Perennial Perils and Pitfalls of the Weather

Whilst the US and Canada flounder under enormous layers of snow and temperatures drop to record levels, parts of the UK are on flood watch. In the southeast of Australia, the country surges towards yet another scorcher. Despite all our technology, the weather controls our lives. Today, we hear a lot about weather events – an unusual choice of language! Natural disasters in the making are tracked and those lucky enough to have access to this information and the necessary resources to get to safety are able to save themselves. For those who don’t have such access, it must be very much like medieval times.

You would only have known of a storm when the clouds brewed themselves into a dark mess and the skies boomed and crackled overhead; a storm surge – when it washed away your home, and you and your children with it. Excesses of the weather were perceived as a dark force, a punishment from a vengeful God. Many cultures feared the serpents beneath the seas as well which sucked down ships and their crews. So often, ships set sail beneath sunny skies only to be lost somewhere on their journey. But the seas were the highways of the time. So much of our current political and cultural heritage would not have occurred if captains and sailors had not taken their courage in their hands and boarded ships in good faith that they might make it to  journey’s end.

Winter must have been a fearful time – a dark time, a time for consuming carefully-hoarded supplies.

What must it have been like in the Great Famine of 1315-17? For two hundred years, the weather had been quite balmy – peppered with storms, of course, but these were not enough to deny the growth of crops and the supply of grain. Temperatures began to drop: only by a degree it is said, but that was enough. Then the rains came. The first year was disastrous. Harvests failed but most villagers could fall back on reserved stores. It was the second and third years which caused death and disaster. With increasing cold and continuous rain, floods followed and crops failed. People ate grain contaminated with mould. Some were affected by the fungal poison, Ergot, which brought on irrational behavior and reduced the capacity of immune systems to fight off illness

With heavy cloud cover, salt could not be produced by evaporation in the salt pans within the estuaries. Without salt, meat could not be preserved. When the oxen and other animals died of starvation and disease, the fields could not be ploughed. Without animals, the fields could not be manured reducing the fertility of the soil and viability of future crops.

Wars don’t necessarily stop because of a few failed harvests or storms. Vital resources were diverted away for military purposes. Across northern England and Scotland, devastation was wrought by both sides on the people and land. In Ireland, the Scots sought to enlist the aid of the Irish in defeating the Anglo-Irish lords. Had there not been a famine, they might just have succeeded.  In Europe, the situation was even worse as industries failed and scarce food supplies were diverted by warring kingdoms.

More periods of famine occurred in the following decades until the Black Plague decimated the population. Much later in 1360, an English army was struck by a storm: men and horses were killed by huge hail stones. The warring parties accepted this as divine intervention and sought a peaceful resolution.

Now we have a greater understanding of the vagaries of the weather. It may not be divine judgement as such but certainly our actions as consumers have contributed to changes in weather patterns.

Thankfully, in this day and age, we are more likely to survive periods of intense weather.  I wish all those who are suffering in these current conditions, a safe return to normal life.

The Wonders of London

London has some of the best museums in the world and it’s been a treat to discover their delights especially from the medieval period.
The Museum of London is especially good with its displays of clothing and pottery from that period. Nearby, you can look out over a portion of the wall which enclosed London.
Another favourite is the Victoria and Albert Museum, filled with decorative treasures. In the stunning, tiled rooms dominated by enormous circular light shades, we enjoyed afternoon tea and listened to a pianist tinkle the ivories. Very civilized indeed!
Around the corner stands the impressive Natural History Museum. The detail of the Victorian wall tiles with flora and fauna displayed so beautifully provide a fascinating backdrop to
the intricate collections.
Many of the exhibits focus on the geography and geology of our world and the impact of humans on fragile systems but I was intrigued by one find.
It was the skull of a lion that had had lived in Edward 1′s menagerie at The Tower. It was white, shiny, and cool to the touch. It certainly took me back in time and I wondered about its life and those who must have heard its roars.
Another must see is the British Museum and I always head towards the Anglo-Saxon and medieval exhibits.
The excavation of Sutton Hoo in south eastern England led to a rich find with the famous gold mask, sword and breastplate of its long-dead king. I’m always drawn as well to the Lewis chess pieces, found on the western coast of the Isle of Lewis near the village of Uig in the Scottish Outer Hebrides. These chess pieces were thought to have been buried by a Viking trader many hundreds of years ago. A storm uncovered them in more recent times.
There are treasures from around Britain as well as France. Some of my favourites include a jug decorated with a bird, medieval tiles and carvings from abbeys.
Lots of treats for those with some time on their hands!

The Tower of London


Seen here from The Shard – an iconic building which resembles a piece of glass piercing the London skyline, the Tower of London is part of London’s rich medieval past. It’s relevant to Scotland’s past as well having held many Scots including King John Balliol. William Wallace and Simon Fraser, famed Scottish patriots, were sent here before their executions. Many earls were also imprisoned following defeat by King Edward 1′s armies. Marjorie Bruce, daughter of Robert, spent some harrowing weeks in a cage on the walls of the tower.

Sisters of The Bruce! A Brilliant Book Launch!

‘Sisters of The Bruce’ was launched last week to the skirl of the pipes, played by Campbell Ritchie, which attracted a crowd on the busy thoroughfare. Books@Stones promotes Australian authors and is located at Stones Corner in Brisbane. Thanks to the owner, Karen, for all her support and to family, friends and well-wishers who pitched in to make it a memorable night.

Guests enjoyed an array of tasty nibbles and  a  fine selection of reds from Pyramids Rd Winery on the Granite Belt. An interview by journalist, Andrew Fraser, with myself (author) took place and before long there were questions flying about the story and  its complex historical background. I particularly enjoyed the robust discussion about Scotland’s place in the medieval and modern world. With so much fun and laughter, It was indeed a brilliant book launch!