I work in Battersea and sometimes go for a walk along the Thames there at lunchtime. It’s not the most picturesque stretch of the river, but there is a nice little church there with a friendly graveyard; by which I mean that it has benches for people to sit upon and contemplate their mortality.
A little research shows there has been a church on the site since around 800AD, that William Blake was married there, and that J.M.W. Turner used to paint scenes of the river from the vestry window.
I might summon up the courage to actually set foot inside one day and explore further.
I had my own thoughts of pursuing another postgraduate qualification a few years ago. I knew I’d never retire to the south of France on a lecturer’s salary, but the idea of teaching really appealed to me.But the horror stories about the profession seemed to be reaching such a clamour that I was dissuaded from exploring it any further.
I’m not always the first person to agree with Terry Eagleton, but his recent piece, The Slow Death of the University had me nodding and sighing by turns:
“Education should indeed be responsive to the needs of society. But this is not the same as regarding yourself as a service station for neocapitalism. In fact, you would tackle society’s needs a great deal more effectively were you to challenge this whole alienated model of learning. Medieval universities served the wider society superbly well, but they did so by producing pastors, lawyers, theologians, and administrative officials who helped to sustain church and state, not by frowning upon any form of intellectual activity that might fail to turn a quick buck.
Times, however, have changed. According to the British state, all publicly funded academic research must now regard itself as part of the so-called knowledge economy, with a measurable impact on society. Such impact is rather easier to gauge for aeronautical engineers than ancient historians. Pharmacists are likely to do better at this game than phenomenologists. Subjects that do not attract lucrative research grants from private industry, or that are unlikely to pull in large numbers of students, are plunged into a state of chronic crisis. Academic merit is equated with how much money you can raise, while an educated student is redefined as an employable one. It is not a good time to be a paleographer or numismatist, pursuits that we will soon not even be able to spell, let alone practice.”
I’ve been looking forward to the new series of Game of Thrones as much as anyone. It just so happens that it’s started as I’m half way through reading Dan Jones’ The Plantagenets and, in comparison, the world of the Seven Kingdoms seems rather a tame place to live.
So there were no dragons flying about 13th century Europe at the time, but everything else is there: court intrigues, battles for succession, warring houses, pitched battles and sieges, and more rape and pillage than HBO would ever dare to show. We all crossed our legs when Theon Greyjoy was gelded in one particular scene in GoT, but this was nothing to the treatment of Simon de Montfort at the battle of Evesham in 1265. After being stabbed through the neck with a lance, the real fun began. According to the chronicle of Arnald FitzThedmar:
“The head of the Earl of Leicester, it is said, was severed from his body, and his testicles cut off and hung on either side of his nose; and in such guise the head was sent to the wife of Sir Roger de Mortimer, at Wiggemor Castle. His hands and feet were also cut off, and sent to divers places to enemies of his, as a great mark of dishonour to the deceased; the trunk of his body however, and that only, was given for burial in the church of Evesham.”
Add into the mix other real-life perils such as periodic eruptions of the plague, bouts of dysentery and various fevers, and terrifying rates of infant mortality and Westeros looks like Disneyland.