Today’s Treasures – Summer – VE Day and Bank Holidays

Today’s Treasures – Summer – VE Day and Bank Holidays

Summer traditionally starts on 1st May at Beltane – the fire festival.  Bonfires were lit to honour the Sun and encourage the support of Bel and the Sun’s light to nurture the emerging future harvest and protect the community.   Houses were adorned with hawthorn blossoms – hawthorn was only brought into the home at Beltane – at other times it was considered unlucky.

The pagan practice of Mayday was disliked by the state.  In 1645, the Puritan, Oliver Cromwell described maypole dancing as ‘heathenish wickedness’ and banned village maypoles – as well as closing theatres.  Charles II was a much more conservative and tolerant king  and when he came to power he re-opened theatres that had been closed by the Puritans – life in Britain was much more fun during the reign of Charles II so it’s understandable why 29th May was celebrated as Oak Apple Day and became a public holiday.

It commemorates the occasion after the Battle of Worcester in September 1651, when Charles II escaped the Roundhead army by hiding in an oak tree near Boscobel House.  He subsequently fled to Europe.  Traditionally, people wore oak apples or sprigs of oak leaves.   Charles II survived the Black Death – in 1665 the death toll from the plague reached 7,000 per week – and in 1666 he and his brother James helped direct the fire crews during the Great Fire of London.

Today, being in the middle of another life-threatening crisis, VE Day celebrations to mark the end of World War II in Europe 75 years ago were somewhat subdued but nevertheless thought-provoking.  Britain still has the courage and resilience of the British people all those years ago, the power that Churchill had with words that spoke to the British people – he refused to surrender and inspired everyone that by working together we could win our freedom – and we did.

Churchill opening the Winston Bar in Berlin in 1945

On Thursday evenings, that same British spirit supports our keyworkers, our doctors and nurses at the front line of a different sort of battle – to win the war against this virus that threatens to overwhelm us.  When we stand on our doorsteps clapping, we remember the spirit of those who fought during the war – on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields and in the streets, in the hills – and – like them – we shall never surrender.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today’s Treasures “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”

Today’s Treasures

 ‘Always look on the bright side of life’

For Mother’s Day my son bought me a heart with this on it – it’s now displayed in the kitchen and every morning it makes me smile – and reminds me to count my blessings.  Eric Idle always makes me laugh.

 

Always look on the bright side of life
If life seems jolly rotten,
There’s something you’ve forgotten!
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing,
When you’re feeling in the dumps,
Don’t be silly chumps,
Just purse your lips and whistle — that’s the thing!
And always look on the bright side of life

 

 

As I write, all hotels, cafes, restaurants have been closed, all events cancelled, and a lot of people are in isolation – but at least it’s finally stopped raining and the sun is shining – winter is over and summer is just around the corner.

People have discovered that they really do not need to travel so much – it’s possible to work from home – and it’s relatively easy to hold a board meeting online.

Families are discovering each other – and finding things to do together.  Books, jigsaws and family games have come out of hibernation and everyone is learning about home education.  We home-educated two of our children (under very different circumstances!) and there’s a book telling our story on https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=barbara+rainford&ref=nb_sb_noss

As our family watched Boris Johnson last night, it reminded me of my mother telling me about the war – and how everyone used to huddle around the radio to listen to Churchill – and how he inspired everyone with his speeches: “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”  My son remarked: “At least we are fighting a virus now, not other people.” And it’s only toilet rolls that are rationed!

So here’s some happy pictures to cheer everyone up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We can still dance and sing, enjoy music and films, sit in the sunshine and watch the butterflies. The flowers are still growing, the birds are still singing, the fruit trees are in bud, the bees are busy and the buttercups will soon be out again.

So remember:

Always look on the bright side of life’

 

Today’s Treasures High Days and Holidays

Today’s Treasures – High Days and Holidays

Our ancestors celebrated the changing seasons with special ceremonies that marked nature’s cycles.  Country wisdom and folklore have been passed down the generations and, despite the adoption of many days by the church, the Pagan customs still remain and we often celebrate them just as our ancestors did.

21st March – Ostara – is the Spring Equinox – The pagan Saxons would bake ‘cross buns’ at the beginning of spring in honour of the German goddess Eostre – Ostara – most likely being the origin of the name Easter. The cross represented the rebirth of the world after winter and the four quarters of the moon, as well as the four seasons and the wheel of life.  Hence the origin of hot-cross buns.  The daffodil symbolises rebirth and new beginnings.

23rd April – St. George’s Day – the Patron Saint of England – There is more myth than fact in the story of St. George who, according to the story of The Golden Legend, slayed a dragon and saved a princess – but the story was incorporated into Pagan plays and St. George is a prime figure in the famous epic poem The Fairie Queen portrayed as the Redcrosse Knight.  April 23rd (the date of his death) used to be a public holiday, now we celebrate with wearing a red rose – and parades – St. George is the patron saint of scouting.

1st May – May Day – Beltane is a Fire Festival honouring the Sun – traditionally all fires were put out and a special fire was kindled for Beltane.  The maypole is a symbol of fertility, the many coloured ribbons and the ensuing weaving dance symbolise the spiral of life and the union of the Goddess and God, the union between Earth and Sky.  The Young Oak King falls in love with the May Queen and wins her hand.  The pagan practice of Mayday was disliked by the state.  In 1645 Oliver Cromwell described maypole dancing as ‘heathenish wickedness’ and banned village maypoles.  The Green Man Festival is held every year in Clun with Morris Dancing, music, entertainment and a battle re-enactment on Clun bridge.

29th May – Oak Apple Day – This commemorates the occasion after the Battle of Worcester in September 1651, when Charles II escaped the Roundhead army by hiding in an oak tree near Boscobel House. Traditionally people wore oak apples or sprigs of oak leaves.  The oak tree – or one of its descendants can still be seen in the grounds of Boscobel House and you can also see the priest’s hole where Charles II subsequently hid.

It’s good to celebrate these special days – with a family feast – lighting candles and drinking a toast to our ancestors who were much closer to nature than we are today.

Published in the March edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – the Bird Table in Winter

Today’s Treasures – The Bird Table in Winter

One of the wonderful things about wintry mornings is the increased activity on the bird table.  The birds really seem to appreciate my efforts to fill up bird feeders and thaw out the bird bath.

The robin, resplendent in his bright red winter waistcoat sedately pecks at the sunflower seeds.  A rival arrives – as often happens on cold frosty mornings – and is crossly chased away.

A blue tit perches on the edge of the birdbath and takes dainty sips of fresh water.  Belinda and Bertie raised a family of blue tits this summer – it was fascinating to watch them feeding their tiny babies on the bird table.

The nutchatches – Nigel and Nolly – creep around the tree trunks then take turns taking peanuts from the feeder.

Then the Twits – a flock of long-tailed tits that always arrive in a flurry of chirps and fluttering wings – take over all the bird feeders, scrapping for perching space.

The great tits Colonel Twist (due to his having a wonky tail) and Lady P (Penelope) wait patiently for the Twits to fly off before resuming their feeding.

A blackbird scurries along to the bird seed sprinkled on the ground and busily tucks into a grain feast before the hens arrive and clear up.

Woody the woodpecker loves peanuts and can often be spotted in the garden with his undulating flight and unusual cry – and peck, peck, pecking on the dead pine tree looking for insects.

There’s a selection of finches – goldfinches with their little red and yellow heads and chaffinches, and, when it’s been really cold, we are sometimes honoured with the presence of a bullfinch or the odd visit from a siskin, or brambling.

Unwelcome visitors that thankfully are seen very infrequently are kestrels and sparrowhawks.  In the summer the little birds are safe in the leafy green cover of the roses and honeysuckle; in the winter the branches are bare – except for the ivy which offers welcome cover as well as berries to eat.

There’s no knowing what the cat will do next – but I believe he is actually watching the little mouse that lives in the rockery and uses the bottom of the bird stand as a tunnel, popping in and out collecting seeds.

Published in the February edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Winter Treasures

Today’s Treasures – Winter Treasures

“When winter winds blow cold and chill, it cannot be denied, the nicest place of all my friends, is by our own fireside.”

Autumn has been so wet and miserable, I am really looking forward to some frosty mornings this winter – but when the frost does arrive, my freezing fingers feeding the hens will no doubt wish it was warm and wet again!

We need things to cheer us up during the dull January days.  Although the nights are slowly getting shorter, we don’t really notice the difference until we reach Candlemas Day – 2nd February.  And while we wait for the snowdrops to appear, poking their tiny white heads through the frozen ground to herald spring, it’s good to have some ideas to brighten up the winter days.

So what’s good about winter – a blazing log fire – and a good book – firelight, watching the flames flickering shadows across the room.  Lighting candles – there’s some beautiful scented candles now – vanilla is one of my favourites but there’s some lovely winter scents of mulberry and spice to warm up winter nights too.  Mulled wine and warm sausage rolls are also good for cheering up dismal wintry evenings.

Houseplants always brighten up winter gloom – as Cyclamen fade, amaryllis flower and hyacinths fill rooms with the fresh scents of spring.

The bird table is always busy in winter – and the colder it is – the more birds seem to arrive looking for food and water.  Thawing out the bird bath on frosty mornings is always worth the effort to see the birds glad of a drink of fresh water.  Goldfinches come for niger seeds, nuthatches and woodpeckers love peanuts, and the robin loves showing off his red winter waistcoat.  A little mouse also found our bird table!

And, if all else fails, and you still feel miserable looking out at our dreary English winter, remember Spring is just around the corner and it won’t be long before we’re walking in the sunshine down to the beach again.

Published in the January edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Toadstools

Today’s Treasures – Toadstools

Every cloud has a silver lining – and the exceedingly wet weather we have had this Autumn has been wonderful for fungi – toadstools have literally popped up all over the place.  They are fascinating because they change shape every day, expanding, then wilting, then popping up somewhere else.

Fungi are not plants or animals; they have their own kingdom which includes microscopic yeasts and the largest living organisms.  Fungi are essential in forest eco-systems – their recycling capabilities are vital as they efficiently break down wood, preventing dead wood and leaves building up – and they recycle nutrients back into the soil.

The mushroom that we see is only part of the organism – the mushroom produces spores – like a flower produces seeds, allowing it to reproduce.  The main body of the fungus is formed of the fine threads called the mycelium that stretch out beneath the mushroom and often grow with the roots of plants, The fungus provides the plant with water and nutrients that it can’t get easily from the soil – and the plant provides the fungus with sugars, produced during photosynthesis.

Toadstools have always featured in folklore – they are mysterious – appearing overnight – like magic.  In the Middle Ages fairy rings were believed to be fairy dancing circles – and stepping into a ring was not recommended – you might fall asleep for a hundred years – or be whisked away to the faery world – never to return. Welsh legends were more positive – believing that fairy rings signified fertility and fortune.  We now know that a ring of toadstools simply marks the edge of a fungus colony.

Mushrooms have long been used by ancient cultures., Hippocrates records their anti-inflammatory properties, the North American Indians recognised their wound-healing capabilities. The Druids used the hallucinogenic properties of toadstools in some of their rituals.  Mushrooms are rich in bioactive compounds including disease-fighting antioxidants, but modern science has only recently rediscovered what the ancients knew long ago – that mushrooms can be deep reservoirs of powerful medicine.

Amazingly, 90% of plants rely on fungi to live – and there will be many species of fungi that we have not discovered yet.  Fungi already provide us with many things including medicines – and – as they include yeast – we make wine, beer and bread with them – but, in the future, they could well provide the solutions to many of the problems facing humanity – such as unlocking sustainable sources of food.  Fungi can feed us, heal us, kill us – or send us on a spiritual journey – they might also save us!

Published in the December edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Blackberry Fair – Whitchurch

Today’s Treasures – Blackberry Fair

Blackberry Fair not only lived up to its reputation – it excelled itself – there was more music than ever which reached to all corners of the town – right down to Green End – where the birds of prey sat bemused but not at all phased by the guitar rhythms and drumbeats.  This living, breathing celebration of music, song, dance, poetry and street theatre, stretched from the Bull Ring to the Black Bear and beyond – and attracted more visitors than ever -enjoying local food, real ale, mouth-watering fudge, freshly-baked pizzas, and real beef burgers – all accompanied by street music wherever you went in this normally tranquil, market town.

The civic centre was transformed into the fae market – a fantasy fairyland – a fairy forest full of customs and crafts, live music and tales from the wood.  The market hall became a hive of activity with skateboarding, go-karting and bushcraft, making masks for the pirate procession later.

Sustainability is what Blackberry Fair is all about – a carnival filled with the rustic spirit of nature, growing things, Meres and Mosses with pedal power, the Wild Zone, carbon capture, scarecrows, recycling, herbs and herbalists, Surfers Against Sewage, Wise Whales Words; this Fairtrade town attracts artists, poets, actors, dancers, singers and musicians; becomes a haven for food enthusiasts, real beer drinkers, nature lovers, photographers and writers.  It inspires, fires the imagination, screams innovation; young and old are all captivated, drawn into the spirit of creativity and sustainability – saving the earth.

The afternoon culminates in the Carnival of Action, celebrating the spirit of harvest with Morris dancers, stilt-walkers, and fire breathers – and the music carries on into the evening with incredible poetry and music and dancing into the night with THE POOKA’S POLKA and BAKED A LA SKA

see the video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWGvEto0Bu4

courtesy of www.rainford-it.co.uk

Published in the November edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Shrewsbury

Today’s Treasures – SHREWSBURY

Autumn’s golden glow bathes the ancient buildings and paints pavements and flagstones in the stillness of a September morning. Benches beckon a few moments to sit awhile to savour the serenity and enjoy the tranquillity of a city at peace with the world.

Churches watch over the market Square, all the saints of these precious buildings competing for recognition, St Chad, St Mary, St. Peter, St. Giles, and the ghosts of the medieval pubs are sleeping.

The castle slumbers, its gardens adorned with autumn colours and Charles Darwin surveys his childhood town from atop his pillar outside the library.

The Severn glides slowly through the town from past to present, past crumbling sandstone walls and Roman relics and on to its namesake the modern Theatre Severn nestling on its banks.  Under bridges, Welsh and English, swirling eddies caressing the banks, the Himalayan balsam’s plum pink blossoms, rippling reflections in the water. Swans circling, beaks dipping, dripping water droplets, ducks dabbling, past Darwin’s garden where his theory of evolution had its first stirrings of consciousness.

The river snakes past the park and ripples along the quarry gardens; the Dingle still revels in the glorious garden displays perfected for August’s flower show, begonias and dahlias vying for the brightest blooms.

Sitting dreaming in the sunshine, we can imagine all the past lives that have made Shrewsbury what it is, living on, they are in the very essence of the ancient walls, the medieval black and white buildings, the saints who gave their names to the churches, the engineers and ironmasters, merchants and craftsmen who changed the world and how we see it today – Thomas Telford, Abraham Darby, William Hazledine, Charles Darwin …

Shrewsbury’s history lives on, in its sandstone walls, cobbled streets and beautiful buildings, all sleeping in the September sunshine.

Published in the October edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

 

Today’s treasures – The Flax Mill Maltings

Today’s Treasures – The Flax Mill Maltings in Shrewsbury

Or perhaps this article should be entitled ‘Yesterday’s Treasures’.  This is the story of the Ditherington Flaxmill – an icon of revolution, innovation and evolution.

When the Flaxmill was built in 1797, it was the world’s first iron-framed building, and also the world’s first skyscraper as its design later developed into the modern steel frame that made skyscrapers possible. ‘The grandfather of skyscrapers’, it became a Grade 1 listed building in the 1950’s and is one of the most important buildings of the industrial revolution.

Following a devastating fire at one of their mills in Leeds on 13 February 1796, John Marshall, and brothers Thomas and Benjamin Benyon, looked for a more fire-proof construction.  Charles Bage presented a design based on the work of William Strutt, a cotton spinner who later became a civil engineer and architect, using iron frames in buildings to make them fire-resistant.

William Hazledine was commissioned to make the columns and cross-beams at his foundry in Shrewsbury.  He was a pioneer in casting structural ironwork and worked with Thomas Telford on several projects including the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct – Telford nicknamed him ‘Merlin Hazledine – the arch conjuror’

When first completed, it was a state-of-the-art steam-powered flax mill spinning linen thread from flax and its fireproof cast iron columns and beams overcame much of the fire risk from the flammable fibres.

The Flaxmill closed in 1886 suffering competition from the more modern northern cotton mills – and in 1897 the site was bought by William Jones of Shrewsbury and adapted for use as a maltings (picture courtesy of Historic England), and many windows were blocked up.

In 1987, with competition from more modern productions methods, the maltings closed and the site was left derelict until its purchase in 2005 by English Heritage with support from the local council and Advantage West Midlands.  Now the site is owned by Historic England with a local charity managing visitor attractions.

 

Visit www.flaxmill-maltings.co.uk for details of Heritage open days when you can visit this ancient building and see for yourself its historic importance, wonder at the great cast iron beams and columns and imagine the deafening noise of the steam-powered machines, the dust and dirt and terrible conditions for textile workers in the 1800’s and praise the brave people who set up the CWA (Cardroom Workers’ Amalgamation) in 1886 and changed many poor men, women and children’s lives for the better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in the September edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

Today’s Treasures – Butterflies

Today’s Treasures –  Our Beautiful British Butterflies

Buddleia bushes can tend to be a bit rampant and take over a small garden but, if you cut them right back in the autumn, the following summer the flowers will be covered in butterflies and you can spend a wonderful sunny afternoon watching them fluttering and floating and gathering nectar from the purple blooms. Definitely recommended as one of the most relaxing and stress-relieving ways to pass the time.

And you can also take part in the Big Butterfly Count:  Launched in 2010, this is a nationwide survey which helps assess the changes in our environment. It is one of the world’s biggest surveys of butterflies. Over 100,000 people took part in 2018, submitting 97,133 counts of butterflies and day-flying moths from across the UK

Anyone can take part – anywhere – parks, school grounds, gardens, fields or forests – or during a walk – simply count butterflies for 15 minutes during bright (ideally sunny) weather – and record them online at www.butterfly-conservation.org.

Sir David Attenborough, President of Butterfly Conservation, Alan Titchmarsh MBE, Mike Dilger, Nick Baker, and Joanna Lumley OBE have all given their enthusiastic backing to the project.

Peacock

 

The European Peacock butterfly lays its shiny black caterpillars on nettles or hops.  The butterflies drink nectar from a wide variety of flowering plants, including buddleia, willow, dandelions, marjoram and clover.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red Admiral

 

 

The red admiral  migrates from North Africa and continental Europe. The butterflies continue flying into October or November and are typically seen nectaring on garden buddleias or flowering Ivy.

 

 

 

 

Speckled Wood

 

 

The speckled wood butterfly likes brambles in hedgerows and partially shaded woodland and feeds on honeydew in the treetops – and occasionally on marjoram and buddleia.  They like dappled sunlight and can often be seen chasing each other making spirals in the sunshine.

 

 

 

 

 

Ringlet

 

 

The ringlet also likes field edges with brambles and privet, butterflies also feed on oregano, thistles, scabious and hogweed. But the female lays her eggs in grassy areas and the caterpillars feed on grass.  The ringlet can often be seen with characteristic bobbing flight on cloudy days when other butterflies are inactive.

 

 

 

 

Published in the August edition of the Whitchurch Gossip