To Wait Upon the Queen

Marian L Thorpe

A guest post from Karen Heenan

Lady, in Waiting, the third novel in my Tudor Court series, takes place during the early years of the reign of Elizabeth I. Its main character, Margaery Preston, is a chamberer, one of many levels of waiting-women in the royal privy chambers.

Image by Jo-B from Pixabay

Unlike a court headed by a king, where all public and private duties were carried out by men, a queen’s attendants, other than guards, were all female. This gave them some degree of power at court, as courtiers, court officials, and ambassadors all vied for attention and influence. To be a woman in Elizabeth’s court required connections: many attendants were related on her Boleyn side, but there were also cousins descending from her father’s sisters, Margaret and Mary.

The women were required to amuse the queen, and so had to be well­-educated, often speaking several languages…

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Nicholaa de la Haye, England’s Forgotten Heroine

Nicholaa de la Haye, England’s Forgotten Heroine

History... the interesting bits!

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View, from the castle. of Lincoln Cathedral

Nicholaa de la Haye is one of those very rare women in English history. She is renowned for her abilities, rather than her family and connections. In a time when men fought and women stayed home, Nicholaa de la Haye held Lincoln Castle against all-comers. Her strength and tenacity saved England at one of its lowest points in history.

The eldest daughter and co-heiress of Richard de la Haye and his wife, Matilda de Venoun, she was probably born in the early 1150s. Richard de la Haye was a minor Lincolnshire lord; in 1166 he was recorded as owing 20 knights’ fees, which had been reduced to 16 by 1172. When he died in 1169, Nicholaa inherited her father’s land in Lincolnshire and his position as castellan of Lincoln Castle, a position she would hold for over 40 years.

Nicholaa was married…

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For #womenshistorymonth: Scottish sculptor Amelia Robertson Hill

For #womenshistorymonth: Scottish sculptor Amelia Robertson Hill

Ali Bacon / Books Etc

My historical novel In the Blink of an Eye was written to illustrate and honour an iconic photographic partnership between two men, D.O. Hill and Robert Adamson, but when it came to writing their story, I found myself focussing on the women who surrounded them. This arose from the writer’s instinct to look for the parts of the story which hadn’t been told, and not surprisingly it was the voices of the sisters, daughters and wives I thought needed to be heard.

Newhaven Fisherwoman Elizabeth Johnson Hall

Some of these women, like Elizabeth Johnson Hall,a fisherman’s wife, were brought into the limelight only by the images that celebrated them. Others, like Jessie Mann, a photographic assistant, remained until recently clouded in obscurity. Amelia Robertson Hill is a different case, but I’d be surprised if many of my readers have heard of her.

Amelia Paton (as she was at birth)…

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From the Bottle to the Battlefield: A Writers Story

From the Bottle to the Battlefield: A Writers Story

Proud to call the author one of my friends.

The Road to Hastings and other Stories

Writing has always been a great hunger for me but for many years, I never wrote a word because I thought I was not capable. And in some ways I wasn’t. Having excelled as a child in school at composition, everyone had high expectations of me becoming a writer or a journalist, and at the tender age of fifteen, I had begun handwriting what I hoped would be an epic historical novel. Unfortunately for me, I became involved with a very controlling man for almost ten years and just like many controlling relationships it stripped me of all my confidence and whilst he paid lip service to encouraging me to write, every spare moment I have had to be spent with him. By the time the relationship had ended, I had lost all my ambitions, aspirations and desires.

A family day out

Recovering from this, I met another man and…

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Howling At The Moon

Or, Two Crazy Blonds Meet A Psychiatric Nurse….

Wulfhere, the hero of our tale….

So astonishingly enough, it seems I’m still alive, still writing, and Hollie’s still stuck in Yorkshire but he’s got an end in sight. Mostly the end of Scarborough Castle, and poor lamb, he has no idea what the New Modell’d Army has got in store for him next year, but – at least he might get to go home for a bit soon.

(He might also have to take the boy Hapless with him, if nothing else because the bloody idiot is hell-bent on spending his off-season lurking around the Rosemary Branch tavern in Islington writing seditious pamphlets. But that, as they say, is a whole other story…)

So I was chatting last night to my friend Paula Lofting, who writes the Sons Of The Wolf series, set in the eleventh century. In civilian life Paula’s a psychiatric nurse – which explains why Wulfhere and the nest of snakes in his head is so sensitively and honestly drawn.

Despite being buff, bellicose, and blond, he’s a thinking, feeling, tormented hot mess. The hero of my series is broken, mildly bemused, and about the only thing Wulfhere and Thankful For His Deliverance Russell have in common on the face of it is hair colour.

Or… is it?

Paula managed to catch up with the man himself recently – I think getting him to open up about the traumas that have made him what he is, has been like nailing jelly to a wall: always difficult to write about a man who tells you nothing – and my boi chipped in to be unhelpful, because it’s what he does best.

Well, Wulfhere, have you had a drink this morning like I told you not to? – your eyes look a bit glazed?

Oh, get off my back – I’m trying, all right?

Wulfhere, you’ve been trying as long as I’ve known you.

Then you should know how hard it’s been, right?

Yes, and you never used to be like this? Lately it’s been poor me, poor me –

Aye, I know, poor me a drink. Do you have any, by the way? The old devil looks at me with that old glint in his eye, but it still worries me.

What?

Mead.

Wulfhere! No! Here, some warmed buttermilk.

I was joking. God I cannot even make anyone laugh anymore.

I haven’t seen you laughing or joking for a long, long time, Wulfhere. I can’t remember that time. Not since Ealdgytha left. And actually, probably long before. Long before Wulfwin too. I know I’ve touched a nerve here; the blue eyes suddenly look grey.

Thanks for the reminders.

I’m sorry, I know it hurts but maybe if you talked about it more, you’d get it off your chest and not have to get drunk every day to manage your emotions.

Well, I’ve never been any good with those. But I’m here now.

So, you want to talk? I mean about stuff? And why you’ve been such a prick lately.

Am I really that bad?

Yes, you are.

Christ’s blood, I never mean to be, I just feel better if I’m angry.

As I said, you never used to be like this. When you were young, you put up with a lot from your father. You said you would never treat your children the way he treated you and your brother, Leofric. What happened?

He seems to be pondering. He sits down on the porch outside the longhall, looking defeated.

She did.

Which one? – there are two women you’ve tortured throughout this story!

That’s not fair! They haven’t been exactly easy to get along with.

I can’t help but burst out laughing. And I don’t think those ladies are the only bad thing that’s happened to you, there’s a few people that you can blame the way you are on, Helghi for one. Earl Harold for another.

I can’t lay the blame at Harold’s feet, he was just doing what he thought was right.

I’m inclined to agree with him, however he hasn’t always thought that way and I can’t blame Wulfhere for feeling resentful. Come on Wulfhere, you know he’s made your life difficult and you can’t deny you have felt aggrieved by him.

This is true. I have. I shouldn’t have given in so easily to him. And now I feel guilty. My father wouldn’t have.

Don’t beat yourself up, whilst Harold was only trying to keep the peace in his precious Sussex, he could have listened to your concerns more, after all you were the best of friends once. And another thing, you’re not your father.

I’m not my father, nay. As for Harold, I did think at first perhaps his idea of Freyda wedding the son of my enemy would help solve things between my family and Helghi’s. The earl has always had the knack of making you think he is doing the best for you. But I can’t help think that my father would have stood up to him more.

Wulfhere, that’s not true. None of his men have ever defied the earl as much as you have over this. You married Freyda to Leofnoth’s son instead, if that’s not standing up to him, then I don’t know what is. Then when Harold ordered that Winflaed should marry Helghi’s son, you did all you could to stop that from happening. It wasn’t your fault that in the end Win decided to offer herself as a bride for Edgar. There are tears in his eyes now at the thought of his darling little girl in the hands of Helghi. You did your best.

Ealdgytha didn’t think so. Nor Wulfric. He told me I am a coward. But he doesn’t know how hard I tried to stop her from going to Helghi’s.

So there, you feel guilty. And I can understand that. It’s the job of a father to keep their children safe, and you’ve lost two already because of this feud.  

It’s not the best time for a crazy blond from the 1660s to join the party, but there is never a good time for Russell, really. (Also, he stopped drinking a long while ago, when it stopped agreeing with him. He’s a coffee man, and he doesn’t like the look of mead. Or warm buttermilk.)

Children are precious, no? He looks thoughtful, or terrifying, depending which side of the scar you’re looking at. I have all this to look forward to, you understand. My boys are two and four. Hellions, the pair of them, but too young to be considering such matters. Your father was, I think, a harsh man, but fair? For myself – I was reared by my sister. Who was harsh, and not fair. She told me I was worthless, and wicked, and that I deserved for the Lord to punish me. It was my own fault that she could not love me as a child deserves to be loved, apparently, and she must hurt me for the good of my soul. She said. You are not your father, Wulfhere, any more than I am my sister – but before God they make us what we are, still.

I see my Wulfhere looking very strangely at this weird looking guy from another time as if he’s gone mad, then he smiles, showing off his own horseshoe scar from a sword swipe on his cheek as though it’s a scar competition.

My father was harsh. He is looking at Russell. He took no prisoners and he brooked no fools. And he hated seeing me and my brother in tears over something he considered childish. He once whipped my arse bloody because I lost the first blade I was ever given. I was twelve. I was supposed to be a man, and the seax was to signify my free status. Men don’t shed tears, my father barked at me. After he’d finished, I went to my bed and spent the next moments sobbing. He came into my chamber, dragged me out, and whipped me again, just for crying. After that, I tried not to show my feeling. Then I met Ealdgytha and Aelfgyva.

Very sensibly – and most uncharacteristically – Russell says nothing, shivers as if something has walked over his grave, and lets Paula carry on uninterrupted…

So you grew up thinking you had to be harsh too? You never touched your children. Never. If anyone was punished it was Ealdgytha who did that… until Tovi.

Oh God, Tovi. I didn’t want to do that. But he slapped his mother, and I couldn’t let the boy do a thing like that. Not to his mother.

No, I can see why you felt you needed to belt him. But my point was that no matter what your children did, you never laid a finger on them. You threatened them enough times, but you would never have done that.

There was a time when I would have rather cut my sword hand off than hurt my children. I always said I would not do what my father did to me. But that day I broke my oath because my son hit my wife, and that was unacceptable. Believe me I hated that, but today I know that wasn’t the worst thing I ever did to him.

What was, then?

I sent him away. Took away everything he ever desired in life. So you see, it’s not always the pain that you inflict on flesh that hurts the most, but the harm that words and actions can do.

Russell, leaning up against the longhouse wall, is nodding fiercely in agreement.

Look what I did to Ealdgytha? Time and time again I made promises I couldn’t keep, betraying her for another. Then that thing happened with the child. I led her to believe my own bearn by another woman was a foundling left in a byre. Who does that to their own wife? And Aelfgyva, I let her down. I promised I would never abandon her and I did that twice.

And now you feel sorry for yourself.

Look at me. One son is dead, killed by my enemy. Wulfric hates me. Aelfgyva took our child away from me. I haven’t seen Tovi in three years and may never see him again and I long too. I’ve lost my little bird, Winflaed, to Helghi – I’ll never hear her wittering away at me again. Freyda is married and has a life of her own, and Ealdgytha has gone and taken the smallest one, Gerda, with her and who can blame her. And all of it is my fault.

And that is why you are constantly off your trolley?

What?

Off your face. Out of your skull. Drunk.

Oh. Aye. I have come to that conclusion.

Good, now we’re getting somewhere.

We are? So, getting off my face, so I can forget what an idiot I am, what a bad man I am, is a good idea, right?

Of course not, but at least we understand why you are drinking. After all, drinking to oblivion is generally something people do when they don’t like the way they feel.

I didn’t realise that was why I do it. But I like feeling as though I don’t care. I like it when I am drunk and angry.

And maudlin?

Nay, that usually comes before the drinking.

Hmmm, I don’t know. I have seen you maudlin and drunk.

Have you?

Yes, I have. Look, now that we know why you drink, I want to ask you about Ealdgytha. He looks devastated at the mention of her name.

I thought you would.

How, Wulfhere? How could you be so stupid? You had her in the palm of your hand, and you messed it up again!

I know.

You could have started over. She would have come round. But then you had to go and call her bloody Aelfgyva!

It’s hard. I’ve thought about this so many times, and all I can think of is that that woman cast a spell on me! She has cursed me. Even Ealdgytha thought that too.

Now don’t do that, Wulfhere. You know I come from the 21st Century. I’m not going to let you do that. It’s not even right for an 11thc person to blame something that is their fault on witchcraft. He gives me that sullen, ‘you bitch’ look. Don’t do that either, young man.

I’m 38 going on 39.

Ooh! Same age as me! – sorry….

That’s young in my world. Right. You know why you called the woman you were trying to convince to stay with you the name of your lover, don’t you?

Do you think I meant to say it? I tell you she has me in her –

Nope! We are not doing it. Listen, I believe you when you say you didn’t mean it, but come on. You have to face the truth, you loved her. You have always loved her, Aelfgyva, I mean. She is as much a part of you as you are yourself. And when you can’t have someone, you obsess about them.

I loved them both. Is that so wrong?

It is when you have a wife!

Many men have mistresses, and their wives accept it.

Hah! Mine would put my balls between two bricks, were I so foolish as to stray from her bed. Ah. Sorry. I’m not being helpful, am I?

Russell, shut up! I’m frustrated by Wulfhere’s misogyny, but I have to accept that things were different back then. Wulfhere, you are not like them. Those are the sort of marriages where there was no mutual attraction. They marry for convenience or their family. You and Ealdgytha had a beautiful alliance. You were so happy together. She loved you and you loved her. She never looked at anyone else and nor did you. You went everywhere together, you even took her to court. Then your children came along and you had everything. A lovely home, your horses, your place at court. You were doing well.
Then Aelfgyva. Why did you turn to her? What went wrong?

Ealdgytha started nagging. She had always been happy… I think it was when she went to visit her sister, to show her the children. Her sister was married to an important thegn, much more important and wealthier than me. She was never the same when she came back. She was different. She started telling me I needed to aim higher at court. Start pushing myself forward. That we had so many children we needed more land, more wealth. I told her that wasn’t me. I knew what went on at court. The more you have, the more they expect of you. And the jealousy and rivalry that went on – I didn’t want to be part of it. I was happy with my lot. My friends were the same. I had all the wealth I needed. I have plenty of wealth and property, just not a lot of land, only five hides, but it’s enough. The money I have will be enough for the children to buy their own land when it comes to it. I just wanted to be left alone.

You told her, I take it.

Of course. She’d always known this. But her sister had reminded her who her grandfather was. “Tovi the Proud would not have been pleased to see a granddaughter of his living so humbly.”

He was Cnut’s standard-bearer, right? A very wealthy man. And I understand her other side of the family are moneyers?

Yes, and she was often apt to remind me, but just light-heartedly, until then. She started rubbing my nose in it. I was a Sussex thegn, with a mere 5 hides. That made me a ceorl in her eyes.

I put on my mental health hat, And how did that make you feel?

Worthless. Just as my father had.

But you never told her that. Not at first?

Aye. I never said a word. But I told her I was not going to be the man she wanted me to be. I had been good enough for her when we married. Then I should be good enough now.

I understand that. Is that why you went looking for someone else?

He looks at me sharply. You would too, if it were you.

I have to admit, I might have done. Possibly, but I would try to fix it with her first.

I was too hurt by the things she said. I would never have said those things to her.

What sort of things?

That I was stupid, I was only good for fighting and making children. I’d had no education like she’d had. I couldn’t speak French and Latin. I hadn’t gone to a stuck-up nunnery school. I could barely read.  And all this she would say in front of people. The worst thing she ever did was speak to me like I was dirt on her shoe, in front of the children. I wanted to kill her for that. I could just about take what she said when it was people I knew around, but not my children. That was sacrilege. Aelfgyva made me feel enough.

I’m shaking my head. I never knew, Wulfhere. I’m sorry…. You have made Ealdgytha suffer too, though. Humiliated her with the whole child in the stables thing, imagine how she felt when Aelfgyva came here to take back the child and Ealdgytha realised who the babe was.  

Wait what, you meant to pass off your mistress’s child as a foundling for your wife to take in? Are you out of your mind altogether, man?

I know, I would never have wanted that to happen. Aelfgyva’s servants to bring the bearn to me. She thought she was dying after giving birth to the wee thing. I couldn’t turn the poor little mite away. And then Ealdgytha discovered a child had been left in the stables, and I couldn’t bring myself to tell her who she was. We had not long lost our youngest daughter, and Aelfgyva’s child was like a gift from God to Ealdgytha. She was so happy, I couldn’t pour water over her joy by admitting the babe was mine.

Yes, that was a pickle you got yourself into. And it got worse didn’t it? Because Aelfgyva didn’t die. And when she was stronger, she came back for her baby. And Ealdgytha was broken.

It broke me to see her like that.

Imagine how she felt.

I tried to apologise-

Yes, I know, but you have to understand, she has been hurt over again. And for Ealdgytha the pain was a double-edged sword. Aelfgyva was her friend..

He sits there for awhile and I can see that the tears are welling in his eyes. He wipes them away and sniffs, cuffing the snot from his upper lip. I can feel his desperation to not spend the tears. Can you see why she left you? Can you understand why Aelfgyva wants nothing more to do with you? He nods. So, you have to make amends to them both.

How can I?

It’s not for me to say. It’s up to you.

But I will never see either of them again.

Well. you can start by stopping the drunkenness for a start.

It won’t help them.

It won’t help you, either. I tried drink – when first I was hurt – mostly what it got me, was regularly beaten up by my superiors. And a more or less perpetual headache. It is no answer.

Aelfgyva, maybe not, but it’ll help Ealdgytha to know you are acting like a grown up for a change. You’re looking after what’s left of her kids remember.

Wulfric? Well, he looks after himself. Besides, he hates me.

He still needs you. He lost his twin brother, you know.

He has a wife to look after him.

There you go, wanting to abnegate your duties. Stop it! Pull yourself together.

Thanks for the empathy, you’re a great nurse.

Look, you’re damaged. I get it. But most of this is stuff that you brought on yourself. It won’t get better by drinking. I know you feel bad. You hate yourself for the way you treated those women. You loathe yourself because you let your daughter down, so, you’re a bad father. You let Tovi down when he needed you to be strong for him. And ok, you feel guilty because you weren’t able to stop Wulfwin from getting killed. You, my dear Wulfhere, are on one huge guilt trip which becomes bigger every day, because you’re using it as an excuse to get smashed out of your brains-

What?

Drunk!

Aye, I am. I’m a dirty worthless drunk. A useless husband, a bad father who might as well be dead.

If you were, you wouldn’t be able to put things right, now would you? At this point, I want to hit him with a sledge hammer. So, what are you going to do?

You’re right. I’ll stop drinking.

Good man!

Thank heaven. Just take it a day at a time. Because you are going to have to pull yourself together like nothing on earth! Those children of yours are going to need you at some point soon and you will need to be Wulfhere the Brave again and not Wulfhere the Weakling.

There’s one thing though.

He is smiling. That huge grin that used to light up his handsome old face and crinkle his blue eyes melts me. Oh yeah?

That’s going to be up to you too, you’re the one who writes this bloody thing.

The crazy blond looks at his fingernails.

Book-women, hm? A monstrous regiment of book-women. Well, by God’s grace they may yet write us our respective – what is it? – Happy Ever Afters, so with that we must rest content.

He does not smile. Possibly he thinks he’s freaked Wulfhere out enough already for the one day without that unsettlingly lopsided and toothy grin. He does, however, pat him on the shoulder, carefully.

All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well. Ah. Sorry. She’s a bit after your time, Dame Julian, but – aye, her. That. And good luck.  

ABOUT PAULA

Paula Lofting has always had a love of history since she was a little girl and it was her dream to one day write a historical saga set in the medieval period. This dream was eventually realised when she published her first novel in the Sons of the Wolf series and then the second, The Wolf Banner, and is now working on the third, Wolf’s Bane.  Paula has also collaborated on a historical fiction ghost anthology, Hauntings, and is also participating in Iain Dale’s latest book on Kings and Queens.

Paula can be found on her blog, 1066: The Road to Hastings and Other Stories, where she blogs about her research into the world in which she is writing about in her novels.

She is also a founding member of the History Writers Forum and has participated in historical discussion panels on zoom, the next one being on January 29th about the identity of the mysterious lady on the Bayeux Tapestry.

By day, Paula is mum to three grown up children, a granddaughter, and little grandson, and also a psychiatric nurse. She hopes that her third novel in the Sons of the Wolf saga will be published later this year. The first two can be found here –


myBook.to/Sonslive

myBook.to/WolfB


International Poetry Day – Pettitt’s back….

In some papers attached to the archives of Babbitt’s Company of Horse, the following doggerel was discovered. It has been annotated in at least two different hands and appears to have been made into a paper dart at some point judging by the folds.

On A Patched Face (An Homage To General Fairfax)

(Fromage’d be better. I reckon. Least you can eat fromage – H.)

Some plain men say ‘tis out of fashion
Whilst living ‘neath a rustic roof
To have for unmarked skin a passion
And stand out for their beauty’s truth                                                          
Yet others say ‘tis finer far
To have a most distinctive flaw
A pimple, say, or else a scar (didn’t know you fancied HIM? – H.)
To bow the neck to Nature’s law
But I say this: tis each man’s choice
To mark a different thing the higher
A well-placed freckle or melting voice
A fine fat bum, or neat attire (JESUS LUCIFER WHAT?? - H.)

For this is true, as my name's Lucey,
Beggars cannot be too choosy.

A different author has attempted to edit this at some later point, presumably during the Interregnum period due to the nature of the comments which reflect a distinctly Puritan perspective, being neither complimentary to poets nor flattering to their morals.

Lucky Readers! – a review of Patricia Finney’s Lucky Woman

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Oh, how I loved this book.

It is, in its odd, unromantic way, a love story: and yet it’s a wonderful, unusual love story between ordinary people involved in extraordinary things.

I often find with romantic fiction that we’re expected to empathise with our aspirational heroines: they’re the women we would be, or should be, if we could. I did not identify with Anna, not for one word of it: I did not read this book seeing the world through her eyes, and living her vicarious experiences.
– For which, I might add, I am profoundly grateful.
Nor did I fancy Tattoo in the least bit, although I was pretty sure that other people saw his appeal.

No, better than that. It was like sitting down with an old friend over a coffee while you catch up after a couple of years: I wanted to say “oh Anna you didn’t!” and “dump that shiftless goit!” and “well, I’ve been telling you that for years!”. With a bit of “oh pur-LEASE!!! Him? Seriously??” and “what, on the carpet? eep!”

It’s a bit of a Cinderella story – if Cinderella had been a middle-aged, square-set nurse with a background in martial arts who could have kicked the Ugly Sisters into the middle of next week, and if Prince Charming had had a bit of a paunch and a brutal haircut – and to say I found the end shocking would be an understatement. (But no spoilers.)
It was funny and sweet and grim and horrible all at once, and above all it was entertaining: written with a joie de vivre and humour even in the worst of times that was irresistible.

What happens to love? Where does love hide? In this modern reworking of themes from Jane Eyre, first published as ‘Love Without Shadows’ and now revised and updated by the author, Patricia Finney gives us the story of Anna Clements, overburdened and disappointed wife, mother and community nurse, who no longer believes in her own beauty and her own chance of happiness. Anna spends her days caring for the dying in southern Cornwall, UK, and then in the evenings she returns to a husband who has forgotten how to love her. Anna gives so much of herself, in her work and at home, but in return, she is taken for granted.
And then one day, a man rides into Anna’s life who is so obviously wrong for her, so obviously dangerous, that she is reluctant even to accept his help with the patient who knows him. He’s gentle and he’s caring, but as Anna begins to trust him, she also realises that he has a secret.
Patricia Finney is the author of the James Enys mysteries, ‘Do We Not Bleed?’ and ‘Priced Above Rubies’, and (as P F Chisholm) the Robert Carey novels, all available from the Kindle Bookstore.

Available on Amazon here

Sartorial Shufflings: 2

So, you know.

Old goth + autumn wardrobe crisis = on the whole, wtf??

I don’t – my previous publisher will testify – go in much for the public engagement. (You do talk a lot of nonsense on that Facebook apparatus, mind -R.) So jokes about having an authoring hat like Terry Pratchett notwithstanding, I tend not to have A Look.

Except I think I may be beginning to.

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The vintage gloves I’ve had for a while. The hat is based on a 1930s pattern, drafted by me with help from the New Vintage Lady’s blog. It started as an homage to her Dustbowl Hat and then it got… As previously stated, I’m just under six feet tall and conspicuously cinnamon. I don’t do understated.

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You’re looking at the hat,not the rosacea. Not that you would be so rude.

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It’s a sort of wild mongrel of 1960s hippy chic embroidery and 1930s pared-down elegance.

And I think I might be liking that look….

Random sartorial pondering

It’s autumn, and with the autumn I always start to look critically at my wardrobe.

(That, and we’ve booked a trip to Paris in October. You can’t go to Paris looking like a rat’s ass. They wouldn’t let you in.)

So I’m a redhead. Tall, built like a Valkyrie, the sort of shoulders and backside you get from hefting a sword and riding horses and beating cakes. (Yes, Het Babbitt, but taller.)

Wispy slips and dinky prints do nothing for me then. It’s got to be full-on, in your face, you were going to look anyway kind of thing. I’d love to be able to carry off wispy and romantic but I’m just shy of six feet tall. Tisn’t happening.

I always wear trousers. (Should I ? Well, that’s another story, gentle reader, isn’t it?) Usually flats – see above – and I usually have a big sensible handbag that’s full of books and iPads and pens and competent junk.

I’d like to be glamorous_ really I would, she says wistfully.

So – deep breath +- let’s go.

….And A Wilderness of Sin

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And so we’ve seen our garden at Escot and it was… a nettle-filled ditch – damp and draggled and rank.

Except it wasn’t.

As we pushed the gate open with difficulty against six-foot mugwort and a deeply impressive plantain, it was clear that this was going to be a job and a half. (With period tools, and in blazing sun.)

I’m not sure either of us even knew where to start. One pair of gloves between us, a rake, and a mattock.

On first sight, it looked like a small enough, manageable space – a shaded patch behind one of the thatched buildings, about twenty feet by twelve, fenced off at one end.

Half an hour in, we found another building half-hidden by nettles and a few unhappy, half-throttled beans – a little wattle and daub  structure open at both ends, ideal for composting our armfuls of weeds.

It’s clear what’s happened – that this has been a valued, loved patch of garden that’s just got away from itself, and, tucked away from the public gaze, the staff haven’t had the time to get on top of it.

By the time we had that patch of ground cleared, the chickens were moving in – aided by young Tristan and Wiglaf’s chicken trails of half-ground grain, and Bersi’s experienced chicken-wrangling. And the patch was considerably bigger than we’d imagined, cleared to the soil – bigger, and as the sun hit it, considerably drier. It seemed what made it damp was a nice solid waterproof layer of matted grass.

After six hours of solid clearance, the chickens were our new best friends. We’d discovered a struggling courgette plant – not period, poor lamb, but gasping for air and light under a mat of nettles – and a few unhappy beetroot plants that we rescued and palisaded off from marauding chooks. The beans were liberated, and we’d ordered a new Saxon spade from our blacksmith friend Jarnulf. I had a pouch of valerian seeds from the site gardener.

The six-foot mugwort was no more. (There’s plenty more, in a more appropriate place. Don’t worry.) I was physically restrained from removing the handsome plantain.

Digging on clay soil is bloody hard work.

What we’d thought was a few feet of damp soil for herbs, was a good-sized patch, enough for a kitchen garden. The intention is that we start to put plants in as soon as possible. If we weren’t intending to farm authentically, we’d have put potatoes in to break up the soil – as it is, it’ll probably be mattock time. I console myself that Kim and I will have shoulders like Olympic swimmers by next year.

We need to plant ground cover as well as vegetables, to keep the weeds manageable. We need to fill the ground as soon as we can,to stop the wilderness from creeping back while we’re not there. We need to put chicken-resistant seedlings in.

We’d originally planned a kitchen garden, a herb garden, and a medicinal/dyer’s garden, all separate, but I’m wondering if the Saxon gardeners were brighter than that. I doubt they encouraged weeds any more than we do on their good growing soil, though I suspect they were less proscriptive about it than us. I wonder instead if they companion planted – growing creeping thyme and heart’s-ease and violet, the low-growing herbs, amongst their vegetables on grounds that they keep down the unwanted greenery whilst being useful.

My kale seeds are sprouting. I’ll let you know how successful sweet violet is as a weedkiller, in a few months.