Back to Blogging (maybe)…

I have long debated returning to this blog. It’s weird how easily I fell out of the habit of writing here, but then, I did have other things to do. Still. I feel a strange sense of neglect. People have continued to read my words and some have left comments (thank you!).

Perhaps now is a good time to return. Perhaps not; we’ll see. But it has been three years since last I wrote anything here, and much has changed. I am not who I was, but then who is?

Christ, that does sound pretentious, doesn’t it? Here’s what it is. Education and work took up a lot of time, some of the (unpublished) comments I received were not the friendliest, and I kind of felt like other people could do a better job at this than I. So I kinda just stopped. It was something that was fun that become a chore. I didn’t like that. But now I think it might be fun again, so I’m going to give it another go.

But let’s be clear on some things:

  1. Still an atheist. Thanks for the comments about hoping I find my way back to God and whatever, but please be aware of the fact that I am equally hoping for you to realise that ‘god’ is a metaphor, and not a very helpful one at that.
  2. Actually a historian now. As in, I get paid for it. Which is cool. When I began this I was an MA student studying medieval history. But now I have more fun letters after my name (and before, if I choose so). I have taught undergrads and mature learners, corrected essays, made many a presentation. I read back over some of the things I have said here and have thought to myself ‘that could have been more clear’. I think I understand better now how to communicate my thoughts, but maybe that is just a pleasant delusion.
  3. I can assign homework if you wish.
  4. The style will be the same. I find history fun and exciting, and it baffles me how some writers make it dull. For the love of gods, history is all the interesting things! All things happen in history! It is inescapable! Join us!
  5. Just to clarify, I am an atheist. But this is only one facet of who I am. I consider, perhaps bizarrely, ‘historian’ to be part of my identity too. But also ‘social democrat’, ‘feminist’, ‘comic-book nerd’, my national identity… I could go one. Do not presume to know me because you once met an atheist and they annoyed you. Every group has its idiots and geniuses. I have Christian friends and we get on very well and have lively debates, and I have met many an idiot atheist who annoyed me with their feeble understanding of the concept. I don’t think believers are stupid, I just think they are wrong. Well, some of them are stupid; like I said, every group has its bad element.
  6. Do I need a sixth point? I feel like I do, but I can’t really think of one. Maybe I’ll come back to it later.

Fair warning, it might be three more years before I post again.

Be awesome to one another.

Break the Silence

Violence & Silence: Jackson Katz, Ph.D at TEDxFiDiWomen
This is something you should watch, share, absorb, and learn.

Bamburgh Castle

The Seat of Kings

Not far from Lindisfarne, indeed within sight of it (on a clear day), lies Bamburgh Castle, seat of the kings of Bernicia. Aethelfrith, the pagan Anglo-Saxon king of Bernicia, aggressively expanded into the neighbouring kingdom of Deira, forcibly uniting his own kingdom with it to form Northumbria sometime around AD604, and then proceeded to attack everyone around him, including the kingdom of the Mercians, the various territories of the Britons and Picts, and the Irish kingdom of Dál Riada. By AD616 he was dead, killed in battle against the Mercians, and the rival royal family of Deira seized control of Northumbria, only to lose it to an alliance of Britons and Mericians who broke it in half…

The Return of the King

Aethelfrith’s son, Oswald, was sent into exile among the Irish, where he became a Christian, and married an Irish princess named Fín. At the age of 30 he returned at the head of an army, defeating the British king Cadwallon, whose forces dominated Bernicia, at the Battle of Heavenfield in AD633/4, and re-established the kingdom of Northumbria. He invited Aidan of Iona to establish a Christian mission at Lindisfarne. For the next seventy years or so Northumbria was the dominant kingdom in Britain, and was home to the golden age with produced, among other kings, such material as the Lindisfarne Gospels, works of Bede, and a new wave of architecture.

This is not that Castle

This vibrant kingdom, ruled from Bamburgh, was not actually ruled from this particular castle. The Anglo-Saxon castle was destroyed in AD993 by the Vikings, with the Normans later founding a new castle on the site, which itself became the basis for the castle as it stands today. It was added to and expanded over time, fell into a deteriorated state, before a very wealthy man embarked on a sustained restoration effort in the 19th century. Even if it isn’t the original Anglo-Saxon castle, it’s still a very cool place… even if the tour-guides claim that the original inhabitants of the region were cannibals…


An Island in the North

First off, Lindisfarne isn’t very good at being an island; at low tides it reaches out to Britain, such that one can drive across a slightly anxious, regularly submerged road. This makes it an ideal location for a monastery, both removed from, yet still in contact with, the world. Layers of meaning in that one. Or, perhaps it was just a convenient place for the monks of Iona to set up shop within sight of Bamburgh, where the king was.

The Irish in the North

The monastery was founded around 635 by Aidan, a monk of Iona, which was a very important Irish monastic centre off the west coast of Scotland, founded by the redoubtable Columba (Colum Cille).  It is no mere coincidence that someone from arguably the most important ecclesiastical site north of Kildare was involved in the evangelisation of the north of Britain; the king who gave the island to Aidan, Oswald, lived in exile and was baptised among the Irish, even fought for them and married and Irish princess, and won his father’s kingdom back with the aid of Irish warriors. It’s safe to say he was rather fond of the Irish.  Lindisfarne was home to Cuthbert, patron saint of Northumbria, and many Northumbrian kings retired and were buried there. They also produced some really beautiful manuscripts, such as the eponymous gospel-book. It was also the first place in Britain that the vikings attacked, in 793, beginning the ‘Viking Age’ (though this is, of course, debatable). In any case, the monks upped sticks and left, taking the bones of their saints with them, eventually settling at Durham, though some were returned to the island.

Not my Lindisfarne

Sadly, the ruins of the abbey of Lindisfarne are not the ruins of Aidan’s abbey. They are much newer, dating from the 11th century, and there is a new castle, and a new church.  All still very interesting, but it is not the Lindisfarne that I read about, that I see in my mind, an island full of monks speaking Irish, Northumbrian, and Latin, preparing calf-skins and inks for the production of manuscripts, building libraries, educating. Yet it was fun to think that there where I stood, once too, perhaps, did Aidan, Adomnán, Cuthbert, and Oswald, and listen to the North Sea tumble onto shore. It’s a beautiful place, reaching back into the earliest periods of British and Irish history, when Angles and Irish did great things together.

Take the Tour

So. This is amazing

A 3D map of our neighbourhood, which you can zoom in on, and peer at the Smiths over in Zeta Eridi 9…

(I appear to have an obsession with science, astronomy, and zooming/scale: remember the Moon, or Everything?)