Cycling Suffragettes!

Bikergirls

Victorian Biker Girls (Sophie Bryant not shown)

In the long and arduous fight for womens rights the simple act of owning a bicycle was considred radical in Victorian times.  One of the first women in the United Kingdom to own a bicycle was the Dublin born Sophie Bryant.  Born Sophie Willock, a native of Sandymount, February 15th 1850.

At the age of 19, living in London, she married Dr William Hicks Bryant, a man 10 years her senior, who died within a year of the marriage.  Thus liberated as a respectable widow with the ability to make her own decisions she went completely off the rails.  Stark staring feminist mad.

Apart from buying a bicycle she also became a teacher. When the University of London opened its doors to women she became one of the first women to be awarded a first class degree.  As a mathematician she earned her doctorate of science and became only the third woman to be elected to the London Mathematical Society.

When Trinity College Dublin opened its doors to women they marked the occasion by awarding Bryant the first honorary degree given to a woman.

She wanted votes for women, but said that first women should be educated.  She devoted much of her life to that cause and the institutions founded and managed by her made an enormous contribution to that end.

She died doing what she loved, in Chamonix in the French Alps, climbing mountains at the age of 72.

Zermatt To The Matterhorn; by Thomas Hardy

Thirty-two years since, up against the sun,
seven shapes, thin atomies to lower sight,
labouringly leapt and gained thy gabled height,
and four lives paid for what the seven had won.

They were the first by whom the deed was done,
and when I look at thee, my mind takes flight
to that day’s tragic feat of manly might,
as though, till then, of history thou hadst none.

Yet ages ere men topped thee, late and soon
thou watch’dst each night the planets lift and lower;
thou gleam’dst to Joshua’s pausing sun and moon,
and brav’dst the tokening sky when Caesar’s power
approached its bloody end: yea, saw’st that Noon
when darkness filled the earth till the ninth hour.

Bloody Valentines Poem

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The Church stories about St. Valentine are a mish-mash of the lives of up to three different clerics who were martyred at any given time.  This is reflected in the relics of St Valentine, with bones from him in Santa Maria Cosmedin in Rome, Whitefriar St. Church in Dublin and St John Duns Scotus in Glasgow.

The most widely accepted version of the story is that he was a Bishop of Terni who was imprisoned on a visit to 3rd Century Rome during the reign of Claudius Gothicus.  The judge, Asterius,  had a blind adopted daughter and Valentine invoked the power of Christianity to cure her.  Asterius then had all his family converted and released his Christian prisoners instead of feeding them to the lions.

On his way home Valentine continued evangelising and was again arrested and this time he was beaten to death with clubs.

While in captivity he penned the first ever Valentines Poem to the formerly blind girl who of course could not read.  She brought it to Asterius who was horrified by the low quality of the poetry he had unleashed upon the world.  In a desperate attempt to right his wrong he had Valentine beaten to death.  But too late.  The story of the tormented poem to unrequited love circulated in the girls schoolyard and then every girl wanted one.

As a result generations of awkward callow youths have been condemned to the practice of translating their inchoate emotions into execrable verse ever since.

Amongst genuine Roman scholars the events described are referred to as “The Crisis of the 3rd Century” and they represent the beginning of the decline and fall of Roman Classical Poetry.

 

Happy Birthday Eleanor Farjeon

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Born this day in 1881 Farjeon is best known as a childrens writer.  She is also the author of the Hymn “Morning Has Broken” set to an old Gaelic air, which was made famous by Cat Stevens, in 1971, six years after Eleanor passed away.

But she saw the men march off to war more than once and this is a very adult poem I give you.  Eleanor was good friends with the poet Edward Thomas who died in 1917 at Arras, and remained a lifelong friend of his widow, Helen, publishing their correspondence in 1958.

 

Now that You Too Must Shortly Go; by Eleanor Farjeon

Now that you too must shortly go the way
which in these bloodshot years uncounted men
have gone in vanishing armies day by day,
and in their numbers will not come again:

I must not strain the moments of our meeting
striving for each look, each accent, not to miss,
or question of our parting and our greeting,
is this the last of all? is this—or this?

Last sight of all it may be with these eyes,
last touch, last hearing, since eyes, hands, and ears,
even serving love, are our mortalities,
and cling to what they own in mortal fears:—
But oh, let end what will, I hold you fast
by immortal love, which has no first or last.

The Eternal Sea

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Politics is the “sea that consantly rages with turmoil and revolution”, and is interpreted by Biblical Theologians as the medium from which the anti-christ will come “I looked and saw a beast coming up from the sea” (Revelations 12:13).

Most people have become far more au fait with this quote which is taken from a poem recited by the priest Father Brennan in the film “The Omen”

When the Jews return to Zion
and a comet rips the sky
and the Holy Roman Empire rises,
then You and I must die.
From the eternal sea he rises,
creating armies on either shore,
turning man against his brother
‘til man exists no more.

Yesterday in Ireland we had a General Election.  Today the votes are being counted.  Storm Ciara rages across the country and knocked out our electricity for an hour.  It has just come back, but it does all feel a bit ominous and biblical.

I’ll take a break from all the madness and watch Italy host France in Rome in 6 nations rugby.  Rome, isn’t that where the Omen began?

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Prune

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Not the dried plum, the act of cutting back.  To prune.

to cut or lop off (twigs, branches, or roots)
to cut or lop superfluous or undesired twigs, branches, or roots from; trim
to rid or clear of (anything superfluous or undesirable)
to remove (anything considered superfluous or undesirable)

1400–50; late Middle English prouynen < Middle French proognier to prune (vines), variant of provigner, derivative of provain scion (< Latin propāgin-, stem of propāgō; see propagate)

This is the time of year to prune.  Prune your fruit trees.  Cut back on your finances.  Economise.  Review your insurance, your direct debits, your outgoings.  Choke off the losses.  Lose weight.  Focus on the framework, the fundamentals, review your career.  Springclean your home, clear out the built up dross.

In Chinese Feng Shui the rule is clear, if your career is stalled clear out your attic.

Slash your friends list on social media.  Kill off the lampreys.  This is the time to prune.  Slim down for the year ahead.

Do it.

Do it.

Do it now.

 

Mirror in February ; by Thomas Kinsella

The day dawns, with scent of must and rain,
of opened soil, dark trees, dry bedroom air.
Under the fading lamp, half dressed – my brain
idling on some compulsive fantasy –
I towel my shaven jaw and stop, and stare,
riveted by a dark exhausted eye,
a dry downturning mouth.

It seems again that it is time to learn,
in this untiring, crumbling place of growth
to which, for the time being, I return.
Now plainly in the mirror of my soul
I read that I have looked my last on youth
and little more; for they are not made whole
that reach the age of Christ.

Below my window the wakening trees,
hacked clean for better bearing, stand defaced
suffering their brute necessities;
and how should the flesh not quail, that span for span
is mutilated more? In slow distaste
I fold my towel with what grace I can,
not young, and not renewable, but man.

Happy Birthday Hadrian

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Roman Emperor Hadrian is probably best known for his walls and his beard.  He sits right in the middle of the good times as the 3rd of the five “good” emperors: Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius.

One of the reasons the emperors were considered good is because they chose good successors, not family.  On this measure Aurelius failed and the lot is reduced to four.

Hadrian was the second Spanish emperor after Trajan, he was born 24th January, 76 AD   in Italica, which is just outside modern day Seville in Spain.  I visted in the summer of 1978.  It was hot.  There was no shade and I am no daywalker.  Bring water – wear sunscreen and a hat!

After the expanision of the empire to its greatest extent by Trajan there was a period of consolidation by Hadrian – hence the walls.  The most famous of which spans northern England.  Less famous but equally impressive are the walls erected in Africa.

Hadrian is responsible for naming Palestine.  His reputation amongst the Jews is not very nice and his name in Jewish texts is often followed by “may his bones be crushed”.  This is because Hadrian put down the final Jewish uprising in the Province of Judea – the Bar Kokhba revolt.

If you look at it from Hadrian’s point of view it is clear that the Jews were a major problem and the empire had been fighting revolt after revolt since 66AD and the reign of Nero.

After the Bar Kokhba revolt was put down the Romans pulled down the fortifications from 50 Jewish cities, leaving their populations exposed to danger.  The Roman provinces of Judaea, Galilee and Samaria were reformed and renamed as “Syria Palestina”.  This is seen as a calculated insult, to rename Jewish lands for their ancient enemies; the Philistines.

The Jews date the Diaspora from the end of the war with Hadrian, and it was the spread of the Jewish people accross the Roman Empire that led indirectly to the flowering of Christianity in the Empire.

Hadrian was also openly gay in the modern sense.  He loved all things Greek, earning him the nickname “The Greekling”.  This love extended to his boyfriend Antinous, a Bythinian Greek Youth who was deified by Hadrian when he drowned in the Nile on an Egyptian holiday (not joking).

The poem below is said to have been inspired by a poem of Emperor Hadrian: Animula, vagula, blandula.

Animula; by T.S. Eliot

‘Issues from the hand of God, the simple soul’
To a flat world of changing lights and noise,
to light, dark, dry or damp, chilly or warm;
moving between the legs of tables and of chairs,
rising or falling, grasping at kisses and toys,
advancing boldly, sudden to take alarm,
retreating to the corner of arm and knee,
eager to be reassured, taking pleasure
in the fragrant brilliance of the Christmas tree,
pleasure in the wind, the sunlight and the sea;
studies the sunlit pattern on the floor
and running stags around a silver tray;
confounds the actual and the fanciful,
content with playing-cards and kings and queens,
what the fairies do and what the servants say.
The heavy burden of the growing soul
perplexes and offends more, day by day;
week by week, offends and perplexes more
with the imperatives of ‘is and seems’
and may and may not, desire and control.
The pain of living and the drug of dreams
curl up the small soul in the window seat
behind the Encyclopædia Britannica.
Issues from the hand of time the simple soul
irresolute and selfish, misshapen, lame,
unable to fare forward or retreat,
fearing the warm reality, the offered good,
denying the importunity of the blood,
shadow of its own shadows, spectre in its own gloom,
leaving disordered papers in a dusty room;
living first in the silence after the viaticum.

Pray for Guiterriez, avid of speed and power,
for Boudin, blown to pieces,
for this one who made a great fortune,
and that one who went his own way.
Pray for Floret, by the boarhound slain between the yew trees,
pray for us now and at the hour of our birth.

 

 

Trader, Missionary, Red Soldier

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First comes the trader, then the missionary, then the red soldier.
Cetshwayo: King of the Zulu, 1879

The “battle” of Rorke’s Drift ended on this day in 1879, the day after the defeat of a British Column at Isandlwana.  The latter was the worst defeat inflicted on a mondern army by a native tribe and was a terrible source of shame to the British Empire.  It is perhaps to redress this shame that 11 Victoria Crosses were handed out for the brave defenders of Rorke’s Drift where 150 British & Colonial troops of the Royal Engineers stood firm against about 3,500 Zulus returning home from Isandlwana.

The Trader of the title was an Irishman.  James Rorke, who bought 1,000 acres on the Buffalo River in 1849.  A natural river ford sat on his land and the Boer call this a “Drift” hence Rorke’s Drift.

To the Zulu it was kwaJimu or “Jims place”.

For 26 years the Irishman operated a trading post at the ford.  He passed away in 1875 and there are mixed accounts about his death.  I have read that he drowned operating a ferry, that he shot himself and that he died of an illness.  For his wife it was an isolated and lonely existence.  After Jim passed away she sold the trading post to the Norwegian Missionary Society in 1878.

The Zulus liked the Irishman with his trade goods.  They did not like Otto Witt the missionary who wanted to sell them a heavenly eternity.  A year later they liked it even less when Lord Chelmsford used the drift as a forward supply point for his invasion of Zulu Natal.  The Red Soldier had arrived.

 

Night Thought; by Harry (Breaker) Morant

The world around is sleeping,
the stars are bright o’erhead,
the shades of myalls weeping
upon the sward are spread;
Among the gloomy pinetops
the fitful breezes blow,
and their murmurs seem the music
of a song of long ago;
Soft, passionate, and wailing
is the tender old refrain –
with a yearning unavailing –
“Will he no come back again?”

The camp-fire sparks are flying
up from the pine-log’s glow,
the wandering wind is sighing
that ballad sweet and low;
The drooping branches gleaming
in the firelight, sway and stir;
And the bushman’s brain is dreaming
of the song she sang, and her.
And the murmurs of the forest
ring home to heart and brain,
as in the pine is chorused
“Wi11 he no come back again?”