The Beauty of Barbara

I am the child of a stunningly beautiful mother; all her life it cursed her. I watched the later part of this life and I was always glad I did not inherit it.

She was totally unable to have close relationships with any of her husbands or lovers because to them she was a trophy. They were blinded by her. They adored her … but not her.

It wasn’t just men. If I was out with her, when we entered a room, a cafe, whatever, I watched as the obligatory moment of silence fell while people reacted, rebalanced, and returned to normal. Spooky.

It did bring small gifts. Faster attention when she wanted her car fixed at the garage. Same in shops. She could always easily have a group around her socially – but then she knew why, that it wasn’t about who she was but what she was.

It made her lazy. She never completed a course of study because the teacher and other students admired her so much without her opening her mouth or typing a word. She did a few jobs but usually left after a few months because a man begged to provide her wth comfort or luxury. Often this was my father but not always.

At the end of her life she grieved that she achieved nothing. Not true and I told her so.
She created exquisite homes, both beautiful and comfortable, much by her own hands, doing decorating and small DIY. She searched reclamation yards and junk shops for the right things to put together. She held great parties and was a wonderful cook. She was endlessly kind, taking many destitute people into her home, helping them, others she just gave them clothes, food, small gifts of money. She was a gentle and patient counsellor, listening and supporting many, many people (though this was about gaining power so not unmixed caritas.) She was a great world traveler and so efficient about it. She bravely faced a great deal of surgery on her back. Her wit and acid understanding was legendary.

She made me laugh, when coming out of surgery, high as a kite on morphine, her first great need was to do her make-up. Clumsy from drugs, she smeared a clown face. I reassured her she looked fine and pretended not to find the mirror.

I admired it that she never had a face lift. She considered it many times but always rejected it. For her life of ultimate, unavoidable beauty that was so brave, to allow herself to age. Cruelly she died of starvation: because her carer friend quarrelled and abandoned her. By then she had to be pushed to eat, anorexia. The ‘friend’ told no one she was not visiting any more. I visited as usual every month from far away, and she was just about to move nearer me. There is no way that carer can be charged with manslaughter, unfortunately.

She would have had mixed feelings that the undertaker staff were fascinated by her – who was she? they asked, saying she was so incredibly beautiful, could I tell them about her? She lay cold, hard, gorgeous, even at 87 and dead.

I wouldn’t swap my face and body for her beauty for anything unless to save the lives of those I love. Her life was a tragedy of loneliness, yet she fought hard, battling to be a real person, not a doll. That last scene of death says it all: that is what she was.

Yet I remember the warm, funny person, who protected me, fed me, taught me to be a radical thinker, gave me so much, blighted me with manipulation, uplifted me with fun and dancing, exasperated me, taught me that kindness is god. To me she was real, a person, but I honestly think not to anyone else who knew her.


It’s been over three years since I wrote a blog post although I have added site pages and worked on the Mabinogi Blibiography. Much has pappened and big changes in process. SO this is a catchup poats.

CHANGES The blog will stay but the rest of the site is being transferred to a wiki system (dokuwiki) which is quicker and easier to manage. It also handles footnotes without needing an additional addon.
This matters because the site has been invited on to the UK National Archive as ​’an important part of Wales documentary heritage’ (early 2017). So I have to think of long term survival, making the site system sumpler. As you can imagine I was delighted and chuffed to bits.

The blog becoming more separate means I can enjoy adding whatever I damn well please to it. That’ll be fun. More faces of Shan.

I’m gradually transferring the rest to the new version.

Now to catch up since 2015.
End of 2016 I nearly died of exploding appendix. Not fun.
But after about 3 months I was back on track busy with my beloved Rhiannon and Mabinogi research. My shaky health was actually better than for many years. Hurray!
I wrote some historical fiction about Rhiannon too, a new departure for me.
Rhiannon the Cat aka Magnyffica, finally gave up biting me (almost) a habit which had been tricky as her fangs are like a sabre tooth tiger (Maine Coon). She’s so sweet though. (Am I lovesick? Of course I am.)

In 2017 I did a lovely series of articles for Pembrokeshire Life magazine, a different topic every month. Quite hard work and a lot of fun with my own chosen illustrations. I hope to have the articles archived on here one day.

In September my main supervisor retired but was willing to continue to mentor me. The university left me in a terrifying limbo without any arrangement for a whole month. Ugh. University bureaucracy is the pits.

I took 6 months off from the PhD starting October intedning to organise another income arrangement because the current one is too exhausting.

My beloved was becoming very tired through that year. We thought it was just ageing, natural enough as we advance through our 60s, although he has always been superfit.
Then Samhain (Oct 31) he zoomed through A&E and landed a cancer diagnosis. YUK. Poor darling, but it was hard on me too as I had to run the business, do hospital visits, do medical research, manage how much he and the Boy knew about it so they gradually understood with as little terroor as possible, and all the rest. MacMillan’s are marvellous. After four months the man himself is stable on immunotherapy but I collapsed with exhaustion and dire flu.

2018 There was an interesting week when we were snowed in, all three very sick indeed barely able to stager to bathroom, plus cats had a bug too. Food ran out. Snow outside so no question of going out. Sainsbury’s then let us down – twice – canceling food delivery. None of us were strong enough to go out. Interesting times. Sainsbury’s sent a £10 apology: contemptible.

The 6 months suspension period had been gobbled up by disasters. The university has the peculiar idea that I have to ask permission to stop working for a bit. Do they really think cancer requires their permission? Anyway telling them to suspension needs to extend another 6 months has again left me in limbo without any clear status. One dept. demands I register again while another handling my notification is silent for 6 weeks. Hohum.

Of course I haven’t completely stopped working. I just can’t do the full flow. Also my health went decidedly wonky as the flu has taken 6 weeks of convalescence on top of the fortnight of peak grottiness. Etsaana the black queen never left my side for the worst of it for a whole month, dear sweetness. Tal is firmly bullying me to exercise and all the rest so it’s slowly coming back. I’ve been comfort buying on ebay many pretty things.

Decided I am too isolated – the disaster story of running out of food was a bit much and no friends near to help. So I am making attempts to connect socially but for an eccentric hermit of formidable powwer that is not easy.

Heigh ho that’s it. Rhiannon still rides me hard. There have been many many insights. The folders are fat with notes. I am trying out Zim Wiki as a desktop database – I must have tried 20 database solutions over the last 5 years.
Thank heavens for the state pension or I don’t know how we’d have survived. But I am planning to drop the day job in another two years. That means the last year of my PhD I can be free almost full time, and forge ahead with THE BOOKS – and this website. Onward!

Map of the Mabinogi

My map of the world of the Mabinogi shows the Welsh and English names, and spans from Iwerdun (Ireland) to Llundain (London).

PIC IS BIGGER than shown here – rightclick and save!
Map of the World of the Mabinogi by Shan Morgain

COPYRIGHT remains mine as Shan Morgain, but you are free to rightclick and download for personal use, or teaching, providing the map is unchanged. For publication, please contact me.
>My thanks to John Davies, the sailor, for help locating Gwales (Grassholm) island; and for patient help with the Welsh names from Christine James, my supervisor. Any mistakes are still my responsibility.

Notes about the places in the map.

The boundary between Wales and England is the modern one. In the mediaeval period this fluctuated a good deal, changing according to the fortunes of war and colonisation. The First Branch of the Mabinogi presents Gwent as definitely a Welsh lordship: it was by the later 11thC under English, then Norman invasion.The Third Branch of the Mabinogi locates Henfford (Hereford) on the English side.

The First Branch opens at Arberth in DYFED, shown here at modern Narberth. An alternative location is northerly, near Ceredigion. Here Pwyll sets off to hnt, and later meets Rhiannon. GWENT where Pryderi grows up, is about 100 miles away from Arberth, five days to a week’s travel. Pryderi marries Cigfa of Gloyw (Gloucester) in border country. He adds the territories of Seisyllwch to DYFED (made up of Ystrad Tywi and Ceredigion both frequently contested territories). Annwfn is an anomalous location, possibly outside physical geography, so not shown.
The Second Branch has a Brythonic/ British king holding court at Harlech with its great rock, in GWYNEDD; ruling all Ynys Pydain, Britain. Branwen’s wedding is held at Aberffraw. The British sail west to war in IWERDDON (Ireland). Pryderi, Manawydan and other war Survivors return, to sojourn in Harlech, then Gwales off the DYFED coast. Cernyw (Cornwall) is visible from Gwales’ enchanted hall. Finally the Survivors take Bendigeidfran’s Head to Llundein.
The Third Branch is mainly set in DYFED. It mentions the usurper king Caswallawn in Caint (Kent). Pryderi visits him at Oxford. The Dyfed royals live at Arberth then go east to Henfford (Hereford), then returning to Arberth.
The Fourth Branch moves from the northern borders of DYFED (Ceredigion, Seisyllwch) to GWYNEDD.

PhD upgrade done

Have done little here for ages except tweaks to the bibliography because I have been engulfed in prep for my PhD upgrade. As a part time researcher on MARes. status I’ve been on probation for PhD and this goes through a submission of work and a viva interview to get upgraded. Much diary fuss to get three professors and me together: my two supervisors and an external prof. to check we’re not on the fiddle.
I dreaded my PhD upgrade meeting! I’d not had to face an interview or exam in many many years and I resented being judged, and feared the raw inferiority of my position. I feared most of all I would receive “advice” to do things that interfered with MY WORK.
Fears unfounded. I was treated with courtesy, told my work was commendable, and received some excellently helpful advice. Moreover the session was fascinating and galloped along at a whizzing pace. The external prof. actually had to haul us up with seconds to spare out of the hour, for ‘last points.’
Advice focused on focus. Liz McAvoy advised me to top and tail my chapters with ‘This chapter will do X’ and ‘This chap has done X.’ Super stuff – bang on practical – and focused advice!
I came away buzzing with stimulation. My poor family having been promised I would return to the real world after 3 months away in Rhiannon’s world, suffered a further week of absorption as I reorganised the Contents, rewrote my synopsis, and drafted a new chapter of 4,000 words. All of which I was quite pleased with.
Oh yes … I passed.
So I won another four years of slog. Hurray!

Prosiect Mabinogi

Prosiect Mabinogi

A three day festival of the Mabinogi – in Wales – and I missed it! Horrors!
See the end of this post for a good description by a participant storyteller who was lucky enough to be there.
Also all is not lost as there is likely to be a repeat.

WHEN was it? Friday 13 March, Saturday 14 March, Sunday 15 March 2015.
WHERE was it? Aberystwyth Arts Centre.
WHO organised it? Peter Stevenson. storyteller and arts organiser.
HOW did the idea start? According to Peter’s email today, “The kernel of the idea for the event came from a group of Canadian storytellers who arranged a 3 day telling of the Odyssey a few years ago, an idea which was repeated by a group of Welsh and English storytellers, including myself, in Llanidloes two years ago. From that spark came the idea to do the same with Y Pedair Cainc, and the idea to arrange a symposium, music, live drawing and art exhibitions followed on, in order to show the importance of visual and creative art in epic story.”
WHY did I miss it? It was apparently publicised on the storytelling circuits, and the Welsh Depts. at Aberystwyth and Cardiff universities. Outside those charmed circles …

So what actually happened? FRIDAY 13 11am – 4pm: Symposium
Sioned Davies of course, on translation issues. Other speakers were as diverse as historical context (Rhun Emlyn) and dating (Glendon S. Farquhar); genre discussion (Rowan Zhao), storytelling and performance (Michael Harvey, Jackie Burek, Jeremy Turner, Fiona Collins); connections with the Nordic Tradition (Nely van Seventer); and female agency (Kit Kapphahn and Kate Leach).
In the evening there was a screening of the S4C film ‘Otherworld based around the Mabinogi but not a simple retelling. This was followed by a musical singing perfomance.

SATURDAY 14 MARCH 11.00 – 20.00 A full and complete bilingual perfomance of the Four Branches. Storytelling switching from Welsh to English and back again.
Pwll Pendefig Dyfed, gyda Michael Harvey, Guto Dafis a Dafydd Davies Hughes. Branwen ferch Llyr, with Cath Little, Christine Cooper and Fiona Collins. Manawydan fab Llyr, gyda Michael Harvey, Guto Dafis a Dafydd Davies Hughes. Math fab Mathonwy, with Cath Little, Christine Cooper and Fiona Collins. Meanwhile artist Maria Hayes was doing live artwork.
Followed by a Dance Twmpath with the Grassie Busville Band.

SUNDAY 15 MARCH. Sioned Davies; ‘Word, Image, Ideology; The Victorian Mabinogion.’ Stories , Jez Danks, storytellers and artists, Cafe Caffi Exhibition. The Eagle and the Owl, Tryptych Theatre. Informal stories and chat in the Cafe with cake?

See a very good account by participant storyteller Sharron Kraus.

Do not despair! Peter Stevenson, the curator of the event, is already talking to me about doing it again. Whee!
Prosiect Mabinogi-mini

Terry Pratchett

Today my son wept and we were shaken by the death of Pratchett. We have loved and admired him since his first books. Only just this last week I read his non-fiction anthology and he gave me yet another gift. For I sometimes question the value of my Mabinogi work, important though it is to British and Welsh literature, and a key component of our hertage: the first … Not least my lady Rhiannon orders me.

But so much of my life has been about campaigning, fighting for freedom. Measured against that, the Mabinogi stories can seem frivolous, at least as a major life project. But TP writes eloquently on how fantasy is the seedbed of intelligence, so my uneasy conscience is satisfied. I also remember what I myself told him when I met him, which is so very relevant to the issue.

When I met Terry over 20 years ago I was keen to compliment his unique talent as a writer. So I told him how the only thing which got my beloved husband through the agony of supporting my awful miscarriage, was reading Pratchett by my bed. It kept him sane, and even in that gory time, it made him laugh. I was too preoccupied to share it as we so often did, but I was glad for him and very thankful to TP in a new way.

By the time I recounted this tale to Terry we two had recovered from the worst of the experience so I completely underestimated what a harsh tale it was. Terry’s face went slack with shock, and I saw how very gentle and human he was. Many years later now just, he was to write in a book of his non fiction, that he grew used to people telling him the awful situations his books helped them survive. But way back then, he was far from used to it.
Wee some would read Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Buddha or Robin Morgan to hold on in the crux of pain. My man chose Pratchett and that was right too.

We met Terry because I had invited him as a speaker to my annual Pagan Halloween Festival in London, about 1991. My husband and I were both passionate admirers of his, and neither wanted to miss his talk. But one of us had to stay on duty to organise the festival. I gracefully conceded as I felt my beloved was just a bit more of a devotee. But I conceded only on condition my man filmed Terry’s talk for me to see later.
Well he tried. But within five minutes everyone was laughing so much it was almost impossible to hear much that Terry said. My beloved said he himself also went into serious acute gut pain from non-stop laughter. The worst was when half way through he needed to change the video tape, but he simply couldn’t because he was laughing paralytically and still in pain, sliding on to the floor.
So I never did see more than fragments of this lovely man talking at my own festival.

One thing I have noticed is that those speaking about Terry overlook an important aspect of his mind. They tell of his mighty imagination, his wit, his wonderful silliness, his courage in his long illness, generosity in funding research into that illness, and his warrior fight for the right to die by choice. All very true, There is also a book of Philosophy and Pratchett just come out last December. I think he was also a very kind man, a good, strong family male. All true, good stuff.

But what is being overlooked is Pratchett’s astute political grasp of society. He wanted us to look at the dirty side, and do something about it. Let’s hope the coming year is a good memorial to him.

The Royal Bed

“The Royal Bed” Theatr Pena Feb – Mar 2015.
At all major arts centres and theatres across Wales.

see locations list at the bottom of this page.

Siwan, wife to Llywelyn Fawr, Llewelyn the Great, was a pivotal historical figure. Her passionate, intelligent, and highly politicised life offers a thought provoking drama. The play was first staged via Saunders Lewis’ Welsh script in 1956. It now benefits from a sensitive new English language version by Sion Eirian, directed by Erica Eirian of Theatr Pena.

Theatr Pena, already famed for their innovative productions, especially on gender issues, have taken their expertise into Mediaeval Wales with great success.

The play compares to ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ in its ferocious couple dynamics. But this couple was the ruling power unit of Gwynedd and Wales. Unlike a modern urban marriage, their personal storm ravages the lands of Wales and England, driving thousands into bitter war. It is already being remarked that Theatr Pena’s interpretation makes the politics of the time far clearer than the original version. This is essential to the character of Siwan, who was not just an unfaithful wife: she was a formidable stateswoman.

The performance takes place in an austere but evocative set. A few well chosen furnishings, a brass worked chest, a carved chair with wolfskin, paint the richness of mediaeval castle life. Skilful lighting evokes the candlelit chambers where passions explode. The bed itself shapechanges as in traditional myths into Llywelyn’s war desk, symbolically apt to its political sexuality. One aspect I much enjoyed was the players’ active use of body positions, upright, seated, half lying, lying, and splayed out on bed or floor. This geometry embodied the gamut of dignified masking and gut deep emotion the plot demands.

In a similar symbolic to the bed/ desk symmetry, Siwan and Llywelyn both assume and discard elaborate costumes which represent their royal dominance in diplomacy and war. Each then reveals the humanity beneath in softer fabrics which mould to their vulnerable bodies. Siwan’s lover also appears in peacock fashion, then casts aside his court coat to become a young man in love, seeking kisses and laughter.

As Siwan, Eiry Thomas gives a wrenching performance
, a complex range from playful dancing lover to agonised bereavement, never escaping her position as royal chess mistress of several nations. The play sympathises with her arranged marriage and late life discovery of love. Russell Gomer as Llywelyn demonstrates a suitable gravitas, with leashed passion. My one reservation is I cannot agree with Saunders Lewis’ script making this ruthless warlord so profoundly motivated by romance; for one, his political trajectory was well established before he ever met his much younger wife.

The young lover Gwilym Brewys (Francois Pandolfo) is both brave and adorable, glinting with a joy in love and life so cruelly extinguished at his dawn execution. An important part is played by Siwan’s maid (Hannah O’Leary) who mediates that violence off stage in the classical Greek tradition, so unlike the crude gore of today’s media. She emerges as a young woman of much character, widowed by her soldier husband, extending our grasp of the devastation of war across all who lived in Siwan and Llywelyn’s world. Two musicians deserve note for their powerful music, by voice and harp: Buddug Verona James and Delyth Jenkins.

Honour was the essence of noble mediaeval life, as the famous Mabinogi taught in its stories, and as the court bards declaimed in praise poetry. It was more important than life itself. The play bears out very accurately how it was not Llywelyn’s execution of his rival which was his great mistake. It was his barbarism in subjecting a noble lord to a common felon’s hanging rope, and making it a public spectacle for the crowd. Theatr Pena ensure we can understand this crucial issue of another time, while holding us enthralled by the same human passions which are part of our lives today.

To bridge the mediaeval and the modern as Theatr Pena has done, is no mean feat, deserving of our applause.

PERFORMANCE LOCATIONS (in touring order):
Newport / Casnewydd, The Riverfront / Glan yr Afon.
Milford Haven / Aberdaugleddau, Torch Theatre / Theatr y Torch.
Aberystwyth, Aberystwyth Arts Centre / Canolfan y Celfyddydau Aberystwyth.
Blackwood / Coed Duon, Blackwood Miners Institute / Sefydliad y Glowyr.
Newtown / Y Drenewydd, Hafren.
Abergavenny / Y Fenni, The Borough / Theatr Y Bwrdeistref.
Pontardawe, Pontardawe Arts Centre / Canolfan Celfyddydau Pontardawe.
Denbigh / Dinbych, Theatr Twm o’r Nant.
Cardigan / Aberteifi, Theatr Mwldan.
Church Village / Pentre’r Eglwys, Theatr Gartholwg Theatre.
Builth Wells / Llanfair ym Muallt, Wyeside Arts Centre / Canolfan Gelfyddydau Wyeside.
Caernarfon, Galeri.
Abertillery, Metropole.
Carmarthen / Caerfyrddin, The Lyric / Y Lyric.
Brecon / Aberhonddu, Theatr Brycheiniog.
Llandovery / Llanymyddyfri, Llandovery College / Coleg Llanymyddyfri.
Swansea / Abertawe, Taliesin Arts Centre / Canolfan y Celfyddydau Taliesin.
Felinfach, Theatr Felinfach

MEMO Discussion Feb. 19 Swansea

From the Mediaeval Mabinogi to My Research Website: a Tour Guide.
Shan Morgain, postgrad. University of Swansea.
19 February 2015, University of Swansea.

A triadic package designed to prompt discussion in three different directions, to cross fertilise each other (interlace).

THE MABINOGI First I will quickly review the most major context points on the Mabinogi. the oldest prose stories of Britain.
See attached briefing for advance preparation. For those new/ish to the topic only a gist understanding of this will be necessary. It is provided with fuller information in compact form to keep on file longer term. Welsh language version is about to be added.
RHIANNON AS ‘TOUR GUIDE’  Secondly I will explain informally how a certain Rhiannon is acting as my personal ‘Tour Guide’ for my research project.
MY RESEARCH WEBSITE Thirdly I will become your tour guide around my research website, to look at why I find it so vitally useful as a research tool.

DISCUSSION will be welcome on any of the interlaced points of the triad: the Mabinogi opus itself; or Rhiannon as Tour Guide, as key to my personal research approach; or the use of a website as a research tool.

Mabinogi_Briefing_by_Morgain_2015 is attached as advance preparation in pdf format.
It has two packed summary pages, some nice pictures, and useful resource lists for further interest on two levels: introductory or personal interest, and academic research.

MEMO, Swansea University’s Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Research. Associate Director: Professor Daniel Power.

Please use the Contact page if you would like more information.

Kingsman (film)

A superb film one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. It’s excellent as fantasy fun and also as a serious subtext – which no reviewer and only one comment so far seems to have noticed.

Colin Firth is Colin Firth, perfect.  Action is fast paced well choreographed  – style is pure swizz – special effects used well but not over used (get the fireworks scene yay!) – sexism not so good but at least only one lump of flesh, in this genre it’s not as bad as usual – tech/ internet stuff is nicely presented –  it works as a good spy movie AND as a parody – fast and furious with some actual human relationship in there.

Optional serious track shows the 1% elite and their attitude to US the 99%. We are clutter and should be cleaned up to make way for a brave new future. The method to make us turn on each other is chillingly real – that is what is happening now today.
The pilot project in a fundie church is spiky clever on the values at the core.
Notice how cooperation and kindness gets a look in, though not fully developed.
As some comments have said the housing estate portrait and the makeover trope is dubious. It says a prole can only make it if a privileged master yanks him up even if he does succeed through his own efforts.

Hope this becomes a series – it has three good characters to build with and a good plot container with the Kingsman idea. Develop the girl next time.

Finally – we came away feeling happy and thoughtful. Can’t ask for more than that and few films manage it.

For Christine

It is difficult to find the right way to write down what a heavenly gift Christine is to me. It is indicative that I normally have no trouble beginning to write anything. I might chop out a start passage completely later, or revise it a lot. But that doesn’t mean I can’t get going.

Unusually, to say how beautifully, how superbly this person partners me in my work, has meant a whole series of false starts. So not like me. Do I tell how we met? How a kind mediator put us in contact – and how that first mention of Christine by someone else was a joy in itself? It said Christine would be very interested in discussing my project and invited me to contact her. Gentle words which could have been a mere formality, but somehow conveyed a genuine respect.

Or do I begin with an illustrative anecdote? I have just received an email with a small correction for a reference I used in a paper I wrote … a whole month ago. This meticulous lady felt bothered by a tiny inaccuracy; so she found the time to re-visit, re-read my text, investigate the point which had lingered, and identified this small problem. She ends by saying “You have probably sorted this out already – but I thought I’d note it anyway.”
The care in that, the additional effort, and then the respect for my own carefulness, is remarkable, and characteristic of the whole liaison.

I was scared to death of her at first! This is not only my personal academic supervisor who holds in her hands the power to make or break this crucial area of my life which quite simply means my core happiness, or severe deprivation; this is Christine James, the Archdruid of Wales. So she is at the pinnacle of an elite hierarchy of power I only dimly understand, for I am not a native of Wales; though I have lived here on and off for 25 years and nowadays Wales is without doubt my permanent home. There is no equivalent to the druids of Wales in the country of my birth and early life. Christine heads the largest arts festival in Europe, and an inner network where the Welsh talk to the Welsh, which twines through government, arts and culture esoterically, a world of its own. Since my beloved work sits in that culture, since I am an outsider who dares to examine one of its cherished traditions, I am very aware of her status, although I cannot ever really comprehend it. So she was awesome to me, before I ever spoke with her.

Yet she is not awesome, at least in another way she is not. The woman I met was friendly, down to earth, practical, oh so refreshingly practical. Faultlessly polite yet never condescending in the slightest degree, this grand lady did all that could be done to put me at my ease. It was possible to meet her human to human, and deal with the job in hand, just that.

Then again, she is still awesome for I find myself sheltered by the guardianship of a sure hand which balances strength and gentleness in a lovely synergy. I am guided through bureaucracy, given contacts, reassured, and in all ways mentored. Nothing is too much trouble to help me, from opening up the mighty gateways of academia to fetching me water to drink when I arrived tired off the road. I am accustomed to being the patron, the mistress and guide to others, and it is a marvellous reversal to be able to be less powerful, for once. It is ryuedawt that it is safe to let go of being fully in charge.

Here is another excellence, for it is not at all easy to mentor and guide someone who is powerful and skilled in their own right, not a novice. It is far easier to take on a junior who knows little, and shepherd them through predictable paths of support. For Christine I was an unknown and patchy map, sometimes expert, and suddenly, disconcertingly for both of us, sorely ignorant. She navigates my mountainous geography with grace and care, and the odd kindly chuckle.

There are rebukes, criticisms, challenges. So there should be, and I rise on my mettle to meet them, to grow from them like sharper medicine. Never once do I feel put down, diminished. I can assess what she offers me and absorb it (just occasionally decline it) with my dignity intact. It is deeply reassuring to be so recognised, to stand in a clear gaze. She misses nothing so already I have progressed a long way.

There is that important and all too rare ability she has, to say ‘I don’t know the answer to that,’ or ‘This is not an area I know well.’ Any student quickly finds that many academics are obsessed with being top dog, even to the point where it is so grossly obvious they don’t know whereof they speak so they look like utter nincompoops. There is no hint of that with Christine; instead a grave consideration, reflection, and the calm conclusion that something is not yet acquired. Only the very best can do that.

Then finally there is the joy. I bring her passion, and built up hard work, vibrating with it, and she welcomes it all with great, shining smiles. I spread out my treasures and she laughs, frowns, sharply queries me, ponders, and we dance together in an art form which she exercises with exquisite and ruthless perfection. This is for a certain kind of person, a fierce and wonderful mystery, a place where minds meet across centuries. To sit face to face with a truly fine mind is treasure indeed.

It is only now as the year’s wheel is coming to full circle that I can let go of so much built up distrust from many inferior comparisons, to be able to say, yes, this is real and true. For it has seemed too good to be true, it is so good. Now I can write the closing words in my praise song: thank you Christine.