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In defence of weeds and other “useless” things

Many years ago a friend of mine rented a house somewhere in Surrey (it may have been Epsom) along with another girl. The other girl was quite keen to make their little garden a wild-life haven and one spring planted a packet of wild flower seeds in the border near the boundary fence. The flowers duly came up and bloomed: scarlet poppies, golden corn marigolds, inky-blue cornflowers and many others. She was very pleased with the beautiful show of traditional corn-field flowers. One day, she went out to see her next door neighbour leaning over the fence, pouring liberal amounts of weed-killer over her lovely blooms.

Them’s weeds,” he said, with the big smile of someone who is sure they have done their good deed for the day. “You don’t want them in your garden. They’ll be dead by tomorrow.”

(As an aside, I had something similar happen recently, and I’d like to add that if you want to do someone a good turn, make damn sure that you ask them first. Your idea and my idea of what a good turn is might well not be the same thing.)

Weeds. It’s such a pejorative term. And as Wiki says, it has no botanical meaning.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weed.

A weed in one place is a valuable plant in another. I love weeds. Our garden is packed with them. It’s also packed with more wild-life than you tend to find in neatly manicured gardens. Someone recently complained to me that despite putting out food for the birds, she only ever saw crows, pigeons, magpies and jackdaws in her garden. Every inch of said garden is manicured, trimmed, tended, weeded and dead-headed. There’s nothing there for most birds: no seeds or caterpillars, no grubs or worms, no fruit, and nowhere to roost.

Nature is not tidy. That’s why many people hate it. It’s messy and disorganised and unpredictable, untameable and impossible to control fully. That’s why I like it.

Our garden is not a gardener’s garden. To someone who likes to be in control, it would look a mess. But we get flocks of goldfinches because they eat the seeds from the thistles and they come to bathe in the pond. We get clouds of butterflies because we let the lawn bloom with clover and hawkbit and self-heal and yarrow. We have hives of honey bees, but their cousins the solitary burrowing bees and masonry bees and bumblebees all enjoy the space we have for them to live undisturbed too. We never use pesticides because the blue tits come and gobble up the greenfly the ladybirds are too full to devour, and the slugs and snails get munched by visiting hedgehogs who leave their calling cards on the grass. We don’t worry about ants’ nests because great green woodpeckers come and probe the grass and lick up all the excess ants and grubs and leather jackets.

Melissa grows in the gaps between paving, and in cracks in the walls; a swift handful makes a soothing tea for anxiety. A crushed handful goes into the smoker when bee hives are inspected; the herb cools the smoke and stops it incinerating unlucky bees. The fresh juice rubbed into the wood of a new hive is said to attract swarms. Dandelions are plucked to feed to Tiko our guinea pig, and sometimes get put into salads. Crushed mint is used to treat headaches and what Culpeper called “a passing heaviness”. Most weeds are actually valuable medicinal herbs; if you have an interest, I can point wholeheartedly to Susun Weed’s stupendous book Healing Wise:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Healing-Wise-Woman-Herbal/dp/0961462027/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1410610402&sr=1-1&keywords=susun+weed

which uses only seven plants (weeds) for almost every ailment. (Dandelion, burdock, nettle, chickweed, oat-straw, violet and seaweed. Really, check it out. If I had to choose only one herbal, this would be it)

Many of the creatures that inhabit our garden are ones that folks object to. Wasps are almost universally loathed; yet people forget what excellent work they do in pest control, and also some pollination. Not only that, it was a wasps’ nest that inspired the discovery of paper. Spiders too are hated, yet their webs reduce the amount of troublesome flies and mosquitoes, and since the spider is the totem animal of the weavers of words, I find them lovely too. The song of the grasshopper is for me the song of summer, yet it has no use but to recall the drowsy days of distant childhood where lying in a meadow of long grass I would while the afternoons away cloud-busting or day dreaming.

Every creature, every plant, every rock, every breath of wind, all have their place and their right to be without having to be “useful” to humankind. The kindness of nature is that treated rightly, and viewed with respect, all can indeed be of service to us. But it cuts both ways; if we honour and respect nature, we will joyfully share our spaces with it, invite it in and nature will flourish. Cut it out, exclude and revile it, and it will fight back and believe me, nature will eventually win.

Gaia does not need humans; humans need Gaia.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_S93xMn_uo

Excuse the jubilation but I am delighted to report that Away With The Fairies hit the number one in metaphysical fiction:

fairies as 1 in metaphysical fiction

I’m a bit chuffed to say the least. It’s been there the last couple of days.

A huge thanks to all who bought during the sale. It’ll be 99p for the rest of today (well, the next 9 hours) and then £1.99 for another 3 before going back to original price.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Away-Fairies-Vivienne-Tuffnell-ebook/dp/B005RDS02A/ref=la_B00766135C_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1410505015&sr=1-1

For a limited time only, Away With The Fairies will be on offer at first 99p then going up to £1.99 before returning to its normal price of £3.08. UK only.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Away-Fairies-Vivienne-Tuffnell-ebook/dp/B005RDS02A/ref=la_B00766135C_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1410250853&sr=1-2

If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him!” ~on gurus and growth

I’ve been interested in spirituality for a very, very long time. I felt drawn to the sacred from quite an early age, despite ours not being a church going family. My parents had both been both church goers and even Sunday School leaders (my dad had been in the Crusaders) and both have a faith. But for some reason, church going ceased during my childhood. Yet I was always drawn towards religious art (such as the classic pictures of Bible stories you found usually in the King James’ version) and towards religious and spiritual symbols. My older brother poured not just scorn but active contempt on it and I ended up creating a tiny shrine inside my bedside cupboard, where he was less likely to wreck things or poke fun at it. I was about seven or eight at the time.

I’ve no idea why I was like this but that longing for the divine, the mystical and the magical has been with me my whole life. I’ve read a great deal of popular Christian books as well as some ‘proper’ theology and in my twenties I began to explore aspects of other faiths and spirituality that seemed to call to me. By my thirties I’d stepped off a mainstream path and had begun to explore things that many would consider dodgy and dangerous. Looking back, I can’t see why any of my explorings caused such consternation among my peers (some of whom considered aromatherapy to be suspect and potentially devilish.) Having encountered extreme narrow-mindedness that tried to dictate what was and what wasn’t a valid spiritual path for others to take, probably influenced a good deal of the story in Square Peg, but even now, many years later, I still find it both shocking and disappointing that so many people can regard other spiritual paths as evil and dangerous. I suspect this is quite possibly the root of all religious wars.

One of the things though that is common to all spiritual paths are people who are regarded as leaders, gurus and guides. For most of us, our most common brush with them is via their works, whether they write books, produce music, speak at conferences or broadcast via podcasts, TV or film. Oh and possibly blogs and other social media platforms as well now. I’ve often said you can judge what stage a subject is at in its arc of popularity by how many books are devoted to it on the Mind Body Spirit shelf in a big chain bookshop; by the time it has filled the shelf, the subject has already begun to wane in popularity, due to the lag between commissioning a book and seeing it published.

People have favourite authors in the spiritual arena just as much as they do for fiction and these are authors that have become, in essence, gurus. Each new book, each new set of oracle cards are awaited with great eagerness. One of the most famous authors in this area is Paulo Coelho, author of the allegorical novel The Alchemist (and a lot of others since that came out over twenty years ago). I’ve mildly enjoyed his books, but I stopped buying new ones a long while ago. I even spent some time on the discussion forum connected to his website but I stopped when I noticed something disturbing. Huge numbers of his followers, the greater majority, simply seemed to worship the man and his books. The language they used on the forum was sycophantic and pleading, and I found myself so uncomfortable with their attachment to a man they can’t possibly know, that I left and never returned.

There are two other authors I’ve encountered who have produced dozens of books in a largely New Age vein, whose fans are desperate for the next instalment of their wisdom. Both write about angels, archangels, spirit guides, mermaids, dolphins, unicorns and so on. I’ve read a number of their books, over the years, and I’ve found them to be a bit like meringue: sweet, pretty, easy to consume and full of empty calories. My favourite pagan and spiritual shop stocks these books (and set after set of oracle cards) and I’ve asked a few times why the owner sells them when she agrees with me that they’re spirituality-lite at best. It’s because people WANT them. They want more of the same, but a little different so they feel they’re learning something new.

Human beings are drawn by both novelty and familiarity. Something new yet something old and familiar. It’s the same for spirituality as it is for food and anything else. You have to have a kind of progression, something to build on and improve on. My concern about the books I mention above is that there’s little or nothing about the actual growth of the individual reader; there’s a subtle hook to keep you buying the next book (or set of cards). There does come a time when to make progress a leap in the dark is essential. To quote from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Last is the breath of God: Only in a leap from the lion’s head shall he prove his worth. It’s by taking that leap of faith of proceeding when you don’t have either map or guide, that you realise that the only good guide or guru is one who encourages you to leave them behind and move into unknown territory. A good guru teaches you the skills and the wisdom to manage without them at your side every step of the way.

One of my favourite books of all time is Mister God, This is Anna. I would encourage anyone to read this book and make what you will of it, but one of the most powerful things about it is that it stands alone. Apart from a couple of other books that the author wrote to try and share a few more stories, Mister God stands alone. It’s supposed also to be a true story, and I believe that by and large it is a true story. But the source of the wisdom and words is long, long gone and is beyond the pressures of a publisher demanding a new book every two years, expanding and enhancing the words of the original.

My spiritual journey is unique. I cannot tell anyone what theirs should be. But I can say this: at some point, you have to stop following guides and gurus, and find your path for yourself. If they were good guides, they have given you their best tools to help you. At that point, you have to take that leap from the lion’s mouth and put your best foot forward.

 

 “The search for the Grail is the search for the divine in all of us. But if you want facts, Indy, I’ve none to give you. At my age, I’m prepared to take a few things on faith.” Marcus Brodie. 

Oh England, my Lionheart ~ the land beneath the land.

Most days I walk down to the stream in the village a mile or two from where I live. I walk through fields farmed for mainly arable crops, though one large field (I’d estimate around a hundred acres) is currently planted up with roses being grown for the garden centre trade. Each walk is slightly different even though I take the same route; the daily changes and the seasonal changes mean it’s never the same twice. I stand at the bridge and I watch the water; sometimes if I am lucky I see a kingfisher or a dipper. Sometimes, if I go later in the day, I see barn owls and bats.

I live in a country that is deeply beautiful and historic. It’s jam-packed with legends, stories, myths and mystery. There have been humans here since before the last Ice Age and the evidence is everywhere, from white horses (“It’s an ad for mead; they don’t call them the Beaker People for nothing”) carved into hillsides, through medieval churches right the way to tower blocks and factories. Dig anywhere and you will find something. I sometimes field walk, for fun, and in half an hour in an average field, I’ll find a dozen items. Most are trash but some are not.

More than this, I am so immersed in the mythos of the land I live on, I can feel the presence of those who came before me. I feel the tug on the tiny web of threads that connect us. When I see the kingfisher flash upstream in a blaze of brief glory, I think of the Fisher King, of the Grail, of Arthur and his court, of T.S. Eliot’s poetry, trying to scrape at the layers of the years to reveal the origins of the modern Wasteland; I think of Gerard Manley Hopkins, battling his own demons of existential angst and trying to make peace with who he was. When I see a gathering of oak and ash and thorn, I think of Kipling, of his Puck of Pook’s Hill, and of all the ancient tree lore of the druids of old.

When I visit a city, I see the clues to the past among buildings and parks; sometimes lost completely but perhaps a ghost of a memory locked into a street name. I look upwards in old churches and cathedrals, seeking the faded residue of once-brilliant paint, and I look in hidden corners for masons’ marks and sneaky graffiti. I look for the past reaching into the present, holding out hands of loving connection.

Amid a wild landscape, I can see the phantoms of what once was there. I lived once in a village where a ruined village, abandoned in the time of the plague, hummocked and hidden, lurked just beyond the bounds of the modern village. I can look at the under-storey in a wood and I can tell you whether it is original ancient oak woodland or whether it’s modern plantation.

Why does any of this matter?

The living land is an ever changing thing, always moving and shifting, but it is the past that gives it permanence. What once was is always there, if only as post-holes and scorched flints. When an artist, a real artist like the old masters, not dilettante dabblers like me, painted, they painted in layers that meant the work in progress looked nothing like what they were painting. Layers of paints, piled one upon the other, produce a depth of colour that is impossible to reproduce with a single layer of what is technically the same colour. There is a richness, a power, that cannot be produced by short cuts.

It’s the same with a land. The older the land, the deeper and richer the history and the surer the foundations. If you try to sweep away the past, whether personal or national, you sweep away what makes it strong.

Oh England, my Lionheart, with your stories and your landscape etched and carved and eroded and forgotten corners, with your heroes and your kings and queens, and the fair folk and the winding roads the Romans hated so much and then fell in with: you are what made me, and I love you.

Last night, and for a brief time only, my Amazon author page was adorned by a number one best-seller badge:emeralds number one bestseller

 

This is the first time I’ve ever hit the number one spot in any category, so it was a big deal for me. However short a time it lasted, I was number one in women’s poetry in the UK.

emeralds number one top of ranking

I’m pretty chuffed about it.

Will it bring any benefits? I don’t know but it brought a much-needed smile to my face.

It’s available in paperback or Kindle, anyway.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Accidental-Emeralds-Vivienne-Tuffnell-ebook/dp/B00LM890TG/ref=zg_bs_4542855031_2

Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters! Me and Poltergeists

I’ve been skipping down Memory Lane a lot lately; probably a sign of middle age if not worse. A good deal of the events in my books have their roots in real experiences, and real heart-break too. Some have their roots firmly in events that would have most of us humming the tune from the Twilight Zone or possibly reaching for a rosary.

I lived in a Victorian terraced house as a student in Liverpool; it had been divided into four neat bedsits of varying size (each with a fourth share in the bathroom and hot water). During the two years I lived there, I occupied three of the four bedsits. I started in the ground floor front bedsit, moved to the back of the house on the ground floor six weeks later (it was a temporary occupancy) and a year later, following two break-ins that had made me feel unsafe, I moved to the upstairs back bedsit. Like most student digs it was down at heel and scruffy but it was extremely cheap to rent and my landlady was a decent sort. The other girls I shared the house with didn’t give me much cause for complaint (one is a good friend to this day) and given the issues many faced with damp, dangerous properties and uncongenial flat-mates, I was on to a winner.

Except for one thing.

The house had certain problems that are very hard to explain. Things as nebulous as atmosphere are notoriously easy to dismiss as being either figments of imagination (I have quite a good imagination) or the result of old, poorly maintained houses rife with damp and draughts. Small items within each self-contained flat-let went missing, only to reappear in places it was improbable if not impossible for them to have ended up. On one occasion, my door keys vanished from my kitchen table, only to reappear on a shelf so high I had to stand on a chair to reach. If you have read Away With The Fairies, you’ll know the kind of weirdness I am talking about. Had it just been me, I could accept it might have been a sequence of coincidences or imagination, but over the two years, all the other girls mentioned odd things happening. Lights would dip and electrical things would falter; you might hear footsteps and there was no one there. Eerie but not terrifying. Counter to what you might expect, I wasn’t that bothered about any of it, though missing items did make me get very cross.

Until one morning when things took a turn for the worse.

It was about eightish and I’d just woken from the alarm clock and was lying there thinking about getting up and making some tea. I’ve always needed plants and green things around me, so I had a few potted spider plants and that year I’d grown a hyacinth bulb. The flower was splendid that morning, emitting one of my favourite scents at that time. It was growing in one of those glass pots shaped so you can grow the bulb without soil; the reservoir is filled with water and the roots grow into it. I’d put the thing on the chest of drawers across the room from the bed.

Without warning, the plant, glass pot and all, rose up and hurled itself across the room at me, missing my head and hitting the pillow, drenching me with water. I lay there stunned (and wet) and was unable to move. I lived entirely alone in that tiny flat; my fiance lived a few streets away and visited most evenings but went home to bed.

The room felt unusually cold and not just because I was soaked with hyacinth water. Something sort of clicked and I leaped out of bed, dressed rapidly and exited the flat at high speed. I was so spooked, I didn’t stop for a cup of tea or breakfast or even a wash. All I wanted was to get out of the building and among other people. I stood and shook at the bus stop and eventually, a bus arrived and took me in to the university. Over the course of the day, I went through every rational possibility that could perhaps explain what had happened, and nothing worked. In the end, I concluded that something of supernatural origin had hurled that hyacinth at me. Later research suggested a poltergeist; I simply don’t know. We were all slightly too old to be triggering classic poltergeist activity. I was at that time the youngest in the house, and was around twenty one at the time.

Some years later, I saw something that defied explanation. A shop in Guisborough (a small market town in North Yorkshire) had weird things going on; the owner was a pal of mine and she was genuinely worried by it all. Candles that lit themselves at night are causes for worry. I was in the shop one day; my friend’s youngest son was at the till. We had been chatting when he went white and pointed to a shelf near where I was standing. The shelf held a selection of china oil burners; one at the back of the shelf had risen in the air, all by itself, and hovered for a second before hurtling across the room at the lad, only deviating at the last moment to smash on a wall rather than on his head. I can promise there were no fishing wires or booby traps.

You may wonder what I did about my flat. I did nothing. I went back that evening, and carried on as normal. I was unnerved for a few days, slept with a light on and a crucifix under my pillow. I’ve always been a pragmatist and scary as it sounds (and indeed was) it wasn’t scary enough to make me quit a decent flat where I paid around half the rent usual for such a place. But I have often wondered whether the girls who lived there in the years after I left ever had the same sort of uncanny goings-on.

There is one coda, though. It took me about two decades before I ever grew hyacinths from bulbs again. I didn’t want to take any chances.

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