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Poems from Francis Kerr Young
Pixies, Tiddlywinks and Bumblebee Bread

Once upon a Midsummer's Night I dreamed the strangest dream. I dreamt of two young girls who visited the Island of Guernsey with their grandparents. Now in olden days, Guernsey was a stop off point for witches that flew across the English Channel from France to England. The fairies that lived on the island always kept a wary eye out for these unwanted visitors.

This dream began as a bright sunny morning, a few days after they arrived in St. Peter Port, the capital of Guernsey. Grandfather had hired a car to visit the island's south coast. Magnificent scenes enthral tourists for the coastal road meanders between observation towers that follow the crests of rugged cliff tops. Combers frequently barrel in from the restless sea and dash into frothy spumes of cream against jagged rocks and scree.

Ashley-Anne, the elder child, was nearly eleven years old. She had a fine complexion with grey-green eyes. Sunlight sparkling on her light-blonde hair would gleam into golden waves. Nine-year-old April, with red hair and heavenly blue eyes, was a hand span shorter than her sister. Both girls wore pink blouses, knee-length dungarees of blue cotton, brown sandals, and pink socks.

Some hours later the travellers stopped near Pleinmont, a hamlet on the south-west corner of the island, to admire the view. Everyone disembarked to stretch their legs. April pointed to a curious circle of large white stones. Gran flipped through the pages of a book on Sarnian (The ancient Romans called Guernsey, Sarnia) folklore and announced that it was called a cromlech, supposedly built by fairies. Both girls cavorted on the springy turf within the ring's circumference.

Gran in the Fairy Circle (cromlech) at Pleinmont

Papa hobbled towards them aided by his dogwood walking stick. He peered down at one of the rocks for a closer look. Eons had weathered its round gleaming surface quite smooth. On his way back to the car he tripped, falling heavily.

"Ow!" he yelled.

Anxiously, Gran and the children ran to his side.

"Ow!" Papa repeated, withdrawing a reddish rock that had caused discomfort to his posterior. He angrily tossed it away and got to his feet.

"Are you all right dear?" asked Gran.

"Aye, Ah'm a' richt," replied Papa, irritation stitching his Scottish brogue. He was about to utter some stronger words until he reminded himself that his grandchildren were listening.

"This book says something about a red rock," said Gran. "Ashley-Anne, would you bring that rock back here please while I try to find that reference?

"Ah! Here it is - " and began to recite:

Take a rock of rose from a fairy ring
And seek the Fairies' Cave,
You'll find it where the seabirds wing
Above the ocean wave
Near Lihou Isle and Saumarez.
Scribe an arch on Midsummer's Day
When fairies dance and sing."

"Huh, seems mair like a curse tae me!" remarked Papa, rubbing his tender spot.

"Can we keep it Gran?" chorused the girls.

"Of course!" smiled Gran, then added: "Know what? There's a place just a few miles north of here called Le Creux es Faies - it means the Fairies' Hollow . . . And it also happens to be the twenty-first of June. Midsummer's Day. Do you want to see if we can find it?"

"Och, that's jist a come-oan fur the tourists!" groaned Papa, climbing into the car. He waited until everyone had buckled up before starting the engine.

The coastal road was hemmed in by a massive sea wall that marked the perimeter of Rocquaine Bay. They drove past the maritime museum at Fort Grey and carried on to L'Eree.

"Would you mind stopping at this hotel dear?" asked Gran. "I'm just dying for a cup of tea."

"Och, a' richt," conceded Papa, his ire having dissipated with the golden panorama of each successive beach. "Ah think Ah'll wait tae later afore hivin' somethin' tae eat an' drink. Whit aboot you bairns?"

"How far is it to the fairy cave, Papa?" inquired Ashley-Anne.

He referred to his road map before answering, "Well, accordin' tae this - it's only a hop, skip an' a jump awa.

"Can we go now?" Both girls' eyes gazed imploringly up into his craggy face.

Papa could never resist his grandchildren. "Ok. We'll gang ower the noo . . . Be back in aboot an 'oor, dear." He stumped off in the wake of the two girls.

Following the rocky promontory the road climbed gradually towards Fort Saumarez. Almost directly west of them Lihou Island was shimmering in veil of sea mist. A cart track led off the coastal road and rose steeply towards a wooded knoll.

"Maybe that'll take us to the fairies' cave," suggested Ashley-Anne.

"Maybe," conceded Papa, adding: "Bit we'll no' ken unless we tak' a wee keek."

Wending their way upwards through shrubs, low trees, and long grass that had been sun-dried to pale dun, they saw bumblebees and butterflies bob from thistles and wild flowers. Grasshoppers harmonised with songbirds. About halfway up, they passed a large oak tree that had been tilted, probably by a fierce Atlantic gale. One limb sported a fine crop of mistletoe. Burrows, possibly dug by rabbits, ran beneath the roots exposed to the air. A black cat with grey tufted ears slunk near the warren as if stalking for a meal.

The track grew steeper with each step until they reached a clearing at the top of the knoll. A bronze sign bore the words: Le Creux es Faies and went on to relate the legend of the cave.

Grandfather had to lower his head so that he could follow the children into the shallow cave. A couple of paces in, the visitors were confronted by a greyish-green rock face.

Les Creux es Faies (The Fairies' Hollow)

"Ah dinnae think this wis worth a' yon trouble tae climb here tae see this!" observed Grandfather ruefully. "Ah'm goin' back doon tae the hotel for coffee wi' yer Granny."

"Can we take a look around, Papa?" pleaded Ashley-Anne.

"There's nuthin' tae look aroon' for!" remarked the old man, his walking stick jabbing the bare rock face. "Och, Ah'll gie ye fifteen meenites." He ducked back into the sunshine and after checking his watch, said: "It's five tae twelve, Ah'll wait for ye at the fit o' the brae. Be doon for ten-past-twelve."

"What is there to see Ashley-Anne?" ventured April after Grandfather had left. In the cool twilight of the cave, her pupils floated like black buttons on saucers of sky.

Ashley-Anne withdrew the red rock from her tote sack. "I'm going to try something. Remember what the poem said about drawing an arch in the cave?"

Without waiting for an answer, Ashley-Anne scribed a arc on the rock face, using the rock as chalk. She stepped back and waited.

"Now what?" asked April.

A few seconds later, Ashley-Anne remarked: "Now nothing!" and tossed the rock against the cave wall.

The russet scratch marks were transforming into a brilliant rainbow. A small rainbow appeared below the first, then another, and then another, until a series of concentric rainbows formed an amazing arch on rock face of the fairies' cave.

A kaleidoscope of colour swirled briefly before surging upwards. Fiery jewels of prismatic hues gushed upwards like an inverted waterfall. The deluge vanished leaving an archway that led into a long narrow recess bathed in glowing greenish light.

The sisters gaped at this phenomenon.

"Well, are you going in or not?"

The girls swivelled their heads, their eyes boggling on the apparition behind them.

Although somewhat less than half the girls' stature, the speaker's body was perfectly proportioned. The little man's piercing violet eyes gazed up at them. He had a clean shaven, pallid countenance although with white bushy eyebrows and sideburns. He had pointed ears and a pug nose. His russet-brown trousers and green doublet appeared to be made of flannel, as was his stocking cap of scarlet. His feet were bare.

"It's a gnome!" exclaimed April.

"I'm a pixie!" retorted the little man.

"What's the difference?" asked April, her curiosity ignoring the elf's question.

"A gnome is a dwarf - same as a troll," answered the pixie before continuing: "You human's know me and my companions as pixies, fairies or elves. Now are you going inside or not?" he repeated.

Ashley-Anne and April hesitated, both considering about running to tell Grandfather of this experience.

With surprising strength, the pixie shoved both girls through the archway which promptly closed behind them. A pinhole of bright light beckoned them deeper into the narrowing cave. Strangely, although the cave became progressively smaller as it dipped downwards, their heads never touched the roof. Occasionally the children had to climb over or duck under tree roots. When a root was touched, a ghostly feminine face would glow from the subterranean limb and sing an eerie refrain.

"Who are these creatures?" Ashley-Anne asked, her voice quavering nervously.

"They are the tree spirits," the pixie replied, adding: "We call 'em dryads."

Nearing the lighted area, it was discovered that both girls were now precisely the same height as their elfin escort.

The tunnel opened up into an enormous cavern. Daylight speared through various openings of the warren to reveal an amazing spectacle.

Winged supernatural beings were causing a loud commotion. Some were jumping up and down with excitement as they watched their companions playing games of tiddlywinks. Many were drinking from curiously carved flagons. A few were grouped in circle, bowed in homage to a figure seated on a throne of purple fungus. Females wore shimmering translucent apparel while males wore attire much similar to the pixie that escorted the girls. Other males had very short legs and wore gaudy doublets with trunk hose. As the pixie ushered the newcomers through the merrymakers, their revelry gradually dwindled to silence.

Aromatic vapour drifted up from a footbath that the fairy queen was enjoying. Warm seawater was helping to salve her troublesome chilblains when the court suddenly became still. She cautiously watched the girls' approach. "How did these humans get in here Taur?" she asked haughtily.

"Your Majesty, they used a red rock from our dancing circle over at Pleinmont," replied the pixie. "What do you want me to do with them?"

The Queen removed her feet from the giant scallop shell that had been a gift from water sprites. Two handmaidens carefully dabbed them dry. It has been more than nine hundred years, she pondered, since the last human entered my domain and I had to give him England to preserve our secret. Before that, we were forced to hide down here away from evil witches and their cats. If it's not one thing, it's another. Problems, problems, problems!

A blood curling growl from the lowest corner of the cavern interrupted her musings. All eyes came to rest on the snarling face of a black cat with tufted ears. It disappeared briefly to allow a forepaw to claw upwards in order to widen the orifice. The cat strained and squirmed with each angry effort to squeeze its shoulders through the narrow hole.

"Quick April!" urged Ashley-Anne, leaning over the footbath. "Grab the other end!"

The girls lifted the awkward load and bravely crab-walked over to the cat. Baleful yellow eyes glared up at its prey which was just out of reach. The girls poured the liquid into the animal's face. Salt and other herbal condiments stung the cat's eyes, forcing it to withdraw hurriedly.

The little people cheered the predator's defeat. The Queen picked up her tiny golden sceptre to beckon the girls closer. After learning their names, Queen Selena graciously invited them to join the fairies' Midsummer's Day celebration. She signalled a group of musicians to begin playing.

Strange music began, sending haunting strains echoing through the cavern. A dryad's face appeared in a harp's wooden pillar and began to sing while a melancholy roly-poly troll plucked the strings. Pan flutes, a mandolin, and drums accompanied the harp's spirit.

Trolls, decked out in tabards, balanced sea fan trays laden with sumptuous fare: Scotch thistle rissoles, bumblebee bread and butterfly jam, nectar of nasturtium, pimpinella pies, marsh marigold marmalade on gnome scones, tureens of tubers, and honey-dipped daisies dappled with dew.

A vertical beam of sunlight, heralding high noon, pierced the cavern like a gleaming sword blade. Motes of dust became flickering diamonds emulated by flecks on the transparent wings of revellers in flight.

During short lulls in the feast, Queen Selena told the children that this secret cave was one of the places where they hid from the witches of Guernsey. But tonight, when the moon was full and the creatures from nearby Catioroc and Rocquaine Castle were asleep, she and her subjects would dance in the surrounding meadows.

When the music stopped, Ashley-Anne felt that it was time to go since their grandfather would be wondering where they were. Queen Selena thanked them again and bade Taur to escort the girls back to the entrance. The elf said farewell from inside the archway and the rainbow hues swirled again to fade into cold grey-green rock.

"We'd better hurry back to Papa," urged Ashley-Anne. "We've been away a long time and he must be worried about us!"

They rushed down the track. About halfway down, they ran right into Grandfather, winding him.

"Ooof!" he wheezed. "Whur's the fire?"

"Sorry Papa!" apologised Ashley-Anne. "We were away longer than we thought. Are you ok?" she added.

"Och aye!" replied Grandfather and glanced at his watch. "Ye're no' late. Itís only five-past-twelve. Ah must hae drapped my map up here somewhur." Just beyond his granddaughters, he could see a coloured folder laying by an sturdy oak tree. "Och, yonder it is - ower there!"

A few paces completed his search. As he stooped to pick the map up a black cat appeared from some scrub and rubbed its body against his shins, purring loudly. "Man, whit a friendly cat," he observed, patting it. "Och, the puir wee thing's a' wet!"

With Ashley-Anne and April's approach the cat slowly flexed its tail and arched its back before taking up a defensive position against Papa's legs. Suddenly it spat with a growling meow and bounded into the undergrowth.

"Oh my!" exclaimed Grandfather. "Yon cat disnae like you twa! Ah wonder why?" He paused and staring at the mistletoe that festooned one of the oak's limbs said: "This tree's gey like the yin that wis hauf-blawn ower." He gazed at it again before squinting up the track to see if the other oak was in sight. He shook his head in disbelief. "Och, it canna be!" and hobbled back down the track.

Smiling, the girls followed him.

It was well after midnight when I awoke to relate this dream to my wife. From our hotel window, Vazon Bay could seen as a glorious quilt of gleaming silver generated by a full moon. Since it was a warm night, she hinted how romantic it would be if we took a stroll along the sands and watch the tide go out. By the time it had ebbed we had been

(This type of poem is called a villanelle)

On Guernsey Isle, we heard strange music play.
The moon was right for sweet romantic dreams
while fairies danced in meadows near L'Eree.

My love and I strolled south from Vazon Bay.
The notes, like motes, were trapped in silver streams.
On Guernsey Isle, we heard strange music play.

A tiny grotto named Le Creux es Faies
exuded good and rude wee folk it seems,
while fairies danced in meadows near L'Eree.

Inside the battlements of Saumarez,
the keep just sleeps, or ponders past regimes
on Guernsey Isle. We heard strange music play.

The fog rolled in and swallowed old Fort Grey,
and gulls just milled and mewed in muffled screams
while fairies danced in meadows near L'Eree.

I hope, my Darling, we'll return one day
when Queen Selena's pure enchantment gleams
on Guernsey Isle. We heard strange music play
while fairies danced in meadows near L'Eree.

Return to Poems from Francis Kerr Young


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