In 1827, in the small village of Polstead in Suffolk, England, a local farmer called William Corder killed his lover, Maria Marten, the daughter of the village mole catcher.
So what? A common place tale, of interest to nobody apart from the killer, the victim and their respective families and friends. Yet for some reason the story caught the imagination of the public and the press to such a degree that it immediately spawned ballads (one supposedly by the very murderer) and plays (still performed on stage). In fact, the first play was penned before the trial was even held!
Come all you thoughtless young men, a warning take by me,
And think upon my unhappy fate to be hanged upon a tree;
My name is William Corder, to you I do declare,
I courted Maria Marten, most beautiful and fair.
(The Murder of Maria Marten by W. Corder)
There are various macabre details to the story, some of which concerns a book I saw this weekend in the town museum of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk – occasioning this post. Do you know what anthropodermic bibliopegy is? If not, I dare you to read on!
En la edad prehistórica, la Península Ibérica fue, claramente, el lugar donde vivir – como se puede ver en este mapa:
Bueno. Hace un año tenía una vacación estupenda en Ribadesella en Asturias – uno de esos lugares, donde sólo los españoles (y surfistas americanos) viajan para veranear y donde es, de hecho, es muy útil ser capaz de hablar español. Puedes encontrarlo en el mapa arriba, donde dice Tito Bustillo.
La Cueva Tito Bustillo, que está unos diez o quince minutos de distancia del centro de Ribadesella andando, es un patriomonio de la humanidad de la UNESCO (como la mejor conocida Altamira). Fue descubierto solo en los años 1960 por unos jovenes, quienes, evidentemente, tenían nada mejor que hacer, y le pusieron el nombre de unos de ellos, quien murió en un accidente de espeleología un poco más tarde. En la cueva descubrieron pinturas y herramientas de la Edad de Piedra; las pinturas más antiguos tienen unos 30 mil años. En un rincón hay unas pinturas de… eh… genitales femeninos, que fueron descubiertos, muy apropriadamente, por una miembro del grupo buscando un poco de privacidad para orinar. O, por le menos, eso dice el guía de turismo. 🙂
In prehistoric times, the Iberian Peninsula was clearly the place to be – as attested by this map:
Now a year ago I had a great holiday in Ribadesella in Asturias – one of those places where only the Spanish (and American surfers) go on holiday to and it’s very useful to be actually able speak Spanish. You can find it on the map above where it says Tito Bustillo.
The Tito Bustillo Cave, some ten-fifteen minutes walk from the centre of Ribadesella, is a UNESCO World Heritage site (like the much better known Altamira). It was only discovered in the 1960s by a group of young people who evidently had nothing better to do and it’s named after one of them who died young in a caving accident. Cave paintings and stone age tools were found in the cave, the oldest paintings being about 30 thousand years old. In a hidden corner there are some paintings of… er… female genitalia which were, appropriately enough, discovered by a female member of the caving party who looked for some privacy to relieve herself. Or at least, so the tour guide says. 🙂
About a year ago I looked back at 2018, admitted it had been a real struggle to keep the blog going and hoped for things to go better in 2019. Well, I can tell you this: they didn’t (if you didn’t work this out already for yourselves by the scarcity of the posts). What can I say? May 2020 be better than 2019 and may I write some good posts this year! 🙂
But while you’re waiting for those posts, let’s have a quick review at some of the books of 2019: books you might enjoy – or you’ll want to avoid! 🙂
By the way, if you ever want to know what I’m reading, you can always take a look at the Reading Log (which I do try to keep reasonably up-to-date).
I had to write a Who’s Who page for the blog as Mr Anglo-Saxonist heard on the radio that in America an Anglo-Saxonist is not merely a person obsessed by Anglo-Saxon history but some species of unsavoury character… and requested that I make it clear that he’s merely the first but not the latter!
Since I was going to write a Who’s Who, I felt I might as well include the more obscure authors and historical figures that populate these pages.
It is a work in progress…
…but I thought I’d share the first instalment with you.
By way of kicking off the new year. Happy New Year to you all, by the way! 🙂
An enterprising employee of the Bible Society of London who went to to peddle a forbidden book up and down the land of civil war torn, Catholic Spain in the 19th century. A gifted linguist and a born adventurer, Borrow wrote his highly entertaining story up in… The Bible in Spain. (I don’t have to spell out what book he was selling, do I?)
An English sailor and historian who fell in love with the Mediterranean during World War II. He wrote histories and travel books in an entertaining, relaxed style, eminently suited for holiday reading. If you only ever read one book about the Battle of Thermopylae, read his. More about him in Sailing into History.
Bernal Díaz del Castillo
A Spanish conquistador who took part in the conquest of Mexico with Hernán Cortez. He described his experiences in the The Conquest of New Spain.
Alonso de Contreras
A Spanish soldier of fortune in the 17th century. Contreras mostly served in the Mediterranean against the Turks although he also visited the Indias where he fought against Sir Walter Raleigh. A hot head and a womaniser, he often got into trouble for killing when not on the battle field; he was imprisoned several times and even lived as a hermit for a while. He wrote his life’s story up in The Adventures of Captain Alonso de Contreras.
A German monk with the gift of the gab who twice went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the Red Sea and Egypt in the 1480s and then wrote a detailed account of his travels. He can be a bit boring on occasion – when he describes every stone and tree stump in Jerusalem and the number of indulgences he received for kissing them – but he had an open and enquiring mind and he did go on pilgrimage in a then enemy country. Well worth persevering with. (Or take him in small (tasty) bites here on Waterblogged.)
Antonio de Nebrija
The man who wrote the first grammar of a ‘vulgar’ tongue in Europe; he dedicated his grammar of the Castilian language to Queen Isabella and his foreword continues to be quoted to this day.
Who is only obscure outside England…!
An English children’s author (and supposed spy) who wrote the Swallows and Amazons series about the outdoor adventures of some enterprising children. Unlike Enid Blyton, Ransome wrote well enough to be an entertaining read even for adults.
A dissident Russian author in the second half of the 20th century. He was kicked out of university for not taking the compulsory military training seriously enough (he cheeked the major in charge). Best known for his highly subversive novel, Moscow Stations – wickedly funny.
There’s a popular saying in Spain, principally in Asturias, a province on the Bay of Biscay in Northern Spain, which goes:
Asturias es España, y lo demás tierra conquistada.
Asturias is Spain, and the rest is conquered land.
It makes reference to the Battle of Covadonga, 722 A.D. when the troops of Don Pelayo, king of Asturias, defeated the invading Moors. The battle is considered the starting point of the reconquista, the reconquest of Spain from the Moors (a long process of wars which ended with the taking of Granada in 1492). Legend would have it that Pelayo and his 300 defeated an army of 180,000 Moors. Historically speaking, it’s more likely that the Moors were not quite so numerous, nor Pelayo’s lot so few but – why spoil the legend? It’s still a famous victory for those defending their homeland.
As a consequence of Don Pelayo’s victory, Asturias has never been conquered by the Moors which explains the above saying.
Hace unas semanas he escrito unas líneas sobre Alonso de Contreras, un soldado español del siglo XVI, cuyas memorias inspiraron la vida del capitán Alatriste, el conocido héroe de Arturo Pérez-Reverte. Cosa que al parecer no le gustó a casi nadie (pero a mí sí que me gustó escribirlo). Si no lo has leído, puedes encontrarlo aquí:
A few weeks ago I wrote some lines about Alonso de Contreras, a Spanish soldier from the 16th century, whose memoirs inspired the life of Captain Alatriste, the well-known hero of Arturo Pérez-Reverte. A piece that apparently almost nobody liked (but I did like writing it). If you haven’t read it, you can find it here:
Bueno. Como mencioné en ese post, Alonso de Contreras no fue el único soldado español que escribió sobre su vida. Hoy os voy a recomendar dos libros más; porque, creed me, la historia es mejor que la ficción.
Anyway. As I mentioned in that post, Alonso de Contreras wasn’t the only Spanish soldier who wrote about his life. Today I’m going to recommend you two more books; because, believe me, history is indeed better than fiction.
A murderer at the the age of thirteen, exiled from Madrid… what future would have had a boy like that?
Well, it seems that he had a pretty interesting future. So interesting that later he considered it worthwhile to write his memoirs. So interesting in fact that these memoirs gave life to a character in a well-known – at least in Spain – novel. And this character, in turn, gave life to a character in a TV series…
Do you know who they are?
If you have seen the original Spanish version of this post, you may have noted that it contains several quotes by Eduardo Marquina. They are from his play En Flandes se ha puesto el sol, The Sun Has Set in Flanders. Unfortunately, I was unable to find an English translation of this work, and I most definitely draw the line at trying to translate poetry. My apologies, but apart from a brief excerpt, you'll just have to do without.
Asesino a la edad de trece años, desterrado de la Villa… ¿qué futuro habría tenido un chico como aquello?
Pues parece que tenía un futuro bastante interesante. Tan interesante que más tarde le valdría la pena escribir sus memorias. Tan interesante, de hecho, que estas memorias dieron vida a un personaje en una novela muy conocida. Quién, a su vez, dio vida a un personaje de una serie de la televisión…
Capitán y español, no está avezado
a curarse de herida, que ha dejado
intacto el corazón dentro del pecho.
(Eduardo Marquina: En Flandes se ha puesto el sol)
For certain unfortunate reasons I don’t wish to detail here, I struggled to keep the blog going last year and, as you might have noticed, there were times when weeks went by without me being able to publish any other post than the weekly quote. Nevertheless, I still did manage to read a few books… so to start the new year off (may it be better than the last), let’s look back on some of last year’s readings.
Books you might enjoy – or you’ll want to avoid! 🙂
A hundred years ago, on the Western Front, effectively marking the end of World War I.
My great-grandfather was conscripted in World War I – was taken prisoner of war and survived. My grandfather was conscripted in World War II and disappeared without a trace, leaving his son born posthumously, out of wedlock. What about your family?
Listen to the moment when the guns fell silent and let’s remember all the victims of war – whether soldiers or civilians. (The recording was released by the Imperial War Museum.)
Ribadesella is a small town in a spectacular setting at the mouth of the River Sella right under the Picos de Europa. Cliffs protect its wide sandy bay. You can surf, swim, go kayaking on the river or hiking in the mountains. Plus there’s a cave with 30 thousand year old cave paintings, practically in town.
Well may you wonder why you’ve never heard of it.
Perhaps because Ribadesella is the place where the Spanish go on holiday. You hardly hear a foreign word in the street. This is a different Spain from the Spain of package holidays.
Enjoy this short pictorial history of the town – brought to you by the Municipality of Ribadesella (and Waterblogged).
They all follow the same predictable pattern – understandably. After all, a reader will rightfully expect information about the plot, the characters and the style of writing, with some tidbits about the author. The result, as with any genre writing, is a complete lack of creativity.
That is why, although Waterblogged is ostensibly a book blog, I was never really in the business of writing book reviews. Nevertheless, over the past three years I found myself writing a handful. There are books that are so good that you can’t help recommending them to others.
(There was, of course, an exception. You’ll find it here.)
Six reviews; six mouse clicks. Six books you will want to read.
Visits to Chatham Historic Dockyard, home among others to the diesel-electric submarine HMS Ocelot, and to the Royal Navy Museum in Portsmouth, home to HMS Alliance, a submarine built at the end of World War II, means I’ve got some photos of the outside and inside of the submarines to share. (Click on the gallery to enlarge photos.)
This being primarily a book blog, the photos are accompanied by a book list – half a dozen books set on submarines. Not a definite list, by any means; I have heard of several others well spoken off (but I haven’t got round to reading them yet). If you’d like to recommend a book on submarines that you enjoyed, please leave a comment below.
“Dogger. Gale warning.
Gale warning issued 14 March 03:43 UTC¹.
Wind southeast 4 or 5, increasing 6 to gale 8. Sea state moderate, becoming rough or very rough. Weather: occasional drizzle. Visibility good, occasionally poor.”
Shipping Forecast, issued 14 March 17:25 UTC, Met Office
If you ever heard the shipping forecast on BBC Radio 4 (an oddly soothing recital except when it’s inserted into the middle of the nailbiting finish of a test match), then you know that Dogger is one of the forecast zones in the North Sea.
Si has oído, alguna vez, el shipping forecast, es decir, el pronóstico marítimo, de BBC Radio 4 (un recital extrañamente tranquilizador (excepto cuando lo leen durante el emocionantísimo final de un partido internacional de críquet), sabes que Dogger es una de las zonas pronósticas marítimas en el Mar del Norte.
Up to 8000 B.C. Britain was connected to the Continent by a land bridge and Doggerland was above sea level. But as glacial ice melted after the last ice age, sea levels rose: Britain became an island, while Doggerland went to the bottom of the deep blue sea…
La mapa arriba ilustre como Gran Bretaña se convirtió en una isla.
Hasta 8000 a.C. Gran Bretaña estaba conectado al continente con un ‘puente’ de tierra y el territorio de Doggerland se encontró arriba del nivel del mar. Al terminar la era glacial, el nivel del mar se elevó: Gran Bretaña se convirtió en una isla, mientras que Doggerland se hundió al fondo del mar…
⇒ We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea by Arthur Ransome
Close your eyes and imagine one of those old maps which were illustrated with caravels and and fantastic sea animals, where the blank centre of Africa was marked terra incognita and faraway islands were labelled with the warning, Hic Sunt Dracones, Here Be Dragons¹. Is your pulse racing yet? Maps have an intoxicating power for those addicted to travel; historical maps are similarly intoxicating for those addicted to history. Since I’m addicted both to travel and history, you can imagine in what state maps leave me…
Aquí hay dragones
Cierra los ojos e imagínate uno des esos mapas antiguos, ilustrados con carabelas y animales marinos fantásticos, donde el centro en blanco de África se marcaba terra incognita e islas del ultramar se marcaban con la advertencia, Hic Sunt Dracones, aquí hay dragones¹. ¿Te acelera el pulso? Mapas tienen un poder embriagador para los que son adictos al viaje, y mapas históricos tienen un poder semejante embriagador para los que son adictos a la historia. Como que yo soy adicto a ambos, puedes imaginarte en que estado me quedo después de admirar unos mapas…
Which is perhaps why it occurred to me the other day that there are worse ways of summing up a country’s history than by examining a handful of telltale maps. A few countries immediately spring to mind as excellent candidates for this kind of exercise: I’ll start with my adopted country, England.
Quizás por eso me ocurrió la idea de contar la historia con un puñado de mapas elocuentes. Unos países se ofrecen inmediatamente como candidatos excelentes para este tipo de ejercicio: voy a empezar con mi país adoptivo, Inglaterra.
And since this pretends to be a book blog, I’ll throw in a handful of book recommendations too!
Y como eso pretende ser un blog de libros, ¡voy a añadir unos recomendaciones de libros también!
I hope you’ll enjoy The History of England in a Dozen Maps (coming tomorrow), the first post in what I hope to turn into a new series under the title of Mapping History.
Espero que os guste La historia de Inglaterra en una docena de mapas (saldrá mañana), el primer post en un series nuevo que intento con el título Mapping History (Historia en mapas).
¹ Wikipedia tells me that hic sunt dracones doesn't actually pop up on any map. Well, it's still a good phrase. :) It does appear, however, on the Hunt-Lenox Globe near the eastern coast of Asia and it might have been referring to the Komodo dragons. It might have.
¹ Wikipedia me dice que la frase hic sunt dracones, de hecho, no aparece en ningún mapa. Bueno, aun así se queda una frase encantadora. Se aparece, sin embargo en el Globo de Hunt-Lenox Globe, cerca de la costa oriental de Asia y pudiera referirse a los dragones de Komodo. Pudiera, dije.