The busy bee in the soote season

I wrote this a couple of years ago, but thought I would share it again…

Language is forever changing and evolving, and as new words arrive older words soemtimes fade away and are lost; however sometimes when you come across a ‘lost’ word, the context brings it back to life again. In this sonnet by Henry Howard, you might at first think ‘the soote season’ is winter, when fires are lit and skies are dark, but when you read the first line ‘The soote season, that bud and bloom forth brings’, it’s not too difficult to see that soote must mean something else, soft maybe, or sweet, or a word like soothing. ‘Eke’ we know as meaning to extend as in ‘eke out something’ and so in the second line eke might mean that the greenness of spring spreads out over the valley. There are other words too… but I think they are easy to understand… do you agree?

The Soote Season

The soote season, that bud and bloom forth brings,
With green hath clad the hill and eke the vale;
The nightingale with feathers new she sings;
The turtle to her make hath told her tale.
Summer is come, for every spray now springs,
The hart hath hung his old head on the pale;
The buck in brake his winter coat he flings;
The fishes flete with new repaired scale;
The adder all her slough away she slings;
The swift swallow pursueth the flyes smale;
The busy bee her honey now she mings,
Winter is worn that was the flowers’ bale.
And thus I see among these pleasant things
Each care decays, and yet my sorrow springs.

Henry Howard was the Earl of Surrey, born in 1517, and died at the age of thirty in 1547.

Now isn’t this a very clever idea!

When my son was only a tiny thing (hard to imagine now when I look at the huge bearded monster who gives me hugs) we went to a mums and babies group and met another mum with a tiny thing. The two tinies are both grown up, taller than the two mums and both with beards and deep voices. And as for us two mums, we’re still best friends! We may live a couple of hundred miles apart but that makes no difference.

I’m writing about my clever friend’s great idea; one of the things we have in common is a serious addiction to reading. Neither of us can imagine a worlds without books, and if we haven’t got one ‘on the go’ then something’s not right! Years and years ago, when I first started writing my ‘proper’ books, she was kind enough to read them – when I saw ‘read’ I mean wade through, because they were mighty long. I have since learned to write less, but even so I still have to winnow rigorously!

Sometime ago, she was pondering on reading, and thinking that nothing is better, more relaxing, or more satisfying than a good read… a good book, a cup of tea, magic! Yes, a book, a brew, bliss!! She hit on this great idea, which she put into action!

Have a look here:

Bundles of books and a teabag! All in good condition, all read and enjoyed by my friend – what a great thing to get through the post!

Here’s just a sample of her bundles:

  • The King’s Curse’ and ‘The Taming of the Queen‘ – Philippa Gregory
  • The Little Red Chairs‘ – Edna O’Brien, ‘Lonely‘ – Andrew Michael Hurley
  • Life After Life’ and ‘Started Early Took My Dog‘ – Kate Atkinson

Quite a variety!

Just last week I was writing about books by post, thinking back to the book club my mum belonged to, and how exciting that was when the postman arrived – this isn’t a book club, but it’s still exciting!

Having some archaeological thoughts

This is something I wrote for an archaeology assignment… I have shared it before, but here it is again:

Charles Leonard Woolley was born in 1880 in London, and was a renowned archaeologist with a career of fieldwork in the near and middle east. He became an assistant in the Department of Antiquities in the Ashmolean Museum Oxford at the age of twenty-five but his first experience of field archaeology in the area which became his life’s work, was two years later in 1907. He joined an expedition from the University of Pennsylvania to excavate sites in Nubia (southern Egypt) and worked there for four years, before transferring to a British expedition in the same area. On this expedition he was joined by Thomas Edward Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia. Until he was taken prisoner in 1916, Woolley worked for two years as an intelligence officer in Palestine (World War I started in 1914 in Europe) using his archaeological knowledge and skills.
After the war he continued his work in Mesopotamia and for this assignment I am going to consider the expedition he led from 1922-24, excavating the Biblical city of Ur, known as Ur of the Chaldees. Ur is a Sumerian city, inhabited since about 2600BCE; Woolley conducted excavations there for twelve years, discovering not only many artefacts, but also gaining a clearer idea of the lives of the inhabitants of the city. He discovered about 1850 graves including sixteen tombs which contained objects which led him to call them the ‘Royal Tombs’. He returned to Ur eleven times after the first expedition, but I am considering how he may have made his first reconnaissance in 1922, when he was accompanied on the dig by another young archaeologist, Max Mallowan. Mallowan later married Agatha Christy who wrote several books set in the area, including ‘Murder in Mesopotamia’ which features an archaeological dig, not dissimilar to the dig at Ur.
What methods of reconnaissance were available to Woolley in 1922? Since the first assents in a balloon in the eighteenth century it had been apparent that aerial reconnaissance was of value, initially for a military purpose. Similarly developments in photography and the portability of cameras allowed pictures of sites to be taken from the air, and one of the first archaeological aerial photos was taken in 1906 of Stonehenge.  In World War 1 with aviation technology and engineering improving rapidly, the use of photographs became vital in planning campaigns, and Woolley is sure to have used such photos which were taken over Sinai in 1916 and Gaza in 1917, for example. I have not been able to find out if Woolley had reconnaissance photos of the Ur site, but certainly the technology was available.
As an experienced archaeologist and a skilled, much practiced excavator, Woolley did not begin his ‘dig’ until 1923; he would have spent the first months of the expedition systematically reconnoitring the landscape by car, on foot, possibly on a camel. (Even before he had arrived he would have made an academic reconnaissance, using other records, maps, and documents) He would have tried to locate and record what he identified, taking photos, drawing and sketching, mapping, making diagrams and planning where exactly he would place his trenches. He may have used probes (no geo-physics then!) he may have dug small test pits, but most of all, he would have used his eyes to ‘read’ the landscape and understand its context from the contours and features, sand/soil colour and type, geology and other signifiers of archaeology he observed. He would have ‘walked’ areas to try and visually locate remains, even though they were from as much as five thousand years ago, maybe potsherds, maybe worked stone; the arid desert would have preserved some organic materials as well as inorganic, but such artefacts would only be revealed by natural excavation such as wind shifting sand during a sandstorm.
Woolley spent twelve ‘seasons digging Ur and completed his work there in 1934. However, he continued to write articles and books about his excavations in southern Mesopotamia. He died in 1960 at the age of eighty.

Book club agreed!

It was book club this afternoon; the book we have been reading was ‘Take Six Girls’ by Laura Thompson, and it was a biography of the Mitford sisters, Jessica, Nancy, Pamela, Unity, Diana and Deborah. These six women and their less well-known brother Thomas, were the daughters of a minor aristocrat, Lord Redesdale. As young women they had celebrity status, and all went on to lead interesting and sometimes controversial lives.

  • Nancy ( 1904 –  1973) wrote many novels, including Love in a Cold Climate.
  • Pamela  ( 1907 –  1994) had John Betjeman in love with her
  • Thomas  (1909 –  1945) died fighting in Burma, and apparently like some of his sisters was a fascist
  • Diana  ( 1910 –  2003) married into the Guinness family but left her husband for the fascist leader  Oswald Mosley; she too was a supporter of Hitler
  • Unity Valkyrie ( 1914 –  1948) in love with Adolf Hitler and died nine years after a suicide attempt
  • Jessica  (1917 – 1996) writer and communist who spent most of her adult life in the USA
  • Deborah Mitford ( 1920 –  2014) married  the Duke of Devonshire

If you don’t know anything about them you can see that they were an extraordinary and fascinating family, so you would imagine a biography of them would be fascinating too. There is a mountain of information about them, contemporary and retrospective, and  Nancy, Jessica and Deborah were all writers too.

A biography of them was published in 2001 by Mary S. Lovell, The Mitford Girls, the Saga of a Family, and in 2007 Diana’s daughter-in-law, Charlotte, published letters which the sisters had written to each other. However the book we were reviewing was ‘Take Six Girls‘ by Laura Thompson…

Well, it was unanimous… none of us like Thompson’s book, and all of us were critical of it. It seemed very confusing, especially if the person reading it was new to the Mitford family; one of us even read several books by Nancy and Jessica in the hope of getting to grips with who everyone was. Nick names were used, characters from novels were mentioned as if they were real people, and ancestors and other relations were brought in to further complicate things.

One of us described the writing as ‘patronising’, another said is was like an undergraduate thesis, someone said it needed a severe editing. We felt it was too indulgent, ambiguous, and with the author’s imaginings and thoughts and beliefs written almost as facts and then used to argue the case for something else. We are all well-read, and yet there were words used which were so obscure we were reaching for our dictionaries – for what point? Too impress us or baffle us? Someone said the author had swallowed a thesaurus!

We might not have liked the book (some of us didn’t manage to finish the book!) but we certainly enjoyed getting together and talking about it!

On the menu for future meetings:

  • Devastation Road by Jason Hewitt
  • Nation – Terry Pratchett
  •  The Spy – Paulo Coelho
  • I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith

Plenty of variety there – and no doubt there will be plenty of variety in our opinions… or maybe not!



Harvest approaches with its bustling day

We have had a lovely couple of days;warm sun, washing drying on the line – yes, there was a bit of a chilly wind, but we can ignore that! It’s not rained! We’ve had blue sky! The windows are open! More rain and cool weather is forecast, but we’ve had a bit of summer!

I wonder how the farmers have been managing their harvests? As I was reading John Clare’s poem on August in his Shepherd’s calendar, it seemed as if the summers of bygone times were idyllic… maybe they were. The Shepherd’s Calendar was published in 1827 – I don’t know when exactly it was written, probably over quite a period of time, but maybe Clare was thinking of the summer of 1826 which was the hottest on record (until the 1976 summer)

Here is the first part of his verses for August:

Harvest approaches with its bustling day
The wheat tans brown and barley bleaches grey
In yellow garb the oat land intervenes
And tawney glooms the valley thronged with beans
Silent the village grows, wood wandering dreams
Seem not so lovely as its quiet seems
Doors are shut up as on a winters day
And not a child about them lies at play
The dust that winnows neath the breezes feet
Is all that stirs about the silent street
Fancy might think that desert spreading fear
Had whisperd terrors into quiets ear
Or plundering armys past the place had come
And drove the lost inhabitants from home
The fields now claim them where a motley crew
Of old and young their daily tasks pursue
The barleys beard is grey and wheat is brown
And wakens toil betimes to leave the town
The reapers leave their beds before the sun
And gleaners follow when home toils are done
To pick the littered ear the reaper leaves
And glean in open fields among the sheaves

The ruddy child nursed in the lap of care
In toils rude ways to do its little share
Beside its mother poddles oer the land
Sun burnt and stooping with a weary hand
Picking its tiney glean of corn or wheat
While crackling stubbles wound its legs and feet
Full glad it often is to sit awhile
Upon a smooth green baulk to ease its toil
And feign would spend an idle hour to play
With insects strangers to the moiling day
Creeping about each rush and grassy stem

John Clare 1793 –  1864

The night winds caught the spindrift

There is something wonderful about writing – it takes you to places you never expect, and reveals things you never knew – about yourself, about the world, about life… it also leads you to discover all sorts of interesting things – as I’ve mentioned in my recent posts about zeppelins in WW!

The topic for my Friday writing group this time was air/wind/sky/flight, and we had six completely different pieces of writing.

  • a poem about General James Woolf’s men scaling the Heights of Abraham
  • a short story about a heavenly baker
  • a revolutionary design for aircraft
  • a short story about an old airman’s final days
  • an unexplained and possibly unexplainable incident on a flight to Reykjavik
  • my fantasy/post-apocalyptic short story (or maybe the start of something longer) set in a remote and inaccessible cave on the top of a mountain

While writing my story entitled ‘The wind is my enemy, the wind is my friend‘, I investigated different types of winds, some of which I had heard of such as the mistral and the sirocco, but many were completely unknown to me. One I did recognise was the roaring forties, which took me to a poet, by An American called Burt Franklin Jenness, of whom I had never heard.

Dr Jenness was born in 1876 and pursued a career in medicine, serving as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy during World War 1; he died in 1971 at the grand age of ninety-one. His passion was poetry and he published several books,and also shared his work in magazines, newspapers and anthologies.

Here is an example…

Sea Dreams

If you’ve ever stood a midwatch in the cavern of the night,
With the sea wolves racing past you in a pack;
With the steely star a-playing ’round the mastheads for a light,
And the bucking trades possessed to drive you back;
If you’ve ever seen a sunset on a copper colored sea,
When the sky was like a polished compass bowl;
And the night winds caught the spindrift from the waves and tossed it free
Till to leeward you could see a silvery shoal.If you’ve ever read your compass by a fulling tropic moon,
As it slowly rose above its jungle bed;
Dripping silver in the waters of a coral-fringed lagoon,
Till it hung there like a shining capstan head;
If you’ve heard the whining Forties day and night about your ears,
And have cursed your packet’s ceaseless, sickening roll —
With the backstays all complaining and the creaking of the gears,
Then you’ll understand the fretting in my soul.

For the wind has shifted east’r’d, and the long green rollers call,
And a brown-skinned lass is beckoning to me;
The starb’r’d watch is yarning, and I’m longing for it all —
So it’s any wind’ll take me back to sea.

If you’ve heard the screws a-grumbling when the craft was cruising light
Or the scuppers gurgle back the weather seas;
If you’ve tailed behind a typhoon in a hellish running fight,
And have felt your oil-skins freeze about your knees;
If you’ve heard the crack of head seas, and have felt the settling hull
Or the stern go heaving skyward till she raced;
If you’ve seen her take the green ones till she quivered like a gull,
And a river ran athwart-ships at her waist.

If you’ve cleared the reefs of Suva, and have sighted Sydney head;
If you’ve lifted Sugar Loaf just after dawn;
If you’ve made Corrigador, and have swung the sounding lead
In the channels of the world where you have gone;
If you’ve cruised with lousy shipmates, and have heard them curse and brawl;
If you know the seas from Rio to Hong Kong;
If you’ve loafed about the waterfronts of every port of call —
Then you’ll understand the burden of my song.

Oh, the wind has shifted east’r’d, and the long green rollers call,
And a brown-skinned lass is beckoning to me;
The starb’r’d watch is yarning — and I’m longing for it all,
So it’s any wind’ll take me back to sea.

Burt Franklin Jenness

The long pull of the trades

I’ve just written a short story… it might be a futuristic piece set in a distant world, or a fantasy piece in a world which has never existed… I’m not sure what it is. It is for my Friday writing group, and our subject for this month was the wind, or air… or something… I’m not actually sure I have done the right topic! I will share it with you over the weekend.

I was intrigued when I was researching it, that there are so many names of different winds… not just typhoons and hurricanes, and not even things I’d heard of before like Mistral and Sirocco…

I also came across a poet I had never heard of before, Burt Franklin Jenness. He was born in New Hampshire in 1895 and became a doctor,  serving as a medical officer in the U.S. Navy during World War 1.

The Roaring Forties

Let me sail to the southward and follow once more
Down the great circle course where the latitudes roar;
Where the wind-breasted seas take the lurching bows under,
And giant swells break with the pealing of thunder;
Where the Southern Cross hangs like a pendant of gold
In a sky of black velvet, star studded and cold;
Let me dip to the forties that whimper and whine,
As the winds from the Horn whip the seas into line.

Let me sail to the southward until I can feel
The long pull of the trades, and the tug of the wheel;
Let me bring up the helm where the albatross swings,
And skirts the gray seas on his spume spattered wings;
Let me watch the star flowers sway down in the night,
And sprinkle the waves with a pollen of light;
Let me dip to the forties that whimper and whine,
As the winds from the Horn whip the seas into line.

Let me sense the deep swells that roll under the keel,
As the driving winds whistle the billows to heel;
Let me lean to the cross-seas that sputter and fume,
Let me watch the wet orb of the cold setting sun,
Through the mist laden air when the long day is done;
Let me dip to the forties that whimper and whine,
As the winds from the Horn whip the seas into line.

Let me sail to a place off the tame beaten track,
Where the seas follow up like a blood thirsty pack;
Where the reeling horizon cavorts with the sea,
And the surges play tag with the mastheads a-lee;
O, the wail of the halyards, the croon of the stays,
The clamorous nights and monotonous days;
O, the lure of the forties that whimper and whine,
As the winds from the Horn whip the seas into line.

Burt Franklin Jenness
So winds… just in case you’re interested, a brief sample…
  • Abroholos
  • Austru
  • Barat
  • Bayamo
  • Bentu de Soli
  • Borasco
  • Boreas
  • Brickfielder
  • Briza
  • Brisote Th
  • Brubu
  • Chubasco
  • Churada
  • Coromell
  • Elephanta
  • Etesian
  • Euros
  • Foehn
  • Gregale
  • Haboob
  • Harmattan
  • Knik Wind
  • Kona Storm
  • Leste
  • Leveche
  • Matanuska
  • N’aschi
  • Ostria
  • Pali
  • Pampero
  • Papagayo
  • Shamal
  • Sharki
  • Squamish
  • Suestado
  • Taku Wind
  • Tehuantepecer
  • Tramontana
  • Vardar
  • Williwaw
  • Willy-willy