Treacle is Medicine 

Written by Bernie Bell

Seriously, treacle used to be seen as a medicine, in particular as a salve or antidote for poisons and venomous bites. It’s now yummy stuff you put on bread, or make into cakes. Still medicine!

I read Alan Garner’s books for younger people many years ago – when I was young. And then Boneland, Strandloper and The Stonebook Quartet. When I read Thursbitch I didn’t see how he could produce anything else – he had said so much and shown so much there. But now he has written Treacle Walker – containing more magic, connections, wonder. 

I was impatient to order a copy from Stromness Books & Prints, finish the book I was reading, and engage with that world again. I won’t say step into it, as I believe that we walk there all the time, but mostly aren’t aware of it – couldn’t be, really, as it would drive us nuts to be aware of it all, all the time. The world of seeing could be too much to see. 

Seeing deeper

The man known as Treacle Walker is a healer who talks like Roald Dahl’s Big Friendly Giant and travels as a rag-and-bone man. This brought back memories of the rag-and-bone man coming down our street, and the rivalry between my Dad and Mucky Beattie for any manure that his horse might drop. They’d be out there, with their buckets.

Joe trades with Treacle Walker and acquires a small jar containing traces of some kind of unguent. When he accidently touches his eyelid with this – he begins to ‘see’ – and meets a bog-man called Thin Amren. When I read of the bog-man sitting up and speaking to Joe, a ripple ran up my back, and my mind flew to the lady from the bog at Ballachulish, who I met in the National Museum in Edinburgh . . .

Oak Goddess, found in a bog, covered by the remains of a wickerwork structure. The bog over-looked the entrance to a sea loch, at Ballachulish.”

Wooden representations of gods and goddesses were sometimes placed in bogs. Right in the land – and so, became part of the land. There are so many connections here, including Arno Minkkinen’s photographs of pieces of human anatomy – living human anatomy.

One of Arno Minkkinen’s photographs is of himself, standing with his back to the camera – arms outstretched. He looks like a piece of wood.

Being and becoming

These images are reminiscent of the images of the Bog People in P. V. Glob’s book.

. . .  where the Bog People often end up looking like wood. The Bog People were also placed in the land – right in the land – and became part of the land.

Wood looking like humans. Humans looking like wood. Both can become earth.

‘Thin Amren dreams all that is and is not,’ said Treacle Walker.”

And I remembered Anna Gardiner’s ‘Flo’.

This is just one of the lines of thought about ways of being and seeing which the tale set me thinking around. And . . . Time and change . . .

Whirligig stays. Though has not the same water.” 

This took me to an eddy of water in the river by Woodwick House, Evie.

To sit and talk

What’s happening in Joe’s comic is happening around his house – and next week’s edition hasn’t yet been written. 

For the very moment you have Now, it flees.”

Through the Looking-Glass. 2001: A Space Odyssey. And Treacle Walker ends with “Calm of mind, all passion spent” – from Milton’s Samson Agonistes.

I think I’d like to sit with Mr Garner in an Old Medicine House, maybe the Burnt Mound at the Eagle Cairn,  and . . . talk through and round things. Maybe while eating some bread and treacle.

About the author

Bernie Bell

Bernie Bell lives in Orkney, is interested in everything – wonders about many things – is confused by many things. “It makes life interesting – or should I say even more interesting.”