A Story for Our Time: The Mist Rocks

Modern culture seems to have taken fairies…and made them so ubiquitous and covered in glitter and sequins.. that any real fairies would have taken serious offence.

We didn’t mean to go to sea and a great fog has descended and covered everything with a strange silence. I can’t even see the water around the boat, it is eerie, wayward wisps wash across my face leaving wet kisses of coldness. I considered going below and getting back in my bed, perhaps I could sleep it off, but it is a bewildering silence that creeps across the deck and I don’t think I could relax enough to go to sleep. Instead I will just watch and wait for it to lift, or perhaps something exciting will happen, or something terrifying. Luckily I had the good sense when I was in my teens to realise that I shouldn’t watch horror movies after the first two or three that I watched. My mind has a recording facility, it indiscriminately remembers scenes from scary movies when I am sleeping or in creepy places and uses them to bring me out in cold sweats.

The thing that I watched or read the most as a young woman was ghost stories, the effect of which was a sensitivity to strange energies in creepy old houses (although there is nothing to say that I didn’t already have this sense before I indulged in those stories).

I had some friends who lived in a house on Connemara, it was miles from anywhere in a landscape that is perfect for dreamers and imagineers. The bones of the earth they call it, endless treeless fields, without many walls, and stones that protrude from the ground bleached white by the pale sun. Once my friend fell asleep at the wheel driving home one afternoon from Galway and pootled quite far across the fields before he woke up with a sudden jolt. The house was straight out of the 1950s like many of the houses there at that time, the rooms upstairs had tongue and groove wooden walls painted white, and downstairs was the strangest feeling I ever felt in any house anywhere, just at the foot of the stairs. Nobody could bear to walk past the spot at night without a light on, and it had a strange smell reminiscent of something slightly out of reach just on the tip of ones tongue.

The locals where my friends lived, of whom there were very few, had an interesting idiosyncrasy which added to the eeriness of the area: when you said hello to them in passing they either said “Good day” or “Bad day” apparently depending upon the weather. It doesn’t seem half so strange now that I write it as it did when it happened in real life, things often don’t I suppose.

Even though I am surrounded by pretty much nothing but water and space, I think it is the spaciousness of places like Connemara that I miss, and the wildness, I will never get used to living in places that are not wild. I love scrubland, moorland and mountains. There is a place in the North of England called Brimham rocks, which embodies (can places embody?) the kind of magical wildness that I love. To get to it you travel across a huge moor and right at the top there are these strange rocks that seem to have been dropped there by some unseen force. They are piled high one on top of another, and they are so giant it is unbelievable and sometimes the very bottom one is tiny almost a pebble! Perhaps the giants were playing there many years ago. Geologists and geographers would like us to believe that Brimham rocks were created by ice ages, great rivers of melt-water and wind erosion, some people believe they were carved by the druids. Perhaps I will write a song about them and create a new story for where they came from.

I have a song called the Wrekin Giants, which I wrote many years ago and rarely sing, it is based on a legend from The Wrekin (rather unsurprisingly) in Shropshire, about two giants who fought hurling great armfuls of rock and earth and created huge hills before they killed each other. Rather more bloodcurdling than most of my music, but I do like a good fairy tale. I think the modern depictions of fairies in general have given fairy tales a bad name. Modern culture seems to have taken fairies and either sanitised them or made them so ubiquitous and covered in glitter and sequins that any real fairies that remained in our countryside would have taken serious offence and packed up and left for quieter realms. Also humans as a species have not left much room for any other beings on planet Earth, that bothers me a great deal, I would like to see at least fifty per cent of the earth being handed back to nature and the wild things that remain.


I am one of the wild things that remain, or at least I like to think of myself that way. I don’t think I am completely domesticated, it wouldn’t take much persuasion for me to become feral. Or perhaps I am utterly domesticated, I have no way of knowing, no idea how different I could be from the way I am. I seem to have a deep sense of connection to nature which displays itself somewhat in my music. I write my songs, but I don’t particularly choose the way that they are, I just go with what comes so to speak, and unless I think it’s cheesy I write it down and make it rhyme or not rhyme. I make the tune go in a direction that speaks to my heart and makes my tummy feel funny, I love the minor keys, not because I am sad, more because they are so full of emotion. A good song in a minor key moves me in a way that I love, it fills me with wistful longing of a kind that I crave.

This strange mist also makes me wistful; wistful mist. Mist can be so mysterious, I wonder what or who could appear from out of the mist, it is a bit like a good game of guess who. Who would be most interesting to appear from the mist? I have never had that much interest in celebrities, I lean more towards inspiring people, and people who have done great services for the world in general, not necessarily for people. Lloyd Grossman could introduce it;  Who Lives in a Mist like this?

Alternatively I would like somebody to come out of the mist who can hold a really good conversation, or who could teach me something new. Ooooh, or someone who could play music with me or dance. A whole deck full of Breton dancers, that would be my ideal mist apparition.

I once went to France to a Breton dance festival, it was ridiculously hot there and my ankles and feet swelled up which was not at all conducive to dancing, nor was it particularly comfortable. In addition to that my ridiculous shyness around new people and especially those who speak a different language from me reared its ugly head, and those two things together pretty much put the kybosh on my dancing days. I did however have a very long dance with a Frenchman one sunny afternoon, he walked up to me said something utterly incomprehensible, didn’t wait for an answer and took my hand and literally yanked me onto the dance-floor. He then proceeded to spin me around for half an hour, whilst whispering God alone knows what into my ear, until he deposited me back in my seat, took a bow and sauntered off into the distance never to be seen again. It was all very exciting and confusing at the same time, it was also extremely fun.

I seem to remember drinking large quantities of the local mead at that event into the wee small hours, and being barefoot the majority of the time, which turned out to be a terrible mistake as one of the village traditions appeared to be smashing every glass object in sight which meant the streets were literally covered in shards of broken glass. The whole event went by in a flash and before I knew it I was on the long car drive home with my friends who were all hung over enough to drive for six hours pretty much in silence, or perhaps we were simply revelling in the memories of the dance.

Dancing has to be the thing that I miss the most out here on the Ocean. I know I could dance alone or with my children, but what I love so much is to dance in traditional styles with other people. At school I loved what they called ‘Country Dancing’ and dancing around the Maypole, the uplifting nature of this dancing made up completely for the horrible awkward boys that I had to dance with,  I absolutely love Breton dance, one of my favourites is what a lovely friend called ‘The Curly Snail Dance’. I’m sure it has a perfectly nice sensible Breton name which I can’t remember at all, but it is a dance where a long long line of people hold hands in various different ways and dance and hop in a twirling spiralling way around a room whilst waving their held hands up and down in a similarly curly way. I believe this dance was used many years ago to stamp down the mud floor of a new barn or house that had just been built and the people would dance the same dance all night long to pretty much the same tune. It sounds hypnotic and of course it is. I also really enjoy the couples dances. This kind of dancing makes me wonderfully happy and I smile from ear to ear and eventually my face aches from smiling and people look at me strangely, perhaps because their happiness does not show on their faces or maybe because they are not so moved by the dance, which makes me wonder why they are doing it?

Oh how I long to crash my boat into a remote island peopled only by Breton dancers who don’t care how much I smile.



Brimham Rocks photos by jcw1967 on Flikr.

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