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Notre Reine, le Duc

October 14th - 1066!

It's a day which changed history.

Because it was on this day that the Norman-French army under William, the Duke of Normandy, took on an English army under the Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson, at the Battle of Hastings.

Actually my little bit of research tells me that the 'battle' took place about 7 miles  (11 km) northwest of Hastings, close to the present-day town of Battle, in East Sussex, on the south coast of England.

I've read quite a lot about this part of history - I'm a bit intrigued by the Anglo-Saxon era - but I won't go into the details here about why a Norman duke (from the present day France) thought he had a right to the English throne and ended up claiming that right, changing England and the British Isles forever.

Suffice to say it was all a bit of a fiasco for the English ...  they were fighting among themselves, got into all sorts of confusion, ended up traipsing all over the countryside and ultimately, it was a decisive Norman victory.

We don't know how many people/men were actually part of that bloody battle but we do know that the English army was composed almost entirely of infantry topped up with a few archers. The Norman army was only about half infantry, and the rest of their fighting men were cavalry (on horses) and archers.

The battle lasted from about 9 am to dusk on that day and initially the English seemed to have the upper hand. The Normans, unable to break through their opponent's battle lines, pretended to flee in terror. The English chased after them and that's when the Normans turned on them Eventually, Harold was killed -  probably near the end of the battle  - and the English retreated. Although historians can't be sure of casualty figures. some reckon that 2,000 invaders died on that day... but the number of Englishmen who perished on that day was double that. 

The Normans had won the battle but they continued to face pockets of opposition as they marched north towards London. However, eventually, the Anglo-Saxons admitted defeat and The 'Duke of Normandy' ... William ...was crowned as king - King William 1 of England - on Christmas Day 1066.

Bayeux tapestryWithin a few years of the battle, the events leading up to Hastings and culminating in the conflict on this day back in 1066 was captured in embroidery ... I've never seen the Bayeux Tapestry but I really want to.

It tells the story from the point of view of the conquering Normans but experts now agree that it was made in England. It lives in the town of Bayeux - where else - in Normandy in northwest France.

The early part of 'William the Conqueror's' rule included the submission of the English nobles and ruling class, but despite this and social engineering to impose the Norman culture on the Anglo Saxons, resistance continued for several years. These were all dealt with by the new ruling class and monarch and so, despite the opposition, Hastings effectively marked the culmination of William's conquest of England. And the Normans - government, architecture, even spiritual life - would determine the future history of England and the British Isles.

However, here in Jersey, we already had experience of what the English would go through post 1066 because the Norman influence had been present for at least 100 years and more before the Battle of Hastings.

Jersey is just about 12 miles across the water from the French coast and Norman 'pirates' began invading from about the year 873, although they were around long before that apparently. Jersey was part of a region called 'Neustria' –  part of the Kingdom of the Franks in West-France. Jersey and the rest of the Channel Islands was originally part of the Kingdom of France, and not linked to the British Crown as it is today.

The Channel Islands actually remained politically linked to Brittany until the year 933, when William LongswordDuke of Normandy seized the Cotentin - the French peninsula which on a good day is visible from Jersey's east coast - along with the islands and added them to his domain. Jersey, along with the rest of Normandy, was not part of the French Crown,  which had only limited rights in the region.  It was at that time that any form of government and way of life in Jersey which pre-dated the Normans was replaced upon the Norman invasion, a good century before the Battle of Hastings.

During Norman rule, Jersey developed, including as an agricultural economy and links with 'France' were strong. There was a large Norman migration to the island and in fact, my own family - the Le Feuvre family - probably came over to Jersey at that time. My own family tree dates back to around 1560 but like many Jersey families, our name and heritage goes back much further. Today the Norman cultural influence is still evident in the island. Norman law is still the basis of Jersey law (although it now has large influence from English common law) and our local language - Jèrriais - is a form of the Norman language - Norman French !

Oh and one final thing which you may not know... Jersey is a Crown Dependency. We are a self-governing possession of The Crown, part of the British Isles but NOT part of the United Kingdom. We have our own government, our own laws, finance and currency (the Jersey pound is not legal tender in the UK) ... we are an independent county. But our Head of State is the English monarch..

And the Queen is STILL referred to here as the 'Duke of Normandy' - the loyal toast at formal dinners is to our Monarch ... Notre reine, le Duc. ... which refers back to the period before 1204 when the island was part of the Duchy of Normandy.

With the conquest of England by the Duke of Normandy William II, otherwise known as William the Conqueror -  King William I of England -  the Channel Islands remained part of the Duchy until 1204 when King John lost the majority of his French territories and the Channel Islands became possessions of the English Crown.


Not Lost in Translation

Do you speak more than one language?

Maybe you're multi-lingual or, like me, English is my 'mother tongue' and I only speak a smattering of other languages.

A little French - that's about it. I have a few words of Kiswahili, learned when I was a child in Africa. I can say 'good morning' and 'thanks' in a few other languages but not much more than that! I can't converse in any other that the English language. 

Although many people do speak English across the world, for which I'm very grateful, there are times when we go places and we find ourselves in need of help ... we may need a 'translator'. These days there are apps on our 'phones and tech devices that can help us to translate what is being said, but also there are those clever people who make their living translating from one language to another - helping others to communicate.

Today, believe it or not, is International Translation Day  - a day for recognising translation professionals.

But  why today - September 30th?

Well, today is a celebration of St. Jerome,  who is considered the patron saint of translators.

ThursdayJerome lived in the early part of the first century - born it's thought around AD342 or AD 347. He died on this day - September 30th - in the year AD420.

Jerome was a Christian priest, theologian and historian. He is best  known for his translation of most of the Bible into Latin (the translation that became known as the Vulgate) but he also wrote other commentaries on the whole Bible. He was also known for his teachings on the Christian moral life, especially to those living in cosmopolitan centres such as Rome in his time.  Interesting point -  he often focused his attention on the lives of women and identified how a woman devoted to Jesus should live her life. This came about because he was close to several female 'ascetics' from affluent families. 

His contribution to Christianity is so appreciated that Jerome is recognised as a saint and Doctor of the Church by the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Lutheran Church, and the Anglican Communion.

Today is Jerome's 'feast day' and also ... since 2017 ... a date set aside by the United Nations as the day when we recognise the role of professional translation and translators in connecting nations.  Apart from encouraging us all to celebrate their contribution, the United Nations today also stages an annual St. Jerome Translation Contest for translations in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish, and German.

I first saw translators in action when I lived in Africa - people translating sermons in church services without notes, just responding to what was being said from the pulpit! I've also seen translators work at conferences and that's amazing. They have to be so quick-thinking and alert, and the ability to listen to one language and simultaneously translate into another is a wonderful skill.

Helping others to communicate, to break down the barriers between nations and peoples, is an important contribution not just to relationships between individuals but also to peace and understanding in the world. 

Sometimes we think, arrogantly, that those who don't understand or speak OUR language must be somehow lacking. And I'm not just talking about French, Spanish, English ... or Swahili or any other 'lingo'! We expect them to be like us, act like us, fit in to our agenda - to 'speak our language' in lots of respects. And that means we may miss out on the diversity of difference. When we don't try to understand where people are coming from, let alone their actual words,  that's a shame.

So today, as we celebrate those brilliant people who help to actually translate conferences, and meetings and correspondence so that everyone is aware of what others are saying and thinking and imagining,  let's also ask ourselves whether we are making the most of our personal communications and interactions with others. Are we deliberately not attempting to understand others? Or is it just we're not paying enough attention or can't be bothered to put in the effort to see another person's viewpoint? 

If we are in danger of our relationships getting 'lost in translation',  let's determine to be better communicators, to work harder to understand other people's viewpoints.

Language is very important. Let's use our words wisely and understand the impact negative sentiments may have on another person. Positive words and actions can make us and others feel great and that sort of positivity is contagious. 

And if you do fancy learning another language ... well, why not give that a go as well?

What language might you learn?

Now that's a question.

 

 

 

 


Water Water Everywhere

Have you ever heard this saying ...? 

Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink? 

It's one of those quotes which has made itself into the English language and into the culture of the world. It slips off the tongue!

But do you know where it comes from and who wrote it?

It's actually an adapted form of words from a poem called "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by  Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who died on this day - July 25 - in 1834. He was a poet, philosopher, theologian and literary critic who, along with his friend William Wordsworth,  was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England and one of what became known as  the 'Lake Poets'- they hailed from and/or lived in the beautiful Lake District in northwest England.

Coleridge  apparently coined many common sayings which have made it into our culture, and not just 'water water everywhere....'

If you've ever used the phrase 'suspension of disbelief' you can thank Samuel Taylor Coleridge! He was a major influence not just on other poets, but also on writers and culture down the ages, and, I discover, even on philosophical movements like American transcendentalism.

But, like many creatives, he furrowed his own distinctive path in life. And he was controversial.

For most of his life Samuel Taylor Coleridge was not a well person and in adulthood suffered an addiction to drugs - laudanum and opium - which it's reckoned came about because early on he was treated with laudanum for his physical ailments, including rheumatic fever and other childhood illnesses. It's also been speculated that the poet had bipolar disorder, which of course was not recognised in his lifetime.

Coleridge's  imagination worked overtime and the result was often surreal and  misunderstood literary and poetic creations.  In fact, his most famous works  - 'Kubbla Khan',  'Christabel' and 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' – all featured supernatural themes and exotic images, which some have put down to his use of the drugs. He was inclined to be unreliable and to leave projects unfinished. He was often plagued by severe debts. But his originality and creative genius means he and his work have gone down in history.

'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'  is Samuel Taylor Coleridge's longest poem and it was written in 1797–98 and published in 1798 in the first edition of Lyrical Ballads. This iconic collection of poems by Wordsworth and Coleridge  is considered to have marked the start of the English Romantic movement in literature, with a shift to what was then is now recognised as 'modern poetry'. 

But what is 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'  all about?

Well, it tells the story of a sailor who has returned from a long sea voyage. He stops a man who is on his way to a wedding and begins to narrate a story of a sailing voyage he took long ago.

The wedding guest at first reacts as many of us may do when hearing 'old tales' from elderly people, and he becomes impatient with the old sailor. But then he gets sucked into the story and is captivated with the man and his tale of life and woes.

The mariner explains that his travels have taken him to many places, even to the icy waters of the Antarctic, where an albatross eventually pulls the ship out of the pack ice where it has become stuck. Sadly the sailor kills the albatross and then unfolds a series of very unfortunate events.

The spirits chase the ship "from the land of mist and snow". The south wind that had initially blown them north now sends the ship into uncharted waters near the equator, where it becomes becalmed. Going nowhere.

Water water everywhereAnd here's were that famous line comes in ... 

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The mariner is blamed for the torment of the crew and their thirst. They are furious so they force the mariner to wear the dead albatross around his neck, so that he always carries that burden and regrets it.

And it's this part of the story which gives us the idiom 'an albatross around one's neck' which refers to a heavy burden we may be carrying, and which torments us.

Did you know that?

The ancient mariner's adventures continue but although in time the albatross falls from his neck, the torment continues for the old sailor. Eventually, as punishment for shooting the bird and driven by his guilt, the mariner is forced to  wander the earth, telling his story over and over, and teaching a lesson to those he meets. Hence the meeting with the Wedding Guest and the re-telling of his life story.

It's an absolute classic!

However, initially the poem didn't go down that well. It was criticized for being obscure and difficult to read. There are so many layers to poems like this that very clever people have, down the years, devoted much time to unravelling it's meanings, mysteries, interpretations, language and various versions, because Coleridge actually 'tweaked' it over the years for new editions of poetry collections. It was always a work in progress.

But just because it's difficult to understand doesn't mean we shouldn't give it a go. That's part of the problem with lots of us, isn't it? We have such a limited attention span. We don't want to spend too much time on anything. Too little time, too much to do.

And, just like the Wedding Guest, maybe we haven't got time in our lives for our older relatives and friends. As I grow older and feel I want to share MY stories more, I'm aware I haven't listened well to the stories of people in my family who I maybe thought repeated themselves, and their tales.

That's something I need to work on still!

And maybe I'll take time out today ... or in the next few days ... to read 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner', in full.

If you want to join me ... please click on the link below ...

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Full Text - The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in Seven Parts

And let's all celebrate the legacy of a genius!


Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant Hapus!

Today is St David's Day!

And if you're from the country of Wales, if you're Welsh, or part-Welsh (as I am) this is an important day.

On March 1st every year the people of Wales, and those of Welsh heritage wherever they are in the world, celebrate their patron saint. 

My Mum is Welsh so in our family we've always known about St David's Day. But it was when I spent my final two years of schooling in Wales that I realised how passionate people are about their saint, their history, their culture and their language. 

DaffodilOn this day, people wear the traditional symbols of Wales - daffodils or leeks - and enjoy traditional Welsh food ... my favourites are Welsh cakes which are like little griddle pancakes. Yum!

But who was St David?

Well in the 6th century, he was a Bishop of a place called 'Mynyw', which is the modern day St Davids, a city in the county of Pembrokeshire  in the southwest of the country.

David (Dewi) was born in Wales, although there's no clear evidence as to the year that happened. It is known that he was a celebrated teacher and preacher and that he founded monasteries and churches in Wales - St David's Cathedral is situated on the site of a monastery he founded in the Glyn Rhosyn valley of Pembrokeshire - in 'Dumnonia' (a kingdom in the southwest of England) and even Brittany in France. David is even believed to have visited the ancient religious site of Glastonbury

David established his own Monastic Rule, a system of religious and daily living for monks, and one of David's main rules was that when his followers were tilling the soil, THEY had to pull the plough themselves, rather than animals. Monks living by the Monastic Rule of David drank only water and ate only bread with salt and herbs - no meat, and certainly no beer. They were allowed no personal possessions and while David's monks worked in the day, they spent the evenings reading, writing and praying. 

So, why is David's feast day March 1st? 

That's the day when it's thought he died. As with his birth, there's a question mark over what year that was. Some say 601AD, others 589AD. 

David was buried in St David's Cathedral and his shrine was a popular place of pilgrimage throughout the Middle Ages. Invading Vikings removed the shrine during the 10th and 11th centuries but in 1275 a new shrine was constructed, the ruined base of which remains to this day.  

Although St David had been a popular saint in Wales since the 12th century, his religious feast day didn't become a national festival until the 18th century. And it's on March 1st every year that Welsh heritage people celebrate the man who now is their patron saint. Children especially are encouraged to celebrate as they learn about their history, and they often head to school for the day dressed as coal miners or in the traditional Welsh woman costume, with the girls often wearing a leek in their lapel. I remember at school one girl wearing such a BIG leek, a huge green vegetable, that it covered her whole chest and ... boy did it smell (like onion).

But why daffodils, and why leeks ? 

Well the leek became a symbol of the Welsh spirit because one legend says that St David advised his people to wear leeks in a battle against the Saxons. It was the days of hand-to-hand combat and wearing the leek meant that they would be recognised as Welsh by their compatriots in the heat of the battle - so no chance of someone killing a fellow Welshman! That's just one of the stories, but leeks were a popular food for many centuries and were also used for medicinal purposes, and the link with St David's Day is thought to be especially through the Tudors, who had strong Welsh roots and heritage.

And the daffodil?

This lovely yellow blooms appears in early Spring, around the time of St David's Day and it's just a joyful flower, isn't it?

But the floral link with Wales is fairly recent really and is thought to have been adopted as an alternative to the leek in the early 20th century, by which time the wearing of vegetables on your coat on March 1st had become a bit of a joke. Welsh politician and elder statesman David Lloyd George, who was British Prime Minister from 1916 to 1922, was said to be an advocate of the daffodil being used as a symbol of his Homeland.

The Welsh are a proud people and on St David's Day that pride is more obvious than ever.

If you're not aware, the country (now called the Principality) has its own ancient language. Welsh is a Celtic language - with links to the ancient Celtic Britons - and although for centuries Welsh was the common language of the people, it did fall into decline in the early 20th century as English became dominant. However in the 1990's the value of the native language was formerly recognised for its importance to the Welsh culture, heritage and future, with The Welsh Language Act 1993 and the Government of Wales Act 1998  regulating that the Welsh and English languages should be treated equally in the public sector, where sensible and possible.

These days there's Welsh speaking media, the language is taught in schools, as well as there being educational establishments where Welsh is the predominant language for conversation and teaching. I read recently that as of September 2020, it was reckoned that about a third of the population of Wales could speak the language and more than 15% spoke Welsh every day. It's been a real success story for the reinvigoration of a mother language that could easily have died out. And if you visit Wales, you'll see signs everywhere in Welsh and English.  

I know just a few words of Welsh ... passed down through my Welsh heritage ... but I'm no expert.

So, finally, today I could say 'Happy St. David’s Day!

But I instead will sign off by wishing you ...  'Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant Hapus!'

 


Bouônjour!

Today is International Mother Language Day.

So let me tell you about a language you may never have heard of.

It's called Jèrriais and it's the mother language of the island which I call home - Jersey in the Channel Islands.

So if you don't know where that is or what it is ... Jersey is an island within the British Isles (not the United Kingdom) and it's a self governing Crown Dependency.

Most importantly from the perspective of today's thought, Jersey is closer to France than England. Actually it lies just 12miles (19km) off the Normandy coast and around 100miles (160km) from the south coast of England. Most days, but especially on a good day, you can see the coast of France clearly from Jersey's East Coast!

Jerriais 2So, with France so close, it may be no surprise to hear that Jersey's mother tongue is a version of French. Jèrriais is an ancient form of the Norman Language. It's often called "Jersey French" or "Jersey Norman French" but this gives an impression that it's a dialect of French, a 'patois' - but it's not. It's a language in its own right. As is it's closest 'sister' - the native language of nearby island Guernsey - Guernésiais - and the other Norman languages including those across the water in France. And the language of SarkSercquiais, is descended from  the Jèrriais brought by the Jersey colonists who settled Sark in the 16th century. There's a commonality between Jèrriais and those Norman languages and there's a growing relationship between the speakers of these languages, all of which are in danger of dying out, but they are all different languages.

Over the last few years working at BBC Radio Jersey, the local station for the island, I've connected with the Jèrriais-speaking community. Every week, at the moment, I work with native speakers who record a weekly 'letter' - La Lettre Jèrriaise - which is broadcast just before 7am on a Saturday morning and is also posted online on a special languages podcast called 'Voices'. You can also get it via the Learn Jèrriais website,

In 2019 I made a radio series to coincide with the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages, when I worked with the Jèrriais teachers at the L'Office du Jèrriais. I learnt 20 phrases in Jersey's mother tongue.

It was a challenge, but it was fun, and more importantly it helped me to reconnect with my own family history, and my own Dad who was native Jèrriais speaker. Although he didn't teach us the language - my mum was not a Jèrriais speaker - I remember hearing him speak the language with his family - my aunts and uncles.

That was common in the mid 20th century, when the language had fallen into decline.

What I've learned is until the 19th century, Jèrriais was used as an everyday language by the majority of people living in Jersey and even up to the beginning of the Second World War more than half of the population could speak the language. In fact, it was often used during the Occupation of Jersey 1940-1945 when the German enemy occupied Jersey and the other Channel Islands - it was not understood by French or German speakers!

But Jèrriais was consistently falling out of favour, with English becoming the dominant language. It was no longer used in schools, or business. French and English was used in the law, but not Jèrriais. Eventually it's decline was such that it is now officially listed as one of the world's endangered languages!

However, in recent years Jèrriais has had a resurgence. There's been investment in education, and it's now taught in local schools, and adult classes and conversation groups are also held. The teachers and the L'Office du Jèrriais are central to that, and there's also now a Jèrriais promotion officer for Jersey Heritage.

In 2019 the States of Jersey (the Government of Jersey) voted to put Jèrriais on signs when they next need to be replaced, with English translations underneath. It's also now an official language in the States Assembly alongside English and French.

This is all really down to the persistence of native language speakers. Down the years, stalwarts of the language made great efforts to keep it alive. in 1912, thJersey Eisteddfod introduced a Jèrriais section - that still exists today. The L'Assembliée d'Jèrriais was founded in 1951 and they launched a quarterly magazine a year later. The Le Don Balleine Trust  was established in accordance with the will of Arthur E. Balleine (1864–1943), in which he left funds for the promotion of the language.

Jèrriais dictionaries go back to the 19th century but in 1966 the Dictionnaire Jersiais–Français was published to mark the 900th anniversary of the Norman Conquest of England, based on meticulous research by Frank Le Maistre, who's family are still champions of the Jèrriais speaking community. This was followed by a Jèrriais–English dictionary, Dictionnaithe Jèrriais-Angliais.

Another individual who did a huge amount to promote the language was a certain George d'la Forge. 

Jerrias book coverGeorge was born in Jersey but after the First World War moved to the USA and became a successful businessman. But he had been raised speaking Jèrriais, and never forgot it. After he took early retirement in 1946 he returned to Jersey for a holiday, and later spent months every year in the island. He was a prolific writer in the Jèrriais language, and took the pen name 'George d'la Forge' based on the home he lived in as a youngster. He wrote around 900 articles for the Jersey Evening Post and also contributed to many other native language publications.

George's surname was Le Feuvre - and he was a distant cousin of my father. As a young child, I remember visiting 'La Forge' when 'Uncle George' was spending a summer in Jersey, and living as he always did in his very basic small family cottage. Later, when we were living in Kenya in East Africa Uncle George visited us. I remember then my Dad and him chatting away in this strange language, which I sort of recognised as French, but not. Jerriais 1

Uncle George d'la Forge was a great man and in recent years, at a book sale, I managed to get hold of a bound copy of some of his articles.

One day, when I've learned a bit more of the language,  I'll read it in Jersey's language, the mother tongue of my father and my family down the centuries.

Meanwhile, I'll make do with the few phrases I know and which I learned during the 20 in 2019 challenge. If you fancy learning a bit start by going to Learn Jèrriais (learnjerriais.org.je)

The title of this piece is 'Bouônjour'  which, if you know any French at all, you'll recognise as being similar to 'bonjour'... hello!

But I'll end with this sign-off ...

À bétôt  - Goodbye

À la préchaine - Till the next time!