Photograph by Charlie Fleming
Currently mired in a period of blogger’s paralysis, and struggling to find anything in the least post-worthy, I remembered that quite a long time ago I started to play a solitary alphabet game, had a look where I’d stopped and found ‘H’ to be the next letter up. ‘H’ is a very common first letter in English; I wanted something impressive and asked Beloved for inspiration. He came up with
“ haruspicy, haruspication "
a form of divination from lightning and other natural phenomena, but especially from inspection of the entrails of animal sacrifices.
The man is priceless.
“Thank you dear, but I think I’ll give that one a miss, delving in entrails is not what I had in mind for the moment."
But there is a word I’ve always liked, even before I knew what it meant “Halcyon”. Just try it on your tongue: hal-cy-on. Doesn’t it sound beautifully mellow and promising? It reminds me of those long-ago days of summer when we children went to swim in flooded gravel pits, where the ground water was deep and came up icy cold and the black surface of the artificial lake hardly reflected any sunlight, making it appear opaque enough to walk on. For safety’s sake we had an older sister or brother in attendance but they were usually too busy eyeing up other teenagers to watch over us small fry. One or two dads were sprinkled among the children, spread out on a blanket and in charge of drinks and sweets and ready to bundle a shivering child in a towel before it died of hypothermia. We never had a dad of our own present but other children’s dads served as communal guardians. And not only guardians, but teachers as well. Long before I went to big school and officially learned to speak High German I had no qualms about attempting it anyway. Always willing to show off ‘big words’ and ‘long sentences’ I frequently got it wrong enough for any educated adult present to show signs of distress. One dad clearly couldn’t take any more and rounded on me, correcting my grammar in schoolmasterly tones, thereby embarrassing not only me and himself, but the other children around. “Don’t talk so much”, the teenaged sister of my little friend said, “what I’m wearing to the dance is not your business.”
The 'halcyon days of old' is the expression mostly used. But halcyon is also the Greek name for the Kingfisher, born out of a gentle tale from mythology. Alcyone was the daughter of Aeolus, either by Enarete or Aegiale. She married Ceyx, son of Eosphorus, the Morning Star.They were very happy together in Trachis, and according to Pseudo-Apollodorus's account, often sacrilegiously called each other "Zeus" and “Hera”. This angered Zeus, so while Ceyx was at sea (going to consult an oracle according to Ovid's account), the god threw a thunderbolt at his ship, causing it to founder, with all hands drowned. Soon after, Morpheus (God of Dreams) disguised as Ceyx appeared to Alcyone as an apparition to tell her of his fate, and she threw herself into the sea in her grief. Out of compassion, the gods changed them both into halcyon birds, named after her.
A pair of kingfishers can be seen flitting under the bridge at Valley’s End at certain times of the year. You have to be very quick to follow the blue flash with your eyes. A flash is all I’ve ever caught up to now, low over the water when the river is fast enough for fish to collect in the basin on the other side of the gravel bank.