I think George could hear it over Skype – the click as the vacuum pulled down the security button on each jar of Mrs Turnstone’s bramble and elder jam. Before long we will be looking for more clean empty jars as we clear the cupboard under the stairs of all we’ve accumulated over the year.
My 5lb of wild plums must wait to be cooked till I’ve raided the sugar aisle in the supermarket. They came from Ash Lane Crossing. All along our stretch of the old South Eastern Railway the company seems to have planted plum trees in the crossing keepers’ gardens. They survive even when the cottage is long gone, as it is here or at Hamford, where the plums are big and sweet and purple, asking to be pickled. An expedition for another day.
The summer and autumn jams and preserves are already being passed around, extending the common table to family, such as Mrs Turnstone Senior, and friends, like the group we met up with in Wensleydale. One family, one feast, one table, at the root of it all.
Mrs Turnstone’s friends had gathered in Wensleydale so we accepted their invitation to join them. Yorkshire has a different palette of green to Kent, and hills that rise higher and steeper than the gentle Downs. Though we do have the White Cliffs and the Devil’s Punchbowl… but this is about Yorkshire!
As we were walking around Kettlewell, a shepherd and his dog roared by on a quad bike, the collie braced to keep his balance behind his master, but clearly enjoying his high speed ride. The next day we saw them from a distance, out on the hill, hard at work rounding up this flock. The black and white collie is running along the dry stone wall, centre right of the picture, and once again giving every impression of enjoying himself.
These black and white dogs were in every farmyard and on almost every street corner in the small towns in the Dale. We met another in York who appeared to be quite overwhelmed by all the different people going through the market place, as well as the many new smells; he did not know where to look or smell first and had that ‘mad collie’ look about his eyes that means his humans will have their work cut out keeping up with him. Perhaps he would have been happier out on the hill, rounding up sheep, but if he’d been let off the lead in town he would have been herding all the humans towards the Yorkshire Sausage Shop in The Shambles nearby. Wild boar pie, Shep? Yes, please!
There were a few screw holes left in our walls where fixtures were removed for the builders to get to work. One has been taken over by a line of parcels! Not brown paper but carefully cut scraps of rose leaf, each wrapping a food supply for the egg that the leaf-cutter bee has laid in there. This faces almost due North, so the outer larva will not roast to death.
That mother works hard for babies she’ll probably never know. And how well do we ever know our children? Off they go, God bless them, and how did they get like that?
Here is where you can send your sightings of bees in the United Kingdom: info@theBigBuzz.biz or firstname.lastname@example.org . There is great concern that bees are losing ground in Britain.
Those finds set my memory going. Years ago I used to care for a garden behind some offices; the building had been a private boys’ school until about 1920. From time to time I would find glass marbles or copper halfpennies, sometimes Victorian ones with both lighthouse and sailing ship behind Britannia on the reverse, but the find that stays in the memory was easily overlooked, more prosaic yet more poignant.
When clearing St Tydfil’s churchyard forty years ago I was struck by the number of clay pipe stems in one corner, till Trevor told me that the shop next door had been The Three Salmons pub. Pipes were sold cheaply to patrons, or given away with tobacco, so one that was drawing poorly would be snapped and tossed over the wall.
This one that turned up in the office garden must have had a story to tell, for it bore the legend ‘St Omer’. My predecessor, I guess, would have returned from the Front in 1918 and resumed his gardening work. When his pipe broke, he thought little of it, but took a short walk to The Three Tuns, where a beer would have been most welcome, and a new pipe waiting for him. Did he feel that throwing the French pipe away was another short step away from the trenches?
A few weeks ago, digging in the back garden, I turned up a small toy cat, what my daughters used to call a China animal. Friday by Friday, each of them collected a set of dragons, ducks, horses or cats from a tiny shop near where I worked, each animal brought home in its own tiny paper bag. At 10p apiece they provided hours of imaginative play. When the girls saw this relic of their childhood there were gasps of delighted recognition.
Delight, but puzzled delight for us when the good people from Regency Floors brought us a white Scottie dog found wedged between the floorboards they were renovating. None of us recognised him: a Monopoly counter perhaps, but not one we had ever played with.
At Dylan Thomas’s Boathouse in Laugharne/Llarregub a cabinet displayed half a dozen toys unearthed in the garden, including a Dinky car like one my cousin Anthony used to let me play with. Good to think of those children playing in the garden: the toys a concrete reminder that A Child’s Christmas in Wales would have been blessed, even with little by way of material things, as ours were in Birmingham.
Domestic archaeology, unearthing happiness! Dylan praised Laugharne/Llarregub for its smallness in a small land, smiling under the Principality of the Sky. Delight is beyond measure, a tree from a mustard seed.