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Gathering Splinters from Her Spindle

September 19, 2015

A weekend in Cheshire, over 5th-6th September, I feel precipitated something of a tectonic shift, I daresay part of a galactic drift – to mix mundane and celestial metaphors – in my attitude to life.  I felt challenged to reappraise what I’m doing with this blog (and so much else) and what I want to achieve, or even to try and work out what it is that I want.  The exhilaration of that weekend of intellectual and social interaction kept me afloat on returning to the grind of work, and I was alert to the emergence of meaningful coincidence as a means to get some bearings. 

Perhaps there was an anticipatory consciousness of what was to come that weekend when, a few days before, spurred by war criminal Blair’s inane comments about ‘Alice in Wonderland politics’, I posted up on this blog a quotation from Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat as some kind of riposte.  Come Saturday, I’d quite forgotten that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was from Cheshire when I learnt that Alan Garner considers Carroll’s Jabberwocky to be a representation of the Cheshire dialect he would have heard as a child, spoken by his family’s domestic staff.  I was musing on this as I drove on the Sunday to Alderley Edge – in homage to Garner’s Weirdstone novels – just as a white van careered into view, with the legend, Dodgson Builders, emblazoned on its side.

The radio telescope at Jodrell Bank, Cheshire. It was deployed by Colin in his quest to find his missing sister, Susan, among the Pleiades, in Alan Garner's novel, Boneland.

The radio telescope at Jodrell Bank, Cheshire, September 5th. It was deployed by Colin in his quest to find his sister, Susan, missing among the Pleiades, in Alan Garner’s novel, Boneland.

Back at work, I thought a chance encounter on the doorstep with an elderly man who shared my wife’s maternal grandfather’s name and surname, was highly significant.  It was about the third, perhaps fourth, time I’d ever met him over a period of 27 months.  My first encounter with the same man, in the same circumstances, over two years ago was on the eve of a much-anticipated weekend break with my wife, at The Old Ship in Brighton, to celebrate her birthday. Descending the stairwell of the flats in a daze, I was bowled over that this man had the same name as an in-law who himself had originated from Brighton.  On getting back in the cab, and turning the key in the ignition, on the radio Kathleen Ferrier was singing ‘What is life to me without thee’ from Gluck’s opera, Orpheus and Eurydice.  Ferrier was my Brighton-born mother-in-law’s favourite singer (a singer sang her favourite song, Ferrier’s classic, ‘Blow the Wind Southerly’, at her funeral service some years ago).  Furthermore, Ferrier’s ‘What is life’ had already assumed a heavily emotional significance for me just a few months before, at a time of a deeply distressing enforced separation from my wife.  Naturally, I was reeling from this cluster of coincidences.

A leftover mural from a defunct Brighton business, 'Alice Dreams'. I like the cob walling of the building behind.

A leftover mural from a defunct Brighton business, ‘Alice Dreams’, seen in the of summer 2013. I like the cob walling of the building behind, constructed from the nearest materials to hand.

So it was, after meeting the namesake of the grandfather once again, that I was vigilant for any ‘message’ via the medium of radio, anticipating again the operation of some kind of technologised sortes virgilianae – like the opening of a holy book (Virgil, The Bible, Finnegans Wake) at random to see what timely advice may emerge from the page…

In fact, there were a couple of ‘thematic’ coincidences that cropped up around the same time (09.16 am and 09.14 am respectively), two days running, as I headed out en route along the motorway.  I was interested to hear, on the 8th of September, the announcer’s introduction of Mendelssohn’s overture, The Fair Melusine, Op.32, and was pleased to listen to it pretty much in its entirety, seeing its fairytale theme in tune with the recurring ‘Melusinic’ theme maintained on this blog.  Writing this account up, I realised that there are strong connections between the figures of Melusine and Eurydice, who are both representative of the ‘Swan Maiden’ motif in fairytales: in flight from their spouses and associated with serpents and the underworld.

On the same stretch of the outbound journey, about the same time the next day, the 9th, my ears pricked up as I heard Rob Cowan introducing a tone poem by Sibelius (a ‘Swan-themed’ composer), called Pohjola’s Daughter, Op. 49.  He related an episode in the adventures of Väinämöinen, hero of the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, who spots a beautiful female, seated on a rainbow, weaving a cloth of gold.  Asking her to join him, she in turn sets him a series of tasks to achieve before she can assent.  Yet he is thwarted in his primary task to construct a ship from the splinters of her spindle, finally giving up and proceeding on his journey alone.  An initial thought was how consonant the image of the scattered splinters of the spindle was with the motif of the scattered sparks of the Shekhinah in kabbalistic mysticism, to be gathered up to redeem a shattered world.

A view of Shuttlingslow from Alderley Edge.

A view of Shuttlingslow from Alderley Edge.

Now, after the Cheshire weekend, I was already inclined to figuratively ‘throw everything in the air to see how it landed’, to work out a new direction away from entanglements that didn’t seem to be leading anywhere.  As I was listening to Pohjola’s Daughter, I was drawing out the thread of some kind of ‘homespun wisdom’; primarily that it’s ok to ‘fail’ or at least ‘not succeed’ in the obsessive concentration on one particular task.  Like Väinämöinen, perhaps I just need to let things go, and ‘move on’.  Perhaps ‘letting go’, or allowing things to change or take their course in one area of life will free up processes in other areas of life, allow other patterns to emerge which may bear fruit.  In short, I think it’s time for me to stop banging on about the paper qualification and tweaking the old document upon which this blog was founded.

I haven’t yet decided how such a reorientation would play out on this blog, or whether the whole thing would be shed like an old skin…

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