The wooden spoon mystery

Lunchtime: phone rings.

“The post has been. Did you order a wooden spoon?”

A what?

“A wooden spoon.”

Um no. Why (frantically checking Amazon) would I have ordered a wooden spoon?

“Well, a parcel has arrived, addressed to you, and it says ‘wooden spoon’ on the customs form.”

Wait. Somebody has sent a wooden spoon from overseas?

“Yes.”

Where (frantically wracking brain for a clue) overseas?

“China, by the looks of it.”

Isn’t there a delivery note? (Who do I know in China that would send me a wooden spoon?)

“No. Will I open it?”

Go on then. (Why would anybody send me a wooden spoon?)

“Oh. It’s absolutely lovely. It’s not a wooden spoon, like a wooden spoon, but a really dark wood. The shape is wonderful. It’s gorgeous.”

And there’s no note inside?

“Nope. Why did you just order one?”

I didn’t order a wooden spoon.

“Well. You know what you’re like. Ordering odd things, then forgetting about them.”

I think I would remember ordering a single spoon… (wouldn’t I?) I’ll check (all my usual random purchase sites) when I get home.

Get home 8 hours later: pick up baggie

Is this it?

“Yes. Do you remember ordering it?”

I’ve been wracking my brains all afternoon. Maybe it’s been delivered here by mistake?

Open baggie

Oh. It IS wonderful. I love it. Don’t remember ordering it. It’s not so much a spoon, more like a ladle…

“So it is! It’s perfect for a ladle”

OH…

“What?”

Ladle! I think I know who it came from…

“?”

Remember that time we served soup, and I happened to mention how, after 23years wed, we still don’t appear to own a ladle?

“Oh… The daft buggers!”

Aye.

When is a spoon not a spoon?
Posted in Mysteries | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

The four elements

Some places are timeless.

Untouched by the ravages of modernity, they remain outside the normal order of things. Entering these spaces opens something primal within us; something we recognise, yet find impossible to adequately describe. Whether ancestral memory, a touchstone with nature, or simply a moment of peace far from the busy-ness of life, there is something beyond the everyday that makes us return time and time again.

There is an ancient fort a fifteen minute walk from the house. The first time you visit, it appears an impossible place to reach. It seems island like, cliffs plunge to the sea on all sides, and, even when quite close, it appears separate and distinct from the ground you are walking on. Something magical occurs, however, in the last few steps on the path. A narrow ismuth, completely invisible till the last moment, appears. Barely a couple of feet wide, it offers the only access to the otherwise inaccessible chunk of rock upon which the fort sits.

There is little to see. Indeed, if not for the early editions of Ordnance Survey maps, it would be impossible to know that there was a fort there at all. The annotation has dropped off modern maps, and it is likely that most locals are unaware that such an ancient site is on their very doorstep. Like many such sites in Scotland, however, there is an important clue in the name of the place: “Dun”, a fairly regular signifier of a location with ancient purpose. There remain few stones, ancient or otherwise, visible on the overgrown plateau.

What remains, is a vast expanse of water. Sitting on the very edge of the world, and set apart from the land, the overwhelming sense is that of the great open arc of the sky connecting both.

My mistake was striking a match. Fire opened something.

A semi-circle of men, draped in coarse material of earthy hues, held aloft flaming torches. The flames danced in the water of the rock-cut well. Behind them, a crescent moon, just above the horizon, danced on the water of the sea. A solitary woman knelt, gazing into the well…

Some places are timeless.

If we listen closely enough, they have a tale to tell.

Crescent moon rising.
(Image found on google, unattributed).
Posted in Another stream | Tagged , , | 13 Comments

Waiting for Godot…

The Gas Man Cometh
(or Druid Theatre’s production, “Waiting For Godot”, Royal Lyceum theatre, Edinburgh.
Image copyright: Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images. Found here).

Today was the second attempt at a “smart meter” installation. This meant considerable disruption: the second afternoon taken off work to be at the house to greet the much-vaunted, never seen, engineer.

The first time it happened, at least there was the text and apologetic phone call. “Sorry, but the engineer has been delayed on another job. Will need to reschedule.” We rescheduled.

The automatic system is brilliant. Every day a text and email to confirm the impending appointment, peaking at two a day (though this may have been entirely my confusion, caused by picking up emails on mobile devices.)

This morning, 07:30, a final confirmation reminding me of the importance of giving up (another) half a day’s wages. I duly complied, and at the allotted time sat waiting in eager anticipation of the imminent arrival of the engineer.

Four hours later it became increasingly obvious that the long-waited-for engineer was not going to show up. Right to the last second of his window (for which it was incredibly important I be in the house), with no call, text, or email to indicate that he was not coming, hope remained high.

Five minutes past the time: a timorous knock on the door.

“The engineer!” cried the wife.

Leaping from my chair, I welcomed in…

…a charity worker. I am now sponsoring a disadvantaged child in some underprivileged, underfunded hell hole somewhere in deepest, darkest, Scotland…

Imagine my surprise, then, nay shock! when the anticipated apology for the no-show engineer, pinging into text and email notification, turned out to be a request for feedback.

“Oh, dear,” said the wife. “You’re going to enjoy this…”

Not as much as I would have enjoyed the thrill of seeing, in real-time, my live usage of electrons surging into the property directly from the Scottish Power grid, half a day’s wages, or an afternoon frolicking, carefree, without the hefty responsibility of waiting for someone who would never come…

And if you don’t understand Beckett’s masterpiece now, you never will…

Posted in Random, rants | Tagged | 18 Comments

When plans fall around you

Woah. What a week.

First was the unexpected email last Wednesday: “Um, we forgot all about you and we only have two slots left until February. Can we come on Friday? Or on Monday?”

Why, of course. “It’s not like I had anything else planned.”

I plumped for Monday. The weekend was entirely lost in reviewing legislation, generating compliance reports, and banging my head against the wall of colleague indifference. As a bonus, the IT guy phoned on Thursday to arrange a Saturday crash of all systems…

Monday was… alright. New auditor. Got to break them in gently and, as they have no idea what it is you do, they get easily distracted. Mainly by tea, and carefully sculpted open questions about their life, career, hopes and aspirations. (Careful though. By the third visit, they’ll clock what is happening, and go all Dementor on your ass…)

Cloistered in the meeting room we were having a jolly good time, interrupted only by the occasional far off scream, the odd thud at the foot of the stairs, and a most disconcerting dragging sound. If we’d been less focussed, we might have thought to pop our head out the door to investigate which body was being hastily stashed in the broom cupboard but somebody else was sure to have things under control.

Should have known…

Roll up this morning, with the Monday (pre-auditor email) to-do list clasped firmly in sweaty hand, “There’s a couple of things…” Yes? Cut a long story short: the day was spent with the unexpected joys of exporting five units, importing seventeen, preparing three shipments without any idea which boat they’d be loaded on or whether said boats would get to the consignee on time.

Much of the afternoon was spent sobbing gently in the arms of the shipping agent who was desperately trying to keep up with the veritable forest of paperwork flying in his direction (not helped by the software deciding, inexplicably, to forget how to add up the columns of pounds, shillings, kilos and pence).

Maybe the Monday and Tuesday to-do lists can be discretely placed in the circular file? Or should today be treated as Monday? But that would make Friday Sunday, and I need it to be Saturday already…

Step back. Breathe…

Found at ImageFlip

Posted in Random | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Longing for home

Home turf
Copyright: Philip Bowes

It’s odd how it catches you, sometimes, off guard.

The picture on the right is an image I’ve often tried to capture, usually without success, so when it popped up on a social media group I’m a member off, it kind of took my breath away.

In the mid-ground, the land my uncle wrought his entire working life, replete with burial mound and ancient hill-fort lying on the ridge. In the background, the hill another uncle worked; its virtually concave aspect, a constant source of wonder in my youth.

Home turf was but a couple of miles from this vantage point, yet the views couldn’t be more different. Tucked into a valley at the confluence of two rivers, all that was visible from the house was little more than the hump of terminal moraine left behind from the last ice-age.

Copyright: Alan O’Dowd

You can just see the house at the end of the track in this image. I was surprised when I visited, at the tail end of 2018, to discover the rewilding of the river. The trees on the left of the track represent nature regenerating herself, and you can just make out a splash of colour that was the river we could usually be found in, “up to no good”, during the long summer months. When we weren’t seconded, that is, to spreading a new layer of gravel on the track!

The changes, too; of byre into a boardroom, of the barn into a car park, and stables into housing; were a welcome surprise: so many similar farm buildings, when the land was turned to forestry, have been left to fall into ruin.

Although it hasn’t been home for nearly forty years, the pull of the land of our childhood can often seem unbearable. Going back, of course, is another matter entirely…

Posted in Early stirrings, Landscape, Self Awareness | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

All Hallows Eve

Turnip Lantern by Patrick Murdoch

It’s almost upon us. That most Scottish of warding traditions, which, having crossed the Atlantic, has returned, a wee bit sullied, yet nonetheless popular.

Marking the end of the summer and the beginning of winter, the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead was considered sundered on the night before the Feast of All Saints; effectively allowing the dead to walk among the living. It was also a night on which the “people of the air” (the fairy folk) held a great conventical, and it was, therefore, just as important to avoid causing offence to the Fey on Halloween as it was to exorcise the spirits of the dead.

As protection against any evil abroad, bonfires were traditionally lit. All hearth fires were extinguished and then relit from that communal bonfire. Lanterns, carved from a turnip, were used to keep wandering spirits away from the home (the ease of utilising a pumpkin for the same purpose loses something through lack of effort expended to keep evil out!)

Guising, by which children dressed up and pretended to be evil spirits; effectively allowing them to move, unmolested, among any actual spirits abroad. Visiting neighbouring houses thus disguised, the child would receive an offering in order to keep evil from the house.

As a festival marking harvest end, Halloween was largely a rural tradition, which included many elements, now largely forgotten, of using the potential of the night to divine future happiness, or otherwise; particularly by those (both male and female) yet to be wed, by means of various charms and spells. It was a night of much merriment, with many a tryst…

One unusual custom, usually conducted early in the night, was for courting couples to enter a kale field with their eyes closed, hand in hand.  The first plant they encountered was pulled from the ground. The characteristics of the plant they chose; size (big or small), shape (straight or crooked), the girth of the main stem (or lack thereof); was considered indicative of what the young lady should expect on their marriage night. In addition, the amount of dirt adhering to the rootball reflected the financial fortunes of the match and the taste of the heart gave a clue to the disposition and natural temper of their partner in marriage.

The night then continued with a visit to the barn where the young ladies would pull three random stalks of oat from the stack. If the third stalk was missing the grain at the top of the stalk, then they were destined to enter the marriage bed “un-maided” beforehand; a “prophecy” no doubt often abused to the young man’s advantage that very night!

A favourite charm, whilst sitting around the fire, was for sweethearts to place a pair of hazelnuts together on the fire. Whether the nuts burned quietly together, or “spat” apart in the heat, was considered a reflection of the future path of their courtship.

Young ladies, sweet on a young man who showed her no attention, could slip out alone to the dying embers of the communal fire to cast a spell to divine whether he would ever turn his head. Throwing a bolt of blue yarn into the embers, she would wind the yarn back out of the ashes. Should the other end be caught on something she could demand (of whatever “spirit” held the other end of the yarn) the name of her future spouse.

Another way of divining a future spouse was that of “eating an apple at the glass.” Again, this was done alone, with a candle in front of a mirror. By eating the apple whilst combing her hair, it was believed that the face of her future spouse would appear in the mirror as if peering over her shoulder.

Indeed, many of the spells cast that night were devised for this purpose and involved a variety of props; ranging from hemp seeds (cast with the words “I sow thee, I sow thee, and him (or her) that is to be my true love, show me!” at which point the individual was to look over their left shoulder to see a vision of their future spouse); through carrying out the actions of “winnowing nothing” (three times) in the barn to see an apparition, and an indication of their station, of a future spouse pass through the barn; to traversing thrice round a barley stack in order to catch a vision of a future spouse in your arms. All of these spells had to be carried out alone to be successful.

Some spells were considered “social spells” and were often quite complex.

One such, the last of the night, involved dipping a left shirt sleeve into a south running spring, rising at the junction of three properties. The diviner then had to go to bed in sight of the fire, in front of which the wet sleeve had been hung to dry. At some time near midnight, an apparition of the future spouse would appear and turn the sleeve to dry the other side.

One of the most detailed involved three dishes; one filled with clean water, one with foul water, and the final left empty. The dishes were arranged in front of the hearth and the blindfolded person was led to them. They were then invited to dip their left hand in one of the dishes. If they by chance dipped in the clean water, their future (husband or) wife would come to the marriage unsullied; dipping into the foul water indicated their spouse would be a widow(er). If the empty dish was chosen then they would remain unmarried. This divination was completed three times, with the arrangement of the dishes changed each time.

As rural populations migrated to towns and cities, the folk traditions of the young adults fairly quickly disappeared. Little could remain beyond the children’s dress-up, the bonfires, and the lanterns.

~~~

This summary of lowland Scots traditions largely gleaned from Robert Burns’ “Hallowe’en”, one of his longest works, which contains in the introductory notes of the 1786 “Kilmarnock Edition” a clear indication that even by 1785, when he was writing, that many of the traditions were no longer generally considered.

“The following poem will, by many readers, be well enough understood; but for the sake of those who are unacquainted with the manners and traditions of the country where the scene is cast, notes are added to give some account of the principal charms and spells of that night, so big with prophecy to the peasantry in the west of Scotland. The passion of prying into futurity makes a striking part of the history of human nature in its rude state, in all ages and nations; and it may be some entertainment to a philosophic mind, if any such honour the author with a perusal, to see the remains of it among the more unenlightened in our own.-R.B.”

The full poem (along with a handy translation for the non-Scots speakers) can be read here.

Posted in Ceremony | Tagged , , , | 26 Comments

It was the moon that did it…

Full Hunter’s Moon
Copyright: Katie Theule

…hanging there in her fullness; already rising so far north since her brief flirting with the equinoctial horizon. Then today, past full but still ripe, high overhead; a ghostly image against the brightest blue of mid morning’s cloudless sky.

How many notice her in her daylit garb?

I have a clear memory of the first time she caught me out; I must have been 8 or 9. I wasn’t really aware of stopping in my tracks and staring, slack-jawed at the unexpectedness of it.

The moon was meant to be out at night. What was it doing up there in the middle of the day? It was my father who shook me out of the reverie, “What are you doing?” He looked up, laughed, “Oh!”, and carried on with whatever it was he was doing.

She still catches me unawares, occasionally. Somewhere in between, I seem to have adopted a habit of just nodding in appreciation, thanking her, and hardly ever get caught open-mouthed at the wonder of her.

Others continue, oblivious. Should I stop them, point out what they are missing? Would they care?

Daytime moon.
Copyright: NASA/Bill Dunford

~~~

Part of the “Solstice of the Moon” series.

 

Posted in Early stirrings, Landscape, society | Tagged , , | 6 Comments