Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Things You Learn When Researching ...

I took a break from Underground this afternoon and did some work on another of my projects—The Harper’s Word.  Set in fifth century Wales, this retelling of the folk story Math ap Mathonwy requires a lot more research than I’m used to doing.  I’ve become used to writing late seventeenth and early eighteenth century English stories, and while (being half Welsh) I’ve always had a soft spot for the mythology, my knowledge of the relevant history is sketchy at best. (For more information on The Harper’s Word, visit

So, mostly caught up on labour law readings, I settled in to do some research.  An interesting fact for you: I’m blind, which means every book that’s of use to me for research purposes has to be scanned before I can read it.  Special software turns the resulting image into text, and then the screen reader reads the text aloud in a Steven Hawking-type voice that I can speed up to about 250 or 300 words a minute, depending on the quality of the scan and the style of writing (legalese goes much more slowly!). 

This afternoon, I scanned a copy of Lords of Battle: The World of the Celtic Warrior by Stephen Allen, and the majority of Taste: The History of Britain Through its Food by Kate Colquhoun.  While I haven’t had a chance to read either in full yet (I put on an audio book of Terry Goodkind—great fantasy author!—to pass the time while scanning), I did pick out a couple of interesting facts that I thought you might like to know:

  1. Celts were famed for their bacon—is it any wonder we still get “Full Scottish/English/Irish breakfasts” at those lovely B&Bs?
  2. The Romans developed pocketknives and folding spoons to take their utensils with them when they travelled.
  3. My personal favourite: The Romans thought the British Celts were drunks.  The Celts drank Roman wine undiluted, while the Romans always diluted it; and the Celtic ale was said to inspire grand hangovers.  Funnily enough, the English translation of the Scots Gaelic word for hangover is, literally, “A headache with regrets.”  The things I remember from Gaelic class …

I’ll let you know if any other interesting tidbits turn up in either book—or in any others I happen to scan for research in future. 

Tomorrow, if I can put the law books aside for a little, I’ll be hunting for information on early curriculum at the Faculty of Medicine of Queen’s University.  Standby—Underground, “Chapter Two: A Gentleman’s Education” is coming soon to!

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