9 December 2007

Silent History

My luck is obviously turning as this afternoon, when I returned from a very metrosexual Sunday lunch with Prince Charming plus fiancée, I was rewarded with an empty house. Sunday afternoons are definitely not the time for the infliction of guilt by sanctimonious hypocrites or for feeling like you have to engage in quality banter.

On that note, there was a great quotation from Nicholas Nassim Taleb (of Black Swan fame) on the EconTalk podcast to which I was listening at the gym today, which went something along the lines of engineers all being autistic and only wanting to make things work for the thrill of making them work rather than to make people's lives better; that's so like Doktor Landlord, who does some sort of aeronautical engineering and then wonders why I blame him that my transatlantic flights are still leaving a massive carbon footprint! Because you haven't invented some awesome aeroplane that doesn't add so much to global warming, Doktor Landlord!

I digress. It was nice to have the house to myself, even if iTunes spent the afternoon misbehaving (it kept crashing and then when I tried to close it, it would close and then re-open itself and then crash again...etc.). Still, I don't have to be aurally stimulated at all times, unlike some people I know, so I was perfectly happy to get on with Monarchy by David Starkey, in a bid to improve my knowledge of English history outside of the sixteenth century (to be fair, outside of the Tudors, the royal line of accession is incredibly complicated, particularly after the death of Queen Anne, when the succession skipped out 50 potential Catholic successors to go three generations up the family tree and then three back down to the Protestant George I).

Good old Dave S reminded me of the royal quandary Henry VIII put himself in when he wanted his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. To do so, he needed special dispensation from the Pope for the marriage to Catherine to be annulled. Unfortunately, this marriage had only been possible in the first place thanks to another Pope (Julius II) declaring that the part of Leviticus that says "u cant has marriez ur dead bro's wiyfe" could be disregarded here as the marriage between Catherine and Henry's brother Arthur wasn't consummated (even though it probably was). One Pope claiming a previous Pope to have been wrong is never going to be easy. Especially when the new Pope (Clement VII) was already pretty pissed off with Henry's wannabe conquering ways and, more damningly, was being held captive by the Emperor Charles, who happened to be Henry's enemy...and Catherine's nephew. Oops. No wonder Henry decided it would be easier to just start his own church as he really couldn't have been in a more difficult situation.

Anne Boleyn must have been really hot, or as Dave put it, "Sexy rather than beautiful, Anne behaved as no mistress had dared to before, and with consequences that no one could have imagined." By this, I assume Starkey means her refusal to sleep with him until he'd ditched Catherine, which I guess was pretty progressive. Pretty cunning too - either of her or of the faction that supported her. Centuries of women after her have used the same tactic. Other hilarious Starkey comments include, "Charles I had lost the throne by his unbending adherence to principle [...]. In contrast, the only rigid thing about Charles II was his male member. He fathered at least fourteen children by nine different mothers and more or less single-handedly repopulated the depleted ranks of the English nobility." What a legend.

Much as I appreciate a bit of peace and quiet from time to time, however, I can't stand enforced silence, especially when a situation is tense enough anyway. "And no one dared / Disturb the sound of silence" and all that. Somehow, such intense silence can be more distracting than if there is a little paroxysm of laughter every once in a while, some banter or even just someone's voice. It's amazing that silence can, in its own absence of noise, be the loudest sound of all.

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