Category Archives: Wildlife and Nature

The Fairies of Cornwall (4)

Let’s have a look at one of the old Cornish stories, and see what kind of things the human sized  fairies used to get up to. As soon as I had read a few of these stories, I was immediately struck by how they seemed to echo aspects of modern life. The people who disappear in the USA’s National Parks. The activities of those nasty aliens. And bear in mind that this is one of the first stories in Volume I, so I would think it was put there as a gentle introduction. Not that the fairies are at all gentle.

In this traditional droll-teller’s story, therefore, “Uter” is a commercial traveller who is led astray by the fairies, as he tries to go back to his hotel after visiting a big country festival in Penzance. Here is its modern equivalent:

“When Uter got into the field, a cloud of fog was rising from the moors, entirely surrounding him and so thick that he could scarcely see a yard before him. Yet, although he couldn’t see anything, he could hear distant singing plainer than ever. He steered his course for the eastern side of the field, as near as he could guess toward the place with an opening in the hedgerow where he intended to pass into the next field. He soon came to the fence, but he found no opening. He searched back and forth. He wandered round and round, without success. And then he tried to get over what appeared to be a low place in the hedge; but the more he climbed, the higher the hedge seem to rise above him.”

“He tried ever so many places, but could never quite reach the top of the fence, and every time he gave up, his ears rang with such mocking laughter as nothing but a Fairy ever made. He was very anxious to reach the hotel, and above all to get out of this field, as it had a bad reputation, and was shunned by most people after nightfall. The ugliest of sprites and fairies, with other stranger apparitions, such as unearthly lights, were often seen firstly hovering around the old Chapel which stood in this field, and then departing in all directions. These ruins were so overgrown with brambles and thorns that there was but little of the building to be seen.”

“Uter had turned round and round so often that he neither knew what course he was steering nor in which part of the field he stood, until he found himself among the thickets surrounding the ruins. Even here he heard the same teasing, tormenting laughter proceeding from inside the chapel. Then he took it into his head that someone in flesh and blood was following him about in the mist. He soon lost his temper and threatened to let whoever, or whatever, was dogging his footsteps, feel the weight of his boot as soon as he could lay hands on him.

He had no sooner hit the Fairy then than the cudgel was snatched from his hand, his heels tripped up, and he was laid flat on his back; then he was sent rolling down the hill faster and faster, until he went down like a stone bowled over a cliff, tossed over the hedge at the bottom of the field like a bundle of rags, then pushed through the brambles on the moor, or pitched over the bogs and stream on the Fairy’s horns. Then he was whirled away like dust before the wind. When he fell down, he was pitched up again, and not allowed a moment’s rest from rolling or running until he passed the high road and was driven on by the Fairy, smashing against a high rock at the foot of the hill, where he was found quite insensible the next day.”

Whoever or whatever was responsible for those events, it certainly doesn’t sound like it was Tinkerbell!

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Filed under Cornwall, Criminology, Cryptozoology, History, Literature, Personal, Wildlife and Nature, Writing

The Fairies of Cornwall (3)

The ancient stories about the fairies were collected together in Cornwall by William Bottrell (1816–1881) when he realised that the county was changing so rapidly in the mid-nineteenth century, that the old tales would all soon be lost if he didn’t record them during his lifetime. Fairy tales had never previously been written down, but were declaimed to an audience by “droll tellers”, men who would spend one night here, two nights there, as they wandered from farm to farm, being fed and making money as the hat was passed around. This was all in exchange for entertaining the people with their traditional accounts of what mischief the fairies had got up to. They still exist nowadays to some extent:

In those days, the agricultural population would often live in groups either in, or around, a large farm, providing the farmer with his workforce and the droll teller with his audience. Presumably, the droll teller might well change the details of his tale slightly to fit the lives of the people in the particular farm where he was telling his tale. Many tales mention specific people and specific places, and the tale might be changed to take account of this. Even today, a droll teller can attract a large crowd:

 The three books by William Bottrell which I have are : “Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall-First Series (1870)”

“Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall-Second Series (1873)”

“Stories and Folk-Lore of West Cornwall-Third Series (1880)”

And here’s the cover:

Personally, I would say that the “droll tales” were already centuries old when Bottrell collected them. Some of them apparently include particular individuals from the 1600s and I would not be surprised if the tales had their origins as far back as the years before William the Conqueror. A few certainly mention the red hair of the vikings:

Fairies back then were beings who would interfere frequently in the lives of ordinary people. They had such powers that they could do whatever they wished. Physically, they were the size of humans and people were frequently  deceived by strangers that they did not realise were fairies. More about such evil-doing next time…….

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The Fairies of Cornwall (2)

Two very different geniuses (or perhaps genii), have both offered their opinion about our O-so-short existence on Planet Earth. One was the Venerable Bede (or the Venereal Bede as we used to call him at school). TVB lived from AD 672–735. He was a Saxon and he was the author of “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People” and “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People: The Heavy Metal Years”. And TVB’s views were not exactly overflowing with either certainty or optimism, despite his continuing promotions from one job to another in the hierarchy of the church, bringing him ever closer to The Big Man. Pope St Gregory III. Here is TVB, on his visit to Craggy Island:

Young Father Dougal McGuire is taking notes of the Great Man’s order for the Chinese takeaway while Fathers Ted and Jack debate whether, if priests were Chinese meals, Dougal would be Dim Sum. And TVB continues:

“The life of man upon the Earth seems to me like the flight of a sparrow through the Great Hall where the king sits at supper in winter, with his noblemen and knights. The fire blazes brightly and the hall is warm, even though the wintry storms of rain or snow are raging outside. The sparrow, flying in at one door, through the hall, and flying out at the other door, is safe from the wintry tempest whilst he is inside, but after a short interval of nice warm weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, passing from winter to winter again. So our life as men lasts for a little while, but of what went before our lives or what is to follow our lives, we know nothing at all.”

Shakspere, a man who couldn’t even spell his own name consistently, was ten times as pessimistic:

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more.

It is a tale
Told by an idiot,

Full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

Our understanding is not helped either by the fact that, because of the shortness of our lives, it almost always proves impossible for Man A in the twelfth century to tell another man, Man B, in the late eighteenth century, that, between them, they have discovered the two halves of one of the great truths of human existence. But without being able to compare notes, neither of the two will ever realise that, by putting the two halves together, one of our great questions may have been answered.

The two men in question both had an identical and absolutely extraordinary experience.

Man A in the twelfth century was an Iroquois hunter:

One day he gets tired from his hunting. He lies down in the forest and goes to sleep. When he awakens, a hundred years have passed. His great-grandchildren have grey hair and his children and his grandchildren are all dead.

Then there’s the Dutchman from the late eighteenth century. One day he is walking up a mountain path and accepts the offer of a drink of liquor from some elegantly dressed men. He soon falls asleep and when he awakens, twenty years have passed. His nagging wife is dead and so is his dog, Wolf, and his country no longer has a king but a president. The man’s name? Rip van Winkle:

Both men have found answers to at least one of the questions which, nowadays, we are all burning desperately to solve. But, in actual fact, the question may already have been solved centuries ago, and the answer has then been hidden away in the dust of our premature deaths, lost in the passage of time. If only 21st century Americans knew that they need to talk to a late 18th century Dutchman , or perhaps even a 12th century Iroquois to get an answer to one of our biggest questions.

And that particular question is:

Are there beings out there somewhere who have powers way beyond ours, such as the manipulation of time or even time travel itself? :

Other burning questions, near to the top of the list, are :

1         are there superior beings out there somewhere who like to spy on us?

2        do they ever intervene in human affairs?

3        do they ever abduct us and take us elsewhere for periods of time?

These “superior beings”, of course, extend upwards as far as gods and angels.

Here in Merry Olde Englande, we, of course, have the answers to all three of these questions. They are Yes, Yes and Yes/Perhaps. And these answers have all three been known to the country people of Cornwall for, possibly, ten centuries.

The Cornish country people have long been familiar with these superior beings. They may spy on us, they may take an interest in our affairs, they interfere with our lives and they occasionally abduct us and do what they want with us, for as long as they think fit. Today, in our technological society, these superior beings are now known as “extra-terrestrials” and they apparently possess technology light years ahead of our own:

In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, though, the Cornish people knew them not as “extra-terrestrials” but as “fairies”. They seem to have encountered them quite frequently and they accepted their existence without hesitation.  And those beliefs, while nowadays not quite as strong as in the past, still persist even nowadays.

All you need to know is that the Cornish fairies of centuries ago have never been quite the same as the poetic, upper class, literary fairies of JM Barrie and Peter Pan and Tinkerbell. Cornish fairies are usually just like human beings in size and appearance, and they all have very strong magical powers, rather like Samantha in “Bewitched” :

And one other thing….Cornish fairies are always nasty, and sometimes they can be very nasty indeed:

 

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The Fairies of Cornwall (1)

We humans live short lives and then we die. At that point, because of our short lives, we have learnt nothing definite of any great significance to answer our most basic of questions. “Why are we here??”

We have not managed to find a single concrete, scientifically testable, answer to this most basic of our questions. We have not managed to find a single conclusion that will convince the scientists in their laboratories that we have made any real progress.

Why are we here??

Some answers do seem to make more sense than others, though:

At least with this poster, you can see where they’re coming from:

Why do we exist?

Every single answer we have found so far can just be handed back to us and they will say “Well, that’s just what you think. Nothing more. All you’ve got there is opinions, not facts.” or “How is this anything more than just belief and blind faith? Where’s your proof?”

We have discovered nothing that will make those scientists read our conclusion, nod sagely and say:

“Well, well, well, the Great Pumpkin is what it was all about after all!!”

Some people think about the world and find new questions to ask:

“Where were we before we were born?”

“Where will we go after we die?”

Some of them may actually sound very scientific:

“Is our world just one dimension of a hundred million others?”

“Are we in a huge computer where every single thing that happens to us is designed to test us out, to see if we are good enough to move on?”

“Is everything pre-ordained so that we cannot escape our inevitable fate?”

Are we free to do whatever we want, subject to any man made rules we have established for ourselves?

Well, nobody could have put it more succinctly than Johnny Nash:

And don’t worry about all these posts concerning fairies. They are not the same fairies that Walt Disney had. Far from it.

And this is all leading somewhere. Honestly. It is.

And we’ll meet those other fairies next time.

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“Hilarity with Heraldry” (3)

Last time I was looking at old football club badges from the late 1950s. Many clubs back then were using the heraldic coats of arms of their town or city. A fair proprtion of the rest, though, were using animals. Bolton Wanderers and Dumbarton in Scotland are presumably slow and ponderous yet very powerful in their play:

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Derby County have a ram because of a folk song called “The Derby Ram”:

I was going to insert a link here to let you all hear the song that we sang in our junior school classes near Derby all those tears ago, but I decided not to. If you go to YouTube and search for “Derby Ram folk song” you’ll soon see my problem.

Leicestershire County Cricket team have a fox because the county was full of very keen foxhunting men and women and, indeed, children:Preston North End make use of the Paschal Lamb. “PP” stands for “Proud Preston”, who, in the 1880s, managed by the now long forgotten William Sudell, were the greatest team in the land:

Stoke City have a strange badge which, to me, features a humpless camel. Intrigued, I looked it up and it is indeed a camel. The Stoke City camel comes from an original camel featured on the badge of the nearby town of Hanley. The Hanley camel comes from the coat of arms of John Ridgway, the first Mayor of Hanley. Ridgway had his very own camel on his shield because Stoke is the home of a huge pottery industry. Indeed, Stoke City’s nickname is “The Potters”.  Anyway, John Ridgway included the camel in honour of the land of origin of the pottery industry, Egypt. You couldn’t make it up.

A few clubs have badges with birds on them. The first is West Bromwich Albion who were nicknamed “The Throstles” years ago:

A “throstle” is a dialect word in the English Midlands for a song thrush, turdus philomelos.

Albion play in blue and white stripes so that isn’t the reason for the bird. I will quote Tony Matthews, the club’s official historian:

“The club was formed in 1878 as ‘The Albion’. In 22 years the team was based at five different grounds before settling at ‘The Hawthorns’ in 1900. The new ground brought with it a new nickname ‘The Throstles’, as the song thrush was a commonly seen bird in the hawthorn bushes from which the area took its name.”

This is the effigy of a ‘throstle’ at the current WBA ground in West Bromwich. It has been rescued after renovations and is about five or six feet high.

Sheffield Wednesday came from a district of the city called “Owlerton” and played when it was half day closing on Wednesdays, rather like the Welsh team, Abergavenny Thursday. Norwich, nicknamed “The Canaries”, play in green and yellow, the latter colour always strongly denied as merely representative of the city’s main employer, Colman’s Mustard. An image search might persuade you otherwise, though:

Other teams have particular birds on their shields because of the colour of their shirts. Cardiff City are the Bluebirds, Swansea City are the Swans, Bristol City are the Robins, and both Notts County and Newcastle United, in black and white are the Magpies:

And here’s one of Notts County’s many different badges, In this case, it’s the Ladies’ Team:

Flowers are often used as badges but hardly ever in football. In rugby this is the emblem of the Blackheath Club. It shows a piece of black heather, as a kind of pun:

In Heraldry such rib ticklers are called “canting arms”. Here are the shields of families called Shelley, Wellwood and Keyes:

This is a Spanish effort representing ‘Castile and Léon’ or ‘Castle and Lion’.

The arms of the city of Oxford seems to have been heavily influenced by student drug use in the 1960s:

London Irish uses the Irish national plant and the two cricket clubs, Glamorgan and Lancashire, use the daffodil and the red rose respectively:

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Next time, badges with a story behind them.

 

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“Hilarity with Heraldry” (2)

Last time, I was talking about “The Tiger Album of Football Club Badges” and I made the point that, back in 1961, lots of football clubs turned straight to the local town’s arms for their own badge. Here’s Aldershot, their nickname is “The Shots”. They’re not that bad, though:

Here’s Barnsley and Birmingham City which both refer back to their industrial heritage:

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There are lots of animals used. Glamorgan Rugby play like dragons and Leicester Rugby Club are actually called “Leicester Tigers”.

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In football, Newcastle United  are close to the sea which is probably full of seahorses at that point and Rotherham United must have had lots of deer in the area at one time:

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Lions are always popular as ‘supporters’, in heraldic terms really, rather than sitting behind the goal, roaring on their team. Here’s Halifax Town and Plymouth Albion rugby club. Funny how both pairs of lions have learned to dance:

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Some don’t fit into any category. Perhaps Fulham have the waters of the nearby River Thames on the shield:

Wolverhampton Wanderers supporters obviously have their cross to bear:

Other badges are derived from their local town’s coat of arms but in a less elaborate way. Luton Town, Pontypridd Rugby Club, Torquay by the sea and Tranmere Rovers:

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Grimsby is by the sea and the team are nicknamed “the Mariners” and Falkirk supporters look very fierce indeed:

Most interesting are the old Manchester City and Manchester United badges:

Despite their century or more of rivalry, both clubs wanted clearly to reflect their city. Here is the city’s coat of arms:

And what about those Bristols, I hear you shout. Bristol City, the Robins with a bright red breast and Bristol Rovers, “the Black Arabs”. I looked that up, and apparently when they were first founded, Rovers played in all black because they very much admired the Arabs rugby team who also played in all black. Here are the old badges of the two clubs:

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And here is the badge of the City of Bristol:

The idea even seems to have influenced Gloucester Rugby Club:
Next time, football and a bunch of animals.

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Prices slashed on “History of the High School” !!!

Those of you who follow my blog will be familiar with the many stories I have told over the years about Nottingham High School…its Founders, its coat of arms, its war heroes, its caretakers, its heroes and its one or two villains. These stories all appeared in “Nottingham High School, the Anecdotal History of a British Public School” which was published some time ago now:

The reason I am reminding you now of this book is that the price on Amazon has now gone down to £23.48 with Free Postage if you are a member of Amazon Prime. This is fantastic value for money.

Most non-fiction books cost roughly £10 for every hundred pages, so £23.48 for a book of this length is an excellent price. The book has 394 pages (and my computer says around 130,000 words, which is roughly the length of either “The Two Towers” or “Return of the King”).

Above all, this is a hardback book with a nice dust jacket and to be honest, it surprised me with its quality in terms of its looks. It looks really professional for a book written by an amateur author.

The book is written in diary form and runs from Thursday, June 30th 1289 to Thursday, July 12th 2012. I have divided it into forty chapters whose titles range from “Lost in the Mists of Time”, “A Personal Friend of Guy Fawkes”, “The School is Closed Today because of Plague”,  “Old Boy Cuts Off King’s Head”, :

In the more modern era, the chapters run from “The DH Lawrence Years”, “Major General Mahin : A Yank at the High School”, “Albert Ball and the High School go to War” to “The Golden Age of Teachers”:

I have tried to keep the tone of the work an interesting and light one, but at the same time, as you know from my blog posts, I can show my more serious side when occasion demands. A very large number of former pupils from the High School died in the two World Wars and their sacrifice is reflected in my book:

What a price !

£23.48

And more than that, what a price for 394 pages of new, original and interesting ideas!

Incidentally, please don’t think that I’m being greedy and I’m trying to make loads-a-money from this. I am merely pointing out the existence of this new, lower price, because previously the two companies publishing the book have both asked for a higher price. In one case, a much higher price.

 

 

 

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