A Story for Our Time: Penguins

I wonder every day what I will learn from this period of enforced isolation?

We didn’t mean to go to sea. Today I have such a craving for the land, I long to walk in the woods. There are two main types of woodland that really enchant me; I like those open bright towering beech woodlands with floors covered in crunchy leaves. There is something sensual about beech trees, something about their trunks and the way they twist around creating beautiful curves and smooth rounded arches. Beech is a magical tree to me, and I am always amazed when I find a tree in its mast year, when the ground is so covered in a million tiny beech nuts. We gather the nuts and sit and pick their delicate shells open and eat and eat and eat. They are such sweet juicy nuts. The thought of them makes me long for the autumn. For other reasons autumn makes me panic, it signals the coming of winter. I have a strange relationship with winter, aesthetically I love winter when it is crisp and cold, when the sky is blue and the beech trees are hung with a thousand perfect crystals of ice, when my breath freezes in the air in front of me and I can pretend to be a dragon. When winter is grey and non-committal, when the sun refuses to shine for days and the clouds hang low over the land and the wind refuses to blow, my inner world reflects the weather as if it was ruling my psyche.

But it is not winter! It is summer and I am trapped on a tiny boat far, far away and now I am going to tell you about my other favourite woodland.

I love the deep dark green woods, where water is everywhere, the woods that are not quite a swamp but have a bright river flowing through them and all of the trees are hung with thick trails of dark green velvety moss. This kind of wood has a quality of mystery that I cannot describe. I can feel its secrets and its ancient past waiting behind every trunk of every tree. I like to lie on the floor of really wet mossy woods and to listen to the water dripping around me. Of course I would end up all soggy, but it is worth it. I like to listen to the river singing her song, the babbling brook they call it. The river sings me her songs and it inspires me to sing mine.

I wrote a song in a woodland, it was broadly inspired by a book I read called ‘Here lies Arthur’ by James Reeves. It is a children’s book about King Arthur from the perspective of a young girl. Merlin discovers the girl when she hides from soldiers by holding her breath in a river, and he realises she could be useful to him. Merlin gets the girl to hold up the sword Excalibur, which is called Caliburn in the story (hence the name of my song: ‘Caliburn’) for King Arthur to find, she has to wait under water while holding up the sword for him to come and take it from her. Arthur is enthralled, and the legend is created through the stories Merlin tells of Arthur as the travels the landI wrote the song in a woodland in Somerset, it is the mossy wet kind of wood, it is quite dark too at times, in spring time there is a profusion of wild daffodils, I had never seen these before. There is also a million ramsons (also called wild garlic). I wrote the song beside the river, whilst looking at a particular part of the river, and so when I sing it I can see it and feel it in my mind’s eye, and in my body. I imagine the girl bursting from the river (even though in the King Arthur tales she is the lady of the lake, but never mind, it’s still a body of water!) the air rushing back into her lungs and her lying on the banks, and the Queen of the Faeries coming to look after her.


When I can see the images of the songs that I sing in my mind’s eye it makes it much easier for me to be carried away by the stories.

I think this particular mossy woodlands’ character and magical nature is enhanced by the fact that there are old buildings and stonewalls in it. It is in an old mining area which has been abandoned, and all the buildings have been reclaimed by nature. I love nature’s reclamation of places where humans have been. I love the way she pushes apart the brickwork and slowly knocks things down. There is something perfect about a tree growing right in the centre of an old building. It seems to tell me that nature is here forever, that people and their stories are impermanent.

The impermanence of life does slightly scare me, because I would like people to remember me, I want to leave an echo, I want to leave a song. I don’t want to be forgotten, but that is really because I don’t want to forget me. Once I am dead and gone I doubt that I will care in the slightest. Life is very strange. I also love the impermanence of human life, thank goodness we can’t really do anything permanent!

Here we are in this absolute wonderland, chopping things down and building other dry things in their place. Cutting down the curvaceous living forever changing green cathedral to build cold square hard unchanging dull boxes. And here I am again wishing I was living before we overran the natural world. Maybe I wish I was a bat, or some other creature that humans don’t try to dominate.

I think I am angry. I am lost at sea, craving the company of other humans, wishing someone would sail past me on a big sailing boat full of folk musicians from all over the world, so that we could have a lovely big jam. But in the same thought I am angry with humans, and I am glad that they are not here polluting this little big patch of ocean which I am sailing on. I thought I wanted to live on a desert Island my whole life, not just a desert Island, a deserted desert island (with plenty of dessert, oh and palm trees, date palms preferably). But now I know, as much as I dislike humans en masse, I actually love them singly. I don’t understand how humans can be so dreadful and so wonderful all at the same time. Yes I know that it is not usually the same humans that are wonderful that make the dreadful decisions. But humans make no sense whatsoever. Humans can be everything mixed into one body, they are a mass of craziness. Humans show immense kindness to some other humans and some animals and then in the next moment they can be cruel to other humans and animals, ones that they consider to be different, or less in some way.

Perhaps I am better off out here.

I wonder every day what I will learn from this period of enforced out of control isolation. What will I learn about myself, and what will I learn about the world? I discovered that I am extra specially pleased with a few aspects of my existence. I was trying to describe to someone one day about what it means to me to write a song. Before I write the song it does not exist, then when I start to think about it, it starts to come into being, slowly it takes shape and then suddenly as if by magic it is done. Once the song is written it feels as if it always was, it is so curious, I have even wondered if I really did write some of my songs. The song has a life of its own, over time the song develops and changes a little or a lot, but it is a separate entity to me, I know that I wrote it but I am not it. It is a thing of beauty, a creation living in the world. Perhaps other people will hear it, and perhaps they won’t. I always have a deep craving to sing a new song to other people, to share it, and to see how it touches them, if it touches them.

A friend once told me that she gave birth to her son listening to a recording of me singing one of my songs. I was blown away. For a while I couldn’t quite understand how that happened.

Anyway I digress, what I was trying to say was that I am very pleased with my creations, that although my life is not what I thought it would be, and things have been hard, some beautiful things have come into being around me; my songs and my children.

I have also been lucky enough to experience some truly wonderful people, now I just need to find land so I can sing them my songs again!





Why the penguins? when I searched for images of King Arthur I was confronted by hundreds of images of penguins, I have no idea why, and of course I have a sense of humour.

Penguins photo by Ian Parker on Unsplash
Mossy woods photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

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