In a book about apocalypses and endings in fiction, it seemed appropriate to begin with the most recently written segment, which is the epilogue, before returning to chapter/lecture 1, mischievously entitled “The End”.
It was perhaps an error to cook a ginger cake between chapters 2 and 3. The tin is almost empty.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Lots of technical vocabulary in this one. Some of the authors translate or define the Greek terms they use; some just transliterate; and some don’t bother at all. Which leaves me, with my primitive half-familiarity with the Greek alphabet, painfully sounding out words, and hoping they will come out as something vaguely familiar and guessable.
A few are fairly easy given a context – I could cope with θεολογια; and γνωσις was doable. But προσαρμοσας? Urg.
As for the English language parts: some of these sentences and paragraphs will remain mysterious to me for ever. But that’s another story.
The second batch of beach clay pots went in for a v e r y s l o w f i r i n g, and I only lost one, cracked at the rim. I’m surprised how pale some of them came out – one of the grey clays must have had scarcely any iron in. Also rather oddly, the blue-green clay fired to a quite strong terracotta, and not surprisingly at all, the dark orangey brown fired to dark orange-red. I think they will look better when dirtied and algaed up a bit. Going in raw:
The third batch are drying out ( v e r y s l o w l y, of course). Meantime I have had an outbreak of porcelain bud vases, which is about as different a throwing challenge from the big rough beach clay pots as you could possibly get. I do make the little vases quite chunky though – my excuse, so that they will be stable if heavy-headed flowers are put in them.
It was difficult to achieve the zen-like concentration needed for good throwing, as the wretched guest poultry, which are allowed to forage on a large patch of grass, a partly-dug vegetable bed, the wild-bit-at-the-back, a neglected border, and a long gravel path, have found the one bit of garden I don’t want them in. Naturally.
They waited until I was well settled at the wheel, and then tip-toed down the grass, carefully not making eye contact with me, to the forbidden territory. I added a new game called broomfrighteners to my sporting repertoire, sweeping the invaders up the garden with gratifying flutters and flaps and squawks. The chooks then stood about ten yards off, doing chicken things with their necks and complaining, waited for me to sit down to the next bud vase, and immediately started doing grandmother’s footsteps back down the garden for the next round. So far, I reckon they are winning on points.
On the other hand: egg and lettuce sandwiches; swiss roll; baked custard; omelette; quiche …
Starting a new subject with a reader is more difficult than picking up an introductory text written with novices in mind. It does, however, have the advantage of offering a full technical vocabulary, and introducing significant writers in the discipline through their own words.
Sadly, the ‘own words’ of cultural theorists (up to Part 3) seem to be quite remarkably dreary – an uglification of English which is hard to forgive, and there are 450 pages still to go. Some of the content is moderately interesting, but Oh! if only we could have it better said! One honourable but momentary exception: Laclau and Mouffe describing their critics as ‘fading epigones’. I had to look ‘epigone’ up in Chambers, and joyed in it, a word at once compendious and splendidly disdainful. Then it was back to uglification for fifteen pages.
This is going to be a long, long, long, long, long, long read.
The beach clay pots are in progress, and I am trying to possess myself in patience and retard their drying to a suitable slowness. This is difficult, as they are completely in the way, all over the kitchen – the conservatory would risk them drying too fast, or unevenly if the sun caught them on one side.
Some of them have cracked anyway, but on this occasion I don’t think it is my lack of patience. The three are all made from the same batch of yellowish-grey clay, which is a 100% failure rate for this particular clay body. Lucky it wasn’t one of the larger batches. I shall not recycle the clay and try again; if it won’t do a slow dry without cracking, I can’t imagine it firing successfully either.
I’ve had some odd things posted to me by various nearests and dearests; this has to be one of the oddest.
In spite of a deep resistance to all forms of sport, I do believe I have invented a new one: Bumble Badminton. Here is the necessary racquet:
I’m getting quite good at this sport. The stupid creatures ramble into the conservatory when I am potting on, and seem to think I may have nectar in my ears.
Four is probably the maximum number of players, assuming you have enough racquets, but playing solo is safer. I’ve decided that points are awarded based on the distance each stroke moves the object towards the goal (door), and subtracted for the distance it returns in between strokes (one point per yard), and also for false strokes. Two extra points are received when the object is propelled through the egress, and style marks are given when it is struck cleanly from the sweet spot on the racquet (the bristles), or for good playing technique, i.e. nothing else in the environment is contacted.
All points are forfeited if the target is squashed. Breakages must be paid for, and the umpire’s decision is final.