The stuff of legend

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Today was a Bank Holiday in England and once the torrential rain stopped at lunchtime Sigoth and I ventured out into the spring sunshine, swathed against the elements and blinking in the light like newly hatched chicks. Of course, the obvious destination in these circumstances was some ruined buildings, so we headed for Kirkham Priory.

Scrambling about medieval piles of masonry is a bit of a treat for us. We like the peacefulness of the site, the texture of the stone, the play of shapes and light, the stories in the guide books, the humorous gargoyles and the fresh air. The average ancient monument has a tendency to be in rather decent countryside and the abbeys and priories of Yorkshire, of which there are many, are often in absolutely stunning locations.

Kirkham Priory is next to the railway line so I have a fondness for it based on the fact that whenever I see it on the train heading east I know I am nearly home. Between the railway and the masonry is the River Derwent, the famously perverse waterway that enjoys notoriety for its meandering path away from the sea; it rises in the North Yorkshire Moors, heads towards the coast then swerves away at the last moment before heading inland until it is seduced into the Ouse, swept to the Humber and finally meets its oceanic destiny near Hull. And serve it right too, the cheeky scamp.

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At Kirkham there is a pretty bridge and an old level crossing from the days when there was a station, pre-Beeching. Now it’s just an English Heritage ticket office and plenty of buoyant moss underfoot as you clamber up and down the site. The buildings are split level due to the slope of the ground, with the cloister starting at ground level at one end and finishing on the first floor at the other.

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The church is sadly diminished but once had a gorgeous Rose Window, which you have to try to imagine as you gaze at the stub of stone that remains.

Once we had finished wandering around we called back in at the ticket office which also operates a small shop, and bought a guide to Wharram Percy. This is a deserted medieval village not too far from Kirkham, and free to enter so long as you don’t mind squelching down a muddy slope about a quarter of a mile, with a number of kissing gates and a field of cows and calves to negotiate before you find yourself on a windy hillside looking at a roofless 18th century church, a mill pond and some lines in the ground representing medieval longhouses. I don’t mind at all, as you might guess.

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I know the site fairly well, but it’s always good to visit. Last time I went it was covered in snow; today there were new shoots on the hawthorn all the way down the path. I like a bit of hawthorn. In the pagan tree calendar the rune “Huath” represents May and the hawthorn, which in turn can be interpreted as the symbol of the triple goddess – maiden, mother and crone. At this time of year she gets her Maiden face on, with white blossom and green shoots. The path to the village runs between lines of hawthorn for most of its length, and in the sunshine you walk through a tunnel of green and white, surrounded by birdsong, sheltered from the wind and nurtured by romantic thoughts of Spring, the cycle of life and new beginnings, while wondering if this is what it felt like to return to the village along ancient trackways a thousand years ago. At least you do if you are EBL. You don’t worry about whether the path is the same in fact; it makes sense in a story about life in the Yorkshire Wolds throughout the millennia.

Increasingly fanciful, I wondered if we might appear as ghosts to the people of the past as we flitted between the rooms of their buildings, dressed strangely and clutching demonic devices. Were we the fairy folk of legends, or the devils that haunted good Christians in those days, just as some people claim to see ghosts of Roman soldiers wading along Hadrian’s Wall? Might the glimpses of people from the past in fact be the reflections of their glimpses of us, which they interpreted as things that go bump in the night? Are we in fact the stuff of legend?

I think the sunshine was making me giddy. I’m not used to it at this time of year and the winter has been so very dull.

I hope you are having sunshine and widly romantic daydreams, or at least a good ghost story.

Namaste.

 

 

 

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Dreams

 

Sit back. My dears, EBL is going to get all reminiscent.

Once upon a time, when the world was young, finding out information was difficult. There was no Google, if toy can believe such a thing and no Ask Jeeves, nor Lycos, nor even Excite. Not so much as a pixel of search engine goodness at the fingertips of even the most advanced computer scientist.

In those days EBL was a keen young thing at school and one day she had a lesson in English where the supply teacher was interesting. This in itself was shocking, with all due respect to Mrs P who was the usual teacher. Mrs P did her best but she was worn down by years of service to the cause of drumming Dickens and Hardy and Shakespeare into adolescent heads more interested in pop music and fashion and dancing. No one could sustain interest in the face of such barbarity.

The young supply teacher was fresh meat though and still had the dewy optimism of the newly qualified, all ready to change the world. So she talked to us about Old English poetry. I suspect my classmates do not recall this at all, but it struck a chord with EBL.  The chord was, however somewhat limited.

I remembered a fragment of verse because it sounded cool. I liked languages, even then, and it sounded interesting – English but not English. I knew it involved a battle. Well of course it did – it was Anglo Saxon poetry after all.

While I was nosing around my local library one day (those were places you could go to find books and borrow them, another feature of life now much reduced) I decided to see if I could find it again. There were no books on Anglo Saxon poetry in our little local library so I moved on and found one on Schiller which was pretty good, along with a copy of Candide by Voltaire. Ah, A-Levels.

So I left it alone.

When I got to university I asked friends who were studying English if they knew what it was. They blinked at me and muttered about The Faerie Queen and drank a few more pints.

So I left it alone.

One day while the Offspringses were older and studying and the Internet had been invented I searched on-line. But there was little to see and most of it was on UseNet which was a wild place not suited to discussing Anglo Saxon poetry.

So I left it alone.

When I was older I spent some time in another library, in a bigger town, while the Offspringses were in the children’s section, looking for Anglo Saxon poetry. But there wasn’t any still.

So I left it alone.

One day a friend mentioned the same poem and asked if I knew what it was, and I had to say I knew of it but not its name or date or even really its subject – beyond a battle, which wasn’t much help.

So I left it alone.

One day much later, when it was a new millennium and I was a little bored and Google had been invented I thought I would try again. The incredible thing is that even after all the years (probably around 35 years had passed by now) I still remembered the phrases and almost the spelling. And the other incredible thing is Google.

Google worked out I meant “hige sceal the heardre, heorte the cenre” when I typed in “hige sceal heorte” – that is one fine algorithm.

Google found the poem.

So I didn’t leave it alone.

I was able to read about it and to read the text in modern and Old English. I fell in love.

I found a study group of like-minded souls and have discovered more about this period of history and had incredible joy from sharing it and learning more about both the history and the language, the culture and the literature. I have met lovely people and been to brilliant events and read amazing books.

Yesterday I went to a course at the University of York on Icelandic and Norse sagas, which inter-relate to the Anglo Saxon period very tightly (Vikings, duh!), and learned how Skaldic Poetry is composed and fell in love again.

This little shoot of happiness has been growing and growing after long years fallow.

Sometimes we have to wait until the time is right.

Never forget your dreams. May the time be right for yours soon.

Namaste.

 

 

Greenness

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One of the changes I have made over recent months is to try and engage in more of my hobbies. The death of my mother just before Christmas means that I have finally reached that point in life, apparently always far off until it landed with a thump at my feet, when I am foot loose and fancy free. No more children at home, no more dependent elderly relatives. Just me and Sigoth at home, wearing slippers and drinking wine and wondering what has happened; not in a demented way I hasten to add. Just a curious and slightly baffled way, as the peace of our lives emerges from the chaos of family and planning for the future. It seems the future has arrived.

Naturally I wondered what would happen if I prodded it.

One of the things I decided to try was to go on a course called “The Seasons of the Spirit” which looked at life and faith through the lenses of the seasons: renewal, light, death, frozen, change, hope and so on.  We did all kinds of creative activities including painting with closed eyes, collage, scrap-book, lectio divina,  and so on. Most of the time we held to silence, and it became very powerful.

For me the highlight was the poetry that was shared. In particular a verse from a poem by George Herbert called “The Flower”.

Who would have thought my shriveled heart

Could have recovered greenness? It was gone

Quite underground; as flowers depart

To see their mother-root, when they have blown,

Where they together

All the hard weather,

Dead to the world, keep house unknown.

This particular verse considered the withering of flowers in late Autumn or Winter, yet recognised that they would return in the Spring, refreshed by a hiatus building up their strength and nourishing themselves hidden away from the world.

Oh, this was for me! Feeling like I would never be able to shine again, that all my juices had been poured out in caring for that tired old woman and those exuberant young Offspringses, all of whom needed that energy from me and were given it with joy (even if it didn’t look that way at the time as I grumped and snarled along, too tired to turn the corners of my mouth upwards, too tired to share my happiness at seeing the children grow or hearing my mother singing to herself, relaxed and secure. Just too tired).

So I have been nourishing my soul at its root for a little while now and have put by some stores of sustenance and provender for the coming days. Perhaps by the time of the anniversary of my mother’s death, a few days before the Winter Solstice when the world turns from the fruits of the Holly to the shoots of the Ivy, then I will be able to say that I am at last renewed, a Green Woman – or at least a Green Bag Lady.

Yet never a green pizza delivery boy.

Of course, you don’t overcome 30 years of effort in 30 days or even weeks. I shall give myself time to grow into my season. But my heart is indeed recovering greenness.

May your hearts find the Green Within.

Namaste.

A funny thing happened on the way to the office

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Well my dears, here’s a strange to-do! The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that in my last post I included a photo of my legendary toothpick knitting challenge. To be fair I didn’t think many of you would look at it closely, but that just teaches me a lesson, good and proper.

It happened like this.

The day after I posted my whinge abut DPNs, I had to go across to Head Office for a Very Important Meeting. Naturally I sprang from my bed in the grey and chilly dawn, as eager as a squirrel after acorns, bright eyed and bushy tailed. I bustled in and out of hallways and showers and kitchens configuring breakfast, clothing and toiletries (not necessarily in that order). Within the hour I was booted, suited and ready to go, and so I went. Most importantly I took with me my briefcase  containing my knitting, along with some papers, tickets for the train and my phone.

The morning train to Leeds is a proper caution, packed with giggling schoolchildren from the kinds of families that can afford to send their children miles away to schools where the teachers may or may not have chins. Apparently commuting form the age of 11 makes a man of you; a very tired man, it must be said, but such is life. Then there are the grey-haired 30-somethings who toil in the industrial heartlands of York, wrangling whippets and wrestling puddings for a fiver a go. In addition the keen observer may note bespectacled academics heading for Leeds and the one and only EBL.

I found my seat and started to knit. There’s no mobile signal so emails and phone calls are out of the question. Knittingis the only answer, as in so many scenarios. The lack of signal doesn’t stop the kiddies trying, and we all enjoy being lulled by the endless rounds of “Benedict? Benedict? Can you hear me?” which punctuate the carriage air in tones of constant amazement, as if the Howardian Hills only arrived last night and the phones have always worked before.

The other thing punctuating the air that morning, or perhaps I should say glutinating (as in making it glutinous), was a perfume. Somebody, probably a female, was wearing a year’s supply of Rose Garden Extreme, and generously sharing it with the rest of us. I can only assume she, or possibly he, let us not make gendered assumptions, had had an unfortunate incident before leaving home and not had time to rectify the damage.

Anyway, I was breathing through my mouth and trying to think of fresh air and open skies, when a voice enquired hesitantly:

“Do you write that blog?”

I ignored it, obviously, because who would respond to that kind of a question at 7.32 in the morning? A nutter. That’s who.

The voice repeated its interrogation, adding “I saw your knitting. I recognised the wool marker and stitch counter.”

Well, that made it alright then.

I looked up to meet the eyes of a mousy individual in a dark wool coat and carrying a rather bedraggled back-pack. She leaned across the table and added “I really liked your post.”

Obviously an individual of sophistication and distinction was concealed by an outwardly anodyne appearance, and not the murderous serial killer I had initially assumed.

Apparently she lived not too far from me, and worked at one of the hotels just outside Leeds as a catering manager. I vaguely recognised her form other commuting days; the crowd is pretty much the same year in, year out. We had a very pleasant time swapping tales of stitches, websites and TV shows we both enjoyed, although I struggled to forgive her for “Call the Midwife” and I suspect she was confounded by my passion for “Waking the Dead”. We both agreed on the wonderful “Wolf Hall” though, as does anyone sane. It’s fiction, get over it.

It was rather strange meeting someone who effectively knew more about me than I did about them. I admit I felt a little vulnerable. I mean, I don’t use my birth-certified name here, in case you wondered, but I suppose it wouldn’t be hard to work it out if you wanted. Some of you do in fact know me in the human world anyway. Nevertheless I felt a ambushed, bamboozled, embarrassed and quite stressed.

In short my fanfollowerstalker and I chatted until we got to Garforth, when inexplicably my new found friend had to depart. Does anyone get off at Garforth when heading west? Really? Why?

That was when I knew I had fallen asleep and it was time to wake up and face the day. It was like that moment in “Dallas” – which I never watched, but even I have heard about.

It turned out I had no fanfollwerstalker after all. I felt some relief but also a little piece of my heart broke. How contrary!

Suppose you were suddenly famous (or else, remember the time just before you became famous). How would you cope when the first person come sup and asks for an autograph, metaphorically or literally?

Namaste.

Vikings

As I told you last time (pay attention there!), Sigoth and I went to York last weekend for the annual Viking Festival. There were Vikings Galore! We had a fabulous time. I would recommend it to anyone at a loose end in February half term.

One of the reasons for the trip was that I wanted to buy a dress. This was because, my dears, the invasion of Vikings included a generous array of traders in goods and materials vital to the business of re-enactors. I was amazed to discover that many of the stall-holders were themselves of the Scandinavian persuasion and had made the trip to York for the purposes of trade and profit.

Don’t think I can’t see you rolling your eyes. Yes, you. You know who I mean. Stop it at once. Regular readers will be aware that EBL has more than a passing interest in the history and culture of the early medieval period of English history, also known as the Dark Ages or Anglo-Saxon period.  Every now and then I bore you with some Old English texts, or harangue the Vikings at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in September.

I belong to a society which studies the period and we have a stall. We attend the Stamford Bridge event, which is rather strangely organised by the local Viking re-enactment group. I say “strangely” because of course the Vikings lost that battle horribly. Harold Godwineson, aka King Harold II, the one with the arrow in the eye (if you can believe those who embroider history), chased them off in September 1066 before dashing south to confront William of Normandy.  The Vikings were more than decimated, needing only about 24 ships to take home the survivors who had arrived in an army carried by around 300 ships.

Here is our stall from a couple of years ago

Here is our stall from a couple of years ago

Anyway, we have a stall at the event and last year we all agreed it would be worth getting some costumes too, as it seems to draw in the punters. We have a couple of men’s outfits but no women’s so I agreed, along with another woman, to get some gender-appropriate gear. To do this, we needed to find suppliers, and who better than the traders at the Viking Festival?

Thus it was arranged. A group of us met at the Minster, ogled the stained glass on display in the Orb (again, if you can – go see this!), then repaired to a nearby pub for a lengthy lunch. We needed the lunch because we were planning activities for another event we shall be attending in May, when we shall demonstrate a number of Anglo-Saxon crafts and generally attempt to brainwash the public into understanding that the period was one of significant interest and importance. We are not overly optimistic; the Vikings seem to generate better PR.

AS DressIn short – here is the outfit. Sigoth has woven me a belt to go with it. It’s a late period costume; earlier dresses would have been in the style known as “tube-dress”, basically a tube of material held up by shoulder straps pinned in place. They were not especially stylish or flattering. As my friend said, everyone looked like a potato back then.

Of course, Sigoth and I also spent time at some of the special events over the weekend.

First up was the Beowulf by Candlelight in St Helen’s Church. Peter Carrington-Porter performed, without the aid of a safety net, a translated version of the poem. He recited for about 1 ½ hours the tale of Beowulf, Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and Beowulf’s death.  Epic tales, epic times!

The next morning, before meeting the group for lunch, we attended the Strongest Viking Competition. Much hilarity ensued although the lads worked pretty hard. There were six events: log carrying; shield wrestling; Dane Axe holding; sword fighting; tug of war; and boasting. The logs were large and heavy. The wrestling was fast and furious (it basically entailed standing on a “shield” or plastic mat, and shoving each other hard with open palms). The axes held had to be extended with the arms at 90 degrees to the body, for as long as possible (the winner was in the region of 120 seconds) and I can tell you the upper body strength required for that was pretty impressive. Sword fighting and tug of war need little introduction. The boasting contest was scored by audience volume. As the boasts for more extreme the cheers got louder. The winner amazed us all by reciting some poetry! The gods love a man who can fight, who is string and who can recite it seems. During the intervals Thor and Loki performed a double act to keep the crowd happy. We were honoured by the presence of the gods among us.

To prove it here are some blurry pictures.

Viking log carrying

Speedy Viking with heavy tree

Viking shield wrestling

That last push saw our man fall off his plastic-mat-shield

Viking Axe holding

This was really hard!

Loki teaches sword fighting

The gods walked among us and taught young people how to disembowel

In the evening we attended the Grand Finale: the creation of the earth and then an attack by the Vanir on Asgard. There were lots of people dressed up in costumes running about in a field pretending to kill one another. Given that it was a February evening in Yorkshire it was freezing and my feet and hands were numb, but it was worth it for the fireworks from Clifford’s Tower at the end.

We missed lots of other events of course: the best beard contest (with categories for men, women and children), Dragon Boats, Viking Bake-Off and the march through town. Maybe next year.

It’s interesting how the Vikings these days are viewed so sympathetically. Of course, England has had its Viking king – Cnut. Just the one though. Perhaps if Harold Godwineson had lost at Stamford Bridge, Harald Hardrada, his opponent, would have seen off the pesky Normans and who knows where we would be now (well, it would be Greater Norway obviously). Or, if Harald had not invaded, HG would not have been so weakened in Hastings.

History turns on a pin and the gods laugh.

Namaste.

Yule greetings

My dears, the season of mid-winter is upon us (in the Northern hemisphere at least) and so my heart turns to blessings and for the new year. You may celebrate it on 1st January or on 22 December, whichever you prefer. You can go the full Wicca if you like, and remind me that new year was on 1st November. It takes all sorts, and thank goodness for it.

This year Sigoth and I will be celebrating more pagan roots by burning a traditional yule log at mid-winter before welcoming the Offspringses back for Christmas festivities. We’ll have any celebration going at the dark of the year.

So it’s time for the Wassail Cup, my dears. The traditional Wassail is derived from the Old English phrase “wes hal” meaning “be you hale/well.” It’s like “farewell”; they tended to say it as a goodbye.

With that in mind I wondered if you might care for a little traditional reading, taken from the Anglo-Saxon Bible? It turns out that Luke vs 1-20, the traditional Christmas story, sounds rather lovely in the old tongue, and I discovered I could mangle it onto a recording for sharing with you.

I apologise now to scholars for my terrible pronunciation. Let’s call it dialect, shall we? Yes, let’s.

So now for a little journey back in time to a 10th century church in the English countryside, and a well-known story.

Happy New Year  to you all. Peace on earth and goodwill to all beings.

Namaste

Just say no!

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Sigoth bemoaned the weather again today, as he has done for several days recently. I don’t blame him. We are British, so the weather is how we communicate with each other. It defines our moods, our relative positions in life and our ability to function in the morning. As such, starting the day without a quick weather-related sanity check would be unthinkable in EBL Towers. And so it was.

Apparently he has noticed it has been wet. I demurred.

“Foggy,” I insisted.

“No!” quoth he. “Wet! The ground is absolutely sodden.”

Well, he should know. He does things outdoors for fun, up close and personal with the earth, and we live on Jurassic moraines of boulder and Kimmeridge clay, so wetness or dryness is immediately apparent.

I sit inside, working at the computer, and only gaze out of the window into the distance. The distance is considerably closer of late, due to the fogs. Well, mists really. But where’s the drama in that?

The problem is obviously that he focuses on the near and I on the far. But Literature is on my side, so I share with you that great poem of 1844 by the lesser known poet, Thomas Hood:

No!

No sun–no moon!
No morn–no noon!
No dawn–no dusk–no proper time of day–
No sky–no earthly view–
No distance looking blue–
No road–no street–no “t’other side this way”–
No end to any Row–
No indications where the Crescents go–
No top to any steeple–
No recognitions of familiar people–
No courtesies for showing ’em–
No knowing ’em!
No traveling at all–no locomotion–
No inkling of the way–no notion–
“No go” by land or ocean–
No mail–no post–
No news from any foreign coast–
No Park, no Ring, no afternoon gentility–
No company–no nobility–
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member–
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds–
November!

http://allpoetry.com/poem/8472903-No–by-Thomas-Hood

Regular readers will recall I enjoy chucking in a poem or two now and again. It saves me having to think up words all by myself.

Do you have a poem or quotation that describes your day today?

And even if your days are dark and foggy, may your hearts be sunny and bright.

Namaste.