Monday, 18 January 2021

Old cards, new scenes: an activity for rainy winter days


 Old cards and new scenes
a festive activity for a rainy winter season




Having a bit of a fidget?
Nothing to do?
Bored?
And it’s raining again?

Why not dig out some old greetings cards from the bundle at the bottom of the cupboard, or stealthily purloin one of last year’s Christmas cards, or the birthday cards you don’t quite want to throw out, or use a cereal packet (good card for making and folding, just maybe not as exciting in images as cards)

Make a little winter a scene to hang on a tree, a branch, a hook on the wall to stand on a shelf, or make a box to put that extra special present  

 (or maybe just the key that makes it go) in


We call these storyboxes as they almost always seem to end up encouraging little stories…

  • of Santa’s Present Dog who runs away with gifts and ties to eat them,
  • of the owl who had hiccups
  • of the hare who could run faster than even the wind and ended up running across the sky and was lost in the stars

Instead of reading the guide below, you might prefer to watch a short film....







You will need: 

a card or two

sharp scissors

a ruler, pencils or pens

glue (PVA is good here) and glue spreader

stapler or paper clips

bradawl (or something for making holes – a pair of compasses would work) 

a small lump of modelling clay

thin string


1. Cut the card in half along the fold – keep the “plain” half, you will need it later




2. Using the picture half of the card, on the reverse, draw a margin maybe 2 cm from each edge of the card



3. Where the lines cross at the corners, carefully cut along one of those lines to the point where the lines meet (we cut the scribbled lines)

Before you fold the box into shape, 

  • you could make two holes in the top side of the box for some string (easier when everything is still flat). Sit the spot where you want to make a hole on the modelling clay and pierce with the bradawl or compasses point
  • If you might want a branch reaching across the top part of the box (or maybe a flying reindeer) use a craft knife to make a careful slit where you would like a branch to go

 




4. This card usually folds quite sharply, so now (use the ruler for a straight edge if you want to) fold up along each of those lines and where you have cut in, fold the short bit to make a corner





5. Before glueing it all together, decide: if you are making a scene, keep the picture on the inside of the box. If you are making a box: you might want the picture inside or on the outside (you could always line the inside with some spare wrapping paper, or make a bigger box to become a lid.). Reverse the folding if you want to change the position of the picture


6. Making sure the sides of your box are sharply upright, glue the corner tabs onto the next side. A staple will hold it all in place. If the outside is too plain, you could colour it in or add some coloured tape. Or sprinkle it with glitter!

Glitter: plastic glitter is one of the ongoing irritations and challenges of an environmentally responsible life. There is however biodegradable glitter available (and other glitters are sold as edible) ...go hunting for some




7.
 While the glue dries, prepare the scene to go in the box. Using the other piece of card (from stage 1 above), you could make a little tab to fix a figure to (we used some “embellishments” bought cheaply in a local craft shop), or you could draw your own character. Fix by glueing the tabs into the main scene. Again a staple might help. You might want to colour the tab so it fits into the background of the scenes. Some extra glitter might help again.


A branch can be pushed into place through the slit you made in #3 above and a tab glued into place on the outside of the box


Think about what is going into your scene: could the pieces and the picture become a story?



8. Thread a piece of glittery string or ribbon through the holes, knot it and hang your scene.


Experiment with papers, colours, tapes, sequins. 

Try different places to hang them: from your ears? on your fingers (and create a fabulous dance around them)? a snowman’s nose?






Send us a picture and

we’ll post a gallery of scenes!




Thursday, 31 December 2020

Elder Tree story on film

 

When the Elder Tree Laughs

- of ancient faeries and troublesome witches


We woke with a rustling rhythm
A stamped percussion,
The rattling beat of twigs on bark.
We woke, 
Dancing!





Creswell Crags on the eastern edge of Derbyshire holds some of the most significant prehistoric cave dwellings in the UK. Here Neanderthals lived. Here early Homo sapiens carved and drew and etched into bone. Here mammoths walked and reindeer ran and wolves waited.


And here sometime a few centuries later, people carved witch marks into walls and slabs and hoped they could keep some wickedness away. Or maybe not. The witch marks are there: the biggest collection of such marks in the country. Usually found in ones and twos in homes, on lintels and thresholds, a symbol to keep the house safe. Here there are hundreds, piled on top of each other: line and cross and curve, the Virgin Mary invoked through letters, a prayer against danger


A line beside a line beside a line

Strike the line and strike and strike.

Each line a blow, a beat, a bolt,

This line is an arrow, a knife to cut a witch’s flesh.


With the witch marks as a theme and with the dwindled numbers of visitors this year, the Crags organised a weekend of digital events: the Creswell Crags Midwinter Festival of Folklore. 


This piece of mine featured in that Festival but now is available on the Creeping Toad youtube pages. The Festival and its features were free to watch but there is a JustGiving page and if you enjoy our little poem you might like to  a) go to the Crags vimeo page and see which festival films are still on there and b) after enjoying all of that richness, go to the JustGiving page and, well, just give!


"When the Elder Tree Laughs" weaves the spirits of landscapes together with scared people carving witchmarks and the wild witches who don’t really care about marks, the power of prayer or people invoking Mary. Read by myself and a cast of nine other people, we invite you to make a hot drink, find a biscuit or a mince pie or three and settle down for a 20 minute tea break and an adventure into mystery and the bitter taste of ancient anger 


With many thanks:

  • to Creswell Crags for the inspiration
  • To the cast for their voices and enthusiasm: Susan Cross, Jo Crow, Woody Fox, Lou Hart, Annie Lord, Sarah Males, Peter Phillipson, Philippa Tipper, Gillian Wright
  • to Ruth Evans for permission to use her beautiful painting in the film!




Thursday, 17 December 2020

Old voices from an earlier day

 


Elder, birch and willow

old voices from an earlier day

https://www.creswell-crags.org.uk/2020/12/17/creswell-crags-online-midwinter-festival-of-folklore-programme-now-live/



We woke with a rustling rhythm

A stamped percussion,

The rattling beat of twigs on bark.

We woke, 

Dancing*



Creswell Crags on the eastern edge of Derbyshire holds some of the most significant prehistoric cave dwellings in the UK. Here, Neanderthals lived. Here, early Homo sapiens carved and drew and etched into bone. Here, mammoths walked and reindeer ran and wolves waited.



And here, sometime a few tens of centuries later, people carved witch marks into walls and slabs and hoped they could keep some wickedness away. Or maybe not. The witch marks are there: the biggest collection of such marks in the country. Usually found in ones and twos in homes, on lintels and thresholds, a symbol to keep the house safe. Here there are hundreds, piled on top of each other: line and cross and curve, the Virgin Mary invoked through letters, a prayer against danger


A line beside a line beside a line

Strike the line and strike and strike.

Each line a blow, a beat, a bolt,

This line is an arrow, a knife to cut a witch’s flesh.


With the witch marks as a theme and with the dwindled numbers of visitors this year, the Crags have organised a weekend of digital events: the Creswell Crags Midwinter Festival of Folklore

Starting tomorrow (18th December) through to the Solstice, Monday 21st,  there is a programme of storyteller and musicians. There will be learned talks and discussions about gaming. The Whitby Krampus Run are (I hope) unleashing a Krampus or two upon our screens. And if you don’t know what or who Krampus is, drop in and discover!


Festival programme to download







I am “on” twice: Friday 18th, 3pm and Saturday 19th 11am. From me there is a story-poem weaving the spirits of landscapes together with scared people carving witchmarks and the wild witches who don’t really care about marks and Mary. Read by myself and a cast of eight other people, we invite you to make a hot drink, find a biscuit or a mince pie or three and settle down for a 20 minute tea break and an adventure into mystery and the bitter taste of ancient anger 


The events are free but as this is a fund-raiser for the caves there is a Just Giving page so why not give the cost of an evening ticket somewhere for a whole weekend of entertainment!


Details:

to join the festival:

https://www.creswell-crags.org.uk/2020/12/17/creswell-crags-online-midwinter-festival-of-folklore-programme-now-live/


Just giving page: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/CreswellCragsFolkloreFestival2020


Enjoy!

Photos: 

  • birch leaves: Gordon MacLellan
  • witch marks c Paul Bahn (from Creswell main website)
  • pool and morning mist: Adam Nardell
* Poem pieces are from my story poem "When the Elder Tree Laughs" which is my contribution to the festival....


Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Dreams of lost toads

 Lost Toads
Remembrance Day for Lost Species, 2020



It was cold. I sat and thought about the toads I know and love, of toads that have gone: the beautiful Golden Toad (Incilius periglenes, last seen 1989) of central America, of frogs so imperilled there may be only 1 or 2 individuals left (Hula painted Frog, Discoglossus nigriventer), of Mountain Chickens, (Leptodactylus fallax) wonderful, delightful and with their diminishing populations now being ravaged by chytrid fungus infections*


It was cold. I thought about what I already do, what could I do more of? What projects I could support, where a pair of wellies, a bucket and willing hands and might help


It was cold. I found my own stillness and thought of hibernation, of damp, patient lovelinesses folded into a deep, dreaming (?), sleep. Do toads dream? Who knows? But they have an ancient lineage to dream about


This was my Remembrance Day for Lost Species evening. A group of us had been planning a Creative Day to mark the occasion: gathering in the hills here to talk and draw and paint and plan. But no. Instead, I was here, human alone but in good amphibian company and it was cold. So I gathered so amphibians from the shelves, spread out some sheets of black paper, grabbed a handful of oil pastels, pens and scraps of paper and started to doodle



A HEART FULL OF TOADS



Sleeping.

Hiding the jewels of our eyes,

In the gravelled mud of our skins.

Sleeping,

A long slow slumber in the welcoming dark.

Sleeping, 

Still as stone, still as death,

Still as the shadows we are wrapped in.

Sleeping,

To dream of passion and ponds and

Spawn in a Toad Queen’s necklace in the weed.


And you, traveller in a toad’s dream,

What do you bring to the lost people

Of the hills?


I will rest beside you,

I will stand between you and harm,

I will sing your wonders to an unheeding world.

And come the spring when you wake,

And this world contrives to trap you,

Contain you, confine you, restrain you,

Hinder you, thwart you,

Block the pull of the home pond

With walls, with channels, with concrete and hostility



I will be and

I will rally,

The hands that lift,

The boots that wade,

The buckets that carry,

The hearts that smile,

And help you to the bliss,

Of the cold, dark water,

And the family that thrills,

Raising wonder to the skies.


For Toad is always there,

Inside me, beside me.

Connection,

Comfort, Inspiration,

Companion.


Cousin.




A bit of background

Remembrance Day for Lost Species, November 30th, is a chance each year to explore the stories of extinct and critically endangered species, cultures, lifeways, and ecological communities. 

Whilst emphasising that these losses are rooted in violent and discriminatory governing practices, the day provides an opportunity for participants to make or renew commitments to all who remain, and to develop creative and practical solutions. 

Remembrance Day for Lost Species honours diverse experiences and practices associated with enduring and witnessing the loss of cultural and biological diversity. 

(Information from RDLS website)


Useful links

* Robin Moore: In Search of Lost Frogs, Bloomsbury, 2014 – a book for inspiration and sorrow

Action: visit FROGLIFE  for amphibian and reptile related conservation in UK

Immediate action: why not buy a friend or treat yourself to a copy of the Froglife Toad print (limited edition so get in quick!)


Toads On roads: add you feet, wellies, buckets and best wishes to the toads on Roads scheme


For amphibians there is also

Save the Frog Day


But RDLS reaches out without an amphibian emphasis (that is my personal stuff) so visi them for ideas and maybe look at  the Loving Earth Project and CelebrationEarth! for ideas (Loving) and people who will celebrate emotional and spiritual responses to nature as well as practical ones (CE!)


Images:

First three images: c G MacLellan

Magnificent footnote toad: C K Taylor





Saturday, 21 November 2020

Reflections on a departure

 


Reflections

Kilkerran Cemetery, Campbeltown
10th November 2020




It was raining as I walked along the sea front to the cemetery, replaying old conversations in my head. It was raining and the seals were singing. They were down on the rocks were the tide was ebbing, their voices echoing across the bay, a strange choir keening a farewell. I stood while the rain dribbled down my neck, trying to record the wonder on my phone. Campbeltown Loch (O, don’t say it! Avoid the song!), Davaar island with its treacherous causeway and a painted Christ in a cave and behind me now, Kilkerran Cemetery.


 The cemetery itself is a delight, a treasury of rusting rails and stone-built chambers, ivy-wrapped and ancient. Modern headstones in marble shine gold letters against dark stone and stand very straight while the others generally list a little. Graveyards are libraries full of stories written in books that often only families can open but whose title themes leap off their stone covers. The children who died so young. The whole family. That distinctly Scottish respect that buries married women under their maiden names. Soldiers. Strangers. Here in this town, sailors. The drowned, a repeating tale, suggested in stone.







Who planted, who brought, a eucalyptus here? Campbeltown is a sheltered pocket. Palm trees and tree ferns survive in this northern hollow and the incongruous gum tree lifts elegant curves over a cluster of graves that don’t seem to connect to its story. It is a beautiful place, even in the drizzle. A good place to sit and wait and continue remembering. But the seals are singing and the gates open.



There was a space for you beside your parents, Grandpa who I just remembered and Granny who was a knitting presence right through to university days. I’ve still got an Arran jumper she knitted. Threadbare now and too small but a link to be treasured. The minister is speaking. He knew you, Auntie Mary. He lives in Campbeltown: how could he not know you? But really, he did. He knew what you were like. I hear your smile in his words. Your voice behind his. I remember.


After all these years, after my whole life, of knowing you, it was only in these last few years that I felt I understood you. You took all my father’s confusion and occasional hostility in that last year in your stride, adjusting, correcting gently or letting it go. Knowing the levels of alcohol, appreciating the pain, pushing a little, nagging a bit, being a good sibling and laughing. That laughter reminded me of other laughters over the years: walking along a beach (always with a headscarf – you, not me, I’ve not gone there yet) - and a stoop.A flask  and a deckchair at Southend Beach, cheerfully wrapped against the endless wind while we found treasures (gulls’ feathers, shells, red stones) and shouted. A careful manner. Knowing everyone it seemed as we walked through town, knowing the genealogies, identifying cousins and sort-of cousins and people whose easiest description is cousin. Here is where, and there is where. Where, and do you remember, well, no, you wouldn’t but I can tell you that once….


Family: Marion Hutchison (photo left) and Mary MacLellan either side of Jean MacLellan (our Mum) with Iain, our Dad, behind, Southend, 1956



You were one of the few anchors in that final year. As his understanding of life around him faltered, as he submerged his grief at our mother’s death in alcohol, for my father you were a constant. Big sister, you were a thread he could hold onto, one that ran back into - or maybe ran forward out of – happier times. His weekly conversations with his big sister reminded him of other things and unravelled anecdotes. The Gaelic choir. Grandpa. A bold young lad. Fishing. Or that bold young lad again, running to the top of Beinn Ghuilean. Away from that rush of memories, we got old grudges: big sister, little brother complaints from 60, 70, 80 years ago. He grumbled and complained but when you called, he sparkled. He always knew who you were, even when we, his children, were a confusion (which son is here now? Where are his children? Is the dog downstairs? I have no children and no dog. The other brothers do) or when we all became Duncan towards the end of it all. But you, you were always Mary and he always knew who you were.


We did, too. I did. You might have ventured out on holidays and expeditions to Glasgow and Stirling for the shopping (an annual treat) but Campbeltown was home, was always home, and here, there, you were one of my constants, too.


As we cousins walked away from your grave, we reflected that with your departure, the last of our parents’ generation, now, we are the auld yins. We number parents and aunts and uncles. The first grandparent badges are being worn. But, I reflected, I am very like you, Mary. I travel, I’m nomadic, but when I settle, I do anchor to a place. Like you, I’m a persistent spinster (or bachelor, maybe). To many of several younger generations, I am already Auntie Toad and now I wonder if I’m on my way to being our Auntie Mary. It would be an honour to sit in that space (I do flasks, but tend to sit on the ground, on sand, on rocks). If I’m earning an Auntie Mary badge, I hope I can hold it with as much humour and grace and quiet generosity of spirit as yourself.



FUNERAL INTIMATION 

MacLELLAN 

Peacefully at the Campbeltown Hospital, on the 3rd of November 2020,
MARY MacLELLAN in her 95th year, 6 Mill Road, Campbeltown, dearly beloved daughter of the late Eddie and Marion MacLellan and a much loved sister and aunt. 

Funeral Service Private in line with current government guidelines. 

Sunday, 11 October 2020

the Goddess of the Waters

 

As long as waters run

The hills relaxed long shoulders as the weight lifted.

And She woke as the ice melted,

 


I am writing this blog while on Orkney. Writing about Buxton’s waters on these rainswept islands feels a bit strange. Here the water tells its stories with wild seas and racing tides, through white swans settling on shimmering lochs and the deep, heaving movement of waves in sea-caves. Buxton’s water runs quieter, through limestone caves, in seasonal courses through the dales. Buxton water tells its stories in moorland seeps and springs, in quiet pools and clear rivers where trout quiver against the stream and dippers bob on stones.

 

But there are holy wells in both places: stone-lined, stone-capped, places of power, of reverence and of good clean water. Here on Orkney those wells reveal strange depths, chamber under chamber like man-made caves under the fields (look at Mine Howe and the well at the Broch of Gurness) while in Buxton our wells connect us to our own limestone caves and we can still step into that subterranean mystery and rest in the dark where a flickering candle reflects off cold cave water.

 


Water runs through Buxton, in rivers through the town, in ancient wells, mostly stopped and lost now, in the history of the town. From Aquae Arnemetiae itself (Waters of the Goddess Arnemetia: the Roman name for the town) to the 18th and 19th Century taking of the waters and remedial baths, to today and Nestlé bottling Buxton water and shipping it round the world while the Crescent Hotel reopens offering spa treatments and access to the ancient waters that it stands over (but also drop into the Pump House Visitor Centre or the Cavendish Arcade for a sense of what taking the waters might have been like).

 

Cross my palm with silver, lady,

Cross my palm with copper,

Cross my heart with happiness

And I’ll share this water with you.

 

There is a story there about our relationship with water that runs back ‘way before a Roman town to lost Neolithic settlements and a temple reportedly just there. The ruins of a Roman temple were, of course, over there, on The Slopes, until the 18th century at least. We instantly become part of that ancient story: the water that we sip from St Ann’s Well in the centre of town has taken some 5,000 years to percolate through the hills and seep through limestone layers to run out into our palms and cups and thirsty bottles. We drink Neolithic rain.

 

Film: As long as waters run

 

 
 
 


 

That story, that continuity lies within the next of my Buxton Museumand Art Gallery story-films. Arnemetia, the Romans called her, Arnemecta she was before that to the local Britons, something else again to older peoples…..Did she quietly persist, goddess or temple guard or the old woman who dipped a cup of water for you from the wells so you did not muddy your ground-sweeping crinoline? Is she still here? The spirit of the waters, watching her wells…so that for us stopping by St Anne’s Well or walking through Poole’s Cavern or even finding Dale Head on Axe Edge we touch a lineage that runs unbroken through thousands of years of people living here in these hills. A treasure based not on gold and jewels but on life and those life-giving waters and a reminder of our connection to and debt to these hills and their waters

 

Reflecting that same legacy of waters, we have several watery films in the museum collection.

There is As long as waters run, above.

 

There is also:

 The Magic of Water by Aidan Rhode

 



 


And then there is the memories of water project that you could add your own thoughts to...