Keck, Cow Parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris

keck1

Where I grew up, which was once part of the Danelaw,  we called it ‘keck’, a common name for cow parsley; some call it wild chervil, or even Queen Anne’s Lace. Well, it sounds like an ancient Norse word, but it could equally be good old Old English. Either way, it is characteristic of this time of year, as spring turns into summer.

keck2

words and pictures ©copyright rp 2016

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Post Dated

vrpostbox2

I came across this recently, a post box which is at least 115 years old. VR stands for Victoria Regina (Queen Victoria), her reign being from 1837 to 1901. In theory, therefore, it could be 179 years old. I wonder how many times the lock has been changed?

vrpostbox1

What a different world we inhabit now. In 1901 the car had only just been invented and plane flight was still a dream. And in 1901 Victoria was Queen-Empress of an empire on which the sun never set, head of state of roughly one quarter of the world’s population.

Now it’s not even certain the United Kingdom itself can be kept united for much longer. I don’t think she would be amused, but all empires turn to sand in the end. Some sooner than others.

© copyright words and pictures rp 2016.

Interesting Textures 1

oldbible2

A favourite old Authorised King James Version Bible can be an interesting subject of study. This is from school days, leather satchels and shorts.

© image copyright rp 2016

What Goes Around

roundhouse3Providence recently took me to Flag Fen, a three and half thousand year old Bronze Age site in eastern England. What began in a field several decades ago with the discovery of timbers from an ancient causeway, has now transformed into one of the most significant archaeological sites of its kind in Europe.

Flag Fen lies at the fen edge, where the flat lands of the south and east meet with the higher ground to the west. It would have been a rich, much sought after environment then, one the most abundant in Britain at the time.

In those days the fenlands afforded a welcome bounty, an alternative to the interminable forests which had still not been extensively cleared. There would be fishing and fowling in the winter; in the summer as the water levels dropped, massive areas of pasture became available for sheep and cattle to graze on.

soaysheep

I’d been to Flag Fen before maybe a couple of times, though certainly not in the past fifteen years. It has changed of course, there is more to see and do. It even has some of its own Soay sheep to give it that authentic Bronze Age feel. But can we truly feel it?

What I enjoyed the most was the roundhouse reconstruction. That probably goes for a lot of the visitors, too. Yes, it’s only a reconstruction, but common sense tells you that it’s probably pretty accurate. Less accurate were my initial feelings towards these ‘primitive’ people who had to live in such dwellings. Standing before it, there was an odd sense of familiarity about the building. The roundness is, well, homely. It’s dark inside but not depressing, nor suffocating. In the summer it would be a welcome shelter from the sun and the heat. In the winter it would be a shelter from the cold with its wattle and daub walls, turf roof and warming fire. All year round it would simply be a welcoming family home. This would be one of the best alternatives to caves, which offer the same benefits of cool summer shade and warm winter shelter, a more organic and equable way of living through the seasons. It was natural, more efficiently heated than any modern house, even with the earth floors. And by the way, organic was the rule then, not the expensive exception of today.

roundhouse2But ok, so none of these people who lived at Flag Fen were literate. Yet they had a sophisticated working language, intimate knowledge of the seasons and the sky at night. Yes, life was very hard, brutal at times, and most often quite short. However, there was clearly a meaning to their existence. How many of us can say that about ourselves? The wooden causeways they built, the votive offerings of broken knives, swords, spears and other valuable items, they cast into the water either side: They genuinely believed a different dimension lay through and beyond that water. A dimension they inhabited after their death.

And who’s to say they are not right?

They experienced life directly, first hand. There was no TV: They had no news to listen to, no game shows or soap operas to watch, no video games to inure them to life’s crazy extremes. There were few distractions to prevent them from contemplation, the storytelling during the long winter nights. We can only guess who their heroes were. It was a harsh world, a verbal world. A real world. Do we live in a real world, or is it just different?

Neither was there any excuse not to pull your weight during the seasons: You either harvested, pulling together, or you starved. Everyone was involved, you invested your energy into your own community. You depended on your family, your community and vice versa.

roundhouse1So, would I swap my existence for one three thousand five hundred years ago on this piece of fen edge? Probably not, but I came away thinking that these people, invisible now, yet tantalisingly close at hand, were more than my equal. I feel I could learn a lot from them, discover something more meaningful in my own life, something better than merely typing these vain words, casting them into the ether. At least that Flag Fen farmer cast seeds that grew, caught fish to eat, slaughtered his own livestock. By comparison I feel almost like a pale shadow, whilst he positively interacts with his environment. So is there anything worthwhile I could teach him? I can’t think of a thing.

Perhaps we should reclaim (while we can, if we can) some of the practical, timeless knowledge we have lost, effectively go one step back to go two forward. It’s certainly foolish, arrogant of us to believe that Bronze Age men were in any way inferior to ourselves.

roundhouse4

© words and pictures copyright rp 2016

Poem: ‘Dance of Life’

This was long thought to be the only portrait ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t hold out a torch
for me, I am not free of blame. This

is the dance of life where all are
culpable, soon to be drowned in

washes, the mangling gears
of pain. But who knows, these maelstroms

might be wormholes, revealing other
worlds and tableaux of night; dressings

of props across cold stone walls, taken
and rebuilt from dishevelled remains.

And where bards once played on stages,
hidden behind arras stitchings

and nom de plumes, we are all still
mere punters in pits macabre, holding

torches for celebrity – look at them, drunk,
high up with their gods of gold

© poem copyright David F. Barker 2013

Poem: A Picture

pariscafe

Like a heavy Thirties’ vibrato, the early
talkie movie strings exquisite
yet tainting,

your restrained pose remains
steadfast before the storm, long shadows
of a vengeance which threatens

you, barely withheld. Still
your smiling eyes stare
back from Paris cafés through

mists of Gitanes, drenched
in sepia, like the relics of some
melancholy sun

© copyright David F. Barker 2013

Poem: The Creative

Enkidu

Enkidu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Inspiration is a leech on the
creature of conflict. How much
better it would be if our lives were
merely plain and ordinary, transcending
this light and shade, our existence
reliant only on plucking fruit
from a tree, cupping clean
water from a stream; and that
all my words and lines,
such as they are,
derived solely from love and light.

But we’ve seen to it, you
and me, have decided
to find out and exaggerate
every little nuance we have, to look across
at each other from these
dubious divides with poison eyes, our fixed
minds like two scorpions in a bottle.
And what we can’t steal or bribe or starve
from each other, we will fight for
to the end, till every last
sap of strength and all our blood is gone –
for that sweet taste of victory.

We’ve all spoken these platitudes,
though only seldom act
or relent. Even in our shadowy beginnings
the weary Gilgamesh knew; primeval
battles between dark
and light still raging on inside.
His remorse and grief leap out
at us from figures in dried clay like
they were made today, a reflection
of ourselves, our tears,
the lessons never learned. So,
if you must – go ahead.
Do your worst! Though please
make it your best
and I will write, endlessly

poem © copyright David F. Barker 2013