Welsh Zulu Chant

Now I know what I heard singing: the Welsh, or maybe Wales itself. The conference ended (for me; I skipped dinner) with a performance by the Morriston Orpheus Choir. It was lovely. My parents always said there’s no nation like Wales for choral singing, and I have a taste for it, as a former chorister myself. They did a grand job with the Zulu chant, but the songs that made me cry were the hymns I remember from childhood.

And “Speed your journey” was moving, in part because the choir members—at least, those performing tonight—were mostly elderly; the average age must have been seventy. The eyebrows of one gentleman looked quite fetchingly like white mice sitting on his glasses rims. I wonder if his grandchildren stroke them.

Now I have to try to pack for my trip home, including finding space for my new Morriston Orpheus Choir CDs. I want to thank the choir for a great evening. May you endure to the last.

I shall wear white flannel trousers

I’m at the NCS conference in Swansea, and loving it. All the papers I’ve heard have been good, and Christopher Baswell’s paper in the plenary session this afternoon was stellar. I’ve met old friends, fun people, and useful people (some of these categories overlap).

But the best thing is the beach. Less than a quarter mile away, just down a slight hill, across a 4-lane road, and through some bushes, the beach stretches for miles along the bay here. High tide comes quite close to the little tree-lined rise that separates beach from road, but this is a very flat beach: at low tide, the water is half a mile out. Seriously: it took me 10 minutes to walk out to where the water was, late this morning, and I’m not sure that was the lowest point of the tide. So it’s no good for swimming, but lovely for taking your shoes off and walking along in the water, which warms up quickly in the sun, since it’s so shallow. Lots of pretty shells get left behind, in good shape since they haven’t been dashed against rocks.

I’m used to beaches along a continental shelf, where the drop off is steep, close in, and potentially dangerous, where finding undamaged shells is more of an event. Well, perhaps I’m no longer “used” to them, after my years in the midwest, but that’s my archetype. This is very different. But it is saltwater, with seaweed, so it smells right, feels right. A saltwater beach is quite different from a Great Lakes beach.

I’ve heard some people complaining that this just isn’t the luxury venue they expect for the NCS. I have no expectations; I’m not a regular at this conference. My feeling, however, is that if it’s held in London, there had better be some really good stuff like dinner in the Mercers’ Hall (or wherever it was that year), but in a place like this, all I ask is more free time so I can go listen for the mermaids. Something is singing to me out there.


Yesterday morning, Bodington Hall and its environs were buzzing with people. Last night, there were a handful left at dinner. They dwindled further this morning. Now the place is nearly empty. I’m still here because I had a manuscript to look at today, and since the Congress offered the option of staying through tonight, I took it.

I didn’t have enough time with the manuscript, but then, one never does, when one is a North American coming to the UK on fishing expeditions. It’s so hard to tell how much time you’ll need with any one book. I liked this one better than most of what I saw at the BL. It gave a good sense of the interests of a group of people, probably family, including sense of humor: one of them liked to make anagrams both English and Latin of his friends’ names, and then write verses about them. Some of the anagrams didn’t seem to work very well. The writer introduced extra letters or left out repeated ones. But here’s one I liked:

An anagramm upon Mr Richard Stacy, a present procurer under god of ease for the Gout: Stay a Rich Curde.

Of course now that I can’t check on it I wonder about that U. This writer has lower-case a’s that often open at the top, like u. And yet, given the gout, curd seems more likely than card.

Later in the MS, Stacy provides a recipe for the relief of hemorrhoids. It requires a lot of hog grease.

Random bullets of Yorkshire

  • The excursions from the Leeds conference are really great. I saw Gawain country and two fourteenth-century manor houses (one restored, one ruined), plus Ripon Cathedral and a small chapel with fifteenth and sixteenth century effigies.
  • Ripon has some great misericords. I like the fox preaching to the poultry, the bear playing bagpipes, and St Cuthman wheeling his paraplegic mother about in a wheelbarrow (at least, that’s the story about that carving that I choose to believe).
  • But some of the memorial tablets there are distressing. For example, two women who died in the eighteenth century, in their early thirties, after nine children apiece. One was 33, with 4 children surviving. Bad. One was 31, only 2 children surviving. Worse. What were their lives like?
  • At least one well-known medievalist from this side of the Atlantic needs a closer acquaintance with at least one of the following: (a) soap; (b) deodorant; (c) laundry detergent. Honestly, I am much less picky about body odor than many Americans. One or two of the above would probably be adequate. But dude, your research is teh awesomest but I totally don’t want to smell you from four feet away kthxbai.
  • But then, maybe he’s teh awesomest because he spends ALL his time on research and very little on effete wastes of time like showers and laundry. No wonder I am not teh awesomest.
  • I like English desserts because they’re not too sweet. Tonight the dining hall had meringue with a dollop of sweetened cream and summer fruits (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, red currants) on top, with pureed strawberries around the edges. The fruit was fully ripe. The meringue was crisp and melted fizzily. You could taste all the flavors, and enjoy all the textures. I don’t usually like meringue, but this was outstanding.

I guess this isn’t so random. There’s a definite sensory theme running through the whole thing. But I certainly haven’t the energy to make it either more or less random.

Blogging the Lost in Leeds

I don’t know if it’s Google Maps, or English roads, or my map-reading abilities (not too shabby in the U.S.), but every time I carefully prepare for exercise by reading a map and working out where I want to go, I get lost.

It started in London, when I was trying to find a particular historically significant swimming pool. I looked at the map, I worked out what streets to take, and set out (jogging; I wanted to find the place first, and swim once I knew I could get there). The next thing I knew, I was at Blackfriars. Similar results the next day. The third day, I worked out what the problem had been, and also that by taking some of the streets I had got lost on, I could get there more quickly. So I got there; and then, trying to reverse direction, I got snarled up in a six-cornered intersection, turned the wrong way, and went back the longer, simpler way I had hoped to do in the first place.

In the meantime, I found a health club that was much easier to get to where I could swim.

This evening I headed out for a run. I wanted to be out for about half an hour; I worked out what roads to turn on so I could do a loop instead of straight out and back, and headed out the Otley Road.

Two and a quarter hours later, I made it back to my dorm room.

I hadn’t counted on some small country roads (you hit country fairly quickly here) not having signposts with their names, or only partial names. (Fairly close to getting back, I thought I was on Air Foot Lane, like Airhead only the other end, but it turned out to be Stair Foot Lane when I got a full signboard.) It’s true that a faulty sense of direction got me into most of the trouble, but that’s partly because the sun is so far north at this time of year that trying to steer by it was my first mistake. I also hadn’t realized that in addition to two golf courses north of here, there are two more to the west.

But it wasn’t raining, at least, and a dogwalker helped me out when I finally asked for directions, and I’d had the sense to buy a sandwich earlier and leave it in my room so there was food when I finally got in.

And even though it took me in the wrong direction, I don’t regret the footpath through the sheep pasture. (This was the point at which the run turned to a walk.) It was a really lovely ramble, and coming down through Adel Woods was even better.

But I’m not sure I’ll be able to move tomorrow. The woman who falls asleep and then wakes up groaning during your session? That’ll be me.

Magic Folio

For about four hours today, the Percy Folio was mine.

I found out what I needed to know, and then I gave it back.

And spent another couple of hours at Lincoln’s Inn, which is a fantastically beautiful place to work.

Then in the evening went to this.

Quite a happy fourth. Off to Yorkshire tomorrow. Has anyone arranged a Leeds bloggers’ meet-up?

Magic helmet.

Still no Percy Folio. There was “a cock-up” (how I love that phrase) at the library. British embarrassment ensued. I am now promised the MS for Friday, to celebrate Independence Day with, I guess. I’ll let you have a look, if you stop by the Manuscripts Reading Room.