Time to Leave – FFfAW

Time to Leave

Amber sensed his presence before she opened the door. The air had that familiar chill and she sighed, knowing it was time to leave. The old man had come to replace her and change people’s lives for a while. They’d basked in her warmth and colour for long enough.

He entered the hut with an icy blast and she donned her russet cloak. ‘I am ready to go, Old Man,’ she said, tossing her auburn curls. ‘I’ll return when folks weary of the next summer’s heat and long for mellowing days.’

The old man smiled, tiny cracks patterning his glacial face, and swept through the room, turning all to white with his icy breath. Amber smiled in return, knowing he would delight folks with his tricks. Who else but he could order the snowflakes to fall, creating a paradise of white? Who else could style playgrounds of ice over lakes and ponds?

Old Man Winter raised icicle fingers and bowed his silvery head. ‘Your task was done well, kind Autumnus. Rest now, until next year.’

Word Count: 175

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This is my story for Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers, a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It asks us to write a story from a given photo prompt in 100-150 words, give or  take 25. If you’d like to join in, follow the above link to see what to do. The challenge runs from Tuesday – Tuesday every week.

This week’s prompt was kindly provided by Ioniangraphics.

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To read other stories or add a story yourself, click on the little blue frog:

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A Look at Cornwall (5): The Lost Gardens of Heligan

We visited the Lost Gardens of Heligan in the afternoon of the second day of our holiday in Cornwall in June 2016. After spending a full Monday morning and early afternoon at Tintagel (the subject of A Look at Cornwall (4)) we decided to stop off on our way back to Newlyn for a quick look round this fabulous site. It was a gloriously sunny afternoon and we could have done with many more hours there.

This map shows where Heligan is located in Cornwall. (X marks the spot). The site is a mile and a half from Mevagissey and six miles from St. Austell. It’s also only ten miles from another famous Cornish attraction, The Eden Project – which we haven’t visited since 2003.

X marks the approximate location of the Lost Gardens of Heligan, near Mevagissey, Cornwall UK

There are many wonderful gardens in Cornwall, all of them well worth a visit, but as the name suggests, the Lost Gardens of Heligan are particularly special. Not only are they amongst Cornwall’s finest gardens but – as you might guess – the word ‘Lost’ is the reason why they’re special. The story of how they were ‘found’ again – in other words, restored – is interesting as well as being an incredible feat.

At Heligan today there are over 200 acres of Victorian walled gardens, working buildings including bothies, a potting shed and a tool shed. There are exotic glasshouses, pleasure gardens, lawns, lakes and ponds and many acres of orchard as well as a farm (Home Farm, where lovely old breeds of cattle, sheep and pigs are reared) 22 acres of subtropical jungle and a 30 acre ‘Lost Valley’. But for many years following WWI, the beautiful gardens lay neglected and overgrown, the glasshouses broken and useless. So what is the story behind all this?

Heligan House was built by William Tremayne in 1603. It was the home of the Tremayne family who controlled over 1000 acres in the area. It is still privately owned and not open to the public.

Heligan House. The house is in private occupation and not open to the public. Source: geograph.org.uk Author: Neil Clifton. Creative Commons

Before WWI, the estate was completely self-sufficient, having its own quarries, woods, farms, a brickworks – the earliest in Cornwall – a flour mill, sawmill, brewery and productive orchards and gardens. Apart from luxury goods, the only imports were lime for fertilisers and coal for heating.

Most of the gardens and ornamental woodlands were created during the 19th century by the successive efforts of Henry Hawkins Tremayne, John Tremayne and John Claude Tremayne, all noted botanists and horticulturalists.

Henry Hawkins Tremayne (1766-1829) in black coat and waistcoat with aubergine lining, white coat, powdered hair. Source: Christies. Author: Henry Bone (1755-1834) Public Domain

By 1900 they had amassed a wonderful collection of trees and shrubs from all over the world. Follies and temples were scattered throughout and walks and rides were created. The local community depended on the estate for income: it was the centre of the community, with 20 house staff and 22 garden staff.

But the First World War changed all this, just as it did with most stately homes at that time (as shown in the fictional Downton Abbey).

In 1914, the male staff at Heligan ‘signed up’ for active service, most being sent out to the trenches on the Western Front. Heligan House was taken over by the War Office and became a convalescent home for officers. The house was returned to the family in 1919, but after the war, only 6 of the 22 garden staff returned, the rest having not survived the battles in Flanders.

The following picture is from an information board at Heligan…

…accompanied by these notes:

We know the names of 13 outdoor staff who served in World War One and have sown a field of Flanders Poppies in thankful memory of all of them, including 4 who served and returned. (Individual photos were given by relatives of those brave Heligan men.)

During the Second World War, the house was allocated to the US army (practice landings for D-Day took place a mile away at Pentewan Beach). The gardens remained with the Tremaynes, but for many years after the war the gardens were simply neglected, remaining in a time capsule – efectively, ‘lost’. But, in 1990, a chance meeting between John Willis, a Tremayne family member, Tim Smit (an archaeologist) and John Nelson saw the start of an amazing journey of restoration. When Smit and Nelson discovered a tiny cubicle at the bottom of a small, walled garden (since known as the Thunderbox Room – yes, the toilet) and saw the pencil signatures written on the flaking plaster walls, evoking past lives, they knew that the restoration project must be undertaken in the names of those former Heligan workers.

The Thunderbox room at Heligan (far doorway, through which the child has just emerged).

Fading, pe-WWI pencil signatures on the flaking lime walls of the ‘Thunderbox’ at Heligan. Photo from the same information board as the one of the servicemen above.

Before I share some photos of the parts of Heligan we managed to see in the short time we had, here are a few images (from information boards again) of what the site looked like in 1990, i.e. before restoration started:

And this photo shows what the head gardener’s hut looks like now, after careful restoration:

And these are the bee skeps now, on Bee Bole Lawn, which we passed on our walkabout:

In the following photos, I have tried to show things we saw along the way as we walked round. We had no particular, pre-arranged  route, and just went where the fancy took us.

This is the Entrance:

From the ticket office, we set off along the paths towards Flora’s Garden:

Next we spent some time investigating the different walled gardens and outhouses:

From the walled gardens we headed along the Woodland Walk, where we found some great woodland sculptures, all created by local artists.

This is my final set of photos before this post becomes ridiculously long. They are of an area of Heligan known as the Jungle. It covers an area of eight acres with what is described as ‘a watercourse’ running along the floor of the valley that links four ponds. The ‘big house’ looks down the valley, which winds its way to Mevagissey. It houses a collection of sub tropical plants and was created a hundred and fifty years ago when a craze for collecting exotic plants swept the country. Cornwall’s mild climate is ideal for such species. Visitors follow boardwalks along the valley.

Eventually we headed back to the entrance, with Louise being disappointed at not having found the one place at Heligan we all remembered from 2003. It was simply some stone steps that Louise had taken a photo of. Some years later, she created a very lovely painting (acrylic on canvas) of the image – a huge one that stands on an easel. As we got closer to the cafe and shop we saw an interesting-looking opening between some rocks and decided to investigate. And there we found the steps – which we all duly photographed again.

 

Although we managed to see a lot of the gardens, there were areas of the site we didn’t have time to get to – including the Lost Valley and Home Farm – so they’re now at the top of the list for our next trip down to Cornwall. And next time, we’ll get there in plenty of time to enjoy a Cornish cream tea in the cafe. On this occasion, it had already closed. 😦

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The Promise of May

When we first moved to the village in which we’ve lived for the past ten years, people who didn’t know me called me ‘the lady who walks’. Well, I don’t mind being labelled as such because, quite honestly, it suits me.  I do walk a lot, simply because I can’t bear being cooped up indoors. There’s so much to see out there, and every day is different; every month even more so. Besides, it keeps me fit and, hopefully, young. (Fat chance of that considering that I had my 70th birthday last month. Notice I didn’t say celebrated my birthday! How is getting old something to celebrate? 😦 On the other hand, I got some seriously nice prezzies).

And now it’s May, and the rest of spring has still to unfold before the summer ahead. So what does the onset of May bring to mind for you? This will obviously depend on which part of the world you live in and which season you’re about to embark upon. Here in the UK, it’s SPRING! Glorious Spring… the month of promise.

These are some of the photos I’ve taken over the first few days of May. They are of our garden and from around and about the village:

The photos of the sparrowhawk were taken two days ago through the glass of our conservatory, so apologies for the fuzzy look. He was gorging himself on a blackbird when we spotted him, and if we’d opened a door or window he would have rapidly skidaddled.

As for returning migratory birds, our house martins returned to their usual nesting place beneath our eaves a few weeks ago…

… and there are plenty of swallows about. But I haven’t yet heard a cuckoo, and often they arrive before the end of April. (In May and June they sing their tune.) I expect to hear the familiar call any day now. I wrote about the egg-laying habits of the cuckoo last year, here.

What else does May bring to mind?

For me, May will always make me think of Robin of Sherwood, the TV series filmed in the ’80s. To me and our two daughters, it was the best Robin Hood production ever. Michael Praed and Judi Trott were wonderful as Robin and Marion and the rest of the cast were also superb. The series was made even more poignant by the awesome music of Clannad.

Here’s a short YouTube clip of the first time Robin set eyes on Marion:

Did you spot the line… You’re like a May morning?  Marion’s youthfulness fits perfectly with the idea of freshness and beginnings. This is the rest of the little bit of dialogue, which seems to have been cut from that video version:

Robin: You’re like a May morning. Stay here in Sherwood and be my May Queen.
Marion: In Sherwood? And be your May queen? But what will I be when winter comes?
Robin: I’d build a fire at the cave’s mouth, wrap you in sheepskin, and hold you close.

More snippets about May…

  • May was named after the Greek goddess Maia. It was a time of great celebration in the northern hemisphere; the time when flowers and crops emerged. Before 1430, May was called Maius. Meyes or Mai.
  •  The Anglo-Saxon name for May was Tri-Milchi, which referred to the new lush grasses that allowed milking of cows to be three times a day.
  • On the 1st of May in days long past, young girls would rush out and wash their faces in dew. It was thought that May dew had magical properties: anyone who washed their face in it would have a beautiful complexion all year round. It also removed freckles, spots and pimples. (Sounds like good stuff!)
  • People born in May are said to be loving and practical
  •  The zodiac signs for May are Taurus until May 20 and Gemini from May 21 onwards.
  • May’s birthstone is the emerald (emblematic of love and success) and also chrysophase in the UK.
  • In the U.S. and in many countries around the world, Mother’s Day in is May (May 14 this year, I believe). In the U.K. we celebrate that day in March.
  • May 1st is May Day in many countries and celebrated in a variety of ways, which I wrote about here. The day is also International Workers Day worldwide.

And here are some well known quotes about May:

  1. Among the changing months, May stands confest The sweetest, and in fairest colors dressed.  – James Thomso
  2. Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May – William Shakespeare
  3. Sweet April showers do spring May flowers – Thomas Tusser

To finish with, here’s a video of an old song, Now is the Month of Maying, written by Thomas Morely in 1595. It has been recorded by a number of choirs and singing groups and this one was uploaded to YouTube by Ana Pachero. It features The Kings Singers.

And now, after three posts about it, I’ll leave May alone and have a think about my next post about Cornwall.

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The Collingham May Fair

The Collingham May Fair has been going for years – long before we moved to this area 20 years ago. For many years it was held in the area of the village green, and since the green itself is so small, this involved the road being closed to traffic for the day. The ‘green’ is just beyond the houses to the right of the road in the second picture below:

For the past few years the Fair has been on Collingham Cricket Ground – a nice large area for all the stalls and activities. Yesterday, May Ist, Nick and I went along to share in the fun. On Sunday I wrote a general post about May Day celebrations in the UK, so now I want to share a few photos from a typical village May Fair.

I used this poster advertising the list of events for this year’s show on my last post, but here it is again:


We arrived at the cricket ground at 12.15 pm, so not too many people were there. We walked around, looking at and photographing the various stalls while more people filed in. As you can see from these distant shots, the stalls were around the edge of the ground:

These are close-up versions of various stalls and activities on offer:

At one o’ clock we had the crowning of the May Queen. Traditionally the young woman chosen would have been one eligible for marriage, which in the past would have been a girl of perhaps fourteen upwards. Today’s May Queen was  a cute little girl of eight. I suppose it makes sense, considering that it’s the primary schools who usually organise both the maypole dancing and crowning of the May Queen nowadays. Anyway, here is a photo of the ‘Queen’ and her little attendants as they watched the Morris dancers:

Straight after the crowning of the May Queen came the Morris dancing, performed by the same troop who were here last year – Rattlejag Morris. As it says on their website, they are a mixed troop, formed in 2002, who use recently collected material from East Yorkshire as well as their own material from local research into dancing in Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire.Their aim is to revive and develop their own locally based dance tradition. The troop performs broom dances, bacca pipe dances and sword dances, as well as many others unique to their group, and are continually developing new dances. On this occasion we didn’t video anything, but here are a few photos…

…  and this is one of  Rattlejag’s several videos from other events, this one uploaded in 2014. It shows one of the dances the troop performed yesterday in Collingham. It’s called The Rufford Poachers and is based on real events. As it says on the YouTube site, it is a dance “to record the events in Rufford Park in 1851,when the Rufford Park gamekeepers had a battle with the local poachers, resulting in the death on a gamekeeper.”

In the video, the four dancers in the middle represent the gamekeepers and the four outer ones are the attacking poachers.

Rattlejag Morris performed several dances, including one with swords, and their routine was thoroughly entertaining.

Unfortunately, we were unable to stay more than a couple of hours as we were needed elsewhere, so we didn’t get to see the Nottingham Ukulele Orchestra or the Collingham Singers. We’ve seen the Singers on several occasions  so we weren’t too bothered about that. All in all it was a pleasant visit and the weather wasn’t too bad at all. Although it was a bit too windy for my liking, at least it didn’t rain. There were some interesting exhibits and demonstrations – the wattle and daub fence making and the pizza making particularly so. The van with the pizza oven inside was something different and I’ve never seen so many items of crockery smashed to bits as on the plate smashing stall! In my experience, it’s usually coconuts we aim for. 🙂

Before we left we headed over to the most important place on the site…the ice cream van. How could we leave without having a Mr Whippy?

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Now is the month of Maying…

May is a spring month in the northern hemisphere and an autumn month in the southern hemisphere. For us up in ‘the north’, May holds the promise of warmer and sunnier days ahead, with green land stretching for miles beneath a clear blue sky. Oh, and lots of colourful flowers and singing birds… Of course, the reality can be totally different, but we live in hope.

The month has a number of traditions and celebrations attached to it, many of which – in the UK – have now been moved to the first Monday of the month, which is not always the 1st of May. The day has been a bank holiday in the UK since 1978, when the labour government introduced it to the national calendar. So most people have an extra day off work or school.

The earliest May Day celebrations are thought to have taken place during the Roman era when youths would celebrate the coming of spring with a day of dancing dedicated to the goddess Flora. There are several pictures of Flora on Wikipedia, but not all are particularly modest … so I thought I’d better stick to this one:

Roman fresco from Stabiae, close to Pompeii, from villa di Arianna, called Cosiddetta Flora. Ist century. Now in Naples Archaeological Museum. Public Domain. Photographer Marie-Lan Nguven

Many folklore customs in the UK have their roots  back in the time of the ancient Celts, whose year was divided by four major festivals. Beltane – ‘the fire of Bel ’ – was very important to the Celts as it represented the first day of summer. It was celebrated with bonfires to welcome in the new season and is still celebrated today in some areas. In Edinburgh on the night of April 30th, they hold the Edinburgh Fire Festival at Calton Hill, to celebrate the Beltane Fire Festival.

Over the centuries, May Day became associated with fun, revelry and fertility. The Day would see village folk cavorting round the maypole, the selection of the May Queen and Jack-in-the-Green dancing at the head of the procession. (Jack is thought to be a relic from the days when our ancient ancestors worshipped trees.)

Due to its pagan origins, and what would be classed as unacceptable and ‘unseemly’ behaviour by the people, over the years the Church has endeavoured to stop this type of celebration. This was particularly true in more puritanical times, including the years following the Civil War in England when Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans controlled the country (the Interregnum, 1649-1660). One form of celebrating, dancing round the maypole, was described as heathenish vanity generally abused to superstition and wickedness. Legislation was passed  to ban village maypoles throughout the country and dancing did not return to village greens until the restoration of Charles II in 1660.

Morris dancers with pipe and taborer. 1864, Chambers Book of Days. Author: Robert Chambers, editor. Public Domain

Today, May Day is celebrated with a number of events and activities intended to celebrate the end of winter and the start of the summer season. In some areas, May Fairs/Fayres are held. These usually involve a number of stalls for games and crafts, foods of various types and any number of items for sale. Face painters and people modelling balloons into a variety of animals and objects are also present.

I took these photos of a poster in the village of Collingham (two miles from where I live) on Saturday. It’s advertising the May Fair on Monday, which I’m planning to attend. Unfortunately, it seems there’ll be no maypole this year although the list of attractions looks promising, if it doesn’t pour down!

In Collingham, as in many villages, the May Fair was traditionally held on the village green. The fair in Collingham grew to be such a large event that a few years ago it was moved to the cricket ground, which is where I’ll be heading tomorrow.

Major traditional May Day events include maypole dancing, Morris dancing and the crowning of the May Queen:

Maypole dancing involves dancing around a tall pole from which ribbons are suspended. The dancers are generally children or, more traditionally, just girls. The aim is to create a decorative pattern on the pole with the ribbons. Nowadays, it is often schools who organise this event. The maypole dancing in the following video took place at Greenfield’s Junior School’s Summer Fair in 2010, in the village of Hartley Wintney in Hampshire. It shows the children making interesting designs with the ribbons. The video was uploaded to YouTube by Craig Arnush.

Morris dancing is another event associated with May Day, traditionally performed by men. The dancers often dress in white, with bells on parts of their costumes, and carry white handkerchiefs and/or long wooden sticks, depending on the regional customs and requirements of the dance. The dancing is to the accompaniment of loud accordion music.

Cotswold-style Morris dancing in the grounds of Wells Cathedral, England (Exeter Morris Men. Author: Adrian Pingstone, July 2006. Public Domain.

There are several thoughts on the origins of Morris dancing, one being that the word Morris comes from the word Moorish or morisco – a derogatory term for little Moor. The fact that Morris dancers often painted their faces black has been used to substantiate that idea. However, there is no evidence that the dance came from the Moors. Another suggestion is that Morris dancing could be linked to pagan rites to celebrate the coming of spring – during which time the dancers would blacken their faces.

The earliest reference to Morris dancing in England is 1448. It is possible that this type of dancing originated in 15th century courts across Europe, when a dance called moreys daunce  (Moorish Dancebecame common. For this, the dancers wore colourful costumes with bells attached. By the 16th century, Morris dancing had become  a part of many Church festivals, and later that century, a regular feature of village fetes. By the 18th century, Morris dancing became linked to the Whitsun ales. (Whitsun, or Whitsuntide, is the Christian festival of Pentecost, on the 7th Sunday after Easter.) Parish ale was brewed by the Church for use in both seasonal and sacramental services, including weddings, christenings, funerals/wakes – and Whitsun.

Despite a big decline in the 19th century, due to many new forms of entertainment, Morris dancing has seen a big revival for several decades now. Perhaps it’s just a renewal of  interest in traditions and all things past. This YouTube video shows a Morris dance in which the dancers use white handkerchiefs. It was uploaded by Avi Roy.

The May Queen or Queen of May is a personification of the May Day holiday, and of springtime and summer, and the crowning of the May Queen is an important part of May day activities. The young lady chosen usually feels honoured and proud to hold that title. She has been chosen from amongst the local and unmarried young women  and crowned with greenery – traditionally including May blossom (hawthorn blossom) shown in my ‘header’ above. Many Roman Catholic parishes hold  a May crowning, dedicated to Mary, Mother of Jesus. 

This is how Wikipedia describes the role of the May Queen:

Today the May Queen is a girl who must ride or walk at the front of a parade for May Day celebrations. She wears a white gown to symbolise  purity and usually a tiara or crown. Her duty is to begin the May Day celebrations. She is generally crowned by flowers and makes a speech before the dancing begins.

There are too many traditions to talk about here, but an interesting one includes the men of the village celebrating with Jack-in-the-Green (often believed to be the same as the Green Man). A hobby horse also features in some celebrations in southern England:

Painting of Morris dancers along the Thames near Richmond, c 1620. Now in the Fitzwilliam Museum. Source: http://www.themorrisring.org/more/preRef.html
Public Domain

In Oxford, May Day events start at 6 am with the 500-year-old tradition of the Magdalen (pronounced Maudlyn) College Choir singing a Latin hymn from the top of  the college tower. After this, college bells signal the start of the Morris dancing in the streets below.

Magdalen College on May Day morning, 2007. Author: Romanempire at English Wikipedia. Creative Commons

Finally, on a less festive note, May 1 in the UK has become associated with May Day Marches,  particularly in  London. These are mostly organised by the trade unions and aim to celebrate and demand rights for workers.

Tomorrow, Nick and I will be taking ourselves off to the Collingham May Day Fair. I hope to share some photos of it soon after.

Refs:
1. Various Wikipedia sites
2. https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/uk/early-may-bank-holiday
3. http://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/May-Day-Celebrations/
4. http://metro.co.uk/2010/04/30/a-history-of-may-day-why-do-we-celebrate-it-275721/\
5. http://www.rattlejagmorris.org.uk/history-of-morris-dancing

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April Fools’ Day

April Fools’ Day, or All Fools’ Day, as it was originally called, is observed throughout the Western world and is generally celebrated by playing pranks on people, sending someone on a ‘fool’s errand’, looking for things that don’t exist or getting them to believe ridiculous things. It has been celebrated for several centuries, although its origins still remain a mystery.

Some historians have linked April Fools’ Day to ancient festivals such as that of Hilaria in Rome, when people would dress up in disguises. It is also thought that the day could have been part of the celebrations of the spring/vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The reasoning here is that this was a time of the year when Mother Nature fooled people with the unpredictable and variable weather  – something she continues to do in this part of the world!

Then there are historians who believe the custom originated in France in 1582, when the the old, Julian Calendar was replaced by the Gregorian Calendar, as ordered by Pope Gregory XIII. The new calendar involved a shift of the date of New Year’s Day from the end of March to January 1st. People who continued to observe the former, end of March date, were labelled as ‘fools’ and as such, had jokes and hoaxes played on them. One of these hoaxes involved ‘fools’ having paper fish stuck on their backs and being labelled poisson d’ avril (April Fish). The title is said to be the symbol of a young, easily caught fish – and a gullible person.

The tradition continues today in France, as well as other French-speaking areas, including Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland and Canada.

Unfortunately there are problems with the theory that April Fools’ Day started at the time of the change in calendars, the first being that there is no definite historical evidence for it, only conjecture – which seems to have been made relatively recently. Another problem lies in the fact that it doesn’t fit in with the spread of April Fools’ Day in other countries. In England, the Gregorian Calendar wasn’t adopted until 1752, but April Fools’ Day was already well established here by then.

In most parts of the Netherlands, the origin of April Fools’ Day is attributed to the Dutch victory at Brielle in 1572. During this encounter the Spanish Duke Alvarez de Toledo was defeated. The Dutch proverb, Op 1 avril verloor at Brielle translates to On the first of April, Alva lost his glasses. The glassses – or bril in Dutch – serve as a metaphor for Brielle. This date continues to be celebrated every year in the Netherlands with mock battles…

Ready for battle geuzenarmy dressed for attack Brielle. 1 April 2015. Author: Peter van der Sluijs. Creative Commons

…and a tradition called Kalknacht (Lime Night) in which people use lime chalk to write slogans and draw pictures on windows. Kalknacht stems from the actions of locals who painted chalk on the doors of those who were loyal to the Spanish. Unfortunately, as with the French theory, this story gives no explanation for the celebration of April Fool’s Day in countries elsewhere either.

During the 18th century, April Fools’ Day spread throughout Britain. In Scotland it became known as Huntingowk Day, the celebrations lasting for two days. Gowk is a Scottish word meaning cuckoo, or foolish person. The first day started with running the cuckoo. The prank involved asking someone to deliver a sealed message, supposedly asking for some kind of help. In reality, the message read Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile. On reading this, the recipient explains he can only help if he contacts another person, and sends the ‘victim’ on with an identical message. And so it continues.

April Fools’ Day jokes and pranks are played on people in many countries today, but I don’t intend to do them all! So I’ll just outline a little about the day in the UK and allow everyone else to have a think about how the day is celebrated (if at all) where you live.

An April fool in Denmark, regarding Copenhagen’s new subway. It looks as if one of the cars had an accident and has broken through and surfaced in the square in front of the town hall. In reality, it was a retired subway car from Stockholm, cut obliquely, with the front end placed on the tiling and the loose tiles scattered around. Public Domain

Here in the UK, the earliest association between April 1, pranks and general foolishness, can be found in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, written in 1392. Over the years, jokers, jesters and jokesters have  become the images associated with April Fools’ Day.

In modern times, people have gone to extremes to create really elaborate hoaxes (and not just in the UK). Newspapers and the media in general have all taken part in a variety of these. Perhaps the most well-known and outrageous hoax ever pulled in the UK was in 1957 on BBC TV (in the days when all British newsreaders and presenters spoke with a very ‘posh’ accent – which became known as a BBC accent).

This film was shown on Panorama, a current affairs series which was, on this occasion, supposedly showing Swiss farmers picking freshly grown spaghetti. The programme was called the  Swiss Spaghetti Harvest. Following the programme the BBC was inundated with requests as to where spaghetti plants could be bought! 

Despite being very popular since the mid-nineteenth century, April Fool’s Day is not a public holiday in the UK. And in the UK and countries whose traditions derive from the UK, the pranks and hoaxes cease at midday. After that time the person attempting to make an April Fool of someone becomes the April Fool him/herself.

Today, there are mixed opinions regarding the practice of April Fool pranks. Some people see them – especially the ones orchestrated by the media – as a terrible duping of the public. April Fools’ Day hoaxes are seen as manipulative, creepy, deceitful and altogether nasty. The adverse effect of the media hoaxes is that “When genuine news is published on April Fools’Day, it is occasionally misinterpreted as a joke”.

Others see the day as being good for the health in that it brings the benefits of laughter, which include stress relief and the reduction of stain on the heart.

And on that positive note, I’ll finish off.

Refs:
History.com
Wikipedia
April Fools’ Day History

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Good Things Can Come in Threes…

Today is Sunday, March 26, and I have three things to crow about…

First, today is Mother’s Day in the UK, a day when I get lots of nice prezzies. This date doesn’t coincide with Mother’s Day in other countries around the world, but in Britain (in case anyone didn’t know!) we’re sticklers for tradition. And our Mother’s Day – or as it was  originally called, ‘Mothering Sunday’ – originated several hundred years ago and has gradually evolved to become what it is today, with Mums getting cards and gifts ranging from flowers, chocolates or meals out and so on…

I wrote a post about the history of Mothers’ Day two years ago, and retweeted it last year. It would probably be pushing things a bit to retweet it again but a link to the original post can be found here.

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The second thing I’m happy about is that today the clocks have moved forward an hour, putting us into British Summer Time (BST). From October to March we’re on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). In the UK the clocks go forward at 1 am on the last Sunday of March – which, from what I’ve seen on other people’s blogs, is a week or so later than in the US – or, at least, in some areas of the US.

Moving the clocks forward means a lot to me because I loathe the long, dark nights of winter and now daylight lasts an extra hour every evening! Yippee! It does mean that mornings stay dark an hour longer, but that gradually adjusts over the next few weeks. Naturally, in contrast, I whinge and moan every October when we move the clocks back and evenings get dark an hour earlier. Then it’s boo-hoo time!

Many people remember whether clocks move forward or back with this little saying, which I believe came to the UK from ‘across the pond’: Spring forward, fall back.

This is interesting because we haven’t called autumn “fall” in the UK for a few hundred years. Apparently, the word travelled to America with the early settlers and stuck, whereas its use eventually changed to autumn here. According to this site the use of the word was first found in print in 1545 in an archery instruction manual by Queen Elizabeth’s tutor Roger Ascham, who refers to autumn as faule of the leafe. 

I don’t intend to write about the reasons behind the moving backwards and forwards of clocks, other than to say it involves daylight saving time (DST) and its use has interesting origins. Perhaps I’ll write about that next year.

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My third thing to be happy about today is my latest review of Shadow of the Raven on Amazon UK. I confess, I haven’t read any books by Giles Kristian, so that’s something I’ll do as soon as I finish Book 3 of my trilogy. This is the review, which I’ve just copied from Amazon. I’ve no idea who Catherine is, but I’m very grateful for her lovely review.

5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read.

By catherine stelfox on 21 Mar. 2017

 Format: Kindle Edition

Well written with fabulous characterisation. I would even go so far as to say that Milli Thom is very nearly up there with Giles Kristian: Strong praise indeed. I’m eagerly looking forward to reading the next two books in the series.
Millie Thom makes every action lend weight and meaning to the story. That the author knows her subject well shows in her attention to detail.
All this contributes in making this book a thrilling reading experience, and my delight in finding a new author who can provide my ongoing cravings for a Viking fix is to be celebrated.

*****

Lovely spring… Who wouldn’t be happy at this time of year?

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A Look at Cornwall (4): The Magic of Tintagel

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On the second full day of our week in Cornwall last year – a Monday – we set off from Newlyn in the south-west of the county where we were staying, and headed north-east for 63 miles to the site of the village of Tintagel and its famous castle.

Tintagel Castle is one of the most famous historic sites in Britain and long associated with King Arthur, though its history reaches back centuries before the tales of the legendary king. The actual name, ‘Tintagel’, probably comes from the Cornish word ‘Dindagell’ or ‘Dintagel’, meaning ‘fort on the constriction’, or ‘fort on the headland’.

Tintagel sits on one of the finest sections of the Cornish Coastal Path and is built half on the mainland and half on a jagged headland or ‘island’ that projects out into the Cornish Sea. These photos, as the one directly above from an information board at the site, show the connecting bridge between the mainland and island.

We started our visit in the village of Tintagel – where most tourists park – before heading up the track for the half-mile walk towards Tintagel Head and the castle. The car park we chose was opposite a very aptly named pub, where we stopped off for coffee before setting off:

And this is the track…

This is the signpost at the bottom of the first part of the climb up to the castle. If we carry on walking past here, we come to the Beach Cafe and visitor facilities – and the sea.

Before I show a few photos of the parts of the castle we explored, here’s a little about the history of the Tintagel area.

The site of the castle has been inhabited since the Roman period and probably even earlier. There is no real evidence of an Iron Age fort, although it is believed that the site would have been similar to promontory forts on other S.W. headlands – such as at the Willapark headland a mile to the east. Nor is it known how much activity there was at the site in the Roman period. There is no evidence of Roman structures, but a few artefacts dating from the late 3rd to the early 4th century have been found, including an inscribed pillar. This was originally in the cemetery of St Materiana’s, the 11th century church in Tintagel village, but has since been taken inside the church itself. Other small finds, such as Roman coins and pottery have also been discovered in the area.

During the so-called ‘Dark Ages’ – roughly the 5th-7th centuries – Tintagel was an important and prosperous stronghold. Right across the island are the remains of rectangular houses. Fragments of glassware, wine-jars and other decorated pottery vessels have also been found, all evidence of a thriving trade with Mediterranean regions at this time. Some of these Dark Age houses can be seen in the next few photos:

There is little evidence of activity over the following 500 years. Then, in 1138, Geoffrey of Monmouth in his work, History of the Kings of Britain, linked Tintagel to King Arthur. Since the site had no military value, it seems it was this legend that inspired Richard, Earl of Cornwall, the younger brother of King Henry 111, to build Tintagel Castle here in 1230.

In the early centuries an isthmus (narrow neck of land) would have linked the mainland to the island. We know that the isthmus survived until the 12th century, as it was recorded by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the above-named book. But by the time Earl Richard was building his castle the isthmus had already partly eroded away and by 1540, the antiquary John Leland reported that the only way onto the island was by longe elme trees layde for a bryge. Today, passage between mainland and island is via the man-made, wooden bridge shown above.

And so our journey upward began…

Once we got to the top of the incline leading from the signpost on the lane, we arrived at the first part of the castle, which is on the mainland. The ticket kiosk is here and as we’re members of English Heritage we didn’t have to pay – other than the cost of the requisite Guide Book (requisite for me, that is). We didn’t stop to explore the mainland section of the castle as we were keen to get over to the island. So on we pushed towards the island, across the bridge and up dozens of steps, with my rickety knees complaining all the way.  

But the views of the sea, the beach and cliffs – not to mention, Merlin’s Cave – were worth it:

The parts of Earl Richard’s castle on the mainland include the lower and upper courtyards, or outer bailey, which has suffered greatly from erosion of the cliffs. When the castle was built in 1230, the mainland and island parts of the castle were connected by what was left of the isthmus, which had already partly eroded. Richard probably fortified this neck of land with a gatehouse and possibly some kind of drawbridge, which has now been lost as a result of landslips.

Our first stop on the island was the inner ward, or courtyard, with a great hall and chambers. Between 1240 and 1260, a curtain wall was built, forming a high, battlemented enclosure around the courtyard:

We pushed on through the gate in the curtain wall…

…and headed on up toward the top of the island:

The ruins at the top of the island date mostly from the Middle Ages. There is a well…

…and a small walled garden. The garden was first recorded in the 1540s  and excavations  in the 1930s show it was used for flower beds and herbs, although its position on the top of the island seems strange.  The garden has since become linked with the story of Tristan and Yreult/Isolde. In some versions of the myth, the lovers meet in the garden. A number of slates inside the wall, tell part of the story. Unfortunately, the light on some of them make them difficult to read:

Further on, close to the edge of the cliffs, we came to the statue of the warrior (King Arthur?):

And to finish off, here are a few photos of the views from up there:

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References:

Guide Book and leaflets from Tintagel Castle

Wikipedia

English Heritage: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/tintagel-castle/

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Virginia Creeper

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Virginia Creeper

The first time Emily saw the outhouse at the bottom of the rambling, overgrown garden, she was entranced by the colourful foliage bedecking its red brick walls. Her family had only recently moved into this old house and investigating it thoroughly was irresistible to an inquisitive girl of twelve.

‘The one covered in Virginia Creeper?’ Dad asked, glancing over the rim of his teacup when she’d asked about it last night. ‘It was the gardener’s domain years ago. An ancestor of mine was gardener here before the Great War. He was sent to the Western Front and is buried out there in Flanders.’

This was all news to Emily, but interesting all the same. She wondered whether that was the reason Dad had wanted this place so badly, especially as it was very run down and needed a lot of work doing on it. Until now she’d thought Dad wanted the house because it was big, and cheap for the size. Mum was expecting again, and a family of eight would need a lot of bedrooms.

‘If you look inside, you’ll see some really old tools,’ Dad added as an afterthought.

‘Make sure you don’t touch anything,’ Mum warned, bouncing Emily’s youngest brother, Stevie, on her lap before standing to take him up to bed. ‘Tools can be sharp.’

Straight after breakfast, Emily headed out into the early September sunshine, pushing the dismal thought of school next week to the back of her mind. She flipped the latch on the old door and stepped inside.

A young man wearing a flat cap was humming to himself as he hung a variety of rusting rakes along a wall. ‘Hello, Emily love,’ he said. ‘I’d hoped you’d pop in today. ‘Your dad said you might.’

‘He did? When did he tell you that? Who are you, anyway? Are you one of the workmen come to repair all the windows?’

‘I’m your great-great-great-grandad. Now there’s a mouthful for you to get your tongue round. I’m the gardener your dad told you about last night and my name’s George. I’d seen you having a look round yesterday, so I thought I’d best introduce myself next time you came.’

Emily suddenly smiled. ‘But you’re, uh, dead…aren’t you?’ He nodded. ‘So you must be a ghost! I’ve always wanted my very own ghost. Can I come and see you every day…and can I just call you Grandad? And I’d love to know what it’s like to be a ghost. And, if you can remember, can you tell me what it was like in this house before the Great War?’

‘All in good time, Emily. We’ll have some years to talk now we’re acquainted. I can tell you a lot about many things – and yes, just Grandad will do nicely. But please don’t ask about what happened in France the day I died, ’cos I don’t rightly remember after I went over the top.

Emily had no idea what he meant by ‘over the top’, but she’d look it up later on. ‘That’s all right, Grandad. I wouldn’t think anyone would like to remember their own death. We’ll talk about nice things, I promise. So, tell me, what it’s like to stay young-looking forever … and how long have you’ve been talking to my dad … did you know him when a little boy … and why have you grown Virginia Creeper all over the outhouse walls?’

Grandad suddenly laughed. ‘You’re just like your dad was at your age. He couldn’t keep quiet for a moment, either. I’ll answer one of your questions, Emily, but then I need to rest for a while. I grow Virginia Creeper because it reminds me of my beautiful wife – your great-great-great grandma. Her name was Virginia, you see, and she had lovely red hair. So whenever I see the plant at this time of year, I feel she’s still with me.’

Emily felt a sudden lump in her throat. ‘That’s such a sad but very romantic story, Grandad. Thank you for telling me.’

‘Right then,’ Grandad said. ‘I’m very glad to have met you, Emily, but I really need to rest now. Come back to see me tomorrow and we’ll chat some more.’

Emily watched her grandad fade away then hurried back to the house. She’d spend some time searching the Internet for information about the Great War and ‘going over the top’. Then she’d look up all about growing Virginia Creeper. So tomorrow, if Grandad mentioned them, she’d have no need to ask so many questions and tire him out.

But there was one question that continued to pique Emily’s curiosity and she sighed, knowing she wasn’t likely to find the answer on the Internet. Tomorrow, she’d simply have to ask Grandad why he couldn’t meet up with Grandma now that they were both dead.

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This is a story I wrote over a year ago as one of the longer ones for my book ‘A Dash of Flash’. 

For anyone who doesn’t know what a flat cap is, here’s an image from Wikipedia with a little bit of information about what one actually is – also from Wikipedia.

Flat cap, side view. Photographed by Heron. Creative Commons

Flat cap, side view. Photographed by Heron. Creative Commons

“A flat cap is a rounded cap with a small stiff brim in front. The hat is also known as a cabbie cap, longshoreman’s cap, cloth cap, scally cap, Wigens cap, ivy cap, derby hat, jeff cap, duffer cap, duckbill cap, driving cap, bicycle cap, Irish cap, Newsboy cap, Crook cap, Joao’s hat, Sixpence, or a Paddy cap. In Scotland it is known as a bunnet, in Wales as a Dai cap, and in New Zealand, as a cheese-cutter.”

“The style can be traced back to the 14th century in Northern England, when it was more likely to be called a “bonnet”, which term was replaced by “cap” before about 1700, except in Scotland, where it continues to be referred to as a ‘bunnet’.”

My husband, who’s as ‘Northern’ as can be, being a Yorkshireman, wouldn’t dream of gardening without his flat cap on his head.

*****

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The Game of Life – FFFAW

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The Game of Life

Max stared at the iron bars, cursing the day he’d met Sophie. He’d been happy before then, his future stretched out like an unplayed game.

To Sophie he’d been little more than a prize bull, a trophy to display to her friends. One twist of the nose ring kept him compliant throughout each humiliating display. With her shapely body close to his, he’d gaze at her beautiful face and melt all over again.

But when Sophie demanded a diamond as proof of his love, Max panicked. At nineteen, that kind of money was not to hand and robbery had been his only option…

Alarms screamed before he’d left the shop, the old jeweller’s blood dripping from his knife. No hope of evading arrest; surveillance cameras didn’t lie.

He’d stared at those bars for two years now and dreaded the next twenty-three. Early release was unlikely for taking a life…

He refocused on his lonely game of Solitaire and reached for the pills concealed in his shoe. His game of life would be ending here.

Word Count: 174

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This is my story for Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers, a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It asks us to write a story from a given photo prompt in 100-150 words, give or  take 25. If you’d like to join in, follow the above link to see what to do. The challenge runs from Tuesday – Tuesday every week.

This week’s prompt was kindly provided by MajesticGoldenRose.

Apologies for the morbid nature of my story this week. I really am feeling very down at the moment and happy thoughts seem to evade me. Perhaps I need some sunshine…or some fairy dust from Tinkerbelle. 🙂

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To read other stories or add a story yourself, click on the little blue frog:

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