A to Z Challenge – Z is for Zorba the Greek

I first saw Alan Bates on the Big Screen when I watched Whistle Down The Wind aged eleven;  at the end of the film I wanted to live with Hayley Mills.

I watched Zorba the Greek aged fifteen; at the end of the film I wanted to live with Alan Bates.

In the mid-sixties people were just beginning to  travel en masse for foreign holidays but I had never left the UK;  watching Zorba with my friends was an almost overwhelming experience,  the slaughter of the Widow unsettling my young mind for a considerable time. It was a true culture shock to a female teenager  in the burgeoning permissive society where women were openly battling for equality; even though the book had been published about  twenty years earlier I did not question that life on Crete was still similar.

Yes, we danced Zorba’s Dance round Oxford, annoying people in general but particularly policemen who had not been trained to deal with young women who were drunk on life rather than on alcohol. Yes, the locations filled my head with dreams of foreign travel.  But much more significantly my understanding of adult emotions had lurched forwards in one shocking leap.

The first Quote from the book I have never been able to answer:  the second Quote I am trying to prove wrong.

“Look, one day I had gone to a little village. An old grandfather of ninety was busy planting an almond tree. ‘What, grandfather!’ I exclaimed. ‘Planting an almond tree?’ And he, bent as he was, turned around and said: ‘My son, I carry on as if I should never die.’ I replied: ‘And I carry on as if I was going to die any minute.’                             Which of us was right, boss?”

“All those who actually live the mysteries of life haven’t the time to write, and all those who have the time don’t live them! D’you see?”

A to Z Challenge – Y is for Yew Trees & The Circle of Life

Yew Trees are amongst the oldest living plants and have many folklore associations some of which might be quite offensive to twenty-first century humans so, if you are squeamish, brace yourself for the last paragraph.

The word Yew comes from the Anglo Saxon word Giuli, the same stem word as for Yule. The Yule Log was originally an oversized hard lump of yew wood that was left burning on the fire for 12 days; I do not know at what point in time it transformed into  an oversweet chocolate cake that  I baked on Christmas Eve when my children were still young and lasted in my larder for 12 minutes. The Gaelic word  for yew tree, however, is Ioho or Ioha and  the Scottish island of Iona  probably  derives its name from the groves of sacred yew trees planted there; Iona was once a powerful Druid Centre. There is a famous tree in Perthshire, Scotland, called the Fortingall Yew which is thought to be between two and five thousand years old. Beltane Fires used to be lit every year in a cleft of its trunk and a popular legend claims that Pontius Pilot played in its branches as a child. In Irish mythology the Yew is one of five sacred, and/or magical, trees brought from the Otherworld. In the Celtic Calendar the Yew Tree sat where the Old Year became The New.

The Yew is often described as the tree of birth, death and rebirth. When the tip of a branch touches the ground it frequently puts down roots and another trunk is formed.  New vertical growths either inside  a decayed hollow trunk or outside of the original trunk may also occur  and this ability to renew its vigour is why the Yew is regarded by many as Immortal. Rings of Yew will often grow if the original tree is left to its own devices.

The tree is associated with death in several ways; one example is that English bows were made of Yew and used to kill thousands of men in war.

Many churchyard Yews were growing in that place long before the church was built and not planted to make sure the farmers kept their cattle well fenced in for fear of poisoning, as is commonly suggested.  It is thought that Pagans associated Yews with preventing the dead from walking and Christians adopted this belief to bring Pagans into the Church.  The shallow net of roots is regarded as impenetrable by the spirits and, more gruesomely, that the roots grow into the eyes of the dead so they cannot see their way back.  However, others believe that the berries and bark are red because the roots grow into tongues, thereby giving a voice to the dead.  Either view gives the story writer plenty of ideas for a macabre tale.


The Llangerny Yew - photo Emgaol (2010) used under Creative Commons License

The Llangerny Yew – photo Emgaol (2010) used under Creative Commons License


A to Z Challenge – X is for Iris Xyphium, Xylopia and Xyris

Simple post today, suffering from extreme exhaustion.

I was going to write botanical notes about xylem so you’ve all had a lucky escape!

Xylopia brasiliensis – photo originally uploaded to Flickr by Colchicum; used under Creative Commons Licence

Xylopia brasiliensis – photo originally uploaded to Flickr by Colchicum; used under Creative Commons Licence

Xyris complanata - photo by Eric Guinther (June 2005); used under Creative Commons Licence

Xyris complanata – photo by Eric Guinther (June 2005); used under Creative Commons Licence

Iris Xyphium  -    Photo by H Zell (June 2009)  used under Creative Commons Licence

Iris Xyphium –
Photo by H Zell (June 2009) used under Creative Commons Licence

A to Z Challenge – W is for whimsy and Wimsey.

 “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast”   Lewis Carroll

whimsical  has two definitions:

playfully quaint or fanciful, especially in an appealing and amusing way:   acting or behaving in a capricious manner

whimsy  has three:

playfully old-fashioned or fanciful behaviour or humour:   a fanciful or odd thing: a whim

One fictional character  associated with this word is Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey  whose family motto is “As my Whimsy takes me.”

My parents loved reading detective novels and Lord Peter  was one of  my father’s favourite sleuths.  I  have read most of  the Wimsey stories and watched the two BBC series starring Ian Carmichael, screened in the mid ’70’s,  which feel a little dated now.  I had never imagined myself in the role of Harriet Vane until the BBC filmed a new series in 1987 starring Edward Petherbridge and Harriet Walters. This pairing was so perfect that, as she was saved from the gallows in Strong Poison, I felt completely drawn into the action. I regularly re-watch this ten episode series and it is such a shame the BBC were unable to obtain the rights to Busman’s Holiday  in which Peter and Harriet marry and spend their honeymoon solving a murder case.

“Do you find it easy to get drunk on words?”

“So easy that, to tell you the truth, I am seldom perfectly sober.”
D L Sayers  –    Gaudy Night

“Do you know how to pick a lock?”
“Not in the least, I’m afraid.”
“I often wonder what we go to school for,” said Wimsey.”
D L  Sayers   –   Strong Poison

A to Z Challenge – V is for Venice, Vivaldi and Valmont

ven3ven4I’m A Total Tourist In Venice.      

It might seem odd for a woman who likes to visit gardens on her travels to be so much in love with Venice;  I can’t explain it. I’ve been sung to in a gondola,  shopped, paid too much to sit at one of the tables right in front of Florian and got bellini’d at Harry’s. I have queued patiently and gazed wide-eyed upon magnificence. I would do it all again and again. (Did I mention I shopped.)  The place that held me enraptured, however, was quite small in comparison to many of the historic masterpieces; the Museo della Musica .  The early instruments in the Museum had an extraordinary effect on me;  I longed to be able to hold them. There  is a section called Antonio Vivaldi e il suo tempo which gives an insight into the life of Vivaldi.


a view from my room

ven2 ven5

Wondering how Valmont fits in with Venice and Vivaldi? They all feature in my manuscript of course. Oh the joy of writing your own plot (but, for the downside, please also see yesterday’s post “Unfinished” ) and  having fun with who does what, with whom and where.

All photos copyright Lynne Revette Butler.

A to Z Challenge – U is for Unfinished

 I fall asleep at night thinking about my unfinished projects.

There is a very simple reason why I have so many unfinished projects;  I start too many.  I love planning projects.  Sometimes I start by measuring and drawing up plans, maybe for work in my home involving choosing paint colours and fabrics, maybe for alterations to the garden needing earth-moving  and extensive plant lists.  I like having several projects running at once,  there is always something to suit my mood or the weather.

There is however, one unfinished piece of work that is now waking me up in a state of anxiety.  I need to finish the  first re-draft of my manuscript and send it off to an editor but I cannot be satisfied with it.  It is like an iced cake;  I had no trouble deciding on the ingredients and the cake looked nicely done when I lifted it out of the oven. I let it cool off for a while then put on a thin layer of  marzipan to  smooth over the tiny cracks.  All fine thus far, but then came the icing, the perfect glossy finish to present to the outside world. It has lumps in it,  it slides to one side and loses its gloss, it will not set firm and let me write “The End”  on it in a confident, flowing hand.  It sits there, unfinished, mocking me but I will not become unnerved or unhinged,  my  resolve is unswerving,  unsurmountable.  I must regain the upper-hand, it cannot remain unpublished.

“This recently discovered unfinished work had all the makings of being her greatest novel”  sounds fine for an obit.  “This unfinished work  finished her”  less appealing.

A to Z Challenge – T is for Tepee in my garden

A few years ago I bought a tepee. It is, of course,  not made of animal hides but of a sturdy canvas although, from a couple of hundred yards away, it looks just like the real thing.

I am small and have to enlist the help of taller friends to put up the poles and wrap round the canvas;  the more extrovert among us then have a dance but  the more self-conscious just look embarrassed. There is something very different about sitting in a tepee, it is not like being in a normal tent;  I find that it both relaxes and inspires me at the same time. I have a wild area in my garden with a large pond and from spring until late  autumn the tepee stands close by it. There is a smoke vent at the top and sometimes I lie face up and watch the clouds float past overhead.  Occasionally I use my macbook or iPad out there but this is a place better suited to pen and paper or needle and thread than to electronic gadgets.  I am sure that to some eyes my tepee looks completely incongruous in my English Garden with a Victorian Greenhouse , herbaceous borders and formal hedges all within sight but it is another perfect place for solitude and I love it.


A to Z Challenge – S is for Smiling and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

This is my third word for the letter S;  on Saturday I did an early S with R  because our UK Government is messing with our School Curriculum and I wanted people to read, and hopefully sign, a petition about the importance of  training young people to work in Agriculture and Horticulture.  Early this morning my scheduled blog about Solitude was posted.  I have just decided to add a third about Smiling.

On Friday afternoon I broke the side off one of my canine teeth, leaving a sharp point which catches on the inside of my mouth;  I decided against using one of the emergency dentists on duty over the weekend and left a message at my usual dental practice.  It hurts when I eat, it hurts when I talk but worst of all it hurts when I smile. I had not realized how many times something makes me smile during the day until smiling hurt so much. No big deal I hear you thinking, everybody smiles.

I was knocked sideways by chronic fatigue syndrome about twenty years ago and it took me four years to recover sufficiently to feel that I was living a full life again.  It always lurks in the background and takes an occasional swipe at me;  at least now most members of the medical profession accept that it exists.  At the time I succumbed to cfs, after working on while having flu, not only some professionals but even people I had thought were good friends accused me of being lazy, making a fuss, getting out of doing things I didn’t like doing etc.  How could anyone think that sleeping for sixteen hours out of every twenty-four was fun?  When I started getting better I was told that I had hardly smiled during those years.

I am off to see my lovely dentist this afternoon and he will make me better very quickly; life is horrid when it hurts to smile.

A to Z Challenge – S is for Solitude

                       “In solitude where we are least alone ”     Byron

The OED definition of solitude is the state of being alone.   Alone is defined as  1. on your own   2.  isolated and lonely.

The plural, solitudes, was formerly used when describing wilderness, backwoods, deserts or indeed any large area containing very few people.

The synonyms  for solitude include loneliness, solitariness, isolation, seclusion, privacy and peace.

I spend quite a lot of time at home in solitude but I am just on my own, not isolated or lonely. I have privacy,  insofar as I am not seen by other people, but  I am frequently disturbed by the telephone ringing so I rarely have peace. I enjoy this solitude at home because I choose to have it; once the vital jobs are done it gives me the opportunity to think through problems, often whilst working in the garden, and to write creatively.

Most of the time I spend in a car is spent in solitude;  hurtling along confined in this small space is a very different experience because there is constant interaction with the rest of the traffic but it is still a solitary experience.  Conversely I can sit in a crowded train carriage or café and have solitude; human isolation in crowded places is common in 21st Century society.  Occasionally someone will smile or speak to you but generally you can settle into your seat and be assured that you will be completely ignored.

I find  these periods of solitude an enjoyable and therapeutic part of my life;  what I  struggle to comprehend is how anyone endures the solitude of  long-term enforced “solitary confinement”  whether caused by kidnap, lawful imprisonment or disability.