Tag Archives: Stanton Drew

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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Rider on the Storm

Births, Deaths and Marriages

5-16 June

Sometimes life seems to challenge us – events come along to test what we’re made of, what we believe. It’s been one of those fortnights … but with positives that give me hope.

Within the last two weeks I’ve had to attend the funerals of an old friend from Northampton who committed suicide and a dear friend from Bath, who died of cancer last Tuesday: fellow poet, Mary Palmer, whose funeral is today – making two in a fortnight. This one will be a different affair from the one I attended in Northamptonshire for Sarah B, mother of two, who tragically took her own life on the 1st of May. Her ceremony took place at Olney Woodland Burial site. About twenty years ago I went to the first woodland burial in the county, for a lady called Jackie. Whether it was at this site or not, I cannot recall, but it is now a small forest. Many gathered in the carpark – and it was sad to think she took her life, when she had so many people who cared about her. I had ridden over the Cotswolds to be there for 2pm. I had ten minutes to spare, but Sarah’s partner and their daughter kept everyone waiting – turning up 50 minutes later (it must have been a huge ordeal for him and the kids). Many old faces were there. While we waited my bardic chum, Jimtom brewed me up a welcome cuppa in his van, which helped me to thaw out from the ride. I chatted to friends I hadn’t seen in ages, making surreal small-talk. Then, finally, we were ready to start. A guy with a flute led us in procession to the graveside. The haunting sound carried across the groves of remembrance and was deeply moving. A simple ceremony took place at the graveside, by the whicker casket. A poem of Sarah’s was read out. The casket was lowered into the ground. As everyone scattered in some flowers, we chanted ‘the river is flowing…’ led by the daughter and a friend. It was heart-breaking seeing the family, clearly decimated by their loss. Afterwards, we decamped to the United Reform Church in Yardley Hastings, just up the road, where no less than three religious ceremonies took place: Pagan, Christian and Buddhist (showing Sarah’s interests and tolerance), plus a moving presentation of her life – with photoes and music. There was a meal sometime in the evening – but not having had any lunch, I was spaced out and flagging, so I left to visit my Mum, whose 65th birthday it was that day – and the initial reason I was visiting Northampton then. It was a shame it was all on the same day, but it some ways it balanced it out: birthdays, deathdays… And the next morning I visited my sister and her wee bairn, Kerry, now a year and half old – eyes full of shining wonder. The cycle of life continues.

I rode home – wiped out from the draining experience, the funeral and a night around the fire in the rain with my ‘frenemies’, trying to rekindle some of the old Earth Rhythm magic and failing. God bless ’em – but I probably won’t be seeing them until the next one. Once we were close, but now we just get on each other’s nerves. It’s telling it took Sarah’s death to bring us together. A shame, but … people move on.

In extreme contrast to my grim time back in the old town, in Bath I went to a talk by Marina Warner on fairy tales (part of the International Music Festival) at St Michaels church, then onto a private view – my friend, William Balthazar Rose’s new show ‘Horses, Hats, Cooks and Cleavers’. Ah, it’s good to be back in Bath!

The next day I took part in King Bladud’s Pageant, despite not feeling particularly keen to read long complicated texts in large public spaces!

Looking every bit the Bath old fogey I read in John Wood's The Circus

Looking every bit the Bath old fogey I read in John Wood's The Circus, from The Bath Chronicle

Life continued, demanding attention, effort!

I had a heavy week, workwise, with a stack of marking to do – but on Tuesday, a bombshell hit. I received a call saying Mary Palmer had passed away early that morning at Dorothy House Hospice. Her sister was present. Having seen her (fortunately) last Thursday I knew she was on death’s door, but it was still a huge blow. Three months ago she had been performing at Waterstones. The cancer had come back and claimed her very quickly. I read to her in the hospice, and she seemed to be soothed by this, and took solace in the fact her words would live on – we’re publishing her selected poems. In the last few weeks she was able to edit her old work and write new material, up until the last week. It will be a poignant legacy to a brilliant poet. The way her friends have rallied around to help is so heartening.  We are all working hard to ensure her work will survive.

Tuesday night, despite receiving this awful news, I still had to teach somehow, as I was due to do my evening class at Chew Valley School. The session seems blighted – for it was on Tuesday a month ago I heard of Sarah’s suicide. I somehow dragged myself out of the house to go to the lesson, only to find my batteries were flat – and maybe just as well, as I wasn’t really in a psychologically fit state to ride. And today is Mary’s funeral – followed by the class. Not easy, being in the public eye!

Thursday morning I had been booked to run a private dawn ceremony at Stonehenge, through Gothic Image tours. I got up before sunrise and rode there – it was beautiful, seeing the sun rise over the misty, ancient landscape of Salisbury Plain. It was a stunning morning at the stones (for once). Introductions over, I led the small group from the States, Australia and Singapore into the stones, using my wolf-drum to lead the procession. We gathered in the circle and I started, casting the quarters with the help of volunteers (almost one from each corner of the world). In the gorsedd I performed Dragon Drance, which was a thrill to do in the stones, although at 6.30am I wasn’t at my best!  Still, it seemed to move people. A lovely bloke from Kansas wrote to me afterwards saying: ‘I thoroughly enjoyed and was moved by your poem at Stonehenge.  I’m not easily moved, but your words and your voice resonated deeply with me.’ He sent a photo too.

Bard on a Bike at Stonehenge, dawn 11.06.09

Bard on a Bike at Stonehenge, dawn 11.06.09, thanks to Larry Philips of Kansas

After the ceremony, we went back to the hotel they had been staying in, in Marlborough, for a very welcome cooked breakfast. It was nice to chat further with Jamie’s tour group. I don’t normally run ceremonies, but this was a pleasure. The sunshine makes all the difference!

Bon voyages over, then it was back home and down to earth with a bump for more marking!

The slog must go on!

Saturday, I, unusually, ran another ceremony – a handfasting at Stanton Drew, aka ‘the Wedding Stones’. This was only the second one I had done – the first, on my birthday a couple of years ago at Swallowhead Spring, near Silbury Hill, was for John and Colette. They recommended me to their friends, Nigel and Sophie. It was very special, to conduct the ceremony in the stones. Once more, I found myself leading a procession of people (this time much bigger – about 100) across the fields – negotiating an electric fence, cow pats and stampeding cattle (the cows, hearing our bells and seeing the line of movment may have thought it was feeding time – or was just overly curious. After a couple of attempts to join us or cut us off, they opted for circling a 4WD parked nearby, watching the gathering with frisky intent)! The sun broke through as we began. It was a beautiful ceremony – the couple clearly loved it, going by their beaming faces and comments afterwards. Many there hadn’t experienced anything like it before, and the responsive was overwhelmingly positive. Back at the lovely home of Nigel and Sophie (after a further trepidatious trapse through the cowfield) in the capacious garden, where marquees, dance floor, bar, buffet, chill-out yurt and fire had been set up, I led the toast to the newly weds with my poem, ‘The Wheel of the Rose’, and then entertained the guests with a wedding set, which seemed to go down well. My work done, it was time to hit the road – back to Bath, to say farewell to my friend Svanur, who was going back to Iceland, with a much welcome meal at Anna’s place.

Sunday, I needed a day off! I went on a great walk with fellow Fire Springer, Anthony, on the Malverns – managing to do a full circuit, from Swinyard Hill to Worcestershire Beacon and back again in the glorious sunshine, walking in the footsteps of Tolkien and Lewis, conversation flowing. It was ice-cream weather and a pint of a local ale in the Wyche Inn went down a treat too!

Last night, we held a Bath Storytelling Circle at the Raven especially dedicated to Mary, who was a regular attendee over its ten years’ of existence. Many moving tributes were shared, songs and poems performed in her name – and I can’t think of a better tribute than the way we gathered together in poetic fellowship, remembering her with beautiful words from the heart.

And today, the day of her funeral, I am sure many more moving words will be spoken. I’ve been asked to read out  a poem at the service and also speak in the celebration of her life afterwards at the Forum. It is hard being the bard sometimes – the one who remembers, the one who must stand up there and articulate what everyone is feeling (while being assailed with those feelings themselves), but that is my role and it seems destiny has made sure I fulfil it, by thrusting me into these situations. Bombarded by life (and death). It has been a maelstrom of emotion, these last couple of weeks, and at times it felt the only way I could survive was to ‘lash myself to the mast’, like Turner famously did. One has to ride with it, or be overwhelmed – back in Olney, poet William Cowper, captured this in one of his famous Olney Hymns of 1779, ‘Light Shining in the Darkness’:

God moves in a mysterious way,

His wonders to perform;

He plants his footsteps in the sea,

And rides upon the storm.

Riding the Awen

Badbury Rings

Badbury Rings

15-16 March

Late last night returned from a talk I gave on my book Lost Islands to Sue Stone’s Positive Living group. The most enjoyable part of it was the ride down in the sunshine yesterday afternoon – I stopped off at Badbury Rings, a fairy fort near Wimborne Minister, just off an incredible avenue of beeches. Its centre, contained within an impressive triple ring of ramparts, is filled with majestic trees. Whenever I go there I always end up feeling sleepy and wanting to nod off against one – but I feel I would wake up in three hundred years time, like a West Country Rip Van Winkle. It made a pleasant pitstop, to say the least – green tranquility after the roar of the road. I used the time to get some headspace before my talk. It’s been full on lately, what with getting two books ready for publication – one for print (Places of Truth by Jay Ramsay, coming out this Friday, touchwood) and one for the publisher’s deadline (The Way of Awen – my follow up to The Bardic Handbook). What with a stack of marking as well, things could get too breaking point – but I’m staying on top of them, just! It seems I am destined to lead my life this way, by the seat of my pants, no matter how much I plan – riding the awen, trusting in it to give me the inspiration and energy to achieve whatever I need to.

Feeling relaxed, if soporific (Badbury had slowed my metabolism – my brainwaves from alpha to theta – a little longer there and I would have started scribbling, but interestingly I didn’t have my notebook, or even camera on me when I went up to the hill. They had been left behind on my tank-bag. I was just meant to ‘stand and stare’ for once) I drank some coffee from my flask, checked the map and set off.

I arrived in Bournemouth, at West Cliff as the sun was setting. I got myself some chips and sat and watched it and the beautiful soothing vista of cool blue water against the dying gold.

Bournemouth from West Cliff

Bournemouth from West Cliff

I read through my notes and hunted down the venue – St Ambrose Church Hall (who was St Ambrose – Merlin Ambrosius perhaps?). I said hi to the host, Sue Stone, who seemed excited to see me in my leathers (it turns out she used to ride a bike herself). I got ready for my talk. The place filled up. There was a good turn out – a full house pretty much. I started with raising the awen, then went straight into my Oisin story – finishing with Niamh’s song calling him to Tir nan Og. Then I lead them in a ‘lost island’ visualisation, using John Lennon’s haunting ‘Imagine’ song as a prompt for ‘imagining your utopia’. Then I plunged into the main body of my talking, following the awen. I read out an extract from the book, answered some questions and ended with an extract from my next Windsmith novel, The Well Under the Sea, in which I describe my created lost island, Ashalante (an island at the crossroads of time where lost souls find each other). Afterwards I chatted to some of the group members, who shared their enthusiasm for islands. Then I guzzled some caffeine, scoffed some chocolate biscuits for the sugar and hit the road. There was a freezing fog on the way home – not much fun along windy roads, however romantic Dorset mist might seem. It was like being on Niamh’s fairy steed, returning to Erin, trying to find the home I knew – would it still be there? Would I make it back, or would my ‘saddle strap’ snap (I discovered my tank bag’s strap had come loose) and I be overwhelmed with mortality? It certainly felt possible in the freezing pitch black night. But the roads were clear and I felt awake enough. I stopped in Salisbury for refueling (myself and the bike) and made it back for midnight. I needed a dram of whisky when I got in, and a hot water bottle – but even that didn’t stop me feeling cold. I really needed a long soak. Wrapping myself in my duvet just kept the cold – which had numbed my extremities – in. Due to the high levels of caffeine I needed to get home, I wasn’t able to get to sleep, despite being exhausted. Blearily, I ‘awoke’ up at 5am, made myself a tea and snack and read until I finally fell into blissful sleep…but not for long enough. Could have slept the rest of that morning but had loads of marking to do. Had it all been worth it? The New Age entrepeneur certainly made more out of it than I did (if I had been paid a pound for every mile travelled there and back I would have felt  my effort more fairly remunerated – I got basic expenses, and a basic fee but nothing to warrant my exertion). Nevertheless, things can be reciprocated in ways we don’t realise. You never know if someone had been touched by what I had said. Inspired. Certainly the people that came up seem to be. One Scottish lady enthused about the book on islands she was going to write. If I had sparked something, then it had been worthwhile…but at the moment, with my aching bones and bleary head, it doesn’t feel so!

Deer's Leap, Mendips, overlooking the Somerset Levels

Deer's Leap, Mendips, overlooking the Somerset Levels

The previous day had been, in comparison, a joyous breeze. A beautiful Spring day, I took the bike out for a spin on the Mendips, taking my route to Chew Valley along lanes lined with golden daffodils (so different in the daytime!) and stopping off at Stanton Drew – having a coffee in the beer garden of the Druid’s Arms next to the Cove (remains of an ancient burial chamber). Then I took the back roads to Priddy, and to Deer’s Leap – a picnic site with stunning views over the Somerset Levels, which looked spectacular on such a clear day. Glastonbury Tor rose mythically from the haze, like a dream of Camelot. A good place to get a perspective on things. Then I called in on my friends Amy and Jose who had just moved into a lovely cottage near Wookey, on the side of the Mendips. It was good to catch up with them, and see their place – which made me green with envy! I took Jose a bottle of rum to thank him for helping me out with my bike, and some chocolate and wine as a house-warming. Yet a cup of tea and a good old chat can’t be beaten. I returned in the fading light, carrying the sun inside me.