Saturday, 27 March 2010

Chess, one of 100 objects, Northern Sea Trading Routes, India and Persia ...

Checkmate – that finality in a game of chess .. the call of the young child .. ‘I beat you’ ‘checkmate’! I could never master chess properly – sufficiently to play – but almost always to be beaten quite easily – how about you?

The British Museum, that bastion of a house of treasure, holds in its collections seven million objects from around the world, originating from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human history and culture from its beginning to the present.

It was established in 1753, largely based on the collections of the physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane as a “universal museum”; Sir Hans had, over the course of his lifetime, amassed an enviable “collection of curiosities”, and not wishing to see his collection broken up after his death he bequeathed it to King George II, for the nation, for the princely sum of £20,000.
Above: The Lewis Chessmen in the British Museum from the 12th century most of which are carved in walrus ivory

Guests from Overseas, 1901 (Varangians in Russia) Nicholas Roerich [Varangians: northern peoples travelling east; more likely to be known as Vikings with their seafaring ventures westwards]

I just love way the history of the Museum has been described: The Foundation – logical, I agree, with Sloane’s 71,000 objects, to which the King added two libraries .. the Cottonian Library dating back to Elizabethan times; the collection of the Earls of Oxford and finally by the Royal Library: these four “foundation collections” included many of the most treasured books now in the British Library, including the Lindisfarne Gospels and the sole surviving copy of Beowulf.

What an amazing start to what is an incredible institution today .. The "Cabinet of Curiosities" was the next part in its development (1753 – 1778), whereby the Trustees decided it needed a permanent home: the book collection continued, but now the first antiquities of note were being gifted to this "Cabinet of Curiosities". The next part is known as “Indolence and Energy” (1778 – 1800) , when exploration was really happening,with the round the world voyages of Captain James Cook, amongst others. Despite the "Indolence", the collection “grew like Topsy” with the "Energies" of those intrepid 18th and 19th century explorers.

I digress though! Back to today and the BBC and the British Museum’s collaboration and decision to select 100 objects from this huge collection. They have been selected to cover the broadest possible chronological and geographical period, and tell a history of the world from two million years ago to the present day. The 100 programmes being broadcast by the BBC throughout the year: bbc.co.uk/ahistoryof theworld/ (It opens with flash - hence no link)
Ivory label depicting Den smiting an enemy; British Museum – King Den 4th Egyptian King of the First Dynasty (period 3050 - 2890BC)

I heard a BBC history podcast by the Curator of the Museum explaining this venture where one of the objects selected to be explained was the first recorded Christian chess set piece of a Bishop, discovered in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Other items, not discussed, but which are included in this exhibition are a Chinese Jade Axe, a Neolithic Food Vessel, the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus, dated to around 1650 BC, King Den’s Ivory Sandal Label, all of which can be viewed on the BBC’s 'A History of the World' site.

This Bishop chess piece was made in the 12th century out of walrus ivory, which then begged the question why was it made of walrus and not of elephant ivory; this has not been answered .. and the question remains – why did the elephant ivory trade stop, apparently suddenly?

The Bishop is included because it confirms various things relative to the object itself, as well as to explanations about the world at that time. Chess, “The game of Kings”, is thought to have originated in North-West India in the early 300 – 550 AD period; at that stage it was known for the four divisions of the military – infantry (pawns), cavalry (knights), elephants (bishops) and chariotry (rooks or castles). The Muslim world took the game up after the Islamic conquest of Persia (633 – 644 AD).
ros marus piscis (sea horse) in Carta Marina (Walrus)

The game then quickly spread along the Mediterranean trading routes, reaching Spain and Portugal, with various language name changes along the way – Persian, Greek, Spanish and Portuguese: the Persian shah (“king”), which was familiar as an exclamation, subsequently became the English word “check”, and ultimately “chess”.

The game reached Western Europe and Russia by at least three routes, the earliest being in the 9th century and by the year 1,000 the game had spread throughout Europe, and was actually described in a 13th century manuscript, The Libro de los Juegos, (“Book of Games”) [chess, dice and tables] in old Spanish completed in Alfonso X’s scriptorium in Toledo in 1283.
Knights Templar playing chess, Libro de los juegos, 1283

Walruses are only found in the Arctic circumpolar area, and have played a prominent role in the many indigenous Arctic peoples, who have hunted them for their meat, fat, skin, tusks and bone for many thousands of years. The name ‘walrus’ may have come from the Dutch words ‘walvis’ (whale) and ‘ros’ (horse); while the archaic English word for walrus – morse – is widely supposed to have come from the Slavic, and from this similar words in Russian, Polish, Finnish, French, Spanish, Romanian etc! So the walrus too has international connections.

People have been living in the Trondheim region for millennia, while in more recent times – a thousand years ago! – the Viking kings used the port of Trondheim as a northern seafaring military base and as the capital of Norway. Trondheim is not marked here but is to be found just above the left (west) of the name ‘Norway’ as shown on the map .. in the orange knitting bouncing down the coast! I’m not sure what the Vikings would have thought of their trading route being described this way?!

Map showing the major Varangian trade routes: the Volga trade route (in red) and the Trade Route from the Varangians to the Greeks (in purple). Other trade routes of the eighth–eleventh centuries shown in orange.
We can see from this map the various trading routes in early days when river and sea routes were component parts of moving goods around. Also depicted are the main connection links – across to China, to India, into the Byzantine Empire (including Persia) and west along the Mediterranean countries and coasts, even crossing to Africa, where there was a major trade route across the Sahara Desert.

So to find carved walrus ivory chess pieces on the islands of Scotland would not have been too unusual, considering the Viking trading routes from Trondheim to Scotland and on to Dublin, but it is the Bishop’s connection confirming the power and spread of Christianity since its early foray into Britain in the 4th century and the fact that that the Islamic game of chess had spread across the known world confirming and highlighting these different trading routes. Probably the actual game of chess came after the spread of carvings became popular as trading items or religious keepsakes.

It was interesting to hear the curator’s introduction to this BBC series and then to piece the idea together regarding the Christian Bishop chess piece and the reasons why it was selected as one of the hundred objects. Our ancients’ world is fascinating to cobble together, so we can get to grip with some of its knitting!

Dear Mr Postman – it does make a difference being a little warmer, though Spring is taking its time – they do say we should have a brilliantly coloured, rich and full burst of nature to announce its actual arrival – which will be glorious to look at. We’re still settling in .. but my mother is fine, weaker inevitably .. she’s just very grateful for company, holding hands and being peaceful.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Spring Cleaning and Passion Flowers ....

Spring Equinox starts this weekend the sun rises everywhere at 6.00 am and sets at 6.00 pm – that’s life and just the way it is .. because the earth is slightly tilted the sun ‘moves’ between the two tropics and we get our seasons. If the earth’s axis was not tilted we would have no seasons, nor of all these gorgeous flowers, tall majestic trees, blossoming bushes, crops of many sorts .. a multitude of plenty to chose from across the continents.

Winter is being shed, spring is springing – here in the northern hemisphere – bulbs are bursting through, blossom is waiting for a zephyr wind not the arctic bursts we have had – but we are lucky. Do you remember the days of coal fires to heat the house, to cook the food, heat the water? .. those were hard times .. and the sooty dust that went everywhere making all the surfaces and fabrics a slightly darker shade of pale?



The earth: High-resolution global composites of Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (Wikipedia)

Spring cleaning could start when the days were getting warmer and longer .. more time to complete the jobs and the extra light meant crevices could be looked into!! Each day now we will have an extra fifteen minutes of light, as the sun moves higher in our horizon, every day until the summer solstice and then once again we start to lose the light little by little.

Our ancestors could only refill their straw mattresses once the hay was dry enough and the chimney sweeps could only do their sweeping once the winter fires were out. Surprisingly the chimney sweep is an ancient ‘profession’, being considered to be one of the oldest occupations in our known world.



Chimney Sweep in the 1850s

Our passion for housework seems to have evaporated over the years – we were house proud, ready to tackle the great unwashed at the dawn of longer days .. to bring sparkle, a fresh scent and sunlight back into our homes. Brushing brooms, dusting dusters, up the ladders until we had aching backs, watery eyes, weary arms .. bring out the hoover .. then let us get outside into the great outdoors: spring has sprung.

Passiontide is nearly upon us .. the Christian year still steeped in religious fervour influences us through its festivals and services, the legends that are passed on through the generations, recorded in books – we remember.

Passiontide, the last two weeks of Lent, is the dark fortnight leading up to Easter and is centred on a sequence of Stations of the Cross, inspired by the medieval tradition of processing to the images of Christ’s Passion: the Passiontide Processional a dramatic service held in St Peter's Basilica, Cathedrals and churches throughout the world.



Cross veiled during Passiontide in Lent (Pfarrkirche St. Martin in Tannheim, Baden W├╝rttemberg, Germany).

Most of us know the passiflora – the passion flower – so named by the newly arrived missionaries and settlers in South America after Columbus’ expeditions in the late 1490s. These superb climbing plants, whose intricate flowers of crimson, blue, flesh-coloured, yellow and greenish-white must have presented an arresting picture. Even today it is impossible to pass one of the most common varieties without a second glance – I can attest to that ... they are so pretty – let alone the taste of their fruits... oh oh oh! Perhaps ‘my champagne fruit’ comes first ... I mean it .. babaco ...

In their religious zeal, the Spaniards saw in this flower a God-given symbol of Christ’s Passion, and hailed it as an assurance of the ultimate triumph of the Cross. Each flower part bears a fancied resemblance to the instruments of the Passion:

The leaf symbolizes the spear;
The five petals and five sepals, the ten apostles (Peter who denied, and Judas who betrayed, being omitted;
The five anthers, the five wounds
The tendrils, the scourges
The column of the ovary, the pillar of the cross
The stamens, the hammers
The three stigmas, the three nails
The filament within the flower, the crown of thorns
The calyx, the glory
The white tint of the flower, purity
The blue tint, heaven
It keeps open for three days, symbolizing the three years’ of ministry

The passion flower climbed the Cross and covered its arms with flowers. [Above: Pink-white rakhi flower at Kadalakurushi near Palakkad (Kerala, India)]

Today is Passion Sunday , the Spring Equinox and a quiet time to reflect as the days are lengthening giving us a renewal from the winter depths of dark and closedness, we can step out into the warmer days as the passion flower did clambering out to embrace this new burgeoning world.

The Mexicans called the flower Flos de las Cinco Llagas, the Flower of the Five Wounds, which once it reached Europe was called Flos-passionis. Linnaeus (1707 – 1778) under his system of scientific classification renamed it Passiflora, the Passion Flower.



Flower of Passiflora × belotii, a horticultural hybrid

We get passion flowers clambering around fences here and I shall look at the passion flower in a new light now I know a little more about its meaning, origins and naming.

Dear Mr Postman – my mother seems to be settled in, I have put up some more decorations – all have to be wipe-proof, which is somewhat frustrating as it is so limiting. We just have to go forward – I hope she can move back up as it is so much hotter and stuffier downstairs and she loves her coolness, even upstairs we had the fans on! (Not one, but two usually!). We’ll see. The clocks go forward next weekend .. then Spring will really be here for us – our daylight will go on suddenly to 7.30 in the evening .. it’s a lovely change: invigorating.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Steak, Kidney and Oyster Pudding with a Stout Porter?


As it is St Patrick’s Day – how about a steak, kidney and oyster pudding washed down with a glass of Guinness? In the 18th century the ports of Britain, Europe and the Americas became synonymous with oysters, stouts, pies and public houses along the waterfronts nourishing and watering the working classes.

Irish workers from the early 1700s had started streaming into Britain with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, when new jobs were created; the Irish diaspora is thought to be an estimated 80 million people worldwide, 45 million in the States, who claim “Irish” as their primary ethnicity.

The Chicago River in Chicago, Illinois on Saint Patrick’s Day - coloured green using vegetable dye
So a few puddings or pies would have been sold to those emigrating souls, while the dockers, porters and sailors would have kept the tavern owners happy drinking a large number of pints of Guinness and other ales.

A photochrom print of Patrick Street in Cork, the second-largest city in the Republic of Ireland, ca. 1890–1900. Originally founded as a monastic settlement in the 6th century, Cork is believed to have been an important port city for Vikings. After the Great Irish Famine in the 1840s, Cork became a major point of Irish emigration to North America.
Oysters had been eaten for centuries, if not millennia, as middens testify to the prehistoric importance of oysters as food. Whitstable in Kent, and the Kentish flats at the estuary of the Thames were noted for their oyster beds and were sourced as far back as Roman times, if not probably earlier. In fact oysters were exported to Rome, which does seem somewhat extraordinary .. but true.

Throughout the 19th century, oyster beds in New York harbour became the largest source of oysters worldwide. On any day in the late 19th century, six million oysters could be found on barges tied up along New York’s waterfront. Today there is a scarcity – so oysters instead of being a working class food are now an expensive delicacy.

The development of the waterways during the Industrial Revolution, opened up routes right into the heart of the cities for the agriculture of the day. Barley, hops, brewer’s yeast and water were the main ingredients with a little of the Guinness magic thrown in .. a portion of the barley was roasted to give Guinness its dark colour and characteristic taste.

Porter is a dark-coloured style of beer, assuming the popular name of ‘porter’ from the street and river porters of London. A stout porter, or Stout, became so named because of a strong porter and robust brew of Porter. Muddled? Well .. most names come about this way – a mix and match of terms, bringing about a generic name as in this case.

Guinness, a popular Irish dry stout, originated from Dublin, in the 1750s and through good management and business decisions, together with incredible marketing have remained at the forefront in the drinks market with their clever branding to this day. One instance of this is “Black Velvet”, which was produced and named at the time of Prince Albert’s death in 1861.

Despite its reputation as a "meal in a glass", Guinness contains fewer calories than skimmed milk or orange juice and most other non-light beers – so a meal of steak, kidney and oyster pudding, with a side order of a Guinness or two wouldn’t be too bad an option – now would it? I haven’t had Guinness that often, but that glass with its creamy head of foam certainly brings the taste buds to the fore.

I feel quite a few Irish will have had a few pints in the early part of today, St Patrick’s Day, when the day world seems to turn green – and the Irish make their presence felt celebrating their homeland.

So let’s celebrate with them – have a glass of very dark ruby Guinness – yes it may appear black, but apparently is ruby red! And should you be in pub outside of Ireland, Guinness merchandise will be available to buy .. but only after you’ve purchased a specified number of pints – canny aren’t they?!

It’s a celebration of the Irish, St Patrick’s Day (for posts see below), good old fashioned fare, all washed down with a good pint in a welcoming cavernous, saw-dusted, public house along with many friends singing Irish folk songs to the accompaniment of an Irish fiddle – what more could any of us want. An enjoyable day out.
The Ale-House Door c.1790 by Henry Singleton


Dear Mr Postman – we are still settling and my mother seems comfortable and is quiet, mainly. It is definitely warmer and at last the Spring seems to be in the air ..

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Friends, Romans, Countrymen send me your socks ...

Why don’t they tell you 'Limes Britannicus' is so cold compared to our beautiful Mediterranean? So spoke a Roman centurion, almost 2,000 years ago, on being stationed at the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire, which is today called Hadrian’s Wall.

No doubt so did many other infantrymen, auxiliaries, and guards posted along the Wall to the 17 main forts, smaller forts, as well as the signal towers in between. Think of the winter we have just had: all that snow, freezing winds from the Arctic or Siberia, the longevity of it – though now Spring seems to be springing – how would you have survived in Roman times?

Hadrian’s Wall viewed from Vercovicium, one of the auxiliary forts along the wall.

This weekend beacons flared along its eighty mile length with the whole Wall being lit for 30 minutes reminding us of how this imposing structure from 1700 years ago would have looked to those sentries and their freezing feet on marching duty between the ‘milecastles’, as the smaller forts were known, keeping a watchful eye for a possible Celtic barbarian invasion from the north.

The Romans were very efficient in settling an area after invasion, so they were self-sufficient and self-contained within the forts. They had barracks, baths, stables, a granary, administrative and the commander’s quarters, where his family and entourage lived comfortably. Outside the fort defences civilians (innkeepers, shopkeepers etc) settled to make a living from the garrison and its men. In fact the area along Hadrian’s Wall is one of the first places in England to be extensively farmed and was agriculturally productive even then.

Granary at Vercovicium. The pillars supported a raised floor to keep food dry and free from vermin.

We know that the Romans wore bare feet, sandals or light shoes in their town houses, while outside and marching they would have worn heavier leather sandals or boots. Tanning leather was commonplace, with the thicker skins being used for boot, shoe leather, or less expensive armour.

Tanned leather was also fashioned into heavy coats as a protection against poor weather. Though in England the Romans adopted the local double layered wool cloak, made of fleeces straight from the sheep and still containing the animal fats as natural insulation from the cold and wet.

Roman Shoes – per Vroma.org

Socks had evolved over the centuries being made from animal skins gathered up and tied round the ankles, to the Greeks and Romans wearing socks made from matted animal hair for warmth, or wrapping their feet with leather or woven fabrics. Easily obtainable as they travelled the empire, and certainly here they would have needed extra warmth.

A sock (soccus) was a light shoe worn by the comic actors of Greece and Rome, and was used by John Milton (1608 – 1674) in L’Allegro as a description for a comedy ..

Then to the well-trod stage anon,
If Jonson’s learned sock be on.

[Ben Jonson (1572 – 1637) the English Renaissance dramatist, poet and actor. A contemporary of William Shakespeare, he is best known for his satirical plays.]

Milton also used the word 'Buskin', to describe a Tragedy, as the Greek tragic actors wore thick-soled (high) boots (cothurnus) to elevate their stature .. (taken from Milton’s “Il Penseroso”) ...

Or what (though rare) of later age
Enobled hath the buskind stage.


Buskins: A buskin is a knee- or calf-length boot made of leather or cloth which laces closed, but is open across the toes.

Shakespeare’s words spoken by Julius Caesar “Friends Romans Countrymen lend me your ears ..” is still quoted so often today, let alone when spoken in the Play itself.... it does not look as though they would have had to snail-mailed to Rome for socks, as the natural materials were readily available!

Yesterday, 15th March, reminded me of Plutarch’s record of Julius Caesar’s words before his assassination in 44BC: “Beware the Ides of March”, as his death ended the Roman Republic and from then on it became known as the Roman Empire – Augustus, who won through the civil war following Caesar’s death, made himself First Citizen, Commander of the army, while his successors used the title ‘imperator’ (commander), from which we obtain our word ‘emperor’.

The first Romans to campaign extensively in Britain were the forces of Julius Caesar in 55 and 54BC (both hindered by poor weather conditions!), but it was not until AD43 under Claudius that a provincial government was established and the Romans pushed their “limites” north to the province’s northern border with Hadrian’s Wall taking six years to complete in AD 128.

In Latin the plural of ‘limes’ is 'limites' – limits, boundaries in present day English – hence the Roman boundary name of Limes Britannicus, while the comedic word soccus has now turned into the accepted word for sock .. but not quite like these in their sandals I suspect?! Not much more to say here = socks and shoes, but not from Roman times!

The distinctive Romano—British culture that emerged following the conquests fusing the imported Roman culture and that of the indigenous Britons, a people Celtic in language and custom, which survives in many forms today ... in our language, our structural system, our foods, our customs, our traditions, etc influencing us still.

Those chilly Romans on Hadrian’s Wall pulling on their socks before their sandals have much to answer for – but for which we have much to be grateful for too. In the days of the Roman Empire it was common for the wall to be lit as sentries stood guard over the land, but since their departure no such line of light has been repeated until this past weekend, which was a sight to be seen, as shown here.

Dear Mr Postman – at last some warmer Spring sunshine, which are bringing out the greening shoots and leaveas, while the daffodils are starting to push up and colour out a radiant rich yellow. My mother seems to be settling in downstairs, but there are still things to be addressed, which is somewhat frustrating ... but we keep going.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Women - how much education have women had in the past 2,000 years?

Women in Science – were there any before the 1700s? We would probably have thought not especially if we read the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft, the mother of the woman who would become Mary Shelley and the authoress of the novel “Frankenstein”.

Wollstonecraft (1759 – 1797) is best known for “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” (1792) in which she argues that women are not naturally inferior to women, but appear to be only because they lack education. She suggests that both men and women should be treated as rational beings and imagines a social order founded on reason.
Woman Teaching Geometry. Illustration at the beginning of a medieval translation of Euclid’s Elements (c1310)

The only reason Mary Wollstonecraft rings a bell with me, is that her tomb is in the local St Pancras Old Churchyard, next to what was St Pancras Workhouse, where my mother went for assessment before her move to Eastbourne. Apparently her tomb was where Mary, the aforesaid daughter, and Percy Byssche Shelley, laid their plans to elope and marry.
Richard Rothwell's portrait of Mary Shelley was shown at the Royal Academy in 1840, accompanied by lines from Percy Shelley's poem The Revolt of Islam calling her a "child of love and light".

This week commemorates International Women’s Day, which started as a movement in Eastern Europe, as a Socialist political event subsequently losing that flavour, and becoming an occasion for men to express their love for women in a way somewhat similar to a mixture of Mother’s Day and St Valentine’s Day. (The Christian festival of Mothering Sunday, which we celebrate herein England this coming weekend is our Mother’s Day, while the Americans and other parts of the world celebrate their Mother’s Day in May , though I’m sure Hallmark would like us to have two ceremonies!).

In other parts of the world the original political and human rights theme designated by the United Nations runs strong, where the political and social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide are brought out and examined in a hopeful manner.

The United Nations Page on “Investing in Women and Girls” comments that this ‘Day for Women’ is an occasion to look back, but “more importantly for looking ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women”. The historical perspective and general details are set out in the UN page.

In 2000 eight Millennium Development Goals were pledged by the 192 member states; Goal number 3 is to “Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women”: all the goals can be read here.
The MDGs in the United Nations Headquarters in New York

Going back to Women in Science, women have contributed from the earliest days, but as contributors have generally not been acknowledged. My interest came about as we have here on the BBC seven programmes through the last 2,000 years called the “Seven Ages of Britain” and this week’s episode was entitled “The Age of Money” (approx 1700 – 1800).

The eighteenth century was the period when Britain was starting to become the wealthiest and leading country in the world, spawning a huge amount of entrepreneurial talent, together with enormous developments in learning. Each new stage added to the store house of knowledge and prosperity that was growing at exponential proportions throughout Great Britain at that time, as in 1707 the Act of Union with Scotland came into effect.

London became the new business capital of the world, while having incredible explorers, cartographers, painters, artists, architects and designers, whereas Scotland was the new intellectual centre fostering philosophers and scientists. William Hunter was one of these scientists, having studied medicine in 1737, who went on to become a leading teacher in anatomy, and the outstanding obstetrician of his day.

Hunter became physician to Queen Charlotte (1744 – 1818), King George III’s wife, enabling him, as the leading obstetric consultant in London, to build an anatomy theatre and museum, where all the best British anatomists and surgeons for the period were trained.
Page from The Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus Exhibited in Figures

Hunter has been credited with the rediscovery of Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomical dissections, which are conserved in the Royal Collection at Windsor, and on which he commissioned the sculptor and the artist to base their work. The greatest sculptural work was The Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus exhibited in figures (1774); while the Baskerville Press published very detailed engravings – both of which were used by Hunter at his teaching theatre.
A page from Leonardo's journal showing his study of a foetus in the womb (c. 1510) Royal Library, Windsor Castle

There are records of women in antiquity being involved in medicine in the early civilisations of Egypt and Greece, as well as the scholarly subjects of alchemy, philosophy, geometry, algebra, astronomy including the invention of a number of new devices.

University education was available to women in the medieval period in Europe, mainly covering medical subjects especially obstetrics and gynaecology; while convents were another place of education for women and provided opportunities for them to contribute to scholarly research.

Despite the success of some women, cultural biases against women were prominent in the MiddleAges affecting the education and participation of women in science. Many people believed in the submission of women as an important value and many of these biases against women stemmed from Christian philosophy. St Thomas Aquinas, a Christian scholar (1225 – 1274), wrote referring to women “She is mentally incapable of holding a position of authority”. No wonder we are the power behind the throne mostly!

This bias continued against women’s education and to some extent continues even today, though women are getting recognised posthumously from foregone eras. My thought on William Hunter was that his sculptural exhibits and drawings must have made a tremendous difference to women at the point of childbirth at that time ... and how our future learning about ourselves would have helped other areas of life, eg lambing, which is going on in this country now.
A woman weaving. Textile work has historically been a female occupation in some cultures.

This week is for all women in the world, where we are lucky in our western world that we now can utilise 100% of our brain power, rather than just 50% .. and that Millennium Goal of Promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women rings so true for the rest of the world, as well as acknowledging the imbalances that are held within our own developed part of the world: we, men and women, are the world .. let’s use 100%.

Dear Mr Postman .. it is still freezing .. and although my mother usually does not feel the cold, having moved her to an east facing room .. it sure is cold! Due to the Cdifficile we had to move her – just a little extra work for me .. new decorations etc & taking the old ones down .. and complying with the infection controls .. just what I need! She is definitely better and can hear fine – so apart from being weaker and not quite right .. we’re back to square four or thereabouts!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Fussbudget .. a bore, or a boar ...

When is a bore not a bore? A tidal bore, a fuddy-duddy, a swell, or a boring person, or being bored, or there’s that other sort a boar, a warthog – all descriptions conjouring up different pictures of life.

The phenomenon that is a tidal wave wreaking havoc as it pushes inland; a fuddy-duddy, or fussbudget (yes I did get that right courtesy of Wikipedia and the dictionary) is a person who fusses about trifles; a swell – they can be irritatingly boring, or a rising wave at the front of a tidal race, or that lovely pig-like creature ... they eat well! in Europe (I had roast boar in Czechoslovakia years ago), I’m not sure warthog are eaten in southern Africa, but I guess so somewhere.

This is the Ribble River, Manchester, Merseyside - showing a tidal bore

So why are we on ‘bores’ numerous? Well – this week the Severn Estuary Bore occurred, and it was thought that it would quite a high one, so the populace gathered, the media and the river surfers to watch Mother Nature produce one of her predictable waves. (It is not the same as a tsunami – which we all now appreciate are terrible forces of the unpredictable natural world).

The bore wave rises over six foot and can be as high as 8 feet (over 2 metres), while not being desperately conducive to shipping, surfers love it with a surfer having travelled 5.7 miles on his surfboard, taking over 35 minutes, but the river authorities no longer encourage these ‘races’. I saw a bore on the Solway Firth between England Scotland many years ago, that was small, but still impressive at how quickly it moved upstream.

There are lots of bores throughout the world but the Severn Estuary has the second largest tidal range of just over 49 feet (15 metres) in the World, the Bay of Fundy dividing Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Canada has the largest: both have funnel like estuaries, so the wave starts wide and low, and as it goes inland up the estuary the swell gets pushed higher and higher, before the tidal pull starts to subside.

However China has the highest bore at 25 feet (over 8 metres) in height, but the noise of that rumble of water, a powerful roar throating its way down stream to be heard well in advance of the actual racing wave – an hour before has been recorded in China .. a sign from the gods, in the old days? .. frightening to hear that gurgling froth – from where? ... terrifying to behold that wall of water rushing past, churning through full of sediment, scouring the sides, or spilling over the banks until its force evaporates over time ...

This week I was given a Kreativ Blog Award by Sara (thank you) – the lady per Lance with the ‘coolest avatar’ - of “A Sharing Connection” – and I am going to be a bore! The award should be passed on to ten other bloggers, but I shall pass it on once, as Sara very kindly set the precedent and awarded three of us .. so being the churlish bore that I can be... my one award is to Sam Liu of Thoughts-Writings-Coffee: Sam has some wonderful poetry, stories full of suspense .. I particularly liked this one .. hence the Kreativ Award: http://thoughts-writings-coffee.blogspot.com/2010/02/artist-story.html .

My two other co-awardees – Keith at Easy Public Speaking, another English connection who luckily for me immediately related to my previous "long-winded post" about Roman webs and roads .. so we have this Saturday happily been conversing between the Midlands and the South Coast.

Now the ‘World’s Strongest Librarian’ is Josh, who also received a Kreativ award .. and as I wandered over to find out a little more about this strong librarian – something that seemed to resonate with my love of books, information etc .. only to find the following information, which is so appropriate for today’s post:

A Majestic And Noble Promise!

The inside of my wife’s wedding ring says “I will never bore you.”



That’s the promise I’m making. My main goal is not to bore myself…or you. We’ve all got enough drama in our lives. This is a chance to lighten up and get our bodies and minds clicking in ways that we all need.


Now I’m sure you can see the magic word .... ‘bore’ .. not once but twice .. and seems to echo my own thoughts – that our blogs in particular are definitely not going to bore us, nor you .... as Josh mentions to his wife. I think that Josh’s promise to his wife is lovely.

His blog looks interesting and I have yet to have a proper look .. just finding the word ‘bore’ was enough excitement for one day!! The other mini bit of interest .. and it is only mini – really only mini – is that Seth Godin recognised him and soon he’ll be a published Strongest Librarian – that’s so cool Josh – now you and Sara match .. as too cool.

That’s my lot .. but to go with the Roast Boar we’ll have delicious crispy roast potatoes, roasted onions and parsnips, and I think some brussell sprouts (my favourite), carrots, and cauliflower with a delicious melting white sauce ... and to round it all off a delicious gravy made from the pan meat juices, a glass of good vino – perhaps a Roman English red ..

... then to ensure that the fussbudget can actually do it – a delicious fresh trifle – fresh fruit, home-made sponge, soaked with some cassis, good jelly over top and left to set; a home-made custard layer, with Cornish cream on top .... ooh now I’m hungry .. so this old bore is probably off to find a glass of vino for herself ....

Dear Mr Postman – great news my mother can hear again .. so at last we can do a little talking, though she looks much better, is still very weak – but it does make life easier. There’s more but enough for now .. I don’t want to be a bore do I? It’s still freezing – they did say the wind was coming in from Siberia .. and it feels like it ...

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The Middle Ages of the web – ancient pathways, monastic steps, St David yesterday, St Chad today and lines of communication ...

Why did the north of England produce so many wise and learned men in the very early centuries AD? Before the Roman invasion of Britain the ancient peoples initially followed animal tracks, which turned into regular routes for their communication, including very ancient ones running along elevated ridges of hills, such as the one here from Eastbourne to Winchester (the South Downs Way).

The Romans changed the track system of Europe and England for ever, building roads that were there to last, thus permitting heavy freight-wagons to be used in all seasons and all weathers.

Their road system allowed them to move armies and trade around, as well as communicate news quickly. This incredible system spanned more than 250,000 miles (400,000 km) of roads, including more than 50,000 miles (80,500 km) of paved roads; Britain only had 2,000 miles of roads, of which a great many now form the basis of our road system.
Remains of the Appian Way in Rome, near Quarto Miglio

Communication with horses, either being ridden or drawing carts, oxen and carts were slower, while the armies marching even slower – but speeded up with the improved road communications, initially mainly built for the armies’ use – so they also criss-crossed the country.

Once the Romans had been beaten back – along these same roads, leaving the door open for the Anglo Saxons to invade, then the Vikings, sea routes particularly to Scandinavia, Denmark and Germany were established. The English were beaten back to Wessex, in the west of England.

Christians were originally persecuted by the early Roman Emperors, including Nero who blamed the Great Fire of Rome on the Christian faithful, but by the early 4th Century state persecution had ceased, and in 380 AD a law was enacted establishing Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Christianity had spread north into Europe and had reached and briefly flourished in England, while establishing itself in parts of Europe under the Romans; however paganism in the other cultures – Anglo Saxons, Vikings, Celts, Picts – continued to hold sway.
Celtic Cross on Lindisfarne island.

During this time St Patrick (387 – 493), aged 16, had been captured and taken to Ireland as a slave, before escaping and returning to his family. After entering the Church he became a bishop and returned to Ireland, where he continued his ministering to convert the king and his Druids (a priestly and learned class).

Actual confirmation of his life and missionary work are sketchy and have been debated by scholars over the years, however he left two letters that are considered authentic and contain details of his early life. However his teachings must have made a huge impact because by the 8th century he had come to be revered as the patron saint of Ireland, despite the Irish monastery system evolving after his time.

St David, who is celebrated on 1 March, lived from 500 – 589; he was born in Wales and spent his years founding monastic settlements (note not solely monasteries) and churches in Wales, Cornwall and Brittany, which was still mostly pagan.

The Gaelic Irish St Columba (521 – 597), who on being exiled rowed and sailed across the Irish Sea to Scotland, a journey of about 100 miles, taking 3 – 4 days in good weather, in a boat made of animal skins stretched and secured over a wooden frame.

St Columba based himself on the island of Iona (central picture above), but travelled the north of Scotland, introducing Christianity to the Picts, the Scots of the day. His missionaries would have travelled far and wide in Scotland and further south into northern England. The stone crosses were built in wild and uninhabited places, standing as symbols to the new religion, and establishing new pathways and new lines of communication.

Columba was renowned as a man of letters, having written several hymns and being credited with having transcribed 300 books.
An imaginary portrait of Pope Gregory circa 1610(Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome)

Pope Gregory (540 – 604), also known as Gregory the Diarist, was the first Pope to come from a monastic background, sent Augustine, a Benedictine prior of a monastery in Rome, to England to convert the pagan King Ethelberht, King of Kent. Ethelberht had married the Christian King of Paris’ daughter, who would wield some Christian influence over the Kentish King.

St Augustine of Canterbury (+/- 533 – 604) was fairly successful in his mission, and ensured his successor would carry on his work as Bishop of London. The tentacles of Christianity were spreading north. Augustine had sent letters to Rome asking for the Pope’s advice on various matters, these are recorded by the Venerable Bede, including the Pope’s reply to go north and establish a second metropolitan bishopric at York, the first one meant to have moved from Canterbury to London, but which never happened for reasons unknown.

St Chad, who died in 672, was an Anglo-Saxon churchman, became Bishop of Northumbria, later becoming Bishop of Mercia (middle England – see the recent treasures). His saint’s day is today, 2nd March. Most of our knowledge about St Chad also comes from Bede.
Saint Chad, Bishop of York: Monastic Chapel 1920, Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, New York. This is the Christian saint Chad in stained glass form. He was born in Yorkshire, Kingdom of Northumbria.

Bede, this most renowned of early English scholars, became a monk at Jarrow and devoted his life to religion and learning. His industry, output and range were remarkable, but he is probably best known for his "Ecclesiastical History of the English People", a work of unusual merit and value, which has led him to be called the 'Father of English History'. His book is a major source of information to the year 731.

In fact Bede (672 - 735) wrote many books, over 60, most of which have survived. It is thought that he travelled widely meeting priors, monks and bishops, recording his meetings in letters, including a letter to a former student, Ecbert, who would become the Archbishop of York, at the instigation of the Archbishopric in 735.

Alcuin of York (+/-735 – 804) was a scholar, ecclesiastic, poet and teacher from York, who became a student of Archbishop Ecgbert. At the invitation of Charlemagne he became a leading scholar and teacher at the Carolingian court where he remained until the 780s. He wrote many treatises, as well as a few grammatical works and some poems. He is considered a prominent architect of the Carolingian Renaissance, and among his pupils were many of the dominant intellectuals of that era.
Portrait labelled "AUGUSTINUS" from the mid-8th century Saint Petersburg Bede; it is the oldest historiated initial known.

Charlemagne (742 – 814), King of the Franks, expanded the kingdom into a Frankish Empire that incorporated much of western and central Europe. During his reign he conquered Italy and was crowned Imperator Augustus by Pope Leo III, which temporarily made him a rival of the Byzantine Emperor in Constantinople.

His rule is associated with the Carolingian Renaissance, a revival of art, religion, and culture through the medium of the Catholic Church. Through his foreign conquests and internal reforms Charlemagne helped define both Western Europe and the Middle Ages, becoming known as the “father of Europe”: his empire united most of Western Europe for the first time since the Romans.

Charlemagne comes to the aid of Pope Adrian I (Hadrian 1)
We became introduced to Alcuin of York through a Chaplaincy card left for my mother, when she was in the Acute Brain Injury Unit. Once she was able to interact we wondered who Alcuin was .. and I was sent home to google or Wikipedie as it happened. She was really interested in him; my uncle knew exactly who he was! My ignorance shone through. These partings to find out more kept us amused as we explored subjects I’d found to discuss, or were brought to our attention in other ways.

As yesterday was St David’s Day, and today is St Chad’s day, and I’ve been posting about the Romans - I got to thinking about the lines of communication in our early history – before reproduction of books, letters, treatises, or tracts were commonplace – in another few hundred years.

How the Romans opened up Western Europe with their roads, how the Christian missionaries trod the lands, opened up new pathways across the country, how connections were made between the monasteries, new ones established. This explains my conundrum as to why the north of England produced so many great and learned men.

These connective links were never lost and allowed communication to really unfold, showing the great wealth of knowledge, political influence, the transference of that knowledge between the centres of excellence – the monastic settlements that owned a lot of land, had libraries (encouraging learning and study), helped the poor and looked after the local communities.
A page from a copy of Bede’s “Lives of St Cuthbert”, showing King Athelstan presenting the work to the saint. This manuscript was given to St Cuthbert’s shrine on Lindisfarne in 934. Lindisfarne monastery (circa 635), which Bede visited and spent time there, had important connections with Iona, and subsequently the evangelising of the north of England, including Mercia ... the links go on.

We already have illuminated manuscripts, illuminated books, such as the Book of Kells, or the Vulgate Bible sent to Rome, but only reaching Florence (due to the untimely death of the entrusted messenger) where it remains in the Laurentian Library, that it is thought Bede himself might have worked on.

This Bible is now acknowledged as a British classic of extreme high quality – reflecting the inter communication that went on between nations .. including Britain, which was not such a heathen backwater after all – it was fully integrated as a part of Europe 1,300 years ago, and was a cultural force ... until once again men from afar came to conquer – the Vikings – before the super power of William the Conqueror once again allowed Britain to regain its identity.

Dear Mr Postman – a short note for this long post, which I hope everyone will learn from, if not enjoy as such! My mother progresses .. neither encouraging, nor discouraging – I feel impotent to help her at the moment and that is difficult.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories