Wednesday 1 June 2011

As Flat As Any Flounder

Still oppressed somewhat by minor health problems (now including gout in my big toe) I managed to get out on this last long weekend when my friend Nick comes to stay. I gave him some options and he rejects fishing in favour of visiting the Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival.

This was in general as annoying as last year (see this post) but the trip was made worthwhile by a lecture by Adam Nicolson about his book on the making of the King James or "Authorised" Bible in the early 17th Century. When God Spoke English makes intriguing reading as the largely forgotten committee which "project-managed" the translation comprised some surprising and far from puritanical characters.

For example, the poor old Dean of St Paul's, John Overall (who went to the same college as me and Nick though he must have worked harder than us we agree), had cleverly managed to woo and marry one Anne Orwell, reputedly the most gorgeous girl in the realm. But he was so busy translating the Bible that she strayed with a passing Yorkshire aristocrat. As the courtiers versed cruelly...

The Dean of St Paul's did search for his wife
And where d'ye think he found her?
Even upon Sir John Selby's bed,
As flat as any flounder

Nicolson also enlivens his talk by comparing the Bible project with the Millennium Dome fiasco which he had a part in as some kind of official historian. But as he admits the comparison breaks down in as much as, unlike the Bible, the Dome was a spectacular waste of time and money without any useful legacy.

Incidentally Nicolson, son of the writer Nigel Nicolson and grandson of the writers Vita Sackville-West and Sir Harold Nicolson, also wrote the excellent Sea Room about the remote and uninhabited Shiant Isles in the Hebrides.

Like last year I'm keen to get away from the self-congratulatory atmosphere at the Festival so we head off to the ruins of Llanthony Abbey, the Dissolution of which was a consequence of the Reformation just as it later brought about the creation of James's Bible. As a good Catholic Nick mourns the passing of this ancient priory but I unsympathetically point out that the ruins are picturesque and the old crypt is now a pub. So Henry VIII wasn't all wrong.


James I also had gout and the illness has traditionally been associated with privilege. However, although the highest incidence of this painful condition in the UK is in affluent Surrey the second highest is... Merthyr Tydfil. So I feel reasonably democratic in my mercifully mild suffering.