IT'S the 950th anniversary today of the Battle of Hastings, where William, Duke of Normandy – William the Conqueror – defeated the Anglo-Saxon King Harold and then was himself crowned King of England.
I am reminded of this by a reader who calls himself NDC, who also tells me he is a descendant of William the Conqueror and therefore a little biased.
"Hastings was a stunning victory for the Normans from Normandy and their Celtic allies from Brittany (little Britain in France) - native Britons who had been displaced from England in the 5th and 6th centuries by the Saxon heathen horde who migrated to England from Saxony in the Germanic territories."
Yes, one does detect a touch of bias. But NDC's account of the battle is fair enough.
"William the Conqueror defeated the Anglo-Saxons, led by their King Harold, in a single day on October 14, 1066. The English forces were strong in defence in the first half and no goals were scored by the Normans.
"There was a half-time break around midday. The Normans gained ascendancy later in the second half due to some mistakes and ill-discipline by the home side. It was all over by sunset. It was a great comeback for the Celtic Britons.
"The Anglo-Saxon excuse for the defeat was that the English king was shot in the eye by an arrow - as if that was against the battle rules. In fact it was a 'bullseye' which counts maximum points for the shooting side."
Er, yes. In fact William had a perfectly good claim to the throne of England when Edward the Confessor died childless. It was via the "Anglo" bit of the Anglo-Saxon thing. The Angles were Scandinavians. William's Normans (a variation on the word "Norseman") were Scandinavians who had settled in France, intermarried with the locals and adopted their language. William was a relative of Edward the Confessor.
But let's not get into a squabble over these things. The lasting effect on us to this day is the effect the Norman invasion had on the English language.
Consider these lines in the Saxon poem, The Battle of Maldon:
Hyg'e sceal py heardra, heorte py cenre,
Mod sceal py mare py ure maeg' en lytlap …
Yes, that was Old English. It described a battle with the Vikings on the Essex coast. No doubt it was top of the pops in 991 AD, but today it simply doesn't resonate.
Then consider these lines from Chaucer, about 450 years later.
And Absolon, hym fil no bet ne wers,
But with his mouth he kiste hir naked ers …
And seyde, "Fy! allas! what have I do?"
"Tehee!" quod she, and clapte the wyndow to.
Yes, we can just about follow this. It's very funny. It's the famous passage in The Miller's Tale that describes a misdirected kiss at a dark windowsill. It's Middle English, a blend of Anglo-Saxon and Norman-French.
We would not have had Chaucer's wonderful Canterbury Tales, were it not for William's victory at Hastings 950 years ago today. We would not have had Shakespeare nor the modern English language as it is spoken and written. Hastings was a turning-point.
READER Eric Hodgson says the most depressing part of last Saturday's rugby debacle was for him the pre-match warm-up.
"The Boks warmed up by running into contact rather than gaps. Under absolutely no pressure they were dropping every third or fourth pass.
"Steve Hansen's comment about the All Blacks' micro-skills paying off was telling. Bok macro-skills are woeful."
Clive Raaff says no Springbok player would make the All Blacks side. He also takes issue with the crowd behaviour at Kings Park while the All Blacks were performing their Haka.
"This traditional challenge deserves the respect shown by our players, not the imbecilic baying of the crowd."
GLASWEGIANS Archie and Jimmy are sitting in the pub discussing Jimmy's forthcoming wedding.
"Och, it's all goin' pure brilliant," says Jimmy. "Ar've got everythin' organised awready, the fluers, the church, the caurs, the reception, the rings, the minister, even ma stag night".
Archie nods approvingly.
"I've even bought a kilt to be married in."
"A kilt? That's magic, you'll look pure smart in that. What's the tartan?"
"Och, A'd imagine she'll be in white."
I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member. Groucho Marx