Wyrzog is a feisty Book Wyrm that lurks in my bookshelves and slithers about my many piles of much-loved books. She has an annoying habit of eating bookmarks, but will hiss and snap if I even consider dog-earring a page.
Wyrzog is surprisingly open to contentious grammar and the odd typo: she have seen humans change their language over thousands of years, and admires it all. Wyrms love stories, big or small. They love books with illustrations, illuminations and those with beautiful maps folded within.
‘Wyrm’ – a species of dragon with no legs or wings. The most famous kind of wyrm are sea-serpents, like Orkney’s very own Mester Stoorworm, but not all are ocean-dwelling creatures.
Wyrzog tends to hoard books with strong, female characters and prefers non-traditional fairytales where the princess and dragons live happily ever after. She has an insatiable appetite for literature but, despite how excited she gets about a book, she will never, ever give away a plot ending. Those who do will find their toes nibbled.
Zog the (very handsome) orange dragon is her personal hero.
A lovely peedie mermaid emerged from my fingers this Mermay…
I don’t know much about Little Ebba of the Waves. She’s seven summers old. She loves sunlight playing on the surface of the sea and how it dapples the ocean below. Ebba is a loyal friend to all starfish and basking sharks. Sometimes she sings to lonely sailors who are missing loved ones ashore. Or sometimes she sings to those on land who miss something else altogether. She sings of bubbles, dancing whales, and sand in your bellybutton.
I drew Ebba at the beginning of May, and she has flowed in and out of my mind ever since. This year has not been too kind, so it’s a comfort to hear the echoes of her songs every time I smell the salt of the sea in the breeze…
After my last blogpost where I hunted for sea-runes, I returned to my special beach to stare at them once more. I thought over all their possible meanings. Wondering if they really are ‘mermaid runes’. Wishing I could just speak to a little mermaid when…
Whoops! I nearly squashed one!
The squidgy mermaid was perched on a rock next to a limpet. I said I was terribly sorry for nearly squishing her. Watery eyes glared at me. Fascinated, I got down on my hands and knees for a closer look.
The mermaid thought I was bowing down to her! Delighted, she blew a bubble right out of her snout.
“I’ve decided to grant you a wish,” she squeaked. The creature explained it was the talk of Deerness rockpools that a stupid human wanted to read mermaid-runes. She would teach me how on three conditions….
It turns out this squelchy mermaid is a Plebble. A royal Plebble, apparently. I noticed she was holding a tiny twig. She told me proudly told me this was her royal ‘trident’.
The squidgy, squishy Plebble is a lesser known type of mermaid. Plebbles are the size of, well, a pebble, or a very squelchy potato. They come in many shades of blubber and excrete a fragrant mucus that gives them their pearly shimmer.
The Plebble wanted three things. I must fetch her two googly eyes. And a dollop of peanut butter. (Peanut butter is quite hard to find in the underwater Pebble Palace. They mostly get jellied-kelp for dinner.) Lastly, I must bow down to her a further seven times in front of all her friends. That way they would finally know she was the Plebble Queen.
I rushed home and pocketed two googly eyes from my craftbox. I then scooped some peanut butter on a teaspoon and rushed back to the beach. The Plebble greedily sucked up the peanut-butter, gurgling and snorting, and wriggling her mermaid tail happily.
We then carefully attached the two googly eyes to Thor, her pet limpet. Thor doesn’t say or do a lot. But he could now watch me bow down to the Plebble Queen. I dipped my head seven times, on hands and knees, in front of a crowd of heckling mermaid blobs.
The sea-runes are commonly called ‘mermaid-runes’ but lots of different types of Ocean FaeryFolk write them. Sea-runes or selkie-runes are also good names. I scooped the slippery Plebble up, not forgetting Thor the limpet, and she pointed me to our first stone.
The Plebble said the stone was carved by a beautiful selkie lass. The selkie was writing about one of her selkie friends. It reads:
“Ugly Urdi trout-face.”
I quickly moved The Plebble along to a rock with Viking-like runes. Ah! The Plebble nodded. A Finfolk man wrote these! Is it about an ocean-deep wrestling match? I wondered. Or how to make a driftwood chariot?
“Left to hidden treasure.”
Exciting! I scrambled to the left, scraping back seaweed and pebbles, until I found… silver spoons stashed in a fisherman’s wellyboot.
Oh well. Silver is treasure to Finfolk. Maybe next time it will be a gold crown? Or chocolate! I quietly added my teaspoon to the collection and moved on.
The Plebble led me to a big, impressive rock. This rock had bold runes carved deep onto it’s face. A giant wrote these runes, surely! A giant with barnacle toes and crabby knees.
No, no, it was written by a mermaid. A mermaid with long, golden hair, all woven with pearls. A mermaid with a silvery tail covered in sparkling sea-shells. The Plebble read out the runes in a dreamy, squeaky voice:
“My bum likes this rock.”
Well, that’s just rude. They’re getting worse! Who knew mermaids were so… urgh!
“Us mermaids have to sit on bumpy rocks for hours and hours!” the Plebble squealed. “It’s cold on our bahookie’s, waiting for silly land-lubbers to fall in love with us. When you find a comfy rock, it’s good to remember it.”
I nodded, but I had hoped for something a bit more magical. A bit more enchanting.
“Enchanting, eh?” The Plebble stroked Thor the limpet, who glared at me from one googly eye. We wandered over to one final rock.
“So what does this last one say?” I slumped down next to it, perching the Plebble on a stone nearby. She waved her ‘trident twig’ mysteriously.
“It’s a sea-spell,” she said. I waited, a tingly excitement building. But the Plebble didn’t speak. Instead she showed me the set of runic alphabet that made up the message. Slowly, I spoke the words:
“Whoever reads this stone will have damp, clammy feet for three full moons.”
Great. Just wonderful.
I heard strange hooting sounds, and saw a whole pod of Plebbles gathered round my wellyboots. They were laughing hysterically, snorting through their snouts. Even Thor the limpet looked amused.
I thanked The Plebble Queen for her wisdom. I waved goodbye and the peedie mermaids waggled their tales back at me. As I trudged home, I felt a dampness in my toes. An icy cold biting my heels. A wet, chill right up to my ankles. The sea-spell was working. Sigh.
So careful what you wish for, if you like warm, snuggly feet…
And if you see a Plebble, give a little bow, and say hi from me.
Have you spotted some sea-runes at the beach?
Want to know what your mermaid-runes say?
Send me your photos and I’ll ask the Plebble to traslate them!
Orkney is a land of runes. These islands were a hot-spot for the Vikings in medieval times who left behind some wonderful runic graffiti. What is not well known, is that FaeryFolk of the sea also wrote in runes – and still do.
These runes are quite mysterious. Not in the least, because most people don’t know they exist. Or if they have spotted them, they’re put down to nature.
I’ve tried to speak to Gnöll, Bannafeet, and Megrani about the runes. It seems trolls, trows and even witches are reluctant to talk too much about them. I did once hear Megrani the crow witch mumble something about ‘mermaid runes’ when she caught me scribbling some silly runic messages. She flapped off before I could ask her more.
So I once more haunted one of my local beaches, searching for these magical treasures carved into the rocks. The more I see, the more questions there are…
Over the years, I listened to the seashells, the whispering tide, the selkies and their distant songs…
They got me nowhere but it was pleasant.
Who writes them? What do they say? Do they hold magical powers?
Instead, I’ve daydreamed about what they could be… Love notes from a shimmering mermaid? Records of important oceanic wars of the Finfolk? Or secret directions to a selkie’s hidden sealskin?
Maybe we’ll never know. But I’ll keep looking and listening and hoping to stumble upon a mermaid one of these days…
Note: Mermaid runes are not to be confused with toothy sea-sluggits trails, ancient witch maps of ocean currents and magical ley lines, or scaly skin shed by juvenile stoorworms.
A little while ago it was Burns Night, which usually brings out the snoofling haggis all over Scotland. It is perhaps not common knowledge that Orkney has it’s very own sub-species of haggis. I was very surprised to hear this only last October… and further surprised when one came snuff-snarling on my farm in late January.
“I believe you,” I murmured to Bannafeet, who had lured the Fierce Orkney Haggis to my home to prove it’s existence. She doubled up in hysterics as the growling beastie latched on to my welly-boot with it’s sharp teeth. “Hid wants clapshot,” she wheezed between giggles. Oh dear. Being a disorganised family, we had not organised an appropriate Burns Supper. What did we have? Hummus. We had hummus.
“Aye, that’ll be grand,” Bannafeet beamed at me. She really could be very charming. Her eyes glinted as she wheesht! off the haggis long enough for me to pop inside and fetch a little bowl of our would-be dinner.
*Bannafeet is a well-known local trow. After Gnöll the Troll so kindly helped with navigating the trows new flight-path around my family’s home, things have improved with peedie-folk. I believe Bannafeet could be a friend, but this doesn’t deter her from her usual pranks, mischief and mayhem that is bannock-and-butter to trow life.
The bowl is now strictly past-tense. Haggis do NOT like hummus. Or celery. Or chia seeds. I know this now. So does my half-mauled welly. They do, however, enjoy smashing offending bowls to tiny, tiny pieces.
“This isn’t what I thought a haggis would be like,” I squeaked, guarding my feet and ankles with a bristly-broom. I imagined little waddling wigs curled up dozily in Highland heather. (I was thinking of Braw Haggis with silky coats that meander lop-sidedly around the Scottish highlands.)
“I told ye,” Bannafeet straightened up. “Hid’s a Feersh Orkney Haggis. They like eggs, I doot.”
I hastily scrambled to the (handily) nearby henhouse and dived a hand in. Lady Penelope squawked in shock at the sudden intrusion, and I made a mental note to feed her some extra treats later that day. “Don’t come out,” I whispered to her. She clucked dismissively.
The egg was greedily gobbled down. A slow smile started to creep onto my face. The Fierce Orkney Haggis really was an awesome wee creature, and one, I hoped I would see again. (With the right footwear, of course.)
With a last lick of it’s sticky snout, it left. I watched it scuttle off at a fast, lop-sided trot to terrorise someone else. (Yes, one set of legs are longer than the other.) I hurried inside to sketch the beastie, not bothering to wave goodbye to Bannafeet, who I knew was already riding the wind.
As the ink and pencil scratched the page, I heard a wondrous honk-hootling from afar. It sounded like an angry goose trying to outdo a malfunctioning bagpipe. Fascinating.
And I’ve been researching the Fierce Orkney Haggis ever since.
I was feeling rather low and melancholy, as artists tend to be, particularly artists not creating. It was September, and my last blog post on here was Christmas themed. Sigh.
I mulled this over in my sunny yellow art room, specially built overlooking the alpaca field and baby goat paddock. I heaved a slow, shuddering breath, and glanced out the window. The alpacas looked startled. (Which isn’t that unusual, they’re highly strung by nature.) And then I saw a hill. Quite a pert, round hill. With what looked like a grassy, builders-bum. I blinked (I really need new glasses) but there it was. A new hill.
The alpacas were staring at it like it was about to explode. (Again, not an unusual reaction for an alpaca.) Moomin glanced at me, imploring me to make it all go away, and I waved to let him know that I’d seen it. The hill waved back.
My heart leapt. I glimpsed my idle sketchbook in my peripheral vision but would not turn my head. My hand felt heavy and clumsy. The hill was quite clumsy itself. It was attempted to shuffle round, and I saw a bald nose and two tiny, black eyes peer at me through blades of grass. I smiled. The hill smiled back. The alpacas were not smiling. Trust their human to take sides with the imposter hill! Gus snorted, a spray of indignation.
“Come here,” I mouthed, beckoning the hill forward. The hill suddenly was a hill no longer. The grass shuddered and then, in a haze of magic, simply fizzled away. The troll, for I was sure that was what he was, was crouching awkwardly on elbows and knees. Surprisingly, he was quite bald, except for the odd green tuft here and there. He heaved his torso up, slowly, carefully. He was big, even just on his knees. The alpacas looked bewildered. Slowly, the troll plucked a few grasses and other plants, quite nimble for one with huge fingers. He sniffed his makeshift bouquet, rustled in his pocket, and sprinkled a fine dust over it. The grass bouquet blossomed into something I couldn’t quite see. He offered a nibble to each alpaca in turn. And to my amazement, they each took a tentative mouthful. I watched, open mouthed, as a troll charmed my wary and extremely judgmental alpacas. The troll smiled a tiny smile. He stood up and sprinkled the rest of the dust on a patch of their paddock. The alpacas ran eagerly over and started to chomp greedily. Only Insch continued to eye the imposter suspiciously.
The troll ambled over, careful not to trample any fences or baby goats. (The goats remained unfazed, chewing lazily underneath the giant’s gait.) I opened the window, still sat curled up on the sofa. I glanced at the front door but there was no way he would fit. All I could see were his knees and the bottom of his belly.
“Halló,” he replied. And just like that, we both knew we were friends.
I learnt his name is Gnöll Gottmaga Fornhaugálfur but his friends simply call him Gnöll.
Gnöll is a Hilly-Up Troll, literally a hill that gets up and walks about. He uses magic to create an illusion of being a grassy knoll. Apparently, he’s quite small for his size and unusually awake 88% of the time. Most Hilly-Up Trolls are sleepy creatures who can nap for millennia. Gnöll is also uncommonly kind for his species. Scrap that. He’s just uncommonly kind.
Because of his species, Gnöll is somewhat of a specialist in all things plant and grass based. He bashfully explained his magic concoction of herbs that he remembered from visiting the Andes. He knew which one alpacas just could not resist, and had sprinkled a special recipe especially for my four boys. I glanced out at the field, and saw the alpacas still gleefully munching away. Mungo had even passed out in what appeared to be herbal bliss.
Gnöll was a little shy, but I could tell inside he had a lot to say. He was ancient, but still curious about every tiny aspect of human life. For an ancient troll, his wisdom is simplistic. He doesn’t really care if a tree falling in a forest makes a sound, he’s more concerned about the safety of any possible squirrels that might be nestled in the tree.
“Squirrels annoying,” he said in a very soft, quiet accent. “But we can’t hate things that annoying us. Because to lítill squirrels – we annoying.”
“Humans are super annoying,” I agreed. Gnöll looked worried.
“Já,” he nodded gravely, wobbling his three chins. “Manna are most annoying thing ever be born out of armpit.*” He reshuffled on his hands and knees, his good-natured face peering short-sightedly into my window. “But manna create big wunders. Bad wunders too. Plastic is biggest mucker-up since manna learnt to stab each other (und everything that moves) with special shape metal. But wunderful wunders too. Mr Mozart made wunders. Ms Kahlo made wunders. Tiny manna-man with big moustache used to make cream cakes in Switzerland. Delicious, ‘bragdgódur’ wunders. He made me giant ones, for specials.”
*I think he’s referring to Norse mythology’s Frost Giants, but I can’t be sure.
“That’s nice,” I said.
“Já. Manna are wunders. Just very annoying wunders.”
“Trolls are wonders too,” I said. “Sometimes I draw them.”
Gnöll’s tiny, black eyes grew half a centimetre in delight.
“You draws me?”
And that’s how Gnöll helped me to start creating my ‘tiny wunders’ more regularly. I explained about my illness, how my hand is sometimes weak, sometimes in pain, sometimes cursed by a local witch, or sometimes blighted by local trows.
This time it was definitely the trows. I explained how a certain troupe were angry with me because the new extension is interfering with their special flight-path. Apparently, our farm has always had a good crop of dock-leaves. Trows use dock stems to fashion ‘bulwands’ which they then whizz about on. Our house, or at least the land, has been their stopping point for 248 years; to refuel, grab a new bulwand if their’s is looking a bit ropey, and head off to terrorise the South Isles after they’ve traumatised the East Mainland of Orkney. We didn’t ask their permission to build a ‘new bit’. Apparently, the extension changed the wind direction just slightly, so instead of landing in a field full of dockans, the trows land in the muddy pond.* Not happy trows. And not a happy Ellen, who’s hand they blighted last Christmas to spite her for having a special new art room. Trows don’t really care for disabled access, or a new wheelchair friendly kitchen and shower room. They’re a bit short-sighted in that sense. Gnöll is short-sighted in the visual sense, but his mind stretches quite far.
*This used to be a normal pond, but once our giant saddleback pig got through the fence, started to paddle, and then root it all up, so now it’s less of a ‘pond’ and more a ‘big hole in the ground full of water and mud’. True story.
“I talk to them,” he smiled his tiny smile. “Álfur to álfur.” And then he heaved himself up, and slowly waddled off. I waited, and glanced out at my alpacas who were rolling around the Andean herbs like it was alpaca catnip. I didn’t have to wait long.
“Come,” he called. I stared at his gnarled knees through the window.
I quickly grabbed my coat, hat, and scarf and pulled on my bright, yellow wellies. I scribbled a garbled note to my parents and went to zoom out in my wheelchair. However, he carefully plucked me from it and pushed it safely back inside.
I should mention, I’m afraid of heights. I may have squealed. Enough to start Ty the baby goat to cry panicky bleats back. “It’s ok,” I yelled down at him, despite feeling anything but ok. He watched me, a wide-eyed, ruminating speck in the field, as the troll plodded away with me in his hand. I would like to say that I had romantic notions of me being Sophie in the BFG but instead I was concentrating on not peeing or throwing up. He took me to our big, back field. With his free hand, he put his finger to his lips: a ‘shushing’ motion. We watched. A dot appeared on the horizon. We could see quite far, as this was still in Orkney’s unusually bright and sunny weather that we’ve had all summer. Then another dot. And another. I thought of starlings, swirling together in a murmuration. But they were too big and less coordinated. Gulls then. A big flock of them. They grew bigger as they hurtled around the horizon, darting and whizzing jerkily like flies around a lightbulb. I noticed twisted shapes, sharp, bulging, knobbly, pointed. Not gulls. Trows.
They flew past us, whizzing above her heads, on their fluttering bulwands. It was quite a display. Nail-biting manoeuvres, lots of swear-words, and near crashes. They swarmed around the big, green barn, and Gnöll shouted a few directions and tips. In what can only be described as a hairy, foul-mouthed waterfall, the trows suddendly cascaded down towards the house. I winced. Would they end up in the muddy pond? But no, this time they did a fantastic collective loop-the-loop and landed in the dockan field. Success!
The trows have forgiven me. For now. Loop-the-loop landings are quite fun, apparently. My sketchbook is filling up, and Gnöll is featuring quite a bit. He’s encouraged me here and there, and is helping me draw little but more often. In return I drew his portrait and helped him write my last blog post. He visits me every few days, even when I was snotty and grumpy with the flu. Last week he passed a tiny scrap of paper through the window. It was a poster.
“You do this?” he asked.
I shrugged. Then sneezed. Then shrugged again. How could I? I’m not well. I’m never well.
“Never is long time to wait,” he whispered.
“Ok,” I grinned nervously. “I’ll do it.”
If you want to meet me and my Faery friends, I’ll be at Orkney Library on Saturday 6th October from 1pm-4pm for their super Fun Palaces Day. I’ve had the gouache painting of Gnöll and me framed specially, so if you’d like to see him up close, do pop by and say hi!
For more info and updates on the event, see my Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram accounts, and keep an eye for a blogposts here.
This is Gnöll. He’s rather special. And my new friend.
Gnöll has tiny black eyes that are smaller than his nostrils. But he wants to you to know that’s ok. He’s been around before countries had names and humans had shoes. He’s ambled on earth for thousands of years and only three professional trollhunters have tried to kill him. And they would have tried to kill him even if his eyes were in proportion to his nose. Because trollhunters hate trolls, even if they’re gentle, or small for their kind, or have a passion for knitwear. Gnöll does not hate all humans because of three professional trollhunters. He doesn’t hate humans, even when gangs of them threw stones at him in The Ice Age, tried to imprison him in medieval times, or use his species as a nickname for horrible people who are mean on the internet. Because once – a very long time ago in human years – a nice Icelandic man in a knitted jumper named this small and gentle troll. And Gnöll Gottmaga Fornhaugálfur* suddenly had a friend who, like all his friend’s since, called him Gnöll for short.
*Gottmaga Fornhaugálfur roughly translates to ‘nice belly’ and ‘ancient hill elf’ in Icelandic.
We should all be like Gnöll. (He likes you, by the way.) Gnöll wants everyone to be happy. Or at least kindly. Or at least content for five seconds when you put on a particularly snuggly jumper. Gnöll loves jumpers but they rarely come in his size.
He wants you to worry less about spotty noses, and wrinkly eyes, and double chins. He’s got three wobbly chins and he’s doing just great. He wants you to wear what you want to wear. Not what you think you should, but secretly feel uncomfortable in. Nobody has ever complimented Gnöll’s fashion sense or asked where they could buy similar brown, fuzzy ‘dooks’ but thats ok. Gnöll likes the tickly-itchy wool feel against his skin.
Gnöll doesn’t want you to worry if your selfie doesn’t get many ‘likes’ on Instagram or if no one retweets your funny joke on Twitter. Gnöll thinks your joke is funny, and as for selfies, well he’s never tried it but he thinks your face looks just fine. He’s never seen a ‘wrong’ face, because wrong faces don’t exist. Gnöll dislikes trolls on the internet. They’re often not trolls at all, but humans with WiFi who are very small (compared to Gnöll) and very angry or sad. Sometimes Gnöll tampers with their WiFi so their touchscreens mysteriously only connect to Classic FM. Gnöll is fond of Mozart and sometimes Tchaikovsky. But instead of soothing the internet-troll-humans, it just makes them irate. Once, a man was so angry, he actually attacked a colony of pigeons living on his roof with a badminton racket whilst his phone blared out Verdi’s ‘Dies Irae’ at full volume*. Gnöll was glad the human got a bit of daylight, but does not condone violence. He glumly restored the WiFi, for this human was clearly a lost cause, and took all the pigeons out for lunch to apologise.
*Google it, it’s a spectacular piece of music to have a tantrum with. But be warned, pigeons may act shifty if you play it around them.
Occasionally, Gnöll browses the internet, using ancient magic naturally. The metallic chinking of whizzing WiFi sounds incredibly annoying to most FaeryFolk. But Gnöll overlooks, or rather overhears, this technological-tinnitus to tap into positive human vibes zipping around the planet. He likes to see a teenage human bravely show case their art-skills online when they’re not being bullied at school. He likes to watch a Grandpa fulfil his 89-year-old dream of finally being let loose on a drum-kit, where loud noises outweighs any attempts on rhythm. Mostly, he likes to browse the internet for cute pictures of dogs. He lies in a mossy glen, and lets the WiFi rearrange the sky into videos of puppies conquering stairs and photos of dogs trying to look innocent as they attempt to nick a custard cream. Gnöll, as you can probably tell, is very comfy with himself. (You kind of have to be to live for thousands of years, waiting for fun stuff to be invented.) But if this troll had to be anything other than Gnöll, he would probably opt for transforming into a sleepy, cuddly pooch that likes the odd treat. A Dachshund maybe? Or Golden Retriever?
“I think you’re a newfie, at heart,” I interrupted. Gnöll blinked short-sightedly at me. I’d broken his flow.
“Big, fluffy Newfoundland dog,” he smiled. “Yes, is me.”
We lapsed into a comfortable, cosy silence.
“So,” I broke it, as humans tend to do. “More dogs. Less trolling. That’s you’re message.”
“Hm-hm,” he nodded. “I’m a troll not trolling.”
So that’s Gnöll. (As you can probably tell, he helped me write all this.)
He’s a troll not trolling.
I like Gnöll.
Do say hello*. He always waves back.
*Or ‘Halló’. Or ‘Konnichiwa’. Or ‘Ogloon mend! Ta sain suuj baina uu?’ in which he will always reply: ‘Targan saikhan!’
Find out how Gnöll is helping this little human in Part 2 coming soon…
It’s the 1st December. It’s happening. I’ve been putting off writing this – not because I don’t enjoy it, but because I have to break it to you. Your house is infested with Festive Goblins. Sounds fun? If you like to be attacked with spontaneous clouds of glitter* then sure.
*Festive goblins are single handedly responsible for all glitter-bombs in Christmas cards. Forgive your Aunt Sybil, it was glitter free when she posted it.
Yes, it’s all fun and games until you get your tinsel in a tangle. You’ll wake up to find your gingerbread house invaded by pointy-eared squatters. You’ll go to sleep, wondering why you spontaneously bought a flashing Rudolph jumper online. Here’s the menace behind your problems…
How to Spot a Festive Goblin:
Don’t be fooled, they may be cheerful, but it’s a dangerous cheerful. It’s a ‘eat-this-mince-pie-or-choke-on-a-cashew-nut’ kind of cheerful. And they’re hard to spot. So really this diagram is pointless. Still, forewarned is forearmed. Guard your bundt cakes and look out for tiny footprints around your sleigh. They are not above sabotage.
Festive Goblins are easier to smell. Dead Christmas Tree and Eau de Sprout are their fragrances. As for noise, listen for activity in your biscuit tins.* Ever got a Christmas song stuck in your head? It will be the work of the wee blighters. They tiptoe onto your pillow while you sleep and crouch by your ear. Softly, softly, they whisper: “Last Christmas, I gave you a tart, but the berry next day, you gave me a sleigh…” Yes, it’s creepy, I told you not to get drawn in by the cheerful looks. And yes, they don’t know all the words, so you’ve been singing it wrong all this time.
*They also go mad in chocolate selection boxes – you’ll find sweet disappearing at an alarming rate.
Now it’s December, the goblins are going to go wild. They will infiltrate shops, make television cheesy, and force families to decorate their houses with bearded fat men. So what can you do…? Don’t worry, I’m forming a plan. I mean, do worry a little bit. Just don’t cry. They’ll start to sing.
All artwork, words, and festive warnings belong Ellen. She’s in one of her ‘all-is-doom’ moods.
I took my trusty father, notebook, and listening ears and enjoyed learning things from research instead of goblin-hearsay. The first talks theme: here be dragons!
Dragons in the Darkness
Slovenian dragons to be precise… Marco Frelih spoke about serpentine beasties and dislodged dragon’s teeth that formed giant, jagged rocks in the sea. He told tales of watery swamp dragons, cave dragons, and the rooster/snake that is the basilisk. These dragons could cause natural disasters, or in the latter case, petrify you dead with one stern look. A favourite, I believe of a few of us, was the beautiful grave dragon, crafted out of shells, to guard a loved one in the afterlife. This was found in Egypt, where dragons protect all treasures, not just gold.
In my drawing of a Slovenian basilisk, I was guided by both Mr Frelih’s descriptions and the unhelpful suggestions from Fropeggi and Cogg. So if it does, or does not, look like a basilisk, don’t blame the lecturer, blame the artist and impertinent goblins in her ear. Another confusing factor was that the male ‘rooster-footed’ basilisk hatched eggs and lurked in wells. I think Cogg over-exaggerated it’s ‘eeenormous’ size.
The Men of Maes Howe
The second talk was given by my very good friend Ragnhild Ljosland who has taught me many things: including Viking runes, Norwegian trolls, and Orkney dialect… now we ventured onto Vikings and Hogboys!
We learnt about the Viking men who broke into a Neolithic burial chamber called Maes Howe. Raggie spoke about all manner of hogboy and hogboon who guard mounds such as these and the men who encounter them. My brain lit up with pictures… Unfortunately I haven’t got my sketches sorted yet, because of health, and a baby troll who is using my drawing hand as a teether. I did attempt to draw the Hogboy of Maeshowe – a mighty spirit who sparked the imaginations of marauding Vikings. He may, or may not, go by the name King Orki. I have not quite captured him on paper yet. Partly because local trows howl warnings at me that King Orki ‘must-be-not disturbed’ or ‘observed too-close-like’! He’s a bit of an enigma, which is quite something coming from faeries who happily live amongst humans. Especially as said humans don’t believe they faeries exist.
So, in the future, I will draw King Orki, The Hogboy of Maes Howe, and get to the bottom of The Curious Incident of No Lights in the Nighttime. But for now, I’ll share with you my sketch of a ‘neepy-heid-hogboy’ who haunts a few local farmers. He lurks in neep fields and can be scared away with the phrase “Get oot o hid, Clapshot!”
The Amazing Mr Tesla!
Thirdly, we ventured into a realm so full of science my poor brain nearly self-combust.
Andrej Detela, physicist and inventor, enlightened us (pardon the pun) on the life and work of Nicola Tesla. I will have to admit, it was a bit over my wave-lenght (pardon the pun) and my Dad absorbed most of it. Physics was never my strong point. And to be fair, concentrating whilst an Electric-Buzz Sprite is zapping your toes is not my strong point either. He was momentarily stunned with how Tesla manipulated electric currents, making them wavy and undulating, so they travelled farther. (He has been practicing this ever since.) A few trows hooted appreciatively* when the speaker said Tesla was superstitious of women and thought they might distract him from his work. (*Trow-wives are particularly fierce and I once heard a trow-husband was sautéed in a frying pan and fed to pigeons)
Through each talk, trow, goblin and sprite activity was rife. Trows gathered dust and softly blew it into people’s nasal passages to spur on coughing fits. Trows snuck inbetween the chairs of the audience, whipping up ‘dropsie-spells’. The speaker was interrupted by the occasional thud of a notebook dropping to the floor. Thankfully, the mischievous hogboy of mobile phone tunes was engaged with the lecturers’ powerpoint presentations.
The Electric-Buzz Sprite is 70% benevolent but is not to be taunted or provoked. (Looking at you, Megrani.) He mostly is mischeivious to dull humans, livening up a touch with a tiny electric shock, or causing power-cuts during their favourite television programmes.
Seeing as this post is for the science festival, I decided to draw all these using modern technology: my Apple Pencil on the Procreate App for iPad. There were many glitches from aforementioned baby troll tugging on my elbow.
I enjoyed all three talks immensely, and though I haven’t relayed their subjects in any depth, I hope they can see how much inspiration was drawn from them.