A surfeit of sanctity

Kevin bakewell (59)I’m sick of saints.

No disrespect is intended here… none at all… but there are only so many you can read about at one go… and for the past couple of days my browser has had every available tab filled with the lives of obscure British saints with largely unpronounceable names. Have you any idea how many there are? A dozen or so, perhaps… you might be forgiven for thinking that. I did. No.

There are about fifty under ‘A’ alone on one list… and that only covers the Anglo-Saxon saints… let alone the rest of history and the alphabet! Then there are the discrepancies between the various branches of Orthodox, Roman and Protestant Christianity… even though such division didn’t exist in the popular mind so long ago.

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Of course, I don’t have to read all their stories… but having tried every conceivable permutation in the search engine I have only come up with a comparative handful who share the one characteristic I am looking for in their tales. The lists do not give the details of their legends or the reasons for their veneration, so I follow the trail of crumbs from arcane references in out of print books and ancient hagiographies.

To be fair it is fascinating research, opening windows on the bygone social, religious and political history of Britain… and the picture goes way back, so it is not exactly a chore. On the other hand, you soon learn to recognise the signs…so many of the politically inspired venerations seem to share the same story, bare of any other detail than genealogy.

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Conversely there are tales of wonders and miracles. Most of these date back before the Synod of Whitby shifted the focus away from Celtic Christianity to Rome in 664 AD. Some of these tales are beautiful, many seem gruesome to the modern reader. Yet others seem to have their stories directly lifted from myths that are truly ancient and these hold an extra depth and attraction for me.

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What is perhaps the best part about research for the new book, Scions of Albion, is the chance to explore these forgotten corners of history, myth and legend and see how they entwine like the ancient carvings on the stones that tell their stories. These are glimpses through time I might not otherwise have taken; eras of history I might never have known. This year, researching the Anglo-Saxons and the Dark Ages for the Doomsday series has opened the pages of a story that reads like an illuminated manuscript. No matter what wild and woolly theories ‘Don’ comes up with about symbols, myths or history, or how ‘Wen’ manages to counter… or expand upon… them, we do like to have our facts right before we play with them. Which means I get to explore the past… and that suits me just fine. Even if I do get sidetracked following up on obscure bits of information on a regular basis…

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So… I have been delving into the erstwhile sanctity of ‘this royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle, this earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, this other Eden’ and seeing it from an older perspective as I walk hand in hand with hundreds of forgotten saints.

But… I have had enough of them for today. A surfeit in fact.

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Rebels without a choice

Warner Bros. publicity still for for the film Rebel Without a Cause

A mere quarter of a mile from my home the traffic ground to an unaccustomed halt. The sporadic nature of its movement proclaimed a contraflow in action somewhere up ahead and, with no other way of accessing my street, I settled down to patiently wait in the Great British Queue… an institution we are good at in this country. Mainly through interminable practice. The grass verge beside the road looked inviting. Wider than the road itself, flat and unobstructed, it leads to the lane that runs to my home a mere few hundred yards away. I didn’t take it of course…partly because it would undoubtedly churn up the grass, but mainly because it isn’t the ‘done thing’.

I glare at the cameras beside the road that now monitor the movement of every vehicle in the country, ostensibly in order to check we have all paid our road tax, but in reality just part of what seems to be an inexorable movement towards the impossibility of anonymity; of escaping from the needs and obligations of the daily grind with at least the illusion of freedom. Shades of Orwell’s dystopia rear their heads… I can’t say I like the insidious increase in surveillance. Not that I don’t understand and approve of security. Not that I particularly wish to hide; but privacy and choice matter to me. Lately it seems as if many minor incursions are being made into the small liberties and I wonder just how far it will go… and how it happens that we simply accept in silence.

I had begun to ponder this whole question earlier, checking sell by dates for one of my sons and disposing of large quantities of things for him which had passed them. He and many others of his generation that I know seem obsessed by the dates on packets. A minor thing, you might think, but it sparked a train of thought as I sat there in the traffic. I know it is a generational thing, because, of course, I grew up in a world that had never heard of putting a sell by date on an apple. Tins and packets, perhaps… though even those, we were taught, were only an indication, a safeguard, and probably marked a midway point in shelf-life. Common sense was the thing; we were taught to apply it to food and make informed decisions.

Regulations have changed over the years and my sons’ generation have been raised in a world where ‘sell by’, ‘display until’ and ‘use by’ dates are the norm. The trouble is there seems to be little understanding of the application of these labels and huge amounts of fresh food are discarded because a date applied for stock rotation purposes puts the proverbial wind up consumers. There is nothing wrong with a slightly wrinkly apple. Fresh fruit and vegetables keep far longer than the supermarkets’ dating implies. You can tell when such fresh produce is no longer worth eating. Yet, although they listen to definition and explanation, my sons refuse to accept in practical terms that only a ‘use by’ date has real significance for food safety. And that is without the aesthetic standards applied that sees misshapen produce rejected.

From a purely commercial point of view one has to give credit to the supermarkets. Once a date is passed and the product discarded, we buy more. They are hardly going to complain or try to stop us. Common sense has been replaced by the subtle imposition of a dichotomy of fear and safety dictated by a printed label.

I know it is a small and rather insignificant example, but I wondered why this and other examples of quiet acceptance are so rife. Of course the world changes; of course older generations will always look back, shaking their heads with an ‘in my day…’ It bothers me to see such mass manipulation take root and I wondered at the lack of challenge.

Perhaps, I mused, the teenage years have something to do with it. Looking back there was always a choice of rebellion available to youngsters… Hippies, Mods and Rockers, Pop, Rock, Punk, New Romantic… I don’t think my own sons really had that wave of subcultural choice in their teens; certainly not in the small town in which we lived. It all seemed rather bland. I wonder just how big a part the rebellion of the teenage years plays in the process of developing the ability to choose a personal expression of freedom for the outer persona that both mirrors and teaches a personal and inner freedom. I also wonder what is in store for this generation as their own children reach the age of teenage rebellion.

Perhaps it is simply an expression of my own generation and upbringing that questions as the technology and society that was invented to serve us assumes the silently dictatorial overtones of an Orwellian Big Brother. We are, after all, each of us, responsible for the world we have shaped.

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Bean-Stalker

Sue Vincent:

An excerpt from ‘Heart of Albion: Tales from the Wondrous Head’.

Originally posted on Stuart France:

beaFigure 1 – ‘Broken Crown’

…Crisis
The Milk Cow has finished giving…
Akin to a second weaning… but worse… this is a call to arms.
‘Go forth young man and make your way in the world,’ says Mum.

Jacques is anything but worldly.
He believes in magic.
He believes to such an extent that he is willing to give everything he has in return for five beans… magical.

Mum knows better and now she has her answer…
‘…Five beans… magical? Bah!’
Jacques will never amount to anything so she casts the beans aside without a second thought and banishes him to the attic supper-less and badly beaten…

Jacques’ tears of pain at his worthlessness activate the beans in the night and in the morning a stalk stands proud in the ground outside his window yoking Earth and Heaven…

‘Up the stalk then young Jacques my Lad, and see what you…

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Thank you

up north 098

It is Thanksgiving and to those who celebrate, I wish you a wonderful day.

It seems an appropriate moment to say an incredulous and rather gobsmacked thank you of my own.

I started this blog in April 2011, posted a couple of times and completely forgot about it.

I picked it up again a year later, began sharing some of my son’s journey… and didn’t really begin to write properly till we began work on The Silent Eye in the summer of 2012.

There is a growing number of books born of friendship and the work we do… and the confidence that has grown in the writing of this blog.

Today there are over 3000 following the blog in 145 countries. Almost 100,000 views and… my favourite…  over 15,500 comments from people I have met through writing. And it is the people who put the magical ingredient into any form of writing.

That is incredible.

So today I simply want to say two words.

Thank you!

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Ozymandias – the unchosen

Sue Vincent:

Following the story begun in ‘The Light and the Eye of the Cobra’, the scene is set for the Silent Eye Workshop 2015 – River of the Sun.

http://thesilenteye.co.uk/2014/11/19/the-light-and-the-eye-of-the-cobra/

Originally posted on The Silent Eye:

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1279 BCE, The Nile at Philae

Darkness had just fallen when the Dark Apep rounded the curve in the river and fixed its course on the stone landing of the Island of Philae. The ranks of the Obion Guard relaxed their stroke, feathering their oars as one. Menascare, the most trusted friend and arch mage of the Pharaoh elect, strode from the raised command point at the rear of the craft and stood with him in the prow, looking at the lights of torches which ringed the fringes of the temple island.

“A welcome, Hem?” asked Menascare, using the newly significant royal form of address.

“No,” said the Pharaoh elect, “they could not know of our arrival. We travel in darkness for a reason . . .”

“Then why their lights?”

“I think we join them at a fortuitous time.”

“A ritual in progress?”

The younger man put the wooden…

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Fog and marzipan

Sue Vincent:

Weather, sweetmeats and defining reality.

Originally posted on The Silent Eye:

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It’s a chilly, drab kind of morning at present, I wondered what it would bring once the sun came up to show us the day. The question was soon answered. Fog. The kind of heavy mist that lets through no light and paints the familiar landscape ghostly grey. Shrouding the distance in mystery it makes the mind question what it knows as looming giants that stretch grasping fingers towards unwary walkers resolve themselves into trees beside the lane.

My brain was a little on the foggy side too, it seemed. For me the day began, for some unknown reason, by waking to question the origins of the name ‘marzipan’. Strange things often linger when I wake up, so I am not in the slightest surprised… just curious. I like marzipan and the approaching Christmas season tends to bring it out in abundance. I had been looking through my recipes yesterday…

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Time out

I did the unthinkable yesterday… I downed tools and took the evening off. Well, half the afternoon and the evening to be exact. What did I do with such unaccustomed luxury, you may ask? Something excitingly unusual? Something surprisingly novel? Yes!

I did… nothing.

I know. Dereliction of duty. Desertion.

Mea culpa… guilty as charged.

Not only did I do nothing, I did it on the sofa with my dog. For hours.

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I’ve been tired lately. Not just your ‘get a couple more hours sleep’ tired, but sort of weary , exhausted tired. By ten past three yesterday afternoon the urge to sleep was overwhelming. I had a coffee, did some housework and tried again… still sleepy. So just for once I threw in the metaphorical towel, snuggled up with Ani and had a siesta.

She couldn’t believe her luck… mid afternoon snuggles? On the rare occasions where we just curl up together, Ani likes to lie across the sofa back with her nose in my shoulder and one paw touching… possibly to make sure I don’t escape. Who knows how long that would have lasted, but she also likes to keep watch on the street, guarding my slumber… and alerting me to passing dogs by using me as a launchpad to reach the window in double quick time.

Duly woken I fed and walked her while a baked potato did its stuff in the oven. Rather than eating at the keyboard, I answered messages then we curled up again on the sofa, this time with dinner and a film. Eating on the sofa is interesting as Ani still adopts her preferred perch on the sofa back, but at such times her head is on my shoulder, her nose inches from any morsel that attempts to make its way from plate to mouth, with the occasional dribble of drool trickling down my neck; my half of the tin of tuna apparently proving irresistible.

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Okay, I couldn’t resist checking messages when I took the plate to the kitchen… answered a couple… then resumed my evening of indulgence. In a spirit of decadent excess, when the film had finished, I watched another.

Oddly enough, my mind was buzzing with ideas… none inspired by the films which were deliberately lightweight. Okay, children’s films, let’s be honest here. A quick catch up on the emails, then I took a book to bed and managed half a page before I was asleep.

The computer, sulking perhaps for my desertion and lack of attention, refused to start this morning at five when I gave up and got up. Since then getting into my email account has been hit and miss, attended by a series of error messages. I left it to sort itself out while I walked a black dog in the darkness, then back to get ready for work.

Do I feel less tired today? No. I have a fair bit of catching up to do too. Do I care? No. I may even do it again… Sometimes you just need to take time out and few things beat snuggling up with an ecstatic small dog.

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A sweet dilemma…

dawn 048A foggy night of ghostly streetlights was followed by another frosty morning. There was little time for photography walking the dog as we needed to visit the shop early this morning. This leads us away from the fields and means I need my hands on the leash, while madam sniffs the news from the canine denizens of the village. As usual, however, I threw the camera on the seat beside me as I headed into work.

005For once the traffic moved at a steady crawl… the once when it could, for me, have quite happily ground to a halt. It would have been nice to have had the chance to snap the fox hunting in the field, his fur bright against the rimed grass. Traffic could have remained gridlocked as I watched him stalk and pounce… as it was, at least I got to watch.

Work over, I headed with great reluctance to the supermarket. I go there as seldom as possible at the best of times… and the run-up to Christmas does not constitute the best of times by any stretch of the imagination. It was packed but not manic; even so, and head down, I charged to the pharmacy aisle with as little looking around as possible.

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And then I saw them. Mince pies.

Oh dear.

I don’t tend to eat a lot of sweet stuff, but mince pies are a weakness.

And a dilemma.

Obviously pastry is bad enough. Add that particular confection of fruits in the centre and they should probably not be allowed within my vision. Definitely not within my reach.

Somehow a pack of four managed to follow me to the checkout.

I love mince pies. I bake the best good mince pies… or I used to when I had a house full of boys. I could bake two dozen every day and have nothing but crumbs before they were cold. Of course, living with just the small dog, I don’t bake any more except for special occasions. I couldn’t justify baking a dozen just for me… especially as I would only eat them.

011On the other hand, there is a tradition that says you should eat mince pies for good fortune through December… that for every one you eat you will have happiness and luck for … now …was it a day, a week or a month? I could use some good fortune… and a fairy godmother if one is looking for work too. And herein lies the dilemma.

No, not the fact that it isn’t December yet… I’m in training. How’s that for reasoning?

The thing is, while I am a firm believer in asking the universe , then allowing things to happen, I am also aware we need to do our part too. So if I want good fortune for the next twelve months, I obviously need to eat enough mince pies.

diggingdog 226I’m liking the logic of this.

They only count in December, but that’s okay. A little practice never hurt…

But how many do I need to eat?

If the ratio of tradition is 1mince pie:1 month good fortune, I have no problem. If it is a weekly ratio, then 52 between here and Christmas seems do-able. Even I, however, would struggle with eating a dozen a day for a month…

diggingdog 228On the other hand, it can’t all be sweetness and light… there have to be darker days against which the light can shine… so maybe the dozen a day isn’t necessary…

Meanwhile, I could have sworn there was a pack of four, freshly baked mince pies around here somewhere…

Well, what’s left of them…

Hmmm…If a mince pie (or three) is consumed, leaving no trace of its presence, did it ever exist in the first place and can you called a hog for eating it?

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Blue Jays and Mockingbirds

I had first read the book years ago; it was one of those we were obliged to study in school for English Literature and our teacher at the time appeared to like neither books nor children. The volume, duly dissected for language rather than content, history or context, was mentally filed under those I am glad I had read once but would never read again.

I tend to remember books by ‘feel’ before any kind of detail. This one had left a dark, sad taste. It was like unpleasant medicine… you knew it was good for you but you wouldn’t take more than you absolutely had to. You certainly wouldn’t take it for pleasure.

Several years later and still very young but with a slightly wider view of the world, I saw the film. I understood the underlying issues better when I could bring more to the table myself, so I went out and bought myself a copy of Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and I read it in one sitting. Then I read it again.

I began to understand why the first reading had left such a bad taste in my mind and there were two main reasons that I could see;the age at which the book had been read in school was, of course, far too young to really understand the deeper moral and social implications of the rape, violence and prejudice that were detailed in the main plotline. It was, however, an ideal time to introduce them for deeper consideration, with young adulthood fast approaching and a world waiting for us to grow into it.

The other problem was the teacher. Yet it was a perfect illustration of a quote from the book:“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

Looking back he was probably against neither books nor children… but he was of a much older generation and in hindsight, close to retirement even then. He had been clearly uncomfortable with the discussion of the subject matter surrounded by a room full of teenage girls. He was also our teacher for religious education and had deeply held beliefs that must have conflicted with many of the ideas we were raising. Every time we approached a particularly contentious passage we were moved from discussion to grammar. It must have been as painful for him as for his students to study that book. That, of course, I had never considered before.

We tend not to do that, as a rule… to go back and reassess our judgement of people or situations from that angle. It may be that we were right… but we are bound to have got things wrong at some point. We may go back in memory and pull our own behaviour to pieces, cringing at past actions that we cannot change. We may go back and reinforce our initial judgement of an event or person, but we seldom seem to revisit a scenario with the intention of finding out if we were the ones who saw things imperfectly. We form an opinion based on experience at the time of an event and make up our minds accordingly, never thinking that the future may change our perception; seldom thinking to look back and wonder if we had really understood someone or not.

We all know we ‘should not’ judge. We all judge all the time, even if we prefer to skirt around the issue by calling it by different names. Those judgements, conscious or unconscious, form the basis upon which we ourselves move forward and they colour our own futures whether we realise it or not.

Yet we learn and grow, constantly changed by the lives we live and such wisdom as we acquire. The hard edges of youth or anger may be softened by compassion as we understand more of human nature through our own mistakes, gaining insight into different motivations than those we may have attributed to others in the past.

When all is said and done, if we make a personal judgement about another’s actions it can, as in Harper Lee’s story, end in tragedy. More often than not, however, our assessments are purely personal and internal, remaining unspoken… possibly even unacknowledged. In such circumstances we ourselves may be the ones most hurt by our own erroneous judgements as we allow the future to unfold based upon them.

It is not possible to go back and change where the future begins nor to undo the mistakes we have made. It is, however, possible to let go of misconceptions, to change our perception of the past through compassion and allow ourselves to move forward from this point, from a place of greater understanding .By altering the angle of perception for a single point, many things may seem to change and shadows clear. We can forgive our less experienced self for getting things ‘wrong’ as well as letting go of old grievances that no longer serve; it lightens the load considerably.

So looking back tonight I admit I may have misunderstood my teacher where Harper Lee was concerned. Now I just have to work on why he had to ruin Dickens…


Images Wikipedia
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Frozen fingers

007I stand shivering at the edge of the field as the sun rises, watching the dog tear round the frozen field. There is a crow… it has to be chased, apparently, but all I catch on camera is a black blur of speed. That may be partly due to the fur and feather brigade’s obvious enjoyment of the high speed chase, but is more likely due to the frost bitten tremor of my fingers.

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My own fault, of course; but going out in the dark means you don’t see what the morning has in mind… and Ani does not allow you the time to reconsider whether or not gloves and scarf are in order. She bounds through the open door like a bullet from a gun, dragging the poor unfortunate at the controlling end of the leash with her. I say ‘control’ but that is an ironic misnomer at this point of the proceedings. Her excitement knows no bounds and every day is an adventure for her which she greets with gusto. It is a daily reminder of how to live, this bouncing off into the unknown, embracing the day and its surprises. On mornings this cold, however, beating a rapid retreat seems preferable to me.

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It has not yet been really bitter cold, not like this morning where the frost is winter thick, the cars encased in feathered ice and the unexpected freeze bites deep. I realise that I should have known… the darkness was less complete this morning as I glanced out of the window. That much had registered in the pre-caffeinated fog of my brain. Of course, it will be lighter if the world is white. And I can’t use the camera with gloves anyway.

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The dog has disappeared completely… the fields are wide here, there is space for her to run in safety across the crisp surface. The rising gold sets fire to the last stand of autumn in the little copse and I watch ice crystals grow on the leaves of next year’s spring. Does it matter if I freeze when I can witness the beauty of a morning? Is comfort worth more than adventure and is the temporary pain of frozen fingers too high an offering for a sunrise? I think not. Ani is a good teacher.

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