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’.

Ragtag Tuesday: Toussaint – the Day of the Dead

No, I’m not talking about the Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, that life-affirming joyous celebration of life that happens in Mexico at this time of year.

I’m remembering our life in France.  I’m remembering how, from early October and for the rest of the month, shops and markets would be crammed with pots and pots of chrysanthemums.  It’s hard to know where they could all have been grown.  Or how they could all find buyers.  The Hard Discount supermarkets would sell them for a euro or two, while high-end florists expected a great deal more.

On All Saints’ Day, November 1st, all these chrysanthemums – white, russet, yellow, mauve, crimson – would suddenly appear in the cemeteries, jostled and packed onto family tombs .  And those cemeteries weren’t just crowded with plants.  Family groups make it their business to visit their deceased relatives in the season of Toussaint.  The day itself is a public holiday, and so those family members who’ve died provide an excuse for a family get-together. Here’s a day when, out of respect, there’s no opportunity to air old grievances or argue over the family silver.

Foreign visitors can make a big mistake when coming to see their French friends at this time of year.  ‘There were such a lot of lovely chrysanthemums in the shops, I couldn’t resist buying a pot for you’.  It doesn’t go down well.  There’s only one place for these flowers once they’ve left the shop.  The graveyard.

What HAS happened to all my photos taken in France of Toussaint chrysanthemums in shops, markets, cemeteries?  Who knows?  I’ve had to rely on Unsplash, a brilliant collection of copyright-free photos, offered by the world’s photographers.

Today’s Ragtag Challenge is ‘Dead’.

Ragtag Tuesday: Flying the flag

Last time, we had to get to York to catch the coach to London.  This time, York had two coaches stuffed with its own.  Harrogate and Ripon had two, up from zero.  And Leeds had upped its game from two to five.

Coach to London?  Yes, to support the March for the People’s Vote.  You’ll know there were about 700,000 of us.  You’ll know the arguments.  So let’s just talk about a fun day.

A day in which I could take few photos, because I was on Team North Yorkshire, and often doing duty carrying one end of our banner. We did sing though.  All the Yorkshire marchers who could be found as we passed the Grosvenor Hotel were rounded up for a photo call.  A passing marching band (there were  musicians….)  struck up with ‘On Ilkley Moor baht’at‘ and all right-thinking Yorkshire folk joined in with lots of enthusiasm but little melody.

We talked.  How we talked.  We made common cause with voters from Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency, from Devon, from Northumberland, from Leicestershire – the banners proved that no part of the nation was unrepresented.

And we carried flags.  EU flags, Union Jacks, Yorkshire flags, Italian flags.  Progress was slow.  We snuck off to coffee shops (staffed by Italians) and pubs (staffed by any and every nation) for a quick breather and still easily regained our places.

 

Have you ever tried to fit 700,000 people into Parliament Square?  No, can’t happen.  In any case, thousands and thousands of us were still marching as the speeches started, as they continued, and after they had finished.  That was disappointing, as last time, I’d been inspired and energised by so many fired up and dynamic contributions.

Instead we got street theatre.  Anarchists on wildly decorated bicycles, a Boris Johnson look-alike, a tricycle.  It was, despite our serious purpose, lots of fun.  And tiring.

 

Look.  This is us on the coach home.  Our flags are still in place.

But I’ll end on this story, which makes me in equal measure sad and angry.

On the bus down, a French woman who has lived in the UK for 32 years told us that she no longer feels welcome in the UK, has suffered abuse, and has been told to ‘go home’.  She’d always previously loved Britain’s diversity and felt us to be accepting and tolerant.

And sadly, after two years of this different treatment, she’s decided she and her British husband have had enough and they’re moving to France. Even though she has considered Yorkshire her home for over 30 years.  This is not the first time I’ve heard tales like this.

It’s no secret that I voted Remain.  But nobody, however they voted, seems happy with how things are going.  If you believe that, having been given the chance to vote on continued EU membership, we should now be given the opportunity to vote on the Final Deal (including an option to remain), please write to your MP.  Here’s how.

Click on any image to see it full size.

Today’s Ragtag Challenge is ‘Flag’.

Ragtag Tuesday: a serendipitous sunset

I was dashing out to a meeting yesterday evening when this sight greeted me at the end of the road.

Pure serendipity.  I suddenly realised how early I was.  There were five minutes to spare when I could stand and stare at the black outlines of the newly-skeletal trees.  The sky was transforming from a sappy fresh green and yellow through to a pale teal blue, before bleeding into grey-edged tones of salmon pink cloud.  Why hurry?  I stayed and enjoyed the moment.

Tuesday’s Ragtag Prompt is ‘Serendipity’.

Ragtag Tuesday: Driving. England; France; Spain. What a contrast!

We’ve just landed home from our epic car journey through France and Spain.  2,715 miles on the clock.  The worst of those miles were those completed here in the UK.

This morning near the Blackwall Tunnel, London.

I’m not being entirely fair.  We had more than a few traffic-jam moments in Barcelona and Toulouse, but we’ve also enjoyed miles and miles of empty motorways and other roads, particularly in France, where driving was nothing but relaxing.

RN 20 near Pamiers, France.

What really makes a difference though, are the motorway service areas.  I’ve written before about France’s quiet uncommercial aires, which complement the ones with restaurants, shops and all the trimmings.  Even these can be havens of peace though.  Look at the Aire de la Porte de Corrèze.  Yes, it’s got all the usual facilities.  But it’s got space and peace too: a country path, a woodland walk, and a quiet pond.

Now look at the ‘Extra’ service area on the A1 M near Peterborough.  Outside space is strictly for parking in.  Land is scarce and ruinously expensive in the UK of course.  But if only we could have stretched our legs and breathed a little fresh air as we took a break in our journey north.  It would have made so much difference.

Today’s Ragtag challenge is ‘Contrast’.

PS.  I arrived home to some good news from the Police in Barcelona.  They have recovered certain items following last week’s thefts.  I still don’t know what.  Watch this space!

Ragtag Tuesday: Crepuscule in Corrèze

As we say goodbye to Corrèze for now, it seems fitting that the Ragtag word for today is ‘crepuscule.  It means twilight, and I always thought of it as an evening word.  But it can mean dawn as well.  So was this photo, taken from Sharon and Andrew’s house, and home to us for a week, taken in the morning or the evening?  What’s your guess?

 

Ragtag Tuesday: London calling – an energy give & take

This Country Mouse, this bumpkin, loves a trip to London.  I love visiting my family above all, especially William and little Zoë (who’s doing alright.  She’s been moved from Intensive Care to High Dependency and back to Intensive Care: out of, and now back into an incubator. These set backs are not unexpected in such tiny babies, but the staff are confident that she’s basically doing well. Slowly she’s learning to breastfeed).

Zoë during her brief time out of an incubator.

I love the neighbourhood shopping streets. They’re often, and depressingly, a bit grubby and litter-strewn.  But they’re full of life.  Turkish, Lebanese, Italian, Chinese and East Asian, English, Syrian, French, Ethiopian, Eastern European, Caribbean shops, take-aways and restaurants rub along together.  There are barbers and hairdressers, some specialising in working with the tight curls of the local black population.  They may not open early, but they’re busy until late.  Markets sell fruit and veg. by the bowlful, and the fish stalls are an education in unfamiliar marine life.  No pictures – sorry.  When I take William to the park, I may find myself making common cause with grannies from Poland, France or Thailand.

I love the happenstance of walking the backstreets almost anywhere in central London.  When I have to get to King’s Cross Station, I often get off the tube at some station beforehand and complete my journey on foot.  That’s how I found myself in Smithfield Market, England’s largest wholesale meat market, trading in meat sales as it has been for over 800 years.  Then nearby is the church of Saint Bartholomew the Great.  It ought to be twinned with Fountains Abbey. One was founded in 1123, the other in 1132.

I like exploring the destinations the average tourist doesn’t have time to see.  The Wallace Collection, the Museum of London Docklands, the Wren churches of the City of London.

Go to the Museum of London Docklands, to explore London as a sea-trading city from Roman times onwards, and you’re rubbing shoulders with the high-rise financial quarter, seen here from the Thames.

I’m energised by my visits to London.  I love exploring, and discovering London’s secret corners.  It’s an interesting combination.  London gives me renewed energy as willingly as it tires me out.

This week’s Ragtag Challenge is Energy.