Saturday, 27 September 2008

Uncontrolled ramblings upon the subject of Hermits, Queen Victoria and wet weather walks

Last night I couldn’t sleep, well there’s a change, I lay there listening to the owls, contemplating life and its goings on and I thought ,you know being a Hermit one might not suffer from Insomnia as it seems to moi , tis the troubles of the world that keeps ones mind a spinning and if you live up a cliff in a cave and have nothing to occupy yourself with other than the state of your toe nails then perhaps you sleep like something that sleeps better than I do ? Perhaps that is why Hermits become hermits? Except the odd balls like St. Simon Stylites who lived atop a pillar in which case falling asleep might not be a good idea at all.

There used to a hermit near us when I was a child. To be more accurate it was just his vacant cave as he had long died. Least ways, I presume he was dead but who can tell with a hermit?

I remember my mother telling me that the young Victoria, before she was Queenicated and was still a mere princess, used to be taken there as a spindly child to drink the restorative water from the natural spring in the Hermits cave, it being full of iron and her not being awfully robust and all that, and her mother being understandably rather keen that she should stay around long enough to make her Queen Mother or something regal. To be fair to Victoria (whose real name, by the way, was Alexandria and whose first language was German not English) she probably wasn’t sickly at all but her mother was rather over protective to the point of paranoia, but then, if you had 3 rotten uncles showing tendencies to wish to pop you off so that their illegitimate offspring could take your place as future monarch of the realm your mother might have been a trifle more anxious about your well being than she was. Anyway as I was saying, the cave was high in a cliff face and the spring had a brass bowl on a chain from which the healing water was drunk.

It was one of our “bad weather day” walks to go clambering across the untamed landslip to the accompaniment of the educational ramblings of my mother pointing out the old abandoned carp lakes below us and tell the story of the shipwrecks, princesses and the hermit. Once a teacher always a teacher. Fog and foul weather added to the mystery of course. The path was perilous. To cross to the bottom of the cliff and from thence to climb up it to the dark mouth of the cave to taste the waters, one had to teeter across a plank of drift wood to avoid the sinking sand that lay there ready to suck you down. I was never allowed to follow my brother across the plank for fear of my falling. I imagined inside lurked a scrawny man with limbs like sticks dressed in a dirty tunic with a beard down to his legs who would be bobbing about like Benn Gunn by the stream and saying things like “there you go that will be thruppence please” and “don’t forget to wipe the bowl after you have drink you don’t want to give any one your cold do you?” to anyone who managed navigate the dangerous route to his door.

I would gaze upwards at the cave , its mouth a gloomy black hole ringed with stones high in the cliff, and wonder how the future empress of India had managed it in button boots and holding a servants hand, She had to hold a servants hand whenever she went walking in case she fell. I told you her mother was a little anxious. It didn’t help matters that my Mother also told us that, having had her dose of restorative waters, the future Queen would clatter off in her carriage to the local hostelry for a slice of cake and sandwiches. Many a happy evening I spent there, in the local pub, admiring the geraniums whilst slurping coke through a straw trying to imagine the prim royal doing the same.

Anyway back to Hermits and Insomnia. By the time I was old enough to scale the cliff, the cliff, the hermits cave, brass bowl spring had all had fallen into the sea. Ah well such is life.

We had another Hermit in the village as well although not possibly at the same time I am a bit dodgy with dates. His isolated eerie was on another of our bad weather walks. We had a lot of bad weather walks in England; it has something to do with British summers. Anyway the second Hermits job was to live in a cold windy oratory and intone prayers for those lost at sea and make sure he kept the light burning at all times as an aid to shipping, as ,you see, the oratory was a sort of primitive lighthouse high on the downs above the English Channel. The local lord of the manner once made the mistake of being caught with a cellar full of contraband French wine which had been en route to the Bishop of London. Our village was rather good at that sort of thing, hence the punishment of building and manning the oratory by that I mean stealing other peoples wine not getting caught. Actually they were very good at NOT getting caught but that is another story. Of course it was rather far from the sea so it lured ships in storms on the rocky coast rather than warned them off. Well that and the hobbled donkeys tethered to the cliff paths at night with lit lanterns on their backs to make them look like ships at anchor in a bay.

The villager’s have always taken great pains to welcome visitors, especially those who came ashore at night having been wrecked on the reef. Welcoming parties would be held on the beach, of course if any of the visitors managed to make it to shore alive they used to club them to death, but well tourism is a hard trade as anyone will tell you and having been repeatedly attacked over the centuries by everyone from the Romans to the French they were naturally a bit wary of foreigners. To be honest they still feel the same way, which is hardly surprising when you see what the invasion of outsiders seeking to escape the rat race has done to house prices. I don’t think they club them to death anymore, actually I wouldn’t swear to that.

Perhaps its possible that the there was only ever one hermit and that the first hermit in his cave with desirable sea views over unspoilt countryside didn’t die off at all ,perhaps he fancied a change and moved to the new oratory with more distance sea views and a free supply of fire wood? Or it may have been the other way around and him in the oratory may have moved down to the cave when some bright spark from London noticed that as a lighthouse it was having rather a more negative effect on shipping safety that they had envisaged and so began a new lighthouse closer to the shore.

Of course it may be that the Hermit in the oratory moved down to the cave as the light was keeping him awake at night which would prove that my fledgling theory was correct and that Hermits do not suffer from insomnia.

Any one know of any caves going cheap?
The portrait is of princess Victoria and her mother by an unkown artist. Well I'm sure he knew who he was and I am pretty certain Victoria 's mother knew everything about him including what he had for breakfast and the colour of his toothbrush as she was bound to have had him vetted before he was allowed within a brush stroke of her daughter, but I have no idea what his name is so we shall leave it at that.


Frances said...

Many thanks to you, our dear professor. This was so interesting, nothing like what you describe is anywhere near here.

Hoping that sleep will return to you, at some time of the day.

Sweet dreams!

Pondside said...

There's one thing about hermits - they are almost always men, and you and I both know that there's hardly been a man in history who has suffered from insomnia. Any female hermits were surely out and about, in rags, doing good works when they couldn't sleep.
I look forward to more stories of your bad weather walks!

Faith said...

Beautiful portrait. I can't see much point in being a hermit - it doesnt do anybody any good does it? Seems a rather selfish existance. Would've like to have seen his cave though.

As to insomnia, I also suffer badly at the moment. Thinking of trying eating lettuce before bed as that is supposed to work!

Grouse said...

Overactive imagination and deep sensitivity: sure recipe for insomnia. Yhe Husband, ailing neither, sleeps like a baby the minute he shuts his eyes.

This blog convinces me of something I have long suspected: that your autobiography would be more interesting, more entertaining and more suprising than any episode of UPL.

Elizabethd said...

Nice cup of cocoa dear, that'll help you sleep.
Wonder if it might have helped the hermit too.

Pipany said...

I seem to be sleeping less and less at the moment too. Is something odd happening with the moon or somesuch? I have always rather liked that portrait UPL and thoroughly enjoyed this wander through the world of the hermit xx

Mrs ElderBerry said...

how very exciting, a hermit. Now l wonder if he was related to the hermit here in my copse next to the stream

Ivy said...

If you turned a hermit it would be a great loss to PC and the blogging world unless you had wireless lan. :-)

Fennie said...

Sorry, only just stumbled across this a month, I see, after Ivy. Ah well, we try our humble best. By coincidence I have blogged today about hermits of whom I suppose Ben Gunn was an enforced example. "Sometimes I dreams of cheese, toasted mostly" is one of his expressions that I remember vivedly. Victoria wasn't a hermit and probably didn't suffer on the whole from insomnia for which malady my own personal cure is to list the states of the USA in alphabetical order both forwards and backwards and if you are still awake move on to the state capitals.
Incidentally there are two state capitals that have the first six letters in common. Next time you are lying awake, dwell on which they are and if you get stuck give me an email.

Tessa said...

Hmmmm, I loved that walk with your mother...and your tales of hermits. There is something just a teeny bit terrifying about hermits, don't you think? We had a hermit who lived on his boat where we sailed as children. The dare was to sail as close to his boat as possible without being seen. The stomach-clenching excitement was almost unbearable!