A Snatch Of Time


Repost day: rather like leftovers day. Life is packed with event here and time is short. This is one of my favourites.

This evening I walked the dog in the dusk and trailed home to read Felix a story. We have finished our beloved Cressida Cowell, with her fabulous stories of the Viking sagas written in anarchic beautifully crafted English, for seven-year old boys.

I mourn the passing of those wonderful books. I was captivated by the little boy called Hiccup, a most unlikely hero, who in a world where being brutish to dragons was de rigeur, became the first dragon whisperer.

But they are finished, and we cannot find a hero to take Hiccup’s place.

So we have moved to Horrible Histories, the set of history books with attitude by Terry Deary. While they are lary and make a point of being badly behaved, they do teach a form of history, and they appeal to my son.

We have been marauding through the world of the Tudors, and tonight were touching on Queen Elizabeth I. We talked about her general bad manners towards subjects she disliked, including poor Essex, the man she may have loved.

And presently, we arrived at her deathbed, and I was felled with a single blow.

My husband the historian tells it so well. Elizabeth made it, just, into the 17th century. She died on March 24, 1603.

It seems, looking down the dark corridors of time from the 21st century, that those who surrounded her bed were not concerned with her welfare. The life-long game she had played with her court and her people, that game where her very subjects were her metaphorical children: that had backfired on her.

Because now, there was no heir to the Tudor dynasty, and the raptors round the bed were after one thing: a name. Who would succeed her?

This woman devoured life. She had come close to losing it, and learnt how precious it was, very early on in her life.

Phil and I potter round London for fun, on the rare occasions we do not have the children. We just drift from ancient monument to modern wonder, across new bridges and old, picking up clues that sit at the side of the street, as to the past lives of this city of many personalities.

We have found you can track the River Fleet around the city, even though it is invisible and flows beneath our feet so much of the time. We have hung around Lincoln’s Inn, trying to envisage the nest of lawyers which once jostled its walls.

It’s not very secret, Traitor’s Gate. It no longer abuts the great river as it used to. Often when I see it, it is bathed in sunlight and surrounded by enthusiastic Japanese tourists, alongside me, all of us Recording The Moment.

The tower, these days, seems smaller than it used to, beside some of the buildings of the city: not least Tower Bridge, which rises and falls with ponderous Victorian theatre nearby.

But when Elizabeth was brought up the Thames to Traitor’s Gate, she must have thought her number was up. She must have had to acknowledge there was a possibility she may never come out of that tower again.

I did that once. I looked at the moon, a crisp three-quarters Winter orb, and wondered if I would see its like again.

It does add something to life afterwards. When I woke and all was well, I met my relatives again and their embraces were laced with a new piquancy. Life has become very precious.

This queen, born and dead hundreds of years ago, must never have lost that avarice for life, that greedy need for every touch, every smell, every sight each day brings.

As she lay in that inhospitable room with men she had manipulated all her life: as she breathed her last, she said:”All my possessions for a moment of time….”

The last few weeks have been hard. The days have grown darker and busier and more demanding. I have listened to wonderful friends battle to keep me cheerful in the face of growing gloom.

And tonight, I looked up as I walked the dog, and what should I see? A perfect, crisp moon.

And I remember a covenant I made with myself not two years ago, when I thought I might not see another moon again.

Each moment, Fair Oriana said, is worth all the possessions of a great queen.

So, after a moment of silence for this tempestuous extraordinary woman, dead these 407 years, I am suddenly filled with resolve.

There are moments we would not re-live. But most of our lives are filled with moments we pass by, like ships in the night.

I shall be pausing a lot more from now on. I shall stop to greet those moments that queen valued so highly so long ago.

As one of Elizabeth’s favourite playwrights put it: “Our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.”


36 thoughts on “A Snatch Of Time

  1. A bittersweet post, Kate. We need these jolts from time to time to keep us in ‘now’ and be totally aware of being alive. Funny though that it should have come so far from the past.

    BTW, do you have Moonphase app on your iPhone? It howls like a werewolf at the full moon! that should make you smile.


  2. So glad you made it through to the other side.

    Jean Plaidy wrote about EI in the tower; she is said to have etched in glass,

    Much suspected of me
    Nothing proved can be
    Quoth Elizabeth, prisoner

    I read that as a teen and it has stayed with me.

  3. Wonderful post, Kate, well worthy of this repeat. I love that final quote and the beautiful reminder to treasure our time. So glad too, that you made it through…all the better to keep contributing to our lives with your wit and wisdom. Thank you!

  4. Thank you, Kate. Just what I needed today when things appear gloomy and dark. I’m so glad that you saw another moon, and yet many more and have this wonderful post for us to view again and again.

  5. Thanks for the repost Kate. When we complain about the little things in life, it is good to be reminded that things can be a whole lot worse. So pleased that you passed through safely to the other side.

  6. Breathtaking. Thank you.

    A lot of my friends over in America do not understand my fascination with E I. They turned on me en masse during the Cate Blanchett movie when I shouted, “That’s not right!” over the drumming bass. Maybe it was because I was born 366 years to the day after she died. Who knows?

    She lived life, and she died. A poignant reminder for all of us. Thank you again, Kate.

  7. Beautiful post and sentiments, Kate . . . topped off nicely with:

    β€œOur life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.”

  8. Beautiful post, Kate. I really like the way you move from your children to monuments to the present day to spiritual pondering. All your posts are so layered. Something to think about for the rest of the day.

  9. Well, my goodness. I am so glad you chose to repost this particular one. It is beautifully written, and profound! There is a sweet vulnerability in what you share of your personal struggle, that must have been particularly poignant at the time you wrote this, and I must just say “thank you” for it. It touches me deeply. Debra

  10. You might like the CJ Sansom books – or audiobooks on CD – set during Henry VIII time (as far as I have listened so far anyway) – scary times.

    1. I am a devotee of Matthew Shardlake, Paul πŸ™‚ I have never forgotten that moment he comes face to face with Henry VIII and is ridiculed. I don’t think Sansom was far of the truth with regard to Henry’s character. Brilliant writer.

  11. Thank you Kate, for the repost and for sharing family life now, and for the history of Queen E. I do hope your pauses now are with a steadfast dog and a full moon–howwwwlllll. All my best! Beth

    1. Have you read them? Kids books but so well written, and so funny. Real, too, despite the mythology. They are rewrites of the old Norse legends….I used to look for an excuse to read them to Felix…

  12. The Tudors are my absolute favorite part of history to study. Elizabeth is a wonderful inspiration. I think the fact that those at her death bed didn’t care about anything but politics doesn’t deter from her message. Ultimately, she was a woman who saw what she wanted and did whatever she had to do to attain it in an age when no one thought women capable. By manipulating the men around her she was utilizing the resources available to her. And the fact that she had no husband or children to console her on her deathbed was really a victory – she denied everyone who would have her marry, because she knew that would mean surrendering much of her power to her husband.
    I think there’s give and take in everything, and things that can initially be seen as so sad might not be as bad as we first think. I don’t know what happened with you, but I’m glad you overcame it. I hope you continue to look at the positive. And get that howling wolf app, because that sounds awesome.

    1. What a wonderful comment…thanks for taking the time to come over from that fantastic blog of yours to talk about Elizabeth. You are ao right: she stayed in control to the end. She was victorious over everything except the relentless march of time. The app does sound great, doesn’t it?
      Loved that post of yours about the haranguer at uni. What a character.

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