21 August 2021

King Arthur: the True Story

King Arthur: The True Story

King Arthur: The True Story by Graham Phillips
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

King Arthur is a well-known figure in European romantic literature, but the historical character he is based on is vague and elusive. The authors of this book believe they have identified him as Owain Ddanngwyn, ruler of Powys in west-central Britain from about AD 488-520. "Arthur", they say, was not his actual name, but an epithet or nom de guerre meaning "The Bear", being a combination of the Brythonic "arth" and the Latin "ursus", both of which mean "bear".

I am in no position to evaluate the accuracy of their claims, because I am not sufficiently versed in the history of that period, which many historians have referred to as "the Dark Ages" because so little written history has survived from then, and so historians of the period are left feeling their way in the dark. It is like trying, in 2021, to find the biography of a ruler in southern Africa around 1390. There are no contemporary written sources, so that for us is the southern African "Dark Ages". 

I came to read this book in a strange way. I went to the library to renew some books I hadn't finished reading, and saw this one lying on a table. Someone had taken it off the shelf, decided not to take it out, and left it lying there for a librarian to reshelve. I wasn't looking for it, nor would I probably have found it if I had been, but it just appeared in front of me, as if it were saying "Read Me".

What I can say of the book by way of evaluation is that it starts off with a good summary of the Arthurian literature, and how the legends of Arthur were popularised (and in many instances created) in the 12th century by Geoffrey of Monmouth and subsequent writers. So I found the first few chapters very good as an account of how the Arthurian legend developed, and its early sources.

The further one goes into the book, however the more tenuous and speculative the story becomes, and the less convincing becomes the sub-title, "The True Story". The authors don't pretend otherwise. Their prose in the later chapters is extremely conditional, "if x happened, then y could have followed", "It is conceivable that...".

Much of the knowledge of the period comes from archaeology, which can tell us something of what life was like in a particular period, and what kind of people lived where, but it tells us very little of the actual events that led to those conditions. Pottery fragments can tell us whether the people who lived in a place were Angles or Saxons or British, but does not tell us their names, and whether they were ruled or led by someone called Arthur.

I also have to ask myself why I should be interested in Arthur or Arthurian literature. Most of the literature was written 600 years later, and tells us more about that period than about the time when Arthur lived, if he ever did live. One of the things that interests me about it is the intersection of history, myth, legend and theology, some aspects of which I have dealt with in an earlier blog post -- see South African Camelot.

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20 August 2021

Much Ado about Vaccination

I never got vaccinated as a kid, because my father was some kind of health nut, and was a conscientious objector to vaccination. He had a special certificate of exemption for me, which had to be shown whenever I enrolled at a government school, because in order to attend, one had to show that one had been vaccinated or specially exempted. 

So when I went to school all the other kids had visible "vaccination marks" on their arms, but I didn't.

My father never explained his objections to vaccination to me. He was an organic chemist, and sometimes talked quite a lot about vitamins and things like that.He was an atheist, and while my mother sometimes read me Bible stories and nursery rhymes and fairy stories at bed-time, my father would read me stories from his biology textbooks -- about sea urchins and liver flukes and monads and such, and from the illustrations they were just as monstrous as any dragons, giants, ogres and the like. 

Looking back, and trying to interpret with hindsight, I think my father believed that boosting the immune system with vitamins was more effective than vaccination. Back in those days the compulsory vaccinations were only for smallpox, and infection with several common diseases of early childhood was supposed to confer immunity, and I think my father tried to get me infected. or at least hoped I would be. I did get chicken pox, and had to stay away from school with all of six spots. I think I got whooping cough, and definitely had pneumonia and amoebic dysentery before the age of 7. The pneumonia required penicillin injections every four hours day and  night, and I developed a deep hatred of them at the age of 4. Penicillin was a new drug in those days, but my father seemed to have no objections at all to that.  Again, I never discovered why he objected to some kinds of medicine but not to others. The amoebic dysentery seemed to cause doctors to get into a tizz when I was grown up and put it on applications for employment. I had hardly been aware of being sick, and it entailed interesting visits to the doctor and examining bugs under microscopes, which was quite interesting to a 5-year-old. 

I got measles when I was 11 and at boarding school, and that was the worst headache I have ever had in my life. The headache went after the first couple of days and the main suffering for the next fortnight I had to spend in the school infirmary was boredom -- no reading allowed. Several other kids got measles after me, so we spent days making every conceivable design of paper aeroplanes. But if a vaccination could have prevented that headache, I would have gone for it. 

A couple of years later there was a polio epidemic, and the beginning of the school term was delayed for a week to try to prevent it from spreading. Later that same year a vaccine for polio was discovered. Too late for our generation, but our kids had it.  

But eventually the vaccination thing caught up with me. The government decreed that from 1 July 1964 one would require passports and vaccination certificates to go to Lesotho. I had a passport, but no vaccination certificate, so I went and got vaccinated at the age of 23. I wondered what my father would think of that, but as I was over 21 and had in any case not seen him for several years, I couldn't think of any reason not to be vaccinated. So I went to the district surgeon's clinic and got vaccinated, and the certificate, and two days later I was sick as a dog, and could not finish an essay I had to write for university. It would have been a lot easier to be vaccinated as a child, because then the adult booster would have had little or no effect. 

We went to Lesotho, and where there had previously just been a road and a bridge and a police post on the Lesotho side, there was now a sea of mud and a prefab hut with an immigration officer on the South African side. There were five of us in the car, and only two of us had passports -- they had only been a requirement for four days. The customs man said he would let us through if the guy on the Lesotho side did, but he would not let us back without vaccination certificates. So before going out on the town in Maseru we all went to the hospital for the unvaccinated to be vaccinated and get certificates. They had all been vaccinated as children, so it didn't make them sick, and the customs man was as good as his word -- he let us back without passports, but inspected all the vaccination certificates. 

And in subsequent travels, some places have also insisted on certificates of yellow fever inoculation as well. Those yellow certificates have been a requirement for international travel for most of my adult life, at least until smallpox was pronounced extinct. So I find it difficult to understand all the fuss about "vaccination passports" in social media. What planet have those people been living on?

I've gone into some detail to explain why:

  1. I've never understood the reasons for objecting to vaccination.
  2. I associate such objections with atheism
  3. It seems odd to me to accept some forms of medical treatment and not others. 

And I wonder if a lot of the fuss has been caused by the way social media work. 

Facebook, for example, wants to keep its users engaged and on their site. One way of doing this is by encouraging them to get involved in angry arguments. To get them involved in such arguments, give them an "Angry" symbol to tag posts with, and give posts that provoke the use of such symbols more exposure. Such posts are usually those that describe people who take the opposite point of view as stupid and or evil. You can report trolls on Facebook, but the biggest troll is Facebook itself, because its algorithms say, in effect, "Let;s you and him fight". And the bigger the fight and the more angry the reactions, the more eyes on ads, and the more profits for Facebook. 

We were vaccinated against Covid earlier this month. The thing was well organised and painless -- the Department of Health told us when and where to be vaccinated by SMS, and told us that we had been recorded as vaccinated within five minutes, also by SMS. But I'm not putting an "I've been Vaccinated" thingy on my profile pic on Facebook, or saying anything more about it there, other than a link to this post, because that seems calculated to promote a fight from which none but Facebook (or whatever other social media site is involved) can profit.

06 August 2021

Smugglers at Whistling Sands - a children's adventure story

Smugglers at Whistling Sands (Lou Elliott Mystery Adventures #1)Smugglers at Whistling Sands by George Chedzoy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Four children on a seaside holiday run unto a bunch of smugglers, and decide to spy on them to see what they are up to. Predictably, they get into trouble, and have an exciting and rather scary adventure.

Does it sound like Enid Blyton? That's because it is. Author George Chedzoy says he is trying to write something like Enid Blyton's "Famous Five" stories, because he thinks there are not enough such stories, and that is something I can applaud. As C.S. Lewis once famously said to his friend and fellow author J.R.R. Tolkien, "If we want more of the kind of stories we like, we shall have to write them ourselves."

At least one reviewer compared my children's books Of Wheels and Witches and The Enchanted Grove with the "Famous Five", and I'm not sure the comparison was appropriate. I'd perhaps have been happier if he had compared my books with those of Alan Garner, whose children's books I thought there weren't enough of, but in the case of Smugglers at Whistling Sands the comparison with the "Famous Five" is entirely appropriate. My books, like Alan Garner's, though also adventures of kids on holiday, have an element of fantasy, which one does not find in the "Famous Five", nor in this book.

Not only does Smugglers at Whistling Sands fit into the Enid Blyton genre, it is actually far better. George Chedzoy simply writes better than Enid Blyton. There are still some Blytonisms. There is food porn, but not very much, and it is played down. There are the obligatory exclamation marks, but two or three in a chapter rather than two or three in a paragraph, and they are used in more appropriate places. There is nothing of the "What a surprise!" kind of thing, which I find so annoying about Enid Blyton.

In Smugglers at Whistling Sands Louise Elliott, aged 12, rather lonely and neglected by her parents is bored in their holiday cottage on the North Wales coast, but makes friends with three siblings, Jack, David and Emily Johnson, who are staying in a nearby caravan park. David by chance overhears a conversation between two men about landing something valuable on an island. The children conclude that the men are smugglers, and decide to play detective and investigate. They sail to the island in Louise's boat, and find a briefcase full of American money, so their suspicions seem to be justified, and they decide to investigate further...

When I was a child I never cared much for the "Famous Five". I found them dull and predictable, and the characters were stereotyped, each having one characteristic that dominated everything. Of the works of Enid Blyton I far preferred her "of adventure" and "secret of" stories, such as The Mountain of Adventure , but i think I would have enjoyed this one very much when I was about 10 years old. So if you know a child who likes the "Famous Five", do them a favour and give them this -- it's far better.

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