December 2018




death arthur

4th December


Now December is upon us, our season for gardening is almost over and my season for talks is just beginning! I'm quite excited about my impending engagements during Advent and New Year 2019, because I'll be launching a new topic: King Arthur, Sir Thomas Malory & the Wars of the Roses.


It came about thanks to the chance gift of this book, The Death of King Arthur by Peter Ackroyd - a close rendition of Malory's original classic published in 1485, Le Morte d'Arthur. Having loved the tale of Arthur in its many manifestations - books, films and TV series - ever since I was a child, I was very keen to read this version. Alas, for a modern reader the text is a little dry and 'samey': endless battles in which knights fight for hours until the ground is soaked with their blood (but they seem to recover amazingly quickly in order to do it all over again), fair ladies forever trying to seduce Sir Lancelot (who usually resists due to his doomed love for Arthur's queen, Guinevere), and Lancelot's repeated rescues of Guinevere, condemned to burn at the stake for her adultery with him. Nonetheless, even though it wasn't as gripping as some of the lighter adaptations I've read, I did enjoy finding out what Malory's original story had been - although the section I found most interesting was Ackroyd's introduction about Sir Thomas himself. It prompted me to do some more research, and I discovered that

Malory seems to have been quite a character: a professional soldier and politician caught up in the 15th century factional strife between the rival royal houses of Lancaster and York, he (arguably) turned to a life of crime against his erstwhile Lancastrian patron Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham - then turned into an incorrigible jail-breaker no prison could hold! Pardoned by Edward IV, he fought for the Yorkist king in Northumbria in the 1460s before changing sides and being implicated in the Earl of Warwick's plot to reinstate Henry VI. Imprisoned for this in 1468, he spent the rest of his life in relative comfort in the Tower of London, with access to an excellent library which enabled him to compile and complete the first full, coherent story of King Arthur and his knights. Sadly, Malory didn't live to see it published and become a runaway success - but his master work has been with us ever since, and I'm looking forward to delivering it in Doncaster next week (see Events) and at three venues in February 2019.

wakefield cathedral

I'm also looking forward to another engagement next Tuesday morning, when I'll be addressing local business people at the Bishop's Breakfast meeting in Wakefield Cathedral (pictured). The invitation came about after I met the Bishop of Wakefield, Tony Robinson, at an event at Sandal Castle last year; so I feel very honoured that he asked me to do this, and delighted that I'll be able to talk about one of my pet subjects, the Battle of Wakefield, less than three weeks away from its 558th anniversary on 30th December. It's a bit of a sombre subject for the Advent season - but I think it's important to remember that history-changing events were being forged in this city in 1460, and to spare a thought and a prayer for the many people who lost their lives here, including Richard, Duke of York and his son Edmund, Earl of Rutland. I just hope my audience will agree...




29th December


Gosh, how the year has flown - it's time for my last news entry of 2018! I hope you've had as good a Christmas as we did - spent with family and friends, and spoilt with lots of lovely presents (including our sweet little blue spruce Christmas tree from one of Hubcap's nursery chums. It's got a big, vigorous root ball, so should stand us in good stead for the next few years until it outgrows the space we have for it - whereupon it'll be honourably retired/released into the wild at Beckside, to join our last one).


I feel quietly pleased with our enjoyable but relatively low-key festivities. Most of the gifts we gave were either bought from charities or home-made (fruit liqueurs we've been putting by since Spring, jars of jam and tins of my own recipe biscuits), and all our gift-wrap was either recycled or leftover from last year - and when that runs out, we'll be going back to good old-fashioned brown paper and string! It's been very satisfying to (largely) stay out of the orgy of over-consumption and waste that tends to go with the typical commercialised Christmas, and to see that an increasing number of our friends obviously feel the same way (judging by the number of eco-friendly presents we received)... so we're hoping to do even better in 2019.

It was also great to enjoy a bit of fine seasonal weather on Christmas Day - not snow, but a good hard sparkly frost, blue skies and sunshine. So after we'd opened our presents (and sunk most of a bottle of Cava!) we strolled over to Beckside to fill the bird-feeders/check my little pond before making our festive family visits and sitting down to dine in our newly-refurbished dining room. Then on Boxing Day, we took a stroll round nearby Woolley, a beautiful village with lots of historic features including a fine old church, ancient hollow-ways (the picture shows Hubcap standing in one to give an idea of its depth), and a recently-cleaned system of water conduits and troughs serving an adjacent pinfold (enclosure for sheep) - a very interesting way to burn off a few Christmas calories!

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