Category Archives: York

Lightening a grim day

I dozed off early (Neil Gaiman can be as soporific as Mr. MacGregor’s lettuce). Only in the early hours did I hear of the Manchester horror.

So, come this morning, it was good to have some light relief:

Catty uncornered

Years ago, we were doing the chateaux of the Loire, and stopped off at La Flèche.

Just as we were moving on, a dispute broke out between two authentic French ladies of certain years. Madame A’s lap-dog had taken offence at Madame B’s cat. The cat had taken refuge in the nearby tree, and was spitting down at the dog.

The cat was not coming down. Words were being exchanged.

The aid of les pompiers was called for.

The first stalwart arrived on a bicycle, with what looked like a window-cleaner’s ladder. Too short. An appreciative audience was growing.

The next reinforcement was a small van, with a longer ladder. The boy apprentice was sent up the ladder. The cat headed higher. The quite considerable circle of on-lookers were warmed by such an act of resistance,

Finally, the full panoply of les sapeurs-pompiers de La Flèche showed up with a resplendent red carriage and extendable ladder. Cheers all round.

As the ladder was being raised, the cat came scampering down the tree, and was quickly purring in Madame B’s bosom.

Excitement over, we headed on our way.

Doggy doo-dah

Perhaps it was on that summer trip we composed the game to entertain young daughters along the kilometres of routes nationales.

The dog on a string is a frequent feature, wherever one goes.

We established that every French dog had to come in one of three types: rat, rug or demi-cheval. Because the daughters, even at that early age, were perceptive creatures, very quickly those simple definitions were not enough. Depending on size and hairiness, long disputations ensued to determine a ratty-rug from a ruggy-rat.

No: I do not claim ownership of this entertainment. We simplified it from Macbeth:

Ay, in the catalogue ye go for men;
As hounds, and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs,
Shoughs, water-rugs, and demi-wolves, are ‘clept
All by the name of dogs: the valued file
Distinguishes the swift, the slow, the subtle,
The housekeeper, the hunter, every one
According to the gift which bounteous nature
Hath in him closed.

Sheer Rattiness

When canine distinctions palled, we reverted to the on-going rat-wagon competition.

Those were the days when progress along any route nationale could regularly be impeded by being stuck for long periods behind a trundling and corrugated Citroën van. There were after all the better part of half-a-million of these.

Doubtless those which are not serving moules avec frites along the Belgian coast, or gussied up as crêperies on London’s South Bank, now serve duty as chicken hutches.

Not only were such automotive slugs obstinately slow, they had an even greater propensity to rust than any Lada or Kawasaki.

A true rat-wagon had to be not just rust-streaked (they all came that way) but pitted and — preferably — see-through.

So we designated local champions, provincial champions, and — at the end of the trip — a national champion.

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Yurrup in York

I’m just returned from a public meeting, held by the Labour MP for York Central.

Rachael Maskell is a decent lass — a physio by trade,  a trade union official by experience. She is doing her best.

Because of the upsets in the parliamentary party, she chose to side with the leadership (pro tem.). As a consequence of being one of the “stickies”, she ended up, over-promoted, with barely a twelve-month Commons experience, as the fully-fledged  Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary. Again: she is clearly doing her best.

Both locally, and in the national press, she has let it be known — or any least not denied — she has difficulties with the Three-line Whip on Wednesday’s #Brexit vote. Equally, in her response to this evening’s meeting, she indicated she felt she needed to huddle close to the centre of what goes for “power” in the parliamentary party.

So to the meeting itself.

Rachael began with a (over-)long account of where she felt we were. I have to admit, try as I could, I had heard it all before. It was largely read from a script — which itself raises certain questions.

The followed a long string of speakers from the floor.

What was evident was:

  • without exception, the tone went beyond regret and remain, into the pain and the angst of the thinking middle-classes;
  • very few “new” points or issues arose;
  • nobody was prepared to come out and defend the “leave” option;
  • there was considerable distaste that the whole #Brexit charade had over-written, and was continuing to expunge the real problems of British life, welfare and economy.

More to the crunch:

  • even the odd speaker who declared “support” for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership did so with regret and reluctance;
  • more usually, there was complete scorn  for the present leadership: this was met with more enthusiasm than much else on offer.

If Rachael was assuming there were Brownie-points for loyalty to the current leadership, this alone should have disabused her.

At some personal pain, I remained silent: not my usual posture at such gatherings.

Had I been disposed, my extended thoughts would go on these lines (though, for public consumption, a lot more abbreviated):

A Burkean bit

First I bear the tradition of Dublin University’s College Historical Society. When I was elected as Librarian (a pure honorific), I discovered I had responsibility for a series of well-locked glass cabinets. In there were the minutes and records of the “Hist”, back to its foundation. Which was back to “Burke’s Club” of the 1740s. The “Burke” in this context being none other than Edmund.

I find Burke a rank Tory, and eminently readable. At this juncture, nothing of his is as relevant as his Speech to the Electors of Bristol (3rd November 1774). His opponent had just promised to accept mandates from the electors.

Burke responded:

... government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination …

… authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience, — these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.

Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole.

In the core of that great speech is the well-known maxim:

Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

Which is why I feel enormous sympathy — even some pity — for each and every MP who now has to choose a way through this mire.

Which leads into a second thought.

A horror from recent history

On the substantive motion of 18th March 2003, the House of Commons gave authority to use all means necessary to ensure the disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Tony Blair’s government majority there was 263 (412 to 149). 84 Labour MPs voted against, a further 69 abstained.

Had there been a referendum at that moment — and for months after — the British public would have largely backed Blair: YouGov polling, over 21 samplings, suggested 54-38 in favour of war. After all, the Tory media had told them to do so.

Yet we are now asked unquestioningly to “respect” a 51.9/48.1 Brexit split.

Two conclusions

  1. There are arguments against a “Nay” vote on Wednesday’s #Brexit vote; but they more to do with parliamentary procedures than rights-and-wrongs. To vote “Nay” may apparently inhibit such voters from amending the Bill at a later stage. I’ll accept, too, that such a vote can be construed as a two-finger sign to the “Leavers” — and they have yet to learn the full consequences of their expressed wish.

2. However, to vote “Aye” is more perverse. None of us was clear last June what “Leave” might entail — except the dizzy promises of “£350 million a week for the NHS” and “Take back control”. We are still very much in the dark.

However, Theresa May has helped us to recognise what she expects. It amounts to:

  • either the 26 members of the European Union bow to her will;
  • or she kicks over the table, and walks out;
  • and we are left to pay for the tantrum.

Bottom line:

Abstain. Find an urgent family crisis in Aberystwyth. Be on a reciprocal to central Africa. Whatever.

But abstain. Even at the price of a Shadow Cabinet seat.

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‘Tis mighty fine, But where d’you live? Where d’you dine?

This is getting more and more ridiculous:

Press

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Faces in a window

stainedglass16

That quite took my breath away.

It’s one of the stars of the show at All Saints, North Street, York, behind the (very) high altar, in the east window, the Blackburn Window. It dates from around 1420.

The uninitiated may not recognise Saint Anne, teaching her daughter, Mary, to read.  If anyone knows of a more human, and humane depiction from the fifteenth century, I’d happily be advised.

Oh, wait on …

On the south side of the church there’s this:

stainedglass21

We’re still in the first half of the fifteenth century, but a trifle later. This is St John the Evangelist. Gorgeous and very, very much one of us. Somewhere in York, about 575 years back, there must have been a real-life model for that face — if not the hair.

Today and tomorrow are the York Residents’ Festival, and we have open, free access to the whole gamut of our local historical (and other) sites. The Lady-in-my-Life cajoled me to All Saints — not for the visit, but for an educated and informed guided tour of the windows. I wasn’t prepared for a sensational experience.

I’m very much a defaulter in things religious: I’m militantly one of those who:

… to church repair, 
Not for the doctrine, but the music there.

And the architecture. And the various furbelows. As I recall, the definition of furbelows is one the lines of “showy ornaments or trimmings: frills”. All Saints has those in number. Its rituals definitely lean towards the “spiky”: High Anglican to a fault (if that is a fault — though the resistance to women priests, at least in my book, is):

Whilst firmly rooted in the Catholic tradition, the worshipping community at All Saints acknowledges and respects the diverse, yet deeply held, convictions of the congregation. Bearing that in mind, and following prayer and reflection, the PCC has passed Resolutions A and B pursuant to the Priests (Ordination of Women) Measure 1992, and has petitioned for Alternative Episcopal Oversight which is currently provided by the Bishop of Beverley.

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In the throes

Between the acting of a dreadful thing
And the first motion, all the interim is
Like a phantasma or a hideous dream.
[Julius Caesar, Act II, scene i]

Never so true as when one is having domestic building work done. Or, in today’s case, when — despite promises of an early arrival — it is not being done.

And when an hour in the dentist’s chair is imminent.

Furthermore:

Today, Jan. 9 is National Static Electricity Day! It is a day to have fun and give your friends and family members a shocking experience.

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Time’s winged chariot

marvellAh, yes! Andrew Marvell. Not long ago, I was down there, paying respects to his statue in Hull, alongside the vast and impressive Holy Trinity Church (bigger, more prepossessing than many a Cathedral).

But let him and his vegetable love (which must be one of the weirdest come-ons in erotic verse) rest by the tide Of Humber.

Except Time is relative. For the young, it races. Then it slows to a methodical bovine plod — as in the open vowels of Marvell’s antithetical slow-chapped power.

Here I am in York, a bit further north from Hull and the Humber. And this day has been a heavy, slow one. The wraiths of low clouds were barely skeining past the upper parts of York Minister, when I passed by this morning. The paving stones of Petergate were greasy wet. Even the odd Asian tourist was having difficulty working up enthusiasm for his photo-opportunity. There was a hollowness to the toll of Great Peter, the Minister bell, under the rabbit-grey sky.

That’s your “foreshadowing”: here at Malcolm Redfellow‘s we run a traditional, structured service. Most of the time.

“Peter”, “vegetable”, “rabbit”: no prize as to where I am meandering here.

The gap between the ages

A couple of posts back, I was much taken by Richard Holmes and his Footsteps, Adventures of a Romantic Biographer. Out of necessity, I found — not the fine library edition I once had —but a battered Collins Classics pocketbook edition. Then I was comparing Homes with his model,  RLS,  trekking across the Cevennes.

And I came to this:

It was bleak and bitter cold, and, except a cavalcade of stride-legged ladies and a pair of post-runners, the road was dead solitary all the way to Pradelles.  I scarce remember an incident but one.  A handsome foal with a bell about his neck came charging up to us upon a stretch of common, sniffed the air martially as one about to do great deeds, and suddenly thinking otherwise in his green young heart, put about and galloped off as he had come, the bell tinkling in the wind.  For a long while afterwards I saw his noble attitude as he drew up, and heard the note of his bell; and when I struck the high-road, the song of the telegraph-wires seemed to continue the same music…

On both sides of the road, in big dusty fields, farmers were preparing for next spring.  Every fifty yards a yoke of great-necked stolid oxen were patiently haling at the plough.  I saw one of these mild formidable servants of the glebe, who took a sudden interest in Modestine and me.  The furrow down which he was journeying lay at an angle to the road, and his head was solidly fixed to the yoke like those of caryatides below a ponderous cornice; but he screwed round his big honest eyes and followed us with a ruminating look, until his master bade him turn the plough and proceed to reascend the field.  From all these furrowing ploughshares, from the feet of oxen, from a labourer here and there who was breaking the dry clods with a hoe, the wind carried away a thin dust like so much smoke.

I must admit to being taken up short: the combination of the song of the telegraph-wires and a yoke of great-necked stolid oxen in just a few lines.

And this was … when?

The book appeared in 1879, and Stevenson made the trip the previous year: forty years after the refinement of the electric telegraph, and about as many before the petrol-powered agricultural tractor. Stevenson was not just the prototype back-packer, with his over-sized sleeping bag (which he reminds us, was big enough for two), he was also a witness to the changes happening and to come.

A touch of Benjamin and his cousin/wife Flopsy

Twin-tracking Holmes and RLS is rewarding. It can also be doze-inducing. That was when “Peter”, “vegetable”, “rabbit” came together.

My semi-somnolence somehow induced memories of putting infant daughters to sleep — also that definitive forty years previous: another taste of the Humber-slow flow of time. The trick was the slow, measured level-voice, reading whatever was to hand, which might be Beatrix Potter.

It is said that the effect of eating too much lettuce is “soporific.”

I have never felt sleepy after eating lettuces; but then I am not a rabbit.

They certainly had a very soporific effect upon the Flopsy Bunnies!

When Benjamin Bunny grew up, he married his Cousin Flopsy. They had a large family, and they were very improvident and cheerful.

I do not remember the separate names of their children; they were generally called the “Flopsy Bunnies.”

As there was not always quite enough to eat,—Benjamin used to borrow cabbages from Flopsy’s brother, Peter Rabbit, who kept a nursery garden.

Sometimes Peter Rabbit had no cabbages to spare.

When this happened, the Flopsy Bunnies went across the field to a rubbish heap, in the ditch outside Mr. McGregor’s garden.

Mr. McGregor’s rubbish heap was a mixture. There were jam pots and paper bags, and mountains of chopped grass from the mowing machine (which always tasted oily), and some rotten vegetable marrows and an old boot or two. One day—oh joy!—there were a quantity of overgrown lettuces, which had “shot” into flower.

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Sunday with rainbows

Tribe Redfellow swanned across a fair bit of North Yorkshire yesterday.

This is not, of itself, a matter of any note.

We were accompanied, to the the north by a persistent rainbow — one of the best I have seen for a long while. Oddly, this was against the background of a clear blue sky and no sign of nearby rain. That was worth noting, as I here do.

So, too, were the “autumn tints”. Thanks to a very fine, and dry, and warm September, leaf-fall seems late this year. North Yorkshire may lack the crowd-appeal of all those New England maples, but it’s worth the trip.

I have little to say in favour of the lime tree. For much of the year it weeps sticky goo onto your car. Come this time of year, the leaves make the limestone payments of York slimy and — at worst — treacherous.

Horse chestnuts, having conkered, are better when they dump crisp piles of fingered leaves. On the other hand, a motor-bike passage, at speed, under fruiting horse-chestnuts can be an experience. A nut falling at 32 feet per second per second, impacting a crash helmet travelling at sixty-mph plus, is as unsettling as a wasp inside your half-unzipped-for-summer leather jacket. I’ve had both.

Then there was the sight, yesterday, of silver birches silhouetted against darker foliage, almost ghost trees in the low sunlight.

The sight of sights, though, is the solitary mature oak, turning to rust.

Time for some suggestive musical accompaniment?

 Which brings me to a word.

There is a Greek noun, ἔκδυσις, “a slipping out, an escape”, which gave the mid-Victorian biologists a fancy and impressive technical term. The OED renders ecdysis as:

The action of stripping or casting off, esp. of slough or dead skin in serpents and caterpillars, or of the chitinous integument in Crustacea. Also concr. that which is cast off, slough.

I’m not strong on chitinous integuments, but I reckon we ordinary mortals might reach for “moulting” as a rough and graspable equivalent.

Then, in 1940, H.L.Mencken, writing to supplement his The American Language,  proposed a metaphorical usage:

It might be a good idea to relate strip-teasing in some way … to the associated zoölogical phenomenon of molting … A resort to the scientific name for molting, which is ecdysis, produces both ecdysist and ecdysiast.

Of all the trees in all the woods in all the world, the Great English Oak is the supreme silvanian ecdysiast.

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