Friday, 6 November
I’m reading or rather dipping into “The English Year. A month-by-month guide to the Nation’s Customs” by Steve Roud as my bedtime “relaxation” book; this in an attempt to structure the end of the day to avoid my sitting in front of my computer dousing myself in insomnia-provoking blue light until I discover to my surprise that it’s 2.30 am, when it was 11.00 pm just half an hour before. Having a clear marker of when to relax works reasonably well for me (scatterbrained people need orderly habits). My bedtime book has also become my early morning book when I read a chapter or two before resuming my Wagnerian struggle with existence.
But then I discover mid-dip that Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday used also to be known in English as Shere Thursday (Skärtorsdag, in Swedish). I find these connections between Swedish and dialect or archaic English delightful. This got me out of bed galloping past the cornflake packet towards my dictionaries. “Maundy” is said to derive from Latin mandatum, command, the command here being the instruction by Jesus to his disciples that they should love their neighbours, tangibly expressed by foot washing (I suspect that any attempt on my part to grab hold of my neighbour’s feet in a burst of bonhomie would not end well but we’ll leave that aside for the time being). Thinking this to be another example of the familiar tussle in English between words of Germanic, French and Scandinavian origin, I expected to find cognates of Maundy in the Latin-based languages but on cursory inspection this is not the case as they use variants of Holy Thursday and I didn’t find any other examples of the use of Maundy, which perhaps came from Latin. Nor did I find any evidence for variants of “skär” in German although they may well exist; they are common in the Scandinavian languages.
“Skär” is usually given as originating from a word meaning “clean” (perhaps “scour” in English), not only with reference to the cleaning of feet but a general cleaning before Easter, both in the sense of physical cleaning and purification. It’s interesting why the Scandinavian languages use this word. Nowadays, “scour” is associated with the cleaning of objects rather than people, making me wonder whether pre-Christian habits of cleaning holy places before celebrations are lurking in the background (though maybe the word popping up in English negates this unless prevalent in Danish-speaking Eastern England
It’s important to keep careful note of sources when investigating words like this as yesterday’s inspired guess can easily become tomorrow’s dictionary entry (there’s nothing wrong with inspired guesses and they may be the best we can do but they need to be clearly labelled as guesses and not glide by frequent reference into becoming established truths).
And suddenly after flipping backwards and forwards, and thinking that I really must try to get hold of more German dialect dictionaries and a Frisian dictionary, I catch sight of my watch and see that it is 11.30 and I am still nightclad when it was 6.30 about half an hour before.
I enjoy these exercises with words and it’s a useful habit for a wordsmith, equivalent to the runner’s physical limbering or practice for pianists. But this is not bringing order to the scatterbrained. So I am going to keep a notebook by my bed to record words that take my fancy,. And have a dedicated hour later in the day when I go through the day’s harvest. Being a great believer in the organisational power of notebooks, I have a whole box of them and, if Covid goes on for a few years, I will probably get round to organising these (or possibly not….).
But I need to avoid morning footling. I should always take a walk at the beginning of the day when there is light and colour and I can photograph with pleasure. At this time of year, the day becomes more and more northern as it wears on, the low sun casting long shadows and Munchian gloom dampening the joy of exercise. Yesterday, I went back to the old pilgrims’s route and walked in the other direction away from the city towards the burial places, the mounds, of the old Swedish kings. The pilgrims route has its origins in the story of King. later St Erik, beheaded by the Danes in the twelfth century, supposedly near Riddartorget conveniently (suspiciously) close to the “new” cathedral in the modern city. According to the story, his head rolled away and where it stopped, a spring gushed up, where there is now a pump. Erik had been active in hardhanded missions to christianise the Finns, and a cult developed around him. He is referred to as St Erik, although the reference books express doubt as to whether he was canonised (a suspected fake saint in other words). His relics were moved from the old cathedral to the current one in 1273. As part of the mediaeval cult, there was an annual pilgrimage on St Erik’s Day carrying his relics from the “new cathedral” back to Old Uppsala. The pilgrimage has been revived and a pleasant path made. It is now less ghoulish with meditation-friendly resting places with coloured stones and signs about rare beetles. There is doubt in the sources about the location of Erik’s death, which is very early as far as the modern city is concerned. I want to start making proper notes about the history of events, actual, alleged and mythological in the history of Uppsala. It’s great to live in a place with so many rich associations but it does pose challenges for the severely scatterbrained.
This morning there will not be a walk as I’m waiting for someone to install a new cupboard above my fridge. I´m not sure why I need this as the existing cupboard looks adequately cupboard-like but the fridge and freezer have had identity problems, swapping roles, leading inconveniently to brick-like solid milk and soggy meatballs. White goods expertise, after digital fiddling, thought a change of top cupboard would discourage unwelcome cross-functionality and booked a time to come between 07.30 and 12, thus getting me out of bed and banishing all thoughts of Shere Tuesday until I had camouflaged my kitchen to make it look inhabited by an orderly person.