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I thought I’d write a word or two about trolls. The subject came up as the government or some other authoritarian body talked of putting legislation in place to catch the ‘trolls’ who plague social media. I’m not sure how they’re planning to do this. It might require some sort of vast inter-net possibly? (sorry, I couldn’t resist).  It might require a stick and then another bigger stick. Obviously no carrots. Trolls don’t eat them.

I have a problem with internet trolls. It’s not just their idiotic, childish and bullying behaviour; I mean that I object to them being called ‘trolls’. I think it gets the mythical beasts a bad name, or at least a worse name than previously.  An internet troll, it seems to me, is a bit of a sad sack with a limited vocabulary and an inflated sense of their own self-importance. They’re small minded and nasty.

Trolls aren’t. Well, ok, the limited vocabulary might come into play although the one sitting under the bridge that was the major trans-Alpine highway for the Three Billy Goats Gruff seems to have been quite the poet. ‘Who’s that trip-trapping over my bridge?’ he demanded with some theatrical gusto. This troll, it seems, had a sense of his own place in mythology and folklore and wished to make a good show of it. He was fair and logical when offered the choice of ‘eat my brother, he’s bigger and fatter than me’ although he did then fall foul of the superior fighting skills of the eldest Billy Goat Gruff.

trollsTrolls, in Scandinavian folklore, have considerable skills with stone and wide ranging geological knowledge. They are excellent pot holers for instance, making their chief residences in cave systems. Admittedly this genus of troll, the Jotnar, are also a bit keen on a slice of long pork, or ‘human’ as it is also known but can we really despise them for that? I mean, a lion likes a nibble on a bit of leg especially if it is wrapped in safari suit. We don’t call lions ‘evil’ do we?  Although I think that’s largely to do with the fact that lions have that elusive thing called ‘beauty’. A lion is majestic and therefore appealing whereas, poor stony-faced trolls, they can best be described as ‘craggy’ or possibly ‘rugged’.

The troll just happens to be a predator, albeit a giant one. If you’re tramping through fjord country, or possibly paddling through it since most of a fjord is underwater, then the Trip Advisor advice might be to not take shelter in any caves after dark. It is only polite to respect the indigenous residents of a country. If you don’t bother a troll they, most likely, won’t bother you. You are unlikely to see a troll in the daylight as, unfortunately, they are rumoured to turn into stone in sunlight. See, it isn’t easy being a troll, constant night shifts make people grumpy.

Not all trolls are giants. Some are Moomins. Others of course are the more football hooligan end of the social spectrum, the cave troll from Tolkein’s meisterwork is not a happy chappy. Consider his lot, he’s a henchman and heavy labourer. Perhaps, given the chance for some social mobility he could pursue his heart’s desire of being a stonemason or open his own showcave system, taking people on tours underground. If a cave troll fancied owning his own bridge he could do worse than start out at the Second Severn Crossing of course but the little booths might have to be enlarged. No Mr Troll, not smashed to pieces. Put that toll worker down!

There are trolls with gravitas and dignity, if slightly dodgy business practices. In Discworld there is Chrysoprase, him diamond, for a start. For me the internet namesakes with their limited intelligence and playground bully mentality are more like a goblin.  But there, that carries its problems. What’s wrong with goblins then? I’m being Goblinist about this.

The point of this ramble is that this is how the monsters and beasts are woven into our culture. My only problem is that sometimes the epic creature is diminished by its association with us. To call these anonymous and vindictive people ‘trolls’ lends them a cachet that they don’t deserve.  They have not earned the title.

Gits. I think we can settle and call them Gits.  It is the politest term I can conjure before the watershed. I’d like to hear John Humphries announce on ‘Today’ the new law to slap down ‘Internet Gits’. Where do I sign that digi-petition?

 

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We put up our Christmas tree this weekend. Time was when our children could not wait to get out the box of decorations. One year all the baubles and gewgaws were at five year olds’ height and had to be ‘adjusted’ overnight by a slightly taller fairy. Only slightly taller mind. That Christmas fairy has now been overshot by the offspring who tower above her as she wields the tinsel.

Of course now that the kids are in their 20s it is left to us to decorate the tree. We always have a real tree for the beauty and scent, plastic is not my go-to resource when it comes to festivity although I admit that tinsel is not exactly born of Mother Earth.

For many years now I have wanted to buy several trees and make a forest in our front room. I envisage us resting amongst the branches like a family of lowland gorillas, with a mince pie in one hand and a book in the other. No one else at Slavin Castle has ever shared any enthusiasm for this idea.

I liked candles until the internet informed me of the toxic terrors billowing out of the softly flickering light. I also love fairy lights. I need a twinkle or two to pretty up the dark at this time of year and frighten off the monsters.

Back in the 70s (boom) we used to go to Bury Market to purchase new or replacement baubles.  My mum had a romantic heart and was struck by such small treasures as porcelain  angels and, most memorably for me, a box of sugar houses.

They were in a cardboard box divided up to make a little square haven for each miniature cottage which nestled in rustly tissue paper. They were made from that flimsy blown and silvered glass. Picture postcard in style, these were not post modern fairytale buildings. Each tiny dwelling had the requisite chimney and glittered snow sparkling on a pitched roof. The windows were symmetrically placed beside the welcoming door. They looked like genoise fancies drenched in glitter.

People talk about ‘the true meaning of Christmas’. This sort of person tends to be  a militant Christian who holds that the ‘true’ Christmas is all about Jesus being the light of the world and shepherds gathered round a manger, in their way, they’d be right.  Christ-mas is about that. If we’re seeking truth however, then we have to remember that this was a festival hijacked from ancient times and beliefs. Pagans were and are, more elementally inclined. Before wise men and Herod there was Yule and Saturnalia.

Yule and the winter solstice are all about lighting the darkness.  To hunters and gatherers the outside world  of the sun and the seasons was paramount. The sun lit the world.  That’s not simply a belief system, that’s a scientific fact. We revolve around the sun. The Celts believed the sun rested for twelve days in Winter and lit Yule logs to keep away the dark and banish bad spirits.  In certain quarters it is now thought that the winter solstice at Stonehenge was more significant than that at midsummer. The winter solstice marks the the turning towards the new sun and after the shortest day the light inches back.

‘True’ meaning depends on your perspective. Some may look into the manger. Others might look out through Odin’s eye, for a connection to the natural world, to mistletoe still hanging in the tree, to the pink light of a frosty dawn, to the whipping wind and the wild rain, to the hedgerows red and orange with berries, to the grey sky cloaked with cloud, and on, further, to the stars.

 

 

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In the fairytale the seven league boots will take you, in one step, a distance of seven leagues. Actually let’s rephrase that, the sort of step you must make should probably be a bound or a leap since this is mythic territory that we are traversing. I am, as I have often mentioned, a child of the 70s and therefore I am mostly metric. This means I weigh and measure in pounds and miles but at school I was taught the metric system. All this is by way of explaining that I have not the foggiest idea how far seven leagues is.  I just know I like the sound of it.

I’m assuming that a pair of Jimmy Choos are not going to get you that sort of distance. In fact I doubt such footwear would get me from the sofa to the mirror in the shoe shop. I’ve never been a fan of high heels. You would think that, as a shorter style person, that I might fancy a stacked heel or a platform to give myself a better chance of reaching the Dorset Cereals Honey Granola on the top shelf at Tesco. Far from it. I am most happy in a pair of chunky soled boots.

So if Sigmund Freud were to have a strokey chin moment here and consider the evidence I think it is quite likely that the Seven League Boots have a lot to do with this preference. I have long been a fan of the Doc Marten and have a few pairs. They all look raggedy and wartorn and one pair were in fact chewed by a rat (that’s another blog, more bloodthirsty and involving drains) But I also own a pair of supremely comfy Blundstones. I am not, as you can tell, a glass slipper sort of girl.  I like boots you can outrun stuff in; bears, wolves, dragons. It’s quite wild here in Wiltshire.

I always felt that the glass slippers looked very beautiful but, although they might wink with starlight, they looked uncomfortable. Surely glass is a bit skiddy underfoot and possibly rather sweaty? It is no surprise to me that Cinderella threw a shoe as she attempted the four minute mile out of the Ball, the real magic is how she made it that far without aggravating a bunion or abrading a corn.

I have actually seen the ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz. They are on display in the Smithsonian in Washington DC and on a trip, long ago, my husband and I were quite surprised to see them.  It was something of an Oz moment too as, frankly, they weren’t all that sparkly due to lack of special effects.

Which brings us to the Red Shoes. (I think I managed that without anyone noticing) These dark beauties have a different appeal. Whilst there was never any chance of my becoming a ballet dancer due to my overabundance of left feet, I did hanker after certain bits of the gear. The black tulle dress would be my costume of choice to go down to the Post Office if truth be told. The shoes have always attracted, it is the ribbon but it is also the power of the feet within them, the agility and grace. The broken toes.

Here the fairytale darkness seeps in. The Red Shoes are glamorous but costly and you are warned off wearing them. But they are daring and different and impractical. Perhaps you can just try them on in the safety of the magic shoeshop? Is that a red and white spotty sofa you’re sitting on to peel off your trainers? Or is it a toadstool? Ooh, look how scarlet the silk is and how the moonlight plays off the ribbons as they flitter and flutter as if they’re alive. It’s rather uncomfortable the way they snake and strangle round your ankles.  But, they are the perfect footwear for a foray into Fairyland surely? Powerful enough to get you home, if you just remember to keep that handful of rowan berries in your pocket.

Or, better yet, throw off the shoes and walk barefoot out of the Sidhe, earth to skin, sole to soul. Or, as Kate Bush advises, take off your shoes, throw them in the lake and be two steps on the water.

 
 

‘a highly original talent’ – Beryl Bainbridge

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