Things on Cowboy’s Head – Part 42

Things on Cowboy's Head. No. 42: Pesos.

Things on Cowboy’s Head. No. 42: Pesos.

Background Note: Cowboy, as you know, is one of our cats. She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot. All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

June 2014 Reading Wrap-Up

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As usual, I have a round-up of what I have read in the past month. It’s a low total for June, mostly because I have been having a reading block of some type and life got a bit busy.

Out of the titles that I did read, the most enjoyable and well written fiction was the collection of brilliant short stories from Anthony Doer (The Shell Collector). (The non-fiction favorite was the Lacey volume.) My DNF included Sheri Funk’s Five Days at Memorial (although it has been awarded some prestigious prizes and was the darling of various book blogs when it was published). I think that in this particular case, it was one of those “It’s not you –it’s me” times and if I try it again at another time, it might be a great read. (It also fell into the category of Scary Big Books and fit the name exactly.)

I read the following titles (with links to blog posts about said book where there is one):

Period Piece – Gwen Raverat (NF) (no post of any note)

The Shell Collector – Anthony Doer (F)

This One Summer – Jillian Tamaka and Mariko Tamaki (GN)

A Sensible Life – Mary Wesley (F)

Great Tales from English History – Volume I – Robert Lacey (NF)

Total number of books read in June:  5 (Wow. Bit low for me, but that’s ok. I’m not doing a challenge or anything.)

Total number of pages read:  1412 pages (av.282)

Fiction/Non-Fiction: 2 F and 3 NF (plus 1 DNF)

Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): 2 library books and 4 owned books (including the DNFs), 1 e-book.

Things on Cowboy’s Head – Part 41

Cowboy refreshing her cowboy skills... (Thanks to Nancy for the inspiration.)

Cowboy refreshing her cowboy skills… (Thanks to Nancy for the inspiration.)

Background Note: Cowboy, as you know, is one of our cats. She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot. All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

 

General Reading and Life Update

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So, I must apologize for the lack of blog posts recently. It’s been due to lots of things really, but as they were good things, I’m not complaining. My big brother and his family were visiting from England and as 2/3 of the family had never been to Texas before, and it was Independence Day weekend, there were loads of things to do whilst they were here. So there was not much reading time there. However, there was lots of laughing, catching up, Buddy Holly, 1930’s bluegrass music, cowboys and swimming. :-)

Add to this, the sorry excuse of a case of Reader’s Block and an inability on my part to find a book that caught my interest, and it was poor showing on the bookish side of things.

However, I am hoping that now life is back to normal, my reading life will recommence. I’ve just started reading Wharton’s “Ethan Frome” (1911) which I am really loving. It’s a reread, but I remember it as a totally different book which is curious. Checking on-line, it seems that this novel (almost novella) is pretty polarizing for general readers, and so I’m looking forward to finishing it and then researching the blog post for it. (Look for that in the near future.)

For my non-fiction, I’m delving into the world of Memory Championships with writer Joshua Foer’s “Moonwalking with Einstein.” (I’m hoping that I can learn to remember useful things like where my keys are as opposed to not-very-useful things like obscure Latin phrases and the lyrics to Justin Timberlake songs.) Reading it is a bit of a slog right now, but hoping this picks up in the next chapter or two. Otherwise, it’s “off with its head” (Cue: Alice in Wonderland.)

And then a bunch of library books all arrived at the same time, so will dig through these this weekend to see what takes my fancy.

I might also take a wander through my bookshelves to see what leaps out from the shelf…

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Great Tales from English History: Volume I – Robert Lacey (2003) – Part II

And the sharing of knowledge gleaned from Lacey’s Volume II continueth:

  • Days of the week history:
  • In the fourth century, King Ethelbert (a pagan sovereign in England) married Bertha (who happened to be a Christian). Since the nation was divided in its loyalties to both Christianity and several pagan beliefs, the king wanted to find a way to blend the very different belief systems. And thus, the days of the week were born. (Did they not have days of the week before now?)

Sun-day and Moon-day (pagan belief)

Tiw’s Day (Germanic god of war)

Woden’s Day (Germanic god of wisdom)

Thor’s Day (Germanic god of thunder)

Freya’s Day (Germanic god of love)

                     Saturn’s Day (Roman idea in pre-Christian days)

  • Lady Godiva who is generally thought to have ridden through her town naked on a horse to protest her ruling husband’s tax increases. The word “naked” used to mean “unadorned” and would commonly refer to whether you were wearing jewels or not. (So she probably wasn’t actually without clothes, but more likely in very plain clothes without all the expensive sparkles that would usually be worn.)
  • “Peeping Tom” – again linked with Lady Godiva. When Lady G. was riding her horse through the town, legend has it that all the townspeople closed their house shutters out of respect for her nakedness. All except one naughty tailor called Thomas who couldn’t resist the urge to have a looksie. Legend has it that he was punished by being struck blind immediately after this. Thus the “Peeping Tom” phrase. See?….

bedeAnd then there was the 6th century monk Venerable Bede  (“venerable” meaning old/ancient, “bede” is an old word meaning “prayer”*). What’s notable about him is that he wrote the first written history of England called “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People”. He was a polymath and wrote more than 65 other books on topics ranging from the Bible, science, spelling, astronomy, sea tides etc.

He also seemed to have a positive interpretation of life. Take this, for example:

Bede’s interpretation of life:

 It seems to me that the life of man on earth is like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your captains and counselors. In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall. Outside, the storms of winter rain and snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one window in the hall and out through the other. While he is inside, the bird is safe from winter storms, but after a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. So, man appears on earth for a while – but of what went before this life, or what follows, we know nothing.

When he was dying, he was working on finishing one of his books with his pupils, and knowing that the end was near, told them:

“Learn quickly now for I do not know how much longer I will live.”

Seemed like good advice for everyone and that he was a rather cool monk to me.

robert_laceyI’ve already read Volume III of this series (which was equally as good) and I highly recommend these reference books as readable and accessible collections of events over the years, many of which I had heard of but had no clear picture of what the details really were (from a historical perspective). It’s scholarly but approachable, and Lacey has a very sly sense of humor that creeps in every now and then (and which I thought was hilarious at times). If I was going to ask someone interesting to dinner, I’d definitely invite Mr. Lacey as he is a great raconteur.

The middle volume is left for me to look at, and I’m so looking forward to reading it. Just need the contents in this volume to marinate a bit as there was so much to take in. Loved it.

  • Note to self: I wonder if that is related to my home town’s name of “Bedford”. I’ve always heard mention of it stemming from “St, Bede’s Ford” so it might be that it refers to this guy. He was actually made into a saint after he had died…
Bedford1

Bedford, my home town in Bedfordshire, England. One of my favorite places to visit when I go home to UK.

Great Tales from English History: Volume I – Robert Lacey (2003) – Part I

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Searching for a more-or-less guaranteed good read, I picked up Volume One of Robert Lacey’s Great Tales from English History, part of a three-volume collection of tales from England’s long and storied history. Yes, I am English, but there is so much history out there (at least for England), that I felt there were significant gaps in my knowledge about England’s green and pleasant land of long ago.

Lacey is a very good conduit for these tales as he tells them in an interesting and witty manner without skimping on facts or taking too many liberties. In this volume, he covered the early historical events ranging from the Cheddar Man to the signing of the Doomsday Book to Ethelred the Unready and the Norman Conquest, and he does so in such a way that it’s a fascinating read to me. I did start off putting Post-It flags into the interesting pages and then realized that the whole book was going to be flagged in the end, so I just took notes of bits and pieces that really struck me in some way.

As I found this book to be really interesting, this blog post is in two parts. Part One is here.

Here are some of the notes that I took:

  • Boudicca/Boadicea and her link with Harry Potter: boudicca

Boadicea was a famous warrior queen who fought as fiercely as her troops did. In her last battle in London, she was felled by a sword and died where she landed on the battle field. That is also where, years later, the King’s Cross rail station was built and her grave is believed to be underneath where Platform 10 has been built. And that’s why HP’s Hogwarts Express leaves at Platform 9 ¾ – out of respect for the ancient warrior queen.

  • Hair cut monk wars: There was a time when the northern Celtic monks were vying for religious domination with the southern Roman monks who were more focused on the Pope side of Christianity. The monk hair cut (called a tonsure) was important to how people believed, with the Pope-ish monks having a shaved bald patch on top of their heads with a thin circle of hair around the head just above the temples (a la the stereotypical monk image).

monk_hairThe northern Celtic monks, however, preferred a look that was closer to the Druids and shaved the front of their heads along a line going from ear to ear with the back of their heads having long cascading rather dirty locks. Eventually, the southern monk haircut won out…

 

  • Why the town of Bury St. Edmund is called that. (I grew up hearing this town’s name a lot as it was in the same region that I lived.)

In the ninth century, Vikings invaded the north of England (one of many invasions by them) and as they came south to East Anglia, they met King Edmund who ruled the East Angle group. Edmund refused to change his religion to that of the invaders, and so was tied to a tree and shot with arrows, thus making him a martyr. Another legend of his death was that he died in the Norse tradition of “carving the blood eagle”: the ribs are cut away from the spine whilst still alive, and then the victim’s lungs are pulled out through that empty rib space and are spread across the back like a pair of eagle wings. (Yikes. Brutal.) In the tenth century, Edmund’s remains were relocated to a new place that became a place of pilgrimage and was called – wait for it – “Bury St. Edmunds”.

  • King Alfred the Great (the king who is legendary for burning the cakes) was a ninth century ruler and is the only sovereign in history to be given the title of “Great” in English history. He was very forward-thinking and believed that education was important for his subjects (one of the few who did). My favorite quotation from him: “The saddest thing about any man is that he be ignorant, and the most exciting thing is that he knows.”

Thus endeth the part the first. The sermon continueth on another day.

Things on Cowboy’s Head – Part 40

Cowboy is a professional full-time napper and spends many hours perfecting this skill. This is one of the more advanced positions. Please don't try this at home.

Cowboy is a professional full-time napper and spends many hours perfecting this skill. This is one of the more advanced positions. Please don’t try this at home.

Background Note: Cowboy, as you know, is one of our cats. She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot. All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

A Sensible Life – Mary Wesley (1990)

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Life has been a bit busy lately so not as much reading as I’d like. However, I did finish Mary Wesley’s A Sensible Life which was mostly good. (Almost put it down after a slow beginning but then it picked up and got much better.)

It was a good read, except that it was one of those reads where there’s not a lot to say afterwards. I quite like Wesley’s books in general and this was on the TBR pile. It’s not a keeper.

I just learned about Wesley’s life. Her bio reflects that she was a bit crabby for a lot of her life, and there are times in her books when you can see this. One notable tidbit about her:

Late in life, Wesley ordered her own coffin from a local craftswoman and asked that it be finished in red lacquer. She kept it as a coffee table for some time in her sitting room and requested that a photographer from a large magazine feature take a picture of her sitting up in it. The idea was politely declined. :-)