Posted in Ivan's Adventures, Oxford Odditites, Uncategorized

Happy Birthday to Us!

Hello everyone! I’m very happy to say that today is the Here Be Wyverns’ Blog’s 2nd birthday!

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When you’re a tiny dragon, you can in fact just dive head first into cake. Two cakes, though, for two years!

*Cue Wild Applause!*

Thank you to everyone who has given me encouragement, advice and most of all their own time for reading this blog. I couldn’t honestly say that I’d have made it through even so much as the first year without you, and certainly not two!

There have been a few milestones, especially this past year, and I know that they are small ones but I’m proud of them and I wanted to share! I don’t know whether it’s not the Done Thing to talk about these things, but I’m a big advocate for sharing things that make you happy and that you’re proud of and encouraging others to do the same. If we cannot share our joy then how will we ever see anything but sadness, and all that?

+200 Likes

May 2018
I didn’t even know that WordPress did these kinds of little stickers until this popped up in my Inbox one morning! It’s strange, because I’d never thought to count up how many views or likes I’d been getting, but the idea that so many people had liked whatever nonsense I’ve been putting out enough to click and tell me was strangely validating! definitely was an encouragement to keep putting out content!+50 Posts

June 2018
Alright, so this is pretty old and I’ve put up a few more since then, but I’m still a little impressed that I’ve managed to find so many things to talk about in 2 years! I hope I’ve not slipped too often into tedious territory!

+100 Follows

August 2019
I am neither too old nor too proud to admit that when this little sticker popped up for me, I may have sniffled a little bit in my armchair!

When I first started out blogging, for the first two months or so I definitely knew every single one of my followers personally, which was a little strange as I’d post something and then get a text message from a friend telling me what she thought! The idea that I almost certainly don’t know you all from my daily life is a strange and wonderful thought! Hello internet friends! May we meet in person one day!+500 Likes

August 2019
August was a big month on the blog, it seems! Once again, thank you to everyone who took the time to interact with me here, either with your lovely and insightful and funny comments, or with clicking the ‘Like’ button! I know it’s a common thing for us writers to be constantly unsure about the quality of their work, and I certainly find it very encouraging to have something tangible to beat those doubts back when writing just seems too hard and nothing I type reads as anything other than garbage!

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Dragons have a rule that it’s not a true feast until there’s cake. I always knew there was a reason I got along so well with dragons…

Sharing happiness aside, I know it’s a common thing around this time to share advice or shine a light on interesting blogs that are out there, but I never know if I have enough insight into either to really add anything right now. Maybe next year, if I can?

In lieu of anything of that nature, I cannot recommend enough checking out The Orangutan Librarian’s series ‘Bloggers Who Deserve More Attention’ (Part 5 to be found here). I have found so many really interesting and lovely blogs through that series, which I’d never have heard about if it weren’t for them!20180423_093704

But I would very much like to share a few things that I have learned in the past two years, especially for new bloggers or those of us who’d really like to have a blog but aren’t quite sure about it either. Because I learned all of these lessons the hard way, and there’s no reason that anyone else should have to cry and shake to learn them too!

1. You Don’t Have To Have A Plan
I know, I know. All the advice out there says that if you want to be successful, if you want to, well, ‘make it’ and all.

And planning’s fine, but if you’re anything like me and thus a dreadful over-thinker? You’re never going to get anything done. I was a mess of notebooks and post-its and ‘but what if’s for months before a friend finally lost her patience and kidnapped my laptop to make this site. I flailed in the background while she did it, in hindsight it was hilarious!

Everything about my life is just so dignified, no?

Anyway, you know what I learned from this? Well, lots, but mostly what I learned was this: if it’s not right straight away? The world doesn’t end, you don’t lose your blogging license and sometimes you don’t know what you’re good at until you try, you know? We over-planners, we worry constantly about what happens if we make a wrong choice, and yeah, sometimes we’re right and that decision is genuinely really important or you’ll have to spend ages and possibly money unpicking a poor choice and all, but with a free blog?

Go for it! Throw yourself in at the deep end! Recklessly abandon your fears by the wayside! Panic is temporary and meaningless!

Maybe this isn’t how million-viewer blogs with sponsorship deals are born, but neither is staring at your notebooks until 3am while you’re too scared to move either. Give it a try and if it’s not your thing then you learned that much about yourself for free! There’s a life-coach out there who could have charged you £100 to tell you that!

2. Be honest with yourself about what you want out of this whole venture
Look, there’s no shame in admitting that everyone blogs for different reasons, and that’s both entirely natural and 100% OK. But a lot of advice for bloggers out there very much assumes that you are blogging in the hopes of getting a huge following, as quickly as possible, and preferably going to monetize and/or use it as a platform for self-publishing.

Which if that’s your goal, cool! Plenty of people do very well at blogging that way and I really enjoy reading their blogs. Just the thing is…

That’s not why I blog.

I blog to encourage myself to write even if I can’t think of anything especially poetic to write for stories, the force myself to branch out in what genres and styles of writing I can do, and to find people with similar interests. I’m much better at thinking about writing and talking about writing than actually setting fingers to keys, and having a blog helps me marry those two things together much better. Typing out my thought processes forces me to think more coherently and to face up to weaker areas in my own work. And that’s all very helpful, even if it’s not ever going to attract enough readers to make any kind of career out of it!

I know one photography blogger who uses her blog mostly as a way to store and sort her photos, and to be able to share them with her friends more easily since she hates Facebook. Ditto a friend who uses her food blog like my grandma used her cookbook. Again, highly unlikely to take off into a profitable venture, but perfectly suitable for what they wanted to get out of it.

So I guess, my advice is this; sit down and be totally honest with yourself about what you actually want here. Don’t feel like, just because some people can make lucrative careers from blogging, that you have to do so or you’ve somehow failed at blogging. there’s no righto or wrong way to do this, only right or wrong ways to go about achieving certain ends. So even though #1 on this list was ‘You Don’t Have To Have A Plan‘, knowing what you’re actually reaching for will help you a lot.

3. If it’s not fun anymore, take a break.
Again, I know; all the advice says that you have to post at least once a week if you want a following and if you don’t do that then you’ll never get anywhere, and that’s the same thing as failure, right?

I get it. I’ve absolutely been there!

And yes, if you want a large following, you need to be regular and frequent with your updates. You need to be reliable.

As previously noted, I’m writing more to chat to you lovely people and to make myself write at all than to become …blogging-famous? Is that a thing? And we all have lives and things that we want to do that get in the way of blogging, and it can be really stressful to try to juggle both.

Do you try to blog while you’re on holiday? I should say that I know some people for whom writing time is their only peace and quiet while away from home, so maybe keep that in mind! It can definitely work for some, not to mention assist in preventing a meltdown.

Do you work extra hard in the weeks heading up to your break to build up a backlog of posts to be released slowly? What if you need a break unexpectedly?

Look, we all get it, life is messy and complicated and tiring. If writing posts for your blog gets to be exhausting or difficult or stressful… just take a break. If you’re more responsible than me, you could put up a notice saying you’ll be away until whenever. But when the fun has gone out of keeping up with your blog, it’s time to take a break, breathe for a bit, and come back to it refreshed rather than burn yourself out.

4. Follow your interests, not trends
Again, it’s tempting, especially if you want to get noticed and attract followers to your blog quickly, to look up what’s especially popular and just do that. Marketing companies do it all the time.

And it’s always nice if your interests line up with what’s popular, but there’s no guarantee. Trends are always moving and so can be exhausting to keep up with all the time.

Besides, what else are you interested in that you’ll miss out on? No trend out there says taking pictures of a tiny dragon is going to be popular, but I’d never give up Ivan for anything! I’m probably the 5 millionth person to remark that Oxford is a weird and wonderful city with only the most tenuous of grasps on reality, but I live here and it continues to amuse me no end, and I like to share that. I know that book reviews are always popular, but I have tried and I just can’t write reviews of books for anything. They just come out as an unhelpful mess of randomness and even I can’t stand to read them over again.

Writing takes so much time and effort, at least for me, that it’s much easier and healthier for me to just write what I’m interested in, try to make it somewhat useful or entertaining for others and go.

I promise that whatever you’re interested in and find writing about to be fun, someone else out there will love reading about it too! They’ll tell you about it, and you can chat about your shared interests. It’ll be so much better than banging out stuff that you don’t really like but feel the need to write because they get good stats.

5. Fluke days are not the norm, don’t expect them all the time

Fluke numbers

Some days, and you might not even know why, you’ll have a huge spike in views out of nowhere. Maybe you just posted something that really took off? Maybe someone linked to you and it got popular? Maybe you’ll never find out what it is!

But you’ll have a huge number of views one day, and it’s really exciting. Here’s the thing I learned the hard way; that spike is likely to drop back off to normal levels sooner or later, and that’s normal. You try to keep up that kind of momentum, especially if you aren’t entirely sure how you got it in the first place, and you can easily burn yourself out.

Think of days like these as a bonus; it’s lovely to have it, you can probably learn a lot from it – what totally new people are drawn to on your blog, what they never seem to see, whether they have been adequately encouraged to comment or ‘like’ something, that sort of thing – but just as your bonus is not your salary, so too is this unlikely to be your new situation: normal. Relax!

6. Don’t measure yourself up against others: In that game we all lose
This one’s a piece of advice that will definitely serve you well in all aspects of your life: You are the one and only expert in being you out there in the world, so why waste that talent and energy trying to be a copy of someone else? Take tips from others, sure. Take inspiration from others; we all do. But no matter how much I love other bloggers, I’m never going to be as good at being them as they are.

Have faith that you are interesting to other people just as you are, because that’s 100% definitely true.

7. You don’t have to stay where you started
In all of this, in blogging as in life, remember: If it’s not working out, change it. So you started out wanting to talk about interior design but you’re really most excited to talk about your latest knitting project? So you thought you’d have loads to say about folklore, but actually you’re way more interested in discussing historical cooking?

But you’ve started this blog to talk about the first thing, right? And you might have followers who’ll hate it? They’ll leave!

Remember, blogging’s free, and you’re probably not being paid for this. Take a deep breath and do what makes you genuinely excited, otherwise it’s not worth it! If you’ve already got a following, start a new blog and link the two up. If you’ve not really got many followers and you’re feeling brave, revamp the whole thing and dive into something new.

You don’t live in Stephen King’s Misery book, no one is going to shout at you for changing what you want to write!

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Giving advice is scary, fortunately I have a tiny dragon who gives me cake! Thanks, Ivan!

Phew! I hope that was remotely coherent? Not to mention, helpful to someone?

What lessons did you learn when you started blogging?

New to this blog? Check out some of my other series down here:

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Posted in Ivan's Adventures

In Which Tiny Dragons Are Surprisingly Bad Muses…

So, I’ve never actually owned a cat – because allergies and broken lungs are a bad combination and all – but as those of you who have been keeping up with The Many Adventures of Ivan the Wyvern already know, I do have a tiny dragon running around the place, and I feel that his general causing of chaos may be a little similar.

Also similar to being owned by a cat, from what I understand, is the expression of Judgement that you will receive. I’m sat there, struggling for words and generally not getting any writing done, and then I look up and…

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I can practically hear him muttering, “Why aren’t you writing? If you’re not writing, can you play with me? No? Then do something productive! Write something!”

It’s like the angel of creativity coming down from on high to ask me what I think I’m doing! (I don’t know, Ivan, I don’t know what I’m doing, OK?)

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I think he’s trying to figure out how to type properly with his tiny paws and little T-Rex arms? Either that or he’s examining the keyboard for signs of what could make it so interesting.

If Ivan the Wyvern had spectacles, you just know that this is the time when he’d be looking at me over the top of them! Look at his little, judgemental face… Mind you, looking at this photo again, that might be caused by the state of my desk…

Note to self: office cleaning needs to happen more often!

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“Are you… Are you going to write anything with that? I think that’s what you’re supposed to do with those things, right? You write, yeah? Why aren’t you writing anything?”

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“Look, you’ve got your ink-stick thing and your rustle-sheets! You can totally do the Writing Thing! What’s the hold up? We both know perfectly well that you can do this! Chop chop! Then it’s play time, and the sun’s even out!”

Thank you, Ivan, you’re not at all distracting, I swear. Although it is nice to know that you have someone in your corner when the words just won’t come no matter what you try.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about dragons since Ivan came into my life, it’s that they are very single-minded and will have no patience whatsoever for your excuses.

Behold, My Stationary Wealth!They mean well, but the very idea that you might be struggling because of your own self-doubts and the inadequacies of your own creativity? Nope, they have no patience at all for that.

“You are wonderful,” they glare at you, “You should know this, because I know this, and I am always right! Silly human!”

That and they’re sometimes able to be distracted by stationary, but that may not work every time! Go on, Ivan, I laid it all out for you, it’s totally not a trap, I promise! (Do you think it’s working?)

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In the end, of course, what else is a tiny dragon to do than to pick up the pen himself and starting writing this novel on his own?

If you wanted a job done properly, do it yourself, right Ivan?

I swear, if my dragon finishes his first novel before I do, I shall… I shall probably not be all that surprised, actually!

Sigh…

If you haven’t met Ivan before, please do check out some of his other dragonic capers over at The Many Adventures of Ivan the Wyvern. And thank you for reading!

New to this blog? Check out some of my other series down here:

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Posted in Ivan's Adventures

Festive Felicitations From a Fire-breathing Flyer!

I knew having a dragon co-host was going to pay off in a good title one day…

So, one thing you all need to know about Ivan, our favourite tiny dragon, is that he loves Christmas. Loves it! I, personally, suspect that this is because it’s the one time of the year that the house is a sparkly as he is.

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Any more sparkly, Ivan, and we can just use you as the tinsel!
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Look at him! How can anything wrapped in tinsel look this pathetic?

Of course, when you are as tiny as our Ivan, actually decorating for Christmas is a little tricky. He tries hard, of course, but even the simplest things can be fraught with potential disaster.

I mean, look at the mess he managed to himself into here! It’s very hard to untangle a tiny forlorn-looking dragon when you’re laughing yourself sick at the same time! And of course he never stays still either, he’s like a cat that way.

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It’s no good you looking at me like that, young dragon! You got yourself into this mess!

No scratching of fire though, which is a relief! The whole house would have looked like a badly-judged lighting of the Blue Peter Advent Wreath otherwise!

Well, having rescued the dragon from an excess of sparkle, something which I did not expect to ever write, we turned (which some trepidation on my end) to the matter of the Christmas tree, and the real topic of this post.

Much like we discovered at Easter, there is a sad lack of Christmas dragons, despite the clear and obvious link of the abundance of treasure available, and the many things that are set on fire around the place at this festive season: puddings, candles, log fires all being on the approved list.

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Yes, Ivan you are absolutely enough of a star to sit on the tree!

Now, Ivan had been looking forward to doing the tree, as he had been hoping to light all the candles himself. Naturally, I explained that we did away with candles on the Christmas tree years ago, what with the significant risk of setting the room on fire. I happen to be very fond of this house, it would be a shame if it went up in smoke!

Thus, we now use fairy lights, like sane people.

Ivan briefly cheered up at the notion that I had somehow contracted a fleet of fairies to sit on my tree for the duration of Christmas, but then out came the electrics!

Still I looked into the invention of the humble fairy light, and I am happy to say that fairies do actually play and important part!

Now, in 1882 on 22nd December, a chap called Edward H. Johnson – a chum of Thomas Edison – stuck a whole load of tiny red, white and blue light bulbs “the size of walnuts” on a Christmas tree as an advertisement of the Edison Electric Light Company. Hilariously, this was so weird and innovative, the newspapers refused to report on it locally! Fortunately, it was published by a Detroit newspaper reporter, and Johnson went on to become widely regarded as the Father of Electric Christmas Tree Lights.

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She doesn’t entirely fit into the frame, but I think the fairy on the top of the tree is actually bigger than the dragon…

However, this is not actually the beginning of the fairy light at all! Over the pond in the UK, a year earlier in November 1881 the British inventor of the electric light bulb, Sir Joseph Swan, was commissioned by the Savoy Theatre to help them make little lights for the fairies to wear in their production of  the Gilbert and Sullivan opera Iolanthe.

According to a review written of the performance, the girls wore the lights in their hair and powered them by battery packs which they carried on their belts so they were all mobile and sparkly. This is why the strings of tiny lights were called fairy lights, as they were always associated with the little magical critters.

Fun Christmas Fact: The Savoy Theatre was the first public building in the world to be lit entirely by electricity, fitted out with 1,200 incandescent light bulbs, instead of gas or candles! Yes, you can pull that one out in a lull in conversation over Christmas dinner!

Right, I’m off to dissuade a tiny dragon from lying in wait for Santa. I think he’s hoping to make a friend out of Rudolf, and I’d hate for him to cause a delay in a busy man’s schedule! Either that or he’ll be filching the mince pies again…

Merry Christmas to you all! See you in the New Year!

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New to this blog? Check out some of my other series down here:

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Posted in Ivan's Adventures, Short Stories

A Cup of Dragon

Greetings all! I interrupt your week to show you this: Ivan has found himself a teacup to sleep in and it’s adorable!

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Who’s the cutest dragon? Yep, you are!

Behold the Cuteness!

Sorry, I probably should have warned you. Too much sweetness can be fatal, I hear.

Anyway, I was trying to find a tea-related dragon story to share with you all and have yet to be successful, which is a shame.

But all is not lost!

Indeed I do have a drink-related tale to tell, and I hope that you will find it to be a suitable substitute?

We are returning to Ireland, a place we haven’t visited since St Patrick’s day. Back then we remembered the fearsome Lig-na-Baste, but today’s story is a little funnier, despite the dragon being even bigger!

The Ollipeist’s Very Difficult Nap

The Ollipeist was a big dragon – no, not big, the Ollipeist was a huge dragon.

The clue is in his name: in Irish Gaelic ‘Oll’ means ‘great’ and ‘Peist’ means ‘fabulous beast’. I like to imagine him being all decked out in gems and shiny things, like Smaug but there’s no evidence that this was so. It would have been pretty fabulous though.

What we do know is that it took a whole lake for the Ollipeist to sleep in. Now most dragons used to sleep in the bends of rivers and little underground pools deep in the mountains, but that would not have fitted the Ollipeist. He was far too big to have fitted in such a tight spot.

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You’re very fabulous too, Ivan. I promise, no other dragon can out-fabulous you, stop looking like that!

Sidenote: Dragons like to sleep in water to help support their huge forms while they are unable to keep shifting their weight. Failure to solve such a problem can lead to a dragon effectively suffocating under its own body-weight, despite the strength of its ribs. Ivan’s a little too small for this to be a problem, but the tea cup seems to give him a better night’s sleep regardless.

Anyway.

The Ollipeist was a gentle giant, despite his huge size, he spent his time quietly swimming in his lake and talking to people who came to visit him. The Ollipeist liked people, and people liked him. On sunny afternoons he would come out of the lake and bask in the sunshine and the braver people might come close enough to tickle his belly and see if they could make him laugh.

Sadly, Saint Patrick had undertaken to drive all the dragons out of Ireland along with their snake and serpent cousins, and it is entirely understandable that the Ollipeist was upset when he heard this. A generally peaceful and benign dragon, rather than roaring and destroying whole villages, the Ollipeist instead went to go and sulk in his lake.

Dragons are very serious and dignified.

Sadly, just as the Ollipeist was about to fall into a grumpy nap, along the road comes a piper – a local lad called O’Rourke. O’Rourke had been celebrating a friend’s birthday, drinking after playing his pipes for the dancing, and as such was utterly sloshed.

Now, there are doubtless many people who can be completely drunk and still play beautifully, but O’Rourke was not such a man. He played with much enthusiasm, but with a skill completely unworthy of his more sober talents.

The Ollipeist grumbled to himself even more and tried to sink under the surface of the water to block out the noise.

It wasn’t working.

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Yes, Ivan, even you can be dignified sometimes. Sometimes.

He tried blowing bubbles at the piper, and making the ground shake to show that he was in no mood to be disturbed, but O’Rourke remained cheerfully oblivious.

Finally the Ollipeist had had enough. With a great wave of water, the dragon rose out of his lake, reached out with his long neck and swallowed O’Rourke in one gulp!

Swallowing him down, the Ollipeist sank back into his lake. Maybe he felt a little bit bad about eating the piper, but at least the noise had stopped.

Right?

Luckily for O’Rourke, Ollipeist was so big that he made it past the dragon’s teeth, down his throat and into his huge stomach entirely unharmed.

Not that it made much difference to him at the time, for he was still far too drunk to have realised his predicament. With the grace of the truly inebriated, he hadn’t even dropped his pipes in the excitement, and he continued to march up and down the, to him, strange squishy cave, playing away just as he had before.

The Ollipeist groaned to himself. Was there no end to his terrible day? And now the noise was coming from his own body, so there was no escaping the awful racket the piper was putting out.

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No Ivan, you don’t need to flee your tea cup, I promise no one’s coming to get you!

Some days it’s hard to be a dragon.

He tried to see if he could sleep through the noise, in case his mass had muffled the sound or the piper would stop soon?

No such luck. If anything the music was even louder now, and the piper’s marching back and forth was giving him a tummy ache.

Finally the Ollipeist could take it no longer and with a bit of wiggling and heaving all round, he was able to spit O’Rourke out again. He gave the man a bit of a push in the direction of the party he had left, and sank back below the water again.

Maybe the water would soothe the aches in his head and his stomach? Maybe when O’Rourke has staggered far enough away the Ollipeist could get some sleep and it would all be better in the morning?

Happily, in the end the Ollipeist was never killed.

Unfortunately Saint Patrick did eventually come after him, and the Ollipeist had to run away from him, fleeing to the ocean. As he fled, his tail carved the great Shannon Valley.

For more dragon stories, check out Ivan’s many adventures here.

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Happy May Day!

Happy May Day everyone!

The glorious combined festival to celebrate the goddess Floriana, patron of flora, and Beltane, in which one casts protections on your cattle, crops and people. Usually by lighting great piles of bones on fire; bone-fires or – as their more modern equivalents became known – bonfires. Traditionally a time when everyone gets together to make deals, alliances and betrothals. There’s often a young lady with flowers in her hair. Also chimney sweeps. That’s a thing that happens.

British folklore is the weirdest patchwork quilt ever made, I swear…

We were talking at work today that May Day in Oxford is like the pinnacle of Oxford-ness. It’s got Latin, it’s got pagan celebrations so obscure that most people have just stopped asking for context, it’s got a man dressed as a giant tree who dances, it’s got more Morris dancing and music, it’s got drunken antics, it’s got a seething hatred for traffic trying to enter the town centre…

Oxford on May Day is such a trip, you guys!

So…

So normally when there’s a holiday Ivan and I get together and come up with some occasion-relevant folktale to retell for you all.

And this weekend past we went to visit Powis Castle together and I thought that there might be something from there. Sadly although Powis and the families who built and rebuilt it and lived and worked there have a really interesting history, there was anything that felt quite right for this section of the Here Be Wyverns.

But what there was in the gardens of Powis (which are beautiful, and well-worth visiting) were a lot of Snake heads. And I figured, Great! There must be a good story to go with these, right?

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Well… No. Not really. I tried, I really did, but there’s nothing I could find about snake heads, nothing like the narcissus’s tale of the beautiful hunter and his total self-interest to the detriment of everything else in his life, right up to his own body.

And I was about to give up on the whole idea, but then… then May Day happened to me.

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Ivan was sad that the stems of snake heads are tall and spindly; he can’t reach up to touch or smell. I explained that much of the joy in flowers is in the looking.

Because while I was researching Fritillaria meleagris, or the snake head, I found that there was an interesting story to go with it, and one which I think has some applicability to folklore in general.

So the fritillary is first recorded as growing in England in the wild in 1736, although herbalist John Gerard mentions it as a garden flower in 1578. As a result, although there’s still a tiny bit of debate on how native the snake head is to England, most people agree that it’s probably what is fantastically referred to as “a garden escapee.” I mean, by 1736 more than 86% of all our native flowers had been discovered and documented, so the likelihood that a fairly common flower which especially liked to grow around the tranquil rivers in Oxfordshire had been missed by some keen Oxford naturalists with  scrapbooks at the ready is minuscule.

Incidentally, someone note down next to my efforts to suggest an animated TV show about British folklore, I want another one about plants escaping from enclosures and discovering the world, OK? Who’s with me?

Anyway, regardless of when it arrived and when it escaped in the wide world of the English countryside, the snake head thrived. It was beautiful at a time when the weather was warming enough for people to enjoy being outside, and especially with it’s flowering around the May Day celebrations (See, this does all connect up!) it got swept up into the feeling of joy that winter was finally over and that the summer was coming.

In one of his most lyrical accounts, the writer and botanist Richard Mabey (in his epic Flora Britannica) recounts the relationship between locals and this most loved of wild flowers. The species garnered a whole range of local names – frawcups, leper’s bells, oaksey lily, minety bell to mention a few. Andy Byfield in the Guardian’s Gardening Blog [Full Article]

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The flower matches his eyes, and I think it’s blowing his mind a little!

It was so popular and plentiful, in fact, that bunches of the purple or white bells were sold in vast quantities in London and Birmingham, as well as in the markets of Oxford and its surrounding villages.

And then it started to vanish.

The wet meadows that suited it so well were drained for farming and building, and the snake heads began to recede into the most out-of-the-way places. It didn’t disappear completely and protected spaces like Iffley Meadows and Magdalen College’s meadows still have plenty that bloom every year. And as it became more scarce, people began to appriciate it more. There’s even a festival dedicated to “Fritillary Sunday” in the village of Ducklington, which I promise you is a real place, no really!

The thing is, though.

Persephone
Really? Because the Rape of Kore was definitely in Homer, and Greeks were sort of famous for their cultural hatred of women, sooo… How sure are we that Persephone was a kick-ass decider of her own destiny, instead of a kidnapping victim?

The story of the snake head fritillary, reminds me a little of folklore itself. It would be so easy to dismiss the fritillary from our notice as a non-native plant. To decide that only the most ancient and native plants may be celebrated in our lands. But that would be to miss the point entirely.

Some things don’t hurt us with their introduction into our lives. They just provide us with a joy we didn’t have before, and then they fit right into our world like they were always there.

There are people who will gleefully introduce a version of an ancient, ancient story with the words “In the original version” as if there can be such a thing in a cultural tradition that existed without the input of writing for centuries and travelled and evolved massively in that time before it was caught and caged within the written works of the likes of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Anderson.

Collecting and recording the folktales that were once told everywhere was a great thing, but it kind of lost a part of the fun inherent within them. The written word is like a formal border – words stay where they are meant to be and they have only the one desired effect.

Through such works the stories began to spread, and then the stories escaped the books once more, to be passed down and shared around camp fires, on sleepovers and school trips and in the games of children and the new stories of adults. They did what they were always meant to and changed and crept into people’s lives. We loved those old stories, didn’t we? They were a part of our lives and of ourselves, like they’d always been there.

But then they fell out of fashion, as many things do, and we told them less often. I learned a lot of the stories that shaped me as a child from my family, but many of my friends were not so lucky. Perhaps they were more interested in other less old-fashioned things, all worthy enough in their own way, just as the land which once nurtured the fritillary could be just as well used to feed people, or to house them.

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And just as I’m happy that people are starting to celebrate the fritillary again, I’m just as pleased that we are once again pulling out all those old folktales, those stories we had passed down to us by kind elders, that we’re dusting them off and changing them and playing off them again to make them into something new.

I know that there’s a lot of versions of the same story in the world, just as there are lots of plants and flowers in England. And with the rise of more and more books taking folklore and retelling it again and again, in different settings, and time frames, and with different characters and roles…

It feels like we’re remembering what was great about those old stories, and that we’re also discovering the potential of their newer relations too. Like the experimental gardeners, we’re mixing together the old and the new and crossing them up and around to see what coolness comes out of it.

And on the evening of this May Day in Oxford, with it’s dancing tree, Morris dancers and the exact same drunken shenanigans that we’d have seen back in 1750-something… I wanted to say thank you to you all, you writers who have been gardening for years, and the ones who only just started. You have seen the beauty in both the old and the new. And you have helped me love writing and stories again when I too was in danger of forgetting what was important about them.

Happy May Day everyone. See you next time.

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