We’re Back!

Apologies to all our readers for being off-line for about 24 hours. We were getting phenomenally high traffic to one particular file from a social media site and in consultation with us, decided to take the site off-line while the problem was investigated.

We’re Back

Those of you who check here regularly, or are unlucky enough to have stumbled across us in the last few days will have noticed everything had gone AWOL.

Our absence was caused by a bad update to part of the site which took down the weblog.

Fortunately we have been able to recover most of the site, although this blog currently looks a little different.

Hopefully we shall remain online now, although over the coming days we will be tweaking the look and feel of the site to be closer to what we really like.

We apologise for the interruption of service and any disappointment caused.

Refurbishment Complete

It looks as if all the updates and changes are good,
so I’m declaring refurbishment complete and removing the odd test post.

If anyone finds anything which needs snagging then please let me know.

Once again, apologies for the inconveniences caused and thank you for your forbearance.

Abortion Rates

Here’s another piece which highlights our need to normalise sex — and specifically sex education and the discussion of sexuality. George Monbiot (yes I know not all of you like the guy, but at least his controversial opinions are based on published data) points out in the Guardian (13 January) that …

[T]here is no association between [abortion’s] legality and its incidence. In other words, banning abortion does not stop the practice; it merely makes it more dangerous.

… once you grasp the fact that legalising women’s reproductive rights does not raise the incidence of abortions, only one issue remains to be debated: should they be legal and safe or illegal and dangerous? …

There might be no causal relationship between reproductive choice and the incidence of abortion, but there is a strong correlation: an inverse one. As the Lancet‘s most recent survey of global rates and trends notes: “The abortion rate was lower … where more women live under liberal abortion laws”.

… laws restricting abortion tend to be most prevalent where contraception and comprehensive sex education are hard to obtain, and when sex and childbirth outside marriage are anathematised.

Young people have sex, whatever their elders say — they always have, and always will. Those with the least information and the least access to birth control are the most likely to suffer unintended pregnancies. And what greater incentive could there be for terminating a pregnancy than a culture in which reproduction out of wedlock is a mortal sin?

No-one is suggesting abortion is easy; even when legal it is too often a traumatic experience, mentally and/or physically. But women should have the right to choose. Their bodies; their choice. Isn’t it immoral to deny people this simple human right?

But yes, it would be so much better if we had much more open attitudes to sex, sexuality and sex education; with the promotion of effective contraception. That way there would be a much reduced need for abortions in the first place.

Book Review: Traces Remain

Charles Nicholl
Traces Remain: Essays and Explorations
Allen Lane, 2011

It’s some months since I reviewed a book. Yes, I get through books only quite slowly, mainly because I always have a pile into which I dip and the only time I get for reading is in bed last thing at night. But after the first hesitant foray this book kept me hooked, albeit for just three or so chapters at a time.

History leaves traces of the people of the time in portraits, documents and books. Nicholl is the acclaimed author of The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe (which I read ages ago and found fascinating, but didn’t review here), The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street and Leonardo da Vinci: The Flights of the Mind (which is on my “must read” list) amongst his dozen or so books.

In Traces Remain Nicholl reprints 25 essays written over a period of almost as many years. They are a mix of the biographical, literary, historical and curious; glimpses through time, poignant vignettes and curious, intriguing puzzles. We’re taken from a mysterious painting found in a Hereford house, via a new Jack the Ripper suspect to the hunt for gold in El Dorado.

The essays were first published in a variety of British newspapers and magazines including the London Review of Books, TLS and the Daily Telegraph. They vary in length from four to over 30 pages. Yes, they are journalism, high class journalism, but none the worse for that as they are well written, concise, never stodgy, often probing and keep you reading.

That should tell you how much I enjoyed this book; it is a fascinating read especially for the collector of the byways of things historical. I especially liked the essays on Marlowe, John Aubrey, Leonardo da Vinci and the Jack the Ripper suspect. And it is on people where, at least for me, Nicholl is at his best; some of the other essays got a less thorough read, which is the only thing stopping this getting a five star rating.

If you want an introduction to Nicholl’s writing before delving into his full length works, or you want some interesting essays to dip into at bedtime (indeed any time!), or you just want some curiosities, then Traces Remain is well worth a reading.

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Book Review: Gilbertine Rite

Reginald Maxwell Woolley
The Gilbertine Rite. Volume I Containing (i) the Ordinal and (ii) the Office of St Gilbert
Henry Bradshaw Society, 1921; digitally remastered 2010

Reginald Maxwell Woolley
The Gilbertine Rite. Volume II Containing (i) the Kalendar and (ii) the Missal
Henry Bradshaw Society, 1922; digitally remastered 2010

These are two somewhat esoteric (print-on-demand) paperback volumes which have been on my wanted list for several years and which I was given for Christmas.

The Gilbertines were an interesting monastic order, founded on a Cistercian model in 1130 by St Gilbert of Sempringham — Sempringham in Lincolnshire being their head house. They were the only entirely English monastic order, ultimately with 26 houses which survived until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century — whereupon Robert Holgate (right), the last Master of the Order became Bishop of Llandaff and in 1545 Archbishop of York.

The Gilbertines are interesting also because most of their monastic houses were mixed, although the monks and nuns did live in separate houses. It is also known from damage to the excavated skeletons of monks and from some of the few remaining records that the monks played football.

These two volumes reconstruct from several remaining medieval Gilbertine liturgical manuscripts the monastic rites of the Gilbertine Order. Volume I contains an introduction of some 45 pages which details the layout of the documents and discusses their dating in much detail.

The remainder of volume I and the whole of volume II (around 400 pages in total) consist of a straight transcription of the Latin text of the documents. There is no English translation, so one is reliant on one’s poor, 50 year old school Latin and some remaining knowledge of the rites of the Catholic Church to divine what is going on. And like all missals it takes quite a bit of working out what actually fits with what; nothing is linear and common sections appear just the once.

Have I read all of these two volumes? Well I’ve read the whole of the introduction, but sadly my Latin just isn’t good enough for the liturgy, although I have looked at large parts of the volumes and worked out roughly what’s going on.

They are really only for anyone with an interest in liturgy, the Gilbertines or medieval ecclesiastical history — and someone with a good grasp of medieval Latin.

Nevertheless they are nice, esoteric things to have!

Overall Rating (for the average reader): ☆☆☆☆☆
Overall Rating (for the specialist reader): ★★★★☆

Oddity of the Week: Polari

Polari was once a slang used variously by actors, circus and fairground showmen, sailors, criminals, prostitutes and the gay subculture. It can be traced back to the 19th century (and possibly much earlier) and there is a long-standing connection with Punch and Judy who traditionally used Polari to converse. However it was falling into disuse by the mid-20th century and might have been lost were it not for the “Julian and Sandy” sketches from BBC Radio’s comedy series Round the Horne.

What is slightly surprising is how many Polari words have actually made it into mainstream English usage, sometimes today with a slightly distorted meaning, including:

barney — a fight
bijou — small, little
blag — pick up
butch — masculine lesbian
camp — effeminate
clobber — clothes
cottage — a public lavatory used for sexual encounters; hence cottaging
cove — friend
doss — bed
mince — walk affectedly
naff — awful, dull
ogle — look, admire
rough trade — a working class, tough, thuggish sex partner
scarper — to run off
troll — to walk about

There’s a lot more about Polari over on Outskirts of the Twenties, and of course on Wikipedia.

Oddity of the Week: Japan

This week a small selection of oddities from the people of Japan.

Hadaka Matsuri is a bizarre festival involving thousands of Japanese men removing their clothes in public due to the ancient belief that a naked man has a greater ability to absorb evil spirits. Only the most intimate parts of the body are covered, using a ‘fundoshi’.

KFC on Christmas Eve. Japan’s culinary identity is that of as a health-conscious, sushi-loving nation, but the bread-crumbed chicken has long been a favourite in the country at this time of year. Although Japan doesn’t traditionally celebrate Christmas, KFC outlets became popular among foreigners as they couldn’t find a whole chicken or turkey elsewhere during the festive season. The fast-food chain followed up this trend with a highly successful marketing campaign in the 1970s. Now, it suggests customers in the country should place orders up to two months in advance to meet demand.

Toilet slippers. To minimise contact between the unclean toilet floor and the clean floor associated with the rest of the house, Japanese individuals may wear plastic ‘toilet slippers’. These will be located at the toilet door and must be removed on exiting the area.

You can find these and more at www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/picturegalleries/10275737/Weird-things-about-Japan.html.