Those Awful Stone Steps

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Picking up her long skirts, Matilda climbed the stone steps, alternately cursing her aching knees and muttering unseemly criticisms of her husband. Why he couldn’t be like other men and have his workplace on the ground floor instead of eight storeys up, she couldn’t imagine. And just because he was a wizard didn’t mean she should wait on him hand and foot. Forty-five years she’d had of this, and enough was enough. Had the man no consideration for her age? She’d give him a piece of her mind once she got up there.

‘What can I do for you, my dear?’ Mordo said, frowning as she entered his domain.

Matilda glared at him. ‘You sent for me, remember?’

Mordo still looked perplexed. ‘Then, since you’re here, a small favour, if you will.’

‘Make it quick, I’ve an errand to run. And while I’m at it, we need to get a servant to run up and down those st–’

‘This is my latest potion, my dear,’ Mordo said, cutting her off as he held up a small vial of purple liquid. ‘Anyone who imbibes will look and feel at least fifteen years younger. I tried it on the oldest of my cats and there she is now…’

Matilda gasped at the sight of the small black kitten playing with a ball of red wool. ‘That’s surely not old Nightshade…?’ she said, bending to pick up the tiny creature. ‘She’s nineteen years old, and could hardly walk when I saw her this morning.’

‘The very reason I used her in my experiment, dear wife. Her legs had given up and she was at Death’s door, if truth be told. Now look at her.’

Matilda was duly impressed. ‘I don’t suppose your potion would work on humans, would it…?’

‘I don’t see why not. In fact, that’s exactly why I created it. I’m about to try it on myself and wanted you to observe the transformation – just in case anyone who sees me after today should think me an impostor and not Mordo at all.’

‘You mean you’re about to make yourself look younger and leave me in this rickety state. Not blinkin’ likely!’  Matilda’s drooping bosoms heaved as her indignation soared. ‘If you drink it, then so do I!’

‘Very well. Would you like to be first, or shall I? Or shall we drink together and witness each other regaining at least a smattering of youthfulness?’

Matilda considered the question. If he went first there was the possibility of him not leaving any for her. ‘Divide it into two and we’ll drink together.’

Mordo did as bidden and handed her a glass. ‘Here’s to renewed youth and vigour and the start of an exciting life!’ he yelled, raising his glass and tipping back his head.’

Matilda swallowed her potion down in one and swept her sleeve across her wet lips. ‘Ooh, I don’t like the taste of that! Could do with more sugar, if you ask me and…’

‘You were saying, dearest…?’  Mordo said, as his wife’s glass smashed on the stone floor and he placed his own untouched potion on the table. He congratulated himself as his wife began to shrink, and thought he’d die from laughing as she sprouted black feathers and an orange beak.’

‘There, there, now, my ugly little bird’, he cooed, as he grabbed the squawking crow. ‘My tower is no place for a creature like you. I’ll soon have a prettier songbird installed in your stead…

‘And you, dear Matilda,’ he said as he approached the high tower’s open window, ‘can nest in a place where your voice will be appreciated. I believe there’s a murder of crows nesting in the old oak at the edge of the meadow. And just think, my dear,’ he added as he thrust her out, ‘you’ll never have to climb those awful stone steps again.’

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I starting writing this story for a prompt on FFfAW a few months ago. The prompt was provided by Joy Pixley and showed a wooden staircase. Before I’d written more than a few sentences, I realised I needed more than 175 words to make this particular tale work. So I abandoned it and wrote something else, which can be viewed here. Recently, I decided to finish this one off, and as I haven’t had time to write a flash fiction for this week, I’m posting this instead. It weighs in at 646 words.

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A Fun Day at Warwick Castle – Part 3

This is my third and last post about Warwick Castle in Warwickshire UK, which we visited in August 2015. This time I’d like to show some photos of the event we actually went to Warwick to see: the joust.

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The joust is one of the seasonal attractions at Warwick Castle, the others being demonstrations of the trebuchet (pronounced treb-you-shay) in action, birds of prey shows and many others. Events do change from year to year, and not all are held in the summer holidays. During other school holidays, like half-term and Easter, several events are put on, especially ones for children (or ‘little warriors’). This year (2017) in both May and September, there will be ‘The Wars of the Roses Live’, which I’d like to try to get to! There’s also a Kingmakers Medieval Banquet in February. Here’s a link to the officials Castle Events Guide for this year.

All  spectators were seated on the grass at the opposite side of the river, which is a fair way back from the action, and as none of us apart from Louise had a decent zoom on our cameras, I’m afraid the photos aren’t too wonderful. Nor did it help that people kept bobbing up in front of us, but as most of them were children, they’re forgiven. It was a fun event, made even better by the lovely sunny weather (which has to have an obligatory mention for any outdoor event in Britain!) – not to mention the handsome and chivalrous knights, who kindly made themselves available for interacting with spectators afterwards.

Here are a few more photos:

Around the castle site a number of medieval siege weapons can be seen, the main ones being the trebuchet and the mangonel. The Warwick trebuchet is the biggest in the world Both of these siege engines were used for hurling a variety of projectiles/objects over castle walls as part of the attack – including rocks, burning missiles (fireballs), disease-infected carcasses of slaughtered animals,  and even the heads of slain enemies. Here are a couple of photos of each:

These weapons deserve more time than I can give them here to describe and talk about. But on some days, the main event at Warwick is a demonstration of how the trebuchet works, so to finish with, here’s a 2 minute video from YouTube of one demonstration. It was uploaded by Bob Astill in 2011:

That’s all about Warwick Castle for now.

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A Fun Day at Warwick Castle – Part 2

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View of the courtyard from the motte-and-bailey

In Part 1 of this post, I wrote about the construction and design of the various buildings that have become the Warwick Castle we see today. In this post I’d like to show some of the fun activities laid on at the time of our visit in August 2015 and a few of the displays and waxworks inside parts of the castle.

First, here’s the plan of the castle again for easy reference if need be:

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The first thing we noticed on the gloriously sunny day we drove out to Warwick was the number of stalls and activities set up both in the outer ward (outside the curtain wall) and around the courtyard:

Warwick Castle was bought by The Madame Tussauds Group in 1978 and opened as a major tourist attraction. Throughout the summer holidays, fun events and activities are staged at the Castle, all aimed at attracting and entertaining families and hopefully, helping children to develop an interest in history. Entry isn’t free, nor is the castle owned/managed by either the National Trust or English Heritage, and families with several children would find it an expensive day out. In addition, there’s an extra fee for anyone wanting to enter the dungeon in Caesar’s Tower. A little about the dungeon later…

Most of the permanent displays are set out in the Great Hall, State Rooms and family apartments inside the collection of buildings along the eastern side of the castle, flanked by the River Avon. The waxwork figures are impressive, to say the least. These two photos show the inner/courtyard side of the buildings  along the east side of the castle and a close-up of the entrance, which takes us into the State Rooms and many displays:


The first place we come to is the Great Hall. This was originally built in the 13th century, then rebuilt in the 17th century for visiting guests of the Earl of Warwick. It was further restored in 1871 following a great fire which left it in ruin. The displays in here are all connected with weapons and armour:

Next we headed to the rooms in the undercroft devoted to ‘The Kingmaker’, Richard Neville (1428-71). Neville was  the 16th Earl of Warwick, who took command of the castle in 1449. He was a good administrator who did much to modernise and improve the castle, and in the second half of the 15th century he became the most powerful man in Britain. The exhibits describe his life and subsequent death at the Battle of Barnet. They also show his life at the castle, as well as the lives of others who lived there. Here’s a selection of the many photos we took – some of which were ruined by glary lights.

I won’t include photos of the various State Rooms here (i.e. rooms such as the formal dining room) just a few photos taken in the adjacent family rooms, which displayed events and characters from A Royal Weekend Party. This was a party given/organised by Frances (fondly known as ‘Daisy’) Countess of Warwick in 1898. The principal guest was the then Prince of Wales, later Edward V111. It is believed that the Prince of Wales’ infatuation with Daisy was the inspiration for the song that starts:

Daisy, Daisy. give me your answer do

The song was written by English songwriter Harry Dacre (pen-name of Frank Dean) in 1892;

And this is a cute little YouTube video of the famous song, from kidsmusicshop1:

To finish this post, here’s a little bit about the gaol and dungeon inside Caesar’s Tower:

The rooms inside Caesar’s Tower are interesting to visit, although it was only permitted as part of a guided tour – and cost an extra £9.00 to get in. We were led round various rooms to watch a series of short dramatizations – some of which were a bit gory (all pretend!). One was in a torture chamber and another was a medical ‘operation’! Yet another was a medieval court scene whereby a judge pronounced ridiculously unjust punishments on prisoners who had supposedly committed some small crime – like stealing a cabbage. Needless to say, members of the audience were picked to play these unfortunate prisoners (my husband being one of them!). It was just a shame that photography wasn’t allowed.

Eventually we headed underground to the dungeon. This was similar to most dungeons I’ve seen elsewhere, with very little light and graffiti on the walls from prisoners of centuries ago. And awful torture chambers.

This image is from Wikipedia:

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A gibbet on display in the basement of Caesar’s Tower at Warwick Castle. Author: Chensiyuan. Creative Commons

Apologies for the glary patch on this information board!

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But the most interesting thing in this dungeon was this:

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This grille on the dungeon floor is the opening into what is called an oubliette – a very chilling thing indeed. Any unfortunate prisoner put into to this tiny space – not even big enough for him to stand up in – was effectively forgotten and left there to die.

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In the third post about Warwick Castle, I’ll eventually get round to writing about the event we actually went to Warwick to see: the joust.

*****

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A Fun Day Out at Warwick Castle – Part 1

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East Front from the Outer Court, 1752. Painted by Canaletto (1697-1768). Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Originally uploaded by Gillian Tipson at English Wikipedia. Public Domain.

I last visited Warwick Castle on a family day out in August, 2015, and have been meaning to write a post about it since then. Well, here’s the first part (it would be far too long as a single post and is likely to end up being three!). Louise – aka @afairymind – shared some of her photos from the day on her blog, ages ago. I’m just late with mine, as usual.

Warwick (pronounced Warrick) is one of the most famous and well-visited castles in England. It is also one of the most complete medieval fortresses in Britain. I’ve visited the castle several times, some of those with classes of Year 7 students aiming to decide how they’d attack and defend this great structure – and the weapons they’d choose to do it. But, I digress… so back to describing the place.

Warwick Castle is situated on a sandstone cliff along a bend in the River Avon in the town of Warwick, in Warwickshire:location-of-warwick-castle

The history of the castle site goes back to the time of King Alfred’s daughter, Aethellflaed /Ethelfleda who established a fortified burh* here – one of ten aimed at defending Mercia from invading Danes. But the actual castle came into existence following the Norman Conquest of 1066. In 1068, William the Conqueror ordered a motte-and-bailey castle* to be built on the site in order to maintain control of the Midlands as he advanced northwards. It can be seen on the plan below, labelled as the Castle Mound, and I’ll add a photo of it later, with other views from the Courtyard.

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Here are a few photos of the castle from the outside, which you’ll probably be able to place on the map. (Photos of the mound are from the courtyard, and are show later).

A word about the Gatehouse and Barbican…

The entrance to a castle was usually the main target for attacking forces, so it stands to reason that this should be as heavily fortified as possible. At Warwick, the barbican* (definition below and shown on the above plan) was the ‘Killing Zone’. If attackers managed to get through the outer gateway – a drawbridge in earlier days, plus the portcullis, they would have to face an iron portcullis and a heavy door at the inner end as well. Once trapped in there, usually by the crush of their own men piling in from behind, defending soldiers would fire arrows and pour boiling liquids down on them through the ‘murder holes’ above. This is a photo taken inside the barbican, looking out through the outer portcullis. It’s from Louise’s collection (thestorytellersabode) from our day out. My photos were far too glary, so Lou kindly offered me hers.

view-through-gatehouse

Following Norman times, the castle has a long history of ownership, rebuilding and extension. Although it’s interesting, I don’t intend to go into it all here! In this post (Part 1) I want to show some photos of the castle itself. The main displays to be seen in the State Rooms, and the events on that day, will be in Parts 2 and 3.

Here are a few views of inside the castle taken from the Courtyard:

And here are some of Guy’s Tower – a twelve sided, 39m high, five-storey structure built into the curtain walls in 1395 (Caesar’s Tower, the first to be added to the walls, was built in 1350).The tower contains a sitting room and two side rooms – a garderobe (toilet) and probably a bedroom. During the Civil War, Warwick Castle was held by parliamentarians and the towers were used to house royalist prisoners. The exhibits in Guy’s Tower are mostly armaments connected to this period:

To finish off, here are few views taken up in the towers or along the battlements. Some are of the town of Warwick beyond, others are views of the inner courtyard and buildings around it.

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  • Burh An Old English fortified settlement
  • A motte-and-bailey castle consists of a mound – on which usually stands a keep or tower – and a bailey, which is an enclosed courtyard.
  • “A barbican is a fortified outpost or gateway, such as an outer defence to a city or castle, or any tower situated over a gate or bridge which was used for defensive purposes.” Definition from Wikipedia.
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Happier Times for Mum – FFFAW

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Happier Times for Mum

It had to be here, somewhere…! It was in his pocket a minute ago, then he’d taken it out to look at – and must have put it back in the wrong pocket. The one with the hole in it! He had to find it. Mum deserved something pretty on her birthday.

Jamie knew she’d been lonely since Dad had left, but didn’t know how to help. Dad had a new family now and forgotten all about him and Mum.

‘This what you’re looking for, son?’

Jamie spun round to see a nice-looking man holding out the shiny brooch. ‘Thanks mister! I thought I’d lost it, good and proper!’

The man grinned. ‘It was in a puddle back there, just waiting to be found. You Julie Henderson’s lad?’

‘You know my mum?’

‘Known each other for years – same school, same office… I’m on my way to invite you both out for a birthday dinner tonight.’

‘She’d love that … and so would  I,’ Jamie said, hoping this was the start of happier times for Mum.

Word Count: 174

***

This is my story for Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers, a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It asks us to write a story from a given photo prompt in 100-150 words, give or  take 25. If you’d like to join in, follow the above link to see what to do. The challenge runs from Tuesday – Tuesday every week.

This week’s prompt was kindly provided by Jessica Haines. Thank you, Jessica!

***

To read other stories or add a story yourself, click on the little blue frog:

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The Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds

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On Sunday we headed up to Leeds in West Yorkshire for another visit to the Royal Armouries Museum. It’s a 70 mile journey from where we live near Newark and took us about an hour and twenty minutes. We’ve been to the museum a few times now, and it’s always an enjoyable visit – and despite (or perhaps because of) it being only January, the place was pretty busy.

The Royal Armouries is the UK’s national museum of arms and armour and one of the most important museums of its type in the world. The core collection has its origins in the country’s working arsenal in the Tower of London, as far back as the Middle Ages. The collection of approximately 75,000 items – excluding 2,7000 on loan – is housed and displayed at three sites: the collection’s historic home at the Tower of London, the purpose-built building in Leeds, and at Fort Nelson, near Portsmouth in Hampshire.

Situated close to the city centre, the museum is among many buildings built in the same era (mid 1990s) which saw a rejuvenation of the area now known as Leeds Dock. The actual Leeds Dock forms the junction of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal and the Aire-Calder navigation. Good views of these waterways and the connecting lock, can seen from the different floors inside the museum:

The exhibits are spread over five floors. Once through the main entrance, the ground floor consists of main passage through to the Hall of Steel. To either side of the passage are a theatre and meeting rooms as well as the first of two cafes (the other is on the second floor) and the souvenir shop:

At the far end of the ground floor is the Hall of Steel, a steel and glass tower described in the guide book as ‘the architectural centrepiece of the Royal Armouries’. The stairs to the different floors circle around inside it (and through which the best views of the waterways can be had).

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The displays around the central stairwell are excellent and consist mainly of weapons and armour from the 17th century.

Floor 1 consisted of the Education Centre, Library and Wellington Suite – so we hurried on to Floor 2:

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Looking down at the ground floor from floor 2.

Floors 2 and 3 are all devoted to War, with displays of weapons and armour over time and how they changed. This is the entrance to the War Gallery on Floor 2:

There are far too many exhibits to show or talk about here, but I’ll show a few of them. The  exhibits in the following set are all connected to Henry V111. His suit of armour is always a talking point (re.the codpiece) as is the horned helmet that was given to him by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian 1 (1459-1519) after the defeat of the French at the Battle of Spurs.

The next set is a mixture of other items and displays of interest on Floors 2 and 3. The mounted men from the central display are all men of arms from different countries and times:

On Floor 4 is the fascinating Oriental Gallery. This is a mix of warriors, arms and weapons from several countries, including Turkey, India, China and Japan. Again, here are just a few of the photos we took. I’ve included an elephant used for hunting as well as a war elephant:

Floor 5 continues the theme of hunting started on Floor 4. There are displays of guns and other weapons used for hunting, as well as actual hunting models. I don’t like any form of hunting, nor do I take any interest in guns, which I also dislike. But here are a few photos:

I could only show a mere fraction of the enormous number of exhibits at the Armouries Museum, and many of the photos we took were useless because of the glare from the lights. Most displays were behind glass, which made it even worse, so please excuse the glary pictures. My favourite galleries were the Medieval ones. And Henry V111’s codpiece is a hoot.

And here’s some food for thought from a wall display in the museum:

einstein-quote

 

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Country Boy – FFFAW

Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers is a writing challenge hosted by Priceless Joy. It involves writing a piece of fiction from a given photo prompt in 100-150 words, give or  take 25. If you’d like to join in with the challenge, follow the above link to see what to do. The challenge runs from Tuesday – Tuesday every week.

Here’s this week’s prompt, kindly provided by Singledust. Thank you, Gina.

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And this is my story – very late this week:

 Country Boy

Suyin scurried past the Red Dragon, the festive lanterns belying the sordidness inside. She prayed Jianyu wouldn’t see her amidst the crowds: with luck he’d be fawning over the drug lords, whose money had made him rich. His second restaurant would open next month.

‘Not bad for a country boy,’ he’d boasted, so many times.

They’d saved for years to make Jianyu’s dream come true. How happy they’d been running the restaurant … until those men had walked in. Drug dealing had changed the man Suyin had once loved; the bruises he dealt were increasingly hard to hide.

Suyin hurried on to catch her train. By tomorrow she’d be miles away, where Jianyu would never find her. Her backpack contained clothes and other essentials – as well as a bag filled with her wages from the part-time job she’d held for the last three years. She had no particular destination in mind, other than somewhere out west, deep in the country…

Far away from the country boy in the city.

Word Count: 170

*

To read other stories or add a story yourself, click on the little blue frog:

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Book Promotion: Shadow of the Raven

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Just a quick post to say that the eBook version of Book 1 of my Sons of Kings trilogy, Shadow of the Raven, is free for today only (Thursday, January 26). Every download would be greatly appreciated.

For more detail about what the book is about, click the link to my newly created My Books page.

Here are the links to the books on:

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon.com.au

Every download would be greatly appreciated. 🙂

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What is Burns Night?

Robert Burns, 1787. Source unknown. Author originally Alexander Nasmyth, 1758 - 1840. Public Domain

Robert Burns, 1787. Source unknown. Author originally Alexander Nasmyth, 1758 – 1840. Public Domain

Burns Night is held on or near the birthday of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns (1759-1796) on January 25th. It is a celebration of the poet’s life and poetry – and is celebrated in countries worldwide, generally wherever Scottish people have settled over the years. It’s a night for celebrating Scotland’s national poet, Robert (Rabbie) Burns, by eating a lot, drinking a lot of whisky and partying! Celebrations range from ceilidhs to whisky tasting and Burns Suppers.

Before I go on about what happens at a Burns Supper, here’s a cute little YouTube video about Robert Burns himself from aboutscotland:

The video is nice and simple but it does leave out a lot of detail about Burns’ life and poetry – and the fact that in 2009, Burns was chosen as the greatest Scot by the Scottish public in a vote run by Scottish TV channel STV – narrowly beating William (Braveheart) Wallace. Nor does it tell us that Rabbie Burns was the eldest of seven children. (Only one brother is mentioned in the video.)

The first Burns Supper was held at Burns Cottage (where the poet was born) by Burns’ friends on the 21st July 1801 – the fifth anniversary of his death. They have been a regular occurrence ever since. Suppers can be simple gatherings to big formal dinners.

Burns Cottage in Alloway. Transferred to de. Wikipedia by Malisin. Creative Commons

Burns Cottage (now a museum) in Alloway. Transferred to de.Wikipedia by Maksim. Creative Commons

A formal dinner often involves a piper to welcome the guests until the high table is ready to be seated. This is followed by a round of applause and the chairperson’s welcome and outline of the evening’s entertainments.  Next comes the Selkirk Grace, also known as the Burns Grace at Kirkudbright (pronounced ker-koo-bree). These are the words to the prayer:

The Selkirk Grace

Some hae meat and canna eat

And some wad eat that want it

But we hae meat and we can eat

And sae the Lord be thankit.

The prayer is followed by the piping in of the haggis:

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RCMP Pipes and Drums Band piping in the Haggus (not a typo!) at their annual Burns Supper. Author Gleniarson. Creative Commons

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Haggis at a Burn’s Supper. Author: Kim Traynor. Creative Commons.

The address is in the form of a poem (aptly called Address to a Haggis) written by Burns in 1786. During the recital, the reader has a knife poised ready, and he cuts the casing along the length, making sure to spill out some of the gore. The recital ends with the reader raising the haggis in triumph during the final line as he yells, ‘Gie her a haggis!’ (the ‘her’ in this case being Scotland).

Cutting a haggis at a Burns Supper. Author: Kim Traynor. Creative Commons

Doctor Bob Purdie addressing the haggis during Burns Supper, Columba’s United Reformed Church, Oxford, 20004. Author: Kaihsu at English Wikipedia. Creative Commons.

The following video, uploaded to YouTube by Richard200sx, shows the piping in of the haggis, followed by quite a lengthy address. I’m sure many people, other than Scots, will have a hard time understanding what the ‘reader’ is saying, but as the poem is eight verses long, I’m only putting a translation of verse one here, with a link to the Wiki page for the rest for anyone interested.

 Address to a Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!
Aboon them a’ yet tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’a grace
As lang’s me arm.

Translation:

Nice seeing your honest, chubby face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Belly, tripe, or links:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.

Link to full translation here.

So now we all know that a haggis is just a big sausage!

A toast is then made to the haggis: ‘The haggis!’ At some of the larger events, the piper leads the procession carrying the opened haggis to the kitchen for serving to the appreciative clapping of the audience.

So what, exactly, is haggis is made of?

Although recipes vary slightly, the main ingredients of this Scottish dish seem to be a sheep’s stomach or ox cecum (found at the junction of the small and large intestine) for the outer bag. The inner stuffing is made up of the heart and lungs of a lamb (or calf’s offal) mixed with oatmeal and sometimes suet, and seasonings.

Not something  everyone would love – but there are many who do.

Haggis on a garnished platter with a knife used to cut it open in the "Address" to a haggis at a Burns Supper in Rochester, Minnesota. Author: Jonathunder. Creative Commons

Haggis on a garnished platter with a knife used to cut it open in the “Address” to a haggis at a Burns Supper in Rochester, Minnesota. Author: Jonathunder. Creative Commons

The actual meal consists of various courses, each served with plenty of wine or sometimes ale.  It generally starts with soup. This can be a Scottish broth, or sometimes cock-a-leekie. The main course, the haggis, is served with ‘tatties and neeps’ (potatoes and turnips):

Haggis served with tatties and neeps (turnips) at an Edinburgh Burns Supper in 201. Author: Kim Traynor. Creative Commons

Haggis served with tatties and neeps (turnips) at an Edinburgh Burns Supper in 201. Author: Kim Traynor. Creative Commons

The haggis itself is served with a whisky sauce, which is actually neat whisky!

Dessert is usually a typically Scottish recipe, such as cranachan  – made of whipped cream, whisky, honey and fresh raspberries, with toasted oatmeal soaked  in a little whisky.

"The Best Scottish Dessert" - Cranachan. Author: Saskia van de Nienwenhof from Edinburgh. Creative Commons

“The Best Scottish Dessert” – Cranachan. Author: Saskia van de Nienwenhof from Edinburgh. Creative Commons

Another popular dessert is tipsy laird (whisky trifle). Whichever is chosen, it is followed by oatcakes (bannocks) and cheese, all washed down with ‘uisge beatha’ – the water of life (i.e. Scotch whisky) and often coffee.

The rest of the evening is filled with entertainments, including singers and musicians performing Burns’ poetry. A speech is given on the life and literary genius of Rabbie Burns – and of course, his nationalism.

Further toasts and readings of Rabbie’s poems follow, as well as an ‘Addresss to the Lassies’. Originally, this was a short speech given by a male guest to thank the women who had prepared the meal. Nowadays it often includes the male speaker’s view on women – in an inoffensive and amusing way, of course. It is promptly followed by a response from a female speaker called an ‘Address to the Laddies’. This is delivered in similar, humorous vein to the male address.

The evening ends with a vote of thanks for the chair – who is often very unsteady on his feet by now. The guests are all asked to sing Auld Land Syne.

I’ve never attended a Burns Supper, but it seems I’ve been missing out here! I’m not sure I could stomach haggis (excuse the pun) and I’d have to request wine instead of whisky (even the smell of whisky knocks me out). But it does look a great evening’s entertainment.

This final picture is of Robert Burns’ house in Dumfries, where he spent the last years of his life. He died in 1796 at the age of 37.

Burns' house in Dumfries. Author: MSDMSD. Creative Commons

Burns’ house in Dumfries. Author: MSDMSD. Creative Commons

*****

Refs:
BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/robertburns/burns_night_running_order.shtml
Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burns_supper
Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Burns
Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cranachan
Robert Burns signature used for header image, from the above wiki link to Robert Burns. The image is Public Domain.

Posted in Customs and Traditions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

A Fairy Story

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Fairy Ring

‘Where did these come from, Mam?’ Six-year-old Tommy squatted down, pointing at the cluster of little white-capped plants growing along the fence at the back of their garden.

Rose smiled at her son’s puzzled face. ‘They’re toadstools, Tommy, and we find them in lots of places – like fields and woods, and even on people’s lawns.’ She gazed over the fence into the dense forest beyond, wondering yet again whether moving to the Highlands of Scotland had been such a good idea. Tommy already missed his friends in Edinburgh. But her husband’s job in the Forestry Commission had given them no choice.

‘I bet there are plenty of toadstools in there,’ Rose continued, hoisting the child up so he could see over the fence. ‘Lots of fairies and elves, too.’

‘Do fairies like toadstools?’

They love them,’ Rose said, lowering him to the ground. ‘Sometimes they dance amongst them and make them into circles called fairy rings. Doesn’t that sound fun?’

Tommy shrugged. ‘I’ve never seen a fairy ring, so I don’t know.’

‘Well, fairy rings are magical places for the little folk, but if humans step inside them, they could become trapped by fairy magic, and might never get out again.’

‘That’s silly, Mam. Fairies only help people.’

‘And how do you know that?’

‘Because the fairy who visits me when I’m in bed says she’ll take me to a magic place to find new friends, if I want. She knew I was sad about leaving my old ones in Edinburgh without me even telling her!’

Rose stared at her precious son. ‘Tommy, this fairy … what does she look like?’

‘Her name’s Elvira, and I’ve seen her this many times.’ Tommy held out his small hand, fingers splayed. ‘And she looks like you, Mam, except she’s tiny and has wings. They’re really cool!’

Rose’s stomach lurched. That her twin should wheedle her way into Tommy’s affections just to get to her was unbelievable. ‘Tommy, promise me that if Elvira asks you to go with her, you won’t go.’

‘But I’ve promised I’d go tonight… Just for a bit.’

Rose’s mind whirled. ‘Did Elvira say where this magical place was?’

‘I don’t think it’s far because she said we’d be back very soon.’

‘Well, that’s alright, then,’ Rose assured him, her mind working fast.

‘Thanks, Mam!’ Tommy yelled. ‘I can’t wait for tonight.’

*

The grandfather clock in the hall struck midnight, its chimes rousing Tommy from his sleep. Elvira hovered before him in a halo of fairy light.

‘Ready for an adventure?’ she asked. ‘The fairy folk are gathering.’

Tommy nodded, his excitement mounting.

‘Then close your eyes and don’t open them again until I say so.’

Watching from atop the wardrobe, Rose was on their trail as soon as Elvira waved her wand. Within moments they’d reached a glade in the forest where the fairies were gathering, all dancing around a fairy ring. Perched on a leafy branch, she watched as Tommy joined in. He looked so happy when Elvira led him into the ring and danced with him awhile. But then she darted out, leaving him alone and confused. He tried to follow, but the ring confined him as effectively as prison bars.

Looking pleased with herself, Elvira joined her companions.

Rose fumed, knowing that confrontation was now inevitable. But first, Tommy must be freed. Unseen by the frolicking fairies, she flew into the ring from the opposite side to where they were gathered around Elvira.

‘Why’ve you locked me in here?’ Tommy wailed, mistaking his mother for her twin. ‘I don’t like being on my own.’

No time for explanations, Rose waved her wand and within moments, Tommy was sleeping soundly in his bed.

Rose descended into the middle of the gathering and the crowds shrank back. It was some moments before Elvira realised that silence had fallen. She turned, her expression one of guilt-laden surprise at what she saw. In a panic, she glanced at the fairy ring.

‘Tommy’s in his bed, where he’s supposed to be, Elvira. How you thought you could get away with this is beyond me. And I know what it’s all about – so don’t bother to explain. Mother’s expecting me tomorrow. I contacted her earlier and explained my position.’

Fury blackened Elvira’s face and she shot a bolt of magic at her twin. Rose reeled from the blast, but recovered quickly to return a blast of her own.

As the elder of the twins, Rose was the more powerful: Elvira’s magic could never compete. ‘For your information, Elvira, I don’t want the throne.’ The onlookers gasped. No princess had ever refused the fairy throne. ‘I’ll tell Queen Isadora that myself, tomorrow. You see, sister, my new family is here. If I returned to the Fairy Kingdom without them, I would slowly die. You are very capable of becoming the next queen, Elvira. Our people love you very much…

‘Besides,’ she whispered, ‘when I wave my wand, no one here will remember tonight’s events. They’ll continue to dance around the ring, just as they’ve always done.’

Elvira nodded and smiled sincerely. ‘Thank you, Rose. It seems I acted hastily. I had assumed that after ignoring us for years, you’d just fly back in and claim the throne. I’ve worked hard for our kingdom, and know I can rule wisely as queen.’

‘Then let’s dance to that,’ Rose said, holding out her hands. ‘I haven’t danced round a fairy ring in a long time.’

Rose flew back home, content that all would be well. Assuming her human form, she checked Tommy before climbing into her own bed. Robert was still in a trance-like sleep and she clicked her fingers to break the spell. In a couple of hours, Rob would awaken normally. And tomorrow, they would continue to come to terms with their new home in the Scottish Highlands … after she’d made her case to her illustrious mother.

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Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to write a flash fiction for FFfAW this week, so I’m posting this story instead – which is from my book A Dash of Flash. At 988 words, it’s much longer that the usual 175 word maximum for the challenge, but still within the limit for flash fiction (i.e. 1000 words). I enjoyed writing it, too, because I love fairy stories.

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Posted in Creative Writing, Flash Fiction | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments