Thought For The Day

It is Michaelmas day today. I told my wife, Jen, that traditionally it is the day when you feast on goose, fattened on the stubble fields, and that if you eat goose on this day you will never lack money all year. And also, it is as said that Elizabeth I was eating goose on Michaelmas Day 1588 when she heard about the defeat of the Armada and therefore declared that everyone should eat it on this day to commemorate the victory.

My wife replied “We are having pizza.”

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The Fox In The Night

This was from the eve of the last new year: the cusp of transition; ghosts of the past; and my old faithful friend who, if only I knew it back then, would be with us only for six months more.

City Jackdaw

On the night of New Year’s Eve, before the celebrations began in earnest, I took the dog for a walk. The mind often wanders when outdoors, and I began to reflect on how, being on the cusp of 2015, I would, in the coming year, be turning forty four. With my attention turned inward, I started to think of all of the ways we, as a family, celebrated Christmas and New Year when I was a child. And, for the first time ever, I felt a sudden, brief, twinge of sadness. Sadness that I am moving still further away from my beginnings, and sadness that some of the loved ones who contributed to those happy memories have been left behind, some far behind.

It was only a fleeting emotion, for I am seldom morose and normally quite sanguine and accepting of the order of things. On life’s journey we all…

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Arthur

Thought I would reblog this after a discussion on here with another blogger about Arthur.

City Jackdaw

I love learning about the various legends, myths, folklore and traditions of the British Isles.

No story has endured, or captured the imagination, as that of King Arthur. The image that holds today is the romanticised, medieval invention-the good  King and his chivalrous knights of the round table, based in the fantastical court of Camelot.

I have read a few books about Arthur, and he seems to have been claimed by just about everybody-the Welsh,the English,the Scottish, even the Croatians. It reminds me of how you can read countless books about Jack the Ripper- every learned author goes over the same material and then pushes a different suspect as the final unmasking of the unidentified killer.

I have just finished reading another book on Arthur-Christopher Hibbert’s King Arthur. I agree with his conclusion, shared by many, that the legendary Arthur that we are acquainted with today is based upon a real…

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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.

We, At This Time

We, At This Time

A virginal shroud settles upon our abodes.
Fairy lights flicker in the long night.
Inside, all manner of songs and odes
are offered to acclaim our rite.
Those of us not overtly religious
indulge themselves out of tradition.
Those of us not openly pious
offer tacit prayers without petition.
But all desire to feel the joy
that shines forth from every child's eyes.
An augury, in innocence's employ,
that lifts the soul amongst the winter skies.
Though we partake in the gathered feast,
and survive the night imbibing wine,
we recognise, when all has ceased,
that part of man inherently divine.


©AJM


Mongrel Nation

Today, here in an overcast, breezy England, it is St.George’s day. How much we can say we actually know about the real St.George is very little. I ask my kids, and all that they can come up with is that he killed a dragon.

And they also recognise his flag, of course.

England

Personally I think St.Aidan should be England’s patron saint. As the Apostle to the English, and with a little more verifiable information available to us, I think he has the greater claim. I love the history and stories of all the Celtic and British saints that have walked these same scattered islands that I do now. Among my favourites are Aidan and Cuthbert. But that’s for another day.

There was a time, when asked what my national identity was, I would reply “English.” But then I began looking into my own family history. What I have discovered, up to now, is that I am at least the fifth generation of Murray born in Manchester, England. Also that I have four different lines of Irish ancestry, and that my surname originates from Scotland.

Now, when asked that very same question about national identity, my answer is decidedly “British.”

Britain

It goes further. Having the Y-chromosome of my DNA analysed, that is my paternal line, I have discovered that my genetic signature belongs to a group that is prevalent in Ireland and northern and western Britain. I am from probable Celtic descent, with strong similarities to the genetic signature of the Basques of Iberia. This suggests colonisation of Britain and Ireland by ancient maritime migrations along the Atlantic coast of Iberia, France and Brittany. A journey can be traced through western Europe and the Middle East right back to a particular man who lived in Africa 80,000 years ago, to which all  men alive  today can trace their paternal line. I have not had my maternal line analysed yet, but with the female, mitachondrial line we  can go back even further. Everybody alive today can trace their maternal line back  to a single woman who lived in Africa between 150,000-200,000 years ago.  So, although they never met, and lived thousands of years apart, we have our Y-Chromosome Adam and Mitochondrial Eve.

Back here in the present, I know someone who was very anti-Celt, claiming to be of Anglo-Saxon origin. He immersed himself in the history, writings and culture of that race. Much to his chagrin, he later discovered that he had Welsh ancestry. Of course, when we talk about Celt, Anglo-Saxon, Viking, whatever, it is all a romanticised perception that we hold. But the point is that we cannot be sure of our blood. There is no such thing as a pure race. These islands have for thousands of years been subject to incoming waves of people of all races, either with intentions of peaceful settlement or of conquest. We truly are a mongrel nation. Go back far enough and we are all related. All connected.

What a revolutionary, healing concept this could be, if people would only grasp it. Everybody alive today and tomorrow are descended from the same place, from a people of one skin.

Africa

The Irish contingent here in Manchester put on a great show on St.Patrick’s day. Every year it gets bigger and bigger, the town center being transformed into a great sea of green. The English by comparison no longer really embrace St.George’s day. Apart from isolated pockets, it mostly goes by unacknowledged. A few flags fly outside pubs and shops, desperate to drum up trade.

Among the ex-pats throughout the world though, there seems to be more enthusiasm to embrace St.George’s day. Perhaps being cut off from your roots creates a need to continue your traditions, to celebrate your cultural heritage.

Without roots and tradition we become disenfranchised. We drift.

I think we should always be proud of where we have come from. And also of what we contribute to the place where we are now.

Happy St.George’s Day to all of the diaspora, wherever this day may find you.