Lady Summerisle (strange_complex) wrote,
Lady Summerisle

Back in Belfast

I flew back from Brum in the early afternoon today, and chatted to a very nice couple on the plane who'd just been to Australia for a year.

I must say I'm glad I did decide to stay a few extra days in B'ham and avoid the Twelfth, though. There were some nasty riots in north Belfast, which are brought closer to home by the fact that I know the girlfriend of the BBC journalist mentioned in the article as having been injured in the riot. He has a shrapnel wound from a pipe bomb in his lower back, but is home now and recovering well, thank the gods.

Meanwhile, in my own area (the Lisburn Road in south Belfast), I can see that people have had a large bonfire in a parking bay on our road, there are beer cans and bottles strewn everywhere, and, as meerium has already reported, a lamp-post up near Tesco's is leaning over at an angle of about 30o from the ground. Tesco's itself was also closing just as I reached it at 5:30pm. The woman there explained that they were operating 'Bank Holiday hours', but since it isn't a Bank Holiday, I presume that is to do with the marching season as well.

I've spent the last couple of days mainly relaxing and enjoying the sunshine and the company of my parents, and also getting a few gentle bits and bobs done. I've booked my flights for my interview at Reading, and will fly back to Birmingham next Wednesday, to travel on down to Reading the next morning for the interview. I've also been reading some Geography books: specifically stuff about Central Place Systems, zones of influence, catchment areas and so on. This sort of stuff has quite often been applied in historical and anthropological contexts, and I'm using it to help me back up some of the stuff I'm saying in my book about the relationship between Roman cities and their hinterlands with a bit more authority. Then, I can show how suburbs fit into that picture.

I've also been helping Mum to decipher a few difficult-to-read words in a very interesting diary she has. It's from 1883, and is the last diary of a Birmingham doctor called James Fitzjames Fraser West, who died in mid-April of that year. He was the grandfather of my mother's step-mother, so I suppose that makes him my step-great-great-grandfather, or something. Anyway, the diary and various other photographs and documents relating to him were kept by the family, and passed to my mother when her step-mother died. She is now writing a biography of him, mainly in his capacity as a typical and well-documented example of a Birmingham medic of the period.

He was a pretty interesting guy, in fact. He was keen on Shakespeare (enough to write a paper entitled 'Shakespeare from a surgeon's point of view'), was one of the earliest adopters of Lister's methods of sterlisation, and got into an actual physical fight early on in his career with a curmudgeonly old bugger who was trying to block his appointment to a particular hospital post. The diary not only gives a fascinating insight into his daily life as a doctor, but also happens to include a sort of miniature 'Grand Tour' (if that's not a contradiction in terms) which he undertook with his wife in March through France and Italy - and courtesy of Thomas Cook, no less! This is particularly attractive to me, because it includes his observations during a few day's stay in Rome, but the whole diary is full of delightful little gems.

For example, he had to treat a patient for a ricked back which he'd caused by lifting up his bedstead with his wife still in it: "too much conjugal affection!", he comments. Another time, while in Italy, he agreed to sing a song during an evening of billiards and music. An Italian captain accompanied him, but he comments that although the captain tried to keep to his tune, "he was very far from it all the time." Meanwhile, in St. Peter's, he measured the size of the columns by having his wife walk around one of them, and noted that it took her 80 seconds to do so.

All this my Mum intends to publish as an appendix to the book. I think she's absolutely right to do so - it isn't too long, it's a fascinating read in itself, and it can only make her readers hungry to know more about him. The trouble is that Victorian doctors seem to have shared their modern counterparts' propensity for terrible hand-writing: made worse in his case by the fact that the diary was really too small for the amount he was trying to say. Various members of the family have been through it several times since she started working on the book: for example, I've spent quite a bit of time previously on the sections in Rome and Italy, helping to fill in the names of churches and archaeological sites which he visited. We have about 98% of it figured out now, but we're going through it one last time to try again on the really difficult cases. A lot of the remaining puzzles now are names, which are of course the hardest to figure out from context (although Mum has solved a few through professional and census records), but there were also a few ordinary words which I was able to make out. I have to wear white gloves to handle it so that I don't smudge the pages, which makes me feel like the girl from Fingersmith!

Tomorrow, I start work on preparing for my Reading interview: spurred on, of course, by the promise that if I can get enough done by Friday night, I get to spend the entire weekend reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince!
Tags: belfast, birmingham, book of my thesis, jffw, sectarianism

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