Friday, 26 March 2010

Sorrow Came

Portrait of Doña Isabel de Porcel, by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes - via Wikimedia Commons - public domain.I thought we were done with the folk-songs, but apparently not. This could be from anywhere on the west coast of Morgander. The tune that goes with those bracketed lines is doing something rather odd, and if I were anything of a real musician I'd be spending a lot more effort trying to nail it down properly. Since I am in fact somebody who can sing a song about ten tom cats to the absolute satisfaction of exactly that audience, I guess I'll let it be for the present.

Sorrow Came

When I only was a boy, and I thought the world all joy,
Sorrow came - Sorrow came to me,
When she took my father's wealth, and my mother's hope and health,
And she turned us on the streets all three.
Sorrow came - Sorrow came - I had only known her name
Till she laid my loving parents in the gaping greedy grave.
(O the grave, and the grave, and the gaping greedy grave!)
Naught she left ashore for me, so I took me to the sea,
Crying, "Sorrow, now farewell to thee!"

When I roved the world around, in my budding youth I found
Sorrow fell - Sorrow fell to me:
Sweet Dolores of the Drouth. For I kissed her damson mouth,
They must drag me off to slavery.
Sorrow fell - Sorrow fell - in the galleys' grinding hell,
Where she laid to drum and whipcrack how a man must live a slave,
(O a slave, and a slave, and a sweating swinking slave!)
Naught the Dons would leave of me, but an ape that once was free,
Crying, "Sorrow, come no more to me!"

When I'd served my term of years, and was bent with toil and tears,
Sorrow came - Sorrow came for me,
With her raven hair all grey, and her beauty grieved away,
And a heart still green with Spring for me!
Sorrow came - Sorrow came! All our sorrow's in her name,
All my fortune in her eyes, and in her arms the world of love.
(O my love, and my love, and my love long years did prove!)
Naught of youth I now would trade, for the life we two have made -
O my Sorrow, thou art joy to me!

Why, yes, I am a sentimental bastard.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Bring Me Sunshine!

The weather, at least, seems to be listening. This March has been as fair, so far, as the winter was foul. The other day crossing the playground, I heard a blast - better say, a zephyr - from the past.

A kid, in the midst of a low-octane football game, was singing a bit of Bring Me Sunshine - the signature song of Britain's best-beloved comedy duo in my childhood, the immortal Morecambe and Wise. His mates seemed right cool with it, smiling along with it in fact.

Eric and Ernie were not, in the flesh, quite immortal enough, but few from my generation to the oldest now living have forgotten them. Because they need no excuse, here they are again:

In an age too often content to boogie along to Lily Allen's small spiteful empty-tin Smile, it warms the heart to see another cohort of boys growing up to appreciate one with sunshine in it!

Saturday, 20 March 2010

"Half the World's Fairy Godmother"

It Was Her Fairy Godmother!, by Oliver Herford, in Childhood's Favorites and Fairy Stories, eds. Mabie, Hale, and Forbush (1919) - via Wikimedia Commons and Project Gutenberg - public domainYes, I've finished the current chapter of Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland, this being the first of the Wassail. This was hard, and it's surely going to come in for some really heavy revision before it can stand. But not, methinks, until I've cracked the next chapter - possibly the hardest of all, either the very Wassail itself or at least the development up to it.

Three weeks, this chapter took. This arc doesn't so much have issues as special omnibus collector's editions, but I am not bloody turning away from it for another year of composting! What have I discovered in the effort to push it through?

1) Amongst a community largely composed of refugees, one of the things a magical healer will have her hands full of is handling severe psychological trauma. This is... not exactly how my mediaevaloid characters conceptualize the Stalking Hell, but it's what they've got to deal with. It gave me an insight into two of my main characters I didn't have before.

2) There is room in a yarn for very few Council Scenes where everybody plays plot catch-up and works out what to do next. They belong at great turns of the tale (canonical examples: Tolkien in Lord of the Rings, with Council of Elrond setting forth the great gambit of the Fellowship, Last Debate launching the endgame). I'm naturally prone to commit these. I've got one already planned for this arc, and it's a dramatic crisis: I can't afford an infodumpy one a couple of chapters before it. Yet I've had to dispel several people's important illusions in quick succession, not least so the reader can follow what the blazes is happening. I think I've avoided Councilliness in this instance, but am still only tentatively committed to the way I did it.

3) I'm not as good at multi-pole conversations as I ought to be, and summarizing or minimizing them are exactly the wrong ideas in this context.

4) Ensemble casts are harder than I remembered. I need to go away and talk to the Family especially, and get a better handle on how their passions and agendas play into the rest of the plot.

5) Walking the rounds of Fairfields made it real enough to write this chapter. That isn't enough to come to the heart of it. Where is twenty years of history, and the investment of work and lives, and the common hopes and fears for the future? Not in the story, not all of it - but surely behind it, and propelling my protagonists and their new friends to the great Yes at the climax of the Wassail.

I feel like the guy who just tramped up the last weary rise of the hill, and saw three more pitches rising up before him at the top.

Tired, tired, tired - but a better view than I ever had before. Time to take out the Thermos flask, and sit on a flat stone for a cup of tea and a moist cheese-and-onion sandwich!

Friday, 19 March 2010

Six Degrees of Community

Fear the slapstick!  Image by Sobebunny via Wikipedia, released under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.Terry Pratchett has one of his characters suspect uneasily, whenever they hear somebody talking about 'the community', that this doesn't include them or anybody they know. My reaction is, at best, the same. Worse is when some communitarian clown earnestly attempts to debunk the relevance of human individuals as anything other than meat puppets for their precious 'communities' - Mike Gibson pins down a fine example from one Alasdair MacIntyre here. Since such supreme 'community' cashes out to me as little more than universal possession by the extended egos of some insane clown posse or other, any invocation of it will swiftly set my teeth chattering with rage like a rubbishy makeshift machine-gun. It would be easy to rant on against this community jargon ad lib. Easy, but wrong.

Firstly, I do in fact believe that Homo sapiens/Pan narrans is a genuinely social animal, and that communities are a large part of what it is to be a human individual.

Secondly, there is a puzzle here: why do so many normal people get warm fuzzies when clowns from the policymaking community Onan on and on about their sordid power fantasies in this way? I don't think it's generally because they wish either to commune with them or to be communed upon. I'm more inclined to suspect there's another bit of sophistry in play. Whenever a clown toots his hooter about some community or other, of professional necessity he talks about it as a unitary thing - usually geographical or special-interest. He may well be sincere in so doing. But really, amongst any given group of people, there are several different levels of community all compacted into this one concept.

The level of community I observe with the rest of my household is a very different thing from the one I observe - or ought to observe - with Stanmore Stan the Bank Heist Man. Since Dr Whiteface fills a bigger pair of shoes than mine in the least voluntary and most broadly defined community, he has a natural interest in convincing everybody that this is what community means. So does every Bozo who's pledged fealty to him. By the same logic, though, my interest lies in disrupting his claim. One simple individualist approach is to avoid the C-word altogether. Another is to claim that 'real community' is an explicit and voluntary association of individuals, and that the other kinds don't count. I'm instinctively sympathetic to this.

But instinct isn't always a sure guide, and in this case its definition is as flattening and almost as self-serving as that proposed by Dr Whiteface. Here's an alternative way of thinking about it: a spectrum of different levels at which people can be in or out of community with everybody else in their world. The number and names of my levels are as arbitrary as the colours of the rainbow, but are intended to be similarly user-friendly.

Anti-Community: Some level of war or other. I have no more to say about this here, except that everybody is obviously and unhappily eligible for it.

Peace, or Null Community: Absolute rugged individualism with respect to the people involved, but with none of them (by their own lights) prepared to initiate force against another. Each minding our own business and not the other's, because if we have much dealing with one another, we are going to end up fighting.

Honesty: The basic level at which people can expect to have regular dealings to their mutual gain. Conformity to a known set of laws and customs as a sufficient condition for not having force initiated against me - even if my neighbour, by their own lights, has more than sufficient reason to bust me on the nose. In this sphere I'd also place the keeping of whatever contracts the community norms consider solemn.

Civility: The grease on the wheels of an honest society. Courtesy, plain dealing, and in general not trying to 'game' honesty by walking right up to the edge of the line and crowding my neighbour over. This excludes such activities as malicious provocation, letter-of-the-law lying, and using superior wit or wealth to lawfully box victims into corners where they would frankly be better off acting dishonestly. Also, not tacitly supporting dishonesty for personal gain.

Solidarity: A higher octave of civility, fit for an expansive and magnanimous association. Actively trying to make sure that my neighbour and I share the gains from any dealings between us, nor bargaining for a greater share than the most I deem my part warrants. This will not be, "All of it!" Also, being ready positively to aid them when they are wronged or threatened - to at least the degree I would hope for their aid. Frowning down incivility, even against the disliked; conversely, not wilfully fomenting it by action or omission.

Kindred: My bread between thee and hunger, my walls between thee and the night, my hand and heart and mind between thee and harm. And thou dost as much for me, when my need comes. Not a state to be entered into rashly, inadvisedly, nor wantonly!

Now, here is the thing: the higher a level of community I share with the people about me, the better it is for everybody. So (saith the clown) The Community should force, nudge, or simply harangue us all to treat each other as kindred, until all the world is one big happy family. Not so?


Sez I: And while you are at it, why not hustle the whole world into one big impartial group marriage also, and then we will all be in lurrrrrrrrve!?! Voluntary commitment to a community is like giving - a good thing. Involuntary commitment is like stealing - a bad one. Mind-messing and guilt-tripping people until they give away what you want, or marry whom you tell them, is not social virtue but personal viciousness, heinous in proportion to its invasiveness and intimacy.

When the forms of magnanimity are demanded by checkbox and rote, all greatness withers to meanness. Nobody can impose any positive level of community worth having. At most, they can turn it from something like a mortal living person to something like a rotting undead leviathan.

The clown says: all or none. Give bread, give shelter, give blood and breath whenever The Community (that is Dr Whiteface) demands it - or we are out of peace with you, and here we come in our Krazy Kar to drag you off to torment or the morgue.

And I say: clown, they are not the same. You are stronger than I, for a time: I will not break peace with you. Here is what you demand, since you must have it so. But never think that stealing my bread and salt makes you kindred of mine! I am mostly in honesty and somewhat in civility with you, out of both pity and policy; but when you take the piss out of my comrades and my kindred, beware of a day I work towards, when everybody forgets you are something out of nightmare and laughs at you with a wide heart; even, clown, even at Dr Whiteface himself! What will you do then, clown, who think community is only one thing, and keep nothing but your indifferent honesty to commend you to anyone?

And the clown hits me with his slapstick, and I take his point in good part. But I still think I had a good point of my own.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

NBG plc

As every young pointy-hair learns on its MBA course, one of any business's most valuable assets is its brand. It therefore behoves its trusty stewards to nurture it without skimping or stinting, and those in charge of this manuring are surely well worthy of their hire.

In further news, frictional losses are negligible, markets clear to equilibrium, and democracies elect the most trusted and beloved of their citizens to preside over them with honour and dignity.

Two incidents yesterday fuelled these reflections. Firstly, I happened to pass the High Street offices of the 'leading social and home care niche recruitment agency', BS Social Care. I presume that its marketing director is a Taurus!

Secondly, UK directory inquiries firm 118 118 has long been streets ahead of its rivals in the public awareness, thanks to its iconic twin droopy-moustached runners, whose simple pseudo-adventures are a persistent feature of the Metro comics page. Since I always turn to this for my daily dose of Nemi, I noticed that the lads have been put to work shamefacedly pimping the 'smart deals' available via 118 118's parent US company, one Knowledge Generation Bureau. But I had to look that up. Because they prefer to operate as...

...KGB deals!

Sources close to the CIA declined to comment. But hey, what does Crescent Islamic Airways plc know anyway?

I am left unsure whether I ought to be gnashing my teeth that our dear oligarchs are feeling so secure that they are now openly taking the mickey out of us like this -

- or jumping up and down and cheering, that their humble minions are doing exactly the same to them!

I will take the better view. The third possibility - that we owe it all to the most terrible of our goddesses, that Stupidity before whom Nemesis Herself must pale and remember an important engagement elsewhere - is really too abominable to contemplate.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Pat Trick

The Irish connections in my mother's family are numerous but murky. It is Kellys and Harringtons and Bricks, and they appear in London shortly after the Great Hunger, from origins yet untraced, showing no disposition ever to return. By the time I was born, my last kinswoman with personal memories of Ireland was long dead, and subsequent generations had thoroughly intermarried with and acculturated to their London English neighbours. In my day, we became acquainted with Ireland and Irishness wholly through friends outside the family. So my own excuse for celebrating St Patrick's Day is pretty minimal. Luckily, (hefts pint of militantly undyed Guinness and regards it fondly), a minimal excuse is just exactly what it takes. In the day's honour, therefore, three related diversions.

St Patrick's Cross, or Would Be

In a spirit of continued Villony from yesterday, here is that brilliant musician and raging bacchanal Shane MacGowan, letting the demons out of the bottle with The Sick Bed of Cúchulainn. Warning: significantly NSFW.

Here's a link to the eponymous Irish legend.

Patrick in His Pride

Hector and Patrick were not just made up for yesterday's song. They're out of Hector the Hold-Fast, my Kateverse's junior relation of our Iliad. It is massively less popular because, er, tragic love polygon hinging on two guys' rivalry for another guy, and the chief hero an anti-authoritarian vagabond? Thanks, minstrel, my lord's steward will get back to you! I have a version of it about one-third finished at present, knocked off in lunch hours at work to stop me going stale on the main story. Minor milestone for me: first yarn I've ever felt called to spin with a gay male romantic lead. I'm having fun with the nerdily heroic Andromache character, too.

Patricia in Her Pomp

Fellow-scribblers, don't miss Patricia Wrede's latest string of excellent articles about the art and trade of writing. If my recommendation doesn't close the deal for you, here's another from Lois McMaster Bujold, whose endorsement ought to mean... Miles more than mine. Insert groans here. Imbibe Black Bush until feeling better.


Tuesday, 16 March 2010

De Ville's Toast to His Friends

François Villon from the Grand Testament de Maistre François Villon, Paris, 1489 - via Wikipedia Commons - public domain From one end of the moral and artistic spectrum to the other...

Okay, along one of the moral axes, at least. This hit me yesterday, and robs blind draws heavily for inspiration upon François Villon's Ballad of the Lords of Old Time. Of course, today I started wondering about where somebody like Villon would fit into my world. I still know very little about the in-world author, the rascally Rogatyn de Ville - I'm placing him about a generation before Katy Elflocks - but he's given me my first real glimpse of his horrid birth-country, the monastic theocracy of Rubea.

Edges, frames, borders... and a man who learned in cruel schools how to seize the day. I'd drink a toast with him, though the bastard would probably take the chance to pick my pocket!

De Ville's Toast to His Friends

Hey ho, the mighty! Your horse is high, the while -
But where is our man Morgan, and where is Charles de Lyle?
Where is great Cassander, the Gods before him ran?
They have all marched down to Pluto’s town, along with the Great God Pan!

Hey ho, the lovely! Your face is oh, so fair -
But where is Sharazade now - who strokes True Tildy’s hair?
Where is white Cleïs now, the world was not her peer?
They have gone to bed with the worms to wed, along with my dearest dear!

Hey ho, the godly! You vaunt Eternity -
But what’s to do for your whey-faced crew, and what is that to me?
All his deeds would Hector give for Patrick’s mortal kiss,
Nor for all the thrones in the world of bones would I give you a pot to piss!

Hey ho, the lively! We’ll drink another round -
For we’ll be stone-cold sober, when we’re beneath the ground!
Every John kiss Joan now, and light a lasting flame!
We will all go up with a clinking cup, and a tuppence to our name!

Where is great Cassander, and where is Charles de Lyle?
What does Sharazade sing, and who makes Tildy smile?
What would Hector hold to, and why should Patrick pine?
We shall all find out without half a doubt. - Along with the blood-red wine!

Some iconographical thoughts sparked by this song, and perhaps also the last post:

I had quite a bit of trouble coming up with the right epithet for Cleïs (who is supposed to be Helen squared, with attitude). When, rummaging through our own poetic tradition, I came up with 'white', I knew at once that this has long been attached to her. Now, this doesn't on the face of it make sense. She and her Cassander were both, evidently, Southrons. True, he is usually drawn in the North as a pale-skinned man - specifically, as an idealized member of the local ruling house, with his trademark boxer's nose and sinister smile to make it him. But Cleïs is described rather extensively in contemporary lyric, and she's always depicted with olive skin and sloe eyes and raven curls. 'White' is an awfully strange word to glom onto her.

The etymologically inclined might find it entertaining to work out how it got there. De Ville must have guessed, I think. It's not the kind of dissonance he'd have let in out of laziness, though in everything but making and revelry he was surely lazy enough.

The things I learn by accident...!

Monday, 15 March 2010

All Yer Loyal Lads

I'm still polishing a political posting right now - buffing the excess spittle off it until it shines, basically - so here's a political song from the taverns of Charlbury, about a decade after The Deed of Katy Elflocks and two before Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland.

The song is somebody's attempt to solve a problem. The young King, the darling of the commons, has recently died of slipping on a suspicious banana-skin. His heavily pregnant Queen, the merchant-born and notoriously dull 'Cabbage-Caro', has skipped town under highly mysterious circumstances. She is also very popular with the lower sorts, towards whom her rich father is regularly accused of truckling and leniency. (His grandad started as a market-sweeper.) The next heir, who has declared himself Regent to the unborn King for lack of any other candidate, belongs to the aristocratic ultra faction, and is thought to hate and despise her.

Persons close to the Regency would really prefer the plebeian districts not to rise up in riot and rebellion at this point. One of them, who knows dodgy taverns better than most, is responsible for all kinds of rumours, and presently this. It is not so much sung as chanted and hooted, to the stamping of hobnail boots and the slamming of tankards on tables.

All Yer Loyal Lads

Big-Plumb Bob, where have you been?
Plugged a leak for a plump young queen.
"Big-Plumb Bob, my leak's still wet!
Hammer away, 'cos you ain't done yet!"
Grocer's daughter, one-two-three -
Big-Plumb Bob's done well by thee!

Ho there, Stephen Blackamoor!
Served my queen by her warehouse door.
"Lift those cloths and swing that wood!"
Humped her loads till I no more could.
Grocer's daughter, two-three-four -
Count on Stephen Blackamoor!

Lacy Lucy, why so flushed?
Dressed my queen, and she won't be rushed.
"Lacy Lucy, what to wear?
Strip me here and clip me there!"
Grocer's daughter, three-four-hand -
Maid will work when the man can't stand!

I'm as loyal as any man!
Give my queen the most I can!
I would serve her oh so proud!
She would praise my name aloud!
Grocer's daughter, one-two-three -
Handsome Hank's the man for thee!

The culprit is female, bi-tedious*, and passing as an exotic dusky foreigner. Unfortunately, she also thinks that 'solidarity' means 'not melting when Dorothy throws a bucket of water over me'.

* Seduced a girl because it was Wrong and she'll taste any drink once; found it kind of boring, and now only flirts with women occasionally to mess with their heads.

The vicious central implication - that Caro daren't give birth in the Palace, or while her husband was alive, since a black baby would too clearly not be his - does indeed switch minds off quite well. This tactic, appearing in one of the many abortive drafts to date of Crown of Foxfires, was the first thing to get me thinking about race in my previously all-white milieu.

It made perfect sense, in a place like Charlbury, that the docks quarter would turn out multi-racial. 'Southrons', in the world I might as well call Cassandria, are Mediterranean types: alt-Spaniards, alt-Greeks, alt-Arabs (the latter two nearly merged in most places). Beyond the wide, rich, worldly-wise, and supposedly decadent Southron civilization lies Melandra, where black people come from. This is uninformative desperation geography - it's like calling Morgander and all its neighbours Whitemansland, and noting this learnedly as the country of the white folks - but it passes for scholarship in the North, and I don't yet know any more myself. Nor do many of the small black and mixed-race minority in Charlbury, being native-born Morganders themselves with only sailors' tales of their ancestral homelands.

'Stephen Blackamoor' is a stock name but not a wholly opprobrious one - sort of like calling a Scot 'Jock', or an Irishman 'Paddy': fighting talk only in some contexts. The other stock name for a black man, 'Sebastian', has a diminutive 'Basti' which is as consciously offensive as 'Sambo'. Morgander has never known, and isn't really set up to understand, racial chattel slavery or anything like it, nor has it ever had overseas empires: its race relations are poisoned by little more than baseline xenophobia and rancid class dynamics. By the time we got into the Northdales boonies, where most of my tales are set, we might however have certain other issues, like, "Eek! Argh! Take that, foul troll!"

One of the things I discovered while turning these things over in my head is that to Prince Lucas, the arch-conservative, race really is pretty much transparent except as a marker for class. He honestly thinks he is of one race - namely, the Royal one with Gods' blood in its veins - with the Amir of Kazandry or a princess of Melandra; but he looks down with equal scorn on Stephen Blackamoor and Hodge Johnson alike. Actually, Stephen might have a better shot at persuading Lucas that he was really a king's son abducted by pirates, because in Lucas's world that sort of thing happens all the time, and he knows it hasn't happened to a Hodge. The man is actually so bigoted, he sometimes nearly comes out the other side.

With people who aren't Lucas, it's a bit uglier.

So far I only know of two notable black characters in this world: Black Mchachi, a female hero alongside or against whom Luke has mentioned fighting in his long exile (not necessarily a real Melandrian name; possibly somebody's Melandrizing blunder for Southron muchacha); and the redoubtable 'Black Berry' of the Red Vines Inn in Charlbury - Berenice Carver to officialdom, and Nicky to her actual friends. I don't know yet whether Nicky is somebody in one of the stories, or only one of those framing characters who help define the shape of them; but I have a strong idea of her, so I must need her for one thing or another. Often in these cases, it turns out not to be anything like what I think.

Experience suggests that I make no nosy inquiries until my need comes. I don't think people sing that song in her taproom, though.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

The Bone Flute in the Woods

Another Morgander folksong. We apologize for the inconvenience. This one is sung fast and lustily, to a tune that sort of reminds me of the similarly bawdy The Widow of Westmoreland's Daughter.

Do not mess with the fairies, for they are quick to anger, and about as subtle as a Delgonian clambake.

The Bone Flute in the Woods

The soldier met the fairy maid, a-strolling all alone.
She said that she was sent to learn to play the flute o'bone.
"No better bone than mine," quoth he, "you'll find beneath the trees,
And gladly I will teach you how to play it on your knees!"
She played it up, she played it down, she played it hard and long,
Until she made the soldier sing the chorus to her song.
"Oh such a pretty flute to toot, I never found before,
So meet me here on Sunday next, and teach me all the more!"

A tick a tack, a swoosh the skirt, a Tommy-go-round-the-tree,
You never go out on Sunday, if you don’t go out with me!

So when he met his fairy next, she gambolled and was glad.
She said she'd love to take him home to meet her dear old dad.
"No worse a word than this," quoth he, "you'll ever tell to me,
So hush your mouth, and spread your wings, and keep me company!"
So she's stripped his shirt, and she's stripped his skin, and she's stripped him blood from bowel,
And she's played upon his marrowbone to make his spirit howl.
"Oh such a pretty bone to blow, a fairy never knew,
So walk the woods next Sunday, boys, for my granny will want one too!"

A tick a tack, a swoosh the skirt, a Tommy-go-round-the-tree,
You never go out on Sunday, if you don’t go out with me!

The origin is somewhere along the middle or lower courses of the Allwater, lying west of Golden Kate's Alland and answering loosely to the English Midlands. They're pretty much blank spaces in my current maps, decorated with the odd "Here be no dragons" and pictures of dangerous cheeses.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Carrie Grey

The Clipper Ship 'Flying Cloud' off the Needles, Isle of Wight - James E Buttersworth, 1859-60, via Wikimedia Commons - public domainFirst, for everybody's reassurance: I haven't, despite appearances, abandoned Three Katherines in favour of lolloping down the street singing polly-wolly-doodle all the day. But I'm writing a rather good meal at present, and it's against my religion to hurry that up like a tardy McMuckleburger. The Morgander folksongs continue, quite independently, in full spate.

This one struck at lunchtime, and is so sad that anybody who saw me over the next couple of hours probably thought my guinea-pig had died. (It's true I'd just had to send twenty locusts to the Great Bonus Scheme In The Sky, but the thing that chiefly saddened me about that was the despicable lack of any chocolate dip for a sequel.)

The thing you have to remember about these songs is that I can hear them, not as I can sing them, but as the best musicians I know can play them. I think Martin Carthy was doing the honours here. It's a lot more affecting that way. Anyway, this is a song of the western sea-coast, far away from the setting of Three Katherines, and probably hailing from the cosmopolitan port and capital of Charlbury. They don't talk or think much like Dales-folk there, except inasfar as folks will always be folks.

If anybody can suggest why this seems extremely yet unfathomably familiar to me, I shall be most grateful. Folk songs are supposed to borrow like magpies, but I ought to know where in reality I'm borrowing from - and in this one, I'm not sure what inspired either the lyrics or the tune. The words, at least, I can offer.

Carrie Grey

Have you seen Carrie Grey where the ships sail away?
Have you seen her, my neighbours all?
Have you seen where she stands with her heart in her hands?
Have you seen, by the harbour wall?

Carrie Grey, Carrie Grey, I have long been away,
Nor recall still the light on your brow.
Let the breeze bear my song, and confess all my wrong -
Carrie Grey, come to comfort now!

Did you know Carrie Fair with the gold streaming hair?
Did you know her, my neighbours all?
Did you walk where we kissed with our hearts full of bliss?
Did you turn from the tall ships’ call?

Carrie Grey, Carrie Grey, I have long lost my way,
Nor shall bring you back gold on the tide.
Nor in bright elvish dream nor in Southron harem,
Carrie Grey, had I stayed from your side.

Will you tell Carrie Grey where I wander today?
Will you tell her, my neighbours all?
Will you tell to my lass of the bourne I can’t pass?
Will you lead her away from the wall?

Carrie Grey, Carrie Grey, I am cold in the clay.
This one prayer in the dark, dear, allow -
Though your tears fall like rain, let your spring come again.
Carrie Grey, turn to new love now!

There is a later tradition obscurely referring this song to Queen Caroline the Green Rose, Cabbage-Caro of Charlbury. This identification is absolute cobblers, existing only because she shares one of the commonest names in the city with the heroine, and because she can't ever bear to hear it.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Sir Richard's Ride

What the Tom Fool is wrong with me? Ambushed on my way to work by another folksong from the world of Three Katherines. It treats of one thread in the unwritten story of Kit Fox - none of which may ever actually get told, unless the first book finds favour with a publisher. The singer has the essence of his characters right by instinct, and a little of what actually happened more or less right by coincidence. This is how it was, after it had been turned into the sort of thing people sing about.

Sir Richard's Ride

Over the hills and far away, Sir Richard's ride began,
From Clover Clough in the far far off, till he came to a maid that ran.
"My lord Sweetwater's hunting me,
And a shameful bride he would make me be -
So over the hills and away with thee,
Or he'll slay thee at my side!"

Over the ridge and over the bridge rode all Sweetwater’s men,
And the young Sir Richard all defied, and he bade them turn again.
"We will use thee ill, we will use her well,
And a shameful tale you shall have to tell
When you share one skin in the harlot's hell
Where the ghosts of the worthless wail!"

Then the bold Sir Richard drew his sword, and they bent ten bows to slay,
When a horn blew high, and the Prince rode nigh, and he made them turn away.
"She is meat of mine," Bob Sugar cries, "and he stole from my estate!"
So the dull Prince begs his witty wife to resolve our friends' hard fate.

Over the hills and far away, no man knew whence she came -
And her husband's wit was a scrape of shit, but Doll's was a dancing flame.
"Would Lord Sweetwater favour have?
She shall be my maid who has been his slave -
And do you, dear lord, his pardon crave
For a knight who should bear your blade!"

Over the years and worse than fears, the Prince to treason fell,
And because she loved him more than breath, Bet's mistress fell as well.
"Oh, Dick, my dear, there has evil been!
They have slain the King, they will slay the Queen.
We must whisk her away so that none shall ween
Where the Rose of the Earth took wing!"

So the good Green Rose they whisked away, and each to their liege returned,
For to stand by their sides when she home did ride, and the skies with Fury burned.
Then the Prince is ash, and the Princess smoke, and the true Queen calls the tune -
And the Green Rose prays her saviours dear to say what shall be their boon.

Over his knee Dick broke his sword, and Bet she tore her hair,
And they begged her pity for broken oaths, and an axe for their necks to share.
"I would use you well, you would plead for ill,
But all danger you dared for your masters still,
When their honour you saved from their evil will,
And the life of my baby spared!"

Over the hills and far away, Sir Richard's ride did end,
In Clover Clough in a house of love, where he wedded his faithful friend.
They lived to see Bob Sugar die -
On the Grey Wolf's gallows he swung so high.
Gods send their fortune to you and I,
And such honour to each and all!

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

A Marginal Voter Ate Me and Ran Away

Some long pieces of pork.  Copyright 2005 by David Monniaux - released under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License, via Wikimedia Commons. As the UK General Election draws near, the usual arguments are coming out of the woodwork, including the one about whether They're all the same and voting is a waste of time. This is a question which deserves a higher grade of back-and-forth than it gets. One prime example of what it gets instead can be found in the letters column of today's Metro. A gentleman named Max writes, in a missive to which I'm unable to find any electronic link:

"So Ryan thinks there is no democracy because the parties are too similar? The major parties fight over the middle ground because that's where the votes are. Hmmm, political position based on getting votes... sounds like democracy, don't you think? long as most people think things are about right you'll get the same parties..."

Max, Max, Max! There are two big holes in what we all learned in school, or the Dog and Duck, or wherever. Firstly, you're confusing the views of the marginal ('swing') voter, with the consensus among voters in general. Even if you are not a looney like me, and believe the consensus really exists and deserves to rule, the two are very much not the same. Secondly, you're assuming a political free market with low structural entry costs. This is like saying that if the British people really disliked their top bankers so much, they'd have pulled out all their money and plonked it into worthier new institutions. If you also believe that, then have I got some investment opportunities for you!

The difference between the preference of the marginal voter and the general preferences of the population is a little less obvious. Here is a little thought experiment which may clarify it.

By devious means, I've obtained advance copies of both Labour and Tory manifestos for surviving our current national crisis. The Labour Party proposes to eat the rich. The Tory Party protests this Commie inhumanity, and proposes to eat the poor instead. It is virtually certain that one or the other will dominate the next government. Only certain politicians and a few other nutters are really keen to eat other people, and only a few nutters want to be eaten. What happens?

The key is, clearly, for each party to convince the 'middle sorts of people' that neither they nor anybody close to them will get et. That is why, when we look at the details, the proposals actually work out remarkably similar. The Tories will only really slaughter the poor who fail a few simple tests to prove they are deserving - as well, in simple justice, as those of the rich who are properly convicted of being undeserving parasites. The Labour will do the opposite, which in practice turns out exactly the same except in a few edge cases. It is on the mood music and these edge cases that the election will turn.

The overwhelming political consensus is that That Sort Of People ought to be eaten to get us through the lean times. The overwhelming public consensus is nothing of the sort. On the other hand, somebody is plainly going to get et here, so realistically we must both vote and speak to minimize the chance of its being us. Anything else is irresponsible Cloud-Cuckoo-Land. The rich accordingly endorse the Tories, the poor the Labour, and the middle classes are most especially vigilant for any sign that either is more 'extreme' - i.e. liable ever to let any of the victims come from a middle income bracket - than the other.

But this doesn't mean that the public at large really object more to the turning of a dentist on the national spit, than they object to the roasting of a duke or a docker. Nor does the middle classes' strong attachment to the commonsense moderate cannibalistic consensus mean they are more attached to the 'cannibalistic' bit than anybody else. All that any of this means is that people are scared of cannibals, and would rather strangers got et if push came to shove - and that the folks whose decision to aid one cannibal faction rather than the other is most nicely balanced, enjoy a strong strategic privilege. For the love of all tofu-burgers, let us not mistake this for a moral one!

It is not even, in any honest sense of the word, democratic.

The really democratic thing to do would be - not to genuflect to the Spit as the sanctified expression of the General Will - but to express the General Will by rising up in wrath, to warn just what we Will Generally do to the first lousy cannibal we catch sacrificing anybody but himself for it!

The first step to that uprising... is not to let the marginal voter eat our civil identities. She ain't you or me or both of us together; not in any way, shape, or form. Got that, Max?

Monday, 8 March 2010

Haughty Horn

This is an unexpected addition to my occasional series of 'Good Songs Not to Sing in Front of Golden Kate'. The fault is threefold. Firstly, I've been spending way too much time in those countries lately. I nearly caught myself talking in Northdales idiom once about lunchtime. Secondly, I had a weekend binge on folk music, with high place given to Fairport Convention's Heyday and to Empire and Love, the second album from the mighty Imagined Village project. Thirdly, I stayed at my keyboard five minutes too long this morning, and had to make a forced march to the station. I found myself doing so in time to a jaunty folky tune of indeterminate origin. Round about the end of my workday, these lyrics obtruded themselves upon me.

They appear to derive from a border-ballad tradition, some ways to the north-west of the setting of Three Katherines. So far, the region's entire contribution to the story is that once in The Deed of Katy Elflocks, the wicked witch had a contingency plan involving bolting to a dodgy tavern in that quarter. As to the song, the eponymous... hero... appears to be a vague recollection of some long-deceased border lord. His nemesis is, as far as I can tell, just somebody the bard really thought ought to have existed. But who shall say he knoweth?

Haughty Horn

Haughty Horn was a man alone.
He could fight, he could shite, he could brag to the bone.
There never was lad who spoke so high
Whenever a Border lass went by.
He'd speak her fierce, with a fearful frown:
"You'll find no man in the cowards' town.
You'll braver be than a Border lord
When on Grimshaw leas you shall dare my sword!"

Larkin Loll, he was strange to fame.
He was small, he was dark, and he had no shame.
He had no lines in a gilded scroll
To say that the Gods were the dads of Loll.
He sent to Horn, and he sent it curt,
"Will you come out, man, from your mammy’s skirt,
And meet on the morn with a Border boy
For to dance our blades on the slopes of Sloy?"

Haughty Horn said he would not stoop.
He called from the roof of his chicken-coop,
"My dad was Mars, and his dad was too,
And it's shame on their names if I meet with you,
When a million men to their doom I've brung
In the songs that a thousand bards have sung -
So I’ll meet no deedless, beardless boy
For to drink his blood on the slopes of Sloy!"

So Loll ran off to the witchy wood.
He did some deeds, and he did right good.
He killed a giant with the nib of his pen,
And he kicked him up, and he killed him again.
He rode back singing proud and free
With the Elf-King's daughter sat on his knee:
"Oh, now will you meet with a Border boy
For to cross our stars on the slopes of Sloy?"

Haughty Horn said he did not care,
But he begged to note he was not aware
That Larkin Loll was of such degree
As to come so bold with the likes of he.
"My mam's so proud, and her mam was too,
And they'll die of shame if I'm splashed with you,
So I'll beat no bloodless, beardless boy
To disgrace my race on the slopes of Sloy!"

Then Loll spoke up, both free and proud.
He spoke his words, and he spoke them loud.
"My dad was Cassand Rule-the-World.
My mam was Cleyse with her hair all curled.
And so say I, with every man,
Who treads in their track, and who does what he can.
Run along, hound Horn, on your hands and knees,
And bury your pride on the Grimshaw leas!

"What's Gods or bloods, to a Border boy
With his love on his knee, and his heart all joy?"

Friday, 5 March 2010

A Tourist in the Fields of My Desire

Fair fields to walk through - by Paolo Neo, via - released by author into public domain.I'm now firmly into the Wassail section of Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland. It's going slowly so far, and I'm content with that. This is a place of recovery, reflection, and the tale's minor eucatastrophe - with whose achievement the tension must suddenly pull double-taut again, catapulting the characters into the wild Rising. It is, I discover, not the kind of thing that can be written in a frenzy. So Life comes strangely to mirror Art, and such jazz. There is, though, another thing I'm learning here that is new to me.

Beginning this chapter, which we may as well call that of the Mice, I was annoyed to discover how thinly imagined my cherished vision of Fairfields really was. I had a few stand-out images, a sprawling central family with whom I'd fallen in love at the moment of creation, and a certain feel for the air and manners of that country. This, it turned out, was pretty much it. And as usual, a lot of the things I thought needed to happen there either aren't so important, or at any rate don't mean what I thought they would a year ago.

Now, when characters are fleeing from bandits and bogeymen in between breaking up their love affairs and stealing the One Ring from each other's pocketses, a certain sparsity of deep detail concerning the countries they pass through is excusable and even desirable. When on the other hand they come to rest and re-awaken in Rivendell or Re Albi, specific detail shared with the reader is what it's all about. Otherwise, one might as well just write:

There they found right good hospitality, and were rested and their hearts healed of their weariness. Deeply they partook of the Counsel of Elrond, and worked through their several issues with his trained Elvish counsellors; and many mysteries were revealed to them, as of the Seven Personae of Highly Effective Hobbits, and other matters now lost to us with the waning of the ancient lore. When they were resolved not to be such asses again, and had been signed off as fit for questing, then did the Lord Elrond ding the warning-bell for the last of many meetings. "Now," said he, "the One McGuffin is revealed, and we must deem our Age's doom..."


Tolkien made his havens immortal Elvish dreams, where merely mortal minds and senses quickly became lulled and trippy. But my Fairfields is more like something of Le Guin's or Chesterton's, where dear naked mortality is the magic above all, with the gathering of firewood and the craftsmanship of a shawl and the vagaries of goats in the rain.

There is only one way to describe a place like that. So I've spent the last week mainly walking around it and talking to people, until I know it in passing: from Perch Hill to Glassy Gill, from the Sugar-Loaf to the Glide; commiserating with glum shepherds, and coaxing Sairey Salt-the-Stew for a song, and taking a wary bite out of the sweet strange loaves they bake from the flour of Drizzle Mill. And very, very carefully avoiding the lane to the tannery...

I have, in fact, been playing tourist. Almost none of what I've seen and heard and tasted, and only briefest glimpses of the high points I've just mentioned, are likely to find a way directly into the story. But quite apart from being a very pleasant and affordable holiday, this seems to have been just what I needed, since the tale is now flowing at a pace as free as it is mellow. With the ground firm beneath my feet, I'm no longer distracted, and see plainly what the episode of the Mice is really about - and what my characters must variously do about it.

So they do.

The thing is, this good and agreeable counsel hasn't been my usual form in the past. More often, I've discovered that I don't really know everything I ought about the realities of (say) mediaeval-tech rural life in the winter, and therefore gone off for weeks and months trying to get enough detail to believe in my own vision.

That is all very well for something like the Miller's Tale, where as the author I really need to be able to talk intelligently with my protagonist about the water-power technology he's obsessed with developing, and about the business environment for his plans to make a fortune out of it.

For this fairy-tale, more than a tourist level of understanding is often surplus to the telling's requirements, and holding things up for 'research' speaks less of diligence than of a failure of imaginative nerve. Besides, this way is so much more fun!

I do, however, highly recommend to all writers of traditional fantasy that they spend at least a few weeks or months studying all that 'boring' social and economic mediaeval history, so that they build a framework beyond other tellers' conceits in which their regular folks can go about their own affairs. It is not really very interesting, as such, to know how many acres a single horse- or ox-team can cultivate effectively. It is a great deal more interesting to get an intuition for what that acreage means to the goodwife, or the ploughboy, or the lord who supports his retinue off it. And so with many other matters. For the likes of me, who find 'ordinary' people like Cinderella and Katy Elflocks at least as interesting as glamorous predators like Prince Charming and Golden Kate, such lore may hold special attraction.

I've never regretted an instant I spent learning it. Least of all at times like this, when it liberates me to create as I please, with a semblance of true proportions and textures - and to reserve the enchantments of my dream-fields for heart-wringings instead of hand-wavings. Which is as it should be. The King of Elfland himself couldn't enchant a big blob of Whatever!

But once there are shapes and people and dealings, and so something worth enchanting - why, there are things to be learned in a blustery wind on the way to a Fairfields outhouse, that were never shown in any dusty library or all the woven Internet.

I am glad I learned that too, and that I've played hookey in the country of my desire this week gone, and come again by back lanes to gladder and more serious work than swotting.

It's a vacation I recommend very highly.

Monday, 1 March 2010

One Jovial Englishman

Flag of Wales, Y Ddraig Goch, by Calum Hutchinson via Wikimedia Commons - released by author into public domainDydd Gwŷl Dewi Sant hapus! And again, for my fellow Saxon-speakers: Happy St David's Day! I hesitated briefly over whether to illustrate this post with Y Ddraig Goch or the Flag of St David himself, but the dragon won out for the following reasons:

1) It is a dragon. It was starting to look at me in a funny way. It is a dragon.

2) St David was such a famous ascetic as to earn himself the name of Dewi Ddyfrwr, or David the Water-Drinker. Now I am very happy for my neighbours to be ascetics, on several principles including "All the more for me!"; but some of the good man's too enthusiastic disciples imposed upon me and my mates many an unwillingly parched Sunday in old Aberystwyth in my salad days, and I do not forget.

I will salute old Dewi with a nice panad when I get home, as is only proper and respectful; but the glasses I shall be chiefly raising to the land of my fathers tonight will have more of dragon's fire in them than of holy man's water!

Feeling a great deal happier about the yarn today. The fact that I've a good idea what the problems are and what I need to do about them, is a big advance over similar such situations in the past. Also, now the great writing-storm has passed and I'm settling down of evenings to a relaxing Plot Noodle, life is ever so much more serene and less exhausting for the while.

All this, and clear warm sunshine also. Indeed it is Spring, and a good start to it.

Iechyd da to one and all!

Redirected Dreams

A bumper load of dreams dropped on the doormat of my mind last night - one of them sufficiently unpleasant to wake me up in the small hours. They appear to contain several urgent warnings from the gods, only one of them for me. I hasten to advertise the others for the benefit of their intended recipients.

To the Arrogant Arms Dealer Who Is Trying to Smuggle Torture Equipment to the Evil Vizier of Evil: Don't begin your negotiations with this man by addressing him as "Old dotard". This is important. Hint: what is that stuff he's in the market for, again? Also, beware of his witty banter.

To Sauron the Great and Terrible, Lord of Mordor and Shadow in the East: You will shortly be tempted to conquer Gondor before regaining the One Ring. You already know what happens if you fail. Well, me old mucker, I'm sorry to tell you that success isn't looking too clever for you either. Take-home lesson: "Orcs are not trusty servants."

To Someone Who May Well Actually Be Me: Buy not your hat-boxes at Debenhams on the way to work. Okay.

And, by the way, Morpheus, old chap? This wizard wheeze of subcontracting delivery to the British Post Office? Uh-uh!