Saturday, 2 May 2009

Jack in the Green

Although the day started a little gray, it brightened up for the ceremony this afternoon. This is the end of the procession through Bristol. The air had wafts of blossom from hawthorn and cut grass and you could feel some of the heat of summer to come.

This was a zoomed picture down the common - the first sighting of Jack. He's just to the left of the tree:

Pulling back the view as Jack makes his way to the top of the common:

Jack comes to a stop and the dancers gather round him in a circle:

The man with the green beard holds the spear that will be used to 'kill' Jack and release the summer into the air:

The climax of the Jack in the Green ceremony - the dance comes to an end and Jack must be killed to allow his spirit to become free:

After Jack has been killed the crowd moves in to strip Jack bare and release the summer into the sky:

The author gets a 'greening' from one of the dancers.

Friday, 1 May 2009

May Day 2009

I only got two hours sleep last night - I was giving a magic workshop last night and then had some other things to do once I got back. The upshot was that I didn't get to bed until 1:40 am. So, two hour's sleep and then up to see the dancers dancing up the sunrise on Brandon Hill in Bristol.

They started about 4:40 am and carried on until gone 6:30 am. You can see that the first pictures were taken using flash as it was quite dark, while the last were taken in daylight, the Sun being well up.

Have a close look at the first few photos - if you look very closely you can see fairies hovering over the dancers. Fairies love the sound of music being played on these special days. They are most certainly NOT photographic artifacts. . . (click on the picture to get a larger image)

Then came dawn. . .

And I didn't have to use the flash on the camera.

This is just such a great action shot and is so vibrant with energy:

And now the day is well and truly on it's way. . .

Tomorrow we'll be going to see the ending of the Jack in the Green procession on Horefield Common. Jack in the Green occurs on the first Saturday in May and is another summer celebration. But the actual start of summer, the festival of Beltane, will not occur properly until the 5th of May this year, when the sun is in the exactly correct astronomical position in the sky - and a third excuse for a party to celebrate the start of summer.

Friday, 20 March 2009


Happy Equinox to all my readers!

The festival itself is called Ostera, from where we get our name 'Easter'.

We've just come back from a walk in the park - just trying to soak up some of the signs of mid-Spring. . . daffodils, buds bursting open on the trees and, of course, that harbinger of better weather, the fruits of the stupid-trouser fairy. . . cropped baggy pants on overweight youngsters trying to look 'hip'.

The Equinox is always a funny time. The half-way point, the turning point, neither one nor the other, but both in balance. The point of a sword.

There is not a sense of completion like there is for the Solstices where the Sun is 'fully ripe' or 'fully spent'.

There is a brief moment you can feel of poise and uncertainty. It's like taking a step on to a frozen lake. You catch your breath as you are completely focused on sensing if that first step into an "unknown but predestined future" will take your weight. A new world of possibilities beneath your feet. Will it hold. . .

Balance . . .

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Yule - part 2

So, here it is. Yule.

The family stayed up until gone midnight. This meant that I could give Drea her card, though her present will have to wait until later in the day.

Drea got up early and I stayed on in bed. When I finally emerged from the embrace of Morpheus I had a shower and washed my hair and came downstairs. Then out into the garden shed to light the candles. . . Using flint and tinder to light a spill which then lights two candles - one ordinary candle and one longer-lasting night-light. I like to have two candles as an insurance against a sudden gust blowing one of them out.

Drea had knitted me some wonderful Yule socks as a present. They 'start' at the top of the right leg and the pattern goes down and shows the colours of nature getting progressively fainter and more barren towards the toe. The toe of the left sock then picks up the colour and progresses to the first signs of spring at the top of the left leg - marvellous (see photo). I was far less creative. I gave her a Tuareg bracelet that I know she saw and liked.

Drea had also made small presents for everyone who is going to attend tonight - inckle woven bracelets.

There are other preparations to do now so I will update the blog later.

So to continue. . .

There were the sauces to prepare and the dips and the vegetables and also the bread rolls to make. The syllabub and the shortbread in the shape of the sun had been made the day before. I kept checking on the candles to make sure that they hadn't fallen over, blown out or burned down - it was something vaguely manly that I could do, rather than stirring the salsa.

At five o'clock I prepared the barbecue - last year's Yule log gets burned - packed round with charcoal - and the fire is then lit from the candleflame. All the lights in the house are then extinguished and the candle is brought into the house. It first lights the candle for the New Year and is then presented to every room in the house in turn: Man brings fire to cave!

The guests had been arriving and were all present when the candle finished its journey. Mulled wine was then the order of the day followed by the reading of the solar diary. This is a record of what we had done, where we had been and, most importantly, a catalogue of all the mis-speaking and foul-ups during the year. People were still trying to explain what they actually meant to say and why it did not deserve a place in the diary!

After that, the diary is taken out and burned on the barbecue - any mistakes are therefore consigned to history and any memories worth keeping should be remembered. It really is, out with the old, in with the new.

The barbecue meat is cooked and we all enjoyed a hearty meal (with plenty of leftovers for the next couple of days!) and drink was drunk. We had a toast to welcome the New Year, another for absent friends and one to say thank you to Drea for all her hard work and for being wonderful.

I had decided to engage the younger members with some bubble-blowing this year. Les's super-strength bubble mixture did the job - super-size bubbles which are quite able to get to a foot across and will bounce on the carpet. They are very magical and the children loved them, catching them on their clothes to try to get them from one end of the room to the other, followed by a kind of blow football with them. Great fun.

When people decided it was time to go we just had one thing left to do - an invitation to return and the blowing out of the New Year candle. That candle will be the one which brings in the fire and light into the house next year and will light the next New Year candle.

Once the guests had departed my step-son, Ben, then read us a story he had written as a present to us and we had some spiced rum which he had made. The rum was strong and beautifully flavoured and his story was great - the product of a very imaginative mind. It was a fairytale and was well told - a unique and wonderful present.

After that we had some more readings. I came across a book some years ago containing poems to be read aloud, such as "Mandalay", "Ozymandias of Egypt" and "The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God". This was just what was needed as it fit the mood perfectly - a mixture of community and passion stirring our inner fires. Not long after, when everything had been tidied away, we managed to drag ourselves off to our beds.

A great party and a great way to celebrate the start of the New Year!

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Yule - part 1

I have been preparing for Yule for about a month now.

Just to refresh your memory - it is what we celebrate on the 21st December. I have wanted to enjoy it even more this year and so I was thinking about how to make it more memorable and engaging.

I had been being more aware of the season itself, more aware of the weather in particular. It also helped to be aware of the general winding down that people experience towards the end of the calendar year. That said, there was more to do this month for my beloved in particular. We have two family birthdays in December, and she had a spinning and also a knitting competition to enter. I have been very busy at work and I also had some entertaining to do (which required some rehearsal). That, combined with preparing for Yule itself (together with Christmas shopping, decorating and making and writing Christmas cards) has meant that it has been a busy time even when not working.

I didn't want to leave Yule to just preparing the day before, so I had been thinking what I might do to enhance it. There will be the usual favorites: the reading of the solar diary, the barbecue (which I have to light without matches or a lighter), the breaking of the shortbread sun, the tipsy chocolate syllabub, lots of home-made wine and the bringing in of the light of the new year), but I was looking for more emotional content. This would have to be done softly as I don't want to make too big a thing about it and make it a chore for anyone.

The whole point of the celebration is to mark the end of one year and the start of the new. Not that radical, but this is the theme - out with the old and in with the new. . . but I wanted to try to give it more 'meaning' and more continuity.

In the end I have settled for the following: having two toasts - one at the start of the meal for 'absent friends' and another one at the end of the meal to state the spirit of family and helping each other.

For the continuity aspect the last toast will end the toast with an invitation to return next year. The candle which I will light earlier in the day to light the barbecue (I don't want to be fiddling about with flint and tinder in the dark when we're all hungry) will be used to light a new candle (continuity again). At the end of the toast we shall all gather to blow out the new candle (like a birthday candle) and the candle will be kept until next Yule.

Well, that's all for now - I have written this as a break between helping Drea with the Yule decorations and polishing the candlestick holders. I'll let you know how it all goes. . .

Saturday, 6 December 2008

How to get yourself an 'edge'

Do you remember puzzle of the lily pond? It runs like this. . .

In the middle of the garden there is a lily pond. The pond contains just one lily. Every day the number of lilies in the pond doubles, so when you come to the pond on the second day there are two lilies, on the third day there are four lilies, on the fourth day there are eight lilies - and so on. Now let us say that the pond will be completely full of lilies on the thirtieth day. The question is, on what day will the pond be half-full?

I'll let you think about that for a moment.

One of the news reports today is about the number of relationships which are foundering in the current economic crisis. Apparently it is job insecurities and money worries which are putting a strain on relationships. Bills need to be paid and it is not always certain that the money is available. Work is pressured and the stress of that work does not stop when people leave the office or factory. Tempers get frayed. Things are said which a cooler head would not have uttered. People feel close to breaking point. They are giving there all and there is nowhere left to go. There are no reserves.

And there it is - 'no reserves'. There is no slack in the system. Running on empty.

This is one of the problems with living one's life to the maximum of your capabilities. Living at 'top C' all the time. Letting input exactly equal output - (let's not talk about those organisations that want you to give 110%). The problem is as we are seeing now, that when something unexpected occurs then we have no spare to capacity to deal with the change.

We see this circumstance in other situations:

We drive into work, crowded into arterial roads. One driver thinking about a work problem is not paying attention. They don't stop quite in time and there is a bump. Nothing fatal - hardly a scratch - but matters have to be resolved and so the two drivers exchange details. . . and the queue stretches back as the two lane carriageway is now down to one lane. And a few hundred people who have no slack in their time schedule are now going to be late for work, stressed before they even start trying to be productive.

This is as true of our cars as it is of our jobs, of our finances, of our time and of our relationships. Living at our capacity affects our whole life. There needs to be some slack in the system.

From where do we get this slack? Does it mean that you don't give your all, that you don't live life to the full?

The slack is achieved in two ways. The first way is by not giving up the slack in the first place. The second is by putting as much slack into the system as you can before you need it. Your 'all' is not living at the extent of everything all the time - it is more than that. It also includes your creativity and wit and compassion, your joy, your love, everything you can BE rather than just everything you can DO. Your 'all' includes all those things which get squeezed out of a life by just 'doing more' and 'having more'.

Trying to give ourselves an edge, living life at the edge, might be more of an edge than we first appreciate

Now you may think that is a good idea to try to put some slack back into the system, and that you will get around to doing it. That is why I started this blog with the question about the lily pond.

I am sure that you have got the correct answer by now. You realized that you have to work it out backwards - if the pond is full on the thirtieth day it must be half-full the day before (as it doubles every day). So the answer is that the pond will be half full on day 29.

And there is the thing: on day 29 everything looked fine. There was plenty of space to grow, plenty of opportunity, no problem. For all of the pond's history, everything looked fine and everything looked set to continue. But just one day later there was no more expansion, no more growth and from then onwards life in the pond was never the same again.

We don't always realize how close to the edge we are, how close to our maximum. One way we can check is to ask ourselves if we are being everything we can be or just doing everything we ought. Are we being driven along by circumstance or are we working to a more measured inner quest.

Friday, 28 November 2008

One million songs

Ham Wall, Somerset

Today my beloved and I went to Ham Wall in Somerset. We had promised ourselves for a long time that we would go and see the starlings and their flocking display. The birds - over a million at this site - come from their feeding grounds during the day and congregate in huge pods, swathes and waves which seem to undulate and pulsate with a life of their own. They come wave after wave for an hour at dusk.

I had seen clips of this phenomenon before on the internet, but I wanted to go with Drea so that we could watch the event together for real.

Here are some of the pictures I took - click on them to get a larger view:

The birds are masters of the air. It may seem obvious to say that none of them seemed to collide with any other in the flock, but the flowing three-dimensional shapes almost became entities in their own right. What was particularly interesting was that there was no sound other than the rustling of the wings. It sounded like satin being drawn across the back of your hand.

Once they had poured out of the sky into the reed-beds they were then free to discuss the doings of the day and to gossip about any late-comers. My mind suddenly shifted from one element to another, from air to water. I wondered if I would ever see those great shoals of fish which exhibit similar behaviour.

And - just for a moment - the sussuration of the voices of the starlings became the surf caressing a distant shore.