Tag Archives: Samhain

Blazing Bright in the Year’s Midnight

28th October-2nd November

James Hollingsworth setting the night on fire at the first Garden of Awen - photo by Crysse Morrison

Now the light falls

Across the open field, leaving the deep lane

Shuttered with branches, dark in the afternoon

(East Coker, TS Eliot)

Finally have a chance to catch up after a hectic few days of bardic busyness – it’s that festival feeling again, as a flurry of events occur around Halloween, the deadline of the year (in Celtic Tradition the festival was celebrated as Samhain, summer’s ending, and Celtic New Year – for Celts, midnight was considered the middle of the day, and so the ‘midnight of the year’ – as I feel Samhain is, more than the Winter Solstice, which has a glimmer of light, as the sun is ‘reborn’ – would similarly be its negative axis – the dark pole around which the wheel of the year turns).

As Mary Queen of Scots put, stitching the shortening threads of her alotted time: ‘In my end is my beginning’ and as TS Eliot added in The Four Quartets, ‘In my beginning is my end.’  It is an Alpha/Omega time of year (although in truth, things are always ending and beginning – it just depends on when our awareness starts). With the nights drawing in, it feels like a shift of focus, a turning inward – nature hunkers down – but life, alas, has other plans for us human animals! Hibernation is not an option!

Wednesday saw another Guest Writers in Conversation with fabulous female poets, Helen Moore and Rose Flint talking at Bath Writers’ Workshop, the event I co-run with screenwriter David Lassman. Helen and Rose’s work and ethos shared some common ground but also has interesting differences – teased out through the insightful talk and critical response they gave. They both performed a selection of their work and answered questions from the audience. Another superb evening – it was fascinating to hear the poets talk about the evolution of their work and themselves as writers. Lesser know writers rarely get a chance to discuss their work in such depth and have a fellow writer interview them and offer an insightful response. Both are great poets – check them out!

Thursday, after an exciting test run of a beautiful Triumph Legend – my next bike! – I went to Bristol with David for the Cafe of Ideas, a monthly forum. I was invited to be on a panel discussing narrative with a bank manager, professor and BBC presenter. Held at Co-exist, an arts collective based at Hamilton House, the space was transformed with performance poetry, music and a buffet. A sister event (same theme, format and panel) will take place at the Chapel Arts Centre, Bath, on November 26th.

Friday I was a guest performer at What a Performance! – a monthly open mic held at St James Wine Vaults, Bath. MCed by Richard Selby, keeping the spirit of Dave Angus (it’s founder and original host) alive and kicking. The evening was dedicated to the writer Moyra Caldecott – in her eighties and now unable to perform her work due to a stroke. Moyra has been a great influence and inspiration on me – she has supported my work for the last ten years – so it was a pleasure to participate in this event to honour her. I read out 3 of her poems as well as my own 14 page epic, Dragon Dance (from memory). My fellow guest performer Kirsty was on form with her three fabulous tales – and there were many other great contributions.

A Bard and a Druid at Stanton Drew by Helen Murray

Talking to Ronald Hutton at Stanton Drew

Saturday I attended an OBOD open ceremony at Stanton Drew, a stone circle not far from Bath. It was very moving, as we were asked to think about those we have lost, and what we wanted to let go of. A pint in the Druids Arms afterwards  helped to bring us back into the land of the living! Later, for something ‘completely different’ I went to a ‘Halloween Chic’ party. It was interesting – two very different ways to celebrate the same festival!

into the barrow by Helen Murray

Entering Stoney Littleton long barrow - something watches from inside...

Sunday looked like it was going to be a washout but the skies miraculously brightened after midday and I went for a quick rideout to Stoney Littleton long barrow, travelling back five thousand years as I crawled into the narrow Neolithic burial chamber to remember my ancestors at the time of Samhain.

PB010811

Anthony Nanson launches Garden of Awen with a spooky tale - Chapel Arts Centre, Bath, 1st November 2009

Later, I hosted the first Garden of Awen at Chapel Arts Centre, Bath – an event I put on with Svanur Gisli Thorkelsson, whose Icepax Productions did the business once again. A guest, Rosie, said she had never seen the venue look so good. A Bath Spa art student, Jennifer, painted two great backdrops to help create an Arcadian feel. Foliage was festooned on screens. Green candles and poem flowers decorated the tables. Chapel technician Jonathan provided some snazzy lighting. Svanur brilliantly choreographed the acts: Anthony Nanson, storyteller, got things going with a gripping and stylish start with an atmospheric tale about a vampire. Nikki Bennett launched her new poetry collection, Love Shines Beyond Grief, with a bang (or a pop and a fizz – as we wet the baby’s head with flutes of Cava). David Metcalfe ended the first half with a powerful set of British death ballads and his spine-tingling poem, The Last Wolf. The second half started with a tune from Marko Gallaidhe, just back from Bampton Festival, but with still enough puff in him for a song. Richard Austin shared his poetry with aplomb. Marion Fawlk, also from Stroud, looked regal on the stage in her lovely velvet dress – sharing her deeply felt goddess poetry. The evening ended with a blistering set from guitar-shaman and sublime songsmith, James Hollingsworth. He was ‘resurrected’ for a stunning encore of Led Zep’s classic ‘In My Time of Dying’ – a suitable way to end our evening themed on ‘Death & Rebirth’.  And so, the 1st November, Celtic New Year, saw the birth of a sparkling addition to Bath’s literary firmament – a professional spoken word showcase on the first Sunday of the month. Writer Crysse Morrison, in her blog said: ‘

‘Great to see such an atmospheric venue join the local network of alternative entertainment.’

The Garden will return with its ‘high quality diversity of spoken word and music’ on the 6th December with an amazing line-up. Check out www.awenpublications.co.uk for details.

Meanwhile, I’m going to get me some quality zeds…

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Time Flies

BardonaBike Small Web view

The elusive time-traveller - a rare photograph from the chrono-archives

Sunday 25th/Monday 26th October

I went time-travelling on two wheels yesterday – six thousand years into the past – and early this morning we were all time-travellers, briefly, as the clocks went back (as a nation, the UK travelled one hour into the past – a country-sized time-machine).

Imagine the Good Ship Great Britain slipping through the Vortex, in a kind of update of The Philadelphia Experiment (in which a US Navy vessel travels through time, with disasterous consequences).

Sounds like a plot for Dr Who

Apart from the Gallifreyan time-lord’s stubbornly retro police box, there have been steam trains & De Loreans, (both Back to the Future), battleships, starships (in Star Trek IV: The Journey Home, and many of the TV series episodes) and countless other plot devices, including some which do away with hardware or even rationale (The Time Traveller’s Wife). The pioneer of time-travel, HG Wells (author of The Time Machine, originally called The Chronic Argonauts, until he wisely changed it) who stayed briefly in Wookey which I visited today on a rideout, had a more modest chrono-conveyance, a bicycle. He once said: ‘When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair of the human race’. Wells clearly did despair, going by his gloomy prognostications, which he saw come true with dread inevitability – tanks, war in the air, genetic engineering, atomic bombs… On his grave he wished to have the epitaph: ‘I told you so, you damned fools!’ Wells spent an autumn at Wookey (he attended the National School there as a pupil-tutor in 1897, at the impressionable age of 13). In the long and winding road to his becoming a novelist, he endured various jobs including that of a draper in London – the experience of which fed into his cycling idyll, The Wheels of Chance, in which he wrote: ‘you ride through Dreamland on wonderful dream bicycles that change and grow.’ It tickles me to think of the young Wells cycling about Somerset, dreaming of time machines… I speculate that his time at Wookey, however brief, fired his imagination – the underworld of the Morlocks seems to have been inspired by the famous caves at Wookey Hole and Cheddar, where Neolithic remains had been found – to the Victorian mind, sub-human cavemen living below ground…

Hart Leap Point

(from field journal)

awens of light breakthrough the cloud, spotlights cast upon the Levels – I watch the drama of light and darkness unfold. A kestrel hovers, poised in the hollow of the wind – he’s come up here, to this high place, for his lunch, like I. In the car park a cluster of vehicles – people having their lunch inside. [I eat my sandwiches on a bench in a bracing wind] A pair of frilly knickers by my bike – cast off in the throes of passion – a quicky in a layby – and left, a tawdry memento. Orange peel scattered by the bench I sit on – spelling whose initial? A glider arcs high overhead, beyond the wheeling birds. A black bird [a raven?] flips itself as it flies along, marking an odd cry. A swathe of rain rakes the dark line of the Quantocks on the opposing side of the Levels – gloominess passes. The sun breaches the cloud and the Levels are flooded with light.

Wind dances around me, light and shadow. Peace and stillness. Blue skies after the gloom. Rising above it all. Finding the centre amidst the maelstrom. Heights from the depths. Warm sun on my face, balancing the chill in the air. Memorial trees and benches – the phantom of other lives linger, here, on these Hills of Peace.


After, I descended, passed Ebbor Gorge, taking some notes from the interpretation board [Pre-10,000BC: remains of Ice Age animals – cave bear, cave lion, hyena, reindeer, wild ox, steppe pika: 3000 BC: Neolithic people sheltered in caves and under rocky ledges] down into Wookey itself, and then through the traffic lights of Wells to Glastonbury. I took the back lanes to the Tor – up through Wick Hollow – parked up and climbed, making heavy weather of it in my leathers, feeling ancient in my bones! On top I let the wind scour away any remaining cobwebs as I surveyed the vista. Here is supposedly another great circle of time, the wheel of the stars of the Glastonbury Zodaic, the local field patterns providing a Rorschach Test for Katherine Maltwood in the Twenties. We see what we wish to. Maltwood is not unique in inventing secret or ‘lost’ knowledge to make her self feel special. Glastonbury is full of such types. I’m sure some would accuse me of being of the same ilk! But what ‘mystery’ do I offer, except ‘stand and stare’, be fully present, cherish each moment and find your creative self?

Finally, I rode on to Shapwick, after a friend had mentioned the starlings which gather in stunning swirling clusters at this time of year. They seemed camera shy when I was there, although I did see countless flocks on the telegraph wires on the way there, as though waiting in the wings for the cue of dusk. I still enjoyed visiting the site of the Sweet Track and the Post Track – the earliest known trackways in the UK. Raised wooden walkways, they provided passage across the reedswamp between Polden Ridge and the ‘island’ of Westhay, a distance of 2km (1.3 miles). I love the fact that the Sweet Track was named after Ray Sweet, who discovered it while ditch cleaning in 1970. The timbers had been preserved in peat and hidden from humanity for nearly six thousand years. Radio-carbon dating has enabled the creation of the trackways to be pinpointed precisely, the Sweet Track 3806BC, and the Post Track 3838 BC. Various offerings (to the ‘Gods of the Wetlands’ as the interpretation board speculates) or lost items have been found alongside the tracks – flint arrowheads, a jadeite axe from the Alps, yew pins, a child’s toy wooden axe – giving us a tantalising window into the people of the Levels. In that quiet place, sitting on a bench dedicated to a Gladys Hill (1903-1996), on that dark autumn day near dusk, it was easy to imagine

the ancestors passing by…

(from field journal)

Ancient Whispers

Wind through the reeds

sighing with time

ancient sound

timeless sound.

Susurration of grasses,

whispers of ancestors,

here in this place

where they laboured

six thousand years ago

to build a crossing place

between two islands,

two communities –

one for the living,

one for the dead?

A Neolithic Avalon.

Dry hiss of leaves,

sucked dry of summer’s juice,

heavy with age,

ready to fall,

giving up the green ghost

in a pyre of colour,

ablaze with memory.

The same sound they heard,

so long ago.

The same sound heard

six thousand years

hence?