Birthdays and the Janus effect

Friday, 19 February 2016

Today’s my birthday. And, hey! I’ve just thought of the perfect birthday present: make a pledge if you haven’t already, and spread the good word if you have.

I’m sure it’s not just me who has a Janus moment every birthday (Janus the two-faced god – look him up if you’re not sure what I’m on about), looking forwards and backwards at the same time. Squinting ahead, I sincerely hope to be whooping about The Rebels’ Riot Feast before the year is out. Gazing back, it was on this day three years ago that I first decided to write a novel about the last bull running festival in England.

It’s amazing what a different place the world was even as recently as three years ago. My youngest son hadn’t started school, my eldest hadn’t left school, and the middle one had yet to discover his now all-encompassing interest in cars. I was heading 90 miles an hour down a dead-end job. My partner Magda was still grumbling about lack of exercise and bad diet (she’s now the fittest, fastest, healthiest lifeform I’ve encountered in the five decades I’ve spent on the planet).

Go back 10 years, and the world is a very different place indeed. I’m winding up my long stint as a Peak District resident and wondering if my Oxford neighbours-to-be will understand my flat vowels and penchant for 70s folk rock.

Go back 100 years, and my 18-year-old Grandad, invalided out of the armed forces after losing a chunk of leg at Gallipoli (see pic) in 1915, is wondering what life has in store for a wounded Royal Marine on the fringes of a war with no obvious end in sight. Luckily for me, his eventual plans involve procreation.

Go back 200 years, and the scene for the historical background of The Rebels’ Riot Feast is being set. The Corn Laws have resulted in a hike in the price of bread. Rioting prevails, the Luddite uprisings are in full swing, and many of the starving poor are emigrating to America. For those who remain there is mass unemployment, not helped by the arrival of 400,000 demobilised soldiers and sailors in the aftermath of the war against France. In the face of these pressures, the anti-cruelty to animals laws of 1802 are being largely ignored, and bull baiting is still the common man’s idea of finding fun and consolation in troubled times.

Go back 1000 years, and Aethelred the Unready is getting perilously close to the grim reaper: the crown will pass to Edmund Ironside in April, and to King Canute in November. An eventful year!

I hope, with your help, 2016 will be an adventure too; but hopefully without all the dead kings, riots, poverty and mass emigration to America.

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