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Napoleonic Eagle

This is the Napoleonic Eagle captured at the Battle of Waterloo by Ensign Ewart.

Napoleonic Eagle

The eagle is usually kept in Edinburgh Castle but I photographed it in its temporary home at the Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh. You can see my faint reflection in the glass of the museum case

Interior of Monk’s Cell, Mount Grace Priory

The interior of the monk’s cell was far from as spartan as I had previously imagined it would be.

Sleeping accomodation:-
Mount Grace Priory Cell LIving Space

Devotional area:-
Mount Grace Priory Cell Interior

Living space:-
Mount Grace Priory Cell Living Space

Upper floor:-
Mount Grace Priory Cell Upper Floor

Small cloister:-
Mount Grace Priory Cell Cloister

Sanitary arrangements:-
Mount Grace Priory Cell Sanitary Provision

All my Mount Grace Priory photgoraphs are on flickr here.

Monk’s Cell, Mount Grace Priory

Most of the monk’s cells at Mount Grace Priory (see previous post) are in ruins like this one:-

Mount Grace Priory Cell Ruins.

The cells were at the perimeter of the priory grounds. This is the entrance to the one cell that has been restored. The square area to the right of the door was a kind of hatch which allowed food to be passed into the cell without any interaction between the occupant and the outside:-

Mount Grace Priory Monk's  Cell Entrance

The (restored) monk’s cell is a substantial building in its own right, not just the size of a single room:-

Mount Grace Priory Cell from Garden

Each cell had its own garden, as in the restoration:-

Mount Grace Priory Cell Garden

Cell garden (opposite view):-
Mount Grace Priory Cell agrden

Mount Grace Priory

Mount Grace Priory in North Yorkshire is the best preserved Carthusian monastery in Britain. After the dissolution of the monasteries some of the ruins of its guest house were incorporated into two later manor houses, the latest in the Arts and Crafts style in 1901.

Front of Manor House from its garden:-

Mount Grace Priory Manor House

This is the Manor House from inside the grounds, priory ruins in foreground:-

Mount Grace Priory Manor House from Grounds

The most substantial remaining part of the original Priory is the ruins of its church:-

Mount Grace Priory, Church

The Holy City by Meg Henderson

Black and White, 2010, 321 p.
One of the Herald’s “100” best Scottish Fiction Books. Returned to a threatened library.

 The Holy City cover

The Holy City is narrated as the rememberings of near pensioner Marion Katie Macleod, who, at the age of eleven, lost all of her family – mother, father, brothers, sister, grandparents – in the Clydebank Blitz, hence found herself alone while resolving to look after Davy Ryan, the seven year-old neighbour in the bed beside her in the hospital where they were both recovering from wounds sustained in the bombings. This is a subject not unfamilar to me since a close friend of my parents had an elder brother killed in Clydebank during the bombing and was separated from his family – with nothing but the night clothes he was wearing at the time – and not restored to them for three years.

The book deals not only with the misfortunes Marion suffered as a result of the bombs but also the effects that war had both on her and other Clydebank residents. Interspersed in the text is the history of the town from the 1930s, encompassing the heyday and post-war demise of the shipyards and the workers’ treatment therein, the rise and fall of the Singer sewing machine factory – a significant landmark and employer in the town till its clock was demolished and the Japanese began to produce cheaper sewing machines in the millions. The Holy City was the name that had been given to the part of Clydebank which suffered most damage during the Luftwaffe raids as it apparently bore a resemblance to Jerusalem.

Henderson’s depiction of the community of working people rings true enough, their humour, camaraderie, the deep sense of ‘Us and Them’, their resentments – among which was the fact that the casualty figures were massaged (the text says for the sake of morale elsewhere) – their betrayal by economic circumstance. Marion is a resourceful and combative protagonist but the historical passages read more like pieces of journalism than a memoir. The picture of Jimmy Ryan – whom she marries when he returns from the war as the only means she has to keep her promise to herself to protect his brother Davy – as too damaged by his experiences as a Commando to function properly in civilian life again, withdrawn, unable to sustain a relationship, is well done. Henderson also highlights the scandal of the asbestos which has to be brushed off Jimmy every night on his return from work in the yards (which also permeated the air and covered the ground so that children could throw sodden clumps of it at each other) and leads to his premature death.

The text refers to the myth (sic) of ‘We can take it’ especially as regards the inhabitants of the equally devastated Liverpool in terms of “The reality was there was no choice. The people took it because they were forced to take it” by not being allowed to flee to the surrounding countryside (or being sent back if they did.) There may be some truth to the supposed official thought that bombing attacks led to the chance to shoot down German aeroplanes but there is a circularity to the proposition that lack of (civilian) targets would then give the German pilots pause. Would it? Yes losses did lead the Luftwaffe to give up daylight bombing in favour of night-time raids (the same was true for the RAF over Germany) yet there would still have been no shortage of targets. The raids on Clydebank may have been purely terror inspired – Hitler’s military attentions had by that time turned to the Soviet Union – but they had a strategic sheen. Despite the Luftwaffe’s lack of success in undermining British morale the thought persisted – on both sides – that bombing could win or at least shorten the war, witness the Allies continued air attacks on Germany till the war’s end; to achieve which end actually required ground troops to take and occupy Germany. But for the people being bombed there really was no choice. You either carry on with life as best you can in the circumstances or give up. Most British victims of bombing had nowhere else to go. So too for the Germans.

While Marion is an engaging, resourceful character and the conversations she engages in are lively – and occasionally barbed – there is something a little stilted about the whole. The historical interludes, though interesting, aren’t well enough integrated, the incident with which the novel starts and whose ongoing ramifications intersperse the narrative is not come back to sufficiently often, the loose ends are tied up a bit too neatly, showing too much of the authorial hand. The Holy City is good, well worth reading certainly. But a contender for entry in a list of 100 best Scottish books, though? Not for me.

Pedant’s corner:- Marion describes Helensburgh as by the seaside (I wouldn’t.) She also says it is six miles from Clydebank (make that 17.) The details of the sinking of the Bismarck are also wrong. There is a reference in dialogue to ‘wanno they science fiction stories, ye know the wans, where an impostor takes ower somebody’s life.’ Were these a common enough currency in the late 1940s to invite such a comparison?

Eleanor Cross, Geddington, Northamptonshire

The other Eleanor Cross we visited was at Geddington:-

Eleanor Cross

Eleanor Cross, Geddington

An information board here shows the route of Eleanor of Castile’s body from Lincoln to London, and the twelve stopping places:-

Information Board, Eleanor Cross, Geddington

Eleanor Cross, Hardingstone, Northampton

Edward I of England, known as Edward Longshanks, and also Malleus Scotorum or Hammer of the Scots may have been a Middle Ages hard man but it seems he loved his wife, Eleanor of Castile. When she died at Lincoln he had her bodytransported to London for burial and at each stop along the way ordered that a cross be erected in her memory. These are known as Eleanor Crosses.

On our trip down south last summer we were so close to two of these we had to photograph them.

The first was at Hardingstone just south of Northampton:-

Eleanor Cross

Eleanor Cross, Northampton

There is an inscription (pretty much unreadable) in the stone on the wall behind the Cross:-

Inscription near Eleanor Cross, Northampton

The inscribed words are reproduced on the plaque:-

Eleanor Cross Inscription

Another descriptive plaque is on a pedestal nearby:-

Eleanor Cross, Northampton, Descriptive Plaque

Denis Healey

One of the last of the big political beasts of my (relative) youth has now departed.

He held office as Defence Secretary for 6 years but was more famous as a Chancellor of the Exchequer excoriated by the left for his adoption of wage controls in 1976 and immortalised in a song – to the tune of What a Friend We Have in Jesus – about the Callaghan Government which contained the line, “All the bad was done by Healey, all the good by Tony Benn.” But Healey in a deaperate bind. There had been an oil price rise of 400%. Imagine today’s politicians coping with that.

His obituaries on the television skipped over his war record to concentrate on his political career. But one of the most striking things I ever heard about him was that he was the Beachmaster (for the British sector) at the Anzio Landings a job of no small responsibility. He’s worth an obituary for that alone.

Denis Winston Healey: 30/8/1917–3/10/2015. So it goes.

The Holocaust and the State

There was an interesting article in the Guardian of 16/9/15 where Timothy Snyder argued that the conditions necessary for the Holocaust of Jews (and others, but mainly Jews) by the Nazis to take place have largely been misunderstood.

Snyder sees it as crucial that in the areas where most killings occurred, principally in the lands of pre-war Poland, the Baltic States and what had been Soviet Belarus and Ukraine, the apparatus of the state was no longer functioning – had indeed been deliberately destroyed. This was the necessary precondition for the activities of the Einsatzgruppen and the SS to be so unconstrained.

Though Snyder’s focus is on Eastern Europe I found myself thinking that in Western Europe too the absence of state institutions was a factor contributing to whether or not transportations to the killing zones of those whom the Nazis saw as undesirables came about. In Denmark, where the king remained and most institutions stayed intact (at least until 1943,) most of the Jews escaped or survived. By contrast in the Netherlands, whose monarch went into exile in Britain, and in France, where the Third Republic collapsed and Vichy was a puppet, deportations were much easier and in some cases even facilitated.

We have seen the consequences of the absence of the state relatively recently in Afghanistan – the Taliban would not have come to power there if not for the chaos engendered by, first, the Soviet presence and then its retreat (effectively driven out by a mujahideen aided and abetted via US and Western support) – in the disarray of Libya and now in Iraq and Syria where ISIS/ISIL/Daesh would not have had the opportunity to grow as quickly or at all if there had not been the vacuum created by the destruction of the Iraqi state and the failure to replace it.

Contrary to what some libertarians appear to think it seems the state really is a force for good.

Postscript:- While looking over the above it also occurred to me that the killing fields in Cambodia, while a consequence of Pol Pot’s take-over, were also due to state collapse, in this case that of the pre-revolutionary government. I suppose too that La Terreur in revolutionary France and the turmoil in the former Russian Empire after the Bolshevik coup are examples of what happens when state organisation suffers disruption. To avoid chaos a polity requires not people with guns but checks and balances; plus a functional judicial system capable of holding those in power to account.

Culloden (iii)

This very modern Memorial Bench is near the path from the visitor centre to the battlefield at Culloden:-

Culloden Memorial Bench

The inscription is in Gaelic but an English translation is given on the smaller extension, “We followed you, Prince, to this ocean of flatness and bullets.”

Culloden Memorial Bench English Inscription

Another grave marker refers to the “English” dead. Many in the Duke of Cumberland’s victorious army were actually Lowland Scots. The Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 was of course a Civil War.

Culloden: "English" Gravestone

To the foreground below is a reconstruction of the sort of house that would have been present on or near the battlefield of Culloden as shown on maps from the time. In the background is the modern visitor centre. These buildings make the scene much less bleak than it used to be.

House on Culloden Battlefield

This is the back of the cottage:-

Culloden Battlefield House Rear View

Side view of cottage:-

Culloden Battlefield House Side View

Front of cottage:-

Culloden  house

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