It’s a time indeed since being on a bus. This one ground and clanked its way through the villages, past the sea, up the Shute, down the chalk, wound beneath the hills, and at last to town. I shopped: bought only some minute wooden butterflies. After business, there was welcome tea of reprieve. I’ve been reprieved in this place before. And the social event of the day.
Then the bus: out of town through the clogged traffic (glad to see the driver knew his bus width to the inch), below the hills where sheep did picturesque things on the skyline, up the chalk, down the Shute, past the sea, now glowing like tarnished silver in the twilight (a radiance perhaps exaggerated in my eyes), and through the villages.
lxx : Have an argument
No, not the kind taking place in Room 12A. In the darkness before today’s sodden dawn the pen scrawled reluctantly across sheet after sheet of file paper (can’t produce a good argument using a word processor, however ten-fingered I may be).
Looking at the result is like looking at holiday packing: gloom at the shabby aspect of one’s possessions, grave doubts that the right things have been selected, wondering what is the essential item you have certainly forgotten, and a growing conviction that this monstrous heap will never all go in.
… with anything much, when there is water dripping through the ceiling, and the plumber clonking about detectively.
With November imminent, it was appropriate to groan and say, Here we go again, and cut out paper. Every year the most tiresome part is trying to squeeze uniqueness into a hundred squares, each no more than an inch and a half on a side, when there is barely room to turn the scissors (the large squares are much easier). So I applied the worst-first rule.
Seventy-five minuscule squares later, and with a shiny new ballcock in situ, that seems to have been a sound decision.
The storm has not stripped out the sand, though I think the landslides have been on the move again. Today was benign but perhaps not quite paddleable – at least, we did not paddle.
Later, what is possibly the cutest instrument in the western world made a reappearance:
the curved soprano sax. This one has been having a little rest in its case for most of the last eighteen years, but there was its voice again, parping occasionally from lack of practice, contending with the piano and giggles. While listening, I compounded apple cake in the kitchen, and (enjoying the ironies) thought, Thank God we are a musical nation.
… calcine its clods …” I muttered gloomily, though Browning was not thinking of kitchen shelves.
I had an outbreak of Usefulness, and in fact was genuinely useful (as well as being annoying). Disheartened, though, as past a certain age and level of neglect kitchens become finally uncleanable: the greasy steam seeps into every cranny, soaks into the cupboard doors, coats every tile and pipe, and, scrub as you may, the tackiness persists. But at least the new owner should be able to find his sarcasm when he needs it.
The best thing about this book (as far as I am concerned) it that it has informed me of the existence of Hrotsvit, apparently a tenth-century canoness who referred to herself as the Forceful Testimony of Gandersheim, and wrote sacred dramas in the form of Terentian comedy, redeeming the form (she said) from his pagan smuttiness. How lovely to imagine her beavering away, and thinking “Ha! Take that, Terence!” every time she finished a good bit.
In spite of some interesting ideas, the rest has been a struggle. I don’t mind the content, or the slightly experimental form. It’s mostly because of the English. The constantly repeated use of favourite words is like squeaking chalk – “profound” and “deep”, sometimes even “deeply profound” and “profoundly deep”, multiple times on what feels like every page. Other words and phrases were almost equally intrusive. If only the author had gone through and removed every adjective, the book would be ten pages shorter, and if he had eliminated at least 50% of the repetitions, it would be twenty pages more readable.
So I’ve let myself off the concluding chapters. I’ll deal with the actual ideas elsewhere, and they’ll probably be useful. But genuine thanks for Hrotsvit.
It’s a classic failure to organise: fling everything in on top of itself, incomprehensible page following puzzling extract on top of contentious essay, accompanied by alternating layers of tosh, bits of Mesopotamia, defunct television criticism, and (of course) recent investigations into specific gravity. It may be necessary to jump up and down on the heap. Insofar as there is a plan, this should continue for a few more weeks (barring accidents), at which point everything should receive a good stir-up and be left for a week or two to fractionate.
I wonder if it will work?
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 pull themselves 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.