Sunday, 24 June 2012

Flowers in the Garden

Spent a lovely day at Quenington and Bibury today.

For long-term readers, you may remember my visit to Quenington last year, and the incredible sculpture trail.

Sadly, no sculpture trail this year, but still lots of nice things. All my favourite flowers: foxgloves, honeysuckle, lupins, snap dragons and corn flower. Here's a few pics.

Reflections on the Water


Above is Jenny Greenteeth.

Jenny Greenteeth is a figure in English folklore. A river hag, similar to Peg Powler, she would pull children or the elderly into the water and drown them. She was often described as green-skinned, with long hair, and sharp teeth. She is called Jinny Greenteeth in Lancashire, but in Cheshire and Shropshire she is called Ginny Greenteeth, Jeannie Greenteeth, Wicked Jenny, or Peg o' Nell...

The name is also used to describe pondweed or duckweed, which can form a continuous mat over the surface of a small body of water, making it misleading and potentially treacherous, especially to unwary children. - Wiki

High Water After the Rains

Old Water Mill

Hidden Bridge Through the Weeping Willow

Water Lilies
Norman Stone Carvings Above Quenington Church
Green Man

Ornate Stone Sarcophagus Carving

It's not an English Sandwich Without Crisps!
Old Weavers' Cottages at Bibury

Best of the Cotswolds.

Haven't been to many gardens this year due to the weather. On track to be the wettest June in 100 years. So, typical English summer then.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

King of England Thou Shalt Be

Banbury Barges (click to enlarge)

Another lovely day today. Met up with Mum in Banbury for lunch:

Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white horse;
Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
And she shall have music wherever she goes.

My own lady upon a white horse,
as I arrived in the world there.

Above is St. Mary the Virgin's Church, which I think is particularly beautiful, although rather phallic for a virgin. Built in the 1790s.

Mum and I did plenty of shopping, drank lots of tea, and wandered around the museum. 

Even saw the original Banbury cross, which is in the museum - destroyed by a bunch of those pesky Puritans. I feel a Pogues song coming on:
A curse upon you Oliver Cromwell
You who raped our Motherland
I hope you're rotting down in hell
For the horrors that you sent
To our misfortunate forefathers
Whom you robbed of their birthright
"To hell or Connaught" may you burn in hell tonight
Civil war inspires such heartfelt lyrics. 

On the drive home, I stopped off at my bedrock. The place that grounds me. I occasionally post about rocks. This post is one of those. So if rocks aren't your thing, change the channel now.

The Rollright Stones are part of the foundation of my being. There are so many ghosts of myself wandering around that place, it's like reaching through a mirror. 

It was my favourite kind of weather - dreich.

That's Scots for 'dull, overcast, drizzling.' It means no one else is around.

Did something I'd never done there before - took some pictures.

A lot of what happened at Rollright stays at Rollright. But there are a few things I can share.

This may not look like much, but several years ago there used to be a hut here. There was no running water, no electricity - just a fireplace. No toilet, either. Bears. Woods. You betcha. Anyway, spent some incredible nights and some incredible memories in that little hut. It's a little hard to stand there now and look at the empty space where it once stood. It was burned down - suspected arson. But I can see everything so clearly. Like we were there only yesterday.

Makes you realise how important the stones are. You can burn down a building, but those stones have stood for thousands of years. I will always know where they are, my entire life.

I went straight down to the Whispering Knights. I always walk there barefoot, whatever the weather. Thick mud between my toes, rain, moss and slippery grass. 

You can tell where they get their name from - see the face of the soldier?

I slept on the flat stone once, after an argument. Back when I was young and skinny and there was a hole under the fence.

The Whispering Knights know all my secrets.

They form the old tomb. The whole legend of the stones is that a king was marching his army across the land to seize power from the ruler of the time. He encountered a witch. She told him:

Seven long strides thou shalt take
And if Long Compton thou canst see,
King of England thou shalt be!

So the king took six long strides but, just as his foot came down for the seventh, the witch made the earth rise up to block his view.

As Long Compton thou canst not see, King of England thou shalt not be! 

At which point she turned the king to stone, along with all his men (the circle) and his knights, who were down in the field plotting his downfall.

Then she turned herself into an elder tree.

Those of you who know your Wiccan Rede will know the line:

Elder is the Lady's tree burn it not or cursed you'll be.

Witches had a habit of turning themselves into elder trees. They're near impossible to poison, so a perfect disguise. The only way to kill them was to cut them down. If they escaped, you could tell a witch by hitching up her skirt to see whether there were red rings around her ankles where the axe had failed.

Moving on.

Above is the King Stone, halfway up the hill that overlooks Long Compton. There was a festival for the Jubilee and someone's erected what I assume to be a (headless) witch in front of it. 

Doesn't look like much, but I used to perch on these old sitting stones and watch the most incredible blood-red sunsets across the hills. Best seats in the house. A long time ago - as all good stories begin - a feral child (remarkably like myself, actually, only littler), lost her heart to a kind woodcutter on that same spot. Or perhaps he was a dry stone waller. Unfortunately, she eventually turned into a wolf and tore him apart. But she was sorry for that. She couldn't help it, it was just her nature.

Morning mist, pilgrims walking to Tewkesbury, sleeping in ditches, giants in kilts with bones through their noses, flame, fire, drums and derobing, startled trespassers, torches and over-the-stone, in the tin, on the wind, barefoot, take my hand, round we spin, Druid Spear, dying embers, hooting owls, down to the river to drink.

That land is the strangest of dreams. 

There are always offerings left around the stones.

And a Spirit Hole, just like Carahunge in Armenia:

(click to enlarge)

My artist's impression of the Witch of Rollright turning herself into an elder tree.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Light the Beacons!

Just got back from the Air Balloon Hill in Gloucester. They were lighting the beacons across the county to celebrate the jubilee.

You could supposedly see six from the hill, but it was hard to distinguish for the amount of city lights. They were originally lit as a warning of invasion, like the Brecon Beacons:

Over twenty hill-forts were established in the area during the Iron Age. The largest, and indeed the largest in south Wales, were the pair of forts atop Y Garn Goch near Bethlehem - Y Gaer Fawr and Y Gaer Fach - literally 'the big fort' and 'the little fort'. The forts are thought to have once been trading and political centres.

When the Romans came to Wales in 43AD, they stationed more than 600 soldiers in the area. Y Gaer, near the town of Brecon was their main base. During the Norman Conquest many castles were erected throughout the park. One of the most famous is Carreg Cennen Castle but there are many more.

Some lovely photos though, looking down over Gloucester (click to enlarge):

We think that last one is Devil's Chimney.

A huge blood moon on the drive up the hill.

There was also an interesting piece on the Beeb about the history of the river pageants: Pomp and pageantry on the Thames

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Best Day Ever

Yesterday was one of the best days ever.

It was the sort of perfect day that seems effortless when it happens, but that no amount of future effort can force into being.  - Georg[i]e

The day before had been a really annoying one. One of those days that runs like The Streets' album A Grand Don't Come for Free, where you set out to achieve something and end up wishing you'd stayed in bed. 

Yesterday, I was still hiding beneath the covers. For the Jubilee weekend, The Everyman in Cheltenham (extremely well funded, all-singing, all-dancing venue of national renown) had donated a free kids' show to the a I was helping out at. They were due to take it to the Hullabaloo festival, but it was rained out. I put my hand up fast enough to secure it.

In return for getting the show for free, we were also offering the show for free. Our first foray into touring companies had been a financial disaster. I wasn't feeling too enthusiastic this time, either. I'd contacted Barnardo's a while back and they reckoned they'd be able to fill the place. Over a week later and I hadn't heard anything. I phoned up again, was given the regional centre numbers, and discovered - as I started phoning round - that nobody had heard anything about it.

Ho hum.

Bit of last-minute frantic promotion and thankfully we got a respectable number of people through the door. I even managed to gain a couple more by running to the local newsagent and making a public announcement by the till.

Anyway. It was brilliant. The show was a puppet story about a selfish giant. To hear the theatre full of kids shouting their heads off and having a fantastic time - exactly what a theatre should be about! The Citizen even turned up to take photos for the Jubilee listings.

Put a 'thank you for coming' note on our Facebook page today and got this wonderful response:

It was an hour very well spent, my daughter loved it. Thanks to both you and the actors!

The show got the day off to a great start, and I'll never forget hanging out in the foyer during the performance with my techies. They're the best. We were building paper aeroplanes and seeing how far they'd fly from the circle stairs window. Felt about five years old myself, so much fun.

En route to see the gig (a birthday present from Dad & M) we stopped off at The Wyche Inn in Malvern. Hand on heart, it was one of the best pubs I have ever been to. Fantastically friendly staff, amazing, affordable food, freehouse with a range of ales, reading material whilst you wait, a pool hall and, although they have a telly, they turn it off unless something special's on. 

If you're ever passing, stop off. 

Conversely, the day before, I'd been to one of the worst pubs ever: The Oakwood, Twigworth. Avoid like the plague. Being out of your first choice is one thing. Waiting half an hour to tell you they're out of your second choice is ridiculous. Saying 'we're just heating it up', then taking another half an hour to do so, delivering a plate that looks like something vomited up by a Special Brew guzzling ned... Just don't even go there. Honestly, do not go there.

Back to the awesome stuff.

Tim Minchin.

There's not a lot you need to say after that, really. 

I must admit, it was slightly depressing having managed to fill a 375 seat theatre with twenty-one people last week, to then sit and watch as an 800+ seater filled to bursting point. 

All things considered, though, Tim does kinda top 'mental play about a British suicide bomber' *shrug*

Plus, Malvern Theatre is in the centre of a gorgeous park. It's bright, airy, and all good things. They even have a bandstand. If we had a bandstand, I'm sure we'd be just as popular.

He was playing there as part of the piano festival, and there was the sexiest red piano in the foyer - a Yamaha Elton John special edition. It even played itself! Oh, dear gods, it was beautiful.

The gig itself was unbelievable. The Cont song was pure genius, complimented by all the greats: Prejudice, Dark Side and the Boob Song (Confessions).

Full standing ovation - the whole building was rocking with stamping feet and clapping. Wonderfully deserved. Ended on a very calm encore called Beauty

It took the audience a while to realise it wasn't a punchline song. It was sort of hypnotic. Perfect song to stem a repeat encore, because it left everyone thoughtful. Sort of sad, a little. "As you fell for her, she stole from you." Hmm. 

Though, to be fair, it's hard to accept that anyone so very talented can sing a song about beauty coming so easily for others.

I do rather love the song, though.


That's really where everything should have ended.

Days like that - this is how it works, no? The clock strikes midnight and we all turn back into pumpkins?

Well, looks like my Fairly Odd Mother stayed up drinking all night. She stumbled through the door this morning with an e-mail from a friend in the states.

Occasionally I use my powers for good and write things for people. A while back someone was looking for a short of about ten minutes to film. I obliged and left it with him. Today's e-mail:

So, it turns out that everyone that has read the script as of yet has absolutely loved it... we need to know if it's alright with you for us to use your script as more than just something I was going to throw together. The plan is to make this with a rather defined budget so that it turns out as near to perfection as it can...

Naturally, I'm hugely honoured. It's wonderful when you write something - especially something that's helping out other projects - and to have such glowing feedback. Naturally I'm very happy for them to take this forward. Probably take some time to get the cash, these things are notoriously long-term, but knowing it's out there and gathering potential is lovely.