IT'S BEEN a medieval kind of week for me, perhaps with echoes of the Dark Ages.
First, my mate and I spent time discussing Gentle Giant. As you know, Gentle Giant are venerable prog rockers from the Seventies (hence the Dark Ages). They were in the Yes or Genesis mode, but with added medieval polyphony. A challenge to the earlobes or what?
Then, with mounting excitement, I read in my Herald that there is to be a newly published translation of Beowulf - by JRR Tolkien. That's altogether too many goodies in one package. All together now: Hwæt!
This first word of the ancient poem (written some time between the 8th and 11th centuries) means "Attend!" Or perchance "Listen up!" In the days when people just had initials instead of first names, JJ Earle's translation of 1892 rendered it as "What ho!" Today, that makes us think of Bertie Wooster slaying the dragon, Grendel.
No wonder JRR Tolkien described JJ Earle's effort as "one of the most poorly translated works, like, ever". I have added the word "like" to give Tolkien a more modern feel. I'm sure that, as a professor of Anglo-Saxon, he wouldn't have minded.
While Beowulf was composed in Anglo-Saxon, it was set in 5th century Sweden and Denmark. It was, indeed, the Nordic Noir of its day, with chainmail instead of sweaters. It's still worth a read, if only to learn how to make your sentences rock and roll with rich internal rhythm, ken?
However, I haven't gathered you round this camp-fire today to regale you with tales of gentle giants, dragons and dark nights damp with murder-cloaking mists. My tale does, however, concern a heroic king and, more importantly, plans to re-enact his most famous battle.
Having come through the Scottish education system, you must be thinking: "Hmm, it must be about King Alfred or William the Conqueror or Henry VIII." Nope, none of these. It's about Robert the Bruce. Oops, a Unionist at the back of the room has fainted.
Yes, R the B. According to my watch, it's 2014, which makes it 700 years since Bruce won the Battle of Bannockburn against those fine people beginning with "E" that political correctness prevents us from mentioning by name.
Plans to stage a historical re-enactment of the battle have received much coverage north and south of yonder Border. I won't be taking part in the re-enactment myself, as I'll be washing my nasal hair that day. But good luck to those wielding the outsized cutlery.
It's fine to have a hobby, even one that involves a lot of simulated death. That's the problem for me. Not really into death, you see, simulated or otherwise. Indeed, I find the whole damned thing a pain in the neck or other anatomical parts.
Then there's my cowardice. I don't have to simulate that. It's very real. I don't want to be a coward. I just know from experience that it kind of kicks in automatically, over-riding finer sentiments of valour and glory.
Five minutes before battle was due to commence, I'd be turning to the bloke next to me, saying: "Damned prostate. Dying for a wizz again. Where are the loos? Right at the back, you say? Fine. I'll be back in four or five hours."
And that would be just for the re-enactment, which may be a valid historical exercise if it lets participants feel what it must have been like to anticipate hand-to-hand combat in which you'd a good chance of ending up deid.
Perhaps I was overly affected by seeing Peter Watkins' TV docudrama Culloden at an early age.
I remember the hopeless dread of the tired and hungry Jacobite forces lining up for battle. It made my mother cry and, not knowing anything about politics, she was a Liberal, never mind a Scots Nat.
I wouldn't have liked to do battle in medieval days. I'd much prefer it today where you just press a button and destroy whole cities. Hardly even need break sweat. Indeed, you could be listening to Gentle Giant on your headphones while you were at it.
Meanwhile, you can stop hwæting now.
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