Saturday, 16 May 2020

Defiant dandelions

Defiant dandelions

ivy-leaved toadflax carries its own stories

But mark yon small green blade, your stones between,
The single spy
Of that uncounted host you have outcast;
For with their tiny pennons waving green
They shall storm your streets at last.

FL Lucas, Beleaguered Cities (1)

you never know who might be watching
Sometimes blog posts seem to expect you to live on the edge of wide, wild open spaces, or to have a garden that sprawls like a city park when a lot of us have a back yard perhaps, a scrap of lawn or a window and a view of next door’s curtains….

I posted this entry on the CelebrationEarth! blog last week but I felt wanted to add it here as well....A walk round the streets where I live shaped the entries and gave me the examples I used. These ideas belong in a Creeping Toad space as well as a CelebrationEarth! one!

To be outdoors is just that and if you live in a city or town, try giving yourself time to really look at the streets where you walk and look for the evidence of the wildlife that shares our cities and the histories that we often miss.

Some stories are well known, their characters often seen - or talked about: urban foxes,  returning peregrine celebrities (with attendant online webcam followings...), city park tawny owls, (no? just listen, they are more often there than we realise), everpresent rats. But there are more....

Look down: a weed is just a plant in a place where someone doesn’t want it….but plants can sneak in anywhere. So enjoy your weeds and maybe they’ll become heroes.They have determination and an ability to grow in the most unlikely places from gaps between bricks in chimney stacks to the smallest crumbs of dirt between paving slabs or cracks in old walls

Look it up: find, photograph and name if you can (ask on line, try talking to friends on social media, use a plant-app). Then find their stories: cities are warmer habitats than the surrounding lands and often harbour surprising escapes…..

Hogweed jungles in abandoned industrial estates in east London
Himalayan Balsam started popping seeds along urban canals. And spread.

Plants often carry surprising stories. Look for Sweet Cicely  (Myrrhis odorata) along roads, and tracks and canals and railway lines: a fragrant, aniseed-scented feather of green and froth of cream that arrived in this country with returning Crusaders – or might have been brought by the Romans, crush a leaf and sniff it …(2)

Look round the corner: keep walking, turn a corner; find a street you’ve never walked down, a snicket, a close*. Even small towns hold secret places: odd corners, tucked away alleys, hidden courtyards. No, don’t start marching up people’s drives and don’t put yourself in danger but do give yourself permission to be curious and to take the road not taken

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The Road Not Take, Robert Frost (1)

Look down: watch when tarmac changes to flagstones to cobbles. Start questioning: look for the oldest road surfaces in your area…what does it tell you. There is a claim (argued about, disputed and dismissed and endorsed all at the same time) that the cobbles in the lane behind the houses on the other side of my road are actually Roman. I don’t know if they are but I like standing there and seeing some legionaries marching past,  two small children and a rangy dog sloping off to the market….no, I haven’t been arrested yet

Look up: take in chimneys: their shapes, their height, their state of repair, their decorations of jackdaw nests.
Look up: take in gargoyles and carvings and gate posts.
Look up: take in saints on churches or the spaces where they once were, stained glass, family crests, insignia

Look out: for patterned grates in walls, for wrought iron gates, for the textured wood of an old doors

Look down and think of the words the bears who wait for you to step on the cracks might be saying…..

I want to say, stop. Take photos. Sketch pictures. Do wax and paper rubbings. You might be able to do all or any of those things but they all assume a certain level of safety and access to relevant places and resources. It’s up to you: stay safe and be respectful of other people’s homes and personal space!

But do bring this home, bring home memories and thoughts and ponderings, take time to research – street names, house names, that odd plant. Learn their stories. Enjoy the streets where you live. Remember your walks as memory maps

Treat yourself (if you haven't already), buy a nice notebook to keep a record of your discoveries in, some tasty pens, coloured pencils. Write, note, sketch, scribble, stick...enjoy. Try the Papersmiths online shop for some options....even better if some kind friend will buy you these as a Distancing Present...

O, and graveyards? In many urban areas, these are the most significant green space after city parks and maybe abandoned railway lines…we’ll come back to graveyards in another post soon

*I’m Scottish: a “close” -  a narrow passageway between two buildings. The closes in Ednburgh are famous long flights of narrow stairs up ad down the hills of the old town.

1. The Poetry Foundation has a wonderful archive of poems to explore.

2. There are many books and websites that will give you the stories that plants carry, but as a starting point try the book Flora Britannica by Richard Mabey, published by Sinclair-Stevenson, 1996 - reprinted in various formats since

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Toads? Really? Why?

A fascination of toads
"Why? Toads? I mean, Toads!"

a small toad crept through a forest of grass....

People often ask “so what is it with you and toads, anyway?”. Or words to that effect. My answers tend to wander partly because there are too many of them.

I might offer the childhood answer that draws from early, early memories (4 years old perhaps) and determinedly Going To The Pond and the ongoing excitement of heading home with a jar full of tadpoles. A simple excitement of tadpoles. Of their wriggling enthusiasm for life, their shape, their transformation. Then there are seasons of successes and failures before being confident about raising froglets and toadlets to release size….

That is all true.

So is the more scientific response. I’m a zoologist, an ecologist, and toads are fascinating. Their role within ecosystems is much subtler than just being steadfast predators who sit there and eat anything they can fit in their mouths. Their evolution is a success story of the underdog…they have crept, hopped, and slithered their way past dinosaurs and extinctions and ice ages. They have worked with their biologies so that, yes, most are bound to water and the spilling of spawn, but others can thrive in deserts, others can give birth to live young. They have explored ways of raising offspring that makes mammalian systems look positively unimaginative. Incubate eggs in your stomach. Embed eggs in a parent’s back. Wrap them in strings round your back legs and carry them. Stuff them into a pouch on your back. Lay them in a foam nest above the water the tadpoles will drop into. Lay them in a deep tunnel. Withhold them and let young salamanders slip out later. Or just explore toxicity in ways full of intrigue, hallucination and death. What amazing animals!

Then there is the response from my storyteller, folklorist side of enchanted frogs, of disenchanted
princes, of the Vietnamese Toad who confronted the Emperor of Heaven, gained rain and a voice to sing to the sky. There are toad charms for warts and jealousy and anger. There is the Toadman, the holder of the Horseman’s Word. There is Shakespeare, and woodcuts of witches’ familiars. There is the magic of the toadstone that sits inside a toad’s head (the rest of us just say, “look! The jewels in a toad’s head are those golden eyes that watch the world”).

All of those are also true.

There is a simple aesthetic reply. To me (at least), toads are beautiful. I love their lumpy shapes, their smiling faces. Those golden eyes. I love the lines of a frog and the precision of amphibian toes. The flickering flutter of a courting newt’s tail. Beautiful

Then there are deeper answers that don’t always make sense to other people and so are really the ones that matter most to me.

I am an animist. For me, the quality I call spirit is found throughout the world. We all sing in different voices but all sing with the same wonder. We are all connected, all related, both ecologically and spiritually. I have a toad totem. There is a connection between myself and toads (and other amphibians but toad most of all). There is a (metaphorical) toad who sits inside of me, whose presence completes me. Not because he/she/it provides qualities I lack particularly. Nor is it a connection based on calculated astrological balances and elemental wotsits. It isn’t that I have a Toad Guide or Higher Guardian Angelic Toad or something. It is simpler. Like deep friendships, it doesn’t really make sense. It just is. With toads, I am reminded of patience, of the value of just waiting, and watching, and judging the moment to strike. I am reminded of hidden treasures. Of the long stillness of winter dreaming. Of passion. All of which are things I know as a human, anyway, but maybe the toad-view adds a slightly different perspective. Totemic relationships don’t need to make sense to anyone else. They simply need to be.

I am a pagan animist. For me there are spirits who still walk this world and gods who watch and wait. And comment. And there is Grandmother Toad who is one of the Ancient Ones, who was here, waking underground, shaping herself into life from mud and gold when the trees dreamed of the First Forest and Raven’s wings beat the winds into life and woke all the world. Now, with the trees still dreaming of the First Forest, and Raven sweeping the sky with thunderwings, Grandmother Toad is one of the voices who speaks in the dark of the caves of our practice. She is Contemplation and Laughter and Compassion and the rock upon which you can break yourself. She watches. She smiles. She waits.

So, when I pick up a toad stranded in a ditch with nowhere to go, with a slow exhausted death after long hibernation ahead of it and an urgency calling it pondwards, all these answers move within me. I could try to explain it to you, standing there on the bank above me and asking “why are you doing that?” or I can just smile and invite you to pause, to look and recognise wonder in the little cousins who never give up.
From the top:
Small toad: c Ian MacLellan
Toad's eye: c Kenny Taylor 
Newt: c Shaun Walters
all the others: c G MacLellan

Friday, 10 April 2020

Story castles and wonder towers


build a place where adventures might happen....

This is one of a number of posts replacing activity sessions which we have had to cancel. Storycastles is a Creeping Toad event in conjunction with Buxton Museum and Art Gallery and Stone and Water. Based in Buxton in the Peak District, we all collaborate and support each other as we can, working closely with the Babbling Vagabonds and The Green Man Gallery. If you enjoy this activity, try visiting the others for more ideas!

Now, flex those imagination muscles, exercise your scissor fingers and your colouring thumbs and join us to build a castle, build a tower, build a landscape where adventures might happen….

You will need

  • ·      A piece of cardboard: A4 or A3 white is best but this will work with cereal packet card as well or anything that you can cut and roll without it cracking
  • ·      A piece of stiff card as a base
  • ·      Scissors
  • ·      Ruler
  • ·      Felt pens or colouring pencils
  • ·      Sharp scissors
  • ·      Small ball of modelling clay
  • ·      PVA glue
  • ·      Masking tape
  • ·      Craft knife and cutting mat
  • ·      A magazine with pictures to cut out, or tissue paper or wrapping paper
  • ·      Barbecue skewers (one for each puppet character you want)

Step 1. Getting ready
Use the ruler to draw a line maybe 2cm in from one of the long sides of the card (line 1). Take the rule in another 3 or 4 cm and draw another line (Line 2)

Step 2. Drawing the castle
Above Line 2 draw your castle: think of it as a castle unfolded so work your way right across the card. There might be towers and battlements, and another tower, and a hole made by a cannonball. There might be arched windows, a door, arrow slits. Use Line 2 as a guide and don’t draw the top of your building further down than that line. If you do, you might weaken the whole castle. Don’t draw below line 1 – that will be used for something else
(We’re writing as if you are making a castle. You don’t need to: you could make a palace, a strange wizard’s house, a mountain, a forest. The same techniques work for all of these!)

Step 3. Cutting out and colouring
Cut out the castle. Cutting out windows: you might recruit a grown up with a craft knife and a cutting mat, or if you sit your castle shape so the window you want to cut out is on top of that lump of modelling clay, you can safely push the pencil through the card and into the clay. Give the pencil a wiggle. This should give you a big enough hole to slide some small scissors in and then you can cut out the window yourself.
Colour the castle in: completely? Or just draw in stones and ivy and decoration? Up to you!
All done? No! add a little bit more! How about some glitter?

Step 4: all decorated and looking wonderful?

Now cut tabs along the lower edge of the castle, cutting up to Line 1. Do your cuts about 2 cm apart
Run some glue along one side of the castle, then roll the other side round so they just overlap. Carefully press into place. Maybe use a bit of masking tape to hold it together while the glue dries or staple it if you have a staple. Carefully, fold the tabs out so that your castle will stand on the table with its tabs spread out like little feet

Step 5. Stand that castle up!
Turn your castle upside down and put a small squidge of glue on each tab. Gently stand on the castle on the tough card. You might need to adjust things a bit so that it stands straight and proud. Then press the tabs down. More masking tape will hold them in place while the glue dries. Now, rather than having a castle standing in a muddy cardboard square, decorate the castle surround with scrap paper or torn up magazine pictures or whatever (we sometimes use green sponges for bushes, grey ones for stone). There might need to be a paper moat) draw your own crocodiles or piranha perhaps). Step back and admire! You have a castle!

Having a castle means you might need a story to tell. Use some of your left-over card (or find some more) to draw someone to send on an adventure. Stick them onto a barbecue skewer (if it is very sharp, you could snip the point off with a pair of scissors so it is less likely to stick in someone!)

We made an adventurous explorer. We added a dragon. Because this is an Easter activity this year, we thought our hero should go on a quest….They met a dragon. They found a treasure chest. A chest full of eggs! But are they chocolate eggs? Or do the hero and the dragon incubate the eggs to see who hatches out of them….

If you want some help with characters, there is a pdf attached(we hope! follow the characters link...let us know if nothing happens or it goes horribly wrong!) that you should be able to print out of explorer children and some castle people

Saturday, 4 April 2020


Clearing bookshelves

Hallo, everyone out there!
I’m trying to shuffle through my bookshelves and have the first of (hopefully) several batches of books up for grabs if anyone wants any of them!

There are two main sets of books here...
folktales and environmental education and art activity books
magical books

These are free to anyone although I would appreciate it if we could sort for you to pay postage!

Just let me know if any of the attached interest you. I’ll do it on a first come-first served basis

Either pm me or drop me an email:

Best wishes

Baker Douglas M
Astral projection
Aquarian 1977
Brennan, JH
Aquarian 1981
0 85030 275 7
Butler, WE
How to develop Psychometry
Aquarian 1983
0 85030 180 7
Butler, WE
How to develop Psychometry (2 copies)
Aquarian 1983
0 85030 180 7
Butler, WE
The Aura
Aquarian 1979
0 85030 179 3
Cavendish, R
 The Black Arts
Pan, 1967
0 330 02223 7
Clough, Nigel
Magic Mirros
Aquarian 1977
0 85030 129 7
Conway, D
MAgic, an occult primter
Mayflower 1972
582 12179 9
Crow WB
Occult Properties of herbs & plants
Aquarian 1980
0 85030 196 3
Miracles of the gods
Corgi 1981
0 552 10371 3
Drury, Neville
The occult experience
Hale, 1987
0 7090 2961 6
Fenton, Sash
Fortune telling by tarot cards
Aquarian 1985
Hansen, C
Witchcraft at Salem
Arrow 1971
 0 09 003910 6
Hirsch, P
Pyramid 1968
0 511 01833 060
Hope, Murry
Practical Greek Magiic
Aquarian 1985
0 85030 430X
Howard, Michael
Candle Burning
Aquarian 1977
0 85030 122X
Howard, Michael
Candle Burning ( 2 copies)
Aquarian 1977
0 85030 122X
Howard, Michael
The magic of the runes
Aquarian 1980
0 85030 233 1
Hunt, Douglas
Exploring the Occult
Pan, 1971
0 330 02648 8
Lee, D
Understanding the occult
Paperback Library 1969

Line, D & J
Fortune telling by runes
Aquarian 1984
Maple, E
The Domain of Devils
Pan, 1966
0 330 02231 8
Markham, Ursula
Fortune telling by crystals
Aquarian 1987
0 85030 510 1
White magic for lovers
Fontana 1973
0 00613351 7
Michelet, Jules
Satanism and Witchcraft
Tandem 1970
0 4260 4204 2
Montalban, MAdeline
The Tarot
Javelin 1986
0 7137 1784 x
Moss & Keeton
Encounters with the past (hypnotic regression)
Penguin 1981
0 1400 5587 8
Neilsen & Polansky
Pendulum Power
Excalibur 1984
Mystical Power of pyramid astrology
A Thomas 1978
0 85454 091 1
Pauwels & Bergier
The morning of the magician
Mayflower 1972
583 11970 0
Rendel, Peter
Introduction to the Chakras
Aquarian 1979
0 85030 161 0
Seth, R
 Witches and their craft
Tandem 1967
0 4260 4968 3
Seth, R
In the name of the devil
Arrow 1970
09 003040 0
Walters, Derek
Your future revealed by the Mah Jongg
Aquarian 1982
0 85030 290 0
Weaver, Graham
 A to Z of the occult
Everest 1975
0 903925 29 3

Barber, Chris
Ghosts of Wales
John Jones, 1979

Barker, Clive
Theatre Games
Methuen, 1977
Bennett and Taylor
Living Planet
TickTock 2006
Dearling & Armstrong
New Youth Arts & Crafts Book
Dearling, alan et al
Youth Action and the Envrionment
Russell House Publishing, 1997
All Our Futures, creativity, culture & education
Crown copyright 1999
1-84185 034 9
Dunne, John J
Irish Ghosts
Appletree, 1999

The complete juggler
Jugglebug, 1991
Grubb, et al
Earth Summit agreements (Rio, 1992)
Earthscan, 1993
Hough, Richard
You Can Save the Planet
A & C Black, 2007 (for The Guardian)
Howat, Polly
Tales of Old Cambridgeshire
Countryside, 1999

James, Henry
The Aspern Papers
Penguin Classics, 1994
Johnson, W.H.
Kent Stories of the Supernatural
Countryside, 2000

Mercier, 1987

Lynas, Mark
Carbon counter - calculate your carbon footprint
Collins Gem, 2007
CEE Youth Unit
Go For It Pack

Mabey, Richard
The Unofficial Countryside
Sphere, 1978
Maine, Sandy
The Soap Book, simple herbal recipes
Interweave, 1995
Morrison, Blake
songs of sacred places, children’s poetry in the year 2000
Sacred Land, 2000

Pike & Selby
 Reconnecting from National to Global Curriculum
WWF 1995
Pugh, Jane
Welsh ghosts and phantoms
Emeralda, 1979

Russell, James
How to turn your parents green
Tangent, 2007
Rutherford, Leo
Book of games and warm-ups for group leaders
Gale Centre Publications, 1994
Sinclair, David
Shades of Green, myth and muddle in the countryside
Paladin, 1991
Stott, Robin
The Ecology of Health, Schumacher briefings
Green Books, 2,000
Timberlake and Thomas
When the bough breaks: our children, our environment
Earthscan, 1990
Walker & Shioman
The Wisdom of Bones (in search of human origins)
 0 297 81670 5
Wood, B
Our world, God’s world: reflections for Advent and the Christmas Season on the environment
Bible Reading fellowship, 1986
Wyland, Creech & Balogh
Hold your water! 68 things you need to know to keep our planet blue
Andrews McMeel, 2006