The Joy of Unexpected Books!

Tredegar HouseNicola here, musing on the pleasure of discovering unexpected reads. Last week I visited Tredegar House, which is a fabulous 17th century mansion in Wales, once the home of the Morgan family. Like so many of these places, the house is magnificent and the family history riveting. There’s also a connection to Ashdown House, which made it even more interesting for me so I wandered around looking at the family portraits and admiring the rooms before heading off to the gift shop and the tearoom!

Most National Trust properties these days have a second hand bookshop and browsing through the 1066 history section I came across a non-fiction book about the Norman Conquest. It was a “retired” library book called 1066 The Hidden History of the Bayeux Tapestry. I hadn’t studied the Norman Conquest of England since I was at college and hadn’t read much about it in the intervening time, so this looked intriguing and I’m also a total sucker for books that promise to solve a history mystery or tell me some sort of secret I didn’t know. That night I sat down to read it, not really expecting a thriller-style read, and I was totally hooked. Even though it was non-fiction it read like a page-turner, putting forward a story that challenged the traditional interpretation of the Bayeux Tapestry as a piece of Norman propaganda and suggesting it had a secret hidden message showing the Anglo Saxon side of the story. It was pretty convincing and I loved it.

One episode in the book particularly caught my interest. It was talking about how the tapestry had survived from 1066 until the present day, which is pretty astonishing when you think about it. It had some fairly close escapes, most notably during the French Revolution when some of the people of Bayeux wanted to rip it up to use it to cover their carts! Soon after that, though, it became a propaganda tool again, this time for Napoleon.

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Telling Stories Through Tapestry

Bayeux 2Nicola here. Today I’m talking about telling stories through tapestries as last weekend I went to the unveiling of our wonderful Parish Textile Map. I love story telling in all its shapes and forms, whether it is through words, paintings, music or any other medium and ever since I was a small child on a trip to France and saw the Bayeux Tapestry I have been entranced by the way that people used textiles as a way of telling a story.

Most historic tapestries were luxury items, created in specialist workshops and used for both decoration and warmth. The first tapestries were entirely hand made although with the introduction of a new type of loom in the 14th century, tapestries became more common. Often they were produced for the nobility to commemorate an event or tell a particular myth or story.

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Star Gazing

StarNicola here. As a star features strongly in the nativity story it felt quite Christmassy to be talking about celestial bodies today. I love stargazing. Every night when I take Angus out for his bedtime walk I stand in the field at the bottom of the road and look up at the night sky. Most nights it’s cloudy, the British weather being what it is, but on maybe one night in five I can see the Milky Way stretching overhead like a ribbon dusted with diamonds. Seeing it is a magical experience.

At the end of November we were told that one of the greatest celestial spectacles of the century was on the way, the arrival of Comet Ison. Ison was a sungrazing comet, originating from the fabulously named Oort Cloud out on the furthest edges of our galaxy. It was scheduled to pass so close to the sun that it would “graze” it’s surface. It was then supposed to develop a huge tail that would be visible in the night sky with the naked eye, making it one of the most spectacular astronomical sights of the century. Unfortunately Ison flew too close to the sun. It was too small to survive the experience and instead of blazing a trail across the sky, it disintegrated.

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