The Trance Maiden

This is a quick dash through a subject which deserves to be written about more widely. It’s not an academic treatise or a well referenced (or indeed edited) piece of writing. This is, after all, an infrequently updated blog - I’ve learned to be happy with that. Let’s be spontaneous.

The idea of the trance maiden is a literary theme which perhaps finds its most obvious expression in the story of Sleeping Beauty. We have a story, and one of the central characters (though this could be, and often is, a minor player) is a woman who, at some stage in the narrative falls asleep.

This is ordinary enough in itself, but the woman could, in terms of Jungian psychology, be seen as a representation of the Animus: an unconscious aspect of the male psyche which can lead a man to huge feats of creativity or - if expressed in its negative ‘femme fatale’ aspect - bring him to ruin.

Male characters appear to exist in order to free the trance maiden from her slumbers. The best known example is a kiss - but (and some of you will find this hugely distasteful) in the original version of Sleeping Beauty she was awakened with sexual intercourse. In other words, rape. Something to consider next time you watch the watered down Disney version.

Another trance maiden treatment takes the form of ‘the mad woman in the attic.’ This hints at the female psyche being somehow less rational or stable than the male, though another (my) interpretation is that the woman isn’t really insane - she just appears that way to an unenlightened ‘logical’ mind. This is an area for feminist discourse, and it is therefore beyond my reach as I am not a feminist, though I have some sympathy for the cause.

The classic example - and one I had nearly forgotten - occurs in  Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, though the theme was successfully rehashed by Jean Rhys in Wide Sargasso Sea.

There are many other examples which I hestitate to list. Mainly because I don’t have an exhaustive list, but partly because abstract ideas like this are open to wide interpretation, and are therefore prone to endless, time-consuming debate. Some people love that. I am less enthusiastic.

Having been a Dr Who fan for too many years, I’m reminded of the character Amy Pond and the time she spent (over 1,000 years!) asleep in the so-called Pandorica. I am very interested in the way classic faery tales can be carried over into modern story telling. The power of mythology is endless…

This is an MP3 of a poem called ‘Journeys’. I wrote it a few years ago and decided it’s worth an airing.

Rainy day poems

Two original poems which I’ve decided to release into the wild. Hagley Road is a ‘place’ poem about… well, Hagley Road in Birmingham UK - part of my physical and mental landscape. The last one transmuted itself into a poem about lost love when that seemed to be the last thing on my mind. Thank you Muse!

Hagley Road

Break-neck busy with barely time to cross,
I’ve grown ten years older in your choking shadow
and travelled you in wild uncareful dreams, wishing
to avoid your wiley heroin-cooked hookers.

Your river runs loud and screaming, splitting
my senses to bits. I carry you inside me everywhere
and blame you for derailing my long cherished calm.
I cannot reject your snakish charms at will.

When I wake I hear your strange distorted song;
the muffled drone of rubber kissing tar
revealing lives more hectic than my own,
tempting me towards your fractured world.

I know your secret side, your hidden place,
and walk the path that flows beneath your roar
like a tight green ribbon bearing me away,
granting me the gentle refuge of your urban woods.

For a while at least, and for a while at rest
I’ll drown myself in unrelenting calm,
leaving you to feed the city’s endless thirst;
and me to weave a future free from harm.

Breaking down, staying strong

I feel I’ve been on the bus too long
on journeys wild and strange to me.
Breaking down but staying strong.

I’m blinded by a freezing sun. Sing
Earthly Muse and make me see
that breaking up is rarely wrong.

She was my one and only; departing
sets my ragged spirit free.
I’ve travelled on the bus too long.

It’s true what Cupid said: seeing
spoils the dream. It did for me.
Breaking down has made me strong.

Was sorrow just his arrow’s sting?
There is no other cure for ‘She’.
I’ll disembark before too long.

Love’s topsy-turvey when it’s wrong.
At least, that’s how it was for me.
I know I’ve stayed on the bus too long,
broken down but staying strong.

Jacka, Spring 2012

The ultimate gravy

I think I’ve discovered the ultimate gravy so I thought I’d share the recipe. It’s dead easy, and lovely with mashed potatoes. You will need:

  • 1 red onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • a splash of balsamic vinegar
  • a hint of Worcester sauce
  • some vegetable bouillon power (no, don’t use an Oxo cube!)
  • 1 medium sized mushroom, because there’s not mush-room in my kitchen
  • a pinch of light brown soft cane sugar
  • mixed herbs
  • a little cornflour mixed with cold water to form a paste.

Finely chop the onion and garlic then fry slowly in olive oil using a deep sided frying pan. Don’t overdo the oil otherwise your gravy will taste like Brylcreem.

Chop your mushroom(s) into small chunks and add to the pan. Keep frying until everything is good and soft. I sometimes add an extra slug of olive oil at this point. If you’re on a budget you could use groundnut oil instead.

Add a dash of balsamic vinegar and a splash of Worcester sauce. You don’t want those flavours to dominate. A pinch of sugar adds a little extra sweetness.

I don’t measure stock (or anything!) precisely; but I use around 3/4 pint of it and add enough bouillon power so that it’s not too salty and not too weak. Believe me weak gravy is a downer…

Add the mixed herbs toward the end of your gravy-making binge, because it will taste that bit better.

I always guess how much cornflour to use, mixing a small amount in a cup and adding enough cold water to make a fairly stiff paste. Make sure all of it is dissolved before you lift your pan off the heat for a minute. Then add the cornflour paste to the gravy, stir it well and heat up again. 

After many dreadful gravy failures I’ve learned to avoid lumps, and that not-so-subtle burnt taste that you get when you (doh!) burn your onions.

You should end up with gravy which is good enough to raise your ancestors from the dead. Just the thing for those long cold, rainy, comfortless evenings when you’re stuck inside with nothing better to do than read Camus and clip your toenails.

Possible gravy variations: you could add a bit of tomato puree or even some orange juice. 


In which Neil Gaiman and David Mack team up to create a beautiful piece that Burton gets tattooed on his back. Tattoos are only for the committed…
Get a silkscreened print of this collaboration, presale price $25.00 for the next 48 hours. ($25 bucks?? you can’t go to a movie and get popcorn for that price)
50% of proceeds will go to @CBLDF.


In which Neil Gaiman and David Mack team up to create a beautiful piece that Burton gets tattooed on his back. Tattoos are only for the committed…

Get a silkscreened print of this collaboration, presale price $25.00 for the next 48 hours. ($25 bucks?? you can’t go to a movie and get popcorn for that price)

50% of proceeds will go to @CBLDF.

(via neil-gaiman)

'Waste not want not'

Many years ago I visited a National Trust home. It was Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire if memory serves. I was old enough to start questioning the inequality I saw all around me, but too young to know what I wanted to do about it.

The house was full of faded tapestries, beautiful paintings, old furniture and the musty whiff of ancestral ghosts who seemed to follow me around the building questioning my presence. It took a long time to explore all those rooms, and the final part of my visit took me down a long twisty stone staircase into the kitchen.

The deserving poor
I say ‘kitchen’ but it looked more like an aircraft hanger. This is where the ‘deserving poor’ (those with jobs) would have sweated their lives away for next to nothing. The unlucky ones would have been shipped off to languish in workhouses and die, forgotten by the world. More about that later.

Perhaps those servants felt grateful to their lords and masters for being allowed the dubious privilege of cooking meals in the big house. Or perhaps they secretly hated them, quietly slipping some servant DNA into his Lordship’s game pie.

We’ll never know; but what hit me between the eyes like a bag of cricket balls were some huge words painted over the kitchen hearth, like the warning written over the gateway to Dante’s Hell.

'Waste Not Want Not', they yelled from the wall. A moralistic reminder to be careful. 'Mind your Ps and Qs or you might lose your place here.'

I felt a sudden wave of nausea and left as soon as possible. I left because I could, and because I knew that the kitchen staff would have been unable to. I wanted to breathe and do something life affirming.

'Bloody hypocrites!' I muttered angrily. Imagine lecturing the poor about waste when you're a rich land owner. Things have changed for the better.

Nick Clegg’s greenwash speech
No they haven’t! The UK’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg recently gave a speech about ‘greening’ our economy. A speech with a hook because Clegg asked, ‘Can lean times be green times?’ Here he tried to marry two unrelated ideas: that the government’s economic and environmental ideas are somehow in tune. Clegg said:

'We are undergoing a profound transformation within our economy. And for the first time ever our economic and environmental mantras are exactly the same: waste not, want not. Whether it's waste of energy, waste of money, waste of our potential, we are focused on conserving our precious resources. Responsibility and sustainability are the watchwords of the day.'

Fine sentiments. We are indeed undergoing a ‘profound transformation’. The public sector is being profoundly torn to shreds; dismantled by a government hell-bent on austerity (their only idea) aided and abetted by so-called ‘liberals’, who are about as liberal as Mrs Thatcher at her most very worst.

The irony is bitter because no-one is doing more to squander human potential than this government of turncoats, devoid of meaningful ideas.

'Waste not want not', said Clegg the hypocrite - natural successor to the robber barons who were the original owners of Britain's stately homes. Clegg - the Uriah Heep of modern politics.

The price of poverty
Enforced poverty is not a virtue or a way to progress economic savings. Poverty is always about disposal and dispersal. The poor die before their time, so they do not have long to contribute to society. All too often they end up as human commodities, cast aside when they have been broken by the people they are forced to serve.

While struggling to make ends meet the poor are less concerned with ‘green issues’ than the wealthy. There is nothing sustainable about pushing ordinary people over the cliffs of desperation in the name of useless and ineffective policies.

My ancestors knew all about workhouses and serving rich masters because I’m descended from those people. They worked for rich families as servants. They ploughed the land and were uneducated. And yes - some ended up in the workhouse. That’s what I mean by dispersal. Husbands were separated from wives and parents from children.

Protest and survive
Think again, Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg, if you believe we are going to regress us to those times. Think again if you suppose you can destroy a welfare system which supports so many and saves them from abject poverty. You will be challenged, found wanting - and above all you will fail.

We should waste no time in organising against this coalition of fools. We should want them to go, and go soon.


Poem submission by Evan Maltby


Poem submission by Evan Maltby


I love this!


I love this!

~ I am no lover ~

I am no lover, I cling to the wreckage of love
removing and remembering. Of all those guilded days
only the fading ghost of love remains
to haunt my waking dreams and falling hours.

My lover left me pensive and alone. Denied
contact with the sun my heart began to fail.
Now only the dimming eyes of love remain
to see me through night’s endless crowded void.

But I walk through that place without despair
remarking on strange scenes to me laid bare.
Love’s wreckage is the seed of love reborn
and even oceans cannot hide this truth.

Time grinds our burning passions into sand
which dusts our eyes and hides Love’s face.
The way of love is always here and now,
and not in some far foggy place.

For all the love I felt I kept it close
and let it grow inside me hidden tight,
to be revealed to one who sees the path
and walks it with me in the softly fading light.

I am no lover, I hold to the ruin of love
remembering and remembering. Of all those lusty days
only the faintest spark of light remains.
But from that spark I shall ignite a sun.

And from that sun renewed a world shall grow,
and from that world new lovers shall emerge.
Love’s flowers bloom in human hearts
to bond us each to each forever more.

Jacka ~ spring 2012

Learning to pronounce a Welsh place-name.