Annie, my Grandmother, c.1925

I never knew my grandmother, as she and my mother were estranged, and even though she lived until I was 14, she was never part of my life.  All I knew was that on the early death of my grandfather, my grandmother forbade my mother, then eighteen, to take up the scholarship place at Oxford University that she had been offered just before her father died.  She was to stay at home and keep house. In the end, my mother lived at home and went to Leeds University: but she never forgave my grandmother denying her the opportunity – still unusual for a young woman of her background – that she’d worked towards throughout her time at Grammar School. I grew up with no warm feelings towards this woman whom I had never met.  In this piece, I’ve tried to look at my grandmother with fresh eyes and to see the world as it might have seemed to her.

Annie, the Vicar’s wife: c. 1925

Annie, probably taken in the early years of her marriage.

She sat there: no thoughts, no plans. Just a fog of tiredness behind her eyes, gritty with exhaustion. A thin skin congealed on her breakfast cup of tea. Beside her, a loaded and overflowing laundry basket.

The children had long since disappeared to school. There was the Vicarage to clean.  Always there was the house to clean. Mouse droppings in the kitchen, little rodents scurrying behind the skirting boards, day and night. Bats in the loft. Buckets in the bedrooms every time it rained.

Charles didn’t mind. Charles didn’t notice. He’d been brought up poor, but his brains had propelled him through school, won him a scholarship to Cambridge, while his sense of duty and his love of God had sent him to theological college, then to failing parishes, where he preached, visited, networked, did whatever God willed to fill the pews and make the church and parish life the centre of the community.

Where did Annie fit in with this? Fifteen years ago, Annie had been dazzled by the handsome young curate: his charm, his popularity, even his clear-eyed faith. What a privilege when they began to walk out together, and then to marry!

But Men of God earn very little. Men of God live in draughty, ill maintained and ill-equipped vicarages with large unwieldy gardens. Men of God rely on the women in their lives to run their parishes with them. What’s a parish without its Women’s Sewing Group, its Mothers’ Union, its Young People’s Fellowship?  What’s a parish without a Summer Fair, a regular diet of church socials and a harvest supper? And who, unpaid and completely taken for granted, manages the fellowships and all these events?

Well, here in Morley, it was Annie, wife and mother. Mother of Betty, brainy Betty, hothoused by her father, top of the class in her grammar school in Leeds, and thinking of nothing but wanting to be the first girl in school to get a place at Oxford. Mother of Arthur, fumbling bumbling clumsy Arthur: a bit of a dunce really.  What would he be fit for when he left school? Such a worry…

And besides Charles hadn’t been well, though hardly anybody realised, because he worked every single day.  He said his was a calling, not a job: no days off for him. Only Annie knew that he had been diagnosed with diabetes.  Only Annie was allowed to help him with his daily injection of the new wonder drug insulin. But he was supposed to be very careful, eating regularly to a strict diet. He did neither. Annie knew Charles could – probably would – die. And Annie knew what happened to vicars’ widows. When the vicar of St Agnes’ died last year, Mrs Atkins, poor Mrs Atkins and her four young children were put out of the Vicarage within the month.

Whatever would she do?  Whatever would she, Betty and Arthur do when Charles passed?

How Not to Run a Cycling Race

Shock!  Horror!  Unheard of!  Today we could be found (a) watching day time television and (b) it was a cycling programme.

Today’s daytime TV.

The Tour de France, to be exact.  Normally we only display an interest in this or any other cycling event if it passes our front door: as it did twice when we lived in France, and once, in 2014, when memorably, the Tour began in Yorkshire.

The Tour de France goes through Laroque, 2012

Today however, stage 15 of this year’s Tour took place in the area we called home, the Ariège.  We had to watch.  The struggles of the cyclists passed us by as we grew nostalgic, even damp-eyed as familiar roads, familiar landscapes appeared on screen.

But as I watched, I was reminded of an incident that took place in Laroque, back in 2012.

Every year, just before the Tour, another cycling race takes place in the Ariège: L’Ariégeoise.  It’s divided into three levels of difficulty: the Ariégeoise itself (160 km,3,500 m. of climbing), the Mountagnole (118 km, 2,500 m. of climbing) and for wimps, the Passejade, a mere 68 km, and 750 m. of climbing.

That year, the route passed our way.  That year, the routes of the two main races parted company in Laroque.  And that year, there were no signs to say so….  and nor were there special marshalls for the Mountagnards.

The unsuspecting riders arrive at the parting of the ways….

As the riders arrived at the crossroads in town , they didn’t know where to go.  Ariégeoises  followed MountagnardsMountagnards followed Ariégeoises.  It was hopeless.  Riders tried to turn round, collided with those behind them, swore, and swore again as they saw their hard-won perfect timings being swallowed up in the chaos.  With extraordinary presence of mind, I shot some video footage.

 

I heard later that following the event, the race organisers used my little clip for  training purposes, to demonstrate How Not To Organise a Cycling Event.  I’m guessing it’s part of every year’s Tour de France training too.  That’s why it always runs so smoothly.

You can read all about it here.

Yorkshire for Europe – part 2

We’re back from Brussels.  ‘We’ were a 60 strong group whose members, between us, had birthdates representing every single decade from the 1930s to the 2000s. And we had indeed come from Yorkshire just to say- ‘We’re for ever European’…

…. to ask ‘What shall we do with this rotten Brexit?’….

.. and to assert…..

We were cheered and moved to be tooted supportively by passing cars,  told by streetcleaners, policemen, ice-cream stallholders, bar staff, passport control staff, passers-by that people in mainland Europe want us to stay, welcomed our efforts.

Wednesday was the day when we marched round the European Parliament campus singing and waving our European, Yorkshire and Union flags.  It was the day when we toured the parliament building, having a question and answer session with Henry Wasung,  British multi-lingual member of staff, and in the absence of our own MEP Richard Corbett, who was in London, with Seb Dance, Labour MEP for London.  All of which assured us in our knowledge that only staying in Europe makes sense.

Singing on campus (ChiaraMacCall)

In the afternoon we were centre stage.  We were at the Schuman Roundabout, focal point of the buildings of many of the EU institutions.  So were members of Brussels Light Opera, Women for Europe, EU super girl and Young European of the Year 2018 Madeleina Kay.  And we sang (see above!).  Madeleina sang.  Various British MEPs came to support us and to speak.  Our own Shaffaq Mohammed and Magid Magid made speeches too.

Madeleina Kay with Magid Magid (Chiara MacCall)

Then it was four o’clock and time to go.  Time to load the flags, the posters, the banners into the coach and make our way back to the ship, and to England.

Packing up at the end (Chiara MacCall)

We feel energised, optimistic, ready to plan the next stage of our campaign.  Whatever we do, we’ll continue to make it fun and uplifting.  No sour faces here.

‘We’ve come from Yorkshire just to say, just to say…….

…… all kinds of things about our love of Europe and our wish to remain in the EU. There are a dozen songs in the Yorkshire Remain Voice Song Book, pastiches of traditional songs, popular music staples, sea shanties and even hymns.

Sixty Yorkshire folk, all committed Remainer campaigners have arrived in Brussels to sing every one of them.

We’ve sung our way across on the overnight ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge.

We’ve had an entertaining and informative afternoon at the Comité Européen des Régions, and held an impromptu flash mob there.

Flash mob alert

We’ve practised in the park, and brought gratitude and tears to an elderly Belgian, remembering his youth, with its fascism, division and war.

And this evening, we went to Place Jo Cox, laid a wreath of knitted white roses, and sang in memory of the murdered Yorkshire MP. One of our own newly elected MEPs, Magid Magid (Green), who joined us, reminded us of Jo’s hallmark: her compassion.

Magid Magid lays our wreath

Tomorrow though, is our big day…..

May is blue, white …. and yellow…..

Bluebell woods at Rpley.

May is blue and white.  May is the month when bluebells thrust their heads above the leaf mould of an English woodland and carpet it with a hazy sea of blue.  It’s when forget-me-nots flower in every vacant spot of earth, and wriggle through the cracks in paving stones. It’s when bluish-purple wisteria scrambles across old brickwork, gently waving its blooms in the light spring breeze. It’s when the  sky is often reliably and cloudlessly blue on a sunny afternoon.

May is hawthorn time.  May is lilac time.  May sees late-flowering wild garlic give place to bluebells .  Daisies take over.    White petals from pear, apple and cherry trees swirl gently to the ground.  And white woolly lambs play king-of-the-castle and run races in the fields.  Round here, sheep-identification markings are blue.

There’s plenty of space for yellow too.  Anyone spotted any dandelions?

A field near Pateley Bridge.

This is my response to today’s Ragtag Challenge: May.

Click on any image to view it full size.

The Eccentric Aristocrat: Sir Tatton Sykes, 4th Baronet.

As you travel on the B1252 to Driffield in East Yorkshire, you may notice ahead of you a strange spire thrusting skywards. Is it a steeple? No, too slender. Is it some piece of machinery, agricultural or otherwise? No, that’s just … wrong.

The Sledmere Monument, a first glance.

Then suddenly, you’re upon it – it’s there, at the side of the road, a needle-sharp column rising some 120 feet towards the heavens. You get out. You read the story. And then you come home and find out more about the extraordinary man whose life is commemorated in this memorial.

The Sledmere Monument: a second glance.

Sir Tatton Sykes was born in 1772: and he chose to wear 18th century dress all his life. He lived on the 34,000 acres of the family seat of Sledmere House, the largest estate in the East Riding of Yorkshire. The Sykes family was one that thought little of building an entire village – Sledmere – to support it, or of hiring the most noted landscape designer of the age, Capability Brown, to transform its parkland. They employed the foremost designers, plasterers and architects of the period to fashion the house itself. They were rich, energetic, resourceful … and eccentric. You can read all about it here.

Sledmere House (geograph.co.uk)

Sir Tatton grew up to be an informed and intelligent sheep breeder, but his first love was horse racing. Apparently he even sold a copy of the Gutenberg Bible to support his stables and foxhounds. In the unlikely event that a copy of this book came onto the market today, it would probably sell for between $25 million and $35 million.

He’d travel miles on horseback – or even on foot – to see a horse race. He’d even be found riding the winning horse himself. He bred horses – some 200 at a time, and held quality stock, paying 3000 guineas for one particularly fine animal.

 

So far, so fairly normal for an upper class English eccentric. But here is a man who was also a bare-knuckle fighter; a man who’d roll up his shirtsleeves and work alongside his labourers, earning their admiration and respect. He noticed the grass growing more lushly where his foxhounds buried their bones, put two and two together, and invented … bonemeal.He didn’t marry till he was fifty, but then he went on to have eight children, seven of whom lived, before he finally died aged ninety.

Some 3000 people, rich and poor came to his funeral. And it was some of these people who came up with the idea for this monument. It comes complete with keeper’s cottage (Job? Keep the place in order, and conduct visitors up the presumably horribly narrow stairs to the viewing room at the top).

Sir Tatton Sykes, as shown on his monument.

‘To tenants he was a liberal landlord, to the poor a kind and considerate friend’, it says on the information board by the monument. Not a bad epitaph.

Happy New Year!

I didn’t intend to post this evening, but the sunset, even though I couldn’t actually see the sun, seemed cheerful and optimistic despite the whisps of forbidding grey which kept on drifting across the pastel pinks .  This is England after all.  This is our weather.  And our current state of mind. 

I whipped out my phone to record the clouds.    It seemed a good opportunity to wish you all a happy new year, wherever you are.

Goodbye 2018.  We’re driving off and forward to 2019.