Youngblood Blog

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Astrological Giants move us through our Changes

Jupiter the giant ruler of Sagittarius

In the Western zodiac, the month of November is often one of change: the early part of the month is ruled by powerful Scorpio, the life-and-death sign with a sting in its tail. It is an ancient symbol of huge changes and upheaval – fixed water, or ice – and almost totally unforgiving. If you’re not ready now, November will make you question everything you’ve ever been taught, heard or assumed was real.

This year the heavy burden of change in earth’s systems, world governments and weather patterns is sometimes laid at Scorpio’s door. But a much greater force was at work: Saturn, the great planet of sidereal change, slowly and inexorably moved out of the communicative and meticulously-ordered earth-sign of Virgo, where he has ruled, written in stone, made careful lists and acted in a predictable manner for the last three years. On October 29th 2009, he entered Libra, the zodiac sign of partnerships, cooperative ventures, balance and – above all – change.

Solar system hemmed in by the planetary giantsChanges at the end of the year are expected as we in the Northern hemisphere descend into winter; but Saturn’s influence is huge. Just as the moon affects earth’s ocean tides, the ringed giant’s great orb reaches from its distant position in the sixth solar orbit to touch and move this little world of ours in the third planetary belt round the sun.

At the beginning of November this huge astrological catalyst of change had already joined forces with the sun in Scorpio and world mayhem, freak weather systems, and cultural upheaval were apparent: floods, tsunamis and out-of-season storms added to wars and conflict, famine and a breakdown in communications in both Old and New worlds. We are only now recovering from the effects of drought and starvation in some African regions and deluge and homeless scenarios in the North.

Saturn the planet of change and upheaval

Saturn’s move to Libra affects physical, mental, emotional realms. We were being given a nudge of giant proportions to move out of our physical, earthbound concepts and into the spiritual.

It is a surprise and relief when, following the double Scorpionic portion dished out to us in mid-November by the New Moon, that Saturn’s new position in Libra should be accentuated by the sun’s transition on November 22nd into jovial Sagittarius. This zodiac sign is ruled by abundant Jupiter. It allows us a respite, a time to remember our place on the planet, our blessings, our way forward. But it, too, heralds change.

Sagittarius is a fire sign, sent to melt the icy waters Scorpio dragged in with its lethal tail. The archer, sunny of disposition and sending arrows presaging abundant flow to come, allows the glow of Thanksgiving and a glimpse towards the festivities of midwinter, but he reminds us that more work is round the corner as we are moving into a New Age. It helps to know, however that his ruler, Jupiter presently stands with Neptune, the planet of change and the spiritual, the mystical and unknown in forward-looking Aquarius; so our path, while difficult, is overseen by angels.

A trusted astrologer friend says:
“November 22-30: This is a highly creative time. Pay attention and focus on the little signs. Push the boundaries of what you perceive possible. Stretch your imagination. Resist the temptations of the status quo. Ask the right questions, ‘why not’ and ‘what if’. Be brave.

“Mostly just be in your own spirit, take time to meditate, try to remember that the Universe is ordering things in right timing; that in moving from a place of trusting, your own ability and power to create will open up. Spend time with others you like to be around and keep cutting clutter and non-essentials from your life.”

As the month draws to a close, we are being challenged to seek even greater clarity and depth of meaning in life, in our relationships, in our day-to-day interaction with others, work colleagues, family and strangers alike, so that we start to evolve in spiritual understanding of our place on this special planet Earth.

And at month-end, as we move into December, Mercury aspects challenge us to release stress and restore clarity of thinking. Mercury the messenger and communicator-par-excellence may get us through the hard part.

December begins with a powerful double-whammy: a Full Moon in Gemini on December 1st coincides with giant Uranus’ turning direct.

Changes and new directions are on the cards – in spades.

But we have help. Angels and giants are around to help us through.

This is an occasional astrological blog posting, as we move through the year. I am aware that many are familiar with the Western zodiac and its implications. However I hope to encourage a friend who understands the ramifications of the Vedic astrological system of the Indian sub-continent to join me in the next blog post. It is a fascinating system, with many parallels with Western and even Chinese texts. I think it will be something to look forward to.

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November 24, 2009 Posted by | astrology, astronomy, consciousness, culture, New Age, weather | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

NaNo makes one bold: my WIP

The setting was superb. Nothing would spoil the wedding breakfast.

NaNo: November being writing month, all stops are out, all bets are off. I’m writing again. I can say that with a feeling of relief, a feeling of awe that the Muse is still sitting somewhere in my corner and that some days She is actually enjoying coming and whispering in my ear.

One of the rules of NaNo is that one writes and DOES NOT EDIT until the required minimum wordcount of 50,000 words (or end of novel, if that adds up to more) is reached. But for your sake, dear Reader, I have edited a little. Corrected spelling and typos. Otherwise it is open to revision and redoing in December

This, therefore, for good or for ill, is an excerpt from my work-in-progress: or NaNo WIP.
I hope you enjoy. It’s a miracle to witness the continuing flow, I can tell you.

All had been made ready for the guests. The bride waited at the head of the stairs

‘Be Still in the Candlelight’

Horses and carriages stood at the gates, a long line of opulence and conspicuous wealth, each waiting its turn to process down the shady lime avenue which heralded the last mile of approach to the house.

Not a family in Aberdeenshire had been ignored. Invitations sent in January by messenger, hand delivered to Clubs and castles throughout the shire ensured that the assembled gathering would be the greatest affair in the social calendar for a generation. John Ramsay Irvine was going to make sure his daughter’s marriage was witnessed by them all. Grooms and stablehands were lined up at the curved façade to help ladies down awkward steps as consorts and cousins and brothers assisted with the finery, petticoats and layers of taffeta and veils billowing in the slight breeze.

The day was glorious: mid June brilliance with a scent of abundance in the air.

A phalanx of footmen ushered ladies into the house to powder noses, while gentlemen were escorted to the gigantic marquée set on the lawn, hands charged with a glass of champagne immediately they stepped under the awning. Butlers and footmen manfully shouldered silver trays groaning under the weight of crystal brimming with bubbles. Chatter was loud but festive. The ladies would join them in a moment. For now the tent was dominated by menfolk catching up with colleagues, discussing the week’s affairs, arrangements for the shooting season in late summer, and whose house-party already had its quota of family and summertime guests.

When the first of the ladies emerged from downstairs boudoirs and stepped into the light of the terrace, a hush descended on the crowd. Every one of them, matron, maid, young miss was adorned in finery, as if they individually were to be the bride: tiaras appeared glinting in the sun: getting a summer airing from safes and velvet boxes they’d nestled in since Christmas or for parties at Hogmanay. Pearls and rubies shone and sapphire necklaces extracted from bank vaults for this special occasion reflected blue light from the lake.

Brother Hugh stood alone, apart from the jostling crowd, waiting for a signal from his mother’s window that Catherine would soon be ready to take his arm; for him to proceed with her to the little chapel across the lawn to the glade of trees down by the lake. But carriages were still appearing, stopping at the great entrance to unload more adorned maidens with doting brothers or fiancés, and trundling slowly off to the Home Farm where grooms and drivers would wait to be summoned again after it was all over. A long procession still stretched down the lime avenue as far as Hugh could see. There was no rush yet to summon Catherine and her maids.

In the upstairs chamber with its four-poster usually reserved for her mother, Catherine stood radiant. She was to wear Great-grandfather’s South Seas pearls and the ruby necklace brought with him from Russia when he was a successful merchant plying Baltic waters to Danzig. It was now family tradition that these, the first glittering evidence of John Ramsay’s fortune, should be worn by every bride since 1758, the year that the adventurer purchased the Straloch estate from the famous cartographer, Robert Gordon of Straloch. It had been Ramsay’s fortune which built the grand mansion in its grounds.

Today Catherine felt like a swan gazing in her mother’s long dress-mirror at the sparkling jewels round her white neck. There was something about these new continental gowns, the low ’empire’ line made fashionable by the ladies of Napoleon’s court . The British may have defeated the dictator, but his ladies’ fashion sense lingered on. The high bosom and low neckline made her feel dizzy in the shafts of sunlight glancing through the gauze curtains. It danced and shifted, casting a pool of light at her feet. She allowed herself to peer over her sudden perky breasts at the pompom slippers of maroon silk which peeped out below the vanilla silk hem of her gown. Mother was right. This new line may be a little too daring for such a backwater as Aberdeenshire, but it was just the most beautiful creation she had ever seen and she was standing in it, allowing its long pointed sleeves to hug her delicate wrists, the tight waistband to nip her small frame even more closely than she ever would have dared at a normal party.

‘Everything is allowed for a wedding, my dear. Even daring narrow waists and low necklines.’ If her mother’s voice had a hint of disapproval, it was covered by laughter. Tones tinkled in pride at the sight of her daughter’s surprise.

“We may be of merchant stock, but Grandfather knew a jewel or two. And I must say they do add a je ne sais quoi to your already fabulous beauty.’ Her mother laughed again. ‘I may not be the one to say, but it does run in the family.’

She reached out her own silk-gloved hand to caress the folds at the rear of her daughter’s gown, smoothing an imaginary crease.

Bridesmaids in the ante room behind the pillar giggled and, seeing Catherine’s mother smile and beckon, fell into the room in a huddle of lace and satin and pink pumps.

‘Careful, girls. We don’t want any accidents.’

All four glanced at each other and then at their hostess and giggled again.

‘I wish it were all over. No, of course I don’t but Hugh said he’d start the procession at least by two. It must be close to three.’ Catherine’s small face crinkled in a fleeting frown, scanning her mother’s profile. One of the house maids popped her head round the door.

‘Carriages still coming, m’lady,’ she said, bobbing a hasty curtsey. ‘Master Hugh says another glass of champagne should settle the gentlemen. He wants to know if you would like some up here.’

‘Most certainly not. Thank you, Rose. Tell the Master we shall wait for his signal.’ The maid’s head disappeared again.

‘I can see the end of the carriages.’ A tiny gloved hand holding its regulation posy of roses dropped the long curtain at the window and one of the Burnett girls burst into a fit of giggles. Another grabbed the curtain and then she too dropped it with a guilty look. She turned to the other bridesmaids and whispered
‘It’ll be the bridegroom in the very last carriage.’

‘I heard that.’

Catherine was nervous as a kitten. The last thing she wanted to know was news that that her darling, handsome husband-to-be was the last to arrive. She swept the thought aside. Henry was like her brother Hugh: so strong and brave. Such a pity Father was no longer well enough to sit up, far less be wheeled to the ceremony. But until she became Henry’s, Hugh would be her rock. He would more than make up for her father’s infirmity.

Hugh had turned out like his grandfather: he’d continued the work begun by Great-grandfather in the 244 acre estate after he built the palladian mansion, just as father and grandfather had done. Nowadays there was talk in Society of how rash a move it had been, in the time of King George III, to pull down a 13th century building and put up a Georgian palace. But Great-grandfather was an innovator. He knew all the tricks and turns used by wealthy European royalty in his day and his palace was built to the scale and proportions of the great Italian architect, Palladio, whose style thereafter became the fashion.

Straloch had been revolutionary for its time. Now in the early 19th century, It was considered ‘all the rage.’ For a wedding ceremony and breakfast attended by all the County’s best families, its size and style were totally inkeeping. It had precisely the required number of public rooms, a grand ballroom, drawing room, morning room and a dining salon that none could rival. It had outlived its ‘foreignness’ and become a style which other families copied. Burnetts and Forbeses and Irvines all had since pulled down ancient towers and put up a palladian edifice in its place: at Colpy and Keig and Pittodrie, palaces were erected where cramped medieval towers had been. The Ramsay fashion had become the norm. And in Aberdeenshire, a county renowned for its conservatism, that was saying something.

Hugh was more like father in the way he cared for and tended the trees of the avenue, the stately park specimens getting most of his love and attention. And he had recently started a programme of planting the new fashion in trees: beech.

If you listened to Hugh on the endless variety of beeches one could plant… he could bore anyone to tears. It was enough to make her yawn just to think of it. Some day, of course all this would be Hugh’s. Catherine was just fortunate to be able to have such a beautiful backdrop for her Big Day. And as for father’s being an invalid and not really able to know what was going on, was something one just had to be philosophical about. He seemed more himself when she’d spoken to him this morning, wanting to share with him the excitement to come, the huge numbers who would attend. He looked at her through watery eyes, propped himself up on one elbow from the cushions on his daybed and whispered:

‘Be still in the candlelight, Darling.’

She had not the faintest idea what he meant, but she nodded her head and kissed him on the forehead.

Suddenly Annie Farquharson jumped up and down at the window, her pink slippers doing ballet turns.

‘It’s Hugh. He’s signalling to be ready. He’s pulling out his fob watch and pointing. I think he means it’s time.’

‘All right, all right, girls. No need to lose our heads. Now, we all remember the order. When Hugh comes to the door, you four go first. Ahead of him. Follow Catherine’s cousin Jamie to the head of the stairs and wait. Do you hear me? Wait until I get there.’

There came a chorus of ‘yes’.

‘He’s coming. He’s coming,’ Annie bobbed up and down more frantic than ever.

‘All right, Annie. Now into your special order, please girls. We do this as we practiced it. All right?’

Catherine felt remarkably calm. If Hugh was ready, it meant her dear beautiful wonderful sweet loving kind fiancé Henry was already down in the woodland glade by the lake; at this very moment entering the little chapel and waiting for her. The thought made her faint with pleasure. Annie’s sister June had the presence-of-mind to prop her up. She tut-tutted her support.

There was a knock at the door and Hugh was ushered in by a dressing maid. He whispered something in Mother’s ear and looked over at his sister:

‘Ready my sweet princess? I’ve never seen you more glorious than today. Really. And I’m not being brotherly. I really mean it. You could not look more perfect. I think you are right about these new styles. It’s going to be the wedding of the century.

That’s pretty bold, she thought. This is only 1822. Surely newer fashions will one day make all this seem out of date and from a different world. Again, she brushed the unruly thought aside like a wisp of stray hair in her eye, took a step towards him and grasped his outstretched hand.

‘Thank you my darling Hugh. I would not be able to do this without you.’
He smiled and led her to the door.

Each waited her turn to descend the Great Staircase

As instructed, the bridesmaids already stood in a clump on the landing next to Jamie, flouncing their skirts, waiting for the signal to descend the great staircase. Mother caught up with them, and took her place ahead on the top step.

On cue, the piper at the front door thrummed up his bagpipes and began a low drone. Catherine could see outside sunlit faces turn from the awning towards the front door.

It was beginning.

She held Hugh’s arm in a tight grasp.

‘You’ll be wonderful,’ he whispered.

She smiled up at him, wishing she could say something in return, but her eyes filled with tears and she swallowed instead.

Six pages rushed past carrying golden candelabra from the drawing room to stand in two rows down the great staircase. As one of them came abreast of her and Hugh, he tripped and looked at her wildly as if to apologize for his clumsy nervousness. His companion bent over to help him fix one of the candles which was beginning to work itself loose from its holder, its flame still alight, but shaking. As one page righted himself, the other’s grasp on his own candlestick slipped.

Catherine and Hugh could only stand and watch. In slow motion, the triple glow of golden light wrapped in cherubs and foiled bacchanalian wreaths, began a downward curve towards the staircase. Hugh grabbed his sister tightly, starting to swing her torso out of the way of the falling light. For a moment all Catherine saw was light: a small flame, so tiny it could do no harm, its glow wanting so much to add to the perfection of her day. Its fall was broken by the solid mahogany ball-and-claw knob of the bannister at the head of the stairs. Instead of cascading flame-first down the stairwell into the abyss below stairs, the dislodged candle bounced back and – oh so excruciatingly slowly – turned its menacing beam on Catherine.

Bridesmaids leapt to left and right, each trying to avoid what must happen: the staircase was in disarray. Other candles started to shake and falter.

‘Hold your lights, there’. It was Hugh’s voice, so close to her ear, but it sounded a million miles away.

Her eyes were glued to the falling candle. Why was it taking so long? It should have landed by now. By now she should be able to jump sideways and out of harm’s way. But Hugh’s arm held her tight. She was immobilized. All she could do was watch, frozen in time as the dislodged candle made a soft thump – such a simple sound – and hit the top of the staircase. Candle wax spilled in all directions, some of it sparking with a flame. One tiny spark of wax fell on the hem of her gown and she stared – her eyes wide now, her mouth open in a silent scream of terror – as flames engulfed her vanilla silk underskirts.

One of the butlers held a tray. He stood crouching back by the open door of the room they had left a moment ago. Hugh let go her arm, made a couple of strides across the landing and grabbed two champagne glasses, throwing the contents at her. He missed and the liquid splashed her arm.

‘Bring me a carafe,’ he ordered, his voice sounding more like a general in Napoleon’s army than her own gentle brother.

He grabbed another two glasses and threw. This time they hit their mark, but in the few seconds’ delay, the fire had caught hold. It was burning her silk stockings. She felt heat sear her legs. It seemed to penetrate right through to the bone. Her tears couldn’t help her. Her brother’s champagne rescue was doing a little but not enough. The candle, so small and innocent a flame, was doing its worst.

Fire raged up the front of her skirt, smoke engulfing her face, her neck, the pearl and ruby necklace. A page stumbled towards Hugh carrying a bedroom ewer, its enormous weight of water slowing him down. Hugh grabbed the jug and poured its contents down her uncomplaining front. His left hand held her steady, in case she fell from the sudden mass of water. Nobody spoke. The other pages stood motionless, still in position lining the staircase. Of four bridesmaids, two were crying and two were holding gloved hands in anguish over their open mouths. Mother had stopped rigid in her tracks halfway down the staircase. She and the pages created a flimsy barrier between Catherine and the jostling crowd of onlookers beginning to push into the main entrance hall.

All could see now: she was the centre of attention: this tragic apparition, her faultless coiffure still crowning a face ravaged by tears, sleeves and gloved hands soaking wet but intact.

Rubies glittered as if they knew red was not only a colour but a flame.

And below the waist – nothing – it was all gone. She was naked except for two charred shivering legs, a vestige of maroon slippers looking like something from the Black Death. She collapsed to the floor just as Annie rushed to cover her nakedness with her vanilla stole. The last thing she heard was her mother’s voice:

‘Give her some air. Let her breathe.’

But it was father’s words which she heard in her mind:

‘Be still in the candlelight, Darling. Be still.’

November 19, 2009 Posted by | authors, crystalline, culture, Muse, novel, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Love and NaNo: Many-Splendored Things?

National November Writing Month

NaNo is half way there; am I boring you?

November continues to be NaNo month; but blogging about writing a minimum of 1650 words a day, in order to get one’s Muse to kick in and write the rest, is a little tiring for others not participating.

So I thought I’d do a little tangential reading about other authors: in particular those first-timers who hit it with an amazing débût work and then go on to clean up on Amazon.

I’m thinking of one particularly fortunate author, Laura Schaefer from Madison, Wisconsin, who got her start as a contributor to the University of Wisconsin’s student paper The Daily Cardinal and went on to write regularly for The Princeton Review and Match.com. Laura lives in Madison, Wisconsin, where she can usually be found dancing the lindy hop or book signing her second novel for young readers, The Teashop Girls.

Love is a many-splendored thing …according to Laura in her first book: Man with Farm Seeks Woman with Tractor (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2005). And she’s come up with some quite surprising facts about love. If you need proof of this, there follow 25 funny little statistics about love. Study them, scratch your head over them, and share them with someone you fancy.

1. Men who kiss their wives in the morning live five years longer than those who don’t.

2. People are more likely to tilt their heads to the right when kissing instead of the left (65 percent of people go to the right).

3. When it comes to doing the deed early in the relationship, 78 percent of women would decline an intimate rendezvous if they had not shaved their legs or underarms.

4. Feminist women are more likely than other females to be in a romantic relationship.

5. Two-thirds of people report that they fall in love with someone they’ve known for some time versus someone that they just met.

6. There’s a reason why office romances occur: The single biggest predictor of love is proximity.

7. Falling in love can induce a calming effect on the body and mind and raises levels of nerve growth factor for about a year, which helps to restore the nervous system and improves the lover’s memory.

serotonin acts as a happiness trigger

External stimulation of the synapses can trigger happiness or fear

8. Love can also exert the same stress on your body as deep fear. You see the same physiological responses — pupil dilation, sweaty palms, and increased heart rate.

9. Brain scans show that people who view photos of a beloved experience an activation of the caudate — the part of the brain involving cravings.

10. The women of the Tiwi tribe in the South Pacific are married at birth.

11. The “Love Detector” service from Korean cell phone operator KTF uses technology that is supposed to analyze voice patterns to see if a lover is speaking honestly and with affection. Users later receive an analysis of the conversation delivered through text message that breaks down the amount of affection, surprise, concentration and honesty of the other speaker.

12. Eleven percent of women have gone online and done research on a person they were dating or were about to meet, versus seven percent of men.

love song from an Egyptian tomb

Love song from a 4,300-year old Egyptian tomb of the Sixth Dynasty

13. Couples’ personalities converge over time to make partners more similar.

14. The oldest known love song was written 4,300 years ago and comes from an Egyptian tomb of the Sixth Dynasty. Others were found in modern Iraq between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

Maximillian of Austria

Archduke Maximillian gave diamonds

15. The tradition of the diamond engagement ring comes from Archduke Maximillian of Austria who, in the 17th century, gave a diamond ring to his fiancée, Mary of Burgundy.

16. Forty-three percent of women prefer their partners never sign “love” to a card unless they are ready for commitment.

17. People who are newly in love produce decreased levels of the hormone serotonin — as low as levels seen in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Perhaps that’s why it’s so easy to feel obsessed when you’re smitten.

serotonin, a neurotransmitter and 'happiness hormone'

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter as well as a happiness hormone

18. Philadelphia International Airport finished as the No. 1 best airport for making a love connection, according to an online survey.

19. According to mathematical theory, we should date a dozen people before choosing a long-term partner; that provides the best chance that you’ll make a love match.

20. A man’s beard grows fastest when he anticipates sex.

21. Every Valentine’s Day, Verona, the Italian city where Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet took place, receives around 1,000 letters addressed to Juliet.

22. When we get dumped, for a period of time we love the person who rejected us even more, says Dr. Helen Fisher of Rutgers University and author of Why We Love. The brain regions that lit up when we were in a happy union continue to be active.

23. Familiarity breeds comfort and closeness … and romance.

24. One in five long-term love relationships began with one or both partners being involved with others.

25. OK, this one may not surprise you, but we had to share it: Having a romantic relationship makes both genders happier. The stronger the commitment, the greater the happiness!

Laura Schaefer is the author of Man with Farm Seeks Woman with Tractor. If you want to read her blog, click here.

And, oh yes, thanks to Amazon, not only for making available some amazing books, but for being the sponsor of NaNoWriMo [Sorry, had to bring it up; it’s becoming an obsession] lol PBAWS_LOGO_127px

November 16, 2009 Posted by | authors, consciousness, culture, Muse, novel, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Muckle Spate and Sunflower Update

still standing tall; supported by invisible puppet strings from the heavens

November sunflower: supported by invisible puppet strings from the heavens

In case no-one’s noticed: it’s November. Snow has fallen in Colorado, the Rockies, Kamchatka and Iceland. Frost came to Northeast Scotland, but it was puny compared with what descended last week AND last month AND September: we’re talking floods here. What they used to call – when country people were country folk – a Muckle Spate.

Now there have been spates and floods before. Weather in Scotland, or Ultima Thule, is and always has been the topic which gets most discussion year-round. It’s because of its location:

Americans in particular are amazed to learn that the Moray Firth in Scotland lies at the same latitude as Juneau, Alaska.

For the latitude of Ultima Thule, the farthest and northernmost point of habitable land, read nine degrees below the Arctic Circle, or what is euphemistically named the Northern Temperate Zone. So it’s not unreasonable to experience weather conditions which are enormously influenced by the Atlantic Ocean on one coast and the North Sea on the other.

Gulf Stream warm current annually maintains North Britain frost-free

The powerful warm Gulf Stream current maintains waters mild in Ultima Thule

At the northern end of the Atlantic, the Atlantic Conveyor kicks in, swimming through the Bristol Channel, up the Irish Sea, through the Minch and cresting at the entrance to the Pentland Firth. A small portion of this powerful warm current (more affectionately known as the Gulf Stream or North Atlantic Drift) noses its way along the Pentland Firth between Orkney and Mainland Scotland and curls back south to run inland along the Moray Firth, so-called Aberdeenshire’s North Coast. In historical summers, it has been known to create balmy climes for residents of these northern shores.

For those not aware of these obscure locations in an otherwise frozen belt of Icelandic waters, GoogleEarth will happily provide up-to-the-minute and up-to-the last aerially-photographed section of the Moray Firth, Orkney and Shetland Isles and Mainland Scotland.

Mouth of the Deveron and Duff House at Banff

The River Deveron near Duff House at Banff

Aerial photographers, however, have had a difficult time of it these last three months. Unless, that is, you were racking up overhead shots of flooded football pitches and river basins fulfilling their description as ‘flood-plains’. Some photographers have documented Council employees who have had to stop road-laying and sweeping to race to the aid of a vast area of housing and newbuild schemes on the ‘rescue’ list in need of sandbags, rehousing the homeless, or pumping out flooded basements and High Street shopfronts.

The fact that these new houses were built on ‘flood-plain’ in the first place is something this blogger prefers not to discuss at this point.

Abnormally high rainfall in September washed out roads in the Highlands and Scotland’s West Coast at Oban and Skye. Over a four-day period in October, rivers Don and Dee in Aberdeenshire overflowed and took out roads and bridges in Banchory, Kintore and Inverurie and claimed the life of a farmer. The Rivers Spey and the Lossie at Elgin on the Moray coast reached record high levels. The Deveron at Banff flooded golf courses, links, part of the Old Town and made the A98 coast road impassible.

one of Genl. Wade's bridges a little worse for wear

One of Gen. Wade's bridges a little worse for wear

Overnight on Hallowe’en and into the early hours of November 1st, the total expected rainfall for the month of November fell in six hours, and put Aberdeenshire Council into the red in its attempts to rescue and rehouse residents made homeless by rivers Carron and Cowie bursting their banks at Stonehaven and the rivers Bogie and Deveron flooding new houses at Huntly.

Aberdeenshire’s North Coast shares something in common with those river valleys in the glacial excavation grinding through the Mounth, the Cairngorms, and the Grampian and Ladder Hills. They have always had extremes of weather. Prophets of global warming suggested cooling temperatures for North Britain in 2005. Yet in the interim, except for the Wet Summer of 2009, Scotland has experienced record high temperatures. House building in floodplains has progressed apace. No wonder Mother Nature decided this year to rebel and balance the books.

She did something similar in the summer of 1829. It was the year of the Great Flood, or in the Northeast vernacular, The Muckle Spate o’ ’29.

If records are to be believed, three months’ worth of rain fell in one week in August of that year, inundating crops and farmland, transporting cattle, sheep, dogs and men from their homes downstream for miles. Bridges were heavy casualties. Even those robust granite bridges built by General George Wade (1673-1748) in 1724 to withstand the weight of his marching troops and to guide his mapmakers through the wilds of Scotland on their first attempt to document the country for King George I. But two centuries have elapsed since then and road- and bridge-building has advanced a pace. Or have they?

Turriff United football ground, Aberdeenshire

Turra United: the fitba' pitch at Turriff, Aberdeenshire

In November, 2009, the Dee washed out the road and bridge at Banchory. Banff causeway was underwater and the Don bridge at Inverurie had water level with the arches. The Old Dee Bridge at Aberdeen was closed, as were roads involving bridges supplying Oldmeldrum, Kintore, Dyce, Turriff, Huntly, Stonehaven, Glass, Keith, Aberchirder, Ellon, Deskford, Banff, MacDuff, Elgin, Findhorn, Forres and Alford.

For all our computer-generated map-making and architect-free design models of flood plains, physical geography and world climate patterns, one would think we had learned something. Last week’s freak storm suggests we haven’t.

I thought you’d like to read a brief excerpt from the vernacular poem ‘The Muckle Spate o’ ‘Twenty-nine’ by David Grant, published in 1915 by the Bon-Accord Press, Aberdeen. Its subject matter was focused on the River Dee at Strachan (pronounced Stra’an) – a mile of so from the base of the Mounth. If you need a translation, I might suggest you ask someone from the ‘old school’ and keep handy a copy of Aberdeen University Press‘s Concise Scots Dictionary. Enjoy.

sunflower and stone circle after the storm

Giant sunflower and stone circle after three storms

Oh, yes. My giant sunflower: she weathered all three storms. She flowered during October, turning daily towards the light until it no longer rose above the shelterbelt of trees. Then, holding her south-facing stance, she pulled her yellow petals inwards as if to cloak her next (a sunflower’s most important) operation: to set seed. She showed a little yellow up until yesterday, but her colour is now mostly gone. Unlike her two less-lofty companions, she has not gone mouldy; but I hesitate to describe the activity presently occurring in her centre as ‘seed-setting’.

It rained again today after three days of watery sun. I think she may still have time to stretch herself into the record books: as the latest-bloomer of all time to brave insane weather and still reach her goal: the Giant Sunflower of Ultima Thule. Spates be damned.

The Muckle Spate o’ ‘Twenty-Nine by David Grant

‘At Ennochie a cluckin’ hen wis sittin’ in a kist,
Baith it an’ her were sweelt awa’ afore the creatur’ wist;
We saw her passin’ near Heugh-head as canty as ye like,
Afore her ark a droonit stirk, ahint a droonit tyke,
An’ ran anent her doon the banks for half-a-mile or mair,
Observin’ that, at ilka jolt, she lookit unca scare,
As gin she said within hersel’ – ‘Faur ever am I gyaun?
I nivver saw the like o’ this in Birse nor yet in Stra’an.
Faur ever am I gyaun, bairns? Nae canny gait, I doot;
Gin I cud but get near the side, I think I wad flee oot.’
We left her near the Burn o’ Frusk, an’ speculatit lang
Gin she were carri’t to the sea afore her ark gaed wrang,
An’ may be spairt by Davie Jones to bring her cleckin’ oot,
Gin she wad rear them like a hen or like a water coot.’

November 10, 2009 Posted by | gardening, Muse, nature, stone circles, weather, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

November is Writing Month

National November Writing Month

NaNoWriMo: National November Writing Month is a worldwide phenomenon

It’s NaNoWriMo. Loads of people are doing it. It just takes a little time, discipline (yes, I know) and a desire to create a novel – of medium length, 50,000 words – in 30 days. During National November Writing Month. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000 word) novel by midnight local time on November 30, 2009.

It’s not the first time writers have pulled all the stops out and thrown their lot in with the Muse, but I believe the organization behind the idea is creating an ‘umbrella of achievement’ which is hard to resist.

Besides, won’t it be nice to read your own hard-typed flow when the 30 days are up and you can slip into ‘edit’ mode?

That’s what NaNo suggests: don’t stop to edit as you go along. Take the keyboard into the bath or into bed if you have to, but just keep punching the keys until something like one-and-a-half-thousand words are on the page. Then you can stop for that day. And add some more tomorrow.

Some people knew about this ahead of time, but even if you were one of the 21 people in San Francisco who took part in the first NaNoWriMo ten years ago in November 1999, it is no help really, because everyone starts afresh at the beginning of the month – no WIPs (works-in-progress) allowed.

This is how NaNo puts it:
‘On November 1, begin writing your novel. Your goal is to write a 50,000-word novel by midnight, local time, on November 30th. You write on your own computer, using whatever software you prefer.

‘This is not as scary as it sounds.

‘Starting November 1, you can update your word count in that box at the top of the site, and post excerpts of your work for others to read. Watch your word-count accumulate and story take shape. Feel a little giddy.

‘ Write with other NaNoWriMo participants in your area. Write by yourself. Write. Write. Write.

‘If you write 50,000 words of fiction by midnight, local time, November 30th, you can upload your novel for official verification, and be added to our hallowed Winner’s Page and receive a handsome winner’s certificate and web badge. We’ll post step-by-step instructions on how to scramble and upload your novel starting in mid-November.

‘ Win or lose, you rock for even trying.’

Well, it’s a little more than that:

November has 30 days: so 1650 words x 30 = 49,500 words, with a little bonus of an extra 500 if you are in your stride.

While some of us are already a week into the project, there is no reason on earth why you can’t sign up right now and join us. One of the best reasons is, even if right now you don’t think you’ve got a novel in you, you have. And with half the agents and editors and publishers on the East and West Coasts watching the site, there is a little more of a carrot dangling before our glazed authors’ eyes than the usual solitary typewriter-bashing which goes on at all hours of the day and night anyway.

We’re technically currently at day number 7 (Europe just moved into day 8, but we’re talking local time here). Worldwide writing is split into regions: like United States : Illinois : Chicago or Europe : Scotland : Elsewhere or Europe : Elswhere (mind boggles). You can choose which region you wish to be affiliated with and you can pick two or more regions if you like: so you can be Europe : Elsewhere as well as Europe : Finland, for example.

By the end of the first week of writing worldwide, some of the wordcounts are already looking quite impressive:

United States :: Washington :: Seattle is in the lead with a total of nearly seven million words written (6,952,796 to be exact).
Canada :: Newfoundland is in at 221st place with a wordcount of 473,031; Europe :: Northern Ireland has 438,876 and counting.

At first I thought I didn’t have another novel in me – I’ve been struggling a little lately just to get the right combination of synopsis, query letter and presentation on my completed novel ‘Shasta’ in front of the ‘right’ agent, editor, publisher. But by midnight on November 1st, I decided: what the hell. There is something about the concept of allowing words to flow despite oneself, without the inner editor getting too much of a controlling finger out to wave in one’s face, that makes the NaNoWriMo appealing.

We have a great author and go-with-the-flow guru to emulate.

Jack Kerouac decided in the late ‘fifties to write what turned out to be his masterpiece ‘On the Road’. He had an idea that if he psyched himself up to writing all at one go, he’d be able to put on paper (days of steam-driven typewriters, remember) all the lovely sidetrack thoughts that go along with a main thought: the flow that his work shows so magnificently.

Kerouac and the Muse: he wrote 'On the Road' in three weeks.

He had a manual typewriter – not even electric. Computers were things they had in SciFi novels. Or in the basement in Langley, Virginia. He sat down in his pad outside Big Sur, CA and for three days scotch-taped together pages and pages of 8 x 11 paper (that’s old style, non-decimal, for those that may not understand) until he had a roll of paper on the floor that approximated a very large footrest or paper cushion.

In those days ‘uppers’ were available over the counter in drug stores. He laid in a supply of those, plus several pre-ground bags of coffee, a percolator, milk and sugar and some pretty basic food – I heard it was mostly bread and butter with maybe some salami or jam or jelly to spice it up a little. And he started.

In three weeks he’d written ‘On the Road’ and we all know how that worked out.

So now you see why it might be worth your while dipping your toe into this NaNoWriMo thing? The world is poised, fingers on typewriter and computer keys from Vladivostok to Tierra del Fuego, with some pretty amazing places you’ve never heard of in between. And they’re all bending their heads daily over a little keyboard, from which miracles might appear.

If Jack could do it, there is absolutely no reason on earth for the rest of us not to try.

November 7, 2009 Posted by | authors, culture, Muse, novel, publishing, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment