What’s New for the 15th of October:

There are few joys to compare with the telling of a well-told tale. — Charles de Lint’s Yarrow: An Autumn Tale

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What am I playing? That’s June Tabor & Oysterband’s Ragged Kingdom which Vonnie saye Very Good Things about: ‘Tabor has reunited with the Oysterband for a second album, Ragged Kingdom and the two suit each other better now than when the first album, Freedom and Rain, made in o1991. Considering that the first album was magnificent, many of us had high expectations for this album. It a very different creature, and very good.’

The album mirriors the weather in being decidedly not chipper. Some October days are sunny and  warm here on this Scottish Estate — today’s not one of them. So the Fireplace here in the Angela Carter Reading Room is stoked properly and I’ve got my iPad and a pot of Sri Lankan Rilhena Estate Gently Cinnamon Smoked Ceylon Pekoe tea ready for drinking.

But before we turn to this edition, let me recommend another Autumnal reading which is Yarrow which as noted above is subtitled ‘An Autumn Tale’.  It’s one of his Ottawa set novels and shows his great affection for the city that he and MaryAnn Harris, his wife, have made their home. Brief enough for reading in an evening, it shows how good a writer he was even early on in his career.

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Welsh mythology in the guise of a well-loved novel gets looked at by me: ‘I must have first read Alan Garner’s The Owl Service some forty years ago when I was interested in all things concerning Welsh mythology. I wanted a hardcover first edition which cost a pretty penny at the time. I mention this because it’s now been at least twenty years since I last read this novel, which is long enough that when Naxos kindly sent the audiobook, I had pretty much forgotten the story beyond remembering that I was very impressed by the story Garner told.’

What’s October without a little horror? Denise looks at little horrors – a book full of them in fact – with her review of Ronald Kelly’s short story collection Midnight Grinding.  But it’s not just the spooky that hooked her, it’s his way with a tale.  ‘Ronald Kelly is a storyteller, plain and simple, and with Midnight Grinding, he proves that plain and simple is just plain old good.’

Running back and forth on Fall errands isn’t conducive to reading a book, so Denise gave a listen to Anansi Boys on the Playaway. And she was smitten. ‘The icing on the cake was their selection of Lenny Henry as narrator. I’ve been a huge fan of his ever since I stumbled on an episode of Chef many years back. … The ten hours of audio sailed by, thanks to Gaiman’s and Henry’s storytelling skills.’ Read her review to see what she thinks of the story and the audiobook.

Somehow the work of Tolkien for me is something decidedly Autumnal, and Kathleen has a look at two worbs by she’s treasured since her childhood which I like as well, to wit Tolkien’s Smith of Wooten Major & Farmer Giles of Ham. She says, ‘Smith and Farmer Giles have the advantage of being completed by Tolkien himself, and are lovely, polished tales. . . . They are the work of a very modern and well-educated scholar — but like all Professor Tolkien’s work, they feel like an echo of the sunlit fields and shadowed woods of the British mythic landscape that he so loved.’

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Scared Fire is a short story by Charles de Lint that got adapted by Showtime, the American cable network for The Hunger, a horror series that ran two seasons and featured David Bowie as The Host for the second season. Michael says in the conclusion to his review that ‘While there are so many more de Lint stories I’d love to see adapted for television or film, I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Sacred Fire is a highly satisfactory translation from book to film, and recommended.’ Now go read his review to see how he got to this statement.

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If ever there was a series that felt like it was Autumn all the rime, it is the one Kathleen and her sister Kage wrote up, Two Fat Ladieswhose series documented that they were brilliant English cooks who rode a motorcycle with a sidecar, drank excessively, smoked whenever they pleased and cooked using bloody great hunks of meat, butter and anything else that isn’t ‘tall good for you. And funny as all Hell as well which indeed the review is as well.

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Robert has a look at a couple of boys’ love manga that, while not exactly “autumnal”, are pretty tough. Of the first, Satoru Ishihara’s Kimi Shiruya, he says: ‘Satoru Ishihara is an artist whose work has come to interest me a great deal. I think that interest is justified by what I’ve found in Kimi Shiruya: it’s a work of many levels, as much a product of reticence and implication as of overt portrayals, perhaps more so.’

Next is Momoko Tenzen’s Seven: ‘Momoko Tenzen’s Seven is another one of those boys’ love manga that, like Kimi Shiruya, moves the genre boundaries outward, although unlike the latter — and most popular examples of the type — it is rather bleak, at least at the beginning.’

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Freedom Highway may be the first perfect album of the year. And it’s definitely one of the most important,’ Gary wrote in his review back in February. We’re re-upping his review in light of the announcement that Giddens was among those who received a ‘Genius Grant’ from the MacArthur Foundation for 2017.

In his review of the new album by Tunisian oud master Anouar Brahem, Gary says ‘There’s a moment a couple of minutes in to the title track of Anouar Brahem’s exquisite new album Blue Maqams that is the kind of moment I long for, like a thirsty person in the desert longs for a cool drink.’

Gary thoroughly enjoyed Dori Freeman’s self-titled debut in 2016, and he also likes her new album: ‘Letters Never Read is a solid follow-up that bodes well for her staying power as an Americana star.’

Storm + Calm gets Peter’s approval: ‘Described on their website as ‘a swirling reverie of Scots and Irish song; flute; whistles; fiddles; guitar; bouzouki; bodhran; and Irish dance, HAWP is a Celtic ensemble that combines ancient traditions with modern musical approaches to create a sound truly representative of Celtic culture in the 21st century. This album does just what it says on the tin.

Scott looks at a retrospective album from a Swedish folk rock (it) band: ‘Instead of releasing a full-length album of new material with the current lineup, though, Hedningarna chose 2003 to release a retrospective CD, with two new songs and sixteen additional recordings spanning their history. 1989-2003 captures many of the band’s finest moments, although there were a handful of glaring omissions as well. Then again, one mark of a truly great band is that when the inevitable “best of” CD is compiled, there is ample room for disagreement over which recordings are truly the best. Such is the case with Hedningarna.’

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As the autumnal air crisps and sweaters become the rule of the day, thoughts tend to drift to a lovely mug of apple cider.  Which always leads me to the making of it, and then to Vita Sackville-West’s poem, “Making Cider”.  The pulling of the crank, the rending of the pulp, and of course that glorious end product!  Perhaps I should head over to the Kitchen and see if Cook has anything apple-cinnamon warming on the stove…

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I hadn’t any particular artist in mine this edition, so I asked the Infinite Jukebox app to suggest cuts for me based on my usual listening patterns this time of year. ‘Red Barn Stomp’ recorded by the Oysterband during their Minneapolis ’91 concert with June Tabor is a good choice as is ‘The Dancing Bear’, a spiritedly tune by Dervish performed at Brodick Hall, Isle of Arran, Sept 25 of ’93 as was ‘A Tune For Mairéad And Anna’, a Altan tune recorded at a Folkadelphia Session, March 7th of ’15.

I eventually decided that something of an story nature was what I wanted, so ‘The Girl in the Garden’ from Sirens by SJ Tucker does nicely. It tells the tale of the orphan in Catherynne Valente’s The Orphan’s Tales: In The Night Garden. If you like what Tucker does here, you’ll love this work by Valente, the first of two volumes of The Orphan’s Tales.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: All Hallows’ Eve

Fall leavesGus, here. All Hallow’s Eve is less than three weeks away, and the Staff is deep in preparations. Mind you, a lot of those are just fun and games: putting up decorations and scurrying around with secret costume plans. Some of the more inventive around here won’t be able to move for the weight of their guisings on the night itself. Those who are already done are creeping about vying for dibs on copies of Charles Vess’ The Book of Ballads – we’re giving them away this coming month, and they are the most anticipated Treat in the place: a entire book/bag of bittersweets by the likes of Jane Yolen, Charles de Lint and Neil Gaiman.

It’s a busy month in the gardens, but I am leading from the rear at the moment; sitting here and watching the main courtyard, wondering if the great oak there is going to win this year’s contest with my lads pruning deadwood. Our esteemed cook  Mrs. Ware has requested my feedback, as it were, on an experimental batch of triple Brie and fig scones for the annual Halloween feast, and it’s my pleasure to sit and give it my deepest attention. That woman brings inspiration to a plate of crackers and cheese; what she does to a risen dough enters the realm of the sacred …

For the Kitchen Staff, Reynard’s Tap Crew, and for my own lads in the garden, there’s a lot of real work leading up to Samhain celebrations. Mrs. W. is, as I said, already cooking: she’s been laying aside a veritable treasure trove of pickles, relishes, butters, marinades, sauces, curds, creams and other culinary conceits — when the freshly baked and just roasted masterpieces hit the tables, they will be accompanied by her usual astonishing condiments. Do you fancy pork roast rolled in leeks and apples, with whipped sweet potatoes in a cognac sauce? And new bread? Well, plan to move fast when it’s served, then, because so do I.

Reynard, of course, is both laying in appropriate potables and fretting over the batches brewed here specifically for All Hallow’s. All this month he’s been serving Headless Jack’s Pumpkin Spice Halloween Ale in the Pub. Come try a pint, but be careful! I’m told the name is not only seasonal, but a fair warning of the effects of over-indulgence. And there are the porters, the stouts, the dark brews like liquid bread that are required for this holiday; the cider and perry and aged brandies to keep off the growing chill and light the holiday bonfires in us all.

The Endless Session has been having night ceilidhs in the gardens, before the nights get too cold and they retreat to the Pub for the winter. Autumn evenings the wind rises in the woods, and gives the music in the courtyards a special pace and chorus … the secret’s in the pruning, of course, though I doubt the Session has figured that out. But I go out and do the trimming myself, tuning the oaks like an Aolian harp, so their voices will be clear on All Hallow’s night.

Most of all, though, my lads and I are responsible for the bonfires. No one cuts wood in my gardens except me and mine, and at this time of year I’m just as particular about the fallen wood as I am about the trimmed. That wood’s been gathered and stacked with great deliberation, you know. The Halloween bonfires have to be carefully planned, and meticulously built; I daresay the mix of firewood I use is as complicated as Mrs. Wares’ pumpkin butter or Reynard’s Samhain Stout. It needs a particular scent, a notable stamina and even special colour … which is why that one oak has to be pruned just so. The eastern boughs have seen soaking up the salt mist and should burn like tourmalines. It will make the perfect King Log … if that fool Andrew doesn’t hang himself with that guy rope!

Hi! Look sharp, lads! What are you about? We don’t do that anymore…

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What’s New for the 8th of October: Red Clay Ramblers offer up Halloween Music, Black cat awareness month, Philip Glass’ “portraits”, the folklore and folkways of American Indians, Ursula le Guin on Coyote, and her Buffalo Gals fantasy.

Coyote is an anarchist. She can confuse all civilised ideas simply by trotting through. And she always fools the pompous. Just when your ideas begin to get all nicely arranged and squared off, she messes them up. Things are never going to be neat, that’s one thing you can count on. Coyote walks through all our minds. Obviously, we need a trickster, a creator who made the world all wrong. We need the idea of a God who makes mistakes, gets into trouble, and who is identified with a scruffy little animal. — Ursula Le Guin in an interview in Jonathan White’s Talking on the Water: Conversations About Nature and Creativity Dreams 

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Like Robert in last week’s edition, I’ve been reading Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales, an exemplary anthology of stories where the coyote, or the fox in other cultures such as Britain or Japan, has a role in each tale. These tricksters,can be found elsewhere in literature and music, such as in Charles de Lint’s Someplace To Be Flying, in the Hellboy animated film Sword of Storms and in a song by Joni Mitchell aptly called ‘No Regrets Coyote’ performed here at the Sydney Opera House some thirty years ago.

We’ve no coyotes on this Scottish Estate but the foxes here are just as entertaining. We never allowed any hunting of them here so we’re we’re very delighted that the new fragile coalition of PM Theresa May abandoned her Conservative Party campaign promise to restore fox hunting in all of Britain. She’s not quite as bad as the Iron Bitch was but a resounding majority for her Party would’ve give her leave to be just like her.

So  let’s see what we’ve got for you this time which includes a book review section more or less about coyotes and the mythology around them. And our What Not concerns Black Cat Awareness Month, fitting as almost all felines on this Scottish Estate are black in colour.

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Gary takes a look at three recently published books: The Anguish of Snails by Barre Toelken; Myths of Native America, edited by Tim McNeese; and When Brer Rabbit Meets Coyote, edited by Jonathan Brennan. If you’re interested in furthering your knowledge and understanding of the folklore and folkways of American Indians, you’ll want to see what Gary has to say about these three books.

Kim found a book that was more than merely good: Ursula K. Le Guin’s Buffalo Gals. This novella, Kim says, takes the reader ‘..into the magical world Gal, or Myra as she is known in some circles, experiences after being injured in a plane crash and then rescued by Coyote. Boulet’s work draws us into the world Gal sees with her new eye, a multilayered field of vision that bridges the nature and the appearance of things so beautifully communicated in Le Guin’s story. It has earned a place next to my treasured “children’s” books — the selfishness of an adult who finds some things too beautiful to actually let the wee wilds grub them up.’

We’ve noted before that not all of everything that comes in for review finds favour with us. Such is the fate of a novel by Kim Antieau which Mia reviews for us: ‘Coyote Cowgirl has all of the necessary ingredients to be a great book; unfortunately, like the cinnamon flavored scrambled eggs in one scene, there are other extra ingredients that spoil the recipe. It’s not horrible; even more reprehensible: it’s mediocre.’

(One reader wrote us to that he ‘was relieved, after reading Mia’s review of this novel, not to be the only one ‘crazy’ enough to find the book unsatisfying.)

Robert’s review of 9Tail Fox whittles down the general genre label and gets to the heart of the story. ‘The book cover claims that Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s 9Tail Fox is ‘A novel of science fiction.’ Considering what science fiction has become over the past generation, that could well be valid — with some qualifications. I’m going to call it ‘slipstream’ in honor of its genre-bending tendencies and let it go at that.’ Ahh, but is it any good? Robert’s review lets you know.

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In the States, Major League Baseball has just started its post-season. So let’s  turn to Michelle for an essay on that sport in film: ‘In the big inning, God created baseball. Or perhaps it was Loki, patron of athletics and other tricks; the origins are shrouded in antiquity. There is also debate about which mortal first received the divine inspiration. Abner Doubleday often gets credit, though some historians claim the game was played in England in the 1700s. What is known is that, in 1845, a team called the New York Knickerbockers adopted the rules of the game we know as baseball. In New Jersey that summer, they played the first organized baseball game, and America acquired its own pantheon.’

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We’ve reviewed a fair amount of sweet things down the years and Leona has some candies for us to consider: ‘It’s rare to find a beautifully designed package that actually has great product inside; less so when the subject is coffee candy and the reviewer is … well … picky as hell on both counts. But Bali’s Best Premium Collection, distributed by Fusion Gourmet, Inc. of California, pulls off the double success with ease.’

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Brush With Passion: The Art and Life of Dave Stevens, edited by Arnie Fenner and Cathy Fenner, put Richard in a reflective mood. ‘[It’s] an utterly gorgeous book. It’s also a terribly sad one… It’s not until the very end of his life that Stevens seemingly figured out what he was, or more importantly, what he could be, and the fact that this was never given time to blossom is perhaps the saddest thing of all. But if there is sadness here, there is also beauty and joy.’

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Barb has a story to tell us about those responsible for Trio: ‘Väsen is Olov Johansson on 3-row chromatic nyckelharpa and kontrabasharpa, Mikael Marin on viola, 5-string viola, and pomposa, and Roger Tallroth on 12-string guitar and bosoki. Having had the opportunity over the last few years to immerse myself in many of Väsen’s recordings, see them perform live, and interview Olov Johansson, these musicians (unbeknownst to them) have become old friends.’ She’s now has their newest CD Brewed in hand and will of course be reviewing it for us.

Donna looks at Up in The Air’s Moonshine and Gavin Marwick’s The Long Road and The Far Horizon: ‘Gavin Marwick is a talented and prolific Scottish composer and fiddle player. He’s in or has been in bands including Cantrip, Bellevue Rendezvous, Journeyman, Iron Horse, Ceilidh Minogue and Up in the Air. I’ve seen him perform (with Cantrip) and reviewed his Bellevue Rendezvous outings. So of course I was happy to offer to review these two CDs when offered. I’m just sorry it took me so long to listen and write!’

Gary finds the music on Norwegian bassist Björn Meyer’s Provenance to be ‘calming and focusing; the deep drones and repetitive rhythmic patterns help you remember to breathe deeply and be aware of the inner and outer beauty that’s still available.’

Robert has a look at two of Philip Glass’s ‘portraits of nature,’ Itapu and The Canyon: ‘Among contemporary composers, perhaps the most notable for writing program music is Philip Glass, whom Nick Jones, in his essay accompanying this disc calls “a composer of images.” Call it “images” or “program,” it’s a tendency that has persisted throughout Glass’ career (and probably accounts for his affinity for the theater) and one that is well illustrated in Itapu and The Canyon.’

Speaking of Glass’ ‘portraits,’ Robert brings us his take on the ‘portrait’ operas: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten: ‘Robert Wilson, Philip Glass’ collaborator on Einstein on the Beach, noted that until that work hit the boards, theater was bound by literature. Thinking on it, he’s pretty much right: stage plays, opera, even film were constrained by a narrative line that relied on a chronological sequence, all based on language. Not so Einstein.’

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As October is Black Cat Awareness Month, I can’t help but think about our oft-maligned feline companions.  This is the time of year when the worst can and does happen to black cats, simply because of the color of their fur, and the miseducation of some humans entrusted to their care.  Nay, the care of nature itself. It’s a pity that bad things happen to good cats, but most especially this time of year, when black cats should be celebrated.

So if you see a shadowy creature cross your path this time of year, remember that we all have our battles to fight. And perhaps that great onyx beauty is trying to avoid hers. Wish her well, and consider the sight a omen of good things for you both.

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It’s still a ways off from the triple holidays of Halloween, Samhain and The Day of The Dead that we celebrate here, but I thought I’d offer up some music made generously available by the Red Clay Ramblers exclusively for us. It’s from their still unreleased Windsor, Texas recording and bears the seasonally apt name of ‘The Pumpkin Dance’.

We’ve reviewed a lot of their music but I’ll refer you our looks at It Ain’t Right, Old North State and Yonder as good starters to experience their music.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Estate Gardener

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Though I’m called the Estate Gardener, my job covers far more than that, as it’s been enlarged many times over the centuries. So let me detail what I do.

Of course I’m responsible for both the edible gardening and the ornamental landscaping we do here. Given the size of the Estate staff, the events we host and the bartering we do with our farms, we got many, many acres under production, all organic.

We have extensive livestock — bees, pigs, poultry (chickens, ducks and geese), pigs, and sheep. To keep the sheep safe, we have Russian wolfhounds — I dare any predator to tangle with them! Most of that work is done my staff but I reserve the beekeeping for me as I love working with them.

Though we no longer heat the buildings with wood, we do have enough usage (kitchen, library, saunas, smoking bacon, et al.) that we burn twenty cords a year. That means we need to keep the acreage devoted to harvesting maintained. Much of that work gets done in the winter, a quiet time for pretty much all of the other outside work. Oh, and we have horses for harvesting work now.

We also maintain the pathways here, none of which are paved. We use stone, crushed stone and granite dust. Likewise we need to keep the paths through the woods safe by removing unsafe trees and limbs as quickly as we can.

We do all of the infrastructure work from the yurts to the massive Estate building by hiring extra staff that lives here all summer in a group of yurts we set aside for them. That frees us up to do everything else needs doing.

There’s other stuff, such as maintaining the solar power setup and the low head hydro, the salmon spawning pools, and numerous other tasks.

It’s hard work, often with very long hours, but I (mostly) enjoy it.

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What’s New for the 1st of October: Organic Dark Chocolate Espresso treats, Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, Clannad doing ‘The Two Sisters’, Arthurian and Welsh mythology, a Terri Windling interview and other Autumnal matters

A lot of the old folklore and fairy tales and myths are intensely dark, particularly once you get away from Victorian watered-down versions.

Terri Windling in our interview with her

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Autumn for me arrives really when the middle of October arrives as my feelings towards it start their shift into accepting it will soon be noticibly colder here. And I’m very likely to pull a volume of the Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling edited folk tale based stories, say Snow White, Blood Red or Black Heart, Ivory Bonesfrom the shelf here in the Kinrowan Estate Library, and sit reading one of them by the fireplace in our quarters.

We’ve reviewed hundreds of books over the past thirty years after Windling and Datlow essentially created the modern fascination with folklore retold in fiction. Below you’ll see but a small selection of such anthologies and novels as I’ve asked the Editors to choose their favourite ones.

My pick is the ones set in Bordertown, a City on the Border of Faerie which can reached by walking towards the centre of any ruined city in our World. The latest anthology, Welcome to Bordertown as edited by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner, is a good place to start as it gives the reader enough background on that City to full appreciated what’s been created here.

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Denise takes a look at a Young Adult story, Temping Fate. You may have thought that was a typographical error, but nope; in this YA novel, a young girl begins a very unique temp job.  In fact, you could say that it’s otherworldly; she’s an assistant for The Fates, which opens up a door to all sorts of mythological…things. Denise found that “Friesner creates an interesting world where gods and goddesses require outside help in order to get their jobs done. Instead of sounding goofy or just too cute, this idea works, and the story takes off at a surprisingly brisk pace.”  Who says YA is all dark and emo?

Welsh mythology in the guise of a well-loved novel gets looked at by me: ‘I must have first read Alan Garner’s The Owl Service some forty years ago when I was interested in all things concerning Welsh mythology. I wanted a hardcover first edition which cost a pretty penny at the time. I mention this because it’s now been at least twenty years since I last read this novel, which is long enough that when Naxos kindly sent the audiobook, I had pretty much forgotten the story beyond remembering that I was very impressed by the story Garner told.’

Speaking of Welsh mythology, Robert has a look at a fairly heavy-weight discussion of Welsh Mythology and Folklore in Popular Culture: ‘ The editors make some large claims for the influence of Welsh mythology and legends on modern popular culture in their introduction, “Re-Imagining Wales,” which does make one important point: the Wales of the Mabinogi, the central body of Welsh myth, is not the “real” Wales.’

And on a related topic, another scholarly anthology: ‘I would suggest that those looking for a full telling of the Arthurian cycle stick to Malory and his successors: The Arthur of the English is not about Arthur, it is about the creation of the Arthurian Cycle itself. It is the work of scholars of literature – all with substantial credentials – and, while its relation of cultural and social circumstances is fascinating to a student of the period, its focus is still critical, historical, and linguistic. . . .’

Oh, and about those anthologies from Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling: Robert has a particular fondness for Tricksters, and so The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales was right up his alley: ‘Trickster gods have long fascinated me, mostly because they are the most entertaining characters in mythology. They also represent the element of chance in the universe, and point as well to an underlying truth about our conception of godhood: Tricksters are the polar points on the continuum of “good” and “bad” — heroes and villains, buffoons and sages, creators and destroyers — and most points in between.’

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Robert brings us a taste of an Organic Dark Chocolate Espresso that was not made in Italy: ‘In spite of the name, Vivani Organic Dark Chocolate Espresso is made by a German company, Ludwig Weinrich GmbH, which been in the business of producing fine chocolates for a century. Like so many contemporary confectioners, Weinrich uses only organic ingredients.’

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Jay Ungar and Molly Mason’s Harvest Home: Music For All Seasons is to the liking of Brendan, who says, ‘With their 1999 release Harvest Home, they have given themselves a new challenge. Arranging a set of tunes from the broad variety of American rural music traditions, designed to celebrate the seasons and labor of farm life, they also decided to try their hand at incorporating these folk themes (both original and traditional) into an orchestral piece called “The Harvest Home Suite.” The result is a beautiful, surprising complex CD which showcases the many rural traditions of the United States while, just as Ungar and Mason hoped, giving all of these pieces a new energy.’

Jack says of The White Horse Sessions by Nightnoise that  ‘I spent years looking for this album after Reynard, a bandmate of mine in Mouse in the Cupboard, said it was an album that I should hear. (He heard it on some late-night Celtic radio programme, but couldn’t find a copy either! Nor could he remember who the DJ was.) But literally nowhere was there a copy to be had at any price or in any format. We both began to suspect that perhaps this was one of those fey albums that only existed across the Border, but a copy showed up in the post here a few months ago at Green Man with a scribbled unsigned note and a smudged postmark that might have said ‘Bordertown’ but I can’t be sure. It simply said that the sender had heard that I was looking for the White Horse Sessions, and here was a copy of the CD! Whoever you are, thank you!’

Gary reviews Richard Thompson’s second solo acoustic release of 2017, this one called Acoustic Rarities. This is not standard singer-songwriter fare, he says. ‘The song selection, the playing and the arrangements all highlight the diverse skills of Richard Thompson, a non-pareil entertainer of studio and stage.’

Saffron Ensemble adds touches of jazz to the music of Indian sitarist Shujaat Husain Khan and Iranian vocalist Katayoun Goudarzi. Will You is their second album, and Gary says, ‘The musicians seem to have really hit their groove. The Western players contribute beautiful colors to the pieces and a slightly different style of improvisation, but they all seem to play off of each other quite ably, which further enhances the moving experience of listening to Khan and Goudarzi.’

Christine Primose’s Gràdh is gonadh – Guth ag aithris (Love & Loss – a Lone Voice) was a difficult one for Lars to review: ‘This is a hard one to review. I usually listen for nice arrangements, how the instrumental backing fits to the song’s temper and the style of the singer. I am also very interested in good lyrics, clever lines and unusual rhymes. And here comes a CD where every single song is sung a capella, hence the part of the title that says”a Lone Voice” sung in a language where I do not understand a single, and I really mean not a single, word.’

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This week’s What Not ushers in October with something spooky; a look at Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, that famous/infamous theater in Paris that literally set the stage for the horror genre as now stand.  (For better or worse.) The folks at Stuff You Missed In History Class did a fine podcast about this theater, so listen…if you dare!

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Some of the Child Ballads which are three hundred and five traditional ballads from England and Scotland, and some of their American variants, as collected by Francis James Child during the second half of the 19th century are grim indeed.

Many of them made their way into the repertoire of groups such as the Old Blind Fogs, Clannad, Steeleye Span, Fairport Convention and Pentangle. Searching the Infinite Jukebox, our digital server of all things digital, I found Clannad  (here is one of the myriad best off anthologies by them) doing ‘The Two Sisters’ (Child #10)  more commonly known as ‘The Cruel Sister’. It was recorded in Koln, Germany sometime about forty years ago.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Elven Contradance Band

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It was one of the oddest contradance bands I had the privilege to call for, as it was comprised solely of musicians from across the Border. Now the Elves tell us next to nothing about their culture, so what we do know of the True Bloods is centuries old. We do have True Bloods music preserved in shards of glass that play within our heads when we hold them but the idea that True Bloods had a taste for contradance music was particularly surprising given that they have a disdain for anything of our culture past that of Elizabethian Era, when True Bloods such as Peasblossom and Moth got name-checked by Shakespeare.

Contradance music being less than a century old in any meaningful sense, I figured that they hadn’t noticed it yet. But it turned out Gutmansdottir, the botanist studying our Wild Wood, had been playing contradance tunes on her fiddle while out there and two younger elves, still only in their second century, had listened to her with keen interest. A trio of them has been part of our dances for some three years now — they were amazingly superb dancers.k

So when I was approached to call for them, I was surprised. Truly surprised. Their band name was Spritely Tunes (more or less) in English. One player had what looked like a violin but was pitched oddly, another had a double-headed harp, and the third player had what was obviously their version of Border pipes.

It perhaps was Elizabethian court music filtered through their own not-human sensibilities. It was haunting though upbeat music fit for the Winter night they played. Their versions of reels, waltzes and even jigs were quickly learned by me and I gave instructions to the dancers. Three hours later, dancers and musicians (not to mention me) were ecstatic but bloody tired.

We all bowed to them as one and they left our dance for (presumably) The Border but that was only a guess. All I know is they’ve shown up three times since, each time in deep Winter, after a messenger tells me they’re coming in a week. Being True Bloods, they assume that we would of course be there to dance if they so requested.

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What’s New for the 24th of September: Traffic’s version of ‘John Barleycorn’, Dissing neo-paganism, Vess’ Book of Ballads and Sagas and other matters

If I told you the whole story, your head would burst. There is no one story, there are branches, rooms… corridors, dead ends. — The Storyteller as played by a John Hurt in Jim Henson’s The Storyteller

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It’s definitely not Summer here on this Scottish Estate as the Autumnal Equinox passed a few days ago, and we dropped to just about fifteen  for a low last night which made for a crispness in the air this morning though it warmed nicely by early afternoon. Bjorn, the Estate Brewer, claims it puts a nice edge in the apples and pears that’ll be made into cider by him.

The music playing here in the Pub’s is Fairport Convention’s ‘Fiddlestix’, apparently recorded at a concert in Amsterdam, supposedly in 1975 though even that’s just a guess.  As I get older, I find myself more drawn to the folk tinged music of bands like them, and I find myself increasingly surprised when I remember these bands are all over fifty years in age!

In the meantime, may I offer you one of our seasonal ales? We call this one John Barleycorn in honour of that  song which first saw life as ‘Sir John Barlycorn’ as written by Alexander Pennecuik and published by him as a broadside in 1725.

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As I noted above, Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span always seem to evoke Autumn for me, so it’s fitting that Lars has a review of Brian Hinton and Geoff Wall’s biography of Ashley Hutchings: The Guv’nor & the Rise of Folk Rock as Ashley helped birth both of those groups: ‘To some of us the subject of this book is, if not God, at least the musical equivalent to the pope. Name a group you like and have followed over the years, and there is a fair chance that Mr. Hutchings was there to start it, or at least influence the starting of it. He is in one way or another responsible for a very large number of the records in my collection, and yes, we are certainly talking three figures, here.’

A number of songs covered by Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span have a pagan emphasis such as ‘Tam Lin’ (covered live by the former here and the latter thisaway) and ‘Alison Gross’ being Child Ballads 34 and 39. Francis Child collected an impressive number of English folk ballads, many of them obviously pagan in origin, so let’s look at the edition of them published by Loomis House fifteen years ago: ‘A nice bonus is that they do include sixty ballad tunes drawn from Child’s original sources. (Child felt the words, not the music, were the ‘real’ ballad.) Any fiddler worth hearing will find much to learn from these tunes. And folklorists, traditional music lovers, storytellers, and just about everyone else who likes any aspect of what these ballads are should own this new edition. Even if you now own the Dover editions, these are a must as they are better in every way possible!’

And now for something completely different, as happens around here with regularity. (It’s that kind of place.) Robert has some thoughts on Thomas M. Disch’s The Wall of America (which seems somehow timely): ‘Thomas M. Disch was one of the more challenging of the American New Wave science-fiction writers. Where writers such as Roger Zelazny and Samuel R. Delany were pushing the boundaries of the formally acceptable in science fiction (and fantasy, for that matter), Disch was turning the conceptual universe upside down with novels such as Camp Concentration and 334. It’s also worth noting that he was a respected poet and literary critic (among other things), and those disciplines find echoes in his fiction.’

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For this issue, Denise dove into a bag of Sirius Konsum’s Chocolate & Lakkris.  And it seems that could be taken quite literally, “I didn’t want to review this.  I wanted to grab the bag and flee into a hidden wilderness, so I could be alone with the deliciousness. … They’re more than candy, they’re comfort.” Intrigued?  Well, blending chocolate and licorice is something Iceland has been doing for quite a long time, so it’s no surprise her licorice-loving heart found a new joy. Read her full review for exactly what she thought!

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Take a number of well-known musicians, toss in fans and a camera crew, put all on a train traversing Canada. That’s the gist of Festival Express. Sound intriguing? David thinks so: ‘It opens with a faded map of north Ontario, Kapuskasing dead centre. Then the camera pulls back and from the middle of the screen comes a train — an old Canadian National engine — and tracks, lots of tracks. This is a movie about that train and the people who rode on it, and the places it stopped, and what happened one week in 1970 when this train went from Toronto to Calgary … with a cargo of rock’n’rollers and all their paraphernalia. What a summer.’

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The four issue run of Ballads and Sagas that later got a book treatment by Tor gets a look-see by Debbie: ‘Charles Vess, an extremely talented graphic artist, has done just that. Vess, who has a solid reputation for illustrating such works as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman stories (also published in graphic novel form) also loves the ballads and sagas that have been entertaining people for hundreds of years, and in this series of books he has collaborated with some of the best-known writers in fantasy literature, including Gaiman, Jane Yolen, Charles de Lint, Sharyn McCrumb (not a fantasy writer but an author of mysteries with an Appalachian folkloric theme), Midori Snyder, Robert Walton and Delia Sherman (whew!) — I hope I’ve not left anyone out! They tell the stories: he does the illustrations.’

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Gary reviews the album Urban Griot by the international jazz quartet NYConnection. ‘It’s a fine example of a mostly Scandinavian ensemble bringing its own sensibilities to jazz with convincing results that often swing and are always cool.’

The Red Clay Ramblers whose Old North State is reviewed here have been around a longtime and their members have done a lot of other recordings down the generations. Judith looks at one such recording here: ‘This season, independent CDs by Former Red Clay Ramblers are popping up everywhere. This one, Shining Down , is by Mike Craver, whose forte is piano, but who also plays guitar, percussion, and theramin.’

Lars has a confession: ‘Why was I taken by surprise by Himmerland’s The Spider in the Fiddle? Firstly, Denmark is full of good music, and Danish groups are constantly producing lovely music. Secondly, I have twice before discovered new favourite groups with Ditte Fromseier in. First there was Flax in Bloom, a group that never recorded but in concert turned out smooth Irish music, then Habbadam, a trio playing traditional music from Fromseier’s native Danish island of Bornholm. Habbadam’s albums still get played in my stereo.’

Perhaps the most faithful of the Oysterband fans that was ever among us, Vonnie once wrote a review for us of the lads in the early days of a better nation: ‘A quick Google search tells me that the average life span of a pearl-farmed oyster is six years, while the life span of a freshwater oyster can be as long as 80. The individual ages of the Oysters — members of our own, darling Oysterband — lie someplace between the two, while the Oysterband as a whole marked its 25th anniversary several years ago. If you’ve followed the Oysterband for only the past 20 years, Before the Flood will surprise.’

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As Summer wends its way to Fall, it becomes the season of festivals.  In Baltimore this weekend, there was a two-for-one with the Baltimore Book Festival and the Baltimore Comic-Con.  Both had a lot to enjoy for readers, as well as chances to connect with creators, authors and more.  At the Festival, there was cooking, beer brewing, science fiction and memories of times past. At the Con, there was comics, TV stars, science fiction and memories of times past.  Coincidence at the similarities?  Of course not.  Stories are stories, and the links between different forms of storytelling are always there, if you take a look.

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Speaking of John Barleycorn, I searched the Infinite Jukebox, our server of all things digital, and found a recording of the best known version of that song which was done by Traffic with Steve Winwood as vocalist and released in July 1970. This ‘John Barleycorn’ was recorded by them at  Paris Theatre, London sometime in 1970.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: The Calamity Janes

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They called themselves the Calamity Janes. They were an Americana group that showed up here. Jack hadn’t booked them, indeed hadn’t even heard of them, but they decided to visit us one fine summer day as they’d heard they could get room and board for playing here, which was (sort of) true. Jack consulted with Ingrid, the Estate Stewart who makes that decisions, and she said yes if they were willing to also help around the Estate as we always could more bodies during the growing season, which they were enthusiastic about doing anyway.

They were a three-woman group (fiddle, dobro, and mountain dulcimer) all in their thirties. Visually they were a striking group: all red-haired with green eyes and abundant freckles and ready smiles for all they encountered. In concert, they had a sweet sound, blending old-time, bluegrass (both of which are relatively new forms) and Celtic into something unique that worked nicely.

Of course they played acoustic as does everyone here and we got permission as we always do to record them for inclusion in our Infinite Jukebox, our MP3 archives. Their performances were attended by almost everyone on the Estate. One concert alone ran over three hours and a number of the musos here ended up sitting with them for their jams after the concerts.

Ingrid arranged for them to play and give a hands-on workshop for the children at the Lewis Carroll School of The Imagination in the village nearest us. The teacher there said the students were in rapture from the entire time they were there. Several of the female students vowed that they would be musicians.

He also handed them, to their delight and surprise, a rather nice cheque even though they hadn’t expected to be paid. He also handed them three Eurorail passes so they could get around easily while they were still travelling. And Jack arranged for them to come back the next time that they came over this way.2F1E3C1F-3976-487C-BB76-623C51D8C475

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What’s New for the 17th of September: Louisiana’s Lost Bayou Ramblers, live music by Kathryn Tickell, Ottawa based urban fantasies by Charles de Lint, Norwegian saxophonist Karl Seglem, Gus on the Estate Kitchen garden and other Autumnal matters

Every good fiddler has a distinctive sound. No matter how many play the same tune, each can’t help but play it differently. Some might use an up stroke where another would a down. One might bow a series of quick single notes where another would play them all with one long draw of the bow. Some might play a double stop where others would a single string. If the listener’s ear was good enough, she could tell the difference. But you had to know the tunes, and the players, for the differences were minute. — Fiaina in Charles de Lint’s Drink Down the Moon

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The end of Summer is nigh upon us as the Autumnal Equinox is but a few days out and we here on this Scottish Estate have begun the only partly conscious shift into Autumn as a given thing. Everything — from the behaviour of the lynxes as they hunt their prey to the food served up by Mrs. Ware who’s our Head Cook and her staff — starts the shift to serving the heartier foods what the increasingly cold, too frequently wet weather causes us to crave.

By October, even the Neverending Session starts folding in on itself as the ancient boon of food, drink and a place to sleep is outweighed by our remoteness. So that group is largely comprised of the mmusicians here, a number somewhere around a third of the Estate staff such as myself (violin),  my wife Catherine (voice and wire strung Welsh violin), Béla (violin), Finch (smallpipes) and Reynard (concertina). It’s always interesting to see who’s playing in it at any given moment. Nor is it by any means always present, a myth started by the musicians a long time ago.

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Early in his career, Charles de Lint did a number of novels set in the real city of Ottawa where he and his wife, artist MaryAnn Harris, live and have made their home for many decades. We’ve reviewed these works so we decided to  feature some of  those reviews in this edition. At the end of each review, you’ll  find the URL for purchasing the digital Triskell Press edition of  the novels or novels in that review.

His Yarrow: An Autumn Tale gets a loving look by Grey: ‘Cat Midhir has stopped dreaming. People assure her that it isn’t possible, that she just doesn’t remember her dreams, but Cat knows they’re wrong. Where her dreams have been, there is only heaviness and loss. For Cat, this loss means more than it would to most of us, because she is that rarest of all dreamers, a person who returns to the same dream every time she sleeps. In her dream world live her truest friends and her only source of inspiration for the books and stories that have won her acclaim in her waking life…’

Robert has two Autumnal fantasies by de Lint: ‘Charles de Lint is known as “the godfather of urban fantasy,” and indeed, it’s in that genre that he’s made his mark – he’s never been a writer of heroic fantasy: in a better than thirty year career, very few buckles get swashed, although the two short novels included in Jack of KinrowanJack the Giant Killer and Drink Down the Moon — come close, something of a romp a la Dumas pere — by way of Harold Lloyd, perhaps. Both concern the adventures of Jacky Rowan and Kate Hazel, best friends who find themselves enmeshed in the doings of the land of Faerie that coexists with modern-day Ottawa.’

He also looks at Moonheart, perhaps de Lint’s best loved novel: ‘Moonheart may very well be the first novel by Charles de Lint that I ever read. I can’t really say for sure — it’s been awhile. It certainly is one that I reread periodically, a fixture on my “reread often” list. It contains, in an early form, all the magic that keeps us coming back to de Lint. (And be reminded that Charles de Lint may very well be the creator of what we call “urban fantasy” — he was certainly one of the first to combine contemporary life and the stuff of myth.)’

Spritwalk  our reviewer says ‘is a loose sequel to Moonheart, a series of related tales, again centering around Tamson House and including many of the same characters. In fact, the House is even more important as a Place in this group of stories. It begins with a brief discussion of Tamson House from a book by Christy Riddell, whom we will meet again in The Onion Girl and Widdershins, followed by a delightful vignette, “Merlin Dreams in the Mondream Wood,” of Sarah Kendell, age seventeen, remembering her childhood “imaginary” playmate, a red-haired boy named Merlin who lived in the oak tree at the center of the garden. It’s a sweet, sad tale of the price of love.’

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In another vein entirely, Robert has some thoughts on Joe R. Lansdale’s Pigeons from Hell: ‘Pigeons from Hell is an adaptation by Joe R. Lansdale of a story by Robert E. Howard, with art by Nathan Fox and color by Dave Stewart. Lansdale is at pains to point out, in his “Notes from the Writer,” that it is really an “adaptation” — updated, exploring some new facets of Howard’s story, and not to be confused with the original, all of which leads me to treat it as its own creature.’ Just click on the link to see how this creature fared in Robert’s opinion.

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Speaking of cooler weather, Gary brings a review of a recording by the jazz quartet helmed by Norwegian saxophonist Karl Seglem. ‘Don’t fear that Nordic Balm is an album of smooth jazz destined to become aural wallpaper. Far from it. Even in those places where it’s obviously intended to sooth, it always maintains its integrity, and there’s always something quite interesting going on, if you’re paying attention.’

‘Portland’s Anna Tivel is that rare songwriter who can put together a song like an award-winning short story writer,’ Gary says. He finds plenty of that kind of song on Tivel’s new album Small Believer.

Gary says you should check out Turmoil & Tinfoil, the new album from Billy Strings, a hot young bluegrass player and singer. He says ‘the Michigan native is making a name for himself as one of the most incendiary bluegrass guitarists on the scene.’

Louisiana’s Lost Bayou Ramblers haven’t released a new record since 2012, but they have a new one due out any day now called Kalenda. Gary says they ‘still sound like nothing else you’ve ever heard. Those vocals by founding member Louis Michot could’ve been recorded in somebody’s backyard by Alan Lomax 50 years ago, but they’re backed by what sounds like an ensemble auditioning for a gig as house band in the Mos Eisley Cantina on Tattooine!’

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Gus, who many of you already know is our longstanding Estate Head Gardener, is one of our excellent storytellers. He has an Autumnal gardening tale for our What Not this time as we approach that season. He leads off his story in this manner: ‘Oh, hello. It’s you again. How is it that every time we meet up, I’m clomping around in muddy boots? Come out to get some fresh air, have you? Give me your name again? I’m Gus, if you remember, the gardener around these parts. Here, I need to head out to the kitchen gardens, come walk with me a bit. They’re behind that wall over there.’

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Autumn for me is when I start craving the sound of certain performers, one of which is Kathryn Tickell. She to me is one of the more interesting sounding of the Northumberland performers that risen up in the past thirty years in the years since Billy Pigg was active. So let’s listen in to her performing ‘The Magpie’, ‘Rothbury Road’ and ‘The Cold Shoulder’ which is from an outstanding soundboard recording of a performance at the Washington D.C. Irish Folk Fest from the 2nd of September, fifteen years ago.

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A Kinrowan Estate story: Fall (A Letter to Tessa)

A letter from the journal of Alexandra Margaret Quinn, Head Gardener here in the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India, to her friend who was in Constantinople as of this letter. Alex, as she was known, copied her personal correspondence into her Journal. She noted in her will that her letters were to be part of the Estate Library upon her death. Isabella would live to well over a hundred, even longer than Her Queen would!

Dear Tessa,

Though it’s hot and dusty where you are, Fall arrived here this week. Though it’s warm by mid morning, we’re now in the high thirties overnight and the days are now substantially shorter. No frost yet, but I won’t be surprised to see it early this year, as the past fortnight has seen clear nights with very low dew points and not a breath of wind.

I’ve had my staff doing last preps on the firewood with the best (oak, ash, spruce, and maple) being reserved for the Kitchen and the Library, as I swear no one else really appreciates how good it is. Head Cook put in a claim on whatever applewood is to be had, for he loves the smell. We also cleaned up the spruces of dead branches and old cones this week so they’ll be used to start fires as they’re high in pitch.

The orange tabby you named Gefjen has lived up to her name as she’s most definitely pregnant! Right now, she’s hiding in the rooms of Isabella, the new Librarian, when she’s not looking for warmed milk and bits of meat from the Kitchen Staff. Oh, I do wonder what the kittens will look like!

You sadly missed the dance we had in the Courtyard under the Oaks that are now changing their colours, which is early for them, suggesting another harsh Winter is coming. We had a guest caller up from London who introduced the Neverending Session to a tune book he had with him called Thomas Skillern’s Twenty Four Country Dances for the year 1780 which has many a lovely dance tune in it. The dance lasted ’till well after midnight and even the Kitchen staff slept in, so we all had a very late breakfast.

The blackberries we planted several years back are now in full force though I admit I hate them, for trimming their canes in a month will be a beastly exercise! Oh, but warm blackberry tarts with vanilla ice cream on top are oh so wonderful. There’s also a promise of blackberry wine as well.

One of the Several Annies, Ingrid, had a handfasting with one of my lads, Angus, this week. You’ll remember her as you taught her how to press summer flowers properly. The Steward granted them use of a crofter cottage provided they fix it up. Angus is keen to restore the Mill Pond dam so we can use it as a proper skating pond and a place for curling games. We now use the field that floods every Winter and freezes hard for those games.

I must be off now as there’s a butchering going on of the pigs as it’s time for smoking hams and such so I need to select the pigs to be killed.

Affectionally yours,

Alex

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