Monday, September 26, 2011

road station of the sacred groves

I spend a lot of time travelling on buses or as is quite often the case, waiting around for buses to arrive. These photos were taken on a bus trip returning from North Tawton one evening in July, on one of those occasions when the light and cloud conspire to do something striking, so the camera comes out to record the passing. The weather around Dartmoor can change very quickly, so there is often much drama in its movement.

North Tawton is the place that Ted Hughes brought Sylvia Plath to live back in the 1960s and with all due respect to the people here, it is still a very small and insular town that couldn't have been much fun for a cultivated and sensitive American woman to spend the winter in, more than a bit thoughtless of Ted really.

There are the remains of a roman fort in North Tawton, just over the bridge and to the south, which had the name of Nemetostatio, meaning "The road-station of the sacred groves" and there are other places in the general area which still have similar names, such as Nymet Rowland and Nymet Tracey or Bishop's Nympton. A nemeton was a sacred space of the ancient Celtic religion and names like this are found all the way from Scotland to as far south as Spain and as far east as Turkey, and maybe even further away if anyone can think of any.

The roman poet Lucan gives this seemingly exaggerated account of a nemeton near Marseille (another place which provides traces of very ancient settlement with its 30,000 year old cave paintings)

'No bird nested in the nemeton, nor did any animal lurk nearby; the leaves constantly shivered though no breeze stirred. Altars stood in its midst, and the images of the gods. Every tree was stained with sacrificial blood. the very earth groaned, dead yews revived; unconsumed trees were surrounded with flame, and huge serpents twined round the oaks. The people feared to approach the grove, and even the priest would not walk there at midday or midnight lest he should then meet its divine guardian.'

North Tawton gets its current name from the river Taw, which I have photographed nearer to its source on Dartmoor and which were put up here last year I think. In the Syriac alphabet, as in the Hebrew and Phoenician alphabets, taw (ܬ) is the last letter in the alphabet but then there is also the Welsh Taw, meaning silent, and which describes the river as it meanders across Taw plain on Dartmoor very nicely. We will return to North Tawton soon and have a look round the disused mill.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Legal Illegal - Frances Black

Songwriter: Ewan McColl

Every time you pick up a newspaper,
Every time you switch on the T.V.,
You can bet your old boots that at some point you'll see,
A high ranking Garda or else a T.P.
Calling on all who are meant to be free,
To stand up and defend law and order.

It's illegal to rip off a payroll,
It's illegal to hold up a train,
But it's legal to rip off a million or two,
That comes from the labour that other folk do,
To plunder the many on behalf of the few,
Is a thing that is perfectly legal.

It's illegal to kill off your landlord
Or to trespass upon his estate
But to charge a high rent for a slum is O.K.
To condemn two adults and three children to stay
In a hovel that's rotten with damp and decay
It's a thing that is perfectly legal.

If your job turns you into a zombie
Then it's legal to feel some despair
But don't get agressive and don't get too smart
For Christ's sake don't upset the old applecart
Remember you boss has your interest at heart
And it grieves him to see you unhappy.

If you fashion a bomb in your kitchen,
You're guilty of breaking the law,
But a bloody great nuclear plant is O.K.,
And plutonium processing hastens the day,
This tight little isle will be blasted away,
Nonetheless it is perfectly legal.

It's illegal if you are a traveller,
To camp by the side of the road,
But it's proper and right for the rich and the great,
To live in a mansion or own an estate,
That was got from the people by pillage and rape,
That is what they call a tradition.

It's illegal to kill off your missus,
Or put poison in your old man's tea,
But poison the river's the seas or the skies,
And poison the minds of a nation with lies,
It's all in the interest of free enterprise,
Nonetheless it's perfectly legal.

Well it's legal to sing on the telly,
But make bloody sure that you don't,
To sing about racists and fascists and creeps,
And those in high places who live off the weak,
And hose who are selling us right up the creek,
The twisters, the takers, the conmen, the fakers,
The whole bloody gang of exploiters.