At the weekend we went for a walk to look at the bluebells. Nothing else was happening, so it seemed a good opportunity. They always look superb in this wood a couple of miles away from where we live and the sun even came out for a while. I reckon we might just be into Summer, now.
May Day Mayhem
The May Day festival, Beltane, is a survival, or revival, from the Iron Age, celebrated in Celtic communities – Scotland and Ireland particularly – and revived as a full festival in Scotland in the 1980’s by the Beltane Fire Society. Beltane was a fire festival, although nothing of that remains in the festivities carried out in England. Beltane was first mentioned by name in Irish writings from the late 800’s / early 900’s.
The English version of this festival involves cutting flowers and greenery and dancing around a maypole, which things are also carried out during Beltane, celebrating the beginning of Summer which begins on May 1st. When I was a child, dancing around the maypole was the chief, possibly only, activity carried out on May Day. I have a photograph of my brother, my cousin, and myself, dressed up for the May Day Fair at which there was maypole dancing, but no obvious indication of surplus greenery. Past generations in England celebrated May Day with a day of celebrations which while including maypole dancing as an important manifestation of encouraging the fertility of the soil (and the festival-goers!) would also have included plenty of food and drink and general gaiety.
Mayhem, if you like.
This year, I managed two May Day days out.
On Saturday, two days before May Day, I visited Kingston near Lewes, in Sussex, for the Caught by the River Mayday event. Caught by the River describe themselves as an arts/nature/culture clash and you can read all about them here. I have followed them now for several years, and this seems as good a time as any to mention that their coverage of arts, nature, and culture are second to none and if you’re not yet following them, well, you should be.
There was mask-making to begin with, especially to involve the children, the makers encouraged to incorporate flowers and greenery into their masks, and almost inevitably a certain amount of folk-horror found its way into some of these.
This was followed by a promenade around the maypole, after which the activity moved indoors.
There were films, talks, and discussions, subjects including rivers, village life in the early eighteenth century, art, standing stones and the like, and the environment. After which, in the late afternoon, we all promenaded up the hillside to the Gurdy Stone.
This is the Gurdy Stone, a modern standing stone on a hillside overlooking Kingston. Here, Local Psycho (Jem Finer and Jimmy Cauty), held a gathering to encode the music of their Hurdy Gurdy song into the stone “To mark the 50,000 year return of the Green Comet and release of The Hurdy-Gurdy song on Heavenly Recordings.”
Throughout the day, naturally, we all had access to the pub.
And then on Monday, which was May Day, we went down to Hastings. It rather felt as though everyone in South East England must be in the town, either at the Jack in the Green festivities or watching blokes on motorbikes roaring up and down the seafront for no discernible reason. I don’t much like crowds, and some of this was very difficult. But away from the huge horsepower and testosterone nonsense, amongst the Jack in the Green celebrations the atmosphere was brilliant and the large numbers of people perfectly acceptable. Jack in the Green is a manifestation of the spirit of spring, related to the Green Man, a dancing figure covered in greenery.
The festival in Hastings has grown over the years into a large event involving musicians, dancers, Morris sides, huge figures in addition to Jack in the Green such as the Queen of the May, a witch, and others, plus any number of people joining in the procession around the town, all decorated with as much, or as little, greenery and/or flowers as they feel suitable.
There you go, a Morris side.
Followed by a large witch with a cat. Why the witch? I’ve no idea. Why not? I suppose.
And there you have it. Music. Drumming. Greenery. Crowd involvement. Summer is icumen in and winter’s gone away-o.
And there was beer again, of course.
Often, it still feels like summer at this time of year, but I feel autumn has truly arrived now. This morning I walked a path I haven’t walked for a week or more to find the sun was that much lower than it had been and I was constantly having to shade my eyes. It’s all about colours, now. Colours and the cooling of the world. Russet. Browns. Fading drab greens. Yellows and orange. Autumn can be beautiful, although it can also be dull and dreary and occasionally fierce. But mornings often arrive with an added sparkle, with heavy dews on cobwebs and leaves glinting in the low sun, hedgerows of thistledown, rosehips, and hawthorn. There is usually a freshness in the air, especially in the mornings, which has been absent for most of the summer, that invariably lifts my spirits.
I like summer, of course I do, but the arrival of autumn reminds me in some ways of the arrival of spring. In spring we have the stirring of life after a long period of hibernation, whereas the beginning of autumn always feels to me like the start of a new, second, outburst of life. Many plants have a sudden growth spurt, fruits and nuts and berries swell and glow and are plundered by birds and beasts. It is still warm, warm enough to bask in the sun and to feel hot walking up even quite gentle hills.
The Equinox occurs on Friday (at 2.03am in the UK, to be precise) and after this the hours of darkness outnumber the hours of daylight until the end of next March (counting dusk and pre-dawn as night time). After this, the year always feels to me quite different, even if the weather from the one day to the next is much the same. I can already feel myself slipping into a different place; the logs for the burner have arrived and have been stacked ready for use. The apples have been picked, shortly to be wrapped and stored away. Much in the garden is in the process of being cut back for winter. When the days are short and the nights are long, there will be many books to read, lots of music to listen to, a few beers to drink, and many long conversations to be had.
But also many long walks as well, I hope. I love winter too.
A Scottish Coast to Coast Walk(1)
18th June 1994
My coach got into Inverness at 8.10pm after almost twelve hours on the road, and I was more than ready to begin walking. With over two hours of daylight left, I aimed to get well clear of the city and find a good spot to camp for the night. I grabbed a bag of chips from a chippy, then followed the Caledonian Canal southwest for about four miles, left it and climbed a little more to the west to find somewhere to sleep. I filled my water bottle from a stream, then wandered into a little wood and got out my bivvi tent and settled down for the night, black clouds heading slowly towards me as I did so.
19th June 1994
This morning is dry and bright, but quite windy. I boiled some water for coffee and set off as soon as I could, intending to make the most of the good weather. Today I intend to cover quite a few miles on side roads which I hope will be carrying very little traffic and so get a substantial fraction of the journey under my belt before the weather gets any worse. This is Scotland, after all. I‘m expecting rain. It should also break me in gently, being easier ground than much I expect to have to walk. So, I’m aiming for Urquhart Castle, which overlooks Loch Ness and will be a slight diversion from my route but I just fancy having a look at it, and from there I can leave the road and follow the river southwest through Glen Coiltie before turning further towards the west.
As soon as I set off, I was walking straight into the teeth of a strong wind. Long distance footpaths are usually walked from west to east, at least in Britain, and there is a strong argument for that; we get the majority of our weather from the west, so by doing that we have the wind (and whatever it brings with it) at our backs. I’m walking it in the opposite direction not just because I am naturally perverse – or not only for that reason, anyway – but because the more interesting and exciting scenery will be on the west side of the country, and hence my destination. Walking from west to east I feel I would arrive at my destination with a certain amount of disappointment, with all due respect to Inverness which is a delightful city, but I’m after the spectacular wilderness.
So, into the teeth of a strong wind. It is not long, though, before I am walking through Abriachen Forest and I stop for a rest sheltered from the wind.
I rather think Abriachen Forest has changed a little since I passed through there in 1994. I remember it as a dark wood of densely planted conifers, typical of the conifer woodlands planted in the middle to late twentieth century with the intention of producing the maximum possible yield of wood. The trees allow so little light through that other than the trees themselves – Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce, typically – these plantations (forest is the wrong word) house very little life. But in 1998 the community of Abriachen (a small village) purchased 540 hectares of the woodland and since then have been improving it – thinning the trees, reintroducing native species and creating footpaths and trails.
But on the edge of the forest, and beside the road, there are a multitude of flowers: vetches, Ladies smock, and violets, particularly catch my eye. I draw away from the forest and I am back amongst a more natural landscape, with banks of pepperminty smelling gorse, occasional rowan trees in blossom and heather beginning to flower.
Now, for the first time, as I leave the road and walk uphill along a track towards the farm of Achpopuli, I get my first good view of large snow-covered mountains to he west. Once past the farm, I am on a supposed footpath heading up towards a saddle between two hill crests but the ground is extremely boggy and proves to be a taste of much of the rest of the route. My feet sink about six inches into either water or soft moss and heather, slowing my progress significantly. But then I m over, and down to a small loch where I stop to refill my water bottle and have a wash. I am surprised by how warm the water is, and I brave a quick dip as well as a shave.
On, then, to Urquhart Castle and then a little further out of my way to visit Divach falls, a waterfall with a drop of about a hundred feet. And near the bottom, primroses were still out.
Following a track up Glen Coiltie looking for a suitable spot to make my camp and cook supper I am walking through old forest, such a contrast to the plantation I walked through earlier. The trees are so covered in mosses and lichen it seems at times almost a wonder they are still alive. The path winds up and down and left and right and feels at times like a high mountain trail. Far below I hear the roar of the river, and for almost the first time that day feel I am absolutely in my element.
Eventually I make camp in a small hollow just below Carn a Bhainne. There is a low ridge towards the west which should shelter me from the worst of the wind. After I have eaten, I sit with a mug of tea looking across the river towards a snow pocket that is probably a couple of hundred meters higher than where I am.
Myth, Science and Religion
Religion begins as science, as an attempt to make sense of the world. The birth of religion marked the dawn of humans as rational, analytical beings. This was humans moving beyond the worries of simply surviving from day to day, and reaching that point in evolution where they looked with wonder upon the world around them and asked: How did this come into existence? What is it that controls the weather and other variables? By observing the natural world around them, the cycles of day and night, the seasons, the migrations of the animals, they would have concluded that these patterns suggested a grand design and order.
An assumption would probably be made that all this was controlled by benevolent beings, but beings who might need propitiating occasionally to keep them sweet; the odd ritual here, perhaps a sacrifice of some sort there.
And if that was so, perhaps they could be propitiated in a somewhat greater way, to grant other boons?
It would not be long before someone claimed a channel to the gods to relay their desires and instructions, and so the priestly class would be born. Self-interest? Quite likely. After all, we see that in most religions today, so why not?
Religions then, over the years, spawned new religions, the spark being reinterpretation rather than inspiration.
We think we see echoes of old religions in myths. Myths are the fragments of history we know, combined with assumptions about how our ancestors acted and thought, frequently combined with scarce written evidence, which may or may not be biased or wholly inaccurate. When our written sources include stories of monsters and miracles, we should probably be advised to treat them cautiously.
Myth-makers frequently come with an agenda, although depending upon your point of view that is not necessarily a bad thing. If you are looking for a scientific analysis of the lives of our ancestors, it’s probably best to give myth a wide berth. Or at least to be very, very, careful what you take from it. But in a way, it does provide an alternative world view that many find preferable to both the stark realities of day to day life, as well as the cold dead hand of religion. After all, if you’re using your imagination, it’s easy to plan your myth-world much the way you’d like it.
And perhaps myth does offer us a way of getting inside the heads of those people, at least superficially.
One assumption we can make is that there would be similarities in the thought processes of those people, with the thought processes of us today. It is perfectly reasonable to assume they would react in similar ways to us, to pain and fear, to pleasure, warmth and cold. Our reaction to the unknown tends to be to populate it with characters or situations based on our experiences, and they probably did the same.
Stonehenge is aligned with the solar calendar. This we know. It’s science. And we know a considerable amount about the geography of the area around Stonehenge at the time it was built, through archaeology and science.
What we don’t know is how it was used. Just because it was aligned with the rising sun at summer solstice and the setting sun at winter solstice, does not mean we know what took place at those times. We assume our ancestors worshipped or venerated the sun there, especially at the time of the solstices, but we do not know that. Were there sacrifices? Did they hold special ceremonies connected with fertility or birth or death? Was it perhaps just like a club where they turned up now and again and got drunk and held orgies? It could be, since there is no hard evidence for anything.
Believers in ley lines also claim it is at the centre of an intricate system of lines connecting natural (‘holy’) locations with important (‘holy’) sites such as churches, wells and crossroads. Pseudoscience? Coincidence?
Our assumptions, though, lead us to think that because of the immense effort required to build the structure, it must have been an incredibly important site, and we are surely justified in concluding important ceremonies were enacted there.
Whatever they were.
A Grand Clear Out!
Most of you are probably aware of my Etsy store, where I put up some of my artwork for sale.
At the moment, I desperately need to make some space in the house, and so I am selling off a number of paintings for very much less than usual – not much more than the cost of materials and the postage.
If you’ve ever felt like owning one of my paintings (and, let’s face it, at least…er…one or two people have…) then now would be a good time. The only catch is that I’m only mailing them to UK, because otherwise it would still make them more expensive than I want to sell them at, due to the cost of the postage.
Payment would be by Paypal, which is a very secure way to pay and gives the buyer a lot of security.
The prices on here are the total cost, including postage within UK.
If you’re interested in any of them, please message me. And even if not, I’d be ever so grateful for a re-blog!
Poppies and Daisies, acrylic on board, 24 ins x 18 ins, price £40
Chinese New Year #1, Acrylic on box board, 24 ins x 18 ins x 1 in deep. Price £40
Poppy #1, Acrylic on board – Framed, size 11 ins x 14 ins, Price £25
Summer Solstice, Acrylic on board, size 24 ins x 18 ins – framed, price £40
Caravanserei, Acrylic on board, 24 ins x 18 ins, price £40
Dusk, acrylic on box canvas, 14 ins x 18 ins x 1 in deep, price £40
Sketch n’ Haiku Day
We’ve had all sorts in the last week.
We’ve had cold, bright, sunny days. We’ve had cold snowy sleety days. And today we have lashing rain and wind. It’s milder than it was, but as miserable as sin and the wind still cuts through you!
So here is a sketch for the day – cushions on the sofa to remind me of Nepal, since the top one came from there:
And here is a haiku for the day, to remind me of summer:
Amidst the traffic,
In the still airs above me,
A lark dripping down.
And a thought for the day? Another haiku, to remind me to slow down sometimes:
Obsession with time
Is climbing trees in autumn
To get down the leaves.
And today I begin the first edit for A Good Place – initially reading it through and thinking about the voice, the narration, to see if it works for me. Next, another read to look for flaws in the plot, redundancies, things to add and take out. Finally, try to knock the grammar into shape. If I’m happy with that, then it’s on to the beta readers.
Hope you all have a good day.
Keep Watch at the Window
That must mean it’s autumn. It certainly feels like it, now. So here’s a little poem for when the days are drawing in and it’s becoming colder and darker outside.
Keep watch at the window in the Westering light,
On the distant hill in the approaching night,
Under darkling clouds, over dew-touched heath,
Where the flowers of summer are now touched by death,
I’ll be coming home in the fading light.
Keep watch at the window in the fading light,
You’ll see me walking when the moon is bright,
My shadow before me coming down the hill,
My breath opaque in the air now chill,
I’ll be coming home in the last of the light.
Keep watch at the window in the last of the light,
When I’m weary you’ll see me come into sight,
Drawn by the firelight and the thought of wine,
By the thought of you; so glad you’re mine!
I’m home now, let’s shut out the night.
Playing around with a few photos taken last summer on the South Downs.
We’re off to walk the South Downs Way later this year, so at some point I’ll start flooding the internet with photos of chalk hills!
All we need now is a bit of decent weather.
It’s one of those days, today, when the clouds are thick and dark and slightly threatening, but are shifting rapidly across the sky and continually changing shape in a rather exciting way.
I’ve always loved clouds.
When I was young, I was always very conscious of the sky. I still have a copy of a poem I wrote when I was fifteen or sixteen, which I won’t reproduce here, but was titled ‘Clouds’ and compared their shifting shapes with dreams and ambitions. Quite prescient, in my own case, as it happens, but I’ll not go into that now.
I wonder whether the average fifteen or sixteen year old even sees the sky on a day to day basis, now. After all, you tend to look down at your ‘smart’ phone, do you not?
When I dream about getting away from the daily grind, running away from it all, whatever you care to call it, the image in my head is always a compound of the Himalaya, and clouds. Or English Downland, and clouds. Anywhere remote and away from crowds, really. With clouds.
Ethereal, ephemeral, forever changing shape, never boring.
Clouds like a painting on a masterpiece by Leonardo Da Vinci…
Clouds in my own paintings…
I’m tinkering around with a short(ish) story absolutely stuffed full of clouds at the moment, too. perhaps that’s what led me here.
In which case, I’d better chuck in one more…
From Nepal in 1988. *Sigh*.