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Simpler times yesterday and today


Image: Loft

"From the narrow unshuttered window in the loft they looked out westward into a night full of stars." Ellis Peters, The Confession of Brother Haluin

I once bedded down in a hay loft for several months. Today I am happy to have the internet and a gas fire and antibiotics when needed, but I still long to live in simpler times. For instance, I want a simpler government that doesn't lie, doesn't break promises and doesn't gamble with everyone's retirement. I think the simplicity we're looking for was captured in the last pages of the Confession.

Edith Pargeter, who published the Brother Cadfael mysteries under the name Ellis Peters, began her life in 1913 simply - the "Pargeters had little money, living in a two-bedroom cottage with no gas, water, or electricity" (Oxford DNB). This simplicity of life resembled that lived by Cadfael, her 12th century monk. The riches were similar, too. Like the Benedictine Abbey, the Pargeter house was "full of books and music".

Edith was too young to be aware of World War I, but she was in the thick of World War II, serving in the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS) from 1940 to 1945 in the western approaches command. George VI presented her with the British Empire Medal for meritorious service on VE-day, 8 May 1944.

Edith Pargeter's books are "widely admired for historical depth and accuracy". The Cadfaei mysteries are set during the war waged by Matilda and Stephen for the throne of England. There is a shocking, historical episode in One Corpse Too Many when the castle of Shrewsbury is taken and the defenders are hanged. During Cadfael's journey across Shropshire in Brother Haluin's Confession, there are scenes that recall the Anglo-Saxon rebellion decades earlier and the waste that followed the Norman settlement.

These were simpler times, but like Edith Pargeter's times, and our own, they were torn by the catastrophes visited on men and women by each other.

I am drawn to a simpler life, but not so simple that I am drawing water every day. I think the still centre - the less than simple simplicity we want today - is the thing for which Cadfael was searching. Beyond the solution to his mystery, he was looking for something that changed everything -

What was changed was the replacement of falsity by truth, and however hard the assimilation might be, it must be for the better. Truth can be costly, but in the end it never falls short of value for the price paid.

That, I think, is what we want - the freeing and life-giving truth.

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