Blood Soaked Through: Downton and the lie of British Nostalgia

Okay, hold your loved ones tight Wee Readers, it’s time for anecdote. When my grandmother was a little girl she went to a posh girl’s school, because of her high IQ. But it’s important to note that though she was not posh, at all back then, many of her classmates were. In fact, they were the posh of the posh, they were the upper-class. The kind of people that take their children on fox hunts.

Now sometimes when these posh of the posh girls would come back from their summer holidays, it would be noticed that they had dried blood behind their ears, or sometimes still smeared across their faces. My god, I hear you saying, what had happened to these poor children during their summer holidays? Aha, say I – but I’ve already given you the answer already. You see, when a young person – and we are talking young here, these were children – participates in their first fox hunt, when the fox is caught its blood is smeared over the child’s face and worst of all, if you can belive it, they’re not allowed to wash it off. It has to be left to dry and flake off by itself.

A disgusting, foul smelling thing that no longer feels like it should belong in our modern world – speaking of which….

Let’s talk about Downton Abbey.

For those lucky few not in the know, Downtown Abbey was a historical drama set just after the sinking of the titanic, written by Julian Fellows, that ran from 2010 to 2015, and later received a follow up film in 2019, with a sequel planned for 2022. The series started off with a strong first season, with good dialogue and intriguing plot twists ripped right from real stories of the time, but gradually declined in quality. Season two while not the worst the series would ever produce, was mainly pulled along by the natural intrigue of WWI, and seasons three-six coasted on soap-opera like shockers, when they weren’t just repeating their own stories over and over again. I think even fans of the show would agree, that this was not a well written series.

But what I find sad is that it didn’t really have to be, as I said before the first season was actually decent up to a point, and even the later seasons had glimmers of something. Story threads that could have gone somewhere, characters that were occasionally likable. The setting at least should have provided it with many interesting turns for the story. But nothing ever came of it; and I always wondered why, and then I watched the film and suddenly everything was so bright and clear. Oh, not because it was a good film, or in the least entertaining, it’s not, it’s trash from start to finish – in fact in some ways it’s actually much worse than the tv show; because as a film the expectations for it are automatically much higher. You were given a film to play with Julian Fellows, kindly please do something with it other than meander around for two hours. I mean the closest thing we got to a main story, was the servant subplot where they kidnapped the visiting royal staff so they could serve the King and Queen instead. This is not what I wanted from the writer of Lady Sybil’s death scene.

No what made everything so much clearer to me is because the writing was so bad, any form of subtlety with the underlying message of Downton, in a sense the reason the whole phenomena was started, had been dropped. And what is that message you might ask, well my dear wee reader, it’s the warm feeling of nostalgia you might have looking back on a happy time in your childhood, or in fact any time before this whole Covid mess began. But Downton doesn’t want you feeling that way about things that actually matter to your life; no Downton has its priorities right – it wants you feeling that way about the past, sure, but the distant past. The past where the upper class ruled benignly over counties, that really needed them to survive. Where Masters and servants coexisted in a wonderful symbiotic relationship, and were basically family.

Of course, such a time never existed but that won’t stop Downton from spinning its enchanted tale of the place. Weren’t things just so much better? The poor happier and more content – the decent ones anyway – and the rich finally allowed to show just how regal and elegant they could be?

Don’t you wish you could live back then? That today’s world could be more like that?

And now we’ve found the trap.

Everything in Downton, every plot thread, every character you may love or hate is used for this purpose. Don’t belive me, let’s take a look.

Lady Mary

I think even fans of Lady Mary can admit that she was a bit of a b word, she was intentionally written that way so that when she met the middle-class heir, and her ice queen tendencies would begin to unthaw, we could see the real, feeling person hidden underneath. Or at least I assume that was the intention, honestly to me the happier Mary grew with her situation the less her actress seemed to care about her performance. But regardless I’m getting off track.

The point of Mary as a character is to highlight how the rich suffer, nothing less and nothing more. That is not to say that as a woman in the early 20th century Mary does not suffer – indeed the main plot of the show is kicked off by the fact that due to a specific law in Britain at the time, Mary as a woman cannot inherit either her father’s estate or her mother’s inheritance. But when we look at her life through the lens of the time in which she lived, rather than are own, we might discover that Mary’s troubles are not in fact the great hardships, or soap opera-esc drama the narrative encourages us to see them as.

Yes, in comparison with some women today, Mary has significantly less rights and power in her situation – but she is still the eldest (and favored) daughter of the earl of Grantham. She lives a luxurious life waited on by an entire army of servants. I know all this by fact, and yet when I re-watched season one I felt genuine pity for Lady Mary, nay a genuine desire to see her succeed and obtain Downton Abbey for her own. And then I had to stop and think… why? What actually made Mary more deserving of Downton and all its wealth, than Mathew or any other inbred twit that came to claim it?

Because she’s an Earl’s daughter?

Because she’s a woman?

That can’t be it, if real feminism has taught us anything it’s that a person’s worth, or their abilities cannot truly be judged by their gender. And yet through the cunning manipulation of the basic form of feminism – i.e., woman is kept from something that she would have automatically received had she been born with a Y chromosome – Fellows manages to make the audience root for a character who is at their very core, a terrible human being.

Which is the point, the Crawleys shouldn’t have to change to win the plebian audience’s approval, the audience must change their mind.

But then again, she’s not by far the most manipulatively written character of this kind on the show. For instance, I can legitimately say that she’s a terrible person and probably not get much push back down in the comments. Which is in slight contrast to our next piece on the board.

Lady Edith

Like her sister before her Lady Edith is the embodiment of the plight of the wealthy, or at least the wealthy young woman. While there are some ‘feminist’ leanings to her character, like her running a magazine, and her journalist carrier – for the most part Fellows gains the audience sympathy, not by leaning into any outer social justice cause, but just by shitting on her. From the first moment she appears on screen, in actual mourning for her dead cousin – Lady Edith is treated like garbage by almost every member of her family, with only Lady Sybil showing any sympathy. Which is its own problem, but I’ll get into that later.

She’s left at the alter by her elderly fiancé, conceives a child out of wedlock and is forced to hide it, and has her long awaited happily ever after yanked away not one episode from the final by her spiteful sister, Mary. Who then goes onto have her own literal fairy-tale wedding in the very next episode – I know, I know I shouldn’t be getting hung up on that, but it’s just so annoying.

The trick here is that unlike Mary, her suffering is not merely seen by the audience’s modern perspective – Edith is suffering no matter what value system you subscribe to. It sucks that she can’t come right out and say this is my daughter, it sucks that she’s left at the altar, it sucks that her family talks about her like she’s a hideously deformed beast, despite the fact that by most people’s standards she’s still very pretty.

So, it’s very easy and very understandable to feel pity for Edith Crawley, and yet we mustn’t forget as the show clearly wants us to, that Edith’s troubles are not the height of tragedy the post WWI world had to offer. Indeed, that’s true even on the show itself. Yes, it sucks that she had to hide her daughter but unlike say someone like Housemaid Ethel, she gets to keep her child – after some chicanery with the Drewe farm.

And speaking of the Drewe Family, can we just stop for a second, and speak about how absolutely terribly they were treated by the Crawleys and Edith in particular. They take in this child, raise it like their own for the first – I don’t know how time works on Downton, people don’t age normally, but let’s say – year of their life, with the wife completely ignorant of any connection the child might have to the Crawleys of Downton Abbey. All the while Lady Edith seems to have taken a random liking to the girl, and keeps popping in, gradually eroding more and more of the Drewe Family’s privacy. Eventually it all comes out, and the little orphan girl turns out to be Lady Edith’s love child; so, when she’s snatched away by her birth mother, not only do the Drew’s have no legal claim to this child that they have loved and cared for her entire life, but after an unfortunate incident where Mrs. Drewe tries to take the baby back, now they’ve even lost their farm, and their livelihood.

I suppose it just goes to show, that just because Lady Edith’s own suffering is genuine, doesn’t mean she’s not capable of inflicting it on others.

It’s so bad that even Robert Crawley, high lord of all of the Downton world, has to comment on how badly the poor Drewes have been treated. I mean he does nothing to fix it, but he gets to mention it, thus making him seem somewhat more reasonable than the women in his family. Speaking of which…

Robert

When you think of Downtown Abbey and Creator’s pets – that is a character who the writer clearly adores, but the audience (or at least the majority of them) cannot stand – you may think casually of Lady Mary. Who is allowed to continue being a bitch throughout the majority of the show. But I would like to draw your eye to an individual even more deserving of such a title…one, Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham.

Robert is a spoilt autocrat, content in his power and his place in the world as it was – this is how season 1, with its superior writing, tricks us into liking him. Of course, Robert seems more reasonable than his stuck-up daughters, his thoughtless wife, and his (wonderfully) bitchy mother, he’s getting his way. And it is only in season three and four, when his mistakes, and character flaws become more relevant to the main story, in which the audience is finally allowed to see Robert for who he has always been. A spoilt little boy, playing at being the great lord of the castle. He is the kind of man so focused on showering his new heir and surrogate son with praise that he doesn’t even realise that he’s reduced his daughter to tears. He’s the kind of lord who will kiss his widowed maid, in a sense forcing her to resign and loose her position. He’s the kind of creature so focused on being right, and looking like the great lord, that he will ignore the advice of a trusted physician just because he’s not fashionable.

But wait I hear you say, Wee Lassie, in season three and four he’s punished for his mistakes. He loses his daughter; he loses half the power to run his own estate. And to that I say look closer, yes, on the surface he does seem to be punished for his mistakes, and his crimes, but when you really think about it, he suffers much less than he really should. He lost his wife’s fortune in bad, nay stupid investments, and when he’s saved by Mathew’s inheritance; he expects things to go back to the way they were before. So, when Mathew proposes making Downton self-sustaining, this comes as a shock and he throws a fit, several fits in fact. Still, Mathew and later Tom and Mary are persistent and Downton is saved. If we were in the realm of reality, Downton would not have been saved, there would be no last-minute inheritance from Mathew’s dead fiancé’s dead father (yes, it’s as melodramatic and daft as it sounds), and Robert would have to live with the consequences of his action.

But we’re not in reality anymore, we’ve stepped through the door to the Downton Zone, where everything and everyone bends just a little to accommodate Robert Crawley’s wishes. Still don’t belive me? Think back to Lady Sybil’s death; caused undeniably by Robert and that fancy Doctor ignoring the signs of pre-eclampsia in Sybil. A fact that he’s called out on by his wife in the end of the episode, and it almost ruins their marriage. Until of course Maggie Smith steps in and forces the local doctor – who had caught the signs but had been ignored – to lie and tell Robert and Cora there really was no hope. The world bends around him, so that Robert doesn’t have to bear that guilt anymore. But my point is, if Robert’s actions are to actually mean something, then he has to bear the guilt of them. He has to bear, until his own dying day; the fact that he killed his daughter.

But that would never happen, not to Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham.

Not to Julien Fellows’ aristocratic hero of the upper-class.

Please, consequences are for the poor.

Which leads us to…

Tom

Tom Branson, oh poor Tom Branson. It’s clear when he first appeared on our screens all the way back in 2010 that he was always intended as the love interest for Lady Sybil. Which is why when Fellows came back with season two, the lack of focus on the relationship, or at least the pre relationship between the socialist chauffer and the spirited youngest daughter of the earl of Grantham, seemed so strange. But looking back on it now, with the film fresh in my mind, it no longer does.

An actual in-depth romance would have to actually acknowledge the class discrepancies between the pair. Perhaps even confront Sybil’s unchallenged assumptions and prejudices; a process that would last longer than a single scene, and effect the rest of both the characters’ lives. But fuck that, clearly, it’s much more important to give that screen time over to the imprisoned Bates, despite the fact that he is doing absolutely nothing interesting at all. And I am thoroughly convinced that Bates got that screen time because, unlike early Branson, not only upholds the status quo that keeps the Crawley’s on top, he revels in it.

The fact that this clearly already planned Romance was shoved into the end of season two reveals Tom Branson’s second role in the narrative, and one that Fellows clearly finds way more important than his brief stint as Lady Sybil’s husband. That is, Tome Branson the reformed Marxist. That is much more than he is a love interest, Tom Branson is the character set to have his political beliefs proven misguided, torn down, and rebuilt in a way that the writer finds much more agreeable. If this were a more leftist – or at the very least neutrally written – show this role would probably have been filled by one of the Crawley Sisters, but then again that’s not Downton. Now I’m not saying that Marxism and socialism don’t have their flaws, they do, just like every other political belief system on earth. But when you have your socialist character go off to America sometime in season five, I think – and come back claiming that the fair treatment of the American Worker has left him with a better feeling towards Capitalism as a whole, it’s clear that you’re not going to get a nuanced critique of socialism in this show.

And speaking of non-nuanced characters…

Lady Sybil

I’m going to say something controversial here – so I’d just like to remind the reader that I don’t actually hate lady Sybil, there’s nothing there to hate, and that’s the problem. Because lady Sybil, or at least how she is presented in the show, is insidious

Okay put down those pitchforks, let me explain myself. What do you think of when you picture Lady Sybil as a character? No, not her death or the fact that she ran away with the chauffer – those are things she did. I’m talking about her innate character, who she was as a person – that’s right, she was nice and cared for the less fortunate. Certainly not bad traits to have as a character by any account, but it’s interesting to note that unlike her sisters – who began the story as Bitch one and Bitch two – Sybil doesn’t have anywhere to go from there. She remains nice and concerned for the less fortunate right up until the day she died, but those two attributes were never expanded upon.

And what’s strange is if they had been, then Sybil could have been one of the most interesting characters on the show. In fact, the beginning of season two even looks like it’s going that way – with Sybil unfulfilled in her life and deciding to train to be a nurse. But the fact is, we never see that training – she just goes off one day to her nurse school, and the next time we see her, boom she’s a nurse and working with Doctor Clarkson. Imagine for a moment a version of Downton Abbey that let us see that transition, that showed us Lady Sybil’s struggles with the hard manual labor that was now required of her, or her difficulties relating to the other nursing students because of the differences in their class. Imation a Lady Sybil that grows from this, that realises that her privileged upbringing has not only left her unfulfilled, but woefully ignorant of the suffering others.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just the socialist in me, but wouldn’t that be a much more interesting story line, then oh no she ran away with the Chauffer.

And speaking of the Chauffer, as I mentioned in Branson’s own segment wouldn’t it have been much more interesting to show actual romance blooming between them – rather than just the claims of love from Branson’s side, and then suddenly after the war is over, they decide to elope. That’s not a story that’s an afterthought. But then again, falling in love and conducting a secret romance with a man who was not only of a lower social standing than her, but her actual servant, would require Sybil to show that she needed growth as a character. Closest we come to is a brief scene when Sybil shows how ignorant she is to what the British Government have put the Irish through, with the truly atrocious line of:

‘I know we weren’t our best in Ireland.’

Which could have been interesting, but again we never follow up on it so nothing really happens. And Sybil can remain just good, no need of a noticeable change in her demeaner, no need to face hard truths of her world. Just nice Sybil, who was a good person, who everybody loved and wasn’t it so sad that she died.

Now I know what you’re thinking, sure Wee Lassie, that sounds like a kind of dull character but where does the insidious part come in? Well, think of it, Wee Reader, think of a character who wasn’t just been born into wealth but the kind of upper-class near royalty elite that derived their power from the continuous degradation of the lower classes. Now think of that character, true they are innately kind, but even an innately kind person raised in that world would take on some uncomfortable beliefs. And yet we’re never really shown that in Lady Sybil, she’s not even mildly unpleasant, which is really kind of weird, especially when you consider how her sisters first started.

But then again as with most creative decisions we can trace this back to the underlining message that governs all of Downton Abbey. That is, that the system of the elites ruling and lording over all is not inherently broken and based on a warped sense of superiority. No, the system itself isn’t broken, it’s just that the good elites are no longer in charge. Perhaps Lady Sybil herself would find this idea abominable, but that’s the story her character helps to preserve. The fair elite, the kind Millionaire, the good king – all fictions, all completely unable to be true in the system in which they were created.

Well, I hear you say, that was certainly an impassioned argument against the dangers of inborn power structures, and British nostalgia for them – but that little story at the beginning about the girls with their faces painted with blood…what was that? And how did it have anything to do with the rest of the post? And I say – why thank you, I was hoping someone would bring that back up again. That story was to help with a little trick I use when watching these kinds of shows. Because Downton is certainly not alone in its nostalgia for this kind of world, it’s just one of the most obvious because it’s so badly written. Particularly by the time the film came out.

But other shows with a similar thesis can often sneak under the radar, with deceptive tricks like better writing, deeper characters, and actual plot. Think of shows like The Crown: which on the surface is showing some of the darker more messier elements of the royal family – my favourite episode is the one when old Uncle David is shown to be a Nazi sympathiser – but at its deepest core, it’s arguing that the Royal Family are not only still relevant, but needed, in British society.

Which in 2021, is not true – they don’t even really rule us anymore, not officially anyway, which to my mind is kind of the only point to royalty. I mean they’re a mode of Governance, if they no longer Govern then why are they still here?

But regardless, it would be the height of hypocrisy for me to tell people to just not watch shows like the Crown – I even get the appeal of Downton Abbey, Maggie Smith is a blast, and the soap opera storylines do pull you in. But the fact still remains that they have terrible messages about the way the world should be run – and thus I recommend that the next time you find yourself watching one of these shows, for whatever reason, remember that odds are likely these people have gone fox hunting some time in their life. Which if you will recall means that they’ve not only had their faces painted in blood, but left it on long enough for it to dry and flake off.

I’m not saying do it all of the time, just some – and you’ll find suddenly they don’t seem so regal anymore.

It’s just a thought.

If you’ve enjoyed this long-winded rant on the deeply broken basis for Western society masquerading as a rant about a terrible period drama, why not follow the wee blog if you haven’t already. Also check me out on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook, and Goodreads. Also don’t forget to click the button down below to support this blog on Kofi. And remember to sign up for the Wee Mailing list before November 12th to find out the 12 video essays I found the most fascinating/distracting during this terrible time on earth. I usually try to have the mailing list posts have something connecting them to the main blog post they’re advertised on, but I was just so sick of Downton Abbey by the time I finished this article, that I just couldn’t anymore. So enjoy this list instead. Until next time Wee Readers stay safe, stay vigilant and have a very bonny day.

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7 Intrusive Questions for Ailish Sinclair

What ho Wee Readers, today there’s a wee flash from the past for the Wee Writing Lassie. Those of you who have been following my blog for a while now may remember a wee post I called ‘7 impertinent questions for Ailish Sinclair’– where I interviewed my good friend Ailish Sinclair, about her then recently published book ‘The Mermaid and the Bear’. Which was a historic romance taking place at the height of the Witch Trial craze in the North of Scotland. Well flip forward to 2021, and the sequel to The Mermaid and the Bear, ‘Fireflies and Chocolate’ hits the shelves.

Which is where I come in.

Now obviously I was beyond excited for this, I mean not only was The Mermaid and the Bear fantastic, but I got to personally interview the author which was a really good post for my blog. I know, I know, a selfish motivation for being excited for another’s success, but still the fact remains, I was damned excited to read this book.

Which I can tell you now was absolutely warranted; it is a fantastic book. But first before we go any further, let me just give you a brief (spoiler free) description of Ailish Sinclair’s new book: ‘Fireflies and Chocolate’.

Set in the 1740s ‘Fireflies and Chocolate’ tells the story of Elizabeth Manteith of the Castle, who dreams of adventure, excitement and quite possibly true love. Well, she just might get all three when after a run in with some ruffians in the Aberdeen port, she finds herself kidnapped and sold as an indentured servant all away across the sea to America. After her indentures are sold to a plantation owner, she’s confronted with the hard realities of the world beyond her castle walls. And that’s all I’ll say – you’ll just have to buy the book to find out the rest.

Anyway, I knew that this would be an excellent time to do the follow up interview we always talked about. So off to her house I went. It was easy enough to break in I mean let myself in legally, with a key I did not steal the last time I was willingly let in her house. And just a reminder to all you wee Readers, I did not break in to Ailish Sinclair’s house, no matter what you may later hear. I was safely at home, writing this blog post – and you’re my witnesses to that.

Anyway, onto the questions before I blurt out any other strangely specific denials.

Hi Ailish, how you’ve been doing?

Well, I was lying in the sun eating chocolate cake when you showed up out of nowhere. But you know that. I’ve been doing quite well, writing, cooking and gardening to my heart’s content.

That’s great, any hoo we should probably get started before those police arrive.

It’s okay. I didn’t call them in the end.

7. Hi there Ailish, good to have you back on the blog. So, you’ve got a new book coming out, and this one revolves around the kidnapping of children in Aberdeen during the 18th century. Could you tell us a wee bit about that, and why in particular you were drawn to that subject?

Traumatised voices from the past seem to follow me around. While I was researching the dark history of the Aberdeen witchcraft trials for The Mermaid and the Bear, I came across the kidnapped children and realised that theirs was a story waiting to be told. I don’t like the fact that aspects of history that are uncomfortable often get overlooked or swept under the carpet as it were. If we’re to learn from history we have to look it straight in the face and say: this happened, let’s remember the people that it happened to, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

6. In the past you’ve often talked about the extensive research you do while you’re working on a project; and of course, it shows in ‘Fireflies and Chocolate’ whose world feels uniquely real to the time it’s set in. So, my question is, out of all the elements you had to research for the book, which was the most challenging?

Reading about what happened to those children was deeply distressing. At one point some of them were kept in the town gaol and their parents tried, unsuccessfully, to break down the door to save them. Having been in that dark and dank prison (now a museum), I could imagine what that must have been like, from both a child’s and a parent’s perspective, and it was truly terrible.

5. One of the things I loved about your last book was how it seamlessly blended the fictional characters in the setting with real historical people. And ‘Fireflies and Chocolate’ has a real historic person as a potential love interest for your heroine. Could you tell us a bit about him, and what made you include him in your story?

Peter Williamson, or Indian Peter as he later became known, was a bit of a likely lad who wrote books about his adventures and worked hard to expose those who had made money from the kidnapping. His publications were very useful to me during the research phase and I developed a fondness for his plucky character, so into the book he went! I knew Elizabeth would like him too.

4. In ‘Fireflies and Chocolate’ food seems to mark important milestones in your characters journeys – was this a deliberate choice on your part as the writer, and if so, why?

Yes. Food marks milestones in life, so why not in books? From special holiday food after a difficult time (and I like to give my characters many difficult times), to celebrations like birthdays and graduations, food is always there. It’s interesting, in life as well as fiction, to note who is invited or permitted at these occasions, who is offered the best food, who gets the fancy china, or, as happens to one poor soul in Fireflies and Chocolate, whose hot chocolate is rather spitefully salted, and why… can I offer you a piece of this cake Wee Lassie?

3. Mmm, salty. Anyway, your female characters are so very strong – well they have to be – and yet unlike in a lot of other modern media they still manage to have flaws; could you tell any future or just getting started writers out there, what your process is for writing such strong female characters?

I try to write them as real, rounded, whole people. We are all flawed. We all do and say stupid or ill thought-out things sometimes, so let your characters do that too. Draw from your own life. Get down and dirty on the page with the lads and lassies that you’re writing. Try and feel what they’re feeling and see what their true and immediate reactions to the situations you’ve placed them in would be.

2. I know that I personally found that the inclusion of Scots speaking characters, not just in this book but your last one, felt very special – as Doric and Scots is not usually a language encouraged in the traditional world of publishing. So, my question is, what inspired you to include these elements in your stories in the first place?

I suppose it’s all about being real again. My stories are, at least partly, set in Aberdeenshire so it would be inauthentic not to include the local language. Some of the Doric words are beautiful or funny and strange. They add richness and humour to the vocabulary, though I do try and have the more obscure phrases explained in the narrative so as not to leave anyone in the dark about what’s going on. In The Mermaid and the Bear Isobell has to ask Agnes what a ‘collieshangie’ is, and is told that it’s an uproar or noise. It’s one of the few friendly scenes between the two quines (girls!), and the word helped with that.

1. So, now that you’ve got a second book published, what’s next for Ailish Sinclair?

I’m writing a novel set in Iron Age Scotland just now, featuring the Battle of Mons Graupius. There’s no castle in this one, though much of it is set in the place where the castle from my other books will stand one day. Are you finished with that plate? You don’t need to put it in your bag, I can take it back now. Is that a key to my house?

Before I start my usual signing off message, I’d just like to thank Ailish Sinclair for being an extremely good sport when I mentioned the idea for this blog post to her. No, I did not break into her house just to clarify in case any policemen are reading this – that was part of the joke. What was not was the extreme excellence of Ailish’s latest novel. Seriously, I’m sending the word out now for all you Wee Readers, flip over to Amazon right now and buy that book. Go ahead, we’ll all wait.

You done it? Good.

If you’ve enjoyed this little trespass of mine, don’t forget to follow the Wee blog if you haven’t already. Also check me out on Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, Tumblr and Pinterest for all the good stuff. Also, I recommend signing up for the Wee Mailing List by the 12th of July to find out what the eighth intrusive question I asked to Ailish Sinclair was . Also if you’ve enjoyed Ailish’s long suffering replies to my intrusive questions, why not follow her wee blog; and check her out on Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, Tumblr, and Pinterest for all the good stuff. Also she has a mailing list too. ‘Fireflies and Chocolate’ is available at Amazon (both American and British) and from Waterstones. Until next time Wee readers, keep yourself safe and have a very bonny day. Also, before I forget for a second blog post in a row, if you’d like to support this blog and help me possibly get these posts out quicker, click the button below and buy me a Wee Cup of Coffee on Ko-fi. Also check out Ailish Sinclair’s Ko-fi page and buy her a wee cup too.

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The Great Star Wars Lockdown Binge

What ho Wee Readers, and welcome to The Great Star Wars Lockdown Binge. I know, I know, sometimes it feels like this Lockdown is going on forever. And I won’t lie, two months is a ridiculously long time to be stuck in your house – I mean if it wasn’t for streaming services like Disney Plus or Amazon Prime, I’d have snapped along time ago. Turning to more positive subjects…surprise, I’ve got a Disney Plus account now, and of course the only thing to do when one forks over the nearly sixty quid for a subscription, is to force her family to join her in the Great Star Wars Binge. Knowing of course that because they are locked in the house with her, they can’t say no forever.

‘The Great Star Wars Binge’, as I have so coined it, consists of all eleven canonical films – that is, the prequels, the originals, the sequels and both anthology films – along with the two canon series I can in anyway justified making my family watch: The Mandalorian and The Clone Wars. I did plan to watch Rebels as well, but it just never happened. We also did not watch Resistance, because I don’t care how long they keep us locked in here like we’e prisoners. Nothing will make me watch that willingly.

The scoring for each film shall go as follows:

0 – Could Not Be made to Watch

1 – Crap

2 – Just Barely Above Crap

3 – Technically not a bad film, but did not grab me at all

4 – A Good film, but nothing more than that

5 – Absolutely excellent – would watch again

Anything higher than 5 – best film on earth, I am going to binge watch this for the rest of my life. This is what I will be watching on my deathbed.

Right, on with the show.

Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace

The first installment of the groundbreaking prequel trilogy – telling the story of the fall and corruption of the Jedi knight Anakin Skywalker into the sinister Sith Lord Darth Vader. This is a highly under-rated film full of political intrigue, and questions of the true culpability of the republic and the Jedi in the continuation of the practice of Slavery within the Galaxy. Yes, the republic has less influence in the outer rim planets – but you’d still think the Jedi would make some attempt to free one of their new members mothers from a life of slavery.

Mum’s Rating: 6 / 5

Dad’s Rating: 3 / 5

Wee Lassie’s Rating: 5 / 5

Final Rating: 14

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones

Jump forward a couple of years and now our young Vader is played by Hayden Christensen. Half love story, half spy thriller – revealing the first sinister steps of Senator Palpatine’s plan to control the galaxy through fear. Creating a fake war, with both sides basically under his control, a plan so dastardly and ingenious that not even the Jedi can see what they are walking into. Palpatine is awesome…I mean evil, completely evil, not cool, or one of my favorite characters…completely evil.

Mum’s Rating: 4 /5

Dad’s Rating: 3 / 5

Wee Lassie’s Rating: 4/5

Final Rating: 11

Star Wars: Episode III – The Revenge of the Sith

The culminating episode of the tragedy of Anakin Skywalker, this is my favorite Star Wars film. Everything set up in the last two films comes to beautiful fruition in this tragic film in which a man tormented with dreams of his wife dying in labor – the same kind of dreams that preceded his own mother’s death – seeks the dark arts for a way, anyway, to prevent her death. In the end he ends up betraying his colleges, his friends, his family – all in the name of the power to save the woman he loves. Who dies anyway, from a broken heart. God I love this movie!

Mum’s Rating: 3.5 / 5

Dad’s Rating: 3 / 5

Wee Lassie’s Rating: 7 / 5

Final Rating: 13.5

The Clone Wars – The Seige of Mandalore

Set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith – the Clone Wars tells a fascinating story of the war that ultimately destroyed not only the Republic but the Jedi as well. However for this Star Wars Lockdown Binge, we only watched the four last episodes – covering the siege of Mandalore and Order 66 – because it’s ‘unreasonable’ to expect people to wait the length of a seven season cartoon, before the next star wars film.

Mum’s Rating: 4 / 5

Dad’s Rating: 0 / 5

Wee Lassie’s Rating: 4 / 5

Final Rating: 8

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Or as I like to call it, Star Wars : Episode 3.5 – Solo Eleven. Yes, ultimately at it’s heart Solo is is a heist film, coincidentally set in the Star Wars Universe. And I’m not saying that as a bad thing either, the Star Wars franchise needs to grow and expand if it’s to stay relevant, and trying out new forms of story and film is how you do that. The fact that it tells the backstory of one of science fiction’s most iconic characters, is really just the cherry on top of an excellent adrenaline filled heist flick. The reason it lost a point for me was that it was so adrenaline filled that watching it made me feel like I was having a panic attack – which does somewhat take away my enjoyment of the film.

Mum’s Rating: 3 / 5

Dad’s Rating: 5 / 5

Wee Lassie’s Rating: 4 / 5

Final Rating: 12

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

While Solo is the Heist film of the Star Wars franchise, Rogue One is the war movie. I know, I know – technically all the Star Wars films are war movies, but you know what I mean. While the numbered films are grand and epic, with bright flashing laser swords and high crashing drama – this film is hard and gritty. While the other nine are flying up in their ex-wings trying to be the hero who blows up the deathstar – the people of this film are down on the ground sacrificing their lives so that those ex-wings even have the chance to play the hero.

Mum’s Rating: 5 / 5

Dad’s Rating: 4 / 5

Wee Lassie’s Rating: 5 / 5

Final Rating: 14

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

I’ll just say this now, to get it out of the way, I truly believe that the blowing up the Death Star scene is the worst part of not just this Star Wars film, but the entire franchise. It goes on much too long, and the only interesting development happens right at the end – Han’s arrival and Luke’s success. That being said, this isn’t a bad film, in fact I very much enjoyed the rest of it – just not enough to give it a 5.

Mum’s Rating: 4 / 5

Dad’s Rating: 3 / 5

Wee Lassie’s Rating: 3 / 5

Final Rating: 10

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

This is a good film, undoubtedly but I would hesitate to say that this is where Star Wars peaked. Although to be fair, Star Wars is such a large franchise – both in the legend and canon sense – that to say it peaks at any one place, no matter it’s individual merit – is the height of absurdity. Although, having said that, they never have quite topped the shock of the plot twist of Luke’s true Father, though goodness knows they’ve certainly tried.

Mum’s Rating: 4 / 5

Dad’s Rating: 5 / 5

Wee Lassie’s Rating: 4 / 5

Final Rating: 13

Star Wars: Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi

This is my favorite of the three original films, and I’m not too proud to admit that the Ewoks play a large part of that. In fact I’m even going to be so bold as to say that they are the best part of the film overall. Or at least the parts that they occupy – the ground battle on the moon of Endor – are much better than some of the parts in which they did not – that is, Luke’s confrontation with the Emperor. I don’t mean to throw shade at something that so many people – including myself – enjoy, but when you’ve just come from Prequel Palpatine’s careful manipulations of not only his future student, but the entire Galaxy, Original Palpatine’s expectation for Luke to turn and join him because he hurt his friends, is almost ludicrous in its stupidity. That’s not how motivation works, Emperor, you used to know that.

Mum’s Rating: 4 / 5

Dad’s Rating: 3 / 5

Wee Lassie’s Rating: 5 / 5

Final Rating: 12

The Mandalorian

Baby Yoda. Baby Yoda. Baby YODA. BABY YODA! Oh yeah and there’s something about a Mandalorian but be honest…that’s not why we’re tuning in.

Mum’s Rating: 5 / 5

Dad’s Rating: 3 / 5

Wee Lassie’s Rating: 5 / 5

Final Rating: 13

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

Look down at those scores, now look back at me, now down at the scores again. I swear I did not go into The Force Awakens intending to give it such a high score. I still hold fast to the view that its plot is just a tad too similar to A New Hope’s to be coincidental. However having now watched both films very close together in a short amount of time, I have now amended this theory somewhat. While both films follow the same story beats, to an almost religious level – young hero/heroine from a backwards sand covered planet finds a droid with important information that she/he has to deliver to the Rebellion/Resistance so they can stop the Empire /First Order – the Force Awakens plot seems to stand as a superior version. Things that still don’t exactly make a great deal of sense to me in a New Hope – like why were the plans for the death star being sent to Obi Wan Kenobi specifically – seemed to go far more smoothly in this new version of the story. In the Force Awakens, Rey finds the droid by accident and then bumps into Finn determined to finish Poe Dameron’s last mission, again by chance. The resistance itself doesn’t give the call to adventure for these two heroes, unlike Luke and Kenobi. I mean I know you could say that Lea was under attack and she had to think fast – but Rouge One reveals that it was always the plan to give Kenobi the plans, so I’m not sure what the endgame was for that idea.

Mum’s Rating: 5 / 5

Dad’s Rating: 8 / 5

Wee Lassie’s Rating: 5 / 5

Final Rating: 18

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

I will stand on my pedestal and say that this is absolutely the worst of the three sequel films. Of course, saying that is less of a condemnation than you’d think. I genially think that taken out of context, all three films are well made, good films that anyone would enjoy. However in the context of the Star Wars franchise, I don’t think it adds much – I did like the emphasis on the force being something that belongs to everyone rather than just the Jedi, but that was completely disregarded in the next film so it didn’t really matter .

Mum’s Rating: 4.5 / 5

Dad’s Rating: 3 / 5

Wee Lassie’s Rating: 4 / 5

Final Rating: 11.5

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker

I liked this film. It was a good fun film, its story was exciting and it didn’t rely on just copying the plot from the originals like the first two sequel films did. Also – and I know many people may disagree with me on this – but I liked where the characters ended up in their respective arcs. That being said, I’d be lying if I claimed the addition of Palpatine in this film didn’t feel a bit tacked on to the overall sequel trilogy’s story.

Mum’s Rating: 5 / 5

Dad’s Rating: 3 / 5

Wee Lassie’s Rating: 4 / 5

Final Rating: 12

In the Race for which is the superior Star Wars property – that I was able to make the others watch – we have:

In the rear The Clone Wars, limping along with an 8, from two people that enjoyed it but didn’t love it.

Barely two points ahead we can spot Episode IV: A New Hope, lagging with a 10.

Just a step beyond that you can see Attack of the Clones with a proudly won 11, and the only interesting love story in all of new canon. With the Last Jedi, only a hair’s breath in front with an 11.5.

Next up we have the shocking trio of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker and Solo: A Star wars Story, each sporting a shinny new 12 to their name.

Baby Yoda and his Mandalorian guardian are making good time; alongside Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back with their ratings of 13. Revenge of the Sith, not too far in front with it’s hard fought for 13.5.

In joint second place, Rouge One: A Star Wars Story and Episode I: The Phantom Menace prove that the sacrifices have all been worth it with their solid ratings of 14.

And finally leading the way, in a shocking twist of fate to most Star Wars fans – Episode VII: The Force Awakens is winning this race, with an astounding rating of 18.

Do you agree with my parents and I’s ratings, would you have chosen differently? If so, drop me line down in the comments – Star Wars opinions are as varied as its fans and each deserves a voice. If you’ve enjoyed this look into the deep sense of obsessive fandom and boredom that provoked this binge during Lockdown, remember to follow the Wee Blog if you haven’t already. Also check me out on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook and Goodreads. And sign up for The Wee Mailing List to receive all new content. Until next time Wee Readers, have a bonny day and may the force be with you.

Just a brief note before we leave, if you’ve enjoyed this and other posts like it on the Wee Writing Lassie, why not buy me a Wee Cup of Coffee, or drop me a tip over on Ko-fi. Which is linked to the image below.

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The Wee Writing Lassie and the Folklore of the Nine Sacred Woods

Into the Cauldron

The Sacred Woods Go

Burn them fast

And burn them slow.

Is it a poem? Is it a limerick? No, Wee Readers, it is a spell. If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you should remember that I am a vegan, in fact I was raised vegan from the age of two. How is this relevant to the current post, well, it’s not really – it’s just to remind you that I come from a slightly none traditional family. Which is why it should be less surprising when I say that we celebrated this May Day by performing a bit of magic. That is burning the nine sacred woods in the Beltane Bonfire. Well, what we did wasn’t really a bonfire per say, more like a small fire in a cauldron – but the intent still remains the same. We set fire to sticks from the nine sacred woods – in theory, they’re very difficult to find and some of them are toxic, so mostly we burned sticks that we were drawn to pick up – saying a blessing on to the world with each one we set a flame. Because it really felt like it needed it. The sacred woods consist of the first nine woods of the Celtic Tree Calendar, they are listed below in no particular order – along with some of the folklore associated with them.

9. Ash

Myth in its fibre, wood made word, the fissured bark

of Yggdrasil, world-tree, tree of Ask – the first man

tree of manna, foe feller, child healer, known by eye & fingertip

Excerpt from Ash Tree by Chris Poundwhite

Traditionally the Ash Tree represents the mother of the world. In ancient Norse Mythology the world tree Yggdrasil – that great holy tree that connected all the realms both mortal and otherwise was a an ash tree. In fact mortal Norse warriors would sometimes make their spears from ash, and they were referred to as Aescling or ‘Men of Ash’.

8. Willow

Know ye the willow tree

Whose gray leaves quiver,

Whispering gloomily

To yon pale river,

Lady, at even tide

Wander not near it,

They say its branches hide

A sad, lost Spirit?

Excerpt from The Willow-Tree by William Makepeace Thackeray

In the ancient druid stories the universe, mankind and everything was hatched from two scarlet eggs hidden within the willow tree. One egg formed the sun and from the other came the Earth – which begs the question where was the Willow Tree. This was recreated in the seasonal festival of Beltane using painted eggs. This would later be hijacked by Christians, for the holiday Easter. So just remember, that come Easter Weekend when you’re rolling your brightly colored chicken fetus down a hill, you’re performing an ancient Druid ritual.

7. Hawthorn

My palms rest

Upon the blackened trunk

Of a melancholy hawthorn

It’s choked wood crumbling

Into dust

Falling between my fingers

Extract of Burning Hawthorn by Lotus

In Ireland the Hawthorn tree is known as the fairy tree, although take care to call it something else as it is disrespectful to mention the fairies by name. Because of this connection to the little folk it is considered extremely bad luck to cut down a hawthorn tree. So much so that in 1999 work on the main road from Limerick to Galaway was interrupted because a Hawthorn stood in the way. Wish the owners of the woods near my house shared such beliefs – sometimes I feel there won’t be a forest left by the time this lock-down ends.

6. Birch

When I see birches bend to left and right

Across the lines of straighter darker trees,

I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.

But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay

As ice-storms do.

Extract from Birches by Robert Frost

In Celtic mythology Birch represented renewal and purification – and it was celebrated on Samhain (the holiday that would later become Halloween) which was the beginning of the Celtic New year. It also, as you might have guessed is connected to Beltane – a festival known in more modern times as May Day. Ritual fires were made of birch and oak, and Birch Trees were often made into living May poles.

5. Rowan

rowan tree with berries in summer sunny day

Oh rowan tree, oh rowan tree,

Thou’lt aye be dear to me,

Entwined thou art wi many ties,

O’hame and infancy.

Thy leaves were aye the first o’spring,

Thy flow’rs the simmer’s pride;

There was nae sic a bonny tree

In a’ the countrieside

Oh rowan tree!

Extract from The Rowan Tree by Lady Nairne

In Greek mythology it was said that the Rowan trees sprung from the fallen feathers of the eagle that had been sent to recover the cup of the Goddess Hebe. However it was attacked by demons before it could manage. Thus the Rowan Tree’s leaves are shaped like feathers and their berries are as red as blood. We can see great significance in Norse Mythology as well, where we see a rowan was transformed into the first woman – the first man having come from an Ash. As well as in British Folklore, where the Rowan is meant to protect against witchcraft and enchantment.

4. Holly

But the Hue of his every feture.

Stunned them as could be seen,

Not only was this creature

Colossal, he was bright Green

No spear to thrust, no shield against the shock of battle,

But in one hand a solitary branch of Holly

That shows greenest when all the groves are leafless.

Extract from ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Night’, author unknown

In Celtic legend the Holly King would battle the Oak King at the changing of the seasons. During Winter Solstice, the Oak King would arise triumphed – there after he reigns upon the earth, until the Summer Solstice where upon the two battle again. And this time it is the Holly King who defeats his opponent. And on and on, the cycle of the seasons go.

3. Alder

Are you weary, alder tree,

in this, the age of rain?

From your branches

droop clots of lichen

like fairy lungs. All week,

Squalls, tattered mists:

alder, who unfolded

before the receding glaciers

Extract from Alder by Kathleen Jamie

In Irish Folklore it is generally considered bad luck to pass an alder tree on your journey. The Alder tree was the tree of the God Bran – who you will remember if you’ve been following me, that I mentioned in this earlier post – along with Odin, Apollo and King Arthur. It was also associated with the Goddess of spinning, because it was a source for strong colored dye. In Magical belief Alder reminds us of the need to blend strength and courage with generosity of spirit and compassion.

2. Oak

A mighty wind blew night and day

It stole the oak tree’s leaves away

Then snapped its boughs and pulled its bark

Until the oak was tired and stark.

But still the oak tree held its ground.

While other trees fell all around

The Weary Wind gave up and spoke.

How can you still be standing oak?

Excerpt from The Oak Tree by Johnny Ray Ryder Jr.

Throughout the world’s cultures the Oak tree has been venerated, often as the symbol of the greatest god in the pantheon. Gods such as Zeus, Jupiter, Dagda, Perun and Thor – called the Oak tree their own. Many Ancient kings would imply they were personifications of these gods by wearing crowns of oak leaf during times of victory – and even today, the oak leaf remains a symbol of military prowess.

1. Hazel

In the Beginning Love satisfies us.

When Love first spoke to me of love –

How I laughed at her in return!

But then she made me like the hazel trees,

Which blossom early season of darkness,

And bear fruit slowly.

The Hazel Trees by Hadewijch of Antwerp

The Hazel Tree has been venerated since the days of the Druids’ power, maybe even longer than that. There is an old ancient tale – repeated in varying forms across ancient Britain, of nine sacred hazel trees that grew around a pool. In the pool swam Salmon (who were honored by Druids), when the nuts fell from the trees, the Salmon would leap up and eat them – and from those nuts the salmon would absorbed the tree’s wisdom. I’ve mentioned the hazel nut before, in my previous post – because not only does it provide you with great wisdom, but a good boost to your immune system as well.

If you’ve enjoyed this foray into the folklore of the nine sacred woods, don’t forget to follow the wee blog if you haven’t already. Also check me out on Twitter, Instagram, GoodReads, Tumblr, Pinterest and Facebook. And follow The Wee Mailing List, for all new content. Also check out Trees for Life – where most of this folklore information came from, it’s a fascinating site for anyone interested in the folklore of trees. Remember if come next May Day you decide to burn the nine sacred woods in your own Beltane celebration, make sure to exercise proper fire safety – you will be working with open (if not very large) flames. I also advise eating something afterwards, I always feel light and giddily shaky after burning the wood and food in the belly is a good way to ground yourself, or so I’ve been told. If you found any inaccuracies in what I’ve said here today, don’t hesitate to mention them down below in the comments. I love to be corrected, it’s how we grow. Until next time Wee Readers, make sure to get plenty of Sunshine, stay safe and have a bonny day.

Just a brief note before we leave, if you’ve enjoyed this and other posts like it on the Wee Writing Lassie, why not buy me a Wee Cup of Coffee, or drop me a tip over on Ko-fi. Which is linked to the image below.

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