Thursday, 29 March 2012

New folklore archive

Sound recordings of folklore from all over the world, collected by folklorist Alan Lomax are now freely available at the Cultural Equity website. The archives include an extensive collection of sound recordings of music, songs, interviews and stories from Ireland and Scotland - amongst others - which have been collected since 1946.

This is an amazing project and there's so much good stuff here! For more on the man himself, there is a good article here that describes his life and works.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Là na Cailliche sona dhuibh!

So the Cailleach has thrown down her wand (or mallet) in disgust and spring is now officially here...

Dh’ fhag e mhan mi, dh’ fhag e ‘n ard mi
Dh’ fhag e eadar mo dha lamh mi,
Dh’ fhag e bial mi, dh’ fhag e cul mi,
Dh’ fha e eadar mo dha shul mi.

Dh’ fhag e shios mi, dh’ fhag e shuas mi,
Dh’ fhag e eadar mo dha chluas mi,
Dh’ fhag e thall mi, dh’ fhag e bhos mi,
Dh’ fhag e eadar mo dha chos mi.

Thilg mi ‘n slacan druidh donai,
Am bun preis crin cruaidh conuis.
Far nach fas fionn no foinnidh,
Ach fracan froinnidh feurach.’
  It escaped me below, it escaped me above.
  It escaped me between my two hands,
  It escaped me before, it escaped me behind,
  It escaped me between my two eyes.

  It escaped me down, it escaped me up,
  It escaped me between my two ears,
  It escaped me thither, it escaped me hither,
  It escaped me between my two feet.

  I threw my druidic evil wand.
  Into the base of a withered hard whin bush,
  Where shall not grow ‘ fionn ‘ nor ‘ fionnidh’,
  But fragments of grassy ‘froinnidh.’

Là Fhèill Brìghde was cold and bright, and the weather ever since has been completely the opposite - warm, wet and cloudy - up until around the equinox last week. Now we have glorious sunshine, hazy views across the sea, and the garden is getting into its full swing. Yesterday, on Là na Cailliche, we all piled into the car and headed over to the fair that's in a neighbouring town - one of the last hangovers from the traditional trade fairs that would take place twice a year around the equinoxes, where people would go to find themselves gainful employment. Now it's just an opportunity to have fun and eat too many sweeties, and, if you're six and nearly five, it's time to have a go on as many rides or bouncy things as possible:

And go 'fishing' for Winnie the Pooh, prize guaranteed. Rosie chose bubbles:

(I would like to point out that I had nothing to do with putting that outfit together).

Back home, with the warm and dry weather it was time to give the veg a watering and see how they're all getting on. It's taken a while but the first lot of onions I put in are starting to sprout:

As are the peas. As yet the sprouts, leeks, carrots and second set of onions and peas are still thinking about it (I'm a bit worried that the seeds I've used for the leeks and some of the carrots may be out of date now, so they won't do anything, but oh well. There may be a few late harvests this year). I've lost a raspberry bush in the storms at the beginning of the year, but I still have the golden raspberry I planted last year and it seems to be settling in nicely, as is the blackcurrant. The rhubarb is looking a little sad and forlorn, but the rowan is proudly unfurling its leaves and some blossom buds:

Last year was the first time the tree blossomed and I left the berries to the birds to give them their due. This year I might harvest some for drying, depending how well the berries do.

The cowslip is going strong:

And a primrose I grew from seed last year survived! Just:

It's not all yellow in the garden, though:

But spring is well under way already. If this year is anything like last year, the late spring will be glorious and sunny and the summer itself will be a washout, so we're making the most of it right now.

It's my daughter's fifth birthday this coming weekend, then we have most of my family coming to visit for Easter, so things are very busy round here. There has been a lot of spring cleaning to get the house back in shape - I have been pretty incapacitated for the most of the year so far, but it seems that with a change in weather (and medications) things have improved a little. I'm a little more mobile now, so that's one thing, and after a winter of not being up to much the house needs some TLC - a few repairs need to be done, a few finishing touches that need to finally get seen to and so on. The patio has been pressure cleaned to remove the algae that had turned the concrete slabs green, the carpets have been cleaned, the spare room has been de-furred and claimed back from the dogs, and all the bedding has been washed. And the cupboard under the stairs has been bravely tackled. The cobwebs have been well and truly dusted away.

It's a glamorous life, I'm sure you'll agree...

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Boxty (fail)

Continuing with an appropriately Irish theme, last week I decided to try my hand at making boxty pancakes. I'm not sure if the "pancakes" is a necessary identifier to that, but the recipe I used for it (from a book I have called Irish Food and Folklore) is different to the ones I've seen online, so maybe there's a difference between the usual boxty and the kind I made. Or maybe the recipe I have is duff, because...things did not work out well.

The recipe for it is simple:

1 lb potatoes
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp baking powder
salt and pepper
150ml milk
oil, for frying

But differs from other recipes for boxty (also known as stamp) in that they usually use mashed potato as well as grated potato. All you have to do for this one is grate the potatoes, mix it with the other ingredients, and dollop spoonfuls into a hot pan. In theory it should take around 5 minutes frying on each side. In theory. And then you have some lovely golden-brown boxty pancakes, good served with bacon or jam and butter. In theory.

What I actually ended doing was a) burning a lot of grated potato onto the bottom of the pan, and b) eventually taking the remainder of the pancakes out of the pan, still somewhat soggy in the middle, and leaving them to cool for a while before returning to the pan. This must've allowed them to dry out a little or something, because they cooked a lot better after that.

This is what I ended up with:

Before I gave up. Still somewhat soggy in the middle, but quite tasty nonetheless. Next time I think I'll stick with the internet recipes, there was far too much liquid in this version. As for the folklore part of the recipe book, there's a wee rhyme associated with it:

Boxty on the griddle,
Boxty in the pan,
If you can’t make boxty,
You’ll never get a man.

Boxty on the griddle,
Boxty in the pan,
The wee one in the middle,
That’s the one for Mary Anne.

I'm just glad I'm already married...

I hope you have a good "St Patrick's Day," however you celebrate (or not).

Well. Quite

Friday, 16 March 2012

The inevitable Paddy post

It's that time of year again where the internet is buzzing with the legend of Saint Patrick and his driving of all the snakes from Ireland. Not that there ever were any snakes in Ireland. So, you know, obviously that means it was code for druids...

This time last year I remember a big fuss being made about "All Snakes Day" in various places, being promoted as an alternative to St Patrick's Day. I have to admit it really did get my goat a little. So far this year, all I've seen (aside from a few off-hand comments referencing the idea in passing) is how the whole thing is based on faulty history; the snakes weren't the druids, they were snakes. And the story itself was lifted from a different saint's life. And so on. So all in all, holding an alternative day of mourning for the demise of the druids, based on a story that was never about the druids...It seems a bit pointless to me. It's nice to see that so many agree, otherwise I'd feel even more curmudgeonly than I already do.

Then again, one could argue that faulty interpretations of history (and culture) are what St Patrick's Day is all about now. Some years ago, Ben and Jerry's ice cream released a special edition flavour to "celebrate Irish culture." They had the brilliant idea of calling it "Black and Tan," which oh no, couldn't possibly be offensive at all - it's a drink, right?

Umm. No. Not just a drink, anyway.

After the outcry, they pulled the ice cream and apologised profusely. So it's quite perplexing that Nike have now decided to "celebrate" in a similar way with their Guinness and Black and Tan trainers. Awww. Bless 'em. I like how "celebrating" is unashamedly synonymous with "cashing in on" and "being totally unaware of history."

Speaking of which, the controversial parade in New York excels itself in not really grasping the current political situation (or correct and appropriate terminology) as well. I give you exhibit A:
The only banners allowed are ones identifying the unit or "England Get Out of Ireland". Only one banner for each unit. NO EXCEPTIONS!!

Gorm has had a good vent over on his blog about all this and I agree wholeheartedly with his views there. We can harp on about bad history or just get on with it and observe - if we so wish - the day as a celebration of culture and heritage. Not the shamrocks and the weird green beer (seriously folks, what's that about?), not the stereotypes of leprechauns and obligatory about good food, good music, and some good stories instead?

Anyway, I thought I'd leave you with an irreverent view of St Patrick and some of the lore associated with him from some funny and slightly hapless Irish guys. It's well worth a watch, but be aware that there is some language so it probably won't be safe for work (or small children who don't need their vocabulary expanding). And there's also mild inebriation involved:

Monday, 12 March 2012


Food is a very important thing, culturally-speaking. Different cultures have different kinds of treats, for one, and as far as celebrating things are concerned, sweet treats can form a very special part of it. At Christmas, in Scotland, it's traditional to have a black bun (something I've yet to try my hand at) or a Selkirk bannock. Gingerbread is always good at Hallowe'en, while cranachan is the must have tastiness at the harvest...

And then there are the kind of treats that aren't really associated with particular times of year, but more to do with the kind of ingredients that tend to lurk in cupboards. Indian treats tend to be very coconutty, for example, whereas in Scotland they generally consist of fat, sugar, various flavourings (often spices like caraway or ginger, and/or dried fruits), and oats or flour of some of form or another. Shortbread? Clootie dumpling? Parlies? Pitcaithly bannock? Yetholm bannock?

It was this reason that led me to one very shocking and important discovery (according to Wikipedia, so it must be true), since I had some porridge oats that needed using:

The US and Canada don't have flapjacks.

Not like we do on this side of the Pond, anyway. Apparently a flapjack is a kind of pancake in north America, while here they are made of oaty, buttery, sugary and syrupy deliciousness:

The reason I discovered this is because I was going to post the fruits of my labours and a recipe, and it occurred to me that golden syrup isn't really a thing in the US. So I wondered what kind of alternatives were used instead, and apparently the answer is: None, really. Corn syrup would be the obvious choice, but it seems that most folks hold out for golden syrup when they decide to make "English flapjacks" (as they seem to be called, but they're not just an English thing, honest) as some sort of exotic tastiness...It seems odd to think of something so fundamental to my own childhood and existence as not being a thing somewhere. That it's seen as something different.

So anyway, if you fancy clogging up your arteries and speeding up your Type 2 diabetes, why not try some? The following recipe is for the usual homemade flapjack, that goes quite hard and kind of crunchy-but-chewy once they. If you want a softer flapjack, either: Eat before they've cooled down, or add a little bit more golden syrup, a tablespoon of flour or so, and bake a little thicker. The recipe I used calls for an 11'' x 7'' pan, but I prefer using a slightly smaller one so they're thicker so I get a bit of chewiness in the middle.


8oz porridge oats (or rolled/jumbo oats)
4oz butter
3oz sugar
2tbsp golden syrup


1. Put the butter, sugar and syrup into a pan and heat until golden melted goodness is achieved.

2. Stir in the oats until well mixed and whack into a baking tray.

3. Bake in the oven at 350F/180C/Gas Mark 4 for about 20 minutes or until a nice golden-brown on top.

4. Remove from the oven and cut the flapjacks into fingers. Leave to cool before removing.

5. Eat. Try not to fall into a diabetic coma.

Things you need to know for St Patrick's Day

It's Paddy, not Patty. Seriously now.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Virtual Tour

Not my usual area of interest, but I think this is really good (and a little hypnotic)...

There is a virtual tour of an Iron Age Gaulish village, Acy-Romance, now available online. You can get a general view of the village and go into more detail about daily life, sacred sites, and all sort of things. The level of detail is absolutely amazing:

Take the virtual tour

Although I would guess you need a decent internet connection, it takes a while to load (my internet connection's not fantastic, but it's not too shabby either). For a little background, try this article. It would be fantastic to see similar projects being done for Ireland and Scotland.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Book review: The Celtic Heroic Age

The Celtic Heroic Age: Literary Sources for Ancient Celtic Europe and Early Ireland and Wales
John Koch (ed.) in collaboration with John Carey

For once, here is a book that uses the word 'Celtic' in its proper context. That's not exactly surprising, considering who's put it together, but after all those books that don't...well. It's refreshing, to say the least.

While there are plenty of places online where you can find all kinds of myths and literature, sometimes it's good to have them in book format; especially considering the fact that the translations on offer are generally more up to date (though this isn't always the case. Elizabeth Gray's translation of Cath Maige Tuired is the most recent version, and freely available online, although the online version doesn't have the notes that the hardcopy format does). This book certainly has a lot to offer in terms of all kinds of myths and literature that are collated within this volume, though I have to say that the soft-cover version I have isn't the most sturdy. Some of the pages are threatening to come loose.

Inside, you'll find a veritable smorgasbord of goodies on offer. First up is a selection of Gaulish inscriptions, excerpts from Classical sources referencing the continental Celts, as well as bits and pieces relating to the Britons (e.g. Boudicca). Then we have Irish and Hiberno-Latin sources (i.e. Irish sources written in Latin), which forms the main chunk of the book, followed by Brittonic and Brittonic Latin sources. The latter part is comprised mostly of Welsh poetry, but there is also a little bit of Breton legend, as well as excerpts from the Historia Brittonum.

The Gaulish inscriptions are really interesting, but all too few, while as far as the Classical sources are concerned there's not much that I hadn't already seen before; it's certainly handy for reference, at least, but admittedly this material isn't really my area of primary interest. The usual suspects are to be found in the Welsh poetry - Taliesin, Y Gododdin, Preideu Annwn, etc. - so it's all good if you're wanting to get a broad overview of different kinds of Celtic literature. On the other hand, however, if you're wanting to study any of these things in more depth I would recommend books that are more dedicated to the subject.

The same can be said of the Irish section as well - you'll find the important stuff, such as Recension I of the Lebor Gabála Érenn, the Audacht Morainn, Echtra Nera, Tochmarc Étaíne, The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn, and so on, all neatly packaged and presented. There is a lot here that you can already find online these days (which wasn't the case at the time of this book's publication), although the down side with that is you have to look for it, and know what you're looking for. If you're familiar with the myths then you've probably read most of them before, at least. If not then at least you won't have to look too far to find the good stuff - some of the most important tales have been cherry-picked for you (although obviously it doesn't include the epics).

One of the best things about this book is that there are also some bits and pieces that the average reader is less likely to be familiar with. For the Irish section, the early Dynastic poetry is very useful in particular (lots of pre-Christian hints there), and so are the excerpts from Giraldus Cambrensis (including the section on the sacred flame of Kildare). Most of all, though, the value of this book - aside from the decent translations on offer (as opposed to the "retellings" and cleaned up versions that Lady Gregory or Charles Squire offer, say) - is in the fact that there is so much packed in to one handy volume. For the reconstructionist the decent translations are a definite draw, and just one reason that I'd recommend the book. I can't help but feel that it would have been better if the book had more thorough annotations, but then again I think the primary purpose of it is as a primary sourcebook, not a running commentary. The notes that are given are usually brief but often give good pointers to further reading in places. Still, more would have been better.

This is a book I would definitely recommend, though I can see that it will probably be a low priority for most folks who have a limited budget. It's definitely worth it, though, and you should be able to find it cheaply enough.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Book review: The Apple Branch/Celtic Rituals

One from the vaults now, a book I read pretty much at the beginning of my involvement in Celtic Reconstructionism, and which at the time came highly recommended.

There has been quite a bit of time passed since the initial fanfare that heralded the book's re-release (when I got hold of a copy) and I think maybe it's time to revisit it. The copy I'm reviewing is the later edition that was released under the title of The Apple Branch, which - as I understand it - differs only slightly from the older edition, which was called Celtic Rituals. As far as I'm aware, the only differences are that the newer edition has an index and a few extra passages in the first chapter added in.(Or not...)

Addendum: As per Faoladh - The original title is The Apple Branch, published by Collins Press and later released in a new edition by a US publisher with the addition of the index and the text restored. Celtic Rituals is a 'grey market' edition.

The Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual (alternative title: Celtic Rituals: An Authentic Guide to Ancient Celtic Spirituality)
Alexei Kondratiev

Aside from the CR FAQ this is the only other book that ever really comes up in conversation when people want to read something that's good for a Celtic Reconstructionist. It's understandable, given how much Alexei contributed to the CR community over the years, but it's also one I find problematic in many respects.

This is not a Celtic Reconstructionist book. For this reason alone I find it difficult to recommend it for anyone wanting a book on Celtic Reconstructionism, because it is not a book that fits the bill, plain and simple. This doesn't mean that it's a bad book, or a terrible book, just that it isn't one that can be considered to be particularly illuminating as far as CR is concerned. In that sense, it's a difficult book to review because on its own terms it surely has a lot of positives. It is thorough, and unlike many other books aimed at a neopagan audience, it doesn't shy away from getting into details. The research is good, and well-presented, and at the time it was first published it certainly offered something very different to anything else that was available at the time.

Even so, none of this means that it is a good book for a CR audience, although it does arguably make it an important one as far as its place in CR's history goes. After all this time, I think The Apple Branch has held such a special place in Celtic Reconstructionist circles for so long due to the fact that it is far more sympathetic to CR's emphasis on decent history (as opposed to ye anciente Irish potato goddesses and Celtic alternatives to patriarchal penises...), and when it first came out it was as close to a reconstructionist book as anyone was going to find. For me, though, that just isn't a reason to hold on to it.

So why isn't this book CR? Put simply, Alexei himself repeatedly pointed out that this book isn't CR, and was never intended to be. One of the biggest points that makes it "not CR" is that the rituals outlined are really no different to the myriad other Wiccanesque kinds of ritual on offer by other authors offering "Celtic traditions." This puts it in the dubious company of the McCoys and Bucklands of the world, and also perhaps proved influential in the work of Aedh Rua's Celtic Flame which is similarly Wiccanesque in ritual approach, and really this is not surprising since Alexei himself was Wiccan. There is talk of 'the God' and 'the Goddess', there is circle casting and invocations at each quarter, and so on, although there is definitely a slightly different spin put on all of it. Given Alexei's emphasis on language, invocations at each quarter are given in Celtic languages - Scots Gaelic in the north, Welsh in the east, Breton in the South and Irish in the west. It's not something I can really get on board with, personally; deep down, I can't help but feel that it's using languages for the sake of it, without regard for their own context, and it all seems rather pointless if you don't even speak those languages and understand what any of it means, or even honour the gods of those cultures anyway.

The over all approach is pan-Celtic, and while this might have been popular in academia in the 60s, we've come a long way since then. Celtic cultures do have their similarities, even their common origins, but that doesn't mean we can mix them all together and get something that is reflective of anything that would have ever been practiced. For me, it makes a hodge podge, and it's one of my biggest problems with neopagan books that fall under the 'Celtic' umbrella in general. It certainly makes something meaningful for a lot of folks - otherwise these books wouldn't be so popular - but to my mind, I don't see the point of looking to historical sources and then...ignoring history.

Ultimately, it seems that the pan-Celticism undermines a very important point that the book emphasises, and that's the importance of using Celtic languages to justify the use of the label Celtic in the first place. I wouldn't go so far to say that language is the only thing makes something Celtic (as Alexei basically seems to), but he does have a point that language is incredibly important. But in advocating for linguistic authenticity, framing it within a pan-Celtic approach just seems contradictory, and ignores the rich variety of Celtic cultures, and their differences.

With that said, one thing that Alexei does manage to do is give a decent historical overview of the Celts. The pan-Celtic approach gives a slightly misleading view, to my tastes, but it can't be denied that the research here is very good. It's perhaps a little coloured by politics that some might find distracting or distasteful, but you could do far worse. I do think it's a little dry, though, and very dense in places. Most people, when they're reading a book on a particular religion, are looking for what that religion is about, not so much a history lesson. If I wanted that, I'd read a history book. Here, I would anticipate that a fair few readers end up wondering what exactly the oppression of the eighteenth and nineteenth century really has to do with paganism...Of course, it is relevant in a round about way, and as history, people should know this. I just don't think starting off with this kind of stuff works in the book's favour.

I'm not sure it's Alexei's fault that the blurb states that it presents "the" Celtic traditions, but however it came about, it's more than a bit misleading. What the book describes is a way of doing things, to be sure, but it's a synthesis of many different things that are presented in a modern, Wiccanesque framework, not a traditional one. Ultimately, as much as the book is a part of CR history, it has no practical relevance, and I would only really recommend it if you're looking for a wee slice of history.


Delving into politics is rarely a way win friends and influence people (or whatever the saying is), but hey, neither's talking about religion usually...But normally politics is something I stay away from here on the blog. However, after a few conversations I've had with some folks abroad recently, I thought maybe it would be of interest to some readers here if I laid out a general idea of the independence debate that is currently going on in Scotland. Because it's such a loaded topic it can be difficult to get a decent view of things, even from organisations like the good ole BBC when you consider that recently a well-respected journalist likened Scotland's First Minister to Robert Mugabe. To his face...

Oh, Paxo...

After the SNP won a majority in Scottish Parliament last year - against all expectations, given the way the elections work - the referendum on Scottish independence is now finally going to be a reality. In all likelihood the referendum will take place in 2014, although as yet even the date is far from certain. Westminster are lobbying (somewhat half-heartedly) for it to take place next year, no doubt hoping that the sooner it happens the less likely it is that people will vote yes, while Holyrood is resisting those calls. Of course, politics being politics, and folks often tending towards paranoid conspiracies, there are rumblings that the idea is motivated by entirely different reasons than "the sooner the better"; no, 2014 is an important date for Scots, being the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn. In theory, the coincidence with this anniversary and the referendum can only work in the SNP's favour, since they might hope to captilise on a bit of nationalistic fervour as people look back to that fateful and bloody day in Scotland's history - a victory for the Scots against English oppression. 2013, on the other hand, is the 500th anniversary of Flodden, which was an altogether different story. Scotland suffered a devastating defeat there at the hands of the English, and you can bet that there have been murmurings that Westminster is pushing for next year as a fingers up to the SNP...

Most important of all, in all of this, is what the referendum question will actually be. Probably not this:

Although I for one would fully support it...

But there are two main options being mooted. The first option, and one that the Scottish government favours, is a simple yes/no vote, for or against independence. The second option, and the one that Westminster favours (but which the Scottish government is open to agreeing to), is offering three choices - yes, no, and the option to support 'devo max.' This latter choice would result in more powers being devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and is effectively one step short of full independence; Scotland would remain a part of the Union, but it would otherwise basically be able to govern itself.

There are pros and cons to both choices of wording. A simple yes/no vote carries with it more risk of people voting no. In order for the yes vote to succeed, voters need some assurances that independence will not be a disaster for the Scottish economy, for one, and there are a lot of issues that will need to be resolved before independence could possibly go ahead. Political rhetoric is doing a good job of capitalising on the public's uncertainty at the moment, and while there is currently unprecedented support for independence according to the polls, it's a much different matter when people are actually faced with having to make a binding decision. It's a risk, and the public might bottle it, but at the same time the level of support at the moment is unlikely to drop significantly over the next few years. If anything, as long as the Tories are in power in Westminster, it works in the SNPs favour because historically Scotland has never been a Tory stronghold. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, knows this, and his own stance on the matter has changed dramatically in recent months, taking on a very conciliatory and friendly tone. You can bet that once the date is set and things start hotting up, things are going to get ugly. Dirty tricks campaigns will be the norm; in fact, they already kind of are, with ridiculous hyperbole being bandied about.

The devo max option is far more likely to be popular, some commentators think. It carries with it less risk for Scotland's political and financial future, and so as the safer option more people are likely to vote for it. But then again, it's ultimately a half-measure, and (more importantly) in a referendum that offers all three options, devo max will potentially split the polls and give the no vote an advantage, with the yes vote potentially being divided between 'yes' and 'devo max' it might give the 'no' vote the advantage. It can only go in Westminster's favour, and of course they know it.

A successful yes vote for independence won't suddenly mean that Scotland leaves the Union, and, in fact, there is some controversy over that proposed phrasing of the question. Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minster, wants to ask: "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?" Which doesn't articulate much in the way of what will happen if people actually say yes. It's early days yet, though, and once the question is set, whatever the outcome there will have to be lengthy negotiations. Only if those negotiations are deemed to be satisfactory would independence then happen. There are a lot of details that need to be dealt with and negotiated - what happens to the army, for one (the army is a big employer in Scotland), how the national debt is divided up and who is responsible for what, who gets the oil, the issue of independent Scotland's place in the European Union (and how that would affect the remainder of the UK, of course), as well as currency, and so on. Of course Westminster will be particularly reluctant to give up on the oil in the North Sea, but one of the biggest issues is what to do with the UK's nukes. The only place they can be legally kept in the UK is in Scotland, because it is the only part of the country that has a low enough population density. We here in Scotland aren't too keen on been lumped with the nukes, though, and we'd would love to get rid of them, thanks. Independence means we could do that, but then Westminster will have the problem that having to find somewhere else for them, or face deal with the implications as far as its place in NATO is concerned. Oh dear.

Of course, even if there is a yes vote - or a vote for devo max, even - there is no guarantee that Westminster will honour the electorate's decision. Part of the devolution agreement between the UK and Scottish government is that ultimately Westminster reserves the right to overturn anything that Holyrood legislates for Scotland. There is a possibility - albeit a remote one - that Westminster could declare the referendum unlawful and ignore the result, and it's business as usual. This would be an extremely risky move on Westminster's part, and potentially political suicide as well, but there are some folks who grumble and say it's not unheard of. In the 70s there was a referendum on devolution which, although it received over 50% of the vote in favour of setting up a Scottish Assembly, was ultimately deemed to have failed because voter turnout meant that over all support was less than 40% of the electorate as a whole. The decision by Westminster, being based on a technicality, was controversial.

So there's a lot at stake. From England's point of view, in particular, there are rumblings that they should get to vote on the referendum as well, since Scotland's independence will affect the rest of the Union. It can't be democratic if everybody doesn't get a say! They cry. Perhaps they should inform themselves about, y'know. History...(Some of us reply). Wales and Northern Ireland tend to sit on the sidelines in all this, quietly munching popcorn and grinning smugly. Then again, there are those south of the border who grumble good riddance to those ungrateful Scots. After All We've Done For Them. Etc etc. In amongst all the rhetoric, there is the mistaken belief in some quarters that Scotland takes far more from the British taxpayer than it gives, and that as such England will be much better off without the lazy, drunk, Scottish benefits scroungers to support. I am grossly over-generalising, of course, but you'd be surprised at the strength of feeling from certain parts of the British population.

Scottish independence has a lot of implications for the remainder of the UK and its political and economic standing worldwide, and of course these are very important issues for Scotland as well, since what goes on across the border will likely have an impact on us too. This is a good source of scare tactics, of course.

All in all, we live in Interesting Times. The next few years are not going to be easy as far as getting to the referendum is concerned, and Westminster is genuinely worried about the prospect. In an effort to woo the Scottish voters the government are currently discussing the option of Devo Plus; giving Holyrood more powers but stopping a little short of Devo Max. The aim basically being to make it seem like they care, and to give the illusion of working with the Scottish Parliament and with Scotland's interests at heart. Unfortunately for Westminster, with the spectre of the 80s and Margaret Thatcher still looming large in the Scots' consciousness, it's not something that the population will be easily convinced about.

Out in the garden

Normally I would describe myself as an optimistic gardener. Which is to say: I have no idea what I'm doing most of the time so I just shove it in, chop it off, or pull it up and hope for the best. These days my particular style is also taking on a new element: hit and run gardening, because with continuing back/leg problems I can only do so much before the pain sets in, and I really can't go overboard otherwise I will likely completely knacker my back again. The optimism extends to the hope that I don't break myself as much as hoping that I don't balls up the poor plants. But I enjoy it, so it's worth it.

So bearing in mind my delicate disposition I'm not planning to do too much in the garden this year. After the storms of a few months or so ago there was quite a bit of damage to the flower bed at the top of the garden, and some of the plants have been blown over or squashed by a large pool liner (or...something) that blew into the flower bed thanks to high winds. There have been some casualties, but most of them will just need propping up, I hope. So far I haven't been able to get any garden canes, but I've been able to do a little tidying up and some much-needed pruning at least. Otherwise, the flower bed will just have to make do this year; serious weeding is not an option.

One thing I do want to do, though, is sort out my shrine area. When we moved here I expanded the flower bed so I could set about making a space that would provide a focal point for any devotions I might want to do out in the garden. I decided that it would be a good way to start working with the land and build a relationship with the spirits by making the space a bit less sterile and lifeless (the previous owners were not keen gardeners so it was even more neglected than it is now), and generally make it a nicer place to be. I'm the kind of person who likes to make their mark on a place, otherwise I don't feel settled.

I chose plants that I knew would attract insects, and ones that would smell nice, and some of them I chose for their associations with festivals (primroses, cowslips, blueberry - the closest I could get to a bilberry bush) or lore in general (a juniper and the rowan tree in particular). Others I put in for personal associations - a rose and a poppy (a namesake, for my granddad who was a professional gardener), and I also made a small cairn for my ancestors and put in a small pond (more like a puddle, but with the idea of having it as a sort of 'well'). Around it I've set some tasteful decorations, chosen by the kids, and made a space for offerings, and a bird box that I didn't have anywhere to hang; I thought it could act as a shelter for insects instead.

And that's all been well and good, but it's been a little neglected over the last year or so, and considering the fact that my optimistic gardening inevitably results in a tendency for overcrowding, it needs a bit of work. On the plus side, some of it is settling in nicely now:

Some of the casualties have solved the overcrowding, but it all still needs a bit of care. My daughter Rosie has decided that she wants to make a bee hive, and while we probably couldn't do one for bumblebees there are other kinds of bees we could try to accommodate along with butterflies and other insects. They seem simple enough to make, so hopefully we'll be able to find a suitable spot for it, and it seems like a good opportunity for the kids to get involved and help out. My future efforts are probably going to have to rely on willing minions, so I might as well start them young...

Meanwhile, there's vegetables to be getting on with. At the end of the harvest season last year I left some leeks in to see if they'd fill out over the winter. They did (and survived the incessant rain we've been having recently), and the kids and I harvested them yesterday afternoon:

And, while it wasn't raining, we put in some vegetables. This year I'm going to stick to the vegetables I've had the most success with - carrots, leeks and onions - and I'm experimenting with peas, too. The kids helped me put the peas and onions in:

This time I'm trying onion bulbs (rather than growing from seeds), a bog standard variety and some red onions; my neighbour insists that bulbs give better results, and certainly they'll probably grow quicker and I might manage to get two crops out of the growing season. As the kids were planting the bulbs and peas I suggested that we should encourage them to grow nice and big so the kids - evidently taking inspiration from calling the butter lumps to come - began yelling at the veg to GROW! COME ON, GROW! I'm not sure that counts as a proper tradishnal prayer and all that, but it was certainly sincere...

They decided that onions and peas were more than enough fun and went off to have a water fight, so I did the leeks and decided to try a couple of sprouts again. I'm leaving the carrots until I can get to the garden centre and get more compost, so I can freshen up the soil in the grow bags - it's probably a little exhausted by now. For the onion bags I've just put in a little organic feed and we'll see how that goes.

The leeks have all been used already, for a soup, and they smell fantastic - so much stronger than the ones you can buy from the supermarket. The kids and my husband have had a flu bug that's taking a long while for them to get over (I seem to have managed to avoid it, thankfully) and none of us have had much of an appetite recently, so there's plenty of veg in the fridge that needs using. A good soup hearty will do us good (even if it looks a bit like cat vomit...).