Time

Time’s a funny thing. How long would you say three minutes is? Not very long, right? Not much you can do in that time.

But actually, I’ve recently been surprised by just what you can get done in that time span.

A friend of mine gave me this beautiful handmade microwave heating pad. It’s filled with flax seed, which makes for a lovely, comforting smell when it’s heated. Because that’s what you do with it: you pop it in the microwave for – you guessed it – three minutes, and then you cosy up on the couch and let it warm your back or your lap while you slowly wake up to the day. Or really, two minutes, and then you flip it over and do one more. But I’m usually lazy and just hit the 3 and let it buzz away.

But then I need something to do until those three minutes are up. I don’t want to sit down on the couch to wait, because it’s not enough time to get comfortable. So I putter around the kitchen.

This morning, I got a dozen jars of marmalade labelled and put in their box to go downstairs to the pantry while the pad was heating. If you’d have asked me, I would have sworn that task would take at least ten minutes. But no, I got the last “Marmalade 2020” written on the lid (first canning of 2020, how fun!) before that beep sounded.

It’s funny – I had the labelling of those jars on my mental list as a “job” to make time for before heading out for this year’s February trip to Europe. A much bigger deal than it turned out to be. And the reason I know it didn’t take long is that I had the microwave buzzing away for exactly those three minutes, giving me a clear and objective measure of time.

And then of course there are those times when you’re sure that you’ve only spent three minutes, but in fact it’s been half an hour…

Life, the Universe, and the Fluidity of Time. Is it just me, or do you have those experiences too?

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#WordlessWednesday: More Castles

photo of lichtenstein castle

Lichtenstein

ancient architecture blue building

Eltz

photo of schloss drachenburg castle in konigswinter germany

Drachenburg

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Wartburg

800px-Burg_Hohenzollern_mit_Schwarzwald2.jpeg

Hohenzollern

 

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Gratuitous Imagery

This poor blog has been rather neglected lately, after the flurry of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” (if you’ve not read that one – a Christmas story in twelve instalments – go do so. You’ll enjoy it. I think.).

Part of the reason for the long silence is that it’s been taking me longer and longer to write posts. I’ve got away from the fine art of knocking out a post and putting it out there in short order, and one of the reasons for that is that it takes me so long to find the right image to put with the post. Because, you have to have a photo with a post! It’s a rule.

I’m serious(ish) – I talked about that in my first blog post ever, which, now that I think of it, was almost ten years ago (hmm, tenth bloggiversary… might have to celebrate). “Never have a blog post without a picture,” my blogging course teacher said, so in that first post, I put in a gratuitous photo of my stuffed bear.

“That’s Steve,” I said. “He’s better-looking than me, not to mention more photogenic, so he gets to have his picture in the blog first.” Here’s the picture in question:

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Steve in 2010. He hasn’t aged a bit, has he?

But finding images for blog posts, even gratuitous ones, take a lot of time – you can’t just use any old photo off the Internet, there are copyright issues. I’ve been mostly using my own, and well, there are only so many that work. But then I found out this morning that WordPress has a library of free searchable stock photos, courtesy of Pexels. Thousands of free pictures! How great is that?

So to try it out, I did a search for (of course) “fairy tales”. What came up are several ethereal-looking blonde girls with flowing-maned horses – cliché much? But then there’s also a couple of lovely pieces: 

gray bridge and trees


One that made me scratch my head a bit is this:

Because, steam engines are an integral part of classic fairy tales, yeah?

And then of course there had to be Neuschwanstein. Sigh…


But, there you have it – gratuitous imagery, readily available for the time-crunched blogger. I’ll be making use of it.

Life, the Universe, and Gratuitous Imagery. Let’s hope it’ll help wake up the blog again.

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#WordlessWednesday: Winter Won’t Be Forever

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#WordlessWednesday: Bread

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Rescuing the Princes

I tend to get blank looks when I tell people I’m into fairy tales. “Mmm,” they say, nod and smile slightly, then quickly move on to another topic. I can imagine what’s going on behind those humour-the-weird-person smiles: “Fairy tales,” they think. “Princesses singing in meadows, princes riding to the rescue, kissy-kiss, Happily Ever After. Ugh, kiddie stuff. Why would anyone bother?”

Oh, but you’ve got it wrong, people. So very wrong.

Mind you, I don’t blame you. The average English-speaking person’s exposure to fairy tales is extremely limited, to maybe a dozen commonly known stories – and that’s being generous: “Cinderella”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “Snow White”, “The Frog Prince”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Jack and the Beanstalk”, “Rapunzel”, “Aladdin”. Any others I’ve forgotten? Okay, maybe “The Little Mermaid” and “The Snow Queen”, but, actually, I’d almost be willing to lay you a bet that you don’t really know those stories at all. You probably know the Disney version, which has a different ending from the original Andersen tale, or rather, in the case of “The Snow Queen”, has nothing whatsoever to do with the original (beyond there being snow and a queen).

But laying aside the fact that even in those tales, the “heroic prince rescues passive princess” trope only appears in the Disney version, and with many of them not even there (Cinderella’s prince, for example, is purely decorative), the idea that “fairy tales” equate to “a few simple tales for children” is simply wrong.

For starters, numbers. The Grimms’ Children’s and Household Tales alone comprises 200 tales (Yes. Two Hundred.), and that’s only the best known collection of German stories. It doesn’t even begin to cover collections like “The Arabian Nights“, Perrault, Afanasyev, Andersen, or any of a myriad of canons of folktales and literary fairy tales.

And then, there is the content. Take another look at the title of this post. No, that is not a typo; I didn’t forget to put a second s on “princes”. Even in the very small selection of the aforementioned fairy tales, there is only one tale in which you could say that a prince rescues a princess, and that’s “Sleeping Beauty” – and even here, “rescue” is a doubtful term. Again, please forget Disney for a moment (good ol’ Walt has a few things to answer for); in the written version, all the prince does is show up in the right place at the right time, rather unheroically.

One story of a prince’s rescue attempt – but two of maidens rescuing princes from enchantments (“Beauty and the Beast” and “The Frog Prince”), with possibly a third one thrown in (“Rapunzel” – the prince loses his eyesight after the witch chucks him out of the tower, and Rapunzel cries on him, which cures it), and two more of girls triumphing against the odds and getting a trophy prince as their grand prize at the end (“Cinderella” and “Snow White”). But poor boys aren’t left out either – Jack climbs up the beanstalk and whups the giant’s butt; from what I remember, princesses aren’t really involved.

So, fairy tales are about princes being heroic? Not so much.

But one of the biggest reasons I’m so deeply fascinated with fairy tales, or let’s rather call them folktales for now, is their sheer complexity. Yes, on the surface they’re simple. They can be for children – hence the Grimms’ title Children’s– and Household Tales. “There was a girl who had a mean stepmom and stepsisters, and they bullied her and made her do all the work…” I mean, there’s even a Sesame Street version of this, with Elmo in the starring role. And it works! But if you read the story carefully, and start thinking about it, start imagining what it could have looked like, what the girl felt, why her father might have acted the way he did, how very plucky she was to do what she did – you could spend the rest of your life writing retellings of “Cinderella” alone. To add to the hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, of “Cinderella” tales out there already.

Twelve Brothers

As for rescuing princes, I was just re-reading the Grimms’ “The Twelve Brothers”, which is one of the “brothers turned into birds” tales (there are two others in Grimm, “The Six Swans” and “The Seven Ravens“). A king has twelve sons. He decides that if the thirteenth child is a girl, he’ll have the twelve boys killed so that the girl gets all the wealth. Mom warns them, they run away. Baby Sister grows up and goes to find her brothers; they get turned into ravens; she rescues them by being extremely heroic.

I mean, wow! What I’ve just given you is the Cliff’s Notes of Cliff’s Notes version, but of course the Grimms run into several pages, 1800 words worth – and that’s  in the typical folktale style of telling a lot of the story in very bald language without going into much detail. But if you read the tale, and start to imagine “what really happened”, or rather “what could possibly have really been happening”, you’ve got the plot for several full-length novels. A psychopath father, obsessed with wealth, so elaborately planning the murder of his twelve sons he already has the coffins made up, complete with sawdust filling and little silk pillows… A mother who is being forced to hold the key to the chamber where those macabre caskets are lined up, waiting for her boys… Twelve young men, fleeing into the forest, vowing to kill the first woman they come across in revenge for what their father threatened to do to them because of a girl… And that’s only the first third of the story! Stephen King, move over; the Grimms had you beat 200 years ago.

And then of course the story goes on, about the sister’s heroism – seven years of silence, no talking, no laughing. It’s the latter that is nearly her undoing, because she is accused of being wicked; no good and true person would be so stern and serious. But what if this princess had a really strong sense of humour? What if she found practically everything funny – and had to supress her laughter? What if… It goes on and on.

Are you still surprised I’m so into these tales? Probably not – but then, you’ve known me for a while. And while you might have given me one of those blank looks when I first started going on about fairy tales, you’ve long been used to me by now. Or maybe, I’ve even infected you with my enthusiasm…

Why not? Spells have been broken before now. Princes have been rescued by princesses or merchants’ daughters; stable boys have defeated ogres and giants. Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away…

Life, the Universe, and Fairy Tales. They’re not as simple as you think.

 

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#TheTwelveDaysOfChristmas: The Twelfth Day

The Twelve Days of Christmas:

A Christmastide Tale in Twelve Instalments. With Elves.

By Xavier Romero-Frias (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Twelfth Day of Christmas 

I sprang forward just as the hall door was beginning to close after the last elf had wafted through the opening. I got my foot in the crack, then pushed outward against the heavy steel panel. I was not letting them take Tom from me again. And if I could not free him, then they would have to keep me as well.

Leaving behind me the sound of the confused muttering of the miners waking from their trance, I stepped through the door. As I had half expected, I arrived not in the darkness of the back alley behind the hall, but in the brilliant sunshine of the fake elven spring. I rubbed my eyes, dazzled by the sudden change in light, and it took me a minute to realize where I was.

I stood among the trees at the edge of the supernaturally green meadow, looking at the gleaming white tent pavilion in the middle, where the elf lady sat enthroned on jewel-toned silk cushions. The elf lord stood beside her, and they gazed with disdain at Tom, who was being helplessly dragged towards them, then thrown on his knees before them.

“You think you can win your way back to your world by trickery?” the lady said, her voice like ice shards. “Do not fool yourself, mortal!”

I could barely stand to look at Tom. He knelt at the lady’s feet, his head bowed, his shoulders slumped. Defeated, he raised his hands, clutching at hers, begging for mercy. Silently. He would not speak—could not speak—please, Tom, do not speak!

“He is not worth your time,” the elf lord said contemptuously, clamping his hand on Tom’s shoulder and yanking him back from her. “Take him away. Guards!”

Immediately, a loud thrumming sound began in the forest behind me.

Tum-tu-rum, tum-tada-rum, tum-tum-tum…

In two rows, one from my right, one from my left, they stepped out from between the trees. Two lines of drummers, dressed in guards’ uniforms, like giant stereotypical nutcrackers. Rum-tada-tum, rum-ta-dum—step by step they advanced into the meadow, converging on where Tom was cowering before the icy elf woman.

Drummers!

I raised my phone, ready to shoot. This was it! One more picture, and we had them all.

But there, what was this? My eye scanned down the line of the red-coated nutcracker elves. Two, four, six—wait! Eight, ten. They had done it again. There were only ten.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a motion. A white figure sauntered out from the crowd milling about the meadow, the pinwheel pattern of the rivets on his Elvis suit sparkling. He carried his snare drum under his arm, and he wandered over, falling into step behind the last nutcracker, sleepily tapping on the drum head with his fingers.

Oh! Thank you, Elvis! Now there were … there still weren’t enough. There were only eleven.

In despair, I looked over at Tom. The elf lord had an iron hand on his shoulder, holding him down on his knees. There was no way Tom could pull off the same trick twice, and the elves knew it, too. A wickedly triumphant look travelled between the elf lord and the lady, and she looked down with a sneer at Tom.

That did it.

I was not going to let those bastards win. Twelve drummers we needed in the picture, and twelve drummers we were going to have.

Right at that moment, Elvis turned his head, and with eyes that were anything but sleepy looked straight at me.

But I didn’t need him to tell me.

In one motion, I jumped to my feet, whirled around with my back to the scene in the meadow, gave my phone a shake to switch the shooting mode to “selfie”, and with my flat hand started rhythmically thumping on my breastbone in time with the drumbeat of the nutcrackers. Just in case that wasn’t enough, I beatboxed for all I was worth, making popping, clicking and drum-rolling noises I’d had no idea were even possible to produce with my tongue and lips. Then I raised my phone up high, lining it up so all the drummers were in the shot, and pushed the button.

There was a shrill scream from the elf lady. I swung around. She staggered back from Tom; the elf lord snatched his hand from his shoulder and veered away. Both of them were shrinking, shrivelling into themselves—all the elves were. The perfect green meadow faded and darkened to a muddy brown, and a roaring sound came from the white silk pavilion, which slowly collapsed in on itself, turning grey and ragged.

Tom sprang to his feet and ran back to me.

“You did it!” he cried. “Come on, quick!”

He grabbed me by the hand, and together we rushed away from the disintegrating meadow.

I threw one more glance over my shoulder. Where the beautiful illusion had been was only mud and chaos; small splotches of light with Dr.-Seussian outlines flitted back and forth across it.

In the middle of it all, a white-suited figure stood, swinging his hips to a tune only he could hear, his gaze turned towards to an invisible, adoring audience. Then once again, he looked up and right at us, gave a farewell wave, then faded away and I could see him no more.

We ran up the hill and rushed through the door of the crumpling hay shed, ducking in a hair’s breadth before the lintel post came crashing down. It just clipped me on the shoulder as it fell.

And then we stood in Whitewell’s dairy barn, surrounded by the sweet smell of cattle and feed and the soft sound of cows rustling and breathing. Behind us was a solid wall, to our right and left a few empty stalls. One of the cows turned her head, looked at us over her black-and-white shoulder, and gave a deep “Mooooh!”

Tom jumped, stared at the cow for a second, then threw back his head and started laughing. He laughed and laughed until tears ran down his face.

I looked at him with a smile. “Care to tell me what’s so funny?” I said when he finally caught his breath.

“Oh,” he said, wiping the tears from his cheeks with the backs of his hand, “nothing much. Just the contrast from that—” he waved his hand in the direction of the barn’s back wall, “—to this.” He gestured at the cattle. “I’ve never been more glad to see a cow in my life!”

Abruptly he pulled me around to face him. “One more thing,” he said, “and I’m not waiting another minute with this.” He dropped to his knee in front of me and reached into his jeans pocket, still holding onto my other hand. “Mac, my darling, will you marry me?” In his fingers was the princess-cut diamond ring that I had last seen on the elf lady’s hand.

My jaw dropped. “Where—how…”

He grinned. “You’d be surprised what a bit of grovelling can do. Puts you right in front of a lady’s fingers. And if she’s a cheat who’s kidnapped you and tricked you into giving her a ring that was meant for someone altogether different, she deserves what she gets. So will you, my one and true love? You’ve brought them all to me: the partridge, the doves, the French hens…”

“… the calling birds, the gold rings, the geese,…”

“…the swans, the milking maids, the dancing ladies…”

“…and the leaping lords.” I concluded. “But the pipers you delivered yourself.”

“Not really. You caught them on screen.” His face was serious. “And the drummers are entirely to your credit.”

“Mine and Eldon’s,” I said, gulping down a lump in my throat. “I’ll never, ever…”

“…forget him? No. We owe him so much,” Tom said. He squirmed on his knee. “But it’s darn uncomfortable down here. So one more time: will you marry me?”

I held out my left hand, the fingers spread. “Get on with it already, Thomas Rimer. Of course I’ll marry you—do you think I’d go through all that trouble for anyone but my true love?”

He slid the ring on my finger then, and stood up to give me a proper kiss.

The barn door creaked open and Celia wandered in, looking lost and defeated, her streaked grey hair hanging limply around her face and her eyes dull. But then she caught sight of Tom and me, and she whipped up her head, electrified.

“Did you see him?” she cried.

I nodded, and a light blazed up in her eyes. “Where? How?”

I turned and pointed behind us, and as I looked I saw a faint outline of a door in the back wall of the barn.

“Thank you!” Celia’s hand closed on my forearm for just a moment, her face shining. She no longer looked her almost seventy years, but in a flash I could see the twenty-year-old she had been. “Thank you!” Then she rushed past me, her brown hair waving like a flag behind her—brown? Had I really seen that?—and she vanished through the door. For an instant, I saw a bright green spring meadow beyond, and then there was only a wall.

The real barn door burst open, and the oldest Whitewell girl came in, talking over her shoulder. “We have to get the cows done first,” she said, “but as soon as we’re done that, we’ll get going on the search. We shouldn’t be more than—” She turned around and saw us, and her jaw dropped. “What the…?”

Several more figures pushed into the barn behind her. There was Mary-Lou right at the front, Gina, Joe Engelhard—and they all stared at us as if they were looking at a pair of ghosts.

Mary-Lou was the first to find her voice. “What the heck are you doing here? And where have you been the last four days?”

Tom and I looked at each other. Four days? So it was January 5th—the Twelve Days of Christmas were over at midnight, over and done with.

“Where have we been?” Tom said, and he started laughing again.

“It’s a long story,” I said. “You’ll find it hard to believe. It starts with a partridge in a pear tree…”

 

The End

XRF_12days

By Xavier Romero-Frias (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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