No problem about turning to notes and references in this one, because there aren’t any. It feels as if the book’s origin lies in a collection of slowly accumulated notes, in which the courtesy of accurate referencing was unconsidered until it was far too late to reconstruct the author’s sources. On the plus side, this gives it a personal and slightly fugitive air. And at least he can spell mediaeval.
The absence of a glossary presents a challenge to the reader, especially as the collaged quality of the text includes the use of specialist terms many pages before the author indicates their meaning (or occasionally never defines them at all). This is quite a good deduction game for word-fanciers. Even more tricky is visualising the complicated manoeuvres of, say, whipping and looping bow strings, although diagrams are added to verbal descriptions.
The moments of personal reminiscence were engaging:
I well recall the months of strain and struggle to master the [replica Mary Rose] bow and eventually, at the very limit of my strength, managed to draw some 95lbs at around 28 inches … I was definitely overbowed and doubtless set my shooting form back several years … drawing and loosing this bow gave the feeling of being caught in an earthquake … (p 73)
It’s also interesting to learn of the work done by modern archers to repeat the reported performances of mediaeval archers, using replica bows; the modern archers are at a disadvantage as they have not been physically developed since childhood to use a heavy bow. Some archers have reproduced remarkable feats of shooting distance and accuracy. Roth notes drily that some of these shots may be lucky – lucky shots do occur, although mostly for excellent archers. (p 158)
I am, of course, entirely ignorant of practical archery, but it did remind me of another wood-and-missile-related discipline: the mysteries of knocking in and splices and sweet spots; Chinamen and the back of the hand; giving air and seaming; offs, ons, legs and squares; and the rest of cricket’s paraphernalia. Ah, these rituals!
… but in fact I suspect they will all be occupied in the end. Now I am tempted to dash out and buy a new pencil case and coloured pencils and sharpener and ruler and compasses and protractor and a shiny notebook and perhaps a bag to put everything in. Ah, that old September feeling.
Yesterday the garden fair was all ice cream and summer dresses. Today was the sort of day when the hills disappear, when the rain streams down your face into your mouth in spite of the storm hood, when water runs into your sleeves as you take a bite of damp cake, when you snap no photos and send no texts in case the phone drowns, the kind of day when the legs of your jeans are so heavy with water that they start to fall down off your bottom as you walk. A few keen gardeners traipsed around, bought a plant or two, and went home for early lunch, no doubt consoling themselves that their £7 entry was going to a Good Cause. The show was officially declared rained off at three, and we packed up as the angrily-flapping canvas tried to take off in the gusts, and just as the ground paused on the verge of becoming an un-driveable quag.
It was, indeed, the sort of day when you strip off your horrible trousers as you walk into the house, indifferent to the privacy of a bathroom or bedroom (or even a closed front door); and when you utter thanks to those trusty old soldiers in your service –
– feet being the only parts of the anatomy which were still both warm, and perfectly dry.
There’s a gracious backdrop to the confusion of cars, vans, marquees, gazebos, trestles and tables, residue from about a hundred geese, and other impedimenta. Crucially, we found the tap.
We were slightly concerned by the number of people attaching storm straps or extra guys to their canvas. We don’t have any for ours. The forecast is fair overnight, but I find my ear is cocked for a change in the wind.
Chill dawn air wafting round the ankles, hot kiln-smelling air rising into the face:
A little later:
They ring remarkably well.
I’ve not been here for a long time, and in the interval the parking has been made pay-and-display, and the knobs on the railings, which used to be painted gold, are all black.
The sea, luckily, remained blue, and I watched for a while,
as it slopped white water casually onto the prom (and my waiting car).
Let’s ignore the annoying middle of the day.
Later, there was a fortuitous concurrence of images.
I have to de-spider the door before walking through it, de-spider the ceiling before crossing under it, de-spider the table before working at it, de-spider the glaze buckets before opening them, de-spider the chair before sitting on it, de-spider the kettle before boiling it, de-spider the pots before glazing them, de-spider the towel before drying my hands, and de-spider the kiln before packing it.
Now there are a few glazed pots to go in, and I am a grumpy bundle of arachnophobical twitches.
Not that I originally had any idea how annoying it would be.
One batch of beach clay was a rich, dark, intense orange-red, slightly gritty, and I soaked it for a long time to get the smoothest consistency possible. Turns out that it is a pig of a clay – staining everything it touches, sticky and lumpy at the same time, and almost impossible to wedge up, as it goes from a glutinous unhandleable mess to a dense resistant lump with no apparent intermediate stage. Of course, it absolutely did not want to be thrown; and after one attempt I damped it down (making it glutinously unhandleable again) and added some fine sand in an attempt to open the body a little. This had no practical effect when the clay firmed up again (perhaps not enough sand) and it reverted to being a heavy, dense, entirely un-plastic clod.
Naturally I am far too obstinate just to chuck it out – having carried it three-quarters of a mile off the beach – so the intransigent clay and I sat to the wheel and beat one another into submission. The throwing slurry is an even brighter colour than the clay, so I ended up red in tooth and claw, and the conservatory looked as if a massacre had taken place.
I can scarcely bear to think of the turning and drying and firing processes still to come; surely these pots won’t survive.
My forearms hurt. Time for a nice little lie down.
I’ve trained them too well: every time I walk out into the garden they rush under my feet, looking for breadcrumbs. So far I have managed not to stand on them (much).
You would think I had stamped them all flat when they are lying in their favourite dirt bath, squashed down, spread out, heads extended at bizarre angles, feathers cocked inside out, feet projecting improbably, squirming their wings as if dismembered. In fact, of course, they are just superbly relaxed.
I was not as relaxed as they were, having undertaken a maddening hunt for a pin. I’m careful with pottery tools, but I’m always losing pins. After half an hour looking in every drawer and receptacle, likely or unlikely, I found a brand new one. Where the others have gone, who can tell?
Today was the start of one final collection of beach clay pots, from six or seven different small batches of clay, hoping for some good colour variations after firing. Then I’m going to call a halt – at least until I have grown some new skin on my fingers and the palms of my hands. Exfoliation? Ow!
At the first end: ugly lumps, and wet newspaper everywhere, but it’s invigorating to work up the beach clay from slop to gloop to squodge.
At the other end: fragments of apricot light coruscating through trees, becoming a broken arc, a distorted rectangle, finally a golden disc. Full moon.