The stone

Love this little tale of a socially distanced picnic at a socially distanced stone, and Kirsty’s imagined history.

From the Canmore information: strange that the stone’s 1855 name appears to have been lost in less than a generation. Gouklan – Gowk’s lann – “Fool’s enclosure” seems befitting the larger structure noted in 1855. “Druid’s Stone” seems way too generic for such a beauty!

pondering the past

“You’ll probably be disappointed when you see it”, said Meg. I assured her that was not going to be the case; I was very much looking forward to our outing and the object of this walk.

We were a small group comprising myself and my brother, my sister-in-law and 11-year-old niece, and my sister-in-law’s parents. An intergenerational group. I was the only one of the group who had never been to our destination before, so I was being taken by five guides.

We walked from the house. It was late morning on a warm summers’ day when we stepped out onto the tarmacked pavement, carrying rucksacks or bags containing food and drink for a picnic. We walked north. After passing a neat row of houses we were out of the town, following the road up a gentle hill.

After a short distance, another road branched off to our left and…

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A Quick Way to Ensure You are Well-Represented

After the horror show of having to deal with my mother’s affairs without having Power of Attorney in place, the wife and I are going through this process just now.

Although Kay’s free download is geared towards the American system, the document checklists and online cheatsheet are just as invaluable in the UK setting.

Get your Power of Attorney arranged. Some day, it may be too late!

When my parents health started to fail, I was the adult child that was local and stepped up to help. While my parents had planned well, what I needed was information on their accounts, the locations of their personal documents, and access to their online accounts to help reset codes and update account information. While…

Continue reading, and get your free copy: A Quick Way to Ensure You are Well-Represented — Dealing with Dementia
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As the son of a shepherd, I have always detested the phrase “sheeple”, used to describe the “group think” of people who unquestioningly accept as true whatever their political leaders say, adopt popular opinion as their own without scrutiny, or fall for whatever conspiracy theory is de-rigour.

Sheep are much smarter than that…

Living in the time of a pandemic has been fun, though.

Sheep in one field bleating dire warnings to the flock in the next, unaware that it doesn’t matter what field you are standing in when you are all destined to become shish kebabs…

Wear a mask!!
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Alchemic interlude

Segment of the macrocosm showing the elemental spheres of terra (earth), aqua (water), aer (air), and ignis (fire), Robert Fludd, 1617
Deutsche Fotothek, Public Domain.

Stumbled on this looking for something yet unfound. (If any of you spotted me placing a small, “Basildon Blue” envelope full of photographs into an unusual nook, please let me know!)

Anyway. It’s something. It’s nothing. It struck me as fitting somewhere. For someone. It’s at least 10 years old; an experience of the four Elements that took a rather unexpected turn into a fifth.

Refinding it has prompted a further look at the nature of the Elements, their attributes, and whether the ‘modern’ set of correspondences (both in the Greek and Chinese systems) may be considered a genuine reflection on how more ancient cultures perceived these “seeds of creation”.

While, undoubtedly, an exercise in futility, the traditions we consider ‘ancient’ necessarily have their roots in even older traditions. Those we inherit today, adulterated by logical and intellectual machinations through the centuries, as remote from their root expression as the scientific discoveries which have usurped them in turn.

I found myself, a vast, swirling vortex, outside the square of the Elements.

Although I was outside the square, I was inside the square. I was the space between each Element, yet was each Element. I flowed around and interpenetrated each, holding them firmly in their square. I was the centre of the square, drawing each Element ‘up’ with me.

I dance like Fire. I was warmth, I was comfort, I was fear. I was the Fire at the core of all Creation. I was the Fire at the core of every Created. I was the Solar, and the cellular, Fire.

I shimmered like Air. Unseen, life-affirming. I sigh across Creation. I am its foundation and am suspended throughout it. I am breath, I am the wind, and I am the vacuum of Space.

I flowed like Water. A gentle stream, a raging torrent, a calm ocean, a drop of dew, and the quiet spring rain. In me was all life, and in all life I am.

In Earth I was bound, yet unbound. I was the slow fluid circulation of Fire at the core of the planet. I was the energy of growth; slow, fluid, crystalline, thrusting skyward. I was the nurturer, and I was the destroyer.

I was the Beginning. I was Boundless. I was the Thought. I Was, and I am, All.

I recall, at the time, working with the powers of that late arrival in the classical world: Aether. It took some time to riddle out the full alchemical import of the experience.

Reviewing it now, I’m not entirely sure that I ever did…

Adaption of Robert Fludd’s 16th century woodcut of ‘Vitruvian man’.
Public Domain.

Posted in Another stream, Self Awareness, Shaman tools, Stories of Fire, Stories of Land, Stories of Sky, Stories of Water | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Who says you can’t?

Sometimes, we all need reminding that the only one holding us back is ourselves…

The Silent Eye

“Wanted: Experienced male window-dresser.

20+, full clean driving licence. Must be prepared to travel.”

Back in the days when one could advertise for precisely the staff member you wanted without the risk of appearing politically incorrect, that was the advert that caught my eye. To be fair, at just 16, with examination results still months away and no possibility of staying in education, I was looking at anything and everything, applying for jobs as varied as dental nurse and milkmaid. In spite of the expectations a Grammar School education might have raised, the family couldn’t afford for me to stay on at school. I needed a job. Any job. Even then, I was aware that probabilities were a numbers game; the more I applied for, the more chance I had of getting at least as far as an interview.

By this time, I had only a couple of months left…

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Eddies in time

Boat on the lake
Copyright: Ashley Coates on Flickr

While cleaning out my mother’s house, I came across a small wooden box, which held a hotch-potch of things belonging to her father; a broken pipe, a specialist knife of unknown purpose, cufflinks, a variety of dried-out fountain pens. With all the junk that I’ve kept of hers, I fully understand the drive that made her keep the box. It’s difficult, sometimes, to explain to ‘outsiders’ the immense value of the memories imbued in an inexpensive, broken, or otherwise nondescript item.

Right at the bottom of the box is the sleeve of a matchbox. It’s just an ordinary, “family size” box of matches, with a call to support the “Guide Dogs for the Blind” printed on one side. On the other, a picture of a golden labrador, resplendent in harness, sitting patiently as the photographer gets the “perfect” image.

I remember it from my childhood. It was propped, empty, on the mantle, and I always wondered if the reason my grandparents kept it was because it was a picture of Honey, the golden labrador, “not a pet!”, that slept in the woodshed and, when nobody was looking, was petted to within an inch of her life…

Unbidden, a long-forgotten memory leaps into vivid relief:

Every year, the “big house” opened its doors to the public, raising money to support “Guide Dogs for the Blind”. A variety of stalls, amply supplied by the ladies of the parish, with refreshments, tombola prizes, and sundry items intended to part the visitor from their money. The local branch of the charity usually turned up with a number of Golden Labradors, puppies mainly, which kept the children amused while the adults did whatever it was that adults did at such events.

My grandfather had been kept busy with preparations and had little time on the day to keep a small boy amused, or to have him trailing at his heels. I was introduced to an older boy, one who I had never met before but must have been one of the other estate worker’s children. ‘D’ rings a bell, but now, for the life of me, I can’t recall whether he went by Douglas or David, or an entirely different name altogether.

“Go off and explore,” grandfather urged, “but keep away from the lake.”

We trotted off into the woods, along a well-maintained path, set to explore the enormous parkland which surrounded the house. Inevitably, of course, the path led to the lake, terminating at the boat house. I hung back.

‘D’ looked around and asked what was wrong, suggesting we should take the boat out. I wasn’t keen. We were to keep away from the lake. Getting into a boat seemed the opposite of avoiding the lake. He sneered, called me names, and huffed that he would do it anyway.

I moved towards the water’s edge. Sparse lily pads punctuated the lake’s surface; an expanse of dark water surrounded by mature trees, some appearing to lower their branches to sip from the mirror-smooth surface.

‘D’ stood on the dock and looked back, urging me to join him. I shook my head, sullen. He shrugged before stepping into the boat which rocked wildly under his weight. He caught his balance, laughing. From the corner of my eye, I watched as he seated himself, pulled an oar from the gunwale, and pushed the boat from the dock. His rowing action, far from perfect, left a skipping of fading eddies, scarring the surface as he moved off.

A soft breeze kissed the lake, which responded with a shiver, breaking up the mirror-like appearance of the surface. At the water’s edge beneath me, beech leaves and dry dust dance in a lazy circle on the surface of the clear, cold water. There is an ant, marooned on one of the leaves. Underneath them, the thick, grey mud appears lifeless. I poke a stick into it, and clouds billow beneath, spreading slowly to a pale coffee.

I get bored and look up to see if ‘D’ is coming back yet. The boat, apparently abandoned, now floats at the far edge of the lake, a few feet from the shore. I’m annoyed that he hasn’t brought it back to the boathouse. I return to the house alone.

Only a handful of visitors remain, milling around on the gravel drive in front of the ornate staircase leading up to the main entrance. Grandfather is among them and, casting an eye in the direction from which I’ve come, asks where ‘D’ is. I answer, honestly, that I didn’t know.

He presses: where did I last see him? I explain; his expression changing as the possibilities unfold in his mind. He shouts for one of the other men to go with him and bundles me into granny’s arms.

I don’t have an ending to the story. I’ve wracked my brains for days. Did I ever see ‘D’ again? Was he mentioned around the house? I’ve even done a search online, in case there are reports of a boating tragedy on a sunny autumn afternoon while a seven-year-old boy watched leaves dance on lakeside eddies.

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An odd awakening

The first hints of sunrise were just appearing this morning, accompanied by the squabbling of gulls who were busy dive-bombing an unfortunate owl who had missed whatever cue serves to send owls back to the roost before the gulls wake, and, since sleep had eluded me entirely, I decided to crawl out of bed. In the process I realised, completely randomly, that I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember what colour my grandmother’s eyes were.

It’s hardly surprising, as she died when I was eleven. It’s odd really, I’m not even sure I ever “knew”; so to say that I have forgotten is strange enough, to begin with. No matter how hard I wracked my brain, there was no way I could place a colour, despite the keen memory of the brightness in those eyes, the well defined, pure white mop of curly hair, and the ever present floral patterned pinafores.

Smell? Easy. Lavender, rosemary and pears; with the ever-present undertones of flour, yeast, and pine resin with oaky hints – the latter emanating from the golden labrador who spent most of her time ensconced at the sawmill which my grandfather operated. Beeswax on a Friday, Brasso on a Monday. Perhaps smell imprints the memory more readily than colour?

Yet, I can clearly remember her favourite book (The Picture of Dorian Gray), her favourite holiday destination (Ireland – specifically a bus trip with her sister, Elsie, to the Giant’s Causeway), her frustration with the neighbours (a holiday home, which she cleaned between visitors, and an incident involving the doctor coming to the house to let her know the garage door had been left open by the previous guest – the son of the owner, an RAF pilot, happened to fly over, notice the open door, called his parents, who in turn called the local GP, as he was the only one in the village with a phone!), her habit of carrying a fork in her handbag (in case we stop for fish and chips anywhere), her love of Canasta (a card game with ridiculously complex scoring strategies), that she only smoked two cigarettes a day (taken as four “halfs”, lit by four matches which she placed in readiness each morning in the tusk sockets of two bronze elephants which held pride of place above the fireplace), how she fed the stockman lunch and dinner (though we never knew where the stockman actually lived, till he got married and the estate built him a house), she never drove, had a hat for every occassion, billeted a Polish soldier during the war, had no time for idle gossip (yet knew everything about everybody), and a whole other paragraph and a half of incidental data…

There is no point, either, in dragging out the albums. There isn’t a single colour photograph of her in existence! Well, there is… just the one, that I know of, but she is too far away in it to be able to confirm what colour her eyes might be.

Why can’t I remember the colour of her eyes; and why, today of all days, should it matter? I haven’t really thought about her, other than in passing, for years…

The only thing that might have set it off was the completion of a (terrible) tome on the importance of ancestral knowledge; one of the “to read someday” pile, which has been diminishing since lockdown… most of which have revealed themselves “don’t bother with these”, and the pile has been renamed accordingly.

It would be ironic, after all this, if they matched her maiden name: Brown…

The “Broons”
Sometime between 1922-1925
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I do believe in fairies! I do! I do!

Copyright: Figuren Shop

Well. It’s impossible not to, really, once you’ve been accidentally dive-bombed by one.

First, a little background information. I was born blind in one eye. This has made me incredibly sensitive to any risk of damage to the good one.

Ironically, every eye injury I have ever suffered has been to the ‘good one’; and I usually don’t do things half-heartedly. So much so, that as a result of one such injury there is a high-resolution image of my good (but seriously damaged) eyeball published in an ophthalmology textbook, under the “don’t do this” section…

Fast forward to a particularly onerous shopping trip. I can usually last for an hour. This, however, was opening day for a new wing at the local hell spa super-store, dedicated to all sorts of wonderful things you never knew you needed, and the better half was intent on checking out EVERYTHING. One by one. In the minutest of detail.

By hour two I was so zoned out, that I no longer knew, or cared, how long we’d been there, how much longer we might be there, or whether I’d ever see daylight again.

By some miracle, we end up at the checkout. Most of the goods are piled on the conveyor when, “Oh, I forgot… I’ll be right back.”

Everything is scanned through, bagged and paid for: still no sign of better half.

I lean, languorous, on the wall to wait, as the cashier rings through a couple of other shoppers. At the end of the queue, with a single item in hand, appears the missing wife. When she gets to the front, I ‘un-lean’ and head towards the till.

Out of the corner of my eye, a blue flash.

I look in the direction from which the flash came, and am intrigued by what appears to be a large moth. It’s quite unusual, and definitely not a type I recall having ever seen before. The body is two-tone; a piercing blue near the head, and brown or deep russet near the tail.

Thinking it unusual, I shrug and continue towards the till.

Oddly, the moth is heading straight towards me. I’m really not sure why it would be moving in my direction at all, there are no bright lights behind me, and I step ‘out of the way’ to ‘let it pass.’ Only, as I move to the right, it moves to the left. It’s also MUCH bigger than I am comfortable with, and it seems to be growing ever larger as it comes closer.

Then I realise. “Oh. My God. It’s heading straight for the pupil of my good eye…”

I swat at it. Hard.

At the point just before my hand connected, and way too late, fully committed, I realise, ‘This isn’t a moth!’ Moths don’t look like tiny humans, dressed in blue jerkins and brown trousers. Do they?

The look of horror on the tiny, humanoid face gave the game away completely. He appeared just as surprised, if not more so, to see me as I was to see him.

My hand connected, square and to the side of the poor little chap. Or I thought it connected. He certainly went flying off in the direction he would have done, had I connected, but, when I looked where he should have landed, he had disappeared.

“What’s wrong with you?” asked the wife, “you don’t look well.”

“I think I might have killed a fairy…” was all I could mumble.

It took longer to answer her confused, “What?” than the entire incident took to unfold, and even longer to reconcile the impossibility of the experience with the unobjectionable, and, frankly, all too real ‘truth’ of it.

Now, I hate to think that I may have actually killed a fairy. I have taken to consoling myself with the scientifically sound principle that any fairy I might stumble across would have much faster reflexes than I could hope to muster, and that he simply changed direction in order to avoid such an untimely blow; disappearing into whatever realm he had inadvertently strayed from in the process.

In any event, next time you are watching Peter Pan, as he cups the injured Tinkerbell from the forest floor and Wendy and the Lost Boys start to chant, “I do believe in fairies,” don’t be a fairy killer, shout out loud, “I do, I do!”

You know you want to.

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Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Woke up this morning, and realised that it is the two year anniversary of the day I had my nephew arrested.

It was accidental of course.

When I reported the crime, I had no idea who the perpetrator might be. He wasn’t even on the list. Some of his friends, perhaps; a random stranger with bank card cloning skills, possibly; my own nephew, not a chance! Ironically, as we left the police station that night, the officers on duty, who knew him much better than I, already had him down as their main suspect.

When they called a couple of weeks later, to confirm that they had acquired enough video evidence to put forward a prosecution and that it was, indeed, him, we still looked for reasons that may, in some way, exonerate his behaviour. Perhaps he was being blackmailed, or had been coerced by threats of violence, or any one of the myriad excuses we managed to construct on his behalf.

That, of course, was before we found the drug baggies. That was before we unearthed the paraphernalia of a drug dealer. That was before we received the risk assessment, from the social work department, highlighting the state of neglect his grandmother, with whom he lived, had been in when she was admitted to hospital. That was before…

It’s in the national psyche, writ large in the DNA, and drummed into every kilted toddler in the land: “Ye Cannae Shove Yer Granny Aff A Bus!” Yet, there he was. Having effectively done just that, and not a hint of remorse.

He could have gotten away with it, too; if he hadn’t been greedy.

You can steal your granny’s money, and the law will allow you to “deal with it inside the family.” Defraud an investment company, however, and the police will act, with or without your statement. “It’s out of your hands.” The law, in effect, protects corporations; whilst simultaneously failing to ensure that these same corporations implement effective safeguards to protect the individuals with whom they do business.

Bonus twist of fate! It is also the anniversary of his sentencing; primarily because he had the brass balls to decide not to show up for his trial, originally set for January, choosing instead to text his lawyer that “he was too busy” that day, and would be for the next couple of weeks. Apparently it was the fastest “contempt of court” warrant that had ever been executed. So there is that.

Today he will have served out the community payback element, the reward for being “a low risk of reoffending.” Easy to say that when your granny is dead, but who am I to disagree with the courts? He remains on “supervision” for a further year. I’m not even entirely sure what that means, but it will no doubt be treated with the same, sneering contempt with which he treated the entire legal process.

I could say that he has been forgiven. Chances are high, that may never be true. But it’s early days. I tell myself that it isn’t worth holding on to whatever this numbness is. The problem, of course, is that “forgiveness” is easy. It’s “trust” that is hard – once broken, impossible to mend.

Ultimately, the knowledge that “he tried to get away with it” blocks any real sense that a “second chance” is even possible.

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A sense of memory

Image: Stolen from the internet (link to recipe)

I know you’ve not been wondering where I’ve been, but I’m going to tell you anyway.

In the shielding group, so working from home and furloughed at the first opportunity, I’ve taken the unprecedented opportunity afforded by this global pandemic to make a start on “the book”.

Now, now, don’t get over-excited. There is no guarantee that it will ever see the light of day.

It has meant, however, a drastic cut in time spent on social media and sharing sites. Whilst enjoying the process of a longer work, I did take the opportunity recently to post that “editing your own work feels like pushing carrots and peas around the plate, hoping to make the meal more appetising, whilst wondering who in their right mind would want to eat this shit”. It garnered more than a few nodding “hearts” and some wonderful extensions to the metaphor. So… not just me, then, with a healthy, developing, loathing of the process. (Full disclosure: I detest the default serving of carrots with peas!)

What I came to realise, in all the word wrangling, is how important memory is to the process; not only of events but of emotions sparked in response to these events. (Not to mention in being able to recognise parts already included; a fault, I suppose, developed through having only written short pieces.)

It was a particularly interesting early discovery that emotionally charged memory, though often harder to “write”, was infinitely easier to recall. Details may remain obscure, about who said what and in what order, but the emotional context relives in an instant. Where there was anger, a touch of that anger stains the page; where there were tears, tears may fall.

Taking a break last night, however, I became overwhelmed by the memory of a very specific taste. One which I have only enjoyed once; nigh gone forty-five years ago. Completely unbidden, entirely unexpected: Miss Maltman’s homemade oatcakes. Not only the flavour, either. The sensation of warmth in the mouth, the interplay of softness and texture as the oatcake crumbed, the smell. Oh, the smell.

For context, you need to understand that I only met Miss Maltman once. She was the aunt of a friend. We sneaked out of school one lunchtime, and when we arrived at her house Miss Maltman was standing at her stove, over a hot griddle, flipping oatcakes. I am entirely incapable of recalling any detail of the room, whether she presented them on a plate or scooped them directly into eager hands, or indeed anything about Miss Maltman’s appearance. (I suspect long, straight, salt and pepper hair, but I don’t feel any “honesty” in that).

For as long as I live, however, the joy of that mouthful of love will undoubtedly remain.

In considering it, I realised ‘sense’ memory may be as strong as any other, in allowing us to access past events. When we hear a familiar song, it may remind us of a person, a place, or an event; smell, often, catches us unawares in a similar way, after all.

Sight, oddly, may not be quite so adept at intensely invoking memory. It feels, somehow, to be the smile of recognition which pulls sight’s memories into abstract focus. Why is that?

Touch too. A caress may remind us of the previous stroke of a hand, but it seems a more mechanical process, a pulling together of disparate images and emotions, to form a tender portrait of a time past.

Ironically, in writing this, I can ‘feel’ the texture of the Irish linen tea towel, its moist warmth, steam rising through the fibres, which Miss Maltman had used to cover her freshly baked fare.

It had a green border.

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