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4th January 2015

For many people in Europe and USA, the Christmas and New Year period means driving long distances along dark roads, for the benefit of seeing family members for short periods of time. It recalls Bede’s sparrow to me, the motorways and highways being the empty darkness outside the lighted, feasting mead hall (this an image from the earliest English writings which is well-known and oft-quoted in the West as an analogy to life):

"It seems to me that the life of man on earth is like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your captains and counsellors. In the midst there is a comforting fire to warm the hall. Outside, the storms of winter rain and snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one window of the hall and out through another. While he is inside, the bird is safe from the winter storms, but after a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. So man appears on earth for a little while – but of what went before this life, or what follows, we know nothing.” - Bede’s History of the English People.

The hosts sitting in their warm houses welcoming you on arrival know nothing of the long hours staring into darkness inbetween, and soulless service stations barely serve as interim banqueting halls. 

The entries this week demonstrated a lot of imagination in their interpretations of From The Cold. More than one took the opportunity to bemoan in literary form the eponymous seasonal ailment; several were literal accounts of the nature of cold weather; one sensationally ambitious piece took all the horrors and wrongs of humankind today and pushed them into the idea of a still-prevailing ‘Ice Age’; the winner (judged on marks this week) provided a succinct and plausible account of a state’s movement into war, via a clever manipulation of the title.  ‘Yosef and Lila’ deserves a special mention for constructing a beautiful love story set in one of the world’s most-documented trouble zones, and putting some simple and poignant humanity into it.

St Bede acquired his long-lasting fame and reputation by writing things down.  He spent his whole life writing, and was the author of 45 volumes by his death in 735 AD. I first encountered him when studying Anglo-Saxon at university, writing as he was from a time when there wasn’t a lot of written English around. This Christmas and New Year it has been heartening to see how many of you took the time to record something of what was in your mind, to contribute to the chronicle of contemporary times we are creating now, in written English. Themes differ a little from those of 1000+ years ago, though the purpose of recording may well have been the same; Hour of Writes entrants' frequently expressed concernabout inequality in the world (eg. ‘However some unfortunate poor human beings suffer / Having nothing to eat and everything else sold.. / They mostly shiver to death..’) contrasts with the themes of literature in Anglo-Saxon England which were mainly heroic and Christian, and when elegiac tended to be more (necessarily) individualistic. Today, our individualism is more heavily catered for and writing pushes out into other areas.

The Hour of Writes magazine is being planned at the moment, designed to make Ephemera physical – more news about this to follow soon! As always, email any questions and suggestions to

AI 3rd Jan 2015


My Notes