I’ve been doing some reading about Boudica lately, and the authentic way to follow her is to burn down Colchester and London before marching up the A5 to do the same thing to St Albans. However, there’s now a more peaceful option.
South Norfolk Council have recently linked together 40 miles of footpaths that run from Norwich to Diss, tactfully stopping well short of anything combustible. Dixe Wills has given Boudica’s Way a try and reports his findings here in the Guardian. He also explodes some of the wilder myths about the Queen of the Iceni, including the one about her being buried under a platform at Kings Cross Station.
(Of course she isn’t. She’s buried in a field outside Towcester. Allegedly.)
Boudica’s Way looks like a good candidate for the list of Things to Do When The Rush Stops. Meanwhile, I’ll be visiting Wendover and Haddenham libraries tomorrow, where wild warrior women will hopefully be thin on the ground.
Spent the weekend at the Crime Writers’ Association conference in sunny Lincoln. Crime writers are a surprisingly cheery bunch considering what must be going on in their imaginations.
It would have been good to have more time in Lincoln, which turns out to be stuffed with historical buildings, including this Roman wall now doubling as a rockery in a hotel garden. (Should that be ‘an’ hotel? Does anybody care?)
And this arch, apparently the only Roman gateway in the world still used (and occasionally damaged) by traffic:
The abiding memory of the weekend, though, will be two insights into the minds of our ancestors. Here’s a detail from the inside of the Cathedral:
…which is part of this screen, which is in turn part of a colossal and ornate building that wouldn’t fit in a photo.
An interesting contrast with what you’d have seen if you’d been unlucky enough to attend chapel as an inmate of the Victorian Prison a few hundred yards down the road:
Note the high front and the wooden shutters to each side, which were specially placed so that the inmates could see only the preacher and not each other. The seat is deliberately set at an angle so you slide off if you fall asleep.
I shan’t be drawing any morals here, but would just like to point out that the Cathedral is still in use, while the prison chapel only remains as a museum piece.
While the cat’s been getting on with the proofreading, I’ve been reading Mary Beard’s ‘Pompeii: the life of a Roman town’ – a refreshing mix of scholarship and common sense.
Some cunning archaeologist has figured out from the wear on the paving stones that Pompeii must have had a one-way system. Looking at the width of most of the streets, it’s the only sensible explanation. Before we get too excited about this triumph of town planning, however, we need to bear in mind that they also seem to have had an amphitheatre to hold 20,000 people which had no toilets at all. (Maybe that’s what the famous fight with the Nucerians [AD59] was all about?)
Three very different bookshop experiences yesterday.
First, Oxbow books – the history/archaeology specialists. The hub of their postal sales empire has an atmosphere that combines bookshop, library, and warehouse. The display is practical rather than decorative and you have to squint to read the titles in the shadowy regions of the lower shelves – but it’s worth it. Oxbow offer treasures that you can’t find in mainstream shops. Naturally I’ve had to add several of them to the overflow piles on the floor of what’s supposed to be the Writing Room, but is rapidly turning into the hidey-hole for books whose purchase I have not yet mentioned to Husband.
Second, Blackwell’s in Broad Street – several floors stuffed with everything a reader needs, including a coffee shop with leather armchairs where you can sit and gaze out at the mellow stone of the Sheldonian Theatre. Here a small but perfectly-formed group gathered in the Shakespeare section to discuss crime writing. Thanks to everyone who came and asked possibly the most interesting and thoughtful set of questions I can recall at an event. Well, it was Oxford…
Finally on to the Posh End of bookselling. Blackwell’s are the official booksellers for the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival, and currently have a huge and splendid marquee looking out over Christ’s Meadow. (For ‘marquee’ read ‘fabric conservatory’ rather than ‘big tent’.) Surrounded by people who might have been famous writers (I never know what anybody looks like) a non-famous writer sat and signed a stack of copies of ‘Ruso and the Demented Doctor’ (Medicus 2) because the UK PAPERBACK IS OUT THIS MONTH! HOORAY!
Thanks to Zool and Rita at Blackwell for organising things and for understanding that yes, the way to a writer’s heart is to ply them with coffee.