I’m very pleased to welcome Tim Walker, author of Ambrosius: Last of the Romans, to Linda’s Book Bag as I’m fascinated by that era of our history. Tim has kindly agreed to explain a little bit about why he thinks readers like me have that interest. Ambrosius: Last of the Romans is available for purchase here. Ambrosius: […]
The Dark Ages is the period in European history ushered in by the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Britain was thrown into a period of tribal conflicts and desperate resistance to invaders from the year AD410, when the last legion sailed away and Roman administration ceased. Early Briton kings, Vortigern and Ambrosius battled each other for the traumatised island, whilst what was left of the remaining Western Roman legions tried to stem the tide of Franks rampaged across Gaul.
This was also the year that Rome was sacked by the Visigoths under their king, Alaric, as barbarian tribes from the east swept across Europe. Roman authority was briefly restored after paying off the barbarians, but they would not go away, and the final collapse came in 476 when the last western Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was deposed by Odoacer, whose father was purported to have been an adviser to Attila the Hun. The sun had set on a civilised and ordered way of life, to be replaced with tribal warfare, economic ruin and insecurity for the peoples of Europe.
Initially, historians used the term ‘dark’ to denote the fact that little was known about this period as there was a lack of written history, and it was felt there was little order or human development. It was the Italian Scholar, Petrarch, who first coined the phrase, ‘Dark Ages’. He used it to express frustration with the lack of Latin literature during this time or other cultural achievements. The Dark Ages were a tumultuous time: roving horse-borne invaders charged about the countrysides, slaughtering villagers and taking what they wanted. As a result, fewer crops were grown and famine and disease followed.
To some extent, the period of the Dark Ages remains obscure to modern onlookers. The term employs traditional light-versus-darkness imagery to contrast the ‘darkness’ of the period in question with earlier and later periods of ‘light’. The tumult of the era, its religious and tribal conflicts and debatable time period, all work together to obscure it from our eyes. Scarcity of sound literature and cultural achievements marked these years, and barbaric practices prevailed. The leaders of the time are merely names without faces; nor are there accurate records of their deeds.
However, stuffy university academics, in a move to justify their status, have decided it wasn’t such a dark age after all. Plenty was going on, between the running and screaming (in isolated enclaves) as they uncover some evidence of art, culture and learning. It is now thought that some of the barbarian leaders, when taking time out from torture, rape and executions, became patrons of the arts (amassing treasures looted from palaces and churches) and in time converted to Christianity, embracing more civilised values. This has altered perceptions of this difficult period and some historians now prefer to used the term, ‘Early Middle Ages’ to denote the post-Roman period in Europe. Bully for them.
In our own time, some believe we are entering a new dark age, characterised not by the absence of written records, but by a plethora of false information aimed at confusing and distracting us from real events. The World Wide Web was given to us by its inventor, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, to encourage the free exchange of information. But we have failed to safeguard it, and it has now been hijacked by thieves and those with extreme political agendas whose aim is to enslave us and strip us of our rights and dignity. ‘Fake News’ is a tactic used by unscrupulous politicians to terrify and confuse, leaving us susceptible to exploitation and undermining our democratic systems with lies and false promises.
Our age may be characterised by intellectual and technological advances, but our moral framework, egalitarian and empathetic values, are being eroded by the new cult of the individual that has replaced self-policing family and community groups. Socially, we are regressing as economic priorities trump those of citizen welfare. Corporate bullies have replaced barbarian warlords as we are brow-beaten, exploited and driven into poverty.
We live in an all-consuming media age, but we are blind to the dangers around us that are undermining our society, leaving us vulnerable to exploitation. Personal wealth accumulation and the trappings of a privileged lifestyle are dangled before us to tempt and incite us to embrace a culture built on greed and one-upmanship. Are we defeating ourselves, as loneliness, emotional repression and lack of purpose dog our ‘progressive’ secular societies? Our self-destruction seems assured.
Where is the new Ambrosius to organise us to resist the forces of darkness? Who will ride to our rescue and flush our enemies out into the open where we can confront them? Whilst pondering these questions, look for inspiration in this new action-packed historical fiction novel – Ambrosius: Last of the Romans. History comes in cycles – we are challenged to read the signs and be ready to oppose tyranny…
Part One of A Light in the Dark Ages series, Abandoned! Is a free download from Amazon Kindle on Wednesday 8th March…
Part Two, Ambrosius: Last of the Romans has just been released and is at the discount price of £1.99/$2.99
This article has been written to provide background information to the release of a new historical fiction novel, Ambrosius: Last of the Romans, by Tim Walker. Download the e-book from Amazon here:-
Ambrosius Aurelianus, to give him his full name, was a high king of the Britons in the early Dark Ages, some time after the exit of the Romans in the year 410. The exact dates of his reign, chronological details and physical evidence remain scant, and we must rely on the written accounts of three monks – Gildas (c. 650), Nennius (c.750) and Bede (c. 790), as well as the more fantastical History of the Kings of Briton by Geoffrey of Monmouth (c. 1140). The Britons shared a culture and language with similar Celtic tribes across northern Europe, a language similar to modern day Welsh.
The closest in time of the surviving accounts of events in the fifth century come from the gloomy On the Ruin of Britain by Welsh monk Gildas, written around the year 550. Here is what he said about Ambrosius:
The poor remnants of our nation… that they might not be brought to utter destruction, took arms under the conduct of Ambrosius Aurelianus, a modest man, who of all the Roman nation was then alone in the confusion of this troubled period by chance left alive.
The Roman legions marched away between 409-410 never to return, and the Britons were left to defend themselves from various ‘barbarian’ raiders – the Angles, Saxons and Jutes from modern day Denmark and northern Germany, are not deemed to be invaders because they were employed to fight by an early high king named Vortigern (quite possibly a continuation of a tactic employed previously by the Romans). They clearly developed ambitions to settle having seen how green and pleasant England’s countryside was in comparison to their own salty marshes. They were also under pressure in their lands from other barbarian tribes pushing westwards.
Geoffrey of Monmouth is responsible for popularizing the legend of King Arthur and his knights, although there are earlier mentions of Arthur in the writings of Nennius in the eighth century. He more or less has a fifth century line-up of kings of Britain, starting with Constantine, who ‘wore the purple’, presumably as a provincial governor, and who was quickly murdered by ‘cruel and sly’ Vortigern. Vortigern is then defeated by Ambrosius Aurelianus and his brother Uther Pendragon. Uther then succeeds Aurelius, and is in turn succeeded by his son Arthur, with much sorcery from Merlin thrown into the mix. All of this is unproven in terms of hard archaeological facts. What happened where and when and who were the key players remain unanswered questions.
Taking up the story of Ambrosius from Geoffrey of Monmouth, we find the sons of Constantine, Ambrosius and Uther, arriving in Britain from Gaul with an army to confront Vortigern. He was already unpopular with the people for his brutal acts, constant wars and for employing Saxons to fight in his mercenary army:
As soon as news of his [Ambrosius’s] coming was divulged, the Britons, who had been dispersed by their great calamities, met together from all parts… having assembled together the clergy, they anointed Ambrosius king, and paid him the customary homage.
The brothers defeat Vortigern in battle and pursue him to his fortress, called Genoreu, where their attempt to burn him out results in his death. Ambrosius is then the unchallenged high king of the Britons, and ready to form resistance to the spread of the Saxon, Angle and Jute colonists, under brothers Hengist and Horsa.
Therefore, the Saxons, in fear of him, retired beyond the Humber, and in those parts did fortify the cities and towns… this was good news to Ambrosius, who augmented his army and made an expeditious march towards the north.
Geoffrey goes on to describe the two armies meeting in battle on a field called Maisbeli, though to be somewhere in South Yorkshire. Again, a date and exact location of this battle is unknown. Another major battle in the late fifth century between the Britons and the Saxons often mentioned is Badon Hill, but again where this is and on what date it happened, and who commanded the Briton army – Ambrosius, Uther or Arthur – remains unknown.
It is widely thought that Geoffrey of Monmouth had supplemented the written sources of information he could muster with a fanciful imagination, perhaps also setting down folk legends that had been passed by word of mouth for generations. It is a masterful work, and all the more tantalising for the sparseness of other historical evidence of those misty days after the Romans departed and before Saxon kingdoms were established.
In my historical fiction series, I have woven a family saga – the Pendragons – taken from the writings of Gildas, Nennius and Geoffrey, surmising that if King Arthur was a real military leader who may have died around the year 537 at the Battle of Camlann (as mentioned in two sources), then there is 127 years of mayhem leading up to this point from the date of the Roman’s departure. My guesswork is that Vortigern ruled some time from 410-440, followed by Ambrosius, perhaps 440-470, then Uther from 470-500 and Arthur from 500-537. This is a conjectural framework for my storytelling in my three-part series, A Light in the Dark Ages.
Part one, Abandoned! tells the story of Marcus Aquilius, a half-Roman half-Briton auxiliary cavalry commander who is left behind by accident in 410 when his legion marches away from the town of Calleva Atrebatum (modern day Silchester in Hampshire). He organizes the defence of his town from a roving Saxon army, as they revert to Briton tribal leadership, and Marcus adopts his mother’s name – Pendragon.
Part two, Ambrosius: Last of the Romans (just released) is the story of Ambrosius Aurelianus, who returns to Britain in 440 as an experienced soldier to confront high king Vortigern over the murder of his father. He finds Marcus in Calleva, who, as an elder of the town, guides him through the murky political waters of tribal jealousies and divisions. In time he becomes king, that much is already told, but what happens to him, and how does the succession pass to his brother Uther?
Part three – Uther’s Destiny, is a work in progress. Together, they build up to the coming of Arthur, a story too well known to be re-told with any conviction. I choose to end with Arthur as a boy, and his destiny stretching before him. He is the intended Light in the Dark Ages; but having read about the exploits of Ambrosius Aurelianus, the Divine One, I’m now of a mind to give him the title.
We are, perhaps, more familiar with the term ‘Utopian’ that describes a society that’s conceived to be perfect. ‘Dystopian’ is the exact opposite — it describes an imaginary society that is as dehumanising and unpleasant as possible. Dystopian stories are often set in the future and come as warnings for us to reflect on trends in our societies and mend our easy-going ways or else risk falling into the hands of an oppressive regime. Popular literary examples are George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, now finding new readers.
As a writer, I’m also constantly attuned to trends in our governance that might be undermining the personal freedoms and opportunities for advancement we currently enjoy in Western societies. My attention was drawn to a news item this morning (12/02/2017) tucked away in a tiny space in my e-newspaper, The Mirror, that to me screams, ‘Beware of the encroaching Dystopian Society!’
ONE MILLION ON ZERO HOURS CONTRACTS
The report states, quite calmly, that the number of workers on zero hours contracts is set to exceed one million for the first time. Figures for 2016 show over 900,000 on zero hour contracts – workers on hourly rate with no guarantee of working hours, no job security and often on the minimum wage. Employers argue that a flexible labour market where staff are called in at a moment’s notice with a lack of fixed hours boosts employment. But this leaves workers uncertain of how many hours they will work and how much they can earn each week, often leaving them short of ability to pay rents, transport and feed themselves.
The report states that the Trade Union Congress (TUC) believe that as many as three million workers (one in ten workers in Britain) are now in insecure jobs, such as seasonal, temporary or agency work.
Such insecurity of tenure goes against all the efforts by worker’s representatives and trade unions going back over a hundred years to fight for workers rights and to be treated with respect by their employers. Sadly, the current climate we live in of harsh capitalist exploitation, backed up by uncaring governments who see their job as furthering the interests of Big Business ahead of looking after the welfare of citizens is, well, leading us down the rocky road to a dystopian, authoritarian state.
This is coming fast, in my opinion. In Britain we have had thirty years of Thatcherist politics that have seen national infrastructure ruthlessly asset-stripped under the name of Privatisation, to the extent that most of our utility and transport companies are foreign owned and operated at high cost to the consumer. Also, our property market has become a free-for-all investment product for international criminals, Tax-dodgers and foreign governments, pricing our citizens out of being able to afford a roof over their heads.
I have long been suspicious of successive governments feebly apologising for missing net inward migration targets by several hundreds of thousands, foolishly believing their narrative that they’ have no control’. Of course they have control, at point of entry. In reality, I believe they have deliberately created a large, multi-cultural, low-paid labour pool of people desperate enough to work long hours for the minimum wage, and thus drive down wages for our working class citizens. We are already witnessing tensions in our towns and cities as this ‘divide and rule’ politics takes effect.
Our opposition parties have been completely compromised by this, not sure on whether to listen to the complaints of hard-pressed citizens or embrace the diversity of new arrivals. By trying to do both, they end up pleasing no one. They are unable to provide a coherent opposition to the forces of rampant global capitalism as represented by our ruling party, The Conservatives. Sadly, our educated liberal elite in their rush to embrace ‘One-World-ism’ are unwittingly aiding and abetting our sly capitalist leaders in their aim of creating a large, low-paid underclass of workers whose freedoms and rights are slowly being whittled away.
Don’t get me wrong. I bear no ill-will to any people looking for ‘a better life’, and reject all forms of discrimination. I just have a problem with the cynical politics of exploitation for profit that throws people from different backgrounds together, whilst denying them the ability to have a descent standard of living (added to a growing crisis in schools and healthcare) in a race to the bottom of average earnings. Our government is taking us out of the European Union and will use that opportunity to repeal worker’s rights and human rights legislation. Citizens need to wake up and see what is happening…
Otherwise we will end up in a 1984-type totalitarian state with ‘Big Boris’ as a pantomime-villain leader. Let’s face it, the States have already got one – Donald Trump!
Check out my tongue-in-cheek novel, Devil Gate Dawn, now described as ‘dystopian’ because I predicted a paranoid Trump America and post-Brexit chaos in Britain leading to mass voter apathy that leaves us with King Charles (not Big Boris) running the country. Don’t laugh too much, it might happen!
I’m pleased to announce our first children’s book, The Adventures of Charly Holmes, co-authored with my daughter, Cathy, is now out on Amazon Kindle as an e-book, with the paperback due for launch in February.
What’s it About?
Charlotte Holmes is a 12-year-old school girl with a big imagination and an interest in finding out things. These four adventure start off with an innocent walk with her Dad. She imagines that all the dogs being walked are really aliens who are in control of their human handlers. Meanwhile, her Dad gets in a fix and it needs her resourcefulness to help him out.
In her other adventures she tries out her new digital camera on a trip to Scotland with Mum and Dad where she investigates the legend of the Loch Ness monster. Then she goes on a student exchange visit to France, and gets a bit too close to nature. In the final adventure, she visits London Zoo with a friend to see some of the endangered species they have discovered through a card game. Little do they know that they will somehow get caught up in the escape of a gorilla.
The Adventures of Charlotte Holmes is a magical journey of discovery into the world of a 12-yeart-old school girl with an enquiring mind and a special interest in animals and nature. The stories were written by father and daughter team, Tim and Cathy Walker.
Facebook Group: http://facebook.com/charlyholmesadventures
Shadowplay – An Imagined Day in the Life of Ian Curtis
I jump out of bed and get dressed as quickly as I can in a practiced routine, clothes laid out neatly on a chair before going to bed, knowing how cold it’ll be in the morning. I ignore the gloominess of the tiny terraced house, the cracked bathroom mirror, narrow corridors, treacherous stairs carpet. I quickly eat my toast and drink my tea with just a grunt of acknowledgement to my nan, pull on my great coat and head for the bus stop. I am a young man and this is my World.
Stamping my feet on the frosty pavement, I take a deep drag on my ciggy. It looks even bleaker in winter ‘round here. Macclesfield is a dump. Meeting her, though. Something to look forward to. I turn up the collar on my coat to deflect the biting wind from my ears – a bargain from the army surplus shop…
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On Friday 6th May, 1983, my Goth-mate Jimmy dragged me along to see the Sisters of Mercy at the University of London Student’s Union. We were students at the time, so only needed to show our SU cards to get in. I know the date because I have the ticket glued in my scrap book. What we didn’t know, as we huddled in the small studio-sized room, was that a relatively new band from Manchester was being showcased – The Smiths. They had replaced Babaluna on the bill – why and how, I don’t know (Rough Trade getting them some capital exposure, perhaps?).
Most of the leather-wearing Goths sloped off to the bar as the weedy Mancunians set up their gear and were given a lukewarm, almost apologetic, introduction to the indifferent crowd. Jim and I were pleasantly surprised, as we both had copies of their early singles – Hand in Glove and its brilliant B-side, Still Ill, This Charming Man, What Difference does it Make? We stood at the front of the low stage, knee high, right in front of Morrissey’s swivelling hips and the jingly-jangly Johnny Marr. Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce looked fresh-faced and keen, in a time before stardom and their descent into drugs hell.
The Smiths ripped out their early set with joyful verve, delivered in a loose and slightly un-together cacophony of the first album material to barely fifty people. Reel Around the Fountain lingered, hauntingly in my young mind, Mozza’s compelling imagery striking home. We loved it, and it cemented our status as Smiths fans. The meat was not yet murdered and Strangeways had not been visited, but we had seen enough emerging talent by then that we knew. These boys were special.
Oh, and the pre-Mission Sisters were rocking and sleek, with Eldridge gripping the mic with hand in leather glove. The room filled and we grooved and gyrated to their compulsive rock set, including early hits, Alice, the Body Electric and covers of Gimme Shelter, and yes, the Dolly classic, Jolene. Great gig, all things considered, and not bad for two quid.
Fast-forward 33 years, to Thursday 8th December 2016, and I found myself at the Half Moon pub in Putney, South London, where tribute band The Smyths performed to an enthusiastic room full of Smiths fans, ranging in age from teenagers to us fifty-somethings who were around when Morissey was first warbling.
As I sipped my pint of flat lager I reflected that it was a happy meeting of creative talent when gawky teenage poet Stephen Morrisey met shy tunesmith Johnny Marr at Salford’s Boy’s Club in the early 80s. The unremitting bleakness of Manchester’s gray post-industrial decay, high youth unemployment and the pressure to find a job, the heart-rending crimes of the Moors Murderers, all formed a backdrop against which Morrissey’s urban poetry found a new outlet as song lyrics. Some themes keep recurring to give an oddly current feel to some of the songs.
That night I finally understood the difference between imitation and veneration. That ‘tribute’ is indeed a sign of respect for something that deserves to live on. Here was a band performing the works of the Smiths in a reverential manner, technically accurate right down to mannerisms and nuances, fronted by a singer so alarmingly similar in both voice and looks to a young Morrissey that you had to blink and rub your eyes.
But he isn’t Morrissey, he’s Graham Sampson, a talented singer in his own right, sporting quiff, flowery shirt and charity shop necklace, giving the fans his interpretation and paying homage in this brilliant set of songs. I reeled around the fountain once more and sang along with the other 300 revellers at this pulsating sell-out gig, re-living and celebrating the eternal charm of these songs, now passing to a new generation of fans.
We sang along to lyrics that refuse to be forgotten:
It’s time the tale was told, of how you took a man and you made him old…
Punctured bicycle on a hillside desolate, will nature make a man of me yet?
Park the car by the side of the road; don’t you know, time’s tide will smother you.
I decree today that life is simply taking and not giving, England is mine, and it owes me a living.
Shoplifters of the World unite and take over! Panic on the streets of London!
Because the music that they constantly play means nothing to me about my life – hang the DJ!
So what difference does it make? I’m so sick and tired and I’m feeling very sick and ill today.
…and don’t go home tonight, go out and find the one that you love and who loves you…
The Smyth’s take a bow.
If you enjoyed this piece, then try my new novel, Devil Gate Dawn: