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It’s vaguely impressive that this notice was felt to be required at performances of Aeschylus’s Persians, this year’s “Cambridge Greek Play”. After all the play is being performed in the original Greek.

Photo: © R. J. Mynott

Should the sign have been written in Greek? Well, there were actually supertitles, so the trigger warnings were not just for those fluent in the classics — who might be expected to know ahead of time what issues the play covers. The Arts Theatre website has a whole discussion of this sort of thing, which they insist are “Content warnings” not “Trigger warnings”. It is obviously true that there are some physical things which can trigger a bad reaction in lots of people; one cannot deny that or minimize the potential harm. But is posting a warning upfront the right way to go about the issue of difficult content? Maybe, but the list could get long. And isn’t there a bit of caveat emptor which maybe should come into account here? Should you be surprised to meet “historical misogynistic ideology” when attending an old play? Surely it’s unreasonable to expect fifth-century BC Greeks to have the same views as 21st century Britains, and aren’t you going to the play at least in part in order to appreciate these differences?

Content warnings seem like a step down the road that leads to deplatforming. Hateful speech may best be countered by more effective speech tending in the opposite direction, but loud bangs are not “argued against” by more loud bangs. I suspect that going to the theatre, unless it’s no more than the pantomime, should be an experience which ought to have an effect which might be covered by the descriptor triggering. You want to shake people out of their complacency, though traumatizing victims of any of the types of physical violence listed in The Arts Theatre’s list should be nobody’s aim. But if you’re going to see a classical play, or a classic play, I expect that you should expect and hope that you’re going to be shocked to some extent. By all means warn me about loud noises, strobe lights, explosions and gunfire too — perhaps even about smoking on stage — though I’m never sure whether this happens because the theatre fears I may hold rabidly anti-smoking views, or because the fake smoke smells so odd, But let me quietly deal with all sorts of symbolism and tricky content on my own.

How long must we wait before we find out that we have to include trigger warnings on book covers? Not too long I bet. Some of these warnings might need to occupy quite a lot of space: just look at what’s covered in the Arts Theatre’s list. “Stop in the name of love, before you read this book. Think it o-over”!

Come to think of it, threats of “descriptive violence and phallic symbols” might actually move a whole lot of books.

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

'Twas about seven o'clock at night,
And the wind it blew with all its might,
And the rain came pouring down,
And the dark clouds seem'd to frown,
And the Demon of the air seem'd to say—
"I'll blow down the Bridge of Tay."

When the train left Edinburgh
The passengers' hearts were light and felt no sorrow,
But Boreas blew a terrific gale,
Which made their hearts for to quail,
And many of the passengers with fear did say—
"I hope God will send us safe across the Bridge of Tay."

But when the train came near to Wormit Bay,
Boreas he did loud and angry bray,
And shook the central girders of the Bridge of Tay
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

So the train sped on with all its might,
And Bonnie Dundee soon hove in sight,
And the passengers' hearts felt light,
Thinking they would enjoy themselves on the New Year,
With their friends at home they lov'd most dear,
And wish them all a happy New Year.

So the train mov'd slowly along the Bridge of Tay, 
Until it was about midway,
Then the central girders with a crash gave way,
And down went the train and passengers into the Tay!
The Storm Fiend did loudly bray,
Because ninety lives had been taken away,
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

As soon as the catastrophe came to be known
The alarm from mouth to mouth was blown,
And the cry rang out all o'er the town,
Good Heavens! the Tay Bridge is blown down,
And a passenger train from Edinburgh,
Which fill'd all the people's hearts with sorrow,
And made them for to turn pale,
Because none of the passengers were sav'd to tell the tale
How disaster happen'd on the last Sabbath day of 1879
Which will be remember'd for a very long time.

It must have been an awful sight,
To witness in the dusky moonlight,
While the Storm Fiend did laugh, and angry did bray,
Along the Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay.
Oh! ill-fated Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay,
I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses, 
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.

The Tay Bridge Disaster

This is apparently what they get up to at Grand Canyon University. As they say “We can all agree that literature plays an important role not just in sparking your imagination—but in shaping your educational career path and future goals.”

Not content to do the work for fiction alone, they repeat their analysis for non-fiction:

The impulse to thoroughness leads to their combo analysis: the bestseller overall:

Link via Shelf Awareness for Readers of 23 September.

It’s all over now, and we are awaiting the result of the DoJ’s lawsuit designed to save us all from the horror of a Penguin Random House Simon & Schuster merger.

Whether or not the proposed merger may be a “bad thing” from some sort of consumer-based perspective, the grounds on which the merger was attacked in court were clearly nonsensical. Jane Friedman gives us a cool analysis of the issues in her post “Why the DOJ v PRH Antitrust Trial Doesn’t Change the Game for Authors, Regardless of Outcome“. Clearly, even if the plaintiffs are right that the biggest advances will be reduced after a merger (which is by no means certain) apparently the general effect on advances across the board will if anything be that they become slightly larger! Protecting the interests of the 1,200 top-earning authors to the detriment of the 15 million others is a strange kind of protection for our government to be throwing money at.

© 2021 Buffy and Ian Bailey

Hyperalleric relates the story of Buffy and Ian Bailey’s discovery of this gold bead in Yorkshire. The finders are described as metal detectorists* — a term new to me.

Hyperallergic helpfully tells us, “You might wear your favorite sports team’s jersey, and medieval people wore their favorite saints”. The book bead carries the images of St Leonard and St Margaret. Apparently Saints Leonard and Margaret (of Antioch) are both implicated in pregnancy and safe childbirth. A little piece like this, they tell us, would be quite affordable to the middlingly wealthy. Perhaps we can imagine the pregnant owner reading a book in her garden while absentmindedly twirling her necklace’s bead, and then the chain broke and she dre-a-dre-a-dropped it!

And it took the invention of the metal detector to ever find it again.


* In a comment Alan Aitken points to a BBC broadcast about detectoring. I found this episode of The Localist. It’s worth a listen. An important first step is to “observe the law and seek permission from the landowner”.

This map, from the Barbican Children’s Library, seems to suggest that in order to read R. L. Stine you have to have passed through David Almond et al. Cute nonetheless.

In my working days a book map used to mean a detailed listing of the page make-up which you’d send to the printer along with the package of repros. The book map was intended to remove the possibility of the printer’s stripping up the pages in the wrong sequence. (Strippers often used to love to get their Roman numerals mixed up.) If you had multiple blanks to insert in order to bulk the book out to make an even working, then the book map was even more important. A book map might look like this:

Now that I have to devote my mornings to Phil Liggett and Bob Roll on the Tour de France 2022, I fear I must suspend my posting for the duration. See you late July.

I you have not yet watched this show on television I recommend it heartily: it’s like a beautiful travelogue interspersed with excitement involving half a dozen different athletic contests.

Market Hill in 1841*

Nice to know that four hundred years ago Cantabrigians seem to have valued books about as much as they do today.

In 1602 Margaret Cotton who lived on Market Hill in Cambridge with her husband Henry, a pewterer, was accused of stealing a book from her neighbor Ralph Hyde, a draper. Nobody says out and out what the book was. It might or might not have been a Bible, or The Secrets of Alexis, a sort of contemporary self-help volume, or a sixpenny pamphlet (you’ll find sixpence written vid, which is 6d). Cunningly Ms Cotton seems to have counter-charged that Hyde was also a thief, having stolen her reputation by coming into her house, grabbing her keys, and “discovering” the book in a cupboard. Heather Wolfe examines the event at The Collation, providing a surprisingly large amount of detail on testimony and witnesses.

As a time-traveling sympathetic witness for Ms Cotton I could testify that I still get the occasional hot flush of embarrassment when I remember a book which I borrowed at the age of nine from Kathleen Walker, and “forgot” to return. She was a classmate at Gala Academy, and as I left the school that June and started at St Mary’s School, Melrose in September, I kept forgetting to take it to her home — ominously right next to the police station. Eventually it became so ridiculous that I took the book, a beige colored cloth-bound hardback novel for kids with red and brown stamping, and threw it into the unfinished corner of our remotest attic — where it probably lies to this day covered in seventy years of dust. Did I steal it? I guess so.

Dr Wolfe does indicate that her tale is “to be continued” but after six months Part 2 has still not been forthcoming.


* Maybe 1841, maybe not: there’s some ambiguity about when this or that structure was removed. Market Hill surely doesn’t strike you at first as a hill, though it must actually be several feet above the water level in the River Cam at the Backs, behind Kings College Chapel which appears in the background of this picture. I bet that if you pour out a bucket of water on Market Hill at the point of origin of this picture, it’d run down Petty Cury behind you to puddle just inside Christs College where the King’s Ditch used to run (crawl more likely) on its journey round the town center. A hill yes, but nothing compared to Castle Hill, yet big enough to have Great St Mary’s, the university church, built on its top. The reason you can’t see Great St Mary’s on the right of the engraving is that until relatively recently there were buildings in the place where today the market stalls are set up, so the orientation then of the market was more east-west right in front of the Guildhall and around the corner in Peas Hill than today’s north-south alignment.

The elaborate construction in the foreground is the terminus of Hobson’s Conduit, a channel which brought clean water into the city from the high ground near Great Shelford to the south. In 1631 Thomas Hobson, a livery man who made money from transporting goods to and from London, bequeathed land to fund and maintain this public water supply. (He it is who is the cause and origin of the expression “Hobson’s choice”.) This fancy structure may now be found at the corner of Lensfield Road and Trumpington Street whence the water flows in gutters on both sides of Trumpington Street, to stop in front of the Pitt Building. Where does it go from there? Probably leftward into a pipe towards the river down Silver Street in a remnant of the King’s Ditch which used to bring “fresh” water to downtown Cambridge, running in a grand circle passing in front of Christ’s, behind the Round Church and back into the river on Jesus Green.

Here’s a photo of the same scene today (well a few weeks ago) looking a little more north of west than the one above — taken more or less from the bottom left hand corner of the engraving.

The Hobson’s Conduit terminus would have been about ten feet in front of you, in the shadow of the Guildhall to the left. Kings College Chapel is behind the tall buildings fronting Peas Hill beyond. Just to the north of Great St Mary’s, and in front of the tower of Caius College (which we pronounce “Keys”) you can see the top story of Cambridge University Press’s bookshop directly above the head of the white-haired guy with the bike. This site has been used to sell books since 1581. Maybe Mr Hyde bought the stolen book there?

A nicely written account from The Guardian of one author’s self-propelled 500-mile book tour of 32 bookshops from Corbridge to London. The book is Lean Fall Stand, the author Jon McGregor.

“A thrilling and propulsive novel of an Antarctica expedition gone wrong and its far-reaching consequences for the explorers and their families” Amazon (thus the publisher) describes it. Here is a link to The Guardian‘s review.

See an earlier reference to a “pedestrian” poet, a laureate at that.

Thanks to Annabel for the original link.

DeepStore maintains an archive 150 meters underground in Winsford Rock Salt Mine, in Cheshire. (Scroll down at that link to view their corporate video about their archiving mine.) Mining began here about 1850, and DeepStore was set up in the 1990s to take advantage of the perfect storage conditions in the mine’s already excavated areas. Laura Ashley are the company which invited Tom Scott to look at the archive. Those flat drawer storage cabinets which Laura Ashley uses to store original artwork look familiar: we used to have tings like that cluttering up our offices — we’d use them to store jacket mechanicals.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser. David Crotty at The Scholarly Kitchen brings us the link.

The salt mines were not a great place to work — the salt all around you and in the air causes severe dehydration — hence a preference for using prisoners or slaves to do the mining. People of my generation unconsciously associate salt mines with Soviet Siberia.