Wednesday, 25 June 2008


For the last few days the daily high temperature has been 34 degrees (with not a lot of cooling off at night), today it's predicted to be 35 degrees, and tomorrow apparently will be 35 degrees with a "comfort point of 38 degrees" because of the humidity. My brain is melting.

Friday, 20 June 2008

I am such a Geek

I am a geek and what is more an untalented one, but I don't care.

1. My 34 charters are each in a separate file for ease of manipulation. The longest of these files is 23 pages, I think, so if I put them all together it would be unpleasant to handle. However, I occasionally need to do a global find and replace or search, or some such. For example recently the woman who really knows about charters told me that brackets mustn't be italicised even when they come inside a run of italicised text. (This occurs frequently in the boundary clause discussions so I had a lot of italicised brackets that needed changing over a lot of files.) I made a little macro to find and replace open and close brackets. However, unlike the latest Office for Macs, the latest Office for PCs doesn't let you do things to all open documents. So I decided to risk it and make a Master document in which all my charters appear as subdocuments. I've heard that Master documents are not reliable, so I'm only going to use it to handle occasional global searches, not for editing. The problem is that now all the paths to find all those subdocuments need to be stable, i.e. I can't move things from folder to folder. And that meant the end of having things in folders relating to their condition. However, I have just tagged things instead and worked out how to save searches as folders. So instead of a folder called Edgar I now have a saved search for all files tagged Edgar; it looks like just the same thing on my desktop but allows me to leave files where they are, plus they can appear in more than one "folder" now, e.g. both in Edgar and Incomplete. This is making me very very happy. It's how things ought to be -- we should all discard the hierarchical structure of folders and just tag relationships and save searches. It will be much more useful when I get on to working on non-charter material. A lot of the stuff I do is associated with large digital images, perhaps 300 Mb each, and these can't all live on my little laptop hard drive. They have to be on external drives, where naturally charter images live in one folder and manuscript images in another, ordered by repository. This means I can't keep everything associated with one project in one place. But by tagging and saving a search I can now make it look and work like everything's together. Hurray! Of course I should have sorted all this out ages ago, probably in Linux, but I make no claim to be a proficient geek.

2. My birthday present to myself has arrived; it's the whole of Buffy on DVD. How geeky is that? I have 144 episodes and I may just give up on the remaining charters. I have one Æthelred the Unready, an Edward the Confessor that needs revision, an Alfred the Great, two Edward the Elders, and three Æthelstans. So far I have watched the first seven episodes of Buffy and it's a good deal more appealing. I don't know that early Buffy isn't my favourite, before it gets so dark and broken-hearted. Though the fact that Buffy occasionally goes a bit evil when it all gets too much, rather than just suffering and suffering like something out of Shakespeare, is one of the major things it has over that other geek-fest, Alias. (Sydney should have gone evil at least once, just briefly, instead of just crying bravely.) Anyway, I've been revisiting episodes with summaries like "Buffy starts dating a classmate but is interrupted by a vampire plot to lead her to hell" and "Buffy and Willow discover that all men are animals when Xander and the other boys from school are possessed by bloodthirsty demonic hyenas". The last one is where they eat the school principal.

3. Even geekier is the fact that Buffy and co's inventiveness with language is reminding me of tenth-century hermeneutic Latin, of the sort so popular in charters. This might be a useful way to stop hating hermeneutic Latin.

4. I've been listening to the Cloetta Paris album. This might be too good to count as geeky. It's the sort of pop that makes you feel perversely sad not to be broken-hearted. As such it should probably be banned for anyone under 25 or so -- the idea that having your heart broken is romantic is a pernicious one and ought to be exiled from popular culture. Probably more authentically geeky is BWO; here at their own site and here at myspace. Let's dance all night with the bourgeouisie!

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Four miscellanous rambles

1. Apparently the relationship between my two flatmates has broken down to the extent that one of them is moving out in a few weeks. When she told me, Fede said had I not noticed their excessive reticenza? The state of guerra freda? Well I hadn't; in my British way I thought that this was just civilised interaction between people who have to live very closely together. But apparently they used to spend pretty much all their time together, eating together, partying together, etc. I feel a bit sad about this, but not as much as I should, because I can't quite get past my relief that, if they are going to have irreconcilable differences, they have chosen to express them through quietness. It is a shame though, they're both nice people, and good company.

2. I read Martin Chuzzlewit. I enjoyed it, and it also challenged me by providing the example of Mark Tapley, who seeks out difficult situations so that he can be cheerful in them in a way which is a credit to him; but is always being foiled by things turning out to be not that bad so that his cheerfulness is natural and not creditable at all, a great sorrow to him. I do not live in this style. Do I rejoice at the difficulties of charters as an opportunity to be creditably cheerful? No I do not. I might try for a bit. I doubt it will stick. Still, it's true that by providing opportunities for me to be ignorant in a huge variety of areas charters are probably very good for my character. I am unlikely, for example, to become proud while working on them. I have just given up on a charter that contains the word enarihtmata in the phrase eorum confirmatione quorum inferius enarihtmata liquescunt caraxata (introducing the witness list). Any suggestions gratefully received. Seriously, I'd particularly welcome something which enabled me to emend the word enarihtmata out of existence. It's a silly word, and it offends me. I have a feeling I ought to try writing it in various tenth-, eleventh-, and twelfth-century scripts, and then squint at it until it resolves into something which the thirteenth-century cartulary scribe might plausibly have misread. Alas, it's more likely that it's the old how-do-you-edit-an-idiot problem again. My guess is that it's the work of a forger who is trying too hard. It's S 799 if you're interested; due to technical difficulties you'd currently have to go here for a text.

3. The podcasts of the Japanese Popstars are helping keep my energy levels up. Their music is good too, although it does reference Only Fools and Horses rather a lot.

4. Firefox 3 keeps crashing. Firefox 2 used to crash on me quite often, but not this much. I assume it's my nice little laptop's fault, because Sony messed about with the software on it. When I get home a friend has offered to reinstall everything for me and put in a new hard drive. But I do like the fact that in Firefox 3 you can have smart bookmarks on your bookmarks toolbar. I have one now for all bookmarks tagged myspace so that I can listen to interesting music that I don't own when I feel the need; I click on the bookmark and up pop all the options.

Monday, 16 June 2008


People who buy Katie Price novels in Asda are on the whole not the people who buy the new hardback Salman Rushdie in Waterstone's, and it doesn't look good for the largely middle-class, university-educated literary community to be sniffy about them.
says today's Guardian. I'm not sure this is true, and it's a bit patronising. Although as someone who hasn't bought a Rushdie in hardback since The Moor's Last Sigh maybe I can't comment. Also I haven't read any of the novels attributed to Price, though I wouldn't be averse to picking one up cheap in Asda, and although they might turn out to be Jeffrey Archer/Dan Brown/Ken Follett-style revolting trash I'm betting they aren't. I understand they were written by the same ghost as her autobiographies, some of which I have read, and they were very readable and quite funny, with the same sort of charm that Katie Price herself projects, unexpectedly; an impressive skill to pull this off in writing, and it seems to augur well for the novels. The Guardian annoys me with its attitude to literature as some sort of duty that a large part of the population is shamefully neglecting. Aren't they lucky that the rest of us are here, working away at reading all those biographies and minor European classics in translation?

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Anglo-Saxon Charters

I now know a bit more about open-field agriculture, and how ridge and furrow works. I strongly recommend the Rackham History of the Countryside; it's the sort of work it's a relief to read, because so sensible. I won't name some of the stuff I've been reading on this topic which has been annoyingly silly because actually it's most of it. I am getting confused about what a lynchet is; I keep coming across different definitions, several of them mutually exclusive. Nonetheless I have decided to add a short section on the Landscape of Wiltshire to my introduction. I hadn't realised that Wilton's lands were right on the border of Planned and Ancient Countryside, and that many of the terms in my boundary clauses imply open-field agriculture even though only one of my charters refers to it explicitly.

So I'm feeling a bit more on top of that aspect of things. But it turns out that I have to provide a glossary of the unusual Latin words in my charters, with the Greek roots when they have Greek roots, which will be often. Bother. I know almost no Greek; Shakespeare probably knew more. I suppose I can just get it out of Liddell and Scott or something. So far I have mostly worked out what the wierd words mean by finding them in the works of Isidore, where he explains them and gives Latin equivalents. For example, I sorted out cleronomis from this bit of De ecclesiasticis officiis: Nam "cleros" sors interpretatur; unde et hereditas grece "cleronomia" appellatur, et heris "cleronomos". I think this leads to one of those interesting 'how do you edit an idiot' type questions so beloved of textual critics -- if I'm getting a word from Isidore, and so are the Anglo-Saxons (they loved Isidore) then is there much point my quoting it in some pure Classical Greek form in the Glossary? Some of these practices are predicated on a long-dead model of scholarship where all medievalists were actually more at home in the Classical languages which had been beaten into them at prep school, and which they learnt to love as a substitute for the mother who so cruelly exiled them. M. R. James, I feel your pain, but things have moved on.

Friday, 13 June 2008


I am officially going to be an aunt! I've known unofficially for a bit, but they had the scan yesterday, so now it's all official. Somehow I've managed to sidestep completely the maternal instinct, which makes my life a good deal less complex, and with a bit of luck by the time it gets me, if it ever does, I will be too old to do anything about it. But I've always thought I'd make a good aunt and god-mother, and now I get to be both before the end of the year. (The niece/nephew's expected birthday is 25th December, poor soul; I hope it avoids that one.)

My mother is being quite funny about it; she's a worrier by nature and she's worrying away that my brother and sister-in-law will have trouble with their half-finished house, flexibility at work, etc. I have pointed out that people have had children before now, and even if it's been hard they seem on the whole to cope and enjoy it. She says it didn't occur to her and my dad that life was going to be different until about a week before my birth -- but they were much younger, and by the time my mother was the age I am now both her children were at school. But now she has got quite excited about buying the future grandchild a cross-country pushchair for going to see the alpacas, which has cheered her up. She's determined that it's going to love alpacas from an early age. My brother's not been so keen on them ever since he got bounced by an aggressive male, perhaps misinterpreting his hippy sheepskin coat.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

This new, gigantic, and terrible mouse

I've been complaining too much about charters. I do love them really. The problem is that they've been on my head like a very heavy hat for some years now, more than I want to sit down and count, and when I first got these six months in Bologna I was dazzled by the idea of finishing it off in that time and then recommencing my life as a Free Person. It's become increasingly clear that that's not going to happen, and that my evenings and weekends probably forever are going to involve revising and rerevising this immensely technical stuff, which started as something I had to work on for a job I have now finished. I suppose given that people do smaller archives than mine as a whole PhD, thinking I could polish it off in six months was a bit ambitious, maybe even unpleasantly arrogant in retrospect. They're good material, I just have to accept I'm going to be working on them for longer than I thought. I am going to have to learn all about open-field agriculture, and this is after all interesting. I have borrowed O. Rackham's History of the Countryside from the Bologna Palaeography department's library, and I will read it carefully. I've got it at home but in the illustrated version. Sometimes I feel very much the urge to become an outdoors person but I don't much like dirt and can't stand slugs so it probably wouldn't work.

I finished Prince William's uncle's account of Prince Rupert. It did annoy me in places but I decided to put this down to the class difference and therefore find it of anthropological interest. Now I am reading Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy. I forget who, but some Corpus person, told me to read All the Pretty Horses some time ago and they were right, it's brilliant.

On the subject of princes there's something about Prince Charles having alpacas to keep off foxes (which they are very good at by the way) in this week's popbitch, but I'm going to have to trim it down quite heavily before I can forward it to my mother. In fact I'm not that happy about her knowing I subscribe to an e-mail called popbitch; she will think less of me for it, probably rightly.

Favourite bit of History of the Countryside so far, on when rats first reached England: There is an apocryphal story that rats were brought by Crusaders from the Holy Land. But if their coming was as late as the Crusades, why did no chronicler notice what must have been an impressive and fearsome event? Why did no moralist denounce this new, gigantic, and terrible mouse as a divine judgement on a sinful nation, as on the Philistines in the days of Samuel?

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

About some books

That Leonora Carrington book I mentioned before turned out to be not brilliant, but quite entertaining, and I'm glad I read it. I suppose a lot of the ecological stuff was way ahead of its time. But from the introduction it sounded like her life was the more interesting, and utterly mad; she was launched as a debutante in London, but after a year or two ran away to join the surrealists. Thereafter she did odd things like giving her guests omelettes for breakfast filled with their own hair, which she had cut secretly while they slept. I don't know much about surrealism but I get the impression that it died a death when they were so thoroughly out-surrealed in the most horrible way by the opening of the death camps at the end of World War II. But I think Leonora Carrington is still alive, and still painting.

I can't entirely remember what else I've been reading. I read Our Mutual Friend, which took a bit of getting in to, but which I enjoyed by the end, though it does have a touch of the patient Griseldas about it. I also read Marie Phillips' Gods Behaving Badly, which was a reasonable enough way to pass time. Also, Adrian Tinniswood's The Verneys, which I recommend very strongly. It's about the seventeenth-century fortunes of the Verneys from their remarkably complete surviving correspondence. They were an interesting bunch, and I really enjoy this sort of history. It treats the Civil War a little, forgive the pun, cavalierly, going straight from Edgehill to the captured king being sold to Parliament by the Scots, because Sir Ralph, the focus of the narrative is abroad at the time; but actually I really approve of this. You can get the English Civil War elsewhere. Now I'm reading a biography of Prince Rupert by a man famous for having a dead sister. I'm quite enjoying it except that his relentlessly pro-monarchy stance is getting on my nerves. The Parliamentarians are usually called simply 'the rebels' and Parliament is censured for not voting money to King Charles even though there's a foreign (Scottish) army on English soil -- completely skipping the fact that this is only the case because Charles took an army up there a year or two before to try to beat them into using the English prayer book, which turned out to be a complete fiasco, and hugely dubious on a whole number of grounds. Given Charles Spencer's own dealings with the monarchy he might not have been so whole-heartedly pro; but on the other hand I suppose it's pretty congruous with the subject matter. You get the impression that most royalists' attitude was something like 'he may be an idiot but he's the king'; many, including a Verney detailed in the excellent Verney book, thoroughly disapproved of most of what Charles was doing, but felt they had to uphold the institution. Alas for the Henry IX whom we never had. Anyway this biography promises not to concentrate only on the Civil War, so once we've got that over I should think it will be more easily readable for a roundhead puritan like me (though I notice Spencer not being very source-critical).

I'm quite interested in broad history in a dabbling sort of way; my academic interests are more specific and do not cover most of history, so when I write the above about the English Civil War I feel free to include opinion and approximation. I am interested to a similar degree in medieval agricultural practices, but unfortunately in my charters edition I have to pretend to be an expert and do things properly. It's very dull. Today's pain in the neck is the yoke or yokelet and open-field agriculture, which I remember we touched on briefly at primary school but which I haven't looked at since. Last time I went on a plane I had a fantasy about us crashing and someone else having to finish off my charters book; they had to give me a half credit because I've done at least half of the work, plus you have to be nice to the dead, especially in charters circles, which are old-fashioned and respectful.

BTW Cloetta Paris do excellent melancholy pop.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Not to mention music of the past

Oh how I miss Frazier Chorus, with their strange understated sly music. I have their album Sue on tape somewhere unless I've lost it. 'I close my eyes... with my eyelids.' This video was ripped from the ITV Chart Show many years back and is a nostalgia trip in that regard too.

Also, I remember dragging my best friend Caroline round Fareham shopping centre one Saturday trying to find Furniture's Brilliant Mind. One shop had it but only on 12", so I ended up with the extended mix as well as the radio one, and an excellent b-side called "On a bus with Peter Nero". It said it was off a forthcoming album called "She Gets Out the Scrap-book", but I have never managed to track that down. At least, I did see a copy for sale on the internet some years back but it was about a hundred and fifty quid.

I think it's wierd that whoever owns the rights to these hasn't made them available on some site somewhere. It can't cost much money to put them up, and there must be tons of people like me who would happily pay reasonable sums to own them. Frazier Chorus in particular; bet you popjustice love them. Here is their Dream Kitchen.

Instant gratification

Isn't being able to satisfy immediately an impulse to own something supposed to be what the Interweb, nay modern life itself, is all about? So I wish that people would stop the old-style marketing model where they built up a buzz about something which isn't at the time available. I'm sure it worked great when people were used to having to wait to get into a physical shop and find the 7-inch vinyl they were after on the singles shelves, but it's frustrating these days. Cory Doctorow talks sensibly about it here, in the context of books, and how it's only worth while putting them up for free if the user can immediately pay for it if they want to: "Internet users have short attention spans. The moment of consummation — the moment when a reader discovers your book online, starts to read it, and thinks, huh, I should buy a copy of this book — is very brief. That's because "I should buy a copy of this book" is inevitably followed by, 'Woah, a youtube of a man putting a lemon in his nose!' and the moment, as they say, is gone."

It's the problem with hardbacks too. The hardbacks are what get reviewed, but I don't like the format, and I'm not going to spend more money on something that's physically harder to read and takes more space on my shelf. (Unless it's something I can't bear to wait to read, and then I flip it on ebay, not that flip is quite the right term since I obviously lose money rather than making it.) So I used to cut out interesting newspaper reviews and stick them on my wall, where they would go all yellow and crinkly until they eventually fell apart. Whoever invented Amazon's wishlist is a genius; now every Saturday when I read the Guardian review, and once a month when I get the Literary Review, I put the interesting things on that, in the forthcoming paperback edition if it's already up on their database, and I imagine amazon make quite a bit of money off me that way -- I use it as a reference tool and buy books elsewhere if they're cheaper but often amazon is the straightforward option. I just checked and I have 297 items on it. Obviously I'm never going to buy them all.

So either record people should stop letting one hear stuff in advance or itunes needs to have a wishlist and put forthcoming releases on their database to be flagged. There's loads of stuff I would have paid 79p for at the time happily, but found I couldn't, and so the moment passed. I was going to make a list, but then I realised I had forgotten most of it, which proves my point.

Important PS: the Literary Review is giving away a free trial edition in digital format here; I think though that it's only to do with digital distribution not the paper sort. I think I'd advise a trip to Smiths or Borders instead to get a paid-for copy of the real thing. Which goes to show I'm not as right above as I thought I was. Heigh ho.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

The fascinating chaff of imposture

Stevenson once famously remarked "It cannot be said that the Anglo-Saxon charters have been edited", and there followed a world of pain. The story is given here, and apparently Maitland added that without this editing process Anglo-Saxon history would never be properly understood, and that within a century he expected there would be "a critical edition of the Anglo-Saxon charters in which the philologist and the palaeographer, the annalist and the formulist will have winnowed the grain of truth from the chaff of imposture". But he was speaking in 1897, and so far only thirteen volumes of a projected thirty or so have appeared. The three volumes for Christ Church Canterbury are close to appearing, and then I suppose mine should be the 17th. But it's because I am trying to be the philologist, palaeographer, annalist and formulist which Maitland required all at once that I've been a bit grumpy veering on mental recently. He forgot landscape historian and tracer of literary sources. Plus, things have moved on a bit, and which of us would wish to discard the fascinating chaff of imposture? To be honest, although I'm reasonably at home in the skin of the palaeographer, and can more or less cope with being an annalist, formulist and sourcer, the idea of me as a philologist, trying to work out if a boundary clause has pukka tenth-century forms or is a post-Conquest insertion, is sadly just amusing. There's a question which comes up in the ASNC Part II Chancery paper from time to time that goes "Charters only speak when they are spoken to, and they will not speak to strangers [Discuss]". I don't think I ever set it but I certainly taught it, so I suppose I shouldn't be so surprised to be finding this such very hard work now. And if I'm going to be brutally honest I do get some pride from being someone who can sort of speak to charters.

Just because I don't see why I shouldn't get to spread the pain around a bit, here is a list of the sort of random things I have had to do with just one charter, an Eadwig one I finished very recently, the beastly Sawyer 666, number 17 in my edition, other than the obvious production of a text with apparatus:
1) find parallels for a verbal invocation written as a rubric in a later cartulary (it also happens in the twelfth-century Bath cartulary, a Corpus MS, but I don't know what this means)
2) point out that it doesn't have a dating clause; try to find parallels for charters without a dating clause; fail
3) suggest that the error cingls for cinges in the boundary clause hints at an exemplar in Anglo-Saxon Square minuscule of a date appropriate to the reign of Eadwig e.g. that the l was a misreading for a tall open-headed e in ligature with the following s (what DND used to call a wasp-waisted e) [bet one of the philologists then tells me that cingls is a perfectly acceptable form for something -- they'll say it's an anagogical dative ending in -ls, or something]
4) point out that its formulation draws on Isidore of Seville's expression of the concept that God created two things from nothing, angels and unformed matter
5) make all the arguments from comparanda about why the charter must be from January 956, to do with the highly-attenuated proem, the dispositive section, the anathema, and the witness-list. I've definitely set and taught questions along the lines of why do so many charters survive from 956? No one got what I now see is the real answer, viz., specifically to piss me off.
6) ask why this charter was issued in 956 since there's a perfectly good one from 948 in the archive for the same land; get bogged down in Eadwig's attitude to land tenure; fail to express in a way that's going to convince anyone my increasing suspicion that this was more about control of making charters and the process of government than about seizing land from legal owners
7) argue that calling the beneficiary 'vassalus' is not anachronistic, although it is rare, drawing other examples from the record; identify the beneficiary Wiferth as someone about whom we know nothing at all, listing all the people he might have been but probably wasn't
8) examine the use of the anachronistic phrase 'dux testis' in the witness-list; argue from parallels that this comes from a simple misreading of a typical tenth-century witness-list layout, rather than anything more sinister
9) identify the estate in Domesday book (it was still Wilton's then but by the thirteenth century they had lost it to Richard the Lionheart's wetnurse)
10) try to identify the boundary markers on maps using OS grid refs and historical forms of Wiltshire place-names, trying not to get carried away like past commentators into asserting things we can't possibly know. Actually the boundary clause of this one is reasonably straightforward. It follows the nineteenth-century ecclesiastical parish bounds (or rather, vice versa).
So I'm quite pleased with what I've got -- I've not caught everything that this particular charter threw at me, but the dux testis and vassalus stuff in particular pleases me because I think I've sorted it out. But it's just one of 34 charters, each of which provides its own odd little demands of knowledge about Anglo-Saxon life, and this is by no means a relatively hard one. I had a nice e-mail today from someone else who did a volume in this series, which appeared last year. She cheered me up by saying that the whole thing made her suffer terribly, which makes me feel a bit less stupid. But she also said that she did her first drafts, i.e. what I'm doing now, in the 90s. The thought of this all hanging on to me for that long makes me feel ill.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

A PS to the last post

Also I like this, it's very silly:

Doesn't Calvin Harris look rough? Like he borrowed his hair and the face-fluff from someone. But I like the idea of hip-hop commissioning their bass-lines from electro popsters rather than sampling them from seventies disco. There's nothing wrong with sampling seventies disco, it's just that it's good to have lots of possibilities.

And let's not forget the Pet Shop Boys: I think maybe What does this mean? What are you doing in San Francisco? is a Lauren Bacall sample. The whole thing's also very silly. I'm pretty sure this is a fan video; the hair is anachronistic for the date, as it's mostly from the Nightlife album while Electricity is off of Bilingual. In charter terms we would call this spurious but based on genuine later material.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Bad temper

I am usually bad-tempered, but I do usually have a reason. At the moment I am being maddened by charters. At some point I will blog all about it, but right now I want to point out some of the good things in the world.

1. In a surprise twist R'n'B is going all not rubbish. It's not a genre I've been keen on on the whole. Just because you can go ooo-ooo-oooo-ooo-yeah-aaaaah over two octaves doesn't mean you should. But now there is good R'n'B stuff out there, with energy. Rihanna's Umbrella was a classic song, though there were better ones on the album, like Don't Stop the Music, and popjustice points out Lady GaGa.

The video's nothing special, in fact I'd go so far as to call the inflatable killer whale ill-advised, so maybe you'd do better listening at her myspace page.

2. Back in the USSR with Eddie Hartington!

He could be the cover model for Lisa Simpson's Non-Threatening Boys magazine. If you can't be bothered with the whole video the last twenty seconds or so are quite good; start at about 5:00.

3. I like that ipod adverts now bring out new(ish) bands, rather than levi adverts, and I also like that without watching any TV at all I still somehow get these things. This song is good to put on loud if you are feeling annoyed, for example if you can't decide if a charter formula is a deliberate allusion to Ovid's Metamorphoses. I might buy the album even though I hate that "The drums, the drums, the drums" song that everyone was playing recently.