Well, thanks be that Valentine’s Day is over and done with for another year. Though I’m far from cynical about love (even if I would have been hard-pushed to cook a meal for the girlfriend better than the one our housemate produced for us and another five people that night), I do take exception to the idea you must shoehorn “heartfelt” displays of romance into an otherwise-unremarkable day. Anyway, in addition to my better half, I’ve come across a couple of things in the past week or so which it’s fair to say I love to the point I had to share them for other to enjoy.
First up is a book I found a couple of weeks back in the excellent Amnesty International charity bookshop on Mill Road in Cambridge. I will concede that recent posts have given Surrey Medieval the look and feel of a blog solely about books (even if most of the time their contents are not the thing I’m writing about) but this one’s a gem so I make no bones about taking another excursion into matters literary. The Manual of Map Reading, Air Photo Reading and Field Sketching, Part 1: Map Reading has one of the driest and most functional titles of any book on my shelves – I suppose that’s what you get from a volume published by the War Office in 1955 (why was there still a War Office a decade on from the end of WW2?). Its delights are twofold. First is the text. True, the majority is no different in tone from many other decades-old textbooks, but it is preceded by a cute-as-a-button introduction to “mapcraft” (the application of “knowledge of the country and common sense to a picture of the ground that is called a map”, though I’m sure you could have guessed as much). Alongside this are the half-dozen foldout plates that illustrate important themes covered in the text (as the photo below serves to show, the ones in my copy have survived the passage of time particularly well). Beyond these self-confessedly superficial impressions, I have to admit that as yet I haven’t really grappled with the contents of the book and whether the techniques it describes remain current or have been superseded in the past 58 years. As for Parts 2 and 3, well I’m sure our paths will cross at some point in the future…
Second on the menu is what so far ranks as the most fascinating article I have read this year. A Facebook find (thanks JB), the story of the Lykov family’s retreat into a six-shades-beyond-remote wooded valley and their subsequent travails trying to scratch a living in such an unforgiving environment is enthralling. I’m sure I should try and draw a parallel between the family’s choice of such a marginal location to inhabit and the similar hardships engendered by population growth in medieval England between the twelfth and mid-fourteenth centuries but to be honest it’s not really comparing apples with apples, is it? Plus, the modern history of Russia is fascinating enough (if all too often blood-soaked) as to merit such considerations being left to one side on this occasion. A little bit of digging using the footnotes to the article reveals that Yerofei Sedov’s somewhat emotional parting of ways from Agafia Lykov is far from the end of the story. Some additional background details were provided in this short article from a few years ago (I like the website’s tagline of “Souvenirs of interesting places”), then in 2010 it was reported that Agafia was so taken with Putin-puppet Dmitry Medvedev’s “attitude towards Siberia” that she made a series of gifts that found their way to the Kremlin – a dubious story methinks. As far as the internet tells me, Agafia is still alive, albeit now living a less solitary existence owing to her advancing years and faltering health. All the same, if I was wearing a hat at this precise moment in time, I would take it off in recognition of her bravery and brilliant stubbornness to see out her days in the only way she has known.
Finally, if you’re still hungry for something else to read and are a lover of extended discussions of minuscule historical details (who isn’t?), you make like to cast your eyes over my response to recent criticisms levelled at the portion of the published version of my paper ‘Thursley Revisited’. While most of it rakes over old ground, writing it actually allowed me to expand upon the scope of the paper under discussion in a couple of respects – I have a feeling it won’t be the last I will write on the subject.