Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Bog Queen - A record of Seamus Heaney poems

The front page of the Guardian today featured the face of Seamus Heaney who died yesterday, an extraordinary Irish poet, praise will be heaped on him as is his due, his ability to put into words,  words that are perhaps some of the finest ever written.
Years ago I came across a book at the library of his poems relating to the 'bog' people, those Iron Age people sacrificed for the greater good of their tribes.  He had read the Scandinavian book called The Bog People by P.V.Glob. A copy sits besides me on the desk now a rich an exciting, (rather gruesome book of course), read.  Filled with stories and some poetry, it tries to fill out the lives of these people who were  often strangled and pierced by a spear, and we even have in our country the famous Lindow Man and his threefold death, found in a bog, some say to appease the gods as the Romans appeared on the British landscape and the terrible uprising on Anglesey of the Druids there.  When ever I look at one of those beautifully twisted golden torcs I am always reminded of the knotted rope found round Lindow Man's neck.  
Seamus Heaney wrote a poem on the Dying Cu Chulainn statue that is to be found in Dublin, which is about The Grauballe Man from Jutland, Denmark which has been dated to the 3rd century BC, and though horrible to look at, is a perfect example of a bog person....

The book he wrote scanning through my blogs was called North written in the 1970s  and his very long poem Kinship is to be found here

But for some more and for a record for myself, another link about the Bog Queen.  It is extraordinary that a single book by P.V.Glob inspired so many poems, that drift back into the landscape of history, violent acts and myths.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Things I will miss

Well we are off to Whitby this coming sunday, and there is a certain reluctance on my part, because it means that the family will be on the move once again.  Their house is sold but stuck in a black hole of land registry and probate on the other house in Todmorden. Land registry did not come into being until the 1960s and the Todmorden house has been owned by the same family for 50 years, to release it from the hole my son-in-law got in touch with the head solicitor and then spent a whole hour on the phone going through the minutiae, so maybe something has worked.  But the caravan has been bought now, three of them go off to Todmorden next week, Matilda and Ben to their new schools, and my daughter, little Lillie and the cat stay behind, (not of course forgetting Tom who won't be back to uni till October) till everything is finalised.
I shall be sad to see the old large terraced house go, 5 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms it housed them perfectly, we even thought of buying it not so long ago, but the slog up the hill from the town is not the most perfect of walks with the shopping......
What trips to take, I love Pickering town, the drive over the moors and then this quiet market town.  Staithes or is it Robin Hood Bay in the following photos, at least in both of them you park your car at the top then walk down, to an untidy clutter of cottages that jostle for space near the cliffs.  Haunted by long dead families whose only livelihood was fishing, now tourists wander their back street lanes and holidaymakers settle in the tiny cottages.
Meals out in Whitby, always chocolate cake for Lillie, as she digs in very, very slowly, and then offers the crumbs to any takers in a generous spirit.  Meals with Lillie are not necessarily fraught but she can take seemingly hours to eat up, everyone disappears, someone may stay with her to keep company but there is a certain amount of exasperation at her tardiness.
I would also like to see a couple of the Cistercian Yorkshire abbeys, but they are fair bit away.  I did a thesis on Wiltshire abbeys and became fascinated by their rise and fall from grace.  Spent hours with the 19th century Harold Brakespear on the subject who meticulously measured them, I note he was an architect and archaeologist so that perhaps explains his passion for straight lines and plans,  fell in love with Lacock Abbey and its cloisters, not forgetting the pretty village.
The Cottage - 
Think I will have to face the VisitEngland lady again, to get 'starred' I do not want to be starred but it is seemingly compulsorily on the part of the agents.  This VisitEngland thing is just another way of lining the pockets of government 'friends' and makes me mad... someone has devised a long list of things you must have, such as a non-burning wastepaper basket (bought this morning) for the attic, and pictures to hang on the wall.  True I did dally over what I wanted, too expensive for a start, but yesterday found two perfectly good frames at a charity shop, which now hold two photos of Avebury, and cost £4 for the pair, and I like them to ;).

Cannot find Staithes but bleak seas are part of Whitby's charms

Just love this bad tempered undertaker and his gorgeous horses, the wind was blowing so strongly they jumped around nervously

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Picking blackberries...

Water is everywhere in this landscape, you just can't see it for the growth of ubiquitous nettles.

A blackberry and apple crumble made from the tip berries of one hundred bushes would grace the table of  a Roman emperor.. a quote in the Resurgence magazine from Blackberrying for Beginners.

Yesterday we went to pick some blackberries at Sandford Mill. The little field we pick in is at the end of a dead end lane, and must still belong to the mill which is now a museum of Chelmsford's past.  This large water mill served Chelmsford up to 1980s, but the surrounding land has now become a wilderness of water leats, river and scrub land, though that is an unfair description when you look at the graceful willows that line the banks.  A photo from last year of this small enclosed space, grown wild with time, graceful teasels dot the ground, hemmed in by a great thicket of trees, in the centre there is a small mound covered in rabbit droppings, is this the royal mound upon which head rabbit comes out to display his authority?  A private place of quietness, and the brambles ramble through the hawthorns, someone has already been before us, those trampled paths through the long rambling tendrils, so difficult to unwind from, but there is plenty to pick. The sun is hot on ones's back, scratches are already beginning to appear, the fingers dark stained with those little prickles which are such an irritant, sprays of berries tantalising out of reach, and I pick the ones caught in the shadows, missed by others and hopefully the flies as well.

It has been a marvellous year for all wild fruits so they were saying in the Guardian on Saturday, late cold spring seems to have had the opposite effect, and we are now in the middle of a bumper harvest, I notice rose hips are also thick on the bushes.

I use my last piece of muslin to tie the blackberries into a dripping bag, yes blackberry jelly, someone doesn't like the little pips in jam.  Staining the virginal white of the muslin with the dark juice of the berries seems like sacrilege, and as I find a stool (to be balanced on another chair because of its back) and tie the dripping bag so carefully as to not miss a drop of the precious juice, I am reminded of redcurrant jelly so beautiful in its colour as it is turned to jelly. When redcurrants hang on a bush, go down in early morning and see the sun shine through its transluscent beauty, jewel like in appearance.
Grigson of course refers to this abundant fruit of our isles, he gives a Neolithic date for some seeds found in the stomach of a skeleton dug up from Walton on Naze in Essex. And gives some folklore, in the 16th century Highlanders twined a bramble with ivy and rowan to ward off evil and witches. And down in Cornwall, nine bramble leaves (and here I must quote) compare the novena, the intercession on nine days, one after the other were picked and given the purification of spring water, and then laid to swellings and inflammations with a charm.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Colours again, but mostly green the soft palette of late summer, as everything ripens. This is to record the hops in the hedgerow, on one of my favourite walks.  As we park in the little layby and I get out a feeling of serene detachment comes over me.  Why I do not know, this little river is just so peaceful in its small wilderness. The visit the other day was one of those chance drives into the countryside, to buy plums and greengages from the farm shop, passing by the now empty old pub, rather sad as it awaits its next reincarnation, that lies by the side of the A12 or old Roman road a victim of our more upmarket pubs/restaurants further along the road.

The hops humulus lupus are I think these below, though the hop flowers are very small but the leaf looks similar, Grigson says of it, the Hop twined and twirled in English hedgerows and thickets long before it became one of the ingredients of English beer.  Hops apparently had been cultivated abroad, so it it also has a Saxon name hymele or humela.


Today is my daughter's birthday, fair enough but what was that message about buying a caravan left on F/B.  Panicking, I phoned to wish her happy returns and why are they buying a caravan, deep forebodings that they have sold their house and not found another, reassured slightly, the new house needs building works for a couple of months, so they are off on another adventure, do so hope the builder finishes before winter sets in.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Reflections but not in Water

Wandering idly through my thoughts this morning, wondering what to write, I have decided to type out an old newspaper article from 1974.  It is an English version of a Japanese paper, the page is old and more orange than yellow, dated November 25th 1974 it tells the story of Zenso Oikawa - Pioneer in Woolen Homespun  and the first paragraph gives a taste of what is to follow...
"It was only just over 100 years ago that wool was introduced to Japan, until that time, dyers, weavers and needle workers had had experience only with silk, cotton, feathers, various hemp fibers (including ramie and linen) and the mulberry and thyme like fibers used in making clothing as well as paper.
Traditional techniques of using plant dyes could not be transferred wholesale to wool, and entirely new spinning and weaving methods and equipment had to be devised."

There I will stop, my love handed me this folder yesterday with these articles, he is in the midst of supposedly clearing out the studio, (it will take years) will we ever move?  But what struck me how did Japanese people survive with no warm wool to snuggle into, the winters are cold.  Yesterday I had watched a video of the tsunami of a couple of years ago, and watched the wooden houses slowly crumple into the rushing water creating more and more debris, concrete is of course not amenable to earthquakes, so wooden houses with paper screens cannot be the warmest of places either.  The 'firebox' or heating for generations before, was to be found beneath the dining table, we have a fire box in the sitting room, now filled with the finial tiles that fell to the ground from some of the old temples.
What else, we are tentatively making plans with our American friends for a visit to Kyoto next year in November and Loie has been sending us apartments, instead of the hotel rooms which LS religiously books each year and we never turn up because we cannot afford it ;).  Futons and tatami mats, you can measure a room by the amount of tatami mats in it, and some of the rooms are very small, and no chairs just cushions!
An email arrives this morning from our friend in Cornwall, the 'big beast' has been spotted in Trowbridge quite a bit further North than Bodmin Moor.  But he says, friends of his whilst sitting having their lunch on a tor were passed by a seemingly unconcerned panther and her two cubs, well then there must be another male around, it always looks so peaceful to me the moor, and I would be delighted to meet a puma!

Old stone from one of the circles, in the background you can see the old mining engine house which is now the Heritage Centre.

Still hankering to go back, there is a whole week of events taking place in Minions. The Hurlers - Mapping the Sun from the 16th September, we might grab a few days if we have any money, but have to go to Whitby at the beginning of September and see the family before the move to Todmorden.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Photos of one of my favourite flowers, purple cone flower Echinacea they were planted in the public gardens a couple of years ago, and  seem to have gone from strength to strength; the colour palette of the background plants stretches from golden grass to silver, purple and orange....

The inky blackness of the Chelmer river, has little colour, pondweed smudges the edges, water lily leaves sway gently under the surface, and the new little fishes swim busily under the bridge where they are always to be found, under the great willow that has now grown its branches so long that they  dip down into the river and almost obscure it.

And lastly the colours that have been dyed recently...

Not forgetting the material from Cotton Patch, to be turned into place mats today....

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Leskernick - Stone Worlds

Below is a poem written about an excavation on Leskernick Hill on Bodmin Moor, it is to the north of this moor we were more to the south. It comes from a book called - Stone Worlds - Narrative and Reflectivity in Landscape Archaeology and from what I have read so far fascinating, it encompasses in its long text, the thoughts of the people who excavated this prehistoric settlement, and the poem reflects this. When prehistory reveals itself there is no 'truth' thoughts are based on speculation and feeling for the deep significance the landscape holds, this landscape is a palimpset of layers of history, whether it be a lost medieval settlement, or the industrial workings of the tin mines that lie scattered on the moor.  You try to plough a straight furrow of thought, but that is a foolishness and in the end you must resort to the trickier realms of allowing the imagination to interpret what you see, finding along the way that abstract thought that Tilley (one of the authors) aspires to and which I have written about here... Phenomenology some time ago...

The Search for Ancestors on the Moor by Jan Farquharson

I see stones

I think of reed-thatch, sod fires, post and ringbeams,

The lives of people who lived here, the hair on their faces..,

I see stones

I dream of cattle, figures in file, thick hut-shadow, sooted women,
a boy with a stick, a man with meat on his short back,
fur shod, self-conscious, unsure of his welcome,
a conclave of elders, bickering, parley...

I see stones

I see stones, one edge meeting another,
upright, three stones together, a stone post fallen,
a backstone, bedrock, hearthstone, and stones pushed out of alignment
by turf weighted by stone, by water, turf and stone....
I see the stones of thirty huts scattered.

I pick my way where walls were.
I face the wind where hands and feet fretted.

We trouble this place with buckets and pegs,

tripods, stratigraphies and excavation,
the rational grope of theories and spades.

I climb to get away from sadness.

I climb the hill and the hill falls away around me, 

The hilltop surges flat, is grass nibbled by sheep
who run and stop and stare, the cairn is broken...

I cannot climb any higher

The moor rotates before and behind me,

waved and flickering and nicked by rock.
I look for places, for accents, crinkles, habitation.
I look for what will arrest looking

I cannot climb any higher

I see a windfarm and blueish space beyond

which has the appearance of a sea beyond this sea.

Skylarks, ponies, sheep, scurf the shoulders of decaying granite,

runkled sheets of bog and sod pare each other to the horizon.

I cannot climb any higher

I cannot people the sky

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Minions and Daniel Gumb's House

The village of Minions courtesy of Creative Commons - Hugh Venables

The village of Minions haunts my thoughts every now and then, this bleak little hamlet set high on Bodmin Moor is hardly the prettiest village in Cornwall but it has an enigmatic air when you come on it in the mist and rain, a hint of times past.   The settlement here was due to the industrial age, a railway was constructed sometime in the 19th century and a primitive settlement developed for the men working at the quarry round 1863.  The hamlet itself consists of a row of cottages, chapel, a few other houses, very popular pub and restaurant and one shop.  Situated next to the Hurler's stone circles and with the Cheesewring looming in the distance, prehistory is found to have layered this part of the world.  LS was surprised I wanted to live here in one of those little cottages that line the road, but to wake up next to a moor with such an atmosphere would be a wonderful experience, a couple of dogs and a horse, who would want for more..........

You can just see the cave opening to the left of the photo, Cheesewring in the background, plus of course Stowes Pound Neolithic enclosure.  The quarry has of course been extended and that is why Gumb's house has but a small part remaining.

So who is Daniel Gumb? Well I think he must have been a very interesting man.  Born in 1703, when he grew up and worked at the quarry, he went and built himself a stone 'cave' near the bottom of the quarry. You can still see the place though much reduced from the original three roomed thirty foot long 'house'.
In this house he and his wife raised 9 children, he carved his name and date 1735 into a stone, and because he was interested in astronomy also carved out mathematical signs into the long stone that served as a roof.
Water would have been easy to find, it lies all over this part of the moor in small pools, left over from mining for tin, but how did this large family survive for food?   More information here, though don't follow the video which is incredibly slow.

Raking around on the net I came up with this book on Gutenberg by S.Baring-Gould - Cornish Characters

.All that is really known of this eccentric characters is in  three collected stories are written.  found in a letter of J. B. to Richard Polwhele, dated September, 1814. His correspondent says:—
"Daniel Gumb was born in the parish of Linkinhorne, in Cornwall, about the commencement of the last century, and was bred a stone-cutter. In the early part of his life he was remarkable for his love of reading and a degree of reserve even exceeding what is observable in persons of studious habits. By close application Daniel acquired, even in his youth, a considerable stock of mathematical knowledge, and, in consequence, became celebrated throughout the adjoining parishes. Called by his occupation to hew blocks of granite on the neighbouring commons, and especially in the vicinity of that great natural curiosity called the Cheesewring, he discovered near this spot an immense block, whose upper surface was an inclined plane. This, it struck him, might be made the roof of a habitation such as he desired; sufficiently secluded from the busy haunts of men to enable him to pursue his studies without interruption, whilst it was contiguous to the scene of his daily labour. Immediately Daniel went to work, and cautiously excavating the earth underneath, to nearly the extent of the stone above, he obtained a habitation which he thought sufficiently commodious. The sides he lined with stone, cemented with lime, whilst a chimney was made[Pg 92] by perforating the earth at one side of the roof. From the elevated spot on which stood this extraordinary dwelling could be seen Dartmoor and Exmoor on the east, Hartland on the north, the sea and the port of Plymouth on the south, and S. Austell and Bodmin Hills on the west, with all the intermediate beautiful scenery. The top of the rock which roofed his house served Daniel for an observatory, where at every favourable opportunity he watched the motions of the heavenly bodies, and on the surface of which, with his chisel, he carved a variety of diagrams, illustrative of the most difficult problems of Euclid, etc. These he left behind him as evidences of the patience and ingenuity with which he surmounted the obstacles that his station in life had placed in the way of his mental improvement.
"But the choice of his house and the mode in which he pursued his studies were not his only eccentricities. His house became his chapel also; and he was never known to descend from the craggy mountain on which it stood, to attend his parish church or any other place of worship.
"Death, which alike seizes on the philosopher and the fool, at length found out the retreat of Daniel Gumb, and lodged him in a house more narrow than that which he had dug for himself."

Bond in his Topographical and Historical Sketches of the Boroughs of East and West Looe, 1873, describes the habitation of Daniel Gumb as seen by him in 1802:—
"When we reached Cheesewring—our guide first led us to the house of Daniel Gumb (a stone-cutter), cut by him out of a solid rock of granite. This artificial cavern may be about twelve feet deep and not quite so broad; the roof consists of one flat stone of many tons weight; supported by the natural rock on one side, and by pillars of small stones on the other. How[Pg 93] Gumb formed this last support is not easily conceived. We entered with hesitation lest the covering should be our gravestone. On the right-hand side of the door is 'D. Gumb,' with a date engraved 1735 (or 3). On the upper part of the covering stone, channels are cut to carry off the rain, probably to cause it to fall into a bucket for his use; there is also engraved on it some geometrical device formed by Gumb, as the guide told us, who also said that Gumb was accounted a pretty sensible man. I have no hesitation in saying he must have been a pretty eccentric character to have fixed on this place for his habitation; but here he dwelt for several years with his wife and children, several of whom were born and died here. His calling was that of a stone-cutter, and he fixed himself on a spot where materials could be met with to employ a thousand men for a thousand years."

Monday, August 5, 2013


By the side of my blogs there is a list of other blogs I visit, now I don't like to name and praise because that is unfair to others, but the wonder of the internet is that you travel far and wide across this world, so two I will mention for beautiful photos.....
The first is Beyond the Fields we Know somewhere in Canada, by a great lake she records the minutiae of the world around her.  The blog I have chosen is a Gary Snyder poem in his book Turtle Island, one of my favourite poets,  just been reading a poem about the hungry ghosts of Japan and how to cast a spell on them, something I would like to do with the fracking companies like Curatilla who bolstered by our ever greedy politicians seek to destroy the countryside and the environment with gas wells.
But I shall turn to a smaller, quieter poem for Em - Dartmoor Ramblings, in her stronghold on Dartmoor who records the birds and ponies on the moor also in very clear detail, and is suffering from hayfever at the moment......

The Dazzle

the dazzle the seduction the 
intoxicated and quivering, 
bees? Is it flowers? why does this
     seed move around.
        the one
divides itself, divides and divides again.
"we all know where that leads"
blinding storms of gold pollen.
   --grope through that?
          the dazzle
      and the blue clay.
"All that moves love to sing"
  the roots are at work.

It reminds me also of last Saturday at the pub in the garden, the great old hedge of lavender in full flower with so many bumblebees helping themselves to the pollen, only two red tailed, most of them were white tails, but a reminder that our bumble bees are surviving if we tend our gardens with thought.  My photo does not (as usual) capture the many bees, but their stirling work should always be appreciated and as I counted them (mmmm) a soft glow of happiness unfolds itself for that which continues, the 'eternal round' of nature.

Turtle Island is of course the old  name for North America, an idea of the earth, or even the cosmos, sustained by a great turtle or serpent-of-eternity.

bean bee

dull colours but it was where I was going!

 Coffee in the garden - Lavender just coming to flower


Friday, August 2, 2013

Bygone days

So yesterday was the warmest day on record this year, that is correct, the house temperature reached 30c degrees, but this morning a cool breeze wafts through for which I am grateful.  The smell of the white lilies in the garden was beautiful, bumble bees buzzed round the flowering marjoram and lavender, it was proper summer!
So what do I write? well there are parts of my life when I was very busy looking after language students, a host family so to speak.  I once counted out the letters detailing them  from the language school and came up with near on 250 students that I had listened to, fed, taken out and generally worried over. 
 There was the 27 year old one from Switzerland, the school had warned me he had problems, three months I stuck with those problems, with a house full of my own family.  Let us call him D, as I sat in the sitting room with him talking watching as he carefully spooned his tea from the mug, hot tea was dangerous!. To the times he came home from school upset because one of the teachers had told him to get a 'grip' and he would follow me round complaining, he almost caused me a nervous breakdown, and he was not the only one. There was this young lad from Thailand, arrived from an English school with black bags of clothes (so many clothes) sent to school in this country at 12 years old he had never been back to see his parents, now 18 filling in time at a language school before he went to Harvard in America, he had no skills in looking after himself just plenty of money. He must have been with us for just as long. He wanted to stay on, several did, but my energy had just about broken as well, and so he was moved on.
There was dear Mohammed from Turkey, who bought me little Turkish cups and a small jug to make that coffee a spoon can stand up in, he was going off to study textiles at university, and tried to learn to spin on my wheel, at least 6 foot tall and we were not allowed to watch his efforts.  His sister would ring up, her first word was always  'goodbye' time and time again I would say it's 'hello' but she never caught on....
Many of these students were a pleasure, there was the little Japanese girls, that arrived shy and unsure, I would take a bevy of them out for a ride in the car or to Ikea, which they absolutely adored, wanting to stay far longer than I could cope with, now of course I can't get to Ikea because LS thinks it must be a nightmare!
And then there were the Brazilian students, arriving in January from a country that was registering 40c degrees, boy did they feel the cold.  This pretty blonde girl, who broke down in tears as she arrived after a long journey, her mother anticipating  phoned just as she stepped through the front door, weird, the next weekend our young madam was up to London spending the weekend goodness knows where, and yes I did worry what they got up to as well, 18 was the pass rate before that they got a lecture from me about staying out all night. There was the Brazilian policeman, who locked everything of value in his suitcase, money, passport etc, unfortunately he locked the key in as well, so spent hours down in the basement trying to break the padlock.  He did accomplish it but then the following night went out to a pub and casually threw his money bag, with all said information about his life onto the table and it got stolen. He came back frantic,  nothing I could do middle of the night.  But next morning happenstance would have it that a child and her mother walking to school along the lane had found the bag tossed onto the verge, so his girl friend who had also arrived unexpectedly with him and was temporarily sleeping up in the attic, she and I walked down to the offices in Bath where someone else had brought it in from the village, intact except for the English money that had been stolen.
So many people passed through my life, and on the whole it was an enjoyable experience, I learned so much along the way, from the cold North, Latvia, East and West Germany, down to Peru, a lovely lad but thought he was going to have a heart attack when he arrived because his little finger was tingling.  So we spent most of the night waiting for a doctor, me watching Bagpuss on tv, he could have gone to the hospital across the road, but no he had special medical insurance, which meant phoning Peru, then London to get a doctor and then a doctor arriving on the doorstep (very cross) to diagnose a non-existent threat, which I could and did tell him all night!
What did I learn? young people are fascinating, foreign students are very polite, long discussions across the dinner table about every subject under the sun, and a realisation that an English perception of the world is not necessarily the right one;)