Tuesday, 31 December 2013

A Happy New Year and the Best of Times in 2014!

I've been thinking about calendars because it's New Year and, as I'm usually delving into history, one that came to mind was the Julius Work Calendar  written in or around 1020AD as an instruction manual for the young Monks at Canterbury Cathedral. It gave them guidance on the tasks which had to be undertaken in the 12 months ahead.

I haven't found an updated version of this but I have been trying to make the characters come alive on the page whilst editing my novel about Durstan, an eighth century Monk. The different sights; smells and sounds in an environment which we may never fully know, but which leaves plenty of room for imagination to play a part.

I'm writing about the threads of humanity and emotion which bind us still to those people who lived centuries ago, and whom our Ancestors would have known. 

And I've been thinking about my blog, the different people I've contacted because of it. There were the messages too which I received on Christmas morning from friends I've made across the world. We had a common purpose on 25th December, to wish each other well, and I think the same is true of New Year.

A Happy New Year to everyone on Google +, the people who follow my blog and those I'm looking forward to meeting in the coming months. Enjoy the celebration and have the best of times in 2014.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Christmas Greetings

"Christmas Eve and twelve of the clock.
'Now they are all on their knees,'
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
'Come,' see the oxen kneel

In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,'
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so."

On Christmas Eve I've always enjoyed reading the above poem, "The Oxen" by Thomas Hardy. Also, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and see again the well known words from Tiny Tim: "God Bless us, Everyone!"

It's a wonderful time of year for so many, whatever the celebrations and beliefs may be.

I hope you have a very Happy Christmas, with joy and peace in 2014.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

A Christmas tree, the Holly, Ivy and some Mistletoe

Traditional evergreen foliage decorates our houses at this time of year. It's beautiful to look at and is an important part of the history of Christmas as we know it.

Christianity established itself here in the early centuries. Until that time the indigenous people and those who settled in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales were predominantly Pagan. Their Yule celebration continues to start every year on or around 21st December, and we also of course have a date for Jesus' birthday on 25th as set by the early Church.  The holly, ivy and mistletoe have links to both.

Holly was predominant in the Roman feast of

Saturnalia, and the custom no doubt followed those who came to England in the first century. It also symbolised the nails that crucified Jesus and the crown of thorns he wore.

The ivy which clings as it grows is said to act as a reminder to Christians to seek God in all they do.

No one is sure how the first Christmas tree came about but it may have been in 700 AD when St Boniface saw the Pagans in Germany preparing to sacrifice a young boy by an oak tree. It's said that he was so angry he chopped down the tree, and an evergreen grew there instead.

Mistletoe holds a special place in our hearts. It's linked to the Vikings and Druids who again shaped our history. According to Viking myth Freya, the Goddess of love, ordered mistletoe to grow halfway between earth and sky. When people walked under the trees where it was found they kissed to please her, and if it was a Viking warrior it was the custom for him not to fight that day!

The ancient Druids thought mistletoe was sacred.

"When they discover some, growing on an oak tree, they gather it with great ceremony on the 9th day of the moon... then prepare a ritual sacrifice and feast.. A priest dressed in white robes climbs the tree and cuts down the mistletoe using a golden sickle. Onlookers catch it as it falls in a white cloak and the bulls are sacrificed..."

Pliny the Younger (AD62-113)

It's berries are poisonous, but to kiss under the mistletoe is a Christmas tradition we still have:

"Sitting under the mistletoe
(Pale green, fairy mistletoe),
One last candle burning low,
All the sleepy dancers gone,
Just one candle burning on,
Shadows lurking everywhere:
Someone came, and kissed me there."

Walter de la Mere "Mistletoe".

Have a Happy Christmas everyone, it's almost here! I'm feeling as if mine may have started last week. I was fortunate enough to have 4 of my poems accepted for publication by Indigo Dreams Publishers http://indigodreams.co.uk/ for their Dawntreader quarterly poetry magazine and Dagda Publishing http://dagdapublishing.co.uk/ for 2 of their Charity Anthologies.

Please leave a comment. I would love to hear about your Christmas.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

A Visit to Kenilworth

I live 15 minutes away from Kenilworth in Warwickshire. It's a small town, and I often visit the shops there. I drive past the castle ruins to get to the car park, and usually have a quick look at them through the car window. Inevitably, I start to think again about the Tudors.

Although I'm fascinated by our early history, the Anglo Saxons and Celts, I've also been reading about Henry the Eighth and his wives; Queen Elizabeth the First and her relationship with Robert, Lord Dudley. I've enjoyed reading Philippa Gregory's novels in particular about these times.

Obviously, we'll never know exactly what happened between Elizabeth and Dudley, the same as in any true story from any period, since the plot belongs to those who take part in it, but here's the poem I wrote on how I imagined it might have been...

The Castle crumbles in ruin.
Shadows drift, a Queen,
proud peacocks, fountains,
lovers joined in the rose garden.

Desire lives in the turbulent breeze,
pressed into Kenilworth stone.
Birds carried coded messages,
glide still in the clouded mist

as history haunts thought.
The glitter of sunlight a bright
jewel from an Elizabethan crown?
She loved you Dudley, no other,

and yet you desired only this,
to be King, not the beauty,
soul or soft heart of a woman.
She rests lonely here,

afraid of you, for you;
yearns in half light
for touch's dark shiver,
to live again, as she once dared.