The Spirit of the Home: Renewal at New Year

This time of the year is one of transition, but moving so slowly that it can feel as though we are caught in a spell of darkness. Is this really the turning point of the year? It seems as if we are suspended, despite the thrust of New Year celebrations. But from this place, I write about one year when I called on a group of female friends to help me renew the spirit of the home. And introduce you to our three hens! (simply because they are delightful.)

Haunted Dartmoor

It’s still the Spooky Season, so I’ll continue on this theme by braving the spirits of Dartmoor, where you can encounter something spooky at practically every bend in the road or on each granite tor. In fact there are many, many different types of ghosts on Dartmoor, from black dogs to ghostly hunters, from hairy hands to phantom monks and invisible drivers (who run you over). So I’ll just pick out some of my favourite and personal stories to share with you here.

Singing at the Holy Ground

‘…There’s whisky in the jar!’ – A tuneful roar of voices giving out the last line of the chorus…a moment’s hush…a thunder of clapping – laughter – chairs scraping on the floor – feet rushing, coming my way, downstairs. I make my way up, cradling my guitar carefully, against the flow. Smell of cigarette smoke, faint wash of stale beer, touch of rough jackets, knobbly jumpers as I push my way up and through into the warm fug of the club room…This is the story of my love affair with folk music in the 1960s, beginning in the back room of Birmingham pubs and ending with a visit to Cecilia Costello, an old lady renowned for her compelling version of ‘The Grey Cock’, also known as ‘The Lover’s Ghost’. Along the way there was a showdown with my headmistress, a friendship with Radio Ballads producer Charles Parker, and many meetings with delightful Irish singers. I hope you’ll find it entertaining! And there are a few musical recordings to enjoy as well.

Pangur Ban and the Old Irish Cats

Over a thousand years ago, an Irish monk sat in his cell in the depths of the night, watching his cat hunt for mice as he tried to write a philosophical text. However, what he composed that night was in fact a poem, a touching tribute to Pangur Ban, the white cat who kept him company. Enchanted by the poem, I looked a little further into the role of cats in old Ireland and medieval society, and have illustrated it with portraits of cats from the period.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

We’re about to celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas. Or are we? The calendar at this time of year is a complex tangle of Old Christmas, New Year, Ephiphany, Twelfth Night Old and New, which is surprisingly hard to navigate! Here I uncover the fundamental tradition, of the twelve days which are ‘time out’, both for humans and as part of a strange astronomical phenomenon. With examples from Russia, Spain and the UK.