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When we were teenagers, my brothers and sisters and I played a game called Starlight; we’d made it up and it evolved over time. There was a deck of 64 cards. Here are some of my favourites, drawn by teenage me.

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STARLIGHT. Top card in the deck.

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ALCHEMIST. Part of the game was that everyone could choose a card that represented themselves. This was my card.

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PHARAOH. This card was the most powerful/valuable. He gained a microphone in this edition because we’d just finished a school production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

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POET. He’s writing something about himself and weeping.

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OREAD. An oread is the spirit of a hill, just as a dryad is the spirit of a tree.

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DRYAD. This was my brother Andrew’s card– he wore glasses at the time. This edition has his eyes drawn heavily blue, because Andrew has noticably blue eyes.

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NAIAD. The spirit of a stream.

The full set is here: https://thurman.org.uk/starlight/ . Apologises for the card called MADMAN: I know better now.
marnanel: (Default)

And through thick woods one finds a stream astray
So secret that the very sky seems small...
– G K Chesterton

In 2009 I was working in a dull grey cubicle, in a dull grey office, in a dull grey office park. And I was very bored.

After a few months, on my lunch break, I was walking along the grass verge beside the car park. The verge was neatly mown, but beyond its edge there was unkempt woodland.

So I began to wonder about the woodland. As far as I could tell, it had grown up by itself because nobody was looking after the land. I determined to explore, next lunchbreak.

I had to fight my way through the overgrowth at first. My path was blocked by brambles and plenty of poison ivy; fortunately, I’m immune. But after only a minute or so, I couldn’t see the office park any more. There was nothing but me, the trees, and the sky.

I came back every day to explore. Soon I discovered an almost dry streambed, which led me to a stream. I don’t know whether it has a name, but I named it Teg. (That means “beautiful” in Welsh.)

Every lunchbreak from then on, I’d come down and sit by the stream to eat my lunch. It was the most peaceful place I knew, and it almost made that job worthwhile. I never saw another human there. Sometimes, when I was sure nobody else came down to the stream, I used to bathe in it.

A few months later, when I was offered a better job, I left with no regrets– except for my river. About half a mile downstream, there’s a road bridge that crosses the stream for a moment, though you’d never notice it unless you knew to look. As I crossed the bridge on my last journey home, and said goodbye to the Teg for the last time, a bright white egret stood drinking from the stream. He saw me, and flew away.
marnanel: (Default)
CW misogyny, sex, death, patriarchy...

Once upon a time, I was president of CUHaGS, which has quite a large crossover with the Monarchist League. CUHaGS has a tradition that the annual dinner is held at the college of the president, so in my year it was held at Sidney.

People often get up and walk around outside between courses, so that they're sitting next to someone else for the next course. (I don't know whether that's just a Sidney thing.) And I began to overhear Monarchists saying things to one another like "I've just been for a leap", or "I fancy a leap. Want to come?"

Some background here. Despite being 400 years old, Sidney has produced approximately two famous people: Carol Voderman and Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell, as you probably know, killed King Charles I. At the restoration of the monarchy, Charles II had Cromwell's body dug up and hanged, and his head put on a spike. Then someone stole the head.

Centuries later, that person's descendant decided it was a bit creepy having a head around, and gave it to Sidney. The head was buried in the chapel, but its exact location remains a secret known only to the Master and a few Fellows. Otherwise there was a risk that monarchists would dig it up again and use it as a football.

Anyway, I investigated what the people going for a "leap" were up to. Of course the Monarchists hate Cromwell, because he killed a king. It turned out that they often hold dinners at Sidney, get drunk, and go to the chapel, and jump up and down on random parts of the floor in the hope that they're showing disrespect to Oliver Cromwell's head.
marnanel: (Default)
FRIENDS

They will stand beside you
When all things are good.
And in the times when things are bad
Beside you they have stood.
They always tell the truth to you
As every good friend must
And they are reliable:
Friends you always trust.
They never will say nasty things
About the clothes you wear
They'll stand up for you against others
When you're not there.
You can always trust your friends
To hold your place in queues.
They'll always tell you "You played well",
Even if you lose.
Always keeping by your side:
Friendship never ends.
Yet, after all, we're only human:
Who has friends?

Toilets

Dec. 3rd, 2015 08:56 pm
marnanel: (Default)
It occurred to me that I've never told the story of the toilets at my secondary school.

The sewer that ran under the boys' toilets was cracked and leaking. But they didn't find that out for years. So they assumed the terrible smell was our fault.

To begin with, they told us to aim properly at the urinal. But the stench continued.

Then, one morning at assembly, they sent the girls out early. The boys remained, with some trepidation. The headmaster went up to the lectern and told us that perhaps we didn't know how to use a urinal, because it's not something your parents teach you in toilet training, so he was going to explain it to us. It was the most horrendous assembly I can remember. I can't tell you much about the explanation: I tuned out after "Because of the shape of your penis..."

The stench continued.

At another assembly, we were told of the latest hypothesis: we must have been standing to urinate in the stalls, rather than at the uriñal. This practice was banned forthwith.

The stench continued.

They decided we weren't paying attention to the new ban. So they stuck signs saying "THINK!!" on the cisterns-- these were the old-fashioned kind, so the cistern was about at head height. Someone public-spirited added "FUCK" in marker pen to all the signs. This caused another assembly.

Somewhere around this point, people began using toilet paper in protest-- flushing entire rolls and so on. The result was a ban on toilet paper. For the next few years, if you were planning to do anything that might involve toilet paper, you were supposed to go to the school office and ask for some, then carry the roll through three corridors to the toilets, and take it back afterwards. It was a kind of public humiliation. It was easy to forget beforehand, and at least once I had to use graph paper from a previous maths lesson.

None of this seemed odd at the time. I take it not all schools were like mine?
marnanel: (Default)
One summer, when I was a small child, I found a book on astronomy. I read it eagerly, and talked about the stars to everyone I met. But it was summer, and so my bedtime was before dusk, and stargazing was impossible.

So my father offered to let me stay up one night to see the stars. He took me to the tall window on the stairs, and drew back the curtain, and I saw the stars scattered across the dark blue of the sky, and the Milky Way shining.

And it was terrifying. It seemed I was looking not just into unimaginable distances, but at something that should not be seen, something almost indecent for human eyes to see-- like seeing the sky goddess all naked for one moment before looking upon her beauty strikes you dead.

I fled, screaming.

marnanel: (Default)

When I was at school, the county would often send psychologists to ask me things. Once, when I was about thirteen, I had to fill in a sort of questionnaire. It had statements with tickyboxes, like

I would like to be an astronaut ☐
I would like to be stronger ☐

The paper said at the top that it was the version of the test for boys, and the last question of all said:

I would like to be a girl ☐

And I had a panicky moment considering that if I told the truth there it would involve a lot more psychologists and probably further humiliation in front of my classmates, so with some level of guilt for lying I left the box unticked.

marnanel: (Default)
A few years ago, someone said to me that they thought life was a bit like playing chess-- you know the rules, and you have to think a few moves ahead. I replied that I'd often thought life was rather more like Mao. In case you don't know Mao, it's a card game where nobody's allowed to explain the rules, so the first few times you play you'll lose spectacularly; after you begin to work out the rules, you may discover that there's a standard way for people to create new rules, but because of the prohibition on explaining the rules, the other players will have not only to notice that a new rule has been introduced, but also to work out what it is by induction. This somewhat parallels my experience of life-- everyone seems to have seen the rulebook except me.

Well, the other night I had a dream. I was at a party where everyone else was playing a game a bit like Mao, but instead of using playing cards, everything was on index cards: when you introduced a new rule, you had to create new cards to go along with it. And I was confused and disorientated and disheartened, just as in my metaphor for life.

But then a card turned up in my hand which had clearly been circulating for a while. It was in a familiar handwriting, and after a moment I recognised it as the stumbling form of my own handwriting I'd used when I was about eight or nine.

And this was the most encouraging dream I've had in a long while. I used to know how to play this game. I knew once. I can learn again.

Memory

Mar. 7th, 2013 12:06 am
marnanel: (Default)
I can't sleep. But I was just remembering being six years old and made to sit in the hallway outside my classroom, the desk being put there specially so that everyone who passed by would see it and remark on it, and being told to write out "I am a baby" a hundred times. And I am remembering defiantly writing "I am not a baby" and being made to do it all again.

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