The real bedtime story


Time plays tricks.  Sometimes it seems endlessly spacious – like on today’s radiant dog-walk on a high ridge through mushroom-filled beech woods or at last night’s wonderful concert by Lunasa at the Canterbury Festival’s Speigel tent, followed by dancing in this romantic, mysterious mirrored space..

In other ways, time is over-full, stressful, congested.  The back-to-back complementary festivals of Hallowe’en, All Saints and and All Souls evoke all kinds of ghosts and, this year, yesterday, being Saturday, brought bonfire parties in addition in advance of Guy Fawkes next week.  And today, a rare solar eclipse (apparently a hybrid of a total eclipse and an annular eclipse) took place over the Atlantic.  And my own life too, is especially full at the moment. This year all harvests seem to have been abundant.  The interplay of inner and outer is a constant theme in poetry therapy.

Here’s a poem by Angela France  that I heard her read at an event expertly compered by Patrick Gale at the Penzance LitFest this July, that seems appropriate for Hallowe’en.  It’s reproduced below with her permission.

The Real Bedtime Story

I’m the thing that’s under your bed

to bite at tender night-time toes.

I’m not in any Disney films;

no little girlies’ noxious squeaks

and nauseous frills disturb my rest.

You won’t find me on nursery walls

nor caught in plush and gummed to death,

dissolved in slime from puking whelps.


I’m the worm that gripes old women

to yearn for young flesh and the itch

that sends the wolf to speak in tongues.

I’m the knife that hacks at heels,

the bloody smear on crystal slippers,

the hex in the apple. You need me.

from Occupation Ragged Raven Press

Hallowe’en, or so I heard on Radio 4, is now, in commerical terms, the UK’s third biggest festival. Certainly, the streets of Canterbury on Thursday were thronged with people in fancy dress, from pre-school tots to the rather ‘mature’, a mixture of Disneyfied and truly ghoulish costumes.  Angela France concludes her poem with ‘You need me’ and it seems that in 2013, for whatever reason, our culture needs whatever it is Hallowe’en symbolises.

Back in August I saw a film that impressed me – Blancanieves – a black and white, silent-movie take on the Brothers Grimm’s version of Snow White, by Spanish director, Pablo Berger.  It is visually breath-taking with great music and quirkily, the dwarves were a troupe of bull-fighters and Blancanieves becomes a toreador herself, as her father was.  I found it terrifying and thought the cruelty of the step-mother, the sorrow of the motherless child and the horror of the bull-fighting were brilliantly handled. My friend, Derek Sellen who came with me, knows Spain much better than I and was less impressed, thinking it full of stereotypes and a giving a false representation of what bull-fighting is – ‘Lorca it wasn’t’ was his comment.

How can we give voice – or pictures, or costumes – to the ‘dark side’, be accurate but not gratuitous, transform and uplift whilst not denying cruelty, shame and horror?  Answers on a postcard – or below please.