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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Greenness

greenness

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.

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.

Fragile

“Your turn in the chair next time,” said October. “I know,” said November. He was pale and thin-lipped. He helped October out of the wooden chair. “I like your stories. Mine are always too dark.” “I don’t think so,” said October. “It’s just that your nights are longer. And you aren’t as warm.” “Put it like that,” said November, “and I feel better. I suppose we can’t help who we are.”
― Neil GaimanFragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders

source: https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/3262727-fragile-things-short-fictions-and-wonders?page=3

As we huddle shivering in our homes on All Hallows Eve and the ghouls and ghosts cavort in the midnight skies, our primitive selves acknowledge how fragile we are. Like porcelain, like butterfly wings, like a head of dandelion seeds about to scramble in the breeze, like a bubble, like a house of cards. We may break and tumble and fall down shattered.

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This time of year, Samhain, Hallowe’en, when night has decisively wrestled the majority share from day, half way between solstice and equinox, is when we recognise our vulnerability, confront our fears and make peace with our ancestors.

Tonight our house will be strangely quiet, as Sigoth and I munch pumpkin pie alone. But the gate will squeak and small children will stumble up the dark path to the pumpkin lantern and knock on the door in full expectation of chocolate. And it will be so.

Humans are amazing. We turn frights into fun, and joy into fear, as if alchemy were nothing to be wondered at.

Namaste.

Notes from the garden

A while ago we had a couple of warm, sunny days in the region of EBL Towers and I took advantage of them by sitting in the garden and replenishing my vitamin D. The things one has to do to keep healthy. Life is such a chore.

Anyway, to ward off ennui I also watched the bird life. I am not a twitcher by any stretch of the imagination. Basically there are four kinds of bird in the world: sparrows (brown); ducks (swimming); crows (black); and seagulls (big). For example, our roof insulation comprises mainly sparrows, while the big white flappy things in the fields are generally gulls.

However, I am aware of some variations to this universal avian etymology. The time I spent in the garden recently was largely comprised of watching the great tits. Stop sniggering at the back, boy! To be accurate, tits’ bums. If I have to warn you again you’ll be sorry!

We have a few bird boxes dotted about and there is one on the fence which in previous years has hosted a wasps’ nest, then was abandoned by blue tits and since then nothing else. However this year a pair of great tits decided to nest in it and duly hatched a brood of noisy brats which required non-stop feeding. As the parents were in and out of the box on an endless loop, rather like the Enterprise caught in a temporal causality loop.  The Enterprise was only stuck for 17 days. Fortunately the birds were due to be released as soon as the babies fledged, but it was hypnotic viewing in the meantime.

Rather foolishly I decided to go all David Bailey on them and sat poised with my camera until my arms ached.

Let me tell you – they fly pretty fast.

Either I got a lovely picture of its bum as it headed in

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or a blur of flappiness as it dashed out again

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or I missed it all together

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Finally though one of them deigned to pause

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and the next day even posed

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Meanwhile the goldfinches and collared doves were more co-operative

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Thank goodness nature provides us with entertainment so readily.

Namaste

 

 

Journeys

Regular readers will be aware that I spend a distressing proportion of my life lumbering about the country by rail, bus and taxi. I know it’s hard to believe but I don’t actually have a driving licence, nor do I really need one. Where would be the fun if I couldn’t moan about public transport?

journey-destination

So when I was confronted with this little piece of wisdom today I curled my upper lip into a practised sneer and muttered under my breath “oh, really?”. That was because the destination in my experience is of some significance and bears on the nature of the journey in no small part.

Still, I was game for a laugh so I gave it a little more thought, and that was because another thing I have come to notice in my experience is that clichés evolve for a reason. The reason being that a cliché is usually based on a wider truth recognised by the population as a whole. That is how and why it becomes a cliché in the first place.

I sat and gave it some cursory attention. “Why this cliché?” I asked myself. “What truth is hidden within?”

Waiting for an answer, I got my metaphorical head on and thought a bit more. “Life,” I pondered, as is my wont, “it’s a funny old thing and a kind of Journey.” This was no doubt the point the said meme was hoping I would reach.

To be obliging, I thought about the weekend I had just spent with the Offspringses home for the Chocolate Festival. We had a good time, playing games, eating treats, drinking wine and watching films. We visited other family members. We talked about stuff. What more can you ask for, and in what better company? I am so grateful my family is a friendly one that can spend a weekend together without screaming and shouting and slamming doors. Occasionally we even share the washing up.

That little leg of the Journey was spent well. We shared love.

I thought about all the actual journeys I take, and how I enjoy chatting aimlessly to complete strangers about this and that, playing games with their toddlers, hearing about a wedding or a break-up, learning about a new author or music, sharing tales of disaster and inconvenience, gently one-upping each other with calamities of the non-serious kind. I am especially fond of the bus ride from York to Whitby on the Goth weekend when most of my fellow travellers are of the pale and interesting variety. It’s amazing what conversations you can have with strangers. We seem to meet the essential part of each other when trapped together in a moving carriage for a couple of hours. Then we go our separate ways, possibly wiser, and frequently mutually amused.

Of course I also have had journeys where my companions have been pretty hard work. There was the young man who thought I was an angel sent from God to save him, which was quite disconcerting as all I did was nod briefly at him when he sat down. Then there was the cactus enthusiast who spent a long bus journey telling me about his cacti and succulents.

Those legs of the Journey are spent well whatever the case. We share our humanity, sometimes easily and sometimes painfully. But we share it.

I might have started to think about the journey from then to now as well, but I was getting fed up with all the metaphysical nonsense and my brain was starting to fizz. Time for a cup of the brew that refreshes.

“And what is the destination anyway?” I mused as I filled the kettle. “What is it all about, really, when you get right down to it?”

Because that’s what clichés are good for, reminding you of the eternal questions, right there.

I thought briefly of the sparrow flying from the wintry tempest through the warm hall and back out into the dark.  That was the Journey. And, as with National Rail, the final destination remained out of sight and ultimately was cold, bleak and mysterious. Take that, you metaphor. (I blame it all on the film we watched this weekend, which was two solid hours of trope layered on top of metaphor and served up with a refreshing side salad of imagery. It means I will be having trouble processing reality for the next day or so.)

My destination, I concluded as the water boiled, was just that: the place I end up. I suspect it will be defined by rather than define my journey. I look at my mother and see she has ended up in her current situation as a result of her choices and decisions years ago. I worry that I will regret mine, but all I can do is make the best of the current service station facilities and hope that the next fork in the road (or points on the line) will let me veer in the right direction. I would quite like to avoid Crewe if at all possible and preferably Birmingham New Street as well. Certainly ending up at Warrington Quays would not be welcome. I have nothing against the places in particular but those stations are abominations.

Meanwhile, for the next few days I will be away in London for work, and hopefully fitting in a trip to the British Library. That’s a destination worth reaching. In the meantime, enjoy your journeys and send me a post card so I can read about where you are at the moment. Is it a motorway café, a main line or a siding? Perhaps it’s a cul-de-sac or a traffic jam or a picturesque bridle path? Feel free to engage the metaphorical muscles, but please remember I am not an angel, nor a cactus expert.

Namaste.

Pretty pretty flowery stuff

Well my dears, Spring has certainly sprung. It was positively balmy here is deepest Yorkshire today and so Sigoth and I ventured out in the afternoon to Castle Howard Arboretum. The Arboretum is linked to Kew and comprises 120 acres of tree-filled landscape including guest trees from around the world. We last visited in the autumn and I wrote about it at the time because the berries were in full, well, berriness, and I was slightly in love with them.

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Well, today was about sunshine and birdsong and bunnies and blossom. It was so warm we wandered the hillsides for over two hours without coats! Given that over the weekend we had the central heating on all day it was quite a shock to the system. Even the drive over was filled with sparkling light, fields of lambs, and views freckled with flowers and blue, misty hillsides punctuated by blazes of brilliant hawthorn hedges and golden oilseed rape searing the eyeballs as we bowled along the lanes.

Even though it’s school holidays at present the Arboretum was not over-run with people. We strolled in and started with a wander around the lake before heading up to the woods and sandy hillside where the rabbits live. We sat for a while soaking up the sun and listening to the birds before making our way back to the boggier, clay area. Somewhere in the midst of all this arboreal loveliness there is also a newly constructed cruck house.

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It’s a useful shelter if it is raining, with a wooden bench around the wall, carefully sculpted to caress the weary buttocks. The hollowed out depressions are generously proportioned for the more substantial posterior; at least I can only assume so because I had plenty of space and am hardly wispy. It wasn’t the place to linger today though, with free vitamin D being distributed outside. However the plaque giving further information was worth a quick scan, informing us that cruck houses came about in the medieval period because they rain out of large trees. In Shakespeare’s day it was a hanging offence to cut down the largest trees, which meant that poor people were stumped (geddit) for building materials until they swiftly realised they could use the trees by rivers, which tended to grow on an angle. They cut them down, split them in half along their length and had a pair of matched wooden frames. Because these were so valuable, people would dig them up and take them with them if they moved, and allegedly this is the source of the saying “to up sticks” meaning to move home.

After that, all the sun and plant life went to our heads and we were drunk on the gorgeousness of the universe and the moistness of the home-made fruit cake in the cafe. So we went to the plant centre and bought some aquilegia for the garden. Well, it would have been rude not to.

How are the seasons treating you these days?

Namaste