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Archive for November, 2010

I pick up a hand drawn card, it has a red heart on the front – I turn it over, it reads

“You are loved”

Ella puts her arms around me, kisses my mouth, the red from her crayon rubs onto my T shirt. She is the first of my granddaughters.

Our tribe of female warriors stretch back to a world where woman ruled the British Isles. The first, Boudicca (Boadicea), Chieftainess of the Iceni took up her mantle to lead a famous rebellion victoriously. These Warrior Queen’s were many. Ethelfleda of Mercia, Gwenllian who raised an army to fight the Anglo-Norman settlers in Wales. Queen Maeve of Connaught, and perhaps even Gwenwhvawr of the Cornovii.

I close my book – Artur, Gwenwhyvawr and Myrddin – Ancient Brythons of the North by Alexander and William McCall. These brothers, offspring of my great-grandmother, siblings to my grandmother, uncle’s to my mother  – all born in the womb of an old, old land – Scotland.  I think about these people who are my family, descendants of the warrior queen’s whose fate turned out differently through some inexplicable events in their lives.

She remembers seeing her mother for the last time, standing at the front door of their cottage in Carmunnock, Ayrshire. From the back window of her father’s car she remembers passing the bull on the farm next door, she remembers her baby brother crying, her sisters tears leaving dark marks on the leather seats. Those moments were tightly stitched in the fabric of her memory.

The road to the terraced houses where her grandfather lived cut through the woods. Glasgow – What wonderment the place aroused in her, soaked as it was in her mind with sounds and smells of her childhood: armfuls of bluebells in springtime and foxgloves flowering; walking through the woods to school; the silence of the snow; the stiffness of the cooks  uniform; Miss Walker, the fat little housekeeper who smelled of mothballs.  The times before her grandmother left: getting into her big feather bed, burying herself between her breasts, listening to tales passed down through the generations of grandmothers. Afterwards, when they took her grandmother away, she would touch the long golden plait on her dressing table, wrap it around her head; pin the glass encased bumblebee broach onto her dress, run her fingers through the sequined, embroidered silks in her cupboard.                                         Her grandmother, the second woman to be taken from her – put into an institution while the fat little housekeeper spread her duties to her master’s bedroom.

And there is the memory of seeing her grandfather for the last time. She stood on the deck of the steamship at Southampton, waving goodbye to him   hunched under his umbrella in the rain. As the ship left the dock, grinding it’s way through the swells, she could see him getting smaller and smaller until he was the size of the seagulls wailing in the cold, grey sky. She felt as if her ten-year-old body was tied up with pieces of string.

She had not been told much, as the ship approached Cape Town she remembered seeing the mountain.  She clasped her suitcase tightly as though it carried her life, neatly folded inside it. Aunt Molly held onto the two younger children, Hannah and Barry: little suitcases dangling from their hands as they walked towards a figure waiting for them. She handed them over to a man whose face they no longer remembered. Aunt Molly left them at the station where they caught a train to Johannesburg with the man they were told was their father. That little girl was my mother and wrapped inside that suitcase were the fragments of her life.

I followed the path from the tube station to my grandmothers house at 89 Littleton Road, East Finchley: the path that her offspring followed as though pilgrims  – back to the shrine of their matriarchal roots – Her son, her daughters, scattered about on the shores of the southernmost tip of Africa unaware until a strange turn of fate revealed that their mother still lived. How strong can the maternal instinct be to draw back children abandoned so many years before?

The thing I remembered most vividly about that visit was the smell of roses as I walked up the garden path. The air was sweet with fragrance. Full blooms dropped crimson petals onto the lawn. I pressed my finger on the doorbell, Nan opened the door. She stood in the light with her arms outstretched, tall and elegant and groomed as though she was a person of great importance, like the Queen. She wasn’t wearing a hat, but she had on a tweed suit and a string of pearls. Nan’s skin – the colour of Arum lilies and her eyes were what I imagined bluebells to look like – the bluebells Mom had told us about, the ones that grew wild in the Scottish woods.

When she spoke I could hardly understand her.

Why did my grandmother sound so different to us?

That’s when it struck me: We were different, foreign to the land where our ancestry was mixed in the melting pot of Celtic culture. Our traceable family tree began in the early eighteen hundreds where two brothers, cattle drovers in Dornoch, spawned sons – David, James, Robert, William – herd boy, herd meadow head, shepherd boys. In eighteen seventy-two the McCall connection was established when Elizabeth Gilchrist married Thomas McCall and produced three children. Alexander, their only son, married Marion Samson in 1903. They had seven children, one of whom was Margaret, my grandmother, who’s secret drove her husband to sleep with a gun under his pillow. Another was my Aunt Betsy who had her own secrets. Bobby, the boy raised by maiden aunts, the boy she saw every day, opening the gate of the house next door  – was he Betsy’s child?

His grandfather told him when he was fourteen and yet never once during her lifetime did Aunt Betsy acknowledge him as her child.

Had the court not awarded custody of her children to our grandfather, our existence would have been very different. We may have spent our childhood exploring the landscapes of Scotland: playing in heather covered knolls, hiding in little glens, jumping from boulder to boulder across burns and walking on ground choppy with peat. I will never know the real truth, but on that day, standing at her front door, I felt like one of the salmon leaping up the falls of the river Earn or Tay, the Braan or the Garry or the Tilt, finding their way back to the place of their birth.

Although I stood on a doorstep in the north of London, neither my grandmothers birthplace nor mine, we were both in the United Kingdom of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. In my seventeen-year-old head I was home and the words from my favorite school poem came back to me

Up the airy mountain, 

Down the rushy glen,

We daren’t go a-hunting

For fear of little men;

Wee folk, good folk,

Trooping all together;

Green jacket, red cap,

And white owl’s feather!

Down along the rocky shore,

Some make their home,

They live on crispy pancakes

Of yellow tide-foam;

Some in the reeds

Of the black mountain-lake,

With frogs for their watch-dogs,

All night awake.

And yet my childhood was spent exploring landscapes – landscapes of a different kind, more wild, gritty, arthritic; the earth’s acid eating into focalized rock, leeching out dust of gold into rivers bereft of fish. At least where I came from; those mudbrown watercourses tasseled with willows, chocked with hyacinth, giving little relief to the dry earth tattooed by drought.

And those whiskery, knobbly, misshapen barbel – can one call those fish?

The women I knew as a child were not warrior women fighting wars, they were women fighting for seeds to sprout, for rain, for fertile soil. Mrs Harrison – every Sunday she grabbed a chicken in each hand, swung them around until their necks snapped, plucked them, pulled out their guts, stuffed them and served them for lunch

It is precisely these contrasts that I love –  my ancestral land, the feeling that I know it so well – deep inside me the wellspring of my being.

My birth land – gripping my existence like a strangler fig – intoxicatingly suffocating and I must gasp for air.

When I look at Biba I see the warrior women of my ancient past in her eyes, I feel my blood flowing back to the mist of time, pumping through the veins of the earliest Britonic Celts, the Gaelic Celts, the Gaulish Celts. I feel my blood spilling on the lands of South-west of England, south Wales, southern Ireland, place of her paternal lineage, southern Scotland, all these the places of her ancestry She, my last born grandchild, hair red with locks, as true as any Celt. At three she has the legendary temperament described by Ammianus Marcellinus

“…a whole band

of foreigners will be unable to cope with

one in a fight, if he calls in his

wife, stronger than he by far and with

flashing eyes; least of all when she

swells her neck and gnashes her teeth, and poising her white arms, begins to rain blows mingled with kicks,

like shots discharged by the twisted cords of a catapult”

and then I feel in Ella’s heart her connection to nature, as connected  as ancient Celtic spirituality where every aspect of life was nature revering -placing shrines in natural sanctuaries – at springs, lakes, rivers and woodlands. She, like the Bards, Vates and Druids has an integrated relationship with the natural world.

Through my matriarchal ascendancy of endurance,  suffering, courage, humiliation, abandonment I look at my descendants – my daughters daughter’s – a pure mixture of  boldness, determination independence, braveness and warrior instincts in the one and the intergratedness with nature in the other, all these qualities combined together in my daughter Justine, each expressing themselves through the multiple possibilities of life itself.

We search the cemetery for a rose garden where Betsy wanted her ashes to be scattered. The graveyard attendant digs a hole under a white rosebush, takes the top off the urn, mixes her pale ashes with the dark, rich soil, I remember her words when I asked her to tell me about Nan’s secret.

“ I cannot tell you, that secret I will take with me to my grave.”

She was the last living relative who knew the answer

.

I only now begin to understand. Nan did not have a dark secret,

she made a choice.

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That democracy doesn’t survive

That self-regulation is the answer

That individuals, communities and nations must be held responsible for their own actions

That the body politic will be governed by leaders chosen and trained by a way still to be discovered

That the ages of socialism, communism, and democracy will pass away But that the age of humanity will last long

IT MAY BE

That the Enlightenment will return That there will be a new Renaissance

That Romantic Love is restored along with knightly conduct and a lady’s favours.

That exclusive religions will fade away and be replaced by ethical principles morality. and justice

That humankind will accept that Spirit, Soul and Creation are unknowable

That Goddess, Creatrix are rightful aspects of the sacred as are God, Creator

That Spirit is beyond all words, definitions, analysis and that we would do well to abide in openness to the deep and subtle calls of the soul

IT MAY BE  

That

Women will rule

Men will always wage war

The young will respect the old And the old respect the young

IT MAY BE

That Children ARE angels

And play is the thing

Maybe Love is the solvent In the end

IT MAY BE

That people are not equal

That human nature is not able to live in freedom, co-operation, communion

That the great French motto of Liberty Equality Fraternity should be revised so that Fraternity, first, will lead us to Equality and Liberty

That communities will need to embed rules of conduct and relatedness for the common good

That people should be taught and forced not to litter, spit, shout, harass, rage, kill, despise, despoil, oppress but to abide by the ten commandments of all religions

That people should be educated in what NOT to do in return for freedom

IT MAY BE

That cars and aircraft should be cursed as noise-polluters, space-polluters, lethal weapons

That public transport will replace individual motorized vehicles

That donkeys increase their shareholding on earth along with bicycles, roller blades, canoes

That legs and feet will not become obsolete

That horses will regain their rightful place of divinity

That future modes of transport are silent and safe, powered by renewable resources

And not owned by the rich

IT MAY BE

That poverty will always be part of group life

That it brings forth strengths of its own

That the rich will ever get richer and the poor poorer

That wealth and leisure are as necessary to society as simplicity and work

That envy, greed and power are but the shadow side of goodness and mercy

That we need more angels and more law-enforcers

That the strong will always exterminate the weak in the service of survival and evolution

That life is to the courageous and evolves to the intelligent

IT MAY BE

That the workers do not earn the good life but that musicians will

That politicians and philosophers do no comprehend what is as truly as artists do

That royalty will return to favour and there be educated leadership

That societies will value their teachers above politicians and priests

That education will be the greatest portion of any community’s effort

That schooling will not be for knowledge alone but to bring forth truth and integrity and responsible stewardship

That creativity and intuition will be as respected as intellect

That books and reading will outlive television and storytellers and minstrels return

That children will be taught obedience because life is as much about what is, as what one does

That we learn that life does not necessarily deliver that which we wish or approve

IT MAY YET BE

That Nature‘s power, energy power, esoteric power, cell power will drive that which needs to be driven

That man-made materials may save the planet

That new inventions will remedy problems for which we see none, now

That Nature will survive all human depradation, will eliminate, adapt, survive

That the Earth will change existing life forms in order to do so

That man’s ingenuity and intelligence will solve the world’s great crises

That technology will serve us well

That information will not delete our capacity for thinking

That medicine finds tools that are non-toxic, non-invasive

IT MAY BE

That macadamized roads should not cover the earth

That cities should have great plant-ations

That flowers need space, nourishment, and care as much as any other species

That trees do serious duty as mediators of weather, climate, clear air, clear skies

That bees should not be boxed and carted off to pollinate distant orchards

That the variety of species is crucial for survival of all

That the expanding size of the human species is the greatest danger we face

That scientists will be the ones talking to flowers growing their own cabbages and singing to the stars

IT MAY BE

That wild animals will be saved from extinction

That Insects should be allowed their life passage not exterminated on sight

That ants, mosquitoes, cockroaches and midges should return to our gardens, homes and streets

That animals should not be domesticated, fondled kept in apartments, dressed in ribbons

That we will learn from the animals about true family bondings, territoriality and survival

IT MAY YET BE

That we will learn humility and cast aside greed

That women will regain their place of honour in society and home

That the qualities of the feminine will become operative and suffuse all living

That there will be an end to gender competition and aggression

That men and women will live in mutual acceptance and co-operative strength

That Institutions based on control and power will wither and die

IT MAY BE

That rights cannot work without responsibilities

That children must have discipline as well as freedom

That adolescents will be guided and mentored through this difficult phase

That young men will be given worthy challenges and achievements, Training in leadership and citizenship

That young girls will not be exposed to exploitation of innocence

That sexuality loses its violence and manipulation Becomes a rich resource for intimacy and truthfulness

That artists, musicians, dancers, performers will show us how to live

That Clowns will teach us how to survive

IT MAY BE

That society’s evolution will move on from the phase of power and corporate control

That financial institutions will die out

That the media will become positive and not sensationalist

That paparazzi will disappear as a species.

IT MAY BE

That humans will learn to live truly interdependent and interconnected with all In the web of life

That Nature will prevent human destruction of the animal, plant and mineral kingdoms

That this civilization will not survive Will, simply, also pass away

IT MAY YET BE

That justice will rule

Leaders will lead

Mentors mentor

Mothers mother

The Earth continue to turn on its axis

And the sun survive our lifetime.

That we hear the stars sing

That we honour the songlines of our creation

That we learn to live in interconnectedness and compassion

That we realize we do not know everything

That we will all be searching & listening co-operatively for the whispers of angels, gods and goddesses and our own intelligence.

April, 2007

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