I have stood on a windswept mountain top,
face to the sky,
lungs full of sweet, clean air.
I am inspired.
I have lain 'tween sheets stained with shame,
seeking love and solace,
heart full of bitter, tarnished reality.
I am taught.
I have danced on soft green grass,
cool beneath my feet,
sipped rosehip wine in the shade
of weeping willows.
I am soothed.
I have stumbled on ragged rocks,
led astray by false direction,
wretched tears falling into
bottomless obsidian pools.
I am undefeated.
I am humble. I have my pride.
I have my dreams. I have my memories
I am foolish. I am wise.
I am. Simply. Me.
August 5, 2014
A Chance Meeting...or was it?
All was not quiet on the western front. It was the spring of 1917. Soldiers from Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the then Dominion of Newfoundland were attacking the German trenches near the town of Arras in France. This particular war zone was part of the backdrop to the famed battle of Vimy Ridge, where the Canadian troops - God bless 'em all - gave the Germans what for. But, although Vimy is a story to be told again and again, it is not my story for today. My story begins almost two weeks later on the 22nd April, 1917. A meeting had taken place that day in one of the many miles of trenches. Two British soldiers, both from the Border Regiment yet previously separated in the melee, had found each other again. They were step-brothers; Robert, aged 22 and Thomas, (age unknown). Amazed and delighted at their chance meeting, they decided to sit down and write a letter home. They told their parents and their step brothers and sisters of their miraculous meeting before signing off with a single sentence. "Tomorrow we go over the top" On the 22nd April, 1917, these two men each shared some precious moments in the hell that was trench warfare. Now they share something else. The 23rd April, 1917. The day they both died. Robert Stanley Allonby and Thomas Daniel Bowness are memorialized in Arras. Robert was my great great uncle. His mother, a widow, married Thomas' father, a widower. Between them they shared 14 children. I have his mother's (my great great grandmother's) wedding band, which is made from her first wedding band twisted into the second band. How I wish I had that letter.Tweet
June 14, 2014
History and mystery...!
I love legends, especially those of the British Isles. The very word 'legend' summons up a delicious image of a story passed down through the centuries, changing and shifting shape as it travels, the original details buried beneath layers of time. The more renowned legends of Britain are fascinating enough, but its the obscure local legends that, for me, carry the most intrigue. They're like little nuggets of inspiration, tucked away in villages and towns all over the country. It's fun digging them out, especially since Google (my best friend) makes it so easy. My (second) soon-to-be-finished novel, 'Triskelion', is based on one of these legends, that being the story of the 'Last Wolf of Humphrey Head'. It's a local legend, told to me as a child, and I've always loved it. In my next post, I'll share the original legend as it was told to me. Have a wonderful day!Tweet
June 10, 2014
After my mother died, I was going through a shoe-box full of papers that I found buried in her closet. All the poems I'd ever written for her, plus some homesick letters I'd sent her from Brownie Pack Holidays, were tucked away in an envelope. I cried, of course. It was an incredible emotional journey back to the days of youth and childhood. In truth, I couldn't remember writing half of what was in there, but the words were definitely mine, innocent and untainted by the trials of life. And those words had been treasured. They had meant something to someone. And that meant the world to me.Tweet
February 26, 2014
A Walk Back Home
Tucked away in the extreme north-west of England is the county of Cumbria. Like the rest of the Britain, it has been invaded and occupied by a variety of aggressors, all of them craving part or full possession of the windswept islands perched on the shoulders of continental Europe. Cumbria has played host to Romans, Norsemen, Vikings, Saxons, Scots, and Normans. The county is flanked by five others, which form a semi-circle around it. Lancashire, North Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland are English, while Dumfriesshire is Scottish. The western border, not counting the odd estuary or firth, is embraced by the Irish Sea. It is a true palette of nature; a gallery of stunning vignettes blessed, or perhaps cursed, by some of the most changeable weather in the United Kingdom. It is also a harsh region that demands respect, and shows no mercy to the ignorant. There are coastal estuaries where tides rush in faster than walking speed, and rugged mountain tops where dense, wet clouds materialize in minutes from previously empty blue skies. Once off the main routes, drivers have to negotiate twisting one-lane roads, originally carved out by man and beast. Some of the steeper mountain passes are sanctified daily by the prayers of those who dare to test their mettle behind the wheel of a car. When you're down to second gear with no summit in sight, and a car whose engine is obviously straining, the blood-pressure does tend to rise a little. One of these roads - Hardknott Pass - shares the honour with another of being the steepest ascent, or descent, in England. Originally built by the Romans, this single-lane stretch of terror is almost two thousand years old and climbs 1289 feet, with a heart-clenching gradient of 33%. Part way up are the well-preserved remains of a Roman fort, complete with evidence of central heating and toilets. From the top, on a clear day, you can see the Isle of Man. It's worth the white-knuckle drive. The tough little Herdwick sheep, grazing on wiry mountain grasses, make nothing of the steep terrain and rocky outcrops. They have, after all, lived here for a thousand years. But they have a master. The shrill whistles of shepherds echo around the valleys, each perfectly formed note a command for the obedient black and white Border Collies who herd the flocks. They, like the sheep, are a local breed, their intelligence and speed unsurpassed in the doggie kingdom. These dogs don't do boredom. They want to work. They want to learn. It's in their blood. I know - I owned one for eighteen years. Mile upon mile of dry-stone walls amble up and over the fells, not a teaspoon of mortar in any of them. Yet most of them still hold firm even after so many centuries. Those that have fallen can be repaired, if need be, by local folks who still practice the ancient craft. There are even houses and churches built the same way, with not a speck of mortar to be found in their weathered walls. People often refer to Cumbria as the Lake District, although strictly speaking, that's only the name of the National Park that lies within the county. The Park receives almost 16 million visitors a year - a remarkable number, when you consider that only 50,000 people actually reside full time within its boundaries. Traditionally, the Lake District is known for its beautiful scenery, and from a literary standpoint, is associated with the works of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey, Ruskin, and Beatrix Potter. A fine list of notables to be sure, but as I intimated earlier, there's far more to the history of Cumbria than some well-known - and relatively recent - literary figures. The bones of mythical kings and warriors lie beneath the prehistoric Cumbrian soil; celebrities of a much older time, their legendary names and archaic language trampled beneath the feet of invaders and washed away by a cascade of ten thousand seasons. Cumbria was originally the name of an ancient Celtic kingdom whose boundaries in no way match the county lines of today. It is thought to have been much larger, pushing south to what is now North Wales, north into southern Scotland and east into parts of Yorkshire. As with other areas of Celtic Britain, the region was ruled by a number of fierce tribal kings and sometimes queens. The old Cumbrian language was Brythonic, one of two insular Celtic languages, the other being Goidelic. These languages originated in the British Isles and Ireland, separate and apart from the European Celtic tongues. Brythonic and Goidelic have both, in some form, survived to this day, whereas all of the European Celtic languages have long since vanished. You will likely know Goidelic better as Gaelic, which is still associated with the people of Ireland, the Isle of Man and Scotland. The Brythonic tongue was most common throughout what is now England and Wales, southern Scotland, and northern France (taken there by migrants from Britain). It eventually split into four distinct dialects: Welsh, Cumbric, Cornish, and Breton. This explains, of course, where Cumbria got its name but, of the four dialects, only Cumbric has not survived. In fact, most historians agree that it probably died out around the 12th century AD. The Brythonic roots can still be found in many of the local place-names, though. Blencathra and Helvellyn are two examples of mountains that bear Cumbric names. The Cumbrian hill farmers also use a strange language when counting their sheep and livestock. Some say this goes back to the lost Cumbric dialect, but no one really knows for sure, and it remains a subject of ongoing discussions. Maybe it's a secret language know only to the sheep! My father spoke it, so I've heard it many times, and it certainly bears no resemblance whatsoever to English. Old Cumbrian legends? They abound, if you know where to find them. Most of them are, in fact, chronicled in old and middle Welsh, where the historic region of Cumbria is usually referred to as Yr Hen Ogledd, or The Old North. It is an area synonymous with legend and folklore, much of it localized and often passed down through the generations. Celtic legends, to coin a very modern phrase and in my steadfast opinion, kick ass. I think it's because they often tantalize us with what is, rather than what is exactly known. Superstition was a large part of life back then, and frequently plays a part in many of the old tales. This mystical aspect invariably leaves room for imagination and conjecture. You might start off with only a few speculative threads, but before you know it, they've been woven into the equivalent of the Bayeux tapestry. The Arthurian legend has deep roots in Cumbria. There's speculation that Merlin (Myrddin) himself spent his life living wild in the forests of Eden in Cumbria, having gone mad after killing his nephew in a nearby battle, which is documented in the Welsh annals. For me, as a writer and lover of history, the inspiration from such tales is priceless, and there are so many more of them. It's an endless source! Today, Cumbria is a haven for hikers, sailors, fishermen, and nature lovers. There's any number of quaint villages and charming pubs. It boasts luxurious lakeside hotels, some of the best restaurants in Britain, and home-from-home Bed-and-Breakfasts. It continues to attract writers and artists who seek and find inspiration. It is, in effect, still hosting hoards of invaders from all over the world. I hope some of them, at least, understand the powerful history of Cumbria that lingers behind the well-orchestrated commercial facade. There's a timelessness to be found in its weather-worn heart, the haunting influence of a mysterious people whose roots pushed deep into the land of their birth. Their branches, I believe, still live on. I left Cumbria in 1987 and moved to Canada. I love it here, but my heart is often pulled to the east, and my mind frequently transports me to the places of my childhood. It's in my blood. I'm proud to say that my line goes back to one of the first Cumbrian families ever to be documented in the parish registries, as well as ancestors in North Wales and Ireland. Thanks for sharing this particular walk back home. There are many more paths to explore!Tweet