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King Of The Cats

Did you know your cat may be of aristocratic lineage? Yes, our very own moggy with his meal time meow and habit of leaving muddy footprints all over the house may in fact be descended from the Cheshire cat or the Egyptian cat goddess Bast. If you don’t believe me the fact can be verified, here’s what to do: cut off a piece of his ear (just the pointy top bit will do), and if your mog is of blue blood he’ll shriek, “Don’t do that to me! Do you know who Iam?” And he’ll proceed to tell you in detail which king or queen was his uncle or aunt and that Dick Whittington’s cat was his cousin’s great great great great great great great great great great great times seven grandparent (cats are a fertile lot). He’ll also impart to you a few home truths that you’d rather not hear, things you don’t want the neighbours to know, tidbits he’s gossiped about whilst sat on the fence by the wheelie bins with his moggy mates, one eye on the lookout for rats and the odd bit of chicken from a rubbish sack. Such stuff is what cats get up to having slipped through the cat flap.

One man a few centuries back did something terrible to his cat: he cut off its head and chucked it on the fire. As the eyes popped out the mouth twisted and hissed, “Go tell you wife you’ve cut off the head of the King of the Cats. You shall be avenged for such an act.” A year on he was playing with his wife’s new kitten (women in those days couldn’t get a divorce, alas) which was sweet as pie till it lunged at his throat, sinking its claws and teeth into his windpipe. The bloke died in agony that very night. So be warned, you may have a Royal Cat sat right now on your lap, or meowing to be let in for his tuna chunks and a nap on your favourite cushion which he’ll cover with hairs as he’s curled up dreaming malevolently of birds. Beware.

Betty Stoggs

Betty Stoggs has had a real ale named after her, that's how famous she's become. But few of the punters at the bar know her true story...and probably wouldn't want to if they had an inkling as to what it was about. See, Betty married big burly Jan the Mounster in the olden days and they had a baby. But whilst Jan was out at work, Betty began to slacken when it came to doing the housework and cooking. Her baby was dressed in rags and her bread was like concrete. And to make matters worse she got in with the gin woman who went from door to door selling more than threads and material. Then one day whilst she was nattering and knocking back the booze her baby disappeared. Betty swore she would change her ways just to have her baby back.

As luck would have it, after a huge search, the bloke from the end terrace came upon the child hidden under a gorse bush, wrapped in a fine blanket and covered with flowers. See, the fairies had taken the child but dawn had come before they had a chance to whisk him away to the Otherworld, so they'd left him till the evening when they would return for him. Lucky Betty! And did she mend her ways? Mmm.....

Madgy Figgy

In days of yore it was rumoured that ‘ugly old hags sold themselves to Satan’ merely to get some spiteful revenge on their neighbours. But really there was a lot more to being a witch than cursing, though of course this was a perk of the job.

For example, the buzz of riding on a broomstick, three legged stool or even a piece of yellow-flowered ragwort; getting blind drunk on medicinal brews and having a right old knees up (which if you are ugly and old beats sitting hunched up in a damp cottage darning stockings); magicking away some of the stingy squire’s favourite rum, and making yourself invisible through use of ‘fairy ointment’ to do a bit of shoplifting down the local market. If the local devil deigned to join in the coven’s full moon festivities then all the better because even more fun could be had leaping over the golden flames of the bonfire hand in hand with his devilish lordship the Bucca Boo (to give him his Cornish name), singeing hems and heels and diving for a quick snog in the bushes for good luck and prosperity. Madgy Figgy was a witch who lived in the Land’s End area of Cornwall and her reputation has stood the test of time because she has a pile of rocks named after her, ‘Madgy Figgy’s Chair,’ high up on the granite cliffs edging the turquoise Atlantic Ocean. Figgy sat herself there whilst calling up the spirits of the winds and was wont to swing herself from side to side when a storm was brewing to lure the richly-laden vessels, struggling against the winds to reach the safety of the harbour, onto the jagged rocks beneath.

Many a shriek echoed around the cliff tops as the witches croaked their miserable delight over the perishing crews whom they were about to rob of the treasures they were bringing home from distant lands. From the Chair Figgy poured forth all manner of curses, on human and beast alike, and none could escape her withering spells. She would take flight like some terrifying bird, mounted on a stem of ragwort.

Figgy headed a band of witches who flew to Wales or Spain where they partied, stole milk from cows and plundered veg from the fields. On their return each one alighted with all her goodies in some convenient spot near her cottage, hopefully avoiding the brambles. No one can say for how long this Chair has been the midnight rendezvous for witches. Many a person now sleeping quietly in the nearby churchyard could attest to having seen the witches flying by on moonlit nights carrying with them the things necessary to make their charms and potions. And to this day Madgy Figgy, some say, can still be seen flying high over the windswept cliffs like a bird of prey, her cackle echoing the sound of drowned sailor’s cries.

Duffy And The Devil

Squire Lovell was returning from hunting one winter’s day when he passed by a cottage where a young lass called Duffy was having an furious row with her step mother and a right lot of swearing was going on too! The Squire, feeling sorry for Duffy, invited her to live at his manor where she would spin and knit for him, little knowing that Duffy was in fact very lazy and hopeless at spinning! In a short time Duffy was installed at the manor and put to work carding and spinning a pile of wool up in the loft.

One day a devil suddenly appeared right before her, a bucca boo who had lusted after the pretty young maid for quite a while! He smelt of burnt clothes and charcoal and said, “Here I am at your call young lady, ready to do any work you ask of me, if you’ll agree to go with me at the end of three years to my realm...unless by chance you can tell me my name.”

Duffy, seeing three years at least of an easy life, agreed to the devil’s deal and the rest of the household on hearing the rumble of the spinning wheel in the loft, thought Duffy to be hard at work when in fact it was the devil. But each day she sneaked off to the mill where the women gathered to grind grain and gossip. The devil meanwhile kept to his word and produced the finest stockings that ever were spun which the Squire wore to church each Sunday.

They were much admired by the congregation; young and old alike desired to feel his legs and the silkiness of those superb stockings that survived all the furze, brambles and bogs when the Squire went hunting. He never again had scratched legs and was so delighted by her work, on returning from hunting one evening, he grabbed her and proposed marriage to the pretty young lass, little knowing she had had to stuff an admirer who had come to court her into the oven to hide him!

So, the Squire and Duffy were married and the years went by and the Squire came to be dressed head to toe in the devil’s handiwork. Duffy continued to go to the mill where she told Betty, a cunning witch, the deal she’d struck with the devil as three years were nearly up and she was no nearer knowing the devil’s name. Betty thought on it a while and hatched a plan, telling Duffy to make sure the Squire went hunting the next day.

Well, the Squire took quite a bit of persuading but eventually he went out hunting. When he returned at midnight he was singing snatches of a song and was laughing like a madman. Finally calming down he told her about how he’d been chasing a hare that led him to a grove and there he saw a devil dancing with witches around a fire, and Betty of the mill was amongst them!

And the devil himself was singing in a booming voice, ”I did knit and I did spin For three years to the day Tomorrow she shall ride with me Over land and over sea Far away, far away, For she can never know My name is Tarraway.” And the witches sang the chorus, “By night and day We dance and play With noble Captain Tarraway.” The Squire was so excited by the song and the sight of witches flying over the fire on broomsticks he shouted out, “Hurrah!” and in an instant a blast of wind swept away the fire and all was dark and silent! The Squire drank another flagon of cider and rolled dead drunk on the floor so Duffy covered him with a blanket and crept to bed. The next night the Squire went hunting to try and find once more the witch’s gathering and Duffy was left on her own.

Of a sudden the bucca boo was stood in the doorway dressed in his devilish finery, come to take Duffy to his sizzling underworld realm. A very anxious Duffy insisted she’d much rather stay at the manor but the devil was adamant she tell him his name otherwise she’d have no choice but leave with him.

Said Duffy, “Mr Devil, aren’t ee lord Beelzebub?” “No young lass, how could you confuse me with such a one! For the second time I demand of you my name!” “Well, it must be Prince Lucifer.” “Don’t be so ignorant! For the third time I ask you my name!” “Well I reckon it is Tarraway!” “Aggghh, I’m too proud of my name to deny it, you are right, I’m fair beaten.” Taraway disappeared in an instant with a flash of lightening, thick smoke and the stench of brimstone. Duffy’s life had been saved by the cunning of Betty the witch who had made the devil reveal his name. From that day onwards though still terrible at knitting, she did the best she could, and the Squire once more had to get used to the scratches of thorns whilst out hunting.

The Old Woman & Her Nightgown

There was once an old woman who lived in a time long before now when our grandparents were toddlers in their cots. One night whilst curled up in bed she heard banging and quarrelling going on inside her cottage which sent shivers down her spine, as well you can imagine. She pulled the moth eaten bed covers up over her head as fast as her skinny arms would let her, and it was a long time later she got to sleep!

In the brisk morn when finally she dared get out of bed she found on the table a shiny coin which definitely hadn’t been there the night before. Strange goings-on indeed! The next night the same noises filled her cottage and once more with a thumping heart she hid under the bed covers. In the morning again there was a silver coin. A week or so later on hearing the squabbling and clunking she took a deep breath and peeked out from under the covers.

To her surprise she saw some spriggans with sacks of treasure they shared out amongst themselves, arguing in heated whispers as they did so. She pulled the covers up over her eyes as fast as her squeaky bones would let her! For several nights the same thing happened until, though grateful for the extra money, she was getting fed up of the sleepless nights and was becoming rather jealous of all the silver and gold. She wanted some of it for herself! Thinking long and hard she decided to turn a garment inside out. It was known amongst our ancestors that doing so made the folk of the Otherworld powerless.

However, this old lady was in bed, all she had on was her nightshift! So she squirmed under the sheets for a good half hour, stifling whimpers due to her achy bones. At last she leapt, well, creaked out of bed and showed the spriggans the seams of her inside out nightgown. They were furious, and a bit shocked at the sight, and were powerless to do her any harm. In the blink of an eye they were gone! She sat on her bed with a pile of treasure on her lap, a grin splitting her face. In the morning she went straight to the land agent and bought herself a cottage by the harbour and lived comfortably off for the rest of her days.

Fairy Music

There was once, quite recently in fact, a bloke walking to work. He was feeling quite perky even though it was early as he’d already had three cups of coffee. On turning a corner he heard some angelic music wafting over a concrete wall inscribed with some lovely graffiti telling bankers exactly where to go.

He had never heard such music in all his life, it was that unearthly and very different to the drum’n’bass that was his usual preference. He scaled the wall in one leap and somersaulted over to the other side landing before a very short man with a pointy chin and bad breath. It was Piskey himself surrounded by a gaggle of elves all dancing merrily.

There was also a wizened fiddler and a young woman with long floaty hair playing a harp. She looked a bit dazed and in a melancholic state of mind which he could relate to as that was how he often felt himself. As this thought surfed his brain Piskey leapt forward with a raucous cackle and the vision was gone in a shudder. All that he was left with was a feeling like a hangover as he stood in front of the shops at the start of the pedestrianised area of town near a bus stop. And, though a hardened cynic, his heart did skip a beat when he thought of that mystic girl who seemed trapped in a world to which she didn’t belong. Mmm...though maybe he was simply going mad, had too much caffeine in his bloodstream and should get an early night.

The Fougou If you happen to be in Cornwall you may see on a map the word Fougou and wonder what it’s all about. A Fougou is a dome-like chamber and tunnel built underground where fluorescent green moss thrives and which was used for anything from rituals, wild parties, a grain store, a stash place for smugglers or travelling fair folk, and as a place for witches to meet to make magic in the depths of the night. The word Fougou is derived from the Cornish word for cave, fogo, and they can be dated back to Neolithic folk. At Trove near Land’s End a tunnel leads from a Fougou all the way to the local manor and the Bucca-boo, the Devil Himself, has often been heard playing his pipes under the parlour where he parties with witches who have travelled in the form of hares through the Fougou to dance to his music. Sometimes they brought their familiar, a black cat, adding delightful meows when their tails singed in the fire.

Even by day many locals were afraid to enter a Fougou as they believed Spriggans lived there guarding treasure, which is still buried there to this day if you care to dig a hole and risk their wrath.

In fact Fougous have long been feared as being places rife with evil spirits so it’d be wise not to take a spade with you, or metal detector for that matter. Back in the old days women would say to their squawking babies they would leave them down the Fougou for the Bucca-boo to whisk them away to the Otherworld if they didn't hush up. It tended to do the trick.

At Pendeen near Land’s End a Fougou called the Vow stretches from the nearby manor to Pendeen Cove. A spirit in the form of a beautiful lady dressed in white with a red rose in her mouth appears there at dawn on Christmas Day over the turquoise ocean to warn of death, and is known as the Spirit of the Vow.

Betty Trenoweth

Betty Trenoweth is a witch from the Land's End area of Cornwall. She used to fly around on a piece of yellow-flowered ragwort in the days before railways and radios and mobile phones. She's renowned for her shape-changing abilities and can transform herself into a hare in an instant. She can even talk to animals and put them under a spell, which is what she's done to this pig.

She whispered in it's ear so it'd follow her home, to be fattened up and eaten along with tatties and a sprig of herbs. Special herbs, mind, that give her the ability to fly, see into the future, and into other people's minds.

So be warned, if you ever happen to be up on the moors near Land's End and you see a tall lady in a black hat... SCARPER! This is a tale told by the folk who knew her years back.

One Thursday at the end of harvest Betty went to the market to buy a pig to fatten up for Christmas. She had nearly agreed on a price with the seller but pretending she didn't really want the pig and saying she wouldn't give a farthing more, walked off, with the intention of scaring the farmer into lowering his price. In the meantime her cousin Tom offered a little more and purchased the sow. When Betty returned to say she would have the sow she found Tom the new owner and was fuming as you can well imagine.

Tom refused to give up his purchase and Betty went off mumbling threats and curses, and shaking her bony finger at Tom. "Well if I don't have her you’ll find the sow the dearest bargain thee hast ever had."

Tom got the sow home, put her in a sty, filled the trough and firmly fastened the door. When he rose early the next morning he found the door open and his sow rooting in a neighbour's garden and it took many hours to get the troublesome beast back into her sty again. In spite of all he could do, scarce a night passed without her getting out to do some mischief that Tom would have to pay for. A month passed by during which the more the sow ate the leaner she became. One day Old Betty met Tom and said, quite friendly-like, "Well, Cousin Tom, how is thy sow getting on, will she be fat ready for Christmas? I hear she is very troublesome; prehaps you had better sell her to me." Tom replied, "I'll drive her to market and sell her for less that I gave rather than you shall have her!" More time passed and Tom, finding that his sow had eaten and destroyed more than she was worth and all the time getting leaner, fastened a rope to her leg and set off early one thursday morning for market, determined to sell her for anything he might be offered. The sow walked quiet as a lamb till she came to a stream. But she wouldn't cross the water!

He tried to push her across wheel-barrow fashion, holding her up by the hind legs; then he endeavoured to drag her through the water, but she turned right around, bolted between his legs and the rope slipped from his hand.

She ran up the moors over hedges and ditches, Tom following through bogs, brambles and furze for many miles till all his clothes were torn to rags with the thickets. At last Tom caught hold of the rope and tied it round his wrist. No sooner had he done that a hare leaped out of a bush beside the road crying, "Chee-ah!"

It ran down the moor, the sow following, dragging Tom along, till the sow bolted under a bridge so far as the rope would let her. By good luck he had his knife in his pocket and cut the rope but he could neither drive nor coax his pig from under the bridge!

About noon Tom got very hungry yet he was afraid to leave his sow and go to the nearest house that he might have something to eat because whilst he was out of sight the bewitched pig might bolt away, no one could tell whither! So he sat down beside the bridge in case someone might pass by. Then near sunset who should appear but Old Betty herself with her basket on her arm and knitting in her hand. She walked clicking her needles, knitting all the way and looking demure as if butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. When she saw Tom sitting beside the road she seemed all suprised and said, "Cousin, is that you? Have 'e sold the sow and got drunk on the profit, that you have missed your way back?" "Well, Old Betty, is that thee? I must say that thee hast beaten me hollow." Tom replied.

"The sow is under the bridge and thee dust know it well for who but thee crossed the road and went over the moor in the shape of a hare? Thy friend, the devil, lent thee his hounds, I suppose, to drive her in.� "Well, thank the powers," said she, according to her custom when anyone came to grief. "As you are a cousin of my own, I'll give 'e the value of the sow still, and that is about half of what she cost 'e because she's now gone to skin and bone, and it’ll take months to fatten her up again."

"If you will give me something from your basket to eat and what you offered, you may take her and be damned to 'e!" said Tom. Then Betty went down to the mouth of the bridge and called "Chee-ah! Chee-ah!" and the sow came out and followed her home like a dog! All who heard Tom's story agreed that the hare was no other than Old Betty in that shape and they wished they could send a silver bullet through her (lead has no effect on a witchhare). Betty kept her pig many years and she became the parent of a numerous progeny.

Betty Trenoweth & Madam Noy

After Betty had gained her ends with Tom Trenoweth nobody dared deny her anything she coveted except Madam Noy who was a strong minded lady who kept the best hunting hounds in the area which she coursed with daily as she rode over her farms, across hedges and ditches, to inspect her lands. She took great pride in her poultry, above all in her rare breed of hens with large tufts on their heads, called coppies. Now Betty knew that Madam Noy refused to give or sell to anyone eggs from her coppies yet one morning she put on her steeple-crown hat, took her stick and hobbled down to Madam Noy’s where she sat herself on a stile till she sawthe Madam comingout of a barn with a bowl of corn in her hands to feed her poultry. "Good day to your honour," said Betty, as she went up curtseying and nodding to Madam, "Dear me, how well you are lookan, you're gettan to look younger and younger I do declare, and what beautiful hens you've got, the finest in the parish I do believe. "I don’t suppose you could you spare me a dozen eggs?"

Said Madam Noy, "I've no eggs to spare! Dust thee think that when I've refused to sell any to my own sister or to my cousin, that I would spare them to the likes of you?" Betty replied, "If you won't sell me some eggs you shall regret it heartily, me dear." "Now go thee home and what business hast thee here pryin’ about the place, covetan all thee can spy with thy evil eye, I'd like to know. " Be gone or I'll set the dogs on thee, don’t think thou that I'm afraid of thy witchcraft." Madam Noy and Betty continued their threats until Madam Noy snatched up a stone, threw it at Betty and hit her with a blow that made her jaw rattle.

Betty limped to the stile mumbling to herself. Standing on it she pointed her finger at Madam Noy, making the lady shake in her shoes, whilst she waved her out-stretched hand and ill-wished her by saying,

"Mary Noy, thou ugly, old, and spiteful plague, I give thee the collick, the palsy, and ague. All the eggs thy fowls lay, from this shall be addle, All thy hens have the pip and die with the straddle. And before nine moons have come and gone, Of all thy coppies there shan't live one: Thy arm and thy hand, that cast the stone, Shall wither and waste to skin and bone." Madam Noy was never well from that day on, her coppie’s eggs were always bad and all Betty's spell took effect. Before six months were past she lost every one of her coppies and her arm withered to skin and bone. She was never to ride with her hounds again and rarely left the confines of her home.

The Bucca-dhu

The old Cornish word "Bucca� belongs to the same family of words as the Irish "Pooka" and the Welsh "Pwcca" meaning a person of a mischievous disposition, one about whom there is something weird or wisht (in the oldfashioned magical sense), and also a frightful apparition. Bucca-dhu is a black spirit and Bucca-gwidden a white spirit. There is a story told of an old lady who lived long ago in Cornwall who was so fond of cardplaying that she would walk almost every winter's night, in spite of wind or rain, to a nearby village that she might enjoy her favourite pastime.

The old lady's step-daughter wished to put a stop to what she regarded as a rather scandalous past time, as the old dame seldom arrived home before the small hours of the morning! With this in mind she persuaded a local lad to array himself in a white sheet to impersonate a ghost that was often seen wandering about a lonely spot over which the old dame had to pass.

This was to scare her so witless she'd never walk that path again and thus bring an end to her card-playing proclivities. The winter's night was dark and rainy when at about midnight he seated himself on a stile, whereupon he had to wait another two or three hours; the dear old lady was in no hurry to leave such pleasant company!

At last she passed by, seated herself to draw breath, and sensing some mischief upon seeing the white figure said, "Hello Bucca-gwidden, what cheer? And what in the world dost thee do here with the Black Bucca-dhu so close behind thee, ready to take you away to his firey realm?" That an evil spirit might be right behind him so frightened the young lad that he ran off as fast as he could lay feet to ground, throwing the white sheet into the brambles at his side.

The old lady scampered after, clapping her hands and calling, "Well done Black Bucca-dhu, now thee will catch White Bucca-gwidden and take him away with thee!" Of course the old lady was playing a fine trick on the young man who was so frightened he fell into a fit and was never right in the head again, thus becoming a real Bucca, as was wont to happen in the olden days when folk were far more suceptible to visitors from the spirit realm than us lot today. So, the strong-minded, sociable old lady enjoyed many more years of her favourite past time and in fact her descendents still live in the area to this day.

Fairy Ointment

In a friendly manner as is my fashion I decided to call by Betty’s on the way to market but on hearing voices within the cottage I had a peep through the key hole whereupon I saw Betty taking ointment from a shell which she rubbed over her husband Tom’s eyes whilst mumbling some strange verse of a charm. As I opened the door Tom was edgy as a ferret and quickly disappeared so me and Betty decided to have a nice cup of rum washed down with brandy to keep the cold off our backs and our spirits high.

Off Betty went to get the liquor, which gave me a moment to have a closer look at the ointment. Being of a curious disposition I placed some of the green substance in my left eye. Immediately it was as if a rod of fire or needles and pins had been thrust in it!

I quickly pulled my hat down over my tear-filled eye as Betty returned and we proceeded to drink to each other’s health four times over with some excellent French brandy.

Having drunk to the health of her children and the mermaids of the sea I was able at last to open my stinging eye and I beheld before me all kinds of spriggans and men dressed in green with their ladies wearing flowing robes with silver bells on the hems! I was with great effort able to retain my composure until I at last bade farewell to Betty and I was very relieved to leave that enchanted cottage! It was late afternoon by the time I reached the market and having bought some essentials I stopped for some beer at the public house which I drank with the Christmas cake I had in my pocket. Dusk was beginning to fall as I returned to the market to pick up some spices I’d previously forgotten to purchase and there I happened upon Tom who was pocketing all manner of things without anyone noticing a thing! Unperturbed I strode right up to him. “Aren’t ye ashamed to be carrying on such a game, Tom?”

He turned of a sudden and seemed full of shock that I could see him. “So, Joan, which eye can thou see me with?” So I closed my left then my right eye and replied, “Why Tom, I can see you with my left eye.”

He then poked me hard in the very same eye saying, “Thou cursed old spyThou shall see me no more Nor peep nor pry Out of that charmed eye.�

And my sight in that eye was gone in an instant! I called to the market sellers to catch the thief but he was completely invisible to them and in such a rude manner they called me drunken old baggage! I was so bewildered and tossicated I staggered to the public house once more for a horn of beer to deaden the pain before I began my journey home afoot.

The only light was from a few fishermen’s cottages and on numerous occasions I fell in the ditch at the side of the road but awhile on I knew it must be dawn as the maids were in the fields milking the cows. One of the boys who was bringing out hay helped me along the track to the smithy’s where I had a good glass of new-fashioned cordial called shrub which did my stomach much good.

He kindly helped me across the stream and I continued onwards until I fell into a pit of muddy water. Scrambling out like a toad I espied a horse which I managed to place myself astride. The beast took off at a trot which soon became the gallop of the Devil’s charger and I clung on to the mane and tail whilst being thrown about on the back till I landed on a bunch of rushes in a bog! Hobbling down the moor bare-footed I then heard the sound of a bugle-horn and a galloping horse, it must be the Old One himself come to get me for good, I thought. I prayed hard for deliverance as I crawled into an old barn and fell amongst the straw in a state of exhaustion but I was soon awoken from my fitful slumber by the barking of dogs and the tramping of hooves. A moment later I had another fit as the squire himself was leaning over me! “Well, look who’s here among the straw, dead drunk!” “Oh dear master what wicked things have befallen me tonight!” I replied, all atremble.

They took me to the mill nearby for a drop of brandy and covered me with blankets and flour sacks, but not over my head as I wouldn’t have my best bonnet covered with sacks. They wheeled me back to the manor in a barrow and I do believe that that last drop of brandy saved my life. Before long I was sat in front of the blazing fire in the old hall whereupon I told of the night’s strange happenings and finally, exhausted, closed my eyes. Though to be honest it was a fox’s sleep with eyes closed and ears open, which is how I overheard the devilish miller say to the squire that it was merely the liquor I had drunk with Betty that’d caused my Otherworldly visions and that the apparitions old women see are merely the vapours of spirits taken in their drink! I was most upset by this cruel insult and one day I may forget and then forgive but that, believe me, will be a long way off!

Piskey Threshing

On her calamitous journey back from market we’ve heard about how our spirit-troubled housemaid in the tale 'Fairy Ointment' ended up in several ditches whilst under the influence of various alcoholic beverages, and fairy ointment itself which, if placed in the eye, brings the Otherworld into vision.

This is another story she used to tell about her night of high adventure... I was so weary and felt no more could I continue homeward. I was seeing all manner of strange happenings, giants looming from the hedgerows, the tinkling of fairy bells and even the Devil Himself upon his jet black charger, baying hounds at his side! Then I espied the light of a lantern coming from a barn and heard the sound of corn being threshed, it must be a farmer working late thought I. So I crossed the cobbles and peeped through the door and saw Piskey himself threshing corn with his skinny long arms, dressed in ragged clothes. He had a face full of pointy teeth that glistened as he raised the flail over and over bringing it down on the corn causing clouds of dust to rise up.

In the half light I beheld his workers, no more than two feet high; some lugged down sheaves and placed them handy for him, others shook the straw and bore it off to the end of the barn. Piskey was working that hard he raised such a dust that it set him and the small folks sneezing and, as is custom, I said, 'God bless 'e little men!'

But no sooner had I spoken the words than the light went out and all vanished and I felt a handful of dust thrown into my poor eyes that nearly blinded the only peeper that I could see anything out of! T’was at this point I remembered that the small people have great spite against anyone who watches them or tries to pry into their doings. So I briskly carried on across the moor but the bridle-paths were all askew. It must be that troublesome Piskey playing tricks because, turn whichever way I would, the path was always before me!

After going on for a long while, at last I saw light and heard music.But instead of arriving at a house I came all at once on a level green surrounded by furze and there I saw the small people holding a fair. Scores of stalls were covered with trinkets, buckles of silver and gold glistening with diamonds, rings, bracelets and strings of crystal beads. Not to disturb the fairy folks I crept along softly till I stood opposite a company of dancers linked hand in hand, whirling around a maypole garlanded with flowers. I soon got to thinking about how well the bright little buckles would look, fixed as brooches, on my shawl, and thus determined to secure them at once. I knew that turning a garment inside out serves to keep the fairy folk at bay and as there was nothing that could be so readily turned insideout except my apron, I took it off and turned it around. But whilst trying to grasp the buckles, pins or needles so small that I didn't notice them stuck into my fingers and I cried out, "'Oh! Cuss 'e! You little buccas!"

That instant all the lights went out, and all the fair and most of the small people vanished like shadows among the rock, or sunk into the earth. I took up my skirt and ran fast as I could through puddles and mire to leave behind that enchanted place and the devilish Piskey who I swore I could see in the moonlight laughing at me!

The Mermaid Of Zennor Once upon a time not so long ago there lived a man called Matthew Trewhella. He was the finest singer in the Land’s End area of Cornwall and knew all the old ballads as well as some raucous ones too. He sang at folk nights, in a couple of bands and in the church at Zennor on a Sunday, a village nestled amongst granite rocks and yellow gorse. One day a beautiful woman came to the service, slipping in the back of the church. She had heard his haunting songs drifting over the waves of Pendower Cove that was her abode for she was a mermaid of the sea and her name was Morveren. She begged her father King Llyr that she may go on land to see the man who sang such exquisite songs and after many a plea he agreed but on the condition that she let no human see her and that she return before high tide else she would be trapped on land and perish.

So she swam to the shore and hid her tail beneath a sarong embroidered with pearls and coral. Painfully she crossed the tarmac of the road and entered the church where she gazed at the golden-haired man before her.

Each Sunday she returned, always disappearing before the service ended that none may see her. But one week she sighed so deeply he looked to the back of the church and saw her and fell instantly in love. She slipped out of the church as fast as she could but Matthew ran after her and as she fell he lifted her up, catching a glimpse of her fish’s tail. But his love was so great he cared not and in an instant made the decision to spend the rest of his life with her in the deep turquoise sea. People ran from the church and tried to catch the couple but magic was on their side and Matthew raced over the rocks to where the tide crashed white. They dived in and all that was left was his tshirt floating on a wave’s crest. To this day if you wander out at night onto the headland at Zennor you may be lucky to hear the sweet singing of Matthew Trewhella and see Morveren sat on the rocks combing her luxuriant green hair.

The Return Of The Mermaid Of Zennor Once upon a stormy night a lass called Nat having spent rather too long down the pub went for a walk along the cliffs at Zennor for a bit of fresh air. Searching for a sheltered spot for a sit down she heard a song smooth as melted chocolate. It dripped deliciously into her ears and she was spellbound. Oh my God, she thought, not only am I drunk and very dishevelled but I’m also hearing voices! Glancing over the rocks she clocked a green-dreadlocked woman with a fish’s tail. Never having experienced psychic phenomena other than the visual slur brought on by too much booze she was rather shocked. However, in spite of her shaking knees she crept forward for a closer look. The mermaid, who was none other than Morveren, turned and took off her shades as she caught sight of Nat then slipped quickly into the foaming waves. There was a sudden gasp and the sweet song stopped mid flow. Nat swore she saw a man's hand emerge from the breakers, but was it in greeting or a request for help?

She blew her nose and was about to head back inland when a bloke, completely starkers, dragged himself onto the rocks. She didn’t know where to look. Seaweed tangled his hair and there was a greenness to his skin as if algae lived upon it. He was none other than Matthew Trewhella weathered by a decade of waves. ‘Kiss me!’ he shouted, ‘Kiss me!’ leaping over the rocks, but Nat legged it like there was a devil at her feet. Alas, mist made the path near invisible and though she scrambled she couldn't shake him off. She didn't know where to look.

Then BAM! right in front of her glowered Morveren and an enormous creature with long white locks and beard, a crown of crustaceans and a huge pitchfork in his fist. A fish tail long and green and covered in pearls and shells curled to his side. "How dare you steal the husband of my daughter!" yelled he. "I am King Llyr of the Mighty Ocean and no one crosses me and keeps their life!" Nat felt like she was going to throw up the several pints she’d earlier guzzled. Three, two, one puke...nice. Well, not nice at all. Then the naked man quick as a flash grabbed her and planted a smacker on her sicky lips. She nearly fainted with shock and embarrassment combined. "We’ve got to get to the village!" he yelled and half dragged, half carried her along the cliff edge with the two mer creatures slipping along close behind cursing the jagged rocks, their anger instigating the adverse weather conditions of thunder, lightning and the mother of all gales.

"I was bewitched by the mermaid a few years back and forced to live beneath the sea. Only the kiss of a mortal woman could break the spell and you set me free me. "I don’t half crave some chips and a pint of ale."

A bolt of lightning struck nearby scorching Nat’s hair giving it a metallic whiff, though it wasn’t as potent a smell as the fishy reek exuded by Llyr and his daughter of the waves. With one last scramble Matt and Nat made it onto tarmac amongst the amber glow of street lights. "Back at last!" yelled Matt of the golden voice, "and it’s straight to the Tinner's Arms for me!" With that he dropped Nat and dashed to the pub door. Nat herself was less fortunate. King Llyr, having caught up, carried her off to the fishy depths where she now shivers with the tide and cries like a seagull for the kiss of Matthew Trewhella who doesn’t hear as he’s too trolleyed and loved up anyway with a local bird.

Tale At The Traveller's Rest

The other night I walked to the Traveller’s Rest pub and a biting night it was too. Frost glistened upon rooftops and the roofs of cars sparkled, it was quite magical. All in all I was glad to be within the warmth nestling behind the old oak doors and to be asking for my usual brew, a golden real ale with a packet of salted nuts.

And luck was with me as I gained a fireside seat: upon entering the lounge a couple on seeing me swiftly vacated their place which I put down to the damp dog smell of my scraggly mutt. So I made myself comfortable and the mutt sniffed around for old crisps on the floral carpet and I glanced across to the window seat and

They were in fact conversing upon the subject of how to better themselves as they both worked down the local 24 hour supermarket, one in the warehouse unloading lorries and the other on tills. They debated a move to Spain to work in better climes abroad in the bars of the Costas. I thus engaged them upon the subject and this story unfolded as told by the one with stubble and a mobile which regularly shivered and lit up beside his half drunk pint.

They said a mate of theirs worked for a while on a farm in Glamorganshire for a couple called Rowli Pugh and Catti Jones who were known to have bad luck. Their wheat was always patchy, their lambs sickly, their Landrover kept breaking down and their tractor had permanently unresolved hydraulic problems. On top of this Catti was depressed and thus rendered incapable of doing a moment’s work. One day Rowli was sat upon the wall of his yard contemplating the drastic step of selling up in order to improve their lot by emigrating to Spain where property was cheaper and they could find some work, surely. And all that sunshine! While he was mulling over his woes an old man turned up, shepherd’s crook in hand, and asked why it was Rowli had such a gloomy countenance. Rowli was about to pour out his problems when the old bloke piped up,

“Don’t worry mate, hold yer tongue for I know more about you than you know and you’re going nowhere, I’ll make sure that your life becomes one of contentment right here. Tell the missus to leave a candle burning tonight when she goes to bed and every night henceforth.”

With that the old man or Ellyll as he in fact was, that is to say Fairy in more modern parlance, upped and offed. Rowli turned the conversation over in his mind and concluded that yes, he would tell his wife Catti Jones that an old man had said she must light a candle each night before bedtime and their luck’d change. And Catti would probably laugh her head off at such an idea.

But what had they to lose? So that’s the angle he took and that’s the angle that got Catti to dig out the candles and light one having put the cat out and brushed her teeth. And it’s a fact that from the next day onwards their life did change. When they went down in the morning to put the kettle on for a cuppa the previous day’s washing up was washed and put away.

There was a freshly baked loaf on the table, croissants and a fat chocolate cake. The dirty washing was drying on the line clean and crease free and the bathroom was immaculate. And their home brew was bottled and ready to be enjoyed. Each night Catti would light a candle before bedtime and by morning the baking, brewing and washing was all done. Rowli now always had clean clothes and bed sheets, tasty bread and well brewed beer and it made him feel like a new man, and he worked like one. For Catti it was the make-over she’d always needed and she set up a business from home selling scented candles. Their farm prospered, the grain grew thick and strong, the pigs were the fattest at the market and the lambs too. They had a conservatory built and a gravel drive snaked up to the farmhouse where an eight grand Aga sat in the kitchen and double glazing kept the Welsh weather out.

Thus their life continued thus for a full three years until Catti could contain her curiosity no more. When Rowli was snoring one night she sneaked down the stairs and opened the kitchen door a crack. There she saw the Fairy Folk busily making bread and beer and dancing and laughing as they did so.

Catti was so bemused by the sight she burst out laughing and in an instant they scattered in a whirl of fairy dust and the kitchen was silent. Rowli and Catti’s luck stayed with them however which is often not the case when the Fairy Folk are spied upon. The blokes in The Traveller’s Rest confided to me they were hoping for a similar chain of events by sitting on the car park wall by their block of flats that night looking miserable as hell in the hope an Ellyll would appear.

Slurring his words the stubbled one said they were off down the supermarket right now for some candles to light each night they were so desperate to escape their dead end jobs, overdrafts and singledom. Though the thought did cross my mind that hanging around a car park late at night was asking for trouble, not from Otherworldly Folk but from the police. But I kept my mouth shut. Anyway, all said, good luck to ye lads, I hope the magic works.

Fairy Music  

Collection of traditional fairytales from Cornwall and Wales with colour illustrations told with humour.

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