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Jack Wolf

Pilgrimage

The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones

 

“Wolf is a superb storyteller who sucks the reader into his fascinating imagination” The Times

The Year is 1750.

“One morning, in the Autumn of seventeen forty-one, when I was not yet eleven Yeares of Age, Nathaniel Ravenscroft took me a-walking by the River.”

The speaker, and the protagonist of The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones is Tristan Hart: lover, doctor, philosopher, madman, sadist. His obsession is with the nature of pain, and preventing it; with the nature of pain, and causing it. His quest – his pilgrimage, even – is to find the true meaning of the mind and body distinction as proposed by Descartes and Locke – to determine whether the body and brain of a man is really nothing more than mere clockwork.

“Troubled visionary, twisted genius, loving sadist. What is real and what is imagined in Tristan Hart’s brutal, beautiful world?”

The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones is available from all good bookstores, and also here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tale-Raw-Head-Bloody-Bones/dp/0701186879

 

 

 

 

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Spring Signs and Bird Behaviours

The sun is finally returning to my tiny, north facing back garden, having vanished completely from it over the winter months. Now I’m watching the light progress down the back fence as on the opposite side of the house, the sun creeps higher in the sky and the daylight hours steadily increase. Normally, I barely go outside at the back of the house between October and April, but this winter has been different. This is the first year I have had birds visiting my garden and the effect has been like flowers appearing in the dark.

In this part of Bath we are lucky enough to have a small, rather neglected, nature reserve within walking distance, and so my garden attracts a mixture of great, coal, blue and long-tailed tits, blackbirds, dunnocks, robins and the occasional wren. It has not always been so; when I first moved in the high number of cats in the area, combined with the fact that nobody in the area seemed interested in feeding the birds, meant that the smaller species stayed away and the peanuts I put out remained uneaten. Small birds, such as members of the tit family, are creatures of habit, tending to follow already established daily routines which take them to certain places at certain times of day, but not bothering to explore very much beyond them. I would see magpies, crows and pigeons, but nothing else – although as soon as I began to walk in the woods and fields of the reserve I would be surrounded by the songs of thrushes, robins, wrens and so on.

However, last autumn I began to see a small flock of tits regularly patrolling the hedge line at the back of the house, which made me wonder whether it might be worth putting out some seed; so I picked up a hanging table and a feeder, and put some sunflower hearts, suet, and mealworms to see what would happen.

Almost immediately, the feeders became a magnet for small birds – within days they had drawn the attention of the tits, and the local robin had expanded its territory to include the garden. My greatest surprise and delight, though, was when on the third or fourth day I spotted a pair of nuthatches investigating the feeder. I’d heard nuthatches on the reserve, but had never seen any so I was very pleased to see this.

Of course the other unmistakable sign of spring in my house is that my spaniel has started to shed her coat. Unless I brush her for at least five minutes every single morning, the entire house ends up covered in dog hair, which is a nightmare to deal with. This year, though, I am hoping to have found a use for the piles of soft fur, and I am putting these out for the birds to use as nesting material. I don’t know if they will take them – but watch this space! Maybe the reserve will have a number of blue tit chicks raised in nests warmly lined courtesy of Lexie!

Hare and Pheasant

“Keep your eyes open,” I say to Lu. “There are deer and hares in this field, and you need to be able to see them before she does.” I think about the time she put up a hare and a roe deer in quick succession, and how she disappeared over the hill chasing the deer. Didn’t come back for ten minutes and I thought I’d lost her.

We cross the field to the gate at the bottom, but the ground has been puddled by cattle – we can’t get through there. Then suddenly there is a flash of movement. “Hare!” I shout.
The Lex is off, racing over the ground in pursuit of a large brown hare, which she has startled from cover. As usual, we were almost on top of it before it made a move. Now it’s galloping up the slope at twenty miles an hour or faster, with the Lex hammering behind it.
“You won’t catch it!” I shout, but the Lex is fixated on the moving target and will not stop.
Lu starts chasing her up the slope, yelling “Lexie!” – so there we all are, a strange, strung out column of bodies moving through the green and brown of the winter pasture: the hare in the lead, vanishing fast, the panting dog, the shouting boy, and finally, plodding me, saying nothing at all – because there is really nothing to say, and little point in saying it.
Finally the hare dives through the hedge, and the Lex gives up; she and the boy return, breathless. “That was so cute,” says Lu.
“Yes,” I say. “It was. I said there were hares in here.”
We carry on walking. After a few more fields and a stile or two we return to the road, and walk through the mud that has been left by the day’s tractors and off-roading landrovers. We pass a dairy farm, the cows in to be milked. Then we see a patch of colour on the side of the road – a dead pheasant, hit by a car. It’s a beautiful bird; a lovely thing. It probably isn’t a wild born bird – there is a game covert a mile or so across the valley¬† where the farmer raises chicks for shooting – but that doesn’t really matter, not right now.
Lu touches it. It’s warm, still mobile, an hour dead, at most. He picks it up and puts it in the hedge. It’s the right thing to do. It may not have begun its life as part of this ecosystem, but in death it will join it. Safe in the hedgerow, away from passing traffic, this body will become food for foxes, badgers, mice, a crow or two, perhaps one of the many buzzards that swoop over the University campus.
I take a few of the feathers from the roadside and put them in my pocket to bring home for my growing collection. It’s the right thing to do.
The sun is warm. It will be very cold again tonight.

Wet Winter

It’s been cold this week, as the swathe of Arctic air that has been covering the country gave us a taste of real winter temperatures. I don’t mind the cold – although scraping the car in the morning is a bit of a nuisance – because I find if I dress warmly I don’t feel it. I tend to feel warmer in a cold snap of dry arctic air that taps the mercury at round about minus 2 than I do at plus seven in a maritime cyclone that just brings damp and rain. This is, I think, to do with the wicking power of moisture that draws heat from the body in general more readily than dry air seems to do – though it may be purely psychological. Perhaps I feel warmer because I like the bright sunshine and the white frosty ground that tends to accompany high pressure systems in the winter. I’m not, like most of us, a fan of wind and rain.

British winters have been getting warmer and wetter. December 2015 was the warmest on record, and we have not seen significant snowfall in this part of the country for several years. What we tend to see is rain, rain, and more rain. Violent atlantic storms are becoming more common, bringing with them high winds and vast amounts of water that gets dumped in a very short space of time onto high ground and into our river systems. Flooding often results as this bulge of water runs downstream, spilling over onto floodplains when it reaches flatter land. The word ‘floodplain’ is of course, significant. In years gone by, certain parts of the Somerset levels were considered sacrificial land – to be used for grazing during the summer, but left unstocked in the winter in order to act as a sponge for the rains that were usual in the winter. Now of course, all land is expected to be used all year round, and that causes problems.

There are ways of mitigating flooding, though. Dredging is the tried and tested method, but it’s expensive, needing constant repetition, and by speeding up the flow of water in one place it can cause flooding downstream where the river has not been cleared. Moving the problem on is not the same as sorting it. But there are other solutions, which deserve serious consideration. Reforestation of high ground that has been cleared for sheep farming or grouse shooting is one. Trees lock water in the soil, slowing the spread of heavy rains and keeping run-off clear of the waterways. They can act as an upstream barrier to flooding which is cost effective, ecologically friendly, and capable of providing income to those hill farmers who have been repeatedly hit by low prices in the meat industry. Alternatives include the creation of wetland bird reserves and nature corridors – which in addition to reducing the risk of flooding increase local biodiversity. Potteric Carr Nature Reserve, near Doncaster, kept the south of the city dry when the north went underwater in the floods of 2007.

The most interesting methods involve using natural structures such as fallen trees and straw bales to build upstream ‘leaky dams’ on rivers that flood repeatedly. After the town of Pickering in Yorkshire was flooded four times between in 1999 and 2007 the residents got together and constructed their own version of a beaver’s lodge – called a bund – a couple of miles above the town to let the river swell slowly and gradually and avoid any flood ‘bulge’ reaching the town. Their efforts seem, so far, to have worked. In Boxing Day 2015 when much of the North was underwater, Pickering avoided disaster, and stayed dry. Similar schemes have been effective near Glasgow and on the Somerset levels.

Drowning in Fascism

(Caution – this post deals with today’s upheaval in US Politics. Normal service on this blog will be resumed when possible.)

Do people have to hit the bottom of the tank before they realise they are drowning?

Back in 1933, a few years after the Wall Street Crash, Hitler rose to power against a background of fascist sympathy that extended way beyond the boundaries of Germany. And for a while – until the horrors of the second world war finally woke the civilised world up to where it could lead, it was surprisingly popular. It seemed to offer solutions to the world’s problems that were simple, workable and emotionally appealing to those who felt dispossessed or powerless. Scapegoats are useful and fascism’s tenets and prejudices provided them in droves: the disabled, the sick, the weak, the black, the poor, the homosexual, the gypsy, the Jew. But Fascism never delivered on its promises – Germany’s experiment ended in many millions dead and a country split in half – the east ruled by Stalin’s Russia. I suppose in a country – any country – where these lessons are not taught, they will not be learned. Perhaps the right wing of the USA (and the UK, under its current leaders) thinks that because Fascism is a thing that happened somewhere else, and took one particular, militaristic form, it cannot be happening in 2016. Perhaps they really cannot see that although history does not repeat itself, as such – because circumstances are never identical – it does reflect. Now I have a serious interest in history. Sometimes I feel that I am much, much older than I seem to be. I remember – perhaps in the way that some tribal peoples do – things that happened a long, long time before I was born. And it is beyond astonishing to me that in a world where we are supposedly so much better informed than ever, so much more connected, that other people do not recognise the death spiral we are now in, and – worse – seem to want to increase its spin. We have all been here before, and we must know the direction in which the spin is going.

And it is worse this time, though people don’t realise that, on the whole, either. The world has never been threatened by so much – climate change, nuclear war, overpopulation, mass extinction, to name but a few. A fall into a fascist death spiral, right here, right now, will – can only – make this already catastrophic situation worse. In four years, Trump and his so-called Republicans (I fear Republicans no longer) are likely to increase global carbon emissions on purpose, simply because they can and want to make more money for themselves out of the business. Trump has bleated about pulling out of Nato, destabilising eastern Europe; he’s tweeted about striking first with nuclear weapons.

God, I feel for the American people – for my intelligent, educated, liberal friends who are now quaking in their shoes and wondering what the hell is going to happen next. They will suffer immensely at home – women, gay people, Muslims, you name them, if he can’t use them, Trump will hurt them – and then he’ll hurt the people he can use, the people who did support him. Because that is what fascists do. It’s what Hitler did, it’s what Mugabe did, and Duterte is doing. But the rest of the world will suffer too – if not immediately, then later, when the effects have had time to sink in and the damage is done and irreparable. How many of my grandchildren died today because of this? How long do I even have, in a world becoming so terribly, terrifyingly filled with hate? How will I die? Will it be through lack of healthcare (in post-Brexit UK, how long does anybody really give the NHS?), homelessness, or hypothermia? Will I be murdered for being one of those outsiders that fascism loathes? The intellectual liberal, the environmentalist leftie, the transman not-quite-ex-dyke, the Jew. I am all of these and I thank God that I am not in America today, thank God that the rule of law in the UK still stands – *just* – against tyranny and demagoguery. But for how long? In this terrifying, warming world, where millions will soon be crossing the Med as parts of northern Africa and the middle east become uninhabitable, where hundreds of thousands are already fleeing terrorism and tyranny – both religious and secular – how long will the rule of law last? How long will it be until this modern form of fascism, which operates through business interests and manipulation of the electorate, moves to the next stage?

I don’t know and I have no answers. I’m just scribbling thoughts on FB for my echo-chamber to read, scribbling without even really thinking – because, God, this is not the time for analysis. It’s the time to mourn.

I’m so sorry, America. So, bloody, bloody, sorry.

Tin Mine, Minions

Tin mine, Minions

Tin mine2, Minions, .JPG

Wheatfield, August

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Unclouded

Next door’s toddler shrieks, and tries, confused by simultaneous sun and rain,

to go on playing on the warm wet grass, beneath her yellow umbrella.

But soon the hard shower makes the shimmered air too thick to see through,

and the concrete path hail-puddles to a sea of white,

bringing the lesson down to earth: how unworthy of trust is an unclouded sky.

Changeling 3

Changeling3.JPG

Changeling 2

Changeling2.jpg

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