Blood of the Martyrs by Naomi Mitchison

Constable & Co Ltd, 1939 500 p.

Naomi Mitchison has an extensive bibliography. Some of her output dealt with Scottish themes, others with sexuality. Blood of the Martyrs is a historical novel set in Imperial Rome during the reign of Nero.

Blood of the Martyrs cover

The first eight chapters relate the life histories of the members of the small Christian group whose story the book tells. Thereafter most of the novel takes place in the household of Senator Flavius Crispus, where Beric, a Briton, son of King Caradoc (Caratacus,) is treated as one of the family. He is not a Roman citizen, however, and is effectively being trained up for a return to Britain to help maintain Roman rule. His infatuation with Crispus’s daughter Flavia spitefully spurned by that spoilt young woman, he falls in with the Christians among the house’s slaves. As we are in the run-up to the Great Fire, things are obviously not going to turn out especially well. In passing we meet Paul of Tarsus, imprisoned in the Mamertine jail, and Luke, designated here a provincial doctor. We also matter-of-factly encounter the harshness of life in those days for all but the pampered rich – and even they were not secure from imperial displeasure.

The discussions among Crispus’s Senator friends – the Empire was built on money and the need to avoid Carthage making it, but that was also the Republic’s ruination – their political intrigue, the imperial dynamic which insists on enemies, the attraction of early Christianity for the downtrodden, are all well-handled. The book flows easily, the discussions of doctrine are not abstruse – a rich man couldn’t stay so as a Christian; if he lived like one as he wouldn’t want to keep his wealth – and at one point a character observes that Paul’s epistolic suggestions to a particular Church over a particular problem will one day be taken as a general rule. (each Church here is described as having its own autonomy and is run by a deacon, male or female according to who is most respected,) another fears that the rich and powerful might try to co-opt the Churches.

The novel is very easy to read and appears to be well researched. There are however several mentions of fireworks – generally considered to be a later Chinese invention. Others for pedant’s corner: there was an “Aren’t I?” – I doubt Romans spoke so ungrammatically – a “sunk,” “less” rights, by and bye (my dictionary has that without the e,) smoothe (ditto: says it’s rare) and “you’d have woke up that morning.” Interestingly, Mitchison deploys the word ruthful and the phrase “you usen’t to be interested in such things.”

Easter Road Stadium

Home of Hibernian FC.

I took these at the League Cup game in August, not the 0-0 last week.

From the access road:-

Main Stand Exterior:-

South Stand Exterior:-

East Stand:-

North Stand:-

Main Stand:-

The teams at kick off. You can just about see the hoops on the front of the Sons strip on a couple of our players. It’s a particularly horrible shade of green Hibs are wearing this season. And no white sleeves. Poor show.

Heart of Midlothian 5-1 Dumbarton

SPFL Tier 2, Tynecastle Stadium, 18/10/14

A curious one this. Hearts were clearly the better team – the best I’ve seen against us in years, just shading Aberdeen in the cup last season – but we didn’t deserve to lose five. On the other hand we did little in the way of attacking in the first half. Andy Graham made the Hearts keeper make a save but that was about it. We definitely miss the Chrisses, Turner and Kane.

We allowed too many crosses in and the first goal came from one of them. The penalty was a penalty. I thought Scott Linton would get to the ball but the attacker was quicker. Danny Rogers touched the ball but he was unlikely to save two inside a week. He had made a great save at 1-0 though.

Second half we came out more brightly and should have had a penalty ourselves when Mark Gilhaney was tripped in the box. For their third we back-pedalled instead of closing down and the guy tucked it away.

Garry Fleming’s goal came when Colin Rhyming Slang headered a corner back across goal from a corner and was finished very well.

Their fourth was from a corner and I was lamenting the fact that we had all eleven men within twenty five yards of our goal. Leave two up and they have to leave three back.

The last was another on the counter immediately after one of their defenders had made a block and dragged the ball with his hand; so we should have had a foul.

Still, I came away thinking we hadn’t played too badly, and not too down-hearted.

It’s a funny old game.

Rites of Passage by Eric Brown

Infinity Plus Books, 2014, 188 p.

Rites of Passage cover

This is a collection of four of Brown’s novella length works three of which have appeared previously.

Bartholomew Burns and the Brain Invaders is a steampunk story featuring Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, our eponymous hero Burns, mudlark Tommy Newton and a scene at the Great Exhibition. In it we have no less than three sets of aliens, one of which is about to invade Earth by taking over the brains of people in power. Put so baldly it seems daft, and in many ways it is, but it is effective as light entertainment. As Brown says in his introduction to the collection the background here is not as compelling as it might be but he has created scope for more adventures from Burns in the future where that deficiency, if it is one, can be remedied.

Guardians of the Phoenix was later expanded by Brown into a novel. This original version became roughly the third quarter of the novel and, to my mind, the story works better at this shorter length, being more tightly focused.

Sunworld is set on a constructed space habitat where the inhabitants have long forgotten their origin. Yarrek Merwell dreams of being an architect but his extremely religious parents force him into joining the Inquisition. His encounter with the Church’s head leads to revelations that overturn his ideas of himself and his place in the world. Yet again in a Brown story religion looms large.

The story original to this collection is Beneath the Ancient Sun but its setting – an Earth dried up, with little fresh water – could be that of Guardians of the Phoenix only many centuries further on. A handful of humans struggles to survive, eking out their meagre reserves of water and telling stories to inspire the youngsters. For his Initiation rite Par chooses to emulate the legendary journey of Old Old Old Marla to the high mountain peaks. His girlfriend Nohma and her former lover Kenda accompany him. This story and Guardians of the Phoenix are the most satisfactory of the four novellas here. The other two seem more sketchy, as if they required greater length to be fully effective. Brown has left plenty scope for that, though, if he decides to return to the scenarios.

Friday on my Mind 104: Reputation

A bit of proggy psychedelia. Just for a change.

This sounds a bit like Nirvana (the real Nirvana) but it’s a bit too fuzzy and fussy.

One of Shy Limbs’ members was a certain Greg Lake.

Shy Limbs: Reputation

Groningen Railway Station

Groningen Railway Station is an architectural confection, superficially a bit like St Pancras. A Cathedral to steam.

This is its exterior from the ring road:-

It’s the interior that’s the gem though.

Apparently until quite recently all this lovely brickwork and decoration was covered up by plasterboard or something. When that was stripped off they discovered what they’d been missing. (There’s a couple of pigeons up there somewhere in these two photos.)

This is the cupola in the roof of the entrance hall:-

This is the vaulted roof in a side corridor!

And here is the stained glass in the windows round the entrance hall:-

More stained glass:-

Oscar Pistorius

At time of writing I do not know what sentence Oscar Pistorius has received for killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. (My personal view is that only custody for a reasonably lengthy time would be sufficient punishment.)

My main bugbear though is the nature of his defence.

As I understand it he pleaded not guilty on the grounds that he thought he was shooting at a burglar.

So his defence against murder is that he was deliberately shooting someone?

How does that work?

Is it a tenet of South African law that you can freely shoot burglars? That notion strikes me as bizarre.

Groningen Museum (Groninger Museum)

First a word on pronunciation. You might think Groningen is enunciated as Grown-ing-en. It isn’t.

Since the letter g in Dutch (certainly at the start and end of a word) is pronounced more like the Scottish “ch” sound – as in loch – and the final n is not emphasised, the name actually sounds more like HHrrrown-ing-ih. (I assume Groninger – HHrrown-ing-er – is an adjectival form meaning “of Groningen.”)

Anyway the museum is one of those modern architecture buildings that seems to have bits sticking out everywhere. I liked it. It reminded me a bit of the Imperial War Museum North.

It’s prominent from the ring road.

We didn’t have enough time to go in as we were going on a boat trip round the canals that encircle the town centre. You can’t go to The Netherlands and not go on a canal. This is the museum from the boat jetty.

And this is from the canal as the boat comes back to its starting point. That colour scheme could make your eyes go funny.

The Professor of Truth by James Robertson

Hamish Hamilton, 2013, 259 p.

 The Professor of Truth cover

James Robertson has published a series of novels dealing with Scottish themes, The Fanatic conjoins a present day tale with one set in Covenanting times, the testament of Gideon Mack has a modern day Kirk Minister meet the devil, Joseph Knight examines the (in danger of being forgotten) colonial and slave-owning legacy, while And the Land Lay Still deals with the rise of the Scottish independence movement in the late twentieth century. Scottish themes also abound in Robertson’s short fiction, of which I have read these and these.

The Professor of Truth marks a slight digression. While not dealing explicitly with Scottish subject matter – though its narrator is an Englishman living in Scotland – it takes an oblique look at an incident from recent Scottish history.

Alan Tealing is a lecturer in English literature in a university “of no great age located in a part of Scotland that positively groans under the accumulation of history.” Many years before the events of the novel his wife and daughter were killed when, while over the Scottish Borders, a bomb exploded in the aeroplane in which they were travelling to her parental home in the US. During the course of the trial of the men accused of the act, held in a foreign country, Tealing, despite wishing the reverse, becomes convinced of their innocence. His life since has been dominated by his search for the truth of what happened. This brings him into conflict with not only the authorities, but also the families of other bereaved, of his dead wife, and even his own mother, father and sister.

The inspiration for this scenario is not hard to discern but Robertson is at pains to avoid specifics. The place for the supposed “ingestion” of the bomb onto the aircraft is only ever referred to as “the island,” the town the destroyed plane descended on is never named, likewise the country the accused came from. (The incident also occurs around Thanksgiving rather than Christmas and the names of the accused are amended.)

The trigger for Robertson’s story is the appearance at Tealing’s house, one snowy day, of “Ted Nilsen,” a dying man attached to one of the US agencies which dealt with the aftermath of the bombing. Their discussions of the “narrative” of the atrocity, a narrative which evolved over time from a revenge attack by a terrorist cell in Germany funded by a Middle Eastern country which itself had had a plane downed (in an error of confusion) by US action even earlier, to a newer, less important to avoid annoying, Nearer Eastern country, are well laid out.

Tealing’s early life, his meeting with his wife, his learning of the tragedy, his trip to the Borders to try to find out if his wife and child are still alive, his subsequent disillusionment with the trial and lack of engagement with the world – barely ameliorated by a sporadic relationship with a colleague – are described in alternate chapters to his discussions with Nilsen. In his academic life, Tealing has a sense of being fraudulent, as, while he can discourse at length about them, he remembers almost nothing of all the books he has read. This fear of being found out in one’s inadequacies is a very Scottish trait, however. For Tealing, “Too many people write books. Far, far too many people write novels.” In his search for truth he consults a lawyer who tells him a courtroom is not a search for truth, it’s a venue for a fight between two sides. Justice may be done, truth may come out, but that isn’t the point.

All this is superb, but when “Nilsen” leaves the house, the book takes a less cerebral turn. Tealing travels to Australia, in bush fire season, to try to talk with the witness who was essential to the conviction (and who was subsequently well rewarded and given a new identity for his efforts.)

Aside. The details of the fluctuating “narrative” and the payment to the witness will be no shock to those who took a close interest in the real-life model for the bombing.

In Australia Tealing first encounters the witness’s Vietnamese wife – who has a tragic back-history of her own but agrees (perhaps a touch too willingly for suspension of disbelief) to facilitate the necessary meeting. The morphing of the story into one where a bush fire becomes an immediate threat was odd – though it gives Tealing the opportunity he had craved to engage with the witness. These bush fire scenes were reminiscent of something else I’ve read – almost Ballardian in tone.

Tealing and the witness (who now goes under the name of Parr) are never on the same level. Finding out Tealing’s occupation Parr says to him books are, “Like noise on paper,” and their discussion make Tealing remember one of “Nilsen”’s questions to him, “Were you even alive before the bomb went off?” which is an epiphany of sorts.

Pedant’s corner. In a book written by a Scot and published in the UK why is “medieval” spelt the US way?

Hibernian 0-0 Dumbarton

SPFL Tier 2, Easter Road Stadium, 11/10/14

For a 0-0 this was quite entertaining. Not that either side made much in the way of chances. Hibs had a few efforts from headers in the first half which all drifted past.

In half an hour Colin Rhyming Slang had won more headers than in all the previous games I’ve seen him in – both in attack and in defence. Moreover he was getting free-kicks for the way Hibs players were challenging him. He had our nearest effort on goal in the first half too, with a looping header.

The main first half talking point was the penalty. I wasn’t sure there had even been a foul, though Andy Graham was booked for it. It certainly wasn’t a clear goal scoring opportunity as there were two Sons defenders in a position to block any shot. The taker didn’t look all that confident but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Danny Rogers did well to get down even if it was fairly poorly struck. The ball squirmed under him and almost crossed the line – but not all of it, maybe five-sixths. That means it wasn’t a goal.

In the second half two Hibs players went down in their box after they clashed heads. A bit up the park Mitch Megginson called for the trainer too. On the resumption neither Hibs player had left the field as you’re supposed to if the trainer has come on – yet Mitch had had to. What was that all about?

Hibs stepped up the pace towards the end but still couldn’t break down our defence/get past Danny Rogers, who was pretty comfortable throughout. Even if he had to tip a few long range shots over the bar his positioning was always good. He was Sons man of the match, no question; but everybody gets full marks.

It was my first look at Kieran MacDonald who came on as sub. He looked confident and attempted a dribble at one point.

free hit counter script