Friday 24 February 2023

Sad Tidings

Sadly, last Saturday I found two of our alpacas dead in their pasture. This leaves just Ted, the alpaca, and Bert (sheep). I immediately called the local livestock vet to check on Ted and Bert, our remaining boys. However, we had to wait several hours for a visit. After examination, he declared the boys healthy, but as a precaution gave them a cocktail of drugs even though he was unsure why our other livestock had died. The weather was extremely hot and although our stock could not have been dead more than 24 hours, they were already attracting a myriad of flies and starting to stink. I wanted to wait, before internment, to see if the vet could provide a diagnosis. I had managed to secure a mechanical digger on short notice and therefore made the decision to bury our boys before the vet could attend. 

So what could have killed our two, apparently healthy-looking, boys? Just the day before we had been hand-feeding our stock and they looked fine. The only recent change in their routine had been the week before when they all received their annual cut and drench (anthelmintics). The drench contains chemicals to kill off internal parasites that all stock animals are prone to. There is nothing to suggest that the chemicals contained in the drench solution would cause harm as they are specifically formulated for alpacas. I did a little research to see if the presence of certain plant species could prove fatal if ingested. I scoured the pasture and couldn't identify any potentially poisonous plant species.

I'm at a loss to understand what could have killed our boys. Anyway, we are monitoring our two surviving livestock and keeping a close eye on their demeanour and general health.  

Sunday 19 February 2023

Bow Making

Tillering Stick, of DOOM.

My Bow-Making Journey

I have a keen interest in archery and I'm privileged that I own a property where I can shoot my bows safely without killing the neighbours. That said, I do have plenty of land to hide the bodies. In addition, I own a barn to which I've dedicated a large section for my woodworking activities, including bow making. Anyone who has indulged in the art of bow building will acknowledge that it is not an easy enterprise. You would think the most simplest of bows, the English longbow (ELB) would be relatively easy to build. After all, it's just a straight stick. But this is certainly not the case. The trick is to achieve a bow in which both limbs bend evenly and in concert together throughout the length of the bow. Sounds easy, but in practice, this is, without doubt, the most challenging part of the bow-making process. If you so desire to make a more complex design, such as a recurve, or reflex/deflex bow there will be additional challenges. If you really want fun, perhaps you should design a laminated bow comprising three different wood species.

After 5 years of endeavour, of only trying to make ELBs I have a box full of broken staves and a single, poorly built bow. Bow-making is not a skill that can be mastered overnight. It takes many years, at least in my case, to get to a stage where I can confidently make a bow, and honestly, I'm not there yet. Bow-making requires patience and a modicum of forbearance. There is nothing more frustrating than spending many hours crafting a bow and ending up breaking the bow at the last stage. I would be lying if I said I haven't been discouraged and therefore I have had a break from bow-making in general. But recently, I've decided to get orf my big fat arse (big fat arse!) and try anew.

This time I purchased a rough stave for the construction of an ELB. This time, it differs from my previous endeavours in that the stave is a trilaminate composite. My previous attempts were undertaken on a single piece of wood, unadorned (self-bow). The trilaminate I'm attempting to build this time consists of osage orange (belly), with a bamboo core and an outer strip of hickory. These disparate wood pieces have been securely glued together to form a composite whole.  Also, this stave has been commercially sourced specifically for constructing an ELB. My previous attempts involved using wood from trees grown on my property or timber obtained from a local timber store. A critical part of the overall process is not only selecting the right species of hardwood but also ensuring that the piece of wood chosen is optimal for bow making. There are many factors involved, but I won't be considering the complex mix of characteristics, here. Thus, the advantage of purchasing a piece of wood, specifically designed for bow-making, is that it removes the problem of optimal stave requirements. 

So far, I have been carefully removing wood from the belly of the bow (osage) using a farrier's rasp and a cabinet maker's scraper. Thus far, I have been very conservative with the wood removal and have tried to keep the amount removed spread equally along the length of the bow. So far, so good. The next stage is the dreaded tillering. To help in the process I've constructed a 'tillering stick' (see photo). This simple device allows the 'proto-bow' to be bent along its length using a simple pulley system. This allows the bowyer to stand away from the bow to gain perspective. Hopefully, this will enable me to detect weak spots (hinges) and areas of unequal bending. Areas of the limbs can be marked with a pencil to indicate where wood needs to be removed. Furthermore, any weak spots should be identified and wood from this area, not be removed. This is a painstaking process but is critical. At some stage, the bowyer comes to a stage where he is happy with the work and stops. In the end, I'm aiming for a bow of around 40 to 50lbs draw weight at a draw length of 28".  

Once I've completed the project I'll post an update and let my readers know whether I have a fully functioning bow or, alternatively, expensive firewood.   

Gratuitous photo of my three crap dogs, plus my son's equally shit hound

Saturday 11 February 2023

Cato the Elder

                                                               Dat no Brat Pitt

As we start February 2023 I've decided to continue with a post about the ancients. Today's post concerns a Roman gentleman whom I will refer to as 'Cato the Elder' (b234 BC - d149 BC). There is a Cato, called 'Cato the Younger'. However, he is not as interesting or compelling as the older Cato. As far as I'm aware, there is no recorded instance of 'Cato the Juvenile' or a 'Cato Approaching Middle-Age'.   

Above we have a Roman bronze bust of Cato (I will no longer refer to Cato, as the Elder; simple Cato will suffice- with one exception). The rendition represents a realistic style characteristic of Rome art, of the period. As can be discerned, the 'portrait' is not particularly flattering to the man, in the looks department. I'm sure my dedicated readers are aware of the book, 'The Picture of Dorian Grey', by Oscar Wilde. Anyway, if the principle of the novel is sound, then we can see that Cato did not live an exemplary life. And indeed, from the accounts we have, it appears that the creases and lines skillfully crafted upon the 'portrait' are well deserved. However, I am forced to add, that to later Romans, he was considered an exemplar of how a Roman should conduct himself, both privately and in public - go figure. 

Marcus Porcius Cato is a rather remarkable and important fellow, of his time, but like poor Scipio Africanus, is mostly unknown, except to specialists. In mitigation, he did live 2,200 years ago. To understand Cato's nature and actions I need to add a little introductory material. This is necessary in order to place Cato in some form of coherent, historical context.

Cato came along at a time when Rome was undergoing intense social and economic change. He was a plebian by birth and, although considered a 'new man' by the sniffy patricians became widely respected amongst all classes, but not universally liked  The First Punic War was the first contest between Rome and Carthage, and it was a bitterly fought struggle, with Rome as the ultimate victors (264 BC - 241 BC). The fruits of victory were profound. The acquisition of Sicily, after the war, brought great riches to Rome. Sicily, prior to the war, had been equally divided between the Greeks and Carthaginians. The land was highly cultivated and the cities along the east coast were sophisticated, wealthy and Hellenic. And also, let us note that Rome imposed a hefty and punitive war indemnity (pun intended) on the Carthaginians, consisting of much silver, among other things. All this wealth, flooded into the coffers of the minority elite and things began to change. This was not the only challenge the Romans had to deal with. After the war, the Romans became seriously acquainted with Greek culture and civilisation and were mightily impressed. They soon came to realise, that in comparison, they were uncultured oafs. The upper crust began to learn Greek and ape Greek mannerisms. Greek orators and philosophers flooded Rome and obtained an easy living under the patronage of rich patricians, like the Scipio family, who were utterly philhellenic. During this time, Cato can be seen as a reaction against opulence, and as he thought, the effeminate decadence of Greek influence. He considered close contact between the cultures enervating and detrimental to the Roman conception of stoic, hardy manliness- he had a point. 

Cato was commended for living a simple bucolic life. Although admired, his lifestyle was unlikely to be emulated.  Apparently, he was happy to work the fields alongside his slaves and partake of a simple repast. He was also a brave and famed soldier and led contingents of soldiers in the Second Punic War both in Spain and Italy. In 191 BC he became involved in the successful conclusion of the war against Antiochus III at Thermopylae. Cato was renowned for living a simple unadorned life and had great respect for old Roman virtues. At least as understood by Romans, of his time. By our standards, he would be considered boorish and brutal. His own household was ruled by a 'rod of iron'. His slaves were either working or sleeping and mercilessly beaten or executed for minor transgressions. When his slaves became too old for practical work they were sold.

From the above, we might conclude that Cato was an uneducated brute, but this is not the case. Indeed, he was a highly educated man. He was famous for his oratory which was simple and unembellished, with no verbal frippery. He wrote several books however, only one has survived in full. Only fragments of the others remain to this day. Like all Romans of note, he progressed in society, and the ranks, with a military career (military tribune) and it appears that Cato was a competent soldier. Cato's oratory, legal skills and behaviour became noted by a patrician, Lucius Valerius Flaccus, and Flaccus became Cato's mentor and supporter. The preferred way a man could proceed and excel in the Roman world was through the support of an elder, wealthy adherent. The patronage/client system in Roman affairs should not be underestimated. Under Flaccus' influence and guidance, Cato progressed through the required political ranks. In 205 BC he was elected quaestor; aedile in 109 BC and praetor in Sardinia (198 BC). In 195 BC he was elected to the highest office Rome could bestow, consul. 

The great soldier and contemporary of Cato's, Scipio Africanus- he who finally defeated Hannibal, incurred the wrath of Cato mainly due to his philhellenic stance. Due to Cato's concerted attack, Scipio's political reputation was sullied and the great soldier, and statesman, became embittered and left Rome for good, dying soon after (d 183 BC).

In 184 BC, Cato was elected to the position of 'censor' together with his mentor and mate, Flaccus. This was an interesting position. In essence, these twin magistrates were arbitrators of Roman moral conduct. Good luck says, I! Cato was worried about the perceived degeneration of Roman vigour and moral fibre due to the pernicious infiltration and influence of Greek culture. He, therefore, introduced laws to prohibit/inhibit the ostentatious expression of wealth. In this venture, he ultimately failed.

In his later years, he was renowned for his expression of hate for Carthage. And his, 'Carthago est delenda' echoed throughout the forum. His plea was noted and in 146 BC Carthage was utterly destroyed. It was inevitable, there was only room for one great power thereabouts. Few folk know the historic importance of the destruction of Carthaginian power. It determined that Western Civilisation would subsequently be founded on the flint hard, and brutal, stoicism of  Rome, rather than the lush, and exotic, Semitic Carthage.   

Undoubtedly when Cato died in 149 BC he was out in the field ploughing the Sod.  

What are we to make of this Cato?

I need to ask, would I have been enthralled to sit in a pub and have a few beers with 'Cato the Ferret', sorry, I mean 'Elder'? I would like to state: Mayhap we should not judge this gentleman, or Romans of the time, by our standards and mores. There was no equivalent of the 'Geneva Convention', in the ancient world, however, it does appear that the 'Civilised Nations' of the Mediterranean did comply (mostly) with the terms of treaties drawn up between nations, and these treaties were sanctioned by their various gods. It would have been impious to break such compacts. There were also a set of informal policies/rules, applied to war. For example, after a long siege, the inhabitants were likely to be slaughtered and survivors enslaved and the city thoroughly sacked. This gave an incentive for a city to capitulate early for the promise of leniency. The ancients, in general, followed dictums of war that modern man would find familiar/similar. Truly, there is nothing new under the sun where human nature is concerned. We moderns take the moral high ground at our peril. All that said, to our minds, and through the mists of time, the ancients appear unnecessarily cruel and wantonTo return to my question. I think my answer would be an emphatic, no. While no doubt the man was intelligent, erudite and cultured, in spite of the rustic pretence, I suspect Cato would have been an absolute, bore in social gatherings. There is only so much rusticism a man can take. Also, I'm not a great fan of posca- nuff said. Arse bucket.