It’s all history

Today has just been ridiculous. Running around here and there, I was maybe in the office a total of two hours, where I read articles that were somewhat relevant to my work but not really. My meeting this morning with both supervisors went fairly well; at least, I have something to Do, which is better than not having anything, but it’s not like I wasn’t plugging away at my reading already. The workshop this afternoon went on an hour longer than it was supposed to, which made me miss my meeting with Megan; I left my keys in my office and had to go back to get them; I thought I had bought dark chocolate only to find that it’s actually milk. Good grief. It seems the whole week has been like this, one thing after another.

The best part of today was working in Special Collections: sitting in a big, highly air-conditioned room and wearing brightly colored gloves, sliding into that timeless space where the only sound is the hum of the air-conditioner and the scratch of pencil against paper. For those two hours it was only me and the artifacts; I sorted through the box of manuscripts, handling the black and white photographs of the university with the same reverence I held a Byzantine icon or an Egyptian alabaster jar when I worked at the museum. It’s all history. One of the photographs was taken in front of the cathedral with a large group of people; that one candid moment captured. Who were those people? Is that man holding a pipe? What is he saying? I read a booklet of references for a woman applying for some unknown post. One of them said, ‘I can only think that the rather disturbed conditions under which the students have had to work this last year account for the Division 2’. Another one of her references couldn’t say what she had done at her job because of the Secrets Act. She was fluent in French and German. The year was 1940.

Zap, zone, zzz…

After a full week of haar hovering over us, it is now a beautiful gorgeous day. I want to stay inside and read or watch mindless movies and eat food that someone else has prepared. The doctor agreed with me on Friday: I have a sinus infection, and he gave me antibiotics. My energy is zapped, but I have things to do, though I keep zoning out when I read. Somehow from the DNB article on Henry IV I found myself reading about the Sahara and cheetahs on Wikipedia, and then about Blackadder. I’ve looked up properties of folic acid and read about a friend’s journey from being Baptist to Episcopalian. I’m just plain tired and don’t really care about Walsingham or his Chronica Maiora.

I’ve been reading To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis each night before bed, and this morning I realized that it was having a lingering effect. I was innocently reading the DNB’s article on Richard II:

At this point, however, events in France took a turn which Richard could not have foreseen. Burgundy’s enforced absence from Paris in May and June allowed his rival, the duke of Orléans, to establish his ascendancy over the intermittently insane Charles VI, and Orléans now allowed Henry freedom to prepare an invasion of England. He concluded an alliance with Henry, and may secretly have given him some help. His motives were opportunistic: he hoped to destabilize Richard’s regime in England, undermine the Anglo-French accord, and thereby weaken Burgundy’s standing at court in France. With a small body of supporters, including Archbishop Arundel, Henry landed at Ravenspur in Yorkshire about 1 July 1399. Many duchy of Lancaster retainers rallied to him, and he was soon joined by the earls of Northumberland and Westmorland, who had their own grievances against the king. With the north thus quickly secured, Henry marched south, gaining support as he went.

…and as I read, I heard Professor Peddick shouting, “Ha! Individual action! Not blind forces! Would Henry Bolingbroke have had support from the French if the duke of Burgundy hadn’t been away? If it weren’t for the opportunism of the duke of Orléans, Henry may have never returned to England! Richard II would never have been deposed! Blind forces, pah!”

Of course, I wouldn’t want to get in an argument with him on the detail that Burgundy was kept out of Paris by an outbreak of the plague, lest I be considered an ally of Professor Overforce and his amazing tree-leaping canine, Darwin.