Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Holding hands with the present, the past and the future

I think I need to sort out my computer as I seem to have lost the ability to download photos (and add links). So please imagine an image of a small hand holding a big hand.

I'm fairly convinced that I've lost a handful of followers after the Vindolanda post (recent one) about the discovery of a child's skeleton there. I can understand why (at least I think I can) although it still hurts to lose followers.

I'll try to explain why there's a mixed message in there.

I would never hurt a child or a person...in thought, word or deed but I know that I'm no angel. (Although I would like to be one and try to be an angel every day. I love getting on with everyone but I'm human...I do have bad moods. I do lose my temper. I'm not the most patient person in the world although I try to be and so on. I would not lay a finger on anyone...in fact I'm harder on myself than anyone else. Especially when I mess up!)

I've always wanted to write...ever since I was very little. I've also been very interested in the crime genre - Raymond Chandler, Ed McBain, Dashiell Hammett and so on. Paradoxically since I've had children I now can't cope with any visual violence and much less..with the current fashion for showing very graphic violence to women, men and children on screen. I run away from that stuff and hide behind the sofa. Give me "Downton Abbey" every time. That's why I like "Morse" because it is a cerebral "cop" show. I don't really see anything in it which makes me head for the hills. Perfect. I get a good night's sleep.

I do try to imagine the dark side of life. Why? Because it's there and I can't get away from it. In fact some fairly awful things happened to my close family (in the last war) and to a former boss. (I can't quite bring myself to discuss these in public just yet.) So my active imagination runs away with things at times. I've learned that there's no point in hiding these things under the carpet. They have to be brought out and examined in broad daylight from time to time. In fact, to be an effective guide or storyteller, I have to think about them. Whether I like it or not.

I'm also sleeping more easily these days as little boy sleeps in the same bed with me (which he has done for years now)...holding my hand. I love the feeling of his little hand in mine when he falls asleep at night. It is a feeling that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Little girl is more feisty and independent but even she has an amazing imagination. She is very artistic and is constantly drawing pictures. She is an amazing storyteller. She's also soft at heart and loves her hugs.

We've had a bit of a battle recently as she won't go to sleep. She's afraid of the dark. She's afraid of the house burning down. So much so...I got the fire brigade in to fit extra fire alarms. To little effect. She's moved into our room too. Everyone goes to bed at 8pm now and we all sleep soundly. If I'm lucky I can get them to sleep and creep downstairs to watch a bit of telly. The stuff that doesn't frighten me that is!

I'd still like to write. If I ever get the time to do it. If I do...I'll be intrigued to see whether it features the dark and bleak stuff or not....

By the way I'm still dealing with our accounts and coming to the end of the guiding season at Vindolanda. So it's.........

Bye for now! Hadriana xx

PS: My next post will be on "end of the guiding season".
Sorry that I'm a bit rubbish at getting back to your comments. I will try really hard to do that from now on - now that the main busy B&B season is coming to an end.... :)

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Sharing passions

I  do have other passions apart from the Romans and the Reivers.
I love film and all types of music but have a special soft spot for Jazz.
These two worlds collided magically when Jamie Cullum interviewed Clint Eastwood on Radio 2 recently. (I'm a big fan of both!) http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2010/08_august/17/jamie_clint.shtml
I am in the midst of doing some bookkeeping for the B&B and had hoped to listen to these two programmes via the BBC's i-player. I've found that they are not there...sob!
Nevertheless I found these lovely clips (especially the last one part four) of these two very talented men: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00tmtvg
So it's back to boring accounts...and I'll console myself by listening to Jamie's current programme:
What do you listen to when trying to tackle those difficult, boring jobs? Any tips? :)

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Reivers' Riddle Resolved!

Left: Photo of The Cursing Stone in Carlisle.
Left: Some of the Border Reiver Lands

I could write a whole post just on the Cursing Stone itself...click here if you'd like to read more about the Curse of the Cursing Stone! It's all about the Border Reivers and if you've not heard about the Reivers before then the BBC have written a good summary of those three hundred years or so lawless days here. "To reiv" means "to raid".

The main families (and there were very many) Reiving names are here: Armstrong, Bell, Burn, Charlton, Crozier, Dacre, Dodds, Douglas, Elliott, Fenwick, Forster, Graham, Hall, Harden, Irvine, Johnston, Kerr, Maxwell, Milburn, Noble, Reid (Reed), Robson, Scott, Turnbull. More surnames of the Reiving Families are listed here. (All these names still belong to families living in this area.)

Now back in 1997/8 I had, albeit unknowingly, met a descendant of a famous Reiving Family in my banking days when I worked at the French Bank - Crédit Lyonnais in the City. The descendant was a futures trader working for a very successful CL subsidiary, CLRouse, based in the same building as myself  - in Appold Street near Liverpool Street Station. Our paths crossed when I was attempting to understand more about the different products sold by the bank. My job was to sell those products to other foreign banks based in the City. Or at least to mention them when I was trying to sell CL's sterling clearing services to those said banks. (A pretty uphill task, as I was to find out, given CL's parlous state of affairs back in the 1990's. The global bank went bankrupt a few times and each time the French taxpayer bailed it out. Let's say it started the trend before it caught on with other banks!)

Anyway this Reiver descendant chap was tall, dark, handsome (he had more than a passing resemblance to Liam Neeson, sigh,) and from his accent I deduced that he came from Northern Ireland. His name (and his accent) intrigued me. We discovered at the end of a business meeting that we both knew Málaga in Spain. We flirted a little and as I was a single girl at the time...I thought why not?! but the "romance" (such as it was) was doomed. Our only chance of meeting up was via coincidental meetings in the shared floorspace in the building e.g. by the lifts (plus he started work in the mornings far earlier than I did). Nevertheless even after our paths did actually cross it quickly dawned on us that we really did not have much in common. The small talk rapidly petered out.

And his name? Well - his name was/is ??? I'll reveal that in a minute.

Despite the end of the "romance", I was still marooned in my sinecure which left me with a lot of spare time and my mind wandered. I hated to be bored. I was obsessed by languages (one of the excellent perks of the CL job was the free French lessons) thus I decided that his name must be local to Northern Ireland. Did it come from a dialect? I wondered. I scoured maps (back in those pre-internet days) and any other resource on which I could lay my hands. What did I find? Absolutely Zilch. Zero. Nicht. Nada. A Big Fat Rien. I remained unenlightened.

And so our paths went their separate ways. Within a couple of years I'd left the bank to go to another bank elsewhere in the City. In the meantime I'd heard, on the grapevine, that he'd left CLRouse to work for a bank abroad.

And that was it, completely it....I'd utterly forgotten about it all until a couple of years ago.

I was drinking tea and idly watching Alistair Moffat's The Reivers and The Making of The Borders on ITV. This particular episode was all about the Reiving Graham Family and what became of them...(I bet you can guess the punchline by now but I certainly hadn't).  The fate of the lawless Graham/Grahem family involved them being expelled to Ireland. How did they respond? They simply changed their name and got back over here. They had changed their surname to Meharg and so they quietly slipped back into England hoodwinking the authorities yet again. Of course, when I heard this, I nearly choked on my cup of char. The Reiver descendant's name which had so flummoxed me was - Grahem Meharg (a veritable palindrome). The answer to the riddle had been staring me in the face all along!

Fast forward to this month - September 2010..with Mr.H. loving the history of this area as much as I do. . .

We had some Scottish guests staying with us who had not heard of the Border Reivers. This is understandable as they came from a coastal part of Scotland far from the Border area. (The Reivers are not widely known outside this region although many Americans, who are researching their family history, come over to learn more about their ancestors and know a lot about them.)

When Mr. H. got onto the subject of the Reiving Grahams/Grahems' name change the Scottish lady spluttered into her tea too when she heard the story! It turns out that they know some Mehargs as well. Those Mehargs, it seems, may well be unaware of their Border roots as they think their name was McHarg or something similar given that it is so unusual. The Scottish lady's husband who was also present, plies his trade in linguistics and dialects so he too was extremely taken by all of this. "A palindromic riddle solved" as Mr.H. so aptly put it.

So there you have it. Here is a short history of the Grahams/Grahems (for a lengthier version the BBC has done a sterling job here) - I've quoted an extract from this brilliant website - The Debatable Lands Beyond The Wall:

"A couple of tales exist relating to where the Graham clan came from. One states they were descendents of a man called Graeme, who in Roman times helped to breach the Antonine Wall which ran between the Rivers Clyde and Forth. However it is more likely that they were of Norman French origin and initially settled in Grantham in Lincolnshire from which they took their name. Their original name is likely to have been De Grantham, which over the years changed to De Graham and finally shortened to Graham.

It is known that the clan moved to Scotland in 12th Century where a William de Graham is recorded in 1127. The Grahams were accepted as Scottish citizens after one of the clan married into the native Scottish family of Strathearn. Whilst spread throughout areas of both Scotland and England, The Graham clan were mainly associated with Dumfriesshire and Cumberland.

The Grahams are one of the most notorious of the Reiver families and often raided the lands of their arch enemies the Robsons of North Tynedale.in Northumberland. By 1552 legend states that the Graham clan was at least 500 strong occupying 13 Pele towers.

Following the Union of England and Scotland in 17th Century, some of the most ruthless Grahams were sent to Ireland with other tribesmen including Kerrs, Armstrongs and Eliots and forbidden to return."

Have you had any similar mysteries in your lives and did you get to solve them?

(P.S.: I'm hoping to get back to telling my tales of banking life in The City (in chronological order). Apologies to everyone whose blog I have not visited for a while. Hope you are all well. Life seems to be continually hectic but I'm hoping to get over to your blog in the end. Hopefully before Christmas 2011!)

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Grisly Vindolanda Discovery



Vindolanda archaeologists are well used to finding thousands of the Roman army’s old weapons, armour, coins and household effects, but they received a nasty shock last week when a volunteer found an almost complete human skeleton buried in a pit in a barrack room floor. Human burials in built-up areas like forts and towns was strictly forbidden in Roman times – the dead had to be interred or cremated in cemeteries on the outskirts – so the archaeologists at first assumed before the complete skeleton was uncovered that the remains must be those of a large dog. But when the complete skeleton was examined by an anthropologist, Dr Trudy Buck, of Durham University, she quickly realised that the bones were those of a young person, possibly a girl, aged between 8 and 10 years old.

The pit in the barracks dated to the mid third century AD, when the Fourth Cohort of Gauls formed the garrison, and the concealment of the body in this fashion was a criminal act – and it is hoped that further study of the remains may reveal the cause of death.

Dr Andrew Birley, Vindolanda’s Director of Excavations commented: “In the 1930’s my grandfather, Eric Birley, found two skeletons concealed below a floor in a civilian building at Housesteads, one of whom had the blade of a knife stuck in the ribs, and the later coroner’s inquest duly produced a verdict of murder by person or persons unknown, shortly before AD367. I’m sorry to say that Vindolanda has probably produced another Roman murder victim, from around the AD 250’s and I shudder to think how this young person met their fate”.

When the forensic examination has been completed at Durham University, the skeleton will be returned to the Vindolanda Museum and will then come under the care and protection of museum curatorial staff. Visitors to the museum will be able to see the mortal remains of the unknown youth, whose fate has only been discovered nearly 1800 years after their death, and the results of the forensic examination next spring.

Patricia Birley: Director, Vindolanda Trust
Since the skeleton was identified as being that of a human - everyone who works at Vindolanda was sworn to secrecy about it. And rightly so.
I got to hear about it just under a week ago. For the last two weeks I have either been guiding there or showing friends around. Until the end of yesterday (as well) I had also been staying at my parents' house looking after my 94.5 years young grandfather. The parental dwelling is a converted Methodist chapel and the small boiler house, at one side of it, contains stones pilfered from Vindolanda hundreds of years ago. I'm convinced that a certain stone, they have, is of Roman origin as well.
As such, last week I got swept up and into Vindolanda skeleton cabin fever.
Everyone is taken aback at the grisly find. It was completely unexpected and it was found in a very unusual place that's why it was mistaken for being a large dog at first. The Romans cremated their dead. It was later under Hadrian that they began to bury their dead along roads away from towns. Sometimes they would be buried with grave goods. Tony Wilmott, the English Heritage Archaeologist, is leading a very interesting project looking at a Roman cemetery up at Birdoswald Fort.
When I heard about the discovery of this skeleton I was shocked myself. I'm still learning a lot about archaeology - absorbing what goes on and how it becomes a science. As far as I know everything is recorded in minute detail...the exact location of the find, what it is, how it can be accurately dated (or not), where it came from, who owned it, who made it, who transported it, how it was transported, et cetera. Every find is given a number, indexed...then the long and costly process of preservation begins. A report has to be written on every find and if we, the public, are lucky - the find then goes on display. Even the display of the object can be a tricky and time consuming process. The cabinets, which are to hold the delicate and fragile Vindolanda writing tablets, are said to cost half a million pounds each.
So there you have a very broad brush explanation of the archaeological process - as I say...I am by no means an expert. I'm trying hard to soak up information about it. I find it fascinating and would like to do some digging at Vindolanda next season if I am lucky. Vindolanda takes on volunteers from all around the world so sometimes it can be a fight for places! My fingers are crossed.
I'm one of many who have been watching the delightful Alice Roberts take us through the different ages of archaeology in the recent "Digging for Britain" series. The shocking discovery of this child at Vindolanda (my own daughter is nearing the age of the child who may have been murdered by person or persons unknown in the mid third century) has made me think long and hard about it all.
We can all get a bit laidback about it: "Oh here is another leather shoe!" or "Here is a bit of Samian ware!" but when the remains of a human being are found in a place where they are not expected to be found...then the reality hits home. I find it difficult to write, think or put some sensible words together regarding what was a brief, horrifyingly expunged human life. It is just truly shocking and incredibly sad that someone so young should have their life ended in dire circumstances.
As I write violent images are conjured up in my head. My first instinct is to go back in time and save that young child's life - ensuring that I take them away from harm. I am incredibly soft at heart and detest any conflict whatsoever. I cry over anything that is remotely emotional. I detest moods or anything that smacks of "the black dog" being in the air. If I sense it, like a hunting dog, I will try to steer other people away from it....whether it is inside me or in others.
As much as I am in thrall to the Roman way of life I realise that there is a side to them that cannot be softened no matter what: Gladatorial combat to the death for public amusement, slavery, war, the imperial army as a fighting force...the list continues. Nevertheless I think we are mesmerised by them because they reflect our way of life far more than the Anglo Saxons, Normans or even the Tudors ever will do. (The Victorians begin to sidle up to us some more - running parallel lives to us.)
But I want to point out that there is an unmistakeable, unstable side in all of us, even me...as soft as I am. The wrong thought, word or deed can pop out when least expected (but I have to emphasize that I do not condone physical or mental violence of any sort!)...

I wonder whether this child ended up being in the "wrong place at the wrong time" receiving a strong cuff, causing him/her to fall over and strike their head and die. (It could have been much worse than this.) Panic ensues: "Quick!" "Cover up the body before anyone sees!" Maybe the body is then placed somewhere where it cannot be found before the cry goes up from the fort village (vicus) that a child is missing. The guilty party or parties feel that they have to take part in those search parties to look for the missing child...going out into the daylight or dark with a hard knot in their stomach(s)...delving into nearby streams or woods............knowing that this time that sickening feeling will be with them for the rest of their lives...and can never be so easily blotted out. Not even with a sacrifice to the gods...
(I want to emphasize over and over again. . . that I do not condone violence to anyone - whether they be a child or adult of any sort. Nevertheless the world is an ambiguous place...look at our fascination with crime and murder books. In my ideal world I would not have a bad thing said about anyone to anybody nor anything bad happen to anyone! I'm also a realist and know that bad stuff happens. Very, very sadly.)

And I feel for Dr. Andrew Birley...the Director of Excavations, under whose watch the skeleton was found...he too has two young children. He too must have that awful churning feeling - thinking about the fate of that vulnerable child. Nevertheless I am a great believer in fate and, perhaps, in this uncovering of the unknown child, in this second millennium, its spirit can, finally, be put to rest. . .

Monday, 6 September 2010

Hadriana's Holiday Pics


Little Miss H. Feeding Swans at Abbotsbury Swannery
Model Village at Wimbourne Minster
Ringo and the Rev. Awdry...he of"Thomas - the Tank Engine" Fame
Beach Hut Life & BBQ in sunny Whitstable, Kent

OK. So I admit it. I've battled with technology (I really am fed up with computers+stuff. I want to go back to wax and wooden tablets.) as the photos have not gone in as I would have wished but you are all grown ups or pretend to be so I'm sure you can work it all out.

We like Dorset so we went on holiday there for a week or so. We then spent a week seeing friends and family in the Southern bit of the UK.

As a helpful guide I can give you this running order:

Hadrian's Wall, A69, M6, various roads leading to Dorset, West Bexington beside the marvellous and very nice Beach Hive Cafe at Burton Bradstock...super fish restaurant on the beach and comes well recommended. AA Gill managed to say some agreeable things about it and so he should. Bridport, Abbotsbury, Dorchester (really had to restrain myself not to go and see the Roman stuff) so we went to see the Dinosaur Museum instead. We went to Maiden Castle, which is very picturesque, but made me realise how much I love the Roman stuff. The Romans, like 'em or not...left stuff behind to see!). Criss crossed the countryside several times so we saw Hardy's Monument a few times. Oodles of wonderful Dorset Ice Cream. Yummy farm shops (name check: Washing Pool Farm Shop and Cafe at Bridport).

What else?
Abbotsbury Pirate Play Barn (Loads of piratical history in the huge tithe barn plus play areas for children and grown ups, animal farm, horse rides etc. etc.) Plus Abbotsbury Sub-Tropical Garden and Swannery...kept us well amused for most of the week. Went to Weymouth briefly...it was the low point of an otherwise unimpeachable  week as we were hungry and were kept waiting for nearly an hour for food. When we asked for our money back..the manager stated that "we had made a complicated order"!! Luckily we found a very efficient tea shop behind the unnamed place and they fed us quickly putting us in a better mood. Hope unnamed place improves service/manner in time for The Olympics.

Er. What's left to tell? Left our very comfortable self catering place and set off for Wimbourne Minster Model Village. Loved it but did REALLY love the whole history of how the Rev. Awdry dreamed up Thomas the Tank Engine stories...lots of fascinating photos on the walls. Done the old fashioned way. Hurrah! Peep! Peep!

Saw my best Spanglish friend in Newbury who's recently been made a Professor and her daughter was born ten days before my daughter. Ole! Well done to her on both counts!

Next day off to Surrey to see the Southern Relations.

From there we went to Kent to see our diving friend who is very proud of her beach hut in Whitstable. E is amazing. Mr. H. taught her to dive when she was 59 and she's travelled the world diving. She's my diving buddy. Her family plus us hung out at the beach hut for that one gorgeous night before we had to head back Oop North.

BTW - recommended Northern eating places, which I shall revisit, are: Piercebridge Organic Farm  Shop and Cafe (just off A1). Roman remains there too. Haydon Bridge - General Havelock Inn (good grub - barside and restaurant side...on the Tyne) and Blackfriars Restaurant in Medieval Newcastle. I'll come back to these recommendations because they are well worth talking about. Before I forget: The Feathers Inn - Stocksfield. Yum.

Children back to school tomorrow after a splendiferous week of sun up here. I've started guiding again at Vindolanda and had a very good crowd there on Friday. I do so like being there.

N.B.:Digging for Britain - Marvellous Archaeological Series. First episode - brill on Romans and Vindolanda. All well worth looking at. Dr. Alice finishes off with The Tudors this week.

Tony Robinson started a Geological Series on "The Birth of Britain" last Wednesday 10pm - National Geographic Channel. Not seen it as yet but it sounds very, very interesting.