Welcome to Green Man

Everything that interests us as a diverse group of individuals will get attention here, be it Rock and RollIrish music, Nordic live music, a  jazz or classical recording, tarot decks,  Folkmanis puppetsmanor house mysteries and science fiction novels, action figures such as that of Spider-Man, the new Doctor Who series, fiction inspired by folklore, sf filmsegg nog recipes,  ymmmy street foodchocolatewhisky and cookbooks

Stories about the Kinrowan Estate will show up every Wednesday, be it Gus the Estate Head Gardener talking about pumpkins; Reynard, our Manager of the Green Man Pub located in Kinrowan Hall, sharing stories; Zina on the Neverending Session and Midsummer as well; or even Iain, our Librarian, talking about life there such as the Several Annies, his Library Apprentices. You’ll see material from The Sleeping Hedgehog, the in-house newsletter for our staff, such as Lady Alexandra Margaret Quinn, Estate Gardener here in the Victorian Era, on a tree spirit. You might even meet Hamish, one of the current hedgehogs living in the Library who sleep the Winter away in a basket near the fireplace in the New Library. There’s even stories about the felines here. And you’ll also get to hear music here every week such as Michele Walther and Irina Behrendt playing Aaron Copland’s ‘Hoe Down’  from his Rodeo album.

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What’s New for the 5th of February: Time travel stories, Fairport and related music, a desert island disc, graphic classics, an Alice in Wonderland adaptation, and lots of chocolate

Ravens bring things to people. We’re like that. It’s our nature. We don’t like it.― Peter S. Beagle’s A Fine and Private Place

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Breakfast was waiting for me as I came down the stairs. Canadian bacon sizzlimg in its pan, cheddar buttermilk biscuits warm in their basket, eggs ready to be cooked however I want them, bread sliced and ready to be toasted, and coffee standing ready to poured. Mind you it was noon when I sort of graced the Kitchen staff with my presence but it’d been a long night, as we’re hosting a curling tournament and they do love to drink so I assisted Reynard and Finch, his associate Pub manager, and we all worked late into the night.

I accepted the offer of a shot of Pappy Van Winkle straight up with my breakfast. The Coyotes, an American band that played here a few months back, had sent the Estate Steward several bottles of this superb bourbon in appreciation for the time they were here, along with a note that both I and Reynard should have one of the bottles. Though a whiskey drinker by choice, that particular bourbon is damn fine!

christmashollyEmily St. John Mandel’s Sea of Tranquility eventually overcame Gary’s doubts, he says. ‘I love a good time travel book. I wasn’t sure this was going to be one of those, but it eventually won me over. Emily St. John Mandel has followed up two best sellers – the 2014 post-apocalyptic dystopian sf novel Station Eleven and 2020’s crime thriller The Glass Hotel – with a best selling speculative fiction novel that explores two currently popular sf tropes, time travel anomalies and the simulation theory.’

Lis reviewed Jodi Taylor’s Doing Time (The Time Police #1): ‘Three new recruits have joined the Time Police, at what turns out to be a critical, and dangerous, moment in its own history. Jane Lockland finally had enough of being her grandmother’s unpaid servant. Matthew Farrell is the son of two leading historians at St. Mary’s, the Time Police’s nemesis organization. He wants to work on the Time Map. Luke Parrish is the son of a billionaire, who has tried his father’s patience too far, and been coerced into the Time Police. They are definitely Team Weird. They can’t even do their first “gruntwork” assignments in the approved way, and the fact that they do them anyway really ticks people off. This puts them in the line of fire of the traditionalists in the Time Police, who want to throw out not just them, but the reformers who are bringing in all this change, like being more conservative about use of shoot to kill orders against Time Police officers they disagree with…’

She continued with Alastair Reynolds’ Eversion: ‘Doctor Silas Coade is the Assistant Surgeon, i.e., the ship’s doctor, on a sailing ship in the 1800s, on an exploratory expedition to a previously inaccessible inlet in Norway, where there is believed to be an Edifice of remarkable character. Or is he on a steamship in the late 1800s, searching for a similar inlet, much farther south. Or an airship in Antarctica… Or is it something else? He’s writing a novel, a fantastic adventure, which is starting to track far too closely with the expedition(s), and every time, the voyage ends in terrible disaster. What’s really happening? And why are some of his companions also starting to remember alternate versions of events?’

She finished up with Anthony Weir’s Project Hail Mary: ‘It’s hard sf, a scientific mystery. It’s one man alone, on a one-way mission he never really agreed to. And it’s a first contact story. It’s the hard sf adventure I loved in the sixties and seventies, without the latent and sometimes blatant sexism. Ryland Grace is a scientist who found happiness as a middle school science teacher, and finds himself hijacked back into research to save our species from extinction, and into a one-way journey to Tau Ceti.’

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A while back Will Shetterly was so unimpressed with a movie that he just had to tell us about it. Well, he tried to, but … he kept getting in his own way. The movie? A live action film adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. ‘This would make an excellent movie for a home-editing kit. You get 129 minutes, and you could cut it down to a fun 90. Hint: Start by cutting the voice-over. I don’t always think voice-overs are a mistake, and it’s true there are a few clever bits in these voice-overs, but there aren’t enough to justify them.’

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Peanut butter chocolate cups are I think the best nibbles out there are and April has two great ones for us: ‘Founded by Paul Newman’s daughter Nell in 1993, and once a division of Newman’s Own, Newman’s Own Organics has been a separate company since 2001. Its focus is, unsurprisingly, on certified organic foods. The company provides a limited range of organic snacks, beverages, olive oil, vinegar and pet foods. Up for review are three of the five varieties of chocolate cup candy available: dark chocolate with peanut butter, milk chocolate with peanut butter and dark chocolate with peppermint.’

Reese’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups is next up for her: ‘I have a confession to make. Yes, I have a problem. And that problem’s name is Reese’s Peanut Butter cups. I’m the person at Hallowe’en who looks at the bowl of candy designated for trick or treaters and asks, plaintively, “Could we hold the Reese’s in reserve? Or at least hide them on the bottom of the bowl?” and who will blatantly pilfer from the bowl throughout the evening. And if there’s any left over? Bliss!’

Denise does something she never thought she’d do; review a confection made with – GASP! – milk chocolate.  The dark-chocolate-or-bust member of GMR dug into Justin’s Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, and didn’t mind them in the least. ‘The combination of smooth milk chocolate and that gritty, chewy, substantial peanut butter makes me reconsider my ennui over milk chocolate in general.’

She also digs into Lily’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups – 70% Cocoa, and seems to like what she’s found. ‘…this is about as guilt-free as you can get when you’re digging into a cheat day treat. Or an “I deserve this” treat. Or a “screw it I’m doing this” treat. You get the idea.’

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Elizabeth reviewed three graphic adaptations of classic novels published by Puffin Graphics – Red Badge of Courage, Black Beauty, and Frankenstein – with mixed results. ‘Of the three graphic novels reviewed in this omnibus, Gary Reed and Frazer Irving’s vision of Frankenstein is the best. Far from simply putting Mary Shelley’s words to images, the excellently adapted narrative by Gary Reed and cover art for Frankenstein the graphic novelgorgeously creative illustrations by Frazer Irving turn it into high art.’

christmashollyWe all know the phrase “desert island disc,” right? Gary reviews an album by two Barcelona musicians on accordion and violin by that very title, more or less: Clavellina d’Aire’s Músiques Per Emportar-Se A Illes Desertes (Music to take away to deserted islands). ‘For just two players and two instruments, Clavellina d’Aire packs quite a bit of entertaining variety into this well played, produced, and sequenced album. A strong set of folk-based music from Catalán.’

I tripped through the Archives looking for any Fairport Convention (and related) foundlings, and as you might expect turned up quite a trove.

Debbie conducted an email interview of our staffer in Australia, Michael Hunter, who was founder and editor of an antipodean Fairport Convention fanzine called Fiddlestix. It eventually grew into quite an enterprise, which included promoting Fairport shows in that country, and more. ‘It still amazes me to think that, over time, a fanzine which started life a little unsure of itself and its purpose has managed to achieve more than just the issue of a quarterly magazine. It has engendered the release of rare Fairport-related material with the Attic Tracks series, and indeed the Fairport compilation album Fiddlestix which was compiled by John Penhallow is effectively the CD of the magazine! More recently (with the Adelaide leg of Fairport’s 1999 Australian tour) the impressively titled “Fiddlestix Promotions” came into being.’

Lars gave mixed reviews to a couple of albums by the Derbyshire band Cross o’th Hands. The first, Handmade, was by a band still finding its way, he says. ‘The second album Maidens Prayer shows a band that has matured and grown. They have found their direction and have put more work into the arrangements and recording. There are only four instrumentals among the eleven tracks. “Danby Wiske/Drops Of Brandy” starts off in a traditional manner and makes you expect one of those Irish-inspired albums with stompy instrumentals mixed with slow ballads. But this is only a trick.’

Lars was favorably impressed by an album called Secret Orders by a couple of English folk musicians. ‘Claire Mann and Aaron Jones are both English by birth, Mann from Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Jones from Poole on the south coast. Both have been playing for many years with various groups and musicians, and have gained a reputation for their musicianship. Mann plays flute and fiddle, Jones guitar and bouzouki, and both sing, though Jones takes all the lead vocals here, with Mann providing harmonies. … Throughout, the musicianship and singing are impeccable, and Mann and Jones have a gift for picking good songs and tunes. A quite remarkable debut album by any standard.’

And Lars was very pleased with a solo album from English folk singer Bob Fox called Borrowed Moments. ‘I like this album very much. It may not be as instantly appealing as Dreams Never Leave You, and there is no “Big River” or “Guard Your Man Well” here, but what you get is 11 good songs treated by an expert. Let the album take its time to grow on you and you will not be disappointed.’

Michael reviewed an unusual album. Percy Grainger’s Pleasant & Delightful is a collection of folk songs played on piano in classical arrangements. ‘Following the path of Cecil Sharp, Maud Karpeles et al, he travelled widely, collecting tunes from the older singers in various communities. Where Grainger differed from other collectors was in his rearrangements of the songs for orchestra rather than more “humble” arrangements. “English Country Garden” is probably his best known piece and the one most associated with his name.’

Michael thought there should be more live albums from Dave Swarbrick and Simon Nicol, so he was very pleased to review Another Fine Mess. ‘Throughout, Swarbrick plays with the expected fire and gusto when necessary, and with obvious sensitivity on the airs and ballads. His only lead vocal work is on “Rosie” though his backing vocals blend well with Nicol’s performance on the other songs. On the instrumentals, it is apparent Swarb is often improvising around a tune and enjoying doing so, but the intrinsic understanding between his fiddle and Nicol’s guitar ensures it all stays well and truly on track.’

And he gave a splendid overview of three solo-ish Swarbrick releases, Lift The Lid And Listen, The Ceilidh Album, and In The Club with Simon Nicol, the latter previously available only on cassette! ‘These three very worthy albums fill in a noticeable gap in the issue of Dave Swarbrick’s work on CD. Recent years have seen the reissue of albums from most aspects of his long and hugely influential career in English folk, from his early ’60s work with the Ian Campbell Folk Group and his duo recordings with Martin Carthy, through his many years as mainstay with Fairport Convention to his albums with Whippersnapper and plentiful session work.’

Peter gave a rave review to Martin Simpson’s The Bramble Briar, and he wasn’t wrong – it’s gone on to be one of Simpson’s most beloved releases. ‘This album will go down in history. You won’t believe how good it is! If ever there was an album that makes me, and probably loads of others, want to go out and burn my guitar, this is it.’

Richard was quite fond of an album of songs Alan Lomax collected from the Norfolk singer Harry Cox titled What Will Become of England? But he says it’s not for everyone. ‘To ears more accustomed to studio recordings, to sophisticated musical arrangements, to the packaged words and music of Tin Pan Alley or even to the relatively polished work of today’s folk and folk rock singers and musicians, this is rough-hewn, down-to-earth stuff. It is not for the faint-hearted. And it could never be played as “background music” but requires close and unflagging attention.’

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What Not

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All songs are stories and Steve Goodman’s ‘City of New Orleans’ is certainly one of the better told ones. As recorded by Arlo Guthrie at a Stanhope, NJ performance on the eighth of August, twenty nine years ago, it tells the melancholy story of a train as it’s headed to New Orleans one night. Arlo, son of Woody as you most likely know, is in particularly fine voice here.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Our Rooms

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Kinrowan Hall’s a vast sprawling estate going back far longer than one would suspect and it’s been added onto more often than perhaps was for the better. What that means is that we who are staff here each have private space that’s unique.

The rooms here used as living space are eclectic to say the least. Myself and Catherine, my wife who’s a musician, have rooms on the fourth floor that consist of a bedroom, living room and a third room that’s our library and her office space. What, no bathroom or kitchen, you ask? Well there are shared bathrooms on every floor and of course the Estate Kitchen is second to none in terms of feeding everyone here.

What’s interesting about our rooms is that they were completely renovated for us before we moved in some twenty years ago. The heating system was upgraded to the latest forced hot water compete with the flat wall radiators which are amazingly effective and keep us comfy even in the coldest weather. The trade-off for this is that we don’t have the fireplace that was here as it, like all such fireplaces, was really horrid at both heating a space and being energy efficient.

The bedroom is small and tidy but has a lot of built-in storage which is great for us. It looks over a near-by apple orchard, which of course means amazing smells in the spring. We’ve got a cozy sitting area with built-in bookcases, a comfortable couch and chair, reading lamps and a Turkish rug that’s centuries old. Again it looks out upon Oberon’s Wood. The third room I mentioned is actually the largest room which is how it can be both her work space and our personal library.

The rooms are up on the fourth floor which means it’s a quiet enough space. Reynard and his wife have quarters here as they moved into the space occupied by the former Steward when Ingrid took that position over.

It’s particularly nice during one of the fortunately rare blizzards we get as the storms are awesome from this viewpoint — you can see the walls of snow coming across the landscapes!

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What’s New for the 22nd of January: Lots of mysteries; ambient music, jazz, Norwegian Americana, and lots of English folk rock; live yoiking; and comfort food

Happiness, in the land of Deals, is measured on a sliding scale. What makes you happy? A long white silent car with smoked-glass windows, with a chauffeur and a stocked bar and two beautiful objects of desire in the back seat? An apartment in a nice part of town? A kinder lover? A place to stand that’s out of the wind? A brief cessation of pain? It depends on what you have at the moment I ask that question, and what you don’t have. Wait a little, just a little. The scale will slide again. — Sparrow in Emma Bull’s Bone Dance: A Fantasy for Techonophiles

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We’re really in the harshest part of Winter on this Scottish Estate, so the residents of Kinrowan Hall, save the staff of Gus, our Head Gardener, who have livestock and buildings to tend, are quite content to stay inside. There’s always something to stave off boredom, be it reading or needed Estate chores, at which everyone on this communitarian Estate lends a hand.

So it comes to pass that we’ve been cleaning out the under the eaves spaces and no, unlike at Evenmere Hall, we didn’t precisely find a dragon there – though we did find the plans for a stonking big stone one. There was a lot of stuff to be moved or discarded as The Steward has an intent to create more staff housing in part of it. The spaces are heated already to keep ice from building up on the slate roof, so extending plumbing and power will be no big deal.

What kind of stuff? A crate of botantical books that Gus claimed for his workshop; a model of Kinrowan Hall wonderfully detailed with real glass windows and tiny roof slates, that will be displayed in the Library for everyone to see; maps of the Estate dating back centuries, which went to our Steward; dark green glass pickling jars more than big enough for whole cabbages and which had something odd in them; hand written copies of The Sleeping Hedgehog from the mid-eighteenth century; a crate of whisky laid down centuries ago for later consumption and didn’t Reynard, our Pub Manager, claim that fast; and some seelie impression balls of Elven performances of Elizabethan music which the Winter Court left here very long ago; and so forth.

Now let’s see what I found for you this time …

christmashollyLis first looks at Ben Aaronovitch‘s Foxglove Summer, a Rivers of London mystery: ‘Peter was just taking a quick trip  to Herefordshire to interview a retired wizard who’s a fellow veteran of Nightingale’s unit in WWII, in regards to a case he most likely has no involvement with anyway — two missing 11-year-old girls. He’s quickly satisfied that the elderly, frail man has no connection to the case, but he can’t walk away from two missing children. He asks to be assigned to the case in any capacity in which he can be useful. Which is how he winds up confronting carnivorous unicorns, ghost trees, bees, and faeries who aren’t at all nice or friendly. Oh, and inseminating a river with Beverly Brook. Yes, their relationship has progressed a bit!’

She next looks at Anna Elliott and Charles Veley’s The Crown Jewel Mystery: ‘An American actress has come to London, seeking her unknown father who funded her education. She knows the money is sent from a particular bank, but she only has the account number, not the name of the account holder. Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and Inspector Gregson are on the trail of a major bank robbery that will happen today. It’s the same bank, and what goes down will be dangerous, even deadly. If the actress and her friend survive, it will be due to her intense, careful attention to detail, and her ability to reason out what those details mean.’

She finishes up with two books by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, the first short story collection, the  second a novel about mysteries set on science fiction fandom.

The first she reviews is The Early Conundrums: A Spade/Paladin Collection:  ‘Spade is a SMoF, a “Secret Master of Fandom.” He travels the country helping fan-run conventions run successfully. Mostly that’s in his area of expertise, staying out of financial and tax trouble. Sometimes, something more obviously dangerous comes up. For instance, an unexpected dead body. In the first of these five adventures, Spade is on his own in solving the case while preventing a PR disaster for the convention. In the second, he meets Paladin. She’s somewhat of a rogue detective, also very much a part of fandom. They do not mesh easily at first. Or ever, really, but they do tackle cases together, pooling their skills.’

Next up she says in Ten Little Fen that ‘Spade has agreed to step in as program director of SierraCon, held at a fairly isolated hotel in the Sierra Nevada mountains, on the California/Nevada border. Soon he finds himself and the whole convention snowed in, while one by one, prominent attendees are having terrible “accidents.” Fortunately, Spade, Paladin, and their joint ward, Casper, are also there. They’ve dealt with dangerous crises at cons before. But can they solve this one before one of them falls victim?’

Warner has a few treats for us. In The Girls Who Disappeared Claire Douglas deals with a cold case set in today’s world. And Tove Alsterdal’s You Will Never Be Found by contrast stays in relative modern days, dealing with bizzare incidents of violence and death from a police point of view.

Anthony Horowitz’s A Line to Kill is another entry in the series where a fictionalized version of him solves crimes. Whereas Ella King’s Bad Fruit deals with the disturbing mysteries and crimes that can come from damaged childhoods.

S.C. Lalli’s Are You Sara? is a story featuring the great concern of mistaken identity that can add an extra twist to a thriller. And he finishes off with Martin Edwards’ Guilty Creatures deals with classic crime stories that feature an animal in a leading position.

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David (and SPike) were left feeling unsatisfied with Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Cold Mountain. ‘I looked forward to this film. I wasn’t thrilled with the casting of a Londoner as a Blue Ridge Mountaineer; or an Aussie as a Georgia Peach, but I looked forward to the film. The opening sequence was thrilling, but as the odyssey came closer to its end, and the inexorable tragedy of the reunion neared, I found myself becoming more uncomfortable, shifting in my seat, finding holes in the story.’

christmashollyWe have down the years out of sheer curiosity asked a goodly number of folks we encounter here this question: ”Is it a bowl of your mother’s fish chowder? Or a warm doughnut dusted with powdered sugar? Comfort food is as individual as each of us. We here at Sleeping Hedgehog (the in-house newsletter of our Estate) are interested in your story!’ Jennifer, a Winter Queen who’s responsible for the best Winter Solstice story ever, gives her answer here.christmasholly


April was pleased with Neil Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants. ‘This slim, whimsical YA novel is Neil Gaiman’s contribution to World Book Day 2008, one of nine £1.00 children’s books made available for this event. Though written for a younger audience, Odd and the Frost Giants is an entertaining read for adults as well, as it’s intelligent and clever.’

christmashollyGary says this new release grew on him. ‘The New York psychedelic ambient trio numün’s sophomore release is, for me, a grower. I like it more each time I listen to it. Their debut Voyage au Soleil was one of my favorite albums of 2020, and on the first couple of listens I didn’t think I’d like Book of Beyond nearly as much. The more I listen to it, though, the better it gets!

‘I was unfamiliar with American reed player Buddy Tate until this recording crossed my path, and now I know what I’ve been missing,’ Gary says in his review of Buddy Tate & White Label’s Tate’s Delight. ‘This archival release from Storyville presents a superb live set recorded in Denmark in September 1982.’

Norwegian Americana band Buster Sledge’s EP Dreamer intrigued Gary. ‘This band is kind of hard to pigeon-hole. They’re a trio of fiddle (Michael Barrett Donovan, who also does the songwriting and lead vocals), guitar (Jakob Folke Ossum) and banjo (Mikael Jonassen), and both Ossum and Jonassen sing as well. The way they describe what they do is that bluegrass is their “hardware” and many other kinds of music are the “software.” Musically they play a blend of old-time, bluegrass, and country, with lyrics and harmonies from everywhere else including pop, rock and jazz.’

Gary was quite enthusiastic about a new jazz record, JohnBailey’s Time Bandits. ‘New York trumpeter John Bailey’s third outing fronting a quartet is such a stellar outing in every way, I might run out of superlatives in this review. Time Bandits sees Bailey ranging over a wide range of jazz styles from numerous eras, from early bop to modern post-bop jazz, with sashays along the way into Latin, New Orleans second line, and more. He’s assembled yet another superb quartet for this set including master pianist George Cables, in-demand bassist Scott Colley and drummer Victor Lewis …’

Jo Morrison turned in an omnibus review of several early recordings of the American folk instrumental duo Linn Barnes and Allison Hampton. ‘Beginning as a pair of lutenists specializing in Renaissance court music, Barnes and Hampton’s interests have expanded instrumentally and musically over the years. In the meantime, their musicianship and cohesiveness as a duo has blossomed into something well worth the time for listening.’

Lars wrote up an omnibus review of the first three albums by English folk rock group Shave the Monkey. ‘Shave the Monkey is a six-member English group. They started out in 1988 as a five-piece, but added a drummer after their first CD. Shave the Monkey has a broad repertoire with traditional music from the 11th century and forward as well as their own songs, mixing instrumental music with songs.’

He also reviewed their next release, just as cryptically titled as their previous albums – Good Luck, Mr Gorsky. ‘As a whole, the instrumental pieces are wonderful. Shave the Monkey are masters in that field. The songs are not bad at all, but most of them pale when compared to the tunes. Maybe that reflects the band. To me they are all very good instrumentalists, but there is no real vocal front man or front woman. They are musicians who sing as well, not singers with instruments.’

Michael Hunter, our man in the Antipodes, did a thoughtful interview with then rising Aussie country singer Kasey Chambers, in which she talked about personal songwriting among other topics. ‘You know, it’s funny because when I write the songs I never think about the fact I have to play it to strangers after that. I just write it and it comes out and I’m really kind of honest with myself when I’m writing songs which is a scary thing for anyone to do (laughs), ’cause it’s not always good things I’m saying about myself! Later on then, to play them to my family and then go in and play them in the studio and then at the end, having to play them to people, like five hundred strangers in a room, it is a hard thing to start with certain songs.’

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What Not is of a musical nature this time. The late Josepha Sherman, a dear friend of ours, was once asked what her favourite tune to play was: ‘OK, my dear: I play the folk harp a wee bit (I’m sadly out of practice) and of the older songs, I like ‘Sumer is icumen in,’ ca. 1260 or so, by our old friend, Anonymous. I like it both for the melody and the words, which are cheerful and alive with the image of animals jumping about for the joy of it. It also makes for a cheerful round for several voices. For the earliest songs, though we don’t have the melodies, alas, I love some of the Ancient Egyptian love songs, which are downright modern — such as the one about the girl who sees her boyfriend and rushes out to meet him with half her hair still undone!. She went on to note The Ancient Egyptians had our concept of romantic love, btw, clear in their songs. There’s even a sadly fragmentary one of a wife undressing her husband, who’s passed out after what was clearly too much drinking at a party, and how she loves him even so.’

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I’ve got a real treat for you in the form of ‘Mojas Katrin’,  which is from an FM broadcast of Mari Boine Persen performing in Schauburg, Bremen, Germany, May 23, 1992. She’s yoiking, which originally referred to only one of several Sami singing styles, but in English the word is often used to refer to all types of traditional Sami singing. And she has a charming explanation in English of what the song’s about.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Blizzard (A Letter to Tessa)

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A letter from Lady Alexandra Margaret Quinn, Head Gardener here in the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, to her botanist friend who is on an extended botanical collecting trip in the Ottoman Empire and elsewhere. She copied her letters into her Journal and her will stated that they should be shared after her death. Alex, as she preferred to be called, lived to be well over a hundred and indeed outlived her beloved Queen.

Dear Tessa,

It’s been two weeks since one of the worst blizzards this century cut us off completely from the outside world. Now that doesn’t mean a lot as we get very few travellers here this time of the year and little business with the outside world gets done other than letters and newspapers coming in and letters going out. (You got this letter because one of the Nordic skiing enthusiasts traveled twenty miles to the nearest railway station to post letters and get any post that arrived in the last fortnight.) So the Estate is even more of a world unto itself right now that it is even at the best of traveling conditions.

Of course, the heavy snow means little work can be done outside, other than what’s absolutely necessary. So lots of reading, gossiping with friends, and so forth. I’ve also been working on plans for a new herb garden that Head Cook wants, which means Isabella has the Several Annies researching Elizabethan herb gardens to see what they looked like. One of the problems of an Estate like this is every Head Gardener, every cook, for centuries has had ideas for what to with the gardens, so what exists now has little resemblance to what existed a few centuries ago. Not a complaint by me, just stating what is.

The Steward has had the newly fixed Mill Pond (the repairs turned out to be trivial) cleaned of snow and has arranged for our first curling tournament to be held. I think it’s a silly game but it is outdoors, which gets us out for some hours each day. It’s easy to learn, difficult to master. And Cook served tea (or hot chocolate) and biscuits after we gathered by the fireplace in the kitchen to warm up after coming in.

The winning team was coached by Isabella and comprised naturally of her Several Annies. I think they won in part because the males got distracted by their swirling skirts!

I’ve been learning Welsh, as there’s been a Welsh literature reading group here for longer than anyone here can recall. I think the real purpose of it is less to read medieval Welsh manuscripts (such as the Red Book of Hergest, the White Book of Rhydderch, the Book of Aneirin, and the Book of Taliesin) than to drink metheglin!

It’s an interesting undertaking, and Isabella, like all Librarians, thinks everyone should know as many languages as possible! She’s invited Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Guest to lecture here this Spring on her translation of The Mabinogion.

The Steward has approved your funding to purchase more carpets, and he added a generous amount to purchase more books for the Library. Our banking agent in Constantinople has been wired the monies.

Lastly I should mention all of the kittens have been adopted, though I’ve kept one of them that I named Ysbaddaden in honour of his size; though all of them, being males, are truly big kittens!

Love, Alex

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What’s New for the 8th of January: Books about music – Sandy Denny, Fairport, Tommy James, Jethro Tull, Beatles and more; Festival Express; music about booze; Nordic music reviews old and new; and more

She hadn’t meant to fall asleep, but she was a bit like a cat herself, forever wandering in the woods, chasing after squirrels and rabbits as fast as her skinny legs could take her when the fancy struck, climbing trees like a possum, able to doze in the sun at a moment’s notice. And sometimes with no notice at all.  — Lillian Kindred in  Charles de Lint’s The Cats of Tanglewood Forest

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Oh that coffee that you’re smelling? It’s a bean from Java. We roast all our coffee here. It’s an extremely dark coffee blend with notes of bittersweet chocolate. Care for some? It just brewed up. I take mine with a dollop of cream we get from Oak Haven Estate, our neighbours just over the north ridge ten kilometres or so away.

And yes, those are are pumpkin cream cheese tarts and they have none of that obnoxious Halloween style spicing in them. They’re still just warm from our kitchen. So so have coffee and a tart while I finish off this edition.

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First up is Clinton Heylin’s No More Sad Refrains: The Life and Times of Sandy Denny in which I had forgotten that our reviewer Chris does reference that zombie biography: ‘In some ways it’s apposite that a book written about an artist as emotionally charged and mercurial as Sandy Denny should itself have had a difficult and rocky genesis. Some people, myself included, were expecting a biography of Sandy written by Pam Winters to be issued by Helter Skelter last year. It’s not my place as a reviewer to pass judgment on the disagreements which caused that project to flounder, and led to Clinton Heylin writing this book. Nevertheless, I include these comments to clarify the situation for those readers who do not know the background, why a biography did not appear last year, and why the author of this book, Clinton Heylin, is perhaps not the same author that they may have expected. It also helps explain the rather unusual comments in Clinton Heylin’s acknowledgments. Maybe one day that full story will unfold, but I shall keep my thoughts and comments on the book in hand. ‘

Fairport Unconventional was one of those astounding box sets Free Reed did. And Chris just also looking at this tasty treat: ‘As amazing as the music lovingly collected in this box set is, the one hundred and seventy page book is in its own way even better. Shaped to fit the box set as you can see by the photo of the box set, it’s a full history of the band as written by Schofeld who’s very obviously a diehard fan as he amusingly with an introduction entitled ‘Fairport Convention: A recipe for success’ which includes this choice tidbit: ’11 lead guitarists, 11 lead vocalists, 6 fiddle players, 7 drummers, 5 keyboard players, 2 bass players’ which makes the band not all that different than any band that’s lasted thirty-five years such as the Breton fest noz bands.’

Last Night’s Fub: In and Out of Time with Irish Music pleased Chuck who tells us what’s about: ‘Ciaran Carson is an Irish poet and musician, who has, in Last Night’s Fun, put together a series of writings, each inspired by a traditional tune. In most cases, these are short essays. For others, he has written poetry or put together sets of quotations. Occasionally the subjects in consecutive chapters are directly related, but that is most likely happenstance.’

Tommy James’s rise to fame was engineered by a New York Mobster who was the inspiration for a character on HBO’s The Sopranos, according to a book Gary reviewed: Me, The Mob And The Music. James co-wrote this autobiography, the story of how James rose from his beginnings in garage bands in Niles, Michigan, to a series of Top 20 hits from 1966 through 1969. ‘The book chronicles the way James cranked out hit after hit for Roulette and never saw a cent,’ Gary says.

Larry Kane’s Ticket to Ride is about a slightly better known (and paid) group, but who’s Larry Kane? ‘He was the only American journalist in The Beatles’ official press group on their groundbreaking 1964 U.S. tour,’ Gary says. ‘The tour changed the way rock ‘n’ roll concerts were played, it changed a lot of people’s minds about The Beatles, and it changed Larry Kane’s life.’

Scott Allen Nollen’s Jethro Tull: A History of the Band, 1968-2001 gets a superb look see by Kate: ‘Scott Allen Nollen has proven his devotion as a Tull fan in the countless miles travelled and the hours passed collecting details and interviewing band members and other associates. He has included nostalgic pictures of the band, some of which were borrowed from Ian Anderson, the often frenzied flautist who, despite some controversy, became the Fagin-like front man for the band. After ten long years of research, here is a comprehensive and entertaining story of the much misunderstood Jethro Tull. The authenticity is underlined by the thoughtful and honest foreword written by Ian Anderson himself.’

Berlioz’s Evenings with the Orchestra came about as a result of him being neither a widely recognized composer in his lifetime, or being generally accepted at all during his lifetime, as Kelly notes in his splendid review: ‘In order to remain solvent, Berlioz often had to turn to penning articles of criticism and commentary on music and cultural matters for the Paris publications of the day. By all accounts, Berlioz hated this work and the necessity of it, which is ironic given the quality of his writing, as evidenced in Evenings with the Orchestra.’

Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span are two of my fave British folk rock(ish) bands, so it’s apt that Lars has a review of Brian Hinton and Geoff Wall’s biography of Ashley Hutchings: The Guv’nor & the Rise of Folk Rock as he helped birth both of those groups: ‘To some of us the subject of this book is, if not God, at least the musical equivalent to the pope. Name a group you like and have followed over the years, and there is a fair chance that Mr. Hutchings was there to start it, or at least influence the starting of it. He is in one way or another responsible for a very large number of the records in my collection, and yes, we are certainly talking three figures, here.’

I reviewed Mark Cunningham’s Horslips: Tall Tales, The Official Biography: ‘Horslips were, and in many ways still are, the Irish equivalent of Steeleye Span and, to a lesser extent, Fairport Convention, as they blend English and Irish traditional material and a rock and roll sensibility into what was the first Irish folk rock group.’ Did they get what they deserved? Oh yes.

Richard ends our English folk rock biographies by looking at Patrick Humphries’ Richard Thompson: The Biography: ‘Biographies of musicians are always dangerous propositions. Too many are tell-alls that insist on concentrating on lurid details and scandal, to the point where the reader forgets that the book is about a musician. Others go the other way, and are so slavishly and obviously creations of the PR machine that they’re essentially worthless as sources of fact. Books of both these sorts tend to cluster around hugely successful acts, and to clutter bookshelves right around holiday time.’ And let’s just say this this is decidedly not the biography this artist deserves.

Robert takes us in a different direction altogether, with a review of Allan Marett’s Songs, Dreamings, and Ghosts — The Wangga of North Australia: ‘First, a brief demurrer: “Ethnomusicology” can be a really scary idea, drawing together, as it does, the formal study of music and its forms, history, anthropology, sociology, psychology, and possibly a couple of “ologies” that I’ve overlooked, all discrete disciplines in Western thought and each by itself incapable of leading to any real understanding of cultures.’

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David has the story of the Festival Express: ‘It opens with a faded map of north Ontario, Kapuskasing dead centre. Then the camera pulls back and from the middle of the screen comes a train — an old Canadian National engine — and tracks, lots of tracks. This is a movie about that train and the people who rode on it, and the places it stopped, and what happened one week in 1970 when this train went from Toronto to Calgary . . . with a cargo of rock’n’rollers and all their paraphernalia. What a summer.’

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Our food review this time is actually a CD as Judith explains in her look at The Water of Life‘You would think that one album about booze would be enough for even a Scotsman, but not for singer-traditional songwriter Robin Laing. The Water of Life is Laing’s second, after The Angel’s Share, with songs on both CDs from his one-man show on whiskey. Laing, originally from Edinborough but now living in rural Lanarkshire, seems to have settled into a distillery groove. Great idea!’

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Brendan reviewed a couple of Nordic discs, starting with one by Ale Möller. ‘Ale Möller’s The Horse and the Crane is a thoroughly entertaining, thoroughly entrancing set of music made for a theatre concert based upon a set of novels by Sara Lidman about the extension of the railway into Northern Sweden. Filled with the stark instrumentation and ethereal sounds that seem to pervade the best Swedish music, this suite really does feel like the perfect soundtrack to a railway tour through glaciers.’ For contrast, he reviews a disc from Myllärit. ‘…this Finnish seven-person ensembles offers danceability and joy on In the Light of the White Night, a fine selection of Finnish and Karelian folk tunes.’

Donna reviewed a CD by one of her favorite groups, Frifot’s Flyt. ‘On the continuum between folk and jazz that this group occupies, I would put this closer to the folk end. It’s actually quite mellow — and please don’t take that to mean it’s boring, because it’s definitely not. Lead vocalist Lena Willemark seems less inclined than usual to explore the higher registers of her always astounding vocal range. [Ale] Möller and the group’s third member, fiddle player Per Gudmundson, sing very harmonious backup vocals on a number of tracks, giving the songs a richer sound than I usually associate with this group.’

Gary was very pleased with an album by his favorite Norwegian Hardanger fiddle player. ‘Glødetrådar is exactly the kind of album that I look for from Nils Økland. It’s brimming with creativity and musical ideas, and it expertly combines ancient sounding folk melodies and dance rhythms with modern jazz and improvisation techniques. Add to that a team of players who listen deeply to each other and care only about contributing to the work at hand, and you have a moving and lasting work of art.’

The Finnish group Okra Playground’s new disc Itku was reviewed by Gary. ‘The three powerful singing women of Okra Playground draw largely on Finland’s centuries-old runo singing tradition, embellishing it with elements of electro dance music, pop, and rock to great effect. Not every track on this nine-track album is fully to my taste, but there’s plenty here for fans who enjoy various aspects of  Finnish contemporary folk music.’

Gary has enjoyed the music of Finnish accordionist Maria Kalaniemi, including the album Ambra. ‘On this album she duets with pianist Timo Alakotila, with whom she has worked and played for more than a decade, particularly in a contemporary music group called Aldargaz. It’s a delightful match, as the two take turns as soloist and accompanist. The tunes range from traditional polskas and marches, to minuets and polkas, some tango-influenced excursions, and some unadulterated bal musette.’

He also reviewed Ilmajousi / Luftstråk, by Maria Kalaniemi and Swedish fiddler Sven Ahlbäck. ‘It’s a remarkable synthesis of sounds, styles and genres. The duo plays nine traditional pieces, most of them arranged by Ahlbäck, and eight contemporary works, six by Ahlbäck, two by Kalaniemi.’

Another Finnish group Gary has reviewed is Aallotar, including their CD Ameriikan Laulu. ‘Finnish accordionist Teija Niku and Finnish-American fiddler Sara Pajunen, performing as Aallotar, continue to explore their shared musical and cultural histories on Ameriikan Laulu, their second collaboration following their 2014 debut In Transit. I’ve been hoping these two would renew their musical partnership, and this album satisfies my appetite for more from them.’

Jack Merry is the author of several omnibus reviews of Nordic music in the Green Man archives, including this one that covers groups known as Færd, Harv, Spælimenninir, and Bukkene Bruse. Of the album Tost by Harv, he says, ‘Is there a Norwegian influence here? Oh, yes! Christain Svensson joins them as a percussionist, as does guitarist Peter Stahlgren. Now, the key to figuring out Harv is to remember that they are very, very upbeat — no mournful dirges here! I like Garmarna and Gjallarhorn, but I’ll bet my last penny that these lads are more entertaining in concert. Certainly less depressing. The musicianship is simply outstanding and the recording is a delight to hear — I repeated it a half dozen times in the first week I had it.’

Judith had fun with a sampler of Finnish music called Arctic Paradise: Contemporary Finnish Folk Music 2001. ‘The CD has culled the best of “contemporary” Finnish folk music. Some artists, like Varttina and Wimme, are fairly well known, but others will be familiar only to Nordophiles. Interestingly, only five of the tracks are traditional music, the rest for the most part are composed in a traditional style and many are transposed and fused freely.’

Kim had high praise for the music emanating from a disc called Ahma, by Maria Kalaniemi and Aldargaz. ‘The album’s great arrangements are not surprising, as most of the musicians, like Kalaniemi, also hail from the Sibelius Academy Folk Music department. Aldergaz are Timo Alakotila on piano, Olli Varis on guitars, Tarpani Varis on double bass, Petri Hakala on mandolins and Arto Järveläla on violin. These folks have a flair for the dramatic and a great sense of the potential of a tune.’

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Our What Not comes courtesy of Chuck who looks at an Irish song commonly known as ‘Johnny Cock’ or ‘Johnny O’Braidslea’: ‘One of the fascinating things about folk music is the variety that one song or tune can produce. Niggling purism aside, there has never been one folk style. That’s even more true these days with musicians fusing traditional folk to jazz, rock, Latin, and whatever other style they happen to like. So what I’m going to do in And Reels is to take a song or a tune and see how different performers, as well as different sources, treat it.’

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As I’ve noted before, I’m fond of the not quite trad music out of the Nordic cultures that arose starting in the early Nineties. Garmarna was one such band. With the stellar Emma Härdelin as their vocalist, they were active for about a decade and then took a break until now, as they’re working on a new album. This cut is called “Vedergällningen” which is from a Chicago performance in 2002. Skoal!

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A Kinrowan Estate story: A Gathering of Stitchers

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I was watching the new reading group that had sprung up last Fall as they met in the Pub near the fireplace. They call themselves ‘A Gathering of Stitchers’. It was, not surprisingly, a reading group devoted to books on knitting and related subjects. Liath put together the group, but like all our reading groups (there’s at least a half-dozen at any given time with overlapping memberships), the group is communitarian in nature, which means everyone decides on what to read.

They started off with a surprising choice, McKillip’s Solstice Wood, but Liath said there was an interesting take on weavers and magic in it, which there assuredly is. Later choices included books on wools of the world, the Silk Road, the riots against mechanized weaving, and an oral history of knitting in rural Scotland between the Wars.

I wasn’t ‘tall surprised when I discovered that the Steward had granted them a generous stipend to visit sheep farms in the Nordic countries and talk to weavers and knitters there. And she promised them yet another stipend to go to Turkey as well. I was going on that one with Ingrid, my wife who’s the Estate buyer and our Steward, as Istanbul is one of her favourite purchasing cities, but the political unrest there made us cancel that trip.

Several years after getting the group going, we snagged our first meeting of Nordic weavers and knitters who decided to gather here in the dead of winter, as many had farms, which meant they couldn’t get away during the summer. Some forty came, stayed ten days, had a great time, and arranged to come back the next year. I was particularly happy, as the Pub made a very tidy profit at a normally slow time of year.

Oh and it’s fascinating to watch them discuss the book they’d just read and knit as they did so. They maintain eye contact, converse intelligently, and knit steadily along without ever looking down!

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What’s New for 25th of December: DeLint, Irish folklore, firecrackers and sf; the Grinch, eggnog, and The Polar Express; holiday themed music, and Jennifer Stevenson’s ‘Solstice’

We keep our cats as happy as we can. Anna Nimmhaus

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I woke well before dawn as I wanted to watch the Northern Lights, which have been particularly outstanding lately. Though none of the humans save Tamsin, our Hedgewitch, on the Estate joined me, but several of the Irish wolfhounds that guard our livestock accompanied me as well and even some of Tamsin’s owl companions flew low overhead. We, well at least we humans, found them fascinating as the wolfhounds and owls seemed to be playing a rather complicated chase game that even Tamsin admitted she hadn’t even a clue to what it meant.

We later had breakfast back in the rather cozy Kitchen nook created originally for a few members of the Neverending Session to play in the Kitchen – thick cut thrice smoked applewood bacon, blueberry waffles with butter and maple syrup, tea for me and Tamsin as well, and Border strawberries, the ones that start red as blood and turn white as bleached bone, as well. We both felt like in need of  a very long walk to work it off, or a long nap … I however needed to put this together so both choices were put off for later consideration!

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Let’s start off the book reviews this time with a look at Charles de Lint’s Newford Stories: The Crow Girls. Of all the immortal shapeshifting being that inhabit the Newford stories, the most charming at least for me are Maida and Zia, the two crow girls, who look like pinkish teenagers all in black naturally. After you read Cat’s review, you can experience them first hand in A Crow Girls Christmas written by (obviously) Charles de Lint and charmingly illustrated by his wife, MaryAnn Harris.

He next offers us a review of one of his yearly readings: ‘Jane Yolen has set The Wild Hunt in the dead of winter, a winter where the weather is very, very bad — as bad as it will be at Ragnarok itself. The story told here is that Herne the Hunter, He Who is The Lord of Winter, is battling… a cat… a rather small cat at that. Ahhh, but not just any cat.’

Eric has a cozy of sorts for us: ‘Adding a new dimension to a real figure adds a kick to historical fiction. The key is to cast the person plausibly, if the historical feel of the fiction is to be kept. The role doesn’t have to be something that the person actually would have done, just something that the character can fall naturally into as the book progresses. In The Queene’s Christmas, Karen Harper strives to graft the role of detective onto the Queen. Somewhat difficult to swallow at times, but the overall effort is a good one.’

Grey says ‘When I was a teenager I often repeated these lines to myself as a kind of charm. It wasn’t that I expected them to make something happen; the words were a “happening” in and of themselves, and just saying them put me into the middle of it. They were a door into Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising cycle, one of the most compelling stories I had ever read. The story compels me to this day, and I continue to re-read it every few years.’

Henry Glassie’s All Silver and No Brass: An Irish Christmas Mumming is a wonderful book says Jack: ‘ What Glassie did in studying the Irish Mummers is the neat trick that any ethnographer wishes he or she could do: he gained access without going native, so he could ask questions only an outsider could ask. And ask he did! He asked and received tales about the mummers, their performances, the way mumming used to be in the old days, and the meanings of mumming. Mumming comes to life in a way that will reward both the general reader interested in a fascinating story and any serious student of Celtic folklore.

Jack also has a rather unlikely book with a winter holiday tie-in, Firecrackers: The Art & History. ‘Did you know that American newspapers were collected during community paper drives and shipped to China, where they were used as the paper wrappings for firecrackers? Or that Christmas, not the Fourth of July, was until the 1930s when firecrackers were set off in the American South?’

Lis has a special treat for us and tells about Pool Anderson’s The Complete Psychotechnic League, Volume 1 in detail: In the aftermath of World War III, with restoration of peace and order, and the efforts to cope with the nuclear fallout, a new science of the human mind is secretly invented. Its inventors and those who study and work with it aim to create a stable, new, human civilization, that will ultimately prevent war wrecking civilization. They also want a civilization that protects the maximum freedom of individuals while preventing the nationalism and fanaticism and power hunger that ultimately crushes that freedom. Achieving this requires a certain amount of ruthlessness, and absolute secrecy, and the dangers in that are fairly obvious. Poul Anderson largely abandoned the series after the 1950s, both because the nuclear third world war hadn’t happened, and because he was losing his naivety. These are good stories despite that, and the characters are complex and realistic, as Anderson characters remained throughout his career.’

Her second review is of a novel just out, The Red Scholar’s Wake by Aliette de Bodard: ‘Xich Si is a tech scavenger, working out of a not very prosperous port of the An O empire. She just wants to support herself and her daughter in relative safety and comfort. On one ofher scavenging expeditions, she is captured by pirates and expects that the best she can expect is to be sold as a bondsperson. When the avatar of the mindshp that captured her comes to her cell, she expects worse, but gets a surprise she couldn’t anticipate. Rice Fish, whose wife, Huan, the Red Scholar, was killed in the fighting, wants Xich Si’s tech skills, to help find evidence of who really killed Huan. And to protect Xich Si while she’s doing that, they need to marry. Just a business arrangement, Rice Fish assures her. Xich Si agrees because the only alternatives are worse. Soon she finds that Rice Fish is an idealist trying to salvage what she and Huan were building, and that she needs to navigate her way through pirate culture, pirate politics, an increasingly complicated relationship with Rice Fish, and negotiating with officials of the An O and Ðai Viêt empires’

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Cat loves this not so traditional Christmas film: ‘Once upon a Christmas season, there was a television show called How The Grinch Stole Christmas. A television show that explicitly had a message that Christmas was neither a celebration of the birth of Christ, nor was it something that comes in a box, but rather is a matter of remembering that we hold each other in our hearts. Warm, fuzzy, and aggressively secular. In 1966 no less!.’

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I’ve been looking for an article I remember being in The Sleeping Hedgehog on eggnog on how it came to be a tradition here maybe forty years back but I can’t find it. What I do have is Jennifer Stevenson’s recipe for eggnog for Stay Home Egg Nog Fluff as she calls it so you can try it out in your drink making.

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Christopher has, though it’s no surprise, a glowing review of a beloved holiday favorite. ‘Perhaps it’s the season, or the utter magic of Van Allsburg’s talents, whatever the reasons, the Twentieth Anniversary Edition of The Polar Express appears luxurious and incandescent.’

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Gary was a bit surprised that he enjoyed a Christmas-themed album, Joyeux Noël, Bon Chrismeusse, by various artists. ‘This six-track EP puts a Cajun and Creole spin on some Christmas classics and tosses in some South Louisiana originals with a holiday theme, all done up in Acadian French with mostly traditional instruments.

Jack reviewed an album of traditional Welsh music, Cass Meurig’s Crwth, that has but a tangential connection to the winter holidays, but we couldn’t resist including it here. ‘If you like traditional instrumental medieval Welsh music played with skill, grace, and a lot of energy, you’ll love this CD. If you like traditional instrumental Celtic music of most any sort that has fiddles in it, give it a try too. I’ve played it a half dozen or so times in the past few months – it’s that good!’

Jayme gave a mixed review to Donal Hinely’s Midwinter Carols, an album played on the glass harmonica. ‘This is, I would say, the perfect CD to have playing in the background during a Christmas party or holiday gathering. It’s unpretentious and familiar on some deep level, but the look of fascinated confusion on listeners’ faces once they realize they’re listening to something unworldly may turn out to be the real treat for the host.’

Lars found Johnny Coppins’ Keep the Flame suitable for the season, if a bit abbreviated. ‘If you are looking for something soft and soothing to listen to while preparing for Christmas, Keep the Flame may well be what you are looking for. Clocking in at just over 28 minutes, it is a bit on the short side, but of course you can always put your CD player on repeat.’

Naomi was transported by the music on Caroline Peyton’s Celtic Christmas Spirit, considered by some to be one of the best holiday music recordings ever. ‘Featured on this CD are 11 tracks containing traditional Irish carols, combined with vocals so ethereal that you’d swear their origin was not human. Further blended and offset by haunting instrumentation, this disc will transport your soul to the true meaning of Christmas.’

She was less pleased by John Harbison’s Six String Christmas, which she found bland. ‘All the tracks are played to perfection; and, if all you wish to hear is the guitar, then this is for you. I prefer to hear other instruments and the occasional vocal, as well, though. But as I said, mixed in with the rest of our holiday favourites, all tracks played randomly, it ought to blend in quite well.’

No’am was less than thrilled by Tommy Sands’ disc To Shorten the Winter. ‘This disc presents 55 minutes of attractively presented songs, led by Sands’ warm tenor, and accompanied by a sympathetic backing of guitars, organ, pipes and percussion. It’s a competent noise that is relaxing to listen to, but doesn’t force itself upon the listener – faint but damning praise. This disc can function as more than adequate background music, but there’s no one song which makes the listener sit up and say “Wow, that was a great song!” ‘

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I know that theThe Winter Solstice just passed, but let’s still have our annual story about that sacred event, Jennifer Stevenson’s ‘Solstice’ about a small-time rocker — well, listen to it as told by the author to find out what happens to her on that night, or if you prefer to read it, you can do so here.

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Ysbaddaden and his stumped tail black coated yellow eyed brood are telling me that ’tis time for their eventide feeding, so I’ll take your leave now. Now where did the kitchen staff put that leftover smoked duck from last night? Ahhh, there it is! Let me feed them and I’ll see about some music to leave with you after their feeding, so one moment please…

I’m thinking that I mentioned here a few months back that I had been playing a concert recording by Skara Brae, The short-lived Irish trad group which the sorely missed Mícheál Ó’Domhnaill wa a member as he was of a number of bands including  Nightnoise, so I’ll finish off with a set of tunes, ‘Ar A Dhul Chun’ and ‘Chuain Dom’, from that performance. And I’ve no idea why they didn’t get a commercial release of this performance as both the music and the production are quite fine indeed.

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A Kinrowan Estate Story: Nicholas

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He lowered his head as he walked into the Green Man Pub from the Worlds Beyond on a much too cold late Autumn evening. An impressive thing to do given that door’s a shade over eight feet tall. Dressed mostly in black including his Russian style fur hat, save a floor length red woollen jacket trimmed with black fur and red detailing.

Strangely enough though he was no longer as big as a small troll when he reached the bar. Still big mind you and stocky too — six and three quarters feet easily, wide shoulders, and I guessed twenty five stone in weight, none of it fat. When he removed his hat, I saw that he had his black hair tied back in a pony tail clasped with a silver serpent chasing itself. And he bore a neatly trimmed goatee and moustache. And deep grey eyes — a rare thing indeed.

I asked his preference in drink. Mead if you got it, he said, or failing that vodka if it’s from Mother Russia. I started him off with our metheglin, the batch that’d been aged for a decade. Rare stuff indeed in a world where most mead makers think a month’s long enough to age it.

He asked in a deep voice, ‘Is this where the members of Local 564 of the Ancient and Venerable Guild of St. Nicholas, which represents Santas, Santa’s helpers, department store elves, tree trimmers, candle lighters, professional gift wrappers, goose stuffers, roast chestnut vendors, plum pudding makers, sleigh drivers, carollers for hire, bell ringers, and related trades holds their annual post-Christmas meeting?’

I was impressed that he got that correct as it’s an invocation that, when spoken correctly, grants the hearer to admit that yes, that’s right.

After pouring him the metheglin, I asked who he was. I thought I knew who but I wanted to make sure my guess was right. He said that he had many names and many guises down the centuries but he preferred to be known just as Nicholas though he was known also as Winter by many. He was the personification of all the Christmas deities down the years. And he was here because he felt it was time to visit us as many of his mortal helpers here mentioned him in their thoughts.

You really, I said, with the deference due a possible God, don’t look like any of the Santas I’ve seen depicted. Hesitantly I went on and said, You really look like the living version of a Tzar who’s indeed the God that Russian peasants thought he was such as Peter the Great or Nicholas II as painted by a particularly well paid artist.

Instead of the frown I expected, he grinned widely showing many gold teeth and roared out a laugh as deep as the roots of a mountain. Well, he said, I do control what I choose to look like and I choose to be like this.

The rest of this tale I’ll tell another time. Suffice it to say now that I learned much about the secret history of all Winter holidays, from who was the very first Snow Queen to why the British Royal Family so enthusiastically adopted the trappings of Christmas after the German royalty that married into that line brought those rituals to them.

So for now, I say good night and sleep well. Dream of sugar plum faeries and such if you want, but I’ll be dreaming of a darker, much more pagan holiday.

P

 

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What’s New for the 11th of December: DeLint and Yolen, some space opera and a lot of Peanuts; holiday music from Norway, Jethro Tull, and elsewhere; new music from Unthank:Smith, Melissa Carper, ambient country, new prog jazz, heavy Nordic folk rock; and a wee nibbling mousie

The roasting, the feasting and the hours of horseplay helped to create a special warmth on this cold, hard day. Then the fire was stoked and fed to make a warm place where there could be dancing until darkfall. Martin was very drunk. Rebecca danced alone, wide skirts swirling, hair flowing as the accordion wheezed out its jig, and feet stamped on the stone flags at the edge of the field, where the pit had been dug. — from Robert Holdstock’s Merlin’s Wood

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Aren’t you glad that you’re inside while a rather nasty sleet storm is going on? It looks lovely from inside the Pub but Gus’s groundskeeping staff have been cursing fluently in whatever language they prefer – including ancient Celtic in the case of Cerridwen, one of my Pub staff who’s lending a hand – as the sleet is a wet, heavy one that needs shaking off fruit trees and such. They come in every so often to change clothes, warm up, get a another flask of coffee and something to eat before heading back out.

So I’m in our Pub, iPad in hand, asking Cat and Gary what they’ve got for this edition, so I can figure what else they have to go in it. Mind, none of us are working at it very hard as the Neverending Session is playing Swedish trad music, the fire’s roaring and Finch’s giving generous pours of our favorite libations…

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Let’s start off the book reviews this time with a look at Charles de Lint’s Newford Stories: The Crow Girls. Of all the immortal shapeshifting being that inhabit the Newford stories, the most charming at least for me are Maida and Zia, the two crow girls, who look like pinkish teenagers all in black naturally. After you read Cat’s review, you can experience them first hand in A Crow Girls Christmas written by (obviously) Charles de Lint and charmingly illustrated by his wife, MaryAnn Harris.

He also offers us a review of one of his yearly readings: ‘Jane Yolen has set The Wild Hunt in the dead of winter, a winter where the weather is very, very bad — as bad as it will be at Ragnarok itself. The story told here is that Herne the Hunter, He Who is The Lord of Winter, is battling… a cat… a rather small cat at that. Ahhh, but not just any cat.’

Eric has a cozy of sorts for us: ‘Adding a new dimension to a real figure adds a kick to historical fiction. The key is to cast the person plausibly, if the historical feel of the fiction is to be kept. The role doesn’t have to be something that the person actually would have done, just something that the character can fall naturally into as the book progresses. In The Queene’s Christmas, Karen Harper strives to graft the role of detective onto the Queen. Somewhat difficult to swallow at times, but the overall effort is a good one.’

Gary liked Arkady Martine’s A Desolation Called Peace even better than its prequel, A Memory Called Empire, which he reviewed last time. ‘With her first two novels, Arkady Martine has emerged as the author of some of the best military/political science fiction of the era. Her memorable and not always likable characters capture and hold our imaginations as they navigate a host of big meaning-of-life questions in life-or-death situations. This is space opera for the ages. I have high expectations and many questions that I hope are met in the next installment. Like, I wonder if I’m right about the kittens?’

Lis has another review of a Ben Aaronovitch Rivers of London, this time Broken Homes, number four in this series: ‘A dead woman with no ID, her face shot off, and DNA that appears to come from what Peter, Nightingale, and the team refer to as “The Strip Club of Dr. Moreau.” A city planner who turns around to go back down to the underground tracks, and inexplicably appears to commit suicide. A burglar found dead, burned from the inside. A stolen grimoire of industrial magic, which is traced back to a deceased crazy architect who built the SkyGardens council housing estate, where very odd things seem to be happening. Is Peter headed for another confrontation with the Faceless Man?’

A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files got this note from Richard: ‘Generally speaking, the supernatural western rests roughly at the heart of Joe Lansdale’s run on Jonah Hex. You can shift it a little toward Briscoe County here, a little toward the Deadlands RPG there, but really, the metaphor’s pretty solidly set. Until, of course, something comes along like Gemma Files’ A Book of Tongues, which takes the traditional supernatural western, sizes it up, and then calmly shoots it in the back of the head.’

Robert brings us a look back at early — well, fairly early — Charles de Lint, with reviews of two of his novels set in and around Tamson House. First is Moonheart: ‘Moonheart may very well be the first novel by Charles de Lint that I ever read. I can’t really say for sure — it’s been awhile. It certainly is one that I reread periodically, a fixture on my “reread often” list. It contains, in an early form, all the magic that keeps us coming back to de Lint.’

And next Robert has Spiritwalk: ‘Spiritwalk is a loose sequel to Moonheart, a series of related tales, again centering around Tamson House and including many of the same characters. In fact, the House is even more important as a Place in this group of stories.’

 

Warner has a healthy assortment today. First is Joanna Schaffhausen’s Long Gone, which questions the problems a cop faces after turning in another. 

John Langan’s Corpsemouth and Other Autobiographies brings forward horror with plenty of dark looks at myths, folklore, and society.  

Anthony Horowitz’s The Twist of a Knife represents a rarity where the author puts himself on suspicion of murder.

Warner sees Amanda Kool’s Resembling Lepus as “a startlingly new mystery sci fi-novel” featuring a death at it’s core.

A return to the British Library Crime Classics comes in the form of Anthony Berkeley’s Murder in the Basement.

Finally a “basic setup of a graduate student dealing with past trauma” is is taken an interesting directions by Isaac Fellman in The Two Doctors Górski.

 

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Speaking of The Hobbit, Robert reviewed Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: ‘I saw Peter Jackson’s first installment on his trilogy of The Hobbit twice, and, strangely enough, An Unexpected Journey was better the second time. Fortunately, I haven’t read The Hobbit in years, so I wasn’t having to pull myself back from what should have happened to what was actually happening.’ He later saw the second Hobbit film: ‘Inevitably, I found myself catching the first local showing of Peter Jackson’s latest entry into his J. R. R. Tolkien sweepstakes, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. It was better than I expected.’

Naturally we also reviewed The Lord of The Rings films that actually preceded those films. Grey reviewed all three and it’s best that I not spoil the wonderful treat that you’ve got waiting for in reading her illuminating reviews, so I’m just going to send you to her The Fellowship of Ring review hereThe Two Towers review here and The Return of The King review thisaway.  Suffice it to say that she wasn’t disappointed in any of them!

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We asked a number of folk we know this question: Is it a bowl of your mother’s fish chowder? Or a warm doughnut dusted with powdered sugar? Comfort food is as individual as each of us. So here is Deborah Grabien‘s reply:

Well, it’s an odd thing: as a cook, I think all food is comfort food.

No, I’m not being difficult. It’s just that I love to cook, and I don’t cook anything I don’t also love to eat, unless I’m cooking for a large crowd. The whole thing about food is that — like air and water — it’s one of the great imperatives. Sex is brilliant, but you can go without it your entire life with no ill effects, and in fact, many do. Try going without food, air or water, though, and you’re in serious trouble.

We seem to be in an age when everything is based on competition. I used to watch the Food Network for a chance at recipes I didn’t have, ideas, fusion for things I hadn’t come across. Now it’s all about pitting cooks against each other. And that, for me, is 180 degrees from what cookery is supposed to be for. I can’t watch it anymore. “Challenge” this, “Worst” that, “Best” whatever. What are these people talking about? It’s food.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a big pot of bolognese bubbling away on the 150 BTU simmer burner, or a bowl of warm peas straight from the garden drizzled with butter and sea salt, or a slab of cinnamon savarin, or fresh pineapple carved off the heart and chilled in its own juice. A bowl of cereal, a cup of cocoa, an apple, a burrito: it’s all comfort food. Why would I cook it, or eat it, if it did anything other than please me?

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David got endless amusement from the ongoing series of The Complete Peanuts. We’re featuring his reviews of Volumes 1-3, Volume 4, and Volume 5. ‘Designed by Canadian cartoonist Seth, the books have a distinctive look and appropriate heft, as though you are holding something important in your hands. I first saw the books last summer in New York City. We stayed in a hotel just off Broadway, and out the back door was a huge comic book store. I spent many free moments browsing through the racks in Jim Hanley’s Universe. Then I saw Volume 1 of The Complete Peanuts. It was signed by designer Seth, and featured a drawing of one of his own characters (in Shulz’s style) chasing Charlie Brown and volunteering to “be his friend.” I bought it on the spot.’

PGary has some new winter holiday music from Norway, Trygve Seim and Andreas Utnem’s Christmas Songs. ‘By their nature most of these tunes are quite familiar to most of us, but if you go just a little below the surface of the arrangements on Christmas Songs you’ll hear something different. Trygve Seim and Andreas Utnem have given us the gift of an album that asks us to reimagine these old chestnuts along with them.’

‘I like Melissa Carper’s music a lot,’ Gary says in his review of her solo album Ramblin’ Soul. ‘She brings a lot to the table – or to the stage or studio, as it were – including her deft rhythmic sense on the upright bass, a unique vocal style and sound, a great way with lyrics that encompasses a whole range of emotions from joyful to utterly depressed, sometimes within the same song, and a deep familiarity with classic country music that enables her to present those lyrics in an appropriate setting.’

‘Right out of the gate you know there’s something different going on with Laszlo Gardony’s Close Connection,’ Gary says in his next review. ‘Although this, his 14th leader date, features the Hungarian born pianist and composer with his longtime trio mates, bassist John Lockwood and drummer Yoron Israel, the music they’re playing is anything but straight ahead piano jazz. The first two cuts, “Irrepressible” and “Strong Minds,” introduce the two seemingly disparate influences that underpin this album: Hungarian folk music on the former and progressive rock on the latter.’

Gary remains a big fan of the “ambient country” music of SUSS. He reviews a new six-song EP from this New York trio called Winter Was Hard, which is the third side of a forthcoming vinyl double LP called simply SUSS. ‘After the shimmering Southwestern soundscapes of Night Suite and Heat Haze, Bob Holmes, Pat Irwin and Jonathan Gregg take us into chillier territory on Winter Was Hard. And back out again.’

Finally, Gary reviews a short set of Nordic folk-rock, Gangar’s Tre Danser. ‘If you’ve been wishing for some heavy metal arrangements of Nordic folk tunes, St. Nicholas has heard you and answered with this fresh new recording. Tre Danser is the first release from the Norwegian folk-rockers Gangar, a brief three-song EP that has quite an impact for such a short record. They’ve been playing as a band for a couple of years with popular live shows, combining Norwegian folk songs and tunes with heavy metal inspired by the likes of Meshuggah, Hoven Droven, AC/DC, and Gåte.

Let’s see what we have in the Archives that might fit with the approaching holidays …

Big Earl had feelings about two releases from the U.K. band The Ukrainians: ‘I mean, if I ever catch these guys live, I’m starting the Pit; to hell with the violin and mandolin flourishes! This is frankly the direction I wish the Pogues had taken: the harder, rougher road. Let’s face it, much northern European traditional dance music wasn’t meant to be played pretty and delicate. These traditions have always meant to allow the listener to become dervish-like, flailing one’s way towards the gods and clan, not sitting at the side and nodding along politely.’

David had high praise for a holiday release from the good folks at the archival label Dust-to-Digital, Where Will You Be Christmas Day? ‘There are some Christmas albums that can be played non-stop throughout the Christmas season — favourite seasonal songs by your favourite singers. James Taylor recorded one last Christmas that will stay on holiday playlists for years. But every once in a while a record comes along that transcends the season and provides good listening, solid musical value, and even (dare I say it) historical importance to be played outside the month of December. Where Will You Be Christmas Day? is one of those recordings.’

David also reviewed a wee EP of holiday songs, Merry Christmas from Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull. ‘It’s all very warm and cozy. People outside the office called in, “Dave! You’re putting us in the Christmas spirit!” Oh! Wouldn’t want to do that . . . before you know it I’ll be surrounded by tinsel and lights!’

Jack covered three Nordic releases with some themes and sounds in common, Lena Willemark’s När som gräset det vajar, Ale Möller Band’s Bodjal, and Maria Kalaniemi Trio’s Tokyo Concert. He especially liked the one by Lena Willemark. ‘I’ve heard more Nordic neo-traditional CDs than I care to think of, and I can say that this is one of the very best I’ve heard!’

Jayme enjoyed Out of Time, a release from Wyndnwyre, a Texas band that played ancient music. ‘There’s not much in the way of medieval music these folks can’t handle. And what they handle, they handle well. That sound has made them a popular headliner at various Houston pubs and the charming “Dickens on the Strand” held on Galveston Island each December. In the controlled atmosphere of a recording studio, that talent shines all the more brightly.’

Judith reviewed Canadian singer songwriter Aengus Finnan’s North Wind. ‘Winner of the 2002 Kerrville New Folk Songwriting Award, Finnan’s song writing is excellent, not so much because of the words he uses, but because of the way they interact with the melody, the acoustic arrangements, and his own smooth voice. More interesting, though, is the sequencing of tracks; it is rare to hear an album like this where with each track you ask “What’s next?” ‘

Peter had high praise for the live album Once Upon A Winter’s Night by Yardarm Offa. ‘The quality of the recording is excellent; indeed if not for the audience singing the choruses, it would be hard to distinguish it from a studio recording. But the band singing live and responding to the reaction and mood of the audience as they are enjoying the songs and joining in, is a joy to behold. It lifts the band, and you get that extra sparkle in the performance that is impossible to recreate in a cold studio recording. This is true folk music, as it should be, and what you hear in a real folk club.’

And Peter learned something when he reviewed Robin Bullock, Al Petteway and Amy White’s A Midnight Clear, even though he reviewed it six months early! ‘I don’t think I had realised before researching this album how different Christmas is on the two sides of the Atlantic, and indeed elsewhere around the world. In the U.K., it is perceived as a celebration (in the eyes of the Church) in the Americas it is a holiday, although we both have the same theme.’

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Our What Not caused Reynard to ponder something in the Nibbling Mouse Folkmnis puppet: “I’ve no idea where it’s been since it came in for review nearly twenty years ago, nor do I know how it ended up in the room off the Estate Kitchen that houses the centuries-old collection of cookbooks, restaurant menus and other culinary-related material but I just noticed it there, a very adorable white mouse puppet holding a wedge of cheese in its paws. Somebody had placed it in a white teacup on the middle of the large table so I really couldn’t overlook it.”

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A couple of well known musicians from the North East of England, Rachel Unthank and Paul Smith, calling themselves Unthank, have released the first two songs off their forthcoming album Nowhere And Everywhere, scheduled for release in February 2023. (Props for the nod to Waterson:Carthy in the name of this duo.) Rachel, of the folk and folk/rock vocal group The Unthanks, and Paul, of the indie rock band Maxïmo Park, will tour the UK and Ireland in March and April 2023.

The album itself will feature a lot of traditional songs, but the first two tracks released are both originals: “The Natural Urge” by Paul and “Seven Tears” by Rachel. The former was part inspired by the bleak World War I art of Paul Nash, and the latter incorporates Northumbrian mythology about selkies.

“The Natural Urge is, ultimately, an anti-war song, but I tried to write something more atmospheric and less obvious than that might imply, Paul says. “The guitar riff reminded me of a folk melody, and the theme also seemed to fit with the tradition of protest.” You can watch it here.

Of her song “Seven Tears,” Rachel says, “I have always loved the songs and ballads about selkies – a seal in the sea that takes off their sealskin and adopts human form on land. “When doing some research about the selkie mythology, I read that if you cried seven tears into the sea, then your selkie lover would come back to you. I also love the Northumbrian word ‘darkening’ which means dusk; that time of night when magic happens, and the time that I once saw a bob of seals off a Northumbrian beach, which inspired me to write this song.”

You can listen to them both here.

Posted in Commentary | Comments Off on What’s New for the 11th of December: DeLint and Yolen, some space opera and a lot of Peanuts; holiday music from Norway, Jethro Tull, and elsewhere; new music from Unthank:Smith, Melissa Carper, ambient country, new prog jazz, heavy Nordic folk rock; and a wee nibbling mousie

A Kinrowan Estate story: Of Bloodied Kings

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There are stories of hauntings here at the Kinrowan Estate going back centuries. Of ghostly patrons of our Pub in the Kinrowan Hall who came back again and again at last call to hoist just one more pint of their favourite ale, of the gameskeeper (in those long ago days when we had such a post) who is still spotted watching over the deer as they eat acorns in the late fall, of the piper heard playing in the distance as the dawn breaks over the hills where High Meadow Farm is.

And any other of the myriad  tales passed down generation after generation ’till they past from being remembered to being part of our history into being simply stories…

There is one ghost, or rather a set of ghosts, that I See in my vision when I’m unable to sleep and leave Catherine sleeping soundly in our bed to roam around Kinrowan Hall and nearby grounds in warmer weather. So it was when some decades back that I first encountered them.

At first all I noticed was the crickets chirping loud in the warm night air.  Then I heard the Irish wolfhounds we have to keep the sheep and pigs safe from wolves and other predators growling lowly in their throats as if something was well beyond their ken. So I walked out to where they were and stopped awfully fast when I saw them.

They were I thought that they were just some waking dream I was having, not really there but I son realised that they were really there. They were a King, stocky and red haired, terribly wounded but still standing,  fucking huge sword unsheathed and covered with blood and gore, and his foe, equally stocky and blond haired, obviously Viking from the runes etched on his equally bloodied sword. Dead men walking. As I watched, they resumed hacking at each other. Over and over again.

They went on, silently, never saying anything, cutting at each other ’til they were far past the point where they should have been dead, but they went one cutting at each other. They were still having at each other as they faded away.

I’ve seen them several times since, always on the same date. I’ve tried researching the old battles, the old kings of Scotland, but never found anything that even vaguely matches up properly to what I saw. I do know that there are several barrow mounds on the Estate that may indeed be those of Kings lost now to even myth as they live and died so long ago that no one even remembers them  even in stories.

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