Sunday, 26 August 2012

Snippets of Interesting Things: Rosebay Willowherb

The Luggage was made from the wood of the sapient peartree, a plant so magical it had nearly died out on the Disc, and survived in only one or two places; it was a sort of rosebay willowherb, only instead of bombsites it sprouted in areas that had seen vast expenditures of magic.
(Terry Pratchett, Sourcery, Corgi, 1988, p.63.)

The other day, Fluffhead and I were out in the sunshine.  Coming home from town.  I pushed the pushchair, and watched the world in front of me.

A woman ahead that I vaguely recognised as living in the same street suddenly stopped by the outside wall near her house.  She took a tall happy looking plant growing there, ripped it out quite violently, and threw it down on the path beside her.  Without looking back, without breaking stride.  And disappeared off into her house, up some red steps. 

She didn’t look like a cruel person, but I found this a heartrending thing to do.

I was going the same way, and wheeled the pushchair over to the plant, great clods of earth attached still to its thickish roots.   It had soft green leaves, thin and wavy, and a high tall top, with gushes of small pink flowers, falling over themselves to bloom out, like a fountain at its apex.  Droplets of flower.  I thought it was beautiful.

I picked it up and took it home.  When I got inside, before even taking Fluffhead out of the pushchair, and telling him I wouldn’t be long, I fetched a pot from the outhouse, and some compost, and spoke softly to the poor traumatised plant, and re-potted it, with some food and water.  And put it outside in the yard, next to 2 other tallish plants, so that it would feel among its like, its peers.

It drooped for several days, then seemed to rally.  Its bottom leaves browned a bit, but the top ones stood out again.  The flowers all died, they never recovered.  Strange fluffy curly things started to sprout from its mid section.  Like shaved wooden slivers covered in a dust of cotton wool.   At this point I thought – I need to look this odd plant up somewhere…it’s behaving a bit like a science fiction plant.  Any minute the house will be covered in fluff and we’ll be trapped inside!  It will take over the Earth, with its little pink flowers lulling us in, before going all fluffy and seeding everywhere, no more life as we know it – Planet of FLUFFPLANT!  (As you can see, I’m still deeply enmeshed in reading my Doctor Who books, and therefore full of fanciful leaps of not-quite-logic.)

The tall ailing plant turned out to divide opinion neatly.  It was either a dreadful weed – which clearly was what the woman down the street thought, in her ruthlessness when she saw it – not even IN her property, just near it, goodness me…Or it’s a fine herb, used for hundreds of years medicinally and mentioned in many botanicals. 

Rosebay Willowherb.  Also known as Fireweed[1], Blooming Sally, Great Willow Herb (as opposed to Small Willow Herb – which has less flowers and was used by herbalists for centuries to ease allsorts of prostate problems and bladder infections, by means of a simply made medicinal tea; repopularised by the Austrian Herbalist, Maria Trebens[2]).  Also known as Ranting Widow, Apple Pie, Singerherb…

Louise Bustard, Assistant Curator Glasgow Botanical Gardens, tells this story of first seeing Rosebay Willowherb when she arrived in Glasgow from London to take up her position at the Botanical Gardens:
…they took me back to a time when, as a little girl, I sat listening to my grandmother as she told me of the first summer after World War Two had ended. It was nothing short of a miracle that, after the blitz, St Paul's Cathedral remained standing proud and virtually untouched surrounded by - nothing.  Every home, shop, church and garden had been bombed to oblivion. St Paul's stood alone. As the summer got under way, however, the surrounding bombsites turned dusky pink as newly arrived and long hidden seeds of the rosebay willow-herb gradually covered the open wounds of the city. Through my grandmother's descriptive powers I
can still visualise in my mind an extraordinary sight that my eyes never saw[3].

A flower of hope, spread out in otherwise desolate spaces, speaking of regeneration, the possibility of fruitfulness again.  She describes how attitudes to it have changed:
It is generally considered a native, but the rosebay willow herb only really arrived in Britain at the end of the last ice age. However, from that time to the present century it was considered a rarity. Today if it appears in our well kept borders it is immediately ripped out as an unwanted weed. It was perceived very differently in the seventeenth century when the famous herbalist Gerard was writing about plants.
Its scarcity then meant it was much more appreciated. Gerard
describes it as “A goodly and stately plant, . . . .garnished with brave flowers of great beautie”.[4]

Far from being a nasty weed overpopulating areas, I thought it was gorgeous.  After reading that, I went and replanted it again – in the earth properly, along the edge of a completely fallow flowerbed.  Fluffhead has been running up and down it all summer – everything I planted died, except some tiny wildflowers I have yet to identify, and a really amazing ‘weed’ that looks like coriander but isn’t, and grows in a sort of overground root system, with runners, like a strawberry plant would.  I wondered whether it would survive, and fluff those little seeds over the flowerbed and to the barren areas of garden, surviving extremes of rain and draught, the way nothing else in my garden has properly this summer (except the buddleia; that I dislike for its incredibly bionic growth.  It needs to be out in the street, I feel bad that I have to cut it back so strongly…)

I thought this could be a new experiment.  The year before last, I let the borage go insane to see what would happen.  What happened was that I had  borders filled with absolutely nothing BUT borage, it crowded out everything, a very greedy plant.  But the way I have been observing the Rosebay Willowherb – and I have since seen it along all the local railway embankments, and some of the more desolate front gardens of the area: it grows alongside other things, it doesn’t leave absolutely no room for anything else.  Besides which, last year we had useful Borage; maybe next year we can have useful Rosebay Willowherb…

(In case you didn’t know, Borage is where we get Starflower Oil, so useful for women’s hormone balancing, and taken in capsule form to help even out periods, breast inflammation and cramping.  This is due to its extremely high levels of GLA, a fatty-acid, the highest of any naturally occurring plant source[5].  It has many many other uses and is worth looking up, but that’s what I use it for.)

Rosebay Willowherb has its own uses.  In her brilliantly useful 2008 book, Hedgerow Medicine, Julie Bruton-Seal also says: ‘It has not been used much in medicine in recent years but was a favourite of the American Eclectic physicians in treating diarrhoea and typhoid. Its soothing, astringent and tonic action is wonderful for all sorts of intestinal irritation, and it makes a good mouthwash’ (see the shortened reference version, online: At this site, you'll find ways in which it can be eaten, too.

Interestingly, too, this health scare I have been having, that thankfully so far has not turned out to be cancer or anything terminal, is all about intestinal irritation…and last year, when the borage was everywhere, due to my experiment then, balancing hormones was my problem. Things have a habit of presenting themselves to my perception when I’m primed to find them most useful.  It’s a strange thing.  What a useful little thing I found.  And so beautiful.

[1] Because it likes to spring up to cover sites razed to the ground by fire. After the Great Fire of London in 1666, Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) in his Diary of Samuel Pepys, nine volumes, 1660-1669, related how the burned area soon filled with fireweed (see May 1667).
[3] From Chickweed, Willow and Other Wild Glaswegians, by Louise Bustard, introductory notes, to be found at:
Do go ahead and read this brilliant, accessible study.  Lots of excellent interesting information.
[4] Ibid, p.61.
[5] James Wong is an ethno-botanist writing of herbal remedies safe for home use, in Grow Your Own Drugs, companion volume to the BBC series of 2009, p.159 (London: Collins, 2009).
Credit: The photo used at the top, is from this site:

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Partially for Hystery: Communication Via, and the Possibilities and Tyrannies of Stories

I wrote this post 3 weeks ago, just as the Olympics were starting.  And decided it was too regular BJ-ish to post, i.e. a bit sad, a bit pessimistic, etc, despite its lighter bits.  Then I read a post by Hystery, and decided maybe it should go up after all, for what its worth. Even a tiny point can be worth making.  And I may not have made it at all well in the comment I left her (too much me, not enough point); so I make it here, instead.  It's not a direct reply to what she said, but it's a related issue.

I was walking down the hill, and it started to rain.  I had forgotten my  umbrella.  (I love my umbrella.  Its completely see-through, with a white rim and handle.  Like many I used to see in 70’s films.  Took me ages to find it.  A while ago see-through umbrellas were a bit in vogue again, but they were see-through with patterns and colours – busy looking.  Not properly see-through alone.  I finally found this one on one of those stalls outside London tube stations, that sell London bus fridge magnets, and those ‘my brother went to London and all I got was this lousy T-shirt’ stalls.  Sitting there all perfect and see-through and lonesome.  And cheap.  Not anymore though.  Now it’s united with me, its dutiful soul-mate.  Every time it rains and I have this umbrella, I love that I can see up, and all the light comes through.  I can see the raindrops.  Hear them patter on the plastic.  There I am, in my own dome of dryness.  It’s a lovely thing.)

Anyway.  I forgot it.

So I was walking down the hill.  It started to rain, quite heavily, quite quickly.  In a way this was just fine; I had just washed my hair, so I was all wet already.

Also it meant the sky did that great thing it does before rainstorms.  It lowered.  Grey grey blanketing sky.  Deep dusky grey, softly heavy.  Plush toy stuffing.  Some rumbles of thunder.  (Which explained why I had a headache too; I’m like a barometer: air pressure up or down – I can tell you from the throbbing of my temples.)  So all the shininess went off everything.  It was still light, but dull.  Not boring dull, just restful dull.  No strong edges on things, no glaring contrasts.  Just a light that takes you mentally from the 10.30 a.m. in the August morning it was, and puts you in at about 4.30 p.m. on an October afternoon instead.  You get an ‘oh, soon hometime, curl up’ feeling.  A winding down light.  Did wonders for my headache.

Rumbles of thunder.  Sorry to be stereotypical, but it did, really.  Cliches are there for a reason.  There – it just did it again.  It moved across the sky like rolling rocks, from left to right.  Bowling balls of Thor (and I forgot the umbrella courtesy of Loki, of course).

I go down the hill, enjoying the feeling of my trainers making that slurpy sticky sound on the wet tarmac.

Against the lowered grey sky, I see a house roof, deep brown with dark green trees far behind, stark in the sky.  On top of the roof stands a scrawny blackbird.  Just mooching about.  In a strutty way.  For a second, as I see the bird, feel the rain on my hair and face, and listen to the gurgling of it running down the gutters at the sides of the road and swirling off to the drains at the bottom of the hill, I think: all I need is this.  These moments of air and space, and small droplets of beauty.  A scrawny bird, a grey sky, some rain.

Moments like these make me who I am.  I could freeze time in tiny spaces like this and watch raindrops land in spirals on concrete, stretch it forever.  Total peace.

But just in case you feel I am going a mite soft, there…the other side of the coin is something like this.  A few days before that last bit…

You know how I’m always saying stories are the only things that make sense?  Because regardless how Kafkaesque (and therefore almost lifelike) they are, they are still stories.

Stories are composed by one person at a time.  No matter how different (and lifelike) the characters seem, they are all in one person’s head.  Echoes of types/sorts/parts of that person’s self.

It is one person talking (at length, and doing all the voices/parts) to themselves.

By that token – if anything (any conflict, problem, misunderstanding – war) gets sorted out at the end, it will be because one person finally understood all the Points Of View of themselves (and was able to create some sort of compromise or resolution through arbitrating the relevance’s of those views).

I had the sort of day today, riven with conflict, where I got to a point of defensive closedown.  I decided “only stories make sense, not real life” and shut up shop.  Retreated therein.

This is also a lie, this tidy little defensive statement I told myself.

The reason stories make sense is that they are lies.  Allsorts of conveniences and contrivances occur there, that in life, do not.  Will not.  Could not. 

Because we don’t understand the 70 thousand shades of people of all ages and wisdoms living in our own heads.  How can we hope to understand someone else’s colony? 

I read the blog the other day, of someone who (possibly rightfully?) isn’t talking to me, or me her.  I loved the blog.  Yet I can’t have a peaceful conversation with her, we misread one another constantly.  (I want to post a link to it here, it's so lovely, but I won't as she may be unhappy with that.)

We can all communicate VIA stuff as much as we like: adore each others writing, love each other’s art, dance, music, taste in humour or clothes or colours or lifestyle.

If we are careful to remain as empathic as possible, we can be friends with each other.  It may even feel easy sometimes.  For a while.

But you know what?  Pessimistic thought for the day: I don’t think there will ever be peace.

Because stories are basically beautiful lies, patchworked senses of self, ventriloquism of our endlessly fragmented perceptions stretched flying; faulty memories sparkled as ‘truth’.

We can try.  But each of us is a player in what to each of us is the epic story of our own lives.  How can the arrogance and ego of each and every Hero and Heroine, Protagonists All, ever accept the bit roles (or worse, the utter non-importance) we have in the lives of others?

If I can’t even understand why someone I love very much was unreasonable today, twice, (and was I too?...probably…) – then what hope for…extrapolate outwards.

And have a gin.

Put on some music.  You’ll think differently if you put on Handel or Mozart as opposed to Fields of the Nephilim or the soundtrack to 28 Days Later…so many variables.

But no peace, I fear.

No two stories tally.  Eye witness accounts notoriously differ.

I shan’t leave it like that though.  Goodness no!  Because that’s the thing.  The scrawny bird, the raindrops, the woollen grey sky (it’s that historical weather again) – and then those nasty sensations of dislocation, miscommunication, alienation.  Both are entirely true.  At the time.  One does not cancel the other.  One does not mean more than the other.  The rather unpleasant truth (for me, at least) I feel, is that both are equally valid and mean something.

It is the bravery that is accepting them both as reality that will help mend the upset stomach that is my mind, so often.

And the fact that if I try my best to listen, to really hear other people when they talk – and to try and put myself in their shoes, I may not end up agreeing with them (no, not at all) – but I will be able to appreciate their standpoints and talk to them that much more effectively.  From where they are.

Bridges can be built.  Don’t despair entirely.  Don’t be so tired you forget why you tread water.

If you read this, and for just a second, you saw that thin little black bird, dark against the rainy sky, and you heard the rain gurgling into the drains – then there is hope.  For allsorts of things involving us humans.

Because I let you in my head, you came to visit and you went away again, unscathed.  You might not have seen exactly what I described (of course not), instead your own approximation of it.  But we shared a vision, which hopefully wasn’t horrible in any way?!

So whilst my feelings when upset were true, quite nastily true, for me – so is this, now.  If we try to keep listening, and seeing, and not shoring up our own positions so much that we can no longer see anyone else’s, amazing things can still be done.  Cities built, cathedrals, books written, films made – millions entertained and given breathing space, a holiday from their worries[1].  It’s not a little thing.

Like I said before, it’s all about empathy with each other. 

That’s my tuppenceworth anyway.

[1] It may not be the start of world peace in particular, but people watching films and reading books and listening to music are not at that moment out being un-peaceful: they are communicating with another’s mind via…And things that help you try to make sense of other things – they are good for exercising the mind.  Understanding anything is never bad, and may come in useful.

'Communication Via' (copyright!!)  is an idea I've had since I was really little.  I think we humans often have great trouble communicating with each other, and do it through other things instead, often much better.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Time-mining, Segment One, a short story from a few years back...

Don't bother with this blogpost if you don't like horror at all, or aren't interested in Italian horror films, it'll just tire your brain...

This is an old story I wrote, for an exercise in an Open University Course some time ago.  It’s a short horror-ish story.  More of a vignette than anything else.  I’m going to give links about what I was on about at the end – only cos if you aren’t a fan of the films of Dario Argento, you will probably find the story daft and inexplicable.  Hell – you might regardless of explanation!!  Anywaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyy…..Here you go.
Bit of teenagey gothness! 
 Cliche and Argento

They say starting is the hard part.  That may be true of writing a song, or a soundtrack or making a film.  It wasn’t true of my best friend.  Starting, and finishing her, was the easiest thing I have finally let myself do.  

She would sit in school, years I watched this: being the butterfly, being the one everyone loved.  Spreading herself too thin.  I would be sitting next to her, with my walkman hidden by my hair, the wires sneaking back and under my collar, easy; like so much else when I finally freed myself.  Listening to her with one ear, her husky voice asking about someone else, a crisis, a wise comment…half of me would be listening to Goblin.  I had to have it on quiet; it’s an intrusive sound, those Italian geniuses.  I had a thing for Profondo Rosso for a while, then Suspiria.  It was when I hit Tenebrae that I knew I had to kill her.

I would watch her, flicking her hair, lovely blond hair, genuine, not a dye.  Like straw, the colour of straw, but soft like kitten fur…soft, so soft.

She’d turn to me, and say: ‘Do you mind if we go to Clare’s house tonight on the way home?  Her dad’s away again, and she might drink, but she won’t if we’re there, and we cheer her up?’  She’d know that if she smiled at me, let it go to her eyes, that she’d have me.  She always had me.  She’d turn back to Clare (or whoever, the mother Theresa), and hunch forward, soft caressing hand on the arm, those soft smiles, soft words.

I used to live on those moments where we’d actually, finally be alone, and she would turn those smiles and words on me.  I lived for that small time, last summer, when she let me touch her.  Touched me back.  She worried of course.  That she was becoming a lesbian!  I thought that hilarious.  I have always wanted to touch, really touch, anyone I have ever loved: to me it felt normal.  To her…she thought, I suppose, that it was an extension to caring, all that help she gave people, all that endless bloody peacemaking.  Turned out that she enjoyed this particular help, but too much for her comfort.  

I was insulted, and realised that…she didn’t really love me.  Not like I loved her. I cried quite a bit.  I played lots of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, trying both to calm down, and to experience some attenuated, clearer sort of consciousness.  A pinnacle of suffering, where I would receive enlightenment.  All the while I watched her, and behaved as the faithful sidekick, as I ever had.  I didn’t ask for that time back, or her touch again.  I touched myself, I thought of her.  I started to want to be rough, to cut my nails to hard triangles and use them on her soft wetness, to scrape, to dig.  Then I realised the next logical thing.  I could help her out of her hypocrisy, her uncaring.
It was a few days after I began listening to the Tenebrae soundtrack that this dawned on me.  It was she who was the filthy, slimy pervert the killer talks about.  All I really needed was an old fashioned razor.  Some black gloves.  A white top for her to be changing into.  Forget the fancy camerawork, the famous Luna crane sequence – obviously, I couldn’t replicate that scene.  But she hated Goblin!  I could make her yell to turn it off.  Easy.

So I had the beginning of a stupid, but oddly easy plan.  Do you really want to hear the rest?  How even though I succeeded, and she is not with us anymore, and the feeling of slicing into the skin and muscle of someone you love is amazingly easy, both mentally and actually (providing the razor is sharp), I am still not happy?  It was a great trip – it really felt like a film – being caught.  I didn’t run, I sat, and I watched her die. I watched the blood congeal, I watched the edges of the wounds on her throat (it really does gout, it’s astonishing, be prepared to do a massive clean up if you don’t plan to sit and stay) change colour from that livid red, to a quite unattractive meat-sat-in-the-sun-for-too-long tone.  Sort of purple pink orange.  Not pretty.  Not that beauty of death Argento talks about.  

The more I sat, the more disappointed I got.  She was beautiful to begin with, beautiful uncaring bitch.  Then beautiful as I killed her, and she choked, and it all spilled – wow!  But then, the more time passed, the more I wanted to do it again, she was starting to seem so…boring now.  I got down on the floor and looked into her eyes, as you are told to in Four Flies on Grey Velvet, to see what the last image recorded on the retina was – whether she registered surprise or an emotion, something.  Nope.  Just empty, dead, stupid eyes.  

When the policewoman came in – it was only about 45 minutes later, Merriam made lots of noise as she went down, after all, till I cut the cause – I knew I was going to have to try to do it again.  I knew I didn’t have a plan this time, and I need forethought.  So I knew it was probably going to fail.  But even if I just got her hand when she put it up to defend herself – even just one slice…

I’m in for life.  A filmic cliché.  They say, what do they know, that I am criminally insane.  They have not loved, they have certainly not possessed.  They know nothing.  They don’t know about love, or punishment, or music, or making things look perfect.  Maybe I should have just tried to make a film?  Or write a soundtrack?  I do that now, sitting here, I get given paper.

They say starting is the hard part.  

But there’s so much inside my head.

If they gave me something sharper than crayons, I could try and get it out.

(story copyright: me!  BlackberryJuniper!, 2012)

I’m a bit in love with the last line there: I can really hear the voice saying it.  (Aaaahhhhhh.  Moment of adoration of own stuff....ehem, ok, I'm over it.)  The whole thing is wildly cheesy, but hey – cheese is fun sometimes.  Ok, bit of explanation…Dario Argento does Italian horror films, thrillers.  He was most famous for his work of the late 60's through till early 80's, when he was more or less exclusively a horror director (he's done many other genres, as have alot of the classic Italian directors of the same generation).  I love Italian horror cinema almost more than the English.  Everything is so amazingly lurid, vivid and OTT.  (And badly dubbed: joy!)  Amazing style, and a complete lack of worry about believability too.  Makes for some unforgettable cinema.  (He's not the only great director there, either, for the genre: there are quite a few more: the Bava father and son, Lucio Fulci, and thats just 3 more famous ones - there are all sorts of hidden not so famous ones - go look, such fun!!)

Suspiria was always - and still is - my favourite: nothing like the setting of a German girls boarding school, all that red and green lighting, and evil witch covens led by an ageing Joan Bennett (my recommendation: see the incredibly atmospheric Secret Beyond the Door, 1948, with Michael Redgrave and directed by Fritz Lang: perfection...).  Wonderful stuff!  Closely followed by Profundo Rosso.  So many good actors and actresses; and the creepy and bonkers music of Goblin.

Ah, the music of Goblin, yes, very important to my little tiny story.  They did lots of work with Dario Argento on his films.  (Depending on what version of Romero's original  Dawn of the Dead you have seen - there are many more than the one, you'll hear more or less of them on that too, as a more mainstream way to hear them...).  The soundtrack for Suspiria is terrifying and screechy; for Dawn of the Dead eclectic and memorable; for Profundo Rosso (aren't I lovely to have found you the whole film - don't watch if you don't like old schlocky bloody horror films; but you're safe to listen for the music over the credits at the beginning) catchy and nursery rhymeish one minute and hooky the next; for Tenebrae, the film I talk of alot in the story - well, you'll hear it in a minute, if you click the link.  Try to imagine being teenage, very unstable, in love with your best friend - the love that, in a comprehensive school at least, still cannot speak its name...obsessed with these films and this music and...there's my story, really.

The thing about Tenebrae is that it is considered by some people to be a classic giallo type thriller. (I've referenced giallo before and won't go on about it again - think of it as a particularly unforgivingly violent thriller, early 70s style - and very very stylishly scored and filmed; its an Italian subgenre.  Despite their grittiness in places, alot of it would of course appear tame by today's torture-porn standards.  This is not a good thing.)  

The section I mention, the Luna Crane sequence was about a famous sequence in the film where a shot continued, unbroken, for a very long time (by the standards of that genre, and those times), and was accomplished using the Luna Crane, a sort of support for a steadicam - here is the sequence.  (Stanley Kubrick was famous for the same sort of work in his films, used differently.)  Its the sequence that the protagonist in my tiny story gets obsessed with, and decided to emulate when it comes to killing her best friend.  (Don't worry, its a more or less bloodless sequence - it's about the music and the camerawork, not Argento's adoration of 'the beauty of death' as filmed, surreally.  By the way, this academic article here has some interesting things to say to the critics of Argento's love for killing off beautiful women in a very violent way.  I'm a feminist, for sure, and I love his films: vive la paradox.)

I mentioned to a couple of people that this small story would have to go up with notes and they said, typical received wisdom, that if it can't stand alone it doesn't stand.  I disagree.  If it introduces anybody to the delights of giallo through these little notes - well and good!  I wouldn't call my tiny story a fan fiction either - it's a reference to what to me, is very familiar (pop) culture: if you were all as into horror films or Argento as me, you'd all know what I was talking about without need of the notes!  (There's a circular bit of logic!)

Anyway - there may be more time-mining soon, I'm reading over lots of old stuff at the moment; and its the old old story, I have precious little time to think of anything new, let alone be able to type it up right now...But don't fret, I shan't subject you to throat slittings every post.  As far as I remember, this was the only story of this kind I ever wrote....I mean: there was a funny/silly one about a cursed locket or something...but I shan't bother you with that!

Er, I better do a disclaimer here: Here am I officially telling you its not a good idea to get obsessed with anything then go and kill people, for any reason.  Tsk!  That's what fiction is for, working stuff out therapeutically...

Till next time!

Monday, 6 August 2012

World's Tiniest Conker, and the Lammas Teacake

Fluffhead and I went walking the other day.  The conker tree 2 streets down (to give it its correct technical term) is producing early season conkers for our delectation.  I opened one of the spiny green cases for him, and the world’s tiniest baby conker fell out.  (Fluffhead has developed a tone of voice for indicating small things.  You know that noise we girl creatures often make when confronted with a kitten/chick/puppy/tiny walrus – I was watching Blue Planet yesterday [they certainly do not behave friendly when grown; more like angry drashigs] – that noise of ‘aaahhhhhhhh – cuteness!’?  It can be a bit ear splitting?  Fluffhead has perfected a variation on this.  Also earsplitting, and complete with little pinching fingers hand gesture, demonstrating the shrunken nature of the said thing.)

So Fluffhead squealed excitedly, right in my ear, which almost knocked me over.  (I was bending over with him, doing my ‘I am a grown up demonstrating’ thing.)  He was so excited with it; he tried to put it up his nose.  (An interesting stage in the development of children, that.)  I retrieved it and put it in my pocket.  Tiny lovely thing.

Because of all the rain this summer, it’s become a bit autumnal outside already.  There’s blackberries growing in my front garden, just baby ones, but there they are.  And leaves doing the golden wonder on the paths already.  As well as loads on unseasonal August chilliness here and there between the downpours and incessant humidity.

As usual, life has been such that I feel pressured with my scraps of BlackberryJuniper time, and I haven’t had that time to be properly commemorative of one of the festivals I really like in the neopagan wheel of the year.  That would be Lammas or Lughnasadh, July 31st/August 1st.  Now.  You know better than to wait for me to explain what all that is about, in any depth.  I’ll tell you only the minimum.  There are plenty of websites, plenty of books (plenty of nice healthy – yet irritating – dissension) on what constitutes a Lammas/Lughnasadh festival/celebration for us neopagan wotsits, and what to do etc etc yawn yawn.  Go fetch if you like.

I’ll be quick with my explanation.  The first harvest in the old agricultural year.  Taking in grain.  Johnny Barleycorn gives his life for the land; again, as he does every year (he is his own beheaded flower).  It’s the Festival of Bread!  Baking!  That lovely baking bread smell…pulling apart a loaf and seeing the seeds on the top fall off, warm softness inside exposed.  Dip your nose in and get that good health feeling.  (For those of you not fans of bread, be merry anyway – it’s also the festival of ale, beer, other grains and soft fruits.)  You know:  a thankful for my belly’s joy celebration.  This is my take on it, anyway.

So in between listing trillions of things for sale on ebay (do buy my drashig, seriously?!), taking care of my Amazon shop, doing the laundry[1], and generally trying to keep the house from vermin, pestilence and decay, I realized I had missed Lammas by at least 3 days.  Not even said a few words, or lit a candle.  Tsk, tsk.  Thus does my life go.  I miss many occasions this way.

So when Fluffhead and I went out that afternoon, we visited that place of intense class and comfy highchairs: Munch in Purley.

And treated ourselves to the Sacrificial Lammas Teacake.  (My mother was most pleased to hear that I had indulged in a teacake when I told her later; she would live on them if she could – and I think she believes that if I eat enough teacakes I will soon want to go on strolling rambles wearing a really sensible anorak from Millets, and generally sort my life out.  Actually: I do love a good ramble, I just don’t do them in those rambling groups, as I tend to get irritated with all that inane conversation disturbing my appreciation of the birdsong etc[2].  I also used to own 2 really sensible anorak type waterproof walking jackets from a Millets equivalent.  But I gave them away to needy people who walk in the wet more often than me, and who fitted them better.  So mum knows me pretty well.  I think she would like if I visited teashops with her more often, that’s it…It’s the tea that puts me off though, yukky stuff…)

So, the celebratory Sacrificial Teacake.  With due ceremony, I looked at it meaningfully.

And considered waving fields of grain.  (And the fact that they have been so wetted out this summer, that lots of them are rotting in the fields, which is also true of lots of our potatoes and other veggies, and is a great shame – not to mention it will mean the prices go up yet further and we have to import more.  Also unfortunate for us.)

With Fluffhead looking on, and gleaming eyed, biting the head off his gingerbread man (there! - that’s the Wicker Man spirit, son!), I thanked Johnny Barleycorn in my head, for growing all year and then dying for me, so I could have a full belly of bread (hmmmmmmm, yes, you go and have a chicken and egg conversation with yourself about Christianity and vegetation gods in paganism).

I looked at the shiny topped teacake, all glazed with EGG (said ‘EGG!!’ – Fluffhead’s favourite food, and always asked for at a loud shouty exuberance).  I looked at the raisins and sultanas and thought of all the fruit of the countryside. All the sweet fruit, full of its goodness and vitamins.  (For some reason, I also had a flash of Nigella Lawson with her face covered in overly ripe avocado, from a programme of hers I caught for a few minutes once – I remember I thought it was a terrible waste of good avocado; they’re expensive, you know.  I’m sure they’re good for faces, but nonetheless…)

I cut up Johnny Barleycorn.  (And Fluffhead bit off his gingerbread form arms thoughtfully, still crying out: ‘EGG!  EGG!!’)

And there, buttered with finest generic Munch margarine, and washed down with Twinings peppermint tea, went the Sacrificial Teacake of Harvest.

When we got home, we had an apple too.  I kissed it, cut it in bits, and ate my half, with an attempt at solemnity that was a trifle stuffed by Fluffhead’s trying to feed his half to his Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker Doctor models; then grinding it into the carpet, forgotten, as he rushed off to kneel down with his toy combine harvester.  Pushing it up and down, up and down.  Up and down.  All over poor Patrick Troughton’s un-regenerated-head.

[1] I seem to be always in a state of having the entire house’s clothes, sheets etc on my desk in my room in massive messy ut of the dryer or off the line pile, ready to fold up.  Why??  Why is there always the same amount, when I definitely spend much of my precious incarnation here FOLDING AND PUTTING IT AWAY????????????)
[2] Yes, I know, I talk rambly crap here, so am ensconced in an unfeasible glasshouse.  I know, I know…