2nd January 2011
Happy New Year! Out with the old, in with the new... here are a couple of things I'm bidding a sad farewell to in 2011. On the left is my dear little Christmas tree, bought from a garden centre wearing a label that said, 'This tree will not survive after Christmas'... well, that was back in 2004! And every year since, it's had to come in from the garden to spend a festive fortnight in a hot house, dressed up in shiny things... so I feel it's more than done its duty, and deserves to be released into the wild - Mick has a couple of potential spots in mind where the poor thing can at last spread its roots and grow up. I'll be sorry to see it go... but perhaps it's as well to support the tree farmers and buy a new one for next Christmas.
Then on the right you can see the pitiful remains of what used to be £350's worth of my best and treasured yew bow.... we went out for a shoot at the Crooked Billet today with chums from TBS, and to
my great dismay, on the third arrow it shattered into fragments. Ironically, we'd decided not to shoot before Christmas because the weather was so bow-breakingly freezing, whereas today was a great deal milder and I thought it'd be safe. Alas, I was wrong... maybe I didn't warm it up enough beforehand, or maybe it had a fault which was just waiting to crack - whatever, it disintegrated in my hands in this spectacular fashion. I haven't yet decided whether to ceremoniously cremate it in the stove, use the fragments to make handles, toggles or suchlike, or stick it back together to use as a display item... but oh, bow woe, I certainly won't be shooting it again. My only consolation is that no-one got hurt... apparently people have been killed by fragments from shattering bows, so I'm very thankful that neither I nor anyone near me on the archery line sustained any damage. So in that respect it wasn't the happiest of New Year shoots - I managed to clip the top of the butt stand and break one of my good goose-fletched arrows as well - which made it the most expensive day's archery I've ever done!
So... the trimmings are back in their boxes, the Christmas tree back in the garden awaiting release from its pot, and life's getting back to normal! I'm relieved, in a way - between all the festivities, Bank Holidays and departure from routine I've hardly known what day of the week it was. And hurrah, the weather is back to normal here, too - cold and fresh, with some pleasant winter sunshine. Far better than the dismal, dank foggy period after the Big Thaw, when it barely seemed to get light all day, everything looked filthy and we were up to our ankles in mud and soggy brown leaf-squish. Not to mention the smell... one day our bedroom stank so badly I thought a mouse had crept in and died behind the skirting board. So I flung wide the windows to let the niff out, and - pooh, more came in! It was the WORLD that smelt so horrid - on account of the number of cabbage fields hereabouts, which after weeks under snow and frost were all going yellow-slimy-rotten, and the stink of their decay trapped in the smother of mist. Pity the poor farmers... the effects of the Arctic blast must be costing them dear.
But the cabbages look more cheerful today - maybe the crops are not entirely lost - and I'm pleased to be getting back to work. My immediate priority is to finish the presentation I'm giving to TBS next week on Queen Margaret of Anjou. When I first started studying the Wars of the Roses, as a dyed-in-the-wool Yorkist I hated her with a passion, and blamed her for Richard of York's death at Wakefield.
But the more I got to 'know' her, the more I came to admire and sympathise with her difficult position. Margaret was an amazing woman - way ahead of her time in many respects, and certainly a far stronger and more charismatic personality than her husband Henry VI; hence the rough ride she's had from history and the vicious, misogynistic character assassinations she's suffered since the 15th century. So now I'm looking forward to telling 'herstory' in a rather more positive light!
Here's 'Tall Mike' Wilson's pic of the first TBS/Frei Compagnie shoot of 2011... I'm in centre shot after the sad demise of my yew bow, which is why I'm shooting a modern recurve (one of the Society's have-a-go bows). And I have to admit, it's an excellent bow - surprisingly powerful for its size - when I was lobbing at the distance target (like Fran's doing in this pic), I could only draw it by a quarter, otherwise the arrows sailed out of the field!
11th January 2011
Wow - what a happy New Year for Towton Battlefield Society! 2011 got off to a great start last night when Chairman Mark gave us some excellent news... in fact there's so much to share I've added a new TBS page to this website - there's a link to it on the Home page. I'll keep updating whenever details of the exciting new developments can be made public.
It was a good night for me, too: the debut performance of 'Margaret of Anjou: a Much-Maligned Queen'. It seemed to go down well enough with the audience, especially Hubcap - he thought it was the best of my talks he'd ever been to. (Although the poor, long-suffering chap has sat through so many of my Wakefield, Towton and Richard III presentations, I rather suspect it was only the charm of novelty that made him say so!). I also got chance to meet the author George Goodwin, whose new book on Towton, Fatal Colours, is due to be published in March - it looks like a brilliant read, and includes a very perceptive analysis of the battle which draws on new evidence and theories.
And talking of new books - the proof copy of Walk Wakefield 1460 has just arrived - so I'd better go and check it!
Blimey - talk about hit the ground running - this must be the busiest New Year I've ever had, and a pretty good start for Herstory. The corrected proofs of 'Walk Wakefield' are now back with YPS, and I'll need to check them one last time before it goes to press. What a trial - I couldn't BELIEVE how many typos and petty, annoying inconsistencies had slipped past several rounds of careful editing. Fingers crossed it's all right this time... then I can go ahead and arrange the launch with Waterstones, probably some time in late Feb/early March.
Meanwhile I've had another article out in the Battlefields Trust magazine, and managed to finish two more - one on Grimsby's Wars of the Roses connections for Lincolnshire Life, and another on developments at Towton for Yorkshire Ridings magazine. They should be appearing over the next couple of months - along with a piece on the 'battle' of Worksop in Nottinghamshire Life, and one on the battle of Towton in the Spring Battlefields Trust mag! All good practice and good exposure... might even sell a few more books.
But after spending the week hunched over the computer frantically tapping away, I was well ready for a bit of fresh air and exercise by Sunday! So we headed off to the Crooked Billet with the TBS chums, and managed to get a decent hour of archery in before the rain began lashing down (or should I say sideways - it was very windy!) and we fled inside for lunch. It's great that the Billet's open again... like many pubs, thanks to the economic downturn it's been having a very difficult time, with lots of recent management changes and periods of closure. But things seem to be getting back on track now, although as a country pub they're very much in the winter doldrums - it's not the best time of year for folk to head out for a drive and look for a nice place to eat. So do call in and give them your support if you happen to be on the B1217 south of Tadcaster - you'll get good beer, good food and a warm welcome.
The Billet's an interesting place too, inside and out... the site is supposedly where Edward IV and his army camped the night before Towton in 1461. And in the field at the back are these two ancient apple trees, probably the remains of the pub's kitchen garden - one is a 'Yorkshire Greening', a variety that dates back to the 18th century, the other a 19th century 'Transparente de Croncels'. They're both very hardy varieties and still produce piles of fruit every autumn... the kind Mrs. Beaton might well have used to make apple sauce for serving with roast goose. With all this history around, it's hardly surprising that the Billet seems to be haunted... inside by mischievous customers who mess with the lights and trail the smell of cigarette smoke, and outside by a medieval soldier who materialises in the road!
21st January: Good News for Sandal Castle!
I'm really pleased to share the news that Sandal Castle (right, in one of Roger Keech's great aerial shots) now has friends... and that the recently-formed Friends of Sandal Castle will be celebrating their inauguration with an Open Meeting at the Visitor Centre on Saturday, 26th March, from 3 - 5pm. The theme is 'Sandal Castle: Fact & Fiction', and the session will begin with a presentation by the well-known local author, Dr. Keith Souter, speaking on 'Fiction'. Keith has written a number of medical textbooks, but you may have encountered him as an historical novelist - he's written two books set around medieval Sandal, The Pardoner's Crime and The Fool's Folly - as well as modern crime novels under the pen-name Keith Moray, and Westerns under the pen-name Clay More. So I feel very honoured to be following him with the section on 'Fact', using examples drawn from Wakefield Revisited to show how fiction can sometimes morph into fact in supposedly straight history books!
If you'd like to find out more about the Friends of Sandal Castle, contact email@example.com or see the Sandal Community website - or to see more on Keith's work, check out his website www.keithsouter.co.uk
Meanwhile I've been making a few additions to the site: you'll find some new items on the Articles page, one on Margaret of Anjou, a short reflection on 'What Battlefields Mean to Me', and a follow-up (called 'Snowballs') to the 'Getting Published' item I wrote back in June last year, to share some more experiences that may help other fledgling authors. There's also some more news on the TBS page as our Palm Sunday event really starts to take shape.
Spring's in the air, and our woods are alive with the sound of birdsong - our avian chums are getting frisky and starting to pair off! The tits are spreading their tails and dancing about in the branches, while Mr and Mrs Robin have joined forces to chase everyone else away from the feeders. Common Woodpecker's hammering out, 'I've got a strong beak, come get me birds', and we're seeing some rarer visitors too: first a pair of black-caps, then a fleeting call from a pair of goldfinches (who took a quick look in the seed-feeder only to fly off in contempt - 'Come away, hen - not our sort of menu at all').
Yes, Kettlethorpe's definitely the best place I've ever lived for diversity of wildlife. We have at least one pair of foxes - I saw the male trotting down the street in the early hours one morning, so big and fine I thought he was someone's pet dog till he turned sideways and I saw his brush - and quite a few other raptors: sparrowhawks, kestrels, magpies and the tawny owls we hear but never see. So we're among the locals who really appreciate how lucky we are, having such a lovely nature reserve on our doorsteps... but sadly, not everyone feels the same way. Some folk just look on the woods and beck as a place to deal drugs, set fires and dump all kinds of garbage under cover of night - horrible, anti-social and dangerous to wildlife and humans alike, their activities cost the Council a fortune in clean-up operations.
So on Saturday morning, 'Team Doggett' joined our hard-working local Councillor, Monica Graham, a dozen or so other residents, and a crew from Groundwork and Wakefield District Housing, on a community litter-pick. What we found was incredible - as well as the inevitable welter of sweet wrappers, crisp packets, cans, bottles, burger boxes and soiled nappies (Urgh!!), there were BIG things: manky old carpets, television sets and even a buried 3-piece suite! Although my pet hate was the plastic bags of dog-poo, carefully collected by well-meaning owners - but then tossed away to festoon the bushes like ghastly fruit until they finally disintegrate and re-deposit the contents on the ground. If people don't want to take poo-bags home to throw in the bin, I wish they'd just leave their pets' offerings where they drop to biodegrade! As for weird finds, Mick's strangest was a bag of broken X-box and Gameboy type games; mine (among the tiles, bits of plumbing and other debris from someone's bathroom renovations) were probably the three odd shoes, a man's, a boy's and a lady's. We just couldn't help wondering how anyone can lose, or wantonly discard, a single shoe - what happens to the other one?!
Anyhow, on the left you can see us posing in front of the growing pile... then the thing that stopped us was running out of bags. Would you believe it - in less than 2 hours, the team filled all the 60 black bags provided with assorted festering horrors - and if we'd had more bags, there was certainly enough rubbish left to keep us going for the rest of the day.
So well done to the Council and Groundwork for organising this - it was icky work, but strangely fun at the same time, and wonderfully satisfying to do something constructive for our lovely local woods. We're looking forward to the next one - and if you live around Wakefield and fancy getting involved, check out the Groundwork website www.groundwork.org.uk, email on firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone on 01924 307222.