Ragtag Tuesday: Any Questions?

I was brought up on Any Questions, a topical radio debate programme which has been a firm part of the BBC Radio 4 schedules on Friday evenings for getting on for 70 years.  Our family always listened when I was younger, but I don’t these days as it does terrible things to my blood pressure when right-wing Daily Mail readers take to the podium.

All the same.  It was coming to Masham, the town-next-door.  A loose cohort of us got free tickets.  That’s not quite true.  Malcolm and I didn’t, but meeting in the pub beforehand, we started to feel left out, and managed to snaffle two late-returns.

Getting ready for the action in Masham Town Hall.

You have to turn up easily an hour ahead of transmission. If you want to, you write a question which might get included. You have to be warmed up.  Radio Leeds presenter Andrew Edwards schooled us in the gentle art of clapping, cheering and booing to make our views clear to the listening audience (‘No heckling please’).  The lucky questioners were announced.  Two of our team made the cut, though in the end, only passionate 17-year-old ‘It’s our future’ Charlie had her question dealt with on air. I made the nearly-got-included list.

It was all fascinating stuff.  Star of the show was probably the CEO of Siemens UK, Jurgen Maier: measured, lively and likeable.  A Remainer, but desperate for business certainty, he’d back the current Brexit deal.  Leaver Jake Berry, Northern Powerhouse Minister, actually said  ‘I don’t think any of us knew what we were going to get when we voted Leave….’, but nevertheless isn’t in favour of a People’s Vote on the Final Deal which Lord Adonis is campaigning for.  There was Labour’s Shadow Brexit Minister, Jenny Chapman  and the other MP was John Redwood (‘fervent Brexiteer’).  He really is from the Dark Side.  Uncivil, dogmatic, he didn’t attract much enthusiasm even from those who subscribe to his reactionary, long-held views in favour of Leave.

Charlie needed her selfie with Andrew Adonis.

If you want a flavour of the debate, you can listen here if you’re eligible to listen to BBC transmissions.

And the next day, we went back to Remoaning in Harrogate again…

A pavement poll on the People’s Vote.

Today’s Ragtag Challenge is ‘Broadcast’.

Little Donkey: an Everyday Story of Country Folk

Goodness.  Who’d be a British citizen at the moment? We’re in need of good cheer.  And I’ve found some, in a post I wrote from Laroque in November, seven years ago.  Times were much simpler then …. read on.


Little Donkey:  An Everyday Story of Country Folk: November 26th 2011

Every now and then, in among all the banns of marriage and planning notices on the information board at the town hall here in Laroque, there’s a poster about a stray dog that’s been found.  Not cats or hamsters. Just dogs.

Last week, though, my eye was caught by this:How does anyone lose a donkey?  And what do you do with it whilst you put out an appeal for the owner?  ‘Oh he’s fine’, said Thierry, our Community Copper, ‘We’ve put him to work in the office in the Mairie’.  I decided against saying the obvious, that he would be bound to be doing a far better job than the Mayor.

Image from Unsplash.

It took a week for his owner to show up.  He – the donkey that is – had an exciting time.  First of all he was rounded up by the three blokes who first spotted him in the road just outside town, but who had no idea how to set about the job.  Then he was frisked for tattoos or identity chips.  None.  Next he was sent to stay with our friend Henri’s donkeys (Thierry was fibbing about the office work).  That had to stop when Henri’s female donkey got all excited at the new arrival and came on heat.  Then he went to stay with the vet’s partner.  He escaped.  Amateur detectives all over Laroque and Lavelanet tried to find out where he came from.  Eventually, after a week, his owner showed up, really rather cross.  ‘Why didn’t anyone think to get in touch with me?’

There we are.  That’s our excitement for November over.

Image from Unsplash.

For non-British readers: Little Donkey is a Christmas song much favoured by UK muzak producers at this time of year.  One reason to avoid shopping there during November and December.  Whereas ‘an everyday day story of country folk’ is ‘The Archers’, a daily radio soap opera full of story lines such as the one above.  It’s been a permanent part of the BBC schedules since 1951.  You could join the fan club.

Ragtag Tuesday: Touching the past

Nothing makes me feel older than looking at these three photos does.  They seem to be illustrations from a history book, but they’re not. I can reach out and touch them, because every one of them features my mother.

This is her christening.  And here are people I never met: her father Charles, the curate, who died long before I was even thought of.  Her mother Annie, from whom she became estranged. Annie’s mother and father Arthur and Elizabeth Pickard, long long dead.  Her sister Blanche and brother-in-law Jack who took themselves off to live and work in Swansea, so I never met them either: though my mother inherited almost all that Blanche had when she died in 1964.

News of my mother’s birth would have travelled by word-of-mouth or by letter.  I communicate with friends in four continents in an instant, by the click of a mouse or a quick call on Facetime.

When my children were small in the 1980s, we went to an exhibition featuring the future – a fax machine.  We got very over-excited sending drawings to one another down the phone line. Who uses fax machines now? They’re nearly as dead as the fountain pen. But even the telephone barely existed for most people when my mother was born. She lived to see her grandchildren use word processors, computers and mobile phones – but she was happier with what she knew.

I guess this photo was taken during World War One. Over the last few weeks our attention has been so taken up  by the horrors of trench warfare that it’s hard to imagine that in a small northern coal-mining town, life would have gone on much as usual.  Clergymen and miners were all exempt from conscription. Though my mother remembers food difficulties. It was her job to run to the shop and get a supply of golden syrup, and then to sit fishing the flies before it could be used  in cooking.

I have little grandchildren  of the same kind of age as my mother and her little brother Arthur in this photo (and for those of you who’ve been asking, Zoë is doing well thanks.  She should now be just under a fortnight old, but she’s three months old instead).

Theirs is a world of babygrows, disposable nappies, easy-care T-shirts and jumpers and the constant background whirr of the washing machine. My mother remembered the dampness and drudgery of Monday and its all-day washing as the worst day of the week.

Here’s another from the war years:

How could life have been so very – well – Edwardian?  Those floor-length clothes for my grandmother in the previous photo! That sailor suit for Arthur and a mob-cap for my mother!  Imagine getting Arthur and Betty along to the photographer’s studio in their Sunday-best, clean, tidy and with immaculate shoes.  These days, family portraits are all about getting out into the countryside with tousled hair then running barefoot through the heather.

I find it unsettling to look at the images.  

I feel strangely unconnected, as though my mother is from some strange unknowable place with which I have no relationship: ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.’ L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between.

Today’s Ragtag Challenge is ‘past’.

Ripon’s Remembrance Light Show

Projected every evening during Remembrancetide onto the West End of Ripon Cathedral, this twenty-minute light show remembers those, male and female, whose lives were taken from them during WWI.  It’s  dreadful to watch the long, long, long list of names of the fallen, scrolling inexorably upwards.  How could so many young men from this small city have died in those four years of war? We are shown photos from the war years, and the faces of some of those who have died.  John McCrae’s celebrated poem ‘We are the dead‘, illustrated with ranks of graves, and scenes from the ravaged countryside of Flanders completes the spectacle. A tumbling tower of images of blood-red poppies begins and ends this thought-provoking and humbling show.

Click on any image to see it full size.

Fields of mud – seeds of hope

Citizens of Ripon and beyond have been calling into the cathedral as often as they could over the last few weeks.  Not necessarily to view this ancient building, or even to spend quiet moments reflecting.  Perhaps not even to view the poppies which are here, as they are throughout the city centre.

We’ve all been visiting the Fields of Mud  in the Cathedral itself.  Back in early October, that’s all we could see.  A large brown rectangle of damp mud, surrounded by sandbags.  This mud is from Passchendaele, and from a Great War military camp in Ripon. As, over the weeks, the wet earth dried and cracked, five ghostly, battle weary figures slowly emerged on the surface.

This image, exhibited in the Cathedral, is a print projecting the final appearance of the piece.

There are millions of ungerminated poppy seeds lying dormant in that mud.  When the piece is decommissioned later this month, it will be broken up and segments will be made available to the public to create their own memorials.  This work’s legacy can continue indefinitely.

This astonishingly moving and evocative piece is the inspiration of Dan Metcalfe: his farming background has given him an understanding of mud.  It’s disagreeable, destructive and even dangerous, as every WWI tommy well knew. But it also harbours seeds, waiting to flourish and grow when conditions are right .

Now the figures are fully visible, as the mud which surrounds them has dried out.  And so we can see that these are the same figures that have appeared round town, near North Bridge and the Cathedral itself, at Hell Wath and Rotary Way: and in nearby Sharow, where the British Legion home for former service personnel used to be.  These soldiers, and a nurse appear as silhouettes, made from rusted metal, and they are trudging home, their backs to the conflict and facing the future.

Ripon city has recently made us keenly aware of the sacrifices  made in the Great War.  But the poppies, the Fields of Mud are not the whole story.  Tomorrow, on Remembrance Day, I’ll show you Ripon’s Remembrance Light Show.

Fred and Old Bones trudging home near North Bridge, Ripon. The soldier’s pipe is turned upside down to keep his baccy dry during the inevitable rain. This brilliant image was captured at sunset by Andrew Dobbs. (https://www.andrewdobbs.photo/)

Click on any image to see it full size.

Ragtag Tuesday: a parcel of deer

If you live near Studley Royal and its deer park, as we do, you’ll be used to deer.  They’re very shy though, and unless you’re there very early, or when poor weather is keeping visitors away, you’ll only get distant views of them.

Yesterday though, we were having a walk, a long walk, just outside the park grounds.  Our path had led us upwards, through woodland, and alongside the long stone wall which bounds the estate.  And that’s when we noticed them.  A stag with his harem of does – some twenty or thirty of them.  We stuck our noses over the wall, and watched.  The deer watched us, and concluded that since these faces apparently had no bodies attached, they posed no threat.

The stag – and there was only one – was striding around in an assertive manner, aiming to garner respect.  The deer weren’t bothered either way, and there were no other males to impress.  He realised he was wasting his time, and fell to grazing instead.

I’m still stuck without a camera, so these slightly fuzzy efforts will have to do as a record of a few magic moments shared with a parcel of deer we came across .

Did you know that ‘parcel‘ is a collective noun for deer?  Me neither.  Try these too.

Herd – leash – gang – brace – clash – bevy – rangale – bunch – mob.

We’ve seen the deer. Now we can continue our walk.

Today’s Ragtag prompt is ‘parcel’.  And as usual, click on any image to view it full size.

Getting in touch with my inner French paysanne

Beatswell Wood.

I was walking back from my friend Claire’s through Beatswell Wood the other day when I noticed it.  A fallen branch.  A nicely rotting fallen branch.  Then smaller branches, conveniently broken into wood-burning-stove like lengths.  My inner French peasant knocked urgently at my brain. ‘You can’t leave those!’ she said, in perfect English. ‘Fuel for free!  Whaddya mean you’ve got no bag?  What are arms for?  Get on with it!’

And it’s true.  No self-respecting French country person – man or woman – would think of leaving for a walk without a just-in-case (‘au cas où’) bag.  Here’s an account of what we used to do in France, especially in autumn.

Yesterday we were better prepared.  We both set forth, equipped with large strong bags, just big enough to collect stove-length pieces of wood, or ones dried out enough to break in two.  A stout thick branch each – to be sawn up later – completed our haul.  Kindling sorted.  A day or two’s heat sorted.  Well, you know what they say about wood, and about how it heats you several times?  We aren’t woodcutters.  But we do gather it, then stack it, then burn it.  That’s three times.  That’s good value.

The path to the woods.

Click on any image to see it full size.