A 6th century lullaby that can still charm

lodore falls

The Lodore Falls at Derwentwater. Picture by Jez B

In the 6th century the writer of the book, Y Gododdin. included -probably by mistake – a lullaby. Experts speculate it was written in the margin of another book and transcribed as though part of the book. Thank goodness he did. It has helped this lullaby survive the 1500 years and can still delight us today. It mentions a waterfall at Derwent and at least one authority as suggested this refers to what are now known as the Lodore Falls by Derwentwater, Keswick in Cumbria. It makes the poem the county’s oldest written work. My thanks to Esmeralda’s Cumbrian History and Folklore blog for bringing this work to my attention.

Dinogad’s Smock

Dinogad’s smock, speckled, speckled,
I made from the skins of martens.
Whistle, whistle, whistly
we sing, the eight slaves singWhen your father used to go to hunt,
with his shaft on his shoulder and his club
in his hand,
he would call his speedy dogs,
‘Giff, Gaff, catch, catch, fetch, fetch!’,
he would kill a fish in a coracle,
as a lion kills an animal.

When your father used to go to the mountain,
he would bring back a roebuck, a wild pig, a stag,
a speckled grouse from the mountain,
a fish from the waterfall of Derwennyd

Whatever your father would hit with his spit,
whether wild pig or lynx or fox,
nothing that was without wings would escape.

Dinogad’s smock, pied, pied,
It was from marten’s skins that I made it.
‘Wheed, wheed, a whistling!’
I would sing, eight slaves sang.
When thy father went a-hunting,
A spear on his shoulder, a club in his hand,
He would call the nimble hounds,
‘Giff, Gaff; catch, catch, fetch, fetch!’
He would kill a fish in his coracle
As a lion kills its prey.
When thy father went to the mountain
He would bring back a roe-buck, a wild boar, a stag,
A speckled grouse from the mountain,
A fish from Rhaeadr Derwennydd.
Of all those that thy father reached with his lance,
Wild boar and lynx and fox,
None escaped which was not winged.

Translation by Dr Isaac


The power of words


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The Carlisle Cursing Stone

Anyone who doubts the power of words should take note of the curse of Archbishop Gavin Dunbar. Yes, you read that right – an archbishop issuing curses! The Archbishop of Glasgow lived in the 16th Century in Glasgow, Scotland and had become very frustrated with the bandits carrying out raids along the border of Scotland and England. The ‘border Reivers’ as the bandits were known carried out robbery, rape, murder and all things horrible. So his Grace issued a ‘curse’ which ran to about 2,000 words (did I mention how angry he was?!). Part of it reads…

I curse their head and all the hairs of their head; I curse their face, their brain (innermost thoughts), their mouth, their nose, their tongue, their teeth, their forehead, their shoulders, their breast, their heart, their stomach, their back, their womb, their arms, their leggs, their hands, their feet, and every part of their body, from the top of their head to the soles of their feet, before and behind, within and without. I curse them going and I curse them riding; I curse them standing and I curse them sitting; I curse them eating and I curse them drinking; I curse them rising, and I curse them lying; I curse them at home, I curse them away from home; I curse them within the house, I curse them outside of the house; I curse their wives, their children, and their servants who participate in their deeds. I (bring ill wishes upon) their crops, their cattle, their wool, their sheep, their horses, their swine, their geese, their hens, and all their livestock. I (bring ill wishes upon) their halls, their chambers, their kitchens, their stanchions, their barns, their cowsheds, their barnyards, their cabbage patches, their plows, their harrows, and the goods and houses that are necessary for their sustenance and welfare.

.. and so it goes on. Five hundred years later, the city of Carlisle (in the Archbishop’s parish but now in England) decide to mark the start of the new millennium with an artwork. Andy Altman is duly commissioned to create a huge obelisk with the words of the curse on it (but also a blessing from the Bible). The Cursing Stone is unveiled in 2000 with due ceremony but it’s no long before bad luck strikes. First foot and mouth disease hits Cumbria, then floods and – most convincing of all – a run of bad results for Carlisle FC! A local councillor blames the cursing stone – and a number of people take the claim quite seriously. For now, the cursing stone still resides near Tullie House museum in Carlisle but if Carlisle FC don’t start moving up the table soon, expect the stone and its curse to be quietly removed.

The Dissolution of the Libraries


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What a waiting room usually looks like … and what it should look like

Libraries are the new secular abbeys and we may be facing our dissolution

So says blogger Bethan Ruddock – and the word ‘dissolution’ is absolutely spot on. We’ve all talked about the closure of public libraries but it’s not a strong enough word whereas dissolution conveys the true horrifying impact of the situation. Libraries are at a tipping point and people have begun to ask what is there future – if they have one. More importantly, the arrival of the digital age is forcing people to ask what is the purpose of a library in 2013.

The future of libraries will form part of my Last Writes exhibition but I’m starting to believe that libraries probably shouldn’t be in libraries. In Finland schools don’t have libraries – rather the books and elements of a library are integrated into every classroom. Their view is that a library shouldn’t be a separate room away from everything else but part of the fabric of the school. I spoke in my last blog about ‘book bombing’ – depositing books at bus-stops, by park benches, in phone boxes and the like. If there was ever anywhere you needed to a book it’s at a bus-stop while waiting for that delayed bus. My brother also points out that his dentist’s waiting room has no books (nor does mine) presumably because of fears over hygiene. What nonsense and what a shame. I’ve written before about the mind-numbing, head-thumping dullness of hospital waiting rooms with their grey paint and out-of-date posters warning you of every plague known to man coming to get you. How much nicer it would be if the waiting room resembled a library rather than some communist politician’s office.

Perhaps the time has come to take the mountain to Mohammed. Mobile libraries were a good start but let’s put books back where they should be – where the people are.

I will end with a quote from a comment made by a Facebook friend:

We are the dickheads, for not making sure that these sacred places (libraries) are the centre of OUR universe .. Libraries should have connectivity to the cloud via wi-fi etc (which they have), but also to connectivity of the printed word version to the origin of the literary masterpieces. The printed word version. Children of the future may believe that Shakespeare and Ruskin had an iPad .. When instead, they had an inkPad beside their desks .. The young need to learn the craft of pen and ink, to write, rather than the touch screen of the iPhone and iPad. Pen and ink, and the smell of ink and the scratch of the nib is like no other smell or sound .. It is the very essence of transferring our thoughts (and dreams) into a written reality .. a historical document forever, rather than a jumble of binary codes solely dependant on battery life .. To be lost as a midges life is lost when the summer day ends. I could weep at the thought of losing just one library ..

Amen to that.

Chapter 13


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books in bus stops

Why don’t we have books in bus-stops? 

My mind started wandering during a rather boring meeting and I started considering the idea of a direct-action protest group fighting for the printed word. After all, if we’re serious about saving the ‘real’ book and fighting against all things digital should we be doing things rather than just writing about it? I’m not talking about anything illegal – quite the opposite. Something pleasant and designed to bring a smile to people’s faces. For example: book bombing. Leaving piles of books in places where there should perhaps be more books – a doctor’s waiting room, a bus-stop (see picture), railway coaches or beside a park bench. Suggestions please! But what to call our group? The books mil-lit-ia perhaps? Chapter 13? The Army of the Twelve Librarians? The Book Liberation Front? Again, suggestions please.

p.s. I’ve started a website to run alongside the exhibition (and this blog). It is at – https://sites.google.com/site/lastwritescumbria/.

More exhibition details


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Crikes! I only set this blog up last night and already people are reading it and following me. So I’d better quickly give some more details about the exhibition. Here’s the press release about it and I’ll explain soon why I’ve decided to hold this and a bit more about the themes. And thanks for your interest!

Press release

An exhibition at Florence Arts Centre, Egremont will mark the passing of the printed word – and the arrival of the digital age with its ebooks and iPads.

Last Writes, A Requiem For The Printed Word is being staged by journalist Alan Cleaver during April 2013 and will feature calligraphy from Eden Valley Scribes.

Included in the exhibition will be:

  • Cumbria’s oldest piece of writing: A 6th century lullaby that can still touch your heart
  • Books for burning?: Not all books have been loved and some have been banned
  • The art of calligraphy: Cumbria’s finest calligraphers demonstrate how the written word can also be the beautiful word
  • Libraries – an old-fashioned idea no longer needed or an valuable institution about to be reinvented and rediscovered? Cumbria’s most beautiful library revealed – and what school libraries should look like.
  • Hold the front page: Some of the best – and worst – headlines of the last 100 years
  • The world’s first ebook museum. You may think the ebook is brand spanking new. But meet the clumsy, cumbersome antique ebooks from the 1990s.

Organiser, Alan Cleaver, 53, of Church Street, Whitehaven said: “I hope the printed word and ‘real’ books have many more years of life in them but I didn’t want society to sleepwalk into the digital age without honouring the many good things that printing has given us over the years. And I also wanted to flag up the dangers of storing all our knowledge only in the ephemeral world of pixels and binary digits.”The exhibition will be staged at Florence Arts Centre, Egremont during April 2013 (see http://www.florencemine.org for directions and opening times). Admission is free.

In the beginning


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This blog runs alongside an exhibition to be held at Florence Arts Centre, Egremont, Cumbria (UK) in April 2013. The exhibition will look at the ‘death’ of the printed word and the arrival of the digital word in the form of ebooks, iPads etc. Admission to the exhibition is free and there will be talks, workshops and other events during the month-long show.