Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Floods and Mud

The weather's been so warm lately we've been sleeping with our bedroom window wide open - pleasant for us but a disaster for those up north, including a friend from university days who's been flooded out of his home, and Son the Younger's girlfriend, stuck in her village for a couple of days without electricity.  On my annual Leeds-and-back-in-one-day round trip yesterday, I took wellies in case, not least because we had to collect Kitten Nini and older step-brother Monstertruck from their Christmas lodgings in Kirkstall and take them back across the flooded River Aire to their home with Daughter the Elder. 


In the event, the only flooding we saw was on the River Avon (Shakespeare's) where it passes under the M5 near Pershore in Worcestershire.  

In Leeds the canal we crossed was full but contained, and Kirkstall Road was passable though sodden-looking.  The businesses lining the street were in darkness.  


This afternoon, back in Bristol, we went for a walk on Kingsweston Down, a ridge of limestone grassland that runs south west from Blaise Castle estate.  








The iron-age hill-fort






Unseasonal signs included daisies ...


... and there was also lots and lots of mud.  Ted's element, it would appear. 


 

  


You can walk along the ridge all the way to Avonmouth, but we were a bit tardy getting out so only got as far as the telly transmitter before it started getting dusky.  A pair of ravens passed overhead, cronking companionably.

It was lovely. 

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Emergency Bookshoppery

No matter how timely and organised I've been in executing the 'final' Christmas shop, there's always a need to brave the late rush for suddenly remembered, essential extras. A quick recce two days before the big day revealed that whilst moving house had uncovered lost hoards of tea spoons under beds, down the back of settees, etc, we still had a dearth of knives.  And the dodgy electrics in our new home would be sure to blow the old-style fuse box during the cooking of Christmas dinner if we didn't ensure we had a range of fuse wire to hand in three different gauges, even if we didn't have a clue what to do with it - a sort of precautionary magic.  Plus, while we're in the hardware shop, a new bin for the kitchen, hinges to re-secure the loft hatch at some point and some silver Brasso (a misnomer if ever there was). 


Pausing to admire the sign outside Bishopston Books was a mistake, for how you can you loiter there on the pavement without succumbing to the musk of foxed pages, the yearn and murmur of fading notes and inscriptions?  

With most of our books still stowed in boxes awaiting shelving, I racked my brain in the poetry section. Do we have a copy of 'Wintering Out' by Seamus Heaney already or not? Never mind, it's only £3, we can buy it, read it and pass it on later if it proves to be a duplicate. 

And Ted Hughes' 'The Iron Wolf' - I know I've got it in paperback but this is a first edition hardback and look at the gorgeous illustrations and yes, I know it's £25 but- 'oh, we have to have that,' declares my parter in poetry.



'You do realise it's signed, don't you?' says the bookshop owner as we pay at the till. So it's a bargain too, then. 

'Come on, Deb,' my partner says as I linger over another tome on the way out. 

'Just got caught by an interesting book,' I explain, reluctantly slotting 'Adult Psychopathology Case Studies' back onto the shelf.

'There's never any end to it, is there?' says the bookshop owner, with boundless compassion.



Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Loo With A View

A couple of Sundays ago, I found myself with an hour or two to spare in Ilminster, in darkest Somerset. 

This wasn’t quite enough time to manage the circuitous 28-mile round trip to Othery – the village, since the uncovering of my great-great-great-great-greatgrandfather’s will, I’m keenest to revisit – but Ilminster itself has lots to love …


 … including these signs of a summer long gone.


I was pleased to see that the local department store is still open and apparently thriving, though it looks a lot more exclusive, dahling, than the last time I passed this way. 

Sundays aren’t always the best days to lap up the atmosphere of an ancient church, and I had been to Il’s rather business-like minster before, so I took to the lanes instead and soon came across the local cemetery. Perfect.

It has everything: preposterous tombs in a stunning setting …

… an Anderson shelter converted into a hovel …

… yew trees and masses and masses of mistletoe …

… sadnesses …

… signs of a spring yet to come …


 … and just the best toilet ever. I mean, look at it.




Obviously, I had to use it. (No, I really did. Even though there was a sitting tenant.)

But as experiences of this type go, it was wholly charming. And since it wasn’t overlooked, I didn’t even have to shut the door. A loo with a view. The perfect pee.


To make my day complete, one of the bunches of mistletoe was just about low enough for me to reach on tiptoe and break off. I’ve always wanted to pick my own and now I have and am hopeful of a fair bit of kissing in our house this Christmas.  









Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The Last Will And Testament Of George Tutton

The last few weeks have not all been all about unpacking boxes and the trips to the tip, there’s been family stuff including my grandmother’s 118th birthday party, a tradition that began in the year of her death, 25 years ago.  Not for the first time, this year’s gathering brought rediscovered treasure, this time in the form of my great-great-great-great-great grandfather’s will, which, like the pages torn from a bible plundered during the Bristol Riots of 1831, were found by my cousin, Pam, amongst the papers of my late uncle, Meric.


Here’s a transcript of its content:

I, George Tutton of Othery in the County of Somerset do make this my last Will. First I give & demise unto my Son Edward Tutton for his natural life all that my Orchat in Puddle lane and after his Death to my Grandson George Tutton the Son of Edward Tutton to him his heirs and asigns for ever. Allso I give unto Ann Sautell one half part of any Houshold furniture and ten Pounds to be paid by my Exetators hear in after meneted and all my Tools _ Allso I give to my Daughter Hannah Whellar the Sum of thirty Pounds to be paid by my Exeitors. Allso I give to my Daughter Bride Gent the Sum of thirty Pounds _ Allso I give to my Daughter Tammey Barrington the Sum of thirty Pounds all of Good and lawfull Money of Great Britton to be paid by my Exeitors hear in after mentioned with in twelve Month after my Decess _ Allso I give to my four Grandsons that is George Tutton Whellar George Gent George Tutton and George Tutton Son of Edward Tutton the Sum of one Ginuea to barre me to ye Grave _ Allso I give to my Grandsons George Gent and Charles Gent all my Waring appariel equally between them _ Allso I give to all my Grandchildren the Sum of one Shillinge each to be paid __________ immeadetly after my Decess_ Allso I give to my to Sons George Tutton and Thomas Tutton all those my five Acors called the Common in Sedgsmore equal between them subject to all my Legiets to sell or keep whitch they think fit _ and I do hearby appoint my to Sons Thomas and George Tutton to be my hole and sole Executrix_ In Witness hear of I set my hand and seal this third day of Aprial 1821 _ George Tutton ___________ Signed sealed published and declared by the Testator as and for his last Will and Testament in the presents of us who at his request in his presents and in the presents of each other have subscribed our names as Witness there to ___ Wm Tucker ______ Elizabeth Tucker ______ Thomas Tucker

This agrees with the Original      Willm Parfitt Depi Reg


Underneath my cousin has added our line of descent:

George Tutton b 1740 – Last Will and Testament               died 1821
Edward Tutton b 1779 – died 1856
George Tutton b 1803 – died 1867  bap St Michael, Othery
Charles Tutton b 1835 – died 1921
Fanny Tutton b 1870 – died 1948
William (Jack) John Hill b 1896 – died 1953


What delights me, though, is not so much the content, though his bequests – and the way they’ve been recorded – are beguiling.  It is the revelation that he and his family lived in Othery, one of my favourite places on the Levels.

I visited Othery in 2008, while researching places associated with the Pitchfork Rebellion of 1658.  Mostly, it's the name I love. The suffix Y means island and is found in other place names round here, like Muchelney and Athelney. This harks back to when the Levels were the Summerlands and flooded every winter.  The 'Other' bit is presumably a stop-gap appellation that stuck:  ‘oh, you know, that other bloody island'. There might even be a hint of 'they eat their babies there, they do' about it.  

During my visit, I went into St Michael’s Church – again, the dedication points to the rise in the height of the land – and noticed the fine Green Man with his tongue sticking out, and the sculpture of the Archangel Michael himself, saving a bird’s nest from the dragon’s clutches. What I didn’t know is that George Tutton’s grandson, another George and my great-great-great grandfather, had been baptised there in 1803 – and that when George the Elder had been born there, 60-odd years earlier – the carnage of Pitchfork Rebellion would still have been within living memory.


I'm going to have to go back now, with fresh eyes, knowing that this landscape that's enthralled me so long is part of me. 








Sunday, 20 December 2015

Down Gypsy Patch Lane

For the last few weeks, even the seasons have been packed up into boxes – or have at least passed unnoticed in a frenzy of sorting and storing.  Except for when I’ve been to the local tip.

There are lots of things I love about our tip, viz:

·         It’s not really a tip, it’s a recycling centre which is a laudable and fine thing to be even if ‘M’off down the tip’ is a far more satisfying thing to yell to your co-habitees. (Sounds like hard work but really it's just an excuse for a break from lugging boxes about.)

·         You have to go down Gypsy Patch Lane to get there, which is probably one of the dullest thoroughfares I know but ye gods, it sounds romantic.

·         It also doubles as a Home of Rest for Garden Gnomes. There are loads of them crowding the verges and keeping each other company.

·         Each year it has a (literal) Christmas Grotto to rival anything the local mall can produce.   Which is as fine a marker of the changing season as my imagination can conjure.  One year someone will dump a real live Father Christmas and the dream will be complete.








Saturday, 19 December 2015

The Names Of The Hare

Meet my house-warming present to my new home.  It’s a hare made by Brian Andrew in the traditional North Devon style of art pottery – that is, sgraffito on cream slip – and as such, sits comfortably amongst my collection of Barum ware.   Along with my witch and Coronis the crow, as felted by my friend, Jan Lane, she is the presiding spirit of this place.


There’s lots of things I adore about this piece – her posture, her wildness, her ears, the way she looks as if she’s about to leap down off the sideboard and out into the back garden. But especially I love the way she is etched with hedges and fields, sheaves of wheat, a church, trees and the sun – because the hare is a creature whose mythology encompasses the whole landscape.

I’ve been wondering what to call name her and I think I’ve come up with a few possibilities, courtesy a fabulous old English poem, originally in middle English and here translated by Seamus Heaney.


The Names Of The Hare 


The man the hare has met
will never be the better for it
except he lay down on the land
what he carries in his hand –
be it staff or be it bow –
and bless him with his elbow
and come out with this litany
with devotion and sincerity
to speak the praises of the hare.
Then the man will better fare.

‘The hare, call him scotart,
big-fellow, bouchart,
the O’Hare, the jumper,
the rascal, the racer.

Beat-the-pad, white-face,
funk-the-ditch, shit-ass.

The wimount, the messer,
the skidaddler, the nibbler,
the ill-met, the slabber.

The quick-scut, the dew-flirt,
the grass-biter, the goibert,
the home-late, the do-the-dirt.

The starer, the wood-cat,
the purblind, the furze cat,
the skulker, the bleary-eyed,
the wall-eyed, the glance-aside
and also the hedge-springer.

The stubble-stag, the long lugs,
the stook-deer, the frisky legs,
the wild one, the skipper,
the hug-the-ground, the lurker,
the race-the-wind, the skiver,
the shag-the-hare, the hedge-squatter,
the dew-hammer, the dew-hopper,
the sit-tight, the grass-bounder,
the jig-foot, the earth-sitter,
the light-foot, the fern-sitter,
the kail-stag, the herb-cropper.

The creep-along, the sitter-still,
the pintail, the ring-the-hill,
the sudden start,
the shake-the-heart,
the belly-white,
the lambs-in-flight.

The gobshite, the gum-sucker,
the scare-the-man, the faith-breaker,
the snuff-the-ground, the baldy-skull
(his chief name is scoundrel).

The stag sprouting a suede horn,
the creature living in the corn,
the creature bearing all men’s scorn,
the creature no one dares name.’

When you have got all this said
then the hare’s strength has been laid.
Then you might go faring forth –
east and west and south and north,
wherever you’re inclined to go –
but only if you’re skilful too.
And now, Sir Hare, good-day to you.
God guide you to a how-d’ye-do
with me: come to me dead
in either onion broth or bread.



Seamus Heaney



Friday, 18 December 2015

Of Tennis Balls And Apple Trees

Four weeks in and still no internet at the new house - which might not be an entirely bad thing, as we've been able to settle in with minimal distraction. It already seems an age since these photos were taken, the morning after our arduous relocation.




In addition to this confrontation of boxes, there was also a damp garage, 4/5ths full of boxes of books needing prompt evacuation.  (Oh, and the Ark of the Covenant in there somewhere too.)

How would we ever find anything ever again?

Enter Ted, who had watched our old home disappear into boxes and now explored these unfamiliar rooms, his head tilted upwards as he tried to make sense of this latest example of unfathomable behaviour on the part of the monkeys. 

Then, twenty-five seconds into this new existence, he leapt on one box amongst ten thousand and retrieved from its depths a tennis ball, thus restoring the balance of the entire Universe.  Well done, that dog. 

Later, Dru came by and kindly transported my grandmother’s apple tree* from my former neighbour’s back garden to its new home, safely ensconced in a wheelie bin on top of her Morris Traveller. And replanted it just before the single heavy frost of this winter so far.  Whereupon we repaired to Asda to buy some cider for wassailing, in the hope it will survive its transplanting. 

‘Here’s to thee, young apple tree,
That blooms well, bears well,
Hats full, caps full,
Three bushel bags full,
An’ all under one tree. Hurrah! Hurrah!’


*grown from seed from the last apples gathered from my grandmother's garden,  a couple of months after her death in 1991