After five years work on a book about the British Freaks (told through the person of my great good friend Bob Rowberry), I’m nearly there. Now I’m going through the text filling in the gaps. I’m trying to account for the ‘New Age’, and in particular, I want to answer the question, ‘Why do I know what my rising sign is?’ Put another way, how do we account for the revival in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s of popular astrology? My Mum doesn’t know what her rising sign is. I doubt my daughters do. But lots of people of a certain age can tell you odd astrological details about themselves; or explain tarot, or throw the I-Ching. Even skeptics like myself.
A quick knock about ont Interweb showed me that the best text on the subject is prolly Nicholas Campion’s ‘Astrology and Popular Religion in the Modern West.‘ Ninety five quid a pop; even the e-version is 75 sovs. A big ask for three or four paragraphs in my book. So, I toddle up to Presteigne Library, and arrange for an inter-library loan. And, five days later, here it is, sent to Presteigne from the British Library for six quid.
Presteigne’s library, like all libraries in Powys, like lots of libraries in the UK, is under threat of closure. People have been campaigning to keep it open. They cite the importance of access to libraries for children, or to internet access for those who don’t have it at home. These are clearly important reasons to keep libraries open. But I want to say a word on behalf of independant scholars and researchers. The fact that I can get an obscure academic publication in less than a week through my local library strikes me as remarkable. One of the great economic and social problems this country faces is the size and power of London. If not an inter-library loan, or forking out the best part of a ton, then I should have to go to the British Library myself; a day out of my life, and almost as much in train fares as buying the book. A local library, and the wonderful system of inter-library loans, means that I can do my work, at home in Mid-Wales. The irresponsible policy of library closures means that if we are not very careful, this will no longer be possible.
This is JL Carr’s map of Herefordshire (taken in a winter window, so there’s a bit of glare.)
Readers of this blog will remember the post earlier this year, where I wrote about solving the mystery of why JL Carr’s ‘A Month in the Country’ signs off with the words, ‘Stocken, Presteigne, 1978.’ Mr Danny Powell, who grew up at Stocken and lived there for most of his life, told me that he remembered the map-maker who had stayed in their orchard; and that, furthermore, he had given his family a copy of the map. This is Mr Powell’s copy, which he has been kind enough to lend me.
In the bottom right-hand corner, at about 5.30, next to Carr’s signature, you can see the words ‘…and thank you for the damsons and the pleasure of a fortnight in your field.’ (which leads me to assume he was there in September)
And, in the top left-hand corner, at about 11.00, a hand-drawn picture of Stocken, which doesn’t appear on the published map.
It has been a real privilege to have this copy in the house for a few weeks; huge thanks to Mr Powell, and to Victoria Mason-Canas, who took the photos.
Just been to church. I live opposite St. Andrews Church in Presteigne, one of 4 Church of England churches in Wales. (It’s a long story, with which I won’t bore those readers uninterested in church history).
I went because today is All Souls Day, a day of remembrance for those who have recently died. And I wanted to have one last cry for old Chas Ambler; to bring an end, somehow, to grief, and to pass into remembering my dear old friend in a different way. It was a beautiful and simple service, with liturgy taken from the Book of Common Prayer. Whenever I hear, or read, passages from the Book of Common Prayer, I always think that this is at the root of what prose writers in English are trying to do. Dramatists and poets get Shakespeare, but for prose writers, the Book of Common Prayer is our fountainhead, or at least that’s how it seems to me.
The CofE is what you might call a ‘broad church.’ My step-daughter, who works for the Church, disapproves of my particular take on it all, as I describe myself as a cultural Christian, and an adherent of the movement known as The Sea of Faith. Broad, yes, but lots of people in the Church see the Sea of Faith as a step too far. Nevertheless, that is where I position myself; and for good or ill, I take a great deal of comfort from going to church at various moments – and today was one.
Try as I might, I can’t reconcile the dumbass cutesy-pie Americanisation of Hallowe’en with the deep seriousness of death, of mourning, of the human understanding of the unknown and unknowable. For millenia, humankind has lit fires at this time of year to mark the darkening of the year, and held ceremonies to mark the passing of life. And what we have now is the commodification of this profound, recurring moment in our turning world.
Unfashionably, I have always hated horror films, which seem to me a celebration of murder, violence against women, and genocide. We live in a world full of horror, the symbol and apotheosis of which, in the lifetime of my parents, is the Nazi Holocaust. I never understood why we need to celebrate horror, to treat it as a game for children, in a world where it stalks our steps.
Today, I cried in church; sang some great hymns, and thought of how much I miss, and will always miss, my old partner in crime. This probably makes me an un-fun kinda guy. Fun is not always the appropriate response to everything.