When I was approached by the very nice mother of a very nice girl who is approaching her school leaving exam with a view to some English coaching, I told myself the (probably apocryphal) Jung story again and said that for the duration of these holidays I was too busy. She looked disappointed and queried it, but I stood by my resolve firmly, without any sense of obligation to explain what I would be busy doing.
I was so utterly fed up and tired of work by the time the the winter holidays came at the end of last week that I was quite prepared to hunker down in an introvert huddle, snarling and snapping at anyone who came near me, for the duration. In fact though, I have been rather enjoying catching up with my friends, in my own time and theirs, without having to fit them around other commitments if I saw them at all, and ending up strained and ragged and unfit for human company. So I have celebrated D's 88th birthday with champagne, done yoga at leisure with E, explored the outlying woods and orchards of various châteaux and drunk Darjeeling with B the German doctor, been read to delightfully and chatted about translation with H, had coffee with A and turned our faces to the early spring sun in the lee of her house wall, and there is still a walk in the woods with Rosie and Porridge to look forward to on Monday. The only problem has been it's led me to eat rather a lot of cake and biscuits.
In addition, Tom and I no longer have any Radio Times crosswords outstanding, we have watched several episodes of Inspector Morse on DVD, I have despatched the second half of Middlemarch, which I had wandered away from some time in January in the middle of a rather doldrummish patch of provincial politics, and Molly has had a good brushing and a trim round the head and ears (her hairdresser was on holiday so she was spared her thrice yearly shearing, which, in view of the chill wind there has been of late, has probably been a blessing for her). I've even dallied with a little light housework, and Tom's been out on the garden a bit, though I haven't much.
The volume of Salley Vickers short stories, Aphrodite's Hat, was like a box of good chocolates, some sweet and light, some darker and more bitter, some hard centres and some soft, some with a surprising twist of chilli pepper in. Very easy to keep dipping in and taking another and another, to see what the next would be.
Oh dear, so much for my resolve to try to write more intelligent and articulate reader's responses to the things I read. Already it has degenerated into self-induced synaesthesia which whimsically insists on seeing books as food items. Never mind, the link will take you to a proper review from the Guardian, which also, and I didn't know this when I made the chocolate analogy, describes it as a box of delights.
However, by coincidence after I'd mentioned the uncertain dimensions of the fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream, it contains a story, The Indian Child, which takes a wryly different angle on the quarrel between Oberon and Titania which is one of the central elements of the drama. It begins
"But what, beyond the world, does she want with a human child?" the visitor enquired.
then later, revisiting the 'ill met by moonlight...' scene,
The king [Oberon] left alone and caught off-guard, drew himself up to his greatest height. Quite what that was would be hard to quantify, but it had the effect of his seeming to tower above the queen when she swept into the glade followed by her extensive retinue.
Which pleased me, that someone else had thought of it and by serendipity I came across it. Then a bit later there was this post at Christopher's, which doesn't have a lot to do with the matter of Shakespeare's fairies, but does contain this picture, a bit of Victoriana fairy stuff, which also attempts to tackle the Dream's muddle of scale and perspective in visual terms. I would correct Christopher on one thing though, and Salley Vickers makes the same point, the Indian child was not a changeling. He was taken from the human realm because his mother was Titania's friend and died in childbirth, he was not duplicitously changed for a fairy child.
One Brothers Grimm tale, a short one, tells how to retrieve a human child thus swapped. The trick is to make the changeling laugh, which will break the spell. This is best done, it seems, by boiling water on the fire in the broken halves of an eggshell. The changeling in that story, on seeing this spoke the words
Though I am as old as the oldest tree
Cooking in an eggshell never did I see!
and laughed, at which a group of elves rushed into the kitchen carrying the human child, replaced it, and took the changeling away.
(Mervyn Peake's illustration of the changeling )
This in turn led me to thinking of Yeats' poem The Stolen Child, and the matter of child abduction by outside forces. These tales and songs of children taken off by the fairies, (up the airy mountain, down the rushy glen...), mostly strike us as quaint and picturesque, a bit of pretty folklore and legend, if a little eery and melancholy. In Loreena Mckennitt's setting of the poem to music, the background sounds of dogs baying and people shouting suggest more forcefully the reality of a child disappeared, the panic and desperation of the human community which stalks our nightmares still. If there really was a folk belief that missing children were taken by beings from beyond the human dimension, to a place where time and life went on differently, was it a comfort, I wonder, compared with our far more concrete imaginings of what can happen to them, including the fear of outside hostile agencies which are all too human? For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand...
We go on feeding the birds, they sit in the amalanchier tree and chirrup at Tom when he goes out there in the morning. Emy, our vet, says that once there's blossom on the trees they should be feeding themselves, but Tom quickly grows attached to anything he perceives to be depending on him. I have said once this food is gone I won't buy any more. Emy had two budgies, a green and a yellow, in a fine golden cage in her reception area when I called in for a natter and some dog food. Someone had brought the yellow one in on a cold day, having found her at his window, asking to come in. Emy said they put her in a hamster cage, faute de mieux, then grew rather fond of her, so they bought a proper cage and another budgie to go with her.
A VIP visitor to the garden is this fellow,
greater spotted woodpecker, not uncommon hereabouts but the first time we've had one regularly coming to the garden. I have the impression they're quite territorial. When I was about ten, my friend and I (RR, I think it was...) found a dead one of these on our school playing field, a road casualty. We buried it in somewhat makeshift fashion under some grass and leaves in the bank nearby. A day or so later, our science teacher asked us to bring in some specimen of nature to display and discuss ( we were a bit big for show and tell...). We hit on the bold move of digging up the dead woodpecker, which we put in a cereal box and took along to our science class, with half an idea we might be able to shock the teacher and our classmates. The teacher, Mrs Q, a rather delicate-looking old lady not too far off retirement, was nothing like so easily discomforted, showed a lively interest, and spread out the dead bird's wings to show the remarkable patterning of spots which give the bird its name. A shower of ants fell from the feathers, which she stamped on energetically.
The Canigou is Catalonia’s Holy Mountain. I suspect that this is at least partly because it has been seen as the gatherer of rain, distributing it to the valleys at its feet, supplying the orchards of apples, pears, cherries, peaches and nectarines, as well as the plots of vegetables. There are complicated systems of irrigation here with stone and concrete channels which collect the water from the streams and run for miles around the hillsides, feeding the fields and orchards through little sluice gates at intervals.
I have been here in May when the rivers are rushing with snow melt, and in September when the snow has gone but thunder rumbles deeply around the great ravines that run upwards for thousands of feet towards a summit so often concealed by cloud. The Canigou is a benevolent giant generating water in what would otherwise be a dry landscape, and discharging alluvium into the valleys at its feet,
(Artisan or Wanderer, Feb 26th)
Number Two Brother, Chris, who lives in the Mayenne and who wrote the guest post 'Cats', which receives consistently more hits on Box Elder than any other post ever, is blogging at last. I'm a little wary of plugging my family's blogs, as they tend to start and then find life gets in the way, and I don't want anyone to feel under a sense of obligation or expectation about anything. (In fact Number Three Brother Phil has been blogging quite steadily if infrequently for ages, but it tends to be a specialist job about Doctor Who or other SF, or about the games he designs, which sound fearsomely clever but are somewhat of a mystery to me; though occasionally he writes a cracking good review of an exhibition or some such ).
I set the blog up for Chris getting on for a year ago, at his request, but then I think he lost the e-mail with the instructions, then winter set in and the office wherein dwells the computer became too cold to spend a lot of time in, but spring is around the corner and he seems to have overcome his keyboard aversion so we're on the way, I hope. The blog title, Artisan or Wanderer, describes how he sees himself, and his wish to explore the tensions created by
the need to be somewhere one knows and feels secure, and the need at times to be somewhere else; one organism, struggling to decide which direction to go in...
As well as cats (which may not in fact feature very frequently), he's good on art and architecture, particularly the Romanesque, the Camino pilgrimage, cycling and travel in general, building, being displaced, and a whole slew of other potentially fascinating subjects, so please keep an eye out for him. I have warned him that old-fashioned blogging like this is an evolutionary blind-alley from which most people have retreated in favour of Facebook and Twitter, but I can't imagine that bothers him too much. It doesn't bother us, does it brothers and sisters?
Off to Kerbiriou again for a few days next week, it's early to be heading off, and it may well be chilly, but no matter, it's cosy there and we'll have books and pens and paper to keep ourselves busy, and we should find somewhere open to eat.
Still quite a few things to do, so I must draw this meandering to a close for now. Might post again before I go, might not!