I’m in the back row second from the left.
A Flap of Nuns isn’t the title of a book on my bookshelf. The term is one of the collective nouns in James Lipton’s classic An Exaltation of Larks. I use it here as a means of confession that I own far too many books about nuns than you would expect of a lapsed Catholic and firm agnostic. But once a convent schoolgirl always a convent schoolgirl in some sense. I was educated by nuns from the age of seven to eighteen, first at St. Mary’s Convent in Romford and then at Brentwood Ursuline Convent High School. If it were up to me the collective noun for nuns would not be Flap, it would be Clack, for the distinctive sound of rosary beads, worn hanging from the waist, rattling and clacking as Continue reading
My latest blog for the library (MCPL) is a companion piece to On Learning I’m English. It includes a reading list on how genetic science has revolutionized the study of human origins and prehistory. Plus a great novel about the last days of the Neanderthals. Do you have a bit of Neanderthal in your DNA?
Exploring Your DNA
Long ago and far away in the England of the 1960’s television political satire was born. I was fourteen years old, precociously interested in current events, and allowed to stay up late to watch That Was The Week That Was. TW3 as it was known first aired on Saturday November 24th 1962. The star was a young David Frost and I was soon helplessly in love, my first big crush. The show was revolutionary. The hitherto staid and cautious BBC Continue reading
I learned some shocking information this fall. It was a simple matter of spitting in a tube for one test and swabbing my cheek for another, but the results were complicated and confounding. I learned that the majority of my DNA is English. As the woman in the TV ad says about her Native American ancestry, I had no idea.
“We’ll see what happens” is one of President Trump’s favorite phrases. His trademark talk and tweets contain a limited vocabulary of words and phrases, which he slots together in seemingly random combinations. How many times have we heard “believe me,” “that I can tell you,” “amazing,” “sad,” and of course “no collusion”?
But “we’ll see what happens” is in a class by itself when it comes to strange Continue reading
When you google the words “Christian iconography kneeling” the first image that comes up is Fra Angelico’s Annunciation painted on a wall of the Friary of San Marcos in Florence. The Angel Gabriel appears before Mary in a loggia. He kneels, bent forward on one knee as a sign of respect and reverence towards the woman chosen by God to bear his Son. I googled these terms out of confusion that the current national debate concerns the act of kneeling viewed as a sign of disrespect. For most of recorded history the exact opposite has been the case. Continue reading
What do you think of when you think of monks? Silent hooded figures praying in a shadowed cloister perhaps? Or the ethereal sound of Gregorian chant? You probably don’t think of a violent battle leaving thousands of dead and dying strewn on a blood-soaked field. Yet this is part of the story of a famous Irish monk named Colmcille, or Saint Columba. His Gaelic name means dove of the church, but Colmcille was far from a dove of peace when it came to Cul Dreimhne, the Battle of the Book. I heard about this strange episode in Irish history while staying in the village of Drumcliffe north of Sligo, in sight of the slopes of Ben Bulben where the sixth century Battle of the Book was fought. Colmcille instigated the battle in the aftermath of a legal dispute that is the first recorded case of copyright law. Continue reading