Two Greek Hauntings

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When I fell ill last March, the experience robbed me of my inclination and ability to write, but mercifully, this seems to have been a temporary state of affairs. There are many things I wish to write about, particularly concerning Stonehenge, but I have long planned to put together my experiences of the supernatural over the decades in a book entitled “Otherworld”. I was reminded of this a week or so ago when I came across the following account of two Greek hauntings that I wrote a few years ago, but there are scores like this and I really must commit them to writing before the details are lost in the mists of time:

Over twenty-one years ago, when my wife Gill was expecting our first child, we went on holiday to a small village in southern Greece. As had been the case with our previous visits to this wonderful country, the place was idyllic, so we divided our time during the day between visiting the archaeological ruins strewn across the countryside and lazing on the beach, with the waves of the Aegean gently lapping on our feet as we made our way along the winding, golden sands. After returning to our apartment for a meal, a rest and a change of clothes, we would then wander into the nearby village and we soon chose to spend our evenings at an open air coffee bar, situated just before the entrance to the main square, where we could relax and watch the world go by.

We soon came to know and to be on friendly terms with George, the young man running the bar, and the time inevitably came when I mentioned my life-long interest in ghosts. I knew that most Greeks take this kind of thing very seriously, so I didn’t make light of the matter, but I was nonetheless surprised when George confided in me that his village was infested by two truly terrifying hauntings.

He described the first as being a demonic voice, or a “dragon’s breath” that dwelt in a church and which terrified passers-by at night. I immediately supposed that this was some derelict building on a lonely hill, far beyond the confines of the village, so I was taken aback to learn that the church in question was in regular use by worshippers and was just 300 yards or so away from where we were sat, on a street just behind the lively main square. I was even more surprised when George told me that there was every chance I would hear the voice for myself, that very night, if I felt like spending a minute or two taking the trouble to walk there.

I could scarcely believe that I had encountered an active haunting that could be relied upon to make itself known to a casual enquirer virtually on request, while the fact that this church stood within 40 or 50 feet of a square packed with lively bars and tavernas made the whole scenario seem even more unlikely. All the same, I found it impossible to resist the idea of looking into this fearsome haunting, so Gill and I strolled through the main square down to the beach, then along the main road until we came to the bottom of the street where the church was located.

We were just about to walk up the gentle incline, when we noticed a young man in front of us taking the same route. As he passed by the church gates on his left, he leapt in fright, then hurried away through the gloom until he reached the top of the street, with its welcoming lights. Neither Gill nor myself had heard anything, so we slowly wandered up the hill until we came to the church gates. We had barely had time to take in the courtyard with flagstones and the small church just twenty feet or so away, when we heard a sound like a huge metal cylinder being unscrewed, containing pressurised air. This ‘voice’ seemed to come from one of the open windows in the church tower and it was extremely unnerving, so as Gill was expecting our baby, I immediately took her back to the bar and left her with George and his friends while I returned alone, to investigate further.

I felt mildly apprehensive as I strode through the dark shadows once more, but I felt no sense of foreboding, neither did I feel that my progress was being tracked in any way by any sentient being. I shivered as I stood waiting at the iron gates, but I couldn’t honestly tell if this was due to the cold night air, to fear of the unknown or to a combination of both. As I surveyed the church and courtyard once again, I had the distinct impression that I was being watched from one of the empty windows in the tower and this sensation was immediately reinforced by a loud, reptilian hiss that seemed to come  from the empty window I was looking at. It made me shudder, but I stood my ground and cast around for any possible further clues among the trees, gravestones and courtyard in front of me.

A few seconds later, I flinched as the ‘voice’ or hiss seemed to creep closer to me, appearing this time to emanate from some invisible mouth a few feet about the courtyard and a few yards closer to where I was standing. I had been in many supposedly haunted locations over the years, some of them possessing a highly malevolent atmosphere, but I had usually managed to remain in place and keep my fear in check. This was different to most of the others, though, because whatever the ‘voice’ was, it was moving closer to me, and the scenario was made even stranger by the fact that I wasn’t sitting in some deserted castle or by some lonely pool in a forest, because just a short distance away were lights, music, other human beings and all the trappings of normality.

Just a few yards in front of the iron gates, to the right, was a small wooden shed, with briars or roses creeping up its sides. It was the other side of the courtyard from the tower where the voice first made itself known, so I was disconcerted when another loud hiss came from somewhere on the roof of the shed. I was completely baffled by this, as I had never come across such an animated ‘haunting’ before, nor one that performed to order, nor one in the middle of such a populated area, either. The hissing noise had been so loud that I began to think that it must have been a large snake, which would of course have meant that it was nothing to do with the original voice from the tower.

So, I decided to open the gates to have a look for myself, but I found that I simply could not force myself to enter the courtyard that was the domain of this monstrous voice. I had encountered similar situations before (and a few since) where I simply had to accept the unpalatable fact that I was too frightened to remain or go forward, so I snapped the gates together once more and set off back to the nearby bar, hardly daring to look behind me as the sibilant voice echoed through the cool night air once again. As I strode away, it occurred to me that the noise was not unlike the sound made by seawater as it drained back through shingle after a wave had hit the beach, but the nearby sea met golden sand, not shingle, and in any case, the appearance of this voice was irregular, unlike the waves that I could see and hear just a short distance behind me.

A few nights later, Gill and I were having a meal at a tavern owned by a Dutch family – two sisters and a brother – who had decided to make this beautiful village their home. They were all fully aware of the haunting in the church and they told me that it had blighted the village for many years, although no one could remember when it started, still less offer an explanation for it. This unnatural voice and its source was beginning to take up most of my waking thoughts, so I asked my new friends if it would be possible for me to spend the night in the church or church tower alone, to see if I could cast any light on this unnerving matter. They promised to ask about it, but when I next spoke with them, a few days later, they told me that the priest had declined to give permission and seemed to be angry that such an ungodly matter was receiving so much attention. Nonetheless, this was apparently the first time that any outsider had tried to solve the mystery of the demonic voice, so it seemed I had the tacit backing of many of the villagers who had learned about my interest in the place, while they trusted me not to cause any harm or exploit the matter in any way.

And so it was that I found myself stood in the churchyard, next to the tower, waiting and worrying as I had done so many times before. I was worrying that the police would turn up, worrying that an irate priest would come along, worried that some passing locals might take offence, and I was worried about what lay in wait in the tower that I planned to enter and inspect. I was accompanied by a burly, Greek-speaking Dutchman and one of his sisters who held an Alsatian on a leash, but I noted that the dog didn’t seem remotely out of sorts. This was no cast iron guarantee that there was no supernatural presence in the church, but it just added to my sense of bafflement.

A few nervous Greeks had accompanied us and they had almost fled when the ghastly voice made itself heard as we hurried across the courtyard to the graves by the tower. I didn’t blame them, of course, and as I began to climb the tower, using the church wall and a rusting drainpipe to help my ascent, I felt the Fear of God at the thought of what awaited me when I peered into the empty window. The rushing, hissing call came again and for some reason, a nightmare vision of demonic claws flashed into my mind, but at the same moment, I knew exactly what had taken up residence in the tower. My thoughts were confirmed by the people beneath me staring up at me and shouting “Ah, boofa!” as they saw an owl with a small rodent in its beak, silently winging its way to an aperture in the church tower.

By a small miracle, everyone had been gazing up at the same time, following my nervous ascent, so they had managed to glimpse this bird as it glided across the small space between the encircling trees and the tower. I hastily clambered back down so as not to disturb these creatures, but none of us present could help laughing at the idea that we had been so terrified by the sound of hungry babies. I was never able to work out the exact details, but my guess was that the baby owls in the tower were periodically fighting among themselves or else calling out to their parents for food. This was certainly the cause of the demonic voice that had frightened everyone so badly for years, while I’m also guessing that this ‘voice’ had been somehow amplified by the bare confines of the empty tower. As for the way the ‘voice’ had seemed to cross the churchyard, I presume it was a mixture of my imagination and the way that the rapidly cooling air at nightfall had carried the sound across the flagstones.

Even at the time, the explanation for this ‘haunting’ seemed so obvious that everyone concerned was surprised it had not been discovered before, but I know of at least one other alleged haunting in south Devon that occurred on a regular basis and which initially terrified some BBC sound engineers who went along to investigate it, until they belatedly discovered the true cause. Be that as it may, everyone had cause to celebrate at George’s bar later that night and it was very pleasant being the hero of the hour, but I was never able to do anything about the other haunting that plagued the village.

The only solid details I was able to glean at the time concerned a former mayor of the village, who had lived roughly a century ago. It seems that the village had once stood in a slightly different location until it had been destroyed by an earthquake, and for some reason that no one was entirely clear about, the mayor had been held to blame, presumably because he had been responsible for some of the construction that had failed so disastrously. As a result, he had been buried in the northern section of the churchyard, a place reserved for suicides and others who had committed crimes against God and their fellow man, but this particular mayor refused to lie down.

From what I heard, he was frequently seen in the village, perhaps two or three times a month, and he appeared to everyone as a physical form, not as an ethereal ghost. Everyone unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity of this baleful spectre knew when he would be appearing, because he was always preceded by a sound described to me as a pocketful or purse of small coins chinking together in a regular, slow and highly ominous tempo. This spectre wasn’t regarded as a harbinger of any kind, because no particular ill-fortune was known to have befallen those who saw him, but his appearance as some kind of malevolent corpse was so sinister and so frightening that everyone was in dread of encountering him.

Perhaps the oddest aspect of this particular haunting was that the dead mayor did not prowl the village or the graveyard, but only ever appeared on first-floor balconies and nowhere else. No one could offer any explanation for this, but it fascinated me for a number of reasons. Although I’d heard of ghosts exclusively inhabiting specific locations, the only other example I could think of where a spectre confined itself to a first floor was the 19th century haunting in Berkeley Square, but as it could be said that many other ghosts confined their appearances to a single room, regardless of which floor this room happened to be on, this wasn’t much help.

To my regret, I never encountered this sinister spectral mayor myself, but on the night before I left the country, I was introduced to a man who owned a restaurant in the village and I was told he might be someone who could tell me more about this haunting. I was received politely enough and I learned that he possessed a degree in mathematics, but he flatly denied any and all knowledge of such a haunting. I’m not an expert on psychology or body language, but I could immediately tell that this man was under severe stress and making an enormous effort to be polite, so I quickly changed the subject. Later that night, I learned that his wife had encountered the phantom just the night before, on a balcony just above where I’d been sitting, and she had found it to be a shattering experience.

As far as these matters are concerned, I think of myself as a ghost finder, not a ghost hunter, so I’ll certainly look into this haunting again if I go back to the beautiful village by the Aegean Sea. Nightmarish though this phantom is said to be, the existence of a ‘ghost’ that makes regular appearances in a populated area and which confines itself to prowling highly specific places is a dream come true for those of us interested in such matters, so it may be that I’ll be able to provide a longer account of this monstrous apparition in the fullness of time. In the meantime, I’m fortunate enough to know of many others, much closer to hand, so I intend to resume writing about these and others for a planned volume I’ve mentioned before, “Otherworld”.

Cerca-Trova

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ICOMOS-UK

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Earlier today, I was delighted to receive a handsome membership card confirming that I am now a member of the UK branch of ICOMOS, so I look forward to gradually finding my place within this organisation and working to help it fulfill its noble aims. It seems to me that there is a great need for the services that ICOMOS is capable of providing, both at home here in the UK and also abroad, which means that I shall be doing my level best to find some way of using my limited powers for the benefit of Mankind.

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Bleak House: the New Language of Stonehenge

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It may perhaps not be to everyone’s taste, but I’ve always enjoyed poring over the essay by William Hazlitt entitled “On Going a Journey” if for no other reason than that the author can barely contain his enthusiasm for writing about his travels. He maintains that he likes to journey alone and a great part of his work is devoted to explaining why he enjoys taking solitary excursions, adding “I laugh, I run, I leap, I sing for joy” to emphasise the sheer pleasure that travelling alone gives him.

As you will discover for yourself if you choose to read it, Hazlitt’s essay is brim-full with beautifully-worded observations. He mentions his friendship with the poet Coleridge and he supplies a quote from Fletcher’s sublime poem The Faithful Shepherdess, after which he offers these words of his own: “Had I words and images at command like these, I would attempt to wake the thoughts that lie slumbering on golden ridges in the evening clouds; but at the sight of nature my fancy, poor as it is, droops and closes up its leaves, like flowers at sunset. I can make nothing out on the spot:–I must have time to collect myself.”

One reason I mention this is because I’ve recently been spending time browsing through many of the seven hundred or so essays I wrote about Stonehenge a little while ago. These were for the most part composed within the space of seven years or so and many of them comprised of several thousand words; in turn, many of those posts had many lengthy comments attached to them, but there were also great swathes of material that I composed in draft form that for one reason or another, I never got around to publishing.

I mention all this, in its turn, for several reasons. I see Stonehenge and its landscape as a limitless source of wonderment and subsequent quiet pleasure, while it is in my nature to wish to communicate this pleasure to others by means of my writing. I’ve learned over the years that there is a vast, worldwide audience for this kind of thing, but when I’ve glanced at the online articles dealing with the proposed Stonehenge tunnel, there have been times when I’ve seriously wondered if I’m inhabiting some separate reality or if indeed we’re all talking about the same thing.

While I take full advantage of every possibility that the English language allows me when I’m writing and enthusing about Stonehenge, I suppose my lexicon could be described as poetic or even romantic. I try to see the ruins and the surrounding landscape through the eyes of the Old People, whose world was – I’m certain – ruled over by the Sun, the Moon and the stars, and populated by all manner of supernatural entities. I’m equally certain that it possessed many other qualities that we might regard as strange or otherworldly, but I would be absolutely amazed if anyone connected with Stonehenge in any way from its inception until a few years ago had ever conceived of the place in the way that some of us choose to decsribe it today.

In place of my mentions of William Blake, Druids, sacrifice, shadows, moonlit ceremonies, axe-carvings, aurochs and the like, I find myself reading of strategic objectives, trustees, mission statements, objectives, participation, sustainability, safeguarding and other equally horrific manifestations of our growing obsession with corporate terminology. Where I have written plainly and freely over the years – following Hazlitt’s example – of tourists, sightseers, visitors and even pilgrims to Stonehenge and its landscape, it seems that in all matters of real importance, these people are now paying customers or, God help us, stakeholders. For those wishing to effect meaningful change at Stonehenge, be aware that these grim, impersonal terms are now the lingua franca in which any discussions or negotiations will be conducted, while the halcyon days of English as spoken by poets and even by archaeologists are fast becoming a distant memory.

“Nowadays” is a civilization in which the prime emblems of poetry are dishonoured. In which serpent, lion, and eagle belong to the circus-tent; ox, salmon and boar to the cannery, racehorse and greyhound to the betting ring; and the sacred grove to the saw-mill. In which the Moon is despised as a burned-out satellite of the Earth and woman reckoned as “auxiliary State personnel.” In which money will buy almost anything but truth, and almost anyone but the truth-possessed poet.

Robert Graves, The White Goddess.

 

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A Solution to the “LV Question Mark” on Stone 156?

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A few days ago, I was drawn to look at Simon Banton’s excellent Stonehenge Monument site and I saw this intriguing article dealing with what was described as the “LV Question Mark” on Stone 156. The detailed, lengthy post consists almost entirely of a reproduced short paper, composed by John Thurnam and read out at the Wiltshire Archaeology and Natural History Society’s annual meeting on November 24th 1864, while Simon has added a letter that appeared in The Daily Graphic of Saturday Oct 12th 1901, which was written by T.H. Thomas of Cardiff and which included and referred to another letter written by George E. Robinson, a man who had in 1880 made a rubbing of the curious engraving.

As you’ll see if you follow the link and read the feature, Thurnam’s paper and Robinson’s letter contain much information and speculation about the nature and meaning of this engraving, but as no one in the twenty-first century seems to have offered any further opinion, I thought I’d write down what I thought when I first saw the strange engraving.

To begin with, George Robinson gave it as his opinion that the engraving was coeval or contemporary with Stonehenge itself, but this view seems to be firmly contradicted by a witness by the name of Mr John Zillwood, who seems to have been sure that the marking first appeared in 1819. However, a hedger and ditcher by the name of John Spreadbury recounted a detailed and convincing account that suggests that this engraving appeared no earlier than 1827 or 1828.

Now, anyone who has taken the time and the trouble to so much as glance at the voluminous available evidence will be well aware that there’s an overwhelming case for the ancient Druids having a long association with Stonehenge, but if not, this is something I intend to write up and publish as a priority. In the meantime, I will simply point out once more that William Stukeley popularised the idea of Stonehenge as a Druid temple with the publication in 1740 of his book Stonehenge, A Temple Restor’d to the British Druids.

Another prominent figure of that period, born seven years after the publication of Stukeley’s book, was the much-maligned Edward Williams, better known to us perhaps by his bardic name of Iolo Morganwg. This gentleman built on Stukeley’s work and claimed that ancient Druidic tradition had survived catastrophes such as the Roman invasion of 43 AD, the conversion of the British Isles to Christianity and so forth, while he founded the ongoing Gorsedd of Welsh bards in 1792 and published great reams of poetry in a successful attempt to further revive and popularise the Druidic tradition.

I mention all this because Iolo Morganwg departed this veil of tears on December 18th 1826, which to my mind coincides very well with the aforementioned John Spreadbury’s account suggesting that the strange “LV Question Mark” engraving appeared around the same time. When I look at the letters LV in this engraving, I see the Roman numerals for the number 55, which immediately puts me in mind of Julius Caesar’s ultimately doomed invasion attempt of Britain in 55 BC, something that would have been known to educated minds in early nineteenth century Britain, when this engraving was apparently made.

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Of course, there will always be those who try to argue that Caesar’s expedition in that year wasn’t a failure, but the historical fact is that the great general left these shores without having anywhere near conquered the island and furthermore, the Roman historian Tacitus later put a speech into the mouth of the British hero Caratacus, in which he spoke of the ancestors of his troops having driven Caesar out of the island.

By coincidence, Julius Caesar was the author from antiquity to leave us with the greatest abundance of writing on the Druids and in the course of these observations, he related the ancient belief that Druidry had started life in Britain and that those wishing to study it travelled to the British Isles. For me, what’s important is the belief that ancient Britain was the home to Druidry and that more so than the sabre, the artefact or weapon most readily associated with the Druids was the sickle, the instrument I see here, rather than a ‘question mark’ in the engraving or rubbing in question.

The moment I gazed upon these enigmatic symbols, I saw a beautifully-formed Druid sickle surrounding and cutting down Julius Caesar’s abortive invasion of 55BC, represented here by the letters or Roman numerals LV. There’s a strange coincidence that one of the huge uprights on which this stone once stood should be designated Stone 55 at a later date by W.M. Flinders Petrie, but otherwise, this engraving physically exists at a place described by Stukeley in 1740 as a temple of the British, sickle-wielding Druids.

All the evidence suggests – to me, at least – that the engraving came into being shortly after the death of a man who promoted the idea that the British Druid tradition had survived the ravages of the Romans, so it was perhaps done as a tribute to him by one or perhaps two men who were inspired by his visionary ideas and who wished to commemorate his passing at the most relevant and prominent monument in Britain. It strikes me as yet another bizarre coincidence that another visionary, William Blake, should have died in 1827, or around the time this engraving seems to have been made; Blake was fascinated with Albion and with Stonehenge, so perhaps his passing, as well as that of Iolo Morganwg, played a part in these strange symbols coming into being at Stonehenge?

Somewhere on the internet is a photograph of massed ranks of Druids at Stonehenge in the early twentieth century and from memory, these men are forming two lines that lead to the ruins; they’re all prominently holding sickles, so this further reinforces my belief that part of the engraving on Stone 156 represents the military triumph of the ancient priesthood of these “sullen islands”. If, however, you have a different theory or explanation, then by all means write in and let me know.

My thanks to Simon Banton and to the late Robert Graves, who fired my imagination decades ago with his ingenious solution to a notorious ancient mystery.

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Update

Yet again, I am enormously grateful to my friend Juris Ozols of Minnesota, not only for the insightful comment below, but also for finding the photo I mentioned in the text of my post of the Druids with sickles gathering at Stonehenge, which I’ve reproduced below:

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Dr Joseph Bell exhorted us to pay the closest attention to “…the vast importance of little distinctions, the endless significance of trifles…” so with this in mind, I would point out that at least one Druid sickle above the skyline on the left of the photo, and certainly a few more, possess blades whose curves almost consist of three quarters of a circle.

If the instrument on George Robinson’s rubbing made in 1880 was indeed intended to be a Druid sickle, as I’m certain is the case, then it too possesses a curved blade that consists of far more than a half circle. I have no way of knowing if perceptions of the shape of these strange implements were the same at the start of the nineteenth century as they seem to have been around a hundred years later, but on balance, I would say that the Druid sickles in the photo above lend weight to – rather than detract from – the idea that the curved symbol carved on Stone 156 was intended to represent a Druid sickle, as mentioned in the classical account given to us by Pliny the Elder in the first century AD.

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In Honour of William Peter Blatty

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In the 1970s, when I was a teenager, I became fascinated by both the film and the novel of The Exorcist, while I remain so to this day. I could write at enormous length about why this should be, in a way that naturally reflects the learning, the observational skills and the story-telling abilities of William Peter Blatty, the author of The Exorcist, but I’ll present an appreciation of some of this great man’s works another time, perhaps.

Meanwhile, I wrote to William Peter Blatty in 1990, as I was effectively at the start of my writing career and in my opinion, he was a towering genius, having produced not only The Exorcist, but also a sequel and yet another mesmerising film, The Ninth Configuration, which was based on his novel Twinkle, Twinkle, “Killer” Kane. At the time, my mind was a whirling kaleidoscope of barely-formed ideas for films, documentaries and books with a supernatural theme; I had in addition some learning and some proven writing ability, but I didn’t have the faintest idea of how to proceed, so I penned what I presume was a long, rambling letter to Mr Blatty c/o one of his publishers.

I have no copy of what I wrote and I can’t remember much about it, other than it was undoubtedly the product of one who was wandering in darkness and had yet to see any light at all, let alone a great one. I had met and spoken with another of my literary heroes, the late Anthony Burgess, the year before, so I knew that these people were approachable human beings, made of flesh and blood, but William Peter Blatty seemed to me to be impossibly remote, probably on account of the fact that he lived somewhere in America, I knew not where, and because he occupied the very highest strata of that country’s film-making industry.

And so it was that I was absolutely amazed to receive a reply from him, a few months later, when I’d completely forgotten that I’d written to him. I can remember exactly when this letter landed on the doormat of my home in north London, because it was the morning after two of my music journalist friends, Morat and Neil Jeffries, had taken me to a Deep Purple concert in Hammersmith, and then on to the band’s end of tour party, somewhere in Covent Garden.

Despite the excesses I’d indulged in during my time touring Europe, Scandinavia and Russia, as I was still working on the oft-mentioned mediaeval jousting tournament at the time, I had never been to a party quite like this one. I gather that by the standards of  the time, it was a relatively quiet affair, as Deep Purple had been going for over 20 years by then, but I was still stunned by the sight of a banquet that a Roman emperor would have been proud of, while I found it hard to comprehend that there was an inexhaustible supply of alcohol and it was all free.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I felt very considerably the worse for wear the next day, but I was additionally baffled by the fact that I had an envelope addressed to me bearing a postmark of Yellowstone National Park in America. I had absolutely no idea who on Earth would be writing to me from this place, so I was thunderstruck when I opened the envelope and saw a wonderful, handwritten letter, on personalised notepaper and signed by none other than the world-renowned author of The Exorcist, Mr William Peter Blatty.

I have this letter still and every now and again, I remove it from a drawer in my desk to admire it. It is handwritten and it contains the best advice I’ve ever been given on how to write and what to physically do with my writing efforts, while it also contains some wonderful compliments on my handwriting and various other words designed to instruct and to lift the soul, unmistakable testaments to this great man’s wisdom and sheer generosity of spirit. At the age of 89, his death is perhaps not a tragedy, but it is terribly sad all the same and his loss hurts.

God bless you, Mr Blatty.

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Blueboy, Comes Quondam, Comesque Aeternus

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Over the last few months, numerous people have urged me to get another dog and I readily accept that these things have been said to me with the best of intentions. I greatly appreciate these kind thoughts, because despite the fact that I fell ill as long ago as the evening of March 10th 2016 and later underwent surgery on March 31st in London’s Royal Brompton hospital, I am still not entirely recovered from the whole ordeal, which makes me more appreciative than ever of all those people who wish me well.

Nonetheless, my answer to the idea of having a dog for a companion once again must be  a firm “no”, so I shall explain why because I’m very grateful to everyone who is sure my life would be of a higher quality with another dog by my side, while I wouldn’t want anyone to think I was being irrational, unreasonable or overly sentimental because of my refusal.

To begin with, there are some sound, practical reasons for not having a dog now. Without going into the minutiae of my medical condition, my legs – and occasionally, my shoulders and arms – ache badly after just a short walk, a condition that I presume is due to the medication I’m taking. It’s frustrating for me, not least because I used to walk for miles every day prior to being hospitalised, while there was a time when Blueboy and I would roam the wilds of Salisbury Plain for hours on end each day when we all lived in Wiltshire.

Yes, I am regularly seeing my doctor and specialist nurses, but despite all our best efforts, walking is an ordeal for me still, however much I enjoy being outdoors. If I were ever to have another dog, I’d want another decent-sized creature, as Blueboy was in life, and animals like this need long, regular walks, a form of exercise and relaxation I just cannot embark upon right now because it’s physically impossible.

A few people have suggested that I get an older dog who needs less exercise, but I wouldn’t want to be constantly mindful of the mortality and limited days of such an animal. I’m a country boy and I was raised as one, so I’ve long been aware that death is part of life, but it was very tough not only for me, but also for my family when Blueboy’s time came, so this is not something I want to put myself through again.

I could ponder these matters out loud for a long time to come, but perhaps the main reason for my choice is that Blueboy was an one-off event for me. I had grown up surrounded by animals of different kinds, including numerous dogs, but I had never owned one or had one as a personal companion until the day when we collected Blueboy from a farm near to our home on Salisbury Plain. I was persuaded to get a dog because my two children were young at the time and because we lived in the middle of a vast, open, wild expanse of countryside, so there quickly came a point where I couldn’t argue against the idea of having a dog in our lives and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

I don’t intend to let him disappear into history, so I intend to recall his life and times, or as much of them as I can remember, in the form of a book entitled Blueboy – A Doggy Tale. Before I embark on that particular exercise, though, I’ve promised myself that I will write an elegy for him, because it is within my power to do so and because I feel a deep-rooted need to mark his passing in such a way.

He was my wonderful boy. He was my companion and he was my friend, so I’m grateful beyond words that he came into my life and enriched it to the huge degree that he did, making my family deliriously happy for years on end in the process. I know full well that there are millions of people in Britain alone who love their dogs and other pets with a passion, so I don’t in any way torment myself that I’m alone in my loss.

I’m sorry that Blueboy’s gone and there are times when I miss him so badly that I find my eyes moistening, but these times are few and far between. For the most part, I still feel that he’s around me, here in my home, and this is a good feeling, while my memories of him combine with the awareness of his continued presence to give me a warm rosy glow, although there are still occasions when I heave a weary sigh on account of his absence.

On balance, however, I feel I’m ahead, so while I’ll readily acknowledge that it’s possible that I’ll one day get another dog, it’s certainly not going to happen anytime soon. The time will come when I write at length about these matters, but for now, I’m still in the process of recovering from the traumas brought to me by the Ides of March last year. The combined memories and presence of Blueboy continue to help me through this process, so I’m content with the way things are and I don’t intend to change them.

Stargarden

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Happy New Year – The Genius of Vladimir Putin

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For the past few years, Russia has been several steps ahead of the West, particularly as far as diplomacy and public relations are concerned. These are areas of human endeavour that interest me greatly, one reason being that most people or institutions do not seem to have the faintest idea of how to behave so as to gain the maximum benefit from their actions, while a very few follow what I believe is the most obvious and natural course in conducting their affairs, rightly acquiring all the credit and soft power that results from such deeds.

President Obama recently expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the USA, so a waiting world naturally expected Russia to respond in exactly the same way, following a dreary precedent set decades ago in these matters. Such a response would have been a predictable end for what most of us in the West regard as an awful twelve months and had this happened, we would surely have entered the New Year shrouded in deep gloom on account of the fact that the world’s two superpowers were openly at each other’s throats.

Instead, President Putin’s response was simple and astonishing. He said that Russia would not stoop to the level of irresponsible diplomacy, but would work to restore ties with the US under President Elect Trump. Furthermore, he refused to expel any diplomats from Russia, instead extending an invitation to the children of all American diplomats in Russia to attend a New Year’s Eve party in the Kremlin, then he ended his statement by wishing Barack Obama and his family a happy New Year, as well as Mr Trump and “the whole American people”.

I am aware of the details of the machinations of power at the highest levels, so I am under no illusions about the nature of these things. However, after a year as awful and as exhausting as the cursed 2016 has been, I am truly delighted at that least one world leader has chosen to conduct himself in such a way as to bring a notable level of relief and good cheer to those of us not fortunate enough to be in a position to shape world events and the planet’s mood.

So, on this uplifting note, I wish everyone a peaceful, prosperous and happy New Year.

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