1066 And All That
On my lounge room wall at home I have a reproduction of a small section of the Bayeaux Tapestry, depicting just William the Conqueror and the Normans invading England. Jan and I bought it years ago as it’s the section showing the longship I plagiarised to use as my business logo. I thought that after 1000 years the copyright agency may have a little trouble locating the owners of the original intellectual property and I’d be safe. So far so good.
Above the boat is stitched the word Pevensey, the sight of the landing. The great battle that resulted between King William of Normandy and his cousin King Harold was called The Battle of Hastings, but in reality the battle took place nearby, nearby in Australian terms, on a sloping paddock at a place called Battle, not Hastings, so that The Battle of Hastings should actually be called The Battle of Battle. Either way, Harold was supposed to have been tired and exhausted, having just marched his army all the way down from fighting the Battle of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, and the next fight didn’t go well for him at all as he’s shown in the next panel in the tapestry having just been shot in the eye with an arrow. After that I imagine he pretty well lost interest. In everything.
I’d been seeing the word Pevensey on my wall for years and, lo and behold, there it was on the map. ‘Pevensey looks nice,’ I announced having no idea at all what is actually there. What actually is there is a sodding great castle, or more precisely, the ruins of a large castle on a hill looking towards the coast about a two kilometres away. In perfect weather we poked and prodded our way about and eventually down into the dungeon, Canons blasting away. Al’s Canon is a new D50 and still a novelty, while I’m just addicted to the sound of the shutter, and the smell of napalm in the morning? Anyway, thanks God for inventing digital photography instead of film, at about a dollar a frame, because we recorded just about every grey rock up on that hill.
Like most old buildings near castles, abbeys and Hadrian’s Wall, all the local houses are made from stone nicked in the night from the great edifice. I can’t imagine the café built against Pevensey Castle wall is any different but I can’t say I noticed. Al had seen a robin in the garden near where we were having lunch and he was determined to capture it as number one on his Great Photographic Catalogue of British Birds, no matter if his Twinning’s English Breakfast was going cold. The robin was equally determined not to be shot, flitting back and forwards like it was suffering from ADHD. The bird eventually lost and is now number one in the AN’s GPCoBB.
Pevensey Beach, the landing site, is a beach only in British terms. Like a regular one it has water, but, unfortunately, the water is the rather coolish English Channel. And it has pebbles, billions of washed pebbles of every size and so thick you nearly sink into them. And it has those wooden breakers that stretch out onto the sea every ten metres or so making the place look like a set for a WWII drama.
For purely historical research you understand, and a photo opportunity because the light was making patterns in the shallows, I went down the water’s edge for yet another session, imagining myself as just William the Conqueror and as I looked back inland I couldn’t help wonder what he must have been thinking.
The land behind the pebbles, past the seaside B&Bs and ice-cream shops, is flat and boring and was obviously once extremely swampy. From down there at the water’s edge England must have looked as inviting as Western Australia did to the early Dutch navigators. ‘No, bugger this miserable spot, let’s head to Bali (or Batavia) instead.’ I could just imagine being one of just William’s foot soldiers and having to run up this steep slope weighed down with my sword, shield, lance, chain mail, helmet with the pointy top as well as my mead, ale, peas pudding, Phrase Book Anglais and other provisions and then to have a bunch of very angry Angels (Angels?) and Saxons trying to stop me, with sharp pointy things. ‘Pleeeease Erncle William, I’ll ersk thees ernly wunce, can I go home to le mademoiselles now?’