As we enter the second month of 2016, I'm busy diversifying my business portfolio! If you're a cat-owner living within a 10 km radius and need someone to look after your feline companion while you're away, I'm now a registered sitter with Cat In A Flat, charging £9 for a single visit or £17 for two visits in a day. And last week I also emerged from a SafeHands training day as a fully-fledged agent for the supply of pre-paid funeral plans. I'm so impressed by the company and the product that Hubcap and I have taken out a 'Pearl' plan for £3155, which we're buying by interest-free instalments over 24 months - it's a great load off our minds to know that when the time comes, it'll only take a single phone call to set our last wishes in motion, and there'll be no expense or worry for our family. In the process I discovered that the whole subect of funerals is strangely interesting, hence the new presentation I've put together about it (see left) - a talk I'll gladly come and deliver gratis at venues in the Wakefield catchment area (just contact me to book it or to arrange a free, no-obligation consultation on purchasing a funeral plan).
Speaking of funerals, we're approaching the 449th anniversary of the assassination and subsequent low-key interment of the chap above right: Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, the 19-year-old husband of Mary Stuart and short-lived King of Scots. One of the most infuriatingly arrogant and stupid characters in British history, Darnley was instrumental in ruining Queen Mary's life; and having alienated practically the entire Scottish nobility by his obnoxious behaviour, barefaced lies and treachery, reaped his reward on 10th February 1567 when he was strangled and dumped dead in a garden (having just narrowly escaped the destruction of his lodgings in a gunpowder plot). The story of his relationship with one of our most glamorous and tragic queens almost beggars belief - one of those cases where truth is stranger than fiction - and it certainly went down well in my lecture 'Mary, Queen of Scots' for Towton Battlefield Society on Monday night! Even so, as a cousin of Elizabeth I, I think he deserved a better send-off than a burial without pomp in the old Abbey-Kirk at Holyrood, on the night of Friday 14th February - a rather sobering thought for our impending Valentine's Day. His widow also met her end in a February, ironically, almost 20 years to the day; I wonder if she remembered her hopeless second husband as she laid her head on the block on Wednesday, 8th February 1587. Either way you can read more about it on my latest blog, 'Mary, Queen of Scots and Fatal Februaries'!
Yesterday, Hubcap and I celebrated Valentine's Day and the 10th anniversary of our engagement with a slap-up brunch at The Crooked Billet (full cooked breakfast including black pudding, hash browns and granary toast, plus a pot of tea - excellent value at £7.50 apiece) followed by a bracing hike round the Towton Battlefield Trail.
Conditions were evocative of those on Palm Sunday 1461, as you can see from the image above left, (although the wind was blowing snow into our faces from the north rather than the south!). Nonetheless, it made for quite a special walk - particularly because we were accompanied by Wayne, aka the Frei Compagnie's Lord Dacre (see below left) who was walking the full trail for the first time. Wayne will soon also be aka Lionel, Lord Welles, as he's in the process of acquiring new armour based on the famous tomb effigy in Methley Church (below right). Lord Welles was one of the Lancastrian casualties from the Battle of Towton, and is reported to have been dismembered and carried off the field in two sacks. His effigy wears an atypical heavy chain around the neck, and we were fascinated to hear from Wayne that armour expert Dr. Toby Capwell believes it is a contemporary modification of the characteristic Lancastrian 'S' chain, altered in the 15th century to discourage vengeful Yorkists from mutilating the figure - a poignant story, and a powerful reminder of what a terrible, bloody grudge match that battle was.
Towton Battlefield Society will of course commemorate the battle anniversary as usual on the Palm Sunday weekend, although 2016 will see a departure from the large-scale event with living history camp and re-enactments that we've hosted for the past decade. Unfortunately, the management of major events is no longer sustainable for a small society run entirely by volunteers, so we're reverting to a much simpler format: a day of
guided walks on Saturday 19th March, departing from the Barn on Old London Road, Towton, LS24 9PB on the hour from 9.30 am to 1.30 pm, with the final walk leaving at 2 pm. No pre-booking is necessary, but a charge of £3 per head will be made; and I'll be leading the 11.30 walk if you'd like to join me! There will be no living history shows or traders on the field, although TBS will have an information and sales stand in the Barn where the Towton Tapestry Group will also have a display; refreshments and other facilities are available at The Rockingham Arms in Towton (on the corner of Main Street and Old London Road), and The Crooked Billet two miles away on the B1217 at Saxton, both of which serve hot and cold drinks and a wide range of delicious foods. Palm Sunday itself will be marked by a TBS members-only walk and wreath-laying at Dacre's Cross, followed by lunch and archery at the Billet - all members welcome.
Before (left): Mick marks out the field in the morning
After (right): Mick finishing off at the end of a hard day's planting!
Six months on from my hip replacement operation, it feels wonderful to be fit enough to do a full day's gardening for Hubcap! As the picture on the left shows, even a dull, grey day of cold drizzle couldn't dampen my spirits at being able to get back to work, snug in Mick's fishing bib & brace under my high-vis jacket; and I thoroughly enjoyed my day of pruning, clearing mossy paths, and helping him load up a skip of garden rubbish for one of his regular clients last Wednesday.
We were out together again yesterday, luckily in rather more cheerful weather, to do another satisfying job: planting a shelter belt of trees beside the fence in an ancient field near Hoylandswain - you might just be able to make out the shallow ridge-and-furrow as faint horizontal lines on the right of the image below right. Mick did all the hard labour of digging and planting a mixture of hazel, willow, field maple and a species of cherry, while I followed round protecting each young 'whip' with a cane and plastic tree-spiral. It took us about 5 hours to plant 150 trees - and although I felt very weary and footsore by the end of the day, suffered no serious ill-effects... yes, that wonderful operation has taken 10 years off me and given me my life, strength and energy back!