Crispin and Crispianus

How did Henry V happen to know that 25th October was St Crispin's day?

Crispin and Crispinian have never been major saints, but they did have a personal connection to Shakespeare, for they are (among other things) the patron saints of glovemakers, which was of course the profession of Shakespeare's father. As a good Catholic, no doubt John Shakespeare kept the feast. 25th October was important to Will as the feast of Crispin long before he knew it as the date of Agincourt.

"This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered."

Is it fanciful to hear in these lines a little batsqueak of recusant defiance? A sly filial tribute?

This speculation brought to you courtesy of 3am insomnia.


It's almost a year since I bought my great-great-great grandfather Weeden's rather antsy letter to the Gentleman's Magazine, and tomorrow it will be exactly 200 years since he wrote it. As I promised at the time, I subsequently hung it above my desk as a stern warning to myself (as an author) to show patience with editors, and also (as an editor) to do the same with authors.

Framed Weeden letter

1821 was perhaps the last year Weeden can be said to have been happy. His wife Annabella, adored father (also Weeden) and daughter Emma, were all were dead within the year, and he appears to have gone into a deep depression. In the words of Annie Robina Butler, his granddaughter:

The very foundation of the earth must have seemed to those poor Cheyne Walk children to be shaking, more especially as their father——too utterly crushed to take further active interest in either home or school——buried himself in the study amongst his books, in a perfect abandonment of grief, and left them, practically, to bring themselves up.

That, unfortunately, is another occupational hazard - but one I've so far avoided.


Driving through the Cambrian mountains the other day on the way to stay for a few nights with my brother, daughter and their respective partners, I got to listen to a whole album by The Chainsmokers, which Ayako happened to have on her phone. I've seldom taken so hard against a sound: it was song after song of thin techno-whining in which life's minor inconveniences and gripes were repetitively inflated into a bloated bouncy castle of self-pity - made worse somehow by slick production and redeemed only slightly by competent vocals.

I needed an antidote, and when we arrived in Borth I found myself downloading the Yes song 'Awaken' - which I hadn't listened to in perhaps 40 years.

In many ways it's not the opposite of The Chainsmokers. It's no less self-important, for example - this is prog rock, after all, at the height of its Rick-Wakeman-going-mad-on-a-church-organ flatulence. But boy, did I appreciate leaving the why-didn't-you-text-me-back navel gazing of The Chainsmokers' perpetually aggrieved songs for something that at least attempted to look to the horizon and beyond. Perhaps what had depressed me most about the former was its astounding lack of ambition, and the even more profound lack of imagination that underpinned it. Yes may be self-indulgent, but at least they have a self to indulge.

I used to listen to Going for the One, the album from which 'Awaken' is taken, quite a lot as a teenager. Here are my thoughts on hearing it again after all these decades.

Jon Anderson's voice: I actually like this more now than I did then. The slightly affectless alto invites comparison with Keane's Tom Chaplin, but Anderson is less chorister-like and breathier, with strong Accrington notes. (I always was a sucker for a Lancashire accent.)

The musicianship is spot on, and the song complex but beautifully constructed. There's more musical imagination in two minutes of 'Awaken' than in a whole album by The Chainsmokers. In terms of the sound palate, though, the spirit of '70s synthesizers is strong here.

The lyrics mostly consist of mystical hooey (no song that begins 'High vibration go on...' can entirely inspire confidence), and I rather wish that Anderson could have taken the effort to have them make more sense, but his method of throwing words against a musical wall and seeing what sticks was the prog-rock industry standard, and in moments of high excitement evokes a kind of speaking-in-tongues ecstasy that's actually effective. And I could forgive a lot for the moving simplicity of the coda: "Like the time I ran away - / Turned around and you were standing close to me."

Mostly, though, what this song does is recall the feeling it inspired in young me, that the world was a mysterious and exciting place, full of wonders to be discovered and revelations to be... er, revealed. Whereas The Chainsmokers left me feeling that earth had nothing to show more fair than one's name in slightly bigger letters than those of one's ex on the cover of a magazine.

I know which I prefer.

Between St Dennis and St George

Yesterday Ayako and I took a trip to the Somerset Lavender farm, near Bath. It's the first such farm I've been to, and I came home suitably burdened with various lavender products, but of course the main point of the exercise was to see the lavender. Whether because of the lusher climate or just a more hands-off attitude to weeding, Somerset lavender lacks the pristine, not to say austere, beauty of the extensive fields of Provence, but I'm not sure I don't prefer its homespun charm and lowering cloudscapes. Chacun à son goût.


Afterwards we repaired for lunch to the nearby George at Norton St Philip, which I've passed many times but never stopped to visit. It's been serving beer non-stop since 1397, as they were quick to tell us, and it's not hard to believe:


The landlady (?) volunteered the information that before the Battle of Sedgemoor this inn was the headquarters for Monmouth's forces, and afterwards a site of the Bloody Assizes. She added that there had been an attempt on "King Charles'" life there, and that you could still see the musket hole in the wall upstairs. Clearly there was some confusion about the kings and potential kings in play in 1685, but when it comes to the Stuarts, what's a Charlie between friends?

A Merlin Conspiratorial Entry

Ayako, as a die-hard Diana Wynne Jones fan who came to Bristol specifically to reside in the city of her heroine, has of course read all the books in Japanese, but she recently got through The Merlin Conspiracy (aka 「花の魔法、白のドラゴン」 or "Flower Magic, White Dragon") in English too, so some of our recent jaunts have had an MC theme, visiting the British equivalents of scenes set in that book's Isles of Blest. I don't suppose we'll get down as far as Chysauster in west Cornwall, the model for the ruined village where Roddy Hyde encountered the spirit of an ancient flower-witch (something that actually happened there to Diana Wynne Jones, as she told me herself); however, we have already dropped in at Chalice Well garden in Glastonbury, where the conspiracy was launched; and, as previously recounted here, we have visited White Horse hill and Wayland's Smithy, which seem to me the evident originals for the book's "Ridgeway Hills."

Of course, we have not neglected to pay homage to Stonehenge (pictured here, in case you have forgotten what it looks like):


And, last week we took advantage of a day of good weather and no meetings to drive over to Salisbury and Old Sarum - the latter of which I hadn't been to in more than twenty years. The personifications of both cities appear in the book. Salisbury is literally overlooked by the 5,000-year-old settlement on its edge - famous now, if for anything, only as having been the rottenest of rotten boroughs; but Old Sarum is naturally resentful at being neglected in favour of its swisher mediaeval replacement. It certainly has the better views, though.

Looking down at that new-fangled spire

The flinty remains of Old Sarum's abandoned cathedral

Then on to have lunch in my home town and up to view the roses at Mottisfont, just past their best but still putting on quite a show:


There were no more Merlin Conspiracy sights to see, but since I'm in the middle of organising a conference to celebrate a certain novel's half century next year, I did make a small detour on the way back to do some more literary tourism on the Hampshire-Berkshire border:


Drive-by (with a blown tyre) post

It's been a while since I posted here, and really it's just for want of matter. My last few weeks have been a mixture of marking (mostly that, in fact), walks, al fresco meetings with friends, and other pleasant but perhaps not blog-worthy activities. My biggest adventure was probably yesterday, when a tyre blew as I arrived in Cardiff. But that's all fixed now, and I don't have any horror stories to attach to the mishap. AA membership takes the excitement out of life.

Meanwhile, I'm anticipating tomorrow with some trepidation. It will be my first visit to my home town for more than 18 months - for a friend's funeral. Apart from the service itself, which I'll be watching from outside, I'll be meeting a bunch of people whom I've not met since I was in my mid-20s. Will I recognise them, or they me? How will we get on when we repair to the pub afterwards (the main wake being reserved for family) to toast the departed?

I suppose this sort of occasion will become ever more familiar, as time goes on, much as the weddings of contemporaries were some 30 years ago. I wasn't comfortable being the central figure in the proceedings at that time; I'd be much less so in the latest round.


More of the More of the More of the Same

This morning the Guardian publishes a puff review of Kathleen Stock's new book, which suggests that the stranglehold trans people have on public discourse has had a chilling effect. (Prof. Stock was given an OBE in this year's New Year's Honours.)

This afternoon Nick Robinson suggests on Radio 4 to the new Scottish finance minister that trans rights have become a new religion, which people question at their peril.

Neither seems to have encountered much peril, however.

By contrast, Tennessee has just introduced a law obliging any establishment that allows trans people to use the toilet to have the following wording on the entrance to each toilet door:

This facility maintains a policy of allowing the use of restrooms by either biological sex, regardless of the designation on the restroom.

While journalists and professors with national platforms whine about being "silenced," trans people are being legislated out of society altogether. This is not a new observation, I know, but I think it's worth reiterating as long as it remains true.

An Early Borth

We took advantage of the Coronavirus relaxation to go to Borth, where we stayed with my brother and partner - the first night not in my own bed since, I think, a Glasgow hotel in January 2020.

Ayako very much took to the village and the life, and it was a happy break. She's not quite ready for Susan Cooper yet, but made some inroads into Nancy Bond's Borth-based fantasy, A String in the Harp. Walks to Ynyslas (with a view over the river to the tantalizingly close Aberdovey, the very place where young Gwion/Taliesin was tangled in the salmon traps of Elffin) and up to the monument made it all very real. We also took a walk through the 4,500-year-old tree stumps of the woodland that once covered the Drowned Hundred...


Not that Susan C was forgotten. Much as Tethys is appeased by seeing a picture of a boat named, 'The White Lady' in Greenwitch, so the denizens of the drowned cantref are held close in the hearts of the Borth Tandoori, for behold here is none other than Gwyddno Garanhir.


From the Hayashi of Kobanashi

I'm so not an actor. Nevertheless, I've been trying to learn a 'kobanashi' for a competition that I will certainly not win, nor come close in, but for which there is a nice participation prize in the form of a specially designed tenugui (hand-towel). Reader, I covet it.

So, here I am trying to tell a story about a monk who enrols in a temple with a vow of silence. The monks are only allowed to say two words every ten years. At the end of the first decade, he says, 'Food, disgusting!' At the end of the second, it's 'Futon, thin!' At the end of thirty years he tells the chief monk, 'I quit!'

The chief monk shakes his head and says, 'I'm not surprised - you've been complaining ever since you got here.' (This is not a Japanese joke - I swiped it from an English-language site - but it's the kind of joke they tell in kobanashi.)

Hopefully you could tell all that anyway, from my body language, etc., as well as my expert use of chopsticks and tenugui - the kobanashi artist's traditional props.

Cathy kobanashi - chinmoku no seiyaku ga aru otera

(Once again, I know this is not good, but I put it here as a matter of record, and because this is my way of taking breaks from marking.)

Is this the hill? Is this the kirk? Is this mine own countree?

Well, I've finally made landfall. Yesterday my final class was taught, and (since I will be on research leave in the autumn semester) I will not have to teach another until 2022. Of course, there's a lot of marking between where I am now (still sloshing about on the foreshore with saltwater in my sea boots) and the chalky uplands where I can actually do research, and I will of course continue to edit Children's Literature in Education and supervise sundry PhD students throughout; but still, a deep sense of peace has descended. Time to settle down and watch season 2 of the karmic Thai school drama, Girl From Nowhere, I think. (I asked on FB in vain, and I ask again here: does anyone other than me watch this show? As I've mentioned before, it's really not like anything else I've seen. I'd love to hear someone else's opinion.)

Meanwhile, I made my first ever visit to the Star and Garter, once the domain of Dutty Ken, St Paul's legend, and still with a tempting line in curried goat. This was actually my first pint of draught beer in over a year.


I got my second jab earlier in the week, with none of the unpleasant effects of the first, beyond a certain tiredness. Now I just have to hope that Japan gets its vaccine act together quickly enough for me to be able to take up the visiting scholarship at Tokyo Joshidai in September. I'd say the chances are 50:50 or rather less at present.

In politics, Keir Starmer's "Like the Tories But Less So" slogan doesn't seem to have been quite as inspiring as he hoped - and I gather he wants to change it to "Even More Like the Tories But Less So." Good luck with that.

Drive-by post achievement unlocked. Now, back to marking dissertations.