Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Symbolism in Literature – The Snake

Brittanica.com

Across the world of fiction and world literature you can find the snake. It has probably more symbolic references than almost any other creature, from representing an insidious threat (the "snake in the grass"), to the idea of fertility or a creative life force. As snakes shed their skin through sloughing, they have becomes symbols of rebirth and transformation, even immortality. They're associated with the underworld and the abode of the dead because they spend so much time in pits or hiding under rocks – or in the UK under corrugated iron laid down for that purpose.

Ouroborus 

Two of the most known. symbols ares the ouroboros and the caduceus. 

In ancient myth, a snake devouring its own tail, known as Ouroboros, was a symbol of eternity. The snake’s ability to slough or shed its own skin 

The Rod of Aclepious

The caduceus, the staff of the messenger Hermes in classical Greek myth has two intertwined serpents. This staff was carried by Hermes (or his Roman counterpart, Mercury): the messenger of the gods. The two staffs are often confused, but the herald’s staff borne by Hermes/Mercury had two serpents, rather than one, with their heads facing each other. This  has been wrongly used as a medical symbol for a little over one hundred years. It has often been mistaken for the Rod of Asclepius, a visually similar symbol belonging to the god of healing and medicine.

The Caduceus

The caduceus only has one winding snake. while the Asclepius has two.

In stories the world over, as well as in modern literature, the snake often raises its head.


In the Epic of Gilgamesh, a 4,000-year-old story which also features a flood narrative, Gilgamesh attempts to seize a plant that might confer immortality, only for a snake to steal the plant away. This feels similar to the biblical  story although the creature who confronted Eve was only ever described as a serpent in Genesis – it is Milton, in Paradise Lost who first uses the term 'snake' to denote the evil of Satan. After he has tempted Eve  God punishes him by making him crawl in the dust.

 Fold above fold a surging Maze his Head            

 Crested aloft, and Carbuncle his Eyes;

With burnisht Neck of verdant Gold, erect 

Amidst his circling Spires.


In 
Good Omens, by  Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, we meet  Crawley the satanic snake hilariously transformed into a burned-out rock star tasked with ushering in the apocalypse. Except Crawly—or Crowley, as he rechristens himself—isn't so keen on putting an end to his favorite earthly delights just yet. 

One of my favourite poems, D. H. Lawrence's ‘Snake’, was written while he was living on the island of Sicily, in the beautiful resort, Taormina, on the east side of the island:

The voice of my education said to me

He must be killed,

For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.

And voices in me said, if you were a man

You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off...

Lawrence stages a masculine battle,  two males facing off against one another. He ruminates on killing  the snake so that he will be safe, while accepting its power and individuality. This creates an inner drama.You can read the entire poem here

One of the most famous snakes in fiction has to be Kaa, the Indian python from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. In he 1967 Disney film  Kaa is a villain, while in Kipling’s original book he defeats the Bandar-log monkeys and frees Mowgli, so showing that ambiguous symbolism, being both saviour and danger.


In The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver, zealous Baptist Nathan Price takes his family to the Belgian Congo where he works as a missionary. Snakes appear, seemingly mysteriously, in gardens, and one morning the family find a curled-up green mamba and, as it slithers off, hear a shriek from Ruth May, the youngest of the four Price sisters. She has been bitten on the shoulder and dies as they watch. Read more of my thoughts on this fabulously rich novel here 


American poet Emily Dickinson (1830-86) wrote with passion about the snake; 

A narrow Fellow in the Grass                            

Occasionally rides –

You may have met him – did you not

His notice sudden is –

The Grass divides as with a Comb –

A spotted shaft is seen –

And then it closes at your feet

And opens further on 

I use snake symbology strongly in my second Shaman Mystery, On the Gallows. Sabbie first encounters an anaconda in a journey she takes for one client. But she meets this spiritual snake in an ice house, a long way from its home:

'Time and place can change. Home may change.'

I frowned. I didn’t want to forget a single word of what Anaconda was saying; I was sure it had meanings only Drea would understand. 

'Do homes change for the better?' I asked.

'Duty and purpose can change.'

'What is your duty and purpose?'

'First; do no harm. Next; protect your kin. Last; keep your secret.'

'What is your secret?'

Anaconda didn’t like this. He clearly felt I’d been presumptive to ask. For the first time I saw malevolence flicker in the small eyes. I heard the girl give a trembling sigh, as if even her breath shivered with cold. I tried to dodge past Anaconda, but he intercepted my move and I collided with him. His scales felt dry on my bare arms. My feet slid from under me and I fell on the ice, hard as concrete but much colder. It burned through my dress.

His tongue flicked. His head lunged at me. The razor-sharp points of his tongue plunged into my belly. I heard my throat scream in the world of my therapy room. My hands covered my stomach. There was no blood. This was a spirit wound from a serpent without a poisonous bite. Anacondas, I remembered, crushed their prey. I tried to slide away from him, wriggling like a snake does, struggling to gain a grip, but I was shivering so much my hands and feet refused to co-operate. I could hardly feel my body now. The bite wasn’t poisonous, but it had sent me spiralling into hypothermia.


The snake theme continues through the On the Gallows (Unraveled Visions in the US). Towards the climax, I make use of a reference to another fictional snake, the Mara, from Dr Who, when Sabbie interviews the woman who discovered a body on the cooling station at Hinkley Point Power Station;
The Mara, as it manifested itself in Kinda
...' I was cold, very cold and frightened and mad with myself for being so utterly stupid. I could hardly dial. I think I sort of lost it. Because behind me was a dead girl on the gallows and in front of me was the power station. I know I was screaming by then, on and on. Got myself right freaked out until I couldn’t move at all, like we did as kids, imagining Hinkley Point was the Dark Places of the Inside, where the Mara lived; we loved to scare each other with that Dr Who stuff, say the power station could transmit telepathically, and that the Mara was manifesting as one of us, we’d point to one of the gang and run screaming from them, the pure hatred and greed of Mara and that. It all came back to me. I was stuck there remembering that the Mara manifested into its snake form and could destroy me. Like her. I’d got it in my head that was what had happened to her.'     She stopped, and wiped her mouth. 'Madness. How your mind plays tricks.'
    'What did you say?'
    'That I went quite mad, really. Screamed so hard, I couldn’t use my voice for days, after–'
     'No – not that. The thing about Hinkley. What did you say about a snake?'
    'Oh, I was just frantic, totally back to when we were kids. We loved scaring each other. We knew about nuclear power, but we didn’t if you get me. We made things up. Even the signs are scary…DO NOT ENTER…to us, that mean, enter at your peril. It was Rick who started saying the power station was the Dark Places of the Inside. Said he could hear purring, but it wasn’t a cat, it was the Mara, who was, I dunno, this snake; a representation of all evil from another planet. It was what was on Dr Who at the time.'
    'The power station is…'
    'I’d half lost my mind, Sabbie, be fair.'
    'Yeah, I understand.'
     I did not understand at all.  Like I’d explained to Rey, the spirit world is full of twists and tangles...

Perhaps you have used snakes as symbols in your own writing. Or have been particularly affected by their reference in your reading. Do tell me about your experiences with snakes, by posting a comment below.

You can listen to Paradise Lost on BBC Radio 4 right now, with the great Ian McKellan as Milton, and Simon Russell Beale as the snake (Satan). It's live on Sunday afternoons and available on Sounds; click here to find out more


Monday, 27 September 2021

Kuan Yen… Footsteps leading away



Kuan-yin, Chinese goddess of compassion, looked at the world and saw how most of the people had sadly lost their connection with spirituality. They had become mean to each other, and neglectful of the natural world and its wisdom. And they'd lost ritual, so they no longer had a reason to reconnect with spirit at the important times of year. 

All of that made Kuan-yin very unhappy. Until, one day, she heard a call for help and knew she should respond. But it was no good just arriving and lecturing the people, they'd simply laugh, or turn their backs unbelieving, so she hatched a plan. 

In a coastal fishing town, she materialised as a fresh-faced young woman and started to inhabit a run-down shack near the beach. She'd go out on the waves, like the other fishers and bring back a catch, and sell it at the market. It wasn't long before her lovely face and graceful movements caught the eye of almost every young man in the place.

Fifty of these eager young men turned up one day at her hovel, asking for her hand in marriage. They each brought a reason why she should choose them; a good business head, a strong fishing boat, a nice, warm home for her. 


"Sirs," she began. "You're very kind, but I can't marry you all! Please, go away and find one of the old stories. Search in the archives, the libraries of the cities, and speak to the old people you know. Seek out those old stories that helped the people understand their lives, and tell them to each other. Ask the people which which story is best. Bring me the news and I will marry that man."

The fifty went away, but thirty returned, all with stories that had been voted by the townspeople as very special; they made them laugh, cry, think...remember.

"Sirs," said Kuan-yin. "There are so many of you – I cannot marry you all! Please, I wish you to each make up a new story. Remember how the old stories made you feel, and turn the feelings they gave you into something the people today can relate to and learn from. Tell your new stories to each other and to the people of the town. Then bring me the news of which story is best. I will marry that man."

The thirty young men went away, got out their brushes and parchments and began to compose. Finally just a handful returned, with newly created stories that had been voted by the townspeople as very special; they made them laugh, cry, think, remember…wake up in the mornings with renewed vigour.

"Sirs," said Kuan-yin. "There are still too many of you for me to marry! So I will set you a third task. Each of you should create a ritual. Use your understanding of the old stories, and your skills in creating new ones. Present each for the nourishment of the town. Let the town choose the best ritual and let that man be the one I marry."

The handful of men went away, talking excitedly. And Kuan-yen heard talk about the rituals that were performed, all over the town, and the buzz these created. People loved them, and wanted more. They couldn't decide which was the best, so three young men returned to Kuantans-yin's little cottage by the sea.

"Sirs," said Kuan-yin. "I cannot marry three of you!  So this is your last task. Now you have story and ritual, you need a priest to guide and care for the people. I want you to choose, out of your small number, a priest, who will guide you and keep the stories and the rituals alive. I will marry that man."

The man chosen as the new priest of the area had fallen in love with the beautiful fishing girl who lived near the beach. From the moment he'd first seen her, he had wanted her as his wife. So with gladness in his heart, as soon as he was chosen, he deserted the other men and ran like a hare towards the beach. He tapped on her door respectfully, but when she didn't answer, he hammered his fists on it and cried out;

"It's me, my darling, come to claim you as my bride!"

There was no one in the hovel. Then he saw the footprints in the sand. They led down to the water and into the sea. The footprints only went one way.

The man fell to his knees and sobbed out his sorrow. But  he heard his love's voice in his head...seek out those old stories that helped the people understand their lives, then think about your lives today...turn the feelings they gave you into something the people today can relate to and learn from. Use the old stories, and your new skills to create rituals for the nourishment of the town, then choose a  priest to guide and care for the people...

The man understood, at last. This was no young girl, but the goddess herself, come to them because she cared for their spiritual welfare. The man got up, brushed the sand off his damp knees and went back to his people.

Kuan-yin (or Guan Yin or Quan Yin) is both goddess of compassion, and a Bodhisattva. For Buddhists, that is any person who is on the path who compassionately refrains from entering nirvana in order to save others  The worship of.Kuan-yin arrived in China in the early days of Buddhism and she soon become a traditional goddess figure there. But now she is loved by people all over the world, especially where Chinese communities have flourished.  She is the embodiment of compassion and she's said to manifest wherever people call to her for help. Almost all the stories are of these sudden, angelic, appearances, such as the Footprints story above. 

I think we know what it feels like to be deeply moved by the pain and suffering of others.
Kuan Yin sitting on a lotus, a willow branch and a water jar 
in her hands, at a shop in Saigon. Photo © nationsonline.org

We compare those struggles to our own, however varied the experience might be; most of us have a 
measure of sorrow and struggle in this life. Through the world media, we are able to understand how many people are asked to bear the unbearable—starvation, tragedy, and hardship beyond our imagining. Our loved ones experience illness, pain, and heartache, and we long to ease their burden. Kuan-yin  is often called upon, not only because she shows ceaseless compassion to those who love her, but because she helps us to understand compassionate feelings and actions ourselves. When we feel and act compassionately towards others, unsurprisingly, we do ourself psychological good, too. We only have to recall the last time we slipped someone an unexpected gift and their face told us how much they appreciated it. We can all get a bit
 self-fixatated, and in showing compassion, especially more widely that our own family and close group of friends, it feels as if we move towards liberating our own spirituality.


The images in this blogpost are all of Kwan-yin, and can be found as paintings, sculptures, and statuettes, ranging in size from palm sized to gigantic and made in anything from rubber to wood to translucent jade. The figures attract reverential ceremonies, are offered gifts, chatted to and loved in gardens, alters and temples. If you chose a Kwan-yin statuette, keep it them clean and celebrate her birthday (Guan Yin’s celebration day is on the 19th day of the second lunar month).


Thursday, 2 September 2021

Books of 2021: an Interactive Post

 


BOOKS OF 2021

Who really knows which were the best books of this year? I know the ones I have loved so far. But when I looked around the various media, opinions differed hugely. So, as we move into the final quarter of the year,  I thought it would be far more interesting to hear about your favourite book –  books published in  2021 that you couldn't put down, or that left you thinking deeply.  


BUZZFEED
Let's start right on the nail with Buzzfeed's book of August 2021.  Shallow Waters is Anita Kopacz debut novel, crossing genres and part history, part fantasy, it features Yemaya, an African deity of the sea . The novel transcend time and space as Yemaya herself grows from a tentative young woman into the powerful deity she's destined to become. Along the way, we see her battle everything from sea evils to slavery, crossing paths with icons from American history. I haven't read it yet, but it's decidedly on my list – it sounds original and gripping.




GOODREADS
Goodreads.com is a great indicator of what people are reading and the number one book most frequently added to Goodreads members' shelves this year was The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah with 242000 ratings and 407000 "shelvings"

The Four Winds is an epic novel of love and hope and sacrifice, set against the backdrop of the famous Dust Bowl of the depression. Texas, 1934,  and a drought has left millions out of work and farmers fighting to keep their land as crops fail.  Elsa Martinelli  has to choose; will she fight for the land she loves or go west, to California, in search of a better life? This book took me right back to John Steinbeck's novels, especially Grapes of Wrath. Krisin Hannah is a #1 New York Times author. Her previous novels are The Nightingale and The Great Alone.

THE SUNDAY TIMES
The UK Sunday paper is championing Sally Rooney this year, and why not? With Normal
People
serialised on BBC television and her third book Beautiful World, Where Are You, already hitting the book charts, 
 last week's culture supplement told the story of Rooney's early success…Sally Rooney walks to the podium. It’s 2013 and she’s in Manchester competing in the European Universities Debating Championship. Talking at rattling speed, 22-year-old Rooney weaves in feminism, wins laughs and dismisses interjections with a wave of her arm. Her performance is so assured, in fact, that Rooney is later crowned Europe’s individual debating champion.Sally Rooney’s rise to stardom was dizzyingly swift. A small-town girl raised on books and left-wing ideals, she left home in Co Mayo to study at Trinity College Dublin. And soon after conquering the debating world she has become the biggest literary sensation since Zadie Smith (who, incidentally, is a Rooney fan) — with the book sales to prove it. [Sunday Times 29th August 2021]

THE GUARDIAN ONLINE

Meanwhile that other UK bastion of the literary review, 
The Guardian,  started the year with predictions for Kazuo Ishiguro's Clara and the Sun, which I raved about here: and flagged up how Zadie Smith's new offering. 
 She's writing for the stage for the first time, bringing the Wife of Bath bang up to date. The Wife of Willesden is a twenty-first century translation of Geoffrey Chaucer's classic, brought to life on the Kilburn High Road and described as 'riotous' and 'glorious'.




THE BBC
'Auntie Beeb's' culture website has chosen a strongly biting book to champion. The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris is a  debut novel  about two young black women working in the all-white office of an upmarket US publishing house. It became an instant New York Times bestseller when it was published in June  and has been described as "Get Out meets The Devil Wears Prada",  "imaginative and audacious"  and "an engrossing contemplation of the gap between success and authenticity".This is a fast-paced, gripping read with a biting social commentary, 

LOVEREADING.COM
This is a vast online site that features almost every book published somewhere. I like it because, on a single page, it features all the most recent prize winners, including the the Booker Prize longest, including Rachel Cusk's new novel, the Costa Prizewinner (Monique Roffey's sixth novel The Mermaid of the Black Conch), the CWA Gold Dagger short list, and the Women's Prize, again still in the shortlist stage.


NINA!
And my choice? Two. further of my favourite reads come from the Women's Prize shortlist this year especially Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller, a compassionate, beautifully crafted book about a pair of 51 year-old twins, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, also a tale of twin sisters which left a profound impression on me, as it explores questions of identity, racism, colourism and belonging and Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, which I rave-reviewed at the start of the year, also, here.

YOU!
So now it's over to you. What was your utter favourite book of 2021? Let me know in the comment box - let's see what your choices are.




Sunday, 29 August 2021

A WALK THROUGH THE FOUR ELEMENTS

 

Mid-August and after weeks of rain, the summer begins again, leading to a Bank Holiday of  glorious weather and the freedom, finally, to roam where we want.


I particularly recall one Sunday afternoon, a woodland walk with a few friends,  high up above the ancient city of Bath.

Here we found a most sacred place, and on this single occasion, were able to bathe our senses in all four naturally occurring elements... Air Water Earth and Fire, along with a central moment of 'soul'.

The first thing we encountered was the Guardian of the Woods - a taste of menthol – AIR.

A yew tree, timeworn and proud, grows out of the precipitous cliff that sheers down towards the basin of the Avon Valley and the Roman city far below. This almost horizontal sentinel reminded me of the prow of an ancient ship, overlooking the Land of Sulis Minerva. You can see the vast structure of its roots, as if it is growing from air alone. which visibly cling to the rock of the cliffside. This tree must have been her for world-old years. Its trunk is split open and gnarled and its branches form a wide canopy that reaches into nothing but air.


 T
his yew welcomed as we scrambled up into its body with daring and delight. Perched inside the cleft of its trunk, I'm sure it communed with me...I could hear its whispers whenever the wind blew – this is how I move - through time - long eons of seasons - watching them pass - that is how a tree feels movement...

As we passed along the ancient paths of the woodland, we were welcomed a second time - by a badger. Although it was still light, he stood his ground in the centre of the path - eyeballing us without fear until  deciding it was time to flick its russet tail and vanish.

At the centre of the woodland is the SOUL of this place; a circle of trees, with two pillars as opening place - a yew and oak of course - that have grown so closely they are interwined into a single entity. It is possibly to climb through the slender keyhole their interwining makes, and we all did it. Scrambling through, guided by other walkers' hands, felt like a rebirthing.

Further up the sloping woodland was a gentle spring welling through rocks and earth. We put our palms to catch the gush - cool, sweet, sacred earth WATER; purifying, cleansing, gushing from the sacred ground. One of our number stood, enhanced and inspired, to recall these words by Emily Dickinson:

My river runs to thee:
Blue sea, wilt welcome me?

My river waits reply.
Oh sea, look graciously!

I'll fetch thee brooks
From spotted nooks, —

Say, sea,
Take me!

We walked on, searching for the caves that dig into a jagged outcrop of rocky cliff at the top of the woods. We could see that others had searched before and felt the same as we did about this place. A complex labyrinth was chalked on the smooth rock.

We came to the caves we'd been searching. One is out of bounds - not so much health and safety (whatever the sign might say); more protection for the the pipistrels that sleep here day in day out. The accesible cave is dark, deep, dank, with a womb shape and a low ceiling.We entered, and walked down into the EARTH. It seemed perfectly natural for us to sit on the shelves of rock and sing, chant and talk in low voices. It was a chance for me to think up a poem:

Cave

I am the gaping mouth of Gaia,

A crack in a forbidding cliff,

Walls slicked by ancient hands

Roof hung with calcified breasts

Jagged flints wounding squeezed flesh

Littered floor of clacking bones.


My welcomed guests are ferns, bears, bats, snakes.

Mankind must take their chance... 

My darkness permits you to see what you please. 


 Three challenges; 

To heed the confusion of the tangled labyrinth–

 A riddle that shouldn’t be spoken. 

To beware the peril of cruel water–

   Deep black bitter-iced, fleet and fast.

To guard against the sudden drop–

 The escalating body, the lost cry.


Step like a lynx if you enter me. 

The chill of my breath might suck you breathless.

Wrap yourself in a skin cloak,

Use your fingertips for enlightenment. 


   Bring a skein of bright yarn.



Afternoon had turned into evening while we were in the cave. As we came out into twilight, the air felt fresh on our bare arms. We climbed the high hill to the fields beyond the woodland and I was glad of the last sun of the day on my chilled arms. We were confronted by the sun as a great FIRE huge and golden  red and burning hot. It enticed one to look yet forbode one to stare, jolting the heart with its beauty. It spoke to me of power, transformation and the forging of my will.

We returned the way we came, slipping through the Grove of the Badger past the keyhole trees as the sun dropped with undue haste beneath the horizon, until it began to be hard to see our way. 

Truly, this felt a place of deep mystery, where the membranes that hold us back from the Otherworlds are very thin, even in high summer.

Back to the real world below...yeah, you've guessed it...there's quite a nice pub with a garden.. 





Tuesday, 17 August 2021

How Art Changes the World

Picasso’s Guernica.

I will never forget the Radio 4 programme on  Picasso’s Guernica. Of course this is an emotionally devastating picture symbolically showing the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica in April 1937, carried out on the behest of Franco by the Nazi German Luftwaffe. The radio programme covered the history of Picasso’s politics (he became a communist in 1944) and the painting techniques in its construction

Guernica pulls you in as you gaze on it. The lack of colour intensifies the drama – it's almost as if we're looking on a confused photograph of carnage. People are screaming in this painting, their necks stretched, their arms raised in defeat. People lie dead; babies lie dead in their mother's arms. And among this carnage, are a bull and a horse. In my last blogpost, I started a new series looking at symbols in writing, and here, both these creatures are present as dominant symbols of what Picasso is telling us. 

As a symbol, bulls  symbolise fertility and stamina, but although it's a powerful beast, it is often unable to defend itself. It's staked in a field by a ring through its nose, or allowed to enter a ring where it will be stabbed to death..Art critics have speculated that Picasso felt many personal parallels with the bull, incorporating it into his work as a symbolic form of self-portrait.The bull is almost totemic in Spanish society, protective of the people and especially the 'Madre'; the mother that is Madrid. However, it has also been interpreted as the fascist state that was attacking the ordinary people of Spain.

The horse has been said to represent the tragedies of war and the suffering it inflicts upon individuals, particularly innocent civilians. In the picture, the horse is screaming in pain and if you look closely you'll see it has been run through with a javelin. People wondered if Picasso was trying to predict the downfall of his nation. There is no doubt that this horse is as least a  distressing sight, as the agony of mothers and children. It has become helpless as it dies its senseless death.

But the thing I took away from this programme on the painting was how ordinary people are affected by it. The contributors said that four and five year olds taken to see it are rendered speechless, that in 1939 working men brought their boots to the Whitchapel Gallery in London where it was displayed, to show their solidarity with Spain. It has gained a monumental status, an anti-war symbol, and embodiment of peace. In 1937, it was widely acclaimed and a  tour helped bring the Spanish Civil War to the world's attention. Sixty year later, Colin Powell stood in front of the UN building to announce the start of hostilities in Iraq, and the tapestry of the picture they have there was covered with a cloth as he spoke. The inhabitants of Guerica wrote to the UN in protest, pointing out the tapestry had been hung to remind all delegates as they entered the building, that their priority was to prevent war. 

This suggests great art is among the finest mediums of communication. In the right place (I think I mean 'available to be seen'),  pieces of great art can be equal in effect, if not having a greater effect, to mass media, social media or advertising. Art does not leave you indifferent. 



In a small survey, people were asked how Banksy’s art makes them feel. The results said: 51% Thoughtful. 24% happy. 22% Rebellious and there is a huge appetite to view his art, which is always brimming with messages. 

Since the M4 was built through the centre of  Port Talbot,  it has become the most polluted area in the UK, and one of the nation’s most deprived town. But just before Christmas 2018, Port Talbot woke up to a very special present. Two sides of a concrete block garage suddenly displayed a painting: a small boy with his tongue out to catch snow that, when viewed from another side, turns out to be ash from an industrial bin. After a brief period of suspense and speculation, Banksy confirmed the work as genuine by posting it on his website in the late afternoon, with the artist commenting: “season’s greetings”. In the frenzy that followed, thousands descended on the small street and the owner of the garage, who used to work at the steelworkss,  went without sleep for two days as he tried to protect the image. He was quoted as saying;  "It's really dusty in Port Talbot. I've lived there for 54 years." From this  terraced street, the  chimney stacks of the steelworks can just be seen above the rooftops, and streets nearby were home to actors Michael Sheen, Richard Burton and Sir Anthony Hopkins before they left for London and  Hollywood. 

Wire fencing was initially placed around the garage wall to stop vandalism, followed by perspex sheets. The artwork was finally sold for a six-figure sum and was displayed in the town.

Leonardo do Vinci is known for so many famous paintings, but this one is not a household name. It is the
 study of a foetus curled up in a womb, drawn in red chalk with traces of black chalk, pen and ink and wash, and has a  note expressing his thoughts attached to it:

"In this child the heart does not beat and it does not breathe because it rests continually in water, and if it breathed it would drown. And breathing is not necessary because it is vivified and nourished by the life and food of the mother... And one and the same soul governs these two bodies, and desires, fears and pains are common to this creature as to all other animated parts. From this it arises that a thing desired by the mother is often found imprinted on those parts of the infant that have the same qualities in the mother at the time of her desire; and a sudden terror kills both mother and child. Therefore one concludes that the same soul governs and nourishes both bodies." 

It is possible that this drawing by Di Vinci made more impact on the world than the Mona Lisa or The Last Supper put together. Da Vinci took his anatomical drawings from real life dissections, which the Church strictly forbade for non-physicians, but he determined to study human anatomy, including the relation between structure and function Often he worked by candlelight in the crypt of a church,  painstakingly dissecting bodies, both of men and women of all ages. Da Vinci described how others “...might be deterred by the fear of living in the night hours in the company of these corpses, quartered and flayed and horrible to see.” His work showed remarkable powers of observation,  perspective, accuracy and clarity, and through this he effectively was pioneering the future sciences of anatomy and forensic medicine. 

By creating a perfect depiction of what happens to the baby inside a woman's body, he challenged moral and artistic convention and changed the way that scientists studied the human body.


Guernica can be seen in the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid.

Season's Greetings by Banksy can be seen at T'yr Orsef, Parkway, Station Rd, Port Talbot SA13 1UH

Da Vinci's famous embryological drawings of the fetus are held in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle in England