The World Turns To Ice

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Michaelmas Eve

Fret not if you are late to bed tonight as traditon dictates that we need our sleep before the harvest's end:

Nature requires five,
Custom gives seven;
Laziness takes nine,
 And Michaelmas eleven.

Sleep well tonight and sweet dreams be yours, 'til morning light.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Searching for St. Agatha

How many times as a child did I walk from the house of one Grandmother to that of the other and back again, always up and down St Agatha's Road -or 'Snta GATHas' as we children used to pronounce it.  Despite my Catholic upbringing rich with the lives of saints, bells and incense I never wondered who she might have been or how she might have achieved sainthood.  It was just the name of the road, the impatient road that had to be endured in order to reach the comfort of the women, those family women with open arms and warm kisses.  If we were good there would be pocket money given for a trip to the sweet shop, love hearts and spangles and red liquorice comfits that when licked could be painted on like lipstick. No, Agatha was never thought of as a person, just a length of tarmac which ran passed the red brick buildings where my parents went to school.  They spoke of school days long past when there were bombs, sirens and bodies being brought out of the chip shop after a raid.  It was merely the name of a road.

I was reminded that St Agatha may have once walked upon the earth when looking earlier to see if there were any interesting folk customs which are traditionally enacted on the 22nd of August. Until recent years a curious custom took place at Biddenham in Bedfordshire and St Agatha's name arose again but still shed no more light upon who she was.  In that village, shortly before midday, a small procession of villagers gathered together and they carried a white rabbit decorated with scarlet ribbons.  They promenaded through the village singing a hymn in honour of St. Agatha.  All the young unmarried women who met this group extended the first two fingers of the left hand and pointed at the rabbit.  They would then say, 'Gustin, Gustin, lacks a bier!  Maidens, maidens, bury him here'.  This custom is believed to date from the time of the first Crusade.  The questions relating to why they did this or what  became of the poor rabbit remain unanswered.  I was curious to know how this was connected to the life of St. Agatha.

It was time to find out who she was and it really is a gruesome tale. I don't like gruesome tales and find myself unable to relate the way in which she was martyred on an uncertain date in pre-7th Century Sicily.  It really isn't a nice story. I'm glad that I had no inkling of her sad tale when I wondered up and down Snta GATHas absorbed in my sherbert dibdab and the latest copy of The Beano comic.  Some things are best excluded from innocent minds like mutilated saints, raining bombs and bodies in chip shops.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Strange Happenings on St Oswin's Day

It has been said in many parts of the British Isles that, since ancient times, trees would bleed when struck by an axe. John Capgrave (21 April 1393 – 12 August 1464) relates that in the year 1384 on the 20th day of August, the feast of St Oswin, the king being at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, a wright hewed a tree...but at every stroke it poured out blood 'as if it had been a beast'.  He was so terrified that he left his work. The same thing happened ( according to Holinshed's 'Chronicles of England') when this fellow, 'having no rever[ence] to this myracle, took the axe and smet', and again the blood ran out.
                                                               Taken from Eleanor Hull's 'Folklore of the British Isles', 1928

St Oswin was King of Deira in Northumbria 644-51 and venerated as a martyr.  His short reign and premature death were due to treachery and dynastic struggles.  According to Bede Oswiu wished to regain the land and power and quarrelled with Oswin which resulted in them raising armies against each other.  However, instead of adding one more battle to the long tale of violence in 7th Century Northumbria, Oswin, realizing that he was outnumbered, disbanded his army to avoid bloodshed, hoping to make good his claim at a future date.

Accompanied by a single trusted soldier, he hid in the house of his best friend Hunwald.  This Earl, however, treacherously betrayed him to Oswiu, who ordered Oswin and his soldier to be put to death.  This was on 20 August 651, preceeding the death of his friend Aidan, apostle of Northumbria to whom he was devoted, by just 12 days.

Bede described Oswin as 'a man of handsome appearance and great stature, pleasant in speech and courteous in manner.  He was generous to high and low alike and soon won the affection of all by his kingly qualities of mind and body so that even men of very high birth came from nearly every province to his service'.  In expiation of his crime, Oswiu built a monastery at Gilling, where Oswin was killed.

Oswin was culted as a martyr because he died, 'if not for the faith of Christ', at least for the justice of Christ', as a 12th century homilist explained.
                                                                   Taken from 'The Oxford Dictionary of Saints', 2004 ed

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Musings At Midsummer

Sun-stone's kiss, midsummer pleasure,
Welcome all and some.
At the hele-stone sing and gather,
Every blessed one.

- Caitlin Matthews, 'Midsummer Blessing'

A Midsummer love-divination as described by Mrs Bray in Devon, 1838:

It is said here that if a young woman, blindfolded, plucks a full-blown rose, on Midsummer Day, while the chimes are playing twelve, folds the rose up in a sheet of white paper and does not take out the rose until Christmas.  It will be found fresh as when gathered.  Then,if she places the rose on her bosom, the young man to whom she is to be married will come and snatch it away

Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
I do wander everywhere,
Swifter than the moon's sphere;
And I serve the fairy queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be:
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours,
In those freckles live their savours:
I must go seek some dewdrops here
And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear.
Farewell, thou lob of spirits; I'll be gone:
Our queen and all our elves come here anon.
A Midsummer Night's Dream
William Shakespeare

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Abbot and The Fox

I was reading today about Abbot Moling who died on this day in 697AD at Tigh Moling, St Mullins, Co. Carlow. He is said to have had a pet fox.  Can anyone really have a fox as a pet? The wild and wily fox may be thought to have had an abbot as a pet rather than the reverse.  However, this was no ordinary abbot, he is said to have won a debate with the Devil, maybe evidence that he was as wily as the fox by his side.  He was certainly a man upon whom fortune bestowed favour.  He was out fishing one night and landed a huge salmon in his net.  When gutting his prize he was astounded to find a bar of gold within the body of the fish.  A good man at heart he split it into three parts.  He gave one to the poor, another was used to make reliquaries and he spent the third on good works. Hopefully, there was a fox who dined on salmon as a reward for taming a man of the cloth.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Piggy Revenge

Today we should remember Mr John Camden 'J.C.' Hotten who expired this day in 1873 at his home at Haverstock Hill, just north of old London town.  His claim to fame was the compilation of a dictionary of slang, published in 1859.  His death was believed to have been caused by his over-consumption of pork chops.  Serves him right.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Restocking the Etsy Shop

Letting your little creations loose upon the big wide world is always daunting. A Craft Fair needs a beautifully eye catching display, lovely packaging and efficient organisation (of which I'm sorely lacking). Craft Fairs are also exhausting and costly, so costly that it is hard to keep an expression of desperation off your face when an unsuspecting potential customer comes to view your stall. It is not acceptable to beg! Setting up an online shop seems to be an exciting and more anonymous option. It also cuts out the vehicle loading and unloading, setting up and taking down and finding somewhere to put everything again when you get back home - albeit a few items lighter with any luck.   In addition, being a bit of a 'shrinking violet' on such occasions it eliminates that overpowering desire to hide under the table when someone comes to look at your wares.

Etsy is an online department store extraordinaire where anything that can be handmade is available in abundance and I can spend many a happy hour in wonderment as I explore the beautiful creations of Crafty folk. This then is the route for me but oh the fear is still there. I have to get over the Technology Gremlin that hovers over me when I try to set up. I always assume that I must be doing it wrong and everything is bound to go pear shaped. I have selected a few items to put on there just as soon as I come out from under the computer table where I am still hiding. It really isn't very different from trying to sell face-to-face. When you make something yourself its not just a 'product'. Its a wee bit of your own imagination and skill and what if no one likes it? Oh dear me, the shame!

So, just as soon as I become rather less like Dorothy's lion and find my own courage I shall be re-opening my Etsy shop.  However, if anyone knows some really efficient wizards out there who can wave their magic wands and fill me with confidence and techy savviness I would much appreciate it. Thank you.

PS  Any comments on the photos above would be greatly appreciated. Please be gentle!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Wild January

It seems like weeks since the winds and the rain came roaring in. We are being battered, blown and drenched to the core. A time to stay indoors and imagine the weather as it whistles through cracks and fights to enter. Here is a poem by Ted Hughes which is just right for reading in front of the fire:


This house has been far out at sea all night,
The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills,
Winds stampeding the fields under the window
Floundering black astride and blinding wet
Till day rose; then under an orange sky
The hills had new places, and wind wielded
Blade-light, luminous black and emerald,
Flexing like the lens of a mad eye.
At noon I scaled along the house-side as far as
The coal-house door. Once I looked up -
Through the brunt wind that dented the balls of my eyes
The tent of the hills drummed and strained its guyrope,
The fields quivering, the skyline a grimace,
At any second to bang and vanish with a flap;
The wind flung a magpie away and a black-
Back gull bent like an iron bar slowly. The house
Rang like some fine green goblet in the note
That any second would shatter it. Now deep
In chairs, in front of the great fire, we grip
Our hearts and cannot entertain book, thought,
Or each other. We watch the fire blazing,
And feel the roots of the house move, but sit on,
Seeing the window tremble to come in,
Hearing the stones cry out under the horizons.

Ted Hughes