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A Witchy Heart Stone

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The story is part reminiscence, part truth with a little bit of fiction – I’m not saying which is which. It actually doesn’t matter. The story was the result of a meditation using a pile of beach pebbles as the focus. Part of the meditation involved drawing them and assigning personalities to the stones. the witch stones are in my possession still, as is the beautiful piece of silver mounted, sea-green, heart-shaped seas glass, illustrated below.

A Witchy Heart Stone

pebble scan

As I approach the gallery I remember the day I found it, the stone in my pocket. It literally changed my life, forever. Which was a surprise as I didn’t realise it needed changing, though it did. All I was looking for was something to do, something worthwhile that didn’t make me feel like a time-waster, a solitary time waster at that.

Since I was a child I had loved walking along a beach. It wasn’t a frequent event despite living only thirty miles from the sea. But city girls do as city life dictates, and the seaside may as well have been another country, another planet, on most days. Except that my dad was an ex sailor, and loved the sea almost as much as he loved his family, though the nearest he got to it in those days was working on the estuary docks unloading ships, or very occasional day trips to the nearest, non-commercial beach. We hadn’t much money so Dad preferred to avoid the places where my sister and I might decide that candy floss, carousel rides and penny arcade machines were vital to our continued existence.  Instead he taught us that rock pools held the world in miniature if we were patient enough to watch and wait, and that we could build our fantasies out of sand with an old plastic spade, a handle-less bucket and the endless, fascinating flotsam and jetsom that the inbetween realm of the beach, the intertidal zone, provided in abundance.

Though few and far between, throughout our childhood many long sunny summer days were spent in those costless pursuits, as my sister and I ran barefoot as elves and burnt brown as berries (no one worried about ultra-violet induced skin cancer in those days).  In particular I enjoyed collecting shells, seaweed, driftwood, and pebbles to decorate our sand fairy castles, mermaid tails and pirate ships. But it was the beach pebbles that fascinated me the most, for their multiple shapes, sizes, markings and colours. I had an interesting and beautiful collection of sea glass in colours from clear, green, blue, and topaz to, most rare of all, a few reds and purples. I still have a pendant made from a piece of green sea glass that I rarely remember to wear yet love wearing when I do. Somehow it seems to reach out to my moods, echoing the many moods of the ocean, and connecting me with something primal. Best of all was a game we often played last of all, in the last hour or two of sunlight, before donning clothes and shoes, and returning to Dad’s beat up old banger to go home for tea. This was hunting for treasure – our treasure, what we called heart and witchy stones.

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Heart stones are what they sound like; stones that have been tumbled by the motion of the sea until, through serendipitous design, they are perfect heart shapes. They were not easy to find, though lesser, only roughly heart-shaped stones were common enough. But that wasn’t good enough for us perfectionists. We wanted to find pure heart stones – evenly shaped and symmetrical like a valentine offering. To our young, and innocently romantic, minds they were symbols of true love. We only ever found a handful, though every single one was unearthed and greeted with excitement and celebration.

Witchy stones are pebbles with a weakness in their structure so that the sea grinds a hole within the pebble. In sea mythology, they are considered to be extremely lucky and a protection from evil charms and nightmares. If you look through the hole, they are supposed to reveal any elves and fairies, or other magical beings, lurking nearby. To my eternal regret, and despite trying many, many times, I never saw any. Just like perfect heart stones, I only ever found a couple of witchy stones, and these have all been lost or thrown out in the time-flown years somewhere between childhood freedom and adult responsibility.

The importance and joy of seaside treasure remained deep in my subconscious, albeit well hidden. It must have been safely locked up, sleeping in my memory and temporarily overlooked, but somehow never completely forgotten, because when I needed to think about how my life was fast disappearing without much to show for it, I wasn’t really surprised to find myself pulled magnetically towards the seaside.

The activity of walking on a golden sun-drenched sandy beach, though still immensely enjoyable, and something I could easily participate in, despite being on my own, was somehow, on trying it now, not quite as enticing as I remembered. For one the weather was grey and damp (a bit like my life then) and I never realised how itchy and gritty sand was between your toes, nor how hard it was to walk with your feet continually sinking in soft dry sand, or wet sinking sand, for that matter. But then my joints and muscles didn’t ache so much in those days, either.  And yet … the sweeping pebbly strands that mark the sea’s high tide-line, still drew me like magic, just as it did five decades ago back in the fairy-dusted, sun-spangled mists of childhood.

Nothing shrieks enchantment and meditation to me as much as wandering along the tide line looking for pebbles, and suddenly I found myself right back there, deep within those blissful moments of childhood when magic and chaos still hold sway, and where my sister and I spent hours searching for those elusive heart and witchy stones. You cannot imagine how magnificent an amount of time you can waste in peaceful tranquillity roaming up and down a beach searching for tiny sea-ground lumps of the bones of the Earth. The sound of the sea, sussing between the pebbles, and magically painting them in bright lucidity, somehow persuades the heart to slow down to match its own unregulated pace, and quells the constant media-afflicted mind, leaving it free to pursue its own mystic wanderings along strange and surprising pathways, until clarity and enlightenment are allowed to peek their mysterious faces into a mundane reality.

What was I going to do for the next few decades? Goddess willing there is a few, anyway. No more work, no more responsibility! Suddenly I was free to do … anything. But it’s not easy to decide to do something when faced with endless amounts of time and opportunity but no clear ideas. Easier by far is the option of doing nothing. But that’s not my way. Along with a love of the sea, Dad also instilled in his two daughters a strong work ethic. Yet wasn’t this exactly the time to do … nothing? Hadn’t I earned the right … to do nothing? I’d worked hard bringing up my own children, and imbuing them in turn, with a good healthy dollop of respect for nature just like Dad did for us; and I’d built a successful career for myself after they had grown old enough to no longer need constant care and guidance. I was free now, free to put myself first, free to follow my own dreams and go with the flow, as people kept telling me. The only problem was – I didn’t know what my dreams were – I didn’t really have any dreams – did I? So on that fate-filled day I drifted up and down an empty, pebbly beach, the sun a barely sensed, hazy ghost behind a typical North Sea fret, my eyes unfocussed but conversely peeled, and my mind floating about in some ocean-soaked melting pot, going precisely nowhere either metaphorically or terrestrially.

And that was when I found it … somehow my free-flowing mind connected with my out of focus eyes and caught an indistinct flash or sparkle or something. I creakily bent down and could hardly believe my eyes. To find a heart stone is rare, to find a witchy stone equally rare but I’d found something very, very special. It was a creamy white, opaque, almost perfectly heart-shaped pebble just under two-inches long, in old-money, with an almond-shaped hole precisely sea-ground into one of the two upper heart curves like a watchful eye. It was a witchy heart-stone – double the luck, double the beauty: smooth, precise, its surface clear of blemishes other than its lovely almond-sculpted cavity, and I’d found it on my first pebble hunt after years of not trying, of forgetting even that it was actually a worthwhile thing to do … sometimes.

Picking it up, I sat down on the damp sand oblivious to the moisture soaking into the seat of my jeans, and simply stared at it, turning it over and over, viewing it from all is perfect angles, and marvelling at both its simplicity and its complexity. With its single almond eye giving the illusion that it had indeed been winking especially at me, it had been patiently waiting for me to find it; waiting only for me.

As I examined it I thought back to those childhood days and remembered how I liked to draw my collection of pebbles and shells, when I got home, and suddenly, I itched to do so there and then. Where was a sketchbook when you needed one? And there it was; that clarity I was looking for. Something to fill my time that I both enjoyed, and didn’t feel was ‘just wasting my time’ like reading my E-book, or daydreaming. I would take up drawing again … and painting … maybe acrylics or perhaps learn to use those tricky watercolours. And if it goes okay, perhaps I could invest in some printmaking equipment. Printmaking was ‘my thing’ during A levels, and got me a top A grade, though I never did anything with it career-wise. Maybe it was time to make use of my artistic skills – if I still had them, of course. Long I mused that day, alone on a beach in a damp sea fret, staring at a pebble. Yes, that’s what I would do, I had decided; and suddenly I couldn’t wait to get home. The following day I would visit the art suppliers and invest in a small fortune’s worth of materials, and would later transform my conservatory into a studio. It was the obvious thing to do with its washable Italian tiled floor, and the excellent light due to no overlooking buildings, just 270 degrees of sky, a few telephone wires and the odd noisy rook or crying city-immigrant seagull.

In those first throws of artistic excitement I had popped the newly found witchy heart stone in my bag, hauled myself, inelegantly to my feet, and hurried home. Now I’m fingering that same piece of creamy milk-white rock which has stayed beside me either out of sight, quietly dozing, in my jeans pocket, or sitting next to my easel offering me sage-worthy advice, for over twelve months. And here it is accompanying me now to my first exhibition and sale of the colourful, semi-abstract natural-form paintings I have been inspired to paint since that fateful walk on the beach. Admittedly it’s only our small, local art gallery but this is MY exhibition, of MY paintings, mine and only mine. And all these people are here to see and, hopefully buy, MY paintings. As I enter the gallery, my fellow art-lover, and coincidentally, new, romantic lover, comes over to welcome me with a supportive hug. I notice one or two red dots on selected paintings. Oh Goddess, I have actually sold some of my paintings, already. My heart-beat intensifies. The fingers on my free hand (the other being held, tightly, by my new and exciting lover) close over the witchy heart stone, and I stroke it with my thumb. I offer it thanks for all the wonderful changes it has wrought in my life; changes that I could never have imagined happening without my rocky muse. I think I feel it warming at my words like a true witchy stone would. Then I walk forward, hand in hand with my two loves, into a new and brightly coloured future.

a meadow of sea flowers

 

 

 

 

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City of Culture

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Home, I learned, can be anywhere you make it. Home is also the place to which you come back again and again.

Margaret Mead

I said my roots found it hard to get established anywhere but in fact my roots are definitely here in the north of England, and in particular, the city of Kingston Upon Hull with which I have a very love/hate relationship. I am immensely proud of Hull’s tenacity, independence (we have insulted Kings and Queens – Victoria and William of Orange sit on top of public toilets whilst Charles 1st was turned away from our gates at the start of the Civil War), history (yes, even the bad bits – slavery and whaling give us depth and colour); and famous ancestors – poets like Andrew Marvell, Phillip Larkin (remember the Toads?), politicians such as Wilberforce, actors like Maureen Lipman (I went to school with her, though she was older than me) and John Alderton, musicians such as the Housemartins/Beautiful South and Roland Gift – a whole cultural plethora of them.

I adore Hull’s buildings such as our elegant Georgian old town, the modern city heart rebuilt after war-time devastation (the most bombed city outside London and we don’t let Coventry claim otherwise, sorry) with buildings from Georgian to 50s Art Deco; refurbished dockland warehouses to innovative Malls, one built on stilts over an old dock; our graceful yet practical tidal barrier; a modern new travel interchange; refreshing green spaces in the city centre, and many parks scattered throughout with tree lined streets that radiate around this semi-circular city (causing traffic chaos at the hint of the wrong kind of snow or a broken down vehicle). All perched on the beautiful, multi-moody River Humber (not a river at all but a tidal estuary – see my poetry) with its famous suspension bridge, once the longest on earth, and strangely patterned mud flats glistening and sparkling in midday sun or midnight moonlight, respectively.

            But I get exasperated by the inhabitant’s insular approach to life, the bad decisions made by politicians that have led to massive unemployment following the decline in the fishing industry, and the continuing closure of factory after factory. Still it’s my city and I love it. I have lived and worked here all my life, brought children into the world here, contributed to supporting disadvantaged people with my charity and social work, set up support groups, got involved in fighting for different causes, enjoyed its wide variety of culture and educational opportunities. Now I enjoy semi-retirement here, spending time showing my grandchildren the city’s delights, and proudly nodding when outsiders say how down to earth and friendly we are.

We get attacked regularly from London based journalists (Channel 4’s Location, Location, Location that dubbed Hull the worst place to live – its not, without actually coming here of course) but even that pales into insignificance by one devastating attack – that of the environment itself when Hull was badly flooded in the monsoon-like rains of June 2007. Once again though, that Hull-born tenacity came to the fore as residents rose to the challenge that saw whole families reduced to living in caravans (to add to any educational disadvantages school children now had to face GCSE exams having nowhere to revise but a caravan bunk-bed). Several years on and some families are still in temporary accommodation, fighting sluggish insurance companies and grasping builders who saw an opportunity to do a bad job for good money.

More environmental disaster as the winters of 1009/10 and 2010/11 brought arctic conditions that froze pipes and struck the roads full of potholes. Yet the Hull spirit rose to the challenge with neighbours helping neighbours dig out the drives and pathways, and get the shopping in. Yet even in this northern outpost, during weather to rival Siberia, tiny signs of life pushed the cycles of the seasons ever on as snowdrop bulbs pushed through the frozen soil and mistletoe sprouted from my apple tree trunk.

But the patient city weather victims were/are still happy to relish in other successes and subsequent failures. So – good for you Hullites, with your two exceptional Rugby teams (Hull FC and Hull Kingston Rovers – we went to Wembly once (and since but not together as we did that one amazing time), the police in London feared rival gangs at such a high profile derby game but couldn’t believe their eyes to see HKR and HFC fans eating in pubs, cafes etc together, no trouble AT ALL; most of Hull went – someone hung a banner on the overhead footbridge at the western edge of the city, saying “last one out turn off the lights” – that’s our local humour); and then there’s the mixed fortune football team Tigers (more about them later) with their brand new sports stadium (doubling up as a much needed pop concert venue) sponsored by the once and only independent communications company in the country, till privatisation and market forces opened up hundreds of new telecom business opportunities, for better or worse. The unusual-in-sport HKR/HFC friendliness showed its head again recently, when the teams played together. One team just wanted to win (HFC); the other NEEDED to win (HKR) to stay in the Super League. Everyone cheered when Hull Kingston Rovers won, it meant both teams could continue to play against each other in the Super League – more derbies especially the traditional boxing day match – tradition survives. This rival friendliness, or friendly rivalry, is unheard of elsewhere I understand, but is typically Hull, and I love it.

Back to our mixed fortune football team – up and down the leagues – but suddenly finding itself in the Premier League for the first time in its history, playing the giants, and for one brief glorious shining moment, third in the league above many globally famous teams! Even the great Man U underestimated them. What other team has been to Old Trafford and LOST 4:3! It was a brief heyday as two years on – relegation, financial ruin and manager misdemeanours taint the dream – but things change – owners, managers, players and fortunes – to see us in 2013 back where we belong – the Premier division.

Hull, as a city, cannot seem to win: we are the forgotten city, with decaying factories, desperate social problems – being at the bottom of just about every league table from health to education. There is very little investment in the city, and help was exceptionally slow to arrive, for instance, during the summer floods and winter freezes, leaving families living in dreadful conditions months, nay years on. A global recession and political chaos are not helping. The government refuse to abolish the Humber Bridge debt (rising by thousands of pounds per day they say though its expensive tolls have been cut by half) in order to improve commercial networking and free trade; the council are hesitating to sell the KC stadium to a local entrepreneur which could bring prosperity and life to the very run down area surrounding the stadium.

Yet our population remain some of the most positive, resourceful, friendly, do-anything-for-you people I’ve ever met. And there are glimmers of light on the horizon with foreign companies expressing interest in making Hull the centre of green technology appropriate to our Gateway to Europe position – if the politicians are able to see the same potential that the investors seem to, and that we, the residents know is here.

Recently the Economist urged the government to abandon Hull. But thankfully it hasn’t abandoned us – for – today, at 07.45am – we were named City of Culture 2017: the best news we have had for years – and so well deserved.

I love the existing culture (some of it free yet rivalling York) though this is also under threat from government cuts (talk about a lack of joined up thinking): museums, art galleries, cinemas (popular and art-house), theatres (municipal and the World Famous Hull Truck), the award-winning Deep – Europe’s deepest submarium (deepest what? people ask), our two ground-breaking universities, our local radio (the best in the country, its official); and the traditions too: Hull Fair in October, the largest travelling fair in Europe and the last traveller stop before winter; the Sea Shanty Festival in September; the Lord Mayors Parade and Hull Show; the mighty Freedom Festival and Round the World Clipper race spectaculars, the city’s love of fireworks, our council organising some of the best displays in the country; the Christmas carol concert in our beautifully Baroque and dignified City Hall, the annual, August spectacular called National Play Day when the city centre is opened up as a playground for children; and the many, frequently multi-cultural, street festivals, parades and parties in our several and beautiful parks – and more, much more … and so much more to come! 

But my local affection goes further, I love the nearby coast of chalky, bird rich cliffs, and ever-changing nature-reserve sand dunes, and its grey, cold, unpredictable seas (once full of fishing trawlers now empty of even the fish thanks to foreign factory ships registered in countries that don’t even have a coastline); the Yorkshire Wolds, and Moors that surround us on two sides ensuring those strange local weather patterns that leave us sunny in snow storms, and experiencing droughts when everywhere else floods, till the years when Hull did indeed find itself under water (but it so desperately needed that cleansing) or frozen under arctic storms. I love the local flower sprinkled woods and dark gothic moorland forests, both within which one can glimpse, if you’re quick, a pagan green man with spreading antlers peeping out from just beyond the next tree; the ancient standing stones and vanished coastal villages – can you hear the bells tolling at high tide; the rich agricultural flood plains stretching towards an endless horizon and huge, ever-changing skies; the busy market towns nestled and nurtured amongst breast-like rolling hills; and elegant Victorian spas, dumbed down with candy-floss, bingo halls and rows of battered Vacancy signs. See my poetry page.

Returning to Chez-Lynne: I do not need anyone else in my house to make me happily fulfilled, and it  feel cosy and full of love. I revel in my solitude, which is far from lonely. I have friends and family who visit regularly. If someone special comes along one day, all well and good; if not I have my work, my writing and my creative projects to keep me busy, the garden to nurture, decorating that still needs doing, sometime, no hurry. I might kid myself into thinking I’d like to live in a villa in Tuscany complete with vines, olive trees and the local Cazanove visiting for evenings of bohemian pleasure, or on a stony mountainside in citrus-scented Cyprus, or at the Galactic Portal that is Glastonbury, or even in Middle Earth or travelling the universe in the TARDIS (yes truly, all are dreams I entertain) but will I ever be able to tear my roots from East Yorkshire, I doubt it. I’m a northern lass, through and through, born and bred. But if I do tear myself away, I know I can take my ‘home’, that idea, that concept, that feeling even, with me, like a snail, and create it again, anywhere, anytime – just another canvas!

Stardancer

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j 9 Stardancer    Using the first verse of my poem called Stardancer I created this image. It has been my lifelong desire to see earth from space. Impossible now, I guess. I don’t think they’d let a grandmother, no matter how radical, go into space, and the Doctor in his Tardis isn’t going to come by any too soon, no matter how much I imagine differently.

Many years ago I read an SF book by Spider Robinson called Stardance, and loved the idea of dancing in free fall, with only the stars for company.  The name and concept became the symbol of creativity and freedom for me, hence my web name and the recurring theme – poems, art, tattoo etc.

STAR DANCING 

Riding on the wings of night

Dream child, Star dancer.

Weaving a tapestry of light

Midnight enchanter.

Sailing the space between the stars

Cosmic lover, stellar born.

Playing games with friendly pulsars

Chasing sun-dragons at dawn.

Painting prayers in space and time

Star-kissed, spellbound.

Sliding round on rainbow rhymes

Sculpting astral ambient sound.

Exploring electrons in the void

Star-witch, time tamer.

Skipping quantum orbits loud

The future folds to frame her.

Floating free on fractal tides

Soul-seeker, heart breaker.

Through life’s spirals gently glide

To be her own … dream-maker.

Another couple of pages from my Journal representing freedom. Eagles too are a recurring theme in my artwork, along with wolves – my shamanic spirit companions.

J 6 my blue-black eagle                                  J 15 Wildwood

Just another canvas – how it started

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Image“What made you do that?” asked a (so called) friend after I’d had my first – well second, er third – tattoo. I’m 62 and according to this acquaintance, I should know better at my age. “I didn’t think you’d be into that kind of thing, “she added. Thing I thought, slightly bewildered? Just goes to show, doesn’t it, how people you’ve known for years:

  1. Never do really know you, and
  2. Are happy and quick to judge you

I’ve had ‘get a tattoo’ on my ‘list of things to do before …’ for years but never dared to be vulnerable enough to flaunt convention and just – do it! Then I got fed up of being ‘the someone’ that other people expected me to be, or approved of. You know … the dutiful daughter, the loyal wife, the caring mother, a compassionate friend, an inspiring teacher, a conscientious social worker, a creative therapist?  But just who am I really? I’ve never really known the answer to that question.

Once upon a time I was going to be an artist, a writer; lead a bohemian lifestyle (I always adored the Victorian poets and Pre-Raphaelites – I really feel I belong then)  but … time, relationships, job commitment – well, they get in the way, don’t they.

Once upon a time I was a rebel – a hippy flower child, born in the 50s, spending my developing years growing within the creativity and emerging freedoms of the 60s. Where did all that courage, rebellion; all that energy, go? How did it all get so lost in time?

To be honest, I’m quite a young-looking, creative and visionary person who has inspired others to do all sorts of marvellous things but never really explored my own Self.  I have flaws, I freely admit – laziness vies with ambition; my voluptuous curves belie an interest in healthy lifestyles and environmental responsibility; a love of beautiful things, including clothes, strains a fixed income. Being born within the sign of Gemini (the Twins) is so hard to live with; especially as it also results in an extrovert/introvert confliction.

Well no more. I will bare my soul for all to see – revel in my almost waist long, blond from a bottle, I won’t put up with grey, hair, dress how I want whether that be vintage, gothic or just a baggy old sweat shirt and jeans. I will do what I want – stay in bed reading till lunch time or practice kundalini yoga in the garden; run Goddess workshops for like-minded women; sit goggle-eyed at my laptop till time disappears writing my stories, poetry, the novel; paint all weekend long; or just sit and daydream to beautiful music; or eat cream scones in a countryside café with my friend.  And to my critical friend, let me just say about my three (er four, no five, with one being a work in progress ) tattoos …

My body? Its mine! It belongs to me; and I am after all, an artist at heart … so, my body is just another kind of journal or blog, to decorate, and assist me in telling my story – in other words:  it’s just another canvas! My body has become a metaphor for change. “Bring it on,” I say. What do you say?