Tuesday, 28 February 2012

"Wheyoop, Buh!"

"Hello", "Hi", "How do you do?"

But while out walking a few days ago a strange and half-forgotten word came into my mind. A word my father used nearly every day when I met him about the farm where we both worked. I never gave it a second thought at the time but now it sounds anachronistic and odd. So let me greet you with a hearty "Wheyoop!". It means, roughly translated, "Hello, how are you, I'm delighted and perhaps a little surprised  to see you here at this time". Or, more succinctly, "Wheyoop!"

My old dad with some old pigs

In the neighbouring village of Bourn the farm-workers were even more economical with their breath as they shortened it to "Whoop!", a habit noted by two boys at my school who set about making it the fashionable greeting in the playground, much to the annoyance of the teachers. In Childerley they wasted no breath at all and just made a small sideways movement of the head in acknowledgement as they cycled past one another.

They addressed pretty much every male person as "Boy" (usually pronounced "Bor" or "Buh") regardless of their age. This became more complicated since they used "old" as a term of endearment as well as a description of a person's age. So this could give rise to such impenetrable information as this:
   " I saw old Bob the other day, nice old boy. Anyhow he were movin' some of his pigs and he only had his old boy helpin' him. They were havin' all sorts of trouble, but then the old boy come and give 'em a hand."
And everyone would understand that the first old boy was Bob himself, being helped by the second old boy who was Bob's son, while the final old boy who gave extra assistance was Bob's father. Slight changes of emphasis made it clear to those in the know. To make things worse they were all called Bob!

Of course you will have realised by now that in the caption to the photograph above - My old Dad with some old pigs - "My old dad" means "My dear father" while "some old pigs" means "some despicable swine". You've got that, haven't you?

It was all crystal clear to anyone in the village. As one old man (and I mean that he was getting on in years, not that he was dear to me, or despicable) told me quite seriously, "People down in London talk funny, and up north they got a funny haccent, but round 'ere we in't got no haccent at all!"

Take care.  

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Ralph Beddoes' Ground

Poaching was once a life or death matter in the English countryside - without taking game from the big estates, be it pheasant, deer, trout or anything else they could lay their hands on, agricultural labourers and their families could go very hungry during the winter months. But if you got caught in the act you could hang for your crime. Poaching still goes on, sometimes with highly organised and ruthless gangs, but more often it's just a local making use of his knowledge of his home area.

The following song, written long ago, was loosely based on a conversation with such an individual in a pub. I've no idea where I got the name Ralph Beddoes from, but it immediately felt right. I'm sure I remember that it wasn't chosen just to rhyme with "meadows". The expression "ran like longdogs" came from my Irish aunt, Sugie, and sparked the song into life.

Ralph Beddoes' Ground

As we went out one night
When the moon was shining bright
There was frost all on the branches and a stillness in the air,
We searched Ralph Beddoes' ground
The woods and fields all round
For to see what game there might be found where only poachers dare.
So here's to old Ralph Beddoes
Let his health go round
The woods and ditches, fields and meadows
On Ralph Beddoes ground.

'Twas out near Highfield Wood
And the getting it was good
When here comes Beddoes' keeper a-comin' 'cross the hill
We did not intend to stay
For to pass the time of day
But instead we ran like longdogs coming homewards with the kill.
So here's to old Ralph Beddoes
Let his health go round
The woods and ditches, fields and meadows
On Ralph Beddoes ground.

While we've got traps and snares
We'll have rabbits, we'll have hares
And while we've got guns and cartridges there's pheasants and there's partridges,
Though Beddoes makes a fuss
And the keeper likes to cuss
Still the local bobby* sleeps quite soundly he'll not bother us.
So here's to old Ralph Beddoes
Let his health go round
The woods and ditches, fields and meadows
On Ralph Beddoes ground.

Here's a rabbit for a stew
And partridge or two,
Here's a hare that I shall give to a policeman friend of mine,
And some pheasant I can sell
To the Golden Lion hotel
Where Ralph Beddoes takes his wife to lunch and thinks it very fine!
So here's to old Ralph Beddoes
Let his health go round
The woods and ditches, fields and meadows
On Ralph Beddoes ground.

* bobby - a policeman, named from the politician Robert Peel
who founded the modern police force.

Take care.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Strange Days

Yesterday's temperature:  17C (about 63F)
Less than two weeks ago: minus 13C (about 5F or c-c-c-cold)

I'm confused and so are the plants our gardens. Snowdrops are still in the process of opening up but here come the crocuses, bursting into flower in even the shadiest parts of the garden. Just in case you've forgotten this is what it was like less than two weeks past....

....Brrrrrrr!  Yes, that's frost on the hedge, not some glittery Christmas decoration. And now....

....I'm wandering about in shirt-sleeves snapping away at crocus and....

....pulmonaria. Now I'm sure that usually doesn't flower in February, certainly not in the full shade in the coldest part of the garden, which is where this poor thing is stationed. Part of the reason for such unseasonal blooming must be the dry soil which is warming up more rapidly than the sodden mess which is usual at this time of year. The bright days which we're experiencing at the moment may also play its part by fooling the plants into thinking that the days are getting longer; it's been really light both in the mornings and in the evenings lately.

I haven't even thought much about the garden yet. Gardeners everywhere have been caught with their trowels down! Meanwhile here's a shot that I've just snapped out of the window, the dawning of another fine day according to the weather forecast.

Take care.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Hidden Gem - The Leper Chapel

On the busy Newmarket Road in Cambridge
near to the railway bridge....

....opposite Cambridge United's football (soccer) ground....

....between the Chinese take-away....

....and the scrapyard....

....stands (isolated and lonely)....

....the most complete piece of Norman architecture in the county....

....the Church of St Mary Magdalene in the Parish of the Holy Cross,
usually known as The Leper Chapel,
for that's just what it was in Medieval times,
the chapel of the Stourbridge Leper Hospital.

Take care.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Lode Mill

Lode Mill stands in the grounds of Anglesey Abbey and a visit can be combined with the house and gardens for a very satisfying day out. There has been a watermill on this site since before the Domesday Book, but the present structure dates from the eighteenth century. It was used to grind wheat for flour until it was converted to produce cement around 1900. This continued till 1920 when the business closed and the mill was left to become derelict.

The waterwheel that powers the whole operation

Lord Fairhaven, the owner of Anglesey Abbey, bought the mill in 1934, tidied up the outside of the building and used it to store garden seats and statues during the winter months. In 1977 the Cambridgeshire Wind And Watermill Society began restoring the internal workings, a task that was completed in 1982.

The mill now produces stone ground flour to sell to visitors. Taking photographs was not easy as the whole building vibrates once the machinery is set in motion!

A steep set of steps, where parents worried and fussed while their offspring clambered up without any difficulty, led up to the next floor where much of the machinery was visible.

A second set of steps, which most of the children had negotiated before their parents arrived to give words of advice, gave a different view down on to the machinery. It appears that there are four sets of millstones though only one set is in use.

A "Penny and Porter" grain cleaning machine is exhibited on the next floor. It's no longer operational and is exhibited in a way that allows you to see how it worked.

If you've ever wondered exactly what a bushel was, here's just the exhibit for you...

....an exact measure was achieved by levelling the grain across the top of the container with a stick or "strike", which explains the pub name "The Bushel And Strike" - I always wondered what the strike was. 

                             8 gallons = 1 bushel
                             4 bushels = 1 coomb or sack
                             8 bushels = 1 quarter

a coomb sack of wheat weighed about 20 stone, 280 lbs or 127 Kg. Men regularly carried them on their backs.

A glance upwards showed that we were now at the top of the building; a disappointment to adventurous children.

Back down at ground level you could try your hand at turning a hand quern. I really enjoyed my visit and as you can see it's a great place for the young.

 And the young at heart...

Take care.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Anglesey Abbey - Snowdrop Walk

Anglesey Abbey is a National Trust property a few miles from Cambridge. In February it boasts a fine display of snowdrops which attracts visitors from far and wide, to judge by the accents I heard on my visit yesterday. There's lots of other colour and interest in the winter garden too. 

There is a large number of varieties of snowdrop which can cross pollinate and give rise to new types. This insignificant looking little chap is Galanthus nivalis 'Anglesey Abbey', a variant first discovered in the gardens by head gardener, Noel Ayres, in  the 1970s.

Anglesey Abbey is worth a visit at any time throughout the year. To see photos of the gardens during the spring visit my earlier post.

There is also a working water mill on the site which I'll show you pictures of in the next few days. One day I'll get around to going inside the house itself!

Take care.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Pilgrimage To "Reuben's Corner"

If you were paying attention yesterday then you might just have noticed a remark about Walton's Park in Ashdon being familiar to me though I had never been there. Its familiarity is solely through reading a book a long time ago.

It's one of those tatty little paperbacks that has hung around for a long time, has been picked up on countless occasions and is now looking rather the worse for wear. It's a simple story of Spike Mays' childhood in the early part of the twentieth century. The reviewer from The Sunday Times, no less, thought it a better book than 'Cider with Rosie', so it's a mystery why it has so long been out of print; though second-hand copies are available at very reasonable prices. And Mr Mays just happened to grow up in Ashdon, in Steventon End, Ashdon to be precise. I've long wanted to pay a visit to see if anything remained of Reuben's Corner.

Walton's Park was where Spike Mays worked as a houseboy on leaving school. By poking a camera over the top of the wall I was able to get a view of the house.


I walked on past Place Farm, where he worked later. In the prologue he remembers the farmhands walking to work in the early morning - Toe-Rag Smith, Walt Stalley, Poddy Coote, Wuddy Smith - their cheerful voices and the plod of their hobnailed boots on the gravel road. No sound of boots now; everyone had driven off in their cars to work in town. Instead a woman jogged by in pink running shoes!

Place Farm

But, thanks to the book I suppose, Wuddy is not forgotten - Wuddy's cottage on the corner now bears his name....

....and Walt Stalley's remembered too....

....though of The Bonnet pub, which the author recalls fondly, the only evidence is now the sign on the wall of what is now a private house.

I wonder how often the inhabitants of these idyllic country retreats think about the real lives lived by the former occupants. For the book documents a lot of suffering too - the malnutrition, the poverty, the dreadful price paid by many in the First World War.

The windmill which is mentioned in the book is still to be seen looking down over the village. The postmill has now been fully restored to something like its former glory.

Wandering on, lost in my thoughts - and lost geographically too, as it happens - I strayed down beside the little River Bourn. What a wonderful place to spend ones boyhood even now. Especially now, in fact, when good food, good housing and a good education can be taken for granted by so many. I promised myself that I would return in spring or summer.

I eventually arrived at where I'd hoped to be, the village church. I didn't find any gravestones inscribed with the name of Mays, but several other surnames mentioned in the book were there. There was just one more place I'd hoped might still exist and my way out of the village would lead me to the site. And there it was....

....Ashdon Halt, where the railway once passed near to the village. The cinder trackbed was still there with the platform alongside, as well as the old railway carriage (the remains of it, at least)that once served as a waiting room....

.....inside someone had made a sign: "ESTIMATED TIME OF ARRIVAL 1886"

Take care.