BLUEBELLS and FAIRIES In order to write appropriately about Bluebells and Fairies, it will be necessary to take a chance on boring you to tears with fabulous details of fairy stories both short and tall.
Not such a tall story is the fact that I was born into a family which (when I was old enough to know what the word meant) turned out to be dysfunctional. The big man I called dad was frequent drinker and a philanderer. My name is Nigel. I grew up in In the West-country Of England, where there are huge swaths of land covered by apple orchards. There are not the beautiful red Washington and Fuji apples to be found in supermarkets throughout the United States. But rather smallish cider apples, found everywhere from Herefordshire to Devonshire and every county in between. Theses apples are gathered from the ground leaves and all, briefly hosed down before being crushed in a cider press. The resultant apple juice is then fermented into hard cider. The local name for this cider is “Scrumpy”. This was dad’s drink of choice. Depending on the degree of fermentation, Scrumpy was referred to as “rough” and “sweet”. Rough cider was very sour; meaning all of its sugars had been converted to Alcohol and was very potent. Sweet cider on the other hand was not quite so sour and tended to be less potent.
In my home-town of Bristol there was an urban legend that the city had more than 1,500 public houses. I suspect there is some truth in this but in all honesty I could not say for sure that this is true. Most Pubs were owned by the local brewery. In Bristol, this was George’s Brewery. So the arrangement was something like an early-day franchise. The Brewery owned the premises and a Publican (bar owner) leased the pub from the brewery with the understanding that they would sell the brewery’s beer.
In order to buy a drink of cider, one was obliged to go to what was termed a “free-house” i.e., a pub not necessarily owned by the brewery but in private hands. This meant that the Publican was free to sell whatever beers etc., he or she felt like.
Now comes the tricky bit. Cider had a terrible reputation. Its potency varied. Most cider was delivered in the barrel that it was fermented in and delivered direct from the farm where it was made. There were few controls and its alcoholic content could be as high as 13%. That’s equivalent to regular wine which we buy today. In order to be served at many bars, one basically had to prove one’s ability to hold your liquor. So it was not unheard of that someone would not be served more than two pints of cider if you were not well known.
Some say that one’s inability to get served multiple pints of cider at one establishment gave rise to the practice of pub-crawling. Going from one bar to the next if only for the one drink limit in each.
My dad’s drink of choice, better defined, was a Pint of rough with a dash of sweet. The dash of sweet he claimed took the “edge” off of the rough. All the same, he would down six to eight pints of an evening before showing up at home in his cups.
Part of the reason Dad drank so heavily was the fact that he was not my father. He lived a life I believe of great sadness. He tended towards manic-depressive (that’s the original term for Bi-Polar). As far as I know he was never treated for this medically. Sadly, he self-medicated his condition and situation with cider.
So that’s the background. I am the youngest of three boys and I had two sisters one older and one younger. I never felt close to my next older brother but I did hang out with him as a small boy. Summer holidays from school lasted about two months each year. It was during these times that I explored the countryside where I lived. At first it was with my brother but then as he got older and tired of my company, I took up with another boy about my age named Dave. Bearing in mind we did not have mobile telephones or even house phones in those days, it was always hit or miss when we wanted to meet up unless we had a prior agreement. And so it was, we explored our environment together.Dave like me did not have a real father. So we learned how to take direction from each other. That’s right! We took turns at leading the way. Sounds funny when you put it into words after all the years. Dave was great fun. He was certainly more mischievous than me and he had an impish grin whenever he had a new adventure to propose. I on the other hand saw myself as the voice of reason and took a more serious view of life. At fourteen years of age I already believed in re-incarnation and had a vague understanding of Karma. I realized early in life that there were consequences for one’s actions. Dave it seemed to me was more carefree and thus balanced our natures perfectly.There is a road in Bristol separating Henbury from Brentry. It’s called Passage Road. It eventually merges with Cribbs Causeway. Originally, Cribbs causeway was part of a road built by the Romans to link the harbour at Portus Abonae, later renamed by the Saxons as Sea Mills and the garrison town of Nervia Glevensium also renamed as Gloucester. If you took the road in the late 1950’s it led on to Severn Beach by way of Easter Compton. Where Cribbs Causeway ends the road starts downhill. The hill is named Black Horse Hill it is on the right side as you descend that you find a wooded area. I don’t know if it ever had a name. We called it simply, Black Horse woods.For me the woods were magical. On the days that I was the leader, we invariably headed there. Sometime Dave would simply say I suppose we are going to the woods? Even at our immature age, we had deep discussions. Dave never questioned that fact that bluebells grew there by the acre. He did not know what Cuckoo-pint was, he thought all wild fungi were poisonous. I once showed him some morels. He destroyed them by kicking them out of the ground. There were also puffball mushrooms and red-caps growing throughout the woods. We talked about God. Our Universe was limited to sun, moon and the stars we could see. Dave and I were friends from about the age of 11 until we reached 16. Then it seemed we drifted apart and I have never seen or heard of him since.However, I often returned to Black Horse woods. I became somewhat of a loner and went there to sit quietly under a tree and ponder the wonders of nature that so often go unnoticed. Both of my brothers and my older sister had left home; my younger sister placed in a convent boarding school and my parents had divorced. It was during those visits to the woods that I started thinking more about our existence and purpose for being here. I believed very much in magic. Not the conjuring tricks preceded by an Abra-ca-dabra from a man in top hat and tails, but the natural folkloric kind of magic written about by Philip Carr-Gomm and James George Frazer in the Golden bough. I was fascinated by the thought of Roman soldiers trudging past the very spot that I liked to sit.It was during these times of daydreaming (I’d hardly call it meditation) that I considered possibilities. I concluded that everything was possible. Put another way I decided that just because I couldn’t do it, yet! Did not mean it could not be done.I have never seen a fairy. But I am pretty sure they exist. And, I say this because nature is truly stranger than fiction.
This morning I posted a haiku about things unnoticed. I had been looking out of my family room window into the copse which is the continuation of my garden at the back of my house. The autumn sun low on the eastern horizon was beginning to filter down through the trees. My tea was growing cold but I was lost in the days of Black Horse woods. I thought about Dave and my eyes filled with tears. I didn’t cry but it was a sad moment for me. I wondered though whether Dave had ever thought back at the possibilities we had talked about as kids.