The Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds

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On Sunday we headed up to Leeds in West Yorkshire for another visit to the Royal Armouries Museum. It’s a 70 mile journey from where we live near Newark and took us about an hour and twenty minutes. We’ve been to the museum a few times now, and it’s always an enjoyable visit – and despite (or perhaps because of) it being only January, the place was pretty busy.

The Royal Armouries is the UK’s national museum of arms and armour and one of the most important museums of its type in the world. The core collection has its origins in the country’s working arsenal in the Tower of London, as far back as the Middle Ages. The collection of approximately 75,000 items – excluding 2,7000 on loan – is housed and displayed at three sites: the collection’s historic home at the Tower of London, the purpose-built building in Leeds, and at Fort Nelson, near Portsmouth in Hampshire.

Situated close to the city centre, the museum is among many buildings built in the same era (mid 1990s) which saw a rejuvenation of the area now known as Leeds Dock. The actual Leeds Dock forms the junction of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal and the Aire-Calder navigation. Good views of these waterways and the connecting lock, can seen from the different floors inside the museum:

The exhibits are spread over five floors. Once through the main entrance, the ground floor consists of main passage through to the Hall of Steel. To either side of the passage are a theatre and meeting rooms as well as the first of two cafes (the other is on the second floor) and the souvenir shop:

At the far end of the ground floor is the Hall of Steel, a steel and glass tower described in the guide book as ‘the architectural centrepiece of the Royal Armouries’. The stairs to the different floors circle around inside it (and through which the best views of the waterways can be had).

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The displays around the central stairwell are excellent and consist mainly of weapons and armour from the 17th century.

Floor 1 consisted of the Education Centre, Library and Wellington Suite – so we hurried on to Floor 2:

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Looking down at the ground floor from floor 2.

Floors 2 and 3 are all devoted to War, with displays of weapons and armour over time and how they changed. This is the entrance to the War Gallery on Floor 2:

There are far too many exhibits to show or talk about here, but I’ll show a few of them. The  exhibits in the following set are all connected to Henry V111. His suit of armour is always a talking point (re.the codpiece) as is the horned helmet that was given to him by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian 1 (1459-1519) after the defeat of the French at the Battle of Spurs.

The next set is a mixture of other items and displays of interest on Floors 2 and 3. The mounted men from the central display are all men of arms from different countries and times:

On Floor 4 is the fascinating Oriental Gallery. This is a mix of warriors, arms and weapons from several countries, including Turkey, India, China and Japan. Again, here are just a few of the photos we took. I’ve included an elephant used for hunting as well as a war elephant:

Floor 5 continues the theme of hunting started on Floor 4. There are displays of guns and other weapons used for hunting, as well as actual hunting models. I don’t like any form of hunting, nor do I take any interest in guns, which I also dislike. But here are a few photos:

I could only show a mere fraction of the enormous number of exhibits at the Armouries Museum, and many of the photos we took were useless because of the glare from the lights. Most displays were behind glass, which made it even worse, so please excuse the glary pictures. My favourite galleries were the Medieval ones. And Henry V111’s codpiece is a hoot.

And here’s some food for thought from a wall display in the museum:

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Country Boy – FFFAW

Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers is a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It involves writing a piece of fiction from a given photo prompt in 100-150 words, give or  take 25. If you’d like to join in with the challenge, follow the above link to see what to do. The challenge runs from Tuesday – Tuesday every week.

Here’s this week’s prompt, kindly provided by Singledust. Thank you, Gina.

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And this is my story – very late this week:

 Country Boy

Suyin scurried past the Red Dragon, the festive lanterns belying the sordidness inside. She prayed Jianyu wouldn’t see her amidst the crowds: with luck he’d be fawning over the drug lords, whose money had made him rich. His second restaurant would open next month.

‘Not bad for a country boy,’ he’d boasted, so many times.

They’d saved for years to make Jianyu’s dream come true. How happy they’d been running the restaurant … until those men had walked in. Drug dealing had changed the man Suyin had once loved; the bruises he dealt were increasingly hard to hide.

Suyin hurried on to catch her train. By tomorrow she’d be miles away, where Jianyu would never find her. Her backpack contained clothes and other essentials – as well as a bag filled with her wages from the part-time job she’d held for the last three years. She had no particular destination in mind, other than somewhere out west, deep in the country…

Far away from the country boy in the city.

Word Count: 170

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Book Promotion: Shadow of the Raven

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Just a quick post to say that the eBook version of Book 1 of my Sons of Kings trilogy, Shadow of the Raven, is free for today only (Thursday, January 26). Every download would be greatly appreciated.

For more detail about what the book is about, click the link to my newly created My Books page.

Here are the links to the books on:

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com.au

Every download would be greatly appreciated. 🙂

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What is Burns Night?

Robert Burns, 1787. Source unknown. Author originally Alexander Nasmyth, 1758 - 1840. Public Domain
Robert Burns, 1787. Source unknown. Author originally Alexander Nasmyth, 1758 – 1840. Public Domain

Burns Night is held on or near the birthday of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns (1759-1796) on January 25th. It is a celebration of the poet’s life and poetry – and is celebrated in countries worldwide, generally wherever Scottish people have settled over the years. It’s a night for celebrating Scotland’s national poet, Robert (Rabbie) Burns, by eating a lot, drinking a lot of whisky and partying! Celebrations range from ceilidhs to whisky tasting and Burns Suppers.

Before I go on about what happens at a Burns Supper, here’s a cute little YouTube video about Robert Burns himself from aboutscotland:

The video is nice and simple but it does leave out a lot of detail about Burns’ life and poetry – and the fact that in 2009, Burns was chosen as the greatest Scot by the Scottish public in a vote run by Scottish TV channel STV – narrowly beating William (Braveheart) Wallace. Nor does it tell us that Rabbie Burns was the eldest of seven children. (Only one brother is mentioned in the video.)

The first Burns Supper was held at Burns Cottage (where the poet was born) by Burns’ friends on the 21st July 1801 – the fifth anniversary of his death. They have been a regular occurrence ever since. Suppers can be simple gatherings to big formal dinners.

Burns Cottage in Alloway. Transferred to de. Wikipedia by Malisin. Creative Commons
Burns Cottage (now a museum) in Alloway. Transferred to de.Wikipedia by Maksim. Creative Commons

A formal dinner often involves a piper to welcome the guests until the high table is ready to be seated. This is followed by a round of applause and the chairperson’s welcome and outline of the evening’s entertainments.  Next comes the Selkirk Grace, also known as the Burns Grace at Kirkudbright (pronounced ker-koo-bree). These are the words to the prayer:

The Selkirk Grace

Some hae meat and canna eat

And some wad eat that want it

But we hae meat and we can eat

And sae the Lord be thankit.

The prayer is followed by the piping in of the haggis:

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RCMP Pipes and Drums Band piping in the Haggus (not a typo!) at their annual Burns Supper. Author Gleniarson. Creative Commons
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Haggis at a Burn’s Supper. Author: Kim Traynor. Creative Commons.

The address is in the form of a poem (aptly called Address to a Haggis) written by Burns in 1786. During the recital, the reader has a knife poised ready, and he cuts the casing along the length, making sure to spill out some of the gore. The recital ends with the reader raising the haggis in triumph during the final line as he yells, ‘Gie her a haggis!’ (the ‘her’ in this case being Scotland).

Cutting a haggis at a Burns Supper. Author: Kim Traynor. Creative Commons
Doctor Bob Purdie addressing the haggis during Burns Supper, Columba’s United Reformed Church, Oxford, 20004. Author: Kaihsu at English Wikipedia. Creative Commons.

The following video, uploaded to YouTube by Richard200sx, shows the piping in of the haggis, followed by quite a lengthy address. I’m sure many people, other than Scots, will have a hard time understanding what the ‘reader’ is saying, but as the poem is eight verses long, I’m only putting a translation of verse one here, with a link to the Wiki page for the rest for anyone interested.

 Address to a Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!
Aboon them a’ yet tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’a grace
As lang’s me arm.

Translation:

Nice seeing your honest, chubby face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Belly, tripe, or links:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.

Link to full translation here.

So now we all know that a haggis is just a big sausage!

A toast is then made to the haggis: ‘The haggis!’ At some of the larger events, the piper leads the procession carrying the opened haggis to the kitchen for serving to the appreciative clapping of the audience.

So what, exactly, is haggis is made of?

Although recipes vary slightly, the main ingredients of this Scottish dish seem to be a sheep’s stomach or ox cecum (found at the junction of the small and large intestine) for the outer bag. The inner stuffing is made up of the heart and lungs of a lamb (or calf’s offal) mixed with oatmeal and sometimes suet, and seasonings.

Not something  everyone would love – but there are many who do.

Haggis on a garnished platter with a knife used to cut it open in the "Address" to a haggis at a Burns Supper in Rochester, Minnesota. Author: Jonathunder. Creative Commons
Haggis on a garnished platter with a knife used to cut it open in the “Address” to a haggis at a Burns Supper in Rochester, Minnesota. Author: Jonathunder. Creative Commons

The actual meal consists of various courses, each served with plenty of wine or sometimes ale.  It generally starts with soup. This can be a Scottish broth, or sometimes cock-a-leekie. The main course, the haggis, is served with ‘tatties and neeps’ (potatoes and turnips):

Haggis served with tatties and neeps (turnips) at an Edinburgh Burns Supper in 201. Author: Kim Traynor. Creative Commons
Haggis served with tatties and neeps (turnips) at an Edinburgh Burns Supper in 201. Author: Kim Traynor. Creative Commons

The haggis itself is served with a whisky sauce, which is actually neat whisky!

Dessert is usually a typically Scottish recipe, such as cranachan  – made of whipped cream, whisky, honey and fresh raspberries, with toasted oatmeal soaked  in a little whisky.

"The Best Scottish Dessert" - Cranachan. Author: Saskia van de Nienwenhof from Edinburgh. Creative Commons
“The Best Scottish Dessert” – Cranachan. Author: Saskia van de Nienwenhof from Edinburgh. Creative Commons

Another popular dessert is tipsy laird (whisky trifle). Whichever is chosen, it is followed by oatcakes (bannocks) and cheese, all washed down with ‘uisge beatha’ – the water of life (i.e. Scotch whisky) and often coffee.

The rest of the evening is filled with entertainments, including singers and musicians performing Burns’ poetry. A speech is given on the life and literary genius of Rabbie Burns – and of course, his nationalism.

Further toasts and readings of Rabbie’s poems follow, as well as an ‘Addresss to the Lassies’. Originally, this was a short speech given by a male guest to thank the women who had prepared the meal. Nowadays it often includes the male speaker’s view on women – in an inoffensive and amusing way, of course. It is promptly followed by a response from a female speaker called an ‘Address to the Laddies’. This is delivered in similar, humorous vein to the male address.

The evening ends with a vote of thanks for the chair – who is often very unsteady on his feet by now. The guests are all asked to sing Auld Land Syne.

I’ve never attended a Burns Supper, but it seems I’ve been missing out here! I’m not sure I could stomach haggis (excuse the pun) and I’d have to request wine instead of whisky (even the smell of whisky knocks me out). But it does look a great evening’s entertainment.

This final picture is of Robert Burns’ house in Dumfries, where he spent the last years of his life. He died in 1796 at the age of 37.

Burns' house in Dumfries. Author: MSDMSD. Creative Commons
Burns’ house in Dumfries. Author: MSDMSD. Creative Commons

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Refs:
BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/robertburns/burns_night_running_order.shtml
Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burns_supper
Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Burns
Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cranachan
Robert Burns signature used for header image, from the above wiki link to Robert Burns. The image is Public Domain.

A Fairy Story

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Fairy Ring

‘Where did these come from, Mam?’ Six-year-old Tommy squatted down, pointing at the cluster of little white-capped plants growing along the fence at the back of their garden.

Rose smiled at her son’s puzzled face. ‘They’re toadstools, Tommy, and we find them in lots of places – like fields and woods, and even on people’s lawns.’ She gazed over the fence into the dense forest beyond, wondering yet again whether moving to the Highlands of Scotland had been such a good idea. Tommy already missed his friends in Edinburgh. But her husband’s job in the Forestry Commission had given them no choice.

‘I bet there are plenty of toadstools in there,’ Rose continued, hoisting the child up so he could see over the fence. ‘Lots of fairies and elves, too.’

‘Do fairies like toadstools?’

They love them,’ Rose said, lowering him to the ground. ‘Sometimes they dance amongst them and make them into circles called fairy rings. Doesn’t that sound fun?’

Tommy shrugged. ‘I’ve never seen a fairy ring, so I don’t know.’

‘Well, fairy rings are magical places for the little folk, but if humans step inside them, they could become trapped by fairy magic, and might never get out again.’

‘That’s silly, Mam. Fairies only help people.’

‘And how do you know that?’

‘Because the fairy who visits me when I’m in bed says she’ll take me to a magic place to find new friends, if I want. She knew I was sad about leaving my old ones in Edinburgh without me even telling her!’

Rose stared at her precious son. ‘Tommy, this fairy … what does she look like?’

‘Her name’s Elvira, and I’ve seen her this many times.’ Tommy held out his small hand, fingers splayed. ‘And she looks like you, Mam, except she’s tiny and has wings. They’re really cool!’

Rose’s stomach lurched. That her twin should wheedle her way into Tommy’s affections just to get to her was unbelievable. ‘Tommy, promise me that if Elvira asks you to go with her, you won’t go.’

‘But I’ve promised I’d go tonight… Just for a bit.’

Rose’s mind whirled. ‘Did Elvira say where this magical place was?’

‘I don’t think it’s far because she said we’d be back very soon.’

‘Well, that’s alright, then,’ Rose assured him, her mind working fast.

‘Thanks, Mam!’ Tommy yelled. ‘I can’t wait for tonight.’

*

The grandfather clock in the hall struck midnight, its chimes rousing Tommy from his sleep. Elvira hovered before him in a halo of fairy light.

‘Ready for an adventure?’ she asked. ‘The fairy folk are gathering.’

Tommy nodded, his excitement mounting.

‘Then close your eyes and don’t open them again until I say so.’

Watching from atop the wardrobe, Rose was on their trail as soon as Elvira waved her wand. Within moments they’d reached a glade in the forest where the fairies were gathering, all dancing around a fairy ring. Perched on a leafy branch, she watched as Tommy joined in. He looked so happy when Elvira led him into the ring and danced with him awhile. But then she darted out, leaving him alone and confused. He tried to follow, but the ring confined him as effectively as prison bars.

Looking pleased with herself, Elvira joined her companions.

Rose fumed, knowing that confrontation was now inevitable. But first, Tommy must be freed. Unseen by the frolicking fairies, she flew into the ring from the opposite side to where they were gathered around Elvira.

‘Why’ve you locked me in here?’ Tommy wailed, mistaking his mother for her twin. ‘I don’t like being on my own.’

No time for explanations, Rose waved her wand and within moments, Tommy was sleeping soundly in his bed.

Rose descended into the middle of the gathering and the crowds shrank back. It was some moments before Elvira realised that silence had fallen. She turned, her expression one of guilt-laden surprise at what she saw. In a panic, she glanced at the fairy ring.

‘Tommy’s in his bed, where he’s supposed to be, Elvira. How you thought you could get away with this is beyond me. And I know what it’s all about – so don’t bother to explain. Mother’s expecting me tomorrow. I contacted her earlier and explained my position.’

Fury blackened Elvira’s face and she shot a bolt of magic at her twin. Rose reeled from the blast, but recovered quickly to return a blast of her own.

As the elder of the twins, Rose was the more powerful: Elvira’s magic could never compete. ‘For your information, Elvira, I don’t want the throne.’ The onlookers gasped. No princess had ever refused the fairy throne. ‘I’ll tell Queen Isadora that myself, tomorrow. You see, sister, my new family is here. If I returned to the Fairy Kingdom without them, I would slowly die. You are very capable of becoming the next queen, Elvira. Our people love you very much…

‘Besides,’ she whispered, ‘when I wave my wand, no one here will remember tonight’s events. They’ll continue to dance around the ring, just as they’ve always done.’

Elvira nodded and smiled sincerely. ‘Thank you, Rose. It seems I acted hastily. I had assumed that after ignoring us for years, you’d just fly back in and claim the throne. I’ve worked hard for our kingdom, and know I can rule wisely as queen.’

‘Then let’s dance to that,’ Rose said, holding out her hands. ‘I haven’t danced round a fairy ring in a long time.’

Rose flew back home, content that all would be well. Assuming her human form, she checked Tommy before climbing into her own bed. Robert was still in a trance-like sleep and she clicked her fingers to break the spell. In a couple of hours, Rob would awaken normally. And tomorrow, they would continue to come to terms with their new home in the Scottish Highlands … after she’d made her case to her illustrious mother.

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Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to write a flash fiction for FFfAW this week, so I’m posting this story instead – which is from my book A Dash of Flash. At 988 words, it’s much longer that the usual 175 word maximum for the challenge, but still within the limit for flash fiction (i.e. 1000 words). I enjoyed writing it, too, because I love fairy stories.

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Conflicting Interests – FFfAW

Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writer is a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It involves writing a piece of fiction from a given photo prompt in 100-150 words, give or  take 25. If you’d like to join in with the challenge, follow the above link to see what to do. The challenge runs from Tuesday – Tuesday every week.

Here’s this week’s prompt, kindly provided by Louise at The Storyteller’s Abode.

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And this is my story . . .

Conflicting Interests

‘I’ll go ahead of you,’ Alf insisted as they waited to board the pleasure-cruiser, ‘so I can help you across the gangplank. Don’t want you overboard, especially in December.’

Edna scowled and stepped in front of him as the queue moved aboard. ‘I might be getting on, but I’m not incapable,’ she retorted, eyeing the roped-off steps to the open-air upper deck. ‘I wanted to sit up there … better views.’

‘Too cold,’ Alf replied, pushing her inside towards two vacant seats. ‘Get in first, next to the window, Edna. Views’ll be good and we’ll be nice and warm – not like them idiots Christmas shopping out in the city.’

‘Which is where I’d be if you hadn’t booked this cruise!’

Edna grumbled on until they disembarked, when her face lit up. ‘Now let’s get to the more enjoyable job of shopping.’

Alf sighed. Edna had made it impossible for him to see the sights, and now he’d be dragged round the crowded shops, loaded up with bulging bags…

His grumbling continued until they got home.

Word Count: 175

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Here We Come A-Wassailing

Twelfth Night in a Devonshire orchard, (UK) circa 1863. Making noises near to the trees was common during wassailing. Farmers would bang on drums, trays and pots or fire off their guns in order to scare off evil spirits. Author unknown. Public Domain
Twelfth Night in a Devonshire orchard (UK) circa 1863. Making noises near to the trees was common during wassailing. Farmers would bang on drums, trays and pots or fire off their guns in order to scare off evil spirits. Author unknown. Public Domain

Here we are again on Twelfth Night, with no excuse whatsoever for continuing Christmas festivities after today. Very soon we’ll be seeing Easter Eggs in the shops! Oh my . . . Anyway, I decided to reblog this post from last year because I just love the version of the song, ‘Here We Come A Wassailing’ by Celtic Woman and David Archuleta and today is a good day for me to annoy everyone in our house by repeatedly singing it. I also love the whole idea of the Green Man, and have been intending to write a post about him since last January – which I’ll get round to, eventually. So, without another word about that, here’s the Wassailing post . . .

Millie Thom

Prelude to a Wassail. Broadmarsh Morris Men perform outside tha White Horse before heading for the orchard. Author: Glyn Baker. geog.org.uk. Creative Commons Prelude to a Wassail. Broadmarsh Morris Men perform outside the White Horse before heading for the orchard. Author: Glyn Baker. geog.org.uk. Creative Commons

Tomorrow is Twelfth Night, January 6th, the date traditionally accepted as the end of the Christmas period. It’s the day our Christmas trees and other decorations come down, to be stored away for another year. Nowadays, with many people returning to work straight after New Year’s Day – if not before – many households pack away all traces of Christmas festivities much earler.

In England, January 6th is also often remembered as the day for ‘wassailing’ – which is what this post is about. I’m posting it the day before so you can all get ready the following items for your own wassailing ritual: a nice big, stout stick; a mug of wassail (generally mulled cider, nowadays); a bucket ot the same wassail, with a good…

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