alone can be quite dry, and in many cases it’s down to more unexpected or unassuming places to provide those things that turn out to be of the greatest personal value. An oddment found in the attic, at the back of a drawer, a photo or letter between the pages of a book, a newspaper cutting that reveals more than the census about someone’s everyday life.

Sydney Everson’s snuffbox (picture: John Everson) (click for larger image)

This morning on Facebook I read a lovely story told by a long-standing genealogy contact of mine, John Everson. We’ve been in touch on and off for years as we both had Everson ancestors in Machen (old county of Monmouthshire, South Wales). One day not so very long ago – he says he was bored at the time – John had typed “Everson” and “Machen” into Google to see what hits it would come up with. Normally, he says, such a search yields mainly his own old postings on various genealogy sites, but lo and behold, one of the hits this time was an eBay listing which turned out to be this old brass snuffbox (dated 1917) which – from the name “Sydney Everson” and the address “Westley Buildings, Machen” engraved on it – quite clearly belonged to John’s great grandfather (further genealogical details – for anyone who might be interested – can be found at the end of this post).

Initial delight, however, quite quickly gave way to a rather distraught feeling as it transpired that the item had already been sold. Not giving in to despondency, though, John decided to contact the seller in any case to see if he could find out who had bought it – possibly a long-lost cousin, he thought. In fact, the snuffbox had been sold to someone who restores and re-sells them, and the original seller kindly set up contact. In the end, John was offered his great grandfather’s snuffbox at what he thought was a reasonable price, and he says it is now one of his most treasured possessions.

This reminded me of a chance discovery relating to my own paternal-line great grandfather, Cadwaladr Davies, made by my father some years ago. On one of his occasional visits to a not-so-far-away town, Newtown in Mid Wales, Dad decided to pay a visit to the small museum located above the WHSmith shop in the town and dedicated to the history of the well known chain. His father’s father (the aforementioned Cadwaladr) had managed the Smith’s branch in Ross on Wye (Herefordshire) for much of his working life and so there was a long-standing family connection with the company.

Cadwaladr Davies – framed colour reproduction of the original (click for larger image)

Even so, Dad was pretty surprised when one of the exhibits turned out to be a beautifully illuminated document  that bore his grandfather’s name emblazoned in gilt-decorated letters. It documents his transfer, in 1898, from North Wales to Ross and reminds one along the way that the high street store that now sells magazines, stationery and the odd book came to the fore with the development of the railways in the nineteenth century by setting up bookstalls at railway stations.

No doubt in his inimitable understated way, Dad approached the museum staff to say that he found this exhibit rather interesting and explained why. As a result of the communication following on from this, several high-quality colour facsimiles were made of the original and distributed among close family members, and a fascinating article came to light from the archives of the company magazine, documenting the personal story behind this presentation document and giving a further glimpse into Cadwaladr’s later life in Ross.

Regardless of the fact that it is “only” a facsimile of the original, my framed copy of the document is definitely one of my most treasured possessions and has pride of place hanging in the living room.

I wonder what accidental and exciting family discoveries any of my readers have made – maybe some of you will be inspired to leave a comment or write your own blog entry on the subject… 😉


Acknowledgements and further genealogical details…

Thank you to John Everson both for inspiring this post and for being so willing for me to share the snuffbox picture and details of his great grandfather. As he put it, “the Everson name needs lots of publicity”, and who knows who might stumble upon this blog entry while doing a Google search of their own…

Sydney (or Sidney) Everson was born in Machen in 1859, the seventh of ten children of William Everson (1822-1898) and Mary Green (1823-1889). He married Mary Mattock (1863-1923) in 1880 and according to the 1911 census they had a total of sixteen children, twelve of whom were still alive in 1911. As a young man Sydney worked in the tinplate industry and was later employed in a colliery. He died in Machen in 1930.

Cadwaladr Davies was born in Penmachno, Caernarvonshire in 1868, the youngest of five children of Thomas Davies (1823-?) and Jane Williams (1826-1894). Most of the men in his family were slate miners, but he went to school and became a clerk before getting into the book trade. Following his move to Ross in 1898, he married Lizzie Newitt (1882-1947) there in 1903 and they had three children. He died in Ross in 1960.

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Filed under Genealogy, Up close and personal

A perfect day

The rainbow warrior's (clothes) horse It’s been a phenomenally busy week – the beginning of a new semester always brings with it a lot of extra (often unexpected) work and long days, no matter how well you’ve tried to prepare in advance. Almost every class presents a sea of new faces, and apart from the psyching myself up I feel I need to do before going in there to stand in front of them and make a halfways competent impression, and the concentration needed to brief all the people whose names appear on the magically computer-generated course lists, there are always the problem cases to deal with, the last-minute changed minds, and the chaotic paralysis of system overloads caused by everyone trying to access everything at once.

Today, Sunday, is a total contrast. Not that I lay abed for an age in a stubborn attempt to claw back some of the “me doing nothing” time denied to me over the last ten days or so – I wanted to get up, was raring to go, and the reason? I have NO commitments today, NO appointments, NO deadlines, NO annoying chores that absolutely have to be done, and I even have the prospect of NO one to talk to for a good few hours, which, believe me, is all a real luxury just at this particular point in time and after such a peopled-out week. And what am I doing? I opened up the windows and blinds to air the flat, had a leisurely breakfast while reading the paper, have done two loads of washing, tended some of the plants, sorted clean laundry, tidied some stuff on the computer, drunk tea, reorganized the fridge and have a list of smaller tasks to keep me occupied for a couple of hours more. The place is bright, smells fresh, has a ton of healthy-looking greenery, and I’m feeling fresh and well tended myself. Oh, and it looks as though I have now almost written this week’s blog entry, too….

All this might well strike anyone else as a pretty mundane if not boring listing of activities that most people feel are not even worth mentioning (except perhaps on Twitter ;)), but what I’ve managed to get done entirely voluntarily today and how it’s making me feel is quite significant to me. During the university vacation I have a clear (though mostly undramatic to the outside observer) tendency to collapse in a little heap of unmotivated misery if faced with such an unstructured day devoid of obligations, and if I’m not careful this can result in a chronic lack of productivity that creates a sense of dissatisfaction (aaaand repeat, in ever decreasing circles…). I’m writing about how good I feel today and how much I’m getting done – and for ME, not because I HAVE to do it for anyone else or any other reason – just so that maybe it will help if I can look back at it another time when I’m struggling to find the motivation.

It is, indeed, a perfect day.

Note: the image accompanying this blog entry was originally used for this post.

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Filed under Up close and personal, Work stuff

On my birthday

On my birthdayAnother post, another meme, but this time the topic caught my eye because I thought it was a good opportunity to dust off and expand on my knowledge of history.

The aim is to focus on the day of the year on which you were born and to talk about various events and personalities associated with that day. Click on the picture to the left to view the original post that has, in the meantime, inspired a lot of other people to write about their birthdays (links to these can be found at the bottom of the original article – is your birthday there yet?).

Note: all bullet points in this post are copied, including hyperlinks, from the Wikipedia entry for May 19, though I’ve looked at a wider range of sources for my own input.

When is your birthday?

On 19th May.

Pick three people who share your birthday and share what you know about them.

Nancy Astor is best known as the first female MP to set foot in the House of Commons, in 1919. I say “set foot” deliberately as she wasn’t the first female MP to be elected: the previous year saw the election of Constance Markievicz, but as a Sinn Fein member who refused to take the obligatory oath of allegiance to the UK monarch she was not allowed to take her seat in the Commons – not much has changed there.

Nancy Astor, Viscountess Astor (source: Wikimedia)

Astor was active in the temperance movement and championed causes relating to (women’s) suffrage and education. Like most politicians, she was not without controversy – she was accused of jumping on the suffrage bandwaggon only after she had been elected, while her American birth and upper class credentials led to criticism that she was out of touch with ordinary people. Having said that, I suspect it would have been well-nigh impossible within the social structures of that time for an “ordinary” woman to have the wherewithal to enter high-level politics, though I am very happy to be corrected if this is an inaccurate view.

Astor was well known for her acerbic wit and sharp tongue. Her election slogan was “Vote for Lady Astor and your children will weigh more”. She is also quoted as saying, “I married beneath me – all women do”. My favourite Astor soundbyte, though, and one I’ve known since I was quite young, comes from an exchange with Winston Churchill:

Astor: If you were my husband, I’d poison your tea.

Churchill: If I were your husband, I’d drink it.

I don’t know as much about Malcolm X as I should, so it would be pretentious to try to give the impression of writing knowledgeably about him here, when probably most people reading this know a great deal more. What strikes me, though, after writing about Nancy Astor above is that here we have a political activist who also grew up in America, though half a century later than Lady Astor and in circumstances dictated by the cards having fallen very diferently. He was not cushioned by affluence in his political aspirations, but spurred into action by hardship and suffering experienced firsthand.

I can’t think of many comedians I’ve laughed at so much and for so long as Victoria Wood. Her TV shows and other projects were very present in my life throughout my teens and most of my twenties (after which I moved to Germany), and she specialises in the kind of razor-sharp observation applied to satirizing the mundane that has always made me laugh (and probably always will).

A 2005 Channel Four poll among those working in the comedy industry ranked her 27th among the top 50 comedy acts ever – she was the highest-ranked female comedian of all, beating some stiff competition from other favourites of mine, French & Saunders and Joyce Grenfell (though I have to say I’m disappointed – though not surprised – that there were no women in the higher echelons of the poll rankings). In the meantime she has won BAFTAs and other awards for her acting and comedy shows, and has been awarded both an OBE and a CBE by the Queen.

Here is one of my favourite Victoria Wood sketches. The show is completely stolen by the fabulous Julie Walters, but it’s an unforgettable exchange.

Is anyone listed as being born on the same day as you (ie the same year)? If so, what do you know about them?

Without looking these guys up, I have to confess I couldn’t tell you a thing about them – I feel I should know more about the first guy as the name rings a vague bell somewhere, but as I’m dreadful with names of producers and directors I have to draw a complete blank. The second guy no doubt thought he was giving himself a scary name of the “psychosis” variety, but I find myself wanting to read it as “psittacosis” – exactly why I have a better memory for obscure avian diseases than for (probably) mainstream movie producers is a mystery to me.

— Interlude while I do a bit of googling… —

Ah, it seems that Ross Katz’ main claim to fame is that he co-produced Lost in Translation, so that provides a link of sorts to stuff that I do (translation, rather than getting lost in it). Of course, the film is not ostensibly about translation in the classical sense – something that I can remember slightly disappointed me at the time I saw it – but it does deal with quite important issues of interlinguistic and intercultural problems in a much subtler way than the usual crashing slapstick such moments tend to give rise to in mainstream cinema. So hats off to Mr Katz for his role in that.

As regards the wrestler, I now know that his actual name is the much more mellifluous (and to me, less sick-parrot-sounding) Dionicio Castellanos Torres. I have to say, though, that I can’t really bring myself to work up a knowledge of wrestling, prodigious though Señor Torres’ career seems to have been, so I will refrain from saying any more about him. What did catch my eye, though, was a brief sentence towards the end of the Wikipedia article on him: “Torres appeared in the independent documentary, 101 Reasons Not To Become A Professional Wrestler.” Oh.

List three people who died on your birthday and tell us what you know about them. 

  • 804Alcuin, English monk and scholar (b. c.735)

I studied Medieval Studies in Leeds many moons ago (though not so long ago that it was modern history at that time), and there was no escaping local lad Alcuin of York. In fact, however, though he started his illustrious career at the cathedral school in York, Alcuin spent much of his life rather further afield in continental Europe, where he was appointed as a scholar and teacher at Charlemagne’s court in Aachen. He is acknowledged as one of the key figures in the Carolingian Renaissance and led efforts to set up a standard curriculum to be followed at the Carolingian schools. The basis of this curriculum was the artes liberales divided into the trivium (grammar, logic and rhetoric) and the quadrivium (arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy); these subject areas remained an important educational basis well into the Renaissance period (and indeed the term “liberal arts” still exists today, albeit in a somewhat different form).

OK, this is going to be much more about reactions than historical facts. My first real encounter with Charles Ives was incredibly nerve-wracking. I was twenty, in my last year with the National Youth Orchestra of Wales, and had finally reached the coveted – and veeeery exposed – position of principal flute. One of the pieces on our ambitious programme for our two-week stint of rehearsals and concerts was Ives’ Three Places in New England. It’s a comforting, tidy, unpretentious, homely (in the American sense) title that made me think of picturesque wooden houses and the placid autumnal glow of the New England fall. However, the first rehearsal was dominated by chaotic cacophony, me (and others) missing important solos due to miscounting, and an overall feel that was more akin to not knowing where one was in Old England on a Saturday night at throwing-out time.

For people like me who were far more used to the regular time signatures and broad melodic expanses that characterize the mainstream of Classical and Romantic music in a broad sense, Ives was a nightmare of cross-rhythms, syncopation, apparently random entries cued by silence, and some of the most controlled, exposed technique I’ve ever had to use. I don’t think I slept much the first week.

In any case, it was a steep learning curve, but so very worth it in the end. Out of the initial cacophony rose an intricately woven tapestry of the most amazing combination of snatches of sound – two competing marching bands playing at once, passages that you just had to associate with water, or fog, hard textures, soft textures, layer upon layer of sound, folksong against avant-garde atonal clustering, sudden caesura alongside gently metamorphosing motifs.

I think it’s one of the most amazing pieces I’ve ever heard, let alone had the privilege of playing. Do, do, please give it a listen if you have never come across it.

I was rather sad to discover that in fact two of my favourite poets died on my birthday. John Betjeman , English poet and Poet Laureate died on this day in 1984, and I could easily have written a few lines about him. However, Ogden Nash has the slight edge as he died on the very day I was born (why does that send an odd shiver down my spine?), and I came to his poetry earlier, at about the age of six. I can remember being fascinated by a poem of his that we had up on the wall at school. I know I’d recognize it if I saw it again, but unfortunately my attempts to find it have proved unsuccessful so far.

However, there is much more of value to be discovered in the anthologies of this master of humorous rhyme and wordplay, so I’ve just picked out a few lines and stanzes from here and there that particularly caught my eye and made me smile.

Nash has a refreshingly irreverent take on love poetry, for example:

A girl whose cheeks are covered with paint
Has an advantage with me over one whose ain’t.

– “Biological Reflection”

Some of what he says sounds silly but makes a very serious point:

Consider the auk;
Becoming extinct because he forgot how to fly, and could only walk.
Consider man, who may well become extinct
Because he forgot how to walk and learned how to fly before he thinked.

– “A Caution To Everybody”

Beneath this slab
John Brown is stowed.
He watched the ads
And not the road.

– “Lather As You Go”

Nash was also a master of the ultra-short poem. I particularly like “Further Reflections on Parsley”, where the poem text is shorter than the title:

Is gharsley.

I wanted to pick just one longer poem to include in its entirety, and I think it has to be “Peekabo, I Almost See You”. It combines the best of Nash’s quirks with some pretty universal sentiments that I hear from my glasses-wearing friends and relatives on a regular basis:

Middle-aged life is merry, and I love to
lead it,
But there comes a day when your eyes
are all right but your arm isn’t long
to hold the telephone book where you can read it,
And your friends get jocular, so you go
to the oculist,
And of all your friends he is the joculist,
So over his facetiousness let us skim,
Only noting that he has been waiting for you ever since
you said Good evening to his grandfather clock under
the impression that it was him,
And you look at his chart and it says SHRDLU QWERTYOP,
and you say Well, why SHRDNTLU QWERTYOP? and he
says one set of glasses won’t do.
You need two.
One for reading Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason and
Keats’s “Endymion” with,
And the other for walking around without saying Hello
to strange wymion with.
So you spend your time taking off your seeing glasses to put
on your reading glasses, and then remembering that your
reading glasses are upstairs or in the car,
And then you can’t find your seeing glasses again because
without them on you can’t see where they are.
Enough of such mishaps, they would try the patience of an
I prefer to forget both pairs of glasses and pass my declining
years saluting strange women and grandfather clocks.

List three notable events that took place on your birthday.

A tapestry in the Flemish style of Catherine of Aragon and her husband Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales (source: Wikimedia)

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the royal family and the nobility always had an easier time of things in long past ages, while the poor struggled and starved. Occasionally you get a stark reminder, though, of the particular pressures the high-born were placed under. Catherine and Arthur were betrothed as small children, so there would not have been much scope for imagining a different existence in either of their lives; their being “married by proxy” at a young age was on the surface of it designed to strengthen the Tudor claim to the English throne, but it also ensured that the parties were under a stronger contractual obligation to one another.

It is interesting to note that Catherine and Arthur managed to correspond with each other by letter, in Latin, until late in 1501, when they were deemed old enough to actually meet and marry “in person”. When they did come face to face, however, they found communication quite difficult as they had very different pronunciations of Latin. Nor was there much of a happy ending in any other sense – just a few months after their marriage both fell seriously ill, and Catherine recovered only to find herself a widow.

At this point, Arthur’s father, Henry VII, could have been obliged to return Catherine’s dowry to her father. In the end, though, it was agreed that she would marry Arthur’s younger brother, Henry, Duke of York. There followed an interim of several years – Henry was too young to marry, and the idea of a union with Spain through marriage became less attractive to the King. Catherine’s future was uncertain and she was virtually kept prisoner during this time. However, when Henry senior died and his son ascended the throne, one of the first things Henry VIII did was to finally marry Catherine. The rest of this ultimately ill-fated union is well documented elsewhere.

Anne Boleyn was Catherine’s maid of honour and ultimately her “successor” as Queen, though it is certainly well known that there was an overlap between the two relationships. While Henry managed to have his marriage to Catherine annulled, this did not actually come through until a few months after he had married Anne. It was the refusal of the Pope to annul this marriage that triggered Henry’s desire to break with Rome and foreshadowed the beginnings of the Church of England. Both Catherine and Anne were important figures in English history, not least because they bore female heirs who went on to rule the country in their own right. However, both failed to produce a (surviving) male heir, and this was their ultimate downfall.

Annulment was not Henry’s weapon of choice for getting rid of his second wife after her presence came to be an obstruction to his further plans; instead, he had Anne and a group of others investigated on charges amounting to adultery, high treason and incest. She was found guilty – on unconvincing evidence, from the viewpoint of modern scholars – and was beheaded just one day after Henry announced his betrothal to his third wife, Jane Seymour. All the evidence indicates that Henry sent for her executioner, a swordsman from France, before she even went on trial.

I’m neither a republican nor a passionate royalist/monarchist, but the Commonwealth period was certainly an important caesura in English and British history. Following on from a period during which the monarch had become simply too powerful and too easily able to interfere in political life, the eventual execution of King Charles I paved the way for a period of radical political change that saw the (temporary) abolition of the monarchy, the House of Lords and the Church of England. The country was controlled by the House of Commons and the army.

Oliver Cromwell became the new “ruler” (Lord Protector of the Commonwealth) in 1653, and he imposed military rule and ran the country with as much power as the monarch had previously held. Puritan values were imposed by law, and while most of us might applaud the abolition of “cruel” sports such as bear-baiting and cock-fighting, restrictions also affected ale-houses, theatres, and the celebration of Christmas and Easter was also suppressed. There was much political experimentation without any stable form of government or institutions emerging.

Cromwell died in 1658, and after that there was no one obvious to carry on as a convincing ruler. Few of those active in politics had real parliamentary or legal experience, and things began to crumble. Ultimately royalists were re-admitted to Parliament, and slowly the tide turned once more in favour of the monarchy. Charles II, as he would become, was summoned back to England from Holland and the monarchy was restored in 1660. Importantly, Charles agreed to continue the policy of religious toleration introduced during the Commonwealth as well as to share power with Parliament and not attempt to be an absolutist ruler as his father had done. And while the path might not always have been smooth, all of these points have continued to define the reigns of those who have followed him.

Tell us about a holiday that falls on your birthday.

St Dunstan (909 – 19 May 988) had an illustrious scholastic and ecclesiastical career, serving as the Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, the Bishop of both Worcester and London, and ultimately as the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was canonised in 1029 and his feast day has been celebrated ever since. I could go into the reasons for his canonisation, but there are a number of miscellaneous aspects of his life and legacy that I’m going to pick out here, just because I happened to find them rather (more) interesting.

Dunstan seems to have had a range of talents and is known to have been a scribe, an illustrator / illuminator, silversmith and musician. He is the patron saint of both silversmiths and goldsmiths, and one fascinating fact that I discovered in this connection is that hallmark years for silver and gold run not from 1 January to 31 December, but from 19 May to 18 May the next (calendar) year.

Dunstan and the Devil, by George Cruikshank (source: Wikimedia)

As is the case with many saints, there are tales of encounters between Dunstan and the Devil. In one of these he is said to have nailed a horseshoe to the Devil’s hoof, causing him – unsurprisingly – much pain. The Devil protested but Dunstan stood his ground, only agreeing to remove the offending item once the Devil had promised never to enter a place that had a horseshoe attached to its lintel. It is widely believed that this is the origin of the lucky horseshoe superstition.

Finally, please tag some lovely people to carry on this meme, then link back to this post so they can find the badge and link up their post once published.

A couple of people have already asked to be tagged: they are my lovely photography friend Chis (better known online as Squonk) and my school friend Nicola, who has a fairly new blog. I’d also love to read my brother Matt‘s take on his birthday (which is coming up soon, plus maybe he’d like to be nudged into blogging again!). No obligation on any of you to continue the meme, but for anyone who feels browbeaten into inspired to do so, it would be great if you’d leave a comment with a link here so that I and other interested readers can follow it up.


Filed under History, Memes & blogging challenges, Up close and personal