Funny really; according to a peer of the Realm we’re the desolate North West and only fit for fracking. Yet we are so cosmopolitan you can buy foods I’ve never heard of.
Yet that’s probably my ignorance. Years ago I picked up a British Army Lieutenant’s handbook, dated 1912. It was packed full of useful information to make sure your junior officer didn’t make too much of a fool of himself. So it told you how much space various units took up in camp and on the march. It included an idiot’s guide to digging trenches and how to make sure the Vickers was deployed properly. Oh, and it had a number of recipes because the Lieutenant was also, technically at least, in charge of feeding people. Good traditional food, Lancashire Hotpot, Curry, the staples of British cuisine.
Yes, Curry. After all this is the British Army, most men had served in India or further east. I’m pretty sure that these lads would have known their Mung beans.
A friend was asking me about homecomings. It was this little book that came to mind, because our family has had three generations of homecomings. My Grandfather went away in 1914. In six years (four years total war wasn’t enough for acting Sergeant Francis Webster) he saw Sulva Bay in Turkey, Egypt, then he fought in what is now Iraq, probably across into what is now Iran, and then into Afghanistan. Yes, in the first decade of the twenty first century, the British Army has been making the Francis Webster tribute tour. In 1914 when he volunteered, (a man in his mid twenties with a wife and three young daughters) I wonder how long he thought he’d be away? In his battalion he’d be alongside men who’d fought in the South African war, men who’d fought alongside Corporal Jones and General Kitchener in the Sudan. But in 1920 he got back, and over the next few years they had another daughter and a son (my Father.) I never knew him to ask about his homecoming, he died before I was born, but he peers out from my parent’s wedding photos.
Then there was my Dad. At fourteen he went into farm service. Away from home for six months at a time, paid £13 a half year; then home for a few days, then off by train, bus, or foot, to the next hiring fair, and away for another six months. My father worked from as far north as the Workington/Whitehaven area down to around Morecambe. Given that it was a six day working week, the chances of getting home for visits weren’t good. How many fourteen year olds have that sort of homecoming? Meeting up with a parent and siblings you haven’t had any communication with for six months. (No phones and who has the time to write letters?)
And me? In the house I was born in. Yes, I’ve travelled. On the grounds I made it to ‘Soviet Central Asia’ I might have got further east than my Granddad. And a home coming for me? Tip out the washing, switch on the computer to download all the emails I’ve not accessed because I was on holiday. Then next morning, out early, check livestock, check land, discuss policy with the dog and by the time I’m sitting down to breakfast, home has reclaimed me and life is back on track.
Actually, when you think about it properly, compared to my Father and Grandfather, I’ve hardly been away. I’ve not ‘lived’ away; I’ve merely passed though places. I’ve not travelled, I’ve merely toured.
And the places I’ve been, how can they compare to the places Father and Grandfather had to live in? Yet I’ve visited places they had never heard of. I might have missed out on Afghanistan, but I have walked Mirkwood and can still smell the stifling air, with its hint of knacker’s yard. I have watched an aged and bloated red sun sink slowly over the Dying Earth. I have spent idle days on the Yann and have seen the Thaw Ball at Estar Vale.
“The Thaw Ball is held in Sea Brisket Square where the central area is raised up, and the whole thing is crisscrossed with broad shallow streams which are bridged by flagstones.
The houses around the square have had their gutters altered so that the water in them is collected and transported down to the square, where it fills the streams. But each house has not merely got the gutters at the eaves – at each level the houses will have gutters which pass under their window sills, almost like window boxes. The flow is managed so that these can also remain full.
At the evening of a thaw ball the water is managed precisely by the person chosen as the organiser, so that the streams are full, all the gutters are full, and a slight current continues to flow.
They then take thousands of little candles, each in its own individual waxed paper boat, and have them floating in both gutters and streams. At the same time, all other lights are extinguished, and whilst this is being done those participating will gather around the harbour and on a signal start the dance. This is initially a dance of some simplicity, especially as the dancing pairs make their way along Chittlings and through Saltgill, but as they enter Sea Brisket Square the dance becomes an intricate winding dance of immense complexity, as strings of dancers wind in and out of each other, over the flagstones, above the streams, all the time illuminated only by countless tiny candles.”
And finally, as the lights begin to flicker out, the dancers slowly retire, until only the Organiser and his or her partner remain, dancing alone by the light of the last few flickering candles. Finally, as the last lights go out they bow to each other and make their way out of the square, leaving it utterly dark and silent.”