Stormy Waters

I’m supposed to be writing about The Tempest, that being the Shakespearean work of the week.

Only, I haven’t finished it yet. Life has rather got in the way, although I am making some headway with it. I’m about half way through.

So far, there’s lots of pessimism and a lesson in not lying to your children. Although, saying that, Miranda didn’t seem all that fussed by Prospero’s revelation. Or is she? She didn’t seem so to me, but then, I don’t tend to try and analyse stories as I read them. I just read them. And enjoy them, or not. And I probably wasn’t concentrating fully, since I’ve been reading this at bed-time.

And there’s a lesson in trusting people who’ve stabbed others in the back. Never trust a usurper. Just as well Ariel was about. I mean, seriously? Why would you ever trust someone like Antonio? If they’ve done something so devious once, chances are they’ll do it again – or help others to do it. Like that old adage about men marrying their mistresses and creating vacancies.

Obviously some can be redeemed, and do change their ways. But I’d still keep them at a distance. Or, indeed, keep them closer. That way you can keep an eye on them…

Shakespeare

On this, the birth and death day of one of England’s greatest playwrights, I feel I should confess something.

I know various quotations from his plays (admittedly probably only the famous ones), but I’ve only actually read Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet.

I know, I know. I claim to be well-read, and yet the poems and plays of Shakespeare languish, gathering dust, on the shelf.

I’ve seen quite a few, though. When I was younger we went to Exeter’s Rougemont Gardens every year to see the Northcott Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park. Well, for a run of some years until they chose to do one my mother wasn’t so keen on. One of the Richards, if memory serves. And then we stopped going.

We were, in any case, more firmly attached to a tradition of Gilbert & Sullivan every summer. Until the musical group decided to branch out into other musicals. Then the choices started to go downhill…

But I digress. I’m not sure why I’ve not read much Shakespeare, except that I’ve never really been much a one for reading poetry or plays. Not that I dislike them, just that I prefer prose.

Possibly it’s something to do with preferring to listen to poetry and plays. Maybe my next reading-target should be to read all of the the plays. Actually, that’s quite a good idea. I can get them for free on my Kindle. Maybe if I’m being adventurous I can add in the poems…

Watch this space next Wednesday!

On a side note, apparently Shakespeare introduced my name to the English-speaking world in As You Like It. I’d reference that, but I came upon it some years ago and I have no idea where I found it.

 

An Exercise in Self-Control

“I can resist all things,” said Oscar Wilde, “except temptation.”  Or something like that.

Anyway, it doesn’t really matter, since the end of temptations are nigh. Or, in the case of Catholics, already at an end. The Vatican apparently allows for Lent to end at sundown on Maundy Thursday.

There’s something about a Christian festival, in previously Christian countries, to get all the anti-Church people leaping up and down about the non-Christian nature of said festival. Now, I’m not going to deny that the early Church had a habit of appropriating local festivals to win over the people. The birth of Jesus, for instance, probably wasn’t in December. To be honest, though, cheer and party in September (when we/early Christians are all busy with harvests) or in the middle of winter when it’s cold and dark and there’s not much else to do? Which would you prefer?

The thing that’s annoying me at the moment, and which annoys me every year because it pops up every Easter, is that thing which says that Easter was originally the celebration of an Assyrian/Babylonian goddess of love called Ishtar. As a goddess of love, and therefore probably also fertility, it makes sense for such a goddess to be celebrated in the Spring. The Assyrians and Babylonians weren’t the only ones to think so. The Norse had a sacrifice combined with a market at the end of winter called Dísablót, meaning a sacifice to the ladies, to the goddesses.

There’s another idea that Easter comes from Eostre, a Germanic goddess whom Bede says gave her month to that which became April. There’s not much else about Eostre, and Bede was an 8th century Christian. Since the word Easter is derived from the same roots as Eostre, it would be lovely to say that Easter is Eostre’s festival.

Except that Easter is only Easter in a few languages, notably English and German. In most other languages, the name for the festival is derived from the Latin name: the Paschal Sacrifice, which derives from the Hebrew Pesach. Which is the festival of Passover. 

The reason that Easter is at this time of the year is this: Jesus was crucified at Passover. And Passover is a Spring festival.

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Mark and I (mostly me) decided that this year we’d make us an Easter egg, since I have various egg-moulds.We picked the big one. It’s going to be the better part of a kilo of chocolate. 🙂

Have you noticed how Easter eggs have changed? I remember when I was little (oh so many years ago!) the treats were inside the eggs.

I was thinking earlier that, if the companies really were keen on reducing packaging, then they’d go back to putting sweets or mini eggs or whatever inside. Because that’s just sensible space economy. Reduces waste-packaging and makes the egg more exciting.

So that’s what we’re going to do with our, what you might call, family-sized egg…

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The NEC Restoration Show

Now that Authun has managed to return to his home in Iceland, I have need to find something else to fill my Wednesday posts.

While I think on it, though, let me tell you more about the car show.

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It turned out less boring than I expected. I’m not really a car-expert. I only wanted a Herald because I really wanted a Spitfire. And I really only wanted one of them because I think they’re one of the prettiest designed cars. So elegant and gorgeous. I’m quite taken by Austin-Healey Frogeye Sprites for the same reason. That and the name. Likewise Riley Elfs. Or Elves, maybe… But the reason I didn’t get a Spitfire was, quite simply, economics. I was 16 and couldn’t find a cheap enough one.

Anyway, it was largely only the mornings when I was particularly invisible. As the days got busier, and my dad got more caught up with all those who wanted to talk to him about mechanics etc, the rest got left to me. So I wasn’t too bored.

Although sadly, and despite the many with fond memories of Heralds or with Herald projects, we didn’t win the coveted Golden Spanner for Restoration of the Year (and £2K of tools which none of us on the Restoration stand need, since we clearly already have what we need). You see, one of the other cars was probably the front-runner from the word go. It’s hard to beat a story like that of the Volvo P1800. It was the car originally driven by Roger Moore in the ’60s TV show The Saint. Apparently they’d really wanted a Jag, but Jaguar refused. So a Volvo it was!

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The best part of the weekend, though, was the fact that the Herald managed the trip to and from Birmingham with almost no troubles. She hiccuped a little when the fuel started running low, but other than that, it was a very pleasant road-trip. And lovely weather too! On our way back, we thought it would be nice to take her back to her place of origin, since we were in Coventry.

Since Standard-Triumph is no more, the factory site is now a business-site, and all that remains is the workers’ club. But there are signs and monuments. And most of the roads are named after the Triumph cars.

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Ms. Cellophane

You know that song Mr Cellophane from Chicago? I felt a bit like that today.

It’s the apparently curious event of a female (being part of the) restoring of a classic car.

I wrote something briefly a few weeks back about my beloved Herald 1200. Well, today was the first day of the PC Restoration show at the NEC in Birmingham. Now, granted that my knowledge and ability to talk of the mechanical details is limited, but that was actually my car I was standing next to. I wasn’t lurking there for no reason. I could talk about the stripping process. And the body-work restoration.

Actually, I wasn’t the only person finding herself a bit invisible. My sister-in-law had the same experience, in that people talked to my brother rather than her.

Now, I’m not going to claim sexism or discrimination. I understand that the numbers of women restoring classics are probably few,  and the numbers of female car-obsessives not much higher, especially when classics are usually from a different generation. I mean, my Herald is a good few decades older than I am. And yes, I left the mechanical restoration in my father’s capable, experienced hands, but I was still the person who dismantled the car in the first place. We had a good division of labour, I thought: I took it to pieces and he put it back together again. That’s fair, right?

All I ask of you men is that you remember that some of us women do like and appreciate classic cars. And some of us are happy and willing to get our hands dirty! So please don’t ignore us. We may not talk technicalities (I didn’t like my Haynes manual much because it wasn’t translated into non-technical jargon), but we can still talk cars.

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Also – goodness there were some pretty cars there! So many plans for my fleet when I have more money than sense!

Authun and the Bear, Part Four

In which our Intrepid Hero goes home

Having received King Sweyn’s blessing and money for his pilgrimage to Rome, Authun set off. Not much is known of Authun’s stay in Rome, but he presumably did many pilgrim things. Like attending Mass held by the Pope. Confessing his sins and receiving absolution. Praying. Things like that. Good, holy things.

Anyway.

On his return to Denmark, he was sadly struck by some nasty disease, which withered him into skin and bones and whittled the money bestowed by Sweyn into nothing.

He was forced to resort to begging and stealing in order to get food as he continued to struggle on his way back to Denmark. Gradually his hair began to fall out until he was completely bald and appeared terribly gaunt and wretched.By the time he eventually reached Denmark, he was an unrecognisable skeleton of his former self.

It was Easter-tide when he found the royal court.

He hesitated, unwilling to show his face in public. He lingered under the shadow of the church where Sweyn’s Easter Masses were being celebrated. Authun hoped that eventually he would meet the king there, but the rich clothes of Sweyn and his courtiers made him even more unwilling to greet Sweyn. Authun joined those other pilgrims who had yet to cast aside their pilgrims’ staffs and wallets outside the court’s banqueting hall, where food was provided, as was the custom, especially during Holy Week.

One evening during that week, Authun tried to meet Sweyn as he went to Evensong. Although it had been difficult before, he found it even more so now, as the king was accompanied by drunken courtiers.

Evensong had been particularly beautifully sung, Sweyn thought, not that he knew all that much about music. The evenings were beginning to lighten again and it was not quite dark as he walked back to the hall with his courtiers. They were somewhat boisterous now, although they had managed to show sufficient piety and sobriety during the service. They were walking ahead of him, clearly eager to get back to the mead which the serving girls would be setting out in the banqueting hall for them.

A movement in the shadows caught Sweyn’s eye; the light was just enough for him to make out the shape of a man. The courtiers had by now disappeared into the hall, and Sweyn called out: “Come forward, you who wants to meet me; I imagine that is your wish, you who lurk in the shadows.”

The man hesitated, then stepped forward and fell at Sweyn’s feet. Sweyn did not recognise, as well he might not, so great were the changes in Authun’s appearance.

“Lord,” he uttered, but got no further as recognition dawned on Sweyn.

“Authun?! Get up!” Sweyn declared delightedly, although aghast at Authun’s skeletal state. He pulled the prostrate man to his feet and grasped his hand. “Welcome, my friend, welcome! Goodness, you have greatly changed since I last saw you!”

He took Authun by the arm and led him into the banqueting hall. The courtiers, upon seeing the king’s companion, laughed at the sight of Sweyn with a skeleton. But Sweyn quelled the laughter with a look of thunder and said, “You need not laugh at him: his soul is far better provided for than any of yours!”

He turned to a serving-girl and asked that a bath for Authun be readied, and some of his own clothes be found for Authun to wear. Such was done and Authun returned to the banquet feeling considerably better than he had done in a long while and considerably better dressed. Sweyn had a space made for him beside himself and treated Authun as a much-respected guest.

In the weeks after Easter, Authun recovered much of the weight which he had lost, and his hair began to grow again. By Ascension he was fully recovered.

King Sweyn asked Authun to remain indefinitely at his court, offering him wealth and status. “I would make you my cup-bearer and you would be treated with high honour,” he promised.

But Authun, with some regret, said, “May God reward you, lord, for all the honour which you would place upon me, but it is in my mind to travel back to Iceland.”

This confused Sweyn. Why would anyone wish to return to the cold rock in the Northern seas when they could receive honour and riches in the Danish court?

“To me, this is a strange choice,” he said, bemused.

Authun began to explain. “It is thus, lord: I am not unsure of the great honour which I have here, but while I would reside in some splendour and want nothing, my mother treads a beggar’s path in Iceland because the money which I provided for her before I left Iceland over three years ago will now be finished.” It was simply spoken, and, to Sweyn’s ears, there was a strong ring of sincerity. He was impressed.

“That is well said,” he replied, “and as a man ought. May you be a man of good fortune, for such is the only reason which I could hear without displeasure for you to leave me. Stay with me now until a ship can be found which is ready to travel.”

To this offer, Authun assented and less than a month later, King Sweyn accompanied Authun to the shore where the quay was, where merchants were preparing their ships for the summer’s trading. There were ships destined for many different lands: to the eastern trading routes in the Baltic, to Saxony, Sweden or Norway. The two men walked along the quay-side, looking at the busy hurrying to and fro of the merchants and workers. They came before a beautiful ship, with a carefully carved figurehead of a serpent. It was being prepared for travel northwards.

“How do you like this ship, Authun?” Sweyn asked, as Authun stared at the vessel.

“It’s beautiful, lord,” was all that Authun could manage as a response.

“Then, it is yours,” the king said. “I want to give you this ship as a reward for the bear.”

Authun mustered all the graciousness at his command in order to thank the king for the gift of the ship.

Before Authun left, when the ship was ready some few days later, Sweyn said to the Icelander: “Although you now want to travel away from me, I will not hinder you, despite my express wish to honour you greatly in my court. I have heard that it is difficult to find harbour in your land’s coast, and there are many places of open coast which are dangerous to ships. No, should you happen to become wrecked and lose the ship and its cargo, then you would have little to show that you have met King Sweyn and given him a great treasure. Therefore, I give to you this silver.” Sweyn handed to Authun his own leather purse full of silver coins. “This will ensure that you will not be entirely without money, even if you become ship-wrecked, as long as you keep a-hold of this purse. Although, it may still happen that you lose this money; you would still have nothing to show that you have met King Sweyn and would have benefitted little from giving him a great treasure,” he added musingly. He thought for a moment and then drew from his arm one of the gold rings which he habitually wore and proffered it to Authun. “Take this. Then if it should turn out so badly that you are ship-wrecked and lose the silver as well, then you would not be entirely without money when you come to land, because many men have gold on them in ship-wrecks and from this it can be seen that you have met King Sweyn, as long as you hold onto this arm-ring. And this I want to advise you: do not give this ring to anyone, unless you think that you have an exceedingly great kindness to reward a most noble man. Give them then this ring, because it is fitting for a noble man to receive. And now: farewell!”

Sweyn stepped back as Authun embarked the ship. He stood by the figure-head as the men began to row and lifted his hand in farewell to the Danish king.

The ship was turned in the direction of Norway as they left the harbour. Authun thought to take the cargo to Norway and trade there, in the south of the country. They came in to land in the region where King Harald was in residence.

Authun remembered his promise from several years before. When the cargo had been unloaded, he left his merchant captain in charge of bartering the goods while he went to pay his respects to the king.

King Harald’s court was readying itself for the mid-summer celebrations. Harald himself was trying to plan his next sortie against Denmark. The protracted war was wearying him and he hoped that the coming offensive would provide a more definitive result. With any luck, it would leave him holding Denmark as well as Norway. He glanced up from his discussion with his captain as a kerfuffle broke out in the hall’s doorway.

The king’s guards were disinclined to allow this random Icelandic stranger into the hall, even with the story he told of a promise to the king. The man bore the King of Denmark’s ring on his arm and leather purse on his belt. Clearly he was a spy or assassin, sent by Sweyn to kill Harald.

Harald’s memory served him well, and he recognised the man trying to enter his hall.

“Let him enter!” boomed across the hall to the guards. The entire hall fell silent. The serving-girls ceased their preparations. Everyone turned to the doorway. The guards stepped aside and Authun walked confidently in. He crossed the floor, the men and girls parting to allow him through to the king.

“Lord, I return as I promised,” he began, greeting Harald more warmly than he had done previously.

“So I see,” replied Harald. “Sit, and drink with us.” He gestured to a serving-girl to bring ale for Authun. A space appeared on the bench beside Harald and Authun took it.

“Now, tell me! In what way did King Sweyn reward you for the bear?”

Authun replied, “In this way, lord: he received it from me.”

“I would have done likewise,” muttered Harald. “Did he reward you yet further?”

“Yes, lord,” Authun answered. “He supplied me with silver to go south.”

“King Sweyn gives men money to go south on a pilgrimage or for other reasons even though they do not all present him with valuable gifts. What else was there?” Harald demanded.

“He invited me,” Authun said, “to become his cup-bearer and to have great honour placed on me.”

“That was well said,” Harald approved, “but he would have rewarded you with yet more.”

“He did thus,” Authun agreed. “He gave me a merchant-ship with a full cargo that hither is best invested in Norway.”

“Very generous,” Harald said, unimpressed, “but I would have done likewise. Did he reward you yet more?”

“Yes, lord,” Authun replied. “He gave me this leather purse filled with silver, so that I should not be penniless if I keep hold of it, even if my ship be wrecked on Iceland’s coast.”

“Most excellently done. I might not have done that,” Harald admitted. “I would have felt free of my obligation by giving you the ship. Did he reward you yet more?”

“Indeed so, lord,” Authun said. He indicated the gold arm-ring which he wore. “He rewarded me yet further by giving me this ring that I wear on my arm. He said that it might happen that I might lose all the silver, but that I would not be penniless if I had the ring. He bade me not to part with it unless I had some noble man’s great kindness to reward, to whom I wanted to give it. And now I have met just that man, lord, for you had the chance to take both the bear and my life from me, but you let me travel in peace where others could not.” Authun pulled the ring from his arm and held it out to King Harald.

Harald received the ring graciously and gave Authun fine gifts in return before Authun went back to his ship for the journey to Iceland.

And, no doubt, he lived the rest of his life dining out on the story of his travels and the kings he had met.