Wednesday, 18 September 2019

The Chicken's Day Off

Henry's good side
In 1403 the Lancastrian king, Henry the IV, marched his army to fight against the rebel army led by Sir Harry Hotspur at Shrewsbury. In the van of the battle was Henry’s son, the future King Henry the V. During the battle Prince Henry was struck in the face by a bodkin arrow shot by a Cheshire bowman. The arrow was propelled by an English war bow at a draw weight likely exceeding 120 pounds. The plate armour of the time was cunningly fashioned so that an arrow would glance off unless it hit the plate squarely at 90 degrees. In order to defeat the armour of the time, bowmen would have been using a bodkin head. The bodkin was the armour piercing missile of its day although only a perpendicular hit could pass through armour (probably not- see update). The prince had lifted his visor in order to gain a better perspective of the proceedings and the arrow had entered the right side of his face, close to the nose. It is likely that the arrow had glanced off the prince’s breastplate before travelling upward to hit his face. It has been conjectured that the glancing blow saved the young prince’s life by dissipating much of the force of the projectile, otherwise it is likely that the arrow would have passed through the skull resulting in the prince's instant demise. The arrow came to rest at the base of the prince’s skull, six inches from the entry point. Astonishingly, Henry continued to fight for a further 90 minutes until the battle was won and Hotspur lay dead from an arrow wound to his face. This showed a degree of fortitude and bravery not given to most men. Twas more wondrous considering that the grievously injured prince was only 16 at the time. Regardless, the wounded prince was in a bad way. If infection set in then his fate would have been sealed and a painful and lingering death would have ensued from ‘wound fever’. And this would have been the undoubted fate of the common soldier…………But the heir to the throne was destined for better treatment. Although even royalty was not immune from infection. It is remembered that Henry’s ancestor, King Richard ‘The Lionheart’ died of an infection after receiving an arrow (actually, it was a crossbow bolt) to the chest in battle.    

Arrowhead of the time
When the shaft of the arrow was pulled from the prince’s face, the arrow point remained firmly fixed in the skull. Indeed, the head was designed to separate readily from the shaft as it was only fixed by wax which melted at blood temperature. The local doctors were at a loss of how to treat the injury apart from potions and incantations. Luckily, the famed surgeon, John Bradmore arrived from London to take care of the prince. Bradmore was no quack. He probed the wound with an Alder stick wrapped in linen soaked in Rose honey. He continued this process with larger probes until the wound was sufficiently large to prevent closure and superficial healing. During the procedure the young prince was heard to softly exclaim: “Gadzooks good physic, forsooth that smarts a tad”. Bradmore commissioned the local blacksmith to make a mechanical instrument for the extraction of the arrowhead. It took three days for the device to be manufactured and I can only guess the agonies the poor prince suffered during the interval. The good surgeon gave a detailed account of the instrument's design in his influential surgical treatise, Philomena, from which it has been possible to reconstruct the original extraction device. 

Bradmore's Arrow Extractor
Once in possession of the contraption, Bradmore removed the honey from the wound and inserted the instrument deep into the prince’s face until the end of the probe entered into the arrow socket. By turning a screw handle the jaws of the probe slowly expanded grasping the inner edge of the socket and by a gentle rocking motion, the arrow was freed from the bone and the arrow extracted. The cavity was flushed with alcohol and again treated with honey. Amazingly the prince made a full recovery and would go on to lead the English to victory as King Henry V, at Agincourt, in 1415.

What is astonishing is Bradmore’s skill and knowledge for the time. This is just 50 years hence from the Black Death which claimed the lives of a third of the population of Europe. A time when other physicians would likely strap a live chicken to a wound in order to draw out the miasma. Clearly, Bradmore was a man ahead of his contemporaries. Not only was his medical insight and surgical technique superlative, but he also had a knowledge of asepsis that would be relevant today. The use of honey is telling. This amazing mixture of bee spit, pollen and nectar is a wonderfully effective antimicrobial. Honey’s high sugar content together with natural immune compounds present in bee saliva makes this delicious comestible extremely effective at destroying bacteria. Indeed, it is this very property that makes honey a useful treatment for infection in these days of antibiotic resistant organisms. Also, we should not deride the skill of the unknown blacksmith who made the instrument. Without modern power tools, he would have had to cut the spiral screw grooves in the metal handle by hand. This was no easy task. A high degree of precision was demanded in order for the device to work at all.    

The prince had indeed been favoured by the god’s of war to be served/saved by men of such consummate ability. The local chickens, also, did rather well not to have their feather’s ruffled or sullied, that day.     

                 Update: This is hot off the press-the video is 6 hours old at the time of writing. I've added a video from Matt Easton concerning the effectiveness of arrows against 15th-century  plate armour. Well worth viewing.              

Friday, 13 September 2019

Exciting times......

My son, 'Athelstan the Bright' posing with our new banner
Impending news of stuff pending!

Things are moving fast in my usually less than hectic life. This is just a preliminary announcement concerning a joint project I'm involved in with my son. Together we are setting up a company selling camping/survival knives, bows and archery equipment. As my regular readers know, I'm a keen archer and I'm out shooting proles, er I mean bows, on a daily basis, weather permitting.

The web site has been set up and I'm furiously writing blog posts on sundry archery topics. My wonderful son is the business brains behind the operation due to his background in business and IT. He will deal with the techy stuff and the boring stuff like company registration, marketing, imports, and taxes while I'll provide the numerous articles required for the web site.

We will be targeting (pun intended) the novice archer, but not exclusively so. The web site will contain articles concerning various aspects of archery with helpful advice on topics, sundry.

We certainly live in exciting times and I'm all fired up (unusual for this jaded soul) with the prospect of running a joint project with my second legitimate spawn. I'm travelling by train in a few scant hours to spend a couple of days with Athelstan, in the big city, for high-level business talks. Arse.

Once things coalesce into a coherent whole I'll leave a link to the archery site. Watch this space!   

My old mate Gare shooting his English longbow

As an added bonus, I've linked to a video featuring the entertaining
 Kevin Hicks    

Thursday, 5 September 2019

The First Servile War

The face of a free man
I suspect that most folk have heard of the name Spartacus, although many will not be able to appreciate his place in history beyond a hazy and vague extent. Of course, those who have had the pleasure of watching that most excellent 1960 film epic, ‘Spartacus’ will have a better idea of what Spartacus the man and rebellion was about. This is not to say that the film was entirely historically accurate, but for a Hollywood film of its time, it did a decent job. As for Tony Curtis' haircut- there is no excuse. This post is not about the Spartacus Rebellion of 73 BC, or the Third Servile War, from the ancient Roman perspective. Today, I hanker to introduce my readers to an earlier slave revolt: The First Servile War of 135 BC.        

The ancients had a problem and this was particularly so with Rome of the Republic. Slavery was endemic in the ancient world and indeed in many societies, the slave population outnumbered the free-born citizens. There was always the real horror that the slaves would band together, rise up and massacre their masters. There was no police system in Rome and Italy and even a small rebellion in a provisional town involving a few scores of slaves could do immense damage before militia troops could intervene. And due to the communications of the day, this might take a while.

During the Punic wars with Carthage (three wars between 264 BC and 146 BC) the Romans acquired their first Provence, Sicily. Sicily was a fertile and rich island and Roman speculators descended on the island to purchase cheap arable land previously owned by the Carthaginians and their displaced Sicilian allies. The land was worked by the influx of cheap slave labour fueled by successive and successful Roman wars. As land and lives were cheap the new owners tended to treat their slaves poorly. The slaves were worked from dawn to dusk on meagre rations and the death rate through exhaustion and malnutrition was high. But this did not matter to the landowners as the labour force could easily be replaced.

Eunus was a particularly lucky slave as he had the skill to entertain. He would delight his masters at dinner parties where he would enthrall the rich revelers with his accomplishments. It is said that he was a skilled conjuror and fortune teller and would delight the dinner guests with fire breathing; not a single toga was singed. Whilst thus engaged, Eunus would keep up a constant humorous patter about how one day he would become king and that the assembled listeners would be massacred. For some reason, the Romans found Eunus’ repartee mildly amusing- more fool them say I.    

What follows is a good example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. A group of slaves belonging to a particularly harsh landowner approached Eunus and asked him to lead a rebellion. How could Eunus refuse after the espousal of his rise to greatness? With a band of 400 slaves, Eunus stormed the city of Enna. The citizens of the city were put to death except those will the skill of the smith. These men were quickly put to work making arms for the swelling numbers of the slave rebellion. The revolt quickly spread and a Greek slave by the name of Cleon joined Eunus with a band of 5,000. Other major cities were captured and the slave army rose to over 70,000. One source suggests (Diodorus Siculus) that the rebel rabble may have been high as 200,000. The Romans responded by sending out a Sicilian militia under the leadership of a minor Roman official. The slave army easily and quickly defeated the militia and the Romans sent out a further three detachments; each being defeated in turn (the definition of madness). In this way, Eunus and his slave army came to occupy most of the island and as prophesied, Eunus proclaimed himself king.

In 134 BC, the Romans decided to send a Roman army under the consul, Flaccus. But the resulting campaign was desultory and achieved very little. Thereafter, in the following year the consul Lucius Calpurnius Piso was sent with a consular army. Piso and his army quickly secured several rebel cities and the resultant captured slaves were cruelly put to death.

After his successive victories, Piso descended on the centre of the rebellion, the city of Enna. Eunus’ second in command, Cleon, decided to sally out of the city rather than await the inevitable siege. During the battle, Cleon died of wounds and the Romans quickly secured the city and massacred the slaves. The rebellion in the rest of the island was quickly crushed with a further 20,000 slaves suffering the acute agony/ignominy of crucifixion. Eunus was eventually captured but died in captivity before he could be tortured and put to death.

And so in 132 BC, the First Servile War came to an end. In truth, the rebels could never have triumphed against the might of Rome. But for a brief time, the slaves became free men. Sadly, Eunus never foretold their ignoble end.

Eunus remains a mysterious figure. He must have been a man of charismatic ability and intelligence in order to weld/wield the disparate slave army into an effective military force. Did he actually believe his own propaganda and prophecy? Or did he use his testimony as a means to coalesce his slave followers and imbue them with a sense of purpose? This question can never be answered. I’m of the opinion that he may have truly believed his outrageous rhetoric, especially after his spectacular initial success. It is to be remembered that the ancients truly believed in prophecy and the Romans of the period were particularly fond of augury. Even the educated classes, with a few notable exceptions, indulged in divination.

The Romans greatest fear had become manifest and a further two slave rebellions would follow culminating in the famous and immensely destructive rebellion led by the Thracian slave, Spartacus. Another post, for another day, perhaps?

Eunus statue outside the walls of Enna

Sunday, 1 September 2019

I forgot to take my meds.....

A psychiatrist writes: Dr Saxon has many deep and unresolved issues
stemming from a highly dysfunctional childhood and early family life.
His psychological tumult finds expression in his brooding and
nihilistic prose and poetry. This offers but a temporary respite and
can no way lead to a permanent resolution of Dr Saxon’s deep seated
and profound psychological problems.

A Flaxen Saxon replies: Fuck off Dr Fell. You only see the portion of
my psyche which I deign to reveal.

Now for more pretentious, self-indulgent and cathartic poetry. If you ain't slashing your wrists after this one, then you are already dead.
Night and day become as one,
Unrestrained grey, endlessly trudges on.
Scant sense, no pleasure, no pain,
Humdrum certainty in a coarse domain.
 Murky shallows, indifferent response,
Ill-defined colours of no consequence.
Toneless flows of clammy pallor,
Clumsy devices of scant veneer.
Boundless detachment and callous regard,
Pitiful retort and emotional retard.
Wilted riposte to arguments feeble,
All are damned, all is ignoble.
This day was like the last,
Stretching tedium into infinite past.
The future is but the same,
Quietly driven calmly insane.
Lengthening shadows on a windswept shore,
No sense of time in a place which is amoral.
Pity the life that remains restrained,
Pity the life that is all but drained.
Dragged slowly into eternal sloth,
On a lamed charger decked in a ragged cloth.
Limpid stance in an entropic domain,
A fool to the end and fools remain.

Saturday, 31 August 2019

Tales of Flaxen Hall

Flaxen Hall, in all its majesty
On the 7th June, I posted about my predicament one year into retirement. I mentioned that I had decided to drink deep from the font of the Airbnb franchise. After 11 weeks of partaking of the scheme, I feel qualified and entitled to comment on this modest money-making opportunity.

Our property has turned out to be remarkably popular. This is probably due to the way we ‘market’ the stay as an opportunity to feed the alpacas and take part in an ‘Archery Experience’. Also, we are on the main route north and south on the North Island of New Zealand. As expected, we have attracted the European backpacker fraternity plus assorted tourists. In less than 3 months, 15 bookings have been amassed at ‘Flaxen Saxon Halls’. On the whole, it has been an interesting and pleasant experience. The folks spending time in our humble abode have been universally engaging and pleasant. I’d just like to share some of the highs and admittedly rare, lows.

Of particular note was a middle-aged German chap (don’t mention the war). He had travelled to NZ for a conference and afterwards decided to spend a few days exploring this fair country. He arrived at 3pm and as the day was sunny I offered the visitor the opportunity to partake in the pursuit of casting a few yard shafts at a suitably placed target. Satiated by our archery experience, we retreated to the inner sanctum to quaff a few foaming flagons of fine ale. My new acquired German friend was ex-army and was currently employed as a munition disposal specialist. His job involved identifying and disposing of caches of explosives deposited off the coast of Belgium and France. After the Great War, French and Belgium fishermen were paid to dump artillery shells and explosives. The plan was to ditch the munitions in deep water far out to sea. However, it seems that some of the fishermen decided that it would be more economically viable to dump the load quickly and therefore a goodly proportion of the munitions ended up in shallow water close to the coast: naughty fisher folk. Tis nice to note that people were just as lazy 100 years ago as people today- warms the cockles of your heart. Anyway, after 100 years, the shells were deteriorating spreading picric acid, and other nasties, unto the waters of the north sea, thus discombobulating fisherfolk of today. Due to the sheer amount of explosives deposited it is likely that my Teutonic visitor will be employed for a while.

As my regular readers know, I have an interest in matters military and so as the beer flowed our conversation veered to war, especially the first and second world war (yes, I did mention the war). My guest was particularly knowledgeable and we discussed matters concerning the merits of various second world war tanks long into the night…….   

My next anecdote concerns a young Dutch couple. They stayed but just one night and I have to say they were truly delightful. But for some reason which will forever remain cloaked in mystery, the young Dutch lady appeared to have a tenuous grasp on her underwear. When Mrs S went to strip and remake the bed (we have a clear demarcation of duties) she found a pair of discarded panties. Not particularly strange to find in a young couple’s bed you say. However, when cleaning their designated bathroom she found another pair of panties on the floor (why is it a pair when the item is singular?) and furthermore a third pair was espied casually discarded in our hallway. To lose one pair is an accident to lose three is just very, very, odd. And before you ask: no I didn’t.

My last story is more gripe than anecdote and related to toilet hygiene. Mrs S has a particular aversion and hate: she abhors males who cannot aim correctly when pissing thus spreading their tepid effluence far and wide. To prevent displeasure, calling on my well apportioned and lovely bonce, I have taken to piss sitting down, like a whipped cur. This unpleasantness has occurred on three separate occasions and Mrs S is nonplussed and not very pleased. Perhaps I could put a humourless plaque in the toilet area reminding guests that urinating on the floor is not particularly nice? I petition my readers to come up with a suitably funny but pointed reminder to our future guests about the importance of keeping their flowing waste strictly in the designated receptacle. The best entry wins a bag of alpaca poo to be collected at the winner's convenience. Toodly pip, for now.    

Mrs S feeding Rowan
Jack waiting for a treat


Tuesday, 27 August 2019

McNamara's Morons

Today’s post is a little different to my usual fodder. For today I’m going to consider an almost forgotten aspect of the Vietnam war. This post is not about an evaluation of the war in terms of geopolitics, its military effectiveness or its impact on American society of the time. All these aspects of the war are worthy of commentary- but this not what this post aspires to be.

At the war’s height during 1966, the then incumbent Minister of Defense, Robert McNamara, implemented a policy of inducting citizens into the military who previously would have been below the required mental standards (Project 100,000). It may seem a surprise to some folk but most militaries throughout the world implement some form of cutoff concerning the military usefulness of its citizens. For the general soldier, historically at least, the bar has been placed rather low with regard to educational and intellectual attainment. It could be argued that modern soldiers are judged by higher standards due to the highly technical nature of modern munitions. However, in the instance under discussion, men who were fundamentally illiterate were deemed acceptable. Previous to the implementation of the project, men who did not reach the basic levels of literacy would have been excluded from service. In addition, other categories of human flotsam were added to this disparate/desperate category including the physically unfit and those unable to speak English. It is estimated that 345,000 men, of this designation, were drafted into the military- many of this number going on to fulfil an active combat role. Project men who failed basic training were assigned to Special Training Units, with all the horror that the designation ‘Special’ entailed.

Ostensively, the project was peddled to the public as a means to provide men at society's margins with training and the opportunity to obtain skills that would be denied to them in civilian life. Thus once their period of service was completed they could reintegrate into society to perform useful productive roles. But this was just a subterfuge. At this stage of the war, the US was struggling to fulfil their draft quotas and this project was envisaged as a rather cynical means of injecting men into the military to fight in the Vietnam war.

The men partaking of the project soon became known to the regular soldiers as ‘McNamara’s Morons’. Many of these soldiers struggled with initial basic training. Stories abound of men unable to fire a rifle or discharge a hand grenade correctly. The completely untrainable were eventually assigned to menial non-combat duties while those that ‘passed’ muster were sent on to active combat duty in Vietnam. The US government were interested in how this group of men would perform in the field and consequently the project was audited throughout. The project would later be criticised as a government state experiment using its most vulnerable citizens as guinea pigs (no shit, Flaxen).

What the audit discovered was not particularly edifying. Men ‘assigned’ to the project were wounded and killed in disproportionate numbers in comparison to their non-project peers. This difference was not trivial and project soldiers were three times more likely to be killed in combat. They also faired badly concerning metrics such as remedial training (x9 more likely than their peers) and being arrested on duty. On release from service they integrated poorly into civilian life and did not do as well as comparable men (cf morons in civilian life), who did not serve, in terms of earnings and divorce rates. What the Lord taketh away he does so in spades.     

Let us hear the testimony of woe as related by a US Combat Officer of the time: “I saw Robert McNamara when he resigned from the World Bank, crying about the poor children of the world. But he didn’t cry at all for any of those men he took in under Project 100,000 then he really doesn’t know what crying is all about. Many under me weren’t even on the 5th-grade level. I found out that they could not read; no skills before; no skills after. The army was supposed to teach them a trade in something- only they didn’t”.

I think this officer’s statement summarises the situation extremely well. These poor wretches were the no-hopers of society. Without the requisite skills to fit into a modern world they existed and subsisted in a society they were woefully unfit to fully take part in. Their problem was not one of opportunity- opportunities cannot be grasped by nerveless hands. This may seem a rather stark and gloomy analysis, but is one born out by general experience and hard data. In this instance, the government had a problem and contemptuously applied a fix. They wrapped the ‘Project 100,000’ as a social program for the disenfranchised and unskilled. What they achieved was basic ‘cannon fodder’. In terms of personal and social benefit, the net gain was nil. Indeed, it can be argued that the military did scant service to the survivors and skills accrued was negligible at best. The simple reality: the US government cynically exploited a vulnerable sector of society to fulfil military quotas.        

 It will come as no surprise to my readers that governments care little about those they govern and supposedly serve: wise folk know different. Regardless of epoch and country, the self-serving elite continues to perpetuate their dominance on society without remorse or remittance. Most folk are so befuddled by life’s trivialities and Sky tele that they care not or cannot see. For those who can see, there is a reality beyond the lies promulgated by our so-called leaders. Those possessed of imagination can retreat into our own world of peace, tranquillity and cynical appraisal.           

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Prince Andy of Tipton

Randy Andy
Shock breaking news from the sleepy kingdom of Tipton. For today it can be revealed, by this esteemed chronicle: ‘The Daily Chain Mail’ that Prinze Andy Pandy has been implicated associating with young maidens, not yet nubile, for rumpy-pumpy.

A vivid sketch (in delicate pastel shades) has come to light showing the Prince in congress with maidens, multiple. Furthermore, the exalted Prince has been shown to be an intimate associate of Jeffried Epstein-Barr Virus, a notorious procurer of wenches below the age of consent. Numerous sources attest that the unsullied Prince spent much time with Jeffried on his expansive/expensive longboat. Rumours, of known provenance, suggest much feasting and carousing with the whole proceedings adorned with serving bints, unknown to man (allegedly).

Out of Touch
Queen Dotage and her consort, Fillip, The Philanderer, have issued a parchment, stating thusly: ‘My husband and I can categorically state that Andy Dandy has never set foot on Jeffried’s longboat or has ever been in the vicinity of Jeffried and his assorted under age concubines. The Prince is appalled, agape and nonplussed that he has been found out'. (surely some mistake??).

Shot Unto Death
Sadly, it can also be revealed that Epstein-Barr virus was slain during a hunt, yesterday. Unfortunately, Virus did wander into a glade and was immediately riddled with a hundred yard shafts. The palace is treating the incident as a calamitous mishap (mayhap?). As is the case with this sort of thing, more unforeseen accidents are predicted. It is estimated that the resultant accidental death toll will be copious. This is in keeping with a noisome miasma which coats the land, at this time of year, and is well known for laying low the peasantry and thegns but not the nobility who are protected from the fall out from the tangible ordure and fetor. Arse.

Buggering off and Laying Low
In response, the Duke has characteristically decided to decamp to a luxury resort situated in the neighbouring principality of ‘Dudley on Canal’. He is accompanied by his ex-consort, Ferglander, The Useless, Wretched, Money-Sucking Bag of Dog Poo. Andy has eschewed the right to comment on the unfolding proceedings and is likely to hold out in divers strongholds until the wind doth change direction. Double Arse.

To be continued………