Hand Me Down Stories

I thought I’d reblog this after recently talking to someone about the power of storytelling-and the ghost of Annabella.

City Jackdaw

When I went to Primary School, there used to be a name whispered in the corridors and classrooms that all of the kids knew: Annabella.

Annabella was the name of the ghost of a girl who was said to haunt the girls’ toilets. If I recall the story correctly, it was a girl who was supposed to have hung herself in there. This may be a recurring theme, as when I went to Secondary School there was a story of a boy who had hung himself from the bell tower.

What dark imaginations the young have. The thrill in being scared.

But that latter school story was more vague, the boy-ghost being anonymous. In my junior school the ghost had a name.

My wife went to the same primary school as I. She says that out of the few cubicles in the toilets, there was one whose door was always…

View original post 1,092 more words

Off The Beaten Track

I’ve just finished reading The Ocean At The End Of The Lane.

The cover reminded me a little of that Nirvana album. You know, the one with the baby swimming beneath the water?

image

When I first started reading it, the story itself reminded me of Something Wicked This Way Comes. I’m not sure why, as it’s been many years since I read that book. Perhaps one of you guys could help me out.

The following lines resonated:

Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath the rhododendrons to find the spaces between the fences.

And, later on, in case it somehow slipped me by:

Children, as I have said, use back ways and hidden tracks, while adults take roads and official paths.

I need to start venturing once again off the beaten track. Even if it is just in my imagination. The routes that I take these days are safe and short. I need to once in a while step off the path, and just meander.

Books such as this remind me.

A Sense of Absence

With many people showing interest in my post If Walls Could Talk, Concrete Confess, I thought I would reblog this post about why I love old photographs, but also why they haunt me. This is the last reblog, I promise. Tomorrow-something fresh.

City Jackdaw

Old photographs. I love old photographs, the older the better.

I love them, but I am haunted by the people in them.

I am not talking about spirits or spectres.

What it is that haunts me is a sense of absence.

The absence of the people in the photographs themselves-the fact that they are no longer here with us, their energy and essence now gone, creating a vacuum where they once took up space.

But it is not just an absence of the people that haunts me.

I am haunted also by the absence of resolution.

In most cases our questions remain unanswered, we will never know who these people were, what was in store for them after these photographs were taken. Did they go on to have good lives? Were their lives a success, or a struggle? Did they escape the squalor? Do their lines continue down to us…

View original post 698 more words

Hand Me Down Stories

When I went to Primary School, there used to be a name whispered in the corridors and classrooms that all of the kids knew: Annabella.

Annabella was the name of the ghost of a girl who was said to haunt the girls’ toilets. If I recall the story correctly, it was a girl who was supposed to have hung herself in there. This may be a recurring theme, as when I went to Secondary School there was a story of a boy who had hung himself from the bell tower.

What dark imaginations the young have. The thrill in being scared.

But that latter school story was more vague, the boy-ghost being anonymous. In my junior school the ghost had a name.

My wife went to the same primary school as I. She says that out of the few cubicles in the toilets, there was one whose door was always closed. All of the girls knew not to use it, because if you went in there Annabella would ‘get you.’ 

This was the story when we were pupils there, in the seventies to early eighties. The story came flooding back when, around the time of the Millenium, a niece of ours who went to that school mentioned, almost in passing, that the toilets in her school was haunted by a ghost named Annabella. The story lived on. The name lived on.

Well I thought it was great! Even more so, when, sometime later, I discovered an online conversation between people who were former pupils of the school back in the sixties, who were also talking of Annabella. For thirty years that story had been passed on to each new, fearful, generation starting at that school. I started thinking that maybe the story went back as far as the school did, back to the fifties. After this post was shared on Facebook (I’m adding this section to the original post)  I learned from a former teacher that yes, indeed, the legend of Annabella was known when she started working there-back in the fifties. The passing on to each new wave of school pupils only came to an end when the school became victim to time and planning and was demolished.

I wonder about the person who first started the story. (Of course, assuming it is just a story.) Did they have any idea of the legacy that they had created? That the story they had given life to had continued to live right into the following decades, outliving its creator’s time there? Perhaps, also, outliving its creator’s time here? 

And why Annabella? It’s an unusual name. I’ve never, ever, met an Annabella. Where did they get that name from?

The name was made popular by a poem by that dark writer Edgar Alan Poe, Annabel Lee, in the 19th Century, taking this more familiar form in the 20th.  It tells of the death of a beautiful young woman, who the narrator/poet still loves, beyond death, and who sleeps by her tomb near the sea, dreaming of her.

Was it an unusually erudite young child that made up this story to scare his or her peers? Surely it wasn’t a teacher? Although I do like that thought.

Whoever it was, the story caught the imagination of those fertile young minds and grew legs. It outlasted the inventive mind that toiled there. That unknown person moved on, leaving Annabella behind. When I was there I tried to introduce the story of The Black Hand for the boys toilets. It never caught on.

I like the idea of stories being passed on. Taking on a life of their own in the constant retelling and shaping.

You may remember the post I did last year about the book East Of The Sun And West Of The Moon. 

image

This is a collection of Scandinavian fairy tales. I shared these stories with my children, who thoroughly enjoyed them. Not long after, I read a piece by a Native American, telling of the many tales, both myth and history, that were passed on orally among his people. It got me to thinking about the old stories in our culture. How many of these are passed on today? How many are known? Or, would it be fairer to say, how many are being lost? I have begun to collect together some of the stories I invariably find in the things that I read. Some of the folklore that is connected to the various places that I visit in this group of islands that I live in. Some of the legends and stories that were told from each generation to the next centuries ago, later collected together in books such as The Mabinogion, and The Tain.

Tales and ideas, also, that were brought from various other places, Celtic, Norse, Anglo-Saxon, and were added to the melting pot to find expression in our own cultural flavour.

I have been selecting stories that I think that my children would enjoy. Stories of heroes and magic, animals and, yes, ghosts. But adapting and writing them in a way that makes them more attractive and entertaining to their modern minds. Explaining things that long ago, in their conception, the people of the time knew and didn’t need explaining. For example how Faery folk were not sweet little winged Tinkerbell types. Or how dogs from the Otherworld were white with red ears.

I think that these stories gain something over time,something quite powerful, in the retelling, the re-sharing. Thinking of all the people who have listened to them, people unknown to us, living in different times, yet enjoying them all the same. Being touched, and then passing them on. Breathing new life into them.

Stories that began orally-their creators, and then the authors who first wrote them down, now lost to us.

As happened with Annabella.

It is with this sense that I regard my family history. Yes, we can all uncover, (only so far) names and dates. When a person was born. What they worked as. Who they married. When they died. The bare facts.

But it is the personal stuff, the human stuff, that gets lost. The meat that is stripped from the bones. I write down the things that I know, the things that I have learnt from my parents, and their parents, however scant it may be. Otherwise it becomes lost. The tragedies, the struggles, the love stories. They all pass forever into shadow, leaving us with but a list of dates.

My children may not be that interested. For why should it be of importance to me, but say, not to my brother? Or to my cousins? But then someone else may come along further down the line-a grandchild. Or a great grandchild, someone who gets it. Someone who is moved and inspired by the things that this little known ancestor, some distant guy named Andy, who used to write a blog named City Jackdaw, has written down, and decides to add to them the things that have happened since those last words were recorded. For they may understand that people without roots become disconnected, drift, become disenfranchised if you like. They may see how important it is to understand beginnings and connections.

They may become filled with a zeal to hand these stories down.

And then we come full circle. Many years from now, someone, somewhere, may be sat in some strange, new world, learning of a ghost by the name of Annabella.

The Shot-Burst Tree

When I was a child, I would always pass this Silverbirch tree when travelling into the town center. When adorned in foliage it would not catch the eye, but around this time of year when bare I would always notice what at the time I presumed were many old bird’s nests entangled in its branches. I thought that for some unknown reason it was a really popular tree with the birds. I have since learned that these tangle of twigs are known as galls. Or, if you prefer-witches’ brooms.

It would remind me of the spray of shotgun pellets, or a sky peppered with the flak of anti-aircraft fire. Such was how my young mind worked. My camera phone shot doesn’t do it justice. What it needs is a good, young imagination.

image

Twilight Time #1

I overheard a conversation today between two people. I didn’t intentionally listen, but they were sat behind me on the bus, and so I was a captive eavesdropper. They were talking about what their favourite time of the day was.

By favourite time, I don’t mean 2.34am, or 15.12pm. Rather, the portion of day that they preferred.

One announced that he was a morning person. The other snorted, claiming that he had always been a ‘night owl’.

As we carve up the year into seasons into months into weeks into days into hours, I suppose we cannot help but hold them to comparison and have preferences.

My favourite season is Winter. My favourite half of the year begins with Autumn. Or Fall, as they put it more poetically across the pond.

But what about my favourite time of the day?

I love twilight, that time when the daylight noticeably falters and fades. If I feel the need to get out for a walk, this would be my preferred time. There is a definite sense of the world settling down, of things moving at a slower rhythm. As dusk approaches, there is a welcoming of shadows.

We can get all technical about it. We can name and describe the different stages

300px-Twilight_subcategories.svg

But I don’t need to know this. It is more about experiencing the slowing of momentum, the effect on the senses, as the shadows grow, the air cools, and the blackbird greets the approaching night with its final song.

The blackbird is always the last bird that I hear.

The local herald that draws the line.

The Celts knew twilight as the time-between-time.

The time between time. I love that, a liminal time where boundaries blur.  A distinct hinterland where thresholds are crossed.

This is a time of magic where the raucous slips into repose. Where the senses of clarity are undercut by dark imaginings.

This is the time that I find the most inspirational.

But what about you? Early bird or night owl?

Image from Wikipedia

Claws For The Weekend:Rudolph Redeemed

I know what you are thinking:

“He’s lost the plot! Now he’s listing the lyrics to Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”

But bear with me.

My two youngest children were singing their own, inimitable, inharmonious version of the song. When they had finished their discordant ditty,charming though it was, a thought struck me. What happened next?

“Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer”

Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
had a very shiny nose
and if you ever saw it
you would even say it glows
all of the other reindeer
used to laugh and call him names
they never let poor Rudolph
join in any reindeer games
then one foggy Christmas eve
Santa came to say:
“Rudolph with your nose so bright
won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”
then how the reindeer loved him
as they shouted out with glee (yippee)
“Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
you’ll go down in history.”
It doesn’t say what happened next. Just what was Rudolph’s response to that fickle, insular bunch?
I hope Rudolph told those other reindeer just where to go.
It’s the usual story, a cowardly clique gangs up to bully and cold shoulder the one that they deem different and not worthy of their friendship. But as soon as he is shown some recognition by the big cheese, and therefore becomes popular, they all want to know him and ride his train.
Well I hope Rudolph gave them the cold shoulder and told them where they could stick their boringly brown noses. I hope he remembered his roots and stuck with those who knew him when he was a nobody.
If it was a Hollywood film, he would turn on the sycophantic stags, wipe their faces in his reindeer droppings, spurn the limelight and return to the young doe that he had left behind. The one who had always loved him for being him.
Especially in time for the rutting season on Autumnwatch.
See if that makes his nose glow.
Write your own scripts this weekend.
See you on the flipside.

Of Shadows and Sagas: A Time to Remember and to Read

As I write this in the comfort of my lounge, outside tonight the wind is howling, furiously, as though angry at its inability to gain entry into my sheltered refuge.

The odd, hunched figure can from my window be seen hurrying past, assailed by the calvacade of leaves and torrential rain.

The barely noticeable shortening of days, accompanied by the imperceptible shift in temperature from late summer into mild autumn, has definitely given way to the unmissable crossover point of autumn and winter.

Above the wind I can barely hear the fireworks exploding.

Samhain/Halloween…All Saints’ Day…All Souls’ Day…Bonfire Night…Remembrance Sunday.

It feels like this is the time for remembering. As the nights grow deep and long, just as we light candles and bonfires to hold off the dark, so we turn within to shine a light upon our own shadows, far within the recesses of memory.  Examining and reacquainting ourselves with the inner cast of our lives. Acknowledging those who have slipped from sight. We bring them out to breathe.

This time of year is also a great time for reading-armed with the fortitude of caffeine and electric or candle light, removed from the outside assault of climate and enveloping darkness.

I have always turned to stories around this time, without really analysing why, that can be found in books such as The Táin and The Mabinogion. Legends and tales told over centuries, losing myself in the storytelling of people long gone. Connecting with the idea of a people gathered around the hearth, imaginations fired.

When people ask me where my favourite place is, my reply is ‘North’. Scotland-the Highlands and the Orkney Islands, Scandinavia. You are never likely to see me sporting a suntan.

There is something in the landscape, the myths, the culture, born from the tummult of land and sea, that speaks to me.

And this is my time of year. The cycle has come around again.

I was about to start the Icelandic Sagas, but instead I have turned to East of the Sun, West of the Moon-Old Tales From the North.

photo (42)

This is a collection of Scandinavian fairy tales that have had many interpretations over the years, but this copy is a reproduction of the 1914 version which has some fantastic illustrations in it by Kay Nielsen.

photo (43)

The attraction of this book, as opposed to the Sagas, is that I can share it with my children. There are fifteen tales in it, so that is one per storm struck night, for just over a fortnight.

Wind, rain, darkness, a father, children.

Reading.

Remembering.

Imaginations fired.

My favourite time.

London Day Three: Neolithic Glimpses

This post has a higher word count than I normally commit myself to, but it is the images that I want to share with you all so please bear with me.

As a lover of history and archaeology, it is all about layers. Layers and eras.

The era that enthralls me the most is the Neolithic era.

The Neolithic really was the time when ‘we’ began to become ‘us’. Our hitherto continuous lifestyle changed to one more recognisable to us today. We left the hunter-gatherer lifestyle behind for a more settled way of life. With cattle and crops we adopted farming as the way to survive. We began to develop a relationship with the land, putting down roots. Burying our dead in monuments and tombs that we could re-visit and interact with, rather than just leaving them behind as we followed the migratory routes of our food sources.

Instead of merely experiencing the landscape, we began to change it.

I have visited many surviving, Neolithic stone sites in this country, from the famous Stonehenge in Wiltshire in the south, up through Castlerigg in Cumbria and Kilmartin in Scotland  to the most northern places in Orkney. They constantly draw me and effortlessly capture my wonderment and imagination.

From the Neolithic period there also survives countless examples of a creative and artistic culture- be it the strange symbols engraved on tombs whose meaning is now lost to us, the artwork painted  on cave walls, or the inscribed drawings on bone and tusk, all paling in comparison to the beautiful and exceptional sculptured figures that have been unearthed.

The reason I visited London was in order to see an exhibition entitled Ice Age Art: Arrival Of The Modern Mind, which was on at The British Museum.

Artifacts from all over the world had been gathered together in this one place and I was determined not to miss this opportunity to see them.  Sculptured models, jewellery and drawings representing people and animals, all on display side by side.

There were many examples of the depictions of animals and creatures that these early people  would have encountered, some familiar to us now, some long gone, like the mammoth.

People more artistic than I were gathered around the exhibits, sketching in notebooks copies of ancient drawings made on ivory and antler.

One such work is this drawing of two deer made on the lower leg bone of a reindeer around 12-14,000 years ago and found in France.

Two deer

Interesting though these artworks are, it is the carvings that really capture my interest, and I want to share some of my favourite ones here with you.

Here is the head of a Lion, (probably once attached to a full body) made of mammoth ivory, from Vogelherd Cave, South West Germany. It is around 35,000 years old. I wonder what the significance of the crosses are? Many such animal figures feature  markings like these. Do they convey a message that a contemporary observer would have immediately understood?

Lion

Here are ‘Swimming Reindeer’ made from mammoth ivory, from Montastruc in France. They are 13,000 years old, putting them at the end of the last ice age. The artist knew the animals that he created, and unlike some pieces that could have been created by anybody at that time with the inclination, this was the work of a gifted, competent individual, confident in his or her craft. As the only female deer that have antlers are reindeer, it makes identification of them certain. And amazingly, due to the female pelt and the fact that males normally lose their antlers after rutting, this depicted scene can be placed in November or December.

swimming reindeer

Stunning though these animal sculptures are, it is the human figures that particularly fascinate.

The Lion Man, below, made of  mammoth ivory, is from Stadel Cave on the Hohlenstein, Germany.  This is the world’s earliest figurative sculpture, at 40,000 years old. This piece shows that the person who created it, and the people who it was created for, were capable of imagination. This wasn’t a reproduction of a creature that these people were familiar with, such as the previous animal carvings we have seen, or the animals that can be found replicated on cave walls. This was an imagined figure, a lion with human-like characteristics. Did it have shamanic, symbolic purposes? What we can say is that this shows that the mind behind its creation was capable of new concepts, and not just of reproducing  known, familiar forms.

The-Lion-Man-of-Hohlenstein-Stadel-333x500

lion man face

Compare the similarities of the Lion Man’s head with the lion’s head at the beginning of this post.

Below is a male figure with articulated head and arms, made of mammoth ivory, around 26,000 years old. It was found placed on the skeleton of a man in a burial in Brno, Czech Republic. The body was surrounded by bones of mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses. With a vast number of other items discovered in the burial, the man was of obvious exceptional status. It has been suggested that he could have been a shaman. His skeleton showed signs of him having suffered a painful disease of the joints. Did his suffering and disability mark him out as special?

With movable limbs and head, this is a puppet-like sculpture. The head and torso have opposing holes allowing it to be moved with a stick, and seems also to have had movable limbs. Did the movement of this creation represent, or replace, his own limited movement, perhaps in the spirit world?

Perhaps the man buried was the ‘puppeteer’ of this figure, who used  it to enact certain stories or myths. The connection of man and puppet transcended death.

All we can do is speculate.

puppet

puppet shadow

In firelight, the use of shadows against a canvas tent, or cave wall, would have added a dramatic, theatrical sense.

Today we probably find puppet shows a bit tame, but in one of my usual moments of synchronicity I stumbled across this photograph of children at a  puppet theatre in Paris, 1963. Look at the reaction on those kids faces!

photo (16)

(photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt)

The puppet must have had a purpose, and an intended audience.

The Lespugue Venus, below, is the figure of a woman, of mammoth ivory, found at Lespugue Cave in France. Incised lines indicate a long hairstyle falling onto her shoulders. This bowed-headed figure is famous as the work which fascinated Picasso, who owned two replicas of the piece.

How amazing that the work of an unknown, ancient artist can still inspire  artists today 25,000 years down the line.

Picasso woman Picasso woman two

This rear view seems to show some kind of skirt or apron hanging down from below the hips.

back view

This sculpted portrait head, below, probably broken from the body of a female image, is made again from mammoth ivory and was found in Brassempouy cave in France. At 25,000 years old, it is regarded as one of the greatest ivory masterpieces of all, and one of the earliest realistic representations of  a human face and hairstyle (although the hair has also been interpreted as a wig and a hood.)

It reminds me a little of a personalised chess piece.

Was this based on a real person who lived and breathed our air 25,000 years ago? It gives a limited sense of hairstyle, or headwear, of the time.

venus

This last figure, below, is my favourite, I was drawn to return and study it once more when I finished viewing the exhibition.

Between 25 and 29,000 years old, this is the world’s oldest known portrait. It was found at  Dolni Vestonice, Czech Republic. (Another figure found at this site was given a tomograph scan in 2004, and found to have the fingerprint of a child upon it, who must have handled it before it was fired. How great is that?)

It is a woman whose face shows a twist to the smile, and the left eye droops. Thinking back to the disability of that  man of Brno, associated with the puppet, could it be that this person was similarly marked out as special due to some type of birth defect or paralysis? Maybe it is the result of an injury in some dangerous encounter?

There has been a skeleton of a woman found in a burial at the site which shows evidence of serious injury to the head and left side of the face, from which she was helped to recover. Of course any connection cannot be proved-but it is intriguing to think that we could have the model and subject together.

I cannot help but look at this face and feel that I am looking at someone who actually lived 29,000 years ago. Just the very nature of the deformity to the face suggests this is not a ‘Goddess’ or archetype representation but a real, blemished, person.

Who were you? How did you live? What were your beliefs?

Woman

woman two

Remains discovered at this site shows other individuals with signs of disabilities, suggesting that the disabled underwent different burial practices to everybody else who were probably exposed to the elements and then scattered. Were they placed back into the womb of the earth and somehow ‘made right’, or given back to Underworld Gods that had made their mark on them by disfigurement? Were they set apart from everybody else, and given special, social status?

There is so much we don’t know. A lot of the artifacts in this exhibition were deliberately broken before being buried or placed in the caves or in the ground. Was this a way of signifying the end of their use to the living, and were broken to be made right in a similar fashion to the disabled? I think of places such as the  Barnhouse settlement that I have visited in Stenness, Orkney. After continual use for 700 years,  it was suddenly abandoned and was deliberately destroyed in the process, seemingly by its inhabitants. Was this a way of designating  it to be no longer of use to the people, and now it served as homes for the ancestors?

Are these carved figures now for the purpose of the dead? Items of importance for an Otherworldly voyage?

I find this period of our history fascinating-there is so much that we don’t know, but there are many hints and tantalising glimpses inviting us to try and make connections and understand the reasoning of our early ancestors, and how they experienced the world around them. Glimpses of expression that has passed down to us like an inspirational thread.

In my enthusiasm and insatiable curiosity, I  thought I would share such glimpses with you. There were many other items in the exhibition that I have neglected to highlight-maybe a future post, yes?