Monday, 28 September 2009

Women, equality and brunettes

Women have been culturally, socially, economically, mentally suppressed by men for centuries. Aren't they expecting too much for all this to disappear in 40 odd years?

I was reading something today which highlighted how far women still have to go to acquire equality in, at least, Western democracies. In a lot of places around the globe they have even further to go; a lot further!

Despite enacting rafts of legislation, which make it illegal to discriminate against people based on gender, race, physical condition, age and/or the distance from your crotch to the ground, it hasn't actually seemed to have changed very much, in some respects it may have made matters worse. What it has done is drive the discrimination 'underground'; made it more subtle (sort of). Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting we repeal the legislation, it is necessary. What I puzzle about is: how do you change men's attitudes at a fundamental level and could it be done in the forty or so years since Dworkin, Millett, Greer et al first waved their bras in the air and demanded equality. (And no, that last remark is not sexist, it was the feminists themselves who used the slogan and it was meant to be extreme, being moderate seldom gets you anywhere.)

You see, the legislation is constantly being undermined by the media, the advertising industry. They continue to bombard their audience with a host of insinuations which simply perpetuate pre-1960s attitudes. Why are woman constantly referred to by their hair colour? As though this were their most important feature? Why does no word exist in English for a brown-haired man? Blond? Simply co-opted for men as it is the name of the hair colour, not a noun to denote the individual who is blond (adjective) as 'blonde' is. (The 'e' is there because that's what you do in French to denote an adjective defining a feminine noun and therefore the form of the noun you 'make' from the adjective becomes feminine.) Why do we not refer to men as 'a Brun'? Not too mention that brunette is a diminutive, a 'little brown (haired individual). And why don't the media talk of men as 'baldy'. Well they do, but only when trying to insult. Why does it not occur to them that brunette is just as insulting as baldy?

Well, unfortunately they do understand. Only too well!

Why is women's underwear still advertised on perfect '8's (don't know what the equivalent size is in the US) with long legs and no waist? Um, this is not the bulk of your buyers, guys. No, it's intention is (a) to make size 14 women who may have a gained a few inches over the years, haven't we all, feel inadequate but also to make them feel that if only they bought Sloggi underwear, Pretty Polly stockings or a Triumph Wonderbra, they'd suddently recapture an allure they've been deliberately made to feel they've lost and (b) to sexually tittilate men! Advertising hoardings are the modern day equivalent of the renaissance nude. The artist who created the painting in 1520 may have felt they were saying something about the essential nature of beauty but the men who bought them were most definitely not buying, commissioning, them for their intellectual worth! The sixteenth century's answer to hard core pornography was the nude! Just ask John Berger!

As MG may have made clear when he ruined my blog earlier in the year, it is hard for him to 'buy in' to such an idea since as a 'victim' of a sort of 'discrimination', it is hard for him to see others as anything else than simply other human beings; not male, not female, not Christian, not Muslim, not black, not white, just another person.

But western society doesn't want him to behave like that. It wants to plant ideas in his head that conform to whatever it is the 'ruling class' believe he should believe. And the ruling class is not the government nor the aristocracy. It is the vested interests that are neither elected nor accountable, for anything! Until you change them, or divest them of their power, you will change nothing at a fundamental level and change at a superficial level is not worth the paper it is not printed on.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

We've got spam, eggs and spam, spam and eggs and spam

What? Sorry, eggs is off!

If you have a web presence, you get spam all the time. It's the price you pay for exposing yourself to the bots and spiders that make their vast, intricate way around the myriad different spaces that make up the web. Most times I don't even open them, even the ones I originally signed up for; I just drop them in the trash. I am not sure why this one intrigued, but it did and it's the best since the lovely Elena last year; it has profoundly affected the way I look at attempted phishing scams (which this clearly is). The message reads:

"- From the Desk Of MR. LORD ADAIR TURNER CHAIRMAN, FINANCIAL SERVICES AUTHORITY (FSA). It has come to our notice via our central monitoring computer that a huge fund has been credited in your name for transfer with a London Bank. Under the stipulated enabling Law of the Government of Great Britain and Wales and other Commonwealth States, any huge fund that has been found in ourcomputer system waiting to be transferred without claims for a period of 6 months or less,shall be confiscated and forfeited to the Government of Great Britain and Wales.We do hereby ask you to contact this office immediately for ratification within the 3 days of this notice or consider your fund confiscated. We appreciate your urgent co-operation. Respond to my alternative; MR. LORD ADAIR TURNER. CHAIRMAN, FINANCIAL SERVICES AUTHORITY (FSA).LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM DIRECT TELEPHONE: (44) 7024020559"

Now this is such uninformed claptrap, it almost beggars belief; whatever happened to Great Britain and Northern Ireland? When did Wales acquire its 'elevated' status? Why would someone who purportedly works for the man not know that 'Mr' is a no-no? It's 'Lord Turner' or 'Adair Turner, Baron of Ecchinswell' not all of it run together like some German portmanteau word, dummies! And three days notice? Even the current British Government wouldn't enact such draconian legislation; my solicitor would have a field day! The FSA doesn't monitor that stuff anyway, the Bank of England does; and why doesn't he have a address like everyone else? Why is it in Hong Kong?

But you see, they don't want vaguely intelligent penguins like me replying, do they? They know I'm going to ask questions about why they need my login credentials to transfer money TO me. They know I'll just ask them to send me a cheque and I'll bank it. So all of this is not, as you might think, to make it all sound legit. It's there to ensure that whatever replies they do receive come from the immensely stupid, naive or just plain toooooo greedy.

Think how that must cut down on the overhead. No tying up valuable time on the phone 'non-answering' relevant questions, no running up expensive mobile (cell) phone bills. Why pull resources away from your next scam when you can get the audience to self-select? Works for iTunes!

Nonetheless, it made me chuckle. A rare occurance in these troubled times.

I dropped past someone's blog today and found this about a 'relationship', "Why do I care?" The relationship is 4 days old, is a kind of teacher/underachieving pupil one, and is no doubt merely one of many formed in the last few days. So why care? Is that merely the only instance or are there others and, if there are others, why that one?

It's strange sometimes the bonds we form, penguin or human. What makes one penguin or human of more concern to us than another? And why? What makes the initial connection that ties us to them rather than another? It cannot be just their situation or cicumstances or we would feel the same way about similar individuals in similar circumstances. (I am disegarding sexual attraction here since it has no place in the discussion. Of itself, it will provide all the incentive for 'caring' required; there could be a pay off!;)

It's not that we don't care about the others, it's just for some reason we don't care as much.

Now it would be nice, I think, if we could postulate a concrete, biological reason for this; pheromones, body language, neural wiring in either brain but I cannot believe that it is so simple or could be so simple.

They say, you fall in love with someone in seconds, at most minutes (I know I do. I was attracted to the convent schoolgirls even before I knew it, although not before the nuns who would spot it weeks before I even knew it might be there :), otherwise why would you waste your valuable time and effort in investing that time and effort in trying to develop the relationship; it would be just one of many,wouldn't it? Of no more import than any other. (I am also disregarding 'blood ties' here as well, for pretty much the same reason as sexual attraction. There are other forces at work there which have little to do with mutual attraction. I DO NOT HAVE AN OEDIPUS COMPLEX, right?)

So what is it? It can't be physical, we form relationships with people or penguins we have never met, never seen, never smelt, although the bond is often closer if we have. So what, then?

As an atheist, I find it difficult to talk about or write about my SOUL but in one sense it's the only word that will do. We, for the most part, if we are honest with ourselves, open up a window on who we are, what we are, what or who we would wish to be and who or what we have been. If the other person has eyes to see, we are as transparent as the shop fronts at Macey's or Harrods. It is this that attracts, makes us care. When we see WHO is in front of us, not the WHO that they present to the world.

Anyone who has ever been through difficult times, for whatever reason, wants the world to care. But we don't want the text book care. We want them to really care. Only those who make it past the shop front can ever be of any use. And yes, that is selfish but are we not all selfish? We live to survive, else there is no tomorrow. And when others see through our windows, as we wish them to do, is it not then beholden on all of us to try to see through as well, as best we may?

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Fare Well Anora!

"The long expected day arrived on Friday. After months of: 'Is it on'? 'Is it off'? 'Has it stalled?' 'Do we need to jump start it?' the lovely Anora finally gave away her last free drink, her last free food; finally gave up trying to make a precarious living in a stagnating economy and shut up shop. The bar will re-open on Monday, same as usual, same booze, same food, same decor, though my Ruppel's Griffon will have gone from the wall, same staff but it won't be, can't be, the same place. And in a month or two, even the staff will have moved on; it will not be the same place for them either.

Strange, the effect one person can have, ay?

It is always difficult to express why one bar/pub is preferred over another. It is seldom the quality of the food or the variety of the booze on offer; there are intangibles at work here which are not just down to the character/persona of the people behind the bar. It is more to do, I think, with the character of the bar itself, which the owner/staff only in some way contribute. It is their ability to attract similar kinds of people which lends the place its 'atmosphaer', its sense of being a place where, whoever is there, there will always be someone this side of the bar who shares a common interest, a topic of conversation, which is not sport.

For certain the absence of a TV or satelite deterred the more moronic, interested only in the latest football or the test at the Oval, and attracted a more discerning crowd, a crowd more interested in talk, discussion, debate than on watching Thierry Henri slot another one past the goalkeeper. It was a place where what you paid for lunch was arbitary, though never more than the 'real price'; a place where you asked for another brandy to drown the sorrows and a bottle would be set on the table with the words, 'help yourself I'm going upstairs for a cigarette!' Who will now get me my Krug from the cash and carry?

There was much alcohol induced merriment that night but such an underlying current of sadness at the loss of what had been so familiar and this was not cured by the attempt of all and sundry to reduce the stock taking exercise on the Monday to the bare minimum (I went for the Maker's Mark and when that ran out started on the JD - I'm nothing if not consistent. That was after the champagne of course. I well remember when JD was such a rarity in UK pubs; mind, no-one still stocks Old Granddad, overproof or otherwise!)

I went in for lunch today and it was already different. True, D is still there's strange to see a male behind the bar. It's only half the bar it was. When D has gone, as she will be, it will no longer be the place I spent every lunchtime for five years and I will have to find another way to spend that hour of the day. Even the space on the wall where the Griffon used to be spelt the end!

So Anora,

For all the cheap food, thank you!
For all the free booze, thank you!
For leaving, only tears!

Good luck, Daisy, whatever and wherever and however you choose to do!"

It would, I think, be easy to consign this to the over-sentimental bin. But MG is seldom so emotional. Humans always find change hard to deal with, perhaps we should have some compassion here. Fat chance! :)

Sunday, 16 August 2009

St Francis, a dog and redemption

The words are mine, the idea, Karel Capek's. I here recreate a pale simulacrum of an out of print story by the author of R.U.R. and War with the Newts. It is done out of respect not cheating. This comes nowhere close to Kapek's prose, even in translation, but the idea is so endearing.

It is a feeble effort but perhaps it will move.

The farmer paused to mop his brow with the soiled towel hanging from his belt. Wiping his forehead and cheeks, he rubbed his naked chest, tanned to the colour of tree bark in the summer sun, and then his arms and, as he folded the towel back into his belt, gazed into the distance along a winding path that led from his smallholding to the next. As he peered at the panorama spread before him, he made out a small figure; a figure the colour of the earth from which the farmer ground out a meagre existence for his wife and family.

“Another mendicant friar,” he thought. As if life were not precarious enough in these foothills with never any certainty that there would be food on the table for those he loved, hours of backbreaking toil in the baking sun from dawn until dusk and beyond; and these friars had the cheek to beg from him! He, who had too little of almost everything, and too much charity. “There is little to complain about, I suppose,” he muttered to himself. “To devote oneself to God, to willingly dispossess oneself of all that is desirable in this world, a wife, children, a place, however small, that one might call one’s own; to do this for the love of God is perhaps a truly wond’rous thing deserving of our charity. For although I love my God with all my heart, this I could not do, and I hope He does forgive me for this.”

The image of the friar grew larger in his sight and he began to discern details: the straw, wide-brimmed hat, which cast a long shadow across his face; the aquiline nose, a rudder steering the friar along his course, along the strait but winding road to salvation. Dust lay thick and heavy around the plain brown cassock, a cord loosely knotted around his middle, the underarms stained a deep brown, almost sepia.

“Come, wife! Bring some food for we have a guest,” the farmer called loudly towards the hovel he called home. A plump woman with long, flowing, black hair appeared in the doorway, a small raven-haired child hanging at her breast. “Bring water too,” the farmer called. “He will no doubt be thirsty and wine, though cheaper, these friars will not take, except at mass!” The farmer’s wife disappeared from whence she came just as the friar approached the gate.

“Hail to you, child of God!" the friar called. "Would you have a crust perhaps to share with an itinerant friar who has yet to break his fast this day though I have been many hours on the road since dawn did first break? It is of no matter if the crust be stale and, perhaps, a flagon of water?” The farmer smiled. “Come, father, we will share what little we have.” The friar opened the gate and stepped up to the farmer and grasping his hand declared: “God bless you, my son! You shall reap many rewards in heaven for the kindness you show.”

“You have a name?” the farmer asked. “Brother Francis, I am called by my brethren and Francis of Assisi by others.” the friar replied. It wat at this point that a small dog, whippet like, its ribs starkly outlined against its chest, hearing the friar's soft voice, crept from behind a barrel, its tail between its legs, its head bowed in submission. The farmer raised his fist and lashed out with his boot. “Begone wretched cur! Begone! Do not torment us so, spawn of Satan!” The farmer aimed another kick at the dog. “Brother!” exclaimed the friar. “Do not treat God’s creatures so! It is needless! What can this poor creature ever have done to you that would make you even contemplate such behaviour. He is, like all of our God’s creatures, innocent.”

The farmer’s wife re-appeared in the doorway, a small muslin bag of bread and cheese in one hand, a flagon of water in the other. She hesitated on the small porch, as though in fear. “Get him away from here!” she screamed. The dog cowered behind his barrel, his body shaking as though a fit were upon him. “Sister,” the friar said, “what has this animal done? Why do you punish him so? He is a creature of God, as you are. Why such scorn? He surely cannot deserve your hatred.”

The farmer beckoned to his wife to come to him and the friar who was now kneeling so as to present a less imposing and threatening figure to the trembling animal before him. As she handed the food and water to Francis, the friar could see that she was crying. “You must forgive us, friar," she said gesturing towards the dog. "Although we have no forgiveness for that in us, yet still we ask. He is our dog, these five years past but we cannot bear him to be here, around us, not now. However he will not leave, whatever violence we do him. He runs but ever he returns, whimpering in the shadows. We only wish that he were gone.”

“But he is your friend, my daughter, a creature of God. He was created especially for his devotion and trust. Why do you wish him gone?” the friar asked . The farmer laid his arm across his wife’s shoulder and quietly spoke. “It is my wife's niece. She left home not 10 miles from here to visit us and help my wife with the baby. A comely child and ever willing to help, she was. Her laughter was like unto a trickling stream, ever bubbling. She did not arrive at the appointed hour and although we searched and searched for days, from dawn until dusk, no trace of her did we ever find. Most like, set upon by brigands, or worse. Her loss was felt by all in these hills.” At the sound of his master’s quiet, calm voice the dog once more crept from behind his barrel, his legs bent, scraping the earth with his belly.

“Then three days ago, that wretched cur returned with a bone. It was an arm bone of a child, slivers of her fine new smock still attached.” The friar gasped. “No, friar, we do not think that the dog was responsible, but how could he? How could he do such a thing? To treat our niece’s sacred body so? To return to us with such a thing? Does she not deserve to have a burial, in the sight of God? To know that she has been ripped apart by scavengers!” The friar hung his head. Moving to one side, he looked into the dog’s eyes. “That was not well done, little one. To so defile an innocent child’s body. To so treat one of God’s own children. That was not well done. She was innocent as you were. Come!” Francis held out his hand and proffered some cheese to the cowering dog. Slowly, the dog raised himself from the ground and, quivering, his tail between his legs once more, slowly walked towards the friar.

His head lowered, ears back, the dog slowly fed from the friar’s hand. “There, little one,” the friar softly said, gently stroking the head between the ears. “You were not to know. How could you? We cannot expect the beasts of the earth to command the wisdom of men. Come! I will forgive you, as God will.” As the friar removed his hand from the dog’s head, it was replaced by one smaller, softer, more gentle.

The dog capered around the ankles of the friar, his tail wagging with pleasure, and the friar smiled.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Guitars, Guitarists and luthiers

Now MG and I and I both share a love for guitar music. We both adore Segovia, Paco Pena, Julian Bream, the flamenco of Manitas da Plata through John Martyn, Richard Thompson and onward to Michael Hedges, taking in the pyrotechnics (literally and metaphorically) of Jimi, the enormously expressive Paul Kossoff, Joe Satriani on a melodic day, the three magi, BB, Freddie and Albert King, Robert Johnson, the list is almost endless. Only almost. Steve Vai sucks!

Well he sent me a link to a piece by a French Canadian, Erik Mongrain, called 'Airtap'. Obviously a party piece, but none the less impressive for that. Reminded me of Stanley Jordan the first time I heard him play. The idea that there was a different way to play.

Well the Mongrain video put me into 'search' mode and off I went. It seems that there is a record label in Canada that specialises in the most amazingly gifted guitar players. For your edification, pleasure and amusement, I cobbled together some of what I think are the best. If you were on the original 'global' for Erik you may want to check some of these out. For the guitar freaks watch and listen and be inspired or primed to throw your guitar in the dustbin and go into Albanian zinc; for the non guitar freaks just be amazed :) (If you have an orgasm, it's not my fault, OK? Just clean up the way you usually do. You are used to it by now, I hope!)

First up, Mongrain for anybody that did not get the email (oh those hatrmonics!)

Next up, Antoine Dufour, French Canadian, listen for the 'tap' 5th harmonic after the 12th harmonic in the chorus, so sublime; will only work when the string is 'ringing' with the 12th (or 7th) and bloody difficult (so MG says, I only have flippers/wings!)

Next in line 'Lindisfarne Lullaby' by Andrew White. A perfect title, especially to those of us who hold 'Lady Eleanor' (by Lindisfarne) in our hearts.

For a 'straighter' approach, Rylynn by Andy McKee (the doyen of the label), prodigious technique (and huge hands!)

Classical influence, yep! You will find it difficult to play like this without Andres' technique - overuse of harmonics, yes, but listen to Pujol transcriptions, they're all over the place! I love the way they have integrated a 'classical' formula into a 'groove.'

And the man that started it all, the great Don Moss!

Oh well he didn't! Here's the one and only! The man that proved that you could tap on an acoustic! The late, great Michael Hedges!

Oh OK, classical guitarists have been hammering, pulling off, tapping, for centuries, harmonics, pinch harminics, tap harmonics, you name it, it's been there for ages! Just sometimes, it all has to be relearnt.

Like life!

And Luthiers? They make lutes! Funny how such an old craft should now be applied to the making of their successors :) The old adage is true. A lutenist spends half of his life tuning the lute and the other half playing out of tune! They used to take them to bed with them to try to keep them in tune. Opens up possibilities for a menage a trois, no?

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Dreams, illusions and beautiful cannibals!

I had this from MG the other day:

“They are strange, those worlds of dreams. The places we go when our eyes close and oblivion takes us. And yet, sometimes that oblivion dresses itself in a different suit, a multi-coloured suit, of psychedelia and presents an altogether strange take on the reality that makes up the waking part of our lives.

I do not, on the whole, remember my dreams. Perhaps once a month, often less and many times those dreams are the same or the same but from a different angle, perspective. The same unknown places, the same unknown faces. Is it possible to dream of places you’ve never seen? Faces, people, you’ve never met? Are these amalgams of different experiences which our brains coalesce into new forms or are they in some sense real? Virtual lovers, friends, enemies just waiting for their opportunity to wink into existence when the energy becomes available only to return to their nether world of possibility when the time comes to pay back what has been borrowed from the energy pool of the universe.

I had a strange dream last night. I was in a world of two three-part dioramas. I was in one diorama and all I could see was the other diorama in front of me. Behind me was only solid rock and beyond each part of the diorama to the left and right was nothing.

What was strange was that although I could pass to the left and the right and in front, only the middle section of the diorama I was in, I realized, after some time had passed in the dream, was ‘real’. Everything else was a simulation of reality. I could touch the people, the artefacts, the stone of these simulations and they felt and sounded and smelt real and yet I knew they were just illusions. It was like being stranded on a desert island with nowhere to go but into the sea.

And yet. At one part of the dream an old (malicious and conniving) colleague appeared in the company of a man I do not/did not know. As the unknown man turned and ran, I levelled a rifle with a glass magazine of large ball bearings at my erstwhile colleague and pulled the trigger. The steel ball missed him by a wide margin and followed a trajectory towards the running, unknown man. It missed him too and bounced harmlessly into the sea where it bounced across the ocean like Barnes-Wallis’ bomb or the pebbles we bounce across a lake.

For reasons that I do not know, or at least cannot remember, I pursued the running man stopping every so often to aim a ball bearing at him from my strange metal and glass gun. Each one missed, bouncing wildly into the sea and careering across the ocean in leaps and bounds just as the first one had. Finally as I looked below and saw the top of his head no more than 12 feet immediately below where I was standing, I saw that the magazine was empty.

It was at that point that a strange creature, in the guise of a young woman approached me and offered to guide me back to where I had come from. Reality? I’m not sure. I do not know how I knew that she wasn’t human, such things are seldom explained in dreams, but as she took my hand and raised it to her lips, It was clear that I was going to be dinner! “I will guide you when I have eaten,” she said. “In which case, let me buy you lunch,” I replied. She dropped my hand and we retraced the steps I had taken in pursuit of the unknown man.

We arrived back at the diorama where I had first taken a pot shot at my old colleague but it had changed. It was however the same place. Everything was different but it was the same place. As I stepped from the first part of the diorama into the centre section, I knew that part one with my cannibal guide was but an illusion and the lion sleeping in the cave to my left was likewise unreal, although I tossed him a toy rabbit just in case he awoke and became peckish.

The gift-wrapped presents in front of me in part 3 of this weird diorama were likewise unreal but I unwrapped them nonetheless. Small packets of fruit, blue shelves from Tescos, a chocolate glued to a pretty greetings card, a spray of lavender . As a small woman walked passed me, I do not where she came from, only that she was only about a metre tall and greeted me with a smile, I woke up.

Now I’m sure we could all play amateur Freuds with this one and I am sorely tempted to do so, especially with my carnivorous guide, but I will not. I will leave it as an insight into a diseased mind and hope that one day/night I’ll get to buy my strange little friend lunch!”

Sometimes I do wonder about what all the booze and fags is doing to his brain :)

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Closing Down Sale! Everything Must GO!


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Tuesday, 23 June 2009

How much of a bastard can a human being be?

Those of you who know this blog, will know that sometimes I rant against the arrogance of the human race; I am after all at the thin edge of the wedge! But what I learnt today makes you despair of the 'ordinary' human being. Makes you despair of finding solace in the idea that Hitler, Pol Pot, Kim, whether father or son, are aberations, not normal. That the vast bulk of human beings are caring, loving, considerate entities, with compassion, empathy for their fellows.

One of my e-chums is selling her business. It's basically been eating into her assets for a while now and while it's quite successful, things look like they will get worse before they get better and she doesn't want to throw any more money at it in the hope that things will get better. She has a buyer and a fair price and has got guarantees about the staff, who will be kept on. All fine and dandy, no?

Now while she herself is not gay, she attracts gay men, what the gay community call a 'fag hag' (a term of endearment, not an insult). Now a few weeks back, she took one of them to task for potentially embarrasing one of her staff (who is also a friend) with a customer by openly stating something which was not true when the member of staff was not around to defend herself. This seems to me to be quite reasonable behaviour on her part, defending someone who was not there to defend herself. He has, by and large, not spoken to her since. So what does this slug do in retaliation?

Some weeks later, he is talking to the member of staff he'd maligned. Does he apologise for his inappropriate comments? Excuse himself on the basis that he was a little on the 'tight' side? That he was only having a joke, however much in bad taste? No, he tells the member of staff that the reason her boss is selling the business is because of all the mistakes she makes! What? She is the only efficient member of staff in the place! It's difficult to see that it would make any money at all, if she were not at the sharp end. So why would anyone say something like that? Even if it were true? And more especially when it's not?

It's hard for me to see the motivation for this except attempt to sow discord between two people who may be 'boss' and 'staff' but are also friends. To drive a potential wedge between them. The member of staff was obviously upset and raised it with her boss the following day. Despite all the reassurances in the world, you're still going to have that teeny, nagging doubt, aren't you? That maybe, just maybe, even though you tell yourself a hundred times a day that it isn't, can't be true.

I just don't see how someone could sink to that level, can you? Why? Because you've fallen out with a friend so you get back at them by hurting an innocent thrid party? If you're not their friend anymore, you'll try and make sure that no-one else is? It all seems so pointless and even childish. The kind of behaviour that those who know no better might engage in before they learn what the repercussions are. Before they learn that there are acceptable and non-acceptable ways to behave. That you don't spend your life gratuitously stabbing people in the back.

Ah well, you reap what you sow, they say. As much as I hate to say it, I hope they're right!

On a lighter note, I found this about game theory on yesterday. Don't know why but it touched a chord :)

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Orcas, Love, and I will DIE for you!

I was reminded today of something I wrote almost at the beginning of this blog: "Talking of Orcas, Havelock tells a great story about how some killer whales who were wave hunting him and a seal on an ice floe - they swim around creating waves so you end up getting washed off the floe by the waves - washed them both off only to put them back on the floe and do it again. They weren't hunting, they were teaching the youngsters how do it, he said. Havelock says it was the luckiest day of his life and he's never, ever having lunch with a seal again!"

Well I found this today, not brilliant quality but so little on YouTube is! Be amazed!

There's nothing like a little practical demonstration and participation to get your message across to the young ones.

I was thinking about love today :) Not the parental love that adults have for their offspring not the love the offspring have for their parents. This seems to me to be fundamentally different to the love you have for another, unrelated individual. A young child's love, it seems to me, is firmly rooted in instinct. The primeval attachment that young have for their parents, especially their mother. An imprinted love almost. Once acquired during the brief months following birth, it is never lost. It may be altered, it may fade as the child grows into adulthood and they acquire their own children but to lose your love for your parent, or for a parent to lose their love for their child, this is surely an aberation?

No, the love I was considering was the love between unrelated individuals, whether child or adult, whether same sex or different sex. What makes the bond? And how tight is it? While there are quite sound evolutionary and biological advantages to forming lasting pair bonds in a social community, whether as an aid to the survival of the social group or the raising of offspring, is that all it is? Would you steal for love? Would you abandon your parents for love? Would you kill for love? Would you die for love? Most of us, thankfully, will never have to make such a choice but, nonetheless, what would you do?

These are not fanciful ideas. History both recent and ancient, literature both recent and ancient, are littered with examples of the depths people will sink and the heights to which they will rise, in the name of love! Are these people merely deluded? Or are they expressing an emotion which we all share but seldom if ever get the opportunity to express in such a fundamental way. And if we gained the opportunity, how would we react?

Would we admit to a crime we did not commit so that a true, but misguided, friend might go free? Or would we ask that they take reponsibility for their actions? Would it be noble to kill your wife's rapist if as a result of the violation, she took her own life? Or would just one more crime in an indifferent world be sufficient to prevent another? Would you steal because the only thing that made your loved one happy was to shop at Blumingdales? Or would you accept an unhappy partner? Would you ruin a women's reputation just because you wanted her husband so badly it squeezed your heart in a vice? Or would you accept your lot and 'retire to the country'?

You see, I think humans have elevated 'love' to such a pedastal, that anything is possible, and dare I say, acceptable in its pursuit. The French even have a crime on the statute books, called 'crime passionelle', a crime of passion, which invariably means that you CAN GET AWAY with bloody murder!

So, have I ever been in love so much, am I so much in love, that I will die for it? Yes! But I know I am/was misguided!

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Brown, Chaos and Oliver Cromwell

It was nice to finally get the fairy story up, however late! Thank you, MG. Always to be relied on! Actually he did me a favour really because in going through each post before I uploaded it, I was able to add little bits, an adjective here, a sentence there, even a whole scene , which were not there before and they make the drivel marginally better in my very humble, very very 'umble, opinion.

All of the gang managed it back this year but guess what? The tub of lard got himself hitched for the season! Cozy's got an egg to hatch! Ha! Mind you, I think's he's let himself in for a turbulent spring if the past few weeks are anything to go by. He's been pushed, shoved, pecked, brow beaten AND winged and all by this harridan of a penguin who is almost as fat as he is! All Cozy can be heard to say at the moment is "What I do to perpetuate the species!" It's all in a good cause, Cozy!

With no Havelock this year, I thought my blogging might have come to a very rapid close but Sparky and Fricka's sister, Sieglinde, who is not breeding, have offered to help. There was quite a surplus of females and Sieglinde took to none of the males at all this year, well except for me and she knows she can't have me :). They have offered to stay for the winter. "In memory of Havelock," they said. You can tell Fricka's parents were Wagner freaks, can't you? Always in the thick of it when the good Frau Doktorin would give us a blast of 'Der Ring des Nibelungen' to drown out the noise of the wind.

I am so laughing, well cackling would be closer to what I'm actually doing, at what is happening in British Politics at the moment. It is hard to feel sorry for their beleagured Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who plotted and schemed with Tony Blair to ensure an uncontested move in to the leadership role, over which, incidentally, the British people had no say. While Barak bathes in the adulation of an adoring world, 'poor' Gordon is shot full of so many holes that he surely cannot last much longer. Only sheer bloody mindedness can keep him in the pole position surely. To have waited so long to take over the reins and then have the horse shot out from under him; well, one ought to feel sorry for him. But I don't! In fact, I think the only people who feel sorry for him at all, anywhere, are his cronies who stand to lose out on top posts if Gordon falls.

I mean, seriously, how can someone be said to be running the country when 4 of his cabinet resign in two days? How can he possibly survive the 'expenses' fiasco? And with his Chancellor set to go in the next week to be replaced by Gordon's long standing psychophant, Ed Balls, (brilliant name that!) this is turning into a 'trousers down' Whitehall farce. Brian Rix for Prime Minister, anyone? Yes, I know he is dead but he surely, even dead, would be better than Gordon, wouldn't he? The problem, in my estimation, is that he believed his own 'puff'. Riding the crest of an economic wave of prosperity, enjoyed by most of the western world, from the late nineties until the past year or so, he actually believed he was responsible! No, Gordon, it's easy to look good when everyone's doing well and you'd have to be a dingbat to do badly, it's an awful lot harder when things aren't quite so easy! It's what separates the wheat from the chaff.

The only honourable thing to do is resign. "Sorry, guys, I fucked up a wee bit". "I'll go, write my memoirs and get a few directorships." After all, large British companies have a habit of putting incompetants on their boards, witness the last nine months! And what then? Peter 'Mandy' Mandelson? Oh please, if there is a God, he will surely be axed too! Pompous, conniving, unscrupulous, self serving, the list is endless. Do we really want such people running the country? No! Not that the rest, bar a few, are any better but he epitomises all that is rotten about British politics. Another champagne socialist! MG once shared a railway platform with him, standing, silently self important, nose in the air, surrounded by so many dark suited men with bulging armpits, talking into their cufflinks that MG just wanted to push him in front of the incoming train, just for the fun of it!

So, take to the streets, Brits! Reclaim your glorious heritage! Invade France, you haven't done that for a long time! Have fun! In the words of that arch-goat, Oliver Cromwell, as applicable now as it was then "It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonoured by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money; is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? is there one vice you do not possess? ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter’d your conscience for bribes? is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth? ye sordid prostitutes have you not defil’d this sacred place, and turn’d the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress’d, are yourselves become the greatest grievance. Your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse this Augean stable, by putting a final period to your iniquitous proceedings in this House; and which by God’s help, and the strength he has given me, I am now come to do; I command ye therefore, upon the peril of your lives, to depart immediately out of this place; go, get you out! Make haste! Ye venal slaves be gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors. In the name of God, go!

He may have been a warty goat but he could sure deliver a reprimand!

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Another fairy story! Fit the last

The Princess returned to her room to find Melissa sweeping the floor with a long handled besom. “Welcome back, my sweet. I had not expected you so soon. Come, sit on the bed while I finish my sweeping. Does all go well with you today?”

The Princess vainly tried to smile but the effort was too great. “No, Melissa, today has been an ill day,” she said. “My father and I are estranged, perhaps forever. I have tried to find it in my heart to forgive him but I cannot. My mother will not let me. I must leave today; I cannot stay, not here. It is all too painful.”

The maid laid down her besom and wrapped her arm around the Princess’ shoulder. “You must, as we all, do what you think is best,” she said. “But one so young should not be bereft of both parents. Can you not find some forgiveness in your heart for our King? He has an onerous task and he has need of your support and your love.”

The Princess started to weep. “I have tried, really I have tried. It will not come,” she sobbed. “It will not come! No, I must be away; perhaps elsewhere I will find contentment. Peace. Perhaps in time……?” She paused. “No, I think not. I am sorry that our time together has been so brief, Melissa. I so see my grandmother behind your eyes and I would have liked to see more of her. I have missed her wise counsel these past days. But, alas, I shall be gone in little more than hours.” She sobbed again, her body shaking. She placed her arms around the maid and, through her tears, said: “Come for a visit when you are able. If you wish me to pass word to the overseer, I will. I am after all still a Princess and I have some rank here. A sojourn in our little village would suit you well, I think. I will leave directions so that you may find my humble dwelling.”

“It is doubtless a long way away and my frail, old body will stand the rigours of travel much less than yours, my lady,” the maid replied, a glimmer of a smile across her lips. “And alone? In these times? No, it will be pleasure enough to dream, I think.” Melissa wiped the Princess’ tears from her cheeks with her forefinger. “Come, my sweet. If you are to be away ahorseback, such finery as you wear now will be ill suited. Wash, change, while I finish my cleaning, though of little use is it now.”

The Princess washed and changed into the garb she had arrived in while Melissa finished her final sweepings. When the Princess was satisfied with her attire she walked across to Melissa and wrapped her arms around her so tightly that Melissa gasped. “I shall miss you, Melissa,” the Princess said. “And I you, little one.” They both laughed. “Must we always repeat ourselves?” the Princess asked. “It would seem so,” Melissa softly replied, as the tears fell slowly down her cheeks.

Taking her leave of Melissa, the Princess strode purposefully towards the stables near the gatetower. The walk was not short but eventually she found Bull and Toad waiting in the farrier’s yard, the two roans laden with their saddle sacks and her grey, as before, between.

“Bull and I have been remarking,“ Toad said as the Princess approached. “We led them out and that’s the position they took up. Seems like even our mounts are on guard duty!” The Princess laughed. “So Bull, do you know of an inn we might reach by nightfall?”

“Do bears defecate in the woods? Beggin’ your pardon, my lady,” Bull replied.

The return journey was as uneventful as the outward and as they arrived at the outpost, the Captain was surprised to see the Princess so soon after her departure. “Nothing went ill, I hope, Princess?” he asked as the Princess dismounted. “Nothing that your two gallant guardians could have prevented,” she replied. “Captain, your elves have done sterling service and had little more reward then a sore rump from days in the saddle,” she said. “I wish to propose something to you.” She smiled.

“We can discuss this in my quarters. Bull! Toad! Dismissed!” the Captain said.

As the Princess sipped the small glass of wine the Captain had provided, she said: “Captain, I would like Bull and Toad to escort me for the rest of the way to my cot. When I am safely home, I will return them to you. You will then send them with a carriage and this letter to the overseer of maids at the castle. They will stay at the castle, free of all duties, until the appointed day contained in the letter, two sevendays hence. They will then escort the carriage, its occupant and themselves to my cottage. There you will give them a further sevenday to make themselves acquainted with the local flora and fauna. They will then be returned to you. Is this acceptable?”

“I think that I might be able to accommodate your suggestion, Princess,” the Captain replied. “Some more wine?”

After another small glass of wine, the Princess made her farewells to the Captain and left on the short journey to the village.

As the trio meandered along the winding paths towards Natalia’s village, the Princess turned to Toad and said: “Toad, when we reach the village, I must return this horse to its rightful owner. May I ride your roan for the trip from village to cot? It is not far.”

“Gladly,” Toad replied. “My mount would not forgive me if I did not allow him the privilege; gelding though he is!” He laughed.

“Do not tarry on the return journey, Toad,” the Princess said. “The Captain, and I, have another errand for you.” She smiled.

The ostler was astonished to see the Princess in the company of so fierce a duo of warriors as they stood in front of the stable. Figo’s grey was tethered to a post, and the Princess was mounted on a roan, Toad’s horse. “Your weskit! I have not forgotten! Bring me the skins on the morrow, ” she cried and he knew that there was no need for concern for her safety, however fearsome her companions may have looked. The trio turned, Toad striding by the Princess’ new mount, and they continued down the lane that led to the seamstress’ cottage.

At last, Natalia’s cottage came into view. The Princess smiled. Pausing at the gate, the Princess dismounted. “Toad! Bull! You were well met indeed! Take good care and, please, no foolish, suicidal squabbles over poor and innocent maidens; our people have need of you! Fare Well!”

“And we, you, my lady! Fare Well!” the pair replied.

The Princess walked the short path to the door under the gaze of her erstwhile guardians and, pushing it open, declared: “Well, I’m back!”


Thanks, acknowledgements but no royalties to:

Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention and Fotheringay for ‘Fotheringay’
‘Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves’ for Bull
Jean Anouilh and ‘Antigone’ for the climax
J R R Tolkien for the last words
The Elfin Princess for the story. I hope you find a better resolution.

Any other indebtedness is shameless plagiarism and I await the solicitors’ letters with eager anticipation!

Ever tried to sue a penguin?

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Another fairy story! Fit the ninth

As she stood trembling, whether from cold or fear or anger she knew not, a small side door opened in the antechamber and the King, extending his arm, beckoned to her. As she crossed the room, she could see his smile. “Come, daughter,” he called. “It has been too long since thou graced these halls and my heart rejoices to see thee now, well and hale!” As the Princess walked through the door, her father swept her up in his arms and kissed her on the cheek. “Come, sit with me child." He waved his hand across a small table to one side. "Wine? An oaten cake? Some fruit? What is it that thy father can do for thee?”

The Princess sat in a plush, crimson, high backed chair opposite her father, the small table to the side. “Well met, father,” she said. “The Chamberlain did not mention the reason for this meeting with you?”

“Does there have to be a reason for a daughter to want to see her father or a father to see his daughter?" he asked. "Regrettably, our time today will be brief, I have Council session in one half hour and this is all I can spare but speak to me child, is that not why we are here?” He smiled.

“It is not for me to talk to you but, rather, for you to talk to me; that is why I am here,” the Princess said. “Why have you paid so little respect to my mother’s memory? Why do you dishonour her so? What is this news of a child? Why do I hear this from some flunky of a herald handing out silver pennies from ‘a King in his joy’? Why do I not hear this from my father’s own lips? She is barely cold and it is as though she never existed in your eyes. How could you?” The last words were screamed at the King as though the Princess thought that she could bowl him from his chair merely by the force of her voice.

The King looked at the Princess and there was sadness in his face.

“Daughter,” he said softly. “A King must have a Queen. How else is he to rule wisely and with compassion if he does not have the benefit of the other half? The half he must, perforce, be missing? Male and female. Both are needed if one is to rule wisely.”

“I do not care what you think you need to rule wisely! Could you not have waited? Could you not at least have paid a little more respect? She was your Queen! The mother of your five grown children! Ah, but of course, the King now has his new joy! I say it again; how could you?” She hawked and spat it onto the highly polished wooden floor. “That is how much respect I deem you pay my mother!”

The King rose from his chair. “That was ill chosen, child, “ he said, his voice now firmer, more authoritative. There was a steely look to his eyes, and a set to his jaw, as he approached the Princess’ chair, towering over her seated frame. “Listen to me! Just for once, willst thou listen to me?” The Princess glared at the broad chest in front of her. “No!” she shouted, punching his chest with her small fists. The King grabbed her wrists with one hand and raised the forefinger of the other. Waving it in front of her nose he said: “No, this time you will listen, you wilful child! I am not your grandmother and I am not your mother; I am the King and your father; I will not tolerate this insolence!”

He paused, breathing hard, and then continued: “I did not choose to be King. I was chosen by our people to lead them. Do you think any elf would choose to be a King? To have the responsibility to provide for our people? To protect them? To feed them? Support those who cannot support themselves? Lead them? Would you? Do you, can you, will you, even begin to understand the weight that this burden places on your father's shoulders? The pain? Day in, day out, for an eternity! To do what must be done, and to do it aright, a King needs a Queen!”

“Then don’t do it. Give it up,” the Princess said softly.

“Child!” the King shouted. “Have you lost what few wits you were born with! You have spent too long in the company of peasants! Kingship cannot be given up! By common consent, the most capable individual is chosen to lead. Would you have us be led by a lesser elf? One less respected by his peers? Would you have me deny my duty? Deny the decision of our people? Who would you have with their arms in the barrel of shit that is government? Up to their shoulders! Find me another, more worthy! I, child, do not have the luxury to idle my days sewing lilies onto children’s dresses. I have responsibilities! I have my people to protect!” The King released her hands and returned to his chair, red-faced, and sat down with a sigh.

“Listen to me, child. I did not tell you this news for this very reason. I did not take the decision I have taken lightly nor without thought. I knew that this might cause you pain but your siblings have taken this turn of events with equanimity, why can you too not do this simple thing? Is it so terribly hard to be pleased that your father has once again found a little happiness, a little contentment and will have all too invaluable help as he tries to lead his people. These are difficult times, child; do you have no compassion?”

The Princess closed her eyes and said, almost in a whisper, “It would appear that you have none for my mother.”

“Enough!” the King roared as he once more rose to his feet. “I loved your mother, more than you, a self-centred, arrogant child will ever know; but she is gone! You were there, these twelve months past, when we laid her to rest in the glade with her forebears. The world turns and we must turn with it. I grow tired of your foolishness. Enough! I expect my daughters to grow up, to join the real world of elves and not some fanciful concoction dreamt by a child who would not know responsibility if it leapt out and bit her!”

The King, bristling with anger, paced back and forth in front of the Princess who sat, her head bowed, staring at the floor. Finally he said: “Aye, responsibility. You have none, child, and I will not be lectured on my love or absence of it, nor my respect or lack of it, by a child who has baulked her whole life at any responsibility whatsoever. Where is your spouse? Your children? Your home? Your duty? You have none! You doss with a pauper, a seamstress, and fritter your life away! When you learn the lessons that life will teach us; when you learn that with life comes duty; when you learn what all must learn, that choices must be made and they are never easy; when you make your way in the world in a manner befitting a Princess; when you finally shoulder the burdens of the living in a way befitting your station, then you can lecture me, child! Not before!”

The King stood in front of her, his hands folded behind his back, his head held high, and he waited.

Finally, after a long pause, during which the silence became almost tangible, the Princess rose and said quietly: “I have shouldered the greatest burden of the living, undying elf. Death! Twice over! Of those most loved! Do not preach to me of the way in which I should live my life. If you have the right to choose how you live your life and to judge me for mine, then I have that same right. I will live as I choose and none may pass judgement! For the way you have acted, father, for the way you have treated my mother’s memory, no forgiveness from me is possible. Although I wish it were not so, we are, I think, forever estranged.”

The Princess curtsied and made her way across the room. As she placed her hand on the doorlock ring, she turned and said in a low, trembling voice, “Farewell, father. To a world made anew.” Her father remained passive, silent. Turning back, she opened the door and walked briskly out into the antechamber and to the hallway beyond. She stopped at the entrance and took a deep breath. “Come Bull, Toad, my trusty protectors," she said. "We needs make ready to depart. I will see you at the stables at the end of the fourth watch.” Leaving them to follow her, she started to make her way back to her room.

“Oh well, no ale and wenching for us tonight, Toad,” Bull whispered, lest the Princess should hear.

To be continued........

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Another fairy story! Fit the eighth

“I am going to find the Chamberlain. I suppose I will have to put up with one, or both, of you dogging my heels wherever I go; to catch me if I stumble, carry me across potholes or shield me from a shooting star with your own bodies. Come!” The Princess laughed and strode off in the direction of the Chamberlain’s suite. Rising easily to his feet and scabbarding his sword, Toad followed a yard or so behind her.

After a minute or so, she slowed her pace so that she was level with the soldier. “Toad,” she said, turning her face towards him, “the Captain, Bull and now the Master of Horse consider you of outstanding prowess in sword and spear and I must, I think, assume that they are knowledgeable in such things, being soldiers themselves. I am curious though. If your prowess be so great, why do you have so many scars? And your ear? Surely only the inept or clumsy would acquire such things?

“Ah, my lady, ‘tis my standing, I fear,” Toad replied. “Once one has acquired a reputation for sword play, the cowardly incursors fear to fight as an elf should, elf to elf. So you have to battle a brace at a time. When you win that fight, it becomes three, then four and so on. Fifteen is the most; when Bull and I were on patrol and some score or more set upon us. It is hard not to buy a scratch or two in such circumstances.” The Princess gasped in awe. “Fifteen!” she exclaimed.

Toad went on: ”I lost half my ear that day to a disarmed brigand who set at me from behind and, having no steel, used his teeth. I have to say it did cause me some pain but I returned it five, ten fold.” Toad smiled at the memory. “He squeeled like a stuck boar as I first removed one leg, then the other, then a forearm, then the other. I allowed him to live some minutes longer while I dispatched his remaining five companions. Then I removed his head; for which I hope he was duly grateful. It was more than he would have done for me and more than he deserved!”

“Was that not too cruel, Toad?” the Princess asked.

“Aye, perhaps. But they pillage and rape and maim and torture the defenceless just for the pleasure of it. And worse have I seen! Sometimes in the heat of battle it is hard to control the anger when you have seen what these, no, not even animals, have done to our people. No, sometimes I wish I were not a soldier but it is what I do best, so......” Toad left the rest of the sentence unfinished. After a lengthy pause, he continued: “Try not to think ill of me, Princess. Needs must in these troubled times.”

“I do not think ill of you, Toad,” she said. “I am glad that you are here to protect me. Bull too. I think that perhaps if I had seen what you have seen, I would act no different.” She traced a long jagged scar on his cheek with the tip of her forefinger and whispered: “Be at peace, Toad, none deserve it more!”

After ten minutes, she arrived at the door to the suite of rooms that made up both the Chamberlain’s offices and his living quarters. She knocked on the open door and went inside. The Chamberlain was sitting at a monumental oaken desk examining a parchment scroll. As the Princess entered, he looked up from the scrolls on the desk and smiled. “Well met, Princess,” he said. “Too long have we been denied your beauty within these walls. I take it you wish to see the King.” The Princess nodded.

The Chamberlain sighed and leaned back in the large leather chair which seemed to be a part of his form and whose great wings seemed to envelop him, like some martial eagle. “I fear this is an ill time for an audience, my lady. Matters of State weigh heavy on the King’s shoulders at this time. The incursors from the Far Reaches make ever bolder and there is prospect of a grain failure in the Southlands. I fear he will have little time for idle chit-chat, even with his daughter.”

The Princess hammered her fist on the desk. “I did not spend two days in the saddle to come here for an idle conversation about the weather. I have come so that he may explain his actions to me. Why he has shown such crass disrespect for my mother’s memory. You will tell him this. You can also tell him that I will camp outside his bedchamber until he does see me!”

The Chamberlain leaned forward again and placed his palms on the desk. “You are clearly a little overwrought, Princess,” he said softly. “I will pass your message on as soon as I may, but please, I beseech you, do not press your suit too hard. These have been trying times, from which you, to the north, have been largely protected. The King has performed wonders in protecting us as much as he has but at a high price. Do not mar such joy as he has been able to garner for himself these past months. It will serve no purpose except to sadden him further.”

The Princess glowered. “I think I am best placed to decide how strong to press. It is my mother we speak of! She was your Queen! Just give him the message and tell him I await his summons!” She turned and left the room, slamming the door shut behind her.

“Nicely done, my lady,” whispered Toad, smiling, as he once more fell in behind her.

The summons, when it came, was much quicker than the Princess had anticipated. She was just finishing her noonday meal when a page knocked at her door and said that the king would see her now. She gathered her shawl from the bed and followed the page down the passageway, Toad and Bull in tow behind her. “Moral support, my lady,” Bull said. “We’re not too sure what this is all about but I could fill buckets with the anxiety you are sweating right now so………” The Princess turned her head. “Thank you, Bull, and you too Toad. Did I not tell the Captain that he had chosen wisely? You are a credit to him and to your fellows! I welcome your support!”

It took more than a quarter of an hour before the page finally showed the Princess into the antechamber before the throne room. Toad and Bull took up station either side of the entrance in the massive hallway outside the antechamber.

To be continued......

Another fairy story! Fit the seventh

The journey to the castle was uneventful. Whether fear of the two escorts or plain good fortune were responsible, they arrived at the castle gate unmolested, with swords and spears still sheathed. As they approached the open gate, the huge iron portcullis just visible beneath the tower, the sun was slowly sinking in the west, casting fuschia shadows across the walls of the King’s citadel. At their approach, two armed guards walked from the shadows of the gatetower and, spears crossed, loudly proclaimed in one voice, “Name yourselves and state your purpose!” Bull rose in his stirrups, “I am Bull, my companion is Toad and between us, the Princess, daughter of the King! She seeks an audience with her father. Stand aside or I shall run you through, King’s Equerries or no!”

The guards exchanged glances before one said, “She looks little like a princess to our eyes. Some peasant girl would be closer to the truth. Or perhaps some slattern you have picked up along the journey, I hazard, apt for a quick roll! Be on your way, unless you wish to feel this steel in your gizzard.” The guard pointed his spear at Bull’s chest.

“You will regret saying that!” Bull spat and drew his sword at the same moment as Toad levelled his own spear at the guard’s chest. “Oh come,” said the Princess. “I did not come all this way to bandy threats with a fool with an overweening sense of duty! Call for the Master of Horse, he will set you aright!”

The guards looked at each other again. One turned and strode back into the castle. The remaining guard hefted his spear and said, “Very well. Perhaps you are the Princess, these long years gone. The Master will decide.”

Some minutes later the huge frame of the Master of Horse strode through the dark shadows of the gatetower. “Princess!” he bellowed. “Well met, indeed!” Looking at the guards he said, “You may stand aside. This is indeed the Princess and, if I am not mistaken, is this not Toad? Well met, Toad! Tales of your prowess precede you!” Toad bowed his head. Glaring at the guards, the Master continued. “Well is it that you did not cross swords with this one! I’d have arrived to find no guard but a brace of fine, spitted capons! His companion, I’d wager, is as much to be feared. I doubt the Toad of rumour would choose anyone less worthy than himself as fellow guardian of a Princess!”

The Master of Horse took hold of the grey’s bridle and walked back towards the gate, drawing the Princess’ horse behind him. “Come,” he said. “I will take you to the Keep and we will find quarters for your guardians. I will also send word to the King that you are here. He will, I am sure, wish to see you soonest. You have been sorely missed, Princess. It is a joy to see you again!”

“And you, Master,” she replied.

The Princess was soon settled in her room. Bull and Toad were quartered across the passageway from her. As she lay quietly on the bed, there was a brief tap on the door. “Come!” she cried. An elderly maid entered, carrying a tray. She laid the tray on a small table by the large window which looked to the west and with practised hands began to set the table for a guest, according to custom. As the maid laid the table, the Princess detected the scents of cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, tumeric spiralling in the steam from the bowls being laid on the table.

When the maid was done, she stood at the side of the table, her hands folded in front of her. “Your meal is ready, my lady,” she said quietly.

“Melissa?” The Princess sat bolt upright on the bed. “Melissa? Is that you? Really you?”

“Welcome home!” the maid replied. “Did I not say that we would meet again? It is a joy to be proven right! Welcome home, my sweet. Glad I am that I accepted the Queen’s invitation to return here after your Gran’mama’s sad death. But come, eat! You are still but skin and bone and you need your food. How else will you survive ‘til the morrow? Come, eat!”

“Only if you will share, Melissa. Go! Fetch a bowl, bring wine, and we will feast! “

The meal was, however, brief. The Princess found herself overcome with tiredness as she mopped the last of the spice-laden sauce from her bowl and yawned uncontrollably. “I am sorry, Melissa,” she said as soon as she regained control of her bones. “My manners are appalling tonight but it has been a long day in the saddle and I hope that you are in a mood to forgive such unseemly behaviour.”

The maid smiled. “Of course, my sweet, you are forgiven. I shall leave you now for I must rise early tomorrow and that will be the harder after the goblet of wine tonight. Sleep well and I shall see you on the morrow. I have been assigned to you for the length of your stay here so there will be time enough for me to catch up on all of your doings these past years.” The maid rose and gathering up the bowls from the table, she left the Princess to sleep.

Although she was tired beyond measure, the Princess had a fitful sleep. She woke every hour or so through the night and only regained sleep with some difficulty each time. Her mind was a writhing nest of vipers as she fought to keep her thoughts clear and peaceful. All she could think of was how she and the memory of her mother had been betrayed.

She rose just after dawn and was surprised to see that Melissa had already left hot water, soap, towels and some clean clothes together with a plain but ample breakfast. She washed, dressed and sat down to eat. She found herself surprisingly not at all hungry and so taking a few mouthfuls of springwater from the small jug on the table, she crossed the room and went out into the passageway. She was astonished to see Toad sitting on the floor, his back against the wall, his sword across his knees, his eyes keenly alert.

“Toad! What on earth are you doing here? You have not been here all night, have you?” the Princess said. “One of us, my lady,” Toad replied. "Bull sleeps now." The Princess was clearly confused. “Toad, this is my father’s castle. What possible danger can I be in when I am under the protection of the walls, the gatetower and the entire Household Guard?” she asked.

“None whatsoever, my lady. But you see, you haven’t been told that you will have your tackle fed back to you if any harm befalls our good Princess. Neither I nor, and more especially, Bull wish to take even the slightest chance that we will be dining out on our own meat and two veg ere long.” Toad smiled.

To be continued........

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Another fairy story! Fit the sixth

The Captain led her across a small exercise ground to a long, low hut outside of which sat a small group playing dice. “Toad, Bull, present yourselves. Now!” he cried as they approached the hut. Two elves immediately sprang to their feet, turned to face the direction of the incoming bellow and stood shock straight as their commander closed the gap between them. “Toad, Bull, I have work for you. This is the Princess, daughter of the King, and she returns home. You will ride with her and protect her and woe betide if you do not. Pray that you die in the attempt for I will surely make you wish for the rest of your miserable lives that you had! Princess, Toad and Bull, your, some say gallant, protectors. Those are of course not their real names, but they have had them so long that most here have forgotten their birth names. Toad? ‘Tis easy to see why. Bull? I pray you never find out!”

The Princess took in the two soldiers before her. It was easy to see why Toad had acquired such a use name. His face was marked with a myriad of scars, indentations, two mildly suppurating abscesses and half of his left ear was missing, the remaining edge ragged, as though bitten through. “Do not ask after his scars, my lady,” the Captain said, “for he will regale you with a tale longer than the creation saga for each and every one, those that you can see, those that you cannot and those that you should not see. If you wish for sleepless nights in the days ahead, ask! But I do not counsel it!” Toad wore a broad grin and was obviously used to such joshing from his Captain. Bull, however, was more difficult to fathom. He had no horns, no hump to his back not even a ring through his nose. “No doubt all will become clear in time,” the Princess thought to herself.

Toad stepped forward and with a wide, sweeping bow said, “We will serve you well, my lady, to the best of our strength and to the limit of our courage and endurance, none of which I shamelessly say are small. It will be a pleasure and an honour to acquire further blemishes to my already marred features in the service of such beauty.” The Princess blushed a deep crimson. “I thank you, Sirs, for your service,” she quietly replied, her head slightly bowed. “Serve me well and the King shall hear of it, and you also, Captain. I will have no fear on the road with these gallant elves to protect me. I believe you have chosen well!”

“Come then, my lady,” the Captain said, “we will dine while these two rapscallions prepare for the journey. Toad, Bull, be at the main gate at 2 past the fourth watch and be prepared!” He paused as though thinking and then said, almost as an afterthought, “You will stay with the Princess during her sojourn and will return with her if she returns. If she chooses to stay, you will return as soon as she dismisses you.” Taking the Princess’ arm, he turned and walked away. After ten or twelve paces, the Captain turned his head back sharply to the two soldiers and said, “Please, Bull, no more accidents. Keep it in your tunic.” Bull and Toad both smiled and breathed in unison, almost soundlessly, “As if!”

As they sat on the opposite sides of a small table in the Captain’s quarters, a dish of mutton stew with rosemary and garlic before them, the Princess asked, “Captain, what must Bull keep in his tunic? Perhaps I can help in that respect, if I know what I must look out for.”

The Captain laughed. “My lady, that which Bull must keep hidden is so attracted to beauty that I fear he will have to exercise all of his discipline on the journey to the castle.” He smiled. “But have no fear, my lady, Bull knows the difference between right and wrong, more than most, he will not falter.”

The Princess creased her brow and said, “I am confused. You speak as though this were a living thing. Perhaps a pet? Surely such a thing should not be kept in a tunic. Surely all living things have a right to sunlight and freedom? Why should Bull’s pet be deprived so? Is that not needless cruelty?”

The Captain smiled again. “A living thing? Aye, too true does it live! I had hoped that I could avoid this but I see that I must be frank. You have seen bulls in the field, with their harem, Princess?” The Princess nodded. “And you have perhaps seen the excited bull’s pizzel as his harem gathers around him?” The Princess flushed. “That is how Bull acquired his use name,” the Captain continued. “It would be no more than a curiosity if he were not so apt to father children which he cannot, will not, support. I doubt that Bull would consider a noble to be fair game but perhaps you might advise the lower ranks of castle staff, or their overseers, of the dangers of meeting Bull in the stable to view, in his own words, ‘this glorious wonder’.”

The Princess flushed once more but smiled. “I understand you, my good Captain. Warnings shall go before me as rose petals before a Queen! Have no fear!”

It was a little after the second hour of the watch when the Princess and the Captain arrived at the main gate. Bull and Toad were astride two roan horses heavily laden with saddle sacks across their broad rumps; the Princess’ horse between them. Toad rose in his stirrups and bowing said, “Greetings, Princess, my good Captain! We are, as you see, here at the appointed hour. We live to serve!” The Princess laughed. “Well met, Toad! Bull!”

The Princess walked briskly to her horse. The Captain heaved her into the saddle. “Remember, you two, if one hair of her head is harmed, you will be dining on your own tackle ere long. Guard her well!” The two elves nodded and wheeling their horses in the direction of the gate, bade the Princess to follow.

As they passed through the shadow of the gate tower, Bull turned to the Princess and asked, “Do you have haste, my lady? Although we are heavily laden, we still can make good time, if you have need.”

“No,” the Princess replied. “I have no need to hasten towards this meet. There is time enough to prepare myself for what must be done. We will amble and take in this sun for a while.” Bull smiled. “Well said, my lady. There is an inn some ways ahead which we will make by nightfall at this pace. We can rest there tonight and still make the castle gate by the morrow’s eve.”

To be continued.......

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Another fairy story! Fit the fifth

As they were making ready to leave, a court herald galloped into the square and blowing his horn, shouted: “Hear ye, hear ye all! I come with tidings from the King! The Queen is with child and the King does mark the midsummer day and the sevenday thereafter as days of rejoicing! One silver penny per head will be distributed to this and every village and each will receive his gift from the King in his joy. Those of you who have multiplied as you should will surely be rich! Hear ye, hear ye all!” At once, he dismounted and, taking a large hammer and some nails from his saddle pouch, nailed a parchment proclamation to the door of the village hall. Turning, he shouted: “Rejoice! There is joy once more in the Halls of the King!”

The Princess collapsed onto a bench, confused, dazed, dumbfounded. “The Queen is dead,” she thought. “The dead bear no children. How can this be so?” She looked at Natalia, tears welling in the corners of her eyes, those same eyes glazed over as though she had been coshed and left by the roadside. “Come, child,” Natalia said. “We must hurry. This is ill news! I do not wish to be longer on the road than needs be. Mulled wine aplenty I fear we shall need upon our return. Speak not now, we must hurry! Come!” They each grabbed a handle and slowly, as though every step was a step to bear the last burden they would ever bear, they made their way from the square.

It was more than an hour later when they finally arrived, exhausted and silent, before the cot door. “Come, we will unload here. ‘Tis but a short walk to the scullery,” Natalia said. And so began the long, slow, ponderous task of moving the contents of the cart to the scullery and thence to the larder. Another hour had passed before Natalia was satisfied that all had been stored in accordance with her wishes and they sat, by the worktable, glasses of mulled wine pressed firmly between their fingertips.

“I must go to him,” she said quietly. “He cannot dishonour my mother so. To so treat her memory thus…………No, he must, he will, pay for this!”

“Be careful, child,” Natalia said. “And be warned! It is an ill path that you start. To reach the end you will have anguish, pain, sorrow and, perhaps, hate! So much hate! And hate does consume all before it, like the Juggernaut. Be wary of hate, child, be wary of sullying your beauty with it. Hate is apt to cast a strange shadow across the face and mar the features. I have before seen such anger turn, beware!”

“I hear you,” the Princess replied. “I will take heed of your words. I think it is hard to hate and I have had little practice. No, I think it will always be too hard to hate.” The Princess raised her glass and drained the dregs. Slowly she rose and nodding politely to Natalia she climbed the stairs to bed, to sleep.

She rose earlier than usual the following morning and, after a brief silent wash, she donned sensible trou’s and a stout shirt. Gently pressing her lips against the still sleeping Natalia’s forehead, she whispered: “Farewell, my dear Natalia, pray for me in the long days to come and hope for me also. Hope I have little enough of, yours must do service for us both.” She trod lightly to the door and, gently unlatching it, she turned her head once more towards the sleeping seamstress. “Farewell,” she mouthed and closed the door behind her as she stepped onto the small landing.

Figo, the young ostler at the inn, was surprised to find the Princess at the stable door when he arrived at dawn to start his labour for the day. Initially very reluctant to part with his white-maned, grey gelding, he finally relented when the Princess eventually agreed that she would make him a weskit of soft moleskin. “Provided that you supply the skins!” She laughed.

Figo hauled the saddle from the beam and laid it across the deep crimson cloth on the horse’s back. Kneeing the horse in the ribs, he tightened the girth strap. The Princess cuffed him on the back of the head. “You should not needlessly hurt other creatures, it is cruel” she cried. “I should kick you in the chest and see how well you might like it!” The ostler smiled. “For thine own good, m’lady. How else will I get him to breathe out? Ask? Politely? Never secure a saddle on a horse that might have a lungful of air. He breathes out and your saddle will be under him not above and thou, m’lady, will be on the ground!” In a blur he attached the bridle and bit and laid the reins across the saddle horn. “Come, I will help thee mount” Cupping his hands, he bade her put her bended knee in them and with a sweep of his arms lifted her high and onto the horse. “Thank you, Figo,” she said. “My promise I will not forget. Have the skins ready for my return.”

She arrived at one of her father’s outposts just before noon and there she persuaded the Captain to provide her with an escort to the castle. Two armed soldiers. “They are my best men,” he had told her. “And, as my best men, they deserve a reward that I cannot provide here. So they will remain with you as long as you are at court and will return with you when you return. If you have no need of them hanging at your heels while you are in the castle, release them, I beg, for a little drinking, a little carousing, a little wenching; they will thank you and, more importantly, me for it. Come, I will introduce you and give them the good news at the same time.”

To be continued.......

Monday, 25 May 2009

Another fairy story! Fit the fourth

Two, perhaps three, years later, after no new orders had arrived from the castle for some time, the Princess became anxious. As she stirred the stew simmering in the large casserole one evening, she said to no-one in particular, although Natalia was behind her, “How fares my mother, I wonder? No news is good news, they say, but perhaps I should send a message? I have not seen her for an age and this long silence disquietens me.”

“Have no fear, child,” Natalia said. “’Tis oft that affairs of State occupy the powerful and we, the lesser, must await their pleasure. And no, I do not judge! ‘Tis simply how the world is.”

Their conversation was interrupted by a loud, insistent hammering on the door of the cottage. Natalia was about to speak her usual refrain, though in truth the dogs now even less moved from their fireside spots, when a young page burst through the door and into the living area. “The Princess!” he cried. “Where is the Princess? I bring news and naught of it is good! I must speak with the Princess! Where is she?”

“I am here,” the Princess replied gently from the scullery doorway, “What consumes you? You are eager, I must say!”

“Your mother lies a-dying. She calls for you! You must come! You must follow me, though we will be too late. Please! Follow! We have fresh horses. Can you ride? There was no time! A carriage would be too slow! Please, Princess, follow!”

“Go, child. Your mother calls you,” the seamstress said quietly, an aching counterpoint to the agitated youth before them. “Go! If you do not go now…..” Natalia’s voice trailed into nothingness. The Princess ran after the page and, stepping from the door of the cottage into the darkness, saw six horses, pawing the ground, and four horsemen. “Come, Princess!” said the Master of Horse. “We must not tarry, ‘tis no idle adventure here, as when we last met! Tonight we ride, and ride hard, and long! Haste is all!” The Master of Horse dismounted and with one mighty hand on her crooked knee hefted the Princess into the saddle. “Come, we ride!”

They rode long through the night, and hard, hope ever against hope, but they were, as was foretold, too late.

The Princess was once more bereft. Of light, of love, of peace and naught could be found in the days that followed that would ease the pain of the fist that squeezed the aching place where once her heart had been.

One week after her ride, she watched, through tear-blurred vision, as they followed Faerie custom and returned the body to the ground; that it might provide nutrients to the plants of the forest and thus help to sustain future generations of their folk. As an old proverb has it: “I am all my ancestors and yours too, even though each occupies only a small space inside of me.”

After all was over, she formally took leave of her father and returned to her life as a lowly seamstress.

As the summer days crept gradually into autumn and the leaves became brittle and ochre hued, the hole where her heart had been slowly filled anew. Although a fist did grip oft-times this rebuilt sense of contentment, the pain was bearable and laughter was sometimes heard ringing through the windows of the tiny cottage as she cooked or cleaned or stitched tiny flowers on the hems of dresses.

The months passed by and autumn turned to winter, and winter to spring, until finally the world turned once more into summer. The flowers blossomed under her tender care in the garden and herbs grew more verdant and fragrant than she could ever recall, even in the garden of her grandmother. It was as though Mother Earth took her sadness and in some primeval, mysterious way fashioned it into something that the plants could feast upon.

“My child,” said Natalia one morning as they sipped herb tea among the blossoms, “you are truly gifted! Never has this garden been so joyous, to the eye, to the nose, not even in the days of my lost husband. Why, even the buzzing of the bees seems louder and somehow more wondrous than before. Perhaps I err in teaching you to sew. “

“No, mistress Natalia,” the Princess said. “I enjoy making this beauty for you, as you do for me, for others, when you sew but it is no path to make one’s own way in the world. Little monetary reward would I see for the effort, however enjoyable. No, ‘tis better to sew and earn a crust than to idle one’s days crafting such transient beauty. No-one would wish for such a fleeting pleasure unless little or no payment were required.”

“Come, child, let us then pay our village a visit. We are short of flour, dried meat and those spices that come from across the ocean. Bring the cart to the porch. ‘Tis a fine day for a walk. Sewing will wait on our pleasure for once!”

The Princess brought the small hand cart round to the entrance to the cottage and, each to a handle, they briskly walked into the lane that led to the village square and what merchants the village possessed. Twenty or thirty minutes later, they rounded a sharp curve in the lane and entered the bustling heart of the village. Stalls of varying sizes were scattered across the main square, some permanent, some merely temporary, flanked by open shop fronts piled high with produce from the outlying farms and beyond. People were pressed in all around the stalls and shop fronts as they sought to buy or barter for the goods they needed.

“Come, child, Mistress Olva will be our first. She would never dare sell witchetty flour, to me, nor anyone, I deem. We will be assured of the best quality too, I think. Do I not clothe her daughters? In their finest?”

The next hour was taken up in haggling for the best prices at various stalls and shop fronts as the small hand cart was slowly filled with provender for the coming months. The Princess was amazed at how far below their stated price the stallholders were willing to fall but whether by the pleadings of a poor seamstress’ poverty, promises of priority on dress-work already under way or simply the offer of a bribe in the form of a small child’s undergarment or smock, Natalia was able to secure prices undreamt of by the villagers or farmers.

Later, as they sat before the inn, sipping mulled wine and eating a nectar cake filled with honey and cinnamon, Natalia sought to enlighten the Princess on the ways of the market. “Never pay what they ask,” she said. “Only a damn fool of a sheep farmer with his wits in his rump, or worse, would pay that. They mark up by one or two, sometimes as much as three times what they need to take to turn a profit and the more I pay the poorer I become and the richer they! ‘Tis a game, no more. Why even old Ramly, the spice merchant, knows he was diddled!” She smiled. “Do not look so shocked, child. The smock I will make will be the finest in the village, and he knows it, but it will cost less to make than the amount he docked from my bill! Come, there will be time to be satisfied with my efforts later. Now we must head home if we are to make the door by dusk. ‘Twill be a harder journey back than it was to get here. This cart is heavy!”

To be continued.....

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Another fairy story! Fit the third

While Natalia busied herself in her small scullery, decanting wine and water from large pitchers into the warming pan, raiding small bags of spices and gently stirring the intermingled liquids, the Princess looked closely at the hem of the dress. The gold tracery made delicate lilies, each stitch exact and precise. The child for whom this dress was being made was clearly a child of some import. Natalia did “not do shoddy work” as she herself would say but this was truly exquisite, a work of art. Natalia returned some minutes later, two goblets of steaming wine redolent with the scent of cloves, cinnamon, bergamot and ginger root, on a tray with oaten cakes, each topped with strawberry preserve, for which Natalia was almost as renowned as for her seamstressing. “I have no cream, alas, you will needs make do with preserve alone. Would that I could afford a cow!” She sighed. Clearing a space on the workbench, she gently laid down the tray. She too gently laid herself down and placing the goblet before the Princess bade her speak. “Come child, out with it! What ails thee? Hah! You think I presume too much? A lowly seamstress does thee and thou a Princess? In mine own home, I will do as I please! Come, tell me thy woe!”

The Princess told her what she had heard and how she could never go back to what had once been so joyous. In between fits of sobbing, she told of the pain gnawing like a canker at her heart. “A cuckoo,” she cried. “Parasite!” She spat. “No more than a pair of hands to change the soiled towelling and rinse her clean!” How had she been so deceived? So misled? Cheated? All the while, the seamstress just looked, her piercing azure eyes, flicking from eyes to hands to heaving breasts as if slowly but surely, with her eyes, leeching the pain from the Princess, and leaving her whole. “Drink,” she said. “It will get cool, and mulled wine is, like love, of no good when cold!” She placed the goblet in the Princess’ hand and lifted it to her lips.

“May I stay here?” the Princess asked. “I can cook and clean and perhaps you can teach me to sew? I will not be a burden, I promise you. I will dig and I will learn how to grow, to tend herbs and roots. I will ask my mother to send a cow, or at least silver pennies to buy one at market. And we will have cream! Please, Natalia, let me stay?” The seamstress smiled, smiled as though a smile could heal all of the woes of the world, and laughed. “Of course stay thou may’st, child. Where else would thou go’st? This is but a rude and simple cot, we will perforce need to share the one room above but I will ask the gaffer along the lane to make a bed for thee; he will do so for such a dress as I will make for his gran’daughter. Spare palliasses I have and coverlets and sheets a plenty. Come child, drink! And we will try to make merry amidst this sadness, for I too have lost that which was most dear to me and stitching only lightens the pain, it does not release me from it!”

Many times that night was the Princess’ goblet replenished, until finally, as she teetered on the edge of her bench, swaying gently from side to side, the seamstress began to sing, a voice of pure, unblemished, liquid crystal:

"How often she has gazed from castle windows o'er,
And watched the daylight passing within her captive wall,
With no-one to heed her call.

The evening hour is fading within the dwindling sun,
And in a lonely moment those embers will be gone
And the last of all the young birds flown.

Her days of precious freedom, forfeited long before,
To live such fruitless years behind a guarded door,
But those days will last no more.

Tomorrow at this hour she will be far away,
Much farther than these islands,
Or the lonely Fotheringay."

Natalia sighed. “I am sorry, child. Sometimes, the pain over-rides all else and song is all that will soothe. Tho’, perhaps, there is hope even here. I miss him, terribly, but he comes, sometimes, fleetingly, a dim shadow in my mind, through the day, as I work, though he is these five years gone. Come! Our bed is wide, wide enough for two and we are but both tindersticks. Come! Until the gaffer can deliver.”

They rose late the following morning. The Princess stared from the upper window at a bleak and dreary sky. It was as if the whole world had turned to lead overnight. She was queasy, her head hammered and her legs felt weak. “I must remember to more incline to moderation in all things,” she thought. “If this is how a surfeit of wine feels so soon after the heady pleasure, I do not wish to taste more of such pleasure, the price is too high.” Lost in her thoughts, she did not hear Natalia enter the room and nearly knocked the pitcher and bowl from the seamstress’ hands as the Princess turned to gather her clothes from the small rustic chair behind her. Gathering her dress in front of her to hide her nakedness, the Princess flushed.

“Come, child. Are we not female here, both? Do we hide from each other as we would from them?” She emphasised the last word, but not with malice, merely an emphasis on difference. “Come, wash and prepare for thy day. Thou hast much to learn and I have little time to teach. Come, here is hot water, soap and some towelling to dry. Be quick, there is much to do!” Thus began a pattern that would mark out each new day for many years to come. Each morning, the Princess would learn some new, small skill; how to pinch the growing tips of the herbs to make them bushy, how to use seed potatoes to grow more potatoes, how to cut fabric in a straight line, how to sew small stitches, invisible, except on the inside. And slowly, she forgot she was a princess and, in truth, became a peasant girl, an apprentice seamstress.

The Queen became a more frequent visitor to the seamstress now. Forever was she ordering dresses, for herself, her other daughters, their friends, even for the Princess herself, although the child had little need for such finery. Her coarse clothes suited her new life and there was little opportunity to parade her beauty. Oft times her mother would stay overnight, sleeping on a simple rush palliasse on the floor and would help the Princess in small tasks during the following day. Cutting flowers for the table, helping to prepare the noonday meal, drying herbs in bunches on the ‘kitchen maid’ in the scullery. The Princess was at first horrified that her mother, a Queen, should be engaging in work more suited to a scullion, but she did at last come to understand; only by doing so could the Queen prolong her visits.

To be continued

Thanks to Sandy Denny for 'Fotheringay'