On my way to yoga last Friday I was stopped in my tracks. There, high above me was that unmistakeable raucous calling that only flying geese can deliver. I watched, as ever transfixed by the cooperative and graceful weaving flight of these birds. They maintained their traditional V shape as they journeyed on, but I realised they weren’t constantly following the same Top Goose. First one, then another would fly forwards, only to be succeeded by another, only moments later. Always, however, they remained connected, a purposeful team.
I saw these geese at Marfield Wetlands exactly this time last year. Disobligingly, they did not formed perfect Vs for me.
Later, lying on my back in the yoga group, I glimpsed a red kite, wheeling and diving directly above the skylight.
A Good Morning.
These photos were taken this time last year. I still have no camera….
Ragtag Tuesday. It’s still there. As is Ragtag-every-other-day-of-the-week. Have a look. But I’ve moved to Saturday’s Ragtag Daily Prompt.
Everyone knows I’m a Christmas Refuser. Oh, I enjoy Christmas alright. I made our cake weeks ago, and Malcolm and I regularly ‘feed’ it with doses of brandy to make sure it’s good and sozzled. I’ll happily rehearse Christmas music at choir too.
But that’s about it. I do an about turn in any shop belting out Christmas Muzac and leave immediately. I haven’t bought a single card or present, nor shall I until …. oh…. about the end of next week . Then it’ll all get done in a flurry of cheerful activity, and I’ll enjoy it, because I haven’t been thinking about it since September.
Then the other day, I came across this six-years-old blog post, written in France. Simpler times, simpler customs. I wonder how often the window displays I wrote about here are seen these days? Innocent pleasures….
December 9th, 2012
Christmas on the High Street
It was 5 years ago when we were first in Laroque round about Christmas time. There were no signs of its coming until well into December, and we thought it wonderful: no decorations, no adverts, merchandise or muzak, just a bustle of festive activity from about two or three weeks beforehand.
The first signs, as in England, were in the shops. Unlike England however, most shopkeepers didn’t usually buy tinsel, baubles, and several packs of cotton wool to introduce a Christmas theme into their window display. Instead they had a seasonal design applied directly to the window. We once saw a scene-painter busily decorating a local window, and wondered what he did the rest of the year. Shops in small town high streets like Laroque’s would all be unified by being the same but different. The same folksy interpretations of Christmas motifs, the same limited palettes of white, red, greens and yellows. Some would choose scenes of reindeer amongst the Christmas tree forests, others Father Christmas, snowmen, or radiant candles.
Five years on, hardly any shopkeepers are keeping up this tradition. They’re decorating their shops, but in their own way: dressing up their window display with baubles, snowflakes and Santa Claus figures. They’re nicely done too, but I miss the particularly French idea, which I’ve seen nowhere else.
Here are the few traditional window scenes I’ve been able to find this year. Maybe next year even these will be part of the past.
It was my turn to lead our walking group on a hike on Saturday. When I was planning what to put in the programme a few months ago, I had an idea of taking the group on a pleasant wintry walk along frost-rimed canal paths with delicate fine sheets of ice coating any puddles we met. A weak sun would glimpse through downy dove-grey cloud, and we’d walk briskly in the cold clear air.
Well, that didn’t work. Last week, we’d had four days of largely non-stop rain. And Saturday was no different. Anybody with any sense would have rolled over in bed that morning and gone back to sleep. I got up, and took myself off to our rendezvous, completely confident that nobody would be there waiting for me. I’d come home and toast my toes by the fire.
Five would-be walkers greeted me. Yes, they did want to walk. No, they didn’t think it was too wet. We’re here now. Let’s get on with it.
So we did. We’re an amiable bunch who like one another so the conversation flowed. We got in our several-thousand-steps for the day. But we also couldn’t see much as our glasses got wetter and wetter. Our rain gear kept the rain out and the sweat in. Our over trousers dripped and sulked. Our boots got damper and damper. The canal tow path, normally a fine surface for a winter’s walk, slipped and oozed. The trees dumped giant water drops on our heads to add to the rain’s constant spillage
We got to our half-way point in record time. We got back to base in an even more record time.
‘Now honestly,’ I said to my fellow-martyrs as the end drew nigh.’If you had your time over again, knowing what you know now, would you have come?”Of course!’ they all said. And they meant it. Not me. I scuttled off home to my fireside, and stayed there for the rest of the day.
Yesterday, I published a post about My Old Notebook. It got plenty of readers, so I was a bit puzzled not to get any comments from the usual suspects, or indeed from anybody at all. Dan Drews of Life as I See it with One Eye Closed – thanks Dan – told me that somehow, comments have been disabled. I’ve been battling with WordPress Help to get to the bottom of this, and …. I’m stuck. Are any WP users able to help? Comments are still open on my previous posts, which is how Dan made it through, as I assume they’ll be closed on this one too. Grrr.
I’ve known this notebook all my life. It’s battered, scruffy … and almost empty. I could use it for shopping lists or for all kinds of casual notes. But I don’t. And I don’t because this little book turns out to be an historical document, a recipe book from times when recipes were about so much more than food.
Here’s the book….
And here are the marbled endpapers.
And here are some of the blank pages.
Here are instructions for making horse powder (what?); cow drink; paste blacking (in fact several recipes for blacking); blue ink; black ink and crimson colour for show bottles (eh?). There are instructions for making stomach pills; an efficacious receipt for the rheumatism; red oils for bruses (sic) and sprains and two cures for cholera. If you read this little book, you’ll know how to etch on glass; clean brass, copper and tin – and note that brass is spelt the old-fashioned way, with an ‘f‘ in place of the first ‘s‘ when writing ‘brass‘. This spelling fell out of use in about 1800 in England: and yet the index pages of this book are machine-cut.
On the other hand, cholera didn’t arrive in England till 1832, and was rife until 1854, when John Snow discovered the connection between contaminated water and the disease. Does that date my little book to somewhere between the mid 1830s and 1850s?
I’ll leave you with one recipe, because I know you will want shiny black shoes in time for Christmas.
SUPERIOR BLACKING FOR BOOTS & SHOES
Ivory black 1 lb (that’s black pigment made from charred ivory or bone)
When we pop over to Bolton to do an overnight babysit for Ellie (er, not babysitting. Thirteen year old twins require a taxi-service rather than child-minding), dog walking is part of the deal. Here’s Sunday’s walk….
My grandfather Charles Barton is a shadowy figure: someone I can’t really flesh out into a real person. Partly it’s because he died sixteen years before I was born. Partly it’s because my mother beatified him and painted an unrealistic picture of a man who was beyond criticism.
Charles was a second generation Londoner. His own father Joshua had been born in Suffolk in a village called Layham. So had all his relatives before him on his father’s side: I’ve plotted them back to the 1600s. Every single man had been an agricultural labourer. Some of them had wonderful names like Shadrack or Meshack: but not, apparently Abednego.
Joshua was born at a time when a series of bad harvests had made a tough country life even tougher. As a young man he took his chance, went to London and became – who knows how – a wine cooper. He married a local girl, Maria, and they had ten children.
The family was probably what Theresa May patronisingly calls Just About Managing. The children grew up to become gardeners, coachmen, clerks, seamstresses. All except Charles and Harry, sons numbers two and three. I’ll never know the story of how they got places at Saint Olave’s Grammar School and then won scholarships to Cambridge University. I still have books that Charles won as prizes at school, and while studying at Magdalene College. I wonder how two working class boys from a relatively poor background enjoyed their experiences in these privileged environments?
Harry became a schoolmaster but Charles felt called to be a priest. He worked in a succession of grubby industrial or manufacturing Yorkshire parishes: Hanging Heaton, where he met and married my grandmother Annie; then mining village Sharlston where my mother was born.
Charles and Annie’s wedding in 1910: from a family album.
The marriage of Charles and Annie announced in the local paper.
Charles taught my mother Betty at home in his new parish in Roberttown until she was eight, and then when she started school pushed and pushed her to achieve academically. Younger brother Arthur, who was less bright wasn’t given this hothouse treatment.
Charles acquired a reputation for injecting vigour into failing parishes. It was a full time calling. No days off for him. Ever. Yet parish magazines and local papers at the time give a picture of a lively parish life: plays, bazaars, meetings, fundraising schemes, discussion groups, clubs all flourished in St Peters Morley when he was rector there, and he was clearly liked and respected.
Then, in 1931, he fell ill, aged only 56. My mother was in the throes of applying for a place at Oxford University: still quite an unusual goal for a young woman in those days. He lived to know that she had been accepted. When he died my grandmother refused to let my mother take her place up. She was needed at home. My mother raged and stormed and so did her school. Annie stood firm. Or almost. Eventually, she agreed that if Leeds University would have her, Betty could be a day student there. And that is what happened.
My mother never forgave Annie. I didn’t ever meet my grandmother, who lived until I was about 14. In my mother’s eyes she was the sinner, Charles the saint.