The Scribe in Me.

The Scribe in Me.

'And I’m the wanderer...' Jackie Leven

The journeys we take in life serve as waymarkers that define us. They take us to our limits, test us, excite us and challenge us. They remind us of our strenghts and our shortcomings. None of us are alone, we share this planet  with other wanderers.

Conceived in Ireland and born in the land of the Sasanach my journeys began early. I had practically circumnavigated the globe by the age of seven. Baby steps trod in both hemispheres which in turn became giant leaps and although I have not stepped onto the moon, as yet, I have walked in her shadow. Let me share my journeys with you ...

My Heritage

I am descended on one side from the ancient O’Bric tribe of the Deise people of Ireland and on the other side from Heremon Kings, and Cormaic Mac Airt himself. I was blessed to be raised in a stunningly scenic valley deep within the Comeragh Mountains; it’s an ancient landscape, filled with legends and lore. My summers were spent overlooking the ancient plain atributed to Eabha in Co Sligo, beneath the Caves of Kesh. 

There are Fullacht Fia and ancient wells, Barrows, Standing Stones, Kyles, Stone Rows, even a Bronze Age Stone Circle and to its borders, Ogham inscribed stones. They named me after one of the many corrie lakes high on the slopes, Lough Mohra, some say they were gouged out by Fionn from his seat on Sui Finn. It was the most sacred lake, blessed by St Patrick himself as he stood on Glenpatrick.

These were the places that I played where I made daisy and dandelion chains to adorn me, where I picked blackberries, damsons and whortle berries, all before Michelmas. It was the place where I gathered hazels and conkers and rosehips too.

The house I grew up in was a rambling house and every night I sat at my father’s feet and listened to their stories. They spoke of the Aine of Shanballyanne, a hospitable woman who made everyone welcome on their way to Knockabhainne, Milkhill the milking place. I learned of Cian of Kilkeany who had a church there and where the unbaptised children were laid to rest. They spoke of Brendan of Knockanbrendaun, a giant of a man who flung boulders at his detractors and they showed me where those stones still lay, Clog an Earla, Clog an Sionnach and Clog an Breac. I learned of Bennet of Bennetschurch and the grave of the hangman and of how when he was interred the graveyard moved itself across the road overnight.

They told me how the townlands got their names, Knocknaree, where I lived, 'Cnoc an Rí', the hill of the king, 'gan rí gan ratha', without a king or a rath, of Glendalaughlin, 'Glen dha lochan', the glen of the two ducks, 'gan luc, gan lacha', without duck or drake and of Glenanore, the glen of gold 'gan ór, gon airgead', without any gold or money. And of Tooraphuca the wood of the Púca which in the centre was a Lios and a of dark and eerie place.

My mother told me of her place, Carrickbanagher is Carraig Uí Bheannacháin the Rock of the Points from where all of Sligo could be seen and Fionn sat too on Drumfin and Eabha made her plain and her stone of oaths and her burial place that was aligned to the Autumn Equinox and Crum Dubh himself and from where you could see Lough Súil where Balor finally met his fate.

They taught me how to place thongs on the end of the cot when I left one of my sleeping siblings inside for that would prevent the little people taking the child and putting a changeling there instead. I was never to pick up a comb or the Banshee would come after me for it back. And if the sheep grazed in the Lois I wasn’t ever to go in there and to bring bread and a nail in my pocket and a bit of holy water just in case.

They told me if I ever saw a light where there wasn’t supposed to be a light to bless myself three times and keep going. Or if I saw the black dog at Hinchy’s bridge or at Carthy's Corner to do the same thing and to never ever corner a badger or kill a hare. And when I was going on a journey I was never to turn back. They told me that a lot of people might be scared of me because I had red hair but not to mind them because that was just auld piseogs. And such was the genesis of a Druid Scribe.

In a Breton Garden.

Bliss is sitting on a bench in the garden in the noon sun with a good book. Although it is Samhain, and there is looming the chill of winter, today is plesant and mild and sun filled. So a double treat.

It’s when you watch the dappled sunlight ripple and sway in shadow, with birdsong trailing in on the ocean breeze. This undisturbed hour that I have given myself permission to take, beneath and indigo sky. All in the world appears flawless. I brought a whole shelf of books with me, my gift to myself. 

I absolutely loved John Mc Gahern’s ‘That they may face the rising sun’ and got myself immersed in this landscape. It was a great transition book that journeyed with me from my native shore to the salty shores off Doëlan. Julian Barnes’ ‘The sense of an ending’ was exquisitely crafted with a chicane of a twist at the end that I didn’t anticipate. Nothing beats getting lost in a good book.

There is a sort of ecstasy in unwinding, in the giving yourself permission to stop, to be lazy, sip coffee in my favourite mug, and switch off. I breathe in the scent of the sea on the warm breeze, absorb the sounds, mull over the little things like the butterfly flitting by, the birdcall from the tree awning, the way sunbeams throw patterns on the leaf strewn grass. That inner peace sifts into my core by osmosis; it’s good for these bones and great for the soul.

Doëlan sits on the wild Atlantic; there are days when the turquoise sea laps along the shore and other days when it whips the coast in a furious unfurling. The village sits above her waves like a well-dressed and timeless apparition and they co-exist harmoniously for all of the might of the ocean.

This Breton region has an allure, it is a melding of land and sea, the Celt and the Gaul peppered with eternities of history. It is as good a place as any to chill out and I am certainly doing that. We are so often caught in the trappings of life, racing around, stressing, bent on acquiring, achieving, being seen at the right places etc. It is refreshing to settle on simplicity.

I’m grateful for this time. It is delightful to appreciate a text or an email from a friend, wishing me well and stating that they miss me. No letters yet! People don’t say those things normally, we are all too busy. It is a time of reflection. Now is when I delight in surviving life’s trials and celebrate the good things. Like Dire Straits sang, ‘There will be sunshine after rain; there will be laughter after pain. Why worry?’

I’ve listened to music too and oh to the joy of that, headphones, and the not having to compromise whom I listen to. Whoever invented downloading music to your phone deserves eternal rewards and hasn’t WIFI revolutionised our lives? Can you imagine a world without it?

I keep listening to the Eagles, and to plagiarise a line, ‘I don’t know why’ perhaps there is something in their vibe that suits my humour presently. I know that in years to come I will associate those tunes with this place. Music does that, triggers memories. I should be seeking out Breton symbols and ancient churches but I’m railing against duty. It is okay, I don’t have to see it all, I’m in a contented rut and I’ll go with that. 

'A very good place to start...'

Do you know when you come to a cross roads in life? You are faced with a choice, do you continue on the road you were on or do you take an entirely different path? 

I tend to always take the road less travelled by and now I find myself in a place called Doëlan in the Finistère region of Brittany in France. If you could have witnessed  the catch in my breath as I rounded the bend in the road and found myself in this glorious little fishing village, you would completely understand. It's the finest place ever more to tuck myself away in.

There is a narrow inlet of water, from which the land rises angularly on either side, into which atypical Breton houses are built, each commanding a stunning view of this fishing harbour. There is a left bank and a right bank and at the narrowest part of the inlet there is a bridge which spans both sides. Each bank has a lighthouse one green and white and the other red and white and it is altogether perfectly charming. Joy of joys it is practically untouched by tourism, there are no trinket shops for example, no peddlers, only one gastro pub on the right bank and a few restaurants on the left bank and a scattering of shops that sell everyday supplies, clothes etc.

In the afternoons the fishermen land their catch and one can wander down and buy fresh fish off the boat. Then you can take coffee outside in the mobile café and sit and listen to the jingle of sail ropes as the slap against masts and watch the world go by.

I wake at 6am, always have, blame my internal alarm clock. Then I set about making myself beautiful. This morning I had to find a lost earring because I forgot to take them out before I fell asleep. Isn’t it wonderful when that is all that constitutes excitement in one’s life of a day? The earrings in question are silver with a Celtic knot that reminds me of the Carrick knot and I wouldn’t want to lose them. Then I don myself in my writing clothes. What are writing clothes I hear you ask? That is a whole other story; here, let me give it to you.

In France everyone and the women especially are effortlessly chic. They are casual yet tailored, and vamped up with signature scarfs that sit elegantly about them and their shoes are always very soft and leather.

Now, I stand apart enough, with my wild Irish hair and freckles. A Druid Scribe on her own, armed with notebooks under her oxyter and pens that she retrieves from her hippy handbag. I was described once, erroneously, by a friend (who is still my friend) as; a studious librarian type with a  slight bohemian twist.

The thing is, bohemian works in this part of the world, but, it has to be bohemian chic and ones accessories should be arty if that makes sense? So that is what I wear, comfortable, warm, bohemian chic. (Stuff I can lay the fire with, that will also portray me elegantly should I shop in the Boulangiere for a croque monsieur or some such delicacy.) Over which I throw on my Blarney Woollen Mills (in a hue of blue) wrap to keep my shoulders warm. That is the real writing uniform, I always wear something blue when I write, as it is the colour of truth and my muse demands truth.

Then I lay the fire, clean out the ashes if I have to because I like to do this before sundown when the ash might vex the fairies and we can’t be having that! Besides it is easier at the end of my day when I am prone to light it.

The weather is mild and though sometimes wet the house is solar heated, cosy and sheltered. I gave up on radio channels, there is just too much static being so near to the coast, and my French while passable, is not so good that I could endure a documentary or even a cheery DJ playing what I think to be Eurovision music in my sacred mornings.

There is no TV either and that suits me fine for I was never a lover of the box, so I listen to songs that a friend copied onto a memory stick and I am very impressed with his choices, it spans all genres and generations. Chalk that one up! At 8pm my croissants are delivered. J’Adore France! I toast them with butter and wash them down with Jus d’orange and 'just like that' I am all set for my working day.

I write into my journal first, fifty words of shite to start with, followed by insights and reflections and happenings, dreams too sometimes. Then I do my letters, I write three per day, for I am on half a mission to bring letter writing back. It will be very exciting for me when the first one is responded to, let us wait and see who earns that distinction. Then I bring my first cup of ‘pod’ coffee to my desk, which I will no longer buy once this batch is finished because they are so impossible to recycle, though the coffee is lovely. A cafetiere will do exactly the same thing and I can recycle that coffee onto the compost heap. Oh I love how so many French words are creeping into my lexicon. Then the laptop gets opened and I begin my word count.

Now every writer knows that the internet is a great tool but it can also be the enemy. It can distract you, disturb you, and cause you to lose whole tracts of time. It can be classed as the greatest detractor. So I am determined to only use it at the end of every day, for one hour with an amnesty on Sundays.

So I keep a list beside me of things I must research, emails I must send, deadlines I must meet and blogs I must write and every day once a day I send those off into the ether of the world wide web. I’m currently feeling all smug about my iron clad will power and delighting in how well that is working for me. (I will write a future blog about the power of your destiny being in your own hands.)

At 11.30am -ish I go for my walk. I always look forward to it, hail rain or shine, no such thing as bad weather for a walker, just bad gear. It is my excuse to escape the house. I amble down to the harbour, post my letters and walk the entire right bank, over the bridge and along the left bank. I sit and have coffee with my book and always read a chapter there.

Presently, I'm reading ‘The Garden of Evening Mists’ which is hauntingly beautiful prose, none of which is lost in the translation, by a Malaysian author called Tan Twan Eng. Then I retrace my steps and go back the way I came and make lunch. Sometimes it is homemade soup; more times it is just a sandwich, yesterday I had crackers and cheese.

One of the things I most notice about living alone is that it takes nearly a week to fill the dishwasher. It is fine if you have lots of utensils and delph and so economical. Après midi I set to writing again and don’t stop until I’ve finished my word count. Some days that takes longer than others, but I do not stop until I have reached it because it is one percent inspiration and ninety nine percent perspiration.

Then I have supper and do my mini edits and do my internet administration. When all of that is done I curl up on my very comfortable sofa and read until my eyes tire.

And there be it, a day in the life.

M in Doëlan

Do you know when you come to a cross roads in life?