Dancing up a storm
The world is changing quickly, and that process is speeding up all the time. Technology has altered our lives in ways we could not have even guessed at thirty years ago. We’re rapidly loosing touch with the old ways, the rhythms of the year that our ancestor lived their lives by. Every so often, though, a glimpse of the past, of that lost world, shows itself. Where I live, we are fortunate enough to have a Morris side (Bedford Morris), a troupe of dancers who perform old folk dances which had largely died out by the 18th century. These dances were revived, or reimagined, and now sides up and down the UK – and the US too – put on displays. They are a nod to a very different time, and they respect the old calendar celebrations – Plough Monday, Whitsun, Candlemas, Boxing Day.
The Morris goes back at least as far as the 15th century in the UK, and though it started as a courtly dance, it soon became a dance of the common people. Modern sides dress up in knee breeches and waistcoats, straw hats, bowlers or top hats. They strap bell-pads to their shins, trail handkerchiefs or dance with sticks. Music is provided by fiddles, accordions, pipes and drums, and sometimes the town brass band accompanies the dancing. The Bedford side perform dances from the Cotswold, Border and North West traditions, and they perform a Leicestershire Plough Play on Plough Monday. Each side is different, both in the traditions they follow and the costumes they wear, but all form a colourful and engagingly eccentric link to the past.
Amongst other things you’ll find on my blog are quite a few pictures of doors and windows. Wherever I go, I photograph them. There is something about a doorway, the possibilities of what waits on the other side, that I find endlessly fascinating. But what about the doors and windows which were once open but are now blocked? The whys and the whens are questions that can’t always be answered other than in the imagination.
Decorative or functional, small, huge, ancient, new – they all have a story to tell.
One question writers are always asked is, where do you get your ideas from? For me, visiting new places stirs up the imagination and the what-ifs? Setting is as important to me as character, and until the setting is firmly in place inside my mind, I can’t begin a story. I’m lucky enough to travel frequently and I find myself drawn to the north time and time again. I love the cold, snow, mountains, the winter winds.
I’ve been to Iceland twice, once in early summer – which was easily as cold as a British winter – and once in November, in the hopes of seeing the Northern Lights. I did see them and they have been in my mind ever since. I’ll use them in a book one of these days.
Iceland is a harsh, beautiful land, geologically violent and stark. It is not a country for the faint hearted and you have to admire the tenacity of the first settlers who sailed there in the second half of the ninth century. What went through their minds during the endless dark of the winter months? What did they make of this bleak land which was now, for better or worse, home?