Just an Ordinary Woman

As a storyteller, I sometimes sing a song to accompany my story. I especially love when the chorus soars and the audience at our local folk club joins in. When I was asked to sing a ‘Celebration’ song at the club last year, I went searching and found a Scottish one I liked.

The Spinner’s Wedding by Mary Brooksbank from Dundee, hooked me in. It tells of a spontaneous celebration in a jute mill, when all the women in a section stop work to dance, sing and give gifts. Knowing very little of the Scottish Jute industry (I’d never seen raw jute or even been to Dundee.) I added ‘Jute mill’ to my up-coming travel plans and began learning more about the songwriter.

                                (Dundee’s Jute Trade Routes in its heyday)

Two months later, one cold Monday morning, I read aloud a green sign, ‘ Verdant Works Open Wed – Sat.’  My companion protested, “Oh no! When you wanted so much to come here. This place is the main reason we came to Dundee! Why did no-one tell us it doesn’t open on a Monday?”

Stepping away from the solid wooden gate onto the cobbles in that narrow lane, I looked up at the stone wall and sighed. I couldn’t see over it. What were we going to do now?

Suddenly, the big gates rattled and opened as a large industrial bin came trundling towards us. “Good Morning!” shouted the head behind it. The look on our faces stopped the man in his tracks. We lamented and pointed to the board. His eyebrows went up at this.

“Och! We’re open in 2 minutes! We’ve changed the times on the website but not that sign there yet! Just go in! The café’s already open.”

The Verdant Works, once a noisy jute mill built in 1853 in the Blackness area of Dundee, opened as a museum in 1996. The High Mill was revamped in 2015 and the whole site is now an award-winning, tourist attraction. When asked what had brought us to the mill site, I told our guide, “A folk song got me here!” and added that I wanted to know more about women working in mills.

They smiled and carried on with their spiel about the history of this place. The High Mill built in 1833 employed 500 workers by 1864. Their 3 steam engines ran 70 powered looms with total of 2800 spindles. At that time, there were 61 such steam-powered mills in Dundee, mostly built round the Scouring Burn as it flowed down to the sea.

By 1901, there were over 100 jute mills in Dundee and two-thirds of their 39,752 workers were women. With 3 times as many women as men working in the mills, Dundee was often referred to as ‘She-Town.’ By 1950 there were only 39 mills left.

 (Breadwinners of all ages)

We were invited to wander through the museum at our leisure and ask questions of any of the volunteers. I became totally engrossed in the history of mill work, the complex machinery and the noise! Some of the exhibits featured sound recordings retelling the worker’s tasks and experiences. I found out where the jute came from.

Up in the rafters of the High Mill, I heard Mary’s voice, as she sang one of her well-known songs.

Oh, dear me, I wish the day was done.

Running up and doon the Pass is no nae fun;

Shiftin’, piecin’, spinnin’ warp weft and twine,

Tae feed and cled my bairnie affen ten and nine.

                       

      ( Renovated High Mill with raw jute and end products)

Imagine a 12 year old starting a twelve-hour shift at six am. In 1909 Mary did just that. Her family’s poverty made her lie about her age. She was taken on as a bobbin ‘Shifter’ but was soon found out. It took another two years, staying home to look after her four younger brothers, before she got an official job. Mary later said that her wishes, desires, hopes, ambitions (were) dutifully suppressed in the interests of those I loved, my father, mother and (four) brothers.’

Five had already died in infancy and Mary had been born blind. At the time, the doctor gave her mother eye-drops, a torch and not much hope. Rose Soutar checked and attended to her baby’s eyes daily. She was so overjoyed that her 14 month-old girl was finally able to see that she ran down to the docks to tell her husband the news!

Mary’s father, Sandy Soutar had been a docker and Unionist, who was black-listed because he founded the Dock Workers Union in the port of Aberdeen. In search of work in 1905, he’d brought his family down to Dundee on a coal boat. Sandy was rarely employed even after that. He continued to be an active Unionist, attending meetings. In the main room of their home, Mary likely witnessed visits, talks, plans, songs and stories from many of the leading Scottish union activists of the day.

 (9 mill-workers pose – from bobbins to bales of sacking)

Alongside her mother, Mary was officially taken on at Kydd’s Mill aged 14. Her (male) gaffer (boss) saw her as quick to learn – ‘ a richt wee smerter.’ Their jobs were sporadic and they both worked in any mill they could. If not, they might be lucky to get piece work and sew sacks – five pence for 25. Her four brothers might have been employed in a mill from the age of 8, cleaning up under the looms as they clattered. In 1900 there were 5000 children still working in this industry. Only 2800 of them had been granted an exemption from full-time schooling. Even if her brothers had unskilled work, they’d be sacked at 18. Women workers were cheaper in the mills – paid half men’s wages.

For many years, houses for mill workers in Dundee were said to be some of the worst slums in Europe. Most workers wanted to live close to the mill and rented in tall tenements – usually two rooms with an average of 7 occupants. There were middens in the streets. One privy served the tenants in a four level block. Outbreaks of Cholera, Typhus and Scarlet Fever were not uncommon. Many children didn’t live past infancy. Despite many reports about that rundown, insanitary housing, the mainly private investors took no action because ‘improving working class housing just did not pay.’ When Mary married Ernest Brooksbank in 1924 and saw their first home near the mill, she wept, saying it was ‘no better than a large dog kennel.’ Decisive slum clearing didn’t start till the late 1920’s. Yet some families were loath to leave their close, tenement community.

When the Soutars moved to Dundee, Mary had quickly learned to play the violin. Across the landing on their stair lived a family of Scots Travellers who would often sing and play music at night and invite everyone in. She liked to say that even at the hardest times “There’s naething that can daunt me long, Gin I have the power tae sing a sang.”

Some months after Mary began work in 1911, the carters went on strike for better pay. They refused to bring the bales of raw Indian jute up from the docks. Fourteen year old Mary joined the other women in her section to successfully demand fairer pay. They got a rise of 15%. This was the beginning of more than a hundred protests by Dundee workers between 1889 -1914.

As she grew more politically active, Mary also became anti-war. As a 21 year old at the 1918 Armistice Day celebration, she led a protest against the shoddy treatment of returned veterans . She was arrested with 20 others, charged with Breach of the Peace and sentenced to 3 weeks in Perth Prison. This was the same year she gave up Roman Catholicism, became an atheist and joined the Communist Party (C.P.) to fight for women’s rights, equality and the demise of capitalism.

Once out of prison, Mary was unable to get mill-work and so went into domestic service at her mother’s insistence. However, working in an opulent ‘Jute Baron’s’ mansion made her all the more determined to follow her strong feelings against inequality. On her days off, during a third domestic post, she attended lectures at The Scottish Labour College given by a famous socialist organiser and orator, John McLean.

 At the age of 23 in 1920 (when The Great Depression began), she was involved in more protests and represented jobless, rental defaulters at Rent Tribunals. She lobbied for Unemployment Benefits for those out of work. Her next arrest was for heckling at a meeting about the unreasonable amount of money workers had to contribute as part of the new Unemployment Insurance Act. Authorities at the time tried to question her sanity – a charge later ‘not proven’ by a judge who found her ‘utterly sound’ in health and judgment.

Within the C.P. Mary established the Working Women’s Guild of Dundee in 1930 which focused on improving public health and social housing. They lobbied successfully for significant improvements to the city’s poorhouse, as well as other housing. A lasting legacy was this group’s commitment to help their 300+ members develop public speaking skills, as well as how to chair and organize, productive meetings.

When she was 34 in 1931, following another demonstration, Mary was arrested for sedition and sentenced this time to 3 months. Crowds gathered outside the Perth Prison gates to sing in protest. The petition for her release had 10,000 signatures. Members of the Railway Women’s Guild in Perth brought her food daily. She wrote poems.

On her release, Mary found out the success of the Women’s Guild in the local branch of the C.P. had caused dissent She publicly expressed doubts about Stalin’s leadership and questioned the allocation of the money they’d raised. In 1932 she was thrown out of the C.P.  From then on, she called herself an Independent Socialist.                      

By this time, Mary could only find occasional work – picking berries, working in canning factories or sewing sacks. When her younger brother died, she took in his son. When her husband of 20 years fell ill in 1943, Mary felt her only option was to catch the ferry across to Tayport, in Fife and play her violin in the streets to get money. Ernest died later that year. She took her parents in to live with her.

By 1948 Mary was no longer employed. While nursing her dying mother, she wrote more poems and songs like The Spinner’s Wedding, full of the ordinary details of her working life, and shared them with her.

Oh, ye’ll no make muckle siller
Nae maitter hoo ye try
But hoard your love an loyalty,
That’s what money canna buy.

IIn the 1960’s and 7o’s Mary began singing in Old Folks Homes. She was Chairperson of the Old Age Pensioners Association for some these years. After a chance meeting at a concert, the popular folk-singer Ewan McColl sang some of her songs and championed her song writing. She sang then at the Dundee Folk Club, at the Blairgowrie Music Festivals and on TV & Radio. Her poems and songs were published in Sidlaw Breezes as well as in her autobiography, Nae Sae Lang Syne; a tale of this city.

She was always willing to speak out, step up and help wherever it was needed. In 1970 during the war in Vietnam she went to Hanoi to help the wounded and to rebuild the ruined city. She was 73.

Mary never gave up her Dundee/Scots dialect. She was 5 foot tall, ordinary on the outside and a powerhouse inside. She poured her energy into making life better for others – actively making her city a fairer, more just community. She died in a Dundee hospital in 1978 aged 82.

Hamish Henderson, founding member of the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh, called Mary

 a heroine of the working class movement in Dundee, and a free – spoken, free – thinking, old rebel who got thrown out of the C.P. for denouncing Stalin in the early Thirties!

In 2009, four lines from her song about jute work ‘Oh Dear Me’ were carved into granite in the new Scottish Parliament’s Wall of Quotations in Edinburgh – the only woman quoted in the 26 selected quotes thus far.

           “Oh, dear me, the warld’s ill-divided

          Them that works the hardest are aye wi’ least provided.

          But I maun bide contented, dark, deep or fine

          But there’s no much pleasure livin’ affen ten and nine.”

Mary’s actions show her life-long commitment to social justice and caring for others in need. Just an ordinary woman to look up to … and not forget.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Some of the many Sources I used. (There’s lots more)

BROOKSBANK, Mary. The Spinner’s Wedding (Lyrics) and singing this song

INNES, Ewan. et al. (ed) Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women. Edinburgh. E.U.P. 2006: 46-7.

HENDERSON, Mary. Dundee Women’s Trail: Twenty-five footsteps over four centuries. Dundee. Dundee Women’s Trail. 2008: 46-48. http://www.dundeewomenstrail.org.uk/

POLWART, Karine. “The Other Mary” in A. J. TAUDEVIN. Mrs Balfour’s Daughters. Oberon Press. 2015. (This post took a while. Finding this essay really helped me pull my writing together. I commend Karine’s work to you – a well-known Scots folksinger, she sings and talks about Mary on YouTube ‘The Jute Song’ with The Shee.)

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                               All text and photos by Meg

Story Twigs the Imagination! by Meg Philp. Copyright © under Australian Law.

Windows: Lens-Artist Photo Challenge #14

Taking a good photo is a challenge. Sometimes I see things that aren’t there.

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Image taken Balmerino Abbey ruins, one grey day.

This abbey has been in ruins since the Reformation in the 16th Century.  First it was the English who attacked the monastery, then it was the Scottish Protestants.

 I heard  Judy Small sing her ‘Walls and Windows” in Brisbane years ago.  She wrote great songs but gave up folksinging and is now a judge in the Family Law Court.

Here’s the last verse from that song-

Oh may we live to see the day when walls of words and fear
No longer stand between the truth and dreams
When walls of windows rise into the darkness and we dare
To look into the mirror and see peace.
   from Judy Small's song "Walls and Windows"

All text (except quote) and photos by Meg

Story Twigs the Imagination! by Meg Philp is Copyright © under Australian Law.

May Day on Mt Cootha 2018: WPC Line

 

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Hurdy-Gurdy Player

“Form the lines and turn together, Hear the clash of the staff as we shout and sing. The tunes all sound to the Tattercoat’s flying, We call up the light as the day comes in.” (Lyrics by John Thompson)

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They had gathered in the dark, above the city, to dance with bells, sticks, swords and kerchiefs.

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The Bellswagger, North-West, Ragged Band, and Logan groups, among others, all wearing their different kits.

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We all sang along, clapped and stamped our feet.

The music rises with the first light’s gleaming,

The dawn will break and the bells will ring.

                               (from The Bellswagger Anthem by John Thompson)

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All in together for the last dance.

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… spiralling our way up to the Rotunda

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…then with one great shout the dance and songs have done it.

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We’ve celebrated the year with the dawn of the sun.

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(A great bunch of Morris folk after the final formal photo)

                          >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Lines – This week’s Photo Challenge

All text (except John Thompson’s lyrics) and photos by Meg

Story Twigs the Imagination! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License and is also Copyright © under Australian Law.

Waiting for … ? WPC

Wishing and …

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Hoping and …

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Planning and …

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Dreaming … Bilbo will appear!

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Dusty Springfield and Dion Warwick used to sing Wishin’ and Hopin’. Remember singing along with those dreadful lyrics? I honestly didn’t hear the words till much later … then  I got wise!

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This blog of images and text by Meg Philp – Story Twigs the Imagination! – is Copyright © under Australian Law.

 

Waiting

Passing Through: Weekly Photo Challenge

In,

over,

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through,

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(Oops! Missed some.)

and out.

Read this many years ago. Presume it’s from the Sufi tradition of teaching stories.

Years ago, a young backpacker set off travelling to new places.

Arriving in an distant city, he learned that a famous sage was speaking that night in the great hall. The young man decided to go along. An audience of over a thousand people heard the sage talk and many were as inspired as he was. They gathered outside in the square to talk late into the night about what they had heard and to plan their future.

Over the next two days, the traveller asked everyone he met how he might meet the sage in person. Three days later, he was taken to the place where the man had lived all his life. He rang the bell tentatively.

Stepping in the doorway, the young man noticed the home’s bare walls and basic furniture. The sage came forward and greeted him warmly. Together they sat by the fire to drink tea and talk.

After some hours, the traveller stood to thank his elder and bid him farewell. His host was curious to know what was had surprised him the most.

“You are so famous. People shower you with gifts. I expected you to live in grand style. ”

“You arrived with only a backpack!” retorted the sage.

“Yes, but I am only passing through,” muttered the young man.

“So am I,” replied his host.

Transient
All text and photos © Meg Philp are protected by Australian Copyright Law. If you wish to use any images. Please contact me thru Comments. Pass the story on. Thanks.

PS. And then there’s the song a Canadian teacher sang to me on the verandah of the Migrant Hostel in 1975 – the chorus is stuck in my mind.

 “Passing through, Passing through, … Glad that I ran into you, Tell the people that you saw me passing through.”

Google now tells me it was written by Richard Blakeslee and sung by Pete Seeger! … Learn something new every day!

Story Twigs the Imagination! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Edinburgh Revisited: To see ourselves as others see us

I visited Edinburgh with friends recently and have revised my knowledge of part of its history. The Old Town looked the same…

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As ‘unofficial tour guide,’ in the Thistle Chapel of St Giles Cathedral, I pointed out the defiant, Latin motto of the chivalrous Order of the Thistle which means,  Who dares meddle with me! (Such fighting talk! I had to put such defiance into a historical and military context – See Sources at the end of this post)

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I regularly had to explain signs or spoken expressions or customs that I have long taken for granted. Not only the Scots accent, but words themselves baffled my American friend. However, songs often work where speech fails, so I sang a favourite Burn’s song ‘John Anderson, My Jo’ and explained what it meant.

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Brought up surrounded by Lowland Scots vernacular, at school I had to be careful not to use it. The Scottish Education Board insisted that children like me, from a working-class family, had to  be taught to speak, read and write ‘Proper’ English. It wasn’t till high school that I was given my Lowland Scots dialect in print, to study.

Robert Burns (1759 – 1796) was one of the significant literary figures of 18th & 19th century Scotland. He wrote literary forms, crossing his local dialect with English – a ploughman with more education than most and a way with words. He reinvigorated our Scots’ national identity at the time and continues to do so. A contemporary of Voltaire, Goldsmith and Goethe, he wrote poems and songs which became, and are still, a expressive part of Scottish culture.

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Here’s my friend Naomi striking the pose in The National Portrait Gallery. (She too has a prodigious memory for songs from her childhood.) The success of Burns’ first compilation, Poems, Chiefly in the Scots Dialect, made him the darling of Edinburgh society in 1786. He lived here for two years before returning to his native Ayrshire.

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Before he died in 1796 aged 37, Burns had written hundreds of songs and set many to old tunes. These made him even more feted across Scotland and internationally. He was the ‘Pete Seeger’ of his day and thought, for example, ‘There is a certain something in the old Scots songs, a wild happiness of thought and expression.’ (Letter to Mrs Dunlop of Dunlop 1790)

Many of the poet’s ‘pithy’ phrases had that certain something, are still used like proverbs. I’ve heard conversations closed with a summary quote from Burns like “Aye – the best laid plans o’ mice and men …!” Auld Lang Syne is sung the world o’er.  Many think of Burns still, as ‘Everyman’: a typical Scot, working-class, humanist, lover of Nature and Freedom: a champion of common sense, astute and yet romantic: always imagining a better world.

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One of the bard’s gentle rejoinders comes from the poem To a Louse“Oh would some power, the gift to give us, to see ourselves as others see us.” (i.e. The first line of the last verse in English … for the complete poem in Lowland Scots, click here)

As a saying, it pulls me back to reality. It’s a hard phrase to beat – as is my fellow traveller’s blog post about her Edinburgh experience.  Please click “A Guid Crack” to read Naomi’s impressions of a first visit to Scotland’s capital city.

Blogs really are a good way to express different points of view and entertain readers at the same time. They are a gift that can help us see ourselves as others see us.

Thanks, Naomi. Here’s to Wild happiness and more singing!

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All text (except links) and photos by Meg

Story Twigs the Imagination! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Sources : For more info, click these links

The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle ( Wikiwand)

Mull, Brett, “Construction of Culture: Robert Burns’ Contributions to Scottish National Identity” (2012). Undergraduate Honors Theses. Paper 271. University of Colorado.

Nemo me impune lacessit ( Wikiwand)

Robert Burns“. Poetry Foundation. Chicago, 2016. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.

Scots Language (Wikiwand)

Todd J. Wilkinson, Robert Burns and Freemasonry. Alexandra Burns Club, 14 November 2016. Web

Allan Woods, Robert Burns – Man, Poet and Revolutionary . 22 January 2009. Socialist Appeal International Marxist Tendency 14 November 2016 Web.

Music in Story

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To me, stories have their own beat and music. When I’m learning a traditional story, I like to listen to music from that part of the world. It helps me travel to that place in my imagination, get a feel for the rhythm of the words and sense the flow of the story.

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Celtic fiddle music gets me in the mood for Scottish tales. I never really believed that a fiddler would be stolen awa’ to play for the fairies (and be gone for a hundred years) until I heard and saw Alasdair Fraser play his fiddle. He had the audience (me included) up dancing wildly, with him off the stage and in the middle of us all! Talk about carried away! Magic! See the video clip of Alasdair playing on his website. Hull’s Reel starts at about 2:40 http://www.alasdairfraser.com/

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I did a singing workshop last year with Sue Hart, who has often visited and sung with the Baka People of Cameroon. Their vocal music, meant to imitate the sounds of birds in their forest, is mesmerising. Learning to sing in their way, I’m carried off to dusk in the native forests of that part of Africa.

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Mark Knophler’s guitar title track for the movie “Local Hero” is very up-lifting. I recall coming in to land at my local aiport, with this being played as ‘muzak’ in the cabin. All I could think of was that I was coming home. I was ecstatic by the time I walked into the terminal!

When I’ve told my version of Parsifal and the Holy Grail, I began by playing an excerpt of The Doors classic “Riders in the Storm” sung by Creed. It’s very atmospheric.

But, to me,  the truest of all sounds comes from old instruments –  as they were played in the times when the old stories were told. In mythology, Cheiron the Centaur sang and played a golden harp. He struck it with a golden key and “sang till his eyes glittered, and filled the cave with light.” (KINGSLEY, Charles. The Heroes)

One afternoon I went along to a local church to hear American harpist Anne Heymann and was transported back through centuries.

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She had six harps with her. But the most treasured was a replica an early Irish harp kept in Trinity College, Dublin. It’s strings were made of Australian silver coated, depending on their length, with 9ct to 24 carat gold.

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This master harper has a deep knowledge and love of the Celtic harp.

Listen to Anne Heymann playing an Italian piece ‘ Lamento di Tristano’ in St Patrick’s Church, Kilkenny, Ireland 2012

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifvXVaL-Ab4

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Here also is a Link to Downloads of soundtracks from Ann Heymann’s website

http://www.harpofgold.net/downloads.htm

Imagine that you are part of the gathering in King Nuada’s fort in ancient Ireland. Here is part of the story I have told this past year. Lugh is the gifted harper who transports his listeners with his music. These lyrical tales are meant to be accompanied by the harp.

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– Excerpt from from The Coming of Lugh From Gods and Fighting Men: The Story of the Tuatha De Danaan and the Fianna of Ireland by Lady Augustus Gregory (1904)

http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/cwt/cwt07.htm

“That is the harp of the Dagda. No one can bring music from that harp but himself. When he plays on it, the four Seasons -pring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter – pass over the earth.”

“I will play on it,” said Lugh.

The harp was given to him.

Lugh played the music of joy, and outside the dun the birds began to sing as though it were morning and wonderful crimson flowers sprang through the grass. Flowers that trembled with delight swayed and touched each other with a delicate faery ringing like silver bells. Inside the dun a subtle sweetness in the laughter filled the hearts of every one: it seemed to them that they had never known such gladness till that night.

Then Lugh played the music of sorrow. The wind moaned outside, and where the grass and flowers had been there was a dark sea of moving waters. The De Danaans within the dun bowed their heads on their hands and wept, like they had never wept for any grief before.

When Lugh played the music of peace, outside there fell silently a strange snow. Flake by flake it settled on the earth and changed to starry dew. Flake by flake, the quiet of the Land of the Silver Fleece settled in the hearts and minds of Nuada and his people: they closed their eyes and slept, each where they sat.

Lugh put the harp from him and stole out of the dun (fort). The snow was still falling outside. It settled on his dark cloak and shone like silver scales; it settled on the thick curls of his hair and shone like jewelled fire; it filled the night about him with white radiance.”

Such is the power of the harp.

HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Text, except quote, and photos © Meg Philp under Australia Law.

Story Twigs …! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

 

With a Little Help from the Brownies

Before the start of the year, it’s feels good to have a clear-out, a de-clutter and give-away, recycle or dump. It was my mother’s custom to have the house spick and span for the New Year. She would even go out in the snow to clean the downstairs windows! I found myself thinking of her as I cleaned out cupboards recently.

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As I washed down walls, I thought of all the years of housework mum put in. At the time, I was muttering that I could do with a little help. Shame I didn’t have any Brownies in the house.

But sometimes I feel someone’s watching me as I work. Where’s that Blu-tac?IMG_1603

In Scottish folklore, it was believed that the wee folk, Brownies,
would sometimes move into a home and help with house-work. These hob-goblins were very shy and worked at night when the household was asleep, sweeping, washing dishes, keeping things clean and tidy. According to a story in Duncan Williamson’s collection The Coming of the Unicorn, they were small men, in old shabby clothes, often with a long white beard and the most arresting, blues eyes you could ever see.  The only payment they required was a bowl of porridge with milk, left out at night by the hearth.

If you forgot, the Brownie could let you know by making a mess in the house, breaking dishes and the like.  If you offered money, it was considered an insult and they quit the place.

In “The Broonie’s Farewell” Duncan tells of just such an event when the farmer’s wife leaves out a new set of clothes for the Brownie who had helped their farm to flourish. The farmer kept the clothes their Broonie left behind for years, hoping the he’d return.

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In English foklore, Brownies were most likely to help with animals and crops on the farm, sleep in the barn by day, and work by night. Like the Scottish Brownie, they liked to be thanked, with their bowl of porridge, but never be paid.

I wished for a Brownie in the house and remembered I had been one,  joining the local pack, like this, at the age of seven.

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Baden-Powell, who had founded the Scouting movement, co-opted the Scottish Brownie, to create an alternative group for girls. (Thank goodness the Rosebuds idea didn’t stick.) Their sworn promise was …  ” “to help other people at all times, especially those at home.”

Each weekly meeting, we’d all skip around a papier-mache toadstool and sing, ”We’re the Brownies here’s our aim, lend a hand and play the game.” We were taught all sorts of useful skills, like how to light a gas stove and the order to wash dishes in.  For me, the best bit about the Brownies was learning to sing lots of rounds and silly songs.

In my group of six, we also had our own song “Look out! Here we are the jolly Pixies helping others when in fixes” – which rings prophetic if you’ve read the my first post in this blog.

Multi-purpose

According to folklore, they do say some Brownies went bad and turned into boggarts – big, strong limbed, evil looking, creatures doing damage and causing mayhem wherever they lived. They were aggressive and challenged any humans they encountered to a competition, some game of strength, and if you couldn’t beat them, they’d eat you!

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I’ve read several  boggarts’ tales in Alan Garner’s book A Bag of Moonshine. These teach the reader how to use their wits if they should encounter such a beast. Is that a Boggart?

 I’m sure there‘s a Boggart bothering me at work –  in the computer program I have to use. I was at at my wits end with it last week. So I’m reverting to what I learned as a Brownie, not sure what to do next? Let’s sing!

Join in with  In the Brownies! on YouTube – Billy Connelly’s parody of a well-known hit in the 70s. I won’t put the link here because of Copyright but watch it and sing along –  that just might help the Boggart in my computer decide to revert to being a helpful brownie again …

With thanks to Irene for the image of her Brownie pack.

All Words and other Images by Meg Philp.

Story Twigs … ! this blog by Meg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.