The Beginning of the Search
first came across him twenty odd years ago in the Folk Shop in Cecil Sharp House in London where I had gone to buy some guitar strings and plectrums. Amongst the pipes and tabors and the John Pearse guitar tutors was a curious plaque, a resin cast of a wooden carving of a human head, with branches bearing fruit sprouting from the mouth.
The man who ran the shop didn’t know where he had come from or when, though he knew that it was ‘a Green Man,’ which he said was ‘some kind of fertility symbol or other’ and would cost me seven pounds ten shillings. I bought him and took him home. My family were used to me turning up with strange things and when I put the Green Man up on my study wall they tapped the sides of their heads and regarded it as yet another of my aberrations, to go along with my attempts to make wine from dandelions and soup from nettles, both of which had filled the house with the smell of dead and rotting vegetation and had almost poisoned them.
Over the years, travelling the road in my day job as journeyman comic cum folk singer, I kept bumping into the Green Man, in tiny churches and great minsters, hidden in corners and blazoned on the bosses. One day in Exeter Cathedral I worked out that images of the Green Man outnumbered those of Christ by about five to one and it seemed to me that something as ubiquitous as the Green Man must have a story waiting to be told, and that if only I could dig deep enough I might be able to discover that story.