Tuesday 18 June 2024

Fluttering by: Nairn BAF 2024

 
A flutter of wings

schools workshops, 

Nairn Arts Festival 2024


Environmental prediction: 

in the first week of September, 

there will be an explosion of unlikely invertebrates 

in the schools of Nairn
 


Bats and badgers,
gnats and gadflies,
waterboat men,
Wake up for the greatest day of all.
Ants and dormice
open your eyes
mobilize now!
get yourselves together for the feast and for the ball

"Get Ready", from The Butterfly Ball by Roger Glover


Nairn Book and Arts Festival

Festival dates: 31st August - 8th September 2024

School workshops: 2 - 6th September

Celebration: Sunday 8th September

 

Celebrating the diversity, vibrancy, importance and simple wonder of the smaller inhabitants of the area, schoolchildren will be talking about, thinking about, composing poems about and making butterflies, beetles and bugs, ladybirds, moths and earthworms. I am anticipating spiders and centipedes and possibly rainbow snails.

 


ants' nest hat

We can't be sure just what will appear as while I bring ideas and techniques, stories to hear, models to look at and pictures to work from, the final appearance of what we make will be up to our groups. There will be crowns (butterfly? bumblebee queens?). There may be ants' nests built on people's heads. There may be masks to give us beetle children or spider siblings

 




butterfly crown details

What we can be sure of is the sheer enthusiasm of those Nairn schoolchildren and the imagination and dexterity that goes into their work

 

And all in a moment, the Millbank Tree changed,

Growing apples instead of cakes,

Spreading shade instead of danger

Becoming a friend instead of a foe.

Now, The Millbank Tree grows in the school garden

And gives its apples for sunshine, raindrops and smiles

Millbank Primary School, tree poem, 2022

 

All of this then contributes to a parade on the final day of the festival where our swarm of assorted creatures will creep, crawl, flutter, slither and, most of all, dance behind a samba band while following stilt-walking Insect Monarchs from Fly Agaric Arts. We might manage a full-scale Butterfly Ball but we'll certainly have an Invertebrate Party! The parade will end with an afternoon of stories, activities and bee-friendly garden information
 



Insect mask

VOLUNTEERS WANTED

If you would like to help, I am hoping to gather a few volunteers who might help on one or more of the school days  (2 - 6th September 2024) and/or at the final parade (8th September)

 

While I lead activities, it is always good to have extra hands to help with twiddly bits and with extra knowledge about wildlife, or conservation, or wriggling like a millipede!

 

Ideally you will have a Disclosure Scotland basic certificate

 

If you'd like to be involved, drop me an email and we'll sort something out!

Email: creepingtoad@btinternet.com

Wednesday 29 May 2024

Reflections and rotting leaves


 Reflections and Rotting Leaves


It was raining. I sat beside the pond in Gadley Woods and gave up trying to count the raindrops. The pond’s surface is a gray mirror, reflecting precise images. But the water. The water smells. Peering in, it holds little promise for me but that mandarin duck clearly approves, marshalling her double brood - or maybe she is baby-sitting someone else’s – with harsh rattling calls. There are two sizes of ducklings and about 16 in total. I’m impressed: well-behaved children. At my arrival she calls them from across the pond, hectic clockwork toys hurtling across the surface.

 

Other pond moments rise like bloodworms wriggling…..no frogs here, nor tadpoles nor newts. No fish to eat those mosquito larva. But stories wait in those rotting leaves, in the dark water, in the perfect reflections….


A while ago a group of us gathered pond images, our own stories of digging ponds, building ponds, watching ponds...these became the film with the link below

 




When you dig a pond and a robin helps you, watching and picking and taking the worms…when you start again and dig a pond and it fills with water, the first frog that jumps in sends ripples racing across the water. Every ripple is a consequence

 

A kingfisher on a branch watches, measures,

knows the frog is too big for her.

A heron comes, angular, long toes in soft earth,

A heron who will hunt the frog

The air above the pond becomes a territory of dragonflies,

Swallows dig mud from the bank for their nests and in the evening

Bats hawk over the open water in the hope of an early hatching




many thanks to all my pond-y friends and to

the wonderful Buxton Museum and Art Gallery 

for setting the whole thing up in the first place!

Tuesday 28 May 2024

on Lindow Moss

 on Lindow Moss

poems and puppets from a workshop at Wilmslow Library as part of the Discover Lindow Festival

 

Wandering on Lindow where the Common meets the Moss, where tree gives way to peat, where canopy becomes open sky, we look around and see

 


Beautiful, a butterfly like a bird, flies

Under the tree, knowing it is

Time for dinner, flying through

Tree trunks, like an

Elephant's loopy trunk, and there -

Rabbits ahoy!

Flying low, looking for flowers,

Leaves all around, but one flower bright as a

Yellow banana

 

and we enjoy the butterfly's seeking flight, fluttering through the trees and out onto the grass

 



Rabbits run from the Fox,

All the way to the field

Bouncing to a hole

But bouncing over the hole

In and out, dodging, dashing, running,

Trying to survive

 

We watch the rabbits run, trying to tell them that we are not foxes, not dangers but friends. They do not listen. Then, on a stone, warmed by the sun and dreaming quiet, reptile dreams,  we find a wonder, a rare and marvellous moment

 

Sliding through the forest,

Never stopping hunting,
Always catching prey,

Killing with his fangs,

Everyone runs away.

 

Or so they say! We don't run. We watch! How beautiful is the adder on his stone.

 

A shadow flickers over the grass and makes us look up

 



Speedning and darting,

Powerful predator,

Acrobatic.

Run!

Run!

Out come the talons,

Woe to the prey.

Handsome carnivore,

Amazingly quick,

Watching for prey, before the

Kill!

 

And quietly, we walk back to the path and our everyday world.  We head home knowing that there is a wonderful, wild world there, just over there, past the fence, through the gate, on the edge of our safe human world.

 

With many thanks to the Discover Lindow team 

and the wonderful folk at Wilmslow Library

But most of all to our team of young poets and puppeteers




Saturday 18 May 2024

Witches, snow and wonderful creatures!



Waiting for the Snow and Baba Yaga: tales of an old witch
New Books from Gordon MacLellan


Where would you hide a witch?

Where would you hide THIS witch?

Because when the witch in question is magnificent, ancient and flies through the old woods of the world in a mortar, rowing herself along the winds with pestle, and when her house is likely to wander off on its own and play with the capercaille in the shadows...hiding isn't really the idea....

 

Anyway, I've got two new books out now. One ( small spellbook of a booklet) is about Baba Yaga, that wonderful old witch who challenges, tricks, confronts and transforms just about anyone who survives the encounter (and if you don't, never mind, your long bones and skull will feature in the Yaga's garden fence!). The other book is gentler (perhaps). Waiting for the Snow is a new collection of recent poems of mine

 

From the cold stillness of a woodland in winter, to the wonder of bluebells, the perils of still water and the richness of orchards, Waiting for the Snow invites a different connection to the world around us.

Look outward, walk on the riverbank with open eyes and a willing heart. Turn inward and step carefully around the cracks in the pavement. There are mysteries here as well, watchful shadows lurking. Threatening, they still hold their own promise and the possibility of change.

Step out. Step away from the familiar and let Waiting draw you into a world of enchantments.

 

In Waiting you will find charms from birch trees and the wild frolics of the Birken Hoss. There are quiet reflections among bluebells and a dark, cold brooding menace that sits behind the Arctic nights. One of my personal favourites is Vigil that grew out of regular visits to the windswept, story-shrouded hilltop of Fin Cop here in the Peak District

 

BUYING COPIES (yes, please do!)

LINKS TO SALES ON EBAY:

Baba Yaga: tales of an old witch

 12 pages, 80cm x 150cm


Waiting for the Snow, 40 pages, A5 sized


If you would like a full set of recent books: Baba Yaga, Waiting... and Sacred Animals, message me directly and I'll send payment details and post the set to you directly


There is also a set of colourful postcards for sale if you want that extra touch of something tree-ish to send a friend or convince a foe that you're really a very nice (if rather leafy) Person....  


Hide a witch,

Inside a house,

Inside a wood,

Inside a beck,

Inside a bog,

Inside a crag,

Inside a world,

Inside a doll.

 

 

Thursday 2 May 2024

Cathedral Reflections

Cathedral reflections

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall

Malmesbury abbey

I have been asking myself why I find myself attracted to old churches and cathedrals, especially cathedrals. When visiting a new city, or returning to one I know well, sooner or later, I’ll need to check out a cathedral or two.


Is this an unguessed hidden desire for conversion? Don’t think so.

Or perhaps a challenge, an infiltration….again,no. I don’t (often) find myself cackling in old hag triumph.

 

Is it because both large cathedrals and smaller churches feel like very planned temple-caves…Ah, now there is a thought: entering great vaulted chambers of stone. The Mines of Moria, perhaps, or the Chambers of Erebor? The Hall of the Mountain King. Walking through stone forests. Castles also have that sense of a stone space and they exercise their own fascination for me but they hold a degree of intentional violence that can be off-putting. Of course, cathedral histories are rarely sedate themselves, but their initial intentions were perhaps less combative.


Partly, it is the atmosphere. The silence and the ability of a cathedral to swallow the noise of a group of excited tourists, say, without that distracting from the overall experience. And these places hold stories, personal stories: of campaigners, heroes, villains. Of the noble couple with their dogs asleep at their carved feet. Of the martyred saint. Of the lost explorer. Here their stories wait among their named stones: no judgement, just stories to read. To hear. There are bigger stories, too, bound into the stones with holes from musket shot in walls, with the legacy of competitive chapel building, with penances bought, prayers sold. Windows tell their own stories: biblical subjects and in their construction, there are tales of rivalries and changing technologies, replacements rallying communities, the glory of colour spilling into the heart of the cave.

St Magnus Cathedral,
Kirkwall


I come back again to silence and reflection. These are places where people gave thought to issues wider and deeper than themselves and the everyday issues of survival. Here they communed, commune, with their connection to the infinite. I may not agree with a lot of the conclusions they reached in such consideration: I have spent a lot of my life as someone who would not be approved of, generously forgiven perhaps, if I came creeping back, but the proud awareness of who, and what, and how, I am would not have been welcomed. Still wouldn’t be for some of these people around me as I wander. I know others wouldn’t care but I have a long memory and carry a legacy of accumulated damnations with me.

 

St Magnus Cathedral,
Kirkwall


But here I can sit and settle into that contemplative silence, can feel old stone shaped with love and skill. I can hear footsteps whispering on stone floors worn smooth by centuries. Here I can appreciate someone else’s wonder and find a connection to my own.

 

As I was writing this, I also spent some time at the Stones of Stenness on Mainland, Orkney. There birdsong falls like rain. There, there is a different connection. There, there is still silence, lying behind the showers of song. Here, being with the Stones is like meeting old friends and the greatest feeling is joy.

 

Stones of Stenness, Orkney

 



CATHEDRAL

 

St Olaf, St Magnus Cathedral,
Kirkwall

They built a ship,

A tall ship of stone,

To sail our souls in,

With a crew of carved and painted saints

To set it on its way.

 

If I had a soul,

That ship could have brought me to pray,

With its power and grace,

But we are the soul-less, my kind and I,

The doors of Paradise closed to us,

You tell us.

Unwanted, unrepentant, disturbing,

The Fallen, the Doomed, the Damned.

 

The wind that fills your ship is song,

And those songs rise,

Bright birds flying,

Soaring,

To be trapped

Against the rafters and the slates,

 

But we are spirit,                                                              

And sing as spirit, not soul,

And the west calls us

To islands in the wide seas,

And a sunset beyond the edge of the world.

We leave these sinking ships

Behind.


 

This poem was inspired by St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall. Originally, it also grew out of a conversation in the hollow hills of Orkney’s chambered tombs but while the second voice began in faerie it could just as easily be me talking as the human that I am