Saturday, 13 October 2012

Manx Giants

          Last Sunday, I went over to the Isle of Man, on a working holiday, coming back in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Alan Hess
          It was great fun. I stayed with my cousin, Alan Hess, the kindest, most patient and considerate of hosts. I'm doing some work for Alan, and the trip was about that, but when we weren't working, Alan gave us a tour of the island, which he knows very well, having lived there for twenty years, before he moved to Switzerland. He's proud to say that he's progressed from being 'a Come-Over' to a 'When-I' (somebody who's succeeded in becoming accepted in the Manx community, but who constantly says, 'When I lived in England... when I...)
The Giant and me
          We visited the Manx Giant, Arthur Caley, and Alan introduced me to 'the Crocodile Dundee of the Isle of Man', John 'Dog' Callister, who, Alan said, 'knows everything about Man.' He's an expert on its wild-life and knows much of its history and traditions. John gave me a traditional 'bumbee cage', together with an instruction sheet on how to make one.
          It's an old Manx belief, it seems, that bumbees, or bumble-bees, were bad fairies, who'd been turned into bees as a punishment. Children would weave these cages from six rushes, but leave the top open. When they spotted a bee in a flower, they would put the open end of the cage over the flower, and so catch the bee, trapping it inside by completing the cage. Shaking the cage would make the bee hum.
The Bumbee Cage
          When the children had gone to bed, their parents would undo the cage, let the bee go, and replace it with a pebble before weaving the cage closed again. Next morning, they would tell the child that the bad fairy had learned its lesson, so its powers had been restored, and it had escaped. I can only imagine quite a few parents and children were stung.
John Dog with more handiwork
          John's bumbee cage is a lovely thing, and it had three little orangey periwinkle shells inside to make the noise. I might try to make a cage for bad fairies out of drinking straws, following the printed instructions John also gave me. (I don't know where I would find any reeds.)
          John also told me that periwinkle shells make excellent whistles, if you tuck them down between your knuckles and blow into them. Must try it next time I have a periwinkle shell. (I'm not undoing my bumbee cage.)
          Alan and I tried to make a film of me telling a story for an event which is taking place in schools all over Switzerland in November: a story-telling evening. Some children will be camping out and listening stories round the camp-fire. Alan and his wife, Ulrike (who is the founder and head of their school) decided to play me as their trump-card - a real, live, English writer and story-teller, telling a story in English, via Skype.
          Our meeting was partly to talk over stories and decide on one, and partly to try and record the story on web-cam, as a back-up in case something goes wrong. We staged the scene in Alan's old cottage, using strategically placed reading lamps and candles to give an impression of story-telling by candle-light, and we made three attempts. Every time, the voice was out of synch with the visuals. I was losing concentration, and not giving my best, so we gave up. Alan may be able to tweak the film, but I shall see if I can make my own film. (But am also very happy to tell the story by live link.)
          We also talked about SFL, or Systemic Functional Linguistics, which Alan is extremely keen on, and I can see why. (My cousin is a very talented man. He started as - and remains - an excellent musician. He also worked for many years in IT, though he modestly insists that he is no longer up-to-date with the wonderful world of computers. He speaks fluent German - so fluent that northern Germans think he comes from south Germany, and southern Germans think he comes from the north. He now teaches special needs children in Switzerland, a job he absolutely, radiantly loves. Recently he's been spreading the word about SFL, attending conferences, and setting up his Moodle site.
          SFL, or Functional Grammar, deserves a blog of its own, but it can be briefly described as a way of teaching languages and reading in much the same way as a small child naturally learns to speak its own language. Suffice to say that Alan had me speaking my own German sentences in a few minutes - and I have always considered myself to have the linguistic talent of a brick.
          Er was dunkel und kalt, und eine alte Frau sass neben ihren fuer.
          Not perfect, but then, a child's first attempts at speaking never are. It's the constant, repeated corrections of the parent that teach a child its language's grammar - which it learns with incredible speed - and not the reciting of irregular verbs, and learning the plu-perfect.
         As Alan says, "Plenty of people say to their children, 'We say, "It is," not "It are," but no one ever tells their two-year old, "There'll be no misuse of the subjunctive in this house!"'

The Laxey Wheel

And Blott in 'Box'


Joan Lennon said...

I've always struggled with stuff like story arc and narrative progression - maybe I should find myself a box to sit in!

Susan Price said...

It can only help!

madwippitt said...

Sounds like you had a good time even if you were 'working' ... love the woven rattly thing - although poor bees!
Did you visit Peel Castle? Some spooky tales there ...