I hope you all had a safe and happy Bonfire Night! We certainly did at our traditional family firework party on the 4th - there's me on the right, posing with pretty, innocent sparklers (my all-time favourite fireworks).
Unfortunately Henry Wowler didn't have such a good time - particularly since the bangs, whistles and shrieks started on the 2nd and went on every night till the 5th! He could be brave enough when his 'cat-parents' were home... but when we selfishly went out enjoying ourselves, he had to go and hide in his bolt-hole (the blanket box under the bed - you might just be able to see him peeping out in the pic below right). And poor wee thing had to endure two nights alone, because on Monday we were at the TBS general meeting at Saxton Village Hall, listening to a riveting presentation on the English Longbow by renowned bowyer Pip Bickerstaffe. (That's Pip on the left, displaying his wares to a covetous archer!).
It was a fascinating talk full of useful information for longbow-shooting re-enactors; for instance, he gave the most plausible explanation I've ever heard for the strange crescent-shaped arrowheads folk often believe were used for galling horses, making holes in ship's sails or cutting the rigging. In fact they're for hunting small game - if one misses the target, the arrow doesn't bury itself in long grass or undergrowth (as a triangular/barbed head would do), but sticks up so that it can be retrieved. Now I'm longing to try this with a crescentic arrow next time we shoot at the Crooked Billet - we're forever losing our usual target arrows in the grass! Then after the tea-break, Pip showed their workshop video of the long, painstaking and highly skilled process of making a longbow from scratch, and it was easy to see why quality bows cost at least a couple of hundred pounds - the craftsmanship involved is truly amazing, and you can see the results of his labours if you visit his website.
The other Big News of the month is that things are moving fast apace with The Lay of Angor! It now has its very own website, www.lay-of-angor.co.uk, where I'm posting all sorts of background information, news about the series and images - including the one on the left, artist Graham Scott's beautiful interpretation of the vessel Breath of Gaia for the cover of Book 2. So I'm now occupied with finishing off the cover design and proof-reading so that I can send it off for conversion into e-book format (hoping that will be ready for Christmas), and have the paperback out in January 2013. In the meantime I'm looking forward to doing my first public reading of selected extracts of Gondarlan and the opening chapter of Breath of Gaia at the Rockingham Arms on December 9th - interestingly, folk seem to want me to read out the rude bits...
Phew - this has been a busy month! On the 14th, I got chance to tell some real 'Herstories' to Spen Valley Historical Society in Cleckheaton: the extraordinary and interconnected lives of Queen Margaret of Anjou and self-styled 'Queen by Right' Cecily Neville, Duchess of York (right). I find them both fascinating characters, and particularly like Cecily - one of the greatest matriarchs of the Yorkist age, who saw two of her sons sit on the throne (Edward IV and Richard III), outlived her husband and most of her 12 children, and died at the ripe old age of 80.
Then on the 17th, I spoke on Towton for the Friends of Sandal Castle AGM (left). The meeting went well, with a new Chairman, Marc Callaghan, and several new committee members elected - but the Friends still need more friends, especially folk willing to take on the offices of Vice-Chair, Secretary and Treasurer. So if you live in/near Wakefield and can help out, do contact Marc on email@example.com.
Next day, the outgoing Friends Treasurer, Geoff Glew, joined me and a merry band of TBS walkers (left) for our last litter-picking walk of 2012 round the Battlefield Trail. As you can see, we had a glorious day for it - and having worked up a mighty appetite, afterwards we celebrated the 8th anniversary of my meeting with Hubcap on that very battlefield with a slap-up Sunday lunch in the Rockingham Arms! I chose the roast chicken breast with onion gravy, bread sauce, vegetables and a whopping Yorkshire pud - great value for £8.95.
We had another little anniversary to celebrate when we got home, too: it's now a full year since Henry Wowler's original owners agreed to part with him and he officially became our cat (or we became his people)! He got a present too, courtesy of his kind 'Uncle' Pete Lawton (far left in the pic above): a 'Plague Rat' stuffed with catnip and valerian. They might smell pretty fusty and nasty to humans but Henry loved it to bits, (see below left)! Not literally - luckily they're robustly made, so it should last a while longer - but he rubbed it all over his face, gnawed its head ecstatically and tried to bite its ears off; so if you have cats, we can heartily recommend them! He still loves to play in plastic bags, too - no carrier or bin-liner survives him intact (below right)... and he's just discovered a new playground: the loft (can you spot him exploring, below centre?). Yes, he's learned to scale the ladder - up and down, all by himself - and now enjoys poking around up there, hopeful of mice (but so far disappointed, thank goodness).
The next bit of excitement was seeing myself on TV (right, with presenter Karl Ude-Martinez)! The series 'Instruments of Death' is currently being screened on the Yesterday Channel (Freeview 19) - and the Towton episode I did some filming for back in July was shown on Monday 19th, and will be repeated tonight at 9.55 pm. I was delighted ( not to mention relieved) that my bits seemed to come over OK - at least I didn't look or sound too idiotic - and found it very interesting to see how the director had condensed down several hours of filming (including the repetition of bits we fluffed up!) into two coherent sections which dovetailed nicely into the rest of the programme. Lots of fun all round - I hope I get chance to do more TV work in the future.
Then it was over to Sherburn-in-Elmet with Hubcap and a van-load of kit for my third and final presentation of the month: a double-act show n' tell on medieval costume. I was really pleased I could include images of the amazing 15th century lingerie recently found at Innsbruck Castle - incredibly modern-looking bras and bikini briefs - which prompted Mick's suggestion that I should re-title the talk, 'From Pourpoints to Pants'. Hmm... I'll think about it! Meanwhile with all that behind me, it's back to proof-reading and finishing off Breath of Gaia...