Down Your Way

Having been somewhat under the weather recently I have taken to resting in the afternoons and, thunderstorms permitting, listening to BBC radio via my laptop.

Thanks to the time difference the Test Match coverage is over by lunchtime, so the whole range of the iPlayer is open to me….but I’ve been disappointed much of the time by the standard of what is on offer.
Perhaps I wouldn’t be so tetchy were I on top form, but it’s because I’m not on top form that I want to listen to something stimulating and informative.

Still, given that the bumbrushers to big business now running Britain want to reduce the BBC to a muppet show I suppose I had best make the most of what there is while it lasts.

Music – the alternative to the spoken voice – is somewhat curtailed since the arrival of the pups.
They have objections to counter tenors so Purcell’s ‘Sound the Trumpet’ is out…

As is ‘No lo diro col labbro’ from ‘ Handel’s ‘Tolomeo’….

The singer’s lips may not have the courage to utter, but the pups have no such inhibitions. Heads flung back they give it laldy with both barrels.

However they have no such objections to the song derived from the above; ‘Silent Worship’….

Unfortunately I do…much though I enjoy Thomas Allen’s voice I find the lyrics syrupy, so for now on the music front it is pups 15, me love.

What has astonished me is to find re runs of programmes I remember from way back….in ‘The Navy Lark’ Sub-Lieutenant Phillips is still to be found navigating HMS Troutbridge with his unique command of ‘Left hand down a bit’ which results inevitably in an unwanted encounter between several tons of moving warship and several more tons of immovable jetty to cries of ‘Everybody down!’ from the conniving Chief Petty Officer Pertwee to be followed by the wrath of ‘Old Thunderguts’ – Captain Povey.

A period piece now – Britain still had a navy when that series went out after all – and far from ‘edgy’, it is still a delight of comic timing and shines like a jewel among the clumping ‘comedies’ of the current era – as does the superb later series of ‘Absolute Power’ with its commentary on the backstairs of the Blair years.

But, joy of joys, they are broadcasting ‘Round the Horne’ again.
This had my parents in stitches when first broadcast and listening to it now it astounds me that the scriptwriters got away with it in an era when prudery ruled the airwaves.
Especially when you consider that it was broadcast on Sunday afternoons.

Older and more aware of the sheer misery suffered by a man straitjacketed by his society’s rigidity I can still enjoy Kenneth Williams‘ in his persona as folk singer Wandering Syd Rumpo

A lesson in how what you read into something defines yourself.

‘Gardener’s Question Time’ is still going strong, though the egregious Bob Flowerdew has long replaced the gentleman who prefaced all replies to queries with the statement that ‘the answer lies in the soil’, but one old favourite not so far repeated is ‘Down Your Way’ a programme which visited towns and villages across England interviewing local residents.
While my father refused to listen to it, denouncing it as a load of claptrap from town clerks and town bores I found it interesting. In an age where we did not travel much it was an insight into how others lived and worked….and in that pre Thatcher era there were still trades and industries to be described!

‘Down Your Way’ came to mind when I was reading an item in the local on line news: a gentleman has been giving a series of reminiscences of his youth in the sixties and locates the shops bars and dance halls he knew, together with the names of the adults and children of his time….with Violetta’s help I can place most of the shops he talks about – and found too that one of the kids with whom he ran about seeking tips outside the bars is my lawyer!

This sort of thing, oral history, brings the town to life for me….in the same way that the books of George Ewart Evans – ‘Ask the Fellows who Cut the Hay’ and ‘Where Beards Wag All’ to name but two bring alive the life of the East Anglian farmhand from a century previous.
Those who wish to be superior decry what they call ‘anecdotal evidence’…but it is the very life of history.

So, what anecdotal evidence has been happening down my way recently?

Well, things are winding up for next year’s municipal elections so the current bunch of gross incompetents are counting on the short memory effect by a bout of sudden activity.

The alcalde (mayor) has been out and about drumming up grants from state institutions to pay for the obligatory study which has to be made before works can be done to repair or replace the many bridges either down or in a dangerous state during the length of his administration.
puriscal bridge
By the time he has the grants he reckons he will be back in power for another few years and the bridges can be forgotten until next time.

This is unlikely to gain him many votes among the indigenous community at Zapaton whose road exit has not been repaired since the great washout of a year ago, leaving many elderly people prisoners in their houses.
zapaton

Mark you, he may not even be put up as his party’s candidate as well founded rumour has it that among the four up for the job is one who will be in the toils of the courts in short order, so painting the podium in the park in his party’s colours may not pay off after all.
park puriscal

Still, he may yet be of service to the community…
puriscal dustcart
Following the travails of the municipal bulldozer, the municipal dustcart has been out of action for some time…perhaps the added weight of the alcalde will encourage its compaction unit to work as it should.
Well worth a try.

And we have had visitors.
IMG_2807
A pair of black bellied whistling ducks.
They have been feeding with our lot for a few days now, so I’m in hopes that they will stay.
Unlike the alcalde.

Emerging from Hibernation

Afghanistan cricket team
Yes, I know that it is summer here…a summer which has come roaring in with searing heat and high winds, drying off the pasture and presaging no good for the months to come.
Still, summer or no, I have been hibernating.
Under the weather myself before Christmas, husband since after a spectacular fall resulting in large hole in leg, ten stitches and daily dressings at the clinic.
Then my dear Alsatian died, attacked by a galloping form of cancer, followed days afterwards by his ancient friend the Costa Rican King Charles Corgi….it might have been old age, but I fancy it was more like a broken heart.

Still, visitors arrived to rouse me from my torpor and the door to the hibernation cave is sealed up. Life, changed though it is, goes on, though no tail thumps the floor waiting for the breakfast egg.

I am following Scotland’s ‘progress’ in the World Cup….the One Day Cricket World Cup, that is.
Somewhere, distantly, I hear Adullamite beating his breast and crying ‘Ichabod‘ at this example of the decline of Scots values, but follow it I do.

As always with Scotland’s teams in whatever form of sport they suffer from an excess of sportsmanship.
They like to make opposing teams feel at ease by giving them vast leads and then fail gallantly to overtake them.

I consider that this is all down to the example offered by that flower of medieval chivalry the Good Sir James Douglas, companion in arms of the Bruce in the Wars of Independence who, charged with taking the (by now dead – yes, I know, but we are speaking about Scots here) Bruce’s heart on Crusade to the Holy Land,
A…hung about a bit before doing anything about it – Scottish team captains demonstrate the same tendency…
B…went on Crusade to Spain instead….Scottish football fans know the way by heart…
C…disobeyed orders and found himself cut off at which point he hurled the heart in its container ahead of him and followed it to certain death, bellowing ‘Lead on brave heart as thou was wont to do’ – a practice followed, though with less poetic language, by Scots rugby players and with the same result. Marmelised.

Add to that disadvantage the obligation on national teams to sing that dirge ‘Flower of Scotland’: and you begin to understand the obstacles to success under which they labour.

What was wrong with ‘Scots Wa Hae’, I should like to know,

Or, come to that, ‘Blue Bonnets’ which, despite having the lyrics written by Sir Walter Scott, manages to stir up the memories of the Border reivers, whose motto was ‘nothing too hot or too heavy’…that is, nothing too hot or too heavy to steal from their English neighbours.

Now that should inspire a bit of gumption!

‘The Ball of Kirriemuire’, as will be evident to anyone rash enough to look it up on Youtube, while well in the running in the enthusiasm stakes is more suitable to a victory celebration and is thus but rarely heard.

So far in the World Cup Scotland have been defeated by New Zealand – though they can comfort themselves with the thought that there is a great deal of Scottish blood in New Zealanders, not only from historic migration but also from ears bitten in encounters on the rugby field with the All Blacks.
I suppose that the Scottish cricket team should thank their lucky stars that the match was heralded by a Maori playing a didgeridoo rather than by several All Blacks performing a haka.

It’s enough to make you want to lie down in a darkened room with a cup of tea.

Unfortunately, Scotland have also been beaten by England.
For which there is but one appropriate musical reference…the piobaireachd ‘Too Long in this Condition’…. which while you’ll need the stamina of an ox to see it through to the end, does give time to smother all the untoward language which you might – if a Scot – wish to use on such an occasion.

After these performances Scotland can look forward to meeting Sri Lanka….prepare the mourning garments and the jet jewellery: Bangladesh….whose Asian players will perform the best?…and Afghanistan.

Scotland versus Afghanistan.
Given the current disparity between the teams the result can only be a re run of ‘Carry On up the Khyber’

And I have a horrible feeling that it will not be Scotland carrying on in the competition.

.

A Long Time Ago

The old year sent on its way with a boot up the backside and the new one greeted with the wariness of one who has been had before, it is nevertheless a time when the past tends to creep into the consciousness.

This could be because no government offices are open to plague us, shops close for all of half an hour, the internet slows to a crawl while everyone tries out their latest iProd and the best that the television can offer is a hideous pastiche of Benson’s Mapp and Lucia novels…false teeth figure largely, homosexuality has to be broadly signalled in a manner quite foreign to the original and novels that were masterworks of delicate observation have been perverted into Merchant and Ivory costumed slapstick.

Thus, there are some moments when thoughts of the past can creep in unobserved.

Christmas Day only became a holiday in Scotland in the late fifties…so the Christmas fever never really caught on with me. The birth of the Prince of Peace was just that…not an occasion to throw financial caution to the winds and splurge on a mountain of presents, decorations and food while averting the eyes from the bills due in January.
Not being too well in the run up to Christmas this year I was looking for diversion so turned on the T.V. and was presented with some woman decorating her house like a tart’s boudoir and an Italian themed Christmas party presented by another woman continually tossing her hair, pushing her bosom into the camera and licking her fingers while looking roguish. Must have been the tart for whom the other’s boudoir was designed.
Tchah! and Pah! Off with the box!

The arrival of Christmas card from a friend reminded me of our student days in London where we managed to miss the sexual revolution, LSD and anything even remotely swinging. It may well all have been happening, but not round our hall of residence it wasn’t.
I tried smoking a cigarette ( twice) and decided that wine was a lot more pleasurable, as evidenced by observing my tutor, having drink taken, attempting to descend the ascending escalator at Holborn tube station.
The student union bar…that place of suspiciously sticky carpet and dim lighting….falling into silence as the T.V. in the corner was turned on for the weekly emission of Noggin the Nog.

Later, visiting ex student friends, the same reverence would be shown for the Sunday afternoon post pub emissions of The Clangers…

Let all mortal flesh be silent.

The sailing club’s annual wrecking trip to the Norfolk Broads….usually wet and cold, encased in inflexible yellow oilskins which did nothing to enhance the wind reddened complexion, where the main aim was to reach Potter Heigham and get to the pub with the most remarkable collection of gins I have ever seen.
Getting back aboard could be interesting but at least you no longer cared that your bunk was a strange triangular shape which had you touching heads with the other occupant of your compartment while your frozen feet diverged to hit the bulkhead at the far end.
Potter Heigham’s other attraction was its medieval bridge. Not just for the bridge itself, but for the possibilities of mayhem that it offered.
If the water levels were high some of the high sided motor cruisers could not get under it. Some of the v necked pullovered skippers of said high sided motor cruisers would try anyway and get their craft firmly wedged under the arch, the strong current playing merry hell with their attempts to reverse as the men from the nearby boatyard gloomily launched their rescue craft.
Yachts had to lower their masts….the safe thing to do was to moor up alongside the bank, lower the mast and secure it before deploying the quants – long poles – casting off and attempting to line up on the bridge so as to go straight through.
Most sailing club skippers, raised on tales of Horatio Hornblower and Captain Morgan, would claim that it was easier and safer to line up on the bridge, lower sails and mast while under way and shoot it with the aid of the current. This took a crew with split second reactions who had not had drink taken the night before and usually ended in the men from the boatyard gloomily launching their rescue craft.
potter heigham bridge
The sailing club was just that…it sailed.
sailiong yachts norfolk broads
No engines, so you could spend a day tacking backwards and forwards in the face of a stiff breeze from the North Sea while high sided motor cruisers steered by gentlemen in v necked pullovers merrily passed you by, the wash of their boat knocking you back about another half an hour of tacking.
However, at some point in the trip one member would always manage to ram his bowsprit through the window of a cruiser rash enough to cross his bows – and with any luck it would prove to be the loo compartment with someone trapped within.

Warning…if you play this video apply the mute.

The Norfolk Broads might not have been swinging London…but it had its moments.

Back to London in term time we would frequent a Chinese restaurant off the East India Dock Road in Pennyfields…..I cannot remember if it was called Old Friends or New Friends but it was cheap (even on a student grant), offered good food – the first time I ate squid – and the pot of jasmine tea was continually refilled. I gather it is now called Noodles and is frequented by the sort of noodle who works in the Evil Empire of finance which has taken over Docklands and changed it from a place where the toil was honest into a lair of vampires sucking the blood from the world economy.
Tchah again!

Not far away in Coldharbour was a pub called The Gun.
the gun pub
Here on singing nights bearded young men armed with squeezeboxes and wearing aran sweaters would foregather to sing sea shanties…
aran sweaters
Most of which were culled from the pages of Stan Hugill’s masterwork ‘Shanties of the Seven Seas’ because if you had asked any of these bearded wonders to undertake a voyage on a Cape Horner to the flaming coast of Chile in the guano trade they would, in that unforgettable phrase used by journalists of ‘The News of The World’, have made an excuse and left.
cape horner

Mark you, they’d have been right.
‘They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters’ have always had a hard and dangerous life and it’s not one I’d have liked to have had to endure….

So as the Christmas cards go into their box, taking the past with them, it’s back to the present, to the calls for cups of tea, the noise of the cane cutting machine and the Costa Rican sun….with just one last blast from the past.

Lilac Time

lilac-flower-2Night falls early here, so indoor things I would do in the daytime when in France I now leave until after dark….jam making, or, as last night, making spiced vinegar and peeling and salting onions for pickling.
And, just as when in the kitchen in France, I listen to BBC radio.

The iPlayer is a godsend, despite its new format which drives me up the wall as I want to know what the Book at Bedtime is before undertaking two processes to get to it only to find it is codswallop.
I shall never understand why people let IT specialists tinker with something that works well to turn it into a means of frustration to the user.

Despite the desperately unfunny comedies and the plodding trendy dramas there is much gold still to be mined on BBC radio and I turned up a little nugget last night which not only gave me pleasure in itself, but which turned back the years to when I was a child visiting my mother’s mother.

The programme was one called ‘My Kind of Country’, broadcast in 1968 by John Arlott, talking about his native county of Hampshire.

A brief description of the career of John Arlott would read: clerk in a mental institution, policeman, poet, wine lover and cricket commentator, but that list gives nothing of the reality of the man – a deeply liberal man in every sense of the word with a poet’s economy and exactitude of style and a warrior’s heart for a worthy cause.

His voice is unique…a southern English accent such as you no longer hear among the blare of the north and midlands favoured by broadcasters who think that only something north of Watford can tick the box marked ‘regional’.
If you are quick you can catch it on the BBC iPlayer…if not, here is a link to him talking about how he became a cricket commentator.

Just listening to him brought me into the world he was describing….peeling off the layers of the outliers of the county to come to what he considered its heart…then he recounted an interview with a shepherd who gave a rendering of that old song ‘Buttercup Joe’ and instantly I was back in the past, in a garden in Surrey, while another old boy sang the very same song.

My mother’s mother came from an Oxfordshire farming family…but there had been a tremendous bust up when she married her Australian husband and they had upped sticks and settled in Surrey in a quiet house on the outskirts of a town that was then half country.
By the time I knew that house it was well within the purlieus of the town – the only ‘country’ aspect remaining being the stables of the Co-op milk delivery horses some distance away.
I was taken to visit when we moved from Scotland to England and was usually, with my cousins, banished to the garden while the mother and daughters got down to gossip.
It was a garden divided between grass and flowers and a huge veg plot…but in spring, when it was warm enough to sit out, we used to gather round the creosoted cable bobbin that served as both table and chair in the shade of the lilacs, purple, mauve and white, behind the rabbit hutches.

The purple and mauve lilacs graced the house with their scent, but the white were never taken indoors. Bad luck.
My father thought it was by way of regarding them like the white hawthorn that you would pick when you went maying…but which should never cross the threshold…white was the colour of death…and was the colour of the mourning clothes worn by the queens of France.
There was also – as he pointed out when I was older – the sexual connotations of plucking the flower, the relief after the sexual drought…listen to Morley’s madrigal ‘Now is the Month of Maying’…where playing at ‘barley break’ means a sex romp. Eat your heart out ‘The Sun’.

But all this was hidden from us as we drank our R. White’s lemonade…
Goes off pop.
A penny on the bottle when you take it to the shop.

One of my mother’s sisters was married to a director of R.White – but I don’t remember any cut price bottles of dandelion and burdock or cream soda darkening our doorsteps.

So, engaged in cousinly wrangling, we were surprised to hear the creak of the hinges of the back gate, followed by the appearance of a total stranger.
An elderly man in a brown suit, the jacket buttoned high as in photographs from the Edwardian period, a face well tanned by the weather and the whole crowned by a brown bowler, or, as we used to call it, a billycock hat.
He was as surprised to see us as we were to see him, but soon recovered himself.

I’d forgotten the gals was visiting.

The ‘gals’ being our mothers.

I’d just slipped out for a bit…you know how it is..’

Fascinated, we nodded as he seated himself on the bobbin. We knew how it was when the coven got together.

Yer grandad is still in the Rose and Crown…

We nodded again: this was par for the course.

But I thought I’d just take a few bottles home; the rounds was getting heavy.

We might not be too sure about rounds and heavy but the sense of unwelcome financial burden was clear to us.

He produced a bottle and crown cork opener and took possession of a glass, throwing the remains of the lemonade on the ground.

This, he said, is brown ale…take a sip.

We did. It was not what we were accustomed to…but we weren’t going to miss out.

He took a draught.

Now. I suppose you’ll be wondering who I am.

We nodded.

Well! I’m a cousin of your grandmother Ellen and I’m the dirty dish in the family!
But you don’t want to know about all thaat.

We did. Oh, how we did, but the rules of our upbringing forbade us to ask what a grown up said we should not know.

So while we’re out here and they’re in there – jerk of the head – I’ll sing you a song or two to pass the time.

He sang us Buttercup Joe…then The Fly be on the Turmut….

And was well launched on the next, which started promisingly with

Be I Berkshire,
Be I buggery,
I comes up from Wareham
Where the gals wears calico drawers
And we knows how to tear ’em

At which point the female posse emerged and put a stop to it all…I don’t know what happened to the old boy but we children were pushed inside and fed seed cake.

On the bus going home I asked my mother about our visitor..

She told me that his own parents had fallen on hard times and had farmed the children out to various relatives.
He had gone to her mother who was a superb plain cook, but, thanks to his circumstances, he was not used to cooked food but rather to the stale cakes sold off by the baker….
So every home cooked meal from roast to shepherd’s pie via pig’s fry on Saturday was greeted with a cry of

I doan’t waant none of thaat…..

Brown ale might have been the answer…..