Friday 29 October 2010

Balloons and Birds

One pleasure recently - having gained some time as The Romancer is now proofed and ready for its print run - has been reading original materiel in the excellent reference library of the Bowes Museum.

I have been reading letters written to Josephine, the French wife of John Bowes. She was in safety in England but very popular with her her friends in France who continued to write to her as they experienced the worst of the Franco Prussian war and the siege of Paris.

The gossipy, urgent tone of these letters of the French demi-monde is redolent of its time in late 1860s France. Preoccupation with siege and safety mixes with social niceties and conventions being flouted. Thanks to Josephine for the use of her box at the opera sit there alongside concerns for the loss of a box of game, (shot in England by John) sent by Josephine as a gift to help the ousted soldiers and the poor in Calais.

What caught my eye yesterday was a reference in a letter (1870) to aeronauts who has landed in a balloon which had floated over the hated besieging Prussians and landed near Calais. The letter tells of aeronauts emerging with four pigeons. There were four birds because apparently the dastardly Prussians had birds of prey trained to attack and kill these winged messengers. So they attached the message to four birds hoping one would get through…

It occurred to me that these birds of prey were an innocent metaphor for the ultimately brutal occupying Prussians.


  1. Wow Wendy - I was in Barnard Castle yesterday as well! I grew up there from age 4-11 so I was having a trip down memory lane and didn't have time to get to the Bowes Museum on this occasion, but if I had, we might have met! While I was wandering round old haunts it sounds like you were having a very absorbing time in the archives!

  2. A.M, I love coincidences like this. Barnard Castle must have been a lovely place in which to spend your childhood. So innocent and sturdy in its own way. I hope memory lane inspired you. wx

  3. you're right, Wendy, it was a lovely place, and like all childhoods it had its hard times - I sometimes wonder what I'm hoping to find when I go back there...And although I hadn't realised it till last night, inspiration did stir and a new poem is emerging from the visit...! x

  4. How amazingly things change, pigeons and hawks as weapons of war.
    Yet how they stay the same after all these centuries we are still at each others throats

  5. The more one knows about war, Al, the more pacifism seems a logical option.w

  6. What fascinating machines, they set my creative brain firing.



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