Saturday, 29 August 2020

Becoming Your Own Troll

Becoming Your Own Troll

The St Mark’s Flies hatched late in this hot spring. Usually they can be relied upon to be turn up on their saint’s day: a fluttering black follow-up to St George’s destructive tendencies, appearing on 24th April with their blundering, drunken flight. While heat should encourage an early hatching, maybe it was also too dry. Certainly, sitting here on gritstone rocks looking own on the moss, I had missed the squelch it usually took to get here. The sense of an imminent wallow if I strayed into the boggy bits was gone and my wellies felt clumping and redundant. Sitting here now, a month later, at last, the flies were out with their bulging eyes (the males) and hairy legs, their feathered antennae (males again) and thick egg-bloated bodies (females), landing awkwardly and wearily on the pages of my notebook before dropping off the edge of a page and wandering away again.


Sleeping under heather and heath.

Inviting grouse to nest in the rich thickets of her hair,

Once a year, eyes of cloud and sky open,

As she rises from dreaming

To dance with her cousins of the Tors.



A beetle takes off from the prow of that notebook, a straight-line, don’t stop me, buzzing flight leading my eyes down and over shades of sand and fawn and green and darker green, grass and rush and moss with the heather somewhere between grey and green and mauve with just the first few frecklings of flowers.


Tussock, the Marsh Boggart

Hidden in the Moss

A clump of rush,

Of sedge and grass and stone,

Pebble eyes opening when you have squelched past,

A rustle and whisper and a slight drip,

Rising from the mud and the mools,

To follow you, to pause, to hide, to sink again,

To follow again.

Sparking marshfire from fingertips,

A lamp to light your way,

Homewards maybe.

Or swampbound.



It is good here in the edge of the ridge soaking in the cloud light and gleams of sunshine

Sit here long enough, quiet enough, casual enough and you become the stone as well and the bird on the next rock sings and a vole forages in the shadow of my stone self.


There are lots of small birds, keeping low, in the heather, among these tumbled tor-stones, in the willow scrub but this warmth of cloudy sky is empty. A single raven flew across earlier but there are no buzzards soaring now, no stray seagulls, no swifts. A summer sky empty of swallows


Gritstone skin on a stoneface troll, folded down, here, with grass in the creases of her joints and something scrabbling holes in a nostril. The ravens come and talk, a crow flies by on lazy wings, a curlew calls. Ever so rarely, a hen harrier will rest on a head-rock watching the moss for movement


I had been reading a chapter about old Norse mythology and a proposal that the beings we meet now as different types of creatures: Aesir, Vanir, Giants and Trolls originally were not seen as separate species but were more like tribes of the same basic lifeform and that was why Giants and Aesir (the gods) could so easily marry and why exchanges between them all were often so evenly matched. The piece went further, however, suggesting that even less than separate tribes, to be described as a Troll, in particular wasn’t because you were in some way troll-monstrous (and you were always very far from some vindictive 21st century digital grouch). To be a Troll was to be in a magical state, to be in a personal condition where you were either ready to, or were already, working enchantments. That quality of “trollness” could descend upon anyone and then they might be called entrolled and that possibly our “enthralled” comes from the same root where thrall was to be caught in that magical troll-state. It felt a bit tenuous, my memory probably changed the detail but I’m a storyteller, point me in a direction and let me go, or light my blue touchpaper and stand back….the thought of people becoming entrolled was enough…..


Stop talking and listen,

Stop listening and watch.

Stop watching and feel.

Stone is good.

The curve of a rock face,

The fern in the fold,

The lichen on the edge,

The moss,


Don’t think. Just look.

Don’t look, just feel.

Don’t feel, just be,

Touch it. Lean on it,

Lie down on it,

Be warmed by it,

Just be beside it until





I have been working on a project for Buxton Museum and Art Gallery. With funding the Arts Council England’s Emergency Fund, the Museum has commissioned work from a number of local artists*, inviting us to respond to both the current exhibition, Between Two Worlds, and to the current situation and offer ways in which the Museum could be a point around which the community turns, or be an agent standing as an organisation between two worlds, the world that was and the worlds that we might be becoming. My work is being turned into a series of story-poem films which we’ll start posting soon…but posts like this, my thinking, gathering, rambling posts, are appearing here…..


A wind blows round the edges of me,

Me, green as the grass,

Me, brown as the earth,

Bristling beech husks, that’s me

And the river runs through the hollow shape of me,

Here I stop.

Here I let go

Here I can be still.

Here I become my own troll.

* Wonderful people like

Martin Olsson

Sarah Males

Aidan Rhode

The Green Man Gallery

Caroline Chouler

and more....

Images: the scan is from one of my troll drawings...sorry it is so poor! Photos are from the landscapes around Buxton where I live


Some of my best friends are Trolls, and Boggarts, 

and  Beasties and Bits

Sunday, 9 August 2020

Dreaming of lemmings

Dreaming of lemmings

challenge and change with Buxton Museum

In Buxton Museum and Art Gallery throughout these distanced months there has been a fascinating exhibition. Built from material from the slowly dismantling “Derbyshire Schools Library Service” collection, “Between Two Worlds” holds a wonderful array of material from beautiful prints to dresses to Inuit carvings from cold northern lands. Everything here holds stories. There are the graceful evocative prints of Clifford Webb and then there is a small, sliver of elegance, carved on a cold night or maybe in one those endless summer days of an Inuit shaman changing into a bird. And, no, we haven’t been able to go and visit the Museum for months but gradually we’re heading for a reopening and meanwhile you could visit the Museum Blog and Youtube channel, read an article or try an activity


More telling than the pieces, are the terms used to curate the collection – not terms chosen by the museum, but words originally used to describe the people involved


“As you are, in fact, abnormal, I think it would be a good idea if you took up art” said Kyffin Williams’ Doctor. Williams had epilepsy. Williams’ work is stunning - striking landscape painting (go on, look him up)


The Museum, however, presents this work not as examples of the work of degenerates, the disabled, the displaced, Old Uncle Tom Cobbley And All (see below) but as statements of power, of creative strength and honesty, ways of telling the stories of people and cultures that stood, or still stand between at points of change where past and future offer possibilities, threats, challenges, cultures standing between two worlds. Working with an Arts Council England Emergency Response Fund grant, the Museum has also invited a whole bundle of local artists to respond to a challenge from the Museum


“We want people to say “Do you remember in 2020? We learnt to do this from the museum website; the museum made us smile; they helped our business to win through… it was brilliant… the museum an influential supporter, a change maker”. “ Brief to artists, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery


I’m a storyteller and poet and a creator of events…for me the museum’s challenge is resolving into a fusion between the Between Two Worlds exhibition and the stories it holds and the world we have found ourselves living in now….this is by way of a starting point post/ Other artists have gone down different paths. We didn't have to use this exhibition but for me...there were carved bones, how could I not?


I like looking at things.

I like feeling into unexpected connections.  

I like carvings, things to hold, to handle, to speculate over…

For me, the museum is helping me ask questions of myself and of the people around me: might not make us smile but might help us ask challenging questions about ourselves and the opportunities that might comes out this disturbed summer


Displaced, we are,

Disabled ,they labelled us.

Imprisoned, depressed, degenerate

All of that, that’s us!

Tolerated sometimes.

Persecuted at others.

Revived by the strength of our hearts.

Challenged, that’s us too.

Challenging: insiders, outsiders

Strangers or friends,

We remember who we are.


We all need to remember who we are, not a superficial O, this is me, but where our inspiration and our identity lies. I feel it is important that we use these strange weeks to stand between these worlds of before and during looking ahead to an after, consciously, awake and questioning:  to look at who we have been in these months, who we could be, should be, haven't been, might yet be.... 

All of which for me strikes a chord with a wonderful Tibetan rap that is about personal, communal and national identity and is about change and determination and also joy. So, please, drop in on Shapaley singing “Made in Tibet”


“we haven’t forgotten where we came from” Shapaley


And after all that, sitting in a box among the Inuit work is a wonderful carving of a lemming. It’s a bit damaged so it’s not on display, but for me lemmings are a delight and a reminder of the value of the overlooked, the despised. Lunch. A small animal who has been the subject of a horrible human-made story for 70 years. No, they don’t throw themselves off cliffs, unless some film director chases them




Grey owl with golden eyes


For running feet,

Under the snow.

Hungry wolverine follows,

A scent trail under the snow.

Lynx and bobcat,

Hawk, fox and wolf,

All follow the whisper of hurried feet,

Under the snow.


Packed lunch.

Two-finger mitten,

Thumb glove,

Toe shoe,

A small slipper,

A hand full,

A cup full,

A whole family nests in an old hat,

A lemming casts a shadow

As round as itself.

The small one,

The quiet one,

Everyone’s lunch

Who holds the world together.

looking for summer lemmings


  • Clifford Webb prints: c. Buxton Museum and Art Gallery
  • Brown Bear in Finland: c Adam Nardell
  • carvings: G MacLellan