….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.

I Think of Baku

I Think of Baku

Me, I cut, and my Baku is, I think, a cavalry company in 1645.
But yes.

Rock Paper Spirit

I think of Baku when I feel depressed. I’ve never been to Azerbaijan and before last year I had no intention of ever going. But now, it’s my happy place. The place I go to when I’m scared or sad or feeling anything that is at all unpleasant. I’m in a little cafe in Baku, wearing something fabulous, perhaps the elegant black jumpsuit I’ve worn once that sits in the back of my wardrobe, along with some oversized sunglasses and the glittery black kitten heels I’m saving for a special night. I have a glass of champagne in my hand. I’m straight-edge so I’m not sure why I would ever want to drink that, or even if I could in a Muslim country but in my happy place, I do drink it as I look out on the Caspian Sea.

baku

Then I open my eyes and I’m back to reality…

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Letters Home – Babylon’s Downfall, 1644

marston moor

Out May 29th 2017

Hessay Moor

York

2nd July 1644

To my right well-beloved wife Henrietta,

I pray you excuse the quality of my script, which is crook’d at best but when a man is writing using the side of his horse as a writing-desk it is perhaps more understandable that his penmanship is poor.

It has not been one of our better days, lass, and God willing tomorrow will bring better fortune, but for the time I am taking my place on the outposts with the rest of my lads – and thus the writing-desk.

We did expect an attack and we were not disappointed, in truth, and yet – well, I will be plain, we were caught proper unprepared by that man whose name I will not sully my paper with, a pox on him and his dog. He camped himself at Fairfax’s own house two nights since – which did offend my lord Fairfax greatly, the which I suspect was his intent: that, and the expectation of a better quality of provisioning than the likes of us normally enjoy. (That last remark was made by a Captain Singleton of my acquaintance, and is not of my own making, but it amused us greatly and so I share it for your enjoyment also.)

So he being near to Ilkley we did think he likely to move straight on York and engage us that way to relieve Newcastle besieged within. More fool we, then, for he did not, and here we be sat like crows on a fence on the moor drawn up waiting for him. First we on, and then we decided he would not come straight for us after all and they did withdraw the foot thinking he would go to meet his uncle in Lincolnshire, and then in the end he did not after all and we back on the moor instead after some of our rear guard did stumble acros his advance parties . Which is good for the horses, it being as wild and tussocky an expanse of grassland as you might yet set eyes upon, but not so good for engaging an Army which is as yet a handful of miles up the river. We not so clever as we thought we were, our lads were looking quite the other way when that man whose name I will not sully my paper with came up out of the north and beat off Noll Cromwell’s dragoons at Poppleton late in the watches of last night. Lass the hand of Providence is surely with us, for the lads have often made much sport of my dislike of the business of ships and deep water (which your infernal nephew says is unnatural and unreasoning, and yet I say if God had meant me to be at ease in water he would have made me a fish. Which did choke young Lucifer off nicely, though I say it myself as shouldn’t) – they made much mock of me and yet had I not been shy of water we might have chose to stand with Noll’s dragoons, it being the only crossing of the river north of York and thus of much value, and then in all chance I should not be writing these words for those poor lads did take a right pasting.

So – all is yet to win, or all yet to lose, and it must be Yorkshire for it still rains, and here I be at something going on noon and I find myself thinking of thee and the little lass, for very fear that I might not set eyes on thee again in this world. It is a silly maidenly fancy, lass, a thing of no account, and yet of a sudden I wish thee was here. And yet I do not, for I would not have thee know what a soldiers’ camp is – I suspect thee would see a different side to thy gentle nephew than that thee is accustomed to, ay, and know that thy Hollie knows worse words than he says at home, too, especially when he is made to feel a fool by that man whose name I shall not sully my paper with.

We will come about, lass. These coming days must see an end to this war (I have said that before, I know, but if I say it oft enough one day I must be proved right) – we have three Armies camped here, surely, and His Majesty has but one. And surely even he must look out at his window and see the hosts camped here, and think he must at least treat with his Parliament and come to some terms, though it is beyond the likes of me to know how either he or we might come to unpick all this hurt.

Of my other lads – Capt. Venning sends his fond remembrances and would bid me tell thee of an amusing anecdote involving his dog, Lt-Genrall Cromwell, and a meat pie which the Lt-Genrall took his eye off for two minutes. The dog is still alive, and has not been knocked on the head by any of the more zealous members of the Eastern Association – which tells you all you need to know of the incident.

Luce says if you see his mother would you ask her to send more shirts as he seems to have growed like a weed these last few months and all his linen is out at the elbows. You will be glad to hear he is with my company again where I can keep an eye on his welfare, for though he is nigh as tall as I am and presently cultivating a most comically fierce set of whiskers he is in truth still a boy in the things that matter. (Clean shirts and regular bed times being the things that do not, at his age, though that information did not come from me.)

Yr father in law is yet living. I should rather say no more on that head.

Matthew Percey is most vexed presently as we were bid to leave our siege positions at short order and he was in process of making a poppet for our Thomasynn, which he left behind in the confusion. It grieves him mightily to think of some Malignant taking it for his own, for when they came forth from York at the lifting of the siege they did fall on what we left with joy. (This do say much for the parlous state of the inhbitants of that city, and I fear they will be sore disappointed if they think my second-best shirt to be plunder.) I did say to Mattie that it would be a wonder to me if any Malignant might recognise his work as anything more than firewood, at which he did throw a boot at my head and tell me to go forth and be fruitful (or words to the effect of) – which shocked my lord Leven greatly, he overhearing in passing. We are yet seen for a disreputable company of rebels and horse-thieves, it seems, and yr poor husband is much maligned for not being wholly respectable in company. I thank God you know that to be untrue and I am as ever the most conventional of men, and much misunderstood.

Lass I am not a great man for the clever words of a man with a maid (and no I will not ask yr nephew) thee must accept my plain clumsy loving for what it is. Sleep has escaped me this last night and so I have writ too much – tis that, or be alone with my thoughts, the which I would rather not be.

If thee has deciphered my scrawl thus far, lady, thy patience does thee credit, and by God’s grace I may deliver this paper from my own hand.

I remain as I ever was thy own loving husband –

Col. H.T. Babbitt

It lives!!!!

Yes, gentle reader, I am alive. I have not quit writing. Although after the blood, mud and thumping sado-masochism that was the end of Marston Moor (what, pray, is thatt last? is it a cavallrie thing? – H)

– no, Hollie, it’s not gonna be invented for a good two hundred years after your time and you SO don’t want to know. Trust me, I’m the author.

Anyway. That.

So Babylon will be released in May and I’m having April OFF.

If you’d like me to post updates on the making of a pair of watered-silk 1660s stays, Anglo-Saxon cooking, the bluebells at Trerice and which end of a mouse Whiskers has just kindly provided, please comment!

Strong Women

Inner Grace

I did not march today with the women in London protesting against President Trump with his locker room talk and pussy grabbing. Instead I was working a twelve and a half hour shift as an Emergency Medicine Specialty Doctor in the only Emergency Department in the county.


Every time I see a patient, I introduce myself and tell them quite clearly that I am their doctor. Despite this, on pretty much every single shift I work I will on multiple occasions then be called ‘nurse.’ I will have patients complain that they have not yet seen a doctor despite me having seen them, examined them, started treatment and told them their ongoing management plan. I will be told that they have already seen the doctor, referring to the male nurse who triaged them. I have been explicitly told before that men are doctors and women are nurses, had patients exclaim…

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