The Press – A Cautionary Tale

by Gildas the Monk on July 12, 2010

I read both the Sunday Mail and the Sunday Times of a Sunday morning. The Abbot says I should not do this, because it causes my blood pressure to become even higher than normal, and a form of Tourettes syndrome has on occasions broken out, thus disturbing Vespers. But I can’t help it.

After reading about the unemployed Somali asylum seeker with his wife and seven children living in a £3,000,000 house in Kensington courtesy of my taxes (grind and nashing of teeth!) and the Chairwoman of the Office for Standards of Education (qualifications and salary, please! Hours of work? Pension?) who has declared that it is important for every school to have a few sub standard teachers because of the ubiquitous “need to reflect society” (note to local police – recruit some criminals in order to better “reflect society”) I was just about to head down to the lake and jump in, even though the carp would be a bit alarmed. I like the carp – I find them both soothing to watch and tasty to eat. But I digress.

I was saved from my watery end by an interesting article in the aforesaid Mail on Sunday which lead me to pause and reflect, and hope that things might not always be as bad as they appear in print (although I suspect they are).

It caused me to cast my mind back to the last time when, in my incarnation as a humble advocate, I had occasion to be involved in a case which interested the press. In simple terms I obtained an order for possession in respect of a small flat in London. The result of this modest piece of litigation was a blaring headline in the local paper along the lines, as I remember, of this:

“Bullying landlord evicts woman cancer sufferer!”

A long diatribe by the woman’s husband followed. How she had been too ill to come to court or speak on the record now; how they had lived at this flat for 15 years and always paid the rent; how the flat was near the local hospital; how it was essential that she stayed there because she could not travel far; how the landlord was merely motivated by profit and the desire to get a better rent. To quote from The King and I, “Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.”

As the Spear of Terror in the hands of the landlord responsible for this injustice, I was profoundly concerned for my misdeed. Or rather I would have been, if it had been in any way approximate to the truth. The husband in question was, for want of a better word, a crook, running a dodgy business from a local factory. Neither he nor his wife had in reality lived at the flat for a good six or seven years. He had made a good deal of money on a property deal, and they had decamped to a leafy semi in a posh area some miles away. He kept the flat on (at a statutorily controlled low rent) to use as accommodation for one of the badly paid managers in his nearby factory, thus facilitating a tax dodge as well as underpaying his employee. His wife had indeed been treated for cancer at the hospital – which was in fact nearer to their new home – but, thank goodness, was in remission. The landlord was an extremely charming old chap who just thought that low rent accommodation should be properly used for people who actually needed it. His wife had been distressed by nasty threatening letters from said crook, by the way.

So, all in all, not quite as it appeared in the local rag.

Back to the Mail on Sunday.

Both my sanity the sanitary integrity of the lake were saved by a short article.  At page 42 I found this impressive headline:

“We’ve Found King Arthur’s Round Table”

In this intriguing piece, we discover that an historian, Mr Christopher Gidlow, says that “researchers” have been able to pinpoint the Round Table as being a metaphor for the Roman Amphitheatre in Chester, which therefore equals Camelot. The article quotes Mr Gidlow as follows:

“And we know that one of Arthur’s two main battles was fought at a town referred to as the City of the Legions (sic). There were only two places with this title. One was St Albans but the location of the other was unknown…”

He continues:

“In the 6th Century, a monk named Gildas, who wrote the earliest account of Arthur’s life, referred to both the City of the Legions and to a martyr’s shrine within it. That’s the clincher. The discovery of the shrine within the amphitheatre means that Chester was the site of King Arthur’s court….”

Well, it is always nice to receive a mention, Mr Gidlow. All publicity is good publicity, as they say. So thank you very much. But, (ahem) there are one or two inaccuracies there.

First, I don’t recall anyone at the time calling what you refer St Albans as “the City of the Legions”. We just called it Verulamium! A pleasant little place in the Gin and Chariot commuter belt, as I recall, nicely rebuilt after Boudicca had radically revised both its street plan and its citizens about four hundred years before my time.

Anyone at the time would have known that the “City of the Legion” (singular) was the nickname for what you now call Chester. It was next to what had been a sacred Druid site where they carried out their ritual wife swapping and general depravity and which we used to call “Hollyoaks”.  Of course it had a shrine in the Amphitheatre. There were always sacrifices before, during, and after the fun!

And I most unequivocally did not write an account of “Arthur’s” (as you put it) life. If you are thinking of my most published work, De Excidio Britanniae (On the Ruin of Britain – it’s rather good, you know!) you will see that it concerns much wider matters concerning the policies and the corruption of the Romano British kings, and the reason for the collapse of the Romano British state before the Saxon invaders – themes  which actually have quite distinct parallels today, but which are usually ignored (another time, soon perhaps). Indeed I did not write of “Arthur” at all as I recall, at least nor directly, but did mention the great Ambrosius Aurelianus, who was indeed “Dux Bellorum” – Leader in Battles, and of “Arth”, which is in Welsh, “the Bear.”

I think, Mr Gidlow, you may be confusing me with the much later author Nennius, but he was a good two hundred years after I was in my prime, and he did have a reputation for what you would call “sexing up” a good story. In fact, some referred to him as him “Alistairus Campelloni”.

You see, when you get to my age you realise there’s nothing  new under (or in!) The Sun.

I merely mention these matters to suggest that perhaps, we shouldn’t take everything we read in the papers as the Lord’s complete Gospel.

Mind you, I am still seething!

Anyway, Mr Gidlow, if you really wanted to know of “Arthur” and “Camelot”, I could have saved you a lot of time and trouble. You only had to ask……

©Gildas the Monk

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