Monday, 18 October 2010

The latest haul

It's sad that going to the library makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, isn't it? But it does, so there.

Thanks to my marvellous organisation skills I took my last haul of several months ago back to the library last weekend and completely forgot to bring the list of books and articles I wanted to get in exchange. I'm clever that way. But at least I didn't run up any fines this time, and I did manage to get pretty much all of the books I was after. No Wisdom of the Outlaw as I was hoping (I was too late by two days, apparently...this book has a habit of disappearing on me one way or another...), but so far the other books I got have more than made up for it. These include:

Understanding the Universe in Seventh Century Ireland - Marina Smyth
British Calendar Customs: Scotland Volume III - Mrs MacLeod Banks
Lady With a Mead Cup - Michael J. Enright
Folklore of County Wexford - Ó Muirithe and Nuttall (Eds.)
Rites of Marrying: The Wedding Industry in Scotland - Simon R. Charsley
A Third Manx Scrapbook - W. W. Gill
Milk and Milk Products from Medieval to Modern Times - Patricia Lysaght (Ed.)

And then a couple of journals for some articles that I've been after for a while. I was unable to use the photocopier in the end, so not being able to find the rest of the articles on my list was no great disaster, and I have more than enough to be getting on with, at least. Some of the books I intend to read all the way through, but most I'll probably just use for reference - I've already discarded Rites of Marrying as not being what I was after, and some of the articles I got in the same subject area were disappointing to say the least.

Otherwise, so far I've got stuck into Marina Smyth's book, which has been interesting in terms of dealing with early medieval cosmology, but in some ways it's not quite what I was hoping for. She's concentrated solely on a Christian context so far, and I was hoping she'd go into evidence of native hangovers creeping their way in at least here and there. Not so much, but still lots to chew on.

Sadly I couldn't find much at all in the way of useful books on the Isle of Man. Most of those are antiquarian and therefore in the Special Collection at the university, which means I have to arrange access and so on. Seeing as I can get access to them online through, there's not much point going to that hassle. There were a few books on the shelves in Manx, which I'm sure would be a fantastic read, but not much good to me right now seeing as I don't speak the language. So the book I did get in that respect was about all that I've not had my hands on before now.

I've had Lady With a Mead Cup out before now, this time I got it out for researching my next article (on marriage, in case you hadn't guessed - which is turning out to be far more complicated than I anticipated) but I might give it a full read if I have the time. There's some good stuff in there.

What with chicken pox and school holidays I've not had much time for reading or writing lately, and I'm kinda feeling it. Hopefully with the kids going back to school tomorrow I'll be able to get stuck in to it again.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Just a picture post...

I'm not long back from a trip to Kirkcudbright, in the south-west of Scotland. I got a few photos and thought I'd share, along with some I took on my trip there last year that give some better views than I got this time round.

The area we stayed in is full of castles, a former stronghold of the Black Douglases, so lots of juicy history to be had. We took a stop at Threave Castle, one of the major players in the whole mess, and got some fantastic views:

The main part of the castle is fourtheenth century, built by Archibald the Grim, with fifteenth century defences added to safeguard against siege (which ultimately didn't do much good - the crown won).

I might as well add in an (almost) Otherworldly cow while I'm at it:

There's a lot of wildlife to be seen around the castle - there were ospreys nesting during the summer, with several chicks, but it seems they've left for the winter now. There was a heron, though, wading through the river in search of something tasty:

And ravens!

Words cannot describe how happy that made me. I've never seen a raven before, I don't think. They really are huge. And beautiful. It's funny, though - in the past these would have been a thoroughly bad sign, but I feel honoured to have caught sight of such a rare bird now.

The sunshine didn't last long and the mist soon rolled in in the days to follow (but not before a fantastic show of the Milky Way right above us on our first night there), but the change in weather brought its own moody beauty:

And a reminder that this is the area the original Wicker Man was filmed...Very atmospheric.

Last year we got in a prehistoric monument or two at Cairn Holy, some neolithic chambered tombs:

This one has evidence of an outside chamber by the entrance that was probably used for feasting (the remains of a hearth were found). The other one is larger:

With a very impressive view across Argyll:

No doubt situated on that spot to take advantage of the view.

For now, it's good to be home where there's central heating and my own comfy bed. A little cold was worth it, though.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

'Significant' find in Orkney

The archaeologist in me is quite excited:

Neolithic tomb found in garden

"WHEN Hamish Mowatt decided to investigate a mysterious mound as he tidied an Orkney garden, he had little idea he would uncover a hoard of bodies that had lain untouched for around 5,000 years. 
Archeologists believe the tomb he discovered under a boulder outside a bistro in South Ronaldsay could lead to new insights into how our neolithic ancestors lived and died.

But they face a race against time as water washing in and out of the newly
uncovered tomb could wash away its contents and dissolve any pottery and human remains inside."
(Says The Scotsman)

 I seriously need to save some pennies to visit Orkney.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Samhainn preamble

Debate rages in the Seren household...Figuratively speaking.

First of all, there are lots of pretty, shiny and sparkly outfits lining the aisles of the supermarket marked 'seasonal', prompting Rosie to look at all the beautiful things and marvel at what her next dressing-up outift might be. The general consensus seems to be that she doesn't care, so long as it's shiny, sparkly, pretty, and comes with a broomstick. A hat would be good too, if it's pointy. Coincidentally, Nana has already bought her a witches' outfit (or two...depending on size, y'see), so we should be good for that. A broomstick shouldn't be hard to come by, and with enough glue and sparkly shite, we'll be set as far as Rosie's concerned.

Tom's quite set on dressing up as a 'skellington' again, as he did last year, but might be swayed to go as a Power Ranger now, after Nana passed on a birthday present that never got given in the end. Two years later, it's probably safe to say that the intended child has moved on from that stage in their life, and now Tom is more than happy to benefit. Tom has no idea what a Power Ranger is, really, but if it comes with a cool helmet that lights up, and a phone that flips out, it's all good as far as he's concerned. We're now into the realm of 'my friends will really like this', so he's a bit keener on the idea of dressing up than he used to be. And it's not Transformers, so that makes a refreshing change, personally speaking.

But all this commercialism has prompted a few questions - from Rosie, mainly - about what Hallowe'en's all about, really. These questions are mainly concerned with whether or not there'll be cake and/or sweeties involved, as well as sparkly outfits, and so far she's not been disappointed. But my explanations of things have sparked debate with Mr Seren, mainly because I told the kids (amongst other things) that they should dress up on Hallowe'en because lots of ghosties and fairies will be about, looking to cause mischief, and they need to blend in to make sure they don't get caught up in said mischief. This is called 'guising' I said, because you dress up in 'disguise'.

Ah, says Mr Seren. That's nothing to do with Hallowe'en, that's Bonfire Night - Guy Fawkes' Night. Because kids make an effigy of Guy Fawkes and go round asking for a 'penny for the Guy' - hence, 'Guy-sing'. Ah, but no, I said. Because guising is also found at New Year's/Hogmanay, which has a lot in common with Hallowe'en/Samhainn, and you also dress up in disguise. It's to do with Hallowe'en primarily, but quite a few of the customs have become conflated with Bonfire Night and Hogmanay in some ways. And it's spawned a lot of Hallowe'en customs that are seen as 'American', like trick or treating - originally you'd go round in your disguise and perform a skit, sing a song, or maybe tell a joke, for a donation, and if you weren't satisfied you'd play a trick on the household who offended you, but you'd do it anonymously. The disguise helped. Or they'd be targeted anyway, if they were just unpopular in the neighbourhood. But the main focus was that if you were stingy and inhospitable, you'd get yours. It was surreptitious, not blatant like it is today. Mr Seren comes from a time when kids still had to beg their bit, pre-trick-or-treating, and sees the modern take of trick or treating as an erosion of tradition. Erosion, or continuum? I ask. I'll have to think about that..., is the reply.

But in general, Mr Seren wasn't convinced with it all, so brought it up at dinner with the in-laws today. There was general agreement that yes, it was more to do with Bonfire Night these days, but in the good old days it was different. Maybe, in a half-remembered way...

My brother-in-law mentioned that Hallowe'en, for him, was the night of 'Going out in the galoshes', which rang a bell for Mr Seren, something he'd forgotten. Although he didn't remember actually going out in galoshes (a kind of wellington boot - probably quite plausible given the weather in these parts, at that time of year), it referred to the dressing up for Hallowe'en in general, and going out and performing for treats. And then trying to steal turnips from the farmer, who was well prepared for the occasion and turned a blind eye, really, so long as you didn't take the piss.

I mentioned that the 'galoshes' put me in mind of the mummers' play, The Goloshan, which was a Hogmanay tradition and also required dressing for the occasion as well. We're both intrigued by the possible connection, but Google has made me none the wiser, so far...

So there's that, our wee debate. Then there's the question of what the kids will be doing at Hallowe'en, seeing as it's a Sunday (possibly going to a Hallowe'en party at a friend's, then); along with our own traditions that we're building. Because it's something that's embraced more generally - by supermarkets, that is - there's more of a build-up for the kids than most of our festivals and they're more interested in it now that they're older and more aware of things. Tom remembers the tumshie lanterns and pumpkin from last year, but Rosie not so much. She just knows it's kind of exciting. I've told them that people will be coming to the door asking for sweeties, and we'll have to carve the lanterns to scare the ghosties away, and they seem quite enamoured by the idea. Also, that we'll have a proper good dinner with dessert and more sweeties...

Children; easily pleased. Me; quite chuffed at the kids being enthused.