Another Planet – Week 21 of the 52 week short story challenge

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‘I thought Millie was coming with you today.’ said  Angela as she sipped her mocha latte with two extra shots of espresso.

Selina tossed back her freshly coiffed blonde hair and flicked an imaginary speck of dust from her designer slacks. She did her best to avoid coffee fads and had a small cup of green tea cooling on the table in front of her.

‘She’s packing. She’s been packing for the past week. Every time I go into her room to talk to her she says that she’s packing.’

Angela pursed her lips. ‘Isn’t she living in halls? They don’t have that much room do they?’

Wincing as another sore point was touched, Selina concentrated her attention on her newly manicured fingernails. She had demanded that the nail technician concentrated on making her nails look as effortlessly natural as possible, and she was almost satisfied with the effect.

‘I’ve seen the university booklet and yes, the rooms are rather basic but at least she has her own en-suite. The kitchen is shared with six other students but I doubt if Millie will be doing any cooking. There is a restaurant in the same block and a laundry but I couldn’t find anything about service washes and cleaners.’

Hiding a grimace behind her coffee mug, Angela couldn’t help wondering if Millie had been totally truthful with her mother about student life.

‘Of course, I wanted her to stay home and attend Chester University. We offered to buy her a little car to make life easier but she was insistent that this was the only university that did the right course for her. It’s going to be so difficult having her living so far away.’

Selina sighed and put on the wounded mother look that she had been perfecting ever since Millie had announced her  plans for the future .

‘What is she going to be studying?’

‘Languages. Apparently this university has an excellent exchange system where she can spend her final year in France or Germany. Not quite the finishing school I would have liked for her but I understand that she could make some impressive contacts for her future career.’

‘Remind me – what does she want to do when she leaves uni?’

‘When she graduates from university Millie is looking to join Michael’s firm – her natural aptitude for languages will make her a valuable asset. Of course the other option was for her to go straight into working at the firm but Michael felt that she could do with getting more qualifications first.’

The expression on Selina’s face led Angela to believe that the decisions about Millie’s future had not been made as calmly as indicated. Angela liked Selina’s husband Michael. He was an easy-going chap who smiled at Selina’s excesses, ran a large and efficient export business, and spent much of his time travelling abroad.

‘When does Millie start? Won’t you be lonely without her?’

‘We are driving up on Saturday.’ Selina sighed and examined her nails again. ‘I wanted to go on Sunday but Millie says she needs time to settle in before lectures start. Why you should want to settle in to a student bedsit when you have a perfectly beautiful suite of rooms at home, I have no idea. I wouldn’t say that Millie is an ungrateful child but I do wonder sometimes if she really appreciates all that Michael and I do for her.’

*******

The packing excuse had worn thin and Millie knew that there was a limit to how many times she could back and repack her designer suitcases. There was an unopened box from Harrods that contained pillows, two duvets,  Egyptian cotton bedding and towels that Millie’s mother had assured her were a beautiful shade of cornflower and very soft. Millie hadn’t bothered to look in the box. She would far rather have gone to Asda or Tesco to get her bedding like the rest of the first year students. Another box contained cooking utensils, pans and crockery. Her father had intervened when Selina had been looking at bone china and Le Creuset. Unlike Selina, he had attended university and was far more practical in his outlook.

Millie loved her father. He understood her and did what he could to protect her from Selina’s extravagance.

‘She does love you sweetheart, she just doesn’t understand why you don’t have the same tastes as her.’

Millie had pulled a face. It was bad enough having your clothes bought for you, but Selina’s taste ran to expensive, elegant clothes that were more suited to a middle-aged woman than an eighteen-year old girl. Unbeknownst to Selina, Millie had been clothes shopping courtesy of a generous allowance from her father, and had arranged for her best friend Julia to put the more appropriate clothing in with her own clothes.

Selina didn’t know about Julia; didn’t know that Millie and Julia were best friends, that they were going to be on the same course together at University or that they were going to be in the same student flat. Millie had known from the first that Selina would not approve of Julia’s burgundy hair, her tattoos and piercings, her love of Steampunk and cosplay.

Michael had met Julia and thoroughly approved of her as a friend who could share freedom with his only child. He had to pull a few strings in order to get them in the same flat, and as he explained to Millie, it was a question of just not telling Selina things rather than blatantly lying about what was happening.

‘What her eye doesn’t see, her mind won’t grieve over.’ One of Michael’s oft-quoted maxims and one which defined the smooth-running of his relationship with his wife.

*****

In order to accommodate Millie’s luggage, as well as Selina’s essentials, Michael had borrowed one of the Range Rovers from work. Selina would rather have arrived in the Rolls, but had to acknowledge that it didn’t have the required storage space. She sat, rather uncomfortably in the passenger seat, whilst Millie sat behind her, in a position to exchange swift grins with her father but protected from her mother’s endless questions by earphones and feigned sleep.

Julia had been texting her all morning, having arrived early and already unpacked. It had been agreed that Millie would let Julia know once Selina had finally left the building. It was so difficult trying to keep her excitement in but Millie had learned over her eighteen years that expressing anything other than mild interest in anything, was guaranteed to get Selina’s hackles up in opposition.

The complaints began as soon as they arrived on campus. Selina peered out of the window and disapproved of the proximity of the student bar. The halls looked rather drab and ordinary. Why wasn’t the car park closer to the entrance? Did they really have to carry Millie’s luggage up two flights of stairs and go through three security doors to get to her flat? Was there no porter to do this? Or at least a lift!

Millie and Michael stayed silent and carried the luggage upstairs whilst Selina appropriated her daughter’s only (and very inferior) office chair and sniffed at the recently bleached en-suite shower room. Refusing her mother’s offer to unpack for her, Millie looked around the little room and exchanged another covert smile with her father.

‘Let’s leave Millie to it darling, there’s a nice little restaurant I’d like to take you to but it will take us a good hour to get there.’

Torn between wanting to continue dominance over her daughter, and the desire to be taken out for a meal by her adoring husband, Selina acquiesced gracefully and after bestowing a vaguely maternal hug, went off to wait in the car.

Michael gave his daughter a much warmer hug; he was going to miss her.

‘I’ve set up a shopping account for you sweetheart, and topped up your allowance. Let me know if you need anything. If you can manage to phone your mother tomorrow, my life will be much calmer.’

‘I know Daddy. I won’t go mad but I may need to buy some ordinary stuff for the kitchen – and maybe bedding – but that can wait till tomorrow.’

‘Buy what you need and donate the other stuff to charity. I can’t see your mother wanting to spend much time in your room or the kitchen. Next time we visit she will undoubtedly want to take you out for a meal – or to shop!’

‘God forbid! Julia says we can trade in some of my clothes at the uni charity shop. Was Mum always like this Daddy?’

Michael felt that it was time to tell a few hidden truths; he hoped that Millie would understand and not judge her mother too harshly. He sat down next to her on the unmade bed.

‘Your Mum isn’t like other people. I knew that when I met her, and I knew that I would have a hard time explaining to you one day. We’ve always been honest with you about the fact that Mum and I couldn’t have children so we adopted you.’

Millie nodded. Not possessing her mother’s genes had never really been an issue.

‘Your mother – came from a different place. She had to learn how to speak, act and dress from books and magazines – quite expensive and high class magazines.’

‘Well that explains quite a few things, but where did she come from Dad?’

‘I don’t really know. I found her wandering on a beach in New Zealand when I was on a business trip. She seemed so vulnerable – and lovely. She had no paperwork, communicated through sign language, just had the clothes she stood up in. I’m afraid that I am responsible for the way she is. I pulled a few strings, got her a passport and brought her back to England. Your Aunt Jane took care of her and that’s where she lived for six months – in a cottage out in the country, reading endless copies of the Tatler and Agatha Christie novels. She learned very quickly, I fell in love with her and we married. You know the rest.’

‘That doesn’t explain about where she really came from though Dad?’

Hastened to his feet by the sound of Selina tooting the car horn, Michael kissed Millie on the top of her head.

‘She isn’t of our world sweetheart. She comes from another planet.’

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2nd Person Perspective – Week 20 of the 52 week short story challenge

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This is for you. Leeroy, Ray, Chris, Nicky, Sarah, Kim and Mark.

In ten years of residential social work I came to know hundreds of children and young people.

The actual list is a very long one.

When I started work as a twenty-one year old volunteer in a small group children’s home, I was very naive.

I learned about bullying.

I learned that the abuse of children didn’t just occur within families.

I learned that whilst telling the truth was important to me, it wasn’t important to others who were older and in positions of power.

I met you Leeroy, and I won’t forget you. You were a small ginger-haired boy whose mother was too confused by her mental health issues to look after you. Plucked from your familiar but disorganised home and thrust into a huge, rambling house full of loud and angry children. You might just as well have had ‘victim’ printed on your forehead.

You bore the brunt of the fury of a family of six children. They aged from four to fourteen and had been taken into care due to their parents drug and alcohol dependencies and chaotic lifestyle. They were very protective of each other and had quickly learned to store up grievances to tell their parents when they visited every other Saturday afternoon.

Their parents were quite happy that their children were in care. They had no food or clothing bills to pay, no having to get up to take the children to school and no responsibility – which left them free to drink and party – provided that they were sober enough to turn up once a fortnight for the visit.

Although I was only a volunteer, I did my best to look out for you when I was in the house Leeroy.

I couldn’t be there all the time though, and I would often arrive to find you in tears having been set upon by your tormentors. I complained to the manager. He was too afraid of the family and their parents to do anything.

In the end I phoned your social worker and told her what was going on.

Of course there was no mention of the bullying in the log book – a work of total fiction.

Your social worker listened to me and a foster home was found for you, possibly because it was easier to move one small victim of bullying whose mother couldn’t fight for him, than to challenge the warped but effective dynamics of a family who had learned to manipulate the system so well.

You were eight years old then and you would be a grown man of forty-four now.

I never found out what had happened to you; I got a real job in another children’s home after three months of being a volunteer.

This job couldn’t have been more different. The home was modern; purpose-built to house up to sixteen boys and girls. The staff – including the officer-in-charge – were young and enthusiastic.

I was allocated two boys  – Ray and Chris – to ‘keywork’. You were rather scary Ray; coming up to your sixteenth birthday and about to move into the ‘Leaving Care’ programme which would see you moved into a bedsit and kitted out with the means to look after yourself. The material means that is. You were always very volatile Ray and whilst I learned quite quickly that you were also easily distracted, I found myself on the receiving end of your anger too many times. I tried to form some kind of a relationship with you but there had already been a family who rejected you and too many earnest key workers by the time we met, and there was a collective sigh of relief when we sent you off into the big bad world.

Oh but Chris, you couldn’t have been more different. You had started at senior school; a sweet-faced tubby boy who could have been another victim if it hadn’t been for a strong and united staff attitude toward bullying. Like Leeroy, you had a mother who couldn’t cope with life and you had been brought into care in order to relieve you of the responsibility of looking after her.

My job was to teach you how to play, to be less serious, to focus on your own needs and to leave others to deal with your mother’s demands.

Whilst Ray taught me about violence and aggression Chris, you reminded me that children in care need to be given the opportunity to be children. We had fun. We went to the Isle of Wight on the ferry, and spent the day on the beach watching the boats and eating sandwiches and ice cream. I introduced you to the library and to Roald Dahl.

I read ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ to you and your two roommates – into the early hours. You didn’t want me to stop and stayed awake whilst the other two were snoring. When I finished the book and left the room I found Ray and another older boy asleep in the corridor outside. They had been listening too.

You did well Chris; at school and in the foster home that we found you. We were never encouraged to keep in touch though, in case it prevented you settling into your new life.

It was one aspect of the job that I found hard.

Turn the time forward ten years; my husband and I are in an electrical store looking for our first CD player. My husband is talking to the manager – who looks a little familiar. Tall, slim and immaculately dressed.

Chris.

Chris who found it much easier to recognise me. Chris who is now the manager of this store, a husband and a father of a baby girl.

So proud of you Chris.

Completely humbled by the fact that you are so grateful to me for doing my job.

And you gave us a very good discount on the CD player.

Nicky, you were the never to be forgotten enigma. A strange boy who had come home from school one day to find that his mother had died, in front of the TV with an empty whisky bottle by her side.

One of the few real orphans I had ever looked after. You were quirky; you had suitcases of your mother’s clothes that you couldn’t be parted from. You were bright – too bright for some of the staff – and I had some of my most challenging moments with you.

Five sets of foster parents did their best to give you a home, and each time you came back to us, more angry and confused.

Officialdom shut the home down, together with several others, and one last set of foster parents had to be found for you. They were almost as quirky as you Nick, and they seemed to be dealing with your behaviour quite well.

I moved on with my life.

I qualified as a social worker and got promoted.

My new workplace was an observation and assessment centre – short-stay allegedly – and with education on the premises, and a secure unit.

Not long after I’d bumped into Chris in the electrical shop, you turned up at my new place of work.

A new admission they said. You might remember him from your previous place; his name is Nick. He is odd.

So you were sent to us because no one knew what to do with you. There were no other foster parents for you now that you were a six-foot seventeen-year old – who had an interest in hairdressing and whose personality had achieved full-blown camp. I found you delightful.

You were no easier to deal with; age and experience had given you to ability to wind up staff and other young people alike. You went through social workers like a dose of salts – especially the young and newly qualified who thought that they could make something of you.

Only you could do that.

You left us after a couple of months and moved into a boys’ residential home that specialised in settling those who were leaving care.

Years on, and the manager of that home is being prosecuted for abusing boys in his care. I would lay money on it that he didn’t try it on with you Nick.

I came across several Sarah’s over the years, but you were the most important Sarah to me.

Neither you nor Kim were easy to look after but then I always tended to have more empathy with the young people who presented a challenge.

Together with Kim, you came to my engagement party, and were extremely elegant in posh frocks and hats at my wedding. Friends and family were asking who you were and how I knew you both. I didn’t tell them you were looked-after children. You were far too composed and assured for that.

You had become friends.

I have no doubt that you sorted out life for yourselves.

Mark – you marked the end of the line for residential childcare for me.

You were so damaged at ten years old, that no end of therapy and one-to-one work could make a difference. We spent time together; we cooked, repaired an old rocking horse, went for long walks and I read bedtime stories to you but nothing I did could break through.

The other staff tried but found you impenetrable. Some of them blamed me because it was easier than admitting defeat.

I took a great many kicks and punches from you and one day it was all too much.

I was married to a man who loved me and hated seeing the split lips, the bruises, the black eyes.

It was time for a change – because I had to admit that I couldn’t help you – and because I had someone who cared about me too much to see me hurt myself anymore.

I’m sorry Mark.

I remember so many more of you from those ten years of working in children’s homes.

We laughed together; and we cried. We went to Butlins and giggled at the wrestling and the knobbly knees contests. We camped in the New Forest and got soaked, played Spotlight up at the Sports Centre and on one memorable occasion all sixteen children I had responsibility for absconded.

Ah, but fifteen of you came back before midnight, so we watched unsuitable TV and cooked fish and chips to celebrate.

From you, I learned how to deal with my own roaring boys.

How to let them know that they were loved – even if their behaviour was horrible.

I read them bedtime stories; we went to the beach, we camped out and got soaked.

My own roaring boys are in their twenties now and to me at least, seem to be quite well-balanced and confident.

So thank you; Leeroy, Chris, Ray, Nicky, Sarah, Kim, Mark – and all the others who touched my life.

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Theatre – Week 19 of the 52 week short story challenge

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I may have a long standing reputation as a drama queen.

As a child I was rather good at flouncing; at throwing up when cross or crossed, and at storming out of classrooms when peeved by a teacher. My second and third years at primary school were spent sitting on the swings in the playground, singing to myself.

My big brother called me Sarah Bernhardt. I went to my Mother for an explanation. She said it was a compliment and to be grateful that he didn’t call me Sarah Heartburn. It took a few years and many books before I understood that insult.

In my fourth year I met my match. Mr Williams was a legend. He was stern; he used an old plimsoll on naughty boys, he reduced naughty girls to tears, he loved music, drama, poetry and he was determined to sort me out.

I think I threw one wobbler in that year and it was very quickly nipped in the bud by Mr Williams steely glare.

He cast me as the Artful Dodger in Oliver. I had a top hat and built my part up until it almost eclipsed Oliver himself (cast because he was a sweet looking waif with blonde locks but couldn’t sing for toffee).

I was a hit; Mr Williams was over the moon, the caretaker told my Father that I was ‘a card’ (I had to get a parental explanation for that one too but I felt that it was complimentary).

Our next production was a dance drama about Hell – guess who played the devil! There were hosts of tormented souls writhing rhythmically in leotards and me – clad in pink cord jeans, a black shirt and a fetching pink cord cap with devil’s horns (made by my Mum). It was received so well that we were invited to perform it at a competition held at the local teacher training college – run by nuns and attended by naive young ladies from the Channel Islands. Some of the mothers were a little unsure about how the nuns would take it.

We were supposed to be on first due to our tender years – everyone else was eighteen years and over – but there was a mix up with the time our coach was supposed to arrive and we got there in time to be the last – and apparently most classy – act.

It was my primary school swansong. Mr Williams went off to be a deputy head teacher at another school. I nagged my parents into letting me attend a private school with two of my friends.

It was not a success. The long bus journeys made me throw up on arrival at school every day. At my previous school I had been considered ‘snobby’ because my Mum would not let us speak in the idiom of the estate – ‘I goes to ‘im and ‘e goes to me’. Glottal stops abounded at our school. At my new school however, I was considered to be ‘common’ because I lived on a council estate and wasn’t driven to school by my parents or the au pair – the what?

Half a term later and an interview with the school head, who told my mother that I spent most of my school days crying, being sick and drawing pictures.

Private education was not for me and I returned to the safety of the local education system but to a different primary school as it was felt that returning to my old school without Mr Williams to guide me, would be a bad idea.

Not quite as bad an idea as attending a school where the headmistress and I took an instant dislike to each other. Where Mr Williams had brought out the best in me – she brought out the worst. I came very close to being expelled for my insolence and lack of respect. My Mum hadn’t helped by insisting to all her children that respect had to be earned.

A change in family circumstances meant that we relocated to other side of town and I started at a senior school – for girls. No boys at all. Just girls.

Due to a mix up in education records, I was put in the remedial class in Green or bottom band; Green, Turquoise, Emerald and Emerald (R)emedial. For three days I had a lovely time drawing pictures for my classmates and helping them colour in. Boredom set it then and I complained to my Mum.

Another head teacher’s office interview and the sneering, balloon-like head teacher who said that ‘all mummies think their gals have been put in the wrong class’. A quick call to my previous school and I was promoted to the Red band – not just the top band but the top class of the top band. Colouring became a thing of the past. I maintained my hatred for the head teacher however, and had fantasies about jumping up onto the stage during assembly and pushing her off – just to see if she really would bounce down the aisle. I controlled the impulse however, but did have a book running on which of the usual suspects would faint or throw up during assembly.

Established drama went out the window during my senior school days, and with it a possible career in singing after the miserable music mistress told me that I shouldn’t bother auditioning for the choir.

I concentrated on being a rebel without a reason and a dead loss at games – except for hockey where I was a whizz at the bully-off. My school uniform had reached total anarchy level by the time I was fifteen.

In my final year the games mistress suggested that I should take the opportunity to attend drama lessons at the local Tech College. This meant no more games, no more black nylon leotards and faded red wraparound gym skirts. No more inept tennis, netball or rounders lessons. No more miserable trudging round the 440 yard running track. Thursday lunchtime saw me on a bus to town and a brave new world.

Andrea Morris saved me. She saw something in me that Mr Williams had seen. Andrea encouraged me and instilled a lifelong love of the theatre and of Shakespeare. I lived for my Thursday afternoons and the more adult atmosphere of the Tech College, where I got to rub shoulders with gas fitters, bricklayers and very worldly ‘A’ level students.

Needless to say, the plans for me to attend Girls Grammar College to take my ‘A’ levels were abandoned and I became a full-time (ish) student at the Tech the following September. Signed up to study Drama and Theatre Studies (‘O’ and ‘A’ level), and English Literature and Sociology ‘A’ levels.

Sociology got bumped in favour of Art  ‘A’ level which also prevented me doing any more ‘games’ as Art was considered to be aesthetic rather than academic and took place from 1300 hours to 1800 hours on Wednesday afternoons – when we were supposed to be doing circuit training in the college gym.

I went on to drama school  after the Tech – to Andrea’s old drama school in Birmingham – and the drama queen became an assistant stage manager on every production I could wheedle my way into. I loved doing the lights, building sets, making props and finding things from obscure sources. I did a bit of acting too and some spectacularly bad dancing.

The unemployment rate for female assistant stage managers who couldn’t drive, didn’t have a family connection and weren’t prepared to have sex with an ‘important’ person to get a job and an Equity card, were about 98% at the time I left drama school.

So I worked behind a bar and when that ended catastrophically, I became a social worker.

“All the world’s a stage”

BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

(from As You Like It, spoken by Jaques)

All the world’s a stage, 
And all the men and women merely players; 
They have their exits and their entrances; 
And one man in his time plays many parts, 
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant, 
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms; 
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel 
And shining morning face, creeping like snail 
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

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A Historical Figure – Week 18 of the 52 week short story challenge

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By Bala Lake, Morda tends the fire. He is blind but the heat guides him and he replenishes the flames whenever they falter.

It is Gwion Bach’s job to stir the contents of the cauldron. He is just a young boy. His mistress has gathered plants from far and wide; mystical plants that will make a miraculous potion provided that Morda keeps the fire burning and that Gwion Bach carries out his duties exactly as she has instructed him.

The potion is for Morfran, their mistress’s son. He is said to be so hideous that the only way for him to survive in the world is to achieve great wisdom and become a poet. The potion has to brew for a year and a day, then Morfran will be given the first three drops and achieve all that his mother wishes for him. The rest of the potion must be thrown away because it will be a fatal poison once these three drops have been used.

So Morda feeds the flames and Gwion Bach protects the potion. They do not know why they have been asked to do this or what the potion is for; only that they are in great fear of their mistress because she has great powers of her own.

The day comes when the potion is ready but Gwion Bach does not know this. As he stirs the cauldron’s contents three small drops splash onto his thumb, and from instinct he puts his thumb into his mouth to ease the burning pain of the hot liquid.

At that instant Gwion Bach achieves great wisdom and learns the reason for the potion. He knows that his mistress will be angry with him, and fearing her wrath he runs away.

His mistress comes to the cauldron and finds it empty and the fire extinguished. Morda cries in confusion because he knows he is alone now, and that his mistress is greatly angered. She chases after Gwion Bach, determined to harm him for the damage he has done to her son and his future.

Using the powers he has gained from the potion to turn himself into a hare, Gwion Bach runs as fast as he can but his mistress has turned herself into a greyhound and catches up with him.

Nearing the river, he transforms himself into a fish and swims away from her, but she becomes an otter and dives into the water after him.

At the last moment, Gwion Bach flies into the air in the form of a sparrow. He is pursued by his mistress who has become a sparrow hawk and advances on him with her cruel claws outstretched.

In desperation, he hides in a pile of corn, hoping that his mistress will not be able to distinguish the single corn grain that he has become from the hundreds of others in the pile. She is too clever for him however, and in the guise of a chicken she consumes the corn and Gwion Bach with it.

Gwion Bach does not die. The magical potion is so strong that it causes him to become a new being inside his mistress, and in the fullness of time she gives birth to a baby boy.

Her anger at Gwion Bach is such that she wants to kill the child that he has become, but at the sight of the baby’s incredible beauty, she wraps him in a leather bag, sews it up tightly and casts it into the sea, leaving him to whatever fate may befall him.

She goes home to mourn for the ugly son that she cannot save and for the beautiful and gifted son that she has abandoned.

The leather bundle washes up on the shore and the baby is rescued from by Prince Elffin ap Gwyddo; he is named Taliesin  or Shining Brow, and grows to be a poet  and seer of legend.

His birth mother’s name was Ceridwen; the goddess of inspiration, of rebirth and of transformation.

For some she is a dark force; a pagan enchantress. Some called her an evil  sorceress; others declared her to be the goddess of the dawn, and of poetry because Taliesin inherited her gifts as well as those gained from the magical potion she brewed.

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Given Name CERIDWEN
GENDER: Feminine
USAGE: Welsh
PRONOUNCED: ke-RID-wen   [key]
Meaning & History
Possibly from Welsh cyrrid “bent” or cerdd “poetry” combined with ven “woman” or gwen “white, fair, blessed”. According to medieval Welsh legend this was the name of a sorceress or goddess who created a potion that would grant wisdom to her son Morfan. The potion was instead consumed by her servant Gwion Bach, who was subsequently reborn as the renowned bard Taliesin.
Related Names
VARIANTS: Cerridwen, Cerridwyn
DIMINUTIVE: Ceri

The following is a poem  very loosely based on Ceridwen’s story.  Poetic licence.

 

Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866)

The Cauldron of Ceridwen

The sage Ceridwen was the wife 
Of Tegid Voël, of Pemble Mere: 
Two children blest their wedded life, 
Morvran and Creirwy,fair and dear: 
Morvran, a son of peerless worth,  
And Creirwy, loveliest nymph of earth: 
But one more son Ceridwen bare, 
As foul as they before were fair. 

She strove to make Avagddu wise; 
She knew he never could be fair:  
And, studying magic mysteries, 
She gathered plants of virtue rare: 
She placed the gifted plants to steep 
Within the magic cauldron deep, 
Where they a year and day must boil,  
Till three drops crown the matron’s toil. 

Nine damsels raised the mystic flame; 
Gwion the Little near it stood: 
The while for simples roved the dame 
Through tangled dell and pathless wood. 
And, when the year and day had past, 
The dame within the cauldron cast 
The consummating chaplet wild, 
While Gwion held the hideous child.
 
But from the cauldron rose a smoke
 That filled with darkness all the air: 
When through its folds, the torchlight broke, 
Nor Gwion, nor the boy, was there. 
The fire was dead, the cauldron cold, 
And in it lay, in sleep uprolled, 
Fair as the morning-star, a child, 
That woke, and stretched its arms, and smiled. 

What chanced her labours to destroy, 
She never knew; and sought in vain 
If ’twere her own mis-shapen boy, 
Or little Gwion, born again: 
And, vext with doubt, the babe she rolled 
In cloth of purple and of gold, 
And in a coracle consigned 
Its fortunes to the sea and wind. 

The summer night was still and bright, 
The summer moon was large and clear, 
The frail bark, on the spring-tide’s height, 
Was floated into Elphin’s weir. 
The baby in his arms he raised: 
His lovely spouse stood by, and gazed, 
And, blessing it with gentle vow,
Cried ‘TALIESIN!’ ‘Radiant brow!’ 

And I am he: and well I know 
Ceridwen’s power protects me still;  
And hence o’er hill and vale I go, 
And sing, unharmed, whate’er I will. 
She has for me Time’s veil withdrawn: 
The images of things long gone, 
The shadows of the coming days, 
Are present to my visioned gaze.
 
And I have heard the words of power, 
By Ceirion’s solitary lake, 
That bid, at midnight’s thrilling hour, 
Eryri’s hundred echoes wake. 
I to Diganwy’s towers have sped, 
And now Caer Lleon’s halls I tread, 
Demanding justice, now, as then, 
From Maelgon, most unjust of men. 

1829 (From The Poems of Thomas Love Peacock. 
Ed. Brimley Johnson. London: George Routledge & Sons, 1907)