Never Judge a Book by its Cover

How often have we heard that, or said it ourselves?  Yet so many do that very thing all the time.  The image makers depend on this in order to sell all sorts of commodities including people as well as, quite literally, books.

When I first started off in the Craft there were very few books around specifically about witchcraft or other occult practices.  The ones that were out there had very lurid, sensationalist jacket covers which at first put me off from going anywhere near them.  Then I learnt that in those days authors didn’t have any say over what form the covers took as it was all in the hands of the in house designer/artist.  This led me to ignore what was on the cover and to at least open up the book and view both the contents page and the general synopsis to get a better idea of the quality of the information within.  I have to admit that this was often done with surreptitious glances around in case anyone caught sight of the dodgy book covers! 

Nowadays there is more autonomy granted to authors in the choice of cover designs, but it’s still a case of buyer beware, because there is now another factor at play.  Clever branding has produced a certain glamour to witchcraft subjects in the publishing world.  This is even more apparent when it comes to independent publishers.  Modern advances in photography and CGI have created very evocative, as opposed to provocative, images that draw the reader in to the subject matter, but specifically in the area of witchcraft.  So you may be presented with darkly romantic  images promising secret and arcane knowledge, only to find the literary equivalent of ‘fool’s gold’ within.  Classic examples of style over substance exist on line and within the book market.

So, I’ve touched on the literal sense of ‘judging a book by it’s cover’ in its positive and negative sense, but we also do this with people.  We often will judge a person purely by what they look like.  That includes their physicality as well as what they choose to wear.  This is such a vast subject which could go in so many directions including, race, disabilities and umpteen other potentially contentious issues.  However, for now I am going to concentrate on what we choose to wear.

Over the last few decades I have had quite a few references to how I look, and my appearance and demeanour have been questioned and sometimes misrepresented.  It happened again quite recently so it set me thinking about the question of how much importance people place on how people look, and the connection between that and their identity.

Let’s get one thing straight – I have never had good dress sense.  Plenty of others around me did, and occasionally I would try and pick their brains as to what would maybe suit me, especially when I was younger.  However,  I never really got the hang of fashion and in the end after a few disastrous and embarrassing forays into trying to be fashionable, in the end I gave up completely.   Fortunately I had to wear a uniform at work, being a nurse for most of my working life, so what I wore at other times was less significant.  It was only when I went to Dartington as a mature student for my Theatre Degree that I realised how important dress/costume was and how it was linked to the persona/personality which made up the identity.  Ironically most of the students wore comfortable, loose clothing in many colourful and ethnic styles which I really liked a lot.  No-one stood out as looking odd or incongruous because diversity of dress was celebrated and there was a lot of freedom to explore different ways of being.

Once I had relaxed into this bohemian lifestyle I found that I truly felt authentic, whereas before I didn’t feel like I fitted in anywhere because I was constantly trying to be like everyone else in my particular peer group at any given time.  I think I learnt how to be an individual and feel OK with being a bit different.  It has to be remembered that I also had started my in-depth training into witchcraft a few years earlier as well.  It also helped that when people realised that I was a Dartington Graduate they almost expected me to look a bit of a hippy as the college had a reputation for alternative lifestyles. 

It was also here that I wore a dinner jacket for the first time as I was playing a cross-dressing character in someone’s production.  That was a pivotal moment for me.  I felt so at ease and I realised that not only did it suit me and I looked good, but that it was functional too.  There were useful pockets everywhere but it didn’t alter the tailored line of the jacket.  There was nothing like it in women’s fashions – sure they had trouser suits, but no handy pockets on the inside – or even if there were pockets, they were always on the outside and either fake, sewn up or so shallow as to be deemed useless.  From that moment on I tended towards men’s jackets and coats.  You see, I have never been a handbag person as all too often I tended to lose them by leaving them behind and completely forgetting I had them.  So this type of garb was ideal for me.

There was also another reason why this discovery suited me so well.  I was born with a spinal curvature that gradually grew worse the older I got.  This led me to have major surgery in my early thirties to correct and fuse my spine involving nine of my spinal vertebrae.  Even following the operation I was always going to have a small hump on my back, and thankfully, men’s jackets disguised this deformity far better than women’s.  However, this also meant that as I began to wear this style more, together with the fact that because of my fixed spine, my stance was wider than is generally acceptable for women, a lot of folk assumed that I was gay.

I can quite understand why some would think this way, but I do wish they would think beyond the box they’ve just plonked you in occasionally.  Anyone who bothers to actually ask and not just assume would find out that I’m not actually gay.  As a child I was absolutely a little tomboy and was forever running around the countryside, climbing trees and getting into scrapes.  I played football with the boys throughout junior school, never played with dolls – they gave me the creeps – and developed crushes on school friends, both boys and girls.  However, never at anytime did I want to be a boy or a male, I just thought that they had better games and opportunities in life, whereas what was on offer to girls and females at that time was very limited.  I rarely wore skirts or dresses unless I had to as I found it much more comfortable to wear shorts or jeans.

Seeing as my teenage years were in the Swinging Sixties and the Twiggy look was all the rage, I was on a losing streak from the word go.  I have always been what I describe as compact and sturdy which was a long way from the tall, willowy look proscribed by the Mary Quant fashions of that time.  Nevertheless I persevered, through my early years of marriage, which I found out very rapidly was not the life for me and wondered if I was indeed gay.  So I explored that lifestyle and eventually came to the realisation that mixing with the gay scene was not beneficial for me and left that behind.  It was only when I reached my early thirties that I decided that maybe I was bisexual.  I experienced a ‘Goldilocks Moment’ by acknowledging this and from that moment on described my lifestyle as ‘dancing up both ends of the ballroom’.  It genuinely suited my nature well.  As far as I was concerned I had found my niche as I always had celebrated diversity and I knew that I was free to feel attraction towards people, whatever their gender.  I never really discovered what it was that attracted me to some folk and not others, there was never a ‘type’ that I went for but at least now the their gender was irrelevant  .  People were just people and I either got drawn towards them or not.

Oddly enough, I then experienced resistance from a considerable amount of people, both straight and gay, who questioned my lifestyle.  Comments usually accused me of being indecisive, greedy or not having met the right man yet.  A saying often cited was, “You can’t have your cake and eat it”!  To me it gave me a welcome freedom, so I shrugged off these unhelpful comments and embraced my new start in life.  Shortly after this I began my spiritual journey into the world of witchcraft which I have remained in since.  Perhaps the two decisions were linked – it certainly connected me to the liminal or maybe I had always been there and had only just recognised it as such – as my destiny.

My predilection towards male jackets and coats stood me in good stead when it came to being a cunning woman or wisewoman.  Even as a child I had schoolboy contents to my pockets which contained bits of string, pebbles, feathers, wax, putty, penknife and so on.  There isn’t a world of difference when I now walk the land wearing my old wool overcoat with very similar contents in the many pockets, except perhaps the addition of a hip flask to offer rum to the spirits.  In addition there has been added a very important and now iconic component to my attire that I haven’t talked of until now – my hat.

That hat came into my life purely by happenstance.  As usual with most things to do with me, there is a story behind it.  The year was 1997 and involved myself and the Museum of Witchcraft.  We were approached by a woman who worked for Essex University.  She was in the process of organising and creating a Witchcraft Exhibition to be held at the university and wanted to see whether the Museum would be prepared to loan some exhibits.  As well as this she asked whether there was a modern proponent of the art who would be willing to create an exhibit especially for the exhibition, and this is where I entered the equation.  Following consultation I agreed to make a Witch’s Ladder to be displayed later on that year.  When the time of the Witchcraft Exhibition arrived we were invited to the private viewing, but as Graham King, the then owner, was too busy to make the trip he asked me to go representing the Museum, as well as in my own right.  So off to the wilds of Essex I went.

I arranged to stay with some friends who I had handfasted in the past who lived in Chelmsford.  I stayed in their spare room and as it was also a workshop, on a shelf near my bed I espied this hat.  As it turned out I found out something I didn’t know previously, which was that she was a milliner and was trying out a new design.  I impulsively asked whether I could borrow the hat to wear to the university the next day, and she agreed.  I can’t tell you how right that hat felt sitting on my head – it was like it was made just for me.

The Witchcraft Exhibition went well and on my return to my friends’ house I asked whether the hat was for sale.  To my delight I was told I could have it as a gift as it was only an experiment with a certain style and as far as I know, no other similar hats were made by her.

Ever since then that hat has stayed with me and has attracted all sorts of comments.  It’s been called ‘infamous’ and ‘disreputable’, and I remember on one occasion a man asking me why it wasn’t a pointy hat – to which I replied, “Because there’s no point..!”   He laughed and said that there was something about it that reminded him of a pointy hat, even though it wasn’t one – it just evoked that sort of response.  I quite liked that as it was nicely ambivalent.  Others say that it reminds them of the Artful Dodger, and although I can be a little mischievous I’m certainly not a thief.  Once again it seems there is an illusionary aspect at work if this energy is invoked by a simple hat.

My hat has never been worn by anyone else, and it never shall be – in fact, it’s going to go with me when I die to make sure – I wouldn’t want be responsible for the consequences should anyone else attempt to wear it anyway.  Over the years it seems to have become my trademark look for what I do being a village wisewoman along with the rest of my distinctive attire.

Afore I go I just want to add that on a few occasions there have been a few folk who have attempted to emulate how I look, which I find somewhat disconcerting.  Many say, ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’.  Well all I can say to that is, it obviously has never happened to them, as I find it not only uncomfortable but rather irritating!

So you see how my appearance evolved over the years.  There was no deliberate construction of an image, no studied persona – just me evolving slowly over the years as an individual, much to the frustration of the media I might add who expected me to be dressed in robes, dripping with magical accoutrements.  This is who I have become, and who I am, and I am well comfortable with that.  Vive la difference!








Making Memories

I like surprises.  Laetitia however is not so keen on them.  She likes to know what’s happening, when and where.  This can make events like birthdays and the like somewhat predictable.  This is why it was such a delight for me when a few days ago on my 73rd birthday I was informed that we were to be spending a night away at an unknown destination and to take my best bib and tucker with me.  I was intrigued and excited!

The first part of the journey was through a rather brutalist industrial landscape in Cornwall which I found slightly dispiriting – but I had faith that I was maybe being taken via a deliberately misleading route.  Fortunately after about 30 minutes the scenery gradually transformed into something more pastoral and it wasn’t too long until we emerged at the pretty fishing village of Mevagissey.

We made an interesting but unnerving unintentional detour along the quayside hoping there would be room enough to turn around our 4×4 vehicle when we ran out of road – fortunately there was.  Once we figured out how to find the right road, we drove up the steep hill to where we were staying the night – Honeycombe House.

This turned out to be a delightful guest house situated right up the top of Mevagissey which had uninterrupted views of the harbour and the sea.  Our room also had a balcony so we were soon out there with the ubiquitous glass of Cornish mead.  Fabulous!  🙂

Our host was a fascinating woman who with her husband and family had been abroad in many different countries in the diplomatic service.  This meant that there were many different and wonderful artefacts decorating their house which I couldn’t stop exploring and asking about as everything had a story.  You could tell by the furnishings and décor that she had exquisite taste and this extended itself into some lovely little touches as part of the hospitality.  The home baked shortbread biscuits on our drinks tray were delicious!

It was so good to get away from it all and just relax and admire the view, watching the fishing boats coming and going.  However, this visit meant something quite special to Laetitia as well.  Honeycombe House had a meaningful memory from her past.  She stayed in the guest house when she was in her teens and there was a very interesting synchronicity that occurred between her and my younger self during that holiday. I won’t spoil the story as you can find it in her book, Be Careful What You Wish For published by Crossed Crow Books.

By this time we were getting quite hungry so we put on our glad rags and walked down the hill to the restaurant where we had a table booked for dinner.  We ate at the Shark’s Fin which was right on the waterfront and fortunately we had a table right by the window.

We started with a cocktail made around the theme of passion fruit which we both loved.  It had been years since I’d been treated to one of those and I had forgotten how wonderfully potent they can be.  It was a bit like being given a warm, well intentioned shove, alcoholically speaking – which is a considerable improvement upon the swipe round the chops that some alcoholic beverages can produce!

Dinner was scrumptious.  I had lemon sole fillets with sea herbs and root vegetables, followed by green apple and gin & lemon sorbets all washed down with a crisp Pinot Grigio.

After a wander around the harbour and realising the night was too cold to hang about in, we made our slow ascent back up the hill to our hotel.  I had to do this in stages but there was plenty to take in as the Full Moon was shining down adding its own unique magic to our surroundings.

It was the perfect end to an exciting day – and so to sleep, perchance to dream… but I didn’t – dream that is.  Now anyone that knows me well realises that I am definitely not a morning person, however I was keen not to waste the opportunity of witnessing the sunrise across the sea from the ‘room with a view’ that we were occupying at that time.  I’m so glad I followed my impulse and here are the results of my vigil:

After I had taken all the photos I wanted I returned to the bedroom and watched the whole panorama unfold from the comfort of my bed together with the first cup of tea of the day.  Bliss!

Following a shower we traipsed down the stairs for our breakfast – yet another delightful experience as you can see.

Then it was time to pack up the car and say our goodbyes to our lovely host.  This is a place where we will definitely visit again and I would highly recommend for the more informed traveller.  Then we drove down the hill, parked up and indulged in a few hours of retail therapy and networking, before setting off for home once more.

I’ve reached the time of life when making memories is far more important than the accumulation of possessions.  It was a wonderful birthday surprise and I simply loved the experience.  Thank you so much Laetitia!  🙂

Here Be Dragons

Just over a decade ago life gave me the opportunity to live briefly in a rather wonderful place called Crean Mill.  It was a wildlife haven and I was in my element living there with a plethora of different birds and mammals visiting the land around the Mill.  What it also had in profusion was a vibrant dragonfly and damselfly population.  There was a very specific reason for this.  The previous owner of the Mill was world renowned expert on these fabulous insects, Philip Corbet, and he deliberately designed and landscaped the garden to attract these species.

Mill in Spring 010

I spent a blissful summer studying, identifying and recording all the dragonflies around the ponds and the many breathtakingly beautiful damselflies that gathered around the stream that ran through the woodland nearby.  Fortunately I was lent usage of a camera to photograph many of these gems so I still have stunning photos which remind me of those halcyon days.

What follows now is a Witch’s Dozen of images from that time.

Dragon 1

Dragon 2












All too soon my stay was cut short and I returned to my cottage in the village where I had but a modest little wildlife pond.  Only on two occasions had I spotted a small damselfly in my garden and I resigned myself to not seeing these fabulous creatures except on rare occasions when I visited gardens elsewhere.

However, just recently I had occasion to reconsider the situation.  Following a little research I found that it is entirely possible to adapt and change the plant life around my humble pond to tempt in dragonflies and damselflies.  I found an wonderful website called Puddleplants based in Wales and they gave me excellent help and advice.  Puddleplants

I set to clearing out the pond (no mean feat) and the space nearby ready to receive it’s new plants.

Here’s what the pond looked like before.

Pond (3)

After I had cleared space.

Pond 4 (2)

The finished pond with it’s dragonfly alluring plants.

Pondlife (2)

Pondlife (5)

Pondlife (3)

Now all that’s needed is for a passing dragon or damsel to spot my pond and see it as an ideal place to reproduce itself.  I have a feeling this may take some time.  Maybe a bit of magic is called for…

In the meantime just a few facts about dragons:

They eat their body weight in insects every day – useful if you’re susceptible to gnat and midge bites.

They evolved 300 million years ago predating dinosaurs – so they’re relics and real Old Souls.

The relic dragon had a wing span of over 3 feet – just imagine what that would look like – somewhat alarming methinks!

They are astonishing aerial acrobats with the ability to hover and reverse at high speed if necessary – very handy and versatile skills which makes them voracious hunters.

Contrary to their appearance they do not sting or bite – in fact they are beneficial to humans as they can decimate mosquitos and are an important part of the food web. 


Media Minefields

Just recently I granted an interview to someone from a local news agency about my work as a village wisewoman.  I was initially reluctant as we had been badly let down by poor reporting in the past.  I requested editorial input and specifically asked that my interview would not be offered to any tabloid publications.  These conditions were agreed to and the interview went ahead. 

Weeks went by and I must admit that it slipped to the back of my mind as I was kept busy by other concerns.  However I was brought up short a few days ago by seeing the following headline come up on my news alerts:  UK’s only ‘official witch’ puts spell on the tax man and claims expenses for magic – The Daily Star

Me at the Maidens

Not only had the agency reneged on what we had agreed upon, but they had thrown me to the lions by choosing to give the interview to the worst possible tabloid for publication.  To say I was incensed would be an understatement!  The only positive thing about it was the quality of the photography by a young man called James, sadly we didn’t find out his full name.  Since then the story appears to have gone global by appearing in various local newspapers from India to Australia and the Americas.  

Once I had calmed down somewhat I realised that the majority of the article remained true to what I had said, but there were some added inaccuracies which were annoyingly left in despite my correcting the interviewer on them earlier.  For instance, I have never claimed to be the ‘only official village witch in the UK’ – nor do I cast spells indiscrimately as suggested.  However, what truly bewilders me is, why all this sudden media attention and sensationalism about something that actually happened and was reported on 25 years ago?  I include a newspaper clipping to prove my point.

Business start up

So, why I am I surprised I hear some of you saying?  Well, quite frankly, it’s not good enough to just let the media off the hook in that way.  Why do they report inaccurately, especially when it comes to anything remotely to do with magic or alternative spiritualities or lifestyles.  Headlines in particular are often spurious and always sensational in order to attract the worst kind of attention.  TV also is just as guilty of this type of behaviour.  In the past I have appeared on all sorts of feature programmes about my work as a wisewoman, but almost inevitably the introduction to such footage contains spooky music and/or sound effects – owls hooting and the like.  I notice members of the clergy are never accompanied by organ music or heavenly choirs!  It’s all so tiresome, unnecessary and belittles the subject matter. 

Social media can also be a minefield.  As this story spread, so the article appeared on many social media forums and groups.  Subsequently we were informed about certain remarks made.  Given that most people know that the media often exaggerates and stretches the truth, lots of comments were based on the assumption that it was all accurate, and I was judged accordingly.  I joined one such group recently in order to join in the discussion that my article had triggered.  Imagine my surprise when my introductory comment was declined.  I had assumed that I would have had a right to reply since they were discussing me.  Unsurprisingly I didn’t bother staying in that group.  

So why do I have anything to do with the media at all?  Well, in the past I used media as a platform to help inform and educate the general public about folk magic and paganism in general.  I saw it as part of campaigning for human rights.  I still have that point of view, but I’m getting too old and cranky to want to have any further dealings with newspapers.  Sad really…  😦 


Band (R)Aid

Photo credit: Penzance Archives

Thirty years ago Penzance was host to the very first Mazey Day, on Saturday 29th June 1991 to be precise. It’s very difficult to find any photos from that time as mobile phones and the Internet hadn’t really taken off at that point.  However, here is a film clip of a documentary made in 2000 about the history of Golowan and Mazey Day by local film maker, Barbara Santi.

Golowan…Feast of John – Barbara Santi

I am one of a dwindling number of people locally who have had some sort of input into the Golowan Festival from it’s conception.  For close on 20 years I split my time at the festival between two street performance roles. 

I was one of the dancers who performed out front of the Golowan Band each year.  My personal reason for this was energy raising to stop any further raining on the children’s parades following the first year’s deluge – this was quite apart from thoroughly enjoying the catchy tunes of the Band.  Weather magic does require huge amounts of energy to maintain it’s efficacy and this was the technique that worked best for me.

Mazey dancing (2)
Photo credit: Alan Simkins

My other role was as Teazer to the Penzance Obby Oss, Penglaz.  This was always very challenging as you had to be able to maintain a clear performing space for the Oss in spite of masses of people weaving in and out in what is known as the Serpent dance.  At the same time you were this liminal character that created a bridge between the Oss and the crowd – so the role was two-fold – functional and magical.  Subsequent Teazers have re-interpreted the role as they saw fit, but that is how I experienced it. 

Down Quay St
Photo credit: Unknown

Given the sheer intensive labour involved each year, I knew that as I got older I would have to forego these roles for something a little more laid back.  It was therefore my ambition when the time came, to become part of the Golowan Band which I duly became when I applied as a drummer – incidentally, another interesting way to raise energy.

Fast forward a few decades and we have just celebrated the 30th anniversary of Mazey Day in Penzance.  However, this  was a very different occasion because we were struggling to maintain a valid community festival, all due to the ever-shifting Covid regulations that have bedevilled our land for the last couple of years.  At the time of writing I had taken on the role of Administrator for the Golowan Band and we had hoped to at least have a small St John’s Eve celebration, but this too fell foul of the increased vigilance of the Health & Safety dept. and the police, which meant that the event wasn’t granted the necessary insurance and licence and the Golowan Band was unable to perform.

However, one of the musicians of the Band mentioned that they were going to walk down Chapel Street playing a few tunes that evening purely as a member of the public in celebration of St John’s Eve.  A few others also joined him and an impromptu music session started, then unexpectedly they were joined from another nearby street by the present Penglaz who was accompanied by a trio of local musicians.  It appeared that they had similar ideas to celebrate the evening and joined forces so to speak, albeit unofficially.

Lee Palmer
Photo credit: Lee Palmer

So what were we, the Golowan Band going to do in order to keep alive the spirit of Mazey Day despite restrictions?  I had been studying the Covid regulations at that time and found that we could perform as a Band as long as we maintained social distancing and didn’t travel in a group of more than 30 people.  This gave me an idea of what might be achievable…

Many years ago, one of our long standing members of the Golowan Band came up with a very good idea that was taken on board by the Band and has remained as an annual custom since – Dawn Raids.  That member is called Mike Sagar-Fenton and he has written a very good description of what it was like in the Golowan Band in the early days so let him tell you about it all in his own words:

Golowan Band Memories

Along with lots of local people I watched with curiosity as Anna (with a banner) led the first procession of schoolchildren down Market Jew St, then ached in sympathy as the unkind clouds emptied themselves on them. What was wonderful was seeing the street full of people, with traffic banned for the day. It felt like a different town.

One day the following spring I bumped into my friend and ex singing partner Steve Hall and we talked about all things Golowan. Then he said “You used to be a drummer didn’t you? Why don’t you join the Golowan Band. We’re practising some tunes now.”

The band clearly took its influences from the only traditional sources still going, especially Padstow’s May Day. The plain white clothes surely came from there. We didn’t copy their musical instrumentation of all-reed instruments, squeeze-boxes of every kind, but after year two we did follow their drum sound, abandoning the snare drum and all others like it to create the deep throb of unsnared side drums, naval drums, which carry for miles.

Year two was a bit of a shambles. We quickly gained the reputation of the band with one tune, often mentioned by Mock Mayor David White, but I can remember at least three from the outset: St John’s (of course), Quay Fair and Zeke Waltz. The main reason for our reputation was the fact that it took, well, decades for us to devise a way of changing tune en route, so when we started that’s what we played until we got to where we could stop. I once timed – I swear – and hour and a quarter playing nothing but “Quay Fair”. The players’ fingers were numb. Membership in year two was pretty loose too and my son Tom made his one and only appearance as a shy don’t-look-at-me 12-year old on tambourine, and my daughter Beth – now regular member on fiddle – joined the band on the Sunday playing recorder.

After that the band was taken in hand. Steve was very firm in its management, introducing more tunes, settling on a specific sound, rehearsing us. The instruments were of a wider variety than today. I can remember Grevis on banjo, the occasional saxophone, and most memorably Roger White. Long before he became our leader and mascot he longed to join the band, the snag being that he only played the cello. Undaunted he created a wide belt and strapped the thing to his stomach, sawing away happily through the streets. The percussion was under the even firmer hand of Dave Trahair, easy-going in every other way but a strict disciplinarian where drums were concerned.

At first we were the only music to be heard on Mazey Day. We led the processions on every parade, clocking up a respectable mileage by the end of the weekend. However as the processions grew longer people complained that with only one band at the head, most of the children were processing in silence. More and more street bands joined us. One summer the Golowan band were having a drink in Alverton’s when another parade went past, and to our surprise and joy we heard the strains of “St John’s” going past, played by one of the school’s own bands. We’d become a tradition of our own. It felt really good.

Gradually the routes we took became more regular. Just as well – one Mazey Eve when the Mock Mayor elections were held in St John’s Hall the band processed to the Barbican, but for some reason chose to go down Alexandra Road and along the prom in the dark. That is a very long march at the end of a day and seemed to take hours. The reward when we reached the prom was the sight of the fair in the (far) distance, a fabulous full moon over the calm sea, and the bobbing lights of the “Scillonian” which had taken to doing trips to watch the fireworks.

A word or two about Mazey Eve. Drawn by the fair and the fireworks half the population of the area comes down to the Barbican, most of them young, and by the end of the evening many of them are roaring drunk. The wisdom of adding to this mix a marching band and a wild pagan ‘oss was never questioned and playing in it is an experience of its own. When I was Director of Golowan I watched proceedings from the top of the Barbican and was quite horrified. From above it looks like a mixture of a riot and a free fight, and all my H & S training was appalled. But it’s different when you’re in it. It’s a blast of adrenalin, a whiff of danger, with the solidarity of the band to support you and a sturdy instrument or a sharp elbow to clear the ways when you need to defend yourself. It is in the true unruly tradition of the ancient festival.

I’m to blame for the only other addition to our schedule. Years ago I was on holiday in Spain and woke up early one morning in a strange town to the sound of music outside. I was just in time to see the backs of two musicians and a drummer skipping down the middle of the empty road making a joyful sound. When I asked at the hotel what was happening I was told it was their Fiesta day and the musicians went around town early to remind everyone. This stuck in my mind and one year I finally plucked up courage to suggest it to the band. It wasn’t a small ask as it meant rising early after the wildness of Mazey Eve, but the band took it on and the Dawn Raids were born. It’s still one of my favourite bits, the sight of bedroom windows opening down the street, families coming to the door in their PJs, often holding babies and toddlers, smiles everywhere. The Mazey Day breakfast which follows it is a pretty good tradition too…

The Golowan Band, and indeed the Golowan Festival lit a fuse in many other Cornish towns, who started to recreate celebrations of their own traditions. To begin with they had no marching bands of their own so they invited us instead. It’s been one of the great privileges of membership that I’ve marched down the main streets of almost every town in Cornwall, not just fun but a unique perspective of towns seen from the middle of the road.

My own perspective of course is from the rear of the band, often trying to hear the musicians over the sounds of the crowd or – grrr – the sounds of a blasted samba band which organisers may have placed directly behind us. But it has its advantages. One Murdoch Day we were following Roger who was as usual mostly walking backwards. This meant he was the only one who couldn’t see the bollard behind him (though we all could) until it hit him in the arse. He took it well…

When I was director and not playing I once stood and watched the band march past. To a drummer it was a revelation, a gorgeous blend of music and colour as I heard for the first time what we actually sound like. We were good!

Being in the Golowan Band is exhausting but such a totally happy experience. As eleven o’clock strikes, as we play a quiet chorus of “St John’s”, then thump the drums for the first time as we step off, there are few sensations in life to compare. I look forward to return of the rehearsals which so perplex passers-by, the inevitable rehearsal of the counter-marching we’ve only ever done once in 30 years, the anticipation and excitement, the aching legs, and the matchless experience of playing through a densely packed crowd with smiles on every face. Thank you Steve and all who’ve ever been involved in the band, and long may it continue.

Mike Sagar-Fenton

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Photo credit: Greg Huckfield

I can particularly relate to playing of the St John’s tune at the start of Mazey Day that Mike mentioned.  As one lady of advanced years said within my hearing “Mazey, isn’t Mazey until you hear the Golowan Band strike up with St John’s!  That’s when I know it’s truly  begun..”.  I remembered this along with the idea of Dawn Raids.  I thought, usually the people come to Mazey, so why don’t we take Mazey to the people?   So that is exactly what we did.  🙂

We started with the usual Dawn Raids.

Photo credit: Greg Huckfield
Photo credit: Greg Huckfield
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Photo credit: Greg Huckfield

Then at 11 am on Mazey Day the Golowan Band congregated on the steps of St John’s Hall, Penzance ready to play our St John’s Medley.  

Photo credit: Greg Huckfield

So off we went on the Golowan Band Mazey Day Raid 2021!

Next we processed to Penlee Park where we performed a few static tunes before exiting on to Morrab Road.

Photo credit: Greg Huckfield
Photo credit: Greg Huckfield
Photo credit: Greg Huckfield
Photo credit: Greg Huckfield

We decided to visit a care home on the way down the road which was greatly appreciated by residents and staff alike.

Photo credit: Greg Huckfield

Off we processed and it was very uplifting to see folk waving, and in some cases, dancing to our Mazey tunes.

Photo credit: Greg Huckfield

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The Golowan Band, once it had reached the bottom of Morrab Road, decided to make an important detour.

Photo credit: Greg Huckfield

Our detour was to visit Les Rowe, an important and much missed musician from the Band.  Les had been gravely ill for many months and we had wondered whether he would survive or not.  Thankfully he was now home recuperating with his beloved wife, Ginny – so we thought we’d brighten up his day with a tune or two.  😀

Photo credit: Greg Huckfield

I made sure, because of the government regulations, that we performed in open spaces, which is why we visited Penlee Park, briefly commandeered Morrab Road and were about to storm the one and only promenade in Cornwall with our music.  We managed to get across the road in spite of busy traffic – in fact, although we momentarily held up a few cars in our wanderings, we had no signs of impatience or aggression from any drivers – many hooted their horns and waved, with big smiles on their faces.

Photo credit: Greg Huckfield

Photo credit: Greg Huckfield

Once we reached the Arcade end of the Prom we were meant to break for lunch.  However, this was overruled as it seemed that the majority preferred to continue to finish our parading back down the Prom and then call it a day.  It was beginning to turn into a bit of a marathon…

So off we set on the last leg down towards the Barbican.

Photo credit: Greg Huckfield

We were nearly at our destination when a small boy was introduced to the joys of holding the Bandmaster’s baton.  Got to start them young!  Which reminds me that we are looking for young recruits, and hopefully our weekly practices in St Antony’s Gardens every Tues at 7 pm might attract some budding youngsters to our motely Band.  🙂

Photo credit: Greg Huckfield

Our Golowan Band Mazey Day Raid ended in St Antony’s Gardens when Tom, our Bandmaster brought his baton down with a great flourish.  Unfortunately it caused the end of the baton to dislodge itself and it rolled away on the ground.  Needless to say I couldn’t resist calling out, “Oh dear Tom – your knob’s fallen off!” much to the amusement of everyone.  😀

So that was it.  We’d done it.  We’d brought Mazey to many folk and we didn’t have any real problems, thank goodness.  My thanks to Howard Blundy who took film footage of the Band and to Greg Huckfield as photographer.  Both worked tirelessly to produce a wonderful visual story of Mazey Day 2021 with the Golowan Band.  My personal thanks to all Band musicians who gave their all, the Golowan Band committee and Rosie Reast our Band Leader who worked very hard to make our flash mob version of Mazey Day such a success.

I leave you with the 30th Anniversary film made by Barbara Santi of the Golowan Festival:

Have a great summer and the Golowan Band look forward to be bringing some musical joy to you all next Mazey! 

Kernow Bys Vyken!  

Logo design: Chris White

All Hallows Gathering 2017 – Into the Dark

I guess it’ll always be a difficult decision to make for the audience at the Dark Gathering.  ‘Shall I be in the procession with the Welsh Mari Lwyds – or shall I wait by the Museum with the Cornish Penkevyll?’  Hopefully folks in time will take it in turns to be in the torchlight procession or wait amidst the tribal drumming at the Museum.  Either way I feel there is a certain magic awaiting for the performer and onlooker alike.  There was quite a breeze this year so the torches were blazing and crackling fiercely as the Procession slowly made it’s way through the streets of Boscastle until eventually it came to the bridge by the Museum.

The Blasted Heath

From the window of my cottage as you gaze west there are three undulating hills.  The middle hill is Bartinney Downs.  It houses an Iron Age enclosure around the top, various tumuli and contains prehistoric field systems – and because of this, is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.  Bartinney Downs is also a heathland Nature Reserve and supports a large array of rare birds, mammals and insects. 

According to local folklore Bartinney has been a sanctuary due to the belief that ‘no evil spirit can exist within it’s boundaries’.  It has a wild beauty that many local people appreciate when they walk the hills of West Penwith.

Bartinney Downs - Photo credit: Unknown

During the night of 5th April 2021, some depraved or benighted individual(s) set fire to the hillside close to this much loved site.  The fire spread rapidly due to brisk winds until 120 acres of historic heathland was alight.  Fire crews battled through the night and into most of the next day until they eventually extinguished the blaze.  Local farmers witnessed various animals and small creatures ‘fleeing in terror from the flames’.  Not all made it out alive.  It was the worst possible time for a wildfire as it is nesting season for birds and many other creatures who made the Downs their home. 

Yesterday I made my way up to Bartinney Downs to see for myself what had happened to the land.  I knew that I had to brace myself as it would be upsetting.  As I approached I was aware of all the signs of Spring around me in the fields and hedgerows, but when I actually crossed the threshold into the sanctuary it was another matter.  All around me was a terrible wasteland with twisted and blackened skeletons of gorse and bramble rising out of a sea of ash.  There were heart breaking signs of death – singed eggshells and silvered snail shells just to name a few.  No birds sang, no insects buzzing – just the plaintive mewing of buzzards and the raucous caws of corvids high above.

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At some points there was a cruel contrast between the blasted heath and the lush springtime which was just yards away. It felt like I was walking between two worlds as I paced the boundary whilst intoning a healing blessing to the Land.

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Bartinney Downs (16)

Mercifully for this occupant the fire had been extinguished before they lost their home to the flames. Sadly as I made my way towards the summit it was apparent that many other homes and habitats suffered a very different fate.

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Eventually I reached the top where I undertook a full blessing of the Land with appropriate offerings, together with my tears for the wilful sacrilege. I prayed for a speedy restoration of Bartinney’s essence and spirit together with the rejuvenation, which will take years to recover. I dwelt for a while on the irony of the Cornish meaning of Bartinney – bre-tanow or hill of fires…

Then it was time to leave in the hope that the next time I come this way, that some green shoots may be sprouting. After all Nature is resilient and relentless.

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Bartinney Downs (33)

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Local residents are shocked by this incident and are rightly incensed when they learnt that it was started deliberately. I personally don’t understand what motivates people to destroy wildlife and their habitation in such a violent manner, but I sincerely hope that they get exactly what they deserve for their actions, and may they know no rest in the meantime.

The Third Age

It’s been simply ages since I last wrote a blog, and I started writing this particular post many months ago and then abandoned it as it seemed a bit self-indulgent.  However, since that time we have been in Lockdown due to the worldwide spread of the corona virus, Covid 19 and life has got not only bewildering but also on occasion, depressing.  For a while it looked like the silver lining to this crisis would be the realisation that the environment could be saved and protected from the ills of consumerism as it slowly but surely recovered.  Sadly as the restrictions were eased it appears that there has been an almost frenzied return to capitalism, right-wing fascism and unbelievable levels of rubbishing our countryside and wildlife.  In Cornwall as the tourist industry returns slowly, there have been harrowing tales of rudeness and trashing of our environment by seemingly uncaring visitors.  So many people appear to have no qualms about invading others’ personal space especially those who are vulnerable to this virus, and there is nothing but deception, hypocrisy and bluster coming from our so called government.  No wonder it is difficult to view the future with any sense of hope.

This is the very time then to remember that not everyone is uncaring and hateful and that there are good folks out there who are part of community who are doing wondrous things for others.  There are actually more decent folk in the world than the nasty ones – it’s just that the horrible people seem to get more air time thereby seeming to be more prolific.  So, time for some positivity!  🙂

As I reached my late sixties I began to notice how many folk of my generation were beginning to die at age 69.  It was quite marked and I was feeling considerable uneasiness when I too reached that age last year.  It was decided that it would be a good idea to arrange a 70th Birthday Party for me to celebrate having survived that anomaly.

We gave plenty of notice to everyone and asked that instead of buying me a present that they just bring a plate of food and something to drink.  We were holding the party in our local village hall which is not a licensed premises but could hold a large amount of people.  Our guest list was wonderfully diverse and included folk that I work and play alongside, together with locals I know well from the village.  I asked that any musicians to bring instruments so we could have some live music sessions as well as the entertainment I was secretly arranging.

There was a rather wonderful build up to the event as my sister Rosemary came over from Canada to help me celebrate and stayed in the village.  So my 70th birthday dawned with Laetitia presenting me with a truly wonderful and well thought out gift that I will treasure always – and then it was time to pick up Rosemary from the train station.  Barely had she landed than she was whisked off to a restaurant for my birthday dinner treat.  This was an excellent meal at the Godolphin Arms in Marazion.

Finally we let Rosemary go to her bed to catch up from jet lag, and we too had an early night because the next day was not only my party but also St Piran’s Day in Redruth.

Our Obby Oss, Penkevyll has been a regular performer in the St Piran’s Parade through Redruth for many years now – and this year was no exception.  It was great to see my sister thoroughly enjoying herself watching this spectacle and I was in my element joining in the fun.  😀

Following a quick lunch it was all hands to the tiller to prepare the village hall for the party.  That took several hours I can tell you!

Finally everything was prepared and we returned home to get me ready.  I had the full works, hair, make-up (which I rarely wear) and a newly purchased stylish outfit.  When I returned to the hall I was somewhat miffed by being told in no uncertain manner that I must not go into the small hall where all the food and drink was.  Mind you, all became clear when I eventually was allowed through.  What greeted my eyes was the most stunning cake I have ever seen.  Wow!

Isn’t it amazing?

This was made by Sue Exton, a dear friend who together with her husband John helped make my birthday a very special event.

Tia, Sue and Me

Then I was semi-kidnapped by the members of Boekka who insisted that I open their present as I would need it at the party.  I duly unwrapped the parcel and found a beautiful tankard with my name on.  However, when I turned the tankard around I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw a wonderfully engraved image of my beloved Penkevyll!  Wow again!  😀

I’m so proud of my tankard and it goes out with me every time I go to a pub!

By this time folk had started to arrive and there was a lot of people to meet and greet.  I was so moved that so many came from near and far.  Also my musician friends arrived so we quickly started to warm up with a few local tunes and the party really began to swing.  There was masses of food and drink and we actually had to bring out another trestle table as there wasn’t enough room in the side hall for all the produce.

Then rather wonderfully my surprise guests to the delight of everyone walked in – Beltane Border Morris.  It was a little surreal for my village friends who had never experienced the like before.  One local said to me that she thought a coach party had arrived when about 20 – 25 dark faced and tattered performers marched through the front door, walked through the hall and out backstage without a word!  😀

I didn’t explain anything and simply waited until they had set up and then introduced them as my special guests who very kindly agreed to perform at my party.  Then the dancing began…

They were electrifying!

For their last piece, the Beltane Fire Dance, I was called forward and presented with their latest CD and then given the slightly scary honour of being placed in the middle of this now famous dance.

My goodness me – that really is a ‘place between the worlds’ that has to be experienced to be appreciated.  An unforgettable occasion!

Then it was time to blow out the candles on my wonderful cake.

I was then treated to an amusing birthday song from Beltane.

Cutting the cake proved to be a mite difficult – hence the ‘Psycho’ pose with the knife!

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed my 70th Birthday Party – it was ace!  It was great to play music with Steve, Julie, Mike, Fee and Courtney – and then went on to drum with Beltane when they arrived.  It gladdened my heart to see the village hall full of very diverse folk from all walks of life including our local Rector, all getting on famously with each other, many of whom had never met before – and the only common factor was myself and Tia.

After all the months of planning it all was over very quickly and it seemed like before I knew it, people were making their way home from what later on turned out to be the Party of the Year – as very swiftly following that we entered Lockdown.  Just in time – phew!

Despite what I had requested, I was inundated with presents and cards and I spent the next 24 hours opening them.  I was truly overwhelmed with the lovely gifts and messages.  Some of them were so thoughtfully and lovingly wrought that it brought tears to my eyes.  Some were magical items that I’m not going to photograph so as not to interfere with their energies; but take it from me, they were very skilfully crafted.  There were also umpteen bottles of wine and fizz that we slowly worked our way through over the following weeks – very much appreciated!  🙂

As a fine example of the dedication to detail of some gifts, I will use  the stunningly beautiful shawl that was hand made especially for me.  The making was quite a journey and I have the permission of the multi-talented Linsey Duncan-Pitt to publish the back story.

These inserts were included with the shawl and I only found these later on.

For those of you who are knitters and/or spinners, here is a link that describes in more detail how it was made.

All of this plus many more wonderful moments made my 70th Birthday celebrations the best yet.  Which brings me to the question – does reaching the age of 70 feel any different?  I can categorically state Yes!

Basically I recognise clearly that I am stepping over a threshold from adulthood into elderhood.  It’s a bit of a mixture of things really – it certainly focuses the mind when I consider that I might have only 10 – 15 years left to my life – or less.  Realising that anything could just remove you at any time.  I’m fully aware that this could happen at any age, but it takes up space more in the forefront of your mind when you reach your seventies.  However, it really does help develop a deep appreciation of all sorts of things – living in the moment; loving nature, friendship, community, music, grateful for reasonably good health and so on.

Another plus is realising that you don’t care so much about what people think of you.  Things that used to sometimes wound or upset me no longer do so.  I still care about people but I don’t tolerate bad behaviour anymore.  That is a great relief and brings with it a real sense of freedom.

Certainly I have slowed down physically speaking and there are a few things that I can no longer manage that I have learnt to give in gracefully to.  I now enjoy taking my time pottering around rather than trying to do 10 things all at once.  Taking time to smell the roses so to speak.  🙂

So to all those younger people who are secretly dreading growing older – it’s not that bad, in fact it’s got a lot going for it – it all depends on your point of view.

However, having said all that – it’s weird being the same age as old people!  😉

Dark Gathering 2019 – Part Two

At last I have finished the Dark Gathering blog for the year! 🙂

The Dark Gathering

So to the second half of the Dark Gathering – the arrival of the Mari Lwyds and the Honouring of the Ancestors.  Following a quick and much needed mulled cider it was time to line-up the drummers ready to send the signal to the Procession to commence.  This is a part of the proceedings where the general public, if they have the ability, can join in with the tribal drumming.

Also this was the time for Penkevyll to emerge from her stable with her Teazers to call the Mari Lwyds to the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic.  As anticipated the Teazers led by Laetitia Latham-Jones danced and wove their magic upon the crowd and Penkevyll to the sound of trance-like tribal drumming.

Shortly after 6 pm the Lantern Procession headed off for the Museum led ably by Laura Marshall from Beltane accompanied by many differing characters including the famous Mari…

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Dark Gathering 2019 – Part One

The Dark Gathering

There is an ancient Chinese curse which goes: “May you live in interesting times.”  There have been times this past year when I have wondered whether I had unknowingly offended someone of oriental persuasion when it came to the Dark Gathering!  There has also been the odd occasion when I wondered whether it was actually going to happen or not, especially when it came to wrangling with the dead hand of bureaucracy.  Indeed as the date of this year’s Dark Gathering approached there was a last minute flurry of obstacles, cancellations and complications – not to mention wet weather that seemed to take on biblical proportions!

Undaunted we soldiered on…

On the day, we had to put out a disclaimer on the website and social media that there was a police warning of a yellow flood alert on some of the roads approaching Boscastle and for folks to be aware…

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