Friday, March 7, 2014

A coincidence involving Levelers and Huguenots

A good example of a ‘coincidence’ happened to me this week. It began when for no obvious reason I started to think about The Children of the New Forest, a children’s classic written by Captain Frederick Marryat in 1847; it was one of the first historical novels written for young people. Such books never gripped me the way that fantasy and science fiction did, but I learned a lot of history from reading them. I had not read, seen or thought about this book since I was at school, but suddenly some fragments of dialogue popped up in my mind:

“Levelers, to horse!” and “What’s a Leveler?” (Levelers or Levellers were radical supporters of the Parliamentarian cause at the time of the Civil War). I tried to remember what I had learned about them from this book at the time.

I had also decided recently to learn more about the Huguenots, persecuted French protestants, many of whom who took refuge in England.

I went out for the day to a town of great historic interest but decided to cut my losses and come back early as it was a bit of a disappointment. There were some people on the train whose conversation was very loud and very boring.

This reminded me of a day trip I took by coach a few years ago. On the way out, I sat behind two women whose conversation was purely about people and was mind numbingly boring. I put ear plugs in to escape having to listen to what seemed to me to be pure drivel. On the way back, I sat behind two men who started to discuss Bletchley Park, where code breakers tried to decipher German secret messages during WWII. One of them knew a lot about the machines, prototype electronic computers, that were used in the process. I learned a lot, and wanted to beg them to stay and continue their conversation when they got up to leave the coach. Remembering this, I wished that I could have sat close on this occasion to people whose conversation was equally interesting.

When I got back from the over-hyped town, I decided to get something to eat, but the first place I chose was very full. I remembered somewhere else I could go, and found that they had plenty of empty tables. I placed my order, and chose a high level table with a good view of a park. The food was not very good – another disappointment – but some conversation I overheard made up for that.

I had only vaguely noticed two elderly gentlemen at a table nearby, but I was rivetted when one of them suddenly said “What’s a Leveler?” One of these men knew a lot about history, and told his companion many interesting things. Once he had given a lot of information about the Levelers, he started talking about the Huguenots! Again, I gained a lot of new information.

Something got me to the right place at the right time, despite the fact that I was rather tired and stressed at the time. Distress signals attract predators, and two days earlier I had encountered a neighbour whom I had not seen for many years and would want to avoid.

Children’s fiction is a great interest of mine. I wonder how many classics will survive now that children are more sophisticated and have many more options than was the case when some of the books were written. The Children of the New Forest seems very dated now.