Thursday, 24 May 2007

Speaking Yorkshire

“Well tha's in Yorkshire now – d’tha kno’ how t’speak t’language?”
It was 1973 - the last dying days of the summer and I wouldn’t have known how to speak let alone understand half of what was going on but what I did know, was that I liked Jo.
Jo was the mother of Anna and Emma; Anna was six like me, and Emma a very grown up nine-year old. We had just moved. Dad had finally given in to Mum’s entreaties and at last we had a proper home not just a transient Army Quarter. In those days of eternal sunshine children roamed free to do as they pleased as long as they were home in time for tea.
I, of course called it supper but it was always tea in Yorkshire - never supper mind. Dinner, which I remembered as being a very grown up affair, now happened at lunch, sitting rooms were lounges or front rooms and dining rooms were unheard of!
I was blissfully confused; some forty years on as I write this, the memories crowd my mind and I am as confused now with remembering as I was then with understanding.
Suffice to say, in my roaming I found Anna and Anna found me. There was an instant bond and her betrayal eight years later still hurts. Despite everything that happened I have never had as true a friend as I had in her but I was naive and I grew up too slow.
So I return to that golden day, the end of a glorious golden day and I am with Anna and it is time for tea. I am lost and it is obvious and yet I am not scared. I suppose I was precocious and what Jo thought of me I have no idea, where she thought I came from with my Transatlantic twang and toplofty manners I do not know but I was welcomed that evening and brought into a large kitchen with brown and gold lino lozenged on the floor.
Then we turn and I am shown through a door into a sitting room of sorts and there is a dark oak dining table up abutting the pale cream anaglyptic wall. There are two chairs at either end, and two places laid for tea. The carpet is busy and everywhere is brown and I feel very comforted and comfortable. Jo laughing at my wonder takes my hand and asks where I come from gently putting the pieces together as her girls giggle and clamour to tell her before I can answer myself. They are as excited by their find as I am excited by mine.
I think she calls my Mum for I don’t remember getting home that night and I don’t remember being told off. The excitement, the joy of meeting Jo has never been marred.
How can I describe her? – She was quite simply beautiful. Junoesque my dears not like my Mum at all. Dark, tall, warm, soft with the most beautiful mane of cascading curls, like a gypsy. But Yorkshire, through and through. As they say up there she was a fine looking lass and Adrian was lucky to catch her - shame he drove her away.
Before I know it there is another place laid for me I don’t remember as such what we ate to begin with but I will never forget what we had for afters! Fruitcake and Wensleydale cheese.
I am sorry but Wallace and Grommit have nothing on me when it comes to Wensleydale!
It was then that Jo said: “Well tha's in Yorkshire now – d’tha kno’ how t’speak t’language?”
I glance at Anna, who covers her mouth to suppress her giggles and looks back at Jo.
“Dost kno’ what a lass is then?”
“No”
“Tis a girl and a Lad a boy.”
It was a riotous meal, a marvellous meal and I couldn’t tell you anything about what it tasted like, all I could say was that I had eyes for no one but Jo. In all my life no one had treated me like she did – an equal. It was a glorious secret from all grown-ups especially my parents.
“Nah then, lets see how well tha' learnin’: what does ‘Tin tin tin’ mean?”
There are more giggles from the girls and shouts of encouragement and hints and jokes and I am more baffled than before.
Jo just laughs and ruffles my hair.“Doan thee worry we’ll make a right Yurkshire lass of thee yet!”
And more than anything in the world at that moment do I want to belong, do I want to be a Yorkshire lass....

Thursday, 10 May 2007

A thing of great entertainment...

A thing of great entertainment but of no practical use at all, my father said, is a gizmo. And we had a Gizmo. It was sold to my mother as a male Seal point Siamese in fact it was a female Chocolate point and a total runt.
It was only kept alive that Christmas because Granny let it sleep curled up on her neck and in years to come that was her favourite place - to be perched on someone’s shoulder just underneath a chin – a place she felt safe. Luckily for a Siamese even she was quite tiny.
Gizzie was possibly THE most annoying cat in history and as my father said no practical use at all. But she was entertaining.
Despite being virtually dead that Christmas Gizz did manage to create and inspire all kinds of legend. There was the episode with the Christmas Turkey, which even now some 22 years later is recounted as part of our family’s yuletide ritual.
Dad was on duty that year in York and so since we would be spending the day at HQ manning the phones it was decided that our Christmas meal would be done a day early. Mum - her of the like-it-and-lump-it school of cookery – had surpassed herself and for once the meal was quite edible and we were all looking forward to seconds - a huge cause for celebration. Dad got up and went to the kitchen to fetch the turkey to carve again. It had been placed on the dresser out of reach of Gypsy our Labrador and should have been perfectly safe. But we were now the proud owner of a cat.
In the middle of a lull in conversation we suddenly heard the most dreadful oaths emanating from the kitchen, a roar, then a crash, a clatter of toenails and further shouting and swearing.
Quite rightly we all shot out of our chairs and headed full tilt to see what had happened.
There was Dad manhandling the turkey, shaking it up and down – no mean feat when you realised it weighted about 20lbs without stuffing. I think I thought he had gone mad. Granny just said: “Timothy!”
Dad turned to us quite red in the face and still shaking the turkey. “The Effing cat is inside!”
We looked and sure enough you could see her tail sticking out the end, all fluffed up like a bottlebrush. She was not going to shift.
We heard the most dreadful muffled blood curdling yowling from inside coupled with chewing noises, gulping and the cracking of small bones. While still being shaken the damn cat was continuing to eat and if that were not enough telling Dad just what she thought of his dreadfully rude behaviour!
I loved that cat and we all miss her; in fact sometimes when I open the airing cupboard at home I expect to see her peering at me from the darkest depths of the top shelf where the spare linen is kept.
It used to be a rare treat to check out that cupboard when she was alive, you were never quite sure what you would find - a shrew, sometimes partially eaten sometimes still alive, a headless pigeon, sometimes just entrails dripping across the once pristine linen sheets. But you always got a welcome, a yowl and chattering and of course you had to reply saying yes you did agree it was far too wet to go outside and wasn’t in awfully cold. Sometimes that would be it audience over, at others she would deign to join you by jumping lightly from her elevated height onto your shoulder. – a privilege as always..

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Lessons and learning

Seeing things with your own eyes and experiencing things for yourself is the ultimate learning experience. If that is true - why do I always fail to learn my lesson?
My demigod of a builder’s first job for us was in the spring of 2002 – in between finishing Piers’ house and starting on a 12-week build turning a garage into a desirable holiday home in Aldeburgh – one of Piers’ finer ideas.
It of course wasn’t meant to be like that but Piers promised that the Aldeburgh job would be done in a flash and in no way would upset our own plans – putting it that way we felt it would be churlish to argue.
So Justin came and quoted on the Big Barn roof, discussed how we would like it done and we duly spent every waking moment clearing it out in readiness. Then we got a call. Since Justin and his mate Mattie who would be doing all the work lived in Friston could they come and stay during the build?
Justin: “It would save money and mean the job could be done quicker.”
I spoke to Dear Charlie who was up for it. The boys would work Monday through Thursday from 8am to 7pm and would leave Thursday night and return again Monday morning.
Seemed perfectly fine to me. What I hadn’t calculated was one I would be feeding them, and two I would be sharing a bathroom with them. Now these guys are in no way effete – in fact Mattie and Justin managed to repair the barn roof, which in the end involved replacing all the major beams in the barn as well as new footplates without the aid of any mechanical gear at all – just sheer muscle power…
All started off fine. Until suppertime – it was a great big lasagne I recall. The one I was renowned for in London. A serious calorie-killing beast of a lasagne with goats’ cheese enhanced b├ęchamel dribbling from the sides accompanied by a dark green salad and fresh French bread from the bakers. I was looking forward to leftovers.
But the only thing I got was: Where was the pudding? Determined not to be caught on the hop again I got up extra early the next morning and started on a proper fry up for the ravening beasts upstairs only to find that the buggers only had a cup of tea or a black coffee in the morning!
I was reprieved at lunchtime as they had pre-ordered prawn cocktail sandwiches from the Village Shop - the proprietors having previously run the post office in Snape and were old friends of both Justin and Mattie.
For supper that evening I had done one of Charlie’s favourite – steak and kidney only to find that neither liked kidney. All my culinary efforts fell short and it was with a huge sigh of relief when the end of the week rolled in. The following week the boys opted to eat out…
Initially the re-roofing of the Big Barn was meant to involve taking a few tiles off, replacing the guttering and fixing the doors. By the time the boys had been with me two weeks the only thing left standing was the outside walls everything else was gone including the built in dovecote!
I am still a bit hazy as to who actually sanctioned all the work – Charlie reliably informs me that I did and I do remember the words: ‘Necessary’, ‘Fall down’, ‘Death trap’, and ‘Now or never’, in various conversations.
Whenever I spoke up to protest or query anything I was reassured with a smile, a pat and “Now doan you start worryin’ girl, it’ll be fine. Just you leave it to us buoys.”
Words I would grow so familiar with over the next four years.
Now I am not considered stupid, a tad naive maybe, but not stupid and looking back there is nothing I can put a handle on to say that Justin ever did not do as he aught. Everything he said was true – things did need to be done – but perhaps not quite as many things as were done.
With the barn roof off and everything exposed to the elements Justin got called away without hardly a by your leave. When confronted by Charlie he pointed out the job was now far bigger than anticipated and that the job he had to go and do had been waiting for ages – he’d be back he promised, the thing is we didn’t know when…
When he finally showed up that September there weren’t two of them but four and all needed to stay over and be fed! Luckily the vegetable patch was in full production mode and game was on the menu – so cheap food all round. But newly pregnant I found it all too much as soon as I went anywhere near food I wanted to gag, the stench in particular of the game was unbearable.
But this is where Justin and Mattie rose to the occasion – realising I was pregnant they set about organising their own and even our food. They fetched and carried and basically mollycoddled me, took Charlie down the pub to give me some quiet time, always cleaned the bathroom and put the loo seat down. In fact when they left when the job was done I felt quite bereft…The barn stands magnificent, black clad and gorgeous like a proper Suffolk barn should. The flint walls pristine with new lime mortar, the barge boarding sweeping down from the brick red roof – only the dovecote yet to be put in and I am still waiting for it some five years later – I am assured it is in the work shop and all it will take is a few hours work…

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Do you know any good builders?

When you know bugger all about what you are trying to do. Who do you trust to do it? How do you know if you’re getting a good deal?
Well we knew bugger all and we knew no buggers at all. So where do we go for all our property requirements? To Piers.
Me: “Piers do you know any good builders?”
Piers: “Good thing you asked, now I just happen to have some really good guys at the moment. They’ve got to do my place first but they’ll be with you by next Spring.”
Now that was in 2001, the summer we got the house. And just to be sure that they really were as good as Piers made out I trotted along to the place where Pier’s guys were working. At Piers’ house. A yellow brick Victorian fronted farmhouse with pokey old rooms dating back to when the house didn’t have nearly so much pretension. To the sides, old stables and outbuildings, which were now being cleverly joined together on both stories to produce a substantial countryman’s abode. From three bedrooms to six plus three bathrooms, one en-suite plus dressing room and downstairs a playroom, office, massive modern kitchen/diner, dining room and withdrawing room plus a all the usual paraphernalia. When I drove up is was veritable hive of industry and Piers was in a particularly avuncular mood and proudly showing off everything.
Piers striding forth and gesturing expansively: “This will be the office, the downstairs loo, the playroom, the cloakroom, the pantry, the larder – we’re having real slate in here got a good deal from a man I know in Poland.”
I trotted happily after him across planks of wood suspended on slim line brick walls about six inches off the ground. Bouncing about under scaffolding, through plastic sheeted doors, under a skeleton roof.
When suddenly….
Piers: “What the F**k! Bloody hell boys what’s this! I don’t want a door here!”
I start and look around to see who is in charge and a very tanned chap straight from a diet coke ad calmly climbs down from the roof where he has been busy fixing some purlins. He dries his hands on his T-shirt, smiles at me and winks.
Him in the broadest Suffolk accent – the first time I ever found it sexy: “You awight buoy? Nah s’awight –the plans sais it should be by ‘ere.”
Piers is clearly not happy and for the next half hour Justin, for that is the name of the demi-godlike builder, and he work out why the architect is wrong and why Piers is right and finally agree to move the door, which will involve the knocking down of one wall and the rebuilding of another. And Justin remains as calm and as cheerful as he was when he climbed down from the roof. I’m impressed.
The next time I visit, the building inspector is imminent and the foundations are gaping - there’s very little time and the concrete hasn’t arrived. Piers is shouting about extra costs if the building inspector has to return at a later date; and not wanting to pay people who won’t be working if that happens. Justin gives me the widest grin his eyes dancing merrily. He’s on the phone and replies to Piers’ demands: “S’awright buoy –it’s ‘ere.”And so it is. The concrete arrives in time and the building inspector gives everything the thumbs up. I notice the door is back in its original position. And I realise that Justin’s the builder for me. If he can put up with Piers then our job will hold no fear….

Monday, 7 May 2007

Statements of fact: and willies

The Boy has trotted past stark naked; he should be in bed but instead he is up and wandering around. He spots me looking at him, gives a cheeky grin than suddenly makes a dash for his bedroom.
Me: “What are you doing? Where are your pyjamas?”
Him: “Off!”
Me: “I can see that. Where are they?”
Him: “I want to be naked - for always!”
Me: “Well you can’t.”
Him: “Why not?”
Me: “You’ll be cold.”
Him: “No, I wont. I’m not now.”
Me: “Put your pyjamas on.”
Him: “No!”
Me: “Do as I say!”
Him: “No!”
I hold his pyjamas out trying not to show that I am laughing but it is too late he knows. And then that’s it he’s running round his bedroom squealing with delight.
Him chanting: “I aaamm naked. Look at my Willeee!”
Oh God! Four-year-old boys and willies.
Him still chanting: “I’ve got a willee and youooo haven’t!”
Me, very serious now: “Right get dressed now. Bed.”
Him: “Why haven’t you got a willy?”
Me: “I’m a girl.”
Him: “But why?”
Me: “Cos I am.”
He stops and lets me help him put his pyjamas on.
Him: “If you weren’t a girl you would have a willy.”
Me: “Oh really.”
Him: “If you weren’t a girl you wouldn’t be my mummy.”
Me: “Probably not.”
Him: “I love you. I’m glad you haven’t got a willy.”
I hug him, kiss him and turn to go out the room.
Him: “Do I have to wear clothes tomorrow?”

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

The Judge's Wedding (Part Two)

On a sunny evening like this I can transport myself back. You know before Maggie Thatcher and the have-it-all and have-it-now mentality. The summer then lasts forever, and no, there isn’t a drop of rain to be remembered. The Village road is dusty with straw stalks and it is dry and the Wedding must have been in late summer for our den was up in the rafters of the barn and our escape routes – slides among the thousands of rectangular bales - were steep, dark and exhilarating.
Johnny had had the whole Village of tenterhooks all that summer. Not a peep out of him, well except the usual cursory remarks. I don’t ever remember him working as such - you would always find him propped up at his garden gate across the road and opposite the Judge’s house. Just looking, waiting like some Pike at the bottom of a pond. Lurking in the depths for some unwary duckling or equal unfortunate. A brooding presence, yet not unkind as such, just angry and the older he got the angrier he became.
His house was a rented cottage; Victorian with leaded windows, tall and angular and nothing like Johnny. In fact the whole set up was the antithesis of him. It had an immaculate vegetable patch taking up the whole garden, a few large apple trees with a wooden ladder – the longest I can ever remember - propped or propping up one of fruit trees. It was there year in and year out throughout my childhood. The Brick wall round his garden was red and sinuous and low with angular coping stones, which didn’t invite you to linger.
Johnny was sharp and delighted in inverted snobbery looking down on those who: “Baint b’satisfed wi wha tha’got ‘way bobbin aboot when allus need bi yer.” And it was all there for Johnny. Although he lived alone every meal was cooked for him by his sister who would walk the mile to his house to make sure Johnny had everything he wanted. She did his laundry, cleaned his house, did all the shopping, and made sure Johnny was in someway respectably attired - this in addition to looking after her own husband and family. Come rain, wind, snow or sleet - every meal, every day, this tiny creature could be seen making her way doggedly to Johnny’s. Neither her husband or Johnny going out of their way to give her a lift even if they were driving past.
So no wonder he didn’t have to go anywhere he was waited on hand and foot. But that never seemed to satisfy Johnny.
In addition Johnny reckoned he had been hard done by especially by his landlord - Jim Elliot. Now the law had upheld Jim’s claim to some disputed land and Johnny’s ire simmered. And where did Johnny lay the blame for this – with the law. And who typified the law in the Village? The Judge.
Now Johnny’s farmyard abutted the Judge’s house and the old dairy was used as a deep litter cattle byre and on the eve of the wedding Johnny decided to make his move. He started to muck out.
Although all the cattle had been out in the fields for ages Johnny had not got round to clearing the yard where they had over-wintered – until now. The stench from the yard as well as all those flies filtered even down to our house, as did the shouts emitted from the Judge’s abode.
As you’d expect everyone downed tools and made their way to the Village Shop, or the decided to take their dogs for a walk, or basically hung around and gawped. There was Johnny revving his tractor and cupping his ear; and there was the Judge’s Lady wife – not being ladylike. The more she shouted the more Johnny revved the tractor and then it happened; although I am sure it was an accident. While revving the tractor Johnny must have let go of the brakes, the tyres spun and the Judge’s good lady was suddenly covered from head to toe in muck.
There was silence.
The all hell broke loose: the Judge’s wife screaming, the Judge, his daughter, friends and relatives yelling and threatening and Johnny trapped on his tractor laughing and shouting and cursing, having a high old time.
Then there was a a wail - the most heart rending wail I have ever heard - and Johnny’s sister was there like one of the furies. Everyone parted for her and she made a bee line for Johnny, who had suddenly turned white. He was manhandled off the tractor and every one of us quailed with the ensuing onslaught. We all scarpered.
I am not sure what happened after that but the day of the wedding dawned bright, as it should, and there was no stench in the village. Johnny’s yard was immaculate and not a stick of mud or muck could be found. He must have worked all night to clear everything away. There were bales out and bunting and the farmyard was thrown open for everyone to park their cars.
The entire village gathered to see the bride and cheer and afterwards all us children watched the comings and goings from the wedding breakfast; begging snacks from the waiters as they dived in and out of the marquee. We listened to the music as it drifted in the summer afternoon and spied through gaps in the tent or climbed trees overlooking the garden for a glimpse of the exalted ones – the ones who had an invite. We quizzed everyone about everything and then to our delight the Bride herself came with a basket of food for us all to tuck into and all the while Johnny watched the proceedings from his gate; no one dared to catch his eye; we knew that should we ever mention the incident our lives would not be worth living.Johnny was very much older at my wedding, still around, still hanging out at his gate – and there he stood watching all the comings and goings and there stood his sister watching him, watching us - and we were safe….

Go on you know you want to...

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