No sooner had my musical tangent from early modern music to medieval music gone from troubadours to 12th century polyphony, when I had an astounding memory of my life as Count William that I hope I can confirm.

I remember the day I was released by the Bishop of Beauvais.  He took me to mass, still bound and in my filthy clothes.  At the end of the mass, they gave my mail to a couple of pages and took me out onto the cathedral steps, my hands still bound.  I was given a shove forward and stumbled toward King John or perhaps his envoy (it might very well have been William Marshal, my colleague and uncle by marriage).  He embraced me and personally unbound my hands, then the pages dressed me in my mail (which had been kept pristine because it was good quality mail and of value to them as booty if I should die) and put a fresh surcoat on me.  They gave me a handsome chestnut stallion to ride.

Such an age of extremes… only a few hours earlier I’d been wallowing in my own filth in the Bishop of Beauvais’ dungeon.  One of the guys I was with actually died there in that dungeon.  But once my ransom was paid, it was good to be the Earl of Salisbury and the king’s brother to boot… though I probably still smelled frightful.

Incidentally, it’s not that we weren’t clean back then (prudish attitudes about bathing didn’t become a thing until the later half of the 13th century), it’s that bathing was something you did when you’d gone home and didn’t have anything important to do.  Even the nicest inns didn’t give you much more than a chamber pot and a basin to wash in.  I definitely don’t miss that level of grit you got from being a prisoner in those days, even a noble one.

Rough Week, But At Least I’ve Got Dowland

Between worries about what I’ll do over the summer, looming projects, the usual social anxiety, and a rough falling out with a friend who decided it was OK to start being openly racist, I need an escape.

I’m trying to relax with some Dowland and clear with my head.  Amazing that a trick I learned from a past life self works so well even now, but what can I say?  Dowland’s music is magnificent and we’re lucky that early English music has gotten so easy to find with the Internet!

Have some:

Maybe I’ll put on some Troubadour music later.  That usually puts me in a good mood, especially upbeat numbers like “A L’Entrada Del Temps Clar.

Dreams Again

Today I woke up with my throat a bit irritated by allergies so I took an antihistamine and decided to sleep it off (all I have to do today is a 2-3 page essay and I can knock that out in an hour or two).

Part of the dream I had involved hearing some guy talking about losing a brother in WW2 or Vietnam, and I had my back to him crying bitterly. I wanted so bad to jump up and say “I died and left a brother behind myself… your story really hits me.” And I think during the dream I was going to tell him, but too many things happened and got in the way. Another part of the dream involved an old English village with stone structures that was part museum, sort of like Beamish, and although it was meant to be mainly 19th century some of the stonework was unmistakably medieval.

I woke up feeling strange about the whole thing. I haven’t thought much about the family I left behind in 1915, though I do know that my brother Albert was the one who chose my epitaph. Aside from him, I don’t know if anyone else in the family knew about me; one of my sisters left for Australia in 1891, she probably had no clue I was ever gone.

I really wish I had the time and money to spend looking for living relatives from that life. As far as I can tell no one from that family has any clue that John Harris, their distant cousin or great uncle or whatever I was to them, even existed.  There’s no mention of me as anything other than a statistic, except on sites where I’ve posted or where I’ve had some input (like John’s page on the Yeovil history site).

Still, I know I must have broken someone’s heart sure as there was a brother to write my epitaph.


Long story short, I’m doing really well in my courses.

I’m actually well ahead of my classmates with this old manuscript I’m studying for one thing.  I’ve built a pretty solid case for the book’s provenance but I’ve also got a strong suspicion that the book is older than the 13th century date given.

The text appears to be in a sort of Carolingian script, or some transitional script between Carolingian and Gothic.  In particular the lower-case letter “d” has an upright stem which you just don’t see in a typical 13th century Gothic hand; it’s a very Carolingian feature.  But since the text itself was authored in the 12th century it can’t be any older than that.

Still, thoughts of past lives lurk beneath the surface.  In particular I’m trying not to dwell so much on where I was a hundred years ago this month, spending much of my time trying to keep my head low and waiting for an attack, hoping we wouldn’t be the next ones to be gassed or shelled into oblivion.

Moreover, I seem to have been happy to put fiction writing to the side for a while too.  My most recent novel is something I’m still very proud of and something I promote when I can, but until I can become a success with that I have to support myself somehow and it seems academic pursuits are about the only thing I’m good for so I’ll throw myself into it wholeheartedly.  With any luck, my present life will begin to resemble my previous one less and begin to look a bit more like Tolkein with respect to a respectable academic record (though I don’t think I’ll be writing anything stylistically Tolkeinesque).

Still working on the problem of what to do to support myself over my gap year.  All in good time, I suppose; in the worst case I have more antiques and collectibles to my name than I can readily remember having, so I have nothing to lose emotionally by selling them off.  I bought them over the course of my life and always had a good nose for a bargain, so my collection’s worth many times what I actually spent on it.

But will it be enough?  That remains to be seen.

From Here

For most of my adult life, I’ve survived on poverty wages.

That’s pretty much all I could get.  Most of the best-paying unskilled jobs required a personality type I just don’t have: namely that of an extroverted sales associate who can convince people to buy more junk they don’t need.

I thought I could deal with poverty though.  I thought it might be better for me to be poor, that it might help me become a purer person.  Instead what I found is that poverty in a culture where charity can no longer meet demands is almost impossible to keep up for very long before it destroys you and leaves you all alone with only your wits to save you.

I’ve decided that there’s no shame in allowing myself some luxury if the chance comes in this life.  I don’t want to be a conspicuous consumer but I don’t want to make do with crappy homes and cars any more.  I want to be able to afford something smart but not ostentatious, like a country house on 3 acres or so outside of town, a top-of-the-line Ford (they park themselves!), and a few indulgences like my own library and mini nature preserve.  I want to live like medieval yeomanry, understated but not spartan and with just enough land to support me indefinitely on its resources.

But I also don’t want to lose my morals, or forget how hard I’ve had to struggle and how lost I’d be if no one at all had helped me.  This is what I’m most afraid of if I begin actively trying to move up the ladder: that I’ll lose my humanity in the process.  I don’t want to become a suburban pharisee, the kind that can afford to tip their pizza delivery driver but won’t (I know the type; I used to work delivery).  I want to get myself a nice place but I want to do it my way and actually try being nice to people, and generous when they do something for me.  It’s stinginess and arrogance I can’t stand among those who can afford to be more generous.

My values are old-fashioned.  I want to believe I can have it made in life and still be generous and benevolent, like someone who never completely let go of Victorian ideas of benevolent paternalism.  But I have to admit, I’ve never actively tried to succeed in life while doing something I love and staying true to my morals; that’s something I was taught I might have to compromise on.  Now that I see a possible path to Cambridge or Oxford as my BA program draws to a close with 3.66 GPA and a likely endorsement from any professor who’s really worked with me, I have to start thinking about how I’m going to conduct myself when I can get better jobs based on a sterling academic record.  For me after living on less than $10,000 a year for so long, a modest sum like $40,000 a year is a lot of money and I feel I could transform my life with that much income, student loans be damned.

I’m ready to give it a try.  I’m much more fortunate in this life and it’s time I started living like it.

Sea Shanties

A while ago I went looking for sea shanties that I might have known or heard during the life I lived in the mid-19th century.  I found a couple that sounded familiar.

I came across this song, called “Rio Grande,” which really caught my attention as soon as I heard it.  In this case, the “Rio Grande” they’re referring to is one in South America which oddly enough I might have stopped at.  The song itself sounds really familiar but I’m wondering if there wasn’t another set of lyrics to this same tune since I seem to remember the lyrics being about another port:

Here’s another one called “Haul Away Joe” that’s pretty well known, though I think I first heard it at a very young age and it always gave me a weird feeling:

I’m pretty sure I crossed the Atlantic on a masted vessel, incidentally.  I believe the paddle steamer was one bound for British Columbia I boarded in San Francisco.  But it’s all intuition really, I don’t have anything more than that.  I really hope there’s something left on the California coast that’s familiar enough to bring me more memories.

I’ve been thinking about this life more often as my trip to California gets nearer.  It’s funny, I thought I’d be thinking more of my  life as Phil but I already know so much about that life; what about this nameless sailor who shipwrecked off the Marin Headlands 100 years earlier?  I’ve been able to trace locations and rough dates but I know nothing of the person I was, only vague recollections of being a troubled soul and possibly on the run from the law.

Perhaps I didn’t know myself back then either.  A man on the run wears a thousand faces, none of them his own.