Sunday, 26 June 2016

Farm Portrait

                                                                            A 19th-Century Hay Wagon

Dear Reader,

I am now going to take a break for two months from writing this blog and will start again on September 4th, a Sunday.  Lots of you very kindly encouraged me to keep going, so that is what I am going to do, and hope you will join me again then.

I thought I would end  my first year's weekly blog by writing about the Harvest Festival which is sometimes celebrated in the summer months or more often in September.  In Britain we have given thanks for a successful harvest since pagan times, and the Festival is traditionally held on the Sunday of or nearest to the Harvest Moon.  This is the full moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox (22nd or 23rd September).  Celebrations on this day usually include singing hymns, praying, and decorating churches with baskets of fruit and food in the festival known as the Harvest Festival, or Harvest Festival of Thanksgiving.  This Festival is held to celebrate the fact that the hard work of the harvest is over for another year, and until the 20th century most farmers celebrated the end of the harvest with a big meal called harvest supper, to which all who had helped were invited.  Years ago church bells could be heard on each day of the harvest, and Harvest Festival reminds Christians of all the good things God gives them.


Farm Portrait, 1880

That's me in the painting, a potato-picking wife,
dressed in clogs, a woollen shawl, a woollen shirt.
I stand on stony ground with my riddle and my knife,
put potatoes in my apron, worn over muddy skirt.
And that's my husband, wearing an old cloth cap
over pale face and wistful eyes, digging with our son,
while coughing Sarah holds within her lap
the swaddled, crying babe, until our work is done.
Our house is cold, dark, and full of mice,
the grind is hard, the winter weather harsh,
damp oozes from the walls, and we have lice,
the lonely peewit calls from the eerie marsh.
But, at dawn today, I heard a blackbird sing
and hope arose with thoughts of coming spring.


Farm Portrait was the most popular poem I selected for my blog, the one you all liked best, so I thought it would be a good one to finish with and, possibly, for you to read again.

I wish you all a very happy summer time and hope that in September you will feel refreshed and eager for whatever good things autumn brings. 

And thank you for your support, emails, and comments, all of which were greatly appreciated.

With very best wishes, Patricia

Sunday, 19 June 2016

A curse

Dear Reader,

                                                             The Mad Hatter

As a bit of a recluse I had, for me, an adventure this week.  I travelled up to London on a Great Western Railway train to Paddington, where I was going to meet my very dear stepson, Jeremy, who was taking me out to lunch at a smart restaurant in Baker Street.  So sitting on the train I had plenty of time to observe the other passengers, who seemed to be pretty ordinary until we got to Long Hanborough station, where crowds of young people got in.  Presumably they were all going to Ascot Races, since they were wearing an assortment of amazing hats.  There were bright flowers and feathers, big hats and small hats, all worn with tremendous confidence, the wearers chattering loudly like magpies.  

Thinking of hats, I wondered why those people who made hats in the 19th century were called 'Mad
Hatters', and the reason seems to be that mercury was used in the making of hats.  This was known to have affected the nervous systems of hatters, causing them to tremble and appear insane.  Apparently mercury can cause aggressiveness, mood swings and anti-social behaviour.  The use of mercury compounds in 19th-century hat making and the resulting effects are well established.   Mercury poisoning is still known today as 'Mad Hatters' disease.

Incidentally,  I read that another search for the lost remains of an English King, Henry I, is about to begin in another car park.  He has been buried since 1135, probably quite peacefully, and I think it is a travesty to disturb his bones.  My poem this week you may have seen before, but it does tell you just what I think about this, to my mind, unlawful act of plunder.


A Curse

on those who plunder the earth,
and violate sacred places......

A curse on those who disturb
and steal gently-bandaged skulls,
legs, arms, and finger-bones,
jewels: perhaps a pearl bracelet,
a coral ring, hair pins, or a mosaic plate
set  out lovingly with food
for the long journey home.
Who have lain there, at peace,
for many thousand years,
the sand, the desert winds, the rains,
nature's bed.

A curse on those whose
laughter and excitement
fills the air, stealing remains,
transporting them to people
in white coats,
who dissect their dignity,
stick labels on them,
give them to museums
to enlighten an ice-cream-licking public.


With best wishes, Patricia

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Universal Truth


Dear Reader,

In 1946 Prince Philip, Princess Elizabeth's secret sweetheart,  proposed to her and she immediately accepted without consulting her parents, but they eventually married on 20 November 1947.  In the old days figurative words were often attached to the heart like, hard-hearted,  soft-hearted,  light-hearted and cold-hearted.  But love makes us giddy and often our hearts beat faster.  So the term "swete hert" meant a fast beating heart.  Francis Kilvert notes in his diary for 11 June 1873 that he saw in Gander Lane some of the 'Midsummer Men' plants which his mother remembered the servant maids and cottage girls sticking up in their houses and bedrooms on Midsummer Eve, for the purpose of divining about their sweethearts.

 I like to think that the Queen and Prince Philip are still sweethearts, that their hearts still beat faster for each other, even after sixty-five years of marriage, and perhaps they do.


Universal Truth

Everyone knows
that Philip Larkin wrote:

"They fuck you up,
your mum and dad,
they may not mean to
but they do".

And what Philip Larkin knew,
I know to be true.


With best wishes,  Patricia

Sunday, 5 June 2016

In Her Spare Room

Dear Reader,

                                                                              The Steam Engine
Several summers ago we decided to rent a cottage on the North Yorkshire moors and, as has happened before, the pretty cottage described in the brochure was, in fact, situated in a caravan park, and the weather was gloomy and the house was cold.   But nevertheless we had some good small adventures, and walking from Grosmont to Goathland after taking the steam train, a short twenty -minute ride, was one of them.  The railway line had been closed following the Beeching Report, but in 1967 a group of steam enthusiasts and local volunteers started its restoration, and today it carries more passengers than any other heritage railway in the United Kingdom.  It was an interesting walk with lovely scenery and great views of the steam trains hurrying by.  I always think steam trains are really romantic and would love to go on that long journey people enthuse about from Victoria Station to Vladivostok on the Trans-Siberian railway.

Dear readers, could you do something for me this week please?  I will have been writing this weekly blog for one year from the beginning of July 2015 and feel a rest might be in order at the end of this month.  So the question for you is: should I continue, starting again in September?  I would be very grateful if you could let me know your feelings by writing to my email address, which is:

Just say yes go on, or we have had enough and I will take your advice.  Thank you very much.


In Her Spare Room

I see these books,
draw in a breath,
as cherished memories
race into my head.

These are:

Portraits of an English Village
Swallows and Amazons
The Speckledy Hen
The Little Flowers of St. Francis
My Friend Flicka
The Wind in the Willows
Tales of Old Inns

The owner of this house
is unknown to me,
but her collection
of treasured books
tells me a little of her,
what makes her who she is,
what makes me who I am.


Very best wishes,  Patricia