Wolf Hall – the funny bits

Wolf Hall is not a funny book as such, but there are many funny moments. There are also a number of funny moments in Bring Up The Bodies. Interestingly, there are very few funny moments in the conclusion to the trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, even though it’s about as long as the other two books put together.

Because I can’t think of a proper blog post to write, I am simply stealing from someone else. Dear reader, I give you the funniest bits from Wolf Hall and its sequels. Enjoy.

Wolf Hall

This is Thomas Cromwell in conversation with Cardinal Wolsey. He says:

“I think, if you’re going to kill a man, do it. Don’t write him a letter about it. Don’t bluster and threaten and put him on his guard.”

And the Cardinal says: “If you ever plan to be off your guard, let me know. It is something I should like to see.”

The Testament he keeps in the chest is the pirated edition from Antwerp, which is easier to get hold of than the proper German printing. […] His Testament is in octavo, nasty cheap paper: on the title page, where the printer’s colophon and address should be, the words ‘PRINTED IN UTOPIA’. He hopes Thomas More has seen one of these. He is tempted to show him, just to see his face.

And then I laugh because I imagine Thomas More’s face. Incidentally, Martin Luther complained bitterly about the quickly produced pirated editions of his bible translation – “they make it bish-bash-bosh, because only making money counts” – because these editions are full of mistakes which then reflect badly on him.

This is after Cardinal Wolsey has taken a pendant from around his neck and given it to the courtier Henry Norris.

Cavendish [Wolsey’s gentleman usher] jolts up, riding knee-to-knee. ‘His reliquary!’ George is upset, astonished. ‘To part with it like this! It is a piece of the true Cross!’

‘We’ll get him another [says Cromwell]. I know a man in Pisa makes them ten for five florins and a round dozen for cash upfront. And you get a certificate with St Peter’s thumbprint, to say they’re genuine.’

‘For shame!’ Cavendish says, and twitches his horse away.

When I worked at the Pitt Rivers Museum, I came across a cross in the collection which incorporated a piece of the true cross. No certificate though. This always reminds of “The Name of the Rose” and William of Baskerville who says that if all those pieces of the true cross were genuine, Jesus would have to have been crucified on a whole forest.

Cardinal Wolsey to Cromwell: ‘If your chance comes to serve [the king], you will have to take him as he is, a pleasure-loving prince. And he will have to take you as you are, which is rather like one of those square-shaped fighting dogs that low men tow about on ropes. Not that you are without a fitful charm, Tom.’

He goes home and tells Liz about the fighting dogs. She also thinks it strikingly apt. He doesn’t tell her about the fitful charm, in case it’s something only the cardinal can see.

He goes to see Anne. A thorn between two roses, she is sitting with her cousin Mary Shelton, and her brother’s wife Jane, Lady Rochford. ‘My lady, do you know the king has devised a new form of death for Fisher’s cook? He is to be boiled alive.’

Mary Shelton gives a little gasp, and flushes as if some gallant had pinched her. Jane Rochford drawls, ‘Vere dignum et justum est, aequum et salutare.’ She translates for Mary: ‘Apt.’

Okay, maybe this isn’t funny if you don’t know any Latin. And you might think you cannot translate a whole sentence into a single word. But believe me, the translation is absolutely perfect. And the condensation into a single word makes it funny.


Bring Up The Bodies

Cromwell chatting to his cook in the kitchen, and the conversation turns to Cromwell’s ancestors.

‘Who were your mother’s people, sir?’

‘They were northerners.’

Thurston grins. ‘Come out of a cave. You know young Francis Weston? He that waits on the king? His people are giving out that you’re a Hebrew.’ He grunts; he’s heard that one before. ‘Next time you’re at court,’ Thurston advises, ‘take your cock out and put it on the table and see what he says to that.’

‘I do that anyway,’ he says. ‘If the conversation flags.’

The cook, by the way, is a real person. It is known that Cromwell had a cook named Thurston. To know that is not funny, but it gives me pleasure.

This is after Katherine of Aragon has died:

Christophe comes to him, whispering: ‘Sir, they are saying on the streets that Katherine was murdered. They are saying that the king locked her in a room and starved her to death. They are saying that he sent her almonds, and she ate, and was poisoned. They are saying that you sent two murderers with knives, and that they cut out her heart, and when it was inspected, your name was branded there in big black letters.’

‘What? On her heart? “Thomas Cromwell”?’

Christophe hesitates. ‘Alors…Perhaps just your initials.’

About Thomas Boleyn:

He is not a man wedded to action, Boleyn, but rather a man who stands by, smirking and stroking his beard; he thinks he looks enigmatic, but instead he looks as if he’s pleasuring himself.

He gets Sir Francis round and gets him drunk. He, Cromwell, can trust himself; when he was young, he learned to drink with Germans.

This makes me laugh, obviously, because I’m German. Although my stamina where drinking is concerned does my nation no credit.

Sir Nicholas Carew comes to see him. The very fibres of his beard are bristling with conspiracy.

He needs to sit down for his barber. He has not perfected the art of dictating letters while being shaved. Perhaps I’ll grow my beard, he thinks, to save time. Only then, Hans would insist on committing another portrait against me.


I said that The Mirror And The Light does not have many funny bits, but here is one, about the baby prince Edward:

He makes full use of his Christmas present from the old Earl of Essex – a rattle combined with a bell. The Earl of Essex is stone deaf.


And to finish, a bonus joke: from Beyond Black, by Hilary Mantel:

The Fig and Pheasant, under a more dignified name, had once been a coaching inn, and its frontage was still spattered with the exudates of a narrow, busy A-road. In the sixties it had stood near-derelict and draughty, with a few down-at-heel regulars huddled into a corner of its cavernous rooms. In the seventies it was bought out by a steakhouse chain and Tudorised, fitted with plywood oak-stained panels and those deep-buttoned settles covered in stainproof plush of which the Tudors were so fond.

Stainproof plush

Thomas Seymour: the Abingdon Connection

I love discovering links between people and places I had hitherto known nothing about, and I love discovering connections of historical people to my own life (even very tenuous ones!). This is why I wrote my previous post about Margaret Murray, and this is why I’m writing this post about Thomas Seymour.

I was chasing a bit of information concerning the history of Abingdon when, scrolling down a very long page of text, my eye was caught by a couple of sentences:

The site of the monastery [i.e. Abingdon Abbey] was granted in 1547 to Lord Seymour of Sudeley. He was attainted in 1549, and it was put into the hands of Sir John Mason to hold for life with a salary of 4d. a day.

Lord Seymour, I knew, was Thomas Seymour, Baron of Sudeley, brother to Queen Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife, and to Edward Seymour, later to be Lord Somerset and Protector, effectively regent in place of Edward VI, who was still a boy. Thomas Seymour, apart from being a courtier, had a military and naval career and became Lord Admiral of the fleet. An all-round notorious Tudor character, and familiar to millions through books, films and television.


The mention caught my eye because I had just re-read ‘Revelation’ by C.J. Sansom, in which Thomas Seymour appears as a character, notable chiefly for lusting after Catherine Parr and being incredibly rude to the narrator, Matthew Shardlake (calling him ‘master crookback’ and such throughout the book).

What I hadn’t known was that there was a connection to Abingdon at all. Seymour’s name is hardly ever mentioned, probably because his distant involvement was only a blip on the timeline of Abingdon’s history. It is doubtful that he ever set foot in the place, even though he owned it (the Abbey, I mean, not Abingdon). It might not have been such an attractive place at that time, although of course worth a bit of money. But after the Abbey was dissolved, many of the buildings had been demolished and the stone carted away and used elsewhere. Even before that the Abbey wasn’t all that. The team of surveyors sent to Abingdon prior to the dissolution complained that they couldn’t actually stay there: ‘the late abbey […] is the poorest house’, they reported to Cromwell back in London. When Richard Rich arrived some time later, among other things to check whether the Abbey could be converted into a residence for Henry VIII, he found that it was by no means fit for a king:

The houses, except the church, a great and goodly thing well repaired, are decayed. The abbot’s lodging will not be fit for the king without great expense. No land either on the north-east side or on the south, where the meadows of the Thames lie, may be imparked without great hindrance to the town.

So it is perhaps not surprising that Thomas Seymour didn’t want to live there either. He probably never even contemplated living there. Rich people were buying land all over the country without intending to move there, only to hold it as property and make a profit from it.

At any rate, he didn’t get to enjoy his Abbey lands for very long. As the quote above states, he was attainted in 1549. But what does that mean, and what did he actually do?

Thomas Seymour was accused of committing a variety of treasonable acts, more on that below. He demanded an open trial, but that was denied, and instead a Bill of Attainder was issued against him. This was a legal device to find someone guilty of a crime and sentence them without a trial. It means that in effect Parliament passes the sentence instead of a court of law, and passes the Bill of Attainder as a parliamentary act.

So what had he actually done? That is a bit more difficult to define. Historians don’t agree about how guilty he was of all the things he was accused of. The main strand of accusations levelled against him were tales of inappropriate behaviour towards the Princess Elizabeth. Elizabeth lived with her stepmother Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth wife, whom Thomas Seymour married after the king’s death. Descriptions of what Seymour did range from silly behaviour like tickling and horse-play on Elizabeth’s bed in the mornings to sexual assault. Some have accused Elizabeth of being a willing participant in the ‘verbal and then physical high jinks in the newly sexualised Parr-Seymour household.’

Seymour was also accused of plotting to marry Elizabeth, even though he was still married to Catherine Parr. Perhaps he was thinking of his long-term future? It is perhaps interesting to note that Thomas Cromwell was similarly accused of plotting to marry Henry VIII’s daughter Mary.

Lastly there are stories of him trying to kidnap the king. It seems he was caught trying to enter the king’s bedchamber at night, and he even shot a guard dog when it made too much noise. He had been jealous of his brother’s influence over the king and had been trying extend his own influence, but what he was actually planning to do that night I don’t know.

It is beyond the scope of this post to ponder what may be the truth in these matters. Whatever it was, the result was that Thomas Seymour was sentenced to death and executed on 20 March 1549.

A Bill of Attainder means that the property of the attainted person falls to the crown. This was the case with Seymour’s property, and that included the lands of Abingdon Abbey.

This brings me to the second character in this story: John Mason.

John Mason is an important figure in the history of Abingdon. He was an experienced courtier and diplomat and is credited with obtaining Abingdon’s first charter from the monarch in 1556. Every year Abingdon celebrates Charter Day, and pupils from John Mason School visit the museum and other historic sites in Abingdon on that day.

In her history of Abingdon (Vol II: Medieval Abingdon), Mieneke Cox only says:

Though he did not live in Abingdon, Sir John Mason continued to take a profitable interest in hs native town. He was knighted in 1547 and in 1549, after Sir John Wellesbourne’s death, managed to become keeper of the abbey.

As you can see, no mention of Thomas Seymour. But a closer look reveals that it is not so surprising that John Mason should become keeper of the abbey. A list of offices he held shows that in 1548 he was already steward of Catherine Parr’s manor of Lymington in Hampshire, and steward for Thomas Seymour for an unknown property. He had also done a job (unrelated to land management) for the Lord Protector, Thomas’ brother. Apart from the connection to the Seymour family, he also had the local connection, having been born and educated in Abingdon. His mother might have been a sister of the last abbot of Abingdon, although his parentage is not proven.

Being ‘keeper’ of the abbey lands does not mean he owned them. Thomas Seymour’s property, including the abbey, fell to the crown. It is difficult to interpret what the History of Berkshire means when it says that the land ‘was put into the hands of Sir John Mason’. In my interpretation this means that he didn’t own the land, but acted as steward on behalf of the crown, particularly since he also received a salary for doing the job. Neither is it clear what happened to John Mason in the position as keeper, because the histories which are available to me contradict each other. The History of Berkshire says that the land was granted to Sir Thomas Wrothe in 1553, and that John Mason ‘surrendered his office of keeper’ to him. Now, does that mean that Mason ceased to be the keeper, or does is mean that he continued as keeper, but on behalf of Sir Thomas Wrothe instead of the crown?

Wrothe sold the land on (‘at once’) to William Blacknall. This transaction was so quick that Mieneke Cox in her history of Abingdon omits Wrothe altogether and has the lands pass from John Mason to William Blacknall straight away. She also states that ‘Sir John, however, managed to retain the Keeper’s annual fee of £6 1s 8d.’ Without actually being the keeper? Not impossible, but I wonder why Blacknall would consent to that.

At this point however we have gone far beyond Thomas Seymour’s possession of the land, which was the point of my post. As I said, his connection with Abingdon was a loose and fleeting one, but it still pleased me that such a well-known Tudor figure should also appear in the annals of the town with whose history I deal with every day.



Mieneke Cox, The Story of Abingdon, Part II: Medieval Abingdon, 1990.

History of Berkshire: available online here


Information on Thomas Seymour taken from here:


This is also where I found the quotes from biographies of Elizabeth I.

Information about John Mason taken from here:


Miss Murray and the Witches

I have a little Halloween ritual: I switch off the lights in the front rooms to pretend I’m not home, then sit in the back room, eating cheese and crackers and reading spooky stories. Why cheese and crackers I don’t know, it’s what I had one year, and then it became A Thing. For the stories, I vary the author. Last year I read M.R. James, this year I had picked H.P. Lovecraft. I had a collection of ‘Classic Horror Stories’ from the library, selected to relate to the Cthulhu mythos. Right in the very first story, a character mentions ‘Miss Murray’ and particularly her book on witchcraft. She is mentioned again in several of the stories throughout the book, as various characters recall reading her book. Miss Murray actually popped up in my own life at two different points. But who was Miss Murray?


Margaret Alice Murray was born in 1863 in Kolkata (then Calcutta). She became an Egyptologist, studying under and working with William Flinders Petrie. She had a career lecturing in that subject and worked on catalogues of Egyptian artefacts at several museums. Her interests extended beyond Egypt, and she worked on excavations of ancient sites in Malta (1920-23) and Minorca (1930-31). In 1935 she retired from her lecturing job at University College London. She was 72 at that point, but nonetheless joined Petrie again on excavations in the Middle East.

Beyond Egyptology and anthropology, she had an interest in (and theories about) witches and witchcraft. This is perhaps what she is best known for today, as her theories proved very influential. In 1921, she published ‘The Witch-Cult in Western Europe’, the book referred to by Lovecraft several times. Her theory was that this Witch-Cult was a survival, a continuation, of the pre-Christian cult of the horned god, known in ancient Celtic mythology as Cernunnos and still important to modern day Pagans, Druids etc. The ‘horns’ by the way, are more usually antlers, as the god is associated with the animals of the forest, the hunt and in particular the stag.

Murray’s theory was controversial but of interest to many people. The Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) says:

‘This theory was controversial but proved popular and widely influential. She became a recognised authority on the subject, a fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute from 1926 and a member of the Folk-Lore Society from 1927.’

As a measure of how influential she was, bear in mind that one of the people she influenced was Gerald Gardner, one of the founders of modern Wicca. As Jaqueline Simpson wrote in Folklore:

‘…her descriptions of alleged rituals, festivals and organisations of witches were used by Gerald Gardner as a blueprint for setting up a new system of magical and religious rituals, the Wicca movement of Britain and America, now the most wide-spread and best known branch of neo-paganism.’

I wonder how many modern witches are aware that their practice is founded on Margaret Murray’s theories and books?

Considering the main thrust of Murray’s theory, it is also clear how this would fit in so well with Lovecraft’s works, as many of his horrors concerning Cthulhu, the Old Ones and beings from outer space are portrayed as survivals from pre-historic and pre-Christian times. And this is why his protagonists are familiar with Murray’s book.

My first encounter with Margaret Murray did concern a witch – a bottled witch. At the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, where I worked for many years, one of the most famous exhibits is the ‘witch in a bottle’ – a small, silver bottle with a sealed stopper, given to the museum by Margaret Murray in 1926. She herself had obtained it from an old lady in 1915. The museum label preserves the warning the old lady gave her at the time:

‘They do say there be a witch in it, and if you let un out, there’ll be a peck o’trouble.’

To my knowledge, no one has ever tried opening it…

Branching out, if you like, from the study of witchcraft and pagan beliefs, Murray advocated the study of folklore and folk life. After all, she was President of the Folk-Lore Society, and in an address to the society she stressed the importance of looking at folklore:

‘…folklore is a living thing, it is always with us, and therefore may have effect on even the greatest events of history.’

Murray reminds us that what is history to us was just daily life for the people of the past, and that behind even momentous historic events are, ultimately, just people like ourselves. It is important, in her view, to look at these events not only on a macro level, but also on a micro level, as something that actual people lived through. Perhaps these days it is historical fiction which can provide us with the ‘ground level’ point of view. After all, those books are all about individual people living through historic events – the Battle of Waterloo, the French Revolution, the reign of Henry VIII or whatever. This was not suggested by Murray, however, she was all about academic study.

My second encounter with Margaret Murray was during a holiday on Minorca years ago. I stayed in a hotel outside Mahon, more or less half way between Mahon and Es Castell. Being a fan of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels, it gave me much pleasure to find that the building had been Admiral Collingwood’s house when he was Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet. The house overlooks the harbour, which is like a long drawn-out fjord with steep sides. From the breakfast room of the hotel you could see across the harbour to Admiral Nelson’s house on the other side. Collingwood died in 1810, on his way to England from Mahon. His ghost is said to haunt his house, but I never noticed anything. Perhaps because my room was in a newer wing which didn’t exist in Collingwood’s time?

Anyway, when I was there the owner of the hotel gave guided tours of the house, telling its history to the guests. He talked about Collingwood, of course, but he also talked about Margaret Murray. As mentioned above, she went on excavations on Minorca in 1930-31. Collingwood’s old house wasn’t a hotel at that time, but a private residence. The owner (whose name I’ve forgotten) invited Margaret Murray and her team to stay with him while they were examining the nearby site of Trepucó. I visited Trepucó myself. These are the stone-built remains of the Talaiotic culture, and many are found on Minorca and Mallorca. They originated in the first millenium BC. The name is derived from one of the structures, the talayot, a sort of squat tower built up in layers of stone. Another structure I saw was the taula (=table), a standing stone with another balanced on top of it, forming a sort of T.

I didn’t know any of this when I toured the hotel, but at the mention of Margaret Murray I remembered the witch in the bottle and made the connection. And now, finding that Lovecraft’s characters talked about her as well, I was making even more connections. It’s fun when people pop up in different places, and it gives you a little thrill of recognition when you realise who they are.

Her legacy (if the DNB is anything to go by) is seen to be her work as an archaeologist, particularly her fieldwork and her study of material remains. In terms of influence, her legacy could be seen in the development of modern Wicca as well, but this was not directly down to her, and her theories about witchcraft were controversial then and are controversial or even discredited now.

In 1963, Margaret Murray published her autobiography: ‘My First Hundred Years’. She died the same year.

Margaret Murray was an interesting, multi-faceted figure, a pioneer in many ways, and worth being remembered as such.

An excellent resource is this page, result of a project conducted years ago at the Pitt Rivers Museum, which looked at the study of ‘Englishness’ and the English collections at that museum. All the quotes in this piece are taken from that website as well:


And here is a link to more information on Trepucó, from the official Menorca tourism website:


Image of Margaret Murray from Wikipedia. Picures of Trepucó are my own holiday snaps.

The Wheel of the Year

It is early September – well, it was when I started writing this. I like September, it is one of those transitional months which changes from early Autumn, almost Summer, to ‘proper’ Autumn when the leaves start to change colour, nights are chilly and the sun goes down ever earlier. On the calendar Autumn starts with the Equinox (23 September), but in this country Autumn starts usually just after the August Bank Holiday (which is the last Monday in August). There is a real change of atmosphere, you can feel that it is not Summer anymore. I’ve talked about this before when I’ve pondered the beginning of Spring.

Really, in a way, all months are transitional months, because obviously the change is gradual but continuous, the Earth turns, the seasons follow one another. The sun rises fractionally later every day at the moment, until the Winter Solstice, when it starts to rise fractionally earlier every day.

Normally I don’t like change, but what I really don’t like is abrupt, surprising and permanent change. The seasons however are slowly revolving, predictable, and they repeat. When one Spring is over, there will be another one in 9 months’ time. There is a lot of talk about how there aren’t proper seasons anymore, how global warming is messing up the succession of seasons, and there is some truth in that. However, generally speaking, here in Northern/Western/Central Europe we still get Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, with different temperatures, different daylengths, different weather and so on. And I love it. Maybe it’s just what I’m used to, but many people dream of retiring to sunnier climes, where it’s always warm. Of course, when they say that, people mostly think of Spain or the South of France, where you get seasons as well, only slightly different. But I wouldn’t like it, I think. I’d rather stick with the seasons I’ve got here, including the rain, the wind, the snow (the dirty slush more like) and the short days.

Where I would really struggle would be in a place like, say, the United Arab Emirates. It is much closer to the Equator, so you get a minimal variation in daylength, and although you do get a change of seasons, again the difference is not that much. But I think it’s the barely changing light that would freak me out. I’m sure the Emiratis (is that a word?) themselves find their position on the globe just right and would maybe not enjoy the seasons as they play out, for example, in Denmark.

I really like the idea of the Wheel of the Year therefore, and I’ve been getting more into that recently.

Cold winter cuts through like the reaper,

The old year lies withered and slain,

But like John Barleycorn, who rose from the grave,

A new year will rise up again.

And the snow falls,

And the wind calls,

And the year turns round again.

(from a song by John Tams)

The Wheel of the Year is regarded as a pagan thing here in the UK. That’s the context it usually comes up in, Druidism, Wicca, that sort of thing. As such it is an established concept, a way of dividing the year into sections with eight “sabbats”. I think people have different ideas of when the year is deemed to start, but let’s start with the Winter Solstice, 21st December. (By the way, in German the Winter Solstice is “Wintersonnenwende” – Winter turning of the sun.) Then comes Imbolc, 1st February, which co-incides with the Christian Candlemas. Then comes the Spring Equinox, 23rd March. This is also sometimes called Ostara, a word in which you can recognise the word Easter, or even more so Ostern (Easter in German). Then comes Beltane, 1st May. Then comes the Summer Solstice, or Midsummer, 21st June. “Midsommar” is celebrated in Scandinavian countries, we had a children’s book by Astrid Lindgren which features Midsommar celebrations. This also co-incides with the Christian feast of St John. Perhaps you have heard Mussorgsky’s piece “Night on the Bare Mountain”. The full title is “St John’s Night on the Bare Mountain”, and it is a terrific piece, including a wild witches’ sabbath and the church bell striking at the end. The Wikipedia page quotes a letter from Mussorgsky about the writing of it:

“I see in my wicked prank an independent Russian product, free from German profundity and routine”

That made me giggle, of course. I wonder who he has in mind whose works are full of profundity and routine. Brahms? I’d agree with the profundity there, but not the routine. And I notice that I totally took that tangent and ran with it. Where was I?

Next comes Lammas, 1st August. Then comes the Autumn Equinox, 23rd September, some call it Mabon. Then comes Samhain, known to the wider world as Hallowe’en. And then it’s the Winter Solstice again.

I’m not going to go into the traditions and meanings for all these days here. Look it up on the internet if you are interested. Just searching for “wheel of the year” should bring up some results.

I really like the concept, and I don’t see it as an exclusively pagan thing. It’s something that makes sense if you are a little bit in tune with what is happening outside and in nature. You don’t even need a lot of nature for it – the sky, the verges on your drive to work or the garden (or the neighbours’ garden) are enough. This Wheel of the Year is of course mapped onto the seasons as they occur here, in this geographical location, and the concept as it has been established harks back to British/Celtic traditions, or perhaps, partly, imaginings thereof. The feast days or sabbats make sense as well. I feel that they are slightly better in tune with how the seasons really change than the division of the seasons on a normal calendar. For example, Midsummer is almost the same as the start of Summer on the calendar. But by the time June 21st rolls round, Summer is in full swing. I wouldn’t say it is exactly in the middle of summer, but it comes close. Summer, for me, begins in May. Beltane is too early for the start of summer, but I think it marks the beginning of the end phase of Spring. I always listen to Amy Lamé on a Sunday (BBC Radio 6!), and every week she plays a “lazy Sunday” track towards the end of her show. She always describes it as the moment “when your Sunday afternoon slides into Sunday evening”. That is May for me: the month when Spring gently slides into Summer. So the Summer Solstice is the height of Summer, not the beginning of Summer. Same with Autumn. As  noted above, Summer slides into Autumn as August ends and September begins. By the time your calendar proclaims the beginning of Autumn, it has already been going for more or less three weeks. Samhain is close to the end of Autumn, as I think that Winter starts some time in November. Which would make the Winter Solstice not quite but almost the middle of Winter. Certainly not the start of Winter, as your calendar might want to tell you.

So, as I said, I’ve been getting into this stuff, and that means on the one hand that I’m just interested in it, the traditions it reflects, where it all comes from etc. I also want to use to it get a better feel for the seasons and the cycles of nature. I’ve always paid attention to the seasons, but using the Wheel of the Year is a neat way of getting more in tune with them, and with nature, to get a better feel for how it cycles round and round, and what it all means to me. This has a lot to do with introspection and emotions, and is therefore difficult to describe.

Towards the end of the last year I bought the Wildwood Tarot, which is based on the Wheel of the Year. The story of why I bought it, what I do with it and why I like it so much it worth a separate post. But the way it works is to position certain cards on certain points on the wheel. All the major arcana have a place on the wheel, and the court cards have a location on the wheel as well. There’s a diagram in the accompanying book which explains it all, but as I said, I’ll talk about that another time. But for me it was a way to get closer to this Wheel of the Year thing and to get a better feel for it and incorporate it into my life.

I also recently bought the Green Wheel Oracle, which even has the word “wheel” in the title. This also works with the Wheel of the Year, and it is very much tuned to this geographical location – the artist lives in Dartmoor, and you can see how that inspired her pictures for the cards. The oracle has a card for each of the sabbats on the Wheel of the Year, and a card for each moon cycle. So you can even play with interlocking cycles! So when I started writing this I had the Lammas card out, and the current moon cycle card, which is called the Harvest Moon. (At this point my mental jukebox triggers Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon”. I’m not a Neil Young fan, but that is one of the most beautiful tunes ever.)

The cards are utterly beautiful, with lots of animals on them. Besides those ‘calendrical’ cards the oracle also has a number of animal cards, where each animal signifies something. There is a little companion booklet which tells you what meaning the creator had in mind, but there is nothing to stop you from interpreting the card in your own way. The animals are all native to this country. They include a wolf, but I don’t know if there are any wolves in the UK at the moment. I doubt it. There are wolves in Germany, I’ve heard that there are about 50 wolf packs now. But anyway, I mean that they are not exotic animals, like hummingbirds or koalas, but fox, deer, salmon, seal, spider etc.

Here is a sample of the artwork: the Pony card (that’s a Dartmoor pony) and the back of the cards – love the bees. The artist’s name is Danielle Barlow.


I know I’ve gone on a bit, but I wanted to describe my new way of getting into the Wheel of the Year, by changing the cards and looking at them, and that brings the changes of the seasons even closer to me.

I started writing this in September, but it is the end of October now. Hallowe’en is tomorrow – or Samhain if you will. Autumn is definitely changing into Winter. It is colder, even on sunny days it doesn’t get as warm as it did. Most of all, the light has changed again. The golden haze of autumn is gone, and the more silvery light of Winter has appeared. We had the first overnight frost. Of course, the fact that the clocks have changed contributes to the wintery feeling, but it is the overall atmosphere that for me signals the end of Autumn and the coming of Winter.

So, whatever season you are enjoying at the moment, I hope there is something to like in it for you.

Garden news update

I’ve been keeping an eye on the new weed which had appeared next to the stub of the tree I removed recently, as told here. Or really, that should be “weed”, as will be revealed now. I noticed that it was growing like the clappers – it about quadrupled in size over less that 2 weeks. This is the photo from the previous post, taken on 1 September:


And look at it now (this was Saturday the 14th):


Now, I had seen that sort of growth before, and that was when that tree was first growing as a sapling. So I went out and checked, and sure enough: the “weed” is no weed at all, it is the tree coming back. Those twigs are emerging from the stub of the tree which was left, and they are growing and putting out leaves as fast as they can, to make the most of the wonderful September weather we’ve been having.

So, what to do? I think I will leave them for now. Winter will come soon, the leaves will fall off, and the tree will stop growing for a bit (I think…). And if it does grow too big again, I will just saw it off. For now, I am enjoying the greenery.

Through a glass smearily

Okay, can I just ask – what’s up with modern spectacle lenses?

This is what happened this morning:

I put my glasses on but noticed that they were rather dirty, a few smears and droplets from when my eyes were watering yesterday. So I got one of those little wipes to clean them. You know the kind, the individually wrapped moist things. Not very good for the environment, I know, but practically the only thing that will have any effect. I wiped the glasses and inspected them. They were not really clean. The wipe was drying out already, so I had thrown it away. I had a go with one of the cleaning cloths that came from the optician with the glasses. That seemed to make it worse. So I opened a second wipe, repeated the process, put the glasses on. Vision still slightly weird. I held them up against the light. Greasy smears all over. I had another go with the soft cloth, which resulted in nothing but a redistribution of the grease. By now I had wasted seven minutes just to clean my glasses. I needed to get to work, so I gave up, put in contact lenses and went.

I might tackle the glasses with the only other working method I know, which is to wash them with washing up liquid, then carefully dab them (don’t wipe, whatever you do!) with a paper towel.

But seriously, why is that? Why is it impossible to remove the grease from the glasses, even with chemicals and such? This is something I first noticed maybe seven or eight years ago. It didn’t use to be like that. Is it that fancy anti-glare coating that the grease is clinging to? Is it something else about modern lenses? I don’t know. I just know that I struggle to see clearly.

I don’t know how other people do it. I see them wiping their glasses with handkerchiefs, on their jumpers and put them on without fainting, induced by the rainbow fractals dancing before their eyes. George Smiley is always wiping his glasses on the end of his tie. Makes me wonder how he could ever see anything at all. Or perhaps the silk did the trick? I’ve got silk ties, maybe I should give that a try?

Our optician in Germany cleaned glasses with ultrasound. If that device was available for domestic use, maybe I need one. I remember they had sonic showers in some Star Trek novels. If I lived in Star Trek world, I’m sure I wouldn’t have a problem getting my glasses clean. But then they didn’t really bother with glasses anymore in Star Trek.

Garden news

Okay, I don’t actually have a garden. I’ve got a gravelled back yard the size of a beach towel, surrounded by an 8-foot high wall. But in order to have something planty, I put out two large tubs about 10 years ago. I have had all kinds of things in there. An attempt to grow Foxglove and Hollyhock failed, probably because there is very little light. But the Crocus and Snowdrop bulbs I planted came out nicely. The first year I had lots of Crocuses and Snowdrops. The next year there were fewer. Year 3: hardly any. Year 4: only leaves. So those disappeared, and I didn’t replace them. From then on I practiced  zero effort gardening and did absolutely nothing whatsoever. Nevertheless, things have grown in the tubs. One year I had some Willowherb, but sadly that didn’t come back. I’ve had Cranesbill for a few years, with nice purple flowers, but this year there were only leaves. A few unidentified weeds sprang up. Moss appeared, the kind which carries its seeds on stalks, like little lanterns. Fern appeared in the other tub, nice and green. And then one year a tree appeared. Actually, I had already had a tree years before, but that grew out of the gravel next to the house, and I was worried about the roots and getting into trouble with the landlord. So when the trunk reached a diameter of close to an inch, I felled it. But this tree was in one of the tubs, so I wasn’t worried about the roots going anywhere. Also I thought the lack of space would restrict its growth. It did grow for a couple of years, just a stick with twigs, then with some leaves. One year the leaves all turned black and fell off, and I thought that was that, but the tree survived. And grew. And grew. And grew and grew and grew. Last summer I looked out of the back door one day and realised, blimey, I have a canopy!


The tree was by now as high as the wall. This spring and summer it added a few feet – it’s incredible how quick these things grow! The canopy was now so thick that there was hardly any light coming into the yard. I had to switch on my kitchen lights in the middle of a summer’s day just to see what I’m doing. I thought, maybe that tree needs to go after all, but I was reluctant to get rid of it. Think about it: a real tree, in my tiny back yard – how cool is that?


At this point I should mention that there was a second tree, or rather a bush, a Holly Bush. This, too, had been growing for some years, right next to the wall, and occasionally I had cut branches off when they stretched across the opening of my back door. The bush was now half covering the kitchen window.

So a couple of weeks ago I decided that it can’t go on like this. The tree was infested with some parasite again. I couldn’t figure out what. Something that left a sticky, possibly sweet, residue on the leaves, because the tree was frequented by wasps and flies, who appeared to be picking up (licking?) something from the leaves. I suspect aphids. Also at the top something was eating the leaves, reducing them to skeletons. So I got my saw out and started sawing. The trunk was about 2 inches, maybe less, in diameter at its thickest, so it wasn’t difficult to bring the tree down. I cut the branches off, cut everything into pieces, and stuffed it into rubbish sacks ready for removal. There were a lot of ladybirds of different varieties on the tree, and a number of spiders. I also spotted a cute Harvestman. I shook some of them off, but a few would have gone into the sacks. I didn’t tie them shut very tightly, though.

Next I also removed the Holly, partly because I was worried about it growing right next to the wall, partly as punishment for pricking my backside while I was busy with the other tree.

I am a bit sad about losing the tree, but there are upsides. Light is coming into my kitchen again. The sun can dry the gravel after it has rained. The tree doesn’t take the light away from the smaller plants in my tubs. Because they are of course still there. There are actually two more trees growing in one of them, but they have been there for several years and are still tiny. The fern is still there. And I noticed, right next to the stub of the trunk, a new weed is coming up, bright and green. I haven’t identified it yet. I’m hoping it will flower.

As for the waste, I carted that to the nearest recycling centre, where they collect garden waste in a huge container (you have to remove it from the plastic bags of course). A sign explained that it is sold on to a garden centre, which processes it into soil. It’s the circle of life…

Nature in my hand

I just want to quickly relate what happened to me this morning, because it was so lovely.

I used to have a really close bond with nature, I could immerse myself in it and I could draw strength from it. It wasn’t just an interest in the science, there was an emotional – spiritual, if you like – element as well. I’ve lost that a bit over the past few years as I’ve been sliding into what I call my mid-life crisis. I’ve been trying to get that feeling back, along with the attempt to slowly turn my life around into something happier again.

But enough with the generalities, this is the wildlife experience this morning which made me happy. As I was walking to my car, I spotted a beautiful moth sitting right there on the pavement. It was pink and green, with white legs and antennae. Quite a large moth as well. At first I feared it might be dead, but not so. Perhaps it was just exhausted. I managed to coax it onto my finger and carried it a bit further until I spotted a convenient bush. I tried to deposit it on a leaf, but it refused to go. It clung to my finger and vibrated its wings. At first I thought it had injured its leg as it was tucked under at a strange angle, but then it righted itself. Eventually the moth took off and settled on a leaf by itself, quite hidden away and out of sight. Perhaps it just needed to warm itself up with a bit of wing exercising. I was satisfied that the moth was safe and continued on my way to work. But it was such a nice experience to have it sitting on my hand, looking at it up close and feeling its little scratchy feet and the buzz from its wings.

I couldn’t take a picture, but I looked it up afterwards. It was an Elephant Hawk-Moth. Isnt’ it stunning?


(Image via Wikimedia, by Jean Pierre Hamon, reproduced under Creative Commons Licence)

40 Odd Things

This is in response to King Ben’s Grandma, who also pointed out that there are only 39 things on the list. So the 40th odd thing is that No 31 is missing…You’ll have to read to discover my own personal solution for that problem.

Anyway, it looks like fun, and a convenient way for me to produce a post without any work!

Here goes:

  1. Do you like bleu cheese? Some. I like Stilton.
  2. Coke or Pepsi? I’m not choosy. I don’t drink either very often though.
  3. Do you own a gun? No.
  4. What flavor of Koolaid? We don’t have that over here.
  5. Hot dogs? Yeah, maybe. If I can dictate exactly what’s going in it.
  6. A favorite TV show? Haven’t currently got one. Though I keep re-watching Wolf Hall. Can’t get enough of it.
  7. Do you believe in ghosts? Most of the time, no. But in the middle of the night, and there’s that noise you can’t explain…
  8. What do you drink in the morning? Coffee.
  9. Can you do a push-up? Yes. You said push-up, right?
  10. Favorite jewelry? What I wear most often are the little steel studs which my ears were pierced with 30 years ago. They’ve got little hearts.
  11. Favorite hobby? Reading. Although, as someone pointed out to me years ago, that’s not a hobby, that’s a way of life.
  12. Do you have ADD/ADHD? No.
  13. Do you wear glasses? Yes, but not today. Today I’m wearing contact lenses, so I can wear my non-prescription sunglasses.
  14. Favorite cartoon character? Marcie from the Peanuts.
  15. What three things have you done today? Made sandwich. Drove to work. Ate sandwich for lunch.
  16. Three drinks you drink all the time? Coffee, water, tea.
  17. Current health worries. Nothing really. But I’ve got a dentist appointment coming up…
  18. Do you believe in magic? Only my own personal brand of magic.
  19. Favorite place to be? The seaside.
  20. How did you bring in the New Year? With my sister and brother in law, sampling three different whiskies.
  21. Where would you like to visit? I’d love to re-visit New York City.
  22. Name four people that will play along. I don’t know. Up to you.
  23. Favorite movies? Sense and Sensibility. Once Upon A Time In The West. The Dirty Dozen. The Magnificent Seven. I’m not into rom-coms, but I’m a sucker for Sleepless in Seattle.
  24. Favorite color? Blue.
  25. Do you like sleeping on satin sheets? Not really.
  26. Can you whistle? Yes.
  27. Where are you now? At my desk at work, sneakily typing this between tasks.
  28. Where would you rather be? At home in my armchair with a book and a G&T
  29. Favorite food? Pizza.
  30. Least favorite chore? Vacuuming, particularly the stairs. Pushing that thing around is just too much hard work.
  31. Are you pedantic and can’t bear a list of 40 things which only contains 39? Yes.
  32. What’s in your pockets? A small glass heart which I use as a stim toy. A handkerchief. Yes, an actual cloth handkerchief.
  33. Last thing that made you laugh? I took a box of mints from my parents’ kitchen counter (with permission), took it home, ate one and then saw that they are ‘best before June 2016’. They’re still good though.
  34. Favorite animal? Mouse.
  35. What’s your most recent injury? I don’t really get injuries as such, only bruises. I managed to bump my thigh into the bedpost last week. Twice.
  36. How many TVs are in your house? One.
  37. Worst pain ever? Last year I had stomach pains so bad I thought I was gonna die. Within a couple of hours they were gone. Still don’t know the cause.
  38. Do you like to dance? Yes, particularly round the kitchen.
  39. Are your parents still alive? Yes.
  40. Do you enjoy camping? Haven’t been in ten years. Last time I went, I enjoyed some of it.


I can’t be bothered with themed posts at the moment, so here is some random news from my life.

First up: spider news!

There has been a new kid on the block by the name of Ozyptila praticola, a kind of crab spider.

It lurked behind the curtain rail, and when I approached, it would come out and wave its front legs menacingly. This is where the fabulous spider guide I got for Christmas came into its own. This kind of spider doesn’t make webs, but sits quietly waiting for prey to come past. Of course it wouldn’t find any in my bedroom. After a few days it had gone, but then it turned up again on a cushion elsewhere in the room. This time I caught it and put it out. I’m very pleased to have seen it, it was a first for me.

And now some sad news: last night my tallest cactus (80 cm!) toppled over and broke in two. I’m very sad and disappointed about this. I’ve had this cactus for 12 years. However, if you ever wanted to know what a cactus looks like on the inside, this is your chance:

Hope to be back with some better news next time.