Friday, 22 February 2019

What a night that was! 1968...

Now I have a poem that I wrote, possibly, in 1968,  after attending a competition to choose a top pop group. This event took place over 3 or 4 Saturday evenings at Aberdeen Beach Ballroom. I think I attended each one, and therefore required a new outfit for each event.

My choice at this period of time was an A-line mini  dress. I certainly remember two of those outfits.
One I made in a linen look cotton. It had bell sleeves. The fabric was psychedelic...huge flowers of various hues, in yellow, orange , pink and green. Under the lights of the ballroom some of the flowers completely changed colour and almost "glowed". Another dress I recall was made from a shiny bronze coloured fabric dotted with subtle flowers, but the reverse was brushed giving it a warm feel.

We danced from 8pm till gone 2 in the morning, then collecting our coats from the cloakroom, in a happy group we walked the six miles home to the suburbs.

Happy days...and still remembered...

The pattern above was found in a charity shop in 2014 and I've used it frequently.


Silhouetted figures on the background of blue moved 
to and fro with the rhythm from the group.
I felt myself slowly slipping 
into a trance and everything
moved with a frenzy of feelings 
and emotions.
Then I finally went under into
the swirl of rhythmic bodies.
Music pulsating to my brain.

Gardens where flowers bloomed
were all around me.
I plucked a rose from a tender bough,
And breathed in its sweet perfume.
Then I took a daisy from among
the deep, green grass.
And pulling out its petals, I cried..
" He loves me-- He loves me not,
  He loves me--He loves me not,
He loves me--He loves me !

Silhouetted figures on the background of blue wavered
to and fro with the rhythm 
of the group.
Hands reached out to help me to my feet ,
But I laughed and sang out above the music --
" He loves me !
                   He loves me !" 

Thanks for reading, Kath.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Oh, What A Night - The Best Times

Oh, what a night, what a theme! I've many to choose from, here's a few.

The first thing to spring to mind is all the Moody Blues concerts I’ve been to. I tried to count it up but it’s impossible.  On every UK tour for nearly twenty years, I have attended two or three concerts at least, out of a probable eight, depending on location. We’ve wrapped holidays and mini-breaks around concert dates. I longed to see them at the Royal Albert Hall, where I knew the acoustics would be perfect for their music. I was ecstatic to eventually make it in 2006 and went to two of their three concerts. The experience was everything I’d hoped for. On the second night, my daughter and I managed to place ourselves in front of the stage, with many others dancing and singing through the encore. It was worth having to stay in the grottiest of shabby back street hotels. We live and learn. A couple of years later we stayed in a lovely hotel in Blackheath when we went to see the Moodies at the 02. Not my favourite venue, but the hotel was great.

I like football. I grew up in a family devoted to Manchester United, so it was bound to rub off. My maternal grandfather, a licensee in Sale when I was small, had mates connected to the club. I remember the sadness in the family when the Munich air crash happened, though I was too young to fully understand. Years later we took our children on a tour of MUFC and I spent ages in the museum learning about the Busby Babes. In 2006 there was an opportunity to go to a match. Burton Albion were coming to Old Trafford for a mid-week, evening FA cup replay. Tickets went on open sale. I can’t remember how much it cost for our family of four to have the best seats possible, on the centre-line above the dugout, and pre-booked pre-paid disabled parking, but I know it was a very expensive family night out. It was worth every penny. Our son, who was about fifteen, had the time of his life. Our daughter amused everyone around us by asking me if it was ‘live’. It was a 5-0 win to United. It took hours to get out of the car park and start our journey home. A very late school night, but a great time was had by us all. Sometimes you need a treat.

Going to see John Cooper Clarke was a treat indeed. I’ve loved his poetry since he first came on the scene as a ‘punk poet’, so clever, so observant, telling it like it is with no words wasted. I bought tickets as soon as they went on sale at the Kendal Brewery Arts Centre. We had pizza in the Vats Bar then took our front row seats in the theatre. The first half of the event was my introduction to Manchester poet, Mike Garry, who held me spellbound and spoke my language, quite literally as he comes from the same part of Manchester as I do. Afterwards, I bought a copy of his book, which he signed for me as we chatted. John Cooper Clarke was amazing and kept going and going, despite not being fully recovered from a recent illness. It was just brilliant to hear the poems I knew and loved so well being performed live by the poet. Oh, what a night!

Oh, what a night at the Royal Albert Hall

On a wonderful Moody Blues tour,

When we danced and sang, right up close to the stage,

Joining in with their final encore.


Oh, what a night at Old Trafford Cricket Ground,

Simply Red in July, ’92.

‘Holding Back the Years’ always has me in tears.

Dreams of the future were coming true.


Oh, what a night at Old Trafford Football Ground,

Our fam’ly supporting United.

Fortunes for tickets, but the thrill of the match

And victory made us delighted.


Oh, what a night in Kendal, John Cooper Clarke,

The Bard of Salford, great to be heard,

And Manchester’s Mike Garry blew me away

As I hung on to his every word.


PMW 2019

Thanks for reading, Pam x 

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Came Forth Sweetness

I'm going to start this blog with a digression. I never thought of myself as a cruel child, but I wince slightly now in recounting the following tale from my formative years. When I was aged four and living (as I'm sure I've explained before) in deepest, darkest Africa, I used to collect toads and pop them into old Lyle's golden syrup tins, the lids of which my father had punctured with a few holes so the creatures could breathe. I think I must have imagined I was an intrepid explorer, scouring the continent for rare and exotic beasts and bringing my amazing finds home to base-camp, much to the wonderment of all.

I was certainly in the right locale; but toads were about as exotic a trophy as a four-year-old armed with a few syrup tins could expect to ensnare; and as for the wonderment element - which is the real point of telling this story - that consisted of presenting a tin to my younger brother (aged two) and enjoying his reaction as he pulled off the lid  and came forth not sweetness (as the famous logo proclaimed) but a toad, springing right up into his surprised face. It's a trick that, to my satisfaction, worked on more than one occasion. What can I say? Boys will be boys. No toads were harmed. Digression over.

ye olde imperial measure golden syrup tin
I always took that instantly recognisable and usefully recyclable green and golden syrup tin for granted with its lion, its bees and its slogan 'out of the strong came forth sweetness'. It was only when I was mulling over ideas for this  sugar  blog that I decided to delve a bit deeper - and here is what I found...

Take the lion in the picture. I always assumed he was sleeping contentedly (possibly after a heavy meal of treacle tart, one of my own favourites as a lad), but he is in fact dead. And those bees buzzing around his head aren't seeking out any last traces of treacle to be found on his magnificent muzzle and whiskers, they've been nesting and breeding in his corpse. Quite a shocker.

Abram Lyle, founding father of the East End sugar refining company that bore his name, was a very religious man and he took that slogan from a Bible story (Judges chapter 14 if you wish to check it out), which relates how Samson on a visit to select a bride from among the Philistines once tore a young lion apart with his bare hands and on re-passing the scene some considerable time later found bees nesting in the carcass, from which he extracted honey that he took home with him. That led him to pose the following riddle to the Philistines at his wedding feast: 'Out of the eater came forth food and out of the strong came forth sweetness.' After puzzling over this for three days the guests advised Samson's new wife to get him to expound on the meaning of the riddle or they would burn the house down. Ah, the old days, the old ways!

The image of the lion on the Lyle tin is based on a painting of 1849 by Sir Edwin Landseer, entitled 'The Desert' (or alternatively 'The Fallen Monarch'), reproduced below. The original can still be seen in Manchester Art Gallery.

the lion sleeps forever
Sir Edwin was famous for his depictions of wild life in various media. His most well-known works are the sculptures of lions that stand at each corner of Nelson's column in Trafalgar Square. He was also much given to drugs and drink, suffered from depression and his family eventually had him certified insane.

Abram Lyle & Sons duly merged with England's other leading sugar-refining company Henry Tate & Sons in 1921 to form Tate & Lyle. In the previous century both of the firms' founding fathers had become millionaire sugar magnates and Tate's lasting benefaction (on his death in 1899) was to the world of the arts in the form of the Tate Gallery. In a curious way, that closed a circle.

I make a point of trying to avoid sugary foods, except for the occasional treat. Treacle tart remains one of my few sweet indulgences; not so easy to come by nowadays. In Egypt it's called 'palace bread' (if you ever need to ask). The finest treacle tart I ever had was at a pub in Moretonhampstead on the northern edge of Dartmoor. It was made with black treacle. That was over thirty years ago but remains a fond memory.

To wrap up this week's blog, a new poem - a work in progress (so subject to change) - a somewhat caustic commentary on La Dolce Vita, a tilt at the second estate and those who possess it or aspire to it.

The Sweet Life
Life on Quality Street boasts
an embarrassment of bitches;
the cream of Tory motherhood
has suckled the next clutch
of arrogant young bucks who
aspire to lord it over us;
their ancient double-barrelled names
already down for Cleversods,
that prestigious school-on-the-hill
where they'll learn how to be elite,
with bullying and buggery for sport,
get taught how to shoot, ride roughshod
and be ready to rule the world
unfolding at their precious feet.

Meanwhile on Quality Street,
behind those beds of roses
and bold front doors with CCTV,
fanlights and carriage lamps,
anachronistically a feudal world prevails
of nannies, butlers, cooks and maids
whose duty is to serve, but not observe
discreet affairs between masters and au pairs
or mistresses and fashionable beaus,
to make sure everything is laid out
on the plate precisely so the second estate,
whose members, ensconced, immune
from want or strife can thrive;
no shadow of austerity shall taint their lives.

With silver spoons in mouths
and later up their noses - one supposes -
the children of the privileged
will want for nothing but compassion
as they grow into their roles.

How elegantly debutantes
perform the ritual mating dance,
in season now and looking for a match
more based on money than romance.
Handsome but penniless won't cut it
unless the title's right;
coarse with a king's ransom might.

So history repeats itself,
the mystery of succession of the privileged.
They take their places on the boards
of hedge fund companies with offshore fortunes
well beyond the reach of law
or buy a safe seat in the House from where
with others of their ruthless kind
they legislate to decimate the Welfare State
in the interests of keeping things sweet
for their fellow residents on Quality Street.

Thanks for reading. Stay sassy and sharp, S ;-)

Friday, 15 February 2019

Sugar....friend or foe ?

I apologise for the lateness of my contribution. You see a close friend of mine has suffered from toothache for a couple of days and last night was, for her, the last straw. So it was that she phoned me early this morning stating that she had managed to get an emergency appointment. Well , being me. I  offered to accompany her, just in case she required drastic treatment. As it was a filling was required..nothing too major.

By late afternoon I was beginning to despair of ever sitting down to compose what I had in mind. But her sudden dental work made me think of the implications of consuming too much sugar in its various forms.

Why, just this past week I've cut down on my own sugar consumption . Mainly reducing the amount of teaspoonfuls in my tea. Actually I've reached the stage that I don't miss the reduction...albeit only by about half a teaspoon!

The government have got involved in this 'fight' against sugar, suggesting "sugar taxes",  on soft drinks, sweets etc. Children's teeth are showing early signs of decay, causing concerns amongst dentists. Obesity is another real concern and sugar gets part of the blame.

I, myself eat 'free from' foods due to an intolerance but they seem to be loaded with sugar somehow make up for the missing ingredients.

It seems that the addition of sugar has become acceptable. Taste buds expect this sweetness. Sugar is added to the most unexpected foodstuffs, so it is worthwhile looking at the labels.

But I digress really , as I intended to speak about sugar in a different way. So here goes, in brief...

In the 15th Century the Portuguese traded in gold and Ivory in West Africa. Columbus was particularly interested in the predominant wind that blew from east to west and was determined to show that he could sail to the Far East , by sailing westwards!. Hence he used those winds and landed in Barbados and the islands of what he termed The West Indies (he thought he would land in India?). Once there the Portuguese watched the natives harvesting sugar cane and brought some back to Europe where a sudden taste for sweetness developed.

Now, of course others wished to colonise these islands and cultivate sugar cane on plantations, but they lacked a work force . Thus slavery began , taking Africans to the islands on what became known as The Trade Winds. Ships then would drop off slaves, pick up sugar, molassses , rum, tobacco , exotic fruits , and used the Westerly Winds to take a route to Europe. So sweetmeat production began  in earnest.

Then when the US and Britain decided to abolish slavery , the sugar trade from abroad faced a slump. Now sugar beet had always been utilised by country folks as a sweetener, so production of this beet was upped. Further wars and dangerous seas really brought the production of British sugar beet onto a massive scale, devoting thousands of acres to its production. Look at your sugar bags and see which brands have a Union Jack on the wrapper!
Sugar is obviously essential for preservation, alcohol production, medicines etc do we regard sugar as "friend or foe" ?

I haven't written a piece this week , but think about where the word " sugar" is used. I've lots of songs in mind...

Sugar...ah, honey, honey.
You are my candy girl and you got me wanting you....

Thanks for reading, Kath...

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Sugar - A Little Stick of Blackpool Rock

 Somewhere, hidden in the maze of back alleys and side streets of South Shore, there once stood the rock factory. It was only a two minute jog away from our pub, very handy for my first summer holidays job and I was excited to start. Well, I was more excited at the prospect of earning a wage to fund the spends for my school trip to Yugoslavia at the end of August. Dad gave me pocket money for sorting empty bottles at weekends and re-stocking shelves when the pub was shut, but he’d paid for my adventure and anything more was down to me.

On my first morning, I presented my fourteen and a half year old self at a side door to the factory. It was only eight o’clock but already a hive of activity. I was ushered into an office where a fearsome looking man dressed in chef’s whites glanced my way and barked orders. I would work eight until six with an hour off at dinner time. I would brew up when told to for morning and afternoon breaks. I was given a pale blue, long sleeved overall, the same as all the ladies. Some wore headscarves tied like a turban. They were the ones who touched the soft, pliable rock when it was tipped from the sugar boiler. They rolled it, gently stretching it until it was the required thickness, or thinness. This was a skill. They had to work in unison and very quickly before the rock began to harden, otherwise it would crack when cut into lengths. The things we learn in life.

My place was in packing, no headscarf needed. I put labels on jars of ‘pebbles’, wrapped sticky tape round the lids and boxed them up ready to go. I put rock into walking-stick tubes and taped caps on them. I tied ribbons on to blue and pink plastic handles ready to be put into the ‘sugary dummy’ mould. Later, I was shown how to operate a machine that sealed cellophane wrapping round giant humbugs. I knew I’d reached a peak when, at last, I donned a pretty headscarf and went into the finishing room to learn how to wrap sticks of rock. There is a skill to it and I’m not sure if I mastered it. Holding one end still, it sort of twisted itself while my other hand rolled it quickly then twisted the other end, and remember to pop a ‘Blackpool Rock’ slip in as it rolled. It is likely that there's a machine to do it these days. Mainly, I was packing items up ready for despatch.

It was a learning curve about some aspects of the real world. Although I was brought up in pubs, some with ‘salt of the earth’ men’s vault bars, I must have had a sheltered life. I’d never heard so much swearing all at once and really rough talk from women and men alike. A couple of girls who had come to work in Blackpool for the summer talked openly about meeting lads and what they got up to on the beach at night. They weren’t much older than me and were friendly enough but laughed at my naivety.

The highlight of my time there was being pushed around the huge sugar store in a wheel-barrow by a boy I knew from school, also on a summer job, and jumping out quickly without being seen.

The low moments were nearly every day for the first week, probably longer, the sickly, sweet smell of molten sugar with a hint of mint or worse, aniseed, turned my stomach so much I’d be running down the yard hoping to make it to the loo before vomiting. At the very least, I’d have a headache.

I managed the full five weeks as arranged and had new clothes and holiday money for Yugoslavia. It was all worth it.
A light-hearted blog, a serious poem. I love this.
The God of Sugar (Sugar Shed, Greenock)
Cavernous – and empty now –
no shouts of dockers,
no barefoot women shovelling
molasses – it has the chill
and hush of a cathedral.
Like a pilgrim arrived at a shrine,
wanting something to touch
for a vision or sign
that a saint or god is there,
I rub the tip of my finger
against the rough bricks
of the wall and lick, tasting
sweet dirt, seeing, shining
in the gloom, an obese boy¬
like Elvis in a sequin suit.
What prayers should I offer
to this god of sugar?
Most fitting and proper,
prayers for the slaves
drowned in leaking holds;
or for those who survived
the voyage to the Caribbean
to cut the cane, lashed
until their backs were striped
with festering wounds.
Or prayers for the child
who spooned golden syrup
from the green lion tin, dribbling it
in spirals to form amber pools
in her porridge; who stole
from her mother’s purse
to buy red-tipped sugar cigarettes;
who ruined her teeth
on lollipops and seaside rock?
Prayers for the woman
who still craves sweetness:
savouring strawberries dipped
in the sugar dish, gobbets
of crystallised ginger, figs
almost rotten with ripeness.
by Vicki Feaver
Thanks for reading, Pam x

Saturday, 9 February 2019


I always believed that 'burning the candle at both ends' originated as a figurative expression of overwork, dating from a pre-electric age; i.e. referring to an undertaking started early (before dawn) and continued until late (well after dusk) and therefore requiring candlelight at both ends of the day.

It seems an entirely logical explanation, with the commonly accepted inference that such behaviour (if continued for any length of time) is not the cornerstone of a healthy life-style. However, I've been doing a bit of research and it appears there are those who would argue the merits of a more literal origin for the phrase...

Really? I don't think so!
... but it begs the question: why would you? If you want double the light, just use two (or more) candles; or if you only have the one, cut it in half why don't you?

Lighting a candle at both ends requires either: holding it in the middle with one hand - which surely defeats most purposes I can imagine, or necessitates balancing it precariously in horizontal mode on some object - in such a way that it won't just roll off and go out or worse, start a fire.

In each of these literal 'burning the candle at both ends' scenarios, the mere fact that it is horizontal means that it burns down much faster  - as the wax falls directly away exposing more wick more quickly, rather than forming a retarding pool round said wick. Result? Double the light for a shorter time and one hell of a waxy mess, if not burned fingers into the bargain. Really? I don't think so!

However, if it's neither about extremely long working hours nor a phrase to be taken literally (just too silly), then 'burning the candle at both ends' has to be a metaphor for excessive behaviour, with its connotations of unsustainable, thrill-seeking recklessness, intense but ultimately destructive pleasure or whatever other all-consuming activity one cares to imagine (and I'm just illustrating here, not passing a value judgement).

There you have three options, (a), (b) and (c) respectively. I've had to resort to the figurative (a) on many (short-lived) occasions in student and working life when completing assignments and projects to immovable deadlines. I've indulged briefly in the metaphorical (c) at different times down the decades but I'm not going to elaborate (so use your imaginations). I have never been remotely tempted by the literal (b) option. How about you? If this were an exam paper, here is where it would say: Discuss. (You may choose to do so by appending a comment to the blog, anonymous or otherwise, if you wish.)

The unbeliever and I recently enjoyed a few days and nights away at Beech Hill House on the shore of beautiful Lake Windermere, in celebration of both of our birthdays. (It's too soon to swap life in the fast lane for life in the bus lane!) I mention this only because Beech Hill House possesses one of the finest Venetian chandeliers I have ever seen. My photograph below doesn't do it justice.

Exquisite beauty...
Of course the twelve (apostolic) candles are electric nowadays but that modern twist does little to detract from the magic - the sheer elegance of the gilt branched design festooned with all manner of coloured Murano glass fruits. It glitters and seduces like a suspended Aladdin's cave. For a lover of glass, the Beech Hill House chandelier is simply stunning to look at in sunlight or candlelight...and one day might merit a poem, but today is not that day.

The birthday break is over, I'm older but none the wiser and blogging duties recommence. I hope you've enjoyed these fresh ramblings about candles. The topic has cropped up a few times over the years, so it's quite a challenge to discover a fresh angle.

I'll finish up by offering you in advance of St. Valentine's Day this little poem on the nature of love (with the usual dash of Greek mythology stirred in), as it's also relevant to the week's theme.

Of Aphrodite & Hephaistos
She, the combustible essence
Of sulphurous love;
He, the renowned artificer,
Bearing up steadfast and dutiful.

We owe to the married Gods
This union of pale wax column
And burnished copper cup,
Forged with great passion
And lit by a match made in heaven
To brighten dark, earthly hearts.

The votive tallow in its holder
Flickers to a flame,
Allows our shallow lives
To sparkle and flare,
Rendered briefly bolder,
Amorous, shading into beautiful.

Thus it enriches
Even as it disappears,
(For passion cannot last)
In ribbons of smoke
And molten tears.

Thanks for reading. Stay happy, Steve ;-)

Friday, 8 February 2019

Corpse Routes and Corpse Candles

This summer I plan to walk the Old Corpse Road from Mardale (Haweswater) to Swindale and onto Shap Abbey. With this in mind I was interested to read an article not only about corpse routes, but also in the superstition of   'corpse candles' . This is a widely believed phenomena in many parts of rural  UK.

Corpse routes always took many twists and turns ...even though a more direct route could have been taken to the burial ground. Often crossing running water too. This meandering pathway was designed to prevent the spirit from coming back from whence it came. For you see spirits always travel in a straight line and cannot cross running water.

Hamlets and villages without a church and therefore no consecrated burial ground, had to carry their departed to the nearest graveyard. Hence the Old Corpse Road at Mardale, where a church was not built till the 18th century. So the dead were carried overland to Shap Abbey.

So, you are asking where do  'corpse candles ' come into things? The apparition of floating lights was often noted drifting across the moors, and usually travelling in a straight line. Nowadays we might reason this being 'will o' the wisp', or gases emanating from the bogs, but folks, back then, thought it was a light 'calling' upon a village, or a dwelling , as a portent of an impending tragedy and a sign of imminent death.

After a tragedy witnesses often came forward to relate that they knew it was going to happen as they'd seen the 'corpse candles' a day or more before.

After reading that fascinating article I sat and wrote this piece.....

         Corpse Candle

          Oh, Maggie dost thou see that light across the moor ?
          I fear it comes for me. Oh, Maggie, bar the door.
          We'll kneel and pray and hope it passes our home
          And continues on its ghostly course to roam.

          Oh, Maggie dost thou see that light that floats near ?
          Stay close to me my love and hold me dear.
          Send for the priest and ask him what to do.
          Perhaps it will pass our cottage as it's not due ?

          Oh, Maggie dost thou fear the flame that comes close ?
          I fear for my life and dread the corpse candle most.
          The Lord will watch over us, of that I'm sure.
          Oh, Maggie I beg you again to bar the door !

          Oh, Maggie, di'st thou see the candle last night ?
          For it's taken you by dawn's first light.
          You've gone from me and I did not think
          To guard your life that's gone in a blink....

Thanks for reading, Kath

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Candles - Remembrance

Strolling around Dublin’s Temple Bar district with friends, I found myself thinking of my late Uncle Bill, a lovely Irishman and one of the pub landlords in my family. We were buddies for the whole eight years we had each other. He loved to take baby me out in my pram. When I was old enough he took me to the swings and my aunt would come along, too. Most Sunday afternoons our whole family would be together. Pubs closed on Sundays between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. in those days and at that time we still lived fairly close to each other. I was always a Daddy’s girl, but Uncle Bill was another good playmate and had a wealth of stories to tell me. With no children of their own, my uncle and aunt doted on me and we were all thrilled with the arrival of my new baby sister. Uncle Bill died suddenly on 16th March, 1964. His rich singing voice would not be heard on St Patrick’s Day, or ever again. He is buried in his native Cork.

I was in Dublin, my first visit to Ireland, but it won’t be my last, it’s on my ‘to do’ list to go back and see more, including Cork, but it was too far away on that short break. With my head full of childhood memories of Uncle Bill, I excused myself from my company while I nipped into nearby St Teresa’s Church to light him a candle. Feeling spiritual rather than religious, I watched the flame become established, pointing heavenward, unfaltering in the still air like others around it, a tiny light expressing strength and power, a symbol of remembrance and love. I spent a few moments reflection before returning to my friends.

Sometime in my not-too-distant future I will return to Ireland and visit as much of the Emerald Isle as I can. I hope to visit Uncle Bill’s burial place. I will light a candle for him in Cork.
I found this poem,
Candle in the Window
There’s a candle in the window,
Shining with a loving light.
It’s been sitting there for years now,
It really is a lovely sight.
A tiny candle in the window
Burning with a light so rare,
Where the cold wind doesn’t blow,
A loving sign that someone cares.
A tiny flame that burns inside
The window of that tiny shack,
Like the flame that in the heart resides,
Wishing someone would come back.
It will burn ‘til two soul mates
Are reunited once again,
And overcome the cruel hand of fate,
And joy replaces all the pain.
Juan Olivarez
Thanks for reading, Pam x

Friday, 1 February 2019

My Life Below Zero...

We moved to Scotland from London in 1955, it was February, the house was cold with ice on the inside of the windows. So that was my introduction to freezing conditions. A coal fire was duly lit but the draught  lifted the rugs off the floor, so it wasn't long before we went 'all electric'. Eventually to under carpet heating!

Paraffin heaters were a permanent, if smelly, addition to the hallway (top and bottom of the stairs)  and the kitchen - with a hurricane lamp in the bathroom. All these were carefully maintained by my dad in order to eliminate the odour. Yet the ice continued to coat the interior of the metal cased window frames.

I don't recall ever not being able to attend school. Okay so the buses couldn't get up Quarrybank Hill, so I walked. First to primary school ..about a mile and a half away. Then to secondary school ...about three miles away. I was always equipped with a 'winter wardrobe' ( something I've adhered to over the years). My mother made me a superb wool duffle coat with lining featuring Chinese dragons !! I was made to wear over- boots ( I hated them, but now understand their necessity).

We played out. Built igloos. Had snowball fights. Cleared paths. Made 'slides'. I skated outdoors. Taking two buses , carrying my gear and a sweeping brush I went to the Duthie park boating pond which was only about a foot deep and froze nicely.

We walked to the shops, library, town, on dates...everywhere ! I still love walking in crisp, virgin snow with gentle snowflakes fluttering down. It's magical.

My first teaching job was in Kingussie in the Cairngorm mountains. The digs I stayed in had no central heating but a coal fire was lit in the kitchen for breakfast time and in the lounge in the evenings. A single bar electric fire was put at the top of the stairs. I went to bed like Nanook of the North! Even making myself a flannelette sleeping bag that I put between the crisp cotton sheets of my bed - and removed each morning in case the landlady saw it !! Often the then main road would become silent and I'd walk down the driveway , onto this road and walk wondrously along the centre, relishing the darkness , solitude and cold stillness as the snow fell thickly.

After I married I lived in a cottage three miles out of Kingussie and often in the winter I found myself being sent home on school transport ...namely a breakdown pick up truck that ploughed its way gamely through the drifts. Then usually I was stranded in the cottage for days till a snowplough got through.

When I moved to Berkshire ( later Oxfordshire) I thought that the winters might not be so severe. How wrong I was! We lived in a prefab in sight of the Chilton Downs, and boy did we cop for cold weather! Frosts were severe and copious amounts of snow fell in the winter. The Parkray fire was kept going Day and night , topped up with a delivery of logs. My husband ran a couple of radiators off the system to take the chill off the bedrooms. One memorable winter the temperature dropped to -17 !! Ice formed inside the front door, despite having a double burner paraffin heater going in the hall!

I returned to Scotland in 1993 to live in Buckie in a house overlooking the Moray Firth. Once again a large Parkray fire was fitted in and we ran 10 radiators off it. All the summer we would collect timber off the beach , or where trees were being cut by the forestry commission ( we asked for the bits they didn't want ) . Together we'd collect and cut on the shore if we could, I'd carry the logs to the car or van and load that up. Getting home the timber would be unloaded and stacked up to dry and season. We reckoned on having 4 tons of wood to see us through the winter ! After a storm we would scour the coastline for washed up timber.

After 14 years my husband decided that he'd never come to terms with the long winters up north ( he came from Oxford) and thus it was that we found ourselves in Cleveleys. He said winter here was the difference between a jacket and an overcoat!

However as soon as it's frosty and snowing I'm out like a shot. I adore that crisp snow that crunches under your feet. I love to see the hills covered in snow with clear, blue sunny skies overhead.

Just like this week! Can't wait for the weekend. I have plans to walk in the snow .....

Generate Heat

Driftwood washed up on the beach.
Haul it up the shore, within reach.
Put on safety goggles.
Start the chainsaw.
Generate heat.

Fill the van with fresh cut wood.
The scent of resin is true and good.
Start up the engine.
Set off home.
Generate heat.

Stack the timber against the wall,
Log upon log, neat and tall.
Fill up a basket.
Take to the fire.
Generate heat.

Thanks for reading, Kath

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Life Below Zero - Baby it's cold outsdie.

It is very cold at the moment and on mornings like this when I have to de-ice my car, my thoughts turn to those unfortunate people who are sleeping out on the streets. I say living with uncertainty because I am sure that many of them are merely surviving and that in 2019 is surely unacceptable. What kind of uncaring society allows the poor and dispossessed to live in doorways when the temperatures drop and even keeping homes warm is problematic.

A snapshot count of those on the street has shown a decrease in numbers but the figure is arrived at simply by checking on one night. The accuracy of this count must be called into question. If the counting teams approach a tent they are not permitted to enter - therefore this person cannot be included in the count. The fact is we really don't know how many are left out in the cold and we probably never will.

The city of Helsinki is offering support to Manchester in order to address the problem. Their solution is to prioritise the homeless, getting them into social housing as soon as possible. They recognise that the cost of increased health and social issues is far higher in the long term than providing accommodation. Naturally, people who have been on waiting lists for social housing may be disgruntled by this policy but would anyone want to deny the homeless a second chance at life.

There have been recent initiatives by community minded individuals such as leaving unwanted coats at strategic places in towns.  I often stop to chat, inform people of the location of the nearest homeless shelter or buy a hot drink and a Kit Kat to help them keep warm. I consider this a small intervention but was lifted to hear that in Liverpool, buses are being kitted out with beds to give homeless people some respite from the cold weather.

In Chicago today the temperature is down to -25 degrees but the wind chill factor makes it feel much colder. A reporter this morning said that the cold was actually painful. The river has frozen and residents have been advised to stay indoors where possible and not to breath deeply if they have to venture out. The all time cold spell is due to the displacement of polar air which is spiralling over
Illinois and Michigan. I have experienced -22 degrees when holidaying in Austria over Christmas. It was so cold that lift attendants didn't turn up for work.

Before and after - A lighthouse in Michigan this week.  

Research into life below zero led me to look at Iceland and that has helped in the writing of my poem.

Ice Maiden

She moves slowly -
Her flowing frozen train
Spread long and wide
In her wake
It glistens as it rises
to a grand protrusion
A two thousand metre peak
Where it bursts
With effusive eruption
Spewing molten larva
High in the Icelandic sky
In the land of fire and ice
Vothajokull is queen
A mighty ice maiden
A glorious glacier
In the land of fire and ice
In the land of fire and ice

Thank you for reading. Keep warm and safe. Adele