Facing Fear With The Silent Eye, Part 3 – Sorrow

I recently attended a workshop, with The Silent Eye, about Facing Our Fears, an extraordinary weekend spent among the hills and grey stone villages of the Peak District. It’s taken me a little while, as it usually does, to process everything that happened. Once again there was history and mystery, good company and tasty food, old friends greeted and new friends made. And, as always, revelations.This is part three of my account, parts one and two can be found here…

We travelled through Eyam, the road taking us higher and higher, the valley opening away to our right. And as we did so the air began to clear, the strange weight that had burdened me lifting. We continued along a narrow track edged with tangled brambles and tall nettle, a fairy-tale barrier between us and the view. Taking a fork in the road among tall trees, Sue pulled the car onto the narrow verge to park.

And all was still.

The day remained bright, the sky a curving dome of blue, the air fresh and clear. We stood on a curving path bounded by a moss-covered wall, a rolling green hillside to our left. And, upon the green, a small enclosure waited. It was what we had come to see. The Riley graves.

Once again, Sue has written an excellent detailed account of what happened on the ridge, but the short version is this: As plague raged through the village in the valley below, two families, living separately on the ridge, hoped, perhaps, that distance would keep them and their children safe. However, it was not to be, with first one family, then the other, succumbing. But the cruellest blow was to Elisabeth Hancock, who, between August 3rd and 10th, lost her six children and her husband to the terrible virus. Isolated as she was on the high ridge, the neighbouring family having already succumbed to plague, it was left to her to bury her babies and spouse, one by one, carrying their bodies across to the shallow graves she’d dug, wondering, perhaps, when the disease would take her as well. I cannot imagine her pain, and, after what I’d experienced in the village, it was with some trepidation that I initially approached the small group of graves.

Elisabeth chose her spot well, with beautiful views across the valley and opposing hillsides. It broke the heart to imagine her doing so, that those she loved most might rest in a place where the air was fresh, the land they loved holding them like a precious jewel in a perfect setting. And, surprisingly, there was no heaviness here, no miasma of sorrow to weigh me down, no troubling visions. Instead, the overwhelming sense at these poignant graves was one of love.

That said, I did not enter the enclosure, preferring instead to pay my respects outside the curving stone wall. I stood there for a little while, listening to the wind through the trees and grass, watching birds circle above, and tried to imagine how it must have been during those desperate days when Elisabeth lost everyone and everything she loved, including her home.

She must have been quite an extraordinary person for, when plague didn’t take her, rather than falling into darkness and despair, she instead went down to the village to help others who suffered. And when it was all done she was reunited with her remaining son, who was working in a nearby village and so had been separated from her for the duration of the quarantine. It was he who erected the memorial stones for his father and siblings, and perhaps, also, as tribute to his mother and all she had gone through those terrible nights alone.

The only sorrow I felt in this place was as we were leaving, when it hit me like a wave. We walked along the track, back to the cars, and it struck me how it must have been for her when she had to leave this place for the last time, leave the views and clear air and circling birds, the land she had worked and which now held the remains of all she held dear. For, while she was there, she was still with them.

A short drive later and we were at our second-last stop for the day: Mompesson’s well. This was one of several wells marking the boundary of the village, where food and money were left for and by the villagers during their quarantine. It was a gloomy place, despite the brightness of the day, and the heavy fencing around it didn’t do much to lift the atmosphere. I think we were all still somewhat weighed down by the events of the afternoon.

Luckily, our final stop was on the open moors, a patch of green grass the perfect spot to sit and go over the events of the day. I wandered off alone for a little while, opening my arms and heart to the sky and heather, letting the wind wash through me. It was the perfect antidote to a very strange afternoon and, by the time I got back to the hotel, I was feeling almost myself again. We were due to have dinner at a nearby pub, and I was looking forward to it. Tomorrow was going to be a very busy day, and I needed to recharge…


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Facing Fear With The Silent Eye, Part 2 – Pestilence

I recently attended a workshop, with The Silent Eye, about Facing Our Fears, an extraordinary weekend spent among the hills and grey stone villages of the Peak District. It’s taken me a little while, as it usually does, to process everything that happened. Once again there was history and mystery, good company and tasty food, old friends greeted and new friends made. And, as always, revelations.This is part two of my account, part one can be found here

‘Go and have a look around. We’ve got a bit of time yet before the others get here.’

I can’t move.

We were standing in a courtyard, once the stable yard of the nearby manor house. The buildings had been converted into shops and restaurants, jewellery, homewares, tea and scones all set out for visitors. It was a gorgeous place, sun shining on golden-grey stone, pretty tables, green trees.

I can’t move.

Waves were battering her from all sides, sorrow overwhelming. But they were toxic, polluted, like water disturbed in a stagnant pond. It was difficult to breathe.

I should have known when my body started to tingle as we crossed the boundary into the village. But this was… intense. I took a couple of photos but, even though Sue suggested once more that I have a look around, I still couldn’t move, feeling assailed on all sides. The air seemed filled with floating flecks of gold. It was a very, very strange place.

The rest of the group arrived, greetings and introductions breaking me out of my strange immobility. It was lovely to see familiar faces, and to meet a new face, too. Thus assembled, our group of six left the old stable yard and headed out into the village. We took a moment on the nearby green to talk about the history of the village, Sue and Stu filling the rest of the party in on the dark history of the place. Sue has written an excellent post about it – however, the short version is this:

In 1665, plague came to Eyam. It was already raging down south, and, when a local tailor ordered a bolt of cloth from London, it arrived teeming with harbingers of death. Infected fleas on the cloth were released when it was unfolded, with the tailor and his assistant the first victims. But, as plague moved through the village, the inhabitants made an extraordinary decision. Encouraged by their reverend, the charismatic Mompesson, they decided to quarantine themselves from the surrounding area – nothing, and no one, were to leave the village until the plague had burned itself out. Eventually it did so, but took as much as two thirds of the population with it, a horrifying toll in a place with a population of only a few hundred souls. Many people lost their entire extended family, and had to bury their own dead. Parents, children, siblings, spouses. Small wonder, then, that this was a place bound in sorrow and the fear of loss.

After the introduction we headed along a road that was chocolate-box perfect in its prettiness, past ancient stone cottages garlanded in roses, gleaming golden in the afternoon sun. Yet dark history hid behind the stone walls, as plaques in the gardens attested, telling us the names of those who lived there during the plague, and those who died. Eyam is a place that makes its living from death, the sad history of the place drawing tourism from far and wide. But is it healthy to constantly relive such an episode? Places hold the energy of events that happen there – such as the warmth experienced in a happy home, or the sombre cold at sites of torture and death. Despite all the doubtless peaceful years that Eyam experienced, both before and after the plague, it has allowed itself to be defined by the events of that awful time and, while of course it’s important to remember and honour the deeds of the villagers who sacrificed everything for the sake of the larger community, the relentless focus on that time makes it difficult for the energy surrounding it to dissipate. I took few photos, and none of the plaques in the gardens with their grisly records of death.

As we neared the old church I was finding it difficult to breathe, a weight on my chest. Another member of the group felt the same way – there seemed to be no explanation for it. I was struggling against surging emotion, like being at the centre of a storm, despite the bright sunshine.

‘Did you say you’ve never been here before?’

‘Yes.’

‘You sure about that?’

We entered the churchyard, sun gilding the deep green yew trees, the ancient stones. There is a Saxon cross in the churchyard, relic of an even older time, one side carved with angels, the other with serpents, coiled around themselves.

… she remembered a wedding, being a bride in a bright gown, garlanded in flowers, laughing with her lover on another sunny day, as though the village wanted to remind her of happier times…

Churchyards are home to memory, to loved ones lost, a community of spirit. We wandered among the gravestones for a little while before heading inside the church. It was still difficult to breathe, but I felt less inundated than before.

…give me space…

Inside, the church was charming. Very old, and similar to several I’d visited before with the group. Usually such places are filled with years of calm, that concentrated energy of a place given over to love and prayer. In this church, however, death danced overhead, the spectre of that terrible time seeming to permeate the place. It did not feel peaceful at all.

Embedded in one of the walls was a stone cross, a cross of St Helen, and there was a beautiful window dedicated to her as well, but even the presence of my namesake saint didn’t do much to ease my discomfort. There was also an illustrated history of the church and the village, and another stained-glass window telling the story of the plague.

When we left the church even the sky felt spiked and heavy, vapour trails intersecting it like the slashes of a knife. And then, a rainbow, faintly coloured, a reminder that, even after the darkest storms, there is light and colour to be found again. It was fitting that it showed up as we prepared to leave the village, heading back past the cottages with their dark histories, past the manor and green.

As we reached the car park, I knew where we were going next. And I was concerned as to whether I’d be able to deal with it, after what I’d already experienced in Eyam. This weekend, however, was about facing our fears. And there was no turning back now…


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

Around The World and Back Again

Getting back into this blogging thing is easier said than done, I’m finding. And it probably hasn’t helped that I’ve been away for the past three weeks on the other side of the world. Apologies for being late getting back to comments, too!

So, where have I been?

Back to my husband’s native Australia, to see family and friends we’ve not visited for seven years. It’s a trip that was a long time coming, house renovations and life getting in the way of previous plans to visit.

I confess, I was a little bit nervous about going back. Australia is a wonderful place, and there are a lot of people I love living there. But it’s a VERY LONG flight, and I’m not the biggest fan of flying. Plus, I found that, despite all the work I’ve done sorting myself out over the past few years, it turned out there was a bit of emotion to unpack about the idea of heading back to the place where I lived for seventeen years. As I said to friends when we were there, I have three passports and a lot of issues.

People often comment to me that I’ve lived such an interesting life, moving around the world, travelling and seeing different places. And I agree – I’ve been so fortunate to have lived in some wonderful parts of the world. But that has come at the price of roots, of continuity, of having a place that feels so familiar that, no matter where you are in the world, it feels like home. All the moving around I’ve done (24 different addresses, six different cities, three continents) has left me with a deep desire for a place that is mine, that won’t change and doesn’t move, where I know everyone and they know me. Returning to live in the UK seven years ago was full circle for me, both physically and metaphorically, as it’s where I was born, and where I feel most at home. Living in Australia was wonderful, definitely, but it was also tough, as I was (literally) half a world away from many of the people I loved most. Going back there brought with it a whole host of emotions and I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t going to stay there, that I was coming back.

That sounds awful, doesn’t it? As though I hated the place so much I couldn’t bear to stay there. This is not the case at all. If you’ve been to Australia you’ll know how beautiful it is, how blue the water, how bright the sky. Some of my best friends in the world live there, as well as family. It’s a country I truly love.

So, once I’d worked through all of that, I was able to face the flight with less stress and, when we finally touched down in Melbourne, I could enjoy the city for how wonderful it is. Our first day was a perfect Melbourne day – seeing family, walking through the Botanic Gardens to the National Gallery of Victoria to have lunch and see the Escher exhibition (quite a mind-blowing experience with jetlag), then dinner that evening with dear friends. And so the days unfolded, one beautiful experience after another, but each of them then tempered with goodbyes. And that, perhaps, is the key to my struggle. The endless round of goodbyes.

Well! This started out as a post to say hey, I’m back from my trip, but it’s turned into something quite different. As you can see from the photos, I had a fantastic trip in a wonderful part of the world. However, I’m glad to be back home again now (and I will be getting to comments, too!).

If you’re in the UK, here’s wishing you all a lovely holiday weekend. Also, May the Fourth be with you 😉 (Yeah, I said it.)

xx

Puppy Love

The past few months have been a busy time, working on my book and generally getting through life. However, we’ve also had a new addition to the household, a small ball of fluff and love and chaos – Cookie the cockapoo.

Cookie is now ten months old – we’ve had her since she was eight weeks and, it’s fair to say, there was a bit of an adjustment period at first. Someone once said, ‘It’s a good thing puppies are cute, or else you’d give them away,’ and, even though she is very cute, I won’t say I wasn’t tempted in the first few weeks of biting and pooping and piddles and mess – it was like having a new baby again and, as my gorgeous girl is almost a teenager, I’d thought those days were long behind me.

However, she has wiggled and waggled her way into all our hearts, despite chewing everything she can get her snout on, her propensity for stealing cloths and socks, and her desire to wipe her dirty face all over us. She is, as are most dogs, full of love, wanting nothing more than to curl up close to us whenever she can. She is small for a cockapoo, her fur still puppy soft, and sometimes her paws smell like popcorn. I am, in short, smitten.

She is taking puppy classes, sitting like a very good girl in a windy field as our ex-police dog trainer tells us what to do next. She’s not doing too badly either, despite her kangaroo jumps of excitement and need to play with every other dog in the class whenever possible. We take long walks along the canal and around our neighbourhood, exploring streets I’ve not walked down before, meeting squirrels and cats and birds and people, all of whom she greets with the same level of enthusiasm.

I realised I’d become quite insular once I’d gone back to writing full time, staying home most days to wander vampire halls and dream of darkness. Cookie has taken me out into the world again. Since having her, I’ve spoken to more new people than I have in years; a dog, it seems, is an instant ice-breaker. We even have our ‘regulars’, now – people who know her by name and look forward to seeing her come past, often giving her treats. She’s a jammy pup, that’s for sure!

While it may have been a slightly shaky start, Cookie has brought a great deal of love and joy into our family. Someone else once said, ‘You don’t get what you want, you get what you need.’ And I think we needed her as much as she needed us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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#Writephoto – All That Remains

 

 

 

 

He came to me after dark, as night lay like soft velvet in the hollows of the hills. The fire burned low, his feathered cape laid over the chair shimmering iridescent blue as the birds stirred and gave their first sleepy chirps, my breath coming fast as he touched me and held me close. He told me his name, and I spoke it as I emerged from the dream.

‘Armand.’

The day dawned bright, my room pale, my bed cold and lonely as it always was. Yet the dream stayed with me throughout the long day, making me blush as I worked behind the counter making coffee, smiling at the customers who ebbed and flowed like the nearby sea, only staying long enough to smile and talk, but not long enough to truly connect.

I felt like the island out in the small bay. Close to, but not part of the small town that bustled along the curving shore. It takes time, I told myself, to make friends. Moving to a new place is a big step for anyone. Just give it time.

But at night feathers enclosed me in a soft embrace, my dreams taking me beyond the lonely confines of my world. Sleep became a refuge from the cold days, the aching feet, my broken heart.

One night, sleep eluded me. I sat at the window, my breath misting the small panes as I watched night leave the hills, black sky fading to blue. Glimmers of light appeared below as the town began to wake, gold in the sky over the nearby sea, flashing from the steeple on the hill opposite, soft gold to white, then fading away. My eyelids became heavy, my head drooping over my hands. A voice whispered to me. ‘Come and find me, beloved. I am waiting for you.’

I didn’t go to work that morning. No coffee scented fingers, hair gone limp from steaming milk, mouth tight from smiling so much. Instead I went across the valley, taking a gravel path past mossy walls to where the ancient church slumbered in a cradle of yew trees. And I found him.

Armand De Courcy, the plaque read, much rubbed by time. And on the marble, next to the bones that marked his resting place, was a single feather. Blue, like the twilit hills, like his eyes, like my heart.

This is my response to Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt, my favourite photo prompt in blogland. For more posts, or to share one of your own, head over to Sue’s blog for more information 🙂


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Growing Up

In the excellent miniseries, Big Little Lies, there’s a scene where Reese Witherspoon’s character is talking to her teenage daughter. She says (and I may be paraphrasing slightly) ‘they don’t tell you, but you lose your children. The little girl whose hair I used to braid is gone.’ This line, and the way she delivers it, really hit home. I’m emotional now just thinking about it.

For my gorgeous girl is growing up. She starts secondary school in September, which I find hard to believe. It doesn’t seem that long ago we were counting cats on the way to school, pretending to be dragons puffing ‘smoke’ in the frosty air. When my dancing didn’t make her cringe, and the only phone she had was plastic and sparkly with a puzzle on the front. The gorgeous chubby cheeks I love to kiss are melting away, smooth cheekbones emerging, the legs and arms that once looked as though they had elastic bands around them now long and lean.

I’m excited, of course, for this next stage in her life, seeing her grow into the marvellous young woman she’s already showing signs of becoming. Every part of this process has been a joy. But oh, I get it now, when people shake their heads and say with a smile, ‘It goes so quickly.’ For it does, it does, and the change, when it comes, is sudden, a realisation that childhood days are gone.

For a variety of reasons, she is the only baby I’ll ever get to have, and I count my blessings every day. I’m so glad I got to dance, pick roses, blow bubbles and sing silly songs with her when she was small. Those moments are immeasurably precious, and always will be. I realise the teenage years will have their own set of challenges, and I can only hope I’ve given her a strong enough grounding that she can make good decisions for herself.

So now I must get past my tears, and look forward. For I am the stable bow, and it is time for me to help her fly.

‘You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth… Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness; for even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.’  Kahlil Gibran


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#writephoto – Dark

Sue Vincent’s #writephoto is a wonderful source of inspiration, and this week she’s shared this beautiful photo as her prompt. She also shared another post, Breaking the Rules, which featured an interpretation of a Pablo Neruda poem that really spoke to me. The words that came to me were inspired by both of them. And here they are:

Darkness falls

Or does it rise?

From silver lakes

In hollow hills

Cradled in

A giant’s hand

Long fingers reach

Beyond the stars

Leave your cares

Leave work

Leave the slow death behind

Follow the water

As it gleams

I wait for you

To join me here

Where time itself

Slows and stills

Ride with me

Through valleys deep

And let us dance

Beneath the stars

Leave your cares

Leave work

Leave the slow death behind

Follow the water

To your dreams

Darkness rises

And it falls

And nothing is

Quite as it seems


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

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