Of Violets and of Moss

Of Violets and of Moss

There are violets that grow in my garden; there’s a patch of them at the end of the drive which is expanding steadily, year on year, and because the garden there is a raised area, the flowers are almost at eye level. You just need to bend over to be able to smell the tiny purple blooms. These are sweet violets, I should add, to distinguish them from dog violets which have no scent.

Speaking of the scent of violets, people often wince, and refer to the Parma violets sweets or to Devon violets perfume which was often the standby perfume gift for young girls in the 70s and 80s. During my childhood, while I liked Devon violets perfume (sometimes also April violets was the name) I was forbidden to use it as the pathology lab and morgue my father had worked at as a young man had used a violet- scented disinfectant and the smell reminded him so powerfully of death and decay he would become quite ill if he smelled it.

It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered that actual sweet violets don’t smell much like the perfume at all. In a big shopping centre in Nottingham, a flower seller was offering bunches of sweet violets for a quid. I bought some and I took them home, enchanted and enlightened. That pungent, sickly fragrance from the cheap perfume has only the very faintest of resemblances to real violets. Some years after that, living in very rural Norfolk, I happened upon an entire bank of them, glowing in the spring sunshine and filling the air with a totally heavenly aroma. You could almost imagine the passing of angelic wings giving off this scent as they passed. In Mrs Grieve’s A Modern Herbal, she cites the use of violet leaves as a successful nostrum for cancer, giving the case history of a nurseryman with advanced colon cancer being cured by a preparation of the herb (though the quantities used are vast!). I do not know whether any modern research has been done on the herb (the Modern Herbal was published in the 1930s) but I do wonder whether the properties need another look-at. I use a tea made with a mix of violet leaves and other herbs to encourage good dreams at night.

One of the curious aspects of the scent of sweet violets is that when you smell them, a few moments later, you can no longer smell them at all. The molecules have a sort of anaesthetic effect on your sense of smell; you go nose blind. So if you are walking through an area where lots of the flowers are in bloom, the fragrance will seem to come and go.

Much of the time, though, because violets are often regarded as invasive weeds, you tend not to find them in gardens at all. So letting ours spread means we are finally getting patches of glory. At this time of year you still need to bend over, get close to the earth to be able to partake of this glory. The accepted wisdom of why flowers have a scent is to attract pollinators but with violets, relatively few of the pretty blossoms actually ever produce any seeds. I don’t know why this is so but violets have more than one trick up their silken sleeves. Violets have developed numerous ways to spread. Violets spread by underground rhizomes and may form vegetative colonies. They also spread by a different seeding method. Flowers near the soil surface that never really open, called cleistogamous or non-opening, self-pollinating, shoot seeds out to establish a new colony away from the parent. For more info on this fascinating plant do have a peep at the link here: https://awkwardbotany.com/2020/07/08/the-hidden-flowers-of-viola/

For me, violets are an unexpected gift from life, quite other than I imagined them to be. Perfumes rarely capture the true beauty of a scent, and this is one where the synthetic perfumes associated with the flower fall very short of the reality. Yardley have always produced a violet perfume; in my childhood and until fairly recently, it was very much the classic Parma violets sort of scent. But recently it was reformulated (to various online wails of protest, because it left behind the very sickly-sweet variant) and is far closer now to the mossy, green, and ethereal odour of sweet violets in a hidden nook. Guerlain does two perfumes that have violet at the heart, Apres L’Ondee, and Insolence, if you wanted to push the boat out as they both cost a hefty amount more than the very modest Yardley offering.

Another treasure you need to get close to to appreciate its extraordinary beauty is moss. In the last year especially, I’ve found myself assailed by more anxiety attacks and even panic attacks, than for many years. Purely by chance, I found a grounding method that works for me, and that is when I feel that rising tidal wave of panic, I look for moss. Even in the centre of Norwich, there is moss to be found. It sits on old stone walls as little tussocks of velvet; it hides between paving slabs and on rooftops. The purity of the greenness is soothing and calming; the texture is often soft and reassuring. The closer you look, the more you see. Little fronds uncurling, tiny flowering stems extending into the cold air, often holding beads of dew or rain like jewels being shyly but proudly held out for your admiration. Lichens too will draw my eye; these lowly beings are a scientific marvel and mystery, being not individuals but rather communities working in harmony for the good of all. Made up of fungi, bacteria, algae, lichens are everywhere, some only where the air is clean and pure. I’m currently reading Merlin Sheldrake’s book on fungi Entangled Life which has a chapter on lichens; it’s a revelation how little we yet know about lichens and fungi, and the discoveries are already challenging how we see life as a whole.

Today is Epiphany, the day when the Magi brought their gifts to the Christ-child, named as gold, frankincense and myrrh, and it seems fitting that I have brought you a few gifts too, of violets and of moss, of things you need to get close to the earth to begin to appreciate, maybe even on your knees to even see, and start to ponder on the need for humility in its truest meaning (that of being close to the earth).

Small things to reduce plastic use and other green tips

Small things to reduce plastic use and other green tips

Small things to reduce plastic use and other green tips

With the New Year came a plethora of articles and television programmes, basically with a new year-new you theme. The tidy fairy aka Marie Kondo has taught people to fold t shirts and declutter their homes. I’m not a fan of the whole decluttering lark, because it tends to actually create anxiety in many, because we are social animals and can feel pressure to conform and seek approval from our peers by following the trend even when we don’t really want or need to. And much of it is aimed at people who are financially secure enough so that getting rid of an item that still has use in it isn’t a problem if they suddenly discover they do need it six months down the line. They can just buy a new one. Nor am I am a fan of the idea that everything you own must spark joy. I’m more a fan of the William Morris adage: “Have nothing in your home you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

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My Reading Round-Up of 2017

My Reading Round-Up of 2017

According to my notebook that I use instead of Goodreads (which I loathe, more of that later) I read 78 books in 2016. I’m coming in a bit behind that this year. At the time of writing, it’s 73 completed, but as I am close to the end of a number, there’s a real chance the total will go up a bit before midnight strikes and I turn into a pumpkin. Oh, sorry, wrong fairy tale.

Around 30 or so of those titles were non fiction, some of which were poetry, some of which were part of my journey into Jungian thought and some were to do with health and on natural history.

Of the fiction, I’m not going to talk about the books that I read and didn’t enjoy, or the ones I gave up on. It’s too common for disgruntled authors to take umbrage and offence if a reader mentions they didn’t like a book; it’s one reason I avoid Goodreads as a reader. As an author, I avoid it because there are plenty of readers who can be extremely mean and unkind when a book has failed to live up to their expectations; it’s also quite difficult to be thick-skinned about seeing a fellow-author give a low star to one of my own books when they’re someone I’ve chatted with on social media etc and been quite affable with. While almost all writers I know are wonderful and supportive people, I’m sure we have all come across a few who would take your breath away with how nasty they can be to other writers. I heard a tale recently of one author who tweeted a picture to another author, of that other author’s book in a remainder bin at a cut-price book shop.

I stepped out of my comfort zone too, and I read two novels that fit very much into the fantasy genre and one science fiction. Early in the year I read and very much enjoyed https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mountain-Darkling-Chronicles-Sophie-Tallis/dp/1909845973/ White Mountain by Sophie Tallis; it has the unique aspect of a main character being a dragon and a “goodie”. It took me out of myself during a tricky time. The second fantasy novel was https://www.amazon.co.uk/Song-Ice-Lord-Parallels-Clement-ebook/dp/B00L72RTY0/ Song of the Ice Lord by J.A Clement; I found this a fabulous read, not only because of the beautiful and compelling descriptive writing but also by the sensitive way Ms Clement handled various relationships. Another bonus was the little green bird who became a beacon of hope in the story. Also by the same author is a wonderful seasonal novella/longer short story A Sprig of Holly: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sprig-Holly-J-Clement-ebook/dp/B00AICTQSM/ which is free to enjoy.

The science fiction title was Running Out of Space by S.J Higbee. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Running-Out-Space-Sunblinded-One-ebook/dp/B076BV5LS8/ I found this a refreshing reintroduction to sci-fi, something I used to enjoy very much but abandoned in my twenties when it became too mysogynistic and entirely male-dominated. Depicting a somewhat dystopian future, this fast-paced novel entertained me while slogging away at the gym.

I revisited my old favourites, acquiring a variety of secondhand paperback copies of some classic Agatha Christie mysteries, some of which I had not read for decades. It was good to read them again and understand quite how much she created the genre of cosy mystery.

Not quite cosy, but still very compelling, was another departure from my comfort zone, in the form of Ailsa Abraham’s Attention to Death https://www.amazon.co.uk/Attention-Death-Ailsa-Abraham-ebook/dp/B01MRBTYLX/ . A murder mystery set among military police, with the two main characters trying to conduct a discreet love affair (very much against protocol, in all sorts of ways) this contains one of the grimmest of murders (be warned, not for the faint of stomach) and does not flinch from revealing inherently homophobic attitudes among many of the characters and institutions. A good, if somewhat grim at times, variation on the classic murder mystery. I’m not a fan of romance, gay or otherwise, but I didn’t find that aspect of the story intruded unduly.

On the same sort of genre (but not precisely) I read my way through two box-sets of the Charlie Parker mysteries, by John Connelly. Of the eight books that I raced through, some I found better than others, and more than half were superb. Quirky, veering into the supernatural territory, they’re a real treat if you like detective novels that challenge the norm and subvert the genre. Another novel that comes under that heading was Thea Atkinson’s Grim. Billed as a Young Adult novel, this was another nicely diverting read for my gym torture. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Grim-Reapers-Redemption-Thea-Atkinson/dp/1543087876/

One of my Christmas presents last year was Caitlin Matthews Diary of a Soul Doctor https://www.amazon.co.uk/Diary-Soul-Doctor-Ashington-Casebooks-ebook/dp/B01N94TS3M/ . I had to make myself read this slowly, because I wanted to make it last. In the same genre (whatever it might be) as Dion Fortune’s Tales of Dr Taverner, this collection of linked tales is a highly diverting and intriguing exploration of the esoteric using (as Fortune did) fiction as a medium. I also read Matthews’ non-fiction Hundred Steps to the Grail, about the process of researching and writing a book about a book on the search for the Holy Grail https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hundred-Steps-Grail-Writers-Diary-ebook/dp/B01EXKSNDS/ and as a writer, I found the details of the process fascinating and revealing.

Among the non-fiction were a couple of excellent natural history books. Peter Wolhlenben’s The Hidden Life of Trees, https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hidden-Life-Trees-International-Communicate/dp/0008218439/ kept me from my fear of flying when I went to Austria in February, and was a deeply enjoyable and informative book. Fiona Stafford’s The Long Long Life of Trees covered a very different aspect of tree lore but was equally interesting, though I felt at times it tended towards a journalistic skimming of the surface rather than a deeper exploration. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Long-Life-Trees/dp/0300228201/ . I also very much enjoyed Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wild-Places-Robert-Macfarlane/dp/1783784490/, though I did find at times a certain sense of irritation at the apparent assumption that the things the author did and the places he visited are open to all (when they aren’t), regardless of ability or status. But that’s only a slight cavil and speaks more of my own growing frustration at my health challenges.

Roz Morris’s Not Quite Lost (travels without a sense of direction) was a good read, entertaining and thought-provoking in equal measure. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Not-Quite-Lost-Travels-Direction/dp/1909905925/ There’s a sense of great British-ness about this travel memoir that is infused all through the text like the scent of tea.

One novel I got to read this year I cannot give a link to. Philippa Rees asked me to beta read a novel she entitled Acer and I am not sure quite what genre is falls under. Magical Realism might do, but it veers almost into science fiction. One of the premises of the tale is on human-plant hybrids, which makes it sound clinical but it’s a very tender tale of what makes us human and what parenthood is really about. I hope that she makes a decision to stick by her guns and the original vision of the story, and publishes it (and another novel I read last year). Perhaps the world is ready for the visionary and metaphysical works that Philippa has hidden on her hard drive.

In addition to these I read a number by Marie-Louise von Franz, acolyte, pupil and colleague of Jung’s, and a whole range of books on alchemy, psychology, Arthurian myths and legends and the grail. I’m around a third of the way through Jung’s own book on alchemy, but am unlikely to finish before year’s end, as it is much to think about and digest.

Having read all that, you might think I didn’t have time to write, but you would be wrong. I’ll save that topic for another post.

T is for Triggered

T is for Triggered

Triggered

I’d expected the land to be silent,

For willows to weep and doves to mourn.

Yet larks sang, rising over acres

Of emerald green winter wheat

And bare fields sown with a million flints

Shattered by behemoth harrow and plough.

I’d expected rain, at the very least;

Tempestuous clouds letting rip

With a deluge to drown us all.

Yet the sky is merely grey and dull,

The usual March dampness to the air,

And the temperature hovering at mild.

I’d expected signs and portents

Speaking of grim days to come,

Harbingers of doom,warning us.

But only a confused owl hooted in a copse,

Awoken by smaller birds, squabbling,

Fighting for territory and for mates.

I’d expected the little river to be

Cloudy with mud and debris

From passing storms upstream,

Yet it flowed clear and fresh,

And I found myself expecting the kingfisher,

Sticklebacks and the elusive dipper.

When we go, nature will not mourn or miss us.

She will sigh with relief like a hurricane.

A few generations of cats and dogs

May remember us vaguely,

Fondly even, and with regret,

Before going from feral to truly wild.

I will seize that ice-cold comfort,

Clutch it to me as a child might,

That life and the land go on,

Even when the world, for me,

Has shattered irreparably and forever;

I am bereft but I still stand.

© Vivienne Tuffnell March 29th 2017

(this poem appeared in The New European newspaper a few weeks ago)

S is for Spring (s)

S is for Spring (s)

S is for Spring(s)

I’ve written a lot about springs over the years I’ve been blogging. Indeed, I wrote an entire novel about a very special spring, the waters of which heal broken souls and mend damaged psyches. (see Strangers and Pilgrims)

But a spring is a magical thing. Water welling up through deep layers of rock and earth, bursting into the light in torrents or trickles. For early peoples as much as modern ones, a spring was somewhere both practical and supernatural. The symbolism of the well-spring is embedded deeply in both my creative and my spiritual life. When I have visited famous springs like the Chalice Well, or the White Spring, I have felt myself to be in the presence of a divine mystery, a holy thing.

Yet for all that, my creative flow and my spiritual journey have dried up, become fallow and unfed by springs flowing within my soul, within my self. Sometimes springs do dry up; sometimes they reroute. Some only flow in certain times and seasons, like the Swallow-head Spring that feeds the river Kennet in Wiltshire close to Avebury. I would like to hope that the period of dryness will one day end but whether it ends with a torrent or a mere trickle, I do not know.

N is for Newt

N is for Newt

N is for Newt

When I taught English as a foreign language, playing word games was a nice ten minute filler at the end of the lesson. Going through the alphabet and finding a word for a series of categories was a pretty standard exercise but the letter N always stumped students when it came to the animal category. There really aren’t many animals starting with N. I usually ended up supplying the word, either Newt of Nuthatch.

Newts are (as you all know) amphibians. Contrary to popular belief this doesn’t mean they spend most of their time in and around water; newts like damp places for certain but the only time you’re likely to see them in your pond is during the breeding season. Our pond has at least once species of newt that breeds in it (as well as frogs and toads), and they’re utterly delightful to watch.

This one was caught when we were weed-clearing last year and was returned immediately after the photo opportunity.

God 1

God 1

I do not want your slot machine god

Powered by caprice and uncertainty.

Nor do I want your vending machine god:

Pop in a prayer and out pops a reward.

I want the untamed god

Unknowable as the badgers

Deep in ancient yew woodlands,

Wild as the flight of goldfinches

Bathing exuberantly in a forest pool.

In one glimpse you see more of eternity

And the vast untouchable sweep

Of a deity too broad

To be trammelled by walls and words,

Yet tender to his creatures who

He holds cupped in his wounded palms.

Lammas at the Cave

Lammas at the Cave

Lammas at the Cave

The morning birdsong is over by the time I leave the cave; I have not had the energy to rise at dawn to see the sun rise as I should. I have slept in, lying on top of my bed-roll most of the night, for though the cave is cool, the nights have been humid, sticky and oppressive. It has been difficult to get anything done, for movement other than the most languid kind leaves me exhausted and sweating.

Cooler air greets me, laden with the scents rising from the forest below, redolent of the soft rain that fell last night, and of green growth and flowers and a hint of ripeness. I do not farm up here, so there are no grain crops to gather in, but other things are coming to the point of harvest. A willow basket is hooked over my arm as I head slowly down the path that leads steeply down from the ledge where I live. I do not know what I am going to gather, but it seems to me that I should take a basket just in case. For what seems like the longest time, I have lost interest in my home and my life; though I know the forest to be coloured with the most vivid of shades and hues, all I have been able to see has been an endless mass of greys.

Under the canopy of trees, the path is dark and were it not for the white rocks placed at the edges here and there, I might easily wander. That’s dangerous, for on my mountain there are precipitous drops that you can’t see till you are almost falling over them. It’s not a place for careless meanderings, yet again today I let my feet guide me, not my mind, and I find myself at the stream that tumbles down the side of the mountain. The path follows this, and the air is heavy with the cool moisture and the song of the stream.

I have to tread carefully for the path is narrow and hard on the feet, sometimes becoming slippery and I wish I had not come this way; I consider turning back. But I trudge on, shouldering the empty basket, tripping sometimes, which leaves me breathless with shock and fear. Eventually, the ground levels out, and I find myself somewhere I have no memory of having been before. A great basin of rock, wide and deep, opens out for many yards and the stream fills it before leaving at the far end, the water draining away in a series of beautiful little waterfalls no more than five or six feet in height. The noise of falling water is deafening, yet I do not move onwards. I put the basket down and find somewhere to sit, cushioned by lush moss, and dangle my sore feet into the water.

It’s icy and refreshing, and I realise I am sweating with the effort and with the heat, for the sun is now high overhead. I had not felt how time was passing, and passing so swiftly, that my morning is gone. The water is inviting, so I strip off my clothes and slide in, gasping with the shock of the cold. The pool is deep enough to swim in, though if I put my feet down, I touch the rock. I swim for a little while before dressing again, and sit back on my mossy seat, damp and chilled and panting. I do not want to leave here, either to go back or to go onwards. Despite the noise of the water, it’s a very peaceful place.

A dash of brightness catches my eye, flashing past and dipping into the water, a brief vision of intense, shining blue that reappears on the far side of the pool, its beak full of a silver wriggling fish that disappears down its gullet with little difficulty. I search my memory for a name: kingfisher. I watch it dive for another, and another, and the fierce, brilliant colours are like lightning in the night of my mind. Then, full of fish, it flashes away downstream, out of sight and I am left alone.

When I come to pick up my basket, to my surprise it is full of fish. Much larger than the ones the kingfisher was catching, these are salmon and trout, and they remind me that if I do not grow grain here, I must still eat in winter, and I lug the basket back to the cave where they can be prepared for drying and smoking.

As the sun sets, I sit out at my fire, and eat freshly roasted salmon, burning my fingers a little as I pick pink flesh off the bones, and feel the blessing of the fisher of kings.

DSCI0169

On Invisible Fish

On Invisible Fish

On invisible fish

I’m lucky enough to have a large pond in our garden; we’ve never had a pond before we moved here and I’m not sure I’d do without one now. There’s something deeply attractive aesthetically as well as environmentally about a pond; the two are intertwined as the pond brings a lot of wildlife into our sights. My heart sings (albeit briefly and its own rather quirky out-of-tune song) to see flocks of goldfinches coming to bathe, and the many other denizens of our garden coming to drink, bathe or possibly admire their own reflections.

And there are fish. We’ve put in several batches of goldfish, because they are beautiful and graceful and to me, a symbol of the soul. At the weekend, I was gifted with a bucket of fish from an old colleague whose mother’s pond had become too crowded. There were a dozen fish in the bucket, mostly golden ones, some with fan-tails swishing out behind them like gauzy scarves in a breeze, and as well as one lemony fish, there were two green fish. Identical in form to the golden ones, these two vanished like ghosts into the deep green waters; their colour makes them hard to see unless you know they are there. When we feed them, the green ones rise with the others and gobble up their pond sticks, before vanishing again. They are, to all intents and purposes, invisible.

But I know they are there and I keep an eye out for them, feeling something resembling joy when I spot one amid their flashier, more in-yer-face comrades. It’s made me think of those humans who have become invisible fishes; there, yet ignored mostly, because they lack the bright colours that are deemed essential to being noticed and admired. I think that as I age, I am becoming an invisible fish too, becoming unnoticed whether in so-called real life and in the virtual world too. Humans are drawn by the bright, the new, the shiny, and by bling; we look for innovation in our lives, and are driven to seek it by the unconscious pressures of the media, of our peers and of our own desires to be popular and up-to-date.

Yet the good old things, whether art, or literature, or music, or simply people do not go away because we turn away from them to chase the new and shiny things. Like the invisible fish in my pond, they remain themselves, unseen and unheeded perhaps, but still what they always were. You just need to know they are there so you can keep an eye out for them. I’ve often listed writers here whose work has dropped out of favour, or which has never hit the heights of popularity it deserves but I’d be interested if those who read this would like to share artists, writers, musicians and others whose work they love but who have become (or have always been) invisible fish.

golden fishes

golden fishes

Don’t break the bank to enjoy poetry…

If you haven’t already nabbed my first poetry collection Accidental Emeralds, it’s 99p on special offer for a few days, before going up to £1.99 for another few, then back to the original (and very reasonable) price of £2.90.

I’m removing all my books now from the Select programme, which means they’ll not be available to borrow through Kindle Unlimited, and I won’t be able to do these convenient Countdown sales. I’d thought long and hard about this; the incentives to have books in the Select programme have become scanty. I get less and less for borrows, and it seems there are risks (long story) to having books there. So I decided that those that were in, are coming out, so I unticked the auto renew box.  I wasn’t earning any more from having them in, and peace of mind is more important than pennies anyway. I’d also noticed a pattern of rankings changing when people borrowed a book, but then they’d either not read the book at all or the pages weren’t coming up as read. So I don’t think I am losing anything.

Incidentally, if you have read any of my books, liked them but haven’t reviewed, I’d be deeply grateful for new reviews. It seems that regular reviews are what keeps a book moving; above a certain number and the legend is that you get more promotion from the ‘Zon. Fairies is close to the 50 review threshold (46 as I write) and that’s one of the mythical, mystical numbers of the legend. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it’s worth considering. Accidental Emeralds has three really sterling reviews and more would be very cheering if nothing else.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Accidental-Emeralds-Longing-Vivienne-Tuffnell/dp/1500242187?ie=UTF8&qid=1468660246&ref_=la_B00766135C_1_8&s=books&sr=1-8