Friday, 26 November 2010

Unlucky Heather?

"Something significant will happen to you on January the twenty-ninth," said the gypsy, handing me a small piece of white heather, wrapped in silver foil.
I hadn't really expected to have my fortune told in the centre of Birmingham as I did my Christmas shopping.

A few frantic thoughts went through my mind:
'Should I say I don't accept psychic readings because of my own spiritual convictions?'
'How much does she want for the heather?'
'If I say anything wrong will she curse me like in that film 'Drag Me to Hell'?'

It all began innocently enough. I have some gypsy ancestry and I'm sympathetic towards travellers because they get pushed from place to place by nimby-loving communities.
So I stopped when I was confronted with the words:
"Buy some heather to help the gypsies,"

The gypsy (named Carol) looked re-assuringly as if she wasn't about to put a curse on me. She looked normal and had a kind smile. That was the moment she looked into my eyes (I indulgently imagined she recognised my gypsy ancestry, like a spiritual chord between our peoples). She simply handed me the white heather and said: "Something significant is going to happen to you on January the twenty ninth."

As I reached into my pocket for change I noticed some white heather crushed underfoot on the pavement. It was crushed and neglected, like the travelling community. They are a community who rarely even get their side of the story told in the media stories which concern them, who simply live a different lifestyle and are distrusted and treated like outcasts by Government councils.

I took the white heather. "God bless," said Carol. I said the same back and put the heather in my pocket.

The first law against gypsies in England came into force in 1530. It condemned their 'greate subtyll and craft meanes' of deceiving people through palmistry. Superstition of course. Like the idea that a curse would be placed on anyone who offends a gypsy (as stereotyped in the Sam Raimi horror film 'Drag Me to Hell').

The idea that white heather is lucky came to England from Scotland as part of a Victorian love for Scottish traditions. No-one seems to know for sure exactly where the idea that white heather is lucky originated from. Some say that white heather grows over the graves of faeries, or that white heather grows on patches of battle-ground where no blood had been shed. Knights in battle were supposed to be invisible from their enemies if they hid in white heather.

In a country where most superstitions tend to revolve around bad luck, it is nice to have one which is considered lucky.

But the question remains: what will happen to me on January 29th 2011?
Watch this space.

The following picture was taken at Calke Abbey and shows a grave covered in white heather (it is not supposed to be prophetic).

Monday, 8 November 2010

A Sketch of the Time

A Sketch of the Time 1 (June 2010)

Outcasts and heretics were buried in far off wild places – separated from people both in life and death.

The fear of death came almost constantly at that point. The news items on the bulletins seemed twice as serious, twice as awful as before. The city became three times as cold and alienating, people seemed meaner, stranger, more selfish than ever. And late at night, that was the worst time – when the fear of death, its sheer severity and finality crept into his heart like an unwelcome guest.

The elderly showed almost no wisdom – people swore loudly or were drunk in the morning on the trains. Implied violence was everywhere. And sometimes real violence. It reminded him of being back in the hospital, where a false peace would descend for a while, a kind of truce during which everyone would be waiting for the next awful event, the next violent outburst. 'It was good training, the hospital', he thought, 'not so different as here outside'. Peace does not equal surrender.

If ever there was a time when people would faint from terror – this was that time.

That he had expressed this fear of death made him feel guilty, as if he had somehow effected their morale, or betrayed them all. Like a crow singing its raw, shrill song among the more harmonious, sweeter-sounding birds. He wanted to sing a healing melody, to speak of beauty, true peace and love, but it eluded him at that time. There was nothing of the kind to be observed, or else his eyes were darkened and he found only what he was seeking. Fear, violence and darkness.

A Sketch of the Time (2) Nov 2010

Outcasts and heretics were buried in far off wild places – separated from people both in life and death.

As he sat taking notes in the morning psychology lecture, the wind howled outside as it hit the side of the university building. At the front of the lecture hall, there were models of a take-apart human head with an exposed brain, a giant ear and a heart (probably from some previous medical lecture). It was an overcast day with drizzly rain. The wind seemed to mock those in the lecture theatre:

'How is all your study going to help you survive, here, outside in the real world?
How is learning how to construct a psychology article with appropriate standardised referencing going to help you survive?'

The wind increased in volume and frequency, unnerving and irritating some students and the lecturer.

He imagined that we were all seated in Thor's Cave – the medical models becoming fossilized bones while the wind howled outside the entrance of the cave, shouting:

'Folly! Folly!' Come out of your ivory cave!
In years to come what will you remember about your lecture? It will not help you to survive!'

The laughter and conversation of the students during a break drowned out the wind's voice for a while – a sort of counter-attack against the real world of survival and grey skies and drizzly rain and howling winds which cry 'Folly!'

But when the laughter had died down the voice of the wind remained and increased in its insistence on being heard.

And he imagined that they were high up on a bleak cliff-face, hidden inside the cave – and despite the strange fossils it was a comfort, a kind of peace to be safe and warm, hidden in the crevice of the university, sheltered from winds which cry 'Folly!'

They say that is true peace – to be sheltered, like a dove, while the storm rages all around. Rather than to be surrounded by sunshine and warmth (while the storm rages inside).

Then he went outside.