Tuesday, 19 March 2019


I was lucky enough to be able to carve out a bit of time for some music this evening.  The harp had its usual transporting effect on me, and I remembered a time many many years ago when I was busking in Stratford.  There was a splendid moment when an elderly man stood listening very attentively and then decided to come up for a chat.  He asked me what I was studying, and was delighted when he learned that I was reading history - because, he told me portentously, 'I have had several previous lives'.  It was an intriguing, if slightly disturbing conversation.

Not unexpectedly, he had apparently been Tutankhamun's personal slave and had many a tale to tell about this painful but gratifying experience.  He had experienced various cataclysmic events in the Roman world too.  But the life for which my music apparently made him most nostalgic, was that as a thirteenth-century Cathar - I didn't think the Cathars had lap-harps, but I let it pass. His experiences as a member of this dualist heretical sect were very romantic - set amongst the rolling and verdant foothills of the Pyrenees.  He had been one of those besieged at Montsegur during the Albigensian crusade, but had managed, against all odds, to escape.

The chateau of Montsegur (image source: Wikipedia)

After a perilous journey the length of France, he had stood on the coast at Calais, gazing at the white cliffs of Dover - which meant, finally, sanctuary.  I must have looked rather sceptical at this point - although I was doing my best to be as polite as possible.  'Do you know', he asked me slightly irritably, 'what the Cathars were often known as?'  'Yes', I replied (as it happened, I was really fascinated by the fourteenth-century Cathar trials at the time), 'They were known as the Bonhommes'.  'And do you know what my surname is?' he pursued.  'No', I replied nervously.  'GOODMAN' he shouted triumphantly.  And with that, he was gone.

I rather doubt that my explorations of fourteenth-century nostalgia will turn up any nostalgic time-travellers, but the memory of my acquaintance certainly gives nostalgia an usual spin.


  1. Thank you for such a delightful whimsical story. It resonates with Hacking’s notion that in Western epistemology memory “emerged as the surrogate sciences of the soul” during the late nineteenth century. see:
    Hacking I. Memory Sciences, Memory Politics. In Tense Past: Cultural Essays in Trauma and Memory. Eds: Paul Antze and Michael Lambeck. 1996. London: Routledge.

  2. Sounds really interesting - thanks!