Morval ~ 25th to 28th September 1916

AT THE GOING DOWN OF THE SUN…

Morval is a commune in the Pas-de-Calais department in the north of France.  These days the village of Morval is one of those typical French hamlets built at a crossroads, for no other reason than it’s at a crossroads.  Morval has a population of less than 100 souls.  You wouldn’t go there except by accident.  The nearest decent hotel is Les Clos du Clocher in Gueudecourt, where an overnight stay will set you back about £50.00.  The menu is excellent although the French still have no idea how to make a decent breakfast.  Or you could stay at Le Domaine de la Butte, which advertises itself as being a 15 minute bicycle ride from the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.  The Tour de France has been to Morval.  It isn’t worth going there if what you want is sunshine.  It rains as much on Morval as it does on Manchester.

Morval

the road near Morval, with bicylists

Most arriving in Calais will probably use the A1 Autoroute du Nord which runs to the west of Morval.  Also to the east of the A1 Autoroute du Nord are the village of LesBoeufs, Guillemont, and the town of Combles.  This is the Somme.  It’s flat.  The soil is deep and contains a very high proportion of phosphorous.  If it gets hot enough the soil will burn with a hellish stench.

The English and the British have fought over this ground since before Agincourt, itself a commune in the Pas-de-Calais.  It was to be fought over again between the 25th and 28th of September 1916, some 98 years ago.

archers

the English archer dominated the battlefield

The German 1st Army held the villages of Morval, Gueedencourt, and LesBoeufs.  The British had already made one big push against the villages during the earlier Battle of Flers-Courcelette which officially lasted from 15th to 22nd of September 1916.  The strategic objective was to cut communications between the German front and Thiepval, depriving the German front line of reinforcements.  This was part of a larger strategic plan to keep pressure on the Germans and Austro-Hungarian reserves after the Battle of Verdun.

As of everything else that destroyed the Flower of British Manhood between 1914 and 1918, the whole plan was heavily reliant on cooperation with the French.

As of everything else that destroyed the Flower of British Manhood between 1914 and 1918, the names are horribly familiar, although I doubt that one in one-hundred could find the places on a map without prompting.  Other names are horribly familiar; Foch, Haig, and Byng being Generals, theoretically on our side.

This was a war where victories could be measured by the gain of mere hundreds of yards of worthless ground.  Where men lived below ground, or they didn’t live at all.  The very names of trench lines are enough to bring shivers to the spine, while the names of otherwise meaningless pieces of geography are included in the battle honours of British regiments.  Vimy Ridge rises 200 feet above the Douai Plains near Arras, it was fought over from The Race to the Sea in 1914 to the Armistice in 1918.

During the entire four years of terrible warfare ‘the front’ moved no more than a couple of miles in either direction.  The total number of civilian and military casualties during the Great War is confidently estimated at over 37,000,000.  About ten million military personnel died.  The Entente Powers lost about six million dead.  Britain lost some one million dead out of a population of 22 million.  An entire generation of young women would live to old age without ever finding a husband.  The German Empire lost almost three-million dead, or one in 25 of their entire population, or to put it another way, an entire generation of German youth was slaughtered.

And, to this day, nobody is quite certain what the Great War was for.  There is a majority of opinion that says the Germans and Austro-Hungarians started it.  But then, there would be, wouldn’t there?  After all they lost and history is written by the victors.

There was some progress towards industrialised death at Morval.  The tank was first used by the British on September 15th at Fler-Courcelette.  The Royal Flying Corps had effective aerial photography by the time of the battle of Morval.  The water-cooled Vickers machine gun was replacing the earlier Maxims.  The French 75mm quick-firing gun was queen of the battlefield.  The standard equipment for a British Infantryman was the 1916 bolt-action Short Magazine Lee Enfield .303 centrefire rifle.  It was 44.5 inches long, weighed 8lbs 8oz and could easily hit a man at 550 yards.  The key point in the early years of the war was the a professional British soldier could get off 30 aimed shots a minute with one of these things.  It was in use from the Second Boer War until today.  It was used by the British army as a sniper’s rifle until the mid 1990’s.

British_Mark_I_male_tank_Somme_25_September_1916

mk1 male tank at the Somme 25th September 1916

The rifle was bloody useless if you were attacking, because you were out in the open and the defenders were deep in their trenches.

The slaughter of the brave.

Morval is just another small, pointless, French village in the Pas-de-Calais.  You wouldn’t go there except by accident.

 

Failed Relationships

SO, IT’S ALL GONE PEAR SHAPED

I recently received the attached email, which gives excellent advice on how to cope if you have been in a toxic relationship, which has eventually failed.

The thing for manly men to remember is that, if your relationship with a mature woman has failed, it probably isn’t your fault.

Get over it.

The-Graduate

more than likely she is seeing more than one guy at a time

This morning, I received a long email from a reader named Evan who is struggling with letting go of a failed relationship. In his email he explains, in rather vivid detail, the signs and symptoms of a toxic relationship that has been heading south for many years. He admits that he needs to let go, but he struggles with it, because doing so means he must finally face reality, which requires him to let go of the idea in his head about how his life and relationship were suppose to be.

One particular line from his email really summed it up well: “I’m learning the hard way that the hardest thing in life is simply letting go of what you thought was real.”

Isn’t that the truth – for all of us, in all walks of life. We all have an idea in our heads about how things are, or how they’re supposed to be, and sadly this is what often messes us up and stresses us out the most. Realize this. Sometimes life doesn’t give you what you WANT because you NEED something else. And what you need often comes when you’re not looking for it. You won’t always understand it and that’s OK. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. And then just when you think it can’t get any better, it does.

The key is detachment – letting go of the life you expected, so you can make the best of the life that’s waiting for you. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Here are six strategies for making this happen:

1. Create some healthy space for yourself. – Sometimes you are just too close to the puzzle to see the big picture. You need to take a few steps back to gain clarity on the situation. The best way to do this is to simply take a short break – a breather – a vacation – and explore something else for a little while. Why? So you can return to where you started and see things with a new set of eyes. And the people there may see you differently too. Returning where you started is entirely different than never leaving. ( from the “Happiness” chapter of our book)

2. Accept the truth and practice being grateful for what is. – To let go is to be grateful for the experiences that made you laugh, made you cry, and helped you learn and grow. It’s the acceptance of everything you have, everything you once had, and the possibilities that lie ahead. It’s all about finding the strength to embrace life’s challenges and changes, to trust your intuition, to learn as you go, to realize that every experience has value, and to continue taking positive steps forward.

3. Forgive with all your heart, as often as necessary. – Forgiveness is a constant attitude of choosing happiness over hurt – acceptance over resistance. It’s about acknowledging that we’re all mistaken sometimes; sometimes even the best of us do foolish things – things that have severe consequences. But it doesn’t mean we are evil and unforgiveable, or that we can’t be trusted ever afterward. Know this. Sit with it. It might take time to forgive, because it takes strength to forgive. Because when you forgive, you love with all your might. And when you love like this, a heavenly, healing light shines upon you. This forgiveness – true forgiveness – brings you to a place where you can sincerely say, “Thank you for that experience,” and mean it with all your heart.

4. Concentrate only on what can be changed. – Realize that not everything in life is meant to be modified or perfectly understood. Live, let go, learn what you can and don’t waste energy worrying about the things you can’t change. Focus exclusively on what you can change. And if you can’t change something that’s upsetting you, change the way you think about it. Review your options and then re-frame what you don’t like into a starting point for achieving something different in your life. ( from the “Adversity” chapter of our book)

5. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life. – Now is the moment. The past is just a memory. The future is a mental projection. You can choose to dwell back in the past for learning and joyous reflection. You can choose to dwell in the future for visualization and practical planning. However, any time your awareness floats away to the past or future frequently for negative purposes, you are suffocating your ability to thrive in the only moment you ever have… the NOW. Past and future literally do not exist right now – feel the freedom in this truth.

6. Embrace your quirks, your mistakes, and the fact that life is a lesson. – Life is a ride. Things change, people change, but you will always be YOU; so stay true to yourself and never sacrifice who you are for anyone or anything. You have to dare to be yourself, in this moment, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be. It’s about realizing that even on your weakest days you get a little bit stronger, if you’re willing to learn. Which is why, sometimes the greatest thing to come out of all your trouble and hard work isn’t what you get, but what you become. ( from the “Self-Love” chapter of our book)

And of course, if you’re struggling with any of these points, know that you are not alone. We are all in this together. Many of us are right there with you, working hard to feel better, think more clearly, and keep our lives on track. This is precisely why Marc and I wrote our book, “1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.” The book is filled with short, concise tips on how to do just that. Here’s what two kind people recently said about it:

“1,000 Little Things is a really helpful book. My wife and I both find it insightful and inspiring. I ordered the book after reading Marc and Angel’s website. It is full of ideas and concepts to make you think about your life and relationships more effectively. We found it helps us see the positives in what life throws at us. It’s written in such a way that you can pick it up and put it down at anytime. Great to have on your coffee table, and makes a great gift too. Worth every cent.”
– Stuart Goddard (San Diego, CA)

I recommend your book, 1,000 Little Things, to everyone I know, especially those that enjoy the Marc and Angel blog and newsletters. It really is full of great information – the kind that we all kinda-sorta know in the back of our minds, but have trouble pulling up when we need it most. A fabulous resource for all areas of life – really helps you think more clearly about how you are handling certain situations. Thank you.
– Megan Daniels (Melbourne, Australia)

~ with thanks to Marc and Angel Hack Life angelc@marcandangel.com

Triumph Spitfire

TRIUMPH’S BABY SPORTS CAR WAS ALWAYS A GIRL’S CAR

There is much debate over where the Supermarine Spitfire came by its iconic name.  There is no doubt whatsoever that the Triumph Spitfire was named for the war-winning fighter aircraft.  Originally known as the SC, (Small Car).  Developed on a tiny budget, by engineers who had no experience of small sports cars, the Spitfire was a sales success for well over 18 years.  It was always an underrated car, too pretty for its own good.  It was always built down to a price, having to compete with its rival the MG Midget / Austin-Healey Sprite, in the small sports car market.  Interestingly, the Spitfire only came into being because of the take-over of Triumph by Leyland Motors.

Triumph

earlier spitfire possibly a Mk 3

The Spitfire was very closely related to its saloon car sister, the Triumph Herald, being based on a chopped-down version of the same separate chassis-frame.  Unfortunately for the Herald, Vitesse, and Spitfire this chassis was rather flexible.  It did have independent front and rear suspension, rack and pinion steering with an incredibly small turning circle, and the ability to accommodate  a six-cylinder engine.  In any event, there was no possibility of Triumph producing a monocoque bodyshell in any volume.

The incredibly pretty body was the work of Michelotti, and featured a decent boot, (trunk), space behind the seats, and a front end bonnet, (hood), that completely lifted up to allow unrivaled access to the engine bay and front suspension.  Sadly this lift-up front end, coupled to a rather flexible chassis, was not very stiff and was prone to rattles.  The chassis was very much of the back-bone type, so the Spitfire has strong sills to add a little stiffness.  Like all Triumph sports cars of the period, the Spitfire could be bought with a pretty detachable hardtop.

The original Spitfire prototype was known as ‘Bomb,’ had a tuned version of the 1,147 cc in-line 4, which gave a paltry 63 bhp, ran on skinny 3.5-inch wheels and had a soft-top you had to build like a tent.  The four-speed gearbox had no synchromesh on first gear, and came straight from the Herald 1200.  The independent rear suspension was by transverse-leaf with swing-axles and would always be a weak point when it came to fast corners taken under power.  Top speed was around 90 mph and the 0-60 time was a slow, slow, (by today’s standards) 17 seconds.

The Mk1 Spitfire went on sale in 1963 at £641.  Development of the Spitfire Mk 1 included 3 different motorsport tuning kits, although there is no record of the stage 1 kit ever being sold.   The stage 2 kit included a high compression eight port head new manifolds, 2 twin-choke 40DCOE Weber carburettors, new camshaft, and was said to be good for a serious 90bhp.

The Spitfire Mk2 came out in 1965.  It had different manifolds and valve gear to the Mk1, giving the engine 67bhp.  You could also have a heater, (optional), and carpets replaced rubber mats.  In 1967, only 2 years later, the Spitfire Mk3 was launched.  As well as a new front bumper, the Mk3 had a 1,296 cc engine, eight-port head, and churned out 75bhp.  Better brakes were fitted and the electrical system was switched to negative earth.  The Mk3 was ‘theoretically’ capable of the magical 100mph.  The Mk3 was the first Spitfire to have a decent soft-top.  With more power and a higher top speed, the swing-axle rear suspension really started to show its weak character.  Initial understeer would snap to strong oversteer as the rear wheel began to tuck-in.

Somewhere in here electric overdrive was offered as a very desirable option.

The Spitfire Mk IV was eventually launched in October 1970, by which time Triumph was part of the same Leyland company that owned MG / Austin-Healey.  Because the original body-tooling was worn out, Michelotti could design new front and rear end bodywork, which featured the cut-off tail also seen on the TR6.  The turned-out panel joints disappeared, giving a much smoother look to the car.  The new car was supposed to have a completely new front end body with flip-up headlamps, but these was dropped because of US safety legislation that never came into force.  Perhaps the best part of the redesign was a brilliant angular hard-top option.

amphicars Spitfire

amphicars tuned Spitfire engine bay

In the Spitfire IV was a new gearbox, new rear suspension, stiffer anti-roll bar at the front, new interior, and a slightly less powerful set-up of the venerable 1.3 engine.

The final version of the Spitfire Mk IV was the 1500.  This shared the same long-stroke engine and all synchromesh gearbox with the final version of the MG Midget.  The only bodywork change was that 1500 decals were added.

Both the Spitfire and Midget were killed-off as all development money and effort went into the much-disliked TR7.

All in all, the ‘best’ version of the Spitfire is the 1500, which is pretty to look at, quite nice to drive, very easy to tune, and mostly without vices.  The car is easy to work on and maintain, and is mostly likely to have cooling and electrical problems.  A well-sorted Spitfire IV / 1500 is quite capable of an extended continental road-trip, and offers decent fuel economy and ample luggage space.

The Spitfire is very easy to rebuild and restore.  The bodyshell can be easily removed from the chassis, there are only 10 bolts to worry about.  But, getting it back on again is more than ordinarily difficult if you don’t want badly fitting doors and uncertain alignment.  Before you even buy a Spitfire, obtain the appropriate catalogs from Rimmer Bros.

With the body off, the first job is to carefully measure the chassis, in accordance with a workshop manual, to make certain the frame is still square.  It is very easy to nudge a front corner out of line, some bad parking is enough to do that.  A complete strip-down of the frame to bare metal is a good idea.  At present I don’t believe that new chassis frames are available, so it’s a case of welding and re-alignment.

Having rebuilt a Spitfire, Vitesse and TR6, I would very strongly recommend a complete strip down of the chassis to the bare metal, shot-blasting, repair and galvanising.  Any expensive work you do elsewhere on the car will be wasted when the chassis inevitably breaks somewhere around the rear suspension.

spitfire_chassis

Spitfire restored rolling chassis

The other major problem is that bits of the bodywork will have rusted, particularly that big tip-up bonnet.  The most crucial area to take back to bare metal and rebuild / repair are the sills because these contribute to the cars overall structural rigidity.

You can pay anything from under £1,000 to £15,000 for a Spitfire, depending upon condition.  At the high end you want a car that has been taken back to the bare metal, had the chassis repaired and galvanised, and the bodywork restored and refitted using a proper jig.  New gearbox with electric overdrive should also feature on the the more expensive car.

All versions of the Spitfire are fun, but the early version SHOULD NOT be cornered hard.

Salt and Hypertension

SALT DOES NOT CAUSE HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE

In another piece of contradictory research covering 8,670 French adults, scientists have concluded that the case for salt being a cause of high blood pressure is overstated, and more complex than once believed.  In fact the authors of this particular study have concluded that there is no direct link between salt consumption and hypertension.

It seems that other lifestyle factors such as excessive alcohol consumption and obesity were strongly linked to a rise in blood pressure.  Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables was found to be linked to a drop in blood pressure.

Stopping weight increase should be the first target in the general population to counteract the hypertension engine. ~ The American Journal of Hypertension.

On the other hand, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have just issued a report finding that 90% of US children eat more salt, (sodium chloride), than is good for them.  The science surrounding salt ‘is crazy confusing’.  In fact the long held belief that salt causes cardio-vascular disease is coming under increasing scrutiny.

Salt is essential for good health in people and animals.  Too little salt is very bad for you, causing a condition called hyponatremia.  The symptoms are confusion, chronic fatigue, and dizziness.  Bad hyponatremia can cause strokes and heart attacks.  If the condition goes on long enough it can be fatal.  Too much salt can also be fatal.

Low salt diets can cause an increase in hormones and lipids in the blood.  A 2012 study in The American Journal of Hypertension found that a low salt diet can cause elevated plasma levels of renin, cholesterol and triglycerides.  A low salt diet is linked to early death in people with type 2 diabetes.

A low salt diet is particularly dangerous for the elderly.  Hyponatremia is linked to broken hip joints due to falls caused by confusion and a decrease in cognitive ability.

The original ‘proof’ that salt causes high blood pressure was in a 1970s study by Lewis Dahl, who induced high blood pressure in rats by feeding them the equivalent of 50 times the average human salt intake in the western world.  Dahl also stated that cultures who regularly consumed higher levels of salt tend to have higher blood pressure.

the data supporting universal salt reduction have never been compelling, nor has it ever been demonstrated that such a program would not have unforeseen negative side effects.  ~ Gary Taubes in Science magazine.

There is a healthy range of salt intake for most people, the range seems to be 1.5 to 3 teaspoons of salt a day.  Too little salt and food tastes bland.  To much salt in food makes it almost inedible.  The key, as always is to take everything in moderation, avoid processed foods, and avoid modern wheat.

Modern wheat tends to result in an increase in fat around the stomach, and the Mayo Clinic says this is really bad for blood pressure.  In another piece of contradictory research, the Mayo Clinic found that an increase of just 5 lbs in fat around the stomach will cause a rise in blood pressure.

To our knowledge, for the first time, we showed that the blood pressure increase was specifically related to increases in abdominal visceral fat… ~ Dr Naima Covassin.

Abdominal visceral fat is the classic ‘beer belly’ and it is caused by sudden increases in blood sugar, such as when drinking alcohol, sugary drinks, eating white bread…  Take this theory far enough and it’s obvious that sugar causes high blood pressure, and not salt.

drunk-man

this man almost certainly has high blood pressure

In order to reduce blood pressure, it seems likely that losing weight, cutting down on alcohol, and avoiding modern wheat, is likely to be more effective than cutting down on table salt.  The recommended maximum sugar intake is between 5 and 7 teaspoons a day.

It is sugar not the salt that may be the actual causative factor for high blood pressure. ~ Dr James DiNicolantonio in the American Journal of Cardiology.

Exercise helps too ~ an hour of walking a day is enough to help reduce blood pressure.  Walking to work reduces stress and improves brain power, according to the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School.

The Scottish Question

307 YEARS OF UNION COULD BE SCRAPPED

There is a strong possibility that Scotland will vote to leave the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on Thursday September the 18th.  This dismemberment will end 307 years of union and throw Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom into political and economic chaos.  What is truly remarkable is that if Scotland does vote Yes in the Independence Referendum is that the split will be handled in a civilised manner with none of the internecine armed conflict which usually accompanies the break-up of nations.

The Queen would remain Head of State, unless at sometime in the future Scotland turns itself into a republic.  The Union Flag would have to change.  The BBC would no longer be collecting the arcane Television Licence Fee in Scotland, and could well reduce or scrap its transmissions in Scotland.  Not being a member of the European Union, citizens of Scotland would have no automatic right of domicile in England.  The matter of policing across the border would also need to be agreed.

A break-up of the United Kingdom would be disastrous for current Prime Minister David Cameron, it is likely he would be forced to resign.  Scottish independence would destroy the chances of the Labour Party ever winning a majority at Westminster for a generation, and would throw Scotland’s international political relationships into turmoil.  If there is a Yes vote Scottish independence would be formally declared some 18 months later, sometime in 2016.  This would solve the West Lothian question at a stroke.

For example; would an independent Scotland wish to become a member of NATO, what would happen to Scotland’s relationship with the European Union, what about Scotland’s relationship with the United States?  No doubt the mandarins in Whitehall and Edinburgh have contingency plans in place to deal with these issues.  No doubt those plans will not survive the first day of Scottish Independence.

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men,  Gang aft agley,  An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,  For promis’d joy!  Robert Burns, To a Mouse

The Treasury and the Bank of England have stated in the clearest possible terms that Scotland would not be able to continue using the Pound Sterling as their national currency, while Alex Salmond, (leader of the Scottish National Party), says that yes Scotland will continue to use the pound.  This is a case of neither side being particularly honest.

There is nothing to stop Scotland from continuing to use the pound, but they would thereby be unable to set their own interest rates, and would have little say in their own macro-economic policy.  The Treasury in London and the Bank of England would effectively run the Scottish economy.  In addition, if Scotland does join the European Union they would be required to adopt the Euro and would have even less economic independence.  Scotland has only half the population of basket-case Greece, and about the same Gross Domestic Product.  Scotland would also be liable for its portion of the UK National Debt, reneging on that would destroy Scotland’s international credit ratings.

bank-of-england

the Bank of England could have a major say in the macro-economic policy of an independent Scotland

Scottish Banks are filling up their cash machines in case of a rush to withdraw money if there is a Yes vote on Thursday.  Senior banker are concerned there may be a run on their banks if Scotland votes for independence.  Five Scottish banks also have contingency plans in place to move their headquarters to London, allegedly ~ Lloyds, Royal Bank of Scotland, Clydesdale, TSB and Tesco Bank.  The Bank of England will remain regulator and lender of last resort to Scottish Banks until independence is formally declared.

Scotland has a disproportionate importance in the United Kingdom’s armed forces.  Alex Salmond does not want nuclear weapons in Scotland, which would mean the United Kingdom’s ballistic nuclear submarine force would have to move from its current base at Faslane on the Gare Loch.  The route around the North of Scotland into the Atlantic is of vital importance to the United Kingdom ~ it is unlikely that Scotland could defend that with it’s planned military expenditure of £2.5 billion per annum.  A significant proportion of the United Kingdom’s army is made up of Scottish Regiments, and under Scotland’s defence plans three of these are likely to go ~ The Black Watch, Royal Highland Fusillers and The Highlanders.

The Scots would like to have 12 Typhoon supersonic jets, six Hercules transport aircraft, Chinook helecopters, two fully armed Type 23 Frigates, two offshore patrol vessels and four anti-mine vessels.  These would have to be transferred from the current strength of the UK’s armed forces.

These reductions to the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and the British Army would have a major impact on the UK’s defensive capability.  Our capability to defend the British Isles will be diminished and the Scots won’t have the ability either.  We’d all lose out.  This is very damaging.  Lord West, former head of the Royal Navy.

Scotland would also need its own secret services.  On independence Scotland would lose the services of MI5, MI6, and GCHQ, and there is no guarantee that Scotland would be able to rely on the cooperation of the American agencies, who apparently view Scotland with deep suspicion following the release of the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.  It seems likely that both Britain and America would spy on an Independent Scotland.

The future Scottish economy would be heavily dependent on North Sea Oil and Gas, (which is running out), and green energy in the form of wind turbines, (and anybody who thinks they can make that cost effective is deluding themselves).  At present Scotland lives on subsidies from the English Taxpayer.

Alistair Darling, who is heading the No campaign says that there are still 500,000 voters who haven’t yet made up their minds.  Given the resentment most Scots have for the English, I wouldn’t bet on their voting No.

Spiritual Retreat

Seems that I will not be around for a couple of weeks.

Empty-Chair

Empty Chair, Empty Mind

Nor will I be checking for messages.

As my mind is as empty as the chair, there is no point in anyone trying to contact me.

 

The Magical Forge

FORGING IS THE MOST PRACTICAL BLACK ART

Not many men know about the complex metallurgy involved in the simple matter of hitting a piece of hot iron with a hammer.  Not many men know what to do with a heap of coal, charcoal, or coke and a piece of iron.  Not many men know what the colours mean on a piece of hot steel, or what happens when a piece of hot steel is plunged into water.  These days hardly anyone knows why witches and blacksmiths are at opposite ends of the magical spectrum, or why being married over an anvil brings good luck.

Even great Pythagoras of yore, stood beside the blacksmith’s door.  ~  Longfellow.

To begin at the beginning, a blacksmith works with fire and iron to produce an artifact by hitting hot iron with a hammer.  All three of the basic elements are capable of infinite subtlety and variation.  A blacksmith can make anything from a nail, to a suit of armour, to a sword.  The black in blacksmith comes from the firescale which appears as hot iron oxidises on it’s surface.  The smith probably comes from the old English word smythe, meaning to strike.

Blacksmiths work in heat and violence while the traditional English witch was a hedge witch who worked with the green and living.  Hedge witches use herbs to treat both physical and spiritual ailments, and traditionally live on the outskirts of a village, whereas the blacksmith’s forge was at the centre of all village life.  All blacksmiths were men, all hedge witches were women because another job for a witch was to attend during childbirth.  Hedge witches would also be consulted on other female problems from menstruation to sterility.

The blacksmith’s fire is where it begins.  These days ‘blacksmiths’ will use propane or oil to heat their forge, and that is utterly pointless.  The point of the fire is that it is the source of carbon which turns iron into steel.  There are only two suitable fuels for a blacksmith’s forge ~ charcoal and coke.  Coal is not a good fuel in a forge as most coal contains sulfur, and sulfur plays merry hell with the crystalline structure of steel.

Both charcoal and coke are almost pure carbon, and carbon is the magical element in the blacksmith’s art.  The amount of carbon present in iron is what turns it into tool steel, mild steel, wrought iron or cast iron.  There is very little margin for error as the carbon content of tool steel is between 0.25% and 2.00%.  Less than 0.25% of carbon iron is wrought iron or mild steel.

Forging is the key process which will turn a piece of iron into that most magical and complex of things, the sword.  Forging is the archetypical image of a blacksmith.  Forging is when hot iron is worked and shaped by hammering.  A blacksmith who can make a finished sword would be given the honourific of swordsmith or bladesmith.

A sword never kills anybody; it is but a tool in the killer’s hand.  ~  Lucius Annaeus Seneca

There are two basic ways to make a sword, or indeed any tool which is to be highly valued and strong enough to outlive the original owner.  One is represented by the highly complex Damascus sword and the Japanese katana, (Samurai Sword).  A katana is forged from a single piece of steel made from iron sand heated to 2200-2800 Fahrenheit with coal to make a block of Tamahagane.

damascus

the strength of a sword is shown in the pattern

The block of tamahagane steel is given to the blacksmith / swordsmith for him to forge his magic.  The basic of the process is folding.  A fine sword is not a uniform piece of steel.  To give a sword / knife strength and flexibility what is needed is more like plywood than wood.  The block of steel is heated in the high carbon fire in the forge, taken out and hit with a hammer until the firescale is removed, then the block is folded and forge welded so the piece of steel now has two layers.  The layers have differing properties on their ‘outside’ which is higher in carbon and hard, and the ‘inside’ which is lower in carbon and more flexible.  This folding and forge welding process is repeated many times until the single piece of steel has a structure that looks like a book when viewed under the microscope.

This very complex piece of steel is then forged into the curved shape of a Samurai sword.  Then it starts to get complicated.  An almost finished sword is produced by forging and grinding, but that piece of steel needs hardening and tempering.  Hardening involves heating the steel to the correct temperature, denoted by colour, and suddenly cooling the work by quenching in an oil bath ~ (or more traditionally the body of a peasant).  The sword is now as hard and brittle as a piece of glass.  Tempering is reheating the steel to an ideal temperature, (denoted by colour ~ most likely straw coloured), and then allowing the work to cool in still air.

A sword needs to be hard at the edge and flexible along the back.  Japanese swordsmiths achieve this almost impossible mixture of properties by covering the work with different amounts of clay before heating.  No clay means fast cooling and very hard at the edge, more clay means flexability along the back.

The cold sword is sharpened and polished.  The many layers of steel and different hardnesses show on the finished sword in complex patterns within the steel.

excalibur1

Excalibur ~ magical steel

An English broadsword is both simpler and more complex.  A traditional English broadsword starts out as three pieces of steel.  These will each be forged into about yard long rods.  The three rods are then heated and twisted together to make what looks like badly made rope.  This twisted lump of metal is then forge welded into a sword shape.  Like the Japanese sword the English sword then has a very complex internal structure of layers of hard and more flexible metal.  Beaten into a basic sword shape, the work is forged and ground until an almost finished sword is produced.  The critical thing here is that the sword in much thicker along the centre than it is at the edge.  The work is then hardened and tempered.  Obviously the finer edges will cool much faster during tempering than the thicker centre, to give a hard edge and flexible centre ~ an ideal sword.

Witches do not like steel, and especially they do not like swords.  Witches do not really deal in the virginal world, and since brides are supposed to be virgins marriage ceremonies were conducted as far away from the witch as possible.  That always happens to be the anvil in the blacksmith’s forge.

The worlds of witch and blacksmith are like yin and yang ~ opposite but complimentary.  Me, I’m a blacksmith.  My Lady is a witch.  Perfect match.

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