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The Lone Hawthorn Tree

We do not shout at the hawthorn tree,
That which stands alone in the middle of the path.
The path came after the tree, they say; wise men made sure none cut it down,
Rather, they built the path around it, and left it due recompense for the imposition.
The hawthorn tree is the peace-keeper, the steady presence,
To lose it would be a bitter blow, for hot-heads need little reason and less excuse.
Do not stand long, by the hawthorn tree, do not bring notice upon yourself.
Do not sit beneath it, no matter how the rain pours, or the wind blows,
It is not for your shelter that it stands.

The warring clans of Fae meet there,
A sacred place where none may fight.
It is there where peace is brokered at last,
Paid for by the broken bodies of fallen fairies,
Shattered bodies of creatures from an Other World,
Bought with the wretched tears of the grieving,
For how much worse is loss to those who do not age?
At long last, a debt paid in blood, a lasting agreement which says,
‘Enough.’

But if the hawthorn were to no longer stand,
Where then shall peace be made at last?
Where shall the queens entreat their lords to call a halt,
And say that the times comes for something new?
Peace is not spoken of at wells,
Where echoes steal the words away and drown them.
Peace is not whispered upon the heath,
Where the wind may freeze the tongue,
And snatch the chance for change away from reach.

They say an oath sworn beneath to bows of the hawthorn tree
Cannot be broken, nor taken back.
They say to approach it upon the Death Day
Is to hear it groan with remembered pain.
When all fruit fails, welcome the haws,
The hope and healing springs forth for the faithful,
The careful keepers, the respectful bearers.
Do not fear the thorns, if your heart is pure,
Only grave-wights and wicked things are destroyed by its prick.

So the hawthorn tree must stand,
Stand for peace from forces greater than our own,
Stand and grow strong, strong as our own hopes for peace.
A lone body, with no voice,
But an ever-ready ear, waiting just to listen.
Ready to hear that first and final word,
‘Enough.’
Do not disturb the peace of the hawthorn,
Do not raise your voice.

Never tried free-form poetry before, but I got a flash of inspiration and I wanted to share! Always good to try out new things, no?


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Tread Carefully…

Tread carefully, when you walk upon Our Land, my boy. Stay your step and take that second thought. We will wait here in the air long after you cease to breathe it, and our roots are nourished by your blood and bone. You have so much of both, my boy, do you really wish to give it to us?

Tread carefully, when you approach the Stones. Your people think of stones with graves, and that is for good reason. You are filled up with resources, and we can use every inch of you for something. You bring nothing of value save yourself. Do you mean to offer it up to us?

Tread carefully, my boy, and close the Gate up fast. The Guardsmen are sleeping and many of us have but waited long for this moment. We do not sleep, we do not dream, we do not hope. We only wait and watch and when a weakness is found, we strike it. Others should not have to suffer for the foolishness which is all your own, do you not think? Close the gate behind you, if tread beyond it you must…

Tread carefully, your people say that grass is made of blades, and you should listen to your elders, boy. Our fruits are laced with poisons sweet, our branches spiked with thorns. Your feet will bleed and your tears will only replenish our thirst, and you cannot afford to make us stronger. You will only weaken as we grow, and for everything we feed you, we will take back a thousand-fold. How much can you lose?

Tread carefully, for see how the storm-clouds gather above? The Huntsman rides this night, and his hounds have gone too long without feasting. The wind carries with it the sound of his Horn, and the cheers of his Riders break the night. Maybe you shall be fast and clever, able to evade them long enough they will take you for their one of their own, but you are so slow, so ill-used to these games, my boy, it is far more likely still that you shall provide them their sport in other ways. How do you think you shall taste to them when they catch you?

Tread carefully, when you think to follow the Hidden Path. It was hidden for a reason and wiser folk than your foolish young spirit learned the lessons to avoid it. Its twists and turns are beyond your mind’s capacity to hold firm, and you will not enjoy losing your grip on the world’s truths… nor on your own self. It is such a pretty, pretty mind, my boy, but it will be prettier still when it shatters into so many brilliant fragments…

Tread carefully, when you think to enter the Wilds and seek your fortune therein. You are a Tamer at heart, and the Wilds have no interest in buying what you sell. Tame things live lesser lives, shorter ones, Wild lives race along a razor’s edge and are all the more certain for it. You think to explore, but you wish to take with you more than memories and pictures and all things come at a cost. We do not give you of ourselves without consuming all that we can from you first…

Tread carefully, when you feel the Watcher’s gaze. It is not your imagination, for you cannot think of anything so terrible as Them shall be when they catch you. No, you cannot outrun them, nor outwit them. They were tearing apart those such as you long before even the language you think in. They will have their rightful prey when it wanders so willing into their den…

Tread carefully, you were not invited here. You were not wanted, and you were not sought out. You brought yourself, and that is an offering to the hungry. You are softer than you think, and know less than you ought. You are a candle trying to match itself to a forest fire.

It is not a contest.

Won’t you turn back, my boy, before you tread further? Before you become Ours, for ill or for worse…


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Over the Hills and Far Away…

When the fiddlers play their tunes you may sometimes hear,
Very softly chiming in, magically clear,
Magically high and sweet, the tiny crystal notes
Of fairy voices bubbling free from tiny fairy throats.

When the birds at break of day chant their morning prayers,
Or on sunny afternoons pipe ecstatic airs,
Comes an added rush of sound to the silver din—
Songs of fairy troubadours gaily joining in.

When athwart the drowsy fields summer twilight falls,
Through the tranquil air there float elfin madrigals
And in wild November nights, on the winds astride,
Fairy hosts go rushing by, singing as they ride.

Every dream that mortals dream, sleeping or awake,
Every lovely fragile hope—these the fairies take,
Delicately fashion them and give them back again
In tender, limpid melodies that charm the hearts of men.

Fairy Music, by Rose Fyleman, 1919

You wanted something different. Something new. Anything was better than this world, you thought, embittered by your own small problems and nebulous so-called larger issues which now seem so small in hindsight. And you had wanted an adventure of your own, to see if magic truly existed in the world, after all.

You danced at the standing stones, strayed from the paths in the woods, accepted the deal at the crossroads.

You were so happy to find Them at last. You were so eager, so excited…

Besides, nothing which sang so sweetly, which laughed so merrily, could be so very bad. They were so kind to welcome you, so eager to talk to you, as eager as you were to talk to Them. With moonlight skin and silver eyes, They were so wonderful to look at, so compelling to watch as They danced and danced, and you were welcomed to dance with Them in your turn…

Salt and silver, bread and milk, do not give them your name, do not take their deals, do not listen to their songs, do not eat their food, do not listen to their pretty, pretty lies…

You had heard the warnings of your elders, and you remember still their words, although their names have long since faded. Or perhaps they were taken from you? So many things have been taken from you by now, and it is pointless to try to count and trace them all. Time is a thief in its own right, but at least the soft fading away of long-ago memories is painless and natural. Nothing else about your life has been natural is so very long…

Ah, but you were so foolish back then…

But you see… You had so wanted to see another world, wanted magic and legends and something more than the dull grind of a callous world. Different would be better, and nothing could be worse, you had thought.

You have long-since learned that you were wrong. The mouse learns that the cheese in the trap is no better than food outside of it too, much good as the lesson does you both, now that you have learned it.

They liked you at first, you were different to Them. New. Your tongue was one They were unused to and you sang Them songs They had not heard time beyond telling. You showed Them the dances from your own childhood, odd hopping movements, and complicated gestures in the air. They laughed, and you laughed with Them then. They asked and asked and asked for the things which you knew back then, and you gave it all up to Them freely, asking little and less in return from Them. It did not occur to you to bargain, to hold anything in return, to keep anything in reserve should you have need of it later.

You were so foolish back then… So very foolish…

Perhaps you would have enjoyed those days of wonder, of light and sparkle and laughter, but even back then you could see – pushed aside and into the shadows, forgotten for a while in the face of something new – the eyes of those who had come before you. Could see your own future staring back from the corners of the room and the shadows they daren’t creep out from.

Faded beings, empty eyes and grasping hands, mouths slack with hunger or tight with pain, once human and now… not. But still too human to remain unmauled, even once they had been stripped of their colour, their spark and life. What remains of them is uncanny and stilted, but far worse is the sense that they are now … missing pieces. You wonder how they might have come to bargain away anything which you can sense, human as you are, but you just as quickly cast the thought aside. Best not to think about it. They looked at you with envy, aye, but they looked at you with pity also. The new, bright, hopeful auditioner, a new favourite… for a short while. Never for long.

They are like children, you think sometimes, though the words hold only the last remaining dregs of their remembered meaning. You’re not sure, if you try to think about it, if you really know what children are, what they look like, if you yourself were ever such a thing. But still you keep saying such phrases to yourself, trying to remember thoughts from a time when you knew they were your own. Sometimes They play a game where they slot new thought after strange phrase into your mind to see how long it takes for you to realise. Sometimes They take things away until you reach for something and find it is no longer there. Once the game is up and the laughter has ended, sometimes They give you the missing pieces back.

Sometimes.

If They feel you’ve earned it.

They are like children, easily distracted, easily charmed and no object permanence at all. Quick to discard a toy once it ceases to entertain Them, and quicker to forget and move onto the next shiny new thing to wander across Their vision…

Except there they are nothing like children at all. They never truly forget about their toys, after all. If they did, perhaps you could hide. But you can’t. No matter how far you push yourself into the shadows, no matter how small you ty to make yourself appear, They come to find you quickly enough.

They took and took and took from you, everything you could think to give, poking and prodding to remind you that there was surely always something more to feed to Their endless curiosity, and you gave it all up with open hands, freely at first and then more and more fearful. You do not even wish to imagine what will happen should you disappoint them. Your fears whisper to you and you determinedly close you ears to them. Your hands tremble as you hold out yet another part of yourself – some small detail, some new thought or memory or secret you had held within yourself for so long – to be gobbled up, sucked dry and you feel some inner core of yourself start to shrivel with the constant plundering by greedy ears and mouths and nothing new to feed it with. You will think of something new tomorrow. You must.

Eventually, the inevitable. You search within yourself for yet more to feed to Their hunger and find that there is nothing left that is new. And you realise that your fearful thoughts are only the beginning. Now comes the true price of your foolishness…

Your voice begins to crack, to dry up, your mind begins to empty. They do not wish to hear the thoughts which They put there for you. They want more from inside you. You have nothing left to offer, and now the real test begins. Your songs become stale to The, the melodies faltering, the verses hesitating, the notes unsure. You have sung this song since Before, surely you cannot forget it now? When they wait to hear it? But no matter how you stretch your mind, it finds only half what is needed and even that you are unsure of.

Your stories dull and wandering; you do not remember the endings anymore, cannot always keep the threads straight in your mind. You think at first that the suggestions They call out to you – to the sea, he goes to the sea! No, to the hills, you said to the hills! Ah, but he has wings, so he must fly! – are to aid you, that They have taken some pity upon you at last, mocking though Their pity only ever is. But you begin to realise that you have told the beginning of the same story seven times over and gotten no further than the first of the hero’s tasks, cannot remember now what the task was, nor why they were attempting it, and the silver bells of laughter around you echo so loudly in your ears that you cannot hear yourself think long enough to find and pick up the shivering threads.

You look up, lost and beseeching, but the silver queen stares straight back at you from her frozen throne, her silver eyes which pierce you through like spear-tips, uncaring as you bleed beneath your wounds, and you wonder why you ever thought that she was kind.

“I will have my story, child. Begin again.”

And the air that you breathe cuts into your lungs with icicles but you gasp for it anyway. Speaking with no air in your chest hurts. You bow your head, find your tongue again and begin once more, as you were bidden. You cannot rest until you reach the ending, after all.

You think you may be taller now than you once were. Perhaps. Your hair is certainly longer, but maybe you are only remembering a different style to wear it in. You have become more and more like them and they have hundreds of their own. They do not need you, pale imitation of their own beauty that you are. You are no longer exotic, and far from perfect, and so you are simply… defective. A malformed creature in their eyes. You wonder if you look like your own people, from Before, but you have no way to know and you doubt it all the same.

You are no longer the focus of the evening’s attention, certainly. You think you sigh in relief, but perhaps it is regret also. You miss the chance to dance with Them, and you still pine for Them to smile upon you and laugh, for the days when Their hands were soft and welcoming to you, not tipped with claws and greedy to pluck ever more from your depths. You wish so much to escape from Them, but you also wish you could crawl up and curl at Their feet, sleep in peace again and be loved by Them.

Surely They loved you once? You were so sure that They did…

Ah… But you were so sure of so many things, and you were wrong… so very wrong…

Besides there is always something new out there to be found and collected, something different. There are new children come to Court, bright-eyed and giggling with excitement. They can’t believe that all of this is quite real yet, are sure that it is all some fantastic dream, which they do not ever want to wake up from. There is little enough chance that they can, so perhaps they will be happy for a while.

You pity them a little, but you hope too that they are full of interest for everyone. You are sure that they will have plenty of new songs and stories to share, perhaps even a new dance to teach Them. They like to learn something new, They always do. Things move on so fast, do they not? You have grown, no longer shining and innocent and new. There is nothing left to corrupt, nothing left to shock or bedazzle. You have seen Their tricks one too many times too.

You have not yet lost all use though. You are never sure whether to be glad of it or not. You think it cannot be worse, to be finally cast entirely aside, but you remember you used to think nothing could be worse than your life Before, and now you know better.

They find other ways to take their entertainment from you. Ways you were expecting and ways you weren’t. They change the colours in your hair, your eyes, your skin, changed the shape of your chin, the tilt and form of your ears, until you look into mirrors and even you don’t remember what you once looked like anymore. Your voice is different every day now, and sometimes it is no voice at all but the whine of a frightened beast or the shriek of a trapped bird. They like to rake you with pain and see if They can make you scream in the tongue of every creature They know, comparing the different tones and timbers of growl or whimper, pretending to pet you as They discuss which voice They should ‘gift’ you with next. You are not asked what you would wish for. You do not expect to be.

They took your eyes from you once, and you don’t know how long you spent stumbling without them, feeling your way around and trying to gauge distance from the sounds in your ears, until you remember that They can play with echoes just like anything else, and gave up all hope at last. You have eyes again, but you doubt that they are truly your own. Nothing else is, after all.

Your limbs may be longer than theirs now, but They find interest enough in them all the same. You flinch whenever they bring out the pipes, but you know there is nowhere to run to, and trying only makes things worse.

Come, dance for us! You love to dance! They call, and the pipes drone out their opening notes and you wish They had not taken your tears from you, but even if you still could cry, it would do you no good.

The notes lash themselves around your wrists and ankles and you jerk to your feet, stumbling and flailing a little. They laugh. You spin and turn, leap and bend, body moved by the music, over and over, faster and faster, never ending, never slowing, you are lost to it, until the music should see fit to realise you, and it never will. Another quick spin and you feel the skin on your feet begin to shred, blood beginning to seep out into the dry earth. It soaks the redness up without comment or thanks. You gasp for breath and find too little of it. The air is sharp and hard, you cannot breathe it properly. You need rest. You need to stop.

The music does not care, you begin the sequence again, spinning and leaping and bending. They laugh as they watch. You think desperately to scream for help, for mercy, but there is little help to be hoped for and certainly no mercy to be found. The soles of your feet are covered now in blood, you think it is probably your own, but there are plenty more just like you all around, jerking wildly and leaping and turning and you are all being pushed too far beyond your limits. You are all bleeding, chests tight as you fight for your next breath. And your next. The pipes play on, heedless, tugging you this way and that to the tune of Their fickle whims.

They laugh.

You wonder how you ever thought Their laughter an invitation.

It was a warning.

They did warn you. Back before everything.

You didn’t listen.


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Before you ‘Rewrite’ the Old Stories, Maybe Think About What They Were Saying…

It’s been fashionable for several decades now (and goodness, do I feel old remembering how long I’ve been engaging with the trend…) for us all to rewrite ‘classic’ stories, fairytales, folktales, well-known stories which are now helpfully just out of copyright limitations…

The list goes on.

And exploring these stories from different perspectives is always worth doing, but I can’t help thinking that we often miss the point of these old stories, just a little. The older stories are, the more the characters themselves don’t matter, so much as the theme and message of the plot. So maybe ‘The Prince’ doesn’t have much personality, maybe ‘The Evil Wizard’ doesn’t have a monologue exploring his in-depth motivations. But that wasn’t ever the point, was it? The point was what the story itself was trying to say. What we took away from it all, and kept with us for years and remembered in the backs of our minds, quietly shaping the people we would grow to become…

We talk a lot about ‘modernizing’ old stories, without ever stopping to think about how any story which has survived – which has made its way down throughout centuries and centuries, travelling miles and across kingdoms and continents – that story has resonated through so much time and space for a reason.

Because we will never, really, as people change very much. We still need warmth, and food, and shelter. We make friendships and fall in love – and out of it again – and argue and upset people and seek forgiveness, and demand justice. We deal with kind strangers still, when we are lucky, and have awful people try to take advantage of our weaknesses when they can. We put our trust in each other, and lend each other a hand, and try to defend each other when they need help.

The invention of cars and wireless technology and stainless steel and sliced bread didn’t change who we all were as people, not in our essentials. Oh, we may have shed light into the shadows and shown that the monsters we believed lived out in the swamps and marshes are less easy to find than we might have thought, but we never had to look all that far to find cruel monsters wearing our own faces, did we? And we forget this at our peril.

The lessons our foremothers thought were important enough to teach us, wise as they were to teach those lessons in a form which would stick with us longer than books hold their ink, or stones hold their scratches, or film holds its celluloid memories… Those lessons are still important to us all. And if we think we are too good for them, too modern, too clever, too far removed from the lives we had lived for centuries… well, it only ever seems to become more clear why those lessons had to be taught, as we learn them all over again, the hard way.

We didn’t stop living in communities, we just stopped caring for them. We didn’t defeat the tyrants, we just assumed they’d learned their lessons. We didn’t defeat hunger, and sickness, and loneliness, and grief, we just stopped talking about them and helping each other through them.

And are we any happier for that?

So much as we remembered that bread is easy to make in theory, but takes practice to make well; as we remembered that our loved ones might be loud, but we miss them when they fall silent; as we remembered that we actually really do like to sing and dance (even if we aren’t very good at it), that stories make the long days and nights go a heck of a lot faster, that making things with our own hands can be relaxing and helpful to us, as well as fun…

Let us go through some of the common themes and lessons from the stories we were once told, handed down to us from our ancestors, which not even pain and death and distance could take from us, and which are still patiently waiting for us to remember once more…

Don’t be rude to people as your default. 

We’ve all seen it, even if we’re sure that we’ve never done it ourselves, never opened our mouths and said something cruel to some stranger we were never going to see again. It doesn’t matter. It’s not a reflection of who we really are, is it? It doesn’t mean anything.

Maybe it’s a bad day. Maybe you didn’t mean it how it came out. Maybe you say that to someone else all the time and they don’t make a stink about it.

And so it’s easy to sympathize with the character who opens their mouth and ends up on the wrong end of a curse, or has an endless quest ahead of them, or some impossible task which they must now defeat. After all, it’s not like they did anything wrong is it?

But let’s be honest here, in this scenario, in this moment, you made the decision to be rude to that stranger because you thought you could do so and get away with it. If you’d known there would be consequences afterwards, well… then you wouldn’t have done it, would you? But there’s the thing about consequences, isn’t it? Maybe try to make a little kindness be your default and see if that works out better for you next time.

Don’t put yourself forward for skills you don’t have, and don’t let other people do that for you either. Sooner or later, you’re gonna be taken seriously, and then how are you going to do it?

Remember the stories which begin with someone telling a few tall tales? ‘My daughter can spin wheat into gold.’ ‘I can run faster than even the wind.’

There’s a lot of career advice out there about making up a skillset for a job. Stretching the truth a little. No one has to know, do they? It’s easy to think that you’ll get away with these things in an age of Google, sure, but there are still expectations to manage, so don’t just think you can bluff your way through everything, or attempt the impossible without it falling through on you. No, you can’t take this project from first draft to ‘ready to publish’ in a few hours, no matter how much coffee you drink. No, you can’t make nine elaborate theatre costumes in one weekend all by yourself, especially without all the measurements. You are human, and you are allowed to acknowledge that, and if The Plan rests entirely on you suddenly being Superhuman, then it was a bad plan all along.

And you will be the one to pay the price, if you allow someone to think otherwise. There’s no shame in not being able to perform the Labours of Hercules, and you will not achieve god-hood if you try. You just end up tired and frustrated and outfaced by the scale of the problem before you.

The Selfish Die, Cold and Alone. And No One Mourned Them.

I know we like to say that the victory write history, and that’s often true. But people have longer memories than they are sometimes given credit for and they will remember. The dead do not bury themselves, after all, and the people who only know how to take will find themselves short on options when their own hour of need comes knocking.

You cannot eat gold, nor burn it, and no matter how heavily gilded your palace, it will be awfully echoing and empty without friends to share it with. You can buy sycophants, but you will tire of their empty smiles soon enough, and no matter how you plead that is all you will get from them.

‘Be Careful What You Wish For’ Doesn’t Mean ‘Don’t You Dare Wish For Better.’ It Means ‘Everything Has A Cost, Choose Your Wishes Wisely’

There’s been a bit of a vogue to misinterpret this one, but I think we’re in the ideal time to recognize what our forebears had already learned the hard way. Everything comes with a cost, and if you don’t know about it up-front then you sure will have to grapple with it after the fact.

Maybe you wished for the huge, varied wardrobes of clothes you saw on tv and instagram, but now you know about the environmental and human cost of fast fashion and you have a bad taste in your mouth. Maybe you wanted a dog or cat for cuddles, but it turns out that living beings which you are responsible for take a lot of time and energy and care and cash, and a cat can live for fifteen years or more. Maybe you wanted that promotion, but you’ve just realized that you were working so many Saturdays and evenings that you’ve not seen your friends in nine months and some of them have stopped calling. Maybe you really like those restaurants that your SO can’t eat in, but you didn’t want to research alternatives and now you just don’t seem to go out together so much.

Making a decision isn’t about having no cons to weigh against the pros, but rather about thinking carefully about whether the pros outweigh the cons after all, and by how much. And you can’t avoid the cons by not reading the small print or doing a bit of research; they always find their way to you, sooner or later. There are no vacuums outside of labs, you are not an island, and sometimes getting what you want means thinking about how it affects other people before you do it.

And who knows? There might be a better way forward if you only look for it.

You are never going to beat Death forever, and trying makes you miserable.

One thing that we keep coming back to as a society time and time again is that it is the quality not the quantity of our years that matters most. Laughter might not be easy to find, but it’s one of the last things on Earth that’s free, so help yourself and share it around. Ditto hugs, when we can and when they are welcomed. You’re not immortal, and neither is anyone else, so don’t put off loving them until later, ok?

No one is too big, too powerful, too rich, too scary that they cannot be brought down in the end.

Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next year.

But one day.

If you fear that, then you know which role you are playing in this tale, and maybe it’s time to rethink a few things.

The ‘lone hero’ who succeeded actually had a whole team behind him. The elder brother who went off on his own didn’t make it.

I know the standard Hollywood film script likes to focus on one person for a story, and framing is important, but remember how the younger brother takes the time to talk to the people around him? To ask them questions, to listen when they give him advice, to rely upon the kindness of others, and repay them that kindness back in full or fuller in his own turn? And he succeeded in his quest, won the day, and rode home victorious with a bonus prize of cool new friends he gets to proudly introduce to everyone.

Well, the older brother didn’t, did he? He just strode off, confident in his own strength, his own wisdom and his own weapons. And sometimes his little brother rescues him, but others he does not.

One man cannot slay the dragon; he needs the blacksmith who lent him a sword after he fixed the roof; he needs the sleeping herbs offered by the old lady he helped gather firewood for; he needs the words of wisdom from the little boy he pulled out of the mud, handed along from his grandfather. Nothing is accomplished by one man alone. Acknowledge the community effort for what it is. Nothing is achieved except when it is attempted together.

If the task is impossible, you’ve not got enough hands to help you.

Can you sort through the lentils and rice grains all alone? No you cannot. You need your army of ant-friends. Can you fill up the storeroom with nuts in an hour? No, you need your squirrel-helpers. Can you stuff a thousand pillows with feathers in a night? Nope, it’s the mice’s time to shine and come to the rescue, isn’t it?

We’re a communal species, no matter what some twit with a neck-beard might say. We survive by working together. We instinctively seek each other out. We are miserable when we’re alone. Ask for help honestly, and be willing to give it in return. No one remembers when the job which was attempted alone failed, they celebrate when it was successfully completed by a team. Just remember to have plenty of tea and cake on hand while you work!

Lying is a risky way to get what you want. Some people might be fooled, but others will not.

“Tell me which of these is your lost axe? The one of gold, the one of silver, or the one of iron.” Hmmm…

Sometimes people are asking you a question they already know the answer to, and are letting you dig that grave for yourself. Oh, bluffing and cleverness are valuable skills, and they are important skills to learn, but use them carefully. If you’re asked a straight question, a straight answer is a lot easier to remember and live with, and being caught out in a lie is never going to go well.

Do what you can, even if it doesn’t seem like much.

In a world filled with news articles full of people sitting on mountains of resources handing out scraps, it’s easy to think that there is nothing you – who has so much less already – can do, nothing that really matters anyway. But sometimes the small gestures matter most.

Sometimes your simple kindness can make the big difference someone needed. Maybe bringing the lady at work you know is just really struggling right now a drink and a biscuit isn’t going to solve her problems, but she’ll be delighted to know someone noticed. Maybe you can’t help with someone’s over-filled desk, but telling them that they’re doing an awesome job even if no one else acknowledges it will give them a boost. Maybe telling that jerk on the bus harassing that man where precisely he can get off isn’t going to help his victim with all the times he’s going to have to deal with it this week. But he’ll know that at least one time he wasn’t alone and someone was prepared to stand up with him.

Have faith that you are vital and worthwhile, and that your genuine kindness and willingness to listen and reach out will be important to the person who needed it. Don’t hold back. Share what you can and remember that we all need that shoulder to lean on, and your shoulders are just as good as anyone else’s.


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Posted in Oxford Odditites

That Time When No One Talks About The Unnamed Guardian…

For those of you who haven’t been to Oxford before, this is Oxford’s train station…

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It’s not the most glamorous place in the world is it? I remember hearing when I first moved down here that the town wasn’t at all keen on this whole ‘train’ idea, and many people were sure it wouldn’t catch on at all. So rather than build a nice swanky train station like London has in spades or York, they just sort of… shoved it out onto what was at that time the outskirts (ha! Oh, urban sprawl, you aggressive weed…)

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And for a long time I sort of believed this story too…

However!

No more shall we calmly accept this mundane tale! No indeed! We shall instead acknowledge the battle of a brave soul who has for so long gone unrecognised!

For if you go to Oxford’s train station, and you walk into the main hall and look up, you will see a small figure, sitting above the main doors…

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She’s only small, and you can easily miss her, but there she is… the Guardian.

There she sits, watching over us all. No matter the season, the time, or the weather, she remains at her post through it all, unstinting in her duty of care.

If you ask a member of the station team, you may be given a name for her. But if you ask more than one for her name, you will find that you get a different name every time. This is only sensible, I suppose, for Names are Important, as we have discussed here before.

Now you may say to me, ‘Cameron. You’re being ridiculous. She’s a plastic owl to ward off a few pigeons; this isn’t a big deal.’

But that’s where you’re wrong!

For one thing, if she were there to simply ward off a few pigeons, she’d be hilariously bad at it! I didn’t actually manage to get a photo of the feathered terrors perching on top of our girl, contrary creatures that they are, but I assure you that there were plenty of them doing so! And the good people of Oxford train station wouldn’t keep her around if she didn’t function! What do you think she is? One of our ticket barriers?

So she must be there to ward off another threat, a bigger threat than mere pigeons…

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Now you might wonder to yourself, what possible dangers are there hanging around at train stations, but I urge you to remember your folklore for a moment…

What are the places you must be most careful of, the places where a moment of unwary complacency can cost you all that you hold dear?

Graveyards, yes, ruins and standing stones, sure, but also? Crossroads.

Nothing good comes of being too relaxed by a crossroads, does it?

And what are train stations but big, modern crossroads? Oh, sure we don’t tend to bury our unquiet dead there, but train stations are where large groups of strangers are pressed closely together, no one looks too hard at another’s eyes, nor do we count their fingers. Everyone’s in a hurry, no time to ask enough questions, lots of quick decisions being made. And then we’re off! Never looking back, never sure who the person we just spoke to was or whence they came…

Train stations might fool you with their florescent lighting and their pop-up coffee shops, but think about it even a little and suddenly they look much more Otherworldly, no?

But fear not!

For at Oxford, there is one who stands guard against the Lord and Ladies of the Otherworld! The silent sentinel figure of the owl…

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Photo by Agto Nugroho on Unsplash

She is an apt choice in many ways. In the North of England, my own place of origin, it is said to be good luck to see an owl, and if you’re are at either the beginning or the end of a long train journey then I can assure you that you’ll take any piece of good luck you can find!

On a less … owl-friendly note, owls have long been associated with evil and wickedness owing to their nocturnal habits and liking for the quiet of graveyards and ruins. In Kent it was said that the owl kept to the nighttime hours because she had once won first prize in the animal kingdom’s beauty competition and the jealous losers punished her by only allowing her to come out at night. Poor love.

More to our purposes here, since the early Roman times and continuing right up and into the 19th Century, it was considered that nailing a dead owl to the door of a house or barn would ward off evil and ill-fortune (I think out of the idea that an owl caused the ill-fortune so an owl could jolly well take it away again.) And while that’s clearly awful and you should never do such a thing to the noble and majestic owl, a plastic owl is a perfect modern replacement, don’t you think? Can’t get more dead than being made of plastic now, can you?

All around the world, owls are often credited with powers of prophecy, wisdom and being the messengers between this world and … others. I can certainly think of no better guard against the inherent evil of public transport terminals than our dear Oxford Owl! She’ll see through any mischievous being who tries their luck on the unwary, that’s for sure! And any who have seen the talons and beaks of an owl will know that her vengeance will be both swift and vicious indeed!

So when you next pass through Oxford’s train station, look up on your way out and tip your hat to our noble guardian. She’s doing a hard and thankless job up there, but we are all safer for her presence.

Does your local train station have a guardian? What is it? As I travel around the country in the coming year I’ll keep an eye out myself…

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