Anyone who has had the courage to dip into this blog over the years may be aware of a pattern which I have commented on in the past. I'm not sure quite how it comes about, though I have a theory or two, but I have observed that it definitely does come about.
Typically, I suddenly realise that I have bumped into the same potentially interesting topic several times, from different directions, in quick succession - and I am intrigued, not only by the subject matter, but also by the way the bumps have occurred. If this makes no sense at all to you, then I understand completely, by the way.
The theory? [Let's get this out of the way...]
I reckon that we are constantly impacted by all sorts of things, and there are plentiful coincidences and apparently unlikely areas of overlap, but we don't necessarily notice unless we have some underlying interest or reason to recognise them when the arise. [As a stupid, though useful, simplification, a friend of mine pointed out, correctly, that if you walk through a crowded city centre on a Saturday, it is very probable that you will pass some total strangers multiple times each, but you don't notice because you don't know them and have no reason to recognise them (unless one of them is wearing a pink jacket, or is a Martian, of course). However, if you pass your best drinking buddy, Dave, twice in quick succession you will notice, and probably exchange grins, and make a mental note of what a small world it is (or something equally profound)].
I'm not sure why I bothered to set that theory out - never mind - bear with me.
I've been aware of Brunanburh for some years - it was a dirty great battle, back in 937AD, whose exact location has been a matter of debate for a long time. Recently I've found I keep bumping into Brunanburh - gosh, there it is again - so I recognise that it may have become significant to me - my new drinking buddy.
Let us discuss the bumps, not necessarily in strict chronological order. These will overlap a bit, which is the whole point of this story, I think - if you are due to have coffee, this might be the time to get one - have a couple of biscuits, too.
My wife has recently been clearing her late mother's house for sale, and we are left with some miscellaneous items. One of these is a sealed box set of DVDs of the BBC's "History of Scotland" from 2008, which I have now borrowed and started to watch. My wife and I are fans of these non-fiction BBC series - I still re-watch the multiple editions of "Coast", which are a constant source of delight to people trapped by lockdown.
We didn't have the DVDs of A History of Scotland - we watched some of them when the series was transmitted (12 years ago), and we missed a few. They were notable for the director's fixation with certain motifs, which got in the way of our viewing a little; every time Neil Oliver was required to deliver a narrative, looking over his shoulder at camera while walking briskly across a moor somewhere, and every time we got a close-up of some historical character's eyeball, or of blood spattering on a stone floor, or of speeded-up clouds to denote the passage of time, my wife and I would break out into spontaneous ironic cheering, and this was something of a distraction.
I must say that, as a non-native resident of Scotland, an incomer, I have always struggled with Scottish history. It is messy, it is very confusing, it is frequently contentious and it is dominated by legends and tales of heroes which are often wildly inaccurate and add to the difficulty. If I can live with the director's trademark tricks, I could usefully learn something here, so I have come back to the DVDs with some enthusiasm, and greater resolve.
Anyway, second instalment of the series, guess what? That's right - King Constantine II of Scotland and his ally, Olaf Guthfrithson, king of the Vikings - have a massive battle against Athelstane at Brunanburh. OK - excellent. They lose, of course.
My old school chum, Bain, who now lives in North London, has recently become heavily involved with the University of the Third Age (U3A), and has a number of history projects on the boil. Well, simmering. He is preparing some lectures and papers on the Battle of Brunanburh - do I know anything about it? Well, not very much, as it happens, but Bain and I have now exchanged a series of emails on the topic, and this has fired me up a little.
In 2005, an excavation was carried out on the farm where I live, an archeological dig, in fact, and they unearthed a religious settlement and its graveyard (which was founded in the 8th Century by St Baldred, and buried its monks there for a couple of centuries). They also found the grave (and personal remains) of a non-Christian outsider, who is almost certainly the aforementioned Olaf Guthfrithson, who is known to have been killed during a raid on the East Lothian coast in 941AD. Well well - Brunanburh is obviously inescapable - we are almost related by this stage.
When I was a very young chap, I applied to university and was awarded a place at Edinburgh without having to sit my final exams again, so I promptly left school, and got a job until I started at college in the Autumn (this is a particularly bad idea, by the way, but discussion would be inappropriate here). I got a job in the accounts department at the North West division of Cubitt's, the civil engineering and construction firm, whose head office was next door to the Kelvinator factory, on the New Chester Road at Bromborough, on the Wirral, across the river from Liverpool. I knew Bromborough a little, since my Uncle Harold lived there.
At the Cubitt site, we had an old watchman who looked after the joinery shop, and he was a great character. He used to tell us tales of when he worked as a green keeper at Bromborough Golf Club, before the war, and also at a tennis club at (I think) Brimstage, another local village. He told us there had been a great battle there "in prehistoric times" [sic] - they regularly dug up bits of swords, helmets, ancient sandals and bits of horse harness. Naturally, we dismissed all this as an old man's ramblings, but he did tell a good story.
I read recently that Bernard Cornwell, no less, has been adding his enthusiasm and resources to the opportunities for exploration of the old Brunanburh site, which he is convinced is at Bromborough, in the Wirral. Previously, alternative candidate sites were at Sutton Hoo (don't even know where that is) and in a lay-by near Doncaster (which sounds a bit compact for the biggest ever British battle), but Mr Cornwell tells us that the true site overlaps Bromborough Golf Course and the grounds of the old Clatterbridge Hospital, right next to the M53, which is the motorway which runs up the spine of the Wirral to Birkenhead.
Crikey - now you're talking.
Bump, bump, bump. Bain's U3A course, the old groundsman's finds on the golf course, Uncle Harold's house in Bromborough village, Olaf Guthfrithson, the BBC videos and now Mr Cornwell. I think I was predestined to be interested in this lot - I am involved, after all.
Watch this space.