The Plague

This afternoon I watched the BBC broadcast of the Six Nations rugby match between Scotland and Ireland.

The following three paragraphs have been taken from http://www.beautifulbritain.co.uk/htm/outandabout/eyam.htm

The site contains more information and relevant details.

‘It’s hard to imagine that the quiet village of Eyam, off the A623 in Derbyshire, could have such a fascinating, yet tragic story to tell. But …. at the end of August 1665 bubonic plague arrived at the house of the village tailor George Viccars, via a parcel of cloth from London. The cloth was damp and was hung out in front of the fire to dry, thus releasing the plague infested fleas. On 7th September 1665, George Viccars, the first plague victim, died of a raging fever. As the plague took hold and decimated the villagers it was decided to hold the church services outdoors at nearby Cucklett Delf and, on the advice of rector William Mompesson and the previous incumbent Thomas Stanley, villagers stayed within the confines of the village to minimize the spread of the disease. Cucklett Delf was also the secret meeting place of sweethearts Emmott Sydall, from Eyam, and Rowland Torre, who was from a neighbouring village. They would call to each other across the rocks, until Emmott Sydall herself became a victim of the plague. Six of the eight Sydall family died, and their neighbours lost nine family members.

To minimize cross infection, food and other supplies were left outside the village, at either the Boundary Stones, or at Mompesson’s Well, high above the village. The Earl of Devonshire, who lived at Chatsworth House, freely donated food and medical supplies. For all other goods, money, as payment, was either purified by the running water in the well or was left in vinegar soaked holes. The Riley graves, close to Riley House Farm and approximately 1/2 mile from the village house the bodies of the husband and six children of farmer Elizabeth Hancock. All died within a week of each other. Because of the high risk of infecting her neighbours she had the traumatic task of burying them all herself. Even more tragic is that the infection probably came to her family when she helped bury another villager’s body. Twelve months after the death of George Vicars, the plague was still claiming its victims, and on 25th August 1666 Catherine Mompesson, wife of the recently appointed rector William Mompesson (aged 28) , died of the plague. She had loyally stayed with her husband and tended the sick, only to become a victim herself.

The Plague in Eyam raged for 14 months and claimed the lives of at least 260 villagers. By 1st November 1666 it had run its course and claimed its last victim. Eyam’s selfless villagers, with their strong Christian convictions, had shown immense personal courage and self sacrifice. They had prevented the plague from spreading to other parishes, but many paid the ultimate price for their commitment.’

It would be fascinating to know whether, when he wrote ‘The Plague’, Albert Camus, Algerian winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, had known of the story of Eyam during the 17th Century bubonic plague. He has certainly written a convincing account of life during an enclosed confinement at the mercy of such a pestilence.

Camus stated of his work, first published in 1947 that ‘I wish to express through the plague the suffocation which we have all suffered, and the atmosphere of threat and exile in which we have lived.’ This is an undoubted reference to the German occupation of France. On a broader scale the book could be seen as a metaphor for any oppressive invasion.

As usual I will not reveal details of the tale. There is in fact very little plot, but the writer has evoked the initial disbelief, subsequent reluctant acceptance, psychological isolation, resignation, and despair of most, along with exhausting resistance of a few.

I have not read the original French of ‘La Peste’, but I believe Stuart Gilbert’s translation reflects the author’s flowing, insightful, prose.

My Folio Society edition of 1987, which I finished reading today contains an informative introduction by Derek Parker, and is illustrated with

Linda Kitson’s muscular drawings.

The essential difference between the English village and the town depicted by Camus is that of voluntary sacrifice and imposed isolation.

This evening we dined on Mr Chan’s excellent Hordle Chinese Take Away fare, on trays on our laps while we watched a recording of the earlier match between Wales and Italy.

Master & Commander

I entered New Hall Hospital on 9th January, intending to persevere with Patrick O’Brian’s ‘Master & Commander’. This despite the fact that I cannot really concentrate on reading in my post-operative condition.

This novel is the first of the author’s acclaimed series of 18 works focussing on 18th century seamanship. Whilst I could admire the skilful research and the accurate presentation of seagoing life during O’Brian’s chosen period the book’s first hundred or so pages had not engaged me.

Mine is the 2008 edition of the Folio Society, illustrated with contemporary maps and paintings; and detailed drawings of ropes and rigging. It is the immense amount of technical detail that tied me up in so many knots that I could not enjoy the undoubted excellent characterisation offered by the writer.

Back at home, I opened it again, where a telltale bookmark slipped out from between pp 324/5. My practice of leaving bookmarks in my books is featured in ‘Bookmarks’. A secondary bonus is that this will remind me that I have already read the work. That I had no memory of this one demonstrates that I had struggled equally ten years ago.

This time I abandoned the effort and turned to ‘Treasure Palaces’, edited by Maggie Fergusson. This, a Christmas present from Tess and Mat, is a perfect recovery project: short chapters, each a description of a variety of authors’ chosen museums, contrasting their first, childhood, experience with a more recent one. Completing my reading today, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This evening we enjoyed a second sitting of Hordle Chinese Take Away fare.

Cock Of The Roost

John Wain writes a good story. His ‘The Pardoner’s Tale’, which I finished reading last night, uses the device of a novel within a novel, fusing two stories together by an ingenious means which I will not reveal, but which soon becomes clear. The narrative moves along nicely. Published by MacMillan in 1978, the work traces the transient development of sexual relationships, leaving the reader to use his or her imagination as to the exact nature of the coupling. Following his example I will not provide too much information, thus diminishing the reader’s curiosity.

It is almost fifty years since I last read Chaucer’s tale from which I thought Wain must have taken his inspiration. I therefore read that again this morning. Strangely enough, although about gluttony and other lusts, this cautionary tale did not cover sex. This had me puzzled until I explored the pardoner’s motto: ‘radix malorum est cupiditas’ which translates as ‘greed, or desire, is the root of all evil’. (Don’t get excited – Latin gave me up at school, so I had to look this up.) Thus, our modern author focuses on the desire for ideal sexual relationships.

My Chaucer reading was from my Folio Society copy of The Canterbury Tales (1974)

illustrated with woodcuts by Edna Whyte, and translated into modern English by Nevill Coghill.

On the afternoon of this dismally dripping day, Jackie drove me into the forest where

beside the green at Pilley, sodden ponies scoured pasturage near the replenished old quarry

lake.

Cattle, as usual, occupied the aptly named Bull Hill, further down which

a duck paddled among the reflected branches of a tree in a garden where it would have waddled in the summer.

A clutch of chickens raking over a heap of straw across the road scurried off as I approached. Not so the cock of the roost who gave me the evil eye and continued combing.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s toothsome sausage casserole; boiled potatoes; and firm carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli with which I drank Nero d’Avola 2014.

Omitted From The Talking Book

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Yesterday evening, Becky, who with Ian also stayed overnight with Flo and Dillon, was hunting in the library for James Joyce’s ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’. She had been listening to it on the radio. I knew where it was, but it was inaccessible at the moment. This morning I moved items blocking the passage and brought it out for her. This is my Folio Society edition of 1965, with illustrations by Dodie Masterson. The coloured drawing is on the front cover board; the black and white ones are full page pictures in the text.

This book, in its slip case, has followed me around for more than half a century. Purchased only five years after I left Wimbledon College, a Jesuit grammar school, it contains descriptions of a Catholic child’s upbringing with which I could identify. Beginning in the language of a very small boy, my recollection of Stephen’s bed-wetting and how it is warm and comfortable at first, then goes cold, was an example of such reminiscence. Becky tells me that this has been omitted from the talking book version. I was happy to present her with the slender volume.

Dillon, hailing from South Carolina, had never seen ponies roaming free before. Becky therefore offered to drive him and Flo on an equine foray. I accompanied them to Burley and back via a somewhat circuitous route. On the way to the village  we encountered a number of ponies on the moor. They mostly seemed rather young, and less inquisitive that we would expect from older ones, as they went about the business of eating grass and gorse. Interestingly, they were very tolerant of Scooby’s attention.

We stopped at Burley where the young couple explored the witchy and other tourist shops. The fudge outlet was popular. Becky’s experience was so hilarious that at this point I hand the keyboard to her.

‘I noticed a bag of Marmite Fudge and on hearing the surprise in my voice the lady in the shop asked me, tentatively, if I would like to try it.  There was a long pause before I weakly said yes.  She sliced a very small piece off the block and then said, “Oh no you won’t want that much”, cut it in half and finished her sentence, “because it’s hideous.”  I popped it in my mouth and just looked at her.  Speechless.  “It’s interesting.” I said politely.  She replied, “I think it tastes like you’ve accidentally poured gravy all over your apple crumble.”‘

As we left the village, our guests were treated to the classic pony traffic disruption. In this they were assisted by a partial road closure furnished with temporary traffic lights. A string of the animals trooped across the road. One turned back to the other side to sample some tasty looking ivy dangling over a fence. This creature couldn’t make up its mind which side of the road was more attractive. As the lights changed from red to green no further progress was possible until it had stopped crossing and recrossing the tarmac.

This evening Jackie, utilising all her new cooking appliances, produced an excellent roast chicken meal, including Yorkshire pudding, roast and sweet potatoes, cauliflower, carrots, manges touts, sage and onion stuffing, and tasty gravy. Jackie and Ian drank Hoegaarden, and I drank Chateauneuf du Pape 2015

Lifted By Colour

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This morning we were in the grip of storm Georgina. This prompted the Muse of my youth, believing that “if we are having to put up with it, we might as well get something out of it”, to take a trip to the coast. I chose Highcliffe as the venue.

It was all right for Jackie, who could take refuge in the car after a brief foray along the clifftop. I, however, had the task of battling down the steep wooden steps to the shoreline in order to capture some images of the sea. Whilst the driving rain lashed my dripping face and the spray lathered my attire, the 60 m.p.h. winds played me like a marionette. I feared for my camera lens which I frequently dabbed with a sodden handkerchief. I couldn’t really see what I was doing, but fortunately the camera had better vision.

Gulls on shingle

Even the gulls took refuge on the shingle.

Wave after wave of cream-layered golden syrup swirled around the shore, crashing on the steadfast rocks.

Just two intrepid walkers, one with dogs, also ventured down below, where the flagpole bent like a bow.

Warnings of Unstable Cliff etc

As if the gale were not enough, there were plenty of other phenomena to be warned against.

It wasn’t until I had fought my way back up to the car park, that the sun made a brief attempt to put in an appearance.

I have learned that Paul Auster’s works are examples of Absurdist fiction, which essentially focusses on protagonists’ vain attempts to find any purpose in life through a series of meaningless actions.’Ghosts’, being the second novella of this author’s New York Trilogy, would certainly seem a case in point. I finished reading this today. Set as a detective story it pretty much follows the same course as ‘City of Glass’. Who is watching whom?, we wonder. Do we actually care? There didn’t seem much point in this repeat performance. Maybe that was the point. Meaningless it is.

Each character bears the name of a single colour, but it is the colour applied to Tom Burns’s illustrations for the Folio Society edition that lift the story, and perhaps this otherwise virtually monochrome post.

Following gyozo and won ton starters for our dinner this evening, we enjoyed Jackie’s really excellent egg fried rice served with pork ribs in barbecue sauce. She drank Hoegaarden and I finished the shiraz.

Sometimes I Couldn’t Keep Up

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Paul Auster’s ‘The New York Trilogy is a series of novelettes, originally published in sequence as City of Glass (1985), Ghosts (1986) and The Locked Room (1986); and combined into a single volume the following year. The author, born February 3, 1947, ‘is’, according to Wikipedia, ‘an American writer and director whose writing blends absurdism, existentialism, crime fiction, and the search for identity and personal meaning.’

Last night I finished reading the first story which I soon realised was describing a descent into madness. Whose, I wasn’t sure; because of the several identities, realities, and time-frames.

There is also an intertextual relationship with Cervantes’ Don Quixote. It is so long since I struggled to make sense of this great Spanish classic that the significance of the link escaped me.

Chapter 2 almost had me abandoning Auster’s tale. However, I saw it to the end and came to appreciate what the author was presenting. I thought it worth persevering with, and was left happy to tackle the next one.

My copy is The Folio Society’s 2008 edition which benefits from the powerfully atmospheric illustrations of Tom Burns, which won the V & A  2009 Overall book illustration Winner for this work. The museum’s website states that ‘the judges commented that these illustrations make great use of colour, capturing the city in a very fresh and original way. They felt the images integrate perfectly with the text and manage to evoke a variety of sensations such as loneliness, complicated relationships and a sense of speed.’ I’d say he was a worthy winner.

This morning, I scanned another batch of colour negatives from my long walk of July 2003. Regular readers will know that this was executed as an exercise in support of Sam’s epic row of the following year; those who followed the link to ‘Nettle Rash’ will also know that this was not without its obstacles.

There were a certain number of occasions when I lost sight of the rower, either because of these or because there were not enough locks holding him up and giving me a chance to keep pace.

Some of the more pleasant stumbling blocks were created by the flora covering the absent footpaths. Although I can recognise a thistle and a wasp, I lack the knowledge to identify the wild flowers or the white butterfly.

There was ample opportunity to focus on the landscape alongside what I think is the Warwickshire stretch of the Oxford canal. Sometimes there was a benefit in being unable to keep up.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s splendid pork paprika, roasted sweet potatoes, green beans, and red cabbage. I drank more of the Shiraz and the Culinary Queen drank Hoegaarden.

 

Hag-Seed

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With the help of James Peacock of Peacock Computers, I spent much of the day trying to clear space in a clogged up iMac. 21,000 photographs has been too much for it.

Elizabeth came for lunch, of which Jackie provided enough for the two of us to enjoy a second sitting this evening.

“Hag-Seed, hence! Fetch us in fuel…..”

Thus does Prospero send Caliban off to fetch in wood in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”.

But you don’t need to know that to enjoy Margaret Atwood’s marvellous retelling of the Bard’s magical, musical mystery. Her novel is a triumphant addition to the Hogarth Shakespeare Project in which modern writers are invited to present the playwright’s work with a modern interpretation. I finished reading it today.

The original play is brought into the world of today’s technology, featuring drugs, cigarettes, rap and up-to-date musical references. As always I will not reveal the essence of Atwood’s inventive story, but the 2016 reviews were uniformly positive. Deception; disappointment; attempted ravages; revenge; and rollicking rampage are themes given new twists in a setting which provides ample opportunity for skilled group work.

This is a writer at the height of her powers. The novel races along, and her qualities as a poet shine through in her new songs. I don’t know how much research was required for her impressive understanding of either the setting she has chosen or its residents, but Ms Atwood has taken us right there.

As indicated above, no knowledge of the play is required, but you will have a very good idea of it by the time you have completed your reading. You will then be rewarded with a synopsis of Shakespeare’s original, against which you can balance what you have understood. You may then decide to pick up Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”.

I certainly sought out my copy to illustrate this post. It is The Folio Society’s 1971 edition featuring

Ralph Koltai’s costume designs for the 1968 Chichester Festival.

We dined this evening on Jackie’s luscious leek and potato soup, cold meats, cheeses, and plentiful salad, with Elizabeth’s moist Dorset apple cake. I drank more of the Paniza.