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Storied Food: the Marketplace of the Old Normal and the Circle of Grace

Since the start of lockdown in March, there’s been a recurring theme in the game-playing I’ve engaged in with my two young daughters. It started with Salmon in a Rockpool. This was a fish Bolognese dish I’d often make at lunchtime, where the sauce – tinned fish with tinned tomatoes, oregano, garlic, olive oil, olives and capers cooked and then blended – is placed in the middle of the dish, with the pasta in a circle around it, representing a rock pool. Sometimes I would add extras – strands of dried edible seaweed, prawns, pickled cockles, even mussels in their shells. Sometimes we would actually play a rock-pooling game beforehand. I would operate the plastic toy crab; they’d lower a line and try to catch it.

More recently the game has morphed into Shellfish Shack. I set up a pretend stall, complete with the toy cash register, and then place on the counter of the stall little pots of prawns, squid, smoked salmon or somesuch, plus condiments and cocktail sticks, then charge them pretend money to come and buy them. Partly it’s down to the times when I become freed from homeworking to play with them during the day – meal times – but there’s more to it.

These games recreate the sense of story and poetry around food that is lost when things are delivered to your door ready-packed. Is it just a slab of white protein in a plastic pack? No, it’s a fish that got here because a fisherman went out in the early hours onto the wine-dark sea, tossed about on the waves far from the shore, returning to the cobbled harbour as the dawn sunlight glinted on the waves.

And setting up the Shellfish Shack recreates a sense of the exchange you get from a market. Markets have a long history. Thousands of years ago farmers, fisherman and other local producers and artisans brought their wares into the town for market day and set up their stalls. The market is absolutely central to the Greco-Roman culture package that has continued to the present day, sometimes in a completely unbroken line. The marketplace had its own divinity – Hermes-Mercury – the god of trade, the god of the exchange. You make an exchange with the guy or gal who grew the vegetables. Today we try to recapture some of that with photos of the pig farmer on the sausage packet, but though we might see his or her face, he doesn’t see ours, so it’s not a true exchange. It doesn’t activate the sense of giving and receiving that you get from a marketplace. That circulation is the true currency of the Universe: the joy of Giving Your Gift, the joy of Receiving Abundance and the joy of completing the circle by Expressing Your Gratitude. This is the Circle of the Three Graces. It would be a shame if – once the pandemic is properly over – we don’t return to the Old Normal of the actual, physical marketplace.

Ode to Hawthorn Berry Tea

Thick, soft tresses of maidenly blossom cascade – scented surf in a heavenly flood,  
Pure white dress of the Hawthorn will one day become berry necklaces scarlet as blood
At the sight off a-gathering filling my basket I’ll go for a plentiful store
Of the berry that brews to a tea with the power to soothe and relax and restore
Hawthorn tea you delight me
You calm yet excite me
When daytime to evening gives way
A swift end to anxiety
Drunken sobriety
Perfect for closing the day

I feel I should probably write a second verse to that at some point, echoing the same stanza structure, but for the moment, there it is.

When I started the poem I was just writing about hawthorn blossom but then it came to be about the tea too. So it leaps from early Summer to Autumn with the line: “pure white dress of the Hawthorn will one day become berry necklaces scarlet as blood.”

The effect of the tea is a recognised one by the way – something to do with opioid receptors and vasodilation – a rush of blood to the head. Only thing I’ve ever found that is comparable to alcohol in it’s ability to take the edge off things at the end of the day, but a healthy alternative. Very effective at lowering blood pressure I understand and great for rounding off a day when you’ve been hitting the Java. Hence: “drunken sobriety” in the poem

The bit about gathering them is poetic license – I did do that a couple of autumns back but now I just buy pre-dried. I use about 50 berries, and I leave them boiling in a pan for about 12 mins, then I stand them for a further ten minutes in the water, steeping, having also added a chamomile teabag, then I sup away. I’ll then give those same berries a second boil but in less water and only for a couple minutes, for a second cup.

Bird is Spring

If you go down to the woods today 
you’re in for a big surprise 
as dozens of darling dinosaurs 
compete for their opera prize

A phrase from one may establish its rhythm, but 
then it’s lost as another phrase cuts blithely across it 
with all the informality of free verse, in rich cacophony 

And then that rhythm you heard before 
will suddenly reappear 
in a moment of ordered harmony 
as if made for the human ear  

Then it’s gone again, but the sounds still delight – heaven-storming chitterings 
pulsing scintillating emanations through the sap-irrigated matrix of the Chloromyriad  

The Old Romantics oh!’d and ah!’d  
for they found it uplifting and freeing 
and now the science is backing them up: 
It bolters our mental well-being  

So bathe in the forest and smell the earthy humus for even now  
the Star-lungs are warming up their vox-boxes in readiness – may we likewise  
prep our auro-tubules for sensitive apprecio-resonance with this ancient treasure of our planet!  

If you’re on the road to Chitterfest  
you’d better keep moving fast  
for tomorrow’s the day the developers come  
so this chance may be your last

Sing on, sweet birds, sing on your spasmodic gutterations of brain-brightening liquid light! 
Star-lungs: stars are flowers; flowers is bird; bird is Spring…. No bird, no Spring

Should every bird that ever there was 
stare mute from under glass – 
just dozens of dry, dumb dodos – 
we’ll despair that this came to pass

Satisfying Wanderlust even in Lockdown: “Trance Mapping” as fulfilling exercise routine for optimised mood

When we exercise, there is a release of the chemicals that encourage us to form a mental map of valued places, such as BDNF and dopamine. This makes total sense if you think about the evolutionary hunter-gatherer context, where extended exercise meant being out and about in the landscape, probably looking for food or finding the way home after obtaining food. That exercise should be associated with the chemicals that encourage the generation of new brain cells makes perfect sense – we ranged over vast areas and success was dependent on forming a mental map of useful places in that landscape, and of routes between them. So when we were exercising, our brains lit up.  

That the neurotransmitters associated with good mood were also mobilised by exercise and mental map-formation also makes sense. Predominantly the landmarks in these mental maps were places of positive association. Here, berries could be found. There, nuts were available. This place had a fresh water source. That place had fruit. And so on. Emotions are required for the formation of strong memories; that’s how our brains know whether something is important enough to commit to long-term memory. So to form these mental maps full of places of positive association, it was necessary for the neurotransmitters, hormones and endorphins of good mood to be mobilised when we were out and about, ready to assist with the formation of a sense of value for a particular place at a moment’s notice.   

There are two ingredients right there for optimal mood: movement and the construction and reinforcement of mental maps of places of positive association. If you combine physical exertion with the creation and reinforcement of the memory of the routes connecting valued locations, it’s very likely you’ll get a mood lift. Apart from anything else, you stimulate those positive associations and feelings. In fact, we’re kind of a shadow of a real selves without it, we need it. That desire to go walkabout has a name: wanderlust. 

And we discovered that we could put those two things together in a different ways and still achieve the same result of elevated mood. We didn’t have to be out in the vast expanses of the open plains. We could do it from the comfort of camp. The exercise could be in the form of dance, and the exploration of the landscape could be undertaken in the mind’s eye – a spirit journey. And so you get the trance dance. And it had its own place in the evolutionary journey because it kept us fit and helped reinforce our memory of the landscape, both of which had advantages. Trance dancing combined with spirit journeys is so ubiquitous in human cultures because it actually became a hardwired ability. And it still is. 

Nowadays, for a series of locations with positive association, we needn’t limit ourselves to places where edible berries grow. It can be something more subtle. It may just be a place you like for aesthetic reasons. You might just feel drawn to a place for some reason you can’t put your finger on. It might evoke some spiritual sensation. You might have developed a fondness for it because of happy memories of times spent there with friends or family. Or it could be that you’ve immersed yourself in the mythology of certain sacred sites. We have this ability to conceive of the landscape in terms of special places and the journeys that lead to them, with sacred sites joined by pilgrimage routes, songlines, ley lines.  

And here’s a pattern we can still follow:  

  1. First, explore the landscape, cultivating a sense of value, gladness, fondness, meaningful connection with sites within it, allowing a mythologised conception to develop. 

2. Then, develop a system of connectivity that joins these sites mentally. 

3. Finally, from the comfort of your home, dance to trance-inducing music and when the trance-joy starts coming on, let it expand by heading out in your mind’s eye to travel those routes around the landscape, visiting those valued places.  

The system of connectivity doesn’t actually have to consist of real-world routes – it can be an intellectual connection, such as a geometric pattern. The simplest example would be the straight line – as with a ley line – where an actual road or path does not exist but an alignment of sites does, whether or not there is any historical aspect to this alignment, or whether it is a charismatically romanticised coincidence – it works either way. More complex geometries can be developed too that allow the positive sense of value to resonate around the pattern.  

Trance Mapping is a practice in which I have developed a keen interest. The three blog sites I have on the go each deal with a particular aspect of it:

i) HowCurious! is primarily concerned with mythologised landscapes and schemes of interconnection that weave them into a unified plan.

ii) The Confessions of a Hungry Dawn Raver is all about an effective method for Trance Dancing without drugs (unless you count coffee).

iii) The Glory of Glad is focused on cultivating value, amplifying gratitude.

Put them together and you have Trance Mapping – a method for optimising mood so effective it can be thought of almost as a spiritual practice.  

The current situation at the time of writing – lockdown to halt the Coronavirus – might limit our physical exploration of sites out in the field, but it can be used as a time to focus on those trance dance spirit journeys. Dancing to trance music, you let the joy build and the normal thoughts fade away as you focus on the music, and then out you go in your mind’s eye. Don’t waste this time watching fitness instructors taking you through workouts on YouTube when you could be flying with the gods. 

There’s plenty more to read / see / listen to on this:

For an index of my explorations of mythologised landscapes, see here.

To look at a particular example that works up to a mythologised scheme for the entire globe, follow the chain starting here.

There’s a video that covers some of it here:

For a piece about my method for effective trance dancing, Hungry Dawn Raving, see here.

For a spoken word video of poem about Hungry Dawn Raving see here.

For a spoken word video of a poem reliving at rest the joy of expeditions, routes on maps, ancient sacred sites and wanderlust, see here.


And for a series of posts in how to cultivate gratitude by keeping a poetic gratitude journal, see here.

Barnes’ Owl in the Snow

(rhymes written after reading Simon Barnes’ blog post Barn owl in the snow)

Across the marsh, white passing over white 
the silent hunter flies then loses height  
descending to a favoured perch to stand 
and view with icy gaze an icy land 
Stray snowflakes catch my fancy, frivolous 
but never his; his hunt is serious. 

Across the marsh, white passing over white 
Outside the stables, freezing at the sight 
I let my busy, muck-filled spade fall still  
A thought occurs that gives a further thrill: 
this, and the pellet found the other day 
suggest the owls have come back here to stay! 

Across the marsh, white passing over white 
Fight on! Though cold Spring breeding left its blight 
The pellet, when with tweezers prised in two 
revealed the fine-boned relics of a shrew 
strange artefacts of Lilliputian size 
a fascinating wonder for young eyes. 

Across the marsh, white passing over white 
he signifies to me a world put right 
Will future generations ever know 
that world? To them, and our own souls we owe 
our best attempt to turn the tide around 
so nights then still awe-shiver at his sound. 

Across the marsh, white passing over white 
A treasured moment; may a poet write  
some verses that will eloquently share 
this plea and make the world more keenly care 
and feel, if all is lost, how dear the price. 
For now, the humble lines here must suffice. 

The Silver Birch – video

The Silver Birch
a caudate sonnet

My gladness of the silver birch I wish
   To share, that slender goddess of a tree
Her shower of silken hair moves in a swish
   That stirs in me a mystic reverie
As turns this verdant, grassy leaf-fringed glade
   Into her sacred grove, and I, her priest
Mid-frisson in the dancing, dappled shade
   Call druids, bards and ovates to the feast
But let us now the details try to trace
   The little leaves, heart-shaped, serrated trail
      Along each pliant twig to form a spray
That’s bright and airy, made with measured grace
   Cascading sprays together form the veil
      That by the gentle breeze is set to sway
Her stretch of sky she turns to shimmering show
And whispers Summer’s secrets soft and low.

On Odes to Coastal Dawns – spoken word video

What poet now would ever dare
To sing an ode to morning air
The rosy mist that hovers there
O’er sea-girt folds?

What mind could ever fully grasp
The magnitude of such a task:
To frame in verses built to last
Vapours of gold?

Perhaps some master’s careful brush
Could set in oil the heart’s full rush
Paint here and there a windswept bush
With well-mixed hue

But how could we with words sing praise
And capture this ambrosial haze
To place on page for later days
This heavenly view?

Now most assume in ancient time
Some poet placed a fatted chine
Upon Aurora’s hillside shrine
None now could equal

And so the theme of their refrain
Will tend to be one more mundane
For who among them still would deign 
To pen a sequel?

But poets! To her shrine turn back
Tread rhyming steps along that track
And do not worry if you lack
A perfect gift

For when we see the rosy glow
We will be comforted to know
We’re not the first to see the show
As sea mists lift.

Ode to a Car Key – spoken word video


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Ode to a Car Key

O fine, faff-free and labour-saving key
That lets me lock and unlock, with one press,
The car remotely and most easily
For you my heart now fills with thankfulness
Let’s say it’s raining and one stands
With luggage in both hands
It’s been a busy day and one is tired
How glad one feels to then recall
A single button press is all
That is required!

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Hephaestus for the gods with rarest skill
Did many a shining bronze device design
Some tool that leapt to action at their will
Performing tasks befitting lives divine:
Their gold cars pulled by brazen steed
Through air at such a speed
As lighting that precedes the thunder’s rumble
We feel ourselves to be their kin
When gracefully we enter in
Without a fumble

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Helios the Sun in chariot made by Hephaestus, with animated bronze horses

So unimpeded in the car I climb
And like a king upon a throne I sit
And cruise the country lanes in state sublime
Like Bacchus in his magic vine-filled ship
And as my homeward way I wend
I know at journey’s end
There waits for me a happy circumstance:
I’ll loose the safety belt and out
I’ll get and walk away without
A backwards glance.

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Bacchus in vine-filled ship

Songbird Stay (spoken word video)

Songbird Stay

O key ingredient of the harmony
   Of Spring, dear Songbird stay, we beg you, stay!
The dead must feel an equal agony
   To hear you not, nor see the light of day
Should silence fall within the woodland dells
   We’d mourn as if the Sun had left the sky
Or all the flowers lost their honey smells
   As from their petals drained the coloured dye
We love those trills that irrigate the mind
   With water from a laughing, babbling stream
      Your calls explore a secret sylvan space
And by the echoes somehow is defined
   Within our human thought a painted scene
      Of all that’s filled with natural, verdant grace
Sweet Songbird stay and ever, ever sing for once you’re gone it never could be Spring

We’ll take whatever course for you is best
   Ensure the fields from poisons are kept free
Keep dogs instead of cats, to spare your nest
   And anywhere you need it plant a tree
We’ll plant such bowery covert as you need
   We’ll plant so you can shelter, roost and call
We’ll plant the plants that give you food to feed
   We’ll plant them if we value Spring at all
We love each sound you sing, o darling bird
   All notes that issue from your quavering throat
      Each lilting warble, chirrup, cheep and coo
By which the silent sleeping air is stirred
   These sounds now through my open window float
      To broach the Gates of Dawn, and bring the New!
Sweet Songbird stay and ever, ever sing for once you’re gone it never could be Spring