odspot

William Shakespeare, Crime Scene Cleaner.
By F J McQueen. Urbane Publications, 2016.
http://urbanepublications.com/product/out-damned-spot-print/

Out now in paperback.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Out-Damned-Spot-Shakespeare-Incarnadine/dp/

The best, most entertaining, gloriously funny, crazy, inventive, heart-warming, and well-written book, I have read for a long, long time.

Highly recommended.

William Shakespeare, but not as you know him: we meet him first as junior doctor, a whistle-blower on the health system’s use of divination in medicine.
His new career as crime-scene cleaner finds in strange yet familiar territory: two teens dead in a crypt, and a mysterious friar; a Scottish noble wife and husband in a grand house, surrounded by a strange forest…. The crimes begin to fill his order-book.
Who is the perpetrator?
We blend Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, modern fantasy, and the darkest of dark humour (South Park in the background).

And then, when what the three oracles in the hospital cupboard said starts to come true….What if you could clean so deep, if you could clean the whole world?What would that world be?

So, not a straight genre-novel, then?
Nope, but probably the most inventive, subversive fiction you’ll ever read.

WARNING: Contains big concept story-line, and huge metaphors.

 See here for more on  F J McQueen:

https://aloverofbooks.wordpress.com/2016/03/20/interview-with-fj-mcqueen/

GIFTS OF RINGS AND GOLD

Posted: November 26, 2016 in John Stammers Page

Whoo-hoo!

Now available on Kindle!

Cover

Kindle book ready and waiting!
Roll up! Roll up!

So what’s it about?
It is about how stories, poems, texts, were structured in a certain way from early times, and to the present day. The structure works as a memory system. I investigate how this structure fits into the now well-known Arts of Memory. The book also looks at how the structuring works, and was passed down through time. 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01IRPODPW

Great Xmas Present!

JUDAS, by Amos Oz, Chatto and Windus, 2014.

WARNING: Contains Spoilers.

A most interesting and intriguing novel.
It is full of story parallels, deft discussion, of sense of place and time. Amos Oz has a wonderful way with description, sense of place, with character, mood.

1
It was the winter of 1959. The setting is as much the major character as the others in the book: it is Jerusalem, just ten years after Independence.
This is the real story.

There is the story of post-graduate student Schmuel Ash, Schmuel had to leave his studies, his finances had fallen through. That is a story in itself. And then there is the matter of his girlfriend: she had left him and gone back and married her previous boyfriend.
Schmuel joined a strange household that provided board and lodging, a little income, for providing in turn company for an aged man, Gersham Wald.
It was an old house, in the extreme west of the city. Also in the house was Atalia. Atalia had married the man’s son; the son died early in the War of Independence. Her father was known as ‘the traitor’. He had been a top Zionist, a member of the council, but resigned at the outset of setting up the State of Israel, for advocating Arab friensship.
His story is most fascinating; he offered an alternative to the State, the possibility of harmony with the Arab population. It was an opportunity missed. Could it have worked?

All is speculation.

Schmuel’s dissertation topic was Jewish Views of Jesus. His research led him to believe that Judas was the only true believer in Jesus, the one and only true Christian. All the other disciples had denied him at that crucial time. All but Judas. Yet Judas was the cause for all future anti-semitism. Judas was the true believer, yet also the traitor.
Like Atalia’s father.
What is suggested here, is that it is possible her father’s ideas for co-habitation, sharing, were the true ones.
All is speculation.

Jerusalem in winter.
It rained nearly every day; it was bitterly cold at times. Schmuel walked the night streets constantly, sometimes with Atalia, often alone. They walked through Gehenna: We’re in hell, he said to her. Aren’t we always? she replied. They went up on Mount Zion to catch the sunrise, it was bitterly cold; a soldier was on guard at King David’s tomb. He had been there all night.
Shots rang out: there was always a sniper over the border hoping for a lucky hit, no matter what time of night or early morning. And there were borders everywhere in the city.
We are constantly made aware of the barbed wire, the nearness of borders, the ruined Arab villages.

There are presences, missing, but brooding constantly: the son and the father, Micha and Abravanal. And of course over all there was the living presence of David Ben-Gurion, and his vision of the Israeli State. Like the Christian Trinity.

Over all is winter, and its sense of aridity. This sense grows throughout the book: Atalia and Micha had no children; Gersham Wald’s child Micha was dead. The way he died, Atalia found out much later and by accident, was horrific; she could never shake it. Neither she nor Gersham could sleep at night afterwards.She could never have another lasting relationship. Schmuel’s own relationship, and it is hinted also with his family, had broken irreparably and thrown him back into his self-enclosedness, as epitomized by this household he had retreated into.
We see this in the Socialist groups Schmuel was a part of at the university. They would meet and have discussions at the workingmen’s café, and yet the closest they ever came to the working people a table or two away was to timidly ask for a light.
Part and parcel of all this in the novel’s context is the image of Abravanal,  Atalia’s distant and unapproachable father, whose message could have saved all, and yet who neglected his family: the universal that fails the personal.
And so we come to the present state: Gersham Wald, Schmuel’s aged companion, speculates and argues fruitlessly and endlessly with old sparring partners over the phone every day. All is arid, without fruit, without a future.
This is also a metaphor for embattled Jerusalem, surrounded by enemies. The mood only lifts once Schmuel leaves the city.

We can read this as the State of Israel itself, surrounded by enemies, without friends or allies, or  recognition. A State completely cut off from all, and friendless.
The State of Israel, 1959.
2
All through the book Atalia is described as eminently desirable, yet unattainable. She is a strong woman, a property owner, and works for her living. Is she Israel in potential, with their lost future?
This could be a criticism of the book. Atalia must always be dependent on male interest, she cannot live for herself. They flock around her; every reference to her by others and the author is coloured by this. Amos Oz is trying to write a strong independent woman character – is it the society he places her in, she is part of, or is it the author’s opinion also, that she cannot be allowed her own place in the world? Her missing partner always throws an imbalance to her existence. Is Israeli culture so inflexibly male-dominated?

On one level this is a story all about alpha males: Avaranal was ousted, and so turned bitter and retreated into himself. David Ben-Gurion won the narrative-of-the-State contest. Atalia can do little but serve the failing father.
Schmuel is an interesting foil, he is passive, and has a carer personality, he learned to his surprise. To Atalia he becomes another male to be cared for as he fell badly, and was laid up for a couple of weeks. Her response to this is not resentment, for she is intrigued by him, his passivity, and also his enthusiasm.

On another level the book is all about Big Narratives. they figure prominently. It was when Schmuel espoused his theories that his previous girlfriend had taken him to bed; it was when he told Atalia of his thesis that she responded. Avaranal and Gersham Walt were tied together not just as fathers in law, but over the theory of the State of Israel. All their fates, Micha as well, are all bound up in David Ben-Gurion’s theory of the State.

Schmuel’s thesis got to the point where he thought Judas was only the only disciple who truly believed in Christ’s divinity. He engineered the crucifixion, in Jerusalem, as incontrovertible proof. It failed, he thought.
On the level of parallels, we see here that Avaranal’s ‘dream’ of co-habitation, harmony, like the love that Christ preached, as ultimately failing also.
Which leaves them with… a moment-by-moment piecemeal arrangement, peace and war: and hoping the peace lasts longer than the fighting.
But the heart had gone out of it: on the ruined Arab village there had been attempts to build a hall. It was unfinished, restarted and again unfinished. The heart, the sense of reconstruction, had gone out of it.
3
Reading through online reviews of the book I was amazed at the intemperate language  used; it was downright vicious in places. Many clearly had no idea of the aesthetics and concerns of novel-writing, they were using their platform to hit out at the author. He was accused of being a neo-Marxist, or anti-Zionist, of giving the State of Israel a bad press, of toadying up to anti-Israeli Western media. A traitor.
That is what the book is about, that word Traitor. It can be a product of hindsight, of present actions; it can also, the book claims, have positive intent that is turned by events.

All this is very much the battened-down attitude of a State under attack: there can be no nuanced, open discussion; there can be no questioning voices.
There is a similar attitude in Russia at the current time.
These are the tactics of States still fighting for their legitimacy. How long will it take?
All the more imperative to open those discussions, questions, nuances now.

See also: Days of Ziklag, by S Yizhar, 1958.http://www.ithl.org.il/page_14274

I first came across the figure of Lailoken when I was reading up on Seamus Heaney’s version of the Sweeney tale: Sweeney Astray, Faber and Faber, 1983.
This version is based on the translation from the original Irish by James G O’Keefe, 1913.

www.ucc.ie/celt/published/T302018/index.html

Often referred to as King Sweeney, the tale has him as cursed by St Ronan on the battlefield of Mag Rath, 637 AD, for repeatedly spurning Ronan and his disciples, the last straw being when Sweeney threw a spear that cracked the Saint’s matins bell, and killed a disciple. Sweeney was cursed, and left the field of battle, to wander mad, part bird, for many years. There were occasions when his madness began to fade, but it was replenished.

mks

A freize of the Sweeney story.

The central part of the Sweeney tale, and where the whole tale turned around, is when Sweeney had left Ireland in his mad wanderings. He eventually arrived in Britain. There he met a madman, in a similar position and condition to himself. This ‘madman in the woods’: Fer Caille, ‘man of the woods’, was called Allan in the Sweeney Astray text, from  O’Keefe’s name, Ealladhan.
Seamus Heaney, in his Introduction, comments that the tale of the madman in the woods is a far older tale, that was incorporated into the Sweeney story.

The madman in the woods has been identified as Lailoken.
According to some sources he was the bard of King Rhydderch Hael, and based at the king’s castle of Dumbarton, on Dumbarton Rock on the River Clyde, just outside Glasgow. This was in the 6th century AD.

dumrock

Dumbarton Rock.

Lailoken himself has been connected with Partick, now part of west Glasgow.

At the time this area was, as the King’s name suggests, a part of the old Welsh territory. This territory took in all the west coast of northern England, through modern Cumbria, Ayreshire and up to the River Clyde. All spoke an earlier form of Welsh.
East of this, Nothumbria and modern Border regions, Lothian, including Edinburgh and to the Firth of Forth was Old English speaking.
North of this Central Lowland region was, to the east, Pictish land; their language has not come to us in any researchable quantity. To the west the new Irish incursions were creating Dal Riata, and their language would soon overtake the Pictish, to develop into the modern version of Gaelic: Scottish Gaelic.

There was a major battle, one of ‘the three pointless battles’ according to readings of the collections of Welsh Triads. The battle of Arfderydd, 573 AD.
This was where Lailoken came unstuck. One version is he killed a cousin of his King, and was cursed. Whatever the cause, he left the battlefield, and lived a life much like Sweeney.
(In the O”Keefe he had insisted his lord’s warriors wore their best silk clothes to battle. The result was predictable.)

We know of Lailoken through St Kentigern (known as St Mungo), and patron saint of Glasgow. St Kentigern’s story was recorded in the 16th century.

The character we know through St Kentigern as Lailoken was closely connected with the Welsh figure of Myrddin Wyllt, that is, Murthin the Mad.
Sweeney’s name in the Irish is Suibne Geilt: Sweeney the mad one. Wikipedia has him as Sweeney mac Colmain, king of Dal Araidhe. The Sweeney Tale is usually attributed to the 12th century.
The closeness of Wyllt and Geillt, Brithonic and Goidelic, is shown here.
Likewise, the closeness of the name Myrddin to our legendary Merlin has drawn many to presume they were one and the same. Geoffrey of Monmouth first made this connection in his twelfth century History of the Kings of Britain.
Following up place names in the text W F Skeen identified the battlefield of Arfderydd as based on or near the present day church of Arthuret, just outside the small village of Longtown, Cumbria.

Like many of these old scenes of importance, they look rather underwhelming in the present day.
https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Longtown,+Carlisle/

From Arfderydd, Lailoken was supposed to have fled into the Caledonian Forest. The area is now an open patch of country, close to the River Esk. There are no woods, never mind forest. The Caledonian Forest clings on, supposedly the last relics of the fir trees that followed the retreat of the ice sheet, only in a couple of patches in Deeside and that area.

So, what happened when Sweeney met Lailoken/Alan/Ealladhan/Myrddin?
He sought him out, befriended him, and travelled with him for the next year. Then Lailoken had a date with his death at the waterfall of the Black Mount.
Sweeney himself then returned to Ireland, and tried to return to his people. The whole story had changed: instead of avoiding people, he now sought them out.

When Sweeney came to Britain both the Heaney and the O’Keefe say ‘he left the fortress of the Britons on his right side’, before meeting Lailoken.
Taking that fortress to be Rhydderch Hael’s Dumbarton Rock, then Sweeney must have travelled either north, from Strathclyde, or west from Stranraer. Either way he was north of the Clyde-Forth border. Language-wide this would make sense also.
Travelling for a year – they could have travelled a long way, or circled, like St Brendan on his voyage.
My argument is they travelled north, up to the Black Mount near modern Bridge of Orchy and the celebrated Ben Dorain.

blkmt

The Black Mount.

The Myrddin story is set in the Border country. This fits with the battlefield being near Longtown in Cumbria.Whether Myrddin’s is a different story, or a corrupted later version are questions as yet unanswered.

Lailoken, like Myrddin Weillt, was also known as a prophet, divinely inspired. Sweeney was not.
Were people looking for a world beyond the world, that only disordered senses could detect? There were few, if any, sane prophets: the speaking in madness was considered the authentic method.
The prophet tradition goes back so far, it is beyond sight. We cannot put it down to the split-world scenario that that the Christian religion promoted: this world, and the next, and ne’er the twain shall meet. It was older than that, this belief in a world, or worlds, beyond our known one, worlds where true reality and authority lay. Yet its communications had not our syntax, barely our vocabulary; their communications with ours were garbled, highly metaphorical, or more probably referential to an order of the world that was not ours, with different priorities, values.
We see this in many religions -and how many now have been influenced by Christianity? Most, if not all – how the ways of God are different from the ways of man. And yet we are to attain to the god’s ways, to ways not of this world, in order to save a part of ourselves, the part that lives on while the this-world part must die.

It could well be that the legendary ‘madman in the woods’ is connected to the Green Man image. Who came first, though?

100_0561

We could posit connections to the legendary Robin Goodfellow character, who appears in Shakespeare (Midsummer Night’s Dream), and who also gave provenance to the Robin Hood tales/songs.
These tales and characters gather more and more barnacles as they travel through the seas of time.

The most moving description I have come across has Lailoken wandering ‘like many battle-maddened men’ in the woods and forests.
Was Lailoken their epitome? Was his figure a way of portraying the effects of post-traumatic stress/battle fatigue? Was this a way of giving these people a measure of dignity by making them ‘holy fools’ of a sort?
Myrddin Weillt was described as telling his tale of the terrible battle, after which he immediately jumped up and ran wildly away. It is the same with Sweeney. This reaction to reliving the trauma does make this theory sound plausible.

See ‘Scotlands’s Merlin’, by Tim Clarkson, John Donaldson Publishers Ltd, 2016
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Scotlands-Merlin-Medieval-Legend-Origins/dp/1906566992/

OUT DAMNED SPOT, by F J McQueen

Posted: November 7, 2016 in Chat
Tags:

odspot

William Shakespeare, Crime Scene Cleaner.
By F J McQueen. Urbane Publications, 2016.
http://urbanepublications.com/product/out-damned-spot-print/

Now published on kindle.Paperback coming soon!

The most entertaining, gloriously funny, crazy, inventive, heart-warming and well-written book I have read in a long, long time.

Highly recommended.

We meet him as a junior doctor, and a whistle-blower on the medical services’ use of divination in medicine. His new career finds strange yet familair crime-ecenes: two dead teens, and a mysterious friar; a Scottish noble wife and husband in a grand house, durrounded by a strange forest…. The crimes begin to t fill his order-book.
Who is the perpetrator?

We blend Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, modern fantasy, and the darkest of dark humour (South Park in the background).

And then what the three oracles in the hospital cupboard said, starts to come true….
What if you could clean so deep you could clean the whole world?
What would that world be?

WARNING: Contains big concept story-line, and huge metaphors.

 See here for more on  F J McQueen:

https://aloverofbooks.wordpress.com/2016/03/20/interview-with-fj-mcqueen/

TURTON TOWER, Turton District, Bolton, Lancashire, UK

tt2

The tower itself was modelled on the Scots Border pele towers. It was built in 1420.
This was the same period as the Scottish pele towers. They were fortified farmhouses, built for defence in the centuries-old feuds and political claim-and-reclaim of territory between Scotland and England that was the Scottish Borders.

Why Turton should have a defensive tower, and built by whom, are questions for which we do not know the answers. The setting is that of dominant position between two high land areas: the Winter Hill region to the west, and the Holcombe Hill region to the east. To the south is Bolton, and the north Blackburn.
Bolton was settled by Flemish weavers in the 14th century.
A centre for weaving denotes the area had ideal conditions for, at this period, wool weaving, that is, of continual damp. Bolton and close by Bury were both important towns which came into importance at this period.
Blackburn similarly owed its founding to Flemish weavers in the 13th century.
James Hargreaves, inventor of the spinning jenny, came from Oswaldtwistle, a very near neighbour town, later.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spinning_jenny

Why Flemish weavers? This is a fascinating history in itself. See as an introduction:
 https://www.englandsimmigrants.com/page/individual-studies/fourteenth-century-england-a-place-flemish-rebels-called-home

An Elizabethan house was built onto the pele tower, and further extensions were early Stuart period.
The Orrell family built the Tower up, but bankrupted themselves in the process. They had to sell. The purchaser in 1628 was Humphrey Chetham.

Chetham College House in Manchester

chethams

was also built around the same time as the Tower: 1421. It was part of the founding of Manchester Cathedral, and was built as a college for priests.
It was here in Elizabethan times that Dr John Dee and family were quietly settled out-of-the-way. His wife and family died of plague and were buried here.He returned to Mortlake, London.

drdee
Humphrey Chetham rescued the ruined buildings and built up and restored them to house a school and free library.The Chetham’s School was founded in 1653, in the period of Cromwell’s Protectorate.

Speaking of which:

Back at the Tower, the Orrell family rented their Tower from Chetham. Chetham, however, as many major Manchester-based families, were supporters of Cromwell’s cause. The Orrell family were not.
Humphrey Chetham stationed Roundheads in the Tower grounds as their base for the whole district. The Orrell family would indeed have had to ‘put up and shut up’ as a local phrase has it.

1835 brought a mock gothic building program to the Tower under new owners. In 1929 it was given to the Turton Urban District Council.
The tower was originally two stories, but a third was added later, along with the crenellations. The top story used to house a museum of sorts
One exhibit was the skull of a local man, hanged for some heinous crime.
The middle floor was used for Council Meetings

http://www.turtontower.co.uk/a-brief-history.html

What I remember especially about the place, and called me back several times, is the Tower itself.
The ground floor is the homeliest place I have ever found. Amidst all the Do Not Touch displays, old paintings, antique furniture, there is a feeling of great peace, and belonging. I think it comes from this: look out of the ground floor windows and what you see…

… are almost floor-level views of the grounds. The ground floor is built into the earth. As you stand you are up to your waist, higher, underground.
That feeling of being bedded-in is wonderful, unique, and very, very appealing.

 

The Tower has its ghost, of course, the Lady of Turton Tower, and its dead-man’s footprint on the stone stairs of the Elizabethan part.
Even the Chetham School’s Dr Dee room has its own distinctive mark: a burn on a desk supposedly belonging to him, and supposedly due to his conjurings.

MAGIC

Posted: October 21, 2016 in Chat
Tags: ,

magic

A book I’ve had hanging around for ages: there it was again, so this time I read it:
Ancient Philosophy, Mystery and Magic – Empedocles and the Pythagorean Tradition, by Peter Kingsley.
It was published by Clarendon Press/ Oxford University Press, 1995.

Then there was a free FutureLearn course: Magic in the Middle Ages, run by Barcelona University. Lovely people, by the way.

Empedocles is the one who coined the four basic elements, building blocks of all things: earth, air, fire and water. Each was also connected with a god/goddess.
The hierarchy was:
Air – Zeus. It was aether intitially, a rarefied form of air.
Earth – Hera
Water – Nestis. She was a localised goddess, native to Sicily.
Fire – Hades.

Empedocles was a native of Sicily. It was to Sicily that Pythagoras came from Samos, Greece. This was all in the 4th centuryBCE.
Sicily, of course, has always been volcanic. Not just the presence of Etna, but Empedocles’ birth town was based on hot springs: the island is full of volcanic-related geography. Then there are the Liparan Islands off the north coast, connecting to Vesuvius.
Is it any wonder the Pythagorians had Fire as the centre of the universe? This was not just ordinary fire but the fire of Tartarus, where the Titans and rebellious gods were confined.
The Underworld, next, ‘as far above Hades as the Earth was above the Underworld’; it was was envisioned as a place of rivers of water, and of fire. Nestis was a localised name for Persephone, and she was partnered with Hades, as Hera was with Zeus. We see differences in nature and purpose of each couple in this.
Some initiates took all this later to Egypt. It found a home there, met eastern cults, and became interested in Alchemy (another fire-based ideology).
This was all big-concept stuff – compare it with the Eleusian Mysteries, with closely related Orphism, the mystery cults. They are all surrounded by ritual, initiation, even rebirth scenarios.

The online course was based on documented sources: Papal edicts, religious records, even Inquisition records.
Magic was either earth magic: herbology, charms and amulets, even star reading – and other: necromancy, prophecy etc. The first were accepted; the latter considered as due to demonic agencies.Then they all became classed as the latter kind: who gave you knowledge of these things? Why, demons, of course.
We touched on the Kabbalah: the course leader ruefully commented that this was only intended for those who had studied the Torah and The Old Testament, for at least 40 years. No one went straight into it, that would be seen as utterly stupid, pointless.

So, magic was either big-concept theory with rituals, orgies and bachanalian revels, or it was table-rapping, charms, astrology, and what we now know as spiritualism, automatic writing, dream visions etc.
That was about it.
There are no records outside of the Bible of the dead actually being raised, reinvigorated. There is the Witch of Endor who cured Saul/St Paul’s heaven-caused blindness. But there are no extant records anywhere of witches, say, throwing fire balls, of actually being seen riding broomsticks; or of spells compelling living people to do things supernatural. No great wizards with staffs; no actual records of demons raised, djinns released, or even angels on earth.
Curses and charms depend so much on coincidence and interpretation: you need narrow horizons and desperate lives to see the patterns, so to speak.

Everything else had been recorded; you can bet such weirdy stuff would certainly have been recorded too.

This bit you didn’t hear from me. OK?
Visions and vision quests.
In each case the person has to put themselves in mortal danger.
This is always played down, and tactfully forgotten.
The quester fasts and purges; the hallucinogenic user purposely imbibes toxic material. The sun-dancer puts his body through torments.
The aim in all cases is to get the body to react to the threat. This is not a conscious reaction, but a purely physiological one, way below awareness: the body pumps in its danger and panic chemicals, its point-of-death chemicals, that enhance the hallucinations, the visions.
The whole procedure is a literal life-and-death one.
The result is a glimpse of the death-life relationship, and where, if anywhere, the self fits in.
The problem is, you have to be conscious, and you have to come back intact (or more or less: even Odin lost an eye!).
Don’t Try This At Home!