Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Ghostly Time of Year

Oh November is well established here in West Cork now. The sun is reluctant to rise much before eight in the morning, and hurries away, gathering its dusky cloak around it, in the late afternoon. We have had some wild stormy nights, with the wind howling around the house and the trees whipping their branches. Only its own mother could love Ireland 'twixt now and late February - anyone thinking of visiting for the festive season, be warned and don't! Wait until the primroses and violets are out, and the country is waking and stretching itself into spring. I really really wouldn't want you to see the Emerald Isle looking less than her best.


There are some beautiful things to be seen still, though. The Albertine rose - she of the vicious thorns - is still blooming happily in a sheltered sunny corner, and one little tree is holding on to her golden leaves as long as possible, shining like a beacon on a grey day.




Look at that - isn't it like a bright lamp? Want to see it closeup?



Little pet, glowing to keep spirits high and remind us of the power still within the landscape at this time of year. Most of the rest of the trees have lost their leaves and every morning when I let the dogs out, we have a quiet and tranquil pre-dawn session of raking, sweeping and piling leaves to rot down into good mulch for the flowerbeds and fruit trees.

The fields are often beautifully cloaked in mist in the early morning now, and lovely little places like the lost bridge at Dooniskey take on a strange unearthly beauty,





while swathes of mist eddy and swirl around the hawthorn trees (it is considered most unlucky to move a hawthorn, which is why you often find them standing alone in the middle of vast fields as well as in hedgerows).







It's all very atmospheric and conducive to ghostly happenings. Perhaps that is why I'm experiencing something very odd with my Claudia Handpaint socks.





Here they are, looking perfectly innocent and harmless. As indeed the sock on the right is. Working down the foot just finely. But the one on the left.... Well -


You may recall (I think I told you) that I had got down to the heel on this second sock and then discovered unaccountably that there were four stitches too many. I couldn't understand it, but, swearing mightily under my breath, frogged back and started all over again. Halfway down the leg, the needle parted company with its cable. First time that has happened. Swear again, out loud this time, find a replacement, put broken needle on one side to be mended if possible. Work on.

Work the second heel, start on the foot. Now perhaps we can finish, yes?

No.


Halfway down the foot, counting steadily as I go, I find what?

Four stitches too many on the sole.

Now how can this happen? The pattern on the leg is a four stitch repeat with no yarnovers, so it's not that easy to go wrong and increase a stitch. The heel is counted stitch by stitch. The pattern on the front remains the same. There is simply no opportunity for adding stitches on.

So how in the name of all that's strange did I end up ONCE AGAIN with four stitches too many?

This time I wasn't frogging back. I simply (shut your eyes, those with a persnickety nature) did a few quick pssos where the stitches had created themselves, and carried on.

But I have a feeling this isn't over yet. For some reason that second sock is trying to stop me finishing.


And again, maybe that was why I took out my much-read copy of The Dark Is Rising and started to reacquaint myself with its wonderful story. Do you know Susan Cooper's classic sequence? If you don't, get a copy now. It won all kinds of awards when first published in the 1960s, so you shouldn't have any trouble.




When the Dark comes rising, six shall turn it back;
Three from the circle, three from the track;
Wood, bronze, iron; water, fire, stone;
Five will return, and one go alone.



Be sure to get a copy which contains all five tales in the sequence: Over Sea, Under Stone; The Dark Is Rising; Greenwitch; The Grey King; and Silver On The Tree. These stories predate Harry Potter but to my mind are far better and far more powerfully written. I'd be surprised if a few of you didn't feel that strange stir of recognition when you read them, that feeling you very occasionally get of remembering rather than discovering, recalling rather than learning for the first time. The old knowledge is like that.



Oddly enough, I found myself in a shopping mall yesterday, next to a cinema complex. And what should they be showing but - yes, you guessed it - The Dark Is Rising, with a performance due in exactly five minutes.



It's not a particularly good rendering of the story, but then what film could be of any good book? The mind can create so much more than we could ever get from someone else's interpretation. And yet, the feeling was still there in the film, despite all the trendy special effects and fast-moving images designed to enthral the younger viewer, reared on TV. Do yourself a favour, get the book and read it for yourself.



And as a reward for your promise to go look for that book, I'll tell you the tale of that strange experience I had many years ago. At the end of this posting. A few other things to mention first.


Roggey had a lovely idea on her blog the other day, suggested to her by a friend as I recall. The idea was that you should undertake to finish 50% of your WIPs before acquiring any more yarn. Now this I think I could go along with. It's the same with any huge amount of work really, isn't it? The sheer thought of it all overwhelms you, and you end up doing none of it. But half - that should be achievable, shouldn't it? Well - if we only counted the WIPs actually in view, out in the open, this year's WIPs anyway. Not the forgotten disasters tucked away in the back of a cupboard. Roggey, would you like to start a Finish 50% KAL? Who'll design the button? I'm on board for one.

Speaking of the backs of cupboards, I decided to emulate Angeluna the other day, and emptied out an entire wardrobe (she's doing it to make room for more yarn, acquired in the Texas Hill Country recently, but for anyone with a stash-storing problem, it's always a good idea - as Angeluna says, who needs clothes, bed linen, towels, when there is yarn to be cared for?) Millions of discarded sweaters, forgotten cardigans, betrayed vests tumbled into the light of day. Among them I found this one:






It's actually in rich black, but I sacrificed the colour somewhat to allow the pattern to show up for you. Now I know I knitted this years ago - did one in cream wool as well - but for the life of me can't remember working that entertaining pattern. The leaflet has long since disappeared of course, so I am going to have to try to recreate it from the finished object if I want to make it again. What I liked, however, was that the shaping of the fronts was done at the side, in the moss stitch, so that the cabling would not be disturbed. Nice idea. I'll use that elsewhere.


OK, now for the ghost story, which doesn't have any real ghosts or clanking chains or icy hands, but was nevertheless an experience I never want to repeat. Go get your hot chocolate. Sitting comfortably? Right, I'll begin.



THE PRESENCE OF EVIL

It was quite a number of years ago - I was still living in the UK at the time. I'd just finished with one job and had a few days to spare before starting the new one, so decided to betake myself up to Scotland for a break. It had been an exhausting time, and a complete getaway from people and places and everyday things was required.


The very far north west of Scotland isn't visited all that much, so although it was July, I had the tiny winding roads mostly to myself as I drove further and further out towards the coast. I remember that buzzards perched on the roadside telegraph poles like crows, barely bothering to move as I trundled past, keeping a sharp eye out for sheep lying comfortably across my route.


Accommodation isn't all that easy to find, so I was grateful towards evening when I came down a steep hill to this tiny fishing village. Yes, I remember its name very well - it's engraved on my heart - and no, I won't tell you it. There was hardly anything there - a few cottages, and a pub which doubled as a hotel. The old Scot who ran it was hardly able to move, due to arthritis, and gave me a key to check out the room myself as he couldn't manage the stairs. It was fine, looking out over the harbour, so I took it. Had a pleasant evening chatting with my host over a plate of haggis and turned in around eleven, tired and ready for sleep.


At this time of year in the far north of Scotland, it doesn't really get dark - you have what is called the 'glimmer dim' until morning. I left the curtains open and the window too, so I could enjoy the glowing skyscape and the cry of seagulls even in my sleep.


I don't know what time it was when I woke, suddenly, totally aware that there was someone or something standing over my bed. I couldn't look at my watch - firstly, despite the fact that the room should have been at least visible in the summer evening light, it was pitch black and horribly stuffy, as if all the curtains had been drawn close and the window hermetically sealed. And secondly, I was paralysed with an inexplicable terror, a gripping fear of something entirely outside my experience.


My sane mind tried to bring up the suggestion that perhaps my landlord couldn't resist the temptation of a woman staying alone upstairs - this was quite a few years ago, remember! - but I knew that such an easy solution wasn't on offer, even if his crippled limbs had regained their strength miraculously to the extent that he could climb the steep stairs. No, unfortunately, this was something much worse. I clenched my hands and dug my nails into my palms, a trick I usually try when I've woken from a nightmare, but the terror didn't go. I was fully awake, and something indescribably evil and malevolent was standing right over me, trying, it seemed, to - I don't know - take me over, suck me in. A sort of possession.


I couldn't move, only my mind was working frantically, terrified beyond reason. I knew I had to fight it, had to push it back, but didn't think I had the strength. Gradually I remembered the old words, the old speech, the phrases that you can use. I said them as strongly as I could in my mind, directing them against this force. I called on every good power I could think of - some from established religion, some from far older times - and asked them to help me. With every fibre of my consciousness I pushed against that terrifying presence and all the powers I'd called on pushed with me.


I don't know how long it took, but gradually I became aware that the room was lighter again, that the curtains were blowing gently in the breeze from the open window. It was cool again, and I could breathe.


I switched on the bedside light and read a very boring travel book for the rest of the night. I didn't dare to relax into sleep again and let my defences down.


I asked casually about ghosts at breakfast next morning, but the old landlord hadn't heard of any in the vicinity, other than a sailor who was said to haunt a lonely beach not far away. This was no drowned sailor, though. This was the most malevolent, terrifying, elemental force I had ever come across. I don't want to come across it again. I don't even want to risk opening the connection in any way. Which is why I won't write the name of the village.


I truly hope such terror never comes to you. Whatever it was, it was very very bad. The essence of evil. The memory will stay with me lifelong.

33 comments:

Tan said...

Spooky story. I shuddered as I finished today's post.

I love Susan Cooper's books, too. It looks as if a horrible travesty of a movie has been made of The Dark is Rising. We didn't go after reading the reviews. I will wait until it gets colder and darker here to reread The Dark, but I recently listened to the Welsh ones on audio. The Grey King had a reader with a good Welsh accent.

Marianne said...

Lovely November photos! and your socks are gorgeous and that left one certainly looks innocent enough :^).....
but oh my, Jo..... all I can say is, it's a good thing you've more than a bit of the old knowledge and together able to push 'that' back.....

ambermoggie said...

Fabulous pictures Jo as always:) BVery strange with the sock n'est ce pas? Perhaps you just need to make it and see how it looks. The old ones maybe telling you they are the only ones that do perfection:))
The story gave me shivers, I am so glad you knew who and what to call on to keep you safe. The dark is rising I love this series and won't be going to see the picture as it would spoil the pictures I have in my mind for it.
Can you email me? I lost your email address
amber

Thea said...

That was a very, very chilling story. It's good I read it in the morning in a computer cluster rather than in my apartment in the dark by myself. You are a brave soul.

I cannot wait to go travel around the British Isles, especially Ireland. Thank you, as always, for your pictures, and also the book suggestion.

linnakat said...

I skipped the ghost story; I don't do well with those (reeeely reely don't). But I love the pictures; I find that I'm missing autumn and the move to winter, that there's a rhythm to the seasons that I'm used to from growing up farther from the equator -- plants dying off, birds going south, everyone hunkering down indoors, a hibernation or ceasing or rest or something, then the renewal of spring. Here things feel like they just keep going, although there is a rhythm that I just don't know yet. Maybe that's why people here move slower, things are taken at an easier pace; they don't have the rest of winter. Anywhoo...

Dez Crawford said...

Dear Jo, you are a strong one. I have no doubt that was an elemental, or perhaps demonic, presence. Wise of you to call on all good powers -- forces older than Christianity aren't impressed by it.

In my Halloween blog post, I speculated on the primal origins of the power of this time of year. I do believe that the most ancient peoples saw it as an ending time, possibly before any other belief system was in place. The end of the year, the disappearance of leaves and fruit and the onset of seriously cold weather could only have been percieved as a time of Death, so it's in our DNA to associate autumn with Death, reminding us to recount tales of our near encounters with evil. Thank you for sharing. I know how difficult it is to recount a tale like that.

Thanks also for the information on Susan Cooper's books. I shall seek them. I wonder if they have been put on audio book?

As for the sock -- did you divide properly at the heel? I did a similar doofus thing earlier in the fall, having finished a heel flap before I noticed I was four stitches off. Apparently I cannot divide 72 by two. :-)

knitphomaniac said...

ooh, I love a good ghost story :D Thanks so much for sharing!

I adore your pictures! I dream about visiting Ireland one day.

Leslie said...

Jo,
You have a no-reply property on your blog, so writing you here. :D

Hey! Thanks for writing. What a kick to see you in my box.

I’ve heard (or maybe I read it on your blog) that it’s best to cast on the second sock right away. So that’s my plan, in among all the piecing, quilting and other color play going on at Pieceful Moments.

Thanks for kudos on the contrasting heel and toe. That was an *opps* because I didn’t buy enough yarn from ebay and had to come up with a solution! Must be that patchwork mentality.

The varigated yarn is Cervinia calzetteria, Venice #908. The solid blue was purchased at the LYS and is Fortissima Socka which feels and works up differently somehow, but was recommended by the nice lady who owns the shop. Wish I knew more about what I’m doing. *shrug*

See you in blogland!
Leslie

HPNY Knits said...

hahaha! spooky, but why frog such a lovely sock in progress for 4 stitches? reduce by 4 the next row evenly, and you are set to go!
(my grandma is turning in her grave.... but reality of the 21 century- improvising.
:-)

Angeluna said...

Finally the ghost story. And it was worth the wait. So much more frightening than moans and clanking chains. I still remember your story of the haunted castle.

I must try to put my hands on a copy of the Susan Cooper books. Never heard of them.

The socks look rather fabulous. I can think of several ways for the extra stitches to sneak in. But I don't think you will have a problem.

Angeluna said...

I have a mental picture of you as one of the old storytellers people gathered around by the fire as the winds howled outside. You weaving tales for enraptured listeners to while away the dark hours!

JudyMac said...

You've been upsetting the wee folk then, what with the knitting stitches and the story of the evil Sidhe. ;) Nasty when that happens...

I never realised they made a film of the Dark Is Rising, but I have read the book several times, and prefer it to Harry Potter anyday!

Lynda said...

Jo, I'm just going to have to quit reading your blog. Your pictures just make me want to come to Ireland more and more and it doesn't look like that is going to happen in the foreseeable future. LOL I guess cutting myself off from your blog would be cruel and unusual punishment as I love your stories and pictures and the history that you give out.

Thank you for another great post.

Faren said...

I always love your pictures and these were no exception!
I have read those books, I know I loved them, but for some reason didn't buy them. So, now I need to hunt them down again and reread them. Thanks for reminding me of them!
Very spooky story. Definitely not a ghost, I think most of them are just sad and lonely. I enjoy all your stories, please keep telling them!

MonicaPDX said...

I absolutely adore Susan Cooper's series - I read them when they first came out, one by one, and they're still some of the best fantasy ever. And that was a nasty ghost story; glad you could call on the old powers! Talk about The Dark...

Oh, but visiting Ireland during winter? Hee - we have precisely the same kind of winter here in the NW, and I adore it! Give me the rain being driven sideways, the wild wind, the lashing trees, especially our firs with the roaring noise the wind makes through them-- I'll be outside, dancing in the rain! (Half-blind due to my glasses being covered in water, but dancing.) Or inside, listening happily, puttering away at something and enjoying the contrast. I'll take that kind of weather over summer days any time. Like right now. It's gray and cloudy and a heavy, steady rain is falling, the apt. gutters are making their old-fashioned percolator coffee-pot noise, and I'm loving every minute of it. And we have another 4-5 months of it to look forward to. Hurray!

Tola said...

when i was in grade five (id have been ten years old) our teacher was an older gentleman who enjoyed a few minutes of rest after lunch. so he had gathered all these wonderful books-on-record. one of the first ones we listened to was The Grey King. after it was over, i read the book, and Silver on the Tree. i liked them very much, but didnt read the first three. i think i will next year though.

rho said...

oh have to look for that book - sounds like a good read.

Try Gorilla Glue for separating cables from needles
it works for me - just be sure to not lay it directly down hang if off something ...

Yikes on the ghost story - truly scary...

And what do you mean about this not being a wonderful time of year for visiting - this is my favorite time of year and it sounds like your weather is much like ours - I love those storms and early dark -- for shame!

Gail in rainy, gray Seattle said...

What a wonderful, eerie, beautiful post. I love reading your blog.

And I fully concur with the wisdom of knitting up 50% of my current stash...so much so, you inspired me to go out and increase my stash by a quarter, just so I'd have a nice, healthy start. Hooray for Celtic Memory!

Roggey said...

Jo, love... I don't think you have to consider the WIPs that aren't in plain sight. You don't have the friends I do to make you 'fess up as I have to do =)

I'm well on my way to finishing 50% of my WIPs - I finished that green cable scarf this afternoon. You'll see it soon on the blog.

KAL? I'm lucky to keep up with the two I'm in with ravelry =)

Also, remember the lovelies I sent do not count as adding illegally to the stash ;)

LizzieK8 said...

Great story....!

I'm a Susan Cooper fan, too. Read all the books to my kids where they were young.

Bought them all again to read in prep for the movie.

Sheri said...

Thank you for another story - you are an excellent storyteller/writer! I look forward to the next one!

pacalaga said...

It was the haggis, Jo. I swear that stuff is evil.
Thank you for the recommendation of the books! I have been collecting a list of things to read, and I think I will start to try some of them after the holiday knitting is finished.
(BTW, it seems only fair that those WIPs that became so because of problems or distaste can be ripped, and thus "finished".)
Also, I find myself throwing in an occasional YO if I get the yarn on the wrong side of the needles when I'm doing magic loop and switching from one side to the other...

ktmcdee said...

I love the Dark is Rising books, and often re-read The Dark is Rising around Christmas Eve, since the holidays are such an important part of the story. I heard an interview with Susan Cooper on National Public Radio here in the US...she said she was resigned to the movie version, but she didn't sound happy. I found it interesting that they eventually dropped "The Dark is Rising" title and went with "The Seeker" instead. I'm glad you found that the movie retained some of the power of the book!

And, not sure I want to keep Scotland on my list of places to re-visit....!

Scotlynn said...

Now I'm shivering...such a tale. Glad you remain here with us. As for the socks...only the sock goddess will know.

kvonhard said...

First - I'd like to say that if you're from the Northeast in the US, November in Ireland is wonderful! Temperate and much less dreary than here! It's the first time we were there and we went back and want to come back again!

The ghost story creepy and believable. Well told. Thank you for sharing a personal experience and making it extremely readable at the same time.

marti said...

I usually just skim read when I am trying to catch up on my blog reading, but found myself totally engrossed in todays tale. Wow!

Spinningfishwife said...

I have that Susan Cooper set...exact same volume, in fact. I've read it every year since I bought it, back in the late 70's. (Or did I have single volumes before that?) It's part of winter to read The Dark is Rising.

I feel like I should see the film, but....ummm....

I've seen ghosts. Just twice and both connected with my late son's illness. Not malevolent, but definately something there.

Em said...

What a chilling tale for this dark month! I love reading your stories of your encounters with the Hidden World, even the grim ones (though I am glad you were able to win your battle, and hope you don't have many such experiences!). Thank you for sharing your tales, as ever.

I too love Cooper's books. It's always around this time of year that I want to re-read them.

Kelly said...

Beautiful photos, Jo.

I have long loved The Dark is Rising books. As a child I avoided fantasy books as a rule, but when I stumbled upon these five books, I really loved the characters, and especially the Welsh setting.

Rosie said...

I shall have to buy the all-in-one copy, my individual titles are falling apart.

As for the ghost, I'm lucky enough only ever to have seen a benevolent presence (my grandmother came to reassure me after I'd left my first husband, which was the most astonishing and unexpected experience, as I'd have expected her to have been the first to disapprove had she still been alive!). I've never felt evil like that, although I do remember visitng an iron age site in Cornwall and both me and the ex had to leave fast, as we felt really unwelcome, but sometimes I get a powerfully strong feeling of having been blessed.

Denise said...

Jo, I love the colors on your newest socks. The second sock looks so innocent just lying there - one would never know of its attempts to thwart you finishing it! I think your 'adjustment' was the best solution.

I like the idea of finishing half of my WIPs before I can buy new yarn. Maybe that will get me motivated.

take care!

Angela Cox said...

Funnily enough I have only felt the presence of good spirits so far ( except on the occasion I shall describe). The Friday of last week we popped into the local museum which has finally got a small Civil War display .Anyhow I should have been riveted but I kept looking at one of the helmets and moved away .I can't describe it, just feeling very sad. I will go back and see if that object draws me again cos the whole war really draws me to it. I asked if they'd consider doing a special exhibition as Reading has a great deal of history of the time being half way between Oxford and London. The hotel in the town centre was headquarters for both sides and is supposed to be haunted. Mum and I used to go for walks across the lovely University grounds in which there is a house that quartered the King .The lake is supposed to be haunted and one murky morning we sat watching the birds when Mum looked at me and I said "let's go" . We later discussed that something horrible was there but we don't know what. If Mum and I are together very quietly we can get strong other Worldy smells follow us . The first time it happened it was overpowering jasmine .My granny was a healer and Mum is sure she brings flower smells into the house on her birthday.

Chris said...

It's funny how a few bloggers have picked up Susan Cooper's works again, I picked up that compendium back when I was barely in my teens and it has been a pre-christmas steadfast for as many years as i can remember, get over with "over sea under stone" in december then have "the dark is rising all ready to slot in with the christmas eve chapter. It's a tradition I'll have to revisit this year I think!