Be afraid! Be very afraid!

IMG_3309 Nicholas – seen here in his fabulous bat-suit –  is ready for Hallowe’en, the first he has enjoyed with all of us, bearing in mind that he didn’t come to live here until the end of last November, when he was eight weeks old. Everything is new and exciting for him but, for the rest of us, the seasons and their celebrations, secular and even religious, can be dulled by familiarity.  On Hallowe’en itself, for example, we older boys know that the fun and barking must begin as soon as dusk falls, when the very youngest members of our community start calling in their ghostly make-up and masks, their adult minders waiting for them at the end of the drive while they tuck into the sweets doled out at the front door.  I even have a pumpkin suit in which to greet them!

IMG_3283But there is more to this extraordinary time of the year than fun; the time when we indulge these tiny terrors with individual packets of Haribo and spooky lighting. Our young neighbours’ innocent enjoyment of this one night of raiding stands as a kind of ghostly parody of the Viking visitors who centuries ago used to disturb the Northumbrian villagers along this coast on dark nights, bringing real havoc, destruction and fear. So these days when our shores are calm, the seas clear of longboats, and Lindisfarne is at peace, we reach into the collective spiritual memory, where paganism overlaps with the rational, when in truth we cannot escape the fact that all the time the days are shortening, the light diminishing and we are losing our ability to see the difference between what is and what is not.

For however happily we trot along in our regenerated rational world, fingertips from another one constantly reach out to touch us. Only this morning a black cat appeared out of the corner of the eye in one of the bedrooms being cleaned across the road – something we as a family have no problem understanding: in our previous home, everyone was used to the friendly cat which brushed against us in the kitchen; its one-time home remained its home, for ever, and she was happy to share it with Jeoffry.  And as for the footsteps on the gravel . . . Well, more of that another time.

This Saturday, on Hallowe’en itself, the film of Macbeth we saw them making last year on the beach at Bamburgh comes to Seahouses. Well hear lots of ordinary, honest, everyday creatures, domestic and wild, traduced in the Weird Sisters’ revolting and unnatural rhymes – dogs, bats, toads, owls – as the world turns upside-down in Macbeth’s murderous wake. Shakespeare’s imagination will pull down the veil between two worlds in a vision of self-destruction far worse than any modern horror film could devise. Banquo and King Duncan, of course, will remark upon the martins nesting high on the castle wall. And we simple, innocent creatures who make the beach our playground will reflect on how they will return. For we remember how they took down the ugly scaffold once Michael Fassbender had ridden away, leaving the ramparts – and the time –  free. Exciting times, then, not routine at all, once you ponder on them, Pip. Now where is my pumpkin suit?

Blood moon and the ball from the deep

20141008_065339At this time of year, with its turbulent and increasingly changeable weather, astonishingly high tides preventing walkers from proceeding along the beach, winds from the continent whipping up the waves, it is the ever-darkening mornings we resent the most. The fingers of the night clasp our shoulders, delaying our fun by degrees a little more every day and we will soon be at that time of ‘no morn, no noon’ of which someone famous once wrote. Yet this undistinguished picture shows something of what this autumnal shift can surprise us with: an orange moon as big and bright as the dawn, blessing us with its morning glow as, facing it from over the North Sea, the sun itself slides up from the horizon.  Such a phenomenon came as a splendid surprise, a kind of pumpkin to remind me to change my Next Big Day widget in preparation for Hallowe’en.

This is a time of year when things are afoot, and no mistake. Attached to the house has grown of late an opulent kind of bunkhouse, both upstairs and down, giving NuNu and I much more room for our sleeping bags and, for Barnaby, the prospect of a sunny room where his enormous memory-foam bed can fit. Patiently we three have watched and listened as the work has speedily progressed; I have inspected it and found it all good. I have not wandered when the side gate disappeared – what need have I of wandering? Rumours abound that a Dickensian name suitable for an addition to our clan may shortly need to be decided on; a long name, perhaps, for a small pup. Within a few weeks we will undertake a journey to see to which he seems most suited. This is my best thing for a very long time.

Except that this morning, as we clung to the rolling waves on the tide-filled beach, before my feet rolled out of the surf a perfect sea urchin, whole and entire, thrown up into my path with remarkable ordinariness as though such bounty were commonplace. Thank you, Great Spirit, for the kaleidoscope we call our days: on a dark and dingy morning, to find the perfect ball.



Go find it, faeries

IMG00358-20140218-0758The lighter mornings are upon us and today the sun came bursting up into our lives. On the early news we heard with warm hearts that in the south the flood levels are dropping a bit. As a boy who cannot bear getting my enormously furry legs wet for less than a really decent retrieve, I can barely conceive what it must be like to sustain life under the conditions which are currently so common. But now the real work must begin: the horrible discoveries of loss and destruction; the protracted process of getting some kind of normal life back, and trying to find ways of making ends meet. It is a new beginning, but not a very joyful one. Coming through the dunes to the beach this morning, however, we all detected a definite feeling of renewed hope in the air. As we rounded the little gate, into the scrubby field where the Exmoor ponies greet us every day, we couldn’t help but feel one of those thrills which the smell of spring – be it ever so faint – instils.

Skylark59 When Kemo Sabe was making her tea, we heard the skylark singing its gracious and sustained song on ‘Tweet of the Day’. Suddenly above us hovered the sound of summer months, even earlier outings and the solitude of the dunes. This blessed and inspiring song transported us through time as we crossed its currently empty habitat. We remember Thomas Hardy’s tribute to this ‘tiny piece of priceless dust’, the memory of whom, like a gentle phantom, brushes over us as we pass. You will return, sweet creature, and we will be waiting, on dry, bright mornings like today when still more of the sorrow has evaporated on the gentle breeze.

If you would like to hear this morning’s ‘Tweet of the Day’ about the skylark, you will find it here:

At the risk of being whimsical . . .

IMG_1031[1]. . . the next Big Day is almost upon us, as today’s picture suggests! We love spiders and have a couple of really large black ones in the front room: one lives behind the bookcase and comes out to check the fire occasionally; the other’s home is the waste paper basket, where it lives in peace. Every now and again we see these members of the household, poottling about when their fancies take them – despite our fondness for them, it’s always a bit alarming, though, when they spring into our world. This purple species, seen here embracing dear and very patient Barnaby, is of course just a silly one – part of the Hallowe’en-iana, now down from the loft, with which we’re decorating the place. We hope the real spiders feel at home and enjoy the fun as much as we will. Newman’s role is at the front door to greet the Trick or Treaters when they call by; they know we are expecting them because the terracota pumpkin outside will be alight with candles and across the windows pumpkins and cobwebs aplenty will be flickering in anticipation. Newman’s good at excitement and seeming rather frightening, because he is big and bouncy and driven mad by the smell of the sweets (or indeed anything remotely edible), though everyone who calls here knows he’s as harmless and sweet as Bobo near whom I sleep and around whom Newman wraps. 003 From what I hear, most cultures and their religions find expression for the ideas behind this festival in their folklore and practices; for a little spaniel like me the numinous is very real and, as one who is afraid of very little but looks for the meaning in everything, I embrace tomorrow’s fun, so long as it is gentle and silly: let the more plangent possibilities speak for themselves, I say! Uncle Jonny shows us that the veil between this world and the next is thin anyway, and even more than usual at this time of year, standing as we do upon the threshold of life and death, summer and autumn, wondering what to do for the best. Newman and Jonny told me about the time in Nunhead Cemetery when they were looking at the primroses flowering in December and approaching footsteps on the gravel were distinctly heard by them all when nobody was there. Nobody else at all: just the distinct sound of someone being there. Newman himself often saw beings unseen to others and wouldn’t walk up paths, stopping resolutely and digging in his paws. Nunhead is a beautiful Victorian place and the boys went there everyday without fail; there was nothing horrid about it, nothing at all, but it still held secrets among its quarter of a million buried souls, including a mysterious old man in an 2013 October Pip 016outdated pin-striped suit with distinctive buttonholes, who was one minute scrutinising an abandoned grave and the next gone without trace.  Outside on Jonny’s grave the flowers are dying at last – something which makes perfect sense. From beneath what remains of them, however, reaches up a real presence whose power is funny, wise and strong, though dead two years. Glee made a living thing!