Sherlock Holmes and a Mystery

On Location 1f
Benedict Cumberbatch, a 21st Century Sherlock

We all know Mr Darcy of Pride and Prejudice has a mysterious attraction for women. It has been pondered on for years and by many! But is the same thing true of Sherlock Holmes? Certainly for me it is! For some reason this hero of detective fiction fascinates me! And I don’t think it is only for the quality of his mind, although that is certainly part of the magic.

Sherlock Holmes certainly seems to represent some archetype as a Victorian gentlemen detective. This brilliant, London based, “consulting” detective has an odd charisma all his own. He seems to mesmerise both men and women and people have great difficulty recognising that he is, in truth, a creature of fiction. Many visitors seek out his home and I gather letters are still sent to his London address asking for help in solving difficult crimes.

But for all his popularity, he never seems a wholly good character. He is flawed and ambiguous, even though he is supposed to have taken up bee-keeping in later life. There seems to be something that is not quite right about him and something that is more than a little wicked. There is certainly arrogance and a chilling intellect that is dangerous, magnetic and repulsive at the same time. We float around him in our admiration like moths around a blue flame that should be cold as ice.

Apparently, he is the most portrayed character in film and in his latest TV incarnation, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, we seem to have a Sherlock for the 21st Century.

As for me, fascinated as I am by Sherlock, he is certainly not someone I wish I could meet. His relationships with women are distinctly odd and I suspect he would be cruel. If I did encounter him, I am sure I would loathe him intensely in the flesh but there on page or screen, oh my! I can’t wait till he turns up again.

Silk Threads

Silk threads - קורי עכביש
Silk Threads

 

Look within yourself and see the silence of eternity.

There is nothing else!

We are each one of us alone;

And all that binds us in the end is love,

Or compassion – call it what you will!

I will find my loneliness in you

And be no longer lonely.

Let it be!

My inner silence,

My eternity.

A bridge to you and all the others,

Only through this gentle web,

Spun of the finest silk

And from my heart!

Things I’ve been in love with – Lilacs and Ivor Novello.

Way back in a part of the sixties that wasn’t the Beatles or Flower Power, I fell in love with the Lilacs.

At the time I was living and working in a large country house in the South East of England.

Everything was new and fresh for me – the girl from the West Midlands who was just beginning to explore what might be out there! Of yes we had Lilacs in Walsall. But nothing like these great luxuriant trees.

I can remember standing by an open window in the early evening with a glass of wine in my hand. There had been a shower of rain. The deep scent of the earth and the smell of Lilacs filled the air. Somewhere in the back ground someone was playing an Ivor Novello song on a piano.

I’ve loved Ivor Novello ever since and I’ve always loved Lilacs.

And here is a rather lovely version of that famous song from Alexander Duliba, a classically trained baritone trying to make his mark in the world of Opera.

Sea Monsters and Mermaids – Scylla

According to Ovid, the Roman poet, Scylla was a beautiful nymph!

The sea-god, Glaucus, fell in love with her.

But he had fins instead of arms and a fish’s tail instead of legs. Scylla was appalled!

So she fled from him onto the land and he despaired.

He went to the sorceress Circe to ask for a love potion. As he spoke he wove a spell over the mighty Circe and, in her turn, she fell in love with him. But Glaucus would have none of her.

Circe was angry. She decided to take her revenge and prepared a very powerful poison.

The jealous sorceress poured the vial into the pool where Scylla bathed. As soon as the nymph entered the water, she was transformed into a frightful monster with twelve feet and six heads. Each head had three jagged rows of teeth and angry, growling wolf heads grew from her waist.

Scylla’s pain was so great she was rooted to the spot. In her distress she started to strike out destroying everything that came near her. Whenever a ship passed by, each of her heads would seize one of the crew.

Greek tradition sited Scilla on one side of the Strait of Messina between Sicily and the Italian mainland. The strait connects the Tyrrhenian Sea with the Ionian Se,. On the Italian side was a vicious rock shoal – the six-headed sea monster! On the Sicilian side was Charybdis, the whirlpool, but that is different story!

Marie Curie and International Women’s Day

2011 year marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.

The day was commemorated for the first time on 19 March 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland!  It had been established  during the Socialist International meeting the year before.

More than one million women and men attended rallies on that first commemoration.

In 1975, during International Women’s Year, the United Nations began celebrating 8 March as International Women’s Day. Two years later, in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions. The Day is traditionally marked with a message from the Secretary-General.

The Theme for International Women’s Day 2011 is Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women

So I thought this was an ideal time to write about my great inspiration; Marie Curie.

Marie Curie (1867 – 1934) is famous for her work on radioactivity.

I can’t remember now in which girl’s comic I saw a pictorial  story of her life. I was very young!  But it made a huge impression –  I can still remember the images quite clearly.

Curie founded the Curie Insititutes in Paris and Warsaw.  She shared her Nobel prize in physics with her husband.  (Her daughter and son-in-law, also shared a Nobel prize, so it wasn’t just me who was inspired).  She was the sole winner of the 1911 Nobel Prize for Chemistry!

Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and she is the only woman to win the award in two different fields

Having left her native Poland to live in Paris, her achievments include the creation of a theory of radioactivity (a term she coined), techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, and the discovery of two new elements, polonium and radium . Under her direction, the world’s first studies were conducted into the treatment of cancers using radioactive isotopes.

Everyone one who is treated with radiotherapy owes her a debt!

Her struggles to study and to support herself and her sister, penniless and caught up in the politics of Europe, are inspirational in themselves.

She became the first woman to become a professor at the Sorbonne.  But she clearly led a full, complex and at times scandalous private life.

During World War I,  she pushed for the use of mobile radiography units, which came to be known popularly as petites Curies (“Little Curies”), for the treatment of wounded soldiers.  After the war started, she donated the gold Nobel Prize medals she and her husband had been awarded, to the war effort.

But she paid a price for her work.

On the 4th of July 1934,  Marie Curie died  from aplastic anaemia.  This was almost certainly contracted from exposure to radiation. The damaging effects were not known then and much of her work had been carried out in a shed, without proper safety measures. She had carried test tubes containing radioactive isotopes in her pocket and stored them in her desk drawer.  She was know to remark on the pretty blue-green light that the substances gave off in the dark.

She was interred in a  cemetery in alongside her husband, Pierre. Sixty years later, in 1995, in honor of their achievements, the remains of both were transferred to the Paris Panthéon.  She became the first, and so far the only, woman to be honored with interrment in the Panthéon on her own merits.

To attain her scientific achievements, she had to overcome barriers  because she was a woman.  This is highlighted in Francoise Giroud’s Marie Curie: A Life, which emphasizes  her role as a feminist icon.

She was ahead of her time; emancipated, independent and incorruptible.

Albert Einstein is reported to have remarked that she was probably the only person who was not corrupted by the fame that she had won.

Who better to inspire us on International Women’s Day!

Mother Earth and Father Sky – spirituality in action

For me, like most of us, happiness (and health) comes from keeping a balance between body, mind and spirit! I tend to be obsessive!


There is a not-for-profit Native American organisation called White Bison that provides resources for Natives and non-Natives alike.
They work to promote recovery from alcohol and drug addiction and are facilitators of the Wellbriety Movement! Each day they send out a simple Native American meditation .
Each one ends with a prayer.  Today’s ask us to thank Mother Earth and Father Sky for our lives – simple honest and very powerful spirituality!
Given how tested American Indians have been by their history, that simple thank you is an example to us all of spirituality in action.  And it is certainly good enough for  me!
Wendy Mason lives in London and works as a a consultant and business coach as well as being a poet and blogger. You can find her on Twitter as @WWisewolf and you can email her at wendymason14@gmail.com

Starbucks, Mermaids and Melusine

I became interested in Melusine when an old boss of mine started to calling me by the name.  I never did find out why.

But I did decide to find out more and I’ve always been fascinated by mermaids!

Melusine is a water fairy in European folklore –  a feminine spirit of fresh waters in sacred springs and rivers.  She is usually depicted as a serpent or fish from the waist down – a kind of mermaid.

The “Lady of the Lake” in the legends of Kind Arthur who spirited away the infant Lancelot and raised the child,was just such a water nymph.

Water fairies and mermaids are considered seductive and dangerous to humans, especially men!

There are many Melusine legends. The chronicler Giraud le Cambrien reported that Richard I of England was fond of claiming he was a descendant of a countess of Anjou who was supposed to  be the fairy Melusine. Richard used to tell the tale and finish with a flourish, concluding that his whole family “came from the devil” and would return to the devil.

Richard the First - the Lionheart!

There are many mermaid stories around the world. The first known such stories appeared in Assyria  around 1000 BC.

The goddess Atargatis, mother of Assyrian queen Semiramis, loved a mortal shepherd and unintentionally killed him. Ashamed, she jumped into a lake to take the form of a fish, but the waters would not conceal her divine beauty. Thereafter, she took the form of a mermaid—human above the waist, fish below!

A popular Greek legend turns Alexander the Great’s sister, Thessalonike, into a mermaid after she died. She lived, it was said, in the Aegean and when she encountered a ship, she asked its sailors only one question: “Is King Alexander alive?” to which the correct answer was: “He lives and reigns and conquers the world”. This answer pleased her so she would calm the waters and wish the ship farewell. Any other answer would spur her into a rage. She would raise a terrible storm, with certain doom for the ship and every sailor on board.

In British folklore mermaids are considered unlucky!    One tale tells of the Laird of Lorntie who  went to aid a woman he thought drowning in a lake near his house.  A servant pulled him back, warning that it was a mermaid.  The mermaid screamed that she would have killed him if it were not for his servant.

So take care!

Although a mermaid has been very lucky for Disney and it is interesting that the female figure in the Starbucks logo has been likened to Melusine.

Beautiful Places – The Swallow Falls

Betws-y-Coed (“Prayer house in the wood”) in Conwy, North Wales, lies in  a valley near the point where the River Conwy is joined by the River Llugwy and the River Lledr.  It was founded around a monastery in the late sixth century and nearby is the famous Swallow Falls – Rhaedr Ewynnol, in Welsh menaing literally Foaming Waterfall!  This waterfall on the Afon Llugwy has become a familiar natural celebrity over the past 100 years and has featured on film, postcard and canvas.

Rising among the towering peaks of Carnedd Llewellyn the River Llugwy runs eastward towards Capel Curig and Betws-y-Coed, before reaching Swallow falls which is the highest continuous waterfall in Wales. The river hurls itself into a spectacular chasm at the Falls.

Best viewed after heavy rain the river rushes down from the mountains through tree-hung, rocky chasms. Jagged rocks and crags divide the stream into a number of foaming cascades which tumble headlong over boulders between richly wooded banks.

As for Rhaeadr; yes, it means waterfall, but some believe it is two words, dwr meaning water and Rhaea – so one meaning could be the water of Rhea. And who was Rhea? Legend has it she dates back to the Roman battles with Carthage. The oracle at Delphi in Greece informed the Roman army commander that if he wished to defeat the army of Carthage he must carry an icon (a carving in black meteorite iron) of Rhea, mother of Zeus and grandmother of Hercules, before the Roman eagle onto the battlefield. This the commander did and the battle was won. Rhea became the patron saint of Roman soldiers! It is an odd connection. But the Falls are next to the the A5 which was also the first Roman built road in England! Perhaps long ago the Falls were sacred to Rhea!

Madness, Pegwell Bay and The Bird of Night

Pegwell Bay, Kent – a Recollection of October 5th 1858 by William Dyce

Painted after a trip Dyce made in the autumn of 1858 to Pegwell Bay near Ramsgate, on the east coast of Kent, this picture is supposed to show various members of his family gathering fossils.  He has carefully recorded the flint-encrusted strata and eroded faces of the chalk cliffs; in the sky is the barely visible trail of Donati’s comet! But the shell pickers have their eyes on the ground, not necessarily understanding or perceiving their transitory place in the universe!  The location is interesting because it is the supposed site of Christianity first coming to Britain and it is a famous location for fossil hunting.  In the book, The Bird of Night,  the painting is a great source of interest for poor, mad Frances who thinks he understands the painter’s intent!  If you study the painting for a while it becomes haunting and, for me, so was this book!

The Bird of Night is the story of the relationship between Egyptologist Harvey Lawson and poet Francis Croft.

Francis is not just a poet but a brilliant poet, writing works that mark him as a genius and the foremost poet of his age. He also suffers bouts of crippling madness.

I loved this book with its metaphors of birds and landscape – owls as good and evil and the wonderful and wicked Venice.  No wonder Francis calls his poem Janus – he of the two faces! I had not read a gothic novel quite like it. The turbulent descriptions of madness were as frightening as thunder storms. The black notebooks delicately picked out the poet’s life – thank goodness for Moleskin!

I loathed the dry, faithful Harvey and I loved mad, dangerous and fragile Francis.  How could he deal with his intoxicating gift and his guilt for wanting to kill his brother for his cruelty and  his guilt, probably,  for his homosexuality? He has lived through the First World War which he seems to have found oddly comforting!

Apparently Susan Hill, herself, had doubts about the book even though it won her the Whitbread Novel Award in 1972.  She remarked in 2006 that “it was a book I have never rated. I don’t think it works, though there are a few good things in it. I don’t believe in the characters or the story.”  I don’t think I believed in the characters, they were not really rounded out, but for me the two characters worked brilliantly as counterpoints.

I found the two characters almost reminiscent of Charles and Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited.  I had a picture of Anthony Andrews (from the TV dramatisation) in mind whenever I thought of Francis – the cover picture for me was of Harvey!  Waugh wrote of Brideshead Revisited that the novel “deals with what is theologically termed ‘the operation of Grace”.  For me, to some extent, The Bird of Night deals with the absence of Grace and it is not surprising that Frances chooses to make his end in a church with a pair of secateurs.