Friday, 22 April 2011

More things lay eggs than you might imagine...

I have just left a comment on Judith's blog, thanking her for the introduction to the Ragged Rambler's one, from where she lifted the picture of the 'Crinkle Crankle' wall in her last post.

I said to Judith that he seems to inhabit the same world as I do, though he probably has a head-start because Norfolk has been stuck in the 1950s since 1950. His last post came from Norfolk, and he describes himself as an antiquarian which - I suppose - is the same thing as the 'antiquary' that dear old John Aubrey (above) described himself as, all those hundreds of years ago when amateur academics first became scientifically interested in the pre-historic heritage of their home country. Prior to that, any stones set near a village that seemed to be too large for about 10 men to lift, where attributed as works of the Devil. The Devil must have spent most of his time playing bowls with giants, turning pretty maidens into stone (usually counted as 9, no matter how many were dancing in the field at the time), dropping small mountains which became too burdensome to carry to the next town, etc. etc.

Now I realise that this sort of subject matter is extremely provincial - even within Britain - and may not seem to be relevant to people living outside of here (sorry Grouch). It might not even be relevant to people living inside of here, but it is the world I have decided to spend as much time in as possible, and it is quite rare to come across a like-minded individual who is not a 60 year old, fatuous hippy living in Glastonbury.

Here on BBC Radio 4 (you can get it on the net), there is a re-run of a series of plays by Nick Warburton called 'On Mardle Fen'. At the moment, we are up to play three, and I think there is at least one more to go, as I remember from the first broadcast. It is set in a fictitious, eccentric restaurant in the Cambridgeshire Fens, and contains - for me - all the ingredients to keep me glued to the set for the hour or so that each episode takes to run, including a hefty dose of humour.

I briefly lived in the Cambridge Fens (with Brian Eno's ex-wife and mother-in-law - eeek!), so I know how steeped in sinister mystery the place is, and how the very landscape has been home to all sorts of witches and mal-contents for hundreds, if not thousands of years. One of the first lines in Nick Warburton's play is to do with a basket of eggs which have been put out for sale in the local market, and the narrator says, "More things lay eggs in the fens than you might imagine, and some of them are edible." That sets the scene beautifully.

When I first heard these plays, I emailed Nick Warburton to tell him how much I liked them, and we exchanged a few messages during which he said that he had the same admiration for John Aubrey as I did, then a few weeks later, I was driving along to a church near Malmesbury where I was helping H.I. restore a medieval 'Doom Board', when I heard a play by Nick which featured the life of Aubrey. The church where this rare medieval relic is situated is closely associated with the Aubrey family, and John Aubrey himself attended it regularly when young. There is graffiti carved into the pews by 17th century schoolboys and - for all I know - one of them might of been the man himself.

Like I say, I want to spend as much time in this world as possible, and with the help of people like Nick and the Rambler, I get to spend a little more each day.


  1. In case you hadn't realised, if you click on the coloured words, you will be lead down some other crinkle-crankle paths that run through my world.

  2. I was reading just today about Tasmanian Aboriginal rock art and how similar it is to pre history European art. So, the radio plays may not be relevant to us folk but the history of the devil partying with large rocks is definitely not provincial!
    Re; your last post - ripping yarns, yes. Go for it! Du Maurier's Jamaica Inn was part of forming ideas for me when I was a teen and to understanding the kind of folk I work with fishing. Palin did it for me too. (Was it Palin?)Ripping Yarns, oh yes please.

  3. It was an unbroken sequence for the Aborigines for about 50,000 years - until we turned up and broke it.

    Re the ripping yarn, I have started on it and once I have developed a way of narrating it that doesn't remind me of 'Moonfleet', I will post it up, Sarah. This might take a while...

  4. The Cambridgeshire Fens are the stuff of many a nightmare. Flat, windswept, mind-turning, murderous; a gallows at every crossroads. The seat of Cromwell, and thunderous organ pipes. I would suggest it's best avoided even though Cobbett much admired the Huntingdon area (agriculturally).

  5. I come originally from the fens of Lincolnshire Tom and i can vouch for the fact Tom that there are more things in heaven and earth down there Tom (or Horatio for that matter) than you and I ever dreamed of. And that includes eggs/

  6. Romney Marsh and the smugglers - also the stuff of nightmares... but not mine! Cobbett also described the Surrey beauty spot, 'The Devil's Punchbowl' (busy old devil) as "the most God forsaken spot on earth". He obviously never visited Slough.

  7. So that's why you are a basket weaver, Weaver?

  8. It's a great blog, the Ramblers' blog. I am enjoying the rambles vicariously. When I lived in the UK in the 70s I did quite a bit of rambling in the weekends. I just love the word "ramble" - so laid back. I've never heard the word used in NZ, except occasionally when referring to someone talking - ie, rambling on and on much as I am doing in this comment ... sorry, shutting up now.

  9. Don't shut up, Judith - I love rambles.

  10. From one writer, entangled in history and fiction, to another ... don't ever forget that the men and women you are write about are of the same genetic and emotional makeup as ourselves. As soon as we cast smugglers, sealers etc as cliqued heroes and villains, we lose them.
    They still had their 'local', their post natal depression, their nearing death and knowing it, their arguments about who dealt with the garbage (or the brandy bottles) ...

  11. Quite true, Sarah - and they had more 'locals' than we do today, except that they were not called 'The Smuggler's Rest'.

    The Cornish smuggling trade went on for a long time, and involved the patronage of many titled land-owners. At it's peak, the lost revenue was counted in MILLIONS of pounds in Cornwall alone, and everybody was involved. A schoolteacher in Penzance (I think) became their banker, and used to launder about £6000 a week in France - this was at a time when the average wage was £25 a month.

    When they finally put the lid on it in the 19th century, everyone became destitute. They stayed destitute until they thought of offering Cornwall as a tourist destination in early Victorian times. No wonder they still turn the road signs back to front.