King Arthur and Canvas
I am sitting here in my
camp clothes, still unwashed – although fed and purged.
It is odd to start at the
end. Always we must return to the beginning.
I don't think I wanted to
go to camp this time. Ambivalent. Yes, ambivalent. I wanted to
want. I strove to want. It is an awful thing when determined desire
is met with subconscious ambivalence.
The weather forecast was
rubbish. Despite April's heat, May had descended into a mire that
reminded me of Father's 'Ne'er cast a clout 'til May is out'. I
forgot to book kennels for the dog, but fortunately they were able to
take him. Laundry had been neglected, clothing was not packed,
camping equipment remained in the loft …
Friday morning and I drove
the dog to the kennels. On the way I noticed the battery light on
the dash kept coming on, but only in a pale and nondescript way.
Dexter was pleased to be at Badgers' Bottom. In his excitement his
paws skidded across the laiminate flooring, so that he couldn't move,
not without considerable effort. I knew how he felt. When trying to
start the car for the homeward journey I realised the ignition
sounded sluggish. Driving along those narrow country lanes, at the
foot of Devil's Dyke, I knew, simply knew, that if I turned the car
off it wouldn't turn back on again. Parked near home. Engine
idling. Off. Waiting a few moments. On? Absolutely nothing. Dead
as a doornail.
I walked up to the garage
(local), hoping Shane would be in and could repair whatever problem.
'Probably your alternator,' he said. Oh my god the alternator, not
only do those cost a fortune, but also, they're not fixable in five
minutes flat. Walking home, to tell Matt the happy news. We
wouldn't be going anywhere, not today. He shrugged. Suddenly I
realised I did want to go. Put an obstacle in my way and I will try
to get round it, over it, under it. Sure, I'm good at self-defeat,
but I don't like to be wrung out by circumstance – it's happened too
many times in the past.
Phoning round car hire
companies, yes, no, don't know. £45, £53, £61.
Fine, fine, we'll do that. Then Shane phoned back. A bolt had
fallen off the alternator, it had slipped, wasn't working, he'd fixed
it, we could go.
All hands to the pump!
All hands to the pump! Nothing was ready. Car fetched. Camping
gear was pulled out of the loft and slung in the hallway, down the
stairs, into the car. This way, that way, maybe some lunch, no
lunch, no clothes ready yet either. A basketful of black washing
(damp), a tumble drier full of white washing (damp). Yes, yes, run,
run, and then I started crying. Matt hugged me up close. Small
woman, stupid woman. I feel like this, I feel like this all the
We formulated a plan. I
would drop him off with tents, etc, then come back, pick up the kids
and T_____. Soup on, must cook soup first. Two different types of
sweet potato. I congratulated my observances to the gods of sweet
I left him in the field.
People were already beginning to arrive. I hugged C___, or rather
she hugged me. When she asked how I was I wanted to say 'Fine, yes
fine,' because I'm tired of turning up at camp a needy mess. Can't
lie to C___ though.
Back into Brighton,
stopped off for a donut on the way, chocolate, covered in icing and
small chips of indulgence. Kids came home from school. I shouted in
my mad rush. I was mean and unnecessary. Why am I so mean and
unnecessary? Picked up T_____. She's not mean and unneccessary.
In the car I realised I'd
forgotten to pack tea and coffee. I can live without tea, but not
coffee. One cup, every day, when I first wake up. It's my ritual.
Espresso, it has to be espresso, cooked in my own pot of exact
It was raining, on and
off, things on and off, windscreen wipers, radios. 'Hey, can you
burn me a copy of this?' T_____ said. Maybe this time I'll do what
you ask. She didn't remember she'd asked me before. 'That's the
great thing about senility,' she joked, 'Everytime you hear a CD it's
a whole new experience'.
And then at the scissor
junction, criss cross traffic, I was approaching from the left onto a
70mph road, looking in front, looking over my shoulder, a guy in a
white car up my ass. I accelerated to flow away from him, noticing
the red brake lights of those in front of me. Slammed on my own
brakes. Everyone jolted in their seatbelts. Didn't understand. No,
I was going faster, stopped. Worried I'd get rear ended. Ten yards
in front of me a 'hot hatch' span to face the oncoming traffic. A
silver estate slewed across two lanes. I watched the traffic slow up
behind me. They'd absorb any rear end impact. I was surprised I
'There's been an
accident,' I said in my most measured voice. We had ringside seats.
Two seconds to realise no-one was hurt. Thank ye Gods. My
perameters had become smaller and smaller. I started with 'Do I
really want to go to camp and nothing is ready for camp'. This had
progressed to 'My car's broken, how the hell do I get to camp?' And
now, 'I could've got killed on the way to camp'. Smaller and
smaller, telescopic. Brings things right into focus. Pin prick eyed
Sat in a traffic jam for
nearly half an hour.
Supermarket for the
coffee, tea, some sugar and a corkscrew. Six bottles of mead between
us and no corkscrew.
Driving out of Lewes, past
the Co-op funeral home, with the truly horrible stone pointy
structure thing, and I was thinking about what I wanted from the
camp. Difficult. Two things on my mind. Why do I have such a
chronic inferiority complex? Does it matter why? No. How can I
stop being a glutton of self-sabotage? For self-sabotage?
Something, something, I can't identify it. And J____. What am I
meant to do? It's all fallen apart so spectacularly. We were best
friends and we haven't spoken in eight months. I don't know what to
do. Walk away? Try and fix it? Maybe it's like the altnernator on
my car. Maybe not.
Whistling along the A26.
It's beautiful out there. The Downs have given way to the chalky
flatlands. Soon the earth will rise again as the Weild. The Weild,
where the wild men lived, untamed by Romans. I like this place. The
land sings to me, not in a cracked and fissured voice. No. Here the
land undulates in perfect pitch. God I love it. Little lambs were
doing their thing. How does Raven say it? Ah yes, 'Frolick,' a
brilliant world. There they were, white and fluffy against a verdant
green background. They're like clouds with hooves. The May flower's
out as well, I think, although I'm rubbish at these things, removed
from the land.
We pulled back onto the
field. Matt had put on the tents and I apologised for the Heinz
tomato soup, given that I'd burned the two sweet potato frottage. I
can burn soup. That's a rare quality huh?
The heavens opened.
Beating of the bounds was abandoned, instead we met in a marquee
tent. It was lovely, for the strangest of reasons. At home I have
several strings of Tibetan flags. I have no idea what they say, not
being adept in the Tibetan language, whatever it is. Of course, I
didn't buy them myself. Of course? Of course. I'm not Tibetan.
I've always liked bunting, that curious British tradition of hanging
flags across streets to celebrate matters of state. How wonderful,
all those pretty colours. In the tent, strung around the edge, were
hand drawn flags, red, blue, green and white. Little, little, each
one meticulously engraved. Maybe there were a hundred of them. A
wolf, the earth, a tree, strawberries, stories in small blocks of
colour. Someone had made these, some people, and given them, freely,
just so I could have a nice space … The love, the love in that
place. Give. Give. Give.
I was reminded how the
concept of gift works. You don't give in order to receive. There is
no ego in this kind of anonymous giving. They, whoever they are,
create this unconditional love. Holds me. Lets me know nothing is
required of me except respect …
Hello air, of flight and
intellect, winds of change. Hello fire, of creativity and smelting,
I remember the burning times. Hello water, of healing and flowing,
take this floating spirit. Hello earth, of genorosity and bountiful
harvest, give us me somewhere to stand.
Hold hands. Raise the
Awen. Say the Druid's prayer …
Grant O God thy
And in protection, strength
And in strength,
And in understanding, knowledge.
knowledge, the knowledge of justice
And in the knowledge of
justice, The love of it.
And in the love of it, the love of all
For all things are sacred.
Sleep escaped me on Friday
night. Around the central hearth I thought maybe I could let my
dreams rise with the steam from the kettles. No. It stormed. Rain
lashed against the side of our tent. I woke up every ten minutes
listening to the wind. The musicians are brilliant. I heard them
drifting across the field. The human voice is a marvelous thing. It
can sing the storm down when it wants to, has the energy to.
Beautiful. Someone once told me that the greatest of man's
inventions was not fire but music. I give my thanks to those who are
able to bring this melodic truth home to me.
Fitful. Yes. My ears
ached from the attention to weather. I heard it whipping around,
passing over, hurling rain against the tent. I was warm enough, but
unsettled. I don't like wind. It gets into my head and stirs my
brain around with its frenzy. How can one be still when nature is
ripping and pulling? And yet in the morning, when the sun rose,
behind a veil of clouds, I felt cleansed, as I crawled from my tent,
To Rowland, I have to move
to Rowland. He's an amazing man. Bacon and eggs followed by a talk
by the leading authority (a professor no less) of Arthurian legend
… He did this thing, asking a couple of people to name their
mother, grandmother, great grandmother, people couldn't get past the
third generation. Three generations to a century, it's a fairly
widely accepted formula. He went around the tent, getting three
people to raise their hands at a time, and stepping back into history
century by century. What was strange was how many hands were raised
to get to 300AD, only fifty three. Fifty three members of my family
and I'd be back to King Arthur's time. Doesn't seem that many. A
Rowland talked about how
there are two King Arthur's, one that is historical and one that is
personal. Essentially, England didn't exist before the Angles and
the Saxons, a Germanic people, prior to that it was a tribal region,
left in ruins after the Roman occupation ended – well, at least in
So who was Arthur and what
did he do? Gildas, who apparently hated everyone, thought of him as
a brigand. Nennius, who considered himself a scholar and merely
wanted to collect and collate the information that was around at the
time, called him a duke of war. Geoffrey of Monmouth, who
incidentally was in the pay of some some aristocrat or other, painted
a strange picture, possibly motivated by the political inclinations
of his patron.
A brigand and a war lord
then? Undoubtedly Arthur, along with the rest of pre-Saxon Britons,
had been subject to Romanisation, but this wasn't Rome and what the
Romans did was dependent upon what their legions, recruited from the
length and bredth of their empire, did. For example, it is said that
the North of England was invaded by a black army. Who? A Roman
legion from Egypt perhaps, or further afield. They were a highly
mobile empire and the tombstones of these leaders can still be seen
in York today. Black men. Yes black men. And what did they bring
with them? The concept of cavelry. Those that had been used to
fighting on the steppes of the middle east, much as they are today,
were master horsemen. Consider the Saxons. Blunt people. Axe
weilders. Spear bearers. No match for a cavelry man.
Over and over again in the
history of Britain we are told of invasions. At school I studied the
Vikings, and yet today I find out they were never called Vikings,
they were known as Vikes (the noun), Viking was the verb. It's
obvious when you look at the word. It wasn't so long back that
archaeologists were insistent that in neolithic times we had been
invaded by the beaker people? Who? Well they were called the beaker
people because suddenly pots started to be made with flat bottoms,
whereas previously they were rounded. Must be an invasion. No. A
development, probably based on trade relations. Our history is
riddled with misinterpretations and incorrect assertions. Like urban
myths they gain credance, and are then trotted out as if they are
Back to Rowland and the
Saxons. They trickled in, initially, colonising by degrees. I
expect there were struggles over resources, there always are, and
power bases will have been challenged, but the one thing that must
remain, in order for a population to thrive, is co-operation. The
Saxons would have needed the goodwill and hospitality of the locals.
Why fight a war when you can achieve your aims in a less costly
fashion? It wasn't an issue of subjugation, rather fairly peaceable
negotiation, each side attempting to exploit the situation to the
best of their advantage. Admitedly, there probably was the odd
skirmish when things didn't go exactly to plan.
The Saxons found it easy
though, to win over the local population, because the peasants
operated on the basis of survival and self interest. After Briton
had been abandoned by the Romans it had fallen into disrepair. The
Romans didn't only take their armies, they also took their craftsmen
and administrators. What had previously been a well managed system
fell into chaos. With no-one to run them, whole cities collapsed.
Masons, plumbers, etc, followed their masters. Why stay in a place
where there was no chance of making a living? We see it time and
time again, even now. When states implode everyone who has anything
leaves. People follow money. The peasants had no money. Those who
had worked for and with the Romans had been granted Roman
citizenship, which they took full advantage of. When it became
apparent that there was nothing to be gained by remaining in Briton
they left to find their fortune elsewhere. Mobile. The Roman empire
was mobile and it recruited selectively. Slaves could be got
anywhere. Skills and knowledge were the key, so incentives were
Over a period of years
many people deserted Briton, moving to Britanny and establishing a
satellite country there, in much the same way as the founding fathers
did with America. Arthur's job, during this period, was to keep the
Saxons in order just long enough for this to be effected. He had his
horses and his knights – those that rode with him. It is said he
bore the dragon standard, not a flag, but a wind sock, the mouth at
the open end and the tail fluttering in the breeze. An account talks
of how his army would roar, and perhaps this is down to wood carvings
inside the standard, slatted so as the wind passed through they
vibrated and growled. Legend is almost always constructed from a few
facts conflated to make the possible seem impossible, history works
The Saxons were foot
soldiers, accustomed to brawling combat. Arthur used the cavelry
method, and thus was able to cover much more ground, from the site of
one battle to another. Perhaps this is why he seemed to be
everywhere, and omnipotence can appear godlike. Is there evidence
for Arthur being a cavelry man? Probably, but I haven't researched
the subject myself so I cannot provide a reference, but it is
important to bear in mind that somone was funding his exploits. He
wasn't a king himself, just a duke of war. He was fighting for
As the Romans and Britons
left they created a vacuum. Nature abhors a vacuum. They needed
space and time to manage an dsciplined evacuation. They didn't run
like refugees. Instead, they took everything of any value.
Obviously someone had to stay behind, hold off the marauding masses.
One wouldn't want one's nearest and dearest robbed and savaged.
Until the evacuation was complete a certain sort of order had to be
ruthlessly maintained. Is this why Arthur disappears so suddenly and
then turns up again, apparently, in Brittany? Because the aim was
achieved and 'England' was left to the Saxons?
Other factors to
1. We had a written
language before the Saxons arrived, before the Romans arrived with
their latin, it was called Ogham. Is language what defines a
culture? Is this why so little remains in terms of documentary
evidence, because it was all written down in a script which is now
2. Arthur was probably
not his name, as it means, quite literally, 'the bear'. So who was
he? Where are his relics? If he did go to Britanny that would
explain, perhaps, why we have no grave here, why Camelot has never
been discovered. Camelot. Lancelot. Lancelot was from Brittany.
3. With regard to the
sword in the stone and Excalibur. Few people know that they are two
different stories. In ancient times it was not uncommon for metal to
be cast in stone, so the blade might well have been made in this
manner, and released once the casting process was complete. That
story might simply refer to the process of coming to own a sword, an
incredibly precious thing in those times – spears and axes were
relatively cheap and easily produced by comparison. Excalibur was
given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake. Excalibur, Caliburn,
*******, meaning hard star. Hard star? Could that be another name
for a meteorite? Is it possible that Excalibur was made from an
alloy literally out of this world. Perhaps that would account for
its fearsome qualities?
4. And, maybe it's worth
thinking about the nature of immortality and how we achieve it.
Christians believe that, we're good and worthy and have faith, we go
to heaven, forever to sit with God. Pagans? The early Britons
probably held the same view as many cultures at that time, one that
is still prevalent today, that it is good and fitting to die,
especially for one's country – dulce et decorum est propatria et
mori. What did they think happened to them? Were they like the
Vikes, who believed in Valhallah? When you die do you cease to
exist? Of course not, you only cease to exist when you're entirely
forgotten, expunged from memory. Stories are how we keep things
alive. If you can name it then it's real. If you forget how to call
it then it will not come, slowly it will disappear, until it's little
more than a murky feature, sloshing about somewhere in the backwater
of our consciousness. King Arthur is not like that. I imagine that,
at some point every day, someone remembers him. You're probably
thinking about him now. How can he be dead when he's so prevalent?
I suspect he's more real to you than you own great-great grandmother.
It's all buried in the
mists of time, the mists of Avalon, and we will never 'know', not in
the same way that we 'know' our own names, the history of our own
families, all 53 generations, back to the time of Arthur. Arguably
we could rely on the writings of Gildas, Nennius, Geoffrey of
Monmouth, the Mabinogian and Thomas Mallory's Morte d'Arthur …
… I don't read
newspapers that often. I find the media twist events, misses things
out, adds things in, according to their own agenda, driven by a
certain political perspective and mood of the times. Mallory is
perhaps a case in hand. Writing at the height of the romantic
courtly love era, it was inevitable that he would include references
to affairs of the heart, the nature of honour, etc. Arthur the duke
of war became Arthur the king of the Britons, with a bountiful court,
a fair lady wife, a retinue of knights and a mission from God.
Stories both reflect and create the culture they are born from and
into. They are devices; to teach us lessons (such as Jesus'
parables), to maintain a thread of continuity throughout change
(Russian fairy tales) and to enable a people to be a people, a
homogenous mass, a tribe with close identifications and affiliations.
This is Arthur's role. He
was the first superhero, and nations need their superheroes. It is
said, if England ever needs him, Merlin will return, and sure enough,
during every period of unrest and difficulty, the Arthurian legend
has been repopularised, almost like a star that will guide us home.
We know the value of Englishness, not based on some crappy ideal of
patriotism. No. It's not about England for the English. We were
never that inhospitable to immigrants; Romans, Saxons, Normans. They
brought their influences and we, where appropriate, happily adopted
them, using them for our own purposes. But what does it mean to be
quintessentially English? What lies at the heart of this small
island? England didn't even exist until the Saxons arrived, so it's
a bit of a mistake to refer to Arthur's Briton in this manner, yet,
yet, there's something indefinable, because it's what it means now.
Scotland and Ireland have always been separate, culturally and
linguistically, but England and Wales, from the height of the
Brecons, down the Shores of Gwythion, over to Boudica's East Anglia,
up to the city state of York. For millenia we have been occupied by
a savage power and some of that still resonates today.
On the outskirts of
Salisbury there's an ancient iron age hillfort called Old Sarum.
It's colosal, maybe 500 metres in diameter and of an equal height.
This would have been handbuilt, probably by men, without the aid of
mechanised equipment. The ditches that surround it are, even after
nearly 2,000 years, deep gorges in the land. Of course, no-one can
say for sure why they constructed this monumental edifice of mud,
stone and grass, just that they did. At a later date an abbey was
built on top. The ruins are still there today. I've sat leaning on
the crumbling walls eating a picnic, marvelling at the sunset and
listening to ravens call. Strangely, the abbey never got to open its
doors, as shortly after completion it burned to the ground. It must
have been a massive undertaking, hauling all that masonry up to the
top of the hillfort. Many man hours, lots of expertise. They never
re-built it. Perhaps they saw it as an omen, so instead began work
on what is now Salisbury Cathedral in the towm centre proper. They
even dug up the bodies they'd buried on Old Sarum and re-interred
them in a new graveyard. Whatever it was that caused such a
catastrophe plainly also resulted in the good Christian folk
abandoning the ancient hillfort in favour of hallowed land somewhere
else. Our history stretches back thousands of years, and it's
littered with peculiarities such as Old Sarum and Salisbury
Cathedral. No-one can now remember or recall the whys and
wherefores, yet they are not entirely impervious to our enquiries, on
occasion appearing tantalising close. A history makes a people who
they are, why they are, what they think they can be. Ours, the
Englishers, is rich in architecture, mystery and swmming in blood.
Is it any wonder we need a man like Arthur, a duke of war, the head
of the Round Table, a servant of God??? And how tantalising,
because, like most history, he completely vanishes …
On Saturday the weather
was fair, clear sunshine and a brisk wind, still damp underfoot from
weeks of rain and the storms of the previous night. Typically
English. We're dour for a reason. I'd taken my leathers, a set of
old motorcycle trousers, damn heavy but totally waterproof, and my
para boots are fantastic, my feet stayed warm and toasty the whole
weekend through. I don't really have any hippy jumpers, or t-shirts
with pictures of the horned god, rising suns, cheery images of myth
and magic. I don't wear a pentagram either. I found myself,
surrounded by folks in sandals and wide brimmed hats, while I was
wearing an anti-capitalist hoody and a greasy black cap adorned with
a PLO badge. I knew I looked rough. Rough and ready. That's me.
The kids were having a
ball, swinging on ropes tied to trees, running around the field,
fighting with wooden swords. There was a dog called Jessie, only the
size of a cat, who'd circuit camp, scrounging food and cuddles where
she could. By two O' clock I was exhausted, having not slept the
night before, and being accutely aware that I'd have to provide
dinner for five hungry mouths, cooked in a single pot on a Trangia
stove. Sometimes I find it daunting, the family and their needs.
Making sure everyone's got their raincoats on, their wellingtons on
the right feet, knows where the toilet paper is, and not to go into
the marshy field, in case they drown in body sucking mud. It's hard
to let go and just go with the flow. This needs to be done. That
needs to be done. I lay down on one of the kids' camp-beds and fell
asleep, my booted feet hanging off the end, my body incased in that
warm tent atmosphere, when the sun's been on the canvas all morning
and the door's been open.
Outside there is a
lightness to life. Once you accept the mud, the fact you have to use
a shit pit, and the inevitable struggle without many creature
comforts. You realise how superfluous practically everything is, and
how we're surrounded by mountains of crap. Listening to the little
birds in the tree behind me, the cows in the next field, mooing away,
the occasional shout of a child, either squealing in excitement or
screaming in temper, to fall asleep to that symphony is beautiful,
I missed P___'s
singing/sound workshop. Nevermind. I don't think anyone was taking
It was explained to us
that the evening ritual was to be our own personal journey with
Arthur, through his landscape and associated characters. I'd just
woken up so I'm not entirely sure I was listening properly.
Pathworking, a method of walking, inside your own head, but often
along unfamiliar routes. The territory had been explored, that was
the point of Rowland's talk. The map was to be provided by the
people we encountered. This is why we have stories. Without a
narrative there would be no framework. History isn't about places,
rather the folks who inhabit them, otherwise it would be biology or
eco-science. Characters such as Modred, the Green Knight, Guinivere,
the Lady of the Lake, we've all heard of them. This is our heritage.
There are others, Lady Ragnal for example, Nimue, less well known,
but certainly not bit players. It's like looking at a picture,
certain aspects are immediately apparent, nevertheless, it is often
the background, the setting, that makes for a complete image which
can fire our imagination.
But first sword fighting!
P____ had very generously
brought along some of his re-enactment weapons. They were laid out
on several sheepskins and he carefully described each one and its
use. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the names, because they were
foreign to me, however, I can see them still, in my mind's eye.
There was a scythe, cast in brass, with an antler handle. Small.
Used for magic. Originally designed for herb cutting. P_____ said
that we must not touch the blades, as a single sweat print could
damage them, but we were allowed to pick them up. The antler handle
was a perfect mould for gripping, and it felt warm, despite the fact
I was the first to touch it. There were a series of bone handled
bladed items, not the traditional swords we're used to, because they
had no cross at the base. He showed us, with the help of J___ how
these were weilded and how, blade against blade, the warrior could
become injured as there was no protection for the hand. I looked
very closely at the smallest of these. It had been made by strands
of steel being woven, heated, hammered, and again, and again. The
imperfections were obvious, small infarctions could be seen on the
metal. It was was if the blacksmith was still present by virtue of
his method. And then there were the broadswords, black handled,
heavy as heavy things. I can't remember whether P_____ said these
were cast or forged. In any event, it was the design that fascinated
me. Down the centre ran a groove, fairly deep and fairly wide.
Apparently that's there for two reasons. Firstly, when a sword
enters the flesh of an opponent it becomes lodged. There is not a
ready hole waiting for penetration, so the sword gets stuck in a kind
of vacuum. Obviously, it is not possible for a warrior to abandon
his weapon, or to spend several minutes trying to drag it out of
another's body, so there has to be a way of ensuring the seal is
broken, hence the groove. Blood runs down this, air flows up it, the
sword can be pulled out with ease. Secondly, although this possibly
was not a consideration in manufacture and use, the groove acts as an
amplifier. We heard, when P_____ and J___ crossed swords what the
metal sounds like. It sings … There were also two axes, with
wooden shafts and shiny heads, lighter than the swords, more
economical to produce.
It would have been both
impossible and ridiculous for us to really fight with swords, so
instead we were shown some choreographed moves, the attacks and
blocks. The one thing that sunk in was how important it is to
maintain the right angle, 90 degrees. If you don't, then your
opponents blade will slide down yours, dangerously compromising your
balance and the safety of your hands and arms. At no point do you
want to be in a position with your sword facing the ground and your
body left open, or your opponent will whip out his belt blade and
drive it into your gut.
I, and practically
everyone else there, had no previous experience of sword fighting -
unsurprisingly – so we were armed with stiff foam sticks and taken
into the field. I chose Matt as my partner, mainly because I wanted
to see if I could hit him. I sensed, from P_____ that this was not
necessarily the mindset he was looking for, but the size of his
humour matches his frame and every little faux pas is forgiven at
Oh yes it was great fun,
as we stood in our two lines, about 30 of us in total. At first we
learned the moves, slowly and precisely. I thought back, but not to
my own experience, rather I felt how it must of been as the boys of
Arthur's Briton trained. They would have stood in fields. An older
and wiser man would have shown them weaponry and then got them to
practice, while he looked on, correcting mistakes, commenting as
appropriate. I wonder if they got their feet wet, or their fingers
bashed – thanks for that Matt. I expected they would also have
wanted to graduate, quicker than was sensible, from dummy blades to
the real thing. Did their shouts fill the air like ours did?
Perhaps they laughed at their own foolish wrong footedness on
occasion. Maybe their mothers looked on and clapped and cheered at
the spectacle of it all.
The best bit though was
the boar snout. P_____ divided us up into men and women. The men
stood shoulder to shoulder in a straight fixed line, their sword
hands held out in front, their shield hands folded over their chests.
The women were arranged into a wedge. The tallest of us stood at
the front (not me). She was flanked on either side by the next
tallest, forwards facing, their shoulders pushed into each of hers,
strengthening the force she had. The wedge was further re-inforced
by another line, flanking the second in the same manner, and another
line, until we formed a wide triangle, a boar's snout I guess. On
the count of three we moved off towards the men, trying to look as
mean as we could, keeping step by chanting an animalistic growl. The
men were smiling. Sods. We were about to attempt to break through
their line, but there were twice as many of them as there were of us.
And I know it's not a right liberated thing to say, but they do tend
to be stronger, men, than women, physically.
We pushed into them with
measured force, carried forwards by our chanting steps. They barely
buckled. Then I realised the power of the boar's snout. With each
woman pushing on the shoulder of the woman in front of her we stood
our ground. We heaved. The men's line gave way slightly and we
became surrounded by a horseshoe. We had to hold our formation. Our
strength lay purely in our collective will and discipline. It got
hot and dark, because most of the men were taller than us and I put
my head down. There were a few moments of shoving, elbows, trampled
feet, a sense of claustrophia but a refusal to be beaten back, and
then we did it, their line broke and we were through. Of course, on
the battlefield I expect a few at the front would have to be
sacrificed to the sword, but at close quarters the skirmish would
take the shape of brute force and determination.
Life's like that, a wall.
Sometimes it feels as if there are immovable objects standing in my
way. All the pushing and shoving robs me of energy. So often I just
have to keep my head down. But at the moment we broke through,
against practically all the odds, it brought home to me that it is
possible and achievable. I have to carry on. Sure, the walls are
not simply going to disappear, they never do, but with discipline,
people standing at my shoulder, a plan, my feet firmly planted on the
ground and the will to succeed, well, you know, I just might.
This realisation prepared
me for the evening ritual.
I had come to camp with
two issues bothering me. Firstly, why am I such a glutton for
punishment? Why do I self-sabotage so effectively? Why do I have a
massive inferiority complex, more importantly, how can I deal with
it, because it makes me incredibly insecure and aggressive? The
second 'problem' was more concise; What do I do about J____?
At the appointed time we
all met up in the large, hand-drawn-bunting marquee. I'd been
relaxing for about two hours, eating some, drinking mead, chatting,
washing. Matt was dressed in his robe and I always feel he looks
like a stranger in this ritual garb. Maybe that's how it's meant to
be, kind of disassociative, so we're each individuals rather than
bound. I don't have a robe, this is obviously a serious lack. I
must make one, perhaps tomorrow, I keep saying I will but I never get
round to it.
The ritual was explained
to us again; that it would be silent, take approximately 90 minutes,
and we were to be outside, meeting characters from Arthurian legend,
who would speak to us. Fine, I thought I understood.
It started with the
joining of hands and chanting of the Awen. I like the Awen. It
warms me, like a sort of brandy air or how you'd imagine the earth
breathing into your face. The druids have a way of cascading it,
until it becomes watery and you feel as if you're swimming in it.
Everyone sings in their own voice, some high, some deep, and together
the harmony is quite beautiful, comforting yet invigorating.
When he entered the tent,
the bent man in cream robes, I was reminded of Papa Legba, from
Voudon tradition, but that only lasted a minute. The figure before
me leaked some sort of, difficult to explain, an energy of bentness.
I think of Moses as bent, a back that has carried many cares and many
wisdoms for many years. It is not a sign of weakness, rather of
strength, that he is still standing. Sometimes I'm barely standing.
It seems so much easier to give up and sit down or lie down. Nothing
gets done when you are prone though, prostrate. Some days it is a
huge effort to remain on your feet, but it can be necessary.
As the Awens reverberated
around the tent he peered out from under his hood, touching people on
the shoulder in turn. They left, starting on their journey. I was
one of the first. When I got outside I noticed night had fallen
fairly swiftly but not entirely. It was past twilight yet not dark.
Trees were silouetted in the distance, along with other figures and a
skyline which now appeared forgiving instead of raging. It sounds
slightly corny to say 'a gentle breeze was blowing,' but there was
I took a deep breath.
The space had been
prepared earlier. Various tents were dotted around the field I stood
in, and we were told that there were other things in the adjacent
field. I decided to start with the tent nearest to me. There was a
woman sitting on a throne. I knelt almost as a reflex. She took my
hand in both of hers.
“What do you honour?”
“My family, husband,
children, friends …”
I didn't want to cry, not
after five words, but she seemed to have cut through everything,
right to the heart of my question, my issue, my problem. “No,”
I said, “I don't honour myself”.
“And your mother?”
“My mother?” I
could barely speak. Why was this woman asking me about my mother. I
cannot talk about my mother. I cannot even think about my mother.
It was like being shot by
a bolt. All of a terrible sudden I missed my mum so much. She's
been dead three years now. We had a very stormy relationship. A
massive hole opened up inside me.
“Put your hands on
I lurched forwards, tears
streaming down my face, barely able to breathe. I was panting.
“Can you feel her?”
I could. I could feel the
mother, the mother of all mothers, my mother, me as mother. She was
very temperate and really bloody solid. I felt her size. My hole
seemed small now, it had stopped gaping and threatening to tear me in
“She will support
you, cradle you, hold you.”
It has been a long time
since a mother held me, since I sought that, remembered it was there.
'Yes I will honour myself,' I thought, as mother, as daughter, as an
infinitismally small part of this great universe. I felt connected.
It has been a while.
I cannot remember whether
I kissed the lady's hand. If I didn't I should have done.
Staggering out of the tent
I was grateful for the cool night air. I went and stood the central
hearth and stared into the flames, shaking, crying, a huge upsurge of
emotion inside me, but I was not frightened or overcome. I observed
my breath and waited until it had returned to a regular rhythm.
In the next tent a solider
sat, leaning heavily on his sword, gasping, almost broken. Again I
knelt, but he took my hand and commanded me to approach.
“Have you ever been
wounded so severely that you thought you might never heal?” he
Oh my god, oh my god, when
I thought Jordan was going to die, after various men have taken so
much it's felt as if my heart has not just been broken but ripped out
from under my ribs, right through my chest wall, when I have lost or
destroyed things that can never be replaced. “Yes,” I
“And who helped you
stand through this?”
He nodded. I knew he was
the wounded healer, the injured warrior, Arthur himself some would
say. “And now?”
I could not believe he was
talking about J____. There have been occasions, over a period of
years, when I was on my knees and she picked me up, leant me some of
her strength. Maybe she needs me now. Maybe I need her. Oh no. I
can remember once, I was kneeling on the floor and she was sitting on
the sofa. We could not talk about, the 'thing'. You know, sometimes
there just are not any words, or you can't get them out, or if you
name it and speak it you'll make it real and then you're lost,
because it has to be somewhere else, not now, not here, so we held
hands and cried … and as I cried she collected up all my tears and
made them into a waterfall in the sky … and as she cried I
collected up all her tears and made them into a beautiful pond, where
lotus flowers floated and small fish the colour of rainbows swam.
“And now will you
help me stand,” the wounded healer said.
I don't know whether I can
help her stand or she can help me stand anymore. It breaks my heart.
“Yes,” I said, thinking that if this man could get on his
feet … this is how it works … I can help someone stand, I just
have to remember some more, do it some more …
He towered over me. The
sword glinted in his hand. Perhaps we are all warriors, certainly,
we all have to fight, or maybe that is just how it feels. So many
soldiers of fortune, hostages to fate.
He knighted me, invoking
the spirits of earth, and I pledged to defend justice and the land.
What happened next is a
bit of a blur. I needed to sit down. On the way to the adjoining
field I noticed a small alter, decorated with four candles and a
ram's skull. I went to look at it. I heard shouting. At first I
didn't realise it was directed at me. “How dare you approach
and stand like a gawping fool.” I didn't respond. There was a
clattering or armour, metal. “You are not ready yet,” he
bellowed. I turned to see him approaching. I felt angry,
embarrassed, frightened, small. He was fairly close. I strode off,
annoyed. He continued to shout about my impudence. I thought about
how I felt, how often I find myself in a postion where someone else
appears to have power and authority and how I react to that – usually
negatively. I hate them instantly, because I shrivel. Inside me
there is a belief that I am small, insignificant, unworthy. I think
this is an inferiority complex. It makes me reactive. I spit and
claw. Why can't I just walk away?
I found a quiet spot next
to the stream. I cried a lot, not for myself but for my mistakes. I
cried until my shoulders hurt and my breath was ragged. Eventually I
remembered to look up and saw a darkened horizon. Wide trees were
black smudges, solid yet indefinable. The sky was massive, ribbed
with strings of fast moving clouds, going to I don't know where. I
didn't want to jump on though. Here was my space. Another traveler
approached me and started asking questions. 'I am nothing, I am
no-one,' I thought. I suppose everyone is looking for answers, often
in the wrong place.
There was a queue outside
the next tent, so I doubled back on myself. I noticed that the tent
we had started off in had been divided. There was no queue there. I
went in cautiously. The bent backed man was seated on a sheepskin.
I realised my mistake immediately. I could not hear what he was
saying, because I knew I had made a mistake and I could not extricate
myself from the situation. We were meant to come here when we had
finished our quest, not half way through. I should have listened
better, or found the words now to excuse myself. Instead I followed
Would I like to drink from
Yes I would.
He filled a goblet from
the brass bowl and passed it to me. The first swallow was to be for
the past, the next for the present and the last for the future. I
half expected for the water to taste of salt. He blessed me and said
I was welcome to stay, but that I must not chatter. I went and sat
on the grass, furious that I had misunderstood how the process
worked, annoyed that I had not listened, or understood, and now I was
out. It reminded me of being at school and constantly failing in
games' lessons, either in terms of being chosen or actually winning.
So much of my life revolves around the simple truth that I get it
constantly and consistently wrong. There was not anyone else in the
tent. They all seemed to have grasped the rules. Typical.
I went and sat in the
After 10 minutes another
traveler arrived, but he did not see the man behind the screen. I
tried to work out what would happen if I left the tent and continued
on my quest. Would that be severely frowned upon? Was it possible
that I could hide my mistake? That would be lying though. No. I
had buggered it up good and proper, as per bloody usual. I lay down
on the ground, completely disconsolate. Maybe this was the lesson I
was meant to learn. Inferiority began to creep through me along with
the damp and cold. And then I thought perhaps what I had to deal
with was the fact I can make mistakes and recover from them. No-one
was blocking my exit. I was free to do as I chose. Did I chose to
lie in a miserable heap on the grass or did I chose to go back out
there and find whatever was awaiting me?
I got up and left the
I thought maybe I had made
this mistake because I had been too impatient. I didn't want to wait
outside in a queue, so I had found the easiest route around this. I
decided to join the longest line. Through the canvas I saw the
shadows of someone reading tarot cards. I heard laughter. I saw
people hugging. I stood there for quite a while, maybe 30 minutes or
so. The faeries appeared, small children carrying baskets of
biscuits. I know one is not meant to eat faerie food, I know this
from way back, but for some reason I took a biscuit and put it in my
mouth. I was not even hungry, not in a physical sense anyway.
The green knight turned
up. He started shouting, about how we were all here waiting, seduced
by the sound of tinkling laughter, when there were other things to
see. I wanted to tell him to go away and leave me alone, leave us
alone. Why did this man keep shouting at me? Mordred joined him.
To be honest, I didn't know what to do. I couldn't work out whether
I was meant to believe them or not. If I stayed was I just
responding to my own stubborn will? If I followed his advice was I
being hoodwinked? I had been standing there for an unusually long
time, but I'd enjoyed the pause, the space, and I thought I knew who
was in the tent. I'd been looking for Morgan Le Fey. The morrigan
has kept me waiting for a long time over a period of years. I
presumed that I'd find Le Fey similar with regard to this attribute.
Above me the sky had
cleared. Out in the country there's less light pollution, so the
blacks are blacks and the stars are bright. Night had fallen
totally. A slight brisk wind and the occasional waft of lush late
spring rose from the earth. Yesterday's rain had cleared the
atmosphere beautifully. I looked up. Wow, everything was there,
laid out in brilliant clarity. I wish I knew more about
constellations, because there was a whole story in the heavens and I
couldn't read it. Unusually for me though I felt no frustration, no
failure, I just stared and stared. This must have been what they
saw, the old magicians, peasants, even painters like Michelangelo.
This is why they decorated their church roofs, when they moved their
A horn blew, three times,
marking the end of the ritual. I hadn't got to be with Morgan Le
Fey, but I believed I'd seen something more. So often I don't look,
or place myself in a position where I can see … there's a lesson in
there somewhere. I walked back towards the main field, then
remembered T_____ had been standing next to me in the queue. We
hadn't acknowledged each other at the time, but I know she doesn't
see too well in the dark, and her knees are knackered so the rough
ground might have presented a problem. I walked back. She was
standing in the same place. I made a triangle out of my arm for her
to hold on to. She slipped her hand through the crook and we left
the field, in silence. Friends don't need words it would seem …
Singing round the fire
later was good. D___ and the two P___s were in fine fettle. There
was a particular song I enjoyed, by a woman with a strange and
creaking voice. I can't remember all the words, but it was about a
marriage, how the man found other women attractive, especially the
young ones, the easy ones, the smiling ones. His wife wasn't like
that, not anymore, particularly in light of his behaviour. Neither
were to blame. It's just the way it is sometimes. Importantly
though, she said she would 'not hate other women'. Matt doesn't have
this 'issue', but I knew what she meant, about how we (women) can
occasionally let jealousy colour or relationships with each other.
Again, it was back to that inferiority complex thing.
Around the fire there's
such a feeling of camaraderie. All throughout life there's this
whole struggle thing going on. Getting out of bed in the morning is
a fight sometimes. Who should do what, whether it's the dishes or
work that needs to be delegated within a professional environment.
Round the fire it's not like there, because we're all there together.
Together is such a hard feeling to achieve and maintain in this
world. And we don't do communal things, not as a rule. We eat
separately, sleep separately, suffer separately, hope separately.
Once we get home and shut our front doors that's it. So hard now,
with the TV and our fractured communities, most of us straining to
just get by. I used to do this thing, of smiling in the street and
saying 'good morning' to complete strangers. Some people would look
at me as if I was mad. It shouldn't be this way …
It started to rain and I
didn't want to get wet so we went to bed. It was a relief not to
have the rain smashing against the side of the tent. I fell asleep
almost straight away, but that could also have been due to the mead
and a rapidly encroaching exhaustion.
The end of camp is odd.
It was my fifth time and every one's been different. This camp I
really enjoyed, probably because I came with specific things in mind.
We do this talking stick thing, where everyone gets to speak.
T_____, being the wise old hag she is, said “I'm not sure I got
what I wanted, but I know I got what I needed”. I so needed this
camp. I had to learn, all over again, what it is I love about
Arthur, the wounded healer, the sword bearer, and what it is I can
love about myself. The stories, they give me a way of interpreting
the world around me, by providing a place I can stand in. P_____'s
'boar snout', that showed me what it feels like to push through a
wall, how much effort it takes, the best way to do it, and the sheer
joy at succeeding. The pathworking … I make mistakes, sometimes
big glaring ones, often ending up in a corner I think I can't get out
of, all the screaming around me, the recriminations, that sense of
The Druid Oath
By peace and love to stand
Heart to Heart
And Hand in Hand
Mark O Spirit and hear us
Our sacred vow”
It's easy really, when you
strip away the bullshit.
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