Walking into 2016

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sunset at Avebury, December 28th 2015

I haven’t been blogging much recently- in fact hardly at all. 2015 turned into a crazy, exciting, busy year, creatively. As a result, I found at the end of the year that I had dropped some important threads, including my blog. I hope to pick up where I left off and carry on knitting this strangely-shaped patchwork blanket of random writings on a much more regular basis. Call it a New Year’s Resolution if you like, maybe it is one – my blog has been a writing rudder in the past, steering me through events, successes, failures, moods, frustrations and obsessions…and I hope it will do that again.

Lots of great stuff happened last year – I feel very grateful and fortunate to have met and worked with some lovely, talented and generous people, and to have achieved some of my ambitions for my writing. I will write more about this but I don’t know if that will happen here and now…it might happen randomly and at will, rather than any attempt to be chronological and consistent and comprehensive…

It was good to go away at Christmas and New Year and take a much-needed breather and see some new places and friendly faces.

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hide and seek at the stones, Avebury

We traveled to stay in a tiny cottage on the edge of a farm in Wiltshire, where I hoovered up Viv Albertine’s memoir in a couple of days; wandered around Avebury re-acquainting myself with its stones and trees, after eating lunch in the Red Lion; found a tiny magical part of Calne; stayed in a very rainy Bath and re-visited the Roman Baths and Sally Lunn’s – amazing lavender cake with rose buttercream filling!

Then we were very lucky to be invited to stay with one of oldest friends and her partner and sons in Cardiff, where we saw the New Year in hearing socialist anthems sang exquisitely by members of Cardiff Reds Choir, who happen to live two doors down from my friend’s house, and who were having a party, which we were then invited to. The next two days were filled with trips to the funfair and Dr Who Experience, home-made curry and apple pie…a great way to see the New Year in – best one I’ve had in years. Thanks for everything, Tania XXX

 

 

Never Pounce on a Porcupine #Imbolc #NatureWords

???????????????????????????????“Never pounce on a porcupine!” was my son’s conversation opener this morning- wise advice, nice use of alliteration- and the perfect way to start this post, my first of 2015.

The word alliteration has been added to the latest edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary- however porcupine has been removed. Can you pounce on ‘a rodent with a coat of sharp spines, or quills’? Probably- although you would be foolish to do so- and the alliteration does not exist without the word porcupine. How much meaning is being lost in removing this one word, which tells us, rather delightfully,  all we need to know about this creature? The same goes for the word piglet – it is no longer in the Oxford Junior Dictionary- it has been removed. Where would Winnie the Pooh be without Piglet? Piglet’s favourite food is acorns– or as he refers to them, “haycorns” – another word which has been deemed irrelevant to children’s vocabulary in the 21st century. Alliteratively (and poetically): Pink Piglet- yes…Pink Baby Pig- No….

Acorn comes from the Middle English- it is a very old word which we have been using for hundreds of years- but will children now refer to acorns as ‘fruit of an oak, consisting of a single-seeded, thick-walled nut set in a woody, cuplike base’? No- because, according to the Oxford University Press, who publish the Oxford Junior Dictionary, these words have been removed to make way for words which are more suitable and relevant to the indoor and technology-focused lifestyles of children now.
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primrose is another word to have gone from the OJD

This erasure of nature-based words from the Oxford Junior Dictionary is not a new situation- but has received more press coverage again recently. Religious and magical words (bishop, goblin, elf, sin) removed in 2007, have been added to with words such as catkin and even conker, in the 2012 edition. Words that in my opinion are still intrinsic to childhood itself, and to our relationship, education about, and understanding of the natural world around us.

The Guardian ran a piece on this in January, and many writers including Margaret Atwood and Michael Morpurgo have written to the OUP regarding this worrying state of affairs.

As a poet and a writer who writes about place, and as a mother of a seven year old, I felt determined to do something to raise awareness about this but until this weekend I wasn’t sure what that would be.

But…this weekend I went to Glastonbury to meet up with dear friends and celebrate Imbolc with them, also known as Brigid. Brigid or Bridie is the Goddess of Inspiration, Blacksmiths, Fire and also Poetry. This is a celebration of the First Stirrings- where the begins of growth are apparent: in snowdrops, the first lambing, and green shorts daring to peek out in the freezing weather.DSC02656

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After the celebration at the White Spring, we came out into the bright, watery-sun morning and gathered in a circle across Well House Lane, between the White Spring and the Red Spring at Chalice Well. There was an open invitation for people to share their thoughts, inspiration, songs and poetry. This is an event I always try to get to, as it is a great way to begin the year proper, and is a joyful meeting of like minds and community, in the best place to be.

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Some amazing poetry was performed and read, a wonderful guided visualisation was offered, inspirational stories were told, and the ever-joyful Hemp man was there to impress the gathered throng with the benefits of hemp consumption and production.

I had chosen two poems to read, and thought I had neatly folded them into my bag, but on arrival realised I had left them behind. I was disappointed for a moment but instead I found the printed list list of nature words which have been removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary lurking unexpectedly in my rucksack. It was after Lisa Goodwin performed her fantastic poem, which included the repeated line What would Bridie Do? that I knew I had to do it.

She asked if anyone else would like to contribute and I stepped into the circle and explained that the Oxford Junior Dictionary had removed a significant amount of nature words, and that as this was a day for poets, language and inspiration, that this seemed the right place to say some of them, and would everyone repeat them as I spoke them?

Here are all of the words, with the ones I remember saying, shouting even, highlighted.

adder, ass, beaver, boar, budgerigar, bullock, cheetah, colt, corgi, cygnet, doe, drake, ferret, gerbil, goldfish, guinea pig, hamster, heron, herring, kingfisher, lark, leopard, lobster, magpie, minnow, mussel, newt, otter, ox,oyster, panther, pelican, piglet, plaice, poodle, porcupine, porpoise, raven, spaniel, starling, stoat, stork, terrapin, thrush, weasel, wren. Acorn, allotment, almond, apricot, ash, bacon, beech, beetroot, blackberry, blacksmith, bloom, bluebell, bramble, bran,bray, bridle, brook, buttercup, canary, canter, carnation, catkin, cauliflower, chestnut, clover, conker, county, cowslip,crocus, dandelion, diesel, fern, fungus, gooseberry, gorse, hazel, hazelnut, heather, holly, horse chestnut, ivy, lavender,leek, liquorice, manger, marzipan, melon, minnow, mint, nectar, nectarine, oats, pansy, parsnip, pasture, poppy, porridge, poultry, primrose, prune, radish, rhubarb, sheaf, spinach, sycamore, tulip, turnip, vine, violet, walnut, willow
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crocus- omitted from the OJD
I picked them out randomly, and in the moment but as I stood there and said them myself, and heard them come back at me, with the audible surprise and indignation in some people’s voices, I realised the power and meaning attached to these words, especially to people who feel spiritually connected to nature, to the earth, to the turning year, to the seasons….
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 I am very glad I did it, and afterwards, as we walked through the side gate into Chalice Well, and headed towards the warmth of the fire, and cups of coffee and ample blocks of delicious banana cake, a few people approached me to talk about it. So if a few more people know about this then these words will be fought for more fervently, as they should be.
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This is how we communicate our connection to nature, as well as claim our heritage and our traditions. For example think about what the word ‘conker’ conjures in you….
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the words won’t die because they aren’t included in one children’s dictionary- but it is symbolic and symptomatic of the disconnection with nature that is not only happening but also apparently being accepted as ‘normal’ in many sections of society. George Monbiot wrote a great piece in The Guardian about children losing their connection to nature and the future implications of this, which is worth reading.
After my nature-word incanting at the weekend my aim is to explore some of these words with my son this year and post the results on here from time to time.
I hope that OUP reconsider their decision and send out a positive message by putting these words back into the next edition of their junior dictionary. For updates on the campaign to bring the words back, this is the place to go: http://www.naturemusicpoetry.com/campaigns.html
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To finish up, and as something to consider…here are some of the words that have taken the place of the words above…what do they mean to you?
Blog, broadband, MP3 player, voicemail, attachment, database, export, chatroom, bullet point, cut and
paste, analogue Celebrity, tolerant, vandalism, negotiate, interdependent, creep, citizenship, childhood, conflict, common sense, debate,EU, drought, brainy, boisterous, cautionary tale, bilingual, bungee jumping, committee, compulsory, cope, democratic, allergic, biodegradable, emotion, dyslexic, donate,
endangered, Euro Apparatus, food chain, incisor, square number, trapezium, alliteration, colloquial, idiom, curriculum,
classify, chronological, block graph

 

 

 

“Paradise haunts gardens…” Derek Jarman

I have no idea how long I have been thinking about going to see Derek Jarman’s garden- but it’s probably more than the twenty years since he died. I finally made it last Wednesday; drove from Rye, where we were staying for half term, on a persistently drizzly and grey day, through the marshes and strange flatness of Camber and Lydd. Across the pylon-plotted horizon with the odd caravan park nestling by their giant electric feet. And then without knowing until I saw it, there, a yellow framed, black stained timber building loomed into view through the mist and rain-spattered windscreen of my car.

There!

With the BBC film crew van tucked into the side of the narrow road between the stretch of shingle and few houses, there on the right hand side, the garden. Here are some grey rainy shots of Jarman’s garden as it is now, twenty years after he died. As far as I know the house is owned by someone new but obviously aware and respectful of the legacy, and the garden remains. Below is a short film made by BBC Gardeners’ World in the first few years after Jarman passed on, where his partner is interviewed and talks about the garden, and which includes quotes from Jarman’s book…. now I have to go back when the weather is better in the Spring. Dungeness is magickal and it is easy to understand why he settled there.

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Cross Bones Graveyard, Southwark

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“… a pauper’s burial ground, with a legend going back to medieval times…”

But that’s not the half of it- not even the beginning… more on this to come in another post. Please click the link above to find out more about this place, in the heart of South London, just off Borough High Street.