A linnet who had lost her way
Sang on a blackened bough in Hell,
Till all the ghosts remembered well
The trees, the wind, the golden day.

At last they knew that they had died
When they heard music in that land,
And someone there stole forth a hand
To draw a brother to his side.

THE KING’S MISTRESS by Emma Campion (Review)

The King’s Mistress is a biographical novel based on the life of Alice Perrers, “mistress” during his final years of King Edward III. It is reminiscent of Anya Seton’s masterpiece Katherine, even to the quotations from Chaucer at the top of each chapter and the presence of Chaucer himself throughout the novel, but that is not a bad thing. In fact it is a very good thing, and anyone who has read Katherine as often as I have will definitely enjoy this one, too.

For a start, Alice has received a constantly bad press from writers of both fiction and “historical fact”. But this author (Emma Campion, better known as Candace Robb) sets out to see everything from Alice’s point of view. And as Alice herself says, “When had I a choice to be other than I was?”

It is her father who arranges her marriage, when she is still hardly more than a child, to a sexy widower “twenty years her senior”.

Janyn was splendid in a deep jewel-hued jacket, leggings and hat, the latter ornamented with peacock feathers. From his neck hung a gold chain set with medallions of lapis lazuli. The sun had darkened his complexion. He looked glorious, as I imagined a lion might look. And as I approached I felt a sense of great power as his expression of impatience metamorphosed into a look of sheer delight, and then something darker, a hunger. As if he were a lion and meant to devour me. Yet I did not fear him. I felt I shone in his presence. I came alive.

It is her husband who is under the patronage of the Queen Mother, Isabella, the She-Wolf of France, and so Alice too comes, willy-nilly, under the old queen’s aegis.

It is the old queen who places Alice in the royal court as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Philippa, when Alice’s husband Janyn is murdered..

And it is Queen Philippa, now an invalid, who literally pushes Alice at her ageing but still very virile husband, the King, Edward III.

Queen Philippa too noted my weight loss and that I looked as if I were not sleeping. She listened to my explanation with sympathy. She shared with me her own reason for melancholy: that she had so much pain in her pelvis she would never bear another child, and that she and the King now lived as brother and sister, not husband and wife […]

I had heard previous speculation from the women waiting on Her Grace that her riding accident had ruined her for sexual pleasure, and that shortly afterwards her courses had stopped. However, I had never heard her speak of this herself. I felt honoured by her confidence, sad for her, and unsettled by a sense that she was absolving me from guilt. The new gowns, this confidence …

Of course, she soon has many enemies. How could she not? And all the jealousy and bile finds expression in the writings of Thomas of Walsingham, a monk who seems to have had a lot in common with the oh-so-religious woman-haters who still hold sway in many parts of the world today.

Alice Perrers at the deathbed of Edward III

I loved it, and identified with Alice completely. What more can I say?

Three Quotations from Marlene Dietrich

The first, you simply have to admire. Myself I am awed by it.

And here are two more that I came across and want to share because I absolutely agree:

First, on men who pick at their food:

All real men love to eat. Any man who picks at his food, breaking off little pieces with his fork, pushing one aside, picking up another, pushing bits around the plate, etc., usually has something wrong with him. And I don’t mean with his stomach.

And the second one on WAR:

If you haven’t been in it, don’t talk about it.

JANUARY 1996 (by Ann MacKinnon)

In this dark January
death thrusts at me
as dead whales rot on the sand
and birds call over them.

A poet answers cryptically
but his images define, as he lights
a cigarette and allows one last poem
to trail down the page.

The country toasts the bard
who brought us love
in a red, red rose
and taught us tolerance.

A friend dies alone,
his imagination curbed,
but his creations remain,
a celebration of a mind so full

That he could no longer
control it and let it engulf him.
He courted death and left the
future to us.

A cairn is built for hundreds
who died but we can only mourn
a few special people
this dark January.

(from) NEW YEAR’S MORNING (by Helen Hunt Jackson)

Each sunrise sees a new year born

A man praying in the River Ganges at sunrise

Always a night from old to new!
Night and the healing balm of sleep!
Each morn is New Year’s morn come true,
Morn of a festival to keep.
All nights are sacred nights to make
Confession and resolve and prayer;
All days are sacred days to wake
New gladness in the sunny air.
Only a night from old to new;
Only a sleep from night to morn.
The new is but the old come true;
Each sunrise sees a new year born.

A Young Legionary In Bethlehem: The Christmas Story Never Told

Dracul Van Helsing

The young legionary had had a bad day.

After a night of rowdy drinking, he had forgotten the standard for his regiment.

And had left it overnight in the little town of Bethlehem.

The officer in charge of the regiment was thankfully merciful.

Instead of court martialing the young legionary for his most serious offense, he just sent the young legionary back to Bethlehem to retrieve it.

Although being sent back to Bethlehem was punishment enough the young legionary figured.

For Bethlehem had to be the most god forsaken place on this earth.

“Have fun in Bethlehem, Pompey,” his fellow legionaries had said to him.

Pompey was his nickname.

Pompey of course had been the name of the Roman general who had lost to Julius Caesar in the Roman civil war.

It was an inside joke that earned the young legionary his nickname.

As Pompey set out from Jerusalem towards…

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