These days it seems that time off work for days like Easter and the old-fashioned Whitsuntide, Bank Holidays and so on, are just that... days off work with no thought given as to why it is so, and what used to happen on those days. As someone who spent ten years writing about local and social history, I have a lovely collection of books old and new, about English Festivals, and one of the joys of writing about them was the excuse it gave me to browse around secondhand bookshops.
One of my favourites that I discovered was the 'wayzgoose', a traditional annual outing for printers. It is believed to date from the 17th century and originally referred to a picnic or outing for the workmen of a printing house, given by the master printer, and was always held around the feast day of Saint Bartholomew, August 24th. He was one of the Twelve Apostles and popular as a patron saint, for within his patronage he has bookbinders, cobblers, leather workers, plasterers and trappers. The wayzgoose itself usually consisted of a picnic meal, taken into the country, and there would be amusements, games and so on, with speeches and toasts after the meal. Although the word seems to have gone out of common usage in this country, it was still used in Canada in the 1990s to describe a printers art fair held at an art gallery in Ontario.
May Day is almost upon us, and up and down the country there will be various celebrations planned, including a weekend of family orientated events in St. Neot's in Cambridgeshire; in the Cotswolds, at Blockley, a new May Pole will be the focus of attention in their celebrations; in Norwich a family fun day is being held by three Norfolk churches and at the Museum of Norfolk Life near Dereham, a May Day Food Fair is planned.
Traditionally speaking, May Day is seen as the first day of Summer, and for centuries it was the custom for men and women, in town and country, to go a-Maying on this day... when young men and women took themselves off to the woods to gather garlands and boughs of flowers which they used to adorn cottage doors and windows at sunrise, and the rest of the day was given over to festivities, the highlight of which was the crowning of the May Queen.
Another tradition was the erecting of the Maypole, and the most famous was the one erected in the Strand, which was over 130 feet high and which stood for over fifty years. Usually the Maypole would be painted and carried in procession with a group of musicians playing ahead of it. It was erected on the village green or in a town market place, decked with flowers and the focal point for the May Day celebrations.
Morris Dancing was at its height in the 16th century, and still exists in many parts of the country today. Originally it made its debut on May Day, then no more was seen until Whitsuntide, after which it continued throughout the summer, sometimes even appearing at Christmastime along with the mummers. The roots of Morris dancing go back a long way, to celebrate the rebirth of spring, ensure good harvests, fertility of flocks, all of this connected with Northern Europe where it is believed to have originated before being brought over to this country. Traditionally a team of people included dancers and other characters, such as The Fool, and the Hobby Horse, some of which took part in the dance, whilst others didn't. But the form we usually see here, of non-traditional Morris dancers, began in 1911 when the English Folk Dance Society was formed, and twenty years later, a federation of Morris Clubs known as the Morris Ring came into being.
May Day is also known as BELTANE, the Celtic festival of the beginning of Summer, and before sunrise you should gather the 'May', which can be hawthorn blossom or rowan preferably, (there are some forms of greenery and plant life which are said to be insulting, 'gorse for the whores' for example!) and then left at a friend's door to bring them luck.
May, according to books on old traditions and beliefs, is also the best month for making your butter, is the month when bees swarm, leaving their hives to make new colonies, when kittens born turn into melancholy adult cats; it is the month said to be unlucky for marrying but a good month for making 'prognostications from the hands', when you should beware of shrews (the scurrying about vermin type, not pinch-faced old crones!) and make your Whitsun cheesecakes. Now not a lot of people know that!
Saturday, 11 April 2009
This is the fragrant des res. It doesn't look much.. on Easter Saturday when it was dark and miserable I took this photograph, so not seen at it's best. I certainly wouldn't make it as an estate agent, hardly the best photo of a desirable residence. No long angled shots to catch it's best side, no close ups to hide the swampduck neighbours tatty garden, no waiting for the sun to shine to show it in a favourable light.
It may not look much but it promises to be a lovely, fragrant home. Last year, we had four goldfinches coming to the garden, and the addition of thistle and/or nigella seeds to a pretty feeder on the bird feeding station ensured they stayed with us. But one pair have been seen off, and the other pair are staying with us, so we discovered this last weekend. About fifteen feet or so from the house, and close to the summerhouse, we have a smallish laburnum. Standing about twelve feet or so high, it has been here as long as we have, twenty years almost, never seems to have grown, but puts out lovely pannicles of cheery yellow flowers... after which we are sure to have stormy weather to knock them all off, it happens most years. At the base I have planted a honeysuckle to the left, and a jasmine to the right, to make the upright stems look more interesting all year round, and add some scent to the area. The honeysuckle has taken to it very well, growing up and along some branches, and in one place, it gathers in a large cluster, looking for all the world like a large, untidy nest. And this is what is seen in the photo, and inside this, a tiny home is being built by the pair of goldfinches. I can't tell you how excited this makes me, ridiculous really to get so carried away, some would say. Some people with no soul that is, and I have no time for such people and care not a jot, for what they think.
So the watching of the coming and going, carrying little bits of this and that, cobweby bits with tiny white feathers caught in them, loose bits of leaves and so on caught up on the fading flower heads of tall grasses, all have been carried back and into the new home. I worried about them on Saturday, it was such a grey and damp day, but they carried on, and added to the other Easter treats I have pictured here.
A posy from the garden, of streaky pink as well as yellowy orange wallflowers, blue muscari, tiny yellow daffodils with three flowerheads to a delicate stem, a pink and white striped miniature tulip, and some anonymous white flower, a ground covering type of plant, no idea what it's called but it will flower now right through until summer ends almost, so is a 'good doer' as they say. And a dish of edible treats. Usually we buy a normal size Easter egg each. Himself prefers a Bendick's dark chocolate and I go for Green and Black's. But this year I felt like a change, so bought several packets of little eggs, so there are 'malteser and friends' mini eggs, tiny Lindt chocolate eggs and bunnies, some dark chocolate ones too and the very small Cadbury's creme egg. Reading other people's blogs I am sure to read about trips out with children and grandchildren, Easter egg hunts in the garden, and there are times when I wish I was the sort of woman who enjoyed stuff like that. But I am not, and so Easter for us, which has no religious meaning at all, was a time for relaxing, for getting a pile of books out of the 'waiting to be read' pile next to the bed, a couple of magazines each, for starting a new craft project, and for doing those jobs one means to do all year round, yet never gets around to. For Himself, that meant Saturday was spent tidying his shed, a twice-yearly event at least, since it always looks as if it needs tidying. Luckily I have my own tool kit in the house, and a short step ladder in the shed down the side of the house, so no need to enter this DANGER ZONE of a MAN'S SHED. What is it with men and sheds? Having said that, one coffee table book on my list is called 'SHED CHIC', full of photos of what people have done to what was once the 'umble garden shed, the place blokes sat in to read magazines whilst supposedly being busy doing 'stuff' that only men can do in their shed. Best not dwell on it too long methinks!
Another treat for me was meeting up with an old school friend, passing through for just a day. She and I had some madcap times when we were young... we both fancied the junior park-keeper, and one day I pretended to have left my purse on the bus into school (no such thing as 'real' school buses, these were just your normal ones) and so asked the Sister could I go to the bus depot to see had it been handed in. She insisted I take a friend with me, 'Take Mary, she's a sensible girl'.... Haflippingha.. just a good actress, that was Mary! So off we went, it was a good twenty minute walk to the park, so we ran. That gave us ten minutes to mooch around the park, looking. The head park-keeper asked what we were up to, so Mary, quick as a flash, said we were just checking to see had the nets been put up on the tennis courts yet. We went there once a week to play tennis you see, so this was, or could have been, a legitimate point. He mumbled something, which we didn't understand since he had a cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth, a mouthful of sandwich too, and no teeth. What an attractive picture that makes....
Anyway, we got up to all sorts, over the years, when we were younger, and decided it was time to bring back some of that silliness, so off we went to a nearby seaside resort and spent a mad morning in the gaming arcade, avoiding the modern computer ones, but going for the one armed bandits, and other machines which reminded us of our misspent youth on the pier in the seaside town in Lancashire where we lived at the time. We had cotton candy, later chips in a cone (of all things, a cone, I ask you, what happened to newspaper!), a run on the beach kicking sand and trying to make sandpies with no bucket. We used the vinegary cones that had held our piping hot, crispy chips, and had we had the time and inclination, and had the tide not been on the way in, we're sure we could have made a wonderful castle from this cone shape. We laughed till we almost wet ourselves, which got us to thinking how this only seems to happen at either end of your life; when you are young or getting older, and why hadn't we made the most of the middle bit when it never seemed to be as bad a problem? I didn't tell her it was almost as bad for me then, thinking if it hadn't been bad for her, then there was obviously something wrong with my bladder control. Mind you, she has never had children, could that have something to do with it? We had a mad morning, and ended up being sedate, having afternoon tea at a lovely award-winning tea rooms in the middle of nowhere, after which a walk around some old ruins, and then that was the end of our time together. She had her life to get back to, and I don't know when we will see each other again, but I am sure there will still be time for some silliness. Shouldn't everyone have a bit of silliness, now and then?