The Green Man Crossing

It was all a bit weird if I am honest, but I can see how it happened. Britain has a soul of old old gods and creatures, not entirely here or hidden away. It is thinly overlaid with Christianity; and when I say thinly, I mean thinly. Most of the great stone churches still pay homage to the older gods in some form, whether it is the shape of the doorways or the stories in the stained glass.

So I reckon these old spirits are all still floating about, maybe sucking up all that spirituality from the goddies praying. I myself am an atheist – even after what’s happened. I mean, just because you see and talk to a god doesn’t make them the divine, doing and know it all – does it?

This is my theory… the old ways have nearly been forgotten, the rituals and songs to call these creatures and give them forms we can see. Where they came from before the rituals? Buggered if I know!

But there are lots of hidden bits of it still around, like morris dancing, which has always kind of freaked me out – men with sticks and bells and costumes – I mean, really? Oh and wassailing and maypole dancing. I do quite like the maypole dancing as long as it’s not followed by jazz versions of folk songs or folk versions of pop songs – just no, guys, NO! Don’t make me break your instruments.

Anyway, it’s all my daughter’s fault – what she does is she sings, sings at festivals. I like the festivals and she always takes me along to look after Maddy. Maddy is five and cute with chocolate brown hair wound up in the tightest curls, she is also hard work and I spend more time chasing her than I do listening to the music; and guess what little madame likes doing?

Yep, she likes finding the story tellers and the morris men and watching the wood carvers – I like carving wood myself and have been meaning to get my lathe out once more. So anyway Maddy and me wonder around these festivals and they range from big music festivals to folk gatherings to what amounts to a book signing in a tent. And her mother, my daughter, sings her heart out.

My daughter also makes up songs for Maddy, little snippets really, a brushing the teeth refrain, a tidying up song, and a crossing the road chant. And this is the crux, Maddy expects a song invoking the green man when we are standing at traffic lights. Not that strange, I suppose, but then there are the festivals and she saw a carving and heard a story or at least I am sure she must have… The Green Man.

The Green Man is kind of not one myth but many, as each small part of this accursedly rainy island has its own little set of stories about a man of the woods, or of nature or of the hunt. They are mixed up with the Roman gods and even tumbled into our Christian heritage, what ever that is supposed to be.

I myself bought a beautifully carved wooden goblet with a crinkly eyed man made of ivy and other vegetation carved deftly into the wood – much better than anything I could have made – I can just about manage a passible hedgehog!

Right, so what we are talking about here is The Greenman, the spirit of the woods, of an older Britain, maybe from when it was Albion or possibly older than that.

And I often walk Maddy into town and she expects a song at the road crossing to call the green man. She even tells me about the adventures he has looking for his bike and stopping either a pee or cup of tea or if it is a complicated junction and he seems to be taking too long… both.

Now that she has heard of The Greenman however and even met someone dressed as “The Green King” at the Christmas Fete, she talks of his forest and how all the traffic lights are tunnels leading to the old dark forest where she would like to play.

I started to notice leaves and blossoms swirling down upon us when we stood at the lights and sung the song asking the green man to come – I don’t think anyone but another granddad can quiet describe the humiliation you happily go through for grand kids. So I am 64 years old and not a smart gentleman, I kind of didn’t entirely leave the 60’s and then crashed head long into the 80’s and 90’s, where part of my soul stayed as my daughter introduced me to the Indie Music scene and I drove her to music lessons and events.

Pretty much I’m a bit of a scruff bag, I would like to think I am hippy and cool but I know I am not as I’m more grunge than glam, but I am happy. I have silver hair and iron grey eyebrows that I can comb up and do impressions of sci fi characters for everyone’s amusement, and I wear Steel Eye Span and Led Zepplin t-shirts and often have to hunt Maddy’s shoes in the morning so run out of time to shave.

I also have a walking stick, I made it in my late 30’s in a wood in Wales for fun. It is a thumb stick, so basically it still looks like a lump of tree. I now have to use it all the time and walk slowly – I keep falling off the waiting list for the hip replacement. Basically I am old and falling to pieces and don’t look like I belong in a toffee advert. And yet there I am with a little person who insists I sing a song at the traffic lights EVERY SINGLE TIME!!!

Even when I am on my own I find myself humming it, people either laugh or shy away from me. Especially as I can not actually sing, my daughter got her musical talent from her mother and I warble out of pitch and out of key, though I used to do a mean nursery rhyme on the keyboard back in my own parenting days.

Anyway, I would stare at the blossom and leaves that rained on us like snow and Maddy would excitedly try and catch the petals announcing “flower snow!” or decide that a leaf was a gem that just had to be taken home. Then I kept feeling like someone was watching me and would look around but there was never anybody there. Except I swear I then caught glimpses of shadows darting away, I’d shake my head to clear my vision and decide I needed an eye exam, which I then promptly forgot to book.

Then last Tuesday it happened. Me and Maddy were standing at the lights when a man dressed like a morris dancer stepped up next to use at the lights. It is not that unusual for a morris dancer to be wondering around here – we live in what is known as The West Country so strange ruralness rules, even in the cities and towns.

Maddy got very excited and started jabbering to the man, and it was as I turned to apologise that I noticed the large horned headress. They were dark eyes and a dark outdoor face that looked at me from a sea of tangled and matted hair and beard. I blinked and saw the twigs, stones and flowers threaded into it like ornate beads.

He winked at me and then bent down to talk to Maddy, it was deep and smooth and lulling like afternoon sun in the meadow and the mud that eats your welly on the footpath. Beneath it was the rumble, it thrumbed deep within me and I wanted to cry for my Welsh mountains that I now lived so close to but never visited.

I could not understand what he said to her, and my lips where still moving in the chant; he passed her a small stone and stood once more. Smiling, he clapped me on the back and his booming laugh was the shrill of the crossing, telling those who can not see or whom are perhape to occupied with phone or book or natter, that it was indeed time to cross. I looked forward and, making sure Maddy’s hand was secure, we crossed.

The raggedy man was not there, nor behind us or anywhere to be seen once we got to the other side.

I would have thought it all imagination, except Maddy had a little river pebble in her hand. It had moss or algea or something growing in the cracks, if I squinted I could see the crinkled face grinning out of it.

I had to have a sit down, Maddy was only slightly late and the receptionist at the school didn’t write it down so we won’t get fined. But ever since I see him there at the crossings, not full bodied and in person but as a reflection in my glasses or as a dash of green out the corner of my eye.

Sometimes as I sing, it is as if the wind full of grit and diesel fumes is whispering to me. I can’t understand what it is saying but somehow I feel it is saying “thank you”.

Maddy has taught her friends at school the song and some of the parents have been moaning to me that they now have to stand and sing it when waiting at traffic lights. My daughter said the school had phoned her and asked her to make a recording of it and she is now planning on releasing a “doing and learning” song album. Some education or public department or something has found her some funding and she is very excited.

I, on the other hand, wonder if waking the old gods is such a good idea. He is strong enough to make himself felt to me and Maddy when only we know and sing the song. What if all the kids of Britain were singing it? If only a few of them made the same connection as Maddy then they will tell their friends, and I can’t think he’ll be very pleased when he sees what a mess Britain is in. When he sees that most of us never set foot in the trees.

But then I think of the lonely longing that has opened up within me and that I’ve booked the three of us on a walking holiday through the bit of Wales where my Mother was born and think, it might be a good thing.

This weekend I am taking Maddy to The Forest of Dean as her mum has an event there. I am wondering if I shall see anything or anyone hiding behind the trees. I still don’t believe in gods, but something old is there and we’ve awoken it. I don’t think it was ever truly asleep.

Posted: Friday, September 18th, 2015 @ 7:56 am
Categories: Short Stories, Story.
Subscribe to the comments feed if you like. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply