It may be weird but it’s my weird

It’s not hard to watch a webinar and apps are after all just software for mobiles.

I remember my mother’s cramped handwriting all in capitals as she struggled with the orthopaedic. To my shame, I don’t remember the details of her complaint  – of little interest to immortal self-centred youth. She had an ancient manual typewriter where sourcing new ribbons was slightly easier than finding the holy grail. With the wane of my self-centeredness, I made efforts to introduce her to a more modern electric typewriter but to no avail, the function keys were just too alien.

And I swore to myself then that I would not be a neophobe when I grew old. I haven’t done too badly, aided by my four children. But sometimes, the new is tiring and I still haven’t mastered the electronic entry system to my flat (in practice, a non-problem as I routinely don’t hear my mobile ringing).

But there is a thrill of achievement when I succeed in hauling myself over some new techno threshold; I am just about there when it comes to apps and webinars, which I can now watch without conveying the impression that I am making a silent Charlie Chaplin movie.

This time, it was an erudite man from Somerset, West England, talking about the history of the decline of the Turberville family.  The Turbervilles became known through Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles and her alcoholised father John Durbeyfield, a plebeian scion of a once notable family. Hardy was fascinated by this theme of the old stock degenerating and being replaced by professionals on the rise (like himself). He was though, as in many other areas, a contradictory and complicated man and seemed not averse to London life where his status as a literary giant enabled him to hob nob with the aristos.

It felt fine to retreat to the Wessex of mine and Hardy’s imagination for an hour or so, away from the turbulence of the now.

I have just finished Rashid Khalidi’s “The Hundred Years’ ´War on Palestine”, which I would recommend to anyone wanting to understand better developments in Palestine and Israel from the Palestinian point of view (or at least the point of view an educated, westernized Palestinian family).

And now I’m going back to my preparations for my soon trip to Pembrokeshire in Wales and trying to think through what I would like to know more about, the difference between Norman feudalism in southern Pembrokeshire in what later became the English side of the language divide, and Welsh agriculture, the complicated impact of the Normans, the Anglo-Saxons, the Welsh and Irish Q-celts from over the water, the Vikings and even the immigrant Flemings on place names in the vicinity of the cathedral city of St Davids. And I would like at least to be able to pronounce Welsh place names correctly. And then there’s Pevsner and the architecture of the tract. And increasingly. physical frailty requiring careful study of the terrain, contour lines, aids to mobility and how to make one’s way successfully in the battlefield of life without torturing the organic.

And every day I aim to study Bengali for an hour but I routinely allow it to get squeezed out so that I engage in crashing to fulfil my plan targets as my fortnightly lesson approaches. At least, the presence of Bengali relatives, including my recently met third grandchild fills my sails with wind.

And I want to improve my German too.

Then there’s correcting yesterday’s cock-ups, becoming a substantial part of life. Back to Arlanda to rescue a forgotten fleece at lost property; not altogether logical as the lost property office fee and the nasty Arlanda “passage ticket” ate up a substantial part of the remaining value of the fleece but I know I will forget about the money while the memory of the fleece will haunt me beyond doomsday if I don’t collect it.

And in the middle, an old schoolfriend from pre-yore tells me that he is in Sweden and would love to come and look at the kings’ graves with me, as they were covered with snow on his last visit.

And I am looking for a cheaper flat and plan to move a lot of my library into a shelved storage unit as my lungs coexist uneasily with hundreds of dusty books. This is later, post-Wales, but it requires a careful plan to avoid an overpowering mountain of jumbled books. I still remember with pleasure the look of consternation on the faces of the removal people as I explained the principles for moving my boxes of books last time and how, once trained in the swing of things, their exchanging comments on the whereabouts of box 19 or 23. One thing I still have from my years as a teacher, don’t give up, be patiently persistent, don’t accept people’s self-definition that something is too complicated, not for them.

But I need turbulence to feel well. The standard Swedish retreat to the countryside from the troubles of the world; I understand the birds, bees, flowers and gentle company with cake and coffee but it’s not for me. It makes me feel like an overturned steam locomotive with my wheels spinning uselessly in the air. And now that I am retreating from life as a translator with Wagnerian opportunities to tackle thousands of words by the morn, I have to find other sources of kindly stress. But with my ability not to see the trees for the twigs, I’m not seriously worried by the threat of implosion under the weight of leisure.

The Return of the Native

I have a pile of books to read: Rashid Khalidi’s  “The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine”, which feels urgent and the most important; and then a pile of books on Wales, on the national question, David Ross’s Wales, History of a Nation, the Pembrokeshire volume of Pevsner’s architectural guides and various academic volumes on Welsh and Norman agriculture to help me better the understand the language divide in south-western Wales.

I know so little about Wales despite my Somerset upbringing, with Wales a few miles across the water while priority was given to filling that tousled head with the Appian Way and the Trojan Horse.

Also important but imparting knowledge of our close Celtic neighbours had not been amiss.

And a few evenings ago, tired and unable to choose the next step, I pick up Hardy’s Return of the Native which I haven’t re-read since my teenage years. I remember mostly the spectacular –  Hardy’s architect’s eye for landscape, represented here by Egdon Heath, which unlike many of Hardy’s places has no equivalent in the Dorset landscape; Hardy constructs it from various patches of gorse-strewn ground in East Dorset and makes it massive. And the caravan-dwelling reddleman, stained red from head to foot by reddle used by farmers to mark their sheep. And then there was the adder that fatally bit Clym Yeobright’s mother, as well as the dramatic death in the weir of Eustacia Vye and her erstwhile lover Wildeve.  Weirs I have had a healthy respect for since then, although not understanding why the water close to them is so dangerous until more recent watery excursions.

But other aspects of the book have only become visible to a later eye. Hardy’s description of the varying social status not just of the grand people but right down to the marginal layers of “the middle class”. And his character types that crop up in book after book; the rural working class treated both with respect and ridicule and associations with Greek choruses or Shakespearian light relief; the dedicated lover who has often fallen on hard times but overcomes adversity by strength of character and who wins his lady in the end, usually after other less worthy contenders have been killed off or sticky ended in some other way.

And the modern Victorian, perhaps from a relatively humble background, who becomes a respected professional, reflecting Hardy’s experience of becoming an architect and leaving Dorset for London.

And the female characters, from the prim to the profligate. Hardy is often praised as understanding women but only the women he writes about, those he has made up himself. I have been to Max Gate home in Dorchester where he lived in fractious disharmony with his first wife who died alone in her attic quarters unwanted and  unloved. And Hardy’s second wife Florence who found it easier to accept being the great man’s muse. Hardy was stricken with grief and guilt after the death of his first wife and wrote many high quality love poems to her after her death; the course of love was not so smooth for his second wife either. I don’t know his poetry well but must make an effort to remedy this as he was predominantly a poet for the last 30 years of his life.

My version of the Return of the Native has a long introduction by George Woodcock, who also wrote the useful notes at the back. He seems to have been both a serious anarchist as well as a  literary academic, an entertaining man whom I should like to know more about. From the notes I learn about Lammas day in early August, celebrating the early harvest, about the sixteenth century historian John Leland and the maenads, female devotees or attendants of Dionysius “celebrated for their dangerous  and self-mutilating ecstatic frenzies” which sounds refreshingly unprim. And also the transferred epithet (see tousled head in the first paragraph). And also wondered about the difference between “pagan” and “heathen”, the first from Latin and related to rural folk and the second Germanic, where unconverted pre Christians scampered around the heaths.

I couldn’t live in Hardy’s Wessex, after a long joyful stay, it would become claustrophobic and I would need to escape. But I love to be able to dip into this world, to learn more about it.

Restless waters of the Ichamati

A couple of weeks ago I started to read the Bengali novel “Restless waters of the Ichhamati” by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay. I made slow progress to start with, overwhelmed by the number of characters and special vocabulary. But the more I got into the novel, the more impressed I became.

The main topic is the indigo revolt in Bengal (ca 1859). Less well known than the Indian rebellion a couple of years earlier, the production of indigo, used as blue dye in the European textile industry, caused very considerable hardship to the local population, forced to grow indigo on their land instead of foodstuffs. Bandyopadhyay describes the process of how the British entrepreneur chose and measured up the land for indigo (land they didn’t own), backed up by local thugs, who didn’t hesitate to wound or even kill those who resisted (and burnt down houses). The planting of indigo was not a voluntary process neither was it profitable for the farmers. The farmers were lent money to plant indigo but at very high rates of interest, making it practically impossible for them or their inheriting children to ever escape the financial control of the lenders.

In 1859, a revolt broke out and the farmers refused to plant more indigo, much of the action taking place in what is now Bangla Desh. Tactics varied from place to place – in some places, violence was used against the entrepreneurs and their henchmen, in other places, the protests were more peaceful. And I am convinced that atrocities were committed against the farmers in this process but the scale of the protests made the customary resort to repression less effective. I’ve seen speculation that the fact that the struggle was aimed at the entrepreneurs and not against governmental forces played a part in its relative success.

I should like to know more about this and especially how the struggle in the indigo revolt related to the the suppression of the sepoy rebellion. This was the period when rule by the East India Company was replaced by ultimate control by the British government, probably a form of government preferred by large English companies in, for example, the textile industry, which needed laws to protect their access to sources and to brake (and reverse) Indian development rather than simple protection of the framework for pre-imperialist exploitation through trade of goods produced in India.  

In my reading of Bandyopadhyay’s novel, the indigo revolt is present but it feels somewhat off stage. It seems to come to an end not as a result of successful struggle but in response to the invention of synthetic indigo by German scientists at a fraction of the price for which it could be produced in India.

From the little I have read of Bengali history, this telescopes development. That was indeed the coup de grace for exploitation by the indigo companies but I believe (tentatively) that some years elapsed between the break out of the indigo revolt and the collapse of the Bengali indigo industry. In between, there was a government commission which examined conditions in the indigo industry and (according to the source on the net) drew some conclusions unfavourable to the entrepreneurs on the unsustainability of their exploitation (I have associations here with the history of the crofters in the Outer Hebrides after the First World War). I am suspicious of happy endings, of history served with honey, and want to know more about what actually happened during this period.

The greatness of Bandyopadhyay’s novel is not just  his social realism but his cast of characters reflecting rural Bengali society as it was at that time and his description of the attitudes of the people, the complicated rules affecting relations between castes and above all village women, whose behaviour was not just regulated before marriage. I haven’t read as much Balzac as I would like but that was my association.

Bandyopadhyay’s name is derived from Sanskrit meaning (I believe) friend of the teacher. It is also referred to as  Banerjee. I thought that this abbreviation was the work of the Brits but (as far as I understand) it is common among the Bengali themselves. In fact, Bandyopadhyay is not as fearsome to pronounce as it looks, if you remember that  the first “y” is not clearly pronounced but affects the quality of the preceding “d” and that the “h” after the second d indicates aspiration.

I am going to read this novel again and also to make myself a reading list on the nineteenth century history of Bengal.

Golden goose becomes a lame duck

To a translator’s conference at the weekend, at least one day of it. The agenda was probably attractive for those new or relatively new to the professions of translator and interpreter but of less interest to me approaching the end of my career. I’d hoped to meet some of the translator acquaintances I’ve made over the past 30 years but there were very few familiar faces. I’m not sure why – the translation organisation is recovering now from a turbulent period, which I believe has caused some people to leave or at least become more passive. And, of course, I’m over a decade beyond the formal retirement age so that many of the people I knew are now doing other things  (perhaps a message I should listen to…).

I did go to the session organised by a trade union, not with any intention of joining but out of curiosity to see how aware they were of conditions in the industry and what kind of response they received. It’s undoubtedly the case that conditions for the independent translator have deteriorated over the past 20 years. There has been a pronounced downward pressure on prices; unlike many of my colleagues, I haven’t lowered my prices but I’ve not raised them either for a very long time so in real terms I’m charging less than I used to. And I have largely priced myself out of the agency market. Working conditions have deteriorated too with translation agencies attempting to compete with very short deadlines (without express surcharges). Prices are at times very low bearing in mind that independent translators often work through their own firms and pay their own social security contributions. The additional premium once made to independent translators to cover the risk of running a company has in many cases become thin. Some translators are in or perilously close to a gig economy situation, where agencies collar the premium but shoulder little of the risk, having no commitment to the translators they use beyond the current project they are engaged in. If the benefits of being an independent contractor become too thin, posts as employed translators could become more attractive.  And perhaps some agencies will experience pressure to employ more translators. We’re still a long way from that situation, however.

And recently there has been a further rather dramatic deterioration where the volume of translation work on offer has decreased markedly, which must affect the translation agencies as well as independent translators, and make them more risk averse. The bulk of the work on offer has been low paid post-editing, reviewing translations created by various kinds of translation software/machine translation, checking and bringing them up to usable standard. The spread of knowledge about how good translation software has become, combined with a sharper focus on costs has had pronounced effects.

I see that one German translation agency is now in administration and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a major shake-out with a number of bankruptcies of organisations whose reserves are too thin to weather the storm if indeed the storm can be weathered, and individuals who leave the industry.

The trade union representatives presented what they had to offer to independent contractors – legal advice and various kinds of insurance, among other things. I’m not aware of the details but it didn’t seem superior to the customised insurance that many independent translators already have  (also with legal advice available). They also talked of being able to do more if they recruited more people in the industry. This seemed vague to me as traditional trade union activities such as wage negotiation and collective agreements don’t sit at all easily (or at all) with an industry where many of the weaker participants run their own small companies (and collective agreements would presumably  conflict with legislation on competition and risk accusations of collusion to hold up prices). It could be that their offering makes more sense for interpreters than translators.

In economic history, producers have not managed to retain all of the benefits of productivity improvements over long periods. They have had to share these benefits with customers and the same will apply/already applies to translators where the use of translation software has speeded up our work. And talk about the weaknesses of machine translation and the need for human checks, while true is fighting a losing battle against rapidly improving software and AI.

If translators are to survive, they have to find a commercial model which integrates these productivity improvements and offers the customer something more, otherwise we will go the way of the hand loom weavers, digital cameras and the yellow pages.

We have to offer an attractive level of expertise that integrates the new, to become, for example, lawyer-linguists or other specialists,  offering post-editing by legally qualified translators or specialists in particular branches (medicine, financial etc.), hoping to create a niche market with higher prices than the bulk mass market product offered by the bigger agencies.

But for me, way beyond retirement age, the time for empire building is over. Translation has served me well, rescuing me from the (for me, at least) dubious pleasures of school classrooms, and giving me over thirty years when I haven’t needed to worry much about liquidity. But now the party is over.

I’m already doing a fraction of the work I used to and have no shortage of occupations, quirky and serious, to fill my time.

But without wanting to be callous towards my younger colleagues, who are facing a tough period, I am more than a little relieved that I didn’t have to make the decision myself to kill the golden goose which has of its own volition become thin, worn and anaemic, almost a lame duck in fact.

New partners in the dance of life

Exploration of the word

archaeoastronomy self explanatory but rather fine

boondoggle, its etymology variously given as unknown, or coming from the boy scouts meaning product of simple manual labour but it has also come to denote an unnecessary wasteful or fraudulent project which continues to exist for political or extraneous reasons Also supposedly coined in the mid -1920s by Robert H. Link of Rochester, New York as a nickname for his infant son. Unclear how it made its way to the modern meaning, hopefully Robert H. Link wasn’t using it in that sense.

I’d heard this word before but swept past it.

caviste – a French word but it does exist in English in  the appropriate environments (where folk have access to professionally run wine cellars).

vintner someone who sells or makes wine.

jacked  (slang) well developed muscles. I am definitely unjacked and like it this way.

listicle a piece of writing presented wholly or partly as a list. I don’t feel attracted by this word.

nocebo effect

placebo is better known when a patient feels better despite the medicine applied having no established scientific effects.

nocebo is the opposite when someone feels worse from, for example, replacing a brand medicine with a generic medicine, despite it not being possible to identify any medical reason for this.


evasion of action or a clear-cut statement, desertion of a cause, position, party or faith

(source: Merriam Webster dictionary site). I was vaguely aware of the word.

From the Latin verb tergiversari meaning “to show reluctance” and coming from a combination of tergum meaning back and versare meaning to turn.

theodicy vindication of divine provenance in view of the existence of evil.

This sounds shaky to me and when I answer St Peter’s questionnaire in life’s quality follow-up (or the other department, mutatis mutandis), I shall state that it is highly unlikely that I recommend life to a friend.

toerag according to Collins dictionary, a despicable or contemptible person. I’d just about guessed this from the context I saw it used in.

toposcope, also known as topograph: the explanatory table or illustration at, for example, viewing points. I’m very glad to make its acquaintance and think I will use it (rather than toerag, which feels out of character)

Exploration of the world


I knew vaguely where it was and it is vaguely between Oxford St and Euston Rd on the S and N and Tottenham Court Rd and Great Portland St in the East and West. Viewed as a desirable area to live in and I wouldn’t mind at all if a flat here fell into my lap. I now also know that Rimbaud and G.B.Shaw lived there but doubt whether they met in a local tavern to play dominoes.

Travertine often referred to as Travertine marble but in fact a type of limestone. Burghausen castle in Bavaria, said to be the longest castle in the world, is made from it. If this feels over the top for a study visit, it can also be seen at the old London Transport headquarters in St James Park. Travertine also has the advantage of being porous so that if you wish to weep copiously at the sad saga of TFL vacating its traditional home for Far Eastern Stratford, it shouldn’t leave a stain on the floor.

Trespa cladding

A brand name. From the net “Everything you need to know about HPL Trespa:

The HPL panels consist of a wood fibre core that is compressed under high pressure giving the core the same properties as hardwood. The outer sides of an HPL sheet are finished with a  phenolic resin top layer, which is rock hard and virtually unbreakable”.

What these scientists get up to…..

Liverpool via shrinking violets and Viareggio

Curious about the expression “You’re not exactly a shrinking violet”, I find from a reticent source on the Internet that it is believed to have first appeared in a saying from Leigh Hunt in a magazine The Indicator, published in 1820: There was the buttercup, struggling from a white to a dirty yellow and a faint-coloured poppy; and here and there by the thorny underwood a shrinking violet.

Leigh Hunt’s name has hovered on the fringe of my attention a number of times and it was clearly time for him to take his place in my personal panorama of early nineteenth century England. He was born on my birthday (but in 1784 not 1945) and died on my mother’s birthday (1859 not 1910). He attended Christ’s Hospital school near Horsham for which I had an unsuccessful interview (possibly stymied by my lack of knowledge of Pontius Pilate).

Otherwise, according to Wiki, Leigh Hunt was an English critic, essayist and poet, who co-founded The Examiner, a leading intellectual journal expounding radical principles. He was the centre of the Hampstead-based group that included William Hazlitt and Charles Lamb, known as the “Hunt circle”. He died in Putney and I hoped that he was buried in Putney Vale cemetery to give me an added reason to visit (I want to go there and see how Kerensky is getting on, who seemed to have had problems getting buried in New York where he had lived and ended up in Putney Vale). But Leigh Hunt is in Kensal Green, one of the magnificent seven (to my shame I  have only visited three of these cemeteries to date: Kensal Green, Highgate and Nunhead).

Leigh Hunt was a major cultural figure in his time and important for the introduction of Keats, Shelley, Browning and Tennyson. He also made enemies, among them Blake.

He is famous too for his appearance (with Byron) in Louis Edouard Fournier’s painting of Shelley’s funeral on the beach at Viareggio on the Tuscan coast (not on Italy’s east coast as I’d previously thought). This painting is in the Walker Gallery in Liverpool, giving me another reason for a visit to Liverpool and Birkenhead (I want to visit Port Sunlight too).

And now a pile of invoices awaits me to be listed, arranged and copied for my income tax return where I shall endeavour to reduce capital gains tax to a manageable amount; these from the time when I was involved in building a mediaeval cathedral on an island in Mälaren (it was a one-room extension actually but I didn’t get the impression that the builder was a man prone to undue haste and there was surely room for a flying buttress or two in his impressive sheaf of necessities to be paid for). It’s so much more pleasant to float around on the net filling the odd gap in knowledge than grubbing around with filthy lucre but such is the way of the world.


Marzahn and Wolf Eisentraut

My days in an increasingly spring-like Berlin are coming to an end and I will soon be back in not so spring-like Uppsala. I’ve explored Marzahn in the north-east of what used to be East Berlin. I’d hardly been there before but my image of the suburb was not so flattering. I’d expected that it was now a “vulnerable suburb” of the kind we have so many of in Sweden, with the faults and deficiencies of modernism, poor integration with the surrounding landscape, and unembellished architecture in the spirit of Le Corbusier ill adapted to the human need for variation. But the part of Marzahn I saw wasn’t like this at all; there was an older village which the GDR architect(s) had preserved and green open spaces (see photographs on Facebook). Still attractive despite the demolition of important parts of the original project. And there was a museum with a lot of information about one of the main architects, Wolf Eisentraut. He became an architect in the GDR, but, unlike many professional people, survived to continue his career after its end. He had, however, the sad experience of seeing many of his buildings demolished or changed, among them the GDR parliament building, which was replaced by a semi-replica of the war-damaged Hohenzollern palace. However, he didn’t just mourn the passing of his buildings but worked to reshape and give new life to the many prefabricated apartments. I’m greatly looking forward to reading his book “Zweifach war des Bauens Lust” and finding out more about modernism in the GDR period and his later adjustment (and resistance) to reunified Germany.

Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Normans and Flemings

When the Romans were in Britannia, the population was largely Celtic speaking (Brythonic). There are not so many traces of that in current English, a few dialect words, for example “brock” for badger, some place names (Dover) and strangely the names of many rivers are of Celtic origin. The traces are extremely few in the south-east, in Sussex and Kent, where the Anglo-Saxons first gained control, while elsewhere Brythonic kingdoms remained (in Devon and Cumbria (reminiscent of Cymru), for example) for a couple of centuries more. The absence of Celtic place names and Brythonic words in Old English probably indicates that the two groups, Anglo-Saxons and Celts did not intermingle or even live side-by-side but that the Celts fled to the West, to Wales (the land of the foreigners as the Anglo-Saxons expressed it) or to Brittany, or been defeated in battle and then or subsequently killed.

It took a couple of centuries before the Anglo-Saxons broke through to the West and separated Celtic Wales from Cornwall and Devon. By this time, the Anglo-Saxons had become Christianised. There are more indications by then that the two groups co-existed – there are a few more place names (for example a mix word like Penselwood) and I believe the incidence of Celtic DNA in the population is greater in Dorset, for example, than in the south-east.

We can compare and contrast this with the history of South Wales where the Normans invaded and colonised South Pembrokeshire, the so-called Little England beyond Wales. I was curious how it became so very English-speaking as the Normans in the late eleventh century presumably still spoke Norman French rather than a variant of English so that the languages involved were Norman French and Welsh. The history books refer to the Normans having many Anglo-Saxon retainers but could these retainers have been acquired from the recently defeated Anglo-Saxons as early as the 11th century? At a somewhat later date. the Normans also imported Flemish-speakers from Flanders (many refugees came from Flanders then (12th century) after a natural disaster (extensive flooding). I’m not clear what the function of these refugees were – if they were agricultural labourers or had a mix of occupations. I wonder whether there were extensive population movements after the plague years, the Black Death. But what is clear is that it was the English language that eventually became dominant in southern Pembrokeshire. The Welsh speakers seem to have disappeared as in England, fleeing northwards to the Welsh speaking areas of northern Pembrokeshire and elsewhere after the Normans seized their land, or being killed. The Normans quite clearly found the Welsh harder to integrate into their feudal system. This arouses associations to early capitalism where the rising bourgeoisie had not just to accumulate capital but also to separate the working class from the means of production, to construct a proletariat. The Welsh peasantry would initially have the memory of being forcefully separated from the land they had used or moreover had the possibility of fleeing north of the Landsker line and resuming their old life. It is not hard to think that they would be difficult to integrate into a manorial system and that the Normans would prefer to find more malleable serfs elsewhere.

There is still a clear line on the map, indicating the “Landsker”, the border between the Welsh and English-speaking areas, which for some centuries indicated the border of Norman control (Landsker is an interesting word that is not immediately comprehensive to a monoglot English person. The “sker” refers to a separation, a division ((think of the word “shears”, “skära” in Swedish, to cut)), which pops up again in the word “shire”). The border has been relatively stable although some areas lost to the Welsh were regained by them, especially areas that the Normans found it difficult to cultivate. The division between place names derived from English and from Welsh is still clear (it is an interesting mix with Scandinavian names around the coast, even a “by” name, Tenby, one etymological derivation being from “Dane-by”, Dane-town).

The Normans were interested in the fertile land of southern Pembrokeshire, also as a springboard to Ireland. Another factor that led to the establishment of the marcher lordships with looser central control and a licence to plunder was that the amount of land available to the Normans was diminishing and it was important for the Norman Kings to have access to land which they could grant to their feudal vassals in exchange for military support. Fertile southern Pembrokeshire was of interest in this respect while the northern areas were more barren and better suited to what is referred to as “tribal farming”. The Normans introduced the manorial system, high feudalism. The Welsh were presumably regarded as less desirable, perhaps less disciplined as feudal labour, and desirous of maintaining and expanding their independence.

I am unclear, however, as to whether these tribal lands were owned in common, where the tribe had its leaders but where the rights and responsibilities of the participants were different from the Norman feudal system, in other words was there a separate mode of production in the Welsh areas?

This difference persisted even after the English extended their control more deeply into Wales and crushed the Welsh efforts to construct a state. Land was held either under the system introduced by the Normans or under Welsh law.

A study of the history and development of Welsh law would be needed to  understand this properly as well as study of the development of modes of production, this focus facilitating an understanding of why the participants behaved as they did. This is not possible if the analysis is restricted to the political level of what individual leaders did and the results of battles. I’ve yet to find a satisfactory book on Welsh history but I shall try to get hold of Gwyn William’s “When was Wales”, which is held by Kungliga bibliotek in Stockholm.

There is also Rhiannon Comeau “Land, people and power in medieval Wales” and, together with other authors “Living off the Land: Agriculture in Wales c. 400 to 1600 AD” which are at Vitterhetsakademin’s library in Stockholm. I know nothing about her other than that she is established in the academic world but the titles are promising.

Strangely enough, Carolina Rediviva/Uppsala University library’s collections on Wales lack not a few important books on Wales as Uppsala is the major centre for the study of Celtic languages and culture in Sweden, but I suppose their focus is more on language and literature, more on the Mabinogion and less on modes of production in Wales.

In general, however, Sweden’s resources of books in English and catalogues are impressive and easy to access and I would miss these were I to shift my main base elsewhere. Access to academic libraries and their collections in the UK is grudgingly given, if at all, and should only be attempted after consultation with Theseus (my Thomas Hardy moment for the day)…

The Laodicean and some words

Feeling lukewarm after tussling with fake covid and then the after-effects of my second shingles vaccination, what could be better reading than Thomas Hardy’s The Laodicean. Not one of his greatest novels, the Dorset background is muted, in fact it is said to  be located in Somerset, although there are references to folk travelling abroad from Budmouth (Weymouth). Hardy was ill for a long period at the time he wrote it. For me, it doesn’t at all have the same resonance as Far from the Madding Crowd, the Return of the Native or Tess where the Dorset landscape is ever present.

I’ve read it before but it could be as long as a half century ago. Disturbed because I remember so little with only a few scenes laboriously reconstructed in the course of reading (the first being Paula, the main female character, who is presumably the Laodicean, who refuses adult baptism just before the ceremony). The title with its (somewhat obscure?) reference is typical of Hardy; he uses frequent biblical and classical allusions. At least the biblical references were probably more comprehensible in the latter half of the nineteenth century when greater knowledge of the bible was part of the standard formation of educated folk. At the same time, this novel was written as a serial with a much broader catchment area than the professorial. I  used to think that the references reflected Hardy’s sensitivity about not having had a university education and a desire to show that, despite this, he was an educated man. Had that been the case, however, it could perhaps be expected that these references would decline as  Hardy became the self-confident successful author. And I’m not sure that that’s the case.

Another Hardy theme is the decline of the old land-owning aristocracy, old money (or perhaps no old money). The De Stancy family has come down in the world and no longer owns its historic home, Stancy Castle, which has been bought by new money, a scientist and investor in railways. Typical also for Hardy is the personal entanglement between old and new money, where the new money heiress is greatly attached to one of the surviving members of the De Stancy family. At the end of the tale, the heiress gets her modern man, the talented architect Somerset, the old castle burns down and Charlotte de Stancy shunts herself off to a Protestant Sisterhood, a rather mediaeval solution.

The Laodiceans were one of the Christian communities named in Revelation (according to Wikipedia) and criticised by JC for their lukewarm attitude.

Apart from reading Hardy, I have a collection of words which attracted my attention  (both from the novel and elsewhere).

These were “burly”, which comes from Middle English. According to Wiki “in the sense ‘dignified, imposing’): probably from an unrecorded Old English word meaning ‘stately, fit for the bower’. This puzzles me. There is, of course,  a bower as shady, leaf place, and a lady’s bower, but earlier it also had a sense of being a living area that was apart from the hall, presumably with more private access. The meaning of “burly” has clearly drifted as we mostly think of it as a physical description rather than other personal qualities.

And another word which is not new but useful in a new context “composite”. A composite postcard is one of those cards which have not just one scene but a number of pictures of a locality (I’m not keen on these but I’m pleased to have the technical term).

Then a word which comes from Hardy “gibbous”, which when applied to the moon means that the illuminated part is greater than a semicircle and less than a circle.

According to one source on the net “Why is a moon called gibbous?

The term waning means decreasing, and the term gibbous means “humped-back.” Therefore, this phase is called Waning Gibbous because the surface area of the Moon that you see is decreasing and the shape of the lit-up part of the Moon looks like a hump-back.

late Middle English: from late Latin gibbosus, from Latin gibbus ‘hump’.

Gibbous and I  have followed our respective paths through life for almost 80 years without meeting but now at least we have a nodding acquaintance (although I fear it’s usefulness is limited for romantic moonlit walks – too much of a whiff of jabberwocky about it).

And I wondered about “nowt”, which I learn is from Middle English nowte, noute, nawte, naute, borrowed from Old Norse naut. Cognate with Old English nēat

“. A nice undergrowth word that has defended its place in dialect for very many years, a scrabble-friendly saviour.

“Post-nominal”, with or without a hyphen, is self-explanatory. It’s a fancy way of saying that you have letters after your name.

And “rigamarole” which is mid 18th century: apparently an alteration of ragman roll, originally denoting a legal document recording a list of offences.

Rigmarole, with many variant spellings in the 18th century, is probably a reduction of ragman roll, a long catalog or list, a sense dating from the early 16th century. In Middle English ragmane rolle was a roll or scroll of writing used in a game of chance in which players draw out an item hidden in the roll.

 And I have a better grasp of the difference between nauseous  (likely to vomit) and “queasy” (uncomfortable feeling but not quite as bad). Queasy is late Middle English queisy, coisy,

‘causing nausea’, of uncertain origin; perhaps related to Old French coisier ‘to hurt’.

and “slur” Middle English: originally as noun in sense ‘thin, fluid mud’, later as verb meaning ‘smear, smirch’, ‘disparage (a person)’, ‘gloss over (a fault)’.

And finally to complete my circle, I had to look at “luke” as in lukewarm.

According to Etymology on line, it comes from Middle English le, leoh, from Old English hleo “shelter, cover, defence, protection, the same word as “lee” turned away from the wind. It doesn’t feel satisfactory but the meaning has obviously evolved via some form of alleviation, moderation.

Wikipedia and etymology of line have been among my sources. I have to sharpen my act as noting where these explanations come from….next time.

In honour of the day

There was our food shop, Station Stores, tiny,  without telephone or fridge which my parents managed to sell before the approaching  self-service wave swept such places away, their purchaser wasn’t so fortunate,  it being demolished a few years later and replaced by an estate agent. I would like to go there to find out what became of the blown Victorian glass in the window between the shop and the cramped living quarters behind, which had a strange acidic taste when sucked by a curious child. . And upstairs the main bedroom facing the street, where there was functioning gas lighting. And the stairs to the attic with their blue lino, used by me as a playroom apart from the short inglorious period when we had a lodger. I could survey the street from the dormer attic window. Watching the crowds of railway carriage workers cycle by on their way to and from shifts and the few aristocrats with their Fords, Austins, Hillmans, Standard Vanguards and all the rest of the fifties and pre-war fleets.

The attic faced west and I remember the blissful feeling lying in the spare bed enjoying the calm, yellow light.

Some of the furniture consisted of fruit boxes painted in bright colours. I’m not sure why they didn’t  buy second-hand furniture if budget and rationing put a stop to new; the economics of painting boxes can’t have been great but it wasn’t quite respectable to use someone else’s bedside table, better a virginal repurposed Tasmanian apple box.  

Behind the shop and living room, there was a galley kitchen,  no washing machine but a copper for heating quantities of water. A tin bath to be hauled up to working level or bent over, a dreadful working environment for the housewife of those times, especially with a disabled husband unable to assist with heavy lifting.

And beyond the kitchen with its brass door knob, source of anxiety for me after I’d touched it after touching our hermit neighbour’s deadly nightshade (quite why I didn’t simply wash it is beyond me). A strip of concrete leading to a cycle shed and the toilet (no such fancy facility in the house).

I had no feeling of  poverty or restriction, it was simply home.

I remember one game in the garden with a boy of my age, a relative. I persuaded him to run to the house from the garden shed and remove an item of clothing for each completed round. I can’t recall any openly erotic aspect to this – the first hesitant stings of desire came much later at the end of of my time in Lancing. Maybe I was timing him to see whether his performance improved with lighter loads but I don’t think so. It was probably more curiosity as to how long this game could continue before the adults intervened. They eventually did but, engrossed in chatter, after a surprisingly long time as this increasingly naked child flashed past.

Next next door was the Luxor cinema where the projectionist suffered from the hot little room at the top and liked to keep the door open making the soundtrack only too audible to the neighbourhood. My mother had the distressing habit of writing notes of complaint and sending me to the cinema with them). I hated this but had not at this tender age developed ways of derailing this undesired behaviour.

And a few doors up were my parents’ friends who ran the stationery shop with its notebooks and pencils of much interest to me. There was, however, the question of money which was in scarce supply, my collections of the maid and old lady Victoria, Edward, George etc. nor being impressive.

I knew where the supplies of notebooks were kept in a box on a bottom shelf near the floor. Probably inspired by some violent scene from Saturday morning children’s cinema, I cased the joint and waited for my opportunity. I wasn’t however, thinking of some sneaky child’s filching but planned to charge into the shop in style, shouting, grab what I wanted and retreat. It worked surprisingly well – I was well away with my haul before my parents’ friends recovered from their surprise. How I expected to get away with this is unclear. I can’t remember the consequences in detail but they were surprisingly mild after the products had been restored. A lesson for life – if you’re going to misbehave, make sure you do something really bizarre which people have problems taking on board; they will tend to forget it rather than struggle to work it out.

Finally, on 23 January 1958, this world disappeared when West Country class 34046 Braunton steamed out of Worthing station with the Plymouth express en route for my parents’ retirement home in Somerset. And hence this blog post, dagen till ära.